By Carol Higgins Clark

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 14, 1992. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

When P.I. Regan Reilly attends a class reunion in England, the long-dead body of her former roommate turns up. Clues to the mystery follow Regan as she sails home–and into the hands of a killer.




"Lively. . . Clark deftly ties the plot playing out on the ocean liner to Athena's murder in a suspenseful climax."

—Publishers Weekly

"A wealthy clientele who act differently from you and me in a deliciously revealed way. There are scoundrels, an interesting murder to solve, and the typical sharks swarming around the jewelry of the fabulously wealthy. It all makes for a good tale."

—Lincoln Journal Star

"A caper novel . . . a funny, light summer's read."

—Hartford Courant

"Enjoyable . . . her sense of humor carries the day."

—Greensboro News & Record

"A superb mystery writer . . . A sleuth who finds herself finagled into a luxury cruise across the Atlantic with a very difficult elderly lady . . . Shades of Nick and Nora and the other greats of the stylish thirties and forties."

—Washington Times

"Intriguing details . . . chock full of sarcasm and wit . . . her characters are eccentric, loving, brave, and suave . . . This fast-paced story is great escape reading, perfect for a lazy day at the beach."

—Palm Beach Daily News

"Lots of humor and a brightness that makes the story sparkle from beginning to end."

—Ocala Star Banner

"A glamorous setting—a cruise ship—and eccentric characters . . . Regan is a good character—a strong, intelligent young woman with a good sense of humor."

—Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"Carol Higgins Clark tells a fast-paced, suspenseful story, with never a dull moment and a refreshing sense of humor."

—Mostly Murder












Deck the Halls

(with Mary Higgins Clark)

He Sees You When You're Sleeping

(with Mary Higgins Clark)

The Christmas Thief

(with Mary Higgins Clark)

Santa Cruise (with Mary Higgins Clark)

For my mother, Mary Higgins Clark, and in memory of my father, Warren F. Clark,

with love.

"Old and young we are all on our last cruise."

Robert Louis Stevenson




ATHENA RAN BLINDLY down the dark country lane, her breath coming in short, harsh gasps. Her school jacket with the St. Polycarp's logo sewn on the pocket was no protection against the sudden drenching spring rain. The knapsack strapped to her body impeded her flight. It did not occur to her to discard it.

As the bewildering shock began to wear off, she desperately told herself she was a fool to have come this way. The Oxford police station was so much nearer. Minutes ago she would have reached safety there.

The wet, uneven road was becoming more visible. Trees heavily burdened with thick dripping leaves were no longer silhouettes but three-dimensional objects that beckoned to her.

A car was coming from behind. Athena shrank to the side, instinctively sensing that she must not be seen.

Headlights froze on her. The car raced forward, crunched to a stop inches from her feet. The door opened.

Her fingers fumbled to release the knapsack as she started to run again. Sobs caught in her throat. She heard the footsteps gaining on her.

No—no. Just turned twenty-one, she was finally free to live on her own. She couldn't die now. Her fresh burst of speed granted her another hundred yards before hands found her throat.



GAVIN GRAY HURRIED down the hallway, crashing into one handrail and then the other as he struggled to keep his balance. "If I weren't on a ship, I'd think I was drunk," he mumbled. But he didn't care. His adrenaline was pumping so much he felt light-headed. Another reason to bounce off the walls.

The ocean liner he was sailing on, a magnificent floating city, had hit rocky seas tonight. It would be another day and a half before they docked in Southampton, England. Not soon enough, he thought as he lunged his way to the safety of his cabin. He couldn't wait to see land again, and the weather they'd experienced during this crossing had nothing to do with it.

He had already spent enough time on this mammoth vessel playing the genial host. "Let them find someone else to make an idiot out of himself doing the cha-cha. No more black and blue marks for me," he cackled under his breath.

On these long transatlantic crossings, there was always an abundance of unescorted females. Hoping to help even the odds, the cruise line had hired him as a sixty-two-year-old host—a roving companion who would be only too willing to whisk them off onto the dance floor and suffer the brutality of their aimless kicks.

Just this morning he had been teaching the polka to an enthusiastic octogenarian wearing black bulky shoes. They were like gunboats hinged on her thick ankles, targeted for his luckless feet. Gavin winced when he thought of it. Stomping on someone's foot was supposed to be a form of self-defense, not a recreational activity.

