The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception


Katherine Cowley

What is a spy willing to do when both her heart and her country are at risk?

Life changes once again for British spy Miss Mary Bennet when Napoleon Bonaparte escapes from the Isle of Elba. Mary quickly departs England for Brussels, the city where the Allied forces prepare for war against the French. But shortly after her arrival, one of the Duke of Wellington’s best officers is murdered, an event which threatens to break the delicate alliance between the Allies.

Investigating the murder forces Mary into precarious levels of espionage, role-playing, and deception with her new partner, Mr. Withrow—the nephew and heir of her prominent sponsor, and the spy with whom she’s often at odds. Together, they court danger and discovery as they play dual roles gathering intelligence for the British. But soon Mary realizes that her growing feelings towards Mr. Withrow put her heart in as much danger as her life. And then there’s another murder.

Mary will need to unmask the murderer before more people are killed, but can she do so and remain hidden in the background?

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Miss Mary Bennet, the daughter of a gentleman, and, perhaps more relevant to this circumstance, a spy for the British government, cocked the trigger of her duelling pistol, aimed at the target, and fired.

The bullet entered the target just outside of the centre circle. Mary smiled. The target was only twenty paces away, yet she was pleased with her result. Her first time using a gun had been two weeks ago, but after some training and dozens of hours of practice on her part, she could now consistently hit near the centre of the target.

“Do not forget the stance of your feet,” said Mr. Withrow.

From her mentor, Lady Trafford, Mary would have found this to be a worthwhile suggestion—she had forgotten, once again, that the manner in which she stood could impact the results. Yet the suggestion came from Lady Trafford’s nephew Mr. Withrow, and his criticisms always managed to vex her. Perhaps it was because he was only another spy, and not her superior. Perhaps it was because she still harboured a grudge from their initial meeting, though two years had passed. Or perhaps she would have found his criticism more palatable if he were a less handsome man.

Mary’s younger sister Kitty, a new spy, stepped forward, aimed, and fired. Her bullet entered the target three inches farther from the centre than Mary’s, but Mr. Withrow did not criticise her. Kitty twirled away from the firing line in a manner that made Mary grateful that most guns held only one bullet. Then Miss Tagore, the daughter of an important trader from the East Indies, stepped forward. Her bullet hit directly in the centre of the target.

“Well done, well done, Miss Tagore,” said Lady Trafford, and everyone clapped.

It was Mr. Withrow’s turn. He stepped forward and stood, shifting his feet into position.

It was not that Mr. Withrow was always disagreeable—he could be charming, whenever he wanted something—and sometimes he was even kind. Last year, after a rather disastrous incident that included the explosion of London’s Custom House, Mary had spent four days in her room, unable and unwilling to leave, filled with despair. Mr. Withrow had come all the way from Worthing, not with the express purpose of calling on her, for he had other business in London, but he had visited her, convinced her to leave her room for a walk in the park, and lent a sympathetic ear. After the walk, she had felt like she could keep trying, even in the face of disaster.

Mr. Withrow aimed his pistol and fired. His bullet was only fractionally closer to the centre than hers, yet the difference still annoyed her.

“Let us pause now,” said Lady Trafford. “My ears are ringing.”

They set down their pistols and headed to a group of benches which had been placed in a circle. In addition to Mary, Kitty, Miss Tagore, and Mr. Withrow, there were four other spies in attendance. Three of them, Mary still did not know well: Mrs. Ford, a woman in her forties, Mr. Twamley, and Mr. Matthews. Mary knew the final spy, Mr. Stanley, a little too well. A little over a year before, they had worked together in London, and Mary had declined his offer of marriage. Her goal, over these weeks of training, was to avoid him as much as possible.

Mr. Stanley sat on an empty bench and gestured to the open space beside him. Mary pretended not to notice and squeezed in between Miss Tagore and Kitty. The bench was frigidly cold, and Mary hid her hands in her skirts. Why they had to train outside, in late February, was a mystery she had yet to solve.

