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A purely private matter, p.1

A Purely Private Matter, page 1


A Purely Private Matter

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A Purely Private Matter


  A Useful Woman

  “Clever and witty. Wilde artfully portrays Regency London, from its ballrooms to Bow Street, in all its glory and hypocrisy, and provides readers with a heroine worthy of our attention. With its colorful cast and scandalous intrigue, A Useful Woman would surely have set the famed patronesses of Almack’s atwitter.”

  —Anna Lee Huber, national bestselling author of

  the Lady Darby Mysteries

  “Well-drawn characters and a perfect plot make this historical mystery a winner.”

  —Nancy Haddock, national bestselling author of Paint the Town Dead

  “[A] wonderfully entertaining Regency mystery romance, and I really enjoyed it. With a cleverly cunning plot and characters that are engaging and witty, I was easily enfolded in the dangers and subterfuge of the ton. Rosalind is a strong, determined character who knows what it is like to carry the world on her shoulders—very intelligent and savvy . . . With plenty of twists and turns, and romance thrown in to boot, A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde is a delight to read, and I look forward to the next in the series.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “Wilde brings the haut monde of early nineteenth-century London to vivid life, and the characters she peoples it with are complex individuals whose basic decency, or lack of it, is carefully hidden behind a facade of manners and propriety.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  Titles by Darcie Wilde

  Lord of the Rakes

  The Accidental Abduction

  Regency Makeover Series

  Part I: The Bride Behind the Curtain

  Part II: The Stepsister’s Triumph

  Part III: An Exquisite Marriage

  Rosalind Thorne Mysteries

  A Useful Woman

  A Purely Private Matter


  Published by Berkley

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

  Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Zettel

  Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

  BERKLEY is a registered trademark and BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the B colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Wilde, Darcie, author.

  Title: A purely private matter / Darcie Wilde.

  Description: First Edition. | New York : Berkley Prime Crime, 2017. | Series:

  Rosalind Thorne mystery ; [2]

  Identifiers: LCCN 2016043580 (print) | LCCN 2016050440 (ebook) | ISBN

  9780425282380 (paperback) | ISBN 9780698404298 (ebook)

  Subjects: LCSH: Women detectives—England—Fiction. | Private

  investigators—England—Fiction. | Murder—Investigation—Fiction. |

  London (England)—Social life and customs—19th century—Fiction. | BISAC:

  FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Historical. | FICTION / Mystery &

  Detective / Women Sleuths. | GSAFD: Mystery fiction. | Historical fiction.

  Classification: LCC PS3623.I5353 P87 2017 (print) | LCC PS3623.I5353 (ebook)

  | DDC 813/.6—dc23

  LC record available at

  First Edition: May 2017

  Cover art by Matthieu Forichon

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



  Praise for A Useful Woman

  Titles by Darcie Wilde

  Title Page


  CHAPTER 1: The Art of Obtaining Discreet Entry

  CHAPTER 2: A New Acquaintance

  CHAPTER 3: A Meeting of Like Minds

  CHAPTER 4: The Usefulness of the Circulating Library

  CHAPTER 5: A Pleasant Evening at the Theater

  CHAPTER 6: The Presence of Mr. Cavendish

  CHAPTER 7: Dining in Private and Comfort

  CHAPTER 8: The Arrival of the Captain

  CHAPTER 9: The Choices of a Woman Alone

  CHAPTER 10: A Place Naturally Suited for Violence

  CHAPTER 11: The Consequences of Staying Out Late

  CHAPTER 12: The Supporting Cast

  CHAPTER 13: The Master’s Return

  CHAPTER 14: A Careful Inquiry

  CHAPTER 15: An Entirely New Story

  CHAPTER 16: Suitable Drawing Room Conversation

  CHAPTER 17: The Nature of the Inquiry

  CHAPTER 18: What Reasons Must Come to Light

  CHAPTER 19: Of Matters to Be Held in Confidence

  CHAPTER 20: The Paying of Necessary Calls

  CHAPTER 21: Of Heirs and Parents

  CHAPTER 22: An Inquiry into the Various Causes

  CHAPTER 23: Bachelor Rooms

  CHAPTER 24: Together on the Straight and Narrow

  CHAPTER 25: The Events Backstage

  CHAPTER 26: Charitable Errands

  CHAPTER 27: The Implications of the Past

  CHAPTER 28: A Small, Private Supper

  CHAPTER 29: The Inquest Is Opened

  CHAPTER 30: You Shall Tell the Truth

  CHAPTER 31: Lies and Refutations

  CHAPTER 32: While the World’s in Mourning

  CHAPTER 33: The Guilty Man

  CHAPTER 34: The Spreading Ripples of the Past

  CHAPTER 35: Pleasing Reminiscences

  CHAPTER 36: Matters Overseen and Overheard

  CHAPTER 37: Venturing into the Past

  CHAPTER 38: As We Shall All Be Reunited

  CHAPTER 39: The Memory of Samuel Tauton

  CHAPTER 40: For the Sins of the Past

  CHAPTER 41: The Importance of Careful Research

  CHAPTER 42: The Many Victims of a Misspent Life

  CHAPTER 43: A Brief Pause, a Deeper Breath

  About the Author


  The Art of Obtaining Discreet Entry

  Avoid as much as possible going out in the evening, especially on frivolous errands.

