‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ John asked gently, quietly, out of…superstition he liked to call reverence. One must have some reverence when searching a dead man’s room—particularly when said dead man was still lying in bed.
Some might scoff at his willingness to investigate because of a maid’s ghostly sighting, and feeling something was amiss. John however, had learned to trust everyone’s instincts. More than once, an intricate mystery was unravelled because someone had a feeling. And yes, he was also willing because Miss Powell had come to him. Miss Powell, who was certainly hiding something, but who also stirred…
A desire to protect, and ease that pain I see behind her eyes.
‘I’m fine,’ Miss Powell answered, tearing him from inappropriate thoughts, and his eyes cut to her. She stood beside him just past the threshold, stoic, though her eyes flitted about nervously. Not avoiding Mr Willcombe’s body—suggesting this wasn’t her first time in the presence of a corpse. ‘What are we looking for?’
‘Anything of note, out of place, or to suggest foul play. Why did they break down the door?’ he asked suddenly, frowning, casting his eyes away.
Which shouldn’t be so tasking…
‘Mr Willcombe didn’t like servants coming in here to attend him. He was a simple man,’ Miss Powell said with unexpected fondness. ‘The door to the servants’ passages is blocked,’ she told him, pointing to the wardrobe. ‘He unlocked his door in the mornings when he was dressed, and ready for breakfast.’
‘So this morning…’
‘Young Mr Willcombe knocked and had no response.’
John nodded, and slowly moved into the room, his eyes noting everything—of no import until it was.
Miss Powell did likewise, studying the body, seemingly sleeping, with more attention than he expected. She truly was fascinating…
And shrouded in questions.
‘How long have you worked here?’
‘I started back here about three years ago, though I usually serve Clairborne House. I worked here as a girl; my father was gamekeeper for thirty years.’
‘Opportunity,’ she said, sounding…rehearsed. ‘Papa thought I could work my way to being a lady’s maid at Clairborne House, when Mrs Willcombe died.’
‘So you weren’t ill-treated? I’ve heard Mr Willcombe’s temper—’
‘He was a good man,’ Miss Powell said defensively. ‘Kind to me. Grief… It changes us all, wouldn’t you agree?’
Point to Miss Powell, John thought, as she raised a brow, smelling his own grief on him.
And then Miss Powell sniffed the air, a frown between her brows.
‘Mr Willcombe was ill. Not uncommon in such cases. They cleaned the pots, but that smell lingers.’
Shaking her head, she moved about slowly, sniffing like some bloodhound.
John crossed his arms, watching her, fascinated, a little smile on his lips.
Until she bent over the wash bowl, and took a deep inhale, her features hardening.
‘Miss Powell, don’t,’ he pleaded, ordered, fear quickening his own heartbeat as he strode over. Dread and recognition darkened her eyes, and before he could reach her, she dipped a finger into the water, and put a drop on her lips. ‘Miss Powell!’
Gripping her arm tighter than he should’ve, he pulled her away, innate danger pounding his pulse as her eyes widened.
Without thinking, he wiped her lip with the edge of his sleeve, and rubbed the hand she’d dipped in the water against his coat.
‘Miss Powell,’ he began reproachfully, stepping in far too close, reaching out so he could reassure himself she was fine, when she spoke.
‘It tingles,’ she breathed. ‘Monkshood. The water was laced with monkshood.’
Damn it, Miss Powell.
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