Mystery at Maplemead Castle (The Chapelwick Mysteries)
Author: Kitty French
Every now and then someone tells me how lucky I am to be able to see ghosts and I bite my tongue and sit on my hands so I don't accidentally punch them in the face. Honestly, I know it might seem interesting, fun even, from the outside looking in, but if I could trade places with a regular Joe I'd do it in a heartbeat. It's a gift and a curse in unequal measures, but one I'm determined to make best use of by building my fledgling business empire around it.
I look up as Marina bounces a balled-up chewing gum wrapper off my head to get my attention.
'That's the third time I've said your name.' She folds the stick of gum in half before she puts it in her mouth. 'What's got you so distracted?'
I shrug. 'Just thinking about this afternoon's meeting at Maplemead. I can't remember the last time I went inside an actual castle.' I avoid places steeped in history on account of the fact they're usually also steeped in ghosts who want to hassle the hell out of me, but this is for work purposes so I'm breaking my own rules. We're meeting later today with the American couple who recently moved lock, stock and barrel to England after buying Maplemead Castle over the Internet. I know. Who does that?
'Do we need to buy caps to doff?' Marina asks, her dark eyes dancing. She's not one for taking things too seriously, unless someone winds her up or threatens us, in which case she morphs into a crazy woman and you don't want to be the one she's gunning for. It's her Sicilian heritage. Luckily for us, she also has a Sicilian nonna, or gran to you and me, who is a stonkingly good cook. Therefore, Marina comes in most days armed with something fabulous in her vintage biscuit tin.
'A quick tug of our forelocks should suffice,' I say, pulling ineffectually at my fringe.
We both look up as our assistant Artie comes through the door, all long legs and wide, nervous eyes.
'Morning.' He grins, then drops to his haunches to greet Lestat, my utterly uncivilised pug. He hasn't been with us very long, but he already has his paws firmly under my table, his ass in my bed, and his furry flat face in Nonna's biscuit tin too if he can find a way to get at it without being seen. He's a ninja when it comes to food, but it'll take a faster pug than him to come between me and my next sugar hit.
I'm not a girl with that many vices, but sugar is definitely near the top of my addiction list.
'What time are we due at the castle?' Marina asks.
Glenda Jackson, our part-time secretary, taps the end of her pencil against the diary that's open on her desk. 'You're due at Maplemead Castle for two o'clock.' She glances at her watch. 'It's going to take you approximately forty minutes to get there in pre-rush-hour traffic, so you'll need to leave immediately after lunch.'
Glenda doesn't even look up as she imparts this information, because her fingers are flying so fast over her keyboard that it's a wonder her hands don't levitate. She's worked for my family for more than a decade, and she now does a couple of hours each morning here at the agency before going back to her regular job next door with my mother and gran at Blithe Spirits. Some people would find it difficult to be the sole administrator for two businesses at once. Not Glenda Jackson. Monday to Friday she packs her curves into sexy little power suits, piles her red and gold curls on top of her head, then steers both of the Bittersweet ships whilst doing the cryptic crossword in her downtime.
We are an unlikely company, all round. Glenda Jackson, aka superwoman in a sexy power suit. Artie, snake-charmer, tea-drinker, trainee ghostbuster. Marina, my wisecracking, loyal right-hand girl since we were scabby-kneed kids; a gum-chewing, fiery Sicilian beauty queen.
And then there's me. The short, quirky girl in jeans and Converse who sees dead people, fantasises about superheroes and prefers sugar to sex. Actually, that is a complete and utter lie. I don't prefer sugar to sex, but I'm not getting any of one so I overindulge on the other. God, imagine if I could combine the two! For a moment I let myself imagine being boffed by Fletcher Gunn – the local hot-shot reporter who I have a love – hate relationship with – whilst eating a Curly Wurly, and it's so frickin' fabulous that I feel my cheeks heat up and wonder if the others can tell I'm suddenly on the brink of a saccharine orgasm.