Lord William has finally gained his desire to move his family from Bath to his country estate, Wethington Manor, west of Reading, not too far from either Bath or London. Lady Amy is a happy, contented mother to their son, and has taken up her writing once again. Their family members are close by, and all is well.
Well, maybe not.
The new village vicar is charming, polite, and serves inspiring sermons. The villagers adore him, and many young women have their eye on the handsome cleric.
However, it appears someone doesn’t love him…
“Aunt, you look absolutely stunning. And dressed for a wedding I never expected to see.” Lady Amy Wethington smiled at her Aunt Margaret, the woman who raised her after Amy’s mother died. She was also the woman who voiced, emphatically, that she had no desire or intention to ever marry.
“Ah, Amy,” Aunt Margaret said as she reached out and cupped Amy’s cheek. “A lesson I learned. Don’t say ‘never’ or ‘always’.”
“Hmm. That’s not promising since you intend to make your vows today to always love, honor, and cherish Lord Exeter.”
Aunt Margaret winked at her.
Her aunt had chosen a lovely pale rose satin gown that accented her small waist and enviable lissome body. She wore a small matching hat, with netting that went from the hat to tie at her neckline.
Amy’s gown was a deeper rose, also satin. She wore a larger hat with flowers around the brim. She’d made sure her shoes matched—since that was always a problem for her. William often wondered why, since they’d hired a lady’s maid for her, she was still missing parts of her attire whenever they had plans to leave the house.
She had no idea why, but she truly loved Maddie, the lady’s maid she’d hired. She was the daughter of their cook, Mrs. Randolph, and if not the best of lady’s maids, she was very easy to deal with and was so very eager to please.
A knock sounded at the bedroom door. “Sister, are you ready? It is time to leave for the church.” Lord Franklin Winchester, brother to Lady Margaret and father to Amy, sounded impatient.
“I think he’s afraid you’re going to change your mind,” Amy said as she walked to the door. Her father had been badgering his sister to marry for years.
“Good morning, Papa,” Amy said as she leaned in for his customary kiss on her cheek. “You look quite handsome.”
He waved her off and walked into the room. He stopped in front of Aunt Margaret, a softness to his face seldom seen. “You look wonderful, Margaret.”
Then he stunned them both by saying, “Are you sure you want to marry Lord Exeter?”
Amy gasped. “Papa, you’ve been plaguing Aunt Margaret to marry for years!”
Papa cleared his throat. “Yes. I know that.” He turned his attention to the bride. “But I want to be sure you are certain you will be happy.”
Tears rimmed Aunt Margaret’s eyes. “Oh, Franklin. You are so…you. Yes, I will be happy, and yes, I believe it is time to go.”
The three left the room and made their way downstairs to the front door where several of the servants stood, admiring Lady Margaret. The housekeeper, Mrs. Brady, wiped the corner of her eye with a lace handkerchief.
Amy looked around the house she had been raised in, remembering leaving a mere year and a half ago for her own wedding to Lord Wethington. Things had worked out quite well for her. She was truly happy and the mother of an adorable little boy, Charles George Tottenham, already almost six months old.
“What will become of the house, now that Aunt Margaret will no longer be living here?” Amy asked as they settled into the carriage.
Papa adjusted his jacket, crossed his legs, and said, “For now, it will remain empty, except for the few staff members needed to maintain it in our absence. Since I plan to relocate to the country as you and your brother have, it might be some time before it is fully occupied again. But it will be convenient to have a place here should one of us wish to spend time in Bath.”
“What about the house you and Michael purchased when you moved from London?”
“My, you are an inquisitive gel this morning.” Papa’s smile softened his words. “If you feel the need to know, we sold that a few weeks ago. Winchester House is entailed, so it will not be sold, only used on occasion.”
Amy nodded and looked out the window at the early signs of spring. Aunt Margaret and Lord Exeter had announced their engagement back in July, but her sweet aunt had wanted Amy to be her attendant, so a March wedding was planned.
