Skipping A Beat – First Chapter

Chapter 1

“You LOOK GORGEOUS in that black dress, Nan!” Bess Marvin said to Nancy Drew.

Nancy’s blue eyes sparkled. “Thanks. You look great, too. That dress you bought today fits you perfectly.”

George Fayne, who wasn’t very interested in clothes, groaned impatiently. “All of the guys in Chicago are going to flip over you two. But first they have to see you. And that means we have to get out the door!”

Nancy and her two best friends were in Chicago for a few days’ vacation. They’d already enjoyed plenty of shopping and museum hopping. Now they were dressed and ready for the highlight of the trip, the opening of Reverb, a hot new theme restaurant. The restaurant was owned by Adam Sledge, the lead singer and guitarist for Void, a rock band whose last three albums had hit the top of the charts.

Even though George was pretending to be annoyed, Nancy knew she, too, had put a lot of thought into what she would wear that evening. George’s dress was simple and classic, and Nancy thought that red looked great with George’s dark hair. And George looked even prettier than usual because her dark eyes were glowing with excitement. She’d been anticipating this evening for weeks.

George was looking forward to getting reacquainted with Frank Cassone, a young chef at Reverb. Frank had grown up in River Heights, and his parents were friendly with George’s parents. When he’d learned from his mother that George. Bess, and Nancy were going to be in town, he’d offered to put them on the guest list for the restaurant’s opening night. George was thrilled because, even though Frank was some years older than she, she’d always had a crush on him.

Bess took one last look in the mirror. “I’m ready,” she announced decisively.

Nancy picked up her shoulder bag, her coat, and her car keys. “Then let’s go.”

“Just think,” Bess said as the girls stepped out into the hotel corridor, “in a few minutes, we could be meeting Adam Sledge.”

George laughed lightly as she closed the door to their room. “If I know you, Bess, you’ll have a date with every member of Void before the night is over.”

Bess and George were cousins, but they couldn’t have been more different. George was a top athlete who could sometimes be shy about guys. Bess was a major flirt who seemed to fall in and out of love on an average of once a week.

Nancy walked down the hallway in front of the others and pushed the button for the elevator. When it arrived, the girls stepped inside and rode down to the underground parking garage. They quickly climbed into Nancy’s blue Mustang.

Nancy pulled out of the garage into traffic. The tall, brightly lit buildings towered above them. It was a warm fall evening, and groups of people were strolling down the street, window shopping and checking out the restaurants.

Bess sighed happily as she looked out the car window. “I love this city! It’s so exciting.”

“It’s also confusing,” Nancy said as she passed Bess a street map of Chicago. “Tell me where to turn.”

“Bess Marvin, glamour navigator, reporting for duty,” Bess said.

Fifteen minutes later the girls parked the car in the restaurant parking lot and were walking toward Reverb. “Check out this scene!” Bess exclaimed. Throngs of people had gathered around the front of the restaurant. “It’s wild!”

“I hope all these people aren’t here for the private party,” George said.

“I’m sure they’re here to see Adam Sledge,” Bess said.

Nancy took a closer look at the crowd and decided Bess was right. A lot of the people were wearing black Void concert T-shirts. But Nancy also noticed several people who were carrying tape recorders or cameras with huge zoom lenses. They had to be reporters and professional photographers, Nancy thought. And although she didn’t see any camera crews, she noted several local television vans parked in front of the restaurant.

“Look over there.” Bess pointed to a group of girls who were standing together and chanting Adam’s name. “That must be one of Adam’s fan clubs.”

Nancy’s eyes were sparkling with amusement. “If you don’t get a date with Adam tonight, maybe you can join.”

“I’ll consider it,” Bess said. “Hey, what’s with all that light?” Reverb’s main entrance was flooded with bright light.

Nancy looked behind her and saw a huge spotlight mounted on a truck. She nodded her head in the direction of the truck. “It’s a spot light. Reverb probably rented it for the evening.”

George laughed as the girls fought their way up to the door. “I feel like I’m at the Oscars.”

“Good evening,” a burly man in a tuxedo greeted them. “May I help you?”

“We’re on the guest list,” George told him. “The name is Fayne.”

The man studied a long list attached to a black plastic clipboard.

Bess grabbed Nancy’s arm. “Whitney Washington is here! That must be who the TV reporters are interviewing!”

Nancy stood on her tiptoes, trying to see around the lights and cameramen. She caught only a glimpse of a tall, stunning woman with smooth, chocolate-colored skin and a hip, layered haircut, but she immediately recognized her. Whitney Washington had starred in a movie Nancy had seen a few months earlier with her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. The movie had been pretty awful, but Nancy and Ned had both agreed that Whitney looked terrific.

