When the Duke of Blackford enters her bookstore, Georgia knows the Archivist Society is in need of her services. The Tsar of Russia and his family are visiting Queen Victoria on the auspices of the engagement of the Russian princess Kira to the son of the Queen’s cousin. When Kira’s bodyguard is found dead on a train returning from Scotland, the Queen calls on Blackford to discreetly protect the princess and prevent an international incident.
The Russian royalty refuses help in finding the murderer, suspecting anarchists and demanding every extremist in London be hanged. But that is far from the English way. To get the job done, Georgia must go undercover as Kira’s English secretary. She soon discovers that anarchy isn’t the only motive in the case—and that someone is determined to turn royal wedding bells into a funeral dirge.
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“GOOD morning, Miss Keyes. Is Miss Fenchurch here?”
The familiar baritone of the Duke of Blackford reached me from the front of my bookshop. I jerked my head up to face the door of my tiny office. The metal tool I was using to pry open a crate of two-shilling novels slipped and jabbed my hand. I sucked on my injured finger, tasting blood mixed with ink and coal dust from the boxes, and felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment.
I didn’t have a mirror, but I knew my auburn curls were springing loose from my topknot. I was filthy and in no fit state to be seen by anyone. My assistant, Emma Keyes, was seeing to customers while I dealt with the shipments of new books and illustrated weeklies, which filled the office and back hall to overflowing.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that on a day when I looked like something Dickens, the neighborhood cat, left on my doorstep, Blackford marched back into my life. Blast.
“She’s in the back, Your Grace.”
I’d given Emma orders not to let anyone see me. Traitor.
A moment later, the duke appeared in the doorway with a cheerful “Good morning, Georgia.” He strode forward around the various stacks of periodicals and books, somehow squeezing past without a single smudge clinging to his immaculate trousers. Whipping out his pristine handkerchief, he pulled my finger out of my mouth and wrapped up the injured digit. “I can’t have you getting blood poisoning. We have a problem and I want your help.”
The words “I want your help” coming from Blackford’s lips would lead me to cross deserts in August and fly to the moon in a hot air balloon. Unfortunately, with Blackford, those were real possibilities.
The hint of excitement, of danger, that the duke carried with him made him irresistible to me. The fact that he was handsome and incredibly self-assured added both to his allure and my frustration. Blackford was a duke. I was middle-class. My dreams had no hope of coming true.
He looked me over and scowled. “Have you gained weight?”
Leave it to the duke to dissipate the warmth he always created in me when he held my hand. “No. I wore my work corset and this drab gown this morning because I’m checking all these boxes of books and periodicals against the shipping papers. This is my business. I don’t trust my suppliers. And I will not be shortchanged.”
I pulled my hand away, still wrapped in his handkerchief. “I’m sorry I’m not dressed to receive Your Grace for tea.”
“I’m not here for tea, Georgia. I’m here for assistance.”
Blackford needed my help. Of course he did. There was no other reason a duke would call on a middle-class shop owner. And the only time he needed my help, and the help of the Archivist Society, was when a crime had been committed that affected the ruling class. “What is the crime?”
“Murder.” The duke stood before me amid the clutter and dust, unsullied, unwrinkled, unflappable. His posture was regal and his dark eyes mesmerizing.
His presence made my heart beat faster. At night, I often dreamed of the time when he kissed me. Well, I started it by kissing him. My face heated despite the pleasant breeze coming through the window, knowing he must not have felt the same way. His response to what I thought was a glorious moment was to disappear from my life far too often during the next year. This last trip, to the continent on his own business as well as to stop intrigue in Her Majesty’s family, had lasted nearly three months.
However, I was determined to cling to my dignity. My office may have been tiny and crowded with new stock, but it was mine. Georgia Fenchurch of Fenchurch’s Books was hostess here, not Queen Victoria. I removed two cartons from a chair and lifted it over some boxes.
Blackford snatched the chair from my grasp and set it down in the only free space on the floor. “Sit down, Georgia.” He used his no-nonsense tone that made most people jump to do his bidding.
“You sit on the chair. I’m already filthy.”
“I won’t sit while you stand.”
I appreciated that he was always a gentleman. “This stack of cartons will do nicely for my chair.” I maneuvered my feet and my skirts into a tight gap between piles of scholarly tomes and perched on a container of the newest fiction, including the latest by Mrs. Hepplewhite. A copy of her gothic novel would go home with me that night.
Once Blackford sat, pride made me lift my chin and look down my nose at him. “You have my full attention.”
Blackford picked up a copy of one of the many periodicals we stocked. I couldn’t see if this one covered the queen’s record-setting length of reign or the engagement of the son of her cousin to a fetching young Russian royal. Inexpensive illustrated editions touching on either event sold as soon as they appeared on shop shelves. I made sure they were instantly available in my shop. “Who buys this trash?” he asked.
“The people who pay my bills. And if you aren’t going to come to the point, I need to get back to work.”
He shook his head but he stayed in the chair.
I lowered my voice. “Who was the victim? Where did the crime take place? And why are you involved?”
