Home > Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter #2)(10)

Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter #2)(10)
Author: Megan Shepherd

It was a quiet evening, save the wind that ruffled the strands of hair that had come loose from my braid. I hurried through the streets with Sharkey at my heels, though I hadn’t a clue how I’d explain him to the professor. Lock him in the garden, perhaps, until morning. It was impossible to think about anything but the murders, until I nearly stepped on a white flower on the ground in front of me.

I stopped.

A flower itself was rare enough in winter. I knew all too well how much care and tending they needed to stay as fresh as this one was. It lay all by itself on a patch of sidewalk wiped of snow as though someone had left it for me, creamy white petals radiating from a gold center, a delicate stem no thicker than a bootlace.

There was a rustle in the alleyway to my side—a rat, no doubt—and the dog took off after it. I knelt in front of the flower. Five petals. A tropical flower, not unlike the ones that had grown on Father’s island. Montgomery had picked one, once, from the garden wall and tucked it behind my ear. The memory of Montgomery made the place around my rib throb with familiar hurt.

He loves me, he loves me not. . . .

My heart twisted at the memory, and I turned to go. I should get home, before I was late for supper and the professor grew suspicious. But the flower was so beautiful, delicate as a whisper there in the snow, that I couldn’t leave it.

I pulled off a glove and reached down to pick it up.

As soon as I did, I knew something was wrong. My bare fingers touched something wet beneath the flower. I held my fingers up to the faint light from the lamppost.

Blood.

Blood spotted the back of the flower, as though it had been pressed into a pool of it. It was still fresh.

FIVE

FLOWERS DIPPED IN BLOOD, Joyce’s voice echoed. That’s his mark.

In a blind panic I stumbled to my feet, screaming for Sharkey. His little face peeked out from the alleyway.

“Come here, boy!” I cried.

He took a few shaky steps toward me, and my eyes went to the tracks he left in the snow.

His paw prints were bloody.

“Sharkey!” I raced toward him, scooping him up and checking his feet, his legs, his body for cuts, but it wasn’t his blood in the snow. Whose was it? He must have tracked the blood from within the alleyway, and whatever he’d seen or smelled in there now made him shiver and bury his snout between the fold of my arm.

The light was dark, and I fumbled for a matchbox in my coat pocket. I knew I shouldn’t look, and yet it was impossible not to. I lit a match and took a step deeper into the alleyway, then another, and another, despite my every sense screaming to turn away. The match light caught on a dark pile of rags in the corner, splashed with blood that smelled sharp in the crisp air. A pale hand lay beneath the pile, missing a middle finger, heavily bruised as though it had been trampled.

I jolted with recognition—the girl who tried to steal my silver buttons but an hour ago, now trampled and bleeding. Murdered.

I took in the crime scene in flashes of the flickering match, my mind whirling as I stumbled closer, then away, then closer yet again, my instincts caught in a frantic fight-or-flight, curiosity winning in the struggle. I could only see tears in her men’s clothing, smell the blood. In my delirium, it brought back too many memories from the island.

A crack of ice sounded behind me. I gasped, afraid I wasn’t alone, and broke into a frantic run with Sharkey barking at my heels. I raced through the snow, ignoring the burn in my lungs. Sweat poured down my back like oozing fear, and my strangled breath grew shallower the farther I ran, past the row of closed doors, past the dress shop with headless mannequins, into the wider street where lights shone like beacons of safety.

I collapsed in the doorway of a closed bakery and glanced behind to make sure I wasn’t being followed by anyone other than the little dog, who trotted up beside me. Visions of the girl thief’s body haunted me. Steam still rising from the body, signaling a fresh kill. The murderer must have been there moments before—the murderer Scotland Yard was so desperately hunting. The man who had killed Daniel Penderwick. Annie Benton. An unnamed victim.

And now one more.

The wind blew cold enough to make my teeth ache. A rusty hinge groaned, and I jumped back into a run. It all threatened to trip me—the thief’s body curled in the snow, the bloody flower—and I had to choke back a sob. At last I reached the church on the corner and turned onto Dumbarton Street, where I slowed to a jittery walk. Sharkey trotted beside me, still shivering. I picked him up and wrapped him in the folds of my coat as best I could, mindless of the blood getting on the fabric.

It wasn’t easy to climb the professor’s garden trellis with the dog tucked inside my coat, but I managed. The window had a keyed lock, but I had broken through that my second night in the house. Hydrochloric acid was easy enough to get from the chemist’s, and it dissolved iron even in small doses. After that it had been a simple matter of replacing it with a similar lock of which I held the key.

I eased the window up as quietly as I could and climbed inside. I wiped Sharkey’s paws with a handkerchief before setting him on the rug, then tore off my coat and stripped out of my dress and corset and all the trappings I was made to wear, leaving it all pooled in the corner of the room.

Tomorrow I’d hide the bloody clothes from the maid.

Tomorrow I’d see things clearly again.

Today, though, all I could manage was to dress in fresh clothes and grab my old coat, then climb back out of my window and return to the front door so the professor wouldn’t suspect anything was wrong. I smoothed my hair back, checking my hands one last time for flecks of blood, and then pressed a trembling finger against the door chime.

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