Shadow Guards #1
On Sale: October 2008
Death is inevitable.
But there are some souls, more wicked and disobedient than most, who defy Death’s claim.
Rebellious souls who must be called to heel.
ARCHER, Lord Black, returns to England at the behest of Queen Victoria to immerse himself in the dark, hellish streets of London’s East End. Among the immortal Shadow Guard, he is the most prolific and cunning of the Reclaimers. He revels in the hunt of his current prey: an ill-mannered, reluctant soul reviled in the daily newspapers as Jack the Ripper. Archer has only one weakness … one distraction … the young woman he spared from death two years before.
ELENA WHITNEY has never wanted for anything — not since coming under the protection of her mysterious and absent guardian, Lord Black, who has gifted her with everything a young woman of quality could ever hope for, including an enviable address, an unlimited income and entrée into the drawing rooms of high society. But now, after nearly two years of indifference, he believes he can sweep into her life and rid himself of her by marrying her off. If he knew anything about her — anything at all — he’d know she had greater aspirations than that.
“Come out, Mr. Winslow.” Archer stepped out from the stairwell onto the dark tenement roof. “It’s your time to die.”
Wind, biting and ruthless, sent the tails of his great coat snapping behind him. He wove between crumbling chimneys and piles of rubbish, avoiding the sagging tarpaper and rotted beams that might collapse and send a more careless being into the black oblivion of the abandoned building below. He pulled the leather gloves from his hands and tucked them into his hip pocket. Another gust twisted his long hair about his shoulders. Inhaling deeply, he savored the scent of fear on the air.
“How rude of you to run and hide, when I’ve traveled all this way just … to see … you.”
This was his favorite part of the hunt, the exquisite, slow torture of his prey just before Final Reclamation. He could choose to darken into shadow and make quick business of things, but no – a deviant like Winslow deserved to be terrorized on a much grander scale.
Archer closed his eyes and summoned the Turning. Heat seared his skin, fluxed through his veins. When he opened his eyes again, he knew they were no longer grey, but wholly hematite-black. He spread his palms at his sides. Eight claw-daggers hissed out, nearly to his knees, their blades formed of equal part fire and primeval silver.
A crumbling stack of bricks stood at the south end of the roof. Though the fog was dense and the sky held no stars, he required no light to discern even the minutest detail. The air fairly quivered around the bricks. With a growl, he leapt the distance and leveled them with one blow.
Winslow reeled into the open. Though Herculean in stature, his scream rang as high-pitched as a child’s. Unexpectedly, he dragged with him a tempest of woolen skirts, slender limbs and pale hair. Archer bit out a curse, his pleasure in the hunt instantly soured. He had sensed no other presence but Winslow’s. How could this be? Never before had he made such a grievous mistake.
With a scowl, he advanced.
“Wot the ‘ell are you?” Winslow gaped, his eyes fixed in terror, first on Archer’s claws and then his eyes. Scarlet furrows scored one cheek, evidence of his captive’s mettle. “A demon, or the Devil ‘imself?”
Winslow dragged the girl toward the far ledge.
“Let … me … go!” She cuffed his jaw. Her lower lip was bruised and swollen. One of her sleeves gaped open, torn and flapping in the wind.
Archer hissed. How was he to Reclaim his target without sacrificing the life of the girl?
Winslow’s heel pierced a weak spot in the roof. Both went tumbling. Recovering quickly, he clamped one arm around her chest, the other in a high chokehold against her neck, and hauled her backward onto the ledge. Behind them the slum lay blanketed in sooty darkness. Heedless of the danger, the girl flailed her arms, and kicked at the beast’s shins with her bare feet.
“Stop fightin’ me bitch!” Winslow ground out between yellowed and broken teeth. He struggled for balance atop the narrow ridge of crumbling mortar.
Archer halted. Any fall would be fatal for both. He cared not about Winslow – nothing could save the bastard now, but he would not be held accountable to the Primordials for the death of an innocent.
“I hope he kills you,” the girl shouted, clawing at the meaty hands, trying to pry them away. “Kills you for what you did to me. For what you did to the others.”
