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.
Phoebe had sent a note to Miss Tolberton the day before to inquire if she could visit her today, so when she knocked on the front door, the butler answered and immediately ushered her inside, collecting her pelisse and bonnet.
“Miss Tolberton informed me that you would be visiting today, miss,” he said in his impressively ponderous tones. “If you would allow me to show you to the drawing room?”
They had reached the drawing room doorway when there was a sudden thump from the floor above, followed by the crash of something fragile breaking.
She instantly became alert. Had Jack or Maxham somehow found her? How could that be?
However, she did not outwardly react except to pause and look toward the stairs.
The light patter of running footsteps, followed by a heavier tread, but moving just as quickly. Then Miss Tolberton appeared on the stairs, followed a step behind by a man’s pair of boots and breeches.
The man grabbed Emilia’s wrist, stopping her so that Phoebe could just barely see her head where it was blocked by the first floor ceiling. The grip must have been cruel, for the young woman winced and twisted her body.
“Release me!” Emilia hissed.
“I will have your promise to dance with Mr. Adderly at the Church-Pratton ball next week.” The voice belonged to Mr. Tolberton.
“If I gave it, I would be the only female to dance with Mr. Adderly since no woman of good breeding will associate with him!”
“Don’t be a ninnyhammer. Sir Nigel is as rich as Croesus and his son will inherit all of it. You couldn’t do better at your age.”
Emilia drew herself up, her jaw set in mulish lines. “You have repeatedly assured me that you do not mind my spinsterhood, that you enjoyed my help hosting your political parties and gatherings.”
He gave a short bark of humorless laughter. “Be reasonable, gel. You are expected to marry advantageously.”
“I would not be marrying Sir Nigel, I would be marrying his insufferable son. Only penniless fortune hunters of low birth would even consider him as a prospective husband.”
Phoebe had forgotten about the butler, standing to one side of her, but he made a nervous movement that caught Emilia’s attention. She turned toward them, and she stood low enough on the stairs that she caught Phoebe’s eye.
Mr. Tolberton’s body also turned toward them, and although he likely only saw the butler’s legs and Phoebe’s gown, his neck turned red. He released his daughter and headed back up the stairs.
Emilia approached, and her gaze flitted away from Phoebe. “I do apologize that you witnessed that, Miss Sauber.” However, she looked remarkably cool. In a strange way, it was as though she were simply playing the part of a woman delicately embarrassed.
But the next moment, Phoebe doubted what she’d seen. Surely Emilia would be concerned that her turbulent relationship with her father was so prominently on display in front of an acquaintance, even though Phoebe was a friend?
The butler seemed relieved to be able to bow and leave them in the drawing room, closing the doors behind them.
Emilia immediately took Phoebe’s hand and drew her down upon the sofa in front of the fireplace. “I am sorry to have discomposed you, but your presence here is such a comfort to me.”
“If I can ease your mind and heart in any way, of course I am at your disposal, but I hope my visit will not increase the strife with your father.”
“Hardly, for it is all his fault,” she scoffed, then seemed to remember herself and looked down at her lap, adopting a more demure expression. “He has not confessed anything to me, but I saw a stack of unpaid bills in his desk drawer. I have also heard rumors at parties—from guests who were not aware I was able to overhear them—that he has been seen gambling very deep at some disreputable gaming hells.” She glanced up at Phoebe, her eyes wide and touched with unshed tears, like the sky after the rain. “I think he is in debt.”
Phoebe squeezed her hand. “That would explain why he wishes you to form an attachment to Mr. Adderly.” It was widely known among the ton that Sir Nigel’s son liked to try to steal kisses from reluctant young women and to steal a great deal more from any pretty maids he happened upon.
“Indeed, Mr. Adderly seems nearly as reluctant as I am.” Emilia’s voice grew louder as she voiced her complaints. “He is likely being forced into my company by his parents, who have been despairing of a match for him since no reputable woman of the ton will accept him. The only families interested in pairing him with their young ladies are destitute and desperate …” She sighed. “… which I suppose my father is, now.”
“You are not the only destitute and desperate young lady. Perhaps he will do you the favor of choosing another woman to marry.”
