A Deceptive Composition

A Deceptive Composition

by Anna Lee Huber

Narrated by Heather Wilds

Unabridged

A Deceptive Composition

A Deceptive Composition

by Anna Lee Huber

Narrated by Heather Wilds

Unabridged

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Overview

Lady Kiera Darby and her dashing husband, Sebastian Gage, hope they've finally found peace after a tumultuous summer, but long-buried family secrets soon threaten to unravel their lives . . .



October 1832. Kiera is enjoying the slower pace of the English countryside. She, Sebastian, and their infant daughter have accompanied her father-in-law, Lord Gage, home so that he can recuperate from the injuries he sustained in a foiled attempt on his life. But as the chill of autumn sweeps across the land, they receive a summons from an unexpected quarter. Lord Gage's estranged uncle-a member of the notorious Roscarrock family-has been murdered, and his family is desperate for answers. Despite Lord Gage's protests, Kiera and Sebastian press on to Cornwall to assist.



It isn't long before they discover that almost nothing is as it seems among the Roscarrocks, and they've been lured to their isolated cove under false pretenses. There are whispers of a lost treasure and frightening allusions to a series of murders stretching back decades that touch the lives of the family personally. Kiera and Sebastian are left with no choice but to uncover the truth before the secrets of the past threaten to destroy them all.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

2024-04-20
A family of inquiry agents receives a plea for help from estranged relatives.

Although the birth of his granddaughter has improved Lord Gage’s rocky relationship with his son, Sebastian, and daughter-in-law, Kiera, a letter from his aunt Amelia revives unpleasant memories of more family trauma involving Gage’s youth in Cornwall and the Roscarrock relatives he remembers as rogues and smugglers. Drafted at age 11 into their activities, he was arrested and his best friend killed. His grandfather bought him a commission in the navy to keep him out of prison, setting him on the path to wealth and respectability. Now Aunt Amelia claims that Gage’s uncle Branok was murdered and wants him to investigate. He’s loath to do so until Sebastian and Kiera convince him—but when they all arrive at Roscarrock House, their greeting is not entirely warm. Branok reportedly fell from a cliff, but Kiera’s observations at the site and talk with the local doctor leave her so unsatisfied that she wonders how the coroner could have ruled the death an accident. Branok’s grandson, Meryasek, who’s inherited the estate, has a reputation as a lazy womanizer. Then Lord Gage meets an old friend who claims she saw Branok after he was supposed to have died. However wholeheartedly they deny it, the local families are still involved in smuggling, and Lord Gage doubts their word about everything. The real reason they asked Gage to investigate comes as a shock that puts his whole family in a precarious position.

A bit of history and a stunning Cornish backdrop add value to a complex mystery.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940191334516
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Publication date: 06/18/2024
Series: Lady Darby Series , #12
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Everything that deceives may be said to enchant.

-Plato

October 1832

Warwickshire, England

Come see who I found wandering the corridors."

I looked up from the sheet music at the sound of my father-in-law's voice, my fingers trailing to a stop along the pianoforte keys. I couldn't help but smile at the sight of Lord Gage ambling toward me, still favoring his recently injured right leg, with the warm and wriggling bundle of my daughter cradled in his arms.

"Wandering, was she?" I countered in amusement. Given the fact that she was all of nearly seven months old and unable to crawl yet, the idea of her wandering anywhere was absurd. It seemed far more likely he'd liberated her from her nanny's care in the nursery.

"Well . . . I could tell she was thinking it. If only she'd been able to work out the mechanics of this thing called walking first." Lord Gage grinned down at Emma, and she squealed happily in response before returning her gaze to the object which had captured her attention.

Truth be told, it was the same object that had caught my attention when I'd first entered the drawing room at Bevington Park upon our arrival two months prior. The Broadwood grand pianoforte had gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the tall western-facing windows, practically beckoning to be played. One might have been forgiven for believing that the manor's owner was an accomplished pianist, such was the pride of place the instrument held, but I knew this to be untrue. In fact, the next day when I'd sat upon the bench, I'd suspected I was the first person to do so since the pianoforte had been delivered and tuned. The instrument was purely part of the chamber's aesthetic, for Lord Gage decorated his homes for effect rather than to suit his comfort and taste. But given the enjoyment I'd received from playing the magnificent instrument, this was one matter in which it would be disingenuous for me to complain.

I ran my fingers lightly over the keys, repeating the last phrase of music I'd played from one of Schubert's Impromptus. My husband, Sebastian Gage, had gifted me the sheet music of the set of impromptus for my birthday that spring, but I'd had little time to practice them in earnest until our arrival in Warwickshire. Some of the pieces were beyond my ability, and I would never be able to play them with great skill, but I had become determined to master the others. Or at least to do a credible job in performing them for my own pleasure.

