From the national bestselling author of A Brush with Shadows comes a riveting historical mystery featuring a most “unusual and romantic”* female sleuth—Lady Kiera Darby.
Scotland, 1831. Lady Kiera Darby is thrilled to have found both an investigative partner and a fiancé in Sebastian Gage. But with her well-meaning sister planning on making their wedding the event of the season, Kiera could use a respite from the impending madness.
After she’s commissioned to paint the portrait of Lady Drummond, Kiera is shocked to find her client prostrate on the floor. Both a physician and Lord Drummond appear satisfied to rule her death natural, but Kiera is convinced that poison is the real culprit.
Now, armed only with her knowledge of the macabre and her convictions, Kiera intends to discover the truth—no matter what, or who, stands in her way…
About the Author
Anna Lee Huber is the Daphne Award–winning author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries and the Verity Kent Mysteries. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in music and minored in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her family and is hard at work on her next novel.
Read an Excerpt
Vulnerant omnes, ultima necat.
Every hour wounds, the last kills.
—A SAYING FOUND ON ROMAN CLOCKS
“Can you turn your head a little to the right?”
“Oh, yes. Of course,” Lady Drummond gasped, swiftly complying.
At that angle the light fell just so on her honey blond curls, and hid the streak of gray beginning to show at her right temple. It would also allow me to accent the height of her cheekbones and the pert tilt of her chin. I narrowed my eyes to study just how the swirls of butter and goldenrod formed a pattern in her elaborately styled hair, and then I dipped my brush in the paint on my palette.
“Lady Darby, you must grow weary of reminding your subjects not to fidget and turn,” she chattered in her light, melodic voice, careful not to move even her mouth too much. “And children! How on earth do you coax them to sit still? My Freddy and Victoria would never last a minute.”
A smile curled my lips as I applied the paint carefully to the canvas before me. “Oh, I don’t need a subject to remain perfectly still, just when I’m focusing on a particular part of their anatomy. Like your face and hair.” I brushed a small dab of the yellow ochre into the goldenrod hue I’d mixed for Lady Drummond’s hair. It needed a hint more gold. “When children move about, it actually helps me to better capture them. After all, they’re far from static. If I can observe how restless they are when trying to sit still, then I know to paint their vitality. If they giggle frequently, then I know to light their eyes with delight.”
“And I suppose you do the same with adults?” she guessed.
“To a certain extent,” I replied distractedly, trying to imitate the definition in the ringlets surrounding her face.
She laughed a bit breathlessly. “I think I’m afraid to ask what my twitching says about me.”
The sharpness in her tone belied the humor implied by her statement, and I couldn’t help but peer around the canvas at her. She sat very still, but the hands that had lain so elegantly in her lap were now clasped together, and her thumbs rubbed against each other, turning the skin pink. Normally I didn’t encourage the subjects of my portrait commissions to talk, but from the very beginning there had been something about Lady Drummond that had been different. It was that difference that compelled me to reassure her now.
“Oh, I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” I replied casually, dabbing my brush in the paint on my palette. However, when I snuck another glance at her, I could see in her troubled blue eyes that she knew I was lying.
Perhaps I should have said something, but how could I admit I recognized her sadness, her loneliness? That I sensed her uneasiness, that her perfect life was not all that it seemed, and that her husband was quite possibly a brute. Although we’d spent several hours together every morning over the past two weeks, we were not friends. And I knew from experience that people did not like to have their carefully cultivated façades ripped away, whether you could see beyond them or not. They preferred the disingenuousness of the lie to the nakedness of the truth.
If any society lady might react differently to such an unveiling, I suspected it would be Lady Drummond, but still I was hesitant to take a chance. I genuinely liked her, and I quailed at the thought of hurting her, even if there was a possibility it might help. She was warmhearted and kind, quick-witted and even quicker to smile, and the sorrow I saw in her eyes called to the same melancholy I buried inside me. All the secret hurts we wished to keep hidden, sometimes even from ourselves. Though I now had my fiancé—and sometimes investigative partner—Sebastian Gage, to share mine. I wasn’t certain Lady Drummond had anyone to lighten her burden.
The ornate gold clock on the mantel in the drawing room chimed the hour, recalling me to my task. Lady Drummond had informed me she had an appointment this afternoon, so I would only have an hour more of her time before she would need to ready herself. I rested my brush on my palette and flexed my right hand, trying to work out the stiffness the continued cold weather caused in my joints.
Lady Drummond observed my movements. “Shall I call Jeffers to come stoke up the fire?”
“No. The fire is already burning quite brightly, and I suspect the room is as warm as it’s going to get.”
“Yes, this winter has been dreadful, hasn’t it? But are you certain? I know this room can be quite drafty.”
“I bet Lady Cromarty doesn’t mind the chill.” Her lips quirked in amused remembrance. “I recall how dreadfully hot I was when I was enceinte with my children.”
My sister, Alana, was eight months heavy with her fourth child, and the growing discomfort had not improved her temperament.
“Yes. Lord Cromarty and I, and even the servants, have taken to wearing extra layers of clothing.”
Lady Drummond smiled.
I dipped my brush in the goldenrod hue and focused once more on Lady Drummond’s curls. She obliged me by returning to her posed position without my even having to ask. The sun outside the window shone brighter than it had a few minutes ago, indicating there had been a break in the perpetual ceiling of gray clouds—a rare treat for Edinburgh in March. When such a thing happened, nearly the entire city was tempted outside to enjoy the rays of warmth while they could. But Lady Drummond and I stayed where we were.
I had to admit the peacock blue silk wallpaper made a stunning backdrop to the baroness’s portrait, and it brought a depth of hue to her somewhat watery blue eyes that would have been lacking otherwise. The forest green pleated fabric of her dress and gold braid were striking, but truly did nothing for her features. If not for the brilliant blue backdrop, I might have broken yet another of my rules and urged her to choose a different gown.
“And how is Lady Cromarty feeling?” Lady Drummond asked kindly.
“Quite well,” I admitted. “I was cheered to see her moving about the house yesterday, and some color has returned to her cheeks.”
After arriving several minutes late and rather flustered one morning the week before because Alana had been ill, I had hesitantly admitted my concerns over my sister’s impending delivery. The birth of Alana’s third child had been met with complications, so we were all anxious for her and the new baby’s health.
She beamed. “That’s wonderful. And I’m sure a relief to you and Lord Cromarty.”
“Yes,” I replied simply, though I couldn’t help thinking of my brotherin-law Philip’s increasingly strange behavior over the past month since my return to Edinburgh. There wasn’t anything distinct I could point to, but it niggled at the back of my mind nonetheless. I knew he’d been busy with political matters, so perhaps it was just his distraction. I pushed the worrying thought away.
