Nobody’s Sweetheart Now
Lady Adelaide Mystery, Book 1
“This 1920s romp is absolutely my favorite cup of tea!” —NYT Bestselling author Rhys Bowen
Awarded Desert Isle Keeper status from All About Romance!
A delightful English cozy series begins in August 1924. Lady Adelaide Compton has recently (and satisfactorily) interred her husband, Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton, hero of the Somme, in the family vault in the village churchyard.
Rupert died by smashing his Hispano-Suiza on a Cotswold country road while carrying a French mademoiselle in the passenger seat. With the house now Addie’s, needed improvements in hand, and a weekend house party underway, how inconvenient of Rupert to turn up! Not in the flesh, but in — actually, as a — spirit. Rupert has to perform a few good deeds before becoming welcomed to heaven — or, more likely, thinks Addie, to hell.
Before Addie can convince herself she’s not completely lost her mind, a murder disrupts her careful seating arrangement. Which of her twelve houseguests is a killer? Her mother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Broughton? Her sister Cecilia, the born-again vegetarian? Her childhood friend and potential lover, Lord Lucas Waring? Rupert has a solid alibi as a ghost and an urge to detect.
Enter Inspector Devenand Hunter from the Yard, an Anglo-Indian who is not going to let some barmy society beauty witnessed talking to herself derail his investigation. Something very peculiar is afoot at Compton Court and he’s going to get to the bottom of it — or go as mad as its mistress trying.
ISBN-13: 9781464210723 • ISBN-10: 1464210721
Read an Excerpt
Compton Chase, Compton-Under-Wood, Gloucestershire, a Saturday in late August 1924
Once upon a time, Lady Adelaide Mary Merrill, daughter of the Marquess of Broughton, was married to Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton, hero of the Somme. It was not a happy union, and there was no one in Britain more relieved than Addie when Rupert smashed up his Hispano-Suiza on a quiet Cotswold country road with Mademoiselle Claudette Labelle in the passenger seat. If one could scream with a French accent, it was Claudette, and it was said her terrified shrieks as they hit the stone wall were still heard on occasion by superstitious farmers and their livestock near midnight when the moon was full.
Addie was just getting used to her widowhood when Rupert inconveniently turned up six months after she had him sealed in the Compton family vault in the village churchyard. The unentailed house was hers to do as she pleased, and she had decided to open it up to her family and a few convivial friends for the weekend now that she’d made some much-needed improvements. Rupert had always been stingy with her money, and with him gone on to his doubtful reward, she had employed most of the district’s laborers in an attempt to bring Compton Chase into the twentieth century.
True, it was early in her mourning period to entertain, but she made the concession to wear black, even if there wasn’t much of it in yardage, thank God, because it was so bloody hot. And her mother was there to chaperone.
When Rupert appeared, Addie was dressing for her house party, and dropped the diamond spray for her hair on the Aubusson.
“That dress is ridiculous, Addie,” Rupert intoned from a dim corner. He was wearing the dark suit with the maroon foulard tie she’d had him laid out in, and apart from being rather pale, was still a handsome devil, emphasis on the devil. If he’d been in his uniform, she might even contemplate marrying him again.
Oh, she was going mad. Too much stressing over the seating arrangements in the dining room. Who was billeted next to who. Or was it whom? She’d tried to make it easy for those who wished to be naughty tonight to be successful. Then there was the bother over her sister turning vegetarian and ruining the menus at the last minute. Cook was cross and was apt to get crosser.
Addie was already sitting at her vanity table so she didn’t collapse alongside the diamonds. She shut her eyes.
“I’ll be here when you open them. And believe me, it’s no picnic for me, either.”
Addie did open them, and her mouth, but found herself incapable of uttering anything sensible.
“Yes, I’m back. But, one hopes, not to stay. Apparently, I have to perform a few good deeds before the Fellow Upstairs will let me into heaven. It will be a frightful bore for you, I’m sure.”
She told the truth as she knew it, feeling absurd to even speak to someone who couldn’t possibly be there. “You’re dead.”
“As a doornail. What does that mean, anyway? The expression dates from the fourteenth century. Langland, Shakespeare, and Dickens all used it. Dickens was of the opinion that a coffin nail is deader, but there you are.”
Addie reached for her cup of cold tea and downed it in one gulp, wishing it was gin, brandy, anything to make Rupert go away. But if she were drunk, more Ruperts, like those fabled pink elephants, might actually appear. It was a conundrum.
“I’ll try to stay out of your hair as much as possible. Speaking of which, thank God you haven’t cut it into one of those awful shingles. I always did like your hair.”
Addie’s hand went up involuntarily to the golden roll she’d so recently pinned up without her maid’s assistance. Beckett was seeing to Addie’s impulsive sister Cecilia, who, apart from her sudden conversion to vegetarianism, had cut her hair into a bob that was more or less untamable because of the stubborn Merrill curls. Beckett had her work cut out for her. Cee resembled someone who had stuck their finger in the newly rewired sockets of Compton Chase and lived to tell the tale.
“What’s wrong with my dress?” Addie asked, peeved. Though she knew he wasn’t truly there — that he was dead — he still had the ability to irritate her, even in her imagination.
“It’s far too flimsy and sheer and short. I can practically see your nipples if I squint hard enough. I admit you do have lovely legs, but everyone and his brother doesn’t have to see them. Your father would not be pleased.”
“My father is dead.” Panicked, she looked around her bedroom. “My God, he’s not going to turn up too, is he?”
“Only one ghost at a time, I believe. I’m still not entirely conversant with the rules. It’s been a confusing few months.”
