The Wedding Gift

The Wedding Gift
Kathleen McKenna

$14.95 October 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61194-052-7

The last place any bride should live.
Our PriceUS$14.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Leann wasn’t good enough for her upper-crust in-laws, so they gave her the mansion none of them wanted. Years ago, something or someone in the house killed Leann’s brother. Will its violent secrets kill her next?


 "The tale is haunting and well-developed." -- Teri Davis, Midwest Book Review

"I loved the plot and background story of Robina and Roger. As well as all the secrets of the Willets family…There was talent in the writing…she has peaked my interests." -- Chasity Brewer, The Midwest Book Review

"The superb opening and closing sections use newspaper clippings that read like real deadly incidents, which sets the atmospheric tone of the small-town supernatural thriller…this is an engaging haunted house tale." -- Harriet Klausner, The Midwest Book Review

"…a clear picture of Leeann Worthier as a cross between Gone with the Wind’s Scarlet O’Hara and Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf where southern belle meets urban chic…Few diaries are as juicy as Leeann Worthier’s and as much fun to read." -- Susan Frances, The Reading Room

"…a gothic ghost story…it is spooky and suspenseful…and hard to put down." --Christine Kohrs, Good Reads

"…there's a little bit of everything in it: romance, horror, mystery…kept [me] guessing right to the very end.” -- Mary De Bastos, Net Galley

" … a suspenseful tale with haunted houses and ghosts… I recommend The Wedding Gift, to fans of paranormal mysteries, ghost stories and haunted houses delivered with humor. McKenna certainly has a gift for writing. As I reflect back on the tale, I am amazed at the wide range of emotions she was able to draw from me.” -- Kimba88, Amazon Reviews

"A haunted house, cursed family legacy, and generations of secrets make this novel the perfect read for Halloween...The atmosphere is eerie, the setting is perfectly gothic, and the characters are straight out of a horror movie...I had chills and had trouble falling to sleep." -- DLP, Candid Culture

"... a spine-electrifying supernatural tale where a huge Southern States mansion contains one of the most terrifying, violent and indeed psychopathic ghosts to haunt any town. It is also a murder mystery—why did Robina Willets apparently kill all five of her young children, and her husband, before stabbing herself to death? And, if you are in the camp of believing that 'Justice... just is not,' then this will have you frothing at the mouth with righteous social fury.” -- —Tim Roux, author of Missioand The Dance of the Pheasodile



AP News Oklahoma City 12/23/75
Manson-Like Slaying Rocks Small-Town Christmas Festivities

Last evening, based on an anonymous tip, authorities were called to the home of Roger Willets in Dalton, Oklahoma. Upon entering the mansion, authorities discovered all seven members of the Roger Willets family slain. The walls were covered in cryptic messages, possibly written in the blood of the victims. "It was the most grisly overkill you could imagine,” stated Sheriff Riffler of the Dalton Sheriff’s office. Sheriff Riffler is a man not easily rattled, having just returned to Dalton a decorated hero from his second tour in Vietnam. However, it was obvious to this writer that even this war hardened veteran was left shaken and stunned by the carnage he had viewed. The police have no suspects at this time, but state that they are following numerous leads.

AP News Oklahoma City 12/25/1975

Authorities in the town of Dalton, Oklahoma have released the following statement regarding the recent slaying of the Roger Willets family: "New evidence has come to light showing that the murders were committed by Robina Willets, wife of Roger, age 35, and mother of Emily, age 11, Dalton, age 10, Savannah, age 7, Ryder, age 5, and the infant George, age 4 months. Robina Willets, age 29, after slaughtering her husband and children, took her own life.

This is something we have never seen here in Dalton, and do not expect to see in the next thousand years or so. Roger Willets was a fine man and the largest employer here in these parts. His wife was a gal from somewhere up north, and we don’t know, and can never know what made her do such a thing. Mrs. Willets was a strange girl, and no one really knew her. We think she might have become unhinged after her last baby, but it's no use speculating any longer. The best thing to do is put this behind us and let the town start to heal—most particularly the Willets family, who has had a terrible shock and loss.”