Reaching his cabin door, he slipped his key into the polished brass keyhole and sighed in grateful relief. He sat down on his bed, lay back, and stared up at the ceiling as he tried to catch his breath. Funny how these cabins are so much smaller than the way they appear in the brochures, Gavin thought. Really funny for the poor slobs shelling out thousands to park their behinds on these bunks for a dreamy week at sea. Victims of trick photography.

He turned and looked at the digital clock next to his bed. Eleven thirty-two P.M. Should he go to the casino and get a nightcap? Be seen? Charm any of the single ladies still awake? He certainly could use a brandy to calm his nerves. No, he finally decided, he had better not. Most people had retired to their rooms early tonight, the stormy seas, not Mr. Sandman, being the reason.

"No, I'll just stay here," he whispered to himself. He had had enough excitement for one night.

He couldn't believe his luck. Just as he was heading out of the Lancelot Bar he'd run into old Mrs. Watkins. Sweet unassuming Beatrice Watkins with her splashy jewels and liquored breath.

For days, she'd made no secret of the fact that she was very alone in the palatial Camelot Suite. There was no need for trick photography when capturing the essence of that little home-away-from-home. It boasted a living room, a sunken bedroom, two baths and a private terrace which afforded an exclusive view of the sea and sky that one could enjoy at any hour of the day or night, a perfect setting for romance. Gavin wondered if Mrs. Watkins had gotten lucky yet. She flirted unabashedly with everyone. Slipping the busboys her room number wrapped in hundred-dollar bills. Plying the hosts with champagne as if it were water. Even the Captain wasn't immune.

Tonight at the Captain's party she had hobbled over to have her picture taken with him four times. She was bedizened with all her finest jewelry. An antique diamond-and-ruby tiara resting precariously on her bony skull; six rings on her fingers, each with a larger stone than the next; matching diamond-and-emerald wrist and ankle bracelets, the latter wrapped around her bird leg.

The Captain was as charming as ever. He tilted his silver head down toward her matching one and smiled merrily for the camera. He thanked her and moved her along, graciously greeting the next couple of happy cruisers. He even pretended not to notice as she teetered off, grabbed another glass of champagne from a passing waiter, gulped it down and unsteadily got in line to have her picture taken again.

How does the Captain do it? Gavin wondered. That professional smile frozen onto his face as he had his picture taken hundreds of times, two consecutive nights out of a five-day cruise. Two Captain's parties to accommodate twelve hundred passengers. Twelve hundred sets of teeth, a majority of them held in place by Poly grip, had to hold the "cheese" position before Captain, my Captain, could escape. He must wake up with a smile, Gavin thought, and for all the wrong reasons.

After dinner and a few more drinks, Mrs. Watkins decided her old bod deserved a much-needed respite from one of the favored activities on cruise ships all over the world, drinking to excess. Perfecting the art of intoxication. She was stumbling past when Gavin saw her and offered to help her back to her suite. She hiccuped her assent and gladly grabbed his arm as the catch on her bracelet snagged his jacket.

"Oh, I have to have this thing fixsht. Otherwise I'll looge it," she fussed.

Gavin only smiled at the prospect.

Mrs. Watkins's eyes grew heavy as Gavin helped her stagger to her penthouse. I've got some job, he thought wistfully, jackassing people around a ship. But always the gentleman, he helped her with her key and guided her inside. She flopped down on her bed, fell back and immediately passed out. But not before the bracelet slipped off her wrist.

He had stood there staring, not wanting to move. Not knowing what to do. Suddenly, visions of financial independence danced in his head.

Who wouldn't believe it had fallen off at some point during the evening? She had been babbling that the catch wasn't working. People saw how wasted she was. She could have dropped it anywhere.

Could he risk taking it now? What if they started a search for it? The cruise line loved this woman. She always paid a pretty penny for this suite and would often book it on a whim. If anything made her unhappy, they immediately did their best to fix it. No, he'd have to hide it here in her suite and then, when the excitement of losing it had died down, he'd make his way back in and get it. Somehow.

Giddy with excitement, his armpits sweating, his heart pounding, he tried to figure out what to do. Her Highness was sprawled across the king-sized bed. Three steps up to the right was a loftlike living room complete with pastel couches, a big-screen television, state-of-the-art stereo system and a bar. A sliding glass door to the balcony lined one wall. And then his eyes caught it. The closet with the life preservers. They had already had their boat drill on this cruise, so there'd be no reason for anyone to go in there again . . .

