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Also by K.B. Owen
About the Author
For my mom,
~with love and gratitude
New York City, July 5, 1899
Deighton’s Book Shop
Some might consider it unusual for a new bride to bring her husband to a bookstore at the start of a thirty-day honeymoon tour, but Mrs. David Bradley—née Concordia Wells, formerly a literature professor at Hartford Women’s College—loved bookstores almost as much as she loved Mr. Bradley. The hush of the space, the smell of paper and ink and bindings, the sight of heavily laden bookcases that reached nearly to the ceiling—all held the promise of new adventures to discover or old friends to revisit.
One old friend in particular.
“Why, it’s Miss Concordia!” A thin, slightly stooped man on the far side of sixty set aside a stack of well-worn leather volumes and limped over to clasp her hand. “How long has it been? Ten years, at least.”
“Longer than that. Before Papa died.” Concordia’s father, respected Greek and Latin scholar Randolph Wells, had brought her here as a child whenever they made the trip to New York City from Hartford. She had happy memories of this place.
The man smiled. “Your papa was my best customer.” He tilted his head for a better look at the young lady. Even a casual observer would note the merry green eyes behind silver-rimmed spectacles, the charming flush that touched her freckled cheeks, the wisps of deep red hair that escaped her hat and clung to her damp neck, and the slightly plump but diminutive figure, smartly attired in a summer walking dress of navy linen.
Standing beside her was a smiling gentleman in his early thirties, dark-haired and dark-eyed—though at the moment his eyes were only for the lady, who seemed to return the favor.
“And who might you be, young man?” the proprietor asked.
Concordia started. “Where are my manners? This is my huh—husband, David Bradley.” Drat it, she still stumbled over the word husband. “David, this is Mr. Deighton, owner of Deighton’s Books.”
David extended a hand. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Deighton.”
“Everybody calls me Rusty.” He stroked his salt-and-pepper beard ruefully. “Not that you can tell why anymore.” He turned back to Concordia. “So, just married, eh?”
“A few weeks ago.” She self-consciously rubbed the ridge of the wedding band beneath her glove. “We are getting away only now. But how did you know?”
He chuckled. “Your young man’s standing awfully close to you to be anything but a happy new groom, and you haven’t been eyeing my shelves nearly as much as you’ve been eyeing him.”
She felt the flush creep up her cheeks as David grinned broadly.
“Though I see marriage hasn’t changed you much, since you’re here and not down the street at McCreery’s white sale picking out table linens.”
She made a face at him. “It’s cooler in here.”
He threw back his head and laughed. “Fair enough. Looking for anything in particular?”
“Do you have any books of Antoine Lavoisier?” David asked.
“The chemist?” Rusty stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Hmm, maybe. I know we have several copies of Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, though I imagine you already have that.”
David nodded. “It’s standard reading.”
“Well, I’ll show you the section. There are bound to be hidden gems in there. Something might pique your interest. What about you, Miss—I mean—Mrs. Bradley?”
“I’ll just browse.” Concordia nodded toward the back corner of the store, where a narrow, spiral staircase led to the upper gallery. The left portion of the gallery had only a door that led to the private apartment where Rusty and his granddaughter lived, while the right section was crammed with more bookcases. “I assume your Romantic poetry section is still upstairs?”
“Very little changes here,” Rusty said. “I’d never find anything otherwise.”
As she perused volumes of Wordsworth and Keats, Concordia kept her eye on the men below. A smile tugged at her lips as she watched David, sporting a coat of camel pin-check cotton that fit smoothly across muscled shoulders, a linen crash hat tucked under his arm.
It still felt strange to know they were married now. There had been one difficult time during their courtship when they had nearly gone their separate ways. She had chafed against his protectiveness, while he struggled to understand her tendency to “meddle,” as their friend Lieutenant Capshaw was fond of putting it. She understood David’s concern, of course. She had been in very real danger on several occasions. But behind each of those problems, each of those tangled puzzles to be solved, there had been a person she cared about in desperate need of help. How could she walk away? Eventually, David seemed to accept that, and they had come to an understanding.
She fingered the telegram in her pocket. She hoped he would understand once again.
Once Rusty had left David to browse through the sciences section, she climbed down the steep staircase to intercept him in the far corner. He brightened at her approach. “Find something you like?”
She glanced over her shoulder to make sure David could not overhear. “Rusty,” she said quietly, “I need to speak with you about your granddaughter.”
After a pleasant afternoon spent exploring the hidden treasures of Deighton Books, Concordia came away with a slim, leather-bound volume of Keats’s poetry, although she was also tempted by a three-volume, leather-bound, first edition of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone. David was pleased with the chemistry volumes Rusty had found and selected several.
“Can you deliver these to the Gilsey House Hotel?” David asked.
