Journalist Felicity Flower’s reason for visiting the charming little town of Haversham, Vermont is to uncover the truth behind the claim that the colonial Haversham Inn is haunted.
Mayor Wesley Haversham XII’s reason for luring her there is to attract more tourists to the magical place that his family has called home for centuries.
Although Felicity and Wes have only business on their minds, the townspeople and their ghostly ancestors stir up a little mischief to make sure that everyone gets what they truly want for Christmas.
Felicity Flowers eased off the gas pedal of her vintage Volkswagen Bug the moment she saw the sign.
Welcome to Haversham, Vermont
Founded 1710, Pop. 956
Her first step was to absorb the atmosphere of the town from border to border before examining anything specific at closer range. Carefully obeying the posted speed limit of twenty miles per hour, she spoke into her recorder.
"I'm driving along Main Street. Looks like a typical, very small New England town. The historical architecture has been extremely well preserved. The street and sidewalks are clean. All very quaint, colonial, charming, blah, blah, blah.
"On one side, there's May's, a cutesy diner with ruffled curtains in the front windows. Then there's the Haversham General Store slash post office. The city hall slash police department slash fire station is on the other side. Next to that is the Haversham Public School. Pretty small building. Must not be many kids. Opposite the school is Chuck's Garage. No fast food chain in sight."
It was close enough to lunchtime for her to wonder what was on the menu at the diner, despite the ruffled curtains.There were four streets, named First, Second, Third and Fourth Place, leading away from Main. Down those streets Felicity could see a variety of single-family houses. The last building along Main Street was the Haversham Inn. In less than five minutes, she had reached another sign that read,
Leaving Haversham, Vermont
Have a nice day.
She made a U-turn and took another look at that three-story, red brick mansion. Four white columns supported a second floor veranda and three dormers jutted out beneath the gray-shingled roof. Like the rest of the buildings, the old inn was elaborately decorated for the holiday season. It also appeared to be meticulously cared for, unlike a number of the other so-called haunted houses she had visited so far on this trip.
It was just as well that the story she was writing required her to stay there. It appeared to be the only thing in the area remotely resembling a hotel. Gawd! It was probably one of those bed and breakfast places where she'd have to leave her room and actually speak coherently just to get a cup of coffee.
She did a brief tour of First through Fourth and their cross-streets and confirmed that all the businesses were on Main. The town was simply too adorable to be natural. There were actually white picket fences surrounding multi-hued clapboard houses with shutters, window boxes and gingerbread trim.
This wasn't a town, Felicity thought grimacing. This was a set for a Disney movie... or a Stephen King novel. Personally, she was rooting for King. At least that would break up the tedium that had marked this whole project so far.
The fact that every inch of the damn town was decorated with gold and green garland and giant red bows and bells made it even more nightmarish for her. Though it was daylight, she could see that every streetlight and evergreen tree had twinkle lights strung around them. She didn't need the sun to go down for her to imagine how absolutely magical Haversham would be at night. The whole town simply oozed Christmas spirit. The only thing missing was fluffy, white snow.
There was nothing in the letter she had received from Wesley Haversham XII, Mayor of Haversham, that prepared her for a fairy tale village. His letter had been short and business-like, with just the right enticement.
Mr. Haversham's letter mentioned that he had read her article in Aware magazine regarding spiritualists that conned the elderly. He suggested that a visit to his inn the week before Christmas would alter her skeptical opinion of the existence of spirits. As an incentive to get her there, he offered free room and board.
That generous offer, along with her innate curiosity, set her to wondering whether Mr. Haversham had some ulterior motive for wanting her to go to his town at that particular time, which in turn made her more anxious to check it out.
She decided that a story on poltergeists and the living who shared space with them could be a natural follow-up to the article he'd referred to. Soon she had lined up overnight visits at, or near, a dozen places purported to be haunted. To show how un-superstitious she was, Haversham Inn was scheduled as number thirteen, the last on her list.
