About the book
Hell hath no fury like a woman with everything to lose....
Married and a mother, Victoria Turner, Countess of Galbury, has left her investigating days in the past. Or so she thought. When a fresh wave of crimes instills fear in the heart of London, she heeds the call and the "Vixen" is born again.
To Christian Turner, Earl of Galbury, there are two things about his wife that stand out: her unmatched determination and her unique talent to attract trouble. Determined to protect her, he vows to stand by her side even if it costs his life. Until the day it does.
When Christian goes missing, the sins of the father shall be visited upon the daughter. The Shadow, a demon from her father's past, has returned with a thirst for vengeance. A fact that becomes crystal clear when Victoria receives a package with a familiar ring and a lock of hair she knows heartbreakingly well...
Snow drifted stealthily from swollen clouds, floating down like silent thieves and landing with a delicate softness that none could hear. Overhead, those bruised and furious snow clouds blocked out the merest sliver of moonlight that strained to break through to shine its comforting glow upon the world. There were no stars to be seen, as though the universe itself sought to conceal the eerie streets of London from the watchful eyes of the constellations.
A figure wandered alone by the docks, pulling her shawl closer to her face in the vain hope that it might stave off the biting jaws of winter that snapped at her face. She shivered violently, her teeth chattering so hard that she feared they might shatter like glass.
“You ought to get yourself inside, lass.” A lamplighter paused to look at the woman, whose threadbare clothes hung loosely from her thin frame. He knew what she was, but that did not mean she was unworthy of kindness.
The woman, Sally Price, blinked at him as though she did not think he were real. “I’ve not a coin for that.”
“Nor do I have one to give you,” the lamplighter replied apologetically. He had daughters of his own, resting safely in their beds. Whenever he saw a woman such as this, he thought of his sweet girls, and renewed a constant vow that he would never allow them to fall on such hard times. “But you ought to find yourself somewhere warm, else you’ll catch your death.”
“As if it were so easy,” Sally mumbled under her breath. She walked away from the lamplighter and headed down a darkened alleyway that would take her to the riverbank. There, she knew of a copse of trees where she might at least get out of the snowfall.
I can’t remember the last time I was warm.
Her cruel mind brought her thoughts back to last year’s winter, prompting bitter tears to spring to her eyes. For back then, she had been on a path more befitting of the home she had come from, and the sort of woman she had hoped to be. There had been a soft bed to call her own, shared with Tilly Gateacre, and a fire that never wanted for fuel. A maid in a fine house in Mayfair, the work had been long and tiresome, but it had been honest.
But I was a fool…
She had allowed herself to be taken in by the charms of a wealthy gentleman—a visiting nephew of the household where she had toiled. Gerald, his name was. A beautiful fellow with a golden mane of hair, and sweet blue eyes that had looked upon her as though she were the only woman in existence. She realized, now, that he had tricked her. His sweetness had been a façade, to tempt her into sin. And she had gone to him, like a lamb to the slaughter.
She smoothed her hand across her concave abdomen, and let the tears roll freely down her cheeks. For what did she have to show for that moment of idiocy, in which she had relinquished everything? Gerald had not wed her, as he had promised. Indeed, he had laughed coldly in her face when she had reminded him of his promise.
“You thought me serious? How quaint.” Gerald had fixed a steely gaze upon her, no sweetness left in those once-saccharine eyes. “You were a temporary thrill, and now I have grown tired of you. I thought you understood. As for that creature growing inside you—who is to say that it is mine? You came to me so easily. Perhaps, you have gone to others with same eagerness. Nothing can be proven, and if you attempt to slander my name, it shall be your word against mine. And who are people more likely to believe?”
She heard his words as though he was saying them anew, causing a sudden, stark pain in her chest. The residual ache of a heart, entirely broken. She supposed she could have endured the mortification of his insults, and continued with her life, never breathing a word of what had occurred between them…but the child had changed everything. She had wanted some security for her unborn gift. Security that Gerald had refused to offer her.
It had not been long before the secret emerged. To this day, she did not know who had gone to the Earl and Countess of Moray, but someone had. And they had sealed her fate. The Earl had cast her out, to defend his nephew, and left her with nothing but her growing child. A child that she had lost, only a month after being expelled from her position.
