Title: The Pit and the Passion: Murder at the Ghost Hotel
Author: M. S. Spencer
Genre: Cozy Mystery/Romantic Suspense
At midnight, in the darkness of a deserted hotel, comes a scream and a splash. Eighty-five years later, workmen uncover a skeleton in an old elevator shaft. Who is it, and how did it get there? To find out, Charity Snow, ace reporter for the Longboat Key Planet, teams up with Rancor Bass, best-selling author. A college ring they find at the dig site may prove to be their best clue.
Although his arrogance nearly exceeds his talent, Charity soon discovers a warm heart beating under Rancor’s handsome exterior. While dealing with a drop-dead gorgeous editor who may or may not be a villain, a publisher with a dark secret, and an irascible forensic specialist, Charity and Rancor unearth an unexpected link to the most famous circus family in the world.
“I said, you’re wrong. There has been a sighting there.”
“In the Ghost Hotel?”
“N…no. Not exactly.” He seemed reluctant to admit it. “In the Chart House. It’s built on the site of Ringling’s Ritz-Carlton, isn’t it?”
George put down his cup. “I can’t believe it. I thought between me and my father we’d heard of every event here on the key.”
Charity leaned forward. “What else do you know about it?”
Rancor looked past her to George. “Got the skinny from the bartender. It’s a little boy, about seven years old. Kid shows up in the men’s room fairly regularly. Plays with a toy or just sits there.”
“But who is he?”
Bass heaved a sigh, as though her questions were too, too exhausting. “Should make you wait for the book.”
After a tense pause, he grunted, “Waiters call him Tommy T. Consensus is that he was the son of a carpenter working at the hotel. Fell down an elevator shaft.”
“How do I know? Isn’t that your job? To research and authenticate these stories. I just happened to hear about it at happy hour.”
Charity couldn’t help herself. “And what exactly is your job then?”
“To put the crap you draft into proper English. I’m assuming you’re incapable of decent prose, being a reporter and all.”
She rose an inch, but George put a hand on her knee. “Easy now.” He gave Bass a warning look. “Charity is here to help you, yes. However, you are perfectly free to contribute to the research, provided you have at least two sources for every item. The way a professional journalist would.”
“Yeah, yeah. So, what’s next?”
Charity reflected that she had never disliked a person quite so thoroughly—not even that first boss who loved to put her down in front of the staff—but she understood that George’s reference to professionalism extended not just to Bass but to her. “I want to interview the Chart House staff.”
“I’ll go with you.”
She kept her eyes on George. “That won’t be necessary, Mr. Bass.”
“Well, I want to.” He rose and dusted something minuscule from his faded jeans. “I need a drink. And besides, I can worm more information out of the waitresses than you can.”
Hateful. Absolutely, positively hateful.
Before she could come up with a crushing retort, George broke in. “Yes, take him along, Charity. We’d better get the story quickly—I don’t know when they’re planning to start demolition.”
Charity retrieved her cell phone and purse and led the way to her car. Bass regarded it with dismay. “Are you nuts? I can’t fit in a Mini Cooper.”
She looked him up and down. “What are you, six one?”
“And a half.”
Such a child. “You’ll fit.” She got in and started the engine. After a minute, his feet appeared, then his torso, and finally his head. He threw his jacket in the back and settled on the seat, his knees just grazing his nose.
“At least open the window so an extraneous appendage or two can stretch out.”
As they neared the entrance to the Longboat Key Club, a siren started up behind them. Charity pulled over to let two police cars and an ambulance go by.
They turned into the club drive. She followed them.
“What are you doing?”
“I want to see where they’re going.”
“What are you—an ambulance chaser?”
“No…a professional journalist.”
The ambulance made a left and headed toward the building that housed the restaurant, but instead of pulling up to the entrance, it stopped in a corner of the parking lot. Charity drove past and parked in another section. By the time Rancor had unfolded himself from the seat, she had reached the first squad car. “Hey, Pete. What’s up?”
The police officer—a husky man of about forty with the hard, brown skin of a fisherman—greeted her. “Oh, hi, Charity. Construction crew reported skeletal remains.”
“Really? In the Chart House?”
“Nope.” He gestured at a pile of broken asphalt. “Parking lot. Backhoe started breaking up the pavement in the southeast section and a sinkhole opened up. The foreman found bones at the bottom. Called a halt and us.”
“Mind if I tag along?”
Two medics were working on something in a deep pit. One of them looked up. “Hey, Pete, I think we’re gonna need a specialist.” His face was tinged an unattractive green.
“You okay, Carl? What kind of specialist?”
“Forensics.” He turned away. They heard gagging.
The other EMT added, “And maybe one of those physical anthropologists. Or a dentist.” He helped Carl up and they climbed out of the pit.
He laughed. “’Cause from the looks of this joker, he’s been around a looonnnng time.”
Charity ached to get a look at the thing but knew Pete wouldn’t let her until they’d secured the scene. Rancor apparently felt no such compunction. He marched past the policemen and peered into the hole. Turning to Charity, he yelled, “I think we’ve found our ghost.”
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Set on Longboat Key, Florida, The Pit and the Passion takes place on the spot where John Ringling began building a luxurious hotel in the 1920s. Left to slowly disintegrate over the decades, it inevitably came to be called the Ghost Hotel. Where better than a ghost hotel to find a ghost? Not only a real ghost, but the ghosts of a past tragedy. If you like quirky romance, a little spicy history, humor, and a dash of cold case mystery, you’ll love The Pit & the Passion.
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