A Most Extraordinary Pursuit

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9780425277072: A Most Extraordinary Pursuit

Known for her original plots, deft characterization, and lyrical voice, Juliana Gray presents an extraordinary novel of an uncommon pursuit...
 
February, 1906. As the personal secretary of the recently departed Duke of Olympia—and a woman of scrupulous character—Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove never expected her duties to involve steaming through the Mediterranean on a private yacht, under the prodigal eye of one Lord Silverton, the most charmingly corrupt bachelor in London. But here they are, improperly bound on a quest to find the duke’s enigmatic heir, current whereabouts unknown.
 
An expert on anachronisms, Maximilian Haywood was last seen at an archaeological dig on the island of Crete. And from the moment Truelove and Silverton disembark, they are met with incidents of a suspicious nature: a ransacked flat, a murdered government employee, an assassination attempt. As they travel from port to port on Max’s trail, piecing together the strange events of the days before his disappearance, Truelove will discover the folly of her misconceptions—about the whims of the heart, the motives of men, and the nature of time itself...

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About the Author:

Juliana Gray is a pseudonym for New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams, the author of Along the Infinite Sea, Tiny Little Thing, The Secret Life of Violet Grant, A Hundred Summers and Overseas.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2016 Juliana Gray

Chapter 2

You might wonder why a man so distinguished as the Duke of Olympia chose to employ a humble female, not related to him by blood, as his personal secretary. I can only say that His Grace was a man of great loyalty, and his affection for my father must have guided his choice. In any case, from the moment he offered me the position, two days after my poor father’s funeral, I wrung my last nerve in an effort to prove—to the duke and to the world—that I was not a charitable endeavor.

The Duke of Olympia hadn’t wanted a grand state funeral. He had told me this five years ago, on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s mortal dissolution, while we waited in the black-draped gloom of his London study to depart for the official solemnities at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor: a pageant in which England’s dukes and duchesses must necessarily play their role. I remember well how the two of them stood in the glorious ermine-trimmed robes due to their rank, dwarfing even the great scale of the room—His Grace stood nearly six and a half feet tall, and his wife, though more than a foot shorter, carried herself like a giant—and how the duke then asked for a glass of port. I poured one for each of them, and as the duke accepted the libation from my fingers, he said, “It’s a damned business. I suppose these rituals are good for the public, but I’m damned glad I shall be dead for the occasion of mine.”

The duchess had put her hand on his arm and said, in a voice of great emotion, “Not for many years.”

To which he had patted her affectionate fingers. “I trust, when the fateful hour arrives, you and Miss Truelove will ensure that as little fuss as possible is taken with my mortal remains. If I had wanted a cortege through the streets of London, I should have elected to become prime minister.”

So when His Grace expired without warning in the middle of his favorite trout stream—about a mile from the door of the stately pile that had served as the seat of the Dukes of Olympia since the Glorious Revolution first raised the family to the prominence it enjoys today—there was no magnificently solemn procession through the streets of Whitehall, attended by heads of state. The duke’s remains arrived at the nearby church of St. Crispin on a caisson pulled by a single horse, and were borne to the humble altar by his grieved grandsons, the Duke of Wallingford and Lord Roland Penhallow; his natural son, Sir Phineas Burke; and three nephews by marriage, His Highness the Prince of Holstein-Schweinwald-Huhnhof and the Dukes of Southam and Ashland. The county gentry were invited, of course—who could possibly deny them the pleasure?—along with a handpicked selection of friends and relations who might reasonably be expected to conduct themselves with the necessary gravity.

But while the church was filled, it was also small, and when we proceeded to the internment in the family plot, I observed that every last face among us hung with an oppressive weight of grief for this man—this colossus—we had known and admired and occasionally loved. Her Grace the dowager duchess stood veiled on the edge of the newly turned earth, supported by the Duke of Wallingford, the step-grandson to whom she had become especially close, and though her back remained straight, her shoulders curved slightly inward, as if they had begun to warp under the burden of her loss. They had married only twelve years ago, when the duke was already a widower of many decades, and while the marriage had come late in life, and occasioned much sniffing among the more narrow-minded of the duke’s contemporaries, it proved as intimate and loving a union as any I had ever witnessed. I shall never forget the sight of the duchess’s face when the unhappy news was brought to her at last, at the end of a frantic afternoon’s search for her missing husband: the slow way in which her mouth parted and her expression crumpled, as disbelief gave way to despair.