“Well, I have some creams and unctions I would like to send her, if I may. A friend of mine introduced them to me as I was entering the last stage of my confinement when my skin was so taut it was almost unbearable.” She swiveled on her gold and ecru Chippendale chair to reach for a piece of foolscap on the desk nearby, forgetting to remain still in her enthusiasm, and nearly upsetting the bowl of sugared plums she had been nibbling on. “I’ll send a note around now asking Hinkley’s to deliver it.”
I thanked her, having grown accustomed to ladies offering me helpful advice for my sister since she’d officially entered her confinement a few weeks ago. Some of their suggestions were beyond bizarre, like avoiding looking in the mirror to prevent giving her baby bad dreams, or inducing sneezing with pepper should her labor prove difficult. At least Lady Drummond’s seemed to be truly useful. Alana had been complaining about how dry and itchy her skin felt, particularly over her ever-expanding abdomen. I’d made a note to search out something for her since she’d been discouraged by her physician from making any more outings.
Dropping my brush in the cup of linseed oil I had at the ready, I chose a rigger brush and began to highlight Lady Drummond’s curls with the shade of butter. When I glanced up, I could see she was worrying her hands again, as she’d been doing quite frequently this morning. I could tell that something was troubling her, but it didn’t seem my place to ask her about it. Perhaps if we’d been acquainted longer, on surer ground, I might have dared, but as things currently stood, it merely seemed prying.
I had just begun to lose myself in the rhythm of my movements when she spoke. “Your fiancé, Mr. Gage . . .” She cleared her throat. “Are you still assisting him with his inquiries?”
I slowly lifted my head, surprised by the question, and the too-casual way she’d attempted to phrase it. She sat tensely, waiting for my answer.
“Yes, I am,” I managed to reply. “Though we’ve nothing notable to investigate at the moment. Just a few small matters.” I tilted my head to the side, trying to decide whether to risk a question of my own. “Why do . . .”
But I was cut off by the sound of the drawing room door bursting open. It thudded against the wall behind it.
“What is the meanin’ o’ this?” Lord Drummond shouted, crossing the room toward his wife in a few angry strides.
I unconsciously shrank away from him, reminded too intimately of some of the encounters I’d had in the past with my late husband, Sir Anthony. Lady Drummond did the same and then forced herself to sit upright, facing her husband’s glare.
He shook the paper he was holding in her face, causing her to flinch. “I asked ye a question. What is this?”
She stared past her husband at me, and I could read the horror and humiliation reflected in her eyes. Lord Drummond followed her gaze, his head rearing backward in shock when he saw me, clearly having neglected to notice my presence.
The muscles in his jaw tensed and then released before he bit out, “Lady Darby, I require a word alone wi’ my wife. Please leave us.” He turned away from me in dismissal.
I stood there stunned. I wanted to do nothing but comply, but my muscles wouldn’t seem to budge. It was as if they remembered all too well the times when Sir Anthony had cornered me, furious about something I’d done or simply frustrated and eager to take it out on me. It was not unlike facing a predator. Stand still. Don’t make any sudden movements. Don’t look him in the eye or he’ll see it as a challenge.
Lady Drummond seemed to employ the same tactic, sitting rigidly in her chair, not daring to lift her gaze. The sight of her struggling not to cower from her husband as he towered over her shifted something inside me. It had been nearly two years since my husband’s death, and yet I still struggled to escape from his domineering shadow. To watch another woman face such an existence angered me. And suddenly I was tired of remaining quiet.
From our first meeting, I’d suspected Lord Drummond of being a controlling brute. It was written in the hard glares, the proprietorial grip of his hand on his wife’s arm, the clipped way he spoke to her. I’d seen no bruises on Lady Drummond, but there were ways to hurt someone without leaving a mark. I knew.
Even if he didn’t physically harm her, I’d witnessed enough of his displays of temper to know that he did not treat his wife as he should. A wife who was loved and cherished did not wince when she heard her husband walking through the house.
“No,” I stated firmly, swirling my brush through the paint on the palette. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lord Drummond’s shoulders tense, but I told myself to ignore him. I flicked another glance at the clock on the mantel. “I still have thirty-four minutes with Lady Drummond, and I don’t intend to waste them.”
Lord Drummond turned his hard glare on me. “Ye will do as I ask,” he replied, speaking in sharp tones. “I hired ye to paint my wife’s portrait . . .”
“No,” I replied as coolly as I could manage.
Lord Drummond’s posture stiffened further, proving he was unaccustomed to being interrupted. Lady Drummond’s eyes were wide and almost wild, as if she couldn’t believe what I was doing. I’m not sure I could either.
“You requested I paint your wife’s portrait. I choose which commissions to take. I’m not obliged to accept any of them.” I leaned in to pretend to apply my brush to the canvas, though in actuality my hand was shaking. “I have other commissions already lined up, and I do not wish to fall behind schedule. Nor do I intend to waste the costly pigments I mixed this morning specifically for your wife’s portrait.”
Lord Drummond opened his mouth to argue, and I finally looked up to scowl at him and cut him off. “So I’m afraid you’ll just have to throw your tantrum later.”
The room fell silent, and I realized with a sick feeling of dread that I might have overstepped myself. My refusal to leave was one thing, but that last remark had been dangerously insulting, no matter how true it was. My heart beat loudly in my ears as I stared Lord Drummond down, knowing if I looked aside now, the argument would be lost, and Lady Drummond would suffer the consequences.
When Lord Drummond’s nostrils flared and he turned to stalk from the room, I could hardly believe I’d won, though I dared not move until he’d slammed the door shut behind him. Then I exhaled and turned to stare into the hearth, my heart still galloping in my chest. A feeling of elation began to fill me and I couldn’t stop a smile from curling my lips. It felt good to stand up to a bully for once after years of shrinking from my late husband.
However, my pride was short-lived.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Lady Drummond murmured so softly I almost didn’t hear her. Her eyes were clouded with fear, her hands pressed to her abdomen.
And I suddenly realized what I’d done.
Lord Drummond was little danger to me. For him to strike a woman outside of his protection would have been beyond the pale of gentlemanly conduct. My fiancé or brother or even brother-in-law would have been quite within their rights to demand satisfaction for such a slight to their female relative. However, Lady Drummond had no such defense. Being Lord Drummond’s wife, he could do as he wished to her, as Sir Anthony had done to me. Yes, society generally frowned upon physically harming one’s wife, but they also expected that husbands should give their wives moderate correction, so spouses who went too far in their discipline were rarely prosecuted. Perhaps my standing up to Lord Drummond had been a personal triumph, but it had also potentially exposed Lady Drummond to harsher treatment.
“I’m sorry. But I couldn’t do nothing,” I pleaded. “I know what he would have done had I left the room.”
