Murder on a Midnight Clear
Olive and Jasper have never been closer—except in one area. Jasper is still reticent about his frequent disappearances from polite society. With the holidays approaching and no paying client on the books, Olive decides to shadow Jasper when he’s unexpectedly called away. Her search brings her to Holly Hill Lodge where an eclectic group has gathered to celebrate an old-fashioned English Christmas.
The guest list includes a celebrated lawn tennis champion, a fussy scientist studying snowflakes, a persuasive luggage salesman, a famous lady explorer, and the family’s eccentric aunt who has a fondness for the newfangled drinks called cocktails.
When the butler goes missing, Olive and Jasper must work together to solve the Christmas crime—as well as the secret Jasper hides. Murder on a Midnight Clear is the latest installment in USA Today bestselling author Sara Rosett’s popular High Society Lady Detective series.
Unwrap this 1920s Christmas mystery with all the trimmings—carols, a Yule log, plum pudding . . . and murder.
Release date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: McGuffin Ink
Print pages: 282
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Murder on a Midnight Clear
21 DECEMBER 1923
Despite the gray clouds hanging low over London, the city sparkled with Christmas cheer. Boughs of evergreen, glittering tinsel, and sprigs of holly decorated the storefronts as I made my way along the pavement in the bustle of holiday shoppers. The aroma of roasting chestnuts wafted through the air as I waited for a gap in the traffic before crossing the street, my breath making little white puffs that the sharp wind whisked away.
My mood didn’t quite match the jolly atmosphere. I was frustrated with a case. I’d been on the hunt for infor‐ mation for days, but I’d discovered absolutely nothing. The Baroque edifice of Harrods came into view, and I made an effort to shake off my irritation. I was meeting my cousin Gwen for afternoon tea and Christmas shop‐ ping. I’d seen her so rarely since her engagement that I didn’t want my crossness to set the tone for our time together.
I passed a row of children with their noses pressed to the glass outside the store. Harrods’ elaborate window display was set up to look like a fashionable drawing room, complete with a fully decorated Christmas tree and Saint Nick emerging from the fireplace, his bag of toys on his back.
I was early, so I threaded through the shoppers to the Food Hall with its colorful tile roundels. Peacocks, fruit trees, and medieval hunting scenes decorated the ceiling and walls. The array of food was rather dizzying, especially considering that I’d passed a soup kitchen on my walk to the department store. Stacks of fruit and vegeta‐ bles were arranged in brightly colored pyramids. Rows of fresh bread dusted with flour sent out a warm yeasty aroma. Meat, cheeses, eggs, and chocolate all had their own areas and tempted me with elaborate displays. A few months before, I wouldn’t have been able to afford more than a few buns. Today I had funds in my bank account, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything but essentials since I was already splurging on afternoon tea with Gwen. I ordered tins of Earl Grey and Darjeeling at the tea counter and arranged to pick them up later.
I spotted Gwen moving through the throng, her blonde curls peeping from under the brim of her pale blue cloche. “It’s wonderful to see you,” she said as we brushed cheeks. “I’ve missed you. I have so much to tell you.”
“I can’t wait to hear it.”
“But I’m famished. Tea first?” “I couldn’t agree more.”
We went up to the Georgian, and once we were seated and had ordered, I said, “First, I want to hear all about your visit with Inspector Longley’s parents.”
“You must call him Lucas, you know,” Gwen said.
“It will be difficult, but I’ll try.” I’d met Longley during a murder investigation at Archly Manor. It was hard for me to think of him as anything but an inspector. His Christian name seemed to lodge in my throat, but surely with practice it would become natural to refer to him as Lucas. “How was the visit with Lucas’ parents?”
“It went quite well. They’re charming and were very welcoming.”
“I’m so glad, but I expected nothing less.” Gwen was one of the sweetest people I knew. She had a warm disposition, and I couldn’t imagine someone being disappointed with her as a daughter-in-law. “And Mr. and Mrs. Longley will be at Parkview for Christmas?”
“Yes, and you really must come up before Christmas Eve.”
“Oh, no. I don’t think so. Your families are still becoming acquainted. The visit is a time for Mr. and Mrs. Longley to get to know Aunt Caroline and Uncle Leo. I don’t want to intrude on that.”
