An intrepid female reporter matches wits with a serious, sexy detective in award-winning author Manda Collin’s fun and flirty historical rom-com, perfect for readers of Evie Dunmore, Julia Quinn, and Tessa Dare!
England, 1865: As one of England’s most notorious newspaper columnists, Lady Katherine Bascomb believes knowledge is power. And she’s determined to inform and educate the ladies of London on the nefarious-and deadly-criminals who are praying on the fairer sex. When her reporting leads to the arrest of a notorious killer, however, Katherine flees to a country house party to escape her newfound notoriety-only to witness a murder on her very first night. And when the lead detective accuses Katherine of inflaming-rather than informing-the public with her column, she vows to prove him wrong.
Detective Inspector Andrew Eversham’s refusal to compromise his investigations nearly cost him his own career, and he blames Katherine. To avoid bad publicity, his superiors are pressuring him to solve cases quickly rather than correctly. When he discovers she’s the key witness in a new crime, he’s determined to prevent the beautiful widow from once again wreaking havoc on his case. Yet as Katherine proves surprisingly insightful and Andrew impresses Katherine with his lethal competency, both are forced to admit the fire between them is more flirtatious than furious. But to explore the passion between them, they’ll need to catch a killer.
If Sir Horace does not desist from this asinine talk about what constitutes appropriate conversation for a lady, I shall do one of us an injury thought Lady Katherine Bascomb, hiding her scowl behind her fan.
She was quite fond of his wife Millie, who’d been a friend since the two ladies had made their debuts together, but it really was hard work to endure the company of Sir Horace as a condition of seeing her friend.
A widow of nearly two years, Katherine had allowed herself to be persuaded away from the evening she’d had planned of catching up on the latest news of the murderer who was currently roaming the streets of the metropolis, the so-called “Good Book Killer”, in order to make up the numbers for Millie’s dinner party.
A decision she’d regretted as soon as she was ushered into their house on Belgrave Square and saw that the guests were among the most stiff-rumped in town.
She’d suffered through dinner, where she’d politely listened to a member of Parliament drone on about the need for something to be done about the coarseness of discourse in the English press–it never having occurred to him that she was, herself, owner of one of those newspapers. (Or perhaps it had but he simply did not care. Men were far less prone to diplomacy in their conversation than ladies in Katherine’s experience.) Then, thinking to find some more sensible conversation when the ladies withdrew to leave the gentlemen to their port, she’d been trapped in a corner of the drawing room with Mrs. Elspeth Symes who’d talked of nothing but purgatives and remedies for digestive ailments for nearly a quarter hour without pausing for breath.
The reappearance of the gentlemen had given her a chance to escape Mrs. Symes, but no sooner had she accepted a cup of tea and a plate of what looked to be delicious biscuits than Sir Horace began to speak.
If this was what one had to endure to maintain friendships, Katherine thought crossly, then really it was better to remain at home alone.
“Not if I do him an injury first,” said a voice from beside her. And to her horror, Katherine realized she’d spoken her thought aloud.
Turning, she saw that a thin, dark haired young woman with wide brown eyes and an impish quality had taken the seat beside her.
“Caroline Hardcastle,” she said offering her gloved hand. “We met before dinner but really anyone who is capable of remembering names after one introduction is not worth knowing, don’t you agree?”
Katherine blinked. Miss Hardcastle was a tiny creature with large dark eyes and a pointed chin. She was exactly what Katherine’s mind would have conjured if she tried to imagine a woodland sprite in exquisitely tailored silk.
“These are quite good,” Miss Hardcastle continued, biting into a biscuit. “I detect a hint of lemon, but it’s not enough to overpower. And the shortbread is exceptional. There’s not quite enough butter but one can’t have everything, I suppose.”
“I’m Lady Katherine Bascomb.” She felt as if she should say something and there were so many options that Katherine decided to go with the most obvious.
“Oh, I know who you are.” Caroline discreetly brushed the crumbs from her hands. “I read your column in The Gazette religiously. I was quite happy to learn you would be a guest tonight. Though it seems we were both captured by less than entertaining conversationalists thus far.” She cast her eyes in the direction of their host. “And now we all are forced to listen to this lecture on propriety from a man who is known throughout the ton for his affairs.”
That was news to Katherine. Poor Millie. She’d known Sir Horace was a rotter, she just hadn’t realized how much of one he was.
“He is a bit hard to take, isn’t he?”
“And really, how dare he suggest that any topic should be off-limits for ladies?” Caroline scowled. “After all, we ought to know what’s going on in the world around us. We are the ones who are most often preyed upon by unscrupulous, and even deadly, men. I, for one, would even go so far as to say that if ladies were encouraged to speak openly about the things that most frightened us, we would all be the safer for it. One cannot protect against a danger that’s completely unknown.”
As she spoke, Miss Hardcastle’s voice rose and as sometimes happens, did so during a lull in the other discussions in the room.
“I must protest, Miss Hardcastle,” said a portly gentleman with walrus-like whiskers. “Ladies are not constitutionally strong enough to hear about the harshness in our world. It is our job as fathers, brothers, husbands, to protect you from the knowledge of such things. Why, I know of one young lady who went mad from hearing about such awfulness.”
