Inn the Spirit of Legends
Spirits of Texas Book 1
by Becki Willis
Genre: Paranormal Cozy Mystery
When the tiny hamlet of Hannah, Texas goes up for auction, Hannah Duncan’s fun-loving uncle sees it as the perfect gift for her thirtieth birthday. After all, what’s more fun than a town bearing your own name?
Nestled in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, the ‘town’ isn’t much — a dozen or less buildings in various stages of disrepair—but it comes with a dedicated pair of caretakers, a menagerie of farm animals, a surprisingly generous trust fund, enough stipulations to make her head spin, and a handsome but maddening attorney to oversee the handling of the estate.
Originally a stagecoach stop, Hannah, Texas resolves around the historic and rather charming Spirits of Texas Inn. The old inn comes with a colorful past, the mystique of hidden treasure, loyal guests who still book summer vacations there, and three surprise residents: true spirits of the past, who didn’t cross over as expected.
Now Hannah has her hands full, coming to terms with her unexpected status as an innkeeper, adjusting to life in the country, fighting her attraction to attorney Walker Jacoby, plus dealing with ghosts!
To top it off, two fortune hunters arrive to search for the hidden treasure, and they don’t care who stands in their way. They’ll stoop to any means—including murder—to get their hands on the legendary stash of gold.
Don’t miss out on the excitement, right from the beginning. Book your visit to Hannah, Texas today!
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“I beg your pardon?” Hannah said, looking up from the bowl of oatmeal she doctored with brown sugar and granola. She paused before stirring in the fresh cream.
Walker had shown her how the cream rose to the top of the milk, just waiting to be scooped off and enjoyed. Fresh cream, she adored. The milk, not so much. It had been several days now, and she still hadn’t acquired a taste for it.
Walker repeated his announcement as he dished out his plate of scrambled eggs and toast, next to his own bowl of oatmeal and a thick slice of country-style ham.
“And you did this without consulting me first.”
Something in the quiet timbre of her words snagged his attention. He jerked his head up, just in time to see the flash of fire in her blue stare. His voice remained calm. “That’s right.”
“And why is that? As you are so fond of reminding me, I am the owner of this—this kingdom now!” She spread her arms wide, to indicate the whole of the outdated kitchen, wood stove and all. She waved toward the tiny town beyond. “Don’t you think that was my decision to make, and mine alone?”
Not that she was opposed to the idea of another cabin. Ever since the crazy notion of improving and expanding had entered her mind, it was all she could think of. Truth be told, she was angry with herself for not thinking of this idea first. Turning the run-down old store into another rental cabin made perfect sense.
Still, he should have consulted her first.
Walker took his time, scraping out the last of the eggs and returning the skillet to the burner, making certain it was cool to the touch before doing so. “Perhaps your decision to make,” he conceded, sauntering across the room to join her at the table. He settled into the chair, added salt and pepper to his eggs, and continued, “But not alone, it’s not. I have a stake in this, too, you know. As executor of the trust, all major decisions and purchases have to go through me.” He stirred a spoonful of peanut butter into his oatmeal. “Keep in mind, I’m not ordering any work done yet, and certainly not without your input. I’m merely gathering bids, so that when the time comes, we can make an informed decision. Together.”
“You mean at the end of my thirty day imprisonment.”
“It’s not an imprisonment.”
“Says the man who is free to come and go at his leisure.”
“Are you saying you want me to cancel the appointment?”
Surprised—and pleased—that he offered to do so, Hannah blinked in surprise. “Uhm, no. No, that won’t be necessary.”
He ruined the moment by flashing his most charming smile. “Then we don’t have a problem, do we?”
The contractor drove a beat-up old truck with peeling paint and a slightly crooked magnetic sign that identified his business as Jobs Done Right. Hannah thought he should have done a better job making his own first impression right. What if his run-down truck was a reflection of his workmanship? He might leave the cabin in worse shape than it was now.
Just the same, she followed Walker out to greet the carpenter. She wanted him to understand, right from the beginning, that he would be dealing with her, should he get the contract.
As the man crawled from the front seat of the truck, she felt Walker stiffen in surprise. “Who is that?” he muttered.
“Don’t you know him? You’re the one who called him!”
“I called Hank Ruby. That’s not Hank.”
They watched as a burly man stood outside the truck, preparing himself for the work ahead. He stuffed a pencil behind his right ear, tucked a measuring tape onto his cavernous overalls, and fumbled around on the dashboard until he came out with a clipboard. Adding a cap to his balding head and a flashlight to his pocket, he turned and saw that he had an audience.
“Howdy, folks. Pretty place you got yourself here.”
Hannah trotted alongside Walker, trying to match his purposeful stride as he greeted the man, more or less. His voice was as hard as steel. “I was expecting Hank Ruby. He and I spoke on the telephone yesterday.”
