Home > Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(10)

Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(10)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

“I don’t know where to begin.” Suddenly the floor was vastly intriguing to him; he stared at it, refusing to meet my eyes. “Father will be… away for a few weeks.”

“Is he all right?” I touched his elbow. “Nathaniel, please, look at me.”

“I—” Nathaniel stood straighter, meeting my worried gaze. “A superintendent called on our house this morning. Now, Audrey Rose, what I’m about to tell you is quite disturbing, steady yourself.”

I rolled my eyes. “I assure you I’m more than capable of hearing whatever you’ve come to say, Brother. The only thing that might kill me is the unwarranted suspense.”

Someone snorted from the doorway, and Nathaniel and I both snapped our attention to the unwelcome intruder. Thomas. He covered his mouth, but didn’t bother hiding the fact he was shaking with laughter.

“Do go on,” he managed between bouts of chuckling. “Pretend I’m not here if you must. This ought to be good.”

“Must you intrude on other people’s conversations?” I said, sounding snappish even to my own ears. “Have you nothing better to do? Or do you simply excel at being arrogant and unlikable in every manner?”

Thomas’s smile didn’t falter, but there was a noticeable shift as amusement left his eyes. I wished to crawl into the nearest grave and hide.

“Thomas, I do apologize. That was—”

“Your uncle asked that I check on the racket coming from this room. He wanted to make sure you weren’t murdering each other on his favorite oceanic carpet.” Thomas paused, adjusting his cuffs, his tone now cold and remote as the arctic tundra. “I assure you, young miss, I’d rather have my nails ripped from their beds, one by one, this very moment, than remain here, unwanted, a breath longer.”

His attention flicked to Nathaniel. “Tell her about your father’s dance with Scotland Yard this morning. I promise you, she’s most equipped to handle it.”

Without another word, Thomas inclined his head, then stalked from the room. It was clear I’d hurt him, but I hadn’t the time to dwell on it. I swung around, facing Nathaniel. “What does this have to do with Father?”

My brother walked to the settee and sat. “Apparently, sometime after breakfast Father went into Whitechapel. Detective inspectors were scouring the neighborhood, what with the murders and all, and found him in a certain.… establishment unbefitting to his title.” Nathaniel swallowed. “He’s lucky the man who discovered him knew who he was. The superintendent escorted Father home, suggesting he leave the city for a few weeks. Or at least until he gets his… affairs in order.”

I closed my eyes, my imagination running away with astounding leaps. There were only a few different “establishments” in the East End. Pubs, brothels, and… opium dens.

Somehow I found myself collapsing onto the little couch next to Nathaniel. Father took laudanum—an opium tincture—every day since Mother’s death. The doctor assured us it would cure him of his insomnia and other ailments, but it appeared to be having the opposite effect.

Images of him mopping his brow, walking the halls at night, and his growing paranoia flashed through my mind. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t associated Father’s souring moods and behavior with the abuse of his precious tonic.

I picked at stray threads on my skirts. “How is Father?”

“To be quite honest, he wasn’t in any condition to discuss anything when I left,” Nathaniel said, shifting uncomfortably. “The superintendent is taking Father to the cottage in my stead.”

I nodded. Our “cottage” was a sprawling country estate in Bath named Thornbriar. It was beautiful and extravagant, like most things Lord Wadsworth had inherited. It was the perfect place to recover one’s… sensibility.

“He’s been very discreet and helpful, the superintendent,” Nathaniel added.

I clamped my mouth shut. Father probably paid this policeman for his silence in the past, and his kindness was a result of hoping for more monetary gain. “Is there anything you need me to do?”

Nathaniel shook his head. “Superintendent Blackburn, I believe his name is, was getting Father’s things together with the new valet and said I should focus on finding you. They set off about an hour ago.”

I stared at my brother for a beat. Father had already left. No matter how hard he made life at home, I couldn’t stop myself from worrying after him. I took a deep breath. Dwelling on things out of my control when there were murders to solve and bodies to be studied was a luxury I could ill afford.

“Will you be all right without me for a little while?” I asked, standing and brushing down the front of my bodice. “I really must get back to assisting Uncle if there’s nothing to be done at home.”

Nathaniel’s focus drifted toward the door leading to the laboratory. God only knew what was running through his mind. According to my brother, Uncle was “one case away from crossing into the darkness” he so loved studying.

