A cousin of Georgia’s dear friend, Lady Phyllida Monthalf, is brutally murdered in her home during the theft of blueprints of a new battleship designed by her husband—who now stands accused of her murder…and treason. The Duke of Blackford, in service to Whitehall, enlists Georgia and the Archivist Society to assist in the investigation. Playing the part of the duke’s new paramour, Georgia gains entry into the upper echelons of London’s elite, where amidst elegant dinners and elaborate parties a master spy schemes to lay hands on the stolen plans.
The duke is no stranger to the world of international espionage, but Georgia is out of her element in more ways than one. She must not allow her genuine attraction to the duke—or her obsession with finding her parents’ killer—to distract her from her role. But when a mysterious stranger threatens to expose her, the counterfeit lady may be in real trouble...
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"I need you.”
I looked across the width of the shop counter at the Duke of Blackford and all the blood left my head. Pressing my fingers into the wood, I gaped at him as his words echoed in my brain.
I never expected to hear him say anything like that to me, Georgia Fenchurch, a middle-class bookshop owner. Never mind the fevered dreams I had about the duke. Broad shoulders, the fragrance of pristine linen and smoke, and a smile reminiscent of his pirate-raider ancestors haunted my nights. Left speechless, I gazed into his mesmerizing dark eyes. I hadn’t seen him since spring, but I’d thought of him often.
Then he added, “Miss Fenchurch, Queen Victoria and our country need you,” and my lovely daydream of sitting across the breakfast table from those dark eyes rose into the steam that encircled London thanks to a merciless heat wave.
“Perhaps we should go into my office.” I nodded to my assistant, Emma Keyes, who was helping a customer, and walked out from behind the counter.
We entered my small office in the back of the shop, stuffy now with the unbearable weather, and the duke immediately headed for the window overlooking the alley. Before I could tell him the window was stuck, he had it open several inches and had turned to face me. “Is it safe to speak here?”
“I assure you, no one ever lurks in that alley. The jeweler next door suffers from paranoia.” None of the papers stacked by the window were ruffled by the stagnant air. I shifted the books piled on both chairs over to the desk and then sat.
“We’ll keep our voices down, if you don’t mind.” Blackford pulled his chair close to mine and lowered himself so our knees collided. “I do beg your pardon.”
“Unavoidable if we’re going to keep our voices down.” The contact was sending little trembles of excitement through my body.
“There’s been a murder and theft that has repercussions on the security of the realm. Georgia, we need your help and the help of the Archivist Society.” He looked straight into my eyes with unflappable seriousness. Banging into my knees obviously hadn’t flustered him.
At least he chose to call me by my first name. Did he remember our first investigation together as fondly as I did?
“Why didn’t you go straight to Sir Broderick? He leads the Archivist Society.”
“Because ultimately it’s your help, and that of your lodger, that we need.”
My lodger? What in the—? “I don’t have a lodger.”
“Lady Phyllida Monthalf.”
“Aunt Phyllida? She’s not my lodger.” She was an integral part of my life. We were closer than many families.
“Aunt? That’s even better. Then you’re a relative, too.”
“You’re not making any sense.” That wasn’t unusual for the duke, at least on the few occasions we’d met, but I’d never known him to make a mistake on facts. “I have no relatives.”
“You’re not making any sense, Georgia.”
“‘Aunt’ is an honorary title. Lady Monthalf saved my life on one of my first investigations. Her brother had kept her in appalling circumstances for years. When he was arrested for murder and the ghouls on Fleet Street began to circle, I brought her home to live with me.”
“I was acquainted with the gossip at the time.” The duke could sound appallingly stuffy about the misdeeds of the aristocracy.
“The truth was worse than the rumors. I know. I was there.” It was one of the Archivist Society’s first cases. I wasn’t yet twenty at the time, but I’d carry visions of that day to my deathbed. In my mind, Lord Monthalf again stood blocking the kitchen door through which I’d planned to escape with his latest victim, a battered prostitute named Annie. Only Phyllida’s strike with a cast-iron skillet saved us from death by Lord Monthalf’s knife.
I shook away the image and wondered what new investigation Blackford wanted our help with. And timid Phyllida’s help, who’d never aided in Archivist Society cases.
“Tragedy has struck the family again. Lady Monthalf’s cousin Clara Gattenger has been murdered.”
Despite his bloodless announcement, I realized my jaw had dropped. I snapped it shut before I expressed my dismay. “This is terrible. When? What happened? Does Phyllida know?”
“Last evening. And no, no one has been in touch with Lady Monthalf.”
“Then we must tell her immediately.”
I started to rise, but he waved me back into my chair. “Georgia, wait. Hear me out.”
Settling myself in my chair, I stared at him. “Go on.”
“Yesterday evening, raised voices and crashes were heard coming from the locked study by the Gattenger servants. Finally, after a minute or two of silence, Kenneth Gattenger came out and shouted for someone to fetch a doctor and the police. The police found Clara Gattenger dead in the study. There were no signs of a break-in. Her husband’s been arrested and is currently in Newgate Prison.”
“A sad tale, but not one requiring the help of the Archivist Society.” I waited for the rest of the story. Knowing Blackford, there had to be more.
“Do you know the name Gattenger?”
“It’s Clara Gattenger’s surname, and her husband Kenneth’s. Other than that, it means nothing to me.”
“Kenneth Gattenger is single-handedly keeping Britain in the position of the world’s premier sea power. The man is the most brilliant naval architect of our times. His designs are visionary. He—”
I shook my head slightly. This wasn’t telling me anything useful.
