Dark Gothic Series
On the streets of Whitechapel, a man steps from the fog-shrouded shadows, looking for company. The women are always happy to take his coin—just before they take his knife…
Darcie Finch has come to the East London brothel as a last, desperate choice. Instead, the madam turns Darcie out into the harsh night with new hope-to seek employment from one who owes her a favor, Dr. Damien Cole—as well as a last warning: Have a care. Steer clear of his work and his secrets. He is a man to fear…
The Cole residence is a strange place, indeed. Servants disappear. Unsavory characters call at odd hours of the night. And Darcie has seen the handsome doctor leave his laboratory splattered with blood. Now, Damien has offered her the chance of a lifetime, using her skills as an artist to work beside him. Long hours together soon ignite an unexpected-and irresistible-passion. But the closer Darcie gets to Damien and his secrets, the more she wonders if he is a dedicated, charming healer…or a cold blooded killer…
A dark and delicious gothic. I gobbled it up in a single sitting. Oh, how I have missed books like this!
—Linda Lael Miller, New York Times bestselling author
…a gripping gothic that combines the tension of the Jack the Ripper stories with the dark aura of Jekyll and Hyde and the chill of a classic horror film. There’s icy fear and smoldering passion, twists and turns and red herrings thrown in here and there to keep you up all night.
AAR Annual Reader Poll Best Buried Treasure nominee
A thick gray wall of fog hovered over the damp stones of Hanbury Street, carrying the stink of old blood and rotting entrails. Darcie Finch shivered as chilled wisps curled like talons about her slim frame, and she hastened her steps, her feet sliding precariously on the wet cobblestones. Clutching her battered leather folio against her side, she tried in vain to close her senses to the stench.
The frightened lowing of cattle drifted on the rank air, carried from the nearby abattoir. Come morning, the stones on the next block would glisten wetly; not from mist and rain as they did tonight, but from a river of blood flowing over them. Despite her attempts to block the sound, the piteous noise intruded. Darcie dragged in a shaky breath, fighting the panic that threatened to claw free of her breast. Did she feel the same dull fear as those poor beasts being herded to their doom, the same sense of the inevitable horror to be meted out by unfeeling hands? She could not help but compare their fate to hers, to the sorry lot she had chosen. But therein lay the distinction. The animals had been condemned without benefit of trial, born to the inevitable fate that awaited them, the slaughterhouse one block over. Those poor dumb beasts had no choice.
Her breath left her in a hiss. As if she did.
Darcie gave herself a mental shake. There were always choices, and she had made hers. Better to accept responsibility than to brandish her fist at the fates, crying and wailing against the burdens that were hers to bear.
She moved her feet mechanically, her worn boots scraping along the cobbled road as she rubbed her fingertips across the raised, puckered scar that marred the skin of her left hand. Destiny. Steppy had talked of destiny as though it were an old friend, or perhaps a mortal enemy with an ancient grudge. He always said that destiny brought all men to the same fate, a shroud and a bed in the cold hard ground. She clutched her flat leather case tighter against her chest as another thought struck her. A person might be dug up from a fresh grave and find their final end on an anatomist’s table. Whitechapel was a favorite haunt of the ressurectionists, unscrupulous men who plundered fresh graves and were whispered to hasten the dying on their way.
Shrugging off the morbid thought, Darcie willed her exhausted body onward. Tragic and pitiable was the life that lay ahead, but no worse than so many young girls had faced before her. She sighed softly. Once she had believed in dreams and fairy tales, had relied on a gossamer web woven of privilege and fantasy. Now, she believed only in the harsh reality of life, relied only on her own ingenuity.
Suddenly, Darcie froze, every fiber in her body alert. Icy tendrils twisted around her heart. Her gaze darted this way and that, searching the darkest corners of the narrow thoroughfare. The certainty that she was no longer alone slithered across her mind. She could feel something – no, someone – sense an evil intent. Peering into the shadows that loomed dark and frightful along the deserted street, she tried to place the cause of her unease.
