A Crimson Warning (Lady Emily Series #6)

A Crimson Warning (Lady Emily Series #6)

by Tasha Alexander

Hardcover(First Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312661755
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/25/2011
Series: Lady Emily Series , #6
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.58(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.08(d)

About the Author

Tasha Alexander is the author of the Lady Emily novels, a series of historical suspense, including Tears of Pearl and Dangerous to Know. She attended the University of Notre Dame, where she signed on as an English major in order to have a legitimate excuse for spending all her time reading. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, divide their time between Chicago and the UK. Please visit her website at www.tashaalexander.com.

Read an Excerpt


A CRIMSON WARNING

I was dancing while he burned, but I had no way of knowing that, not then, while spinning on the tips of my toes, my husband’s grip firm around my waist as he led me around the ballroom again and again, glistening beads of sweat forming on his forehead. My heart was light, my head full of joy, my only complaint the temperature of the room. Its warmth was oppressive, humid and thick; the air heavy with the oil of too many perfumes. Looking back, I realize I had not even the beginning of an understanding of real heat, or of the pain of fire with its indiscriminate implacability. How could I? I was in Mayfair at a ball. The man meeting his fiery end might as well have been on the opposite side of the earth.

That evening, my side of the earth was Lady Londonderry’s ballroom, one of London’s finest, where I stood surrounded by friends and acquaintances, happy and safe, with bubbles of political gossip and society rumors floating around me. The ornately decorated room, with its columns and gilded surfaces, took up nearly the entire first floor, and was rumored to have been modeled after the site of the Congress of Vienna. Lord Londonderry displayed his collection of paintings on the walls. Marble statues, in the Greco-Roman tradition, stood in regularly-spaced nooks. The house seemed to pulse as the orchestra began a waltz, my favorite dance.

“Shall we continue?” Colin asked.

I shook my head, out of breath. “It’s too hot, even for a waltz.”

Colin Hargreaves, a man always capable of anticipating a lady’s every need, whim, and—sometimes more importantly—desire, steered me through the crowds in both the main room and its antechamber until we’d reached the landing of the grand staircase. Here, leaning against the gilded railing, I was considerably less cramped. I could almost breathe.

“Better?” Colin asked, removing two champagne flutes from the tray held by a waiter who disappeared with swift precision before we could thank him.

“Much.” I lowered my fan—cerise silk to match my dress—and gulped the cool drink.

Colin touched my cheek. “Easy, my dear, or I’ll have to carry you home in disgrace.”

“The thought of you throwing me over your shoulder is hardly a disincentive.” I tilted the glass again and drained it, marveling at how handsome my husband was. His neat black jacket was perfectly tailored, his crisp shirt and narrow tie both spotless white, his skin tanned from the summer sun and flushed from dancing.

“I should hope not,” he said, his dark eyes full of the sort of heat to which, unlike that caused by extremes of weather, I would not object.

“If anything, it encourages me to overindulge. I may need quite a bit more champagne.”

“Champagne or not, I’ve plans for you when we get home,” he said. “Dancing with you always has a profound effect on me.” In the early days of our acquaintance, after the death of my first husband, Colin had inquired whether the conventions of mourning helped me manage my grief. I’d told him no, and admitted to keenly missing dancing. He’d taken me in his arms at once, there in my drawing room, and the waltz we shared left me breathless, tingling, and more than a little confused. All these years later, the memory of that evening never failed to make me tremble with desire. My eyes met his and I felt the delicious anticipation that comes with waiting for a kiss.

The kiss did not come. The pleasant sounds that had surrounded us—the Highland schottische, laughter, and the rustle of silk skirts—faded to nothing as a voice boomed below us.

“I’ll kill you!” The speaker was standing at the bottom of the stairs, talking so loudly no one in the immediate vicinity need strain to decipher every syllable of the conversation. “She’s innocent in all this. I will not stand by and see her ruined.”

He looked like every other man at the ball, elegant in his evening kit. But the strain on his face—bulging eyes, cherry red splashed across his cheeks—came from anger, not from the exertion of dancing. The gentleman across from him stepped back, raising his hands as if to push away his companion.

“It’s not any business of mine,” he said. “I was only trying to warn you. To keep you from making an enormous mistake.”

“Speak of this to anyone else and you are a dead man. I’ll not have Polly’s reputation destroyed.”