She felt the gnawing emptiness of her womb, even now. Once, it had been full of life and hope, and now she had none of either. She existed, nothing more. Her child had been the only thing that had forced her to persevere, and when she had lost the little angel, her spirit had been crushed beyond repair. Now, she thought only of enduring each day, and each night, in perpetual repetition.
Why else would I have turned to a life like this?
She emerged from the shadowed alleyway and crossed to the riverbank, where she paused. Her wind-stung eyes looked out on the water, while the stagnant scent of filth and human detritus bombarded her senses. The faint glow of lights bobbed in the near distance, hazy from the mist that rose from the water. Boats and ships passed one another with a dull clank of iron that signaled a warning of proximity.
They look like heavenly beings, sent to guide lost souls…
It was unlike Sally to wax poetic, but she could not help admiring the strange beauty of the sight before her.
“It is dangerous for a lady to be out alone.” A voice slithered through the fog, making Sally turn in fright. Her eyes squinted into the miasma, but she could not make out the speaker. Shadows danced like black flames behind the hazy curtain of darkness, as though an entire horde of villains had come to surround her on the riverbank.
“Who’s there?” She staggered back and almost slipped on the uneven ground. One step more and she might have fallen into the water. And she did not know how to swim.
The shadows flickered. “Pay no mind to who I am. It is you that interests me. What brings you to this place on such a night, when you ought to be warm in your bed?” A cold laugh bristled through the air. “Could it be, perhaps, that you have no bed? Ladies such as yourself rarely do. You reside in alleyways and street corners, waiting for your next victim.”
“I-If you come any c-closer, I’ll s-scream!” Sally edged back again. Her foot slid in the dirt. For a second, she thought she might tumble into the dark ooze of the Thames. Although, faced with this disembodied voice and the icy water, she did not know which was preferable.
Maybe I should take my chances…
“You will scream, will you?” The shadows flitted, taking on a temporary shape. A tall, distorted figure of a man, wearing top hat and coat. “How amusing, that you think anyone would come to your aid.”
“P-Please,” she stammered. “Don’t hurt me.” She’d been on London’s streets long enough to see a body or two, though the constables rarely cared. As far as they were concerned, the loss of a woman like her meant one less prostitute to move along.
They won’t mourn me, either.
Dread churned in her stomach, filling the vacancy left by starvation. She did not want to die. She may not have had anything in this world to call her own, and there had been times where she had thought death might be easier, but faced with the threat from this shadowy figure, she found she desired to live, after all. And all too late.
“Fear not, you will have coin to take you into the afterlife. More coin than I suspect you have ever had in your miserable existence.” The shadows darted, disorienting Sally. One moment, they resembled a man. The next, a beast. And then, no discernable shape at all—a creeping harbinger of doom, augmented by the fog.
“Please,” she begged once more, taking a tiny step further back. Dirt crumbled away from the lip of the riverbank and splashed into the water. A dull, faint sound.
“Do you recall I spoke of your sort of lady, loitering in alleys and street corners for their next victim?” The shadow snickered; his tone as bitter as the winter wind that shrieked through the black-eyed warehouses up ahead.
“Why…I suppose we are not so dissimilar, after all.” A hulking mass of darkness leapt out of the fog to her left, appearing out of nowhere. Sally’s mouth opened in a scream, as a sharpness, like the bite of fangs, cut into her throat. She caught the glint of metal in a faint shard of light that sliced in through the fog. It was the moon, breaking through the fog at last.
Confusion overwhelmed her as she tried to scream, hoping it would bring someone, anyone, to her aid. But the scream did not emerge. Instead, a peculiar gurgling sound bubbled up her throat, and she tasted the metallic tang of blood in her mouth. Her eyes blinked in shock as she struggled for breath, but the air refused to venture into her lungs. There was only thick, viscous liquid.
“Goodnight, My Lady,” the shadow whispered in her ear.
With oblivion fast approaching, she pawed helplessly at her assailant’s the woolen lapels. No…her murderer. Aware of little but the rapid exodus of her life’s blood, she thought it rather strange that arms laid her gently to the ground. She coughed and spluttered, desperate to live, trying to stem the flow with weakening hands.
