Scandalous Behavior

eBook

Scandalous Behavior book cover
Buy
Add Scandalous Behavior to Goodreads

Stone Barrington is back, in fine form, in the newest thriller from the #1 New York Times–bestselling author.
 
After a series of nonstop adventures, Stone Barrington is eager for some peace and quiet in a rustic British setting. But no sooner does he land in England than he’s beset by an outrageous demand from a beautiful lady, and an offer he can’t refuse.

Unfortunately, Stone quickly learns that his new acquisition comes with some undesired strings attached—namely, a deadly mystery involving the complex relationships of the local gentry, and a relentless adversary who raises the stakes with every encounter. Stone’s restful country vacation is looking like yet another troublesome situation, but with his tireless aplomb—and the help of a few friends—he is more than up to the challenge.

From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise for Scandalous Behavior
 
“Extravagant . . . a series of escalating, sometimes amusing, tit-for-tat maneuvers ensue and eventually turn deadly. . . . Stone remains unflappable.”—Publishers Weekly

Praise for the Stone Barrington novels by Stuart Woods
 
“There’s more than enough action and intrigue to keep the pages turning fast and furious.”—Booklist
 
“Stone Barrington shows he’s one of the smoothest operators around.” —Publishers Weekly

Excerpt

 

 

 

 

1

Stone landed his airplane at Southampton International Airport, in England, and taxied to the FBO, Signature Aviation. As he came to a halt and shut down his engines, an Aston Martin coupe drew up alongside the airplane, closely followed by a sinister-looking black Range Rover with darkened windows, as was Felicity’s due as director of MI6, the British foreign intelligence service. As Stone opened the cabin door and came down the steps, Dame Felicity Devonshire got out of the Aston Martin and flung herself into his arms.

After a kiss and a hug, Stone stowed the cabin steps, closed and locked the door, and got his bags out of the forward luggage compartment. A man in a dark suit got out of the Range Rover, took his luggage, and stowed it in the SUV.

“What airplane is this?” Felicity asked.

“The new one: a Citation CJ3 Plus.”

“I love the paint job.”

“Thanks, it’s my own. You can always spot me on a ramp by the stars on the tail.” He walked around the car. “And what Aston Martin is this?”

“It’s the DBS, brand-new. I recently sold my father’s estate in Kent, so I splurged.”

“You certainly did.” Stone got into the passenger seat. “I should check in at the FBO.”

“Don’t bother, it’s taken care of. They’ll put it in the hangar straightaway and refuel it whenever you like.”

“So what’s the big surprise?”

“You’ll have to wait a little while and take a boat ride, before all is revealed.” She drove quickly out of town and onto a motorway for a short distance, which she covered in record time. Soon they were driving through the village of Beaulieu (pronounced “Bewley” in England), then down the eastern side of the Beaulieu River, a tidal estuary that flowed into the Solent, the body of water separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland. Soon she used a remote control to open a wrought-iron gate, hung on old stone pillars, and drove down a driveway lined with ancient trees until a large stone cottage with a slate roof revealed itself.

“Come with me,” she said. “My housekeeper will take your bags upstairs and press your dinner suit.” She led him through a handsomely decorated living room and out a rear door, and they walked down a stone path to a dock, where a charming old wooden cabin cruiser was moored. She got the engines started while Stone dealt with the lines, and they proceeded downstream half a mile and tied up at another dock, where a sign read: WINDWARD HALL. They walked up from the floating pontoon and were met by a man in an electric vehicle who took them down a shaded drive.

“Stop here, Stan,” Felicity said. “Come on, Stone, we’ll walk.”

Stone got down from the cart and followed her farther along the narrow road. Without warning they emerged from the trees, and there before them, in a lovely meadow, dotted with old oaks and half a dozen grazing horses, was the most beautiful Georgian house Stone had ever seen. It was not overly large and it was symmetrical, with wings extending from either side. In the center was a white portico supported by four slender columns. Stone’s breath was taken away. “I’ve never seen anything so perfect,” he said.

“That was my reaction, too, when I first saw this house as a child. The owner was a friend of my father.”