“Perhaps this will make the situation clear. He’s designed a new warship. This new ship will ensure our naval superiority for years. Every other seafaring nation wants to know the design’s secrets.” He leaned forward, pinning me in my chair with his intense stare. “The plans disappeared from his study last evening.”
“Surely they weren’t the only copy.” I still didn’t understand what this had to do with poor Clara’s murder.
“No, but they represent a radical new concept, and if a set fell into the wrong hands . . .”
“Germany.” Our rivalry with Germany was in all the papers. I understood this much.
He nodded. “The race would be on. Whoever builds the design first wins. The balance of power could be irrevocably changed.”
“So if someone stole the design, why is Kenneth Gattenger in prison for killing Clara?”
“There was a fire in the fireplace while this argument took place and no sign of forced entry. There were only two people behind that locked study door. Gattenger could have burned a set of plans in the minutes between the end of the sounds of the scuffle and when he unlocked the door.”
“You want the Archivist Society to discover his guilt or innocence.” Blackford should have taken the case to Sir Broderick. However, I was glad he was here. I’d forgotten how commanding his voice could be, even when pitched to a murmur.
“We need to find out what happened to the plans in Gattenger’s study. The entire fate of England rests on recovering them if Gattenger is innocent.” He leaned back in his chair and made a sweeping gesture. “If he didn’t kill his wife and burn them himself.”
I didn’t believe the fate of England hung in the balance. The Admiralty and Whitehall could make a crisis out of misplacing a shopping list. “How are you involved, Your Grace?”
“I have”—he studied my face for a moment—“contacts in many countries. They have proved useful to Her Majesty on occasion, and so I’ve been called in again.”
“Do they know you’re involving the Archivist Society?”
“Not yet. It all depends on your aunt, Phyllida.”
“Let’s talk to her, and all will become clear.”
I doubted that very much. The duke always held something back.
Nevertheless, I rose from my chair, being careful not to rub knees with him, and walked back into the bookshop. It was nearly one, and the shop was empty. “Put up the Closed sign, Emma. We need to go to the flat. His Grace has some bad news for Aunt Phyllida.”
Emma looked from me to the duke and bit back whatever remark she was on the verge of making. She put up the sign, we put on our hats and gloves, and I locked up the shop as we left.
The sun blistered the sidewalk and put everyone who dared go out in a foul mood. In the short time it took to reach our building, my back was drenched and I needed a cooling drink. We went up to our flat and let ourselves in. Phyllida called out from the kitchen, “Are you here already? Luncheon’s not quite finished.”
“Please come here, Aunt Phyllida. We have some news,” I replied.
She came out into the hall, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, her hair wildly escaping its knot, and an apron protecting her frock.
“Lady Phyllida Monthalf, may I present—” I began.
Aunt Phyllida was already in a deep curtsy. “Georgia, I know who this is. He favors his father. Please come in, Duke. This is a great pleasure.”
The duke bowed and kissed her hand. “The pleasure is mine, Lady Monthalf. I wish I didn’t have to come bearing bad news.”
Phyllida paled. “What has happened?”
I put an arm around her and led her forward. “Perhaps we’d better take this conversation into the parlor.”
We all sat down on ruffled, floral-print-covered chairs. Phyllida unrolled her sleeves, her eyes never leaving Blackford’s face. Emma glanced at me, looking for signs of what I knew about the bad news.
The duke cleared his throat and said, “I bring bad news concerning your cousin Clara Gattenger.”
Phyllida twisted her fingers. “My cousin Isabel’s daughter? She’s been so happy since she married Kenny.” She looked from one face to another as she bit her lip. “What has happened?”
“Mrs. Gattenger was murdered in her home last night.”
Phyllida half rose and then sank back down. “No. Not Clara. Not poor, dear Clara. Have they caught her killer?”
“Her husband is in Newgate Prison for her murder,” Blackford said.
“No. That’s wrong. They were very happy.” She reached over and grabbed my arm. “Georgia, can’t you do something? Kenny would never have murdered Clara.”
“Are you sure, Phyllida?” I asked.
“Yes. Quite certain.” She rose and walked over to the open window overlooking the street. The lace curtains hung limply across the space without a breeze to stir them. “Do something, I beg of you. She was Isabel’s only child. Her killer must be punished. And that isn’t Kenny.”
“How far will you go to see her killer apprehended, Lady Monthalf?” Blackford asked. He rose and walked over to her.
She stared up into his face, her jaw set. “As far as necessary.”
“Are you willing to face aristocratic society again, to answer their questions, to put up with their gossip?” When his sharp voice silenced, his mouth slid into a cruel smile.
Phyllida stared into his eyes and for a moment I thought she would burst into tears. Slowly, she steadied herself and finally replied, “Whatever it takes to find Clara’s killer and free Kenny.”
His smile grew joyful. “I knew I could count on you, Lady Monthalf. On behalf of the queen, thank you.”
I could see only one way to proceed. “Then I think we need to send a message to Sir Broderick to set up a meeting of the Archivist Society tonight. You’ll attend, Your Grace?”
He nodded. “I’ll speak to Sir Broderick now, if you ladies will excuse me.”
Emma and I stood. He bowed to Phyllida and Emma, who curtsied, and then he took my arm to escort him to the door. “I didn’t think I’d see you again so soon. In one regard, I’m glad this has happened.”
He was glad! In response, my heart whistled a merry tune and my soul kicked up its heels. We stared, facing each other by the door, no longer touching but with an intimacy that had me leaning forward on the balls of my feet. His dark eyes smiled before he picked up his top hat and cane from the table by the door.
