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Murder in the Paperback Parlor (The Book Retreat Mysteries 2) by [Ellery Adams]

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.



Resort Manager—Jane Steward

Butler—Mr. Butterworth

Head Librarian—Mr. Sinclair

Head Chauffeur—Mr. Sterling

Head of Recreation—Mr. Lachlan

Head of Housekeeping—Mrs. Pimpernel

Head Chef—Mrs. Hubbard


Run for Cover Bookshop—Eloise Alcott

Daily Bread Café—Edwin Alcott

Cheshire Cat Pub—Bob and Betty Carmichael

The Canvas Creamery—Phoebe Doyle

La Grande Dame Clothing Boutique—Mabel Wimberly

Tresses Hair Salon—Violet Osborne

The Pickled Pig Market—the Hogg brothers

Geppetto’s Toy Shop—Barnaby Nicholas

The Potter’s Shed—Tom Green


“You expect me to break that with my bare hand?” Jane Steward, manager of Storyton Hall and mother of six-year-old twin boys, pointed at a piece of wood in disbelief.

“I certainly do,” replied Sinclair, Storyton’s head librarian. He was looking at Jane with the fixed stare he reserved for guests who made too much noise in one of the resort’s reading rooms or had mishandled a book.

Storyton Hall had thousands of books, and Sinclair knew the location and condition of every volume. He cared for the books as though they were priceless treasures. And to those who worked and visited Storyton, that’s exactly what they were. People came from across the globe to spend a few days in the stately manor house tucked away in an isolated valley in western Virginia. Surrounded by blue hills and pristine forests, Storyton Hall was heaven on earth for bibliophiles.

Jane glanced around and for a moment, nearly forgot that she was standing directly beneath the carriage house in a room that didn’t appear on the official blueprints. In fact, only a few people knew of its existence. Like Sinclair, they used the practice space to hone their martial arts skills. Butterworth, the butler, was particularly fond of attacking the seventy-pound weighted bags hanging from the ceiling. Sterling, the head chauffeur, preferred to spar with nunchucks, and Sinclair’s weapon of choice was a set of throwing knives he kept hidden inside a hollowed-out copy of The Art of War.

Not too long ago, Jane would have found the idea of practicing roundhouse kicks utterly ridiculous, but now, as she caught a glimpse of herself in the wall-length mirror, she knew that there was nothing amusing about her situation. It was also clear from Sinclair’s expression that he expected her to break the board with her bare hand, and he expected her to do so without delay.

“It’s easy, Mom! Fitz and I did it on our first try.”

Displeased by the idea of being shown up by her sons, Jane frowned. “All right, I’m ready.”

Sinclair held the rectangular piece of pine by its sides and braced himself for impact. “Check your stance,” he ordered. “The power comes from your body. Whip your trunk around and you’ll break the board without injuring your hand. Focus on a spot in the center of the board. See your hand going through the wood and continuing to move forward. Don’t stop. If you think about stopping, you won’t succeed. Lead with your palm, not your pinkie finger.”

“Got it.” Taking a deep breath, Jane trained her eyes on the board. She saw the grains in the wood and visualized the exact location she intended to strike. Raising her right arm, she pivoted her entire right side toward the back wall. Concentrating on whipping her hip and shoulder around as quickly as possible, she drove her hand, palm facing the ceiling, into the board. It parted with a satisfying crack, and a large splinter of wood flew past Jane’s cheek and landed on the floor mat near Hem’s feet.

He picked it up, tested its sharpness with his index finger, and promptly jabbed it into his brother’s side.

“Ow!” Fitz howled and immediately retaliated by administering a front snap kick to his brother’s wrist. The splinter came dislodged from Hem’s hand and was snatched midair by Sinclair.

“What have I told you gentlemen about martial arts?” he asked, his voice steely with disapproval.

Hem dropped his gaze and tried to appear penitent. “We should only use it for self-defense.”

“Or if our safety is . . . threatened,” Fitz added, looking smug over having remembered the second half of the creed Sinclair recited at the end of every class. Too late, Fitz realized that he should have adopted a contrite expression as well.

“Next class, you two will drill the entire time while your mother learns a new kick.” Sinclair turned to Butterworth, who’d just finished pummeling a practice bag. It was still jerking on the end of its chain as though it had been electrocuted. “Mr. Butterworth? Would you be so kind as to demonstrate a spinning hook kick?”

“Certainly,” said Butterworth. He leaned forward, shifting his weight to his left leg. In a flash, he whipped his right leg around in a sweeping, one-hundred-and-eighty-degree arc. When he struck the bag with the ball of his foot, Jane was sure he’d knock it clean off its chain.

“You need to train until that kick is second nature,” Sinclair said.

“Perhaps that kick should wait until after the Romancing the Reader week,” Jane said. “I don’t want to pull a muscle before the Regency Fashion Show. I’d be a poor representative of La Grande Dame if I limped down the catwalk in the gown Mabel toiled over for months.”

Amusement glinted in Sinclair’s eyes. “Ah, the fashion show. I’d nearly forgotten about that particular event—probably because every female under our roof can speak of only two subjects: the male cover model competition and the habits, interests, and whereabouts of Mr. Lachlan.”

Taking the broken pieces of wood from Sinclair, Jane laughed. “Weeks before Lachlan first stepped foot on our property, you predicted that many ladies would fall in love with him.”

