Published October 22, 2019
The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street
Tradd Street Series, Book 6
Available in Hardcover
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The Christmas spirit is overtaking Tradd Street with a vengeance in this festive new novel in the New York Times bestselling series by Karen White.
Melanie Trenholm should be anticipating Christmas with nothing but joy—after all, it’s only the second Christmas she and her husband, Jack, will celebrate with their twin babies. But the ongoing excavation of the centuries-old cistern in the garden of her historic Tradd Street home has been a huge millstone, both financially and aesthetically. Local students are thrilled by the possibility of unearthing more Colonial-era artifacts at the cistern, but Melanie is concerned by the ghosts connected to the cistern that have suddenly invaded her life and her house—and at least one of them is definitely not filled with holiday cheer….
And these relics aren’t the only precious artifacts for which people are searching. A past adversary is convinced that there is a long-lost Revolutionary War treasure buried somewhere on the property that Melanie inherited—untold riches rumored to be brought over from France by the Marquis de Lafayette himself and intended to help the Colonial war effort. It’s a treasure literally fit for a king, and there have been whispers throughout history that many have already killed—and died—for it. And now someone will stop at nothing to possess it—even if it means destroying everything Melanie and Jack hold dear.
Smoky silhouettes of church spires stamped against the bruised skies of a Charleston morning give testament to the reason why it’s called the Holy City. The steepled skyline at dawn is a familiar sight for early risers who enjoy a respite from the heat and humidity in summer, or the beauty of the sunrise through the Cooper River Bridge, or to hear the chirps and calls of the thousands of birds and insects who populate our corner of the world.
Others, like me, awaken early only to shorten the night, to quiet the secret stirrings of the restless dead who wander during the darkest hours between sunset and sunrise.
I lay on my side, Jack’s arm resting protectively around my waist, my own arm thrown around the soft fur of General Lee’s belly. His snoring and my husband’s soft breathing were the only sounds in the old house, despite it being currently inhabited by two adults, three dogs, a teenaged girl, and eighteen-month old twins. I never counted the myriad spirits who passed peacefully down the house’s lofty corridors. Over the last several years I’d extricated the not-so-nice ones, and made my peace with the others who were content to simply exist alongside us.
That’s what had awakened me. The quiet. No, that wasn’t right. It was more the absence of sound. Like the held breath between the pull of a trigger and the propulsion of the bullet.
Being careful not to awaken Jack or General Lee, I slowly disentangled myself from the bed sheets, watching as General Lee assumed my former spooning position next to Jack. They barely stirred and I considered for a moment if I should be insulted. I picked up my iPhone and shut off the alarm that was set for five am—noting it was four forty-six—then crossed the room to my old-fashioned alarm clock that I kept just in case. Jack had made me get rid of the additional two I’d once stationed around the room, accusing me of trying to wake the dead each morning. As if I had to try.
Since I was a little girl, the spirits of the dearly departed had been trying to talk to me, to involve me in their unfinished business. I’d found ways—most often involving singing an ABBA song—to drown out their voices with some success, but every once in a while, one voice was louder than the others. Usually because they were shouting in my ear or shoving me down the stairs making them impossible to ignore regardless of how much I wanted to.
I stumbled into my bathroom using the flashlight from my phone, silently cursing my half-sister, Jayne, and my best friend, Dr. Sophie Wallen-Arasi, for being the cause of my pre-dawn ramblings. They had taken it upon themselves to get me fit and healthy after the birth of the twins, J.J. (for Jack Junior) and Sarah. This involved feeding me food I wouldn’t give my dog (although I’d tried and he turned up his nose and walked away) and forcing me to go for a run most mornings.
Although I was more of a jogger than a runner, it required lots of energy that shouldn’t be fueled by powdered donuts (according to Sophie) and made me sweat more than I thought necessary, especially in the humid summer months when bending down to tie my shoes caused perspiration to drip down my face and neck.
Barely awake, I pulled on the running pants that Nola had given me for my last birthday, telling me that they were fashionable and functional and had the dual purpose of sucking everything in making one’s backside look as if the wearer were a life-long runner. I tried to tell Jayne and Sophie that these wonder pants made the actual running part obsolete, but they’d simply stared at me without blinking before returning to their conversation regarding upping their times for the next Bridge Run scheduled for the spring.
I tiptoed back into the bedroom, noticing as I pulled down the hem of my tee-shirt that it was on inside out, and paused by the bed to look at my husband of less than two years. My chest did the little contracting thing it had been doing since I’d first met bestselling true-crime history author Jack Trenholm. I’d thought then that he was too handsome, too charming, too opinionated, and way too annoying to be anything to me other than someone to be admired from afar and kept at an arm’s distance. Luckily for me, he’d disagreed.
My gaze traveled to the video baby monitor we kept on the bedside table. Sarah slept neatly on her side, her stuffed bunny—a gift from Sophie—tucked under her arm, her other stuffed animals arranged around the crib in a specific order than only Sarah (and I) understood. I’d had to explain to Jack that the animals had been arranged by fur patterns and colors, going from lightest to darkest. I’m sure I’d done the same thing when I was a child because, I’d explained, it was important to make order out of the world.
In the adjacent crib Sarah’s twin, JJ, slept on his back with his arms and legs flung out at various angles, his stuffed animals and his favorite kitchen whisk (even I couldn’t explain his attachment to this particular kitchen implement) tossed in various degrees of disarray around his small body. My fingers twitched, and I had to internally recite the words to Dancing Queen backwards to keep me from entering the nursery and lining up the toys in the bed and tucking my little son in a corner of the crib with a blanket over him.