Lady Drummond’s gaze dropped to the Aubusson rug. I hated saying the words, hurting her by destroying the fiction, but it was the truth.
“Perhaps this will give him some time to calm down.” I inhaled shakily before adding, “Sometimes it works.”
Her eyes slowly lifted to meet mine, and I could tell she understood I was speaking from experience. Something passed between us then, though neither of us said a word. It was an acceptance similar to what I imagined soldiers felt for each other, having been through the hellish nightmares of war together. Lady Drummond and I had been through a different sort of battle, but a battle it was all the same.
I lifted my brush and turned back toward the canvas, unwilling to push Lady Drummond for more than I was prepared to give.
It was only later that I realized what a mistake that had been. I should have urged her to confide all—what was making her nervous, what cruel acts her husband was capable of, what the contents of the letter that had so angered him had been. Instead, I allowed her to keep her secrets, and by doing so, they almost remained hidden forever.
If only I’d made her talk, the events that followed would have unfolded quite differently.
Edinburgh’s brief glimpse of the sun had passed by the time I emerged from Drummond House, and the sky was once more weighted down by dark gray clouds. I hurried down the steps and into Philip’s carriage just as the first drops of rain began to splatter against the roof.
Though only half past noon, the Cromarty town house was ablaze with light as we pulled around Charlotte Square and up to the door. I dashed inside as Figgins held the door open for me. I could hear the murmur of happy voices through the open drawing room doors above.
The butler smiled as he took my cloak and gloves. “Mr. Gage is here.”
My heart gave a leap, as it always did upon hearing that Sebastian Gage was in the vicinity. I wondered if it always would.
I nodded in thanks and passed my satchel of art supplies, including my set of specially weighted brushes, to the maid standing nearby. She would take it to my bedchamber, and I would transfer it to my locked art studio on the top floor later.
“Please tell Bree I’ll be up in a moment,” I told her, though I knew the request was pointless. My lady’s maid would understand what the arrival of my satchel meant, and she would already have my afternoon dress laid out for me.
Brushing a hand down over my plain slate gray serge dress, I climbed the stairs to the drawing room, knowing I would never be allowed to sneak past to change before greeting them.
Gage sat to the right of my sister where she reclined on a spring green fainting couch near the Georgian windows, her hands resting instinctively and protectively over her full belly. She was smiling at something he said, and I was grateful for the welcome flush it brought to Alana’s cheeks. Gage, for his part, also seemed to be enjoying himself. His pale blue eyes crinkled with humor as he leaned back in his chair and rested one booted ankle over his other knee. Though his golden curls had recently been trimmed shorter than usual, they were still artfully arranged in their normal style.
Philip was the first to notice me as he entered through the connecting door from the parlor with a stack of correspondence in his hands. More parliamentary business, I assumed. “Ah, there you are, Kiera.” He nodded to Gage with a twinkle in his eyes. “Now you can distract your fiancé from filling my wife’s ears full of nonsense.”
My fiancé. Those words still astonished me every time I heard them.
After my disastrous marriage to the late great anatomist Sir Anthony Darby, and the scandal that followed the revelation of my forced involvement with his dissections, I had thought never to marry again. I had also thought never again to have anything to do with corpses, and yet a year and half later I’d found myself assisting with the investigation of a gentlewoman’s murder. It was during that investigation that I had met Sebastian Gage, gentleman inquiry agent, and now after seven months of tumultuous courtship, and three treacherous inquiries, we were engaged to marry.
“What has he been telling her this time?” I remarked, good-naturedly playing along as Gage rose from his chair.
“Just that the sun made an appearance this morning, even though we all know it’s much too early in the year for such a thing in Edinburgh.”
“Ah, but it did. I saw it through Lady Drummond’s window.”
A smile playing across his lips, Gage took hold of my hands and leaned in to kiss my cheek. I inhaled the familiar scent of his cologne as well as the faint odor of sawdust, telling me he’d likely been building something that morning in the workshop in the basement of the building where he rented his bachelor quarters.
“Well, dash it,” Philip muttered. “That means I owe Strathblane five quid.”
Momentarily distracted, I turned to watch Philip drop into the chair Gage had just vacated. “You wagered on the weather?”
Philip shrugged his broad shoulders. “What else is there to wager on?”
I smiled. My brother-in-law was too chivalrous to gamble on the ridiculous and sometimes scandalous things that most gentlemen bet on—the length of affairs de coeur, the measurement of an opera singer’s bosom, or whether one man would have a legitimate child before another man. From the fond look in my sister’s eyes, I could tell she was thinking the same thing.
I leaned over to kiss her cheek, noticing her maid had added a cherry red ribbon trim to her jonquil floral morning dress, one of the only gowns that still fit her comfortably at this stage of her confinement. It was a welcome addition as the other colors had begun to fade.
“You have paint on your cheek, dear,” Alana murmured.
I nodded, promising to return shortly.
After scrubbing my neck, face, and hands clean, and allowing Bree to help me into a Pomona green gown much more suitable to entertaining, I rejoined the others. It had taken longer than expected to fix my hair, which, per usual, was already falling out of its pins. So by the time I settled onto the settee next to Gage, Alana had introduced her new favorite subject—preparations for our wedding.
It was not that I minded my sister’s enthusiasm, and in fact, being hopeless myself at social events and planning, I welcomed her assistance. But bit by bit it had all begun to snowball out of control, growing from a small ceremony and wedding breakfast with family and close friends to something more akin now to the event of the season. Oh, Alana wasn’t imprudent enough to call it that, knowing how the words would terrify me, but I wasn’t fooled. I could see what an enormous, elaborate affair it was becoming.
Several times I had wanted to speak up, to halt the monstrosity my wedding was growing into, to chop the guest list to a tenth its size. But Alana seemed so happy, and it had given her something to occupy her time. I knew how trying she found it to be largely restricted to the house. She was a social creature, eager to interact with others.
As was Gage—the other reason I hadn’t opposed their plans. He seemed quite happy inviting half the members of the ton, who all admired and adored him. I was the outsider, the eccentric, the person most likely to trip over her hem as she walked down the aisle.
Philip could sense my tension, and had even tried several times to speak up on my behalf, but Alana had ignored him, insisting this was what I’d wanted. Gage had at least pulled me aside to ask if that was true, and I’d been unable to tell him no. Not when it seemed such a little thing in the grand scheme of it all. Our wedding was just one day. Our marriage would be the rest of our lives, and that was the part I was most looking forward to. Especially when Gage took me in his arms.
