The English Wife: A Novel

The English Wife: A Novel

by Lauren Willig

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Overview

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig comes The English Wife, a scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

 

"Brings to life old world New York City and London with all the splendor of two of my favorite novels, The Age of Innocence and The Crimson Petal and the White. Mystery, murder, mistaken identity, romance—Lauren Willig weaves each strand into a page-turning tapestry."—Sally Koslow, author of The Widow Waltz

"Her best yet...A dark and scintillating tale of betrayal, secrets and a marriage gone wrong that will have readers on the edge of their seats until the final breathtaking twist."—Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan's Tale

A Book of the Month club pick!

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor house in England, they had a fairytale romance in London, they have three-year-old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and named it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to try to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250056276
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/09/2018
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

LAUREN WILLIG is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series and a RITA Award-winner for Best Regency Historical for The Mischief of the Mistletoe. A graduate of Yale University, she has a graduate degree in English history from Harvard and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

Hometown:

New York, New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

March 28, 1977

Place of Birth:

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Education:

B.A., Yale University, 1999; M.A., Harvard University, 2001

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

New York, 1899

January

KNICKERBOCKER MURDERS WIFE AND KILLS HIMSELF! MURDER AND SUICIDE ON THE HUDSON!

It was impossible to ignore the headlines; they screamed out in bold black type from either side of the street, in the hands of newspapermen waving the latest editions.

"Miss Van Duyvil! Miss Van Duyvil! Did you see him? Did you see the body?"

"Miss Van Duyvil! Did you know he was going to kill her?"

Police had created cordons on either side of the front steps, keeping the press and sensation seekers at a distance. But they couldn't contain the sound of them, the babble and rumble of the crowd, pushing and clawing for a better view, shouting out questions and opinions. The family had managed to evade the reporters at Grace Church, but the house was another matter. A jostling crowd had been waiting for them when they returned from the funeral — reporters and curiosity seekers, masses of them, mobs of them — wanting to get a look at the sensation of the hour, a proud old family brought low.

It had been only a week since they had found Bay, but since then, the story had whirled about them like a snowstorm, growing in force with every hour. All of the old nonsense had been dragged up: the whispers of Annabelle's affairs, Bay's jealousy, the adultery going on right beneath the marital roof.

Lies, all of it, but so much more compelling than truth.

And what was the truth?

Janie had no more idea than they. She knew only that Bay could never have done what the papers claimed.

"Miss Van Duyvil! Miss Van Duyvil! Is it true that he bashed her head in?"

Janie buried her chin in her fur collar and kept moving. The Cold Spring constable hadn't believed her, not at first, when she said she'd seen a body in the water. He'd dismissed it as fancy. At least until they found that blue silk slipper on the bank.

They hadn't found Annabelle's body — not yet. The ice was too thick, the water too deep. It might never be recovered.

It. It, that had once been a she.

Janie could feel the beginnings of a headache pinching her temples. The noise, the clamor, it was all the stuff of nightmares; the past week was nothing but a bad dream. The funeral service, the flower-laden casket, the solemn pallbearers in their tall hats, the white-robed choristers, none of it had been real. Bay and Annabelle were at Illyria, sitting by the fire, the twins curled between them as Annabelle sang a lullaby, soft and low.

She tried to picture it, but all she could see was Bay, sprawled on the floor of the folly, his lips forming one last word as Annabelle's body drifted beneath the ice, like something out of a painting by Mr. Millais.

Janie didn't know what forces her mother had brought to bear to persuade the Putnam County coroner to release Bay's body. Officially, her mother was in deep mourning, seeing no one, speaking to no one, delegating all the official offices of death to the family lawyer. But a series of notes on black-bordered stationery had made their way from Mrs. Van Duyvil's desk to state senators and judges. And the coroner, who had initially hemmed and hawed and dithered, had discovered in himself unexpected depths of sensibility, issuing an interim certificate of death and postponing the inquest "until such time as further information might be acquired."

"Miss Van Duyvil! Did you see it? Did you see him stab her?"

