An exciting new audiobook in the series featuring woman-on-the-run Elizabeth Miles — from the beloved national best-selling author of the Gaslight Mysteries.
Con artist Elizabeth Miles has determined society is the biggest con of all. So far, Elizabeth's only real social success has been with Priscilla Knight. Priscilla is a dedicated suffragist who was recently widowed for the second time in her young life. Her beloved first husband, DeForrest Jenks, died in a tragic accident and left her with two young daughters and a comfortable fortune.
Soon after his death, her pastor convinced her she needed a man to look after her. Before she knew it, he had engineered a whirlwind courtship and hasty marriage to fellow parishioner Endicott Knight. Less than nine months later, Endicott is also dead in a somewhat less tragic and even more suspicious accident.
Priscilla confides to Elizabeth that she had understood Endicott was wealthy in his own right, and she had brought a sizable fortune to the marriage as well. Now, her banker is telling her she has hardly any money left and that her house has been mortgaged. The banker has hinted at a scandal that could damage the family's reputation and her daughters' future prospects.
Fearing destructive gossip, Priscilla doesn't know whom to trust. Elizabeth discovers some unsavory evidence that seems to point to the possibility that Endicott's death may have been connected to blackmail. To save her new friend's future, Elizabeth must use her special set of skills to find the truth.
Release date: November 13, 2018
Print pages: 320
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City of Secrets
Copyright © 2018 Victoria Thompson
Elizabeth had to tell more lies on a Sunday morning at church than she ever had trying to cheat a mark out of fifty thousand dollars.
“Lovely hat, Mrs. Snodgrass.”
“So nice to see you, Mr. Peabody.”
“Good sermon, Reverend Honesdale.”
But when she glanced over and saw the way Gideon Bates was looking at her, she decided it was worth it. If she was going to marry him, she would have to live in his world, and if that involved lying, at least it was a skill she had already mastered.
“Lizzie!” Anna Vanderslice cried, pushing her way through the worshippers who had lingered after the service to chat. She took Elizabeth’s hands in hers and gave them an affectionate squeeze.
“Anna, I’m so glad to see you.” Finally, she got to speak the truth. “How are things going at home?” she added in a whisper.
Anna’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “David finally admitted to me that he was the one who broke your engagement and he only allowed you to take the credit to save your reputation.”
Indeed, if word got out that Anna’s brother had found Elizabeth unworthy, no other gentleman in New York would dare make her an offer of marriage. Not that Elizabeth wanted to marry any of the other gentlemen in New York. “He’s very kind,” Elizabeth said with a straight face.
“I told him so, too,” Anna said. “Even though we both know he was saving his own reputation with his kindness. No debutante in the city would trust him if he threw you over. How on earth did you convince him it was his idea?”
Elizabeth couldn’t explain how she’d gotten David to break the engagement she’d previously convinced him to make, even though he’d never actually proposed to her—at least not while they were standing in a church aisle. She simply smiled mysteriously. “Are you coming to the salon this week?”
“You know I am.” Anna hadn’t missed a single one of the weekly gatherings held at Elizabeth’s aunt’s house since Elizabeth had introduced her to them.
“We can talk about it then.”
“Anna, how lovely to see you,” Gideon’s mother said, having wandered over from where she’d been greeting some friends. “Is your mother here? I didn’t see her.”
“She has a cold, so she stayed home today.”
“Nothing serious, I hope,” Mrs. Bates said.
Anna’s shrug reminded them both that her mother was something of a hypochondriac whose ailments were never serious. The three women chatted for a few minutes before Anna took her leave to find her brother.
Mrs. Bates scanned the dwindling crowd with the shrewdness of a business tycoon determined to transact a multimillion dollar deal. Or rather with the shrewdness of a society matron determined to find a social advantage for her only son, which made her even more ruthless than a tycoon. Since her only son needed a wife who was completely acceptable to society, and since Elizabeth was the wife he wanted, Mrs. Bates had her work cut out for her.
