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Excerpt from The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear

The White Lady

A Novel

by Jacqueline Winspear
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  • First Published:
  • Mar 21, 2023
  • Paperback:
  • Mar 2024
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Print Excerpt

"Rose? Rose, are you alright?"

Rose Mackie looked up, her eyes red-rimmed as she held on to Susie.

"Oh, nothing. It's nothing, Miss White. We're just getting a bit of fresh air out here. To be honest, Jim's older brothers are visiting us, and those boys never saw eye to eye, so I thought us two girls would leave them to it and get a ray or two of sunshine."

Elinor looked up as raised voices came from behind the closed front door, then back at Rose. She could see the reddish outline of a bruise beginning to form along Rose's cheekbone. "What's happening, Rose? What's going on?"

"N-nothing. Nothing at all. As I said, it's just a bit of a family upset, about ... about Jim's ... about Jim's granddad." Rose Mackie stalled; Elinor knew another lie would follow. "You know, he's getting on, and the family want to put him in a home, and well ... there's a bit of a row. And silly me, I picked up Susie and she had her toy train in her hand and bonked me on the nose with it. I'm perfectly alright—but you know how it is if you're hit on the nose, it causes a few drops of water to run." She paused, smiling through tears at her child. "Let's tell the nice lady we're perfectly happy—shall we, Susie?"

The child mimicked her mother, saying only the word "Happy" while waving Teddy One Eye.

Elinor nodded, then smiled at Susie, running her fingers through the child's curls. "Rose, look, if you and Susie—"

"Well, I'd better get going inside," said Rose, interrupting whatever Elinor White planned to say next. "I'll make Jim's brothers a nice cup of tea so they all calm down. I tell you, family! Can't live with them or without them, eh?" Rose Mackie smiled. "Wave to the lady, Susie. Wave goodbye."

Elinor returned Susie's wave, knowing it was time to turn away. She had been dismissed, her concern neither required nor welcome. She nodded to Rose, then began to walk toward the stile—though she did not proceed toward her intended route through the forest. Instead she clambered over a five-bar gate to her left and ran alongside the field toward her home, which she approached from the back garden, then along the gravel path at the side of the house to the front door. She tore off the tape from above the doorjamb, unlocked the door and closed and bolted it after entering. Speed was of the essence, but speed should never compromise diligence—even if she could not help but imagine a livid bruise beginning to flower around Susie's eye, and not her mother's. Elinor knew that if a man hit a woman, then a level of societal restraint had broken down, and in time—even a short time—brutality against a child might not be far behind. Perhaps it had already happened. And if Jim had seen a brother strike his wife and not acted, it meant he had been restrained. There was a visceral feeling deep within Elinor, a sudden internal commitment to protecting her neighbors—one in particular—so the young family would not have to endure another unexpected drop-in from Jim's siblings, who she was sure had no interest in any future arrangements for an aging grandfather.

With haste Elinor changed into a dark-grey skirt and jacket, a silk blouse, silk stockings and a pair of shoes that were both stylish and practical, the heel enough to draw attention to a well-turned ankle, but not so high that she could not run. Or drive. Picking up a black brimmed hat and her shoulder bag, she opened a drawer set underneath her desk and took out cash and a set of motor car keys. She ran down the stairs, out the front door, locked the door, replaced the tape and stepped along the path to a small barn that served as a garage at the side of the house. Selecting a key, she released a padlock securing the double doors, pulled them open and removed the cover from a black and maroon Riley RMB motor car—an automobile that could achieve a speed almost equal to that of the Ford parked outside the Mackie house. She started the motor car, then stepped out—the engine had been dormant for a while, so she had to allow a minute for the oil to get around the engine—and pressed another key into the lock of an adjacent cupboard. She nodded as she chose a silenced 9-millimeter Welrod pistol, a weapon she was well familiar with. They had called it the "bicycle pump" in the war because it could be concealed with ease and was close to silent. She locked the cupboard, took her place in the driver's seat and slipped the pistol into her shoulder bag—if she carried a bag, it would always have enough room to conceal a weapon.

Excerpted from The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear. Copyright © 2023 by Jacqueline Winspear. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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