CHAPTER THREE

Hands behind his back, Nathaniel observed the room the butler had led him to six minutes ago. The study was well-appointed but clearly the domain of a woman. Heavy oak panelling had been lightened with pale yellow curtains, while tasselled cushions of the same hue adorned the delicate armchairs surrounding the fireplace. Light poured into the room from recently widened windows, the paint on the joinery shining with newness. From this and other observations, he would deduce Lady Caroline had commissioned the remodel of this study while abroad, wanting the study to reflect her taste rather than her father’s. Perhaps she’d commissioned it not long after accepting her fiancé’s proposal, knowing she would soon return to England to introduce him to her family, but this was conjecture only. He would need to observe further to ascertain the truth of this speculation.

A small desk stood to the side of Lady Caroline’s, positioned to receive light from the sun and well appointed, stocked with inkwells, paper, quills, and a blotter. The papers on it were arranged neatly and he would infer from the top two reports there were arranged in date order. Ledgers sat on the shelf behind the desk, and it was mostly likely where Rose sat while performing her duties. On the floor near the chair was a discarded wrapper, most likely for a sweet or a candy. That it was still there meant Lady Caroline and her secretary had occupied this room recently enough for the maid not to have tidied the room.

He remembered Rose liked lemon drops.

Nathaniel scowled. Again his mind wandered to Rose. He’d thought of her too often since they’d parted yesterday. He should be focussed on solving this case, which admittedly was astoundingly straightforward. Even before interviewing Lady Caroline’s extended family, he’d already hypothesised who had perpetrated the murder and why. His brain so minimally occupied, his thoughts had wandered again and again to Rose. He was unused to such speculation. He could not recall to his memory ever being so occupied by a woman. There was a sexual component to it, of course. He had thought her attractive as a younger man and had entertained the fantasies young men did of attractive females. He had not realised, though, how often he had thought of her since.

His scowl deepened. This was ridiculous and a complete waste of his energy.

The door to the study opened and Lady Caroline Faringdon swept into the room. He had been introduced to her once, a musicale his father had demanded he attend, and he drew upon that memory now. She looked much the same though eight years older, and of course she had not at the time worn mourning. Her gown was black, dyed more with haste than with expertise, and though her hair was styled precisely, it was a more sober style than he recalled she preferred, soft curls about her face rather than cheery ringlets. Though she smiled, her eyes were red-rimmed and the lids swollen. Before him stood a woman who grieved, and grieved truly.

“Mr Evans,” she greeted. “Thank you for your attendance.”

“Lady Caroline.” He inclined his head.

She cocked her head. “No condolences?”

He frowned. “I will find the murderer of your fiancé. That is condolence enough.”

“Quite right, Mr Evans, quite right. I understand you will be interviewing both my guests and my staff today.”

“I will.”

The corner of her mouth tilt. “You believe in brevity, don’t you?”

He did not know how to respond to such a statement.

The tilt lifted, becoming a smile. “I like you, Mr Evans.”

Again, he did not know how to respond. It did not matter if she liked him or not. All that mattered was he solve the crime.

“I assume I am a suspect.”

He inclined his head.

“In that case, I should like Miss Webster to assist you, Mr Evans.”

Nathaniel turned hot, then cold, and then didn’t know what to do with his hands. He had not anticipated this. Why had he not anticipated this? He had researched Lady Caroline. He knew her habits, and yet she had blindsided him. “Miss Webster cannot assist me. She is a suspect,” he managed.

“Miss Webster was not here. I believe there are several people who will confirm she was in York several days prior to the day of question, staying overnight and returning well after my dear Sir George was discovered. You will discover this, no doubt.” Still wearing a smile, Lady Caroline rang the servant’s bell. A footman appeared, silent and efficient. “Please have Miss Webster join us, Watson.”

Nathaniel barely noticed the servant leave, his thoughts tangled. He did not like this. He liked his thoughts calm. Ordered. Not this wild seethe of emotion that made no sense.

He knew the second Rose entered the room. She wore again clothing appropriate to her station, well-made but not ostentatious. Her hair was again pulled back ruthlessly, her even features composed.

He could not reconcile his memories of her with the version she’d presented the day before. He had not realised how often he thought of her, or how rooted she was in his mind. It was odd to see her now, the laughing girl of his memory replaced with a sober woman.

He wanted to correct her, to pull her hair so it tumbled about her shoulders, but he knew he should not touch her without permission. He knew not to touch anyone without permission. Evans had often said he could not do things just because he wanted them and could not make things as he wished them just because he wished it. Logically, he knew this, but it did not stop his fingers from twitching when his gaze fell upon her.

“I am a suspect, Rose,” Lady Caroline said cheerfully in greeting.

Rose’s lips twitched. “Yes, my lady.”

“And since I am a suspect, I cannot assist Mr Evans. You know I adore being helpful, Rose, and to investigate a mystery!” A shadow passed over her face. “I also should love to bring the person responsible for Sir George’s death to justice.” She shook herself. “However, I must recuse myself and therefore, I am offering you in my stead.”

“My lady?”

“You shall assist Mr Evans in his inquiry.”

Rose blinked and then, slowly, her gaze found him. “What does Mr Evans have to say of this?”

He opened his mouth to offer a stringent negative. “Assistance would be beneficial,” he said instead.

She wore the same surprise he felt. He had no use for an untrained assistant. She would be more hinderance than help, not to mention she made him…unbalanced.

“Excellent!” Lady Caroline clasped her hands together. “Rose, pack a bag. You shall stay at the same lodgings as Mr Evans.” She turned to him. “I assume that is Lowry’s Public House?”

Concealing his bewilderment, he nodded sharply.

Rose, however, evidently saw no need to hide her confusion. “My lady, who will perform my duties if I am to reside away from the estate?”

Lady Caroline waved a hand. “One of the maids can attend my toilette, and you may continue with secretarial work at the public house.”

“But my lady—”

“I have decided, Rose.” Gentling her tone, Lady Caroline offered a smile. “This will be best, Rose. You will see.”

“Perhaps it would be best if I stayed here?” Again he surprised himself, offering something that would put himself out and inconvenience him terribly. Something about Rose’s expression hurt something deep in his chest, and he found himself desperate to alleviate both her of her stricken expression and himself of the strange ache in his chest.

“With a potential murderer on the loose?” Lady Caroline shuddered. “No, sir, it is best if you spend you sleeping hours away from the motley crew of relatives I am hosting. I should not like to place you in danger.”

“I am often in danger, my lady. It is no hardship or concern of mine.”

“You are kind, sir. Rose, is he not kind?”

“Yes, my lady,” Rose murmured.

He tried, very hard, not to glance at her. He mostly succeeded.

Lady Caroline considered a moment. “No, sir,” she declared. “I must insist you remain at Lowry’s, and for Rose to join you. I should hate for either of you to come to harm because I bent on this.”

“My lady—”

“It is decided,” she interrupted. “Now, do say you will have some tea before commencing your interviews.”

He opened his mouth to argue but a slight movement of Rose’s head halted him. She shook her head surreptitiously again and so he closed his mouth and instead said, “Of course, Lady Caroline.”

“Excellent! Rose, you shall join us as well. I am so pleased we have sorted this out with a minimum of fuss.” Coming forward, Lady Caroline linked her arm with Nathaniel. “Let us remove to the sitting room and, Mr Evans, you can tell me of your requirements for your interview.”

Lady Caroline chattered brightly as she escorted him through to the study. He, meanwhile, was acutely aware of Rose, trailing silently behind.

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