The Hostess with the Ghostness is BACK!

Free Spirit - Book 5 in the Violetta Graves Paranormal Cozy Mystery Series
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When the guy next to me keeled over dead, I admit I almost left his ass there and bailed.

Judge me if you want. I’m tired of telling Las Vegas homicide detectives that I’ve found a body. Again.

My name is Violetta Graves. I’m a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. And I see ghosts. I should’ve never attended the séance for a murdered drag queen.

Because now we’re all trapped in a house with a killer.

And the dead ghost hunter?

He was sitting in my chair.




*****SNEAK PEEK!*****

CHAPTER ONE

“My EMF reader went off the charts in Diamond LaRue’s bedroom,” said Gary Benson, holding up a small metal box with flashing red lights. “Her spirit is definitely here.”

“Wow,” I said, looking down at my empty plate. Two seconds ago, it held the last chocolate-covered strawberry from the buffet table. I had to elbow aside a drag queen, my younger sister Dee, and some dude in a leather jacket to get that ode to sugary joy.

And you know where it was now?

In the mouth of Gary Benson, Paranormal Investigator. Apparently, Gary didn’t understand stealing a hard-won treat from a sugar addict was bad manners. Strawberry juice dribbled down his chin and he, being such a gentleman, wiped it off with the back of his hand.

This was why I hated parties. Yet, here I was at my friend Frank Delgado’s newly acquired home, whose former owner, Gerald Buckner AKA infamous 1970s drag queen Diamond LaRue, had been murdered. Yes, in this house. Her bedroom, actually, the very place Gary the Strawberry Stealer had gotten his EMF orgasm.

Frank, who was a lawyer by day and a drag queen by night, decided a housewarming party was too blasé. Oh, no, no, honey. He’d wanted to host a séance with a few friends.

“What’s your name?” Gary asked my boobs.

“Violetta Graves,” I said, sighing.

I’m a cocktail waitress so I’m used to people talking to my boobs, but in Gary’s case, it wasn’t his fault. Gary was several inches shorter than me, which put him at breast level. I wore a pink scoop-necked blouse tucked into a pair of button-up black jeans. The cleavage was more impressive than usual because I’d invested in a fancy Victoria’s Secret push-up bra.

I stared at the dessert thief, who was oblivious to my ire. His red hair was long and so was his scraggly beard. He wore a brown shirt that peeked out from beige coveralls and heavy black boots. Gary Benson looked like an overripe peach with arms and legs.

He smiled at me, chocolate staining his teeth, and said, “EMF stands for electromagnetic field radiation.” He lifted the metal box again. “This is a detector. High EMF means there are ghosts nearby.”

Or it meant that we were smack-dab in the middle of a thunderstorm with so much lightning it looked like God was hosting a giant disco party outside. The ferocity of this storm was insane. In Las Vegas, “make it rain” usually meant throwing money around, not actual water pouring from the sky. The relentless storm made the whole séance-at-midnight scenario about a thousand times creepier.

Gary lifted up his cell phone and pointed it at me. “I’ve been recording video for the last hour,” he said. “In case we have orbs.”

Having watched my share of ghost-hunting shows, I knew paranormal investigators loved seeing circles of light appear on their cameras. They called it proof of supernatural manifestations. My own theory was that orbs were ghost farts.

“Sometimes orbs won’t show until you play the video back.” He scanned the room with his phone, but I’m not sure what he thought he was recording. People eating quiche? The dining room’s ode to 1970s decor? My irritation at being pummeled with information I didn’t want to know? “I’ve done some EVPs, too.” He looked up at me. “You know, electronic voice phenomenon?”

“EVP. Yep. Awesome.”

He leaned in conspiratorially. “I left my digital audio recorder in the gym—and I think I got some really good EVPs.”

Thunder boomed for the four-millionth time in the last hour. Gary’s stupid box flashed and whirled. He squealed in excitement, hurrying out of the massive dining room and into the hallway. “I got a spike,” he yelled.

Gary didn’t know it, but Diamond LaRue’s ghost was nowhere near his EMF detector.

She was standing by the buffet table, arms akimbo, surveying the intruders in her home.

Diamond was dressed as 1970s Patti LaBelle in the space diva style perfected by Patti’s former singing group Labelle. I knew way, way more than I wanted to about Patti LaBelle, Donna Summer, and Gloria Gaynor because my friend Frank’s Diamond LaRue fandom was deep and abiding and included details about every one of Diamond’s most famous impersonations.

Still, I had to admit that Diamond rocked the signature Labelle look. The silver shirt with its huge circular shoulder pads and matching painted-on pants along with the chunky glitter boots definitely screamed: I am a space fucking diva. Either that, or she was about to do an appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Her shiny silver eye shadow highlighted the irritation in her gaze and her pursed bright-red lips added an exclamation point to her annoyed expression. She turned her glare on me—like having this séance was my fault—and then she disappeared.

