Authors: Kat Martin
Drunk and rowdy. None of them remembered much of anything.
Still, a bit of information here and there was better than what she had before. She would go over all of it with Rudy, see if it might stir his recollections of that night.
As Boggs left the house, it occurred to her that he and his friends were also with Phoebe Carter the night of the murder. They might know Molly Springfield, as well. Why weren't the police dogging Tom's heels the way they were Rudy's?
The interviews with the rest of Rudy's friends went much the same, confirming the fact that both Molly and Phoebe were fairly well known among the gentlemen who frequented the area. Why had the police zeroed in on Rudy?
Was there something they knew that Lindsey did not?
Or was it enough that Rudy had been the last person to see Phoebe Carter alive?
Determined to find the answer, the following afternoon Lindsey dressed in a simple brown skirt and white blouse and went in search of Elias Mack, one of the footmen. Elias was young and strong and always willing to do more than his share. He was a sensible young man, engaged to one of the chambermaids who worked at the house next door.
“Ye sent for me, miss?”
He appeared in the entry, neatly dressed as she had requested in dark trousers and a shirt instead of his Renhurst powder-blue livery.
“I need your help, Elias. I want you to accompany me on an errand this afternoon.”
“Happy to, miss.”
Lieutenant Harvey's warning, along with Krista's, rang in her ears. She was involving herself in murder and she needed to be careful. She had considered making Rudy go with her, but she didn't like the idea of him being seen in the area. He needed to keep a low profile. Though the Covent Garden district wasn't the best, during the day she would be safe enoughâas long as she had an escort. Elias would have to do.
At two in the afternoon, they left in Lindsey's carriage and headed for the area where the murders had been committed. The shops and outdoor vendors were open and selling their wares. The taverns in the area were serving libations, but she could hardly go into a drinking establishment. She had located the flat Phoebe Carter shared, but neither of the other two women answered the door. They were prostitutes, after all, and undoubtedly slept during the day.
She asked for directions and found the Boar and Fox, which housed the garret where Molly Springfield had lived, but again, couldn't go inside without attracting attention. It occurred to her to send Elias in to investigate, but she wanted to talk to the people herself, gauge the truth of what they told her. She had her coachman drive past the Golden Pheasant, and also the Blue Moon, but neither of the establishments were open in the afternoon and even if they had been, it wasn't a place a young woman could visit.
Lindsey sighed as the carriage pulled back into the traffic on the cobbled street. Being a woman sometimes had its drawbacks. In a strange way she envied the prostitutes who moved about with much the same freedom as men.
Not that she would want to change places.
She imagined the horror on Thor's handsome face if she said those words to him and found herself grinning. With his old-fashioned attitudes toward women, the man should have lived in the middle ages. Even his speech had an odd, medieval sort of flair.
“Take us home, Mr. McTavish,” she called up to the coachman as she settled back against the red leather seat. The day had been an utter failure. She would have to take another tack, figure a way to actually speak to the people in the neighborhood.
Deep down she had known all along it would come to that.
Lindsey imagined how different it would be when she came back wearing men's clothes.
re you mad? You can't possibly do a thing like that!”
Standing next to Krista's desk, Lindsey clamped her hands on her hips. “You are supposed to be my friend, Krista, and after some of the things
have done, I thought you would understand.”
Krista sank back down in her chair. It was impossible to forget the night she had attended the ball given by the wealthy merchant Miles Stoddard. Though she had known very well it could be dangerous, Krista had been determined to confront the man she believed to be behind the vicious attacks on her and the gazette.
“I remember only too well, and if it hadn't been for Leif's unexpected arrivalâ¦” Krista let the rest trail off. Both of them knew the danger she had faced that night.
“I won't go alone,” Lindsey promised. “I am taking my footman, Elias Mack, with me.”
“If you are determined to go, take
with you. He is a warrior. He knows how to fight and he is big enough to defend you if something should go wrong.”
Lindsey eyed her with interest. “What do you mean he is a warrior?” Krista rarely discussed her husband or brother-in-law's background, nor did they. To say that Lindsey was curious was to say the least.
“It is a very long story. Suffice it to say that where Leif and Thor come from, men often fight to protect their families. I would ask Leif to go, but he is out of town. Let me talk to Thor and ask him ifâ”
“I don't need Thor's help.” In fact he was the last person Lindsey wanted to come along. Thor unnerved her in a way other men did not. She couldn't think clearly when he was looking at her with those amazing blue eyes, couldn't concentrate when she heard that deep male voice, laced with its soft Nordic accent.
In truth, she was incredibly attracted to the big, overbearing brute. It was ridiculous, nothing more than the physical pull between a normal, healthy woman and an extremely good-looking man. She would die of embarrassment if he found out, and in this venture, she needed her wits about her.