The extra time after Charles’s birth was supposed to give Amy time to lose the weight gained with the baby. Alas, she’d only lost a little more than a stone, so the gown she commissioned from her modiste was a bit larger than all the ones hanging in her closet. She’d returned home in tears, telling William she was now officially as large as Mrs. Dunsten’s cow.
He took her in his arms and told her he loved her just the way she was, and she was no competition for the woman’s cow. Then she soothed her feelings with a cup of tea and two of the lovely biscuits Cook had made earlier.
It was a short ride from the townhouse to the church. Aunt Margaret was fortunate that the weather was quite pleasant, when one realized March in England rarely produced nice conditions.
The marriage would take place at St. Swithin’s, the church Amy’s parents were married in, where she was baptized, and where she and William had married. Once they’d moved to Wethington Manor after the baby had been old enough to travel, they decided to have Charles baptized at St. Agatha Church, which was in the village outside the Manor.
The driver jumped down and opened the door, extending his hand to Amy who he helped out. Papa climbed out next and turned for Aunt Margaret who, amazingly enough, looked nervous. She’d never seen her aunt as anything but calm, graceful, pleasant, and in control of herself. It appeared weddings were uneasy for everyone.
William had already left earlier for the church in their carriage, dropping her off at Winchester House on his way. Although Lord Exeter had many friends, he had asked William to stand up with him since they were soon to be family.
Her husband had looked quite elegant in his formal clothes. It was times like these that she realized how very handsome her husband was. Hopefully, little Charles would take after his papa and not his chubby mama.
When they were settled at the back of the church, the pastor signaled the organist to begin playing. Amy walked ahead of Aunt Margaret and Papa, clutching her spray of roses.
Lord Exeter looked quite happy to see Aunt Margaret. They smiled at each other, and Amy was certain theirs would be a happy marriage.
Once the ceremony was over, they all returned to Winchester House for the wedding breakfast. Amy shivered when they all sat down to eat, remembering her own wedding breakfast where her cousin had been poisoned. Hopefully, all would go well, and they would not be subjected to another murder.
She greeted her brother, Michael, Earl of Davenport, and his wife, Eloise, her best friend since forever. They had also retired to one of Papa’s estates close to Newbury with their twins, Lady Madeline Anne and Lady Patricia Joan, born the same day as Charles. The two of them joined her and William at their section of the lengthy table.
Cook had prepared a feast. They had a lovely, creamed rice soup, lamb cutlets in Italian sauce, beef fillets, aspic of ham and tongue, asparagus and cream, green beans, potatoes, and strawberry ice. It was all followed, of course, with slices of wedding cake. By the time the breakfast was over, Amy felt as though she’d gained back all the weight she’d lost since Charles’s birth.
Conversation was lively and pleasant, no one died, and soon it was time for the guests to depart. William and Amy intended to travel to their home by train, with their driver, Benson, returning to Wethington Manor with their carriage, which had been needed to transport the family from the townhouse to the church and back.
As they gathered their things to have Benson take them to the train station, Amy pulled on her gloves and spoke to her papa. “Papa, when are you coming for a visit? In all the time we’ve been at the Manor, you’ve only been there for Charles’s baptism. We are due a visit.”
Lord Winchester sighed. “You are right, Daughter. With all my grandchildren close to each other, it would be easy to see them all at once. I must admit that I’ve been neglectful.”
“You have, Father,” Michael added. “I am able to conduct our business from my home in Newbury. If you moved your household to your estate south of Guildford, you would be closer to me for business purposes and you could see the children.”
Amy never thought she would see the day she encouraged Papa to visit. They had clashed over things many times in the past, but since Amy and her brother Michael had married and then produced grandchildren, Papa seemed to have mellowed a bit and was quite pleasant to be around.
“I will finish up some business in Bath, and then I will make a visit.” He leaned over and gave Amy a kiss on the cheek. Then, to her surprise, pulled her in for a hug.
It had been a beautiful wedding and a delightful day.
Six months later
“I am pregnant!” Aunt Margaret stomped into the drawing room at Wethington Manor just as Amy was playing a hand clapping game with Charles.
“What? Did you just say you are pregnant?” Amy stared at her aunt as if she had ten heads. It was well known among family members that not only did she always profess to never marry—which she did—but the thought of bearing and raising children brought shivers to her. “Aunt, I think you need to sit down. I’ll order tea.”
