Authors: Maureen Driscoll
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult Romance
Win took the dozen flowers, no two alike. “Thank you
so much, Violet. They are beautiful. It is a great pleasure to meet you.”
“Are you really Anna’s aunt? She’s my friend and we
met at Gunter’s. Do you think she’ll come back to London soon? Lord James
said she would, but I was hoping she’d come and your sister Letty, too.”
“I hope they’re coming, too.” Though Win dreaded
having them see her this way. “You’ll also like my sister Rose, though she’s
older than Letty and Anna.” Win wasn’t sure what it would be like to see Rose
again, whether the girl would forgive her for ignoring her all those years.
“Poppet, Mrs. Rigg and I are going to help Lady
Winifred get dressed now,” said Jane, as she smoothed her daughter’s hair. “Would
you be so kind as to tell Lord James and Miss Wallace that she’s awake? I know
they’re most anxious to see her.”
“Yes, Mama.” Then Violet curtsied to Win again. “If
you want to come see my room later, you can.” Then she left, closing the door
“You have a lovely family,” said Win, as she eased out
of her night clothes.
“I am very blessed, though I hope the newest addition
did not keep you awake last night. My son Daniel still hasn’t learned the
habit of sleeping through the night. And we have him with us in our room. If
he’s too disruptive we can arrange for a different suite for you.”
“I slept quite soundly, thank you.”
“No doubt the result of a full meal and complete
“Perhaps,” said Win, who believed it was because it
had been the first night of safety she’d known since her marriage began.
“James and Irene are downstairs meeting with a
solicitor. James didn’t think you’d be up to meeting with Mr. Olson today, but
I thought I’d pass on the information, just in case.”
“Thank you. I’d like to meet with him. I’m still a
bit hazy about the events of last night, but it sounded like the Crown was
rather intent on convicting me. I should like to do something about that.”
Half an hour later, Win carefully descended the stairs
of the elegant home then entered the sitting room.
James and Irene were there, as well as the duke and
duchess and Ned Kellington. They were meeting with the solicitor, Geoffrey
Olson. In appearance, he was quite unassuming. He was in his mid-thirties, with
thinning fair hair. He was shorter than average and dressed like a man who had
run into a spell of bad fortune.
He was quiet, but from the way he studied her when she
entered the room, Win had the impression he was a shrewd observer.
Everyone rose upon her entry. James was immediately
by her side. He unsuccessfully tried to school his expression when he saw her
bruises. Perhaps she shouldn’t have come down today.
He took her hand. “Good morning, love,” he said, as
he carefully kissed her cheek.
Just the simple act of being with her brother warmed
her. It also gave her strength for the battle she was facing.
“We are meeting with our solicitor, Mr. Olson,” said
The man bowed to her. “It is a pleasure to meet you,
“How do you do, Mr. Olson? Thank you for coming.”
Win took a seat next to James, gingerly lowering
herself onto the settee.
“Are you sure you’re well enough to do this?” asked
“I think it is imperative we start the process of my
“I believe Lady Winifred has the right of it, my
lord,” said Olson. “Mr. Pierce’s death was on the front page of every broadsheet
in the city this morning and even the more respectable publications did not
shrink from posting vile speculation.”
“I did not kill my husband, Mr. Olson.”
“No one in this house thinks you did, my lady. But it
is not just lurid gossip which is feeding the press frenzy. I believe someone
is determined to see you convicted of the crime.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Lynwood.
“Because I sent an associate to Bow Street to learn
what I could. I didn’t think there would be much so soon after Pierce’s
death. But my source told me the case file is almost complete and will be
handed over to the Crown’s barrister today.”
“But how could they get so much information so
quickly?” asked Irene.
“That is a very good question. And one I would like
to learn the answer to. Even more troublesome is they’ve given the case to
Alexander Lewis, one of the Crown’s most formidable barristers. His success in
court is quite enviable. However, we are fortunate in one respect. He is an
honorable man, known for his fairness and honesty – traits not always found in
my field of work.”
“We want you to represent Win,” said James. “Please.
We will pay anything.”
“Thank you for your vote of confidence, Lord James. But
it is not money that determines the nature of my participation. As you know,
the ordained procedure is to employ a solicitor who gathers all the particulars
of a case and then finds a barrister to argue it in court.”
