We’re two weeks away from the release of The Salinghall Error, so as usual, I’m running a decent-sized excerpt from the front of the book (as it doesn’t have chapters).
EXCERPT FROM THE SALINGHALL ERROR
COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2021
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Salinghall Christmas Eve Ball, Great Saling, Braintree, Essex. December 1907.
The great manor house at Salinghall was lit by new electric lights, with every window on all five floors blazing. The light from the windows illuminated the grand concourse circling a dancing fountain, and the many motor cars disgorging their passengers upon the broad steps.
Hundreds of British peers, upper class members of the ton, along with a good sprinkling of those with pretentions, stood about the steps. The women glittered from their tiaras down to their rhinestone and jewel-enhanced dancing slippers, while the men added a graceful dark note in their tailed jackets and white ties. It was a mild night for December, which allowed them to linger, greet newcomers and secretly critique women’s gowns and jewels.
Adelaide Becket smoothed her gown’s top layer of lace over her hip, then touched her tiara to ensure it was still properly secured to her hair. Fussing in such a manner let her glance at the faces of everyone upon the steps and not be caught staring.
From inside the hall, she could hear the orchestra working its way through a minuet—a sedate dance for the start of this customary Christmas Eve ball.
“Mama, it won’t sit still,” Davinia said, her hand securing the small tiara perched upon her dark curls. Davinia was seventeen and had attended her first season this year. She was dressed in a pretty ivory gown with green sprigs embroidered upon the bodice and the train.
“Don’t push it about so, then,” her mother, Lady Cathleen, said calmly, arranging her train. “It isn’t becoming to continually wave your hands about your face.” Lady Cathleen was Adele’s oldest sister and wore a conservative dark green satin gown with matching long gloves. She glanced at Adele and smiled. “Is that not correct, Adelaide?”
“I find that sliding a clip across the teeth ensures the tiara won’t move at all,” Adele said. “The clip sits behind the tiara, so no one can see it. Plus two clips crossing each other, through the loops at the ends.”
Davinia spun to face Adelaide. “Oh, please tell me you have spare clips I may use?”
Adele opened her evening purse—carefully, for she did not want anyone in her family to see the small revolver inside it—and removed a handful of clips, which she gave to Davinia.
“A few clips are all you need for that tiny thing you are wearing, sister,” Georgina said. Georgina was Adele’s other sibling. “You are a lady and the daughter of an earl. You should be wearing a tiara that befits your station.” Georgina’s own headpiece was ridiculously large, soaring nearly five inches in the middle.
“I’m the widow of a commoner,” Adele reminded her sister, her tone flat.
Richard de Morville, their father, harrumphed loudly. “There is a place for feminine concerns to be aired and it is not upon the steps of Lord Andrew’s house.” He tugged his waistcoat into place. “We will enter, now. Adelaide, try to comport yourself in a manner which does not embarrass the family.”
Adelaide held her teeth together for a count of three. “Yes, Father.”
Cathleen caught Adele’s gloved hand in her own and tugged her up the steps. “Let’s see the ballroom decorations for this year, Adele.”
Adele let herself be drawn up the steps. Cathleen wound her arm through Adele’s and squeezed her arm with her other hand. “I am so pleased you came home for Christmas.” She kept her voice low, to discourage eavesdroppers.
“You almost begged me to,” Adele pointed out. “Three letters, at least.”
“Well, yes, but I didn’t think you would respond to any of them. You didn’t, last year. We only learned you would not be coming home for Christmas when Christmas Day arrived, and you did not.”
Adele ignored the touch of guilt stirring in her belly. “I had a difficult year, last year.” It was not a complete untruth.
“Oh, yes, of course. How dreadful of me to overlook your husband’s death like that.”
Cathleen sounded genuinely abashed at her faux pas, so Adele did not remind her that she had lost more than a husband, that she had also lost her son. Instead, she gave Cathleen a small smile. “But I am here, this year.”
Cathleen’s smile grew even warmer.
Her husband, the long and rangy Lord Stirling, climbed up beside them, his legs working. “I’m off to find the fellows,” he said shortly, his hair falling across his forehead from the vigor of his climb.
“But…a dance first, Stirling?” Cathleen called after him.
He didn’t look back.
“I’m sure Dudley will give you a dance,” Adele told Cathleen. Dudley Winston, Baron Wadebridge, was Georgina’s husband.
“Once he has danced with all the proper partners of the evening, of course,” Cathleen said.
Adelaide managed not to laugh aloud at that, for Dudley was just as sensitive to matters of propriety and one’s station as Georgina was.
Their father pushed past both of them, almost stepping on Adele’s hem. She tugged the black lace and purple satin out from beneath his boots.
“Father!” Cathleen protested.
The Earl of Panfield also continued without pause into the hall.
“I’m sorry, Adelaide,” Cathleen murmured. “I don’t understand at all why he is angry with you.”
“It is because I came home for Christmas.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense at all!” Cathleen protested, as they moved up another step toward the crowded front door.
“This afternoon, after tea, he had me brought to his library and asked me how much money I needed, for he could think of no other reason why I would bother coming to Panfield, unless it was because I was in a jam I wanted him to solve for me.”
Cathleen squeezed her arm once more. “You know what he’s like, Adele. He’s all bluster. I’m sure he’s really very pleased you’re home.”
“Actually, I do believe he meant every word,” Adele said. “But it doesn’t matter, for I know why I am here.”
“And so do I,” Cathleen murmured happily.
Again, guilt nudged her, but only a little. Adele really was pleased to be here, if only because it made Cathleen so happy.
Lady Adelaide closes in on the German spymaster called the Doctor…
Lady Adelaide Azalea Margaret de Morville, Mrs. Hugh Becket, leads an operation to recruit a potential double agent with a connection to the Doctor, with Torin Slane, the Irish professor and Fenian, and Daniel Bannister, Baron Leighton, to assist her. All three work under the cover of the traditional Salinghall Christmas Eve Ball, which Adele’s family has attended every year for decades.
But returning home for Christmas, after eloping with a commoner many years ago, comes with complications, including her judgmental and difficult father and her trouble-prone sisters.
Only, the real trouble comes from a completely unexpected direction, putting Adele on a collision course with the Doctor himself…
This novelette is the sixth in the Adelaide Becket Edwardian espionage series.
1.0: The Requisite Courage
2.0: The Rosewater Debutante
3.0: The Unaccompanied Widow
4.0: The Lavender Semaphore
5.0: The Broadcloth Midnight
6.0: The Salinghall Error
…and more to come.
A historical suspense espionage novelette.
Don’t forget that if you pre-order directly from me, you get your copy a week earlier than everyone else. That is, next week.