Lady Violet Goes for a Gallop — Book Six
Book 6 in the Lady Violet Mysteries series
Lady Violet has decided that life in noisy, crowded, busy London is simply not her cup of tea. Her search for a rural property to purchase must be set aside when she learns that Hugh St. Sevier has been accused of murder. Worse, the handsome physician is doing nothing to aid those trying to exonerate him.
Though it requires out-smarting the magistrate, enlisting the aid of Sebastian, Marquess of Dunkeld, and literally poking around in the undergrowth, Violet is determined to prove her friend’s innocence–with or without St. Sevier’s cooperation. Solving the crime also means Violet must face a few of her own demons, and find peace with a past that has proven even more vexatious than this most challenging mystery!
Enjoy An Excerpt
Lady Violet Book Six—Lady Violet Goes for a Gallop
Grief was making another assault on my household, though I had no intention of permitting such an unseemly invasion.
As a widow, I had endured the company of this same intruder for the two years of social banishment known as proper mourning. Proper hell would be a more accurate term. My husband had died suddenly, five years into a troubled marriage.
My regard for Frederick Belmaine in life had traveled a progression familiar to many veterans of the advantageous match. I’d started out full of schoolgirl glee to become Lady Violet Belmaine. I spoke my vows with a handsome, witty, urbane suitor, convinced that Freddie was equally pleased at his marital good fortune.
Little more than five years later, I buried him, long after I’d buried any dreams of a loving, devoted marriage. Freddie had been a hedonistic tomcat, though like most husbands in good society, he’d maintained a tissue of separation between his selfish pleasures and his marital duties.
He’d been a perfect gentleman as far as his peers judged such matters, but within the privacy of our union, he’d been a far from perfect spouse. I’d genuinely grieved his passing nonetheless—he’d tried, we’d both tried—though as the months of black crepe, stopped clocks, isolation, and widow’s weeds had trudged past, I’d also admitted to some guilty relief. Freddie had died far too young, cut down in the flower of young manhood, et cetera and so forth, but we had not suited.
My mourning was thus complicated, by anger, resentment, confusion, and by that damnable imp, guilt. What had begun as sadness and shock had transmogrified into melancholia and a paralyzing anxiety about even so mundane a challenge as leaving my house.
The prison I’d come to resent, the false temple to domestic accord, had taken me captive in truth. I began to dread divine services with more than usual foreboding. I made excuses to decline the quiet gatherings to which widows in second mourning were typically invited.
My maid, Lucy Hewitt, had been a staunch ally for the duration of this ordeal, and her casual mention of gossip—Lady Violet Belmaine was said to have become a recluse—had penetrated my misery sharply enough that I realized I had drifted into truly dangerous waters.
When all four of my brothers bestirred themselves to call on me within a single fortnight, I resolved to paddle back to safer shores. How exactly to do that had eluded me until I developed a closer acquaintance with Dr. Hugh St. Sevier.
Thoughts of St. Sevier were both painful and comforting, and I suspected they always would be. Hugh was French by birth. He’d come to England in childhood and been educated as a physician in Scotland. He’d crossed Spain with Wellington’s army, serving as a medical volunteer, and when hostilities with the French had finally ended, Hugh had been a gentleman of substantial means and even greater charm.
The charm was deceptive, for St. Sevier was as formidable a fellow as any heavy dragoon ever to charge Boney’s line. He’d reasoned with me, he’d flirted, he’d gently lectured, and he’d subtly challenged, all in aid of improving my spirits.
More than that, though, he’d listened to me. He’d taken quiet walks with me, first in my back garden, then around the fenced-off square my household shared with several others. He’d encouraged me to put off my weeds at the prescribed time and escorted me first on quiet morning hacks and then to a few musicales and at homes that should have been no challenge for me at all.
And yet, I’d been terrified to set foot out of my coach without the protection of a widow’s veil.
I’d lost my breakfast at the thought of having to make small talk with people I’d known for years.
Hugh had borne my fears calmly, as if every widow was entitled to strong hysterics at the thought of greeting her neighbors, and gradually, the demons of anxiety, isolation, and sadness had been banished from my house.
Now Hugh, who had become confidant, friend, and then lover, was lost to me. I had granted him permission to court me, an gesture of enormous trust, given the lamentable facts of my first marriage.