As he moved into the hallway, I said, “I’m glad you came to us. Aunt Phyllida seems set on seeing justice for her cousin, and apparently the police have the wrong man. Emma and I want to help her.” Knowing the duke could open many doors the rest of us couldn’t, I asked, “May I see the study where the attack took place? The servants wouldn’t have been allowed to clean it up yet, surely.”
“I’ll arrange it for this afternoon. I’ll pick you up at the bookshop.” He nodded to me and strode off.
I went back into the flat to find Emma and Phyllida putting luncheon on the table. “I’m afraid it’s just”—Phyllida stopped to see what she’d set on the platter she carried—“cold poultry and salad.”
The platter landed on the table with a thump. “Oh, Georgia, Emma. I’m so upset I don’t even know what I’m serving.” Her breath caught on a shudder. “Poor Clara.”
“I’m so sorry, Phyllida.” I gave her a hug and then stepped back so Emma could do the same. After we sat at the table and said grace, I said, “I’ve heard you speak of Clara many times, but not her mother.”
Phyllida sighed and moved her food around on her plate with her fork. “Clara’s mother, Isabel, and I were close as children. She married an Admiralty man, Lord Watson. Once my brother, William, gained control of my money and my life, he never let me see her again. Not even when she was dying.”
She put her napkin over her mouth and shut her eyes. I studied my plate until she said, “There. I won’t be silly. It’s all in the past. But you must find out what really happened to Clara. For Isabel’s sake. It’s the only thing I can do for her now.”
I wanted to distract Phyllida from remembering her evil brother as much as I wanted some background on the victim whose death I knew I’d soon be investigating. “I only saw Clara a few times a year when she visited us on a Sunday. I thought she was sweet, but I know nothing of her background. Tell me about her.”
“She was an only child. Her parents both doted on her. After Isabel’s death, she and her father were very close, and her father’s interests were in shipbuilding. That’s how she met Kenny Gattenger. They were in love from the first time they met, but he wouldn’t marry until he had enough money to support her properly, and she wouldn’t leave her father on his own. They broke off their engagement twice, but they finally married a year ago. That was after her father’s death, when his title and property had gone to some cousin.”
“Ken Gattenger wasn’t from money?”
“No. His parents ran a small shop. He was apprenticed to a draftsman. The man realized Kenny was brilliant and made sure he received a good education. As Kenny gained more experience, he found powerful patrons. Naval architecture became his specialty. He was a hard worker and a strict saver. All those years of saving made him a little mean with money. Clara said he didn’t pay the servants well, so she was always having to hire new as soon as one found a better-paying post.”
“What kind of couple were they?” Emma asked.
“A happy one,” Phyllida snapped.
“No, I mean, were they always fighting and making up? Did they entertain a great deal, did they share interests, did they like to travel, things like that.” Emma gave her a smile.
“Oh.” Phyllida turned pink. “They were quiet. They both liked to read, to stay home together in the evening in the study. They went out to the theater or to a dinner party on occasion, but that was all. Clara was content to visit friends during the day and wait for Kenny to come home to her in the evenings.”
“Did you see her often?” I asked. “Besides those Sunday visits when she brought her husband along, did you see her alone?”
“We’d have tea once every few weeks after I came to live here, during the day while you were in the shop. She’s the only relative I wanted to see after my brother”—she shuddered—“died.”
Her brother had been hanged at Newgate Prison, where Gattenger was now. However, her brother had murdered a string of East End prostitutes and was captured by the Archivist Society.
We’d find a lack of evidence in Gattenger’s case, I feared, and that would present problems proving his innocence.
“She was very happy in her new life as a married woman,” Phyllida said.
“Did you see much of Mr. Gattenger besides on their Sunday visits?”
“No. During the week, Clara always came by herself for tea. But I saw them together several times over the years of their long engagement, and they were very happy. Happy in their own quiet little circle, even when there were other people present. Do you understand what I mean?”
“They were happy with just each other for company,” Emma said.
“It’s more than that, there’s a whole world two people can share that no one else can enter. My parents were like that,” I said. Sometimes frustrating for me as a child, but beautiful to think back on.
“Yes. That’s how they were,” Phyllida said.
“Last night, the servants heard shouting in the study. When the door was unlocked, Clara Gattenger was dead.” I looked at Phyllida. “Are you sure everything was all right between them?”
“Yes. I know evil. I lived with my brother long enough. Evil had never entered their home. They were in love.”
Glancing at my plate, I found I’d finished my luncheon. I never tasted a bite.
* * *
THE DUKE OF Blackford returned to the shop in the middle of the afternoon to tell us what time to be at Sir Broderick’s and to escort me to the Gattenger house. Even with a hand up, I still had to struggle to get into the tall, ancient carriage given to the duke’s family by Wellington. Glancing out the window, I saw Emma in the bookshop doorway, grinning at my lack of grace. I looked forward to seeing the scene of the crime, but I would rather the duke had used one of his normal-sized carriages.
The Gattenger home was one of a row of similar houses in a fairly new, middle-class section of South Kensington. Once the duke caught me around the waist as I half tumbled from the carriage and set me safely on the sidewalk, he walked up the steps and rang the front doorbell. I straightened my skirt to give myself a moment to recover from the ridiculous flutter in my chest from his touch. I glanced down the steep concrete steps behind the black wrought-iron railing and caught a glimpse of a young woman’s face looking at me before she drew back from the tradesmen’s entrance.
The front door opened and I saw Inspector Grantham standing in the hallway. I hurried up the steps as the men exchanged bows and followed the duke inside.