Sinclair sighed. “Indeed I did. I also assumed that after two months, his allure would have dimmed somewhat. Obviously, I underestimated Mr. Lachlan’s appeal.” He shot her a sly glance. “How do you find him?”

Jane made a shooing gesture at her sons. “Run home and change. If you get your chores done in time, I’ll hand over your allowance before we drive to the village. A little bird told me that the Hogg brothers are hosting an indoor picnic lunch and special contest for all kids twelve-years-old and under. The winner will receive a new bicycle from Spokes and a gift certificate from the Pickled Pig.”

The twins exchanged wide-eyed looks and raced off. Butterworth followed at a more dignified pace, his spine straight and his shoulders squared. Jane recognized that Butterworth was leaving his role of combat expert behind in favor of his butler persona and wondered if such a marked change came over her when she finished one of her training sessions.

I doubt it, she thought. I’m still getting used to living a double life. Sinclair, Butterworth, and Sterling have been doing it for decades. And now, Lachlan has joined our secret circle.

Once the sound of the boys’ shouts and jostles faded, Jane finally answered Sinclair’s question. “I find Lachlan a bit of an enigma. He’s hardworking, courteous, and organized. He’s also a master salesman. For such a quiet person, I’m amazed by his ability to talk people into sleigh rides and cross-country skiing ventures. Usually, wintertime means less business at the recreation desk, but not since Lachlan’s arrival. He’s certainly increasing our revenue.”

“I’d hazard a guess that our female guests would happily risk losing the feeling in their extremities if it meant spending time with Mr. Lachlan.” Sinclair flicked a switch on the wall and the practice bags began to rise to the ceiling. “Are you immune to that shy smile, that roughish hair, or those striking blue eyes?”

“He’s quite attractive,” Jane admitted. “But I have no real sense of him. He doesn’t volunteer an ounce of personal information and he’d rather traipse through the woods than socialize with the rest of the staff. I know he’s an outdoorsman, but I hadn’t realized he’d be so . . . hermitlike.”

Together, she and Sinclair walked to the door where they’d left their shoes and socks. Once their bare feet were covered and they’d bundled up in wool coats, Sinclair locked the door behind them. “Mr. Lachlan was an army ranger. He served on covert missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I was aware of his history before casting my vote in favor of hiring him. I don’t think his past will impede his performance as head of recreation, and he’s an excellent asset when it comes to guarding you and your family.”

Sinclair hurried up the stairs, checked to see that the coast was clear, and waved for Jane to step through the narrow gap behind a workbench. After she was through, he pushed a button obscured by a rusty saw blade and the workbench swung back against the wall.

Jane had only learned about the surprising number of hidden rooms and passageways located around Storyton Hall and its outbuildings during the past few months. Until last October, she’d been completely ignorant of the fact that certain people she’d known her entire life were a part of a group called the Fins. These men had pledged to protect the members of the Steward Family with their lives. And since Jane had been born into a family that had been guarding a secret library and its treasures for centuries, she and her sons were also under the Fins’ protection.

The first time Sinclair had led Jane to the attic turret and pushed open the door to the fireproof and temperature-controlled vault, Jane had nearly fainted. It wasn’t every day that one discovered the existence of unpublished Shakespeare plays, gilt-covered Gutenberg Bibles, or the endings of famous, but incomplete novels. Treasures entrusted to the Stewards for all sorts of reasons—to keep them from being stolen, damaged during wartime, or sold on the black market.

There were also books deliberately kept from the public eye—radical works filled with disturbing and dangerous ideas. Jane had read a few lines from one of them and was shocked and angered by the author’s proposition that women were vastly inferior to men. The author went on to encourage mass sterilization of any female lacking a genius IQ. Considering the book had been written by a prominent English scientist during the first stirrings of the women’s emancipation movement, its publication could have crippled an entire gender.

After that unpleasant read, Jane had stuck to perusing the secret library’s incredible selection of rare fiction. A voracious reader since early childhood, it galled Jane that she didn’t have enough free time to delve more deeply into the astounding collection stored in airtight containers in a nearly inaccessible room hundreds of feet from the ground.

It had taken Jane several weeks to reconcile herself to the fact that it was more important that she protect the library’s contents than examine them. After all, to a lifelong book lover, the library was the Eighth Wonder of the World, and Jane referred to it as such when speaking to her great-aunt and -uncle or to the Fins.

Suddenly, the thought of her aunt made Jane start. She glanced at her watch and let loose a small cry. “I’m going to be late! Aunt Octavia will be furious if she doesn’t get the best seat in the house for Edwin Alcott’s soft grand opening.”

Jane jogged around the building that had once served as the estate’s hunting lodge. The lodge was so spacious that Jane’s uncle had divided it into two residences. Sterling, the head chauffeur, lived in the front half while Jane and her sons inhabited the back. Jane loved the privacy this arrangement afforded her little family. She loved her side door entrance that led into her bright, cheery kitchen. She loved the open living room with its comfy sofas and book-lined walls. She loved her herb and flower gardens, which were protected from prying eyes by a tall hedge. Most of all, she loved how the house had seemed to open its arms to her after her husband’s tragic death. A pregnant widow, Jane had returned to Storyton Hall in search of comfort and a fresh start. She’d found both within its walls and in the hearts of its people.