I remember thinking, at the time, that no one would ever mourn me so utterly.

The minister, an elderly man whose own father had first baptized an infant Olympia into the Church of England, wasted few words on the internment itself. It was February, and the wind was bitter with the promise of snow. The air smelled of loam and rot and annihilation, the extinction of a century that had begun with the bloody triumph of Waterloo and was now concluding with the burials of Victoria and Maestro Verdi and, in his turn, the grand old Duke of Olympia.

I watched the polished wood descend into the rough and barbaric earth, and a kind of panic swept over me: not of grief, exactly, but the sense that a candle was sputtering out, which could never be lit again.

By contrast, the reception afterward was almost jovial. I thought this was exactly as His Grace would have wanted it, and after all, only a natural reaction of the human spirit when it comes in from the cold to a brightly lit room, furnished amply with refreshment.

I flatter myself that we did the old lion proud. He had always appreciated the civilizing effect of good drink and fine food, and the dowager duchess and I, in consultation with Norton the butler and Mrs. Greenly the cook, had chosen the funeral meats with loving care. By the time the guests arrived in carriages and motorcars from the churchyard, the servants had laid everything out on an enormous trestle table along one side of the great hall, while the footmen circulated to ensure that nobody’s glass remained empty for long. Had everyone not worn an uncongenial black, it might have been a Christmas ball.

“Not quite the thing for a funeral, one imagines,” said my companion, as he surveyed the assembly. “I believe that’s Lady Roland by the punch bowl, squinting her disapproval.”

“We did not design the menu with Lady Roland’s opinions in mind,” I said.

“We?” His eyebrows lifted.

“I am—I was—the duke’s personal secretary.”

“Oh! My dear. What a dismal sort of job. I suppose you’re glad that’s over.”

“I quite liked my position, as a matter of fact. The duke was a generous employer, if exacting.”

“Exacting!” He laughed. “Yes, I daresay that’s the charitable way to put it. I’m Freddie, by the way.”

“Freddie?”

He leaned over my wine. “Frederick, if we must be proper about it. Have you really organized all of this?”

“With a great deal of advice, of course.”

“Oh, of course. One mustn’t allow anyone to know how capable we are. This wine is excellent, by the way. I applaud your taste. The last of His Grace’s seventy Lafite, is it?”

“Yes. You’re familiar with it?”

“I don’t know much,” he said, tapping his temple with one forefinger, “but I do know wine. One’s got to be an expert about something, and it might as well be something that gives one pleasure. I say, were you really Olympia’s secretary? You don’t look like a secretary.”

“How does a secretary look?”

“Certainly not like a charmingly constructed young female. Isn’t paid employment supposed to be improper and that sort of thing? Have you got to work one of those nasty typing machines?”

“On occasion, when His Grace’s personal business demanded it.”

Freddie—Frederick—I could hardly call him by either name, so I called him by none—looked at me keenly over the top of his wineglass, which had now fallen dangerously empty.

“I say, you do look dashed familiar, though. Have we perhaps met?”

“I don’t recall. Did you ever have personal business with the duke?”

“Personal business? Haven’t the foggiest. Probably not.”

“Then I imagine we haven’t met before.”

