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Lady Wynwood's Spies, volume 2: Berserker

Part two in a Christian Regency Romantic Adventure epic serial novel with a supernatural twist

A dire situation

Mr. Solomon Drydale and his team are reeling. After only a single act of mayhem by underworld lord Apothecary Jack, one of their group is down and another is missing.

An urgent plea

Desperate, Sol acts on his forbidden knowledge of an agent for the Crown who is known only to the highest levels of government—le petit prince, master of disguises. He defies his superiors and asks the Prince for help.

A hazardous hunt

Now, the team must learn to work with a new member to save one of their own. But time is running out before Jack finds him and breaks him—and puts all of their lives at risk.

PLEASE NOTE: Like the novels published in Jane Austen’s time, this is a novel in multiple parts. Each volume has a completed story arc, but this is NOT a stand-alone novel and the story continues in volume 3.

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Barely a minute had passed before footsteps thundered up the stairs and Keriah burst into the drawing room. Laura couldn’t understand how such a delicate frame could make such a racket.

“My lady! It’s terrible!”

Laura blinked. She had no idea how to respond to a proclamation like that.

Luckily, only a few seconds later, she could hear softer, steadier footsteps on the stairs and soon a short, slightly balding, middle-aged man appeared in the drawing room door. He did not enter immediately, but he peered inside and his eyes darted nervously from the marble fireplace to the brocade drapery to the delicately carved tea table before alighting upon Laura.

What surprised her was that he promptly shoved Keriah aside and entered the drawing room.

--Excerpt from Lady Wynwood's Spies, volume 2: Berserker by Camille Elliot


Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 2: Berserker

A Christian Regency Romantic Adventure serial novel

Camille Elliot

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
Psalm 20:7

Chapter One

The house on Park Street was quiet again. It was not so very late in the evening, especially considering that many events during the Season ended in the early morning hours. But London was still a little thin of company at the moment, with the exception of mothers with daughters to launch, who had arrived early to get shopping and dressmaking done before the feverish rounds of balls and parties.

Laura, Lady Wynwood, peered through a slit in the drawing room curtains to glance at the houses across from her townhouse and to peer up and down the street to see the lights from her neighbors’ homes. Most of the houses were still dark, and her right-hand neighbor was a retired admiral who was probably still fishing in Scotland, while her left-hand neighbor was a wealthy banker who had become a baronet six or seven years ago and still had the habit of retiring early. There was no one to remark upon the activity of her servants entering and exiting her house, but everyone had used the small lane that ran behind her tiny garden, and so her home appeared nothing out of the ordinary.

Except that the occupants of her house had had a most extraordinary evening. The man who had just that evening caused considerable damage to several streets in the Long Glades lay slumbering on a cot in what had once been her storeroom, with the door locked and bolted in the event that he awoke as the same mindless monster. And the ones who had put the beast to sleep were her coachman, her eleven-year-old twin servants, her old friend Sol Drydale, and two young ladies of society, one of whom was her niece.

In the years since her husband had died, she cared less and less about the opinions of the fashionable world, but in this case she needn’t worry at all. If she told the absolute truth to her friends among the haut ton, they would smile and suggest a repairing lease to the countryside to escape her vivid nightmares. Then they would gobble up all her tea cookies and escape her house as fast as possible.

The street was quiet, but she still felt that tremor of unease in the pit of her stomach. She had first felt it when her niece Phoebe told her about sedating Mr. Coulton-Jones and using up all of the medicinal paste she had concocted with her friend Miss Gardinier.

They still didn’t know why Mr. Coulton-Jones had been taken by those mysterious men. Had they been seeking him? Had it been purely by chance?

But it had not been by chance that he had been turned into that monster. They had done that to him deliberately, for reasons that she could not fathom.

And now Mr. Ackett was missing. She had no reason to think he had been captured, but the uncertainty quickened her heartbeat like a shadow just out of her range of vision.

Earlier that evening, while they were setting up the storeroom as Mr. Coulton-Jones’s sickroom and prison cell, Calvin had very earnestly come to her.

The young boy looked down and bit his thumbnail. “M’lady, I want to go searching for him.”

“For Mr. Ackett?”

“Yes, m’lady. There are dangerous men out there. What if they find him and hurt him? I wish I had stayed with him.”

“If you had, we might not have saved Mr. Coulton-Jones.”