Anne addressed the crowd over her fur-trimmed shoulder, saying, in a carrying voice, "Surely, there must be a brawl at a beer hall somewhere in the city. Go find it. Or, if not, I'm certain you'll have no trouble starting one."

The laughter from the crowd stung the journalist into retaliation. He jostled forward, pushing his way free from the crowd. "Mrs. Newland! Where's your husband?"

Anne went still, like a hunted animal, every sense on alert.

"Leave it," Janie whispered. "Just go inside."

But Anne didn't go. She turned, slowly and deliberately, letting the journalists and gawkers look their fill. A cousin wasn't required to shroud herself in black, so Anne had adopted half mourning, a bold purple that suited her rose and gold coloring. The evening editions would be full of every detail of her dress, the cut and color provocatively Parisian against the frost-bleached New York street. The sketch artists were already at work, blowing on cold fingers to warm them.

Anne looked the journalist up and down, her very pose a provocation. In a bored drawl, she said, "Why don't you ask him?"

Janie tugged at her hand, but Anne didn't need tugging. She turned on her heel, sweeping into the house with one magnificent flounce of her skirt, leaving Janie to scurry along behind.

In the parlor, the drapes were drawn and the lamps were lit; night in the midst of day. Janie shivered in her furs. They weren't to have returned until Monday, and the house still had the chill of emptiness about it. Or maybe it was a different sort of hollowness entirely.

Janie's mother looked up from the mirror by the side of the window, an innovation of their Dutch ancestors, glass cleverly angled so that one could spy on the street while seeming to look away.

"You shouldn't perform for them, Anne. It only encourages them." Janie's mother looked narrow and pinched; she seemed, in the lamplight, like a portrait of herself, flat and grim. She turned away from the window, letting her eyes rest full on her niece. "But then we do know how much you love theater."

The color rose in Anne's cheeks. Or maybe it was just the snap of the cold — cold and scandal.

Janie turned quickly away, before they could turn their ire on her. Was this how other people were, afraid to admit grief, causing pain rather than be comforted? Or was it only the Van Duyvil household?

Bay hadn't been like that. Bay would have defused the situation with a joke for Anne, a hand on his mother's arm.

But Bay was gone.

Anne sank into a chair, a sinuous movement, even in her stays. "You have to give the vultures something. If they're talking about Teddy, they might not —" With a convulsive gesture, Anne's fingers closed around the slim gold case hanging from a chain at her waist. "Does anyone else need a cigarette? Janie?"

Janie ducked her head, an instinctive gesture.

"Not in my house," said Mrs. Van Duyvil coldly.

"Even Ruth Mills smokes them these days, Aunt Alva. And she's a Livingston." Anne's voice was its usual drawl, but her hands gave her away, shaking so badly she could hardly work the clasp on her cigarette case. "Isn't that so, cousin dear?"

"So I've heard," said Janie cautiously. She wouldn't know. She'd never been invited to any of Ruth Mills's house parties at Staatsburg. Janie went where her mother went, to select gatherings of the elect, parties that wouldn't be sullied by the new people and their conspicuous expenditure.

And, of course, to Illyria. A silly name for a house, her mother had sniffed, but it was what Annabelle and Bay had chosen to call it.

Bay. The lamplight dazzled Janie's eyes, refracting into the light of a thousand icicles. The snow had thickened after they found him, crusting his body with diamonds, turning him into a creature out of fancy, a sleeping prince waiting to be woken.

"Janie!" Her mother's voice was sharp.

"I'm sorry. I was —"

"Not attending. You never do. Go see what's keeping the girl. You'd think she was harvesting the tea herself."

Anne rose from her chair with something less than her usual grace. The cigarette was still clutched, unlit, between her fingers. Even she didn't quite have the gall to light it in the face of direct objection. "I'll go."

"No. It's all right." The parlor felt like the inside of a coffin, velvet lined. Janie could feel herself smothering in it. "I won't be a moment."

She escaped before Anne could object. If there was one skill Janie had learned over the years, it was the art of absenting herself. One could be absent in the midst of a crowded drawing room if one really tried.

