Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Cambridge Fellows Mysteries by Charlie Cochrane Part 2


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If the men of St. Bride’s College knew what Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith got up to behind closed doors, the scandal would rock early-20th-century Cambridge to its core. But the truth is, when they’re not busy teaching literature and mathematics, the most daring thing about them isn’t their love for each other—it’s their hobby of amateur sleuthing.

Because wherever Jonty and Orlando go, trouble seems to find them. Sunny, genial Jonty and prickly, taciturn Orlando may seem like opposites. But their balance serves them well as they sift through clues to crimes, and sort through their own emotions to grow closer. But at the end of the day, they always find the truth . . . and their way home together.

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Be sure and check the author's website for a complete chronological list of novels, novellas, free short stories in the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries Universe.

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Lessons in Power #4
Summary:
The ghosts of the past will shape your future. Unless you fight them...

Cambridge, 1907: After settling in their new home, Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart are looking forward to nothing more exciting than teaching their students and playing rugby. Their plans change when a friend asks their help to clear an old flame who stands accused of murder.

Doing the right thing means Jonty and Orlando must leave the sheltering walls of St. Bride’s to enter a labyrinth of suspects and suspicions, lies and anguish.

Their investigation raises ghosts from Jonty’s past when the murder victim turns out to be one of the men who sexually abused him at school. The trauma forces Jonty to withdraw behind a wall of painful memories. And Orlando fears he may forever lose the intimacy of his best friend and lover.

When another one of Jonty’s abusers is found dead, police suspicion falls on the Cambridge fellows themselves. Finding this murderer becomes a race to solve the crime…before it destroys Jonty’s fragile state of mind.

Warning: Contains sensual m/m lovemaking and hot men playing rugby.

Lessons in Temptation #5
Summary:
He thinks he has everything. Until someone tries to steal it.

For friends and lovers Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart, a visit to Bath starts out full of promise. While Orlando assesses the value of some old manuscripts, Jonty plans to finish his book of sonnets. Nothing exciting…until they are asked to investigate the mysterious death of a prostitute.

Then Orlando discovers that the famous curse of Macbeth extends far beyond the stage. It’s bad enough that Jonty gets drawn into a local theatre’s rehearsals of the play. The producer is none other than Jimmy Harding, a friend from Jonty’s university days who clearly finds his old pal irresistible. Worse, Jimmy makes sure Orlando knows it, posing the greatest threat so far to their happiness.

With Jonty involved in the play, Orlando must do his sleuthing alone. Meanwhile, Jonty finds himself sorely tempted by Jimmy’s undeniable allure. Even if Orlando solves the murder, his only reward could be burying his and Jonty’s love in an early grave…

“A sparkling, intelligent series, not to be missed” – The Historical Novel Society

“This quick novel reads well, and shows the deep affection some men have for one another, as well as the hatred others have of them” – History and Women

Lessons in Seduction #6
Summary:
This time, one touch could destroy everything…

The suspected murder of the king's ex-mistress is Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart's most prestigious case yet. And the most challenging, since clues are as hard to come by as the killer's possible motive.

At the hotel where the body was found, Orlando goes undercover as a professional dancing partner while Jonty checks in as a guest. It helps the investigation, but it also means limiting their communication to glances across the dance floor. It's sheer agony.

A series of anonymous letters warns the sleuths they'll be sorry if they don't drop the investigation. When another murder follows, Jonty is convinced their involvement might have caused the victim's death. Yet they can't stop, for this second killing brings to light a wealth of hidden secrets.

For Orlando, the letters pose a more personal threat. He worries that someone will blow his cover and discover their own deepest secret… The intimate relationship he enjoys with Jonty could not only get them thrown out of Cambridge, but arrested for indecency.


Lessons in Power #4
Re-Read Review July 2016:
I didn't think it possible that I could love Jonty & Orlando more but this second time around is amazing!

Original Review Summer 2014:
Another great Jonty and Orlando tale. My heart was breaking for Jonty having to relive the ordeals he suffered in his earlier years. My heart also ached for Orlando having to watch the man he loved relive those horrors and not be able to help other than be there for him. Which of course meant more than Orlando realized it did. This mystery hitting so close to home again brings in Mama and Papa Stewart in loving and interesting ways. Mrs. Stewart may be a woman of her time but she isn't one to be scoffed at either, she's a delight to read. Off to start number five.

Lessons in Temptation #5
Original Review August 2014:
The introduction of Jonty's old friend, Jimmy Harding is troubling from the first "hello" to both Jonty and Orlando and their relationship. When they are asked to solve a twenty-five year old murder, the pair is thrilled even though their personal commitments find themselves splitting the investigation and doing most of it individually. Even though Orlando continues to come into his own in the world and the intimacy between him and his lover, he is still uncomfortable with the personal nature of their latest case. I truly love the couple and their growing relationship, especially in context to the era. The mysteries that they are commissioned to investigate continue to intrigue me.

Lessons in Seduction #6
Original Review from September 2014:
As much as Orlando has grown since his fateful meeting of Jonty, he still keeps his innocence and it's still so endearing. When Jonty had to explain just what a "gigolo" was, I laughed so hard. As much as I love seeing Orlando and Jonty sleuthing together, it was a nice change to see Jonty doing a good share of his investigating with his father, Mr. Stewart. We get a brief introduction to Orlando's grandmother which foretells possible future detecting and maybe (hopefully not) tension between the two lovers. As for the mystery that they are asked in to investigate, it seems calmer than some of their previous cases but still keeps your interest. Another winner so I'm off to start number 7.

Overall Series
Original Review July 2015:
As for the overall series, Cambridge Fellows is a great historical mystery with humor, romance, and characters that mesh together perfectly, even when they seem more enemy than friend.  I came across this series last summer when I was searching for historical fiction and even though there were 10 books to the series, I decided to give it a try.  Well, less than 30 days later I had finished all 10.  I will say that the publishers label them as standalones and I guess as far as the mysteries go, yes they do qualify as standalones but because of the growing relationships amongst the different characters, and not just Jonty and Orlando, I highly recommend reading them in order of the chronological timeline, follow this link to the author's website for said chronological timeline.

RATING: 


Lessons in Power #4
 Cambridge, February 1907 
“I’ve been reading a book.”

“I remember you saying that once before. We were both stark naked in front of a fire just like this one and by rights should have been making a first consummation of our passion.”

Orlando Coppersmith swatted at his friend’s head with the first thing that came to hand, which luckily for Jonty Stewart wasn’t one of the fire dogs but a bread roll. “It’s a constant amazement to me that you’ve ever shut up long enough for a consummation to take place. Blether, blether, if they made it an Olympic event you’d be so certain to be champion that no one else would turn up to oppose you.”

“And the point of this conversation was?” Jonty flicked some toast crumbs from his cuff.

“This book concerned the meaning of names and it struck me how apt yours was. Well, it struck me at the time—after the latest bit of tomfoolery I’m not so sure.” Orlando, once a potential Olympic frowning champion, smiled happily.

“Handsome, lovely, is that what it means? Statuesque? Desirable?” Jonty chirped away like a little bird, full of the joys of a day which suggested that spring might be just around the corner, if the light filtering into the dining room was any indication.

Orlando grabbed his friend’s hands. “Stop it. I’m in deadly earnest. It means ‘God has given’. Now if that’s not an apt description of you for me then I’ve no idea what is.”

Jonty had the grace to blush. “You’ll have to tell Mama. She alleges the choice of Jonathan was all Papa’s. She wanted to call me James.”

“I think I’ll start calling you Godgiven or some such thing when you’re at your most annoying. It might get you to calm down.” Orlando buttered his toast with great energy, as if it were his friend’s bottom that was getting a whack.

Jonty poked out his tongue, although his lover couldn’t be sure whether he was thinking or being insulting. “And what does Orlando mean? Irritating? Insatiable?”