“You’re staying there?” Rusty let out a low whistle. “Pricey place, that.”
David snorted. “Everything is pricey here.”
Concordia smiled. “It’s a wedding gift from David’s parents.”
“Claude won’t be back until tomorrow,” Rusty said. “Can it wait until then?”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Claude still works for you?” The man had been here for the past twenty years.
Rusty smiled. “Don’t know what I’d do without him.”
“That will be fine,” David said. “We’re staying several days in the city before heading to East Hampton.”
“Ah, the Hamptons.” Rusty’s eyes brightened as he scribbled a note. “Nice place, I hear, and a sight cooler this time of year.”
Concordia tucked a damp strand of hair beneath her braided straw hat. “We’re looking forward to it.”
In the carriage on the way to the hotel, David clasped Concordia’s hand and leaned in to murmur, “Why we need more books, when the library at the Dunwicks’ summer cottage is sure to be sufficient, is beyond me.”
She chuckled. “You added more to your collection than I, Mr. Bradley.”
He smiled. “Dr. Hayden’s invitation to speak at the History of Chemistry symposium this fall has motivated me to become better acquainted with Lavoisier.” He stroked her wrist just above the glove. “You are sure you don’t mind me meeting him alone for lunch tomorrow? We have much to discuss. But I feel a bit guilty abandoning you. It is our honeymoon, after all.”
“Don’t worry. I’m meeting an acquaintance for lunch myself.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know you had friends in town.”
“It’s Rusty’s granddaughter. You remember Miss Lester? She was a freshman at the college last year but had to withdraw in March.”
His brow cleared. “Ah, yes. Short, dark-haired, large eyes that held sort of a melancholy look?”
Concordia nodded. “The poor girl had every reason to be melancholy. Her mother became ill, and she left school to take care of her. Unfortunately, the woman has since died and the medical expenses have reduced the family finances. Miss Lester lives over the bookshop with Rusty now and cannot afford to return to school.” Perhaps she could ask the bursar—when Miss Lester was ready to resume her studies, of course—about what scholarship money might be available for the young lady.
David settled back against the cushions. “Such a shame. What is she doing now?”
“Rusty said she’s a switchboard girl downtown, at New York Telephone’s central office.” He could tell her little else about his granddaughter, except to acknowledge that she did seem preoccupied lately.
Rusty had said, “Maybe she’ll talk to you about it, miss. She refuses to tell me what’s bothering her.”
The girl’s telegram felt as if it were burning a hole in Concordia’s pocket.
IN TROUBLE. NEED ADVICE. PLEASE MEET ME WHEN IN TOWN, ALONE.
Should she show David the telegram? She bit her lip as she glanced at her husband. He looked so relaxed, gazing idly through the coach window at the passing sights. Why worry him? Besides, all she was doing was meeting with a former student and giving advice. Something she did every day as part of her duties at Hartford Women’s College.
Better to say nothing more on the subject for now. She could always catch him up later, if necessary.
The Gilsey House Hotel lived up to its reputation as a luxury accommodation. Concordia stepped out of the cab, clutching her hat and arching her neck for a better look at the ornate, Empire-style French architecture with its cast-iron façade and three-story mansard roof.
She was so busy looking up that she stumbled over a gap in the sidewalk. David caught her and kept a hand at the small of her back. The doorman tipped his cap respectfully as they passed. “Felicitations to the happy couple! Enjoy your stay.”
“Are we that obvious?” she whispered to David, blushing.
“I doubt that I have a poker face.” David’s grin faded as he caught her just before she tripped again.
“Drat these new shoes,” she muttered. “They hurt my feet.”
“Here, why don’t you sit while I get us registered and check on our luggage. It should have arrived from the station by now.” Once he had helped her into a comfortable chair of tufted green velvet, he hurried over to the marble counter, staffed by a young gentleman in a bright blue waistcoat.
She sat back with a sigh, looking around the lobby. She didn’t know what to gaze upon first: the warm, glowing bronze chandeliers that hung from the vaulted ceiling, the tall windows swathed in gold silk draperies, the cozy groupings of velvet chairs, or the rich, rosewood-and-walnut trim of the paneling, polished and gleaming.
Soon David returned. “Our luggage was delivered from the station without mishap. The porter is taking it up.”
Concordia stood. “That’s a relief.”
“One more thing I forgot. You have to sign the register.”
With the desk clerk looking on, smiling impishly at both bride and groom, Concordia signed her married name in the ledger with a shaking hand. Mrs. David Bradley. She glared at the man as she handed back the pen. One would think he’d never seen a newly married couple before.
The bellhop led the way to their room, unlocked the door, and threw it open with a flourish. He pocketed his tip and left, with a wink in the groom’s direction.
At last, they were alone. The quavering feeling in her knees, the pounding of her heart in her chest, and the hot flush of her cheeks returned, as they invariably did when David gathered her close. She wondered if they would ever fade. Bridal nerves, her mother had called them.