At the moment, Gideon’s mother was limited to introducing Elizabeth to whatever illustrious individuals happened to have lingered to chat after this morning’s service. Judging from her expression, she didn’t see anyone left who was worth pursuing.
“Is Priscilla here?” Elizabeth asked, naming the one woman she’d actually become friends with so far. “I didn’t see her.”
“I thought . . .” Mrs. Bates scanned the auditorium again. “Yes, there she is, up front. Oh dear, I hope she’s not ill.”
Indeed, Priscilla Knight was still sitting in one of the front pews, staring straight ahead and making no move to chat with any of the ladies clustering nearby.
“I’ll make sure she’s all right,” Elizabeth said, hurrying toward the front of the church.
Priscilla had recently been widowed for the second time in her young life, and Elizabeth knew she carried a heavy burden. As she approached, she saw that her friend looked more distressed than ill.
Priscilla looked up and smiled when she recognized Elizabeth, but the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Oh, Elizabeth, you startled me.”
“You did look like you were deep in thought. I didn’t know whether to interrupt you or not.” Elizabeth slid into the pew beside her. “Is everything all right?”
“No,” she said softly. “No, it’s not.”
Which was not what people usually said unless something was very wrong indeed. “Can I help?” Elizabeth heard herself say, although she usually wasn’t the least bit interested in getting involved with other people’s problems. But she really did care about Priscilla, which was somewhat of a shock to realize.
“I don’t know if anyone can help.”
Before Elizabeth could respond to this terrifying statement, Daisy Honesdale, the minister’s wife, arrived. Her handsome face was a mask of concern. “Mrs. Knight, are you all right?”
This time Priscilla raised her head and smiled the determined smile of a woman with no intention of giving in to despair. Then she rose to her feet. “I’m perfectly fine, Mrs. Honesdale. I was just praying. For Endicott, you know,” she added, naming her most recently deceased husband.
“Of course,” Mrs. Honesdale said a little uncertainly, glancing at Elizabeth, who had risen as well. “I’m glad to see you in church today, Mrs. Knight. It’s important to see one’s friends when one is in mourning.”
If that were true, then why were widows who were still in mourning forbidden to socialize in all but the most restricted ways? But Elizabeth wasn’t going to take this particular opportunity to challenge society’s strictures. Instead she took Priscilla’s arm, sensing her friend didn’t want the minister’s wife inquiring into her problems. “Mrs. Bates wanted to say hello to you, Priscilla. Let me take you to her.”
They nodded their farewells to Mrs. Honesdale, and Elizabeth escorted Priscilla down the aisle to where Mrs. Bates waited.
“Could you . . . ?” Priscilla whispered.
“Could I what?”
“Could you come to see me?”
Elizabeth could not mistake the desperation in her friend’s eyes. “Of course.”
Daisy Honesdale watched Priscilla Knight and her friend as they made their way out of the church. They were practically the last to leave, and she waited, knowing Peter would come to find her when he had shaken the hand of the last parishioner and closed the front doors.
He came down the aisle slowly, his clerical robes flapping around his long legs. He was a handsome man, just as she’d been promised, and not particularly bright, which had sealed the deal. She had made a good bargain, and soon she would have everything she had always wanted. How nice it would have been to share her victory with a beautiful man like Peter. He had worked just as hard as she to earn it, after all. But the truth was, she could no longer stand the sight of him.
“What do we know about that girl who’s been coming with Hazel Bates?” she asked when he was close enough.
Peter’s perfect face creased slightly with the effort of thinking. “Her name is Miles. Elizabeth, I think. She’s one of Mrs. Bates’s suffragette friends.”
“She’s gotten awfully friendly with Priscilla Knight.”
He glanced over his shoulder as if he could still see them. “I did notice they walked out together.”
A miracle. “Where did this Miles girl come from? Do we know anything about her?”
“I don’t think so. She just showed up with Mrs. Bates a few weeks ago.”
“Gideon seems smitten.”
“Does he? She’s quite lovely.”
Of course he’d noticed that. “She’s smart, too.”
“How can you tell?”
“Mrs. Bates wouldn’t waste time on her if she wasn’t.”