“It’s from Roland.”

“Well, I’m none the wiser with that.”

“Neither was the book, to tell the truth, although it’s supposed to be something to do with a famous land. I suspect it means ‘he who gains fame throughout the country’.”

Jonty turned up his nose. “More likely ‘he who spends hours in the bathroom’. Luckily we have two in this place or I’d never be ready in the morning.”

In fact there were three bathrooms in their house, but the one in the self-contained annexe—which itself contained Mrs. Ward, their housekeeper—never got taken into the reckoning as they never got to go near it. It was part of the “servant’s quarters”, as the house agent had referred to them when they’d first enquired about the property, only connected with the rest of the building via a rickety flight of stairs which led to the kitchen.

Not that Mrs. Ward ever complained. Her suite of rooms had been decorated and kitted out beautifully, along with all the rest of the house, prior to the men taking occupation. A sailor’s widow in her mid-forties, and with her only son now himself at sea, she’d been recommended to them as a lady who relished the prospect of something to set her abilities to. As the recommendation had come from Ariadne Peters, sister to the Master of St. Bride’s college, Jonty and Orlando had paid close attention to it. They didn’t want their jobs at the college proving surplus to requirements overnight. Mrs. Ward had a big heart, an open mind and a light touch with pastry, which were the best possible qualifications, and in the fortnight they’d been in residence, the men had no complaints.

Their house, a cottage dating to Tudor times but adorned with later extensions and amendments, had previously belonged to an old lady who’d died. Jonty had spied the property out before Christmas and fallen in love with it. He’d whisked Orlando up there the very evening he agreed to buying a house and the cottage had weaved its magic on him too. They’d bought it before anyone else could, then set to with plans for improvements.

Or, to be accurate, Helena Stewart, Jonty’s mother, had descended on her broomstick and taken all the plans for enhancements in hand, as “her lads” were so busy with university business. Soon the Madingley Road was alive with decoration, renovations, plumbing and installation of proper central heating, all without losing an ounce of the property’s charm. It was only a matter of weeks before it was habitable and on February the first they took possession.

“Should I carry you over the threshold?” Jonty had been barely able to restrain the bliss in his voice when they’d taken possession. “Or you me? We could even go in, then come back out so we both get a go…” His words had been stopped in the most effective way, by a single, protracted kiss—allowable only as no one else was within a half a mile’s sight.

Now it felt as if they’d lived in this house forever. Orlando, whose home for many years had consisted of a set of rooms in St. Bride’s in which no one but his students and the Master were allowed—and a chair in the Senior Common Room which no one cared to sit next to—was amazed that his horizons had expanded so far. He kept a room back in college for supervisions, as did Jonty, and their chairs still stood side by side in the SCR, inviolate, but now Orlando had a cottage which he shared in joint names with his lover. He also had second, third, call-them-what-you-would homes in both Sussex and London with the rest of the Stewarts, for whom he was a cross between a fourth son and a favourite son-in-law.

Forsythia Cottage was spacious, affording them each a study to fill with their books, pictures and general clutter. It was well appointed with bedrooms for household and guests, although only one of their beds ever seemed to be slept in on any given night. They always took breakfast together, Mrs. Ward serving up ridiculous quantities of bacon and eggs or—as this morning, when talk turned to names—kedgeree, which was spicy and succulent.

“Shall we have Matthew Ainslie up to Bride’s for High Table?” Jonty’s little nose rose above the newspaper, making him look even more like a small inquisitive mammal than usual.

“Why?” Orlando had managed to avoid having the man visit them through the Michaelmas term, and didn’t want things to change now.

“Because we’re meeting him at the rugby on Wednesday. It would be terribly rude to just shake his hand after the match, say ‘Sorry the university slaughtered Blackheath’, and then just leave him there.”

It was true; Orlando had to admit that would be shoddy treatment. Even for someone who had once made a pass at him up in the woods. He no longer hated Matthew for past indiscretions, nor wanted to kick him in the seat of his pants, but he was sometimes jealous of the affection Jonty felt for a man they’d only met on holiday. “I suppose so. We can let Miss Peters get her teeth into him if he gets out of hand.”

“I’d pay money to see that happen.” Jonty drained his cup and poured another. The late Mr. Ward had tasted the excellent coffee supplied in foreign parts and had taught his wife how to make a good brew.

“I suppose in that case we should see about accommodation for him?”

“No need. He’s been talking about staying at the University Arms, which seems a better idea than having him here. Then he won’t have to listen to your snoring.”

“For the one-hundred-and-ninety-third time, I don’t snore.”

“Don’t you?” Jonty stood up and reached over the table for the marmalade, which his lover had appropriated. “Well, some bloke comes in my bed of a night and reverberates. Perhaps it’s a farmer driving his pigs to market. Ow!”

Orlando had taken advantage of Jonty’s position and landed a hearty slap on his backside. “You’ll get another one of those every time you accuse me of snoring.”

“Seems a positive incentive to keep on doing it then.” Jonty sat down gingerly, although he didn’t mind being whacked by his lover—it often led on to something much more pleasant. “I’ll ring Matthew at lunchtime, then.”

 *****

“Coppersmith! Orlando Coppersmith!” A chap the size of the great north wall of the Eiger came into view, cutting a lane through the throng of people along the touchline. He grabbed Orlando’s hand and pumped it up and down until all the blood flow seemed to cease.

“Morgan.” Orlando was pleased to have remembered the name. “I thought you’d have been playing.” He jabbed a finger at the pitch, a field as muddy as only Cambridge could produce in early spring.

“Dodgy leg.” The man mountain grimaced. “Come to cheer the team on.” He offered his hand to Jonty.

“This is Dr. Stewart.” Orlando made the introduction with pride. “He played here in about 1876.”

“Turn of the century, thank you. I think I may have played against you at some point, Mr. Morgan.” Jonty eyed the man’s broken nose and had the vaguest memory that he might just have been responsible. “You beat us then, but I hope we’ll make amends today. Ah, please excuse us…”

A hubbub broke out pitchside, which seemed to consist of repeated sayings along the lines of “Matthew, you old dog” or “Jonty Stewart, when are you going to get a decent haircut?” Together with muttered harrumphs from Orlando, which might or might not have been welcoming, this was all accompanied by an outbreak of backslapping, handshaking and general bonhomie. At least two of the three present were pleased at the reunion. For Ainslie, meeting Jonty and Orlando was the one positive thing to have come out of last summer’s holiday on Jersey, during which his father had been murdered and these two bright young men had solved the case.

“It’s wonderful to be here at last.” Ainslie breathed deep of the fresh Cambridge air, so much healthier than the latest London smog.

“All we needed was for you to get here.” Jonty’s grin couldn’t have been wider. “Now we can get a pint of IPA inside ourselves before kick-off. Need the warmth and sustenance.”

It proved just as well; the first half of the match was slow, more laboured than they’d hoped, and only the thought of another pint of beer was going to see them through if the second half turned out just as dire.

Orlando went off to find the little boys’ room and discussion turned to matters of dangerous binding in the scrum, when Morgan clapped Jonty on the back, sending him sprawling.

The man had been standing close by for the first half, obviously privy to the flow of wit and repartee which passed between the two fellows of Bride’s and their guest. “I’d never have thought to see old Coppersmith in such high humour. What happened to him the last few years to make such a change?”

“Oh—” Jonty was, for once, lost for words. Why did people have to ask such bloody awkward questions? Ones to which the wrong answer could lead to two years’ hard labour? “Ah, he, um, met a lady who had an extraordinary effect upon him.”

“The old dog. I was always convinced he would turn out to be a confirmed bachelor. Any sign of wedding bells?”