“Let us reflect on this morning’s activities,” said Lady Trafford. “Defence team, what did we learn?”

Shortly after dawn, they had performed an exercise in an abandoned farm. Mary’s team had been the defence and had consisted of herself, Mr. Withrow, Mrs. Ford, and Mr. Matthews. They had been assigned to protect and extract Lady Trafford’s housekeeper and confidante, Mrs. Boughton, who had dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte. The offensive team had been tasked with performing the capture of the fake Bonaparte—or so she had thought.

Unfortunately, the offensive team’s true mission had been a fake assassination, which Mary’s team had failed to prevent.

No one else on her team seemed inclined to answer Lady Trafford’s question, so Mary volunteered her reflections. “In many ways it is more difficult to defend than attack. You may hold the ground, but the offence may come at any angle, and with all sorts of trickery, which makes it difficult to plan.”

“Good observation,” said Lady Trafford. “There are many military commanders who prefer to attack than defend for that reason, and the principle can apply to spy work as well. What else?” She looked at Mr. Withrow and the two other members of their team in turn.

Mr. Withrow glared at Mary. “It is much harder to win if you have a turncoat in your midst.”

Mary blinked her eyes rapidly and gritted her teeth. “Are you implying something?”

“It is clear that you were working for the other team.”

How could he even think that? “I was not.”

“You gave away our position. In essence, you signalled to them instead of to us.”

She still felt embarrassed at her failure, but his accusation was unfounded. She tried to not raise her voice, but she failed at this as well. “I would never intentionally give away our position. I had no way of knowing that they would follow me through the barn or see and interpret the signal.”

Lady Trafford cleared her throat. “Mr. Withrow is right that there was a turncoat. But it was not Miss Bennet. I assigned that role to Mrs. Ford.”

Mrs. Ford gave them both a long, slow smile. It was unclear to Mary whether Mrs. Ford was married, a widow, or had simply taken on the title of “Mrs.” because it suited her purposes.

“So you meant to help us,” said Miss Tagore. “I was unsure.”

Mary turned to Mr. Withrow. “You owe me an apology.”

He crossed his arms. “The available evidence led me to a false conclusion. There is no reason to apologise for that.”

As they discussed the exercise in more detail, Mary tried to suppress the irritation she felt towards Mr. Withrow, but she could not. It was like an itch—you scratched it to relieve the pain, and a few minutes later the pain only grew, spreading until it felt as if your skin was covered by scurrying beetles.

“If you were assigned to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte, what would you do?” asked Lady Trafford.

Ten months ago, Bonaparte had been defeated by the Allies, and the rule of France had been returned to the Bourbon monarchy. As part of the peace accords, Bonaparte had been made emperor of the isle of Elba. It was a small island located in the Mediterranean Sea, in between Italy and France. Yet despite the island’s size, Bonaparte was not friendless; a number of members of his court had joined him on the island, along with over a thousand of his finest, most loyal troops.

“I would do better than the Corsican,” said Mr. Matthews.

A few weeks before, a man from the island of Corsica, Theodore Ubaldi, had visited Elba and befriended Napoleon Bonaparte. While Bonaparte was reading a newspaper, Ubaldi attempted to assassinate him with a stiletto. After a short struggle, Bonaparte disarmed him and banished him from the island.

“Like the Corsican,” said Miss Tagore, “I could not best Bonaparte in hand-to-hand combat. Befriending Bonaparte and getting him alone is a good strategy, but I would probably use a small Queen Anne pistol rather than a stiletto, and I would aim for his heart.”

“Would you do it, given the order?”

“Yes,” said Miss Tagore, “with no hesitation, though I would likely be killed by his allies after.”

Miss Tagore treated the idea that she would willingly sacrifice her life as a given. It was not something Mary had considered, and it was a sober reminder of the consequences that could befall spies.

“What about if we were assigned the reverse, to protect Bonaparte from an attack?”

