About the book
She was a risk, a mystery, and the most certain thing he had ever known...
Equipped with a sharp tongue and an even sharper mind, solicitor's daughter Miss Ophelia Clanben loves to solve mysteries. And there is one she is determined to dedicate her life to solving: her own mother's disappearance.
Isaac Barrington, newly appointed Earl of Cliffspirit, has made a lot of mistakes in the eyes of his mother, but two are his greatest sins: not being his father, and falling in love with the lowborn lady who bumped into him on the street. And he is determined to aid her in her quest for answers.
With scandal lurking just around the corner, Ophelia and Isaac find themselves facing questions with dangerous answers. For why does her mother's trail go cold just outside their manor? And why does that complete stranger look so much like Ophelia?
Ophelia Clanbend’s goose feather quill flowed across the page, covering it with words that moments before lived only in her mind. Seeing her thoughts appear on the paper in ink made her smile. One of the few moments of true happiness she experienced these days was when her words appeared before her, telling the story she held dear in her heart.
Her sentence finished, she sprinkled sand from a wooden box on her writing desk onto the page and watched as the excess ink was absorbed. Satisfied, she shook the page gently to ensure the ink was really dry. She spun in her seat, a satisfied grin on her face.
“The chapter is finished.”
Eliza Burton, her best friend, looked up. She was laying on Ophelia’s bed, arms stretched out. She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
“At last! I thought you would never finish. It has been ages and ages. The Napoleonic wars passed faster.”
Ophelia pressed her lips together and shook her head. A strand of her dark-brown hair came loose from the bun on her head and fell into her sapphire blue eyes. Blinking rapidly, she lodged it free.
“Oh, Lizzy. Do not be quite so dramatic. You know as well as I that you’d much rather spend your day laying on my bed with nothing to do than to be stuck in your own home, surrounded by nine children.”
At the mention of her many siblings, Lizzy groaned.
“I do envy you, Ophelia. You have the entire home to yourself and never have to worry about some brother or sister bothering you or taking your things. You can dine in peace without a rowdy lad firing pea soup at you with his spoon for entertainment.”
Ophelia laughed, as she remembered the last time that she’d been a dinner guest at the Burton residence. On that occasion, the object fired in their direction was trifle pudding and the offender a little girl, but the outcome – a ruined gown – was the same.
“You laugh, but you do not know what I suffer. The eldest of ten children. Ten! You would think my parents might have stopped when they had three sons, but no.” She sighed and fell back onto Ophelia’s huge four-poster bed. The bed curtains were tied back with large bows around the four posts, the handiwork of Mary, their maid.
“You have an entire chamber to yourself too. I must share with two sisters, one of whom suffers night terrors. Faith, I envy you.”
Ophelia’s smile faded as her friend’s words echoed in her mind.
“I envy you, too Lizzy.”
Her friend took no note of the sorrowful tone in her voice as she sat back up with a snap and narrowed her green eyes at her.
“You envy me? How? You have all of this -” she waved her arm around the chamber. “A wealthy father, an armoire full of clothing, and a maid that attends to your every need. How could you be envious of me?”
Ophelia sighed and shook her head, looking back at the page in her hand. She placed it on the stack on her writing desk, making sure to keep it in order.
“You still have a mother who adores you and who fixes up your hair in the morning, who takes you to the park for walks and who dotes on you every minute of every day, even though she has six other daughters to attend to.”
The gentle, sweet face of Margaret Burton flashed through Ophelia’s head. The woman, once a good friend of her own mother, was the closest thing to a maternal figure she had left now.
Lizzy’s face fell and her hand flew to her mouth. “Heaven forewent. I am sorry. I did not mean to be so careless with my words. Please forgive me.”
Ophelia rose and climbed onto the bed beside her friend, clasping her hand.
“Do not fret, Lizzy. I know you meant no harm. It has been a year since Mama disappeared after all. I cannot blame you for moving on and not thinking of it constantly. I wish I could be so light-hearted once more.” Lizzy slung her arm around her friend’s slim shoulders and pulled her closer.
