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Holiday Heist

A Celebrity Mystery

By Zanna Mackenzie

Holiday Heist (A Celebrity Mystery) © 2015 Zanna Mackenzie

The moral rights of the author have been asserted. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All plots, incidents, characters, locations, organisations, names etc.

are fictitious, created from the author’s imagination and any resemblance to real persons, incidents, locations, organisations, names is purely coincidental.

No part of this book may be stored, shared, copied, transmitted or reproduced in any way without express written permission from the author.

CHAPTER ONE

“I have a confession to make.” My fiancé-of-one-hour says as he walks back into my

farmhouse kitchen.

I stop mixing the snowflake truffles I’m making for Christmas Day and look at him

warily. “Oh?” The diamond engagement ring he just gave to me glistens on my finger. It’s all shiny and new and… well, exciting. “You’re not already married, are you? Hiding a wife somewhere?” I tease. “Or have you changed your mind about wanting to marry me

and you want your gorgeous ring back?”

Jack walks over, slips his arms around my waist and nuzzles my ear. “Nope. Definitely not changed my mind, and no, I don’t have a wife, secret or otherwise.”

His hand snakes towards the mixing bowl, and I playfully tap it away. “Not until they’re finished! So, don’t keep me in suspense then, what’s your big confession?”

Jack steps back and runs a hand through his dark blonde hair. When he was a special agent for the Celebrity Crimes Investigation Agency – otherwise known as the CCIA – he used to keep it closely cropped. Now, eighteen months after ditching the agency and setting up his own private investigator and security business, his hair is more casual and enticingly ruffled. He tilts his head towards the door. “You know that phone call I just took?”

My heart sinks. I have the dreadful feeling I know what he’s about to confess. “Oh, Jack, you didn’t, did you?”

Shooting me a smile I know is meant to sweeten my mood, he nods. “Sorry. I did. Look, I know tomorrow is Christmas Day and we have a whole family gathering thing planned with my brother and Emma and the kids, but work is work, I’m self-employed now, and this woman who called, well, she sounded pretty desperate.”

He’s right, I know he is, but still…it is Christmas.

“If I scoot over there right away, I might even have the case wrapped up before

tomorrow’s big Mathis Family Festive Gathering,” he says persuasively, taking my hand and planting a string of kisses from fingertips to wrist.

I tingle inside, knowing he’s just trying to wheedle his way around me, but even so, his kisses are warm and inviting and so deliciously tempting. Pushing my thoughts back

towards the issue at hand I reply, “You’re good, Jack Mathis, but even you’d be stretching it to solve a case in little more than twenty four hours!” I gently trace a finger over my beautiful engagement ring. “We were going to make our big announcement tomorrow.”

“And we still can,” he reasons. “Even if I have to work in the morning, I should be back in time for dinner, and then we can tell everybody we’re getting married.”

“OK.” I sigh. “What’s the case anyway?” A horrible thought pops into my head. “It’s not another murder, is it? I think the village has only just fully recovered from Armand’s death and, especially at this time of year, another one would be totally horrific and…”

Jack stops me mid-sentence. “Don’t worry. No murder this time around. It’s a stolen necklace at one of the posh hotels in the tourist area. An actress says her priceless family heirloom has vanished from her bedroom. She’s in a complete meltdown about it. I have to get over there and figure out what’s going on. Want to come with me? You could ditch the cake making for now and finish it later.”

“It’s not cake, it’s going to be snowflake truffles.” I glance at the mixing bowl. I’ve only just managed to create cakes and desserts which are actually edible. Before that they were either burnt on the top or raw inside.

Or both.

Which I why I chose this particular recipe. Even I can’t get it wrong.

“I really shouldn’t get involved,” I say to Jack. “I mean, it’s not like last time, when I was a suspect and we ended up figuring the case out together.”

Jack and I met when he was suspended from working for the CCIA for bending some

rules to catch a killer. Whilst he was off work he came up to Cumbria from London so he could help his brother Frazer run Wellbeck Farm, whilst Frazer’s wife Emma had their third child. Wellbeck is just down the lane from my own much-smaller place, Eskdale Top, which I inherited from my Uncle Joe. A while back I used to be a waitress at a local restaurant to help make ends meet and my boss, celebrity chef Armand, was murdered. As I was the last member of staff to leave the kitchen on that night the police put me at the top of their suspects list. Jack helped clear my name and catch the real killer.

“I know, but you could still come along and help me out. The actress in question is staying at the Roseby,” he adds, knowing how much I love that particular hotel.

My chances of getting through its doors as a legitimate guest are zero due to its scarily high prices and its exclusive clientele, but I’ve read about it in magazines and have adored it from afar for ages. The Roseby nestles in the hills about the tourist honeypot of Delamere. It’s set in acres of grounds and has stunning views out over the lake. It’s also the place for the rich and famous to stay in this part of the beautiful Lake District.

“Come on, you know you want to see what the Roseby’s Christmas decorations are like,”

he says with a cheeky grin, tugging at my hand invitingly.

He knows me so well.

I debate for almost a second and then shove the truffle mix in the fridge. I’ll finish it later.

“Oh, and did I mention the actress who rang me about the case is Arabella Saunders?” he says, revealing his trump card.

I stop stock still in the middle of the kitchen. “What? NO!” I gasp, coming over all fangirlish.

“Yep.” He nods, knowing he’s got me now.

“Give me five minutes to get changed,” I yell as I sprint for the stairs.

“You don’t need to change. You look great as you are,” Jack shouts after me.

“Jack,” I yell back, halfway up the staircase. “We’re talking the Roseby here! And Arabella Saunders. I can’t go in like this.” Glancing down at my scruffy jeans, fluffy slippers and one of Jack’s old sweatshirts, my cheeks colour at the very thought of turning up at the uber-smart hotel in this outfit.

He shrugs. “OK. You’ve got five minutes, and I’m clock-watching.”

Ten minutes later I arrive back in my rustic farmhouse kitchen wearing a mocha-

coloured wool dress and brown knee-high boots. My blonde hair is brushed and pulled back into a neat ponytail – mainly because I haven’t got around to washing it yet today. I even managed to slick some lip gloss on whilst flying down the stairs without falling over and twisting my ankle in the process.

“Do I look OK?” I ask Jack, who is slumped on the battered sofa next to the Aga,

checking something on his mobile.

He lifts his eyes from the phone and grins, getting to his feet. “Better than OK, I’d say.

Definitely worth the extra five minutes waiting time,” he adds cheekily. “Come on, let’s get a move on. We’ve got a case to solve and a necklace to find. The Roseby awaits.”

CHAPTER TWO

The roads in this part of Cumbria are often narrow and twisting, but the journey between my nearest village Amswick and the holiday area of Delamere necessitates going over Green Beck Fell pass, taking tricky driving to a whole new level. It’s bad enough in good weather but today it’s been snowing, making it even more treacherous. Its narrowness and sharp turns are combined with numerous sheer drops lurking just off the side of the road, making my stomach perform triple somersaults. A far too familiar flicker of anxiety and nausea bubbles up in me as Jack steers his 4×4 towards the top of the pass, changing the gears to cope with the steep incline. After what happened here the other year with Daisy…

Well, let’s just say I try to avoid driving up here as much as possible. Daisy is my yellow VW beetle, and I resolutely refuse to get rid of her for something more practical, like Jack’s four wheel drive.

“OK?” Jack asks, reaching across to squeeze my knee.

He knows I’m mentally reliving that dreadful night up here. I nod, paste a smile on my face and squeeze his hand. “I’m fine. Honestly.” It’s something of a little white lie but I don’t want Jack to worry.

I inwardly heave a sigh of relief once we coast safely down the other side of the pass and head into the slate and stone town of Delamere. Popular with hikers, climbers and lovers of the great outdoors in general, it sits on the edge of a pretty lake and is bustling all year round. People are out in their droves today, holiday shopping in the craft shops, art galleries and clothing stores. We queue through the main street, past the traffic lights, and head out of town towards the road which snakes along the edge of Delamere Lake. Soon, the fancy metal gates of the Roseby come into view and Jack pulls in and speaks into the hotel’s security console at the entrance, announcing our arrival. We’re buzzed through and chug up the long driveway towards the parking area. Jack parks the 4×4 amongst the flash sports cars and latest model BMWs without so much as a hint of unease or inferiority, and we head for the Roseby. My breath catches in my throat at the sight of the twenty foot high real Christmas tree which sits centrally in front of the grand entrance. It’s covered with lime green baubles the size of soup bowls, red bows adorning every branch. A perfect gold star dresses the top of it, and the whole thing is criss-crossed with white fairy lights, shimmering in the gathering afternoon dusk.

I want to stand and admire the tree but the Roseby is too efficient for that. We’re immediately met at the door by a waiting member of staff named Roy who hastily escorts us inside. Roy must be a man on a mission because he’s almost jogging down the fancy hallway as Jack strolls along behind him and I break into a little half-run to keep up with both of them. The heels of my boots are sinking into the thick red and gold carpet as I scurry along, glancing all around me and trying to drink in every inch of my gorgeous surroundings. The gilt-edged picture frames, the chandeliers, the high ceilings. I’m inside the Roseby! Yay!

We pass a sweeping staircase with another real fir Christmas tree sitting at the bottom like a glamorous full stop at the bottom of an elegant question mark. This tree must be over fifteen feet high and is dressed beautifully in apricot and purple baubles with strings of gold beads draped perfectly over its branches. It’s breath-taking. I just manage to spot the pretty gold fairy crowning this festive masterpiece before Roy turns down another corridor and the tree sadly disappears from sight. The doors on either side of us now each have brass plaques on them and it looks as though they’re all function and meeting rooms.

There’s no sound of raucous Christmas Eve office parties emanating from behind said doors, though. The Roseby’s gatherings are far more sophisticated affairs, I’m sure. We traipse up another stately-home-worthy staircase, and Roy stops outside a room with a Florence Suite plague beside the door. He knocks lightly and a tall older man opens it.

“Thank you, Roy. I’ll take things from here,” he says.

The man beckons us into a luxurious bedroom with a separate lounge area, a dressing area and a bathroom. Wow. This is extremely impressive. I wonder how much one of these rooms cost per night. A frightening amount, no doubt about that, but somebody like

Arabella Saunders can easily afford such luxury. Widely regarded as a national treasure, she’s been in every episode of all four series of the TV period drama Compton Abbey.

She’s an amazing actress.

The tall man with a harassed look about him introduces himself as Gerald Dickenson, the manager of the Roseby, and then turns to the woman sitting on the room’s red velvet sofa. “May I introduce Arabella Saunders?”

Oh wow. It’s her! It’s really her!

“Mr Mathis.” A hand flutters to her mouth and anxiety flickers in her eyes as she gets to her feet. “I’m so grateful you were able to rush over here, especially as it’s Christmas Eve and I’m sure I’ve dragged you away from far more pleasurable things.” Her eyes flicker to me, then back to Jack. “You were highly recommended by Gerald when I said I wanted

somebody discreet and efficient to deal with this…incident.”

“Please, call me Jack,” he replies and turns to introduce me. “And this is my fiancée Lizzie. She’ll be helping me out on this case.”

My fiancée. I’m his fiancée. I forgot – it’s all still so new. Glancing at the stylish silver clock above the sofa, I figure it’s less than three hours ago that he proposed to me on a snowy hilltop and we celebrated with champagne and my first-ever edible baked goods – a frosted carrot cake.

Arabella clasps my hand and beams a smile. I think I’m about to dissolve into a puddle of goo on the floor. I’m having a delirious fangirl moment. “Lizzie, I’m so sorry to be interrupting your festivities like this but the necklace, well, it means the world to me. I hope you can forgive me for the intrusion.”

“Of course.” I can’t believe I’m standing in the same room as her. She’s even prettier in real life – raven-coloured hair hanging loose around her shoulder, English rose complexion and deep blue eyes – and there’s a genuine warmth about her.

“You’d have thought you’d have been more careful with it then, wouldn’t you?” A

woman appears from the bathroom, a fierce scowl spoiling her beautiful features. She looks just like an older version of Arabella.

Looking even more angst-ridden now, Arabella forces a weak smile and says through

gritted teeth, “And this is my mother, Barbara.”

“I’m hoping you find my necklace promptly and efficiently,” Barbara says to Jack,

ignoring me completely.

“Sorry, I thought the missing necklace belonged to your daughter Arabella,” Jack checks.

“It used to belong to my grandmother, not my mother,” Arabella clarifies. “But now it belongs to me.”

“It did until you went and lost it!” snaps her mother.

Arabella spins round and glares at Barbara. “I didn’t lose it, Mum! It was stolen from my room.” She looks close to tears and keeps clenching and unclenching her hands. I want to give her a reassuring hug.

“And you should have been more careful!” Barbara retorts.

I can’t help wondering if tensions are running so high between them because of the

missing jewellery or if they’re always at each other’s throats like this.

Jack opens his notebook and prepares to start firing questions. “When did you notice the necklace had disappeared?”