Emma cooed in response, tipping forward in her grandfather's arms and reaching toward me. I sat her on my lap and predictably she lurched toward the keys, slamming her open palms down with relish as the pianoforte issued a series of discordant notes. There was nothing for it but to smile and hold fast to her little body lest she tumble forward in her unrestrained efforts.

"A veritable prodigy," Lord Gage proclaimed even as he winced at one particularly strident chord.

Though I'd been given over two months to grow accustomed to it, it was still difficult sometimes to reconcile the affectionate man before me with the father-in-law I had known. And if it was difficult for me, it must be doubly so for my husband, who had only known his father as cold, contemptuous, and impossible to please. Not that that side of Lord Gage had vanished entirely. He was still hard and critical, especially when crossed, but at least he was making an effort to build a relationship with us based on mutual respect and trust rather than merely obligation and duty. He might never hold as much esteem or devotion for his son or me as he did his granddaughter, but that was something we were both willing to accept. Particularly given the fact that Lord Gage was Emma's only living grandparent.

"What's this I hear?" Gage declared as he strode into the room. His golden hair was rumpled, and his sun-bronzed cheeks flushed from his morning ride. "Our daughter is giving her first recital and I wasn't invited."

Emma offered him a toothless grin, her golden curls-so like her father's-escaping from the sides of her cap. A trail of drool dribbled from her bottom lip and I managed to catch it before it fell to the ivory keys.

"Oh, this is just the prelude," I replied.

Gage flinched as Emma brought her hands down with more strength that I'd anticipated, producing several resounding crashes. Her father struggled to maintain his grin. "Oh, yes?"

Lord Gage chuckled. "Which direction did you ride today? Toward the lake?"

"Aye, and down through the pastures near Weethley."

I listened absentmindedly as the men discussed the estate-which my husband would one day inherit from his father. Lord Gage had been granted his barony and this property by the king a little over two years prior for his services during the late war with Napoléon and his more recent efforts on the sovereign and his friends' behalf as a gentleman inquiry agent. As such, Gage had spent little time here since then, and he had much to learn.

Truth be told, when we'd first arrived in late August, I'd been a little overawed. I hadn't expected a hovel, but neither had I anticipated this prime bit of real estate. Clearly it spoke to the immensity of either the king's affection for, or gratitude to, my father-in-law. Perhaps both.

Something that immediately raised questions in the cynical side of my brain. What exactly had Lord Gage done to inspire such gratitude? What delicate matter had he investigated or orchestrated to the sovereign's satisfaction? After all, I was better acquainted than most with the secrets the wealthy, titled, and powerful might hide.

But I also acknowledged that my father-in-law's friendship with King William IV was long-standing. Lord Gage had served under his command on the HMS Pegasus when the king was still a younger son-never expected to inherit the Crown from his older brother-and he'd remained a faithful friend through all the years that followed. He would, though, be the first to admit that their friendship had only lasted because he had proved to be useful to the king and his friends. Even so, this estate was quite the reward for such efforts.

Of course, I had no idea what state it had been in when Lord Gage had been granted it, or to what expense he'd had to go to in order to restore and refurbish it. Many of the furnishings and interiors were new, but that might have been less from need and more my father-in-law's desire that his home be all that was fashionable and au courant.

Regardless, upon seeing the size of the estate, Gage had begun to feel more keenly the responsibility he held to it. One day, he would not only be in charge of the manor, but also all the land and workings, and the people who labored upon it. Their care and management-and to a great extent their future prosperity-would rest on his shoulders. Of course, that day might be decades from now. But then again, it might be next week. The attacks made on Lord Gage in August had awakened us all to the realization that our loved ones' tomorrows were never guaranteed.

"Have you given any greater thought to the dower house?" Lord Gage asked.

Gage's eyes lifted to meet mine. "I have."

Deciding our ears had suffered enough punishment, and sensing Gage wished for me to take part in this conversation as much as I wanted to, I pushed to my feet. Emma immediately protested.

Gage set aside his riding gloves and crop and reached for her. "Now, what's all this fussing?" He lifted her high into the air, transforming her cries into laughter as he let his arms drop as if he might let her fall. He repeated this several times as we made our way over to the pair of rosewood sofas positioned near the hearth. A blanket lay folded over one arm and I spread it over the portion of open rug farthest from the crackling fire. Gage set Emma down with a pillow propped behind her lest she topple backward and Lord Gage produced one of her ragdolls from his coat pocket, handing it to her.

There were those who might say children had no place in the grand public rooms of such a stately home. That their proper domain lay in the nursery, and only the nursery. But I was not of that mind-set, and to my shock and somewhat utter disbelief, neither was Lord Gage. I had anticipated numerous arguments over the subject upon our arrival, but as often as not, he was the one removing his granddaughter from the nursery or brushing aside the messes babies inevitably made as inconsequential.

