***Note: The following excerpt has not gone through its final proofing.**
One never knew what might happen at a boat race, but Mrs. Ginger Reed—the former Lady Gold—hadn’t expected murder.
Such unseemliness also did not occur to the other spectators currently enjoying the final moments of the boat race between the University of London and the University of Leeds.
The teams were neck and neck approaching Chiswick Bridge. Long boats shot through the water with the powerful strokes of the eight oarsman sculling with a single oar each; the shouts of the coxswains huddled in the sterns of the boats reverberating over the waters of the Thames, magnified by leather megaphones.
Ginger and her new husband, Chief Inspector Basil Reed, were there to cheer on the London team, not only because they were Londoners, but because the young man rowing in position number six was the son of Basil’s good friends the Honourable Thurston Edgerton and his wife, Mrs. Beatrice Edgerton. The two couples stood together along the rail of the University of London Boat Club.
Thurston Edgerton, a tall, barrel-chested man, had a commanding presence and his voice bellowed out the name of his son. “Come on, Garrett!”
Mrs. Edgerton was his visual opposite, rail-thin and tight-lipped. She held with a firm grip on to the wooden railing.
Ginger clung to Basil’s arm. “Darling, this is so exciting!”
Though not as famous and as well attended as the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, this race was a great event for Ginger, who had been informed that all forms of boat racing were popular amongst the English.
As the boats approached the finish line, the roar of the crowd swelled. Ginger’s heartbeat hammered in her chest. It was such a thrill to see young men in fine form working together as if one beast, toward a common goal. She couldn’t refrain from shouting encouragement herself.
“Come on, London!”
When London pulled across the finish line only inches ahead of Leeds, Ginger threw herself into Basil’s arms. “They did it!”
“Yes, they did!”
Thurston and Beatrice Edgerton were less demonstrative, being thoroughly British, Ginger supposed. It was at times like this that Ginger found difficulty in keeping her American upbringing in check.
Basil and Mr. Edgerton shared congratulatory handshakes.
Mrs. Edgerton showed a faint blush across her pale cheeks. “Considering Garrett was a late entry to the team, he did very well, did he not?”
“He did indeed,” Ginger said. “Congratulations!”
They watched their team accept the trophy, all of them holding back wide grins, then slapping each other on the backs as soon as their formal rank broke up. Eventually they returned to the boat club to shower and change. They couldn’t possibly join the festivities being held in their honour wearing their team kit of white shorts and purple vests.
Mrs. Edgerton had taken it upon herself, with the permission of the boat club, to host the postrace party, and she disappeared inside the boat club building to oversee the preparations.
Having never attended a boat race, Ginger had been uncertain as to what to wear, and choosing the right outfit was, as far as she was concerned, as important as the event itself. In the end, she’d settled on a tunic-and-skirt outfit of blue and white crepe de Chine. The jumper was elaborately encrusted with tiny seed pearls in stylised waves, fitting for a water-themed function. A snug cloche hat covered all but two red curls which landed nicely on her cheeks. Flesh-coloured silk stockings did little to keep her warm helped to block the breeze floating off the river. The wide sleeves were trimmed in satin.
Ginger hooked her arm through her husband’s as they ventured inside the boat club.
“That was jolly good fun.”
“Rather good fortune that the University of London team won,” Basil said. “By the look on Beatrice’s face,” he added under his breath, as the lady in question was approaching, “one would think their son had won the race single-handedly.”
Basil had informed Ginger earlier that the Edgertons’ son, Garrett, had been a reserve for his team, and wasn’t even meant to race. Another oarsman’s misfortune had given the young man his opportunity.
Mrs. Edgerton greeted each person she encountered with cheer as she made her way to Ginger and Basil. She wore an Atelier Bachroitz, a designer Ginger admired, and the frock was perfect for the outdoor sporting event, Ginger thought, and mirroring her own outfit.
The boathouse had a charming, rustic feel with bark open-wood beams against a mix of white plaster walls and contrasting wood panelling. A fire roared in a vast stone fireplace in the large room furnished with various mismatched armchairs and settees. French windows opened onto a railed-in balcony overlooking the river.
