Was a certain widow connected to some of the highest families on the land seen cavorting on the Great North Road with a retired army officer recently ascended to a viscountcy?
Dear Readers, we can assure you that we have eye witness accounts to confirm the shocking truth.
We speak, of course, of Mrs. C., widow of the Laird of G., a captain in our navy who died a hero’s death three years ago, defending the shores of our beloved country. All witnesses confirm that she and the viscount in the case were alone for several days, perhaps as much as a week, sharing the same carriage and staying at the same inns.
What, do you suppose, will her sponsor and godmother, the Duchess of H., make of that?
You will recall, dear Readers, the Vile Viscount whose death late last year came as a relief to all of his creditors and his dependents, not least to his third wife, who lost no time in escaping, with her daughters, from the monster’s lair. Perhaps Mrs. C. believes that the new Lord R. does not share his brother’s foul nature. Let us hope for her sake that she is correct.
The Realm of Silence
(Book 3 in the Golden Redepenning series: release date 22 May 2018)
“I like not only to be loved, but also to be told I am loved… the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave.” George Eliot
When Susan Cunningham’s daughter disappears from school, her pleasant life as a fashionable, dashing, and respectable widow is shattered. Amy is reported to be chasing a French spy up the Great North Road, and when Susan sets out in pursuit she is forced to accept help from the last person she wants: her childhood friend and adult nemesis, Gil Rutledge.
Gil Rutledge has loved Susan since she was ten and he a boy of twelve. He is determined to oblige her by rescuing her daughter. And if close proximity allows them to rekindle their old friendship, even better. He has no right to ask for more.
Gil and Susan must overcome danger, mystery, ghosts from the past, and their own pride before their journey is complete.
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“Gil, can I trouble you to escort me to the Academy?” Susan continued, and Gil had agreed before he thought about how it might look. He quelled his doubts, but they returned fourfold when he descended from washing in his room just behind two gossipmongers who were quacking about a notorious widow and her escapades on the Great North Road. “She travelled all that way with a Rutledge, dear. Need I say more?”
The other protested. “But not the Vile Viscount, Millie. This is the younger brother. One of Wellington’s war heroes, and a family friend of the Redepennings. It is only natural he would offer his help to the sister of his friend.”
Gil should make his presence known, but a perverse need to hear the worst consumed him, and he stopped just above a turn in the stairs to listen.
“A war hero he may be. I say nothing to that. But a man may be brave, and still be a killer and a villain. They say the Vile Viscount killed his first wife, and perhaps his second—though…” the speaker paused, clearly determined if reluctant to be fair… “she may have died in childbed, I suppose. Certainly, his third must be glad he is dead, poor little thing.”
If Gil had been his unknown sister-in-law, he would have danced on Gideon’s grave out of sheer relief, though running away as she did was a practical step, he supposed.
The second woman was still fighting his corner. “The new Lord Rutledge is accepted everywhere, Millie. You know perfectly well that his brother was barred from all but the lowest of places.”
Millie was not impressed by the argument, her harrumph expressing both scorn and disbelief. “The influence of his friends. And look at what friends, Lettie! The Redepennings! Rakes to a man and a woman. Why Countess Chirbury is a Selby, and they are as bad as the Rutledges. And Renshaw married a madwoman, who killed her first husband. I had it from her own sister! The apple does not fall far from the tree, Lettie. Susan Cunningham may walk very high in the instep, but she is no better than a trollop, travelling alone with a Rutledge.”
“Enough,” Gil said, quietly, making them both jump.
Millie was the first to recover, drawing herself up to her full height, still a full head shorter than Gil, even after he rounded her to stand one stair below, blocking her way to the inn’s next floor. He fixed her with his best Colonel Rock Ledge glare.
“Do I know you, sir?” she demanded, haughtily.
“No, madam, you do not. Nor do you know my friends, although you do appear to have a passing acquaintance with my brother.”
