The Liason Haven runs a monthly mystery series in which authors take turns writing short stories split into two parts, asking the readers to guess whodunit. This has been merged into one short story, but you’ll probably be able to guess where the parts were originally split.
This is set in Victorian London, using the Jack the Ripper murders as a backdrop. You don’t really need to know anything else, but if you’re at all familiar with this time period and those murders, it should be fun for you. I read a TON of a Victorian romance novels and I specialize in 19th century British history so any time I get to pull that stuff out, I’m always happy.
A few notes on terminology: Liz is Jason’s secretary, which at this point is more like an executive assistant and would have traditionally been done by a man. I just wanted to make sure that was clear.
I hope you guys enjoy!
Early October 1888
Fleet Street, London
Morgan Publishing: London City Press
Elizabeth Webber furrowed her brow as she scrutinized the broad sheet from the offices of the Central News Agency. Though it had been in business longer than she could remember, the distribution service was not always entirely reliable, and it was important to her employer that their newspaper stay above reproach.
Of course, the Press was fighting a circulation war with every other major newspaper in the city over these terrifying murders, and any scrap of news was published no matter how dubious. Still, a letter from the purported criminal himself? Surely it was a hoax.
She heard footsteps climbing the steep stairs to their second story suite of offices, and her heartbeat picked up slightly. Every morning for the past two years, she had listened to those steps and raised her eyes to the door, looking for the first sight of the man who had taken a chance and given Elizabeth a job that was typically reserved for a man. Women did not work as secretaries to the sons of the nobility, even if that family had been in trade and publishing for the better part of two generations.
And women who were themselves the daughters of baronets did not typically hire themselves out to work for men, but like the Morgan family, Elizabeth’s family wealth had disappeared decades earlier. Jason Morgan had turned a deaf ear to anyone who said that men and women could not work together in close environs without scandal, and for two years, they had proven it to be true.
The door opened, and Jason entered, removing his hat as he did so. He rarely remembered to wear a hat of any kind during the daylight hours, much less a formal top hat which meant his mother, the duchess, had likely made a surprise visit to his town home in Bloomsbury.
She sighed. If Her Grace had mentioned marriage or the name of a suitable young lady on this visit, then Jason would be rather irritable which did not bode well for her day.
“Good Morning, Miss Webber,” Jason said with a nod. He removed his hat. A piece of wheat colored hair slid over his forehead. He nodded at the sheet in her hand. “I see the Central News is at it again.”
Elizabeth rose, straightening her snow-white shirt waist as she did so, and followed him into his office, leaving the door open two inches behind them. “They claim to have received letters from the Whitechapel murderer. We went to print with the story, but—” She handed him the sheet. “You said any and all news—”
“I know.” Their fingers brushed as he took the paper from her, the slight touch sending shivers down her spine. She lived for these small moments, these small touches, for these glimpses into what it might be like if things had been different.
Fifty years ago, when both their families had had wealth and fortune and traveled in the high echelons of society, she might have entertained an actual future with him. It would not have been out of the question for the younger son of a duke to marry into the lower gentry—
But now, with both their families diminished, there could be no question of marrying down for his family. Even if Jason was a radical black sheep who espoused crazy things like support for unions and suffrage for women, he would be the laughingstock of Fleet Street if he so much as glanced at his secretary.
And newspapers often rose and fell on the reputation of their owners.
“You sent it to print?” he echoed, taking a seat behind his large mahogany desk and flipping through some paperwork.
“Yes. You said—”
“I know. Well, if it proves to be a hoax, at least all of London will go down with us.” He glanced at her, their eyes meeting for a moment. He had such lovely blue eyes— “If Her Grace calls, I am not available.”
She nodded. “Yes, sir—”
“In fact, if any member of my family calls—”
“You are not available.” She chanced a half smile and a question. “I take it from the hat you never remember to wear that you had a family visit this morning.”
“She shoved it into my hand as I was attempting to flee,” Jason muttered. “She came armed with the names of American heiresses. She should be going after my brother, but I imagine I was easier to reach since I wasn’t drinking myself to death in an East End brothel—” He coughed. “At any rate, these—” He gestured at the broadsheet. “Jack the Ripper murders have all my attention.” Jason scowled. “That’s a ridiculous name.”
“Well, what he does to those women is not ridiculous.” Elizabeth tapped her pencil against the steno notebook in her hands. “Mr. Morgan—”
“Your lodgings—the boarding house—” He looked up. “Clerkenwell is not far from Whitechapel. Has your landlady looked after you? The safety of the building?”
“Yes, sir. And we have a police district building just down the road.” She cleared her throat. “Mr. Frank has asked about the illustration department again.”
The pen which he was scribbling notes stilled in his hands, but he did not look up. “He renewed his offer?”
“Yes. He liked the work I did for the Parliament gathering when Mr. Dexter missed his deadline. I told him I was not interested but he—” She bit her lip. “I wish that you would speak with him. I have already said no.” And being asked again and again to take a position that would allow her to draw all day long was terrible torture.
But if she moved downstairs to the illustration department, she would give up these moments with him and she just—wasn’t ready to do that yet.
Jason set the pen down and looked at her. “Is it the salary? If you want him to match—”
“No, I am simply…” She held his eyes for a long moment. “I am happy where I am.”
After a long moment, he looked away. Coughed, then nodded. “I will speak with him, then. Thank you, Miss Webber. I—I don’t know what I—we—would do without you here.”
Her spirits lifted slightly, she offered him a smile before returning to her desk and work.
Miss Jones Home For Young Ladies: Front Parlor
“She is simply the worst.”
Elizabeth fought the urge to roll her eyes as pretty, blonde Starr Manning complained about her beau’s overbearing mother. Since childhood, Starr had expected to marry a boy from her village who had come to London the year before to read law at University College London, and Starr had followed him here. Unfortunately, Michael Benson had refrained from proposing marriage because his harridan of a mother hated Starr.
Elizabeth commiserated with the younger woman, of course, but it was exhausting to share tea with her each day. At nineteen, Starr was dramatic as any Drury Lane Actress.
She exchanged a knowing glance with her roommate, Emily Bowen, a typist at a local solicitor’s office. They were both half a dozen years older than Starr and the other woman sharing tea with them, Maximilliana Jones, who shared Starr’s penchant for dramatics. Maxie and her younger sister, Georgiana Jones, had come to the boarding house three months earlier.
The front door opened, allowing the blustery October winds to swirl in the entry hall. A moment later, a trio of women entered, two brunettes and a sunny blonde.
Nadine Crowell, an Irish emigre, took a seat next to Starr and poured herself a cup of tea. In her lovely lilting brogue, she declared, “Britt and I are going to see that medium you all laughed at me about.”
Britta Westbourne wrinkled her nose as she poured tea for herself, then for Robin Scorpio, Starr’s roommate. “I can’t let her go alone,” she offered as an excuse. “The last time Nadine went without supervision, she surrendered a week’s earnings.”
Nadine scowled. “And if you had let me pay the man, then he would have contacted my mother as he promised. But I had to keep looking—”
Elizabeth shifted slightly on the lumpy sofa. Seances and mediums were all the rage these days, and rarely a week passed without Nadine trying to convince them all to attend one. She saw Emily’s brown eyes light up with interest, and she sighed. The thought of being able to contact her own mother always made Elizabeth’s best friend go slightly crazy.
“We ought to ask about these murders,” Maximilliana, better known as Maxie, declared. She shivered, gesturing to a copy of the London City Press on the table next to the tea service. Elizabeth always brought home the afternoon edition after she finished work for the day. “He might be in Whitechapel today, but what is stopping him from coming this way?”
“Oh, does that mean you’ll come instead of laughing at me for a chance?” Nadine asked. “Emily, you’ll come, right?”
“I—” She saw Elizabeth’s look and sighed. “I shouldn’t but…what do you know about her?”
“Absolutely nothing as usual,” Robin said with a roll of her eyes. She, along with Britt, worked at the London Hospital, and neither had very little patience for anything that science could not prove. “But that will not stop her.”
“It will be fun. We’ll make an evening of it. We can see a show at Covent Garden—it’s nearby—and maybe even have some dinner. Oh, come on, don’t be such fusspots.” Nadine’s laughing eyes challenged them all. “We work hard all week with so little to show for it. Let’s kick up our heels and have some fun on Saturday night.”
When she put it that way, it was hard to argue with the other woman. They all worked in respectable jobs, but living at the boarding house with Barbara Jones, their landlady, and her strict rules, there was not a lot of room for fun. What was the point of being one of these new girl-bachelors if they couldn’t step out on the town once in a while?
“I’ll go,” Elizabeth finally agreed. “But only because Nadine is likely to get herself into trouble if we’re not there with her.”
Grosvenor Square, London
Quartermaine House: Dining Room
Once a month, Jason attended a family dinner at his family’s sprawling London home, still located in Mayfair. The duchy had lost a great deal of the family wealth ages ago, but through shrewd investments and sheer will, his grandparents, followed by his parents had been able to sustain appearances. There had also been some hope either Jason or his elder brother, the heir, would marry one of the wealthy American heiresses that haunted the haut ton.
But his brother was a wastrel who spent what little coin was left in brothels and gambling clubs, and Jason—
Jason managed to keep his temper in check at these monthly dinners as his mother and grandmother paraded some close family friends in front of him. He hadn’t been interested in the blonde heiress to a soap fortune last year, and this year, Samantha McCall was the frequent visitor. Her family was in railroads, and it was clear that his mother favored her and her father’s bank account.
When dinner had concluded, Jason hastily joined his father in the study while his mother, grandmother, and Samantha’s mother took the younger woman into the parlor.
Alan Morgan, the current Duke of Quartermaine, lit a cigar and offered the box to his son. “I told your mother not to invite the McCall ladies again, but she is nothing if not relentless.”
