This B&N Exclusive Edition includes a Dear Reader Letter and as essay regarding the story research.
THE TRUTH IS SCARIER THAN FICTION
Kerri Wolf has joined the crew of The Seekers, a show that searches for paranormal phenomena, as they explore a supposedly haunted old inn on the road between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. The place is famous for its warm welcomeand infamous for being the site of an ax murder rampage in the 1920s. They’ve barely begun when a very real dead body is discovered in the basement. As a nonfiction author, Kerri is supposed to be the rational one, but she can’t explain a terrifying apparition that seems to be both a threat and a warning.
Former detective Joe Dunhill knows what she’s going throughthe strange gift of being able to see and talk to the dead is a struggle he shares. A new member of the FBI’s Krewe of Hunters, he’s on the team investigating the disturbing death. The town is steeped in old-fashioned superstition, and the deeper Joe and Kerri plunge into the dark secrets of the inn, the closer they get to a devastating truth. Will a bloody history be repeated? Or can the spirits of the past reach out to stop a killer?
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham has written more than a hundred novels. She's a winner of the RWA's Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Thriller Writers' Silver Bullet. She is an active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America. For more information, check out her websites: TheOriginalHeatherGraham.com, eHeatherGraham.com, and HeatherGraham.tv. You can also find Heather on Facebook.
Read an Excerpt
"The bodies were found in rooms throughout the inn. Four men, three women, each bludgeoned repeatedly with an ax, no fewer than ten blows on the least battered victim. Most lay sleeping in the rooms they had taken for the night. The proprietor, John Newby, was found behind the bar that served the tavern. It was also where he kept his books for his overnight guests.
"The coroner brought in several men to serve as witnesses in the subsequent inquest — Creighton Mariner, a journalist, Frank Gold, a local butcher, and local farmers Grant Fisher, Ethan Guttenberg and Bjorn Muller. Mariner wrote, 'The killings were so frenzied and brutal that blood and brain matter were found in many a room. Truly, the sight was so gruesome one could only think of the work of a demonic hellhound. Yet, none of this compared to the discoveries deep in the basement where it came to light that John Newby was ridding himself of unwanted servants and guests in the most ghastly way possible.'"
Keri Wolf, sitting at one of the hardwood tables in the Miller Inn and Tavern of York County, Pennsylvania, watched as Brad Holden gave his dramatic intro to the camera. She'd just met the man in person, but his ghost-hunter series had apparently become one of the hottest shows being independently produced on the internet. He had started off modestly, and — whether or not any of his "discoveries" were really true — he had managed, with his small group of paranormal investigators, to create his immense audience on his own. He was a slim, handsome, charismatic man, and it was easy to see how his enthusiasm transferred to a large audience onscreen.
So large, in fact, he had a second special guest on this investigation besides Keri: the popular young actor Carl Brentwood, fresh off his video documentary of the McLane House in Charleston. Carl had been so successful with his shows filmed at the McLane House that, if she was correct in reading between the lines, he had purchased the old Miller Inn and Tavern where they were "investigating" reports of paranormal activity today.
She was sure Brad's charm had been convincing when he'd approached Carmen Menendez, Keri's publicity agent, about joining in on this investigation. Which basically amounted to spending the night with ghost hunters at an inn where one of the most horrific crimes of the twentieth century had taken place. The exposure of working with the Truth Seekers could bring publicity for her books that could not be purchased at any price, Brad had promised.
Keri was equally sure that Carl, the enthusiastic young heartthrob, being involved had also swayed Carmen into thinking this was a guaranteed, amazing publicity opportunity, and it would be an exceptionally effective way to sell books.
And of course, it would be. Keri glanced across the table. Carl was seated with her; they were both to speak for the intro.
Also, at the table was Spencer Atkins, the man who had sold the historic inn to Carl. He had promised Carl to help him in any way, except for speaking during any project that had to do with ghosts or the paranormal. Atkins was still a nice man — Carl owned the property now and could do what he wanted, and he was welcome to lean in to the paranormal if he wanted. Atkins just wasn't going to be part of it. Atkins was simply watching the beginning of the project out of curiosity, and was due to head out at any time for an appointment in Philadelphia. He observed Brad Holden with patience and amusement.
Carl had planned this episode with a great deal of enthusiasm. He was a believer. He glanced at Keri and smiled and gave her a thumbs-up; she had to smile back. Despite his immense popularity and the fact that he certainly had the accolades that would justify him behaving like a true diva, he was simply a very nice young man.
They both glanced back at Brad as he gave the camera one of his big, we're-all-in-this-together smiles and continued, "Welcome, folks, to another fantastic voyage with the Truth Seekers. If you're joining us for the first time, I'm Brad Holden, and I and my fellow Truth Seekers — Eileen Falcon, Mike Lerner, Serena Nelson and Pete Wright — welcome you to our online programming, offering you investigations of myth, legend, perception ... and truth. We feel we'll be bringing you something extremely special with this investigation.