“Oh.” He considered. “I suppose you’re right.”
Of course she was right. She was always right. “We need to keep an eye on her.”
Daisy managed not to sigh. “Because she’s taken an interest in Priscilla, and Priscilla will soon discover her true situation, and she might confide in the Miles girl.”
“What could she confide?”
“Peter, darling, there are lots of things she could confide. She can, for example, remember the role you and I played in her most recent marriage.”
“We were only trying to help her. You said so yourself.”
“Of course we were, and we had no idea of Mr. Knight’s true nature. We are as shocked as Priscilla will be.”
“Then why do we need to keep an eye on her?”
This time Daisy allowed herself to sigh. “Because we don’t know what trouble she might cause, and we need to be ready.”
Finally, he seemed to grasp the significance of the situation. “What can we do to be ready?”
She favored him with a smile. “I don’t know yet, but opportunities have a way of presenting themselves, don’t they?”
He smiled back. “Yes, almost as if they fell from heaven.”
“Who is Priscilla Knight?” Gideon asked.
Elizabeth had waited until they were enjoying Sunday dinner in the Bateses’ dining room and the maid had withdrawn before telling Mrs. Bates about Priscilla’s strange request.
“Priscilla Jenks,” Mrs. Bates told her son. “You remember, DeForrest Jenks died suddenly a little over a year ago. Priscilla remarried rather quickly, to Endicott Knight.”
“That’s right,” Gideon said. “I remember now. I also remember wondering why on earth she’d married Knight.”
“He was . . . rather attractive,” Mrs. Bates allowed.
Gideon leaned over to where Elizabeth sat to his left and stage-whispered, “The way a cigar store Indian is attractive—very noble but without much conversation.”
“You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead,” his mother scolded.
Gideon feigned chagrin and Elizabeth bit back a smile. “She must have been thoroughly charmed if she remarried so quickly. Or maybe she just didn’t care much for her first husband and didn’t see any point in mourning him too long.”
“Oh no, she adored DeForrest. They were devoted to each other,” Mrs. Bates said. “And Gideon is right. Endicott wasn’t . . . Well, let’s just say it’s unlikely he charmed her into marrying him.”
“I heard it was money,” Gideon said.
His mother stiffened. “Was DeForrest a client of yours?”
“Certainly not. I couldn’t gossip about him if he was. And I didn’t gossip about him at all, come to that, until this very moment.”
“But someone gossiped to you and said Priscilla married this Mr. Knight for his money,” Elizabeth guessed.
Gideon winced a bit. “Something like that. Someone hinted that DeForrest had left Priscilla destitute and she needed to remarry to provide for her girls.”
Elizabeth glanced over at Mrs. Bates and saw her own disgust reflected in her expression. “How awful for her,” Mrs. Bates said.
“But a very familiar story,” Elizabeth said.
“And now she’s been widowed twice in a little over a year, and she’s barely thirty.” Mrs. Bates shook her head. “No wonder she’s distraught.”
“So you’re going to see her?” Gideon asked Elizabeth.
“Of course. Except for the women I met in jail, she’s the only female who has shown any interest in being my friend.”
“And only a few of the jailed women live in New York,” Mrs. Bates added. “So of course Elizabeth is going to see Priscilla.”
Gideon shook his head in mock despair. “I just realized I’m probably the only attorney in New York eating Sunday dinner with two convicts.”
“Two convicts who happen to be your mother and your fiancée,” Mrs. Bates reminded him.
“I’m not his fiancée yet,” Elizabeth reminded her right back.
“That’s right,” Gideon said. “It’s bad enough that I’m stealing my best friend’s girl. I can’t be seen to do it too quickly.”
“Is there a specified period of mourning for a lost fiancée?” Elizabeth asked. “Where is Mrs. Ordway’s book? I must check the etiquette on that so you can inform poor David.” Mrs. Edith B. Ordway and her book The Etiquette of Today were considered the ultimate authorities on such matters.
“I’m very sorry to inform you, but David is not currently mourning the loss of his fiancée,” Gideon said gravely.
