"I do wish I hadn't missed Sir John," I said to my husband, turning my thoughts back to the present. "Such an amusing gentleman."
Colin's eyebrows shot nearly to his hairline. "I'm afraid I see rather less of his humor than of his devotion to king and country."
I fluttered my eyes. "Surely you don't expect a silly girl like me to be more concerned with work than amusement?"
"You're dreadful, Emily." He took my hand and raised it to his lips, his dark eyes intense. "You know I would tell you more about my work if it were possible. That I can't is in no way a comment on either your intelligence or your gender."
"I know, I know, it's not me. You can't take anyone into your confidence."
He shifted uneasily and sighed. "It's a matter of—"
I put my palm on his cheek. "I'm only teasing you. I know how important your work is." I felt guilty for having overheard his conversation. "Surely Sir John wouldn't object to you taking a little holiday after all the weeks you've just spent doing heaven only knows what while I waited, not asking a single question."
"My dear, in all the years that I have known you, you've never gone more than two hours together without asking impertinent questions about my work."
"I had rather hoped you find it endearing," I said.
"I do." He pulled me close and kissed me. "As things stand, Sir John himself made the same suggestion of a holiday. What would you say to Florence?"
"A busman's holiday, then, that involves determining who broke into Kat's house there?"
"How do you know about that?" he asked.
"Davis knows better than to hide burglaries from me." My incomparable butler had been with me longer than Colin, and while he objected to some—many—of my unconventional habits, I never doubted his stalwart devotion. My husband raised his eyebrows again, and now it was my turn to sigh. "I can't wrongly impugn Davis. He didn't tell me. I knew you'd received a telegram. When you didn't mention it, I read it for myself."
"When? It was in my study—"
"On your desk, where I perched while watching you solve a particularly egregious chess problem. You were too focused to notice me pick it up."
"I'm ashamed it was chess, not you, that distracted me so," he said, pulling me even closer.
"I wouldn't be so underhanded as to use my wiles to distract you," I said. "That would be unfair."
"No secret of the realm could remain safe."
"I shall bear that in mind. Now, tell me everything."
Along with a substantial fortune, Kat's mother had left her daughter a palazzo in Florence not far from the Uffizi Gallery. Kat had planned to live there, but upon learning the identity of her father the previous year, decided to locate him first. Needless to say, Colin objected to the idea of his newly found offspring living abroad, alone and unprotected. He persuaded her to come to England with us and was confident her studies at Oxford would keep her from returning to the Continent. At least for now.
"If you read the telegram, you know as much as I," he said. "The house has been broken into twice, but so far as anyone can tell, nothing was stolen either time."
"Which suggests something other than an ordinary burglar."
"It might be nothing more than an incompetent thief who is easily scared off. I'd feel better looking into it myself, and it gives us an excuse to explore Florence," he said. "You ought to invite Cécile to accompany us. It's been too long since we've seen her."
I kept every muscle in my face as still as a statue. Cécile had not only spent New Year with us but had hosted us for a fortnight in Paris not two months ago. That Colin wanted her to join us told me in no uncertain terms that there was more to this break-in than he was letting on; he wanted me to have a friend to keep me occupied while he worked. I once again resorted to fluttering my eyelashes and then cooed over his suggestion, leaving him in no doubt that I was onto him. He said nothing, only leaned forward as if to kiss me, before changing course and sweeping me into his arms so that he could carry me upstairs to our room.
It was an excellent attempt at a distraction, one that worked almost flawlessly. He forgot, however, that despite his talent as a cricketer, I could play the long game better than he. After he'd drifted into a blissful sleep, I remained awake, already plotting my strategy for Florence.