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The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn - Historical Fiction
Partners now in marriage and in trade, Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane have finally returned from abroad to set up housekeeping in London. But merging their respective collections of gadgets, pets and servants leaves little room for the harried newlyweds themselves, let alone Brisbane's private enquiry business.
Among the more unlikely clients: Julia's very proper brother, Lord Bellmont, who swears Brisbane to secrecy about his case. Not about to be left out of anything concerning her beloved--if eccentric--family, spirited Julia soon picks up the trail of the investigation.
It leads to the exclusive Ghost Club, where the alluring Madame Séraphine holds evening séances...and not a few powerful gentlemen in thrall. From this eerie enclave unfolds a lurid tangle of dark deeds, whose tendrils crush reputations and throttle trust.
Shocked to find their investigation spun into salacious newspaper headlines, bristling at the tension it causes between them, the Brisbanes find they must unite or fall. For Bellmont's sake--and more--they'll face myriad dangers born of dark secrets, the kind men kill to keep....
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I will sit as quiet as a lamb. —King John
London, September 1889
"Julia, what in the name of God is that terrible stench? It smells as if you have taken to keeping farm animals in here," my brother, Plum, complained. He drew a silk handkerchief from his pocket and held it to his nose. His eyes watered above the primrose silk as he gave a dramatic cough.
I swallowed hard, fighting back my own cough and ignoring my streaming eyes. "It is manure," I conceded, turning back to my beakers and burners. I had just reached a crucial point in my experiment when Plum had interrupted me. The table before me was spread with various flasks and bottles, and an old copy of the Quarterly Journal of Science lay open at my elbow. My hair was pinned tightly up, and I was swathed from shoulders to ankles in a heavy canvas apron.
"What possible reason could you have for bringing manure into Brisbane's consulting rooms?" he demanded, his voice slightly muffled by the handkerchief. I flicked him a glance. With the primrose silk swathing the lower half of his face he resembled a rather dashing if unconvincing highwayman.
"I am continuing the experiment I began last month," I explained. "I have decided the fault lay with the saltpeter. It was impure, so I have decided to refine my own."
His green eyes widened and he choked off another cough. "Not the black powder again! Julia, you promised Brisbane."
The mention of my husband's name did nothing to dissuade me. After months of debating the subject, we had agreed that I could participate in his private enquiry investigations so long as I mastered certain essential skills necessary to the profession. A proficiency with firearms was numbered among them.
"I promised him only that I would not touch his howdah pistol until he instructed me in the proper use of it," I reminded Plum. I saw Plum glance anxiously at the tiger-skin rug stretched on the floor. Brisbane had felled the creature with one shot of the enormous howdah pistol, saving my life and killing the man-eater in as quick and humane a fashion as possible. My own experiences with the weapon had been far less successful. The south window was still boarded up from where I had shattered it when an improperly cured batch of powder had accidentally detonated. The neighbour directly across Chapel Street had threatened legal action until Brisbane had smoothed his ruffled feathers with a case of rather excellent Bordeaux.
Plum gave a sigh, puffing out the handkerchief. "What precisely are you attempting this time?"
I hesitated. Plum and I had both taken a role in Brisbane's professional affairs, but there were matters we did not discuss by tacit arrangement, and the villain we had encountered in the Himalayas was seldom spoken of. I had watched the fellow disappear in a puff of smoke and the experience had been singularly astonishing. I had been impressed enough to want some of the stuff for myself, but despite numerous enquiries, I had been unsuccessful in locating a source for it. Thwarted, I had decided to make my own.
"I am attempting to replicate a powder I saw in India," I temporised. "If I am successful, the powder will require no flame. It will be sensitive enough to ignite itself upon impact." Plum's eyes widened in horror.
"Damnation, Julia, you will blow up the building! And Mrs. Lawson dislikes you quite enough already," he added, a trifle nastily, I thought.
I bent to my work. "Mrs. Lawson would dislike any wife of Brisbane's. She had too many years of keeping house for him and preparing his puddings...
The Dark EnquiryBy: Deanna Raybourn