A Hunt by Moonlight
Something more deadly than werewolves is stalking the gaslit streets of London. Inspector Royston Jones, unacknowledged bastard of a high-born family, is determined to track the killer before more young women fall to his knife. But his investigation puts him in the way of a lord who is a clandestine werewolf and the man’s fiancée , a woman alchemist with attitude and a secret of her own. Will they destroy Royston to protect their covert identities, or will they join with him to hunt the hunter?
What people are saying…
I’m a big fan of the author’s “Ravensblood” series, so when I saw that she had a new book out featuring steampunk, werewolves, and a murder mystery, I had to get my hands on it. I must say, it doesn’t disappoint! It’s a good, solid story with well-developed characters (my favorites are the high-born werewolf and his whip-smart, ahead-of-her-time wife), an intriguing mystery brought to a satisfying conclusion, and lots of action and twists. The author does an excellent job of integrating werewolves into Victorian English society in an interesting and non-cliched way (they’re the object of prejudice, but they’re still part of society). It’s clear she’s got more books planned featuring these characters, and I’ll be picking them up when they’re available. A Hunt by Moonlight is a great start to a new series.
–5-star review by best-selling author R L King
What if Queen Victoria and H.P. Lovecraft’s love child was raised by Arthur Conan Doyle? The result might be something like Shawna Reppert’s new detective fiction, the steampunk/paranormal/detective mashup genre known as gaslamp fantasy. Like steampunk, its alternate-history cousin, gaslamp fantasy is set in a Jules Verne world of Victorian steam powered wonders. But this world includes magic and fantasy elements, and often steps away from the steampunk promise of simplicity, romance, and cool design to showcase the grittier elements of the Victorian world.
–From a 5-star review by author Barb Taub
loved the characters from the start. They don’t always do what I want them to, which make them that much more intriguing. The setting is amazingly detailed, helping me feel like I was really there. The relationships are fascinating. For readers looking for romantic elements, you’ll find only a hint or two of those. I felt like there was plenty, just enough to make the characters feel like fully developed human beings. Mostly this is a paranormal mystery, and an extremely enjoyable one. Highly recommended.
–5-star Amazon reader review
I was pleasantly surprised at the mix of detective, paranormal and steampunk in this story. This is a murder mystery at heart, but there are some good action scenes and light moments interspersed.
–Amazon reader review
Inspector Royston Jones straightened up from his examination of the mutilated body of the shop girl. The night patrol had found her in the narrow alley between the butcher’s shop and the chandler’s and had immediately sent for him despite the hour.
Parker, the constable who had led him to the scene, looked about nervously. “They say it’s the Ladykiller, come back.”
“Nonsense.” Royston kept his tone firm, matter-of-fact. “Blackpoole is dead. I saw the body myself.”
“They say he’s come back,” the constable whispered.
“He had his throat torn out by a werewolf. A man doesn’t come back from that.”
“They’re saying maybe Blackpoole wasn’t a man, sir.” Parker glanced over his shoulder as if expecting Blackpoole’s shade to creep up on him as he spoke. “They’re saying he was something else.”
Royston put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “You’re a good man, Parker, but you’ll never make inspector if you keep spouting superstitious nonsense like that. Truth is, people don’t want to think that one of their own, a human just like them, could be capable of such things. They especially don’t want to think that there could be more than one such human predator. It was one of the reasons Blackpoole was able to misdirect suspicion onto werewolves, despite the evidence.”
There was a distant sound of hooves on the cobblestones. Too light and quick to be the first of the morning delivery carts. It might be the last of the night’s theater-goers or gambling hell rakes heading home.
He nodded toward the dead girl. “She bled out, but not here. The cuts were clean, made with a sharp knife. Killer had some knowledge of anatomy, but the unevenness of some of the cuts show that the victim was alive through at least some of it.” His throat tightened on the last bit.
Pale beneath his high, rounded helmet, the constable looked ready to vomit then, but he had already emptied the entire contents of his stomach behind some empty crates at the back entrance to the chandler’s shop. Parker was a solid man with a few years’ experience, but these killings would make anyone sick, and Parker had a wife at home and two little girls that would someday be young women out in the world. Royston, even with his longer service, held his composure only because he’d been working late at the Yard and had missed his supper.
Think like the criminal, his mentor, Jacob Godwin, always told him. But who knew why this madman killed. Because it’s a day that ends in a ‘y’? The only one who could understand would be another madman. Should he apply to Bedlam for help?
“Just like the others,” Parker said unnecessarily.
Royston couldn’t fault his desire to break the eerie silence. The infamous London fog wrapped the night in a funeral shroud and dimmed the yellow haze of the gaslight street lamp in the adjoining a cobblestoned street. Anything could be hiding in the shadows.
His eyes were drawn back to the girl. Neat-trimmed, clean nails, good skin. She had been pretty in life.
“May as well cover the poor thing,” Royston said. “We’re not going to get more from the body until the coroner has a look.”
And he wasn’t any closer to catching the killer than he had been after the first murder, or the third. Big Ben chimed five times. Soon his London would be up and about its business, watching over its shoulder for the monster that lurked somewhere in its midst.
By that afternoon, Royston had a name for the victim. Her flatmate had run up to the constable on their beat in tears. Kitty hadn’t come home that night, and it wasn’t like her, Kitty was such a good girl, and with these murders, well. . .
The constable had already heard of the latest victim found and escorted the flatmate to the morgue, where, according to the attendant, she collapsed into a dead faint on seeing the victim’s face. Upon being revived with smelling salts, she had provided a name. Kitty Harper, nineteen years old, come from her family’s failing farm to seek her fortune.
She’d had better luck than many such girls, having secured a respectable job at a dry-goods shop. Better luck, that is, until her luck ran out. Royston had tea brought into the interview room. Tea was a comforting ritual even when there was no comfort to be had. It gave the interview subject something to focus on when the words tumbling out of her mouth were too horrible to bear without distraction.
He gave her a moment to settle in and take his measure. Royston knew himself to be one of the Yard’s less impressive physical specimens. His hair was a nondescript, mousy brownish-blonde and he was among the shortest men ever to be accepted onto the force. But in interviews, his appearance worked in his favor, and he accentuated it with a deliberately mild manner that put witnesses and sometimes even suspects at ease, made them feel as though it was safe to speak freely.
The flatmate, pale blonde and blue-eyed, had the sort of complexion that betrayed emotion in a range of color. At the moment, her bloodless-white face carried blotches of pink high on her cheeks. The look of high fever, or great distress. Royston wanted to comfort her, to change the topic to a more agreeable one, to suggest that she go home and rest and have a friend bring her tea in bed.
