Gentle Readers will no doubt recall the tragic Death of the sixth Viscount Fieldhurst last Spring, and the Criminal Investigation which followed. It has recently been brought to our Attention that his lordship’s Grieving Widow has repaired to her childhood Home in Somersetshire. But rumor has it that she did not go alone.
According to our Sources, the former Lady Fieldhurst (last seen at Drury Lane Theatre on the night of the Fire, in the company of an Unidentified Man) has remarried, and a scant ten Months after the shocking Murder of her First Husband. Her new husband (and we would find this very Hard to Believe had the information not come from an Unimpeachable Source) is none other than the Bow Street Runner who brought her first husband’s Killer to Justice.
Her Departure from London is ostensibly for the Purpose of introducing said New Husband to her Parents (one would Love to be a Fly on the Wall during that Conversation), but one suspects it is in Reality an attempt to Escape the Scandal that is sure to follow hard on the Heels of her recent Nuptials.
While the young Man is undoubtedly Handsome (if it was in fact he who accompanied her to the Theatre on that Fateful Night) and she is undoubtedly—and quite Properly—Grateful to him for his Efforts following her husband’s Death, her Fall in the eyes of Society will be Swift and Sure, and should serve as an Example and a Warning to all Young Ladies who might be tempted to Succumb to a Pleasing Countenance and an Engaging Manner.
For Deader or Worse
After a modest wedding ceremony, Bow Street Runner John Pickett and his bride Julia, the former Lady Fieldhurst, set out for a wedding trip to Somersetshire, where Pickett must face his greatest challenge yet: meeting his in-laws.
Sir Thaddeus and Lady Runyon are shocked at their daughter’s hasty remarriage—and appalled by her choice of a second husband. Pickett, for his part, is surprised to learn that Julia once had an elder sister: Claudia, Lady Buckleigh, disappeared thirteen years earlier, leaving no trace beyond a blood-soaked shawl. When Sir Thaddeus confides that his wife is convinced Claudia’s spirit now haunts her childhood home, Pickett sees a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of Julia’s family. He agrees to investigate and, hopefully, lay the Runyon “ghost,” whoever—or whatever—it is.
Matters take a grisly turn when Sir Thaddeus’s groom is discovered with his throat slit. The timing could hardly be worse, for the whole village is aflutter with the news that Lord Buckleigh has brought home a new bride, just when Major James Pennington, the vicar’s son who was Claudia’s childhood sweetheart, has returned on leave from war in the Peninsula. The major was apparently the last person to see Claudia alive, and Pickett is convinced he knows more about her disappearance than he’s telling. Suddenly it seems the distant past is not so distant, after all. It may not even be past . . .
They set out at first light, and although Pickett was in agony after three hours due to the injury he had sustained escaping the fire, he resisted Julia’s efforts to dose him with laudanum, determined to be awake and alert when he made his bow to the squire and his lady. Julia at last prevailed by offering to slide to the end of the seat and let him rest his head on her lap. It made for a tight fit, with his bum wedged against the outer wall of the carriage and his long legs stretched out on the seat opposite, but he rather liked the warmth of her thigh beneath his cheek, and there was something wonderfully soothing about the rhythmic caress of her fingers as she stroked his hair. . .
Thus it was that, when the post chaise turned off the road onto the long drive to Runyon Hall, Julia was obliged to shake her husband by the shoulder in order to rouse him.
“John? Wake up, darling, we’re almost there.”
“What?” Pickett sat up, frantically straightening his cravat and raking his fingers through his untidy curls. “You should have wakened me an hour ago!”
“Nonsense! You needed the rest,” Julia insisted.
And so it was that Pickett descended the post chaise a short time later flushed and disheveled from sleep. Furthermore, as he helped Julia disembark, he noticed on her skirts a small damp spot which he very much feared was his own drool.
“The squire is going to kill me,” he muttered under his breath.
“I beg your pardon?”
He shook his head. “Never mind.”
She sailed up the front stairs with the ease of long familiarity, then raised the iron door knocker and let it fall.
“Good evening, Miss Julia,” said the butler who answered, opening his eyes wider at the sight of the recently widowed daughter of the house arriving with a tall young man in tow.
“Good evening, Parks,” she replied. “I trust Mama and Papa received my letter?”
“Indeed they did.” The butler inclined his head. “Your lady mother ordered dinner to be held back for your arrival.”
“Excellent! Are they in the drawing room, then? We shall go to them at once. You need not announce us.”
Since he could not have announced them in any case without first being informed as to her companion’s designation, Parks merely bowed his acquiescence. Julia took Pickett’s arm and steered him across the hall, stopping in the doorway of a cheerful salon decorated for comfort as well as fashion, with a sofa and two overstuffed wing chairs arranged about an Adam fireplace over which hung a rural landscape executed by the hand of a skillful amateur.
At the sound of her voice, the squire (whom Pickett recognized from their brief meeting in London almost a year earlier) cast aside his sporting journal and rose to welcome his adored child, his jovial greeting dying on his lips as he realized she was not alone. In the chair adjacent, a frail little woman laid down her embroidery and regarded her daughter with an expression of bewildered disbelief that exactly mirrored her husband’s.
Julia took a deep breath. “Mama, Papa, I should like you to meet Mr. John Pickett”—her fingers, which had been tucked into the curve of Pickett’s elbow, slid down his forearm to cling tightly to his hand—“my husband.”
A moment of stunned silence greeted this pronouncement. Pickett, finding himself the object of two penetrating and far from admiring gazes, addressed his beloved under his breath.
“You didn’t tell them?”
“I thought it would be better done in person,” Julia murmured.
“But you wrote a letter—”
“I told them I was bringing a surprise,” she offered, half hopefully and half apologetically.
Pickett sighed. “I suppose that’s one way of putting it.”
Lady Runyon, whose cool composure few circumstances had the power to disturb for long, found her tongue at last. “Well, Julia, this is very sudden,” she said in a voice that shook only slightly, as she crossed the room to kiss her daughter’s cheek.
To her new son-in-law she offered her hand, and Pickett, correctly surmising that any attempt to raise it to his lips would be seen as either toad-eating or impertinence, contented himself with pressing her fingers with what he hoped was the correct degree of respectful deference.
“Damme, I know who you are!” exclaimed Sir Thaddeus, who up to that point had been puzzling over where he might have seen this vaguely familiar young man before. “You’re that fellow from Bow Street!”
“Yes, sir,” Pickett said, sketching a bow. He would have expressed his pleasure in meeting Sir Thaddeus under happier circumstances, but his tongue was bridled by the realization that Sir Thaddeus was unlikely to view his daughter’s unequal marriage in such sanguine terms.
Meet Sheri Cobb Smith
Amazon Bestselling Author Sheri Cobb South is the author of more than twenty books. In addition to the award-winning John Pickett mystery series, she has written a number of Regency romances, including the critically acclaimed The Weaver Takes a Wife. Her works have been translated into five languages, released in large print and audio editions, and recorded by the Library of Congress for its Books for the Blind program. She and her husband live in Loveland, Colorado—an excellent town for a writer of romantic novels to call home.