The Baffling Burglaries of Bath
Lady Katherine Regency Mysteries: Book 2
Lady Katherine doesn’t want to take the matchmaking job for Mrs. Burwick whose daughter, Prudence, clearly does not want to be matched… until she realizes it provides her the perfect cover to investigate the string of robberies that have been taking place in the holiday town of Bath.
Katherine, her loyal maid, Harriett, and her tenacious Pug, Emma, soon find themselves knee deep in troubled waters as they try to piece together the baffling clues to reveal the truth. To further complicate matters, Katherine’s investigation is impeded by the incompetent detective hired by the Marquess of Bath to flush out the burglar.
Now Katherine must juggle advising Prudence on how “not” to land a Duke while she dives into the investigation in the hopes of narrowing down the suspects without making waves amongst the aristocracy, some of whom are her primary suspects.
When the burglary attempts turn violent, Katherine must take drastic measures to ensure her detective career isn’t all washed up before it even gets started.
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Saturday, September 7, 1816.
If Katherine’s closest friend, Lyle Murphy, turned any stiffer, the patrons of the Sydney Hotel would mistake him for a decoration. The lanky Bow Street Runner sat as straight as the Neoclassical pillars outside the terrace doors. His pallor matched the walls, his shock of reddish hair the only sign that he was living and not carved of marble. That, and the words spilling out of his mouth.
“I don’t see why you asked me to come.”
Lady Katherine Irvine exchanged a look with the third person at their table, Prudence Burwick. Every bit as tall as Katherine, though with her weight distributed more solidly along her frame, Pru wore a pinched expression that emphasized the sharp cast to her chin. She forgot to smile yet again. Had Katherine’s true aim been to match Pru with Lord Annandale as she’d been hired to do, Pru’s less-than-welcoming air would have boded ill for the endeavor.
Fortunately, Katherine was here to solve a crime instead.
“The robberies,” she reminded.
Lyle pulled a face. “I’m from London. Bath has its own city watchmen.”
“It does, but are they as skilled in catching criminals as Sir John’s Men?”
From the moment he had been accepted into the ranks of the detectives, Lyle had preened over his profession. As well he should. Although the name Bow Street Runner had a derogatory association, ever since Sir John Fielding had organized them, London’s first overt detective ring had thrived and made the streets safer than ever. This was particularly necessary now that the war with Napoleon was through, and those previously employed by the military supplemented their income with thievery. The Royal Society of Investigative Techniques, of which Katherine was a member, regularly invited Sir John’s Men to share their expertise.
Lyle’s stance altered as he puffed his chest. “Of course not. We pride ourselves in being the leading detectives in England.”
Katherine opted not to take offense to that statement. After all, although she had been solving crime ever since she was in pinafores, she had done so at her father’s heels. The earl had taught her everything he knew, but only recently, shortly before her twenty-fifth birthday, had she solved a crime on her own. The Pink Ribbon Murders had vexed even her father, but she had had help to solve them — from Lyle in particular. This time, she had to prove to herself and everyone else that she was capable of solving a crime on her own.
Nevertheless, she valued her friend’s insight, and his many tools.
He added, “That isn’t to say the Bath city watchmen aren’t perfectly capable of solving this particular case on their own. I’ll only get in their way.”
Pru tapped her fork against the round wooden table, one of many in the ground floor of the hotel. The ping of sound only added to the hum of conversation around them. Everyone seemed far too engrossed in their own conversations to eavesdrop.
With a disapproving twist of her mouth, Pru pointed out, “They’ve had ample time to solve the robberies. This is what, the fifth? Sixth? By Jove, they’ve been going on since June!”
The conversation at the table next to them stilled, where an older gentleman, new money given the way certain others in the room avoided their table, plied his young wife with praises about her beauty. She wore a ring, earrings, and necklace laden with citrines the size of robin’s eggs. A lewd display of wealth at the least; with the recent string of jewel thefts in the area, it was downright foolish.
Katherine tapped her fingernail on the table and lowered her voice to a hiss. “Tarnation, Pru. Keep your voice down.”
“Perhaps you ought not to swear,” she countered in a quieter tone.
Katherine couldn’t argue with that. She turned instead to her longtime friend, who looked as wary as if he feared he might spontaneously burst into flame. He didn’t often accompany her into polite society, a world away from the criminal underbelly of London with which he was far more familiar.
“If I don’t have need of your expertise, perhaps you can use the time away from London to finish your latest invention. I know you lament you’re too often on patrol to give it your due diligence.”
