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Readers who have been with me from the beginning know that the original series name was the "Lady Wynwood series," but the name changed to the "Lady Wynwood's Spies series." You can read on my blog about why the name and the series structure changed.

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Lady Wynwood's Spies, volume 1: Archer

Part one in a Christian Regency Romantic Adventure epic serial novel with a supernatural twist
Lady Wynwood’s Spies series, volume 1

She met him again by shooting him.

After four seasons and unmarried because she is taller than most of her dance partners, Miss Phoebe Sauber receives the shocking news that she is being callously banished from her father’s estate because he is remarrying. Feeling betrayed by her father and by God, and wanting to escape her family’s presence, she attends an archery tournament with her friends.

But her perfect aim fails her, and her arrow hits a piece of paper held by Mr. Michael Coulton-Jones, whom she hasn’t seen much in society in several years. But strangely, her arrow tears a section of the paper with a partial symbol that looks eerily familiar to her.

He met her again while searching for a killer.

Michael had quit his work as a spy for the Foreign Office when his brother was poisoned. His search for the murderer leads him to Apothecary Jack, a criminal underworld leader with a penchant for poisons, who is gathering a powerful army through an alchemical potion that can give men supernatural strength.

But his path unexpectedly crosses again with Miss Sauber, who saves him from a trap laid by Jack. She and her Aunt Laura, Lady Wynwood, have found a vital connection to Apothecary Jack and the mysterious group he works for.

Now Michael, who had vowed to never again allow civilians to come to harm, must work with a nobleman keeping dangerous secrets, a human lie detector, a chemist, a fellow former spy, and the one woman he’s never allowed himself to get close to.

And it is only this ragtag group that stands against a traitorous organization that could enable Napoleon to conquer the world.

PLEASE NOTE: This is the first book in the Lady Wynwood’s Spies series, an epic serial novel. Each volume has a completed story arc, but this is NOT a stand-alone novel and ends on a cliffhanger.

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Laura flung open the door. She had intended to appear bland and genial to the man standing there, but at the sight of him, she stabbed him with a freezing gaze that should have turned him into an icicle on the spot.

Mr. Solomon Drydale’s chocolate-brown eyes blinked back at her. He did stiffen in surprise and shiver in his greatcoat, but that may have been the unusually sharp spring wind that sliced through the streets of London today. “Laura.” He took a small step back to the edge of the front step. “Not hiding a pistol in your skirts, are you?”

--Excerpt from Lady Wynwood's Spies, volume 1: Archer by Camille Elliot

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Excerpt

Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 1: Archer



A Christian Regency Romantic Adventure serial novel

Camille Elliot



Copyright © 2020 Camy Tang
eBook: ISBN-13: 978-1-942225-21-8
Print book: ISBN-13: 978-1-942225-22-5

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)


Nightmare



The young girl huddled at the top of the stairs, listening to the sounds from the floor below. Her uncle had been shouting loudly, but she hadn’t been able to make out the words. She heard women shrieking—her aunt, and her aunt’s maid, Aya—and then crying.

Then abruptly there had been a few minutes of strange quiet, as if the house were holding its breath.

Now the floors below echoed with the footsteps of many servants, speaking low, urgent words.

The girl often stayed overnight at her aunt’s house, because while her uncle usually ignored her, her aunt cosseted her and gave her the affection she lacked at home. Therefore the girl knew there was an unusual amount of hurried activity for so late at night—it was nearly midnight, and she had woken up because of the noise. But now, there was no more of her uncle’s shouting.

The girl clung to the banister as she sat on the step. She should return to the nursery at the end of the hallway behind her, but she couldn’t move from this spot, not quite disobeying the orders of Jane, the maid who had been assigned to care for her. When she woke, Jane had ordered her to stay and then rushed downstairs.

The girl had often complained to her aunt that at nearly eleven years old, she was too old to stay in the nursery and deserved a proper guest bedchamber, but now she was glad she had had Jane nearby when they heard the shouting start.

Despite the unusual bustle of so many servants, surely no one was actually injured? If there were, there would be more wailing and shock, surely?

Light footsteps raced up the stairs, and before she could get up and return to the nursery, Jane appeared at the turn in the staircase and saw her through the banister. “I didn’t think you’d stay put, but at least you didn’t come downstairs.”

“What has happened?”

“Nothing to worry you, poppet.” Jane sat down next to her on the step and placed an arm around her. “There was an accident, but the servants are just cleaning things up. We’ll stay up here until everything is quite done.”

Her words were calm and cheerful, but the hand on the girl’s shoulder trembled.

“Is Aunt Laura all right?”

“She will be, my darling.” Jane gave her a hug. “Now, she will be.”

Prologue



London, England, March 20th, 1811

Laura Glencowe, Lady Wynwood, had a very special talent. It was a talent she kept secret from others, although her butler and her lady’s maid probably suspected she had this ability by now after years in her service and all the things she had experienced with them.

She rarely used this talent because it required so much effort to set up, and so much intense concentration on her part. But now was a time to use it, because her anger was hotter than the glowing poker in the fireplace of the drawing room at her snug townhouse.

The problem was that her anger made her talent more unreliable, and she had to calm herself before he arrived. She sat on her sofa and sipped the strong, hot tea the maid had delivered to her. She noticed that the cook had included some of the seed cakes that were Sol’s favorite treat, but Laura covered the plate with a cloth napkin. Then she gave a short bark of laughter at herself. As if not offering him seed cakes was adequate punishment for what he had done.

But her efforts to compose herself didn’t seem to have been enough, because at the sound of the door knocker, she bolted from the sofa. In seconds, she descended the stairs and erupted into the entrance foyer, advancing upon the front door like a stormy ocean wave. She waved aside her butler in order to open the front door herself.

After more than two decades as her butler, Graham was too used to her unconventional mindset to attempt to adhere to propriety. With rolled eyes, he stood aside but remained in the entrance foyer, as if to remind his mistress that she was scandalously usurping his job.

Laura flung open the door. She had intended to appear bland and genial to the man standing there, but at the sight of him, she stabbed him with a freezing gaze that should have turned him into an icicle on the spot.

Mr. Solomon Drydale’s chocolate-brown eyes blinked back at her. He did stiffen in surprise and shiver in his greatcoat, but that may have been the unusually sharp spring wind that sliced through the streets of London today. “Laura.” He took a small step back to the edge of the front step. “Not hiding a pistol in your skirts, are you?”

She tilted her head and her eyebrow twitched, but her glare didn’t waver.

“Well,” he said with false heartiness. “Nice to see you back in London. I’ll be on my way …”

Calm. She must remain calm or this would be all for naught. “Mr. Drydale, do come inside.”

