The Queen’s Owne

Chapter One: A Chance Meeting in Old London

Mary Morstan wore her best, albeit tiring, social smile for the occasion.

The young man at whom her attention was currently directed, wearing the scarlet tunic and dark blue facings of a lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards, took and lifted her hand to his lips, arresting the motion a required half inch before touching. It was all so very proper.

“Lady Mary, it has — as always — been a pleasure!”

They were standing amidts the rattle and dust from a myriad of steam coaches, clockwork messengers and wobbling, two–legged hansom cabs outside a tea–room in Northumberland Avenue, right around the corner from Thomas Harlan’s work–place at Horse Guards Headquarters. London, as was her habit, wore a smoke–coloured veil.

An appropriate response came easily these days; Mary lowered her eyes for a mere moment, soundlessly acknowledging the compliment, then withdrew her hand and pitched her voice higher than its natural contralto.

“The pleasure was all mine, Thomas. You know how I enjoy your company. You will convey my regards to your dear mother?”

The tall, flaxen–haired, utterly unremarkable young man swore that he would, asked her to return the compliments, made a few other well–scripted responses and finally left.

Walking slowly and demurely away, Mary’s mind was reeling. She had a healthy distrust of Horse Guards and the War Office, but if what Tom had let drop was true, they had finally taken leave of their senses.

The information was almost worth having to take tea with the good Lieutenant. Almost. There was after all only so much piffle one woman could stand — at least of the whiny, insepid sort Lieutenant Harlan did so very well.

Mary walked faster, lifting the hem of her sky–blue gown to avoid stepping on it and straightening from the very slight crouch she affected around tall men. She wouldn’t have much time.