“I'll be fine with Mr. Mack. I'll go well before midnight and I won't stay long, just time enough to get my questions answered.”
“I don't like this, Lindsey.”
“Perhaps not, but I am asking you not to tell anyone. Do you promise to keep what I have told you in confidence?”
Krista nodded. Behind her back, her fingers were crossed. She wouldn't tell a soulâexcept the one man who could protect her friend.
Lindsey came down from the attic carrying an armful of her brother's old clothes. Her mother refused to throw anything away and the attic was filled with everything from baby clothes to musty feather mattresses.
Lindsey had dug through one steamer trunk after another until she found some of the garments Rudy had worn when he had gone to boarding school. He'd been just about her size back then.
The clothes would fit, she was sure as she carted them along the hall toward her bedroom, and would well serve her purpose tonight.
“What on earth are you doing?” Aunt Delilah walked toward her, a frown forming between her black eyebrows.
“I'mâ¦umâ¦I'm cleaning some old clothes out of the attic. I thought I would give them to charity.” Which wasn't exactly a lie. She would make a point of giving them away, once she finished using them.
Aunt Dee nodded approvingly. “An excellent notion. The way your mother hoards things, you would think she was raised in a poorhouse.”
“She won't miss them. She never goes up in the attic.”
“Well, they will certainly do more good being worn by someone needy than up there collecting dust.” Aunt Dee continued down the hall and Lindsey breathed a sigh of relief.
She wished she could tell her aunt the truth. But knowing what Lindsey intended would put Aunt Delilah in a precarious position. Even if her aunt were willing to help, in her role as Lindsey's chaperone, it would be a betrayal of her parents' trust.
Lindsey laid the clothesâa brown wool jacket and dark brown trousersâout on the bed. She wouldn't leave until Rudy went out for the evening, as he usually didâthough of late he hadn't been drinking the way he was before and he had been coming home at a fairly respectable hour. Perhaps his run-in with the police had made an impression.
Lindsey tried on the trousers and jacket, which were loose enough to hide her slender curves. Checking her image in the mirror she figured that as tall as she was, she could surely pass for a man. Satisfied the clothes would fit, she stashed them out of sight in her armoire. As soon as supper was over and she could escape upstairs, she would call for her maid, undress, and go to bed. Once the household grew quiet, she would get up and change into masculine attire.
She looked again in the mirror. What would she do about her hair? A woolen cap would hide it. A cap instead of a hat might look a bit strange, but where she was going wasn't exactly a fashion-conscious neighborhood.
At precisely eleven-thirty, she set her plan in motion. Dressing in Rudy's old clothes, she stuffed her hair up under the cap and set out for the cab stand on the corner. As they had planned, Elias Mack was already there. The young footman grumbled and tried to dissuade her, but he liked his job and he seemed to like her, and in the end he resigned himself to helping her.
Everything was set.
Lindsey just hoped the plan she had come up with would actually work.
Standing in the shadows at the back of the garden, Thor stood with his shoulders propped against the fence. From his vantage point, he could watch the back door of the house, the exit Lindsey was sure to take. He still had trouble believing she would actually go through with her insane plan, that she would dress as a man and go into one of the seediest districts in London.
He shook his head. He shouldn't be surprised. Lindsey had always been strong-willed and now with the threat against her brother, Thor imagined there was little she would not do.
He had been there nearly an hour when the back door opened and a slender figure walked into the darkness. She was dressed as a lad, just as Krista had said, and silently he cursed.
The little fool was nothing but trouble.
He understood her worryâthough he wasn't sure her no-account brother was worth it. Still, there were limits to what a young woman should do and running around in the middle of the night dressed as a man went far beyond that.
He let her get half a block ahead, then started after her, pausing when he realized her destination was the cab stand down at the corner. A man stood waiting, the footman, Elias Mack that Krista had told him about. He looked too young, too inexperienced to be much good in a fight.
If Lindsey got into troubleâ¦
His jaw clenched. Thank the gods, Krista had come to him for help. He might not approve of Lindsey's behavior, but he didn't want her getting hurt. He waited for the pair to climb aboard a hansom cab and set off down the street, then made his way over to the stand and caught another cab.
“Covent Garden,” he told the driver. “Keep that other carriage in sight.”
Thor watched tensely as the single-horse conveyance ahead of him rounded one corner after another, making its way deeper and deeper into a district of gin halls, gaming houses, and brothels. It was a place a man came for entertainment, certainly no place for a lady.
And Lindsey was one, he grudgingly admitted, even if she was a little reckless at times.
