Title: Most Secret
Author: Kathleen Buckley
Genre: Historical Romance
Jane Stowe frequently finds her irritable father, peevish stepmother, and half-brother Rupert, a trial. Her only hope of eventual escape is her maternal uncle, Roger Markham, whose heir she is. When he dies under mysterious circumstances, Jane is the obvious suspect.
Alex Gordon, family misfit, has been sent to find out if there’s anything to Markham’s suspicions about the schooner Sea Mew. With half the Continent at war, and the Young Pretender recently landed in Scotland, the matter may be of critical importance. Once Alex ferrets out—with Jane’s assistance—the connection between the Sea Mew and Jacobite activity, he is told to leave the rest to the professionals. But the professionals have no stake in saving Jane from the gallows or Rupert from a charge of treason.
The muffled shriek, “She’s not here!” carried even through the closed door to the back of the house. Alex sprang for the chair where he had left the pistol, but he was too far from it. The door was thrown open, and a man pushed Mrs. Jennings through roughly. She fell hard on the wooden floor. He levelled his pistol at her heart as she lay gasping.
“If you move, she dies.”
Another man edged past him, pulling Molly into the room.
Alex, frozen halfway to the chair, had no doubt at all about the second man’s identity: the fair hair and blue eyes marked him as Gabriel O’Brien.
“Molly, you stupid girl.” Mrs. Jennings sat up cautiously, keeping her eyes on the man who had threatened her. He had the air and accent of a gentleman. Charles Pleasaunce, at a guess.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to tell him about Mr.—about William!” Molly sobbed. Mrs. Jennings sniffed, a lady-like equivalent to a man’s snort.
“Sit over there with her, now.” O’Brien let go of the girl’s arm and gave her a gentle shove. Then he moved to take a position at an angle to Pleasaunce, opposite Alex. His faint Irish inflection was overlaid with a cadence that sounded French. No wonder Molly and Mrs. Harrow had found something un-English about his speech.
“Keep your pistol on the footman,” Pleasaunce ordered. “The devil take him, he’s not Stowe. You, fellow—where is Rupert Stowe?”
“Mistress Jane’s brother, would that be? I haven’t never seen the gentleman, sir.” The slightly unpolished diction of a footman who would never be hired by one of the beau monde was easy enough. Deciding on the right facial expression was harder. He settled for inquiring and slightly stupid.
“And Jane Stowe?”
“I don’t rightly know, sir. She lives with her parents, though she comes at whiles to make sure all’s well and the repairs and such are going forward.”
Pleasaunce swore sulfurously. Molly clapped her hands over her ears.
“She’s not been at her father’s house in days. She was said to have gone to stay with ‘friends’ in the country, but she’s not there. Quick, woman! Who else might shelter her?”
Mrs. Jennings clearly had more to her than primness and efficiency at running a household. “Why, I think I once heard she has a cousin in Dorset, but that’s as much as I know about it.”
Pleasaunce seemed the more dangerous of the two men, but Gordon kept an eye on young O’Brien as well.
He saw Molly, huddled against Mrs. Jennings, give a little twitch. But she was not looking at the housekeeper or even Pleasaunce. She was looking in the direction of the open door behind Pleasaunce. The stair was beyond it, only just out of Alex’s sight. Was it possible Jane had come downstairs without anyone hearing?
“Mon ami,” O’Brien said softly, and continued in the same language, “ask the woman how it happens they have been dining so well. Coffee and chocolate? Rice and sugar and chickens? My maman would have stared to hear of such fare for servants.”
Mrs. Jennings put her arm around Molly and gave her shoulders a squeeze.
“If there are but the five of you, who is drinking coffee and chocolate and supping on chicken, woman?”
The devil take O’Brien for noticing their grocery purchases. He kept his face wooden. If Jane had come downstairs, she must be aware of Pleasaunce and O’Brien; she might well have heard them speaking as she descended. If she thought both intruders were facing away from the door, her logical move would be to go past silently and out the kitchen door. He would not be able to see if she passed the door into the reception hall: Pleasaunce stood squarely in front of it, blocking his view. She might have slipped past—or she might be lingering in the hall. Molly’s eyes were focused either on Charles Pleasaunce’s elegantly stockinged legs, or on something behind him. Surely Jane could not be intending some desperate attempt to rescue them? It would be doomed.
Even if he had his hand on Markham’s old flintlock and succeeded in shooting one or the other, there would still be one armed, dangerous man who would undoubtedly shoot him.
The sensible thing would be for Jane to leave the house and summon assistance…but it would take time to seek out a magistrate and convince him to send constables. Especially as she was dressed as a maid.
The housekeeper said, “Mr. Markham was always generous with our household allowance, and Mistress Jane increased it, too, as she sometimes takes a meal or a cup of chocolate or coffee when she comes to oversee the furbishing up of the house. And she has had a literary gentleman come in to work at listing all the books in the library, to see if there’s aught of value, so he must be provided for, as well.”
“Where is he? Why didn’t you mention there was someone else in the house?” Pleasaunce’s voice went harsh.
Yes, it would be nerve-wracking to realize there might be another man in the house.
“He is not here today, sir. He is a tutor to several young gentlemen who will be going to university soon. He comes in to work on the library as he has time. Today is not his day to work here.” She hugged Molly to her side.
Jane’s housekeeper should be writing novels. The explanation had tripped off her tongue without hesitation. If only—
A darkness obscured some of the faint light from the passage and stair behind Pleasaunce. Molly buried her face in Mrs. Jennings’s shoulder, and the housekeeper murmured reassurances to the girl. Pleasaunce stood with his back to the door, and Gabriel O’Brien faced the candle near Alex and both had their attention fixed on him. If his expression changed, they did not notice it. Then the darkness moved.
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It may not be a “must-read” for everyone. If you want lots of torrid sex scenes, it’s not for you. I hesitate to call my novels “sweet”, and they’re not drawing room stories like Jane Austen’s books. They contain romance, desperate situations, mystery or crime, dens of depravity, occasional bad language (because sometimes “Zounds!” isn’t strong enough), but no explicit sex. Oh, and there’s some humor for light relief. Neither your grandmother nor your twelve year old would be corrupted by them.
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Kathleen Buckley’s mother took her to the library every Saturday throughout her childhood, leading to a life-long romance with the written word. Early encounters with museums sparked her interest in old stuff.
After re-reading Georgette Heyer’s novels for about the ninety-ninth time, she decided to try writing one like The Black Moth (a favorite). It didn’t turn out quite like a Heyer novel but she found a publisher and about eleven months later was delivered of her first published romance, An Unsuitable Duchess, followed by Most Secret, Captain Easterday’s Bargain, A Masked Earl, and A Duke’s Daughter. She recently turned in the latest: Portia and The Merchant of London.
Her historical romances with an element of mystery/crime tend to include the cutting edge science, commerce, and law of the 1740s. She has a Master's Degree in English literature and has worked in several fields, including a long stint as a paralegal, which is probably why the byways of 18th century English law tend to creep into her books.
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