Maggie Blackbird

Romancing Canada's Indigenous People

Today, USA Today bestselling author Ruth A. Casie is guesting.  She’s interviewing the lovely Lady Katherine Thornton, the heroine from Ms. Casie’s brand new release The Lady and Her Duke, book three in The Ladies of Sommer by the Sea series, a Regency romance.  Don’t forget to check out the excerpt.

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1. First off, tell us who you are (age, where you grew up, where you live now, etc.) and what role you play in the novel.

Lady Katherine Thornton:  “Have we been introduced? Yes, at the pageant. I believed you sang with Mr. Green, our minstrel. I really think the best part of the pageant is when he sings with everyone. You were quite good. I’m Lady Katherine Thornton.”

Katherine listened carefully to the question.

“I’ve lived here in Sommer-by-the-Sea all my life. And yes, I have been to London but I really would prefer forgetting about that.

Katherine blushes at the question.

“Yes, that is kind of you. I was the ‘Diamond’ five years ago.”

Katherine’s concern rose.

“You have come to the right person to learn about Lord Whitaker. A landless do-thing. All he saw was my family’s fortune and vast estate. I didn’t even stay to finish the season. I came right back here.”

2. Share with us your hobbies and interests, and why you enjoy them.

Lady Katherine Thornton:  “But enough about him. He is definitely in the past.”

Katherine listened carefully. A quick look of amazement washed over her face.

“You know about my challenge lock? It all started very innocently. My Uncle Bennett is not much older than me. We were a pair at times. He would taunt me with his secrets that he kept locked in a small chest. To add insult to injury, he proudly put on the drawing room mantel. No matter what I did I couldn’t open it. So, I learned to be a lockpick. It took me a long time, but I got inside that chest of his and when I did I left him a note.

“I remember when he opened it. We celebrated.

“That started my fascination with gears. I was already a good artist, drafting was the logical next step. When Uncle Bennett decided to build a factory with mechanicals, I found a use for my hobby.”

3. Tell us how you feel about being in a novel, and if you are happy with how your author presented you to readers.

Lady Katherine Thornton:  “It’s not easy being a subject in a novel. Everyone gets to see everything about you. What you know, what you don’t know, and how you feel. I will say that Ms Casie was very gentle and extremely discreet when she wrote about me and Ian. Lord Ian Wallace. He’s the 4th Duke of Blackhall. He was my uncle’s partner.”

Katherine got quiet for a moment gathering her thoughts before she continued.

“He had the difficult job of bringing my uncle back from Royston Mills where he died. It was the most awful time, next to my father’s death.”

“But I am still angry with Ms. Casie. She never, not once I tell you, let me know that my uncle made Lord Wallace take an oath that he would marry me. I didn’t find that piece of information out until my friends showed me the announcement in the London Gazette. We do get that paper here in Sommer-by-the-Sea.”

4. If your author was to create another novel with you in mind, give us a quick blurb of what it would be about.  And be sure to give the title.

Lady Katherine Thornton:  “Another novel with me in mind. I know exactly what it would be. The Lady and Her Lord. It would be about Mrs. Bainbridge and Captain Barrington, well Lord Barrington. All the stories in The Ladies of Sommer-by-the-Sea are graduates of Mrs. Bainbridge’s Female Seminary. You cannot apply to the school.  She carefully selects her students.

“Each of her ladies has a special skill. Lady Alicia in The Lady and Her Quill is a writer. Lady Patrice solves puzzles. I am a lockpick. I understand Ms. Casie is contemplating a story for Lady Anna who is a wiz at getting votes for her cousin who wants to be PM, Lady Harriet who is better at medicine that her father, and there may be one or two others. I don’t quite know Lady Euphemia, Effie for short, well enough. What do you suppose her skill is? But she MUST write a story, a love story for Mrs. Bainbridge and her captain. They are always together. You will see them in every story. They deserve one of their own.”

5. Which character in the novel do you like the most, and why?

Lady Katherine Thornton:  “There is only one person for me. Ian. Lord Ian Wallace.

“When the agitators came to Uncle Bennett’s factory, he was the one who brought us through the difficulty. When they set the factory on fire it was Ian who without concern for his own well-being ran into the burning building to help the others out.

“And as much as I was angry about the oath he gave to my uncle, the oath that he would marry me, my uncle knew me better than I knew myself. Ian and I were made for each other.

