Jealous in Paradise by Deborah Brown

There’s always one party crasher in the crowd. But Madison Weston and her bestie, Fab Merceau, could have never guessed that the plus-one at their newly renovated hotel’s grand opening would be a dead body.

This isn’t the first unsolved murder in Beachside’s colorful past. While a ghost haunting the premises might be a selling point to some customers, fresh pools of blood generally aren’t.

So much for their promise to put personal safety at the top of their to-do list. Pretty tough when trouble gets dropped on their doorstep like the proverbial baby in a basket. Especially when the baby is packing a Smith & Wesson.

But this murder was on their turf, on their watch. And they’ll call in every shady character, every IOU, and anything short of a felony to lay this ghost to rest—even if it risks them becoming ghosts themselves.


Read an Excerpt:

Chapter One

A scream ripped through the night air.

Creole, who was sitting next to me, stood and pulled me to my feet in one swift movement.

“Was it too much to expect that we’d get through the grand opening drama free?” I asked my husband. Now there was a word I never tired of thinking or saying—husband.

Before he could answer, another scream followed. He grabbed my hand, and we turned and ran toward the sound. This time, I recognized it as coming from my mother, who stood in the doorway of the room she’d been assigned. From the horror etched on her face, it wasn’t an oversized cockroach that had her making the bloodcurdling sound.

Creole maneuvered us around the guests, who’d been partying around the pool in the middle of the u-shaped property and now turned to stare, all probably thinking the same thing as me: “What’s going on?”

Mother’s husband, Jimmy Spoon, flew to her side, getting there steps ahead of me. He wrapped his arms around her, and she buried her face in his chest and mumbled incoherently. He peered into the room over the top of her head and pulled her away.

“She’s dead,” Mother whispered faintly, cocking her head towards the open door.

I poked my head inside and saw a blonde-haired woman face down on the  floor in the entrance to the bathroom. She was naked, and other than the bed strewn with her clothes, nothing else in the room had been disturbed.

“I’m certain she’s just passed out drunk,” I said. “I’ll take care of it.”

After months of “hurry up and wait,” Creole and I and our best friends, Fabiana Merceau and her husband Didier, had been the winning bid on the old run-down motel in the heart of Tarpon Cove in the Florida Keys. We had renovated it in record time and named it Beachside for its location across the street from water access. We’d agreed on most things, except when a vote was taken about who would handle guest relations and any irksome problems that were bound to happen. It was decided three to one that everything could be pushed off on me.

Creole, who’d stopped to check on Mother, appeared by my side and also glanced inside. “We need to figure out if the woman is a registered guest who wandered into the wrong room, and if not, figure out what we’re going to do with her. All the rooms are booked, and it’s not a good idea to set a precedent for guests sleeping their drunk off by the pool.”

“I’ll roust her and, if necessary, call her a cab.” I entered the room and was overwhelmed by the sick smell. Groaning inwardly at the cleanup that would be needed, I grabbed her dress off the bed and crossed the space.

Suddenly, a pair of hands grabbed my upper arms and jerked me
back, turning me away, but not before I saw the revolver lying next to her hand and the pool of blood around her head.

“Babe, I’ll take it from here.” Creole led me back to the door. “We need to keep everyone out.” He waved his arm, motioning to Didier, who stood a foot away, Fab by his side.

Already, several people had gathered at the window and were peering inside, a couple of them holding up their phones to take pictures—of what, they didn’t know, but that wasn’t a factor.

“Keep these people back,” Creole told Didier, lowering his voice to add, “We’ve got a body.”

He took out his phone and called 911, going into cop mode, which was familiar to him from his days as an undercover officer before injuries sidelined him and he decided that he’d had enough.

“You okay, Madison?” Fab asked, and put her arm around me. I nodded. “I’ll be right back.”

She went into the room and closed the drapes, much to the annoyance of the lookie-loos. Then she came back out and stood by my side. “Do you know what happened?”

“It looks like suicide. We need to make sure that none of the guests skip out, in case the cops want to talk to anyone.” I looked over her shoulder and took a head count. “Maybe they won’t be questioned, since it’s self-inflicted and not murder, but I’d hate to guess wrong and be in trouble.”

“Once news of this gets out, our bookings will skyrocket. Not that they’re not good already,” Fab added at my horrified look.

Didier appeared next to Fab and hooked his arm around her, kissing the top of her head and brushing her long brown hair over her shoulder. “I’ll see to the guests and make sure everyone gets a drink refill.”

“Will you check on Mother?” I asked Fab, knowing that she could get information out of her faster than anyone.

“Too late. She and the husband lit out of here,” said Fab, who never missed a thing. “I got as close as I could to eavesdrop and still remain unobtrusive.” She smirked. “Spoon tried to get her to stay, telling her the cops would have a few questions, but she wasn’t having any of it and about tripped out of her sandals getting off the property.”

