The Handbook to Handling His Lordship

By: Suzanne Enoch

For another moment the marquis eyed him. “I suppose it will have to. Very well, then. Five years ago, my wife hired a young lady to serve as a governess to my son, George. Three years ago a very valuable diamond necklace vanished from my wife’s dressing table, along with the governess.”

“A stolen necklace,” Nate said with a nod. He was becoming a bit weary of hunting for misplaced jewelry, but London’s haut ton seemed to have very slippery fingers. “I think I can manage that.”

“That isn’t quite everything,” the marquis countered, sitting forward an inch or two. “The afternoon Miss Newbury disappeared, my wife was killed in a riding accident.” He cleared his throat. “Actually, the horse returned to the stable without Katherine, and everyone went searching for her. We found her in a ditch, her neck broken. It was only afterward I realized that Miss Newbury hadn’t been among the searchers. When I returned to the house, her things were gone, along with the necklace and the girl, herself.”

“So you think this Miss Newbury murdered Lady Ebberling?” Nate asked slowly, studying his client very carefully. Hands clenched, jaw tight, eyes lowered—anger. Deep anger that this governess had escaped without paying for her misdeeds.

“The physician said Katherine’s fall was possibly an accident. What I think is that something untoward occurred. Perhaps Katherine saw Miss Newbury with the gem, or … I don’t know. But if you can find the diamond necklace, then perhaps you will also have located Rachel Newbury. And I would pay three thousand pounds to recover one or the other.”

Four years ago, Nate’s annual salary from the Crown had been three hundred pounds. Today, as the Earl of Westfall, his annual income was somewhere in the realm of eight thousand pounds. In theory he would have offered all of it to find the killer of his wife, certainly. But he would hope that the man he hired wouldn’t accept it. “My lord, three thou—”

“And another five thousand pounds if you deliver her to me and allow me to contact the authorities.”

To Nate both that comment and the amount of blunt being offered spoke volumes. Ebberling wanted to find that woman very badly, and when he did, Miss Newbury would likely never reach the authorities. If Nathaniel meant to be squeamish, however, he’d missed his chance a very long time ago. And he knew quite well that women were perfectly capable of being vicious and murderous. In some ways they were deadlier than their male counterparts, because who would suspect them of such foul deeds?

Above—or below—the morality of it all, the prospect of hunting down someone who’d vanished into the shadows three years ago fascinated him. For God’s sake, he could use a damned challenge. He awoke some mornings with his mind feeling positively mossy.

“May I ask why you’ve decided to embark on this venture now?” he queried, settling his spectacles as he did when he wanted to look particularly unthreatening. “It has been three years, as you said.”

“I was patient for a very long time,” Ebberling replied, “waiting for Bow Street and the local magistrates to do their duty. But now I’ve made plans to remarry. The idea that the woman who may have had something to do with Katherine’s death—who stole from me and betrayed my trust—is still somewhere in the world perhaps waiting to do harm to me and mine again is intolerable. I won’t have that hanging over me any longer.”

It seemed as good an answer as any. “I’ll need whatever information you can provide me about this Rachel Newbury. Age, appearance, breeding, education, birthplace—any of it could be the key to discovering her whereabouts,” he said after a moment. “And that of the necklace, as well.”

Ebberling nodded. “My wife hired her, of course, but I do know her present age would be somewhere between twenty-three and twenty-five years. She was a tall chit, with an air about her, as if she thought herself just a bit more clever than everyone else. Brown eyes, yellow hair that seemed to want to curl every which way, though she always wore it in a perfect knot at the back of her head. Pretty enough, I suppose, and very proper. And I recall that she had a fondness for strawberries and liked to ride. And read. She always had a book in her hands.”

Standing, Nate walked over to the writing desk and pulled free a piece of paper. “I’m a fair hand at drawing,” he said, finding a pencil and taking a seat again. “I’ll make an attempt at sketching her if you’ll guide me through it.”

“Excellent,” the marquis returned, finally reaching for a teacup. “Rycott said you were the man for the job.”

The name startled him. “Rycott?” he repeated, facing his new client. “You’re acquainted with Jack?”

“You mean do I know you served Wellington as a spy?” Ebberling countered, filling his cup and then moving over to the writing desk. “I have my connections. I required someone who could successfully complete this task. Jack Rycott said that would be you. And I haven’t seen or heard anything from you to cause me to doubt his opinion.” He gestured at the paper. “An oval face, as I recall.”