indeed, people fell over themselves to make up for their guilt at having been suspicious and their social cowardice at the time. But for all that, Society still required that widows be seen to mourn, especially those of men from old and titled families such as the Ashworths. The fact that Emily was not yet thirty would not in any way excuse her from remaining at home, receiving only relatives, and wearing unrelieved black. She must not attend any social functions that might appear frivolous or enjoyable, and she must maintain an attitude of gravity at all times.

She was finding it almost unendurable. To begin with, as soon as George’s murderer was found and the matter closed, she had gone into the country with Edward, to be alone and spend her time helping him to understand the death of his father and his own new position. With the autumn she had returned to the city, but all the usual parties, operas, balls, and soirees were closed to her. The friends who did call on her were sober to the point of stultification, and no one gossiped or discussed fashion or the latest play, or who was flirting with whom, considering those topics too trivial to disturb her grief. The time Emily spent sitting at home writing letters, playing the piano, or stitching endless needlework felt like a constant scraping of the skin, the source of a raging discontent.

Naturally Charlotte had invited Emily to come for Christmas with Edward, who would find the company of other children the best present of all.

But what about after Christmas? Emily would have to return to the Ashworth town house, alone and bored to tears!

And to tell the truth, as deeply as she loved her home and her children, six months of uninterrupted domesticity was beginning to hang a little heavily on Charlotte also. She had asked Pitt about his new case with more than wifely concern-there was as well a desire for adventure in the question.

The following evening, Charlotte prepared her ground a little more carefully. She waited until after dinner, when they were sitting in front of the parlor fire; the children were long in bed, and she was carefully stitching butterfly ornaments to put on the Christmas tree.

“Thomas,” she began casually. “If the case is really nothing of importance-just a formality, as you said-do you think you will be able to leave it over Christmas?” She did not look up, keeping her eyes on her thread and the delicate gossamer she was sewing.

“I. .” He hesitated. “I think there may be more to it than I supposed.”

Charlotte kept her curiosity subdued with great difficulty. “Oh dear. How is that?”

“A burglary that is hard to understand.”

“Oh.” This time she did not need to pretend indifference. Burglaries were impersonal, the loss of possessions held no interest for her. “What was stolen?”

“Two miniatures, a vase, a paperweight, and a first-edition book,” he replied.

“What is difficult to understand about that?” Then she looked up and found him smiling. “Thomas?” Instantly she knew there was more, an element of mystery or concealed emotion.

“The son of the house disturbed the burglar and was killed.” His eyes were steady on hers, speculative. He was amused by her curiosity and her attempts to disguise it, yet he respected her perceptiveness. “And none of the stolen articles ever turned up,” he finished.

“Yes?” Without realizing it she had let her sewing fall. “Thomas!”

He slid down into his chair, crossing his legs comfortably, and told her what he knew, adding Ballarat’s warning about discretion and the reputations that could be ruined, and the information that the Foreign Office had mislaid.

“Mislaid?” she repeated the word skeptically. “Do you mean stolen?”

“I don’t know. I don’t suppose I ever will. If information was taken it would have been copied, not removed. If Robert York had papers in his house, that might have been what the burglar was after, and he merely took the other things to cover up the fact. More likely it had nothing to do with it.”

She took up her sewing again, setting it on the side table so she should not lose the needle. “But what in goodness’ name does the Foreign Office expect of you?” she pressed. “If there is a spy, isn’t it desperately important he should be caught, quite apart from his having murdered poor Robert York?”

“I daresay he has been,” he said ruefully. “And the Foreign Office wishes to keep quiet about it. What they really want is for us to test their skill, make sure the mislaid information is hidden beyond recall. It will do our reputation in the world little good to make such things public. Or perhaps there never was anything missing.”

“Do you believe that?” she challenged.

“No. But it may have been carelessness more than deceit.”

“What are you going to do about Robert York’s murder? Someone killed him.”

“Follow the burglary as far as I can,” he said with a slight shrug.

“What is the widow like?” Charlotte was not willing to let it go yet. There must be something interesting that she could relay to Emily.

“I don’t know. I have had no excuse yet to call on her without making her suspicious, and that is the last thing the Foreign Office wishes. It would immediately raise all sorts of ugly questions. You haven’t mentioned Jack Radley lately. Is Emily still keeping his acquaintance?”

That was a matter much closer to Charlotte’s heart, and she was prepared to abandon the unpromising mystery for it. Jack Radley had begun as a diversion, someone Emily had flirted with to prove to George that she could be every bit as charming, as poised, as witty as her rival. As the events of the case progressed he had become a prime suspect. But Jack had turned out to be a generous friend, far less superficial and self-seeking than his reputation had led Emily to believe. He had no money and fewer prospects. The obvious thought, unkind as it might be, was that he pursued Emily for the wealth she had inherited on George’s death. His success with women was well known; his vanity might have led him to murder George, then court Emily and marry her.

He had proved to be quite innocent of any crime, but he was still far from the suitor Society would have wished for Emily when the time was right. Certainly their mother would be appalled!

None of that bothered Charlotte greatly: whatever people thought, it could not possibly be worse than what they had thought of Charlotte herself for marrying a policeman! Jack Radley was impecunious, but he was very definitely a gentleman; policemen barely ranked above bailiffs and ratcatchers. But was Jack Radley capable of love? To imagine that everyone was, if only given the right companion, was a romantic mistake that was very easily made. But it was still a mistake. Many people desire no more than a convention- the sharing of a home, a social position, children, and the wider family; they do not wish to share their thoughts or their leisure, above all they do not wish to reveal their inner selves, where dreams are held, where they may be known, and thus wounded. They will not take risks. In the end there is no generosity of soul, only safety. There is no giving where there may be cost. Regardless of his charm or his wit, his warm and friendly manner, if Jack Radley was one of these, in the end he would bring Emily only pain. And Charlotte would do everything in her power to prevent that.

“Charlotte?” Pitt interrupted her thoughts, a little sharply. The answer mattered to him also. He was very fond of Emily, too, and he understood how it would hurt her if Charlotte’s unspoken fear were justified.

“I think so,” she said quickly. “We haven’t spoken of him much lately, we have been so busy discussing Christmas. She is bringing a goose, and mince puddings.”

He sank a little lower in the chair and stretched his feet towards the fire. “I think if you want to play detective”-he looked up at her through his lashes-“you would do more good exercising your judgment on Jack Radley than speculating about Mrs. York.”

She gave him no argument. What he said was undoubtedly true, and although he phrased it gently, it was something in the nature of a command. Beneath his comfortable sprawl and his light manner, Pitt was worried.

However, Charlotte had every intention of combining the two. She could think of no more effective way of seeing enough of Emily to be able to exercise her judgment, as Thomas had said, than to encourage her to play detective in another case. At Christmas, any discussion or judgment would be next to impossible, but later, if Charlotte were to visit Emily at her home, where she might meet Jack Radley herself, she might be in a position to form a more valid opinion of him without being obvious about it.

She was ready, her plan prepared, when Emily called the following morning, a little after eleven. She came straight into the kitchen in a whirl of black barathea trimmed with black fox fur up to her chin, her fair hair coiled under a sweeping black hat. For a moment Charlotte was envious; the expensive coat looked so indescribably elegant. Then she remembered the reason her sister wore black and was instantly ashamed. Emily looked pale, apart from the spots of color stung into her cheeks by the ice on the wind, and there were gray smudges under her

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