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Lady Wynwood's Spies, volume 5: Prisoner

A Christian Historical Adventure set in Regency England with romance and a supernatural twist
Part five in an epic-length serial novel

Lady Wynwood’s team of aristocrat spies is shocked at the betrayal by one of their teammates and the kidnapping of a second. In a race against time, they must find the hiding place of the treasonous group that they call the Gentians in order to save one of their own.

However, they also face the threat of mysterious agendas within the secret government department, the Ramparts. The team is split apart by the Ramparts’ leaders, who seem overly interested in using the mysterious Root elixir for their own purposes.

While knowing that each day brings more suffering and torture for the prisoner, Lady Wynwood’s spies scramble to uncover any clues left behind as to where the Gentians have gone. But with their resources and abilities limited by the Ramparts, can they make it in time before the enemy accomplishes its perplexing goal?

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 6.

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Excerpt

Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 5: Prisoner



A Christian Regency Romantic Adventure serial novel

Camille Elliot


Copyright © 2022 Camy Tang
Cover design by Dineen Miller/Designer Girl Graphics

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.

Camy Tang
P.O. Box 23143
San Jose, CA 95153-3143
www.camilleelliot.com

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 5: Prisoner/ Camille Elliot. -- 1st ed.

eBook: ISBN-13: 978-1-942225-30-0
Print book: ISBN-13: 978-1-942225-33-1

As far as the east is from the west,
so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
Psalms 103:12

And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
Matthew 28:20b

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Matthew 11: 28-30

Chapter One

Miss Phoebe Sauber rode her aunt’s unmarked carriage back to the hotel in Mayfair feeling sick the entire way. Not from the moving of the coach, but from the dread of what had happened to her aunt.

It was all her fault. If she hadn’t been so distracted by her rage at her father, she would not have left her aunt’s side. She would have been there when Mr. Ackett arrived.

And yet, what could she have done? She had some training in fisticuffs, but she did not have the years of experience that Mr. Ackett did. She could not have stopped him.

And what had happened to him? Did that gunshot mean that he had been killed? She shivered.

She had never seen Uncle Sol so upset before. She knew that he and her aunt were close friends, but the crazed look in his eyes made her wonder if perhaps his feelings ran deeper than even he realized.

If he was distraught with worry, as she was, would he be able to set aside his emotions and plan some way to rescue Aunt Laura? She could only hope that the people he had gone to speak to would be able to help. There was little that the team could do until he had spoken to his superior officer at the Ramparts, so he had sent Phoebe to the hotel with Dr. Shokes and Mr. Coulton-Jones, along with Calvin and Mr. Havner, who were on the box of the carriage.

After dropping them off at the hotel, Mr. Havner left with Calvin to take them back to Aunt Laura’s townhouse to tell the servants what had happened. Uncle Sol had also said that he didn’t wish for the Ramparts agents to be aware that Laura’s servants had helped them, so he had instructed them not to go inside the hotel. Phoebe told them that she would send word about how Aya was doing.

Both of the Ramparts agents were standing guard in the hallway when Phoebe arrived, much to her surprise. She would have thought they looked cupshot if she hadn’t known that their pallor was not from drink, but from Mr. Ackett’s attacks.

Unlike before, the guard at the head of the stairs stood in their way. “State your name and business.”

Mr. Coulton-Jones said with irritation, “What’s the meaning of this, Flemming?”

Phoebe, who had seen him only an hour or two earlier, stared at him with eyebrows raised, but said nothing.

Under the weight of her stare, Mr. Flemming pursed his lips, and his eyes sidled away. “Please wait.” He twisted around to see the other guard still standing at the head of the other stairwell. “What are you doing? Knock on the door,” he hissed at him.

The other man started, then walked to the door of Aunt Laura’s suite and knocked. Keriah peeked out, saw them, and immediately rushed over. “Dr. Shokes! Are you well?”

“I am well enough,” he said gruffly. He seemed to be embarrassed at the attention. “I heard that Aya was injured. Where is she?”

“You should lie down, Dr. Shokes,” Keriah said, her eyes scanning the bruising on his face.

“Not whilst there are people more injured than myself.” He eyed the two guards from the Ramparts. “The two of you look worse for wear.”

However, it was Keriah who answered with calm efficiency. “Mr. Swan had a nasty knock on the back of the head. Mr. Flemming was choked from behind and has bruising on his throat. I bandaged them up as best I could. Aya hit the back of her head on the stone ground, and although she has a large bump, she insists she feels fine. However, I have forced her to lie down in the bedroom.”

“I’ll look at her first.”

The three of them entered Aunt Laura’s suite. Mr. Coulton-Jones closed the door behind them and remained there to act as guard.

Phoebe followed Dr. Shokes into the bedroom, where he took a look at the back of Aya’s head. There had been some blood, but Keriah had cleaned most of it off.

“I did not have any herbs or tinctures with me,” Keriah said, “so I had to beg for things from the hotel kitchens. They had most of what I needed.”

“You did well,” Dr. Shokes grunted. “The wound does not look too serious …”

“I have a terrible headache,” Aya snapped.

“… aside from putting Aya in a temper.” Dr. Shokes tried to hide his smile. “I’m afraid I have nothing for your headache. I was taken from my new office without my doctor’s bag, and since those men kidnapped me from there, it’s probably too dangerous for me to return.”

“I have a stillroom,” Keriah said, although she carefully did not mention where it was. “I can travel there in the morning and fetch whatever you need.”

Dr. Shokes nodded. “I shall make a list.” He went back to examining Aya.

Phoebe and Keriah moved out into the sitting room. “Do we know what has happened with Mr. Ackett? And Lady Wynwood?” Keriah demanded. She was pale, and her voice trembled slightly. “What are we to do?”

“Mr. Drydale is going to ask the help of the Ramparts,” Phoebe said. “We can do nothing but wait until he contacts us.”

Keriah’s face crumpled, and she turned away to hide her tears. Phoebe rubbed her back. They had both been shocked by what they had witnessed in the stable yard, but Phoebe had left as soon as she could in order to tell Uncle Sol what had happened, leaving Keriah here to care for Aya and the two agents all by herself. Her nerves were probably stretched taut.

After a moment, she dashed away her tears and turned back to them. “Where is everyone else? Was anyone injured?”

“Mr. Drydale has gone to the Ramparts,” Phoebe said in a low voice. “He will arrange for another safe place for Aya and myself to stay. He said that he will also send new agents to replace the two men outside.”

Keriah nodded. “I’m glad of that. They are doing their best to stand guard, but they are as shaky on their feet as newborn foals.”

“Mr. Rosmont has gone to check on the prisoners,” Phoebe said. “If all is well, he will remain tonight with the two agents sent to the ice house as guards. The Ramparts will send replacements later.”

“And Lady Aymer?”

“Isabella was sent home,” Mr. Coulton-Jones said. “None of the other agents can know about her, so we thought it best. She was unhappy about it, and will likely come to check on both of you tomorrow, if she is able.”

“Miss Keriah?” Dr. Shokes suddenly called to her from the bedroom doorway. “Could I ask for your help?”

Keriah hurried into the bedroom.

Phoebe stood there in the middle of the room, suddenly unsure of what she ought to be doing. And then, in a rush, she realized how tired she was. She tottered toward the sofa and collapsed into it.

Mr. Coulton-Jones immediately came up to her. “Miss Sauber, are you well? Shall I call for Dr. Shokes?”

“I am …” She didn’t know how to answer him. Without warning, her eyes filled with tears. She fumbled for a handkerchief, but realized that she was still in boy’s clothing and had nothing in her pockets.

Then a handkerchief was pressed into her hand. She buried her face in it. Despite her runny nose, she was aware of the scent of laundry soap, and fir leaves, and a hint of woodsmoke.

She didn’t know how long she sat like that, but when she at last wiped her eyes and blew her nose, she realized Mr. Coulton-Jones was sitting beside her on the sofa, looking at her with worry in his eyes.

“I beg your pardon.” She found herself apologizing, although she didn’t know why. “I was trying to be strong.”

“You are strong. You needn’t …” His mouth flopped open and closed like a goldfish, as if he were trying to figure out what else to say.

Phoebe had the hysterical urge to giggle. She looked away from him, embarrassed at her crying and her flippant thoughts.

There was a stilted silence between them, then he quietly said, “It’s not your fault.”

She stared at him. It was as if he had read her mind. “It is my fault,” she said. “I was so upset that I left the hotel. I was so careless that I was almost kidnapped. I had to rely upon a stranger to prevent from being taken by the men my father hired.”

