Lake District Stories, Vol. 1
By Nancy Madison
Failing to sense the danger that lurks about her, expatriate Kate Stanhope converts her deceased husband's Lake District mansion into an upscale hotel. The first weekend the hotel's open, a Cornish guest is found dead in his room, poisoned by Kate's special recipe*. Investigating the death, Detective Chief Inspector Nick Connor soon concludes Kate was the intended victim, not the Cornishman. But who'd want to kill Kate? While Nick struggles to find the elusive killer, he falls in love with Kate, in spite of his vow to never love again. Can Nick catch the killer before he finds Kate? And will Nick's Clues to Love lead him to Kate's heart?
ISBN 1059431-461-6 Mystery / Suspense / Romance
Cover Art Fanny Glass
*Kate's recipe for her tea (without poison) is listed in the e-book WHAT'S COOKING?* A collection of recipes from authors and characters featured on www.ebooksonthe.net.
*You get the e-book Free with every copy of CLUES TO LOVE.
Clues to Love
By Nancy Madison
"Mrs. Stanhope! Anybody! Help! Help!" The shrill cry cut through the quiet May morning, startling everyone in the King's Grant Hotel dining room.
"What in the world!" Kate Stanhope, the owner, jerked and set the coffee pot down with a bang on the table.
Recognizing Mrs. Penmar's agitated voice, Kate's stomach muscles clinched as she fought down panic. Just when things were going so well. They'd just opened Kate's home as an upscale hotel that weekend. The gracious old mansion perched on a ridge over Lake Windermere in Cumbria, northern England. She'd expected a few minor glitches, every new business had some. But hysterical guests? That she wasn't prepared for.
"Please excuse me," she said to the six guests enjoying their meal then darted from the room. A few minutes earlier, Mrs. Penmar, another guest, had left the table to go upstairs and locate her husband, the last straggler to breakfast.
Once out of the dining room, Kate dashed into the front hall. Glancing upward, she saw Mrs. Penmar draped like a rag doll over the railing of the next floor. Why was she so upset?
Holding up her long denim skirt, Kate ascended the broad, oak_panelled staircase. Before she reached Mrs. Penmar, the old woman slumped to the floor.
"Chris." Kate leaned over the railing and summoned a member of her small staff from the dining room where he'd just served breakfast. "Would you come up here for a moment?"
Kate knelt and rubbed Mrs. Penmar's icy hands. Seconds later, the old lady's eyelids fluttered, and she moaned. Chris and Kate eased her guest into a chair.
Mrs. Penmar immediately burst into tears.
"What's wrong?" Kate leaned over her guest.
The woman babbled, her words incoherent. She sobbed and waved her arms around like a windmill out of kilter.
"Let's help her to her room," Kate suggested to Chris. She glanced downstairs, hoping the other guests hadn't heard them.
"No, I can't go in there." Mrs. Penmar reared back and clung to the chair's arms with unexpected strength.
Bewildered, Kate stared at Chris.
"All right, we'll go downstairs to the living room," she said, trying to pacify the older woman. Kate and Chris tried to help Mrs. Penmar walk but her legs buckled under her.
"Let me carry you downstairs, ma'am," Chris offered. With no apparent effort, the husky young man picked up Mrs. Penmar and carried her to the lower floor.
Kate followed, praying her other guests' patience would hold just a bit longer.
"Thanks, Chris," she murmured. Her heart raced. "If you'll put her in that armchair, she'll be comfortable." She indicated a large upholstered chair in one corner of the living room.
"Go see to breakfast," she whispered after he set the older woman in the chair. "I'll handle Mrs. Penmar."
Kate knelt by her guest and asked, "What's wrong?"
"It's Giles." Mentioning his name produced another torrent of tears.
Miss Alden, a retired school teacher, walked into the room. Kate hoped the other guests didn't follow. She watched the teacher take off her heavy shawl and place it over Mrs. Penmar, then Miss Alden hugged the distressed old lady.
"There, there." Kate sympathetically patted her guest's shoulder. "Maybe it's not so bad. He can't have gone far. Why, I imagine he'll turn up any minute now."
Tears formed in Kate's eyes, distress for the other woman and also worry about the hotel's success. She'd used almost all of her capital to get it started. If it failed, she'd have to go back to the States. No one waited for her there.
Kate turned to Miss Alden. "Let's find Mr. Penmar. Will you stay with Mrs. Penmar while I go and see if her husband's still upstairs?"
Her heart beating furiously, Kate raced up the stairs, not sure what she'd find. At the Penmars' room, she knocked. No answer so she turned the door knob slowly, and stepped inside. Mr. Penmar was there, not missing after all. He lay on his back, asleep on one of the twin beds. Kate let out her breath. She hated to wake him, but his wife needed to know he was all right.
"Mr. Penmar?" He didn't speak or move. Kate edged closer to the bed. "Mr. Penmar?" Thoughts swam around in her head when he remained still. Why didn't he respond? His chest wasn't moving up and down, as it should. No movement. Was he dead? What should she do? Find out if he's alive or dead. Right. Kate gingerly took his thin wrist between her fingers. Touching his cold skin, she shivered, then she felt for a pulse. There was none. She placed her ear to his chest, no heart beat. Keeping her gaze on the still, quiet body, she reached for the telephone, perched on a night stand crowded with prescription bottles, large and small.
