What Would Jane Austen Do
To my husband Brit,
my real life hero.
To my family, your unfailing faith always conquers my self-doubts. You guys are the best.
To Lucienne Diver, Agent Extraordinaire. Need more be said?
To my editor Deb Werksman, for being right, even if it did mean more work. You made this a better book with your wisdom.
To my talented critique partner Mary Micheff, for everything from brainstorming to proofreading, but most of all, for your friendship.
To my great boss Darly Doyle, for your understanding and encouragement.
—I could not have done it without you all.
And last, but not least, to Jane Austen for providing so many hours of reading pleasure and such wonderful characters. I didn’t want her stories to end.
“I sensed a strong presence of spirits at Twixton Manor Inn. Two distinct females … one who cannot leave and the other who won’t.”
“What do you mean, no reservation?” Eleanor fought to keep her tone pleasant despite physical and emotional exhaustion. “Please look again. P-O-T-T-I-N-G-E-R.”
“Noooo,” the little gray-haired woman said as she watched the names scroll across her computer screen. Her plastic name tag identified her as the manager, Mrs. Ruth Simms. She turned and peered over the counter. “I’m so sorry. The Jane Austen Society is holding a conference here, and it’s Regency Week. We have no vacancies.” She frowned. “Why does your name sound familiar?”
“I have a confirmation letter,” Eleanor said. She stooped to dig in her carryon for the piece of paper.
“Now I remember,” the woman said, her birdlike voice floating over Eleanor’s head. “We received several boxes marked: Hold for E. Pottinger.”
“The costumes for my fashion seminar on Friday,” Eleanor explained without stopping her search. Thankful the shipment had arrived on time, she mentally crossed one item off her list of things to worry about.
“I’ll have Harry fetch your boxes.”
“Got it!” Eleanor stood with the prized confirmation letter held high.
Unfortunately, the shutters had been drawn across the opening of the registration counter. She looked around for a bell or buzzer and noted the changes made since her last visit two years earlier. The service counter was newly built into the doorway that had previously led to a cozy room once known as the ladies’ parlor.
The impressive entrance hall with its sweeping staircase, marble floor, and carved paneling looked a bit … well, less elegant than she remembered. A modern fixture replaced the original crystal chandelier, and the suit of armor standing guard near the front door could use a good polish. To the left of the entrance, double doors led to the main parlor where a number of guests milled around, most in Regency dress, all with those silly stick-on name tags.
A wave of exhaustion swept over Eleanor. She desperately needed sleep after fifteen hours of travel. She knocked on the shutter. A few moments later, she knocked again.
A young woman, much tattooed and pierced, opened one shutter and responded. “Gram has gone to fetch Harry. You might as well have a seat.” She gestured toward a wooden bench that looked like it had once been a church pew. “It’ll be a while. He’s out having a smoke.” She sucked air between her thumb and forefinger, indicating more than a plain cigarette. “Either that or he’s fiddling with that old motorcycle some guy left here instead of paying his bill. Either way, Gram won’t find him anytime soon, especially if he hears her coming.”
“I have my reservation confirmation.”
The girl took the paper with the same enthusiasm she might accept a traffic ticket. She tapped on the computer keyboard and looked in an old-fashioned ledger. “It says you cancelled your reservation. The bridal suite?” She looked up, obviously curious.
Eleanor was not about to share with a stranger that her fiancé had dumped her for a tall, bosomy blonde talent agent who’d promised to make him a movie star.
“Bummer,” the girl said.
Yeah, it had been. But once the rose-colored blinders had been removed, Eleanor had realized Jason wasn’t the man she’d thought he was. Painful as it had been, she’d emerged a stronger person and focused on her career. Since the plane reservations for the honeymoon in England were nonrefundable, she’d turned it into a business opportunity. And a chance to find out more about the necklace.
“As you will note on the confirmation letter, I changed the reservation from a double room to a single room six months ago.”
“Here’s something. Uh-oh. Gram’s not going to like this.”
“What? Did you find it?”