Still, Philip shot me a sympathetic look as Alana launched into her recommendation for the floral arrangements. I tried to be attentive, but my thoughts continued to return to Lady Drummond. I couldn’t help but wonder if her husband’s temper had cooled, or if the delay I forced had only made matters worse for the baroness. After all, there were just as many people who stewed in their anger—building themselves up into a fury—as there were those who reacted without thinking. What if, that very moment, she was suffering her husband’s wrath?
Apparently my worries did not go unnoticed, for Gage reached over to still my hand where I had begun to fuss with a piece of my gown’s lace trim. I looked up to find him watching me in quiet concern and tried to offer him a reassuring smile. But he was not fooled.
“Lady Cromarty,” he interrupted my sister. “Would you mind if I spoke with Kiera alone for a moment before luncheon?”
My sister glanced between us. “Of course.” She smiled. “And please, I’ve told you before. Call me Alana. After all, you’re to be my brother.”
“You can use my study,” Philip offered, never lifting his eyes from his stack of dispatches.
Gage escorted me down the stairs, but did not speak what was on his mind until he’d closed the study door behind us very properly, leaving it slightly ajar. I strolled toward the hearth, where the fire was banked, giving off only a minimum of heat. Lifting my eyes, I stared up at the portrait I’d painted of Alana and the children and tried to gather my thoughts, to decide how much I wanted to reveal. How much Lady Drummond would be comfortable with me divulging.
Gage joined me in my contemplation of the painting. “Kiera,” he began. “You know you don’t have to defer to your sister’s opinion.”
I turned to look at him in surprise.
“If you’d rather have forget-me-nots instead of roses, or daffodils instead of tulips, you should say so.”
I offered him a gentle smile. “Gage, I don’t really care about all of that. You know that.”
“Then what’s troubling you?” His gaze searched mine. “I can tell when something is wrong.”
I lowered my head, staring at the speckled stone slab before the hearth. “Something . . . upsetting happened at Lady Drummond’s this morning.”
He pivoted to face me more fully. “What do you mean?”
I lifted my eyes, still trying to decide exactly what to say. “Lord Drummond interrupted us. He was furious with his wife. He shook a letter in her face.”
“Well, I suppose there was something about it that displeased him.”
“Yes, but it was more than that.” I swallowed, wishing Gage would come to the same conclusion I had without my having to disclose so much. “I don’t think he treats his wife very well,” I told him slowly.
His pupils widened in comprehension.
“Do you know Lord Drummond?”
His mouth flattened into a frown. “Not really. Not nearly enough to be familiar with his temperament.”
I nodded, biting my lip as I looked away.
“He’s a former navy man. Received his title for services to the Crown during the war with Napoleon. Perhaps, like my father, he still acts like he’s commanding his crew from the quarterdeck of his ship,” he suggested. The corners of his eyes crinkled, letting me know he was as much concerned for me as he was for the Drummonds.
“It’s more than that,” I insisted. I smiled tightly. “Remember, I would know.”
Though I had never shared all, he knew enough about Sir Anthony’s ill treatment of me to understand what I meant.
Gage nodded and pulled me close, tucking my head under his chin. I inhaled deeply and wrapped my arms around him, soaking up the warmth and comfort of his embrace. I hadn’t even known how much I needed it.
“Is there something I can do?” His chest rumbled against my ear.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Can . . . can I think about it?”
I closed my eyes as he pressed a kiss into my hair, wishing there were an easy solution to Lady Drummond’s predicament.
I glanced up and down Hanover Street, my arms wrapped around me as I shivered in the cold wind. What was taking so long? I reached up to pound the knocker on the door of Number 99 once more, bouncing on my heels, trying to warm myself. Normally, the Drummonds’ ever-efficient butler, Jeffers, was prepared to let me in before I’d even climbed the steps, but this morning I’d been waiting at least a full minute, possibly longer, for someone to answer the door.
I looked back at Philip’s carriage still parked on the street. The coachman and footman stared up at me, awaiting further instructions. I offered them a weak smile and then turned to wrap on the door for a fourth time.
A sinking feeling settled in my stomach as the royal blue door remained closed. Something must be very wrong for the staff to ignore my knocking for so long. Or perhaps Lady Drummond had ordered them not to answer. If so, how badly had Lord Drummond hurt her?
No. That couldn’t have been it. If she hadn’t wanted to see me, for whatever reason, she simply would have sent a note to cancel today’s portrait session. It must have been something else.
Unless Lady Drummond was too incapacitated even to write.
I lifted my hand to pound yet again, determined to stand there all day if necessary to gain entry, when I heard hurried footsteps approaching. I inhaled in relief and turned to nod at the coachman in dismissal as the door finally opened.
However, it was not Jeffers who greeted me, but a wild-eyed footman gulping breaths.
“Heavens,” I exclaimed. “Whatever is wrong?”
“Lady Drummond is no’ receiving,” he gasped as if prompted.
“What do you mean?” I demanded, pushing past him into the entrance hall. His strange demeanor frightened me.
“M-m’lady. Ye canna come in,” he called after me.
“Of course I can.”
I marched deeper into the house, ignoring his agitated gestures as he followed me. The sound of voices farther along the corridor drew me toward the back parlor. As I approached the doorway, I could see several servants clustered around something. A maid wringing her apron and a shock-faced footman hung back while another maid and Jeffers kneeled over someone. My heart rate accelerated as I recognized the hem of the woman’s dress.
“What happened?” I demanded as I rushed forward. I dropped my satchel and shrugged off my cloak, kneeling beside Lady Drummond’s prone form.
Jeffers slid to the side so that I could better see the baroness. She stared wide-eyed up at the ceiling, her facial muscles almost slack, but the rest of her body constricted in pain. Her hands formed into claws wrapped around her abdomen. I reached out to run a hand gently over her hair, letting her know I was there. Her eyes sought mine out, pain and panic shimmering in their depths. The sour stench of fear filled my nostrils. I used my other hand to search for a pulse in her wrist. It raced.
A third maid I hadn’t noticed from the doorway sat on Lady Drummond’s other side. I had seen her during several previous visits, fussing around her employer, adjusting her hair and clothing. She looked terrified. Her hands hovered over the baroness’s body as if wanting to comfort her, but afraid to touch her.
“What happened?” I asked again, this time directly to the maid.
Her head jerked up to look at me, as if she hadn’t noticed my presence before. “I . . . I dinna ken. She . . . she was comin’ doon the stairs when I heard her stumble. Then she began to retch, all o’er the rug.” She glanced up at Jeffers as if he would confirm her story. “We tried to take her upstairs, but we were closer to the parlor and she insisted on bein’ brought here. But once inside, she clutched at her chest and collapsed.”
“Did you send for the physician?”
I leaned over the baroness, looking into her eyes. “Lady Drummond, can you speak? Can you tell us what’s wrong? Where does it hurt?” I searched for any sign she could understand me, but she merely stared up at me in pleading.
