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Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 6: Martyr - Prologue

I’m posting an excerpt of Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 6: Martyr!

A Christian Historical Adventure set in Regency England with slow-burn romance and a supernatural twist
Part six in an epic-length serial novel

Lady Wynwood has discovered the gardening notebooks belonging to Bianca Jadis, the deceased mistress of the late Lord Wynwood and a former member of the treasonous group, the Citadel. However, the team is dismayed to discover that parts of the notebooks have been written in some sort of code.

Mr. Sol Drydale has kept hidden the fact that the notebooks have been found because he is unable to fully trust his superior officers at the Ramparts, the secret branch of the Alien Office. After all, when one of his own was kidnapped, the men who should have assisted him had seemed more interested in obtaining the Root potion that gives men supernatural strength.

But then two Ramparts agents bring information about an opportunity to capture the poisoner Apothecary Jack, one of the members of the Citadel. Sol is ordered to integrate these newcomers into his group, then plan a daring raid upon Jack’s new laboratory.

When things take an unexpected turn, Sol is faced with a terrible choice. Will he disobey orders, or will he forfeit the life of someone he holds dear?

PLEASE NOTE: Like the novels published in Jane Austen’s time, this is a novel in multiple parts. Each volume has a completed story arc, but this is NOT a stand-alone novel and the story continues in volume 7.

All the posted parts are listed here.

***

Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 6: Martyr

A Christian Regency Romantic Adventure serial novel

Camille Elliot

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:6

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Matthew 2:16-18

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

Prologue


Laura, Lady Wynwood, had never before been afraid of entering the attic, but she found herself frozen in the doorway, unable to force her body to move forward.

The storage space on the top floor of her townhouse was not bright by any means, for the small square window at the end only allowed in enough light to reveal the bulky shapes of the items stored within. The servants’ bedroom at the hunting lodge had been brighter during the day, and also far darker at night.

She found that it was the smell that rooted her feet to the floor. She had not realized that two attics could have the same smell of dust and the absence of people, of rooms overheated in the summer and cold and damp in the winter. Even though her maids cleaned the space fairly often, the attic seemed to exude a scent of disuse that was the same as the small room where she had spent so many frightening days and nights.

“Laura?” came the deep voice behind her.

Sol stood a few steps below her on the attic stairs. It was his voice alone that brought her back to her townhouse, not the room crowded with furniture at the hunting lodge.

Laura became aware that her heart was beating so fast and so hard in her chest that she could feel its thudding against her breastbone, and her breathing came fast and light. Her vision was darkening at the edges, and she put out a hand to rest against the doorframe to steady herself.

“This was a terrible idea,” Sol said. “Laura, let us return downstairs.”

“No, I am well,” she insisted, although even to her own ears, her voice was quavering and weak. She took a few more deep breaths, then said in a stronger voice, “And may I remind you, it was my idea to search the attic, so of course it would not be a terrible idea.”

Sol sighed so deeply that she could almost hear his eyeballs rolling in his head. “Yes, yes, all your ideas are splendid.”

“Never forget that, and we shall be friends for a very long time.” She took another deep breath to calm her nerves and then stepped into the storeroom.

For some reason, she clearly remembered the day when the current Lord Wynwood had visited her, bringing a wooden box of various items. He had been not only apologetic but also rather embarrassed. However, he had not acted in a cowardly fashion and shunted the task to a servant but had instead come to do the deed himself.

“I apologize that I must bring this to your attention again, but do you recall when your late husband’s attorney informed us of the piece of property that he purchased anonymously?” Lord Wynwood asked, his eyes shifting away from hers.

“Yes, I recall,” Laura said woodenly. The attorney had not stated as such, but it was apparent to Laura that it had been bought for the use of Wynwood’s mistress, Mrs. Jadis. However, it was unentailed, and upon succeeding to the title, Lord Wynwood had bought it from her, so she had not thought to hear of it again.

“I have just returned to town from looking over the property,” Lord Wynwood said. “It was a curious purchase, for I found that the house was nigh unusable due to fire damage. It was not the sort of domicile that was up to your husband’s standards and a place where he would be unlikely to spend even a single night. However, there was a greenhouse in good condition, and he apparently hired gardeners to care for the place.”

It was not uncommon for several of her friends to own a property outside of London with a greenhouse where they could grow flowers and fruits that would be delivered to them out of season. However, Laura had not seen any such things, so she could only assume that the greenhouse offerings had gone to Wynwood’s mistress. She tried to ignore the pang that went through her at the thought, but it was only a small one, for she had long since ceased to love him, and day by day had been struggling not to give in to her hatred and utterly despise him.

“You needn’t be concerned for my sensibilities, my lord,” she said. “Of all the people in the world, I was most aware that my husband’s priorities were not centered upon me.”

Her blunt speaking seemed to mortify him even more, as red crept up his neck and colored his ears a delicate pink. “I would never wish to bring such distasteful matters to your attention,” he said, still not quite meeting her eyes, “but he left a few items within the greenhouse. Upon his death, the gardeners were let go, and so all the plants were quite withered, but whilst cleaning, we found a few articles.” He indicated the wooden box, which her servant had placed on the floor just inside the drawing room door. He finally raised his eyes to hers, his gaze steadfast and kind. “Simply say the word, and I shall remove the box from this house and burn the contents. But I could not bring myself to destroy them without first consulting with you.”

“I am grateful for your kindness, but the items will not cause me distress. I will take them,” she said. At the time, she didn’t know why she had made that decision. It had been mere months after the funeral, but she had already gone through the house in an attempt to scrub away the terrible memories. Many things had been discarded, and she would have thought that she would instruct him to take the box away, its contents unseen, but something induced her to keep it.