“You’re not intruding. You’re family.”
“That’s kind of you, and I do appreciate it, but I still have a few things to take care of here. And I’m quite happy in my little flat. It’s wonderful to have a space of my own.” As much as I’d liked my former landlady at the boarding house, having my own space was splendid. “I’ll arrive at Parkview on Christmas Eve, just as we planned.”
“Have you heard from your father?” Gwen asked as our tea arrived. “It’s definite he and Sonia won’t be back before Christmas?”
“I had a letter from Sonia. They arrived and are settled into their pensione. It’s cooler there than they expected but much drier than Nether Woodsmoor, so they’re quite happy with the arrangement.”
“How long do they expect to stay?”
“At least until after the New Year. Sonia isn’t one to take chances with Father’s health.”
“It’s a shame they won’t have an English Christmas, but I suppose the arrangement is for the best.”
“When it comes to Father’s health, I completely defer to Sonia, even though I will miss them.” My father had had a bad health scare a while back, and Sonia had nursed him through it. When he developed a cough a few weeks ago at the beginning of December, Sonia had declared she didn’t like the sound of his rattly breathing. She’d decided they had to depart for a warmer, drier climate, and she’d packed and made arrangements to leave immediately.
“I don’t see why you won’t come down to Parkview earlier. What’s holding you here in London? You don’t have a case, do you?”
I hesitated, and Gwen, who had been choosing between the smoked salmon sandwich and the watercress, looked up and studied my face. “You do have a case.”
“Only one of my own making.”
Gwen selected the smoked salmon and tilted her head. “What does that mean?”
“Well . . . it’s something that I’m curious about, so I’m looking into it.”
Gwen paused, the sandwich suspended in midair. “You’re not still chasing about after Jasper, are you?”
It was no use dissembling to someone you had known since you were in a pram. “Yes, in fact I am.”
Gwen placed her sandwich on her plate with great care. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, following Jasper. I’m sure he’s just doing his normal things.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you know.” Gwen waved a hand. “Attending art shows, going to his club, and making up numbers at dinner parties—that sort of thing.”
I gave my attention to stirring another lump of sugar into my tea. I couldn’t reply because that was exactly what Jasper had been doing. Except for repeatedly using the Gloucester Road tube station, I couldn’t detect anything unusual in his actions. But I wasn’t about to give up.
My face must have given away my intentions because Gwen said, “Olive, if Jasper is ‘up to something,’ as you call it, he’ll tell you about it . . . eventually.”
“Will he?” The teaspoon jangled against the saucer as I put it down. “When has he shared details of his little trips out of London?”
“He told Essie about the hunt he attended. She wrote it up in her column.”
“But those were only a few tidbits about what other guests were doing. Jasper doesn’t share what he does in any detail.”
“Have you asked him where he goes when he disappears?”
“Yes. And he always makes some vague comment or changes the subject.”
“He’s a private person.” “He’s being secretive.”
“Jasper has always been one to play his cards close to the vest.”
“Yes, but after the Winter Ball, I thought—” I stopped, unable to put into words what I’d hoped. Jasper and I had shared a delightful kiss. In fact, it had been more than delightful. It had changed everything between us. At least, I thought it had. We were sweethearts now. I thought that would mean he’d share more with me, but my questions and queries had been left unanswered.
“Lucas doesn’t tell me everything about his cases.”
“Yes, but that’s his work. He can’t share all the details about his investigations with you. And I’m sure he does take you into his confidence, at least in a general way.”
“That’s true. He says I give him a different perspective.” Gwen’s expression softened as it always did when she spoke about her fiancé.
I floated an idea that had been in the back of my mind for a while. “Perhaps it’s the same with Jasper.”
Gwen’s eyebrows came together in a frown. “What do you mean?”
“Perhaps the situation with Jasper is that he can’t speak about what he does.”
Gwen burst out laughing. A dowager at a nearby table slowly turned her head and scowled at us. Gwen cleared her throat and sat up straighter. “Whatever can you mean? Jasper doesn’t do anything.”