“Ah, yeah, about that.” The man scratched at his head and offered a sheepish smile. “The wife and I are down from Wichita Falls, visiting her family. Cousin Hank woke up deadly sick this morning, don’t you know. Could barely lift his head off the pillow or his be-hind off the commode, if you’ll pardon the reference, ma’am.” He bobbed his head in Hannah’s direction. “I have a contracting business myself, don’t you know, so I offered to come for him. You don’t mind, do you?”
Walker’s hesitation was obvious. “As long as you take good notes and measurements,” he slowly agreed, “I don’t see why it would hurt.” He extended his hand. “Walker Jacoby, Attorney at Law. And this is Hannah Duncan, owner of the property.”
“Owner, eh? You and your husband, I reckon? Is he here, too?” The man craned his neck to look for him.
“I’m not married,” Hannah said, taking an immediate dislike to the man. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Pardon the manners. Harry’s sudden sickness threw me for a loop this morning,” the man chuckled. “Name’s Tinker. Everett Tinker.” He thrust out a big, sweaty hand that Hannah reluctantly shook.
“No, ma’am, Everett. Everett Tinker.”
“You said Harry’s illness. I thought your cousin’s name was Hank.”
“Oh, right, right. It’s a nickname my wife had for her cousin when they were kids. He had long hair, don’t you know, back in the day.”
Hannah wondered why Walker regarded the man with a frown. Perhaps he didn’t like the contractor any more than she did.
The stranger didn’t notice. He peered into the bright sun as he surveyed the property. “Which one of these buildings are we tearing down? Looks like they all pretty much need it.”
“We aren’t tearing down any of them. We’re remodeling that third building there. But perhaps we should wait until Hank is feeling better.” Walker’s voice was tight.
“No, no, we’re fine. I can get you fixed right up. I can even start the work tomorrow morning, don’t you know.”
“That won’t be necessary. All we need today is a bid.”
Everett Tinker looked disappointed. His eyes roamed over the town again, zeroing in on the old inn. “I reckon that one is next on your list. I can work up a bid on that one, too, don’t you know.”
“Again, that won’t be necessary. Just the one.” Walker’s reply was cool and firm.
“Hey, you’re the boss.” The contractor flashed a big smile, revealing his aversion to dentists.
“Actually, Miss Duncan is the boss.”
The man had the audacity to chuckle. “Well, sure, she is.” He may as well have acknowledged she was the tooth fairy, for all the conviction in his voice.
Hannah stiffened immediately. Walker put a hand to her waist and leaned in to whisper, “Easy there, tiger.”
Leroy came bounding up from unknown parts, none too happy to find a stranger in their midst. He barked wildly, charging right up to the man in baggy overalls.
“He—He don’t bite, does he?” The large man visibly paled.
“Not with one of us around. But I don’t recommend dropping by, unannounced,” Walker was quick to warn. He reached out his other hand to quieten the dog. “Leroy. Sit.”
The shaggy white beast obeyed the command with obvious reluctance. He growled low in his throat, just to state his position on the matter. Hannah leaned into Walker and whispered out of the side of her mouth. “I agree with Leroy.”
The three of them walked down to the old storefront, Leroy close on their heels. Walker gave the carpenter a brief description of the work needing done.
Tinker squinted in the sunlight and stabbed a beefy finger toward the structure next door. “Might need to see one of the other cabins, don’t you know, so’s I can get a feel for what you’re looking for.”
After exchanging a look with Walker, Hannah shrugged and pulled out her keyring. Tinker grinned as they moved to the small cabin.
The carpenter poked through the space, opening doors and examining hinges, sliding out first one panel, then the next, testing the sturdiness of a wall or the bottom of a drawer. He had even looked under the bed.
“Mighty fine workmanship in here,” he commented at last.
“Thank you,” Walker said stiffly.
“Hank did this, did he?” When Tinker ran his hand under the edge of the bar, Hannah hoped he came out with a long, sharp splinter.
“As a matter of fact, I did this,” the attorney replied.
Hannah and Tinker both snapped their heads in his direction. All Hannah could manage was a stunned, “You?”
Tinker, on the other hand, droned on about first one thing, and then another. He liked the sliding panel over the television. Were there other hidden surprises? He had suggestions for where the electrical panel should have been… where was it, by the way? Where was the main breaker box for the property, just in case he needed to know? Some old buildings had a false floor, or a lowered ceiling. What about these? Any crawl spaces he could know about?
“Let’s take a look at the other cabin,” Tinker suggested eagerly.
“Honestly, Mr. Tinker, all we’re asking for is a bid on the old store.” Walker glanced at his watch. “I have another contractor scheduled for two o’clock.”
