The next morning Rose sat in the middle of the breakfast feast as if she hadn't found a gutted bird in her belongings. None could have found fault in her bearing as she greeted her guests with poise and grace if they had known her circumstances. No one in the house party suspected anything amiss.

Anna stared at the young heiress for a second longer than it was polite but soon hurried along, late yet again, despite being firmly set down by Elizabeth's mother for her tardiness just last night. She elegantly her designated seat next to Elizabeth and gave all her neighbours a sunny smile. She too had a farce to play if they were to conceal Rose's predicament.

Elizabeth was absorbed in the book lying on her lap. She might have thought she was being discreet but it was obvious her attention was more on the words then the potted spiced ham in her plate. The girl accidentally spun her spoon in her glass of water instead of the tea cup.

"I wish I had your bookish constitution," The blonde sighed at her absent minded friend, "At least I could have a good distraction."

Elizabeth looked up with snort. She took a dainty nibble on her forgotten food and laid her gaze back to her lap. Whatever book she was reading was engrossing enough to make her ignore her mother's raised brows.

"Don't look up but he's staring at you again," The sandy haired girl murmured with a shocking lack of delicacy. She caught Anna's bare arm before the girl could look up.

"He's been attached to my cousin Rose like an overgrown bat. I suppose Duke Beaucourt trusts him since he was friends with your Viscount's father. Unfortunately, the unintended side effect is that most people shall assume they will have an announcement by the end of the party," Elizabeth informed as she closed her book shut. She withered under her mother's stare from across the table.

Despite having an eye on her friend Annalise could see from the corner of her vision that she was indeed being stared at. Anna crossed her arms and felt grumpier by the second as she resisted the temptation to glare at the dark blot. She instead chose to pull at the beads on her lace dress.

"I care not a whit what he does with his private affairs. He-" The blue eyed girl trailed off as she noted markings on Elizabeth's closed book, "Where did you get your book?"

"The library? Mansfield has a large one," Her friend replied, nonchalantly. She took a sip of her cold tea ignoring the sugar sinking into her water glass.

"And the numbers on the binding? The J 9 means?" Anna asked, swiftly. Her sharp eyes accidentally met dark ones before darting them away as if the meeting of gazes was corrosive acid.

"I assume it's to keep the books organized," The other girl answered with narrowed eyes, "You have that look on your face. Smile or you shall scare all your suitors away."

"What suitors?" Annalise laughed to hide the turmoil in her breast. She knew a famous dowager three seats away found her manners unbecoming but she was growing increasingly numb to the foibles of society. She was still the young girl who shunned society at all cost and it was getting harder and harder to hide it.

"As if you're the one to talk. It is I who gets a lecture every night for being difficult to marry off," Elizabeth's hand on her fork tightened, "I am at a loss on how to rectify the situation. The Baron is just far too polite to show any interest. Mother says his lack of interest might be my doing."

"Do not engage with her when she's in a mood," Anna said with an unpleasant scowl on her face, "Have you tried conversing with someone else?"

"Sir Arthur gave a witty retort when I entered the room which I endured," The girl's pursed her thin lips with increasing agitation, "Hardly scintillating conversation. He must be laughing at me I am certain a. I caught him beaming at me."

"He's too much of a gentleman, my love," Annalise said kindly, "Please, do you not worry about such slights, imaginary or otherwise. You can have any man in the room. You just have to choose which one."

"Well, at least I do not have to worry about your Viscount. My mother does not care for him and told me to avoid him. She must have heard of his university romances," Elizabeth smirked and Annalise rolled her eyes.

"I will not abide by any talk about him. We must leave for the library immediately after breakfast. I have the most important task I need to perform."

"Is it dangerous?" Elizabeth's eyes widened as she remembered the dead bird incident.

"I should hope not," Anna scoffed, "I believe you've helped me solve another clue from your brother's mystery. I have a number that seems to match the format of the labels on the library books."

"Well, let me inform my mother of my whereabouts after we finish our tea. Whether she insists she needs to accompany me is beyond my control," The sandy haired girl's nostrils flared in an attempt to contain a sigh.

Annalise nodded, glumly and helped herself to more of the kedgeree. Her own tea was as sweet as sour as her current disposition was. She sipped quietly lost in thought until Elizabeth nudged her indicating she was done with her meal. The two girls in their pastel morning dresses drifted away into the entrance hall where Elizabeth's mother lay in wait.

"Hurry," Anna whispered and took to waiting in the corridor leading to the library. The mother daughter pair seemed frosty with one another today and the girl had no wish to be caught in the middle.

"Alone again?" Montgomery's quiet voice beckoned her from a corner as if he had taken to lurking in shadowy corners.