“I doubt it. She loves another, you know. Still, he burns a light for her.” Jonty was surprised by Orlando slapping his shoulder. He wasn’t certain whether his lover had heard what he’d said, although the man would have to be blind not to notice Ainslie’s secretive grin.

The game began again, with a bit more swashbuckling spirit on display and, as always seemed to happen, some wag asking whether the referee might benefit from borrowing Stewart’s spectacles. A stiff talking-to had no doubt been delivered with the half-time oranges and the end result of two goals all was regarded as being fair.

“Close call, eh?” Ainslie kept his voice low.

“The match or what he asked?” Jonty looked sidelong at his guest.

The crowds were wending their way back to colleges, pubs, the train station, wherever they’d come from. Morgan had buttonholed Orlando and was bending his ear up ahead on the path from Grange Road to the river. It was getting dark, the lights of Cambridge appearing like stars in the gloaming.

“It’s always the same old story, isn’t it? Lies and subterfuge.” Ainslie shivered, as did his host. The growing coolness in the air didn’t chill them half as much as the thought of the many little deceptions which pervaded their lives.

“I know.” They’d reached the river Cam, Orlando still being regaled with rugby tales and looking like he was desperate to escape. “We’re off to college to change. Meet us in my set for a sherry before dinner.” Jonty shook Ainslie’s hand, watched his neat, strong frame make its way along past St. Catherine’s, then set off to rescue his lover.

 *****

“Why did you have to say that?” Orlando’s room in St. Bride’s provided a sanctuary; here a man could talk freely.

“Say what?” Jonty had forgotten all about the halftime banter. That was forty minutes of rugby, a pleasant walk and a glass of sherry ago.

“About me meeting a lady who loved another. I could hear your voice a mile away. What sort of an impression will they have of me? I thought you didn’t approve of lies.” Orlando was fuming. Far from making him mellow, the beer had turned him belligerent.

“I don’t. Everything I said was true. You met my mama, who is without doubt a lady, and she has had a great effect upon you. And you could never marry her, could you, even if you wanted to?” Jonty looked with regret at the old leather chair by the fire. A nap would be nice but he didn’t suppose he’d be allowed one.

“That’s being pedantic. It may have been the literal truth but it told a misleading story.”

“Well, would you rather I’d said that you’d discovered the delights of my bed, which is the reason why you’re so much more confident and worldly wise? Think of the impression that would have caused, Dr. Coppersmith.” Jonty knew that he was in the right, and he always made the most of moral superiority.

Orlando was about to argue, then sighed and shook his head. “No, I think this was one occasion when the truth wouldn’t have paid.” He stared out of the window, musing. “I did wonder why he was being so friendly. He never used to make a point of talking to me.”

“You probably used to tell him off for sitting in your chair. Or standing on your bit of the pitch. Now that you’re a man of wide social experience, you give off a notable aura of bon viveur. Morgan no doubt sees that you’ve become much more fun to associate with and wishes to become one of your intimates.” Jonty began shifting his clothes, or else they’d never make Hall.

“Don’t rag me. I was incredibly lonely at times at Oxford. I could have done with a bit more beer and camaraderie then.” Orlando hated referring to the loneliness of his pre-Jonty days (or “the blessed times of quiet” as he called them) and if he was doing so now, he must be feeling the emptiness of them.

“Oh, my love. If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. We can’t ever go back and change things can we? If we could, our formative years would all have been quite different.”

“I’m sorry.” Orlando’s loneliness now seemed very small beer compared to the horrors Jonty had been forced to endure at school, experiences it had taken him a great deal of time to recover from. “I didn’t mean to—”

“Of course you didn’t, whatever it was. Look, we’re neither of us the men we were and I daily thank God for it.” Jonty, the beer still making his body and spirit glow, felt as though he’d made the wisest pronouncement since the days of Solomon, one which was beyond answer. He was wrong.

“Quite right, too.” Orlando fiddled with his cufflinks. “I know you hate it when I speculate about what would have happened if we hadn’t met, but I can’t help doing it.”

“What if we’d met earlier? I mean what if we’d been opponents in the Varsity Match? I couldn’t have failed to notice you, all gangly legs and unruly curls. I’d have thrown you into touch a few times then we’d have shared a few beers in the bar. It would have been so nice…” There was something about the combination of rugby and beer which made the best of men maudlin.

Orlando snorted. “Well, we could hardly have commenced a relationship out there on the pitch, could we? No, please don’t favour that with an answer. It gives you far too much capacity for making obscene jokes about releasing the ball in the tackle.”

“I do fantasise sometimes, about what it would have been like to find myself at the bottom of a maul with you on top of me. Shame you mathematicians think it beneath yourselves to rummage up a rugger team—the English mob could organise a fixture and, assuming your old Achilles was up to it…” Jonty drifted off into pleasant reverie. He’d never seen his lover play the beautiful game, so it had become a favourite pastime to try to imagine it.

“Perhaps I can persuade them.”

Jonty almost dropped his collar stud. “Do you mean it?”

“Indeed. There’s a few chaps new to the university who could well be encouraged to turn out. And I’d enjoy it, too.” He smiled, full of mischief.

“Oh yes, Orlando? Being able to take me down in the tackle?”

“And rubbing your little nose into the mud a few times. Can’t think of anything better. On a rugby field that is,” Orlando added with a grin. “In here, that’s another matter…”

But the other matter was never explored, any investigation cut short when Matthew Ainslie knocked on the door in search of his glass of sherry.

High Table was excellent, a corner cut of beef being set off with fiery horseradish, and Yorkshire puddings as light as a feather. Ariadne Peters, whose plain looks were always eclipsed by her sparkling conversation, proved as entertaining as ever, and her brother charmed Ainslie with his intelligent interest in publishing.

They took coffee, cheese and fruit in the Senior Common Room, and when Ainslie accidentally sat in Orlando’s chair, the company waited with bated breath for the inevitable explosion of wrath. He astonished them all by sitting in the chair on the other side, letting Jonty take his normal seat. It was a gesture at once simple in its hospitality and profound in its sacrificial nature.

Jonty felt immensely proud of his lover’s good grace and resolved that he’d get an adequate reward when they returned home. The conversation meandered on, the wine, quantities of food and warm atmosphere having a soporific effect, so that Orlando soon suggested they take a little air before they all fell asleep. As the three men strolled along, the night air immediately counteracting the feelings of sleepiness, Ainslie spoke.

“Are you free for coffee tomorrow morning at, shall we say, eleven? I didn’t want to spoil this evening with business, although tomorrow I’d be grateful if I could—” he seemed to be thinking of the correct term, “—consult you on a professional basis.”

Jonty bowed, with only a hint of facetiousness. “That makes us sound conspicuously like Holmes and Watson. I’m available—are you, Dr. Coppersmith?”

Orlando’s face illustrated all the frustration he felt. “No, I’ve college business. And on a Saturday too.” He rolled his eyes.

“Then Dr. Stewart will have to take excellent notes, won’t he?” Ainslie smiled and strolled off, leaving his friends to find a cab to take them back up the Madingley Road.

 *****

Ainslie had found a part of the University Arms where he and his guest could take coffee and talk without being overheard, an important element in his plan, given the potentially delicate nature of the discussion. A University College London man himself, he was enjoying his visit to such a hallowed seat of learning (still hallowed despite Jonty’s tales of his less-than-bright students).

Ainslie had ended up with a degree in literature, a taste for port and some interesting connections, which meant he could indulge his inclination towards other men with both discretion and pleasure. A discretion which had temporarily deserted him on Jersey although, thank the Lord, not one which had stood in the way of his friendship with Stewart and his more aloof companion.

He welcomed his guest at eleven on the dot, pouring out a cup of what proved to be an excellent brew. They chatted amiably for a few moments, mainly about the university’s prospects in the forthcoming cricket season, then Stewart felt it was time to open his own batting.

“You wanted to talk to us about some sort of case, I take it?”