“You can’t mean it!” Elizabeth said in mock despair. “I thought I’d merit at least a month of grieving.”
“I believe it’s been almost a month,” Gideon said. “Nearly. Close to it, anyway.”
“It has not! I’m terribly affronted. And insulted.”
“I don’t know how to tell you this, but he’s actually relieved to be shed of you,” Gideon informed her.
Mrs. Bates was laughing now. “He told you this, I assume?”
Gideon managed to maintain a straight face. “Yes, this morning. Not in so many words, of course. A gentleman never besmirches a lady’s character to another gentleman.”
“Horsefeathers,” Elizabeth said. “I shall sue him for breach of promise.”
“No one does that anymore,” Gideon said in the ponderous voice he used to offer legal advice, or would use if anyone ever asked him for it. “That’s what engagement rings are for. The jilted lady can sell the ring to reimburse herself for her injured pride.”
“But I returned the engagement ring to him, so I can’t sell it.”
“You returned it because it was hideously ugly and you didn’t want it,” Gideon reminded her. “And because you’re the one who called off the engagement, you can’t sue him for breach of promise in any case.”
“Can he sue me?”
Gideon wagged his head. “Men are made of sterner stuff than that, Miss Miles. We don’t ask the courts to salve our broken hearts with financial settlements.”
“That’s enough of your nonsense,” Mrs. Bates said, although she was still smiling. “We shouldn’t be making fun of poor David. He probably did care for Elizabeth, at least a little.”
“And I’m sure Elizabeth deeply regrets tricking him into becoming engaged to her,” Gideon said.
“Yes, I do,” Elizabeth assured them. “And I never would have abused him like that except to save my life, which some people might consider selfish of me, but I considered vitally important, at least at the time.”
“We all considered it important,” Mrs. Bates assured her. “I’m sure David would, too, if he knew.”
“Perhaps we should tell him,” Gideon said.
“Perhaps we should,” Elizabeth said. “Especially if you want him to be best man at our wedding.”
In the end, Mrs. Bates decided to go with Elizabeth to visit Priscilla Knight that afternoon, for which Elizabeth was grateful. For all her varied life experiences, she’d never had to comfort a young widow.
“Oh, Mrs. Bates,” Priscilla said when the maid had escorted them into the parlor. “I didn’t expect to see you, too. Thank you both for coming.”
She looked even more distressed now than she had in church. Her face was pale and her eyes bloodshot, either from weeping or lack of sleep. Perhaps both. The unrelieved black of her outfit didn’t flatter her fair coloring either.
When they were settled, Elizabeth said. “You sounded so desperate this morning, we decided we needed to come right away.”
“Desperate? Yes, I suppose I am.”
“I can’t imagine what you must be going through, to lose two husbands in such a short time,” Mrs. Bates said.
“I . . . Well, I don’t want you to think I’m grieving for Mr. Knight. I . . . Actually, I hardly knew him.”
Elizabeth and Mrs. Bates exchanged a glance. “We know you had to marry him,” Elizabeth said, “to provide for yourself and your daughters.”
Priscilla frowned. “What? Where did you get that idea?”
Elizabeth glanced at Mrs. Bates again and saw her own confusion mirrored there. “Someone said your first husband left you penniless, and that’s why . . .”
“Oh no,” Priscilla said, shaking her head vehemently. “DeForrest left us very well situated. I never would have wanted for anything.”
Could that be true?
“I know you were devastated when he died,” Mrs. Bates said tentatively.
“I was! I cried all the time, for weeks. Some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. When I look back, I don’t know how I survived, but Mrs. Honesdale was so kind to me. She visited me every day and never let me completely surrender to my grief.”
Elizabeth frowned. If that were true, Priscilla would be deeply grateful to Daisy Honesdale. Why, then, had Priscilla been so eager to escape her this morning? “She takes her position as the minister’s wife very seriously.” She tried to see how Priscilla would respond.
“Yes, she does,” Priscilla said sharply, with what looked like anger sparking in her pale blue eyes. “And after a few weeks, she took it upon herself to convince me I needed a man to look after me.”