“Be still now. It will all be over soon, and you will realize that I have done you a kindness.” The shadow loomed over her. And the last thing she saw, as she slipped under a tide of a different kind, were two black eyes, flashing like a cat’s, staring back at her.
Victoria Turner, Countess of Galbury, ambled down the road, away from the Galbury Orphanage where she had spent her morning reading to the children, and ensuring that everything was as it should be. It was one of five such institutions that she had founded with her husband, Christian, the Earl of Galbury, and no-one ran a tighter ship than Victoria. She approached her charitable work in the same way she had once approached her investigations—like a terrier, feisty and fierce, with a bark worse than her bite.
At a crossroads, she paused and lifted her chin up to watch the snowflakes float down from the sky like petite, white blossoms. She stuck out her tongue to catch one and felt the icy barb melt upon it. A childish smile turned up the corners of her lips. She may have been a fully grown woman with a child of her own—her dear, sweet Mercy—but there was nothing like the snow to remind her of her own childhood. The happier times before her father had faked his own death and abandoned her and her mother.
I used to hurl snowballs at your head, Papa. Do you remember? You’d get so cross with me, because I had such impeccable aim. You’d dance a jig around the street, trying to shake the ice from down the back of your neck.
She often spoke to her father in her head, as though he could somehow hear her. Foolish, perhaps, but she did not care. For all the bad that her father had done as the mastermind of the Mayfair kidnappings, her daughter would not be alive if it were not for him. That was two years ago, now, but it was not something that could easily be forgotten.
She was about to step across the road, when she saw a familiar figure running full pelt along the street opposite.
“Ben!” she shouted, startling a flower girl who was also waiting to cross. “Sorry.”
“Aye, tell that to me ears.” The flower girl pouted and hurried away down the street.
Victoria rolled her eyes and pressed on across the road, to where her dear friend, and surrogate father, Admiral Benedict Thomson, had paused for her.
“Victoria? What are you doing out here?” Benedict looked harried, a sheen of perspiration upon his corrugated brow.
“What, should I be locked away in my own home, now I’m a mother and wife, never to see the light of day again?” She flashed a wry grin at him. “I came to look in on the orphanage. What about you? What’s got you in such a flap?”
Benedict hesitated. “I don’t know that I should say, Victoria.”
“Why not? Are you running off to see your secret mistress?” Victoria chuckled, certain he would find it funny, for jokes and jests were an integral part of their relationship. At the very least, he usually offered a reluctant laugh or a playful scold, depending on the nature of her teasing, but Benedict looked anything but amused. “Goodness, it must be serious if I can’t get you to muster the slightest smile.”
Benedict huffed out a sigh. “You’ll only follow me if I don’t tell you what’s going on. Come on, we can walk and talk.” He took off before she could respond, prompting her to hurry after him.
“Well, doesn’t this feel like old times?” Victoria fell in step beside him. In the two years since giving birth to her daughter, she had not given up all of her investigations, but she had restricted her endeavors to the simplest of cases: robberies, marital disputes, debtors, that sort of thing. Christian had requested it, over a year ago, after the search for a missing child had gone awry. A volatile father, who did not like being told that he was a drunkard and a blackguard, had raised his pistol to her. Had she not feinted out of the way in time, the shot would certainly have killed her.
She had tried to assuage her husband’s fears, only to realize that she was fighting a losing battle. In the end, after many long discussions, she had come to understand his concerns, especially when faced with the stark knowledge that her daughter might have grown up without a mother had she not evaded the pistol shot. Although, she still longed for the excitement of her old life from time to time, in the quiet moments when Mercy was asleep.
“You’ve been missed,” Benedict admitted.
She cast him a pleased smile. “I think you might’ve hit your head somewhere back there.”
“Don’t be obtuse, Victoria. You know you’ve been missed, and I’d wager you’re delighted. These streets were never safer than when you were roaming them and contending with the worst of society.” Benedict fixed his gaze dead ahead, his mouth set in a grim line. “And what’s been discovered today makes that all the harder to bear. You’re not infallible, by any means, but I think…Goodness, I don’t know. Perhaps, you might’ve been able to prevent this.”
