BY: DANIELLA BERNETT
The wicked kill…but the dead speak
Journalist Emmeline Kirby and her jewel thief/insurance investigator husband Gregory Longdon were in the mood for intrigue at the theatre. However, murder was only supposed to take place on stage. All too soon, the evening’s peace is shattered when the ceiling collapses in the Upper Circle.
In the ensuing chaos of the evacuation, Emmeline and Gregory discover tabloid reporter Verena Penrose in her box. Her neck had been snapped. Verena had done a brisk trade in scandal, blackmail and splashy exposés. Her fatal error was tangling with the Raven, an elusive assassin with ties to the Russians and ETA, the Basque separatist group.
Although Verena despised Emmeline, she leaves a cryptic message for her that is too tantalizing to ignore. However the layer upon layer of lies, jealousy and revenge touch too close to home when her brother Adam is implicated in the Raven’s schemes to infiltrate the London Diamond Bourse and to murder a prominent British official.
To restore the family honor, Emmeline and Gregory race to Madrid only to walk into the Raven’s trap.
ALYSSA MAXWELL AUTHOR OF The Gilded Newport Mysteries SAYS: “Packed with suspense, action and drama…[these] books grab you from the first page and never let go until the last sentence on the last page. Daniella Bernett is a brilliant storyteller who seamlessly combines a thrilling and unpredictable plot, with humour and fabulous characters… Bernett never disappoints with her books, they seem to go from strength to strength.”
TRACY GRANT, AUTHOR OF The Westminster Intrigue, SAYS: “Danger, political machinations, murders…Ms. Bernett is an author whose storytelling draws you in. There is a depth to the characters….with shocks and revelations to the end. Her books leave me wanting more. If you like international mysteries that transport you to various locations, give her books a try.”
TESSA ARLEN AUTHOR OF The Woman of World War II series SAYS: “Scintillating…theft, murder and general mayhem…. styled to mirror the writing of classic Golden Age authors. With strong characterization…Daniella Bernett has enhanced a series which…has the potential to gain a strong following.”
Torremolinos, Costa del Sol, Spain June 2002
Another angry breaker lifted her up and then dropped her with a vicious crash. Tendrils of panic and icy dread clutched at the woman. She struggled to draw in a ragged breath. However, her lungs nearly exploded with the effort, as sharp needles of pain radiated down her left side. She gratefully sank into oblivion’s comforting embrace where there was nothing. No love. No lies. Only numbing blackness.
She was dragged unwillingly into consciousness again by a shuddering cough that rumbled and rattled her already battered body. Saltwater erupted from her nostrils. Its briny stickiness mingled with the coppery, metallic tang of blood on her tongue. Tears seeped from the corners of her eyes. She had always loved the sea, but the high tide was cruel. It hissed and mocked her as if it knew what an utter fool she had been.
The next wave flipped her onto her back. She blinked. Salt and grit from the ocean floor made them sting, but she managed to open her eyes a crack. She gasped. The creamy orange moon loomed above her, a celestial pearl reclining on an inky pallet of wispy cloud.
One provocative strand of light tumbled from the sky and sliced a path through the waves. “Come to me,” the moon beckoned. “I will help you forget.”
The woman laughed and instantly regretted it. Every part of her body throbbed. Not only was she broken physically and emotionally, now she was losing her sanity.
Come to me.
The woman squeezed her eyes shut again and tried to block out the seductive voice.
Leave me alone, she cried silently.
But she didn’t want to be alone. In the terrifying chambers of her childhood dreams that had been her greatest fear. Being left alone.
He had already left her alone. He…She choked on an excruciating sob. It had been their honeymoon.
And he had tried to kill her.
She felt his hands grab her in a vice-like grip and shove her overboard as if she had been a rag doll. Her eyes burned with tears. Tears of shame. Of stupidity. The worst thing was she had believed all his loving words. But it had all been a lie. In this cold, watery hell in which she now was trapped, she saw it all with crystalline clarity.
So, with her last ounce of strength, she called out to the moon, “Wait. Don’t leave me.”
She didn’t know whether she had uttered the words aloud or only in her mind, but she felt her lips curve into a smile.
At least she wouldn’t die alone.