“You couldn’t have known that Septimus would come to the hotel.”

“But if I had been here, I might have been able to save Aunt Laura. I have sedative knives with me at all times, and I would only have needed to cut him once.”

“You had every reason to trust that your aunt was safe here,” he said. “None of us suspected that Septimus would act for them.”

“He might be dead,” she said in a whisper.

He said nothing for long minutes, then he said slowly, “I know what you must be feeling.”

She was about to snap that he didn’t know, but then, she remembered that he did.

“Isabella and I both feel guilt over Richard,” he said. “It was strange, but we both told each other that it was not each other’s fault. I’m not certain I can believe that yet, but somehow, the guilt is no longer crushing me and making me feel as though I cannot breathe.” He reached out and tentatively touched her hand. “So believe me when I tell you that it is not your fault, and you must try to believe it.”

Phoebe could see in his face that he seemed slightly less burdened than he did when he confessed to her about his guilt over his brother’s death. She was glad he seemed to be feeling better. If anyone could understand what she was going through, it would be him.

“I will try.” She was about to return his snot-covered handkerchief to him, then thought better of it. “I shall have this laundered and return it to you.”

He gave her a crooked smile. “I would appreciate that.”

She wanted to hide her face from him, for she was surely as splotchy as an overripe plum. She rose and excused herself to change out of her boy’s attire.

Phoebe had brought only one dress that she could do up herself without help, and it hung on her frame like a potato sack with pretensions. She sighed as she shook it out, but then scolded herself that Mr. Coulton-Jones wouldn’t notice even if she appeared in her most flattering ballgown.

When she returned to her aunt’s room, Keriah was still helping Dr. Shokes in the bedroom. She had just closed the door behind her when Mr. Coulton-Jones suddenly stiffened. Phoebe was about to ask him what the matter was when she also heard it.

Pounding footsteps, running up the stairs. They were not approaching on the main stairs, but the servants’ stairwell that she most often used when entering and exiting the hotel.

It could have nothing to do with them. But somehow, Phoebe and Mr. Coulton-Jones both knew that something was coming. They needed to prepare themselves and protect the others.

He raced to the bedroom door. Dr. Shokes had closed it partway, but he knocked brusquely and pushed it open. “All of you, remain in here. Lock the door.”

He was about to shut the door behind him, when Keriah called out. “Wait!”

She exited and pulled the bedroom door closed. There was still a hole in the paneling where Aya had broken through, but they heard the sound of the bolt being slid into place inside.

Keriah held a narrow leather belt, which was dotted with leather sheaths for small, slim blades. “Aya gave these to me. These belong to Lady Wynwood. She had brought them with her in case they were needed.” She straightened her shoulders. “I shall stay here at the door to protect Aya and Dr. Shokes.”

“You would do better to protect them inside,” Mr. Coulton-Jones said.

Keriah shook her head. “These are throwing knives. My aim is not as good as Phoebe, but I have had some practice thanks to Mr. Armstrong’s training.” She swallowed and winced, as if the action pained her, then added, “He told me that since I am … not suited for close-quarters fighting, it would be preferable for me to stand with my back to a wall and a clear line of sight within a room.”

“She’s right,” Phoebe told him. “We have a gypsy teacher who trained us in knife fighting side by side, in tandem, but it is only possible when we have plenty of room for me to move. This room is too full of furniture.”

Mr. Coulton-Jones nodded at Keriah. “Then stay there and offer support from a distance.”

“Where do you wish me to be?” Phoebe drew out a small knife from one of her muffatees. It was not as large as the fighting knife she wore in a leather sheath that sat at the small of her back, strapped to her body with leather thongs, when she was dressed in breeches. That knife was now sitting in her room, and she regretted that she had changed out of boy’s clothing.

“There, in front of the sofa.” He pointed. “Distract them.”

He moved swiftly toward the door, but instead of opening it, he stood against the wall on the other side of the hinges.

The footsteps had reached the hallway outside, heading directly toward the room. The door was locked, but the intruders didn’t bother to knock. Instead, she heard the click of the key in the lock.

Phoebe stiffened. The only other person with the key was one of the two Ramparts guards. And they would not allow someone inside, much less open the door unless …

The door was flung open, and it hid Mr. Coulton-Jones from the three men who stormed in.

Phoebe made her voice strident. “What do you think you are doing?!”

The first man into the room spotted Keriah at the entrance to the bedroom, and headed toward her. The second man approached Phoebe.

“I demand you tell me what you are doing!” she shouted.

She had hoped that she could also distract the third man, but he was the only one who thought to look more thoroughly around the room. He turned and peeked behind the open door.

Phoebe didn’t see what happened, because the man approaching her suddenly attacked without warning.

He pulled his arm back as if to slap or punch Phoebe, but he moved much more slowly than Mr. Armstrong. She easily ducked and slashed outward with her knife, which up until that moment she had hidden in the folds of her skirt.

Phoebe had surprised him, but his reflexes were too quick—he bowed his body backward and her cut was too shallow. He grunted as he grabbed her left wrist.

She tried to jerk away but was too late. Mr. Armstrong had told her to keep her arms closer to her body when she swung the knife, but she had forgotten.

So, she jerked her arm closer to her torso, which pulled him within inches of her. Then she quickly punched him in the throat with her hand clenched around the knife hilt, which helped project more power into her jab. The man released her wrist and staggered back, choking.

Mr. Armstrong had repeatedly told her that her legs delivered the hardest and most powerful blows. As the man retreated, stumbling, she rushed toward him. She was tall enough that she could easily grab the back of his head and yank it down as she snapped up with her knee as far as her skirts would allow.

She missed slightly and didn’t hit him square in the jaw, but she knocked his head hard enough that he stiffened for a moment, then fell to the floor, dazed.

Phoebe anxiously turned toward Keriah and the man who had approached her. Keriah had managed to hit him in the shoulder with the knife that she had thrown, but it had only slowed him down, and he continued rushing toward her with his fist drawn back to hit her.

Phoebe started forward, but then suddenly Mr. Coulton-Jones raced ahead with his supernatural speed. He must have taken care of the third man quickly.

He punched the man in the back of his injured shoulder, causing him to cry out and trip as he stepped forward. Mr. Coulton-Jones quickly spun him around and punched him in the face. He dropped backward stiffly and lay unmoving on the floor.

“What is going on here?”

The authoritative voice had come from the open doorway. Phoebe saw a man swaggering into the room, his face red with outrage. “Stand down!” he barked.

Phoebe froze at the men’s strict tone.

He was of average height for a man, and Phoebe was able to look him directly in the eye. He had a paunch under his elaborately embroidered waistcoat, and a round face with deep jowls. His eyes might have been merry, except that there were traces of cruelty threaded in the blue, as though he enjoyed watching others suffer. He had not removed his hat, but the thinning hair around the sides of his head was a pale blond.

Mr. Coulton-Jones had also stiffened and stood warily. “Mr. Uppleby,” he said.

Phoebe remembered that name. Uncle Sol had mentioned the superior officer who had sent agents to the prison and to the laboratory. What was he doing here, in her aunt’s hotel room? She would have been alarmed at any stranger who had entered, but the fact that this man had tried to undermine Uncle Sol made her entire body tense as she wondered what would happen next.

Mr. Uppleby glared at Mr. Coulton-Jones with a frown. “I don’t recall your name,” he said rudely, “but I know you work for Drydale.”

“I am Mr. Villager, sir.” Mr. Coulton-Jones’s voice was cool.

“What are you doing to my agents? They were sent to bring the civilians to a safer location.”

Phoebe’s jaw tightened and she had to force herself to relax it so that she could speak without snarling. She managed to sound like an irate young lady of quality. “If they were here to escort us to a safer location, why did they attack us instead? I thought they were going to kill us!” she added for dramatic measure.

“You are mistaken,” he said dismissively. “The men were probably only trying to take your arm to escort you out. Is that not right?” he asked of the man closest to him.

It was the man that Phoebe had hit. She had not knocked him out, and he had shakily risen to his feet when Mr. Uppleby entered the room. “Yes, sir,” he said.

“I felt gravely threatened,” Phoebe said. “Your agents are quite poorly trained if they are not even aware of proper behavior with a lady.” She ignored the fact that she had countered with a hidden knife, which she had surreptitiously replaced in her muffatee when Mr. Uppleby appeared.

