To Sarah Ashton, Lady Clevancy, chaos seemed to swirl
in the damp night like leaves in the wind. The last place she wanted to be tonight
was locked in a carriage with George and his mother. She huddled into the musty
squabs of red velvet as the Beldon's lumbering barouche inched through the crush
of carriages converging on Carlton House. Her life was unraveling. She shivered.
It might have been because of the chill in the spitting October air.
don't care what you say, Sarah," Lady Beldon remonstrated for the hundredth time,
pulling her lap rug more securely over her knees. "These dreadful murders strike
fear into one's heart." The many ostrich feathers on her massive aubergine turban
shivered in dread.
Sarah didn't care about the murders. She had
come to London only to see Mr. Lestrom, her solicitor. She would have seen him
today but the coach had lost a wheel on their way into London from Bath. The letter
from Lestrom's son, its crumpled pages now carefully refolded inside her reticule,
must be a mistake. How could there be a challenge to her ownership
of Clershing? She had just paid off the crushing debt her father left when he
died. Finally, she had almost escaped her genteel penury. If she lost Clershing,
what would she do? The house in Laura Place would go as well with nothing to support
it. Cousin Amelia, her servants Addie and Jasco, they depended on her. What would
become of them? And her own future? A governess, a housekeeper? She could never
take orders from some haughty, thoughtless creature. She would be sacked within
"George, how can you take your own mother into a metropolis
where I am like to be killed at any moment?" Lady Beldon poked her second son's
knee with one plump finger.
George Upcott did not even turn from
looking out the window. How could he be calm, Sarah wondered, when she thought
she might scream at any moment? "If you like," he said, "I shall order John Coachman
to turn round."
"But I cannot miss the Prince's ball," the dowager
almost wailed. "He's opening Carlton House for the first time since the Nash renovations.
People are begging for cards. If one were not to go ... well, I hardly think one
would be considered fashionable at all."
George shrugged. "As
you choose." He was a well-made man of medium height, his hair a sandy blond,
his eyes translucent gray-blue. He was a handsome specimen. Everyone told Sarah
so. His lips were thin and straight like his nose, his complexion rather wan since
he spent most of his waking hours in a laboratory. He was serious and single-minded,
a promising man of medicine. All Bath had expected him and Sarah to make a match
these three years and more. It should be natural to confide her dilemma to him.
It wasn't. He had never approved of her managing her affairs herself, with only
the aid of dear Mr. Lestrom. If she lost Clershing, George would be sure it was
her fault. And if her penury was not even genteel? What would George say then?
"I wouldn't miss being in London now for the world," George remarked,
unmindful of his mother's nerves. "I can't for the life of me see how the blood
is entirely drained from the victims' bodies. Once the heart stops beating the
blood ceases to flow."
"How can such crimes be committed in the
most civilized city in the world eighteen years into the nineteenth century?"
Lady Beldon cried.
The coach lurched to a stop. Horses snorted
and stamped around them. Coachmen shouted. A young woman shrieked with laughter.
Sarah heard the noise only dimly.
What kind of challenge to her
ownership was it? Her solicitor's letter gave few details. She had never heard
of this dreadful Julien Davinoff, who laid claim to her land. Her thoughts stole
to her grandfather's disastrous propensity for gambling. Had he lost Clershing
gaming? Surely a note of hand so old could not be brought to a court of law. Well,
she was not giving up Clershing without a fight.
Sarah had no
desire to go to the Prince's ball. She had tried to stay home tonight, pleading
that her head ached, but Lady Beldon would have none of it. Sarah needed Lady
Beldon's chaperonage to stay in London while she conducted her business. And Lady
Beldon required an entourage at any social occasion. So Sarah was going to Carlton
House, whether she would or no. She didn't even have the satisfaction of knowing
she looked well. She wore the only dress she owned fit for a ball. The tiny puff
sleeves and high waists that were the height of fashion were not always kind to
women with voluptuous figures. The dress was rich looking, to be sure. But the
cream colored lace would have been better stark white for her dark hair, her green
eyes and pale, almost translucent skin. She had to acknowledge that the cream
color pulled the freshness from the lavender satin and muddied it somehow. George
had helped her choose it. He insisted on the fabric. The lace tucked modestly
into the neck and cascading over the hem was his suggestion, too. The deep rose
silk George had so disparaged rose to mind, with a daring Austrian neckline and
a black beaded fringe. George was probably right. It would have seemed fast.
never get there at this rate." Lady Beldon complained.
finally looked exasperated. He leaned out the window and called for the driver
to take an alternate route. The carriage swung into a side street and the going
got better. But shortly before Hyde Park Corner the carriage pulled up again amidst
the noise of a crowd.
George leaned his head out the window again.
"Why are we stopping, John?"
"The way is blocked by a mob, Sir,"
came the answering call.
"Well, push through," George ordered
and sank back on the cushions. "What could induce a crowd to gather? Everyone
is either locked indoors in terror or on their way to the ball."
don't know and I don't care, " Lady Beldon declared. "Tell him to hurry, George."
There was nothing to be done, however. The carriage crept into
the gathering. Those in the crowd craned their necks to look ahead. The streets
were wet and black. Bare branches clicked in the wind. What could all these people
be looking at?
As they came to the center of the knot of people,
Sarah began to dread what she might see. Two very official-looking men stood in
a pool of light cast by one of the new gas lamps. One man held a notebook in which
he was writing. The other questioned a beautiful girl, wrapped only in a shawl
of Norwich silk over a diaphanous gown, in spite of the chill night. She was red-haired,
with wide lips and blue eyes. Sarah was struck by a sly quality in her expression.
One would never forget that face. A few feet away a woman lay supine on the cobblestones.