London, December 2010
What a filthy night,” Emmeline said, as she stepped into the welcoming—and warm—embrace of the St. Martin’s Theatre’s brightly lit lobby in the West End. She gave her umbrella a brisk shake, before furling it up tightly.
It had only been a five-minute walk from the restaurant, where she and Gregory had dinner with Maggie and Philip. But the dampness had seeped into her bones. She rubbed her fingers vigorously. They were chilled from gripping the umbrella in a fierce tug-of-war against the snarling gusts of wind. Mother Nature was in a particularly foul mood this December evening, lashing buildings, cars, and the hapless citizens of London with icy sheets of rain. No, rain was not the right word, Emmeline thought. Winter monsoon. She tossed a glance over her shoulder and peered at the murky deluge. She nodded. Yes, definitely monsoon.
“Forget the weather,” Maggie ordered, her green eyes alight with excitement. “We’ve stepped into the magical world of the theatre.” Her arm swept in an arc that encompassed the entire lobby.
“Absolutely right, Maggie. For the next two hours or so, we have no cares,” Gregory concurred, a smile curling around his lips. “Come along, ladies.” He inclined his head toward Philip. “And gentleman. Let’s get to our seats. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap awaits.”
Emmeline looped her arm through the crook of his elbow. “I’ve been counting the minutes all week. You know how much I’ve always adored Agatha Christie’s work. This was a lovely surprise. I still can’t believe that you were able to get tickets to this gala performance. I know the proceeds are going to the Mousetrap Theatre Projects, which seek to expose disadvantaged young people and those with special needs to the theatre, but I thought it was sold out.”
He waved a hand dismissively in the air. “I can’t take the credit, darling. We are here tonight because of the largesse of one of Symington’s clients. He wanted to show his gratitude because I was able to recover his stolen property.”
Emmeline tilted her head back, her mouth wreathed in a broad grin. “Indeed. Symington’s should be in your debt. In the five months since you joined the firm, you’ve been instrumental in solving a series of major cases and in the process saved them from making hefty payouts.”
“Here, here,” Maggie echoed. “Superintendent Burnell and the rest of the Scotland Yard must be singing your praises too.”
Gregory bit back a smile, as he caught Philip rolling his eyes toward the ceiling.
“As you ladies know, old Oliver is not the most effusive of fellows.”
“Yes, well,” Emmeline murmured. “Perhaps, you shouldn’t needle him so much.” She gave him a pointed look. “His job is hard enough already with Assistant Commissioner Cruickshank breathing down his neck, just waiting for a chance to pounce.”
“Emmeline, you must admit,” Philip interjected. “Prat, though Cruickshank is, he behaved rather decently when it came to the Jardine murder.”
She stiffened. She didn’t want any reminders of the recent tangled case that had ensnared them all with its ugly claws. She and Burnell had been accused of murder; Special Branch had come with a warrant to arrest Philip for some unspecified crime; and Laurence Villiers, the deputy director of MI5, had been threatened with blackmail. And a fifteen-carat, fancy pink diamond with the provocative name of the Pink Courtesan had men salivating and willing to do anything to get their hands on it. She and Gregory were forced to sift through layer upon layer of lies, family resentment, and rivalries. After a harrowing couple of days in Malta, where they nearly lost their lives, they discovered the truth. At the heart of it was a carefully orchestrated scheme by Alastair Swanbeck to exact revenge.
She shivered involuntarily. Was he really dead? He has to be, a voice inside her head scolded. He couldn’t have survived the explosion on the boat. But his body still hasn’t been found, she argued with herself. There was nothing to find, the voice snapped.
But everyone thought Swanbeck was dead once before. And that’s what worried her.
Gregory bent down and brushed a kiss against her cheek. She felt his warm breath as his mustache tickled her ear. “He can’t hurt us anymore,” he whispered.
She drew back and met her husband’s steady cinnamon gaze. It was as if he had read her mind. She touched his arm lightly. The arm where he had been shot when they were in Malta. But it was healing. They were healing. He gave a faint nod. They would be fine.
She lifted her hand and pressed it against his cheek. “Yes, of course you’re right. I’m just jumping at imaginary shadows. We’re here to forget.” Philip caught her eye and winked. “For one night at least, all the nastiness in the world is on the other side of that door.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “Sloshing around in the rain at its own peril.”