He tiptoed over to the bed. Holding his breath, he leaned over to pick up the dazzling assemblage of emeralds and diamonds. Fenced, this thing must be worth a million bucks, he thought incredulously. A tantalizing thought bubbled through his brain. Maybe I should just help myself to her other little goodies. He entertained the thought for a moment as he caressed the bracelet. As usual, his Irish-Catholic guilt overwhelmed him and prevented him from committing a real no-no in the mortal-sin category. To his mind, stealing one bracelet from someone this rich should only count as venial.

Mrs. Watkins stirred and mumbled something about the Captain.

I'd better get out of here, Gavin fretted. Some jerk might have seen me steering her back. Better just to take the bracelet than get tempted by other thoughts. After all, once he had a few bucks he might meet a beautiful younger woman with plenty of her own jewelry who would want him. He was smart enough to know that it would have to happen soon though, and it would only happen if he had a little money to throw around. His looks were fading fast. Some might say they had already taken a hike. His hair was graying more each day and his muscles were beginning to sag out of control. He had gotten the shock of his life when he had gone to a movie recently and had been offered the senior citizen's discount. An offer he almost foolishly refused.

Shaking that ugly thought from his head, Gavin clutched the beloved trinket in his well-manicured hands and crept over to the closet. He slowly unlatched the door and cringed as a whiny creaking sound announced his arrival to the orange life preservers staring down at him from the shelf, mocking him, as if to say, "You'll never get away with this." His nerves screaming, he stood on his tiptoes like an aging ballerina and tossed the bracelet behind them to the distant corner of the high shelf.

"I shall return," he murmured.

Like a cat he sprang across the room, blew a loving kiss at Beatrice Watkins, and slithered out the door.

The crew would be turning the ship upside down looking for that bracelet. But when the ship docked Sunday, they'd stop looking. They'd be sure someone had found it and, like any red-blooded thief, had kept it. He'd try to sneak up here and get the bracelet in the hours of the layover. But if he couldn't manage that, on the trip back to New York he'd find a way to visit this suite and retrieve it.

Nothing was going to stop him from getting that bracelet back.



REGAN REILLY WOKE up slowly, blinked eyes that felt glued shut, and looked around trying to figure out where the heck she was. Forcing the fog from her brain she scanned the dormitory room before registering that the white-blond hair sticking out from the skimpy covers on the narrow bed across from her belonged to her best friend Kit.

With a sigh, Regan lay back down, turned on her side, and watched the gray light filter through the small window in the corner. She and Kit had arrived the night before to celebrate the tenth reunion of their Junior Year Program at St. Polycarp's in Oxford. And they were just in time to greet another dreary day in England. I hope it cheers up by this afternoon, Regan thought as she pulled the paper-thin blanket around her clammy skin. A lot has changed but the weather certainly hasn't. It's what Athena hated most about this place.

Athena. It was disconcerting to think about her. It's hard to believe that I shared this very room with her, Regan thought. Until she took off to go to London for the weekend at the end of April ten years ago and never came back. And no one had heard from her by the time the term ended in June.

Athena hadn't been the easiest person to live with, always complaining and wishing she were back in Greece. Getting into her bathrobe after her 10 A.M. English class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and staying in the room all day. Blowing her nose constantly and never allowing Regan to open the tiny window for a breath of fresh air. Refusing Regan's early offers to join the crowd for a beer down at the local pub. So when Athena turned twenty-one and inherited money from her grandmother, Regan hadn't been surprised that she never came back from her weekend jaunt. "I've learned enough Eeenglesh," she was always telling Regan, "no matter what my parents say."

Well, it's for sure she won't want to come back for this reunion even if she does hear about it, Regan thought. I almost didn't come myself.

It was Kit who had urged Regan to make the trip. "Look, I know you're free. You were even written up in last week's issue of People for solving your big case. I think we should go to Europe and celebrate. Take a couple of weeks off. It will be fun to see the old gang again."

Originally Regan had planned on going to law school, but sometime during her senior year of college she had finally opted for investigative work. After graduation she had taken a job working for an older detective in Los Angeles who had taken her under his wing. A couple of years ago she had finally struck out on her own. But her career choice worried her parents, Luke and Nora Reilly.

