Authors: Julia Thomas
Tags: #english boys, #julia thomas, #the english boy, #english boy, #mystery, #mystery novel, #mystery fiction
The English Boys: A Mystery
Â© 2016 by Julia Thomas.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition Â© 2016
E-book ISBN: 9780738750514
Book format by Bob Gaul
Cover design by Kevin R. Brown
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Thomas, Julia, 1959.
Title: The English boys: a mystery/Julia Thomas.
Description: First edition. | Woodbury, Minnesota : Midnight Ink, 2016. |
Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by
publisher; resource not viewed.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016007206 (print) | LCCN 2016018176 (ebook) | ISBN
9780738749020 | ISBN 9780738750514 ()
Subjects: LCSH: ActorsâFiction. | Best friendsâFiction. | SecretsâFiction.
| MurderâInvestigationâFiction. | GSAFD: Mystery fiction | Love stories
Classification: LCC PS3620.H6286 E54 2016 (print) | LCC PS3620.H6286 (ebook)
| DDC 813
LC record available at /2016007206
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To Will, with love
The Book of Common
, as any good member of the Church of England knows, is rife with dark and fearsome parts. Daniel Richardson had inherited a copy from which he liked to quote obscure passages, often the odd phrase from
For Those at Sea
. Bellowing “Safely from the boisterous main, Bring us back to port again,” never failed to amuse his friends when they were drunk. Some parts, however, were frightening, particularly one line in
The Solemnization of Marriage
, which called forth the “dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed.” Just what secrets there were to be discovered, he wasn't certain, but it was terrifying nonetheless. He thought of it now as he stood leaning against the stone wall outside Westminster Abbey where his two closest friends were about to be married. They were still in their twenties, and as far as he was concerned, much too young to wed. In fact, to Daniel, the thought of marriage itself was as inexplicable as the Bermuda Triangle: people disappeared there every day, but still, there was no preventing others from boarding ships and setting out for the exact same waters.
Restless, he plucked at his collar. It had rained the night before and puddles formed along the walkways, but the sky had cleared and only a wisp of gray cloud remained. He thrust his hands into his pockets, listening to the bells chime half past five. Looking about, he took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it, trying to ignore Tamsyn's voice in his head demanding that he put it out. She lectured him about the risk of cancer whenever he smoked, almost always going into the danger
to the ozone layer while she was at it. It delighted him when she made passionate little speeches. She had opinions about everything, unlike most of the women he knew who were content to let someone else think of social issues. Tamsyn argued the dangers of overfishing the North Sea and voting the Labour Party back into power and the plight of the homeless, despite the fact that when he'd met her less than a year ago, she hadn't had a pound in her pocket. She was, without a doubt, the best thing in his life and, unfortunately, moments away from marrying his best friend. No matter what anyone said, marriage changed things. The bond they shared was unbreakable, and yet he knew nothing would ever be the same again.
Daniel dropped the cigarette on the pavement and squashed it with the toe of his freshly polished shoe, relieved he hadn't caught the notice of the photographers clustered in front of the building. It was a nice afternoon, and he wanted to chuck his coat, walk over to Bridge Street, and look out over the Thames. The London Eye was just across the river, and though some felt it spoiled a perfectly good view, he thought it interesting in its own monstrous sort of way. It would have been a good day for a sail on the river, or perhaps riding in Hyde Park. Whenever he stayed with Hugh's parents in the country, they always went riding, and though he hadn't been on the back of a horse until a few years ago, it had become one of his favorite pastimes. The desire to escape was strong, but Tamsyn and Hugh were counting on him. He straightened his tie and walked back into the church. As best man, he had last minute duties to perform, but Hugh was nowhere to be found. He was probably talking with the bishop. On impulse, Daniel decided to find the bride instead.
