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Authors: Gilbert Morris

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A Conspiracy of Ravens

A CONSPIRACY OF
RAVENS

OTHER NOVELS BY GILBERT MORRIS INCLUDE

The Lady Trent Mysteries:

The Mermaid in the Basement

The Creole Series

The Singing River Series

The House of Winslow Series

The Lone Star Legacy Series

Visit your online bookstore for a complete
listing of Gilbert’s books.

© 2008 by Gilbert Morris

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Published in Nashville, Tennessee, by Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson is a registered trademark of Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Thomas Nelson, Inc. titles may be purchased in bulk for educational, business, fund-raising, or sales promotional use. For information, please e-mail [email protected]

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.

Publisher’s Note: This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. All characters are fictional, and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Morris, Gilbert.
   A conspiracy of ravens / Gilbert Morris.
       p. cm. — (A Lady Trent mystery ; bk. 2)
   ISBN 978-1-59554-425-4 (pbk.)
   1. Aristocracy (Social class)—England—Fiction. 2. Women private investigators—England—Fiction. I. Title.
   PS3563.O8742C58 2008
   813’.54—dc22

2008024162

Printed in the United States of America

08 09 10 11 RRD 6 5 4 3 2 1

CONTENTS

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

ONE

O
ctober, the harbinger of winter, had fallen upon England. A cold, blustery day swept across London and the many houses that bordered the city itself. Lady Serafina Trent stared out the window, and the gloom of the day dampened her spirit. The enormous oaks seemed to be spectres raising skeletal limbs toward the sky. She was a striking woman of twenty-seven with strawberry blonde hair and violet eyes. Her face was squarish, and her mouth had a sensuous softness. She was not a woman who paid a great deal of attention to her appearance, her beauty naturally elegant.

As she looked out over the grounds, a fleeting memory came to her as she thought of how she had come, as a young bride, to Trentwood House. She remembered the joy and the anticipation that had been hers when she had married Charles Trent, but then a trembling, not caused by the temperature, shook her. She thought of her husband now dead and buried in the family cemetery and then forced the thought away.

Serafina’s eyes lingered on the grounds of Trentwood, the ancestral estate of the Trents, but now the grass was a leprous grey, the trees had dropped their leaves, and the death of summer took away the beauty of the world. Serafina suddenly turned and, with a quick movement, walked away from the window and toward the large table where her son, David, sat in a chair made especially for him. The blaze in the fireplace sent out its cheerful popping and cracking, and myriads of fiery sparks flew upward through the chimney in a magic dance.

The heat radiated throughout the room as Serafina took a seat beside her son. She glanced around, and once again old memories came—but this time more pleasant ones. This was the room that she had persuaded Charles to give her as a study, and it was lined with the artifacts of the anatomy trade. A grinning skeleton, wired together, stood at attention across the room. She and her father had built it when she was only thirteen, and after her marriage it had come with her to Trentwood. Charles had laughed at her, saying, “You love death more than life, Serafina.”

Once again the bitter memory of her marriage to Charles Trent brought a gloom to Serafina. She quickly scanned the room, noting the familiar bookshelves stuffed with leather-bound books, the drawings of various parts of the human anatomy on the walls, the stuffed animals that she and her father had dissected and put back together again. A table stretched the length of one wall, covered with vials, glasses, and containers, and she remembered how she had labored in the world of chemistry during her early years at Trentwood.

“Mum, I can’t do these fractions!”

Serafina smiled and put her arm around David. At the age of seven he had some of her looks—her fair hair complemented by dark blue eyes that had just a touch of aquamarine. He was small, but there was the hint of a tall frame to come.

“Of course you can, David.”

“No, I can’t,” David complained, and as he turned to her, she admired the smooth planes of his face, thinking what a handsome young man he would be as he grew older. She saw also that instead of figures on the sheet of paper before him, he had drawn pictures of strange animals and birds. He had a gift for drawing, she knew, but now she shook her head saying, “You haven’t been working on fractions. You’ve been drawing birds.”

“I’d rather draw birds than do these old fractions, Mum.”

Serafina had learnt from experience that David had inherited neither her passion for science nor the mathematical genes of his grandfather, Septimus. He was intrigued more by fanciful things than numbers and hard facts, which troubled Serafina.

“David, if you want to subtract a fraction from a whole number, you simply turn one of the whole numbers to a fraction. You change this number five to four, and that gives you a whole number. Now you want to subtract one-fourth from that. How many fourths are there in a whole number?”

