Book Detail

December 1820

Chapter 1

“You needn’t look at me as though I’m going to break. It’s hardly a surprise.”

Cordelia Davenport set down her copy of the Morning Chronicle. Edith Simmons had lived in the Davenport household for almost a year. She helped look after Cordelia’s children. She was no stranger to Cordelia’s own tangled history. But Edith remained very self-contained in many ways. For all they had been through—three murder investigations, blackmail, multiple spy plots—Cordelia had rarely seen Edith visibly shaken. And she’d certainly never seen her cry. “Did you know?” Cordelia asked.

“Thomas mentioned it when I saw him at the Classicists’ Society on Monday.”

Two days. Cordelia had been at the Classicists’ Society lecture on Monday as well. She and Edith had walked home together. And Edith hadn’t even been red-eyed. “It must be—”

Edith straightened her shoulders, fingers steady on the book she was holding. “Thomas and I’ve known for ages that we couldn’t marry—if we ever even thought it was a possibility. We’ve known he needed to marry an heiress to have any hope of helping his family. It was inevitable really. So the fact that he’s actually betrothed shouldn’t come as a surprise.”

“Shouldn’t isn’t at all the same as doesn’t.” Cordelia had very vivid memories of her own response when the man she had wanted to marry had become betrothed to an heiress. She scanned Edith’s face. Edith’s hazel eyes were steady, her pointed chin set with the usual determination, her strongly marked brows vivid against her pale skin. Though she might be self-contained, Edith had never really tried to keep her feelings about Thomas secret. They spilled out, the way her red-brown hair constantly escaped its pins.

“All right.” Edith threw the book in her lap onto the sofa beside her. “I knew marriage was impossible for us. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to marry if we could. I told myself domesticity was a trap and I was fortunate I couldn’t be caught in it. But no matter how much I knew, how much I told myself, this brings home that it really is impossible. And that’s absolutely beastly.”

“Thank goodness.” Cordelia jumped up from her writing desk, ran across the sitting room, and dropped down on the sofa beside Edith. “I was afraid I’d completely misread you. Or that you weren’t human.”

“Oh, I’m all too human where Thomas is concerned.” Edith slumped back against the green-and-white-striped sofa cushions. “She has a younger brother, Gerald, who’s come to some Classicists’ Society talks. He’s at Cambridge still. I think that’s how Thomas met her, though he didn’t volunteer a lot. Do you know her? Marianne Schofield?” Edith’s voice caught just the slightest bit, like the toe of a half-boot scraping on rock, as she said the name of Thomas Thornsby’s betrothed. Words could have power, as Cordelia’s writer friends would be quick to concede.

“I know the family a bit,” Cordelia said. “Marianne was a child before Waterloo and then we were in Brussels and Paris, and since we’ve been back in London we haven’t gone about in society as much as we used to.”

“That’s because you’re sensible,” Edith said.

“That’s a matter of perspective, I suppose. I prefer our life now.” Cordelia scoured her memory of Debrett’s and other social details. Though she might be more focused on classical studies and nursery and schoolroom activities and the occasional murder investigation or spy mission these days, recalling those details was still second nature. “Her father did very well betting on a British win after Waterloo. Which one can hardly fault him for.”

“Her father made his money in munitions. He supplied cannon and guns to the army during the war in the Peninsula.”

“So I’ve heard. Her mother is connected to the Gorings. Lord Pemberton is a cousin, I think.”

“So her father married into the fringes of the beau monde. And he wants more for his daughter.”

“It’s the way things are often done,” Cordelia said. “It’s a trade that’s worked for generations. One of my ancestors was the daughter of a wealthy brewer in the time of Henry VIII who married a penniless baron. And then their son became a viscount. So one could say the bargain worked. But how well the marriage works rather depends on the expectations of those involved.”

“I imagine Thomas is clear-eyed.” Edith grabbed a pillow and hugged it to her chest. “He’s a pragmatist. But he also takes his commitments seriously. He’ll do his best. Though if she wants town dash she’ll be disappointed. And I can’t imagine she’s—I doubt she’s a classicist. If she was, you’d think she’d have come to the Classicists’ Society with her brother.”

“Yes, precisely. I doubt it as well. And it’s difficult to see Thomas with anyone who isn’t a classicist.”

Edith shrugged. “Lots of people in Mayfair marriages keep to their own pursuits. Didn’t you and Harry at first?”

