On a visit to Bath, Major Sir Robert Kurland and Lady Lucy Kurland discover that the English spa town is not beneficial to everyone’s health…
After Sir Robert’s injury from the battle of Waterloo begins troubling him again, his wife Lucy insists they relocate from the village of Kurland St. Mary to Bath, along with her sister Anna, so that Robert can take the waters and recover.
At the Roman baths, Robert befriends an elderly and pugnacious businessman, Sir William Benson, ennobled by the Crown for his service to industry. Their acquaintance is short-lived, however, when the man is found drowned in the baths. Robert vows to find his killer, with Lucy’s aid.
The members of Sir William’s family seem the most obvious suspects to benefit from the wealthy man’s death, but his will has gone missing. To deduce who sent Sir William to a watery grave, Robert and Lucy must investigate with the utmost discretion—before they too find themselves in over their heads…
“And what if I don’t want to go to Bath?” Robert inquired, scowling at his wife as she tidied his pillows. Rain spattered the diamond windowpanes of their bedchamber, and a cold draught whistled down the chimney, making the wood fire send out sullen puffs of smoke. “What if I prefer to stay here in my own bed, and in my own house?”
“You’ve been skulking in that bed for weeks,” Lucy said, pausing in her efforts to straighten the sheets. “Dr. Fletcher believes the hot springs at Bath will be beneficial to you, and I am in complete agreement with him. I’ve rented a house close to the baths and Pump Room where you can drink the waters and take additional treatments as recommended by Dr. Fletcher.”
“You’ve gone ahead and arranged all this without consulting me?”
Lucy met his indignant gaze. “If I had consulted you, you would just have said no. It seemed far more efficient to simply organize everything, and present you with a fait accompli.”
Robert sighed. “What about the dogs?”
“James will remain here, and he has promised me that he will look after them as if they were his own.” Lucy offered Robert a cup of tea. “Foley and your valet will accompany us, as will Betty.”
Robert sipped the tea and studied his wife’s calm features. He had a sense that whatever objections he raised she would have answers for them. After Patrick had doctored his thigh he’d fallen into a fever that had weakened him considerably and he had no memory of the first few days after the operation. He still didn’t have the strength to prevent Lucy from ordering one of his footmen to bundle him up in his blankets and deposit him in his traveling coach.
“Bath isn’t exactly fashionable anymore,” Robert pointed out. “All of society flocks to Brighton.”
“Which is why I thought you would prefer Bath.” She patted his hand. “I doubt you wish to meet the prince regent strolling along the promenade?”
“Good Lord, no.” Robert shuddered. Even though it had been the prince regent himself who had awarded Robert his baronetcy he had no love for the royal buffoon. “That would not please me at all.”
“Then that’s settled.” Lucy took his cup away from him. “We’ll be on our way by the end of the week.”
Robert lay back against his pillows and accepted defeat. If his wife had been a man and of a military bent, he reckoned she would’ve beaten Napoleon in a month. She stood to brush a kiss on his forehead and picked up the tea tray.
“I’m going down to the rectory to advise my father of our decision. Do you have any message for your aunt Rose?”
Robert still found it difficult to believe that his beloved aunt had married Lucy’s pompous fool of a father, but they appeared to rub along very well together.
“Just give her my love.”
Lucy nodded. “Do you wish to speak to Dermot Fletcher about the estate?”
“I’ll do that later today. How long are you intending to keep me captive in Bath?”
She paused at the door. “At least three months.”
“That’s what Dr. Fletcher recommends.” She smiled at him, and it occurred to him that it was the first time he’d seen her look happy in days. He was not an easy man at the best of times, and being an invalid made him ten times more cantankerous.
“Thank you,” Robert said gruffly.
Lucy raised an eyebrow. “For what?”
She had the gall to laugh. “Now I know that you are still unwell. Normally, you would be standing toe to toe with me arguing the matter out.” She opened the door and left the room, leaving her warm amusement surrounding him.
It was good to see her laughing again — even at him. There was a time during the previous year when he’d thought she would never smile again. But she seemed much healthier now, and far more herself. Even if that self was somewhat exasperating …
* * *
After speaking to Foley, Lucy walked down the drive of Kurland Hall and took the shortcut beside the church that brought her out opposite the rectory. It was a brisk, cold morning that required a person to keep moving. The fact that Robert hadn’t ordered her to cancel the trip to Bath had surprised her immensely. Perhaps despite his objections to leaving home he was as bored as she was staying put for three months since Christmas.
She was convinced that the change of scenery and the hot springs at Bath would help aid his recovery. Dr. Fletcher and Grace Taylor, the local healer, both spoke very highly of the notion, and that was enough for Lucy. She would never forget Dr. Fletcher’s skill in preserving Robert’s life and leg yet again, and would be forever in his debt.