Nothing materialized from the mist, and she shook her head at her own foolishness, at the fear that was a remnant of a time when she had lived a better life, a time when she would never have even considered roaming the back alleys of the worst part of the city. Those days were dusty memories. For so long now she had lived on these streets, existing from moment to moment, from meal to meal.
Again Darcie rubbed the length of the raised scar that crossed her hand, a memento of a poor choice, a reminder of Steppy. For a moment she thought of him as he had been, before storms and foolish decisions had taken his merchant’s fortune to the black bottom of a pitiless ocean. Her stepfather had once been a man of means, and a man of morals.
Just a few more steps and she’d be at Spitalfields Market. She knew the way, knew the safest route, and the most dangerous one as well. The scar began to throb and ache. It seemed to swell beneath her light touch as she trudged onward, her folio of drawings tucked under one arm, her mind rooted in the past. She ought to have run in the opposite direction that day, ought to have chosen the safe road. Ought to- Well, it didn’t matter now.
Her footsteps faltered as the hair at the nape of her neck prickled and rose. Her earlier feeling of unease grew stronger, more insistent as it clamored for her attention. There was someone on the street with her. Slowly she turned to face the way she had come. The mist was thick as pottage. She could see nothing. No one. But though she could not see him, she could sense him, and she’d learned by trial and error that some senses didn’t lie. Intuition was often the only safeguard between life and the oblivion of death.
Added to her own instinct was the weight of rumors that hovered over the streets of Whitechapel. Rumors of murder, of vile and painful death. Darcie knew the value of gossip. There was the probability of a frightening kernel of truth hidden beneath the layers of speculation and exaggeration.
Pulling back into the shadowed niche of a doorway, she used the night and the fog to her advantage. The thought that she had imagined the whole of it, that the sound was only the footfall of some poor soul on their way home from a hard night’s labor, was one she wanted to consider. Still, instinct argued against the possibility.
Hide in the shadows. Run, girl. Run! Steppy’s voice calling her from beyond the grave.
Darcie wedged herself into the dimmest corner of the doorway, praying that the mad pounding of her heart was audible only to her own ears. Though she tried to stay calm, her attempts to dissuade herself from suspecting the worst were unsuccessful. She sensed that whoever, whatever, shared the street with her was on a quest, a search for the surest path to misery – her misery.
As if conjured from her most terrible imaginings, the shape of a man emerged from the mist. No sound heralded his arrival, just a ripple, a current that moved the air. Darcie dared not breathe, though an odor, foul and frightful, came uninvited into her nostrils. The smell of evil.
Huddling in the doorway, she could hear the sound of his breathing, low and rough. He was close enough now that she could lean out and touch his cape had she been of a mind to summon his notice. The garment was long, nearly to the ground, black in color and of a fine material. She could see the smooth surface his highly polished Hessians, splattered by the mud of the road. A man of money, she surmised. A man of money who had come to the East End, to Whitechapel, to prey on the poorest of the poor.
Seconds ticked by with agonizing slowness. Abruptly, he turned and began to walk away, the hollow sound of his footfall ringing on the stones. A sense of relief so acute as to be almost painful washed over her.
As the echo of the man’s footsteps faded, Darcie slunk from the shadows, cautious, ever watchful. Scanning the street, she found no cause for alarm. It was deserted.
Her stomach gave an ugly rumble, unpleasant testament to her desperate hunger. She ignored it, having no choice given that she possessed not a crumb of food. She continued on her way, meeting no one as she walked. The hour was close to dawn. The prostitutes and the men who searched them out had left the street for the night, and honest folk had yet to stir.
A rat scurried across her path. Watching it blend into the shadows, she remembered another life, when such a sight would have drawn her revulsion, even her fear, a time when she had lived in a small house in Shrewsbury, with Mama and Abigail and Steppy, and later with Steppy alone. Wispy memories teased her thoughts. Warm cocoa and soft hugs, the smell of Christmas morning, the childhood innocence that allowed her to feel safe… Ruthlessly she shoved the thoughts of a better time to the back of her mind. No sense pining for the past when the present was what she must face. She was so close to the end of her desperate journey.
Tears filled her eyes, not of relief, but of despair. The end of her journey would bring only grief. The irony was a bitter tonic.