Cordelia grimaced. Her gaze went to her writing desk, which held notes of a monograph she was writing with Harry. And to the two toy horses occupying a makeshift stable beneath the desk. “With a vengeance. Though even then we talked about classics. In fact, those were some of our best conversations. We spent our wedding journey tramping about Yorkshire looking for potsherds. At the time I was simply grateful to have something we could do together and something to talk about at dinner. Looking back, I was happier then than I’d been in months. Years. Not since—” But even now, even with Edith, who knew so much, she wasn’t prepared to talk about George Chase. His life and death and the way she had felt about a man who had been capable of so much perfidy still rubbed her raw. Instead, she said, “It was classics that gave Harry and me a basis to make our marriage work, though I didn’t realize it until years later.”

Edith plucked at the fringe on the cushion. “People make marriages work without having things in common though. I don’t think Thomas expects—That is—”

“I’m quite sure he doesn’t,” Cordelia said.

Edith stretched her legs out and frowned at the toes of her half-boots, dusty from her recent expedition to Green Park with Cordelia and her daughters. “I hear she’s very lovely. One of the season’s successes.”

“She’s pretty,” Cordelia conceded. “Far more conventional than you.” Edith might not be the type to be crowned the toast of the season, but to Cordelia’s mind she was the sort one would never forget. “Though she appears to be far less silly than a lot of young women who are just out. Oh, dear, that makes me sound ancient.”

Edith agreed folded her arms, crushing the pillow. “I expect she’ll make Thomas an admirable wife.”

Cordelia glanced down at her wedding ring. And then at a diamond bracelet Harry had given her. Which perhaps meant more. “Define ‘admirable wife.'”

“Oh, you know. The sort who knows how and when to pay calls and what to order for dinner and how to seat a table and arrange flowers—all the things you know how to do.”

Cordelia felt her spine jerk straight. “Edith, do you really think me as dull as that?”

Edith’s gaze shot sideways to Cordelia’s face, at once level and abashed. “Of course not. But you can’t deny you know how to do it all.”

“Only because I was brought up to it. No, that’s not fair—you were too.”

“I just didn’t pay attention.”

“And I used to think it was important. But Harry doesn’t care a rap for it. In fact, he’d much prefer it if we went out even less than we do. I don’t think Thomas does much either.”

“No, but he’d notice if his house weren’t the way it’s supposed to be,” Edith said. “Perhaps more than Harry would. While I’d be perfectly comfortable with the chaos. I suppose that doesn’t give a lot of thought to any possible children.”

“Oh, children do fine with chaos,” Cordelia. “I raised mine through Waterloo and the aftermath and then through abruptly packing up for Italy. As long as they have their parents and basic comforts of life, they seem fine. It was rather a relief to realize that.”

The door opened to admit Harry. He hesitated on the threshold, as though aware he’d interrupted a personal discussion. For all his brusque manners, Harry was extraordinarily attuned to personal nuances.

Cordelia stretched out her arm to him over the sofa back. “I’m glad you’re here, darling. Did you see Malcolm?”

“Yes.” Harry moved into the room. “Malcolm and Mélanie have invited us to dinner tonight. Kitty and Julien will be there.” His gaze moved to Edith. Just the barest flicker.

“How splendid,” Edith said. She looked from Harry to Cordelia. “Truly. I mean, it’s going to be a bit ghastly facing everyone with the news of Thomas’s engagement out, but I’ll have to do it sooner or later. They’ll all be kind and they won’t pry. And truly I could do with distraction tonight. If only there were a good murder investigation or a set of stolen papers or a bit of political blackmail to be resolved that I could help with.”

Harry’s face relaxed into a smile. “Careful what you wish for.”

Edith grinned. “Honestly, right now any of those sounds like heaven.”


Mélanie Rannoch poured a cup of coffee and passed it to Edith Simmons. Edith was doing splendidly, all things considered, accepting everyone’s sympathy (largely unspoken, for it was a tactful group) and not giving signs of feeling sorry for herself. It was a beastly situation, though Mélanie, who had had a varied romantic career in her years as a spy, had never been in the position of having a man she loved become betrothed to someone else. Though she certainly had wondered often enough if her husband Malcolm would have been happier with someone else. She caught Malcolm’s gaze across the sofa table. Malcolm smiled, an easy smile that said he had no hint of the doubts that still ate at her.

Edith took a sip of coffee and settled back on the library sofa with a determined smile. “I almost wish the royal divorce trial,” she said.