At the rectory gate, she paused and decided to use the front door. The golden stone was now covered in reddish ivy, which softened the harsh lines of the ten-year-old exterior. The new building didn’t impress Robert, but secretly, after living at the Elizabethan Kurland Hall for three years, Lucy rather appreciated the rectory’s warmth and symmetry. But she no longer lived there, and her father had a new wife who should be offered every courtesy. She waited as the bell clanged in the depths of the house, and was surprised when her father opened the door himself.
“Goodness me, Lucy. How very pleasant.” He pinched her cold cheek. “You look very well today, my dear. I was just about to go out for a ride. Did you wish to speak to me?”
Lucy followed him into the hallway as he shut the door. “Sir Robert and I will be leaving for Bath at the end of the week as planned.”
“Excellent news, my dear.” The rector rubbed his hands together. “I wish Sir Robert a full and vigorous recovery.”
“Thank you. I assured him that you would offer Mr. Fletcher your assistance in estate matters if required.” Lucy removed her bonnet and gloves and placed them on the hall table.
“Of course, of course.” The rector surreptitiously checked his pocket watch, picked up his riding crop, and put on his hat. “May I take you through to the back parlor? Rose and Anna will be delighted to see you I’m sure.”
Lucy allowed herself to be escorted down the corridor as her father opened the parlor door wide enough for her to step past him.
“Ladies, here is our Lucy to see you.” The rector smiled at his new wife. “She is leaving for Bath with Sir Robert at the end of the week. I have assured her that we will render Mr. Fletcher any assistance necessary.”
He bowed and stepped back, but Lucy touched his sleeve.
“There is one more thing I wished to ask you, Father.” She smiled up at him. “Would you permit me to bring Anna to Bath? I would value her companionship enormously.”
The rector looked over at his new wife. “What do you think of this scheme, my dear? Can you manage without Anna for a few months?”
Rose smiled at Lucy and Anna. She was an attractive woman with Robert’s dark blue eyes and a lovely smile. “It’s about time I stopped relying on Anna to solve every domestic crisis large and small in this house, and took on the responsibilities of my new position.” She patted Anna’s hand. “If you wish to accompany your sister, I will gladly give you leave.”
Anna glanced uncertainly from Lucy to Rose. “I’m not sure …”
The rector cleared his throat. “And I must be off. If you wish to accompany your sister to Bath, Anna, I give you my blessing and hope that this time you’ll meet some young man you will be pleased enough with to marry.” He bowed and departed whistling loudly to his dogs as he went out to the stables behind the house.
Rose patted the seat beside her. “Do come and sit down, Lucy. How is Robert faring? I am very glad that he decided to go to Bath to recuperate.”
Anna chuckled. “I don’t think Robert had much to do with it, Rose. Lucy organized everything and sprung it upon him at the last possible moment.”
“Not quite the last minute,” Lucy defended herself. “Although I did consider dosing him with a sleeping powder and loading him into the coach while he was unconscious if he disagreed.”
Rose laughed. “My nephew is not an easy man to command, but you seem to have discovered the knack of it.”
“Lucy is used to managing difficult men,” Anna said. “Between my father, Anthony, and the twins she usually emerged victorious.”
Rose rang the bell and ordered fresh tea before settling back in her seat. Despite her very recent and surprising decision to marry the rector, she looked quite at home in the rectory. Even more remarkably, perhaps, she seemed genuinely delighted to be married again. Her adult children from her first marriage had refused to attend the quiet wedding ceremony, but seeing as she was at odds with the lot of them that hadn’t bothered her at all.
Anna poured the tea and offered Lucy a slice of cake. She’d arranged her blond hair in ringlets in a casual style Lucy could never have pulled off and wore a modest blue gown that still accentuated her exceptional figure. It was a shame Anna was not married yet. Despite Anna’s objections, Lucy was determined to give her sister another chance to meet the man of her dreams. Bath was not London, but from what Lucy had discovered there was still a smattering of polite company, which might include any number of eligible gentlemen on the lookout for a wife. …
“I think you should accompany your sister, Anna.” Rose accepted her cup of tea. “You have done nothing but look after me for the last three months.” Her smile was full of genuine affection for her newly acquired stepdaughter. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without your guidance. You deserve to enjoy your freedom for a few weeks.”
Anna bit her lip. “I’m quite happy here …”
“Please come.” Lucy leaned forward and took her sister’s hand. “With Robert taking treatments every day I will be very much on my own. We can explore the shops, and libraries, and attend the theater together.”
“That does sound appealing,” Anna acknowledged. She turned to Rose. “Are you quite certain you can manage without me?”
