A Fatal Illusion

A Fatal Illusion

by Anna Lee Huber
A Fatal Illusion

A Fatal Illusion

by Anna Lee Huber


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New parents Lady Kiera Darby and Sebastian Gage look forward to introducing Sebastian’s father to his granddaughter, but instead find themselves investigating an attempt on his life...

Yorkshire, England. August 1832. Relations between Sebastian Gage and his father have never been easy, especially since the discovery that Lord Gage has been concealing the existence of an illegitimate son. But when Lord Gage is nearly fatally attacked on a journey to Scotland, Sebastian and Kiera race to his side. Given the tumult over the recent passage of the Reform Bill and the Anatomy Act, in which Lord Gage played a part, Sebastian wonders if the attack could be politically motivated.

But something suspicious is afoot in the sleepy village where Lord Gage is being cared for. The townspeople treat Sebastian and Kiera with hostility when it becomes clear they intend to investigate, and rumors of mysterious disappearances and highway robberies plague the area. Lord Gage’s survival is far from assured, and Sebastian and Kiera must scramble to make the pieces fit before a second attempt at murder is more successful than the first.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593198483
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/20/2023
Series: Lady Darby Series , #11
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 54,604
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.93(h) x 0.96(d)

About the Author

Anna Lee Huber is the Daphne Award–winning author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries and the Verity Kent Mysteries. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in music and minored in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her family and is hard at work on her next novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.

-William Shakespeare

August 1832

Yorkshire, England

Wait, Kiera," my husband, Sebastian Gage, called as he guided his horse to the edge of the road. "It's best to let the coach go first down this hill."

I pulled up on Figg's reins, bringing the strawberry roan into line with Gage's chestnut gelding as our carriage lumbered over the crest of the ridge with our coachman skillfully handling the ribbons as it began its descent.

Though not as treacherous as it had once been, the slope leading down into the gorge was still quite formidable. I well remembered my first journey south on the Great North Road some ten or eleven years past, before a new road had been cut out of the limestone rock through which the River Went flowed. We'd clung to the walls of the coach as we'd been driven down the precipitous path into the narrow valley, and then been forced to walk alongside the carriage as we ascended in order to alleviate some of the burden for the horses as they toiled back up the other side. In the years since, I'd been exposed to some colorful curses by the coachmen of the passing mail and stagecoaches who regularly drove this route, all of whom despised the nuisance of this stretch of road as much as the rest of us.

My lips quirked at the sight of our coachman's lips moving as he passed, and I couldn't help but wonder what curse he was muttering to himself. But my amusement vanished when I recalled that my infant daughter was ensconced inside the carriage he'd been entrusted to drive, along with Emma's nanny, Mrs. Mackay, and my maid, Bree. Once the dust had settled from their passing, Gage and I urged our mounts to follow.

The sun shone hot on our backs as we left the shade of the old-growth forest behind us to navigate the steep, rutted road. I trusted in Figg's sure-footedness to manage the descent. There wasn't much more I could do, for it took most of my concentration to maintain my seat in the saddle. I might have remained in the carriage, but having spent nearly a week inside its confines on the road from the Highlands, I'd begun to relish any opportunity I could to escape. When we'd broken our journey in the Borders at Blakelaw House-my childhood home, which now belonged to my brother-I'd seized the chance to requisition the strawberry roan, who for all intents and purposes had always been mine, from the stables.

By all rights, I should have remained at Blakelaw House with our young child and the female members of our staff. At least, that's what any normal wife would have done. But I, and everyone around me, had long accepted I wasn't a typical gentlewoman, and I simply couldn't bear to wait in comfort while my husband faced what was before him.

The exact nature of what he was to confront wasn't yet known to us, but it soon would be-likely within the hour-and the evidence of that strain marked his handsome face. His strong jaw was tight, and his brow furrowed, and whenever I caught a glimpse of his pale blue eyes, I could see the fear lurking in their depths.

As if aware of my scrutiny, he pressed his hand to the breast of his deep green frock coat over the interior pocket, which contained the source of his distress. I'd watched him remove the letter often enough over the past six days, unfolding it to study the few short lines, as if perhaps, this time, the words would be different. But no matter how many times he read it, or how worn and pliant the paper became with use, the message never changed. His father had still been attacked along the Great North Road nine days ago.

