A Slumbering Fire – Free Story

In February, I wrote a short story about two women, a princess and a soldier. They both have a similar difficulty, the feeling that life has passed them by. And then they are thrown together (YES I ALMOST WROTE A “THERE IS ONLY ONE BED SCENE” OKAY???) in an unusual place, in especially unusual circumstances. A Slumbering Fire

“A Slumbering Fire” can be downloaded here. No newsletter sign ups, to strings attached. It’s April 1st, March was the longest decade we’ve ever experienced, so here is my gift to you. Enjoy my two cinnamon bun ladies who need to find some happiness.

“All Ends” or Things Are About to Get Stabby

So, hey!

A little while ago, I won an award. I’m usually an “honorable mention” kind of person, so to actually win something felt a little bit unprecedented. But the wonderful people who frequent the r/fantasy subreddit had a vote and my story “All Ends” won for Best Short Fiction of 2019.

(Some notes: I tied with Alix E. Harrow, author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January.)

(The story can be found in the anthology Heroes Wanted, currently available for FREE on Amazon)

The award arrived yesterday. It is aptly named “The Stabby.” I am giddily proud of this little sticker.

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In – minor – celebration of this event, I’m going to post “All Ends” in its entirety here (I mean, the anthology has nineteen different fantasy stories from authors like Michael Sullivan and Will Wight and Phil Tucker and K.S. Villoso and many more, so my suggestion would be to check that out) for those who just want a quick click and read.

So without further ado, here is… “All Ends.”

***

She is such a small thing. Small and delicate, made all of limbs and sharp angles yet to be grown into. Marit notices this first before anything; the slightness of her, how she seems to have shrunk with the absence of breath and life. 

Pale hair, stiff and straight as straw scattered across the floor. Eyes closed, thank God. Lips gray and parted. Nostrils still flared with fright, or anger, as if she is ready to clamber up from her pose on the floor and admonish everyone around her for letting such a thing come to pass. 

And there is her neck. Broken, Marit thinks. Decorated with livid bruises. 

The dead don’t bruise.

The thought slips away as swiftly as it came. Marit brushes her hands across the front of her skirt – once, twice, three times – and steps forward. 

“Fetch the police.”

The other girls stand around, still in their shifts and dressing gowns. Yesterday’s rouge and face paint is smeared across their cheeks, smudges of kohl deepening the shadows beneath their eyes. Mrs. Talbot has yet to be roused, so it is Marit’s voice that carries above the hum of restless worrying. 

“The police!” She tugs at the sleeve of the girl closest to her, a more recent arrival to Mrs. Talbot’s establishment and the one who is the nearest to being properly dressed for the day. “Stop gaping like a trout and go!”

Now that she’s spoken the others begin to press in, but Marit shoos them away. “Someone wake Mr. Fanny. Clear him out of here before we’ve got everyone traipsing in and out of the house.” One of the kitchen maids glances around at the assembled company before peeling away from the group and rushing towards the back stairs. “The rest of you go to the dining room. There’ll be breakfast, for those of you who still want to eat it.”

They shuffle away, some of them twisting their heads around to look back, the strips of rags tied into their curls bobbing around their shoulders. 

“Julia,” Marit calls, and one of the women pauses at the door leading out of the bedroom. “Will you wake her?”

Julia sets one hand on the side of the doorframe, her lacquered fingernails scraping at the soft, peeling paint. “I’d rather not.”

Marit stands beside the body. Her fingers twitch again and she looks towards the bed, wondering if she should take one of the sheets and use it to cover the girl.

Cora, she reminds herself. The girl’s name was Cora. 

Continue reading ““All Ends” or Things Are About to Get Stabby”

Lady Griffith’s Second Chance – Chapter Three Sneak Peek

AHHHH!

Only one day until the official release of Lady Griffith’s Second Chance! I am doing a very good job of not letting anxiety take over by crocheting and baking and scrubbing my bathroom tiles and laundry laundry laundry and really super wishing that I could have chocolate right now.

Did I mention the laundry? There’s a lot of it.