Fortunately, David always had a way of helping her get over them.
Concordia and David went their separate ways the next afternoon, he for Shanley’s and she for the Macy’s ladies’ lunchroom. Despite it being a short ride along the Sixth Avenue elevated line, David hailed her a taxicab.
“You know I’ve taken the elevated to Macy’s before,” Concordia protested, as a cab pulled to the curb. “It’s in the heart of the Ladies’ Mile shopping district and quite safe.”
His dark eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled. “No doubt, my dear. You are simply humoring a protective husband.” In the shadow of the carriage door, he leaned down to place a warm kiss upon her forehead before handing her in.
Concordia gave a contented sigh. She could get used to humoring her husband.
The vehicle crept along the avenue in stop-and-start increments as pedestrians and bicyclists breezed past. It certainly would have been quicker to take the elevated train to traverse six blocks in this lunch hour traffic, but at least it gave her time to think about Miss Lester. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the cushions.
What sort of problem would have the girl in such a panic that she would contact her former teacher for help? Victoria Lester was an intelligent, hard-working, sensible girl, not given to impulsive action. Concordia hoped the issue didn’t involve a young man. Even after years of teaching and chaperoning female students, she didn’t consider herself equipped to give advice in that area.
The second-floor ladies’ lunchroom at Macy’s was bustling at this hour, and the throng of chattering women stretched beyond the red-velvet rope line. Concordia shouldered her way through the crowded foyer and recognized the slender, brown-haired, square-shouldered young lady at the front of the line, shifting from foot to foot and gripping her scuffed clutch purse tightly. Miss Lester seemed thinner than she remembered. The shadows beneath her eyes hinted at a recent spate of sleepless nights.
Her forehead smoothed in relief as Concordia approached. “Thank heaven you’ve come.” Her thinned lips barely curved in a smile.
“Of course I would come,” Concordia said. “It is good to see you, dear. We miss you at the school. I hope you will return to finish your degree at some point.”
The girl leaned closer and whispered, “I’ve had some opportunities here and there to make money, in addition to my regular job. I’ve been saving it all so I can come back.”
“Most commendable. Perhaps we can also inquire about a scholarship when you are ready,” Concordia said cautiously. She didn’t want to hold out false hope.
Miss Lester met the eye of the waitress approaching them with menus. “We’re ready, Millie. Definitely not the lunch counter. Someplace quieter, if you can manage it.”
Concordia and Miss Lester followed the waitress to a secluded corner table beside a window, partly screened by a potted palm. “You know the waitress?”
Miss Lester nodded as Millie handed them their menus and filled their water glasses. “She’s a good egg.” She glanced up at her friend. “Perfect, thank you.”
Millie smiled. “You’re welcome, dear. I’ll be back soon to take your order.”
Concordia wasted no time after she left. “All right then, Miss Lester, why don’t you tell me what the problem is.”
The girl twisted the napkin in her lap. “I’m sorry to have troubled you on your honeymoon, Miss W—uh, Mrs. Bradley. I’m at my wits’ end.”
“I’m happy to do what I can, though I am surprised you wouldn’t turn to your grandfather for help.”
“I—I would rather he not know. He has been through so much lately. Mother’s death has been hard on him.” She hesitated, then took the plunge. “You know I have a job as a switchboard girl for the New York Telephone Company?”
“Well, during an afternoon shift, I overheard a conversation—” She broke off as a group of matrons brushed past their table.
Concordia shifted impatiently after they passed. “What about?”
Miss Lester looked from side to side then dropped her voice to a whisper. “Murder.”
Concordia’s mouth hung open for a moment. “You’re sure?”
The girl nodded. “I heard him plain.”
“I don’t know. The call I connected came from the lunchroom of a private club. It could have been any of the patrons.”
“Who makes such a call in a restaurant?” Concordia asked.
Miss Lester shrugged. “I didn’t hear any background noise. The instrument itself was probably in a booth or an alcove.”
“When was this?”
Miss Lester sighed. “Last Monday. The twenty-sixth. I’d just started my shift, and it was hectic. The girl who was supposed to work the panel next to mine had been dismissed, so I had charge of both until they arranged for her replacement. Several calls were coming in at once. I thought I had disconnected my headset from the call, but I was mistaken. That’s how…I overheard it.” She hesitated as if to say more.
“What exactly did he say?” Concordia prompted.
Miss Lester closed her eyes briefly in concentration. “He said, ‘He didn’t die. I don’t know if I have it in me to try again.’”
Concordia suppressed a shiver. “Who was he talking to?”
“Which woman? Couldn’t you tell by the line you’d connected him to?”
