The Society Scandal of the Season...
Lady Adelaide Compton had prepared herself to say goodbye forever to Detective Inspector Devenand Hunter. It would be a welcome relief not to get mixed up in any more murders, even if it meant never working alongside the handsome detective again...wouldn't it?
But then Addie's prim and proper mother, Constance, the Dowager Marchioness of Broughton, is accused of murdering her secret lover, and there can't be enough gentlemen detectives on hand to find the truth. The dead Duke of Rufford appeared to lead a blameless life, but appearances can be deceiving. And unless Addie and Dev work together, Constance will hang—which is no one's idea of a happy ending.
Addie hoped for help, but it seemed she had to do this on her own. Leaving Mr. Reeves-Smith to enjoy his tea, biscuits, and integrity, she stood in line before the registration desk in the crowded lobby like any ordinary person. A young man beckoned her forward, and she approached.
Addie smiled brightly, crossing her fingers behind her back. “Good afternoon. Is Graf von Mayr in? We had, um, an appointment, but I’m afraid I mixed up the time.”
The desk clerk picked up the house phone. “Allow me to check for you, madam. Who may I say is calling?”
“Uh, Miss Beckett. Maeve Rose Beckett.” Cee was not the only sister who could pose as a maid. She would tell von Mayr who she really was at once if he came down to meet her. She stopped herself from tapping her gloved fingers on the veined marble counter as the clerk turned away from her.
His conversation was remarkably brief. “You’re to go straight up, Miss Beckett.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Graf von Mayr is expecting you.”
The clerk nodded. “As per usual. Do you remember the room number?”
“I’m afraid it’s slipped m-my m-mind,” Addie stuttered.
“Room 348. The lifts are that way.”
“Thank you.” Obviously there was some mistake, but Addie was not going to argue. She dodged a bellhop with a pyramid of luggage, entered the lift, and told the operator the floor number.
The doors opened. “Three four eight. Three four eight,” she muttered to herself, noting she had a fair walk on the floral carpet ahead of her. With each step, the butterflies fluttered in her stomach. She slowed her pace a bit, mustering calm. She wasn’t here to accuse von Mayr of killing his father-in-law, just to gather information. She hoped Mr. Hunter would come to Mount Street tonight and they could compare notes.
If she survived the next fifteen minutes.
She arrived at the correct door and raised a fist to knock. Before she could, it was opened by a tall, extremely handsome blond gentleman with a dashing dueling scar slashed across his right check. He was wearing…absolutely nothing. Addie took a step backward and closed her eyes.
The desire to scream—or flee—was powerful.
That simply wouldn’t do.
He was still naked when she looked at him again, and frowning. “.” He pronounced the name with a soft sound as opposed to a .
Addie noted that this Rosie was a “du” and not a “Sie” to him, familiar or beneath him in social standing. She struggled to keep her eyes on the scar, shining silver on his tanned cheek. “I believe there’s been a misunderstanding,” she croaked. All her mother’s deportment lessons had not prepared her for nude men in hotels. In fact, Lady Broughton would probably not approve of Addie going to a strange man’s room under any circumstances, even if it might exonerate her.
“, well.” He looked her up and down, and Addie felt as if she was the naked one. “Come through.” . “You will do.”
She certainly would . But the graf pulled her in by an elbow and shut the door. “Is Rosie unwell?”
His English was excellent except for his difficulty with “th,” so Addie presumed he would understand that whatever arrangement he had with Rosie, it definitely did not apply to her.
She clutched her bag tightly to her bosom. “Forgive me. I’m afraid I’ve gained entry under false pretenses. If you’ll permit me to explain—”
He moved to a fully stocked drinks table, and Addie noted that his bottom was as firm as the rest of him. It came as somewhat of a belated shock to her that she’d only ever seen one man completely undressed. There had been museum trips, of course, but that was not quite the same thing. No artwork hanging on a wall or standing on a plinth conveyed such smoothness of skin, the musculature beneath, the patches of golden fur. And none Addie ever encountered were blessed with von Mayr’s considerable male protuberance, which in her opinion would require two or more large fig leaves for a semblance of decency. Goodness, this detecting business certainly was expanding her horizons at a rapid clip.
He poured himself a whisky and added a splash of soda. “Your colleague and I have agreed to terms. Do not think because I am a foreigner that you can take advantage. Shake me down, as it were. I went to Eton College.”
Bully for him. “I am not what—um, who—you think I am.” Should Addie be offended to be taken for a woman of easy virtue? A—a—courtesan? Her charming Reboux hat cost the earth, and the Lord knew the buttercup-yellow dress was not cheap. But perhaps real money could be made in the oldest profession if one had the appropriate clientele.
The drink stopped midway to his lips. “ You are not one of those bloody reporters, are you?” He put the glass down, snatched a decorative jacquard pillow from the sofa, and held it strategically in front of the von Mayr family jewels.
Addie felt a brief stab of disappointment that her education was being curtailed. “Oh, no! Nothing like that. I had hoped Mr. Reeves-Smith—the Savoy’s manager, you know—might introduce us, but I was unsuccessful in persuading him. I’m so sorry I gave a false name to the clerk, but I thought if you knew who I really was, you might not agree to see me.”
“Who the devil are you, woman?” His face paled. “Wait! Did my wife send you?”
She saw a narrow avenue open. What had Mr. Hunter said? They had to redraw the map. She’d acted in a handful of school plays at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Perhaps it was better not to tell him who she was. She was a terrible liar, but if she was playing a part…
Addie tutted and shook her head sadly. “Poor dear Penny. I don’t know what I shall tell her about all this.”
If possible, he grew paler. “Wait right there. Do not move,” the graf ordered. He nearly ran to the door that closed off the bedroom from the drawing room, slamming it behind him.
He couldn’t mean that she should actually stand in place while he slipped into something less comfortable, and in truth, her knees were knocking a little at her brazen scheme. Addie dropped into a wing chair in front of a fireplace that was filled with fragrant flowers. The room was beautifully appointed; she’d expect nothing less at the Savoy. The soft furnishings were a soothing combination of cream, ecru, and ivory, which must be a challenge for the housekeeping staff to maintain. She certainly had regrets regarding the décor at Mount Street, which was altogether too fashionably white and caused Beckett to complain endlessly.
Clad in a striped silk robe, the Austrian emerged from the bedchamber sooner than Addie expected. She had hoped he would come out in a suit, for it would be easier to be businesslike. The man was still barefoot, for heaven’s sake.
He picked up his abandoned drink and swallowed it in one go. “Explain yourself.”
“It’s you who needs to explain. I thought you were trying to reunite with Penny,” Addie said, conjuring up her old governess and giving him a stern look.
“Are you from an inquiry agency? How much is she paying you?”
“Certainly not! Please sit down, Graf von Mayr. Perhaps we can come to an arrangement.”
He continued to loom over her. “Blackmail so you won’t tattle on me? What kind of friend are you? I have nothing to hide. Nothing. Rosie is my, uh, masseuse. Our afternoon appointments are all perfectly innocent. My war wound is a constant bother.” He rubbed a silk-covered shoulder for emphasis, but Addie wasn’t fooled. Rosie was no doubt skilled at rubbing everything.