Instead, he asked question after question about the dead girl, knowing all the while that the flatmate couldn’t speak her friend’s name without seeing her dead on the slab, couldn’t think of her without imagining what horrible wounds the coroner’s stark white sheet had hidden.
“It were him, weren’t it?” she asked. “The one the papers are calling Doctor Death?”
Why did the papers have to sensationalize everything? This case was bad enough without screaming headlines and clever monikers.
“That is one avenue we’re exploring.”
She narrowed her eyes. To hell with proper form. He’d get nothing from her if she didn’t trust him, and she wouldn’t trust him if he remained all proper and procedural. “Probably, yes,” He softened his tone, but nothing could soften the words.
She gave a choked cry, stifled it with the handkerchief he had loaned her. It was one thing to suspect, another to have one’s suspicions confirmed. He gave her a moment.
She continued in a high, tight voice. “What the papers said, about how those other girls died?”
“You don’t want to know about those things, Miss.” And, oh, God, he didn’t want to talk about them. Certainly not with someone who had known the victim in life.
She sobbed into the handkerchief. He waited out the storm. Crying women always made him feel helpless.
“Can you think of a reason someone might want to have hurt your friend?”
“Why? Papers say it’s random, say anyone could be next.”
“We haven’t found a connection yet. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one.” And if there isn’t one, finding the killer will be as hard as finding a drunken sailor in Church on Sunday. “Besides, we have to rule out the possibility of someone using these killings as a cover.” When totally at a loss, the only thing to do was to fall back on the standard questions. “We must be thorough. We owe that much to Miss Harper, don’t we?”
She nodded, and sipped at her tea, making a clear effort to compose herself. “There was no one. This may sound impossible, but I can’t think of a single person who disliked Kitty. She was the sweetest—“
He waited patiently for her to get herself back under control. “Was there any beau? A special young man she was walking out with?”
“No. She had her share of admirers, sir. ‘Course she did, pretty as she is. Was. She was friendly with all of them,”
No strong suspects, not even a weak one.
“Oh, not like that, sir,” she said, catching and misinterpreting his frown. “Just, she came from the country, see? Everyone was a friend to her, she hadn’t learned London ways. She was just. . .friendly. Never saw the bad in people.”
All the easier for a charming stranger to chat her up and lead her off. From the lowliest schoolyard bully to the worst of the men who killed for amusement or for the few coins in the victim’s purse, predators looked for weakness. Unfortunately, in the streets of London, being too kind, too friendly, too willing to help a stranger in need constituted weakness, especially for a vulnerable unmarried woman.
Royston drank his tea, bitter in his mouth despite milk and extra sugar, hoping it would somehow stave off the headache building near the front of his skull, the combined result of a lack of sleep and a lack of hope.
“Kitty was the best friend I could ever hope for,” the girl said. “I just can’t believe something like this could happen. It’s just like with the Ladykiller, except the ’wolf got him. Would figure that it’d be the rich girl he saved, that’s just how the world works, innit? Except I can’t figure why a werewolf would side with the hoity-toity; they’re kept even lower than us working folk.”
That was just one on the unsolved mysteries around that supposedly closed case. Royston was just glad it hadn’t been his case, though the Inspector in charge had brought him in to assist. He’d been newly promoted and enthusiastic and had that really been just over a year ago?
“I’m so scared, Inspector. All us girls are so scared.” Her eyes pleaded, full of fear. “Please catch him, sir. Please catch him before he gets another one of us.”
Royston saw her out with a solemn oath to do his very best to see justice done for Kitty Harper. That much he could swear to. He’d do his best, he’d been doing his best, but right now his best felt utterly inadequate.
Royston forced himself to choke down a cold sandwich at his desk before his next interview. The headache would only be worse if he didn’t eat. The food sat in a lump in his stomach as he left to interview Miss Harper’s employer.
The Commissioner and his daughter were coming into the Yard just as he was leaving. Adela Chatham was a vision indeed. An intricate twist held her hair up under her peacock-plumed hat, but a few rich chestnut curls artfully escaped to frame the sweet oval of her face. The rich emerald of her dress complimented her coloring perfectly.
She had consented to walk out with him a time or two. Royston had dared to hope, but it had come to naught. He suspected that her father’s disapproval had something to do with that, but she was too well-bred to embarrass him by explaining the cause in detail. He supposed it had no future to begin with. Though the gentry would consider a police commissioner barely above a tradesman, the commissioner thought much more of himself, and Miss Chatham had been brought up as gently as any lady, untouched by the darker realities of her father’s world and as untouchable as an angel in a dream.
“Inspector Jones, how do you do?” The sincerity of her smiled warmed him through.
“Well, thank you. You are a vision as always, Miss Chatham.”
She blushed prettily. “And you are still the consummate gentleman.”
“Adela, could you wait for me just inside? There’s a lamb.” When she was out of earshot, the Commissioner turned to Jones. “A word, if you will, Jones.”
He had already started on his way. He stopped and turned, one step down from the Commissioner and feeling that much shorter for their relative positions.
“Any progress on these new killings?”
Royston looked down for a moment, then made himself meet his superior’s eyes. “No, sir, not yet. We have an identity for the girl found last night. Her flatmate wasn’t able to tell me anything of use. I’m on my way to talk to her employer.”
“Honestly, Jones, if I’d know from the outset how big this case was going to be, I’d have assigned it to someone more seasoned.”
He wouldn’t point out that of the more seasoned inspectors, two had retired, three had been fired for graft, and the remaining couldn’t come close to Royston’s success rate.
“I’m keeping you on the case because of your work in the Dalton case and because Godwin seems to see something in you. This case could make your career, Jones. I’m giving you a chance to rise above your background. Not many men get that. It’ll be on my reputation as well as yours if you fail. Don’t let me down.”
He could not entertain the fear that Chatham’s low opinion of him was justified. He had proved himself time and time again. But this was his biggest case yet. What if he wasn’t equal to it? He’d sworn he’d prove himself to those who looked down on him as a governess’s bastard with a name his mother had usurped from her betters. But what if his pride meant that a killer stayed free and more girls died?
This case could, as Chatham pointed out, make his career. But the girls were more important, the ones walking home from merciless jobs through lonely walkways, yes, even the ones working the streets because they had no choice. The women who, like his mother, had no one to care for them in a city that made it difficult and dangerous to be a woman alone and unprotected.
Royston walked a short distance and then caught the omnibus that would take him to the dry-goods shop where Kitty Harper used to work. The interior of the ‘bus buzzed with a half-dozen conversations, not all of them conducted in English. Most of the words he caught and understood (English, plus the French and Greek he’d learned from his mother) had something to do with the dead girl, the killer, the terror that ran through the streets of London, and the ineffectiveness of the Yard. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, glad that his rank freed him from the identifying uniform.