Reaching out, I ran an exploratory hand over her abdomen, looking for any indication that one spot troubled her more than another. However, contrary to expectation, her rigid muscles suddenly began to relax. My gaze flew back to her face and I reached again for her wrist. Her pulse, which just a moment ago had been so rapid, had slowed, beating weakly against my fingertips.
“Lady Drummond, stay with us. Help is on the way.”
But even as I spoke, her pulse continued to drop.
“Lady Drummond,” I gasped.
A raspy, anguished breath rattled from her throat as her body exhaled. I watched her chest rise once, twice more, and then it stopped. Her eyes, which had remained locked on mine, grew vacant. Lady Drummond was no longer with us.
I exhaled shakily, an unconscious imitation of the baroness, and sank back on my calves. Shocked silence filled the room, ringing in my ears, broken only by the sound of one of the maids weeping. Her lady’s maid clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle a cry. I didn’t turn to look at the others, but I assumed they were as appalled and disbelieving as I was that Lady Drummond was dead.
Yesterday she had been so full of life. Distressed and uncertain, but also warm and vital. Now she lay before me growing cold, whatever troubles she’d struggled with still unburdened.
The heavy hand of guilt pressed down on my heart. What if I’d asked? What if I’d tried to make her talk to me? Perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps she would be settling into her chair as I set out my art supplies, laughing as she shared a humorous anecdote about her young children.
I shook the distressing thoughts aside, and forced myself to focus on what was before me. I could no longer ask her what had worried her, but I could find out what had happened to her.
I reached out to run a hand over her eyelids to close them, and then glanced around at the servants gathered in the room. What had they seen?
“You said Lady Drummond vomited,” I said as calmly as I could, turning to her lady’s maid. Tears trailed down the girl’s cheeks. “Did you notice anything strange in it? Any blood?”
She sniffed and shook her head.
“What did she have to eat?”
The maid had opened her mouth to answer when a gruff male voice in the hall cut her off. “Where is her ladyship?” the man demanded, his footsteps loud on the wooden floor.
The servants standing in the doorway all turned as one to allow a tall, bespectacled man with an expanding waistline past.
He took in the scene with one glance and then waved his hands. “Move.”
Jeffers and the two maids hastened to comply, though I moved more slowly. He set aside his bag and knelt on one knee beside Lady Drummond, reaching out to feel her pulse much as I had. I watched as he studied her pale complexion and the position of her body.
“Did she clutch her chest in pain?” he asked no one in particular, not even bothering to lift his gaze.
The servants all looked to Jeffers, who cleared his throat. “Ah, yes.”
The physician nodded and pushed to his feet. “Apoplexy.”
I frowned at his hasty diagnosis. “She also vomited.”
He reached into his pocket to extract a handkerchief and removed his spectacles to clean the lenses. “That’s not uncommon.”
“But she wasn’t even thirty,” I pointed out, my voice growing more agitated. “And her facial features were numb, as if she couldn’t move them.”
The physician glanced up at me for the first time, his mouth turning downward like his mustache. “And just who are you?” he retorted, replacing his spectacles.
I squared my shoulders. “Lady Darby. I’m a friend of Lady Drummond’s.”
His eyes narrowed, as I’d known they would. “Oh, I know who you are.”
I tried not to react to such a barbed response, though I was quivering with anger and frustration. “Some of her symptoms are strange,” I argued. “Are you certain it wasn’t poison?”
“Now, see here. You may have assisted your late husband with his dissections and experiments.” He nearly spat the words. “But you do not have a medical degree. Furthermore, you’re just a woman. One with a rather tarnished reputation.” He scoffed. “As if you have any right to question my findings.”
I clenched my hands, wanting more than anything to plant the man a facer, but it was far more important that we find the truth for Lady Drummond.
“But don’t you want to be certain? We should send for Sergeant Maclean with the Edinburgh City Police . . .”
“We are not sending for the police,” Lord Drummond declared in his booming voice as he strode into the room. His eyes seemed to skim over the sight of his wife’s body, barely giving her notice. “What happened?” he asked the physician.
The medical man shot me another glare before addressing his lordship. “Most likely an apoplexy. Though I suppose it could have been gastric fever.”
Lord Drummond nodded. “Then what need would we have for those scurrilous busybodies crawlin’ aroond my house, pocketin’ my silver?”
“I didn’t suggest it,” the physician declared, nodding to me.
Lord Drummond scowled, and I decided it would be best to speak before he sent me away.
“My lord, I believe your wife may have been poisoned. Surely you want to be certain.”
He studied me with his dark eyes, as if weighing my worth. “Davis, is it possible?”
“Highly unlikely, my lord,” the physician sneered.
“My lord, I am not unacquainted with such matters,” I argued, infuriated that they would not listen to me. “In fact, I suspect I have more experience than Dr. Davis when it comes to poisons.”
“Oh, I’m sure ye do.” Lord Drummond’s voice had turned nasty. “But I willna have ye attachin’ scandal to this household where there is none. You may be used to it. Ye may even enjoy it. But I assure ye the rest of us do not.”
I stood there stunned. I had meant that I was familiar with poisons through my artistic pursuits. Cautious artists knew that many of our pigments contained poisons—arsenic and aconite and antimony, among others. But, of course, the baron had jumped to a different conclusion.
I swallowed, trying to gather my thoughts, but Lord Drummond had already turned away from me.
“Jeffers, see Lady Darby out.”
Then, much as the day before, he showed me his back, dismissing me entirely. However, this time, I could not find the words to protest. In any case, what could I possibly say? It was clear that Lord Drummond and Dr. Davis would not listen to me, whether because of their own prejudice or, more disturbingly, because there was something they wished to hide.
I had not forgotten Lord Drummond’s treatment of his wife or his outburst the morning before. Nor had I failed to notice his eagerness to accept his physician’s diagnosis and his determination not to involve the city police. He’d scarcely given his dead wife’s body a second look, nor did he appear in any way to be grieving. I was deeply suspicious, but sharing my thoughts with him would do no good.
I glanced down at Lady Drummond’s slack features. I was reluctant to leave her behind, but I realized I had no choice. I only hoped something could be done before all potential evidence of wrongdoing was discarded or destroyed.
The other servants were careful to keep their eyes averted as I followed Jeffers through the doorway and down the corridor to the front door. He offered me my cloak, which he’d gathered from the parlor. I draped it around my shoulders, staring up at him in determination. His eyes gave very little away, but I could sense his sadness in the heaviness of his eyelids, the slight slouch of his shoulders. I only hoped Lady Drummond’s affection for the man would not prove unfounded should a test of his loyalty arise.
“I’ll be back,” I told him, unwilling to leave without saying something of my intentions.
