Authors: Kate Kingsbury
Praise for the Holiday Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries
Herald of Death
“Another superb homicidal historical holiday cozy. The
class difference just before WWI comes alive, as it always does in the Pennyfoot saga, in this exciting amateur sleuth.”
Midwest Book Review
“Kingsbury continues to delight fans with well-thought-out mysteries that will challenge and entertain for hours.”
Debbie’s Book Bag
Mistletoe and Mayhem
“Full of wonderful characters, a welcoming home setting, and many surprises, this one is a keeper . . . These are characters you will want to visit time and time again!”
The Romance Readers Connection
Decked with Folly
“Kingsbury expertly strews red herrings to suggest plenty of others had reason to wish Ian dead . . . This makes the perfect stocking stuffer for the cozy fan in your life.”
Ringing in Murder
Ringing in Murder
combines the feel of an Agatha Christie whodunit with a taste of
“Engaging . . . Cozy fans will be pleased to ring in the New Year with this cheerful Kingsbury trifle.”
Shrouds of Holly
“Charming . . . Will provide warm holiday entertainment.”
“Delightful . . . Starring an intrepid heroine.”
Midwest Book Review
“Well crafted and surprising all the way to the last page,
Shrouds of Holly
is a pleasurable read that is sure to get you in the mood for the holidays!”
The Romance Readers Connection
“Likable characters, charming surroundings, and eclectic guests continue to make this an enjoyable series. Bravo, Kate Kingsbury . . . for making this a holiday tradition.”
“A pre–World War I whodunit in the classic style, furnished with amusing characters.”
“The author draws as much from
as she does from Agatha Christie, crafting a charming . . . cozy delicately flavored with period details of pre–World War I rural England.”
“A true holiday gem.”
Visit Kate Kingsbury’s website at www.doreenrobertshight.com
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Kate Kingsbury
Manor House Mysteries
A BICYCLE BUILT FOR MURDER
DEATH IS IN THE AIR
FOR WHOM DEATH TOLLS
DIG DEEP FOR MURDER
PAINT BY MURDER
FIRE WHEN READY
AN UNMENTIONABLE MURDER
Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries
ROOM WITH A CLUE
DO NOT DISTURB
SERVICE FOR TWO
EAT, DRINK, AND BE BURIED
GROUNDS FOR MURDER
PAY THE PIPER
CHIVALRY IS DEAD
RING FOR TOMB SERVICE
DEATH WITH RESERVATIONS
DYING ROOM ONLY
MAID TO MURDER
Holiday Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries
NO CLUE AT THE INN
SHROUDS OF HOLLY
RINGING IN MURDER
DECKED WITH FOLLY
MISTLETOE AND MAYHEM
HERALD OF DEATH
THE CLUE IS IN THE PUDDING
Titles by Kate Kingsbury writing as Rebecca Kent
HIGH MARKS FOR MURDER
MURDER HAS NO CLASS
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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A Penguin Random House Company
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
Copyright © 2013 by Doreen Roberts Hight.
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eBook ISBN 978-1-101-59554-1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mulled murder / Kate Kingsbury.—Berkley Prime Crime trade paperback edition.
pages cm.—(Pennyfoot holiday mysteries)
ISBN 978-0-425-26291-7 (pbk.)
1. Baxter, Cecily Sinclair (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Hotelkeepers—Fiction. 3. Pennyfoot Hotel (England : Imaginary place)—Fiction. 4. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 5. Christmas stories. I. Title.
Berkley Prime Crime trade paperback edition / November 2013
Cover illustrations by Dan Craig.
Cover design by Judith Lagerman.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To my husband, Bill,
who has given me twenty years of pure happiness and contentment. I will always love you.
To my editor, Faith Black. Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions, ideas, and great titles. It has been a huge pleasure to work with you. We have been on the same page since day one, and you will always be in my memories of my Pennyfoot family.
To my agent, Paige Wheeler. Thank you for your help, your consideration, and your friendship. It means a lot to me to have someone in my corner I can trust.