  —Samuel and Sarah Adams, The Complete Servant

  How will you get inside? Mrs. Devery’s question echoed in the back of Rosalind Thorne’s mind as she climbed out of the hired carriage. They do not admit women at Graham’s.

  That was the first problem. Had Rosalind needed to get inside a respectable house, she could have followed the daisy chain of her acquaintance to find a plausible reason for visiting. There were, however, limits to even Rosalind’s carefully cultivated connections. Fashioning an anonymous admission to one of the most exclusive gaming clubs in Pall Mall had proved beyond her powers, until tonight.

  Tonight Graham’s was holding its Selenite Ball. Once a year, the club members welcomed London society’s richest and most riotous inhabitants. Champagne and brandy would flow and tables would groan under the weight of the food prepared by the club’s Fre
nch chef, and most important for Rosalind’s purposes, women would be welcomed into the club’s exclusively masculine preserve.

  Rosalind clutched her blue silk cloak closed with one hand and held her white and silver face mask with the other as she shouldered her way through the opulent crowd. Ladies and gentlemen done up in enough colors to outfit a hundred stained glass windows jammed the steps. Precious stones, some of which were surely genuine, sparkled on every throat, bosom, and brow. Rosalind was not the only woman to affect a mask. Creations of gold lace and peacock feathers adorned the faces of some who did not scruple to expose their shoulders, arms, bosoms, and most daringly, their ankles.

  Graham’s Club had three sets of doors facing St. James’s Street, and all of them stood wide open in an attempt to accommodate the flood of fashionable visitors. Rosalind selected the doors farthest to the right, and inserted herself into the particolored current with the efficient yet unobtrusive sidestep she’d perfected for navigating crowded ballrooms.

  When she reached the golden doorway, the liveried footman shook his head at her until all his chins wagged. “Now, then, ma’am, I will need to see your invitation.”

  Rosalind was as devoid of invitation as she was of any intention to join the festivities. She stepped closer to the footman and, in a familiar manner that would have shocked any respectable house or manservant, took his hand.

  “I am here to meet a friend,” she breathed as she pressed the coin into his palm.

  The man looked at her mask, and closed his hand around the coin. He also stepped back, and bowed deeply. Rosalind gathered her hems and sailed past him with a straight back and smooth step that would have made her old deportment master smile.

  How will you know where to go? Mrs. Devery had asked. You will not know what the place looks like inside.

  This much, at least, was easy to solve. The circulating library kept a number of guidebooks describing the more notorious sights and haunts of London. The article in Clubs of the Metropolis: A Comprehensive Guide had proved most detailed. Rosalind looked about her now, matching that description to what she saw.

  Dozens of flambeaux and beeswax candles lit Graham’s marble entrance hall. A pair of brightly rouged women in low-cut gowns of pale green silk glanced curiously at Rosalind, but did not pause as they joined the shining river that flowed up the famous (according to the guidebook) marble and gilt stairs. On either side of that sweeping stairway stood a pair of poorly executed, larger-than-life gilded statues of naked women. They were crowned in stars and holding aloft fans of playing cards in one hand while the other beckoned the members to come try their luck. These were meant to be representations of the goddess of fortune. Privately, Rosalind thought the goddess of fortune should have a word with her solicitor.

  But surely you’ll be recognized.

  That had been a genuine worry. Graham’s counted many sons of aristocratic families among its members. Rosalind could not risk being seen unescorted in a place she had no business even entering. That meant not one, but two, disguises became necessary, the first to get her through the door, and the second to render her invisible once she was inside. It also meant that she could not make use of the attended cloak room or retiring room to effect her transformation. But as she had hoped, behind each of the great, gilded statues, there was a narrow, shadowed space that was simple enough for Rosalind to fade into.

  Keeping her motions small and quick, Rosalind drew off her mask and unfastened her cape. Underneath, she wore a plain black dress. The addition of a white collar and plain cuffs made the garment originally designed for mourning into a passing imitation of a lady’s maid’s severe dress. She had pulled her golden hair into a simple knot at the back of her neck, and left off even the most modest pins or jewels. Instead of a reticule, she carried a plain work bag for holding thread and scissors, scraps of lace, and other needlework.

  Presto! thought Rosalind to herself as she smoothed the cloak over her arm.

  It was not as easy to imitate a servant as one might be led to believe from stage plays and three-volume novels. In addition to the thousand highly specialized forms and skills that a life in service demanded, there were habits of motion and attitude that were as difficult to assume without training and continual practice. Therefore, Rosalind had waited until after midnight to make her attempt. By now, the majority of the guests were quite drunk. The rest were concentrating on getting drunk, or taking advantage of others’ drunkenness. Under these circumstances, the finer details of her dress and demeanor ought to pass unnoticed.

