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Fiction Cozy

Death Stalks the House of Herbert

by (author) Sue Taylor-Davidson

Renaissance Press
Initial publish date
May 2020
Cozy, Historical, Multiple Timelines
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2020
    List Price

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If you are ready for more adventures, follow our protagonists as they traverse England on a sometimes merry and always dangerous quest for the truth to the Shakespearean authorship question.

In this second book of the series, Janek and Sarah are hot on the trail of further clues to the mystery of Mary Sidney's life and her possible authorship of the Shakespearean canon. They are being followed as before, but by a quirky new character named Crik, as they come across more clues about the man who has hired the "watchers."

Continue to read about Mary Sidney Herbert and her brother Philip Sidney as death truly does stalk the House of Herbert. The intrigues of court and the dramas therein are never far from our Elizabethan heroine and hero. Mary's involvement as leader of the Wilton Circle of Writers deepens, and she never stops writing. Will Mary's missing manuscripts finally be found?

About the author

Sue Taylor-Davidson lives in Ottawa. Her life has been full and happy, with a wonderful husband and 3 great step-children, a large extended family, commitment to Aboriginal issues, research jobs, library work, babies, animals (specifically cats), editing, NGOs dedicated to education and library development, lots of gardening, knitting, Shakespeare research, reading, art and writing. She loves people and sings in a community choir. Her education is diverse, ranging from health studies, theology, Native studies, library science and early childhood education.

Sue Taylor-Davidson's profile page

Excerpt: Death Stalks the House of Herbert (by (author) Sue Taylor-Davidson)

Somewhere in the back streets of London, tucked away in a shadowy alley, there is a small coffee shop, frequented by locals but little-known to Londoners in general. The windows are darkened with anti-glare glass. If by chance you had been there yesterday, you would have seen two people talking, huddled together, yet if you were the least bit observant, their body language would have told you the couple was anything but close.

One was a man in his mid-fifties, wearing a dark navy coat and looking for all the world very respectable. The other was the woman who had bicycled onto the ferry the morning before and escaped to the mainland from the Isle of Wight.

That woman was Poppy, accomplice to the now-imprisoned Colin, Janek's colleague, who had betrayed him by attacking Sarah on the ramparts of Carisbrooke Castle. Poppy had befriended Sarah at her London hotel, tricking her into revealing how she and Janek planned to search for clues to the authorship of Shakespeare's works.

"I told you from the beginning he was an incompetent eejit!" Poppy hissed.

"Who are you to tell me anything?" he responded haughtily. "You are well-paid to do your work and keep your opinions to yourself. Now, let's get back to our plan, shall we?"

His icy stare froze her thoughts in their tracks. This man was more dangerous than she had imagined. Their contract had initially seemed so civilised, almost an intellectual assignment, if she had to put a name on it. She knew there was always the potential for some roughhousing but had not expected it this time. Why would anyone hurt someone else for antiquated information? It had given her a new insight into the scholarly profession. These people were no better than the petty criminals she had been raised with. In fact, they were far worse, because with their money they bought anonymity, which made them more dodgy. Of course, it would be she and Colin who would take the fall for the Boss and his cohorts, should anything go wrong.

Her voice betrayed her nervousness as she asked, "Will Colin get off then?"

"Again, that's none of your business. Does it matter to you? Are you two involved in some way?"

"No, never!" Poppy vigorously shook her head.

"Fine, then. Back to the business at hand. My sources tell me that Janek and Sarah are an item," he scoffed. "It was to be expected. On the positive side, they will be easier to follow now. She will likely stay in England, as his dutiful lady, shall we say? Colin has informed me that she found something in the ramparts of Carisbrooke Castle. We always knew evidence was hidden there, but were unable to find it. It was only a matter of time. Unfortunately for us, she found something before we did. It is now your job to find out what. The sooner the better. I trust you have some leads?"

"Don't worry, I have my methods and contacts," Poppy declared with more confidence than she felt. It is too dangerous to tell him the truth. He could fire her or do worse.

He rose to leave, and threw a five pound note on the table.