“Indeed. I remember with extreme gratitude your help on Jersey and I know of your success both before and after it.”

Stewart grinned. “You’ve been reading The Times, I suppose, and now you want us to poke our noses into something?”

“That’s an unusual way of putting it, but yes.” Ainslie was impressed to see Stewart produce, along with his glasses, an elegant notepad and an equally elegant propelling pencil with which he began to make notes. The air of objective authority helped to make a painful situation rather more bearable. “I won’t beat about the bush. I have a friend who has been accused of murder. He assures me that he’s innocent and I believe that to be the truth. I would like you to see if you can find any evidence to support his case.”

“When is this due to come to court?” Stewart’s pencil tapped on the page.

“There’s likely to be a delay while an important medical witness is recalled from abroad, but we can’t be looking at much the other side of Easter.” The window gave a faint reflection. Ainslie, catching sight of his face, was shocked at how pale he’d turned.

Stewart was concerned. “And does his own counsel give him any hope?”

Ainslie stared out of the window, at the children playing on Parker’s Piece, their delight in running on the grass meaning nothing to his unseeing eyes. “Not very much.” All he could see was a face—not his own this time—a handsome young face. One that, time was, had been his greatest delight.

Stewart considered his next question. “If we find evidence that your friend is indeed guilty, what then?”

Ainslie turned, his keen eyes fixing his guest’s equally candid ones. “Then he hangs. I’ll not have facts suppressed just to bring about the desired result. I want the truth.” It hurt to speak every word, yet each had to be said.

Stewart patted his friend’s arm. “Good man. Couldn’t have taken the job without you having said that. Now can I have some details? What’s your friend’s name?”

“Alistair Stafford.”

“Should I know him? I’m sure I’ve heard the name before.”

“He’s the man who sent that letter to Jersey, detailing my alleged sins to someone who wished to besmirch my reputation.” Ainslie watched the children playing yet didn’t see them, still registering in his mind’s eye a happier time and place.

“Matthew, I don’t understand, why should you choose to defend him of all people?”

“We were once lovers, Jonty, very fond and close. We had a misunderstanding, a series of them really, and we couldn’t come to any sort of a resolution. We separated under very unsympathetic circumstances—there was a lot of bitterness on his part.” Ainslie’s gaze remained fixed outside. “Which is why he was keen to give information to my business rival. Spite. Or revenge.”

“It’s very magnanimous of you to be going to his aid. Was there some rapprochement over the last few months?”

“No, it was his sister who approached me.” Ainslie remembered Angela Stafford with fondness—she had never betrayed his friendship. “His mother and father decided to sever ties with him when they discovered where his affections lay. Miss Stafford knew we’d been very close, knew we’d parted, but had no idea, obviously, of Alistair’s subsequent betrayal. I didn’t enlighten her.” He at last brought his gaze back into the room.

“Of course not. Yet you still agreed to help?” Stewart looked so outraged that Ainslie smiled, despite the turmoil in his mind.

“Not there and then, but I agreed to meet him and hear his side of the tale. I was sufficiently convinced—well, to be here now.”

Stewart laid down his pencil for a moment. “I feel unworthy to be given such a responsibility. The things we’ve been involved with in the past haven’t been that important, or rather our role within them hasn’t. The police would have solved those first two crimes anyway, irrespective of our input. Is there no one else you could ask for help? Someone more competent?”

“There may be, but there’s no one I trust half as well as I do you and Dr. Coppersmith. I can be completely candid with you and I’m learning to be so with him. If there’s anything to be found, I’m sure that you’re the men to find it.”

The intellectual detective tried hard not to beam and poised his pencil again. “Can I take a few details?”

“I have some notes here for you—” Ainslie produced a large envelope, “—although I can give you a summary. A man was found dead in his house in Dorking, down in Surrey, the back of his head smashed in with a poker. Alistair was known to have argued violently with him just days before, threatening his life.”

“And the man’s name?”

“Lord Christopher Jardine.” Ainslie almost flinched, so sudden was the change in Stewart’s normally good-humoured face. “Did you know him?”

“There was a boy of that name at my school.” Stewart was making his face a blank, a mask over it to hide all feeling.

“He’d be a few years older than you.”

“Then I did know him.” Stewart fiddled with his pencil, some deep emotion welling up, threatening to engulf him.

“I’m sorry.” Ainslie’s words were sincere but they sounded feeble.

“So am I, Matthew. Sorry I ever made his acquaintance."

Lessons in Temptation #5
“Stewart? Jonty Stewart?”

An attractive American brogue split the air, making Orlando and Jonty spin around. They’d been standing admiring Ralph Allen’s folly and watching the activity surrounding it. The rudiments of a stage was going up, business being worked out at the same time, groups of people rehearsing scenes or looking at properties. It had made an amusing scene and they weren’t prepared for interruption.

“Harding! What the deuce are you doing here?”

“Putting on a play, of course.”

“You’re producing the Shakespeare here? The Scottish play?”

“Say it—say Macbeth. Surely you don’t believe in that old chestnut about it being unlucky?” The newcomer smiled, an expression which was immediately mirrored by Jonty.

“Macbeth it is, then.”

“Good. Don’t you dare say it around the rest of the company, though. They’re all infected with the usual superstitions. I have to refer to ‘himself’ as the Thane or some other euphemism—I need someone I can talk to without the nonsense or I’ll go mad.” He grinned again.

“You’re not going to play Macbeth yourself, surely?” Jonty, almost dancing with delight, waved eagerly at the stage.

“No, I’ll be Banquo. And I’m producing, of course.” The actor swept his hand around, encompassing all the properties and players.

Orlando could stay silent no longer. “Am I to be introduced?”

“I’m so sorry.” Jonty touched his arm, lightly. “Dr. Coppersmith, this is Mr. Harding. Jimmy, this is Orlando.”

Orlando felt bad enough that he’d been ignored, left out of this obviously happy meeting, but for Jonty to break one of their cardinal rules was scandalous. He’d used Christian names in public and they weren’t on holiday, or hadn’t declared themselves as being so yet. He could feel the hackles rising, a knot of anger moving up his spine. “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Harding.”

“Mr. Harding.”

“My apologies, Mister Harding.” If Orlando had openly said I don’t like you or your smarmy face, go away and leave us alone, his feelings couldn’t have been plainer.

“We were at University College together.” Jonty had picked up the ice in his lover’s tone and sought to smooth the situation with pleasantries. “Jimmy studied English literature at home, in America, then came over to improve his already considerable knowledge of the Bard. Now he runs his own productions on both sides of the Atlantic.” He looked uneasily from one man to the other, knowing he’d committed a terrible social faux pas in not introducing them straightaway. In the sheer delight of seeing his old friend all decorum had fled from his brain.

“They told me there was some guy from Cambridge who’d been lurking about and offering his services…”

Orlando bridled at the unflattering description of what Jonty had been doing. Only he was allowed to make fun of or criticise the man.

“I’d have never in a million years guessed it was you.” Harding smiled, the genuine pleasure he felt at seeing his old acquaintance again shining through.

“You don’t mind the prospect of me hanging around getting under everyone’s feet?”

“Not at all. I’m sure you’ll put me right on all my mistakes of interpretation. You were always pretty hot about the nitty-gritty of production. And we’ll have to find you a part to play.” A huge grin crossed the American’s face. “Lady Macbeth will need a handmaiden or two. Fancy being a traditional player?”

Luckily, Orlando didn’t catch this remark, his mind being full of visions involving his fist and Harding’s face.

“Not my cup of tea, I’m afraid.” Jonty laughed but couldn’t shake off his discomfort. “I’ll be the porter if you need one, or else just a part of Birnham Wood.”

“I’ll see what I can work out. Will you join me for dinner? Both of you?” Harding added as an afterthought.