“I was deciding what to wear for dinner and went to the safe in my room to choose some jewellery to try on. After that, I put everything away again and went out for a while. When I got back the safe was open and the necklace gone,” Arabella explains, looking distraught.

Jack scribbles some notes. “How long ago was this?”

“About two hours. I had a thorough search around all my luggage and cupboards before I asked Gerald for assistance, just in case it had somehow been mislaid.”

Barbara gets to her feet and flounces towards Jack, flicking a hand dismissively at his notebook. “There’s no need for you to bother with the questions and spending days and days going over and over everything and wasting all of our valuable time. I can tell you right now who stole this necklace!”

Jack inclines his head in interest. “You can? Excellent, then please do enlighten me.”

“Her fiancé took it,” Barbara snorts derisively.

“MUM!” Arabella gasps and tugs anxiously at a curl of hair.

“Well, we both know he did it, so what’s the point in pretending otherwise?”

“Vincent did not steal the necklace,” Arabella replies, her voice quiet but still insistent.

“He’s a no-good gold digger. I told you that before. I have no idea why on earth you’re marrying him, other than his looks of course!”

The hotel manager meets my eyes and shifts uncomfortably from one foot to the other. It looks as though he feels every bit as awkward as I do, witnessing their squabbling.

“Because he loves me, and I love him,” Arabella retorts, her voice betraying her

exasperation.

Barba tuts and shakes her head dismissively. “Foolish girl! He loves your fame and your money, oh, and himself. He does not love you as a person. It’s high time you grew up and accepted the realities of life and someone in your position.”

“I know what I’m doing. There’s no way Vincent stole that necklace; he was with me at the time it went missing.”

Barbara sighs as though she doesn’t believe a word her daughter is saying. “Then who did steal it?”

“That, ladies, is what I’m here to find out,” Jack interjects. “Now, if you wouldn’t mind, can we get some basics in place?”

Arabella nods, shooting another wary glance at her mother.

“Is there anybody else staying with you at the Roseby besides your mother? I take it your fiancé is here, too, as you just mentioned him,” Jack asks.

“Yes.” Arabella nods and pulls at the edge of her chic black cardigan. “And my sister is here, too.”

“Hannah is not just her sister. She’s also her personal assistant,” Barbara adds.

“OK.” Jack nods. “Anybody else?”

Arabella shakes her head.

“You mentioned how the necklace meant a lot to you emotionally, but was it also worth a lot of money?” I ask.

I know. I know. Strictly speaking, I’m not a part of Jack’s private investigation and security business, which is none-too-snappily titled Mathis Investigations Safety & Security, nicknamed MISS. But Jack did invite me along, and as people have pointed out on many an occasion, I am far too nosey for my own good. Plus, it’s Christmas Eve and I’d love to get to send tomorrow with my fiancé, so the quicker this case is solved, the happier we’ll all be.

“It’s insured for a small fortune,” Barbara answers for her daughter. She stops mid-pace and spins on her heels to glare at Arabella. “I can’t believe you’d be so stupid to let it get stolen. You’ve only had it is your possession for seven months. Before you got it the necklace had been perfectly safe in this family for over thirty years.”

Arabella shakes her head in obvious exasperation. “MUM! Please stop.”

“Perhaps you’d be kind enough to leave us to chat with Arabella?” Jack suggests to

Barbara. “Then we’ll come and get your side of things a little later.”

Barbara huffs indignantly but leaves the room, slamming the door behind her. Gerald, who has looked uncomfortable throughout our questioning, makes his excuses and slips out moments after her.

“I’m sorry about my mother,” Arabella says, her voice laced with anxiety, her face tense.

“Now, please, what do you need from me?”

The room, with its perfect furnishings, now seems almost overwhelmingly stuffy. I long to open the bay windows and freshen the atmosphere.

“Let’s start with gathering a list of possible suspects, shall we?” Jack suggests. “People who have had access to your room and people who knew of the necklace and that you had it here with you.”

Arabella nods. “Of course. Well, that’s simple enough: my fiancé Vincent Turner, my sister Hannah, and my mother. That’s it for people who know about the necklace. As for people who have had access to my room, well, it’s just room service and the chambermaid, but Vincent or I would have been here when room service delivered things. The

chambermaid would have been alone in the room, though.”

“We’ll start interviewing everyone straight away so we can track your necklace down as quickly as possible,” Jack assures her. “So, you said you last saw the necklace about two hours ago. That would have been around one o’clock this afternoon. You went out and when you got back, it had gone, correct?”

“Vincent and I went for a boat trip on the lake. When I returned, the room’s safe was open and the necklace was gone.”

“Just the necklace?” I check.

She nods. “It was the only thing in there of any real value. The only other jewellery I own which is worth anything is my engagement ring, and I was wearing that.”

Jack scribbles some more in his notebook. “So, we don’t know if it was somebody just trying their luck with the room’s safe or whether it was specifically the necklace they were after. Somebody must have been watching and waiting until they saw you leave for your boat trip though, and they knew your room would be empty. Where is your fiancé now by the way?”

“He’s in the bar.” Arabella rolls her eyes. “He can’t stand my mother, and as you’ve no doubt noticed, the feeling is mutual. He thought it best to stay out of the way for a little while.”

“Do you have a photo of the necklace?” I ask. “So we know what we’re looking for.”

“Yes, I do, for insurance purposes. I have a copy of it on my phone.” Arabella scrolls through her mobile and shows us the image of herself at some awards ceremony. She’s dressed in a beautiful burgundy gown, the garnet and diamond necklace sparkling at her slim neck.

“Could you forward me a copy of that?” Jack asks.

She taps away for a second and then nods. “Done.”

“Right, if you’ve no further information regarding possible suspects,” Jack says, “then we’ll crack on with those interviews.”

Arabella shrugs in frustration. “I can’t think of anybody else. I haven’t got a stalker or anything if that’s what you’re wondering. I haven’t received any strange messages or noticed people following me. Nothing unusual at all.”

“Can I ask why you brought the necklace with you?” I ask tentatively. “With something so valuable, I know I’d be paranoid about taking it anywhere with me.”

“Of course you can ask.” She smiles at me, and for just a second I imagine I’m on the set of Compton Abbey and am part of an episode where the beautiful duchess has discovered a family heirloom has gone missing. “Ask me anything at all,” she continues. “I just want the necklace back. I bought it with me because it’s all I have left of my grandmother, and wearing the necklace makes me feel close to her again.” She pauses before adding, “You see, this will be the first Christmas since she passed away. I miss her so much. Please, you have to find the necklace.”

On the way down the stairs towards the bar, I glance across at Jack who is deep in

thought. “So, what do you think? If someone stole the necklace from the safe, then that means they knew the combinations or knew how to crack a safe.”

“Yeah, there’s also a third option too, though. That the safe wasn’t locked properly by Arabella, maybe someone or something distracted her at the time. It could have been a phone call or even her fiancé talking to her or rushing her out of the room for this boat trip they had planned.”

“True,” I reply, my eyes drinking in the amazing pieces of art arranged down the walls of the staircase. “Easily done I suppose.” I recall how snappy Barbara was with Arabella and hope that she remembered to secure the necklace properly in the safe before she left the room for her boat trip. Her mother will forever hound her about it if we discover the necklace went missing simply because Arabella was careless.

CHAPTER THREE

In the smart surroundings of the bar, I’m dazzled by the strings of white fairy lights, gold bells and exquisite bows on the beautifully draped garlands of greenery. They follow the edge of the wooden bar and perfectly frame two stained glass windows. Wow. It must have taken ages to dress this place for the holidays. The room is surprisingly quiet, and we soon spot a movie-star-handsome man sitting alone at a table, staring out across the hotel’s floodlit lawns.

“Mr Turner?” Jack asks.

The man looks Jack up and down. “Yes. You must be the guy Arabella’s hired.”

“You sound as though you don’t approve of her decision,” Jack says, taking a seat

uninvited.

I slide into a seat between the two of them as Jack introduces me. Vincent Turner is blond with a Germanic face. His eyes are such a vivid blue that they can’t be real; he must be wearing coloured contacts. He’s also a charmer. Leaning forward, he reaches for my hand, lifts it to his lips and plants a chaste kiss on my skin. I daren’t even risk a glance at Jack. I know he’ll either be rolling his eyes at Vincent’s gesture or scowling.

“I don’t know why she didn’t just call the local police,” he replies once he’s released my hand. Next, he reaches for the glass on the table in front of him, swirling whatever alcohol is inside it around twice before downing it in one gulp and placing the empty glass on the table. “That’s what they’re there for. They’re the experts.”

Jack gives a good-natured shrug. “I’m sure she had her reasons. Despite your

reservations about me being here, I assume you’re willing to do anything you can to help us track down the necklace.”

Vincent nods and spreads his hands wide in a gesture of cooperation. “Of course,

anything at all.”

“Where were you when the necklace went missing?” Jack asks him.

Ah. He’s checking their stories match up. Arabella said they were on the lake.

“With Arabella,” the man replies without hesitation. He tidies the cuffs of what I suspect is a designer label shirt, even though they’re already immaculate. “We hired a boat and a skipper and went out on the lake. The man and the boat were from a place in the local town, Dela-something?”

“Delamere,” I chip in.

Vincent flashes me an electrifying smile. “Yes, that’s the place, pretty lady, Delamere.”

I don’t need to look; I can feel Jack’s eyes glaring at Vincent’s flirting from here.

“We didn’t want to have to traipse all the way over there to get the boat. Arabella loves her fans, but there’s only so much adoration you can take, right? We simply wanted some quality quiet time together at Christmas, so we rang the boatyard and asked if they’d send the boat over to pick us up at the dock at the Roseby. They were only too delighted.” He tinkles with laughter, adding, “Of course, we paid them generously for doing so.”

“Unusual time of year for a trip on the water,” Jack says tersely. “It’s bitterly cold out there today. There was even some snow earlier.”

Vincent shrugs. “Arabella and I have a lot of shared interests, and being on the water is one of them. Whenever we get the opportunity, which believe me, is not often, we seize the opportunity to head onto the water and escape for a little while.”

“How did you two meet?” I ask.

He turns those mesmerising blue eyes on me again. “On the set of Compton Abbey.

You’re familiar with the TV show, right?”

I nod. Oh, you know, I’ve watched the odd episode or two. Well, all of them. Twice. It’s only one of my favourite shows. I’m not about to admit as much to him, though.

“You work behind the scenes?” Jack asks while making notes.

Vincent laughs. “I am with the production company. I’m a backer, not a cameraman.”

Jack looks up from his scribbling. “You fund the show?”

“Not just me. There are a number of people involved in the company. We’re called Turn It Around. We invest in all sorts of projects, but I’m one of the key people that pushed for supporting this particular project. I love a good period drama. There just isn’t enough culture in the world these days, don’t you think?”

I wouldn’t have a clue. Culture is not something which plays a big role in my life, farming in the backwaters of rural Cumbria. I fidget in my seat, feeling like a country hick.

I used to have a high-flying corporate life in London. I used to go to concerts and the theatre, but my old life went pear-shaped and I moved up here to Cumbria to start a new one. After that, I took a sabbatical and ended up running my uncle’s old farm Eskdale Top.

And now I much prefer my new life. “How long have you and Arabella been together?” I ask, wanting to steer the conversation back to the investigation.

“Six months.”

“That’s a pretty quick engagement then,” Jack says, tapping his pen repeatedly against the arm of the chair.

“When you meet the right woman, you just know,” Vincent replies silkily.

Jack shoots me a quick look, and I go all warm and fuzzy. Yay! He thinks I’m the right woman for him. And I know Jack the Spy is definitely the right man for me. Jack the Spy is my little nickname for him. His nickname for me is Catwoman – it’s a long story as to how that one came about!

“And how long have you been engaged?” I ask.

“Two months,” Vincent replies, winking at me as he does so. Oh boy, is he a flirt or what? And doing it right in front of Jack too. He’s brazen. Then I remember Jack didn’t introduce me as his fiancée this time around, simply as Lizzie. Ah. Maybe Vincent isn’t quite so bold then. He snaps his fingers to attract the attention of a barman and orders himself another drink. “Can I get you two anything?”

“Not for me, thanks,” Jack says, and I shake my head. “We’ll leave you in peace for now.”

“Where to now?” I check as we make our way out of the bar.

“A couple more questions for Arabella, I think,” Jack says, heading for the stairs. I can tell he’s well and truly slipped into investigation mode and his mind is firmly on solving this case. I just hope we can do it before Christmas Day dawns.

Arabella answers her hotel suite door with an eager expression on her face. “Have you found it already? Oooh, please tell me you have.”

“Afraid not,” Jack replies, adding an apologetic smile. “I just wanted to ask you a few more things.”

Arabella steps back from the door. “Come in.”

We settle on the sofa, and my eyes flick towards the view out of the huge bay window. It may be dark outside, but I think I can just about make out flurries of snowflakes drifting in the pools of golden light which illuminate key features of the ground’s landscaping.