The bodies will be released for burial, as all autopsies have been completed. The burial is planned for Saturday at 3 p.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow in Dalton. The remaining family members could not be reached for comment.

Dalton City Tri-Area Weekly January 3-10, 1975

Services are being held Saturday, January 5th at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow in Dalton for Roger Willets, age 35, his daughter Emily Willets, age 11, son Dalton, age 10, daughter Savannah, age 7, son Ryder age 5, and son George, age 4 months. Roger Willets was the owner/director of Willets Petroleum Services, a fourth generation oil and drilling operation founded in Dalton by George Willets in 1931. Roger is survived by his brother George III and his sister-in-law Bethany. The Willets family has asked that donations be made to the George Willets Memorial Foundation in lieu of flowers.

AP News Oklahoma City, Oklahoma- October 30, 1986
Halloween High-Spirits Take a Turn for Danger in Dalton, OK

Dalton City, Oklahoma is a small, bucolic town, located ninety-three miles east of Oklahoma City. "Nothing much happens in Dalton, and that’s the way we like it,” states Dalton businesswoman, Orla Nashbone. But recently there have been a spate of unexplained fires, and two boys were injured at the former home of Roger Willets.

The Willets mansion is Dalton’s finest historical property; it was built by George Willets in 1932 following his takeover of the Chumley Brothers’ oil claim, and subsequent startup of Willets Petroleum. The mansion is a stately white colonial, boasting three stories and some fifty manicured acres. The mansion known locally as Willets House, has been empty since the 1975 slaying of the Roger Willets family, and has become something of a local target for children hunting for adventure.

Despite the posted warnings and high wrought iron fence around the property, "Kids will be kids, and they dare each other to go on in and find a ghost,” states Sheriff Riffler of the Dalton Sheriff's Department. Two nights ago, such innocent mischief went badly when a passing neighbor heard screams from the property and called the Sheriff's office. "I was walking Teddy, my keeshond, by the Willets place, when all of a sudden I heard the most horrible screaming, and then a crash. I was too afraid to look myself, but I ran right on home and called Sheriff Riffler. I hope I never hear a sound like that again as long as I live,” stated local woman, Darlene Riggits.

Upon arriving at the stately home, Sheriff Riffler and two deputies found local residents, Charlie Worthier and Donald Readle, unconscious and badly injured at the bottom of the empty pool on the property. "The boys were up on the third floor of the house. They had broken in and I suppose they thought the fastest way out was climbing down the old oak on the side, but the branches could not hold them and they both fell into the pool. We’ll sure have some questions for them when they are feeling better,” stated Sheriff Riffler.

The Willets family has not responded to questions from this reporter, but has issued the following statement through their family attorney, Richard Channing of Dalton: "The Willets family is distressed to hear of the injuries of these two young boys, but states that they do not feel liable for said injuries as they occurred during the commission of a crime—that of trespassing. They send their prayers and thoughts to the families at this difficult time.

Dalton City Tri-Area Weekly October 31-November 6 1986

Services will be held on Tuesday November 1st at John the redeemer Baptist Church for Charlie Worthier, aged 14. Mr. Worthier was a lifetime resident of Dalton City. He is survived by his parents Charlie and Elma Worthier, his brother Randy, and sister Leeann. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the George Willets Memorial Foundation.

Halloween Festival Biggest and Best Ever

Mayor Stoddard urges everyone to come on down tonight to the Dalton City Fairgrounds for the forty-fifth annual punkin’ and pie dance celebrating Dalton’s Halloween. "We will have music and food for everyone and their uncle.” This event is sponsored by Willets Petroleum Services. Mrs. George Willets will be judging the 45th annual costume contest, and states that this year’s prize is a two night stay at the Oklahoma City Hilton, with a dinner for two, so get your duds out folks, this one’s going to be a barn burner.