Jason grunted, turned down the offer, but accepted the sifter of brandy. “As long as she doesn’t do anything insane like send a notice of marriage to the paper, she can invite all the women she wants to dinner.”
Alan hesitated, pressing his lips together. “I know you’re the not the heir, Jason, but it’s likely that the line will continue with you. Even if your brother manages to get married—” His face was pale as he spoke bluntly about the likely death of his eldest son. “I can’t afford to be patient or not ask you if you have any plans for marriage or children. The tenants—”
“I know.” Jason felt the tension set on his shoulders as he wandered across the room, towards the large bay window that overlooked the square. “They might not bring in much income, but we have our obligations.” He looked at his father. “I don’t know.”
“Your mother has mentioned the young woman who works in your office—”
“She’s my secretary, “Jason said quickly. “And you know I hired her to prove a point.” He sipped his brandy.
“And if you were to show any sort of marital interest in a woman that worked for you, it would prove men and woman cannot work together.” Alan arched a brow. “And it’s worth it to be alone? To turn your back on someone you might care about?”
“I never said—” Jason turned back to his father. Then he shook his head. “It’s not about me. You know how this world is to women without family. Without connections. She wants a profession. To paint and illustrate.”
“Ah, and any chance of that requires a good reputation. So, you’ve discussed this with her. She’s willing to give up being your wife to work for her living?”
“I don’t know how she feels at all. We’ve never spoken—she doesn’t know—” Jason cleared his throat. “She might not realize what she’d be giving up, so I’ve never—”
“Oh, so you’ve decided to be self-sacrificing without even asking her what she wants?” Alan smirked. “You used to torture your grandfather with talk about the equality of women—how they should be able to divorce their husband, have their own wages and property—even have the vote. But I suppose you’re not quite the radical you make yourself out to be.”
Jason scowled. “What does that mean?”
“You’ve made this decision for her without even once asking what she thinks. I don’t have your radical credentials, my boy, but even I know that sort of thing isn’t fair to her—”
Jason opened his mouth to argue, but the door to the study opened and his family’s long-time butler entered. “I apologize, Your Grace, but a letter has just been brought for Mr. Morgan. An express from the paper about some murders?” Reginald held out a white sheet.
Jason crossed swiftly, took the sheet, and scanned. He exhaled shortly. “Someone has sent half a kidney to the leader of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, claiming it belongs to one of the victims. I have to get to the office—this has to be in the morning edition.”
He nodded to Reginald, tucking the letter in his coat pocket. “Please make my excuses to Mother and Grandmother.”
He strode out without waiting for Alan’s reply.
Fleet Street, London
London City Press: Jason’s Office
The next morning, Elizabeth scowled at the illustration of a man opening a package and something falling out of it — supposedly depicting the kidney that George Lusk had received the day before. She set the paper down, reached for the sketchbook she kept in a drawer and started to draw her own illustration.
She didn’t notice Monica Morgan, the Duchess of Quartermaine, until the older woman gently cleared her throat. Elizabeth dropped her pencil and hastily got to her feet, smoothing down her simple black skirt. “Your Grace. I apologize, I did not—”
“You were quite absorbed in your work.” Monica removed the pin holding her elaborate ostrich feather hat in place and removed her hat. “Is my son in yet?”
“Oh. No. He was here until almost dawn, getting the edition together.” Elizabeth twisted her fingers together. “The Press was able to get an exclusive—and—”
“I’m sure that explains why he ran out on our dinner last evening,” his mother said dryly. “He did not even give his regards to his grandmother, not to mention his complete abandoning of our guests.” Monica’s brown eyes met Elizabeth’s. “It’s a shame. I was hoping Jason might make a connection with the young woman we entertained.”
Her throat tight, Elizabeth merely nodded. “Yes, ma’am,” she said because she could tell Monica wanted something from her.
“She’s precisely the kind of woman I was hoping one of my sons would marry,” Monica continued. “She carries herself well, from a good family—” she tilted her head. “He’s met her a few times. Has he mentioned her at all? Samantha McCall?”
“I—we only speak of work, Your Grace. I’m sure it wouldn’t be proper for us to…” Elizabeth swallowed hard. It sounded as if his mother was warning her against something. Did Jason—Oh, God, did he know how she felt? Had he asked Monica to let her down gently?
Her cheeks felt hot as she looked down on her desk. Belatedly, she realized her sketch and the newspaper were still sitting out. She reached for them, but Monica got to the sketch book first.
“Jason mentioned you were an artist.” She pursed her lips as she examined the drawing. “Are you unhappy with the work Mr. Frank’s department is delivering? Yours seems quite good. If a bit…gruesome…” She sighed. “I’m surprised you’re wasting your talents upstairs, as a secretary.”
“No one would hire a woman illustrator when I was looking for employment,” Elizabeth managed. “But Mr. Frank has offered me a position,” she felt it necessary to add.
“Oh? Jason will be sorry to lose your services, but it might be a good idea for you to be somewhere where you can be happy.” Monica held the book out for Elizabeth to take but did not immediately release it when Elizabeth attempted to. “I can see from just that sketch that you aren’t fulfilling your potential.”
She drew back as footsteps thundered up the stairs, and Jason burst into the outer offices, sans hat. “We’re on our third printing already, Elizabeth—” The tumble of words halted, and the excited light in his eyes bled away as he saw his mother. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Clearly.” Monica smiled fondly as she ran her fingers through his dark blonde hair, smoothly the wind-tousled locks. “You left your hat at home again. What will people think?”
“I’m sure I don’t care.” He looked at Elizabeth, still standing behind her desk. “Good morning, Miss Webber.”
“Mr. Morgan.” Elizabeth took her seat and reached for his appointment book. “I found your note and canceled your meetings—”
“Thank you. Mother—” He gestured towards the door to his office. “Why don’t we go in here—”
He closed the door behind it, then turned to face his mother whose bland expression only irritated him further. “Why are you here? And why did Miss Webber look upset?” Her face had been pale, those beautiful blue eyes stark against the pallor of her fair skin.
“I’m sure I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I merely pointed out the talent of the sketch in her little book and wanted to know why she was wasting her talents here.” Monica arched a brow. “You know she’s staying in this position for you.”
“She has a lot of loyalty,” Jason muttered as he crossed the room and sat at his desk. “I gave her a good position when no one else would even interview her—”
“She’s in love you with, my dear.” Monica waited until he looked at her. “And she will waste the best years of her life away in that room, just to keep your appointment book. And you will allow her to do so because you love her, too. You’re both idiots.”
She pinned her hat back atop her blonde hair. “She has an offer from Mr. Frank. She mentioned it,” she added when Jason just blinked at her. “You should encourage her to take it. Or one day, she will resent you and loathe herself for staying here, hoping for something that will never happen. Is that what you want?”
Jason exhaled slowly. “Good day, Mother.”
“You know I’m right.” Monica opened the door. “Miss Webber, lovely to see you as always. Have a nice a day.”
“Your Grace,” came a murmur from the outside office. Then his mother closed his office door, leaving him alone.
Miss Jones Home For Young Ladies: Parlor
Stepping off the omnibus that had carried her from Fleet Street to Clerkenwell Green, Elizabeth wrinkled her nose as fat drops of rain hit the brim of her hat and slid over the edge until they splashed on the sidewalk in front of her.
At least it had waited to rain until she was only minutes from her front step, but the walk only reminded her how unrealistic her dreams had been. Jason had a carriage that stayed in the mews while they were at the office, then it took him home to Bloomsbury, straight to his front door.
He was not being drenched as he made his way home.
She pushed open the front door of the boarding house and removed her sodden coat and hat, setting both on a peg in the hall. Her dress had escaped most of the damp; only her hem was slightly muddy.
Inside the parlor, she could hear the mixture of voices from her roommates, and her irritation only grew as she recognized the slightly penchant voice of Starr. She liked the younger woman, but Elizabeth was not in the mood for her dramatics. Skipping tea would only encourage questions, so Elizabeth plastered a smile on her face, then turned the corner into the room.
Starr was surrounded by Nadine, Emily, and Britt, all of whom looked up at her footsteps. Emily’s smile faded as she tilted her head to the side. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Elizabeth said, but even she could hear the edge in her tone. She sighed.
“Even I can tell something is wrong,” Nadine said with a half-smile, “and you know I’m not good at that.”
“Don’t pry,” Starr snapped. “If she doesn’t want to talk about it, then we shouldn’t force her.” Elizabeth flashed her a grateful smile, feeling bad about her earlier thoughts. Starr was dramatic, of course, but she was also incredibly sensitive when she wanted to be.
Britt rolled her eyes and scoffed. “By all means, let’s talk about your problems some more.”
Starr’s teacup hit the saucer with a clatter. “I beg your pardon,” she snapped.
“Well,” Nadine said, a bit more kindly. “How many times can we hear about Michael and his mother?”
Starr’s faced paled as Emily winced. “It’s different today,” the younger woman declared, her teeth clenched. “Something happened that made it all worse.” Her brown eyes watered.
Emily sighed. “Starr—”
“He said he’s thinking of leaving his studies so he can support us because he’s tired of waiting for his mother to support us. But how can I let him give up his mother and his dream for me?”
Britt leaned forward. “Carly Benson is not worth your time or your energy. Even the doctors Robin and I work with at the hospital hate asking her to consult with the patients who want a midwife.”
Emily pursed her lips. “Don’t you think that’s probably more about the doctors being all men who hate women working there in the first place?”
“That’s not the point,” Britt retorted.
Before Emily and Britt could keep debating the subject, Elizabeth interjected. “Starr, if Michael decides to leave his law course and give up being a solicitor, that’s his choice. It’s not your fault—”
“Like you refusing that illustration position with Robert Frank?” Emily demanded. “You’re giving up your dream for something that will never happen. Yes, Starr. Blame the person making the choice. They’re the one making the mistake.”