“When you and your fiancé left the room to go on your boat trip, were you in a rush?”

Jack asks without preamble.

Arabella looks thoughtful for a moment. “Yes, I suppose we were a little. Vincent hates to be late for things, and he was chivvying me along so we’d be down on the hotel’s boat jetty with time to spare. Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering if you might have not closed the safe properly due to being pre-

occupied with being in time for your boat trip appointment,” Jack says, watching her closely.

“I suppose it’s a possibility,” she eventually concedes. “But even if I didn’t lock it properly, that still doesn’t change the fact that somebody took the necklace from my room.”

“No, it doesn’t change that fact,” he replies, “but it does alter how it was taken and make things much easier logistically for the thief.”

“You mean it didn’t need to be a jewel thief capable of safe cracking?” Arabella clarifies, looking even more crestfallen. “Please, don’t mention this possibility to my mother. She’s already blaming me for all of this. If she thinks for one moment that I might have been remiss in locking it away securely, she’ll make my life a living hell.”

My thoughts exactly.

“I won’t utter a word about it,” Jack assures her.

She looks so upset, twisting her hands back and forth in her lap, that I feel an enormous surge of sympathy and compassion for her. We have to find this necklace – and fast!

“We had a little chat with Vincent in the bar,” continues Jack. “Can you give me a bit of background on him?”

Arabella sighs and shoots him an annoyed glare. “Not you too! It’s bad enough that my mother thinks my fiancé stole it, now you do as well?”

“I’m not accusing anybody of anything.” Jack flips through the pages of his notes. “I’d just like to know more about him.”

“Well, we met on the set of Compton Abbey. He’s part of the team who funded the

series. He has plenty enough money of his own, so has no reason to steal my necklace or, as my mother claims, be a gold digger. He’s spent a lot of time travelling the world. I suppose you’d say he’s a bit nomadic in some ways. Well, he used to be.”

“He mentioned the two of you have a lot in common,” I chip in. “That’s always a good sign in a relationship, don’t you think?”

She nods enthusiastically. “Yes, absolutely. We do have lots in common. We both share a love of English literature, dramas, historic houses, we even like the same music, film and shows at the theatre.”

“That’s quite a coincidence, having so much in common,” Jack says.

“These kinds of things happen when two people are meant to be together,” Arabella

replies, looking like a woman utterly besotted with the man in her life.

I can see how a man like Vincent could sweep a woman off her feet.

Jack presses on with the questioning. “Have you met his family?”

Arabella shakes her head. “No. They live in Australia, so I haven’t got around to meeting them yet. Vincent doesn’t have much contact with them anyway.”

“I see,” Jack says, his words loaded with meaning. Clearly he thinks something is amiss about Vincent.

“I’m sorry, I’ve a killer of a headache coming on.” Arabella rubs a hand over her

forehead.

“We’ll leave you to get some rest,” I say, tugging a surprised Jack to his feet.

Out in the corridor, Jack shoots me a questioning look.

“Sorry, but I thought she seemed as though she needed a bit of space. We can get on with the other interviews for now and go back to her if necessary later, can’t we?” I wheedle, slipping an arm through his.

Jack chuckles and nods. “Yes, boss, we can indeed.”

CHAPTER FOUR

“So, what’s with all this stuff about Arabella and Vincent having so much in common? You think there’s something odd there?” I ask as I snuggle close to Jack on a velvet sofa in one of the hotel’s resident lounges. I love the citrusy tang of his shower gel and the solid warmth of him.

“Maybe…” he replies, placing the boot of his right foot on his left knee and looking thoughtful. “It’s just that some of the things about Vincent Turner point towards him being a bit of a player, a con artist even. No contact with a family who he claims live in Australia.

That could easily be a lie designed to keep Arabella away from his real family and the truth about him. She says he travelled around a lot, had a nomadic existence. That’s another potential tick in the hustler box. He meets her on the set of Compton Abbey and suddenly they have all these things in common. Again, a bit suspicious.”

“You think he did some digging around and found out her likes and dislikes and adopted the same things himself?”

Jack nods. “It’s easily done, even with somebody who isn’t famous. Arabella has done countless interviews which he could access online, but there’s also social media stuff and loads of ways of finding out about people’s lives.”

I shudder. “That’s a little creepy.”

“True, but sometimes these things work in your favour as well.”

“But why would he go to all of that trouble? If he’s a backer of the TV series, then he’s already got money, so he isn’t after that. Which ties in with the question of why he’d steal the necklace. It’s not as though he’s really a jewel thief and is about to fence it to some dealer to break it up into parts which will be tricky to recognise or trace.”

Jack gives me a sideways look. “You’ve been watching crime shows again, haven’t

you?”

“I like them,” I reply, squeezing his arm. “Plus, it’s research.”

“You’re planning on embracing a life of crime then, are you?” he asks, one eyebrow

raised questioningly.

“Not sure yet,” I muse.

“Well, if you decide to go over to the dark side, give me some notice, will you?”

“Why? Are you planning on tracking me down and setting me back on the right road?” I tease, flashing him a playful smile. “It might be fun, having you stalking me.”

Jack laughs. “I can think of much more fun things to do with you.”

“Anyway,” I add as my cheeks flush bright red. It feels wise to steer this conversation back into safer territory. “Vincent was with Arabella out on the lake at the time the necklace was stolen, so he has the perfect alibi.”

“Which is, again, all rather convenient, don’t you think?”

Maybe. “So, what next in the Great Holiday Heist investigation?”

“Back to reception,” he says, getting to his feet. “I want to check calls made to and from the bedrooms of Arabella and her party.”

Jack is firmly back in work mode. Focus, I tell myself, is good, otherwise the missing necklace is not going to get tracked down this side of our looming Christmas Day deadline.

I was so looking forward to tomorrow and being part of a kid’s version of Christmas – all impatiently ripped-off wrapping paper in the eagerness to explore the exciting gifts hidden inside, eating too many sweets and staying up way beyond the usual bedtime. Jack’s

brother Frazer and his wife Emma have three young children, and I’m feeling a bit hyped up myself at the prospect of spending the day with them all at their Wellbeck farmhouse.

My mind darts momentarily to the snowflake truffle mixture languishing in the fridge at home. I need to get them finished before tomorrow lunch so I can take them along with us as my contribution to the festive foods fuelling the hectic family Christmas. I feel torn. A part of me wanting to be here with Jack, helping if I can with the case in the hope it can all been done and sorted before the clock strikes midnight. Yet, at the same time, the other part of me is thinking I should be at home, finishing up my festive preparations.

While Jack asks the receptionist to summon Gerald again so he can get access to phone information for the rooms, I loiter by the jaw-dropping Christmas tree. I wonder if they got an interior designer to come in and dress the whole hotel. They must have done. Each delicate bauble is perfectly placed, each ribbon of gold beads woven carefully amongst the branches. Checking to make sure nobody is watching, I tentatively stretch out a hand, stroking it down the smooth, shiny surface of one of the priceless-looking ornaments.

“Don’t touch please!”

CHAPTER FIVE

I jump a foot at the hissed words, my hand knocking the bauble from its perch. As it slides towards the floor, I lunge for it, a horrified expression on my face. My fingers close around it just before it makes contact with the floor. I allow myself to breathe again and spin round to admonish Jack for pretending to tell me off.

But it isn’t Jack standing next to me. It’s a woman in her fifties with a fierce expression on her face. Yikes. I turn away and try to put the bauble back on its branch, but I’m all fingers and thumbs.

“I’ll do it,” she says in an irritated tone.

I proffer the bauble and make my escape. Jack’s still at the reception desk, so I sidle up next to him. “Got the info you were after?”

Before he can reply, Gerald appears from an office behind the reception desk and hands him a folded sheet of paper.

“I have now,” Jack says to me and then directs a “thanks” at the hotel manager.

In the bar again, we find a table near the crackling fire, and Jack unfolds the bit of paper from Gerald.

“You know,” I say, “a Christmas tree would be the perfect place to hide a stolen

necklace. There’s something on every branch, either a string of gold beads or an ornament of some sort. It would be easy to tuck a necklace in amongst them and nobody would spot it. Then, after the fuss had died down, you simply retrieve it and make your escape.”

Jack glances at the nearest tree, setting aside the bit of paper he’d been reading. “Yeah,”

he leans forward. “You’ve got a good point there.”

“But there are loads of decorated trees in the public areas of the Roseby,” I muse, losing some of my original enthusiasm for the idea. “It would take ages to check over each one of them. Plus, I don’t fancy tangling with that scary woman in reception again. I thought she was going to yell at me for touching her precious tree. Can you imagine her face if we said we wanted all of the trees stripped bare for this investigation?”

“She would not be a happy bunny, that’s for sure.” He leans back in his chair and picks up the bit of paper again. “And, like you say, it would take ages. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of decorations on some of the trees around here.”

“And we don’t have long to get this case solved.” I swivel my eyes towards the sheet.

“Any calls from the bedrooms?”

Jack hands me the paper. “Nope. Nothing at all.”

“They could have made calls on mobile phones instead,” I say, “but I’m thinking those aren’t going to be so easy to trace. Why are we checking calls anyway?”

“Always worth a shot, just in case somebody slipped and did something without

thinking,” he replies. “Vincent could have rung a contact and arranged for him to access the room at a certain time, or our thief could have called the room to see if anybody answered, trying to gauge if the occupants were around.”

“Or it all could have been pre-arranged,” I chip in. “And that’s why he booked the boat trip, knowing they’d be away for a certain amount of time and the coast would be clear for his accomplice.”

“Exactly.” Jack folds the paper up and tucks it into his jacket pocket. “I’ve got zero chance of my contact being able to check mobile phone records at five o’clock on

Christmas Eve, so we’re going to have to come at this from a different angle.”

I recognise the flicker of mischief in Jack’s eyes. “Such as?” I ask warily.

He inclines his head across the bar towards the table right at the other end of the room.

The table where Vincent Turner is still sitting – and still drinking. “Maybe you could distract him whilst I get his mobile phone.”

“You mean steal it?” I hiss, leaning closer to Jack.

“No, I mean borrow it for five minutes,” he replies in a perfectly-reasoned tone.

“And this will help?”

Jack nods. “Definitely.”

I sigh, resigned to my fate. If I want his case closed ASAP, then I need to be prepared to play my part. “OK.”

“Got a plan?” he checks, standing up and offering a hand to help me to my feet.

“Fainting?” I suggest. “Would that work?”

He nods his approval. “Sounds good to me.”

We make our way across the bar, and I sway slightly as though I’ve had one too many mulled wines. Just as we reach Vincent’s chair, I pretend my knees are buckling and grab at his table with what I hope is a panicked expression on my face. There’s a reason I was never given a role in any of my school productions when I was growing up – basically, I’m a rubbish actress.

“Careful!” Vincent yelps, leaping to his feet to catch me. At least I hope that’s what he’s planning on doing, otherwise I’m about to land in a heap on the carpet. Oh well, at least it’s a deep and thick carpet to help cushion my fall.

Thankfully Vincent’s arm closes around my waist and stops my embarrassing descent.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Jack quickly stepping in behind me – and close to Vincent. He’ll be moving in to search in my rescuer’s pockets for his phone, so I need to ensure I’ve got Vincent’s full attention for the next minute or so.

“Oooohhhhh,” I wail, clutching at Vincent’s arms.

He grips me more tightly, and I force myself to slump in his arms so he has to take my full weight, meaning he doesn’t have any hands free to check why somebody is rifling through his pockets.

“Are you okay?”

“Noooooooo,” I reply, playing it as best I can. “Hold me,” I add, just to ensure Vincent doesn’t get any ideas about trying to manoeuvre me into a chair . Come on, Jack! How long [_does it take to pick somebody’s pockets? _]

“Let me help you,” Jack says smoothly, appearing at my side. “I did warn you not to have that last drink.”

“Put her in that chair,” Vincent suggests, pointing to a chair at his table. “I’ll go and get some water for her.”

“Thanks,” Jack says, his arms around my waist, slowly lowering me onto the cushions.

As soon as Vincent’s back is turned, Jack starts checking the borrowed phone.

“He’s going to be back any second,” I whisper, my eyes planted on the man at the bar.

“Jack, you need to be quick.”

“No worries,” he says calmly.

I can see Vincent talking to the barman, and they both turn in my direction. Oh great, now he’s gone and got somebody else involved. Armed with a glass of water, the two of them head in my direction. “Jack,” I hiss at him again.

“I know. I know. Give me one second.”

[_We don’t have one second! _]

“Is madam feeling all right?” the barman asks, concern flashing in his eyes. “Shall I call our designated first aider?”

Jack slips the phone into his pocket and stands up. “No need for that. She’s feeling a bit better already. I’ll take her outside to gets some fresh air in a minute.”

The barman clears his throat. “Is that wise, sir?”

“She’ll be fine.” He lowers his voice and leans in towards the hotel employee. “She’s just had one too many. I blame myself entirely. She was upset about me taking on this job on Christmas Eve.”