Gregory slipped his arm around her shoulders. “That’s the spirit.”
He drew the tickets out of the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket and handed Philip and Maggie theirs. They chatted idly as they shuffled along with their fellow theatergoers, who were streaming toward the door to the left that led to the seats in the Stalls.
Out of the corner of his mouth, Gregory said in a soft undertone, “As I’m a neophyte and you’re the expert when it comes to mysteries, Emmy, you must promise to go over the finer points of the story in detail. I wouldn’t want to miss an important clue.” He paused a beat, his lips convulsing mischievously. “In exchange, I’d be delighted to tutor you in the finer arts of a different kind.”
He pressed a quick kiss on the sensitive spot just behind her earlobe. She felt her cheeks flame as her gaze shot to his face. One of his eyebrows arched up suggestively.
“Ahem.” Maggie cleared her throat loudly. “That’s quite enough of that you two. I know technically you are still newlyweds, but I suggest you continue the rest of your conversation later. At home. In the privacy of your bedroom. Mind you, if you had taken a proper honeymoon. Ahem.” She cleared her throat again, her gaze flickering between them. “You would have gotten some of this out of your system.”
Here we go, Emmeline thought.
“But no,” Maggie harped on this old theme. “Instead of enjoying the Lake District, the two of you decided to chase after an international assassin. I’ve made my feelings quite plain on this sad subject.”
“Yes, you have,” Philip interjected hurriedly. “Many, many times in the month and a half since Emmeline and Gregory’s wedding. Their married life is their own to make.”
Maggie would not be fobbed off again. “Hmph. And if that wasn’t bad enough. Then you immediately became embroiled in that sordid Jardine murder my darling husband alluded to a few moments ago. All of you ran off to Malta, while I and the boys were shunted off to Helen in Swaley.” She halted, her probing stare locking on Emmeline’s face. “Now, you know I adore your grandmother, but I was going out of my mind with worry. I’m still waiting for an explanation. The three of you have been particularly vague, when I’ve tackled you on the subject.”
Emmeline opened her mouth, but Maggie put up a hand to forestall her. “Don’t tell me that everything was in your article. Because I don’t believe it. I know there was more to it.”
Maggie was right. There was more to the story, but they couldn’t tell her. Emmeline sighed inwardly. Secrets. How she despised them.
“I’m beating a dead horse since your lips are not only sealed, but wired shut, on the subject. I will content myself with reminding you and your”—she shot a sideways glance at Gregory—“I will content myself with taking every opportunity of reminding you that it is time to devote all your energies to a baby.”
Gregory chuckled, as Emmeline’s gaze darted to her right and left to make sure no one else had heard.
“Really, Maggie,” she chided. “You’re as bad as Gran.”
“Can you blame her? The poor woman has been waiting ages and ages for the two of you to produce her great-grandchild. It’s extremely unfair. You’re married now. It’s time to get cracking.”
Philip gave a disapproving shake of his head. “You will forgive my wife. Her tongue often intrudes, where it’s not wanted.”
Maggie’s eyes narrowed and she gave him a withering look, but he ignored it.
Gregory leaned across and gave Maggie a peck on the cheek. “Thank you for putting us in our place. We will take your um…advice to heart. We know it was said out of love.”
Maggie sniffed. She was slightly mollified. “Good.” Her gaze landed on Emmeline again. “Helen and I will be deeply disappointed, if you don’t demonstrate the same enthusiasm as your dashing husband.”
Emmeline groaned inwardly. She had learned that it was the better part of valor not to argue with Gran and Maggie on this subject.
Over Maggie’s head, Philip mouthed “Sorry.”
They fell silent as they approached the shallow steps where an usher was standing and checking tickets.
From somewhere behind them, a woman’s silvery laughter mingled with the low murmur of desultory chatter. Emmeline knew that laugh. She craned her neck around to chance a peek.
“Oh, no,” she mumbled.
Gregory grasped her by the elbow and asked, “What’s the matter, Emmy?”
She turned her head back and stared straight ahead. “Do you see that slim woman with the dark hair cut in a sleek bob standing in the middle of the lobby?”
