Dana Lawrence doesn’t imagine when she buys the quaint Victorian house in the remote mountains of Colorado that her life will soon be in danger. She has heard the legend of Lelia Glenn and how she vanished in the 1800’s, but no one told her about the more recent disappearance of Amy Walden two years ago.
On the night of her arrival, Dana spies someone digging on her land. The sheriff tells her that on the day Amy disappeared Glenndale’s jewelry store was robbed. Amy’s boyfriend, Donnie Thorpe, is still on the run, and his accomplice, Jed Hoyt, has just been released from prison. Bennett believes a third party masterminded the robbery–her handsome neighbor, Logan Rand.
While Dana tries to beat the thieves to the stolen goods, she uncovers a grave. Threats and attempts on her life follow in rapid succession. Dana must identify the killer before she becomes the next vanished lady.
Targeted Age Group:: General Readership
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Lovely Victorian homes which are painted in multiple layers are often referred to as Painted Ladies. You will find such a house in our newest mystery. Loretta and and I were inspired to write this book after seeing so many of these unique and lovely homes in Denver, Colorado and in the small, neighboring gold mining towns, such as Georgetown. Loretta and I visited and photographed several of these old houses, which provided inspiration for our book about such a house with a secret.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Once we had decided upon a setting, we began to imagine what kind of people might live in the area that we were writing about. Dana, who purchases the house, is a determined heroine who will not back down even when threatened. The inhabitants of the town include a town matriarch, a sheriff, a store owner–everyday people that make up the backbone of a small Colorado town.
The moment Dana Lawrence set eyes on the majestic Victorian mansion, she knew this was the house of her dreams. The Vanished Lady Inn loomed three stories high, with sunburst patterns above the gables and an imposing turret claiming the south side.
Ever since she had finished her degree in interior design three months ago, she had been searching for the perfect place to establish her new business. She never imagined she would find a grand Victorian home within her budget.
With growing enthusiasm Dana paced the length of the wrap-around porch. She could not deny the fact that the mansion needed serious repair. Yet her artist’s eye studied the fine details of the Queen Anne style home, not seeing the house as it stood before her, but visualizing how it would look once she had worked her magic. Instead of the drab brown paint, now chipped and weathered, Dana envisioned shades of rose and burgundy with soft ivory to bring out the highlights of the lacy gingerbread trim above the porch and dormer windows.
A dark car, KEIFER REAL ESTATE emblazoned on the side, pulled to a stop in the circular drive. The realtor she had met earlier, Lisa Keifer, tall and trim in smart blue suit, hurried toward her.
“You wouldn’t get a chance at a place like this if the owners weren’t so anxious to sell,” Lisa called enthusiastically. “It comes with quite a bit of land. The property line takes in that abandoned gold mine back against the mountain and the gazebo next to that quaint, little bridge.”
“It’s awfully isolated,” Dana remarked skeptically.
“The town’s matriarch, Verla Glenn-Darington, lives right over there, within a mile.”
Dana glanced off to the left where the high turret of another Victorian house rose above tree tops.
“I don’t need to tell you how property values are rising every day.”
Dana liked the young woman despite her high-pressure tactics. Lisa wore her sandy hair swept up in stylish fashion, no doubt to add maturity to her appearance, for she was probably only a few years older than Dana, who had just turned twenty-four.
“A coat of paint, a few repairs, and it will look just like new.”
That wasn’t quite true. The low listing price had much to do with the poor condition of the house, but logic told Dana that she wasn’t going to find another restorable mansion that would fit her budget.
“You’re going to be amazed at the wonderful, spacious rooms inside.” Lisa shuffled through her purse for a key and hastened across the porch. Close to the entrance, one of her high heels caught on a dilapidated floorboard. She caught herself just in time to prevent falling, saying breathlessly, “It’ll only take a minor repair to fix this.”
Before Lisa had time to unlock the door, a black pickup with expensive chrome-work turned into the yard and drew to a stop behind Lisa’s car.
“Not him,” Lisa muttered.