So! Today I bring you the third chapter and the last early preview of Lady Griffith’s Second Chance! (If you want to catch up, you can check out Chapter One and Chapter Two first.)

*deep breath*

Here. We. Go.

Chapter Three

The roses were not yet in bloom. The lack of flowers in no way inhibited the beauty of the garden, narrow paths of white gravel and a small maze of stones laid out on the way towards a gazebo, pleasantly situated in the center of it all. The gazebo’s trellised walls had long disappeared beneath the foliage of the roses-in-waiting, and Regan brushed a surreptitious hand across her brow as she sent up a prayer of thanks for the shade the lush greenery provided. 

She’d exchanged her battered bonnet for one in better shape, though in her haste she’d tied the ribbon too tight and now the thing irritated her throat. Small wonder she never wore a hat unless in company, no matter the risk of a tan and freckles that Aunt Agnes seemed to take tremendous pleasure in warning her about. Itchy, uncomfortable tools of torture, hats were. Even worse than stays, in her opinion. And only marginally worse than stockings. 

But there she sat, properly laced and stockinged and hatted, while Katharine dispersed tea cups and milk and strawberry tarts. Even Jack and Maria behaved well on the other side of the garden, following the progress of a turtle they’d followed up from the stream. 

“Did you have any opportunity to visit London for the season?” Regan directed her question towards Mr. Talbot. Since only a few minutes after their arrival, Mr. Cranmer seemed to have withdrawn into himself. Gone was the smiling, seductive gentleman from the previous evening. This version of him was more withdrawn, yet no less observant of what happened around him. Regan tore her glance from him and returned her attention to Mr. Talbot. Smiling politely, she sipped her tea, which was ridiculously sweet, just as she liked it. “Or have the delights of town already begun to lose their luster for the year?”

“Business kept me from London this year,” Mr. Talbot said, his smile faltering at the edges. “As my father’s health declines, more of the responsibility of caring for our family’s estate falls to me. Not that I am one to complain!” he added quickly, and with a brief glance in Katharine’s direction. “It will all settle on my shoulders one day, so I assume it’s better to be prepared in advance, don’t you think?”

Regan held her smiled and nodded, though she guessed it was to Katharine alone that he was determined to impress his ability to take on the family yoke. 

“And what of you, Mr. Cranmer?” Katharine asked, drawing their other guest into a conversation he had otherwise been sitting on the sidelines of thus far. 

Continue reading “Lady Griffith’s Second Chance – Chapter Three Sneak Peek”

Lady Griffith’s Second Chance: Chapter Two

Last week I brought you a sneak peek at the first chapter of Lady Griffith’s Second Chance! Today I bring you the entirety of Chapter Two! I hope you enjoy this special look!

(And you can pre-order the book here, if you find you can’t wait for these little teases.)

 

Chapter Two

“Oh, Mama! I was so glad to have you there!”

Regan patted Katharine’s hand and kept her eyes pinned to the trees that bent low over the pond. Beneath their branches, Jack and Maria batted a shuttlecock between them, their arms swinging with the force of an all-out war.  

“And I was happy to be there with you,” Regan said, casting a benevolent smile towards her daughter. “But you still need to tell me about the part of the dinner I missed.”

She tilted her face upwards, allowing the sunlight to warm her cheeks and forehead. She squinted at the brightness of the day, while clouds like dandelion fluff floated from one horizon to the other, drawing shadows on the lawn. She’d abandoned her bonnet some time before and the heat from the sun prickled at the part in her hair, no doubt already turning her exposed skin to a warm pinkish hue. But it was summer, and the rain had finally ceased, and the shrieks and laughter of her younger children filled the air around her.

They followed the same routine every morning after a ball, or assembly, or even a small dinner party accompanied by a game or three of cards. After breakfast and the children’s lessons, Katharine would regale her mother with the previous evening’s entertainments. No detail was ever spared, from the unbearable press of bodies in a ballroom to the quality of a Miss Simpson’s performance on the pianoforte. The only difference this time was that Regan had been there as well.