He was already too late to save it.

“Emily!” Ivy Brandon, my dearest childhood friend and quite possibly the sweetest woman in England, tugged at my arm. “Have you heard? Polly Sanders, who’s to marry—”

“Shhh, listen,” I said and motioned to the gentlemen below.

“Oh. Oh, I say.” Ivy’s eyes widened and she lifted her hand to her mouth as she watched Thomas Lacey punch the other man square in the jaw. “It appears he already knows.”

Colin broke away from us and rushed down the steps, forcing himself between the fighters, ducking to avoid a blow.

“That’s enough,” he said. “Whatever it is, you’re causing more of a scene than it sounds like you want, Lacey. Walk with me and tell me what’s going on.” They hadn’t taken more than five steps when the Londonderrys’ butler approached and pulled my husband aside. Their heads bent together for only an instant as the servant handed Colin an envelope. He bowed to my husband and retreated but not before shooting a disparaging look at his mistress’ recently fighting guests.

“Sort this out amongst yourselves in private if you must,” Colin said to the gentlemen, folding the note when he’d finished reading. “I’ve no more time for your antics.” He turned on his heel and took the stairs two at a time, reaching Ivy and me in a matter of seconds.

“Urgent business, I’m afraid. There’s been a fire in Southwark. Forgive me? I know I can rely on the Brandons to see you home,” he said, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll meet you there as soon as I can.”

*   *   *

One might have thought the ball would fall to pieces after such a scandalous interruption, but this was not the case. The orchestra continued to play, couples turned around the dance floor, and the guests consumed a steady stream of champagne. But Ivy and I had lost our taste for frivolity and asked her husband to call for the carriage and take us to my house in Park Lane.

At the end of festive evenings, my friends and I often retired to my library, with its tall windows, wide fireplace, and cherry bookcases that went all the way to the ceiling. I displayed my collection of ancient Greek vases here, and felt more sentimental about them than I did any of the other objects in the house. It was a Greek vase owned by my first husband that had sparked my interest in antiquities. As for the room itself, it had been my preferred gathering spot from the moment Colin and I were married. Tonight, however, it felt too hot and close. The night had cooled, but the air inside was still cloying, so we sat in the garden, Ivy and I perched on wrought-iron chairs while her husband, Robert, leaned against a large tree near one of the Japanese lanterns lighting the space around us. Behind him rose a sculpture of Artemis, her graceful arm steady as she pulled back an arrow in her strong bow. An old friend of mine had made the piece, a modern copy of a Roman copy of the long-lost Greek original, fashioned by my favorite ancient sculptor, Praxiteles.

“I still hold out hope for Polly,” Ivy said. “Thomas Lacey is a younger son. It’s entirely possible his mother will let him go through with the marriage. It’s not as if it would make any real difference to the family.”

“There is no possibility that Polly Sanders is going to marry any son of Earl Lacey. The countess is far too proud,” Robert said. Robert Brandon was a man of principle who had once been a great political hope for the Conservative party. A staunch traditionalist, he had seemed on a fast path to greatness until he was charged with murdering his mentor, a man universally despised throughout Britain. Desperate and abandoned by all his former supporters, he’d summoned me to his cell in Newgate and asked me to help clear his name. I was more than glad to assist. The fact he was with us now was a testament to the success of my subsequent investigation.

I pressed my hands against my temples. “Let me understand. A woman of ill repute steps forward to claim she is Polly Sanders’s mother, and that Lord Sanders persuaded his wife to raise the child as her own?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time such a thing has happened,” Ivy said. “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, raised her husband’s illegitimate daughter.”

“Ivy.” Robert shot her a sharp glare.

“It’s true,” Ivy said. The beadwork on her gown, made from Nile-green embroidered silk, sparkled as she moved to reach for her husband’s hand. “Even if it was a hundred years ago.”

“Why are we to believe this woman?” I asked. “What has Lord Sanders to say about the matter?”

“Unfortunately, he’s chosen to remain silent on the subject,” Robert said. “He left the ball without uttering a word. Which, naturally, leads those around him to assume the veracity of the woman’s story.”

“She decided to confront him in the Londonderrys’ ballroom?” I asked. “She couldn’t possibly have thought she’d gain admission.”

“She didn’t need to. She did a masterful job of causing a scene outside. More effective than if every guest in the house had seen her, I’d say,” Robert said. “Far better to let the story make its way through the crowd on its own.”

