Authors: Kate Parker
“An engaging heroine . . . and a story that will keep you turning pages until you reach the end.”
—Emily Brightwell, national bestselling author of the Mrs. Jeffries Mysteries
“A delightful adventure in Victorian England with the motley crew that is the Archivist Society—a group dedicated to obtaining justice when all else fails.”
—Victoria Thompson, national bestselling author of the Gaslight Mysteries
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Kate Parker
THE VANISHING THIEF
THE COUNTERFEIT LADY
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 2014 by Kate Parker.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-61740-3
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Parker, Kate, 1949–
The counterfeit lady / Kate Parker.—Berkley Prime Crime trade paperback edition. pages cm
ISBN 978-0-425-26661-8 (paperback)
1. Women booksellers—Fiction. 2. Booksellers and bookselling—Fiction.3. Women private investigators—Fiction. 4. Cold cases (Criminal investigation)—Fiction. 5. London (England)—Fiction. 6. Great Britain—History—Victoria, 1837–1901—Fiction. I. Title.PS3616.A74525C68 2014
Berkley Prime Crime trade paperback edition / August 2014
Cover illustration by Teresa Fasolino.
Cover design by George Long.
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.
because you’ve always been there.
A special thanks to my brother, William Henck, whose timely comments about the naval arms race of the 1890s provided the background to this story. Thanks also to my daughter, Jennifer, who doesn’t mind revisiting historic spots in London or making a quick trip on BritRail to do research as long as there’s time for the theater.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the people who helped me polish both this book and my craft. Hannah Meredith, the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, the Pixie Chicks, and the HCRW all deserve a big thanks. My agent, Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyons Literary Agency, had important suggestions to improve this work, as did my editor, Faith Black. The cover artists and copyeditors at Berkley Prime Crime brought their special skills to the book and made it the best it can be.
And a thank-you to Ken Gates, who handed me a newspaper article on the RWA National Conference and told me to join them if I wanted to learn to write. That was many years ago, but the conversation ultimately led to the Victorian Bookshop Mysteries. The thought and the advice were appreciated.
While this story is based on the current events of the time period, I’ve reimagined those events as if they were acted out by my characters. Any errors not in the service of the story are mine.
I looked across the width of the shop counter at the Duke of Blackford and all the blood left my head. Pressing my fingers into the wood, I gaped at him as his words echoed in my brain.
I never expected to hear him say anything like that to me, Georgia Fenchurch, a middle-class bookshop owner. Never mind the fevered dreams I had about the duke. Broad shoulders, the fragrance of pristine linen and smoke, and a smile reminiscent of his pirate-raider ancestors haunted my nights. Left speechless, I gazed into his mesmerizing dark eyes. I hadn’t seen him since spring, but I’d thought of him often.
Then he added, “Miss Fenchurch, Queen Victoria and our country need you,” and my lovely daydream of sitting across the breakfast table from those dark eyes rose into the steam that encircled London thanks to a merciless heat wave.
“Perhaps we should go into my office.” I nodded to my assistant, Emma Keyes, who was helping a customer, and walked out from behind the counter.
We entered my small office in the back of the shop, stuffy now with the unbearable weather, and the duke immediately headed for the window overlooking the alley. Before I could tell him the window was stuck, he had it open several inches and had turned to face me. “Is it safe to speak here?”
“I assure you, no one ever lurks in that alley. The jeweler next door suffers from paranoia.” None of the papers stacked by the window were ruffled by the stagnant air. I shifted the books piled on both chairs over to the desk and then sat.
“We’ll keep our voices down, if you don’t mind.” Blackford pulled his chair close to mine and lowered himself so our knees collided. “I do beg your pardon.”
“Unavoidable if we’re going to keep our voices down.” The contact was sending little trembles of excitement through my body.
“There’s been a murder and theft that has repercussions on the security of the realm. Georgia, we need your help and the help of the Archivist Society.” He looked straight into my eyes with unflappable seriousness. Banging into my knees obviously hadn’t flustered him.
At least he chose to call me by my first name. Did he remember our first investigation together as fondly as I did?
“Why didn’t you go straight to Sir Broderick? He leads the Archivist Society.”
“Because ultimately it’s your help, and that of your lodger, that we need.”
My lodger? What in the—? “I don’t have a lodger.”
“Lady Phyllida Monthalf.”
“Aunt Phyllida? She’s not my lodger.” She was an integral part of my life. We were closer than many families.
“Aunt? That’s even better. Then you’re a relative, too.”
“You’re not making any sense.” That wasn’t unusual for the duke, at least on the few occasions we’d met, but I’d never known him to make a mistake on facts. “I have no relatives.”
“You’re not making any sense, Georgia.”