His shoulders relaxed from their position around his ears and a slim smile curved one corner of his mouth. “I do have a sketch for an apparatus that uses steam to render the recent oils left by a person’s touch visible on certain surfaces. I’ve heard that the healing waters of Bath contain a rich array of minerals. It’s possible, when vaporized, these minerals will adhere—”
Katherine had only a rudimentary knowledge of science and sensed that if she allowed him to continue to muse aloud, she would soon be out of her depth. With a fond smile, she tapped him on the back of the hand to draw his attention away from the theoretical. “There are springs galore near the baths in the center of town.”
Leaving his half-eaten bun and empty teacup, Lyle started to stand. “If you don’t object, perhaps I’ll visit and discover for myself if the water will do for my invention.”
A woman’s gnarled hand, her fingernails buffed to a shine, clasped his elbow in a vise that made him jump. “An invention, you say?” The woman, wearing an outdated dress with a high neckline and an enormous feather hat better suited to twenty years prior, looked to be ninety if she was a day. Age bowed her spine, reducing a form which might once have been over five feet tall when standing straight. Spectacles perched on her long nose, threatening to fall off the tip. Judging from the way she squinted, they did little to improve her vision. Her hearing wasn’t much improved, given her piercing voice. “Do you mean to create an invention in our lovely little town?”
As the woman beamed up at him, Lyle turned several different shades of pink in succession. He stumbled over his tongue. “Why, yes I— If it is permitted, I mean to say. I would be ever so grateful for the opportunity to—”
“Permitted! Of course it is permitted. I encourage all bright young men to draw inspiration from our great town.” She latched onto his arm with a hawk-like grip and patted the snowy coiffure peeking from beneath the brim of her hair as she steered him toward the exit. “In fact, I can introduce you to a few good men nearby who are skilled in construction or who might sell you any materials you need to build your invention.”
As he was led away by the enthusiastic old woman, Lyle shot a bewildered look over his shoulder. His lanky form, well over six feet tall, loomed over the slight woman on his arm, yet he looked as helpless as a stray puppy. Katherine waved at him and giggled into her hand, tearing off another piece of the Sally Lunn and popping it into her mouth. She savored the taste of the rich, sweet bun.
Pru frowned. “Was that the Marquess of Bath’s grandmother?”
“I can’t say. I’ve never met her.”
Fiddling with a lock of her brown hair, Pru turned back. “Yes, I’m certain it was. He came in with her, and he’s impossible to miss. Those unfashionably wide cuffs make him look as if he’s a bird about to take flight.”
Katherine bit her lower lip to contain a smile, her eyes wandering to the gentleman in question. Him, she recognized, for he ventured to London every year to sit in Parliament. Her father also had a seat. The trim, jovial man was nearing forty, a fact evident from his receding hairline. However, his ready smile put anyone, young or old, at ease. As Pru had mentioned, he did wear wider than usual cuffs, having an aversion to restrictive clothing around his wrists. Papa had never mentioned why, though the two were friendly and Lord Bath had dined with him on occasion.
The marquess frowned and paused in his conversation with a pair of gentlemen in fashionable buckskin breeches and dark jackets. “Grandmama?” He stared in the direction of the exit to the street, where Lyle and Grandma Bath were now headed.
As the marquess took a step to follow, a lady’s voice cut through the chatter. “Emma, no!”
Katherine’s mouthful of Sally Lunn suddenly tasted like ash. Tarnation! She swallowed hard and stood, but she wasn’t quick enough to match the golden blur racing in from the terrace. Emma, her pug, arrowed for the marquess and jumped up on his leg as she begged for attention. She reached no higher than his knee, yipping and snapping playfully at his wide cuffs as she wagged her tail.
Sard it all. Lord Bath was more congenial than most, but those who mingled with High Society were a strict and stuffy bunch. If he took offense to Emma or worse, hurt her…
The marquess bent to pat Emma’s head. He spoke to her in a low tone, too soft for Katherine to hear the words as she rounded the table to join them. Emma seemed pleased enough with the response, for she stuffed her head into his wide cuffs and snorted.
Katherine’s maid and close friend Harriet bolted in from the terrace. Her dark hair escaped its plait, forming a riotous halo around her head. Emma’s leash and collar, from which she must have managed to slip free, dangled from Harriet’s fist. Her harried expression turned to one of horror as she caught sight of the escaped dog.
Katherine neared the group as Harriet curtsied deeply. “Forgive her, my lord. She didn’t mean any offence. I’ll take care that it doesn’t happen again.”