He waved the periodical at me. “The victim was the Russian bodyguard of this Romanov fiancée of the Duke of Sussex, the queen’s cousin. The guard’s body was discovered on a train returning from Scotland. There are international implications because of where the train originated.”
“How is Her Majesty?” I asked. I knew she was at Balmoral awaiting September twenty-third, the day when she’d become our longest-serving monarch.
“Well and wanting a quick solution to this problem. Tsar Nicholas and his family are visiting her, and the Russians see anarchists under every bed.”
“It’s only been fifteen years since their tsar was assassinated. I’d be edgy, too.”
“They should be. Scotland Yard has detected anarchist activity in the East End. But there’s no reason to believe anarchists killed the guard to Princess Kira.”
“Princess? I thought she was a grand duchess.”
“The press never gets titles correct. She’s a great-granddaughter of Nicholas I but not in the direct line of inheritance. Her grandfather was a younger son. Therefore she is styled Her Highness, Princess Kira.” He brushed away the issue of her title with a small motion of one hand. I couldn’t help but stare at his still-pristine fawn leather gloves. I was dirty from the moment I walked into this paper-and-ink-filled space.
“Never mind her title.” He frowned at me. “The problem is Scotland Yard fears something worse will happen on British soil.”
“You mean to the princess? Because one of the Russian soldiers has already been killed?”
“To the princess, or to the tsar and his wife and daughter, who are in Scotland at this very moment. Scotland Yard also has to worry if a member of our royal family is an assassin’s target.”
“Why kill a guard who’d left the queen and tsar and was coming to London? That doesn’t make sense. Unless the guard had enemies here. Do we know anything about him?”
“Very little. He was an older, married man with a wife and children in St. Petersburg. He was chosen for this position because he was settled and trustworthy. They couldn’t allow anyone young and dashing to be that close to the princess. The rules of propriety, you know.”
“His poor family.” I pictured them in a hovel in the snow. Except for the royal family, I pictured everyone in Russia living in poverty in year-round snowdrifts. “What was his name?”
“I don’t know.” The duke pulled off his gloves and set them on his knee. Then he reached out and took my uninjured ink-smudged hand. “This is going to be a difficult investigation because the Russians are insular. Standoffish. They don’t want our help in finding the murderer. As far as they’re concerned, the killing was done by anarchists. They want Scotland Yard to round up all known anarchists and hang them.”
Between the thrill of Blackford’s large, warm hand touching mine and embarrassment over the filth on my skin, I barely managed to pay attention to his words. “Why?”
“Because they’re anarchists.”
I looked at him in amazement. “We don’t do things that way in England.”
“You see the problem.”
“Lack of cooperation from those who knew the victim best.” Then it hit me. “You’re involved because the Foreign Office is involved. I suppose the Russian government objects to everything Scotland Yard asks or does.”
He nodded. “We’re going to need a different approach. Do you speak Russian?”
“Are you joking?”
“How about French?”
“I speak it like an Englishwoman, but I read it very well.”
“Good. And I see a typewriter on your desk. You must know how to use it.”
“For bills and orders. Nothing more.” Where was this going, I wondered.
“We need you to go undercover again. As Princess Kira’s English secretary.”
“No.” My business hadn’t fared well during my last undercover assignment. As much as I objected that time, playing the part of Blackford’s paramour had had its benefits. I didn’t see any good coming from being away from my bookshop a second time as a secretary.
“Georgia. Relax. Emma will be here looking after the shop. You’ll spend every night at home. Your middle-class clothes and life will be part of your disguise.” He smiled at me. Wolves must smile like that at their prey.
“What about the Archivist Society’s current investigation? I’m sure you know what we’re working on, and you know we try not to split up our resources on two investigations at once.”
“You’ll have to make an exception.”
“Why? We need to find out who robbed the home of the Marquis of Shepherdston. The thieves used dynamite and blew up part of the house before they killed one of his footmen. They’re much more dangerous criminals in my view.”
“That’s only your view.”
I pulled my hand away. He was being deliberately stubborn. Since the day the duke and I had met, when he tried to stop the Archivist Society from following leads in an investigation, he’d made it his business to know every case we worked on. I felt sure he’d suggested to the marquis that he employ the Archivist Society. We were now hard at work on an investigation, parallel to Scotland Yard’s, on this burglary.
So far, neither effort had uncovered anything useful.
“Don’t deny you know the Archivist Society has been asked by the marquis to find out who blew up his bedroom and shot his footman.” I raised my eyebrows, daring the duke to lie to me.
“They blew up his safe. The bedroom was a casualty of the bomb.”
I grumbled under my breath at Blackford’s cavalier attitude. “Nevertheless,” I insisted, “they took the contents of the safe and some valuables from the rest of the house and the marquis has hired us to find the robbers and get his goods back.”
Blackford lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “He’s hired the Archivist Society. He hasn’t hired you personally.”
“I’m certain the Archivist Society has members who fit your needs better than I would.” Fenchurch’s Books was my livelihood, and I’d had to abandon it for almost two weeks during a previous investigation with the duke. Lacking a husband or family, I had to look out for myself. Such was the fate of a spinster.
“But none I want to work with. I am well-known to the Duke of Sussex. He will be around the princess a great deal, and I will accompany him as a friend and as Whitehall’s representative.”
