First Chapter from the Adelaide Becket Boxed Set

We’re two weeks away from the SRP release of Adelaide Becket’s Adventures, the boxed set that pulls together the seven stories (so far) released in the historical suspense series.

That means, it’s time for the first chapter for you to sample. Only, there are no chapters in the stories, so I’ll drop below for you a longish excerpt from the first book in the collection, The Requisite Courage.

The Requisite Courage

Balmoral Castle, Ballater, Scotland. 1906

Adele had attended too many royal functions to consider a party at Balmoral more than merely interesting, even if it was a weekend house party at which King Edward himself would be present—weekend house parties being notorious for generating scandals and adventures to supply the rest of society with gossip to last the season.

What was vexing was to step beyond the butler’s silver tray and size up the guests as Melville had instructed her, only to find she knew the first guest her gaze rested upon rather too well.

Six feet and two inches of debonair Saville Row tuxedo, thick dark blond hair combed into rare obedience, and grey eyes which missed nothing. Those eyes were narrowed and examining her right now.

Daniel Hargrave Bannister. The Second.

“Oh, bother…” Adele murmured. She plucked a champagne glass from the tray the footman held out to her and thanked him absently as Daniel moved toward her.

“Lady Adelaide, how delightful,” Daniel said in greeting. “And here I thought that Cape Town had acquired you forever while I lingered neglected, here in England.”

“I heard you were in East Africa, Daniel. Collecting ivory, wasn’t it? Or were you a miserable failure at that, too?” She smiled and sipped and tried to examine the other guests, but Daniel’s shoulders were simply too high and rather broad, as well.

“I am a perfect shot,” he said coolly. “As you well know.”

The mention of guns made her reticule feel suddenly too heavy on her arm. “I’m not sure how I might know that,” she said stiffly. “The only time I’ve ever seen you was in drawing rooms, usually propping up a mantelshelf, which seemed to adequately suit your personality.”

Daniel’s jaw grew firmer.

“I must present myself to the King,” Adele added before he could fire a return salvo, for she had spotted the King’s corpulent figure, surrounded by glittering teagowns and satin lapels. “Excuse me.”

She crossed the room, scanning faces as she moved. Most of them were people she knew from her few seasons in London, but she hadn’t seen any of them for several years.

One of the small group gathered around the King was Boyd Waterman. The Earl of Whitehead, he was now. She touched his elbow. Boyd glanced at her, most of his attention upon the King, who was speaking. Then Boyd swiveled his gaze back to her, his eyes widening.

“Good Lord! Adele!” he exclaimed softly, turning to her. “I thought you were in the Cape Colony.” He bent and brought his lips and his bristling mousy-brown moustache within an inch of her cheek. “How marvelous!” Then his smile faded. “I’m so sorry about Hugh.”

She managed to keep her smile in place. “Thank you.” She nodded toward the King. “Would you do the honors, Boyd?”

“You’ve never met Bertie?”

“No, I’ve never had the pleasure.” She had been one of the last debutantes to be presented to Queen Victoria.

“Well, then.” Boyd brought his arm around her back and shepherded her into the little circle, while stepping back to make room for her. He cleared his throat.

King Edward finished speaking to Miriam Lynwood, then raised a brow at Boyd. His gaze shifted to Adele.

“Your Highness, may I present to you Lady Adelaide Azalea Margaret de Morville, Mrs. Hugh Becket, lately of the Cape Colony but now returned to us.” Boyd added, “Lady Adele, His Royal Highness, King Edward VII.”

Adele gave a shallow curtsey. “Your Highness. Thank you for the invitation. I am honored to be here.”

Edward’s eyes twinkled with good cheer. “You are very welcome, Lady Adelaide.”

“Adele, Your Highness.”

“And I am Bertie—at least here among friends,” he told her. “You do light up this chilly old place in a most pleasing manner.”

Adele gave a polite laugh. “Thank you, Your…Bertie.”

“Yes indeed.” He smoothed his moustache with one finger. “I would be interested to see how you improve the northwest corner of the floor above us.”

Everyone tittered nervously. Adele made herself smile, although she didn’t understand the King’s comment.

Boyd swayed toward her. “The royal bedroom,” he breathed.

“Oh…” Adele smiled even more brightly at the King. “You are too kind, Your Highness.”