6. Which character in the novel do you dislike the most, and why?

Lady Katherine Thornton:  “There is one person I will hate for the rest of my life, Lord Ryder Whitaker. His only skill was relieving people of their money then wasting it away. Ian and I proved that he killed his uncle, Lord Percival Kinsleye only to find that the vast estate was out of his reach.

“He never intended to marry me, just compromise me then blackmail my uncle. Ian wouldn’t let that happen. He got what he deserved. And my god forgive me, I celebrate it.”

7. Tell us why we should read the featured novel and what we will find most intriguing about you.

Lady Katherine Thornton:  “Ms. Casie has a way with words. Her descriptions put you in the story, right next to me. Just not to close to Ian.”

Katherine laughed.

“Seriously, we can experience the story together. And I promise you. You will want to about my close friends as well. I am tell you all this because I hope you convince that my story is the last. I have almost convinced her to take anything you may sat about her stories to her publisher. Lady Alicia did in The Lady and Her Quill and look what happened to her.

“Oh, and her fight scenes. I haven’t told you about the pageant and how Ian had to take up a sword, or when she described Ian dancing with me, or… Well, you’ll just have to read my story for yourself to decide.”

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Title: The Lady and Her Duke
Series: The Ladies of Sommer by the Sea, book #3
Author: Ruth A. Casie
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 60,791 words/ 237 pages
Release Date: July 7, 2022
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing

Could she use her skills as a lockpick to crack open the secrets to the murder as well as unlock his heart?

Blurb:  Lady Katherine Thornton has no interest in men after an indiscretion at her disastrous Season in London. No man can be trusted. Instead, she indulges in her fascination for gears and all things mechanical. Her unique drafting skill is an asset to her uncle Bennett Sutton, who is automating his textile factory. She doesn’t need anything else.

Lord Ian Wallace, the 4th Duke of Blackhall, is a retired military officer. An accidental duke after the deaths of his father and brother, he retreats from society and the clawing mothers and debutantes who stalk him. He’s focused all his energy on his partnership with Sutton. He’s satisfied and needs nothing else.

An oath to marry, a family legend to preserve, an uprising of the factory workers, and Sutton’s murder, throw Katherine and Wallace together to find a blackmailer and murderer. They also will find two things neither knew they were missing… each other and their happily ever after.

Goodreads | Amazon

June 20, 1815
Royston Mills, Baycliff Woods 

The blast of a pistol shattered the quiet afternoon. Shouts and screams rose, their sound carrying into the surrounding area. In a clearing by the lake where the wood bordered the village, the shock and chaos subsided into a deafening silence.

Lord Ian Wallace knelt next to his business partner, Bennett Sutton. His bruised and bloody face was a mess of soot and gunpowder. Wallace glanced over his shoulder, signaling his valet.

“Water. Quick. His eyes need to be flushed.” Wallace wavered between restraint and rage as he ministered to Sutton. “Stay calm and whatever you do, keep your eyes closed.” His hands ran over Sutton’s torso checking for injuries. He found none, other than the small tremors he assumed were from shock.

“I’m dying.” Sutton spoke not in disbelief, but in resignation, as if his dying was an undisputed conclusion.

Wallace’s chest tightened at the sound of those words. He had heard them before from the injured men he commanded in Spain. For a moment he was back on the battlefield going from man to man comforting them, waiting for medical attention and, in too many cases, saying good-bye.

“Swear to me.” Sutton, agitated and breathing hard, reached up and grabbed his lapel. “Swear to me you’ll marry my niece, Ivy-Rose.”

What niece? Sutton had a niece?

“Swear it!”

“Yes, yes. I swear.” In a fit of rage, he’d say anything to escape from the madman. It was luck that Sutton’s gun misfired. He gazed at his friend and partner in disbelief. From the moment his valet pulled him to the ground he found it difficult to comprehend why his friend and partner tried to kill him, tried to shoot him in the back.

Sutton tugged on his lapels. “No, on your honor as a gentleman. Swear it.” Another tug. Bennett’s strength was waning.

Wallace’s anger softened. The man had to be kept calm. Roddy, his foreman, and Lord Ryder Whitaker had gone to fetch Dr. Price. The doctor had left the clearing when Sutton called off the duel.

“Swear it.” The man sounded as if it was his last breath.

