Period dramas and historical fiction novels are kindred spirits; a new book in Anna Lee Huber’s thrilling Verity Kent Mystery series lands on October 6, 2020. Because we think you’ll love it, we are giving Willow and Thatch readers a sneak peek at the first chapter, and holding a giveaway of all four books in the series, along with enough Harney & Sons tea to make reading all of the cozy mysteries even cozier.
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Anna Lee Huber’s A Pretty Deceit is set in the aftermath of the Great War, a time when the line between friend and foe may be hard to discern, even for the indomitable Verity Kent.
Verity Kent’s stint in La Dame Blanche, the Great War’s intelligence-gathering unit, ended with the war, but her talents and connections serve her well in the tracking of a murderer on her father’s deteriorating Elizabethan-era estate, Littlemote House. Priceless heirlooms have gone missing, and her aunt, Lady Ernestine Popham, spoke of a missing servant and even a ghost.
The war has touched everything and everyone. She may only be in her early 20s, but Verity has already seen the destruction of an entire generation.
A Pretty Deceit: A Verity Kent Mystery is available HERE
Read the first chapter below, and see the end of the article for details about how to enter the giveaway.
A Pretty Deceit: A Verity Kent Mystery by Anna Lee Huber
There are few things more wonderful than seeing the face of someone you love lit with pure joy. Particularly someone who has faced so much darkness, so much horror and grief. It makes your breath catch in your throat and turns your heart inside out and then right-side out again at the realization you would do anything to preserve that happiness, that delight.
Anything but die, that is.
“Darling, I’m glad you’re enjoying your new roadster,” I called, raising my voice to be heard over the roar of the engine and the cool rush of the wind past my cheeks. “But if it’s all the same to you, I would like to make it to my aunt’s house in one piece.”
Sidney’s eyes gleamed with exhilaration. “Isn’t she a beauty?” he exclaimed, his hands caressing the driving wheel much as he had caressed me the night before.
“She is,” I agreed, and I meant it. Though not as zealous a motorist as my husband, I could certainly appreciate the fine craftsmanship and performance of a magnificent motorcar. Just as I could appreciate his enthusiasm. After all, his previous Pierce-Arrow had been destroyed during a dangerous investigation we’d undertaken in war-ravaged Belgium, and Sidney had waited three long months for this replacement to arrive from America. Even I had felt a surge of elation at my first sight of her, all sleek lines and glossy deep carmine-red paint. Which only made my desire not to collide with a tree, or worse, another motorcar, even greater—for the roadster’s sake and mine.
The motorcar soared over a slight rise in the road and then raced downward, fast approaching a sharp curve. My fingers gripped the seat beneath me until I felt Sidney apply the brakes and ease around the turn with precision handling, only for the car to spring forward again, like a young horse pulling against its traces.
Not that I minded the speed, in general. I relished the thrill of the world whipping past and the raw power of a good engine driving beneath me as much as anyone. But the roads in this part of Berkshire were narrow and lined with tall hedges and dense coppices, making it impossible to see what was around the next bend until you were already upon it. So the use of this new Pierce-Arrow’s extra surge of speed was perhaps a trifle reckless. But reckless always had been Sidney’s driving style.
He threw me a disarming smile as we approached another curve, and I felt some of my tension ease. After all, four months ago I’d still believed him dead, and here he was, returned to me, to the life he’d lived before that fateful day in August 1914 when war was declared. The last thing I wanted to do was crush his enjoyment. But nonetheless, he seemed to recognize from my clenched fingers and tight jaw that perhaps I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as he was. As he straightened out of the turn, he trod more gently on the accelerator, hurling us forward at a slightly less hell-for-leather pace.
“Tell me about your aunt,” he urged me as he scraped a hand back through his dark wind-rifled hair. He’d long since discarded his hat in the seat behind us. “She’s your father’s sister?”
“Yes, or else I doubt my father would have bestirred himself to interrupt my mother.” I turned to gaze through an opening in the hedge line through which I could see the rolling hills of the North Wessex Downs and the winding blue ribbon of the River Kennet.
I thought back to my mother’s telephone call the day before. It had been at least a fortnight since I’d last heard from her, and she rarely let a period of such length pass without calling to harangue me about one infraction or another, or to complain about my sister or one of my brothers. But the reason for this call had been something of a shock. Even more so when my father had pried the mouthpiece from her fingers to add his voice to her request.