"In the future, we will not meet in person. Email and cell phone will more than suffice. Oh, and please stop worrying your pretty little head about this business. You are in my capable hands. Do you understand?"

He tipped her chin up and nailed her with a venomous stare. Then he was off and out the door, whistling as he went.

Poppy shivered and felt bile rise in her throat. She wanted to wash her face to remove any trace of his touch. He was a creep, but not of the kind she was used to. She could deal with those men. This one was way over her head. She was in too deep. What had once seemed an almost innocent assignment, if any of them could be called that, now felt ominous. But she couldn't run. He would find her and that was a risk she could not take.

The waitress came with the bill, and she pulled herself together. I am tough, she thought. Maybe after this job, she would settle down and get a respectable position, even a little cottage. If she played her cards right, she could make him pay. The money would give her the freedom she desperately desired.

Poppy made her way down the winding streets, heading for her hotel room. Once she got there and was alone, she pulled out her phone. The woman on the other end answered on the second ring. Poppy had never heard her so upset.

"I can't believe he dumped me! I mean, anyone could see we weren't compatible at all! But it should have been me who did the deed. I carried him for almost three years! And they were long, let me tell you. Always sneaking about, hoping he never found out about the other men in my life. But any idiot would have known! All those excuses I gave him-- he was far, far too trusting!"

Sybil Merryweather barely stopped for breath.

"Our friends were always asking me why I was with him. Well, you and I know the real reason. No one understood what I saw in him. I mean he is good-looking, I'll give him that. And he was always so nice, you know. Nothing like the men I usually hang out with. And so intellectual. It bored me to tears and it was all I could do to listen to him go on and on about his bloody Mary Sidney and all his other stupid ideas. And then he turned around and dumped me! No one, I repeat, no one has ever done that to me!"

"Are you regretting it then? The break-up?" Poppy asked.

"Of course not! How could you even think that? I don't need him in any way. I won't even miss him. In fact it will be a big relief not to have to lie to him anymore. I hated that! He was such an innocent type and he never questioned me once..." her voice faltered and the sudden tears surprised her. "Oh my God, I have never cried over anyone, so why am I doing it now?"

Yes, precisely. Why? Poppy thought at the other end of the phone. Good question, that. Methinks the woman doth protest too much. She let silence work its magic. Sybil was now sobbing at the other end of the line. Something in Poppy's gut twisted. She really felt sorry for this woman, for the first time.

"Listen, Syb, I'll be right over. You stay where you are. I'll pick us up a nice bottle of a wine you like and some crisps and we'll have a girls' heart-to-heart. How about it? Don't go anywhere. Cry it all out and you'll feel much better, I guarantee it."

So, Sybil was not the hard-hearted rich girl she had appeared to be at first. Somehow, Janek had managed to get to her, with his trusting ways and his nerdy enthusiasms. It was true he was no match for Sybil, but it was odd that the woman seemed to care so much. People are never what they seem, Poppy thought, not for the first time, and this realization scared her. You always have to have your guard up, girl, she warned herself. Look at you! You're starting to care about Sybil's feelings, and this is a job to you. Stop it now, or you'll get soft.

She knew she needed information from Sybil, details that would help her determine Janek's next move. Her life might depend upon it. If truth be told, she had very little idea of what to do next, or how to follow Janek and Sarah, his new girlfriend, without the help of Colin. He had been on scene, working side by side with Janek, and always knew what was going on. Janek had been an easy mark. But now there was no Colin and possibly no Sybil, unless - maybe she could get Sybil to go after Janek again, to seduce him and try to win him back. It would be in her best interests to do that. Maybe they could work together to keep him in hand.

Or maybe not. Sybil was far too busy with her socialite lifestyle to be cruising around England on someone's tail. What was she thinking? These people aren't your own, missy. You are nowhere near their class, nor will you ever be, Poppy admitted to herself. Yet, that depended on how deeply Syb was hurt. She'd wait and see.

A few hours later, they were on their second bottle of wine. Sybil had consumed far more than Poppy, which had been the plan: get her drunk, obtain her help to get information from Janek, and leave.

