A Study in Scandal Excerpt

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Taken from Chapter One

Four hours later Amelia sat in her father’s study desperately trying to console him.

“Father, do calm down, the Inspector should be here any moment,” Amelia said.

“I know you’re right dear, but this is Nefertiti. Every moment she is gone is wretched. She is irreplaceable, Amelia.”

“Of course she is. And we shall find her.” Amelia watched her father wear a path in the expensive Persian rug. With his short stature, he resembled a child’s wind up toy, chugging back and forth across the floor. She suppressed a smile. This was supposed to be a serious matter.

There was a short rap on the door, and then their butler, Weston, entered with a very tall man on his heels.

“Lord Watersfield, a Colin Brindley to see you. He says he’s an Inspector for hire, and you requested his presence.” Weston’s tone was severe, and he did nothing to hide the annoyance in his expression.

Weston was quite likely the most arrogant man in all of London, but he’d served their family with a loyalty that was difficult to come by. And seeing as neither she nor her father had an ounce of pretension in their bodies, Weston viewed it as his obligation to carry enough for both of them.

“Thank you, Weston,” she said, walking forward. “We were expecting Inspector Brindley.”

Weston paused a moment before nodding and leaving through the double doors.

It took Amelia a moment to appreciate fully the presence of Inspector Brindley. He was much younger than she’d anticipated. She’d expected a portly, older man with not much hair to speak of. Webster Brindley was quite older than her father so it seemed a natural assumption that his son would be much older than she. Instead he was young, not more than five and thirty, leanly muscled with a slight graying of his thick brown hair at his temples. Enough to give him a distinguished, well-lived-in look. Her heartbeat quickened as she took him all in and she reminded herself why he’d come.

There was something about him that seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t determine precisely what it was.

“Inspector Brindley, I am Amelia Watersfield, and this is my father, Lord Robert Watersfield. Please come in and sit down.” She motioned to the leather wing-backed chair.

The inspector nodded, but said nothing, and did not sit. He watched her father, who had since stopped pacing and now stood observing the Inspector.

Her father squinted. “I don’t remember you being so tall,” he finally said.

“I believe I was seven, My Lord, the last time you saw me.”

“That would explain it.” He shrugged. “Tell me, how is your father?”

“He is well.” His deep voice fluttered across Amelia’s ears and quickened her pulse ever so slightly. That in itself gave her pause and made her curious for him to speak again. For him to say anything so she could put a name to the sensation. But listening to his voice was certainly not the reason for his visit. There were far more important things at hand.

“Father, why don’t you tell the Inspector what has happened?”

“Right. I am a collector of Egyptian antiquities, and it seems my prize possession has been stolen directly from under my nose. She stays here in my study – I have a specific and special place where she sits,” he walked to the pedestal table and pointed, “Right here. And this morning I noticed she is gone.”

“She?” Inspector Brindley asked.

“Nefertiti. Gone. Missing. Stolen. Right out of my study.”

“And this Nefertiti is…”

Inspector Brindley’s words trailed off, as if he were waiting for her father to fill in the gaps.

Since her father would assume everyone knew who Nefertiti was, Amelia chimed in. “It is a bust of Nefertiti, actually, that has gone missing. She was the most powerful woman of ancient Egypt and it was the only one of its kind.”

Inspector Brindley scribbled something on a notebook and looked around the room before asking, “Have you inquired about the missing artifact with your servants?”

Her father’s expression fell. “No. But we have very loyal servants that are highly paid. There would be no reason for them to steal from me.”

“There can always be a reason,” he said.

“We don’t believe our servants are capable of such a thing,” Amelia said.

He eyed her for a moment, but it was such a brief glance she couldn’t even determine the color of his eyes.

Colin turned his body to face her father, clearly dismissing her. “Lord Watersfield, we need to explore every possible suspect. Your servants are on that list. Does any one else have access to the house? Any other family members?”

“No. It is only my daughter and I.” He pointed a chubby finger at the inspector. “You know some fools have claimed she’s not the real thing, but I know Nefertiti.” He tried to take a sip of tea, but his hand was shaking too much. He set the cup down on the saucer with a rattle and tea dripped down the sides to pool around the base. “Poor dear. She was awfully misunderstood. You must realize, she really is quite important.”

“Father, why don’t you retire to your room for a nap?” She placed her hand on his shoulder and turned him towards the door. He was awfully upset and needed his rest. “We can handle things from here. Would you like me to send up some tea?” She rang for Weston.

“No more tea. I don’t know where she could be. She was here yesterday.”

“We’ll find her. Don’t you worry.”

She led her father to the door where Weston gathered him and led him up to his room. She could hear her father’s tired voice mumbling to the servant. It really was quite imperative that they find Nefertiti. He’d already lost enough in this lifetime.

Amelia stepped closer to the inspector who was making his way around the office, looking at everything, but touching nothing. He stopped to examine a display of Egyptian pottery, wrote something in his notebook, then moved on. He made no indication that he felt her presence behind him. Instead he kept his broad back to her.