“‘Aunt’ is an honorary title. Lady Monthalf saved my life on one of my first investigations. Her brother had kept her in appalling circumstances for years. When he was arrested for murder and the ghouls on Fleet Street began to circle, I brought her home to live with me.”
“I was acquainted with the gossip at the time.” The duke could sound appallingly stuffy about the misdeeds of the aristocracy.
“The truth was worse than the rumors. I know. I was there.” It was one of the Archivist Society’s first cases. I wasn’t yet twenty at the time, but I’d carry visions of that day to my deathbed. In my mind, Lord Monthalf again stood blocking the kitchen door through which I’d planned to escape with his latest victim, a battered prostitute named Annie. Only Phyllida’s strike with a cast-iron skillet saved us from death by Lord Monthalf’s knife.
I shook away the image and wondered what new investigation Blackford wanted our help with. And timid Phyllida’s help, who’d never aided in Archivist Society cases.
“Tragedy has struck the family again. Lady Monthalf’s cousin Clara Gattenger has been murdered.”
Despite his bloodless announcement, I realized my jaw had dropped. I snapped it shut before I expressed my dismay. “This is terrible. When? What happened? Does Phyllida know?”
“Last evening. And no, no one has been in touch with Lady Monthalf.”
“Then we must tell her immediately.”
I started to rise, but he waved me back into my chair. “Georgia, wait. Hear me out.”
Settling myself in my chair, I stared at him. “Go on.”
“Yesterday evening, raised voices and crashes were heard coming from the locked study by the Gattenger servants. Finally, after a minute or two of silence, Kenneth Gattenger came out and shouted for someone to fetch a doctor and the police. The police found Clara Gattenger dead in the study. There were no signs of a break-in. Her husband’s been arrested and is currently in Newgate Prison.”
“A sad tale, but not one requiring the help of the Archivist Society.” I waited for the rest of the story. Knowing Blackford, there had to be more.
“Do you know the name Gattenger?”
“It’s Clara Gattenger’s surname, and her husband Kenneth’s. Other than that, it means nothing to me.”
“Kenneth Gattenger is single-handedly keeping Britain in the position of the world’s premier sea power. The man is the most brilliant naval architect of our times. His designs are visionary. He—”
I shook my head slightly. This wasn’t telling me anything useful.
“Perhaps this will make the situation clear. He’s designed a new warship. This new ship will ensure our naval superiority for years. Every other seafaring nation wants to know the design’s secrets.” He leaned forward, pinning me in my chair with his intense stare. “The plans disappeared from his study last evening.”
“Surely they weren’t the only copy.” I still didn’t understand what this had to do with poor Clara’s murder.
“No, but they represent a radical new concept, and if a set fell into the wrong hands . . .”
“Germany.” Our rivalry with Germany was in all the papers. I understood this much.
He nodded. “The race would be on. Whoever builds the design first wins. The balance of power could be irrevocably changed.”
“So if someone stole the design, why is Kenneth Gattenger in prison for killing Clara?”
“There was a fire in the fireplace while this argument took place and no sign of forced entry. There were only two people behind that locked study door. Gattenger could have burned a set of plans in the minutes between the end of the sounds of the scuffle and when he unlocked the door.”
“You want the Archivist Society to discover his guilt or innocence.” Blackford should have taken the case to Sir Broderick. However, I was glad he was here. I’d forgotten how commanding his voice could be, even when pitched to a murmur.
“We need to find out what happened to the plans in Gattenger’s study. The entire fate of England rests on recovering them if Gattenger is innocent.” He leaned back in his chair and made a sweeping gesture. “If he didn’t kill his wife and burn them himself.”
I didn’t believe the fate of England hung in the balance. The Admiralty and Whitehall could make a crisis out of misplacing a shopping list. “How are you involved, Your Grace?”
“I have”—he studied my face for a moment—“contacts in many countries. They have proved useful to Her Majesty on occasion, and so I’ve been called in again.”
“Do they know you’re involving the Archivist Society?”
“Not yet. It all depends on your aunt, Phyllida.”
“Let’s talk to her, and all will become clear.”
I doubted that very much. The duke always held something back.
Nevertheless, I rose from my chair, being careful not to rub knees with him, and walked back into the bookshop. It was nearly one, and the shop was empty. “Put up the Closed sign, Emma. We need to go to the flat. His Grace has some bad news for Aunt Phyllida.”
Emma looked from me to the duke and bit back whatever remark she was on the verge of making. She put up the sign, we put on our hats and gloves, and I locked up the shop as we left.
The sun blistered the sidewalk and put everyone who dared go out in a foul mood. In the short time it took to reach our building, my back was drenched and I needed a cooling drink. We went up to our flat and let ourselves in. Phyllida called out from the kitchen, “Are you here already? Luncheon’s not quite finished.”