"We're here at the Miller Inn and Tavern, and we'll soon be settling in for the night. We're getting our cameras all set, and dark is falling. Now, the past of this inn is well documented. The building was opened to welcome weary travelers in 1770, just as the ferment of rebellion became strong in the American colonies. It's amazing just to think of those who stopped by — George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and even Patrick Henry stayed here, all enjoying the fabled hospitality of the Miller Inn and Tavern. While the inn already had a reputation for being haunted, luckily for America, those fine men survived."
Brad paused for a dramatic moment, allowing Mike Lerner, working the camera, to lower the lights. Then he continued, "It wasn't until 1926, when several gruesome murders occurred here, that the inn would be placed into the annals of the bizarre and yes, my friends, the paranormal." He turned to Keri, beckoning her before the camera.
Not sure if she should take his hand and smile or run as far as possible from him, Keri stood.
"The exceptionally lovely Keri Wolf, known for her The Way It Happened series, is here to join us for this investigation. Keri can tell us a little more about the history of this inn, her area of expertise, and why she found herself so fascinated by Pennsylvania Dutch hex stories — which led, we're told, to the events of 1926, and our paranormal search of this tavern tonight."
Keri still felt uncertain, but she found herself standing in the pool of light in front of the camera, taking Brad's hand.
Carmen had assured her the group really searched for the explainable — before determining if anything was paranormal.
Everyone knows Carl Brentwood! And Brad Holden is great. His video feeds of The Seekers garner millions of views. Between them, they have a huge audience. If we're lucky, we'll sell a tenth of their numbers in your books!
So, here she was.
She tried to smile as charmingly as Brad before speaking.
"We're between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh here, Brad, and as you said, there are many stories that go with the tavern, but the main story is this — on the night of June 27, 1926, a killer came in and brutally took the lives of seven people, among them Mr. Newby, the proprietor. The coroner, who was also the sheriff of the small county at the time, brought in five men to help with the inquest. In their thorough search of the premises, they discovered Newby had kept a torture chamber in his basement, along with all manner of paraphernalia dealing with witchcraft and Satanism."
"So, folks," Brad continued, "we'll be doing a thorough, room-by-room investigation. Our cameras are set to record throughout the tavern, including the infamous basement chamber, where it is estimated Newby tortured and killed at least ten young men and women, covered the remains with lime and buried them beneath the floor."
He was about to cut the introductory segment, so Keri spoke up quickly. "It's a complex and incredibly sad story, whether ghosts do or do not inhabit the tavern. It's believed Hank Bergen, the father of a young serving girl who had disappeared, lost his mind in rage and committed all the killings when he suspected Newby wasn't the respectable man he pretended to be. Bergen was caught by a lynch mob, and his guilt or innocence was never determined in a court of law.
"This story is further complicated by the fact the term Pennsylvania Dutch comes from Pennsylvania Deutsche and actually refers to the German population that settled this region. At the time of the incident, some locals had a strong belief that some of their neighbors were practicing witches. It was known Newby was of this creed. But until his chamber of horrors was discovered, it wasn't known that he'd also been an avid student of Aleister Crowley, the British occultist, taking to extremes the tenet do what thou wilt.
"As I said, the belief at the time and in the region in certain kinds of witchcraft — and the ability of one man to hex another — were broad. But the concepts espoused by Crowley and Newby's actual practice of Satanism were not in any way general. To this day, we don't know if Hank Bergen was the killer, or why he would kill the innocent guests at the tavern if he believed Newby had been the one to kill his daughter."
"And of course," Brad said, "you're researching that crime at this moment, with us here at the tavern. The spirit of Beatrice Bergen is one that many guests at the Miller Inn and Tavern have reported seeing. A young woman in a white dress, weeping. She's trapped between worlds, seeking justice for her death. Maybe the ghosts of the dead will come out, as so many guests have believed, and help you on your quest. Thank you, thank you ... And now!" Brad turned from her. "On to our man of the hour, the amazing Mr. Carl Brentwood."
Carl joined them in front of the camera. Keri was ready to slink back to her chair, but Carl grabbed her hand. "So, friends, rumor thus far, but true — I recently purchased the tavern, and that's how we've come to be here today. The historic value of this property is immense, and the possibility of it falling into disrepair was appalling to me. But since I've discovered so much lately about the paranormal, it seemed we needed to discover all the truths behind this fantastic place before doing a bit of upgrading and opening it to travelers from around the globe again.
"We won't be leaving here tonight. We'll be taking turns grabbing a few hours of sleep upstairs in room 207, where two of the victims were killed. Soon, all the rooms, including 207, will be available for those intrepid travelers who want to take a detour into a little piece of history — and mystery!"
"And that's it for our intro. We're working on our setup," Brad said. "Please join us again tonight, when we'll be showing live feed from the tavern as we turn on our screens from every room. With Keri and Carl, we'll investigate records and do our very best to discern the truth — and allow Carl to restore this place to its Colonial heritage."
"With upgrades, of course. Wi-Fi in every room, and private showers," Carl said.
"Historic and modern," Brad said. "Join us tonight!" Mike Lerner, who had started Truth Seekers with Brad, knew when to cut the video. He smiled at them all. "Great, guys. I really think this will be one of our best."