Calvin looked up, his eyes wide, his expression worried. “Please let me go look for him. Mr. Havner will go with me, if I ask him.”

When he stepped into the drawing room, she had known what he would ask, and she had also known she wouldn’t be able to refuse him.

What she hadn’t expected was what she saw when she looked in Calvin’s eyes. She suddenly saw another man’s face floating in front of Calvin’s, like a vision. “Help me,” the man begged. And then suddenly the vision was gone, and it was just her eleven-year-old pageboy, looking more anguished than she had ever seen him before.

The vision made her feel a nameless urgency, similar to that unease she’d felt in her stomach earlier when speaking to Phoebe about the medicinal paste, but she didn’t know what it meant. Instead, she focused on Calvin, with his mouth pulled wide in pleading and regret.

She also hadn’t mentioned that if he hadn’t come to her, she would have asked him if he wanted to go.

The coachman, Mr. Havner, had been quick to offer to accompany him. Sol had been quick to object.

She and Sol had the most fierce row they had ever had, and Sol stormed out. Although he also promised—although it sounded more like a threat—to return shortly.

Her gaze was drawn again to the scene outside the window. Her coach had suddenly come clattering down the street, going at a much faster pace than it had left. Since her coachman was preparing to leave and return to the Long Glades tonight, she had been forced to ask Fred to drive Keriah to her sister’s home to pick up her things so that she could stay at Laura’s home for a few days, but she hadn’t expected her footman to be quite so hamfisted with the reins.

Barely a minute had passed before footsteps thundered up the stairs and Keriah burst into the drawing room. Laura couldn’t understand how such a delicate frame could make such a racket.

“My lady! It’s terrible!”

Laura blinked. She had no idea how to respond to a proclamation like that.

Luckily, only a few seconds later, she could hear softer, steadier footsteps on the stairs and soon a short, slightly balding, middle-aged man appeared in the drawing room door. He did not enter immediately, but he peered inside and his eyes darted nervously from the marble fireplace to the brocade drapery to the delicately carved tea table before alighting upon Laura.

What surprised her was that he promptly shoved Keriah aside and entered the drawing room.

He bowed. “My lady, I beg you will pardon the intrusion and excuse my rudeness in introducing myself. I am Dr. Augustus Shokes.”

Laura smiled, not only because she recognized his name, but also because Keriah looked startled at being shunted aside so brusquely. “Dr. Shokes, I am well acquainted with you by reputation thanks to Keriah and Phoebe. You are more than welcome in my home.”

“Please pardon my intrusion at this hour. I am afraid the matter was urgent. Although Keriah had no need to be quite so melodramatic.” He eyed the young woman with asperity, although Keriah pretended not to notice.

Keriah’s startling proclamation had caused tension to creep up the back of her shoulders and into the back of her skull, but something about Dr. Shokes’s calm manner made the panicked atmosphere relax. “Please do sit down.” She gestured to the sofa.

Behind him through the open doorway stood her butler, who had belatedly followed the pair and was obviously distressed that he had not been able to properly announce the visitors. He sighed and Laura could have sworn he rolled his eyes as he turned away.

The housekeeper, standing beside him, nodded at Laura’s significant look, then quietly closed the door before going downstairs to gather what refreshments they could find at this time of night.

Laura sat across from Dr. Shokes. “Doctor, what did you need to tell me?”

Keriah also sat down next to the doctor, and it was she who answered. “My lady, it would be best if you let Phoebe and I return with Dr. Shokes to the apothecary shop tonight.”

Laura sighed. “Keriah, I already explained to you that I am not sending genteel young women into the Long Glades at this time of night.”

“But now there are other circumstances—”

Dr. Shokes laid a hand upon Keriah’s arm, and gave her a look like a father admonishing a child. Keriah closed her mouth.

Dr. Shokes addressed Laura. “I apologize that I must ask this of you, but a situation has arisen at my brother’s shop tonight. Although I am not intimately acquainted with the events that happened this evening, everyone in my neighborhood is aware of the crazed man who created havoc along several streets in Jem Town and the Long Glades. However, there are rumors that a group of people attempted to lead him away toward Harding Lane, the area the last crazed man had appeared only a few days ago, and then he disappeared without a trace. Since I am aware of what your niece and Keriah have been doing in my brother’s stillroom, I can hazard a guess as to what might have happened.”

