Chapter One


Fifth June 1819

“Why the devil did you purchase a sapphire ring?” Kenneth Davenport mused aloud, noting the date on the invoice from Phillip’s Jewelry Store happened to be one day prior to his brother’s death.

Alfred, the seventh Viscount Berwick had perished in his bed nearly a fortnight ago, thus rendering Kenneth the eighth viscount. The attending physician had deemed the cause of death asphyxia brought on by intoxication, which was further confirmed by the coroner. But Kenneth believed differently. Not that Alfred didn’t enjoy his liquor. Quite the contrary. However, the former viscount wasn’t merely one-and-thirty, he had been fit and well in control of his faculties. Alfred had a passion for horse racing and had acquired the Kiedler Equine Estate in northern England, one of the foremost horse training facilities in the Kingdom. He was an accomplished rider and could handle a team as well as any coachman running the mail up the Great North Road. The former viscount had been shrewd, determined, and imposing.

Seated at his brother’s writing table, which was now Kenneth’s writing table, strategically placed by the south-facing window to take best advantage of daylight, he set the invoice for the sapphire ring onto the pile deemed “of interest” opposed to the pile which was not. He then tugged the bell pull.

Brown stepped inside and clasped his hands over his black coat, clearing his throat. “You rang, my lord?”

Kenneth shuddered. Never in all his days did he anticipate answering to “my lord.” The title of viscount had fit Alfred so well. “I’m surprised to see you’re still here,” he replied dryly.

The butler’s… or soon to be former butler’s hedgerow of eyebrows slanted inward. “Sir?”

“What with your inheritance, I thought you’d have your valise packed by now.”

“Not at all, sir.”

“Are you planning to remain in service?” Kenneth asked, unphased by Brown’s baffled expression. Alfred had bequeathed the man with a rather handsome sum. Though it wasn’t unusual for an employer to provide their elderly servants with a pension, the former viscount had been exceedingly generous in this instance, which had moved the butler to the top of Kenneth’s list of murder suspects.

“Service, sir?”

“Surely you cannot tell me you haven’t plans for your inheritance?”

The man’s shoulders fell as he sighed. “I’ve scarcely had time to consider your brother’s generous bequest. Besides, I have no intention of doing anything with the coin until you are comfortably settled and content with my replacement.”

Interesting, though such selflessness did not remove Brown from the list, especially since after a bit of investigation, there appeared to be no other servants who might have had a motive to dispatch their employer. “Tell me,” Kenneth said, probing for any sign of guilt, “if I were to find a butler with whom I am satisfied in the next fortnight, what would you do? Where would you go?”

“Well, sir, as you are aware, I’m getting on in years and have always thought it would be nice to retire to the country— to Surrey where I spent my childhood. Perhaps purchase a small cottage and a dinghy.”

“Dinghy?” Kenneth asked.

“For fishing.”

A rather unpretentious endeavor over which to commit murder. But that wasn’t why Kenneth had rung the bell. Honestly, he’d thought Mrs. Fielding the housekeeper would have answered his call, but that was neither here nor there. He gestured toward the invoice at the top of his “of interest” pile. “Were you aware Alfred purchased a sapphire ring the day before he died?”

Again, Brown appeared to be utterly bewildered. “A ring, sir?”

“That’s what I said.”

“For whom?”

Kenneth clenched his chair’s armrests. “You’re not aware? You served my brother for years, for heaven’s sake.”

Brown tapped a gnarled finger against his chin. “He did attend a great number of balls this Season. Far more than usual.”

A-ha, perhaps he’d happened upon a tidbit of a clue. “Do you know if he was courting any young ladies?”

“It wasn’t my place to pry, sir. And you are aware of how private His Lordship was. He rarely told me the specifics about where he might be off to, day or night. Only by his attire and the reports in the newspaper did I surmise where he had been.”

“What about Alfred’s valet? He was not among the servants I interviewed upon my arrival in London.” Which was a fortnight ago. As soon as Kenneth had received word of his brother’s passing, he and his manservant hastened for London. And once he arrived, he hadn’t a moment’s rest what with the funeral arrangements and all the rigmarole necessary for assuming a peerage.