He remained where he stood. “Whatever I did, I apologize profusely.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Do come inside, Sol, I promise not to eat you.”

He obviously didn’t believe her because he eyed her warily as he entered, and he had the intelligence to step back and give her a wide berth as he handed his greatcoat, gloves, and hat to the butler. Graham bowed and removed himself quickly to the depths of the house. He certainly wasn’t stupid enough to stay and be caught in the crossfire.

Laura led the way upstairs to the drawing room and then pointed to a chair sitting alone where she had set it some feet away from the sofa. The chair looked odd because it was clear of any other furniture so that she would have an unimpeded view of his entire body, not simply his face and hands.

Sol gingerly seated himself. When Laura took the sofa directly across from him—the farthest seat from him in the room—he seemed relieved.

She took a deep breath in order to settle her mind and focus her concentration. If she offered him a cup of tea, would it hinder or help her? This was usually easier when her victim—er, subject was relaxed, and she could not be too rude, because Sol was stubborn enough that he’d simply shrug and go home to the warmth of his own fireplace and his cook’s own seed cakes rather than being so barbarously ill-used at Laura’s home.

“Tea?” she offered.

He eyed it. “Is it poisoned?”

“Would you believe me if I told you no?”

“No,” he answered baldly.

“No tea, then.” She took a slightly perverse satisfaction in sipping her tea while studying him.

Sol shifted in his chair in the silence. “I was surprised to receive your note today, asking me to call upon you when I had seen you only a few days ago.”

“Eighty-four hours ago, in fact.”

Sol cleared his throat. “Just so that I’m aware of the situation, are you upset with me or with something that happened while we were at Lady Meynhill’s birthday celebration?”

Her eyes narrowed at him.

He sighed and answered his own question. “Both.”

“You promised me that long discussion, did you not?”

He colored slightly but gave a smile full of all the charm he could infuse it with, including that adorable—er, lone dimple on his left cheek. “But I sent you that note as soon as I returned to town late Saturday—actually, quite early Sunday morning.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Oh. The one that said, ‘All are well. Thanks for your help this weekend.’”

“It was not that terse, surely.”

“It was nearly that terse. But it was not your letter, Sol. I realize there are certain things about which you cannot speak.” She had purposefully never spoken to him about his clandestine work for the government officials in the Home Office. She had suspected—how could she not, when she and Sol had been such close friends in the ten years since her husband died? Although she had not known about Sol’s work for the government when they had first met decades ago at her debut into society, she had observed him closely enough in the past few years to know that he was involved in some way in the government’s efforts against France’s secretive infiltration of these shores. And then his mysterious agenda at the birthday celebration this past weekend had solidified it in her mind, although he had never overtly spoken about it.

She continued, “It was the letter I just received from my cousin, Cecil.”

Laura had the satisfaction of seeing Sol’s face blush the faintest bit pink.

“Perhaps to ascertain you returned home safely? You had spent several weeks with your aunt in Northumberland directly after Christmastide with Cecil’s family, if I recall.” Sol had an innocent expression, but it was obvious that he knew exactly what that letter had been about.

“This charming letter had been sent only a week after Twelfth Night ended, but it had gone astray on its way to Northumberland and I had left before it arrived. My aunt forwarded it to me, so I did not read it until today.”

“How tragic, the mail these days—” Sol began, but she interrupted his attempt to detour the conversation.

“Among other pieces of gossip and random complaints, Cecil also mentioned that Sir Horace Bigby accused the servants of disturbing his things. He questioned the maids, who asserted they spotted a gentleman wandering the hallways near Sir Horace’s room around the time in question. About your height, with dark, wavy hair remarkably like yours. Cecil naturally didn’t believe them and thought they were simply trying to blame a guest.”

Sol opened his mouth, but Laura cut him off. “Do not even attempt to pretend surprise, Solomon Drydale. Pray, explain why you entered the room of another guest at Wintrell Hall this past Christmas. What were you searching for?”

“Why would you think that I—”

“Do not lie to me, Sol.”

Sol hesitated, then said, “I had thought I’d seen Sir Horace speaking to that woman, Harriet, who caused such distress at the house party. After the chaos had died down, I was concerned.”

It sounded extremely convincing, but Laura, catching every minute movement of Sol’s face, hands, and body, knew immediately that this was a lie. Unfortunately, Sol was one of the best liars Laura had ever seen. She would have to be smarter in the questions she asked him. “Concerned in what way?”

“Well … perhaps she had an accomplice or other plans putting the family in more danger. There might have been evidence in Sir Horace’s room.”

“And you couldn’t leave that task to Cecil?”

“Would you leave that task to Cecil?”

She had to admit he had a point. “And did you find anything?”

“No.” He sighed. “I felt very foolish afterward.”

But why had Sol felt the need to concern himself personally in that? She continued to press him. “Did you know what Harriet had been planning?”

“Upon my honor, I did not,” Sol said quickly.

He was telling the truth—about Harriet, at least. If she had not seen a different side of him—that “Stranger-Sol”—this past weekend, she might not have thought anything of Cecil’s letter about Sir Horace, but now … She phrased her question very carefully and with great detail. “Did you go to Wintrell Hall this past Christmas in order to investigate a person of interest for whatever work you’re doing for the government?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He was very good, but she could still tell that was a complete falsehood.

“Sol!” she protested. “My family was there! How could you put them in danger?”

Sol’s demeanor was calm and placating. “Laura, I assure you I didn’t.”

“But you went there with an agenda, just as you did to the birthday celebration.”

“Laura, you are quite mistaken. This weekend, I had no notion things would turn out as they did. And I understand that you are upset that I riffled through Sir Horace’s room, but it was done out of, I admit, rather poor taste and a lack of confidence in Cecil’s abilities to thoroughly determine that there was no longer any danger to anyone else at the house party.”

His voice was smooth, but Laura didn’t need her special talent to recognize the twitch at the corner of his left eyebrow that indicated it was all a lie.

“I understand what you do is important, but people are not your chess pieces that you move around on a flat board. They interact with each other, and they bleed.”

Sol’s face had become grave. “I know that they bleed.” There was a tiredness and a sadness there that she hadn’t seen before, and she realized it was because they had never discussed this part of his life. If she had tried to press him, he would never have betrayed even a hint that he was anything else but an idle gentleman of modest fortune.

But everything changed after what had happened this past weekend. She was now aware of things he had kept hidden from her and the rest of society.

“I understand that you have to have different priorities,” she said slowly. “But … you used me, Sol.” Her voice was hollow. “You used me at Christmas to go to Wintrell Hall, and you used me this past weekend to attend the birthday celebration. Pray, do not do so again.”