“She’s even prettier in person,” Nancy told Bess.

“Pretty celebrities don’t interest me much,” Bess replied. “I’m more into the handsome type. But maybe I’ll have better luck inside.”

Nancy laughed. “Knowing you, Bess, I’m sure you will.”

“Fayne. Three,” the security guard said. “Okay, you can go in.”

As Nancy, George, and Bess stepped forward, a strobe went off in their faces.

“Thank you!” a dark-haired man with a press pass around his neck said as he lowered his camera. “By the way, who are you?”

“Sorry, nobody famous,” Nancy replied quickly.

“At least, not yet,” Bess said, tossing her blond hair over her shoulder.

“Whew!” Nancy said as the girls stepped inside. “That was quite a scene.”

“Only about half as big as the one in here,” Bess said enthusiastically.

The restaurant was pulsating with voices and loud music. The room itself was dimly lit, but small spotlights shone on each table. Most of the tables were full, and groups of people crowded around the gleaming ebony bar and elaborate buffet. This crowd, however, was nothing like the one outside. A number of the men were wearing tuxedos, and many of the women looked as if they had stepped straight from the pages of a fashion magazine. “Talk about glamorous,” George said to Nancy. “I’m glad you convinced me to wear a dress.”

“I think I see an empty table back there,” Bess said, pointing toward the rear of the room. “Let’s grab it and then we can go check out the food.”

“I’m more interested in checking out the crowd,” George said. “Look, there’s Lili Taylor!”

“Really? Where?” Bess gasped. Lili Taylor played a deranged nurse on Bess’s favorite soap opera. “Oh, I see her! Wow, what a dress. It’s so tiny!”

“Should we go say hi to her?” Nancy asked.

“I don’t think so,” Bess said. “She has a habit of poisoning people.”

George laughed. “Not to mention stabbing them with needles.”

Nancy kept an eye out for celebrities as she followed her friends to the table. She was almost certain she recognized Clay Parker, a muscle-bound movie star who had played the hero in countless action movies. Nancy was dazzled. Being at a party with so many celebrities was really fun.

By some miracle, the table Bess had seen from the door was still empty when Nancy and the others got to it. They put down their coats on the chairs to save the table and then doubled back to the buffet.

“Yummy!” Although Bess always claimed to be on a diet, she didn’t let that stop her from enjoying good food whenever the opportunity arose. And the buffet before them was enough to tempt even the most determined weight watcher.

“Do you think Frank made all this?” Nancy asked as she helped herself to some grilled chicken salad.

“Probably not all of it,” George said, reaching for some jumbo shrimp. “He told me that Reverb has two chefs. Frank is in charge of brunch and lunch. There’s another chef at dinner”

After the girls filled their plates, they headed back to the table. But before she sat down, Nancy stopped to admire a brilliant red electric guitar that was hanging on the wall above a small brass plaque. “That guitar belonged to Jimi Hendrix,” Nancy told her friends as she slid into her seat.

“Really?” George’s eyes widened.

“Really,” came a deep voice. A tall, slender young man with wavy black hair and olive skin was standing over their table. He was wearing a chef’s jacket and holding a dessert plate.

“Frank!” George exclaimed. “How are you?”

“Great,” Frank said. “Having fun?”

“Definitely,” George said. “Thanks so much for getting us in. I think we’re the only people here who aren’t famous.”

“I’m glad you could come,” Frank said. Bess leaned forward to examine the dessert plate that Frank placed on the table. On it was a chocolate dessert in the shape of a guitar, with white icing for the strings.

“That’s incredible!” Bess told Frank. “Did you make it?” Nancy asked. “Actually, no,” Frank admitted. “That’s the work of our pastry chef, Meghan. I brought it out because I remembered how much George loves chocolate.”

Nancy noticed George’s pleased smile. Frank wasn’t wasting much time. They’d barely said hello and he was already flirting.

“It looks too fabulous to eat,” Nancy commented.

“It tastes even better than it looks,” Frank said. “Everything Meghan makes is delicious, but this is her masterpiece.”

“Don’t worry,” Bess said wryly. “I couldn’t resist even if I wanted to.”

“So, how has your stay in Chicago been so far?’ Frank asked.

Nancy and Bess listened while George answered Frank’s questions about their weekend. The two immediately became so wrapped up in each other, they seemed to forget that Bess and Nancy were there.

Nancy gave Bess a wink, which she returned. Both girls were pleased to see that Frank was just as attracted to George as she was to him.

