Have you pre-ordered BONFIRE NIGHT yet, chickens? This is the fourth and final digital novella featuring our intrepid Victorian sleuth! It publishes November 3, just in time for the actual holiday of Bonfire Night. (There are currently no plans by my former publisher to release the Lady J novellas in print although two previous novellas are being prepared for audio release. I hope the rest of the Julia novellas will follow!)
As a little peek into what you’ll get with BONFIRE NIGHT, I’m posting the first five pages today!
“Julia, how did you misplace the baby? Again?” my sister asked with more than a touch of asperity.
I gave her the most dignified look I could muster under the circumstances. “I did not misplace him,” I informed her in lofty tones. “I forgot him.” The fact that this was now the fourth time I had walked into the park with the child and left without him was mortifying—and not something my siblings would let me soon forget.
“Oh, that makes it quite all right then,” chimed in our brother Plum. I put my tongue out at him, but before I could form a suitable reply, my husband spoke.
“It’s my fault entirely,” he said, his voice silken. “Julia was generous enough to take on a case of some delicacy. She was rather preoccupied with breaking the alibi of a jewel thief.”
Plum twitched in his chair. “The Enderby case? I thought that was put to bed last week,” he protested. The theft of the Enderby opals was the most important investigation that my husband had allowed Plum to undertake on his own authority. He had been single-minded in his pursuit of the culprit—so much so that Lady Enderby’s maid had nearly been arrested for the theft after only an hour’s investigation.
I smiled sweetly at my brother. “Yes, the maid was the most obvious thief, wasn’t she? But the solution seemed a little too simple to Brisbane. He refused to have her arrested until I had spoken with her.”
Plum flushed pink to his ears and shot an accusing look at Brisbane. “It was my case,” he repeated.
“And it was mishandled,” my husband returned coolly. “The case against the girl was damning, but I was not persuaded.”
“She confessed,” Plum retorted, his jaw set stubbornly. But the more enraged he became, the calmer Brisbane remained. It was a trick I had seen him employ a thousand times, and usually upon me. Brisbane had learnt long ago the most effective way of handling any member of the March family was to remain utterly unmoved in the face of strong emotion. Goading him out of his sang-froid was one of my favourite pastimes, but my decidedly intimate methods would never work for my brother, I reflected with a delicate frisson of remembered passion.
“She confessed because she is French and therefore away from her home, her country, her friends. She told me about the accusations you lobbed at her,” I chided. “You practically called her a thief the moment you sat her down. What did you expect her to do?”
“I expected her to tell the truth,” he said.
“Careful,” Portia warned. “Plum’s getting into a pet and you know his sulking puts me off my food.”
I waved a hand. “If we have dinner at all, you may count yourselves fortunate. The workmen have moved into the kitchens and twice this week Brisbane and I have dined on bananas.”
“Why bananas?” Portia asked.
“Gift from a grateful client,” Brisbane returned. “His Excellency the ambassador of the Emir of Ranapurcha was very generous with them. We have forty pounds left.”
Portia blinked. “He gave you forty pounds of bananas?”
“You misunderstood, dearest,” I corrected. “We have forty pounds remaining. There were one hundred to begin with. Mrs. Lawson has put them into, salads, sauces, soufflés—I think at one unfortunate meal she even managed to make them into soup.”
“Do not remind me,” Brisbane put in with a curl of his handsome mouth. “It was grey.”
I went on. “But she has left us at last, bound for a peaceful retirement at her sister’s cottage in Weymouth, and we are left with a new cook and a larder full of ripe bananas.”
“That explains the smell,” Plum said. He still looked a trifle sulky, and I knew he was not over his mood. His next remark confirmed it. “So,” he said, fixing me with a gleeful look, “you were telling us about losing the baby. Again.”
I cursed him inwardly. Plum had only ever been third favourite amongst my brothers, and I was reminded why. He was always a little too quick to find my soft spots and prod them. Pointedly.
Portia sat forward, her expression avid. “Yes, I only ever forgot Jane once, and that was because I saw the most delicious first edition of Bacon’s essays in the window of a bookshop. I left her pram on the pavement without a thought.”
Plum snorted. “You’ve never pushed a pram in your life. You left the nanny is more like it.”
Portia’s gaze was glacial. “The nanny’s presence was immaterial. I still forgot the child. Although,” she added, turning to me, “I’ve never forgot her four times.”
I looked to Brisbane. “I can’t decide if she is trying to defend me or accuse me,” I told him.
“A little of both,” he decided. “She wants you to know that she sympathises with your peccadillo but would never be quite so daft as to commit it herself. At least not four times.”
“That’s very helpful,” I said with a dangerous smile. He smiled back, and there was intimacy in that smile and a promise of something delightful yet to come.
“Stop staring at your husband, Julia,” my sister instructed. “You’ve gone pink as a virgin and it’s unseemly.”
Plum spluttered into his whisky, but Brisbane remained unperturbed.
Portia turned back to me. “And you never answered Plum’s question. How did you manage to forget Jack?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. If I knew why I did it, I could stop. But it just happens. I will take him out for some air and then start wool-gathering about something. Before I know it, I’m somewhere entirely new and he’s nowhere to be found.”
“Thank God for Morag,” Plum said fervently.
“Yes, thank God for Morag,” I echoed, my voice tight. The fact that my lady’s maid had taken it upon herself to act as nanny to the child was both a godsend and the rankest betrayal. She had served me faithfully for five years, and while I would cheerfully have cut her throat a dozen times a day, I had taken her defection badly. But it had been love at first sight between Morag and the baby, and I did not have the heart to keep her from him. From the day Brisbane and I had agreed to bring up the child as our own, Morag had been there, coddling and crooning, securing the best wet nurse and jealously guarding her Little Jack as she insisted upon calling him. My only consolation was that it meant her incessant mooning over Brisbane was a thing of the past. She had transferred her affections to his tiny half-brother, the child Brisbane and I had brought into our house after we could make none of our own.
“Morag as devoted watchdog,” Portia said in a state of wonder. “It still doesn’t quite bear thinking about. What a journey she has had. Whitechapel prostitute to lady’s maid to the daughter of an earl, and now nanny to the little foundling.” My lips tightened and Portia flapped a hand. “Don’t pull a face, darling. I call Jane the Younger the same. Who would have guessed it? That we two should become mothers to other women’s children?”
“Who indeed?” I said. I put on a deliberately cheerful face. “Now, who is ready for dinner? I think the banana sandwiches must be ready by now.”