“Our old friend gossip,” I said.

“It was hideous,” Ivy said. “Half the room knew what had happened before the countess—and they were all breathless, waiting to see what she would do. I was standing not three feet from her when she turned on poor Polly. The girl withered in an instant.”

“Lord Thomas seems more concerned with defending his fiancée’s honor than in throwing her over,” I said.

“That will change as soon as his father’s through with him,” Robert said. “The family will not allow him to marry the daughter of a housemaid.”

“I’d imagine not,” I said. “Of course, if her mother had been a mistress of higher class, we’d all turn a blind eye, wouldn’t we?”

“We would not!” Ivy said.

“No,” I said. “You’re correct. Because a mistress of higher class would have raised the child herself and everyone would have pretended to believe it to be her husband’s, not her lover’s. Society prefers a fine, well-bred deception.”

“Emily!” Ivy’s smooth brow furrowed. “You know perfectly well that sort of thing hardly ever happens.”

“I won’t argue with you, Ivy. It’s too hot.”

The sound of crunching gravel announced the approach of my incomparable butler, Davis, who arrived carrying a tray heavy with a large pitcher of cold lemonade.

“Madam?” he asked.

“Please pour for us, Davis,” I said. “I’m exhausted and can hardly move. Too much dancing in the heat.”

He did as I asked, then bowed and turned to leave, stopping before he’d taken more than half a step. Looking back at me, he raised his eyebrows and his lips quivered ever so slightly.

“Yes?” I asked.

“I left Mr. Hargreaves’s cigars inside, madam, as the combination with lemonade would be rather atrocious.”

“You’re very bad, Davis,” I said. “I’ll expect an entirely different outcome the next time I call for port rather than lemonade.” With another bow, he left us. “He knows Colin doesn’t mind when I smoke, but dear Davis refuses to be an accessory to what he views as my ruin.”

“A good man, your butler,” Robert said.

“I won’t take any nonsense from you, sir.” I smiled. Robert had long ago given up on trying to influence me. He had come to tenuous terms with his wife’s own small rebellions (drinking port with me, for example), so long as she restricted them to private situations. Decorous behavior, however, he required in public.

It was I who had corrupted Ivy, just as I’d corrupted myself. While locked up in mourning after the death of my first husband, I’d undergone an intellectual awakening and taken up the study of Greek. I’d learned to read the ancient language, reveled in the poetry of Homer, and become a respected collector of classical antiquities. As I became more enlightened, I’d also come to despise the restrictions of society, and in the course of rejecting them, had come to discover the simple pleasure one could afford from a glass of port, a drink ordinarily forbidden to ladies. Now, at the prodding of another dear friend, I’d expanded my studies to include Latin, and had convinced Ivy to learn it as well. She might not have been quite so enthusiastic a student as I, but she had a sharp mind and was learning quickly.

The lemonade cooled us and we sank into more relaxed postures as the blue light of dawn reached for the dark sky. I wondered how much longer Colin would be. His work as one of the most trusted and discreet agents of the Crown took him from me at odd times of the day and night, and I had come, after more than a year of marriage, to trust his competence absolutely. His missions might be dangerous, but no one was better suited than he to handle them. When he at last staggered into our garden that night, his evening clothes were tattered, his face black, and the bitter smell of smoke heavy on him.

“Colin!” I cried, jumping out of my seat. He raised a bandaged hand to my cheek, a crooked smile on his face.

“Don’t be alarmed, my dear, I’m perfectly fine.” He dropped onto a chair and Robert poured a tall glass of the now lukewarm lemonade for him, emptying the pitcher. “But I’m afraid I do come with terrible news. Mr. Michael Dillman is dead, burned to death in his warehouse south of the river.” He swallowed hard and ground his teeth.

I hadn’t known Mr. Dillman well, but there was no one in London unfamiliar with his stellar reputation. He ran a successful export business and treated the men who worked in his warehouses more decently than was the current custom. He paid them generously and ensured his personal physician was on hand whenever their family members fell ill. Several charities depended on his generosity, and he was a great supporter of the arts. Yet, despite all this and a not insignificant fortune, he wasn’t much of a fixture in society. He could be socially awkward, not because he was unkind or disinterested, but because his personality tended to a quiet shyness rather than the buoyant joviality required during the season. I regretted that I had not taken the time to know him better.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Someone chained him to the bars on the office window and set the building on fire. I’m sorry, Robert, to speak of such horrors in front of your wife, but I see no point in disguising the truth. The newsmen were there almost as soon as I was. There will be no hiding from the story.”