In truth, I would have remembered if we had. I shall not go to such lengths as to call this Freddie an Adonis—the term, I feel, is tossed about too carelessly these days—but in those early days of the century, he possessed the lucky beauty of youth in spades, beginning with a helmet of sleek gold hair and ending in a well-polished shoe, with all manner of blue eyes and straight noses and lantern jaws arranged at regular intervals in between. His shoulders extended sturdily from a somewhat disordered collar. He had a quick, lean way of moving himself about, which he disguised by his lazy expression. If anything, he stood a bit too tall for convenience, but perhaps I quibble; I sometimes suspect I am overparticular when presented with specimens like this self-professed Freddie. At any rate, as I regarded the radiant totality of him in the great hall of the Duke of Olympia’s country seat, I expected he was probably very good at the tennis, had left Oxford with a dismal Third in History, went down to Scotland every August to kill grouse in a Norfolk jacket and leather gaiters, was engaged to marry an earl’s daughter, and had a mistress waiting for him in a flat in Kensington, to which he motored back and forth in a two-seater automobile.

How this brainless, glamorous creature had come to rest in my proximity, I couldn’t imagine.

“And yet,” he said, “I can’t quite shake the feeling.”

“What feeling, sir?”

“That we’ve met before.” A footman passed; Freddie, still frowning, stretched out his glass for servicing. “Do you go to London?”

“Only when His Grace is—was—in town.”

“Belong to any clubs?”

“Not your sort of clubs.”

“House parties?”

“I have generally preferred to remain at home when Their Graces are called away on social visits.”

“I say. How amazingly dull. Well, chin up. You’re free now, eh?” He nudged my upper arm with his wineglass, which was already half-empty again.

“Free? I’m in mourning.”

“Well, but after a decent interval, I mean. Surely the old chap’s left you a nice little remembrance, so you can run off and see the world and all that sort of thing. Smoke cigarettes and gad about in ocean liners, quaffing champagne by the bucketful.”

“I haven’t begun to think about it.”

“Oh, come now. Admit it, it’s been in the back of your mind, all this time. Why else do we put up with the old duffers, eh? The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” He leaned close again and winked, and in the copious candlelight—the duke had not yet begun the project of electrifying Aldermere Castle before he died, and perhaps five hundred fine beeswax candles illuminated the great hall this February night—his eyes looked a little too bright.

“Yes,” I said. “Exactly so. And if you’ll excuse me, sir, I’m afraid I must speak with the butler about the wine.”

“The wine? What’s wrong with the wine?”

“I suspect there’s too much of it.”

He laughed at me, and I was about to turn away, when his expression changed to one of recognition. He snapped his fingers. “Now I remember!”

“Remember meeting me?”

“No, alas. Remember that I was supposed to summon you to the library for a desperately important meeting.”

“A meeting? With whom?”

“With whom? Why, herself, of course. The dowager duchess. Wants a word with you, on the chivvy.” He shut one blue eye and stared through his wineglass at the ceiling, as if admiring the optical effect. “Better you than me, if you’re asking. But then, nobody ever does.”

A word about the dowager duchess.

Or perhaps you’ve already heard of her? I understand the marriage was something of a sensation, a dozen years ago, covered in breathless detail by all the newspapers, though little of that detail actually arose from the couple themselves. They are—were—private, by nature. Still, the editors turned somersaults at the news. If American Heiress Weds English Duke! never fails to set the blood racing in the veins, then Penniless American Nobody Weds English Duke! rings even better. Who was she? How had they met? What cunning American trap had she laid, in the manner of those infamous ladies of wild western frontier, to get her man and his coronet, too?

At the time I walked into the Aldermere library, on the evening of the Duke of Olympia’s funeral, I had few more answers to these burning questions than the general public. Her Grace was then about sixty years old: quiet, elegant, seemly. She had good bones and excellent skin—bones and skin go so far in a woman her age—and her hair, rich as treacle, had only recently begun to take on gray. I had never heard her raise her voice, not once. She read extensively, walked or rode every morning, nursed a small but loyal circle of friends, and took a keen enjoyment in travel. Of her previous life, I knew nothing, only that the couple had met on board an ocean liner and married shortly thereafter. The duke, insofar as he expressed any sentiment whatever, had worshiped the air that fell from her mouth.