As they sat, Lizzy played with one of her flaming red locks, twirling it around her finger.
“Have you had any news of your mother at all since last we spoke of the matter?”
She shook her head. She did not like to talk about her mother’s disappearance as every mention of the event ripped open the wound anew. And yet, it was the one subject which occupied her mind the most. There was no getting away from it, even now, seated beside her best friend since childhood.
The only escape I find is in my story. In the world I create for myself there are no unanswered questions, everything is revealed. How I wish this were the case in the real world.
“Why don’t you read me your newest page?” Lizzy asked, drawing her from her thoughts. Lizzy had a way of knowing just how to distract Ophelia from these dark thoughts.
“Oh, yes. I shall!”
She rushed back to her desk and retrieved the page, delighted her friend wanted to hear it. She pushed herself up further on the bed once more and tucked her thin legs under herself.
“So, do you remember what happened last?”
Lizzy squinted and a line appeared on her forehead, unusual for one so young. Ophelia always wondered if it was the constant state of upset her friend found herself in at home, being often in charge of her younger siblings, that brought on this premature occurrence.
“Last time you read to me, Constable Merriweather was questioning a witness and then set out with his assistant, Mr. Clawson, to investigate the site of the murder.”
A tingle spread all through Ophelia’s body as her friend eagerly described the event. Hearing her story recounted to her by her audience-of-one was thrilling every time. She could not wait for her story to be heard by more than her best friend. On occasion, Mrs. Burton or one of Lizzy’s younger siblings would ask her to read to them, but this was rare and often vexed her as she found herself having to stop to explain the events in between to her more inconsistent listeners.
“So,” she flipped the page back and forth, looking for her place. “Constable Merriweather sprinted down Bond Street, Mr. Clawson on his heels. The two paused outside The Red Rooster tavern, the location described to them by their star witness, Mrs. Harris – widow of the dearly departed Mr. Harris. The Rooster, she eagerly informed them, was a place her husband would spend most of his time when not at home. A circumstance that occurred much too often for the new widow.
“I must say, Clawson, if I were married to Mrs. Harris, I might find myself frequenting questionable establishments also.” Merriweather chuckled. His assistant, however, did not join in. “Let us not jest. The poor man stuck his spoon to the wall very recently and she is quite distraught.” The constable frowned, not keen on suffering criticism from his inferior officer. “That remains to be seen, Clawson. I have an inkling the fine woman might have been involved more than she admits. They pushed open the door to the tavern, a stench of unwashed men, spilled beer and burnt meat hitting them both in the face. They stepped inside, anticipation in their hearts and unease in their stomachs. What, if anything would they discover within these walls? And would it lead to answers or yet more questions?”
Lizzy broke into excited applause.
“I cannot wait to find out what they discover next! What’s in the tavern, or rather who? And also, when do we find out more about Merriweather’s wife and what happened to her?”
At this, Ophelia shrugged.
She liked to incorporate a little mystery from her own life into her story. Another plot that featured in her story was that of the constable's missing wife which mirrored that of her own mother’s disappearance. Just like her mother’s unknown circumstance that of her hero’s wife would also remain a mystery. Something that would shape him, mold him into the man he was to become – just like her mother’s absence shaped Ophelia.
“Never? Oh, what a tease you are.” Lizzy did not make the connection between reality and Ophelia’s work of fiction.
“Maybe in the next book.” She did not think so but didn't want to offend her only constant listener.
Lizzy smiled. “Is it going to be a series? Oh, I bet it will be. It ought to. It’s ever so entertaining. I should think they might want to publish a few pages in the newspaper even. Ophelia, you could be an author, a published one, imagine.”
“If I were a man, perhaps. Maybe I could use a different name.”
This excited her friend immensely and she bounced up and down on the bed. “Ah yes, it will be such fun to select a name! I shall think on it and make a list this very evening.”
Sometimes, Ophelia had to admit, Lizzy struck her as much younger than her twenty years. She had the countenance of a pleasant, joyful girl, not the refinement of a young lady. Nor was she as accomplished in any of the skills so important to a young girl in want of a husband.