“He sailed for America six month’s past,” Brown replied.

“Did he depart service in good standing?”

“Quite good, I’d say. I believe the former viscount gave him two months’ severance.”

“Generous of him.” Kenneth drummed his fingers. “Have you heard from the valet since he set sail?”

“Yes, sir. He wrote a fine letter to His Lordship, which he gave us to read below stairs. The chap met a woman on the ship and married her— purchased a bit of land in Delaware.”

Clues be damned. “Did anyone step in as Alfred’s valet?”

“I did, sir. After all, I was the valet to your father before I was promoted to butler.”

Kenneth knew this, of course. And as far as he could recall, Brown had been a most loyal servant to the viscountcy. “Did doing so not deter you from your duties?”

“Not really. Lord Berwick the former only required the attention of a valet in the mornings and when he was planning to go out in the evening. He preferred to be left alone once he returned from his social engagements— if he returned. Moreover, since Lord Berwick the former was a bachelor, he rarely entertained. Things have been rather quiet since your parents were laid to rest and the two of you flew the nest, as it were.” Brown leaned forward as if he had a secret. “May I speak freely, sir?”

Hoping for a declaration of guilt, Kenneth leaned in as well. “Yes, please do.”

“This whole unfortunate turn of events just doesn’t seem plausible, does it? For your brother to perish in his bed— a man full of youth and vitality. I cannot understand it.”

Neither could Kenneth. Hence the very reason for sifting through his brother’s correspondence. And was why he critically was examining the character of the servants who had been in the employ of the viscountcy for years. “Hypothetically, let us assume skullduggery is afoot.”

Brown gave a discerning nod while jowls reminiscent of a bloodhound jostled.

“Can you think of anyone who might have benefited from Alfred’s death?”

The butler puzzled for a moment, then straightened and clapped a hand over his heart. “Surely, you do not think I had anything to do with His Lordship’s passing?”

Kenneth narrowed his gaze. Why had Brown jumped to such a sudden conclusion? True, he had known the butler all his life and the man had served his family well. But no stone could be left unturned. “Were you aware Alfred had included you in his will— you and not one of the other servants?”

“No, sir. I had absolutely no idea until you told me yourself. Surely, you recall how astonished I was at the time of the reading— after all, it was only yesterday,” Brown replied, his face utterly blanched.

True, the butler had been unduly shocked, or at least it appeared that way. Now Kenneth wasn’t entirely convinced. “I wonder… ” he said, drumming his fingers against his lips. “Did my brother have a mistress?”

“No, sir.”


“No one of whom I was aware.”

“Yet you are also unaware as to whether or not he was courting a young lady?”

“Correct, sir.”

“Very well.” Kenneth picked up the next bit of paper— an invoice for the stabling of Alfred’s horse at the Epsom Derby which had been held in Surrey. “I was surprised to read in the papers that Venom didn’t win the Derby this year. He was favored, was he not?”

“Yes, he was, sir. And I’ll say His Lordship was very out of sorts afterward. Horses were one thing the viscount loved to discuss, especially when taking his breakfast.”

Kenneth couldn’t argue that, what with Alfred’s purchase of Kiedler Equine. “Did you travel to Surrey for the race?”

“I did, at His Lordship’s request.”

Kenneth watched the butler’s expression as he casually replied, “What a good opportunity to enquire about properties for sale.”

A pinch formed between Brown’s eyebrows. “I do not believe the viscount was looking to buy property.”

“I wasn’t referring to my brother— what with you planning to retire to Surry with a dingy and whatnot.”

Brown again clasped his hands over his coat, his white gloves pristine. “I assure you I had no prior knowledge of the monies bequeathed to me. We are all bereft. Perhaps you might feel better after a warm brandy or— ”

“No. Thank you.” For a moment, Kenneth mulled over whether or not to dismiss the butler forthwith and send him off to Surrey but decided against doing so. Of course, he could make do as he always had with his manservant, Welch. But until he uncovered the true cause of Alfred’s death, he needed Brown close at hand, under close surveillance as well.

