Enjoy an Excerpt from Once Upon Her Honor, a Victorian Second Chance Romance
Once Upon Her Honor
Shadowing London Book 3
A Victorian Second Chance Romance
Ten years ago, if you had told her that her life would be forever changed from one moment in a book shop, Lady Emily Black would not have believed you in the slightest.
But it’s not as if one could schedule the moment when one might overhear the plotting of a murder.
Of the one person she held most dear.
Of the one person who had ever been able to touch her very soul.
The murder of Professor Xavier Mesmer.
In the six years of her self exile, she’d grown very good at not reacting. So as she stood in Barnaby’s Books of London, perusing a copy of Hector Lamire’s latest treatise on the refraction of light through concave lenses, she did not react in the slightest. Her breath did not hitch, and her gaze did not wander. Any passer by would think her thoroughly engrossed in the book opened in her hands.
But just then, Emily could not have read a single word of it if her very life depended on it. For she didn’t see the book at all. As soon as she’d heard his name — Xavier Mesmer — just the whisper of it, scuttled about in the quiet of a bookshop on Marlborough Street, it was enough to have her mind careening across time to that moment so long ago. A moment that should have faded with the passage of years, but no matter how hard she tried to will it, it cruelly remained as perfect and fresh as a newly laundered gown.
The moment when Professor Xavier Mesmer had saved her life.
The moment when she had fallen to the ground, her hands pressed to the wound in his leg to staunch the flow of blood. The crimson stream that bubbled up through her fingers, spilling over her hands and into the wet grass of morning.
That was all she could see when she heard the name Professor Xavier Mesmer, and so it was that she did not move. For she couldn’t. That was the power Xavier had had on her. Even through a fading memory, he could stop her dead.
She forced herself to blink, opened her senses to the space around her, pulling herself back from that long ago memory.
The sound of rain came first, crashing against the front windows of Barnaby’s, rushing to her ears like a swarm of startled birds. Then came the ticking clock. A monstrosity Mrs. Barnaby had acquired in Switzerland and which she’d foisted off on Mr. Barnaby for keeping time in his shop.
Then, oddly enough, a smell. A smell came to her next. The strong odor of wet wool and camphor. The wet wool she could explain as it was raining, but it was the mixture of the two that struck a wary cord deep in her memory.
But reality was coming too quickly now, and she couldn’t stop to ponder it. For now she heard the men who had been speaking. The men who conversed on the topic of murder.
As her family was plagued with spies for the British crown and detective inspectors for the Metropolitan Police, the mention of murder had little effect on her. It was as if someone had made a comment on runny eggs. So she turned a keen ear to the conversation and waited.
There were two men on the other side of the bookshelf from where she stood. This was the first disappointing aspect of the two men. They were standing in the section dedicated to home management. Quite an obvious blunder as it could be assumed they were hoping their conversation would go unnoticed. But instead, they stood in the one place to appear most suspicious should anyone notice.
And Emily had noticed.
Over the scent of wet wool and camphor came a more telling aroma: pitch and tar and salt. She could only make out their beaver top hats and not much else, but from their accents, she would have guessed they were well bred. This would exclude the profession of dockhand, and therefore, the smell could only mean these gentlemen had recently come off a ship.
But a ship from where?
“I should like the matter settled as quickly as possible,” the man on the left said.
He had a marked accent, vaguely European in nature, but every other word or so there was a slip, and the syllable would come out crisply British. How odd. Was the man attempting to hide his British roots or was he attempting to affect a British accent and failing spectacularly at it?
The man to the right responded. “Of course, my good man. His ship is to arrive at the end of the week, and my men plan to meet him at the dock. London is a dangerous town, you know. Wouldn’t want our dear professor venturing off the dock without a proper escort.” The sneer was audible in his voice.
Emily closed her book, placed it back on the shelf.
The gentleman on the left seemed unaffected by his companion’s obvious, sinister delight.
“Just see to it that it’s done.” The bell above the shop door tinkled as the man left.
Emily turned and swept around the bookshelf with no hesitation. The man she encountered there was frail and weak, the knobs of his elbows clear through his cutaway coat. He had a twitchy mustache and an alarming lack of eyebrows over the gold rims of his spectacles.
She had also clearly startled him as he massaged the head of a walking stick in both hands.
It was the walking stick that threw her.
Xavier carried a walking stick.
She swallowed, forcing her composure to steady.
“Can you recommend a good resource for the management of the household menu?” she asked, tilting her head the smallest of degrees as if to impart the need for assistance.
The weak man quivered under her gaze, and at her request, touched the brim of his hat and scurried away with little more than a garbled excuse.
She watched the door of the shop close behind him, the feeling of inevitability falling over her like a warm cloak.
It appeared it was now her turn to save Xavier’s life.