Only Sir Edward had the motive, the opportunity, and a garden full of the identical roses sent to each victim before their death.
The first victim was Sir Edward’s ex-mistress, a woman who threw him over for a younger man. After receiving a mysterious rose, she dies while alone with Sir Edward. Then a second rose is delivered and a deadly game commences, where roses are the only clues to save the next victim.
However, Charles Vance, Earl of Castlemoor, refuses to believe his uncle, Sir Edward, could commit the murders, even when the renowned head of the Second Sons Inquiry Agency warns him there may be some truth behind the rumors. The roses are Sir Edward’s attempt to cast suspicion elsewhere. Misdirection. Or so the whispers say.
Convinced he can prove his uncle’s innocence, Vance enlists the aide of notable rosarian, Ariadne Wellfleet, little realizing his actions will involve the Wellfleet household in the killer’s game.
Before the week is out, another rose is delivered.
And someone else is missing.
A Rose Before Dying is a witty, fast-paced historical whodunit in the tradition of Bruce Alexander’s Blind Justice and Victoria Holt’s The Mistress of Mellyn. This addition to the Second Sons mystery series includes an unwilling detective who refuses to let his earldom stand in the way of catching an elusive killer. It will keep you guessing until the unexpected end.
Charles stared at his uncle in disbelief. Sir Edward’s closest friend—mistress according to some accounts—dead? She was only thirty, barely three years older than Charles. No wonder his uncle’s valet was frantic with worry. “How—what happened?”
“Murdered, God’s teeth! And the bastard sent those bloody flowers—taunting me…” He choked again and stared down at his trembling hands, clenched over the brass knob of his walking stick. Bowing his head, he rhythmically tapped the cane against the floor with a soft, controlled beat that was, in its way, far more frightening than his previous flailing. The sound carried such a deep sense of grief that Charles glanced away.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last through a tight throat. His gaze shifted from his uncle’s bowed head to the spray of flowers. He’d never known Lady Banks, but anger filled him as he watched his uncle wrestle with the pain. How could anyone murder a woman? It was unthinkable. “What did the note say?”
Mr. Gaunt handed him a calling card. There was no name engraved on it. However, the small white square displayed an arrogant scrawl of thick black script reading, “Roses die quickly when cut.”
“That was the first one,” Mr. Gaunt said.
“The first?” Charles glanced up from the card.
“Some bloody-minded bastard sent it to her Sunday morning. Along with a cluster of those damn yellow flowers,” Sir Edward interrupted in a harsh voice. His face crumpled. Raising a shaking hand, he covered his eyes as if the pressure of his palm could hold back the anguished tears. “She thought…thought I sent them to her, for God’s sake. She laughed when I tried to tell her otherwise.”
Charles rose to stand behind his uncle’s chair and grip his trembling shoulder. As Sir Edward fought for control, Charles caught Mr. Gaunt’s dark, sympathetic gaze. “What happened?”
“Shot. The local constable thought it was an accident. Some poacher hoping to bag a rabbit for Sunday supper. At first. But…” Sir Edward’s voice drifted away, strangled by grief.
“But there was the note.” Charles studied the note. A small, useless bit of paper filled with deep, threatening taunts. “And undoubtedly, the servants heard Lady Banks tease you about sending her the flowers. So they assumed you sent them.”
Gaunt held up another small card between his long fingers. “And not just the one. A second note was delivered with another spray of these same yellow flowers.” His mouth tightened briefly. “Clearly intended to mock Sir Edward—or whoever read it.” He read the second card aloud. “The rose speaks for the doomed.”
“The rose?” Charles repeated. His gaze alighted on the spray of one-inch flowers shaped like yellow pom-poms. “That’s a rose?”
“Yes.” A brief smile glimmered over Gaunt’s face. “Your knowledge of horticulture is on par with mine, my lord. However—”
“She grew them because of the name.” Sir Edward interrupted. “That‘s the ‘Lady Banks’ rose.”
“Then he has left us a clue,” Charles said with a tight smile. “He knows at least a modicum about roses. And he’s literate enough to compose those notes. Or well-heeled enough to pay someone to write for him.”
“Reasonable assumptions.” Gaunt’s eyes glittered with an intelligence that lightened the grimness of his expression. “You’re more adept at this than many inquiry agents, my lord.”
I hope you enjoyed this sampling. For a look at the full, first chapter, check out: First Chapter