“Please come here, Aunt Phyllida. We have some news,” I replied.
She came out into the hall, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, her hair wildly escaping its knot, and an apron protecting her frock.
“Lady Phyllida Monthalf, may I present—” I began.
Aunt Phyllida was already in a deep curtsy. “Georgia, I know who this is. He favors his father. Please come in, Duke. This is a great pleasure.”
The duke bowed and kissed her hand. “The pleasure is mine, Lady Monthalf. I wish I didn’t have to come bearing bad news.”
Phyllida paled. “What has happened?”
I put an arm around her and led her forward. “Perhaps we’d better take this conversation into the parlor.”
We all sat down on ruffled, floral-print-covered chairs. Phyllida unrolled her sleeves, her eyes never leaving Blackford’s face. Emma glanced at me, looking for signs of what I knew about the bad news.
The duke cleared his throat and said, “I bring bad news concerning your cousin Clara Gattenger.”
Phyllida twisted her fingers. “My cousin Isabel’s daughter? She’s been so happy since she married Kenny.” She looked from one face to another as she bit her lip. “What has happened?”
“Mrs. Gattenger was murdered in her home last night.”
Phyllida half rose and then sank back down. “No. Not Clara. Not poor, dear Clara. Have they caught her killer?”
“Her husband is in Newgate Prison for her murder,” Blackford said.
“No. That’s wrong. They were very happy.” She reached over and grabbed my arm. “Georgia, can’t you do something? Kenny would never have murdered Clara.”
“Are you sure, Phyllida?” I asked.
“Yes. Quite certain.” She rose and walked over to the open window overlooking the street. The lace curtains hung limply across the space without a breeze to stir them. “Do something, I beg of you. She was Isabel’s only child. Her killer must be punished. And that isn’t Kenny.”
“How far will you go to see her killer apprehended, Lady Monthalf?” Blackford asked. He rose and walked over to her.
She stared up into his face, her jaw set. “As far as necessary.”
“Are you willing to face aristocratic society again, to answer their questions, to put up with their gossip?” When his sharp voice silenced, his mouth slid into a cruel smile.
Phyllida stared into his eyes and for a moment I thought she would burst into tears. Slowly, she steadied herself and finally replied, “Whatever it takes to find Clara’s killer and free Kenny.”
His smile grew joyful. “I knew I could count on you, Lady Monthalf. On behalf of the queen, thank you.”
I could see only one way to proceed. “Then I think we need to send a message to Sir Broderick to set up a meeting of the Archivist Society tonight. You’ll attend, Your Grace?”
He nodded. “I’ll speak to Sir Broderick now, if you ladies will excuse me.”
Emma and I stood. He bowed to Phyllida and Emma, who curtsied, and then he took my arm to escort him to the door. “I didn’t think I’d see you again so soon. In one regard, I’m glad this has happened.”
He was glad! In response, my heart whistled a merry tune and my soul kicked up its heels. We stared, facing each other by the door, no longer touching but with an intimacy that had me leaning forward on the balls of my feet. His dark eyes smiled before he picked up his top hat and cane from the table by the door.
As he moved into the hallway, I said, “I’m glad you came to us. Aunt Phyllida seems set on seeing justice for her cousin, and apparently the police have the wrong man. Emma and I want to help her.” Knowing the duke could open many doors the rest of us couldn’t, I asked, “May I see the study where the attack took place? The servants wouldn’t have been allowed to clean it up yet, surely.”
“I’ll arrange it for this afternoon. I’ll pick you up at the bookshop.” He nodded to me and strode off.
I went back into the flat to find Emma and Phyllida putting luncheon on the table. “I’m afraid it’s just”—Phyllida stopped to see what she’d set on the platter she carried—“cold poultry and salad.”
The platter landed on the table with a thump. “Oh, Georgia, Emma. I’m so upset I don’t even know what I’m serving.” Her breath caught on a shudder. “Poor Clara.”
“I’m so sorry, Phyllida.” I gave her a hug and then stepped back so Emma could do the same. After we sat at the table and said grace, I said, “I’ve heard you speak of Clara many times, but not her mother.”
Phyllida sighed and moved her food around on her plate with her fork. “Clara’s mother, Isabel, and I were close as children. She married an Admiralty man, Lord Watson. Once my brother, William, gained control of my money and my life, he never let me see her again. Not even when she was dying.”
She put her napkin over her mouth and shut her eyes. I studied my plate until she said, “There. I won’t be silly. It’s all in the past. But you must find out what really happened to Clara. For Isabel’s sake. It’s the only thing I can do for her now.”