Uppleby turned those cruel blue eyes to the man. “Well? Apologize to the lady.”

The man bowed to her. “I apologize, miss.” But his face was set and hard. “We were in a hurry because we had been told it was of utmost importance for you to be moved as soon as possible.”

“We haven’t the time to be standing here and talking,” Mr. Uppleby said. “Collect your things. Who else is here with you?”

Phoebe glanced at Mr. Coulton-Jones, who gave her the barest of nods.

She answered Mr. Uppleby, “My aunt’s maid, my friend, Miss Gardinier, and our physician, Dr. Shokes.”

Uppleby’s mouth turned into a deeper frown. “There was only supposed to be one woman. We hardly have room for you all.”

“If you will tell me where they are to be taken, sir,” Mr. Coulton-Jones said in a neutral voice, “I would be happy to escort them instead.”

Mr. Uppleby sniffed in his direction. “No need. I suppose we’ll take all of them, if we must.” He flapped a peremptory hand at Phoebe. “Well, go, go—collect your things, gel. I haven’t got all day.”

Phoebe wanted to snap at him to mind his tone, but remembered in time that this man was superior in rank to Uncle Sol. She headed out the door to go to her room, but as she did so, Mr. Uppleby was looking with interest around the room—no, not with interest, but with avarice. As though he expected there to be something that would warrant his attention.

She was surprised to find Mr. Coulton-Jones shadowing her. He waited until they were in her room, with the door cracked open, then leaned so close that she could smell again his unique musk that reminded her of a curl of woodsmoke and fir trees in winter.

In a low voice only she could hear, he said, “I didn’t wish to leave you alone.”

She nodded. Of course that was all it was. He obviously distrusted these men as much as she did.

“Why do you think they attacked us?” she whispered. “In Keriah’s case, she attacked him first—although he looked like a bull about to trample her. And you were hiding behind the door, which might look suspicious. But the man who came at me had been intending to hit me, not grab my arm.”

Mr. Coulton-Jones’s face suddenly grew thunderous. “Did he harm you?”

“No,” she said. “But I think he intended to knock me unconscious. Did you notice how Mr. Uppleby looked about the room? As if he was eager to search it.”

“I noticed that.”

“What should we do?”

He hesitated, thinking. He finally looked up at her, concern shading his eyes. “Obey whatever they tell you, so long as they don’t attempt to harm you.”

“And what of you?”

“I will remain close to you.” Then he leaned closer and added, in a soft voice, “But you should not trust anyone.”


Chapter Two

The inky darkness of the forest around Thorne Rosmont felt thick, as though he were wading through a black sea. Small animals that were more active in the evening scurried in the underbrush. Their scratching sounds followed him as he walked deeper through the trees.

He led his horse, holding his lantern aloft. The trail was narrow, and he didn’t wish the horse to stumble. The lantern gave barely any light, but he didn’t dare use a larger, brighter one, else he would be more easily seen.

Thorne tried to walk as quickly as he could, but the unfamiliar path in the darkness had slowed him down too much. He needed to reach the prison as soon as possible. The urgency was scratching in his gut, not unlike the soft sounds of the wildlife all around him.

He admitted that he had been glad that his childhood friend, Isabella, had been forced to return home and excuse herself from anything further to do with this mission. Once he realized that they had been betrayed, he had worried about her safety. Perhaps it was simply habit, since he had spent two or three years guarding le petit prince on various missions, both in France and on English soil.

The high-level secrecy of her identity and her role in various vital missions had caused the need for her to disappear once more of the Ramparts agents were to be brought in. But since she was not with them, Thorne also felt incomplete, as though he were missing a finger. It was not simply her ability to assume any role. He missed knowing she was there, watching over him just as he was tasked with protecting her.

A strange moan rose from the depth of the darkness, and Thorne halted. The horse whickered, and he automatically laid a hand over its nose to soothe it. The sound had not sounded like an animal, nor like a human.

He waited, his ears straining, but the moan did not repeat itself. It had been almost otherworldly …

Thorne continued on his way. He could not believe he was being so chicken-hearted. There were no such things as ghosts.

But if there were … would Septimus be one of them? Or was he still alive?

He fully admitted that compared to Michael and Isabella, he was the most cynical and suspicious of other people, but even he had been shocked to discover Sep’s actions. How could he have done this? What would cause him to do this?

If he had been truly reluctant, what could have induced him to obey the pale-eyed man’s orders to kidnap Lady Wynwood? Thorne could think of any number of things, and all of them made him shiver.

And if Sep was not reluctant, how had they all been so completely fooled? Thorne felt a veritable half-wit at being duped and allowing an innocent woman to be taken. Even though it had not seemed to have been anything he could have prevented, he was too used to internalizing his feelings. The habit had been beaten into him by his father and could not be removed.

He squinted above at the fragments of night sky visible through the tree branches. Judging the time, he thought it might be closer to midnight.

He supposed he should be grateful that they had been alerted about the kidnapping so quickly. If Miss Sauber had not witnessed it, if she had not had the presence of mind to change into boy’s clothing and hurry to inform them right away, they may not have discovered the kidnapping until several hours later.

Thorne’s immediate reaction had been to try to chase down the carriage. But he knew they had no trail to follow. The carriage had disappeared on a London street and could have gone anywhere.

His entire team was devastated. Miss Sauber had looked terrified for her aunt. Even Mr. Drydale had been staggered.

Thorne had had many other superior officers, but few whom he respected more than Mr. Drydale, whose decisions so far had been sound, and whose trust in the team was obvious. But it had also caused him to be confounded when Sep had turned on them.

Remembering Mr. Drydale’s face, the shaking of his hands, Thorne felt a niggle of discomfort. It was unusual to see any sort of emotion in a superior officer—except perhaps rage at a subordinate’s failings—but Mr. Drydale had been truly horrified. This glimpse of vulnerability had made Thorne desperate to do something—anything—to fix the situation.

Except that there was nothing he could do but follow orders.

Thorne started recognizing certain trees, certain landmarks, despite the dark. He was nearing the prison.

He suddenly shivered. After everything that had happened, he had a bad feeling about the prisoners.

No, he scolded himself. Things should be fine. He had no reason to think otherwise.

As he drew closer, he saw light shining through the trees, and he became irritated. Mr. Drydale had arranged for two Ramparts agents to travel to the prison before the operation tonight, where the situation could be thoroughly explained to them before Michael and Sep had left. But even raw recruits were supposed to have been trained in the proper procedures.

The gamekeeper’s hut and the icehouse were made so that no light would show once the doors and windows were closed. Thorne should not be seeing light right now.

The two guards were probably sitting in the gamekeeper’s hut, playing cards or dice, with the window open since the hut was small and close. Thorne had been an agent for many years, but he had worked for the Foreign Office, not the Alien Office, so he wasn’t certain if he was entitled to let them feel the lash of his tongue when he had only been working for the Ramparts for a few weeks.

But as he drew closer, he grew alarmed. The light was not coming from the gamekeeper’s hut, but from the icehouse. That meant that the door was open. He dropped the reins of his horse and ran.

He nearly collided with a huge, hulking form that rose in the darkness. He lifted the lantern higher and let the light spill over the shape of a prisoner transport cart. However, there was no horse attached to it.

The agents who had come to take Michael’s and Septimus’s place in guarding the prisoners had not brought this cart with them. That meant that it had arrived afterward. His alarm became tinged with anger, and at the same time his nerves were pulled tight. They had already fought with Uppleby over the transport of the prisoners. What had happened?

Thorne skirted the prisoner transporter, which was nothing more than a sturdy cart with a closed wooden box that locked from the outside. As he passed the driver’s seat, he saw there were no lanterns.

Strangely, he began to smell smoke and copper—gunpowder and blood. He paused at the gamekeeper’s hut, but realized the smell was coming from the open door of the icehouse.

The door had been flung open, but there was supposed to be a dark curtain over the base of the stairs to block any light from inside. Now, the curtain had been ripped down and light streamed out, limning the trees in sickly yellow.

Thorne approached slowly, sliding out a knife from the sheath strapped to his leg. Mr. Drydale had decided that they should not carry pistols in Vauxhall, but now Thorne regretted the loss.

At the top of the stairs, he was able to look down and see the curtain rumpled at the base. But then he looked closer and realized that the fabric was wrapped around a body.

His first instinct was to rush down to check, but he forced himself to pause and listen. He heard nothing from inside.

