Garden of lies

Amanda Quick

Book - 2015

"When Ursula Kern, proprietor of the Kern Secretarial Agency, discovers the body of one of her best secretaries, she immediately suspects murder. But no one, including the police, believes her. So Ursula seeks the help of her newest and most mysterious client, Slater Roxton"--

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Romance fiction
Mystery fiction
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons [2015]
Main Author
Amanda Quick (author)
Physical Description
359 pages ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The police say Anne Clifton committed suicide. Ursula Kern, proprietor of Kern Secretarial Agency, believes Anne may have been murdered. Because Anne was more than just an employee to Ursula, Ursula intends to fully investigate Anne's mysterious death. Archaeologist and adventurer Slater Roxton is not pleased when Ursula informs him she will be leaving his employment to take on a personal assignment. He is even less thrilled when he discovers exactly what Ursula plans on doing. Slater is convinced that Ursula's meddling in the official inquiry into Anne's death could very well result in yet another murder: Ursula's. Teaming up with her is the only logical solution as far as Slater is concerned, and this means finding some way of convincing Ursula to accept him as her new partner in detection. Quick (Otherwise Engaged, 2014) deftly matches up a dashing hero, who has some wonderful Indiana Jones-like qualities, with a coolly capable heroine, who proves to be more than his match. The end result is another top-drawer historical romance that delivers the perfect fusion of witty dialogue, intriguing characters, and seductive passion.--Charles, John Copyright 2015 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

In London, during the late Victorian period, women have few opportunities for respectable income. Ursula Kern, hiding from a previous scandal, has opened a secretarial agency, using the new typewriting technology to place her clients in well-paying positions. When friend and colleague Ann Clifton is found dead, Ursula immediately suspects murder. Her own contract employer, amateur archaeologist Slater Roxton, is pulled into her investigation of criminal activities including murder, blackmail, and drugs. Quick, the pseudonym used by Jayne Ann Krentz for her historical romances, jumps into this mystery with immediate action, well-constructed characters, hot romance, and plenty of suspense. While the story verges on formulaic, the performance of Louise Jane Underwood adds depth with numerous accents and voices. VERDICT A bit of fun for fans of historical romance, romantic suspense, and mysteries with historical settings. ["With sassy wit, a mystical touch, and delectable sensuality, Quick sweeps readers into another delightful...escapade that is sure to leave fans smiling and satisfied": LJ 4/15/15 starred review of the Putnam hc.]-Janet Martin, Southern Pines P.L., NC © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A lady with a secret to hide and a gentleman reputed to be mad make a dandy investigative team. Ursula Kern changed her name after a scandal in her past and now runs a successful secretarial service in Victorian London. When her best worker, Anne Clifton, is found dead, she refuses to believe the vivacious Anne would kill herself, as the police surmise, and decides to investigate. Ursula had been doing secretarial work for the notorious Slater Roxton, who isn't happy to be shunted aside with little explanation. Roxton is an archaeologist who gained fame when he was accidentally buried in a tomb and left for dead on an island. He escaped, spent a year with a small community seeking enlightenment, and returned to London to manage the affairs of his father's second wife and children. Refusing, for his own reasons, to be ignored, he insists on helping Ursula determine the truth about Anne's death. Their quest leads to a wealthy nobleman with an unhappy wife who has a knack for cultivating difficult plantsplants that are being used to create a hallucinogenic drug being offered to those who can afford it at a private club that also provides high-class prostitutes. Ursula's own secret may be exposed by a muckraking journalist until Roxton comes to her rescue, and he continues to anticipate the troubles she encounters as she puts herself in in harm's way trying to find a dangerous killer. Her partnership with Roxton puts her in more personal danger as they pursue a passionate affair that could break her heart. Quick's fans will not be disappointed in her latest combination of detective story and sexy romance (Otherwise Engaged, 2014, etc.), a pleasing page-turner. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

PROLOGUE Slater Roxton was examining the strangely luminous paintings on the wall of the ornate burial chamber when the tomb trap was triggered. Impending destruction was telegraphed in an ominous rumble and the aching groan of ancient machinery locked deep in the stone. His first thought was that the volcano that loomed over Fever Island was erupting. But one by one, massive sections of the ceiling of the passageway that led to the entrance of the temple complex slid open. Boulders rained down. Brice Torrence's voice echoed from the far end of the corridor near the entrance. "Slater, get out of there. Hurry. Something terrible is happening." Slater was already moving. He did not waste time collecting the lanterns, his sketches or the camera. He ran to the doorway of the chamber but when he looked into the long, twisting stone corridor that led to the entrance he saw at once that it was too late to escape. More sections of the corridor ceiling slid open as he watched. Countless tons of the terrible hail crashed into the passage. The stones piled up rapidly, filling the tunnel. He knew that if he tried to make a dash to safety he would be crushed beneath the falling rocks. He had no choice but to turn back and retreat deeper into the unexplored maze of the tomb caverns. He rushed across the chamber, grabbed the lanterns and headed into the nearest adjoining passage. The corridor twisted away into dense, unexplored night but no boulders rained down from above. He ran a short distance into the passage and stopped, aware that if he went deeper he would soon get lost. He and Brice had not even begun to chart the complex of burial caves carved into the base of the volcano. He hunkered down against one wall, bracing