Here it was. A chance to work closely with Blackford again. Despite my hesitation to leave my shop, I felt excitement flooding my veins.
“I’ve already planted the seed in Sussex’s mind that his fiancée needs a secretary who can also assist her in learning our language. The princess has been sheltered. She’s very shy and knows practically no English. She does, however, speak passable French.”
“About the level of mine.” I looked him in the eye. “You’ve already arranged to have me hired as this woman’s English teacher, haven’t you? You did this before you asked me or spoke to Sir Broderick about the Archivist Society taking on this case. Blackford, you have to stop forcing people to do your bidding.”
“It’s not my bidding. It’s Whitehall’s. I merely assist.”
“We’re not your slaves.”
“Serfs. In Russia, peasants are called serfs. You’ll need to know that.”
“We’re in England. We call them slaves. I am not a peasant and the Archivist Society does not like being used this way.”
By this time, even someone as self-assured as the duke should have noticed the steam rising from my head. He held both of his hands palms out toward me. “Georgia, I apologize. From here, I’m going to see Sir Broderick and ask him to arrange a meeting of the Archivist Society for tonight. I do not mean to take you and the society for granted. But you’re amazingly talented and I enjoy working with you.”
I hoped he meant me and not the entire Archivist Society. I gave him a gracious nod and replied, “We are always eager to help Her Majesty and the government. And of course you,” I added, making my last words sound like an afterthought. My lack of assurance where the duke was concerned made me prickly.
“Good, because I can’t imagine how we’ll be able to discover why this Russian was killed unless you help.”
Acting as Princess Kira’s secretary, I’d see him almost daily. Thoughts of his constant proximity made me feel flushed. Aloud I said, “Aren’t you interested in who killed the guard?”
“No. Why is more important. If it was an anarchist, why kill only the guard? If this is part of some Russian insurrection, why kill the guard on the train and not one who was protecting the tsar in Scotland? If the murder was a personal vendetta, why wait until the guard was in England?”
“You think the princess is the target?”
“Or the princess and the Duke of Sussex. Or her hosts in London, the Duke and Duchess of Hereford.”
“Should I be armed while typing?” I couldn’t resist asking in a dry tone.
Blackford took me seriously. “No. Scotland Yard is keeping an eye on Hereford House, the duke maintains a full staff, and the princess has a chaperone who could hold off an army of anarchists with her temperament alone.”
What was I getting myself into? “Do I have to pass an interview with the chaperone or the duchess?”
“The duchess is a friend. We have this worked out between us, and the chaperone has no say.”
I stared at him as if he’d overlooked an important point. “If she can hold off an army, what is one hired secretary?”
“Officially, you work for the duchess. She is lending you to the princess.”
“How long have I been working for the duchess?”
“Not long. The princess and Sussex stopped off for a short visit on their way to London, so we’ll go this afternoon and introduce you to the duchess before the princess arrives.”
“How long do we have to set this up?”
“Two days. The princess is in a hurry to reach London.”
“Princess Kira is a painter. She likes to paint street scenes.”
“I’ll have to get hold of Frances Atterby and learn if she’s free to help run the bookshop again. You’re certain I won’t have to run all over England with this princess?”
“Yes.” He gave me a smile that reached his eyes and took my hand again. “I’m not an ogre, Georgia. I know how much your bookshop means to you.”
“But if the princess takes off for someone’s country estate, you’ll expect me to go along.” I knew how the duke’s mind worked.
“She doesn’t want to leave London with all these new sights to paint. And all the major art galleries are in London.”
I’d only have two days to research painting so I’d have some idea what the princess was talking about. In French. I’d have to step carefully or I could blunder badly. “Won’t she want to paint in the countryside?”
“Her family’s kept her on their country estate most of the year. She’s had little opportunity to visit St. Petersburg, and she wants to live in a big city. London will be new and exciting for her.”
But why was she staying with the Herefords? Then I remembered. “The Duchess of Hereford is a well-regarded painter, isn’t she?”
“That explains why the princess is staying with her.”
“The Herefords are young enough not to bore a young lady and cosmopolitan enough not to make her think all Englishmen are provincial louts.”
“So everything is focused on this princess and no one cares about the guard who died.” I pulled my hand away and folded my arms over my stomach. I would have tapped my foot but there was no room between the boxes. I hadn’t met the princess but so far I’d not heard anything to make me like her. My sympathies lay with the guard’s family. I was seventeen when both my parents died. Their murder still haunted me.
“We care because we need to know why he died. Scotland Yard has very little evidence to link anyone to the killing.”
“So the murderer will go free.”
“Hopefully, we’ll catch him before he kills again.” Blackford looked squarely into my eyes, knowing he’d said the words that would make me go along with this investigation.
• • •
BLACKFORD RETURNED TO the bookshop in the afternoon to escort me to the home of the Duchess of Hereford. I couldn’t think of any reason why he always used the ancient carriage given to his family by the Duke of Wellington for services rendered at Waterloo unless it was to aggravate me. Sitting high off the ground, I found it difficult to climb in and out of it even with assistance. In short, I was at a disadvantage. I appeared foolish.