Elizabeth glared at her best friend. “Are we doing this again?”
“Wait.” Nadine furrowed her brow. “Are we arguing? Why are we arguing?”
Elizabeth looked at the blonde, then sighed. “No. We’re not.” Turning her attention back to Starr, she said, “If Michael makes that choice, it makes it his fault. But that doesn’t mean he won’t make it yours at some point. Maybe it’ll take five or ten years, but yes, he might wake up one day and resent you. He might not. It’s up to you if you want live with that possibility.”
She hesitated, then met Emily’s eyes. “I’m going to ask Mr. Frank tomorrow if the position is still available.”
“Really?” Emily’s eyes widened.
“I’m not doing what I love, and the reason I applied for the position as Jason’s secretary was to show him my work and end up in illustrations. I forgot that for a while.” She bit her lip. “But I remember it now.”
Nadine, seated next to her, took her hand. “You should look happier about it.”
“Did Jason get engaged?” Starr asked. She reached for the society pages of the London Times, her favorite section of the paper. “I didn’t see anything, and you know the Morgans would definitely place a notice—”
“No.” Elizabeth managed a smile. “But he will. He likes to pretend he’s not part of all of that, that he earns a wage like the rest of us, but he loves his family, and he’ll do what’s best for them.”
Nadine cleared her throat, patted Elizabeth’s hand. “Then you will definitely need a distraction. We’re seeing Madame Jerome tomorrow. You’re still coming, aren’t you?”
Her blue eyes were hopeful, and Nadine was such a bright and friendly person, that Elizabeth didn’t have the heart to tell her how little she wanted to visit a spiritual medium. She smiled at back Nadine. “Someone has to keep you giving away your entire week’s wages.”
Covent Garden, London
Jerome Town House: Parlor
The next evening, only Maxie and Georgie remained at the boarding house with Bobbie Jones, their landlady. Everyone else took the omnibus to Covent Garden where they watched some live entertainment in the square and purchased food from the variety of food vendors available.
Elizabeth almost felt like her normal self as the group trudged towards the small side street where Ava Jerome had leased the first floor of a town house. The house itself was four stories tall, wedged tightly between a butcher’s and a florist shop. These houses were old and tiny, barely one room wide but three or four rooms arranged along a dark, cramped hallway.
A butler showed them in, the six of them barely fitting along the hallway, illuminated by only one or two gas lights on the wall. He opened a door to reveal a room with a wide circular table that took up nearly every inch of the room. Eight chairs were arranged around it.
The table was covered in a thick, white, tablecloth with a large bronze vase filled with decaying flowers in the middle. Elizabeth wrinkled her nose at that.
A tiny woman dressed entirely in black, her silvery blonde hair swept up in an elegant chignon stepped forward. “Welcome to my home. I am Ava Jerome,” she announced with a sweep of an arm, her voice low and throaty. “What knowledge do you seek?”
Britt elbowed Nadine, who stepped forward, clearing her throat. “I want to speak with my mother,” she said hesitantly. “And…these are my friends. They’re here for support. I read someone if the spirits have a lot of energy to pull from–”
“Ah, yes.” Ava nodded. “Before we begin, I must consult individually. We cannot have any negative energy from skeptics or nonbelievers.”
Britt rolled her eyes as Emily muttered under her breath, but when Nadine shot them all a dirty look, no one dared to say anything out loud. Nadine followed Ava through the door.
“You know we’re going to be thrown out of here in about five minutes once that lady gets a load of us,” Britt said to Elizabeth to Robin. “Nadine and Starr are gullible and—”
“And I’m what?” Emily demanded, planting her hands on her hips.
“Impressionable,” Britt said finally.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong in believing in the afterlife,” Starr muttered. The group fell into an uncomfortable silence as, one by one, they went into the room with Ava. Nadine returned, and refused to tell them what had happened. Then Britt, then Emily, then Robin, and Starr. Finally, Elizabeth went in.
The room was set up like smaller parlor with two wooden chairs arranged under a lamp and next to table. Ava, already seated, gestured for Elizabeth to take the other seat.
“How does this work?” she asked warily as she gingerly perched on the edge of the seat.
Ava tilted her head. “Do you believe?”
Wanting to scoff, but also knowing this was important to Nadine, Elizabeth just sighed. “I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of things about the world we don’t understand. But I’m not sure I believe we can talk to dead. I hope so. Nadine’s been searching for a long time for someone.”
Ava nodded. “Mmm…so you are afraid to deny, but not brave enough to believe.” Her lips curved into a smile. “I can work with that.”
As Elizabeth was the last one, Ava followed her back into the room and told the women to take a seat at the table. Emily leaned in close.
“She barely met with you. What happened? Everyone else talked with her for five minutes—”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I don’t know—”
“All right, ladies. Please join hands. We must see if my spirit guide is willing to see the other side.” Seated at the head of the table, Ava extended her hands to Robin and Britt on either side of her.
As all their hands met, the lights in the room dimmed. Elizabeth glanced around, but no one was there to turn them down. She looked at Ava who tilted her head up to the ceiling, her pale skin like snow in the dark. A breeze ruffled her blonde hair, tendrils swaying in the air.
Elizabeth looked up, then around as Emily and Starr did the same, but there was nowhere that the air could have come from. Nadine, Britt, and Robin were all staring at Ava.
“Whom do you seek?” Ava asked, her voice lowered.
“My mother, Margaret. She promised me a dowry,” Nadine said in a rush, “but she died before—”
“Margaret…” Ava murmured. She turned her head from side to side. “Margaret.”
From behind her, a knock sounded, and Elizabeth twisted slightly to see—but there was nothing behind her. Just the smooth wall. Another knock came…then more from the other walls. From the ceiling. From the floor.
The wind picked up again, and then was a long, low moan that caused the hair to stand up on Elizabeth’s neck.
Then, just as abruptly as it had begun…the sounds ceased, and the gas lights turned back up to full force.
“I’m…I’m so sorry.” Ava opened her eyes and looked at Nadine. “The spirits couldn’t find her.”
Tears were already sliding down Nadine’s cheeks. “Couldn’t you try again?”
“I must—” Ava swept her gaze around the table, resting on each woman in turn for a moment. “I must not have rid the room of negativity.” She slumped in her chair. “Please. Leave me now. We can try again at another time.”
“But—” Nadine started.
Britt put her hand on Nadine’s shoulder. “Let’s just go, Nadine. We can come back.”
Fleet Street, London
London City Press: Jason’s Office
On Monday morning, two days later, Elizabeth tapped her pencil restlessly against Jason’s appointment book, staring at the smooth surface her desk.
She didn’t hear the steps on the stairs or the door open until Jason cleared his throat in front of her. She jumped, startled.
“Are you all right?” Jason asked as he removed his coat and set it on the peg next to the door.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Morgan—”
“I told you to call me Jason when it’s just the two of us,” he told her as she rose to her feet and followed him into his office, their normal morning routine.
“I don’t—” she cleared her throat as he closed the door behind him.
Closed it entirely, rather than leaving it ajar as he did every other morning.
“I don’t know if that’s proper,” she murmured as he passed around her and went to his desk. He did not sit down, just kept his eyes on her.
“Did—” Jason hesitated. “Did my mother say something to you last week? Robert Frank told me just now that you’ve asked him about taking that position after all.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth pressed a hand to her throat, her fingers touching the cameo fastened there. “She just complimented my work, and I realized—but Mr. Frank said I had missed my chance—”
“He was irritated because you had turned him down twice.” Jason pressed his lips together. “I can make it available if that’s—”
“I don’t want any special favors,” Elizabeth interrupted, her heart pounding.
They were silent for a long moment, just staring at one another before he spoke again. “I could ask a few other publishers. I’ve seen your work. You deserve to be doing what you want—to be happy—”
“It’s not that I’m unhappy here,” Elizabeth said when he didn’t continue. “I know you took a chance in giving me in this position—and Mr. Frank said if he would let me know if the opportunity arose again.”
He still looked distressed, and she hated that he might be blaming himself somehow for this, so she hurried to change the subject. “I was wondering if you might think about the Press looking at seances and mediums.”
Jason furrowed his brow, tilting his head slightly. “I didn’t realize that was still popular since the Fox sisters revealed it was all a con—”
Happy he was allowing the topic shift, she shook her head. “On, every week, there’s a new medium or a spirit guide setting up somewhere. One of the women in my boarding house visits every single one she can find, trying to speak with her mother. We went to one on Friday.”
Jason’s brows lifted. “Really?” he asked with some amusement. “I wouldn’t have thought that would be something you’d be interested in—”
“I’m not—not really. But Nadine is determined, and we try not to let her go alone.” Elizabeth hesitated. “One time, one of these people convinced Nadine to give him her entire paycheck, and another time, we had to stop her from getting on a train with one of them.”
“That—” Jason scowled. “That doesn’t seem safe. You—you go with her?”
“We go in groups,” Elizabeth assured him. “Never less than three of us. This time, it was a woman in Covent Garden—Ava Jerome. She was better than most, but she still didn’t give Nadine any peace. I was just wondering…”
He nodded, gesturing for her to take a seat. He never sat at his desk if she was still standing, no matter that she was his employee. When they were both seated, he continued. “You don’t like seeing your friend taken advantage of.”
“No,” Elizabeth said.
“I can ask Spinelli to look into it. He covered the Fox sisters last year,” Jason said. He reached for a pencil, checked the tip. “Ava Jerome, in Covent Garden?”
“Yes, but I don’t know how long she’ll be there. I wish I could convince Nadine to stop going to these people, but I’ve buried my parents, too. I know how hard it is to be alone in the world. These people are taking advantage of her grief.”