“Why did she do that?” Mrs. Bates asked.
“Because she believes that a woman alone is in danger. Anyone might take advantage of her if she has no man to protect her.”
“Don’t you have any family?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, I . . . I was an only child and my father died years ago. My mother and I lived with an uncle, but he passed away before I married, and my mother is gone now, too. I’m quite alone.”
“So you decided you did need to remarry,” Elizabeth said.
“No, I didn’t,” Priscilla said, shocking them both. “I never decided that at all. Reverend Honesdale brought Mr. Knight to call on me a few times. I wasn’t in any condition to entertain visitors, but I didn’t object. That would have seemed churlish after all the Honesdales had done for me.”
“Then did meeting him make you change your mind about remarrying?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, I told you. I never changed my mind about that.”
“Then how . . . ?”
“How did I end up marrying him? I honestly don’t know,” Priscilla said, her voice shrill with frustration.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Mrs. Bates asked, frowning now with the same determination that had kept Elizabeth and the other women focused when they’d been jailed almost two months ago.
“I mean much of that time is . . . well, foggy is the only word I can think to describe it. I was prostrate with grief and I wasn’t paying much attention to anything else. I just remember Mrs. Honesdale telling me how much I needed a man to look after me. Mr. Knight called here, but he hardly ever spoke to me, and I honestly have no memory of him proposing to me. All I know for sure is that one day the Honesdales and Mr. Knight arrived with another man I didn’t know and Reverend Honesdale married me to Mr. Knight.”
“How could they do that, marry you to someone against your will?” Elizabeth demanded, outraged.
“But I must have agreed,” Priscilla said. “They couldn’t . . . they wouldn’t do that unless I’d agreed, would they?”
In Elizabeth’s world, people got bamboozled all the time, but she didn’t think those things happened routinely in Gideon’s world. Maybe she was wrong about that, but Mrs. Bates looked baffled, so probably not.
“I can’t imagine anyone—and certainly not a minister—marrying someone against her will,” Mrs. Bates said, although Elizabeth could tell she wasn’t as certain as she was trying to appear.
“So you see, I must have agreed, but I felt so guilty afterwards. I know people wondered why I remarried so quickly, as if I couldn’t be bothered to mourn DeForrest, who had been the love of my life.”
“No one thought that, my dear,” Mrs. Bates assured her, although Elizabeth was pretty sure she was lying. Elizabeth hadn’t known any of them then, but she knew enough about human nature to be fairly certain that if people had a reason to gossip about someone, they would.
“And apparently, people thought you needed a husband to support you,” Elizabeth added, earning a black look from Mrs. Bates. Mrs. Ordway’s book said talking about money was always frowned upon in polite society, but Elizabeth thought Priscilla would rather be thought penniless than heartless.
The grateful smile Priscilla gave her proved her right. “That would have been a justification, I suppose, although I don’t know how a rumor like that got started. I had a very nice dowry when I married DeForrest, and he was quite comfortable as well. And Mr. Knight was quite well off, too, or at least that’s what everyone thought, but now . . .”
“Now?” Elizabeth prompted.
“Now my solicitor tells me I really am penniless or nearly so.”
“What?” Mrs. Bates exclaimed.
“How could that be true?” Elizabeth asked.
“I have no idea, and even worse, it appears this house is mortgaged and I have no way of paying that, either. The girls and I will have to leave, although I don’t know where we can go.”
“There must be some mistake,” Mrs. Bates said. “Fortunes don’t disappear overnight.”
Elizabeth could have disagreed. In her experience, that’s exactly the way they disappeared, and often they disappeared into the hands of one of her family members. She herself had been in the midst of cheating someone out of his fortune when she’d first met Hazel Bates and her son, Gideon.
Mrs. Bates knew all about her past now, of course, so Elizabeth had no trouble at all reading her thoughts when their gazes met across Priscilla’s parlor. Could Mr. Knight have lost Priscilla’s fortune to a con artist?