Mary had more to say on this subject, as it was the part she had played, and they had a hearty conversation about possible tactics. Much of it involved counterintelligence and learning which specific nation or group was targeting him, possibly neutralizing their agents, and moving Bonaparte to a safe location.

“None of this may be relevant,” said Mr. Stanley, “if what the newspapers say is true and he is willing to trade Elba for an estate in England or Scotland.”

“Do not trust everything you read,” said Lady Trafford. “I doubt he would give up the title of emperor so easily. At least Europe is safe, as long as he stays on the isle.”

During his time as leader of France, Bonaparte had caused, both directly and indirectly, the deaths of millions of people. Endless war and slaughter and subjugation, with crops and livelihoods and nations disrupted. It was no small comfort that Britain and her allies had finally put a stop to his rule.

“We have a little more time before we return to the castle for tea,” said Lady Trafford. “Let us discuss, for a few moments, the art of finding and using informants.”

Mary hoped the conversation truly only lasted a few moments. Every single one of her breaths was turning into a white fog in the cold.

“Informants fall under two general categories. First, there are unknowing informants—people from whom you can gather information that do not realise that they are providing, or do not realise your true purpose for gathering such information. Second, there are people who you can actively recruit to our cause, who realise, to some extent, what they are providing information for.” Lady Trafford smiled. “How do you like to make informants comfortable with you?”

“I like to use my feminine appeal,” said Mrs. Ford.

“What do you mean by feminine appeal?” asked Kitty, leaning in a little. “Because I’m rather adept at conversing with men, but if you have any specific approaches to extracting information…”

“Conversation is definitely a start,” said Mrs. Ford. “Coupled with attraction, flirtation, meaningful glances, a touch of a finger on an arm, a quiet room, a kiss—” Mrs. Ford gave a demure look, lowering her eyes slowly and somehow managing to look scandalous as she did it.

“Kissing?” said Kitty. “That sounds like an intriguing proposition.”

Mary had best say something before her sister was filled with ideas which might lead her to trouble. Their youngest sister, Lydia, had ran off with an officer named Mr. Wickham. She had lived in sin until her uncle, Mr. Gardiner, had forced them to marry. Lydia’s actions had almost led not only to her own ruin, but to the ruin of the entire family.

“Kissing a man to gain information is immoral,” said Mary. “Once lost, female virtue is irretrievable. One false step—one single kiss—can lead to her complete ruin.” She felt herself warming up to her theme, and repeated statements she had made on the subject before. “A woman’s reputation is as brittle as it is beautiful. It is impossible for a woman to be too guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.”

Mr. Withrow crossed his arms. “You must have a very refined sense of morals, Miss Bennet, yet your logic eludes me. How is it that you are willing to kill a man for our country, but you are not willing to kiss one?”

“It is not the same thing.”

“Society’s perceptions of an action do not make it wrong. Would you not agree that the act of killing is more egregious than kissing?”

“Strictly speaking, yes,” said Mary. “But they are both condemned in the Ten Commandments.”

“Thou shalt not kill may be mentioned, but kissing is not the same as committing adultery.”

Mary turned to Lady Trafford. “Surely you cannot approve or condone this sort of…behaviour as a means to extract information.”

“Do I require it? No. Is it the only method? No. Is it useful in every situation? No. Can it be used effectively? Yes.”


“It is a tool, one of many tools and techniques. Some spies might favour a particular tool,” here she glanced at Mrs. Ford, “but the fact that you personally do not find a tool to your liking does not mean that it should never be used.”

Mary bristled at Lady Trafford’s rebuke. Accepting criticism was often useful, but this felt like an attack on her entire system of morality.

“We are not due to discuss ethics until tomorrow,” said Lady Trafford, “but I invite all of you to consider the question of what actions are and are not appropriate for spies, as well as whether or not direction from a superior absolves you from any guilt or consequence. Now, in addition to those approaches used by Mrs. Ford, what other techniques can be used to gather information from informants?”