Jeffers did not reply, but I thought I saw a flicker of consideration in his eyes as he handed me my satchel. Then, with my head held high, I turned to march through the door.
I stood on the pavement outside the Drummonds’ town house, uncertain what to do. It felt completely wrong to walk away, but what choice did I have? Lord Drummond had essentially ejected me from his home. I couldn’t very well sneak back in through the servants’ entrance, though I did contemplate it.
I considered heading straight to the police house off Old Stamp Office Close up in Old Town to look for Sergeant Maclean, but there was no guarantee he would be there, and I didn’t know any other officers I could trust. Besides, Gage had warned me about going there alone. No one reputable visited the police house, least of all a genteel woman, and I would only be inviting trouble for myself and Maclean.
I shivered as a gust of wind blew down Hanover Street, pressing my skirts against my legs. I needed to speak to Gage. He would know what to do. Wrapping my forest green cloak tighter around me, I hefted my satchel and hurried south toward George Street. The weight of my art supplies wrenched my shoulder, but there was nothing to be done. Philip kept only one carriage while in Edinburgh, so the coachmen delivered me to my portrait sessions and then picked me up later at the appointed time. It would have been silly for them to wait for me, and inconvenient for Philip or Alana should they need to use the coach.
I glanced down bustling George Street and decided to cross over to Rose Street instead. At half past ten in the morning, with much of society still rising from their beds or seated at breakfast, New Town was not as busy as it would be later in the day, but there were still enough earlier risers and prosperous merchants about to concern me. Considering my ultimate destination, the last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself, and I was sure to do that lugging my satchel several blocks. If I were observing the proprieties, I should have returned home to Charlotte Square and sent a note around to Gage asking him to call. But I knew I would never be able to hide from Alana how upset I was. She was already under enough strain. I didn’t want to risk sending her into early labor.
Still, I couldn’t march up to the door of the building on Princes Street where Gage rented his bachelor quarters and demand to see him. Such a thing simply wasn’t done. At least, not by respectable women.
I paused at the intersection of Frederick Street to set my bag down. Rolling my arm in its socket to ease the pain, I glanced around for one of the young lads who hung about, waiting to earn a few pence by running errands or holding the reins of a gentleman’s horse. I should have known one of them would find me.
“I’ll carry that for ye, m’lady. For a threepence.”
The boy stared up at me with restrained eagerness, letting me know he was keen to earn the money, but experienced enough to understand that if he appeared too willing, he might earn less. His clothes were scuffed and dirty, but in good repair, and his face had been scrubbed clean, even if he had missed his neck. Unlike many of the lads, he clearly had someone to go home to. Though whether that was a good thing or not depended on the person he lived with.
I decided he would do.
“No, but I do need you to deliver a message,” I replied, kneeling to extract my sketchbook and a lead pencil. I hastily scribbled a note and folded the paper before handing it to the boy along with a half-crown. He nodded once to indicate he understood my directions to Gage’s lodging house. “Take this note to Mr. Gage there and he’ll give you an additional crown for your trouble.”
The lad’s eyes lit with an avid gleam and he tipped his hat and took off at a run.
I lifted my satchel and continued down Rose Street. At the last block, I turned left into the mews that led behind the buildings on Princes Street. I could hear the stable lads jesting with one another in one of the carriage houses near the corner, but the rest of the lane was quiet. The servants tucked themselves up inside where it was warm, away from the leaden skies and blustery wind.
I paused to consider two black doors toward the middle of the block of buildings, trying to remember which one was correct. I’d only been here once, in the dark of night two months ago, and I hadn’t gotten a good look. The buildings looked the same, though the roofs were slightly different. One was darker than the other. I thought the building on the right was correct, but ultimately decided to stand between the two doors in case I was wrong.
The boy had clearly moved quickly, because I didn’t have long to wait. The door on the right opened, but still I hung back until I saw Gage’s golden head peer around it.
“Why, Lady Darby, had I only known how eager you were to see my rooms, I would have invited you up long ago and saved myself a crown.” His eyes twinkled devilishly. But the teasing light died when he saw my face more fully. “Kiera, what is it? Has something happened?”
“It’s Lady Drummond.” I had a difficult time choking out the words. “She’s dead.”
His eyes widened and he reached out to usher me inside. “Come with me.”
After taking my satchel from me, he glanced up the stairs with a frown before guiding me downward instead. At the base of the stairs he opened a door I knew to be his woodshop. The air inside was cold and sharp with the scents of sawdust, lacquer, and wood stain. The sunlight filtering in through the dusty windows high on the wall was faint, but bright enough to see the tables and the shelves of equipment.
He shut the door softly behind us before speaking in a low voice. “I would have taken you up to my rooms, but I’m afraid Crawford has visitors in the den.” He set my bag on the floor and reached out to clasp my shoulders. “Now, tell me what happened. What do you mean she’s dead?”
I swallowed, biting back a wave of unexpected tears I hadn’t even known I was suppressing until I’d seen Gage. “I arrived at Lady Drummond’s town house this morning at the usual time for her portrait session,” I began, speaking slowly. “It took the servants longer than normal to answer the door, and when I was finally allowed in, it was to find Lady Drummond collapsed on the floor.” I gripped his arms. “She was in horrible pain. I tried to help, but . . . there was nothing I could do.”
He pulled me close, cradling my head against his chest. I burrowed into him for a moment, absorbing his warmth, but then I pushed away, recalling my urgency.
“Gage, I’m almost certain she was poisoned, but the physician who came to examine her declared it an apoplexy. He barely looked at her. And he didn’t even bother to ask the servants what had happened.” My voice rose in outrage. “Lord Drummond was more than happy to accept his diagnosis, and when I tried to voice my doubts, he implied I was ghoulish and scandal-mongering, and had me escorted out of his house.”
His brow furrowed. “Well, given your past, I suppose you can’t be surprised by his reaction.”
I reared back in shock.
“Not that I agree with him,” he protested heatedly. “You know I’m tired of people’s ignorance. But it happens all the same. Why do you believe she was poisoned?”
His response appeased me somewhat, but I couldn’t help searching his face for even the tiniest bit of disbelief as I relayed the details to him. “Her maid said she vomited forcefully, and she was clutching at her abdomen where she lay on the floor. Her face was also oddly slack, while the rest of her was rigid with pain. Gage, her eyes were pleading with me to help her.” I squeezed my own eyes shut, trying to erase the sight. “It was awful.”
Gage considered the matter. “It is odd for the physician to diagnose such a thing so quickly in a woman so young.”
“She was a healthy woman. There was no reason she should have had an apoplexy.” I was beginning to feel agitated that he didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation. “Don’t you see? They could be destroying and discarding evidence as we speak. We need to do something.”
