For over a century, Lucius Stewart has been alone, talking only to the wild animals and watching the time go by. Now, this remarkable woman can see and hear him—and he wants to know how.
Hotel LaBelle, Billings, Montana, Present Day
The long, white flannel nightgown did little to hide the shapely figure of the woman with the wild blonde hair and wide blue eyes. Lucius Stewart found her womanly charms incredibly distracting but remained startled beyond belief—she could actually see him. Really see him. How was it possible?
“Is this some kind of joke? Hazing the hotel consultant? Tell Will it isn’t funny, and get out of my room. Now.”
She pointed toward the door, her white-tipped fingernail reminding him of the breath feather on the tip of Beautiful Blackfeather’s medicine stick. He inspected her face, his gaze traveling slowly over her pouty red lips and her cheekbones. He inspected her longer than any civilized woman would deem polite. She glared back at him, fists on her hips—just like someone else he’d known years ago.
Her mannerisms, regal bearing, and commanding presence sucker punched him, turning his limbs to jelly and his mouth to mush. If he believed in reincarnation like he’d heard some of the Alaskan tribes did, he’d say she was Mourning Dove reborn with blonde hair and blue eyes. He let out a long breath and managed to untie his tongue.
Her frown became deeper, her voice angrier. “Excuse me?”
Perhaps she didn’t understand him. He spoke slower and louder, “Your tribe. Are. You. Crow?”
“I. Am. Not. Deaf.” She patted her thigh. “Franny come. Get away from him.”
The little dog with the pushed-in face and bug eyes jumped and wagged its curly little tail harder as if in defiance of her owner’s orders. What’s with this so- ugly-it’s-cute creature, anyway?
“Franny! Come here.” The little dog plopped on its haunches and looked back and forth between the disturbingly familiar woman and him as if trying to decide which way to go.
Lucius stood and stretched, still trying to reconcile this woman’s ability to see him and her uncanny resemblance to the woman he’d loved and lost.
“Don’t you come near me.” She backed up to the desk, hands scrabbling on the mahogany surface. “Or I’ll, I’ll—”
“What? Hit me?” He laughed at her surprised expression—the mirror image of Mourning Dove’s wide-eyed, open-mouthed look when he’d proposed to her. “Throw something at me. Please.” He almost hoped he’d get smacked so he could feel something. Anything was better than this nothingness. A book flew at his head—and sailed through him, bouncing off the wall and landing on the floor.
Mouth agape, the woman stared from him to the book and back to him again. “You’re a ghost.”
“Not exactly. Shall we start over?” He leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest.
“After a hundred years of being invisible to everyone except you, I’d like to know who you are and what you’re doing here.”
“Of course. Why not? Could today get any weirder?” She sank into the desk chair, shook her head, and sighed. “My name is Tallulah Thompson. I’m a hotel inspector, hired by the current owner as a consultant to find out why the renovations are delayed and what he needs to do to fix it. He’s teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.”
“What tribe are you?”
She jerked her head up and those doggone lapis lazuli eyes of hers sparked as if she’d strike him with lightning and kill him with one look. “No one asks that. It’s not politically correct.”
“Well, I guess you haven’t been talking to the right people. And I don’t know what you mean by that last part. I’ve never been involved in politics.”
“Nowadays, it’s considered rude to ask about another person’s national origins.” She threw her hands up. “Why am I giving a ghost an etiquette lesson? What am I thinking?”
“The Crow gal who cleans this place can feel me but never hears or sees me. You can. How is that possible?”
Tallulah wrapped her arms around her shoulders and shuddered as if chilled. “I’m Choctaw. My grandmother is a Medicine Woman. I see…things.”
“I knew you had Indian blood.” The cheekbones sealed the deal for him.
“Native American.” “What?”
“The proper terminology these days is Native American. And it’s genes, not blood.”
“You just gotta correct everything I say, don’t you? Here’s another rude question for you. Why are you blonde? In my day, only the painted ladies changed their hair color.”
“Oh. My. God. You just don’t stop, do you? Okay, okay, you win.” She shook her head. “This is my real hair color. My grandfather was a German immigrant who went to Oklahoma for the land lotteries, met and married my grandmother, and had a mess of kids. My mother married a nice German man, then they both died in a car accident, and my grandmother raised me. Happy now?”
“Yes. Thank you. Was that so hard?”
She glared at him. “What about you? Why are you still hanging around here? Don’t you have a long, dark tunnel to go into and a light to follow?”
“What?” He had no idea what she was talking about. There were no tunnels in Hotel LaBelle, and the only lights were the ones he installed a century ago. “You sure do speak in riddles.”
“Since we’ve dispensed with being polite, I’m just going to lay it out for you. You’re dead. You don’t belong here. It’s time for you to move on.” She pointed to the ceiling. “Heaven awaits you. Or, whatever the alternative is.”
He sat down heavily on the bed, and the little dog yapped and jumped again. “Let me tell you how I got here.” He recounted his last evening in his office and the visit from Beautiful Blackfeather. “She didn’t kill me, Ms. Tallulah. She cursed me. I don’t know the exact words she used. I don’t speak Crow that well. For all I know, I’m stuck here for eternity.”