Victoria switched from jovial to professional in the blink of an eye. “Prevent what? What’s been discovered today?”
“Christian is going to have my guts for garters for this.” Benedict ran an anxious hand through his thinning hair.
“Ben, I know you find this hard to believe, but my husband isn’t my keeper. I’m a grown woman, with a mind of my own. Shocking, I know, but there’s the truth. Now, tell me, what’s going on?” Victoria pressed, her tone stern.
Benedict managed a stiff laugh. “I’m glad to see life in Mayfair hasn’t changed you a jot.” He turned the corner and headed down a narrow passageway, their footsteps echoing. “There’s been a murder. A terrible one, by the sounds of it. I heard about it from Callahan just now. The poor sod came running into the office like the hounds of Hell were after him.”
Victoria’s mouth twisted up into a grimace. “How is my paltry replacement?”
“I thought you wanted to know about this case?” Benedict gave her a pointed look. Since she had given up her position as a full-time investigator, looking into the grisliest and most troubling of cases, Benedict had been forced to take on an apprentice of sorts. And the honor had fallen to a tremulous, weaselly-looking fellow by the name of Richard Callahan, whom Victoria thought about as useful as a wax teapot.
“Go on…” Victoria urged, trying to hide her lingering disdain for that usurper.
“A woman’s body—prostitute, most likely—was found this morning by Finnegan’s warehouses, on the docks. Not so unusual, you might think, but it was the manner in which she’d died. Or, rather, been killed.” Benedict fumbled with the edges of his sleeves. “She’d had her throat slit—a neat cut, very professional, done in one swipe. And there were two coins on her eyes. Two sovereigns.”
Victoria came to an abrupt halt. “Sovereigns?”
“So Callahan said.”
“He wouldn’t know a sovereign if it hit him in the face,” she muttered. “I need to see this for myself.”
“I wouldn’t be bringing you with me, otherwise.” Benedict mopped his brow with the back of his sleeve. To Victoria, it appeared her old friend had become a touch sluggish in his advancing age, flagging in his athletic prowess. Ordinarily, she would have made a kindly jest or two, but she was in no mood for japes. Her mind had transformed into an engine of pure concentration.
If Callahan was right, and this poor soul did have two sovereigns placed upon her eyes, then that begged the question—who would give a prostitute two sovereigns in life, let alone in death?
After a lengthy walk through the crowded streets of London, Victoria and Benedict finally arrived at the scene of the murder. Other investigators clustered in corners, huddling out of the snowfall that drifted down. Victoria, however, was made of sterner stuff. She did not care for any trifling snow when a woman’s life had been taken in cold blood.
“Well, well, well, looks like the Vixen’s back, boys! I thought I smelled something.” Edgar Greaves, a former antagonist of Victoria’s, puffed bluish smoke from between his lips, a sleek pipe clutched in his hand.
Victoria shot him a sarcastic smile. “Perhaps you ought to take a sniff of yourself, Greaves. I imagine you’ll find the culprit. Might be the only culprit you’ve ever found.”
A series of stifled snorts rippled around the gathered investigators: a few from Bow Street, a few of them independent, like Victoria and Benedict. Meanwhile, Greaves opened and closed his mouth like a beached fish, trying, and failing, to conjure a retort.
“Aye, and you shouldn’t be addressing Lady Galbury like that, neither. She’s a Countess, in case you’d forgotten, so I’d suggest you watch your tongues,” Benedict barked. A remnant of his paternal instincts toward her, though she had no need of his aid when it came to these rogues. She had been admonishing them for years.
Greaves looked as though he would welcome the ground swallowing him up, as his peers nudged and jostled him throughout the stern rebuke, their laughter pointed. Victoria smiled at Benedict, grateful to be in his company once more, and secretly pleased by his leap to her defense. She may not have required his addition to her own retort, but it felt like old times again, and that was worth smiling about.
“Now, if you don’t mind, some of us are here to do some actual investigative work.” She pushed through a throng of constables to reach the victim. Most women would have recoiled at the scene that lay before her, but she was not most women. In all her career, she could not recall a time when any sight, no matter how grim, had prompted her to turn away. Victims deserved the respect of observation, not revulsion.