Aunt Margaret collapsed into the chair and threw her head against the back. Amy put Charles on the floor to wander around and then walked to the bell pull and requested tea when the young maid appeared. As she returned to the settee across from Aunt Margaret, it was then that she noticed her aunt, who was always well put together, looked anything but.
Her hair was a mess, her gown wrinkled, and she fiddled with a handkerchief in her lap.
“Well,” Amy said as she picked up Charles and put him on her lap. “I’m assuming this is not good news?”
Aunt Margaret merely glared at her.
“Why are you here? Just to deliver the news? Your home is quite a distance from us.”
Just then Aunt Margaret’s husband, Lord Exeter, entered the room. “Good afternoon, Amy. I’m afraid my wife was busy sharing what she believes to be bad news and didn’t have the chance to tell you, with Wethington’s permission, of course, that she is to stay with you while I make a trip to Scotland.”
“Of course, Margaret is welcome to stay any time and for as long as needed.” William entered the room and shook hands with Exeter. “Care for a brandy?”
“That would be nice.” He followed William to the sideboard and took one of the glasses of brandy William poured for them both.
Once they were settled in chairs across from the two ladies, William put his drink on the table next to him and scooped Charles from Amy’s arms and settled him on his lap. The lad began to pull on William’s ascot, which he ignored, until he was almost choking. Then he removed the chubby hands from his neck piece and turned the babe so he was facing away from his tempting items.
Exeter swirled the liquid in his glass. “I received a summons from my great-uncle’s man in the Highlands that he is not doing well and is not expected to live beyond another week or so. We are not close, but I am his heir so I must go and straighten everything out after his death.”
He took a sip of his drink. “I don’t want Margaret traveling so far in her condition”—he smiled at his wife who frowned back—"and I have no idea how long it will take to tidy things up.”
Amy patted Aunt Margaret’s hand. “All will be well, Aunt. We will take good care of you.”
Another scowl from her aunt landed on her.
“Might I offer congratulations, Exeter?” William said.
He grinned. “We are family now, let’s stop this ‘Exeter’. My name is Jonathan. To answer your question, I am happy to receive congratulations. I never imagined that my ripe old age of forty-seven years would see me a father.” He shook his head and downed the rest of the drink. “My wife, unfortunately, sees this as a disaster.”
Aunt Margaret sighed. “Not exactly a disaster, Husband. It’s just something I never planned on or particularly wanted.”
“But look how sweet Charles is, my dear,” Jonathan said.
Just then Charles began to scream, “Mama,” with his little arms out. He pitched himself backwards and slammed William in the chest with his head.
“Tea is ready, my lady.” Marcus, one of the new footmen, rolled the tea cart into the room while Amy took Charles out of William’s hands.
“I will bring him to the nursery and have Nanny put him down for his nap.” She left the room, murmuring to a still fussing Charles.
* * * *
“When do you plan to leave for Scotland?” William asked as he settled back in his chair with the baby gone. Margaret poured tea and raised her eyebrows and held up the teapot.
“Yes, I will have tea, my dear,” Jonathan said.
“I as well,” William added.
“I plan to leave in a day or so,” Exeter said, accepting the cup of tea from his wife.
Once the tea was poured, fixed to everyone’s liking, and the small sandwiches and sweets Cook had sent in were placed onto plates and passed around, William turned to Margaret. “We will be happy to have you with us. Amy and I have started a book club with some of the villagers. There is also a sewing club, and some of the church ladies meet to collect clothing and food for the less fortunate. I am certain you will find your place while you are here.”
“Indeed? I’m not surprised at the book club since she’s an author and belonged to one in Bath, but a sewing club?”
“She has given it her best effort, but she enjoys the book club and the efforts to provide for the poor much more.”
“I take it all is quiet here at Wethington Manor and Wethingford?” Margaret spilled a couple of drops of tea on her dress and swiped it with her fingers. William was astounded since his aunt by marriage never would have merely brushed off tea.