Regan felt her heel slip on the ground and looked down at her hem, the edges bearing three inches of mud and moisture on the darkened fabric. Two days of rain after a particularly wet spring had turned the ground into a sodden, squelching mess. She frowned at the stains, though half her gowns bore the evidence of too much time spent out of doors as she traipsed around the grounds with her children.

Her thoughts went to her gown from the previous night, stained beyond repair with half a glass of red wine. Those thoughts, of course, leading her to memories of a young man named Thomas, whom she had stumbled into head-first in a lonely hallway. A man who had presented himself as all too forward for his own good. A man who had taken to flirting with her within the first moments of their meeting, and before they had been formally introduced. A man she had done everything within her power to respectfully ignore for the remainder of the evening. 

It had not been difficult. Between Thomas’s late arrival and the ruination of her gown and an incident of Mr. Boyd knocking into a table and breaking one of his wife’s most treasured figurines, avoiding an introduction had taken no great skill. But Regan had caught herself glancing at him occasionally—more than occasionally—from the other side of the room, from her place with the other older ladies, the widows, the mothers with children grown. Where she belonged, and not lusting after gentlemen far beyond the circle her age and situation in life described around her.

Continue reading “Lady Griffith’s Second Chance: Chapter Two”

Read the First Chapter of Lady Griffith’s Second Chance!

My next book, the historical romance Lady Griffith’s Second Chance, releases in less than three weeks! Lady

I’m offering up the first few chapters for everyone’s perusal, and this week brings us Chapter One. So read ahead for a glimpse into Regan and Thomas’s story…

Pre-Order Here!

Chapter One

Regan stood beside her son’s bed, the light from the candle casting flickers of gold and shadow across his face. 

He slept like his father: sprawled across the bed, bare feet sticking out from beneath the edge of the blankets, his head nearly dangling over the side of the mattress while his pillow already lay in a rumpled lump on the floor. She set the candle on the nightstand, returned all of his gangling limbs to their proper positions, and swept his dark hair back from his brow before slipping the pillow back beneath his head.

She bent down to kiss his cheek, and still he didn’t stir. Just like Edmund, she thought, before crossing to the other side of the room.

There, Maria slept in her bed, her small figure a contrast to her brother’s while in repose. Not only did Maria’s dark head still rest in the center of her pillow, but she had tucked her hands beneath her cheek, her pink lips forming a soft pout as she slumbered.

Regan gave Maria’s blankets a perfunctory tug before leaning over to kiss her forehead. She was about to stand up and turn away when she paused to sweep an errant curl, a ribbon of hair as black as ink, from her daughter’s cheek. 

All of her children possessed their father’s coloring, the same curling dark hair and bright blue eyes. When they had been younger, she recalled her disappointment at their lack of her hazel-colored eyes or the auburn cast of her own hair. But then Edmund had gone and left her as a widow, making her forever grateful that in each of the children she had something by which to better remember him. 

Continue reading “Read the First Chapter of Lady Griffith’s Second Chance!”

Here, Have a Fluffy Short Story

The world is crap right now. So I’m going to throw this little story at you in the hopes it might make one of you smile. Warnings (if you’re used to some of my darker stuff): It is not fantasy. It is contemporary. It kinda sets up a potential for romance (in what a few thousand words can do.)

Have at it, and enjoy. 🙂

So That Happened

Rebecca ran towards the train platform, one hand grasping at the strap of her bag before it could slip off her shoulder. A few more seconds, she thought. A few more seconds and she would make it. Her lungs burned as she pushed forward, and she regretted all of the times she’d told herself she needed to get outside and exercise. But the winter had been so cold this year, and the snowstorms every few days hadn’t helped matters. That was what she had told herself, while sitting on the couch ensconced in fleece and drinking far too many cups of cheap hot chocolate.

A familiar whoosh of sound and Rebecca saw the doors of the train car slide shut. Even if she stuck out her arm, she knew she wouldn’t make it. As she watched the train set into motion, her bag finally slid down and landed in a puddle of some unidentifiable liquid. 