King Edward beamed at her.

The butler standing at his elbow cleared his throat and murmured, while the King turned his head to listen. “Ah!” Edward said. “Arthur has arrived back from Ireland. I must have a word with my little brother before he hides in his room to sulk.” He nodded at everyone, who bowed and curtsied.

The King hurried away.

“Oh, dear,” Adele murmured, watching him go.

Boyd turned to Adele. “You did make an impression.”

“I’m afraid so.” How could she properly assess the King’s guests, if the King was far too interested in her? And time was short…

She turned on her heel and surveyed the room. “I must speak with Miriam,” she murmured. A footman eased toward her and proffered his tray of full glasses and she swapped hers for a fresh one, then moved toward the small group Miriam Lynwood was part of.

When she was only part way across the room, Miriam turned her head. Her expression was utterly blank, as if she was glancing at a stranger.

Adele stopped short, her heart stirring. “Oh, dear…” she murmured.

Thirty minutes later, Adele had switched from mild exclamations to pithy curses—purely in her own mind. She stood by herself at the end of one of the elegant French sofas, drinking moodily and assessing her progress.

She had forgotten a fact of society life since leaving for the Cape. Women in Cape Town could speak to whomever they wished, for everyone knew everyone else there, and one’s station was immaterial.

Too, her station had diminished somewhat since she had last mingled with the upper classes of England. She was the widow of a commoner, now. That was something she was sure William Melville had failed to take into account when he had convinced her to help him with his work.

He had called upon her unannounced only ten days ago, wearing an insipid suit and unremarkable bowler hat and introduced himself, with a near-bow, as a friend of her husband’s.

Adele had stood amidst trunks and sea chests and mounds of packing straw, feeling hot and dispirited, while Melville explained why he had come to the house her father had grudgingly acquired for her only two days previously, when Adele had not yet announced her new address to anyone in London.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Adele said bluntly, after he had spoken for several minutes. “What has my husband to do with German colonial efforts?”

“Nothing at all, Lady Adelaide,” Melville replied. “It is you who can help me.”


Melville’s jovial expression faded. “You speak fluent German with an upper-class accent, thanks to your three years in Cape Town. You are a peer and a member of society. And you are…well, forgive me for saying so, Lady Adelaide, but you are a woman and are therefore easily discounted in the minds of men—if they notice you at all.”

Adele brushed her hands. “I see. You’d best get to your point, Mr. Melville. I have a dinner appointment to prepare for.”

“You are eating alone, as usual,” Melville replied. “Cod, tonight, I believe.”

She stared at him. “You are uncommonly informed.”

“It is my responsibility to be so informed,” Melville replied. “You could achieve that level of understanding, too, Mrs. Becket. You are uniquely placed to serve Britain in a way few women can.”

Adele blinked. She sank onto a still-closed tea chest. “Go on.”

Melville spun his bowler brim in his fingers. His eyes no longer appeared to be amiable but filled with a quick intelligence which didn’t match the outward demeanor. “I must be blunt and short, Lady Adelaide, for time is ticking. My work is very simple. I root out German spies, here at home and abroad, if necessary, to stop them from undermining Britain. Five days ago, I learned of a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of the land.”

Adele gripped her fingers together. “A…conspiracy?”

Melville nodded. “I have learned there is a plot to assassinate King Edward, for he holds little regard for Germany and his attitude tends to filter downward to the Houses, and to those who make official policy in Britain.”

“Oh my,” she breathed. Then, “How can I possibly help with such a dire matter as that?”

Melville pointed to the other nailed-shut tea chest. “May I?”

She nodded.

He perched on the edge of the chest. “The King is holding a weekend house party at Balmoral, in two weeks’ time.”

Adele shook her head. “If you think I can help you with that, you are wrong. I have not been invited.” In fact, she had told no one outside her immediate family that she was back in the country. She had wanted time alone to adjust to the dampness of England and the sounds and smells of London which she had once known very well. St. James was a stranger to her now. Mayfair was distressingly unfamiliar. Even Hyde Park was…changed.

Melville shook his head at her refutation. “The King’s secretary has learned that you are recently returned. You will receive your invitation this afternoon.”

Adele pursed her lips. “I wonder…did you tell him that?”

Melville smiled, which changed his features and made him appear to be a completely different man. “There. You see? You have a natural affinity for the work.”