Jason met her eyes, held them for a long moment. “You’re not alone, Elizabeth.”
Her cheeks felt hot as she bit her lip, looked away. “N-No, of course not. I just—I know how it feels to lose your parents, I mean.”
“I don’t know if I can give you any good answers, but we can try.”
London Hospital: Courtyard
After work, Elizabeth took the omnibus to the London Hospital where Robin and Britt both worked, Britt as a nurse and Robin as an assistant physician. The three of them had plans to meet Emily and Nadine at Drury Lane to see a theater that night, and Elizabeth had promised she would not travel to Covent Garden alone after dark.
She decided to wait inside the courtyard, just off Whitechapel Road, not interested in going inside the septic halls of the hospital. She had never been inside this building, but her parents had died in a hospital five years earlier, the victims of a nasty strain of typhoid fever that swept through their Devonshire village.
As Elizabeth waited for her roommates, a blonde woman made her way down the steps of the hospital and towards her. She was rail-thin with a narrow features, her mouth arranged in what had to be a permanent scowl—Elizabeth had never seen her smile.
Caroline Benson, known to all of them as Carly, Michael Benson’s harridan of a mother and Starr’s mortal enemy, wrinkled her nose.
“Aren’t you one of the sad women who lives with the idiot my son wants to marry?” she demanded as she drew in front of Elizabeth.
Elizabeth lifted an eyebrow. “Do I live at the same boarding house as Starr Manning, your son’s betrothed? Yes.” She met the older woman’s dark, angry brown eyes, extended a hand. “Elizabeth Webber—”
“They haven’t made any official announcements yet, so I’ll thank you not to spread rumors,” Carly interrupted with a snap.
Elizabeth sighed and shifted her weight from one foot to another, letting her hand fall to her side. Where were Robin and Britt? “Are you all right?”
“What?” Carly demanded, folding her thin arms across her dark-colored coat.
“Well, you’re at the hospital.” Elizabeth gestured towards the looming stone building behind them. “I thought you might be feeling ill—”
“Not that it’s any of your business,” the other woman sneered, lifting her chin, “but I’m here to consult with some of the city’s best physicians. They’re enamored with my work.”
“Your work?” Elizabeth repeated, dubiously. Carly was a midwife who had followed her son to London. Most physicians were still men and almost never gave women with any medical training the time of day. Robin, despite her credentials, was treated as little better than hired help.
“They’re impressed at how few of my patients die in childbirth. They wanted my expertise.” Carly glared at her, as if daring Elizabeth to mock her or say something insulting.
“That sounds like really important work, Mrs. Benson,” Elizabeth said, causing Carly’s eyes to narrow because Elizabeth sounded sincere—which she was. Her brother’s wife had died in childbirth before Steven himself had passed away from grief and alcohol. Her grandmother had also died giving birth to her father.
“Yes, well…” Carly sniffed. “I’m meeting my son and that insipid girl—”
“Starr really is very nice, Mrs. Benson—”
“I promised myself the day my son was born that he would have only the best.” Carly swept past her and out the gate. Over her shoulder, she called, “And Starr Manning is not the best.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and turned back to the entrance, relieved to see Robin and Britt striding towards her.
“Hey,” Robin said, with an easy smile. “Have you been waiting long?”
“No, but I had the singularly unpleasant experience of running into Carly Benson.”
Britt groaned. “Oh, her.”
“They’re doing a city-wide research study,” Robin told Elizabeth. “She’s been here for like a week and it’s literally the worst. I can’t wait for her to disappear.”
“Let’s start with not talking about her anymore. I don’t want to miss the omnibus to Drury Lane.”
Morgan Town House: Study
Most evenings, one could find Jason hard at work in his study and most of his staff knew not to disrupt him after he had eaten dinner. There were always a thousand things for a newspaper publisher to do, even after dark. The morning edition wouldn’t put out itself, and it was one of the reasons Jason had been among the first to install a telephone line that ran between his home in Bloomsbury and the Fleet Street offices.
When his butler, Max, knocked on the door, Jason almost growled at him in irritation until he saw his mother in the entrance hall. He sighed and gestured for Max to let her in.
“You missed tea with your grandmother,” Monica said with a lift of her brow. “Thursday tea with Her Grace is not optional.”
“It is for AJ,” Jason muttered, petulantly but grimaced when his mother only sighed and sat on a chaise lounge underneath his window. “I’m sorry. I’ve been busy—” He gestured at his desk. “These murders—”
“Thankfully, there hasn’t been a murder in weeks, and you have a quite capable staff. You’re angry at me because of what I said about or to Elizabeth Webber.”
“I really don’t want to talk about that, Mother.” Jason took his seat and decided to ignore her, but Her Grace, Duchess of Quartermaine, was not so easily dismissed.
“I want to see you settled with someone. Samantha McCall is from a good family—”
“You can stop shoving rich women in my face—” He hesitated. “Robert Frank is going to offer Elizabeth a position in the illustrations department, and this time she will probably accept. Once she’s no longer working for me directly—” He met her eyes, ready for an argument. Ready to defend himself. “I intend to ask her to marry me.”
His mother said nothing, only lifted that damn brow again.
He frowned at her. “You don’t seem surprised.”
“You were never going to take a step towards her as long as she worked as your secretary. Pushing her into wanting to leave merely moved things along.” She rose to her feet. “I’m only sorry I didn’t think of it sooner, but I also didn’t think you’d be so damn stubborn for two years, my boy.”
Jason was speechless as his mother swept out of the room.
Miss Jones Home For Young Ladies: Bedroom
Elizabeth closed her drawer in the small dresser that she shared with Emily. They had been roommates since they’d both showed up at the house within two weeks of one another almost three years earlier, and now it was hard to imagine life without Emily.
Her friend was sitting on her bed, drawing a comb through her long, deep brown hair. “I can’t believe you convinced Jason Morgan to investigate Ava Jerome.” She set the comb on the small table between their beds. “How long before the story is in the paper? Does he know anything yet?”
“No,” Elizabeth sighed. She climbed under her blanket and waited until Emily turned down the gas lamp, plunging the room into darkness. “It might be another week, maybe more. Jason hasn’t said a lot. He’s been…weird since he found out I’m planning to take the next spot with Mr. Frank.”
“Maybe he’s thinking about how much he’s going to miss you,” Emily teased. Elizabeth heard rustling as Emily climbed under her own blanket.
“You’ll be happier doing what you love, and he’ll miss you enough to realize how perfect you are, and he’ll run downstairs—”
“We’re not doing this again. Go to sleep!”
Emily giggled, but it was a drowsy one, and soon they both drifted off to sleep. Outside, rain began to fall, gently at first, a pitter patter against the cobblestone streets and roof, gradually building into a late fall storm.
A clap of thunder jarred Elizabeth out of a sound sleep. She opened her eyes as the room was illuminated briefly by a strike of lightning. She turned on her side, away from the window and towards Emily’s bed.
A blood-curdling scream jarred her fully awake, and she heard Emily next to her cursing loudly. Emily rolled right off her bed and hit the floor with a thud as Elizabeth stubbed her toe reaching for the gas lamp. She winced but managed to get to her feet.
There were more screams—more raised voices—footsteps rushed past their door, heading for the third floor, but the screams continued from just down the hallway—
Emily was pulling the door open as Elizabeth managed to light the lamp. In the dim hallway, they could see a door ajar—and more screams emerging from that room.
Footsteps continued from the first floor as Bobbie rushed up them. Behind Emily and Elizabeth, they heard Starr’s panicked voice as she and Robin came down from the third-floor attic rooms they shared across the hall from Nadine and Britt.
They all rushed towards the open door where they could now near Maxie’s voice screaming shrilly. Elizabeth and Robin both had lamps in their hand, so they went first—
Inside the room, Maxie was standing in front of the window, her white nightgown streaked with blood, screaming and pointing at the other bed where her sister, Georgie, lay still, her blonde hair soaked dark with blood.
Robin cursed and shoved the lamp at Emily, rushing towards Georgie as Starr went to Maxie.
“We need the constables—” Bobbie spun on her slippered feet and went back the way she came.
“Robin,” Elizabeth began, but her friend shook her head. What hell was going on? How could–
“She’s gone.” Robin straightened, looked around the room. Maxie had calmed down to merely sobbing in Starr’s arms. “Where’s—” She swallowed hard. “Why aren’t we all—”
Elizabeth turned, expecting to see Nadine or Britt—and then she remembered there had been footsteps running past her door. Another set of screams came from the floor above them, directly above them–Nadine and Britt’s room.
And then the sound cut off abruptly.
Miss Jones Home for Young Ladies: Bedroom
Elizabeth never remembered exactly who reached the door first, she or Robin—but one of them shoved the door open. Lightning flashed, illuminating the room and the dark figure of Britt standing over Nadine’s bed with her arms raised. The light hit the blade of the knife as Britt brought the it down toward Nadine’s silent body.
Elizabeth screamed as Robin stumbled back against the door frame. “Oh my God!” the brunette shrieked. “What are you doing?”
Elizabeth didn’t know what made her so brave, but she just knew she couldn’t let Britt stab Nadine again. She rushed at Britt as the woman raised her arms again, and tackled her at the waist, throwing them both to the floor into the small space between the beds. She heard the blade hit the ground.
Britt screeched, grabbed a chunk of Elizabeth’s hair and pulled it hard, dragging Elizabeth towards the heavy post of at the end of the bed. Elizabeth kicked wildly until her foot connected with Britt’s abdomen. Britt sucked in a deep breath but released Elizabeth’s hair.
“Have to finish,” Britt grunted. “Have to finish!” She rolled towards Elizabeth again, but Elizabeth managed to grab Britt’s hair and smack her head against the bed frame. Britt slumped to the floor, her eyes closed, her hands limply at her sides.