I glanced over at an urchin who was hawking a free broadsheet, and my aggravation grew. My shop stocked dailies and weeklies that we charged customers for. I didn’t like free competition on my doorstep.
“Miners’ strike. Show solidarity,” the boy bellowed at us, a page held high in his ink-stained fingers. I was about to shoo him away when he smacked the duke in the chest with a copy.
The duke glared as he took the paper and then gave me a hand up before climbing into the coach after me. “Well, at least the price is right,” he muttered and tossed it aside. “Solidarity, indeed.”
An image of the unsullied duke manning the barricades with the grimy miners brought a smile to my lips.
Once we were under way, he glanced across the carriage at me and said, “You cleaned up nicely.”
I was wearing my newest white shirtwaist with a blue skirt and clean white gloves. Emma had tamed my hair into a proper coiffure under a wide-brimmed straw hat. I was surprised he noticed. “Thank you.”
His grin widened. “I rather liked you covered with ink and, what was that, coal dust?”
“Yes,” I hissed out through clenched jaws. No woman wants to be reminded of her less-attractive moments.
“It gave you a certain dangerous disguise.”
Heat rose to my cheeks. “Could we focus on the case at hand, please?”
His expression was instantly serious. “Of course. The Duchess of Hereford has two charming young children, a talent for painting, and a well-run home. She’s a decent employer but she expects punctuality and meticulous work.”
“How old is she?”
“Perhaps a few years your senior.”
We stopped on Park Lane in front of a beautiful redbrick home that probably had been built during the early Georgian period. The front garden was full of roses, and well-tamed greenery bordered the walkway to the front steps.
When the duke helped me down, I slipped on the top step of the carriage and nearly knocked him over. Fortunately, the muscles I felt through his silky wool suit jacket were up to the task of saving my dignity. The shock of the near tumble didn’t speed my pulse as much as feeling the marble inside his sleeves.
I walked toward the front door with a heated face, then stopped on the path. “Blackford, you didn’t tell me the Herefords are your next-door neighbors.”
“Yes. Hereford and I have known each other since we were in our prams.”
A butler answered the footman’s knock, took Blackford’s card, and led us into an immaculate formal parlor done in blues and creams. I walked around, admiring the paintings on the walls. One in particular, showing a young boy and a younger girl, captured my attention.
“I painted that portrait of my children two years ago,” came a voice from behind me.
I turned and gave a deep curtsy. “It is beautiful, Your Grace.”
She’d already turned to Blackford, calling him Ranleigh. He in turn called her Lady Beatrice. She was tall, thin, and graceful, with a low-pitched speaking voice. The sort of woman Blackford needed to marry.
I was depressed already, and I hadn’t yet learned what my duties would be.
The duchess sat down, offered us tea, and on our refusal said, “The princess will be arriving about noon the day after tomorrow. It would be good if you were here a little early, Miss Fenchurch, to appear part of the household.”
“I’m going to use the name Georgia Peabody, if you don’t mind,” I said. “I don’t want anyone connecting my work here with Fenchurch’s Books.”
“Of course. Miss Georgia Peabody, then. Do you speak any languages?”
“I speak some French. And I read it very well.”
“And you type?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“And your handwriting?”
“Clear, but not flowery.” I wanted her to understand I was from the middle class. I didn’t have time to deal with anything above utilitarian.
“Excellent. Let me show you the rooms you need to be familiar with. Then we’ll sit down and put our heads together on what we know and what we need to know.”
She was businesslike. I thought I might like working with her.
“Where is Hereford?” Blackford asked.
“He took our son and left this morning for our estate. He said if we’re going to have a Russian invasion in his house, and a female Russian invasion at that, he was leaving.”
Blackford laughed. “Sounds like Hereford.”
The duchess did not look pleased. Leading us down a corridor, she opened a door on a pleasant morning room with a lovely view of the back garden. On a desk by the window was a typewriter. She showed me where I’d find ink and notepaper and typewriter supplies. “You’ll work here and have your lunch served to you in this room. There’s a cloakroom and a retiring room by the back door. This way, please.”
She showed me where I could use her modern “facilities” and hang my coat. There was a table by the coatrack already holding a small hat and a pair of darned gloves. “My daughter’s governess’s,” the duchess said by word of explanation and led us back to her beautiful parlor.
Once we were seated, she said, “You’ll be expected to be here from ten until five. Servants talk, and they’ll quickly figure out if you’re not who you say you are.” Then her attitude softened. “Try to be as indispensable to the princess as you can. I’ve been told she could be in grave danger, and I have no idea how to respond. I’ve also been told you’re very resourceful.”
“I try to be. How much do you know about the princess?”
“She’s nineteen. She has an excellent talent for painting. I’m told there was much searching in the Almanach de Gotha to find a good match for her. Someone who would tolerate her painting. Sussex adores her talent and is a good match for her, being a third-generation descendant of a ruler just as she is.”
“The Almanach de Gotha?”
“The stud book for all the royal families in Europe,” Blackford told me with a hint of a smirk.
Oh. Of course there would be one. I couldn’t imagine why the duke found it amusing, however. He was in Debrett’s, the British aristocratic equivalent. “Are they fond of each other?” I asked. “The princess and Sussex?”