Then again, while Lizzy’s mother came from a well-to-do family her father was a mere shopkeeper, a perfumer to be exact, who kept an establishment in Covent Garden. While they were by no means poor, they did not have access to the types of funds Ophelia’s father, a solicitor, had. The entire family shared one carriage, leading to Lizzy often traveling in the company of a neighbor or - scandalous as it was - alone. It was much different than Ophelia's life used to be.
As an only child, Ophelia’s mother bestowed all of her attention on her. She wore fine gowns and enjoyed the best teachers available. Due to this, Ophelia was accomplished in a great number of skills. She could speak French and Greek, play the pianoforte reasonably well, and could create beautiful watercolors.
The difference between Ophelia and her friend was thus stark when one considered their upbringing and surroundings. However, when they were together – none of it mattered. Lizzy was the one person Ophelia always took into her confidence, her true friend and sister in spirit. In Lizzy, she always found an honest yet kind critique of her work and an enthusiastic supporter.
“Then you must call on me again tomorrow. We will sit by the fire and eat marzipan and chocolate nonpareils while looking at your list for my new name!”
“I may not have the carriage tomorrow. I already had to take the... ” She was interrupted by a banging on the door causing them each to jerk their heads toward it. When it swung open, Ophelia’s heart plummeted and she jumped off the bed, followed by her friend.
“Ophelia! I’ve had quite enough of this folly!” her father’s voice boomed as he threw open the door and stepped inside, red-faced and with his green eyes aflame.
Steadying herself against the bedpost, Ophelia swallowed and look up at the man who was sure to be giving her a dressing down in a moment. Once again.
“Lord Cliffspirit, what good fortune I should run into you here. I did not know you were in London, what with Parliament in recess.”
Isaac looked up from his newspaper and frowned, unable to remember the name of the man who positioned himself before his table at White’s. He was a stout man of middle age, a shock of white hair falling down his neck, a matching mustache danced over his lips as he spoke. His appearance was unkempt, although his attire told a different story. It was clear from his fine waistcoat, the expensive platinum cufflinks, and his silk cravat that he was a wealthy man. And likely a fellow peer.
Isaac Barrington cursed himself for not having studied the pages provided to him by his father. Upon falling ill, his father, the now late Earl of Cliffspirit, had created a meticulous list of all of the peers for his son to learn so he might make the transition into the earldom with ease. Alas, Isaac never did find the time to study it.
Thus, he was at a loss as to the identity of his present companion. Forcing a smile on his face, he did the only thing he could: Pretend.
“Ah, yes. I am in town for business. What of you? What brings you here?”
I can only hope he too is visiting. It would be highly embarrassing if he is not, especially if it is something I was informed of previously and have simply forgotten. By Jove, how I wish I had heeded Father's advice and learned the names and faces of all of my fellow peers.
The man slid into the seat across from Isaac, uninvited, and placed his glass of port down in front of him.
“Same, same. I am purchasing a house in Mayfair. I decided now that I am earl, I ought to have a home in London as is befitting of such a position. Besides, the carriage ride from Yorkshire is exceedingly tedious. Thus, I shall reside in London during the Season. I am fortunate enough to have inherited a large sum, along with the title and the lands which are ever so profitable. Who would have thought, a man of my age suddenly an earl?”
He chuckled but then caught himself and dropped his voice as though he and Isaac were the closet of friends and in the habit of sharing secrets.
“Not that I wished for it. My cousin was a dear man, and I am sad for his loss. So sudden as well. To drown while out for a swim. Such a horror. May he rest well.”
Suddenly, Isaac knew exactly who he was speaking to. There was but one peer in the House of Lords with a story as unusual as Lord Visney’s.
“It was quite shocking, the previous Lord Visney’s demise. I am sorry for your loss.”
The man shrugged. “Truth be told. I hardly knew him at all. We all have some distant relation who we hear of but never have the good fortune to meet. He was just such a relation. Anyhow, it was a shock indeed. I had to borrow to pay the homage fee, do you know? That is how ill-prepared I was.”