The waiter arrived with a fresh pot of tea, and I bit back my response. Jasper didn’t go into an office each day, but several small details had made me question if he had some sort of . . . unusual employment. His constant disappearances and the lack of details about his trips out of London were two factors that had prompted the idea. He’d been quite valuable to me over the last few months when my cases had become complicated by murders. He’d put his knowledge down to his love of crime fiction, but I wondered if there were something else there. Everyone seemed to think he did nothing but lounge about his club all day and attend high society events, but I knew he was clever—much cleverer than he let on.
The waiter refreshed our tea, and Gwen reached for a scone. “Well, I know better than to try to dissuade you. You’ll press on with your own agenda as you always do. Just don’t complain to me if he finds out what you’ve been doing, and he’s angry with you.”
The strains of “When Hearts Were Young” filled the air of the Blue Moon Club as I circled the dance floor in Jasper’s arms. “Enjoying yourself tonight, old bean?” Jasper asked as he swept us into a turn.
“I’m having a lovely time.” Jasper was an excellent dancer. We floated along, swirling through the throng.
“Your Christmas shopping expedition was successful?” “Very. Gwen and I spent hours in Harrods. My shopping is done. How was your day?”
“Nothing nearly as pleasant as that. The same as usual.” Since I’d spent the morning following him, I knew he was speaking the truth. Before I met Gwen at Harrods, I’d shadowed Jasper as he went to his tailor, then his club. A guilty feeling curled through me, but I pushed it down. I merely wanted to know if Jasper was keeping something from me. Surely a girl had a right to know that about her sweetheart? “What are your plans for Christmas?” I asked.
“Will you go up to Haverhill?”
“Yes, I’ll look in on the pater on my way to Parkview.” “And have you found a gift for him?”
“No. Father prefers not to indulge in festivities.” “What do you mean?”
“We don’t exchange gifts.”
I was so surprised that I forgot to move with the music and came to a halt. “No presents?”
Jasper swung us back into the dance. “No. And no tree or Christmas dinner.”
He focused his gaze across the dance floor. “No idea. Father has always been like that. He sees no need for it, he says.”
“No need to celebrate one of the most important Christian holidays of the year?”
Jasper lifted a shoulder. “He’s not one to have his edicts questioned.” He smiled suddenly. “You can imagine how wonderful my first Christmas at Parkview was. Quite a revelation for a small boy.”
“One’s mind truly boggles.” Being the daughter of a former vicar, my life had been steeped in religious holi‐ days as well as all the secular trappings, including everything from Christmas trees to crackers.
“It was like a storybook come to life—and not one of those horrible dark fairy tales. This story was full of mulled wine, caroling, sledding, and presents.”
“As the holidays should be.” A spark of anger flared inside me at Jasper’s father. Why deprive a boy of the joys of Christmas? “I’m awfully glad Peter invited you to spend the school holidays with him at Parkview.”
“I am too.” His gaze locked with mine, and that spark of anger shifted, blooming into a warm feeling toward Jasper. He pulled me closer and rested his chin against my hair. We didn’t say anything else for the rest of the dance.
The music ended, and we pulled apart reluctantly. As I led the way through the couples leaving the dance floor, a petite woman with dark hair rushed up to me. “Olive!”
“Gigi, I didn’t know you were in town.”
“Christmas shopping, darling. Only here for a day. Hello, Jasper. Topping to see you.” She linked her arm through mine and walked with us back to our tiny linen-draped table at the edge of the dance floor. “You must come and see Bascomb Hall. I’m being frightfully domestic there—actually supervising the renovations. I’m leaving at a horribly uncivilized hour tomorrow morning—the first train, if you can believe it—because I must be there to direct the new workmen who are arriving to see to the plumbing.”
Jasper signaled for another chair. “And how are the renovations going?”
“Swimmingly. I know, I’m shocked too. Who would have thought I’d enjoy it? It’s simply fascinating to tear things out. You never know what you’ll find.”
“Are you doing any of this removal?” I asked.
“Don’t be silly. I’m supervising, darling. But the wallpaper! Layers and layers of it. Some of it’s so ghastly that I find it rather fascinating. Anyway, do say you’ll come see it, Olive. I suppose you’re going to Parkview for Christmas?” She didn’t give me time to answer. “Do drop in on your way there. Stop by and have tea. It’s on your way— well, practically. You can see Mr. Quigley’s new home. The conservatory is the single place in the whole house that doesn’t require a renovation. He’s quite enjoying it.”