“Now, calm yourself a moment,” he said, gripping my arms again. “We can’t simply charge into the Drummonds’ house and accuse the man of concealing his wife’s murder.”
“Oh, I don’t think he’s just concealing it.”
He looked at me more closely. “You think he murdered his wife. Because you suspect he mistreated her?”
I could tell he doubted me already. “Not just that. You should have seen him today. When he arrived, he hardly spared her a glance. There was his wife’s dead body splayed out on the floor before him, and he didn’t display even a flicker of grief or shock.”
He opened his mouth as if to protest, but I spoke over him, knowing what he was going to say.
“It’s not that I thought he should have broken down in tears or anything like that. I know all about you gentlemen and your pride in your stiff upper lips. But he could have spared her more than a mere glance.”
“Kiera, I understand what you’re saying, but even if their marriage wasn’t happy, even if he doesn’t grieve her loss, that doesn’t mean he killed her.”
I backed away from him, crossing my arms over my chest. “I can’t believe it. You don’t believe me.”
“It’s not that. You’re making some very serious accusations. We need to consider the matter carefully before we stir up a hornet’s nest when there might be no reason for it. You said yourself that you were almost certain. Is that enough?”
I turned aside to stare up at the murky window. Was it? How sure was I that Lady Drummond had been killed by poison? Certain enough to stake my reputation and that of Gage?
“I liked her,” I told him, my voice emerging softer than before. “I sincerely liked her.” I knew he would appreciate the weight of those words, for I did not say them often. “And I suppose I could relate to her in ways I can’t with other ladies.” I glanced at Gage to find him watching me in quiet understanding. “I wanted to help her, but I didn’t want to push her into telling me things I knew she wasn’t ready for.” Guilt squeezed my chest. “I thought she might be starting to trust me, you know. Yesterday morning. She asked if I was still assisting you with your inquiries.”
“Really? Just yesterday?”
I recognized the hint of interest in his voice. I’d noticed that the more he suppressed his inflection, the more intrigued he was.
He moved a step closer. “Was this before or after he waved the letter in her face?”
I tilted my head, trying to figure out what he was thinking. “Before.”
He reached up to push a hand through his cropped curls. He inhaled, seeming to come to a decision. “Let me make some discreet inquiries and find out if the physician has officially declared Lady Drummond’s death to be from an apoplexy. He may have reconsidered the matter.”
I knew he would not have, but I didn’t argue. “Thank you!” I gasped, rising up on my toes to kiss his cheek.
His eyes gleamed as he caught me to him. “Yes, well, I think you can reward me better than that.”
So I did.
“My lady,” Figgins said in astonishment as he admitted me to the town house. “Did his lordship’s coachman forget to collect you from the Drummonds’ household?”
“No, Figgins,” I replied, passing him my satchel. “There were some unforeseen circumstances this morning.” He didn’t ask me to elaborate. A good butler never would ask more than he ought, and Figgins certainly excelled in his position. “Please let him know I won’t be needing him to collect me.”
I wearily removed my gloves and cloak. “Is Alana in the drawing room?”
“She’s resting in her chamber, my lady.”
I closed my eyes and heaved a sigh of relief. There would be no need to inform her of Lady Drummond’s death just yet. But then I realized how rude my reaction to her absence must appear. My eyes darted to Figgins’s face.
The butler merely hid a smile as he draped my cloak over his arm. “I imagine a lady’s confinement must be trying for everyone.”
“Er, yes,” I said, grateful for his good humor.
“Shall I have tea sent up?”
“Not just yet.”
He nodded, surveying my drawn features, but once again kept his curiosity to himself.
I trudged up the stairs to the drawing room and crossed to the large window that looked out on Charlotte Square. Only a handful of children played in the grassy garden at the center of the square on this blustery day, their governesses huddled together to the side, their shoulders hunched against the wind. My gaze strayed up to the gray sky as I sank down on the green settee Alana so often favored, restricted to the house as she was. The ivory blanket she draped across her lap was tossed carelessly on the cushions beside me. I unconsciously reached out to run my hand over the soft wool.
Gage had promised he would come to see me this evening with the information he had uncovered, but that was hours away and I had no idea how I would occupy myself until then. I had portraits to work on in my studio upstairs, so I supposed I should try to paint. Maybe if I could become lost in my art, then this hollow ache in my chest, this driving need to fix what was wrong however I could, would go away. At least, for a time.
I was summoning the motivation to stand and leave the room when Figgins entered with a package in his hands.
“My apologies, my lady. I neglected to inform you that this was delivered for you while you were out. Would you like me to have it taken to your room?”
I glanced at the brown paper in confusion. “I’ll take it.”
“Very good, my lady.”
There were no markings other than my name and direction. I untied the string binding it and peeled back the paper. The box contained three jars. I lifted one to see the label read “Hinkley’s Body Cream.”
These were from Lady Drummond. She’d said she would send a note around to Hinkley’s asking them to deliver the creams and other unctions for Alana, and she had. Was this the last missive she’d ever sent? Knowing what I did about her, it was fitting that it would be one written out of kindness.
I leaned forward, covering my eyes with my hands.
I wished I could go back to the day before and try harder to make Lady Drummond talk to me. Maybe if I’d just asked, she would have shared what was troubling her. I hadn’t wanted to cause her more distress, but wasn’t a little discomfort better than death?
I knew it was silly to blame myself for any part of what had befallen Lady Drummond, but I couldn’t help thinking over and over again about our last interaction. Perhaps I shouldn’t have stood up to Lord Drummond—maybe that had somehow escalated or precipitated matters—but I couldn’t make myself regret doing so. Had I left the room when he asked and let him do whatever he intended to her, I would have repented it more. Besides, no matter what I’d said or done, I hadn’t forced the killer to poison her.
If it was poison.
I rubbed my temples. What if I was wrong? What if she truly had died of an apoplexy?
Dr. Davis was correct. For all my late husband’s enforced anatomical tutelage, I wasn’t a physician. There could be numerous signs and symptoms of an apoplexy of which I was unaware. Maybe I saw his hasty diagnosis as suspicious because that’s what I wanted to see.
The fact was, I didn’t want Lady Drummond to be dead. She had been kind to me when so many others had not. To see her so full of life one day and then watch the light forever drain from her eyes the next was too difficult to accept. Strange as it might seem, it was easier to accept that someone had ended her life than that she had died of natural causes. I wanted someone to blame, and Lord Drummond was the likeliest candidate.
I didn’t like him. He was brusque and unpleasant, and he clearly had not treated his wife well. But was I letting my memories of Sir Anthony and his ill treatment of me affect my judgment? I couldn’t help but think of my late husband when I saw Lord Drummond. There were too many similarities. But were there enough that I was allowing them to influence my logic and intuition?
