My name is Lottie Lemon, and I see dead people. Okay, so rarely do I see dead people. Mostly I see furry creatures of the dearly departed variety who have come back from the other side to warn me of their previous owner’s impending doom. But right now, the only thing I’m seeing is my husband’s naked back as he moans into his phone.
It’s dark out, an ungodly hour that’s for sure, and apparently, Everett forgot to turn his phone off last night.
“What time is it?” I groan as I reach for my own phone and flip it over, the light from the screen blinding me momentarily. “Three o’clock?” It was my birthday just hours ago, Lyla Nell’s, too, her very first birthday, and we had the most adorable party for her right here at the house. Then after that, Everett gave me a secret library as my birthday gift—something he had our contractor, my ex, Bear Fisher, build into the place. And after that, Noah took me to his old office down on Main Street and recreated the day we first met. The implications were more than romantic, but not long after I arrived I got a text letting me know that Lyla Nell was tugging at her ear, so I came straight home. Noah came over as well and was kind enough to offer to sleep in the baby’s room with her.
“Lemon.” Everett jumps up, and it takes a moment for me to register that he’s hopping into his jeans and tossing on a sweatshirt. “Get dressed. That was Lainey. It’s your mother. There’s been an accident. We need to get Noah.”
It takes less than ten seconds for me to throw on my sweats and meet Noah and Everett downstairs.
“What’s happening?” Evie shouts as she runs partway down the stairs after us. Evie is the seventeen-year-old daughter I share with Everett. And even though I’m not her biological mother, she’s my own in every single way.
“Watch Lyla Nell,” I shout as the three of us dash into the night and hop into Everett’s truck.
“What happened?” Noah barks.
Everett seizes a moment as he takes a hard turn and nearly ejects us all out the window. “Lainey said the fire department received a call from a security guard at the Savings and Loan.” He sighs hard. Lainey’s husband is a firefighter, so I’m starting to connect the dots. “They reported a couple who appeared to have passed out. Lainey said it’s Miranda and Wiley.”
“Miranda and my dad?” Noah asks, stymied by this. “Last I saw them they were at my office.”
I had just left Noah’s old office myself at about nine-thirty, and that hour alone is way past my mother’s bedtime.
“What?” I shake my head, still trying to decipher if this is all a dream. “Noah, what would they be doing at your old place?”
As soon as Noah was hired on as the lead homicide detective at the Ashford Sheriff’s Department, he closed down his private investigative services. And later, that same office was taken over by Cormack Featherby, who opened her own investigative debacle. But it was just a ruse to get Noah back, just like that baby in her belly is—but I digress.
Noah winces. “When you took off, they strolled up the street. I guess they went to a ballet at the new theater and it had just let out. My dad has been trying so hard to win your mother back, I told them they could have at the romantic setup I had laid out for the two of us.” He groans hard. “I bet I know what happened. They were both downing that bottle of Canelli’s hooch you brought over. We never even had a chance to take a sip out of it, so I invited them to it. And you know my dad, he’s not one to let some decent white lightning go to waste. I’m afraid it was too much for your mother, and it sounds as if it took down dear old Pops, too.”
“Is that all this is about?” I breathe a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank goodness. I thought we were going to pull up and find them both dead on the spot from who knows what. It’s not like Honey Hollow is short on homicides.”
Everett glances back at Noah. “Did you say Lemon brought the moonshine?”
“Yeah,” I answer for Noah. “I found it rolling around right here on the floor of the passenger’s side. I hope you’re not upset. Was it for someone down at the courthouse? I’ll get you another bottle to make up for—”
Before I can say another word, Everett puts the pedal to the metal and we park in haste next to an ambulance with its lights blinking like a seizure in the night. A fire truck is parked in front of the Savings and Loan, and I jump out and run to the back of the ambulance where my sisters, Lainey and Meg, huddle in close, holding themselves.
“So are they sloppy drunk or what?” I ask, trying to make light of the situation. Now that I know the facts, I’m more concerned with my sisters’ welfare than I am with my mother’s.
Meg’s dark hair is ratted over her head like an eagle’s nest, her mascara is down to her cheeks, and Lainey’s face is puffy from crying.
Lainey and I share the same caramel-colored hair and hazel eyes. We almost look as if we could be biological sisters, if I wasn’t adopted into the family as an infant.
“Lottie.” Lainey collapses her arms around me. “She’s in there.” She nods to the open maw of the ambulance and I poke my head in to see both Mom and Wiley side-by-side being administered CPR as one of the paramedics shuts the doors and they speed off with the siren screaming into the night.
“They’re just drunk, right?” I ask as Lainey’s husband, Forest, steps up and hugs my sister.
“They weren’t breathing when we came upon the scene,” he says, morose, as he looks my way. “No pulse.” He lands a kiss to my sister’s cheek. “I’ll see you at the hospital.”
“Not breathing—no pulse,” I mutter under my breath and the ground feels as if it’s bouncing underneath my feet. “Oh my word, they’re dead.”
Meg and Lainey jump into their cars, and I run to Noah and Everett who are speaking to a security guard—perhaps the one who found them.
“I want this sealed off as a crime scene,” Noah says while spastically texting someone in the process. “I’ve got a few cruisers coming out. You’ll have help soon enough, but right now, I’ve got to get to the hospital.”
“Get in the truck,” Everett barks.
“Wait.” I pull Everett back and look into my husband’s cobalt eyes. “Do you think this is alcohol poisoning? I can’t breathe, Everett. You think they’ll pull through, right?”
His face looks alabaster in this dull light, the life sucked right out of his eyes.
He doesn’t answer.
And that’s the most frightening response of all.