At times like this, Laura wished she had better control over her facial features. She only hoped she wasn’t revealing to Dr. Shokes her fervent desire to jump up and go into hysterics.

At that moment, the door opened and Phoebe came in bearing a tea tray. “Dr. Shokes, Mrs. Rook told me you had arrived, and here I am with jam tarts we found in the kitchen,” she said cheerfully. She set the tray down as she sat next to Keriah.

“Oh … you mustn’t … jam tarts … well …” Dr. Shokes spoke to the plate of tarts.

Laura was never more grateful for a cup of tea. She nodded to Phoebe to pour, and Dr. Shokes continued speaking around a mouthful of jam tart. “Unfortunately, I believe my brother, Mr. Farley Shokes, has his own suspicions about what they have been doing, especially since they left quite suddenly earlier tonight. An hour ago, I found him in his stillroom, looking through the equipment that Keriah and Miss Phoebe left out this evening, even though he had previously said that he would respect their privacy. He responded to me quite guiltily, and he may already suspect that they were analyzing a sample of the infamous serum that Jack Dix is known to be distributing to his men. A serum linked to extraordinary strength, quite like the extraordinary strength displayed by crazed men in the Long Glades recently.”

Keriah couldn’t hold herself back any longer. “So you see, my lady—”

Still with that gentle smile on his face, Dr. Shokes reached over and clamped his hand over Keriah’s mouth, then continued as if she had not spoken. “I scolded my brother and sent him back to his wife—who had asked me to find him for her—but she will retire soon, I fear, and I do not trust Farley not to return to his stillroom later tonight. I would like to suggest that the young ladies return to take down their equipment and secure any samples they don’t wish him to find. I would have done so myself, but I admit I am quite a disaster in a stillroom.”

Keriah’s face was turning bright red, so Dr. Shokes finally released her. She gave a squeak but remained silent this time.

Phoebe set down her teacup a little too carefully, and her shoulders twitched as she deliberately did not look at Keriah. “Aunt Laura, we could put away all the equipment in an hour or two.”

“Another option would be for me to remain awake to guard the stillroom,” Dr. Shokes said.

“You mustn’t do that,” Laura said quickly. “You have patients to see in the morning, do you not?”

“I have had my fair share of babies born in the wee hours.” Dr. Shokes sighed. “But I do admit those nights are more and more difficult as I grow older.”

“Aunt Laura, I know you did not wish for Keriah to return tonight, but it may be even more dangerous if Mr. Farley Shokes is able to deduce the ingredients in the Root sample based on our experiments.” Phoebe had a tightness to her jaw and a straightness to her brows that indicated she was ready to counter any resistance.

But Laura simply said, “If you are not tired, then yes, you should leave with Calvin and the coachmen.”

Phoebe opened her mouth as if to argue, but then closed it when she realized Laura had agreed. “What?”

Keriah stepped on Phoebe’s foot to tell her to shut up.

Laura pretended not to notice.

She didn’t want to send them back to the Long Glades at all, but she also knew Dr. Shokes was probably correct to worry about his brother. She also remembered the strange vision she’d seen, and since then had noticed a dark feeling in her head, in her body, which she could not explain and could not ignore.

But was not ready to trust her visions enough to tell the two young women to do the action to which the vision seemed to point—to make more of the sedative paste posthaste. She also suspected Keriah would decide to do just that once they arrived at the apothecary shop.

Heavenly Father, she prayed, I am unsure if this is Thy Holy Spirit speaking wordlessly to my heart, but I pray this decision is in line with Thy will.

Almost to herself, Laura muttered, “Don’t misunderstand me. If I felt that it was wrong, I would not allow the two of you to march into danger, no matter how much you wanted to do so. But right now, it would be wrong for me not to send you out to do what you do best.”

Phoebe’s expression turned from surprised to perplexed. “What we do best?” But then Keriah’s hand whipped out and backslapped her arm to silence her.

Laura continued, “And there is also the chance … I have a sense that the Holy Spirit may be speaking wordlessly to my heart that you must go.”

Something in Phoebe’s face became both alert and calmer at the words, but Keriah’s eyes flickered away. Unlike Phoebe, she was not as accustomed to Laura’s frank mention of God’s influence in her life, but her reaction always made Laura wonder if her discomfort had a deeper reason.

“Dr. Shokes, you will accompany them back to the Long Glades?”

“Of course, my lady.”