“As a gentleman, I, Lord Ian Wallace, 4th Duke of Blackhall, promise to marry your Ivy-Rose.” He bent closer to him. “Is that better?”

Sutton released his lapels and slumped onto the ground, his breath coming in spurts.

Lenard returned carrying a basin of warm water.

Wallace stood aside and gave his valet room. They had been together a long time. Lenard was his personal attendant at Cambridge as well as in Spain during the war. Together they had seen worse. Now he flushed the gunpowder and soot out from Sutton’s eyes. It would serve Sutton right if the pain was unbearable.

“Much better.” Sutton’s voice faded to a calm stillness.

Wallace wasn’t sure if his partner referred to the oath he gave or the warm water.

“Your Grace. I cannot find any wound.” Lenard kept streaming water over the man’s face.

The battlefield images flashed in his head. Some had outcomes that were more severe than others. But that was war, not a card game gone wrong.

“God’s blood, where is that doctor?” He glanced about.

Sutton raised his face to Lenard as the man ran more water over him and, with a gentle touch, wiped him dry.

“You have my thanks.” Quiet at last, Sutton winced when he tried to lay down on the ground.

“Over here, Dr. Price.” Whitaker and Roddy led the doctor to the injured man.

“I thought Sutton had the good sense to call off the duel.” Dr. Price pushed his way in front of Wallace. “Where did your bullet hit him?”

“I never fired my weapon.” Wallace stood back to let the doctor do his job.

“His pistol misfired when he aimed at Wallace’s back.” Whitaker stepped forward. “I stood in shock when he raised his pistol and took aim.”

The doctor, on his knees, paused and glanced up at him.

“That’s not at all like Sutton. Wallace, what did you say to him?” The doctor resumed examining Sutton’s head.

“Not a thing. I convinced him to call off this ridiculous duel. I thought to give him time and hoped he’d have more sense in the morning. I was leaving the clearing, not far behind you when the shot went off.”

“There are some abrasions from the powder blast and irritation from the gunpowder, but no wound.” Price examined Sutton’s hands. Scrapes, a bit of a burn in places, but nothing fatal. “Sutton’s a lucky man.”

The doctor stood up cleaning his hands with a cloth from his bag.

“Help me bring him to my carriage. We’ll take him to the inn. I want to watch him until tomorrow rather than have him brought back to Sommer-by-the-Sea now.”

Roddy and Lenard lifted Sutton, made their way through the gathered onlookers, and laid him in the back of the doctor’s carriage.

“There’s room enough for you and me up here.” Roddy tapped Lenard and pointed next to the driver.

“I can go with them if you prefer.” Whitaker stood next to him. “I know you’re the man’s partner, but no one would blame you for washing your hands of him.”

“That won’t be necessary. I’ll go with him. I’m staying at the inn.” Wallace got in the carriage still thinking through the events. He agreed with Dr. Price: this wasn’t at all like Sutton.

The door closed, Whitaker signaled the driver, and the carriage pulled away.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into him.” Wallace stared at Sutton propped up on the seat across from him.

“I’ve known that man since he was a boy and agree this is out of character for him. But don’t you worry, Your Grace. We’ll have him all to rights soon enough.”

The carriage pulled up to Weaver’s Inn. News of the incident traveled faster than he imagined. More onlookers buzzed about them like a swarm of angry bees. Wallace led the way for Lenard and Roddy to bring Sutton up the stairs to his room.

“I’ll stay with him for a while. Head injuries can be nasty.” Dr. Price stood over his patient and checked Sutton’s breathing again.

“Ale for you both and watered ale for Mr. Sutton.” Lenard put the tankards on the table. “Your Grace, I have the papers you gave me earlier. I’ll put them in your room.”

“I’ll take them. I can review the documents while I sit with him.” Wallace nodded toward Sutton.

“If that will be all, I’ll be in the tavern if you need me.” Lenard put the folio on the table.

“I’ll go with you.” Roddy looked at the patient lying in the bed and shook his head. The two men left and closed the door behind them.

Dr. Price sat at the table and took a tankard of ale. “How did this start?”

Wallace sat next to the doctor and reached for the second tankard.

“I found him troubled over several issues when I came up from London. He was in a fit over worker demands. He also expected a sizeable amount of fleece, but instead received a smaller delivery than promised.

“I had an issue to discuss with him, but in his state I knew it would be impossible. I thought to divert his attention, a game of cards to take his mind off everything. Once he was himself, we could address the business problems and go over my visit to Cambridge. But Sutton drank too much, took risks no man in his right mind would take, and lost miserably.”