“Inspector Grantham, is this your case?” I asked.
“Yes, Miss Fenchurch. I suppose I’ll be working with the Archivist Society again?” He sounded weary. I hoped it wasn’t due to working with us.
“Yes. Phyllida Monthalf, my friend, is the murdered woman’s cousin. She says the husband couldn’t have killed his wife.”
“It gave me no joy charging him. The navy has already involved itself in this case because of his importance to British ship design.” He looked at Blackford. “I suppose that’s why you’re interested. But there’s no evidence supporting his story.” The inspector spread his hands in the air.
“May we look at the room where the death occurred?” I gave Grantham a hopeful smile.
The inspector held my gaze for a moment before shrugging. “If you think you can find something we missed, go right ahead.”
Detective Inspector Grantham had worked several cases over the years for Scotland Yard that the Archivist Society was interested in, including the one last spring where I had first met the Duke of Blackford. I knew he trusted our abilities. Whether he liked working with us was another story.
The duke led the way down the wide hallway, past the staircase going up and a narrower one going down. I followed until we reached a door near the back of the house. The duke stopped and let the inspector open it. I was the last to enter the small study, making it a little crowded as we moved around. None of us stepped near the fireplace with the bloodied hearth rug.
The duke strolled to the triple bay window facing the garden. With the heat, only the lace curtains were across the open windows, while the heavy dark blue drapes were pushed back to the ends of their rods. “Were these windows open when you arrived?”
“Yes. With the dryness of the weather, there were no footprints outside, and the climb wouldn’t have been difficult for an agile man. The cook says she was in the kitchen, which is by the tradesmen’s entrance in the front under the dining room. The maids were clearing away dinner. You saw where the stairs are, and the first door we passed in the hallway leads to the dining room. There was no reason for the servants to come this far toward the back of the house,” Inspector Grantham said.
“There’re no back stairs?” the duke asked.
The inspector and I stared at each other in surprise for an instant before we must have had the same thought. He’s a duke. “Not enough room in a house this size,” I said. “There’re only the three servants? The cook and two maids?”
“Yes,” Grantham answered. “One of the maids heard the argument and stopped to listen. Her excuse was the master and missus rarely argued. The other came to find her after a minute and heard the end of the argument and the crashes. There were two loud noises.”
“Could the servants make out what was said?” Blackford asked.
“They said no.”
“Did they try to open the door or knock?”
“It was locked.”
“How long before the door—” I began.
“A full minute at the very least,” Grantham said as if the words hurt his mouth.
I took in the room without moving. There were two comfortable chairs with ottomans, one on each side of the fireplace. Gaslights were set to shine down on those two spots, and a small table by each chair held a stack of books. Shelves across the room from the fireplace held a large collection of volumes. A desk was set by the window to catch the best light. A jumble of papers, pens, ink pots, books, a diary, and a paperweight were scattered across the floor from the desk toward the fireplace, and the desk chair was knocked over in that direction. The fireplace held a pile of ash.
“Where were the plans kept?” the duke asked.
“In there.” Inspector Grantham pointed to a low chest with three drawers across the room from the windows and close by the door.
“I was told there was a burned fragment of a drawing found in this room. Where is it?” The duke stood facing the inspector with his arms crossed.
Grantham stared back, his jaw jutting aggressively. “Locked up by Scotland Yard until the trial.”
If they continued to act like schoolboys, I’d never learn anything. “What fragment?”
“A small singed piece of the last page of the missing blueprints was found at the edge of the fireplace.”
I needed to know more. “How many pages are there in one set of plans?”
“In this case, seven. It’s the master from which working drawings are made for the manufacturing process.”
“Are they large?”
Grantham held his arms wide. “When unfolded, each is this big.”
“Is this the only master set of drawings in existence?”
“No, but the other sets are locked up in the Admiralty.”
“Why wasn’t this one?”
“Gattenger said he had an idea that he needed to work on. He sometimes worked from home.”
“In this room? At night?”
I had both men’s attention now. “Yes,” the inspector said.
“This was also the room where he and his wife frequently read in the evening.”
“So from the outside, last night wouldn’t have looked any different from any other night. But the thief chose last night to strike.” I looked from one man to the other. “If the Germans stole the drawings, there would have to be a leak in the office where the drawings are kept. Someone would have had to tell the burglar that Gattenger took a set of ship plans home last night. The only way that could happen is if there’s a traitor in the Admiralty.”
MY conclusion made me even less popular than I expected. The Duke of Blackford looked as if he’d like to throw me out the window as he muttered, “Bloody hell.”
Inspector Grantham glared at me. “There’s no sign of a burglary. The Gattengers argued, he killed her, accidentally most likely, and then burned the plans he was working on to cover his guilt and blamed everything on a housebreaker. There’s no traitor.”
“That’s the answer you and I and Whitehall want,” Blackford said. “If we’re wrong, we have a bigger problem than anyone had dared mention before now. Thank you, Miss Fenchurch, for ruining my day.”
His dark eyes bored through me, making it hard to breathe. I reached out a white-gloved hand and grabbed his sleeve. “You think I’m right, don’t you? That Gattenger’s story is true.”
His answer meant more to me than I wanted to admit, even to myself. He continued to glare at me without speaking.
“How was Clara killed?” I needed details if I was going to help Ken Gattenger.
“A blow to the back of the head. Probably from striking that side table. She fell there, where the blood is on the hearth rug,” the inspector told me.
“Pushed in a struggle with a burglar over the plans?” I certainly hoped so. The other answer, pushed by Gattenger, would break Phyllida’s heart.