If the parlor was a coffin, the hall felt like a tomb, the marble floor cold and bleak, the frieze of urns that skirted the ceiling disappearing into the gloom. Janie escaped gratefully to the nether regions of the house, down the half stair that led to the kitchen. She could feel the warmth even before she entered; warmth and coal smoke and the strong smells of food in various stages of preparation.

"Is something burning?" asked Janie.

"The cakes —" Mrs. O'Malley started up from the table, grabbing for a towel and catching up a newssheet instead. She stared at it as though not sure how it had got there. "I was just —"

"Yes, I can see that."

DOUBLE MURDER ON THE HUDSON! shouted the headline.

Somewhere, they'd found pictures of Annabelle and Bay. Neither looked at all like themselves. Annabelle's was an artist's sketch, her hair piled high atop her head in a style she didn't favor, her chin pushed into an unnatural position by the strands of a pearl choker Janie couldn't recall her ever wearing. And then there was Bay. Janie recognized the picture, taken on the occasion of his graduation from the Harvard Law School six years before, his hair slicked down at the sides, high collar stiff around his throat. The same picture that sat in a silver frame on a table in the parlor.

Someone in the house must have provided the picture. Mrs. O'Malley? Or Katie, the downstairs maid? Katie was standing by the scullery, holding herself as though her very stillness would keep her from notice.

Janie nodded at the newssheet. "You'd best not let Mrs. Van Duyvil see you with that."

Mrs. O'Malley clutched the paper close to her thin chest. "Yes, miss. No, miss."

Janie had always wished she could be like a girl in a story, the sort of girl who was beloved by peers and servants alike. But she had never had the gift of commanding allegiance, either by love or by fear. The servants, she knew, took their cue from her mother. Janie was an extraneous female, but a Van Duyvil still, to be treated with nominal respect to her face and derision behind her back.

Janie held out a hand. "May I?"

Mrs. O'Malley surrendered the newssheet. The print was grainy, smeared by the touch of eager fingers. And this was only one of many newspapers being hawked on street corners. Not since the discovery of a dismembered body in the East River two summers ago had there been such a sensation.

Murder. Janie still couldn't make her mind close around the word. Murder was something that happened in the tenements of Hell's Kitchen, in the dark segments of the city through which a carriage passed with closed curtains. Not in her family. Not in Illyria.

"I'll dispose of this," said Janie, and was aware of just how much she sounded like her mother. A movement by the door caught her eye. A man, behind Katie, in the narrow passage between the scullery and the street. Sharply, she said, "And who might this be?"

Katie cast an agitated glance at Mrs. O'Malley. "It's ... my cousin. Jimmy."

The man unfolded himself from the wall, stepping into the light, the gas lamp casting a reddish glow against his black hair, setting shadows beneath his cheekbones.

He held his cap in one hand; the other hand he extended to Janie. "My condolences for your loss, Miss Van Duyvil."

Janie kept her own hands pressed close to her sides. "This is not a time to be receiving callers — even cousins."

If he was one. The ink on his fingers said otherwise.

The byline on the article in Janie's hands read James. James Burke.

James Burke. The name sounded oddly familiar, as though she had heard it before. On the pages of a newssheet? The family didn't read those sorts of papers, but it was hard to ignore them entirely, plastered as they were across the city.

Janie pressed her eyes shut, seeing the glare of the gaslight against the inside of her lids. "It would be a great deal less painful if people would respect that loss."

The interloper met her eyes, unabashed. "Surely, truth should be a consolation to the family, Miss Van Duyvil."

"Do you call this truth ... Mr. Burke?"

He didn't deny the charge. Instead, he inclined his head in something that was almost, but not quite, a bow. "Truth comes in all forms, Miss Van Duyvil."

On his tongue, the use of her name sounded impossibly intimate. "But seldom in The News of the World. I take it that you are the person responsible for perpetrating this ... nonsense?"

The man had the gall to widen his eyes in innocence. "We prefer to call it investigative reporting, Miss Van Duyvil."