Dalton City Tri-Area Weekly May 2-May 9 2004

Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Worthier of Dalton are proud to announce the engagement of their daughter, Leeann, to George Willets, also of Dalton. The couple will wed on June 15th of this year at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow in Dalton, Oklahoma. They plan to honeymoon in Hawaii and then make their permanent home right here in Dalton. Miss Worthier is a graduate of Dalton High and former Homecoming Queen, as well as Miss Corn Maiden for 2004. She enjoys riding horses and sewing clothes. The groom-to-be is the only son of George and Bethany Willets. George Willets Junior is a graduate of Dalton High and Oklahoma City Junior College. He works in the family petroleum business and is vice president in charge of new development. Mrs. Willets, the groom’s mother, chairs the Dalton Ladies Gardening Club; is a proud sponsor of the Dalton Cotillion and the Dalton Flower Show. Mrs. Willets is also an active member of the Halloween dance committee, and teaches Sunday school classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow. In addition, she is the president and secretary of the "Keep Dalton Pretty” committee, devoted to the historical preservation of our town. Mrs. Willets will be hosting a luncheon at the Dalton City Country Club in honor of the bride on Saturday May 15th. Mrs. Dalton states that she is "Thrilled to bits by the upcoming nuptials, as I have never had a daughter, so had not believed I would get to plan a wedding, but Leeann just begged me to take over, so I am having the time of my life." Mrs. Willets will be wearing a cream chiffon suit at the luncheon and a rose St. John ball gown at the upcoming wedding.



Well, if I didn’t want to cry, I guess I would be laughing. I like that, don’t you? My engagement announcement and I rated what... two lines? Meanwhile, old lady Willets had her whole boring life story told again, and what the hell? "Leeann just begged me to take over.” Like hell I did. I wanted no part of her high-handed advice, and "Oh Leeann, sugar, if you would just let me do this, I think it will be so much prettier, don’t you honey?” Prettier my high round ass! She meant better, nicer, not so low class, like me.

Apparently every idea I had was just not pretty. I had wanted to have my bridal shower at Tully’s, where I worked all last summer and where my best friend Jessie is the hostess now.

I love Tully’s. They have done the whole place up to look just like Hawaii, with a mural of the ocean and leis hanging everywhere, and they got all these great drinks, like "get lei’d” which is made from rum, pineapple and coconut juice. When you drink it, it don’t taste like rum at all, and if you drink three of ’em in a row you get a plastic lei to keep that says, "I got lei’d at Tully’s.”

But oh hell no, I was not going to have me a party at Tully’s with my mama and sister-in-law throwing it, and my four best friends who had all been my attendants when I was the Corn Princess. No, no, no, that wouldn’t be pretty at all. What was pretty, I found out real quick, was a luncheon at Miz Perfect Willets’ perfect country club. I don’t like that place one bit. That snooty old place wouldn’t even hire me last summer, and I was already Homecoming Queen by then!

They said that they only hired college girls—except that was a bold faced lie cause I knew for a fact that the other two girls who was working there were Missy Lane and Audrey Stepps, and they were most certainly not in college. Both of ’em were attending Dalton High, same as me.

Of course their daddies played golf there, and my daddy... well he had only used the facilities there so to speak when he got pretty tight a few years ago and went joyriding in one of their silly old golf carts. Daddy drove it around the grounds for a while, just whooping and hollering and when he got bored a doing that, then he drove it right on into the pool. He got out all dripping wet and saluted the golf club patrons by lowering his pants and showing them his white ass.

Well, I say good-for-you Daddy and I wish I could do the same. Of course at the time, I thought I liked to have died of shame. Back when it happened I was certain that it was gonna ruin my chances to be Corn Princess.

