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But for the Grace

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The door didn't open. Daisy knew it wouldn't because she'd heard the key being turned in the lock. But she still had to try.

She hadn't liked George Myles when she arrived here a only few days ago. So much had happened since then it seemed like longer. Myles's wife had died on Daisy's second day here. Everyone had presumed it had been in her sleep, despite the suddenness of it. But the doctor had declared foul play and Scotland Yard had been called in.

An attempt had been made on Myles's life later that day and on his stepson Edward's yesterday. Edward would have died, if it hadn't been for Alec being on the spot, although he'd refused to tell Daisy the details. The attempted hanging had left Edward unable to talk at first and while he recovered Tom and Piper had gathered the rest of the house into one room for safekeeping.

A serial murderer on the loose was a frightening prospect, but Daisy wasn't shut up with them. She should have been, of course, but she'd soon noticed Myles was missing and remembered something she hadn't told Alec. So she'd gone back to find him and was just in time to witness Myles threaten him and drag him to the cellar. Now she wished she'd managed to interrupt Alec long enough to tell him what he might be facing.

During the search for the poison that had killed Lady Beatrice, Daisy had poked her nose in, on the pretext of asking if they'd like lunch. At the time the police had been in the cellar. After retreating from Alec's lowered eyebrows, she had encountered Myles nearby. She had acted polite, but been suspicious. Leading Myles away from the search he'd confided that the cellar needed repairs and at high tide the water came in. He'd been worried about the police getting wet feet.

She had soothed his fears and hadn't thought much of it at the time. After all, he'd been terribly upset about his wife's death and whoever killed her had tried to poison him too. He'd just got lucky with a low dose that left him in bed for a day. Alec didn't urgently need to know about the cellar's condition. A decision she regretted.

Now she was sure of Myles's guilt. Alec must have gone to confront him and he'd resisted arrest. She didn't know the tides, but there would be a high tide soon or later. Alec was doubly in danger. She had to do something.

Although she could hear voices coming from the cellar, despite pressing an ear to the door she couldn't make out what they were saying. Alec sounded calm and she hoped that meant he'd talk Myles round. But it would be better if she could get into the cellar.

For a moment she was torn between staying, in case something happened, and going because there wasn't anything she could do from here. In the end she decided action was a better option.

The house seemed bigger with no one around. Daisy's footsteps echoed on the hallway floor and she hoped they couldn't be heard from the cellar. Having toured the house for her article, she found the way to the servant's hall easily. Once there she tip-toed through it, half expecting her mother to complain about her being down there in the first place. It had been one thing to sneak into the kitchens as a child, but another to be below stairs as an adult.

She shook her head to dispel her mother's criticising voice. Briefly, she considered going back to the sitting room, where she'd left Piper and Tom. But what if Myles knocked Alec out and escaped when no one was looking? Conscious that he could already have done so, but hoping he'd locked the door because he'd been planning to stay down there a while, she hurried back.

Outside the cellar once again, having met no one on the way, she listened closely while taking several deep breaths to quell her nerves. She could still hear both voices and she closed her eyes for a moment, relieved Alec was still all right. Trying to stop her hands from trembling, she slid the key into the lock slowly, so as not to make a sound.

With that done, she paused to wipe her now-sweaty hands on her dress. When the key turned she breathed a sigh of relief. At least Myles hadn't left his key in the lock. The click was loud in the silence of the hallway, but the voices didn't pause. However, opening the door was going to be harder: it was large and creaked.

Looking around for a weapon, all she saw were paintings. Of Myles's ancestors, she presumed. She remembered being taken aback by one that looked much like him. But her tour had been conducted by Beatrice, who had told her to ask Myles about them, since she had no interest. Daisy hadn't plucked up the courage to do so before Beatrice died.

Now it didn't matter who they were. They weren't any use to her now. Although the frames would be heavy enough to hurt someone with, they were too big to manoeuvre. The only way she'd be able to hit anyone with one was if they were kneeling down and she didn't think Myles was likely to oblige.

The the only alternative was her shoes. They were a new pair of double strap shoes, bought only a week ago. Largely because her other pairs were all falling apart and if she was going to spend time at stately homes she had to look the part. She needed to finish this article, to keep her in shoes if nothing else. If only Myles hadn't chosen this weekend to kill his wife!

