Murder on Charles Street
Leighann Dobbs and Harmony Williams present Book 5 in the Lady Katherine Regency Mysteries.
Release date: April 23, 2020
Print pages: 216
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Murder on Charles Street
Emma’s enthusiastic yips pierced the fog of Katherine’s sleep. Groaning, she rolled over in bed and shoved her face under the pillow. Even muffled, her dog’s excitement needled into her ears. What time is it?
Emma barked again, and Katherine’s sleepless night returned to her in vivid clarity. She’d stayed up with her dog until Emma vomited. Even then, she’d feared the pug wasn’t cured. After all that activity, Emma had simply curled up and gone to sleep. With a sinking feeling, Katherine had done the same. But if Emma was barking…
Katherine bolted up in bed. She threw off the coverlet, sliding her feet onto the chilly wooden floorboards. She hadn’t purchased bed curtains yet, so the only thing separating her from where Emma had climbed onto the trunk beneath the windowsill was the pink rug she had taken from her father’s residence. It was the only rug in the house, as Katherine was far too preoccupied to go shopping for furnishings, let alone decorations. Her bare toes curled against the floorboards and soft rug as she raced to her dog.
As she approached, Emma peered over her shoulder with a wagging tail. Her eyes were bright, and she seemed in good spirits. Relief quickened Katherine’s heartbeat, and she snatched her dog from the windowsill, twirling her around until Emma started to wriggle free. She hugged the dog to her chest. “You’re well again!”
So well, in fact, that she had returned to announcing the arrival of strangers in the neighborhood. A month had passed since they’d moved to Charles Street, and Emma had grown accustomed to the residents. The staff of the various houses and frequent visitors, she’d learned to ignore. However, Emma continued to announce the presence of strangers and dogs, no matter the time of day.
This morning, Katherine didn’t mind being roused from a fitful sleep. It was a sign that Emma was healthy once more. Grinning, she turned to the array of trunks housing her clothes due to the lack of a wardrobe. Thoughtfully, Harriet had laid out the day’s clothes.
Despite the fact that it took her half an hour longer to don the dress and fashion her hair without Harriet’s help, Katherine’s spirits buoyed as she carried Emma downstairs for breakfast. An enticing smell of cooked oats met her nose. Following it, she reached the Spartan breakfast room. Harriet was already there, laying out two place settings for breakfast, as she’d taken to eating her meals with Katherine. In a house with no other servants, there was no need for formality.
Tucking her unruly brown hair behind one ear, Harriet smiled at Katherine. “You’re awake. I was about to see if you wanted some breakfast.”
Katherine balanced her dog on the swell of her hip. “Why didn’t you wake me sooner? Pru and Lord Annandale arrive within the hour.”
Harriet shrugged sheepishly. “You were up so late with Emma… I thought you needed the extra sleep.” She held out her hands for Emma. “Come here, girl. I have something for you too.”
As Harriet fussed with the dog, straightening the ribbon decorating her neck, Katherine took a seat. She couldn’t restrain the grin that split her face. “She’s completely recovered. I can’t believe it.” Though why she had doubted Dr. Gammon’s expertise, she didn’t know. He’d always given her cause to believe him skilled at his work.
“Not entirely recovered. I had to take her outside at least three times this morning, but she is in far better spirits today than she was yesterday. I’m going to try her with a little fresh meat and see how her stomach handles it.”
Katherine nodded and peered into her empty bowl. “You mentioned breakfast?”
Harriet set the dog in the corner by a dish, where Emma happily lapped up the morsels left for her. Turning back, Harriet hefted a pot with triumph. Skillfully wielding the ladle, she scooped up the contents and deposited them into Katherine’s bowl.
The porridge was thin and watery with clumps of unpalatable mess. Truthfully, it looked like something Emma had regurgitated. Beholding it, Katherine lost her appetite. Forcing a smile, she dipped her spoon into the gruel and stirred it around. Cheerfully, Harriet helped herself to the dish and poured a frugal amount of honey over the top. Although Katherine doubted that honey or milk would make the breakfast edible, she held herself to both.
She lifted a spoon halfway to her mouth before she thought better of it and set it into the bowl again. “While I was at Dr. Gammon’s house last night, he was boasting about his housekeeper, Mrs. Campbell. It seems she cooks him meals and leaves them in the larder.”
Without a cringe, Harriet dug her spoon into the dish and tasted the porridge. She nodded, as if she found it a sumptuous meal. She couldn’t possibly think her cooking divine, could she? Katherine fought not to pull a face.
“It’s good that he has someone to help. He is getting on in years.”
“This house is very large for the two of us. Don’t you think we ought to employ a housekeeper as well? Or perhaps… a cook…”
Harriet’s hair bobbed as she bolted upright in her chair. “What do you mean? Hire a cook? You don’t enjoy my cooking?”
Katherine stumbled over her tongue. “No, it isn’t that. I only thought perhaps you might need some help and…”
From the mulish cast of Harriet’s chin, she wasn’t willing to hear a single word. Katherine’s spirits plummeted. Harriet was her constant friend. She didn’t want to offend her. Even if her cooking was horrid.
“Speaking of Dr. Gammon, I’m worried for him.”
Although suspicion lingered in her maid’s eyes, Harriet resumed eating. “In what way?”