“And his mood went from bad to worse.” Dr. Price glanced at his patient, shook his head, and took a draw on the tankard.

“Yes, it did. I was at a loss what to do. Sutton wouldn’t stop playing despite losing one game after another. I couldn’t imagine the situation getting any worse, but it did.

“I dealt the cards. How Sutton preened like a peacock, so sure the winning hand was his. He drank and taunted me. He drained his flask dry and had Mr. Jackson fill it to the top. I was astounded when the deed to his home landed on the table.”

“His cards…” The doctor closed his eyes and moaned.

“A beginner would know better than to bet on the cards Sutton held. He had no chance of winning.” Wallace let out a strained laugh. “I conceded defeat and laid my cards face down, but Sutton demanded to see them. I refused. He reached across the table and turned them over. Then he went mad. Sutton grabbed a pen from the bar, sat down, and started writing. I stayed his hand. I didn’t want his home. I thought to entice him with the best two out of three games, but he refused. I pay my debts.”

“Sutton is a proud man and a man of his word. But I’ve never known him to be this reckless.” Price sat back, his legs out in front of him, staring at the tankard in his hand.

“Man of his word. We wouldn’t be here if our workers believed him. I told them over and over the new mechanicals would not replace them. But fear does strange things to people. If things go as Sutton and I plan, there will be more work for more people and more money, not less.

“I offered to speak with the workers and explain the plan. That’s when Sutton exploded. I tried my best to calm him, but now I understand. Sutton didn’t calm down during the game. If anything, his card playing was more intense, more erratic, more irrational.” He stared at his partner. “My strategy to calm him with the card game did the opposite. It pushed him over the edge.”

“Don’t blame yourself. From what you’ve told me, Sutton was already agitated. It wasn’t one thing. It was everything.”

“My partner accused me of siding with the workers and called me out in front of everyone demanding satisfaction. A duel.” Wallace glanced at the doctor. The incident still beyond belief. “I refused. I told him I had enough of weapons in Spain. Businessmen didn’t settle disputes with weapons. To everyone’s horror, he slapped my face. I remember his odd smirk, daring me to ignore the affront.

Choose your weapon. I refused. Pistols. You didn’t think I’d want to be near you with a blade. At least with a pistol I have a fighting chance.

“I still didn’t give up.

“All the way to the field and even when we arrived, I tried to dissuade him. I would have gladly shot myself to put an end to his stupidity. At last, the fight went out of him. You witnessed how we called off the duel, shook hands, and sent everyone home. Sutton was still holding his loaded pistol. I told him to take his anger out on the red maple tree, the one by the lake.” He paused and glanced at Sutton. “I thought he came to his senses.”

“That is how I remember the morning.” Dr. Price nodded.

“I turned to leave with the others, only to hear Sutton’s pistol discharge. Lenard pulled me to the ground. When we got to our feet, it was Sutton who was down.

“I was back on the battlefield. His… his gun misfired.” Wallace’s voice was a whisper. The blast of the explosion filled his mind followed by Lenard tugging him, pulling him down and covering him with his body.

After several heartbeats, Wallace cleared his throat and glanced at the doctor with a silent plea for an explanation. There was none.

“Sutton and I met at Cambridge. We became as thick as thieves. I thought we had developed a fast friendship and would have wagered nothing like this was possible. I forgave him many things over the years, but this? How can I be a partner with a man who would kill me if he didn’t get his way? And over what, speaking to our workers?”

Dr. Price’s sympathetic expression didn’t make him feel any better. The doctor went to his patient, touched Sutton’s forehead then put his ear to his chest.

Wallace stood by, unable to pull his gaze away. His partner appeared at ease, calm for the first time in days. Like his old self. Wallace downed half the tankard not out of thirst, but rather out of the need for something to do.

God’s blood. What happened. His explanation of their early relationship was not an exaggeration. In Cambridge they were like brothers. But did he really know Sutton? Neither of them talked about their family. All he knew of Sutton’s family was they were prosperous sheep farmers. He wasn’t even aware Sutton had a niece.

Wallace downed the rest of his ale. They had lost touch after graduation. Five years ago, he went back to Cambridge to honor a retiring professor. Sutton was among the guests. Like any reunion, they spoke for hours. The years faded and they easily renewed their friendship. They found they both were adamant. Industrializing was the way of the future. He was impressed to learn Sutton had struck out on his own and started a textile company using mechanicals.