After the butler was dismissed, Kenneth locked the items from the “pile of interest” into the top drawer of the writing table. He then took it upon himself to rifle through every nook and cranny of the town house in search of the sapphire ring. When all else failed, he lowered himself to his hands and knees and peered under Alfred’s enormous four-poster bed. To his chagrin, the cavern beneath was too dark to see a thing.

He stood and turned full circle, eyeing the copper bed warmer propped against the enormous black-marble hearth. He swiftly removed the wooden handle, then keeled again and swept the tool in an arc beneath the bed, first toward the headboard, and then toward the foot.

“I’ll be damned,” he said, sweeping a velvet box out from beneath the edge of the coverlet.

Kenneth’s fingers trembled as he opened the oval box, the sight making every muscle in his body clench, his face burn with fire, and his eyes nearly bulge out of their sockets. “Alfred’s death was no case of asphyxia.” He enclosed the empty box in his fist. “And this bloody proves it!”

Lady Modesty MacGalloway gathered Poseidon’s reins in her left hand before climbing onto the mounting block.

“I think it is time for ye to start racing against an opponent,” said Mr. Willett, her trainer— a man she had met at the Epsom Derby, and the only person she trusted to keep her secret— aside from her lady’s maid, whom Modesty trusted with everything.

Before she mounted the bay thoroughbred, she glanced through the stable’s long corridor, lined with stalls on either side, each one containing a prized racehorse. An opponent? “Are you training other women?”

“No, ye’re the only one.”

She bit her bottom lip. Modesty would give her right arm to race beside a proven jockey. But then again, allowing anyone aside from Mr. Willett to know her secret bore a monumental risk. “Do you reckon ’tis safe?”

“There are one or two fellas I trust, but aye. There would be a small fee, of course.”

It was Sunday. At noon. Not only did jockeys rest on Sundays, all the stable hands took their nooning at the Lion’s Den down the road a wee bit. This was the only day of the week upon which Modesty could train. The only hour as well. Women weren’t allowed on the track. Not that anyone would know she was a woman by her snug-fitting white breeches, red silk shirt, and jockey’s cap, which was tied beneath her chin with ribbon because she had far too much hair for the wee bonnet to fit snugly.

“Besides,” said Mr. Willett, giving her knee a slap. “Ye look like a jockey. Ride better than most as well.”

Modesty beamed. Ever since she had been given a pony at the age of five she had been enamored with horses. But only when the patriarch of the family, Martin MacGalloway, the Duke of Dunscaby, allowed her to accompany him to the track in Surrey did she realize she was already in love with racing. “Just dunna tell my brother— or Mama, for that matter. When it comes to behavior befitting young ladies, they both have no sense of humor whatsoever.”

“I doubt I’ll ’ave the honor. The only nobility who visit the practice track are those who are in the ’orse trade— though they mostly give their ’orses a cursory glance before leaving them in the hands of their trainers.”

Modesty slipped the toes of her wellingtons into the iron stirrups. “Well, I endure my fill of nobility quite enough aside from our noon hours on Sundays.”

“I imagine you do.”

She raised the reins and cued Poseidon to walk on toward the track.

Mr. Willett kept pace alongside them. “What shall it be today? Eight Furlongs? Six?”

“The Derby is one-and-a-half miles,” she said.

“One mile, four furlongs, and ten yards,” Mr. Willett corrected.

She tossed her head. “Which is one-and-a-half miles, mind you.”

“It is at that, milady.” As they stopped on the track, he wrapped his fingers around Poseidon’s bridle. “Tell me, what is the one thing upon which you need to focus?”

There were many things, actually, the first being not to fall off her tiny saddle, made smaller to keep the weight Poseidon must bear to a minimum. But Modesty’s seat was sure. “Heels down, crouch low so the wind glides over my back, eyes straight ahead, and… ” She chewed her bottom lip. Even if she was wearing jockey’s clothing, it wasn’t proper to speak of certain parts of one’s anatomy.