“I dunno, Mum.”

Serafina shook her head slowly and insisted, “You must learn fractions, David.”

“I don’t like them.”

David suddenly gave her an odd, secretive look that she knew well. “What are you thinking, Son?”

“May I show you something I like?”

Serafina sighed. “Yes, I suppose you may.”

David jumped up and ran to the desk. He opened a drawer and took something out. It was, Serafina saw, a book, and his eyes were alight with excitement when he showed it to her. “Look, it’s a book about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.”

Serafina took the book and opened it. On the first page she read, “To my friend David,” and it was signed “Dylan Tremayne.” “Dylan gave you this book?”

“Yes. Ain’t it fine? It was a present, and he gave me his picture too.” David reached over and pulled an image from between the pages of the book. “Look at it, Mum. It looks just like him, don’t it now?”

Serafina stared at the miniature painting of Dylan Tremayne, and, as always, she was struck by the good looks of the man who had come to play such a vital part in her life. She studied the glossy black hair with the lock over the forehead as usual, the steady wide-spaced and deep-set eyes, and then the wedge-shaped face, the wide mouth, the mobile features.
With those beautiful eyes, he’s
almost too handsome to be a man.

The thought touched her, and she remembered how only recently it had been Tremayne who had helped her to free her brother, Clive, from a charge of murder. She remembered how at first she had resented Tremayne for everything that he was, all which ran against the grain for the Viscountess of Radnor. Whereas she herself was logical, scientific, and reasonable, Dylan was fanciful, filled with imagination, and a fervent Christian, believing adamantly that miracles were not a thing of the past. She was also disturbed by the fact that although she had given up on romance long ago, she had felt the stirrings of attraction for this actor who was so different from everything that she believed.

She had tried to think of some way to curtail Dylan’s influence on David, for she felt it was unhealthy—but it was very difficult. David was wild about Dylan, who spent a great deal of time with him, and Serafina was well aware that her son’s affection for Tremayne was part of his latent desire for a father.

Firmly Serafina said, “David, this book isn’t true. It’s made up, a storybook. It’s not like a dictionary where words mean certain things. It’s not like a book of mathematics where two plus two is always four. It isn’t even like a history book when it gives the date of a famous person’s birth—those are facts.”

David listened but was restless. Finally he interrupted by saying, “But, Mum, Dylan says these are stories about men who were brave and who fought for the truth. That’s not bad, is it?”

“No, that’s not bad, but they’re not real men. If you must read stories about brave men, you need to read history.”

“Dylan says there was a King Arthur once.”

“Well, Dylan doesn’t know any such thing. King Arthur and his knights are simply fairy tales, and you’d do well to put your mind on things that are real rather than things that are imaginary.” But even as Serafina spoke, she saw the hurt in David’s eyes, and her own heart smoldered. “We’ll talk about it later,” she said quickly. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes!”

“You’re always hungry.” Serafina laughed and hugged him.

“Dylan says he’s going to come and see me today. Is that all right?”

“Yes, I suppose so. Come along now. Let’s go see what Cook has made for us.”

The dining room was always a pleasure to Serafina, and as she entered it she ran her eyes over it quickly. The table and sideboard were Elizabethan oak, solid and powerful, an immense weight of wood. The carved chairs at each end of the table had high backs and ornate armrests. The dark green curtains were pulled back now, and pictures adorned the walls. It was a gracious room and very large; the table was already laden with rich food set out on exquisite linen. Silver gleamed discreetly under chandeliers fully lit to counteract the gloom of the day.

“You’re late, Daughter. You missed out on the blessing.”

The speaker, Septimus Isaac Newton, at the age of sixty-two managed to look out of place in almost any setting. He was a tall, gangling man over six feet with a large head and hair that never seemed to be brushed as a result of his running his hand through it. His sharp eyes were a warm brown and held a look of fondness as he said, “David, I’m about to eat all the food.”

David laughed and shook his head. “No, you won’t, Grandfather. There’s too much of it.”

Indeed, the table was covered with sandwiches, many of them thinly sliced cucumber on brown bread. There were cream cheese sandwiches with chopped chives and smoked salmon mousse. White bread sandwiches flanked these. Smoked ham, eggs, mayonnaise with mustard and cress, and grand cheeses of all sorts complemented the meal as did scones, fresh and still warm with plenty of jams and cream, and finally cake and exquisite French pastries. Serafina led David to the chair, and James Barden, the butler, helped her into her own, then stepped back to watch the progress of the meal.

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