The duke finally gave one sharp nod. “We’ll have to investigate this until proven wrong.”
We. The duke had described himself and me as we. I prayed the investigation would take a very long time. The stuff of my dreams only happened in the light of day when I was conducting an Archivist Society investigation. Under no other circumstances would a duke spend time with a bookshop owner.
“Scotland Yard is proceeding from the assumption Kenneth Gattenger killed his wife. If you find proof of his innocence, we need to know.” The inspector glared as he looked from Blackford to me.
I nodded as I walked over to look out the open windows. Paving stones made paths through the small dry patch of grass. Anyone could have walked through the back garden without leaving tracks. “Did the Gattengers entertain last night?”
“No. They ate alone. The dining room is the front room on this floor. Immediately after, they came in here.”
I turned and faced into the room. It was small and cozy. I could picture the Gattengers sitting in their matching chairs, reading in front of the fire. I imagined this was a room no outsider was ever invited into. “Did they frequently lock the study door from the inside?”
The inspector shook his head. “The maids said they’d never known that to happen before.”
The duke asked, “Have you searched the house for the ship plans?”
“Of course. They’re not here, and the Admiralty records office swears Gattenger took a set with him yesterday just after midday.”
“Did he take a set home with him frequently?” If he did, my thoughts of treason in the Admiralty disintegrated like the ashes in the fireplace.
“No.” The inspector strode to the door and held it open as he tapped his foot, letting his impatience show. He had work to do. I understood. I did, too.
From where I stood, I could see a foot or more of space between the back of the door and a bookcase. Could someone have hidden there when the Gattengers came in? Beyond the inspector, I saw a young woman in a black maid’s dress with white cuffs and collar. Dressed in her good uniform, she was ready to answer the door if there were any afternoon callers. I couldn’t imagine anyone but the ghoulish calling here.
I brushed past the inspector and stopped in front of the woman. When I looked at her closely, I discovered she wasn’t a woman but a girl younger than Emma. “I’m Georgia Fenchurch, a relative of Mrs. Gattenger’s cousin.” Better not to get too specific with the kinship. “What’s your name?”
“May I ask you some questions, Elsie?”
“Do you think Mr. Gattenger killed his wife?” she asked, twisting her apron.
“Good.” She gave one jerky nod with her head. “What do you want to know?”
“Tell me about yesterday.”
“Yes.” Behind me, I heard two male sighs.
“The day was the same as any other. I brought up the breakfast tray. Then Mary helped Mrs. Gattenger dress. Mr. Gattenger did for himself, being brought up that way.”
“Did Mr. Gattenger leave after breakfast and stay away for the whole day?”
She nodded. “Just as usual.”
“And Mrs. Gattenger?”
“She went out calling in the afternoon with Lady Bennett, then came home and dressed for dinner.”
“Did she always dress for dinner, even when it was just the two of them?”
“Yes. She was raised that way, her being the daughter of a lord.”
“Was she good friends with Lady Bennett? Did they make calls together often?”
“No. The lady had never called here before. The missus looked surprised to see her, but she went off in the carriage with Lady Bennett after they spoke in the front hall for a few moments.”
What had made Lady Bennett call on Clara that particular afternoon? “Did you hear what they said?”
“No. The missus looked furious at first, but then she put on a false smile when she spoke to me.”
“What did she say?”
“She said, ‘Lady Bennett and I are going out. I don’t expect this to take long.’”
Where had they gone? It didn’t sound like Clara had wanted to go. “Did she return before the master came home?”
“Yes, she was only gone an hour or two.”
“How did she look?”
“Ready to do murder.”
I glanced up to catch the eye of Blackford, who now stood behind the maid. He gave one slight nod, his face a ducal mask. “Elsie, where did the Gattengers first meet at the end of the day?”
“In the study. He’d wait in there until the mistress came down dressed for dinner. Last night, she was in there waiting for him. He went in and shut the door. I was busy in the dining room and didn’t hear anything.”
“Would you have heard if there was shouting?”
“Yes, and there wasn’t. There never was, well, not until after dinner last night.”
“What happened next?” What had changed their routine so dramatically?
“We served dinner.”
“They hardly said a word to each other.”
“Was that usual?”
“No. They usually talked about their day, people they saw, things they read. Last night, they were both upset and quiet.”
“You’re sure about that?” Inspector Grantham said from behind me.
The maid nodded.
“How were their appetites?” I asked.
“Neither one ate hardly a bite. Cook was furious, but Mary and I looked at the leftovers and danced around the kitchen. We get the leftovers. Well, some of them.”
“They don’t feed you very well?” Elsie was thin and pale. I wondered how she’d look if she were fed like a lady.
The girl shrugged. “Better’n some.”
“But they sat through all the courses?”
“There were only four when they were alone. Soup, fish, roast, and pudding. Master would have done without the soup and the fish, said they didn’t eat enough to make it worthwhile, but the mistress insisted on it. Sometimes they had fowl, too, but not last night. The mistress didn’t touch her pudding, and the master only had one spoonful. Then she said, ‘Let’s get this over with,’ and he put his spoon down and they went into the study.”
“And locked the door.” I was getting a picture of what had been an unusual night, even if no one had died.
“Yes, that was strange. They never locked the door. I couldn’t bring the coffee in, for one thing.”
“They always had their coffee in the study after dinner?”
She nodded. “Always.”
“With them not talking, and not eating, how long was dinner?”
The maid grinned. “Fastest ever. Mary and I were kept running.”