As the patient, plodding horses wove their way between hackney cabs and delivery carts, stopping here and there to avoid pedestrians and bicycles and the occasional steam-driven horseless, he turned his mind to the dead girls.
He could see no obvious link between them. The first two had been prostitutes, which was probably why Royston had been put on the case instead of someone the Commissioner favored more. No one cared about a couple of dead whores. Good riddance, many would say.
As though prostitution weren’t the inevitable result of a society that declared a man should not marry until such time as he was financially settled and that ‘good’ women did not have sex outside of marriage. Combine that with natural urges and the pressure on boys to ‘become a man’, add in the extreme desperation of poverty, and he couldn’t imagine how anyone expected that there wouldn’t be prostitutes.
The only reason an investigation had been opened at all was the gruesome way the girls had died and the similarity to the Blackpoole case. The next girl had been a seamstress, though, and the one after that a washerwoman. Three of the four girls had been fairly new to London, and both of the prostitutes had been fairly new to the trade. No common acquaintances.
The omnibus jerked as the horses pulled to a sudden stop to avoid a flashy horseless carriage zipping through traffic in a particularly reckless manner. Bloody toffs thought they owned the road!
Although he had to admit, it had been a particularly fine-looking machine, all bright paint and polished chrome. He didn’t imagine he’d have a chance to ride in one of those in his lifetime.
The horses leaned into their traces once more, and the omnibus continued its slow progress.
One thing kept repeating in his mind, words repeating like a chant in time to the slow clop of the horses’s hooves against the paving. It’s just like with the Ladykiller, except the ’wolf got him. . . I can’t figure why a werewolf would side with the hoity-toity. . . When something wouldn’t leave his mind, he’d learned to pay attention.
From where the omnibus let him off, it was only a half a block walk to the dry-goods shop. Not the fanciest part of town, but definitely not the worst. There was a stationer’s, a dressmaker’s, and a butcher with offerings that looked fresh and wholesome.
The merry jangle of the bell on the door of the dry-goods shop set Royston’s nerves on edge. The gray-haired woman behind the counter turned at the sound. He took in the pride of her manner and the quality of her dress, which, while though of plain gray linen, bore lace embellishments on the sleeves. Surely this must be Mrs. Tull, the proprietress.
Her eyes, red-rimmed from crying, softened the first impression given by the thin, downturned lips and the hard lines of her face. She had heard already what had happened to Miss Harper, then. At least he did not have to break the news—by far one of the worst parts of his job.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Ma’am. I’m Inspector Jones of Scotland Yard. Do you have a moment to answer a few questions about Kitty Harper?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, of course. “You’d best come through to the back. The bell will tell me if anyone comes in. I’m sorry, I’m short-handed today because…” A sob caught in her throat, and she swallowed it with visible effort. “I’m short-handed,” she repeated in a firm, business-like tone.
“Of course,” Royston said softly. “I’m sorry.”
He followed her to the back room of the shop, which was dimly lit by a high window and crowded with a hugger-mugger of accounts books and receipts and an overflow of shop merchandise. A small stove huddled in one corner. He pictured Miss Harper here, perhaps shuffling through things looking for a special order for a customer or having tea on a break, greeting a coworker with a sweet smile.
“I’ll put on a kettle for tea,” she said. “It won’t be but a minute.”
She bustled about, putting a kettle on the stovetop, getting the plain blue tea pot down from a high shelf in the cupboard, carefully measuring out the tea leaves from a canister with the focus and care of an alchemist working with precious metals or dangerous chemicals.
Royston made himself sit patiently through the ritual of tea-making. One thing about this part of his job—he’d never go thirsty. Refusing tea would have set the woman off her routine and emphasize the fact that this wasn’t a social call. The closer she came to forgetting that he was a Detective Inspector and not a sympathetic neighbor, the more open she’d be.
The bell at the door rang. She jumped, nearly dropping the china cups and saucers.
“Oh, dear,” she said. “I’d best. . .”
She took a step toward the front of the shop, and then back, indecisive.
Royston smiled at her in reassurance. “It’s fine. You have a shop to run. I’ll take care of the tea, shall I?”
That only made her do the back-and-forth dance once more, with a quick glance to her china as though uncertain whether a mere man could be trusted with so delicate a domestic operation. But at last the needs of commerce won out, and she excused herself, leaving him to watch the pot on the stove.
He listened to the sound and rhythm of the voices in the front of the shop but couldn’t make out the words until Mrs. Tull’s voice rose in anger.
“Fine then! Your custom will be no great loss to me, I assure you, ma’am.”
The kettle whistled, and Royston jumped to pour it over the measured leaves in the pot, performing with the honor of all bachelors everywhere at stake. Thus distracted, he missed the customer’s reply, though he heard the bell ring angrily as the door jerked open hard and slammed shut. To his surprise, next came the sound of the lock on the door as it shot home, followed by the sound of windows being shuttered.
Mrs. Tull stalked back to Royston, her face red, her hands on her hips. “Gossips! Nasty, filthy-minded gossips. Third one this morning. I’ve closed for the day. I can’t bear it, I tell you!” Her face screwed up as though she didn’t know whether she wanted to sob, scream, or do violence.
“And you! I expect you’re here to try to dig up some sordid stories about poor Kitty, find some way that this was all her fault to excuse yourself and the rest of you Peelers for your inability to do your bloody jobs!”
Royston flinched. Her anger came out of fear and grief, not rationality, but that didn’t make it any easier to bear.
“Kitty was a good girl! She didn’t do one thing, one bloody thing to bring this on her,” Mrs. Tull sank into the nearest chair and buried her face in her hands, sobbing.
“I know,” Royston said. “I know. I talked to her flatmate earlier. And in my line of work, I’ve seen enough to know that horrible, horrible things sometimes happen to the best of people. The small-minded would prefer to blame the victim because it makes them feel safer, no matter how much it hurts those left behind.”
It had been that way when his mother was killed.
He pulled out a fresh handkerchief and offered it to her. Tools of the trade. He’d never yet had to fire a gun in the line of duty, but he’d employed a handkerchief more times than he could count. A gentleman always carries a clean handkerchief, his mother had told him, time and time again. Little did she know how handy that would be in his chosen field.
Mrs. Tull dried her eyes and looked up at him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m sorry, it’s just. . .” She took a deep, shuddering breath.
“It’s all right. Take a moment.”
He poured tea for both of them while he waited for her to collect herself.
