An Unexpected Title

Suspicious Circumstance Series

Copyright © Jackie Williams 2018  All rights reserved

Murder, mystery, and marriage!

A marriage proposal. Not such a terrible thing, but a broken heart and injured pride are not easy to overcome, as Asher Derwent had already discovered. Women were far too contrary and likely to change their mind. Being jilted once in a lifetime was quite enough for any man.

But with this particular proposal came an estate, a fortune. And an unexpected title. Did he dare refuse? The marriage was merely a contract to keep a woman safe. Falling in love wasn’t part of the bargain. He had no intention of doing anything so foolish again. Especially not as she was clearly the worst kind of woman. A young incomparable with a challenge in her eyes and an unwavering lilt to her delicate chin.

Madeleine’s outrage knew no bounds. How dare her father coldly inform her of whom she would marry only the night before the dratted man arrived? She had plans, plans that did not include an overbearing, oaf telling her what to do every minute of the day or, even more humiliating, during the intimate hours of the night. If her father hadn’t been so ill, she might have been tempted to strangle him with her own bare hands!

But it seemed that she wouldn’t need to, for by the time the dreaded day arrives, the earl is dead and the house is in mourning. A murderer has come during the night robbing Madeleine of both her father and her prized independence, and Asher of any choice.

Can Asher and Madeleine cease their hostilities long enough to discover the murderer’s identity, or will their future be consumed by the secrets hiding within Claiborne?

An Unexpected Title – An historical murder mystery suitable for anyone 16+

An Excerpt from An Unexpected Title

He glanced up. The buildings elegant and charming exterior mocked the obvious agitation of the staff gathered on the steps of Claiborne Hall.

“Murdered! How, and by whom?”

Mrs. Grenfell shook her head.

“Stabbed he was. Drove a knife right through the man’s heart! But we do not know who did it, though we suspect the stable master. Thomas Leyman! Now there’s a name to remember. Always was a surly fellow. It has been such a shock, I can tell you, my Lord. Mr. Phillips near passed out when he discovered the body this morning.”

Ash cast his eyes across the building’s facade again as he strode ahead. Was that a curtain on the upper floor that he saw twitch? Nothing else moved and he dismissed the thought from his head as he surveyed the chaotic scene in front of him again.

“Phillips is standing by the chair?” He enquired as he tried to put names to faces.

The woman nodded as she ran to keep up with his long strides.

“Yes. Mr. Phillips is the master’s valet. Er, I mean, was the master’s valet. Good Lord! He looks as if he is about to faint!” She exclaimed.

Confused again, Ash attempted to clarify.

“So it is Mr. Phillips who is injured?” The man was certainly pale enough, but the housekeeper shook her head.

“No, that’s Mr. Flack, the butler. The great fool slipped over on the newly polished floor last night. Twisted his ankle something awful and can barely stand. That’s why I had to take in the earl’s supper last night and why Mr. Flack never checked on the master later in the evening. He had already taken to his bed. Phillips, the master’s valet, promised to look in but apparently fell to sleep while reading his book and didn’t stir again until this morning. He is the pale one dancing about like a showman’s puppet.” She rolled her eyes, clearly unimpressed by the valet’s antics at the entrance. “An unfortunate case of nerves. He was bad enough before but it has been a lot worse since he swears he saw a ghost in the hall a few weeks ago. Rubbish of course. I’ve been here years and I never saw any such thing before. Blame it on the drink.” She added as an aside. “We all do.”

Drink? Ash increased his pace towards the front door and dismissed the talk of ghosts as he noticed the valet’s red veined nose. There were more important things to consider than brandy conjured spectres walking Claiborne’s halls.

“You are sure the earl is dead? Has anyone called for a doctor, and the constable?” He took the steps two at a time with the woman lifting her skirts and puffing along behind him.

“Oh yes, my Lord. Dead as dead can be. Stiff and all! Doctor Finch has been here a while. He is in the study with Mathews, the constable, who is trying to assess the facts even now.” She reached the top step and caught her breath as Ash nodded at the man in the chair.

“Flack?” He waved the butler down as he winced while attempting to rise. “Has the doctor attended you?” Ash enquired at the man’s grimace of pain.

Flack took a glance up and down Ash’s huge frame before he shook his head.

“I think he is a little preoccupied, but Mrs. Grenfell has done her best, my Lord. I think rest is the only remedy now, thank you for asking, though I don’t think my ankle is of much importance today. Dreadful morning. Awful!”

Ash’s eyes wandered over the other curious staff. They stared back at him in wide-eyed terror as if fearing what he might do. Odd. It wasn’t as if he had murdered anyone. He looked back at the housekeeper as it became obvious that someone was missing from the gathering.

“Lady Madeleine? Is she being cared for?” Concern filled him even though he had never met the woman. He remembered how dreadful he had felt when his own father passed away so suddenly. And he hadn’t the added trauma of his father being murdered.

Mrs. Grenfell nodded.

“Gertrude is with her as we speak, my Lord, though I am not sure who is comforting whom. ‘Twas an awful thing. The maid came upon Phillips when he had only just discovered the body. Fairly screamed the house down when she saw the paperknife protruding from his chest, she did. And then there was Flack hobbling about and getting in everyone’s way. He caused nearly as much mayhem as Phillips by almost falling onto the body when his ankle would no longer support him. That’s when I insisted he sit on a chair out on the steps and wait for you to arrive.” Now over the initial shock, the woman appeared more excited than horrified.

Ash became even more alarmed.

“Good God! But who would do such a thing? And where is Lady Madeleine now?” He waited while Mrs. Grenfell walked briskly ahead of him, their footsteps echoing as they crossed the hall’s polished floor.

She stopped outside a heavy looking oak door.

“The doctor took Gertrude and the mistress to her room. I believe he gave both of them a sedative.” She placed her hand on the door knob and lowered her voice to a whisper. “As to who would do such a thing, well, let’s just put it like this. Thomas Leyman has disappeared. The stable master hasn’t been seen since he had an argument with the master early yesterday evening.” She cleared her throat, gave a quick knock, and opened the door. “Dr. Finch, Constable Mathews, may I present Benjamin Asher Derwent, the Sixth Earl of Claiborne,” she announced before letting Ash walk inside.

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