To Bill, for always understanding when I drift off into my “other world.”
To Ann Wraight, for all the wonderful magazines and research that helped so much in writing the series.
To my readers:
I’m sad to say that this book will be the last in the Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries. Most of the characters are looking forward to new lives, and it’s time to let them go. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I feel it’s the right one.
I will miss my family in Badgers End, and my beloved Pennyfoot Hotel. But I leave them knowing they are going on to better lives. When I first created them, I had no idea we would be together so long. It has been a great pleasure and a privilege to tell you about their adventures.
I want to thank you, dear readers, for all your wonderful letters and e-mails. You are the ones I have to thank for keeping the series alive. For the past twenty-two years I have enjoyed a delightful correspondence with you, and many of you have become close friends. For me, that is the best reward I could have.
I wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a healthy, happy New Year filled with love and laughter. I’m not giving up writing, and Kate Kingsbury will strive to entertain you well into the future.
Bless you all,
aka Kate Kingsbury
“Really, Frederick! I do wish you wouldn’t dawdle so.” A playful wind tugged at Phoebe Carter-Holmes Fortescue’s hat, and she snatched at the wide brim before it could be whisked off her head.
Her husband had paused at the railing that divided the deserted beach from the Esplanade, his gaze fixed on something beyond her sight.
Glancing at the sea, Phoebe could see nothing but gray green water churning toward shore, and a lone ship too far out to discern anything unusual about it. “Whatever are you staring at?”
He declined to answer, and she drew back her thin shoulders to take a deep breath. Much as she adored her husband, he could, at times, try her patience dearly. It was her decided opinion that in deference to his service in His Majesty’s armed forces, people gave Frederick far too much leeway.
True, his experiences had left him somewhat addled in the head, but Phoebe had no doubt that Colonel Frederick Fortescue had far more gumption than people gave him credit for, and delighted in the attention gained by his erratic behavior.
At that moment, however, he seemed transfixed, his back as straight as a tent pole.
Murmuring her displeasure under her breath, Phoebe joined him at the railing to see what had taken such hold of his interest.
At first, all she noticed was the smooth golden sand and the thin line of seaweed left by the retreating waves. Then she spotted what appeared to be a bundle of clothing lying just beyond the edge of the water. “Goodness!” She narrowed her eyes, trying to see more clearly. “It looks as though someone has discarded their castoffs in the ocean.”
The colonel snapped awake. “Just what I was thinking, m’dear. I think I’ll take a closer look. There might be something there worth salvaging.”
Phoebe uttered a shriek of horror. “You’ll do no such thing, Frederick. Those disgusting . . .
could be full of germs. You could catch some deadly disease. Besides, why on earth would you want some poor peasant’s hand-me-downs? We have more than enough fine clothes to wear. Really, if you think—”
She broke off as her husband uttered a sharp exclamation, then dashed off toward the steps leading to the sands.
Phoebe had learned from bitter experience that when Freddie acted on impulse, more often than not he ended up in serious trouble unless she was there to control the situation. After a moment’s hesitation, she picked up her skirt and chased after him.
She reached the top of the steps at the same time her husband leapt onto the sand. Keeping a wary gaze on her buttoned boots while she scrambled down the gritty steps, she slid one hand down the rail to steady herself. She reached the bottom with the dismal thought that at least one of her white kid gloves was beyond repair.
Her feet sank into the soft sand, and she had trouble following in the colonel’s footsteps. Her temper rising, she clutched her umbrella like a weapon as she advanced on him. The wind from the ocean bit into her face with icy fingers, and she could feel the chill right down to her bones. Frederick would have to pay for this outrage, she vowed, as she finally reached his side.
He stood quite still, looking down at the bundle. She followed his gaze.
At first glance she noticed only that the clothes had belonged to a man. Her next glance confirmed what her mind had at first refused to accept. The owner of the clothes was still inside them and, judging from his gray shriveled face, he no longer had any need of them.