Okay. Here’s the thing. I really am a cocktail waitress in the land of free booze and cheap eats. But I can also see ghosts. It sucks. For one thing, dead people keep finding me and putting me in the middle of murder investigations. For another, I can’t turn off my so-called gift. Oh, and one more fun fact, dead people looked alive to me so I’m not even sure half the time if I’m talking to someone still breathing or someone popping in from the Other Side.

You can see why I needed that chocolate-covered strawberry. You know, the whole consumption of chocolate releases happy hormones or some shit.

“I think Gary needs a Xanax,” said my sister Dee as she joined me, holding a tiny plate of sadness that included a cube of cheese, two cherry tomatoes, and a peanut-butter-stuffed celery stick. I looked at her with an eyebrow raised. She shrugged. “I’m trying to be healthy.” She looked at me, the Devil in her eyes. “That reminds me—I signed us up for yoga.”

My mouth dropped open. Yoga was definitely on my list of top ten things I never wanted to do. “What? Christ. You’re the worst sister ever.”

“No, that’s you,” she said. She tossed the cheddar into her mouth. After she was done eating it, she dabbed the corners of her mouth with a cocktail napkin. “But at least you’re not some government spy keeping things from your only sibling.” She narrowed her gaze at me. “Oh, wait. Yes, you are.”

Not this again. Ugh. Three weeks ago, I kinda sorta told some scary government officials that I would help them with a secret ghost project. The same ghost project that caused severe damage to a couple of downtown casino-hotels—including the one that almost collapsed on top of me—because the government let loose a shit-ton of pissed-off, malformed spirits. Like Sin City needed more angry dead people floating around.

However, after I’d agreed to be the military’s ghost bitch, I hadn’t heard a peep from the Most Terrifying Guy on the Planet, General Haddock. Maybe he was too busy in Area 51 dissecting aliens and taking apart space ships. I was totally fine with not hearing from him or anyone from PISS because General Haddock scared the crap out of me. Yeah, that’s right. PISS. Paranormal Investigative Science and Security. And here I thought the federal government didn’t have a sense of humor. My sister’s laser-like glare was trying to melt my face. “Ugh. Stop looking at me like that. I’m not a spy, Dee. I’m a… uh, consultant.”

“A ghost consultant,” she said, her tone disbelieving.

“It’s a thing,” I insisted.

“It’s not a thing.”

“What other skills do I have that the government would want?” I asked. “My keen ability to walk around in high heels for eight hours at a time? The sexy way I carry a tray full of alcoholic beverages? Or, hey, what about my fantastic talent of showing off my tits?”

Dee’s gaze dropped to my breasts. “Well, they are pretty impressive.”

“I know, right?” I grinned.

Frank approached us. He wore a button-down white silk shirt, faded True Religion jeans, and a pair of blue snakeskin boots. His skin was the color of cocoa mixed with too much milk. He wore his dark hair short—mostly because it was easier to wear the wigs he needed when he became his drag persona, Divine Cox. “It’s almost midnight, darlings. Are you ready to call forth the spirits?”

“You think Diamond will show up?” asked Dee, who knew damned well I could see ghosts and that the infamous drag queen was all up in this shiz.

I wanted to bop her on the back of the head. When I’d invited her to come with me tonight, I’d told my sister all about Diamond LaRue. Dee immediately wanted to investigate the decades-old murder. Thanks to an unhealthy obsession with the Investigation Discovery Channel, my sister thought she wanted to be a private detective. Did I mention she was going through a nasty divorce? I think she was looking for distractions from her reality, which included dealing with her asshole ex, raising my adorable four-year-old nephew, and being related to me, the reluctant ghost whisperer.

Frank laughed, waving off Dee’s question. “Who really believes in ghosts other than those fine Winchester boys on Supernatural?”

“What’s Supernatural?” I asked.

Frank gave me a long stare. “You are so deprived, sweetie. Supernatural is the glorious story of two very hot brothers on a quest to rid the world of monsters.” He patted my shoulder. “Get on Netflix and remedy your terrible ignorance. You’ll thank me.”

The idea of watching a television show about two dudes hunting monsters had about as much appeal as talking to dead people on a daily basis. As in, none. P.S. Less than a month ago, in this very house, Frank asked me if I believed ghosts. Ha, ha. That was the first time I met Diamond LaRue. She’d been giving him a hard time for daring to take ownership of the house she’d built on her little corner of Mount Charleston.

Even thirty or so years later, Diamond LaRue’s property had remained private and tucked away from the outside world. It was about an hour’s drive from downtown Vegas to the single-story, five-thousand-square foot abode. To get here, guests had to navigate a winding narrow road that snaked halfway up the mountainside, find the practically hidden turnoff, and then traverse another mile of gravel road to the electric gate. But none of that stopped Diamond’s worshippers from making the long-assed journey to leave tributes to her Diva-ness.