himself. The glary light of the lantern illuminated an eerie painting, a scene depicting an ancient, catastrophic eruption of a volcano. Destruction rained down on an elegant city built of white marble. It was, Slater thought, far too close to what was happening at that moment. Clouds of dust wafted down the tunnel. He covered his mouth and nose with his shirt. There was nothing for it but to wait for the thundering to stop. Dread swirled like acid through his veins. At any moment the ceiling of the cavern in which he was sheltering might give way, burying him in the rubble. At least it would all be over in seconds, he thought. He was not sure he wanted to contemplate his immediate future if he did survive. For whatever time he had left he would be trapped in a brilliantly engineered maze. The storm of rock and stone seemed to go on forever. But eventually the temple caves fell silent. It was another eternity before the dust finally settled. Warily, he got to his feet. He stood still for a moment, listening to the shattering silence, waiting for his pulse to calm. After a while he went to look out into the vaulted chamber in which he had been standing when the rock trap released its deadly cargo. Small stones littered the floor of the room but it appeared that they had bounced and rolled into the chamber from the massive heap that now sealed the passage that led back to the entrance. He had survived, which meant that he was now entombed alive. He began to calculate his odds in a surprisingly academic fashion. He concluded that he was still too shaken to absorb the enormity of his predicament. There was no reason for Brice and the rest of the expedition team to believe that he had survived; nothing they could do to save him, even if they had some hope. Fever Island was an uninhabited chunk of volcanic rock covered in unexplored jungle. It was situated a few thousand miles from civilization. The only resources available were limited to the supplies and equipment on board the ship anchored in the island's small, natural harbor. There was no way to acquire the machinery and the manpower required to remove the vast quantity of rock that clogged the temple entrance. Brice would consult with the ship's captain, Slater thought. They would conclude that he was dead and they would pray that was true because there was nothing they could do to save him. He put out one of the lanterns to conserve the fuel. Holding aloft the second lantern, he started walking into the maze. There were, he decided, only two possibilities. The first--and most likely--was that he would wander in the temple complex until he died. He could only hope that death would come before the never-ending darkness drove him mad. The second possibility--extremely remote--was that he might blunder into a passage that would take him outside into the sunlight. But even if he was so fortunate it was unlikely that he would be able to find his way back to the ship before it sailed. They had been running low on supplies when they finally found the damned island after being thrown off course by a violent storm. The captain was convinced that another tempest was on the way. He would want to start the return trip to London as soon as possible. He had to think of his crew and the other men on the expedition. Slater knew that if he managed to escape the maze he would find himself stranded on an island that was not a regular port of call for any known vessel. It could be years before another ship arrived, if ever. He walked on into the night-bound caverns, his only guide the temple paintings left behind by the artists of an ancient civilization that had long ago been buried beneath rivers of molten lava. He did not know exactly when he began to understand the meaning of the paintings, if, indeed, he actually did perceive the intent of the stories. He reminded himself that there was a very good possibility that he was already slipping into madness. The eternal darkness and the mesmerizing artwork were disorienting. A man in his situation could easily begin to hallucinate. But eventually he thought he detected three distinct legends. He stopped when it dawned on him that each tale was a different path into the maze. One series of paintings depicted a tale of war. The second was a story of vengeance. In the end he chose the third legend. He never knew how long he walked or how far. At times he stopped, exhausted, and sank into a slumber that was splintered with images from the wall paintings that were his only guide. Occasionally he stumbled across small underground streams. He stopped to drink deeply from them. He tried to make the cheese and bread in his pack last but eventually they were gone. He kept walking because there was nothing else to do. To stop would be an act of total surrender. In the end when he staggered out of the caverns into a stone circle illuminated with daylight he almost continued walking because he was certain that he was hallucinating. Sunlight. Some part of his mind registered the reality of what he was seeing. In disbelief he looked up and saw that the hot, tropical sunshine was slanting through an opening in the rocks. A series of steep stone steps had been cut into the rock. A long black cord dangled from the opening. Calling on the last of his reserves, he grasped the rope and tested it to make certain it would hold his weight. When he was satisfied that it was secure he started up the ancient staircase, using the rope as a handrail. He reached the opening, scrambled out of the temple caves and collapsed on the stone floor of an open-air temple. He had been so long in the shadows that he had to close his eyes against the brilliant sunlight. Somewhere nearby a gong boomed. The sound echoed endlessly through the jungle. He was not alone on the island. -- A YEAR LATER another ship dropped anchor in the small harbor. Slater was on board when it sailed. But he was not the same man that he had been when he arrived on Fever Island. Over the course of the next several years he became a legend in certain circles. When he finally returned to London he discovered the great curse that befalls all legends: There is no place to call home. ONE I can't believe Anne is gone." Matty Bingham blotted her eyes with a handkerchief. "She was always so spirited. So charming. So full of life." "Yes, she was." Ursula Kern tightened her grip on the umbrella and watched the gravediggers dump great clods of earth on the coffin. "She was a woman of the modern age." "And an