She was not alone in the library. An unknown man occupied the enormous wing chair, upholstered in forest-green damask, in which the duke used to read during the winter evenings. His arms folded across his chest as he watched Her Grace arrange the coals with a long gold-handled poker, and I thought how odd that was, that he should be sitting while the duchess stood, until I realized that his hair was quite white, and his skin made one think of a piece of finely crumpled tissue, stretched back out over his bones. He turned a pair of rheumy eyes in my direction and said, as if I couldn’t hear him, “This is the girl?”

Nobody had called me a girl for many years. I pushed back my shoulders and looked at the duchess, who returned the poker to the stand and straightened to face me. “Miss Truelove. Thank you so much for attending us. May I present Sir John Worthington, a very old friend of the duke.”

I inclined my head. “Sir John.”

“How are you holding up, my dear?” she said. “Is everybody behaving themselves out there? Is the punch bowl empty yet?”

“Not yet, but I doubt it will hold out much longer.”

“Well, let them enjoy themselves. It’s how he would have wanted it. He always hated maudlin displays. Do sit down. You must be exhausted.”

No more than a trace of sadness darkened her words. She had gathered herself together with remarkable dignity, for an American. I lowered myself into the indicated armchair and sat at the very edge, back upright, ankles crossed, as I had been taught from childhood.

 “No more than you, Duchess. I hope you are bearing up, under such a burden.”

“One hasn’t much choice, has one? Life marches on. I knew we hadn’t much time on this earth together, so I made sure to make the most of it. But one is never quite prepared when the ax falls.” She placed her hand on the mantel and attempted a smile. “Who would believe the vital spark could possibly be extinguished from such a man?”

“Indeed. I haven’t had the chance to think about it, really. I was gratified to see everyone so affected by the service. How comforted you must feel, to see how deeply His Grace was loved among all who knew him.”

She allowed a dry little laugh. “Oh, I’m sure that half of them were only there to make certain he was really dead.”

“Surely not.”

“But never mind. There was one rather glaring absence among the assembled mourners, which has happily given our guests a convenient subject for gossip to go along with their wine. No doubt you know what I mean.”

“Mr. Haywood?”

“Yes. Or the Duke of Olympia, as I suppose he’s properly styl...

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Known for her original plots, deft characterization, and lyrical voice, Juliana Gray presents an extraordinary novel of an uncommon pursuit February, 1906. As the personal secretary of the recently departed Duke of Olympia and a woman of scrupulous character Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove never expected her duties to involve steaming through the Mediterranean on a private yacht, under the prodigal eye of one Lord Silverton, the most charmingly corrupt bachelor in London. But here they are, improperly bound on a quest to find the duke s enigmatic heir, current whereabouts unknown. An expert on anachronisms, Maximilian Haywood was last seen at an archaeological dig on the island of Crete. And from the moment Truelove and Silverton disembark, they are met with incidents of a suspicious nature: a ransacked flat, a murdered government employee, an assassination attempt. As they travel from port to port on Max s trail, piecing together the strange events of the days before his disappearance, Truelove will discover the folly of her misconceptions about the whims of the heart, the motives of men, and the nature of time itself. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780425277072

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Known for her original plots, deft characterization, and lyrical voice, Juliana Gray presents an extraordinary novel of an uncommon pursuit February, 1906. As the personal secretary of the recently departed Duke of Olympia and a woman of scrupulous character Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove never expected her duties to involve steaming through the Mediterranean on a private yacht, under the prodigal eye of one Lord Silverton, the most charmingly corrupt bachelor in London. But here they are, improperly bound on a quest to find the duke s enigmatic heir, current whereabouts unknown. An expert on anachronisms, Maximilian Haywood was last seen at an archaeological dig on the island of Crete. And from the moment Truelove and Silverton disembark, they are met with incidents of a suspicious nature: a ransacked flat, a murdered government employee, an assassination attempt. As they travel from port to port on Max s trail, piecing together the strange events of the days before his disappearance, Truelove will discover the folly of her misconceptions about the whims of the heart, the motives of men, and the nature of time itself. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780425277072

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