I looked up to find the butler standing in the doorway. I didn’t bother to hide my obvious distress this time. “Yes, Figgins?”
He took a single step into the room. “There is a Lady Rachel Radcliffe here to see you. Shall I tell her you’re not accepting visitors?”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Lady Darby Mysteries:
“Lady Darby is an engaging new sleuth to follow… [A] history mystery in fine Victorian style!”—Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author
“Huber deftly evokes both [Sebastian and Kiera’s] attraction and the period’s flavor.”—Publishers Weekly
“Riveting…Huber deftly weaves together an original premise, an enigmatic heroine, and a compelling Highland setting for a book you won’t want to put down.”—Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author
“[A] must read…One of those rare books that will both shock and please readers.”—Fresh Fiction
“One of the best historical mysteries that I have read this year.”—Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The fourth entry in this series sees Keira, Lady Darby painting again. Her sympathies are roused as her subject is married to a cruel and possibly violent man, bringing memories to life of her own marriage. When Lady Drummond dies before her own eyes, Keira is not willing to accept the physician's too quick diagnosis of apoplexy. She soon launches an investigation along with her fiance and has to reenter society in order to find a murderer. However, someone has stirred up all the old gossip about her, Lord Gage descends upon them, unwilling to accept their engagement, and Alana ' s difficult pregnancy is drawing to a close. Plus wedding plans are afoot making this another exciting book in this series.
I was thoroughly engrossed.
This is a good historical mystery. Good characterization. Interesting events and dilemmas. Fascinating mystery. Well worth reading.
Just when you think Kiera and Gage are on track they turn a corner and lead in another direction.
Love the characters and the attention to history
I really enjoyed reading this book and look forward to more of of this author's writing.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Lady Darby has left the planning of her upcoming nuptials to her sister who needs something to keep her mind on during her confinement waiting for her baby to be born. With no pending inquires with husband to be Sebastian Gage, Kiera takes a commission from Lord Drummond to paint a portrait of his wife. Sadly Lord Drummond is much like most men in this era and view their wives as property and are abusive. This strikes very close to home for Kiera. Before she can help Lady Drummond the woman is dead. Cause of death, Apoplexy. Back in this time period many peoples cause of death was Apoplexy or what is now called a stroke. The term was used widely when when doctors didn’t know the cause. Without an autopsy it truly couldn’t be challenged but Kiera knows the woman was murdered so she convinces Gage to start an inquiry, much to the dismay of many. This is definitely a series that needs to be read in order as each new book builds from the last. Gage and Kiera’s relationship had a rocky start that has changed and evolved in each book always surrounded by a top-notch mystery. Kiera still needs to build a feeling of trust with Gage. She was treated horribly my her first husband. Meeting his father in this installment shakes the security they had built, especially when she know Gage is keeping parts of his past a secret. I enjoyed the subplot of Kiera’s sister Alana and her husband Phillip. Her pregnancy wasn’t an easy one and Phillip could be a typical man of this time period or could be the wonderful husband he seemed to be in past books. As for the mystery, Gage and Kiera are interviewing everyone that had contact with Lady Drummond, including her husband, the staff, and her friends. The investigation also takes they to the dark and dangerous streets of the city as they try to determine what caused her death. Kiera is strong and independent and doesn’t appreciate being told she can’t go or do something. Gage tries to protect her but sometimes he even needs help from a certain unsavory character. Anna Lee Huber continues to impress me with her storytelling. As a reader I am engaged almost even before I start reading because I know what to expect from this author. She has never disappointed me. I love the imagery of Scotland her words create. Her depiction of characters across all social classes is exceptional. Her plot lines are tight and the dialogue is excellent. My reading schedule was messed up last year which made this book stay on my To-Be-Read shelf for far too long. That will not be the case with A Death Draws Near out July 5.
Anna Lee Huber's 'Lady Darby Mysteries' was recommended to me by an author friend, a fact for which I am most grateful. I was able to read through four books quickly without having to wait on another to be published. But now I must wait for the next to be published, although only till May. Lady Kiera Darby is a very intriguing character; an exceptional artist and solver of mysteries. She is accompanied on her quest for the truth by Mr. Sebastian Gage, inquiry agent extraordinaire. They are a wonderful pair of detectives. The characters in the books, as well as the crimes, are very well done indeed and I enjoyed every moment. This one, A Study in Death, is my favorite. Sometimes, during an ongoing series, momentum is lost and the stories become dull. Not so here. Anna Lee Huber knows her craft very well and is quite skilled. These books are very reminiscent of the great Agatha Christie's work. I eagerly anticipate the next Lady Darby mystery. There is a novella coming and another full length novel in May. Can't wait!
Once you open a bag of potato chips it's hard to put it down. Lady Darby and Gage make for a lovely snack indeed. Now I want to open the next bag as soon as I can.
I do enjoy this series, as I have since The Anatomist's Wife. I read for our main romance, the mysteries themselves, and the general setting. Unfortunately, I felt that the mystery in this book was somewhat lacking; I had the murderer pegged early on and found some of the conclusions on both sides of the investigation somewhat illogical. And though it may have bothered me less if I had finished in more than a day, there was one line repeated nearly verbatim three times throughout by Lady Darby to Mr. Gage, which was a wee bit excessive. Lord Gage finally makes an appearance, but he does not come off as a particularly competent inquiry agent, rather as a villanous stand-in while the investigation continues. Though in my opinion it was one of the weaker installments for the series, it was overall quite enjoyable.
Loved this newest Lady Darby book. It had me hooked from the very beginning - and kept me drawn in til the very last word. I won't say anything to give away the story, but ... I loved all the interaction between Kiera and Gage. Lots of great secondary characters. I love these books. Now I have to wait for the next one. UGH. But for anyone who hasn't read these stories, you are in for a great treat when you do.
Although I did go through a period when I read primarily Regency romances, I’ll admit that I doubt I would have ever chosen a historical mystery. But now like strong, independent female leads in the books I read. That being said, even though A STUDY IN DEATH is set in 1831, author Anna Lee Huber has penned a female protagonist with every bit the independence as a modern day woman. I found the series main character, Lady Kiera Darby, to be not only strong and intelligent, but an absolute delight. It was easy at times to forget when and where I was. I adored her relationship with her fiancé, Sebastian Gage, and loved that they work together as investigators. Since this is the first book I’ve read in the Lady Darby Mystery series, I can’t compare it to the ones that came before. But I can say I found it to be an original and wonderful mystery. Ms. Huber has written a fascinating story that is more in line with the traditional mysteries of years pass. I look forward to reading more in this series. If you’re a fan of lighter mysteries, and historicals, this book will be something you will truly enjoy. And cozy fans who love cats . . . Lady Darby has a cat named Earl Grey! How adorable is that?