“What your mother’s trying to say, Ver, is that your aunt’s had a rough time of it since the war,” he had told me in his warm, gravelly voice. “Losing Sir James and Thomas almost one right after the other nearly broke her. And then for Reginald to have come home the way he did, well, she’s done in.”
“I’m sorry for Aunt Ernestine, I truly am,” I had replied. “But Mother said she needed my help, and I honestly don’t know what I can do. Have they tried one of those specialty hospitals I’ve read about, the ones that are supposed to treat returning soldiers in situations like Reg?”
“Aye, yes. They’ve tried all that. In fact, he’s just returned from one. But this is nothing to do with your cousin.”
“What do you mean?”
Father had exhaled a long, weary breath, letting me know Mother had already talked circles around him on this subject, and all for naught. For once my father made up his mind about something, it would take a force greater than a whirlwind to move him from it. And my mother was very nearly that. “As I understand it, the manor is in shambles thanks to the airmen who billeted there from the neighboring aerodrome during the war. And now your aunt has discovered she hasn’t the coffers to pay for it. Apparently everything is already mortgaged to the hilt, and a number of the estate’s priceless heirlooms have gone missing from storage, so she can’t even sell her most portable property to raise some of the funds.”
I had felt a pang of empathy for my aunt. And my father. Aunt Ernestine had always been a woman enamored with her own consequence, and never content enough until everyone knew it. This situation must be extremely lowering for her. While my mother must be silently crowing with delight—evidence that the vain and mighty shall fall, and the meek and humble shall flourish. At least, when the vain and mighty were her enemies.
“But surely this is an issue for the War Office to sort out, if there are damages and theft to be reported?” I had countered.
“Yes, but your aunt has watched her orderly world crumble around her, and I’m not certain she’s thinking clearly.”
“You think she’s lying?” I had said in surprise.
“Not lying. Just… confused. To hear her speak, Littlemote House is practically crumbling to pieces around them, and yet I find it difficult to believe the Royal Air Force would ever have allowed it to get to such a state.” My mother’s voice mumbled in the background, and my father turned to speak to her before heaving another aggrieved sigh. “She was also rambling on about a missing servant and a ghost, of all things. Yes, yes, Sarah,” he shushed my mother. “I admit it sounded all a little mad. Certainly unlike Ernestine.”
“Yes, very odd,” I had acknowledged hesitantly, already conscious of where this was going. “Can you and Sidney pay her a visit at Littlemote? Find out exactly what the situation is there? I would ask your cousin Reginald, but he’s in no state to deal with all of this.”
I wasn’t certain I agreed with his final statement. After all, Reg was the new baronet, and blinded or not, he would have to confront the concerns of his baronetcy at some point.
But there was another reason I was reluctant to go to Littlemote, though I would never have voiced it aloud. Not to my father, in any case. Moreover, he didn’t give me a chance.
“Please, Verity. You are the closest, and your husband undoubtedly has the most clout to get something done should your aunt’s claims prove true. After all, they did just pin a Victoria Cross to his chest for valor. We’re dashed proud of him, by the way.”
I had smiled tightly into the mirror that hung above the bureau where our telephone rested in our London flat, refusing to examine the unsettling jumble of emotions that mention of Sidney’s medal always threatened to dredge up. Instead I focused on my father’s voice, on the evident worry and uncertainty that tainted his normally stoical tones. When, if ever, had my father asked me for anything? It seemed churlish to say no. But still I resisted.
“I’ll speak with Sidney. If he has no objections, we’ll drive out to Littlemote tomorrow,” I had promised, privately hoping my husband would nix such a plan, though I’d known he wouldn’t. We were bound for Falmouth anyway, and a stop in northeastern Wiltshire was virtually along the way.
So here we were, slowing to motor through yet another of the tiny villages that dotted the English countryside in counties as fertile as Berkshire and neighboring Wiltshire.
“Aunt Ernestine is father’s younger sister,” I explained to Sidney. “He’s always been a bit protective of her, to Mother’s everlasting annoyance.”
His lips quirked in amusement.
I lifted my hand to return the excited wave of a little girl perched on her stone house’s front step. “Sadly, her husband, Sir James Popham, died two years ago. A heart attack, from the strain of losing their eldest son, Thomas, the doctor said.”
“Thomas served during the war?”
I nodded. “Part of the Irish Guards. Killed at Loos.”
There was no need to reply. His heavy silence said more than enough. Simply the name of some battles told the entire story in and of themselves, imbued forever with the death and destruction that had happened there. Loos. Verdun. Passchendaele. The Somme.