He glanced at his friend. He should be furious and nowhere near the attempted murderer. Instead, he sat here drinking ale worried about him.

Dr. Price’s expression faded from concern into pleased. Wallace let out a breath and sagged against the chair.

“All seems in good order. His breathing is normal, I do not detect a fever, and our patient is comfortable and calm.” The doctor gathered his things into his medical bag. “I’m going home for dinner and a good night’s sleep. I suggest you do the same.”

“Thank you. I’ll stay a bit longer in case he rouses. I’m sure everything will turn to right in the morning.”

He saw the doctor to the door and went back to Sutton’s bedside.

Lenard had done a good job of cleaning his face. Scrapes and cuts. Nothing very deep. Bluish patches on his face warned of bruises starting to form. Sutton slept on his stomach snoring gently with his head pressed into the pillow. He could well have been back at university after an evening of debating and drinking.

“What were you thinking?”

There’d be no answers now. Time for that in the morning.

Wallace took a seat at the small table near the hearth and removed the papers from the folio. One look at the documents and his mind shifted from Sutton to the work at hand.

The folio held mechanical drawings, cut-away views of the carder, spinning mule, water frame and loom mechanicals showing how they worked.

His partner’s ability to identify potential problems and present credible solutions excited him. As they worked together, he realized Sutton responded better to the diagrams then standing and looking at the apparatus. That was of no concern to him. It was the results that mattered.

Wallace stopped and stared blankly at the empty hearth. He appreciated the details in the diagrams. For years, his responsibility focused on drawing very different mechanicals and situations. He sketched battle placements and troop positions then brought them back to Whitehall. At least men’s lives weren’t at stake with the drawings in his hand. Or were they? This unrest was disturbing and growing more urgent. Shaking his head, he returned to the drawings.

Impressed with his partner’s grasp of the mechanical inner workings, he went through the comments on each diagram and added his own.

“Water.”

Wallace turned toward the bed. Sutton on his back, licked his lips, and gripped the linen covering him.

Wallace dropped the papers on the table, picked up the watered ale, and hurried to Sutton’s side. Snaking his arm under his shoulders, he raised him a bit and put the tankard to his lips. Ale dribbled down his chin from taking such large gulps.

“Easy now, not all at once. This isn’t a race.” He put the tankard down.

His partner gazed at him. “You’ve always been a friend. After all the years in service. We picked up where we left off.”

As he lowered him onto the bed, Sutton groaned and arched his back.

“What is it?” Wallace went to lift him, but Sutton stayed his hand.

“No. It stopped. We have much to talk about. I want you to tell me about Cambridge.” Sutton fidgeted trying to find a comfortable position.

“I have a more important issue to discuss with you. I cannot be a partner with someone who believes in settling a disagreement with a duel and attempts to put a bullet in my back.”

Sutton went still. His eyes trained on Wallace. “What’s this about a bullet in your back? Who would dare do that?”

Wallace bent down and glared at him, eye-to-eye. “You.”

Neither of them turned away.

“I may not be a good shot, but as broad as your back is, I couldn’t miss it if I aimed at it.”

Wallace straightened but didn’t take his eyes off the man.

“Then what were you aiming at?”

“I fired at the red maple tree as you strongly suggested.” Sutton blinked trying to focus his damaged eyes. “Why would I want to kill you? We’ve been friends since Cambridge.”

Wallace grunted. Sutton’s words brought him up short. A surge of guilt left him flushed and confused. Sutton was telling the truth.

“You thought I would… We may have our disagreements, but we’ve always been open and trusting with each other. I’m dying, and I go knowing I have been a fair and honest man.” Sutton didn’t even try to hide his yawn, his eyes closing.

“You’re not dying. Get some rest. I’ll return later and we can talk more. About…”

Wallace didn’t bother finishing his sentence. Sutton was sound asleep.

He shoved the papers into the folio, left the room, and went to the tavern. Lenard sat at a table with tankards of ale ready.

“How is Mr. Sutton?”

“He woke for a bit. I left when he couldn’t keep his eyes open. I find it curious. He denies shooting at me. But rather, he says that he followed my advice and aimed at the red maple.” Wallace paused. “I believe him.”

