Lilyanna Thorne still suffers from serious injuries she received in the car accident that took the life of her son three years ago, but when she learns her grandmother has only a few days to live, she grabs the first flight to Florida and checks into the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, near Morton Plant Hospital. Her marriage is in ruins and she’s plagued with horrific nightmares of the accident and ghoulish visions of her late son, so the last thing she needs is spirits at the Belleview Biltmore invading her dreams to share their memories from the Roaring Twenties. But soon the spirits teach her that death is not as black and white as she believed it to be… and neither is love or marriage.
- ASIN: B017Y4LGI4
- Publisher: BonSue Brandvik; 1st edition (November 12, 2015)
- Publication date: November 12, 2015
- Language: English
- File size: 3203 KB
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Screen Reader: Supported
- Enhanced typesetting: Enabled
- X-Ray: Not Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Print length: 546 pages
“Is she dying?” Lilyanna Thorne asked, a sense of dread tightening around her heart. “Can you at least tell me that much?”
“I’m sorry,” the woman caller replied, “but I’m not a doctor, so I can’t provide that kind of information. All I can tell you is that Lois Bloom was admitted to the Neuro ICU earlier today and her condition is listed as critical.”
It was odd to hear Grams called by her real name. “Wait a minute,” Lily said. “Neuro – that means she had a stroke, right?”
“Possibly,” the hospital administrator hedged. “She’s under Dr. Weston’s care. He or someone on his staff should be available in the morning to answer your questions. You’re listed as Mrs. Bloom’s primary emergency contact, but if there’s someone else you would rather I call…”
Lily sucked in a breath. Her mother, Veronica Bloom, had been Grams’ and Gramps’ only child, and she had died in New York – shortly after ditching Lily in Florida just before her fifth birthday. Growing up, Lily had often been told she was the “spitting image” of her tall, auburn-haired mother – beautiful, with blue eyes, light skin, and a brilliant smile. But that’s where their
similarities ended. Lily always suspected she inherited her father’s disposition – whoever he was. Her mother had dreamed of Broadway fame, but Lily preferred a quiet life, and since her car accident three years ago, she had become almost reclusive.
“Ms. Thorne?” The woman cleared her throat.
“There’s only Grams and me,” Lily mumbled, pulling herself together. She snatched up a pen and notepad. “I’ll catch the next flight down from St. Louis. What’s the address of Morton Plant Hospital? ”
After hanging up, Lily closed the blog post she had been composing, “The Netherlands –a Good Place to Die.” After finalizing her travel arrangements, she struggled to her feet. “Damn leg,” she muttered under her breath. The ache in her injured leg increased with each drop in barometric pressure, and the rainy spring season was just getting underway. She dragged two suitcases from underneath her bed, the thick layer of dust on them reminding her how much she hated to travel.
She knew she should call Scott, but hesitated. Her estranged husband would want to accompany her to Florida and being with him in a hospital would dredge up bad memories. Nevertheless, she steeled herself and placed the call.
“It’s Grams,” she began. She recounted the earlier phone call, which didn’t take long.
“Poor Grams. I know she can’t live forever, but this sucks,” Scott said. “I’ll arrange to take time off work.”
. “No!” she barked. “I mean, let me fly down and assess the situation first. I might need to be there for a few weeks. Maybe longer.”
He reluctantly agreed. “How are you going to manage your blog without a laptop?”
Lily sighed. “I’ll just post a notice that I’m away and let the site go dark until I return.”
“Ironic,” Scott said.
Lily ignored the sarcasm. Her blog, Way to Go, provided useful information to people with terminal illnesses, to help them prepare to meet the end on their own terms.
“I have to pack.”
“Okay. What time is your flight?” Scott asked. “I’ll drive you to the airport.”
“I can call a cab,” she protested.
“Knock it off, Lilyanna. You’re going to need help with your suitcases.”
He was right. Pulling luggage while sporting a leg brace and leaning on a crutch was nearly impossible, Lily conceded.
“See you soon,” he said. “I love you.”
“Love you, too,” she replied out of habit.