“Kitty was such a sweet girl,” the woman said after a calming sip of tea. “Good worker. Honest as the day is long. Always had me send part of her pay back to her widowed mother in Derbyshire. What kind of man could do this?”
“That’s just what I’m trying to find out, ma’am.”
The shopkeeper, though more than willing, had nothing of substance to offer. Kitty was a friendly girl, so sweet and so pretty, a favorite of all the customers, but no, there was no one she could recall who paid her any special attention, or who hung about often enough to make anyone uncomfortable, mostly it was women who did the shopping, don’t you know? No, there had been no gentlemen meeting her at the door to walk her home.
Essentially the same story as the flatmate had given. He thanked her for her time and extracted her promise to contact him should she think of anything else.
She walked him to the door. “Thank you. Thank you for listening.” She tucked a packet of biscuits into his pocket before he could protest. “To strengthen you on your way. Catch this monster for us, Inspector.”
He wished he could promise that he would. Instead, he said the only thing he could. “I’ll do my best.”
On the walk to catch the omnibus, he passed a beggar in ragged, ill-fitting clothes. The man looked familiar, and he scoured his memory. Not one of his sources. Someone he’d arrested at some point? Maybe—no. Clean the man up, take ten years off him. . .
“Smythe, is that you?”
The man looked up sharply, startled at being recognized.
At least that explained why an apparently able-bodied man was begging in the streets mid-day when there might be work to be had on the docks. In the wealthy, idleness was considered a virtue, but in the poor, it was a sin. A smart beggar would either have to appear to be seeking work, or show an obvious reason why he could not work. It seemed Smythe was still too honest to pretend blindness or other malady.
Smythe was smart and good at maths, and everyone at school had agreed that he was destined for something better than the factory work that was slowly breaking his parents’ health. A clerk, for sure, maybe even a bookkeeper, it could happen.
But that was before he was bitten.
“I had heard. . .” Royston trailed off awkwardly.
It wasn’t something you talked about, was it?
Smythe gave a weary shrug of one shoulder, as though two would be too much effort. “These things happen.”
Royston glanced away and tried to think of something to say. He dealt with terrible, terrible things every day in his line of work, but it was different with someone he knew.
Smythe had been robust in their school days, muscled from helping his uncle load delivery carts in the dark morning hours before the start of school. Now he looked like a scarecrow. Probably lived off of soup kitchens and scraps. No one would hire a werewolf, and few who knew what he was would spare a ha’penny to one begging in the streets.
Royston put a hand in his pocket.
Smythe shook his head and backed away. “No. You don’t have to.”
Bad enough to be begging in the streets. Royston imagined it would be far worse to accept a hand-out from someone one knew. He managed a smile. “Not charity. Just think of it as me buying an old friend a drink.”
A small difference, especially as he offered enough silver to buy a couple of meals as well.
“You’re a good man, Royston,” Smythe said. “Always have been.”
Smythe glanced around furtively before accepting the money. Looking for other ‘wolves. Werewolves, excluded from normal society, had one of their own. If it was largely criminal, well, what other options had they? No ’wolf who valued his skin would be seen by others taking money from a police inspector. Whether Smythe was part of the criminal subclass or just afraid of them, Royston didn’t want to know. He wished the man well and hurried to catch the omnibus.
It had been too long a day on too little sleep, and he contemplated a quick stop at his favorite fish-n-chips cart and an early night, but when he stopped at the Yard to file his notes there was a dinner invitation awaiting him from Jacob Godwin.
Godwin always showed an almost psychic sense for when Royston needed to talk, but with last night’s dead girl all over the papers and the headlines screaming of the Yard’s lack of progress, it wouldn’t take a master detective such as Godwin had been to know Royston’s state of mind.
Jacob Godwin forbade two topics at the dinner table—the work and Godwin’s son, Willie. Willie’s mother was long gone, and Royston often took meals with his mentor in Godwin’s rented rooms, which were small but well-furnished, and significantly more comfortable than Royston’s lonely portion of a two-up, two-down.
Royston had been a constable when a bank robber’s bullet had shattered Godwin’s kneecap, ending the career of one of the finest detectives London had ever seen. Godwin was an impressive man even now, tall and broad of shoulder, posture proud and straight, the steel streaking his black hair speaking of dignity rather than infirmity. His big hands were equally suited to collaring a criminal or to comforting a young boy who was being bullied.
The roast and potatoes were excellent. Pursuant to Godwin’s rules they kept the conversation light, discussing the merits and disadvantages of the newfangled, steam-driven horseless carriages over a good, old-fashioned carriage-and-four. Pure frivolity—neither Godwin on his police pension nor Royston on his new detective’s salary could afford either conveyance.
Royston’s mind was only half on the subject, anyway.
Finally they adjourned to the sitting area to smoke by the fireplace. Godwin handed Royston tea liberally laced with brandy.
“So,” Godwin said. “They’ve found another one last night.”
Royston nodded, though it hadn’t really been a question. Godwin filled his own pipe from a seashell-encrusted box that had been a souvenir from a Brighton Beach trip when Willie was a boy, a memento of happier times. He handed the box to Royston. Royston took his pipe case from the inner pocket of his jacket and proceeded to fill and light his pipe. He seldom indulged in tobacco, except for this ritual with his mentor who had given him his first pipe when he turned eighteen.
He leaned back, taking comfort in the familiar scent and flavor of good tobacco, one of Godwin’s few extravagances. This same overstuffed chair had dwarfed him as a child, that first day Willie brought him home to meet his Da.
The chair had been of good quality, finer than any Royston had sat on before, but now it was a bit faded, upholstery worn thin at the arms.
He had been anxious to talk about the case over dinner. Now that the time had come, he wished he could indulge in the comfort of fire, brandy, and tobacco without dragging the memory of dark alleys and torn flesh into this sanctuary.
He opened his jacket buttons. No need to stand on ceremony with someone who had washed his grubby hands and face when he was a boy, and Godwin always kept his home warmer than Royston did his own rooms. Even on his inspector’s salary, the extra coal seemed like a needless extravagance. He’d become used to much colder when he was a child.
“You always say to think like a criminal, to understand how he thinks as the huntsman understands the fox, but how can I begin to understand a mind like this? Though I’ve been fortunate enough never to come to it myself, I can imagine killing in the line of duty to protect innocents or in self-defense. Killing in hot blood, in rage, I can understand, even if it is reprehensible. But to abduct a girl off the streets and kill her slowly, take her apart as she screams and cries and begs for mercy, I can’t understand it. I’m not sure I want to. But if I don’t understand it, then I can’t understand the killer, and I can’t catch him before he kills another poor girl.”