The duchess looked blank. “I suppose they will be.”
I wasn’t sure if that was an encouraging statement. “What do you know about her as a person?”
She gave me a rueful smile. “Not much that would be helpful to you. The tsarina wrote the queen about the girl’s artistic talent and then the princess herself sent the queen a painting. It was—breathtaking.”
“How long will she be staying with you?”
“Until she returns to Russia. I don’t know how long she plans to remain. Sussex will be a constant visitor. He seems more smitten than she is and wants to win her over.”
“Win her over?” This sounded like a complication.
“Perhaps that’s the wrong phrase.” The duchess thought for a moment. “She’s perfectly willing to marry him, there’s no trouble there. It’s just that Sussex is in his late thirties. He should have married some time ago, but he’s so boyish, no one thought to marry him off until he inherited the title three years ago. It appeared to everyone that his sickly father would outlive us all.” She gave a small shrug. “His mother has always been the dominant one in the family and has blocked every effort to find her son a suitable wife. The dowager duchess would keep him tied to her apron strings until he was sixty if Victoria allowed it.”
If I were Princess Kira, I’d be running in the opposite direction. “She plans to stay weeks? Months? Until the wedding?”
The duchess’s eyes widened at the thought. “Oh, I hope not. The wedding is scheduled for next spring. Before the Jubilee celebration. Surely she’ll leave by November and return in April. I think the princess is due to stay at Osborne with the queen for a short time before the wedding. Windsor Castle would be more convenient, but Victoria prefers to spend the spring at Osborne.”
This investigation could keep me away from the bookshop for two months. I shot a dark look at Blackford, who’d sat silently through our conversation. The smile he returned was enigmatic.
For a moment, I was sorry he’d come back into my life.
THAT evening, Emma Keyes walked with me to Sir Broderick’s along the busy pavement. Families strolled together while enjoying the seasonably nice weather and speedy walkers rushed home to dinner or evening pursuits. The roads were clogged with carriages and hansom cabs, wagons having already returned to be reloaded for the next dawn.
I noticed that several male heads turned when we walked by but knew their glances weren’t for me. Emma had been an attractive child who’d blossomed into a beautiful woman. Mercifully, she’d also been born with brains and good judgment. Otherwise, no woman could have stood her.
When we arrived for the Archivist Society meeting at Sir Broderick’s large town house, Jacob, his assistant, opened the door. He took our cloaks and said, “We’re meeting in the parlor.”
Emma froze on the second step heading upstairs as I turned to face the young man at the bottom of the staircase. “Not the study?”
He grinned. “Mrs. Hardwick and Sir Broderick have the room cleaned up ready for company, so we’re using it tonight. Go on, take a look.”
We always used the study. I rushed around the elevator with Emma on my heels and threw open the door. When I came to a surprised stop, she collided with me, and we both took a few steps into the room.
The parlor appeared just as it had a dozen years before when Sir Broderick left the house on his feet for the last time. Now he sat in his wheeled chair in front of the roaring fire smiling at us. “Come in and have some tea. Blackford will be here shortly and then we can start.”
I walked over to where Mrs. Hardwick had placed the tea service and a plate of Dominique’s scones. “You’ve worked a miracle,” I told her. “He hadn’t used that elevator to come down here until you arrived.”
“He probably wasn’t ready to use it until now,” she replied. She was a square-faced woman with gray streaked in her light brown topknot.
“I’ve known him since before the accident,” I said. “And I believe you’ve instigated this marvel.”
She smiled at my words and her face lit up with kindness, making her beautiful. Sir Broderick was lucky to have hired her as his housekeeper. Luck he deserved.
I took my tea and a scone and sat next to Frances Atterby. “Dominique hasn’t lost her touch with scones,” she told me.
I took a bite. The flavor made my eyes close in rapture. When I opened them again, I took another look around the room. The new fabric on the chairs and sofas was smooth and crisp, and the draperies had been hung so recently they lacked faded patches from the sun or soot from the fire. Sir Broderick and Mrs. Hardwick must have spent the past few weeks redecorating this room without telling any of us.
“What’s the new case about?” Frances asked.
“If things end up as Blackford wants them, I’ll need you in the bookshop again. Emma will be there to help.”
“Good. My son’s wife has a sick relative in the country and she thinks I would make a fine nurse.”
“Can you see me in the country, tending the sick and gathering eggs and milking cows? She forgets I ran that hotel with my husband before she was born. I’m a Londoner, and my family is here.” Frances finished her scone and nodded firmly, her jowls wobbling.
“I’ll claim you as my sister if it’ll help.” Adam Fogarty stopped his ceaseless pacing behind our sofa.
“Ah, Adam, you’ll always be a brother to me,” she responded. “How’s the leg?”
“Better. The weather’s been fair. So, what’s our case?”
“The Duke of Blackford is presenting it,” I told him.
“Not more spies.” I detected a groan in his reply.
“Anarchists this time.”
“Worse,” he said and continued his stroll around the room.