“Not tonight, I’m afraid. Tomorrow perhaps?”

“It’s a deal then. Come and watch us practise tomorrow, though. I’d like your input on the Out damned spot bit.”

Jonty nodded. “Tomorrow then.”

Harding smiled and held out his hand to Jonty to be shaken. “Excellent.” He offered Orlando his hand as well. The man grasped it grudgingly.

Jonty strode down the hill. He could sense Orlando’s unease—anyone not completely oblivious would have—and felt the need to be away from the makeshift theatre, getting a chance to clear his mind. Jimmy Harding had been a pleasant enough young man back in the London days, but somehow in the intervening three years he’d matured, like a wine or cheese which gradually reaches the peak of its perfection. He had been agreeable, now he was gorgeous. Heart-stoppingly gorgeous.

Realising this simple fact caused a curious and unsettling sensation in Jonty’s brain. The last two years he’d had eyes for Orlando alone and now he’d been “brought up with a round turn”, as his papa might term it when at his most extravagantly eloquent. The sheer charisma of Harding had knocked all the social proprieties out of Jonty’s noddle, threatening to reduce him to a gibbering wreck if he didn’t take a close rein on himself.

The horse-drawn two-seater cab that had brought them up the hill was waiting for them, Jonty having insisted they retain it. Orlando wasn’t as talkative for the journey back down to the Grand as he’d been coming up.

“What is eating you, Orlando?” Jonty could have answered the question easily enough, but he wanted the air cleared.

“How well did you know him in London?” The inquisition started.

“Jimmy? We knew each other for a couple of years at University College.” Jonty looked out the window, at the floor, avoided Orlando’s gaze. “Met at lectures, naturally, and then we discovered we were members of the same club. His father had arranged his membership, so he’d have an easier time of it when he first came over. Not that Jimmy finds it hard to make friends.”

“I can see that. Very easy going. Have you kept in touch?”

“Just cards at Christmas, with a few words of news. Thought you’d have spotted them on the old mantelpiece in my set of rooms at St. Bride’s.” Jonty kept his tone light and easy, yet inside the prickles of tetchiness were breaking out.

“I don’t go through your post, sir.”

“Orlando, whatever is the matter?” Jonty grabbed his lover’s hand, turning to face him for the first time in the journey.

“Isn’t it supposed to be Dr. Coppersmith in public? We aren’t on holiday.”

Jonty could feel his blood starting to boil—this was all getting so bloody silly. “I’ve declared it holiday time, Orlando. Now would you be so kind as to tell me what’s bothering you? You’ve been like a bear with a migraine ever since Harding hove into view.”

“I don’t like him.”

“Oh, is it Mr. Ainslie all over again? Afraid he’s going to take you off behind the castle and ravish you?”

Orlando didn’t reply. Clenched hands and muttered, indistinct words made any reply unnecessary.

“Well, is it?” The truth suddenly dawned. “Or do you think he’s going to take me off and ravish me?” Jonty didn’t need to wait for an answer. The pathetic look of feigned innocence on Orlando’s face was enough to tell him all he needed to know. “Maybe you think he’s already done that, back in London and that I somehow neglected to tell you? Oh sorry, Orlando, it wasn’t just you and Richard Marsters I’ve been to bed with, I had Jimmy as well. And Clive and Gerald and Francis and the entire second fifteen. What sort of man do you think I am?”

He tapped on the roof to get the cab to stop, then stepped out, ignoring Orlando’s sudden shocked protest—not a voiced one but a hand firmly grabbing his arm.

“I may see you later, Dr. Coppersmith. Or maybe not.” Jonty slammed the door shut and made his way off into the crowd.

 *****

Orlando sat in the hotel room quietly cursing himself—the last hour had been a catalogue of errors and all of them his fault. Why on earth had he accused his lover, or to all intents and purposes accused him, of being unfaithful with Harding? Jonty hadn’t even known Orlando at the time he’d last seen the man in question, so technically he couldn’t be guilty of adulterous behaviour even if a liaison had occurred. And what evidence had he based these accusations on? The horribly condemning facts that Jonty had been a bit free and easy with their Christian names and had, for once, not quite observed the proprieties of social etiquette.

Orlando put his head in his hands, moaning theatrically even though no one was there to hear him. It all seemed so stupid now, as he recalled all they’d said, then analysed every word for its meaning. Jonty had just been displaying his usual friendly character, genuinely pleased to be meeting an old friend, and he’d acted like a big soppy schoolgirl, all pouting jealousy. One who needed a slapping.

Then to have crowned all the idiocy by going and misplacing Jonty in the crowd. He’d been a fraction too slow in getting out of the coach, half his mind on throwing some money at the cabman, only to find he’d lost sight of that golden head in the throng. Jonty had never gone off before. And the only time he’d threatened it—after an argument over some shrubs, for heaven’s sake—Orlando had reminded him that Mrs. Stewart would give him a piece of her mind should he turn up on her doorstep. Then she’d tie the little beast up until he came to claim him.

Wandering the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of his lover, his anger soon dissipated to be replaced by panic. What if Jonty just took off somewhere? The thought that he might take himself straight off to Harding flitted through Orlando’s brain but was soon dispatched as being too uncomfortable for consideration.

Logic eventually reasserted itself, as Orlando quartered the area around the Abbey. Jonty would have to return to the hotel for all his things, so that was where he had to go and station himself. When the shocking thought occurred to him en route that his friend might just decide to leave all his things behind, along with his discarded lover, Orlando ignored that, too.

But Jonty was not, and had not been, back at the Grand. Now Orlando was beginning to despair of him ever appearing; if there’d been sackcloth and ashes to hand, then he would have indulged in them. No one wanted him to do detecting, he couldn’t cure Jonty, and now he’d even failed at keeping a hold on his lover.

He was beating himself about the proverbial head, if not the literal one, when the door creaked slightly and a familiar tread came over the threshold. Orlando swung around, leapt up, then bounded over to his lover. “Jonty, please forgive me. I was stupid and I won’t blame you if you decide to shout or punch me. But I beg you not to leave me.”

Jonty shook his head. “I was never going to leave you, I just needed some time to calm down, you should know me by now.”

“I bet you’re fuming with me. I was completely wrong saying those things, I never meant to be so hard. This stupid disagreement is all my fault, I’m sorry.” The words tumbled out randomly, pouring all Orlando’s emotions with them.

“If there’s any more of this I’ll start calling you Dr. Hairshirt. In the Senior Common Room if need be.” Jonty grinned.

“Don’t joke, it isn’t funny. I was worried sick.”

“I’m a grown man, Orlando. I wasn’t going to come to any harm walking the streets for an hour.” The grin turned itself off.

“You might have if you’d gone back to the folly.”

“And what precisely do you mean by that?” The grin had become an icy, thin-lipped glare.

Orlando didn’t dare answer. If he’d got it all wrong, Jonty really would kill him and if he’d got it right, Jonty would be off again like a shot.

“I’m waiting.”

“I think I misunderstood what was going on up there, when we talked to Harding. I made some rash assumptions.” Orlando studied his shoes, but they didn’t reassure him.

“You certainly did.” The icy edge in Jonty’s voice eased into weariness. “Look here, Jimmy was only ever a friend, I promise you. He meant nothing more to me than Lavinia’s Ralph does.” Jonty leaned up to kiss his lover’s brow. “Now shut up about it. We need to get changed for dinner or else there’ll be nothing left except stale bread and rancid butter.”

They might now be lacking a turn of pace on the rugby pitch, but getting into dinner jackets Orlando and Jonty could tackle like sprinters. They did justice to the rack of lamb, although conversation over dinner was a bit stilted, but the port over coffee, taken sitting in the lounge, loosened their tongues. It seemed, for the moment, as if the whole incident regarding Harding had never happened. Or maybe it was just too painful to refer to at present.