She flushed and dropped her eyes. “It all happened so fast. It took me a minute to realize what I was hearing, you see. By that point, my supervisor was standing right over my shoulder. He must have suspected I was listening in. I—I panicked and disconnected, and then he started questioning me so sharply—while I was still trying to connect other lines—that by the time he’d moved away, the number had gone clean out of my head. All I can remember was it was an exchange in the Bronx.”
Concordia could sympathize. It is not every day that one hears talk of murder. And then to be berated by a strict supervisor…little wonder the girl had been flustered. “What about the man?”
“I told you, I don’t know who he is.”
“He didn’t identify himself to her? She did not refer to him by name?”
“No. It could have been anyone at the club.”
Ah. Now they were getting somewhere. “You know the name of the club, at least?”
She nodded. “The Stock Exchange Luncheon Club.”
Concordia frowned. “I’m unfamiliar with it.”
“Naturally, I have never been there myself, but from what I understand, it’s a restaurant where brokers from the New York Stock Exchange meet for lunch.” Miss Lester looked up as Millie approached their table.
“Have you decided?” The waitress pulled out her pad.
Concordia glanced at the menu. “I’ll have the tomato bisque.”
Miss Lester passed over her menu without looking at it. “Just some tea, Millie. I’m not very hungry.”
Millie frowned as she turned away.
“I admit, that’s a most distressing thing to overhear,” Concordia murmured. “How did the woman at the other end respond?”
Miss Lester looked up with anguished eyes. “That was the worst of all. She said, ‘You must persist. With the suffering he has brought upon us, he has had it coming for a long time.’”
Concordia blew out a breath. “How horrible.”
“So, what do we do?”
“We?” Concordia asked dryly.
Miss Lester blushed. “All right, then—what should I do?”
“There is only one thing to do, dear. Go to the police. Tell them what you know and leave it to them. They are the experts in dealing with such matters.” Concordia suppressed a sigh. How many times had she not taken her own advice? Well, those days were over.
The young lady shook her head vigorously. “Impossible.”
“For one, I doubt they will believe me. Only wealthy, well-respected investment brokers are admitted to the Luncheon Club. Who would take the word of a switchboard girl over someone like that?”
“It cannot do any harm to at least report it,” Concordia objected.
Miss Lester sniffed as she fished out a handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. “I can’t risk losing my position. We need the money.”
“Would that really happen? After all, you over-listened by accident.”
“You don’t know how strict our supervisor is. Only yesterday, he fired a switchboard girl for leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs. Making public the fact that a telephone operator eavesdropped on a private conversation involving a rich businessman is sure to get the entire office in trouble, not just me. People are nervous enough that we might be listening in on their calls. This would confirm it.”
“I see your point,” Concordia said. “Well, then, I believe we are back to doing nothing.”
Miss Lester narrowed her eyes. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, Mrs. Bradley, but I had hoped you could come up with a better solution than that. After all, I know you encountered several such problems and intervened when bringing in the police was not sufficient. You did not simply sit back and do nothing.”
Concordia felt her cheeks flush. “Those were entirely different circumstances, Miss Lester, and in retrospect I am not entirely sure I followed the most prudent course.”
The girl gaped in astonishment. Finally, she recovered her voice. “I never thought I would hear you say that. Where would Maisie Lovelace or Dean Maynard be if you had not stepped in last year? Marriage seems to have changed you.”
“There is no call for impertinence,” Concordia snapped. She gathered her belongings and put several bills on the table. “I must go.”
Miss Lester face contorted in distress. “Please,” she croaked. “I’m sorry. I did not mean to offend you. Please, stay.”
Concordia gave a sigh and sat back down. “I know you are under a great deal of strain.” And maybe, just maybe, the idea of marriage changing her had touched a tender spot.
Miss Lester leaned forward. “I have to do something. Perhaps I could send an anonymous note to the police, telling them what I know but not how I found out?”
Concordia shook her head. “I doubt that would be enough for them to conduct a serious investigation. An anonymous note could be explained away as spite. You would need to give the police more information, such as the name of the man who made the threat and, most importantly, the name of his intended victim.”
Miss Lester sat up straighter. “You’re right. I will have to learn more.”
Concordia grimaced. That was not what she meant, at all. “No, no, Miss Lester, you are not to involve yourself further, you understand? It is too dangerous.”
The girl raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Besides,” Concordia went on, hoping she was playing her final trump card, “you don’t want to risk your position at the telephone company, do you?”
Miss Lester sighed. “I suppose not.”
“How was your lunch?” David asked.
Concordia gave a grunt as she rummaged through her trunk. “It was good to see Miss Lester again, although the poor girl seems overworked.”
She was leaving out a great deal, but had already decided there was no point in going into detail. She would caution Rusty to keep an eye on his granddaughter. Beyond that, there was nothing else to be done. “Help me find my opera gloves, will you?”
