A Useful Woman (Rosalind Thorne Mysteries #1) - Darcie Wilde Page 0,2

.

Her father leaned out of the carriage to pull in the step and shut the door.

The world froze. At least, Rosalind froze. In front of her eyes, the hired driver touched up the sturdy horses so that the coach rattled and creaked into motion. The curtains in the coach’s back window were down. They did not lift to afford her any last parting glimpse of the occupants, and yet she knew she had not been mistaken. She knew Father’s profile—his hooked nose and his strong brow—in any light.

Rosalind’s thoughts leapt from a standstill to a full gallop. She turned on her sore and frigid feet and dashed back into the house. She ran through the dining room to Father’s book room.

The door stood open. The smell of burning paper hung in the air, and the last embers of various ledgers and papers smoldered on the hearth. The imported Italian desk was completely clear for the first time in Rosalind’s memory, except for the one letter left lying squarely in the center of the blotter.

It was addressed to her mother. Rosalind barely attended to that. She just broke the seal and read:

Althea, My Dearest Wife:

How difficult it is to write these words! How many tears roll down my cheeks to stain this page as I think of you even now sleeping so soundly in your bed, blissfully unaware as to what this cruel, cold morning holds in store for you.

I have always worked diligently at business in order to provide the living that you and our lovely daughters deserve. Alas, several recent speculations have not turned out as well as I had hoped. This failure has weighed heavily on my mind for some time, but I have labored unceasingly to free myself of the obligations and restore our fortunes. Of course, I could not tell you, for I had no wish to risk any perturbation in that domestic harmony which I know means the world to you, as it does to me.

But now—oh, the pain of having to write this!—certain men who swore me friendship and assistance have treacherously gone back on their word. And worse—far worse!—they have spread infamous lies about my character and conduct, such that I now am hounded without stint by moneylenders and false friends seeking restitution for debts I never contracted and do not legally owe.

Because of the calumnies spread by these smiling fiends who once shook my hand and behaved to all appearances in the manner of gentlemen, I am left with no choice. I must run! I must fly! I am to become a fugitive in my own country lest I be taken up for these false debts.

Now, you must be strong, my darling! You must remember when these men come to you that they are liars and infamous customers. You must hold your loving heart firm against the falsehoods they will seek to pour into your ears. I know your courage. You will never lose faith in your dearest Reginald. You know in the depths of your soul that I will return to restore our family’s reputation and fortune, as soon as I am able.

To help you in this time of greatest trial, I leave you our daughter Rosalind. Her steady good sense will surely serve to keep and comfort you until I am able to return and clear my good name of these libelous charges and unjust debts. Our loyal and thrice-darling daughter Charlotte has bravely consented to be my companion and helpmeet in the toils of my exile.

Adieu, my dearest! Have courage! Know that my heart is breaking as I write. Think of your darling Reginald alone in the cold world without one friend to succor him. His only thought is of the day he will be able to reunite all our family and restore tranquility to our home.

May God bless and keep you both!

Your eternally loving husband,

R.T.

It was Mrs. Kendricks, the housekeeper, who found Rosalind an hour later, still sitting in the book room, breathing in the scent of burning papers, and holding her father’s parting letter in her numbed fingers.

CHAPTER 1

The Little Scandals of the Little Season

The lady patronesses of Almack’s . . . carried matters—to say with a high hand seems almost inadequate—shall I write, with a clenched fist?

—E. Beresford Chancellor, The Annals of Almack’s

LONDON, FEBRUARY 15, 1817

“Are you sure we may expect callers this early?” asked Mrs. Kendricks.

Rosalind Thorne smiled up at her housekeeper. She was breakfasting in her parlor with the small table drawn up close