Home > Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter #2)(4)

Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter #2)(4)
Author: Megan Shepherd

“Is something the matter, Juliet?”

Guiltily, I slid the fork into my lap and sat a little straighter. “No, sir.”

“You seem uncomfortable.”

I looked into my lap, ashamed. He’d been so kind to take me in, the least I could do was try to be a proper young lady. It surely wasn’t right that I felt more comfortable wrapped in a threadbare quilt in my secret attic workshop than in his grand townhouse. The professor knew only a very limited account of what had happened to me over the past year, a mixture of half-truths and outright lies. I had told him that the previous autumn I’d stumbled upon my family’s former servant, Montgomery, who had told me that my father was alive and living in banishment on an island, to which he took me. I’d lied to the professor and said father was ill and passed away from tuberculosis. I had claimed that the disease had decimated the island’s native population and I’d fled, eventually making my way back to London.

I had said nothing of Father’s beast-men. Nothing of Father’s continued experimentation. Nothing of how I’d fallen in love with Montgomery and thought it returned, until he’d betrayed me. Nothing of Edward Prince, the castaway I’d felt a strange connection to, only to learn he was Father’s most successful experiment, a young man created from a handful of animal parts chemically transmuted using human blood. A boy who had loved me despite the secret he kept carefully hidden, that a darker half—a Beast—lived within his skin and took control of his body at times, murdering the other beast-men who had once been such gentle souls. Edward was dead now, his body consumed in the same fire that had eaten my father. That didn’t mean, however, that I’d ever managed to forget him.

By the time I looked up, I found the professor’s attention had strayed to his newspaper. I returned to my baked hen, stabbing it with my fork. Why hadn’t I seen Edward’s secret? Why had I been so naïve? My thoughts drifted to the past until the professor let out a little exclamation of surprise at something he read.

“Good lord, there’s been a murder.”

My fork hovered over my plate. “It must have been someone important to have been reported on the front page.”

“Indeed, and unfortunately, I knew the man. A Mr. Daniel Penderwick, solicitor for Queensbridge Bank.”

The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “Not a friend of yours, I hope.”

The professor seemed absorbed by the article. “A friend? No, I’d hardly call him a friend. Only an acquaintance, and a black one at that, though I’d never wish anything so terrible upon the man as murder. He was the bank solicitor who took away your family’s fortune all those years ago. Made a career of that dismal work.”

Uneasiness stirred at the mention of those darker times. “Have they caught his murderer?”

“No. It says here they’ve no suspects at all. He was found dead from knife wounds in Whitechapel, and the only clue is a flower left behind.” He gave me a keen glance above his spectacles, then folded the paper and tossed it to the side table. “Murder is hardly proper dinner conversation. Forgive me for mentioning it.”

I swallowed, still toying with the fork. The professor was always worried that whenever an unpleasant topic of conversation arose, I’d think of my father and be plagued by nightmares. He needn’t have worried. They plagued me regardless.

After all, I had helped kill Father.

When I looked up, the professor was studying me, the laugh lines around his eyes turned down for once. “If you ever need to discuss what happened while you were gone . . .” He shifted, nearly as uncomfortable with such conversations as me. “You know I knew your father well. If you need to resolve your feelings for him . . .” He sighed and rubbed his wrinkles.

I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated his efforts, but that he would never understand what had happened to me. No one would. I remembered it as if it had happened only moments ago. Father’s laboratory burning, him locked inside, the blood-red paint bubbling on the tin door. I feared he would escape the laboratory, leave the island and continue experimenting somewhere else. I’d had no choice but to open the door. A crack, that was all it had taken, to let Jaguar—one of my father’s creations—slip inside and slice him apart.

I smiled at the professor. “I’m fine. Really.”

“Elizabeth is better with this sort of thing. You’ll feel more comfortable with another woman in the house, someone to speak with freely. What would a wrinkled old man know about a girl’s feelings? You’re probably in love with some boy and wondering what earrings to wear to catch his eye.”

He was only teasing now, and it made me laugh. “You know me better than that.”

“Do I? Yes, I suppose I do.” He gave his off-balanced smile.

It wasn’t my way to be tender with people, but the professor was an old curmudgeon with a kind heart, and he’d done so much for me. Kept me from prison. Given me elegant clothes, kept me fed on French cuisine, and did his best to be the father figure I should have had.

On impulse I stood and went to his end of the table, where I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and kissed his balding head. He patted my arm a little awkwardly, not used to me showing such emotion.

“Thank you,” I said. “For all you’ve done for me.”

He cleared his throat a little awkwardly. “It’s been my pleasure, my dear,” he said.

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