Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Mystery at Maplemead Castle - Kitty French

The Mystery at Maplemead Castle 
by Kitty French 

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UK  🇬🇧 
US  🇺🇸
About the book...
Welcome to Chapelwick, a leafy English town in the hills of Shropshire, where chocolate pecan cookies come with a helping of sabotage.

Maplemead Castle is crawling with ghosts, and the new owners need them gone. When Melody Bittersweet and the Girls’ Ghostbusting Agency arrive on scene, they quickly identify the troublemakers swinging from the chandeliers… literally. 

A century ago, stunning trapeze artist Britannia Lovell plunged to her death, and has done every night since. But did she really just fall, or was there something more to her demise?

Forced to work with Leo Dark, her scoundrel ex, and infuriating, irresistible reporter Fletcher Gunn, Melody’s investigative powers are under strain (i.e. lost in a pink mist of lust and confusion). She needs her team on top form, but best friend Marina’s cake pipeline goes AWOL, assistant Artie’s distracted by a giant sausage roll, and the pug is scared witless by a lion.

Somewhere, hidden in the castle, is a heart-breaking secret, but what will it take to find it? And is there a chance it could set Britannia free, or is she doomed to repeat her last fateful act forever?

An utterly hilarious, gripping, spooktastic read for fans of HY Hanna, MC Beaton, Gina LaManna and Jana DeLeon.

About the author...
Kitty French lives in the Black Country with her husband, two young sons and two crazy cats. She’s a lover of all things romantic – songs, music, and most of all, books. 

Her USA Today best-selling Lucien Knight series topped the erotic chart on both sides of the pond, and she also writes romantic comedy as Kat French for Avon, HarperCollins. 

She’s over the moon to join Bookouture with her brand new paranormal romantic comedy series, Melody Bittersweet and the Girls Ghostbusting Agency.

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Mystery at Maplemead Castle
Melody Bittersweet Book 2
Chapter One

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.
‘Hey, Bittersweet.’ 
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. 
  ‘Stick the kettle on, Artie,’ I say, reminded of my need for caffeine as he pulls a little plastic Ziploc food bag from his pocket and deposits his weekly supply of tea bags on the tray beside the jar of coffee. He’s an oddball in all the best ways, our Artie. At first glance he seems gawky and awkward, and actually he is both of those things, but there’s so much more to him too. He has his own special way of looking at the world; pragmatic to the tenth degree and a knack for stating the obvious in a way that cracks me up. 
It strikes me suddenly that Marina has yet to produce Nonna’s special biscuit tin from her bag. I go icy-cold with fear. Please don’t let this be the day Nonna Malone has decided we don’t need her sugar fix to set us up for ghost-hunting because, as far as I’m concerned, that day will never come.  
‘Coffee, Marina?’ I say, hoping to jog her memory without needing to ask outright. If she doesn’t get the hint, I’ll face-plant myself in her cavernous suede hobo bag and wear it as a hat to snout out those biscuits. 
She nods, looking at me coolly. ‘I don’t know how to break this to you gently, so I’m just gonna be fast and blunt. Brace yourself. Nonna’s gone back to Sicily for a week. There are no biscuits.’ 
I gulp, and stare at her in wide-eyed horror. ‘You must have known she was going,’ I whisper hoarsely. ‘You could have prepared me.’ 
She looks at me with a helpless shrug, which might mean there was a family emergency prompting Nonna’s trip but, more likely, means she was too chicken to tell me.  
Artie plonks his lunchbox down on my desk and opens it. ‘You can have my egg sandwich if you want,’ he offers. I appreciate the gesture of solidarity. He feels the same way about his mum’s egg sandwiches as I do about Nonna’s biscuits. 
‘I’m going to cry now,’ I say. ‘Because my life is practically ruined.’ I shoot Marina a dark look. ‘Glenda, cancel the appointment at Maplemead. I’m going to go to bed for a week. Wake me up when Nonna Malone comes home again.’ 
Glenda watches me have my sugar-free meltdown with calm, doe-like eyes, then silently reaches into her desk and hands me an unopened box of shortbread. It’s quite fancy, as it goes; proper Scottish stuff dipped in white chocolate for good measure. I feel my blood sugar start to rise in anticipation and decide that perhaps I don’t need to hit the sack after all. See what I mean about Glenda Jackson? She’s Wonder Woman without the Spandex.  
Lestat barrels across the room as I pick the end of the biscuit box open and our eyes meet as he ducks under my desk, skids to a halt and puts his stubby little foot on my knee.  
‘Not a chance, Mutt-Face,’ I growl, as protective of the shortbread as a mamma tiger with her newborn cub. ‘Go hunt your own kill.’ 
I feel absolutely no guilt as he slinks away across the office to his bed, shooting me daggers as he stomps around his cushions in ever-decreasing circles to get comfortable.
 ’I’ve printed out the recent sales particulars of Maplemead Castle.’ I pause to hand the copies I made earlier around. ‘It’s worth us all taking some time to familiarise ourselves with it. There’s also a potted history attached at the back, although we’re going to need to go deeper after our initial assessment this afternoon.’ 
‘It’s quite a place, isn’t it? I always hoped they’d open it up to visitors but the family were very private,’ Glenda murmurs, admiring the moat and handsome facade. She isn’t wrong; it’s a beautiful sandstone brick building that has been cared for and modified over the years to keep it in service in various guises, and its many-mullioned windows glint in the sunlight behind the grand stone steps leading up to the entrance. 
Marina flips the top image of the castle over and whistles as she glances over the details. ‘Seventeen bedrooms!’  
Aside from the numerous bedrooms, the castle has a library, a billiards room, various attics, cellars and an old dungeon. 
‘I vote we don’t set foot in the dungeon,’ I say. I’m not the bravest when it comes to the dark. 
‘Lois and Barty Letterman have been living at Maplemead for a month or so now, and in that time they’ve witnessed an array of paranormal activity; objects being moved, thrown, that sort of thing, that they attribute to ghosts,’ Glenda says, reading through the notes from the booking-in telephone conversation. ‘They’re not unduly bothered for themselves, but a film crew are due in at the beginning of next month and the leading lady has already made it clear that she won’t step foot inside the place while there’s so much as a sniff of ghosts and ghouls.’ 
From what I can gather, the Lettermans are planning to run the castle as a business, hiring it out as a party venue and film set. Privately, I’m hoping the first movie being made at Maplemead will have a distinctly superhero vibe; I mean, it isn’t a deal-breaker that it has to star Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, but it sure would help oil the wheels. Or would it? I’m not sure I’d get much done, mainly because I’d be stalking him and trying to cop a feel of his iron helmet. That’s not even a euphemism. I like his actual helmet; all of that wizardy gadgetry stuff makes me come over all Gwyneth Paltrow and want to be his Girl Friday. Or maybe just his girl. Anyway, you get the idea. I’m not exclusive to Iron Man though. I’m a superhero junky; I’d be just as happy to see Captain America or Spidey rock up to the portcullis at Maplemead. 
Surreptitiously scribbling on my jotter block, I clear my throat and whip quickly through the other bare-bone details we already know about Maplemead, mostly just the basic timeline of the castle that I’ve dug up from the net. There’s not very much to go on yet; we need to get over there and try to assess what’s going bump in the night before Hollywood descends and all hell breaks loose.  
Glenda rules a neat line to close off the morning meeting in the diary and, as we slowly disperse back to our relative perches, Marina leans over my shoulder and reads my scrawl in the jotter block, then rolls her eyes. 
Buy Curly Wurlys.  

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