“No, but I’ll do my best,” Rose said. “I’ll have to learn how to be a good wife to the local rector at some point. It’s not something I anticipated happening to me so late in life, but I’ve always enjoyed a challenge.”
“Then I will accept your invitation, Lucy,” Anna said with a smile. “And now I must go and consider the state of my wardrobe. I doubt I have a thing to wear!”
“We can purchase new gowns in Bath,” Lucy encouraged her sister. “I certainly intend to.”
When she’d finished her tea, Anna walked with Lucy through to the kitchen where Lucy spoke to the staff, and then out into the garden.
At the back gate Lucy stopped to consider her sister.
“Are you really reluctant to come to Bath? I have sometimes wondered recently whether life at the rectory has become … difficult for you.”
“Please don’t think that Rose has been unkind to me,” Anna hastened to reassure her sister. “She is as lovely as she seems and works wonders with Father’s somewhat difficult temperament.” She sighed. “It’s just that sometimes I feel a little de trop. They are so happy together, and after running the house all by myself I find myself resenting being expected to revert to the lowly status of unmarried daughter-at-home.”
“I quite understand your sentiments.” Lucy nodded. “I felt the same frustration.” She kissed Anna’s cheek. “Perhaps spending some time away from Kurland St. Mary will offer you the opportunity to reflect on your future.”
“Perhaps it will.” Anna shivered and gathered her woolen shawl more closely around her. “Now I really must go and decide which garments I can bring that won’t make me look like a hideous dowd.”
“I doubt you could ever manage that,” Lucy said as Anna retreated into the house.
Satisfied that she had accomplished everything she had set out to do that morning, Lucy walked back toward Kurland Hall with a smile on her lips, and a spring in her step. Some people might call her managing. She preferred to consider herself as a woman who accomplished the impossible. Robert would regain his strength, and Anna might finally meet her match. Perhaps at some point, both of them would be grateful to her.
As she turned onto the Kurland Hall drive a horse and rider came toward her and drew to a stop.
“Good morning, Lady Kurland.” Dr. Fletcher doffed his hat. “I understand that you have persuaded my most difficult patient to take my advice and retire to Bath to recuperate?”
“I believe I have, Dr. Fletcher.” Lucy looked up at the doctor, who was smiling down at her.
“Excellent news. I will join you there for the first week and stay until I find a physician of worth in Bath to carry out the regime I wish Sir Robert to follow.”
“You are welcome to stay with us, sir. I rented a whole house, and there is plenty of space.”
“Thank you, my lady.” Dr. Fletcher touched the brim of his hat. “That would certainly make life easier. My new apprentice here in Kurland St. Mary should be capable of dealing with any medical issues that arise while I am away.”
“That is good to know,” Lucy confessed. “I hate to deprive the whole village of your services.”
Dr. Fletcher shrugged. “If it wasn’t for Sir Robert, I wouldn’t even have a community to serve. Not many landowners would willingly provide room and board for a Catholic Irishman — even one who served in the recent war.”
“How is Penelope, Dr. Fletcher?” Lucy asked.
The doctor grinned. “You know my wife, Lady Kurland. She isn’t one to suffer quietly, and the ‘indignities of pregnancy’ haven’t sat well with her.” He sighed. “In truth I’d better be off home before she comes looking for me.”
Lucy stood back to allow him to turn his horse and head off toward the village where he and his wife lived in a modest house between the school and duck pond. She considered sending her carriage down for Penelope to bring her back to the manor house for afternoon tea, but she had rather a lot of organizing to do, and Penelope wasn’t one to take a hint when it came to helping out.
Lucy entered Kurland Hall through a side door and left her muddy half boots in the scullery before heading up the stairs to the main part of the house. The pleasant smell of beeswax polish and potpourri greeted her as she traversed the ancient medieval hall. She encountered Dermot Fletcher, the physician’s younger brother and the agent of the Kurland estate, going up the stairs.
“Good morning, my lady,” he said, bowing. “I hear you are going to Bath.”
“Yes, on Friday,” Lucy said.
Dermot nodded. “I’m just going up to see Sir Robert to discuss his plans for the months he will be away.” He hesitated. “Unless you wish me to return later?”
“Please, go ahead,” Lucy said. She had plenty to do before she saw Robert again. “And tell him I will join him for afternoon tea.”
“As you wish, my lady.” Dermot bowed and continued up the stairs, leaving Lucy to walk through to her study. She sat at her desk and considered the daunting list of tasks still required to move half a household to a new location for an entire three months. Refusing to be disheartened she reminded herself that the biggest obstacles had already been vanquished.
Robert had agreed to the trip, and Anna was coming as her companion. On that thought, she took a new sheet of cut paper and readied her pen. There was one last letter she needed to write to a naval acquaintance in Bath.