Now, bursting into her cheerful, yellow kitchen, Jane cast a longing glance at the coffeemaker and then bounded upstairs to change.

“Boys!” she hollered as she ascended. “I hope you’re dressed. I also hope your beds are made. If that room’s a mess, you’ll get a smaller allowance.”

Indignant cries came from behind the twins’ closed door, and Jane knew they’d opted to put off their chores and were now regretting that decision.

“And I will be checking under your beds,” she added for good measure as she hurried through her bathroom and into her small walk-in closet. “What to wear? What to wear?”

After selecting a pencil skirt in gray wool, a cowl-necked sweater, and a pair of riding boots, Jane fastened her strawberry blond hair into a loose chignon, added a pair of hoop earrings, and then dabbed on gardenia-scented perfume. Satisfied by what she saw in the mirror, she exited the bathroom and yelled, “Fitzgerald and Hemingway! Prepare for inspection!”

There was a crashing sound from the boys’ room and when Jane pushed open the door, her twins cast guilty looks at the closet.

“We’re ready, Mom!” Hem said, throwing his arms around her neck. “You smell nice.”

“And you look pretty,” Fitz chimed in.

Jane knew perfectly well that should she peek inside the closet, a cascade of toys, books, and dirty clothes would tumble out, but she was running too late to do anything about it. Glancing down at her sons, she tousled their hair and said, “I will delay the inspection until this afternoon in exchange for a kiss.”

Because the twins were in the “girls have cooties” phase, Jane knew she was asking for a significant boon. After a brief hesitation, her sons gave her a quick peck on the cheek and then immediately held out their hands.

“Can we have our allowance now?” Hem asked. “Please?”

“I don’t keep dollar bills in my boots. I’m not a—” Jane stopped herself before the word “stripper” rolled off her tongue.

Fitz cocked his head. “Not a what?”

“A walking bank,” Jane said and ushered the boys downstairs.

Five minutes later, the trio arrived, red-cheeked and panting, in Storyton Hall’s main lobby.

Aunt Octavia was already there, of course, looking regal in an indigo coat with a fur-trimmed collar, cuffs, and hem. She made a big show of examining her watch and then glanced across the room at the grandfather clock and muttered, “‘I wasted time and now time doth waste me.’”

“I hope Mr. Alcott’s café is a salubrious establishment,” Butterworth said to Aunt Octavia as he held open the front door for their little party. “Mrs. Hubbard is most concerned that your healthy eating plan will be compromised.”

Aunt Octavia glowered at the butler. “This has nothing to do with my diabetes. Mrs. Hubbard is just put out because she wasn’t invited. She’s a fine woman, but all she wants to do is gossip about the event to anyone passing through the kitchens of Storyton Hall.”

Butterworth was smart enough to drop the subject. Instead, he informed them that their car was ready and wished them a pleasant lunch. No one would have guessed that the butler, impeccably dressed in his blue-and-gold Storyton livery with his hair neatly combed and his shoes polished to a high shine, had been mercilessly pummeling a practice bag earlier that morning.

The twins jumped into the back of a vintage Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow while Jane settled Aunt Octavia in the passenger seat. Behind them, Sterling was helping an elderly couple out of his favorite Rolls, a Silver Cloud II. He tipped his cap at Jane. She waved and then drove down the resort’s long, tree-lined driveway.

At the end of the driveway, Jane slowed as the car approached the massive wrought-iron gates bearing the Steward crest—an owl clutching a scroll in its talons. The family motto, which could also be found on the guest room key fobs, had been inscribed in an arch-shaped banner over the owl’s head.

Aunt Octavia pointed at the crest. “Let me hear our motto, boys.”

“De Nobis Fabula Narratur,” the twins replied, doing their best to pronounce the Latin words correctly. “Their Story Is Our Story.”

Aunt Octavia smiled. “Excellent. When we get to the village, you may see what I have in my change purse. If you can count the coins correctly, they’re yours. I hear that the Pickled Pig market has a marvelous display of Valentine’s Day candy.”

Jane glanced in the rearview mirror and saw a gleam appear in her sons’ eyes.

“Speaking of Valentine’s Day, are the preparations for Romancing the Reader complete?” Aunt Octavia asked.

“For the most part,” Jane said. “Our guest of honor, Rosamund York, is being a bit of a nuisance.”

Aunt Octavia didn’t seem surprised. “She’s a diva. Wants fresh roses in her suite each day. Will only drink a specific brand of spring water. Prefers not to mingle with her fans outside of her scheduled events. Her publicist sees to her every whim and handles all of Ms. York’s communication. Am I getting warm?”

Approaching a sharp curve known as Broken Arm Bend, Jane reduced her speed. “You’re spot on. How did you know?”

“Mrs. Pratt is a diehard Rosamund York fan. I had the misfortune of running into her at the bookshop. When I foolishly mentioned Romancing the Reader, she turned positively giddy. I’ve never seen a fiftysomething woman bounce in such a manner.” She frowned. “It was rather disturbing.”

Jane smiled. “Mrs. Eugenia Pratt is a devout fan of the entire romance genre. She reads three to four books a week, but I hadn’t realized that she knew intimate details about her favorite authors as well.”