The silence between them was icy cold.

Sol rose to his feet with athletic grace and gave her a short bow. “I will not. And now, I fear I must take my leave. I had only intended to stay a moment, since you had requested my presence. Unless there is something else on your mind?” His face was serene, but there was a slight coldness now, a sharp distance caused by her prying into the unspoken secrets between them, the accusations she had flung at him.

But she needed him to understand what he had done to her. She needed him to know that he must never again so casually involve her family in his clandestine activities.

In her search for answers, in her determination to protect her family, had she ruined a friendship decades in the making? The thought caused a lancing pain in her heart. And yet she would do it again. Her extended family was all she had left, since she could never have another family of her own.

Sol was not, nor could he ever be, her family.

Laura followed him silently down the stairs to the front door. Her butler arrived with Sol’s outerwear and held the greatcoat as he shrugged it on.

When Sol turned to look at her, Laura could think of nothing she could say to him, perhaps for the first time in all their years as friends. She did not want to apologize, because she was still angry that Sol had accompanied her to her family’s house party at Christmas and to the birthday celebration with ulterior motives that might have jeopardized their safety.

But deep inside her, a small voice told her that it was just her pride that kept her from speaking. So she held her hand out to him. “You have received a distinct lack of hospitality from me today, Sol, and for that, I apologize.”

He took her hand and kissed it. “Pay it no mind.” He squeezed her fingers slightly as he said, “We shall not speak of it again.”

Not speak of it again? she thought as she watched Sol exit the front door. We shall see, won’t we?

“Graham,” Laura spoke over her shoulder as she headed back up the staircase, “don’t think I didn’t miss that bulge in Mr. Drydale’s pocket. I know you slipped him some of Cook’s seed cakes.”

The only answer was a slight hesitation, then her butler gave a polite cough. “Would you like me to refresh your teapot in the drawing room, m’lady?”

“No, I would like a fresh teapot in the master bedroom.”

When her husband had died, Laura had considered selling this London townhouse. Her husband had left all unentailed land to his widow, and having no need of it, Laura had sold the majority of it to Wynwood’s heir, his cousin, who had been happy to keep as much land within the direct line of descent as possible. But this townhouse had been in a good location, and she had been loath to part with it, despite what had happened here.

Now she was glad that she could alter her home as she desired. While in Northumberland, she had sent a letter to her attorney with instructions to hire carpenters to break down the walls between the master bedroom and the adjoining dressing room. The furniture had been taken up to the attics or shoved against the walls, creating an open space nearly large enough to hold a ball. The tall windows let in rectangles of sunlight, enough to illuminate the full-length portrait of her husband, the late Lord Wynwood, that hung on the far wall.

She had originally relegated the portrait to the attics, sorely tempted to burn it. However, only this morning, she had replaced it on the wall because Wynwood’s handsome, arrogant face made a most satisfactory target.

She took up stance at the opposite end of the room next to an old, battered table—also recently brought down from the attics—that held her collection of throwing knives.

Her knife-throwing skills had improved remarkably in the past two months thanks to her tutors, her youngest maid and pageboy. Two years ago, Laura had rescued and hired a pair of very young twins who were about to be sold to a particularly unsavory brothel near the docks. While they had become quite respectable servants, they still retained their earlier skills with knives, which had helped them to survive on the streets.

When she mentioned after Christmas that she wished to learn knife throwing, Clara and Calvin, who had traveled to meet her in Northumberland along with a couple of her other servants, had been quite eager to train her. She’d practiced with tree stumps, and upon returning to London and arranging the life-sized portrait as her new target, was gratified to see how her throws found their mark in either one of Wynwood’s flared nostrils.

She picked up her favorite knife, one of seven she had recently commissioned while staying up north. The blade was thin and small, and if she could manage to construct a leather pouch or some sort of harness, she might even be able to carry these on her person with no one the wiser. She was not usually in any danger—well, perhaps she might be in a little danger when she occasionally went to Rachey Street, not a posh neighborhood by any means, but her coachman deterred anyone who may harm her there.

She took up a solid stance, aimed, and threw. The knife hit Wynwood below his left eye.

There was a knock at the door and one of the knife-throwing siblings, Clara, entered with a tray of tea. Her eye roved over Laura’s stance. “M’lady, you should strengthen your back leg for a more stable stance.”

“Yes, you mentioned that at my last tutorial, didn’t you?” Laura looked down at her legs as she adjusted her stance, then aimed and threw a second knife. This hit Wynwood’s right eye.

Clara nodded as she set the tea tray down on a table in the corner. “Much improved. Shall I pour for you, m’lady?”

“If you would, please.”

As Clara poured a cup of tea for her mistress, Graham appeared in the doorway. He glanced at the two daggers protruding from Lord Wynwood’s eyes at the far end of the room and barely stifled a sigh. He held up a cream envelope. “An invitation arrived for you, m’lady.”

“Please set it next to the tea tray. I shall answer it later.” Laura glanced at his face, which couldn’t hide his disapproval, and her lips twisted into a smile. “Graham, I feel a need to rid myself of excess … hysteria. Now I know why men enjoy their boxing and fencing and shooting so much.” She sent another knife flying, this time at Wynwood’s wide, smooth forehead.

“I would wish m’lady had a more—ahem—retiring method of calming the nerves,” Graham said blandly. “Anyone could walk in upon you and discover your secret hobby.”

“Surely not. The reason I picked Wynwood’s bedroom was because it was one of the least likely places into which a visitor might wander.”

“Shall I remain and tutor you, m’lady?” Clara asked.

“Thank you, but not today.” The image of Sol’s unwontedly stern face made Laura both angry and sad, and she wanted to erase it from her mind.

Clara bobbed a curtsy and followed the butler out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

Laura aimed for Wynwood’s neckcloth. Even though she was almost certain that Sol worked for the government, it had genuinely surprised her that her old friend may have been sent to spy on someone at the house party at Wintrell Hall, in the midst of her family. Thwack! The knife found its mark.

No, if she were honest with herself, it shouldn’t have surprised her, not after the events at the birthday party, when Sol’s secret world had so obviously collided with hers. Thwack!

She had accomplished what she wanted—to discover the truth from Sol and warn him about using her again and involving her family. But she had ripped a hole in the fabric of their friendship that could not be easily patched up.

And accompanying her sadness was a simmering annoyance that he hadn’t apologized for his actions, even though logically she completely understood his position, and the goals of his secret employment. Thwack!

The difference, she supposed, was that for her, her family came first.