Katherine heard a sound that was partway between a train coming into the station and a kettle on the boil. To her amusement it had erupted from Miss Hardcastle’s mouth.
“Mr. Symes, please acquit us with some degree of sense. I know very well you’re speaking of your niece, Miss Ruby Compton, and everyone knows that she was and is far from mad. She simply chose to fall in love with a fellow neither you nor her parents found smart enough and you had her spirited away to Scotland. The story of her madness and fictitious institutionalization might very well fool some people but I knew Ruby at school and had the full story from another schoolfriend.”
It was quite difficult to watch the man’s mouth open and close, rather like a fish removed from a stream without laughing, so Katherine decided to speak instead.
“I agree with Miss Hardcastle. It does no one any good to be wrapped in cotton wool and protected from the things that pose the most danger. I don’t suppose you would agree that it was perfectly acceptable to tell your daughter that arsenic is safe to eat, Sir Horace? Or you, Mr. Harrington, would you tell your sister that your prize bull poses no danger to her?”
Not waiting for them to respond, Katherine continued. “Only a mile or so from here, there are girls as young as five years old who know more about the dangers posed by the predators of London than a gently raised young lady of eighteen. Why should an accident of birth mean that we should be kept in ignorance?”
“Well said,” said Caroline from beside her.
“I think Katherine’s right.” Millie’s voice was a bit shaky, but she pressed on. “There are dangerous things, and men, in the city and yet you would protect us to such a degree that we wouldn’t recognize the devil himself if he crossed our paths.”
Katherine rather suspected being able to trick one into not knowing who he was was one of Old Nick’s specialties, but refrained from pointing it out.
“An excellent point,” Caroline said with a smile of encouragement to Millie. “And when we cannot rely on the Metropolitan Police to protect us from the likes of the Good Book Killer, then we need every tool at our disposal. And knowledge happens to be the most readily available.”
At the mention of the murderer whose string of killings across the capital had even the most confident of men looking over their shoulders, a murmur went through the room.
“Now, Miss Hardcastle, you go too far,” said Sir Horace. “The Superintendent of police is a good friend of mine, and he’s got his best man working on the case.”
At the mention of the man leading the investigation, Katherine couldn’t stop her own sound of skepticism. “If you mean Inspector Andrew Eversham, Sir Horace, then I fear your confidence is misplaced. He’s been leading the investigation for months now and hasn’t brought forth one reliable suspect.”
“There was a hint in the Chronicle that Eversham was fixated on the theory that perhaps the killer was a tradesman because he was so easily able to move through the streets,” a matronly lady with greying gold hair offered. “But I think perhaps a cabbie could just as easily elude capture.”
“What about a servant?” asked petite Mrs. Araminta Peabody. “They’re always around, but one doesn’t notice them, does one? Why you there–” she gestured to a footman who was collecting the tea things, “–you might be the Good Book Killer and we’d never even know it.”
“Eversham is a good man, dash it,” said Sir Horace, his florid face growing redder. “I won’t have his name or that of Superintendent Thorsby sullied in this way. This is just the sort of conversation that I was warning against earlier. See what’s happened already? The lot of you women have grown over-excited. I daresay you’ve grown feverish, you’re so overcome by all this talk of mischief and mayhem.”
“Oh don’t be an ass, Horace,” said the man to left of him. He was a doctor, but Katherine couldn’t remember his name to save her life. “This talk is no more dangerous for ladies than it is for men.” He turned to Katherine. “I think the Good Book Killer is a woman, myself. Remember that a posy was found on the body of the second victim. It’s possible it was from a man’s buttonhole, but I don’t know many men who would wear forget-me-nots.”
At the doctor’s words the room erupted into chaos.
Under cover of the din, Katherine turned to Caroline.
“I know we’ve just met, but I’ve an idea for my paper and I think you might be interested. What would you think about our writing a column together about this sort of thing?”
“About men trying to stop us from common sense understanding of the world around us?”
Katherine laughed. “Not quite. I had something else in mind. A column about our thoughts on the kind of crimes typified by the Good Book Killer. The sorts of things ladies find of interest but are discouraged from speaking about.”
Caroline tilted her head, a grin widening on her face.
“A sort of lady’s guide to murder, you mean?”
“Yes, but I think we should call it ‘The Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem’.”
“A tribute to Sir Horace?” Caroline tittered.
“Exactly right.” Katherine glanced over to where that gentleman was holding forth on more of his notions of propriety. “He deserves it don’t you think?”
About the Author:
Manda Collins grew up on a combination of Nancy Drew books and Jane Austen novels, and her own brand of Regency romantic suspense is the result. An academic librarian by day, she investigates the mysteries of undergraduate research at her alma mater, and holds advanced degrees in English Lit and Librarianship. Her debut novel, How to Dance with a Duke, spent five weeks on the Nielsen Bookscan Romance Top 100 list, was nominated for an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for best debut historical romance, and finaled in the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence contest.