“Son of a—” She bit down on her lip and snatched her bag up from the ground, careful to hold it with an outstretched arm in case any bit of the mystery fluid should transfer itself to her.

This was it. She would lose her job. And all because the universe had decided to conspire against her. The one day she’d been told she absolutely could not be late. Well, apparently the universe wanted her to live on a steady diet of Ramen noodles and tap water until she could find another means of employment, since there was no way Mitch would let this slide.

And she hadn’t even taken the time to shave her legs this morning. Stupid universe. Stupid stubbly legs.

Continue reading “Here, Have a Fluffy Short Story”

Angels in Their Places – A Short Story

Today, somehow, I managed to reach 1k followers on Twitter.

Yeah, I’m not sure why they’re following me, either.

But! In honor of this momentous achievement, I bring you a new short story, never before made public.

Angels in Their Places is a 10k word tale (yes, it’s a bit long) of dark magic and survival. It’s also been burning a hole in my computer for the last few months, so it needs to be read.

In advance, thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy this latest fantasy short of mine.1280px-black_angel_iowa_city2

***

Angels in Their Places

In the dark. There is no moon, not tonight. The light of the stars prick holes in the sky, the morning near enough she thinks herself capable of reaching up and plucking one of them free of the black fabric above. There is mist carried off on every breath, nothing she can see but the moisture is there, warming her hands as she blows into the thin weave of her gloves.

Twigs snap beneath her feet. She is light, almost frail, her shoes soft, but still he looks back at her, the pause in his progress a chastisement enough. Her head goes down again, eyes searching over a ground she cannot see. Twigs, leaves, roots and branches that cause her to stumble, catching at her skirts like sharp grasping fingers.

He takes her arm, grip tight as he guides her forward. More than the detritus of the woods around them, pieces of stone digging into the balls of her feet. Sharp bits of gravel. A lane before them, nearly hidden in the dark, but it pulls them onward. A gate, then. Stone columns rising upward, against a horizon boasting the first touch of grey dawn. A gate torn from its hinges and left abandoned, vines growing over it, dead leaves curled over iron.

Continue reading “Angels in Their Places – A Short Story”

A Shapeless Voice – A Short Story

I missed Snippet Monday yesterday. Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and yell at me. I’ll send my battalion of children off to attack you (though they’ll most likely just ask for snacks and want you to watch My Little Pony with them.)

Instead, I bring you a short story (quite short, only a tad over 1200 words) from the world of The Half Killed, more specifically, a look into Dorothea Hawes’ life before the events of The Half Killed.

So without further ado (because really, I need to get started on dinner and herd the children inside for French Toast and bacon) here is A Shapeless Voice. Enjoy!

*** A Shapeless Voice

The matron’s woolen dress smelled of perpetual damp, the fumes growing stronger, transforming into a miasma that dulled the senses and brought out a headache when she stood quite near the fire or any other source of heat. The heavy skirt, darkened with dirt near the hem, swished across the scrubbed wooden floor, catching on the edges of threadbare rugs, or knocking the occasional chair off balance.

But it was when she stood over your shoulder, the rough weave of the wool scratching at your arm, that you could think of nothing but brushing it off as you would an irritating insect. Of course, you could not move as you wished, and so you remained still, with the old woman breathing down your neck, her bones creaking in time with the slow, steady cadence of your words.

And when you faltered, she only struck your back with the flat of her hand, your spine straightening, sometimes arching away from her touch. It was never a forceful hit, nothing meant to cause you considerable pain, but simply a reminder that she was there, behind you, beside you, watching, listening to the word of God as recited by your tongue. It became clear, quite soon after your arrival, that she never touched you but to hit you, that this same quirk of her personality was followed through with her treatment of all the other girls. And there were so many of them now, more than enough girls to fill every bed, crammed onto the tiny mattresses in pairs, so that you fell asleep every night to the sounds of heartbeats other than your own as your thin legs fought for a share of the blanket.