At that moment, the duke walked in followed by Jacob. We all, except Sir Broderick, rose and gave Blackford a low bow or curtsy. He bowed to Sir Broderick and then gave the room a bow. Then he sat down near Sir Broderick but away from the scorching heat of the fire. Mrs. Hardwick brought him a glass of whiskey.
The preliminaries out of the way, Sir Broderick said, “I called this group together tonight to plan our investigation into the murder of a Russian imperial guard in a British railway coach and to implement our protection of the princess he was assigned to bodyguard. This princess will be marrying the Duke of Sussex, the son of a cousin of our queen.”
“He was the only bodyguard?” Adam immediately asked.
“Is that usual? To have only one guard?”
“She’s of low rank in the royal family, and once she arrived in Britain, the Russians expected us to protect her.”
“What does the princess say about the attack? The guard should have been right there with her.” Adam Fogarty scowled, clearly puzzled.
“He wasn’t. They were in a station and he stepped off the train for a few minutes. His body was found in the luggage carriage. The tsar leaves Balmoral for home shortly with the tsarina and the rest of his guards and household. The queen has promised we’ll do everything we can from this end to catch the murderer.” Blackford glanced around the room at each of us. “Her Majesty expects a quick but thorough investigation.”
“She wants results,” Sir Broderick muttered.
“Was anyone seen with him?” Fogarty reverted to his police sergeant training whenever he began asking questions.
“Porters, ticket collectors, and stallholders were all questioned. No one saw anything. You’d think a man in a Russian Imperial Guards uniform would stand out in Yorkshire,” the duke said.
“Was the platform busy?” I asked.
“Yes. The train the princess and her entourage rode on headed to London stopped at the same time as a train bound for the queen and Balmoral. It’s a small station. The railroad arranges the schedule so no other trains pass the area near that time. Government ministers and servants were on the platform trading gossip and intelligence about the state of things in the queen’s household. They were all focused on getting their own questions answered in the few minutes before the trains pulled out in opposite directions.”
“Have questions been asked of those arriving in Balmoral?” Frances asked.
“Yes, and no one noticed the guard.”
“How was he killed, and was anything taken from the body?” Emma asked.
“He was stabbed from the front. One strike to the heart. Quick and clean. One of his epaulets was torn off in a quick, brutal struggle and a button was missing.”
“Was the killer marked by the guard?” Emma asked.
“Possibly. There was blood on one hand, but it may have been the guard’s.”
“Did they find either the epaulet or the button?”
“No. If they weren’t lost amid the piles of baggage, then the killer must have taken them with him. Possibly accidentally. If this was deliberate, it sounds like the anarchists. I can’t think of anyone else wanting this type of souvenir,” Blackford replied.
“What about blood? Shouldn’t the killer have ended up all bloody?” I tried to picture the scene. Someone in the railway station or on a train should have noticed blood on a passenger.
“There was a pool around the guard on the floor of the railway carriage, but his uniform may have kept the killer from being sprayed with it. Russian uniforms are thick. When he was found, there was more blood on the inside of his coat than the outside. His tunic was soaked with his blood.”
I studied Blackford after he told us this last piece of information. “So the blade was long?”
“Long and thin. Easily hidden.”
“Someone obviously came prepared to kill. I wonder if he came up on the London train.” I glanced at Blackford to see if he was thinking the same thing I was.
He shuddered. “Otherwise, the murderer had been in Balmoral with the queen.”
“Were any tickets sold at that station in Yorkshire for either train? Or after they left, did the conductors find any passengers without a ticket?” The killer had to go somewhere after the murder. If he came up from London and wanted to go back there . . .
“No, but they did report that a stranger bought a ticket to London on the next train through the station. A stranger without luggage,” Blackford told me.
“Did they get a description?”
“Tall, bearded. He reportedly looked like a tramp and said very little.”
Looked like a tramp? I imagined anarchists dressed this way.
“Where was the luggage carriage on the train in relation to the coach for the princess?” Adam Fogarty asked.
“They were next to each other, so the guard wouldn’t have been on the platform long. Which probably cut down on the number of people who might have noticed him.”
“So far, we know little about the princess and less about the dead guard,” I told them. “Your Grace, could you get us any information that Scotland Yard has uncovered on either one?”
“The guard’s name is Lidijik, Semyon Lidijik. He’s been in the guards eighteen years, married, two children. They live in St. Petersburg, but he and his wife come from the country estate owned by the princess’s father, Prince Pyotr Romanov. Lidijik didn’t seem to be the kind of person anyone noticed. Not particularly ambitious. He was an adequate soldier. No known enemies.” Blackford stared me in the eye. “You see, Georgia, I am paying attention to the victim.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.” Once again he surprised me. Ordinarily, he considered the needs of Whitehall before he gave the victim a thought. His ability to amaze me was one of the many reasons I looked forward to working with him.
“I plan to see Sussex on his return and get him talking. He was on the train, he’s spent time with the princess, and presumably he saw her bodyguard. Hopefully he noticed something.”
“Something he doesn’t realize is important?” Emma asked.
Blackford made a quick face before he spoke. “Poor Sussex will never realize the importance of anything. The trick is just to get the man talking. And then to keep listening.”