“Oh, well, sure, sure. I can be done by then, don’t you know.”
“Actually, I don’t know,” Walker replied smoothly. “Let’s go fine out, shall we?”
Hannah breezed past his outstretched arm, her grin stretched wide. For once, the lawyer’s smirk was directed at someone other than her.
A trail of dust still hung in the air behind Everett Tinker’s old truck. Hannah turned on Walker and charged, “I do not like that man!”
“That makes two of us.” Putting a hand onto Leroy’s head, he felt the great beast tremble with controlled energy. “Correction. Three.”
“I wonder why Leroy kept barking like that, running back and forth between the inn and the store.”
“He obviously didn’t like Tinker, any more than we did.”
“And what was with all the banging and tapping? We’re going to tear down the inner walls and remodel. What’s it matter if they’re hollow or solid? And why are you still staring toward the road?” Following his gaze, a thought occurred to her. She instinctively moved a step closer and dropped her voice. “Do you not trust him to truly leave the property?”
“I don’t trust him at all.”
“Then why did you call him?”
“I didn’t. I called Hank Ruby, remember?”
However, Hannah was on a roll, still peppering him with questions. “And why didn’t you tell me that you did that work in the cabin? The craftsmanship is amazing! Why do we even need a contractor? You could just remodel the old store.”
He was too distracted to respond to her compliment. “Something doesn’t add up.”
“I know,” Hannah sighed, deflating like a balloon. “You have a law practice. Not enough hours in a day to work on the building, too. It doesn’t add up.”
“No, not that. Well, yes that, but I was referring to Tinker. He said he was from Wichita Falls.”
“His truck has Kansas plates.”
By silent accord, they turned and started toward the inn.
“Maybe he meant Wichita, as in Wichita, Kansas. Maybe he added ‘Falls’ by mistake.”
“I admit, he’s not the hottest burner on the stove, but surely he knows where he lives.”
Hannah looked doubtful. After a moment, she brightened. “We don’t need his bid, anyway. We have that other contractor coming at two.”
Walker opened the inn door and held it for her, a mischievous smile playing on his lips. “There’s no other contractor,” he admitted. “I just told him that to hurry him along.” With a wicked wink, he added, “Don’t you know.”
Hannah laughed along with him, but warning bells sounded in her head.
He’s married. Married, married, married. He may have spent the last five nights here, helping you out and making you feel safe, not a wedding ring in sight, but he is OFF limits. No use in noticing his sexy laugh and his to-die-for smile. Get over it.
“I’ll throw some lunch together,” she offered, eager to get away from the smile she tried so hard to ignore. “Do you have time before you leave?”
She told herself that she didn’t notice the graceful play of muscles along his arm, either, when he consulted his wristwatch. “I should have time for a quick bite. If we have pork chops left from last night, I can warm one of those.”
She nodded and hurried off to the kitchen.
Walker found her there a few moments later, staring into the refrigerator. She had plates and a tub of leftover potato salad on the counter, but no pork chops. He peered over her shoulder. “Where’s the meat?”
“That’s what I’d like to know!” She tossed him a suspicious look. “Was that you I heard last night, banging around in the kitchen? Did you get hungry and have a midnight snack?”
He backed away, palms offered up in a gesture of innocence. “I thought that was you down here.”
“I have a strict policy about not wandering around in the dark.” Not after the other night, she added silently. She took the empty platter from the refrigerator shelf and wagged it toward him. “If you didn’t eat these, who did?”
“It must have been Leroy, because I’m telling you, I didn’t eat them.” He went so far as to frown in disappointment. “And I already had my taste buds all set for them.”
“Leroy did not open this refrigerator and get out the pork chops. You did this, Walker Jacoby,” she accused.
“I swear, I did not eat the left-over pork chops. Scouts honor.” He made an official looking sign with his fingers.
Her blue eyes narrowed. “Were you ever a scout?”
“No, but that’s beside the point. I still didn’t eat the pork chops.”
She merely huffed. “Looks like you’re eating sandwiches, then.”
“Fine with me. Hey, have you seen that folder I left on the check-in counter? I went to grab it just now, and it’s not there.”
“Haven’t seen it.”
“Hmm. Maybe I left it somewhere else.”
Hannah fretted while she pulled together the makings for sandwiches. Carrying the offering to the table, she finally voiced her troubled thoughts.
“Walker? You don’t think… I mean, surely she wouldn’t… she seemed more sad than dangerous, but—but could Caroline have moved your file and eaten the pork chops? You don’t think she somehow managed to get in, do you, and… and snooped around?”
He didn’t answer right away. He seemed to give the idea serious merit before answering, albeit indirectly. “I’m certain that Caroline did not eat the pork chops,” he assured her.