A muffled wailing coming from the street outside drew them to look out of the window. A small, obviously spoiled boy was leading his keeper a merry dance. Orlando wasn’t impressed. His experience of children was admittedly limited to the smaller Stewarts, all of whom had beautiful manners even if they were high spirited, and all of whom were given appropriate discipline when the situation demanded.

“That child should be given as good a spanking as Mama gave you.” For the first time since lunch, Jonty’s voice has its old spark of mischief.

Orlando grimaced. When they’d broken their journey at the Stewarts’ home, Jonty’s mother had walloped his backside, for nothing worse than dosing her husband with an experimental analgesic powder. All purely in the interests of science and not appreciated by his hostess. “I suspect I still bear the mark. I can certainly feel the imprint of her hand even now, if I lie awkwardly.”

“That has to be the most blatant lie. It was days ago.” Jonty signalled for the waiter to refill their glasses. The memory alone deserved two ports.

“It may well have been days, but I swear that I’ll carry the scars, emotional and physical, to my dying day.”

“You are wonderfully dramatic. Have you considered offering to play Lady Macbeth?”

Why on earth did Jonty have to mention that wretched play again? Just when Orlando had got his thoughts away from handsome, smarmy Americans and onto happier times. “The less said about that hussy, the better.” He yawned, equally theatrically. “I need my bed.”

“So do I. I could sleep for a week.”

The fact that Jonty obviously meant the sentiment, that he wasn’t acting a part in public, left Orlando both disappointed and unnerved.

 *****

Despite what he’d said, Jonty couldn’t sleep. Normally his head would hit the pillow and he’d be oblivious until dawn, yet tonight he couldn’t locate the magic switch to turn off consciousness. In truth he was feeling rather uncomfortable, not at his display of petulance on the way home from the folly—something he felt was justified in the face of an accusation of disloyalty—but at some of the thoughts which had been flitting through his own brain this last hour.

Jimmy Harding had attracted him enormously. That simple fact had been a great shock. There was a whole raft of guilt loading him down concerning this man’s animal magnetism, or whatever it was. Jonty had never looked at any other man since he’d met Orlando, had never wanted to, yet he’d have been happy to look at Harding all afternoon. It was wrong, Jonty knew it was, and earlier he’d wrestled with a tangle of emotions as he’d wandered around the city or sat in the gardens deep in thought.

How could he in all honesty be cross at Orlando when he’d hit so near to the truth of things?

Lessons in Seduction #6
Dr. Coppersmith and Dr. Stewart felt nervous, as anyone in their situation would, standing outside the hallowed sanctum of the Master of St. Bride’s like a pair of naughty schoolboys summoned to see the headmaster over fighting in the dorm. It felt like the end of the world. Their future at the college, or at least the immediate part of it, was at present being discussed in Dr. Peters’ study the other side of the heavy oak door. No matter how hard Orlando stared at the thing, willing it to yield its secrets, it was keeping them in ignorance.

“Now I know how young Ingleby felt when he was summoned here for playing his ukulele too loudly. I’m scared enough—he must have been petrified.” Jonty grinned, but he was obviously nervous and not at all his usual witty, confident self.

“This is a serious business, Dr. Stewart. I just wish they would reach a decision more quickly. How long can it take to work out whether we’re leaving the college?”

“Perhaps the longer they take, the better, assuming…” Jonty didn’t have the chance to finish his sentence, as the door swung open, making Orlando jump and produce what Jonty always alleged afterwards was a squeal.

“Gentlemen, come in.” Dr. Peters beamed, beckoning them into the room. Tall, handsome and rather austere, when he smiled his appearance changed from medieval abbot to chevalier. “Chief Inspector Wilson has persuaded me that he needs you much more than your university will these next few months. You’re both to be granted a sabbatical.” He indicated two august figures behind him. “And these gentlemen have reluctantly agreed, given the special circumstances of this case, to allow it. Mr. Wilson can be very persuasive.”

Anxiety turned to smiles, they shook hands all round and a decanter of sherry appeared almost from thin air.

“Are we to be told exactly what’s going on?” Jonty could barely stop the glass shaking in his hand, from what Orlando hoped was excitement, not fear. Whichever it was, this was clearly going to be a two sherries, at least, conversation. “All we know is that Chief Inspector Wilson requires our services but we don’t know how long or what for.”

“As much time as is required.” The dean, Dr. Peters’ second-in-command, spoke through clenched teeth. No one would have been pleased at being deprived of two such shining stars.

“I have negotiated a little something with the relevant parties to oil the wheels.” Chief Inspector Wilson resembled neither abbot nor chevalier. He looked like a headmaster with an enormous intellect and radical views, and he carefully avoided the use of the words “bribe” or “douceur”. Whatever had been employed, it had at least stopped the bursar vetoing things. He was clutching his sherry in a happy financial haze.

“Gentlemen, I refuse to agree to anything until I know who these parties are and what they expect of us.” Orlando’s commanding streak, which only appeared in moments of great importance—or high passion—asserted itself.

“A lady has been found dead, in a fashionable hotel just outside Pegwell Bay in Kent. I believe you know the area, Dr. Coppersmith?” Mr. Wilson raised both an eyebrow and his sherry glass in enquiry.

“I do. My grandmother lives nearby.” The combination of a suspicious death and familiar ground eased the tension; so far, so good.

“Two doctors couldn’t agree whether it was due to natural causes. A third doctor, one who said he could see nothing suspicious, swayed official opinion.”

“And?” Jonty had finished the first sherry and was eyeing the decanter hopefully.

“The identity of the victim meant cogs got set into motion.” Mr. Wilson inclined his head. “Lady Jennifer Johnson was the mistress of the king for the best part of two decades when he was still Prince of Wales. Those initial doubts have put a bee in His Majesty’s bonnet. He wants his old friend’s death investigated properly.”

“I wonder if there would have been all this interest if it had just been one of the chambermaids found dead?” Orlando sniffed, derisive of the class system which seemed to make one death worth more than another.

“I can just imagine him talking to Papa.” Jonty produced an uncanny impersonation of the king’s tones. “I have a feeling in my bones that she’s been murdered, Richard.” He turned to Dr. Peters. “I’m right in assuming my father got involved in this somehow?”

“So I believe.” Dr. Peters nodded his austerely handsome head. “The chief inspector says His Majesty knows all about your penchant for sleuthing.”

“No doubt. Papa must have bored him about it enough times.” Jonty seemed pleased to see his glass refilled; one needed all the help one could get in this sort of situation. “I can imagine the palace applying pressure on the University.”

Wilson nodded. “Quite so. And on the constabulary. What’s needed here is efficiency.”

Peters glowed with pleasure—probably totting up how many high calibre students would be attracted to St. Bride’s on the back of another successful investigation. “I feel we should be paying for the privilege of you taking on the case.” The Master ignored the bursar nearly dropping his glass. “This college’s name was in the descendant at the turn of the century and the case of the St. Bride’s murders didn’t help. But for a college to have its own Holmes and Watson is without precedent.” Of course it was—now Bride’s star shone and its fame had been renewed throughout the land.

Wilson inclined his head. “When I was asked in to solve a case needing the utmost diplomacy, where else would I turn? I wanted the very best men alongside me. Having someone—” he nodded towards Jonty, “—with a connection to the nobility will be a great advantage. This pair will prove invaluable.”

Orlando was deep in thought, wondering what attributes he could possibly possess which would make him invaluable. Apart from his brains.

“We’re to travel down there as soon as possible, I take it?” The sherry had worked its emboldening effect on Jonty. “Have we rooms booked?”

“Ah. For Dr. Stewart, yes.” Wilson suddenly found his sherry glass to be of great interest. “Dr. Coppersmith, we have a special commission for you. Almost in the nature of espionage.”