He looked more closely at the body. The curtain had been ripped from its rings when the man had likely grabbed at it as he fell. Thorne also recognized the man—Mr. Silcox, one of the Ramparts agents from the other night, who had arrived at the laboratory to help them transport the prisoners to this icehouse.

Michael had mentioned to Thorne that Mr. Silcox was one of the two agents who had come to take their place in guarding the prison tonight. Michael had admitted to being uncomfortable with Silcox because he’d asked many questions about the prisoners. When Michael told him that they couldn’t disclose that information, Silcox had been disappointed and disdainful.

From the unnatural angle of the man’s neck and his frozen, open eyes, Thorne could tell that Mr. Silcox was dead.

Thorne’s Goldensuit-enchanced strength had returned almost to normal, but his hearing and sense of smell were both still a bit sensitive, even though it had been over two weeks since he’d last breathed in the pollen. He crouched down at the top of the stairs into the underground icehouse, steadied his breathing and strained his ears.

There was one man inside of the icehouse, breathing quickly, as if he was in pain. Thorne remained perfectly still and listened as intently as he could, but he could hear nothing else.

He crept down the stairs slowly, as quietly as he could. He paused at the bottom, glancing at Mr. Silcox’s body, then quickly popped his head out around the corner before ducking back again.

The brief glimpse he had seen was enough to make the anger boil in his gut at the same time that his feet froze with fear. The doors to the two cells were wide open. There was a man—he guessed a Ramparts agent—sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, bleeding from a cut in his torso, although Thorne couldn’t tell if it was from his stomach, his chest, or if his throat had been cut and the blood had run down his shirt.

He waited a heartbeat, then five. There was no reaction to his quick peek around the corner, so he hastened forward.

The door to one of the cells where the prisoners had been kept still had the key in the lock. It had been unlocked, and not forced open.

The eyes of the injured man were half-lidded and unfocused, and it took him a while to realize that Thorne was there. When he saw him, his breathing quickened. Thorne could see that the man had been slashed across the stomach, and fluids were leaking out of the wound, soaking his shirt and coat.

Berating himself for his thoughtlessness, Thorne returned to the curtain and tugged it free from the body. He began tearing it into strips, and then he knelt and pressed the rags to the man’s wound.

He also saw that there was a third man lying dead on the floor beyond the injured one. Thorne couldn’t see his face, but he lay perfectly still in a huge pool of blood, and he didn’t look to be breathing.

The man was becoming more agitated, his breath coming in light gasps. To try to calm him, Thorne asked, “What is your name?”

“Hobkins,” the man wheezed.

It was probably not his true name, since most agents at the Ramparts used a false name, and their true identities were only known to their superior officers.

“I had to do what I was told,” Hobkins said in a weak voice.

Thorne pressed more of the rags to the wound, but it made the man moan in pain.

“What were you told?” Thorne asked.

The man blinked as his eyes slid into focus for a moment. There was a slyness in his gaze. “The prisoners grabbed my knife and threatened me through the window to open the door.”

He didn’t need Lady Wynwood’s ability to know that the man was lying. The prison door was solid wood with only a small barred window near the top and a slit near the bottom for trays of food.

They were in danger every moment they were here in the icehouse, with those prisoners somewhere outside. He gave the man a hard look. “What really happened?”

The man coughed, which was cut short as he winced in pain. “I had to do what I was told,” he said again.

“What was that?”

The man hesitated, and Thorne began to wonder if he would bleed out his lifeblood before answering. But finally the man said in a weak voice, “We were to say that a prisoner had tried to escape.”

If Thorne understood the man correctly, then that meant … “You let one of them go?” His voice came out harsh and loud.

“The escape attempt would prove the prison isn’t secure … We would be justified in moving the prisoners to London.”

“There were four prisoners,” Thorne said incredulously. “There were only two of you …” He looked at the other body. “Who is that?”

“He arrived with the cart after Mr. Hamlet and Mr. Villager left,” he said, referring to Septimus and Michael by their Ramparts pseudonyms. “That’s Mr. Pear,” he said, his head weakly indicating the body closest to him.

So the third man and the prison cart had arrived after Michael and Sep had left the prison to meet them all in Southwark. “Who told you to let the prisoners escape?” Thorne demanded. “Weren’t you told that these prisoners had been given a drug to make them stronger than a normal man?”

The man’s eyes had become even more unfocused. He didn’t answer Thorne’s question. “We decided to release one of the prisoners and then recapture him so that we wouldn’t be lying. But we underestimated their strength.” He stared off into the distance and seemed to be reliving the events, because his face slowly melted into one of horror. “It was only one man… Just one man … We had pistols trained on him when he opened the door, but it was no use. He attacked us.”

“Why didn’t you shoot him?”

“He was too fast. He attacked me and knocked away my gun so that it fired into the wall. He took my own knife and stabbed me with it, then he killed Mr. Silcox and Mr. Pear.” His eyes moved toward one of the open cells. “He also killed one of the other prisoners.”

There had been four prisoners, but one had an injury to his spine from Miss Sauber’s arrow. Thorne followed his gaze and saw the legs of another body in the cell.

They had likely taken the two horses ridden by the two agents and the lone horse from the transport cart. They probably also took the lanterns that had been hanging on the cart. Thorne could only hope they were far away and not waiting nearby to see who else would come to the icehouse. He would be no match for one of them, much less three.

The man’s breathing was becoming labored and slower. Thorne slapped his face. “Who ordered you to do this?”

The man didn’t answer. Thorne slapped him again, and his eyes fluttered open.

“Who ordered you to do this?”

“… Uppleby …”

Thorne came back to his senses when he heard the sound of his teeth grinding together. Mr. Uppleby was the superior agent who had sent Mr. Clay and the other agent to the icehouse yesterday to demand that the prisoners be moved to London. He had caused this utter mess—two agents and one prisoner dead, one agent badly wounded, and three prisoners escaped. The icehouse was no longer safe, and the Ramparts would not be able to use it again—as soon as the prisoners returned to Jack, they would tell him where they’d been held.

He had to get Hobkins out of here, even though the three men on the Root may be out in the woods somewhere. The agent was badly injured and would die without medical treatment.

Thorne made his way to Hobkins’ side and slid an arm around his torso, under his arms. “We must leave.”

Hobkins understood his unspoken warning. Squeezing his eyes tight, he took several quick breaths, then firmed his mouth. Thorne heaved him upward.

The man’s cry was long and splintering like slivers of wood. He gasped for air, and the pain was so great that his legs trembled. Thorne had to bear the brunt of his weight.

It seemed to take too long to stagger up the stairs with Hobkins and shuffle toward the cart. The ride in the unsprung cart would be terrible for him, but Thorne had no other means to get him to a doctor.

He was gratified to see that his horse had obediently followed the track and now stood quietly beside the cart. But the smell of blood from Hobkins’ body made the animal’s eyes begin to roll in alarm.

At last, he left Hobkins moaning in the driver’s seat. He had asked him if he would rather ride in the back, but Hobkins had refused.

Thorne then went back to the icehouse, and he began the distasteful and awkward process of carrying the bodies of the three men up the stairs and into the back of the cart. It seemed wrong to leave them there when he had the means to transport them. He did not think that Jack’s men would return to the icehouse and desecrate the bodies of the agents, but he didn’t want to take a chance. The bodies were still warm, indicating they had died not long before Thorne arrived.

He took one last check around the icehouse and picked up a sackful of odds and ends from the gamekeeper’s hut. There weren’t any objects connected to the Ramparts, but he took everything, just to be sure.

He hitched his poor horse up to the cart and led it rather than sitting on the box and driving. Since he was a large man, his horse was also a big-boned, rangy fellow, and while it had some trouble getting the cart to move at first, it managed to pull it once it was underway. Thorne felt bad for the animal, since he had hurried from London and it hadn’t had time to rest before being forced to act as carriage horse to a heavy vehicle weighed down by four men.

“Good boy,” he said to the beast, patting its neck as he walked alongside it, holding the reins. “I promise you a big trough of oats at the nearest coaching Inn.” He would also hire another horse to take him back to London at all speed.

It was slow going through the trees and the dark, since the only lantern Thorne possessed was the small one he had brought with him. He also kept his senses alert in case the escaped prisoners tried to attack him. However, if three men on the Root were going to attack, he doubted they would bother with an ambush when their only opponent would be Thorne alone.

He wanted to rush the horse, even though it was already straining to pull the cart. He estimated that not enough time had passed for the prisoners to have raced to London, told Jack, and returned here, but it was still safer to vacate this forest.

