Bed, Breakfast, and BONES is the best-selling first novel in the popular Ravenwood Cove cozy mystery series, with over 3000 reader reviews. Want to see why it's so well-loved? Here's the first chapter, exclusively for Sleuthing Women blog readers!
“I’d burn it to the ground.”
Amanda Graham swiveled her head toward her friend, incredulous.
Beth’s voice was determined and serious. “Burn it. All of it. One lit match, a couple gallons of kerosene, and WHOOSH. A lovely empty lot to sell. With an ocean view.”
Amanda took a long, hard look at the abandoned Ravenwood Inn, huge and empty for years. It sprawled across the shaded lawn like the bleached skeleton of a once-fine debutante, left to rot after a long history of visiting friends and elegant parties. Every line of its Victorian frame, the wide porches, and gingerbread details on the many balconies, showed that it had once been loved in this little coastal town. If Amanda used her imagination a bit, she could almost hear the laughter and see the ghosts of the previous guests as they walked arm in arm up the broad front steps, decked out in their finest evening attire from decades past.
“Some of it’s brick. It wouldn’t burn well anyway,” she said, trying to sound pragmatic. Maybe she was looking at the situation with rose-colored glasses, but her mind was made up. If she was going to live in the Inn, she was going to have to look past the peeling paint and boarded-up windows.
“I think it just needs some work and it could be amazing. You know, for years this used to be the most popular bed and breakfast in the area. It’s probably had hundreds of guests visit here. Everyone knew the Ravenwood Inn.”
Beth looked skeptical. “What, a hundred years ago? A thousand?” She laid a gentle hand on her friend’s shoulder, but her words were brutally honest. “You’re not up to this, Amanda, and you know it. This thing’s a money pit, and to fix it up will take every last dime you made from the sale of your condo. I understand you have some weird family attachment to it, but you need to be practical.”
Just the mention of the condo’s sale gave Amanda a stab of pain. She wasn’t sorry she had sold that place after her boyfriend Ken had left her, but the whole thing had been so sordid and awful that she’d known she needed a brand-new life. When she got the word her last living relative, her uncle Conrad, had died and left her the Ravenwood Inn, she’d been both stunned and relieved. Maybe it was a sign that her need for a new life and a different place to live was coming true. Perhaps she could reinvent herself in this little town.
“I’m tired of being practical, Beth. I’ve been practical my whole life. I’m tired of having everything planned out and people telling me what to do and bad, stupid men. I need a new start.” She gave her longtime friend a rueful grin. “What better place to do it than in a small Oregon beach town off the beaten path?”
Beth snorted, unimpressed. “You mean Hicksville.”
Amanda didn’t answer. She was looking at the Inn and already doing calculations of what it would cost to fix it up. Behind her, on the other side of the quiet country road, snug cottages were surrounded by neatly trimmed flower beds and had middle-class cars in the driveways. Compared to the small family homes in the area, the derelict Inn stuck out like a sore thumb, with its old roof and knee-high tangled grass that probably hadn’t been mowed in months. Behind the building, the weak autumn sun was already setting, making the long shadows of early evening slide under the huge trees in the front and side yards. Amanda could see movement under a shrub at the side of the Inn and tried not to think about what sort of critter might be living there.
“Maybe,” Amanda said softly, “but I might as well build a new life here in Hicksville as anywhere else.”
She heard a sharp huff of annoyance behind her and turned to see a plump local matron glare disapprovingly at them from the opposite side of the deserted road. She was muttering to herself as she hurried away toward the nearest cottage, clutching her oversized purse.
Great. An excellent start with a possible neighbor, Amanda thought. Just what I need.
She turned back to her friend, ignoring the sudden gust of cool wind swirling through her thin sweatshirt. “Look, I appreciate you coming up here with me, Beth, and I know you want what’s best for me. The truth is I need something new, and I think this could be it. Nobody knows me here and no one knows what happened in my life. I can start fresh. They don’t need to know anything about me except that I now own a cool, old hotel.”
She gestured to the silent, unlit inn again. “This is my best chance at a clean, boring, mundane life, and I’m going to take it.”
It was a heartfelt speech, but Amanda wasn’t surprised when her friend dug in her purse and pulled out a set of car keys.
“Call me when you’re desperate for sushi and civilization again, girlfriend,” Beth said. “I’ll come running.” Her voice sounded almost pitying. She kissed Amanda on the cheek and gave her a last, tight hug. “It’ll be getting dark soon, and I don’t want to be driving back to the freeway too late. Let me know if you need anything,” she said, and headed toward her car.
It took almost two minutes of effort to make the rust-pocked key work in the lock set in the Inn’s massive front door. Amanda was careful not to push too hard on the elaborate leaded glass insert, but she was impatient to muscle the heavy door open far enough to squeeze inside.
From what she could see in the fading light, the front entry hall was enormous, strung with huge, looping cobwebs like forgotten party streamers. She clicked on her flashlight and could just make out a large chandelier above her head and a massive curved staircase right in front of her. Wide, arched doorways on the right and left led into dark, silent rooms, and she could barely see the shapes of abandoned furniture. The air was stale and dry, as if the Inn had been sealed for years and she was the first living thing inside it again. She shivered, her eyes surveying the entrance quickly, trying to still her thumping heart and see everything at once. Amanda half-expected some long-sleeping ghost to waft in and greet her, and then request to see her reservation before she was able to check in at the reception counter tucked beside the stairs.
Suppressing a shudder, she went back outside, leaving the problematic front door still cracked open while she retrieved her sleeping bag and luggage from the car. With the exception of the money she had deposited in the bank, all her worldly possessions were now able to be carried in two over-burdened trips and set inside on the faintly patterned carpet in the parlor.
Coffee, she thought. I need coffee and lanterns. Or a stiff drink.