Laura crossed the room to retrieve her knives. Had he always been this dispassionate, this coldly practical? Had she not seen it in him?

Had she never really known him?

Laura yanked a knife from Wynwood’s left knee and paused, absently tapping the flat of the blade against her chin. The real question was what she would do now that she knew for certain about his clandestine work for the government. Her servants knew as well, but she had warned them not to spread it about and she trusted them completely.

She had helped him in a small way this past weekend. She forced him to allow her to help, if she were being ruthlessly honest with herself.

But now that they were back in town, she only wished for things to return to the normal flow of life, with a predictability she could hold in her hands, even though for her that involved more unconventional side hobbies. And especially now that their friendship had cooled, she wouldn’t expose her servants to danger like the kind they’d seen only a few days ago.

After all, it wasn’t as though she were going to help him again.

Chapter One



London, England, April 3rd, 1811



Miss Phoebe Sauber jolted to a halt in the doorway to the morning room at the sight of her father sitting at the table. She didn’t realize her mouth had opened in surprise until he looked up at her and snapped, “Close your mouth and come inside or go out. You’re letting in a draft.”

She belatedly closed the door behind her.

Mr. Denholm Sauber had spread the newspaper out on the table beside him, so Phoebe took that as an excuse to sit far away from him at the opposite corner. Her normal breakfast fare of muffins and tea had been supplanted by her father’s preference for bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee, and the servants had bowed to his wishes rather than leaving the tea and muffins out for her. She gritted her teeth in irritation and selected toast, then deliberately turned to the hovering maid and said loudly, “Agnes, I would like a pot of tea.”

“You’ll have coffee and be glad of it,” her father growled.

“Tea, Agnes.”

Thankfully, her father didn’t bother to argue further, and the maid bobbed a sulky curtsy before leaving the room.

Several years ago, before her brother had been born and even for a few years after, she would have professed to prefer coffee over tea and would have been thrilled to eat breakfast with her father. Now, she guessed that his unwonted presence here this morning was because she had inadvertently done something to displease him again, and the thought annoyed her rather than arousing any feelings of guilt.

“You are playing archery with your friends again?”

His unexpected question made her choke on her toast. She coughed a few seconds, wishing for the absent tea, before she was able to croak out, “Yes.” He had probably guessed because she wore one of her special gowns, cut with more fullness in the shoulders for her archery practice.

Her father frowned at his eggs. “It is only an acceptable pastime because your archery friends are from influential families.” It was the only reason he approved of her interest in it—he was in the process of angling for a title, and a few of her friends’ families were close to members of the royal family, especially the newly sworn-in Prince Regent.

“I won the last three tournaments I participated in.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. Why did she continue to say things like that, as if she still desired his approval?

“At least it’s not costly.” He glanced out the window a moment before turning back to his plate and shoveling bacon into his mouth.

Her toast crumbled in her tightened fingers. It was only through her efforts managing his estate in his stead that he was able to remain in town for much of the year, and that they had the money to pay for the rent on this townhouse. She worked with his steward much more efficiently and smoothly than he did, and her efforts had increased the funds flowing into the family coffers. However, the increased wealth had numbed her father to the fact that it was his daughter who was responsible.

Agnes arrived with a teapot and cup, which distracted Phoebe from her frustrations, only to introduce new ones. “Agnes, you forgot the milk and sugar.”

The maid’s mouth thinned in irritation, and she practically flounced from the room.

Phoebe sighed. Unlike the servants at their country estate, the servants in the London townhouse adopted their master’s dismissive and disrespectful attitude toward her.

“Stop harassing the servants.” Her father glanced out the window again, then reached for his coffee cup. “You should have drunk coffee.”

She ignored him. Despite the servants, she was glad to be in town again for the Season because she was determined that this year, she would find a suitable man to marry. It was her only way to escape her home, which had slowly become intolerable over the past few years. She was nearly on the shelf, but surely if she lowered her standards (and kept her mouth shut), she could find someone.

For the past four Seasons, nearly all her suitors had been the more desperate fortune hunters, although sprinkled in with the mix had been a few aged, pox-ridden roués looking for a young wife to belatedly try to sprout some offspring for them. Her father had rejected all of them—he possessed a manager for his land and house in his daughter, so he would not relinquish her unless her husband benefited him personally somehow, such as connections to aid his bid for a title.

But this Season, surely she could persuade her father. Surely some impoverished fortune hunter possessed an entailed country estate with a greenhouse or the space to build one, so she could continue to grow her precious roses. And meeting a man in town during the Season would indicate he traveled to London at least once a year, so once they were married, she could still attend her botanical association meetings.

Surely this year she could simper more convincingly and smile a bit more brightly.

The sound of carriage wheels stopping outside the house propelled her to her feet just as Agnes arrived with the milk and sugar. “Agnes, my friends have arrived. Please go upstairs and fetch my cloak and bonnet, and also my bow and arrows.” The maid’s face flushed with irritation, and Phoebe wished she’d brought her outerwear and archery things to the table this morning, regardless of the fact her father had always forbidden her to do so. However, she had thought she’d have more time, since Miss Layton was almost always late to arrive to pick her up.

Strangely, as Phoebe was waiting in the foyer for Agnes to return, her father appeared and stood next to her. She belatedly realized he hadn’t scolded her during breakfast—he probably hadn’t had time before the carriage arrived—and now she’d likely hear why he’d graced her with his presence this morning.

However, he stood there shifting his weight from one foot to the other, his mouth soundlessly working as if he were trying to decide what to say. Unease burbled in Phoebe’s stomach, which increased when the butler entered the foyer. Why couldn’t her father have spoken to her when they were alone, before the servants appeared?

Her father finally spoke just as Agnes arrived with her things. “You are … going to an archery tournament?”

She tensed, but answered in a calm voice. “Miss Layton is hosting a picnic and ‘friendly archery practice’ today on Hampstead Heath.”

“Before you leave, I must tell you something important.” His voice sounded more terse than normal.

She paused before accepting her bonnet from Agnes. Did he object to the fact she had avoided playing cards with Mr. Vernon at the soiree last night? Her father might care that Mr. Vernon’s uncle was a new friend—for now—of the Prince Regent, but Phoebe couldn’t bring herself to stand more than a minute of Mr. Vernon’s insufferably arrogant company, which had become sharper after she had trounced him in the last archery tournament she had attended.

“In four weeks’ time, I shall be marrying a widow, Mrs. Audry Lambert.”

Her bow and arrows clattered to the marble floor. At first Phoebe thought she’d dropped them, then realized she hadn’t yet taken them from her maid, who had been the one to let them slip from shocked fingers. Even the butler’s mouth had dropped open in surprise.