But Thorne wanted to hurry to tell Mr. Drydale about this as soon as possible. He was concerned how his superior officer would react to this news on top of Lady Wynwood’s abduction and Septimus’s betrayal and possible death.

How had everything gone so wrong so quickly?


Chapter Three

“I’m taking over the investigation personally.”

Sol stared in shock at his superior officer, Sir Derrick Bayberry. He hadn’t taken over an investigation in years.

But it had also been many years since the Ramparts had had an agent betray them in quite so obvious a manner.

“I interviewed Mr. Ackett myself,” Sir Derrick groused. In the dimness of his office, his swarthy skin had an even darker cast than normal, making the whites of his large, slightly protuberant eyes stand out even more starkly. He glared up at Sol where he stood before the desk. “Why would he have done this?”

Sol shook his head. “I have been asking myself since I heard it.”

“It’s not how agents are trained to act,” Sir Derrick said. “If these Daisies—”

“Er … I believe you mean Gentians, sir.”

“Gentians, daisies, lilies, whatever we call them. If they contacted Mr. Ackett, he should have told you, and then you could have made the decision about what he should do.”

Sol could say nothing except, “Septimus knows this.” Or knew this. Was he still alive? Sol’s heart clenched.

Sir Derrick rested his elbows on the desk and his chin in his folded hands. “In my experience, when an agent fails to report these things, it’s because he believes that the Ramparts won’t prioritize the captured civilian and try to rescue them, but will instead allow them to be killed. Mr. Ackett may have thought the same thing.”

Sol shook his head. “Septimus would have known that I would try to rescue the hostage, especially since, in this case, we owe Dr. Shokes a great deal. His actions are inexplicable to me. There must have been another reason why Septimus betrayed us.”

“If that’s the case, then we must discover what it is.” Sir Derrick sat up in his chair. “Go to search Mr. Ackett’s home and his costuming room. Do it now, as soon as you can.”

“But sir, we must try to follow the carriage—”

“We have no idea where it would have gone. We don’t even know where they are headed, if they will leave London or if they will remain within.”

Sol was about to protest that they had been in a carriage, not a traveling coach, but stopped himself. They could have easily switched to a coach at some point.

He knew all this. He had thought this through before coming to Sir Derrick. But he could not stop himself from wanting to chase after Laura, no matter how foolish and useless it would be.

“We must take advantage of the fact that they were discovered quickly,” Sir Derrick said. “You are a friend of the family and will have easy access to the house and to Mr. Ackett’s bedroom. So search it now, before the servants clean it, to see if there’s anything you may discover about what he was involved with.”

Sol reined in his desire to be doing something else. He knew Sir Derrick was correct. “I’ll see to that, sir. How will we go about searching for Lady Wynwood?”

“I will need to summon Uppleby and Antingham, since we will need help from their agents. There may also be something from their intelligence reports.” He hesitated and shot Sol with a narrow look. “I would also like to question the women about what happened.”

For some reason, Sol stiffened. “They are at the hotel with Mr. Coulton-Jones. I shall need to fetch them.”

Sir Derrick waved a hand. “There is no need for you to go yourself. Since they are with Mr. Coulton-Jones, I will send an agent to escort them here.”

“Are you certain you wish to bring civilians to the Ramparts?” It wasn’t unusual, but something in Sir Derrick’s manner made Sol feel uneasy, as though he wanted more from the women than simply to speak to them.

“I need to question them regardless, and the safest place for them would be here.”

Sol understood his logic, but there was something about it that he disliked. However, there was nothing objectionable, surely, in bringing the women into the security of the Ramparts. He departed from Sir Derrick’s office.

He hurried to Lord Ammler’s townhouse. It was growing late, even for the ton, and the streets were mostly quiet. But the silence was loud in his ears as each heartbeat seemed to be pounding at him, pounding into him.

When Septimus had told him that the pale-eyed man had met with him, there had been something in the young man’s face that had niggled at him, just the barest whisper of a suspicion that Septimus was keeping something from him. But he had dismissed it because he had known he could trust Septimus.

He still wanted to trust him now, despite all that he had done. He had said he hadn’t told the Gentians about any of them, or about Stayptton House. Was that the truth?

How could it be the truth? He’d taken Lady Wynwood.

Laura. The thought of her in danger was a physical ache in his belly, and he curled over in the saddle. He should have foreseen this, somehow. He should have been prepared for it.

He had completely failed her.

He took several gulps of air. He couldn’t fail her any more than he already had. He must do his job.

The first two floors of Lord Ammler’s townhouse were dark, but there were lights shining through curtains on the second floor, where the family bedrooms were situated.

His rap on the front door was answered with alacrity. The butler bowed and welcomed Sol into the house, even as he said, “I am afraid that only Miss Octavia is home at the moment.”

But then light footsteps pattered down the staircase and Septimus’s youngest sister, Octavia, appeared. “Mr. Drydale, how lovely to see you.”

“Octavia, my dear, I would have thought you would be out dancing your shoes to shreds at a ball.”

Her mouth curled into a half smile. “Do not tease me so, Mr. Drydale. My luckiest dancing partners are the ones who have sat out a dance with me rather than taking our places in a set. Septimus still complains about the toe I broke the last time we danced together.”

“Your brother needs a paddling,” Sol said, although his irritation was more real than mocking. “He is a young man now, and should know that one never mentions an injury done to him by a young lady.”

“But I am not a young lady, Mr. Drydale. I am his sister. In his eyes, I am the same as the cats keeping the stables free of mice.” But she gave him a full smile, indicating she was joking. “What brings you here tonight? I’m afraid all of my family is out this evening.”

“Why are you home alone? I hope you are not ill?”

“Oh no. My parents were invited to a party tonight, but I was a trifle tired and did not wish to attend.”

Sol cursed his poor luck. Most nights during the Season, the entire family, including the sickly Curtis, who really should be resting in the country, would be out of the house. Now he would need to explain himself. He gave her the affable smile of an old family friend. “In all honesty, I had been hoping to sneak in and out of the house like a thief. I believe I dropped a cravat pin in Septimus’s room the last time I visited.”

“Please come up and take a look around his bedroom.” She turned and began leading the way up the stairs.

As he followed her, she suddenly turned to him with a face of concern. “Do you perhaps know where Septimus is tonight? I am the last person to nag him, but I admit to being a bit concerned about him.”

“Oh?” Sol made his voice mildly curious, but inside, his heart was thudding. What if Septimus was indeed dead? How could he stand here and pretend not to know about it?

“It is not unusual for him to stay out all night, but he will usually leave a note for me or for my mother. The last time I saw him was last night, and yet we have not heard from him since.”

Last night. Septimus had ridden to London from the prison to fetch Sol. He shouldn’t have gone home at all last evening. “My dear girl, what has you all atwitter? Did anything appear odd when you saw him?”

“Not odd, precisely … He must have arrived sometime while we were seated at dinner, but he did not come in to greet us in the dining room. He usually only does that when he is trying to avoid our parents.” She made a face. “Mother is concerned that he has not been to many social events this Season, and father has been ranting that it is past time he was wed.”

Sol tried to make his voice seem jovial. “I would avoid your parents too, if I were facing a firing squad like that.”

She laughed as they reached the second floor landing. “I would not have seen him at all if I had not happened to catch him as he was leaving the house.”

“Did he say anything to you?” Sol looked away from her, idly gazing at the family portraits on the walls of the hallway, trying not to indicate how desperately he wanted to hear her answer.

“You know how Sep is. He will rarely give two words when nothing will do.” She grinned at him. “I did ask him why he was in such a hurry, but he only gave a brief answer and said that he would explain more later.”

“So did he say why he had arrived at home?”

“He had a sheathed knife in his hand, and he said that he had forgotten it in his room.”

They were walking down the hallway of the family wing of the house, but Sol caught his toe on the rich carpet and stumbled to step. “A knife?”

“Yes, although I admit I have rarely seen him with a knife. I don’t know how he might have used it.”

Septimus had said he had gone to his costuming room to collect his extra knife last night. No … He had said he had gone to his costuming room, but had he actually said that the pale-eyed man had met him there? Now Sol couldn’t remember.

“I’m certain I don’t know why he would need the knife, either,” he said, his voice sounding faint even in his own ears.