"We're really thrilled you're here," Carl told Keri. He looked over at Spencer Atkins. "I mean, she is a voice of reason and history, right?"
Atkins stood. He was a dignified man of about fifty, with a lean, straight build, and a cap of snow-white hair. "She is," he agreed. "And I'm glad to see you all here and happy — even if I admit I think it's a little crazy. I'm so pleased that Carl intends to do what I just couldn't quite manage, modernize while keeping the integrity of the place as an inn. Anyway, I must go, but ..." He paused and turned to Carl. "Any real questions that we might not have covered, please, call me."
They bid him goodbye. He smiled and waved, and then he was gone.
Brad turned back to Keri with an immense smile. "Seriously, so glad you're here."
"Grateful!" Carl said.
"I'm honored you asked me," Keri told him. "I'm curious, though. I don't think ghosts are going to pop up and tell us how they were killed. What are you hoping to find here?"
"Oh, Keri," Brad said. "There are so many reports of activity at this place. Lights going on and off. One lady woke up screaming. Spencer had to do some major damage control because she woke up in the middle of the night to see a man standing over her bed with an ax. She left in the middle of the night, and the closest hotel is miles and miles away. Some people began to believe that the inn was haunted — and others feared that a real killer was alive and well and 'haunting' the place with a real axe. Unfortunate circumstances."
"Sounds like she might have been the victim of a terrible nightmare or sleep paralysis," Keri said.
Carl shook his head. "Furniture moves around. Water just starts running. The ghost of Newby has been seen behind the bar. Trust me, I spent a fair amount of time talking with Spencer Atkins before I bought the place. He wouldn't sell if he didn't believe in the buyer. He loves this tavern, but he didn't have the backing he needed to restore and update. He told me about all kinds of things that supposedly happened here. There's a story of a ghost in 210, as well. A young woman who took her own life when she learned her fiancé had been killed in a duel. There was another murder out in the woods, that was about 1840, and ... The inn is rich in paranormal activity, trust me."
Brad took up the story. "People have seen things ... Before Spencer restored the basement, it was used for storage. Bar workers refused to go down alone or at night. They felt cold hands on them. One woman swore she was pushed down the stairs, and she was convinced only her screams brought help before the ghost could kill her."
"Keri, I have experienced things personally," Carl said earnestly. "Honestly, what I've seen is what made me buy this place. I saw the ad for it right after I left Savannah. I saw very strange things at McLane House there, and somehow, through it all, real, contemporary murders were solved." He gave her his famous boyish smile. "And we'll have fun, too. I had caterers bring in all kinds of food. Room 207 is all set up for us to talk and rest and whatever."
She'd heard about the events at McLane House in Savannah. But she didn't know what had been the result of good detective work and what might have been imagined or embellished by the media.
It wasn't that she wasn't open to possibilities — she was. But especially in her research, she had met so many people who were out-and-out shams that she naturally entertained the concept of finding ghosts with a great deal of skepticism.
"You know how we work, right?" Brad asked her, as if reading her mind.
Carl spoke before Keri could answer. "I chose these guys very carefully."
"We always check first for what we can explain," Brad said. "Shorts in electricity that make lights flicker, nearby train tracks that make furniture rattle ..."
"Of course," Keri said, smiling.
"We have to get going. Setting up our cameras and all that," Mike said. He smiled. "So, Keri, we'll get you into the little room off the bar there, and then, Carl, you might want to come with us. We'll be setting cameras just about everywhere and our monitors right there, at the table, where you two were sitting while Carl talked."
"Great," Keri said.
The rest of Brad's crew came into the room. She had to admit, she liked them all. Mike, of course, was the first of them she had met. He was the oldest member of their crew at forty, and resembled something of a modern-day pirate — bald with a gold hoop in one ear. Serena Nelson was in her midthirties, slim, blonde, bubbly and filled with ideas. She had worked as a production assistant for music videos before their ghost-hunting venture had started paying so well that they all worked only for Truth Seekers. Eileen Falcon was their steadfast rock, in her late twenties, and serious as the light of day. Pete Wright and Eileen were apparently a couple; Pete, in his early thirties, was a grounded man.
"Super intro, watched it on my cell phone," Serena said. "This is great. Carl, have we thanked you enough? Just the intro is flying off the charts. You wouldn't believe the viewers."
"Wonderful," Carl said.
"Okay, let's get to camera setups."
"I'll be here, setting the video feeds," Mike said.
"Pete and I will take the upstairs rooms," Eileen said.
"Okay, Mike, you're setting up here," Brad said. "I'll get the museum room, and Serena, if you wait, you and I will do the basement together. Carl, you've got to see it. Spencer did have a good plan for a horror house — he just didn't have the backing to get it going, but what he's done with the basement is damned eerie. There were all kinds of police photos from the day, and he's restored the basement so it looks just like it did in 1926."
"Creepy. I'm not going to be doing a horror house," Carl said. "I really do respect the history of this place, but I guess for the show ..."
"For a paranormal investigation, a reproduction of a horror chamber is super," Serena said.
"Come on. I'll get you started in the museum," Brad told Keri.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Seekers"
Copyright © 2019 Heather Graham.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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