Authors: Carolyn Keene
HEN ARE WE
going to be there, Nan?”
Nancy Drew looked in the rearview mirror at her friend Bess Marvin, who was sitting in the back seat. Bess's blond hair was blowing back from her face in the warm summer breeze.
“We've still got another hour or so,” Nancy said. She tucked a flyaway strand of reddish blond hair behind her ear. The two front windows were down all the way, and with the wind gusting, Nancy was glad she'd thought to pull her hair back in a French braid. Her friend, George Fayne, in the seat next to her, wore her hair short and had no trouble.
“Right,” Bess said with a sigh. “It's just thatâwell, you guys know what I'm like around
chocolate dessert. The thought that I'm about to eat
of them is driving me crazy!”
“Not thousands, Bess,” Nancy replied. “The Oakwood Inn brochure just said there'd beâ”
“You don't have to tell me,” interrupted Bess. “I've memorized the whole thing. âDozens of delectable chocolate creations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, prepared by one of the state's most renowned pastry chefs,'â” she parroted.
free samples.” Bess's blue eyes sparkled at the thought. “It's a dream vacation, you guys. I just wish it would hurry up and start.”
Almost a year had passed since Nancy had received the Oakwood Inn brochure advertising the Chocolate Festival. It sounded like so much fun that she had made reservations for the three of them right away.
They were all pretty different, Nancy reflected. Bess was curvy and blond and hated anything athletic and loved everything having to do with cute guys. George, with her short dark curls and lithe, athletic figure, liked guys, of course, but sports were high on her list of priorities, too. Nancy guessed that she fell somewhere in between, with her main loves being Ned Nickerson and a good mystery. The one thing that they
loved was chocolate, though.
“I'm amazed we were able to take this trip at all, Nancy,” George observed. “I was sure you'd get called away on a case.”
was sure she'd get called away by Ned,” Bess added with a giggle.
Nancy was a detective, and the past couple of months had been unusually busy ones for her. Not only had she been practically blown up
during her last case, which she called
but Ned had also been home from college on vacation.
“It's only July, so I'll still be able to spend lots of time with Ned before he goes back to Emerson for the fall semester. Anyway, I'm sure the Chocolate Festival will take my mind off missing him for a few days.”
“Chocolate has a way of doing that,” Bess agreed. “But I hope there are at least one or two cute guys at the inn to take
mind off the desserts. I mean, I don't want to turn into a total blimp while I'm there.”
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
“Okay, Bess, you can unpack your fork now,” Nancy teased, turning the car into a long, sweeping driveway. “We're here!”
“This is an inn?” Bess asked in surprise. “I was expecting a little cottage. This place is huge!”
Bess was right, Nancy thought. The Oakwood Inn was a rambling four-story stone estate whose central building was flanked by two wings. Carefully tended flower beds lined the building, and the banner hanging over the door had the image of a slice of chocolate layer cake on it.
Nancy steered the Mustang into the parking lot, which was almost empty, and the three girls climbed out and began lugging their suitcases up the front walk toward the inn's wide front door. Just as Nancy was reaching for the door handle, she heard a voice behind her.
“Hey, wait! Let me give you a hand!”
Turning, Nancy saw a young man racing toward them. He looked about twenty years old. His sandy hair was falling into his hazel eyes, and he was dressed casually in a blue workshirt, jeans, and heavy workboots.
“I wonder where my stepsister is?
supposed to be meeting the guests!” the guy said in a slightly annoyed tone. “I just came over from the other wing, where I was working, and happened to see you.”
“Well, it's great of you to help us,” Bess said quickly. She gave him a dazzling smile and tossed her long blond hair back over her shoulder. “We appreciate it.”
Behind Bess, Nancy exchanged an amused look with George. Three minutes was the average time it took Bess to get a crush on someone. She was ahead of schedule that day.
The young man smiled back at Bess as he reached for her suitcase. “My name's Jake Tagley,” he said. “I take it you three have come for the Chocolate Festival.” He used his foot to push the front door open. “You're a little early, butâ”
Jake didn't get to finish his sentence. Just as he was ushering Nancy, Bess, and George through the door, a beautiful girl rushed up to them and spoke. She was petite, with a waist-length mane of wavy black hair and huge dark eyes. Nancy guessed that she wasn't more than twenty-two or twenty-three, but she was dressed in a conservative navy skirt and blazer that made her look older.
“Jake! What are you doing here?” she asked angrily, trying without success to shuffle an armful of papers into order as she spoke to him. “I thought you were supposed to be putting down that new subfloor in the east wing!”
Jake set the suitcases down. “And I thought
were supposed to be meeting our guests,” he snapped back. “If I hadn't noticed them, they'd probably still be trying to get through the door.”
“Oh, no!” The girl's expression changed instantly from one of anger to dismay. Turning to Nancy and her friends, she said, “Oh, I'm so sorry! I was in my office! I didn't think anyone would get here until eleven!”
Nancy, Bess, and George introduced themselves, and the dark-haired girl said, “I'm Samantha Patton. I run the inn. I'm Jake's stepsister, and I'm also the director of the Chocolate Festival.” She sighed ruefully. “Sorry I bit your head off like that, Jake. I guess I'm a little flustered.”