“Who lives here?”

“Sir Charles Bourne,” she said. “Come, let’s go inside.”

“Is he expecting us?”

“He’s in London this afternoon. He’ll join us for dinner at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes tonight, but someone else is expecting us.” They walked up the steps, and the door was opened by a butler in his shirtsleeves and an apron, who stuffed a cleaning cloth into his pocket. “Hello, Geoffrey,” she said. “This is Mr. Barrington. He’s come to see the house.”

“Of course, Dame Felicity,” the man said in a beautifully modulated voice. “Ms. Blackburn is in the library. Shall I escort you?”

“No, Geoffrey, we’ll find our way.” They entered a central hall; the pictures had been removed, and scaffolding set up. “It’s undergoing a major renovation, which is not yet quite done,” she said, showing him a drawing room to his left and a library to his right, which had had all the books removed. “He’s having many of the books rebound at a country bindery nearby, and the paneling sanded with two new coats of varnish. There are probably ten or twelve coats present already.”

Another woman walked into the room, bearing a canvas carryall and a large drawing pad.

“Stone, this is Susan Blackburn, one of Britain’s finest interior designers.”

Stone took her hand. “I know your work from pictures in magazines,” he said. “It’s a pleasure.”

“How do you do, Mr. Barrington?” she said coolly. She was tall, perhaps five-ten, and was wearing jeans and a chambray work shirt. Somehow, she made the clothes look elegant.

“Susan, will you show us what you’re doing?”

“Of course.” She walked them through the library and the drawing room, then took them to a lovely old kitchen with brand-new appliances, then upstairs and to the master suite, which was without furniture or curtains. “We’ve taken a small bedroom next door and turned it into a dressing room and bath, so there will be two of each. I think that arrangement preserves relationships.”

“I agree,” Stone said. “I have a similar arrangement in my New York house.”

“There are four other bedrooms, each with en suite baths. The present house is the third on a very old property and was built in the 1920s. During the war, the RAF requisitioned it for a bomber base. They didn’t give it up until the sixties. Sir Charles bought the place at that time and gave it a thorough systems upgrade, and all mod cons were installed, even air-conditioning. The house got pretty run-down and is now undergoing its first full renovation since that time.” Some of the rooms were very nearly complete and Stone was impressed with the beauty of the fabrics and wallpapers the designer had employed. “The original estate was more than two thousand acres, in the eighteenth century, but now it’s only around sixty. There are four cottages, a stable, and a greenhouse on the property.”

They spent an hour seeing the house and the beautifully tended gardens. “The renovation is on schedule to be completed in six months’ time,” Susan said. “Sir Charles has moved into one of the cottages for the duration. Now, if you’ll forgive me, I have to return to London for a meeting.” She shook hands and departed.

“There’s one more thing I want to show you,” Felicity said. She took him back to the waiting cart, and they drove half a mile or so, through a grove of large trees, and emerged into a wide space bisected by a runway.

“I didn’t know Brits had private airfields,” Stone said.

“As Susan said, the RAF built it as a bomber base during the war, and Charles has maintained it as a fully functioning airfield. It even has a published GPS instrument approach, I’m told. Charles owned and flew a King Air, which he has recently sold.”

“Is he getting too old to fly?”

“Too ill,” Felicity said. “His doctors have given him only a few months to live. You wouldn’t know it to see him, but he’s really quite sick—his heart. They’ve told him that when the end comes, it will come quickly.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Stone said. “It’s sad that he won’t get to enjoy the house when the work is complete.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Does he have family who will inherit?”

“He has a son and a daughter from whom he has been estranged for at least twenty years. Both are childless, and he won’t leave the house to the National Trust, which he regards as some sort of communist institution that robs the wealthy of their property.”

Stone waved a hand. “And this is your secret?”

“Not anymore.”

“And why are you showing it to me?”

“Because I expect you to buy the place.”

 

 

2

They sat, dressed for dinner, before a fire with a drink as the day waned. Stone had not reacted to Felicity’s suggestion that he should buy the place, but while he was showering and dressing he could not think of anything else.