“Shut your mouth,” he wrenched her hard against his body, a jealous animal guarding his claim. The ledge shifted. Bits of brick and mortar splintered out. “I’ll jump before I let ‘im cut me wi’ them wicked blades, an’ I’ll take you wi’ me.”
“Then do it now, coward!” challenged the girl, her voice a defiant sob. “Jump!”
Archer searched the darkness of his mind, and found her name there.
Elena, he commanded in silence. Stop.
She froze. Her arms and her legs eased in their tension until the tips of her toes almost touched the muddied cuff of Winslow’s boots. She rasped, fighting for breath, and with visible effort, tilted her face to stare wide-eyed and disbelieving at Archer.
What odd eyes she had. Brave eyes, one blue and one brown. Time, which usually rushed past him with the speed of a tumultuous, engorged river, almost stopped. His pulse – or hers? – beat in his ears, a dark cannonade. Beyond her tears he saw dignity and strength, and a reflection of him self as she saw him.
His mind reeled to another existence, to a time when he had lived and loved. Dreams or memories? He couldn’t be certain anymore.
“Do what you will,” she whispered to Archer.
Winslow spewed blasphemies, his face a mere blot against the background of the night.
Archer stared at Elena, puzzled that he could not break the connection he had put into place between them. How could it be that with only a glance and a few words, a woman – a mortal woman at that – could penetrate him so completely? He felt all tangled up with her, something his mind rejected, but his soul craved.
Unnerved, Archer looked away, and into the eyes of something he understood better. “It’s time we brought this dance of ours to an end.”
“Go ahead,” Winslow warned, wrenching the girl’s head higher against his shoulder. “But she’ll die too.”
“You think it all ends with that?” Archer whispered. “With death? I’m afraid not. You can’t escape, so let the girl go.”
“She stays with me!” bellowed Winslow. His beefy fingers pressed into the pale flesh of Elena’s throat.
Throughout time, Archer had always hunted with the dispassionate precision of a wolf, but now rage welled within him, so black and intense he felt he would disintegrate from the inside out. He cursed the limitations of his power, wishing he could slay by mere glance. Instead, left with no other choice, he darkened into shadow. With a frantic gaze, Winslow shouted and searched the rooftop. He sidled along the ledge as if to escape.
Mortar crunched. Slid and crumbled. The girl screamed.
Archer retracted his claws – lunged for her, but too late. A flash of petticoat, and she disappeared with Winslow over the edge.
Frantic to save her he fell against the bricks and thrust out his arm, his only reward a brush of fingertips and her terrified stare locked onto his as she spiraled out of reach.
September 29, 1888
Elena grasped the girl’s wrists. With the weight of her body and every bit of her strength, she pinned the young prostitute to the table.
“Bastards!” Lizzy shrieked, and heaved up with such force she nearly threw Elena off.
“Shhhh, shhhh,” Elena soothed. “He’ll make sure it goes fast.”
With a pop, the bone slid into place.
“Success,” announced Dr. Harcourt.
“You see?” Relief coursed through Elena, along with an electrifying charge of pride. “That wasn’t so bad, was it? I told you he was good.”
She eased off Lizzy, but carefully. In her brief time on the ward she’d learned one could never be certain of a patient’s response. Some reacted with gratitude, others with a cuff to the jaw. Glancing down, she saw twin rivers of tears streaming over Lizzy’s temples and into her bright red hair. The girl’s pallor nearly matched the white enamel of the table beneath her. Smelling salts might be in order.
“Lizzy?” Elena smoothed an unruly curl off a freckled forehead. The girl was very young and clearly alone in the world. “Are you all right?”
Suddenly, slender arms seized Elena in an embrace so fierce her feet rose inches off the floor.
Lizzy sobbed, “Oh, thank y’ miss. Thank y’ for stayin’ wi’ me. I ain’t never been so scared in all me born days.”
Her patient smelled of tobacco and gin rather than soap and flowers as a young girl should, yet Elena felt sympathy for her and admittedly, a sort of kinship. Who could say she wouldn’t be living on the street and doing anything to survive if fate hadn’t handed her a different set of circumstances?
“You’ve been so brave through all of this, Lizzy.” Elena gave her a squeeze. Stepping back, she slipped a hand into her apron pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. “Two days ago I watched a grown man fall to pieces when faced with the same procedure.”