"Shouldn't you be more concerned by Rose's whereabouts?" Annalise did not deign to give the man a look. Her fiery blue eyes stared straight ahead at the pale green wallpaper.

"I should be but I know you better. You're more trouble then it's worth," The man retorted lacking the usual bite in his voice.

"You know nothing about me. And if things go my way you never will. Now, please excuse me. I have errands to run in the library," Annalise decided that Elizabeth could find her own way for she could bear the tedious man no longer.

"Who? You?" Montgomery snorted unable to retain his sombre tone of voice.

Annalise just laughed back with a snarl and swivelled on her velvet heels with the intention of making her departure. A gloved hand on her forearm stopped her efforts. The girl finally glared back with no intention of holding back her ire but before she could open her mouth to blaze brimstone and fire Montgomery interrupted her.

"Listen to me," The man leaned in closer until the smell of leather and citrus surrounded her, "Keep your guard. Do not go out alone. Not many know the truth of the situation but the letter writer could know of your involvement. You could be in danger."

"Elizabeth is waiting for me," Annalise tried to shrug the arm off without looking like she was using any force but the grip was unrelenting.

"Good, stay with her at all times. She too could be in danger," Montgomery's other hand patted her head and with a jaunty wink walked away as if he hadn't been talking about death.

"That was intense. I was worried the crackling should erupt into flames," Elizabeth whispered as she entered the corridor.

"We were hardly in form, my friend," Anna took a fortifying breath and then placed a false smile on her face, "You should have seen us when we were younger. Marion used to think we would end up duelling ourselves to death."

"Where do you want to hide his body when you finally crack and stab him in the heart?" Elizabeth asked wryly.

"I would have said he deserves to be drowned in that moat but perhaps the library would be better. Hardly anyone goes there," Annalise laughed at the silliness of their conversation.

"Well, you are utterly wrong," Her friend groaned as her feet stumbled over the library doorway, "The bane of my existence seems to be perpetually here."

"Hush, he's perfectly civil," Annalise smiled at Baron Luthworth's handsome face. The man seemed to have just appeared after the breakfast like they had.

"Forever like beautiful flowers, my Ladies," The Baron gave them a generous view of his straight teeth as he unseated his hat from its perch.

"Ever so kind, Dear Baron," Elizabeth answered, looking more confident then she had ever felt.

The pair engaged in small talk about the weather and the spoils of the early morning hunt before taking seat in the separate writing tables. Annalise performed her part of smiling at all the correct moments.

"I believe I've solved the next task and I need your help to find the next clue," Annalise whispered in her friend's ear who looked giddy for having a successful conversation with the Baron.

"Of course you have and I remember you calling me bookish. You'll turn into a veritable bluestocking at this rate," Elizabeth seemed to find the entire situation amusing now that her spirits were lifted.

"Would F 6 300 mean something to you?" Annalise asked, impatiently.

"F means the F name shelf. All the F authors sit there," Elizabeth spoke carefully as if trying to recall everything, "And the rest I'm afraid I cannot help you with other numbers. I usually just leave the books on the writing desk."

"Have you no guesses for three hundred?" The blonde pushed forward towards the shelves, her pastel dress flying behind her.

"Could be a page number. But this is only my speculation," Elizabeth answered.

"The six could mean the sixth book," Anna tiptoed to scan over the variety of books. She spied the brown of cover of The history of British birds sitting meekly in the sixth spot. Her hand snatched it immediately. She flipped forward to the three hundredth page and stilled at the paragraph of words that made no sense to her.

"From a strong desire of being convinced of the truth respecting their going into a state of torpidity," Anna's face contorted into a grimace and she slammed the book shut with an audible thump.

Elizabeth took the book and flipped two pages from the three hundredth to see the drawing of a swallow, "The swallow. Length somewhat more than six inches. Bill black; eyes hazel ; forehead and chin red, inclining to chestnut; the whole upper part of the... This book is entirely about birds. What possible clue could you get from that?"

"Unless this famed manor has an aviary of some sort I cannot possibly run after each and every bird among us," The blonde murmured.

"Which it has. There is an aviary on this estate," Elizabeth gasped, her hands grabbing onto Anna's bare arm.

Before the two girls could disturb the decorum of the library a maid walked in bearing a silver tray. Instead of attending to any of the other occupants the young girl presented the two friends the ornamental tray with a bow.

"Meet me at her room," The note said simply and if Anna weren't well acquainted with Montgomery's script she would have been befuddled by the note.

...

"What happened?" Annalise breathed heavily, having walked to Rose's room at a more frantic pace then usual. Her face was beginning to feel heated by the sudden exercise in cumbersome clothing. Behind her Elizabeth was also out of breath.

