Selling the Green River Hotel and relocating to the country seems a good idea at the time - that is until Honey is given a guided tour of a country mansion suitable for conversion. Old houses for such purposes are usually better without bodies stuffed up the chimney. The fact that she comes this close to a murder is quite off putting. So, should she press ahead, or stick to the job in hand? Doherty is on hand of course as the world of a TV diva and up market estate agents is laid bare.
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Honey Driver, Bath hotelier and the Hotel Association’s Crime Liaison Officer, was naked and wrapped in a sheet when Detective Inspector Steve Doherty, he of the three-day stubble and iron-hard abs asked her a pertinent question.
‘Are you coming to watch me train or what? You’ll enjoy the view. I’ll be wearing shorts.’
Although the thought of Steve Doherty wearing shorts was an obvious attraction, Honey was as keen on sport as she was on Brussels sprouts, herbal tea, and early-morning jogs.
She wrapped her arms more tightly around the sheet. It was Doherty’s sheet. Doherty’s bed.
‘Ah! There could be a problem with that.’ She said this while her mind searched frantically for a suitable problem on which to base the excuse.
He fixed her with the kind of look that stripped off her clothes. The problem with that look was that it was kind of like an X-ray – it saw what lay beneath – not just physically. Mentally too.
‘I thought you said things were quiet at the Green River Hotel.’
‘Ah, yes, but when business is quiet, I can do stock takes – count bedding, count toilet rolls … That sort of thing.’
‘Not interesting things.’
‘No, but hey, how about I meet you at the Zodiac afterwards – once you've finished running around a muddy rugby ground?’
The Zodiac was their favourite bar. It was situated in an old cellar beneath North Parade, was dark, atmospheric and rich with the smells of sizzling steak and garlic prawns. OK, there was the risk of coming out smelling of grilled steak and fried onions, but the ambience was worth it. The smell made you think you had eaten; saved a lot of calories that way.
‘I’ve just told you, I’m in training for the police rugby team. No drinking – well, only within reason and after the game.’
‘The second team. You're playing for the second team.’
‘OK, the second team. But we’re keen,’ he said, gently stabbing the dip between her breasts with the tip of his finger.
Bless, she thought, her eyes all soft and gentle as she took in the keenness on his face. What was it about team sports and big boys who should know better?
‘I have to admit, the thought of all those hard naked thighs is pretty tempting. But the game itself? Hmmm …I’m not keen on ball games.
Her reference to ball games brought a grin to his face that had nothing to do with rugby.
‘I might have one drink with you afterwards.’
‘If you’ve got any energy left.’
‘Honey, you know better than that. I’m an energetic guy.’
Then it came to her. The mother of all excuses, one she’d totally overlooked. Smack went her palm on her forehead.
‘I totally forgot. I’ve got an invitation to the Roman Baths. Cocktails by torchlight thanks to that estate agent I’ve been talking to.’
‘On account of this country hotel idea? They must think you’re loaded.’
‘I wish. Dependent on the sale of the Green River, I’ve got enough to buy something. And I think it’s a good idea. Don’t you?’
The truth was that up until now her enthusiasm for attending the Bath Property event had been muted. She consoled herself that there were free drinks on offer and no freezing her rear off watching men bash into each other in a muddy field.
The idea of moving to the country had been mooching around in her head for some time. She’d made enquiries of local agents, had brochures sent to her, spoken to builders and her bank manager, and asked her daughter Lindsey for her opinion. Lindsey had looked at her blankly, possibly because she was in the throes of polishing a Roman helmet. The helmet belonged to Emmett, her latest boyfriend. Emmett belonged to a group who dressed up in Roman uniforms at weekends and re-enacted ancient battles at agricultural shows. Despite the risks, he occasionally did a stint as tour guide at the Roman Baths. The risks came from older women who couldn’t resist men in leather skirts. Emmett blamed Russell Crowe in Gladiator.
‘You’re dead-set on this country house hotel idea?’ said Doherty.
‘I think so.’
‘You don’t sound too sure.’
‘Yes and no.’
‘I’m taking a leaf out of Mary Jane’s book. I’m waiting for a sign.’
‘Ah-huh!’ He nodded sagely, though a quirky smile lifted one side of his mouth. ‘Do what you have to,’ he said, kissing her on the forehead. ‘In the meantime, how about a little encouragement for the prop forward?’
That sexy look was all-consuming – and his reference to ‘the prop forward’ could be taken two ways.
Should she stay, should she go? Honey considered the alternative. The Green River Hotel had been hers for a while; the staff were loyal, called her by her first name, and never took anything that they didn’t think was their due. Today being Monday, the laundry man would arrive to collect the soiled linen and leave the freshly laundered. The binmen would also clatter and bang their way among the rubbish, and it was Smudger the chef’s day off. Rooms and restaurant would be fairly quiet, Anna was manning reception, and Lindsey was in charge. What could go wrong?
‘I take it the prop forward has finished sitting on the sidelines and is ready to rejoin the game,’ she said, head held to one side.
A smiling Doherty hooked his fingers into the sheet. It fell off her in folds.