“In one or two past Seasons, perhaps he would have obliged me. But this Season, few fortune-hunting families have as old and respectable a name as the Tolbertons, which puts me at the top of the Adderlys’ list.”
Helpless, Phoebe couldn’t think of a response and merely squeezed her hand again. Emilia had helped her a great deal with the affair with Mr. Poe, and yet there was nothing she could do for her.
They sat in silence for several minutes, then a knock at the door heralded a maid bearing a tea tray. After she left, Phoebe poured the tea for them both, adding an extra lump of sugar to Emilia’s cup.
Seeing the gesture, Emilia gave a small smile that drew out her dimples. After a few sips of the hot, sweet tea, she took a deep breath and seemed to have calmed down somewhat. “You mustn’t worry so, Phoebe,” she said. “I assure you that my father will not do anything to me.” There was a strange, razor-sharp intensity in her eyes that was almost like a threat.
“Are you certain?”
“Of course. I know my father, and this is not the first disagreement we have had of this sort. If I resist his wishes a little longer, eventually he will stop attempting to force me into Mr. Adderly’s company.”
Her voice had the confidence of a rock, and she didn’t appear to be saying these things solely to reassure Phoebe.
“I believe you,” Phoebe said. “I believe in you.”
Emilia shifted closer to her on the sofa. “I am more worried about you. What happened with Mr. Poe? I have not met the Saubers at any of the entertainments I have attended recently.”
“I thank you with all my heart for the information you gave to me. Mr. Poe was arrested, but discreetly, and I believe my father will exert all his influence to ensure that his trial and punishment is carried out quietly.”
Indeed, Phoebe herself didn’t know how Uncle Sol had accomplished the deed with so much speed and efficiency. Agents from the Ramparts visited Mr. Sauber and distracted him and Mr. Poe in discussion while another man searched his bedroom. The poison used in the murder and Mr. Marlowe’s distinctive cravat pin were both discovered there.
According to Uncle Sol, Phoebe’s father had naturally been appalled. To the end, Mr. Poe insisted that it was impossible for him to be guilty of the murder. The agents then arrested Mr. Poe, but in such a way that the neighbors would not have known it was happening. The Ramparts had even ensured that the Saubers’ servants were not in the drawing room when they spoke to Mr. Poe, nor when they searched his room, but the servants were so lazy that it had not been very difficult.
Phoebe didn’t know what her father had told the servants about Mr. Poe’s sudden departure in order to prevent them from gossiping about the incident to others, but Uncle Sol mentioned that nothing was being whispered in society about Mr. Sauber. Her father did not truly have enough influence to be able to keep the incident from the knowledge of his peers, but Uncle Sol had reassured Phoebe that the Ramparts would do so and arrange for Mr. Poe to be transported quietly so that her father’s and Phoebe’s reputations would not be tainted by the association.
“Thus far, my father has not pursued another marriage for me,” Phoebe said.
“But for how long? I am concerned that he will find another man to whom he will marry you off.”
“It is possible, but I think it unlikely before the end of the Season. He might try, but he will give up quickly. My father is much like his servants—he is quite lazy when it comes to things that don’t immediately benefit him.”
Emilia gave her a faintly exasperated look. “His wayward daughter has smeared his reputation by abandoning him in his hour of need before his wedding—those are Mrs. Sauber’s words, I assure you—and he may decide it is to his benefit to remove you from London by any means necessary.” Miss Tolberton had been a means for Phoebe to escape those very same extreme measures.
“In actuality, I have cost my father a great deal of money from the men he hired to try to kidnap me,” Phoebe said. “So I am of no financial value to him unless he can arrange a brilliant match, which is highly unlikely since he hasn’t the connections and couldn’t do so during the five Seasons I have had.”
A mischievous smile curled the edges of Emilia’s lips. “Now that I think of it, I seem to recall stories of your betrothal in our third Season, was it not? Whatever happened with that?”
“My father almost arranged a marriage for me with a man in his seventies—and at the time, I was still sufficiently obedient that I did not object—but the prospective groom died in his sleep before the contract could be signed.”
“For him and for my father, perhaps,” Phoebe said heartlessly. “It has produced the fortuitous benefit of scaring off any other potential octogenarians who might want a young wife, for it appears a betrothal to me would hasten their early demise.”