A tall, thin man with thick, graying hair started toward them. His quick steps, the way he leaned forward when he walked, gave him a singularly aggressive appearance. “Why are you showing this house?” he demanded sharply. “I told you I’m buying it.”
“You haven’t made an official offer,” Lisa challenged. “So stop trying to run my business.”
Because of Lisa’s bright smile, Dana couldn’t determine whether her words represented dislike or the sparring talk of long-time friends.
“Dana Lawrence, Mitch Garrity. Mitch is our local entrepreneur.” Another brief laugh. “But I must warn you, his motto is, ‘A grab at every billfold.’”
Mitch met her lightness with a censorious frown. “I run Garrity’s Gallery, jewelry and art,” he said. He didn’t look at either of them, but directed his attention to the house. His uplifted face emphasized his gaunt features, his hollowed cheeks, and thin, dour lips. “Why do you want this old eyesore? As soon as I purchase it, I’m bulldozing it down.” His gaze slid toward the time-worn buildings near the mine, “and the whole area with it.”
“That would be a great blow to everyone who loves old historic spots,” Dana said.
“History is…history. That’s all,” Mitch said with a sweep of his hand.
“To a time-marches-on sort like you,” Lisa retorted.
“You didn’t answer my question.” Mitch’s full attention turned back to Dana.
“What do you think you’re going to do with this monster of a house?”
“I’m an interior decorator,” Dana explained. “I specialize in renovating Victorian homes. I intend to use this one as my permanent office and showcase.”
“Sounds like a rocky way to make a living. Better apply for a job at Garrity’s Gallery.”
“He wants the whole world to work for him,” Lisa said.
“Taking on a project like this calls for scads of money,” Mitch reminded her. Derisiveness tightened his lips. “I suppose you realize that.”
“I’ll manage,” Dana countered, but at the same time she recognized the risk. She would have to sink almost all the cash she’d received from settling her father’s meager estate into the purchase price. She wasn’t at all sure she could stretch what remained to complete the repairs. Careful not to let her misgivings show, she said, “This Queen Anne style will make a lovely painted lady.”
“Painted lady?” he repeated sarcastically. “I thought that term referred to a woman of questionable reputation.”
“In house terms, a painted lady is a Victorian home that is decorated in three or four contrasting colors to enhance the house’s beauty. The same way a lovely woman might paint her face.”
“Sounds like a tarnished female to me. And this house already has had its share of those. It’s called The Vanished Lady because of a loose woman who a long time ago left her husband to run off with some scoundrel.”
“That’s history,” Lisa said.
His eyes, bright in the sunlight, glinted as he spoke. “What about the second vanished lady?”
Dana turned to Lisa quizzically.
“Why haven’t you told her about the more recent occurrence, Lisa? The Walden girl disappeared from here about two years ago. Never heard of since. If you asked me,” Mitch pressed on, “this place is haunted. This house should be buried and all of its ugly memories with it.”
“Mitch,” Lisa broke in, exasperation sounding in her voice. “Please don’t resort to underhanded tactics to drive away competitors.”
“Is that what you call telling the truth, driving away competitors?”
“Just drive away,” Lisa retorted. “That’s what I wish you’d do.”
“You’ll soon be begging me to purchase this,” Mitch said sourly, then swung around and headed for his truck.
“Mitch wants to tear down the house and use the land to expand his enterprises, but I’m an avid believer in preserving history,” Lisa remarked as they watched him leave. “In fact, the only way Mitch is going to buy this property is by walking over my grave.” She stopped, one hand on the key she’d inserted in the lock. “Luckily Mr. and Mrs. Walden are history lovers, too. They’ll be on your side. Say the word, and I’ll close the deal with you today.”
“I’d like to hear more about those vanished ladies,” Dana said, then added with a smile. “Is this mansion really haunted?”
“Not haunted, but it does come with its very own local legend.”
“What happened here?” Dana asked, suddenly curious.
“In the late 1800s, Lelia Glenn went for a walk up near the gold mine. She never returned.”
“You mean no one ever found her? That’s strange.”