“Truly?” Lizzy gave a sheepish smile, and gratefully accepted the folded square of linen. She dabbed at her eyes.
In the corner of the tiny room Dr. Harcourt gave instructions to the young medical student who had assisted with the procedure. Elena listened as well, hungry for any bit of knowledge, be it simple or complex. They would employ a wood splint and sturdy bandaging to ensure the girl’s knee remained safely aligned for the next several days. His instructions given, the doctor strode toward the door.
“Wait, Doc.” Lizzy called out, raising herself onto an elbow. Her threadbare waistcoat stretched across narrow shoulders.
Dr. Harcourt paused, a shock of blond hair tumbling over one eye until he brushed it aside. “Yes, Miss Turner?”
He wore a physician’s smock and trousers, an understated uniform for the highborn second son of one of England’s most wealthy and influential families. Tall and athletic of build, the top of his head nearly met the upper frame of the door.
Lizzy blurted, “I’m ever so sorry to have called you a bastard.” She glanced toward the student. “You too, sir. So very sorry.”
Harcourt flashed a warm smile, the one Elena saw him employ often with his patients. Unlike many of the older physicians on staff, he had a way of putting his subjects at ease. His gaze lifted to Elena for a brief moment before returning to the girl. “Don’t think of it again. I’m pleased to have been of assistance.”
With that, he disappeared into the hall
Lizzy’s grin revealed a row of crooked teeth. “Lor, if the doctor ain’t the most ‘andsome man I ever seen. ‘ow can you even stand workin’ with ‘at one?”
Elena laughed softly, but offered no response. Harcourt was a handsome man, but he had been her personal physician in the months following her accident. Now he was her mentor. Though over time they’d become something like friends, she didn’t think of him in terms of attractiveness.
Oh, bosh. That was a filthy lie if she’d ever told one.
But she did take her position at the hospital very seriously. Only out of desperation had Harcourt dropped his insistence that she devote herself to “pursuits more appropriate to her station” and grant her a probationary role among the nurses. The proximity of the vicious Ripper killings to the hospital infirmary had inspired a wave of panic amongst its female employees. A number of nurses had resigned their posts leaving The London sorely understaffed. It had been a full three weeks since the last murder, but in that time the authorities had made no firm arrests and a thick pall of fear hung heavy across the district.
Elena wasn’t afraid of the Ripper – not here on the actual premises of the hospital, and she’d do anything to stay.
Elena helped Lizzy into a seated position and arranged the girl’s woolen skirts discreetly at her knees. “All that remains is for this good gentleman to bandage and splint your leg. I’ll go to the dispensary and see about getting you a pair of crutches. Have you anyone to see you home?”
“Oh, I won’t be goin’ ‘ome again …” Her voice faded into melancholy silence.
“No?” Elena hadn’t pressured the girl to explain the circumstances of her injury. The ladies who came here for charity services rarely admitted to a brutish “old man” or customer. She kept her voice light. “Where will you go, then?”
“Me good mate Catherine’ll be waitin’ for me in the ward – Catherine Eddowes. She’s like me ma, you see.” Lizzy nodded, and smiled bravely. “She stays at a nice place, real regular, at Mile End. Maybe I can stay wi’ her …”
“I’ll fetch her, then.”
“She’s wearin’ a black straw ‘at and a coat with some fur on the collar.”
The student scooted his stool closer to Lizzy’s injured leg, two slats of wood in hand. He and Lizzy eyed one another warily.
“You’re certain this one knows wot he’s doin’?”
“He’s had the very best teacher,” Elena assured her as she left the room.
Nurse James, the head nurse, swept past, balancing a tray of rolled bandages. “Dr. Harcourt asks that you see him in the chemist’s laboratory.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Elena did not miss the sharpness of Nurse James’ tone. For the most part, the nurses on staff were much older than she, and of modest backgrounds and means. They resided in the on-premises dormitory and lived little of their lives outside the hospital walls.
Though she’d made her share of friends, a good number of the women had not taken kindly to her intrusion into their ranks – she with her fine Mayfair address, private carriage and driver, but she’d held her own. Not wishing to appear to hold her self above the rest, Elena had recently taken to spending two to three nights a week in the dormitory as well.