excellent secretary." Matty tucked her handkerchief into her satchel. "A credit to the agency." Matty was in her mid-thirties, a spinster without family or connections. Like the other women who came to work at the Kern Secretarial Agency, she had abandoned any hope of marriage and a family of her own. Like Anne and the others, she had seized the promise that Ursula offered--a respectable career as a professional secretary, a field that was finally opening up to women. The day was appropriately funereal in tone--a depressing shade of gray with a steady drizzle of rain. Ursula and Matty were the only mourners present at the graveside. Anne had died alone. No family had come forward to claim the body. Ursula had paid for the funeral. It was, she thought, not just her responsibility as Anne's employer and sole heir, but also a final act of friendship. A great emptiness welled up inside her. Anne Clifton had been her closest friend for the past two years. They had bonded over the things they had in common--a lack of family and haunting pasts that they had very carefully buried. Anne might have possessed a few faults--some of the other secretaries at the agency had considered her a fast woman--but Ursula knew there had always been a distinct twist of admiration in the remarks. Anne's bold determination to carve her own path in life against all odds made her the very model of the Modern Woman. When the coffin vanished beneath the growing mound of dirt, Ursula and Matty turned and walked back across the cemetery. "It was kind of you to pay for Anne's funeral," Matty said. Ursula went through the wrought-iron gates. "It was the least I could do." "I will miss her." "So will I," Ursula said. Who will pay for my funeral when the time comes? she wondered. "Anne did not seem like the type to take her own life," Matty said. "No, she did not." -- URSULA DINED IN SOLITUDE, as she usually did. When the meal was concluded she went into her small, cozy study. The housekeeper bustled into the room to light the fire. "Thank you, Mrs. Dunstan," Ursula said. "You're certain you're all right, then?" Mrs. Dunstan asked gently. "I know you considered Miss Clifton a friend. Hard to lose a connection of that sort. Lost a few friends, myself, over the years." "I'm quite all right," Ursula said. "I'm just going to sort through Miss Clifton's things and make an inventory. Then I'll go to bed." "Very well, then." Mrs. Dunstan went quietly out into the hall and closed the door. Ursula waited a moment and then she poured herself a stiff shot of brandy. The fiery spirits took off some of the chill she had been feeling since Anne's death. After a while she crossed the room to the trunk that held Anne's things. One by one she removed the items that had aroused in her a deep sense of unease--an empty perfume bottle, a small velvet bag containing a few pieces of jewelry, Anne's stenography notebook and two packets of seeds. Taken individually, each was easily explained. But as a group they raised disturbing questions. Three days earlier, when Anne's housekeeper had discovered the body of her employer, she had immediately sent for Ursula. There had been no one else to summon. Initially, Ursula had been unable to accept the notion that Anne had either died of natural causes or taken her own life. She had called in the police. They had immediately concluded that there was no sign of foul play. But Anne had left a note. Ursula had found it crumpled on the floor beside the body. To most people the marks made in pencil would have looked like random scribbles. Anne, however, was a skilled stenographer who had been trained in the Pitman method. As was the case with many professional secretaries, she had gone on to develop her own personal version of coded writing. The note was a message, and Ursula knew it had been intended for her. Anne had been well aware that no one else could decipher her unique stenography. Behind water closet. Ursula sat down at her desk and drank a little more brandy while she contemplated the items. After a while, she pushed the empty perfume bottle aside. She had found it on Anne's little writing desk, not with the other things. It was unlike Anne not to have mentioned the purchase of new perfume but aside from that there did not appear to be anything mysterious about it. The notebook, the jewelry pouch and the seeds, however, were a very different matter. Why had Anne hidden all three items behind the water closet? After a while she opened the stenography notebook and began to read. Transcribing Anne's cryptic shorthand was slow-going but two hours later she knew that she had been wrong about one thing that afternoon. Paying for the funeral was not to be her last act of friendship. There was one more thing she could do for Anne--find her killer. TWO Slater Roxton regarded Ursula through the lenses of his wire-rimmed spectacles. "What the devil do you mean, you won't be available for the next few weeks, Mrs. Kern? We have an arrangement." "My apologies, sir, but a pressing matter has come up," Ursula said. "I must devote my full attention to it." A disturbing hush fell on the library. Ursula mentally fortified herself. She had been acquainted with Slater for less than a fortnight and had worked with him on only two occasions but she felt she had an intuitive understanding of the man. He was proving to be a difficult client. He had very nearly perfected the art of not signaling his mood or his thoughts but she was increasingly alert to a few subtle cues. The deep silence and the unblinking gaze with which he was watching her did not bode well. She sat very straight in her chair, doing her best not to let him know that his unwavering regard was sending small chills down her spine. Evidently concluding that she was not responding as he had anticipated to his stern disapproval, he escalated the level of tension by rising slowly from his chair and flattening his powerful hands on the polished surface of his mahogany desk. There was a deceptively graceful quality about the way he moved that gave him a fascinating aura of quiet, self-contained power. The dark, unemotional manner characterized everything about him, from his calm, nearly uninflected speech to his unreadable green-and-gold eyes. His choice of attire reinforced the impression of shadows and ice. In the short time she had known him she had never seen him in anything other than head-to-toe black--black linen shirt and black tie, black satin waistcoat, black trousers and a black coat. Even