I’d never hear the end of it now. Mother had dragged her feet RSVPing for the opening gala, and as a result, she’d gotten the last room, which was rumored to be haunted. It was also the nicest room, in my opinion. When she figured out which room she’d been assigned, she flipped. Even though she thought the whole ghost story was nonsense, that didn’t mean she wanted to sleep in the room.

The property had an interesting history. Two men with a long business history had partnered and built the motel in the early 1950s and turned it into a profitable venture. Several years later, one of the partners suffered a heart attack and died. The other, seeing an opportunity to make a higher profit, turned it into an adult motel, planning to triple the revenue with a pay-by-the-hour plan, not factoring in either the seedy element it would attract or losing out on the traffic of those wanting to avoid late-night antics, who moved on down the road.

Isabella Sloan, the widow of the dead man, had been swindled out of her half of the property by the so-called family friend and partner. Even worse, he’d left her penniless, and she was eventually forced to sign the family home over to the bank. One night, with nowhere to go, she’d
checked into the end room with her three small children and refused to leave. Days later, after a screaming match between her and the partner, her body had washed up on the beach. It was ruled a homicide, but no one had ever been charged.

The motel’s colorful history had it that Isabella had never checked out of the room, and she could still be seen at times, gazing out the window. Some claimed they’d seen her around other parts of the property. It was also rumored that she wasn’t always a gracious hostess and often didn’t allow guests a good night’s sleep, instead choosing to throw objects around the room. The only odd occurrence that had happened since we acquired the property had taken place during the re-painting of the room, which was to be restored to its original appearance at my insistence and painted white, rather than one of the colors that had been chosen for the other rooms. The painter had mistakenly hauled in a container of blue, and before he could dip his roller, it had overturned. He swore he’d been a foot away when it happened. Thankfully, the flooring was getting replaced anyway.

Police cars screamed closer and double-parked out front. Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Cory got out of the first car, his partner behind him, and was the first to come through the gate. We’d torn down the rickety fencing and put in a low brick wall that didn’t obstruct the view and doubled as seating for the truly bored, who could count cars as they crawled by, depending on traffic flow.

I waved Kevin over. We tolerated one another and made feeble attempts not to bother each other, but sometimes, irritating each other was too good to pass up. “If you had accepted our invitation and taken the night off, you’d already be here,” I said when he got closer.

“Opening night and already a triple murder.” Kevin laughed at his hilarious self. Oftentimes, he was the only one to find his jokes funny. Did it bother him? Oh, heck no.

“When word of that exaggeration rolls around town, I’ll know who to blame.” I waved him over to Creole.

“Anyone cut out the back?” Kevin asked.

I flinched, knowing he was referring to the times law enforcement arrived at my bar, Jake’s, and those with warrants beat it out through the kitchen exit. “Just my mother, who was the one to discover the body. You know where to find her.”

Kevin nodded and caught up with Creole.

I hung back, not sure what to do next. I’d been through enough police investigations to know they preferred that people stay out of the way and not tamper with evidence.

“What do I do if someone wants a refund on their room?” our portly, grey-haired resident manager asked, having barked at a few people to move out of the way, to which they grudgingly responded by moving an inch or two, refusing to do more than that lest they miss out on something good. Cootie stared down at me, a concerned look on his face, and fidgeted from one
foot to the other.

We’d advertised for a couple to manage the property, and only eccentrics had shown up, and that was putting it nicely. It was also my suspicion that that was why I got voted problem-solver. Ready to give up and not willing to run the place myself, I’d decided to hire the next person in the door. Enter an acquaintance, Cootie Shine, who’d helped Fab and me out of a bad situation in Card Sound. He was perfect for the job—outgoing personality, oddball rapport, didn’t take sass, and packed a Glock that he knew how to use.

Glancing around at the lookie-loos, I didn’t think that would be a problem. I’d hate to ask those who continued to stare eagle-eyed at the room door what their preference was. Multiple bodies? A smoking gun or two? “Since this was an invitation-only event and I know everyone here, you send anyone asking for a refund to me.” I shook my head. “They’re lucky we don’t charge extra.”

“Did you know the deceased?” Cootie asked.

“No, and I’d like to know how the woman got access to the room and why she showed up on this night, of all nights, to off herself.”

“I did my best to keep an eye on things, but she must have got past my radar somehow.”

Rude Banner had rushed up in time to hear my question. Rude, short for Gertrude, was Cootie’s almost-wife by her own definition, insisting that they’d marry one of these days. The short, grey-haired woman never failed to speak her mind and was a handful, according to Cootie, which he said with a twinkle in his eye. The pair had met while hibernating in the mangroves and been on and off for a number of years. Both were vague as to how many.

More patrol cars and a forensics van pulled up, along with an ambulance.

“Keep everyone busy with food and drink,” I said to Rude. “I’ll ask Creole—he’ll know what’s going to happen next. We should be prepared to have the cops tell everyone to leave.”

“Don’t you go worrying none,” Rude said. “This night is going to be the talk of the town, more so since it went down in the haunted room.”