Ginger spotted her sister-in-law and grandmother by her first marriage in attendance. The Dowager Lady Gold occupied one of the chairs. Ginger was becoming used to the elder lady’s recent hairdo. No longer fashioned in a Victorian top-of-the head bun, her grey hair was styled in short, sleek Marcel waves. She sat upright and leaned on her silver-handled walking stick as if she might catch something dreadful if she allowed herself to relax. Standing beside her was a trim and very modern Felicia Gold who defied the cold by wearing a day frock with a sailboat collar that exposed her clavicles. A navy-blue cloche hat topped her auburn bob, and her delightful grey-blue eyes seemed to scan the room to take in the numerous youthful and virile young men sportily dressed. Ambrosia’s lined face tensed around her mouth in obvious annoyance.
Ginger knew her grandmother-in-law very well, and the elderly lady had little patience for what she considered to be flippant fanfare. She’d agreed to join them only because she believed members of the peerage would attend the celebration. Unfortunately, none of her class, apart from the Edgertons, had yet to enter the club.
A waiter arrived with the champagne, and Ginger and Basil graciously accepted. They stepped in beside their hosts.
Mr. Edgerton announced, “I’m so proud, I feel like I might burst a button.”
“Deservedly so,” Basil said.
Thurston Edgerton pulled Basil aside leaving Ginger alone with their hostess.
“Your efforts appear to be delightfully successful, Mrs. Edgerton,” Ginger said. “There’s a tremendous amount of excitement in this clubhouse.”
“The boat race brings its own excitement, Mrs. Reed.”
“It was rather thrilling, especially near the end. I confess to never having attended one before.”
Mrs. Edgerton’s sharp brows inched up. “It’s impossible to be British and not to have been to a boat race. The sport has reigned from ancient times.”
“I’m thankful to have had the opportunity and fulfilled my duty as an British citizen.”
To Ginger’s surprise, her good friends the vicar of St. George’s Church, Reverend Oliver Hill, and his wife, Matilda, came into view. She excused herself and greeted them warmly.
“Oliver! Matilda! I didn’t see you at the race.”
“Well, with such a thick crowd,” Oliver said cheerily, “it’s not a wonder.”
Oliver and Matilda were newlyweds as well, married only a couple of months before Basil and Ginger’s. Matilda’s rounded girth proclaimed the child they soon expected. Even though Ginger was sincerely happy for them, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of personal loss. Every time she saw Matilda, she felt a pang at the reminder she was unable to conceive herself. Well-rehearsed at hiding those emotions, Ginger pushed the thoughts firmly to the back of her mind.
“Ginger,” Oliver said. A tall, wiry man in his thirties, Oliver possessed hair as red as Ginger’s and a good number of freckles around a ready smile. “I didn’t know you were a fan of the sport.”
“Basil is good friends with the Honorable Thurston Edgerton and his wife,” Ginger explained. “Their son Garrett rowed for the University of London.”
“That’s right,” Oliver said. “I heard they’d offered to arrange this reception.”
Matilda added, “So lovely it turned out to be a celebration.”
“Bernard Ramsey is a member of our parish,” Oliver said. He nodded to a table of sandwiches and appetizers being enjoyed by several of the oarsmen who wore trousers, club blazers, and purple team scarves draped around their necks. “The fellow with curly hair. He’s number eight. We came to support him and all the oarsmen. I used to row for my college. Number eight as well.”
Basil had explained to Ginger how each oarsman was assigned a number that corresponded to the order they sat in the boat. Ginger had been fascinated that they worked as one beast, backs to the finish line as the small coxswain shouted at them through a megahorn from the stern.
Oliver and Matilda excused themselves to mingle, and moved about in their exercised, genial manner. Mrs. Edgerton had circled around, a fresh glass of champagne in her hand.
Ginger watched Mrs. Edgerton’s eyes steady on the group of young men, and on Garrett Edgerton in particular, who, unlike his teammates, held nothing to eat or drink in his hand. Mrs. Edgerton lowered her voice in confidence. “Garrett wasn’t even supposed to race today. Apparently, one of the oarsmen got a little too friendly with the coach’s wife, or was it the other way around? Regardless, his lack of judgment brought luck to my son.”
Ginger held back her shock. She’d learned that an oarsman had left the team, but Basil hadn’t mentioned it was due to scandalous reasons. Perhaps he hadn’t known. Mrs. Edgerton would be appalled in the morning at how loose her lips had become after one too many drinks.