The woman lay upon a flattened clearing of shrubbery, perilously close to the edge of the riverbank. Indeed, an inch or more, and her head would have dangled from the lip. Her skin was pale in the revealing light of day, though much paler than Victoria would have suspected. It was almost as if all of the blood had been drained from her, for the usual blooms of coagulation that spiderwebbed beneath the surface layer were not so obvious as usual.
Victoria frowned. “Ben, come and look at this.”
“Must I?” Benedict covered his mouth with a handkerchief as he approached the body.
“Tell me what you see,” she encouraged.
“I see…a dead woman with her throat cut and her eyes covered by coins.”
Victoria had to resist rolling her eyes for the second time that day. She preferred to keep to a quota. “Where is all of the blood?”
Benedict’s eyes narrowed as he took a closer look at the body. A second later, he gasped in surprise. “My goodness, you’re right!”
“I know I am.” Victoria crouched down beside the poor soul, ignoring the protests of the constables behind her. They knew who she was, and they always attempted to limit her access on scenes such as this, which was why she had made the decision to pretend they were not there.
“There are some dried pools of it in the grass, but not nearly enough to reflect what’s been done to her. When a throat is cut, as you know, there is always a great deal of blood.”
“Might the injury have missed the usual arteries?” Benedict did not join her in getting nearer to the victim.
She shook her head. “No. The murderer would’ve had to be exceedingly clumsy to manage that, and this is not the cut of a clumsy killer.” She reached out and brushed her fingertips across the grass, closest to the bloodstained white of the woman’s throat, where her life had spilled out.
But not into the ground.
An indentation, circular and barely visible, marked the underbrush where the victim had fallen.
“There was a jar here. Perhaps two.” Victoria touched the faint edges of the compressed circle once more, to be sure. “And she was tipped, so her blood would run into the jars. Do you see?” She pointed to the faint, rusty lines that ran down the woman’s throat. More of the streaks covered the right side, with some advancing right up to her jawline. A sure sign that she had been moved onto her side.
Benedict stared at her. “I’d forgotten how remarkable you could be.”
“This isn’t about me.” Victoria did not turn away from the victim. She could not. While some of these investigators were already commenting on the nature of the woman’s employment, and snickering like schoolboys, casting their aspersions, she did not care.
Some of the kindest people she knew were prostitutes, and beggars, and creatures from the city’s underbelly. Their deaths were no less tragic, and no less important, simply because they had been pushed to the outskirts of polite society. People did not choose to exist in destitution. And she did not judge them for the hand that life had dealt them, as others did.
I will bring you justice, whoever you were.
She promised it faithfully, as she paused to hold the woman’s hand. A gesture of friendship to a woman that likely had no-one when she lived.
“What about the coins?” Benedict gestured to the sovereigns on the woman’s eyes.
“Well, Callahan was right…for once.” Victoria picked one up while the constables were not looking and observed it more closely. There did not seem to be anything amiss with it, aside from a few droplets of blood. “But why would a murderer leave such wealth with their victim?”
Benedict shrugged. “I couldn’t say.”
“I suppose a better question would be, how could a murderer leave such wealth with their victim?” Victoria whispered the words, trying to make sense of them in her mind. To have given two sovereigns to a dead woman meant the killer had to possess two sovereigns. And that meant…
“Not again.” She shook her head, feeling a sudden heat creep up the back of her neck.
“What? What is it?” Benedict leaned forward, intrigued.
She put the coin back where she had found it. “We are searching for a rich perpetrator. Someone who can spare this sort of money without a thought.”
Benedict turned pale. “No…surely not?”
“Do you know of any ruffians with two sovereigns to spare?” she replied pointedly, eyeing the neat line that had ended this woman’s life. That, too, looked as though it had been done with a sharp, expert blade. The kind not found in the vicinity of these boroughs, with the exception of butchers, perhaps.
But Victoria sensed they were dealing with a different sort of butcher. One who killed for sport, rather than necessity. A bold assumption, she supposed, but it paid to be bold in such matters.