“I’m sure she’d like to get intimate with the male cover models,” Aunt Octavia said with a snort.

“What does ‘intimate’ mean?” Fitz asked.

“Being close to,” Jane said as they entered the village. She pulled the car into the only vacant parking spot in front of the Pickled Pig and pivoted in her seat to address her sons. “Mr. Hogg is expecting you. Remember, he’s providing you with lunch and will then introduce you to his new pet. You’ll have a chance to enter the name-the-pet contest and afterward, you can fill a small bag with candy from the bulk bins.” She held out a warning finger. “I expect you both to be on your best behavior. If I hear any unfavorable reports, I will hold your candy hostage until further notice.”

The boys responded with the briefest of nods before Hem turned to Aunt Octavia. “Can we count your coins now?”

Aunt Octavia passed them her coin purse. “Just bring it into the market with you, my dears. I don’t want to be any later for lunch than we already are.”

Delighted, the boys jumped out of the car and ran into the market, nearly barreling into an older gentleman with a walker. Jane said a silent prayer that they wouldn’t get into too much mischief and relocated the car to a spot in between Run for Cover, Eloise Alcott’s bookstore, and Daily Bread, Edwin Alcott’s new café.

Eloise must have been watching for them out the restaurant’s window, because she whipped open the front door before Jane could reach for the handle. Jane’s best friend was a lovely woman in her early thirties with chin-length dark hair that framed her heart-shaped face. Her gray eyes were kind and intelligent and she smiled often. She was devoted to Storyton Village, her customers, and the Cover Girls book club. One would expect her devotion to extend to her older brother, Edwin, as well, but Edwin and Eloise weren’t exactly close. Edwin was a travel writer and had spent most of his adult life journeying around the globe. He could be impatient, blunt, and cryptic.

So naturally, Eloise was flabbergasted when her brother announced his intention to buy the failing café next door and completely transform the space in time for the Romancing the Reader week.

“You won’t believe what Edwin’s done,” Eloise exclaimed as she ushered Jane and Aunt Octavia inside. “It’s like entering another world. An exotic oasis right here in Storyton.”

Eloise was right. When Jane entered the café, she gasped in wonder. Gone was the aging-diner look of the former establishment. The faded linoleum flooring had been replaced with dark rich hardwood and an assortment of kilim rugs. Chairs with wicker backs and plump ivory cushions were pulled up to hammered-copper tables. The walls were covered with antique maps and framed postcards. Potted palms stood like soldiers at regular intervals along the longest wall. At the back of the café, mosquito nets served as a divider between the main dining area and a lounge space. In this intimate alcove, British Colonial chairs with animal print cushions were grouped around a black steamer trunk.

“Are we supposed to eat there?” Aunt Octavia gestured at the lounge area.

“It’s a place for people to relax with a cup of tea or a smoothie. A conversation corner, so to speak,” Edwin said, coming forward to greet his guests. He gave Aunt Octavia a deferential bow and then reached for Jane’s hand. “I’m glad you could make it.” He cast his gaze around the café, watching people take in little details that Jane had missed upon first glance, like the border of hand-painted tiles around the perimeter of the room, the antique birdcage, or the urn-shaped wall sconces. “What do you think?” he asked, turning back to Jane.

“It’s wonderful,” Jane said.

Edwin offered Aunt Octavia his arm. “May I escort you to the best seat in the house?”

Aunt Octavia inclined her head. After distributing menus to everyone, Edwin disappeared into the kitchen and a middle-aged man wearing a white linen shirt and linen trousers entered the dining room. He flashed them a bright smile from beneath a splendid moustache, introduced himself as Magnus, and declared that he’d be coming around with mango and cardamom smoothies for them to sip while they studied the menu.

Jane was delighted to find that all the sandwiches had been named after famous poets and were far more interesting than the dry roast beef and Swiss melts the previous owner had served. She found it difficult to decide which one to try first.

“I’m having the Rumi,” Aunt Octavia declared. “You?”

“The Pablo Neruda.”

The food was delicious. When Edwin came out of the kitchen to check on his customers, he was greeted by a burst of applause.

“You’re going to be mobbed by all the romance fans next week!” Mrs. Pratt, another member of Jane’s book club cried. The rest of the Cover Girls would have loved to be dining alongside Mrs. Pratt at this moment, but unfortunately, they had to work. “This setting is straight out of an Elizabeth Peters novel. Are you a romantic, Mr. Alcott?” Mrs. Pratt batted her lashes at Edwin.

“No,” Edwin said. “That malady is for younger men.”

“Come now,” Mrs. Pratt pressed. “A man with such an obvious appreciation for poetry must believe in romance.”

“Lord Byron understood. He wrote, ‘the heart will break, but broken live on.’” Edwin smiled at Mrs. Pratt, but the smile did not reach his eyes. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must see to the honey lavender crème brûlée.”

As Edwin vanished into the kitchen, Jane wondered who’d broken his heart. And when.

“Dark, brooding, and handsome. He’s a modern-day Heathcliff,” Aunt Octavia said and then studied Jane. “You’d do well to stay clear of that one. Heathcliffs don’t make good husbands or father figures for young and impressionable boys.”

To her horror, Jane blushed. “What makes you think Edwin Alcott ever crosses my mind?”