Syb had cried the whole time and it was becoming tiresome. The woman really did care for Janek. It was as if she had just awakened to her feelings for him. Unbelievable, really! All she could talk about were the little things they had done together that had brought her joy, something she hadn't realized was missing from her life. It was like talking to the newly converted. Peace and light everywhere! Sybil even looked more human, with her hair unwashed, wearing fuzzy bedroom slippers, her face streaked and her eyes swollen from crying. Gone, at least for the moment, was the sophisticated woman with the perfect makeup, the enchanting smile and the slight air of aloofness. This was the real Sybil here, and her heart was broken.

Now what to do? Would Janek take her back? Was that what Sybil really wanted or would she grow tired of him as quickly as they settled back in together? The situation was difficult. Poppy really couldn't see them as a happy couple and yet she needed them to be an item again so that her information source would not disappear.

"OK, Syb, have you talked to anyone but me about the breakup? No, so do you want him back, really....?"

"I don't know," Sybil said, drying her eyes and sitting up straight for the first time. "It's all so new to me. I never expected to feel this way, you know? If someone had told me I'd cry over him one day I would have laughed in her face. Me, the strong one! No way. And look at me now!" She was about to start whimpering all over again. The girl sitting beside her abruptly stood up.

"So, what can we do to get him back? Have you tried talking to him?"

"No, I don't do that. At least I never have before. And I don't know if I want to. What if he says no?"

"What if he doesn't? Maybe all he needs is for you to show you really want him after all this and he'll come running back. You have a lot more to offer him than that other girl from what I've heard. She's nerdy like him. They're too alike those two and it can't last. Maybe he needs a challenge?"

Sybil looked sideways at her friend and started for the first time to smile. "Do you really think so?"

Oh, it's worse than I thought! Poppy admitted to herself. She's smitten, at least when she's drinking. I really don't know how to deal with this. Way over my head. I don't know this new person in front of me.

"Listen. Where do you think Janek would go next? I mean, I've just been told that Sarah girl found something in the walls of the castle. It could be linked to Janek's search for the missing papers from Mary Sidney Herbert's estate. It's very important to keep them in our sights, you, for your sake, and me, for my work. After all we both know why I'm involved in this business. So anything you can tell me will help both of us."

"Oh, let me think." Sybil closed her eyes and after a long time her body began to tilt to the left as if she wanted to lie down and fall asleep right there. Her friend propped her upright and raised her voice.

"Sybil, where would Janek go next?"

Startling awake, Sybil blurted out, "Go next? Janek? Yes, what was it he said? We had a long talk about us, and he said he couldn't stay in the relationship anymore. He had met someone who made him see that we were fooling ourselves. That it was fairer to both of us for him to let me go, so I would find the right person too!" And she began to wail again.

"Oh please! Stop!" the words were out before Poppy could check herself. "If you really want him back, let's find a way, OK? So what else did he say about his plans-- his plans mind you, not your relationship. We know all that already."

"Something about he and Sarah staying at Carisbrooke Castle. But he said we could talk in person if I felt I needed to when he returned to London."

"And that is when..." Poppy prompted.

"He didn't say. He didn't know. It would depend on what they found."

"OK, let me help you to bed and we'll talk in the morning. Do you mind if I crash here for the night?"

After Sybil was settled, Poppy returned to the sofa and poured herself a big glass of red wine. Her thoughts were becoming clearer: I'll return to Carisbrooke early tomorrow and follow them by car. But I'll go alone. Sybil won't be up to the trip after all the wine she's consumed. I'll encourage her to give herself a few days' rest and re-think whether she indeed wants to pursue him. If she does, I'll definitely encourage it, because she'll be my info source. If not, I'll encourage a head to head with Janek, to see what it was they found in the castle ramparts. If they don't reunite, so be it. It may be best for both of us. She's softer than I thought and I can't carry her.

With that she laid her head down on the sofa cushion and was asleep almost instantly. It had been a long and crazy day.

Other titles by Sue Taylor-Davidson