Benedict shook his head. “I’m afraid I don’t. You know that this will only cause trouble, don’t you? High society adores you, Victoria, but if you start investigating their ilk again, they won’t thank you for it.”
She steeled her resolve. “No, but this woman might, and so might whomever will be next.”
“Next?” Benedict’s eyes widened, and she gave a firm, bleak nod.
“Oh yes. With murders such as this, there is always a next.”
After jotting down notes of what she had witnessed, Victoria accompanied Benedict back to the offices that she had once called home. Her beloved lodgings now belonged to Callahan—another reason for her irritation toward the man—yet being here again still felt like home. Or, rather, like a homecoming.
With Benedict seeing to his ablutions elsewhere, she went to the window and peered out at the familiar view. The misty river flowing languidly along while barges and boats floated upon it, traveling hither and thither to wherever the wind took them. It saddened her, to think that the victim must have looked upon a similar sight when she died, though she would not have seen it in the daylight.
Just then, the office door opened, and Christian entered, breathing hard. “Victoria! There you are!”
“Here I am.” She smiled at him as he rushed toward her, wrapping her in an eager embrace, as though he had not seen her in months. She inhaled the peppermint and woodsmoke scent of him, and sank contentedly into his arms, though she knew there was an ulterior motive behind his sudden appearance. “Let me guess, Ben sent for you?”
Christian pulled away. “How did you—? Never mind. I suppose it is obvious.” He looked somewhat sheepish. “He thought it might be useful if I were to join you, though he did not give an entire explanation when he sent Callahan to fetch me.”
“Where is the little toad?” Victoria peered around Christian’s shoulder, to find Callahan hovering in the doorway. “Are you coming in or not?”
His eyes brightened. “Am I allowed?”
“It’s about time you learned something useful, and you were the first one to see the body, so you might remember something that I missed.” She did not say she doubted it, in a sudden moment of benevolence. After all, she was back where she belonged, working on the sort of case that she had missed, and that was cause for a modicum of generosity.
Callahan scurried into the room and sat down, folding his hands into his lap like a prim debutante. “What would you like to know, My Lady?”
Victoria exchanged an amused glance with her husband.
“Be nice,” he warned, with a smile.
She rose up on tiptoe and kissed him tenderly on the nose. “I’m always nice.”
“To me, yes. To others, I am uncertain.” He chuckled, his eyes shining in that way she adored. It was the same shine that glittered in Mercy’s eyes whenever Victoria did something to make her giggle.
Leading Christian by the hand, they sat around Benedict’s desk and awaited his return. He entered not long after, apologizing profusely as he took his seat.
“Are you apologizing for being gone for so long, or for having my husband come to chaperone this wayward miscreant?” She gestured to herself, and Benedict reddened.
“I thought he’d prefer to be involved, that’s all. I meant no harm by it.”
Victoria raised a dubious eyebrow. “I suppose he will be helpful once we have to begin interviewing the upper echelons. They respond well to his charm, you see. It’s what made me marry him.”
Christian laughed nervously, glossing over her joke. “Did you say, ‘interviewing the upper echelons?’ I want to ensure I heard you correctly.”
“Which brings us to my findings.” Victoria opened her notebook and began to regale Christian and Callahan with what she had discovered at the murder scene: the lack of blood, the circular indentation, the sovereigns, and the nature of the victim whose life had been taken.
“Sally Price.” Callahan raised his hand.
“Pardon?” Victoria eyed him curiously.
“The victim’s name is—sorry, was—Sally Price. The lamplighter who found her was speaking with a dock worker when I arrived, and he said he thought it might be Sally Price.” Callahan frowned in thought. “He said he’d seen her around that area a few times and recognized her.”
Victoria bit her tongue. “And you didn’t think to mention this beforehand?”
“I…wasn’t sure if it was important.” He cast a worried look to Benedict, who responded with a nod of reassurance.
You didn’t think the name of the victim was important? My goodness, where did Ben find this fool?
She swallowed her annoyance, for at least they now had a name they could utilize. It may have come marginally late, but she was not about to focus on that when there were other matters to consider.
“I’d suggest we start by talking to the other prostitutes in the area, though we’ll have to go tonight. I doubt any of them will be out, at present, and we may find them to be sparser this evening, considering what has happened.” Victoria put her hand on Christian’s arm. “We can do the interviewing this evening, as I know a few of the women who work there.”