His chest heaved with emotion by the time he finished his rant. In silence, Godwin; calm, implacable, and understanding, waited until he pulled himself together.
“The newspapers are saying that the Ladykiller walks again,” Royston said at last. “Ridiculous, of course, though the modus operandi is similar. Except for the brass wolf token Blackpoole left, and that was meant to throw us off his track.”
Godwin would know all of this, of course. But it helped to talk things through. Godwin was always patient about letting Royston work his way through to an answer. When Royston had been a boy, Godwin would bring tales of his cases home for Royston and Willie to whet their minds on. Willie had been better at the game, but Royston keener and more focused, so it had often been Royston who puzzled out the answer after Willie had wandered off to shoot marbles.
“Still, I can’t ignore the similarities in the victims. All were young women, mostly working class.” Royston fingered the charm on his watch chain, a small French coin his mother had given him with the watch and chain. It was both a novelty and a symbol, so that he would never be totally penniless. “What if Blackpoole wasn’t acting alone? His death may have caused the other to change tactics. There may be more predators out there, just as I’ve always believed that the Ladykiller had more victims than have been recorded. As you’ve always said, a killer like that often starts young.”
Godwin shook his head. “The trail was cold on your mother’s case years before headlines with the Ladykiller started selling newspapers. For your own sake, I wish you the closure of certainty, but I fear you’ll never find it.”
Royston turned his mind to mysteries more recent. “It still bothers me. About the werewolf. We never found out who he was or why he came to Miss Fairchild’s rescue alone among all the victims. And then there was the thing with the tracks.”
Godwin lit his pipe. “Tell me again about the tracks.”
Godwin wouldn’t have forgotten a single detail, but sometimes things came together in a new way when the details were spoken aloud. It hadn’t worked yet on this particular mystery, but it might.
“There were human footprints all over the garden. Mrs. Pemberton had led the early guests on a moonlit tour of it. The wolf prints were very clear in the soft dirt, but it was as if the wolf just appeared a few strides away from where the kill took place. As though he had materialized out of thin air.”
“Or as if some of the muddle of human footprints were his human form and he had transformed there,” Godwin said.
“In that case, he would have had to transform among the guests, as they were walking about the garden just at moonrise, according to all accounts. The moon was well up when Blackpoole tried to make away with Miss Fairchild, and the ’wolf intervened.”
“I can hardly imagine such an elegant company allowing a ’wolf among them,” Godwin said. “Was there no other mention made of unusual occurrences that night?”
“Nothing so unusual as a werewolf among the guests. You know how conscious such gently bred folk are about the company they keep. Such a scandal would surely be remarked on. I think we can rule out that he transformed in the middle of the garden at moonrise before all of Pemberton’s elegant guests. Yet if he transformed elsewhere, where are the rest of the tracks? And a werewolf cannot help but transform at the rise of the full moon.”
“There’s an alchemist who’s been claiming his draught can suppress the shift. It’s still in the experimental stages but supposed to be promising,” Godwin said.
“I don’t think so. It’s the same alchemist the Yard uses for blood analyses.”
“That Foster fellow? I’ve met him. He seems sane enough, as far as alchemists go. But if the draught works and if the werewolf were taking it, he wouldn’t have changed at all.”
“You haven’t heard of the Riley case?” Godwin paused. “No, you would have been a constable then, sorting out drunken workers on the docks. It was kept pretty quiet, too. No one wanted to stir up controversy.”
“One of Foster’s early test subjects was walking home from the pub in human form on a full moon night. He was set upon by a back alley cutthroat who would have taken his purse and his life. He abruptly shifted into wolf form to his own surprise and that of his attacker. Killed the man quick as a terrier with a rat. Pure instinct—which is not a legal defense, and it was clearly self-defense.”
“Which is an excuse under the law, even if it’s seldom applied to werewolves.”
Back when he was a constable trying to prove himself worthy of advancement, he’d read the laws, studied court transcripts, even sat in the gallery of the courthouse on his days off to hear cases tried. He’d seen a ’wolf sentenced to hang for killing two squires’ sons who had decided it would be fun to hunt a werewolf through the countryside with their horses and hounds as though he were a fox. The gentlemen’s surviving friend claimed that it was all in fun, testimony which was not supported by the bullet wound in the werewolf’s lower back. The shot had been clearly made while the wolf was still running and had been, as the unfortunate defendant testified, the reason he decided that fleeing was futile and his only hope of survival was in attack.
Royston had left the courthouse after the verdict was announced even though half a day’s hearings still lay ahead. He’d taken a long walk through London, reminding himself of all the people who still deserved to be protected.
“According to the coroner, the man died of a heart attack rather than directly from his injuries. That helped his case. Foster’s theory was that a moment of extreme passion somehow overrode the alchemy that kept the wolf chained inside the man.” Godwin’s voice pulled Royston back to the present. “He said it had happened once before, when one of his patients came home after moonrise and found his wife in bed with the neighbor. He changed instantly and barely restrained himself from tearing both their throats out. Good thing he did, for his sake, though they would have deserved it.”
Given Godwin’s unfortunate marriage, Royston could hardly fault him for his hostility toward adulterers.
“The werewolf who killed the mugger did get off on self-defense. He was lucky—a witness came forward, and the cutthroat he killed was known to authorities. If he hadn’t been a werewolf, he probably would have won some sort of award for public service.”
“So you’re saying the wolf who killed the Ladykiller could be one of Foster’s patients? But why did he rescue Miss Fairchild and not the others? Are you suggesting he had passionate feelings toward the woman?” He chuckled. “If so, Lord Bandon will not be best pleased.” He did not have to be one of the gentry to be privy to the upcoming nuptials. It was splashed all over the papers. The heiress to the Fairchild estate was to wed the last Bandon scion.
“It might not have to do with Miss Fairchild at all,” Godwin said. “Given how Blackpoole was trying to redirect blame toward werewolves, any ’wolf in London would have reason to hate him.”
Which made sense. Only, Royston’s gut told him that it did have something to do with Miss Fairchild, and a good detective never ignored that kind of a gut feeling. He was less sure that the werewolf or Miss Fairchild had anything to do with his current case, but with no other leads to follow, it might bear investigation. His mind kept coming back to the werewolf, and that had to mean something. When he found his thoughts worrying at a subject, like a dog at a bone, he had to pay attention. Sometimes the idea came to naught, but more often it came to something.. He would have never solved the Dalton case if he hadn’t followed up on his niggling feelings about the bowler left on the scene.
Richard Bandon frowned down at a selection of lace spread out over the breakfast-room table. The windows looked out over the garden on three sides of the room, so the light was particularly strong, glaring off the white lace.