She smoothed her apron, and hurried a few doors down. There she found the doctor scribbling out an order at the chemist’s desk, his spectacles low on his nose. Ointment pots, glass carboys and stoneware jars dotted the shelves behind him. The air held the distinct tincture of camphor.
“You require my assistance, Dr. Harcourt?”
“Miss Whitney. Thank you for coming. I wished to speak with you about an application that arrived on my desk this afternoon.”
Suddenly, the room seemed much smaller, its walls and ceiling, closer.
Elena straightened her shoulders. “Yes, sir.”
He wore a professional, but pleasant, expression. She could read nothing in him which would lead her to believe he would grant or deny her request.
“You have managed to surprise me, yet again, Miss Whitney.”
“How, so, sir?”
“Most young women of your privileged means wouldn’t deign to drive down the street in front of this hospital, let alone work in its charity ward. And now I hear you have engendered the admiration of our resident human oddity.”
“I wasn’t seeking anyone’s admiration, Dr. Harcourt. Truth be told, my first visit with Mr. Merrick was completely accidental. It seemed only polite that I should stay and chat for a moment.”
Just days before, one of the other nurses had thought to chase Elena off the job by having her carry a tray of beef tea into the room of “a private patient”, only for Elena to discover the man was Joseph Merrick, a former side show attraction vilified in the papers as The Elephant Man. It would be a lie to say his appearance hadn’t startled her, but after introductions were made they had spent the better part of a half hour conversing on all manner of subjects.
“He wishes you to know he enjoyed the books very much.”
To be certain Mr. Merrick knew she had not been repelled by his deformation, and that she had truly enjoyed their visit, Elena had made a point to return the next day, bringing him several of her favorite selections from the library at Black House.
“I am glad.”
The doctor considered her for a long, silent moment. Elena resisted the urge to clasp her hands, or adjust her apron.
“With regard to your application –“
“The path you seek is one fraught with difficulty, and unfortunately, much prejudice against your sex.”
She attempted an easy smile. “I have put much thought into my decision, even before my time here at the hospital began.”
“I know you have,” he nodded, removing his spectacles, and slipping them into the pocket of his smock. “But what about marriage? Children? As you know, Lord Black left instructions that if you should wish to marry, he would bestow a generous settlement.”
Her lip twitched. “Yes, Lord Black has been quite generous.”
Indeed, her mysterious guardian – a man she could not recall ever having met – had left her mistress of his Mayfair residence, an opulent, expansive manse worthy of the Queen herself. She also had at her disposal a ridiculously large allowance, and accounts at all the finer establishments.
Why was it so hard to understand she needed more? She needed identity. Purpose. Somehow, this felt right and true to the person she must have been before. Elena glanced to her apron, at a smudge in the shape of a child’s handprint. Her fingertips brushed over the precious bit of filth.
“Nonetheless, Dr. Harcourt, my interests lie outside of the home.”
“And you wish for me to write a letter of reference?”
“Only if you believe I would make a competent physician.”
Slowly, the corner of his lips took on the curve of a smile. “Of that, I have absolutely no doubt.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Elena exhaled, stunned and flattered by the uncharacteristic warmth of his words.
“I will write the letter –”
“I shall be forever grateful.”
“—on one condition.”
“Yes, sir. Anything. I shall scour bed pans or –“
“Not bed pans, Elena.”
Elena flushed at hearing him speak her given name. He had never employed such a familiarity before.
“Mother’s birthday fete is tonight.”
Anxiety speared through her stomach. “I received the invitation. Regretfully –“
“I know it is difficult for you to move amongst society, and to suffer the inevitable questions about your past.”
An understatement, to be sure.
“It’s not only that, Dr. Harcourt. I now work under your supervision.”
“And so your attendance would be inappropriate? Nonsense. We are neighbors, and Lady Kerrigan adores you. She was quite disappointed to receive your note declining.”
Dr. Harcourt’s mother had made several visits to Black House during Elena’s recovery. Likely, the countess had simply been curious to get a good look at the reclusive Lord Black’s amnesiac ward, but all in all, the lady’s blatant nosiness aside, they had gotten along exceedingly well.
