A Gentleman in Search of a Wife
The Lord Julian Mysteries--Book Five
Book 5 in the Lord Julian Mysteries series
Lord Julian Caldicott accepts a request to search for the missing wife of Mr. John Tait. Evelyn Tait disappeared five years ago, and as Julian attempts to follow a cold trail, he meets with resistance, lies, and suspicion from those who should seek most eagerly to aid him. Matters grow more complicated when the investigation drives a wedge of silence between Julian and his dear friend Hyperia West.
Julian battles his own past, unexpected enemies, and Hyperia’s disapproving brother while searching for the prodigal wife, and just when he’s tempted to give up in disgust, he realizes the lady is in serious danger. She needs not only to be found, but also to be rescued from imminent peril, no matter the cost to Julian or to the dreams he’s dared to begin to cherish.
Enjoy An Excerpt
“You have to help him, Julian.” Hyperia West put her plea to me quietly. “John Tait is one of my oldest friends, and he can’t ask anybody else for this sort of assistance.”
We strolled along Caldicott Hall’s lime alley, the ground beneath our boots dotted with golden leaves. The time of year was sweet, also sad—my only surviving brother was soon to take ship for an extended tour of the Continent. The closer Arthur’s departure date came, the more melancholy my mood grew.
“The estimable Mr. Tait is not, in fact, asking me to aid him, my dear. You are putting his case to me in his stead.”
At first glance, Hyperia West was an unremarkable specimen. A trifle too abundantly curved for current fashion, medium height, medium brown hair, and getting long in the tooth by Mayfair’s matchmaking standards.
I nonetheless loved her dearly, and if I did take an interest in Mr. Tait’s situation, I’d do so because Hyperia expected it of me, rather than out of any noble generosity on my part.
“John has his pride,” she said. “I assured him he could trust your discretion.”
If so, he’d be trusting the discretion of a former officer whom most of society regarded as a traitor. “What is the urgency, Hyperia? You tell me Tait’s wife has been missing for years. Why does her doting husband wait until now to investigate her fate?”
We walked along in the afternoon sunshine, leaves crunching underfoot, a gentle breeze riffling the lush autumn grass.
“I suspect John is finally ready to move forward,” Hyperia said. “Some of his habitual sorrow has left him. He blames himself for Evelyn’s departure, and the guilt has been a heavy burden, but I sense he’s focused more on the future lately, and less on the past.
As was I, oddly enough. “How long have you known him?”
“Since childhood. Our mamas are old friends. His mama is my godmother. You know how that works.”
My own godmother, Lady Ophelia Oliphant, was a frequent guest at Caldicott Hall. Godmama was a terror when it came to society’s secrets and foibles, and she could be blunt to a fault when dispensing advice. She also served as Hyperia’s nominal chaperone, and thus I rubbed along with Godmama as best I could.
I dreaded the day when I had Caldicott Hall to myself, if such a thing could be said about an edifice with sixty rooms, and staff sufficient to keep them all dusted.
“I will discuss the matter with Tait,” I said. “I’m not promising I can find the lady, but I’ll hear what Tait has to say. I assume he’s petitioning the courts to have his wife declared dead?”
“I don’t know as she’s been gone long enough, Jules. That aside, litigation is an expensive proposition and the courts drag their feet for years. John is almost certain that Evelyn met an untimely death. He believes she would have written, if not come home, if she’d been able to. They were very much in love, but two strong personalities can clash, especially two strong, proud personalities.”
Despite my low spirits, questions began to swirl in my mind: Had Evelyn left a note? What had she and her spouse quarreled about if a spat had precipitated her flight? Where had John Tait searched for her? Where else might she have found a safe refuge? Did she speak any foreign languages? How much coin had she taken with her?
Had Tait murdered his wife, and was he only now going through the farce of investigating her disappearance because incriminating evidence was no longer a worry?
As a former recognizance officer, I had a penchant for assembling observable facts into theories. Why was the priest the only stout person in a poor village? Was he perhaps augmenting his meagre income by informing against his parishioners? Why did a woman who claimed to be illiterate have pencil, paper, and a radical pamphlet in her reticule?
Those sorts of observations.
Since coming home from Waterloo nearly a year ago, I’d turned my investigative abilities to discreetly solving the problems that vexed polite society. A missing heir, a missing prize hound, the provenance of a small boy—my own nephew as it happened—left to fend for himself in a disobliging world…
I wasn’t defeating the French Army single-handedly, but I was fighting a war of my own against gossip and slander. I had not betrayed my country, my command, or my late brother Harry. I refused to oblige malicious whisperers by fading from society when there were puzzles to be solved.