I got real dramatic following Daddy’s arrest and told Mama that I wanted to spend the rest of high school in Norman with Uncle Jerry and Aunt Maddie. I said I wasn’t never gonna see her or Daddy again. But Mama, she just laughed and said it would all blow over by supper time and that near as she could tell, people mostly thought it was funny.

Well some people might’a thought so, but not them tight assed people at the Country Club, and most certainly not God Almighty Bethany Willets who almost fired Mama over it. But mostly Mama was right—it did blow over. Everyone loves Daddy, and I did become Corn Princess anyway, so who cared, right?

Of course, now I have to relive the whole unfortunate incident on account of where my bridal shower is going to be. Shoot, it gets even better ’cause now Miz Willets says I can only invite Mama, Sarah Beth, my sister-in-law, and onegirlfriend to my very own bridal shower!

My monster-in-law to be said it was because it was a luncheon for eight only, and so I said to her, I said, well great then, eight is me, Mama, Sarah Beth, Jessie, Lurlene, May, and Britney, that makes up eight, right? But Miz Bethany, she just laughed like I was joking, which I purely was not. She said to me, her voice sweet as poison:

"Oh Leeann, aren’t you a card?” whatever that means, and then she told me that I was forgetting about Missy and Audrey who "of course had to be in the wedding,” so they had to be at the bridal shower too, as did her best friendDonna DeeRiffler.” Well I say what? Huh? Let's review:

My bridal shower, and three of my best friends get knocked off the invite list so that those two humongouslosers, Missy and Audrey, can come? And along with them comes old Miz Riffler who I don’t know from Adam.

And God help me, what did she mean, do you think, about Missy and Audrey being in the wedding? Being in my wedding as what—the world's biggest flower girls? Or maybe not, since my baby niece Tallulah is most definitely going to be the flower girl—the only flower girl! I wonder if Miz Willets is planning on putting those two mutants into tuxedos and making them walk down the aisle with Junior as his attendants. Oh darn me for the fool I am; there I went again calling George, Junior.

George is the name of the man I am marrying in one month—no more calling him by that stupid name Junior. I’ll say it again, and this time I really don’t care what his mama says back to me— George is his name and it's what I am calling him.

She is all, "Oh now, Leeann honey, George is Junior’s daddy’s name, and I will be so confused if there are two Georges in the house.”

Well I didn’t say it to her face, but you can bet I was thinking to myself all the time; I was thinking, don’t you worry your old bleached out head about it none. Because that is the oneother thing that is strictly non-negotiable—there will not be two Georges in her house—just the one; her George can be in her house, and my George will be in mine. Well George, me, and our little baby when it comes, will be in our house.

Now myGeorge balked a little at first, saying, "Sugar, there are ten bedrooms at Bethany House, and you don’t even have to see Mama if you don’t want to.” Riiiggghhhtt George—God help me, but can’t men be fools? I didn’t say that of course; I just used my feminine powers of persuasion and he came around right quick.

Me and my George are buying one of those darling townhouses right over by the new mall that’s opening this spring. And I will have lavender wall to wall carpeting in every room if I want it, which by the way I do. Well, maybe not the baby’s room. I won’t do a thing in there till I find out if it’s a boy or a girl, though I know it’s a boy, and I know something else too; we, that is me and George, are going to name him Charlie... Charlie Willets, after my daddy and after my brother who died when I was a baby. Ma Willets will poop a brick, but it’s my baby, and I am notnaming him George, which is an ugly name, if you want to be strictly honest, and most of all I am not naming him Roger, which is the other name Miz High and Mighty Willets suggested, if you can believe your ears. Roger is the name of George's dead uncle who was killed in the biggest, nastiest scandal to ever hit our little town.

