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.
Miss Phoebe Sauber caught herself standing in her room and considering her choice of weapon.
She slapped the side of her head. “You’re simply going to visit Miss Tolberton. You are not going to fight hostile servants, hired kidnappers, or nefarious men working for Apothecary Jack. You will not be attacked by anyone with supernatural strength. Stop acting as though you expect a knife to come at you around every corner.”
It was true that she had had a harrowing few weeks while her father tried to marry her off to a murderer, and then her Aunt Laura was kidnapped. Really, she should be relieved she wasn’t drooling and babbling nonsense.
Things were finally back to normal. She was going on a perfectly normal social call, like any other normal young lady of quality.
However, when she finally walked out of her bedroom, she discovered that she had pulled on her lace muffatees, which each hid a slim blade against her forearm. Really, they were quite beautifully made. It wouldn’t look too odd to wear them on a visit to Miss Tolberton.
Their new residence was much smaller than Aunt Laura’s townhouse, so Phoebe had gone only a few steps before her aunt’s lady’s maid, Aya, came bustling up the stairs and nearly collided with her.
“Oh! I beg your pardon, Miss Phoebe. Did you not need my help to dress after all?”
“Jane helped me into my dress, and then I sent her back to help everyone else unpack and organize the household.”
It had taken a great deal of organization on the part of Mrs. Rook, the housekeeper, and Graham, the butler, to move Aunt Laura’s household to Mrs. Haudenby’s townhouse on Portman Street. Aunt Laura had been unwilling to fully trust the Ramparts after Mr. Uppleby’s and Mr. Antingham’s agents had acted contentiously against the team, and Uncle Sol said that she would need to be careful since there was no proof that Mr. Ackett had truly been coerced into helping with her kidnapping. So Aunt Laura had personally arranged for her own new, unknown location without involving the clandestine Alien Office department.
Phoebe thought she would try to find somewhere to let outside of London, but instead, her aunt wrote to her good friend Mrs. Haudenby, who had chosen to remain in her country house for the Season because her rheumatism had been bad a few months earlier. Mrs. Haudenby was only too willing to allow Aunt Laura to borrow her home, sending the house key. Aunt Laura’s house was now completely shut up and empty, as though she had gone on a trip.
“Gracious, everything is at sixes and sevens,” said a voice from behind Aya, and Miss Keriah Gardinier popped out from the stairs. Phoebe hadn’t even heard the knocker, but of course Graham wouldn’t hesitate to allow her best friend entry into the house. “You look as though you are going out,” Keriah added.
“I must visit Miss Tolberton today,” Phoebe said. “She is at home this afternoon and I wanted to speak to her before she tried to visit me at Aunt Laura’s house and saw it closed up. If she became alarmed, she might ask around about it, and I don’t wish to foster gossip about why Lady Wynwood has left town before the end of the Season.”
“Yes, if there will be gossip, it would be better to control the story being told,” Keriah said.
“I thought you were at Stapytton House.” Earlier this week, Sir Derrick had surprised Keriah with a few vials of the Root that had been taken from Jack’s laboratory by the Ramparts. It had been almost a week since the raid, and the Root had already begun to deteriorate, but Keriah had said she would do her best.
Uncle Sol explained that Sir Derrick had been aware that the potion would not remain fresh for long, but he had been forced to wait a couple days after the raid until Mr. Antingham found a chemist who met with his approval. The scientist was given the Root first, but then he had been caught trying to sneak a few vials home with him. Only then was Sir Derrick free to give the Root to Keriah, now that Mr. Antingham’s man had shown himself to be unworthy of trust.
In learning more about the Ramparts, Phoebe was now aware of the reason why Sir Derrick could not simply have done as he liked and given the Root to Keriah directly after the raid. While he was the leader of the department, the authority of men such as Mr. Antingham must also be respected.
Keriah shook her head. “The samples were too old. They had hopelessly congealed and started to rot. I ran as many tests as I could, but learned nothing of use. So I came today to continue copying the third notebook.”
Aunt Laura had remained at Glencowe Castle only a few days before returning to London, spurred by her conversation with her kidnapper, Maxham. She had returned briefly to her townhouse while guarded by Uncle Sol and Mr. Coulton-Jones, but it had been the day after Uncle Sol had arranged for Mr. Poe’s arrest, so Phoebe’s father’s servants and hired men who had watched the place were no longer there.