“Oh, but he did for me a great favor. I had been missing my amethyst ring. The stone came loose at a party, and I thought I placed it in my reticule, but my maid and I turned my room upside down trying to find it. When I saw Sep, he pulled it out of his pocket and gave it to me, still wrapped in my handkerchief. I had not realized that I had left it in his bedroom.”

For some reason, Sol grew cold. Although he himself was using the excuse that he had left a cravat pin in Septimus’s bedroom, and there was nothing unusual in returning her ring to her, the fact that he did so after retrieving his knife made something twist in his guts. That same queasiness told him something was wrong.

They had reached Septimus’s door. “When you have found your pin, will you take tea with me in the drawing room?” Octavia asked.

He cast a gentle smile at her. “I would love to, but I regret that I am promised to a friend tonight.”

“A friend? Perhaps Lady Wynwood?”

The question was innocent, and yet the sound of her name felt like a hammer striking his breastbone. “No, my dear. I am meeting a gentleman at my club. But I promise to stay and take tea with you another time.”

“I shall hold you to that,” she said. “And I shall be even more charitably disposed toward you if you manage to bring for me some chocolate biscuits from Lady Wynwood’s chef.”

“You scamp! Lady Wynwood’s home is hardly a bakery.”

“I am not so close to her as you, Mr. Drydale, and have only visited her once or twice this Season—formal calls with my mother. How else am I to get my fill of her chef’s marvelous pastries?”

“You shameless chit.” Sol smiled at her as he tweaked her chin, as he used to when she was younger. “You needn’t stay while I search. I shall let myself out, if you wish.”

“Oh yes, I was in the middle of the most thrilling novel about a mad monk who kidnapped a young lady and was holding her prisoner beneath his haunted abbey.”

Sol shuddered. “What delightful evening entertainment.”

Octavia smiled, curtsied, and left him to return to her own bedroom.

Sol entered Septimus’s room, which was dark. He found a taper on the fireplace and lit it.

The room looked much as usual when he first cast his gaze around it. It was neat, the bed made. Sol realized that if something had happened here last night, it was likely that the maids had already tidied up his room and may have put away clues as to what had happened.

But then his eyes fell on the small table in front of the fireplace. There was a folded piece of paper, and he picked it up to open it.

His hand jerked as if it had burned him, and he nearly dropped it. It was a charcoal sketch of Septimus’s face.

Septimus had mentioned that the pale-eyed man had found him because he had drawn a picture of him. But he had not met him in his costuming room—he had met Septimus in his bedroom, in his parents’ home.

He had implied that the pale-eyed man had merely shown his face around the Long Glades and been directed to the boarding house where he rented a room. He had not mentioned that the pale-eyed man had discovered his name and his residence.

Sol thought back to what Octavia had told him. If Septimus had arrived here at the house around the time the family finished dinner last night, then he must have gone first to his costuming room and then come here. He had been holding his knife, so perhaps the knife had not been at his costuming room after all, and he had left it in his bedroom instead. From here, Septimus had gone to Laura’s hotel to tell Sol about the pale-eyed man.

He now understood why Septimus had betrayed them. He had not been afraid for Dr. Shokes’s life. The pale-eyed man had given Septimus Octavia’s ring to demonstrate the ease with which he’d taken it from his sister’s room.

Septimus and Octavia were very close, closer than they were to their other older siblings. When his sister’s life was threatened, Septimus would do anything to protect her.

And he had.

Chapter Four

Sol checked Septimus’s costuming room in the Long Glades and finally returned to the Ramparts, but he was surprised to find it abuzz like a gossipy ballroom. There were more agents than usual at this time of night, and several of them stood in small clusters, speaking to each other in low voices.

Sol strode up to a group of three young men, barely more than boys. “What has happened?” he demanded.

The young men immediately straightened upon seeing him. “Nothing, sir.”

Sol sighed. “I don’t have patience for this tonight, lads. Tell me.”

The tallest boy flinched at his testiness, but he answered, “Mr. Uppleby brought in some civilians, sir.”

“Yes, and? That is not so unusual.”

The young man’s head sunk into his shoulders and his voice grew softer. “They say that one of the young ladies gave Mr. Parker a right drubbing.”

“That cannot be true,” one of the other young men said. “A young woman taking down a man twice her size?”

“He wasn’t twice her size,” the third boy said. “She’s a Long Meg, she is. She could almost look him in the eye.”

Sol couldn’t help himself, and let out a groan.

The three boys looked at him with wide eyes.

“Nothing, lads,” he said. “I must needs look into it. Where are they being held?”

“In the Sparrow Room, sir.”

The Sparrow Room was called a waiting room, but in actuality it was a room for interrogations. There was a hidden room next door and a special panel in the wall between so that the conversation in the Sparrow Room could be overheard.

Sol expected to see Mr. Coulton-Jones guarding the door and was surprised to find a different agent, Mr. Ferrant.

The man would not move aside when Sol stopped in front of him.

He frowned. “Move,” he said rudely, with the full confidence of a superior officer.

Mr. Ferrant looked uncomfortable, but would not do as bid. “I beg your pardon, sir, but Mr. Uppleby—”

“Mr. Uppleby is not in charge of this investigation,” Sol bit out. “Sir Derrick Bayberry is in charge of this investigation and I report directly to him. Now step aside.” If his glare was a pair of icepicks, they would have stabbed Mr. Ferrant’s eyes out.

Perhaps Sol’s rattled emotions gave his physical presence more power than usual, for the agent visibly gulped and stepped away. Sol opened the door without knocking.

Dr. Shokes was seated in one of the chairs around a small rectangular table. Miss Gardinier was attempting to coax Aya to do the same, and she was refusing. Clara stood to the side, also trying to urge the injured maid to sit, while Phoebe paused where she had been pacing along the far wall of the room. She rushed toward him. “Uncle S—Mr. Drydale,” she began.

Sol held up a hand to silence her. His eyes flicked toward Mr. Coulton-Jones, who had been standing near the door. His posture was relaxed, likely because he had overheard Sol speaking outside the room, and so had not been alarmed when the door opened.

“Who instructed you to wait here?” Sol asked him.

“Mr. Uppleby.”

Of course it would be Uppleby. “This room is for prisoners, which you are not.” Some of his irritation bled into his tone, and he cleared his throat. “If you will all come with me, please.”

He led them down the hallway to a different waiting room, the Canary Room, this one without a listening closet next door. Mr. Ferrant tried to follow him, but Sol gave him a steady look. “Your services are no longer required, Agent,” he said.

“But sir…” Sol would have expected Mr. Ferrant to look slightly panicked at being caught between two supervisors, but instead the man looked stubborn.

“If Mr. Uppleby has an objection, he is welcome to speak to Sir Derrick about how he decides to situate the witnesses of his investigation.” Sol shut the door firmly in the man’s face.

The Canary Room was a great deal larger than the other one, with comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace. Miss Gardinier was helping Dr. Shokes into an overstuffed chair, while Clara was pulling at Aya’s hand to try to force her to sit across from him. Aya was resisting, but her face was so pale that it was obvious that the eleven-year-old would win that battle. Phoebe and Mr. Coulton-Jones remained standing, looking to Sol.

“Mr. Coulton-Jones, report.”

When he heard the full story of how the three agents attacked them as soon as they entered Laura’s hotel room, Sol was alarmed but not as shocked as he would have otherwise been. But he was surprised to hear that Uppleby himself had arrived at the scene. He asked for more details about the men whom they had soundly trounced, and he was partly proud of them and partly worried about how Uppleby was going to react.

“Sir,” Phoebe said, “do you know the reason why they attacked us as soon as they entered the room? Mr. Coulton-Jones said that they would not do so unless ordered.”

“He is correct,” Sol said. “Normally they would at least explain their presence.”

“One man apologized and said it was a misunderstanding when Mr. Uppleby chastised him,” Mr. Coulton-Jones said, “but we noticed that Mr. Uppleby was all too interested in the contents of Lady Wynwood’s hotel room.”

“I don’t believe it was a misunderstanding,” Phoebe said, “nor do I believe that they were reacting aggressively because of the urgency of the situation, which is the excuse that they gave.”

“Yes,” Mr. Coulton-Jones said, “they were ready to attack the moment they opened the door. They had not bothered to knock, nor did they try to speak.”

“Did you leave anything about our investigation in the hotel room?” Sol asked.

“Aya and I packed everything,” Phoebe said. She lowered her voice to add, “Everything that is of importance is at Stapytton House.”

Sol also lowered his voice. “Tell no one except Sir Derrick about Stapytton House, the plants, and the Root.”

