Tasha Alexander

Tears of Pearl

For my parents, who taught me to love books


Myriad thanks to...

Charlie Spicer, Allison Caplin, Andrew Martin, and Anne Hawkins, who guide, inspire, and make publishing more than a little fun.

Joyclyn Ellison, Kristy Kiernan, Elizabeth Letts, and Renee Rosen, whose talent and support are boundless.

Brett Battles, Laura Bradford, Rob Gregory Browne, Jon Clinch, Dusty Rhoades, and Dave White—tremendous writers and partners in crime.

Bill Cameron, who made me laugh pretty much every single day while I was writing this book and who is the master of status updates.

Christina Chen, Carrie Medders, and Missy Rightley—the best friends a girl could have.

Gary and Anastasia Gutting, for making me believe that the impossible is possible.

Andrew Grant, for changing everything.

Xander, who is, among many other things, an excellent gun consultant.

I fain would go, yet beauty calls me back.

To leave her so and not once say farewell

Were to transgress against all laws of love,

But if I use such ceremonious thanks

As parting friends accustom on the shore,

Her silver arms will coil me round about

And tears of pearl cry, “Stay, Aeneas, stay.”

Each word she says will then contain a crown,

And every speech be ended with a kiss.

I may not ’dure this female drudgery.

To sea, Aeneas! Find out Italy!

—Christopher Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage

Chapter 1

It is always a mistake to underestimate the possibilities of a train compartment. Some newly married couples might prefer luxurious, spacious suites at the Continental in Paris or rooms overlooking Lake Lucerne, but I shall never be convinced that one can find bliss more satisfactory than that to be had in a confined space with the company only of each other. Limitations lend themselves to creativity, and my spouse wasted no time in proving himself adept beyond imagination.

After the death of my first husband, a man I’d barely known, I hadn’t expected that I, Lady Emily Ashton, would ever again agree to subject myself to the bonds of matrimony. I’d not believed there was a man alive capable of tempting me to give up even a shred of what I considered my hard-earned independence. More surprising than simply finding such an extraordinary individual was discovering that he was said late husband’s best friend. Philip, the viscount Ashton, a dedicated hunter, had gone on safari immediately following our wedding trip, leaving me behind in London. He never returned. Everyone initially accepted his death as natural—it appeared as if he’d fallen victim to fever—but I soon began to believe otherwise and spearheaded the ensuing investigation, suspecting early on that Colin Hargreaves had murdered the man who’d been like a brother to him.

Such are the follies of a novice detective, and in the end I was pleased to have been wholly incorrect about Colin’s character. Far from a nefarious criminal, he instead turned out to be a gentleman of the highest morals who spent much of his time working for the Crown—investigating situations that, as he liked to say, required more than a modicum of discretion. This description was too modest. In fact, his services were indispensable to the British Empire, and he was one of Her Majesty’s most trusted agents. I do not blame myself entirely for having been so wrong in my suspicions—a man who works in such mysterious ways ought to expect his actions to be, on occasion, misinterpreted.

And so, rather than seeing him off to prison, I fell in love with him, and after refusing his proposals twice, at last was convinced that matrimony was essential to my happiness. This decision came after I’d solved two more crimes in a fashion competent enough to earn Colin’s praise and his suggestion that I begin to assist him in a more official capacity. Assuming, of course, his colleagues would agree to such an arrangement. A female investigator was not something much sought after in the halls of Buckingham Palace.

My decision to pursue such a line of work complemented nicely my other so-called eccentricities, in particular a propensity for academic pursuits that at present focused on the study of ancient Greek. All of this greatly vexed my mother, a staunch traditionalist, and strained our already tenuous relationship. When at last I agreed to be Colin’s wife, she rejoiced (although she would have preferred for me to catch a duke), but her jovial attitude dissolved the instant she learned we had eloped on the Greek island of Santorini. Philip had left me a villa there, and it was the place to which I fled whenever I was overwhelmed or in need of escape. It also proved the perfect spot for an extremely private wedding.