“He … he was to be married next week,” Ivy said, her voice thin. “Cordelia showed me her wedding dress not two days ago.”

“Cordelia Dalton?” I asked. Ivy nodded. Cordelia was a quiet, thoughtful girl who’d made her debut the previous season. She’d not made much of a splash amongst the fashionable set, but that was likely due to a failing on their part rather than hers. We’d discussed novels when our paths crossed at parties, and she always seemed more interested in reading and sketching than in dancing. I was quite fond of her.

“I’m more than sorry, Ivy,” Colin said. “Your friend will need your comfort now.”

I did not listen to the rest of the conversation; the words no longer made sense to me. I could not stop imagining the hideous scene, the terror the poor man must have felt when he realized what was happening, the pain he must have endured before succumbing to death.

I shuddered. And remembered that only a few hours earlier, I’d had the audacity to complain about the heat in a ballroom.

6 June 1893

Belgrave Square, London

How quickly things change! I was pleased when Colin asked Robert and me to bring Emily home from the Londonderrys’ ball. Not because Colin had been called away for work, but because I was looking forward to quiet time with my dearest friend and discussing all the gossip of the night. Polly Sanders has all my sympathy, and I do wish there was something I could do to secure her happiness. But the moment Colin arrived with his dreadful news, Polly’s plight seemed utterly insignificant.

I felt almost paralyzed when he told us Mr. Dillman had been murdered. Emily was equally affected, though she retained her composure better than I. She’s more experienced in such matters. But I know she gets little crinkles that creep around her eyes when she’s upset, and I saw enough of them tonight to tell me I was not alone in my reaction. I hope I never see enough of this sort of brutality to control my emotional response. To acquire such strength would swallow who I am.

Poor, poor Cordelia. When I think of what she must be feeling I can’t help but cry. Robert says it’s unbecoming to take on someone else’s misery, and I’m certain he’s right, yet I can’t find a way to stop. I remember the joy that consumed me as I became a wife. Cordelia will never feel that. Even if, years from now, she finds affection somewhere else, how could she ever escape a constant dread that her happiness is about to be ripped away from her?

I suppose it can happen to any of us, at anytime. I feel so fortunate to have escaped a similar fate. My husband languished in prison, but only for a relatively short period of time (although at the time it did not seem so). He wasn’t taken from me forever, he was returned to me, and now I’ve the sweetest daughter on earth. What does one do to deserve such luck?

I’m off to see Emily now. She’s persuaded me—much against my will—to accompany her to some dreadful meeting. I never could refuse her anything. I have two hopes: one, that it won’t last too long; two, that it is more interesting than Latin. Surely the latter is a certitude.