“How long was it after they locked the door before you heard shouting?”
“The shouting must’ve come first. I never heard the key in the lock for them yelling.”
That was different from what Inspector Grantham had told us. “Then how did you know the door was locked?”
“I brought up the coffee, like I was supposed to, and when I tried the handle, I couldn’t get in.”
“What did you do with the coffee?”
“Put it in the dining room. I thought they’d stop after a minute and let me in. They’d never behaved like this before.”
“How long did the shouting continue?”
“Long enough for Mary to clear away the pudding dishes and come back up. I couldn’t decide whether to knock on the door or not when there was a big crash. There was more noise, a shriek, and a second crash. Then it was quiet. We both banged on the door and called in.” The maid’s eyes widened as she recalled the drama.
“It was silent in there for the longest time. Then we heard sobbing and a moment later the master opened the door. He was crying.” Her eyes and mouth were round with amazement.
“How long was the silence? A minute? An hour?”
“A minute, at least.”
“And you didn’t go for another key?” I studied her face carefully.
Her shoulders slumped. “I tried looking in. The key was still in the lock on the inside.”
“What did Mr. Gattenger say when he came out?”
“‘Get a doctor and the police. I can’t wake Clara.’”
If Phyllida was right, Ken Gattenger must have been devastated. “What happened then?”
“I ran for Dr. Harrison, two blocks away. Mary ran for the bobby. Mary got back before me.”
“The inspector has mentioned a burned fragment of paper in this room when the police arrived. Do you know anything about that?”
She shook her head. “The master or mistress probably burned it in the fireplace.”
“Why did you have a fire last night?” I’d seen the ashes, but I was so used to seeing ashes in fireplaces they hadn’t made an impression. With the current heat wave, living in London was like living on the sun. Why would anyone need a fire?
“The mistress asked for it as soon as she returned from her carriage ride with Lady Bennett. I thought it strange, but I laid it and lit it while she dressed for dinner.”
“Did she give you any reason? It was an odd request.”
“I didn’t get a chance to say anything. She just ordered me to do it right then. She looked like she might cry, so I just went ahead and did what she asked.”
“Did Lady Bennett come in the house with your mistress?”
“No, the mistress returned alone.”
I was as suspicious of Lady Bennett as I was of the unknown burglar. “What happened once you lit the fire?”
“I got back to my regular duties. I helped Cook while Mary dressed the mistress and did her hair.”
I patted the girl’s arm. “Thank you, Elsie.”
She pressed her lips together and then said, “Excuse me, ma’am, but what’s going to happen to us? The master’s in prison and the mistress is dead. Will we be chucked out without our pay or a reference?”
I looked at the duke, who shook his head. I kept staring. I wouldn’t allow him to leave a scrawny young girl like Elsie to starve. Finally, he pulled a calling card out of his card case and said, “When the inspector is finished with you and the house is closed up, go to this address and see the housekeeper. She’ll see about finding you and the others a place to stay and employment, at least until we know the fate of your master.”
The maid dropped a curtsy and said, “Thank you, sir. I’ll tell the others.”
She hurried downstairs as Grantham stepped toward Blackford. “Why are you being so considerate of the help?”
“We’ll know where they are. Did you learn anything new, Inspector?”
“Yes. And none of it looks good for Gattenger.” He frowned. “Although the business with the fire seems odd in this heat. Are you two finished here?”
“For the moment,” the duke said. “You did well, Miss Fenchurch.”
“Questioning people is what I do.” Nevertheless, as I walked toward the front door, I couldn’t hide the lightness in my step caused by his praise.
Once we were back in Blackford’s carriage, he asked, “What do you know of Lady Bennett?”
The edges of his mouth curved upward. “She’s the widow of an impoverished lord, yet she lives in great style. She’s rumored to be the paramour of a German diplomat, Baron von Steubfeld.”
“A kept woman?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Or a spy.” There was no hint of a smile on his face now. “The baron’s accredited as a diplomat, but in reality he’s the kaiser’s spymaster in Britain.”
“Whatever Lady Bennett is, she caused discord in the Gattenger home. What did Clara burn, or what was she planning to burn, in that fire? And what do I tell Phyllida?”
He looked out the window of the carriage and watched the traffic for a moment. “To come to the Archivist Society meeting tonight.”
“Could you arrange something for me, Your Grace?”
“What is it?”
“I’d like to go to Newgate Prison and speak to Ken Gattenger.”
“Difficult, but not impossible. You’ll find the prison unpleasant.”
“I need to speak to him. It’s important if we’re to understand what happened.”
He studied me for a moment. “I’d forgotten how determinedly you approach whatever needs to be done. It does you credit. I’ll arrange for you to speak with Gattenger. And I’ll accompany you.”
He was the most helpful aristocrat I’d ever met. Only one of the reasons I appreciated the duke.
* * *
PHYLLIDA AGREED TO come to the meeting with us, but she seemed hesitant. She took much longer over her toilette than I’d seen before. She seemed unable to decide what to wear and told Emma to redo her hairstyle twice. She backed away from the hired carriage before we finally talked her into the vehicle.
But once she entered Sir Broderick’s home, her attitude changed. Her chin lifted, and she led us in a stately procession up the stairs to the study.
“Lady Monthalf,” Sir Broderick said, wheeling himself away from the fire to come forward and kiss the glove on the back of her outstretched hand. “I’m so glad to finally meet you. Georgia speaks very highly of you.”
“Thank you for inviting me, Sir Broderick.” She favored him with a sweet smile.