Afterwards, we returned to England, where we passed an excruciating month with my parents at their estate in Kent. We felt it right to tell them our news in person and wanted to extend the proverbial olive branch. But only the most rare sort of mother could find it in her heart to welcome home a child who had deprived her of the pleasure of planning a society wedding, and Lady Catherine Bromley was not such a woman. The only bright spot in the visit was the fact that my dearest childhood friend, Ivy, in that happy condition that comes inevitably after marriage, was also there. My mother, upon learning that Ivy’s parents were in India, had all but carried my friend into Kent, insisting that she needed special care during her confinement.

Much though Colin and I enjoyed seeing Ivy, it had become evident almost at once that escape was necessary. We longed to get away from everyone, to a place where our only pressing business would be to enjoy our honeymoon, and had planned a trip east to visit sites important to me because of my love of classical antiquities and literature. I wanted to see the ruins at Ephesus, and as student of Homer, craved a visit to Troy. Colin, proving himself husband extraordinaire from the first, did not need to be told any of this; he anticipated my every desire. And hence, we soon found ourselves speeding towards Constantinople on the Orient Express.

“I’m not sure your mother will ever forgive me all the way,” Colin said as he guided me through narrow, mahogany-paneled corridors to the train’s dining car. “I’d no idea how wild she and the queen had run with their wedding plans.”

“Well, we did give up our opportunity to be wed in the chapel at Windsor Palace.”

“Yes. With fireworks and our two thousand closest friends.”

I laughed. “I confess I never thought she had it in her to be so fierce with you.”

“Now that we’re married, she considers me a safe mark. No more worries that I’ll take my affections and my fortune elsewhere.”

“Excellent point. But I’d hoped that her desire to charm you into eventually accepting a title from the queen would keep her better in line.”

“She’s quite amusing,” he said.

“Spoken like a man who’s never lived with her.” A crisply uniformed steward pulled open a door for us, and we stepped into a dining room that, although small, was worthy of the best restaurants in Europe. Soft candles flickered with the gentle motion of the train, sending light undulating across crystal glasses, gold-rimmed porcelain, and damask tablecloths the color of bright moonlight, while the smell of perfectly roasted beef with a tangy claret sauce filled the air.

“Twenty-eight days was more than enough,” Colin said.

“Was it only twenty-eight?” I asked.

“And a half. Why do you think I insisted we take the morning train to Paris?”

I slipped into a chair across from him at a table where a silver-haired gentleman was already settled. He’d risen and bowed to me—over me, more like, as his height was extraordinary—and then offered his hand to my husband. “Sir Richard St. Clare,” he said, introducing himself with a stiff nod. Colin shook his hand and introduced us both. “Hargreaves, eh? I know of your work. Your reputation is sterling in diplomatic circles.”

“The compliment is much appreciated,” Colin said, sitting next to me.

“And much deserved. But we shan’t bore your lovely wife with talk of business.” He turned to me. “How far are you traveling?”

“All the way to Constantinople,” I said, then leaned forward, a broad smile stretching across my face. “First real stop on our wedding trip.”

“Excellent.” He rubbed together thick-knuckled hands. “And where else shall you visit?”

“I’ve been promised Ephesus,” I said, raising an eyebrow at Colin, who was a vision of handsome perfection in his evening kit.

“I’ll take you to Philadelphia and Sardis as well,” Colin said. “So long as you have clothing suitable for exploring ruins.”

“You wouldn’t have married me if I didn’t,” I said, wishing I could grab his knee under the table and feeling a hot rush of color flood my cheeks at this reference to a conversation we’d had nearly two years ago on the Pont Neuf in Paris, the night he’d fallen in love with me in spite of his erroneous belief I was not in possession of a wardrobe suitable for adventurous travel. The gown I was wearing now—of the palest pink silk embroidered with silver thread from which hung teardrop-shaped crystals—did not suggest I was a lady ready for the wilderness, but I was not the sort of woman who should be judged by her clothing. An appreciation for high fashion does not preclude possession of common sense.