Authors: Julie Hyzy
Praise for the national bestselling Manor House Mysteries
GRACE TAKES OFF
“A snappy story that showcases Grace’s skills as an amateur investigator and Hyzy’s as a first-rate creator of whodunits. Like her series featuring White House chef Olivia ‘Ollie’ Paras, this progression in Grace’s life is sure to please fans of romantic suspense.”
“The plot lines are tight, the characters are terrific . . . Hyzy is a master storyteller.”
—Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book
“Hyzy’s . . . masterful storytelling is enthralling. Be on the lookout for more from this talented author.”
RT Book Reviews
GRACE AMONG THIEVES
“Very believable and well researched . . . [A] reliable series with an interesting setting, a capable heroine, and [an] interesting puzzle to work out.”
—The Mystery Reader
“Hyzy has done it again . . . Well crafted with the many twists and turns that readers demand in a mystery, paired with an eccentric cast of characters.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Hyzy has yet again tapped into her creative mind. There are multiple goings-on from the first page to the last, which will engage the reader’s interest and involvement in the story and its mysterious aspects.”
—Once Upon a Romance
“Hyzy has another hit on her hands.”
—Lesa’s Book Critiques
“Hyzy will keep you guessing until the end and never disappoints.”
GRACE UNDER PRESSURE
“Well researched and believable . . . Well-drawn characters . . . are supported by lively subplots.”
“A strong, intelligent, and sensitive sleuth . . . A must-read for this summer!”
—The Romance Readers Connection
“Julie Hyzy’s fans have grown to love Ollie Paras, the White House chef. They’re going to be equally impressed with Grace Wheaton . . . Hyzy is skilled at creating unique series characters.”
Praise for the
New York Times
bestselling White House Chef Mysteries
“[A] clever plot and fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses of life in the White House. But it’s Ollie who carries the series, and never more so than in this moving page-turner.”
“A mystery delight . . . This is a fantastic installment in the series . . . The White House staff is still quirky and interesting . . . and yes, there is fondue.”
—King’s River Life Magazine
AFFAIRS OF STEAK
“Hyzy shines . . . This series burns as bright as the sun during a sweltering D.C. summer.”
“These are wonderful books, enjoyable to read, hard to put down.”
BUFFALO WEST WING
“[A] top-notch mystery writer. Adventure, intrigue, and a dash of romance combine for a delicious cozy that is a delight to read.”
“A captivating story from the very first page until the end . . . Another all-around great read!”
—The Romance Readers Connection
“The ever-burgeoning culinary mystery subgenre has a new chef-sleuth . . . The backstage look at the White House proves fascinating.”
“A quickly paced plot with a headstrong heroine . . . A dependable mystery.”
—The Mystery Reader
HAIL TO THE CHEF
“A gourmand‘s delight . . . An engaging chef’s cozy.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Well plotted . . . A must-read series to add to the ranks of culinary mysteries.”
—The Mystery Reader
STATE OF THE ONION
“Pulse-pounding action, an appealing heroine, and the inner workings of the White House kitchen combine for a stellar adventure in Julie Hyzy’s delightful
State of the Onion
—Carolyn Hart, author of
Dead, White, and Blue
“Topical, timely, intriguing. Julie Hyzy simmers a unique setting, strong characters, sharp conflict, and snappy plotting into a peppery blend that packs an unusual wallop.”
—Susan Wittig Albert, national bestselling author of
Death Come Quickly
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Julie Hyzy
White House Chef Mysteries
STATE OF THE ONION
AFFAIRS OF STE
HOME OF THE BRAISED
Manor House Mysteries
GRACE UNDER PRESSURE
ACE AMONG THIEVES
ACE TAKES OFF
AGAINST THE CLOCK
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China
A Penguin Random House Company
GRACE AGAINST THE CLOCK
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2014 by Julie Hyzy.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
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For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-14312-8
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / July 2014
Cover illustration by Kimberly Schamber.
Cover design by Rita Frangie.
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.
To Curt, with love. Always.
First and foremost: Thank YOU!