“It’s the very latest style,” Addie said to herself — and only to herself — tugging down the beaded skirt. It really could have been much shorter. She’d had it sent over from Paris after a flurry of letters and telegrams back and forth from Charles Frederick Worth’s grandson Jacques, who had recently taken over the famous fashion house. Addie had sketched the initial design herself, not that she had any pretensions to become a couturier. A marquess’ daughter was supposed to be decorative, and possibly witty and wise, but never work.
“I don’t like it, but then so little appeals to me nowadays. Ennui is my middle name, but I hope this little visit changes things up. Who have you put in my room? That bounder Waring?”
“I understand it takes one to know one. Lucas is not a bounder, as you must know. Why am I talking? You are not here.”
Lucas was, in fact, assigned a bedroom across the hall. Addie didn’t trust a mere connecting door to stay shut all night long, and in her well-run household, servants were apt to be scurrying down the corridor at any moment at a guest’s whim, discouraging all attempts of Addie’s to be naughty herself. She was not ready to be a merry widow anyway, despite Lucas’ tentative blandishments. Rupert wasn’t cold in his grave.
Apparently, Rupert wasn’t in his grave.
Rupert smiled ruefully. Could an apparition be rueful? Or was Addie really unconscious, perhaps on her deathbed, suffering from heat stroke or a regular stroke or some kind of tea-induced hallucination? Cook could easily have put poisonous leaves in the pot in retaliation for the menu adjustments. She was set in her ways, and had been at Compton Chase since the dawn of time.
Addie had only just turned thirty-one, much too young to die in the usual course of things. However, the past few months had been more than difficult for her too, even apart from Rupert’s death.
“I admit I bounded in my time. Poor Addie. I wasn’t much of a husband, was I?”
“Please go away. I haven’t time for this.” In ten minutes, there would be a dozen houseguests downstairs in the Great Hall admiring its two-story, multi-paned window and having cocktails without her, and Lord knows, she needed one. Or three. She bent over, picked up the pin and stuck it behind an ear.
“Tut. Let me help you with that.” Before she could say a word, she felt his hands in her hair. Cold hands. Really quite icy. He moved the diamonds over a few inches, and she began to see spots dance the tarantella before her eyes.
Good. She was going to faint and stop all this. Addie knew how to faint like a champion — her mother, the Dowager Marchioness of Broughton, a short but formidable woman, had indoctrinated both her daughters in all the ladylike accomplishments. She slid with ease off her slipper chair to the thick carpet and waited to black out, knowing her limbs to be in perfect order, and the hem of her dress where it should be, not riding up to show Rupert her French silk knickers.
Not that he’d care.
“Dash it, Addie! You have more spine than this! I recognize the situation is hardly ideal, but you’re stuck with me for the foreseeable future, so buck up, my girl. I’ll leave you alone for now, but look for me before bedtime for a little chat. No finky-diddling with that Waring chap, no matter how much he bats those baby-blues in your direction. I know what he’s up to — you’re a rich and attractive widow, ripe for the fuc — um, plucking. Don’t fall for his innocent act.”
“I’ve known Lucas since I was six years old. He is innocent,” Addie said from the floor. You couldn’t find a nicer man than Lucas, not that she’d tried. No, she’d allowed herself to be lured away by Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton of Compton Chase, an ancient Jacobean pile in dire need of restoration. The house, not Rupert. Rupert had been unbearably handsome and fit and had shone with good health and bonhomie. If he could live through the horrors of the Great War, he should have lived forever, were it not for too many French 75 cocktails, unnecessary speed, and that Cotswold stone wall.
“That’s what he wants you to believe. All men are the same, perfect hounds.”
“You’re giving dogs a bad name.” Idly, she wondered where her terrier Fitz was. Would he be able to see Rupert, or would he be barking at the shadows? Fitz had never met Rupert; he was Cee’s crackpot idea of a mourning present and arrived with a big black bow around his scrawny neck a week after the funeral. The fleas in her bed had been an unforeseen complication.
Fitz’s neck was thicker now, the fleas a distant memory. Addie supposed that since she had no children, the dog was the next best thing to distract her from her lonely state.
She wasn’t lonely now. There were far too many people in her house for comfort, starting with the man who was disappearing right in front of her. Going, going …
She swallowed back a little cry and struggled to sit up, the room still spinning a bit. That afternoon nap hadn’t helped. It had been a long day, perhaps way too hot to play tennis. Far too much sun had roasted her cheeks and brought out her freckles. She was rubbish at tennis anyhow, being too vain to wear the glasses Dr. Bergman had prescribed before he retired two years ago. Maybe if she put those glasses on —
Addie leaped up and rummaged through the dressing table drawer. Wrapped in an embroidered lace handkerchief, the dratted tortoise shell spectacles were still as ugly as ever. But they would help her see clearly, wouldn’t they? To not see things or dead husbands that really weren’t there. The mirror came into focus and she noticed at once that the diamond pin was dangling from a strand of loosened hair. She’d have to start again, this time with no assistance from the man who’d made their five-year marriage a living hell.
Ha. So he thought he’d eventually wind up in heaven? It would take more than “a few good deeds” to send him to the front of the queue. If he hadn’t died six months ago, Addie might have been tempted to shoot him herself. Her father had done his bit and taught her and Cecilia all the unladylike accomplishments, and when she wore her glasses, she was a very fair shot.
Addie had been vastly tired of the faux sympathy she received from her so-called friends as she tried to hold her head up and pretend Rupert was a faithful husband. Despite the potential scandal, the exhortations of her mother, and reservations of her sister, she’d been close to demanding a divorce from Rupert when he’d skidded off the slippery road with that French wh — hussy.
She pulled out all the pins with a certain amount of viciousness, her hair tumbling down her bare shoulders and catching on the jet and sequins and cobwebby lace. Picking up the silver-backed brush, she tried to smooth the curls and her life back into some semblance of control.
By God, she was going to need something more than a hairbrush.