Instead of instigating another argument, I clutched his hands in mine and smiled. He softened a bit and my smile grew. Aunt Amelia’s lessons on how to persuade the opposite gender came in handy after all. I’d need to attempt even better tactics with Thomas if I hoped to repair his bruised feelings.

“I’ll be home in time for a late dinner. We can discuss a treatment plan for Father then.” I stood back, letting a bit of humor creep into my voice. “Besides, you really should address the matter of your hair, Brother. You’re a wreck.”

Nathaniel looked torn between laughing, demanding I return home with him, and allowing me the freedom he knew I so strongly desired.

Finally, his shoulders slumped. “I shall send the carriage back at precisely seven o’clock, no arguments. While Father’s gone, I’m in charge. Until Aunt Amelia arrives, that is.”

Despite everything going on, this was rather pleasant news.

I could handle Aunt Amelia and all her etiquette lessons. Her mornings were filled with visits to the shops, afternoons with teas and gossip, and she retired early enough, claiming her need of beauty rest, but I knew she truly enjoyed a few spirits before bed. She’d be coming and going more than I was. Freedom would be a blissful thing.

Somehow in the midst of Father’s addiction, a career murderer, mutilated women, and buckets of blood, I managed a small smile.

“You’re pleased your father will be gone.”

Thomas wasn’t asking, merely telling me how I felt with more confidence than anyone had the right to possess. Ignoring him, I scanned the notes my uncle had scratched down at each crime scene. Something had to stand out.

If I could find that one connection before Uncle returned from Scotland Yard…

“You’ve had quite a poor relationship with him, probably for a few years.” He paused, dropping his attention to where I twisted my mother’s ring.

It was a pear-shaped diamond—her birthstone—and one of the few possessions of hers Father actually allowed me to keep. Or, I should say, one of the few items he could part with. Father had a sentimental heart.

Growing up, I’d always wished my birthday was in April, too. Diamonds were everything I hoped to be; beautiful, yet containing unimaginable strength. Somehow I was more of a Herkimer diamond, similar in appearance to the real thing, but not quite authentic.

A sad smile tugged at Thomas’s mouth. “Ah. I see. You haven’t been on good terms since the death of your mother.” His smile faded, his voice growing quiet. “Tell me, was it… difficult for you? Did he beg your uncle to fix her with science?”

I stood so abruptly my chair fell to the ground with a clatter that would awaken the dead, had there been any in the laboratory.

“Do not speak about things you know nothing of!”

I balled my fists to keep from thrashing out at him. His mask of indifference fell away, revealing honest regret. After a few breaths, I calmly asked, “How did you come to know these intimate details of my life? Have you been asking my uncle about it, purposely to hurt me?”

“It seems… you must realize how much—” Thomas shook his head. “Hurting you wasn’t my intent. I apologize, Miss Wadsworth. I thought perhaps I could…” He shrugged and fell silent, leaving me to wonder what he thought he could do by bringing up such a terrible subject.

I inhaled deeply, curiosity getting the better of my anger. “All right. I’ll forgive you this once.” I raised a finger at the look of hope blossoming in his features. “Only if you tell me, truthfully, how you knew that.”

“I believe I can manage that. It was quite easy.” He pulled his chair around the table, toeing the line of what polite society deemed decent. “You simply need to hone your powers of deduction, Wadsworth. Look at the obvious and go from there. Most people ignore what’s right before their eyes. They believe they see, but oftentimes only view what they want. Which is precisely how you missed your father’s opium addiction for so long.”

He patted the front of his jacket and pants pockets, knitting his brow when his search returned no results. “It boils down to mathematical equations and formulas. If the evidence is e and the question is q, then what equals a to get to your answer? Simply look at what’s before you and add it up.”

I drew my brows together. “You’re saying you figured all that out by simply watching me? Excuse me if I find that extremely hard to believe. You can’t apply mathematical formulas to people, Cresswell. There’s no equation for human emotion, there are too many variables.”

“True. I’ve no formula I can work out for certain… emotions I feel around you.”

That lively spark was back in his countenance. Leaning away, he folded his arms across his chest and grinned at my deep blush.

“However, upstairs when your brother said your father would be gone, you smiled, then immediately frowned, causing one to believe you were covering up your elation at being left alone for a few weeks. You didn’t want to seem an insensitive monster, especially since your poor father is unwell.”

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