"The letters are missing. He burnt all the evidence," Rose's jaw trembled with the force of her agitation. She sat at the edge of the bed with her hands clenched in her lap. Standing next to her was Montgomery with a pinched expression on his face.

"How did he get into your room..." Elizabeth whispered, staring at all the upended items on the dressing tabld as if a masked figure brandishing a knife would suddenly jump out.

"That's what I must find out," Rose, too looked out of her element. She no longer oozed confidence and strength but a fraying desperation.

"You must cancel the party. It is no longer safe," Annalise urged as she kneeled beside the dark haired girl ignoring source of the dark shadow covering them both.

"Absolutely not. Never, will I give him the satisfaction. I shall get to the bottom of this even if it's the last thing I do," The dark haired girl responded with sudden burst of ferocity.

"Let your pride take a fall, Lady Rose Beaucourt. Your way will have you killed. You are your parents only child," Montgomery stated plainly, "Annalise is correct. You must reconsider."

Annalise shook over her instinct to gape at her former friend in shock. Having him attribute something positive to her was not a usual occurrence.

"How will we catch him if I go out of sight?" Rose glared at everyone disagreeing with her.

"Please convince her Anna," Montgomery pleaded and the blonde nodded without looking at him.

"He will get desperate. Men in love often do," The kneeling girl said holding onto Rose's tight fist, "You will lose if you end up dead."

"Please, Rose," Elizabeth said, softly. She wringed her hands uselessly.

"I shall think about it," The black haired girl swallowed back tears of anguish. Annalise stepped away deciding Rose was not the type of person to enjoy a large audience for such delicate matters.

"Have a lie down, my beautiful friend, think about what we've said," Anna patted her shoulder before taking leave. Behind her Montgomery gave curt instructions to the maids not to leave her charge out of sight. Elizabeth looked conflicted whether to stay or go but decided to stay with her cousin who leaned on her for support.

The viscount and Annalise exited the room at the same time and silently covered the long corridors to get to the public rooms.

"This is getting far too dangerous," Annalise was the first to break the silence while staring pointedly ahead, "You must inform her father."

"I will but he is too cowed by his daughter's wishes to listen. And her mother is obviously worried about the potential scandal," The man explained.

"What a pity. We are far too bound by what the society dictates. This hesitation to avoid incurring scandal will get her killed," The blonde sneered at the thought.

"You haven't changed at all Anna despite growing so much taller although you were very confident about knowing what men in love are like," Montgomery gave a short bark of a laugh.

"I have been around you, haven't I?" Anna's mood darkened further and her tongue followed suit, "You have been the shining beacon of failed love as you have reminded me ever so kindly."

The pair halted in the middle of the hallway ready to fight. Their eyes spoke of the venom they had against each other.

"You barely know anything about me," Montgomery hissed softly instead of erupting like he always did, "And you're hardly married to whoever you have set your sights on. You're far too close to being placed on the shelf at your age."

"My, my your concern for me is touching, Viscount. You should be glad to know I have been in love and have utterly failed in it. You have won in whatever negative aspirations you had for me. Your curse upon me is complete," Annalise felt bold and unafraid.

"I have never wished you ill, Anna, no matter how much..." Montgomery whispered, looking startled by the sheer rage in the glass like blue eyes.

"How much you despised me?" The blonde finished the sentence for him, "I know you loathe me. You cannot deny it but let me expose the crime I have committed."

Annalise raised her hand as Montgomery started to interrupt. It was her turn to talk after listening to his barbs for so long, "Yes, Marion came to me when you proposed to her. She was flustered and wanted my opinion on the matter. You seem to think I persuaded her against the match but do you know what I asked her?"

Annalise took a calming breath which proved to be of no use as her hands shook with emotion, "I only asked her did she love you and if she did then she should say yes."

"No," Montgomery pleaded with his eyes as if his heart was being broken all over again. Every fibre of his being shook with tension.

"I had nothing against you, Viscount. If she had loved you I wouldn't have stopped her," Annalise turned away finding his gaze unbearable, "But she only listened to my question, nodded and retired for the night. I only found out the next day at dinner that she had declined your proposal."

"That-that can't be all-" Montgomery took three steps forward leaving them face to face with only a scant precious breath between them.

"She did not love you, she never did," Annalise said, plainly unafraid of the raw truth unlike Montgomery who had refused to see what was plainly in front of him.

Before the Viscount's hand could hold her to demand anything more Annalise backed away. Her carefully combed curls swung in front of her eyes and with one last searing look she vacated the corridor leaving Montgomery all alone..