But as he studied her, he realized she did not look like the Margaret he’d known all these years. Frankly, she could only be described as ‘untidy’. He cleared his throat, realizing she had asked him a question. “Yes, things are quiet. Amy is still working on a book; Charles is eating well and seems healthy.”
“See, my love, having a child about will not devastate your life,” Jonathan said.
Amy entered the room. “Well, Charles settled down quite nicely and is now sound asleep.”
“Tea, Amy?” Margaret asked.
“Yes. Please.” She walked to where the tea cart sat and placed a few articles on her plate. “I am trying to lose the rest of the weight I gained when I carried Charles.” She licked her fingers and sat. “But it doesn’t seem to be working.” She took a bite of a raspberry tart.
William was happy that no one commented on her statement. He’d been listening to his dear wife lamenting since Charles was born, and the lad was almost a year old. But it troubled him not that she had kept a few pounds. She was still a very pretty young woman.
“Do you have any idea of the extent of your great-uncle’s holdings?” William asked.
“To some degree, perhaps, but I am afraid I will be walking into a mess since the man has been ill for some time. I just wish they had summoned me before now so I could have started on what needs to be done.” He placed his teacup on the table. “I prefer not to be away when the babe is born.”
“Do you know when you can expect to join me in motherhood?” Amy asked Margaret as she eyed the rest of the tarts and then firmly set her plate on the table in front of her.
“The midwife I consulted before we left gave me a tentative date of the middle of March.” She shook her head. “The month of our one-year anniversary. I never would have thought…”
Amy nodded. “You have plenty of time.” She turned to Jonathan. “I hope you can be back in time for Aunt Margaret’s lying in, but if not, you can rest easy knowing that we will take good care of her.”
Jonathan leaned forward; his forearms braced on his thighs. “Are you aware of a midwife or doctor that you can recommend? I plan to leave in a couple of days and would like to speak with whoever will be taking care of Margaret.”
Margaret huffed and bit into a raspberry tart. Crumbs landed in her lap. She ignored them.
“I can certainly ask the villagers. Each time I visit the shops in Wethingford I am struck by the number of young children, all looking happy and healthy, so there must be someone who is doing a good job.” She looked over at Margaret. “We can take a ride into the village tomorrow and make some inquiries.”
Marcus entered the room and looked over at Exeter. “My lord, a carriage has arrived with your trunks.”
“Thank you,” Jonathan said. He looked over at William. “Where shall they bring our belongings?”
Amy tapped her mouth. “I believe the blue room at the end of the corridor on the first floor is ready for guests.” She turned her attention to Marcus. “Instruct the driver to bring the luggage to that room. You might have to find another footman to assist.”
Margaret covered her mouth, attempting to hide her yawn.
“Aunt, I believe you should take a lie down. It may take some time to get your things into the room. I can send Josephine, one of our maids, to assist you. I will summon her and have her bring you to another guest room. I will then have her unpack for you.”
“Thank you, Amy. I am a tad worn out. I don’t know why. The most strenuous thing I’ve done all day is eat two of those lovely tarts.”
William and Jonathan stood as the ladies left the room.
* * * *
The next afternoon, Amy and Aunt Margaret left the Manor for a trip into Wethingford. The village was a good size with many shops surrounding the village green.
As with all the large estates, no longer were there the number of tenants who farmed the land and paid rent to the main house to support the nobility. While many of the men left the farms for the city to work in factories, Wethingford still had enough families who had remained and farmed the land, paying rent and providing food for the village as well as Wethington Manor.
William had explained to her when they first arrived months before that he and his ancestors had always maintained a good relationship with their tenants and those families who had remained as farmers were treated fairly.
“Wethingford is much larger than I anticipated,” Aunt Margaret said as they walked, arm in arm the short distance from the Manor to the village green.
“It is. I must admit I was quite pleased. After living my entire life in Bath with all the activities and friends there, I was concerned that I would hate it. The concern was especially daunting because both William and I prefer to raise our son in the country.”
“But you seem to have adjusted quite nicely.”
“Yes. I feel comfortable.” She looked over at her aunt. “Are you truly upset about the baby?”