Elizabeth struggled to her feet to find Robin lifting the gas lamp over Nadine. “Nadine—” Elizabeth sobbed, her breathing ragged, her heart racing. “Please, Robin—”
Robin’s face was pale as she looked up and silently shook her head. Tears streamed down her face. “Oh my God, what is going on?”
A long moan drew their attention as Britt started to stir. Elizabeth rushed for the knife, which had been kicked under the nearby dresser, but when Britt sat up, she looked around. Her eyes were unfocused, her words slurred. “What happened—”
She looked around and her dark eyes fastened on the bloody body lying on the bed, the laughing blue eyes empty. “Oh my God, oh my God. What have I done?”
She curled into a fetal position, sobbing repeatedly, “What have I done?”
Elizabeth embraced a crying Robin as men’s heavy footsteps pounded up the stairs.
Morgan Town Home: Breakfast Room
It was nearly six the next morning as Jason perused the morning edition of his competitors, sipping his coffee as he did so. It was a quiet morning in the square, populated as it always had been mostly by professional and white-collar workers. Most of the lawyers, bankers, and physicians wouldn’t start their day for another hour or two.
When the hooves of a horse clattered along the cobble stones outside, Jason looked up. He could tell the rider was galloping—and then the sound stopped in front of his house.
He was already on his feet, crossing to the door when one of his best reporters rushed through them, ahead of an annoyed but resigned Max. Damien Spinelli was a small, slight young man with a fast way of talking and a nervous energy—but Jason knew him well enough to know this was different.
“I was at the office when the crime bulletin came in—” Spinelli shoved paper at Jason who took it even as he continued to speak. “There’s a notice from Clerkenwell—”
Elizabeth’s borough, and if Spinelli was rushing over—Jason looked down at the slightly crumpled paper. “Two women murdered at 3 Penton Rise—”
His stomach dropped. 3 Penton Rise. “Elizabeth lives there.”
“I thought so—I rode to the station, but they wouldn’t tell me anything.” Spinelli swallowed hard. “They said a woman went crazy at a boarding house, killed her roommate, and another resident. Someone else was injured. But they refused to give me names. I tried to tell them I worked for you—”
“Max, have Hugo saddled,” Jason said, cutting Spinelli off. He looked at his butler. “Now.”
She was all right. She had to be.
Clerkenwell Police Station
Jason arrived at the station before Spinelli, the younger man having less experience on a horse. He took a deep breath and steeled himself for what he knew he’d have to do to get any information out of the notoriously closed lipped City Police. They did not like reporters, but he wasn’t merely the publisher of the London City Press, and for the first time in his entire life—
He was relieved to be the son of a duke.
He strode into the station with all the swagger and authority he had seen on his uncles and elder brother. The young man behind the desk stared at him, his brown eyes wide.
“Uh, can I—”
“Lord Jason Morgan,” Jason said, shortly. “I demand to know the names of the women involved at the Penton Rise murders.”
The officer coughed and started to flip through paperwork on the desk. “Uh, yes, my lord.” He cleared his throat. “Inspector Capelli is—”
“The names,” Jason repeated, coldly.
“Oh.” The officer looked up. “We arrested Britta Westbourne for the murders of Nadine Crowell and Georgiana Jones—”
“And the injured woman?” Jason demanded, even as relief coursed through his veins. She was alive. “The bulletin—”
“Maximilliana Jones. We’re holding several other women for questioning—”
“Including Elizabeth Webber?”
The officer visibly gulped as he nodded. “Yes, my lord. Should I fetch the inspector?”
“I want to see him, yes, and I want Miss Webber released now.”
The younger man scrambled to his feet and bowed shortly before disappearing into another room. Spinelli arrived a moment later, his face red, his breathing labored from the long morning spent on horseback.
“Did you find out about Miss Webber, sir?” Spinelli asked.
“She’s alive and being held for questioning.” Jason tapped his fingers restlessly against the counter. “They arrested one of her roommates.”
“But she’s alive,” Spinelli repeated, taking in a deep sigh of relief.
The officer returned, followed by a taller man dressed in a suit rather than the police uniform of the officer. They were alone—no Elizabeth.
Visibly irritated, Jason tried to restrain himself. If he needed to drag his father, a noted supporter of the city police, out of bed to get Elizabeth out of here, he was prepared to do that.
“Where is Miss Webber?”
“I am Inspector Andrew Capelli,” the man drawled “and we aren’t done questioning her yet.” He paused and smirked. “My lord.”
“You have the woman who committed these crimes. What else could you possibly need?” Jason retorted. He lifted an eyebrow.
Capelli hesitated, and the officer next to him cleared his throat. “Uh, sir,” he said to Capelli, his voice hushed but still clearly audible. “His Grace, the Duke of Quartermaine—”
“I know who he is, Barrett,” Capelli snapped. He turned his attention to Jason. “I am not satisfied that Miss Webber, or her friends have told me all that they know.”
That was very possible since Jason knew how much Elizabeth loved her roommates, and at least one of the victims was the woman Elizabeth had felt so protective of. But that didn’t change anything for him. He wasn’t leaving without her.
He took a deep breath and dialed back his anger and irritation. “But you are convinced you have the murderer.”
Capelli grimaced. “Yes, my lord. There is no doubt.”
“Then you can release Miss Webber—and the other women—now.”
The inspector clenched his teeth. “And what is your connection to this case, my lord?”
Jason hesitated. He could simply tell the truth—that Elizabeth was his employee—but the inspector might refuse to release her or anyone else. He could call on his father or any number of uncles or cousins who held government positions—but all of that might take time and he couldn’t stand the thought of Elizabeth being held for questioning when he knew how devastated she must be, how scared and upset—
“Mis Webber is my fiancée,” Jason said. Spinelli, to his credit, didn’t even blink.
A muscle near the corner of Capelli’s mouth twitched. “I see. I will…of course…release them. Do I—” He grimaced. “Do I have your permission to question Miss Webber if the need arises?”
“We’ll see,” Jason said. The inspector scowled but then disappeared into the backroom, followed by Barrett.
Spinelli raised a brow at him, but Jason just glared at him. A few moments later, the door opened a gain, and several women emerged. Jason was stunned to see that they were all still dressed in their nightclothes, all of them splattered with different amounts of blood. Oh, God, how close had she been to the murders? Had she been in danger—
Elizabeth emerged from the middle of the group, her long dark hair tangled, her cheeks tear stained, and a dark bruise blooming underneath her left eye. “Jason?” she managed. She stared at him for a long moment before striding forward and throwing herself into his arms.
Jason leaned his cheek against her hair, taking in the way she felt in his embrace. “Are you all right?” he murmured into her ear.
She drew back slightly, tears still clinging to her lashes. “No. No, I’m not.”
Morgan Town Home: Study
The long hours at the police station combined with the still devastating events of the previous night left all of them feeling a bit numb and unsure exactly what came next.
The police still would not let them back into the boarding house, so after a little discussion, Jason arranged for several of the women to go with Bobbie to her brother’s home, who had showed up at the station after having gotten word from Bobbie’s neighbors.
Emily didn’t want to be parted from Elizabeth, and Elizabeth…
She wanted to be with Jason, so when he offered to give them a place to sleep and rest, Elizabeth agreed to go to his home.
His housekeeper showed she and Emily to rooms upstairs where they were able to bathe and change into some readymade clothing that simply appeared on the beds. Emily stayed in their rooms while Elizabeth ventured downstairs to seek out Jason.
The first time since this entire terrible ordeal had begun that she had felt safe was when she saw him at the police station, when she knew that he had done something to get them out of those rooms and away from that nightmare.
The butler, Max, showed Elizabeth to the partially open door of the study where Jason sat behind a large mahogany desk, deep in thought. He sprang to his feet as Elizabeth closed the door behind her. She blinked at the large room and the daylight streaming in from the large windows that overlooked Bloomsbury Square.
How could it still be daylight? Hadn’t a thousand years passed since she’d woken in the night to screams and terror?
“Are you and Miss Bowen all right?” Jason asked, his blue eyes on hers.
“Yes…” Elizabeth touched the cuff of the white shirtwaist she now wore. “Thank you for seeing to the clothing. I—I couldn’t stand being in that nightgown any longer—”
The nightgown stained with Maxie, Georgie, and Nadine’s blood. Oh, God.
“I sent Spinelli, and I asked him to make sure your landlady and friends had everything—” He stopped, his hands falling to his side. Jason looked so unsure, so uncertain—it was so unlike him. “I don’t know what to say to you.”
“I don’t know if there’s anything that can be said.” She sank onto an ornate chaise lounge arranged beneath the window. “When the inspector came to get us, he said my fiancé had arrived.” Elizabeth swallowed. “I should be angry that you said a thing because I’m sure linking your name to all of this will ensure the rumors will spread, but I also—I know you did it to get us out, and I couldn’t—” She closed her eyes. “I couldn’t stand being there another moment.”
She felt him sit next to her, then he reached for her hand, enveloping it between both of his own. “Elizabeth…”
“It was so wrong, sitting in that room. It was cold, and it was dark. They separated us. I just wanted it to be over, I wanted it—” Her voice broke. “I wanted it never to have happened.”
“I’m sorry. Spinelli brought the bulletin as soon as he saw it—”
“I know.” She opened her eyes and looked at him. “I tried to ask for you. I knew—I knew you could help, but they refused. I would have done anything to get out of there.” A sob rumbled out of her throat. “Nadine—she’s gone.”
“I recognized her name. I’m so sorry.” He drew her close to him, she felt his lips press against her hair. “’I’m sorry.”
“I just—I don’t understand. Britt was our friend. She was Nadine’s roommate. We were a family.” Tears slid down her cheeks.