Her father, a funeral director, protested that her good looks couldn't help but attract "the wrong kind of people." Her mother, a well-known writer of suspense novels, took full responsibility, adding, "It was all those trials I took you to. I never should have done it." Regan had reasoned with them, "I have a father who owns three funeral homes and a mother who spins yarns about serial killers. And you want me to get a 'normal' job?" To their continuing dismay, Regan loved her work.

That last job had been to trace a father who disappeared with his two young children. As she told her parents, witnessing the reunion between the mother and the little boys was worth all the endless hours of following deadend leads.

She and Kit had begun their vacation in Venice, then met Regan's parents in Paris. Nora was just winding up a publicity tour for her latest novel. "If anyone asks me again where I get ideas for my books, I'll kill myself," Nora had sighed. Then she'd asked Regan penetrating questions about the kidnapping. Nora and Luke were sailing Monday on the Queen Guinevere to New York. Nora might enjoy a few days in a deck chair, but Regan knew her mother's mind would be spinning out a new plot, and it probably would involve custody battles.

Now, as Regan studied the contents of the room, bits and pieces of memories slowly began to surface in her mind. Well, they certainly haven't wasted any money on an interior decorator in these ten years, she mused. The threadbare grayish-green carpeting, the ancient nondescript wallpaper, the "temporary" closets that gave new meaning to the word, the little white scratched sink with a foggy-looking mirror hanging above, the dormers you had to be careful not to hit your head on when you got up in the morning, and finally the two pieces of lumpy foam on wheels that were passed off as beds. Ah, the price you pay to be a part of history, Regan thought. To have studied in Oxford . . . Although St. Polycarp's wasn't actually a part of Oxford University, if you said you had studied in Oxford, people were impressed. They should see these rooms, Regan thought.

The covers rustled on the other bed. Regan looked across the room and laughed. Kit had pulled the blankets over her head and was clawing the top of them, the only visible part of her anatomy being her fingernails.

"Nice try, but they have to be black," Regan laughed.

Athena's slumbering position had been famous in the dorm. They had teased her that her long black fingernails sticking straight out when she was sleeping made her look as if she was either about to attack someone or was frozen in an advanced stage of rigor mortis. The sight of them had taken Regan by surprise more than once when she returned home after a night of partying.

Kit relaxed her hands and opened her eyes. ' This bed. My back is broken," she moaned.

"What, the accommodations are not to your liking?" Regan asked in disbelief as she stretched and got up. "If you really want to get depressed, think about the food we used to eat here, Slop à la Saint Polycarp's." She gathered up her soap, moisturizer, shampoo, cream rinse, loofah and towel in her arms and started for the door. "Another thing I don't miss is carrying this stuff in a bucket to the shower. There was something so industrial about it. Made me feel as if I was a cleaning lady with a mission and my body was the first room of a dirty house. See you."

When Regan returned, wrapped in a tprry-cloth robe, she alerted Kit that the coast was clear.

"Nobody else seems to be around. But if you have a Janitor in a Drum in your Samsonite, invite him to shower with you."

Kit groaned. "Oh, it can't be as bad as it was."

"Worse," Regan laughed. "The drain is so slow that the water backs up fast and your feet get a good slimy soak. We should set up a booth for pedicures and a fungus dip outside the bathroom."

Regan dressed quickly, pulling on jeans, sneakers and a yellow cotton crew-neck sweater that had been given to her by a former boyfriend only after his maid had shrunk it in the wash.

Approaching the fog-strewn mirror, she plugged in her travelling hair dryer and bent over. Crunching her dark permed hair, she remembered the hours she had spent at this sink drying her waist-length parted-in-the-middle tresses, and silently prayed that none of her former classmates had brought along old pictures.

But it was the same pair of blue eyes that stared back at her when she straightened up and looked in the mirror. The only time they looked different was when she used colored contacts in an attempt to avoid being recognized on a job. And she thought thankfully, her size-eight jeans still fit.

She reached for her cosmetic kit. As she opened it, the smell of White Linen wafted across the room. A purse-size vial of the perfume had spilled all over everything in her pocketbook, including her English money. She laid some still-damp bills on the dresser. The now older-looking face of Queen Elizabeth stared up at her reproachfully.

"Sorry, Your Majesty. But it does smell good."

The door of the bedroom opened and was slammed shut with a vicious bang. "I slipped on the moss in the shower," Kit snapped. "And I scraped my butt on the drainpipe. I wonder if Jacoby and Meyers has a London office."