The nonstop flight to Tampa was uneventful, and with help of airport personnel, she and her luggage were soon loaded into the Belleview Biltmore Resort’s shuttle van.
The driver reminded her of Andy Griffith. “So what brings you to Florida?” he asked.
“My grandmother’s in the hospital.”
“Nothing too serious, I hope,” he said.
“Very serious,” Lily replied. “She’s in the ICU at Morton Plant.” Her curt tone implied she didn’t feel like chatting.
“Sorry to hear that,” he mumbled. He returned his focus to the road and merged onto the ten-mile causeway, separating Tampa from Clearwater.
Lily stared out the window at the shimmering royal-blue waters of Tampa Bay. Suddenly, the shiny gray dorsal fin and broad back of a large dolphin broke the surface of the glassy water, triggering a memory. How thrilled Dylan had been when he learned they had arranged for him to swim with dolphins at Seaworld during their Florida vacation. She tried to hold onto the image of his joyful expression, but the painful knowledge that the adventure never happened – and could never happen – crushed the memory like a bug on a windshield. Lily sighed and rode the rest of the way to the hotel lamenting about what might have been.
A few blocks from the Belleview Biltmore, the driver pointed out the massive Morton Plant complex. “As soon as you get checked in, I can run you back to the hospital,” he said.
“Thanks.” Lily gazed at the hospital over her shoulder, unable to picture feisty, kindhearted Grams languishing in one of its rooms.
They slowed as the shuttle crossed the bridge to the resort’s entrance. The security guard recognized the driver and waved as he raised the traffic arm.
Lily stared ahead at the sprawling white building, rising five stories in front of them. Despite her melancholy, the beauty of the Belleview Biltmore took her breath. She hadn’t been here since she was a teenager, but the passing years had done little to make the building appear any less majestic. She still couldn’t see the entire hotel without turning her head, first in one direction and then the other. Atop the bright green-shingled roof were dozens and dozens of peaked gables, vividly framed against a bright blue, cloudless sky. The grounds surrounding the enormous Victorian structure were dotted with towering oaks, dripping with Spanish moss; each tree encircled with a bed of red, orange, purple, and white impatiens.
The driver coasted to a precision stop, directly in front of the double-door entrance. He walked around to her side of the van, opened the side door, and extended his hand to help her out.
“You go on inside. I’ll arrange for the bellman to bring your luggage in for you,” he said.
Lily started to fumble in her purse for a tip, but the driver gave her a broad Andy Griffith smile and waived a dismissive hand. “I hope your grandmother gets better,” he said as he turned away.
Lily felt guilty for having been rude to him. She turned and limped up the wide entryway, bordered on both sides with ornate concrete planters overflowing with colorful flowers. On either side of
the huge glass doors, larger planters featured trellises of climbing bougainvillea, dripping with hot pink blossoms.
A doorman pulled the glass door open for her, and she shuffled inside. As she approached the long, mahogany registration desk, Lily’s crutch made distinctive clicking sounds with every step in the otherwise silent lobby. She felt someone watching her – the cripple. She cast a contemptuous glare around the vast, domed entrance. There were several seating areas, each furnished with Victorian Era replicas, but the lobby was empty.
She tried to shake off the uneasy feeling and addressed the desk clerk. “I’m Lilyanna Thorne,” she said. “I asked for a room near the entrance, but it was a last minute reservation, so they couldn’t guarantee availability.”
The peppy brunette’s smile faltered as she scanned the map of vacant rooms on her computer screen. She bit her lower lip and narrowed her brown, almond-shaped eyes. “Well, one suite is available just inside the East Wing, if you could manage four steps.”
“I can, as long as there’s a railing.” Lily replied.
The girl’s smile returned. “All righty then,” she chirped. She keyed in Lily’s information, swiped her credit card and then opened a colorful, tri-fold map of the hotel on the counter. She circled Lily’s room number and launched into a well-rehearsed spiel, pointing out the hotel’s various amenities.