“I didn’t wait to find out where the bullet came from. I pulled you down when I heard the pistol go off. I would agree that Mr. Sutton wouldn’t hurt you, but Your Grace, after these last few days can you trust his word?”

Wallace valued Lenard’s opinion and took his time to think it through. “We have the means to prove where he aimed. There is still enough light for a walk in the woods. There’s only one red maple tree by the lake.”

Did he want to know? Really want the truth or take Sutton’s word? Lenard stood and waited. He downed his ale and stood.

“Best we get to it.” He led the way to the door.

A hard, dry cough caught his attention. “Lord Wallace.”

Alfred Bromley the manager of Royston Textiles waited for his attention. “Bromley. I’m on my way out.”

“How is Sutton? Nasty accident. Is it serious?”

“Your concern is gratifying. He’s resting at the moment.”

“That’s good news. I’ll let the others know. Please, don’t let me stop you.” Bromley stood to the side and let them pass.

The sky was ablaze with reds and oranges as the sun began to sink below the horizon. The summer breeze shook the leaves as they made their way through Baycliff Woods. They emerged from the forest onto the field.

“The spot is up ahead.” Lenard headed for the area where they prepared for the duel.

Wallace, close behind, scanned the peaceful field and found where Sutton had stationed himself. He bent and picked up Sutton’s sooty cravat as well as a piece of flint, the correct size to fit the flint jaw of a pistol.

He stood and glanced toward the red maple where Lenard headed. The tree was not anywhere near where Lenard pulled him to the ground. He trudged over to the tree, but Wallace knew what he would find.

He ran his hand up the trunk and found the splintered bark, the wound weeping with sap. He closed his eyes, relieved he had been wrong.

“We’re finished here. I want to speak to Sutton. I need to make things right. Not tomorrow, but at once.”

They hurried back to the inn through the fading light, content that the bullet was in the tree.

“Curious. The pistol didn’t misfire. If it had, the shot would still be in the chamber. It’s not like Sutton to mishandle the weapon.”

“It wasn’t like Mr. Sutton to call you out. He wasn’t himself.”

Wallace nodded as they entered the inn. Lenard went upstairs.

“Has the doctor returned to administer to Mr. Sutton?” Wallace asked Mrs. Jackson, the innkeeper’s wife.

“No, Your Grace. No one’s been to see him. Mr. Sutton’s been as quiet as a mouse.”

Wallace nodded and headed to his partner’s room. He opened the door and was shocked at what he faced.  A rusty sweet odor hit him. Lenard stood in front of him, his face white as a clean sheet.

“I’ll fetch the doctor.” Lenard hurried past him before he had time to ask any questions. He didn’t have to. The familiar odor of blood and death filled the room.

“Wallace? Is that you?”

He rushed to Sutton’s side. Sutton skin had a bluish tinge. Blood was everywhere. In a controlled panic, he tried to find the source of the bleeding. Sutton stayed his hand.

“Is Lenard gone?”

Breathing hard Wallace began to swab and search. Blood oozed from his partner’s nose, ears, eyes, and mouth.

“Yes. Rest easy. He’s gone for the doctor.” Wallace rinsed out the cloth and stared at the basin as the water turned red.

A dry laugh escaped Sutton’s lips. “Price. Can’t do. Anything. For me. I’m dying.” His halting words punctuated with shallow breaths led Wallace to believe his partner may be right.

Sutton beckoned him closer.

Wallace placed the warm damp cloth over Sutton’s blood-encrusted eyes and bent closer to him, as he asked.

“Secure and protect. Sacred. Coffer.” Sutton, his voice a whisper, was almost out of breath.

Wallace looked at him, unable to understand why blood oozed from every opening.

“What? Where?” He let the damp cloth rest on his eyes hoping he cleared them enough for Sutton to open them. It was a small act, but something he could do to ease his friend.

“Sommer-by-the-Sea. Guard. With a silver lock—” Sutton went into a fit of coughing.

Wallace raised him up a bit to help subdue his discomfort. He glanced at the door silently commanding Price and Lenard to rush in. No one was there.

“Should I add the coffer to my promise to marry your niece?” He thought to lighten the mood. He pulled the cloth away with care.

Sutton’s eyes fluttered open.

The fear in his friend’s eyes made Wallace stop. “What is it? What must I do?” Anything to have your rest easy.”

“By your oath.” The man was out of breath.