“Some believe she ran away with her lover or that her husband killed her because she intended to do just that. Local legend has it that her ghost still wanders the hills near the old mine.” Lisa waved away the idea. “But of course, that’s just superstitious nonsense.”
“What became of the Walden girl?”
Lisa brushed Dana’s inquiry aside, “She probably ran off with some no-account. You know as well as I do, that any house this old has a whole host of tragic stories. But they’re not what you’re buying. Look around, Dana. See for yourself what a wondrous bargain this is.”
Perfect, Dana thought, as she looked around the interior. Or it could be perfect. Someday. If a person were willing to do the work of an army and spend a fortune on paint, wallpaper, and carpet. She felt a hollow tightness in her stomach as she considered just how much money and labor this project would entail.
Dana loved the huge, rock fireplace that set beside the winding stairway. Scatterings of furniture had been left behind, several restorable items like the brocaded sofa and the matching Louis XV chairs.
Lisa did not miss Dana’s interest. “The previous owners were anxious to leave, so all the furnishings are included in the asking price.”
Because it had been a hotel, the main room still looked like a reception area. Off to the right Dana stepped into a parlor, in need of little restoration, complete with chairs and piano. Across from it set a huge library, which would need a miracle to restore. That would serve as Dana’s office.
As they roamed through the vast house, Dana noted the fallen plaster, lath showing through, and the way the floors in some of the upstairs rooms sloped.
While the practical part of her questioned the old house’s structural soundness and wondered whether the electrical wiring was up to code, the dreamer in her was already replacing the wallpaper, arranging the furniture, all aimed at assuring her future clients she would be the one to hire.
“I’d advise you to close the deal today if you’re interested,” Lisa said, continuing her high-pressure pitch. “I certainly hope you do. I can’t bear the thought of Mitch Garrity tearing down the house and building his new gallery out here. Mitch sees the old Glenn mine virtually in the back yard as a big drawing card. He has plans to commercialize that, too, by tearing down the old buildings and turning the entire area into some gaudy tourist attraction.”
What a fate for this grand survivor of a by-gone era, to be dozed to the ground by some money-hungry developer. But on the other hand, Dana couldn’t afford to rush into things, not with her entire bankroll on the line.
“The Vanished Lady Inn is a landmark, even though it’s never been registered as one,” Lisa said. “The Waldens always planned to restore it. In fact, I believe they might even be willing to take a little less in order to sell to someone who will preserve it.”
“If they loved this place so much,” Dana asked, “why did they leave?”
Lisa hesitated, as if she knew more about their reasons for abandoning the project than she wanted to reveal. She turned away quickly. “You know how those things happen, better opportunities somewhere else.”
Somewhere else, Dana repeated to herself, that seemed more and more like a place she should be considering. And yet, with real estate prices so high, she couldn’t afford a location any closer to Denver. And even though this mountain site was isolated, the rustic setting would be a drawing card to the clientele she intended to attract.
As if afraid she had said too much, Lisa took out her cell phone, probably using this as still another ploy to press Dana into a rapid decision. “I’ll be right back,” she said. “I’m going outside to make a call.”
Likely Lisa had left her alone so she could do some serious soul-searching. “Think with your head and not with your heart.” How many times had she heard her mother say that to her father, her father—a struggling artist, who like Dana valued dreams over reality, beauty over profit. After her mother’s death, her father seemed to grow desperate, pitching money at one project after another, all doomed to failure. His last attempt at making money, an extravagant New York art show, not only failed in making his name known in the world of art, but had also plunged him into financial ruin.
As Dana paced around the great lobby, a sense of disconcertion filled her. Maybe she was too much like him, so willing to wile away her small stake on a sure-fail project. It would take big money to bring the property up to standard. It was already late September; in order to survive, she had to open for business in a few months’ time. If she couldn’t start taking in cash right away, she would lose everything. She felt a moment’s fear that she would follow in her father’s footsteps, lose all on one big, impulsive gamble.
But wasn’t this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, just what she wanted? Purchasing the inn seemed right, as if some voice, the spirit of her father or maybe Lelia Glenn, was whispering in her ear to take the jump, buy the Vanished Lady Inn, and secure her future.