“What happened?” Jason asked quietly. “Unless you don’t want to talk about it—”
“Maybe talking it through—I tried to answer their questions, but they never let me talk. They kept interrupting. I just—” Elizabeth knew she should pull away, that she should put some distance between them. If she’d been an unsuitable match prior to this, being a witness or suspect in several violent murders would only make things worse. But she wanted to feel safe.
And Jason made her feel like nothing could hurt her.
“We went to sleep like any normal night, but that storm—there was thunder and lightning. It woke me up—and then I heard screams.” Elizabeth swallowed hard. “Emily and I ran to Maxie and Georgie’s room, but Georgie as already—” She shook her head. “We heard footsteps running past our room—just before we got our door open. It was so dark, and we couldn’t see without the lamp—God, if we had just gone into the hall a moment earlier—”
Her shoulders shook with the force of her sobs. A moment earlier and Nadine would be alive.
“If we had followed the footsteps—”
“She might have killed you…” Jason drew away, turning her so that she faced him. His voice sounded different, rougher. “You stopped her from hurting anyone else.”
“Why would Britt hurt anyone? Why Georgie and Maxie—we barely know them—”
“Sometimes we don’t understand…” But Jason trailed off, shaking his head.
Elizabeth sighed, brushing at her cheeks. “Maybe the police will find a clue. Maybe they’ll tell us when we can go back home.”
Jason stared at her for a long moment. “Are you—are you really going back?”
She tilted her head to the side, not understanding. “It’s my home.”
Their eyes met, and she was surprised to see that he was a bit nervous. “It doesn’t have to be.”
Her heart seized and breathing became more difficult. She drew her hands away from him, standing and starting across the room. “I appreciate your help, Mr. Morgan—”
“Jason.” She turned to find him on his feet as well, those eyes dark with irritation. “My name is Jason.”
She sighed. “Jason. I appreciate your help, but—”
“I don’t want you going back there,” he said, firmly. “You can stay here. Or-or with my mother and grandmother. Anywhere else but there.”
She looked out the window, taking in the lovely square and the stately homes that surrounded it. Her family had never been at the levels of society that Jason had grown up in, and maybe he simply didn’t understand that the only way for the rumors to subside was to not give anyone more to talk about.
“You told the inspector I was your fiancée. That won’t stay out of the papers, and if I were to stay here or with your family, it would make it harder not to believe it .”
“Not if—” Jason stopped. Waited a moment. “What if it were the truth?”
“I—” She pressed her lips together, their eyes meeting again. Holding. She wanted to say something about not needing that kind of protection, that it was nice of him, but she didn’t need saving.
Except he did not look like a polite friend or acquaintance offering a marriage of convenience to save her reputation. She swallowed hard. “Jason.”
“I was going to wait until you took the position with Robert Frank, so that you wouldn’t technically be my employee, but—”
Her eyes welled up. “I don’t know if I can do this today.” She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. “Jason.”
He slid his fingers over her hands, drawing them away from her face. “I couldn’t handle it if anything happened to you,” he told her quietly. She looked at him and bit her lip. Had he felt the same as she did? How had he hidden all of that away?
She leaned up, slightly on the tips of her toes and kissed him, giving into the urge to feel his lips against hers, the scent of the coffee he drank every morning. She didn’t like the taste of it for herself, but she could learn to love it if it came with his kisses.
“I was going to wait,” Jason repeated when he drew back. He tucked a tendril of hair behind her ear. “I just—I didn’t know if you were okay until I made it to the station. The thought of you going back to that house, even with the others—”
She leaned into his embrace, letting her forehead fall into the crook of his neck. She could live happily here, in this moment, in his arms, forever, and he was offering her that chance. Offering her the life she had dreamed of for so long—
Elizabeth took a deep breath and stepped back. “They’re not going to let Britt go. And Bobbie needs us. I need my friends right now. And you need to be sure of what you’re saying. So, if after all of this…you still feel the same…”
“We’ll talk about it again.”
Miss Jones Home for Ladies: Parlor
The next morning, the inspector sent word to Jason’s town home that they would be able to return to the boarding house. Jason arranged for transportation for all of them, but he didn’t accompany them home.
Elizabeth wasn’t ready to return to the question Jason hadn’t quite been able to ask her, but she saw that he was no longer pretending they were just friends. The lingering looks he gave her as he walked her and Emily to the carriage, the way his hand didn’t let go of hers right away—
It gave her something to think about, to focus on that was outside of the nightmare currently taking over the rest of her life, and in that way, she was grateful Jason had taken the opportunity to change their relationship. But with everything else changing so fast, she wasn’t sure that she was ready.
Bobbie, Robin, and Starr were already outside the house when they arrived, standing just at the corner between Penton Road and Penton Rise, where their street dipped into a steep hill towards the river. The trio looked tired, but relieved to see Emily and Elizabeth.
They hugged as if they had been parted for much longer than twenty-four hours, and of course, Starr was already crying. They went inside, and Elizabeth managed to keep herself together long enough to help Bobbie and Robin clean up the rooms where Nadine and Georgie had been…
Afterwards, they joined Starr and Emily in the parlor, cognizant that half their number was missing entirely. Bobbie, with her hands shaking, poured out tea and handed it to her tenants, her face pale.
“It doesn’t feel real. Even after…” She stirred some honey into her cup.
“I was at the hospital yesterday,” Robin told them. “I wanted to see Maxie…and her parents arrived on the train from Yorkshire. They were crying so hard, and screaming at the hospital for hiring…” She swallowed hard. “It was awful.”
“I just…” Emily’s voice wobbled. “I just don’t understand. Britt was one of us. And to hurt Nadine—” She pressed a closed fist to her mouth.
“I didn’t—” Starr sucked in a deep breath, trying to talk through her tears. “I didn’t want to say anything earlier but…Michael came to see me last night, and he was so upset. He talked to his mother, and I don’t know what he said, but Carly finally said I can come live with them.” She managed a smile. “We’re going to start calling the banns on Sunday.”
“Oh!” Emily exclaimed.
There were several murmurs as everyone attempted to be happy, knowing how long Starr had dreamed of marrying Michael and starting a family.
“I’m sorry,” Starr continued, “and maybe I should stay. Maybe it feels like I’m running away—”
“Don’t—” Emily leaned over, squeezing the younger woman’s hand. “Don’t. I…I’ve been thinking about it and…well, I think I’ll be going home, as well.”
“What?” Elizabeth demanded, sitting up straight. “Em—”
“Oh, dear,” Bobbie murmured with a sigh.
“I came to London to save money and help my father with the shop back home. I think—I think this is a sign I should go back. And I do miss the cliffs and the ocean in Cornwall. The river just…isn’t the same.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Elizabeth asked, stricken.
Emily bit her lip. “I hadn’t decided, but then I talked to Bobbie, and—” She traded a look with their landlady who sighed again.
“I guess this is as good a time as any—I’ve decided to stop taking in tenants.” She shook her head, staring down at her teacups. “I was never able to have children, so my girls were my family. I just don’t know if I have it in me to do this again. To open my heart again. I’m going to stay with my brother for a while.”
She looked out the window, out into the dreary gray streets of Penton Rise and the October London rain. “I just can’t seem to picture going on like nothing ever happened.”
“I sent my uncle a telegram yesterday,” Robin admitted, slowly. “Asking him what he thought about me coming to Boston. He has his pub there and he’s always telling me that female doctors do better in the States.” She sighed. “If I don’t have this place anymore, then I guess the best place for me is with my uncle and his family.” She looked to Elizabeth. “Where will you go?”
Elizabeth sighed. “I don’t know.”
Covent Garden, London
Jerome Town House: Street
Later the next afternoon, Elizabeth decided to talk to Jason again about his proposal—not that he had made one, but saw Emily stepping into her own hack outside their boarding house. When she heard the address on Maiden Lane in Covent Garden, Elizabeth sighed. Emily was going back to Ava Jerome.
She hailed her own hack and delivered the same address, arriving just behind Emily’s driver.
“Here, miss?” Elizabeth’s driver asked. “That’ll be five guineas.” She handed over the coins and stepped down onto the sidewalk.
Emily turned the sound of her heels on the cobblestone and furrowed her brows. “What are you doing here?”
“I heard you giving the address—what are you doing here and why didn’t you tell me?”
Emily sniffled; her eyes rimmed in red. She, along with Starr, had been crying all day as they had helped Starr pack up and leave for Michael’s home, and then assisted Bobbie in closing the house. They would only have one more night before Bobbie left for her brother’s in Knightsbridge.
“I know this is all nonsense,” Emily said, slowly. “But I just—I don’t understand how this happened, and if there was any way to explain it—if there was something that Ava Jerome could do—”
“Em—” Elizabeth sighed and stopped. Who was she to deny Emily comfort wherever she could find it?
“I would have asked you,” her roommate continued, “but I know you asked Jason to investigate her. I was worried about your negative energy.”
Elizabeth grimaced. “Never mind my negative energy. If this is will help you, then we should do it. I can be open minded.”
They went up the stairs and knocked on the front door. The same butler from their previous visit answered and showed them into the room where they had waited before. It felt like hours before Ava Jerome swept in, still dressed in dramatic black.
She lifted her slender brows. “Ladies. I wasn’t expecting you. Where are your friends?”
Emily took a deep breath. “That’s why we’re here. Something awful happened two nights ago. One of our roommates killed two of the other girls.”
Ava gasped, pressing a hand to her chest. “That’s terrible.”
“And we just—” Emily continued, shaking her head. “I don’t know, I thought maybe we could find Nadine or Georgie and they could—”
Ava narrowed her eyes. “N-Nadine and Georgie—who are they?”