“This is outside the realm of our normal sources of information,” Sir Broderick said. “Have the Scotland Yard detectives interviewed any of the government ministers who were on the train? Did they see anything?”
“The passengers continued to London on the train with the body and have been questioned. I spoke to one of them, Lord Tayle. He and the other ministers were in separate railway compartments from the carriage the princess rode in. He got out at that rural Yorkshire siding where they take on water and coal when they’re making the run between Balmoral and London. The northbound train arrived about a half minute later, and he searched out Lord Rogers to ask him to continue trying to discuss an unpopular measure with Her Majesty. The queen often refuses to discuss bills she doesn’t approve of.”
Blackford shook his head. “Tayle was so focused on his task that he didn’t notice any strange activity. No one in a Russian uniform. He doesn’t think the princess or Sussex got out of their carriage, but he’s not certain.”
“We have no eyewitnesses and little evidence despite a very small window of opportunity,” Sir Broderick began. “Any suggestions on how we should proceed?”
“I’ve already set up with the princess’s hostess, the Duchess of Hereford, for Georgia to act as their secretary and to tutor the princess in English. Georgia will be able to talk to the princess as well as observe any dangers around her.” Blackford smiled, knowing any plans would now have to be made around his scheme.
“Will she have to go away again?” Frances asked.
“Only from the bookshop. She’ll have her evenings and Sundays free, and she’ll be able to live at home,” the duke assured her.
“Where does this leave us with the investigation into the explosion and robbery at the Marquis of Shepherdston’s? We did promise to look into that first,” I reminded them.
“You’ll be on the Russian investigation full-time,” Sir Broderick said, “but the rest of us can work on both. And I can call on more members of the Archivist Society to help with both investigations. It will stretch us in two directions for a while, but I’m sure we’re up to the challenge.”
Wonderful. Sir Broderick and the Duke of Blackford seemed to think as one. What was it about powerful men? “Have we learned anything new in the Shepherdston investigation?”
In response, Sir Broderick said, “Jacob, would you bring Mary in, please?”
Jacob returned in a minute with a slender young woman who was no bigger than a boy. Mary! I remembered her immediately. She’d been a maid for the Gattengers until her master’s arrest for murder and treason brought her to the attention of the Archivist Society. After the Gattenger house was closed up, she served as a maid in our borrowed house in Mayfair while I pretended to be Georgina Monthalf, lover of the Duke of Blackford.
We made sure Mary never learned the true identity of Georgina or her lady’s maid, Emma.
“This is Mary Thomas,” Sir Broderick said. “She wants our help in finding those responsible for the murder of her brother, Robert Thomas, a footman for Lord Shepherdston.”
“Yes, please. He was all the family I had left, and I miss him. I can’t pay you much—” She dabbed at her brown eyes.
“Don’t worry about that,” Emma said, brushing the thought from the air with one hand. “We’re happy to help. I remember you from last year. You were a maid in our house in Mayfair. I was the lady’s maid.”
“And you’re part of the Archivist Society? You let servants help you?” Mary sounded equal parts amazed and overwhelmed as she gazed around the room.
When she spotted the duke, she gasped out, “Oh, Your Grace,” and took a step back.
“It’s all right, Mary.” Blackford spoke in a surprisingly soft voice.
“I’m really a clerk in a bookshop.” Emma raised her voice slightly to get the girl’s attention. “I played the role of a lady’s maid for that investigation. In the end, we found out how your mistress died and saved your master from the gallows.”
The girl’s sad eyes showed their first spark of hope. “I’m glad. They were a nice couple. I hope you can help me that way. Nothing will bring Robert back, but I’d like the evil man who shot him to pay for what he did.”
I’d lost my family at seventeen, and Mary didn’t appear much older. My heart ached in sympathy for her and for the child I had been. “You have our condolences on your brother’s death. Do you want to stay and hear what we’ve learned so far?”
“Yes, please. Your Grace?” Mary asked, taking a small step forward.
Sir Broderick gestured toward a chair. Mary sat on the edge as if afraid at any moment we’d shout at her for sitting.
At a nod from Sir Broderick, Grace Yates, Archivist Society member as well as Lord Barnwood’s secretary and librarian, said, “We’ve learned the identity of everyone who entered the marquis’ home in the ten days before the explosion. The only people who were not regular visitors were a firm of interior decorators removing wallpaper. But the marquis has used the same firm for years.”
“Scotland Yard’s analysis said too much explosive was used on the safe, causing the heavy damage. There aren’t many who can blow a safe properly. They think this was the work of new villains. Amateurs,” Adam Fogarty told us.
“But one of them appears not to be an amateur with a gun,” Sir Broderick said. “When the footman, Robert, stood between the two men and freedom, the taller man shot him through the heart and escaped. Expert shooting.” He grew silent for a moment.
I glanced over at Mary. She stared at the floor, her lips pinched closed.
“If the lady’s maid hadn’t been sent to fetch her mistress just before the explosion, she never would have had a good view of the two burglars or the shooting. Too bad the villains wore masks.”
“Masks?” Mary looked up, her eyes widening.
“Yes, half masks such as are worn at a ball, plus caps pulled low on their heads,” Sir Broderick explained.
“The lady’s maid isn’t involved?” Emma asked.