“My coachman is just about to set out. He shall drive you to the apothecary shop and set you down, but you may need to remain until he returns in the early morning hours. I will send my footman, Fred, to help guard you while you are there. Fred is not as intimidating as Mr. Havner, but he is a good enough bodyguard, I should think.” Laura rose to her feet. “Well then, you two should prepare to leave. Oh, and I am expressly forbidding you from helping Mr. Havner and Calvin with their errand tonight.”

Both Keriah and Phoebe tried to look innocent, but they must have realized or been told what Calvin would be doing and couldn’t hide their rebellious reaction.

Laura sighed. “If you think clearly about it, you will realize that two young women in disguise would be more likely to be a hindrance to a search party in the unsavory areas of London in the middle of the night.”

“Quite so, my lady.”

“But Aunt Laura—”

“But my lady—”

“You aren’t attempting to argue with my logic, surely?” She eyed the two girls sternly.

After a moment where they made inarticulate grumblings sounds, they shook their heads.

“Just so. Be glad I am not making you sit at home and embroider seat cushions.”

Chapter Two

Laura was alone at last, but she felt the need to peer out the windows of the drawing room onto the dark street again, as if to assure herself. The rest of the servants were bustling about with tasks that had been interrupted by the appearance of the unconscious man in the locked storeroom.

Only Aya understood her need to look through Wynwood’s old ledgers, an unusual pastime considering the events of tonight.

She crossed the drawing room and opened the double doors into the library. At the desk, she lit a lamp and opened the top ledger of the stack of books.

As she suspected, she hadn’t been able to find the jeweler’s receipt. She might have thrown it away when she was cleaning out his desk after he died, but she suspected that Wynwood wouldn’t have left evidence of that particular purchase anywhere. However, this would have been a sizable order, which he could not pay in cash, and so there must be a record of it somewhere. He would have hidden it in the ledgers in such a way that it would appear vague, but he would know immediately what it was. She could only hope that she would also recognize that entry if she saw it.

She should have told Sol … No, she was not ready for that yet.

She was not nervous, precisely, but she was not relaxed—how could she be, when two of her servants and two young women were heading toward the Long Glades at this time of night? But it was not merely her worry that made her restless. Even as she searched the ledger, her heart felt weighted down with iron manacles. She thought perhaps that a part of her did not want to know the truth, and she was afraid and ashamed.

She was so focused on the ledger that when Aya knocked and entered the library without waiting for an answer, it startled her.

Aya was unusually flustered. “My lady, you have visitors. Mr. Drydale and … Lady Aymer.”

Laura shot to her feet, making the wooden chair rattle against the floor behind her. “Did Sol bring her?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“So she knows about her brother?”

“I don’t know, my lady.”

Laura clenched a fist to counter the trembling in her hand. What was Sol doing? She had expected him to return, although not this quickly, but in light of Mr. Coulton-Jones’s condition, she would never have expected him to bring his sister. Unless she was the person Laura had dared him to find, as impossible as that seemed.

“Bring them to the drawing room, and ask Cook for refreshments.” Despite the late hour, and the fact that her household was at sixes and sevens, she could at least fall back upon the conventions of polite hospitality.

But before she had finished speaking, there was a footfall outside the library door, and Sol entered, followed by Lady Aymer in a dark traveling cloak. “There is no need to stand upon ceremony with me or Lady Aymer, Laura.”

She slammed the ledger shut with more force than she intended, but she was composed when she faced the two of them. She gave a polite smile and curtsy to Lady Aymer, and a lancing glare at Sol. “Won’t you join me in the drawing room? It is better lit than the library.”

“If you don’t mind, I would like to see my brother,” Lady Aymer said.

“Of course.” Laura led the way to the back of the house, down a narrow corridor to the locked storeroom. Graham and Aya had followed them, and he moved to unlock the door, but not before listening at the door to ensure that all was quiet within. Only then did he turn the bronze key in the heavy padlock and remove the metal fastenings that bolted the door closed. He opened the door gingerly, but there was no response from the man inside.

Lady Aymer made to enter the room, but Sol held her back with a hand on her arm. He opened the door wider and accepted a lamp that Aya had brought with her, holding it high as he peered inside.

Mr. Coulton-Jones lay on the cot exactly as they had left him, and his slow, deep breaths could be seen in the dim light from the lamp.