Aunt Margaret slowly shook her head. “Not entirely.” She grinned. “Jonathan says we shall hire a nurse and a nanny and eventually a governess. He or she will not interrupt my life too much.”
Amy mulled over her aunt’s words. She had a nurse when Charles was first born and then replaced her with a nanny. Nevertheless, Amy and William spent a great deal of time with their son. Their nanny, Mrs. Grover, oftentimes complained she didn't have enough to do. It was at those times that the nanny hinted it was time for Amy and William to present a brother or sister to Charles.
She wasn’t sure she was quite ready for that yet.
“Oh, look, there is Mr. Smythe.” Amy headed the two of them toward a nice-looking man strolling along, glancing in store windows and stopping to talk to a person or two. “He is our vicar and has only been here about four months, but we all love him.”
“He doesn’t look like a vicar.”
Amy tilted her head and studied the man. “What does a vicar look like?”
“Certainly not as young and handsome as that one,” Aunt Margaret said with a laugh.
Amy waved as they approached him. “Good afternoon, Mr. Smythe.”
“Lady Wethington, as always it is a pleasure to see you.” He smiled in her direction then glanced at Aunt Margaret.
“May I present to you our vicar, Mr. Smythe. Lady Exeter is my aunt. She raised me after my mother passed away when I was about ten years old.”
“How very nice to meet you, Lady Exeter. Are you here for a visit?”
“Yes and no. Of course, I love spending time with Lady Wethington, but it appears I will be here for a while. My husband must make a trip to Scotland to handle an estate he will shortly inherit, so I am spending the time with my favorite niece.”
“Aunt, I am your only niece.”
Aunt Margaret laughed and patted her hand. “I know that, dear.”
“May I assume you will be joining us for Sunday Service?” Mr. Smythe asked.
“Oh, yes. I rarely miss a Sunday at church.”
They chatted for a bit more and then moved along.
“He is a very nice man,” Aunt Margaret said as they made their way to the dressmaker’s shop. “Perhaps while I am here, I will obtain dresses that will fit in a few months. Something that would work for now, and they can be let out and not lose the basic style.”
“That is an excellent idea, Aunt. Mrs. Allen is a fine seamstress. She has made me several dresses since I arrived, and I was pleased with them all. You will find she has a good eye for style that works best for each of her customers.”
They stopped in front of the store where several items of clothing were displayed.
“I don’t feel quite up to it now. The thought of removing clothing and being pinched and prodded doesn’t appeal.”
“We shall return another day then.”
While shopping, they inquired in a few of the shops about a midwife for Aunt Margaret and came away with two names, both women highly recommended.
“I shall send word to them to come to the Manor. If Jonathan intends to speak with them also, it will have to be soon,” Aunt Margaret said.
A few strollers passed them by. Since Amy was well known in the village, everyone they met stopped, and she introduced them to Aunt Margaret.
“You are certainly well liked, Amy,” Aunt Margaret said.
Amy shrugged. “We’ve been here for almost a year now, and as in all villages, everyone knows everyone else.” She paused for a minute. “Is there a busy village near your estate?”
“More of a town. Not as rustic as this one. I find I like the feel here.”
Amy steered them toward the Duck and Hog Inn, which sat at the far end of the village green. It was a very old building, owned by the fifth generation of the McGuiness family.
“I thought we might stop for a bite to eat. We still haven’t made it to the bookstore, and I do want to stop there.”
Aunt Margaret smiled. “Of course, you do.”
They opened the door and entered the building. It was dim after the sunshine outside.
She looked over at a woman who hopped up from a table in the corner and waved frantically.
“Lady Lily! I didn’t know you were coming for a visit.” Amy wended her way through the tables toward her mother-in-law who sat with her husband, Mr. Colbert.
She and Aunt Margaret took seats at their table. “When did you arrive?”
“Apparently right after you two left. William told me where you were, and Edward and I decided to take a stroll. I just love this little village.” She reached over and patted Amy’s hand. “And the best news is we can stay as long as we want.”
Lady Lily grinned. “Yes. Edward has retired.”
Purchase Homicide at the Vicarage at the retailers listed under the book cover above.