It had all been very anticlimactic. Aunt Laura and Uncle Sol marched up to the attic, searched for an hour, and found the item they sought—a wooden crate packed with the things that the current Lord Wynwood had found in a greenhouse on an estate that Uncle Wynwood had purchased.
It had been a random assortment of items that likely belonged to either Uncle Wynwood or his mistress, Mrs. Bianca Jadis—a fine pair of men’s driving gloves, a tarnished silver snuff box, a tin of stale ginger sweetmeats as hard as rocks, a moldy cravat, some handkerchiefs, three teacups of differing designs, and a tin of tea. Also in the box was a ring of keys—the current Lord Wynwood had tried them on the doors of the greenhouse, but they hadn’t fit any lock in the building, and the burned house on the property had no doors remaining with undamaged locks. And lastly were three leather-bound notebooks filled with a woman’s handwriting.
At first glance, the legible portions appeared to mostly consist of gardening notes on growing the Goldensuit. It had been Keriah’s idea to make copies since they were water-damaged and the leather covers falling apart, but they soon discovered that the notebooks were far more than gardening notes.
“Have you already completed the other two?” Phoebe asked. “That was expedient of you.”
“My eyes are crossing looking at all those numbers.”
“I shall need to fetch the notebook for you.” Uncle Sol had separated all three notebooks with three different people, and each book was to be hidden. Phoebe had been given the third book, which she’d locked away in her jewelry box.
Keriah was aware that finding the notebook was not as simple an affair as pulling it off of a shelf. “Why don’t you get it while I visit with Lady Wynwood?” Keriah started down the hallway, but Aya cleared her throat.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Keriah, but my lady is, er … napping.”
It was painfully obvious that Aya was uncomfortable about lying to them about Aunt Laura. However, after a brief moment of surprise, Keriah simply smiled. “Thank you for informing me, Aya. She likely still needs her rest.”
Aya bobbed a curtsy. “Where should you like to work, Miss Keriah? I’ll bring you some tea.”
“The morning room on the ground floor would be best,” Phoebe said. “It has the most light, and the writing desk is in one of the boxes there. We shall be down directly.” She entered her room, followed by Keriah.
After hurling herself indelicately upon the bed, Keriah’s smile faded. “How is Lady Wynwood?”
“I’m worried about her,” Phoebe said in a low voice since her aunt’s bedroom was next door. “She’s not quite the same.”
“I would be very much surprised if she were,” Keriah said.
“Of course I expected her to be shaken by what happened, but there is something else.” Phoebe paused in rummaging through an unpacked bag. “It feels as though something inside of Aunt Laura was broken by her ordeal and she is mourning the loss.”
“When we rescued her, I saw that she had terrible injuries,” Keriah said, sotto voce, “but it was also apparent that many of them were not of the body.”
Phoebe found the reticule where she’d stowed the key to her jewelry box. “I had hoped that she might feel more secure after moving into this townhouse, but she seems more melancholy.”
“Perhaps she is afraid of being kidnapped again.”
“She does not seem to be afraid. She seems to be … despairing. She’s been spending more time with me, as if appreciating even more the fact that we are together.”
“I find that all perfectly understandable. Why would you be unsettled by it?”
“I can tell that she is burdened by something, but cannot share it with anyone and must bear it alone.” Her aunt’s heaviness of heart had been making Phoebe feel weighted with cares, also. “I don’t know what to do aside from sitting with her and trying to be cheerful.”
“It has only been a little over a week since she was rescued,” Keriah said. “She probably needs more time for the horror of what happened to fade.”
“Yes, I try to tell myself that, but I still can’t help feeling that there is something beyond that.” Phoebe sighed. “But there is nothing I can do about that.”
Phoebe shook out her reticule and the key dropped into her hand. “I have hidden it in the morning room.”
They headed downstairs. In the morning room, several boxes had been left in the corners while the servants were attempting to unpack still others.
Phoebe pointed toward a box. “The writing desk is in that one.” While Keriah moved to unpack the writing desk, she was about to fetch her jewelry box when Aya appeared with a tea tray, which she set on the table before leaving.