“While I was with him last night, he seemed preoccupied. He told me that he was poring over notes from an old patient, afraid he’d made a mistake. I’m worried that he might not have enough to occupy him. It isn’t healthy to second-guess yourself.”
Harriet cocked an eyebrow. “You mean like you do?”
Katherine wrinkled her nose. “That’s different. I only second-guess myself when we’re working an investigation and I haven’t yet found the answer. Often, that very misery has been what has led us to a solution.”
Harriet jabbed her spoon in Katherine’s direction before dipping it into her porridge once more. “And what makes you think he won’t find equal value in perusing his patient files again?”
“Perhaps the way he steadfastly refuses to return to the profession.” She stirred her porridge again, trying not to look at the way the lumps revolved in the milky liquid. “I want to do something to help him, to ease his mind, but he refused my help when I offered to look over the files with him for inconsistencies. I don’t know what to do.”
Harriet scraped the bottom of her dish and eyed the pot as if considering helping herself to seconds. “Perhaps there isn’t anything you can do. Dr. Gammon is a grown man. He will do whatever he pleases.”
Harriet hadn’t been in the retired physician’s house last night. She hadn’t seen the way the lines in his face had deepened or how tired he looked. No, something was wrong with Dr. Gammon, and Katherine was determined to discover what ailed him. She owed him far more than he would ever accept for his kindness in helping Emma.
“Shouldn’t you be worrying about the wedding rather than your neighbor?”
At that, Katherine pushed her bowl away. She leaned back in her chair and stared at the ceiling with a sigh. “I suppose. I can’t muster the same enthusiasm for planning a wedding as I do for good detective work.”
Harriet chuckled. “That’s an understatement. Have you thought that perhaps the wedding is why you’re so worried?”
Frowning, Katherine met Harriet’s stubborn gaze. Her maid pursed her lips, refusing to look away despite the white-knuckled grip on her spoon.
“You’re grasping at anything to distract yourself. Well, anything save for decorating the house. Heaven knows we could use a few more things.” Pointedly, Harriet gestured to the barren room. Even the table was scarcely large enough to fit their two bowls and the pot of porridge. It had been the only table in her father’s house that wasn’t in use.
Almost everything Katherine currently owned had once belonged to the Earl of Dorchester. Perhaps Harriet made a valid point, but if there was anything Katherine abhorred more than planning her dear friend’s wedding, it was shopping, regardless of the state of the room—indeed, of the house!
Reluctantly, Katherine said, “Perhaps you’re right. I should focus more on Pru. She has asked me to help, after all.”
For a woman who had been bemoaning the lack of an investigation only a few months past, Pru had suddenly devoted herself to the wedding with a fervor. Searching through the newest fashion plates from Paris was agonizing. Katherine had never been one to care overmuch about the state of her clothing, so long as it was clean and in an inoffensive color.
“I hope they don’t cart McTavish with them today. We haven’t enough seedcake in the house to feed them.”
Why would Harriet bring up Lord Annandale’s valet? Come to think of it, their past few encounters had seemed particularly fraught with tension. In fact, Katherine suspected that she had earned her maid’s help with her last investigation simply at the promise of showing McTavish who was better. The women had won, of course. But it hadn’t seemed to satisfy Harriet…
Katherine pressed her lips together to keep from smirking. “You’d best learn to get along with him. When we travel to Lord Annandale’s holdings in Scotland for the wedding, I have no doubt you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time in each other’s company.”
Harriet grimaced as she leaned forward, transferring her dish and spoon onto the mirrored tray she’d used to bring them from the kitchen. Her mouth thinning, she muttered, “If you think I’ll be taking orders from that lobcock while we’re in Scotland, you’re wrong. I’d rather keep the house here.”
“It won’t be as horrible as you think. You’re under my purview, not that of Lord Annandale’s servants.”
Harriet sighed. “You don’t know the way of it, Lady Katherine. You’ll be a guest, but I’m still a servant. I’ll have to report to Lord Annandale’s housekeeper, at the very least.”
The thought of anyone making Harriet uncomfortable made Katherine queasy. She’d always considered herself more intimate with her lady’s maid than her peers, but over this past month of living together, they’d grown closer still. Was there anything Katherine could do to ease her plight? Or would anything she tried only make it worse?
They weren’t in Scotland yet. And even when they visited, it wouldn’t be for long. They had an independent life here in London, after all. Katherine intended to continue it once her friend was happily settled in her new home. Besides, Pru and Lord Annandale would undoubtedly relish a honeymoon alone once their grand wedding had concluded.
To lighten the atmosphere and Harriet’s dour look, Katherine leaned forward and whispered, “If you dislike McTavish to that depth, feed him porridge today instead of seedcake.”
Harriet snapped her gaze down to Katherine’s untouched dish. “You haven’t eaten a bite!”
Emma, finished licking her plate, tottered closer with the click of her claws on the floorboards, as if she, too, condemned Katherine for ignoring Harriet’s delicious food. Katherine’s stomach bucked as she contemplated shoving that gruel into her gullet. She reached for the spoon nevertheless. Just as she would never insinuate that Pru’s incessant wedding planning bored her, she would never insult Harriet, either. And so soon after Emma’s recovery, she didn’t dare slip the meal to her dog.
As she lifted the spoon to her lips, fighting a grimace, the air split with a distant bloodcurdling scream.
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