After contemplating her shoes she slipped them off with a sigh. They weren't particularly heavy, but the heels could do some damage she decided, as she weighed them in her hand. The floor was cold beneath her stockinged feet, but with any luck Alec would soon be safe and her shoes would be back on her feet.

Holding a shoe in each hand, she opened the cellar door. There was no use in doing it slowly, but she made sure to stay behind it. With any luck Myles would think Tring or Piper was there. The creaking covered any sound from the cellar, but she was sure both men had stopped talking. Halfway was enough and then she stopped, holding her breath.

Into the silence Alec called out, "Tom!" but the end of the syllable was cut off. It was followed by a clank of wine bottles, as if someone had fallen against them.

Daisy put a hand to her mouth, hoping Alec hadn't been the one to fall. She didn't dare say anything. She wasn't at all sure she could manage a voice deep enough to be mistaken for a man's.

A heavy tread ascended the stairs. But was it Myles or Alec? If she hesitated Myles would easily overcome her. Rescuing Alec suddenly felt like a bad idea. But running away wouldn't help: Myles could outrun her or he could take the other cellar key and Alec would be in even more trouble. She didn't know if there was another key in the house. She hoped Alec would forgive her for hitting him, if it was him on his way up. After all, it would be his fault for not calling out.

She waited until the last minute, then stepped around the door and hit out with her shoe at what she thought was the right height for Myles's middle, hoping to wind him. She found the target all right, but hadn't expected him to be on the edge of the top step. He'd been reaching for the door and her blow was enough to overbalance him. His arms wind milled for a moment before he fell back down the steps. He landed on the cellar floor and lay still.

Her eyes wide, she ran down after him, afraid she'd killed him and afraid she hadn't and he was still going to kill her or Alec.

Alec picked himself up from where sat up against a wine rack. He intercepted her, pulling her into a hug. She clung to him, burying her face against his shoulder, the warmth of him reminding her he was safe. She could feel him trembling.

"Is he dead?" Alec asked.

She intended to look round, but Alec put a hand to the back of her head.

"No, Chief." She hadn't heard Tom Tring come in. "Reckon he hit his head on the steps. But he's coming round now."

Daisy felt Alec's sigh of relief blow across her hair. She breathed one herself into Alec's jacket.

"Arrest him when he wakes up. I'll send Piper for the doctor and let the rest of the household go."

The excitement was fading as she let Alec lead her upstairs and she felt light-headed. She didn't pay much attention to where they were going, until he let go of her and she found herself in the blue room. Despite the care he'd taken over her, she soon found out why he hadn't said anything to her when she met his eyes. He was furious.

"Stay here."

She nodded meekly, hardly daring to do anything else when he looked at her like that. It wasn't an expression she'd seen him direct at her before and it wasn't one she wanted to see again. She sank onto the chaise longue. It was blue, of course, like everything else in this room. The Myles's took colour coded rooms to a new standard.

She frowned at the shoe she clutched and relaxed her grip on it, letting it fall onto the dark blue rug. It took her a moment to remember dropping the other when Myles fell down the stars. It would have to stay there - she had no desire to see Myles again. To say nothing of what Alec might say if she returned to the cellar.

Despite hearing the others talking as they left the sitting room down the hall, Alec didn't return. She began to grow angry at him for being angry with her. No doubt he blamed her for not doing as she was told. But if she'd been in the sitting room too Alec could have been killed. No, she didn't regret her actions.

When he came in she stood, her expression daring him to tell her off.

However, he still looked angry as he closed the door quietly before turning to face her. "You could have got yourself killed."

She bit her lip. "He nearly killed you."

Rather than thanking her for saving his life he said, "Better me than you."

"How can you say that?" She raised her chin. "Do you want to leave Belinda an orphan?"

"Of course not." He ran a hand through his hair. "But you shouldn't have got involved. Why didn't you go to Tom or Piper?"

She should have, of course, but they'd been busy. The Dowager Lady Myles was a formidable woman and Myle's other guests hadn't been too keen to do as they were told either. At the time, finding Alec herself had seemed like a better idea, but it was easy to be rational after the fact.

However, she had no intention of letting him boss her around, even if he had been in the right. He frowned at her silence and in the end she admitted the truth. "I was afraid. I wasn't thinking clearly."

His expression softened as he came to stand beside her. "I suppose I have grown used to the idea that nothing bothers you." He put a hand to her shoulder. "I wouldn't have let him hurt you," he said softly.