Keriah squeezed her eyes shut and waved a hand at the dust that bloomed up from a box she’d opened. “When I stepped down from the carriage, there was a woman on the sidewalk who had no hesitation in introducing herself as Mrs. Bedford and asking if I was her new neighbor.”
“Oh? Aunt Laura has not met any of the neighbors, but it has only been two days.”
“She seemed a gossipy sort,” Keriah said. “I explained that I was visiting a distant aunt in mourning who has let the house. However, from now on, rather than being dropped off in front of the house, I think I shall ask Mr. Havner to drive the carriage to the mews at the back so that I may enter the house through there.”
“That is probably wise since you will not mind going through the scullery—ah! Here it is.” Phoebe removed her jewelry box from where she’d stowed it under a stack of sheets. The rest of the box was filled with Phoebe’s books, but because of the sheets at the top, the box had not been taken to her bedroom.
She laid the box on the table and unlocked it, removing the notebook within. As she passed it to Keriah, a slim rectangle of folded paper dropped from the back pages.
“Oh! You missed one.” Keriah bent to retrieve the packet of seeds and hand it to her.
At the back of each notebook had been several packets of Goldensuit seeds, which Uncle Sol had given to Phoebe. Each packet was meticulously labeled, and some of them matched notations in the notebook of hybrid Goldensuit plants that Bianca had created, although there were several seeds not mentioned. Phoebe guessed that Bianca had written about those particular hybrids on the coded pages. The notes that she could read were quite methodical, listing the potency of the seeds, pollen, roots, and leaves of the hybrid plants as compared to the original Goldensuit plant. Phoebe could only surmise that the coded notes were just as detailed.
“Have you planted any of these?” Keriah asked.
“I planted some of the original Goldensuit plant seeds, but I decided to wait before planting any of the other hybrids until I can read more about them in the notebooks and decide which ones to attempt to grow,” Phoebe said.
“It may take a longer time to copy this notebook.” Keriah sighed as she flipped through the third one, which was in the best condition. “This one is almost entirely in that number cipher like the other two.”
“It is especially frustrating because some pages are titled in English, but the rest is unintelligible.” The last quarter of the first, oldest notebook had been in code, while the numbers filled nearly half of the second notebook.
“We know that Bianca didn’t trust the rest of the Citadel or she wouldn’t have hidden so many of her possessions with Lord Wynwood, so it shouldn’t surprise me that she would obscure the notes themselves within her notebooks.” Keriah poured herself some tea from the teapot that Aya had left for her.
Phoebe fought a wave of longing as she looked at the notebook on the table in the morning room. “I would rather stay home and help you copy this. We don’t know when Uncle Sol will be required to deliver the notebooks to the Ramparts, and it would be best to create a copy for ourselves as soon as possible.”
Keriah’s eyes narrowed as she regarded her, and she reached out to possessively pull the notebook closer to her. “The true reason is that you want to solve the cipher. You’re simply stubborn and want to prove you’re smarter than Bianca.”
Phoebe tried to look offended, but she couldn’t deny it. “The notebooks have been extremely useful. Of course I want to read them in their entirety.” Unfortunately, even to herself, she sounded as though she were simply making excuses. “I was able to use the legible notes in that first notebook to improve the fertilizer of the original Goldensuit plants that I had, and they’re already looking much better. They haven’t flowered yet, but there are two buds.”
“I thought you had buds a couple weeks ago?”
“They died before flowering. Jack’s hybrid plants grow like weeds, but the original Goldensuit has been rather finicky.”
“I hope you may grow more soon. I have been searching for a way to wean Mr. Coulton-Jones from the hybrid pollen.”
“Maybe one of Bianca’s hybrids might do so,” Phoebe said. “Maxham mentioned that it supposedly healed a child from a coma, and he and Jack certainly wanted the notebooks quite desperately.”
“They certainly did a great many terrible things to try to acquire them. It makes me anxious to wonder what other schemes they might have planned.” Keriah didn’t meet Phoebe’s eye as she changed the topic. “Did you hear about Mr. Ackett?”
Phoebe sobered. “Yes. I was going to tell you.”
“Mr. Coulton-Jones told me yesterday,” Keriah said in a low voice.
After Aunt Laura returned to town, Uncle Sol had called upon Mr. Ackett’s family, who would naturally have been worried by then that their son was missing. However, he discovered that Mr. Ackett had supposedly left a note saying that he was visiting with friends in Scotland.