“Let me tell you all I know,” Felicity said when they were settled.

“Please do.”

“Charles has a very carefully thought-out plan: he and his children despise each other. There’s no point in going into that history, but he says that if his son inherited, he would immediately apply for planning permission to build two hundred awful cottages on the property, and Charles won’t have that. He says that his daughter would redecorate the house garishly and sell it to the first person to make a reasonable offer, without regard to what sort of person that might be. Charles, like many Englishmen of his generation and his class, has a long list of persons in mind who qualify as unsuitable, among them Arabs and Russians, who are driving the market in expensive properties these days. Fortunately, Beaulieu is too far from London to have attracted their attention.

“Charles knows that if he dies owning the house, no matter who he leaves it to, a battle will ensue between his children and the unfortunate inheritor. Therefore, he wants to sell it prior to his death to keep it out of their hands, retaining a lifetime tenancy. As I have pointed out, that will likely be no more than a few months.

“You have a number of qualities that would cause Charles to consider you an attractive buyer: One, he would prefer an American gentleman to an unsuitable English spiv—that is, a flashy person of dubious means—who, to Charles’s way of thinking, doesn’t deserve the money he has somehow made. Two, you are clearly a gentleman, one with an affinity for things English, who will turn up tonight in a dinner suit, instead of a boldly striped nightmare. Three, you are already a person of considerable property, which indicates to Charles that you know how to manage it. Four, you fly an airplane, and he would hate to see his airfield meet the plow. And five, you can write a check for the property, with no delays for obtaining financing or other burdensome requirements that give the opportunity for local gossip, which he has always despised. He would like to sell it as quietly as possible, then present his neighbors and his children with a fait accompli.”

“And how large a check would Sir Charles expect me to write?”

“Ten million pounds, and let me remind you that the pound is down against the dollar. I need hardly tell you that that constitutes a screaming bargain in this market, especially with the fresh renovation.”

“I should think he could get twice that,” Stone observed.

“Yes, but you’re not reckoning on Charles’s way of calculating. What he wants is the house in proper hands, with the renovation and death duties paid and his loyal staff kept on, and a bit left over for distribution to a few charities he is fond of. Of course, he has other wealth—investments in stocks and business properties in London—but that doesn’t come into the equation.”

“How many staff?”

“A butler, a cook, and a property manager, and five others in the house, and eight or ten on the property—gardeners, stablemen, and laborers. He would like it if his horses lived out their lives on the estate, but he won’t insist.”

“Think about this carefully, Felicity, before you answer: Is there a catch in all this?”

Felicity laughed. “Two: his son and daughter will go out of their way to spread awful rumors about you, and you’ll have to put up with me as a neighbor.”

Stone laughed. “I think I can handle that.”

“I’ll defend you to the neighbors, and since I’m in London most of the time, anyway, I won’t care who you sleep with. You’ll have to buy me dinner now and then, though.”

With the sun sinking, Felicity took them down the Beaulieu River and across the Solent. There was little wind, and the sea was calm. They fetched up at the little marina maintained by the Royal Yacht Squadron. A tall, slender man in a beautifully cut suit awaited them and helped Felicity ashore, while a uniformed boatman took their lines.

“Charles,” Felicity said, “allow me to introduce you to Stone Barrington, of New York. Stone, this is Sir Charles Bourne.”

Both men said, “How do you do,” simultaneously, then they walked up the path to an old stone castle nestled close by the Solent. Sir Charles took them into a comfortable sitting room and rang for a steward, who took their drinks order. “Please give me a moment to change,” Charles said. “I’m fresh off the ferry from Southampton.” He vanished.

“Sir Charles seems to be everything he should be,” Stone said.

“He thinks the same of you,” Felicity replied. “I can tell. An upper-class English gentleman can feign a chilly warmth, but an Englishwoman will know the real thing when she sees it.”

“This is quite a place,” Stone said, looking around.