With the cot filling most of the storeroom, there was barely enough room for two people to stand, so Sol retreated in order to allow Lady Aymer to enter the room. She sat on the side of the cot and laid a hand against her brother’s still cheek, then reached for Sol’s lamp, which he handed to her.

Laura could not see her face as she gazed down at her brother, but there was a droop to her shoulders that had not been there when she and Phoebe had visited Lady Aymer’s mother a few days ago. She said nothing, but she held her brother’s hand and stroked the back of it.

The moment was very intimate. Laura retreated further down the corridor, and Sol and the two servants followed her. Aya and Graham nodded to her as they continued toward the back of the house and to their other duties. Laura remained standing in the corridor several yards away from the open door, and Sol sighed and leaned against the wall across from her.

There was silence between them for several minutes, but then Laura gave in to her curiosity. “Does she know about her brother’s former association with the Home Office?”

Sol’s face tightened at the frank mention of Mr. Coulton-Jones’s activities. His eyes darted up and down the corridor, and then he nodded to her.

Her mouth thinned with irritation. It was ridiculous to keep this information from her servants. It was what she and Sol had argued about earlier this that evening—in the entire time of their friendship, they had never exchanged such heated words. He hadn’t wanted her to involve civilians in this matter anymore, which she thought was ridiculous since they were already involved. She had refused to wait around when Mr. Ackett was missing and had fully intended to send Calvin and the coachman out again to the Long Glades to look for him. She also knew she couldn’t have stopped the two of them from going out on their own to search.

Laura had argued that Sol had no other choice unless he could produce another agent from out of his pocket at that moment.

But apparently he had.

“Is she your…?”

“No, but he will be arriving shortly.”

“You really did pull one from out of your pocket.”

“Actually, it was Lady Aymer who did that. She is here to vouch for me when he arrives.”

“Why did you instruct him to come here?”

“I assume you already sent Calvin and the coachman to try to find Sep?”

She nodded warily.

“Then Mr. Rosmont will need Clara.”

“Ah, I see. To find Calvin and vouch for… Mr. Rosmont, did you say?” And it was Lady Aymer who knew him, and not a personal acquaintance of Sol. “I believe I know who he is, but … what is he?”

Sol glanced down the corridor again, setting Laura’s teeth on edge. “Let’s adjourn to your drawing room.”

She cast one last glance at the open door to her storeroom, then led the way upstairs. There was a tea tray that had already been set up on the low table.

It was as Laura was passing him a cup of tea that she realized he had twigs in his hair. She reached over to pluck them out of his thick, wavy locks, and saw a small, creamy colored rose petal lodged in there, also. The scent of rose mixed with his natural musk, a warm, green, woody scent that brought to mind ivy basking in autumn sunlight. She hastily sat back down and tossed the vegetation into the fire nearby.

A flush glowed on Sol’s ears as he watched her. “I used unconventional methods to enter Mrs. Coulton-Jones’s house.” He seemed a bit defensive. After a pause, his eyes flickered to the closed double doors to the library. “Doing accounting at this time of night?”

She kept her face impassive. “My youngest pageboy, my coachman, my niece, and her friend are out in the Long Glades right now. I could not get my mind or body to rest.”

She noticed her fingers fidgeting, so she reached out to put a lemon biscuit on her plate and changed the subject. “I didn’t realize you were so close to Lady Aymer.” She sipped her tea calmly, because she was not irritated at Sol’s relationship with a young, beautiful widow fifteen years younger than herself. Not at all.

“I was only distantly acquainted with her, but … I was made aware of her interesting connections.”

Which of course, said nothing at all about her. Laura was not surprised that Lady Aymer had been aware of Mr. Coulton-Jones’s activities as a spy, since during the brief visit to Mrs. Coulton-Jones, the two siblings had seemed very close. But Sol had gone to her despite his argument with Laura over involving civilians, and Lady Aymer had known of another spy who could help Sol immediately, at this late hour. There was something else about her beyond her knowledge of her brother’s secret life.

“So, why did you not use your own special connections to find someone?”

His face became set and hard. “Because any connections that I may have would require a full report, and they would take a week to dither about and decide who they could spare. I am responsible for Sep. I owe that to his uncle. I do not have a week to waste. I was not certain Lady Aymer would know of anyone who was in London right at this moment, but I had to take the chance.”

“So she summoned your new knight in shining armor?”