“What do they look like?”
She stopped short of rolling her eyes. What else would opera gloves look like but…opera gloves? “They are black silk, long—extending to the elbow, with a row of tiny buttons down the side. They are my only pair. We cannot leave until I find them.” A lady may as well attend the theater barefoot if she was to go without her gloves.
She continued sifting through the trunk. “Have you and Dr. Hayden finalized the symposium arrangements?”
He shrugged. “Mostly, except for the panel I am to present. And he wants to see a draft of my speech as soon as possible.” He pulled open another drawer. “Ah! Found them.” He handed them over. “They were mixed in with my socks.”
She smoothed them out, checking that the buttons were still secure. Traveling with a husband created more chaos than her former solitary life had prepared her for.
“Any sign of the books Rusty was to have delivered?” David asked.
Concordia shook her head. “We should have expected them by now. Something must have come up. I’d like to stop by the bookstore again tomorrow anyway. We could retrieve them then.”
David nodded. “Good idea.”
As it turned out, they would not visit the bookstore for another three days. Concordia wondered afterward if that would have made all the difference.
It was a short drive to Hoyt’s Madison Square Theatre at Twenty-Fourth and Broadway. Concordia felt a tingle of anticipation as they found their seats in the balcony and settled in for the performance of William Gillette’s Because She Loved Him So. A professional theater production was a rare treat, particularly when her recent experiences were limited to directing student Christmas Revels and the senior Shakespeare play on the small stage at Hartford Women’s College. But here—ah, the grandeur of the professional milieu took one’s breath away: the orchestra, the stage set, the thrilled hush of the crowd as the lights dimmed—all of it created an atmosphere one could not get elsewhere.
David grasped for her hand in the dark, and she let it rest in his, strong and warm, for the entire first act.
When the lights came up for intermission, she pulled out her fan. The cooler roof air blowing in from beneath their seats—part of the Hoyt’s famed air conditioning system—couldn’t quite counteract the hot lights. She was glad her mother had insisted upon taking her shopping for a sleeveless, low-necked evening gown of emerald green to add to her wardrobe. David’s bright, lingering gaze as he tried not to fix his eyes upon her décolletage suggested that he approved, too.
“Shall I get us some punch?” he suggested.
She nodded her thanks. “I’ll come with you. I’ve been sitting for much too long.”
It was difficult to maneuver in the reception area, crowded with patrons on the same mission of fresh air, a change of scene, and a cool beverage. Concordia stood in a corner, away from the crush of people, catching glimpses of her husband threading his way to the punch line.
“Concordia!” a female voice exclaimed. “How lovely to see you here.” A young lady approached, dressed in a striking gown of burgundy satin. Every strand of her brown hair was smoothed in place, elegantly tucked at the nape. Such an arrangement served to emphasize her strong, square jawline.
“Charlotte, what a surprise!” Concordia said, clasping her hands. “I didn’t know you were in town.”
Charlotte Crandall had been a senior at Hartford Women’s College during Concordia’s first year as a professor. Shortly after graduation, the young lady had returned to teach at her alma mater and had stayed ever since. Concordia considered herself lucky to count her as a friend and colleague now.
Charlotte nodded toward the tall, gray-haired gentleman standing just behind David in line. “Uncle Anthony has business here these past few weeks and invited me to come along to see Because She Loved Him So. Mr. Dodson is among his favorite actors.” She waved a hand back toward the open doors and the stage. “It’s refreshing to attend a play done by professionals, isn’t it?” She winked.
Concordia chuckled. “Enjoy it while you can.”
Charlotte would be taking over Concordia’s former duties at Hartford Women’s College, which included directing the annual senior play, a chore Concordia certainly would not miss. Charlotte was also taking over her position as teacher-in-charge of one of the student dormitory cottages. A married woman could not possibly hold such employment. Concordia’s mouth quirked at the thought of David—and then, mercy, children—living among those harum-scarum young ladies. She blew out a breath. The topic of children always made her abdomen clench in a very uncomfortable way.
“Where’s your aunt?” she asked, to take her mind off the subject. Lady Dunwick always enjoyed a good play.
“She went straight on to East Hampton. She said she needed a little time to herself and wanted to oversee the servants opening up the summer house for the season.” Charlotte clasped her hands in excitement. “I am so happy that you and Mr. Bradley are coming to stay with us! We shall have such fun. Canoeing, hiking, fishing, surf-bathing, riding—both bicycles and horses”—she winked, all too aware of Concordia’s antipathy to the beasts—“and of course, there are to be garden parties, dances, even an old-fashioned country fair.”
“Sounds delightful,” Concordia said with a straight face, wondering where her peaceful, quiet honeymoon had gone. She had not thought there would be a great many social events at a seaside cottage.
Charlotte frowned. “But we don’t want to intrude upon your leisure. You aren’t obliged to attend any of it.”