“I thought it must be some mistake, too,” Priscilla was saying, oblivious to the undercurrents. “I told my banker that, but he was certain he was right.”
“Did he know what happened to your money?”
“He claims he does not, and I don’t have the slightest idea of how to find out myself. I’m sure he’s wrong or has made some terrible mistake or—and I hate to say this, but I’m sure it does happen—that he has stolen the money himself. But no matter what happened, how will I ever find out?”
“And of course you don’t want to be making such serious accusations with no basis in fact,” Mrs. Bates said, “even if you’re just accusing him of making an error.”
“I don’t care about the money for myself, you know, or the house, either,” Priscilla said. “But my girls . . . What kind of a future will they have if . . . ?”
“Now, now, don’t borrow trouble, as my dear mother used to say,” Mrs. Bates said. “We’ll get this sorted out.”
“Will we?” Priscilla asked. “I wouldn’t even know whom to ask for help or whom to trust at this point.”
“Would you trust Elizabeth?” Mrs. Bates asked, giving Elizabeth a look that made her sit up straighter.
“Elizabeth? Of course I would, but what—”
“Elizabeth has a rather unique family history that . . . Well, let’s just say she might be able to figure out what happened to your fortune and who was responsible.” Mrs. Bates’s expression asked a silent question that Elizabeth was only too qualified to answer.
“I just might at that,” Elizabeth said. “Would you allow me to look through Mr. Knight’s papers? I think that’s the logical place to begin, and I might be able to figure out something.”
“If you think you could, of course. I’d be very grateful, although I don’t know what you might find.”
Elizabeth knew, though. She also knew the questions to ask Priscilla and anyone else who might know something about Mr. Knight’s financial dealings. If Endicott Knight had been cheated out of Priscilla’s fortune, she could find out who had done it. She might even know them by name. The chances of recovering the money were slim, but at least Priscilla would know the truth, and Elizabeth might—just might—be able to prevail on someone’s conscience to help a poor widow.
“I could come tomorrow morning, if that’s convenient for you,” Elizabeth said.
“Every day is convenient for a woman in deep mourning,” Priscilla said sadly. “I can hardly ever leave the house.”
“Do you think he could have been . . . cheated?” Mrs. Bates asked as she and Elizabeth huddled together under the lap robe in the back of the taxicab. The winter sun was setting, and it was too cold to walk back home.
“It certainly sounds like he was,” Elizabeth said. “How long was she married to this Knight fellow?”
“Let me see . . . About nine months, I’d say. That’s not much time to dispose of a fortune in the usual way.”
“What is the usual way to dispose of a fortune?”
“Spending it, I suppose,” Mrs. Bates said, shaking her head. “I’ve never had the luxury of trying it, but I’m told it’s possible.”
“And I suppose you could do it rather quickly if you put your mind to it, but what would he have spent it on?”
“Maybe he was a gambler, although I can’t say I’ve ever heard a whiff of gossip about him. People do talk, and it doesn’t seem likely the Honesdales would pair Priscilla up with a gambler or someone with similar expensive vices.”
“Would a minister know if someone had vices?”
Mrs. Bates gave her a pitying look. “Ministers tend to know everything. People confess their shortcomings to ministers in hopes of getting help, and of course others are only too eager to tattle about their neighbors’ shortcomings.”
“So whatever Mr. Knight was doing, he managed to keep it private.”
“Which is what made me think it might be something like the way you got Oscar Thornton’s money.”
“We call it a con,” Elizabeth said sweetly. “And Knight wouldn’t necessarily even think what he was doing was illegal, so he’d have nothing to confess.”
“Exactly. Will you be able to find evidence if that’s what happened?”
“Probably, but I also probably won’t be able to get the money back, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I don’t hope for miracles, but I would like to give Priscilla some explanation for what happened.”
“What I don’t understand is why the Honesdales were so anxious to get her remarried,” Elizabeth said.
“That does seem strange, doesn’t it? Of course, some people are always deciding they know what’s best for someone else. Maybe the Honesdales really did think Priscilla needed a man to look after her and were only tryin
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