“Unlikely. She’s been with the family for years. Scotland Yard’s report included the woman saying after the shooting, ‘The shorter man shouted something to the shooter in a foreign tongue.’”
I looked at Sir Broderick when he surprised us with this news. “Any idea what language he was speaking?”
“None. Mary, when was the last time you saw your brother?”
“It had been more than a week before—” She took a deep breath before she could continue. “I’d rarely been in the servants’ hall at Shepherdston House, not in months, so I’m afraid I can’t help with the investigation.”
Sir Broderick nodded and then looked at each of us in turn. “It’s getting late and we’ll all be busy tomorrow. Thank you for coming, Miss Thomas. We’ll find the man who shot your brother. You can count on us.”
“And we’ll find you at the Duke of Blackford’s household, miss?” Adam Fogarty asked.
She slipped on her coat as she said, “Yes, I’m a parlor maid there.”
“Wait with the coachman, Mary, and we’ll get you home,” Blackford told her.
Once she left, Sir Broderick said, “Let’s get back to the problem of the Russian princess.”
“I’ll be glad to check on security with the patrolmen,” Adam Fogarty said. Chances were he knew most of them and they’d introduce him to the rest of the bobbies.
“Jacob, I want you to question the Russian embassy about the guard and the details of his burial. Say you’re from Whitehall, sent by a minister to ask if any assistance is needed. Find a clerk who’ll talk to you.” Sir Broderick turned to Blackford. “I know it’s a long shot, but it’s worth the effort.”
“Anything else?” Emma asked.
“Not yet,” Sir Broderick replied. “We don’t have the resources to track a killer who might have come over from Russia and returned home already. I suspect there won’t be much for us to do on this investigation.”
I’d be glad to quickly return to my bookshop, but I wished I could spend more time with the duke.
As we prepared to leave, Sir Broderick said, “Would you please stay a moment, Georgia?”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Victorian Bookshop Mystery Series:
“An engaging heroine.” —New York Times Bestselling Author Emily Brightwell
“Delightful adventure in Victorian England.” —Victoria Thompson
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love mysteries and stories of English life. It's interesting to think of how detective work began. This was exciting too.
This is a fun and engaging series with an intelligent heroine and a good supporting cast . Best read in chronological order .
The story was good , but a bit transparent 3/4 of the way through.
Its nice when you take a break from a book series, then find there's a new book and still like said series. This is one of those series. Anyway, another good sequel in the mystery bookshop series thus far. The mystery was good, although Georgia had her moments where I was like, would those two just tell each other how they feel already? The adorable tension between them is off the charts. The reveal a little predictable though I did have some guesses as to who done it which makes these mysteries fun reads. Writing style and pace also good. And yay for more Sumner and Emma. And that ending. Looking forward to the next bookshop mystery with Georgia and co.
Dollycas’s Thoughts The Russians are coming in this 3rd Victorian Bookshop Mystery and the Archivist Society puts Georgia Fenchurch right into the middle of the chaos. Russian Princess Kira is engaged to the Queen’s cousin and she has come to town to spend some time getting to know him better. Or has she? It seems the princess may have another mission in mind. Her bodyguard has been killed and the Queen is worried for her safety. Georgia is placed in the home undercover to protect her and to try and find out who is behind the recent murder. She is also trying to figure out Princess Kira’s real reason for her visit. Kate Parker does it again. I stayed up late to finish this story because I could not put it down. I absolutely love Georgia. She goes wherever she is asked putting herself in danger time and time again. He relationship with the Duke of Blackford is very complicated and frustrating. Georgia is a commoner meaning she cannot marry the Duke if he wants to keep his title. Her dear friend Emma is also a brave soul and is in a complicated relationship herself with the Duke’s right hand man. Lady Phyllida Monthalf is worried about all of them. The Archivist Society is quite a group. The devise a plan and follow through with excellent results. The Duke of Blackford is a key member and even Sir Broderick in his disabled state is a force to be reckoned with. His logistics are a big part of their success. This author does an excellent job blending the history and the mystery. She peppers it with just the right amount of romance and humor too. I felt like a birdie on Georgia’s shoulder traveling about London, from her home, to her shop, to the East End, and everywhere in between. I am anxiously awaiting and very excited about the next book in this series. I am truly hoping that the next adventure shows the Duke that he can’t live without Georgia and the author finds some way for them to be together.
THE ROYAL ASSASSIN is an enjoyable mix of mystery, drama, fun, and romance. I’ve recently started reading more historical cozy mysteries and this trip to Victorian England was simply delightful. Author Kate Parker has obviously done her research and it shows. Georgia Fenchurch is a wonderfully written heroine for the time period. While she has a lot of the traits of a true Victorian woman, she is also independent and doesn’t like being told what to do. Lord Blackford enlists Georgia to help solve the murder of the bodyguard of a Russian Princess. What follows next is a story full of excitement and intrigue with twists and turns that kept my head spinning and my brain working overtime right up to a reveal that I never saw coming. This book has a little something for fans of many genres. You just can’t go wrong with it! Take a trip back to the Victorian era the summer and pick up a copy of THE ROYAL ASSASSIN.