  Rosalind slipped into the very edge of the crowd and let herself be carried by mutual motion up the stairs. If anyone asked what she did here, which was unlikely, she could say she was taking the silk cloak to her mistress, who wished to leave without delay.

  Rosalind reached the first floor. Clarence blue carpets softened the floors. More gilded statues in the style of those downstairs guarded the entrance to a hive of galleries and salons. Music and laughter filled the whole building as men and women danced and drank and crowded around the tables. The new game of la roulette was also on full display and, to judge by the cheers thundering through the gaming rooms, was proving a magnificent success.

  Rosalind turned her face away from that gaudy door. Fortunes would be lost tonight. Women as well as men would be swept up by the excitement, and they would commit sin and folly to be allowed to continue to play. It was that sort of folly which brought her here tonight, and what she needed was not to be found on this floor. Rosalind breezed past the gaming rooms, making her way to the plainer stair at the end of the passageway.

  I am at my wits’ end, Miss Thorne. You must help me. Mrs. Percival Devery, née Lucille Allenby, had cried as she sat in Rosalind’s small parlor and poured out her story.

  Rosalind Thorne had a reputation as what society called “a useful woman.” Usually, this referred to some gently bred woman in distressed circumstances who managed to keep a kind of position in the fashionable world by helping her better-off sisters organize their visiting lists and entertainments, as well as running those errands that these more fortunate women found too fatiguing.

  But recently and singularly, Rosalind had enlarged upon her occupation. She had begun to help women with their more serious problems. The problems that could affect lives, marriages, and families.

  Rosalind listened to Mrs. Devery’s halting description of how she had come to this city as a new bride and how her husband had introduced her to society. Society, in its turn, had introduced Mrs. Devery to cards. She quickly took to the games, and enjoyed them enough that she found herself playing deeper than her income allowed. In order to keep playing, she had borrowed money from a man named Russell Fullerton.

  He was so charming. So understanding, Mrs. Devery told Rosalind miserably. If I had known what kind of man he was, if I had any idea . . .

  But no one among her new acquaintances had thought to warn her. Not even when Mr. Fullerton had asked her to give him her cameo brooch as a promise that she would repay his loan. But although she did repay him, the brooch had not been returned. Then, the letters had started to come, and the demands for more money began.

  And you have been paying?

  I have, or at least I have tried, but he wants so much, Miss Thorne.

  Rosalind mounted the narrower, quieter stair that led to the club’s second floor with a firm step.

  My advice, Mrs. Devery, is that you tell your husband the truth. If he cares for you, he will forgive you.

  Mr. Fullerton has threatened to take the story to the papers. My husband is in the House of Commons, Miss Thorne. The scandal would destroy his career. He would not forgive that.

  The hallway of the second floor was deep in shadow. The windows at either end admitted some flickering light from the street outside, but no candles had been lit here to alleviate the dark or the cold, because no one was expected to be up here this ear

  Like most clubs of its kind, Graham’s kept rooms that could be reserved by those who had no wish to bother traveling London’s streets to get to their tables. Some gentlemen, in fact, lived almost exclusively at their clubs, either for the convenience of the location, or to avoid the entanglements of hearth and home. Mr. Fullerton was one of these. Rosalind had bribed Graham’s servants for information well before she ever set foot in the club. A glass of gin and a few coins had enabled her to discover that Mr. Fullerton occupied the corner suite on the second floor.

  Rosalind kept her gait steady as she moved down the darkened and silent corridor. To look furtive would be the greatest folly. She must act as if she was under orders to be in this exact spot.

  She reached the door that should lead to the corner apartment, and stopped in the puddle of orange light that flickered through the arched window.

  This point had always been the weakness of the plan and the question for which there was no answer. Was the door locked? It might not be. Mr. Fullerton was in the club, after all, down in the gaming rooms, enjoying the rout and riot. But then, he was a blackmailer and therefore not a trusting soul. If he’d locked his door, then Rosalind would need to find where the housekeepers stored the keys. That would take her into the realm of the servants, which would be risky beyond measure. The masters might all be drunk and distracted tonight, but their attendants most certainly were not.

  But she glanced at the floor and saw a bright line of light gleaming at the level of the carpet. There was a fire in the room. That might mean the door was open, but it also might mean that there was someone in the rooms. Rosalind’s heart thumped once, but she did not permit herself to hesitate. She knocked softly, as a servant alerting those within she was about to enter.

  There was no answer.

  Rosalind’s heart thumped again. She closed her hand around the doorknob. It turned, and the door opened quietly. Rosalind resisted the urge to dart inside, and kept her movements sedate, at least until she closed the door behind herself, and drew the bolt.

  He told me he keeps my cameo in the drawer of his bedside table, so that he has it near him always.

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