Orlando’s ears pricked up, like a horse in sight of the winning post. “Are you suggesting I take a post at this hotel to spy from the inside?”

Wilson nodded, at last brave enough to face Orlando eye to eye. “You would gain the confidence of both staff and guests, while Dr. Stewart works in a more obviously formal capacity.”

Jonty grinned. “Splendid. Even old Sherlock Holmes puts on his dressing-up clothes to further investigations.” It wasn’t the best example to give.

Orlando started. “Dressing-up clothes?”

“We thought the role of professional dancing partner would be an ideal one.” Mr. Wilson addressed a spot just behind Orlando’s left ear. “For accessing confidential information. His Majesty is relying on us. On you.”

The door bursting open forestalled Orlando’s disgruntled reply.

“Is it settled then?” The Master’s sister swept into the room, grinning broadly. “Dr. Coppersmith’s off to be a gigolo?”

 *****

Jonty almost danced all the way back up the Madingley Road, full of the prospect of the seaside, dancing and high society.

“Of course, you’ll love every moment of this investigation.” Orlando took a swipe at a branch which had dared to get in his way.

“Absolutely. And so will you. Don’t pretend you won’t be thrilled to have a murder to solve. You like them as much as your beloved mathematical puzzles.” Jonty’s broad, handsome grin made him look like a boy at Christmas, bouncing with excitement at the prospect of the weeks ahead.

“I suppose so. Only…”

“Yes?”

“I was just wondering—” Orlando felt himself colour, not just with annoyance, “—what a gigolo actually does.”

“I love Miss Peters more than any other woman to whom I’m not related, but I could cheerfully have killed her today, coming in and saying that. In front of the bursar and all. You will not be a gigolo.” Jonty sighed. “No one expects you to be anything more than a professional dancing partner at the hotel.”

“Why can’t you do the gigolo bit? Why does everyone say it has to be me?”

Jonty threw up his hands. “If we were going to the farthest-flung parts of the empire perhaps, but some of these people will have met me. Besides, look here.” He turned Orlando’s face towards his own. “This face, the Jonty Stewart fizzog, it’s a case of once seen never forgotten, isn’t it?”

Orlando looked at his lover’s fine profile as if seeing it for the first time. The bright blue eyes were as stunning and unnerving as when they’d first met, the nose perfectly formed and the mouth full of promise. He snorted. “It’s a face getting too big for its own flannel if you ask me.”

“For once I wasn’t being vain. My mother and father are both striking-looking creatures and anyone who’d met them would take one look at me and think there’s a Stewart sprog if I ever saw one. It just can’t be done.”

“But I’m hopeless with women. I can’t flirt or make small talk. They’ll turn their noses up at me.”

“You don’t have to flirt. You can dance, can’t you?”

Orlando nodded.

“In fact you dance very well. That’s all you’ll need to do, dance with them and talk a little about current affairs. You’ll be stern, aloof and handsome and it will drive them absolutely insane, just like it did me when we first met. They’ll be like putty in your hands and you’ll get all sorts of information out of them.” He drew closer to Orlando, laid his hands briefly on the man’s lapels and looked into his eyes. “Besides, you look absolutely gorgeous in a dinner suit. If there are any women who don’t fall in love with you they’ll either be followers of Sappho or have hearts of absolute stone.” He quickly spoke again, grinning as he did so. “And I won’t under any circumstances give an explanation as to the significance of that minx.”

They’d reached their house, a little Tudor cottage with a lot of recent refurbishment, and turned in by the gate and through the door into their haven of security from a world which wouldn’t approve of how they lived.

“But that can’t be all a gigolo does or why would everyone keep smirking when the term is used?”

Jonty produced a radiant smile. “Ah, well, you see, it’s a term that can also be applied to a man who—um—sells his services to women.”

“What sort of services?”

“If you have to ask the question I’m not sure you’ll understand the answer. Bed. You know.” Jonty tipped his head towards the stairs and winked.

Orlando worked his mouth, temporarily unable to speak. This was scandalous. “They never do.”

“Oh yes, it goes on all over the place. I told you when we were in Bath that there had always been male and female prostitutes.”

“But I assumed they were like the boys we came across in the course of solving that very first murder. Sold themselves to men, I mean.”

“They don’t restrict themselves to that, although whether it’s the same chaps doing the selling, or others, I have no idea and don’t want to find out. Women pay and these men oblige.”

“Well, I’m shocked. The absolute cads. And however did Miss Peters learn such a disgraceful term?”

 ***** 

Forsythia Cottage was becoming used to being the scene of discussion of crime and Mrs. Ward, the housekeeper, had become accustomed to the arrival of members of the constabulary to consult her gentlemen. Just so this fine late September afternoon when Mr. Wilson appeared bearing his most solemn look and praising her baking to high heaven. She’d borne forth the fruits of her kitchen then retreated there to leave her lads to their endeavours.

“I’ll have to find some excuse for being there, at the hotel.” Jonty had indulged in some pastries and while his inner man was satisfied, he wasn’t pleased about his position in the investigation. “It’s easy for you, you just change your name to hide the fact that you’re the Dr. Coppersmith of The Times fame and you can get away with anything. But even if I change my name, there are plenty of folk who would recognise me in the circles in which we’ll move. I bet some of them even remember dear old grandmamma and I’m said to be her image.”

“Could you invite your family along and make it some innocent Stewart excursion?” Wilson raised a distinguished eyebrow and gestured with his teaspoon.

Orlando shook his head. “I won’t have Mrs. Stewart seeing me dressed as a dancing partner. If she’s involved then I’ll give up the case, immediately.”

“What about Papa? We could pretend he’s had an operation or something and needs the sea air for convalescence. We’ll have to find a way to make him look in less than ruddy good health of course, but it might just work.” Jonty found the idea more and more appealing. “Then I could have a legitimate reason to be there, to look after the old geezer. And, Chief Inspector, if you think Dr. Coppersmith does the business in terms of charming the ladies, you should see my father. He can turn the heads of girls young enough to be his granddaughters.”

“I can’t believe that. Your father is such an adherent of the Ten Commandments—no adultery and all the rest.” Orlando found this a shock to top all the rest. “He’s the scourge of—what does he call them—those who ought to know better. I can’t imagine him chatting up women.”

“That’s half the appeal of him, Dr. Coppersmith. The women know they’re absolutely safe and so do their husbands or fathers, so he’s told all sorts of things that other men wouldn’t be privy to.” A thought occurred to Jonty. “Actually, do we need to have an innocent excuse? Ever since The Times printed that story we’ve been labelled as Holmes and Watson. No one would believe I was at Pegwell Bay for any other reason than to look into this business. Why not use that fact to our advantage?”

“It might work, you know. If people there think you’re doing the sleuthing they might be more likely to let some little indiscretion slip to Dr. Coppersmith. No secrets then—you can be there with your deerstalker and everyone can know it.”

Jonty grinned; he was looking forward to this case, not least because it postponed meeting his dunderheads of students. This new intake was said to be particularly obtuse. “Now, Chief Inspector, I have my notebook to hand and no doubt Dr. Coppersmith has his, sharpened pencil and all. Before he gets to the matter of writing his packing list, might we have a resumΓ© of the case as you know it?”

“Of course, Dr. Stewart. I’ve prepared a set of notes for you to read—perhaps you might peruse them now, and then I can try to answer any of your questions?” Wilson produced two identical documents and let his hosts read them.

The matter as set out was fairly straightforward. Lady Jennifer Johnson had been found dead in her suite on September 21st 1907, just the previous week, at the Regal Hotel, Pegwell Bay. The chambermaid, bearing early morning tea and a biscuit, had found the body, spilt said tea and run to fetch the housekeeper and, via her, a doctor. His report said the woman had died peacefully in her sleep, probably of heart failure. Agnew, the hotel manager—who had seen Lady Jennifer taking plenty of exercise and always appearing hale and hearty—had called for a second opinion.