As she drove along, she played back the notes she'd recorded. Her voice sounded the way she felt—bored to tears. When she first hit the road a month ago, she had thought this article might bring back some of the old creative spark. But like everything else she'd tried working on in the last two years, it had failed to do the trick.
So far the story was a dud. And she didn't have the slightest hope that her stay at Haversham Inn would make a difference. However, anything was better than spending another Christmas Eve with family and friends. She preferred to spend that night in a town full of strangers, people who hadn't witnessed the most embarrassing hours of her life and didn't constantly spout phrases like, "poor thing" and "of all the nights in the year". Strangers wouldn't care whether or not she was "getting on with her life" or "throwing it all away".
If Haversham Inn turned out to be more annoying than inspiring, she could always go elsewhere for the next four days, until Christmas was behind her. Maybe Boston or Hartford. Anywhere but home.
She turned into Chuck's Garage and stopped next to the old-fashioned gas pumps to begin step two—personal interviews with the natives. Mechanics in particular were usually interested in her refurbished, baby-blue Bug, and she often counted on the old car to act as an icebreaker. Accustomed to self-service, she got out and removed the gas tank cap.
"I'll do that for you, ma'am," a portly, gray-haired man called as he came out of the garage. "Nice car," he said with a smile.
Felicity smiled back and moved aside. "It's dependable. And economical. Fill it with regular, please."
While he got the fuel flowing, she closed the snaps up the front of her brown suede jacket and shoved her hands into the pockets. It felt colder than it did when she started out that morning. At this rate, there would probably be snow for Christmas. Wouldn't that be just peachy!
"Are you Chuck?" she asked to get a conversation going.
"Yep," he replied, keeping his gaze on the pump handle.
"You have a very nice station here, Chuck. I do a bit of traveling and I've got to tell you, those are the cleanest service bays I've ever seen."
Chuck turned to her and grinned. "Thank you, ma'am. I'm proud of it."
"Have you been here long?"
"My father opened this station in nineteen forty-two, the year I was born. Passed his name and the business on to me."
"I think that's great. You don't often hear things like that in bigger cities. Small towns seem to have more of a sense of tradition, I guess."
Chuck nodded. "Haversham's a town full of tradition. That's for sure."
"Really? Like what?"
He was obviously surprised by her question, but after a moment he replied. "Lord Wesley Haversham founded this town in 1710, and it's been managed by a Wesley Haversham ever since. The current mayor is the twelfth in the line. Now that's tradition."
"Does anyone else ever run for mayor?"
"Nope." The pump clicked off and he returned the handle to its holder. "That'll be eighteen dollars even. Cash or charge?"
"Cash," Felicity said, pulling a twenty out of her shoulder bag. "Where could I get something to eat?"
"May's Diner, down the street. The Haversham Inn serves breakfast and dinner, but no lunch."
He glanced from side to side before adding, "May's the better cook anyway."
She smiled as she opened her car door. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Have a safe trip, ma'am," Chuck said and started walking away.
"Thanks, but I'm only going as far as the inn. I'm staying there for a few days."
Chuck stopped in his tracks and whirled around toward her. "You're staying?" His expression went from surprised to pleased when she nodded. "Then you must be that reporter lady Wesley's expecting. Why didn't you say so? I thought you were just being nosy."
Felicity laughed. "Reporters are notorious for being nosy. But actually, I'm a freelance journalist."
He came back and vigorously shook her hand. "Well, either way, welcome to Haversham. And if you have any other questions, you just stop by and visit any time."
"Thank you, Chuck. I'll probably take you up on that after I get settled in."
Chuck watched her drive away then hurried inside. Within seconds, he had his wife, May, on the phone. "She's here," he told her excitedly. "Seems real nice too."
"How old?" May asked.
"Hmmm, early thirties I'd say."
"What's she look like?""Now, May, you know I never look at other women," Chuck protested.