Aunt Octavia barked out a laugh. “I may be old, fat, diabetic, and contrary, but I’m not blind. I’ve known men like Edwin Alcott. Indeed, I have. They’re trouble, Jane. Trouble with a capital T.”

“I had enough of that this past autumn,” Jane said as the server appeared with their dessert. “But Romancing the Reader will be completely different than our Murder and Mayhem week. We’ll be hosting a company of ladies devoted to happy endings. It’ll be a lovely, festive, and harmonious time. Not a single dead body in sight.”

Daily Bread


The Robert Burns—cheddar and beer

The John Keats—chicken and wild rice

The Phillis Wheatley—sweet potato corn chowder


The Robert Frost—tomato, watercress, and fennel with lime vinaigrette

The Walt Whitman—fried green tomato with chipotle dressing

The Anna Akhmatova—roasted beet with mint and chèvre


The Homer—Greek salad on pita

The Dante Alighieri—prosciutto, smoked mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes

The Pablo Neruda—Chilean beef or chicken, steamed green beans, Muenster, hot peppers, and avocado

The Rumi—smoked turkey, sliced apple, and goat cheese

The Li-Po—shrimp and vegetable wrap, soy-laced mayo

The Emily Dickinson—egg salad with pickled celery and Dijon mustard


A selection of exotic teas or fruit smoothies can be enjoyed in the main dining room or in the conversation area


Jane and the rest of the diners thanked Edwin for the excellent lunch and offered to pay for their meals, but he wouldn’t hear of it, so the satisfied customers left generous tips for Magnus and filed out of the café. Jane knew word of Edwin’s triumph would spread through the village before she and her family made it back to Storyton Hall.

Aunt Octavia, who’d savored every bite of her lunch, was wearing a self-satisfied smile. Jane suspected the expression had something to do with the two honey lavender crème brûlée desserts her great-aunt had polished off, but decided not to scold her for deviating from her diet. Mrs. Hubbard, Storyton’s head chef, would have Aunt Octavia back on track by suppertime.

“Keep the motor running,” Aunt Octavia said when Jane drove to the Pickled Pig to pick up the twins. “I don’t feel like going inside just to see whatever bunny, bird, or rodent the Hogg brothers have adopted as their store mascot.”

As it turned out, he was none of those animals. When Jane caught her first glimpse of the new pet sitting obediently in the center of a ring of children, his pink noise quivering in excitement and his curly tail wagging like a dog’s, she laughed with pure delight.

“Mom!” Fitz cried when he saw her. “He’s a pot-bellied pig! Isn’t he awesome?”

Jane nodded. “He’s splendid.” She turned to her other son. “How was your lunch?”

“Fine.” Hem only had eyes for the pig. “Mr. Hogg has been telling us all about his pet. He can take him on walks on a leash, and he says that pigs are super smart.”

“Like Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web,” Fitz added.

At that moment, Tobias, the youngest of the three Hogg brothers, noticed Jane squatting next to her two sons.

“Hi, Ms. Steward. Feel free to get a little closer to our new pig. He’s very fond of a good belly rub.”

The children scooted out of the way and Jane knelt in front of the adorable animal. He grunted noisily as she scratched his pink skin, which was covered with strands of bristly hair. The pig nudged her palm with his trembling nose and rubbed up against her.

“The whole village is going to fall in love with this little guy,” Jane said. “I look forward to hearing the winning name. Did all the kids enter the contest?”

“All the ones you see here and more.” Tobias puffed out his chest with pride. Like his older brothers, he was a round man with fleshy cheeks and deep dimples. And though he resembled Rufus and Duncan Hogg in appearance, Tobias was as jolly as Saint Nick, while his brothers rarely cracked a smile.

No wonder they’re bachelors, Jane thought, but she wished Tobias would find a nice woman. He was very fond of children and Jane judged he’d make a wonderful husband and father.

Suddenly, a matchmaking scheme popped into her head. “Have you heard about the Romancing the Reader event we’re having at Storyton Hall?” she asked him. “It starts this Monday.”

“That’s why I took such care with the window display.” Tobias gestured at the storefront. “I figured the ladies would be attracted to the heart-shaped boxes. I ordered all sorts of treats just for them, including some naughty conversation hearts.” His cheeks reddened. “Of course, I wouldn’t give those candies to my Valentine. I’d give her truffles. Homemade ones.”

“I remember sampling yours at Christmas,” Jane said. “How would you like to help Mrs. Hubbard with Tuesday’s truffle workshop? We could use someone with your chocolate making skills, and it would be a great opportunity for you to tell the lovely ladies all about the Pickled Pig.”

“Perhaps one of the single ladies will be looking for a man who’ll treat her like a queen,” Tobias spoke so softly that Jane was sure his hopeful words hadn’t been meant for her ears. His eyes shining, he turned to her. “Count me in, Ms. Steward.”

Jane told Tobias to check in with Mrs. Hubbard before Tuesday and then waved at the twins. “Come on, boys. Aunt Octavia’s in the car and is probably annoyed that I’ve taken so long.”

Hem held up the plastic baggie containing his selections from the bulk candy display. “Don’t worry. If I give her a Tootsie Roll, she’ll forgive us.”

“But Mrs. Hubbard won’t,” Jane said and propelled her sons toward the exit.

With full bellies and several anecdotes to share with those back at Storyton Hall, the foursome drove home.