The marquess straightened, looming over Harriet. “She’s a friendly sort, no harm done. However do take care to keep her restrained. There are a good number of older women and gentlemen in residence who might trip. Speaking of which, if you’ll excuse me—”
He had already turned away, dismissing the situation, much to Harriet’s visible relief.
“Grandmama?” As Lord Bath hastened across the room, Katherine had never seen a man move so quickly in pursuit of a woman. He headed the pair off moments before they were about to slip onto the street.
Katherine hoisted Emma into her arms when the enthusiastic pug waddled past in pursuit of the marquess. The dog whined, then shifted to lick Katherine’s chin. Still chewing the last of her bun, Pru stood from the nearby table and dusted off her hands as she stepped close to Katherine. She swallowed before speaking.
“I can’t say as I blame the marquess. In his position, I’d be just as alarmed to watch a relative saunter off with a fellow like Mr. Murphy.”
Katherine raised an eyebrow, at the same time tilting her chin out of Emma’s reach. “What do you mean by that? Lyle’s far from a reprobate. In fact, I’d be wary of half the men in this establishment, including the two with whom Lord Bath was just speaking. They have that look to them.”
“As does Mr. Murphy,” Pru countered. “The way he took charge at Lord Northbrook’s house party was frightening.”
There had been a murderer on the loose, so Katherine couldn’t fault him for acting with authority at the time. In fact, she’d been rather relieved.
As she opened her mouth to counter, her maid approached to wrestle Emma back into her collar. Upon catching the tail end of the conversation, Harriet snorted. “Lyle? He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“At the house party—”
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly that hadn’t proven a danger to society,” Harriet amended. As she expertly secured the collar, she raised her eyebrows at Pru, undaunted by the differences in their statuses. “Besides, weren’t you the one to wallop the murderer over the head with a lantern?”
Pru colored up. Looking contrite, she mumbled under her breath. “He might have killed Katherine…”
Harriet smirked. “You see? You both acted in pursuit of a just cause. Come to think of it, you two have quite a bit in common. I’d think you’d be much more apt to…get on.” Her suggestive tone as she scooped Emma from out of Katherine’s arms was mirrored by her smirk.
Pru and Lyle? Not precisely the pairing Katherine had in mind. Besides, she’d been hired by Mrs. Burwick to pair her daughter with the Marquess of Annandale. Not that she planned to make much effort to accomplish that goal, certainly not with Pru’s aversion.
However, Prudence was no dolt. She understood Harriet well enough, given the way she wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Mr. Murphy and I do not get on as you so succinctly put. We have very little in common.”
“He’s tall,” Harriet pointed out, her smile widening.
Pru crossed her arms before she recalled their public location and relaxed her hostile stance. “Height isn’t everything,” she bit off.
“He’s also a decorated detective. Since you also have an interest in the investigative arts, I’d think it would behoove you to find a husband who shares that interest.”
Pru scowled. “I have no need or desire for a husband at all. Katherine doesn’t intend to marry. I don’t see why I should have to.”
Thank Zeus Katherine had been able to persuade Mrs. Burwick to stay behind in London. She would have a far more difficult time on her hands trying to investigate if her client were dogging her steps and asking inconvenient questions such as, “Why haven’t you made any effort to match Pru with Lord Annandale?”
Then again, she hadn’t made much effort to match Miss Annie Pickering with Lord Northbrook, yet they had managed to find their way into one another’s arms while she’d been catching the Pink Ribbon Murderer. Although, Pru’s scowl spoke volumes in this case. Annie had, at the very least, wanted to make the match.
In a high-pitched voice, Harriet answered, “Perhaps Lady Katherine can answer that question for you in detail after you’ve spoken with Lord Bath. Is the weather clearing up? I should resume my duties. Excuse me, my lady, my lord.” Harriet dipped in a deep curtsey before turning on her heel and scurrying through the open terrace door.
The weather did, indeed, seem to be clearing up from the dismal cold rain that had battered the gardens all morning. But who had she called ‘my lord?’
Katherine turned, forcing a smile as she met Lord Bath’s twinkling gaze. She dipped in a polite curtsey as he inclined his head. “Lord Bath, so good to see you.”
“And you, my dear. I must admit to some surprise, however. Your father didn’t write to let me know that you would be arriving, or else I would have offered you a room on my estate.”
No, that would never do. Katherine was here to investigate a string of thefts! In order to be most effective, she had to be alongside the would-be victims.