Isaac whistled through his teeth, now quite mesmerized by his companion’s unusual story.
The previous year, Lord Visney, then a mere gentleman with a modest estate in Yorkshire, suddenly found himself elevated to the status of earl when his cousin, the previous Earl Visney, passed away without an heir, having had the misfortune of losing his only son and heir the previous year, to consumption.
Such were the laws of primogeniture. The previous earl’s wife and daughters found themselves suddenly at the mercy of this man, a distant, middle-aged cousin who knew nothing of running an estate and who had never dreamt of holding the position.
Isaac remembered from their previous meeting, when they along with two other new lords, were introduced to the House of Lords, that he fully intended to take care of his distant relations. A stroke of good luck for the ladies, to be sure.
While frowned upon, Isaac heard stories of ladies finding themselves with not a sixpence to rub together due to the sudden death of their spouse or father. To go from nobility to the poorhouse was a fate he was determined to save his own family from.
It was this very matter Isaac had come to London to address. He would not allow his mother and sister to find themselves in a situation as unfortunate as that. There was a way he could undo the unfortunate circumstance, but he needed legal advice to do so.
He glanced at the clock hanging in the far corner and at once, reached for his fashionable walking cane.
“Lord Visney, I am ever so sorry, but I must depart. I am engaged to meet with an associate in a half hour and I am on foot. It was a pleasure to see you again.”
He rose and bowed slightly, Visney doing the same.
“Very well, I wish you the best of luck on your endeavors. Perhaps next time we may take dinner together. I would very much like the opportunity to learn all there is to learn from a fellow earl. Seeing how I have not had the fortune to grow up destined for the position. You on the other hand, have had a steady hand to guide you, and I hope to in turn learn.”
Isaac winced at this indirect mention of his late father but agreed to meet for dinner the next time he was in London, should Lord Visney still be in town as well.
Once he was outside inhaling the curious scents unique to London, he leaned against the wall outside of White’s, canvassing the area.
How strange it is. Just a year ago, I walked these streets with Papa. He was already ill then, but I had no idea I would succeed him as earl quite so soon. Now I am in charge of the estate and the fate of my mother and sister.
He made his way down the street, intending to walk through St. James’s Park which would bring him to the address he was to call at, when he was momentarily distracted by the sign for McAllister’s Sweets across the street.
He’d glanced inside on his way to White’s earlier in the day and salivated at the display of marzipan, chocolate nonpareils, and licorice. He’d rarely tasted a sweet he didn’t like and the thought of passing by one of London’s finest sweet shops was almost unconscionable to him. He licked his lips. A sweet or two would not hurt, would they?
Determined, he was about to cross the street when he found himself distracted by his reflection in a shop window. He paused briefly, examining himself. His tall, slender stature was in large parts thanks to his habit of riding out for several hours every day. Isaac ran a hand through his long, brown hair that reached down to his shoulders. He was fond of the style, especially since he’d inherited his father’s wavy hair, but his mother continuously asked him to change it to a more fashionable style.
The dowager countess was fond of London and could be found at Almack's most Wednesdays, at least until the death of her husband. Isaac was sure once the mourning period was over for her, she would be in London more so than at their estate in Reading, given she had many friends in the city. Fashion, balls, and the opera were favorites of his mother's and she aimed to inspire him to enjoy the same.
Isaac sighed. He cared little for such things. Riding out, walking, and reading were his greatest joys. In this moment, what he cared about was marzipan. With a grin, he turned and stepped into the street, focused solely on the sweet shop on the other side of the road.
“Watch it!” A man’s voice called with alarm. Isaac stopped and found himself staring at an oncoming carriage – heading directly for him.
Isaac stood and stared, as the horse and carriage came toward him, his feet frozen to the ground. His mouth opened as he willed himself to move, but he already knew it was too late.
Ophelia stood against her bed, watching her father as he glared at her friend, hands curled into fists.
“I was unaware you had company, Ophelia.” While he addressed his daughter by name, his eyes were focused on her friend.