“Job, sir?”

Jack leans even closer to the man. “Yeah, you know, the [_case.” _]

The barman looks even more confused now – and that’s when I realise, while chatting away to distract everyone, Jack has slipped the phone back into Vincent’s pocket.

Smooth.

“Right, let’s get outside. Some brisk night air will do you wonders,” Jack says in a matter-of-fact voice, helping me to my feet.

Suits me. I want to get out of this bar, pronto.

Jack surprise me by actually leading me outside. The night air is more than brisk. It’s teeth-chattering and finger-numbing. It’s also snowing again. We shelter under the slate portico at the hotel entrance, with a backdrop of the beautiful tree I’d admired when we first arrived. Jack wraps his arms around me to warm me up and plants a delicious kiss full on my lips.

“Thanks for doing that.”

“You owe me, big time,” I reply, standing on tip-toe, seeking a repeat performance.

Jack obliges, and for a few moments I completely forget where I am and what I’m doing.

I even forget the cold seeping into the soles of my boots. Jack’s kisses tend to have that effect on me. Eventually, our lips part.

“Did you find anything useful on the phone?” I ask, reluctantly coming back down to earth.

“Yes. He made one call. I memorised the number.”

[_Wow. He can do that? _]

“Let’s call it then!” I say, eager to find out if the number is going to help us crack this case.

Jack pulls out his own phone and taps in the number. It rings, and rings and rings. Just when I think it’s a dead end, there’s a click and a message service cuts in. I lean closer to the phone so I can hear the female voice on the outgoing message.

This is Hattersley and Fallowell, the jewellers. I’m sorry, but our store is closed at the [_moment. We will re-open for business on December the twenty-ninth. Merry Christmas. _]

I look at Jack as he clicks the phone off. “Vincent called a jewellers this afternoon!

That’s got to be significant, hasn’t it? Hattersley and Fallowell are on the main street in Delamere. Was he planning to sell the necklace to them today?”

“The call was made before he went on his boat trip with Arabella,” Jack replies. “So, he could have rung them to arrange to take in the necklace later in the day. His accomplice steals it while he’s out on the lake – killing two birds with one stone. He has Arabella with him, so he knows the room is empty, plus he provides himself with the perfect alibi.”

I nod, anxious to fit all the pieces together. “And then he disappears to the bar,

supposedly out of the way of Arabella’s mother, but in reality he was probably checking up with his accomplice and ensuring the necklace got to the jewellers before they closed.

Genius!”

“But the jewellery shop is closed now, so we can’t follow up that lead. If they did purchase the necklace, it will be tucked up in their safe and we’ve no way of finding out if that’s what happened,” he says, crushing my thoughts that the case might be solved.

I push the sleeve of my dress up my arm and check my watch. Is it realistic to think we can crack this case today? Should I just face up to reality and wave bye-bye right now to the big family Christmas I was so looking forward to? I know Jack said earlier he’d put the investigation on hold to make dinner tomorrow, but I also know what he’s like when he gets caught up in a job. He’s like a dog with a bone and he refuses to let things go. I sigh.

“So, what next?”

“Let’s go and have a chat with Arabella’s sister.”

I step away, but he tugs me back. “But first, I think we deserve another kiss.”

The receptionist rings Hannah Saunders’ room, checks we can go up and then directs us to room twelve. When we arrive the door is already open, and Hannah beckons us in as she finishes a phone call.

“I know that. Yes, of course. I’m well aware.” She flashes an apologetic look our way and gestures for us to take a seat on the sofa by the window. “I have to go. I’ll speak to you again later.”

“Sorry about that,” she says as she clicks off her phone. “So, what can I do to help?” She walks across the room, closes the door and glides elegantly back towards us. The heels of her designer shoes are so high it’s a wonder she doesn’t get vertigo. How does she manage to walk in them? I’d keep falling over.

“We just wanted to ask a few questions about the necklace.”

“Of course,” she nods and sits opposite on a Queen Anne chair.

Hannah looks nothing like her mother or her sister. She’s blonde and tanned and looks, dare I say it, a little high maintenance.

“Why does your mother think Vincent took the necklace?” Jack starts.

Hannah gives a delicate laugh. “Ah, my mother and Vincent do not get along. If it rains, she blames him. If she’s in a bad mood, she blames him. But, let’s face it, whoever Arabella chose to get involved with, he wouldn’t be good enough in our mother’s eyes.”

“Oh?” I frown. “I got the impression Barbara and Arabella didn’t have the closest

mother-daughter bond.”

“They used to, years ago. Mum didn’t approve of Arabella’s career choices though, and things started to fall apart from there. You see, our grandmother was an actress. Carole Fitzgerald. Perhaps you’ve heard of her?”

Jack opens his mouth to reply but I cut in. “Oh, wow, of course. Yes, she was a legend.”

Hannah dips her head slightly, as though accepting the compliment on her grandmother’s behalf. “Arabella inherited the acting gene from our grandma, and mum wasn’t happy

about it. She said acting was a fool’s game. Endless auditions, endless rejection, endless hours, that’s how she described the business.”

“She must be proud of her now though, surely?” I quiz.

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Maybe somewhere deep inside she is, but I’ve never

seen any sign of it.”

“Why did she inherit the necklace and not your mother or you? Was it because she

became an actress?” Jack asks.

Hannah nods. “Poor Arabella. She’s distraught it’s gone. It was all we had left of our beloved grandma.” She leans forward, an earnest expression on her face. “You will find it, won’t you?”

“Yes, we will,” Jack replies confidently. “Now, sorry, but I have to ask. Where were you two hours ago?”

“I was on a call about some publicity engagements for Arabella.”

He raises an eyebrow. “On Christmas Eve?”

“That’s show business for you.” She shrugs.

“The call couldn’t have taken that long,” he says. “What about before and after it?”

Hannah’s eyes flick upwards and to the left as though she’s trying to recall the details.

“Lunch in the bar, and then a stroll through the hotel grounds and down to the lake.”

“Any witnesses?”

She shakes her head, a bemused expression on her face. “I have no idea. I wasn’t exactly checking for people watching me. Why? Am I on your suspect list then?”

“For now, everyone’s on the list,” Jack replies firmly, getting to his feet and walking towards the window. The curtains are still open even though it’s dark outside. “Do you and your sister get along?”

“Yes. I don’t think she’d have asked me to be her manager otherwise, do you?”

I fidget to the edge of the sofa and cross my legs. “What do you make of Vincent?”

She laughs delicately and then shakes her head. “Vincent, I’m afraid to say, is a rogue and a flirt, but I don’t believe he’s a thief if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Can you think of anybody who would have cause to steal the necklace?” Jack turns

back from the window. “Any other relatives who feel it should rightfully belong to them?”

“No, definitely not,” she replies, sliding her hands along her skirt as though removing none existent creases.

_Great. Things are going nowhere fast. _

Fifteen minutes later we find ourselves in Barbara’s room, the next suspect to be

interviewed.

“I suppose you’re wondering why Arabella and I are at loggerheads,” she says, perched on the edge of the bed. “Well, that’s an easy one to answer. She always had more of a bond with my mother than with me. My mother was an actress, and Arabella wanted to be just like her when she grew up. I’d seen the heartache that being in the industry caused and I desperately wanted to protect Arabella from it, but she was determined to go against me every step of the way.”

“You and your own mother didn’t get along either then, I take it?” I check.

“No. Work was always her priority. She had no time for me. It didn’t lead to the

strongest of mother-daughter relationships as you can imagine.”

Jack gets to his feet and wanders around the room. I presume he’s looking for something, for evidence, though I have no idea what. “It’s Mrs. Saunders, right?

She nods.

“What happened to your husband? Why isn’t he a part of this festive family holiday?” he asks.

“We divorced years ago. He remarried a while back.” She lifts a hand to her hair,

checking it’s still perfectly in place. “He doesn’t have anything to do with Arabella or Hannah.”

“Is this hotel gathering a regular occurrence?” I ask. “Do you normally get together somewhere to celebrate Christmas?”

“This is the first Christmas since my mother passed away, so we thought we should do something different this year.”

“Hence the hotel,” Jack says.

Barbara nods. “I suspect guilt plays its part too,” she adds, looking uncomfortable.

“Arabella feels guilt for going against me. Guilt for the upheaval and heartache she’s caused. That’s why she employs Hannah as her personal assistant. She provides work for her sister and it lessens the family guilt. Arabella always worried that she’d inherited the necklace and their grandma left nothing to Hannah. Arabella always was the favourite, and my mother didn’t bother to hide it. I know that guilt is also the reason Arabella’s letting me stay with her at the moment at her place in London. My own house suffered water damage when a pipe burst, you see, so I had to move out for repairs.”

“How long ago did Arabella inherit the necklace?” I double check.

“Seven months ago,” she replies.

“And how long has she been with Vincent?” Jack checks.

“About six months,” she says.

[_Hmm… coincidence? _]

“Is Hannah involved with anyone?” Jack chips in.

“No, not that I’m aware of, and believe me, I know all about my daughters. I’m

protective of them. I love them, regardless of what you might think. I am still their mother.

I just want what’s best for them.”

“Of course you do,” I smile.

Jack ends his tour of the room and stops next to the door. “Where were you this

afternoon?”

Barbara visibly stiffens at his question. “I took a walk around the grounds and then visited the spa for a manicure and pedicure with Hannah.”

My eyes meet Jack’s. Hannah definitely didn’t mention anything earlier about a trip to the spa with her mother.

Next stop is the hotel’s staff room. Gerald has arranged for us to meet the head of housekeeping, who just happens to be the woman with responsibility for cleaning

Arabella’s room. He’s also informed us that the head of housekeeping would not have access to keys to the safes in the hotel bedrooms. Only the duty manger would have that.

The manager this afternoon was Gerald himself. Unfortunately for me, the head of

housekeeping is also the woman who chastised me earlier for touching the Christmas tree in the hotel’s entrance hall.

The hotel’s staffroom is the total opposite of the public areas. It’s neat and clean, but that’s where the similarities end. Whereas the hotel is stylish and opulent, this area is more basic and practical.

Margaret – the woman of the fierce look – sits at the table in the middle of the staff kitchen and fiddles nervously with her fingers.

Jack wastes no time, coming straight in with the questioning. “When did you last clean Ms Saunders room?”

“This morning. Ms Saunders had just gone to the hotel’s spa with that chap of hers.

Reception told housekeeping the room was free, and I went straight up to clean the room whilst I wouldn’t be in the way. We have a system. First, the bathroom and then…”

“Did Ms Saunders leave any possessions lying around in the room? On the bed? The

dressing table?” Jack cuts in.

“Of course. They arrived yesterday and had made themselves at home, like most guests do.”

“Did you take any notice of what those items were?” I encourage her.

She glowers at me, but nods. I suspect I’m not quite forgiven for the Christmas tree bauble incident. “There was a beautiful red dress hanging on the outside of the wardrobe. I assumed she’d chosen it to wear at dinner.”

“Anything else?” Jack prompts.

“I have a job to do and don’t go nosing around guest’s possessions,” she replies, looking offended.

“We’re not suggesting that you do,” I reassure her. “But if you can just take a moment to think if anything caught your eye other than the dress, we’d appreciate it.”

She stares at her hands, and we all sit in silence.

Eventually, she replies, “No, nothing.”

Jack rests his elbows on the table and eyes her uncertainly. “You’re sure? No jewellery on the dressing table?”

She shakes her head, an adamant expression on her face. “I just saw the dress.”

“We only have her word for it that the necklace wasn’t around when she cleaned the

room,” Jack says as we make our way back towards the public areas of the hotel.

“You think she’s lying?”

“Probably not. She doesn’t exactly come across as a jewel thief, does she?” he says, holding the door open for me to follow him into the hotel’s reception area.

“And what does a jewel thief look like?”

“Not a grandma nearing retirement from a chambermaid job she’s done for years.”

“You never know,” I reply. “Appearances can be deceptive.”

“Mt Mathis! Mr Mathis!”

We both turn to see Gerald scuttling towards us. He glances round, spots two other hotel guests, and clutches Jack’s arm, ushering us both towards his office out of earshot. Once inside, he closes the door behind us. “The necklace has been found!”

CHAPTER SIX

“Where?” I gasp.

“In a locker in the spa,” Gerald replies, relief evident on his face. “So that means the case is solved.”

[_Yay! Christmas Day dinner, here we come. _]

“Not really,” Jack retorts. “There’s still the question of how it travelled from Ms Saunders bedroom to the spa without her knowledge or consent.”

_Oh. _ So the case isn’t solved then. My eyes seek out the clock on the office wall. The evening is creeping towards night and soon it will be midnight and officially Christmas Day. Maybe I won’t need to rush to finish the snowflake truffles when I get home –

because it will be too late and our family Christmas Day dinner won’t happen.

“Who found it in the locker?” Jack asks, and I can see the passion in his gorgeous blue eyes. He loves his work. When we first met, he promised he would clear my name of the murder of celebrity chef Armand, my old boss. He said he’d never failed to solve a case and catch a killer, thief or stalker. That still holds true now he’s ditched the agency and gone self-employed. He won’t give up until this investigation is complete.

