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, a 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.
What’s in a Name?
Charity continued to muse. “Of course, Rancor has to be a pen name. It’s much too outlandish to be real.”
He poured more wine. “Au contraire, ma petite. It is my real name.”
“Really? Rancor? Someone in the family detested you on sight? I guess that’s not so surprising.”
She took the bottle from him and peered into his face. His eyes were clouded. Have I pinked an old wound? “Tell me.”
He glanced at her serious face and assumed a lighthearted air. “My father named me. You see, I was the sixth child in what was supposed to be a childless marriage.”
“Oh yes. My father had renounced offspring. His father had abandoned his wife and children when Dad was two. Ran off with a lady of the night, according to family lore. Never heard from him again. My grandmother died soon after he left, and my great grandparents took my father and his sister, my Aunt Gertrude, in. As a result, Dad swore he’d never reproduce.”
“And then he met your mother.”
“Clara Pendleton was the mayor’s daughter. She had auburn hair”—he reached out to touch Charity’s braid—“much like yours. Smart as a whip. She intended to go to New York to teach or, failing that, become a star of the stage.”
“Indeed. And lovely. He once wrote that her breasts were like moons, her eyes like stars, and her vagina like a lotus.”
“He did. Where do you think I get my way with words?” He grinned.
“So, he…wait, what was his name?”
“Yup. Another gift from his splenetic dad. According to Auntie, Grandpa refused to pass on the family name of Robert.”
“So, Rupert fell in love with Clara. I take it she changed his mind about having progeny?”
“No, never. She just kept having them. Gave them all names beginning with R. Rupert Jr., then Rebecca, Rothschild—Mother thought the banking family exceedingly romantic—Rose, and Rory.”
“That came later. Rory was five years my senior. My father thought himself well out of it. Then along came this squawling boy child with a shock of luxuriant hair the color of freshly turned Delta soil and a penis the size of Long Island.”
The unfortunate Donna appeared at the table as he pronounced these last words and dropped the water pitcher. She knelt to mop up the spill and managed to rise just as Rancor stood up, thus finding herself nose to nose with the aforementioned organ. Charity felt sorry for her. That blush must really hurt.
“Will there, will there be anything else…sir?”
“Thanks. She’ll take the check.” He waved at Charity. “I need to pee.”
The two women watched the tight jeans walk away, gulping in unison.
Charity didn’t have a chance to resume her interrogation until they returned to her apartment. When she dropped her sweater on the back of the couch, Rancor picked it up and took it to the closet before heading into the kitchen.
“You hadn’t finished about your birth…I mean childhood.” Moving on for now, if only for Donna’s sake.
He returned with two glasses. Handing one to her, he observed, “The last of the Glenlivet. You might want to pop into the liquor store tomorrow.”
Mind-boggling. “Your childhood?”
“Yes, well, Father was not amused by the arrival of said infant. He claimed it was Clara’s revenge for his negative attitude. Or was it for the fireworks he set off when Clara told him Rory would be the last?” His upper lip twisted. “According to Mother, he picked me up by the scruff of my neck, shook me, and declared me to be the spawn of her rancor. Hence the name. I am eternally grateful he didn’t name me ‘Spite.’ ”
Charity found herself at a loss for words. Rancor interpreted her silence as an invitation to take her in his arms, spilling both their drinks. “Rancor!”
“Damn. Now you’ll have to go out immediately for more whiskey. Do you want me to accompany you?” “No.” The man is utterly oblivious.
“All right. I’ll wait for you here.” He poured what was left of the whiskey into one of the glasses and knocked it off. When she made no move toward the door, he sighed. “I guess it can wait.” An unproductive pause later, he sighed again. “But enough about me. What about you? Did you finish the article?”
“I have a single column drafted on the discovery, with more to follow. I sure hope we hear from Captain Kelly tonight.”
He checked his watch. “It’s almost eight o’clock. Don’t expect anything today. Also, tomorrow is Sunday, and somehow I doubt the good professor works on the Sabbath.”
She said uncharitably, “Well, it’s a sure bet he doesn’t go to church.”
“However, I do. I noticed the Longboat Chapel has a service at ten. Care to join me?” Her jaw dropped.
“I’ll consider that a yes.” He stretched. “I’m going to take a shower.” His fingers grazed her breast. “Early to bed, you know.”
After a suitable interval, she followed him. The rest of the night went pretty much like the night before had.
Only upside down and backward.
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If money were no object and there wasn’t a pandemic circling the world, where would you go for a Spring Break vacation and why?
The Galapagos Islands on one of those small boat tours. As I get older I prefer nature trips to historic venues. I love birdwatching, and the landscape is so fascinating.
What’s your favorite thing about Spring and why?
Back in Washington, DC it was the best time of the year—azaleas, forsythia, tulips, daffodils—all in profusion. And the cherry trees! I was working for a Senate committee and our hours were long and intense. One day the staff played hooky and went to see the cherry trees in the tidal basin. We felt guilty and giddy.
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Although M. S. Spencer has lived or traveled in five of the seven continents, the last thirty years were spent mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, speechwriter, literary editor, professional staff at a U. S. Senate committee and at the Dept. of the Interior, non-profit director, and parent. She holds a BA from Vassar College, a diploma in Arabic Studies from the American University in Cairo, and a Masters in Anthropology and in Library Science from the University of Chicago. All of this tends to insinuate itself into her works.
Ms. Spencer has published thirteen romantic suspense or murder mystery novels, with two more on the way. She has two fabulous grown children and an incredible granddaughter. She divides her time between the Gulf Coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.
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Linked in: www.linkedin.com/in/msspencerauthor