Jane let Butterworth escort Aunt Octavia into the lobby and then returned the Rolls to the garage. She told the boys they could take ten pieces of candy and whatever book they were currently reading to one of their hiding places. They had over a dozen scattered throughout the manor and outbuildings. Tapping the face of Hem’s digital watch, she added, “You have an hour. After that, I will inspect your room, including the items you shoved in your closet.”

Throwing promises over their shoulders, the twins dashed off to fetch their books. Jane headed into the kitchen, where she found Mrs. Hubbard decorating a cake.

“That looks heavenly. Is it for afternoon tea?”

Mrs. Hubbard finished forming a pale yellow rose and then straightened, surveying the beautiful confection with a critical eye. “This is a lemon layer cake with lemon curd and mascarpone. I thought it would complement the traditional sponge nicely.”

“If I hadn’t just had a smoothie, a sandwich, and dessert, I’d be drooling,” Jane said. “And I’d better post a guard outside the Agatha Christie Tea Room or Aunt Octavia might try to sneak in and grab a slice of both cakes.”

“No need to worry,” Mrs. Hubbard assured her. “I made a low-sugar version of the Victoria sandwich for Ms. Octavia.” She picked up another icing bag and began adding leaves to the roses. “Now, tell me all about Mr. Alcott’s luncheon.”

Jane knew she needed to ingratiate herself with Mrs. Hubbard before confessing that she’d invited Tobias Hogg to take part in the truffle workshop, so she shared every detail she could remember. While she was talking, one of the line cooks opened the back door for the UPS deliveryman.

Mrs. Hubbard, who’d been hanging on Jane’s every word, suddenly held up a finger and frowned. “Again? I can scarcely believe it.”

Setting the icing bag down, she wiped her hands on her apron and marched over to the delivery cart. Plucking a box from the top of the stack, she examined the label and shook her head. She then carried the box to her workspace and plunked it next to the cake.

“We have a mystery on our hands,” she declared theatrically. “Our Mr. Lachlan has been receiving these unusual packages on a regular basis.” She showed Jane the stamp on the top of the box. “They all come with the same warning: ‘Perishable. Keep frozen,’ and they’re shipped by a company I’ve never heard of before.”

Jane examined the address label. The box had come from a place called Indiana Trading, Incorporated. “These arrive often?”

“Regular as clockwork,” Mrs. Hubbard said. “And Mr. Lachlan wants to be notified as soon as a package is delivered.” She shrugged. “Mr. Lachlan is a charming man and I don’t mean to imply that he’s up to no good. I just can’t help but wonder why the head of our recreation department needs perishable items in the dead of winter.” She put a hand over her large, aproned bosom. “It’s none of my business, but since you happened to be here . . .”

Mrs. Hubbard was clearly implying that while she was in no position to tear open other people’s mail, the resort manager certainly had a right to do so. However, Jane had no intention of invading Mr. Lachlan’s privacy. “I’ll take a look at last month’s expense report and see if this company has billed Storyton Hall. If so, I’m sure Mr. Lachlan can provide me with a reasonable explanation as to why he’s ordering perishable goods.”

She signaled to the line cook. “Roy, would you put this in the freezer, please?”

With the box gone, Mrs. Hubbard seemed to remember that she had yet to finish decorating the lemon cake. She glanced at the wall clock, blanched, and scooped up the icing tube. “Oh my! I’ve run my mouth and completely lost track of the time again!” Mrs. Hubbard hurriedly piped another green leaf and then began shouting frantic orders to her staff. They responded immediately, wearing knowing smiles and scurrying to obey.

Jane retreated from the kitchen, but not before snagging two chocolate madeleines from the cooling rack. She always helped herself to freshly baked treats to enjoy with her afternoon tea, but made a point of limiting them to a single scone, a thin slice of cake, or two cookies. Even with her new physical training schedule, which included martial arts, archery, and yoga, Jane didn’t dare indulge in the afternoon tea bounty the way her guests did. After all, they were on vacation. She lived at Storyton Hall and needed to show restraint, especially when the weather turned warm and the Steward family took their tea on a table on the back terrace.

But spring seemed like a distant dream. The weather forecast had been warning of snow for days and the sky was tinged with the ghostly pink hue that often preceded a snowfall. Jane hoped the storm would come and go before Romancing the Reader began. As beautiful as Storyton’s fleet of vintage Rolls-Royce sedans was, they weren’t the best vehicles for navigating the icy mountains roads.

Fretting over the weather and a dozen other details concerning the forthcoming event, Jane headed to her cozy office. She set her tea treat aside for later and focused on reading e-mails, reviewing next week’s budget, and watching the radar map on her computer. According to the site, the snow would arrive that evening, dust the ground with half an inch of accumulation, and be gone by Sunday morning.

“I hope that’s accurate,” Jane said and then stared at the budget report. “If the ladies can’t get to Storyton Hall on Monday, our bottom line will suffer a major blow.”

Jane glanced at the corkboard hung on the wall opposite her desk. It featured orderly rows of construction paper in primary hues. Upon each piece of paper, Jane had written a long-term project goal. She referred to this display as her Hopes and Dreams Board and looked at it several times each day.