“As it is Christmas Eve, the spa was closing early and wouldn’t be opening tomorrow.

Safety and security dictates the spa’s duty manager ensures all lockers are empty before close of business. That’s when she found the necklace,” Gerald burbles. “It was wrapped up in a towel and placed in locker number one, nearest to the door of the female changing room.”

Jack is already striding for the door. “We’ll need to speak to her, right away.”

I break into a half-run again as we make our way along the corridor which links the old original hotel building with the new swimming pool and spa annexe.

“A locker in the female changing rooms suggests our thief is a woman,” I gasp as we eventually reach the spa’s reception desk. “So it’s not Vincent?”

“Not necessarily,” Gerald replies. “When the spa is quiet, as it was today, it would be simple enough for a man to slip inside the changing room. Especially as the locker was close to the door.”

“I assume there are no CCTV cameras in the spa,” Jack says.

“No, for obvious reasons of guest privacy.”

“A member of staff would know that the lockers would be checked, so that suggests our thief doesn’t work here,” Jack says as we enter the female changing room and check the lockers, earning a look of great relief from Gerald. I guess the manager was worried one of his staff could be involved.

“Shouldn’t we go and tell Arabella we’ve found her necklace?” I say, taking a seat on a beautifully carved oak bench in the centre of the stylish room.

Jack surprises me by shaking his head. “Not just yet.”

Gerald frowns. “Oh? Why not?”

“Because whoever stole it is still around the hotel somewhere, and I don’t want them to hear that the necklace has been found. We want them to think that their plan is still on course. At some point they’re planning on coming back here to collect the necklace, and we’ll be waiting for them.”

The prospect of hours spent crouched behind a bank of lockers flashes through my mind.

I flinch.

Jack sits down on the bench next to me. “Gerald, would you mind giving us some

privacy for a minute? We need to talk case strategy.”

Gerald nods and steps out of the room. As soon as he’s out of sight, I turn to Jack. “Are we going to have to set up camp in the ladies’ changing room? Please tell me I’m not going to have to spend Christmas night in here.”

Jack doesn’t say anything, just plants the lightest of kisses on the tip of my nose.

“Jack Mathis, I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to creep around me.” I sigh. “We are going to have to stay here tonight until the thief shows up, aren’t we? Do we even know who it is? Vincent seems to be in the clear. Barbara was in the spa this afternoon having some treatments. Do you think it was her? Is she seeking revenge for her mother having given the valuable necklace to Arabella, rather than to her?”

“Could be. Don’t forget Hannah didn’t tell us about being at the spa. She said she went for a walk around the lake. It was her mother who said she was in the spa.”

I spin round and rest my feet on the other end of the long bench. “But which one of them is lying? Barbara or Hannah?”

“Let’s go and find out,” Jack says, getting up and reaching for my hand.

The spa’s booking records reveal that both Barbara and Hannah enjoyed its chilled-out ambience this afternoon. Tamsin, one of the therapists, informs us that she saw the two women arguing by the pool earlier.

“So, Hannah did lie about where she was,” I say, my mind trying various pieces of the puzzle together and finding they don’t fit.

“Yep.” He looks thoughtful for a moment.

“Have you got a plan?” I ask, hoping that he has.

He nods. “Yeah. I think so. Let’s try something.”

I dash after Jack as he heads for the door. Here we go again. Back in the hotel we find Hannah in the bar with Vincent. Arabella and Barbara are nowhere to be seen.

Interesting.

Taking her to one side, well away from Vincent and the other hotel guests enjoying a festive drink, Jack informs Hannah that the necklace has been found.

Hannah’s eyes flicker with something I can’t quite pin down. Is it relief or concern?

“We know you stole it and hid it in the spa, but you hadn’t bargained on the lockers being checked at the end of the day, had you?” he says, leaning in close, intimidating her.

“You know, if you’re going to steal something you really should think things through properly. Oh, and remember to wear gloves, we found your fingerprints all over the item,”

he pauses and tuts. “Well, you were careless, weren’t you? Not to mention the hidden CCTV cameras which captured the whole thing. Why did you do it? The police are on their way right now. Sorry, but there’ll be no fancy Roseby Christmas dinner for you.”

What is he doing? Does he really think Hannah stole the necklace or is he playing some kind of game with her? Is he calling her bluff? Trying to panic her into a confession? The manager said there weren’t any CCTV cameras in the spa, and we certainly didn’t take any fingerprints. I glance at Hannah, and now I know what the look in her eyes is – she’s terrified.

“They made me do it!” The words burst out of her and several pairs of eyes in the bar swivel in our direction.

Bingo! A confession!

Vincent gets to his feet and walks towards us. “Is something wrong?” he asks, looking first at Hannah, then Jack, and finally me.

Is Vincent hearing about the necklace a part of Jack’s plan?

“Everything is fine.” Jack slips a hand onto Hannah’s shoulder. “We just needed a quiet word with Hannah, that’s all.”

Vincent frowns, whether it’s out of concern for Hannah or anxiety for his own safety, I can’t tell.

We usher Hannah out of the bar, and I can feel Vincent’s eyes following us every step of the way. Gerald lets us use the office behind reception. Once we’re inside and the door closed behind us, Jack says, “Come on, Hannah, and let’s have the truth this time, shall we?”

She slumps into a chair and covers her face with her hands. “I didn’t want to do it. I had no choice. I was told the safe’s combination and the time the room would be empty and to put the necklace in a certain locker at the spa and then leave the key at a designated spot.”

Is she telling the truth this time though? Was she made to steal the necklace? If so, by who?

“I was being blackmailed,” she continues, gulping for breath. “They have compromising images of my sister and Vincent. She would have been mortified, her reputation in tatters if they had come out and been bandied all over the newspapers and the Internet. My own career would have been ruined as well. If Arabella doesn’t work, neither do I. I did it to protect us both. There was no choice.”

“You said they made you do it. Do you have any idea who?” Jack demands.

Hannah shakes her head, her eyes downcast. “I don’t know. I received a letter and copies of a few of the photos. It said I’d get further instructions. I’ve never even spoken to anybody. My instructions have been letters in the mail or, here at hotel, notes pushed under my door. That’s how they’ve communicated with me.”

“So, it’s somebody with access to the hotel, spa and grounds,” I say. “The person is here, somewhere, but how do we track them down?”

“They’re planning on collecting the necklace from the spa. That’s how we find them,”

Jack says decisively. “Now, where did you have to leave the key, Hannah? Whoever is behind all of this shouldn’t have heard the necklace has been found in the locker and is still planning on turning up to retrieve the key, then the necklace. They’re also still banking on you keeping quiet about this whole thing. We just have to catch them in the act.”

I crouch down in front of her. “Where’s the key, Hannah? Where did they tell you to leave it?”

She flicks anxious eyes at me. “Outside, in some bushes. There’s a garden area at the side of the spa. The largest bush, right in the centre, that’s where they told me to leave the key.”

“We have no idea what time, or even what day, they’re planning on collecting the key and taking the necklace,” Jack says, pacing the room.

Wonderful. That could mean days hiding in the hotel’s landscaped gardens, in the snow and freezing temperatures, waiting for somebody to show up.

[_Bye ‘bye Christmas. _]

Ten minutes later, lurking in the undergrowth, I wish I’d thought to put on something more sensible than my fashion boots and wool dress. I was so caught up in a fangirl moment at the prospect of meeting Arabella, and all excited about getting to see inside the glamorous Roseby, that I didn’t contemplate the practical side of our challenge – i.e. the possibility of hanging around outside in the snow in the middle of the night. The sound of church bells drifts across the lake, breaking into my thoughts as well as the stillness of the night. Bells mean it is midnight; they’re heralding the arrival of Christmas Day. I glance over at Jack, crouched next to me. He looks apologetic.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” he says, guilt etched on to his handsome face.

I force a half-smile. “Merry Christmas.”

Jack leans across and plants the sweetest of kisses on my lips. For a few moments I forget where we are and kiss him right back.

Then I get a shooting cramp in my leg from being half-standing and half-crouched for so long. I yank away from him and leap to my feet, doing a bit of a weird dance in the snow as I try to stamp my foot and relieve the clawing spasms. Jack grabs me, lifting a finger to my lips, indicating I need to be quieter. Yes, I know that, but my leg hurts and I’m cold and… frustration bubbles up in me. This was not how I pictured our Christmas Day

together starting.

I sigh, calm down, and lean against the trunk of a tree. I’m no good at this surveillance stuff. For starters, I’m not the most patient person in the world. Plus, it’s finger-numbingly cold. Oh, and it’s Christmas Day!

Jack fumbles in his coat pocket and hands me his car keys. “Go home, Lizzie. I’m sorry, I know this isn’t how you wanted today to turn out. It’s bitter and starting to snow again as well. You head home, get warmed up and get some sleep.”

“But it could take ages for the thief to show up, Jack.” I reach for his hand and squeeze it. “You can’t stay here for hours, even days, especially not on your own. Can’t you rig up some camera trap or something which will trigger when whoever it is turns up to fetch the key and go to the spa for the necklace?”

Jack pulls a face. “I’ve got some surveillance kit at home, but it’s broken and there’s no way I can get it fixed or grab new kit at this time of night, or even tomorrow. Everywhere will be closed for the holidays.”

I nod. Jack is not a techy kind of guy, so doing a patching-up DIY job on the surveillance stuff isn’t an option either.

“I’ll stay; you head off back to Eskdale,” he insists, pressing the keys into my hand.

“You can’t stay here on your own. You’ll freeze! And, like I said, it could be ages before anyone even turns up.” Any lingering hopes of making our first big family Christmas as an

‘official’ engaged couple fade into nothing. There’s no way Jack will walk away from this case for a few hours this afternoon to celebrate Christmas. It’s not that he doesn’t value me, his family or the holidays, it’s that unbroken record of solving every case he takes on, which I know means he won’t abandon this one at such a critical stage.

“Go home, Lizzie,” he repeats. “If I’m not back in time, promise me you’ll still go and have the big dinner with Frazer and Emma and the kids. I’ll get there as soon as I can.

I’ll…”

I cut him off mid-sentence and kiss him. When I pull away I say, “It’s OK. I understand how important this is to you.”

“You’re important too, Catwoman,” he says with a smile. “You’re pretty amazing, in

fact. I don’t think many women would put up with me and my job, and not only that, but help out too. In the cold and the dark, on Christmas. Now, will you get out of here before you can’t feel your feet at all with this ice and snow?”

“I can’t just leave you like this.”

He waves a dismissive hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

My home beckons enticingly, but leaving Jack doesn’t sit well with me. Stretching in an attempt to get rid of a crick in my neck, I spot a faint glimmer of light over my shoulder.

It’s heading in our direction.

Sliding back into the bushes, I grab Jack’s arm, indicating behind us with my other hand.

The light is getting nearer.

Holding my breath, I squeeze myself further into the undergrowth so that I’m completely out of sight.

The figure seems to be better prepared for the conditions than I am. It’s muffled up in boots, jeans and a black coat with the hood up. Is it a man or a woman? I can’t tell. The figure is tall but slight and could be male or female. There’s no reason for anybody else to be wandering about in the hotel’s grounds at this hour – the thief has come to claim the key and fetch the necklace!

CHAPTER SEVEN

I hold my breath and dig my fingernails into Jack’s arm as we watch and wait. The figure is heading right towards us. Yikes! I hope they don’t spot us. It’s snowing more heavily now, and the flakes are landing on the thief’s black coat, giving it an almost comical appearance

– like the coat of a Dalmatian dog but with the colours reversed.

Attempting to tuck myself even further into the damp and prickly bushes, my foot scuffs a twig and it snaps. The resulting crack seems as loud as thunder and echoes around the Roseby’s lawns. Oh, sugar, what have I done?

The black figure pauses and switches off the torch it’s holding.

He or she heard me!

After what seems like an eternity, the figure switches the torch back on and heads

towards the bushes opposite us, the spot where Hannah had hidden the key as instructed.

Getting onto its knees, the figure scuffles around in the undergrowth and then sits back and stands up. OK. Stage one complete. The thief has found the key. Stage two is catching them in the act of getting the necklace from the locker in the spa. Jack gives me a thumbs-up sign that we’re about to crack this case. Thank goodness! Then we can both go back to Eskdale and get warm in front of the fire.