“They are all very fine,” he said to his intended. “But not one could do you justice.”
Catherine laughed—a lovely, musical laugh he could never tire of. “We could just get married here. Then I wouldn’t need a veil.”
Richard did think it silly that the Church required brides to wear a veil—‘for modesty’, the vicar said, which was ridiculous since his lady attended each Sunday without a veil, and no one had ever claimed that her attire was in the least bit immodest. And it was not as though he weren’t familiar with her face. It was as dear to him as the sun rising in the morning. The sharp nose—which some had slandered as a witch’s nose, though no one had been so bold within his hearing since they had announced their engagement, only complimented her delicate cheekbones. The grey eyes he had once mistaken for being cold and passionless were soft and warm as a summer’s rain.
“The lace, Richard,” Catherine said. “Unless you’d rather I tell the gardener to start planning.”
“No, my love. We’re doing this right. Aunt Rose will never speak to me again, elsewise.”
Besides, he wanted the whole world to know how proud he was of his eccentric, outspoken lady, alchemy and all. He didn’t want a single whisper that he had married her for her money or her name or for any reason other than that he was completely and utterly besotted with her. His Catherine might not care what others thought of her, but he would care on her behalf.
It was a fair day. The maid had drawn back the draperies and opened the window, letting the breeze carry in the sweetness of the first early roses. Catherine’s assistant was reading a book on the fakirs of India. As Catherine had no living family, Jane Waters served as chaperone. It was a good thing that his intentions were entirely honorable; when Miss Waters was engrossed in a book, the whole manor could come down around her ears, and she wouldn’t so much as look up.
“So, the church it is,” Catherine said. “And the second sample from the end, I think, if you have no favorite. The phaeton and my red team, to convey us there and back. We should make quite the impression.”
Quite the impression, indeed. Catherine’s peacock blue, gilt-trimmed phaeton was the flashiest carriage in the county. Her matched pair of red chestnuts always turned heads, with their identical white blazes and white socks up to their high-stepping knees. Richard admired the skill of Catherine’s driver in keeping them in hand.
“I thought maybe my brougham, and my bays,” he said hopefully. Good solid horses, handsome but quiet.
“The brougham if it rains, but the red pair either way.”
“If you insist, my love.”
At least she hadn’t suggested the horseless carriage. Possibly because its steam engine was currently in pieces on the floor of the carriage house while Catherine worked on ‘improvements.’
He glanced toward the assistant. She was still engrossed in her book.
“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” he whispered. “If my secret is discovered… It would have been bad before, but with the new law. . .”
No need to say which law. It was now illegal for a werewolf to marry a human not so afflicted. The official reason given was the fact werewolves were often incapable of producing offspring—though he hoped to prove one of the exceptions. The state had an interest in procreation, which was the primary purpose of a lawful and moral marriage, though Richard noted no similar prohibition on the marriage of barren women or of men who proved infertile. The arguments in favor of the law betrayed a different motive. Richard, following the debate closely, watched the newspapers run page after page of editorials condemning werewolves as perverse, unnatural, lustful creatures, worse than animals, incapable of honor or love or commitment. Allowing them to marry, the papers screamed, was a threat to the institution of marriage itself.
Under the new law the penalties for both the werewolf and anyone who knowingly married a werewolf were severe. Fines, prison—and the utter and irrevocable destruction of reputation. How could he let his love risk herself so?
She smiled. “You forget that I have a secret of my own.”
“How could I forget, when your secret helped to bring us together?” He dared a chaste kiss.
The Fairchild manor was far enough outside the heart of London that neither the omnibus nor the Underground would bring him within reasonable walking distance, and so Royston was obliged to hire a pony trap. He was glad to find that the sturdy little dun provided him was obliging, if a bit sluggish— Royston’s previous and limited equestrian experiences had often been unfortunate. He was no natural with horses.
He made the excursion at his own expense, though it meant using some of the money he carefully put by after strictly budgeting out each week’s pay. Better that than trying to justify what would doubtless seem like a frivolous expense to pursue trivial facts in a case long closed.
He had a hard enough time justifying it to himself. But a week of interviews had produced nothing except memories that kept him from sleep, memories that encroached now to darken the bright day. Kitty’s flatmate replaced the faceless women in his nightmares about the next victim. It was only a matter of time. The murderer had taken Kitty two weeks ago. Since the first victim had been found, just after the new year, the killer had never gone much more than three weeks between kills.
He turned over in his mind what they knew about the killer—nothing—and what he could deduce from the facts—next to nothing. The common assumption that the killer was a man was most likely correct. Not that women weren’t capable of horrible deeds. One of Royston’s first cases had been a baby farm run by a pair of widows. One of the women who’d paid a few shillings for them to ‘find the baby a good home’ had been too naïve to understand that she’d been paying to have the child discreetly done away with. She’d called the police when she read a description of a tiny, newspaper-wrapped corpse found discarded in an alleyway and recognized the unusual birthmark.
But the nature of Doctor Death’s crimes, the strength involved, the serial preying on young women, all these pointed toward a man.
So far, his investigation had only managed to narrow the field of possible suspects to roughly half the population of London.
It was a pleasant enough day to be out driving. The April sun was just warm enough, and the air was sweeter outside the closeness of inner London. Birds were singing, and verdant hedgerows lined the roads. Despite the darkness of the case on his mind, Royston enjoyed the drive.
And then the road took him past Beechwood, the Royston family estate where his mother had once been a governess.
Royston had never passed through that tall iron gate, but he imagined beyond the twisting, hedge-lined path a fairytale house of white marble hidden behind venerable, moss-draped oaks and willows weeping greenery down to a verdant lawn, the house itself glowing in the sunlight like a dream. If the family’s eldest son, the man who sired Royston, had not been killed before he could fulfill his promise to wed Royston’s mother, Royston would have grown up on that estate, playing merry games of hide-and-seek with other lords’ children in the garden, doted on by father and mother and spoiled by servants. Denied the right to give her son his father’s surname, his mother had made Royston his given name instead, over the objection of the ancient and titled family.
He clucked to the pony, wanting to get past those ivy-draped stone walls more quickly. Still the shadows of that estate seemed to chase him as he drove down the sunlit road to his destination.
Everything about the Fairchild estate spoke eloquently of old money preserved into modern times. Two wings had been built off the central house—the white stone of the original had been carefully matched, so only the graying that came with weathering and age told that the center portion was older, probably by a century or more. Both wings had been added at about the same time.
The manor could probably shelter the entirety of the London police force, from the Commissioner down to the lowliest clerk, without anyone feeling crowded. What did one family, even a family with servants, do with that much space? It looked like entirely too respectable a house to harbor any secrets, but Royston’s time with the Yard had taught him to see beyond such illusions.