Gazing at the board, Jane wondered which project to pick first. “I doubt our guests would be overly impressed by roof repairs or the retiling of the Jules Verne pool.” She moved her hand over the brown paper and the blue paper until it rested on the green paper. “They’d rather hear about the restoration of the orchard or the folly.” She touched the purple piece next. “Or that we’ve opened a spa.”

Silently vowing that she’d accomplish one of these major goals by the end of spring, Jane crossed a few more items off her to-do list. At three, she stopped for a tea break. As she sipped a cup of Earl Grey and ate her two madeleines as slowly as possible to prolong the pleasure, she called up the Romance Writers of America website and read the biographies of the authors who’d soon be coming to Storyton. When her teacup was empty, Jane went off in search of the twins.

She found Fitz and Hem exactly where she expected them to be: perched on stools in the kitchen. Judging by their chocolate moustaches and the clump of white stuff in Fitz’s hair, Mrs. Hubbard had treated them to hot cocoa with mini marshmallows. Catching sight of their mother, the boys each gave Mrs. Hubbard a quick hug and then dashed outside.

“I think they just remembered that I’m about to inspect their room,” Jane said.

Mrs. Hubbard laughed and took the kettle off the stove.

With the tea sandwiches, scones, cakes, and cookies safely arranged in the Agatha Christie Tea Room, Mrs. Hubbard could relax for a few moments until she began prepping for the dinner service. She always took her break between three and four o’clock so she could visit with the twins. Like Aunt Octavia, she doted on them terribly. While Aunt Octavia bought them books, puzzles, crafts, comics, and anything else that might spark their imaginations, Mrs. Hubbard spoiled them with food. It wasn’t all unhealthy, and Jane had entered the kitchen many a time to see the boys snacking on ants on a log, grape caterpillars, cheese cube towers, coral fish made of shaved carrots and cucumbers, or palm trees with banana slice stems and kiwi leaves.

Jane glanced at the two smudges of chocolate on Mrs. Hubbard’s apron and smiled. There was no one like Mrs. Hubbard, just like there was no one like Butterworth, Sterling, Sinclair, or the other people of Storyton Hall who’d become like family to Jane. Mrs. Hubbard poured water over her tea leaves and then smiled back, as though she understood exactly what Jane was feeling.

“Oh, I nearly forgot!” Mrs. Hubbard exclaimed. “Ms. Octavia mentioned that you were in charge of dessert for your book club tonight. I know how busy you’ve been trying to get everything ready for Monday, so I made it for you.”

Jane gaped. “You shouldn’t have! You have too much on your plate already. Excuse the cliché, but it’s true.”

“The cake’s on the pantry shelf in a bakery box,” Mrs. Hubbard said. “It’s devil’s food cake. It was Ned’s idea, actually. He knows that your club is reading titles starting with the letter D, and last time he was babysitting the twins, he spotted a book called The Devilish Duke in your living room, so he suggested I make a devilish dessert.” Mrs. Hubbard flashed Jane an impish grin over the rim of her teacup. “The Devilish Duke sounds like the type of novel that could produce a very lively discussion.”

Jane recalled the scene she’d recently read and blushed. It had taken place in the duke’s stagecoach after he’d carried off the chambermaid from the neighbor’s estate and ravished her on the way back to his manor. The scene had been very, very descriptive.

After thanking Mrs. Hubbard again, Jane took her cake and hurried home.

*   *   *

That evening after supper, Fitz and Hem slung duffel bags over their shoulders and headed outside with a lantern. They were having a sleepover with Aunt Octavia and Uncle Aloysius and Jane knew they couldn’t wait to play with the model train set Uncle Aloysius had set up on the floor in his office.

Jane walked her sons to the back terrace and kissed them good night before hurrying home to tidy the kitchen and living room.

She’d barely wiped an unidentifiable dried puddle of sticky stuff off the coffee table when the doorbell rang.

“Come in!’ Jane called.

Three Cover Girls spilled into her house, trying to escape the bite of the February air. Because all the ladies lived in Storyton Village, they carpooled to their book club meetings. This way, most of them could enjoy whatever themed cocktail Anna Shaw had concocted.

Anna, who worked as an assistant pharmacist, was the first to come inside. She hung her parka on the coat rack by the front door and scooted out of the way to make room for Violet Osborne, the proprietor of Tresses Hair Salon.

“I washed my hair thirty minutes ago and I swear the damp parts froze on the car ride here,” Violet said, carrying a covered dish into the kitchen.

Phoebe Doyle, who ran the Canvas Creamery, an art gallery combined with a frozen custard shop, touched the knit cap covering most of her head. “Our mothers always warned us not to go out in wintertime with wet hair.”

“I’ll just sit by the fire until the rest of our party gets here,” Anna said after giving Jane a hug. “It won’t take long to mix up our Devilish Duke cocktail.”

“Did someone mention tonight’s drink?” asked Betty Carmichael as she stepped into the house and beckoned for Eloise and Mrs. Pratt to hurry up and shut the door. “I could do with something to warm my bones.”

Mrs. Pratt snorted and began unwinding a very long scarf from around her neck. “Why didn’t you toss one back at the Cheshire Cat before we picked you up? After all, you own a pub.”

Betty looked appalled. “Bob and I never imbibe during our shifts. It would be unseemly.”

Phoebe shrugged. “I eat my own frozen custard all the time. And I have at least two espresso drinks a day.”