“That was several things, all of which ye’ve mastered. If ye want to ride like the wind, keep your backside up.” Mr. Willett smacked her hip. “I’ll tell ye true, every jockey who ’as learned to raise his arse in the air increases his odds tenfold. Ye’re training to be a jockey, are ye not?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Then ye’d best ride like one else you may as well go back to your sidesaddle and parade through ’yde Park with the ladies.”

Modesty chuckled to herself. The man always talked as if she actually did have a chance to become a jockey. She was certainly small enough. She didn’t even need to bind her breasts because her corset took care of making her bosoms appear flat— unless she was dressing for a ball, at which time her lady’s maid managed to miraculously produce cleavage. But small breasts or nay, she had engaged Mr. Willett to indulge in something for herself— something she’d dreamed about, something aside from the endless parade of balls, tea parties, soirees, recitals, the opera… though Modesty did find Shakespeare riveting.

Nonetheless, things had grown rather disconcerting when both she and her closest friend Kitty were introduced at court for the commencement of their first Season. It seemed everyone considered Kitty to be one of the darlings of the ton while the only callers Modesty had received were parasites on the hunt for an easy fortune. Well, she had no intention of allowing some ne’er-do-well to take her dowry and lose it at the card tables in a horrid gambling hell.

At the practice track, all thoughts of her rather disastrous first Season blew away on the wind as she took Poseidon through his paces, warming up with a trot, gradually urging him faster until he transitioned to a canter. By the time the horse was ready to gallop, Mr. Willett had marched across the paddock to the half-mile mark, Modesty’s cue to ride to the starting line.

Even without any competition, the thoroughbred snorted and tossed his head, skittering sideways in his excitement to break into a run. “Easy, laddie,” she said, patting his neck and holding the reins firmly to prevent him from lurching forward.

With his pocket watch in hand, Mr. Willett blew his whistle while Modesty dug in her heels and slapped her crop, leaning over Poseidon’s withers as she had been taught. Her eyes teared up with the force of the wind at her face but, by the stars, it felt liberating. Riding on the back of a horse with no restrictions and no hampering conventions was the closest thing to unabashed freedom Modesty had ever experienced. Years of lessons in etiquette sloughed away. The shackles of her highborn birth didn’t matter. The circumstances of being the youngest of eight children was momentarily forgotten as the thrill of commanding the fastest animal ever to set hooves onto a racetrack rushed through her blood like a sip of whisky on an empty stomach (which she had nipped once from her brother’s decanter).

“Get your arse up!” hollered Mr. Willett.

Jolting with her trainer’s correction, she pushed her heels down, taking all her weight onto her thighs, the motion making her lurch so far forward, Poseidon’s wind-blown mane tickled her chin.

“That’s it!” he shouted as she thundered past, the thrill of his compliment bolstering her confidence, making her demand more speed.

As they galloped around the bend and headed down the straight, a man stepped onto the track— not a worker, but a man dressed like a dandy— Wellington top hat, gleaming hessians over a pair of skintight pantaloons, and a double-breasted coat with tails.

Gasping, Modesty slowed Poseidon, though it was impossible to immediately make him stop. After her initial tug, she eased the reins, allowing the horse to naturally slow to a canter and then to a trot while Mr. Willett marched back across the paddock, fists tight at his sides. “What the devil are you doing Modesty— ah, er… Master Modistie,” he improvised, obviously flummoxed at seeing the gentleman who so rudely interrupted her lesson.

Modesty clamped her lips shut and shrugged as she inclined her head toward the unwanted visitor.

“I beg your pardon, I hope I am not interrupting your practice,” said the intruder. Was that ginger hair peeking beneath the rim of his hat? “I couldn’t find anyone in the stables and I’ve come to enquire about my late brother’s horse.”

She pulled the brim of her cap lower as Mr. Willett slipped his watch into the pocket of his waistcoat. “If ye tell me the name of the ’orse, I might be able to ’elp ye, sir.”


Modesty emitted a high-pitched gasp before she thought to hold it in. The gentleman shifted his gaze her way as she clapped a hand over her mouth. His eyes were pale blue, the intensity of his stare rather disconcerting. But then again, everyone knew this man’s brother had recently passed away. Breaking the polarizing connection between their gazes, Modesty glanced to the black mourning ribbon around the man’s arm. The papers had reported Alfred Davenport was survived by a younger brother.