"Baloney. Describe her."
"Well, she was all bundled up and her boots had heels on them, so it was hard to tell about height and weight, but I guess she was about average."
May clucked her tongue. "Was she attractive?"
Chuck thought out his answer before he spoke. This was the kind of thing that usually got him in hot water. "Her hair was reddish brown, kind of curly, down to her shoulders. I think her eyes were sort of green and she had some freckles on her nose and cheeks."
"She sounds perfect."
"I beg your pardon?" He could tell May was up to something and, as always, she was way ahead of him.
"What's the one thing Haversham needs?"
Chuck frowned to himself then remembered what had been decided by the town council. "A tourist trade?"
"Besides that." She didn't wait for him to guess again. "We need another Haversham! And unless Wesley finds himself a new wife, there isn't going to be a Wesley Haversham the Thirteenth."
"Now, May, honey, you know he's still grieving over Joanne."
"Only because there's no one around to take his mind off her. It's high time for him to be remembering his responsibility to this town."
Chuck didn't really want to know, but he asked anyway. "What scheme are you cooking up in that head of yours?"
She laughed lightly. "Don't worry. You'll hardly have to do a thing."
* * *
Felicity turned into the paved driveway on the side of the inn and went around to the rear of the building. Only one car, an American sedan, was in a lot big enough for a dozen. The word, Registration, was printed on a small sign above a pair of intricately carved wooden doors. She parked in the space closest to those doors and pulled her suitcase out of the back of her Bug.
With a bit of effort, she lugged her case up the three steps to the covered porch and through the double doors. She found herself in a small foyer tastefully decorated with colonial pieces. On a narrow table were an open guest book and a ballpoint pen with a white feather coming out of its top.
She set her bag down and leafed through the pages. There weren't more than fifty names and addresses listed. She supposed it could be a new book, but the empty parking lot suggested that there was a dearth of guests at the inn. Chuck's instant assumption that she was the "reporter lady" was also a pretty strong clue that visitors here were few and far between.
Using the fake quill pen, she added her name in the book.
Felicity looked up to see a very striking man standing a few feet away from her. She wondered how he had approached on the wood plank floors without her hearing him.
"Yes. I'm Felicity Flowers. I have a reservation."
He held out his hand and smiled broadly showing straight white teeth. "Welcome to Haversham Inn. I'm Wesley Haversham."
So, Felicity thought, this was the man who wrote her the stiffly formal letter. He was not at all what she'd expected. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Haversham," she said, returning his smile. "Your letter was quite intriguing."
"I'm glad. And please call me Wes. If you'd like, I'll show you to your room and let you get settled. Then I'll be glad to give you a tour of the house. May I hang your jacket for you?"
Before she had the first snap undone, he was standing behind her to assist. As he hung it in the coat closet, she couldn't resist taking a longer look at him. She had assumed he'd be a stuffy old man with white hair and heavy jowls and a pipe sticking out of his mouth.
Wesley Haversham XII looked more like a model for a GQ layout—tall, with nearly black hair brushed smoothly back from his face and just a hint of silver at each temple. Because she was looking at his wire-rimmed glasses, she couldn't tell the color of his eyes, only that they were dark. She'd always thought that glasses made a man more interesting. His white knitted sweater and black dress slacks showed off a lean, fit body. And he seemed to be personable as well. Definitely GQ material.
He picked up her bag and led the way up the stairs from the foyer. She thought the rear view was pretty damn nice as well and immediately decided to take plenty of pictures of the inn with him in most of them. If the ghost angle didn't work out, maybe she could sell an article on the owner. If not GQ, maybe Cosmo would go for it... if he was a bachelor.
"Does your wife help run the inn?" she asked casually.
He momentarily paused then resumed. "My wife passed away several years ago. But my aunt, Louise Ludwig, lives here and keeps everything running smoothly. You'll meet her later."
"I'm sorry about your wife," Felicity said aloud, while thinking that a widower could be considered even more interesting than a bachelor.