As soon as you finished with your turn, the book passed on to the next girl, and then the next, until the entire lesson had been read. One of the other matrons spoke up then, ordering the lot of you to the rooms at the top of the house, and the lights were extinguished behind you, darkness filling your wake as the footsteps of fifty girls stamped up the narrow staircase to the dormitories.

There was some light from the moon, enough to cast shadows on the wall as you stepped out of your dress and took care to hang it on the peg beside your bed. Your shift was scant protection against the cold, and you shivered as you clambered into bed, the stiff fabric sliding up your legs no matter how much you tried to keep it pulled down. The blanket you tugged up to your chin, then over your mouth, just high enough so you wouldn’t have to see the pale cloud of vapor escaping from your mouth on every exhalation.

One by one, the girls around you succumbed to sleep. Better to sleep than suffer through the cold. You were one of the few still with your own bed, and so there was no other body’s warmth to calm the trembling that shook your bones. You wished for sleep to come to you, but it never did, leastways not until the pale, sickly light of dawn brightened the tall, greasy windows. Light, then. A few minutes of rest were what you found before the bells began their ringing, another day called to life with the sound of shuffling feet, of coughings, whisperings, scratchings, all as faces and necks were scrubbed, as the previous day’s dresses were donned, as the fifty pairs of feet tramped along the corridors and down the stairs again to breakfast.

But the sleep itself was not what frightened you. No, no. It was the dreams, the visions that flashed before your eyes, always so close, yet always seemingly just beyond your reach. And the voices… the voices were louder then, because in rest you did not possess the power to fight against them, to shut them out. And knowing this, they taunted you, telling you things you never wished to know.

And come morning, every morning, when the ringing of the bells pushed that other less melodious ringing of sound from your head, there was only more exhaustion than the night before. Though you made every attempt to disguise it, still the other girls inquired if you were well. But you told them there was no reason to worry, and so you washed your face, and braided your hair, pinning it close to your head before covering it with the itchy white cap.

Another day of lessons then, of basic reading and copywork, all of it followed by hours of sewing. Or, in your case, because your stitches had never been fine, of untangling bits of thread and yarn for the others to use. The work was dull, numbing to both body and mind, and you sat with your eyes narrowed, back bent over your task until the light from the windows dimmed. A few candles would be lit, though you still had to bring the work quite near to your face. By the time the call for the evening meal came, your eyes were narrowed to slits, the red reaching in from the corners, stinging until you wiped the tears away with the back of your hand.

Night came again, overtaking you before you were aware of it. The bells rang, and you fell into step behind the other girls. Another night, your dress hanging on the peg, the exhaustion sweeping over and around you until the dreams pressed in again. The voices found you, attacking with greater precision, never pushing at the same place twice in their search for a point of greater weakness.

And when they found it, they slipped inside, all stealth and cunning. One voice in particular struck you with more familiarity than the others, yet it spoke softly to you – so softly – lulling you into a deeper slumber, one that threatened to smother you with its offer of peace and comfort.

The screaming was not enough to wake you. Your throat was already sore from it, as though you had been crying out for some time without any knowledge of it. When you finally opened your eyes, you saw the other girls in the dormitory, all of them crowding away from you, pressed against their own beds, against the walls, a few of them running out the door, falling over each other in their haste to escape.

One of the matrons appeared then, a younger woman with dark hair unbound, still in her nightdress. You remembered the expression on her face, the horror that flashed in her eyes. Then, you noticed it. The placement of the other beds and furniture in the room, all of it shoved far away from your own, as if they’d been swept towards the walls by a great hand. Only your bed, you recalled, sat untouched in its original position.

The matron staggered forward, her hands reaching out for your shoulders, gripping them, shaking shaking shaking until the screaming stopped. You gasped for breath, realizing then how close you were to fainting from lack of air. Before you could blink, before you could form a single word on the tip of your tongue, she struck you across the cheek, the wound stinging from the scrape of her bony knuckles.

A stupid girl, she called you. A monster. And as she spoke, the soft familiar voice echoed the same thought in your ear. Only you were more inclined to believe him above all others.