Grace’s adventures are extraordinarily fun to write and it is readers like you who allow me to continue writing them. I can never thank you enough for giving me the chance to bring Grace and her friends to life. This is true bliss.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my wonderful editor, Michelle Vega, at Berkley Prime Crime. She’s not only fabulous to work with; she’s one of the nicest people in the world. I am truly fortunate to have her in my life. Many thanks, too, to my wonderful production editor, Stacy Edwards, and sharp-eyed copyeditor, Erica Rose. Sincere thanks to Paige Wheeler, as well.
As always, much love to my friends and family: especially Curt, Robyn, Sara, and Biz. Special thanks to Sara on this one for suggesting a plot idea. Additional thanks to Curt, Sara, and Biz for their critical input on all my books. After that (oops!) mysterious cell phone incident (different series), I rely on them to help me keep it real. Love you all.
yce Swedburg tucked her fingers into the crook of Bennett’s right arm. “Dear man, it’s been too long. How have you been?” Without waiting for a reply, the statuesque woman draped her free hand over the other and pressed close, hugging the way a toddler might cling to a parent’s leg. “You’re as handsome as ever, you devil you.” Her lips spread into a serviceable smile as she turned to address her companion. “Don’t you agree, Leland?”
Frances nudged me—like there was any chance I might miss Ms. Swedburg’s over-the-top performance.
Dr. Leland Keay extended his hand to Bennett. “Good to see you again.”
Almost as tall as my boss, Keay’s dark features contrasted with Bennett’s fair skin and white hair. Keay was younger, by about twenty years, and beginning to sprout gray at his temples. This, along with his Barry White voice, made him quite the attractive package.
He was dressed in a tweed hunting jacket that sported suede elbows and a matching patch at one shoulder. His white shirt was starched, his slacks expertly creased. Handsome and successful, Dr. Leland Keay was widely considered to be Emberstowne’s most eligible bachelor.
I’d encountered Keay several times as we prepared for the fund-raiser scheduled for tomorrow night and had come to the opinion that, eligible or not, the rest of Emberstowne’s single ladies could keep him. Even though he was a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon with a reputation for being witty and charming, I found that Keay carried himself with a faint disregard for others and a perpetual absentminded air.
Keay and Bennett shook hands vigorously—the way men do when they’re happy to see one another but not comfortable enough to hug. The action should have dislodged Joyce Swedburg from her perch at Bennett’s side, but the woman held on for dear life. Both to Bennett’s arm and to her achingly artificial cheer.
The five of us were gathered in a wide, empty section of Marshfield Manor’s basement. Accessible via a single stairway, it offered a fun, unusual spot to throw a giant party. And that’s precisely what we planned to do.
Two connecting rooms had been reserved for our festive fund-raiser. This, the main section of the party area, would be set up for glittering socialites to enjoy appetizers and drinks. A perfect spot for mingling until the show began. The expansive space was airy and inviting, thanks to creative lighting and creamy-yellow brick walls. The ceiling was brick, too, crafted into neat, arched rows. At our feet was the kind of creaky wooden flooring you might find in an old department store or VFW dance hall. It gave the place charm.
Because we were belowground and centrally located beneath the mansion, no natural light streamed in. In a burst of brilliance, Joyce had arranged to rent six giant flat-screen televisions to serve as faux windows. These had been installed the day before, positioned vertically on two facing walls, and had been programmed to display live views from the highest vista of the closest mountaintop. If you looked closely, you could even see tiny Emberstowne bustling below.
With the dynamic “windows” in place, this main mingling area could have been mistaken for a refurbished warehouse loft in a gentrified urban setting. Banquet-sized and gorgeous, this section had never been included in any public tours. If we ever decided to utilize this area in the future, I’d consider making the flat-screen installation permanent.
“I can’t tell you how delightful it is to be working with you again, Bennett.” Joyce wagged a finger near his chin. “Your insights at the Chamber of Commerce have been missed.”
Bennett acknowledged her compliment. “And I am sorry to have relinquished my seat there. Unfortunately, I’ve been occupied with many other endeavors. I hope you understand that I couldn’t occupy a spot if I was incapable of delivering my best efforts.”