I took a deep breath, forcing myself to continue in a light voice as the Pierce-Arrow reached the edge of the village and again began gathering speed. “By comparison, their younger son, Reginald, seemed to live a charmed war. Ostensibly.” For I understood, as Sidney certainly did, that no soldier had survived the horrors of trench warfare without some sort of scars, invisible though they might be to the eye.
“Until he didn’t,” he surmised.
“He was blinded at Ypres in 1917.”
“Yes, well, don’t let him hear you say that.” I turned to peer out over the countryside to the north at the sound of the familiar buzzing rumble. “Last I saw him, he was already feeling sorry enough for himself, and he won’t thank you for it.”
“Noted.” His eyes darted between the road and the same patch of sky I was monitoring.
When finally the aeroplane soared into sight, passing over the copse of oak trees just beginning to burst into autumn color, and the welcome roundel insignia could be seen painted on the underside of the wings, we both seemed to inhale a breath of relief. I wondered how long it would take before the sound of approaching aircraft no longer filled me with dread. How long until the instinct to duck and cover was no longer my first impulse?
Sidney’s hands tightened and then relaxed their grip on the driving wheel. “We must be close.”
“Yes,” was all I could manage, my heart still racing from the instinct of prey. After all, during my time working behind enemy lines in the German-occupied territories of Belgium and northeastern France, that had been very much what I was.
Sidney rested his hand on my leg and offered me a consoling smile, letting me know that I hadn’t hidden my alarm as well as I’d hoped. But his attention was soon reclaimed by the aeroplane as it wheeled about, returning toward us. I shielded my eyes to gaze up at its metal frame glinting in the crystalline-blue sky. Rather than fly off in the direction of the aerodrome, from which it had come, the light bomber seemed to swerve back and forth over top of us. Something I was none too comfortable with.
“I’d wager that pilot is a bit of motor enthusiast,” Sidney proclaimed with pride. His eyes glinted with challenge. “Shall we give him a show?”
No sooner had the words left his mouth than the Pierce-Arrow surged forward, its engine revving as it gained speed over a relatively straight stretch of open road. I pressed my Napoleon blue cloche hat down tighter on my head, my stomach fluttering as the wind whipped past my cheeks. However, I wasn’t unmoved by the exhilaration of such speed, and a breathless laugh escaped from my mouth, belying my trepidation.
The bomber kept pace with us, more or less straightening out his flight path. Though, of course, had the pilot wished, he could have left us in a trail of his fumes.
“Sidney,” I gasped. “Tell me you are not trying to race that aeroplane.”
The widening of his grin was my only answer.
A Pretty Deceit: A Verity Kent Mystery is available HERE
The giveaway is now CLOSED. It ran September 12 – 30, 2020. Open to US only, age 18 and older. Enter on the Willow and Thatch Facebook page, link below. Winner announced on October 1 on Facebook. (If you don’t have a Facebook account, please email us with a note saying why you’d like to win.)
1 Willow and Thatch reader will win all 4 books in Anna Lee Huber’s thrilling Verity Kent Mystery series, and a Harney & Sons tea gift set.
Books in the Verity Kent Mystery series: The Great War is over, but in this captivating new series from award-winning author Anna Lee Huber, one young widow discovers the real intrigue has only just begun. Books 1-4 include: This Side of Murder, Treacherous is the Night, Penny For Your Secrets, and A Pretty Deceit.
Harney & Sons English Delight Tea Gift Set: This beautiful bundle features two tins of Harney & Sons English Breakfast tea, one is a traditional Chinese Keemun blend, the other a wake-you-up blend of Ceylon and African black teas. Enjoy your tea with the set’s Traditional Teatime Shortbread for a flaky, buttery bite, perhaps popping in some of the included Teapot sugars by Canasuc France. Together with the cheerful chicken tea towel by Sophie Allport, it’s a perfect accompaniment to the Verity Kent Mystery books. Each tea tin comes with 20 sachets.
Anna Lee Huber is a two-time Daphne award-winning author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries, the Verity Kent Mysteries, and the Gothic Myths series. Huber is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Historical Novel Society. She currently serves as co‑leader of the Historical Novel Society‑Great Lakes Chapter, as well as on the Board for the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter. Visit her website at annaleehuber.com
If you enjoyed this post, wander over to The Period Films List. You’ll especially like the Interwar Era list.