“The castle was built by Henry the Eighth, to repel the odious French, who never showed up. The Squadron is celebrating its bicentennial, having been founded in 1815, and is the second-oldest yacht club in the world, after the Royal Cork, which goes back to 1720. Sir Charles and I were practically born into it, both of us having fathers and grandfathers who were members. I was a Lady Associate member, until women were accepted as full members, and I became one of the first.”

Sir Charles returned, dressed in a Squadron Mess Kit, in the naval style.

“Well, now, Mr. Barrington,” he said, “are you enjoying your stay in England?”

“Please, it’s Stone, and I am very much enjoying my stay, although I arrived only this afternoon. I spent much of it enjoying your very beautiful property.”

“I’m sorry it didn’t greet you in its finished state, but we’re getting there. Susan Blackburn is actually a bit ahead of schedule, but I’m sure something will go wrong to correct that.”

“May I inquire about the origins of your title?” Stone asked.

“Oh, that arrived some thirty-odd years ago, at a time when I was giving rather too much money to the Conservative Party. Margaret Thatcher, who was a good friend, saw to it.”

“Somehow, I had thought it more ancient.”

“Like me, you mean?”

Stone smiled. “Hardly.”

The steward appeared and announced dinner.

They dined in the Members Dining Room, the only people there, and they were surrounded by portraits of former commodores of the Squadron gazing down on them, some of whom were kings. The conversation flowed freely.

“It’s nice that we have the place to ourselves,” Sir Charles said, when their dishes had been taken away, to be replaced by port and Stilton. “It will be crowded at the weekend, and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to get to know you, Stone.”

“Stone was very impressed with your property, Charles,” Felicity said.

“Particularly the airfield,” Stone said. He took his checkbook from his pocket and tore out one, already filled out. He signed it and handed it to Sir Charles. “I believe that is the correct amount?” he said.

Sir Charles put on his glasses and read the check carefully. “We have the same bank,” he said, tucking the check into a pocket and offering his hand.

Stone shook it. “Please give me a week to move the funds from New York.”

“Of course.”

“In the meantime, a member of my law firm’s London office will be in touch with your solicitor to prepare the necessary documents.”

Sir Charles handed him two business cards. “One is mine, the other, my solicitor’s. Will you be able to stay for the completion?”

“I’ll call my office and see if they can spare me,” Stone said.

They drank their port, then Sir Charles changed back into his suit, and they returned to Felicity’s boat. There was still a little light in the sky when they dropped off Sir Charles at his dock.

“Do you ride, Stone?” Bourne asked.

“Yes, Charles.”

“Then why don’t you wander over tomorrow morning, and I’ll give you a tour of the property on horseback. Stay for lunch.”

“I’d like that very much,” Stone said, “but I don’t have the clothes.”

“I can help you with that,” Felicity said.

“Ten o’clock, then?”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

They continued to Felicity’s dock.

“That went awfully well,” Felicity said as they walked up the path to her cottage. “Just as it should have gone.”

“I am absolutely thrilled,” Stone said. “Thank you so much for arranging everything so beautifully.”

Then they went upstairs and went to bed, something to which they had both been looking forward.

 

 

3

The following morning Stone was wakened by Felicity for carnal purposes, then her housekeeper served them breakfast in bed.

“I’ll get you some clothes,” she said, when they were done. “You and my father are about the same size. What size boot do you wear?”

“Ten, American.”

“That would be nine, British?”

“I believe so.”

“Might work.” She left the room and came back a few minutes later with a tweed jacket, a pair of whipcord riding trousers, boots, and a black cashmere turtleneck sweater. “I trust you have your own underwear,” she said.

Stone got dressed, and everything worked. The boots might have been half a size large, but they would do.

“You may take the boat,” Felicity said, “if you think you can handle it.”

“I’ve something similar in Maine. I’ll try not to wreck it.”

“I’d better get you something water repellent, in case of rain,” she said. “It sometimes happens in England.” She found him a light Barbour jacket.

The morning was cloudless and the sun bright. Stone tied up at the Windward Hall dock, and Stan met him with the electric cart and drove him to the stables, where two horses had been saddled for them.

“Take the gelding,” Charles said. “Name’s Toff.”