It was impossible to know what we would discover once we reached Wentbridge. The letter Lord Gage's valet, Mr. Lembus, had penned to my husband had been short on details. Haste had clearly been his sole objective. That fact alone stirred the dread within me, as I knew it did Gage. For if his concern that word reach Gage promptly had not been so great, would he not have shared more? As such, the trepidation that we might arrive to find his father was already deceased was never far from either of our thoughts.

We could see little of what lay before us, for the carriage blocked the road, and the cuttings through the limestone soared twenty feet high on either side. Plants and vines had begun to take root in the crevices of the rock walls and along the verge of the road, and trees that had been trimmed back when the cutting was made had begun to gently arch over the lane in places, forming a tunnel. The air was thick with a swirling musk of damp from the vegetation and dust from passing coaches.

As we rounded a series of slight curves, the road began to level and the walls ended to afford us an expansive view of golden fields and brilliant blue skies. Several hundred feet farther along we spied the first stone cottages perched at the outskirts of the village. The carriage slowed, and Gage and I spurred our horses forward to overtake it now that we were no longer in danger of being bowled over by it on the steep incline.

Two riders waited at the edge of the road a short distance away, and my stomach dipped at the sight of the familiar figures. Gage had sent his half brother, Lord Henry Kerr, and his loyal valet, Anderley, ahead to do reconnaissance, as it were. For while Lembus's terse letter had said that Lord Gage had been taken to the village of Wentbridge, he hadn't told us exactly where. Perhaps because he didn't know where his employer would end up. By sending Henry and Anderley ahead of us to find out, we'd hoped to be spared from traveling back and forth across the village with a lumbering carriage and an infant in tow.

I searched the two men's faces as we approached, seeking any indication of what they'd uncovered-whether Lord Gage was alive or already deceased-but neither revealed more than a stoic resolve. Anderley's face habitually wore such an expression, so I found my eyes drawn toward Henry, who was not usually so adept at hiding his emotions. Though the prospect of facing his natural father for the first time in years, the father who had firmly stated he wanted nothing to do with him and then forbidden him to tell Gage-his half brother-of his existence, must be weighing on him heavily. That Gage now knew, and had confronted his father on the issue, albeit only in letters, simply increased the tension.

"Any word?" Gage asked as we drew our horses to a stop before them.

Anderley turned to Henry, perhaps feeling he should reveal their findings, and the pause made my heart stutter in my chest.

"He's alive," Henry finally declared.

Gage's relief was palpable as his head bowed and he inhaled a shuddering breath. I exhaled a breath of my own and reached for him, clasping his fingers tightly when he lifted his hand to mine. "Where is he?" he managed to ask after he'd composed himself.

"He's under the care of the local surgeon, a Dr. Josiah Barker, and apparently staying in his home. It's just a little farther along the road this way." Henry gestured in the direction we must travel.

Gage nodded to both men as the clatter of our carriage's wheels approached. "Lead on, then."

Henry and Anderley swung their thoroughbreds around and started up the road at an easy pace, but one that would not require our coachman to slow the carriage horses, and Gage and I fell in behind them. At first, I didn't speak, recognizing that my husband still needed another moment to gather himself. He'd been in more than half dread that we would learn his father was already deceased, and the discovery that he was not had staggered him. After all, their relationship had never been easy, particularly in the past few months. One could feel both profound relief and dread at the same time, just as one could love someone and still feel fiery anger, disappointment, and disgust. And those were only a handful of the complicated emotions his father provoked in us.

"At least the worst has not occurred," I ventured to say, trying to cast as positive a light on the situation as I could. "And the fact that he's survived this many days after his attack must be viewed as encouraging."

Gage's brow puckered. "Yes, but my father is a stubborn man. I fear he must be poor off, indeed, if he's condescended to stay in the home of a surgeon." We all knew that Lord Gage was nothing if not haughty.

"Maybe," I replied obliquely.