Everybody still talks about it. Roger’s wife was some crazy girl from California or somewhere. I ain’t calling her crazy or nothin’ just ’cause she weren’t from here. I mean she must have been as crazy as a bit snake to do what she did. She up and cut poor old Roger’s head clean off and then, Jesus save her, she killed all their kids before finally doing herself in. Well, I like that! That’s a real fine legacy to give a baby, isn’t it? Anyhow, to make matters worse, George, and even my own mama, said that they thought naming the baby Roger, if it’s a boy, was a real fine idea. They told me it was a fitting way to remember Uncle Roger. Well hells bells I say, who wants to remember stuff like that?

If it is a boy, and I know it is, then naming him Charlie is also a way of remembering, but remembering people in my family, who may not be all rich and smart like the Willets is, but we don’t got no nasty-ass old psycho killers in our family tree neither; you name babies to remember good people, that’s what I say... people like my poor dead brother, to name one, who was a fine boy that was not killed in some icky way, but fell out of a tree on a Halloween dare before I was even a year old. Besides, Charlie is my daddy’s name too, so that’s it as far as I am concerned. You know, I’ve been thinking, if we have us another son down the road, I will call him Worthier; Worthier Willets has a nice ring to it.

See the thing is, old lady Willets will pretty much poop herself a brick no matter what I do for the rest of my natural life as far as I can see, so I might as well just go ahead and do what I want anyway. George, he will go along with stuff I want, ’cause he is as crazy about me as her old George is about her. With poor Mr. Willets Sr., it's all, yes sugar, and whatever you want Bethany all the time at their house. So I figure things will run real smooth if that’s how it’s going to be in my housewith me and my George.

I think in a few years, when we have more than one little baby of our own, then George can build me a huge old mansion and we’ll call it Leeann House. That naming houses after themselves is a Willets' tradition, one I may just take up myself, seeing as how I am going to be a Willets soon.

Here is how that naming houses got started. Back almost a hundred years ago, the first George Willets—who everyone in Dalton calls George the First, built Willets House, which is a humongous, real life Southern plantation house. It looks like Tara in "Gone with the Wind”— only a lot bigger. Mr. Willets the First then passed it on to his son Roger and his new wife who got it for a wedding gift. And then they lived in it, until their son Roger got married. That Roger, who I named in my mind "Roger the Last,” which I know is real disrespectful and whatnot, but it’s also true. Well then, Roger the Last and his wife Robina took it over upon their marriage, but after the murders that was it for Willets’ occupancy—so to speak.

Of course the current George, who is known as Big George Willets, well he refused to sell the ancestral home, or better yet, burn it to the ground, and since the current Mrs. Bethany Willets refused to live there, he built her a big house on the golf course and named it Bethany House.

Now the original Willets palace just sits there year after year all empty and taking up a whole city block for nothing. The family keeps it up, of course, so it’s still beautiful and grand, but for all its being so fancy and perfect looking, it ain’t stopped it from being our local haunted house for as long as I can remember.

For a long time after the murders, local kids used to sneak in there on Halloween and bring stuff out, and tell stories about what they’d seen in there. But the last time someone broke in there—at least as far as anyone knows, was when my brother and his buddy, Donny, went inside the house seventeen years ago. Charlie was killed and Donny was hurt real bad, and even when he got better, he would never tell anyone why he and Charlie were up in the tree together. People talk, like always, and stories grew up around the house even more after that.

These days it’s still the place that kids cross the street to avoid walking too close to. So it just sits there big and white and beautiful behind these fancy wrought iron gates with all those huge oak trees growing up the sides of the driveway. Mama says that it looks like a movie set, and she always expects to see ladies in hoop skirts on the lawn. But to my mind... well, I don’t like to look at it at all. I kind of always expect to see something too, but it's not ladies in hoop skirts.

There is a room on the second floor of that house, and when you walk by you get this feeling like you want to look up at the window, but I never do... I can't even say why. But I’ll tell you this—it's not my brother's face I think I’ll see if I do ever get brave enough to look up. I think it’s her face—Robina. Jessie said she saw her up there once, and now I wouldn’t look up for all the tea in China.

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