At that minute Lisa burst back into the room. “I’ve been talking to the Waldens. They’ve agreed to come down five thousand on the price, that is, if you’re willing to close the deal today.”
Today. Dana had intended to take more time to think about it. But what was the point, when her decision had been made the very moment she had set eyes on the ad in the Denver Post that had inspired her to drive deep into the mountains? And saving five thousand would go far to contributing toward repairs.
Still, once committed, there was no turning back. She knew the risk involved, the possibility of great loss. If she failed to get the repairs done in time, if she failed to establish the right contacts; the warning list swirled before her, on and on. In the end, she tossed them aside. This was the house she wanted.
Was this how her father had felt when he had thrown caution to the winds and taken a chance on that last, grand art show? Had he felt as if he were standing on the edge of a cliff, balanced precariously, as if for a fall? Even as she hesitated, Dana became gripped by the heady rush of excitement, the thrill of what could happen, the high of unlimited possibilities.
With renewed confidence she heard herself saying, “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go to your office and finalize the deal.”
* * *
Several days later Dana stood gazing up at the age-darkened walls, the creaking sign that read THE VANISHED LADY INN. Now was no time to lose heart, not when she had finally accomplished her goal, when she had just sunk most all of her money into the down payment.
From the first she had been in awe of the inn’s haunting stateliness, but now, alone, and with darkness approaching, Dana began to view the project through critical eyes. She had acted far too rashly. She had allowed a fast-talking realtor, and maybe her co-conspirator, Mitch Garrity, to high-pressure her into making an impulsive decision.
Shivering a little from the chill wind, Dana admitted that in bright daylight she had seen only the old inn’s great potential. Now her mother’s child, she saw just the flaws, the porch’s rotting floorboard, the damaged wood with its cracked and weathered paint.
Now, too late, Dana asked herself why those owners were so eager to sell. Were they anxious to rid themselves of a sorry old white elephant? Not a white elephant, she corrected herself, but a skeletonized dinosaur. She sighed wearily. Maybe it was only the lateness of the hour, the fatigue involved in last minute business, in her late start over the mountains, that made her project seem overwhelming. She stood for a while on the porch, uncertain and discouraged.
It was too dark to make out the mine’s sagging buildings, but she could see the bridge near the gazebo and the mist rising from the creek.
As she inserted the key into the door, her determination to fight all odds returned. She clicked on the light switch, relieved that at least the electric company had been out to turn on the power. Gaslights that had been converted to electric, possessing the same old, shaded fixtures, cast a muted glow over the worn velvet drapes and scatterings of mohair and brocade furniture.
My new home. Her heart sank as she realized the enormity of the task she had taken on so impetuously. Her gaze wandered over the faded wallpaper, the water stains on the ceiling, the threadbare carpet. Everywhere she looked she saw major repairs that vied for immediate attention, repairs that would in the end call for much more money than she could access.
But on the bright side, Dana could tackle most of the work alone, only hiring an electrician or plumber when necessary. She would definitely need help repairing the badly damaged floor near the staircase. Once more she felt overwhelmed, as if she had set for herself an impossible goal no one person would ever be able to accomplish. But she had no choice other than to succeed. For better or worse, the Vanished Lady Inn now belonged to her.
Because of the deep silence, the sudden creaking of boards outside the front door caused her to start. She froze for a moment, thinking of the blackness of the night, of the total isolation. Footsteps sounded across the porch, then ceased.
She approached the door, her gaze falling on the tall, shadowy outline of a lone man….
Vickie Britton and her sister, Loretta Jackson, are the authors of over forty novels. The sisters have co-authored the Jeff McQuede High Country Mystery Series: Murder in Black and White, Whispers of the Stones, and Stealer of Horses. They have also written the eight-book archaeological Ardis Cole Mystery Series and the Pre-Columbian Treasure Series.
Both writers are drawn to western settings, which have provided a background for much of their work. The sisters are authors of the contemporary mystery The Vanished Lady, Stone of Vengeance, and several westerns.
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