“Oh, Miss Sauber!” Emilia tried to inject horror in her tone, but she was giggling too much.
“So you see, it is very likely that he will leave me alone.” In truth, her father probably wanted to kidnap her and ship her off to Bath, but for the moment, he wished for his actions to be bland and innocuous so as not to bring attention to himself. He would not be attempting anything for a while.
“I am so relieved to hear that.” Emilia smiled. “I would be terribly disappointed if I could not have these comfortable cozes with you.”
Phoebe winced. “I am afraid that I came today to say farewell for the Season. Aunt Laura is leaving town to stay with a friend in the country, and of course I shall be accompanying her.”
For a moment, Emilia looked as distraught as if she’d been told her house had burned down to the ground, but then she pressed her lips together and looked in her lap for a moment, exerting more control over her features. When she looked up, she still had remnants of her surprise in her eyes. “I am shocked to hear that Lady Wynwood is leaving so soon. Is it because of your father?”
“That is part of the reason, but also, my aunt had already made arrangements to visit with her friend after the Season. She is merely leaving a few weeks early.”
“With whom will she be staying?”
Phoebe smoothly gave a false name. “Mrs. Hammond. She went to school with my aunt. Are you familiar with the family?”
“Hammond … No, I am afraid not. Where does she live? Perhaps I may visit you after we leave London?”
“Oh … she lives up north, but I am afraid I do not know exactly where.”
“Then you must write to me to tell me once you are settled.” Emilia heaved a great sigh. “Town will be sadly flat once you are gone. I shall be so lonely. Do say you will write to me quite often.”
“Of course.” Phoebe didn’t wish to lie to her, but she could hardly say, In truth, I will be living only a few blocks away but unable to contact anyone for fear of a treasonous clandestine group that wishes to kill my aunt.
“Well then, I hope you may stay a little while longer today since we shall not be able to see each other for a while?” Emilia asked.
“I should love to.”
Phoebe had barely finished replying before Emilia began piling gingerbread cakes and almond fritters onto a plate for Phoebe. “I am so pleased. I wanted to ask if you read a recent botanical journal that mentioned a plant recently discovered called the Malaysian basil …”
They chatted about gardening and botany for so long that Emilia insisted upon calling for more tea and pastries. Phoebe was forced to suppress a smile at a chocolate tart that appeared, glad now that Keriah had shamed her into not wearing any blades that might fall into it.
Emilia was almost tragically sad when Phoebe at last needed to leave. She escorted her to the front door and waited while she donned her outerwear, which had been fetched by the butler.
Heaving a sigh, Emilia grasped Phoebe’s hands in hers. “I shall miss you terribly. Please do promise you will write.”
“I shall, as soon as I may.”
Emilia then impulsively embraced Phoebe. It was the first time she had ever done so, and Phoebe was warmed by this heartfelt gesture. She was engulfed in a floral scent that reminded her of lilies, except that it was also a bit familiar. Then Emilia stepped back and the scent was gone, and Phoebe couldn’t remember where she might have smelled it before.
In the carriage, she had time to reflect on her visit since Mr. Havner was taking a roundabout route back to Mrs. Haudenby’s house for her aunt’s safety and concealment. Ironically, it was a boon that Aunt Laura was forced to go into hiding because Phoebe’s father did not know where she was staying.
Would Phoebe need to remain in hiding for the rest of her life? She had no desire to live in fear of her father’s reprisal, but she should have known as soon as she defied him that a situation like this might arise. She despised this feeling of being at the whim of her father’s actions, of feeling she had no control over her own life.
But she also knew that her anger was harming her, like a disease slowly eating away at her health and happiness. She could not let it distract her again from protecting her aunt and being there to support her as she had always supported Phoebe. She had been careless before. She would not make the same mistake again.
She was certain that her steely determination could best her father’s efforts and that he would eventually give up—if she had inherited anything from him, it was his stubbornness. Until then, she need only be cautious and follow Uncle Sol’s injunctions, doing a proper job for the Ramparts after he had risked so much to vouch for her and Keriah. Now that they were becoming full agents, she would obey his orders—and he had ordered her to grow the Goldensuit, so that was what she would do.
Maybe it would somehow save Mr. Coulton-Jones’s life.
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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