“Do you know of a good barrister?” asked James.
“A few. But I would rather get the particulars before
I decide which one to use.” He looked at Win. “I do not need to tell you the
stakes are life and death,” he said quietly. “Do you have any idea who might
have killed your husband?”
“No. Though I believe he had enemies.”
“But you do not know who they were?”
“He did not share details about his life with me.”
Other than the beatings he gave her when life wasn’t going his way.
“Then please tell me what you do know, and we’ll
proceed from there.”
Win nodded, even as she tried to piece together the
relevant details. “Clarence took over his father’s business. I do not know the
exact nature of his work, other than he insured shipping vessels. I believe he
was also involved in speculative ventures. He issued certificates of stock for
investments in mining, transportation and the like.”
“Those are risky endeavors,” said Olson. “I can
imagine he angered a lot of people when the investments didn’t have a
“That is probably true, but I have no first-hand
knowledge. I do not even know if he had much contact with the people who lost
money. He had others working for him who oversaw the day-to-day transactions.
They would sometimes come to the house and meet with Pierce in his study.”
“What about when you went out in Society? Did you
hear rumors about your husband’s work? Were there snide remarks? One can
learn a great deal just by listening to gossip.”
“We were not accepted in Society because of his humble
beginnings and work in trade.”
“That must have upset him.”
“It did. You are too polite to ask, but the reason
Pierce married me was to gain
into Society. He was rather upset
when it did not work.”
“And what did he do when he was upset?”
It was impossible to escape Olson’s kind, yet intense
gaze. “I believe you know, Mr. Olson.”
James had grown more and more tense while Win answered
Olson’s questions. He now strode across the room, where he began angrily
pacing. “I should have killed him myself. I should have demanded entrance to
your house. I should have…”
“Lord James,” said Olson. “If you continue talking
like this, you’ll be arrested for Pierce’s murder.”
That stopped James for a moment. “Do it. I would gladly
confess to this murder. I would die for Win. For that matter, so would Colin
and Nick. Anything is preferable to seeing her in this position.”
“James, please,” said Win, motioning for him to take
his seat beside her. He was scaring her because it would be just like one of
her brothers to try to take the blame. She had no doubt they would die for
her. But she would not allow any harm to come to them. Not after everything
she’d endured to protect them.
“Lord James,” said Olson. “I do not doubt you would
take her place. But I cannot imagine Lady Winifred or Miss Wallace would like
that very much, not to mention Miss Emerson. The best strategy we have is to
find the real killer.”
“Did Bow Street interview the butler?” asked James.
Olson looked through his notes. “Yes. Havers was in the
servants’ quarters when the murder occurred. Apparently there was a
concerning a footman and a maid who’d been caught…” He blushed and cleared his
throat. “…who’d been caught in an irregularity. He said he didn’t hear
anything, but he was the one who found Lady Winifred with the deceased. He
also said Pierce didn’t have an enemy in the world.”
“Interesting,” said James. “When I called on Win a
few weeks ago, I was denied entrance. But I made my feelings clear to Havers.
I told him that if she was being mistreated, I would kill Pierce. And I meant
it. I wonder why he wouldn’t have thought to mention it to Bow Street.”
“An excellent question, my lord,” said Olson as he
made a note of it. “We will have to speak to Havers, again. Lady Winifred, what
was your husband’s relationship with his family? He had one brother, a sister
and a brother-in-law, correct?”
“Yes. Their relationship was odd. Very formal.
Pierce was the eldest and I sometimes believed his brother Clive resented the
fact their father left the business to my husband and only a stipend to himself
and their sister Emmeline. The stipends were rather generous. But if there
was one thing the three siblings had in common, it was that they always wanted
“Do you think one of them could have killed Pierce?
There was no sign of a breakin. Pierce likely knew his attacker.”
“I do not know. They squabbled over money, but I
never thought it was anything more than that. But, again, I was not privy to
“And you never noticed anything odd when you went
Win wasn’t sure how to answer that question. “I did
not go out much. I was not allowed to leave without Pierce or the servants.
And I did not receive many visitors.”