“The pleasure is mine. Please, sit anywhere. You’ll find we’re very informal in our customs within the Archivist Society. It comes from needing to trust each other as much as family.”
I winced as the smile slipped from Phyllida’s lips. “More than family,” she said, taking a half step back.
“In many cases, yes. Let me present everyone to you.” Sir Broderick gestured to each member who was present at this meeting as he introduced them to “Lady Monthalf.”
Jacob, Sir Broderick’s assistant, gave her a deep bow. An East End urchin when he first asked for help from the Archivist Society, he was still deferential to anyone with a title. Frances Atterby, the widow of a hotel owner, greeted her with the genuine warmth she had shown thousands. Adam Fogarty’s bow was stiff, a telltale sign that the injury that had ended his career in the police ached. Then we all stood around, waiting uncomfortably for someone to say something.
“Sit down. I’m tired of twisting my neck,” Sir Broderick growled as he wheeled his way back to his customary spot in front of the fire. I didn’t know how he could abide sitting so close to the heat. The evening was warm, the fire was hot, and sweat poured down my back.
As I took my seat on the sofa next to Phyllida, the Duke of Blackford entered the room. “Good evening,” he said as we all rose and bowed or curtsied. He in turn gave Sir Broderick and Phyllida each a bow. “Has Miss Fenchurch brought you up to speed on this investigation?”
“Not yet. We’ve just arrived,” I said. “Why don’t you tell them?” We all settled in for a long meeting.
The duke nodded, sat in a wing chair facing Sir Broderick, and leaned back. “Kenneth Gattenger is a naval architect who’s designed the newest type of warship, one that will ensure Britain’s dominance on the high seas for years to come. He’s also a newlywed, married only a year. Last night, his wife was murdered while the two of them were alone in a locked room. There was no sign of a break-in. A set of plans to Gattenger’s new battleship design disappeared from the room at the time of the murder, a room where a fire burned on the hearth.”
“You make it sound like he murdered my cousin,” Phyllida said in a quiet voice. She sat completely still, looking totally composed.
“Those are the facts, and based on those facts, Gattenger has been arrested for his wife’s murder. Scotland Yard is certain he’s guilty.” The duke stared at her as if daring her to disagree.
“They are wrong.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve seen Kenny and Clara together. They fitted each other like a hand in a glove.” Phyllida spoke with aristocratic certainty as she waved her hand.
The duke looked around the room. “I was called in as soon as Scotland Yard informed Whitehall and the Admiralty. There is another possibility, which our government both fears and refuses to acknowledge. A possibility I want the Archivist Society to investigate.”
He gave his words a moment to sink in, and then continued. “There is a chance that a burglar entered the room, killed Clara Gattenger, and removed the drawings. Our hot, dry weather meant their windows were open and the ground around the windows was hard. There are paving stones stretching across the back garden to the gate in the fence leading to an alley. A burglar could have conceivably entered and left without leaving a trace.”
The duke waited for a response. When no one spoke, he said, “We believe the intended recipient of the ship plans, the employer of the burglar, is the German master spy in Britain, Baron von Steubfeld. He’s a member of the kaiser’s embassy staff here in London. Von Steubfeld was already under watch by our Naval Intelligence Department. Furthermore, he knows it. So far we don’t believe he’s received the drawings, but we’d like more eyes on him. Eyes he doesn’t know.”
“We can help with that,” Sir Broderick said.
“Good. The drawings are on seven sheets of very large paper, about a yard in each direction, either rolled in a tube or folded into a package. The last sheet was found partially burned by the fireplace and may not be with the others.”
“Are we to believe von Steubfeld will be upset to receive less than the entire package?” Sir Broderick asked.
“Yes. The last sheet is key if the Germans want to build a ship to these specifications. The baron will not be pleased if he receives less than what he paid for.” The duke gave us a smile that made my blood chill.
“Why would the Germans want our designs? They have their own naval architects. I don’t understand why they’d bother to steal our plans.” Despite the kaiser’s affection for our queen, I knew the German government didn’t think highly of Britain.
The duke gave me a disapproving look. “If they know what our ships are capable of, they can build their ships and create their battle plans to defeat us.”
“Battle plans?” I bristled at his disparagement. What a ridiculous point of view. Our navy was the greatest the world had ever seen. “Why would the Germans want to fight us? They’d lose.”
He leaned toward me, a determined glow in his eyes. “They will fight us. And they’ll do anything they can to ensure they’ll win. That’s why they’re speeding up their shipbuilding schedule. That’s why they have spies in our country. We’re in a naval arms race with the Germans, whether or not we like it, and we need to protect our superiority.”
I didn’t like to be lectured to. I pressed my lips together in irritation even as fear slid down my skin, mixed with my sweat in the overheated room. I liked what he told us even less, especially since Blackford was uncanny in his ability to see complications before anyone else was aware there was a problem. In a tone barely above a whisper, I asked, “Are you certain?”
He sprawled back in his chair, the glow gone from his eyes. In a quiet voice, he said, “I don’t like it, either.”
Sir Broderick broke in. “I know you came here for more than to lecture us on European conflicts.”
“I did.” The duke looked around the room. “The baron goes out in society a great deal with Lady Bennett. She could be used to pass on the drawings.”
The duke’s gaze fell on me. “We need to dog their heels night and day if we’re to recover those drawings. The plan I’ve devised is tricky. I want to place a member of the Archivist Society in a position to mingle with him in aristocratic society. A position that no one will associate with counterespionage.”
Sir Broderick pressed the tips of his fingers together and looked over them at Blackford. “When you came by this afternoon, you told me you had something in mind.”