He shook his head and smiled. "It's been a while. Here we are." As he opened the first door on the second floor landing, the hinges emitted a loud groan. "Darn. I forgot to oil those. I'll be sure to take care of it later."
He stepped aside and she walked past him into a room that could have been Dolly Madison's parlor. She hadn't expected a full suite, let alone such well-appointed rooms. There was no doubt in her mind that some of the pieces of furniture were valuable antiques.
"This is so lovely," she declared as she entered the bedroom and saw the fireplace and canopied four-poster. The heavy furniture was dark walnut and the colors were forest green and ivory with touches of red. Through the window she could see the Green Mountains that bordered the town. Surely this place overflowed with skiers once the snow fell. Valid story or not, this was where she was spending the next four days. "Quick, show me the rest of this museum!"
"Don't you want to unpack?" he asked with surprise.
"I can do that later."
As he escorted her from room to room, words of praise flowed honestly off her tongue. The entire house had been decorated with history and comfort in mind. There were another three suites similar to hers on the second floor, one of which his aunt used. For guests on a budget, there were six small bedrooms on the third floor with two communal bathrooms. Felicity was certain that, for diehard skiers, a discounted price plus the view out the windows was incredible enough to make up for the lack of a private bath.
The first floor had a spacious kitchen, a dining room that could seat twenty, a sitting room with game tables, and Wes's apartment, which faced Main Street.
On every wall of the dining and sitting rooms were portraits of Havershams, the dates of which could be estimated by clothing and hairstyles. The present Wesley bore an amazing resemblance to several of his male ancestors. When she remarked on it, he assured her, for each ancestor, he had a story that he'd be pleased to tell whenever she wished.
She couldn't help but notice how his eyes avoided the most contemporary painting. He was obviously the man in the portrait, and the beautiful woman gazing up at him with adoration had to be his late wife. Felicity thought he must miss her terribly.
He brought the tour to an end in the kitchen, where colonial design was skillfully blended with modern conveniences.
"I absolutely love this whole place," she gushed. "What a marvelous writer's retreat it would make."
"You really think so? I never thought of—" Wes looked up at the ceiling. "Did you hear that?"
"What?" she asked, following his gaze."That tinkling sound. Like glass wind chimes. It's gone now."
Felicity hadn't heard anything and admitted it.
"They were probably saying thank you for your compliments."
"They?" she asked, already guessing at his explanation.
"My ancestors," he said, with a perfectly serious expression. "They don't always make themselves known to strangers so quickly, but your appreciation of their home would make a difference. It's always been said that when you hear the sound of the wind chimes, it means a spirit is smiling."
"Well, I certainly hope I get a chance to meet some of them while I'm here. I think I should tell you though, this is the last of thirteen buildings I chose to investigate for my article and I have yet to witness anything even vaguely supernatural."
Wes nodded his understanding. "Spirits are very independent. They choose who they want to communicate with and no amount of pleading will convince them to perform on cue."
"I've been told that before. It's begun to sound like the standard excuse for why nothing strange ever happens when a reporter is nearby."
With a low laugh, Wes said, "I have a feeling your luck's about to change. I'm sure you have a lot of questions, but how about some lunch first? Aunt Louise won't be back until about four, but there's always something in the fridge."
"Actually, I thought I'd take a walk down to May's Diner."
"Good. I'll go along and introduce you."
Though Felicity would have preferred to talk with some of Haversham's residents without him, she worried that it might seem rude to refuse his company. Before heading out, he insisted on helping her don her jacket. It had been a long time since she'd received such gentlemanly treatment and she decided she liked it. And when his fingers remained in her hair a moment longer than necessary to free it from the collar, she decided she had no objection to that, either.
She had only met Wesley Haversham XII an hour ago, but he didn't seem like a stranger to her. She only hoped he wasn't a complete nut-job like most of the people she'd met in the past month.