Phoebe’s highly intelligent response was, “Who?”

He sighed as if he expected his daughter to not be quite so dim-witted. “Mrs. Audry Lambert,” he repeated unhelpfully.

“Have I met her?”

“No, of course not,” he said impatiently.

“Oh.” She blinked a few times, then her sarcasm flew from her mouth before she could check herself. “Of course I wouldn’t wish to meet her. It’s so much more entertaining if she become my new stepmother sight unseen.”

He frowned at her, but she wasn’t about to back down this time. There was a sensation in her chest like two ropes being twisted around each other tighter and tighter, knotting and trembling with the tension. “How long have you known her?”

“Six months.”

“And it didn’t occur to you to inform your daughter you were considering her for your second wife?”

“I do not answer to you,” he snapped at her.

“No, I simply run your household and your estate for you while you gallivant in London most of the year.”

“If you have forgotten, it is my household and my estate. If I wish to give the household to a new wife, that is my decision. And I have recently been considering that it is high time the estate duties pass to your younger brother’s responsibility.”

Phoebe’s hands clenched and unclenched. She indeed had considered that her father would want to remarry, and that she’d have to relinquish her duties as lady of the manor to a new stepmother. She had also been prepared for her brother to one day take over managing Sauber Hill. She was good at it, and she cared deeply about the tenants, who often treated her like family, but she knew the job was not hers.

But she hadn’t expected to be assaulted so suddenly by these changes. And the way her father was doing these things now somehow felt violent and harsh.

His eyes shifted away from her, as if he could ignore the fact that his daughter had turned into a block of stone. “Mrs. Lambert has two daughters. The eldest will have her coming out next year. Since I cannot spare the expense, I am cutting short your Season in London this year. I should think four Seasons was more than enough,” he added defensively, as if to convince both Phoebe and himself of the righteousness of his decision.

It felt like a sharp, sharp sword slashed through the twisted ropes in her chest. With his callous attitude, her father had made clear how he saw her—as a disposable servant. She had heard him once or twice mention to his friends his views on daughters—their expense and lack of value, since they only ate up money in living expenses and dowries. But she had still believed that he might think of her differently because she was so useful to him.

Apparently not.

The knocker sounded sharply, and the butler hastened to answer to escape the tension between the two of them.

She realized that her father had likely timed this so that she would be forced to leave as soon as he told her about his remarriage, so that she would not argue with him. But she was not as blindly agreeable as her brother. Not when she worked diligently all year in order to have the funds to enjoy the society of London for these few months. “Palmer, please tell Miss Layton I will not be joining them today.”

“There is nothing more for us to discuss.” Her father stuck out his wide chest and frowned at her like an intimidating bull, but his fidgety eyes looked as though he very much wanted to escape her company as soon as possible.

“You cannot expect me to smile and go off to gallivant with my friends when you have dropped such tremendous news into my lap only this morning.”

“Only this morning? Denholm, that is really too bad of you.” A new voice came drifting from the open doorway, startling Phoebe. The voice was as sweet as honey, flowing thick and smooth, and yet it also seemed to have an edge to it that would make your ears bleed. “Why, I have been telling all of my friends and acquaintances of our engagement for two or three days, at least.”

The butler stepped aside and a woman entered the foyer, shedding her burgundy velvet cloak. She was slender and elegant, with ebony black hair curling artlessly from beneath the edge of her bonnet. Her dark gray eyes were thickly lashed, but they were also as cold as marble, and her delicately carved lips smiled at Phoebe with a beauty that lacked warmth. “You must be Phoebe. I am Mrs. Lambert, your father’s fiancée.”

The suddenness of being faced with the woman made Phoebe threaten to lose the abrasive strength she had found only moments before. She drew a long, slow breath and met the woman’s eyes directly and frankly, in a way that her governess had always scolded her not to do. “How do you do? I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, since my father told me nothing about you until today.”

The woman gave a delicate laugh, but the dulcet tones scraped down Phoebe’s back like fingernails on a slate. “Men can be so forgetful, can’t they? Or were you embarrassed, Denholm, to be courting a woman again as if you were twenty-three years younger?”

The artless comment reminded Phoebe of her advanced age and didn’t endear Mrs. Lambert to her future stepdaughter. “I’m certain it was simply that my father has rarely seen me these past several months.” Now Phoebe understood why he had been even more absent than usual from their country estate.

“It is terribly drafty here in the foyer and I am positively parched. Might I beg you for a cup of tea?”

Phoebe was made uncomfortably aware that she had been detaining Mrs. Lambert in the foyer rather than inviting her into the drawing room. Was that a jab at her for being remiss in her duties as lady of the house? “I do beg your pardon, Mrs. Lambert. I shall ring for tea in the drawing room.”

“There is no need to stand on ceremony, my dear. After all, we shall soon be family. I shall take tea in the breakfast room. Denholm invited me to share breakfast with him this morning.”

Phoebe shot her father a hard look that he ignored, so she replied, “How negligent of my father to not mention that to me. I would have cancelled my morning plans in order to spend time with you.”

“There is no need for that.” Mrs. Lambert led the way upstairs, but her barely noticeable hesitation on the landing made Phoebe realize she was not yet familiar with the layout of the house. Her father took his fiancée’s arm and led her to the breakfast room, where she sat at Phoebe’s traditional spot at her father’s right.

Phoebe was surprised at this maneuver. Surely it was not on purpose to remind Phoebe that she was about to lose her place in her home?

Then Mrs. Lambert smiled at her. There was a hardness just on the edge of her lips and a glint in her eye that showed her pleasure at how she had usurped Phoebe.

Yes, the seating was deliberate. Mrs. Lambert had no intention of easing into the transition from Phoebe’s control of the household over to hers.

Phoebe’s back straightened. She didn’t understand why Mrs. Lambert was so aggressively unwelcoming, but Phoebe had always reacted with stubbornness in the face of bullies.

“You there, a fresh pot of tea,” Mrs. Lambert snapped at the maid who had scurried in behind them.

Phoebe sat farther down the table, not too close to Mrs. Lambert or her father. “Oh, but Mrs. Lambert, Agnes had just brought a fresh pot when I left the breakfast room, and it is still hot.” Phoebe poured Mrs. Lambert a cup of tepid tea and gave her a cheerful smile.

Mrs. Lambert’s smile grew wider, and somehow sharper at the same time. It made Phoebe feel like she had just started a knife sparring match with Vadoma, her Gypsy friend. In the summer of her thirteenth year, she and her friend Keriah had first seen a sparring match against the skilled Gypsy woman, who was precise with her knife strikes and exploited any weakness she saw, and she was so enthralled that she immediately begged to be taught knife-fighting, unorthodox though it was.