He watched her carriage pull over to the curb in front of the Golden Pheasant, a well-known, slightly disreputable, gaming hall that was hardly a place she should be, no matter how she tried to disguise herself. He fought an urge to storm up and toss her over his shoulder, cart her back home where she would be safe.
He wouldn't do it. She would only return another night and the next time he might not be there to protect her.
Instead, he waited out of sight in the shadows in front of the building until she and her footman came back out fifteen minutes later, then followed them on down the street.
A few blocks farther along the lane, she knocked on the door at the bottom of a three-story walk-up and a woman wearing too much face paint opened the door.
“I'm a friend of Phoebe Carter's,” Thor heard Lindsey say. “I am trying to discover where her flat might be located.”
She didn't bother to disguise her voice and the woman looked her up and down, taking in the trousers and coat. “Phoebe's dead.”
“Yes, I know. I'd like to speak to the women who lived with her.”
“Her place was just upstairs, third floor, but her friends ain't home.”
“I'll come back another time.”
The woman closed the door and Lindsey rejoined the footman, who waited a little ways away. Careful to stay in the shadows, Thor followed the pair who appeared, at first glance, to be two young men making their way along the street. The young footman seemed to have no idea they were being followed and Thor silently cursed. The lad was too greenâworthless as a protector.
Lindsey and the footman turned a corner, started along a block Thor knew well, since it was just down the street from Madame Fortier's brothel. In the middle of the block, torches lit the entry to the notorious Blue Moon, the wickedest gaming hall in London. His hand fisted as he watched Lindsey and the footman walk inside.
By Odin, did the woman not have a lick of sense?
Thor resisted the urge to follow her, knowing if he did, he would surely be seen, and instead positioned himself outside the front door.
He would give her this night, but when it was over, he meant to have a very long talk with her.
Making her way through the rowdy, boisterous crowd inside, Lindsey heard Elias Mack's voice, whispering behind her.
“Are ye sure about this?”
She wasn't so sure. This was the worst place they had been so far, the carpet faded and worn, the wallpaper peeling and the air so smoky she could barely breathe.
“This is our last stop,” she told him, careful to keep her voice low and gruff. “As soon as I speak to the person in charge, we can go home.”
She had learned from her stop at the Golden Pheasant to ask for the manager, but this place looked far less friendly, and she and Elias seemed to be drawing attention. Perhaps it was the fact they had never been in before while most of the crowd appeared to be locals. Maybe it would be better to gamble for a while and try to fit in.
“'Ow 'bout a throw of the dice, mate?” she said in her gruff male voice, feigning a slight cockney accent. “We're due for a change o' luck.” She made her way over to the hazard table and Elias walked up beside her. She could feel his mounting tension as they shouldered their way through the crowd, the same tension that was squeezing a knot in her stomach.
She was tall enough to pass for a slender man and the room was dark and shadowy enough to hide her face. Her coat and trousers were wrinkled and plain, and wearing the woolen cap, she hoped to appear nondescript.
Gathered round the hazard table was an assortment of disreputable looking men, several smoking cigars and using foul language, one with thick gray side-whiskers, another with a missing front tooth. As she moved closer to the table, she nearly gagged at the smell of body odor and sour beer and fought to suppress a shudder.
The men roared as someone hit his winning number. It was now or never. She pulled out the pouch of coins in the pocket of her coat and the instant she did, she realized her mistake. Drawing several sharp glances and a whispered word here and there, she ignored the quickening of her pulse and tried to appear nonchalant. There was no turning back, not without drawing even more attention.
Keeping her head down, she shook out a handful of coins, then stuffed the pouch back inside her coat pocket, silently berating herself for not realizing the danger of letting the men know she had money.
She glanced down at the gaming table. She had played hazard with Rudyâscandalous as it might be for an unmarried young woman. Now she was glad. She placed a bet, lost, groaned as if it were more than she could afford, lost again and moved back from the table.
A serving maid in a scandalously low-cut blouse worked her way round the room, encouraging the men's lewd remarks and allowing them liberties that made Lindsey blush. For the first time, it occurred to her that the Blue Moon was likely far more than a gaming hall. Odds were, it was also a house of ill repute.
The serving maid arrived and Lindsey ordered a tankard of ale. Elias's eyes riveted on the pair of bulging breasts threatening to burst free of the woman's flimsy garment.
“Ye want to touch 'em, luvy?” The wench gave him a lusty wink and Elias grinned.
Lindsey elbowed him in the ribs and he quickly shook his head. “No, thank ye.”
“Bring him an ale,” Lindsey said gruffly. “We'd also like a word with the manager. Where might we find 'im?”
“Mr. Pinkard's in his office. I'll tell him there's a couple of gents who want to talk to him.”