A Rose Before Dying, a Second Sons Mystery
In this small excerpt, Lord Castlemoor has gone to a well-known rose fancier in hopes of identifying a spray of roses that were left as a possible to clue to the next victim of a vicious killer. His uncle has been implicated in the murders, so Lord Castlemoor is determined to stop the murders and prove his uncle's innocence.
But first, he has to unravel the only clue he has. A spray of roses.
Lord Castlemoor pulled out the small bundle containing the rose. He knew it was useless, her father, the rose expert, was dead. But he couldn't stop a small spurt of hope. "I'd like to identify this rose. Do you recognize it?"
"I supposed you're only asking me as a last resort. Because my father is no longer with us." She held out a peremptory hand. "Let me see it."
Her face was a smooth, expressionless mask. However, he detected traces of tired resignation at the implication that she could not be expected to have the depth of knowledge exhibited by a man.
When he placed the limp spray in her palm, she held it up to her nose and breathed in several times with closed eyes, cupping the flowers in her hands. Then she gave it a cursory examination before pulling the petals off of one flower.
"Stop!" He reached over to wrench it out of her hand. She turned her shoulder, blocking him. "What are you doing?"
"Counting the petals. Why?"
"You're destroying it! How shall I identify it if you ruin it?"
She held it out. "Take it. Plant it, or allow me to root it. Or graft it. If it grows, you can ask your friend, Mr. Lee, to identify it in two or three years from the shape of the bush and bloom habit. Most men who grow roses agree that it takes at least one cycle of blooming to identify a rose with any assurance."
"Yes-if you want to be sure. And isn't that why you wish to identify it? So you can purchase a specimen for your own garden?"
He gazed into her coolly discerning eyes and realized she was aware that he was not being open with her. But given Mr. Lee's reaction, he could not bring himself to tell the complete truth. The rose wouldn't last long enough to find another master gardener, assuming he could even locate one in London. "It's…a wager. Silly, I know, but one of my friends said I couldn't identify this rose." The tips of his ears burned.
"I see." Her eyes grew colder. "This is all a wager?" She glanced at Rose.
"No, of course not. Not Rose-she's not part of it."
Miss Wellfleet's fingers pushed the petals into a line on the table and hovered over them. Thirteen petals, thin and wilting, spread in a tattered line. The slender spray was dying. The small, tight buds had already blackened and hung limply. His chest tightened with frustration.
Then with a theatrical gesture that suggested more defiance than scientific inquiry, she ripped apart the remaining flowers. She arranged the petals in three parallel lines, one for each flower. The roses didn't all have the same number of petals. The first had thirteen petals. The next had eleven. The final rose had seventeen.
After examining what remained of the stalk, the yellow stamens, and leaves, she looked at him.
Although she didn't precisely shrug, there was a quality in her expression that spoke of disdain when she said, "Rosa Collina fastigiata
"That's it?" His tired disappointment reminded him of the lateness of the hour. Useless. He needn't have come here at all. Lee had it right the first time.
"Well, yes. What were you expecting?"
"Something…more. A name…"
"That is a name." Irritation sharpened her voice. "Or Flat-Flowered Hill Rose, if you prefer an English one."
Her eyes hardened. "As sure as I can be from this small spray." She flung the petals and twig onto the table. "No one can be absolutely sure without seeing the bush and knowing the growth habit and bloom cycles. Have you any idea how many roses there are?"
"That's why your friend made a clever wager-if wager it was. My lord. And if the true wager wasn't bringing that girl, Rose, to a spinster plantsman."
"No. Truly, I apologize. I sincerely appreciate the name. And Rose was an accidental meeting on my way. She was nearly killed in the road a few blocks from here. I couldn't just leave her-for God's sake-she's just a child!"
"No, I don't suppose you could," she replied grudgingly. One of her slender hands rested on the girl's lank hair. "It's late. You have your name. I hope you win your wager."
With a coolness he deserved but saddened him nonetheless, she gestured for him to leave. The butler, Mr. Abbott, waited just outside the French doors to the greenhouse. His silent presence ensured Miss Wellfleet had never been truly alone with Charles. Somehow, this reminded him of how attractive he found her, and he flushed when he caught Mr. Abbott's curious gaze.
However, his embarrassment faded as he remembered his purpose.
A life could be saved if he interpreted Rosa Collina fastigiata
How many people named Collins lived in London? Unless the clue rested with the English name, Flat-Flowered Hill Rose. Did this blossom point to a location instead of a person?
Time was slipping away.