“And I would not feel comfortable with you going alone,” Christian added. “Although, will you not have Mercy to take care of?”
Victoria’s heart jolted suddenly—a fracture appearing where her old life and her present life had collided. She had been so invested in her work that she had almost forgotten her other duties: being a mother. She peered up at Christian, feeling oddly miffed. He could continue on, as before, without anyone making judgements about where she should be, and what she should be doing.
But the moment she attempted the same, she felt…criticized. It had been the same when she had returned to her investigations not long after Mercy was born. Even her mother had suggested she stay home instead of venturing out to help the vulnerable and desperate.
“Mama will see to her if she wakes in the night,” she said firmly. “Indeed, she won’t even know that I’m gone.”
Christian offered an apologetic smile. “I did not mean to say that you should not pursue this, even though you know I fear for you when you undertake cases like this.” He lifted her hand to his lips. “I can see that it makes you happy, to be back here, and I want nothing more than your contentment. I worry for your safety, that is all, after…what happened.”
“Which is why you’ll be coming with me and working alongside me.” She knew that the only way to divert him from his concerns was to include him and she did not mind having him at her side. In a way, it reminded her of how they had begun. Had they never agreed to work together, they would not be happily married now, with a daughter whom they both adored. Besides, unlike Callahan, her husband was no hindrance.
Benedict nodded. “Very well. You and Christian go and speak to the prostitutes tonight. Callahan and I will remain here and wait for you to bring us news of any discoveries.”
“I like the sound of that.” Victoria settled back into her chair, remembering how it felt to be on the front line again.
“Well, you’ve always been a very strange creature,” Benedict teased.
She sat up again, a thought nagging at her mind. “I suppose we ought to go back home until this evening. Mercy will be waiting, and I don’t want my mother to have spoiled her rotten before we return.”
Christian rose and offered his hand to her. “With you as her mother, there is little chance of that. It is more likely that she will become a free spirit, and then we shall be in for a world of mayhem.”
Victoria chuckled and took her husband’s hand, the two of them bidding farewell to Benedict and Callahan before making their way from the building.
As she walked down the narrow, rickety staircase toward the ground floor, she felt gripped by a sudden surrealness. How could she go home to her daughter with such ease after what she had seen today? How could she carry on with ordinary life as though she had not just witnessed a body that had been drained of blood, and decorated as though they were about to sail away across the Styx, to the afterlife? It baffled her, but then she had always been able to separate her two lives—professional and personal. Until Christian had come into her world, that is.
I suppose it’s healthy to have some joy in a world that has so much darkness in it.
Mercy and Christian were certainly beacons of happiness, providing love where she had once felt nothing. She only hoped that she was not putting that comforting glow at risk by heading down this path.
No…That woman was someone’s daughter. Perhaps, she was someone’s love, too.
But she had not been as fortunate as Victoria. That woman’s life had gone astray, somewhere along the line, and Victoria vowed to bring her peace in her death, that she had not been able to find in life. She would do so for the mother who had lost a daughter, and likely did not know of that familial loss.
With her husband’s arm through hers, Victoria stepped out into the brisk air. The snowfall had ceased while they had been inside, though the bulbous clouds that remained overhead suggested it would not be long until more drifted down to blanket London in pure white.
They were approaching the waiting carriage, which Christian had evidently arrived in, when movement caught Victoria’s attention. No, it was not movement, more of a feeling. She turned her head slightly to the side, peering out of the corner of her eye. A figure lurked on the corner of an alleyway to the left. A hood shrouded their face from sight, but she could tell from the way they stood that they were observing her.
Who are you?
A tremor shivered through her, cold and insistent. There was something about the figure that perturbed her. After all, a person did not wear a hood unless they wanted to conceal something. But what did they hope to conceal?
“Victoria?” Christian drew her attention away from the hooded shadow. “Is everything all right?”
Victoria put on a smile, not wanting to worry him. “Of course, my love.”
However, as she ascended the step into the carriage, she turned around once more to glance at the alleyway. But the hooded shadow had gone.
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