“No problem,” said Jake. “I know things are tenseâand speaking of tension, where's Brock?”
Was it just Nancy's imagination, or did Samantha blush at her stepbrother's words? “He'sâhe's in my office, actually,” Samantha said. She looked back over her shoulder at an open door down a hallway off the lobby. “We've been going over his schedule.”
“His schedule,” Jake echoed in a dubious tone. “I see.”
Facing her stepbrother, Samantha said defiantly, “Oh, stop. It's not like that, and you know it.”
“Let's just hope
knows it,” was Jake's curt answer. “Now, as long as I'm here, why don't I show these young ladies to their rooms? Then I'll go back to work. Let me just get your keys. Marvin, Drew, and Fayne, right?”
“Right,” Nancy confirmed. “But really, we can find our rooms ourselves if you're busyâ”
“Oh, it's no trouble at all!” Jake called, smiling at Bess again. “I'm happy to help.” He crossed the carpeted lobby to the front desk, a gleaming oak counter that curved in a semicircle against the far wall.
Nancy noted that hallways stretched back on either side of the desk, and open double doors led to a living room that ran along one-half of the front of the house. Damask armchairs and a sofa were set up by a fireplace on the wall opposite the living room. A wide hall opened up next to them, going back into what looked like a dining room. The place was homey and comfortable and just a little shabby. The sofa and chairs around the fireplace were frayed, and the lobby walls could have used a fresh coat of paint.
As though she had read Nancy's mind, Samantha said quickly, “We're doing a lot of renovations. We've got a long way to go, but the place is really going to be spectacular when it's finished. Ohâhere's my mother!”
A tall, stately woman with steel gray hair swept back in a chignon was walking down the hall toward them.
“Samantha, have you checked that purchase
order forâ Oh, excuse me.” Samantha's mother broke off. “I didn't realize you had company.”
“Yes, our first guests have arrived,” said Samantha, a trifle nervously, Nancy thought. “Girls, this is my mother, Mrs. Tagley.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you,” said Mrs. Tagley. Her voice, like her smile, was formal and a bit frosty. “My husband is around somewhere. Pete?” she called down the hall she had just entered from.
After a second a shy-looking man about fifty-five emerged from a room down the hall and wandered out to the lobby. From his resemblance to Jake, it was clear that he was Jake's father. Like his son, he was wearing work clothes and heavy boots. He wiped his palm on his shirt before extending his hand to the girls. “Sawdust,” he explained with an apologetic smile.
But Mrs. Tagley wasn't smiling. “Shouldn't you change into a coat and tie, dear?” she asked. Her tone of voice made it sound like an order, not a question.
Samantha said quickly, “Here's Jake with your keys, girls.” Obviously she was trying to distract them from the exchange between her mother and stepfather. “I'll see you soon and show you around!” Then she dashed off down the hall.
Jake slung the girls' suitcases onto a cart, which he pushed down a hall lined with faded old portraits. “You're on the third floor,” he said as Nancy, Bess, and George followed along.
As he pushed the elevator button for them,
Bess asked, “Could that Brock you were talking about back there possibly be Brock Sawyer?”
“Oh, you heard?” Jake said. “Yes, Brock Sawyer is definitely here.”
“I thought that was who you might mean, but I couldn't believe it!” Bess marveled.
“Wow!” Even George was impressed. “He's just about the most famous TV actor in the country!”
“And definitely the cutest,” Bess chimed in excitedly. “I usually hate cop shows, but âCity Heat' is the best show I've ever seenâand it's all because of Brock! Oh, I can't believe he's here!”
“How did Brock hear about the Chocolate Festival?” Nancy asked as the wooden elevator door creaked open. The Oakwood Inn didn't seem like the place a major TV star would spend his time.
“He's aâwell, you might say, a friend of Samantha's,” Jake said. He pressed the button for the third floor, and the elevator began its creaky ascent.
Bess's face fell. “How did she meet him?”
“It was a couple of years ago, before Brock made it big. He was in summer stock at a theater near Oakwood, and he and Samantha met at a cast party here at the inn. They hit it off right away.”
“So I guess he's off-limits, right?” Bess asked.
“Not necessarily,” Jake replied after a brief pause. “He and Samantha broke up at the end of that summer. She's got a new boyfriend now. His name's Tim Krueger, who's working for us as an
accountant. But just between you and me,” Jake went on, glancing meaningfully at the girls, “I don't think the flame between Sam and Brock is completely out.”
“Well, don't give up hope,” Bess said cheerfully, but it was clear to Nancy that what Bess was hoping for
for Brock and Samantha to get back together.
When the elevator door slid open on the third floor, Jake showed the girls to their suite and deposited their bags inside the door. “The schedule of events for the festival is on the coffee table. See you laterâI hope,” he added, and closed the door quietly behind him.
The girls' rooms were comfortable but a bit threadbare. The three bedrooms adjoining the living room were too small to hold more than a bed and a dresser each. The living room carpet was worn in patches, and some of the tiles on the floor of the tiny bathroom were missing. But the gilt-wrapped box of handmade chocolates on the coffee table in the living room was certainly elegant, and the truffles were the best Nancy had ever tasted.