Stone slipped into his jacket, and they both mounted. Charles led the way for a short gallop, then Stone pulled alongside him and they continued at a walk.

“You’ve a good seat,” Charles said.

“Thank you.” Stone was remembering the last time he had ridden a horse. He and his son, Peter, and his girlfriend, Hattie, had left his wife, Arrington, at her new Virginia house and had taken the morning on horseback. When they returned to the house, they heard a noise like the wind slamming a heavy door, then saw a car drive away. When they entered the house they found Arrington dead in the foyer of a shotgun wound.

“Stone?”

“I’m sorry, I drifted away for a moment.”

“An unpleasant memory, from the look on your face.”

Stone nodded. “The day I lost my wife. That was the last time I was on a horse.”

Charles nodded. “Do you have children?”

“A boy, in his mid-twenties. He’s become a film director, in California.”

“My son is a hedge fund manager, in London. Both he and his sister took after their mother. They seemed to regard me as an unpleasant, visiting stranger.” He shrugged. “Perhaps I was that.”

“Peter and I have a wonderful relationship. I don’t see him often enough, since we’re on opposite coasts.”

Charles rode him past the row of cottages where some of the staff lived. “I’ve made that one my own,” Charles said, pointing at a larger one set apart from the others in a grove of trees.

“What’s the larger house over near the road?” Stone asked, pointing.

“That’s the dower house, set apart for the widow of the lord of the manor. It’s not included in the sale.”

They rode on to the airfield, and Charles led him into a hangar with a gambrel roof and shingle siding. “What airplane do you fly?”

“A Citation CJ3 Plus.”

“What’s her wingspan?”

“Fifty-seven feet.”

“Height of the tail?”

“Sixteen feet, I think.”

“She’ll be all right in here. There’s a fuel truck out back that holds fifteen hundred gallons. Stan drives it over to the distributor and fills it, as needed. I get a wholesale price. I recently sold my King Air—can’t pass the physical anymore. I managed to get a GPS approach authorized, which is useful, given the English weather.”

“A very good idea.”

“There are two fairly large airports, Southampton to the east and Bournemouth to the west, should you need repairs. There’s a Citation Service Center in Doncaster, and they have one of those big trucks that makes house calls. They replaced an engine for me here, once, after Cessna bought Beechcraft and took over their servicing.”

“That’s good to know.”

“I want you to know that all my people on the estate, both in the house and out, are first-rate. The most recent hire was ten years ago.”

“I’ll try to take good care of them. I like having horses about, too.”

“They’re good stock. Ride them as often as you can. The girl groom exercises them daily. The old mare still has a few good years left in her, though I wouldn’t run her much. The others are in prime condition. I’ve always held a gymkhana here in the autumn, to benefit the local SPCA, who do all the work of running it. Continuing it would stand you in good stead with the neighbors.”

“I will do so.”

They rode back to Charles’s cottage, which Stone found well-furnished with his things. They had a meat pie and a salad and shared half a bottle of wine.

“How are you feeling these days?” Stone asked.

“Surprisingly well, as long as I don’t exert myself too much. I’ve been offered a heart transplant, but I’ll be eighty this year, so what’s the point? I don’t want to spend months in bed and more months in rehabilitation. I’ve had a good run and a fine life, and I don’t want to spend my last years as a sick old man.”

“I don’t blame you. I hope you outlive your doctor’s prediction. They’re not always right, you know.”

Charles smiled a little. “We shall see.” He walked Stone to his horse and saw him mounted, then handed him his reins. “Will you give him back to the stables for me?”

“Of course.”

“I see Susan Blackburn’s car at the house. You met her, I take it?”

“I did.”

“Fine figure of a woman. If I were a few years younger . . .”

“I’d like to go in and speak to her, if I may.”

“Go right ahead. I’ve got some work to do here. We’ll talk later.”

Stone rode back to the stables, gave the horses to the groom, and went to the house. He found Susan Blackburn in the drawing room, hanging pictures.

“Good afternoon,” she said.

He thought she looked very good in tight jeans and a sweater.