Harcourt pushed back his stool and stood.
“With the adjournment of Parliament, most everyone has left for the country, so the event should be a rather small affair.”
How could she refuse him? He had already done so much for her, and now that the esteemed physician had agreed to write her letter of recommendation, she was assured of acceptance into the London School of Medicine for Women.
“You have convinced me,” Elena capitulated, and smiled despite her dread of the impending evening. “Please tell Lady Kerrigan I would be pleased to attend.”
“Excellent.” His voice warmed with pleasure. “Then you must return to Black House at once, as I doubt you’ve a suitable gown amongst your things in the dormitory. And a few hours of rest, doctor’s orders. You’ve been on your feet since dawn. Lady Kerrigan would be highly offended if you came to her party, only to nod off in a corner chair.”
“Thank you doctor. I’ll just finish up with Lizzy. Do you think one of the cart drivers could see her and her companion to their place of lodging? One of the casual wards at Mile End, I believe.”
“Yes, certainly. We shall look forward to seeing you tonight, then.” He smiled as she pulled the door to, behind her.
With a quick glance at the timepiece pinned at her waist, she scurried down the corridor and into the crowded reception rooms.
She didn’t bother a glance toward the left, for that space would be filled only with men – sailors, factory workers and other male laborers. Instead she steered right.
“Mrs. Eddowes?” she called. “I’m looking for a Mrs. Eddowes.”
Coughs and moans punctuated the lively murmur of the large, ill-lit room. A few faces turned her direction, but quickly looked away. Women and children milled about or sat on wooden benches. Some slept on the floor or in corners. The air smelled like sickness and human filth. The unfortunate ladies who surrounded her were bundled up tight, most wearing every piece of clothing and miscellany they owned. Each face told a different story through its scars or wrinkles, its expressions or missing teeth. She could not explain, even to herself, why she felt more at ease in this gloomy ward than at afternoon tea in the sumptuous drawing rooms of Mayfair. Likely the answer lay hidden in her past.
Elena circled round toward the back of the room. “Mrs. Eddowes?”
Two young boys tumbled into her path, fists swinging.
“I’m the Knife, boy! I’m going to cut your guts out an’ leave you for the dogs ta’ eat.”
“Help! Police!” bellowed the other, falling to the floor at Elena’s feet.
“You two stop that,” Elena ordered in her best imitation of the hospital matron’s authoritative voice. She helped the boy up by his arm. “No horseplay or out you’ll go. Who are you here with? All right, then. Take your seats by your mum, there against the wall.”
She gave one last call, “Mrs. Eddowes?”
No one raised a hand or stood. Elena prayed Lizzy had not been abandoned, not when she so desperately needed the constancy of a friend. She retraced her steps to the center of the two reception rooms where the day porter sat behind his desk.
“Mr. Simms, I know chances are slim but I’m desperate to find a woman wearing a black hat and a coat with a fur trimmed collar. Might you have seen her?”
The porter nodded wearily. “Oh aye, I remember that one. Got ‘erself into a bit of a row with the big-mouthed tart in the first row.” He hooked his thumb in the direction of the doors. “She set off about a quarter hour ago.”
“Damn,” muttered Elena, curling her hands into fists.
He gave a phlegmy laugh. “Lor, but aren’t you startin’ to sound like a Whitechapel gel!”
Elena shot him a rueful smile as she pushed through the large paneled doors, to stand upon the covered portico that ran the length of the hospital. Vaulted archways provided a dim view of Whitechapel Road. Though the afternoon hadn’t fully surrendered to night, the shadows were long, and a wispy gray fog hovered all around. An old man in a dented hat and patched coat sat on the top step smoking a cheroot. Beyond him, a Hanson clattered past, its side lamps illuminated by orange flame.
“Sir,” she called. “Was there a woman here, waiting?”
He nodded, and pointed rightward, in the direction of Raven Row.
“Thank you, sir.”
The air carried an uncomfortable chill and a faint chorus of voices from one of the nearby dram shops.