The new king, George IV’s, efforts to divorce his long-estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, had been the talk of London for months. The trial before the House of Lords had gone on for months and had formed the basis of two of their group’s murder investigations, which had touched on attempts to affect the outcome. Yet Mélanie could feel a palpable relief in the group in her library as the conversation turned to the royal divorce.

“And glad as I am that the queen prevailed, I do wish the bill had been defeated instead of the government’s withdrawing it.”

“Once the Tory’s majority was down to nine, they didn’t have much choice,” Malcolm said. The Tories, the ruling party, had backed the king in the divorice proceedings. The Whigs had supported the queen, partly in hopes of ousting the Tories from power, partly because popular opinion had coalesced round the queen. And at least in some cases because they genuinely believed she had been ill-used. “But I’m only an observer from the Commons. What do you think, Julien?”

Julien Mallinson, who had recently assumed the title of Earl Carfax after a quarter century undercover, grinned. “I may sit in the Lords but I make no pretense to understanding them. You’re much more versed in the inner workings of the party.”

Malcolm snorted. “I’m not even a proper Whig, to hear most of them talk.”

“You’re a more proper Whig than most of us.” Raoul O’Roarke, who was Malcolm’s father (and also Mélanie’s former spymaster, though that was another story), settled back on the settee and took a drink of coffee. “But as someone used to the field, I’d say the Tories knew when to concede to avoid embarrassment.”

Raoul’s wife, Laura, turned to him with a smile. “And you have known the prime minister longer than any of us.”

Raoul, a Radical and revolutionary, who had formed an unlikely alliance with the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, when they were both in their twenties, gave an ironic smile. “I can’t claim to be privy to the inner workings of his mind. But I will say he’s always struck me as a pragmatist. He hadn’t just lost votes like Granville and Trenchard, he’d lost arch-Tories like Stafford. Harrowby didn’t vote at all and he’s in the cabinet. Withdrawing the case may have angered the king, but probably not as much as losing would have done.”

“But it has yet to bring the government down,” Edith said. Her eyes were bright, partly with genuine interest, partly, Mélanie suspected, with a desperate need for distraction.

“I’d love to see that,” Laura said, “but having grown up with uprisings in India, I rather suspect popular attention will move on. And the Tories will remain in power.” She smiled at Edith, with whom she currently ran the school they had all started on a property Mélanie and Malcolm owned.

“You always have the best insights, Laura,” Edith said. “For once, I found myself wanting to believe in fairy tales. At least that sort of fairy tale.” She took a resolute sip of coffee. “I long since ceased believing in the other sort.”

Julien pushed himself to his feet and moved to the drinks trolley. “I think you could do with something stronger.” He picked up a whisky decanter and splashed some into her coffee.

Edith grinned at him. “You know just what to say, Lord Carfax.”

“And you should know better than to call me ‘Lord Carfax.’ If anything—”

A ring sounded from the hall. Malcolm jumped up and went into the hall to the front door. Mélanie followed her husband, wondering if it was the source of a new investigation or a social caller who would be shocked by their habit of answering their own door in the evenings. Over Malcolm’s shoulder she saw a tall figure in a sodden greatcoat and beaver hat. “I’m sorry.” Thomas Thornsby, the man who had recently betrothed himself to Marianne Schofield rather than Edith, pulled his hat from his head. It was dripping rainwater. “I have no right to be here.”

“Of course you have a right to be here,” Malcolm said. “You’re a friend. You’d better come in.”

“I’m afraid I’m a mess.”

“Nonsense,” Mélanie said. “Though why don’t you give us your greatcoat and hat.”

He gave a bleak smile. “You’re kind to say so, Mrs. Rannoch. I fear I don’t deserve it.”

“Don’t be silly, Thomas,” Edith said from the library doorway. “We’re all still friends.”

Thomas started, then turned and met her gaze for a moment without flinching.

“I’m sorry,” Edith said. “You probably didn’t know I was here.”

“No, that is—I wouldn’t have troubled you if I’d known. Wouldn’t have wanted to. But I wouldn’t have had a choice.”

Edith drew a breath. “What is it?”

Thomas’s hands clenched on his sodden greatcoat as he slid it from his shoulders. “It’s Miss Schofield—Marianne.”

“Something’s wrong?” Edith asked. “I mean—”

“Yes. No.” Thomas stared down at the greatcoat in his hands, dripping rainwater onto the black-and-white marble tiles. “I can’t be sure. But she’s disappeared.”