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The Question of the Wedding Pearls

Will death ruin the perfect wedding?

The Question of the Wedding Pearls

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Release Date : June 11, 2024

ISBN Number : 978-1-63632-231-5


Kindle Reader = Mobi
Others = Epub


Will death ruin the perfect wedding?

Bestselling author Patricia Rice brings you another haunting country house mystery in Regency England. . .

Spinster and secret novelist Clarissa Knightley and her gruff American engineer, Captain Huntley, along with their friend and cousin, the Honorable Jack de Sackville and Lady Elspeth, are to wed at last! In anticipation of the double wedding, friends and family are gathering at moldering Wycliffe Manor—until a dying stranger is discovered on the neglected grounds.

Despite the tragedy, aristocratic wedding guests, and their retinues, foreign and domestic, continue to arrive, not all by invitation. Compounding the bedlam, tales of missing pearls and ghostly encounters precede a second alarming death. Fearing that a killer lurks inside the manor walls, Clare and Hunt are swept up in a whirlwind of secret bigotries, deceit, and increasing peril. Before their family’s joyful plans veer into heartbreak, can they put an end to mayhem and catch a killer?

Gravesyde Priory Mysteries Book Four
With several million books in print and New York Times and USA Today’s lists under her belt, former CPA Patricia Rice is one of romance’s hottest authors. Her emotionally-charged romances have won numerous awards and been honored as RITA® finalists in the historical, regency and contemporary categories. She is thrilled to be expanding into mystery and urban fantasy.

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June 19, 1815

“Sleep, wake, eat, go to bed again. . . Is this what my life has become?” Dorothea Talbot dramatically read the passage from the late Lady Reid’s diary as if it were Shakespeare. “It sounds as if she’s prepared to do something dreadful.”

The slender heiress should have been dancing through London’s glittering ballrooms, not immersed in the tribulations of a lady from a prior century in a decrepit manor in rural Gravesyde Priory.

Copying her ink-splattered, cross-hatched manuscript onto a fresh page, Clare—Clarissa Knightley, soon to be Huntley—didn’t glance up at her drama-prone young cousin. The passage from the diary described her own boring life before she’d cast it off and taken up residence at Wycliffe Manor. After living through multiple deaths in a state of constant chaos these past months, Clare wondered if boredom might not be preferable.

Like Clare, Dorothea possessed most of the Reid family features: blond hair, widow’s peak, blue eyes, dimples, oddly attached earlobes, and backward thumb. The earls of Wycliffe had left their mark on their younger generations. But what ought to be the deciding factor, Clare had recently concluded, was eccentricity. She had thought it only her nephew and herself, but after finally meeting the rest of her family. . . They were simply not normal.

To prove her point, Dorothea continued, “I believe we have a ghost.”

“Fine, as long as I don’t have to invite it to her wedding , you might direct it to the east wing. The late viscountess will enjoy their company.” Clare continued copying pages. After bats, pistols, and murderers, ghosts didn’t score high on her fear scale.

Dottie didn’t leave. “You know about the spirits?”

With a sigh, Clare removed her spectacles and set down her pen. It was obvious her cousin wouldn’t leave until she had whatever she’d come in here for. “The lady’s perfume haunts us. It is in everything. May I help you?” She gestured at the diary.

“I think she is fretting. I do not generally have this strong an impression from those who have passed. I’m not certain what she expects.” Vaguely defiant, Dottie showed no sign of embarrassment at this admission to humbug.

Clare had dismissed the aloof heiress as a little too high in the instep for the mostly impoverished relations in the manor. But Dottie’s eight-year-old brother had accompanied her to the manor, and she had offered to help pay for the tutor, so Clare felt obliged to pay attention.

“How does one know that a ghost frets?” she asked, reasonably enough.

“It is just. . .” Dottie waved her hand helplessly. “A sensation that she paces, I think. If you are laughing at me, I will go away. I just thought it would be remiss not to mention it. Her anxiousness may mean an unwelcome intruder among our guests. Or staff—I believe we’ve recently hired more?”

Ah, the arrival of her unwanted former suitor as one of the wedding guests no doubt agitated Dottie, but if the chit wanted to blame the late viscountess. . . Clare really needed to find out more about the Comte Avignon—after the ceremony. “I have more than enough to do worrying about people I can see. I will leave you in charge of the unseen. If you discover the lady’s problem, we will do our utmost to help.”

Clare had yet to encounter ghosts, but that didn’t mean they didn’t happen. And if anyone could figure out how to return as a ghost, it would be a Reid, although the poor, unsuspecting viscountess had simply married into their insane family. That was probably enough to make one mad enough to return and haunt the next generation or three.

It wasn’t until Dottie bobbed a curtsy and departed that Clare wondered why her cousin had chosen to read that particular passage aloud. It did sound as if the viscountess had been in serious doldrums. She should have asked the date. They’d never learned exactly how Lady Reid had died, but she’d only been in her fifties, much too young to depart this mortal coil.

Given her own catastrophic life, Clare understood why her writing inclined toward the Gothic. Saving the heroine from villainy gave her a control she did not otherwise possess. But she wasn’t about to investigate a possible ancient crime now. She had quite enough on her plate juggling the ever-growing household and arriving guests, and hoping to finish copying her new manuscript before the wedding.