“She sent a message and a servant to Mr. Rosmont’s townhouse to wake him or find him, and to ask him to meet her at your house. I was lucky he was in London and not at his estate.”

“He is like Mr. Coulton-Jones?”

“He has the same skill set, yes.”

Laura tried again. “How is it that Lady Aymer has knowledge of someone like this?”

Sol was uncomfortable but trying not to show it. However, there was a tightness to his hazel eyes as he struggled to not avert his gaze. “Because of her brother, she has knowledge of things that a normal society widow would be ignorant of.”

Laura had to admit that was a clever answer, and it still gave her no information about Lady Aymer. “But you know nothing of Mr. Rosmont?”

A cultured voice rang out in the drawing room. “Lady Wynwood, I assure you that Thorne Rosmont is an old family friend of the Coulton-Joneses.” Lady Aymer entered the room and sank gracefully into a chair.

Laura admitted she was duly chastised for speaking of someone who was not in the room. She poured Lady Aymer a cup of tea. “I hope you will forgive my curiosity, since he will be working with my servants and my niece.”

Lady Aymer paused in reaching for the cup that Laura held out to her. “Your niece?”

“Sol, I had assumed you told her about everything that happened tonight.”

“He did, but I had thought her role was done with the rescue of my brother.”

“Dr. Shokes arrived at this late hour to tell us that he found his brother looking through the girls’ equipment, and he worried that his brother suspected they were analyzing the Root.”

Sol’s brows furrowed. “That would be an untenable situation. I specifically approved their analysis of the Root because I knew they would have no outside agenda, but any other man …”

Laura nodded. “I felt uneasy, in a way that I cannot explain, and so I sent them back to the apothecary shop to clear away their work as soon as possible.”

Sol frowned. “At this time of night?”

“Lady Wynwood, was there really a need for such urgency?”

Laura hesitated. Phoebe and Keriah had been more than eager to return to the apothecary shop, but she had not told them about the vision she’d seen, nor of the restless tension she had been feeling. If it had been simply Sol, she would have openly shared about both her unexplainable feelings, because he was used to her speaking about the stirrings she felt from a higher power. She was not ashamed of these workings of God in her life, but she still hesitated because Lady Aymer was a stranger. Yet, she was also entrusting her family friend to Sol and Laura. “It might appear foolhardy to you both, but over the years I have learned to recognize these premonitions from the Holy Spirit.”

Sol reacted as he always did, by leaning away from her slightly, and making his face politely blank. They had had long discussions about religion, and she had explained how her experiences had thrown her into a more intimate relationship with God, but he simply could not fully understand her way of thinking. To him, God was who he prayed to on Sundays in church, and as the occasional expletive.

But to Laura’s surprise, there was an answering light in Lady Aymer’s eyes and a smile hovering on her lips. She nodded firmly. “If God has spoken to you about this, then of course you must listen. It might be of vital importance that they prevent Dr. Shokes’s brother from discovering the sample.”

Laura blinked at Lady Aymer, and then the two of them shared a smile whose warmth went beyond politeness, and worked instead as a bond between kindred souls.

“It seems a waste of time, because the young women were intending to return to the Long Glades in the morning to continue making more of the sedative.” Although Laura did wonder if perhaps they would decide to remain at the apothecary shop to make more sedative. “Depending upon how quickly they work, they might be of aid to Mr. Rosmont, and he to them.”

“I can assure you that if they need him, Thorne is trustworthy. He has worked with Michael several times overseas.”

Lady Aymer had been completely earnest when speaking her first sentence, but for her second, there was something about her face and her hands that came to Laura’s notice. She thought that perhaps Lady Aymer’s second sentence was not entirely truthful, or perhaps there was something about Mr. Rosmont that she was withholding. Laura hesitated, but it did not seem that Lady Aymer spoke with any malice, so she let it go.

Laura did not always hear her door knocker, but tonight the sound boomed through her tiny townhouse under a firm hand. She jumped at the sudden noise.

“That would be Thorne,” Lady Aymer said serenely.

Laura’s eyes automatically went to Sol’s face, and they exchanged a look that expressed their wariness, curiosity, and surprise. It was such a familiar action, and at the same time it seemed foreign, because they were now working together in an area that had previously been solely Sol’s secretive life. Laura looked away quickly.

Thudding, long footsteps sounded on the wooden floors and drew closer to the drawing room. The door was open, so Laura immediately saw the figure that appeared and filled up the entire doorframe.