“Mr. Clanbend.” Lizzy’s voice sounded unsure and shaky. He had the sort of air of a man who did not appreciate backtalk nor to have his opinion questioned. An imposing figure with wide shoulders and a burly build; he had an aura of someone quite untouchable.
“Miss Eliza Burton. Do you not think it is about time you returned home? I am sure your mother requires your assistance with dinner since your latest cook has already capitulated in light of the onslaught of your siblings.”
“Yes, Mr. Clanbend. Of course, Mr. Clanbend. I shall be on my way at once.”
She turned to Ophelia who glared at her father.
Must he be so unkind? It is not Lizzy’s fault her siblings keep on driving the help away with their noise and unreasonable demands. Besides, how does he already know of this news? Nothing, it seems, escapes his attention. I wish he were nicer to Lizzy, and her mother. They are the nearest I have to family. And my only source of affection.
“Let us meet in the park tomorrow, yes? I will ask Mary to accompany me, she can chaperone us both,” Ophelia said in a quiet tone, not wanting her father to hear her. Lizzy nodded, briefly squeezing her friend’s wrist.
She turned and nodded at Mr. Clanbend before hastening out of the door.
Ophelia heard her friend’s rapid footsteps rushing down the stairs and a moment later the front door slammed shut.
“Now that you are free of distraction, I need your assistance.”
Her father’s tone softened somewhat, now that the visitor was gone. He was not fond of visitors, even less so since the disappearance of his wife. He often kept to himself, working on his cases until late into the night.
“Of course, Father.” She snatched the latest page of her book from the bed and returned it to the pile on her writing desk.
When she turned, she found her father looking at her through narrowed eyes. Without another word he spun on his heels and marched out of her chamber toward his study downstairs.
Ophelia took in a gulp of air and exited her chamber, leaving her carefully crafted mystery tale behind.
She walked down the hall, the sound of her half-boots on the marbled floor echoing as she walked. Her hands clasped behind her back, she whistled as she went. This odd manner of walking was something she’d picked up from her beloved grandfather as a young girl. He would walk in this way, hands behind his back and a tune on his puckered lips as they went for walks after church in St. James’s Park.
He was gone now, just like her beloved grandmother and mother. How odd it was that her family, once so full of people who adored her had been reduced to just two - herself and her father. Not that her father adored her. If he did, he kept this a secret from her. No, theirs was a cordial connection at best, and a strained one most of the time.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Benson, came toward her with a smile. She was a jolly older woman, rotund and with a face always aglow with various shades of red. She stopped, the keys on her chatelaine clanging together with the sudden change in pace.
“Miss Clanbend, I’ve sent your bonnet off to the milliner to be repaired. With any luck, it will be back in your hands come Sunday, just in time for church.”
Ophelia flashed a bright smile at the housekeeper. “I thank you for your prompt attention to the matter.” She reminded herself to stand up straight, to appear dignified, and regal. The way her mother always had. She was now the lady of the house and the servants looked to her for guidance.
I am no longer a child at one-and-twenty, and thus I must follow Mama’s example and mimic her ways until they come naturally to me. Although I fear they never shall.
Mrs. Benson departed toward the lower floor via the servant stairs, no doubt to oversee the preparations for dinner. Theirs was a small household. In addition to Mrs. Benson, her father employed a butler, a cook, and Mary. Considering their home was located on the edge of Westminster, a neighborhood popular with the ton, this was modest, to say the least.
“Ophelia!” her father called. She rushed down the stairs, her hand gliding along the oak railing. She hopped down the last couple of steps and at once chided herself for this remnant from her childhood.
I must stop making a cake of myself in front of the servants. They will not take me seriously as the lady of the house if I continue to act as though I were still a child. By Jove, I’ve been out for almost two years now, I am no child at all.
She turned left at the staircase and entered the open door immediately to her right – her father’s study. Like many solicitors, he conducted his business from the comfort of his home. The first floor was dedicated almost entirely to his business. The drawing room was never used by Ophelia, unless she had to speak to clients on her father's behalf or tend to them as they waited.