“Ta-ra-da-boom-di-ay, ta-ra-da-boom-di-ay …”
Elena crossed her arms for warmth and traversed the length of the walkway. A low wind caught at her skirts and twisted them about her legs. Reaching the end of the portico, she circled the final column but saw nothing besides fog and shadows. She frowned. It seemed there was nothing to do but tell Lizzy Mrs. Eddowes had left without her. Besides, she didn’t want to remain out here any longer. She wasn’t one to claim odd feelings or premonitions, but there was something discomfiting about the moment, something that teased the vulnerable, exposed skin on the back of her neck, and made her want to hurry back inside.
Just then she heard a woman’s laughter, low and flirtatious. The sound was close, yet difficult to place as far as direction. Though she could easily see a stone’s throw all around, fog muddied anything beyond.
“Hello?” She descended the steps, and continued along the sidewalk until she came to stand beneath a towering lamp post. She peered up toward the source of its comforting glow, only for the gas-light to waver as bright as a guttering candle and extinguish.
A chill scratched up her spine.
Though the hospital’s façade loomed above, stalwart and filled to its chimneys with all manner of science and humanity, she suddenly had the feeling of being utterly cut off.
A sound echoed about her, a breath or a gasp. She twisted, searching the gossamer wall around her. The hair on her arms and neck rose up.
Someone watched her. No one she could see, but she felt the presence – its intensity and malice – as certainly as if their rancid breath dampened her skin.
Footsteps met her ears, heavy and purposeful. A man’s boots.
“Who is there?”
Fragments of newspaper accounts surfaced in her mind.
…throat cut from ear to ear …
…the abdomen had been ripped up …
… murder in its more horrible form …
Elena set off toward the stairs. The toe of her shoe snagged in her hem and with a hard strike to her knees, she fell. The steps came closer.
Just a person, walking along Whitechapel.
No, a killer.
The boots picked up pace, and from the corner of her eye she saw a dark shape lunging toward her. She parted her lips to scream –
Only to realize the person who wore the man’s boots also wore skirts. Blue with red flouncing to be precise.
A woman said, “Oh, luhhv. Did you fall? The fog’s a terrible sort tonight, isn’t it?”
A firm hand helped her up by the elbow. “Soooo good to see you breathing. At first … well, you know what I thought. Thought the Knife had gotten you.” The lady chuckled a bit nervously. She wore a straw hat upon her russet curls, and a fur-trimmed collar framed her narrow face.
“Mrs. Eddowes?” Elena gasped.
“Aye. Oh, dear. Did you come out here looking for me? Sooooo sorry. Had to step out for a bit.” The woman considered her with shrewd, glassy eyes. A small green bottle peeked from her hip pocket. “Lizzy all right?”
Together they climbed the steps, and Elena led her toward the infirmary doors. She glanced, just once, over her shoulder, to be certain no one followed.
“The doctor was able to repair her knee. Thankfully she suffered a simple misalignment, nothing broken.” Elena spoke carefully, still working to calm the panic in her veins. How foolish of her to have frightened herself to such a degree.
“I can take her home, then?” Though her words were tellingly slurred, Mrs. Eddowes’s careful speech revealed the faded polish of an educated woman.
“Lizzy told me she can’t return home. Can I trust you to find her suitable lodging for the next few nights?”
Mrs. Eddowes’s laugh held a defensive edge. “What do you mean can you trust me?”
Elena glanced pointedly toward the bottle.
The woman sighed heavily, and rolled her eyes. “I’ve only had a touch, to take the edge off my aching head. I didn’t expect to sit in this charity ward all damn day.”
They crossed through the wooden doors into the noisiness of the ward. The warmth and bustle eased Elena’s tension immeasurably.
“I’m certain Lizzy appreciates your concern.”
Mrs. Eddowes’s expression softened. “She reminds me of my own dear daughter. I was planning to go to Bermondsley to see my Annie this afternoon, you see. I stopped by to see if Lizzy wanted to go as well, but I found the poor girl like that. Her bugger of an old man had thrown her down the stairs, he had.”
Elena bit down on her lower lip and frowned. No one deserved such violence, especially a gentle soul like Lizzy.
“No,” Mrs. Eddowes shook her head resolutely. “I won’t be taking her home. She can stay with me, only I’ve got to come up with eight pence for our bed else we’ll both be eating skilly at the poorhouse tomorrow morning.”