“No, no,” Concordia said quickly, “it was incredibly kind of your aunt and uncle to invite us in the first place. I’m sure we’ll enjoy the activities.”
David and Sir Anthony Dunwick returned with brimming cups of punch for everyone.
“It’s good to see you again, sir,” Concordia said.
Sir Anthony gave a little bow. “The pleasure is mine, Miss—Mrs. Bradley.”
For a gentleman in his early sixties, he carried himself with the erect carriage and bright-eyed alertness of a younger man. He did seem to move more stiffly than she remembered, however, as he passed the punch cup to his niece.
Sir Anthony caught Concordia’s look. With a self-deprecating laugh, he flexed the fingers of his right hand. “Got banged about in the carriage last week. Infernal city traffic. Good thing I have Pickering to dictate letters for me.”
“Pickering?” David asked.
“A stenographer-typist who works for the brokerage firm I use. They have very kindly lent him to me, at least until I find a permanent assistant. I’m writing my memoirs, you see, now that I’ve retired from my law practice.”
David moved closer to Concordia, adjusting her stole over her shoulder, for which she smiled her thanks. “I’m sure you have fascinating tales in that regard,” he murmured absently.
Sir Anthony’s bright blue eyes crinkled at the corners as he watched David. “Enjoying your stay in the city, I hope?”
“Yes, quite,” David answered, giving his wife a warm glance.
Concordia blushed and changed the subject. “We are also looking forward to visiting you in East Hampton, Sir Anthony. It was most kind of you to invite us.”
He waved a dismissive hand. “There’s plenty of room. Stay as long as you like. We’re getting a late start and won’t be closing up the place until the end of September.”
“We will have to return sooner than that,” David said. “The fall semester starts at the end of August.”
Concordia felt a prickle of excitement. Although she would miss living with her students at Willow Cottage, she was fortunate enough to have been awarded the position of lecturing fellow at Hartford Women’s College this coming year, which meant she would be teaching a few seminars and supervising independent study projects. It was the first time in the college’s history that a married woman held any sort of faculty position, although the school was keeping it quiet. If it were widely known, everyone would have an opinion, most of them stridently expressed.
“We’re looking forward to it, all the same,” David added.
Concordia hid a smile behind her punch cup. David didn’t realize the bounty of activities that Charlotte had in store for them. They might need a rest from their holiday.
“What is your business in town, Sir Anthony?” Concordia inquired politely. “You mentioned a brokerage?”
“Terribly dull stuff, I’m afraid. Meetings with my investment broker to look over quarterly reports, shift some commodities that have been under-performing, seek out new prospects, that sort of thing.”
David leaned forward in interest. “I have considered putting more money into my current investments and perhaps diversifying.” He glanced at his wife. “With the possibility of starting a family soon, it would be wise to have a solid plan.”
Concordia gave him a sharp look, and it wasn’t about David expanding his stock portfolio. He smiled blandly. Easy for him to smile—he wasn’t the one who would bear the children, feed them, and…well, whatever else was expected maternally.
There it was again, that feeling of unease. Would she even be a good mother? She had never been fond of children to begin with, although a woman should never say such a thing aloud. In her opinion, children were snotty-nosed, loud, messy, always needing something. Could she be unselfish enough to subsume herself to the needs of such a creature? Would she resent the loss of her freedom? She suppressed a sigh, realizing she had not been attending to the conversation.
“—plenty of opportunity to pick up some pointers during your stay in East Hampton,” Sir Anthony was saying. “When we dined with my broker and his colleagues at the club last week, I invited the whole lot of them and their families to join us at the cottage.”
Concordia started. Lunch at the club. Investment brokers. Could this be the establishment Miss Lester had referred to? Here might be an opportunity to learn something.
“You’ll be interacting with the best investment minds on the East Coast,” Sir Anthony went on.
David frowned. “How many people can your summer cottage accommodate, sir?”
Charlotte laughed. “‘Cottage’ is rather a misnomer. The main house has eight bedrooms, in addition to the four cabins on the grounds. In fact, Aunt Susan plans to have our nicest cabin prepared for you two. Very secluded.” Her eyes twinkled.
Had the lobby become warmer all of a sudden? Concordia plied her fan to her reddened cheeks. Time for a change of subject. “Where did you say you dined with your broker?” she asked Sir Anthony.
If he thought it a strange question, he was too polite to let on. David, on the other hand, raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“The Stock Exchange Luncheon Club, on Broadway,” Sir Anthony answered. “It’s a members-only establishment, but they bent the rules for me. Quite comfortable, and the prime rib is stuff of legend.”
“I believe I have heard of it,” Concordia said. “From what I understand, it has all the latest amenities, isn’t that so?” She could tell by David’s frown that it must sound strange to be discussing a venue she could never patronize.
