Home > A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1)

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1)
Author: Sherry Thomas






   Had anyone told the Honorable Harrington Sackville that the investigation into his death would make the name Sherlock Holmes known throughout the land, Mr. Sackville would have scoffed.

   He had never heard of Sherlock Holmes. But more importantly, he despised the idea of death. Of his death, to be precise—others could die as they wished.

   He loathed old age almost as much: that long, vile decline into helplessness halted only by the final breath, falling like a guillotine blade.

   And yet his reflection in the mirror made it increasingly difficult to tell himself that he was still a young man. He remained a fit man, a handsome man, but the skin beneath his jaw sagged. Deep grooves cut into the sides of his mouth. Even his eyelids drooped, heavy from the passage of time.

   Fear hooked through him, cold and sharp. Every man was afraid of something. For him, death had long loomed as the ultimate terror. A darkness with fangs.

   He turned away from the mirror—and the unwelcome thoughts that always simmered these days a scant inch beneath the surface. It was summer. The glow of twilight suffused the house. From his perch on the headlands, the bay blazed with the flame of the setting sun. A hint of salt fragranced the breeze that meandered in; the top note of that perfumed air was tuberose, bulbs of which he had imported from Grasse, in the south of France.

   But a storm was coming; inky clouds gathered at the edge of the sky . . .

   He inhaled deeply. No, he must not let his mind wander to shadowy places. Recent weeks had been difficult—the events in London particularly distressing—but in time things would improve. He had many good years left to relish life, and to laugh at death and its still distant grasp.

   No premonitions crossed his mind that death was to have him by morning.

   But have him it would—and the last laugh.







   On the day Mr. Harrington Sackville met his darkness with fangs, certain parties in the know were bracing for—and eagerly anticipating—a major scandal involving the youngest member of the Holmes family.

   Lord Ingram Ashburton did not share in their anticipation. The idea that such a catastrophe could come to pass had haunted him for days. He did not yet know that Holmes was already doomed, but a sense of dread had been growing in him, a tumorlike weight on his lungs.

   He stared at the envelope on the desk before him.

   Mr. Sherlock Holmes

General Post Office

St. Martin’s Le Grand


   Any idiot could see the frustration that seethed with every stroke of the pen—at several places the nib had nearly torn through the linen paper.

   The writing on the note next to the envelope was equally agitated.



   And if you must, not with Roger Shrewsbury. You will regret it relentlessly.

   For once in your life, listen to me.

   He dropped his forehead into his left palm. It would be no use. Holmes would do as Holmes pleased, carried along on that blitheness born of extraordinary ability and favorable circumstances.

   Until disaster strikes.

   You don’t need to let it happen, said a voice inside him. You step in. You give Holmes what Holmes wants.

   And then what? Then I carry on and pretend it never happened?

   He stared out of the open window. His unimpeded view of the sky appeared as if seen through a lens that had been smudged with a grimy finger—a polluted blue, a fine day for London. Peals of irrepressible mirth rose from the small park below—his children’s laughter, a sound that would have brought a smile to his face on any other day.

   He picked up his pen.

   Do not do anything without first consulting me again.


   Was he acquiescing? Was he jettisoning all caution—and all principle as well?

   He sealed the unsigned letter in the envelope and walked out of his book-lined study, envelope in pocket. He was scheduled to give an archeological lecture in the evening. But first he wanted to spend some time with his daughter and son, rambunctious children at the peak of their happy innocence.

   After that he would decide whether to post the letter or to consign it to the fire, like the dozen others that had preceded it.

   The front door opened and in came his wife.

   “Afternoon, madam,” he said politely.

   “My lord.” She nodded, a strange little smile on her face. “I see you have not heard about what happened to your favorite lady.”

   “My favorite lady is my daughter. Is anything the matter with her?”

   He kept his voice cool, but he couldn’t stop the hair on the back of his neck from standing up: Lady Ingram was not talking about their child.

   “Lucinda is well. I refer to . . .” Her lips curled with disdain. “I refer to Holmes. Your Holmes.”


   “How dare you humiliate me this way?” Mrs. Shrewsbury rained down blows on her husband. “How dare you?”

   The painted French fan, folded up, made for a surprisingly potent weapon—a cross between a bolt of silk and a police baton. Roger Shrewsbury whimpered.

   He didn’t understand the way her mind worked.

   Very well, he had committed an unforgivable error: The night before he’d been so drunk he mistook his wife for Mimi, his mistress, and told the wife what he was going to do this afternoon with Charlotte Holmes. But if Mrs. Shrewsbury hadn’t wanted him to deflower Miss Holmes, why hadn’t she smacked him then and there and forbidden him to do anything of the sort? Or she could have gone ’round to Miss Holmes’s and slapped her for not having a higher regard for her hymen.

   Instead she had mustered a regiment of sisters, cousins, and friends, set his mother at the helm of the entire enterprise, and stormed the Bastille just as he settled into Miss Holmes. So how could she accuse him of humiliating her, when she was the one who had made sure that a good dozen other women saw her husband in flagrante delicto?

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