The dining room across from the drawing room, and the library next to it were all used mostly for clients or her father's study. Ophelia, and her mother before she disappeared, always used the upper rooms for their entertainment.
Her father was already seated behind his large mahogany desk, a gift from a grateful client. The desk always looked out of place to her for his study was not a large one. It made a statement, of course. That could not be denied.
He nodded toward the chair across from him and she slipped into the seat.
“I need you to address these letters for me, seal them and send them.” He pointed his long, thick index finger toward two letters to his right. “And then write up a letter to Mr. Warthon, the barrister. I need to hire him to appear before the judge for a case. My notes are there.” Again, he pointed his finger, this time to a stack of papers. “That is all.”
He dropped his head down, squinting at a large book before him, and flicked through the pages, taking notes with a pencil.
How envious Ophelia was of her father’s new writing tool. It seemed so much more efficient and quicker to use a pencil than her trusted goose feather quill. One did not have to constantly interrupt one's thoughts to dip the quill in the inkpot. The graphite pencil was held together by tightly wound twine, meaning the writer could simply keep writing until a sharpening of the tool was needed.
She considered asking him for a pencil of her own but changed her mind at once. He did not like her writing mystery stories. They were, to him, a waste of time.
As she dipped her quill in the ink and addressed the letters, her thoughts traveled back to her story.
Perhaps Constable Merriweather ought to have some sort of run-in with the Bow Street Runners. It might make for a bit more tension. Maybe they could be involved in the case. She stopped writing, the quill in the air.
Perhaps she could approach the Bow Street Runners regarding her mother’s disappearance. Her father claimed to have done all he could to find her, but had he? She wasn’t sure at all. She glanced at him, about to ask him once more just what he had done to find her mother when a blotch of ink dropped from her quill and onto the neatly written envelope.
“Faith, no!” She mumbled under her breath.
“Ophelia! Do take better care. This paper is not cheap. Look what you’ve done. You’ve ruined it.” He snatched the envelope away just as she was about to fix the mistake. At once, his elbow knocked into the ink jar, sending the black liquid flowing down the desk like a river, staining anything in its path.
Ophelia jumped up, openmouthed.
“Balderdash!” Her father called out and grabbed whatever he could from the desk, ferrying it to another table for safety. “Ophelia! Do not stand there like a statue. Get the papers, posthaste!”
She jumped into action, gathering up anything the ink had not yet touched, and rushed across the room, placing letters and files next to her father’s. Her father, meanwhile, threw a napkin onto the table and dabbed at the ink, his face as red as a poppy, his nostrils flared as he huffed and puffed.
“Mrs. Benson!” He hollered for the housekeeper with such volume, his daughter stepped back. A foul odor emitted from his mouth, caused by his perpetually inflamed gums. She gagged, turned her body from him so he did not see. Her father usually chewed anise-flavored comfits when around company but did not bother when there were no clients.
The housekeeper rushed inside and stopped at seeing the mess.
“Merciful heaven!” She dashed away, no doubt to retrieve more napkins while her father threw the one that he was holding onto the table in a rage.
She spun around again, now far enough away to avoid another assault of his poor breath.
“You! Look what you did!”
She raised her eyebrows at him for she was unaware of having done anything noteworthy, other than dropping a small splatter of ink on a letter. It was he who had spilled the ink jar all over the table.
However, Ophelia knew her father well enough that such protestations would lead to nothing but heated discussion, and thus cast her eyes down at the floor.
A heavy, red Kidderminster carpet lay on the floor of his study with a beautiful floral wreath design. Her mother's choice.
As a child, Ophelia loved nothing better than to sit on the carpet and trace the outline of each of the flowers with her finger. An activity that came to an abrupt end when her father took over the room as his study and office.
“I am sorry, Father,” she said while tracing the outline of a blue morning glory with her eyes.
“Sorry will not unstain my work. This will take me all night to fix, and I have a client due in less than an hour.” He threw his arms up in the air and then placed his hands on the desk, dropping his head low. “What were you thinking about anyhow?”