A pair of liveried servants came out to take the pony and to inquire whether sir was expected. Royston admitted that he was not, gave his full name and title, and stated with confidence learned with practice that he wished to speak to the lady of the house on a matter of police business.
The servant’s expression clearly showed what he thought of a mere detective impertinent enough to disturb his mistress’s leisure, but he took his card all the same and left him to wait on the wide marble porch while he inquired if his mistress was disposed to speak to a detective. The marble, he noted, was worn near the doorstep where centuries of Fairchilds and their well-bred guests had crossed the threshold. It was a monument to ages of wealth.
The two marble planters on either side of the door appeared to be more recent additions and lacked the patina of age. Each held well-tended rose bushes with abundant yellow roses, although the perfection of the bush on the left was marred by a black cat that nestled in near the bottom, bending stems and scattering petals. The cat considered him through slitted green eyes, as though it, too, questioned his right to disturb the household.
His mother had loved roses. He’d dreamed of someday putting enough aside so she could have a nice little house with a bit of a garden, but she’d not lived so long.
Waiting only gave him time to reflect on how little he wanted to be here. Dealing with the gentry was bad enough when he had a clear excuse; no doubt Miss Fairchild would not be pleased with his vague errand and even less so with some of the questions he’d ask. In less time than he expected, a maid opened the door and saw him through to Miss Fairchild’s sitting room, which was as elegantly appointed as he had expected. The pale pink fleur-de-lys wallpaper might have been imported from France and certainly would cost at least half his annual salary, even at his improved detective’s wages. He was almost afraid to tread on the carpets, which were probably Persian. On the table, a crystal vase filled with roses the same shade as the wallpaper imparted a subtle floral scent, roses probably cut from the extensive garden he could see beyond the picture window.
Miss Fairchild was not alone. In the window seat, a plainly dressed girl with careless hair squinted at a book, and across from Miss Fairchild sat a tall, elegantly handsome, auburn-haired gentleman dressed in a claret frock coat. His elbows stuck out a bit, as though he couldn’t quite decide what to do with all that length of limb, and he might have looked awkward if he were not so well-dressed and straight of carriage. The silver stock pin that held his cravat displayed a family crest, but Royston was hardly an expert at heraldry, even could he make out the details from this distance.
“Inspector Jones,” Miss Fairchild said. “Please sit down. We were just about to have a late tea. Do join us.”
“That would be most kind.” Royston had skipped his own tea to make the journey, and his stomach had begun to regret it.
Her invitation was an unlooked-for courtesy. Generally, one of her station did not take tea with servants, beggars, or police inspectors. He took one of the cushioned seats by the lace-covered table and folded his hands in his lap, suddenly feeling as awkward of limb as the auburn-haired gentleman.
“I believe we met in the aftermath of that unfortunate incident at the Pemberton’s ball,” Miss Fairchild continued.
“Yes, we did, though I am surprised you remembered. I was not the detective in charge of the case.”
“Of course I remember. You loaned me your handkerchief. All of the police were very kind and very professional that night. I promise you I am not usually so prone to hysterics.”
“Understandable, under the circumstances.” He had not expected her to be so gracious, and it made him a little uncomfortable.
“I think you have not met my fiancé, Mr. Bandon.”
“An honor, sir.” Royston bowed at the waist.
“Pleased to meet you.” Bandon’s boyish smile made the formality seem almost sincere.
“And that is Jane Waters, my assistant, by the window. She is unlikely to break away from her reading to join us,” Miss Fairchild said with warm exasperation. “Though if the maid brings her some tea and cake, she may eat.”
“Your assistant?” Ladies had servants, cooks, maids, housekeepers, but an assistant?
“I dabble in alchemy. I find it more rewarding than painting or embroidery, and I would not inflict my attempts at music on the world.”
Rarely would a woman of her class be so unashamedly frank about her failures in the womanly arts, nor so blunt about such an unfeminine hobby as alchemy. Royston glanced at Bandon, expecting some sign of disapproval, but the man’s smile was fond, even proud. Against his instincts, he found himself almost liking these two.
Since the lady herself had brought up the alchemy, perhaps now would be the time…
But then the maid came in with the tea things, and the conversation was occupied with the serving of tea and cake and small delicate sandwiches filled with watercress and salmon. Miss Waters, as predicted, did not come to the table, though she did glance up briefly when the maid set a cup of tea and a plate with cake and sandwiches on the window seat beside her.
Though Royston had never taken tea with anyone more illustrious than Jacob Godwin, he was confident of his manners. Mum had tutored him every night despite her long, exhausting hours at her factory job. She had made certain that Royston’s education and manners made him fit for any company, no matter what their opinion of his birth.
“So then, Inspector, I take it this is not a social call. I thought the matter of Mr. Blackpoole’s attack on me and his subsequent death by werewolf had all been resolved.”
“There is one matter that still bothers me,” Royston said. “We were never able to ascertain the identity of the werewolf, nor how he came to be in the right time and place to affect a rescue.”
Her eyes glanced toward Bandon. It was a quick, instinctive reaction, just as quickly repressed, but telling all the same. Even seasoned and trained members of the criminal class could not avoid such unconscious indicators, and Miss Fairchild was hardly that. Royston kept his expression neutral.
“I fail to see how the identity of the werewolf matters. He is a hero, whoever he is. He saved not only my life, but the lives of any other unfortunate women the Ladykiller would have preyed upon in the future. A task which, I must say, you police had been unable to accomplish. Should you find him, I would reward him gladly for the service he did me.”
All traces of warmth and welcome had gone from her voice. She spoke now in the icy, clipped tones of those whose ancestors, a few centuries past, would have had him flogged to death for impertinence. The monster in the fairy tales had betrayed its true form. But no, he decided upon second thought. He could see how little she used such imperiousness; it sat on her like an ill-fitted mask, and behind the mask her eyes flashed with the fear of a cornered animal.
He suppressed a wince of shame. Miss Fairchild and Bandon had welcomed him as though he were an equal and he had just abused their hospitality by uncovering their closely-guarded secrets.
“No one has said that the werewolf was anything but justified in his actions.” He pulled out his best “reasonable” voice, the one that most subjects found soothing. “Still, he presents something of a loose end, and we detectives hate loose ends. Especially with a new set of murders so similar to the last.”
“Your pardon,” Bandon said. “But I fail to see how the identity of the werewolf that saved Miss Fairchild from one killer could possible help you identify another killer. Surely the werewolf cannot be under suspicion?”
