Lady Adelaide Mystery, Book 4
September 14, 2021
Lady Adelaide Compton had prepared herself to say good-bye forever to Detective Inspector Devenand Hunter. It would be a welcome relief not to get mixed up in any more murders. Not to mention become un-haunted by her late and unlamented husband Rupert, whose post-life duty had been dedicated to detection and her protection. Surely he’d performed the necessary number of good deeds to get out of Addie’s fashionably bobbed hair and gain access to Heaven by now.
But when Addie’s prim and proper mother Constance, the Dowager Marchioness of Broughton is accused of murdering her secret lover, there can’t be enough ghosts and gentlemen detectives on hand to find the truth. The dead Duke of Rufford appeared to lead a blameless life, but appearances can be deceiving. Unless Addie, Dev and Rupert work together, Constance will hang, and Great War flying ace Rupert will never get his celestial wings.
ISBN-13: 9781464215193 • ISBN-10: 1464215197
Read an Excerpt
Mount Street, London
A Monday morning toward the end of June, 1925
Mama was in gaol. Four words Lady Adelaide Compton never expected to string together. In fact, at the moment she could barely think or speak at all.
But the ghost of her dead husband Rupert was making up for Addie’s baffled brain and syllabic silence. He stormed about the bedroom of her London pied-à-terre, tying and untying his maroon foulard tie in frustration.
Addie had buried him in that tie in just short of a year and a half ago, and she had agonized over which one to choose—her late husband had been something of a clothes-horse, and she was spoilt for choice. She never expected to see the tie again (or Rupert, for that matter) once his coffin was ensconced in the Compton family crypt in Gloucestershire, and she was rather bored with it now. It was taking Rupert a veritable eternity to winkle his way into Heaven, even after performing several good deeds as reparation for his wicked ways on earth.
“I ask you, Addie, what have I done to deserve this?” he said, not waiting for an answer, for he probably knew exactly what she’d tell him, and at great length too. “It’s not my fault things ended the way they did on Saturday. I was so close to Heaven, sooo close. I could hear the trumpets and practically taste the clouds. Apricot custard with a dash of almond extract, by the way, in case you’re interested. Though I imagine yours might taste different. I understand Heaven is an individualized experience, but at this rate I’ll never find out! It’s so unfair! I solved your last case, didn’t I? Well, most of it. You would have been rid of me forever if your bloo—uh, blessed mother did not go and shoot the Duke of Rufford.”
This stirred Addie to speech. “She didn’t. She couldn’t have.”
Rupert collapsed on her bed. “Well, I suppose not if I’ve been summoned to your side again. Damn it, Addie! I know I was a cad when I was alive, but you must give me some credit for improving! Can’t you put in a good word somehow?”
“To whom would I speak?” asked Addie, genuinely curious. She said her bedtime prayers just like anybody else. Someone should have picked up the fact by now that she wished to be rid of her husband for good.
“I only wish I knew. The hierarchy is still a bit of a puzzle to me.” He tucked all her pillows under his head, and Addie worried about hair oil residue on her silk pillow cases. How could she explain that to her maid Beckett? Addie had lived like a nun for years now, and her one attempt to change that status had ended in humiliation.
“I’ll never be perfect,” Rupert continued. Addie knew an egregious understatement when she heard one. “Do you know what those rugmaker chappies do in Arabia? They deliberately make a mistake in the patterns because only Allah is without flaw.”
Addie filed that nugget away. Despite the best efforts of her teachers at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, she had resisted becoming a bluestocking upon graduation at seventeen—and after—as her mother had always told her men didn’t like women who were smarter than they were.
And now look where Mama was!
Addie hoped Mr. Hunter could get her out as soon as possible. Imagining Mama behind bars was completely beyond her. Lady Broughton had been the properest of people for fifty-two years. Addie thought even as a child her mother knew precisely what to do under all circumstances. Instead of a primer, she’d probably learned to read with a Debrett’s. As a toddler, she might have known the order of precedence at a dinner party. Which fork to use. How to address a duke, which must have come in handy now that Mama was all grown up and having an affair with one.
Addie picked up her own Debrett’s and searched the Rs. Rufford. There were inches of titles, political appointments and clubs for the man. Along with several far-flung properties, the principal family seat was so far up in Northumberland it was practically in Scotland, and he lived in Maddox Street when in Town.
She had never met him, had never even heard of him until her sister Cecilia arrived in her pin curls and pajamas at Compton Chase yesterday morning to tell her their mother had been arrested. It was true that Mama was a fair shot even though she was so near-sighted, but then the duke must have been quite close at hand.
It was galling to think her mother was having more success with a man than she was. But then, success was moot if the object of her mother’s affection was dead.
“Tell me what you know about the crime,” Addie said to Rupert. According to Cee, Mama was found—wearing only a blood-stained peignoir—in a suite at the Ritz, standing over the body of the dead duke. To make matters worse, she held a pistol. Her very own, with the Broughton coat of arms engraved on the handle. Addie’s father gifted it to her mother on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, which showed great confidence that he didn’t expect her to shoot him. One thing led to another, and Lady Broughton and her gun were carted away by the police.