Ginger’s attention was drawn to the sound of angry voices, and as she looked over, she saw Garrett pull back his hand as if he was having to make a real effort not to punch the dark-haired oarsman confronting him. Garrett tugged on his blazer and sensibly walked away.
Mrs. Edgerton went on, oblivious to the drama. “I admire Mr. Ainsley’s decisiveness, though one does wonder if he punished his wife for her indiscretions as well. Oh, speak of the fox in the briar.”
Ginger followed Mrs. Edgerton’s gaze to the handsome couple entering the club. A young, well-dressed lady with hair nearly the same red tone as Ginger’s linked arms with an older man in white trousers and the same club blazer and scarf as the team members he coached.
“That’s Mr. and Mrs. Ainsley,” Beatrice said under her breath. “He’s the coach. She looks rather a lot like you, Mrs. Reed, though I’m sure that’s where the comparisons stop. There are at least twenty-five years between them, not that that’s worth mentioning, except for the fact that she has a taste for young men. Younger than herself.”
The sharp edge of disapproval wasn’t softened by her whisper. As the couple drew nearer, it appeared as if Beatrice Edgerton’s sense of propriety overrode her reproach.
“Mr. Ainsley, Mrs. Ainsley,” she said, feigning a smile. “Congratulations! Such a spectacular win for our team.”
Mr. Ainsley’s chest puffed and widened. “I can’t say I’m surprised. My young men know how to work hard.”
“I’m just pleased that Garrett could be a part of it.” Beatrice smirked at the coach’s young wife, an acknowledgment that it was Carol Ainsley’s indiscretions that had given her son the opportunity. She shot Ginger a look then remembered her manners. “Oh, forgive my rudeness. Here I am gushing about you and your team, Coach, and I’ve forgotten to introduce you to Mrs. Reed. She’s married to Chief Inspector Reed, a friend of my husband’s.”
Ginger held out her gloved hand. “How do you do? It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”
“It’s our pleasure to meet you too,” the coach said. “Ah, Edgerton!”
Garrett Edgerton had drawn into their circle. On closer inspection, Ginger observed that the younger Mr. Edgerton was indeed handsome with a sturdy build and a ready smile. Like the other rowers, he wore the team kit which included the purple scarf, monogramed with the letters GE. His right hand was bandaged but not damaged enough to keep him from rowing, and Ginger wondered if his injury signified a bad temper. Beyond that, she thought the young man appeared a mite pale.
Mr. Ainsley patted Garrett on the back with three firm slaps. “Good job, number six. Not bad for your first race.”
Garrett’s lips tugged up at the praise. “Thanks, sir.”
A brief look passed between Carol Ainsley and Garrett Edgerton before the former pulled on her husband’s arm. “I’m dying for a glass of champagne.”
“Yes, well,” Mr. Ainsley said. Then to Ginger and Mrs. Edgerton, “Please excuse us. We’ve plenty of people to greet.”
“Of course,” Ginger said amiably.
Ginger noted Garrett’s lingering gaze as the couple walked away and disappeared into the crowd.
“Garrett only just made the team this year due to unforeseen circumstances,” Thurston Edgerton said as he stepped into their circle. “I told Beatrice she’s overdoing it with this production, but since when did she ever listen to me?”
“Oh, Thurston, please don’t bicker in front of our guests,” Mrs. Edgerton said. To Ginger, she added, “He’s always such a spoilsport. Garrett was ill when the season first started, with bronchitis, which was why he didn’t get selected for the team. He couldn’t help the fact he wasn’t well. Bad timing, I say, and fate has corrected the error. Call it poetic justice, if you will.”
“Mum, you’re too much,” Garrett said with a stiff grin. He coughed into his fist, and Ginger hoped his illness was indeed a thing of the past. She noticed that the young man’s attention had wandered and his gaze kept flitting over her shoulder. She turned to see what the source of his distraction was and couldn’t keep a grin from pulling up her lips when she saw it was Felicia.
“That lovely young lady is my sister-in-law,” Ginger said, gaining the lad’s interest. “Would you like me to introduce you?”
Garrett chuckled. “Yes, please.”