the frames of his spectacles were made of some matte black metal--not gold- or silver-plated wire. He was not wearing the severely tailored coat at the moment. It was hanging on a hook near the door. After greeting her a short time ago, Slater had removed it in preparation for working on the artifacts. She knew she had no right to critique the man on the basis of his wardrobe. She, too, was dressed in her customary black. In the past two years she had come to think of her mourning attire--from her widow's veil and stylish black gown to her black stacked-heel, ankle-high button boots--as both uniform and camouflage. It flashed across her mind that she and Slater made quite a somber pair. Anyone who happened to walk into the library would think they were both sunk deep into unrelenting grief. The truth of the matter was that she was in hiding. Not for the first time, she wondered what Slater's motives were for going about in black. His father had died two months ago. It was the event that had brought Slater home to London after several years of living abroad. He was now in command of the Roxton family fortune. But she was quite certain that the black clothes were indicative of a long-standing sartorial habit--not a sign of mourning. If even half of what the press had printed regarding Slater Roxton was true, she reflected, perhaps he had his reasons for wearing black. It was, after all, the color of mystery, and Slater was nothing if not a great mystery to Society. She watched him with a deep wariness that was spiked with curiosity and what she knew was a reckless sense of fascination. She had anticipated that giving notice, especially in such a summary fashion, would not be met with patience and understanding. Clients frequently proved difficult to manage but she had never encountered one quite like Slater. The very concept of managing Slater Roxton staggered the mind. It had been clear to her at the start of their association that he was a force of nature and a law unto himself. That was, of course, what made him so interesting, she thought. "I have just explained that something unforeseen has arisen," she said. She was careful to keep her voice crisp and professional, aware that Slater would pounce on anything that hinted at uncertainty or weakness. "I regret the necessity of terminating our business relationship. However--" "Then why are you terminating our arrangement?" "The matter is of a personal nature," she said. He frowned. "Are you ill?" "No, of course not. I enjoy excellent health. I was about to say that I hope it will be possible for me to return at a later date to finish the cataloging work." "Do you, indeed? And what makes you think I won't replace you? There are other secretaries in London." "That is your choice, of course. I must remind you that I did warn you at the outset that I have other commitments in regard to my business which might from time to time interfere with our working arrangements. You agreed to those terms." "I was assured that, in addition to a great many other excellent qualities, you were quite dependable, Mrs. Kern. You can't just walk in here and quit on the spot like this." Ursula twitched the skirts of her black gown so that they draped in neat, elegant folds around her ankles while she considered her options. The atmosphere in the library was rapidly becoming tense, as if some invisible electricity generator was charging the air. It was always like this when she found herself in close proximity to Slater. But today the disturbing, rather exciting energy had a distinctly dangerous edge. In the short time she had known him she had never seen him lose his temper. He had never gone to the other extreme, either. She had yet to see him laugh. True, he had dredged up the occasional, very brief smile and there had been a certain warmth in his usually cold eyes from time to time. But she got the feeling that he was more surprised than she was when he allowed such emotions to surface. "I do apologize, Mr. Roxton," she said, not for the first time. "I assure you I have no choice. Time is of the essence." "I feel I deserve more of an explanation. What is this pressing matter that requires you to break our contract?" "It regards one of my employees." "You feel obligated to look into the personal problems of your employees?" "Well, yes, in a nutshell, that is more or less the situation." Slater came out from behind the desk, lounged against the front of it and folded his arms. His sharply etched features had an ascetic, unforgiving quality. On occasion it was easy to envision him as an avenging angel. At other times she thought he made a very good Lucifer. "The least you can do is explain yourself, Mrs. Kern," he said. "You owe me that much, I think." She did not owe him anything, she thought. She had taken pains to make her terms of employment clear right from the start. As the proprietor of the Kern Secretarial Agency she rarely took assignments, herself, these days. Her business was growing rapidly. The result was that for the past few months she had been busy in the office, training new secretaries and interviewing potential clients. She had accepted the position with Slater as a favor to his mother, Lilly Lafontaine, a celebrated actress who had retired to write melodramas. She had not expected to find the mysterious Mr. Roxton so riveting. "Very well, sir," she said, "the short version is that I have decided to take another client." Slater went very still. "I see," he said. "You are not happy in your work here with me?" There was a grim note in his voice. She realized with a start that he was taking her departure personally. Even more shocking, she got the impression that he was not particularly surprised that she was leaving his employ, rather he seemed stoically resigned, as if it had foreseen some inevitable doom. "On the contrary, sir," she said quickly. "I find your cataloging project quite interesting." "Am I not paying you enough?" Something that might have been relief flickered in his eyes. "If so, I am open to renegotiating your fee." "I assure you, it is not a matter of money." "If you are not unhappy in your work and if the pay is satisfactory, why are you leaving me for another client?" he asked. This time he sounded genuinely perplexed. She caught her breath and suddenly felt oddly flushed. It was almost as if he were playing the part of a jilted lover, she thought. But of course that was not at all the case. Theirs was a client-employer relationship. This is why you