Mary swallowed. Despite the cold air, her entire body felt hot. She could not listen to this—she could not simply accept the idea that kissing for her work could be necessary or moral.

A few years ago, she would have stormed away to give herself time and space alone. But now, she knew better than that. She did not leave nor voice further objections, but rather she sat silently, observing the conversation until Lady Trafford declared that it was time to return to Castle Durrington.

Rather than joining the rest of the spies in carriages, Mr. Withrow mounted his horse.

Kitty grabbed the reins of his horse. “You should be nicer to my sister.”

Despite being younger—Mary was the third of five daughters, and Kitty was the fourth—Kitty had recently become rather defensive of Mary, something that Mary found both endearing and entirely unnecessary.

“I think, Miss Catherine, that you have developed a false perception of our responsibilities. It is not our job to be nice to each other,” said Mr. Withrow. “We are attempting to train against endless possible threats. The entire continent is holding its breath, watching the Congress of Vienna. Will Prussia insist on taking Poland, and if they do, will we have another war?”

“I am not talking about war,” said Kitty. “I am talking about Mary, and how you are harsher with her than with anyone else. It is as if you are trying to prove something.”

He paused for a moment. “I have never intended to be anything but congenial to your sister.”

“Well, I think you could do better.”

Mary climbed into a carriage and watched out the window as Mr. Withrow rode away. Kitty was correct—he did treat her more harshly than he treated everyone else. While at times he was respectful, he often ignored her or treated her with disdain. Not that this had any true impact on her personally. She did not need his good opinion or manners.

When they arrived at Castle Durrington, Mary did not join the others for tea. Instead, she entered a room that always made her feel comfortable: the library.

Yet today the library did not dispense comfort. As she passed Mr. Withrow’s desk, she could hear the acerbic tone of his comments in her head, the way he had belittled her, the way he supposed her inferior simply because she actually cared about virtue.

The others had also dismissed her concerns, yet there were endless verses of scripture on the chastity of women.

Mary removed Lady Trafford’s family Bible from a shelf and sat down with it. Since becoming a spy, Mary had not devoted nearly as much time to religious studies as she ought, but surely, she could find several verses on morality and use it to provide evidence of her position.

Unfortunately, no specific verses came to mind, so she flipped through the pages. She stopped on the book of Joshua and read a story that she had forgotten. The Israelites sent spies to Jericho to gather information preparatory to their invasion, and a harlot named Rahab hid them on her roof. Then Rahab helped them escape by letting them out of her window and gave them useful advice on avoiding detection.

Mary flipped ahead, reminding herself of the details of the story. Not long after, the Israelites had marched around the city, which was then destroyed. Only Rahab and her family were spared. A harlot, working with spies, had made victory possible and saved the people who mattered most to her.

Mary slammed the Bible shut. A story about a faithful harlot was not the moral message she had sought. She wanted something to shore up her views, not to discomfit her further.

What was she willing to do for her country? Since she had committed herself to working as a spy, she had worn disguises. She tried not to lie too often—sometimes she could gloss over the truth or omit details. Yet she had told lies as part of her work, sometimes even to her family. She had come to accept that this was, to an extent, justified.

Was she willing to kill? If there was an imminent threat to her country, if she was defending herself against a criminal, if it was under Lady Trafford’s direction and she could save a number of lives, then perhaps she could do it.

Yet kissing a man was meant to be done after marriage. Not that any scriptures dictated that—clearly, even harlots were allowed in particular contexts—yet preachers such as Fordyce warned against this sort of behaviour.

If a genteel woman kissed a man and anyone found out, it would ruin her reputation. Of course, if much of her work as a spy were made public, it could also ruin her reputation.

Why then did kissing feel worse than killing?

She supposed that for a man it would not. Of course, a man could go off and have natural children left and right and it would not cripple his future prospects, while if a woman had a child out of wedlock…

But the subject at hand was not…relations…but rather, whether a spy should be willing to kiss if it led to useful information.