“Mrs. Eddowes –”
The woman waved her off. “I’ll come up with the money. I always do.”
Elena knew what that meant. It meant venturing into a dark alley with a stranger, at the risk of disease or death, all for a paltry coin or two. Such an endeavor was dangerous enough without the added peril of the Knife stalking women like Lizzy and Catherine on these very streets. They left the reception rooms, and entered the quiet of the central corridor.
“Wait.” Elena placed a hand on Mrs. Eddowes’ arm and brought her to a stop. She looked about to be certain no one would see.
The seamstress had sewn a small pocket inside the band of her apron. She withdrew a few coins and pressed them into Mrs. Eddowes’s thin hand. “Take these, for you and Lizzy.”
Elena prayed she wasn’t making a mistake. She’d been warned by the other nurses against offering personal charity. They told her she’d only be disappointed with the outcome. But for some reason Lizzy had touched a deep chord within her, and Mrs.
Eddowes truly seemed to care.
“Such an unexpected kindness.” She stared, disbelieving, at the coins in her hand. “Lizzy will be so grateful.”
“Don’t tell her they came from me. Let the kindness be your own.”
For the first time, their gazes truly met. Suddenly, the woman’s expression changed into one of realization. “Heavens, dear, I know you from somewhere, don’t I?”
“I’ve been working at the hospital for three weeks now. Perhaps you’ve seen me here?”
Mrs. Eddowes frowned. “I’ve come here a time or two for my Bright’s, but no. It was that common house on Berner. I’m certain of it. Remember? Filthy place, and overrun by rats. I’m glad to see you’ve gotten out of there, and found respectable work for yourself.”
Elena smiled, and shook her head. “I’m afraid not. I grew up elsewhere, and only arrived in London –- well, not so very long ago.
Since then, I’ve resided at only one address, outside of Whitechapel.”
A simple explanation for a complicated span of months.
“Odd. I could swear you were the girl, one and the same.” Mrs. Eddowes scrutinized her face. “I remember those eyes. One brown and one blue. So different. I’d never seen anything like them before.”
Elena’s smile faded. She’d never met anyone else with eyes like hers either.
But Mrs. Eddowes had to be mistaken. She’d grown up on the Ivory Coast with her widower father, a missionary physician. She had only traveled to London after his death to live under Lord Black’s guardianship.
Not that she remembered any of that firsthand, of course – not since the carriage accident that had cruelly stolen her memories. She simply knew them to be true because ….
Lord Black had told her so in his letter.
Archer crossed the narrow gangplank. Water, black and fetid, slapped against the embankment below, a reflection of his dark mood. Behind him a dense wall of storm, tangled up with night, bore down upon the Thames, moments from engulfing the city.
Impatience left him ill-tempered. Another Reclaimer’s incompetence had forced his premature return to England, when he ought to be on the far side of the earth bringing his own assignment to a successful end.
His dark-skinned captain stood beside the custom house officer, the Corinthian’s leather-bound logbook in his hand. “I shall await word at Tilbury, my lord.”
“Two to three days, Charon. A week at the most.”
He stepped down, onto the dock. A discarded newspaper rolled toward him, and wedged against the narrow toe of his boot. Its headline read, THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS. The first few drops struck the cobblestones, and dampened the shoulders of his great coat. Archer closed his eyes, and breathed in the amalgam of scents from the city. Too dirty. Too complex. Rain would cleanse the air and quicken the hunt.
The other members of his party waited off to the side, amidst twining strands of fog. His secretary, Mr. Leeson, and Selene, with her raven’s wing hair rippling over her shoulders. Their umbrellas spread above them like large black toadstools.
His town coach rolled into view, its silver, artisan-hewn harnesses boasting four black, perfectly matched Hanoverian geldings. Powerful muscles bunched beneath their gleaming coats. A footman leapt down to open the door. Leeson marched forward, his eye-patch a dark spot against his skin. His arm extended toward the vehicle, an invitation for Archer to proceed.
“Lord Black,” he bellowed in silence, in a tongue so ancient that even if overheard, no one but Archer would understand. “Welcome home to England.”