She raised her gaze at him, swallowing a lump in her throat. She could not admit she’d considered asking him about her mother again. Nor her idea of involving the Bow Street Runners.
“My story,” she confessed. “I was thinking of my story.”
He rose to his full height. “The story I told you not to write! Ophelia, you are meant to study, you are meant to hone your skills so you can find a husband to take care of you. Not waste away the hours writing ditties nobody will ever read.”
“They might! Lizzy said the story is great, and so did her mother.”
Her father’s dark eyes turned to slits as he squinted at her.
“I will not have you writing these ridiculous stories anymore. And I certainly will not have you read them out to an audience. Do not make a cake of yourself, Ophelia. I know your mother was always much too lenient with you and this is the result.” He sighed, shaking his head.
“I wish you would not keep quite so much company with the Burton family. It is not good for you to be so constantly reminded of your mother.”
She curled her hands into fists, digging her nails into the palms of her hands.
“I am constantly reminded of my mother by simply living in this home. And Mrs. Burton was her dearest friend. I have nobody else I can talk to about her.”
“That is quite by design, my dear. It is better for all of us if we forget your mother. She is gone. Dead and gone.”
Ophelia’s eyes watered at this. “We do not know this. She could be alive somewhere. She could have fallen and lost her memory. She might be wandering the countryside trying to remember who she is. Or someone might have taken her in, and she lives a life as someone entirely different. There is a chance she -”
Her father cut her off with a swift glare. “There you go again, escaping into the world of dreams. This is precisely why I do not want you writing stories. They only encourage this unhealthy imagination of yours. Your mother left to call on her cousin in Derbyshire. Something happened to her on the way. We know this. Whatever it was, we must assume it was foul play for she has not been seen, has not been heard of, and the investigator I hired found no clue. She is gone. We must move on. And move on, we will.”
He turned his back to her and marched back to the table holding all of his supplies not stained by the accident. Ophelia swallowed.
“Who was the investigator? I wish to talk to him.”
Her father spun again. There was no anger showing on his face, only resignation.
“Ophelia, please. Let it rest! Do you think it is only you who has to adjust to this new life? Do you think it is only you who struggles? I do as well for I have to live with what happened just as much as you. For my sake, please. Stop. Please try to forget her. We must. We both must for otherwise we will never be able to move on. Now, I have a meeting with a client. Please, either help me put this study back to rights, or leave me be.”
She stared at him for a moment, her nostrils flaring but then turned and walked out of the study. However, returning to her chamber was not an option. She could not stand to be confined to those four walls anymore.
Determined, she rushed down the hall and retrieved her sky-blue pelisse. She chose this one in particular because she knew her father hated it. It was a gift from Mrs. Burton, whom he greatly disliked. It was made of blue silk, with white silk lining and pretty black trim down the front and around the hem. What she loved most about this pelisse, aside from it vexing her father when she wore it, was the faux Dorset buttons running down the front of it.
After placing a matching capote on her head and slipping on her white silk gloves, she marched out of the house, intending to make her way to the small park across the way.
Father is such a peculiar man. I always knew it but ever since Mama has gone missing, I do not understand him at all. I know he searched for her, I saw his investigators come to the study more than once, but he has given up. Why? It has been just a year. A year! It is nothing. Constable Merriweather is still searching for his wife after years and years. I just do not understand, all he does it work all day long. Is it so he can forget her easier? By filling his head with work? Surely, that is possible. But would it to be better to use all this energy to find…
“Oh! Goodness gracious!”
She’d been so lost in thought, Ophelia did not see the man coming around the corner as she turned. So hasty had her speed been, the impact with the man sent her flying back and for a moment, she found herself suspended in the air, before hitting the pavement with her tailbone first and then her head, causing her to cry out in pain. As she lay there, sprawled out on the ground, her capote danced down the street in the wind.
The pounding in her head intensified and she was sent falling back once more as her eyes closed and she slipped into darkness.
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
A Countess By Any Other Name is live on Amazon NOW!