“As a gentleman, I, Lord Ian Wallace, 4th Duke of Blackhall, promise to secure and protect the sacred coffer in Sommer-by-the-Sea and marry your Ivy-Rose.” He bent closer to Sutton. “Is that better?”

All the fight seemed to drain out of his friend as he laid on the bed staring at him.

“Did you. Find the bullet. In the red maple?” His voice was a whisper.

“You knew I would go?” Wallace sat on the chair next to the bed.

“You are. The most thorough. Person, I know. Next to Katherine.” He tried to laugh, but all he let out of his mouth was foul air.

Wallace wiped the blood that trickled down his chin.

“I suppose. This wasn’t. The greeting. You expected. Your first time here. And to the factory.” His breaths came in spurts. “Tell me. About Cambridge.”

“It can wait”

“But I can’t. Tell me now.”

“I spoke to several doctors about creating a clinic for our factory workers. I received as many opinions as people I interviewed.” Why was this so important to him?

“You’ll made the right decision…” Sutton gasped for breath, unable to fill his lungs but forced out another word. “It must be done.”

“Rest. Lenard will be here with the doctor any time now.”

Sutton gripped his hand. He arched his spine and reached for his back. Wallace got on his knees next to the bed and spoke into his ear. “Hold on a little longer.”

Wallace stood by helpless as his partner fought for every breath; one tortured breath after another. Each breath was shallower than the last, until there were none.

The door flew open. Dr. Price rushed into the room.

Dazed, Wallace got to his feet. Lenard pulled him away.

“What happened after Lenard left?” Price examined Sutton.

“I tried to help him. No matter what I did I couldn’t stop the bleeding. From his mouth, his ears, even his eyes.” Wallace who had been staring at Sutton looked at the doctor. “He said he was dying. He said the words before, but I thought he was distraught. You said he would be better by the morning. But when Lenard and I returned from the tavern we found him…”

“Go on. I must know the rest.” Price continued his examination.

“I told him you would be here soon. We settled into a light conversation. He asked about my trip to Cambridge and appeared to be comfortable until he started gasping for breath. He reached for his back before he… died.” Wallace bowed his head still trying to make sense of what happened.

Dr. Price rolled Sutton onto his side and gave his back a thorough examination.

Curses fell from his lips as he returned Sutton to his back, placed his arms at his side, and raised the linen to cover his face.

“What happened? I couldn’t find any wounds, yet he bled from every opening in his body. A few hours ago, he was improving.” He searched the doctor’s face, but the man was as shaken as he was.

“He died from a venomous poison. I witnessed this one other time, in Africa. A man brought a young boy to me bitten by a boomslang snake. The poison is slow-acting and causes this type of bleeding.”

“Snake? Africa? This is England. The only snakes here are in Parliament.”

Dr. Price let out a nervous chuckle.

“I stood by and did nothing as he died. On the battlefield I gave aid, comfort. This happened so fast.” He stopped the images of the past. No sense going down that path. It wouldn’t help Sutton. He closed his eyes. It wouldn’t help him.

“There is nothing you or anyone else could have done for him. Death was inevitable with this venom.”

He understood the doctor’s words, but they still didn’t make sense.

“An African snake here in Baycliff Woods? Surely someone would have seen a snake. Where is the bite mark? You gave him a thorough examination hours ago and found nothing.” Wallace wasn’t blaming the doctor simply trying to understand.

“I don’t think he was bitten.” Price lifted the linen from Sutton’s body and rolled him on his side for Wallace to see his back.

Wallace and Lenard both glanced at it.

“Do you see the reddened spot in the middle of his back? It hadn’t festered when I examined him earlier. If you examine his back now, you will find a small puncture.”

Wallace bent down for a better view. Sutton’s back had a modest size round irritation. On closer examination he saw the small puncture.

“This was intentional.” Wallace stood to his full height and stared at Price. “He’s been murdered.”

****

Ruth A Casie is a USA Today bestselling author. She writes historical adventures from the shores of medieval Scotland to the cobblestone streets of Regency London. Her stories embrace strong woman and the men who deserve them. Within the pages you’ll discover ‘edge-of-your-seat suspense, mind boggling drama, and heart melting emotions. Grab your favorite cup of tea, or an ale if you prefer, and join her heroes and heroines as they race across the pages to find their happily ever after. Ruth hopes her stories are your next favorite adventures!

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