“That’s different,” Betty said. “If I made a habit of sampling our wares, I’d end up serving Cosmos to Rufus Hogg and pints of dark ale to Pippa Pendleton.”

Everyone laughed at the thought of the oldest Hogg brother sipping Cosmos.

“Let me near that oven, ladies!” cried Mabel Wimberly, who owned La Grande Dame Clothing Boutique and sewed all of Aunt Octavia’s dresses. Though she specialized in clothing for plus-sized woman, she could create garments for people of any size or shape.

Jane followed Mabel to the oven. “What’s in the casserole dish?”

“Beef and vegetable ragout,” Mabel said. “It was the duke’s favorite meal.”

“We can sop up the extra gravy with my Bath buns.” Phoebe touched the basket she’d set on the counter. “I made them with lots of butter and caraway seeds.”

Mrs. Pratt leaned over, sniffed the basket, and moaned. “Smells delicious. I brought mashed turnips.”

Violet, who wasn’t overly fond of vegetables, grimaced. “I made a spiced pear compote.”

“Becky and I thought a cheese board would go nicely with our cocktails,” Eloise said, turning to Anna. “But that might depend on what mysterious concoction we’re having. So far, all I know is that it’s a lovely shade of pinkish red.”

By this time, Anna had abandoned her seat by the fire to mix and pour drinks into the martini glasses Jane had purchased specifically for the book club meetings. “Fruit, cheese, and crackers will complement my Devilish Duke very nicely. This drink is two ounces of champagne, two ounces of Stoli Strasberi vodka, a few splashes of pineapple juice, and a thimbleful of daiquiri mix. I tried to create a cocktail that represented both the duke and the heroine, Venus Dares.”

“This looks divine!” Mrs. Pratt exclaimed. “Do tonight’s toast, Jane, so we can have a sip without further delay.”

Jane raised her glass. “Mark Twain said, ‘There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.’” She picked up her copy of The Devilish Duke and smiled. “To forbidden love and rebellious women.”

“Hear, hear!” her friends shouted and drank.

“And to saying farewell to the letter D,” Phoebe added.

The Cover Girls, who’d been moving backward through the alphabet for the past two years, spent six to eight weeks on each letter. Voracious readers all, they’d already plowed through Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger, and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Rosamund York’s The Devilish Duke was the last novel they’d discuss before setting their sights on books beginning with the letter C.

Unsurprisingly, the racy Regency romance had been Mrs. Pratt’s pick.

“I adored The Devilish Duke,” Mrs. Pratt said. “The duke was such a loveable scoundrel. And while it’s hardly unusual to find a dark, brooding, and alluring man in a Regency romance, it is rare to encounter a female protagonist with as much pluck as Venus Dares.”

Betty headed into the living room and took a seat on the sofa. “Out of curiosity, I did a little research on Ms. York’s books.” She ticked them off on her fingers. “In addition to The Devilish Duke, she’s also written The Bold Baron, The Cunning Count, The Naughty Knight, The Enticing Earl, The Mischievous Marquess, The Rakish Royal, and The Lusty Lord. Miss Dares appears in every novel and, according to the reviews I perused, readers genuinely love Venus. There are over twenty fan websites devoted to her.”

“I don’t think many ‘well bred’ women in the Regency era spoke their minds as freely as Venus,” Violet said. “They were supposed to be demure—to sit with their ankles crossed, work on their embroidery, and keep their opinions to themselves.”

Mabel rolled her eyes. “How boring. I’m with the rest of Ms. York’s fans. I loved Venus. She has her own money, her own sizeable household, expresses radical ideas, and was given an education similar to a nobleman’s.”

“Even her name defies convention,” Anna said.

Eloise nodded. “Miss Venus Dares. A surname that doubles as a verb. Venus dares to read subversive books, she dares to pursue equality for women, and she dares to speak her mind to any member of the nobility. And who could forget when she dared to enter the duke’s bedroom unannounced and caught him in a rather compromising position with a lady from a nearby estate?”

--This text refers to the mass_market edition.


Praise for Murder in the Mystery Suite

“A clever plot, a likable and intrepid heroine, and a strong sense of place.”—
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Adams makes Storyton Hall come to life.”—
Fresh Fiction

“Book lovers are going to come for a visit and never want to leave.”—
Escape with Dollycas

“A very original debut mystery by an experienced author… A suspenseful and compelling read.”—
Kings River Life
--This text refers to the mass_market edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00QH832AO
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Berkley (August 4, 2015)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ August 4, 2015
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 6276 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • Lending ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 836 ratings

About the author

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Ellery Adams, a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author, has written dozens of mystery novels. She shares her North Carolina home with her husband, two trolls, and three keyboard-hogging felines. Ellery loves reading, coffee, bubbly, jigsaw puzzles, baking, volunteering at her local animal shelter, and rearranging her bookshelves.

Her traditionally published series include The Secret, Book, and Scone Society Mysteries, The Book Retreat Mysteries, The Books By the Bay Mysteries, and The Charmed Pie Shoppe Mysteries.

Her Indie series include The Supper Club Series, The Hope Street Series, and The Molly Appleby Collectible Series.

For book club discussion questions, lists of Nora Pennington's bibliotherapy titles, and more, visit

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