Uncle Sol hadn’t been able to refute the message, but he guessed that either Maxham or Jack had left the note to prevent the family from searching for Mr. Ackett for a little while. Phoebe realized that it would enable the Citadel to hide the evidence of their crime so that no one would know what had truly happened.
“He could be alive, if he was given the Root,” Keriah whispered. She sounded as though she was almost fearful of voicing the hope.
“He could be,” Phoebe said carefully. “But how likely would that be?”
“Not very likely.” Keriah bit her lip.
Aya suddenly entered the room. “Miss Phoebe, Mr. Havner has pulled the carriage up to the front door.”
“Thank you, Aya.” Phoebe sighed as the maid left the room again. “I should leave.”
“Are you wearing those during your visit to Miss Tolberton?” Keriah pointed a finger at the muffatees, one eyebrow raised.
“Mr. Armstrong has often given us the injunction to always have weapons stashed upon our person somewhere, even if we do not anticipate they will be needed,” Phoebe said primly.
Keriah gave her a flat look and said nothing.
Sir Derrick had ordered the two of them to begin the process required for them to become full agents for the Ramparts. So far, it was rather boring instruction on the rules and regulations they were expected to follow, as well as the hierarchy of authority within the department. But they were also training more in hand-to-hand fighting with Mr. Armstrong, who had enthusiastically flexed his impressive muscles (for some odd reason they couldn’t understand) and then increased the difficulty of their practice.
“Only last week, my father was sending his servants and hired men to try to kidnap me,” Phoebe said defensively.
“But he stopped once Mr. Poe was arrested,” Keriah said. “There are no longer strange and smelly men watching Lady Wynwood’s townhouse and my sister’s house. It will look odd for you to wear muffatees for a house call.”
“And if I should somehow encounter danger? Jack and Maxham are likely trying to find Aunt Laura again, and they would know that I am living with her. Maxham did not know my name when I first encountered him at Mr. Farrimond’s party, but he has surely realized that I was the woman who fooled him. He would recognize me if he happened to see me.”
“Would he truly happen upon you by chance in the middle of Mayfair when Mr. Coulton-Jones and Mr. Drydale have been doing their best to find him and Jack?”
“Mr. Coulton-Jones and Uncle Sol have also needed to spend time searching for Ward.” They were trying to uncover anything they could find about the man named Ward, whom Jack had mentioned and who had written the letter to Dr. Heddetch. When discreetly inquiring through the more obvious channels, they had found that no doctor by that name was known. However, it was a common surname and they were limited in their search methods since they did not wish to draw attention to themselves. The Citadel had proven to be dangerous when they were being investigated, as Mr. Coulton-Jones’s brother had discovered.
“I do wish Mr. Rosmont and Isabella were in town to help them,” Keriah said. It was taking the team considerably longer to dig out information in the Long Glades because Isabella and Mr. Rosmont had been sent out of town on the trail of a prostitute Jack and Maxham had hired for some secretive purpose. “I hope the two of them are safe.”
“Uncle Sol said he assigned two other trusted agents to help them, so I am certain they will succeed in their mission and be back with us in a few weeks. And perhaps with more information about the Citadel and their plans.”
“Regardless, to return to the topic at hand, you cannot wear your muffatees,” Keriah said.
“I thought I had explained why I absolutely must wear my muffatees.”
Keriah held up her teacup. “I should love a biscuit, Miss Tolberton. Don’t mind if I do.” She extended her hand for an imaginary pastry. “Oh, I do beg your pardon, but it appears my wickedly sharp weapon has dropped into the chocolate tart. So rude of me.”
Phoebe scowled at her, but stripped off the muffatees and dropped them on the table with a soft thump.
“After all, I know you stashed a knife in your reticule.” Keriah calmly opened the writing desk and removed the ink pot. “The muffatees were excessive indulgence.”
Phoebe was reluctant to admit that Keriah was perhaps correct. “Would you like to come with me?”
“I accompanied you that one time to Miss Tolberton’s house and was heartily bored when the two of you began debating the best types of manure for compost.” She shuddered. “I don’t know how any two people can discuss excrement for a full twenty minutes. Enjoy your visit.”
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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