She thanked him for his consideration and eased his embarrassment with some of her cook’s rich spice cake, and he left the house with a great deal less discomfort than when he had entered it.

Laura had looked through the box, but perhaps Lord Wynwood had removed any obviously feminine items, for all that remained were innocuous things. However, she had known that several things did not belong to her husband—a silver snuff box, a tin of ginger sweetmeats, some handkerchiefs smaller and finer than he typically used—and after a cursory glance, she had given the box to Aya. “Please take this to the attic,” she said in a strained voice. “I shall look through this at another time.”

That time had finally come.

Since that day, Laura had renovated the attic space, reducing the size of the storeroom and increasing the sizes of several servants’ rooms. The box could be anywhere.

Laura and Sol began searching in the tightly packed space. The servants had offered to help, but Laura had refused them. Somehow, it felt as though she alone could do this task, an act that would be like brushing away a particularly dusty cobweb from the corner of her heart.

She also did not want any of her servants to be with her when she found the box, for she was not certain how she would react. They had already seen her at her worst, but she feared that in finding the box, she would be at her weakest.

“There are so many things,” Sol commented as he lifted the sheet covering a set of hideous family portraits. “I believe that if your servants tried to help us, we would not be able to fit more than one or two people more in here.”

“Unless I granted the twins permission to scramble over the piles of furniture,” Laura said. “They offered to do so.”

“The scamps,” he said, although with affection.

The attic was warm even though it was barely an hour past dawn. But the heat of the kitchen and the spring sunlight beating down on the roof made the space almost too warm for the green shawl she wore. Nonetheless, she kept the soft lace wrapped close around her as she gingerly moved amidst paintings and tables and chairs.

Her body was still quite sore from her ordeal and her bones felt strangely brittle, but she tried to move as smoothly as normal so as not to alarm Sol. He had not wished for her to cut short her stay at Glencowe Castle in order to return to London, but the thought of Bianca’s notebooks had literally haunted her dreams—she saw Jack’s leering face, the blood around the knife thrust into Dr. Heddetch’s chest, Maxham’s pale eyes examining her carefully. She somehow felt that if she could find the notebooks, she could banish those images.

Sol had reluctantly agreed, but only because he knew that the notebooks were important to the Citadel and therefore they would be important to the Ramparts. And so he also wanted to do his duty and look for them, despite the shadow of distrust that he felt for them at the moment.

They searched for more than an hour before finally Sol called out to her, “Laura, I think perhaps I have found it.”

They had already looked within several wooden boxes, but none of them had been the one Lord Wynwood brought from the greenhouse. She approached Sol and held her lamp over the contents.

It was the smell that struck her first, a scent like rotting leaves, and yet with the faint sweet thread of dried flower petals. Then she saw the tin of ginger sweetmeats and knew that they had found it.

“This is the box,” Laura said, although her voice was dull rather than jubilant.

Sol seemed to understand what she might be feeling. He silently reached over to take her hand and squeezed it gently.

He handed her his lamp, and then he carried the box from the storeroom. She trailed behind him all the way down to the drawing room, blowing out the lamps and opening the door for him. When he laid the box on the carpet, she wearily sat on the sofa next to it.

Her knees were shaking, and she was not certain if it was because her body was still weak from the days of her captivity or because she was apprehensive about the contents of the box.

Sol began taking items and placing them on the low table in front of the sofa. Laura gently touched each one but did not pick them up.

Strangely, even the items that belonged to her late husband, such as the men’s driving gloves and the mold-speckled cravat, did not remind her of Wynwood at all. The strangeness that had struck her on the day that she first looked through the contents of the box returned to her, a familiar feeling that she recalled perhaps because of the dried flowers smell.

She had thought she would feel more pain upon seeing Bianca’s things, but now knowing that she had belonged to the Citadel, that she had had some other motivation and purpose in taking Wynwood as her lover, Laura found that she could view the items with a more coldly dispassionate eye than she had before.

With a cry, Sol removed three leatherbound notebooks that had been stored at the bottom. He laid two of them on the table and began flipping through one.

Laura also picked up a notebook. The leather was old and cracked, and the pages felt thick and springy. Upon opening it, she realized that the paper was wavy, perhaps from the humidity in the greenhouse.

Bianca’s writing was feminine, but not elegant—it looked like chicken scratchings with a few more flourishes. There were several gardening terms which Laura did not quite understand, and she skimmed through the first few pages quickly. Then her sight was assaulted by a wall of numbers.

She blinked, uncertain if the blows to her head had affected her vision, but the numbers remained in front of her eyes. Numerals ranging from single digits to triple digits, in seemingly random order. They were written in rows, but they did not line up in columns. Sometimes a number was underlined, and occasionally there was a checkmark in the margin next to a number.

Laura continued turning pages, but there were only more numbers. She finally reached a page that held what looked like a chemical recipe, which she understood only slightly more than the numbers.

“Sol …” she said.

“I know.” He turned the notebook he was holding so that the pages faced her, and again, there were only numbers.

They had thought that these notebooks would reveal all of Bianca’s secrets. Instead, it felt as if the woman herself was laughing in derision at them.

She had been a woman holding many confidences. They had known that, for she had hidden so many of her most important articles with Wynwood. Of course she would endeavor to hide her most precious information within these pages so that they could not be discerned.

Bianca had written in her notebooks in code, and they would need to solve it.

***

Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 6: Martyr is available for preorder at 40% off! Be sure to preorder before the price goes up on April 26th.

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