He was very tall, a few inches taller than Mr. Coulton-Jones, and he moved with an athletic grace that somehow reminded her of Mr. Coulton-Jones, as well. But he had a more powerful build, with wide shoulders and muscular legs that were obvious even though his jacket and breeches were rumpled and loosely fitted. His large hand gripped the edge of the doorway while his green eyes scanned the occupants of the room. They landed first on Lady Aymer, flickered warily over Laura and Sol, then returned to Lady Aymer again.

“I came as soon as I received your message.” His voice was low and slightly husky.

Lady Aymer rose and crossed the room to him, laying a hand on his arm. While he hadn’t been moving in any way, somehow her touch stilled him.

“Thank you for coming, Thorne. Let me introduce to you Lady Wynwood and Mr. Drydale. This is Mr. Thorne Rosmont.”

He bowed to them.

“We have met before, I believe, at occasional society functions,” Laura said.

“Yes, my lady.” There was an infinitesimal pause, and then he said, “You most likely know my father, Mr. Kane Rosmont.”

Laura felt her face tighten, although she tried not to. The man’s father had the honor of being the most unpleasant man she had ever met—and that included Phoebe’s insufferable prig of a father. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to grow up as his son.

“Please, won’t you sit down? All will be explained.” She sent a pointed look at Sol.

As Sol related what had happened in the past evening, Laura took the opportunity to observe Mr. Rosmont. His entire body was tense, like a spring that had been too tightly wound, and a part of her was afraid of the moment he would suddenly fly apart. He was about the same age as Mr. Coulton-Jones, and his skin was lightly tanned, indicating that he spent long hours outdoors. It could be that he was an attentive landlord of the estate that Lady Aymer had mentioned. His eyes on Sol were intense and sharply intelligent.

“And so, we would like you to help us find Septimus Ackett,” Sol said.

Mr. Rosmont nodded, then he looked at Laura. “Might I speak to your pageboy, Calvin, I believe his name was? I would like to know what happened when he last saw Mr. Ackett.”

Laura explained about Calvin and the coachman taking Phoebe and Keriah back to the apothecary shop while they went searching for Mr. Ackett in the Long Glades. Then Sol added, “Calvin’s sister, Clara, can accompany you to the Long Glades. She will help you find Calvin and she will vouch for you when you do.”

Laura rose and pulled the bell pull. “I will call for Clara.”

The butler scratched in the door almost immediately, and she gave him a quiet word of instruction.

But as she turned away from the drawing room door, she was surprised by the deep frown that darkened Mr. Rosmont’s face. His glance at Sol was faintly accusatory. “I do not work with civilians,” he said curtly. “I work alone.”

Strangely, Lady Aymer’s mouth opened as if she were about to say something, but then she closed it and her face became as smooth as glass.

“Calvin will never speak to you if Clara is not with you.” Laura reseated herself on the sofa. “And you may not find him without her, either.”

Mr. Rosmont’s face went through various shades of frustration. Laura could almost see the scales in his head as he weighed his normal procedure against the needs of this mission.

Her impression of his stubborn nature was confirmed when he did not acknowledge Laura’s argument, nor explicitly agree to take Clara with him. With a clenched jaw, Mr. Rosmont turned to Sol. “What kind of an agent is Mr. Ackett?”

Sol hesitated in confusion. “I’m not certain I understand what you are asking.”

“There are different types of agents, and they make different decisions based on personality and beliefs. If I better understand Mr. Ackett, I can better guess what decisions he might have made last night.”

“I have known him most of his life,” Sol said slowly, “for I am friends with his uncle. He has always been quiet—observant, rather than taciturn. His body is strong and flexible, and he has been best suited for missions of infiltration.”

A different way of saying that he was skilled at breaking into houses, Laura surmised.

Sol continued, “He is smart, and weighs the facts and situation carefully before making a decision. But he has an unusual propensity …” Sol scratched the back of his head. “He prefers running across rooftops to riding a horse or taking a carriage.”

Laura had to stop and think back over what he had just said to make sure she had heard him correctly. It was a rather boyish habit for a man whose expressionless face seemed to look out upon the world with a serious mien.

There was another soft knock upon the door, and Clara entered the drawing room. When she returned to the house, she had changed back into her normal dress, but now she had again donned the boy’s clothes that Laura had provided for her. Since her brother had left the house, she had probably assumed she would now be sent after him.