Win’s head was beginning to ache. She must have
squinted her eyes against the pain, because Olson drew his interrogation to a
“You have been very helpful Lady Winifred. I will
find out what I can about the Crown’s case. Fortunately, my network of sources
is quite extensive. And, your grace, I may need you, as well as the Marquess
of Riverton. I daresay Lady Riverton will be most upset when she learns what
“She was extremely upset,” said Lynwood. “She would
be here right now except her infant son has a cold and she did not wish to
leave him. But you can count on our support at all levels.”
As the duke and duchess walked Olson out, Ned and Jane
went to check on baby Daniel, leaving Win with James and Irene.
“I look forward to meeting your daughter,” said Win.
“I cannot wait to introduce the two of you. She is in
Wiltshire recovering from the chicken pox.” He took her hand. “I want to
learn what your life has been like, Win. Unfortunately, I believe I can guess at
least part of it.”
She shook her head. “I cannot talk about it. Not
yet. Though I expect there will be no escaping it when the others arrive. I
fear I can tell my story only once.”
James nodded, while squeezing her hand. “Of course. This
has been an incredible ordeal for you. I do not wish to make it worse.”
It felt good to be taken care of by her brother. “In
the meantime, I should very much like to catch up with you,” she said.
“I should leave you two alone,” said Irene, rising.
Win reached out to her. “I wish you wouldn’t, for we
are sisters now. And I would like to hear about your life, as well. Besides,
I may be able to think of embarrassing incidents from our childhood. I expect
you would like to be able to tease James from time to time.”
“From time to time?” asked James. “She already teases
me quite mercilessly about any number of things. Well, if you insist, dear
Win, I shall tell you about my illfated travels in America and how I became a
“If I recall,” said Irene, “you did not get the chance
to be any type of farmer because of my dishonorable brother. And you are an
indisputable success as a father.”
It was obvious that James and Irene were very much in
love. Win hadn’t known such a thing existed. But there it was, for the world
to see. She would likely never have it for herself. She might not even live
out the month if that successful barrister had his way. But she’d lived long
enough to see at least one of her brothers happy.
And that was enough for now.
Alex stood outside the mansion where Clarence Pierce
had been murdered. It showed obvious signs of wealth. The knocker was too
big, too gilded. The shutters looked like they’d been painted only the
previous week. There was a garish statue in the Greek style in the front
garden. But Alex was certain the neighbors Pierce had obviously wished to
impress with his wealth only resented him for it. By their thinking, Pierce
had been an interloper, trying to buy his way into the peerage. Alex could
have told him from first-hand experience that Society did not open itself up to
He had been on his way to Bow Street when one of the
chambers’ clerks had stopped him in the dining hall. He’d told Alex there was
no need to actually go to Bow Street. Everything he needed to know had been
gathered in one thin file, which the clerk had presented to him.
Now, while it was customary for barristers to be given
all the material they’d need for trial, the process almost always took longer than
a day and there was usually a good deal more evidence than what he’d been
presented with. This was a murder trial, after all. It wouldn’t do to appear
before the Lord Chief Justice with so little evidence. Surely the defense
would have more than this.
Alex wondered if, perhaps, the Crown was actually
trying to have Mrs. Pierce found not guilty. That might explain why there was
so little evidence. Maybe it was yet another case of the
its own – and damaging his career in the process.
But when he went back to his personal chambers and
began reading the material, he realized the Crown very much wanted Mrs. Pierce
to be convicted.
Or at least someone did.
The file was filled with gossip about her late
parents. Tales of affairs, questionable parentage, blackmail, lying, duels and
scandal. According to the file, both the late earl and countess had squandered
a few fortunes gaming, though never in each other’s company. They’d been so
desperate for money that the old earl had all but sold their eldest daughter to
It was said that Mrs. Pierce resented the
arrangement. She was a cold woman who never saw her brothers and sisters, nor
gave them money even when they were in desperate need of it. She was jealous
of her younger sister Rosemary, and made sure the girl wouldn’t have a come-out.
And she’d refused to see her youngest sister Leticia because she was the result
of an immoral liaison.
Pierce had beaten his wife, hurting her vanity. And
he’d cheated on her with servants, further humiliating her. Combine that with
Mrs. Pierce wanting his fortune and there was no need to look further for the
killer. She’d had ample motive and opportunity.
She was a murderess and must hang.