After Diamond died, her widowed mother inherited all of Diamond’s property. Vera Buckner refused to sell the house. She kept the place where her son had died neat and tidy, but never lived here and rarely let others visit. A few months ago, Diamond’s mama had passed away and her only heir—some distant cousin who lived on the East Coast—auctioned off everything. Frank snatched up the property, outbidding everyone else. I don’t know how much he paid for it, but it was probably millions.

Diamond LaRue was not happy to have a living roommate, and she made sure Frank knew about it. He got freaked out about the noises, moving objects, and feeling like someone was touching him. Frank didn’t know I could see and talk to ghosts, but one day while I was visiting he’d expressed his paranormal fears. I had a talk with Miss LaRue about chilling out and she agreed.

But now Frank was hosting a séance, and given how annoyed Diamond looked earlier, she was not thrilled about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if she started some shit. Diamond knew how to throw hissy fits. She was well known for her temper in life, and not much had changed in death.

Over the years, plenty of people had attempted to contact Diamond. Until tonight, ghost hunters had to be content with conducting their investigations outside the gates. Everyone wanted to know the same thing: Who killed Diamond LaRue? Newsflash. She didn’t know.

Or she didn’t want to know.

Spirits weren’t exactly reliable sources of information when it came to their own deaths, especially violent deaths like Diamond’s. She was shot in the back six times. There were plenty of suspects, but the investigation had been fumbled from the very beginning. The crime scene had been trampled through by police, media, and concerned friends. Evidence had been lost. Interviews weren’t conducted properly. It had been a goddamned clusterfuck.

Tonight’s guests had congregated in the rectangular-shaped dining room. Frank, Dee, and I stood between the hallway's entrance on my left, and the parlor's entrance behind me. On the other side of the twelve-foot dining table was the food-laden buffet and to its right was the door to the galley kitchen.

Gary bustled in from the hallway with his EMF thingie raised and his cell phone aimed at the ceiling. “I have some serious movement on the needle!” He rushed past us, huffing and puffing, practically skidding into the parlor AKA the Scene of the Séance.

Jesus. That guy really did need a Xanax. Maybe two.

“Where did you get him?” I asked Frank.

“He’s one of my clients,” he said. “Gary’s about as dangerous as a basket of kittens. Every now and then, his enthusiasm for ghost hunting gets him in trespassing trouble.”

“I thought you represented entertainers and did contracts and stuff.”

“I do, but not all of my clients are entertainers. Like you, for instance.”

I asked Frank to be my lawyer once when I was almost arrested for killing my ex-boyfriend. Luckily, the real murderer confessed and negated the whole me getting arrested and going to jail thing.

“Have you two met anyone else yet?”

Dee and I shook our heads. I’d been too busy trying to stuff my face to bother meeting the other guests. Also, I spent so much of my time smiling at strangers and putting up with their crappy behavior, I tended toward the anti-social when I was on my own time. Especially at parties I felt obligated to attend. Don’t get me wrong. I adored Frank, which was the only reason I was here. I didn’t need a séance to see ghosts. Those motherfuckers showed up all the time.

“That’s Robert Grange.” Frank nodded toward the drag queen in full regalia. Uh-huh. I mowed her over at the buffet table. Her skin was the color of dark chocolate, which made her costume all the more striking: Glittery pink dress slit to the thighs, blinged-out high heels, oversized pearl necklace with matching drop earrings, and a teased-up wig the color of rainbow cotton candy. I studied her make-up—vibrant purple eye shadow, painted eyebrows, long, spiky, lashes, and lips shaded purplish-red.

Her outfit matched the house. The home was filled with white and pink, Diamond’s favorite colors. In fact, Frank hadn’t changed much about the décor, including the hideous dining set with its high gloss white table and matching rectangular chairs. The drag queen sat in one of those chairs, her eyes glued to her smartphone. How the hell was she able to scroll on that screen with those long, sharp pink-glitter nails?

“Tonight, however, Ivanna Bang is in the house,” said Frank.

Dee and I snickered.

“Ivanna Bang? That’s fantastic,” I said.

“Isn’t it? Ivanna,” called Frank. He pointed to us. “This is Dee and Violetta.”

“It’s so nice of you to meet me,” said Ivanna in a voice as deep as that of James Earl Jones. She didn’t even glance up from her phone.

“Oh, ignore her highness. She’s been in a mood all night.” Frank dropped his voice. “Robert’s father used to be Diamond’s business manager.”

“Which one?” I asked. The drag queen hadn’t been known for her ability to work well with others and she’d had several business managers.

“Turns out, he was her very last manager,” whispered Frank. “And there are those in this room who think he was the one who killed Diamond LaRue.”