“I do regret that we have met in this way, but the relationship between your father and I was very proper and distant until only recently.”

“I assure you, Mrs. Lambert, my father has always made it clear that his business is his own.” She didn’t look at her father, but she could feel his frown at her.

“Now that we have met, I do hope that we can become good friends,” Mrs. Lambert said with complete insincerity.

They were fighters exchanging light blows with their verbal knives, the blades ringing softly, testing each other’s strengths. “That is my wish, as well. I understand you have two daughters? When shall I meet them?”

“Soon, I hope. The youngest is just out of the schoolroom. Your father quite dotes upon them.” Unspoken was the implication, Unlike how he obviously does not dote upon you. “My oldest, Alice, will have her debut in London next year.”

Phoebe finally looked at her father with a piercing glance. “My father will not allow me to accompany you to London next year. But I am sure, ma’am, you would wish for as much help as you can get for such an important event.” Phoebe stepped in with a wide swinging attack to test her opponent’s defenses.

Mrs. Lambert’s gray eyes widened in feigned innocent surprise. “But your father has mentioned to me that you have an invalid aunt in Bath who will need your assistance. I am certain she would not be able to spare you for three months.”

What? Bath?

Phoebe felt as if her opponent had suddenly unsheathed a second knife.

Her father cleared his throat and sat on the edge of his seat. “As for that, I am afraid I had not had a chance yet to discuss the particulars with Phoebe …”

Her throat tightened up, and she almost felt the physical pain of a blade piercing her chest. She tried to swallow, but ended up choking and coughing instead.

“Oh, dear, you look quite pale. Do drink some tea.” Mrs. Lambert poured cold tea into a cup and passed it to Phoebe. She was forced to sip it to recover her composure, and Mrs. Lambert seemed even more delighted.

“Father, do enlighten me.” Phoebe’s voice had a biting edge.

Her father’s face grew more grave and austere, which Phoebe knew meant that he was embarrassed but didn’t wish to show it. “Your Grand-Aunt Bethia has written to say that she could use a companion to help her, and I naturally thought of you, Phoebe.”

“Why does she wish me? Aunt Bethia has numerous grandchildren who can attend to her.”

Mrs. Lambert cleared her throat delicately and looked at Phoebe’s father with a pointed glance. He pinched his mouth and looked even more uncomfortable than he already did, but he finally inhaled sharply and gave Phoebe a determined frown. “Mrs. Lambert has mentioned she does not wish you to live at Sauber Hill with her—something about two women under the same roof.”

The air was punched out of her lungs. Sauber Hill was her home. She knew each of the tenants by name, had watched their children grow up, had even taught some of them how to read. She spent hours in the greenhouse with her roses. It was where she felt most comfortable, safe and at peace.

And her father was kicking her out like an unwanted dog.

Mrs. Lambert now spoke up, perhaps for the pleasure of twisting the knife in Phoebe herself. “Also, your Aunt Bethia has proposed a truly marvelous idea. She will lend her very fine horses and carriage to your father in exchange for your help with her in Bath. Your aunt can rarely use her horses since the hills are so steep, but it would be such a relief to have another conveyance here in London.”

So Phoebe was being traded like a slave in exchange for horses and a carriage. Phoebe felt her hand involuntarily curl into a fist, whether in anger or anguish, she didn’t know. She quickly hid it under the fold of her skirt so that Mrs. Lambert could not see. She was suffocating, drowning, in the sea of blood from the blades stabbing into her heart. She couldn’t breathe, she could only bleed.

“It is quite a certain thing, my dear.” Mrs. Lambert looked like she wanted to appear sympathetic, but failed. “But I am sure a mature young woman like yourself will find great satisfaction in caring for your elderly relation in Bath.” Mrs. Lambert’s eyes gleamed, as if she were wondering if Phoebe would lose her senses and her temper, and begin yelling or throwing things.

But Phoebe did not want to give Mrs. Lambert the satisfaction of witnessing how she had hurt Phoebe so much, and through the actions of her callous father.

She had to escape.

Phoebe was grateful for the skirts that hid her shaking legs as she rose to her feet. She knew her voice was not steady as she spoke, but she also knew her face felt like the statue of the avenging Athena as she stared down at Mrs. Lambert. “I assure you, this is not my desire, but I’m certain you knew this already.”

Mrs. Lambert seemed both surprised and also titillated at Phoebe’s blunt speech.

She couldn’t bear to wish them a good day, so for the first time in her life, she rudely turned and left her father without another word, closing the door behind her with a firm click.

Once the door was between her and her father, she nearly collapsed in the hallway. But she sucked in a deep breath, pressing her fist against her stomach, and managed to make her way to her bedroom. The house was suspiciously empty, with no servants in the hallways, which led Phoebe to believe that the servants had been listening to the entire conversation behind the door in the breakfast room that led to the servants’ hall.

It wasn’t that Phoebe disliked Aunt Bethia, although the old woman had a tendency to complain about anything and everything, creating a peevish and negative environment. It was the fact that Phoebe was being shifted from the only home she had ever known, and the beauty and comfort of her beloved roses. It was frustration and regret that she had wasted so much time in managing his estate in order to somehow prove to her father that she was important in his life.

She had no rights, and no say in the matter. Everything she had done was being disregarded, and everything she loved was being taken away from her.

Her bedroom windows faced the street, and she suddenly realized she heard the sound of horses hooves slowing, then stopping in front of the house. A quick look down showed Miss Layton’s servant climbing the steps to the front door.

Before, she had only thought about escaping the breakfast room, but now she realized she wanted to escape the house. To be with people who knew nothing about what had happened. And to fire many, many arrows at targets and pretend they were her father and Mrs. Lambert.

A look around her bedroom made her realize Agnes had not returned her outerwear and bow and arrows to her room. They were likely still in the foyer. She hastily made her way to the ground floor before the butler had appeared to answer the knocker. Flinging her cloak about her and grabbing her bow and arrows from the foyer table, she yanked open the front door and burst from the house as if it were on fire.

It might as well have been burned to ashes. It was no longer her home.

***


Miss Layton was quite excited about the archery party she and her younger sister had organized, and Phoebe was content to sit in their carriage and listen as Miss Layton listed who else would be attending her outing.

“I am very sorry Miss Gardinier has not yet arrived in London,” Miss Layton said, “since she is nearly as skilled as you are in archery. When did you say her family would be coming?”

“Next week,” Phoebe said through stiff lips.

“Are you unwell, Miss Sauber?” asked Miss Lynn Layton. “You may switch with me if you need the forward-facing seat.”