Alex had rarely seen such a one-sided story. Even
dossiers of knife fights on the docks witnessed by dozens of men, contained at
least a few contradictory statements and possible theories.
There was very little actual evidence. It was true
that Mrs. Pierce had been discovered leaning over her husband’s body. But even
that could be explained, if one believed she’d simply found him that way.
From the sound of it, this Mrs. Pierce was a cold
woman who did have reason to kill her husband and the opportunity to do so.
But why weren’t there any other theories? In order for him to do his job, he
had to know how to counter any arguments the defense might make, including
theories involving other suspects. However, he hadn’t been presented with
any. Why had there been no investigation? And why were they in such a rush to
bring this to trial?
Alex had a choice. He could either proceed with what
he’d been given, which would allow him to present a fairly convincing argument,
even if much of it was based on circumstantial evidence and conjecture. Or he
could ask a few questions and see if there wasn’t more to the story. After
all, a woman’s life was at stake. And he couldn’t live with himself if there
was a chance she was innocent.
So that’s what had brought him to the house in
He rapped on the knocker, then looked around as he
waited. He wondered if any of the neighbors had ever heard Pierce beat his
wife, had ever seen the bruises. Certainly the servants must have. He also
wondered if anyone had seen or heard anything the night of the murder or if
they’d even been questioned.
The door was opened by a butler. The man was reserved
and everything that was proper, as was usually the case with the servants of
cits looking to impress peers. Making a good impression started at the door.
“May I help you, sir?” asked the butler.
“I am Alexander Lewis, the barrister for the Crown. I
am looking into Mr. Pierce’s death.”
“In what way, sir?”
“I would like to see the crime scene. What is your
“Havers, sir. While I would like to help you, this is
not a good time.”
“I am certain the household is in mourning and as such
in a certain amount of disarray. I apologize for the intrusion, but I am not
asking. I am going to come in and look around.”
Havers dropped his professional façade just enough to
make it clear he didn’t like being ordered about, even if it was by a
barrister. But he allowed Alex entrance.
And Alex could not believe what he saw. An army of
footmen was packing away vases and various pieces of art. One of them walked
by with a box of silver.
“What is going on?” asked Alex. “Is Mrs. Pierce selling
these items to pay for her legal defense?”
“I should say not, sir,” said Havers, offended by the
very notion. “We would not allow that to happen. The late Mr. Pierce’s family
is safeguarding the items.”
As if on cue, a lady of middle years and greying fair
hair came downstairs, holding a jewelry case. “Havers, the staff cannot be
allowed to pack the jewelry without adequate supervision. I already caught
that tart of a lady’s maid sniffing around, as if she hadn’t already received
more than enough coin for her ‘services.’” Her attention turned to Alex, whom
she looked up and down. “I was not aware we had visitors. Who are you, sir?”
“Alexander Lewis, barrister for the Crown.” He handed
her his card.
The woman studied it and frowned. “Isn’t it a bit
queer for you to be here?”
“Not any queerer than you going through Mrs. Pierce’s
She bristled. “That witch killed my brother. She has
no right to these things. She never did.”
“So you are Mrs. Emmeline Warren?”
“I am. My husband Horace is here, as well. And my
brother Clive. He is in the wine cellar safeguarding the spirits. Though I
daresay that is rather like sending the fox to guard the henhouse. Why are you
“I wish to examine the crime scene.”
Mrs. Warren wrinkled her nose. “I cannot imagine
why. It was quite horrid. And it’s taken the maids most of the day to even
begin to get the blood stains out of the carpet.”
“You mean they’re scrubbing the floor?”
“Well, it is an Aubusson carpet.” It was clear she
was almost as concerned about the carpet as she was about the recent death. Perhaps
Alex couldn’t believe it. Hadn’t the police secured
the scene at all? “Where is the study?”
“I cannot see why that is any of your concern.”
“Where is it, madam?” He’d reached the end of his
With great reluctance, she pointed in the general
direction and Alex strode quickly to the room, with a startled Havers at his
Alex entered the study to find half a dozen maids on
their hands and knees scrubbing the carpet and floors. “Stop what you’re
doing!” he commanded. Judging by how nauseated they were and how clean the carpet
and floor were, they must have been at it for hours. “The lot of you need to
leave this room immediately.”