The second physician had some doubts that the matter had been entirely natural, but by this time the police had already been called in and the chief constable notified, via his godson, who happened to be the same Mr. Agnew. The third medical opinion—heart failure—had proved decisive in most people’s minds. No one had been ordered to stay at the hotel as the police supposedly had no case to pursue. They’d just taken contact details from all who had been present at the time, under the police’s favourite guise of Routine, sir. Normal procedures, ma’am.

Orlando and Jonty were struck by the similarity between this and the last case they’d tackled, except the thing seemed to be turned on its head. The last time, a suspicious death had been deliberately treated as natural to deflect attention from the important personages who’d been involved with the victim. Here was a case where what might well turn out to be an innocent event was being treated as suspicious, partly because the victim had contacts in very high places, ones who were determined to see that justice would be done.

“What was she like, Mr. Wilson?” Orlando laid down the papers and smoothed them.

“Lady Jennifer wasn’t a great beauty like her alliterative counterpart Lillie Langtry.” The chief inspector smiled. “I understand she was plump, pretty and more like a dairymaid than a great lady. They say she was sweet natured and exceedingly discreet.”

“I suppose she was.” Jonty rubbed his nose where his reading spectacles pinched a bit. “I’ve been on the telephone to Papa. He says her relationship with royalty went on for years, but it’s only coming to light now. Was she a great favourite of the prince, as he was then? I don’t remember her name being mentioned by my father until now.” Mr. Stewart had always taken a pretty dim view of the morals of royalty. Jonty remembered seeing some lady at a function wearing a huge brooch which she’d been given for services rendered. Papa had muttered under his breath that it would probably be easier to give some sort of a badge to those women who hadn’t rendered services to His Royal Highness. It would certainly involve fewer pieces of jewellery.

“I think she was someone with whom he could relax and be entirely himself. I’ve spoken to someone else who knew her and their opinion is that she was a genuinely nice woman who rarely spoke ill of anyone nor sought to further herself above her station. She was content in life and didn’t nag others about how they lived theirs. Both of them are endearing qualities.”

“And yet she was the mistress of a married man.” Orlando’s voice was quiet, disapproving.

“That’s the rub. Some nice people do things which horrify you and some nasty people obey every jot and tittle of what they believe to be the law. Remember Mrs. Tattersall?” Jonty smiled, knowing full well that the world was full of people who did things Orlando didn’t approve of. No wonder he got on so well with Papa.

“I shall never forget her.” Orlando shivered, even though it remained a mild and pleasant day.

“We must never judge those we seek to find justice for.” Wilson stared out of the window, addressing his sermon to the trees. “The law must be absolutely neutral, in spite of what some of my colleagues feel. Although I do worry that the investigation of this crime will be given much more precedence than if the victim had been of less illustrious stock. Money and influence talk.”

“I’d still seek to find the killer whatever the station in life of the victim, and even if I absolutely hated them.” Orlando cast a sideways glance at Jonty; they were both aware of the consequences of such a course of action.

“What happens next I will leave to you, but I believe the truth must be served, whatever the circumstances.” Wilson stared into his empty cup, as if he might find some desperate criminal hidden under one of the stray tea leaves at the bottom.

“Had the lady any family? Papa and Mama would be useful in gaining information about and from them, I’d warrant.” Jonty had his pencil ready to take down the names.

“She’d been widowed these last ten years, but she has a son, Sir Laurence Johnson—he’s been travelling in Egypt with his bride and was contacted with the sad news as soon as possible. Otherwise there is a sort of cousin who acted as companion, a Miss Lynette Jordan, and she was at the hotel at the time. Those are the only close kin. You’ll be able to see both of them in Kent, I hope.”

“Are there any enemies spoken of?” Jonty had little hope that some threatening letter or wronged acquaintance might turn up and make life easy. In his growing experience, nothing about murder was straightforward and the only constant between their cases was that Orlando would try to seduce him at every opportunity. The thought that the chances for such fun would be rather limited this time around made him suddenly sad. Finding opportunities to be together would present just as much of a challenge as the solving of the case.

“Lady Jennifer doesn’t seem to have made enemies, or so the initial gossip has it. But the fact remains that someone must have disliked her enough to kill her in cold blood—if this is murder—and we need to find out everything we possibly can about what’s been going on down at Pegwell Bay.” Wilson fixed Orlando with an intent but kindly gaze, like a headmaster outlining his expectations of a pupil’s performance in an entrance examination. Orlando wouldn’t let the policeman down. “Now, we have to find you an alias.”

“An alias? Why?”

“Oh, for goodness sake.” Jonty punched his friend’s arm. “If I can’t hide my face you can’t hide your name. Coppersmith is becoming a bit too well known, with all those newspaper reports of our detective prowess. Here.” He fetched a dictionary of names from the bookshelf.

What seemed like hundreds of names and their meanings were consulted, but the intended bearer rejected every one of them as inapt.

Jonty soon lost patience. “What about Duncan Disorderly or Ivor Grumpyface?”

“Don’t be stupid.” Orlando ignored all the suggestions, even when they verged on the obscene. “I rather like the name Hugh.”

Jonty couldn’t hide an enormous grin. “I can think of lots of surnames which would work well with that. What about Jamp…” Before he was allowed to divulge any more he was unceremoniously bundled out of the room and not allowed to return until he could be sensible.

Wilson suggested they use the initials O.C. “It would mean any monogrammed articles won’t seem out of place and you might have more of a chance of remembering to respond to it.”

“Oliver Carberry.” Orlando put down books and notepad. “That’s a name I could use.”

“Oliver Carberry it is.” Wilson made a careful note. “Now, you should travel to Kent as soon as possible—probably tomorrow—and have a day or two to settle in as the new dancing partner, escort, or whatever smart title they bestow upon you.”

“And you can assure us that this Agnew is beyond all suspicion of murder?” Jonty had been looking through the police report again. “We can’t have Mr. Carberry walking into the lion’s den.”

“White as snow. He was staying with the chief constable of the county the night in question. We’ve had him party to the plan from the start and we’ve turned his scepticism around. He sees it would be much better to have respectable persons, albeit ones incognito, conducting the investigations rather than clodhopping policemen getting into everything and upsetting the guests.” Wilson knew the value of maintaining the hotel’s reputation. “Once Oliver Carberry is ensconced and beginning to make headway, you can arrive, with your father.”

“Then the fun can really begin.” Jonty rubbed his hands in anticipation. “And I suppose you’ve some strange lines of communication established as neither of us can be in touch directly with Orlando.”

“And I daren’t talk directly to the police.”

“It’s all in hand, gentlemen.” Wilson rose to take his leave.

Jonty began to be excited at all these little aspects of the case. He loved subterfuge and playing games so the whole thing struck him as enormous fun. Only when he looked at Orlando, to find him casting a peculiar longing glance in his direction, did the glamour begin to wear off things. They would be apart but together, close but not intimate, able to talk but not in any depth, separated socially and physically. Most importantly of all, not able to kiss or touch, and this status quo would remain until the end of the case.

Suddenly, playing at detectives didn’t seem such an attractive prospect.






⌛πŸ“˜⌛#8 Will Re-Release Shortly⌛πŸ“˜⌛



  



Author Bio:
As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice - like managing a rugby team - she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she's making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She's even been known to write about gay werewolves - albeit highly respectable ones.

Her Cambridge Fellows series of Edwardian romantic mysteries were instrumental in seeing her named Speak Its Name Author of the Year 2009. She’s a member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and International Thriller Writers Inc.

Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.


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EMAIL:  cochrane.charlie2@googlemail.com



Lessons in Power #4

Lessons in Temptation #5

Lessons in Seduction #6

Series

#9-12 Coming Soon from Endeavor