“Then you would be unwell,” her elder sister said, “and I have no wish to spend the rest of the journey aiming you toward the open window.”

“I would not do something so unladylike as to need to … unburden myself out the window.” Miss Lynn sniffed.

“But you do look slightly unwell, Miss Sauber.” Miss Layton leaned forward. “Why don’t you switch seats with me instead?”

This was accomplished with much bustling and apologies, made more difficult because Phoebe’s limbs were stiff and tense, and yet at the same time beginning to shake. She had reacted aggressively to Mrs. Lambert’s hostility, but now, half an hour after the conversation, an ice-cold rage was building up in her chest, and her stomach clenched and heaved.

This wasn’t happening to her. This wasn’t. She wasn’t being unceremoniously tossed from her home and the roses she lovingly tended. She wasn’t being banished to Bath like an unwanted poor relation.

Except that this was indeed happening to her.

And it made her quite desperately wish to shoot someone.

“There.” Miss Layton had a satisfied smile when they had all rearranged their seats. “I hope you will feel better soon, Miss Sauber.”

Phoebe belatedly realized that she must act normally or they would realize something was terribly wrong. “Who else will be attending?” she asked.

“Miss Tolberton, of course, and her cousin Mr. Tolberton.” Miss Layton ticked the names off on her gloved fingers. “Mr. Rawley …”

Miss Lynn groaned. “I declare, I should have brought a suit of armor. He hits the target only once out of every three shots. And he will not take suggestions for improving his form.”

“That’s because he’s only interested in Miss Farrimond, not in archery,” Miss Layton said. “Oh! And Mr. Vernon will be there, and he most particularly wished to practice with you, Miss Sauber.” Miss Layton gave Phoebe an arch look.

“Why, Miss Sauber,” said Miss Lynn, “you gave no hint that Mr. Vernon is a close friend of yours.” The young lady looked as if she’d just snagged a fish, although Phoebe doubted she had ever fished in a river in her entire life—however, fishing for gossip was another matter.

“Mr. Vernon has no wish to court me,” Phoebe said. “Instead, he probably wishes to humiliate me in an archery competition since I trounced him the last time.”

Miss Layton blanched slightly at Phoebe’s bald speaking, but Miss Lynn’s eyes gleamed even brighter.

“No, surely not,” Miss Lynn started to protest, but Phoebe interrupted her.

“But this time, I will be sure to grind his ego into the ground.” She shook her fist for emphasis.

The sudden silence in the coach made Phoebe realize the two ladies were staring at her as if she’d suddenly flung her clothes off. She cleared her throat and settled back into her seat.

“Er … quite,” Miss Layton said in a feeble voice.

“Did Mr. Weller indicate that he would definitely attend?” Miss Lynn asked, and conversation resumed, if a bit stilted.

Miss Layton’s servants had gone to the Heath ahead of them and set up the food for the picnic, if tables and chairs and crystal flower vases could be considered a picnic. They were the first to arrive, since the Laytons were the hosts, but they had only alighted from the coaches and were gathering their bows and arrows when two more coaches of guests joined them.

Mr. Vernon exited from the second coach, and he quickly scanned the company. His gaze halted on Phoebe, and his eyes narrowed.

Something inside of Phoebe growled like a dog, and if she’d had hackles, they’d have been standing on end. A small voice in her head remarked that she was probably more antagonistic than normal because of what had just happened to her, and perhaps she shouldn’t be engaging in competitions involving sharp and fast-moving projectiles, but she was able to squelch the notion immediately. She had heard Mr. Vernon remark that no woman could best him in archery—just before she beat him at the last competition they both participated in. His glare in her direction now indicated he had not forgotten his humiliation and wanted a rematch.

Miss Layton quickly instructed her servants to set up the archery targets. There were few people on Hampton Heath, enabling them to practice archery without fear of accidentally hitting anyone. Even so, they set up the targets some distance from the tree-line.

While Phoebe impatiently waited for the targets to be assembled, she noticed Miss Tolberton and her cousin, Mr. Tolberton, standing a little apart from the other guests. They were both new to this circle of archery enthusiasts, although Phoebe had been acquainted with Miss Tolberton since her debut four years earlier, and had been introduced to Mr. Tolberton, just down from university, at a ball the week before. She immediately approached them.

Miss Tolberton smiled. “Miss Sauber, how delightful to see you again.”

“How have you enjoyed your first week in town?”

Mr. Tolberton grinned boyishly. “I have been dragging Emilia everywhere with me.”

“We have been shockingly busy,” Miss Tolberton said.

Phoebe listened to Mr. Tolberton’s excited descriptions of the horses at Astley’s Amphitheatre, plays at the theatre, and the numerous museums to which he had dragged the poor Miss Tolberton. Only required to murmur “Oh, really?” and “How nice” every so often, Phoebe was relieved to be free from Miss Lynn’s avid curiosity about Phoebe’s nonexistent suitors. She knew Miss Lynn was not being unkind, but Phoebe had not inspired a single romantic flutter in any man’s breast in her four other Seasons in London, and was unlikely to do so in her fifth Season unless she did something drastic like sew her mouth shut.

Abruptly she remembered that according to her father, her current Season was being cut short. There was a roiling and seething in her stomach.

She didn’t know when she would be sent to Aunt Bethia, but she intended to enjoy her time today to its fullest.

During a lull when Mr. Tolberton paused for breath, Miss Tolberton asked, “What are your favorite London activities, Miss Sauber?”

“I’m afraid I have not seen as much as you have. I usually only attend meetings at a few associations that I belong to.”

“What sorts of associations?”

“For those interested in cultivating roses. I have an extensive greenhouse in the country.” Even as she said it, she realized she should have said she had an extensive greenhouse. Her hands tightened around her quiver strap. All that would soon be gone for Phoebe.

How could her father do this to her? She felt betrayed, abandoned … and disillusioned. She hadn’t wanted to admit to herself that her father thought so little of her, despite how she had worked so hard for his approval. It had all been for nothing. In his eyes, she was nothing.

The thought did not make her depressed. Instead, it stoked a fire inside of her that smoked and crackled, that roared with an inhuman voice of all the rage she was starting to feel.

“Emilia likes gardening—” Mr. Tolberton started to say, when Phoebe was startled by a voice behind her.

“Miss Sauber, how lovely to see you again.”

“Mr. Vernon.” Phoebe suspected her forced smile looked rather gruesome. “Are you acquainted with Miss Tolberton and her cousin, Mr. Tolberton?”

After greeting them, he turned back to Phoebe. “I was hoping, Miss Sauber, that you would be willing to engage in a friendly competition today? I feel I did not shoot my best at our last tournament.”