Kate fingered one, then another and another. They were all labeled "for Giles Penmar."
The names of two of the prescriptions looked familiar. Her mother had suffered from heart disease and took those medicines for years. Had Mr. Penmar died of a heart attack during the night?
Kate dialed "0".
"Operator. How may I direct your call?" A woman's voice echoed on the other end.
"Hello, this is Kate Stanhope at King's Grant Hotel and we need help. I believe one of our guests has died." At the sound of her own voice, harsh reality struck and Kate began to shake. A mental image of Mr. Penmar's round, sunburned face, telling jokes and laughing with the other guests the previous night, flashed before her. It brought tears to her eyes. In seconds, she reached the local police headquarters.
"Windermere Constabulary." A male voice answered.
The voice on the other end of the line made her feel she wasn't totally alone with the corpse on the bed. Kate repeated what she'd said to the operator and gave directions to the hotel. Hanging up the telephone, she wiped her eyes and left the room.
As she walked down the corridor toward the stairs, a door clicked shut behind her. Nerves taut, she whirled around and found nothing except the empty corridor. It must have been the wind.
The two women waited for her in the living room.
"I'm afraid Mr. Penmar is . . ." Seeing Mrs. Penmar's and Miss Alden's anxious faces, Kate stopped. "They'll send an officer right over."
Crossing the room to Mrs. Penmar, Kate knelt by her chair. "I'm so sorry. Please tell me what we can do to make you more comfortable." She spoke in a low voice, wishing there were something she could do to lessen Mrs. Penmar's grief.
The older lady shook her head as tears ran in rivulets down her wrinkled face. She slumped in her chair, her plump hands lay limp in her lap.
Two uniformed officers walked into the room. One of the policemen checked his notebook then addressed them in a brisk voice. "A Kate Stanhope called the Constabulatory, reporting a death."
"I called." Kate told them what had happened.
The next arrival was a stocky, middle_aged man who entered the living room and tossed his rumpled trench coat on a chair.
"I'm Dr. Walton from Windermere Constabulary. Would one of you be Mrs. Stanhope?"
Kate stepped forward and introduced herself. "Mr. Penmar, a guest, appears to have . . . ." She hesitated.
"If you'll take me to him." Dr. Walton picked up his bag.
"Please follow me." Kate again climbed the stairs, this time with the doctor at her heels. Reaching the next floor, she led him to the Penmars' room, then moved aside to let him enter.
The doctor searched for signs of life in Mr. Penmar, then "I'm sorry, but he's gone."
She inhaled sharply at the finality of his words. "The poor man. What in the world happened to him?" Kate stood, riveted to the floor for a moment until she remembered her responsibilities downstairs. Shaking her head, she became more alert. "Excuse me, please, while I check on my other guests. Let me know if I can help in any way."
Bewildered and shaken by the morning's events, Kate descended to the ground floor, hoping for a moment alone to regain her composure. Instead, she found Miss Alden waiting for her. The retired school teacher clutched at Kate in the hall. "What happened to Mr. Penmar?"
"I'm sorry, but I have no idea." Kate tried to keep her voice calm though inside her stomach churned. "The doctor should be able to tell us something once he's completed his examination."
After she informed the other guests of the tragedy, they filed into the living room and huddled together, speaking in whispers in respect for the dead.
Kate stood by Mrs. Penmar, her arm spread protectively along the back of the chair, while they waited for the doctor. Hearing Dr. Walton on the stairs, Kate caught him right before he entered the living room.
"Was the gentleman alone?" The doctor inquired.
"No, his wife is here. I'll introduce you to her." She led him to the corner where the older lady sat.
"Mrs. Penmar, I'm so sorry." Doctor Walton leaned over to pat the widow's hand. "Was your husband a heart patient? I saw several medicines in your room that are prescribed for high blood pressure."
"Yes," Mrs. Penmar replied in a weak, tired voice. "Since Giles had a heart attack six months ago, our doctor has controlled his blood pressure with medications."
"Did Mr. Penmar complain, recently, of chest pains or have an adverse reaction to his medications?"
"No, I would have noticed. Giles felt so much better, he went back to work recently. We came up here by train from London yesterday so he could review King's Grant Hotel for his travel magazine. He is a freelance journalist."
"He didn't complain of indigestion or an upset stomach last night?"
"No, I sleep soundly, but I would've heard him if he got up during the night. I didn't hear anything. This morning he appeared to be asleep when I dressed and went outside. I'm a birder and I've found early morning is the best time to watch the birds." Mrs. Penmar rested her head on the back of the chair.
"I understand." Doctor Walton reached over, took her wrist and felt for her pulse. "Let's check your blood pressure and see how you're doing." He knelt by her and put a monitor on her arm. "This won't take long."
Straightening up a few moments later, the doctor announced, "Your blood pressure is a bit elevated. That's not unusual, under the circumstances." He touched Mrs. Penmar's shoulder. "I have a mild sedative here I'd like you to take." He drew an envelope out of his bag. "It's not strong and will help you relax."
Kate took the envelope and gave it to Mrs. Penmar, then she left the room and returned with a glass. The old lady washed down the tablet with water. A few minutes later, she appeared calmer. Resting her head against the back of the chair, she closed her eyes.
Watching Mrs. Penmar sitting, quietly, in her chair, Kate worried about the older woman. She also worried about her other guests' reaction. And she worried about the future.