Table of Contents
“[Kate Kingsbury] draws as much from
as she does from Agatha Christie
. . .
Shrouds of Holly
“Charming . . . Will provide warm holiday entertainment.”
“Delightful . . . Starring an intrepid heroine.”
Midwest Book Review
“Well-crafted and surprising all the way to the last page,
Shrouds of Holly
is a pleasurable read that is sure to get you in the mood for the holidays!”—
The Romance Readers Connection
“Likable characters, charming surroundings, and eclectic guests continue to make this an enjoyable series. Bravo, Kate Kingsbury . . . for making this a holiday tradition.”
“A pre-WWI whodunit in the classic style, furnished with amusing characters.”—
“The author draws as much from
as she does from Agatha Christie, crafting a charming . . . cozy delicately flavored with period details of pre-WWI rural England.” —
“A charming historical mystery. Its straightforward writing and tight plotting are reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s books—with a dash of
“A true holiday gem.”—
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Kate Kingsbury
Manor House Mysteries
A BICYCLE BUILT FOR MURDER
DEATH IS IN THE AIR
FOR WHOM DEATH TOLLS
DIG DEEP FOR MURDER
PAINT BY MURDER
FIRE WHEN READY
AN UNMENTIONABLE MURDER
Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries
ROOM WITH A CLUE
DO NOT DISTURB
SERVICE FOR TWO
EAT, DRINK, AND BE BURIED
GROUNDS FOR MURDER
PAY THE PIPER
CHIVALRY IS DEAD
RING FOR TOMB SERVICE
DEATH WITH RESERVATIONS
DYING ROOM ONLY
MAID TO MURDER
Holiday Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries
NO CLUE AT THE INN
SHROUDS OF HOLLY
RINGING IN MURDER
DECKED WITH FOLLY
Titles by Kate Kingsbury writing as Rebecca Kent
HIGH MARKS FOR MURDER
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2009 by Doreen Roberts Hight.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
eISBN : 978-1-101-15112-9
1. Christmas stories. I. Title.
for believing in me when I sometimes
have trouble believing in myself.
Thank you, my love.
I would simply cease to be.
There are very few authors whose work cannot be greatly improved by a good editor, and I am fortunate to have one of the best. I sometimes think Sandra Harding knows my characters as well as I do. Thank you, Sandy, for another remarkable job.
My thanks to Paige Wheeler, my industrious and savvy agent, for her constant encouragement and enthusiasm. You never let me down and that means the world to me.
Many thanks also to Judith Murello and the incredible art department. My covers are a joy, and so beautifully rendered. I’ve loved every one of them.
Thanks to a dear friend, Ann Wraight, for sending me research clips and magazines all the way from England.
To my fans, who send me wonderful e-mails and give me so much pleasure with their warm wishes. The staff and guests of the Pennyfoot Hotel thrive on your praise. Thank you.
To a very special fan, Helen Gibson, who turned one hundred years old on June 28, 2009.
To my husband, for being the wind beneath my wings. Your understanding and faith in me give me the strength to persevere when the chips are down.
The Christmas season was Cecily Sinclair Baxter’s favorite time of the year. Or it would be, if it weren’t for what had now become known as the Christmas curse.
Every year, it seemed, something quite dreadful happened to put a dampener on things. This year, Cecily fervently hoped there would be an exception.
After all, there was so much to look forward to with joyful anticipation. For one thing, her job as manager of the select country club situated on the quiet southeast coast of England afforded her scintillating company.
In the few short years since the turn of the century and Queen Victoria’s demise, it seemed as if all of England were eager to celebrate with all the gusto they could muster. Her guests were no exception.
It was a time for music, dance, joyful laughter, and the consumption of vast culinary delights from her famed chef, Michel. The Pennyfoot wallowed in delicious aromas of spices and herbs emitting from the kitchen, while the halls were filled with the fragrance of pine and cedar, arranged by the clever hands of her best friend, Madeline Pengrath Prestwick.
Descending the curving staircase, beautifully draped with bright red ribbon and holly, Cecily absorbed the heartwarm ing sights and smells of Christmas with a sense of well-being. This year there would be no curse to spoil the celebrations. She was sure of it.
Her enthusiasm wavered a bit as she spotted the gentleman waiting for her at the foot of the stairs. Archibald Parker’s stunted height and heavy girth caused him to wheeze, and his busy eyes constantly haunted the dark corners of the room as if he expected to see something undesirable lurking there.
His luxurious mustache apparently gave him some discomfort, since he twitched his nose at regular intervals while talking. Cecily found this all quite distracting, and had trouble following a conversation with the man, which is why she attempted to avoid him whenever possible.
Despite her best efforts, Archie, as he insisted upon being called, had managed to waylay her on several occasions over the past three days. It seemed that he had done so again, since his gaze remained fixed on her until she reached him.
“Mr. Parker!” She managed a polite smile. “You have risen early. It’s not yet time for breakfast to be served. I trust all is well with you?”
“Quite, quite, Mrs. B. Yes, indeed.” Archie’s twitching nose sent his mustache into a brief, lopsided angle. “I did want a word with you, however, if I may be so bold?”
Cecily suppressed a sigh. “Of course, Mr. Parker.”
He looked so anxious she hurried to reassure him. “Archie, then. How may I be of assistance?”
His gaze switched to the corner where the grandfather clock resided. “Well, I was . . . er . . . wondering if you’d be interested in any of my wares. I’m a medical salesman, you know. In the great city of London.” He coughed, bringing a pudgy hand to his mouth. “Yes, indeed.”
Having been informed of that on more than one occasion, by Archie himself no less, Cecily had trouble hiding her irritation. “So you have mentioned. I believe I have already explained about my friend, Mrs. Prestwick? She is an herbalist, and supplies all my needs.”
As on all the previous occasions when she had mentioned Madeline’s penchant for herbal remedies, Archie managed to convey his disgust with a slight toss of his practically bald head. “Don’t believe in all that weeds and herbs stuff myself. You never know what you’re swallowing. Could be poison for all we know.” He uttered a nervous laugh. “Now on the other hand, these little pills”—he withdrew a small bottle from his pocket—“best thing for the digestion you ever did see.” He waved the bottle in her face.
“My digestion is in quite good order, thank you.” Still holding on to her smile by sheer willpower, she started to move away, but Archie slithered in front of her again. “What about regularity? Have any problems with that?”
Cecily paused, her smile vanishing. “Mr. Parker, I really must insist that you not use this establishment for soliciting. If I find out that you have been harassing the guests with attempts to sell—”
“Oh, no, no, Mrs. B. You have my word you are the only one to whom I have mentioned my profession. Yes, indeed.”
“Really. However did I manage to be so fortunate?”
Archie beamed. “Well, I just thought I could do you a favor or two, seeing as how you are always running about this building.” He waved his arm in the air. “Pretty sizable building at that. Must be quite tiring at your age.”
Cecily winced. While she was perhaps a little closer to fifty than forty, she did not consider herself in the least old, and to be reminded that she was no longer a sprightly young thing offended her greatly.