Gregory, Maggie, and Philip all glanced around.
“Yes,” Maggie said leaning her head close to Emmeline’s. “Who is she?’
“One person I wish wasn’t here this evening. That’s Verena Penrose. Gossip extraordinaire, who has dedicated her adult life to skewering people with a few strokes of her keyboard. Oh, why did she have to be here? It had been such a lovely evening until this point.”
“Do you know her?” Maggie asked.
“Our paths have crossed. I try to give her a wide berth. I always feel so dirty, after I’ve been in her presence. Beneath that elegant and cultured exterior lurks a vicious and vindictive woman. Salacious exposés are her forte. She sullies the name of honest, hard-working journalists.” Emmeline tucked her chin into her chest. “I hope she hasn’t seen me. I’m not in the mood to do verbal battle with her tonight.”
Gregory squeezed her arm. “You won’t have to, darling. She just disappeared through the door to the Dress Circle.”
A smile spread across Emmeline’s face. Her good humor was restored once more. “Right.” She plucked her ticket from his fingers and tugged at his sleeve. “It would be a crime to keep Dame Agatha waiting.”
An usher checked their tickets and directed them to take the door on their left to reach their seats in Row J. Snippets of conversation drifted to their ears as they wended their way down to their seats, with Emmeline leading the way. Row J was just below the overhang of the Dress Circle, but it didn’t obstruct their view at all. They quickly shrugged out of their coats and settled into the worn crimson velvet seats. Emmeline and Maggie sat next to one another in the middle, while their husbands flanked them, with Gregory on the aisle and Philip on his wife’s right.
Maggie flipped through the program making comments about the actors, Agatha Christie, and mysteries in general. Emmeline was only half-listening, as her eyes roamed around the theatre, drinking in the highly polished wood paneling and crimson silk wallpaper scattered with golden flower medallions that matched the carpet. A faint smile touched her lips as her gaze traveled on, following the graceful curve of the wood railing as it swept from an invisible point above their heads in the Dress Circle until it reached the boxes overlooking the stage.
Her gaze narrowed into a frown, when she saw the notorious Verena Penrose leaning perilously far over the railing to Box B in a bid to be the center of attention, as usual. There was a man with her, but from her vantage point all Emmeline could see was his arm because he was sitting back in the shadow of the wooden column.
She nudged Maggie with her elbow and gestured with her chin. “There she is again making a spectacle of herself.”
Maggie glanced up. “Verena Penrose?”
“Hmm,” Emmeline murmured, as they watched the woman wave to someone across the theatre.
Maggie bent her head closer and whispered, “If she’s as awful as you say—and I have absolutely no doubt about your judgment—I wonder if that chap with her knows what he’s let himself in for tonight.”
“I don’t fancy his chances,” Emmeline remarked, “Verena devours men and spits them out when she’s finished with them. She’s had a string of husbands, each one richer than the last. And in between, to keep herself from getting bored, she’s thrown herself into several affairs that had nothing to do with love and everything to do with lust, power and shock value.”
“In other words, a barracuda,” Maggie ventured.
“Precisely. If that weren’t bad enough, she’s anti-Semitic.”
Maggie’s jaw tightened, as she cast a glance up at Verena Penrose’s box. “Is she? Well, that’s not surprising.”
“That’s another reason I can’t stand the bloody woman. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of her venomous barbs on more than one occasion.”
“Hmph. That woman likes living dangerously. Obviously, she’s not acquainted with your temper. Personally, I would have throttled her.”
They both giggled.
“You don’t know how much the idea of doing her bodily harm captivated my imagination. I was very creative.”
Maggie smirked. “I’ll bet you were.”
Emmeline exhaled a long sigh. “However, in the end, it wouldn’t have solved anything except making me feel better for the moment. We both know from experience that you can’t change people like that.”
Maggie slipped her arm around Emmeline’s shoulders. “Unfortunately, no.” She paused. “But we can still dream about her painful demise. After all, what goes around comes around.”
Emmeline smiled and touched her head to Maggie’s. “I knew we were friends for a reason.”
The lights dimmed. A hush descended upon the audience. Time for the play to cast its spell.