Besides that, I enjoyed the challenge of ferreting out truths that malefactors preferred to keep hidden.
“So I’m to find proof that Evelyn Tait has been gathered to her reward, preferably by natural causes?” I asked.
“Or find Evelyn Tait.”
I paused to regard Caldicott Hall, sitting on its slight rise on the opposite bank of the creek. My boyhood home was aging well, and yet, its simple, Palladian dignity looked lonely to me on that mellow afternoon.
Which was utter rot, of course. “How long has Evelyn been gone?”
I was a competent tracker. Had the lady been gone five days, I’d have had some cause for optimism. “Five years, Perry? I will hear what Tait has to say, but I make no promises.”
“Thank you, Jules.” Hyperia bussed my cheek and set off in the direction of the Hall.
I followed, though I wanted to tell her not to kiss me like that, no warning, no time to savor the pleasure, but then she might decide not to kiss me at all, so I kept my remonstrations to myself.
“Why the forced march back to camp?” I asked, catching up with her easily. “You haven’t given me the Town gossip, and I haven’t told you all about Arthur’s latest plans.”
“Arthur changes his itinerary as often as I change my gloves. I vow I will be relieved when he and Banter take ship. Lady Ophelia says the same.”
I would not be relieved. Not at all. I had some good memories of my time in uniform. My older brother Harry and I had frequently crossed paths, and because we’d both been reconnaissance officers, we’d had plenty in common besides the usual sibling connections. On the whole though, my time on the Continent had been grueling and lonely, even before I’d fallen into French hands.
“Lady Ophelia will follow Arthur and Banter to Paris in a few weeks,” I said, “or that’s the plan. They will send Edward home with her.” Edward being Banter’s young godson. “Will you travel with her?”
“I might. Probably not. You?”
“If I never set foot in France again, it will be too soon.”
Her steps slowed. “You are doing better Jules. You seem to gain ground with every puzzle you investigate.”
She was right—I was improving—but I still needed my blue-tinted spectacles in strong sunlight, I still had nightmares, I still lacked the stamina I’d had in uniform, and I was still prone to low moods.
“I doubt I can do much for your friend Mr. Tait,” I said, as we crossed the arched stone bridge that was rumored to date from Roman days.
“People don’t just disappear, Jules. If Evelyn is alive, I know you’ll find her.”
People did disappear. They took ship, they expired in obscure locations, they changed their names and nationalities in an afternoon, and were never heard from again. I’d done plenty of disappearing on reconnaissance in Spain and France, though that experience ought to aid me in locating Mrs. Tait.
I stopped half-way across the bridge. “Whose coach and four is that?”
“John’s. I told him to pay a friendly call. Arthur is the ranking title in the neighborhood, and His Grace is preparing to go on extended travel.”
Arthur, also styled His Grace of Waltham, was one of the leading titles in all of Britain. “Perry… if I’d declined to involve myself in what is very likely a hopeless case, the situation would been awkward.”
“But you didn’t decline, did you?”
“I still might.”
Except that I wouldn’t. Not as long as Hyperia West had put the request to me.
Mr. John Tait had climbed down from his coach. He stood at the foot of the terrace steps, his attire that of the country gentleman whose Bond Street accounts were quite current.
He was tall, broad-shouldered, and possessed of wavy dark hair and a pair of limpid blue eyes.
“My darling Hyperia.” He took both of her hands and bowed, which should have looked silly but on him appeared charming. “You truly do grow more lovely every time I see you. John Tait, my lord, at your service.”
Forward of him, to introduce himself when Hyperia was on hand to see to the courtesies.
I bowed. “Lord Julian Caldicott. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
I was lying. John Tait was so robust and hearty, so genial and composed, that I resented him on sight. He was what I had once been—an exuberantly masculine blend of innocence and arrogance. I would find his errant wife if she yet drew breath, because Hyperia had asked it of me, and because this handsome bounder had no business putting on bachelor airs when he was in fact no sort of bachelor at all.
Assuming, of course, that the lady wanted to be found.
End of Excerpt
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A Gentleman in Search of a Wife is Book 5 in the Lord Julian Mysteries series. The full series reading order is as follows:
- Book 1: A Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times •
- Book 2: A Gentleman of Dubious Reputation •
- Book 3: A Gentleman in Challenging Circumstances •
- Book 4: A Gentleman in Pursuit of Truth •
- Book 5: A Gentleman in Search of a Wife •