***

Snippet Monday: The Death Within

Busy, busy, busy. This is the life I lead. But we seem to have tailored the daily homeschooling down to about three hours, finishing by lunch, and then a flurry of chores and other things give me leave to write while the youngest naps in the mid-afternoon.

The last two weeks I’ve shared bits of Dust and Silver, my paranormal historical mystery, but today I’m jumping over to an excerpt from The Death Within, the sequel to my book The Half Killed.

In this story, there is an illness that is infecting people in London, one that kills them in a horrible manner. Dorothea Hawes connects one of the victims to a local temperance society, and so attends a meeting in order to see if there is anything of importance to be discovered, or if the connection is merely coincidence. 800px-Accueil_scribe

***

“Pardon me, but I do not believe we have yet been introduced?”

Mrs. Newton is taller than I imagined, my original impression of her height taking into account the small stage on which she stood. But even without the aid of a platform, she stands at least a head above me. On top of that head, held to her hair with a jet-tipped pin, she wears a simple hat, adorned with only a few black silk roses tucked away in tight curls of lace.

“Miss Hawes,” I say, and hold out my hand. The other hand I slip behind my back, my handkerchief and its plunder held well out of sight.

She takes my fingers and shakes them gently, as if one of us will shatter should she attempt a more forceful maneuver. “Miss Hawes, is it?” Her fair eyebrows pinch together, then pull apart as her forehead clears and a smile pushes her cheekbones out and upwards. “Miss Dorothea Hawes? Am I correct?”

I must admit, I am stunned that she knows who I am. I am far from claiming myself as a celebrated personage, and what fame I did have when I was younger has long since dissipated, even before the loss of what gifts had plagued me. But her hand drops quickly away from my own, her fingers working inside her gloves like one brushing a few particles of dust from the tips of them.

“Yes.” A rough sound drags itself out of the back of my throat, the word sticking there before I cough behind my hand and say it again. “Yes, though I am not what I once was. I am reformed, you might say.”

“We are more enlightened now, I think. Spiritualism, seeking to commune with those departed from us…” Her lips nearly disappear between her teeth. “A perilous return to the superstitions of the Dark Ages. We are better than that. Such great scientific discoveries of the last few years have brought about a new age, don’t you think?”

“A renaissance, you mean?” I glance towards the nearest window, where the sky darkens over a city hunkered down beneath a drifting fog of smoke and sleet and the discolored fumes spewed out from the various factories and mills gathered near the river. Since the last intellectual rebirth swept across Europe, has anything about London really altered? If my history has not failed me, it was a fire and not science that brought about any change to that sea of buildings, stretching towards the horizon.

Mrs. Newton smiles, her gaze dipping down in what appears to be an affectation of shyness. Or perhaps I am being too harsh, though the lack of that smile in her eyes when she again raises her head leads me to cling to my original assumption. “And what else? The poverty, the filth, the drink and vice that infect these streets… I fear we can descend no further, Miss Hawes.”

Even lacking my ability to delve into her thoughts, to trawl through the sins of those assembled around me, snacking on their edibles while they stir cream and sugar into their tea, I wonder at the gall of this woman to make such an assertion. In all of mankind’s history, and here, at this moment, we have only now fallen to the nadir of our development? But I pull my mouth tight, an expression one could almost mistake for a smile as artificial as Mrs. Newton’s. If only I could touch on the fringes of whatever cogitations are currently spinning around beneath that silk-flowered hat, but I push the desire away before it can lead me in a less healthful direction.

“But you believe we have begun to rise again?” I pose the question easily enough, giving them the tone of being the first words to leap into my head. The truth is that Mrs. Newton’s manner is rather open, considering that this is our first encounter with one another. If her wish is to win me over as a new recruit to her cause, I wonder at her willingness to delve so quickly into subjects that would make the typical London housewife curl her lip in offense.

“Do you not agree?” She steeples her fingers in front of her, taking on a pose I would expect from one standing to have their likeness painted. “You yourself have already left the foolishness of Spiritualism behind. There are no great mysteries that cannot be solved without the dedication of great intellectual minds and the tools they yield. We will conquer all of the scourges that have plagued humanity, from illness to war…” She spreads her hands apart, leaving the rest of her statement open.