Mr. Coulton-Jones looked uncomfortable. “It may be difficult if Mr. Uppleby attempts to question any of us.”

“Too much has happened in the past few days,” Sol said. “It is not simply what the agents did at the hotel, but the fact that Mr. Uppleby tried to transfer the prisoners to London, and even before that, Lady Aymer’s suspicions about Mr. Clay. I am beginning to suspect that for some reason, Mr. Uppleby is intent upon discovering where the work on the investigation is being done.”

“Could you please explain Mr. Uppleby’s position in the Ramparts?” Phoebe asked. “Mr. Coulton-Jones said that his authority is second only to Sir Derrick.”

“Sir Derrick leads the Ramparts,” Sol said. “Beneath him, of equal seniority, are Mr. Uppleby and Mr. Antingham. They are senior to me. However, I answer directly to Sir Derrick, so I am an unusual case.”

“Why would he be so interested in Stapytton House?” Phoebe asked.

“I’m worried because I do not know,” Sol said. “The investigation has become quite dangerous because of the Root—because Jack makes it and Mr. Uppleby might want it. I wish for only certain men to know where the plants and Miss Gardinier’s research notes are being stored.”

“But sir,” Mr. Coulton-Jones said, “Mr. Uppleby and Mr. Antingham may have read all your reports already, if they are indeed interested in your investigation.”

“They had not shown interest before, and Sir Derrick had been trying to keep them from sticking their noses in. But now that Laura has been taken, Sir Derrick has taken charge of the operation.”

Mr. Coulton-Jones blinked in surprise.

Sol continued, “Sir Derrick is informing Mr. Uppleby and Mr. Antingham about the circumstances and will ask them for help, but I do not know what Sir Derrick will choose to reveal to them. In light of that, do not reveal anything unless I am there to give my consent.”

Miss Gardinier had joined them now, and Sol winced at the dreadful news he was about to deliver to her. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the drawing. “I found this, not in Septimus’s costuming room, but in his bedroom at his family home.”

The three looked at the drawing, and their faces colored with various shades of surprise and worry.

Mr. Coulton-Jones looked the most alarmed. “Sep’s family …”

“I spoke with Octavia, and I believe the pale-eyed man threatened her safety in order to force Septimus to do as he was told.” Sol explained what he had found and his suspicions about what had happened the night before in Septimus’s bedroom.

Phoebe looked pained, but Miss Gardinier looked slightly relieved. “I cannot believe he would have betrayed us for anything less important,” she said.

“We could have protected Miss Ackett,” Mr. Coulton-Jones said.

Surprisingly, it was Phoebe who answered him. “Possibly, but there are many ways that the Gentians could sneak one of their men on the Root close to an unsuspecting young woman. A quick stab with a knife on a busy street or in a crowded ballroom, perhaps a woman—or a man dressed as a woman—bumping into her, which would not be remarked upon.”

“It would also be simple for someone to place poison in her makeup or her perfume,” Miss Gardinier said, “a gift of fragrant flowers laced with poisonous or toxic powder. Jack would probably prefer that method.”

“If they care not for the attention but wish a means of certain success that would be almost untraceable, an archer aiming at her bedroom window, waiting for just the right moment for her to appear,” Phoebe added. “One or even two men to guard her wouldn’t be enough.”

Sol wasn’t certain if he ought to be appalled or admiring that they had thought of so many different ways to kill a young woman of society. He had not thought of even half of those methods.

Mr. Coulton-Jones regarded the two women seriously. “I see … Your perspective as women help you to see things that men cannot.”

There was a sudden knock at the door, and an agent entered the room. Thankfully, it was not Mr. Ferrant, but this man was out of breath and looked both relieved and annoyed to find them.

“Mr. Drydale,” the agent said, “I have been searching all over. I would not have known you were here if I hadn’t happened upon Mr. Ferrant.”

Sol frowned at the implied complaint. “What is your point, agent?”

He was brought up short at Sol’s tone, and said more respectfully, “Sir Derrick is ready for you, sir.”

Sol hesitated, glancing at Mr. Coulton-Jones. He was tempted to bring him along, but then decided against it. The agent’s presence would upset Mr. Antingham and Mr. Uppleby, and he also felt it might be best to have him remain here.

“None of you are to be moved or questioned without my approval.” His eyes lingered on Mr. Coulton-Jones. “Mr. Villager, I trust you to guard the women in case of another ‘misunderstanding.’”

***

Sir Derrick’s small office seemed even more cramped with Mr. Antingham’s tall frame and Mr. Uppleby’s rotund one sitting in the two chairs in front of his desk. Sol stood behind them.

Mr. Uppleby twisted around to glare at Sol. “Lord, man, did you stop to take tea before joining us?”

“The agent had difficulty finding me since I had moved the women to a different room.” Sol deliberately kept his voice mild. “May I ask, why were they put in a room only used for prisoners and interrogations?”

Mr. Uppleby frowned at him, but it was Mr. Antingham who answered. “Merely a precaution. It is unbecoming of you to be so touchy about it,” he said in his usual blunt manner.

“Now that you are all here,” Sir Derrick said, his voice cutting loudly through the tension in the air. “As I’ve explained to Mr. Antingham and Mr. Uppleby, Lady Wynwood was taken tonight by a revolutionary group with whom Lord Wynwood was known to have been involved. We call them the Gentians since we do not know what they call themselves.”

“Lady Wynwood?” Mr. Antingham asked. “I thought all the hubble-bubble was because an agent has been compromised.”

“An agent has been compromised. Mr. Hamlet, one of Mr. Drydale’s, was able to kidnap her because she trusted him.”

Uppleby smacked the wooden armrest of his chair. “Betrayed by one of our own!” He jabbed an angry finger at Sol. “I would’ve expected you to have more control over your agents.”

“We believe he is dead,” Sir Derrick said. “Shot.”

“Do you have any clues as to where they may have taken her?” Mr. Antingham asked.

“Not yet,” Sir Derrick said. “Her family is here and cooperating, and they will not spread the news all over London.”

“Then we may have a chance,” Mr. Antingham said. “Does the revolutionary group know that we are aware she has been taken?”

“Possibly not,” Sir Derrick said. “They had not expected her disappearance to be noticed until several hours later.”

“Gossip isn’t the real problem,” Uppleby said. “The real problem is that this agent may have been working for the revolutionary group this entire time. Sir Derrick, I do not understand why you aren’t more alarmed about this.”

Sol cleared his throat. “A maid was a witness to the kidnapping. Mr. Hamlet indicated that he was not betraying them willingly, and he said he did not reveal anything else to the Gentians.”

Mr. Antingham only frowned more deeply, while Mr. Uppleby made a scoffing sound.

“If Mr. Hamlet had been working cooperatively with these Gentians, he would not have stopped with kidnapping Lady Wynwood,” Sir Derrick said. “He could have very easily led them to kidnap Mr. Drydale, who was participating in an operation tonight. It would have been easy to separate him from his team.” Sir Derrick’s eyes narrowed as he surveyed Mr. Uppleby and Mr. Antingham. “I think you can agree with me that Mr. Drydale is of more strategic value than Lady Wynwood.”

Mr. Uppleby harrumphed, but Mr. Antingham was silent.

“I agree with Mr. Drydale that it’s unlikely Mr. Hamlet was working for them willingly,” Sir Derrick said. “It also appears that way because he’s possibly dead, shot after he was forced into the carriage with Lady Wynwood.”

“What do you intend to do?” Mr. Uppleby asked.

“That will depend upon why she was taken,” Sir Derrick said.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Mr. Uppleby asked. “She was probably involved with the Gentians along with her husband, and now the group wants to know what secrets were kept from them.”

Mr. Antingham looked scornfully at Mr. Uppleby. “It was common knowledge among Wynwood’s acquaintance that he despised his wife. He barely deigned to share supper with her.”

“The Gentians are likely the ones who poisoned Wynwood, but then they left her alone for more than ten years,” Sol said.

“Which means they’re interested in her now because Heddetch told them that she found the pocket watch,” Sir Derrick said.

“Heddetch?” Mr. Antingham asked. “Pocket watch?”

However, Sol noticed that Mr. Uppleby had not displayed confusion. He had gone out of his way to read Sol’s reports.

Sir Derrick explained briefly about the pocket watch and the symbol found engraved inside. The two men were already aware of the symbol because of the letter to Napoleon about the Root.