rarely accept male clients, she reminded herself. There was a certain danger involved. But finding herself attracted to one of her customers was not the sort of risk she had envisioned when she established the policy. Her chief concern had been the knowledge that men sometimes posed a risk to the sterling reputations of her secretaries. In the case of Slater Roxton, she had made an exception and now she would pay a price. All in all, it was probably best that the association was ended before she lost her head and, possibly, her heart. "As to my reasons for leaving--" she began. "Who is this new client?" Slater said, cutting her off. "Very well, sir, I will explain the circumstances that require me to terminate my employment with you but you may have a few quibbles." "Try me." She tensed at the whisper of command in his tone. "I really do not want to get into an extended argument, sir--especially in light of the fact that I hope to return to this position in the near future." "You have already made it clear that you expect me to wait upon your convenience." She waved one black-gloved hand to indicate the jumble of antiquities that cluttered the library. "These artifacts have been sitting here for years. Surely they can wait a bit longer to be cataloged." "How much longer?" he asked a little too evenly. She cleared her throat. "Well, as to that, I'm afraid I cannot be specific, at least not yet. Perhaps in a few days I will have some notion of how long my other assignment will last." "I have no intention of arguing with you, Mrs. Kern, but I would like to know the identity of the client you feel is more important than me." He broke off, looking uncharacteristically irritated. "I meant to say, what sort of secretarial work do you feel is more critical than cataloging my artifacts? Is your new client a banker? The owner of a large business, perhaps? A lawyer or a lady in Polite Society who finds herself in need of your services?" "A few days ago I was summoned to the house of a woman named Anne Clifton. Anne worked for me for two years. She became more than an employee. I considered her a friend. We had some things in common." "I notice you are speaking in the past tense." "Anne was found dead in her study. I sent for the police but the detective who was kind enough to visit the scene declared that in his opinion Anne's death was from natural causes. He thinks her heart failed or that she suffered a stroke." Slater did not move. He watched her as though she had just announced that she could fly. Clearly her response was not the answer he had expected but he recovered with remarkable speed. "I'm sorry to hear of Miss Clifton's death," he said. He paused, eyes narrowing faintly. "What made you summon the police?" "I believe Anne may have been murdered." Slater looked at her, saying nothing for a time. Eventually he removed his spectacles and began to polish them with a pristine white handkerchief. "Huh," he said. Ursula debated another moment. The truth of the matter was that she wanted very much to discuss her plan with someone who would not only understand, but possibly provide some useful advice--someone who could keep a confidence. Her intuition told her that Slater Roxton was good at keeping secrets. Furthermore, in the past few days it had become blazingly clear that he possessed an extremely logical mind. Some would say he took that particular trait to the extreme. "What I am about to tell you must be held in strictest confidence, do you understand?" she said. His dark brows came together in a forbidding line. She knew she had offended him. "Rest assured I am quite capable of keeping my mouth shut, Mrs. Kern." Each word was coated in a thin layer of ice. She adjusted her gloves and then clasped her hands firmly together in her lap. She took an additional moment to collect her thoughts. She had not told anyone else, not even her assistant, Matty, what she intended to do. "I have reason to suspect that Anne Clifton was murdered," she repeated. "I intend to take her place in the household of her client to see if I can find some clues that will point to the killer." For the first time since she had made his acquaintance, Slater appeared to be caught off guard. For a few seconds he stared at her, clearly stunned. "What?" he said finally. "You heard me, sir. The police do not see fit to investigate Anne's death. As there is no one else available, I intend to take on the task." Slater finally managed to pull himself together. "That's sheer madness," he said very quietly. So much for hoping that he would understand. She got to her feet and reached up to pull the black netting down from the brim of her little velvet hat. She started toward the door. "I would remind you of your promise to keep my secret," she said. "Now, if you don't mind, I really must be going. I will send word as soon as I have resolved the situation regarding Anne's death. Perhaps you will consider hiring me again to assist you." "Stop right there, Mrs. Kern. Do not take another step until I have worked my way through this . . . this tangled knot of chaos that you have just tossed at my feet." She paused, one hand on the doorknob, and turned around to confront him. " Tangled knot of chaos? A foreign expression, perhaps?" "I'm sure you know full well what I meant." "There is nothing to be worked through. The only reason I confided my intentions to you was that I hoped that you might be able to offer some advice or assistance. Yours is an eminently rational, logical mind, sir. But I see now that it was foolish of me to expect any understanding of my plan, let alone some assistance." "Primarily because what you intend is not a rational, logical plan," he shot back. "It bears no resemblance to a coherent strategy." "Nonsense, I have given the problem a great deal of thought." "I don't think so. If you had, you would realize that what you are proposing is a reckless, possibly dangerous, and, no doubt, utterly futile, endeavor." She had known that he might not be enthusiastic about her decision to investigate Anne's murder but she had expected him to understand why she had to take action. So much for thinking that she and Slater had formed a connection based on mutual respect. Now, why did that realization depress her spirits? He was a client, not a potential lover. She managed a chilly smile. "Please don't hold back, sir. Feel free to express your true opinions of my plan. But you will have to do so to yourself. I don't intend to be your audience." She started