Her eyes widened when she was introduced to Mr. Rosmont—perhaps because of his size, towering over her, or perhaps because of the glower on his face as he stared at her. But when Laura explained what Clara needed to do for Mr. Rosmont, he gave her a small, firm nod, as if he were confident she would find her brother.

Laura rose and placed her hands on Clara’s shoulders, then faced Mr. Rosmont. “When you have found Calvin, please send him and Clara back to the apothecary shop.”

If it had been Calvin, there would have been an explosion of protest. Since this was Clara, she simply turned and gave a wounded look at her employer.

Mr. Rosmont nodded, and seemed pleased by her request.

“M’lady,” Clara said in a whining voice, “Calvin and I could help them.”

Laura knelt down so that she was more at eye level with Clara. “I have complete confidence in your ability to ferret out information. Which is why I want you and Calvin to get some rest so that you can take up the search in the morning, if Mr. Rosmont is unsuccessful.”

Mr. Rosmont frowned again, no doubt objecting to her trust in a pair of eleven-year-old twins contrasted with her doubt of his abilities.

However, the hurt on Clara’s face melted away, although there was still a bit of sulk on her bottom lip.

Mr. Rosmont’s expression suddenly softened, but was no less worried. “May I see Michael?”

“Of course.” As she had with Lady Aymer, she led the way to her storeroom and Sol cautiously opened the door. However, Mr. Rosmont did not enter the room, but instead stood in the open doorway and stared at his friend. Laura hadn’t thought it was possible, but he became even more tightly drawn, his muscles bunching visibly even though his jacket was old and loose. Muscles popped along his jaw, but he said nothing.

Then he suddenly squeezed his eyes shut and drew in a sharp breath. When he opened his eyes and exhaled, he turned to her with a focused gaze. “We shall depart.”

Trailed by Lady Aymer and Sol, Laura escorted Mr. Rosmont and Clara to the back door of the house, where they would traverse the garden and exit by the laundry house in back, so that no one would see them leave her house. “May the Lord God watch over you.”

Clara seemed heartened by her mistress’s words, but Laura caught the curl of Mr. Rosmont’s upper lip just before he turned away.

The three of them watched until she could no longer make out their figures in the shadows of the garden, then returned to the drawing room. She had hardly preached a sermon to him, and yet his disdain had been sharp. It did not offend her, but the fact that the slight mention of faith had caused such a reaction in him made her think that he possibly had some deep personal anger against God.

She was not certain how she felt about the choice of Mr. Rosmont. He was like the lid on a boiling pot, and she was especially wary of instability. She spent a minute fretting about Phoebe and Keriah and her servants, but then she remembered to send a prayer up to the One who could keep them safe better than the finest agent of the Crown.

Lord God, please protect them. She hesitated, then added, And enable them to do Thy will, and to resist the evil lurking in London.

Sol and Lady Aymer had walked ahead of her to the front foyer, where they accepted their outerwear from the butler.

“Pray, do not stand upon ceremony, but call upon me early tomorrow,” Laura said. Or rather, today since it was already past midnight. “I am uncertain if Mr. Rosmont will have sent word of his progress, but you are welcome to remain here while we wait for him.”

“I would be much obliged,” Lady Aymer said. “I will come later in the morning, because I am to attend to my mother at breakfast.”

“I will come early,” Sol said.

Graham opened the door for them just as Lady Aymer’s coachman drew up with her carriage, which they had ridden to Laura’s house. Lady Aymer preceded Sol out the door, and he paused to turn back to Laura.

He had a deceptively mild look in his hazel eyes as he commented, “I can only imagine how difficult it must be to do accounts with old ledgers.”

Laura could not stop herself from reacting with a slight jerk of her shoulders.

Sol merely tipped his hat to her and then followed Lady Aymer out the door.

As Graham closed the front door, Laura wanted to sink to her knees and thump her fists several times against the marble floor. She might be clever at detecting lies, but she couldn’t deceive others.

How had he suspected there was something she was hiding from him?

Copyright © 2021 Camy Tang

Cover design by Dineen Miller/Designer Girl Graphics

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Camy Tang
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San Jose, CA 95153-3143

Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 2: Berserker/ Camille Elliot. — 1st ed.
eBook: ISBN-13: 978-1-942225-23-2
Print book: ISBN-13: 978-1-942225-24-9

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