“Then you are interrupting a private conversation,” she informed him, and flapped both hands at him as if he were an importunate chicken that could be scared into a scurried retreat. “Go away. I do not speak with men to whom I have not been introduced.”
“Your name, madam?” He asked the second lady, a hint of command infusing the words so that she had introduced herself as ‘Mrs Robert Fenhaven, and this is my friend, Miss Stenhouse.”
Gil ignored Miss Stenhouse’s hissed protest to her friend and bowed. “I am Rutledge, Mrs Fenhaven, and I have a particular interest in a conversation about myself, in which I and my friends are made the subject of scurrilous and evil lies.”
Mrs Fenhaven paled, and Miss Stenhouse coloured but rallied. “Those who eavesdrop seldom hear good of themselves.”
“Those who spread lies about prominent members of Society seldom prosper,” he countered. “I do not know you, Miss Stenhouse, and I do not care to further the acquaintance. I very much doubt that you are personally known to any of the people whose names you freely malign in an open stairway of a public inn. However, I am confident that Mrs Cunningham and the other ladies of her family can find out all about you, your family, your connections, and any skeletons in your family tree.”
“Are you threatening me?” The stance was still belligerent, but the slight quaver in the voice suggested uncertainty, and Mrs Fenhaven was gabbling apologies as fast as her tongue could wag.
Gil nodded, gravely. “Not a threat, precisely, madam. Consider it, instead, a promise. I have spent my entire adult life defending my country, as Mrs Fenhaven has pointed out. I will defend my friends from any attack, including those by ignorant muckrakers spreading false rumours. I promise you, Miss Stenhouse, you would be wise to keep your ill-informed opinions to yourself.”
Mrs Fenhaven was whispering urgently to Miss Stenhouse, who had deflated like the silly hen she was, her eyes glancing everywhere except at Gil, as if seeking a way to leave the battlefield with dignity.
Gil took pity on the poor friend, and stepped to one side, allowing them to pass, Mrs Fenhaven curtseying slightly and saying, in a harried tone, “So nice to meet you, my lord, at least it would have been… oh dear, oh Millie, how could you.”
In the private parlour Lord Henry had ordered for their meal, the rest of his party was already gathered, but after they had eaten and the nursemaid had taken the children upstairs to get their coats for their outing, he told Lord Henry and Susan about the encounter. Susan was scornful. “I’ve never heard of the woman, and I doubt she knows anyone who matters, Rutledge. She cannot harm me or mine. Though I would have paid pounds for a ringside seat on her dressing down. I am sure she must have been shaking in her shoes.”
Gil was less inclined to be amused. “Unfortunately, I doubt I’ve spiked her guns, and she is only one, besides. We can’t deny that we did travel together, and alone, and though you and I know it was in all innocence, people will believe what they will.”
He cast an anxious glance at Lord Henry. “I am sorry, general.”
“No apology required, my boy. Susan has told me how you looked after her; yes, and found and rescued Amy, too.”
Susan made a small delicate noise of disgust. “Apologies, indeed. Are you sorry you came with me, Rutledge? I was going anyway, as you full well know, and while I am fully conscious of what I owe you, I do not appreciate the suggestion that either you or my father controls my behaviour.”
Gil had to smile at that, a wry twist of the lips. No one controlled his goddess. She was a force of nature. Nonetheless, he could not be as blithe about the rumours as her. “Perhaps I should take the children to see the playing fields, and the General should come with you to the school, Susan. My presence will only add fuel to the fire of the rumours.”
Susan shook her head. “Your absence, when you are known to be in Cambridge, will look like guilt, Gil. Be damned to the rumourmongers. I would appreciate your escort.”
Gil glanced at Lord Henry, who said, “Susan is right. The only way to deal with rumours is to act as if you have done nothing at all of which to be ashamed.”
Susan gave a deep sigh. “There. You have the agreement of the male head of my family. Satisfied, Rutledge?”
Even Gil, who had lived in an almost entirely male world since he was a schoolboy, knew better than to give an honest answer to that. “It shall be as you wish, Susan.”