While the maids looked relieved at the very notion,
one of them spoke up. “Mrs. Warren told us we wasn’t to stop until it was
clean enough to eat off. And knowing her we might have to prove it.”
“And I am telling you that Mrs. Warren’s wishes do not
signify in this matter. I have the authority of the Crown.”
“You’re sure that’s higher than Mrs. Warren?” asked
the same girl dubiously. “Because she could sack us.”
“I am quite certain. Now leave this room and close
the door behind you.”
Once the maids had left and Alex had told Havers to
join them, he looked around the room. It was as clean and orderly as if guests
were expected for a ball. There were no signs of a struggle. And while the
blood stains were still partially visible, the well-trained maids had worked
hard at their task. It was almost impossible to tell how much blood there had
been and where it had sprayed. There was no indication of where Pierce had
lain. There was no weapon in sight.
He checked his notes to see that none had been found
upon discovery of the body.
That, at least, was interesting. If Mrs. Pierce had
been the one to kill her husband in a fit of rage, the weapon would likely
still be there. If it had been pre-meditated and she’d had time to dispose of
the weapon, why would she have returned to the scene and allowed herself to be
discovered there? It wouldn’t be the first time a criminal had acted
irrationally. But it was odd, given the supposed open-and-shut nature of the
“How dare you send my maids away!” Mrs. Warren
entered the study in a huff, accompanied by a tall, thin man who all but
cowered behind her.
“As I told you, Mrs. Warren, I am here to learn what I
can about this case. Is this your husband?”
Mrs. Warren turned to the man behind her as if as an
afterthought. “Yes, this is Mr. Warren. He is most displeased that you have
interrupted our cleaning.”
Mr. Warren said nothing. He simply continued to
“Why are you in such a rush to put things to rights,
madam?” asked Alex. “After all, this is not your residence.”
“It is, now.”
“Really? I would assume it is Mrs. Pierce’s.”
“A technicality for the time being. Once she is
hanged, the property will revert to the family.”
“If she is hanged.”
“And it is your job to see that justice is done, is it
not? Poor Clarence would want us to be here to see to his things.”
“Where is Mr. Pierce’s body? I assume this is where
the viewing will be?”
Now Mrs. Warren looked uncomfortable. “There will be
no viewing. We couldn’t very well have one after such a violent death. And I
cannot imagine anyone would want to enter a murder house.”
From what Alex knew of the
, he reckoned
there would be a line of gawkers stretching around the block waiting for a
chance to see the site where Clarence Pierce had been killed. “Yet you have no
qualms about living here?”
“Of course not. It will bring me closer to the spirit
of my dear brother. And now that Winifred has been charged, we have no fear of
being murdered in our sleep.”
“And if she is not convicted and returns to this
house? According to my files, it appears she would inherit this house and
Pierce’s fortune. I cannot imagine it would be comfortable for all of you to
share a residence.”
“Again, Lewis, it is your job to see her hanged.”
“It is my job to see that justice is done. And that
is why I need to get back to it, though there is not as much to examine here as
I had hoped. I ask again, where is Mr. Pierce’s body?”
Mr. Warren’s eyelid began twitching and even Mrs.
Warren looked nervous. “I imagine it is, even now, being entombed at our
family’s mausoleum on our country estate,” she said.
“Pardon me?” Alex hoped he’d misheard the woman.
“We decided that poor Clarence deserved to go home. A
final journey for a man who loved to travel. We shall, of course, have a proper
service when we return home. But we thought this was the best thing for him.
Didn’t we, Mr. Warren?”
“Yes, Mrs. Warren,” said her dutiful husband.
Alex watched the two of them without speaking. It was
one of his favorite tactics to learn if a person had something to hide. An
innocent person would usually be uneasy with the silence. A guilty one would
often be calm. In this case, Mrs. Warren stood there stone-faced, while her husband
“Your estate must be very close for this to happen so
quickly,” said Alex. “Just when did Mr. Pierce begin his final journey?”
“Shortly after midnight,” said Mr. Warren.
“We thought it would be best for the body to avoid the
heat of the day,” said his wife.
“The weather is quite cold,” said Alex. “Even at
“I do not see why the weather is any of your concern.
Now, if you have concluded your business, you may leave.” It was a frank
“But I have not concluded my business.”