A Crimson Warning Copyright   2011 by Tasha Alexander

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A Crimson Warning: A Novel of Suspense 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
lcpsoccermom More than 1 year ago
This was given to me for free by the publisher. I had never read any other of her novels, though I am a big fan of historical mysteries. This is #6 in a series, but it is completely stand alone. The characters are extremely well-written and the storyline is complex and interesting. The description of Victorian England and the socio-political goings add wonderful layers to the story. But the best part is the chemistry between the two main characters. I loved this story and it kept me riveted till the very end. Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or a good mystery.
justabookreader on LibraryThing 5 months ago
There¿s something fun about discovering a new to me author and when I finish the new find, I¿m always happy to know more is waiting for me. This is how I felt with A Crimson Warning. I enjoyed the book and learning it is part of a series made me happy to know I would once more have the chance to peek in on Lady Emily¿s Victorian London.The season begins and Lady Emily is looking forward to the balls, her involvement in lobbying for the right to vote, and of course time with her favorite Greek books. At one of the season¿s first events, Lady Emily is happily dancing away the evening with her husband Colin looking for an opportunity to sneak out so they can spend some time alone when a fight breaks out among two men. It turns out an affair has been exposed and the two are arguing over ladies at the party. Suddenly, Colin, an agent of the crown, is called away on urgent business. Emily heads home with friends to discuss the eventful evening. When Colin arrives it is with sad news --- a well-known business man has been murdered. His fiancée is devastated but it¿s when she starts receiving threatening notes from the person who claims to have killed her soon-to-be husband, that Emily and Colin start investigating. Days later, red paint is found splashed on the homes of some of London¿s most well-to-do. The paint is a warning and shortly after secrets are revealed leaving some in London to revel in the disclosures, and others to fear for their lives and what will be revealed about them. When two of society¿s ladies are kidnapped, the season that held so much promise for fun, is now filled with fear.Lady Emily is far from the standard lady of the day. While she enjoys the pleasures of the season, it¿s her work lobbying for the women¿s right to vote that riles her mother, a more straight-forward Victorian lady, to no end. She¿s also smart and extremely well-educated which keeps her highly involved in her husband¿s affairs with the crown. And more so, he¿s willing to keep her involved even when others think he¿s wrong to do so. Their relationship is certainly more open than most at the time and that¿s one of the reasons this story is fun. There is romance too but it¿s not overwhelming and blends nicely in with the story. As a non-romance reader, I was slightly worried that it would overtake the story and I was happily surprised with the balance that was struck.While I enjoyed Colin and Lady Emily¿s investigation, what I enjoyed even more was the setting. Alexander does a wonderful job with the details creating interesting ladies and a picture of Victorian England that is easy to be swept up in. I do wish Lady Emily¿s mother played a larger role in this book --- she was quite the interesting character and obviously one very different from Emily. It would have been fun to see more of their interactions.As a reader of a lot of historical fiction, this is one author I¿ll be returning to for a dose of fun mixed with a great historical setting. Alexander does a fantastic job of weaving together interesting characters with a mystery to keep you wondering what secrets are buried deep in the closets of high society. If you like a little mystery mixed with your historical fiction, Alexander doesn¿t disappoint.
lexxa83 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Not my favorite of the series, but overall a good read. Compared to the last few Lady Emily plots, this one was very subdued to the point of almost being boring. Not much action, and a lot of Lady Emily taking the back seat and staying home while Colin was out having all the adventures. I am hoping that Lady Emily picks up the pace in any future books, as she is at her best when being impulsive and headstrong.
bethsci More than 1 year ago
I have become hooked on this series of books. The perfect blend of mystery, history and romance.
van65 More than 1 year ago
Great read Lady Emily really takes the lead in this one. Although sometimes I wonder if Colin is really worthy of her.
EmilyAnne More than 1 year ago
I felt that this one was of my favorites in the entire series. I loved the characters from the beginning, and I got to the point where I was itching to get back to my book when I was out and about. I devoured this book in less than 48 hours. Do no touch this book until you've read through the series up to this one, you'll love how history ties into the story and the love between the main characters. Fantastic series. 
carolintallahassee More than 1 year ago
Outstanding series! Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily's novels compel me to read through the night to finish one of her spellbinding stories. I am already on the list for her much anticipated next Lady Emily novel! I highly recommend! Thanks! 
LorienCM More than 1 year ago
Great book, fast read, can't wait to get the next one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ebooks18 More than 1 year ago
A wonderful combination of historical fiction and mystery. You cana read A Crimson Warning without having read the previous 5 books, but the entire series is definitely worthwhile, with interesting characters and history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love historical novels and mysteries, and this series is a great combination of the two.
sidneyf55 More than 1 year ago
Lots of intregue, romance and historical events!!
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Michelle1948 More than 1 year ago
I enjoy this series of Lady Emily and her now husband who works for the Queen's secret service. But I found this story wasn't as good as all the previous in the series. I found myself getting bored with the way the story was turning so I jumped to the conclusion (very unlike me to jump). I think the story could have gone in many directions and the author chose the most boring of conclusions....so to me this ending was predictable.
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Sparkles-Fly More than 1 year ago
I have always been a fan of historical romances and mysteries. The Lady Emily series provides both. I enjoyed this latest installment so much that I could hardly wait to get to it each evening of the four days it took me to finish. I am already looking forward to the next one!
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d30 More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for an amazing mystery mixed with a little romance, this is the book for you. The author's ability to create a perfect image with her descriptions of people, places, and events help you feel as if you were there. This book can captivate any reader. The attention the author makes to details, will reel you in and you won't want to put the book down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am so glad I found this series...another great author to add to my list. Characters are very enjoyable and story line never boring.