“I’d love to.”
“Brilliant.” She glanced over my shoulder. “I must fly.
The waiter arrived with another chair, but Jasper waved him off. “No need now. Sorry, old chap.”
I took a seat as Jasper held my chair. “Gigi always is a whirlwind.”
“More like a typhoon. Well, old bean, what’s it to be? Another drink? Another club? Or are you ready to toddle on home?”
“It’s been a lovely evening, but I still have quite a few things to do tomorrow. I’m ready to return to my little flat.”
In the taxi, Jasper ran his arm along the back of the seat behind my shoulders. “Perhaps we should have tea tomorrow at the Savoy for a change?”
I snuggled into his shoulder, inhaling his citrus after shave. “I look forward to it.”
At South Regent Mansions, he told the driver to wait while he escorted me inside. We paused under the lobby’s crystal chandelier. He kissed my hand and gave me a look that said he would like to do more but wouldn’t since the hall porter sat at his desk in the little alcove watching us.
I took the lift to my flat and let myself in. I drew the curtains over the big window in the sitting room, lit the fire, and made a cup of tea. I changed into a dressing gown, then settled into the club chair in the sitting room, kicked off my shoes, and tucked my feet up under me.
I picked up a book I’d purchased at Harrods, but I couldn’t get lost in the story. My thoughts kept wandering back to what Jasper had said about his father’s attitude toward Christmas. Jasper hardly ever spoke of his family.
I only knew that his father had been a civil servant in India. Jasper had been born there, and his mother had died when he was young. He’d been sent back to England for school, and Jasper had never returned to India. His father had stayed there until his retirement, then he’d returned to England and now lived at Haverhill Hall.
Jasper visited his father occasionally, but he was always extremely reticent on the subject. He’d told me tonight more than he ever had, small amount that it was. I could practically hear Gwen’s voice in my head counseling patience. Perhaps she was right. If I waited, Jasper would eventually share more with me.
I finished my tea and prepared for bed, resolved to be less nosy and more patient.
22 DECEMBER 1923
Habit is a hard beast to shake. I awoke the next morning, prepared for the day, then left my flat, and my feet moved automatically to the tea shop that had been my recent morning haunt. It wasn’t that far from South Regent Mansions, and it afforded an excellent view of the building where Jasper had rooms. On the first frigid December morning I’d decided to watch Jasper, I’d taken up my vigil outside his building, but my fingers and toes were numb within a quarter-hour. I’d taken refuge inside the tea shop and discovered they served a delicious Chelsea bun.
I’d just popped the last warm bite of the bread dotted with currants, sprinkled with cinnamon, and layered in a light glaze into my mouth when Jasper emerged from his building and trotted down the stairs. I swallowed the bite and checked my watch. This was the earliest I’d ever seen him appear. Instead of turning right at the foot of the stairs, which was his usual routine, he turned left and came toward me. I ducked my head as if I were reading the folded newspaper that lay on the table, open to an article about two lawn tennis stars who were engaged. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jasper pass the tea shop, his pace a notch faster than his usual leisurely stroll. He moved out of my sight, and I sat for a moment, my finger tapping away on the rim of my teacup. Patience, I mentally lectured myself. Wait and see.
I made it another half a minute, then I couldn’t stand it any longer. Patience had never been a virtue I excelled in. I put coins down on the table and hurried out the door.
A chilly wind whipped along the street. The day was sparkling bright, the sunlight glinting on windowpanes and highlighting every bare tree branch that danced in the wind. I pulled the lapels of my coat closer and angled my head down as I paced into the breeze, glad I’d used two hatpins to anchor my cloche today. I stayed well back. Jasper’s tall form with his wavy fair hair showing under his fedora was easy to keep in sight.
When he paused at a street corner and glanced around as he waited, I became immersed in studying the wares at a grocer’s stand. I hoped I looked like a woman who was debating which potatoes were the best to select. I was wearing my warmest coat along with the plainest hat I owned. It was a drab brown color, and I’d contemplated handing it over to the rag and bone man, but my days of scrimping to make ends meet weren’t that far in the past. I couldn’t bring myself to give away a useful item, no matter how unfashionable. I hoped my unremarkable ensemble meant that Jasper’s gaze would pass over me without stopping.
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