Here she was, engaged in a giant, but ultimately, rather unimportant dilemma, when there were real problems…corn shortages and unemployment and the question of what to do about Napoleon Bonaparte and disagreements at the Congress of Vienna. These were the problems at hand, not kissing.

Kissing a man for her work would require her to set aside propriety. Propriety—the accepted morals and norms of society—was a shield, one she had clung to. Without propriety, many would be directionless and fall into great error. Yet her internal sense of morals was stronger than that—she had maintained a clear conscience despite setting aside other societal norms.

Still, she hesitated. Perhaps her real problem was not propriety, but that she was afraid to do something so utterly outside of her experience.

Of course, inexperience had never stopped her before. Inexperience was one of the easiest faults to rectify.

She returned to the drawing room where the others were drinking their tea, and stood, lingering, in the doorway.

“Miss Bennet, please join us,” said Lady Trafford.

Everyone silenced, and Mary decided to speak before she lost her nerve.

“I have realised that my assumptions were incorrect in our previous conversation, and I would like to make a request. I do not harbour any false delusions to my skills. I tend to perform much better at things if I have ample practice in advance.” She realised that she was talking around her proposal, without addressing it specifically. “In the same way that we have practised with weapons, I would like to practise kissing, so I am prepared to use it in case it is ever necessary in the field.”

Perhaps she should have made this proposal privately, with only Lady Trafford, rather than publicly with the entire group. Every single person in the room stared at her. Miss Tagore had a hint of a smile on her face, Mrs. Ford looked about to laugh, and Kitty had her head tilted to the side, as if she were considering Mary in a new light. Mary could not even bring herself to look at the men. Blood rushed to her cheeks, and she wished that she could blot out what she had said.

“An excellent proposal, Miss Bennet,” said Lady Trafford, bringing her hands together. “In fact, we shall do it now. If anyone would prefer not to participate, they are welcome to abstain.” There was silence. “Very well. But we should use a more spacious room.” She turned to Mr. Withrow. “Henry, will you lead the other gentlemen to the ballroom?”

Mary stepped to the side, as each of the men walked past her into the hallway. She felt inexplicably nervous.

“Come, Miss Bennet, let us discuss.”

Lady Trafford waited until Mary had taken a seat near her.

“I believe that the woman should choose their partners. Does anyone have a preference?”

“I think Mary should choose first,” said Kitty, “as it was her proposal. And she likely needs the most practice.”

“Do not be impertinent, Kitty,” said Mary.

“It is not impertinent if it is the truth.”

“I have no strong preference,” said Miss Tagore.

“I would kiss anyone,” said Mrs. Ford with a devious smile.

“Very well. Miss Bennet?” asked Lady Trafford.

Mary considered her options. If her goal was to avoid giving Mr. Stanley further encouragement, she could certainly not choose him. Mr. Twamley and Mr. Matthews were unknown quantities. Either would function, she supposed. Mr. Withrow, on the other hand, clearly despised her, so kissing him could be considered the most moral option.

“I choose Mr. Withrow,” she said quietly.

Kitty gave her a knowing look but fortunately did not say anything.

Once Mary had chosen, it turned out that the others did have preferences. They divided up the men in the same manner in which they might divide a roast chicken, then Lady Trafford led them to the ballroom.

The curtains had been opened, exposing the windows on both ends of the long ballroom. Lady Trafford looked at each of the men. “I need you to commit to share not a word of this to anyone. If any of you choose, for any reason, to expose any of the women here or damage their future prospects, I will personally ensure that you regret the act.”

Each of the men agreed. Lady Trafford was not a woman to be trifled with.

She listed off each of the partners for the exercise, leaving Mary and Mr. Withrow for last, so it was clear that they were partners even before she said it. Mr. Withrow looked at her with a certain wariness, and then took her arm and led her to the large windows at the far end of the ballroom. They stopped, and he released her arm. In the distance, Mary could see the ocean, or really, the English Channel. Mr. Withrow had been with her the first time she had touched the water, there, on that very shore.