She was exceedingly prepared to wipe that condescending smile off of his face. “I assure you, Mr. Vernon, the outcome will remain the same.”

“I say, this will be quite the spectacle,” Mr. Tolberton said. “I have heard from Miss Layton that you are an excellent shot, Miss Sauber.”

“You simply wish to wager on the outcome,” Miss Tolberton accused her cousin.

“And why not? It can only add to the fun.” He gave an incorrigible wink. “What do you say, Mr. Vernon? A hundred guineas that Miss Sauber will get the best of you out of three shots.”

Mr. Vernon colored at this insult to his accuracy. Phoebe refused to feel sorry for him—after all, he had quite deliberately brought up the subject of the competition himself. Mr. Vernon managed a tight smile for Mr. Tolberton and a handshake in acceptance.

“Did I hear correctly?” Miss Farrimond came up to them, followed by Miss Layton and her sister. “A competition between Mr. Vernon and Miss Sauber?”

“Simply a friendly game between friends.” However, Mr. Vernon’s smile toward Phoebe showed entirely too much teeth.

“This will make the gathering even more exciting,” Miss Lynn said.

“Miss Sauber is certain to perform admirably.” Miss Farrimond’s voice flowed sweet like honey. “Her wide, strong shoulders make her an excellent markswoman.”

Phoebe’s jaw clenched. She and Miss Farrimond had debuted in the same year, and while Phoebe’s manly height and muscular arms explained her lack of suitors over the previous Seasons, Miss Farrimond had only her unpleasant personality to blame for her lack of marriage offers. After the shocking news she had just received, Phoebe was not in the mood to even attempt to be polite to Miss Farrimond. “Why yes, Miss Farrimond, I practice archery all year long at Sauber Hill, and in the summer I swim at my friend Keriah’s seaside estate, Chateau Gardinier, so I am quite strong by now.”

Miss Farrimond smiled politely but seemed disappointed that Phoebe had replied so boldly, lacking any shame.

They arranged to each take one shot at each of the three farthest targets. Phoebe buckled on her leather arm guard and tightly laced up her leather shooting waistcoat. It served to protect her clothing, but it also flattened her chest to prevent her bosoms—small as they were—from jiggling in the way. Lastly, she slipped on her shooting glove and picked up her bow and quiver. She took a few practice shots at one of the nearer targets, but after only three practice arrows himself, Mr. Vernon rather impatiently stood with his bow tapping against the top of his boot. Phoebe concluded that apparently he was anxious to be utterly destroyed in this competition.

“Who shall go first?” Miss Layton asked.

Mr. Vernon bowed to Phoebe. “Ladies first, of course.”

Phoebe approached the first target. She rolled her shoulders, stretching her neck, shaking out the muscles along her arms. She filled her lungs with air and expelled it. Normally this helped to calm her, but this time the fire in her heart and the boiling in her stomach were clashing in a thunderstorm deep inside of her.

She could not shoot accurately in this state. But she was determined not to lose to someone like Mr. Vernon, a man in a man’s world, who suddenly seemed to represent everything her father stood for.

She chose a calming image. After a long day of swimming in the sheltered cove at Chateau Gardinier, she and Keriah would build a fire on the rocky beach, wrap themselves in wool blankets, and watch the sun set across the water. They talked of dreams, young men, the precious things they still had, and the precious things they had lost.

Phoebe notched an arrow and drew back her right arm. Her dress and pelisse had been especially made for archery, and they were comfortably loose around her shoulders. In her sights, she imagined Mr. Vernon’s face on the target. Deep breath in, deep breath out. She released the arrow and the string twanged close to her cheek.

It was a near-perfect shot. She heard polite applause punctuated by more enthusiastic applause from Miss Layton and Miss Lynn.

Phoebe stepped aside for Mr. Vernon, who seemed to take extraordinarily long to aim. Phoebe could tell that his stance was too tense, his knees too straight, his back too arched. He fired, and the arrow landed perhaps seven inches away from the center, and from Phoebe’s arrow.

In the applause, Mr. Tolberton was especially loud, but that was because of his one hundred guineas.

The second target was farther away, and Phoebe took longer to aim. The wind began to flow through the trees far beyond the target, the same whoosh-whooshing sound as the wind in the trees at Sauber Hill. She would gallop toward a target nailed to an old oak tree, riding astride so she could control the horse with her knees. The pounding of the hooves against the turf thumped in counterpoint to the wind in the trees, forming a rhythm that she absorbed into her body through the horse, through her ears. Using that rhythm, she would aim and shoot at the target from horseback.

She was not astride a horse now, and the target was farther away, but she still felt the beat of her heart and heard the whoosh-whoosh of the wind. She imagined the swirling pattern of the wind, the strength of its invisible whorls, and adjusted her aim. Then she fired.

The arrow landed an inch farther away from the center than it had been on the previous target—not bad considering the farther distance and the wind.

Mr. Vernon seemed distracted by the wind, which unfortunately rose even more as he stood to aim. To Phoebe’s eye, he seemed to be overcompensating, and she wanted to warn him but knew he’d be offended and embarrassed if she did, so she kept her mouth shut. Keriah would be shocked at her restraint, which was usually at a minimum when they practiced archery.

Mr. Vernon loosed his arrow, and Phoebe already knew it was too far wide. It ricocheted off the edge of the target and flipped behind it in a ragged arc.

“Oh, too bad, old chap.” Mr. Tolberton’s voice was too jovial to be sincere.

Mr. Vernon’s round face flushed, looking like a large, overripe cherry. Phoebe began to feel badly for him, because Mr. Tolberton’s teasing seemed to stab sharply into Mr. Vernon’s ego.

However, it was also the archer’s responsibility to attain emotional equilibrium, especially before shooting. As Phoebe aimed at the third target, she reflected that her ability to remain unmoved despite distractions was possibly one of her greatest strengths as a sportswoman.

This time, she imagined her father’s face on the target. She stretched the bowstring taut. But as she drew breath, a voice sounded over her shoulder.

It was considered rude to speak to an archer as they aimed, but Mr. Vernon said in an oily voice, “Miss Sauber, I offer my sincere congratulations. I recently heard in my club that your father is getting married.”

Her entire body jerked as if she were a doll and a little girl had yanked her down from a shelf. Her hand accidentally loosed the arrow and it sailed over the target.

“Oh,” gasped several people behind her, but Miss Layton’s irate voice cut over the murmurs. “Mr. Vernon—!”

Whatever she was about to say was cut short. From the distant tree-line where the arrow had disappeared came a high-pitched shriek.