My day begins with the rising of the sun. I have a quick cup of tea, with a scone and porridge brought to my room by one of the kitchen maids, wash, dress, and hurry belowstairs to finish up any work on my ladies’ wardrobes not completed the day before. I should mention that I attend not one but three young ladies, all granddaughters of the Earl of Wroxly. Poor dears, orphaned when their mother died in childbirth, and then a second time when their papa died in the Great War. There is Lady Julia, the eldest and most beautiful—but who shows the world an icy mask. I, of course, know better. Then the youngest, sweet Amelia, always concerned about the welfare of others and generous to a fault. There is also a brother, Viscount Foxwood, a youngster who enjoys taxing the patience of family and servants alike. But it is to the middle sister, Phoebe—plainer than her sisters but spirited, big-hearted, and clever, to whom I confess to feeling the most devotion.
As a lady’s maid, my days are filled with the minutest details of clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, shoes, perfumes—in short, all that goes into my ladies presenting their very best and most fashionable selves to the world. I must at all times be ready to wield a needle and thread, an iron, hairpin, or merely an honest and well-informed opinion about a hemline, collar width, or the placement of a sash. In my spare time I study the latest fashion plates from Paris. I learn the names of the foremost designers, the finest cosmetics, the latest scents, and whether hair should be piled high or allowed to frame the face in curls.
I consider myself a proficient lady’s maid, yet few of those skills would serve me during the events that began on Boxing Day, 1918—our first Christmas following the end of the war. A happy time, one would think, a time of peace and contentment. But no, after discovering a grisly surprise in my Christmas Box, usually filled with small delights from the Renshaw family for myself and my parents, I was suddenly leaving heaps of fine linen un-ironed and boots unpolished in order to not only track down a murderer, but find the victim himself. How did we know he’d fallen prey to a most malicious crime? In the interest of delicacy, I will leave you to discover that in due course.
But I had little choice in what followed. With a footman accused and Lady Phoebe determined to prove the police wrong, what else could I do but staunchly follow my mistress who admittedly possesses an impulsive nature and but a small sense of what is best for her? How could I not traipse through a snowy forest in the bitter cold because she had a hunch she knew where the body might be hidden? How could I not motor about with her in that little deathtrap she calls an automobile so we might ask questions in the village? How could I not snoop around belowstairs and break the servants’ code of ethics by asking leading questions of my fellow employees—knowing full well that in clearing one man’s name, I might incriminate another? How could I not conspire with Ladies Phoebe and Amelia to search the bedroom of a guest? Risky business all of it, and could easily have resulted in my getting the sack or worse—harm to my precious Lady Phoebe and myself. Ah, but here perhaps is the most important duty of a devoted lady’s maid, especially when one’s mistress is still quite young—to be her friend though I can never be her equal, shield her as much as possible from life’s unpleasantness, guard her against all risks to her sterling reputation, help guide her without seeming to, and advise her without speaking out of turn.
And did I mention that during all this intrigue, I was still expected to attend my three ladies, their wardrobes, and their bedrooms? And, because the war has left us shorthanded, as did our head footman’s being sent to jail, I added kitchen helper to my list of duties. My goodness, I’ll be happy once spring arrives. Mrs. Sanders, our housekeeper, has placed several ads in our local newspapers, and with luck the empty positions will be filled. Then life on our lovely country estate can return to its usual genteel pace . . .
Or will it?
You can read more about Miss Eva in Murder Most Malicious, the first book in the NEW “Lady and Lady’s Maid” mystery series, published by Kensington.
About Murder Most Malicious
December 1918: As a difficult year draws to a close, there is much to celebrate for nineteen-year-old Phoebe Renshaw and her three siblings at their beloved family estate of Foxwood Hall. The dreadful war is finally over; eldest daughter Julia’s engagement to their houseguest, the Marquis of Allerton, appears imminent; and all have gathered to enjoy peace on earth, good will toward men.
But the peace of Foxwood Hall is shattered on the morning of Boxing Day, when the Marquis goes missing. Not entirely missing, however, as macabre evidence of foul play turns up in gift boxes given to lady’s maid Eva Huntford and a handful of others. Having overheard her sister and the Marquis in a heated exchange the night before, Lady Phoebe takes a personal interest in solving the mystery.
As the local constable suspects a footman at Foxwood Hall, Phoebe and Eva follow the clues to a different conclusion. But both young women will need to think outside the box to wrap up this case—before a cornered killer lashes out with ill will toward them. . .
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What’s the oddest or happiest holiday surprise you’ve ever had? Comment below for a chance to win either a signed hardcover copy of MURDER MOST MALICIOUS (Continental U.S. Residents only), or an e-book edition (open to anyone from anywhere). The giveaway will end January 4 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
About the author
Alyssa Maxwell knew from an early age that she wanted to be a novelist. Growing up in New England and traveling to Great Britain fueled a passion for history, while a love of puzzles of all kinds drew her to the mystery genre. She and her husband reside in Florida, where she loves to watch BBC productions, sip tea in the afternoons, and delve into the past. You can learn more about Alyssa and her books at www.alyssamaxwell.com, on Facebook: Guilded Newport and Facebook: Alyssa Maxwell.