“Perhaps even death itself?” I suggest, still managing to keep my voice light.

A small laugh escapes from the back of her throat. “Oh, I’m not sure we’ll press matters that far. But with the advances we’ve seen these last few decades, I would not rule out anything, Miss Hawes.”

***

Snippet Monday (belated): Dust and Silver

I apologize for the lateness of this post, but my reasons are good: I was caught up untangling some plot messes yesterday, forgot to write up this post, and ta-da! It’s suddenly Tuesday and whoops.

So, this week, I bring you another excerpt from Dust and Silver. In this scene, Lady Drummond arrives at a meeting with several others, to discuss a recent string of murders that has occurred in London…female_angel_praca_dos_restauradores_2

***

“Another one?” I pose the question to whichever of them decides to provide me with an answer. Mr. Albert Goring, the man at the table, is the first to reply.

“That makes three now. A prostitute, a kitchen maid, and now the wife of a banker.”

I scan through a few more lines, my eyes narrowing as I attempt to make out the notes, apparently written in some haste. “Hmm, seems to be moving up steadily along the rungs of society. And there is nothing in common other than the manner of their deaths?”

Mitchell sniffs and lets the window blind fall back into place. When he turns towards us, his dark eyebrows are pinched together, the creases between them the only lines on an otherwise smooth, ageless face. “The head nearly chewed off. Hell, this one was barely held to the body by more than a scrap of sinew.” He comes up behind Goring, reaching over him to shuffle through a few of the papers until he finds what he wants: A photograph, one that he takes the trouble to walk around the length of table in order to bring to my side.

“No,” I say, as my gaze falls on the image. “Not a clean wound at all.”

I try not to imagine how much worse the scene must have appeared to the naked eye. Rendered in black and white, a majority of the blood is reduced to mere mottled shadow, or stains that could be explained away as something – anything – else. But the position of the woman’s head cannot be interpreted as a play of light and shadow or a simple photography trick. There it lies, against her shoulder, the thick, wet ropes of her dark hair spread out around her, in a grotesque simulation of a crown or the rays of the sun.

There is no elegance to the injury. A knife or even the swift slice of an axe would have left some line of the woman’s throat intact. But this is a nothing short of a mess. Flesh that appears to have been gnawed on, torn apart, the skin hanging ragged around the still-gleaming white and visible vertebrae of her spine. The rest of her remains untouched, and I wonder at how so much violence could be inflicted on a single part of her body, and nowhere else.

“What was her name?”

“Mrs. Lillian Butler,” Goring tells me. “Married less than a year. The police, of course, have their eye on the husband. But he wasn’t even in the country when the last murder occured. They were on their wedding journey, in Paris at the time.”

I push the photograph away from me, face-down on the tabletop. “So we have three deaths over the span of a year—”

“Fourteen months.”

I glance at Mitchell, who has resumed his place by the window.

“Fourteen months,” I amend. “Three women, vastly different backgrounds, and there’s nothing connecting the location of their deaths?”

Goring clears his throat. “Mrs. Butler was murdered in her home. In Leadenhall Street.”

“And the ladies’ maid, Miss Docking, was in St. James’ Street. Though she wasn’t killed there.” Instead, her body had been found in the mews behind the townhouse in which she lived and worked, the straw of an empty horse’s stall soaked in her blood. “And Miss Patton—”

“The whore,” Mitchell interrupts. I refuse to even flick my eyes in his general direction.

“—was discovered in an alley off Chancery Lane. And there is nothing else? Place of birth? Even where their parents, their grandparents hailed from?”

Goring shakes his head. “Nothing but the, uh…” He waves a hand in front of his collar, the vicious wounds shared by three separate victims recreated with a waggle of wrinkled fingers.

I lean back in my chair, drum my fingers on the edge of the table. “So we are precisely where we were before, when Miss Docking was killed.”

***