“She put you in the book, but forgot to enter you into the computer. Your reserved room is currently occupied by a Colonel Artemis Hoover. Uh … this is not good.”
Eleanor had a sinking feeling in her stomach. What could be worse than Colonel Artemis Hoover in her room?
“Gram is going to kill me,” the girl muttered.
“Not that it matters to you, but that’s my writing in the book. And it’s not my first f-up. Gram threatened to send me back to Pittsburgh if I wasn’t more careful.”
“I’m sorry,” Eleanor said for lack of anything else.
“You would be if you had to live with Mr. and Mrs. Clean-Cut Doctor. No problem. I can fix this. I’ll find you a room at one of the other inns.” She twirled the one long lock of purple hair that sprang from her orange spikes as data scrolled across the computer screen. “Nada. Zilch. Not an empty room anywhere. Well, I’m not going back,” she said under her breath before she plopped a big old-fashioned key on the counter. “Are you afraid of ghosts?”
“Are you afraid of ghosts?”
“I don’t believe in ghosts. Why do you ask?”
“We don’t usually let the tower suite unless someone specifically asks for it. It’s haunted.”
Eleanor weighed her need for sleep against the possibility of sharing a room with Casper.
“It’s the answer to both of our problems,” the girl said, her voice a mixture of desperation and hope. “If you tell Gram you wanted the tower suite all along, I’m off the hook and you get a place to stay. Win-win.”
Eleanor had a sneaky feeling she’d gotten the short half of the candy bar. Before her sluggish brain could kick into gear, she’d signed the register, explained the airline would deliver her lost luggage as soon as it was located in Frankfurt or Vienna, and followed the girl up the stairs. “Uh, Miss …”
“Karen Simms. But you can call me Spike.” She touched her stiff hair. “My mother hates it,” she added with a self-satisfied grin. She pulled a cell phone from one of her many pockets. “I’ll text Harry to bring up your boxes.” A few lightning-quick taps later, she clicked it shut. “All set.”
“About this tower suite—”
“You’re gonna love it. You’re a history buff, right? I mean, I assume you are because you’re here for the conference. Well, this suite has been completely restored. Two bedrooms and a sitting room overlook the south lawn. Which, by the way, I gave you for the single room price at the conference discount.”
“But if no one ever stays in it—”
“No problem. We keep it pristine clean so the ghosts don’t get upset. At least that’s what Gram always says.”
“About those ghosts—”
“Deirdre Cracklebury and her younger sister Mina. They were born in the manor house and lived here around the time of the Regency. I’m not real sure about exact dates, but you could check with Gram if you want to know the details. Everyone here just calls them ‘the girls.’ Several of the staff, and a few guests, have claimed they encountered paranormal stuff like cold spots and misty apparitions in the hallway—you know, weird junk like that. I’ve never seen anything myself.”
Spike stepped aside to let two giggling women guests pass on the stairway. Eleanor’s first impression was that two delicate porcelain dolls had come to life, but her attention was quickly caught by their exquisite costumes: one in dark rose and the other in deep blue silk. She noted the intricate handwork on the gowns with envy and foreboding. If this was the quality of the competition, was she wasting her time and money starting her own costume business?
She could still go back to her old job at the movie studio. Were Spartan togas and mummy rags her only future? She almost turned to ask the women about their clothes, but she noticed Spike had taken a right turn at the top of the stairs and had gotten quite far ahead. She hurried to catch up.
“You’ve missed supper,” Spike said, trucking down the hall at a speed that made the chains on her oversized cutoff jeans jingle-jangle. “But if you’re hungry, I could get you a sandwich or something from the kitchen.”
“That’s not necessary. I’m fine.” She’d eaten a protein bar in the cab from the train station.
“The welcoming reception has already started. Costumes are optional, so if you don’t have time to change, that’s okay.”
Eleanor didn’t bother to look down at her rumpled brown travel pantsuit before shaking her head. “All I want is a hot shower and a bed.” Local time might be only seven-fifteen in the evening, but she’d had little sleep in the last twenty-four hours. Her eyes kept crossing from fatigue. She had to fight to refocus them.