“It opened less than a year ago,” Sir Anthony said, “so naturally it has the modern conveniences one would expect.”
“Private telephones, perhaps?” she pressed.
David’s frown grew deeper.
Sir Anthony nodded and drew breath to speak when the gong sounded for the patrons to resume their seats. He held out his arm for Charlotte. “Shall we?” With a nod to Concordia and David, he added, “A pleasure to see you both again. I look forward to your upcoming visit.”
“What was that about?” David hissed, as Concordia tucked her hand in his arm as they made their way back to their seats.
She widened her eyes. “What was whatabout?”
“That innocent look doesn’t fool me. I know you too well,” he murmured. “And your voice goes up just a bit when you’re evading a question.”
Drat. She’d have to work on that. Not that she wanted to deceive him, of course, but it could not be good for a relationship if one’s husband always knew what one was up to.
The lights dimmed as he settled her into her seat. “I’ll tell you later,” she whispered. The curtain went up to a fresh wave of applause.
“I’ll hold you to that,” he whispered back.
The next few days were a whirlwind of activity for the newly married couple: museum exhibits, sightseeing, concerts, and—now that Charlotte knew they were in town—invitations to teas, dinners, and even a piano recital.
Finally, it was the morning of their last full day in the city before they were to leave for East Hampton. “It has been ages since I’ve been to Central Park,” Concordia said, as the hotel elevator doors opened to the ground floor lobby. “You’re sure we can rent bicycles there?”
David nodded. “I’ve already checked. We go to the main kiosk. We can have them for three hours.”
“We should go to Deighton’s Books afterward. We’ve put it off much too long.” “They must have forgotten about my books by now.” He inclined his head toward the front desk clerk hurrying toward them. “Unless…perhaps here is news of them?”
The clerk tipped his cap politely. “Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Bradley, I have something—”
“A package for me?” David interrupted.
“N-no, sir. There’s a note for the missus.” He fished in his tunic pocket, passing over a thin envelope with “Mrs. Bradley” scrawled across in a hasty hand.
“When was this?” Concordia asked, lifting the flap.
“Late last night. The night clerk considered it best not to disturb you.” He shook his head. “He thought it passing strange that a young lady would be out alone at that hour of the night.”
“An unaccompanied lady left it?” David asked.
The man nodded.
Concordia pulled out the slip.
I am being followed. He mustn’t know where I live. Once I have managed to evade him, I will go home. Can you meet me at the bookstore in the morning? I fear I have made things worse. I’m sorry.
Concordia bit her lip. Despite her caution to Miss Lester about becoming further involved, the girl had obviously plunged headlong into this mess. “Miss Lester wants to meet me at the bookstore as soon as possible.” She slipped it in her pocket before he could ask to see it. “Do you mind if we postpone our bicycle excursion and go there first?”
David gave her a sharp look and steered her away from the clerk looking on in curiosity, through the lobby to the cab stand. “What is going on? Why would Miss Lester leave you a note in the middle of the night? If she wanted to see you today, she could have telephoned this morning. Why was she out alone at that hour?”
Concordia looked up at him, into those dark brown eyes now clouded with worry. Now was the time, it was past the time, to tell him. Why did she hesitate?
A cab pulled up. “Where to, mister?” the cabbie called out.
“Do you know Deighton’s Books?” David asked. He helped her into the cab and climbed in.
“Yessir,” the cabbie said, closing the door behind them. They set off at a brisk pace.
“Now then,” David said sternly, “tell me what is going on with Miss Lester. I want the whole story.”
There was no help for it. She took a breath and began her tale.
David’s frown deepened into a scowl as she passed over the note for him to read. “So you knew, even before we arrived in New York, that she was in trouble? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t know what sort of trouble it was. She asked for my advice. I thought it might be a romantic attachment or something equally confidential. I wished to respect her privacy.”
He sighed. “Didn’t you warn her how dangerous it was to meddle further?”
“Of course, I did,” she snapped. “I used every argument I could think of. I even pointed out that her employment could be at risk. I never imagined she would continue.”
“But you couldn’t let it go yourself,” David pointed out. “That was why you asked Sir Anthony about a telephone at the lunch club.”
She put a placating hand on his sleeve. “I simply wanted to confirm if her story was plausible. Sir Anthony had dined at the same club where Miss Lester said she overheard a man talk of murder on the telephone. Surely you can see my reasoning?”
He covered her hand with his and squeezed gently before glancing at the note once more. “‘He mustn’t know where I live.’ The would-be murderer, I assume.”
Concordia nodded. “But how did he know about her?”
“Would she have been so foolhardy as to confront the man?” David asked.
Concordia blew out a breath. “I don’t think so.”