“I want to set up Georgia Fenchurch as a cousin of Lady Monthalf, recently arrived from some part of the empire. I want the two of them residing in a household in fashionable London. I want them to go to the opera, to the theater, to balls and parties. And I want them to befriend Lady Bennett.”
Visions of waltzing and attending the opera warred in my brain with thoughts of my bookshop in ruin. “What about Fenchurch’s Books? I can’t just leave it shuttered for weeks.”
“Oh, Georgia, don’t sound so middle-class,” Blackford said in an annoyed tone. “Our nation’s security is at stake.”
I couldn’t leave my bookshop for that long. Both my business and my reputation would be destroyed. “I am middle-class. My shop is my life. I’ll attend social events with you, but my days will be spent as they always are. In my bookshop.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for The Vanishing Thief:
“The Vanishing Thief has it all; an engaging heroine, wonderful secondary characters and a story that will keep you turning pages until you reach the end. This series will be a great addition to the mystery bookshelves.”—Emily Brightwell, National Bestselling Author of The Mrs. Jeffries Mysteries
“A delightful adventure in Victorian England with the motley crew that is the Archivist Society—a group dedicated to obtaining justice when all else fails.”—Victoria Thompson, National Bestselling Author of Murder in Chelsea
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Who would suspect antiquarian bookseller Georgia Fenchurch of leading a double life—as a private investigator for the clandestine Archivist Society in Victorian London? When England’s national security is compromised, Georgia must pose as a titled lady to root out a spy… Georgia, Lady Phyllida Monthalf and Emma return in this second Victorian Bookshop Mystery, as do the members of the Archivist Society and The Duke of Blackford. This time of Lady Monthalf’s cousin Clara has been killed and a set of very important blueprints stolen. Clara’s husband has been arrested for treason and his wife’s murder. The Duke of Blackford enlists Georgia, Emma and Lady Phyllida’s help to catch the real killer. The fun begins when Georgia learns she will be playing the part of the duke’s new paramour, as if she doesn’t already get nervous enough around him. Georgia, a middle class bookshop owner posing as a titled Lady, what could go wrong? Well as we have learned with Georgia anything and everything. Dollycas’s Thoughts Georgia is an extraordinary character and she is doing double duty trying to keep her bookshop afloat with a little help from her Archivist Society members while dashing off to party after party on the arm of the Duke, all in an effort to find the missing plans and the person responsible for a very brutal murder. She is a very intelligent woman but at times the clues take both her and the reader in circles. Plus she finds herself more and more drawn to the Duke of Blackford. Her mind knows a relationship between classes is highly unlikely but her heart is full of hope. I thought the story had a real Cinderella vibe. From the moment the plan was put together both Georgia and Emma, who is acting at “Lady Georgina’s” maid, are treated to new clothes and all the accessories. Georgia attends fancy balls and dinners with the Duke arriving in the most beautiful carriages. The mystery was quite good too as it appears that only Clara and her husband Kenneth were in a locked room when the robbery and murder took place. There are several suspects but placing them in that room is tough. Remember this story is set in Victorian times, no CSI techs checking for fingerprints and DNA. I started reading this book on a beach during our recent Family Fun Day and I quickly noticed this was a book that needed my full attention, so I put it away and picked it back up as soon as I could the next evening and finished it at 2:14 a.m. the next morning. Once I started reading I just could not stop. Parker takes us back in time and keeps us on our toes with very interesting characters, history and mystery. She adds a nice balance of humor and romance too. The dialogues were very entertaining. Anxious for book #3.
What a unique treasure! When I read The Counterfeit Lady, I wasn't really sure what to expect (given the fact that I had not read the first book in the series). But after cracking it open, I was blown away by how detailed and well written it was. Georgia is the "heroine" of the story. She's a very bright, intelligent woman with a great sense of humor. She's a perfect fit for working with the Archivist Society, and a wonderful character to follow. I enjoyed her charm. The story itself has a romantic feel to it - perhaps because of it's setting. And while it begins with a slow, building pace, the story literally comes to life off of the pages, right before your eyes. Ms. Parker has a new fan in this reader, and I am looking forward to reading the first book in the series, as well as any future installments she has in store for us. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All conclusions reached are my own.
I waited for a long time to read the latest Georgia Fenchurch, her friends Emma, and all. She is by day a well respected bookseller, by nights a truth finder, or mystery solver. The plot is excellent, my number one complaint, Why isn't the romance between her and the Duke of Blackford at an advanced stage by now? This is the second book after all! I have decided to strike a blow for those of us who come to care deeply for the characters of books like these, to Stop reading them! Why wait so long as a consumer, eagerly preordering the next installment, and for what? To be disappointed once again by the ending of the story? No thanks! I will and have found better books to read or reread. I feel like I am being held hostage by Publishers and writers who truly do not appreciate their customers. It is an enjoyable book, not great! Very disappointed!
Looks like I found another new favorite series to keep up with. You got a historical setting, a bookshop and spy stuff. How could I not like this? I think I'm seeing a pattern with the covers, where the first one is in the bookshop and this we're at another location. And of course it has to do with the story so that's nice. Anyway, this time around, Georgia is to disguise herself as a Lady and you can guess there's moments with her and Blackford. I was thinking, wow that's some tension those two have going don't they? Makes the series fun. But then there's Emma and Sumner, who are adorable by the way. This was good. Quite the breeze through it was. Looking forward to the next one. Wonder what the bookshop owner will solve next. Oh and that ending. Interesting set up. Curious as to where it will go. Pretty good sequel.