“Miss Bennet,” said Mr. Withrow, looking very solemn. His eyes were a deep brown. She had never noticed that before. Of course, she did not normally look at someone like this. She only noticed eye colour when drawing, and despite creating portraits of almost everyone else at Castle Durrington, she had never drawn Mr. Withrow.

“I know, as a spy, that there can be a great amount of pressure to conform to expectations,” said Mr. Withrow. “However, if this is not something that you want to do, you should hold your ground and not do it.”

“I have made up my mind,” said Mary. “I am not unwilling.”

“Not being unwilling is not the same as being willing.”

“Do you truly want to have a debate of words?”

He considered this, but before he could respond, she stepped closer to him, and pressed her lips against his.

After a moment she pulled away. She had not expected such an abundance of physical sensation, and such a pleasant abundance at that.

It would be useful to catalogue the physical sensations associated with kissing, so she did so in her mind. Her lips tingled and felt warm. She was relatively certain that her cheeks had gone red, but she felt no embarrassment. And she felt very much alive, as if she was more awake.

“I suspect I need more practice than one kiss, if you are willing, Mr. Withrow.”

“Yes, I am willing,” he said.

This time he leaned into her, and the kiss was a little longer. Mr. Withrow smelled of leather-bound books. The fact that he was about her height was rather convenient for this sort of activity.

They pulled away again.

“That is not the sort of kiss that would cause someone to reveal secrets,” said Lady Trafford before heading in the direction of the other couples who were positioned at other spots across the ballroom.

Frankly, Mary felt it had been a very good kiss, but as she had limited experience, she supposed Lady Trafford might be right.

“Do you have any suggestions, Mr. Withrow? I assume you have much more experience at this than I.”

“I have no suggestions for you, Miss Bennet.” This might be the first time he had not criticised her when given the opportunity. “However, we could try a more…French style of kiss. That may be what my aunt is suggesting.”

“A French style?”

“Well, it involves the parting of the lips and, often, the incorporation of the tongue.” He almost seemed embarrassed at this admission. She wondered how many women he had kissed before…how many French women.

“That sounds unusual,” said Mary.

“We do not need to attempt it if you are not inclined.” He adjusted his already straight cravat.

“I think it would benefit me to practise a full range of kissing styles.”

He no longer looked solemn, but beyond that, she could not tell what he was thinking at all. She wondered if he was experiencing the same range of physical sensations. How strange to think that they might be sharing that.

She was unsure of what to do, so she waited for him to initiate the kiss.

He reached out his hand, took a lock of her hair, and tucked it behind her ear. And then he kissed her.

The kiss felt very French, and produced a whole ream of additional sensations, which, due to their number, were difficult to catalogue. Better to get lost in them than to attempt to sort them in her mind.

When they pulled away, Mary was not quite sure what to say, so she said, “Merci, Mr. Withrow. That was quite educational.”

“For me as well, Miss Bennet.”

What could he possibly mean by that? He had clearly kissed before; surely there was nothing she could teach him.

Lady Trafford approached. “Do something with your hands, Miss Bennet. You are as stiff as a board. And Henry, your posture is just as rigid.”

“I do not know what to do with my hands,” said Mary.

“Then improvise,” said Lady Trafford.

Mary looked around the ballroom, hoping it would provide some sort of inspiration. Kitty had one hand on Mr. Stanley’s chest, and one on the nape of his neck. Miss Tagore had her hands wrapped around Mr. Twamley’s back. It was almost disturbing, but Mary reassured herself that everyone in this room was only kissing and doing nothing more. To her surprise, she rather liked kissing. It was a strange sort of admission.

“Shall we attempt?” said Mr. Withrow.