With a little sigh, Phoebe closed her eyes and let the darkness take her.
• • •
With the advent of Edward VII on the throne shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, British subjects shrugged off the heavy blanket of decorum and constraint dictated by the late Queen Victoria, and embraced a new age of decadence. Lavish banquets, high jinks on the racecourses, and most especially jaunts to the seaside had become the custom for the wealthy, and the Pennyfoot Country Club was in high demand.
No sooner had Cecily Sinclair Baxter recovered from the busy summer season, during which London’s aristocrats had arrived in droves to bask in the clean, balmy air of England’s southeast coast, than she was almost immediately thrown into the frantic preparations for yet another Christmas season at the Pennyfoot.
It seemed to her that the holiday season arrived earlier each year. Either that, or time was flying past faster than ever before. Gazing at the profusion of holly and fir adorning the mantelpiece, she found it hard to believe that Christmas Eve was just four days away.
She remarked to her husband, who was seated in front of a roaring fire with his feet propped up on the fender, “Why is it that no matter how early we begin to make plans for Christmas, invariably we end up racing against the clock to complete them?”
Absorbed in his newspaper, Baxter appeared not to hear her.
Cecily leaned forward in her chair and tapped him on the knee. “Darling?”
Baxter slowly lowered the newspaper. “Did you say something?”
“It must be an interesting story.”
“Just some drivel about the impact of exhaust fumes from motorcars on pedestrians’ lungs. Good Lord, why do people waste time on such nonsense? It’s not as if we walk behind exhaust pipes breathing in the smoke.”
“No, dear, but I imagine some of that smoke gets mixed in with the air that we do breathe.”
Baxter grunted. “There’s nothing but depressing news in the paper these days.” He shook the page at her. “Look at this. The price of everything is going up, there was a fire in Whitehall and paintings stolen from the National Gallery, and they want to raise taxes on spirits. Can’t we ever get good news in the newspaper?” He frowned. “What was it you were saying?”
“I was saying that sometimes I wonder how we manage to get everything done in time for Christmas.”
I assume you are referring to our staff, and not including me in that observance?”
Cecily smiled. “Of course I meant the staff, dear. I wouldn’t dream of expecting you to involve yourself in all this chaos.”
Baxter narrowed his eyes. “Do I detect a touch of sarcasm in that sweet voice?”
“Why, darling, what on earth gave you that impression?”
Sighing, Baxter folded his newspaper. “Very well. What is it you wish me to do?”
Cecily gave him a suspicious stare. It wasn’t like her husband to volunteer his services unless she was in dire need. Especially when he was so comfortably ensconced in his favorite armchair in the quiet privacy of their suite.
When she’d agreed to take over the management of the country club, she’d been resigned to the fact that Baxter had his own business to take care of, and would have neither the time nor the inclination to help with her duties. To be fair, there had been occasions when he had stepped in admirably when she most needed it, but the day-to-day chores of running an efficient establishment were hers to supervise.
To be even fairer, she preferred it that way.
Nevertheless, Baxter’s offer of help was so rare, she couldn’t possibly refuse for fear he may never offer again. “Well, now that you mention it,” she murmured, “I do need someone to make sure the new stable manager’s assistant is suitable for the position. He’s working on a probationary status at the moment. I’ve been meaning to talk to Charlie Muggins about him.”
Baxter frowned. “What does Charlie have to do with anything?”
“Don’t you remember, dear? Charlie Muggins took over from Samuel when he left. He’s now our stable manager and Henry Simmons is his new assistant. He’s a little fragile—Henry, that is—and rather on the short side, but he seems intelligent and certainly appears to know a lot about motorcar engines.”
Baxter shook his head. “All this change going on. It’s no wonder I can’t keep anything straight. I can’t believe Samuel’s gone. He’d been with us so long. How’s he doing, anyway?”