Rupert sat up and sniffed. “Why do you presume I have any of the pertinent facts? It’s not as if I had much preparation. I’ve gone straight from the frying pan into the fire.”
“Do you know anything at all about Rufford then?” If Rupert was here, he must make himself useful somehow.
“I did meet him a few times. He was a good thirty years older than I, so that would make him somewhere in his sixties. He is—was—a widower twice over, with a child from each union. I knew his daughter Penny better than his son Alistair, and no, before you ask, I did not know her in the Biblical sense. She’s got a face like—well, I won’t insult her; she’s a good egg. The poor thing must be mourning—she was very fond of her papa. Not so fond of her older brother, or his wife Elaine, who’s an established beauty, and rather a bitch, if I may say so without getting struck by lightning.”
Addie found Penny on the page. “‘Daughters living—Penelope Ariadne. m. Graf Franz von Mayr.’ A German?” she asked. That must have made the family’s Christmas dinners interesting during the war years.
“Austrian. You mustn’t mix the two countries up—they may speak the same language, but that’s as far as it goes. National pride on both sides, too much of it, to be frank. Penny and Franz are separated, and the children are here with her. They’re hardly children anymore though—they must be eighteen at least.”
“‘Sons living—Alistair James Moreton, Marquess of Vere.’ He’s the sixth duke now, I suppose.” She didn’t know him either, or his wife. “Was Rufford, uh, nice?”
“Who, Alistair? Wangled out of the war like a treasonous weasel. He’s a complete prat.”
“No, no. His father.” The man must have attracted Addie’s mother in some significant way—she’d been true to the memory of her late husband for five years. Addie was convinced that before this secret affair, her mother had never even kissed another man except for Herbert Merrill, Marquess of Broughton. She’d married at eighteen and Addie arrived soon after, her sister Cee six years after that. Alas, there was no son to carry on the marquessate, and Addie’s distant cousin Ian succeeded to the title.
Rupert shrugged. “He was all right. He was a duke. You know the type. Dictatorial. Dismissive of the hoi polloi. Thought his own sh—uh, excrement was not odoriferous. I’m surprised he gave me the time of day.”
That sounded nothing like Addie’s father. He’d been a genial sportsman who got along with just about every living creature, especially his dogs and horses.
“I wonder how long they’d been seeing each other,” Addie ruminated. “She never breathed a word.”
“Well, she wouldn’t, would she? This is your mother we’re talking about. Her standards are impossibly high, and you’ve been terrified of her all your life. She wasn’t about to admit she was off on a dirty weekend.”
More like a dirty week. Addie’s mother left the Dower House last Monday and had not been heard from since.
“I wonder what’s keeping Mr. Hunter.” He, Mama’s solicitor Mr. Stockwell, and a criminal defense barrister engaged for the purpose were negotiating her freedom right this very minute.
“Red tape. Forms in quadruplicate. Perhaps he’ll have to leave a kidney behind for collateral.”
“Don’t joke, Rupert.”
“Who says I’m joking? The Metropolitan Police Force will not want to look as though they’re playing favorites. If your mother was not a marchioness, there’d be no hope of getting her out of the pokey. As it is—” Rupert shrugged.
“As it is what?”
“Don’t bite my head off, but I don’t believe you can count on your favorite detective for her release. There might be sinister forces at work.”
This was not at all what Addie wanted to hear, especially the “favorite detective” part. “What do you mean? She’s already been there a whole day and night!”
“Vere—Rufford now—is an ugly customer. But he knows everyone, and is a particular friend of the Prince of Wales. Don’t get your hopes up.”
“Why haven’t I heard of these people?” Addie asked, beyond frustrated. “It’s not as if dukes grow on trees as they do in romance novels.”
“You’ve been out of the country, buried in the country, and before that, there was a war on. Before that, you were a virginal innocent, a veritable child. Penny’s a bit older than you are, and she went off to Vienna as a very young bride—she didn’t even have a debut. It was quite a scandal at the time; Franz basically kidnapped her, though she went quite willingly. He’s a handsome devil, quite tall, piercing blue eyes, blond curls, just the sort who looks good in a uniform and even better out of it. You were probably still at school when he lured her away.”
Addie had no recollection of such an event, and Debrett’s would certainly not be forthcoming about it. “Weren’t her parents upset? I thought you said she was close to her father.” Addie would never have dared to defy the Marquess and Marchioness of Broughton in that fashion.
“Her mother was dead. And you know what they say—lust conquers all,” Rupert said. If anyone knew that, he would.
Though sometimes it didn’t last, which was apparently the case with Penelope Ariadne.
“I take it her marriage is troubled.”
“Isn’t everyone’s?” sighed Rupert. “I believe Franz is in Town trying to patch things up. But that’s really all I can tell you of the Moreton family. I’ve been out of the social set lately, as you well know.”
Bah. What was the point of a spiritual guide when the spirit couldn’t guide? Addie didn’t see how Rupert could help them at all. But he was here. And he’d been proven to be obliging in the past, sneaking around undetected, eavesdropping, gathering information, and stopping murderers in their tracks. If he could find the duke’s real killer, she might even kiss him again before she sent him on his way to redemption.