The black figure disappears round the side of the spa building and we creep forward, darting behind bushes and trees, staying low to the ground, basically trying to blend in with the dark and the garden landscaping. Jack gestures for me to stay where I am, my back almost welded to the outside wall of the spa as he edges further forwards to see where the thief has gone. We’d arranged earlier for a side window of the building to be left a little ajar, offering the thief an easy way into the building. I peer at Jack, watching for him to indicate that the figure has got inside the spa. Time seems to be going so slowly. What’s going on round there? Eventually, Jack scoots back to me, gesturing for me to follow him to the front door of the building. We also arranged to have a key ourselves and for the alarm to be off. Jack unlocks the door, and we creep inside, closing it softly behind us. The previously serene surroundings of luxury loungers, candles, Buddha statues and greenery have taken on an altogether different vibe in the dark as we make our way through

reception towards the female changing rooms. Jack had memorised the route earlier, even counting the number of steps, so we can now traverse the spa without the need for a flashlight. We pause where the corridor turns towards the changing room, ensuring the thief is inside, not still out in the hallway. Five minutes ago I was freezing – now I’m shaking, but it’s with nerves, not the cold. In fact, sweat is dripping down my back and I can tell my face is flushed and hot. I don’t think I’d make a very good detective or special agent.

Jack moves forward decisively, and I summon up my courage and follow him. I can see light filtering into the corridor from the changing room. Then, everything seems to happen at once. The door flies open, and the thief darts out and sprints in the opposite direction.

What?! We must have been spotted. Sugar! Now what? Jack races after the thief and,

knowing it no longer matters, I spot a light switch and hit it with my fist. If there’s going to be chasing or fighting, then it might help Jack if he can see what he’s doing. Unsure whether to follow them or not, I debate for a second. The cowardly part of me is beaten by the part which wants to help Jack in any way I might possibly be able to. I race after the two of them. That’s when I hear the ear-splintering crash.

CHAPTER EIGHT

I skid to a halt in the reception area. The seven-foot-high real Christmas tree, as perfectly decorated as the others dotted about the hotel, is lying prostrate on the floor. There are shattered baubles all over the place. The gold fairy which had previously adorned the tree is now bobbing up and down in the middle of the supposed-to-be-soothing water feature near the reception desk. The stolen necklace is lying amidst assorted tree debris.

The thief, still in black, hood up, is scrambling around on the floor face down,

presumably from where they slammed into the tree and knocked it over. The thief isn’t going anywhere though, because Jack has him or her in a firm grasp. He manhandles the figure upright and, with one hand still keeping them trapped, yanks off the hood.

I gasp as the beautiful face of the heroine of Compton Abbey stares back at me. Arabella is the thief? She stole her own necklace? But that doesn’t make sense! I might be a big fan of Compton Abbey, but it looks as though even I didn’t realise quite how good an actress Arabella Saunders is! I step forward. Her eyes glare back at me, no longer friendly. I’d even go so far as to describe the look as hostile. A shiver runs up my spine.

Gerald steps out from the office behind the desk, having witnessed everything, Hannah beside him. “I’d like to say the police are on their way, but how can you be arrested for stealing your own necklace?” he says.

“Why would you do something like that?” Hannah asks, looking horrified to discover

her own sister is not only a thief but also a blackmailer. “I don’t understand.”

“Care to explain?” Jack asks, releasing his hold on her.

I flop into a chair next to the desk and reach across to rescue the poor fairy from her unscheduled swim. “Why did you hire somebody to find the necklace if you’re the one who stole it in the first place? Were you made to do it? Is Vincent behind all of this?”

She huffs out a sigh. “No! Why does everyone think it’s always Vincent?”

“I think you’d better start explaining,” Jack says, still standing next to her, watching her intently. “You’ve got precisely five minutes.”

Sighing again, she pushes a strand of hair out of her eyes. “I didn’t want the stupid necklace in the first place! All it’s done is cause me problems. My mum is jealous and hates me even more because I have it. It was more useful for me to have the money from the sale of it, but I knew my family would never accept me auctioning it off. The only way to get rid of it for good was to have it stolen and never found again. Blackmailing Hannah to take it, making her think she was protecting me in the process was a stroke of genius, don’t you think?”

I can’t believe it – she actually looks pleased with herself!

“Compton told me they’re not renewing my contract for another series. I needed a

financial cushion whilst I figure out what to do next with my life. I think I’ve fallen out of love with acting. So, selling the necklace made sense. Once my room had been checked at the start of the investigation, nobody was going to search it again, were they? I could retrieve the necklace and hide it. Then sell it in a few days via a contact, a friend of a friend.”

So the phone call from Vincent to the jeweller’s wasn’t about him selling the necklace.

Was he simply contacting them about buying a last-minute gift for Christmas?

“But why hire Jack to find it?” I ask.

She shrugs. “A few reasons. One, because I had greater control over a private

investigator. I could call the shots and end the investigation on my terms. Or so I thought.”

She shoots an angry look at Jack. “Two, it stopped the hotel manager from getting in the real police. Simple, really.”

“But you hadn’t figured on Jack actually solving the case on the very same day you hired him!” I say, beaming a smile at my crime-busting fiancé.

Arabella glowers at me.

“You know, I don’t think I’ll be watching any more episodes of Compton Abbey,” I add, grabbing a nearby towel and gently drying off the Christmas fairy still in my hands. “This has really ruined it for me now!”

CHAPTER NINE

I’m gripping a Tupperware container of my Christmas snowflake truffles for dear life as Jack bumps his 4×4 down the track from Eskdale Top on our way to Wellbeck Farm.

“Watch the truffles!” I yelp, as we narrowly miss a gargantuan pothole. One day I’ll have some money to get these filled and sorted. One day.

“I have been watching them for the last hour while you got ready for this dinner. It’s a Christmas miracle they’re all still there,” Jack laughs. “I came so close to helping myself to a couple of them. I’m starving.”

“I’m just relieved the things I make these days are ones that people actually want to eat!”

I say, as we eventually reach the road and I loosen my hold on the Tupperware slightly. I was so looking forward to today, but now that it’s here I’m full of nerves. I adore Emma and the kids, and Frazer’s a total sweetheart, yet I feel as though I’m about to be interviewed for a role or something. It was different before – I was the neighbour and Jack’s girlfriend. Now, I’m about to become part of the family, and I’m scared they won’t want me.

I take in the view as we round a bend towards Wellbeck. The hills are looking beautifully seasonal thanks to another dusting of snow. My thoughts drift back to the early hours of this morning when we made our way home from the Roseby. I still can’t believe Arabella stole her own necklace – that is so crazy!

Speaking of Arabella, I’ve just worked a real private investigator case with Jack, done a stake-out in the snow, and helped chase down a jewel thief. If I can do that, then surely I can handle being auditioned for a part in Jack’s family. Can’t I?

I glance over at my fiancé. He’s looking smart today – and gorgeous. Hair all neat and tidy, he’s even had a shave. Gone are the usual jeans and sweaters in favour of black trousers and a blue shirt. I’m wearing my favourite vintage tea dress – all black and pink flowers.

Jack’s phone buzzes into life just as we pull into the yard at Wellbeck, his brother’s farm.

Please – not another case for him to solve, especially not today! Jack checks it as I hold my breath.

“It’s OK,” he says. “It’s nothing work-related. Just my mum texting to wish us a Merry Christmas from a sunny Florida beach.”

Jack’s father died in a war zone twenty years ago during active duty with the Army, and his mum remarried about ten years ago. She’s in America with her second husband for a month, they’re travelling around in a hired RV. As Jack quickly texts back, I slide my engagement ring from my finger and pop it into my pocket. If I don’t hide it, Emma, Frazer’s wife, is sure to spot it before we can get around to making our big announcement.

A few minutes later, Jack and I lug assorted containers of food and bags of presents into the farmhouse. We’ve only managed to step a foot inside the front door when Jack’s nieces and nephew come racing towards us and almost knock us off our feet. A tired-looking Emma appears soon after them. “Sorry,” she says. “They’re a bit hyper today.”

Jack dumps his parcels on the kitchen table and picks up the latest addition to Emma and Frazer’s family – his niece Milly. He twirls her round in the air, and she giggles

delightedly.

“Don’t!” Emma warns, looking horrified. “She’s had so much sweets, chocolate and

cake this morning she’ll probably throw up on you.”

Jack hastily sets Milly back on her feet and chucks her on the cheek. “It’s all part of the Christmas fun, Milly, isn’t it?”

Milly nods enthusiastically.

Frazer walks in, looking weary. “What’s part of the fun? Throwing up?”

“Nah!” Jack replies. “Eating too much cake and sweets and being hyper.”

“You are going to make a terrible dad one day!” Emma says to him in mock

admonishment. “Or else, a very good one, depending on point of view!”

She envelops me in a warm and welcoming hug. “Hi, Lizzie, lovely to see you. I’m so happy you’re celebrating with us today.”

“I brought over some homemade truffles, is that OK?” I check nervously.

“Of course, sounds fab. I’ll look forward to devouring them later. Right now though, dinner is prepared and just keeping warm until we’re ready.”

Jack picks up one of the bags we arrived with. “What about the pressies for the

marauding kids?”

“They’ve had loads of gifts already. Those can wait until after dinner,” Emma replies, going into mum-mode.

Frazer takes the bags from us. “I’ll pop them under the tree in the other room.”

Four-year-old Mickey and six-year-old Jennie immediately offer to help their dad,

presumably so that they can squeeze and rattle the gifts as each one is put under the tree.

“Can you hang on a second?” Jack says to everyone, moving to stand next to me and

slipping an arm around my waist. “Lizzie and I have some news.”

Emma drops the fork in her hand and it falls with a clatter onto a plate. “I knew it!” she beams. Turning to Frazer she adds, “Didn’t I tell you! I knew it. I had a feeling.”

“Will you let them get a word in?” Frazer says, pulling his wife close. “So, come on then, what’s the big news?”

“We got engaged yesterday,” Jack announces.

I pull the ring from my pocket and slip it back on my finger. Emma rushes to my side to inspect it. “Oh, wow, it’s heavenly! This is the best news! You guys belong together!” She squeezes me tightly in another hug, and Frazer does the same to Jack.

“What’s going on?” Little Jennie frowns, her attention finally drawn from the bags of gifts. “Why all the hugging?”

“Uncle Jack and Lizzie just got engaged,” Emma explains to her. “Isn’t that exciting?”

Jennie looks more interested now. “They’re getting married? Cool! Can I be a

bridesmaid and get a pretty pink dress and…”

“Woah!” Frazer interrupts his daughter. “Give them chance to catch their breath before you get started with the bridesmaid’s demands!”

“Can I? Can I please?” she asks, bouncing up and down. “Please, Uncle Jack!”

Jack looks at me, and I nod. “Of course you can, Jen,” he says.

“Yay!!!!” she yelps and wraps her arms around my legs.

Emma smiles and shakes her head. “Now she’s even more hyper.”

“So when is the big day?” Frazer asks.

“We haven’t decided for definite,” I say. “The whole engagement thing is still so new at the moment.”

“How did he do it?” Emma quizzes me.

“How do you know he did?” Frazer chips in. “Maybe Lizzie was the one who did the

proposing.”

“No, it was Jack.” I slip my arm through his. “And it was perfect. Yesterday lunchtime up on the top of Greenbeck fell.”

“So that’s what you wanted to borrow the farm quadbike for!” Frazer says. “To whisk Lizzie up to the top of a snow-covered hill. I can’t believe you asked her to marry you up there.”

Jack shrugs. “Yep.”

“Oh, that’s so romantic,” Emma gushes.

Frazer frowns. “Romantic? I thought it was dinner someplace fancy and expensive,

flowers and a proposal down on one knee that was expected in these circumstances. That’s what you told me you wanted – and I dutifully complied.”

Emma smiles at him indulgently. “Maybe it was the done thing back when you proposed, but these days things should be more adventurous and unusual. Thinking outside the box -

that’s romantic!”

Frazer shrugs, as though keeping up with the latest romantic trends is the least of his interests.

A chaotic fifteen minutes ensues before we’re all eventually seated around the dining table and about to tuck in to a delicious spread – turkey, roast potatoes, sage and onion stuffing, mountains of vegetables, cranberry sauce. And some hopefully-yummy snowflake truffles for later.

“Welcome to the family, Lizzie. You’re going to love it!” Emma says, raising her glass in a toast.

“Thanks, Emma. I think I already do,” I reply, as Jack leans over and plants a kiss on my cheek.

[*What next? *]

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*Murder On *

The Menu

A Celebrity Mystery

By Zanna Mackenzie

CHAPTER ONE

The door to the kitchen at Viande Et Deux Légumes slams shut behind me and I pause, breathing in the blissfully cool night air. Phew. I survived another shift. It’s been a long day and having to stay late with my creepy chef boss Armand didn’t help matters. The only good things about working at this horribly pretentious restaurant are that I get paid (though it’s a pittance) and sometimes I get to bring home cake. I pat the box in my right hand.

Chocolate sponge packed with luscious cherries and laced with eye-wateringly expensive liqueur. Yum. Not only a delicious dessert to savour but also, I admit, a form of culinary comfort. Comfort which I seem to be in desperate need of these days, thanks to fate throwing the proverbial spanner in the works with all the power it could muster. Before, in my old life in London, I had family, friends and a job I loved which paid handsomely. Oh –

and there was Adam too. Then that life slid dramatically and chaotically into an almighty mess. Humiliating? Yes. Scary? Definitely. Heart breaking? Absolutely. So, now things are…well, let’s just say they’re pretty different.