“Oh — here comes Whitney Washington!” Bess exclaimed, pointing toward the door.

Frank’s eyebrows shot up. He discreetly turned and looked over his shoulder, then turned back to the girls. “You’re right,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”

“Why not?” Nancy commented. “This place is filled with celebrities.”

“Yes, but Whitney isn’t just a celebrity. She’s also Adam’s ex-girlfriend,” Frank told them. “Not to mention the fact that she owns a restaurant — which she named after herself — a few blocks away. I can’t believe she’d want to help Adam hype this place.”

“Maybe she came to check out the competition,” George suggested.

“Or maybe she just didn’t want to miss a great party,” Nancy said with a laugh.

“See the man who just walked up to her?’ Frank whispered.

Nancy sat up straighter so that she could see the scene unfolding near the door. A balding man with a neatly trimmed reddish beard, wearing an expensive Italian suit, was giving the elegant actress a kiss on the cheek. She looked bored.

“Who is he?” Nancy asked.

“Adam’s agent,” Frank said in a confidential tone. “He’s a major player in Hollywood. He represents most of the big names in rock. His name is Larry Sen, but the restaurant staff calls him Mr. Network. I’d place a bet that he doesn’t sit down this whole evening. He’s got working a crowd down to a science.”

“Do you recognize any other — ” Bess broke off as a tall woman dressed in an exquisite emerald-colored dress approached the table.

“Oh, great,” Frank mumbled under his breath. “Here comes trouble.”

“I’ve been looking all over for you,” the woman greeted Frank. “Adam wants to talk to you immediately.”

Frank gave the woman an impish smile. “Hi, Paula,” he said. “These are my friends from River Heights.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Paula said. She gave the girls a forced smile and then turned her attention back to Frank. “Adam’s in the kitchen. Don’t keep him waiting.” With that, Paula moved off into the crowd.

Frank turned toward the girls with an apologetic smile.

“Did we get you in trouble somehow?” George asked.

Frank shook his head, looking more amused than angry. “Nah, Paula always acts that way. She’s the day-to-day manager of this place. She’s here like twenty-three hours a day, so she’s usually pretty stressed out.”

“The Adam who’s waiting to see you — is that Adam Sledge?” Bess asked shyly.

Frank rolled his eyes. “That’s the one. Mr. God’s-gift-to-rock-and-women himself.”

“You don’t sound as if you like Adam much,” Nancy commented.

“Well, Adam makes Paula seem calm by comparison,” Frank said with an exasperated laugh. “He threatens to fire me about six times a day.”

The girls exchanged surprised looks. So far, working for a rock star didn’t seem like a whole lot of fun.

“Does Adam actually work here?” Nancy asked Frank. “I thought most celebrities who are involved with places like this just put up the money and then jet back to L.A.”

“That’s true,” Frank said. “But Adam is a real hands-on kind of guy. He’s willing to work hard to make it a success. But if it’s popular, he’ll really clean up.”

“Smart guy,” Bess said.

“He’s not stupid,” Frank admitted. “But I think Whitney gave him the idea. She keeps close tabs on her place, too. Rumor has it that she made a cool million last year just from the T shirts and other merchandise she sells.”

“Wow!” George said.

“Pretty unbelievable, huh?” Frank said, shaking his head. “Well, I probably should go see what Adam wants. He gets irritated if you keep him waiting. But I’ll come back out and see how you all are doing in about an hour. I want to know how you like the food!”

“Later, then,” George said.

“‘Bye,” Nancy and Bess said together.

Frank gave them all a little wave and then disappeared into the crowd.

“I think I know why Frank invited us tonight,” Nancy said as she finally picked up her fork.

“Me, too,” Bess put in.

“What are you guys talking about?” George demanded. “Frank just did it to be nice.”

“Come off it,” Bess said. “Frank is obviously trying to impress you.”

“Do you think so?” George asked with a hopeful grin.

“Absolutely,” Nancy said.

“He’s gotten even more handsome since he left River Heights, don’t you think?” George asked.

“Absolutely,” Bess said with a giggle.

George sighed happily. “Nothing could ruin this evening,” she said.

Nancy smiled, happy to see her friend feeling so good. But a moment later her smile faded. Nancy smelled a familiar odor. Although it was extremely faint, it was enough to make her sit up straight.

“Do you smell smoke?” Nancy asked, looking around and noticing for the first time just how dangerously crowded the restaurant had become.

George’s seat faced out into the restaurant. “I smell it and I see it!” she exclaimed.

Nancy quickly spun around just in time to see clouds of dense, dark smoke engulfing the restaurant!

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