Elizabeth tilted her head to the side. “Our roommate, Britt, killed Georgie. Another girl at our boarding house. She tried to kill Georgie’s sister, then killed her roommate—Nadine. You met Nadine and Britt. Nadine wanted to find her mother—”
“No, no, of course I remember Nadine. I just—” Ava sank gracefully onto a high-backed sofa, pressing her lips together. “Britt was the tall, dark-haired girl…She killed…them?”
“It was terrible,” Elizabeth admitted, touching Emily’s shoulder as her best friend started to cry again. “Britt was still…stabbing Nadine when we found her.”
Emily sniffled. “Britt looked like she didn’t know what she’d done, but the police were there, and we never got to ask her. And now—we just don’t know anything. Our landlady is closing our home and we’re all going to be leaving.”
“Leaving?” Ava echoed. “Scattering to the winds?” She straightened. “That’s just terrible.” She rose to her feet, and Elizabeth frowned at how upset the medium appeared to be.
“Can you help us?” Emily asked.
Ava pressed her hand to her chest again. “I can try, but we’ll need to meet individually again.” She eyed Elizabeth skeptically. “Just to be sure—”
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Elizabeth started, but Emily stepped forward.
“I’ll do it.”
Elizabeth watched as they disappeared into the backroom and prepared herself for a bit of a wait, but no more than five minutes had passed before Emily emerged in tears.
“We have to go,” her friend sobbed. “She said she can’t help us.”
Emily just shook her head and rushed outside. Elizabeth threw another considering glance at the closed door. She followed Emily outside and they hailed a hack to return home.
Morgan Town Home: Study
Jason asked his butler to repeat himself when Max announced his visitor. Jason rose to his feet, furrowing his brow. “Miss Webber—are you sure?”
Max stepped aside to reveal Elizabeth, wringing her hands.
“I’m sorry,” she began as Max stepped out of the study and closed the door, leaving them alone. “I know it’s inappropriate for me to come to you, but—”
“Are you all right?” he took her hands in his, a bit alarmed at how they were shaking. “What happened?”
“I—” She shook her head and a tear slid down her cheek. In a choked voice, she told him about her return home—about cleaning up the blood left by the murders, Bobbie’s decision to close the house, and everyone else leaving London. “And then I found Emily on her way back to see Ava Jerome—”
“The medium you asked me to look into?” Jason asked, as he led Elizabeth sit on the chaise lounge beneath the window. “I didn’t know that Emily took that seriously—”
“She never outright made fun of it the way the rest of us—” Her voice broke. “Britt, Robin, and I—we never took it—but I guess we’re all so upset. I don’t blame her for trying to find answers, but there was just something not right about it all.”
“How so?” he asked.
“Ava seemed upset when we told her what happened, but she didn’t really seem to remember Nadine or Britt right away. She met with Emily—but then she refused to help us. You said you were going to have Spinelli look into her, but you haven’t told me what he found.”
“He’s still investigating her background,” Jason told her. “But how could she have anything to do with this?”
“I don’t know.” Elizabeth chewed her lip. “Maybe she blackmailed Britt or put her up to it or something.”
“I’ll send for Spinelli right now,” he told her, rising to his feet. Elizabeth stood as well, grabbing his arm to stop him from going to his desk and the telephone.
“No, no. I sound crazy—Ava probably refused to help because she didn’t think she could fake talking to a murder—” She pressed her hands to her face. “I’m sorry.” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I just…” She met his eyes. “I wanted to see you. I was on my way here earlier when I saw Emily leaving.”
“I’m sorry that the boarding house is closing,” Jason offered as they sat back down.
She managed a small smile. “You didn’t want me to go back there.”
“That doesn’t mean I wanted you to lose your home. I know how much everyone there meant to you.” He hesitated. “I know it seems as if I only proposed because of what happened, but I promise I was going to ask—”
She pressed her fingers to his lips to quiet him. “You have never, not once, lied to me. I believe you. And I think…” She hesitated as their eyes met. “I hope you know that my…” Her cheeks flushed as she tried to find the right words. “That my feelings are the same.”
“I hoped they were.” He brushed his lips against her temple. “But you still aren’t prepared to say yes.”
“Well, you haven’t asked me yet,” she reminded him. “It’s also not that simple. I know your family had their heart on you marrying someone who…” She hesitated, “who was better situated. Add this scandal to my other shortcomings—I doubt your parents—”
“My mother only invited those women to dinners to prove a point to me.” He looked at their hands, their fingers laced together. “She probably knew how I felt before I did. And I know there were might be other issues, that there will be people who won’t approve.” He hesitated. “And I also know that those people will take out their disapproval on you, not me. So, it’s not enough to say that I don’t care about them. But, all the same, I don’t.”
“Thank you.” She smiled at him. “I felt so awful when I got here, but I feel better now. About everything. And you don’t have to worry—if I say yes, it won’t be because I have nowhere to go. Bobbie has offered me a place with her at her brother’s house until I know what I’m doing next.”
She got to her feet. “But I should go home now. While it’s still there. Tomorrow is our last night and I want to spend as much as time as possible with everyone before it’s all over.”
Miss Jones Home for Young Ladies: Front Parlor
Their final supper and tea the next evening came much more quickly than Elizabeth would have liked. They gathered for the last time, their numbers already reduced by one—Starr had taken her things to Michael’s home several streets away, closer to St. Paul’s and the river.
“I’m glad we were able to see Mr. and Mrs. Jones to the train station before they went home with Maxie and…” Emily trailed off. “And Georgie.”
“I don’t blame Maxie for going back home,” Robin said. She looked around at all of them. “I will miss all of you and this place, but at the same—I like the idea of a fresh start. Away from everything that’s happened.”
Elizabeth squeezed her landlady’s hand. “Thank you for allowing me to come to your brother’s home, but I…” She smiled at the other two women. “I won’t be there for long. I had a letter from Her Grace, Jason’s mother. He’s offered marriage, and she wanted me to know I was welcome there.”
“Oh!” Emily exclaimed; her eyes lit up for the first time in days. “Oh, how lovely! I knew something had changed between you.”
“He says he was always planning to ask once I took a position elsewhere, but with everything that’s happened—”
“He was worried about your reputation,” Bobbie said with a smile. Emily’s tears started again.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. “This is just—it’s exactly the kind of news Nadine would have loved.”
Tears stung her own eyes. “I know. I know. I wish she were here, and I feel terrible knowing that Jason decided not to wait because we lost her, but—”
“But this is your chance for happiness,” Bobbie cut in, squeezing Elizabeth’s hand. “Take it. And never look back.”
Miss Jones Home for Young Ladies: Bedroom
Not long after Elizabeth’s news, the remaining residents retired for their last night in the boarding house. Bobbie disappeared into her first-floor rooms, Robin trudged to her third-floor attic rooms, while Elizabeth and Emily went to the second floor. For the last time.
As they changed and got ready for bed, Emily sighed, wistfully. “I wish I knew why Ava wouldn’t help us.”
Elizabeth kept her skepticism to herself as she set her comb back on the dresser and climbed into bed.
“Nadine said she was so nice when she and Britt went back,” Emily continued as she tucked herself in.
Elizabeth blinked and sat up. “When did they go back?”
“A few days ago,” Emily told her. “I think—I think it must have been the day it all happened. Nadine said she felt like they got so close to her mother, and Britt was crying—”
“Why didn’t they say anything?” Elizabeth demanded.
Emily shrugged. “Maybe Britt felt uncomfortable about believing since you and Robin are so against it all.” She sighed and laid back against her pillows. “I wish we could understand what happened, but maybe everyone is right. Maybe sometimes people just go crazy and there is no reason.”
Morgan Town Home: Study
Jason had returned from dinner with his family, feeling close to happy for the first time in a long time. His wastrel brother had not made an appearance—again—but he’d been happy to learn that his mother had done exactly as he’d hoped when he’d told her about his proposal. She’d sent Elizabeth a letter, inviting her to tea and to stay with the family.
He was so close to having the future he had wanted almost since the day Elizabeth had come to work for him, and he hoped Elizabeth would be able to put the horrors of what had happened with her roommates behind her. Maybe once he could put her mind at rest about Ava Jerome—
He glanced over when he heard a commotion at the front door, but by the time he reached his study door, Spinelli was charging past Max and towards him.
“That report you were waiting for,” he said, breathing hard. He braced his hands on his legs, leaned over. “It arrived by express.” He grabbed something out of his suit jacket and shoved it at Jason.
Jason scanned it, scowling as the words sunk in. “Ava Jerome is trained in hypnosis? Are you sure?”
“I am sure, sir. And while most people don’t believe in talking to dead or ghosts—”
“Hypnosis is proven,” Jason finished, grimly. “And Elizabeth said Ava Jerome met with all of them individually—” He blinked. Emily and Elizabeth had returned the day before, according to Elizabeth. And Ava had met with Emily. Alone.
“Why would she go after the women at the boarding house?” Spinelli asked, confused. “Why?”
“I’ll worry about motive once I know Elizabeth is safe.”
Miss Jones Home for Young Ladies: Bedroom
Elizabeth had trouble falling asleep that night—she couldn’t quite let go of the information that Nadine and Britt had visited Ava Jerome the very day that Britt had brutally murdered her roommate and tried to kill a pair of sisters neither of them knew very well. Thunder crashed outside, jarring her out of a fitful sleep.
She yawned and rolled her, then jerked back just as the blade of a knife sunk into the mattress where she had just been laying. “What the—”
She fell off the bed, and in a flash of lightning, she saw her best friend standing over her bed, a knife clutched in both of her hands, raised over her head. Just like Britt.
“What are you doing?” Elizabeth screamed as she stumbled to her feet. She tried to dart around Emily, but her roommate blocked her escape. Elizabeth tried for the window, but they were several flights off the ground—she’d never survive the fall.
