by Tara Fox Hall
Beau to Beau Books
eBook ISBN: 9781618451248
When Madeline honors her mother’s dying wish and returns to The Chalet, she discovers the true secret of the old mansion; a seductive spirit whose undying love has waited decades to claim her for its own.
Note: This title has no chapter breaks. Please enjoy the first scene.
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“I don’t want to go back,” I said forcefully. “You remember how it was last time we were at The Chalet—“
“I’m dying,” Jackie said, her sunken eyes pleading. “I want to see Madeline’s Chalet one last time. I want to see her bedroom—”
I suppressed a shiver. What Jackie wanted was not to die, to live on even if it meant joining the ranks of ghosts locked up behind those huge columns. I’d been to the Chalet twice before. Both times, I’d sworn I wasn’t coming back ever again.
“Please,” she pleaded, her dark hand gripping mine. “Please, just one last time—”
I shut my eyes, feeling my doom enfold me like a long black shadow. “All right.”
Madeline’s Chalet—or The Chalet, as I always thought of it—wasn’t just a walk down the street. It was located in Minnesota near a large forest, surrounded on three sides by state land. How many hunters and campers got seduced to go behind those great twin oak doors I’ll never guess. But I know that at least a few did—the ones that got reported to my family over the years. What they saw, I’m not sure. Maybe it was Madeline herself, or the force that remained of her, since she’d died in that house 40 years earlier.
Madeline Rouge had been part of the Jazz era, a sultry black singer with huge hair that had hit it big in the 60’s. Her star had risen quickly—multiple albums, fortune, fame, and money. Not that she’d had to buy this place, oh no. It had been a gift from an admirer, one that hoped to woo her out here. And she’s come to accept the gift, too. Who wouldn’t? Joseph Martelli wasn’t the kind of person you said no to, even if you were a big star. He controlled a big section of the Chicago mob. He also loved to trophy hunt, and took to the Minnesota woods every winter to do just that. The Chalet had been Martelli’s place before he’d given it to Madeline lock, stock, and barrel. Just why a pure blood Italian of seven generations had gone overboard for a black singer wasn’t understandable, not with a wife and a mistress already. Maybe it had been her music. Madeline was decent looking, but her voice was pure magic. Or maybe Martelli had done enough evil here over the years that the place was haunted already and wanted to dump it.
Why had Madeline come? She didn’t hunt—she was just a Brooklyn girl who had hit it big and found her lucky star. Maybe she’d thought Martelli would marry her? Or maybe she was sick of the sudden fame. Whatever the reason, she arrived one night in sultry August at the doors of that huge old house. And she never left.
What happened behind the closed doors before the murder isn’t known, not conclusively. But the night Madeline was shot, she was packing to leave, her suitcase out on the big double bed. It was Martelli’s bed, the huge master bedroom plush with antiques, velvet, and carved wood.
Whatever disturbed her packing also isn’t known. But Madeline ran from it, whatever it was. I’m inclined to think it had to be a person, as two bullets hit her twice in the back as she fled, one severing her spine, the other nicking her heart. She died in a pool of blood on her side, fear still etched across her sultry features, her hands in supplicant positions, as if she had begged for mercy with her last breath.
Had Joseph Martelli killed her? That was the obvious choice. But he was also shot to death that night himself, five slugs in his chest. And when the testing was done, he was found to have died only a few minutes before she had.
No one else was in the house. The two bodyguards that never left Martelli’s side were never accounted for. Had Martelli dismissed them to be alone with his lady love? Or did they flee when something or someone presented itself intent on murder? There were five men outside that heard shots, but only the two that killed Madeline.
Martelli’s wife was pleased. Not only did she have an alibi of being states away when it happened, but she also got everything. If Joe had been planning to divorce her, he never would now. But her euphoria was short lived when she saw the deed to Martelli’s retreat had already been signed over to Madeline. She was furious, and tried all kinds of legal maneuvering to get it back. But my family, Madeline’s family, fought for it, most of all his sister, Annie. She wanted to pass it down to her children. Madeline had never had any of her own. But Annie’s daughter, Jackie, was just seven and a half.
Even before the final papers were signed, rumors began to circulate among the locals, that the ancient house they called The Chalet was now haunted. Lights would shine in the third story windows at night, or laughter would be heard. Sometimes there were screams, or gunshots, always two together, no more, no less. The town paper did a few pieces on The Chalet that year, complete with pictures, for Halloween. Annie put the article clippings aside when she received them anonymously, thinking it was just superstition. Then came the first missing person’s report.
Al Handle was the town drunk, and he’d been busted before for squatting in abandoned barns. That he chose The Chalet for the night isn’t surprising. But it was likely his last night alive. The only clue was that Al left his favorite hat on a nail near the basement entrance, the ones the servants had used. It was found the next morning, but no trace of him was.
He was the first, but by no means the last, or so my grandmother told my mother. The story of the murders at The Chalet would get told around some campfire, or over a glass at a bar somewhere, and the ghost hunters would come in a posse, eager to see their very own specter. No matter how many locks Annie put on the door, The Chalet was always open to those kinds of seekers. The police used to berate her, threatening charges if she didn’t lock up better. Then Annie had them come out there in person to witness a steel bar being welded across the huge oak doors. When they’d come back seeking missing hikers, the steel and reinforced frame had been gone, the oak doors slightly ajar. The sheriff had looked at her out of the corner of his eye and said that thieves had probably come in the night and stolen the steel to trade it in for cash at the dump. She’d given him the look that said she knew he was lying. But at least after that no one blamed her for the disappearances.
Annie wanted to sell, at that point. The house was a big tax liability, and a regular hassle. But she had no buyers that offered enough to pay the back taxes that had accumulated each year since she’d inherited the house from Madeline. Then, right at the point where the bank threatened to foreclose and hand The Chalet to some developers, a mysterious anonymous benefactor showed up and all the taxes were paid, just like that. More strange, that same benefactor agreed to pay them in perpetuity, as long as Annie signed a document that agreed to pass on the house to her female heirs. What my grandmother thought about the strangeness of this, I never heard. But I know she signed the document, as Jackie got the house at eighteen, the same year Annie died suddenly of a heart attack. Jackie was in another state at the time, just beginning a new life and job with her college sweetheart husband of only a few months. Jackie hadn’t come to the Chalet until she was close to thirty, after she’d divorced him and adopted me. I was three or so at the time. I don’t remember much, except wondering why I couldn’t go inside while she could. But I loved my new mom, even if she was black and I was white.
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