Within the next week or two, I’ll be releasing my newest novel – a Victorian-era murder mystery set in Lancashire, England.
My oldest son is the one who encouraged me to write it. For the longest time, he’s been telling me I should write a mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers & G.K. Chesterton. This book is my lowly but wholehearted attempt.
My friend, Tiwatha, also recently gave me a silver tea set which was the inspiration for part of the storyline. You’ll have to read the book to see how. 🙂
I’ve included the Prologue and Chapter One here to whet your appetite for more – at least I hope it whets your appetite for more. 🙂
Keep an eye out for the upcoming release of A Just Measure!
December 24, 1892
She stood at the window, unmoving. She gazed through the small circle she’d created by scraping away the ice that had formed. As far as the eye could see, there was snow. It clung to the bare branches of the trees in the garden and cloaked the hedges with pristine beauty. Like a glorious white carpet, it spread across the lawn into infinity. Its beauty made the ache return. The ache for what she would never have now. She slowly raised her hand and pressed her palm against the glass.
Cold. So cold. Like her heart.
After several minutes, she turned from the window and stared at the silver tea set atop the small table situated between the two settees. It gleamed as if it were brand new. She’d made sure it looked perfect. Now it was waiting. Waiting for him to come and partake.
She took a step away from the window and moved toward the table, the hem of her dress rustling across the floor as she went. The sound was oddly comforting as she contemplated the unpleasantness that was to come.
She hadn’t chosen this course. It had been thrust upon her. His actions had made it necessary. When one steals something so precious, one must pay the price. And he would pay. He certainly would pay.
October 15, 1892
She stood at the window, unmoving. Her eyes hungrily scanned the landscape, amazed by what lay before her. As far as the eye could see, trees blazed in brilliant autumnal color. The ornamental garden and the valley beyond seemed to explode with the fiery beauty of reds, oranges, and yellows. It was breathtaking. As many times as she witnessed it, the wonder of the season was never lost on her. Its beauty made her ache with a longing she couldn’t put a name to. A something just out of reach.
She leaned closer to the window, her heart beating with expectation as she watched for the first glimpse of the carriages. The house was so quiet now, and she longed for conversation and the companionship of other people. Her mind wandered back to the scene that had brought her to the point of such loneliness and she choked back the tears that threatened to emerge. She couldn’t greet their guests with a face red and splotchy from crying. It wouldn’t be dignified. And she knew William expected dignity above all else. Especially when they would be entertaining such important visitors.
As if he had sensed her thoughts, William appeared in the doorway of the library. “Are you ready, Angelica? Our guests should be arriving momentarily.”
She turned from the window to face her older brother. He was impeccably dressed as always. Every hair in place, his collar crisp, his face a mask of aristocratic politeness. “I am,” she said, drawing out the skirts of her emerald-green gown. “Do you approve?”
“It’s a fine dress,” he answered dismissively before walking across the room to join her at the window.
“I’m so looking forward to this visit. It will be especially delightful to have our guests over the Christmas holiday.”
“There’s not much to look forward to. It’s business,” he said dryly.
“But it will be wonderful to have company in the house again. We haven’t entertained anyone since mother and father –”
“I know,” he said curtly, cutting her off.
Angelica forced her pain back to its hidden place, knowing that her expressions of sorrow made him uncomfortable. “Tell me more about our guests,” she said, changing the subject. “You haven’t said much. It will be helpful with conversation if I know more about their lives.”
William sniffed. “I don’t want you discussing politics,” he instructed, his words tinged with warning.
An indignant flush rose in her cheeks. “William, times are changing. It’s not considered as impertinent as it once was for women to discuss politics. With the rumblings for independence in India, we could have some very interesting conversations,” she said with a mischievous gleam in her eyes.
“I forbid it,” William said flatly.
Angelica laughed. “Forbid it if you will, but if politics are brought up, it would be impolite for me not to respond.”
“You’ll embarrass yourself.”
“You would find it more embarrassing if I couldn’t intelligently participate in conversation because of ignorance about the issues. Our ancestors haven’t exactly been known for silence in regard to political matters,” she said, her gaze shifting to the portrait of the notoriously volatile 3rd Earl of Devonton hanging above the immense fireplace.
William’s gaze followed hers and he rolled his eyes expressively. “Precisely. All the more reason to remain silent.”