He wandered the halls until he heard a rustle of satin, following the sound to a slightly opened door. Tamsyn stood there alone in a dressing room, looking into a long mirror, her auburn hair pulled back from her face with a few strands falling about her cheeks. Her lips were full and broad, with just a hint of lipstick. He couldn't help but smile at the dress, which was more conservative than he had expected from her usual Bohemian appearance, a confection of a gown that was every young girl's dream. Although he thought the Abbey a wretched place to pledge one's troth, she and Hugh were proud to have a formal wedding here, with every one of the two hundred and twelve seats spoken for and a bishop of the church reading the text. She looked up in surprise when she caught him staring.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, smiling. She wasn't conventionally beautiful, but her smile, which seemed to him in turns both cunning and artless, arrested him each time he saw it. “Spying on the bride, are you? Come on. Give us a kiss.”
He hesitated for a moment before walking over to stand in front of her. “Shouldn't I wait until you're a married woman before I kiss you?”
“It's never stopped you before.”
“That was before you decided to marry my best friend.” In spite of the rebuke, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Mmm. Lavender. I'm thinking fields in Provence.”
“You're thinking you'll shag a bridesmaid.”
“Such talk. And on your wedding day, no less.” He glanced up at the window, noting that the first of the guests had begun to arrive. He couldn't help but think of last autumn when the three of them had been shooting the final scenes of a Thomas Hardy film in Dorset, talking for hours every day and spending inordinate amounts of time in the local pubs. It had been wonderful; the best time of his life, in fact. He realized she was staring at him, so he cleared his throat and tried to look serious.
“Tam, are you sure you're ready for this?”
“Of course I'm ready. Why wouldn't I be?”
You know what I mean. Marriage to Hugh isn't just a two-person
affair. You'll be marrying his family, too. I swear I saw you curtsy the last time you spoke to his mother.”
“You're just jealous,” she answered, reaching for a pair of gloves. “Obviously, I've broken your heart.”
“And many others, I'm sure.”
His mobile vibrated against his thigh and he retrieved it from the pocket of his trousers, frowning. It was another text from Sarah, whom he'd been dodging for the last week. He hadn't gotten seriously involved with anyone since he'd met Tamsyn Burke and then lost her to his best friend, and he certainly didn't consider one ill-advised night with Sarah Williams any sort of relationship. It was another of Tamsyn's idiosyncrasies, introducing people and herding
them in groups to organized events: the theatre, parties, even an
absurd afternoon boating on the Serpentine. Sarah had accompanied them on two or three occasions. She was pretty enough, but he'd known it was a mistake even before it happened, and now he wouldn't be able to avoid her. Sighing, he looked at his mobile.
Are you here yet? I need to talk to you.
It was simple, straightforward, and it scared the hell out of him. He wanted to reply,
You tooâI can't wait to introduce you to my fiancÃ©e,
or something equally harsh, just to make her stop.
“Who is it?” Tamsyn asked.
“No one,” he answered. He deleted the message without replying.
“It was Sarah Williams, wasn't it?”
“You did have to invite her today, didn't you?”
“How involved are you getting with her?” she asked, with a look that jabbed him in the heart.
“I'm not involved with her,” he argued. “You know she's not my type.”
“I didn't know you had a type.” She arched a brow and turned back to the mirror to adjust a strand of hair.
“I still can't imagine why anyone would want to get married in Westminster Abbey,” he said, changing the subject. They had argued about it a dozen times in the last few weeks, and somehow it felt comforting to resort to their usual sparring at a time like this. “The place reeks of history and gloom and death.”
“The Tower was booked,” she replied.
God, he thought. She was perfect.
He wanted to whisk her away like they did in films, consequences be damned; but of course, real life wasn't like that. He was about to reply when he noticed her younger sister standing in the doorway.
“Hello, Carey,” he said, nodding.
He had met her on a couple of occasions when Tamsyn could coax her out for a drink. At twenty-three, Carey was younger than her sister, but in every way more serious and responsible. For the last two years, she had been a medical student at King's College studying something so terminally boring he could never remember what it was. He looked at the two of them now and the contrast was as stark as ever. Tamsyn was wild and unpredictable, while Carey was sensible and disciplined. It was hard to believe they were sisters.
“I couldn't find hairpins,” Carey said, still looking at Daniel. “But Mum should be here any minute, and she has some with her.”
“Do you mind waiting for her?” Tamsyn asked. “I don't want my hair coming loose halfway down the aisle.”