Cecily winced. She missed her former stable manager dreadfully, and any mention of him gave her fresh pain. “From what I hear, the motorcar repair shop he opened up with Gilbert is doing quite well. Which is just as well, seeing that Samuel is marrying Pansy in a few days.”
“So I suppose Pansy will be leaving us as well, then?”
“Yes, dear. Right after the wedding. I’ve already found a housemaid to replace her. Lilly Green seems to be a very nice young woman. Pansy is training her. She’s most anxious to please, and I think she’ll work out well.”
“And our maintenance man?”
“Clive’s new toy shop is doing extremely well, so I’ve heard. Of course, it’s Christmastime, so I imagine he’s been quite busy of late. Things are bound to slow down a bit after the New Year.”
“I meant the new chap. What’s his name?”
“Jacob Pinstone.” Cecily held her hands out to the fire to warm her chilled fingers. “I’m not so confident about him. I hired him out of desperation. I had just three applicants for Clive’s job, and Jacob was the lesser of the evils, I’m afraid. Apparently he used to be in the Royal Navy, but when I inquired about it he seemed most reluctant to discuss it. Still, he seems to be competent enough, though I do miss Clive.”
Baxter grunted. “I don’t know why everyone had to leave at once. It puts the whole place in a state of upheaval.”
Cecily raised her chin. “I think we manage everything quite well, all things considered. The guests seem happy enough.”
Baxter leaned forward and patted her hand. “Of course, of course. I didn’t mean that the operation of the country club is any less efficient or gratifying. I simply meant that it made things more difficult for you, having to deal with all these changes in our staff. In spite of everything, you’ve managed to carry on as usual, in a most admirable way.”
Compliments from her husband were rare, and Cecily smiled her pleasure. “Thank you, darling. I do—”
A sharp rapping on the door interrupted her. Rising to her feet she murmured, “That’s most likely Phoebe. She’s coming over this afternoon to prepare the ballroom for her presentation.”
Baxter groaned. “Not another fiasco.”
“Now, now, dear.” Cecily headed for the door. “Phoebe’s pantomimes provide a great deal of entertainment for our guests.”
“Only because they’re waiting to see how badly she can foul things up.”
Cecily wisely decided not to answer that. Instead, she pulled open the door and smiled at the young woman waiting outside.
Lilly Green was taller than the rest of the maids, with the exception of Gertie McBride, the Pennyfoot’s chief housemaid. Gertie not only had the benefit of height over the rest of the downstairs staff, she had the girth as well, which would have made her quite formidable had it not been for her jovial nature.
Lilly, on the other hand, was so painfully thin, Baxter had been heard to remark that if the maid turned sideways only her nose would be visible.
At that moment she appeared somewhat distressed, and Cecily was quick to respond. “What is it, Lilly? Has something happened?”
Behind her she heard Baxter groan. Not that she could blame him. It seemed that every Christmas season something tragic happened at the Pennyfoot. In fact, the misfortune had become so prevalent, the staff referred to it as the Christmas curse.
Judging from the expression on Lilly’s scrawny face, it seemed likely the curse had struck again. Her voice was barely above a whisper when she answered. “I believe it’s a friend of yours, m’m. The gentleman she’s with has white hair and a bushy beard. He’s not making much sense. He carried her into the lobby, but I gathered from what he said that he can’t carry her up the stairs.”
Cecily’s chill robbed her of speech for a moment.
“What is it?” Baxter demanded from across the room.
Clutching the doorjamb, Cecily said faintly, “I believe something is wrong with Phoebe. We must go downstairs at once.”
“Of course.” Baxter arrived at her side and took her arm.
“Thank you, Lilly,” Cecily murmured, as the maid curtsied. “We’ll take care of things.”
“Yes, m’m.” Looking relieved, Lilly scurried off.
Cecily looked up at her husband. “Oh, Bax, whatever can be wrong with Phoebe? I couldn’t bear it if . . .” She let her voice trail off, unable to put her fears into words.
He gave her arm a little squeeze. “I suggest we go down and find out.”