In this excerpt, Charles Vance, the Earl of
Castlemoor, has gone to Second Sons Inquiry Agency to find out why his
uncle has decided to hire an inquiry agent. Mr. Gaunt, the head of the
agency, is an old friend of Charles's uncle, Sir Edward. But when
Charles realizes that his uncle may be accused of murder, he decides not
to leave it in the hands of an inquiry agent, friend or not.
Mr. Gaunt hastily picked up the spray before the
cane destroyed it. “Perhaps we ought to discuss your uncle’s concerns.
He brought this, along with a note—”
“She’s dead, Charles!” The words burst from Sir
Edward’s throat, raw and hard. He clenched his jaw and swallowed, once,
twice, as he repeatedly hit the side of Mr. Gaunt’s desk with his cane.
After several minutes, he mastered himself enough to grind out, “Lady
Charles stared at his uncle in disbelief. Sir
Edward’s closest friend—mistress according to some accounts—dead? She
was only thirty, barely three years older than Charles. No wonder his
uncle’s valet was frantic with worry. “How—what happened?”
“Murdered, God’s teeth! And the bastard sent those
bloody flowers—taunting me…” He choked again and stared down at his
trembling hands, clenched over the brass knob of his walking stick.
Bowing his head, he rhythmically tapped the cane against the floor with
a soft, controlled beat that was, in its way, far more frightening than
his previous flailing. The sound carried such a deep sense of grief that
Charles glanced away, unable to watch.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last through a tight
throat. His gaze shifted from his uncle’s bowed head to the spray of
flowers. He’d never known Lady Banks, but anger filled him as he watched
his uncle wrestle with the pain. How could anyone murder a woman? It was
unthinkable. “What did the note say?”
Mr. Gaunt handed him a calling card. There was no
name engraved on it. However, the small white square displayed an
arrogant scrawl of thick black script reading, “Roses die quickly when
“That was the first one,” Mr. Gaunt said.
“The first?” Charles glanced up from the card.
“Some bloody-minded bastard sent it to her Sunday
morning. Along with a cluster of those damn yellow flowers,” Sir Edward
interrupted in a harsh voice. His face crumpled. Raising a shaking hand,
he covered his eyes as if the pressure of his palm could hold back the
anguished tears. “She thought…thought I sent them to her, for God’s
sake. She laughed when I tried to tell her otherwise.”
Charles rose to stand behind his uncle’s chair and
grip his trembling shoulder. As Sir Edward fought for control, Charles
caught Mr. Gaunt’s dark, sympathetic gaze. “What happened?”
“Shot. The local constable thought it was an
accident. Some poacher hoping to bag a rabbit for Sunday supper. At
first. But…” Sir Edward’s voice drifted away, strangled by grief.
“But there was the note.” Charles studied the note.
A small, useless bit of paper filled with deep, threatening taunts. “And
undoubtedly, the servants heard Lady Banks tease you about sending her
the flowers. So they assumed you sent them.”
Gaunt held up another small card between his long
fingers. “And not just the one. A second note was delivered with another
spray of these same yellow flowers.” His mouth tightened briefly.
“Clearly intended to mock Sir Edward—or whoever read it.” He read the
second card aloud. “The rose speaks for the doomed.”