to open the door but he was suddenly there, closing it very firmly. "A moment, if you please, Mrs. Kern. I am not finished with this conversation." THREE V ictory. Perhaps. Relief spiked with a flicker of hope shot through Ursula. She raised her brows at the cold steel in Slater's words. "You have made it clear that you do not approve of what I intend to do," she said. "What more is there to discuss?" He eyed her for a long, steady moment and then he seemed to remember that he was holding his spectacles in one hand. Very deliberately he put them on--and she was suddenly quite certain that he did not need them. He wore them for the same reason she wore a widow's veil, as a shield against the prying gaze of Society. "What makes you so sure that your secretary was murdered?" he finally asked. At least he was asking questions now, she thought. That was progress. "There are a number of reasons," she said. "I'm listening." "I'm quite certain that Anne did not take her own life. There was no evidence of cyanide or any other poison in the vicinity." "Poisons can be subtle in their outward effects." "Yes, I know, but even so, Anne was not the least bit depressed. She had recently moved into a nice little house that she was looking forward to purchasing. She had bought new furniture and a new gown. She seemed very happy in her work with a client of long standing and she was making an excellent salary. In addition, Anne hinted that she was occasionally receiving handsome gratuities from her client. In short, Anne was not suffering from any financial problems." Slater regarded her with a thoughtful expression and then he walked back across the room. Once again he leaned against his desk and folded his arms. His eyes burned a little behind the lenses of his spectacles. "I have been told that those who lose friends and loved ones to suicide often say they never saw any advance indications of the victim's intentions," he said. Ursula turned to face him. "That may be true. All I can tell you is that in recent weeks Anne was in excellent spirits. She was so cheerful, in fact, that I had begun to wonder if she was involved in a romantic relationship." "That could be your explanation," Slater said. "A star-crossed love affair." "I admit I had begun to wonder if, perhaps, Anne had made the mistake of becoming intimately involved with a man who was connected to her client's household. I have rules against that sort of thing, of course, and I do my best to protect my secretaries. Forming a romantic liaison with a client or someone connected to the client is always an extremely reckless thing to do. It never ends well." "I see," Slater said, his tone very neutral now. "The thing is, Anne was a woman of the world. It's quite possible that she ignored the rules. The client's husband is a wealthy, powerful man and wealthy, powerful men are often careless when it comes to their affairs." Slater said nothing. He just looked at her. She remembered somewhat belatedly that Slater Roxton was a wealthy, powerful man. "The thing is," she continued hurriedly, "Anne was quite capable of protecting herself in such matters. She might enjoy a discreet dalliance but she would never be so foolish as to fall in love with a man she knew could never return her affections." Slater gave that some thought. "You say that Anne was doing rather well financially." "She was comfortably established with some funds put aside for retirement and a bit of jewelry." "Did she leave her possessions and the retirement money to someone?" Ursula winced. "I was Anne's sole heir." "I see." Slater exhaled slowly. "Well, there goes that theory of the crime. I can't imagine that you would be undertaking an investigation that might lead to your arrest." "Thank you for that bit of logic. I assure you, I had no reason to want her dead. She was one of my best secretaries--an asset to my agency in every conceivable way. In addition, we were friends. She was the first person who agreed to work for my agency when I went into business two years ago." "You say you do not suspect suicide. What makes you think that Miss Clifton might have been murdered?" "I found a short note next to the body." "A farewell note?" Slater asked. His voice gentled with a surprising sympathy. "No, at least not in the way you mean. She wrote the note with a pencil. I think she was trying to point me toward her killer." A great intensity infused Slater. "She wrote the note in pencil? She did not use a pen?" He did understand, she thought. "Exactly my point, sir," she said. "I do not think that she had time to use a pen. That would have required opening the ink bottle, filling the pen and laying out a sheet of paper in the proper way. A note explaining one's suicide would be a deliberate act, don't you think? An experienced secretary would have used pen and paper. The fact that she only scribbled a few words in pencil tells me that she was in a great rush. No, Mr. Roxton. Anne did not leave a farewell note. She tried to leave a message--for me." "This note was addressed to you?" "Well, no, but it was written in her own shorthand. She knew I was probably the only person who would be able to read it." "What did the note tell you?" "It was in her unique stenographer's script. It directed me to the location of the notebook and her little collection of jewelry. Oh, and there were two packets of seeds there, as well. I can't imagine for the life of me why she hid the seeds. It is another mystery." "Where, exactly, did she conceal all those items?" Slater asked. "Behind the convenience. Didn't I mention that? Sorry." Slater looked quite blank. "The convenience?" Ursula cleared her throat. "The water closet, Mr. Roxton." "Right. The convenience. My apologies. I've spent most of the past few years out of the country. I'm a bit rusty when it comes to polite euphemisms." "I understand." "Regarding this note Miss Clifton left--it's obvious why she would conceal her jewelry. You said you don't know why she concealed the seeds. But what of the notebook? Any thoughts on why she would hide it?" "An excellent question," Ursula said, warming to her theme. "I spent most of last night trying to transcribe several pages but the process did not shed any light on the problem. It's all poetry, you see." "Anne Clifton wrote poetry?" "No, her client did. Lady Fulbrook is a wealthy but extremely reclusive woman. She employed Anne to take dictation and transcribe the poems on a typewriter. Anne said that Lady Fulbrook is recovering from a