David passed back the note. “I say we both speak with Miss Lester, instruct her to go to the police with her information. If someone is indeed pursuing her, he will stop once the authorities are involved. Then that will be an end to it.” He clasped her hand. She shivered as he lightly stroked the fine bones of her wrist. “Besides, chasing a would-be murderer through the city streets is a poor way to spend a honeymoon.”
They were two blocks from the bookstore when the street traffic came to an abrupt halt. The cabbie, after a quick interchange with a top-hatted gentleman on the sidewalk, got down and came around to their door. “Can’t go any farther, sir. Seems to be a bit of trouble up ahead. The street’s blocked off. Ya want me to take ya back?”
David and Concordia exchanged a look. “What sort of trouble?” she asked.
The man jerked a thumb over his shoulder. In the distance, a thin plume of smoke was visible. “One o’ the stores burned down early this morning.”
Concordia scrambled out of the vehicle as David hastily paid the driver. “Never mind, we’ll walk from here.”
Concordia’s heart pounded in her throat as they hurried toward Deighton’s Books. Please, not the bookstore. Please.
A crowd of onlookers impeded their progress, making it difficult for her to see ahead. David kept a firm grip on her elbow as they threaded among the press of people. Once they reached the corner of Eleventh Street, he stopped abruptly.
“Is it…Rusty’s…store?” she asked, struggling to catch her breath. Several people blocked her view, but David was taller.
His jaw clenched as he gave a quick nod. “Looks bad, I’m sorry to say. Come on.” He reached for her hand.
With a mixture of pushing and apologies, they muscled their way to the curb, where a policeman stood to keep the people back.
“Whoa, there.” He put up his hands. “That’s far enough, folks.”
Concordia stared at what used to be the storefront of Deighton’s, now a collection of sodden, charred wood, broken glass, and blackened pulp. Firemen were packing up their hose and axes, and rope cordoned off the sidewalk in front of the store.
She shivered, and David put his arm around her waist. “We’re friends of the proprietor and his granddaughter,” he said. “Are they safe?”
The policeman gave a mighty sigh. “‘Tis a crying shame, that. Such a nice family. You better talk to the clerk. We let him go back inside, to get the till and whatever else looters might think to be stealin’. But don’t stay long. It in’t safe in there.” He lifted the rope to let them pass.
With the acrid smell filling their nostrils, Concordia and David picked their way carefully. David held one of her hands to help steady her as she lifted her skirts in her other hand to avoid the shards of glass and navigate the charred, splintered bookcases across their path. “Claude?” she called out.
“Over here,” came a subdued voice. They found a weary man in his fifties near the back corner of the store, crouched over a strongbox he was settling into a wooden crate. Thanks to the hard work and quick action of the fire brigade, this section of the store was undamaged by the fire, albeit damp and reeking of smoke.
Claude stood as they approached. His eyes widened. “Why, it’s Miss Concordia! Rusty said you were back in town.” He nodded toward David. “And this must be your young man.” He held up sooty palms. “Sorry I can’t shake your hand, sir.” He swiped his cuff across his sweaty forehead.
“Claude”—Concordia’s voice rose in her agitation—“where are Rusty and Victoria?”
“They took her to New York Hospital. Rusty’s gone with her. I offered to do what I could here.” His brows lowered. “She’s in a bad way, miss.”
Concordia’s knees quavered. “Will she…survive?” David kept a strong, reassuring arm around her shoulders.
Claude’s eyes filled with regret. “I honestly don’t know. I pray she does. She’s all the old man has left in the world.”
“How did the fire start?” David asked.
Claude shrugged. “I only know what Rusty told me. When I got here, the fire was nearly out and the ambulance was getting ready to take her. He says it started in Miss Victoria’s room early this morning. Heaven knows how. The sound of breaking glass woke him up—fire chief says the window blew out—and he found the room ablaze and her unconscious on the bed. By the time he dragged her out and a neighbor went for help, the upper floor and storefront under it were completely engulfed.”
“How horrible.” Concordia looked up at David. “We must go see them.”
His warm brown eyes softened in understanding. “Of course.” He turned to the clerk. “Anything we can do for you?”
The man shook his head. “There’s not much left to do. Once the firemen open up the street, I’ll send for a cart to load up whatever’s salvageable, store it in my brother’s shed. It won’t be much, I can tell you. But that reminds me.” He dropped to his knees and started shifting books around on the floor, plucking out a three-volume stack with David’s name affixed on top. “I happened to tuck your books over here yesterday, so they mostly escaped damage, though they may smell a bit. Sorry about the delay in getting them to you, sir. We were so busy the last few days that I had no time.”
“No matter.” David tucked them awkwardly under his arm. “Thank you.”
After a few blocks’ walk, they found a cab to take them to the hospital. The ride was a quiet one, filled only with Concordia’s mounting anxiety and the smell of damp smoke from the books at David’s feet.