He held out his hand towards her, and she placed her hand in his. And then he smiled at her. Somehow, this felt more intimate than kissing him. After a moment, she placed her other hand on his chest. She could feel the sunlight on her face. They both initiated this kiss, and soon, Mr. Withrow had wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. It was quite extraordinary, like being wrapped in a blanket next to a cosy fire.

She did not want to stop kissing him. Of course, that was a sure sign that she should stop. She pulled away and brushed imaginary dirt off her skirt.

“I think I have had sufficient practice,” said Mary.

“Very well,” said Mr. Withrow, as formally as ever. He bowed to her, and then he left the room. An irresponsible part of Mary wanted to call him back.

That evening, Mary agreed to walk with Kitty, Miss Tagore, and Mrs. Ford through the garden. Unfortunately, the subject turned to the very topic that she wanted to avoid.

“What did everyone think of their kissing partner?” asked Mrs. Ford. “I found Mr. Matthews to be surprisingly inexperienced.”

“Mr. Stanley was charming, but a little repetitive,” said Kitty.

“Mr. Twamley is not really my type,” said Miss Tagore, “but he served the purpose.”

“What about you, Mary?” asked Kitty.

Mary shrugged her shoulders.

“Surely you must have some sort of reaction,” said Miss Tagore. “After all, you did choose to kiss him.”

Everyone’s eyes were on her, and it was beholden for her to say something. Yet she did not want to talk about Mr. Withrow specifically, to treat him as if some sort of object, or a new tea she had tried and now was expected to judge. It would be more proper to give some sort of overall response on kissing rather than comment on him specifically.

“Well,” she said, “I had never before understood why women fall so easily into temptation, which has resulted in so many hastily arranged marriages. Now, however, I have more sympathy towards these women, for it is apparent that even a kiss can create powerful and unavoidable physical sensations and internal emotions.”

At this, everyone laughed. Yet she had not meant it as a joke.

At that very moment, Mr. Withrow stepped out from a tall hedge. He had probably overheard the entire conversation.

“Miss Bennet, will you walk with me?”

Kitty burst out laughing and pushed Mary forward. For the first time in Mary’s life, she wanted to commit sororicide.

She and Mr. Withrow were quiet as they walked. He gestured for her to lead, so she chose a path that led towards the front of the house, away from the others. The last thing she needed was Kitty listening in on their conversation. It was too dark to see far, but the moon and the stars provided enough light for their immediate path.

Mary did not regret kissing Mr. Withrow—as Lady Trafford had said, it was simply another tool that she could have at her disposal, albeit one she did not intend to use. She was glad she had practised kissing with someone like Withrow, someone who was not a stranger, who she knew adequately and who was, to her knowledge, a good man.

Yet clearly, there were good reasons for the numerous sermons preached to women about maintaining virtue. Kissing a man…well, it was the sort of act that could lead to dangerous sensations, dangerous thoughts.

It was Mr. Withrow who broke the silence. “I had not realised that the women selected their partners.”

“Your aunt thought it best.”

“Why did you choose me?” He looked at her as if her answer to the question was the most important thing in the world. Of course, he always asked questions in this manner, to anyone from whom he needed information. It was one of the things that made him effective as a spy.

And despite herself, she always found herself answering his questions.

“I thought kissing you would be the most moral option, seeing as you despise me.”

“I do not despise you, Miss Bennet,” said Mr. Withrow.

“You have made your dislike for me clear, many a time.”

“That was never my intent. Miss Bennet—”

A horse galloped off the main road, and up the approach towards Castle Durrington. What could be the meaning of such high speed, at this time of night?

They hurried down the lawn, meeting the rider as he dismounted.

“Napoleon Bonaparte has escaped from the isle of Elba! He has escaped.”

Mr. Withrow cursed, the first time Mary had ever heard him do so, and a sudden fear gripped Mary’s heart.

If Bonaparte had truly escaped from Elba, there would be another war.

End of Excerpt

The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-956387-93-3

September 6, 2022

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