Less than a week to go. . . She blushed just thinking about Hunt’s increasingly ardent attentions. Bookish, plain, bespectacled, she’d never considered herself an object of desire, but her American fiancé apparently saw more in her than she did. She knew she was marrying an intelligent man, so she hoped that was Hunt’s wisdom and not his one eye showing him what wasn’t there.

First, she needed to send off this manuscript. The small income she received from her writing paid for her seven-year-old nephew’s tutor, in a roundabout sort of way. She didn’t dare tell anyone except her best friend and Hunt that she was a novelist writing under a male pseudonym. Her father’s rural, very conservative family would call her scandalous and try to remove Oliver from her care, as they had once before. So she had to pretend Oliver’s education was paid for by her grandmother’s trust, which barely paid living expenses. Like all their current residents, she’d found a safe haven in Wycliffe Manor.

Wishing Dottie hadn’t left the office door open. Clare returned to her copy work, ignoring the men going in and out through the courtyard door. .

A rising argument from the direction of the library, regrettably, could not be ignored. The last earl had left an immense library, knocking down walls and expanding the original space to include all the tomes he’d accumulated over his lifetime, plus all those from his ancestors. The earls bought books the same way they collected jewels.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on one’s viewpoint, the fourth earl of Wycliffe had been the last earl. After the death of his only son, he’d broken the entail, sold all his estates except the Reid ancestral pile, and consolidated all the libraries here, to the delight and consternation of many.

She locked away her pages and set out to calm troubled waters.

“My father was not mad,” Lady Lavinia was shouting as Clare arrived in the library doorway. Wearing her hair in a towering gray pompadour fashionable in her youth, the mole on her thin lips quivering, Clare’s great-aunt glared at the scholarly, white-haired Lord de Sackville in contempt. “He simply did not wish any jackanapes to come along and help themselves to the family treasures.”

Undeterredthe baron sat with one long leg crossed over his knee, inspecting a list on his writing desk and jotting notes. “Hiding a fortune in gems is mad. If he wished the family to have the family jewels, he should have added them to the estate inventory and stored them in a vault, as any sane man would.”

His lordship waved away the lady’s splutters. “One must be mad to be a Reid, sorry, my lady. My son is marrying a Reid heiress who prefers to work in a kitchen, so I’m not blind. Reids do not think as others do. If anyone knew that, the earl must have. He granted all his immediate heirs fortunes before he died, then left Wycliffe Manor to any and all family, knowing no one would live in this ancient isolation unless they were in dire need of funds. Genius is almost always mad, and I believe the earl was a genius. He has provided for future generations, well aware that his immediate heirs were unlikely to have anything to leave for their offspring.”

“Well, I never.” Lady Lavinia threw down copies of the earl’s eccentric map and rose to her narrow feet. She wore the full skirts of another era, and her high heels were visible. “My sons were never deprived of anything they needed.”

“Your sons died unfortunately early, my lady.” Clare took the dowager’s thin arm. “And the earl knew that and that Reid men don’t live long lives. And women and children suffer for their losses. He was a compassionate, understanding man.”

And a lunatic, but she didn’t need to say that.

“Hmpf.” Lady Lavinia shook her off. “If you’d marry well, as one must, you needn’t worry about finding what wasn’t meant to be found. I will admit, your Captain Huntley is a fine figure of a man, but looks don’t put food on the table.” She sailed off in the direction of the long gallery, where her granddaughter held sway. There was another argument in the works.

“I take it she cannot work out the puzzle,” Clare said dryly, glancing at the scattered pages her aunt had left on the library table.

“The painting codes are devilish,” the baron admitted. “I cannot even make out what order they’re meant to be read in. I thought perhaps if I could determine that, we could interpret the locations of the books faster. I do not wish to sell books that might hide further clues.”

They’d broken the codes concealed on two paintings from the gallery, using them to locate maps inside two old tomesThe earl had included a letter with one saying it was actually the fifth map. Neither of the drawings they possessed had been much more than a square with odd niches and an X outside the lines.

“One must assume the other maps are pieces of paper like the two we’ve found. It is easy to shuffle through pages to discover if anything is hidden. I’d rather translate the codes and find the books that way, not that I’m any good at it,” Clare said.

“That’s what I attempted to do,” the baron admitted.

“And Lady Lavinia thought to join you?” Odd. Her great-aunt generally preferred sitting in her upstairs salon, poking needles into cloth. . .

Like her granddaughter. Clare dithered in the doorway, wondering if she should follow the lady. Lavender was only seventeen, the result of a liaison between the Lady Lavinia’s young son and a maid. Lady Lavinia had sent Lavender to boarding school but never accepted her in any other manner.

“The baroness is looking for trouble,” the baron agreed. “You should allow her to meddle more in the weddings, perhaps.”

“Elsa has a menu prepared for the breakfast. Henri is cleaning up the tavern in preparation for entertaining the village. I cannot imagine what she might do to aid in the cause.” Sleep, wake, eat, go to bed again. . . Clare heard the late viscountess’s plaintive cry.

Lady Lavinia needed occupation. Lavender would fling her grandmother out of the sewing room the way the baroness had flung Lavender’s mother out of the house. Why, oh why, did she have to be the mediator?

She had to prevent the aunts from driving away Jack’s bibliophile father. They needed the baron to finish preparing for the book auction meant to help pay the mortgage. Their elderly, aristocratic aunts were quite capable of driving anyone to madness. So much for finishing her copy.

With a sigh, Clare sailed off to take part in combat.

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