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Tilly Wallace

Gather the Anarchists

Gather the Anarchists

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This royal visit is going to off with a bang…

Edward, the Prince of Wales, is about to step foot on Kiwi soil and Grace is frantically finishing gowns for her wealthy clients to wear at the balls thrown in his honour. But then a horrible accident and a dying man’s last moments, draws her into a conspiracy to harm the prince.

As Grace follows the strands of a last memory, she discovers there is a patchwork of conspirators all with grudges against England and the royal family. This plot has unravelled larger than her group of friends and if she’s going to hem in the anarchists and save the prince, she needs help. There’s only one person she can turn to…Detective Archer.

Can Grace discard her differences to confide in the policeman with their common goal of saving the prince, or will there be an explosive end to the royal visit?

This is the third instalment in the Grace Designs mystery series, about a seamstress turned sleuth in Wellington, New Zealand at the dawn of the 1920s.

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Thursday, 15 April, 1920

My heart pounded so rapidly in my chest that I worried it might explode and ruin the delicate aqua silk in my hands. I closed my eyes and drew a breath.
Everything will be fine, I reassured myself.
Every minute of the evening had been planned and gone over for potential flaws more times than any military campaign. Nothing would go wrong. Mrs Cooper, my formidable mentor and general of the event, would never allow it. If Mrs Cooper had been put in charge of the Gallipoli landing, our troops might have fared better.
“It’s perfect, Mrs Devine. You can leave it alone now,” Etty’s voice came from my side.
“Are you sure?” I got off my knees and narrowed my gaze at the ensemble. I thought it was perfect, but would our guests? Did I need to move the sash just a fraction more to the left? Or perhaps we should have chosen a different shoe in a darker hue of navy.
“I’m sure. Let her go and wait with the others.” Etty waved the model to the door. The promotion to my second in command, or workroom manager, had brought out a new confidence in Etty. She fussed over the models like a broody hen and had no problems with giving me a peck to move along!
The evening of my little showing to celebrate the opening of the new space had finally arrived. After hiring two more seamstresses full-time, and enlisting Mrs Mac, who usually designed the costumes at the Cricket, the five of us had managed to produce twelve complete outfits to unveil to a select audience. The gowns were intended to delight my clients and, I hoped, give flight to their imaginations as to what we could create together. I also hoped the wealthy women would gossip like fishwives and spread the word that Grace Designs was a force to be reckoned with in the world of fashion in New Zealand.
We had laboured for two full days to transform the workroom. The cutting table had been pushed to one side of the room and it now held drinks and nibbles and a gorgeous central display of flowers. Mrs Cooper’s staff circulated among the guests, carrying silver trays holding champagne and teeny mouthfuls of food. Curvaceous chairs with plush velvet padded seats were arrayed in a semi-circle. We used the new fitting rooms to get the models ready, then they would walk into the workroom and parade in front of the guests before returning to change outfits.
We had four girls of similar build, all drawn from Etty’s friend circle. Mrs Cooper had drilled them in how to walk and turn, and they now glided across the floor like French models. Each model had a dedicated fitting room with her three outfits for the evening, and Etty and I would swoop as soon as the girl had finished her circuit of the room.
Sam stood in the lobby, leaning on the curved reception desk. Dressed in a navy suit that bordered on black and with a silver watch chain draped from waistcoat buttonhole to pocket, she was the image of suave elegance. “Ready to start? That lot have finished their first drinks and are onto their second.”
I drew a deep breath. The time had come to affix the bayonet to my rifle and go over the top, as our lads did during the war. If they could charge across the battlefield in the face of hostile fire, I could face thirty sets of critical eyes on the home ground of my atelier.
I nodded. “Ready.”
Sam took hold of my hand and squeezed. “It’s going to be an incredible night. I am so proud of you.”
Love for my friend overrode the panic building inside me. “I couldn’t have done it without you. Or without everyone who has supported me.” From Mrs Cooper with her unwavering belief and not-so-gentle prodding along, to Dad, who turned the old boarding house into an atelier. Sam, who always had my back. Etty, the most amazing assistant who now blossomed as my right-hand woman.
The four models lined up, ready to sashay into the workroom. We had hired a quartet of musicians who sat beside the cutting table and played soft jazz music. The lullaby drifted through the building and soothed my nerves as I hummed along to the tune.
The door at the end of the hall cracked open and Harry appeared, wearing a tweed suit offset with a deep cerise tie and a matching pocket square. He had healed from the horrible beating he sustained in a dark alley, and the experience made us closer friends. He looked dapper and a tad nervous, clutching a wad of cardboard cards. When the librarian heard about the planned fashion showing, he volunteered to narrate the evening. I had written out details of each outfit for him that he would read as the girl displayed the clothing.
“Shall we begin?” he asked.
I nodded, too nervous to talk. Sam thrust a glass of champagne at me, and I took a quick sip. But not too much. It wouldn’t pay to get drunk when I might need to fix a hem quickly or offer intelligent conversation to a potential client.
Harry kissed my cheek and walked back to the open door.
“Ladies,” he called their attention to him. “You are in for a divine treat this evening. We start with this bold daywear look in vertical navy blue and white stripes. The business-like collar is alleviated by the playful lace around the edge.”
The first model walked into the room. Harry’s voice carried over the gasps and murmurs. I couldn’t look. We had to ensure as soon as the model finished, we were ready to hustle her into the fitting room, peel the clothes off her back, and dress her in the next outfit.
The daywear looks all incorporated outerwear with a selection of coats and capes. Harry kept up his steady commentary as the display moved into the late afternoon and then evening wear—both informal and formal. These delicious creations were what the guests had really come to see. I thought we had outdone ourselves, pushing to the very edge of fashion. One gown revealed knees. Knees! I hoped no one would faint at the sight.

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