But Sol noted that he didn’t mention the piece of paper with the initials inside the watch. That information had been in his reports—but had Sir Derrick struck it from them? What was his reason for keeping the information from Mr. Uppleby and Mr. Antingham?

“But kidnapping Lady Wynwood wouldn’t ensure the Gentians acquired the watch,” Mr. Antingham said. “Their actions make little sense.”

“Assuming they know that she found it in the townhouse, taking her also wouldn’t prevent her servants or Phoebe from finding other things that Wynwood might have hidden,” Sol said. “It must not be because of the watch.”

“Ransom, maybe?” Sir Derrick asked.

“No demands have been made when last I spoke with her servants,” Sol said, “but since we would not have become aware of the kidnapping until later, the Gentians may wait until morning.”

Mr. Uppleby waved a dismissive hand. “Why would they take Lady Wynwood when there are far wealthier targets? No, this must have something to do with the investigation into these Gentians and her late husband’s involvement with them.”

“I am inclined to agree,” Mr. Antingham said. “While it seems unlikely she was involved in the group, what other explanation could there be?”

“I do not believe she was involved with the Gentians,” Sol said staunchly. “She may have found her husband’s pocket watch, but she had no interest in it. She professed to know nothing about the symbol and gave the watch to me willingly when I asked to look into it.”

Mr. Antingham smirked at Sol. “How lucky that you remained close to the widow all these years, even though your original mission had simply been to ascertain if she knew anything about her husband’s revolutionary ties.”

Sol’s hand involuntarily clenched at the same time that the muscles in his shoulders tightened. It took all his control not to punch that smirk off of Antingham’s face, superior officer or not.

Sir Derrick eyed Sol grimly, and he could hear his superior’s unspoken order: Keep your temper in check, or I will check it for you.

“As if you would do any better on such a mission,” Mr. Uppleby said snidely to Mr. Antingham.

Both Mr. Antingham and Mr. Uppleby lacked any experience in clandestine operations, nor did either of them have a military background. They had originally been supervising agents for the Foreign Office, but they had happened to be assigned to manage missions in which it was required that they be informed of the existence of the Ramparts. When the Ramparts needed more superior officers a few years ago, Mr. Antingham and Mr. Uppleby were transferred. Privately, Sol felt that their reassignment was solely because they already knew about the Ramparts and no one wanted to go through the effort to scrutinize the backgrounds of other supervisors.

“If the pocket watch has other secrets,” Sir Derrick said, “it would only have some meaning to the Gentians. I have looked into the watch, and found nothing of value.”

“Only an expert would truly know if there is anything amiss,” Mr. Uppleby said. “I know an excellent jeweler.”

“We had a jeweler look at it,” Sir Derrick said. “There was nothing unusual in the mechanisms when he opened it.”

“You allowed the jeweler to see the symbol on the inside of the watch?” Mr. Antingham asked, aghast.

“Of course not,” Sir Derrick said with disdain. “I removed the outer casing, which was where the symbol was engraved. I gave him the plain watch encased inside of it.”

“Who else knows about this symbol?” Mr. Uppleby asked.

“The four of us,” Sir Derrick said, “and the members of Mr. Drydale’s team.” He gave a hard look to Mr. Antingham and Mr. Uppleby. “Unless, of course, one of the two of you spread the news about.”

“Why would I do such a thing?” Mr. Uppleby asked in a disbelieving tone.

In contrast, Mr. Antingham gripped the armrests of his chair. “What are you implying, sirrah?” he ground out.

“Nothing,” Sir Derrick said blandly. “The only ones who know about the symbol are those with seniority enough to know about the letter in the desk of Napoleon’s aide that Mr. Hamlet found last year.”

“Aha! That’s right, Mr. Hamlet discovered that note,” Mr. Uppleby said. “How do we even know that note was real?”

“If the Gentians had wished to keep their Root elixir a secret, telling us about the note would hardly accomplish their objectives,” Sir Derrick said dryly.

“Neither would taking Lady Wynwood,” Sol said. “In fact, they would know that we’d immediately assume that the kidnapping was prompted by the discovery of the watch, which would only bring more attention to it.”

“Yes, they would have tried to find the watch instead,” Sir Derrick added.

“They have been particularly secretive,” Sol said. “If Lord Wynwood was indeed one of their number, they have kept quiet for over ten years. This action of taking Lady Wynwood only brings them into the light.”

“Did Lady Wynwood find something else of Wynwood’s that they’d want?” Mr. Uppleby asked.

“A set of keys, a seal of the symbol, and a list of books,” Sol said, reluctant to admit it. “But the Gentians are unaware we have found them.”

“They must have heard about them from Mr. Hamlet,” Mr. Uppleby said.

Sol wanted to object, but found he could not. Sep could very well have told the Gentians about the keys, seal, and list.

“They wouldn’t kidnap the woman for a reason like that,” Mr. Antingham told Mr. Uppleby with irritation, “for the same reason they wouldn’t have taken her because of the watch. It isn’t as if they knew she had the objects with her when they took her.”

Mr. Uppleby scowled at Mr. Antingham, but didn’t refute him.

“What do the keys unlock?” Mr. Antingham asked. “And what were the book titles?”

“The keys were to the laboratory that Mr. Drydale’s team raided,” Sir Derrick said. He passed a sheet across his desk. “This is a copy of the list.”

Only Mr. Antingham reached forward to take the paper. Mr. Uppleby exclaimed, “That must be the reason they took her—they want those things back. Mark my words, they will send a note demanding them back.”

“Are these items secure here at the Ramparts?” Mr. Antingham asked.

“I’ve taken charge of them personally,” Sir Derrick said.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Mr. Antingham said. “The items that Wynwood hid remained hidden for ten years, so why would the Gentians desire them now?”

“Wynwood had been with the Gentians,” Sir Derrick said. “He had no reason to hide things from them.”

Sol noted that Sir Derrick had not mentioned that Wynwood had perhaps not been part of the inner circle since he hadn’t had the superior strength of Jack or the pale-eyed man. He also did not mention Sol’s suspicion that Bianca was part of that inner circle, because of the woman’s perfume on the seal. “It appears that Wynwood secreted the items inside his house to hide them from Laura and the servants,” Sol said.

“The keys are useless since the Gentians can no longer use Dr. Heddetch’s lab,” Mr. Antingham said.

“The symbol on this seal has been seen around London, and on the letter to Heddetch,” Sir Derrick said. “I expect that the other Gentians obviously have their own seals. They may also have the same list of books. And if they had wanted the list, they would have asked Mr. Hamlet.”

“It may be possible that they simply wish to take back the seal,” Mr. Uppleby said. “They certainly wouldn’t want someone outside the group using it in their name. They may have taken Lady Wynwood to bargain for the items to be returned to them.”

Sir Derrick frowned slightly in thought. “That is a possibility. They may contact Drydale in order to get the items back. I could understand if they wanted the seal, but if they desired the keys and the list, it would indicate they were more important than they appear to be.”

Mr. Uppleby turned in his chair to look at Sol. “Was anything else taken from her room?”

“According to Phoebe and the maid, nothing was taken from the hotel room,” Sol said, “however it is unknown if anything was taken from her townhouse after she left it.” His gaze turned hard. “Phoebe says that when your agents came to collect her from the hotel, they appeared to be more eager to search the room than to escort her back to the Ramparts. Didn’t they find anything?” he asked facetiously.

Sir Derrick’s eyes narrowed at Mr. Uppleby. “What is this I hear? Your agents were only supposed to escort the women, not search the room.”

“I believed it was necessary that they search the hotel room as soon as the women vacated it,” he said, a trifle pompously, “in the event that Lady Wynwood had left something that would explain her kidnapping. I could hardly expect civilians to know what to look for. And I wished for the room to be searched before the maid or another stranger had an opportunity to move or take anything.”

Sir Derrick simply nodded and sat back in his chair, but Sol was inwardly fuming. He could understand his logic, but the fact that his agents had tried to attack Phoebe rather than escorting her was highly suspicious. He believed that Mr. Uppleby was hiding darker motives.

“She didn’t leave any type of message before Mr. Hamlet took her?” Sir Derrick asked.

“Not according to the maid,” Sol said. “However, she overheard Mr. Hamlet saying that he was doing this because they had threatened Dr. Shokes’s life.”

“A better trained agent would have known the proper procedure if a civilian was threatened,” Mr. Antingham said with a slight sneer in his voice.

Sol took a few seconds to clear his mind of thoughts of throttling Mr. Antingham from behind.


End of excerpt