I knew Hugh had married in Spain, a union of expedience and gallantry occasioned when a young lady following the drum had lost her husband. Her choices had been to become a camp follower or to marry the handsome French doctor, and I did not blame her for taking the latter option. Unless a woman was one of a few officers’ wives enrolled with the regiment, she was very much cast on her own devices should her soldier perish.
The marriage had been inauspicious in all particulars, and yet, I had the sense Hugh had done his best by his young wife, such as a man battling impossible medical challenges in the midst of war could. Ann had lasted less than a year before deserting him, and he’d been told she’d died at the hands of a French patrol.
She had not died, and she had borne St. Sevier a child, or so she’d claimed when she had most inconveniently turned up barely a month past, at a gathering at my family seat to which St. Sevier had escorted me.
Hugh and Ann might have gone their separate ways, quietly turning their backs on a wartime union that had served neither of them as intended.
But there was that child, a solemn little girl with Hugh’s brows and her mother’s flaming red hair. The Hugh St. Sevier I esteemed would never abandon that child and would never legally set aside her mother.
I had resented Freddie for playing the part of the gentleman. I resented Hugh for being a gentleman in truth—and I loved him for it too.
I also missed him. I missed him as the companion who’d made my travels over the past year both interesting and pleasant. I missed him as a wise friend was missed, and I missed him sorely as an affectionate and skilled lover was missed.
I missed him in that regard a very great deal. In the short weeks during which we’d been intimate, I’d learned much, about tenderness and joy, about how physical and emotional closeness could complement and reinforce each another. I had allowed Hugh into my bed, and he had allowed me into his heart.
Five years of marriage to Freddie hadn’t encompassed one-tenth the wonder of a few weeks as Hugh St. Sevier’s lover. If I lived to a biblical age, I would remain in St. Sevier’s debt for confirming that my marriage had been a pathetic excuse for a relationship compared to what a relationship could be.
There was nothing wrong with me, in other words. I had needed Hugh St. Sevier’s regard to show me that.
“You are brooding.” Lucy set down a tea tray, though I had not rung for tea, and a lady’s maid did not typically step and fetch for the kitchen.
“I am thinking,” I replied.
“About him. You’re mourning.” Lucy checked the strength of the tea, then poured me a cup, adding a drizzle of honey. The soothing scent of jasmine wafted to my nose, and I realized I had missed luncheon.
“St. Sevier is not dead, Lucy.” Though I felt all over again as if a part me had died. A precious, fragile, joyous part. “If you intend to be so impertinent as to intrude on my solitude and accuse me of brooding, then you can say his name.”
“He’s worse than dead,” Lucy said, adding a tea cake to my saucer. “He’s married.”
Lucy and I were overly familiar, and I thanked God nightly for her presumption. She was blond, a few years younger than I, sturdily built, and she did not suffer foolishness, most especially from her employer.
She’d opened the door to St. Sevier when I’d insisted I wasn’t home to callers. She’d trimmed my second mourning clothes with white lace when I’d told her I wanted no adornments. She’d brought flowers into the house and seen me bathed and dressed when I had been brooding in truth.
In her way, Lucy was fierce and wise, and I owed her much. She was also impertinent, saucy, and honest, for which I owed her even more.
“St. Sevier is not only married,” I said, “he has a daughter, and that is an end to the matter.”
“Did he know?” She moved about my private parlor, rearranging pillows on the fainting couch, tidying up the writing implements on the escritoire. Lucy had the knack of making any space orderly and comfortable, though she did not have the gift of silence.
“He had no clue,” I said. “He caught a glimpse of Ann in Perth, but Scotland is full of red-haired women, and he told himself his imagination was playing tricks.” Imaginations did that. After Freddie’s death, I’d thought I’d heard his voice, thought I’d seen him on the street. I’d caught a whiff of his pipe tobacco when his study had long since been aired.
Ghosts might not walk the earth, but they certainly stalked the mind.
“Why not send the lady back to Scotland or to France?” Lucy asked, giving the sofa cushion a hard swat.
“She is his wife, and he is a gentleman. They might well remove to France, but that is none of my business.” Hugh had asked for permission to correspond with me, but I had not seen any point to such a connection. If he and Ann were to make a go of their marriage, then letters to me could not aid that cause.
And yet, I longed to know how he was managing, longed to know that he was well. Longed to know even where he bided.
“It’s not right,” Lucy said, swiping a finger down the length of the mantel. My lady’s maid was, in fact, inspecting the work of the housekeeper and parlor maids.