So, this is the new viscount? He certainly is not as handsome as the former had been.

But the man’s appearance aside, she had attended the Derby— and it was won by an outsider. Furthermore, the papers reported rumors indicating there might be skullduggery afoot, which were heartily refuted by the Jockey Club.

Mr. Willett bowed with a flourish. “Forgive me, Lord Berwick. Please accept my condolences for your loss.”

“Thank you. Alfred’s passing was met with quite a shock.” His Lordship gestured toward the stables. “May I see the horse?”

“Of course, sir. Straightaway.” The trainer leveled his gaze at Modesty. “I’m afraid we’ll ’ave to cut your lesson short, mil— er— Master Mod— er— ah— istie.”

Wonderful. Mr. Willett had suddenly turned into a numpty of the highest order. Unless she held forth with a modicum of confidence, every member of polite society might be made aware that a woman was seen putting a racehorse through his paces. “Aye, sir,” she said, affecting a deep, masculine voice.

After waiting for the men to enter the barn first, Modesty made quick work of returning Poseidon to his stall. She removed the saddle— something always done by the grooms at home, though a task she loved doing herself. In truth, Modesty often felt more at ease in a barn than she did in a parlor or at a ball. Horses didn’t judge a person by their appearance, they judged them by their character, and whether or not the beasties deemed their humans worthy of respect.

Fortunately, she and Poseidon had struck up an immediate bond as if he knew she was his human from the moment they’d said hello. When they were introduced, she didn’t try to mount him or take charge, she just accepted the lead line from the groom and breathed in the horse’s scent, whispering a hello, and complimenting his beauty. As Poseidon began to relax, she had rested her forehead against his shoulder, spending at least an hour stroking him, whispering compliments all the while.

After stowing the saddle, Modesty donned a leather work apron and set to brushing her horse while the conversation Mr. Willett was having with Lord Berwick carried through the walls.

“He’s a beauty. My brother was confident he’d win the Derby.”

“’Twas a fluke if ye ask me. Ye are aware the former Viscount Berwick asked the Jockey Club stewards to perform a tooth check after the race to confirm the winner’s age.”

Modesty’s brush stilled. The papers hadn’t elaborated about the specifics of His Lordship’s concern. They’d merely insinuated the winner was an unknown and a last-minute substitution— which was enough cause for consternation in itself.

“I had no idea,” responded the viscount, his voice quite deep, stirringly resonant as well. “How did the stewards respond?”

“They swept ’is Lordship’s request aside— said it was bad form and whatnot.”

“I’ll wager Alfred wasn’t happy to be refused.”

“Furious ’e was, so he sacked Venom’s jockey.”

“Truly?” A heavy pause hung in the air. “Tell me, who owned the outsider?”

“That would be Mr. Ward Crockford— proprietor of Waiter’s Gentleman’s Club on Bolton Row. Do ye know of it?”

Modesty had certainly heard of the men’s-only haunt, run by a corrupt and deceitful fiend— according to the Lady’s Magazine.

“A gambling hell?” asked the viscount, his inflection filled with disdain.

“Aye, but an ’ighbrow one. ‘Crocky the Shark’ was the son of a fishmonger— grew up among the squalid surrounds in Temple Bar but ye’d never know if ye ’ad a peek at the finery of Waiter’s. I reckon ’tis as fancy as Carlton ’ouse.”

While the men’s conversation lingered on, Modesty slipped into her full-length pelisse and fastened the buttons, then removed her cap and replaced it with a bonnet. Once again dressed as herself, she hastened outside to a waiting hackney, which was driven by a man whom she paid handsomely to ferry her to and from the racetrack every Sunday. His payment, of course, was in lieu of his silence.

Before the hack got underway, however, Lord Berwick appeared on the footpath. Again their gazes met. Her initial gasp was quickly replaced by a schooled purse to her lips, and rather than allow His Lordship to stare, Modesty closed the curtain and blocked the man from her sight.

End of Chapter One

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