Oh, and I’m eating a lot of cake.

For the past six hours I’ve been stuck indoors serving ungrateful restaurant patrons and being shouted at by Armand Seville, the chef who owns this place. My feet ache. My head aches. Come to think of it, my whole body aches. Not surprising really, giving the physical demands of my dual jobs. I’m juggling days spent learning how to farm with nights being a waitress, and I’m trying to forget the pain of what went before and instead determinedly embrace the new. I have taken a sabbatical, which is the trendy, slightly less scary term, I believe, for ditching my old life.

I scurry towards my car which is lurking, as per instructions to staff, right at the back of the dimly lit restaurant parking area. Employees are forbidden from taking up the precious spaces nearest to the doors, those are strictly reserved for customers. I always feel nervous walking across this dark patch of ground, all alone, at this late hour. Which is crazy because the restaurant is in a village called Amswick in the middle of the Cumbrian hills, and I can’t imagine there are any muggers or murderers hiding in the bushes around these parts. Even so, a shiver works its way down my spine. Diving inside my little yellow car, I slam the door shut behind me and start her up. I know, I know, I said _her _ door. Yes, I’m one of those people who names her car. My little yellow VW Beetle is called Daisy. She’s all I have left of my old life. She’s totally impractical for my new rural one, but I can’t bear to part with her. Something catches my eye and my fingers grip Daisy’s steering wheel as I peer into the night. A shadowy figure sprints across the edge of the car park, hood up, only visible for the briefest of glimpses between bushes and patches of moonlight. I gulp. Why would somebody be out here at this time of night?

Somewhere in the depths of my bag, my mobile phone bursts into life, shattering the stillness of the night. Checking all of Daisy’s doors are locked first, I fumble around and eventually locate my phone. My anxiety hitches up a notch higher when I see who my late night caller is – Adam. I never answer his calls, but I don’t block them either. I suppose seeing his name and getting his calls serves as a painful reminder of how stupid I was and it warns me not to fall into that same trap in the future.

Slipping the phone back into my bag, I press my foot on the accelerator, eager to get out of here.

The lights are still on inside the restaurant kitchen as we whiz past and I spot the lanky silhouette of my boss Armand, probably triple checking everything is done to his exacting standards before he goes off upstairs to his apartment above the restaurant.

Come to think of it, if there _were _ any murderers lying in wait around these parts, then I have a sneaky feeling Armand might well be their first victim. Chefs have a reputation for being volatile, especially the famous ones; it seems to go hand in hand with culinary creativity. Armand, the winner of TV show _Culinary Cook Off _ two years ago, definitely fits that stereotype. He’s loud, obnoxious and nothing is ever good enough. He yells at all his staff. The young guy who started working here a week ago, straight from college, has been hiding in the walk-in fridge every day sobbing his eyes out. Armand is also a sexist pig. He hits on all of the women who work in the kitchen, the restaurant and the bar. One night, only a week after starting my job, he cornered me behind the bins as I took the rubbish bags out. I can still remember his hot garlic breath on my cheek and his hand grasping my wrist. I lied through my teeth and said I was flattered by his offer but I had a fiancé with a black belt in karate waiting for me at home. He’d reached for my left hand and asked where my engagement ring was. I’d conjured up yet another little white lie and told him I always left the ring at home when I was working at the restaurant. Then I’d pushed past him as fast as I could, holding my breath and crossing my fingers as I did so, hoping he wouldn’t try anything else. Thankfully, he hadn’t.

As Daisy and I turn onto the lane and head for home, I shudder at the memory of that night. The following day, still a bit shaken up, I’d nervously shared the details of my unfortunate experience with two of the other waitresses, both of whom had nodded their heads in a sympathetic way, having been through the same thing themselves. Katya, who brings fresh produce to the restaurant, must have overheard us because she looked all uncomfortable and her cheeks flushed red. She scurried out of the kitchen like a scalded cat. I wonder if she’s another female on the end of unwanted attention from Armand.

Anyway, it’s shaping up to be like one of those indoctrination ceremonies – all of the young females get hit on by Armand during their first week of employment, and all of the men get constantly yelled at until they become snivelling shadows of their former shelves.

Everybody hates Armand with his long hair, beady eyes and faux French accent – he’s actually from Manchester and his real first name is Michael. Even the name of the

restaurant is pretentious – Viande Et Deux Légumes[* *]– in English it translates as Meat And Two Veg. That’s why, much to Armand’s annoyance, the locals refer to the place as the

‘Veggies’. There are loads of great restaurants in the touristy areas about thirty minutes away, but it’s Armand’s celebrity status which draws people to drive over the scary mountain pass which traverses some of the highest fells in the area, separating there and here, in order to sample the food at the Veggies. Plus, I have to confess, the food is extremely good. He may have his faults, but he’s an amazing chef.

This area isn’t exactly riddled with employment opportunities; most work is in the

aforementioned holiday hotspots and is seasonal, so getting a local job that lasts all year round is like finding gold dust in your breakfast cereal. With that in mind, people put up with working at the Veggies, keep quiet and generally try to stay out of Armand’s way as much as possible. Tonight though, I was in the unfortunate position of being the last member of staff to leave the kitchen. Armand had specifically asked me to stay back and help him with checking over some adverts and new menus he’d got a design company

putting together for the Meat And Two Veg. He knows I used to work in promotion and advertising in London and is always out for free advice. If he knew what my former

employees charged for that advice in my old life… Well, maybe he does know, which is why he’d told me the last hour had been ‘off the clock’ since I wasn’t actually serving customers. Cheek of it!

As I navigate the potholed track down to the farmhouse that is now my home, my hands are holding the steering wheel so tightly that my knuckles are taking on a deathly white shade in the moonlight. As always the dreaded track seems to go on forever, but eventually we reach the yard. I park Daisy in a barn (I swear I hear her heave a sigh of relief) and head indoors to collapse into bed. Originally, I was planning to do a couple of quick jobs tonight, like mix the chicken feed, in an attempt to get a head start on things in the morning, but it’s later than usual and I’m exhausted. I’ll just have to get up even earlier tomorrow instead.

I wonder what tomorrow has in store for me. It can’t get much worse than today, surely.

Cows. Two of them. Staring right back at me, an interested expression on their black and white faces. I know, with everything else on my plate, I’m bone-tired lately but is my mind going now as well?

Backing up towards my car, I debate what to do. I’ve never seen a cow quite this close before. Who knew they were so big? What on earth are these two doing in my yard at Eskdale Top anyway? There are no animals on this farm other than the chickens which provide the free range eggs I sell to local bed and breakfasts, hotels, and cafés. Presumably these two have escaped from my neighbour Frazer’s place, but what should I do with

them? Should I somehow try to stop them and catch them? Ah! As if!

The two cows trundle past me, and I hold my breath against the overwhelming stench

which accompanies them. With another curious glance at me they head for one of the fields at the side of the farmhouse. I guess they must like the look of the lush grass – which I desperately need to cut. I’ll add that to my ever growing To Do list. The drone of an approaching quadbike becomes a roar, and I turn to see a red bike, complete with man and dog, enter the yard. Phew. Help is at hand. Frazer must be here to round them up and take them home.

Switching off the engine, the man climbs off the bike and heads towards me, casting a substantial shadow across the farmyard thanks to his height and build. He’s got closely cropped dark blond hair, broad shoulders and is wearing trendy sunglasses. Whoever he is, he certainly isn’t Frazer.

“Hi, you must be Lizzie, Joe’s niece.” He offers a hand to shake after first wiping it down the cargo shorts he’s wearing, which are teamed, rather fetchingly, with a pair of green wellington boots. “I’m really sorry about the cows; these two like to go off and have a wander around every so often.” He nods his head towards them. “I think they get a bit bored just standing around in our fields chewing grass all day. Maybe your grass tastes better.”

I shake his hand. It isn’t rough and calloused from outdoor work. The skin might be soft but his handshake is so firm that it squeezes my own hand tightly for a second before gently releasing it. “You’re from the farm next door? Well, the one down the lane.”

He nods and smiles. “Yes, I’m Jack. Frazer’s younger brother,” he explains. “I’m helping out on the family farm for a little while. Taking a bit of a sabbatical from the day job.”

Ah. Somebody else taking a sabbatical. Does that mean his life is as big a mess as my own?

“And your day job would be?” I can’t resist asking. My mum says nosiness is a family trait. She has it and so did my beloved Uncle Joe.

“I’m a special agent. Fighting crime in the world of celebrities,” he says nonchalantly, casually leaning against my car, right next to me, as though he’s perfectly at home here.

“Yes, right, of course you are,” I reply, annoyed he’s spinning me some line. This

morning is getting more bizarre by the minute. First the unexpected bovine visitors and now a spy turning up on my doorstep. Why doesn’t he just tell me if he’s an accountant or something? I’m not one to judge. “And I’m Catwoman,” I retort grumpily.

He takes off his sunglasses and raises an eyebrow in interest. “You are? Brilliant. I’ve always had a thing for those skin-tight leather suits you wear.”

I tut. “Typical male.”

He leans closer and I spot the remnants of a black eye and a few cuts and bruises. Has he been fighting? I wonder if that has anything to do with this sabbatical he’s taking from his day job. Does that mean it’s more likely to be an enforced suspension than a voluntary career break? Without his sunglasses I can judge his age better. I’d peg him for being a couple of years older me. Probably in his early thirties.

“Sorry? What?” he asks, beaming me a cheeky smile. “Did you just say typical male?”

I shrug. “Well, you wouldn’t give me an honest answer, which is something I know from experience men seem to have a problem doing, so…”

“I did give you an honest answer,” he protests, swiftly putting his glasses back on.

“So, who do you work for then?” I have heaps of things I should be doing. Standing

around gossiping certainly isn’t one of them, but there’s something about Jack which is…

intriguing.

“The CCIA,” he replies. “Otherwise known as the Celebrity Crimes Investigation

Agency.”

“There’s no such place!” I erupt with a splutter of laughter. “I’ve never heard of them.”

“That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There is a CCIA, I swear.” He raises his fingers in a Scout’s-honour type gesture.

“So, if you’re some kind of secret agent…” I begin.

Special agent,” he corrects. “Not secret agent. Well, except when I’m working undercover, then it’s a secret.”

“Then you must have some sort of official identification, a CCIA badge.”

He nods. “I do indeed.”

I make a beckoning gesture with my hands. “So, come on then, let’s see it.”

He shrugs. “I don’t have it with me right now. I carry it when I’m on a case, not when I’m chasing down wayward cows.”

“Don’t believe you.”

“Geez, you’re a tough woman to convince, aren’t you?” he says with a sigh and a shake of his head.

“So show me the badge and then I’ll believe you. You must have it back at the

farmhouse, right?”

“Er… actually, no, I don’t.”

“See! I knew you were lying!”

Fiddling with the muddle of leather and plastic charity bracelets on his wrists he pushes forward off my car and surprises me by saying, “I’ll just round up the cows and get out of here.”

He’s not going to continue our little banter? Striding off across the disintegrating stone cobbles of the yard, he heads towards the cows which are munching happily on my grass, staring at the two of us as though we’re part of a scene from a soap opera they’re quite enjoying watching.

“I might need to talk to your brother Frazer about farm stuff,” I shout after him. “Is he on holiday or something if you’re covering for him?”

“No, but he probably wishes he was on holiday though!” he replies with a chuckle. “His wife Emma is in hospital, haven’t you heard? I thought everyone knew everything around these parts. They’re expecting their third child at any moment and she’s got high blood pressure, so they’re keeping her in. The hospital is quite a way from here. Better safe than sorry. ”

“Yes, I know Emma, of course I do. I just haven’t seen her for a few weeks. So, you’ve got childcare duties as well as sorting out the farm?” I quiz, reluctantly impressed as he vaults over a stone wall into the field where the cows are. He could have walked five feet to the right and strolled through the opening like the cows did, but no, he has to take the more challenging route.

He shakes his head. “Thankfully, no. Just the farm falls under my responsibility.”

“You don’t like children then?” I lean against the wall, curious as to how he’s going to round up the hefty bovines chomping merrily on my grass.

“Like them, yeah. I can do the whole fun uncle thing, no worries, but the everyday

childcare stuff, not so much. I’ve had little to no experience of that, so leaving my niece and nephew in my care wouldn’t help Emma’s blood pressure problems. It would make

them far worse. Plus, in my line of work, I’m not usually around very much anyway to have loads of family time – one of the perks or downsides of the job, depending on which way you look at it.”

“Oh, you mean your special agent duties,” I say with thinly disguised sarcasm.

“Yep.” He walks slowly round to the far side of the cows and raises his arms out to his sides, gently urging the beasts towards the field entrance. “Anyway, the kids are staying with Emma’s mum while she’s in the hospital. Better all round that way I reckon.”

“How did you know who I was?” I ask. “When you first arrived, you said, ‘you must be Lizzie’. How did you know that?”