“No,” Royston said quickly. “I never suggested that. But the two murders are so similar in the manner of their crimes that I can’t help but think there is some connection. I thought that resolving the unsolved questions from the Ladykiller’s death might shed some light on the new cases.”
Bandon looked down at his tea, then over Royston’s shoulder. His gaze shifted quickly, nervously, and he did not quite meet Royston’s eye. Miss Fairchild’s stare, by contrast, was hard and implacable.
“We wish you luck, then,” Bandon said. “But I’m afraid we cannot help you.”
“Are you certain?” Royston pressed. “Perhaps this werewolf knows something and doesn’t recognize the significance of it. Werewolves are known for their keen senses, keener than any bloodhounds. Please, we have no solid leads, no way to stop this monster from killing again.” Images of vivisected women flashed in his mind, and he could hear the flatmate’s voice, pleading with him to stop the killer. “Perhaps there is something the werewolf smelled, a scent that could tie the crimes together if he would but—”
“Buy a bloodhound, if that is what you need.” Miss Fairchild cut him off. “I will not help you to harass someone who came to my aid when I needed it most.”
“The Commissioner won’t hear of it,” Royston said. “They brought in a couple of tracker dogs early on in the Ladykiller case, but they were poorly trained and unmanageable. One of theme bit the Commissioner—not that I entirely blame him.”
Bandon’s lips quirked up at that in a hint of a smile. Yes, he’d be the easier one to persuade.
“So that was the end of that,” Royston said. “No more dogs for the London police. Officially, that is. But unofficially, a werewolf…”
“Are you suggesting we are in the habit of associating with werewolves?” Miss Fairchild cut in.
“I’m not just suggesting. I know as much, Miss Fairchild. Or perhaps I should say Mr. Foster?”
Miss Fairchild set her teacup down too quickly, caught the edge of the saucer, and nearly spilled. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She clearly hadn’t expected to be caught at it. The high-born always thought they could get away with anything. All to his advantage. She might have hidden her reaction better if she had been less surprised.
“When I went to talk to you about the results of the blood analysis on the last murder, I noticed the bill from your glamorist sitting out on your desk. Careless, if you wish to keep your secret. The glamorist was most helpful once I showed her my card. The honest ones always are—don’t want to be suspected of aiding criminals, you know.” And he understood. In spite of the manor house and the wealth that surrounded her. Denied the right to pursue a career she was passionate about because of her sex, Miss Fairchild had found a way—with a little help from a glamorist—and was amazing alchemists twice her age with three times the formal training. She was clearly heedless of the scandal it would cause if she were caught and—he had to admire her pluck. Miss Fairchild tilted her chin up. “So I have taken on an alter ego in order to be able to pursue my vocation without facing bias against my sex. That is hardly a crime. Nor does it say that I know anything about this poor werewolf you seem intent on hounding. If this is the best investigation London’s police force can offer us, no wonder those poor girls are killed with such impunity.”
Royston crumpled a napkin in his fist.
“I’m sorry,” Bandon said in a pacifying tone. “But I believe you are wasting your time here.”
“I know about your work with werewolves,” Royston said to Miss Fairchild. “The werewolf in Pemberton’s garden transformed long after midnight—it’s the only thing that explains the tracks. The transformation was triggered by some strong emotion. The ’wolf saw that you were in trouble and reacted instinctively.”
“Even if it were one of my clients,” Miss Fairchild said. “I would not recognize that person in wolf form. And I saw no one in the garden before the ’wolf appeared.”
“An interesting thing, Mr. Bandon, Miss Fairchild.” He looked from one to the other. “One of Pemberton’s servants remembers seeing you at the doorway, Mr. Bandon, making a fuss about the blood test the Pembertons had arranged to ensure that none of the guests were werewolves. The man administering the test remembers the same thing. Several people saw you walking out to the garden where Miss Fairchild had gone. But no one remembers seeing you later. Even though your beloved had been attacked by the Ladykiller and had witnessed a werewolf rip the man’s throat out.”
Bandon stood. “Get out. You have no hard evidence to back up your accusations. Get out. Get out now.”
Royston hadn’t made detective by being a coward, but something in Bandon’s eye made him very glad it was daylight and two days to the full moon. He scrambled to his feet, keeping the chair between himself and Bandon.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I swear I mean no harm. I’ll not betray your secrets. I only…“
“There are no secrets to keep. If you continue this line of inquiry, I swear I’ll see you ruined. This conversation is over,” Miss Fairchild said.
Echoes in her tone of every privileged lady who ever used her position to bully those she considered her social inferiors. He heard whispers of the past, teachers and clergy who dismissed him as being unworthy of anything but factory work or manual labor. Guttersnipe. Bastard. He’d had a lifetime of bowing to those who assumed the superiority they had achieved only by the accident of their birth and condemned him for the circumstances of his. Anger bloomed in his chest and rose into his throat until he must speak or choke on it.
He looked her in the eye despite her greater height. “Is that so? If the facts I have gathered are so meaningless and my conclusions are so erroneous, I am sure you will not object if I share them more widely. And then we shall see how far money and name will protect you both!”
She gasped as though she had been slapped.
He remembered the new law and their upcoming nuptials. Remembered how society felt about werewolves, how both the law and society regarded women who pretended to be men. He had lost control of himself, and thereby the interview. “I’m sorry.” He took a breath. “I wouldn’t. . .I had no intention of. . .”
“I should hope not,” she said. “Since your accusations have no basis, and I should hate to have my solicitor bring a libel suit against you.” Her protest had lost its vehemence, and her face was ashen. “You have wasted enough of our time, Inspector. I’ll have Winston bring your pony and cart ‘round.”
Royston cursed himself soundly on the long drive home. So much for his interview skills. He’d handled them exactly wrong. He should not have lost his temper. He’d been as reckless as he’d been as a child, when he took on three larger boys at once for what they said about his mother.
He smiled faintly in spite of his mood. That had actually worked out well in the end. He’d been losing badly when a boy he’d never met intervened, and Willie Godwin came into his life. Willie, just a year older than him but much larger, had seemed as brave and strong as King Arthur in the tales Mum told him, and Royston wanted nothing more than to be his Lancelot.
Willie had boasted that his father was a real detective with Scotland Yard, just like in the stories! And had taken Royston home with him for his Da to clean up and feed. Willie said that he was going to be a detective, too, when he grew up, and Royston decided be a detective, too, to be detectives with Willie. They’d catch the bad guys together.
Simpler times, when right and wrong seemed so clear-cut. For a while, it seemed as if he would live that early childhood dream. But Willie never made detective, wasn’t even a constable anymore. And Royston had just lost the last straw he could find to grasp at in the most important case he’d ever faced.