She tugged his arm closer and rested her head against his shoulder. “You’ve more than made up for it with your generous endowments.”
Sliding sideways, Bennett extricated himself from her double-handed clutch. “Grace and Frances have been keeping me updated with your plans. We are honored that you’ve chosen to host the benefit here at Marshfield.”
Joyce floated away from Bennett as though it had been her idea to break their physical connection. “There is no more perfect setting in all of Emberstowne. Except perhaps beneath the Promise Clock itself. But can you imagine having this affair in the streets? Then
would be able to join the party.” She gave a dramatic shudder. “We can’t allow that.”
The Chamber of Commerce, with Joyce as volunteer event planner, intended to raise money to refurbish the area surrounding the giant town clock, which had served as an unofficial entrance to Emberstowne for more than a hundred years. Named the Promise Clock because the citizens at the time believed that Emberstowne held great promise for success and prosperity, it lightly resembled
Le Gros Horloge
in Rouen, France.
The Promise Clock, which had lived up to its titular reputation until recently, was colossally sized. Set in the center of a massive archway that connected two now-abandoned buildings, the Renaissance-inspired glory differed from
Le Gros Horloge
in a couple of key ways: Our town’s clock, though somewhat less ornate, sported both hour and minute hands; and the edifice’s span was almost double that of its French predecessor.
That the arch’s width allowed for two-way traffic to pass beneath it was not the problem—the lack of traffic was. Very few residents traveled through that part of town anymore.
Over the past several years, in one of the ripple effects of the Great Recession, the touristy section of Emberstowne had begun to condense. Businesses at the edge of town had either moved to a more central location or shuttered completely. The establishments already on Main Street, like Hugo’s and other mainstays, had weathered the rough patch and were now enjoying a resurgence of business, but the area surrounding the Promise Clock had become a ghost town.
With weeds sprouting in the middle of the pavement, unrepaired sidewalks, and lonely buildings with broken windows, the only promise it held now was that this was an area best avoided. Though rich in history, the stretch was sorely lacking in commerce, making it Emberstowne’s biggest embarrassment. If it weren’t for the presence of the clock, the entire section of town might have been razed.
Tomorrow night’s fund-raiser had been conceived when costs to improve the roads and landscaping and to help smarten up the buildings far overran original estimates.
Despite the deterioration of the surrounding area, the clock’s inner workings ran on time and Emberstowne had expended the effort necessary to keep the clock’s face unmarred. In the past year, however, experts had noted structural problems. At the recent switch to daylight savings time, a worker who had crawled inside the arch to adjust the hands had nearly fallen through when the crumbling construction disintegrated beneath him.
All maintenance updates on the clock had been halted until a full overhaul and repair of the arch could be done. That took time. And money.
Tomorrow night’s benefit sought to solicit contributions from wealthy benefactors willing to donate a thousand dollars per person for the privilege of attending the Marshfield party. Bennett had generously offered to supply the space as well as the food. He’d also purchased tickets for a few of us on staff, to attend as his guests.
Although I’d been in contact with Joyce over the past few months, she’d been working most closely with our catering staff and with Terrence, our chief of security. Today was the first time she and Leland had shown up together. Until now I’d believed she was simply the head of the clock benefit committee and he the president of the Chamber of Commerce. I hadn’t been aware that the two had been married to each other once upon a time. Frances had provided that little tidbit moments ago.
Bennett waved his hand as though to encompass the space around us. “I must confess, however, to being surprised when Grace told me that you’d chosen this particular room for the party.”
I whispered to Frances, “How long have they been divorced?”
My assistant got that eager-to-gossip gleam in her eye. Drawing a hand up in front of her mouth while ogling the two in question—a conspicuous gesture that practically screamed that we were talking about them—she murmured, “Five years.” Her tadpole brows leaping high with glee, she added, “There’s quite a story there.”
“Not now,” I said.