Jacoby & Meyers was the New York law firm whose television commercials urged you to sue your grandmother if you tripped over her hand-crocheted rug. Kit's sun-streaked hair was still wet from the shower. Water was squishing from her five-and-dime thongs. Her travelling robe covered all five feet three of her slender frame.

"A plumbing salesman would starve to death in these parts," Kit continued. "And to think Thomas Crapper was an Englishman. They should pay more homage to his memory."

"I feel responsible," Regan said humbly. "I should have told you to wear shoes with cleats. Anyhow, let's get out of here and go downtown."

EVEN FOR ENGLAND, it was chilly for mid-June. The sun was trying unsuccessfully to cut through the clouds. Regan and Kit, both dying for a cup of hot English tea, quickened their pace as they hurried into town to the Nosebag. Regan poked Kit as they passed Keble College, famous for its ugly exterior in the midst of so much architectural beauty.

"Remember having dinner there? That was incredible. It was so regal seeing all those guys in their flowing black gowns and watching the faculty parade into that ancient dining hall with the long wooden tables."

"All I remember is Simon correcting me on which spoon to use."

"Oh yeah."

At the Nosebag, a cozy restaurant known not only for its Laura Ashley decor and good food, but also for its soft classical background music that was unobtrusive but just loud enough to create an atmosphere, they found four of their classmates who had also come back for the reunion. They immediately merged to a larger pine table, ordered, and over a full English breakfast began the inevitable "Do you remember?" From there they progressed to "Have you heard? ..." The hot news offered by Kristen Libbey, who had arrived three days early and had had a chance to catch up on the gossip, was that Professor Philip Whitcomb was finally getting married.

Regan lead the incredulous wave of "You have to be kidding!"

"Well, after all," Kit said thoughtfully. "He is only in his early forties. He's not bad-looking ..."

"What?" Regan interrupted. "He's wimpy-looking."

Kit ignored her. "He really is a good teacher." They all nodded in agreement.

Regan interjected. "He always seemed like the typical perennial bachelor. All his time off he spent gardening at his aunt's place. Who is he marrying anyway?"

"A teacher who came the term after we were all here," Kristen told her.

"Did they just discover each other, or have they been planting daisies together for the past ten years? What's her name anyway?" Regan asked.

"Val Twyler. Rumor has it she's been after him for the past couple of years. She teaches English Lit, is a few years younger than Philip, very intellectual and very efficient."

"Well, she'd need to be to be married to Philip," Regan added. "He never wore matching socks or tucked his shirt in properly. Oh my God, look who's coming!"

They all turned to see Claire James push through the line full of people waiting for tables. Obviously she had spotted them. Ten years had not changed her preference for L.L. Bean outfits with matching headbands.

"Hi, y'all," she drawled. "How come nobody came to git me this morning? I just never sleep this doggone late."

It was obvious, Regan thought, that Claire was still playing the Southern belle.

Claire looked around. "You guys all just look super. And Regan, I just love your new little hairdo. You look so much better with it short."

Under the table Kit stepped on Regan's foot with significant pressure. Regan refilled her cup of tea as Claire, obviously assuming they'd all be fascinated to hear, filled them in on the fact that she had been married, divorced, and was now engaged again. "And I've travelled and travelled," she concluded airily. "Regan, I always pack one of your mother's books to read on the plane. Where does she get those crazy ideas? That last one had me so skay-ud. Did you know I looked up Athena's family in Greece last year?"

"Is Athena back in the family fold?" Regan asked.

"No, she is not. They never heard another word from her. Wouldn't you think she'd at least send a postcard?"

"She never showed up!" Regan exclaimed. "And they never tried to trace her?"

"After a while they tried. But she just vanished into thin air."

"I wish I had known," Regan said. "Nobody just vanishes into thin air."

Claire dismissed the subject with a wave of her hand. "Did any of you read the reunion schedule?" she continued. "Before the dinner tonight, Philip's aunt, that sweet dear old lady, has invited us for cocktails at her house. Remember she gave us a farewell party ten years ago?"

Regan remembered. She remembered the drafty old house, the muddy grounds which even then Philip was miraculously turning into an English garden, the Cheez Whiz on a stale biscuit, and, best or worst of all, Philip's aunt, Lady Veronica Whitcomb Exner.


On Sale
Jul 14, 1992
Page Count
230 pages