“How can you be so sure? Is she a vegetarian?”
He smiled at the very thought. “I doubt it. But trust me, Caroline didn’t eat them.”
Hannah wasn’t fooled for a minute. “Because you did!” she accused.
“I did no such thing.”
“Well if you didn’t, and Leroy and I didn’t, and now you insist Caroline didn’t, then who in the heck ate the pork chops?” Hannah demanded.
Walker stared toward the great room, and the front door beyond that. “I don’t know,” he admitted. His brows drew together in a frown. “I just don’t know.”
An avid history buff, Becki likes to poke around in old places and learn about the past. Other addictions include reading, writing, junking, unraveling a good mystery, and coffee. She loves to travel, but believes coming home to her family and her Texas ranch is the best part of any trip. Becki is a member of the Association of Texas Authors, the National Association of Professional Women, and the Brazos Writers organization. She attended Texas A&M University and majored in Journalism.
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Confession: I’m a total history geek, particularly when it comes to Texas history. Being a stickler for details, I don’t write historical fiction because I’m afraid of getting some minute detail wrong. (I just hate it when an author uses modern-day phrases in a period piece, don’t you? Pulls me right out of the story and makes me wonder what else she got wrong.) This new series has just enough historical facts to satisfy my inner thirst for research, while offering up a modern-day story that even non-history buffs can appreciate. Plus, it’s set in one of my favorite places (the beautiful Texas Hill Country) so in-person research is twice as much fun!
Q. What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m planning several books for this series, all revolving around the old stagecoach inn--hence the spelling of the title. Each title will begin with ‘Inn the Spirit of …’ followed by the theme of that particular book. The first book is Legends, and revolves around an old legend of hidden treasure. As for other projects, I’m currently working on the seventh installment of the popular The Sisters, Texas series. Stay tuned for a BIG announcement concerning that series! My goal is to squeeze in one stand-alone novel each year, but the truth is, there’s never enough time to write all the stories rolling around in my head.
Q. How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
We’ve all heard about them, ‘towns’ that are auctioned off on the internet to the highest bidder. It seemed like a fun backdrop for a story, particularly when the ‘winner’ is a reluctant participant in the whole process. In my story, Hannah’s extravagant uncle thinks he’s found the ultimate birthday gift, giving her a town that shares her name. Neither are prepared for the responsibilities --or the surprises-- at come with the property.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Inn the Spirit of Legends?
Hannah, the reluctant new innkeeper, soons fall under the spell of the tranquil countryside and the possibilities for a real future here.
Walker is the handsome but maddening attorney who oversees the trust fund for the property. It may be her town, but she must run all major decisions by him.
The spirits include a delicate Southern belle, a rusty but honorable cowboy, and a stoic Native American medicine woman.
Add in a menagerie of animals and a lively pair of elderly caretakers, and the tiny little town is far from boring!
Q. What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Research, of course. (Big smile.)
Q. Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story? My characters always hijack my stories! Honestly, outlines only go so far, because I never know what will happen in my books until the characters tell me. That’s half the fun of writing!
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I’m fluent in pig-Latin.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
Besides meeting/interviewing Kenny Rodgers when I was in high school? I’m still absorbing the fact that one of my books may soon be on television. How’s that for interesting! (Details to come.)
Where were you born/grew up at?
I am a Texas girl, through and through. I grew up in the small town of Rockdale, Texas and moved to an even smaller rural community when I was ten.I still live there today! I lived in College Station while attending Texas A&M University, but when I married my highschool sweetheart, we made our home on my family’s property. My husband and I own commercial chicken houses and cattle, and love our country lifestyle.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
My husband and I like to travel. And while I don’t much care for being in the water (I don’t swim, water ski, or spend much time on anything smaller than a cruise ship), I find great inspiration while sitting beside the water. I do my best ‘recharging’ while listening to the gentle gurgle of a stream or the roar of the ocean. Give me a book to read (or plot) while there, and I’m a happy girl.
How to find time to write as a parent?
Both of our children are grown, but we are fortunate enough to have all four of our grandchildren living near us. I try to attend their ball games, school functions and what have you, so being a doting grandparent and a productive writer don’t always mesh. Sometimes I have to tell them ‘Nana is writing and can’t play right now.’ Then I see that cute little face pressed against the window or hear that little voice on the phone, and my heart just melts. I can always get up early/ stay up late to write.
That said, my husband is wonderfully supportive, and a couple of times a year, he’ll send me away for a week to do some serious writing. Then the trick is to ignore those cute Facetime calls and texts.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
I’m a writer and you confine me to only five words?? Hmm. Creative. Loyal. Real. Border-line compulsive.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Exactly the way I spent my birthday yesterday -- with my family!
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