Joyce was nearly as tall as her ex-husband. She sauntered over to him, ran a hand down the length of his tailored jacket sleeve—I could only imagine how soft that luxurious fabric was—and addressed Bennett over her shoulder. “Leland first suggested we hold the event upstairs in your foyer and adjoining rooms, but he has no imagination, do you, Leland?”
He didn’t answer. Arm-rub or no, he didn’t appear to be paying attention.
Joyce reached the far end of the space and turned around with an expression that was half bored, half amused. I got the impression that this woman had been born to perform. She extended both arms, hands upraised, looking a great deal like the Imperia statue in Konstanz, Germany, though offering far less cleavage, thank goodness.
Raising her voice, she adopted a beleaguered tone. “
who visits Marshfield has seen the foyer,” she said. “Hundreds—no—
of people pass through your front doors each day, clutching their precious tickets. And what do they see first? The foyer. Forgive me, Bennett, but it’s not
Leland wandered to the far end of the first room, stopping at the juncture where it ended and a small hallway leading to the auditorium began.
The doctor raised his voice to be heard over Joyce’s. “Where are the bathrooms?”
Joyce rolled her eyes. “Why on earth are you worried about that now?”
“Why do you think?”
She held a hand to her forehead and briefly closed her eyes. “You see what I have to deal with?”
Leland turned to me. “Quite a few of my patients are attending. Several are elderly and may be experiencing incontinence issues.”
I answered him. “They’re down the alcove to your left.”
He pointed. “What’s to the right?”
We’d been over this before. “That’s where David Cherk will be presenting ‘A History of the Promise Clock’ for the guests,” I said. David Cherk was a lauded, eccentric photographer who was regularly called upon to chronicle historic moments, and whose work adorned the interiors of most of Emberstowne’s municipal buildings. “That’s the auditorium.”
We used the term
loosely. There were no seats, no lights, no sound system, no stage. Like an auditorium, however, the room was fan-shaped, wide at the entrance and narrow at the deep end, which was where the presentation would be held.
Keay disappeared to inspect the accommodations. I exchanged a glance with Frances. Among my concerns with holding the event down here were fire exits, capacity, and washroom facilities. There was only one official entrance to the space, down a narrow stairway that led from an E
door on the main level. We would have security officers stationed there tomorrow night to assist guests in finding their way to the party. But if anything should happen that might cause people to stampede out, the restricted egress had the potential to become a dangerous bottleneck.
Weeks ago, at my urging, Joyce had agreed to meet with a representative from the fire department to ensure that the event wouldn’t violate code. We’d gotten the all-clear, but I still would have preferred to hold the benefit on Marshfield’s main level. I was certain that we could have found a location that was
enough for this gala event.
Although there was only one official door to the party space, an emergency exit had been added some years back, probably when the mansion first opened to visitors. It evacuated into the employee underground garage, and accessing the exit involved hitting a crash bar, which set off ear-splitting alarms.
I wandered that way now, as Bennett, Joyce, and Frances chatted among themselves. Ahead of me, the auditorium was dark. I tried to envision how David Cherk’s entertainment would play out. He was due here soon. We’d set up this last-minute meeting between all parties for late in the day, when the mansion was closed to visitors. I wandered back into the main room and glanced at my cell phone to check the time. Almost as if I’d been clairvoyant, the device signaled a text.
Joyce, Frances, and Bennett looked up. “David Cherk is here,” I announced as I pulled up my walkie-talkie to alert Terrence to show the man in. Right on time.
“Oh dear.” Joyce held a palm up to her powdered cheek. “That man gives me the creeps. He has odd opinions about the strangest things. So precise and peculiar.” She shook her head and
I understood where Joyce was coming from, though we could do without the theatrics. David Cherk wasn’t the sort of person I’d choose to hang out with in my free time, but Joyce’s comment still rankled.
With three skinny, black-clad assistants in tow, Cherk descended into our midst. The first time I’d met him, I’d been convinced that he purposely sucked in his cheeks. After a few minutes of conversation, however, I’d come to understand that his skeletal look wasn’t an affectation. Right now, as he smiled in greeting, I marveled at how mirth could appear so cold.