case of shattered nerves and that the doctor prescribed writing poetry as a form of therapy." Slater was briefly distracted. "What sort of poetry?" Ursula felt the heat rising in her cheeks. She assumed a professional tone. "The poems appear to be devoted to the themes of love." "Love." Slater sounded as if he was unfamiliar with the word. Ursula waved one gloved hand in a vague way. "Endless longing, the travails of lovers who are separated by fate or circumstances beyond their control. Transcendent waves of passion. The usual sort of thing." "Transcendent waves of passion," Slater repeated. Again he spoke as if the concept was utterly foreign to him. She was quite certain she caught a flash of amusement in his eyes. She tightened her grip on her satchel and told herself that she would not allow him to draw her into an argument about the merits of love poetry. "Although the themes are obvious, there are some odd elements in the poems--numbers and words that don't seem to suit the meter. That's why I'm not sure if I'm transcribing the dictation properly," she said. "As I explained, over time a skilled secretary's stenography becomes a very personal code." "But you can decipher Miss Clifton's code?" "I am attempting to do so. But I'm not sure what good it will do." Ursula sighed. "It's poetry, after all. What can it tell me about the reason for Anne's murder?" "The first question you must ask is, why did Miss Clifton go to the trouble of concealing her notebook?" "I know, but I cannot imagine a reasonable answer." "The answer is always concealed within the question," Slater said. "What on earth is that supposed to mean?" "Never mind. You suspect that Anne Clifton might have become involved in a liaison with the client's husband, don't you?" "With Lord Fulbrook, yes, it has crossed my mind." Slater was starting to take an interest in the situation, Ursula thought. A great sense of relief came over her. Perhaps she would not be alone in this inquiry. "Any idea why Fulbrook would go to the trouble of murdering Miss Clifton? Not to be callous about such matters, but high-ranking gentlemen frequently discard mistresses. There is rarely any need for them to resort to violence." Ursula realized she had a death grip on the handle of the satchel. "I am aware of that, Mr. Roxton," she said through her teeth. "Which makes Anne's death all the more suspicious." "What of Lady Fulbrook? If she was jealous of her husband's attentions to Anne Clifton--" Ursula shook her head. "No, I'm quite sure that is not the case. According to Anne, Lady Fulbrook is very unhappy in her marriage. I was given the impression that she is also quite timid. Evidently she goes about in fear of her husband, who has a violent temper. It is difficult to envision such a woman committing murder in a fit of jealousy." "Jealousy is a wildfire of an emotion. Very unpredictable." In that moment Ursula was certain that Slater viewed all strong emotions, in particular those associated with passion, as wildfires to be contained and controlled at all costs. She straightened her shoulders. "There is another factor to consider. Anne told me that Lady Fulbrook never leaves her house. That is not just because of her poor nerves. Evidently her husband does not allow her to go out unless he, personally, escorts her." "So, we're back to Lord Fulbrook as our main suspect. Do you think Anne had an affair with him?" "I think it's possible," Ursula said. "If that was the case, I doubt very much that she was passionately in love with him. I don't think Anne would have trusted any man with her heart. But she had her financial future to consider." "She might have found his money interesting." Ursula sighed. "That is a rather blunt way of putting it, sir, but the answer is, yes. Perhaps she became too demanding. Or perhaps she said or did something to set off Fulbrook's temper." "If that was the case, he would have been likely to attack her physically, probably in a fit of rage. You said there was no evidence that she was assaulted." "No. None." There was another short silence. After a time Slater stirred. "You do realize that if you set out to prove that Fulbrook killed Anne Clifton you might very likely put your own life in danger," Slater said. "I just want to know the truth." "There is still the strong likelihood that she suffered a heart attack or a stroke," Slater said. "I know. If my inquiries lead nowhere I will accept that conclusion." "What else can you tell me about Anne Clifton?" "Well, among other things she was a very modern woman." "I believe that modern is another euphemism, is it not?" Anger flashed through Ursula. "Anne was a woman of high spirits. She was charming, bold, daring, and she was determined to enjoy life to the hilt. In short, sir, if she had been a man, people would have admired her." "You admired her." "Yes, I did," Ursula said. She composed herself. "She was my friend as well as an employee." "I see. Go on." "There is not much more to say. I believe that someone in the Fulbrook household, probably Lord Fulbrook, is responsible for Anne's death. I intend to find out if my suspicions are correct. And now, if you will excuse me, I must be on my way. I assured Lady Fulbrook that I would send a new secretary to her at the earliest possible moment. I need to get things in order at the agency before I take up my duties." Slater frowned. "Lady Fulbrook?" "Anne's client. I just explained--" "Yes, I know what you said. Damnation, you intend to take Miss Clifton's place as Lady Fulbrook's secretary." "I start tomorrow afternoon. I assured Lady Fulbrook that the transition would be seamless and that I would arrive at her house in Mapstone Square promptly at one-thirty, just as Anne did." Slater walked across the carpet and came to a halt directly in front of Ursula. "If you are correct in your suspicions," he said, "what you are planning is potentially dangerous." His soft tone rattled her nerves. Instinctively she took a step back, trying to put a little more distance between them. He was no longer simply annoyed or reluctantly curious. He was in his own, subtle way angry. At me, she thought, bemused. "Don't worry, Mr. Roxton," she said hastily. "I'm sure you can find another secretary to help you catalog your collection. I will be happy to send you someone else from my agency to fill in while I'm gone." "I am not concerned with finding another secretary, Mrs. Kern, I am concerned about your safety." "Oh, I see." He was not furious because she was abandoning