At the sudden neigh of horses, their eyes moved back to the window. Two elegant carriages were slowly making their way up the long drive, the sound of horses’ hooves unmistakable. Seconds later, a discreet cough sounded in the doorway. William turned at the sound as Angelica craned her neck to get a better view of the carriages.
“My lord, your guests are nearing,” the butler, Mr. Drake, announced.
“Thank you, Drake. We’ll be in the front hall momentarily,” William responded.
“Shall we?” he asked, offering Angelica his arm.
“We shall,” she said, taking her brother’s arm with a smile.
They crossed the floor of the stately library arm-in-arm and exited into the long corridor that led to the front hall. The sound of their heels echoed off the marble floor as they came to a halt in the expansive entry hall of their ancestral home. Everywhere one looked, their family history was on tasteful but notable display. The large porcelain vases brought to England from China by the 4th Earl of Devonton sat atop regal pedestals situated throughout the hall, and the tapestries obtained in Constantinople during the travels of the 2nd Earl of Devonton hung in full splendor on the pristine white walls.
Portraits of their many ancestors were in clear view at the top of the majestic staircase that swept in splendor to the second floor. Without a word uttered, every guest who walked through the immense double doors was immediately impacted by the history and nobility of the house and its inhabitants.
William and Angelica waited quietly as the servants lined up and Drake stood at the ready to open the doors to their guests. Angelica’s heart was pounding in anticipation. The knowledge that their guests would be staying for several months filled her with exhilaration. She knew William would find every opportunity to escape their company, but her heart soared at the prospect. So many lonely days and nights had passed since the loss of their parents two years earlier. She had been at the point of despair countless times, having no one with which to share her sorrow. William was as closed to her grief as he was to his own, which left her to mourn the unspeakable tragedy of their parents’ deaths alone.
Angelica shivered with excitement as she heard the horses come to a halt. William looked down at her and tightened his grip on her arm for the briefest of moments. Intending to steady my eagerness, no doubt, she thought. She took a deep breath and stood to her fullest height as Drake dramatically swept open the doors to admit their guests. The new arrivals made their way up the broad stone steps until they found themselves standing in the magnificent front hall of Chalkley House.
Drake began the announcements in a deep baritone. “The Earl and Countess of Montgomery.”
William and Angelica stepped forward to greet them. “Delighted to see you again and relieved that you made it safely here with no hindrances. We look forward to your visit. My sister, Lady Angelica,” William said, nodding in her direction.
“I am so pleased to make your acquaintance,” Angelica said with a bright smile as she extended her hand to both Lord and Lady Montgomery. After exchanging pleasantries with the obviously amiable middle-aged couple, Drake’s voice rang out again.
“Mr. James Whitehead.”
Lord and Lady Montgomery stepped aside as the family solicitor strode forward and exuberantly shook William’s hand. Angelica heard his whisper in William’s ear as the lawyer leaned close to her brother. “If we can pull this off, you will become even more fabulously wealthy than you already are.”
Angelica saw the sneer on Whitehead’s face as he unclasped William’s hand and took a step back. She felt a chill go through her at the nastiness of his expression. She glanced up, searching William’s inscrutable face as Whitehead removed his top hat and handed it to the waiting footman. As he was helped out of his coat, Angelica tried to shake off the feeling of unease. She looked toward the doors, awaiting the appearance of their final guest.
An Indian servant appeared at the top of the steps, carrying a man in his arms. Drake’s voice boomed out, filling the room. “Mr. Gaurav Bahadur.”
The servant kept his turbaned head bent and his eyes downcast as he slowly approached William and Angelica. Angelica’s breath caught as the man in his arms trained his gaze upon them, his lips turned up in a gentle smile. His honey-brown skin seemed to glow, and the gold thread woven into his elegant Sherwani glimmered in the afternoon sunlight filtering through the tall windows of the front hall. Why isn’t he walking? Why is his servant carrying him? she wondered, barely able to contain her curiosity.
Angelica smiled in return and the man fixed his dark eyes on her, nodding a greeting. A warm kindness emanated from him, pulling her into its orb. She didn’t know why, but she had the impression one would always be safe with him. She looked up at William, expecting him to already be extending his hand in greeting. But what she saw in his eyes beneath the veneer of civility sent a thunderbolt of dread through her body and froze her smile in place.