She shook her head. "I was afraid for you," she clarified.

He smiled a little. "When I saw you at the top of the stairs..." But then he dropped his gaze and frowned. He had her other shoe. She'd been so focussed on his face she hadn't noticed it when he came in. He held it out to her now. "This is yours."

"Thank you." Not knowing what else to do, she took it, and waited, hoping he'd finish his sentence.

But he shook his head and sighed. "Please try not to put yourself in danger again."

He looked scared, she thought, so she said, "I'll try."

He smiled at her properly and she returned it.

"Did Myles poison himself or was it accidental?" Now that Alec was calm again, she wanted to know the truth. There was no question at this point that Myles was the murderer. And attempted murderer.

He sighed. "It's more complicated than that."

She took his hand and led him to the chaise longue to sit beside her. She hoped it meant he would stay with her for a little longer. And she'd have more chance of finding out what she'd missed.

"It looks like Lady Beatrice poisoned him." She frowned and he continued. "Myles was keen to convince me he hadn't poisoned her. He thought getting me alone would do it."

"But he threatened you to get you to go to the cellar." She sat up straighter, aggrieved on Alec's behalf.

"I was trying to arrest him," he said dryly. "He said she was trying to kill him and he swapped their glasses so she was poisoned instead of him."

She shook her head. "You don't believe him do you? Beatrice wouldn't hurt a fly." Whereas Myles had demonstrated his nasty temper on more than one occasion. Hence why everyone largely avoided him. Daisy certainly didn't blame Beatrice for not sleeping in the same room as him.

Alec gave her a sympathetic look. "Edward said Myles changed when he came back after the war. In his temper he often hit her. It's possible she'd had enough."

Beatrice hadn't given Daisy any hint that she had more to fear from her husband than his words. Even though Daisy had only known her two days, people did have a tendency to confide in her. Even so, surely poison was more calculating. Unless it had been a last minute decision. The poor execution could explain why she had ended up drinking it. It made enough sense that Daisy couldn't argue against it without more evidence. "But Myles tried to kill Edward." That she was sure of. After all, Beatrice was already dead and why would she kill her own son?

"No." Alec looked grim. "He tried to kill himself. Myles merely happened to be in the vicinity, thus incriminating himself. Edward was suffering from shell shock from the war and couldn't deal with the loss of his mother."

"Poor man." He'd spent a lot of time alone in his room and Daisy had hardly seen him. Even when he'd joined the family he'd been quiet and his presence was easily overlooked. At least now Alec would make sure he'd get some help, but he must have been suffering a long time. As she contemplated the tragedy, her gaze drifted across the room to the painting of the sea and a storm brewing above it.

Alec squeezed her hand and she turned her attention back to him. "Edward couldn't have tried to kill Myles, could he?" she asked. If he'd had the presence of mind to attempt to kill himself, perhaps he might have tried to save his mother from her husband.

Alec's eyes widened. "He was a chemist, before the war. I thought Lady Beatrice had used some of his powders..." He let go of her hand. "Excuse me, I need to check something with Piper."

He was gone before she could object. Not that she would have done - she knew the investigation came first. When she tried to warm her feet by bringing her legs up beneath her she remembered her shoes. Bending to slip them back on she found the one Alec had been holding was deliciously warm.

She remained where she was at first, but Alec hadn't told her to stay here this time. After waiting for a few minutes she ventured back out into the hall. She was in time to see Alec leading Edward away.

Poor man, Daisy thought. First traumatised by the war, then by his mother's re-marriage. He'd probably been scared of his stepfather's temper as much as much as his mother was. It wasn't a surprise that he'd tried to find a way to fix it. She hoped it wasn't a sign of how children reacted to gaining step-parents. No, she told herself firmly. Belinda wasn't like Edward and she was too young to remember her mother's death.

Having handed Edward over to the local police with instructions to treat him gently, Alec joined Daisy. "He will get help," he promised her.

She nodded, but she wished he'd got the help sooner, before his mother had died. Alec didn't look any happier about it.

"Too many people have been affected by the war," she said with feeling. If only it hadn't happened Myles and Edward would be fine and Beatrice would still be alive.

"Everyone came back changed," Alec said softly. "'There but for the grace of God.'" He had a haunted look in his eyes.

She brushed his hand. He linked their fingers and led her away from the chill in the entrance hall.