“Have to do it,” Emily mumbled, her words nearly drowned out by the rain pounding against the cobble stones. Lightning flashed again, and Elizabeth saw her only chance—to jump across both beds to reach the other side of the room.
“Have to finish,” Emily chanted as her dark figure came closer.
“Help!” Elizabeth screamed again, but she was alone on this floor, and she wasn’t sure if anyone would be able to hear her over the rain. “Help!” she screamed out the window. As Emily lunged towards her, Elizabeth darted left and scrambled over the beds, tripping over Emily’s and crashing to the floor.
The door was thrown open just as Elizabeth reached it, and Robin stood there, Bobbie behind her. Robin lifted a lamp, her eyes huge with fear as she took in the room.
“What’s going on?” she demanded.
Emily tried to swing around as if to lunge after Elizabeth again, but her foot caught in one of Elizabeth’s discarded blankets. She stumbled backwards into the window frame, slamming her head against the wood. The knife fell from her hand as Emily slumped to the floor, moaning and clutching her head.
Elizabeth turned at the sound of Jason’s voice. She heard footsteps pounding up to the second floor, then Jason and Spinelli were there. She threw herself into Jason’s arms as Spinelli ventured in the room along with Robin.
Robin went to check on Emily who was curled up in a fetal position, sobbing her heart out while Spinelli grabbed the knife to keep it out of Emily’s clutches.
“What is going on?” Bobbie demanded as Robin looked at Emily’s bleeding forehead.
“The medium,” Spinelli managed, his face pale. “She’s trained in hypnosis.”
Elizabeth jerked away from Jason. “What?” she retorted. “What?”
“Spinelli got the report tonight,” he told her. “And I realized you told me she met with all of you alone—that you and Emily went back—”
“Oh, God, Nadine and Britt went back again before—” Elizabeth covered her mouth with her hands as Emily limped towards them, her face haggard.
“I don’t know what—” she choked out. “There was just a voice and it was screaming at me to kill everyone, kill everyone!” She looked at Elizabeth, shaking her head violently. “I would never hurt you—”
“Ava Jerome did this,” Elizabeth said, her body still shaking from adrenaline and fear. “She hypnotized you. She must have done it to Britt, too. But why? Why does she want us all dead?”
Jason took a deep breath. “There’s only one way to find out,” he said grimly.
Covent Garden, London
Jerome Town Home: Parlor
Elizabeth refused to stay home while Jason and Spinelli went to see the medium. She dressed while Jason sent for a footman from his home to look after the women—no one was quite convinced that Emily’s hypnosis had been truly broken or wouldn’t be triggered.
Along with Spinelli, the two of them took Jason’s carriage through the dark streets of London towards Covent Garden and the house on Maiden Lane. The town home was dark, no lights lit within.
Jason didn’t bother waiting to knock—he shoved the front door open, Elizabeth and Spinelli on his heels. But the front rooms were empty, papers strewn all over the study with large holes in the walls—likely where she had hidden the machines, she used to carry out her work.
“She’s gone,” Jason said.
“I’ll check below stairs. Maybe there’s a servant somewhere,” Spinelli said. Jason and Elizabeth continued to read through the papers littering the floor, looking for some sort of clue.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Elizabeth said. “None of us even knew here—at least—” She hesitated. “At least no one admitted to knowing her. And she met with all of us—”
Jason frowned at a news sheet. “This is from Harrow. The report said Ava lived there most of her life—”
“Harrow?” Elizabeth repeated. “That’s where Starr grew up. She met Michael there as a child and followed him to London when he came to study law. Starr left the house yesterday to go stay with Michael and his mother. They’re only a few blocks away from the boarding house.”
“Do you know where?” Jason asked, but before Elizabeth answered, Spinelli rushed in.
“I found a maid packing up in the kitchen,” he reported. “She said Ava left here no more than twenty minutes ago.”
Benson Town Home: Front Room
They were too late.
When their carriage rattled to a stop in front of one of the tall, wedged in buildings that dotted King’s Cross Road, there were lights already on in the rooms of the ground floor. The front door was open.
Jason led the way, followed by Elizabeth and Spinelli. They could hear maniacal laughing from inside the front room where Ava Jerome was presiding over a massacre.
Elizabeth gasped, her fingers clutching Jason’s suit jacket. Michael Benson, the blond love of Starr’s life, lay slumped across a small table, blood trickling from several wounds in his back. On the floor, near the stairwell, Carly’s thin body was nearly unrecognizable through the blood that stained her dress and hair.
And in the center of the room, Ava stood over Starr’s dead body, a knife in her stomach, her hand still lightly clutching the hilt.
“It’s done! It’s finally done!” Ava cried when she saw them. Her eyes were bright with a dangerous light and Jason put his arm out as if to keep Spinelli and Elizabeth back.
When he stepped towards her, Ava pointed a revolver at him—he hadn’t even seen it his hand, but then—he’d been distracted by death.
“Oh my God,” Elizabeth sobbed as she took in the dead body of another friend. “Oh, God. Not Starr. Why? Why?”
“She killed my baby!” Ava sneered. “And now I’ve finally had my revenge!”
“Oh my God—” Elizabeth shoved Jason’s hand away. “This was all about Carly? You did all of this to get back at Carly?”
“Carly?” Jason repeated, stepping in front of Elizabeth again.
“Carly is—” Elizabeth swallowed hard. “Carly was a midwife.”
“She swore it wasn’t her fault,” Ava seethed. “Babies die every day, but my little girl was kicking until that bitch came to my home. When that little brat told me all about her feud with Carly, I knew my chance had come. I knew I could finally have justice. She killed my baby, so I killed hers—”
“But—” Elizabeth shook her head. “But why all of us? What did Britt or Nadine—”
“So, there would be no trace,” Jason said quietly as he watched Ava’s lips curve into a cruel smile. “Starr to take care of Michael and Carly, and after all, didn’t you tell me how much Carly and Starr argued? But she must have realized when you all came in a group, some of you might not accept Starr committing murder.” He looked at her. “It’s over now. You’ll never get away with it.”
Ava just smiled as Elizabeth turned her eyes on the medium. “You hypnotized Britt to kill everyone in the home, then herself? So that no one would—how could you be so cruel—”
“It’s done now,” Ava said. “I’ve finally avenged my little girl. My beautiful Avery.”
She was insane, and Jason wanted Elizabeth as far away from her as possible. He turned slightly away from Ava, taking Elizabeth by the shoulder. “Get the police—”
“No, stop!” Elizabeth screamed, but even as Jason turned, Ava shoved the revolver in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
Morgan Town Home: Parlor
A month later, Elizabeth found herself standing in Jason’s parlor—their parlor, she corrected herself with a bit a bewilderment. She was now—technically—Lady Jason Morgan, a courtesy title she knew she would never ever use.
She had spent the last four weeks living with his family, getting to know his grandmother and mother, his father—and somehow, never meeting the mysterious brother that everyone seemed to pretend didn’t exist.
The scandal of the boarding house murders somehow never attached themselves to Elizabeth—his father had apparently made a few arrangements, and her name was kept out of the papers. Jason had been credited with solving several murders—he didn’t care for the notoriety, but their circulation numbers had risen above the London Times for the first time, and that had cheered him up. She had been glad to have something else to think about.
Then Jack the Ripper had struck again, killing poor Mary Kelly in early November, and all the attention turned away from them, finally.
They had been married at the local parish church in Clerkenwell rather than St. George’s, opting for something quiet. Jason’s extended family more than filled the church, as her side was limited to Bobbie and Robin. Spinelli had sat with them for to make the numbers less sad.
Afterwards, they returned to Bloomsbury for the reception and Elizabeth found herself standing with Robin, not entirely comfortable with playing hostess.
“I’m glad you waited to leave for Boston,” Elizabeth said as she hugged her last remaining roommate. “I wish you’d change your mind—”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget finding Emily and Britt with knives in their hands, trying to kill the people we love,” Robin said softly. “Emily couldn’t even wait twenty-hours to go home to Cornwall.”
Jason joined them as Robin spoke, sliding an arm around Elizabeth’s waist. He handed her a glass of champagne. “She was worried,” he said, “if she stayed—”
“She might finish Ava’s plan,” Robin said with a nod. “I know. I’ll write.” She hugged Elizabeth again, then joined Bobbie across the room.
“I’m sorry, I wish she’d stay for you,” Jason told her. “But you’ll still have Bobbie.”
“I wish we’d been able to help Britt, but—”
“My father is trying to her sentence changed, to send her to a hospital, but…” He shrugged. Murder by hypnosis hadn’t impressed the police and the duke hadn’t quite known how to explain it.
“I know. I appreciate it.” She leaned up to kiss him. “I’m glad I have this chance to start a new life with you and to put everything behind us.”
From across the room, Robin sighed and sipped her champagne. She would miss her best friends, would miss seeing Elizabeth living her dream—but…
She closed her eyes, and she had a flash of the nightmare she’d had for weeks. Running down the hall. A knife in her hands, stained with blood.
Hiding that knife under the mattress while Starr lit a lamp so they could rush downstairs to the screams—to the room Robin had only just fled.
Robin opened her eyes and looked at Bobbie’s kind eyes. “I’ll miss you.”
“There’s still time—”
“No, it’s—” She took a deep breath. “It’s for the best. I need to go. I need to be as far away from this place as possible.”
Author’s Note: If you’re a frequent romance novel reader, some things might have felt familiar to you. I was definitely inspired by the work of Amanda Quick, Courtney Milan, and Laura Lee Guhrke, so check out their books if you’re into historical romance!
Second, I might have been overly specific about London geography — those of you who read me over at Crimson Glass might remember I reopened the site the year I lived in London to study at UCL. I actually gave Liz’s boarding house my old address at Penton Rise and Jason lives just a block away from my university. It was a lot of fun revisiting London for this story! I hope you liked it!