Carey nodded. “Of course. I'll be back in a few minutes.”
“I could get the pins, you know,” Daniel said, watching her leave. Knowing Tamsyn, she had probably sent Carey on a dozen errands already.
“She doesn't mind,” she answered. “Well? What do you think of the dress?”
She swayed the voluminous skirt left and right, like a ten-year-old seeking her brother's approval. Daniel shrugged. In no way did he see himself as her brother.
“I expected something a bit saucier, if you must know,” he said. “A corset and fishnet stockings, perhaps. This is positively bridal.”
“Can't you be serious? I'm trying to get married today.”
“Marriage is serious, all right. A year from now and you'll be talking nappies and breastfeeding.” He gave a mock shudder. “And you'll probably want Uncle Daniel to babysit, which I must tell you now will never happen.”
She cocked her head and smiled. “Go find Hugh. I'm sure he needs you more than I do.”
“All right, then, I'm leaving. Break a leg.”
“This isn't a play, you know.”
“No, I suppose it isn't,” he said. “Still â¦ ”
He flashed a grin before closing the door. As he glanced at his watch, a fresh wave of regret overtook him. It was going to be difficult to witness this wedding, not to mention spend another two or three more hours in this blasted tuxedo, making mindless conversation with people he'd normally try to avoid. Pull yourself together, Richardson
he told himself. No matter how he felt about it, he didn't want to ruin their day.
Preoccupied, he collided with Hugh's father in the corridor, grazing him with his shoulder.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said, bringing up an arm to steady them both.
Noel Ashley-Hunt nodded, mumbling something indecipherable. In spite of the fact that he'd known the man for years and had spent holidays at his country house, they were hardly close. Hugh's father's celebrity and natural reserve kept everyone at a distance.
“Have you seen my son?” Ashley-Hunt asked, toying with his cufflink, his face etched into a frown. The Ashley-Hunts were not thrilled at the idea of this wedding either, Daniel knew, from the few remarks Hugh had made on the subject.
“I'm looking for him myself.”
“Damn this old pile. Too many places a person can get lost. If you see him, advise him that his father is waiting.”
“Of course,” Daniel replied, watching Ashley-Hunt march down the hall glaring into open doorways.
A minute later, he found Hugh sitting at the back of the chapel in a pew behind a column, bent forward as if in prayer. It was an unnatural pose for someone so self-assured. Daniel sighed. It was ridiculous the way everyone was behaving out of character today, Tam playing the blushing bride and Hugh the serious bridegroom contemplating their future. The whole thing was more than he could bear.
“Having second thoughts there, old chap?” He said it in jest, but he almost wondered.
“Ah, the best man!” Hugh said, ignoring the question as if he hadn't heard it. “I was wondering where you went.”
“I couldn't find you, so I went to make myself a nuisance to the bride.”
“How is she?”
“Radiant. Persephone, come to life.”
“Ready to become the fawning wife, I suppose?”
“Tamsyn wouldn't fawn over anyone.”
“No, she wouldn't, would she?” He turned and looked at Daniel with interest. “Father told me you landed a role in the new Trollope film
“As luck would have it. I found out yesterday. Are you still taking off a few months?”
“That's the plan, not that he's too keen on it. It seems like a good idea to settle into marriage first, before I'm tied up with another project. How was the script, by the way?”
“Fine. True to the book.” Daniel smiled. “Perhaps a little less dull.”
Hugh stood and began to fumble with his tie. “How's this? Do I look the part?”
“Here,” Daniel said, reaching out and taking hold of it. “You never could tie a decent knot. Speaking of your father, he's looking for you.”
“Then I'd better not disappoint him any more than I already have. I'm sure Mother's probably worked herself into a state by now. Are your parents here yet?”
“I haven't looked. Slipped my mind completely.” He clapped his friend on the shoulder. “It'll be great, you know.”
“I'm sure it will,” Hugh said, heading for the door. “See you at the altar in ten.”
“Just think,” Daniel called after him. “By this time tomorrow, you'll be getting drunk on a beach in Fiji.”
“Your lips to God's ear,” Hugh called back.
Daniel could almost feel the words echo in the empty, vaulted room.