I pressed a hand to my temple, closing my eyes as the beat of the drums grew ever louder, synchronizing with the pounding in my skull. I silently willed my man-of-all-work to hurry, praying I wasn’t already trapped. That it wasn’t too late.
I’d originally planned to attend the Trooping the Colour, the first since the war had ended. As such, it was to be the largest ever, and consequently would be held in Hyde Park to accommodate all of the soldiers. But when I’d woken to the sounds of drumming and marching only a few short blocks away from my Berkeley Square residence, panic gripped my chest.
I simply couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sit in my flat and listen to all that pomp and circumstance. And I certainly couldn’t stand among the other spectators and pretend I wasn’t a wreck inside. What if I should fail to hold it in? What if I should break down?
I inhaled sharply at the horrifying thought. No, it was best, for all, if I left.
I would weave my way north if I had to before doubling back to the southwest. I’d planned to leave tomorrow anyway and make my way down to the Derby at Epsom before traveling on to Winchester and then Umbersea Island. What did it matter if I left a day early? There was so little demand on my time anymore.
Not so long ago, I would’ve woken early to hurry off to my job, grateful for the warmth of the sun on my cheeks even though I knew such clear skies could mean zeppelin raids in the evening. Ostensibly, I worked for a shipping company who helped supply victuals to the troops at the front, but in actuality my work took me to Whitehall Court and into the domain of the Secret Service, where my days were filled with exhausting, but important work, with purpose. In my more reflective moments, I recognized my job had been the only thing to keep me on my feet after my husband, Sidney, died in early 1918.
But then the war had ended, and soon enough, so had my usefulness. I’d been released from service to wander our empty, echoing flat. I’d volunteered where I could, frantic to fill my hours during the day, while at night I frequented parties and nightclubs with friends equally desperate to stifle their pain, to dance and drown themselves into forgetfulness.
I suspect my life would have continued in that vein had the letter not arrived.
I know the secrets you hide. Why shouldn’t I also know your husband’s?
Then I couldn’t go on ignoring it all. I couldn’t continue to banish the memories. Not when my anonymous letterwriter had made such terrible accusations against Sidney. So I’d followed his instructions. I’d telephoned and told one of my husband’s oldest friends I’d had a change of plans and would be able to attend his engagement house party on Umbersea Island after all. What would happen when I arrived, I couldn’t guess. But I certainly wasn’t going to allow this mysterious correspondent’s claims about Sidney to go unchallenged.
I heard the engine of my late husband’s Pierce-Arrow before I saw it, and stepped through the door to meet my man-of-all-work as he brought the current-red motorcar to a stop. The sleek little Runabout had been Sidney’s pride and joy, and had since become mine.
“She’s all ready for ye, Mrs. Kent,” Rufus declared as he hopped out, holding the door for me.
I climbed in behind the driving wheel, wondering why men always referred to motorcars as females. Not that I disagreed, for I thought the same of this lovely girl. Especially when she was so keenly complicit in my escapes.
I checked the mirrors and resisted the urge to fidget as I waited impatiently for him to load my luggage.
“All set.” Rufus’s head turned to the side so he could gaze down the street, eager to catch a glimpse of the proceedings at Hyde Park.
“Go on,” I told him. Let someone enjoy the spectacle. “I won’t return until Monday, so you’ve your ease until then.”
He nodded, careful concern banked in his eyes. It simply wouldn’t do for a man of his station to be telling me what to do, even if he had served under Sidney. “Take ‘er easy through the acceleration. The clutch is stickin’ a tad. I’ll take another look when ye return.”
I couldn’t tell whether this was true or if it was simply his way of urging me to be safe, but I offered him an artless smile. “Don’t fuss, Rufus. We’ll return in one piece.”
I sped away oblivious to what was to come.
You can read more about Verity in This Side of Murder, the first book in the NEW “Verity Kent” mystery series.
The Great War is over, but in this captivating new mystery from award-winning author Anna Lee Huber, one young widow discovers the real intrigue has only just begun . . .
England, 1919. Verity Kent’s grief over the loss of her husband pierces anew when she receives a cryptic letter, suggesting her beloved Sidney may have committed treason before his untimely death. Determined to dull her pain with revelry, Verity’s first impulse is to dismiss the derogatory claim. But the mystery sender knows too much—including the fact that during the war, Verity worked for the Secret Service, something not even Sidney knew.
Lured to Umbersea Island to attend the engagement party of one of Sidney’s fellow officers, Verity mingles among the men her husband once fought beside, and discovers dark secrets—along with a murder clearly meant to conceal them. Relying on little more than a coded letter, the help of a dashing stranger, and her own sharp instincts, Verity is forced down a path she never imagined—and comes face to face with the shattering possibility that her husband may not have been the man she thought he was. It’s a truth that could set her free—or draw her ever deeper into his deception . . .
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About the author
Anna Lee Huber is the Daphne award-winning author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries, the Verity Kent Mysteries, and the Gothic Myths series, as well as the forthcoming anthology The Jacobite’s Watch. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in music and minored in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her family and is hard at work on her next novel. Visit her online at www.annaleehuber.com.
All comments are welcomed.