"I call it scandal-mongering, pure and simple." Janie was too angry to be shy; all she could think of was Viola and Sebastian in their nightclothes, crying for their mother. They were too young to understand what was being said. But what of when they were older? It was easier to fling mud than to scour a reputation clean. "Making capital out of the suffering of innocent souls."

Mr. Burke leaned one hand familiarly against the back of a chair. "And isn't that the same way most of your friends on Fifth Avenue made their fortunes?"

"That's not —" That was what he wanted, to keep her talking. She'd find her own words flung back at her in the press, twisted and distorted. Stiffly, Janie said, "This is a house of mourning. I would urge you and your colleagues to remember that." To Katie, she added, "Mrs. Van Duyvil is waiting for her tea."

Katie bobbed a curtsy. "Yes, ma'am."

Janie kept her attention fixed on Katie, her voice prim. "I trust you will, in the future, restrict your family reunions to your half day. They have no place in this kitchen."

She sounded like her mother. No. Worse. She sounded like a sour spinster, tyrannizing the staff to mask her own powerlessness.

Mr. Burke stepped forward, a knight errant in a shabby gray suit. "It's not Katie's fault."

"In which case, it must be yours." Janie turned her displeasure where it belonged. "This discussion is over, Mr. Burke. You are disrupting the household and keeping Katie from her duties."

"And we mustn't have that." Mr. Burke's eyes met hers, the gray-green of moss over stone. "Good day, Miss Van Duyvil."

"Good-bye, Mr. Burke."

His only reply was a tilt of his cap as the door closed behind him.

A hint of French perfume warred with the scent of burning crumpets. "Who was that?"

Janie turned hastily, blinking at Anne in the kitchen door. "No one. One of Katie's cousins."

Anne shrugged, already losing interest. She looked out of place in the domestic confines of the kitchen, her taffeta gown too rich, her blond hair too bright for workaday use. "Aunt Alva wants her tea sent to her rooms. Sometime this century."

Mrs. O'Malley sprang into action, assembling a tray with more force than grace.

"You're to go to her." Anne waved one long, white hand at Janie. "When you're done with your ... reading."

Janie had forgotten the paper. Her fingers tightened around the page as she hurried after Anne, up the stairs. "I was simply disposing of it."

"Whatever you like." Anne's tone was derisory, but Janie didn't miss the glance she darted at the paper.

Janie would have laughed if it hadn't been so miserable, all of it. To be reduced to reading the scandal sheets for word of one's own family.

Somewhere along the sides of the frozen river, the search went on for Annabelle's body. Or so they presumed. Their sensibilities, it seemed, were too delicate to be imposed upon by the police. Whatever they knew of their own tragedy came at third hand. They were starved for news, all of them, as isolated as Robinson Crusoe on his island.

Anne, with all her tricks and her charm; Janie's mother, with her lineage and her money. All of their powers were reduced to nothing when it came to the workings of the masculine world of the law.

Janie looked anxiously at her cousin. "What happens next?"

Anne deliberately misunderstood her. "Supper, I should think."

Janie pressed her eyes shut, schooling herself to patience. Grieving came upon people in different ways, and if it made Anne even more prickly than usual ... well, there could be no doubt that she was grieving, or that she had the right to grieve. If there had been one person in the world who Anne truly loved, it was Bay.

There were times Janie had wondered if there might be something more between her brother and her cousin, if the rumors of Annabelle's affair with the architect were just a screen for —

No. Janie bit down hard on her lower lip. Now she was being as bad as the scandal-mongers howling at the gate. Bay had loved Annabelle. If Janie was sure of anything, she was sure of that. Not the fevered love the papers meant to convey, something harsh and jealous, but a comfort with their own company, the intimacy of a hand on a shoulder in passing, a message conveyed with a look.

Words might lie, but not that.

Janie paused at the foot of the stairs, stopping Anne with a fleeting touch to her arm, the most contact they had had in weeks. "What they're saying — Bay would never have done that. He would never have hurt Annabelle. Not Bay."

"Because you knew him so well."

Anne had always known just where to slide the knife. Janie forced herself to honesty, even if honesty felt raw and painful. "I wish I had."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The English Wife"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Lauren Willig.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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