The cows begin slogging their way out of the field and into the yard. “Well,” he taps the side of his head, “simple deduction really. My brother mentioned Old Joe had passed away a while back and left this place to his niece Lizzie. You’ve been up here a few months now, haven’t you?”

“Four months.” Jack mentioned being a fun uncle to Frazer’s kids. Well, Joe was my fun uncle. School holidays always found me up here, knee deep in mud, helping out. I still miss him, and my Aunt Molly. I was born in Cumbria but my parents uprooted us to London

when I was six for Dad’s work. I left my parents behind in London to move back up here. I miss them too. My aunt and uncle never had children of their own, so, knowing my parents would want no part in returning to Cumbria, the farm was left to me.

“If you need a hand with anything around here just let me know,” Jack says, bringing me back to the here and now, as he manoeuvres my unexpected visitors out of the yard. “I’m pretty useful with a hammer and always happy to help a neighbour.”

Forcing a smile I say, “I can manage, thanks.”

Nodding towards the surrounding fields of crops and the ramshackle barns Jack adds,

“This place is a lot to take on.”

Drawing myself up to my full height of five feet four inches I immediately realise that Jack’s six foot plus frame still towers over me. “I’ll manage,” I repeat.

He nods, kicking the mud off his boots against the wall of the yard. “Of course, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply you couldn’t. OK then. I’ll finish getting these cows out of your way. It won’t take long, Cin will soon have them sorted.”

“Sin?” I frown. “That’s an odd name for a dog.”

“Her name’s Cinnamon – she was named by my niece. When she’s working it’s quicker

and easier to call her Cin, less of a mouthful.” He whistles to the dog who has already cornered the cows near to the farmyard wall and is standing guard, keeping a beady eye on them, from just a few feet away.

True to his word, within a few minutes the cows are out of the yard and heading home down the track, Cinnamon following along behind them, keeping the animals in check.

Leaping back onto the quadbike Jack starts up the engine. “If you do need anything, Catwoman, you know where to find me.” Revving the engine a couple of times he adds, “If I can help, I’d like to. See you around.”

I stand there for several minutes, pondering on what I make of Jack, watching the little procession of two cows, a dog and a man on a quadbike steadily making its way back down the lane. With his cuts and black eye, he’s obviously been in some fight. He lied about his job – special agent, hmm, I don’t think so. That guy has got trouble written all over him.

Heading into one of the polytunnels, I locate some salad leaf seedlings which need planting out. OK, I concede, Jack’s tall, blond and rather handsome but I am _so _ not looking for a man in my life right now.

And I’ve had more than enough trouble in my life lately, thank you very much. That’s why I’m hiding away in Cumbria trying to run this place.

CHAPTER TWO

After a morning toiling on the soil, I take a quick shower, change and head, once again, to my second job of the day. One of the other waitresses wanted to take her lunchtime shift off today as it’s her birthday and I said I’d cover for her.

As I attempt to steer Daisy into the Veggies car park, I see the area is cordoned off.

That’s odd. What on earth is going on? I spot a few police cars and a crime scene

investigation van in the car park and goose bumps break out on my arms. Only last night I was fretting about muggers and murderers… No, it can’t be. This is probably about a break-in. Granted, one of those is unusual enough in these parts, but not, thankfully, a matter of life and death.

A stern-looking policeman who looks vaguely familiar is standing guard at the entrance to the restaurant’s car park. He sees me, gestures for me to stop, and wanders over as I buzz down the driver’s side window.

“Sorry, the place is closed,” he says, leaning down to speak through the window.

“But I work here. I’m due to start my shift soon,” I reply, then nervously add, “Is something wrong?”

“The gossip being what it is around these parts, I’d have thought you’d have heard by now,” he says with a tut of obvious disapproval. “We’re expecting the TV and newspaper guys to turn up here at any second.”

“Heard what?” I ask, only just managing to keep the frustration out of my voice.

The policeman, who I seem to recall is named Mark and has been into the bar at the

Veggies more than once, straightens up and looks important. “I’m afraid there’s been a suspicious death.”

“What?” I gulp, switch Daisy off and clamber out, my knees suddenly going jelly-like as concern races through me. Someone is dead? Who? When? “Suspicious as in…”

Mark nods, a suitably sombre expression on his face. “As in murder, yes.”

“You’re sure?” I ask, then realise how stupid that sounds.

“We might be in the back of beyond out here but I think we’re still capable of

recognising a murder when we see one.” He shoots me an irritated look. “And unless the victim is capable of stabbing himself several times in the back with a knife then we’re definitely not talking suicide.”

My hands are all clammy. I know the answer but I still have to ask the question “He?

Knife? Who’s been murdered?”

“You really don’t know?” he asks, sounding incredulous. “You work here, you say?”

I nod solemnly.

“Name?” he demands.

“Lizzie Carter. You know me. I live up at Eskdale. I’m a waitress here.”

“In that case, I’m sorry, it’s your boss who is the victim.”

“Armand is dead?” My mouth goes dry and now my knees feel as though they’re about

to give way beneath me. Had I tempted fate by thinking of murderers when I’d left the Veggies last night? No, of course not. I know Armand wasn’t the most popular guy in Amswick, but, murder, well, it just doesn’t happen in places like this.

But it has.

Mark steps back and points towards the far side of the car park. “I think you’d best park up and report to the officer in charge of this investigation.” He nods towards a man standing next to the crime scene van who’s talking on a phone and pacing back and forth.

“They’re working their way through interviewing all of the staff. He’ll want an official statement from you.”

“Who found Armand?” I ask nervously as I get back into Daisy, my hands shaking

uncontrollably as I attempt to start her up.

“One of the cleaners, I believe. She turned up at about eight this morning and put in the code to open the back door. Went into the staffroom near the kitchen to make a drink and that’s when she saw him. Lying on the floor he was, with the knife still in his back.” I think I detect a hint of something akin to ghoulish glee as he recounts what happened. “Screamed so loud she did, it fetched the nearest neighbour from up the road and he called the police.”

My hand goes to my mouth and a wave of nausea washes over me. “That’s awful.”

“The forensic guys reckon he was killed late last night,” he continues. “Anyhow, I think you’d better get a move on. The Chief will be wanting to complete his interviews with all of the staff as soon as possible. Take my word for it, he’s not a man to get on the wrong side of.”

I nod and somehow manage to focus enough through my shock to steer Daisy to the

designated area. As I’m climbing from the car, a worrying thought jostles into my head amongst the upset and whirl of emotions.

Mark said Armand was killed late last night.

As I was the last person to leave the Veggies at just after midnight, I was probably the last person to see him alive.

Does that put me on the suspects list? From my old life to this one, trouble still seems to unfortunately want to seek me out.

CHAPTER THREE

“What time did you leave the establishment after your shift last night?” The man demands.

I fidget in my seat. Chief Inspector Smith fixes me with a fierce gaze. He’s looking at me as though I’m a criminal. He doesn’t seriously think I stabbed Armand, does he?

“Just after midnight,” I reply, clasping my hands in my lap and wishing this was all over and done with. Now he’s starting to make me _feel _ like I’ve done something wrong.

He frowns. “According to the staff rota information we’ve been given, your shift should have finished at eleven. Why were you still around at midnight?” Lifting an eyebrow he adds, “Working overtime, were we?”

The way he says it clearly infers he thinks I was doing something other than working between eleven and midnight last night. I’m not sure if he’s suggesting I was having an after-hours fling with Armand or if he thinks I was attacking him with a knife. Both options sicken me to my stomach.

“Armand asked me to stay late. He had some new publicity material and menus being

designed and he wanted my opinion on them.” I fidget in my seat some more. I just want to get out of here.

Chief Inspector Smith shoots me a look somewhere between amusement and surprise.

“He wanted the opinion of a waitress on publicity material?” He chuckles and shakes his head. “Now, why would he want your opinion on something important, Miss Carter?”

“I used to work in publicity and promotions in London,” I answer, not meeting his gaze and staring at my hands instead.

“Really? So why are you now just a waitress in the backwaters of Cumbria? Hmm?”

On behalf of fellow waitresses the world over, I bristle at his implication that waitressing is a lowly occupation for people without any brains or gumption. “It’s a long story.” I don’t want to have to explain what happened with my life in London. I’m trying to forget all about it.

“Then I suggest you tell the story quickly,” he replies. “I don’t have all day.”

I nod and sit up straight. I’ll give him the short version and miss out all the drama and other stuff. “My uncle, Joe Armstrong, sadly passed away, and he left me his farm, Eskdale Top. Well, it’s more of a smallholding really… So, here I am.”

Narrowing his eyes at me, Chief Inspector Smith gets to his feet. “And do you live alone up there?”

I get a brief flashback to London and how things could have been so very different.

“Miss Carter? Please answer the question.”

In a second the flashback is gone and I’m back in the staff room at the Veggies being interviewed as a possible murder suspect. “I live alone.”

“Which means there’s nobody to say if or when you got home last night. Nobody to have seen you wash blood off your hands or clothing. Nobody to provide an alibi.”

Panic bubbles up inside of me and threatens to burst out. What? He’s saying _ I_ killed Armand. “I… I didn’t do it,” I stammer, my voice not working properly, tongue-tied and terrified at what he’s now implying.

The Chief Inspector nods and smiles as though I’ve just cracked the most hilarious joke.

“Oh well, in that case then, you’re free to go.”

I scramble to my feet. “I am?”

“No!” he shouts, leaning forward and getting in my face so much I can smell the coffee on his breath. “You were the last person to leave here last night at just after midnight.

We’ve been told he died between midnight and two in the morning. You have no alibi.”

With a malicious gleam in his eyes he adds, “It doesn’t look very good for you, now does it?”

Sweat trickles down my spine and tears prickle at the corners of my eyes, but I blink them back. Yes, I’m terrified I’m going to be arrested for murder but I need to somehow keep myself together and not dissolve into a mess of tears. “Are you arresting me?”

The Chief Inspector doesn’t answer for a few moments; instead he ignores me and reads through his notes. Eventually he looks up and shakes his head. “Not yet, but we will be investigating you further. You can leave, for now.”

Hastily I get to my feet and head for the door, worried he might change his mind and call me back.

“Oh, Miss Carter?”

I freeze.

“Don’t go leaving the county or anything, will you?”

The bright sunlight hurts my eyes as I emerge from the building. Sniffing back tears which seem determined to break free, I march purposefully towards my car. I’m aware of several policemen watching as I cross the car park. I get the distinct impression they’re talking about me – and not in a good way.

Blipping the key fob, I climb into Daisy, eager to escape from their inquisitive gaze.

I’m a murder suspect.

I, Lizzie Carter, am suspected of killing B-list celebrity chef Armand Seville.

Now what do I do?

Grab your copy of Murder On The Menu over on Amazon now and see what happens to

Lizzie next…

Amber Reed Mystery books by Zanna Mackenzie:

Th

[* e Earth Moved – The Case Of The Celebrity Murder On The Moorland *]

On Trial – The Case Of The Vanishing Bride

Precious – The Case Of The Murdered Pop Star

Forever Mine –The Case Of The Movie Star Stalker

Celebrity Mystery books by Zanna Mackenzie

Murder On The Menu

Holiday Heist

About Zanna:

Zanna Mackenzie lives in the UK on the Derbyshire / Leicestershire border with her husband, 4 dogs, a vegetable patch that’s home to far too many weeds and an ever expanding library of books waiting to be read.

Being a freelance writer and editor of business publications is her ‘day job’ but, at every opportunity, she can be found scribbling down notes on scenes for whatever novel she’s working on. She loves it when the characters in her novels take on minds of their own and start deviating from the original plot!

*Find Zanna on her blog on Twitter on Facebook on Goodreads on Pinterest on Wattpad *

[*and say hi! *]


Holiday Heist (A Romantic Comedy Christmas Cosy Mystery)

It’s Christmas Eve and Lizzie Carter’s been engaged for the grand total of one hour when her private investigator fiancé Jack announces he has a confession to make - their holiday season plans need to be put on hold so that Jack can take on a new case! A priceless necklace has been stolen from the hotel bedroom of a movie star actress and the woman in question insists Jack’s the man to track it down and bring it back safely. Lizzie decides to turn amateur sleuth and tag along to help Jack out – two heads have got to be better than one, right? Plus, she can’t miss out on a chance to get inside the fabulously exclusive Roseby Hotel and admire their amazing festive decorations. Can they solve the mystery, catch the thief who masterminded the holiday heist, return the necklace to its rightful owner, and still get to celebrate Christmas Day as planned? The Celebrity Mystery series and the Amber Reed Mystery series combine amateur sleuths, secret agents, celebrities, romance, comedy and adventure into fun cozy mysteries. Download your copy of Holiday Heist today and find out who stole the necklace…

  • Author: Zanna Mackenzie
  • Published: 2015-11-10 15:40:09
  • Words: 21603
Holiday Heist (A Romantic Comedy Christmas Cosy Mystery) Holiday Heist (A Romantic Comedy Christmas Cosy Mystery)