A Glimpse of Saffron's Third Mystery
Please note that this is an unedited snippet that may or may not appear in the third Saffron Everleigh mystery.
Cold rain soaking into her boots, splashing onto her stockings, and leaking from the brim of her ruined hat and onto her face, was the least of Saffron Everleigh’s worries.
No, it was the lingering nausea of the crossing, clinging to her like a zealous strand of Galium aparine, combined with the exhaustion of traveling for over twenty hours, that made her miserable and desperate for the quiet comfort of her flat.
Thanks to the freezing downpour making the cold November night dreary, there were no cabs available as Saffron emerged on wobbly legs from the train station. She’d resorted to the bus, which had been a poor choice, given her uncertain stomach and London bus drivers’ general propensity for driving like hellhounds were at their heels. Rather than risking vomiting all over the passengers of the cramped bus, she’d alighted three blocks before her stop, and had to complete the walk with neither umbrella nor an adequate raincoat.
Given the late hour, her quiet Chelsea street was dark, save for one flat. The warm lights emanating from the top floor of her building flat drew her like bees to bee balm, promising a hot cuppa, a bath, and home.
She trudged up the stairs, her numb fingers fumbling with the pins of her hat. At the top, she eagerly pounded on the door, uncaring about potential complaints from her landlady.
The door swung open, and the anticipatory smile on Saffron’s lips died.
Standing at the door to her flat was a stranger. He was youngish, tall, and gangly, and wore wire-rimmed glasses and a look of haughty indifference. “Yes?”
Saffron blinked at him, looked at the number next to the door, then back to him. He had glossy blonde hair a washed-out shade of flax and very pale skin, which made the redness around his mouth and neck more apparent. His tie was loosened, she saw as she followed the color to his neck, and then to his waistcoat, which was buttoned only once in the middle.
At a loss, she asked, “Er—who are you?”
He lifted a brow. “Pardon me. Who are you?”
“Who’s at the door, Colon, darling?” asked a voice from within the flat.
Saffron made to look around the man—Colin, apparently—but he moved with her to block her. She glared at him and called, “Elizabeth?”
Colin bristled, propping his arms on his hips and doing his best to loom over her. “Now, see here—“
Behind him, Elizabeth Hale’s face popped around the corner at the end of the hall. She broke into a grin when their eyes met. “Why, hullo there! You’re back early! Don’t just stand there, Saff, you look a fright. Come in!” She disappeared around the corner.
Colin grudgingly stepped aside and retreated to the parlor without a word, leaving Saffron to negotiate removing her woefully soaked coat just inside the door. She could hear his low voice saying something, and Elizabeth’s husky alto replying. Just as Saffron had discarded her hat, which was now a floppy pile of wet felt, Elizabeth came down the hall, her stockinged feet bare and her arms open in welcome. Saffron took her in, sighing in exasperation to see that Elizabeth’s clothing was as hasty donned as her date’s.
“You look a right mess,” Elizabeth said, embracing her in a warm cloud of Tabac Blond. “Did you swim the channel?”
Saffron allowed herself to sink into her friend’s embrace. Elizabeth had returned from their trip to France two weeks ago, but it felt like a lifetime.
“You are freezing,” Elizabeth squealed when Saffron’s cold fingers met her arms. She pushed her away and frowned thoughtfully. “Which would you like first, tea or a bath? Or tea in the bath?”
That brought a little laugh to Saffron’s lips. “Tea first. You’re entertaining, anyway.”
Elizabeth winked at her. “Colin was just leaving.”
As if summoned by his name, the man in question appeared from the parlor, his suit jacket on and his tie tightened to his throat. “Was I?”
“Yes, darling,” Elizabeth said, not looking at him. “My flatmate has just returned from what must have been the world’s worst channel crossing and she needs tending.” She shot him a coy look. “You’ve been tended to plenty. Scurry along, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Colin’s fair face heated, and he gave Elizabeth a hard look that only sent her friend giggling. He squeezed past them to reach for his hat and coat from the pegs on the wall. He gave Saffron an uncertain look. “My apologies for the confusion earlier. You are doubtless Miss Everleigh.”
“I am. And you must be Colin Smith, from Elizabeth’s office.”
“I am one of Lord Tremaine’s private secretaries, yes,” he said, placing his hat atop his head.
“Of course,” Saffron murmured as Elizabeth stepped forward and placed a gentle kiss on his lips.
“Ta, now,” Elizabeth told him and shuffled him out the door. “Good night, Colin.”
When the sounds of his footsteps had faded from the stairwell, Elizabeth flipped the lock on the door and she wafted down the hall with a secretive smile on her face. Saffron made to follow her, but Elizabeth chivied her away, demanding she change from her wet clothing.
Five minutes later, she was wrapped in her warmest and ugliest dressing gown of faded blue flannel, and the kettle was singing. Elizabeth busied herself with the ritual of tea, then she settled the tray bearing teapot, sugar and cream, and cups and saucers on the little table.
“Well, Saff,” Elizabeth said with the air of beginning a long and rousing tale, “I have all sorts of very interesting things to tell you—but you first. Tell me everything.”
The warmth of the kitchen, the familiar scents of steeping Early Gray, and the kindness in her friend’s eyes seemed to pry away her stiff upper lip. Her shoulders slumped and tears welled in her eyes.
“It was awful, Eliza,” she rasped out. “All of it. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”