“My husband always decried my suspicious nature,” she replied tartly. “It is hardly an asset.”

“In this work, it is,” Melville assured her.

Adele pressed her hands together once more. They were damp. “I fail to see how an inclination toward suspicion can possibly stop a plot of the sort you think might be happening.”

“Oh, it will happen,” he assured her. “I have thoroughly questioned a German who has confirmed it. Your role, if you agree to help me, is simple. The man who is coordinating the attack will be at Balmoral.”

“One of the guests?” Adele breathed, horrified. “But…but they are peers! People I know! None of them could possibly—”

Melville held up his hand, his palm toward her.

Adele drew in a breath and made herself stop babbling.

Melville’s expression was sympathetic. “I understand that this is a shock to you. Perhaps it will serve to underline just how ruthless the Germans can be. They exploit the weaknesses of good men, turn them and make them work for German interests.”

“How could any man ever consider…” Adele shook her head.

Melville considered her. “What if I said to you that I know the truth about your husband’s and your son’s deaths?”

Adele gasped, sickness swooping through her. “What could you possibly know about it? They died in a house fire.” It hurt to speak of it.

“But what if there were more to the matter?”

Adele gripped the metal edges of the tea chest, which dug into her fingers. “My husband was a dry goods merchant.”

Melville nodded. “Yes, indeed, but can you see how the Germans could twist it and make you biddable? They could come to you and say they know the truth about the fire, that they know who set it and killed your husband and your son. That they are willing to tell you everything they know, if you will only help them with a small matter of theirs…”

Adele stared at him in horror. “This is what they did with…with whoever intends to kill the King?”

“Yes,” Melville said flatly. “They have an agent in the castle itself, who will oversee the planting of the bomb. Shortly before the bomb explodes, I am sure he will contrive to leave the castle, so he is out of the way and safe.”

“A bomb…” She brought her hand to her throat. Her chest hurt from the ramming of her heart. “You want me to learn who the man is, do you not?”

“There. You are capable of independent and clear thought, just as I had hoped. Yes, Lady Adelaide. I need you to identify who the agent is. I will be on the grounds, disguised as a groundskeeper and will be watching as closely as I can. Once you know who the man is, your part in the matter will be over. I will move in and deal with him, after that.”

Adele considered. “What if the man, whoever he is, learns that I am looking for him?”

“Ah.” Melville reached into his pocket, withdrew a small handgun, which he placed on the tea chest next to him.

Adele stared at it.

“I know you have fired guns before,” Melville said.

“Rifles!” she protested. “Hunting rifles.”

“And shotguns, yes.” He gave her a tight smile. “It is the same principle. Make sure the gun is loaded, cock it and fire.” He paused. “You will do splendidly, Lady Adelaide. Only you can help me save the King.”

She swallowed. “You had best call me Adele,” she told him. “I hope you like fish.”

The first seven Lady Adelaide stories in one volume.

As Europe draws toward war, an extraordinary woman steps into the arena. In Edwardian England, Lady Adelaide Azalea Margaret de Morville, Mrs. Hugh Becket, lately of the Cape Colony, was born the daughter of an Earl, but is now the widow of a commoner. She straddles two worlds, speaks fluent German, and can ride, hunt and shoot. Her talents draws the eye of spymaster William Melville, who recruits her to help him fight a shadow game with German agents both at home and aboard, as Europe heads toward an inevitable conflict…

A Historical Suspense Espionage Omnibus

The Adelaide Becket series.
1: The Requisite Courage
2: The Rosewater Debutante
3: The Unaccompanied Widow
4: The Lavender Semaphore
5: The Broadcloth Midnight
6: The Salinghall Error
7: The Indecent Agent
7.5: Adelaide Becket’s Adventures
…and more to come.
An Edwardian Suspense Espionage series

{Also see: Thrillers, Espionage, Historical, Novelettes}

Adelaide Becket’s Adventures will be available on Stories Rule Press on June 29th, two weeks from now.  It will be available more widely, on the other bookstores, a bit later in the year.

Don’t forget to grab the 10% off coupon on the front page of Stories Rule Press if you’re a new customer. 

Or you can use your reward points to gain a discount on the set, if you’ve shopped on SRP before.

Buy from Me @ SRP!

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