She read his mind. “You look pretty good in those riding pants, too.”

Stone laughed.

“Did you have a good ride with Charles?”

“I did. He’s doing all he can to help me acclimate.”

“An amazing man,” she said. “A wit like a carriage whip. He’s got a woman in the village, you know, thirty years younger. She’s his solicitor.”

“I suppose I’ll meet her when we complete the sale.”

“No, that would be with his London solicitor. Elizabeth handles his village business, mostly as an excuse to see each other. He’s giving her the dower house, you know.”

“We saw the house from a distance. He didn’t mention Elizabeth.”

“Oh, you’ll meet her. They’re an item around here. Have been for years. He was seeing her before his wife died, some years back. I don’t think they had much of a marriage—too different. He moved into the cottage years ago.”

“He thinks well of you,” Stone said. “He’s your admirer.”

“Oh, I’ve seen that look in his eye.”

“Are you taken?”

“I’ve been taken in my time,” she said, laughing, “but at the moment I’m a free woman.”

“I’ve got to go up to London in a day or two. May we have dinner?”

“I’d like that.”

“May we go up and have another look at the master suite?”

“Of course. I can hang these pictures later. I’ve got some fabric samples to show you.”

He followed her up the stairs, watching her ass all the way.

 

 

4

Susan showed him a swatch of antiqued leather. “I thought this for the sofa that was in the room.”

“I like it,” Stone said.

“The late Lady Bourne had turned this into a nest of Victorian frilliness, which made my skin crawl. I think, in view of the gender of the new owner, something a little more masculine would be better.”

“I agree.” Stone was standing next to a window, and something outside caught his eye. He squinted and saw a man in some sort of tattered cowl crossing the lawn, carrying a heavy staff. “Who do you suppose that is?” he asked Susan.

“Oh, that’s just Wilfred, the hermit. He lives in a little hut in the woods that Charles built for him.”

“A hermit?”

“A lot of the big estates had them in the past. It’s supposed to be good luck to have a hermit living on the property. He doesn’t bother anyone, and no one bothers him. I think he stops at the kitchen for food on a regular basis, though. Don’t worry, he’s harmless.”

“If you say so,” Stone said. “I’ll look for him on the list of furnishings being conveyed.”

“Speaking of furnishings, Charles has a rather nice art collection that I assume will come with the house. It’s mostly middling stuff, chosen because Charles liked them, not for investment purposes. He does have a middling Constable, though—one of his many renderings of Salisbury Cathedral, and he has a very nice Turner. I’ve sent the best things out for cleaning and, in some cases, minor restoration. A lot of cigars have been smoked in this house over the decades, and smoke doesn’t do much for pictures.”

“Good.” Stone looked at his watch. “It’s time for me to make some calls to New York,” he said. “Will you excuse me for a few minutes?”

“Of course.”

Stone went into the dressing room, took out his iPhone, checked for a signal, and called the managing partner of Woodman & Weld, Bill Eggers.

“Are you back?” Eggers asked.

“Not yet. It’ll be another week or so.”

“Having fun?”

“Italy wasn’t much fun. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home.”

“Where are you now?”

“In Hampshire, in England. God help me, Bill, I’ve bought another house.”

“Good God.”

“I’m going to balance things out, though, by selling you my house in Washington, Connecticut.”

“I didn’t even know you had a house in Washington, Connecticut, but I like the village very much. So does my wife.”

“Run up there and have a look at it this weekend. Stay for a couple of nights. You’ll love it. Joan will send over the keys and the security code.”

“What the hell, all right. What do you want for it?”

“Don’t worry, it’ll be cheap, for Washington, Connecticut. I’ll hold off listing it until I hear from you. In the meantime, will you call the London office and have them give me a bright young real estate lawyer to close this sale? Tell him to call me on my cell. I’m going up there in a day or two, and I’ll want to see him.”

“I’ll take care of that now.”

“See you next week sometime.” He hung up and called his broker, Ed.

“Good morning, Stone.”

“Good afternoon. I’m in England, and I’m buying a house, so I have to move some money to my London account at Coutts & Company.”