It was a skill I’d learned with Jayne’s insistence. She was a professional nanny, which meant—I suppose—that she knew best and insisted that my need for order was borderline OCD and not necessarily the best influence for the children. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my need for order, as it had helped me survive a childhood with an alcoholic father and an absent mother, but I loved my children too much to dismiss Jayne’s concerns completely.
I would not, however, retire my labeling gun and had taken proactive measures by keeping it hidden so it wouldn’t “disappear” as my last two had.
Staring at my sweet babies on the monitor, my heart constricted again, leaving me breathless for a moment as I considered how very fortunate I was to have found Jack (or, as he insisted, he’d found me) and then to have these two beautiful children. An added and welcome bonus to the equation was Jack’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Nola, whom I loved like my own child despite her insistence on removing my three main food groups (sugar, carbs, and chocolate) from the kitchen.
“Good morning, beautiful,” Jack mumbled, two sleepy dark blue eyes staring up at me. General Lee emitted a snuffling snore. “Going to work?”
Before I was married, I’d always risen before dawn to be the first person in the offices of Henderson House Realty on Broad Street. But now I had a reason to stay in bed and he was lying there looking so much more appealing than a run through the streets of Charleston. Of course, spending the night in the dungeon at the Old Exchange building was also more appealing than a run, but still.
“Not yet. Meeting Jayne for a run.” I stood by the bed and leaned down to place a kiss on Jack’s lips, lingering long enough to see if he would give any indication that he wanted me to crawl back in. Instead his eyes closed again as he moved General Lee closer to his chest, giving me an odd pang of jealousy.
Quietly closing the bedroom door, I paused in the upstairs hallway, listening. Even the ticking of the old grandfather clock seemed muffled, the sound suffocated by something unseen. Something waiting. The nightlights that lined the hallway—a leftover from when Jayne lived with us and a concession to her crippling fear of the dark and the things that hid within—gave me a clear view of Nola’s closed bedroom door.
She’d been sleeping in the guest room as I’d decided right after the twins’ first birthday party in March that her bedroom needed to be redecorated. I felt a tug of guilt as I walked past it to the stairs, remembering the shadowy figure I’d seen in Nola’s bedroom window in a photograph taken by one of Sophie’s preservation students, Meghan Black. She was excavating the recently discovered cistern in the rear garden and had taken the photograph and shown it to Jack and me. We’d both seen the shadowy figure of a man in old-fashioned clothing holding what looked to be a piece of jewelry. But I’d been the only one to notice the face in Nola’s window.
Having recently dealt with a particularly nasty and vengeful spirit at Jayne’s house on South Battery, I hadn’t found the strength yet to grapple with another. Despite promises to be open and honest with each other, I hadn’t told Jack, bargaining with myself that I’d bring it up just as soon as I thought I could mentally prepare myself. That had been seven months ago, and all I’d done was move Nola into the guestroom and then interview a succession of decorators.
I stifled a yawn. Just one more week, I thought to myself. One more week working every possible hour trying to make my sales quota at Henderson House Realty, of trying to put myself on the leader board once more. I needed it not just for the sense of pride and accomplishment, but also because we needed the money.
Then I’d have enough energy and brain cells to be able to figure out who these new spirits were, and then make them go away. Preferably without a fight. Then I’d tell Jack what I’d seen and that I’d already taken care of the problem so he wouldn’t have to be worried. He had enough on his plate already, working with a new publisher on a book about my family and how Jayne came to own her house on South Battery.
I entered the kitchen, my stomach rumbling as I reached behind the granola and quinoa boxes in the pantry for my secret stash of donuts. But instead of grasping the familiar feel of a brown paper bag, I found myself pulling out a box of nutrition bars—no doubt as tasty as the cardboard in which they were packaged. Taped to the front was a note in Nola’s handwriting:
Try these instead! They’ve got chocolate and 9 grams of protein!
Happy visions of me running upstairs and pulling Nola from her bed earlier than she’d probably been awake since infancy was the only reason I didn’t break down and weep. The grandfather clock chimed, telling me I was already late, so I gave one last-minute look to see if I could spot my donut bag, then left the house through the back door without eating anything. If I passed out from starvation halfway through my run, Nola might feel sorry enough for me to bring a donut.
I stopped on the back steps, suddenly aware that the silence had followed me outside. No birds chirped, no insects hummed. No sounds of street traffic crept into the formerly lush garden that my father had painstakingly restored from the original Loutrel Briggs plans. When an ancient cistern had been discovered after the heavy spring rains had swallowed up a large section of the garden, Sophie swooped in and declared it an archaeological dig and surrounded it with yellow caution tape. Several months later, we were still staring at a hole behind our house. And I was still feeling the presence of an entity that continued to elude me, but who haunted my peripheral vision. A shadow that disappeared every time I turned a corner, the scent of rot the only hint that it had been there at all.
Walking backwards to avoid turning my back on the gaping hole, I made my way to the front of the house, tripping only twice on the uneven flagstones that were as much a part of Charleston’s South of Broad neighborhoods as were wrought iron gates and palmetto bugs.
“What a treat to open up a new Tradd Street House book by Karen White and disappear into her witty, wonderful and haunted world…No one does ghosts better than Karen White and this is one of Tradd Street’s best.” —New York Times bestselling author M.J. Rose
“White draws from a variety of genres, including paranormal fiction, women’s fiction, romance, and mystery. Series fans will enjoy spending the holidays with Melanie Trenholm. The plot moves pieces of this long-running saga forward, and the ending suggests that there’s more to come.” –Booklist
“While this is the sixth in White’s “Tradd Street” series, it can be read on its own, but make time after the holidays to binge-read the previous fivefor more adventures with these characters…A cliff-hanger ending and promise of another book will please avid fans. ” –Library Journal