“It’s not convenient,” I replied. “But St. Sevier loves children, and it’s to Ann’s credit that she did not keep the child from him once she knew how to find him.”
“Took her blessed time finding him, if you ask me. She couldn’t simply send a letter to Horse Guards asking his whereabouts?”
That very question had occurred to me, but my brother Felix, who had also served in Spain, had had a damnably credible answer.
“Firstly, Horse Guards is besieged with such letters, and between poor spelling, bad penmanship, and a lack of proper documentation at headquarters, half of those letters go unanswered. Secondly, St. Sevier was a gentleman volunteer serving in a medical capacity, and Horse Guards did not keep such close track of those volunteers. They had their own chain of command, and documentation did not figure heavily in its priorities. Thirdly, I suspect Ann was ashamed to have left her husband, and a woman ashamed often makes regrettable choices.”
I knew that eternal verity firsthand.
“Drink your tea, my lady, and have something to eat. If you start skipping meals, I will not answer for the consequences.”
Meaning Lucy would notify my family, which now included two sisters-by-marriage. While my brothers and father might not know how to contend with a woman nigh jilted at the altar, the Deerfield womenfolk were made of sterner stuff.
“You are concerned for me,” I said, dutifully picking up a sandwich. “I appreciate that, but I have no intention of permitting myself a decline.”
She sent me a baleful look over her shoulder as she rearranged books on the shelves behind the desk. “You permitted yourself the last one? Woke up one fine Tuesday and decided to stop eating, stop leaving the house, stop talking?”
Lucy’s bluntness was like a tonic—unpleasant but fortifying. “I admit it was bad, but I know better now. St. Sevier taught me better, and that is a gift I get to keep, even as I must let other treasures go.”
Those putridly gracious words brought a lump to my throat. Hugh had said tears could be healing, but I suspected the embrace of a true friend was the more effective balm.
“If you go all noble on me, my lady, I will give notice. The whole situation is rotten, and I wish you’d take a mind to return to Scotland. You were happy there. Had roses in your cheeks, and I even heard you laugh a time or two.”
St. Sevier and I had become lovers in Scotland, and I did not think I could bear to return there for some time.
“I am contemplating travel, Lucy.”
She left off rearranging my books. “To France?”
“Not to France, to Kent, or Berkshire, or someplace in the Home Counties where I can buy a small manor house. I have not been happy in London, and maintaining this address is expensive.”
The family seat of the Earls of Derwent was in Surrey. My dear mama was buried there. My two nieces and infant nephew were in Surrey. My four brothers and—lest the obvious be overlooked—my father were in Surrey.
“I’ll look elsewhere first.”
Lucy stared past my shoulder, her mind clearly already taken up with packing and other preparations. “How long will we be gone, and when do we leave?”
If I intended to inspect several properties, I’d be away from London for several weeks, at least. My solicitors had given me a list, and while none of the prospective homes was ideal, they all conformed to my most pressing requirements: a commodious house in good repair within a short journey of Town.
Henry, my first footman, rapped his knuckles on the doorjamb. “Beg pardon, my lady, but you’ve had an express.”
An express letter was seldom good news. Henry passed me the letter and hovered while I slit the seal. I did not recognize the hand, which was legible and without flourishes, nor did I recognize the specific direction in Kent. The message was brief—and as shocking for the signature as for the news it bore.
Henry and Lucy were both watching me, doubtless concerned that bad news now would send me tumbling back into melancholia or worse.
My days of passively enduring black moods were behind me, if I had anything to say to it, and I did.
“Henry, please tell John Coachman to ready the traveling coach. We will be journeying to Kent with all due haste. We leave as soon as Lucy can have me packed and ready to go.”
End of Excerpt
Lady Violet Goes for a Gallop — Book Six is Book 6 in the Lady Violet Mysteries series. The full series reading order is as follows:
Book 1: Lady Violet Investigates — Book One • Book 2: Lady Violet Attends a Wedding — Book Two • Book 3: Lady Violet Finds a Bridegroom — Book Three • Book 4: Lady Violet Enjoys a Frolic — Book Four • Book 5: Lady Violet Holds a Baby — Book Five • Book 6: Lady Violet Goes for a Gallop — Book Six • Book 7: Lady Violet Pays a Call — Book Seven • Book 8: Lady Violet Says I Do •