She pulled her coat out of the backseat, buttoned it tightly against the creeping chill, and quickly drove down the hill. It was only three blocks over to the little town’s main street, and Amanda looked around her as she drove in an attempt to remember the route to take back to her new home. The Ravenwood Inn had been built on the top of a scenic bluff overlooking the sprawling little town and the wide beach and ocean just beyond it. The streets were often curved to match the topography as they dropped toward sea level, and were clean and quiet. Rows of small shops with lit window displays lined the sidewalks, and antique-style streetlamps were just flickering on in the semi-darkness.
Driving on Main Street, it looked like the town had rolled up the sidewalks for the night right before she arrived. Not exactly LA, she thought, but then she hadn’t loved living in Los Angeles. It had been where she’d lived and where she worked, but she’d never really felt at home there. This old beach town was as different from her last city as it could be, with charming little side streets full of well-kept bungalows and locally owned small shops. She could just see an open town square that was probably used as a park, with a painted white bandstand and benches scattered around the sidewalk-enclosed lawn. The main patio had a permanent stand in place for the town’s annual Christmas tree and Amanda guessed that the stone monument nearby was probably for war veterans or to honor a local hero or city founder. The raw ocean air was almost tangy with salt.
No smog or hot pavement here, she thought, but I’ll probably miss having a Starbucks on every corner and going out for carb-free lunches.
Amanda had seen a general store with a large sign that boasted ‘hardware’ when she first drove into town, and she silently prayed that it would still be open this late. She parked in front of the old movie theater and had to jog the last few yards to catch the attention of the dark-haired store owner inside. He was wearing a red-and-black plaid shirt and had a gray cat tucked under his arm. As she got closer, she could see he was just flipping over the CLOSED sign in the large front window. Looking up in surprise, he nodded and waved her closer, then set the large cat on the floor as he pulled open the door. The cat strolled over to the main counter and hopped up, its yellow eyes soberly watching as Amanda hurried inside.
“Thank you so much for letting me in! I just need a couple of things and I’ll be out of here before you know it. Do you have any lanterns?” She stopped to scratch the unenthusiastic cat under the chin, then followed the store owner down an aisle packed with crab traps and boxes of Mason jars. The whole store smelled of history, of fresh fruit and cardboard and smoked fish and motor oil. Generations of visitors and townspeople had been in this store, coming by to get supplies or ask advice.
Walking past the old-fashioned woodstove and some well-worn benches clustered around it, her host stopped in front of a display of lanterns.
“Oil or battery?” he asked.
“Battery,” she said. “I don’t want to burn the place down my first night there.” Amanda flashed back to her friend’s recommendation to just torch the place so she could sell a vacant lot, and she suppressed a grin.
The clerk cocked an eyebrow in surprise as he pulled a box down from the top shelf. “This one won’t burn down anything. Um, your first night where?”
Amanda mentally winced. “The Ravenwood Inn. I inherited it from my aunt and uncle and just came into town. With as late as it is, I figured I’d stay there tonight and get a better look at things in the morning.”
He gave a low whistle. “Wow, you’ve got guts. That place needs some serious help.” He looked her over with curiosity, not even trying to disguise it. “So, you’re Conrad and Judy’s niece, huh? I heard you inherited. You going to just live at the Inn or open it as a bed and breakfast again?”
He grinned and stuck out a large hand. “Well, then I think you’re going to be a very good customer of mine. My name’s Brian Petrie and I’m the owner here. If you need anything, let me know.”
She shook his hand, laughing. “I’m Amanda Graham. I’m afraid I might be too good of a customer. the Inn needs a lot of work to get back in shape. You don’t happen to have a frequent buyer discount, do you?”
“For people who fix up historic old buildings that are probably full of spiders and ghosts? I’m sure we can figure something out.” His smile was warm, and for the first time since she’d come to Ravenwood Cove, Amanda started to relax a bit.
“Just don’t mention spiders again, okay? I’m sleeping on the floor. Got any cots for sale? And bug spray?”
By the time Amanda walked out of the hardware store her arms were full of packages and bags. She waved clumsily at Brian, watched him flip over the CLOSED sign again, and stuffed her loot into her small car. It took a bit of maneuvering to push her purchases aside enough to wedge behind the wheel and close the door.
I’m going to need a larger car for the Inn, she mused. Something I can use to pick up people and groceries, and transport building supplies. Pulling away from the curb,her thoughts were full of the future business she’d run, with images of lots of happy tourists booking reservations to stay at her beautiful historic inn and Amanda as their smiling, always-welcoming hostess.
It was just the sort of dream that she really wanted to make come true.
She wasn’t afraid of hard work. Her last job had been as a fraud investigator for a large insurance company, and she had practically run the team. Her boss had been a well-meaning alcoholic with a habit of disappearing shortly after lunch and then coming to work the next day with a colossal hangover. Amanda had taught herself a lot of the investigation techniques, learning how to tell when someone was lying to get a chunk of settlement money, or when a restaurant’s devastating fire was actually a case of arson to pay off the owner’s debts. She’d seen more than her share of how greedy and manipulative other humans could be. Between that and an ex-boyfriend who never missed an opportunity to let her know if she’d gained a few pounds, or which girls at a party were prettier than her, she was tired right down to her soul.
A new career and a huge project like the Ravenwood Inn was exactly what she needed. No men, no drama.
Thank goodness small towns didn’t have any secrets or excitement.
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Carolyn has always been an avid reader, and used to make up stories in her head to put herself to sleep as a child. Married with three grown children, she spends her time traveling whenever she can and learning more about her new home state, Texas. She's a sucker for a happy ending, and her husband often teases her about how she'll chuckle to herself while writing up new adventures for her characters. Want to know more? Join her spam-free VIP reader group!