his cataloging project, she thought. He was simply alarmed that she might be taking a risk. It had been so long since anyone had been worried about her welfare that she was flummoxed for a moment. The realization warmed her somewhere deep inside. She smiled. "It is very thoughtful of you to be concerned," she said. "Truly, I do appreciate it. But rest assured that I will take precautions." Ominous shadows appeared in his eyes. "Such as?" Her fragile sense of gratitude evaporated in a heartbeat. "I assure you I can take care of myself," she said coldly. "I have been doing just that for some time now. I regret that I tried to explain my plan to you. That was clearly a mistake. I can only hope that you will honor my confidence. If you fail to do so, you may, indeed, put me in some jeopardy." He looked as if she had just slapped his face very hard. Equal measures of astonishment and outrage flashed in his eyes. "Do you really think that I would deliberately do anything that would place you in danger?" he asked softly. She was instantly consumed with remorse. "No, of course not," she said. "I would never have spoken to you of my intentions if I believed that to be the case. But I admit I had hoped you might be able to provide some helpful advice." "My advice is to give up this wild scheme." "Right." She closed her hand around the doorknob. "Thank you for your ever so helpful counsel. Good day, Mr. Roxton." "Damn it, Ursula, don't you dare walk out on me." It was, she realized, the first time he had ever used her given name. It was depressing to know that it was anger, not affection that had caused him to slip into the small intimacy. She yanked the door open before he could stop her. She whisked up her skirts and went out into the hall, certain that he would not humiliate himself in front of the servants by chasing after her. She was proved correct. Slater stopped in the doorway and watched her but he did not pursue her--not physically, at least. Nevertheless, when she arrived in the front hall she was oddly breathless. Webster, the butler, opened the door for her. "Leaving early, Mrs. Kern?" he asked. "I believe Mrs. Webster was making up a tea tray for you and Mr. Roxton." He sounded quite heartbroken. In the course of the two cataloging sessions it had become obvious that the Roxton household was unusual in many respects, including the staff. They had all been hired by Slater's mother. As far as Ursula could determine, Lilly Lafontaine recruited heavily from the unemployed, currently between engagements, or retired ranks of the theatrical world. Webster was a lean, wiry man with a skeletal face. With his shaved head, a black eye patch covering one blue eye, and a jagged scar that marked his left cheek, he looked more like a pirate than a professional butler. Ursula had discovered that the accident that had forced him into retirement had occurred onstage. She did not know all of the details but evidently he had been the victim of a fake sword that had failed to collapse properly. She was also well aware that with his forbidding appearance, the number of employers who would have hired him--let alone elevate him to the status of butler--was vanishingly small. She had recognized him on their first meeting as a kindred spirit--an individual who had succeeded in reinventing himself. The knowledge had not only made her like him immediately, it had predisposed her to look favorably upon his employer. Rapid footsteps sounded in the hall. Mrs. Webster appeared, a heavily laden tea tray in her hands. "Mrs. Kern, are you leaving so soon? You mustn't go. You haven't had tea. Cataloging Mr. Roxton's relics is such dry and dusty work." In her own way, Mrs. Webster was as unexpected as her spouse. She was very likely in her mid-forties but she had been gifted with the elegant bones and the fine figure of a woman who would be striking long into old age. It had come as no surprise to discover that she, too, had once earned her living as an actress. She entered a room carrying a tea tray with more of a flourish than most upper-class ladies could summon to make an entrance into a ballroom. Like her husband, Mrs. Webster was always onstage. At the moment she was doing an excellent imitation of a Juliet who has just discovered that Romeo is dead. "I hope to return at a more convenient time, Mrs. Webster," Ursula said, aware that Slater was listening to the conversation. "It's just that something has come up of a personal nature." "Are you ill?" Mrs. Webster demanded, hand clutching at her throat. "I know a very good doctor. He saved Mr. Webster's life." "I assure you I'm in excellent health," Ursula said. "I hate to rush off but I'm afraid I really must go." Webster reluctantly opened the door. "Until Wednesday, then," Mrs. Webster said, hopeful to the end. Ursula pulled the black netting of her widow's veil down over her face and escaped out onto the front step before Mrs. Webster could add Parting is such sweet sorrow . She decided not to tell the Websters that she would not be returning on Wednesday or, possibly, ever again, judging by the expression on Slater's face. The carriage that Slater had insisted on arranging for the twice-weekly sessions was waiting in the street. The coachman jumped down from the box, opened the door and lowered the steps. His name was Griffith and he was a mountain of a man with a powerful, muscular build. His black hair was tied back at the nape of his neck with a leather thong. Ursula had learned that in his previous career he had worked as a stagehand with a traveling theater company. "You're leaving early today, Mrs. Kern," he observed. "Everything all right? You're not coming down with a fever, are you?" This was getting to be ridiculous, Ursula thought. It seemed that everyone connected to the Roxton household had begun to take an alarming interest in her health. She was certainly not accustomed to such close scrutiny, nor did she want to encourage it. "I'm in excellent health, thank you, Griffith," she said. "Please take me back to my office." "Yes, ma'am." Griffith handed her up into the cab with obvious reluctance. She collected her skirts and sat down on the elegantly cushioned seat. Griffith closed the door. He exchanged dark glances with Mr. and Mrs. Webster before he vaulted up onto the box and loosened the reins. Ursula got the distinct feeling that she would be the subject of some low-voiced conversations later in the kitchen. Excerpted from Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.