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Tasha Alexander

Behind the Shattered Glass

Tasha Alexander Behind The Shattered Glass
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Series:

Lady Emily Mysteries

Excerpt from book:

1


 
“This, Emily, goes beyond bad manners.” Lady Catherine Bromley squared her shoulders, shook her head without displacing a single silver hair, and glowered at me, her only daughter. “One cannot have gentlemen falling down dead in the library, especially on an eighteenth-century Axminster carpet! It is entirely ruined; there is no possibility that bloodstain will come out. Such a thing would never be tolerated at Darnley House. What would your father say? I thank heaven that estate business took him home before he could see this.”
“The dead are notoriously unreliable when it comes to standards of behavior,” I said. “Particularly murder victims. They have no sense of decorum at all.”
Another evening en famille at Anglemore Park.
Anglemore, prettily situated in Derbyshire in the midst of the Peak District, had been the seat of the Hargreaves family since Henry V’s victory at Agincourt, after which the land had been given by the grateful king to one of my husband’s ancestors for bravery in battle. During the reign of Henry VIII, the grounds, through a royal grant, expanded to include a nearby abbey, defunct after the reformation and all but destroyed by Cromwell’s men. Its ruins, perched near a large lake, were some of the most picturesque in all of England, as if the structure had crumbled with deliberately artistic intent. The main house, originally built in the fifteenth century, had been added to and altered over the years, leaving it now with an Elizabethan exterior replete with rows of the most charming bay windows giving nearly every room a perfect nook for reading and none of the museum-like feel of so many great estates.
Anglemore was a house that was loved, a house that had sheltered the same family for more than four centuries. Generations of Hargreaves children (all born on the estate—no other location would be tolerated, even today) had carved their initials in the wooden bannister on the back stairs leading to the nursery. The family was rooted here, passionate about the land, deeply connected to their tenants, and confident beyond doubt that there was no better place to serve as one’s anchor. Most of the family married in the chapel, and all of them were buried on the grounds in a towering mausoleum built in the late seventeenth century by a Hargreaves gentleman who, horrified by the Great Plague, determined he must make every effort to see his mortal remains well placed. In a letter written during the height of the epidemic, his wife, angry with him for spending what she viewed as too much time hunting, had threatened him with plague pits.
Today, despite tens of thousands of acres of land, a sizable house, and enough outbuildings to hold several villages, the estate felt nothing but crowded. Crowded by my visiting mother, the Countess Catherine Bromley, whose inflexible views on child rearing, wholly at odds with my own, had not contributed to a state one could describe as domestic bliss. She had come to Anglemore months ago, following the birth of our twins, but had not stayed long, informing us she would return once the London Season had finished and after she had hosted at least two shooting parties. Only then, she said, would she have the presence of mind and clarity of concentration to ensure the children were being looked after properly. Now we were bearing the full brunt of this mission. Her visit had weeks ago taken on the feeling of an endless tour through one of Dante’s less pleasant circles of hell.
The evening had started badly, with her complaining bitterly about each course at dinner. She had found fault with the game dish in particular, objecting to pheasant stuffed with foie gras for reasons wholly indecipherable to me. Afterward, we had retired to the library, where our second houseguest, Simon Lancaster, Earl Flyte, offered his apologies and went to bed after having been interrogated by her on the subject of politics. One could hardly blame the poor man. Unhappy with his views, she had hounded him, all but following him to his room when he at last excused himself. My husband, Colin Hargreaves, buried himself in James’s The Portrait of a Lady, ignoring with deft skill my mother’s litany of questions about his views on how our boys ought to be raised. She had, it seemed, either grown fatigued of political discussion or realized she would be incapable of besting him on the subject. Eventually forced to accept that she was quite unable to penetrate his wall, she turned her attention to reprimanding a housemaid for not having tended adequately to the fire—a fire I was not convinced we needed on such a fine night.
“There are infants in the house,” my mother said. “I shall not allow Henry or Richard to catch a chill.”
“Or Tom, Mother,” I said. “You mustn’t forget Tom.” It was the presence of this third child, our ward, that caused my mother considerable agitation. “They are all two floors and one wing removed from us, not to mention in the care of an exceptionally capable nanny and her staff. I shouldn’t worry if I were you. Furthermore, it is an unusually warm evening. They are more likely to be overheated than cold.” To demonstrate the point, I crossed the room and flung open all six sets of French doors overlooking the neatly manicured terrace, its beds full of bright dahlias, chrysanthemums, and late asters. Autumn was at its best, a perfect September night. The sun had disappeared while we were in the dining room, leaving only a few streaks of gold in the inky sky. I pulled something to read down from the shelf without glancing at the title and installed myself in an overstuffed chair as far from the fireplace as possible. Nothing, I vowed silently, would distract me from this book.
Should it have become necessary, honoring this promise would have proved exceedingly difficult. The volume I had so carelessly chosen, a treatise on advanced mathematical theorems, had no hope of holding my attention for long, but it did not need to. No sooner had I soldiered through the introductory pages than the previously mentioned gentleman, tall and broad in his evening kit, staggered through one of the French doors. He braced himself on the frame, looked at Colin, took one step in his direction, and collapsed facedown on the floor.
My mother shrieked in a fashion so decidedly unladylike she would have been horrified to hear it. She swayed, unsteady on her feet, and appeared on the verge of fainting. I dashed to her side, took her firmly by the shoulders, and turned her to face me.
“Now is not the time, Mother,” I said. “Do try to remember there are no smelling salts allowed in this house. Perish any thought you had of fainting.”
The words—and, no doubt, my tone—shocked her into compliance, just as I had hoped. The color did not return to her visage, but she steeled herself, pulled her back straight, and looked away from the scene developing before us. There was no time to comfort her. We needed to focus on the injured man.
My husband, a trusted agent of the Crown and, hence, no stranger to trauma, disruption, and brutality, motioned for me to stay back while he knelt beside the prostrate stranger.
“His heart is not beating,” Colin said, “and he is not breathing.” His lips firm in a tight line, he closed the man’s eyes. “I am afraid there is nothing to be done.” I moved closer, standing behind him, watching as he carefully inspected the corpse for injuries.
“He is dead?” My mother’s voice was rising to a screech. She pressed with trembling hands a linen
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