Murder at the Manor House (A Sleuthing Starlet Mystery Book 1)

By: Bianca Blythe


Murder. Manor homes. Malfunctioning chandeliers.

Hollywood starlets are supposed to be happily on set in sunny California and not trapped in drafty manor houses during ferocious snowstorms.

But after Cora Clarke’s best friend and fellow actress elopes with an English earl, Cora visits England to help her friend brave the aristocratic disapproval of her new husband’s family.

Unfortunately the holiday turns nightmarish when a chandelier crashes down and kills somebody. When suspicion falls on her friend, Cora vows to figure out the identity of the murderer. After all, blizzards have a habit of preventing the police from arriving, and body counts have a dreadful habit of growing.





ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS




Many thanks to Red Gate Arts for the cover, Cate Hogan and Allison Wright for editing, and Sophie Wallace for proofreading.





Prologue




Jabberist

December 1937

Lord Holt’s elopement with American sensation Veronica James continues to rattle society’s finest. The world may be distraught at having lost a prized actress, but English aristocrats are appalled at having gained one.

Hollywood’s go-to actress for vamps is officially a countess.

The Duke and Duchess of Hawley are reportedly furious at their son’s elopement. We are glad we will be nowhere near the duke’s and duchess’s estate in Yorkshire, where Lord Holt and his new, utterly inappropriate bride, plan to spend the holidays.





Chapter One




Twig breakage rarely seemed intriguing, but perhaps because Veronica’s housekeeper was taking a long time to answer the door, or perhaps because Cora needed distraction from her day, she glanced toward the sound.

A man was hiding beneath the azaleas.

The bushes poked the man’s suit and the black-and-chrome camera he directed at her. The lavender blossoms seemed incongruous against the man’s dark attire. This might be Bel Air, the center of everything luxurious, but Cora doubted the ground was comfortable.

Unease shot through Cora, and she considered screaming.

But then, likely he might find her screaming amusing.

Or lucrative.

Unfortunately she wasn’t confident in her ability to open her mouth to the width required for a properly audible scream and retain some semblance of refinement. The camera in the man’s hand made the latter consideration necessary.

Throwing her handbag at him was tempting, though it might compel him to open it. The man didn’t need to learn it didn’t contain any money.

Cora turned around, caught the attention of the guard who’d let her through Veronica’s mansion’s imposing wrought-iron gates and yelled, “there’s an intruder!”

Cora waited for the guard to rush toward her, baton in hand.

Instead the guard smiled back and waved amiably.

Hmph.

Cora cursed Veronica for acquiring the largest lot in Bel Air.

The ocean was similarly unhelpful. Though the manner in which the foamy azurean waves crashed against the shore had a definite aesthetic appeal, the accompanying sound competed with her voice.

It didn’t matter.

The paparazzo could fill his roll of film with photos of her, and no magazine would buy them.

Not for her.

Not anymore.

The thought should have been the one joyful event of the day. Instead her legs threatened to sway, but Cora gripped the railing in as nonchalant a manner as she could muster and glared at the man. “Go away. We don’t like paparazzi.”

For a brief second his eyes widened, and Cora smoothed her fringed leather dress. Perhaps she shouldn’t have come straight from the studio. No doubt her lasso and bright red Stetson also appeared ridiculous.

The stranger moved his camera away. “Very well, lassie.”

Cora blinked.

Clearly Veronica drew an international interest.

Not that that was unexpected.

The man winked at her, and Cora summoned her sternest look. “Go away.”

He rose.

Leaves clung to the man’s brown plaid suit. He dusted them off, and they floated slowly to the ground, as if unwilling to abandon him.

As far as men went, he was on the attractive end of the spectrum. Evidently his time clambering in strangers’ gardens had prevented him from suffering from muscle atrophy, and the exposure to California’s good weather had enabled one to term his skin sun-kissed.