“Inspector,” she ventured closer to him until she stood directly behind his shoulder. “My father gets upset rather easily, and I’m afraid it’s not good for his heart. I believe any more questions will need to be directed to me.”

He turned abruptly and nearly bumped into her. He took a step backwards. “I can come back at a better time for your father,” he said.

“He’s always a bit frazzled and more than likely won’t be in a position to better answer your questions. He is not taking Nefertiti’s absence well and I’m afraid he’ll only become worse as the time increases. It is no bother for me to assist. I am as familiar with the artifact as my father.”

He cocked his left eyebrow. “Indeed? Did you steal it?”

She giggled and waited for him to do the same, but there was no response. He merely stood there with the same expression, as if waiting for her to respond. As if he was quite serious in asking her such a question.

He was actually suspicious of her. Of all the ludicrous things. Clearly he misunderstood the situation else he wouldn’t ask such a silly question.

“Of course I did not steal it. He is my father; I would never steal from him. I would never steal from anyone, for that matter. Thievery is wrong and unjust.”

He frowned. It was not so much an angry frown as one which reflected deep thought. There was a quiet intensity about him. An undercurrent that quickened her blood ever so slightly – whether out of fear or out of curiosity, she wasn’t certain.

“Very well,” he said tightly.

“In any case,” she continued, “my father loves that piece very much. It is probably his favorite of all his antiquities. He has a fondness for Nefertiti.”

“I’ve noticed. What can you tell me about the piece?”

“Well, as my father mentioned, the piece is rather controversial. Nefertiti’s existence is thought by many to be a legend, although we believe she was real. In any case, many of my father’s colleagues do not believe the bust is of her. But my father is certain. He may seem fragile, but he’s an expert when it comes to Nefertiti and other Egyptian artifacts.”

“Interesting.” He made a few notes. “Can you describe to me what it looked like?”

“She’s about this big,” she showed him the size with her arms stretched out, “and a bust — only her head and shoulders.”

“I know what a bust is,” he said. “What is the statue made of?”

“I believe it is limestone, although I’m not positive. It is rumored that she was the most beautiful woman in the world, but also quite powerful. A deadly combination, wouldn’t you agree?”

“But it has never been confirmed that she actually existed,” he said dryly, all the while working on his sketch.

“That’s correct. Which is why many do not believe this bust is authentic.”

“Tell me about the facial features.”

She gave him the specifics of Nefertiti’s face and the rest of the statue as he continued to sketch.

Finally, he finished. “Does this look similar?” he asked, tilting the book so she could see the image more clearly.

“Why, yes. That’s actually a perfect rendition. You’re really quite good. Almost too perfect. As if, perhaps, you’ve seen it before.” She smiled. “Did you steal it, Inspector?”

She thought she saw the corners of his mouth tilt up ever so slightly, but it was gone before she could be certain.

“This will be helpful.” His voice was so rich she had to struggle to pay attention to the actual words and not get lost in the sensation the deep tones caused. It made her very much want to touch him. Touch him briefly — to discover if his arm would be as hard as she imagined, or if that slight line of stubble edging his chin would be as prickly as it looked.

“What else can you tell me? Who else has access to this room?” he asked.

“All of the servants. Any guests that might come by. Father loves to show his pieces, so we frequently have visitors drop in to view the antiquities.”

“I see,” he said, continuing to make notes. “Do you keep a log or record of these visitors?”

“No, we’ve never kept such a thing. But that is a lovely idea.”

“I’ll need a listing of anyone who has passed through this room in the last six months.”

“It might take me some time to compose such a listing.”

“As soon as you can get it to me, I’ll be able to start a proper investigation.” His tone was even, with only a hint of a bite to it, but what puzzled her most was his obvious aversion to looking at her when he spoke. “I need to have as much information as possible, if I am to assist in the retrieval of your father’s artifact. Unless, of course, this is not a priority.”

“No, it absolutely is a priority. I’ll get to that list immediately. Inspector,” she said and put her hand on his forearm. He glanced at her hand, then slowly raised his gaze until he met her eyes. Brown. His eyes were brown. A lovely brown. Rich and warm like freshly tilled earth.

What had she been about to say?

He pulled his arm away. “Miss Watersfield, do you have something more to add?”

“Yes, well, I simply wanted to say that I am pleased you’ll be handling this investigation. I worry so about my father, but I have confidence you will be able to find Nefertiti.”

He nodded, but did not thank her. “I want to finish examining this room, and I might want to see the rest of the house.”

“Of course.” She offered him a smile.

He did not smile back.

Curious man. Everyone smiled at her when she smiled. She had friends in every corner of London. Most people she met liked her, or at least had a passing fondness for her. But this man seemed perfectly immune to her charms.

Copyright © 2007. Robyn DeHart. All Rights Reserved.

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