Of course, he might have felt differently if he'd been the one forced to clean spit-up from the Aubusson rug or spittle from the silk cushions. The maids and housekeeper might rightly have resented Emma for causing them extra work, but her big blue eyes and happy grins had charmed them as surely as her grandfather.

Gage turned to me with a contented smile as he settled onto the sofa beside me while his father leaned forward to jabber with Emma. My husband smelled of wind, sun, and horse, but it was something I'd grown accustomed to since our arrival in Warwickshire. He'd begun taking daily rides across the various parts of the estate, both for his own enjoyment and to better acquaint himself with the property. Upon occasion, I'd also suspected he was escaping his father, but given their contentious relationship in the past, those instances were far fewer than I'd anticipated. Sometimes I even joined him.

The country suited my husband. I'd noticed this before, but now it was driven home even further. With his charm and good looks, he might thrive among the civilized society in Mayfair, but he also needed space and fresh air to exert himself. If I'd thought him arresting before, his artlessly windswept locks and sun-bronzed skin now made him irresistible, particularly when he seemed perfectly at ease in his surroundings as I'd never seen him before. A fact that made me realize he'd done an astonishingly good job of hiding his enjoyment of the countryside from everyone-including me-until now.

Undoubtedly his reconciliation with his father had a great deal to do with his newfound sense of peace. But I could also tell that he liked it here in this pretty corner of Warwickshire. He liked it a great deal. Which softened me to the possibility my father-in-law soon broached.

"The dower house, then?" Lord Gage declared, sinking deeper into the aubergine damask cushions of his chair and adjusting his charcoal frock coat. "As you've already seen, it needs some work. But the bulk of the house is in excellent condition, and any changes you wish can be done to your specifications. I suspect we can find a foreman to begin the work almost as soon as you say the word."

Though he didn't say so, I could tell how earnestly my father-in-law wanted us to accept his offer. It was written in the glimmer of his gray eyes and the stiffness of his posture.

What he'd said was true. Overall, the dower house was in good condition, despite sitting vacant for a number of years. Situated in a forested glade, tucked out of sight on the opposite side of the estate, it was perhaps a mile-and-a-half's distance from Bevington Hall itself but still situated within the park. As a dower house, it was intended to be the abode of the current lord's predecessor's widow-usually his mother-but that did not mean it couldn't be put to other uses. As Lord Gage's title was newly created, and his mother was deceased, there was no one to occupy it in the traditional sense, so he had offered it to us.

"Sebastian told me you've been considering purchasing a country house of your own," Lord Gage added.

I turned to Gage, somewhat surprised he'd discussed the matter with his father.

"Why go to the bother and expense when there's already a good home here for you? One to which you can retreat whenever you wish." He spread his hands. "And after all, this entire estate will be yours one day. Why not set down your roots here now?"

Just three months' prior, merely the notion of such a thing would have been unthinkable, but now it was at least worth considering. It did seem rather silly to search for our own country house when his father owned an estate of such size and grandeur with a separate home ready made for us. Truth be told, Bevington Park was more than large enough to accommodate a family ten times our size, but the chief argument against our settling here was my fear that proximity might breed contempt.

Just because Gage and his father had reconciled, and for the most part managed to rub along rather well together, did not mean this would last. If the past was any indicator, Lord Gage would exert his stubborn highhandedness at some point, or Gage and I would fail to behave in a manner his father deemed proper. Disagreements were inevitable but might be mitigated with at least a modicum of distance.

"I concede those are all valid points," I admitted.

"Thank you, Kiera," Lord Gage replied with a pleased curl to his lips before I could finish.

"But . . ." I stressed. "It's not a decision to be made hastily." I reached over to clasp Gage's hand. "However, it is something we certainly need to consider."

"What more is there to discuss?" Lord Gage retorted, exhibiting his more typical impatience when we refused to do as he wished. "I recognize you have your inheritance from your mother and your stipend from me to do whatever you wish with," he appealed to his son. "But why throw away your money on another property when you spend so much of the year in London and Edinburgh anyway? Not to mention the inquiries you undertake on my and your own behalf."

"All further valid points," Gage agreed. As a gentlemen inquiry agent like his father, with me assisting him in this capacity, we often found ourselves visiting far-flung places on the isle of Britain, and even on one memorable occasion in Ireland. The time spent at our country estate would probably be minimal. My husband arched his eyebrows in warning. "But pressuring us will not get you the answer you want any faster."

Lord Gage turned to the side, exhaling in obvious frustration. "Yes, yes," he admitted. Something he would never have done before his brush with death. His gaze dipped to where Emma played on the floor, babbling to Rosie, her ragdoll. "I'm sure you know my reasons for wanting you here."

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