While it was true that most surgeons were considered below the dignity of gentlemen-getting their hands dirty as they did, setting bones and performing surgeries-their services were still needed. The physicians that the gentry and nobility traditionally relied upon for their medical needs could not be called upon to perform those less than genteel tasks. As such, on occasion a surgeon was required, and preferably one of an elevated status, such as my late husband, Sir Anthony Darby. Sir Anthony had already been wealthy and well connected when he was made sergeant surgeon to His Majesty, the late king George IV, who had then granted Sir Anthony a baronetcy for services rendered, further opening the door into that rarified world. There were other surgeons like he'd been. Though, the likelihood of a surgeon of such status being found in a small village in rural Yorkshire was rather miniscule.

"Whatever the case, we shall face it. And we shall face it together," I promised.

He turned his head to look at me, and I saw the strain it was causing him to remain composed. It was writ in the rigidity of his jaw and the way his skin stretched taut across his cheekbones. His solemn gaze shimmered with uncertainty, seeming to both beg me to say no more and plead with me to tell him what to do. Had I known the right words to say, I would have said them, but all I could do was remain at his side, to let him know he was not alone.

His throat worked as he swallowed, and a bead of sweat trickled down the side of his neck from his hairline, leaving a faint trail through the fine layer of dust coating our skin from the road. But better dirt than mud. We'd been fortunate in the weather thus far, enjoying a stretch of mostly dry, albeit warm, days, which had enabled us to travel more easily than a spell of rainy weather would have allowed.

We had yet to reach the heart of the village, which clustered about the River Went, but the number of cottages staggered along the roadside had increased. Henry and Anderley veered off on a narrow lane that appeared in a gap in the line of hedges bordering the road-one that all but obscured our view of anything to the east. Once beyond the hedgerow, the vista expanded, offering a sweeping view of a rolling, pastoral landscape beyond. While to our left stood a small, charming Georgian manor.

By no means was it as large or palatial as the homes of some of the nobility, but there was a graciousness to its simplicity, a pleasing aspect to its clean lines and tasteful landscaping. This was the home of a member of the gentry or a prosperous businessman, or, as it appeared, a surgeon of no small means, and certainly not a dwelling to be scoffed at by all but the most supercilious of individuals. I wasn't sure where Lord Gage fell on that spectrum.

Our approach up the short gravel drive must have been noted, for before any of us could dismount, the door was opened, and a rather distinguished-looking man emerged. He was dressed in sober gentleman's garments and stood with one hand propped beneath his dark coat on his hip. Gage assisted me in descending, and I could sense that he was bracing himself for what was to come as he concentrated on the task of guiding my right leg over the top pommel and lowering me to the ground. When his gaze lifted to mine, a mask of polite reserve had fallen over his features-the one he donned whenever he wished to hide his emotions from others. Pulling my arm through his, he guided me across the yard toward the man waiting, with Henry following us a few steps behind.

"You must be Mr. and Mrs. Gage," the man declared in a pleasing tenor pitch. I judged him to be approximately twoscore years of age, perhaps a little older, and he possessed a head of thick cinnamon brown hair which seemingly refused to be tamed, adding even more length to an already long, narrow face with an equally long, narrow nose. It was by no means an attractive set of features, but it was not unpleasant to behold either.

"We are," Gage confirmed.

"Then you must be searching for Lord Gage." He gave a little bow at the waist. "I am Josiah Barker. I've had the privilege of treating your father."

I couldn't help but search the surgeon's face for any sign of sarcasm, for given how difficult Lord Gage was to contend with when he was healthy, I could only imagine he was tenfold worse when he was injured and unwell. But from all appearances, he appeared to be in earnest.

He looked behind him toward the interior of his home, where a woman I suspected was his wife lingered-her gown was too fine to belong to a servant-and beyond her a tall man who may have been their butler. "Please, you are most welcome in our home." His regard drifted over our shoulders. "Your servants as well."

"Thank you," I said, just as I heard Emma fussing. I turned to beckon Mrs. Mackay forward, knowing it must be almost time for my daughter to nurse. Taking her into my arms, I cradled her close, noting her red cheeks and how she was sucking on her fist. She was a sweaty, unhappy baby.

Dr. and Mrs. Barker both took the sudden appearance of an infant in stride as we were ushered inside the entry hall, paneled in pale oak and boasting a staircase with handsome woodwork. Already it was cooler simply stepping out of the sun into the shade. Gage introduced Henry while through the doorway I noted the Barkers' servants assisting Anderley and our coachman with the horses. A maid also appeared to guide Bree and Mrs. Mackay around to the servant's entrance.

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