Lily raised her open palm. “Don’t bother – I’m not vacationing. My grandmother’s in the hospital down the street. I flew down to be with her.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the clerk said, switching tactics without losing a beat. “The hotel’s complimentary shuttle can take you to and from the hospital.” She flipped the hotel map over to reveal a list of phone numbers. “Just call the concierge fifteen minutes before you’re ready to go.” Then she handed an old-fashioned, brass room key to a uniformed bellman. “Ben will escort you to your room, Mrs. Thorne,” she said, still smiling. “I hope you enjoy your stay.”
“Thanks.” Lily turned and eyed the bellman, who was checking the room number, stamped into her key.
“This way, please,” he said, rolling the luggage cart toward the main corridor. “Did you know the Belleview Biltmore was used to house a battalion of Army Air Corps troops during World War II?”
Lily’s lack of response didn’t faze the bellman’s enthusiasm. As they approached the four steps at the entrance to the East Wing, he stopped and pointed to three narrow phone booths, one on the left side of the wide staircase, and two on the right.
“These were installed by the Army so soldiers could call home.” Then he pointed back toward the hallway. “The main corridor is called the Promenade and the Candlelight Ballroom is about halfway down, on the left. There’s a bar in there with a trap door in the floor that leads down to a series of underground tunnels. During Prohibition, they say that bar was a speakeasy and Al Capone used the hotel’s railroad to transport shipments of bootlegged alcohol. Supposedly, Capone’s men knew whenever the police were planning a raid, so before the cops arrived, they
dropped all the alcohol down through the trap door. Workers would hide the liquor in the tunnels or in one of the Pullman cars that were stored in the hotel’s rail yard out back, so when the police showed up to raid the place, all they found were people sitting around sipping glasses of iced tea. Then, when the coast was clear, they brought everything back up through the trap door.”
The moment Ben finally stopped to take a breath, Lily grabbed the handrail and pulled herself up the steps. The bellman followed, carrying her two suitcases. He unlocked the door for her and then stepped back to allow her to pass before bringing in her luggage.
Lily glanced around the spacious parlor. On one side of the room was a small round, mahogany table and four matching chairs. The other side was furnished with a burgundy, rolled-arm sofa, a coffee table, and an armoire that concealed a TV. She hobbled down a short hallway, past a black and white tiled bath and into the bedroom. The rich floral-patterned burgundy drapes and bedspread, glass doorknobs and other Victorian Era touches in the décor gave the suite an authentic aura. “This is a big suite,” she said.
The bellman placed her suitcases on the king-sized four-poster bed. “Yeah. When they first opened this hotel in 1897, this suite would have actually been two separate rooms and you would have shared that bath with your neighbor.”
Lily wrinkled her nose, causing the bellhop to chuckle. “Yeah, it’s hard to imagine, but sharing a bathroom with only one other guest room was considered a luxury back in those days.”
The laughter of children in the hallway caught Lily’s attention.
“The pool is at the opposite end of this corridor, but don’t worry – it closes at dusk, so the hallway is usually quiet at night.” Ben grinned. “Unless you believe the people who claim ghost children play there late at night.”
Lily stiffened. “Ghost children?”
“Yeah, but I don’t believe in all that nonsense,” he said with a shake of his head.
Lily relaxed. “Silly ghost stories – every old hotel seems to have them,” she thought. She muffled a yawn as the bellman made his exit. Then she dialed the Neuro ICU for an update on Grams’ condition.
“Mrs. Bloom is undergoing a minor procedure right now,” the nurse explained. “But she’ll be back in about an hour.”
Lily decided to unpack. By the time she finished, she could barely keep her eyes open. She sat on the upholstered bench at the foot of the bed to remove her leg brace. Then she hopped to the bedside and let herself fall back against two rows of fluffy pillows for a short nap.
Almost immediately, she drifted to sleep and tumbled into a thick cloud bank. She felt as light as a feather, spinning in the puffy swirls. Lily had never experienced anything like this before. She stretched out her arms, hoping to stabilize herself, but before she could, the clouds dissolved away.
Lily lurched, preparing for a fall to earth, but instead, she drifted gently until her feet reached a carpeted floor. She felt dizzy and nauseous, but these sensations subsided as she got her bearings and recognized the parlor of her hotel suite.
Then she noticed she wasn’t alone.