“How much do I have to shake loose?”

“Ten and a half million pounds, not dollars.”

“Good, the pound is down against the dollar right now.”

“I’ll leave it to you which stocks to unload. Try not to make me any capital gains, though.”

“All right, Stone, I’ll get right on it. I’ll want a written confirmation for this big a transfer, though.”

“Will a handwritten note do?”

“That will be fine.”

“Hang on a minute.” He covered the phone and yelled, “Susan?”

“Yes?”

“Is there a working fax machine in the house?”

“Yes, down in the property manager’s office.”

“Okay, Ed, you’ll have it in a few minutes. Start selling.”

“Will do.”

They both hung up, and Stone called Joan.

“Are you still in Rome?”

“No, now I’m in England for a week or so.”

Joan sighed. “I suppose you’re buying another house.”

“How did you guess?”

“Oh, God, you don’t mean it!”

“I’m afraid so. Don’t worry, I’m going to sell the Washington, Connecticut, place to Bill Eggers.”

“Has he agreed to buy it?”

“Not yet, but wait until he sees it.”

“When are you coming home?”

“A week or so, don’t rush me. Oh, will you go up to my dressing room and overnight me a couple of tweed jackets and my riding clothes and boots? I’m wearing borrowed clothes, and they stink of tobacco. Send them to the Connaught, in London. Mark the package ‘Hold for arrival.’”

“Anything else?”

“Include another evening shirt and a couple of turtleneck sweaters, please.”

“Right.”

“See you next week, maybe late next week.”

“Bye-bye.”

He rejoined Susan. “Where will I find the fax machine?”

“I’ll take you down and introduce you to Major Bugg.”

“He’s the property manager?”

“Oh, yes, very much so. He’s ex–Royal Marines.”

Stone took the elevator down to the lower level of the house with her. “This is newly installed,” she said.

“Good idea.”

Major Bugg didn’t snap to attention, but he did rise from his desk. He seemed in his mid-fifties, cropped gray hair, military mustache, three-piece tweed suit, gold watch chain. Susan introduced them.

“How do you do, Mr. Barrington?”

“Very well, thank you. I expect you and I should sit down and have a talk about the place later on, but right now I need to send a fax. May I have a sheet of the house letterhead, please?”

Bugg handed him a sheet, and he scrawled instructions to his broker, looked up the fax number on his iPhone, and Bugg sent it for him. He took care to retrieve the original note after it went through. “There,” he said, “that’s enough business for one day.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Susan said, handing him a card. “My numbers in London.”

Stone gave her his own card. “How about tomorrow evening?”

“That would be fine.”

“I’m staying at the Connaught. May we meet in the bar there at, say, seven o’clock?”

“Yes, that would be convenient.” She came with him to the front door, where Stan awaited with the cart.

“I’ll look forward to seeing you in London.”

“I, too,” she said.

 

 

5

Felicity was returning to work the following morning, so he drove up to London with her in the Aston Martin.

“I think you should take out Susan Blackburn,” she said as she whipped around a truck. “She’s unattached, at the moment, I think, and you’ll need to be entertained when I’m not around.”

“I’ll consider that,” Stone replied.

“What do you have to do in London?”

“I’m lunching with my new attorney at the Reform Club to sign some documents that we discussed on the phone yesterday. I’ll see my tailor and shirtmaker, and I suppose I’ll need some transport, so I’ll take a look at cars.”

“Sounds like you have a full day.”

“When will you return to Beaulieu?” he asked.

“Maybe this weekend—depends on work. The Middle East is a mess these days. We should call it the Muddle East. I gave you a key, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Untitled Stone Barrington #45

The irresistible Stone Barrington returns for another racy adventure from #1 New York Times-bestselling author Stuart Woods. Stone Barrington has faced intrigue before and come out clean on the other… More

Unbound

From #1 New York Times-bestselling author Stuart Woods comes a sizzling new adventure featuring perennial fan favorite, Stone Barrington. Stone Barrington has wiggled his way out of some tricky situations… More