Was this a murder? The woman on the cobblestones was very still.
Instinctively Sarah put her hand to her mouth. "George," she whispered. But he
must have come to the same conclusion, for he leapt out of the carriage without
a word to his companions and elbowed his way through the crowd, shouting, "I am
a doctor, let me through."
"George, don't leave us," Lady Beldon
cried. When she saw that she was having no effect on him, she rapped her cane
on the inside of the roof and ordered the driver to pull ahead.
leaned out the window as the barouche pulled up to the barricade. All thoughts
of her own predicament seemed instantly insignificant. She didn't want to know
what had happened here, yet she could not turn away. Lady Beldon sank back into
the cushions with a low moan. George pushed his way through the barricades into
the circle of light.
One of the constables, the younger and stockier
of the two, blocked George's path to the corpse with a broad shoulder. "This 'ere
investigation is official." Sarah strained to hear.
at his cravat. "Of course. But you must require a physician's opinion."
know what we got 'ere. Same as the other twelve." George was being dismissed.
Sarah realized with a shock that this was one of the murders they called the "Vampire
"Are you a fool, man?" George protested. "I'm a specialist
in blood transfusion."
"What's that you say?" the stocky one asked,
George mastered his impatience enough to snap his
reply without actually shouting. "Draining blood out of healthy people into sick
"Then," the thinner constable interrupted in more cultured
tones, "we could use your perspective, doctor." He held up a hand against his
cohort's protests. "My name is Chaldon, Sir, and this is Barnett." He gestured
an invitation toward the body. "What do you make of it?"
pushed past Barnett and knelt over the body. Sarah could see a dark stain on the
walk. The too-pale countenance had already begun to sink in upon itself without
the support of filled capillaries, so the body had a shrunken look. Even Sarah
knew that its blood had been drained. Her mouth went dry. She couldn't take her
eyes off the dead girl's staring eyes. George didn't seem perturbed at all. He
turned her chin. She wasn't stiff.
"Well, what do you think?"
Chaldon asked. His voice almost trembled.
"I see no possibility
that these two small puncture wounds could account for this woman's death," George
pronounced, wiping his hands as he rose to his feet. "So much blood could not
be drained, even using my new invention. I call it a syringe," he added.
two constables exchanged disappointed glances.
"Is this how the
other bodies were found?" George asked.
"Aye," Barnett answered.
" 'Cept one where the throat was just ripped open, like by an animal, maybe. He
bled to death more natural-like." Sarah was shocked. This fellow thought bleeding
to death was natural.
"Can you think of no way someone could drain
the blood?" Chaldon pressed.
"Well," George rubbed his chin. "Perhaps
if there were some sort of pump connected to the syringe to create a greater suction
"You sound as if you have the beginnings of a theory, doctor,"
Chaldon encouraged. "May we prevail upon you to come down to the magistrate's
office in Bow Street tomorrow? We are quite anxious to learn how these murders
were accomplished." He paused and looked down at the corpse. "If we know how it
was done, we are one step closer to catching this madman."
gave a gratified smile. "I shall place myself at the Magistrate's disposal."
I go?" The red-haired woman broke in upon their contemplation of the body. Sarah
had almost forgotten her. Now all eyes turned her way. Her ruby lips were fascinating.
Her flaming hair gleamed.
"Well, Miss, since you have seen his
face and can identify our murderer, it might be best for your own safety if you
came with us." To Sarah's surprise, the girl chuckled.
"I am enough
safe. There are never two deaths in one night, yes?" She had an accent. Continental.
"Never been a witness before," Barnett rejoined.
saw the murder?" George asked. His gaze was rapt upon her. "How was it done?"
"I cannot say," the woman replied as the fingers of the chill
breeze caressed her flaming ringlets. "I saw the man's face. I heard the girl
scream. But while the deed was done his back was turned. His cape covered all.
Me, I hid myself in the shadows. But I have told all this."
woman should be frightened, Sarah thought. Death had barely passed her by tonight.
You should want to take her hand and soothe her, tell her she would be all right.
Instead Sarah shuddered when those cold blue eyes scanned the crowd.
drew us a pitcher." Barnett waived a page of his notebook. The drawing was a few
lines merely, but evocative. "Tall, well-made, dark 'air, dark eyes, 'igh cheekbones,
dressed in a evening cape," Barnett recited.
"With your kind description,
we will set the Runners out to comb the city and beyond. He cannot escape." Chaldon
apparently felt he needed to reassure the woman of the cold eyes with lies. She
hardly seemed to need reassurance. And they were lies. Hundreds fit that
Barnett looked up from his notebook. "You sure that's
all, are you?"
"Really, gentlemen, no more. I will go home now."
And they let her go, in spite of the danger, in spite of their
questions. Sarah couldn't believe it. They all looked into her eyes as though
they had been turned to stone and watched the only witness in a string of grisly
murders walk into the night alone.
Sarah put her hand to her forehead.
The whole scene was like a play revealed by the garish glow of the street lamps.
The emotions stirred here yet drifted in the wet air. George, the officers and
the beautiful woman were actors on a stage at the denouement. The climax done,
they played out their parts by rote, flattened by the light, until the next play,
the next climax of emotion. The people who pushed and shoved for a better view
of the tragedy were a dim chorus, a mere surge of humanity in the darkness between
George came to himself. "I say, I hope you know where
to find her."
" 'Course we do." Barnett shook his head. "Bristol
Court, off Dean Street." He flipped through his notebook to read the address.
Chaldon snatched the notebook from him. "Did you say Bristol Court?"
They looked at each other for a long moment, as surprise and then dismay crossed
their faces in turn.
"What is it?" George cried.
snapped the notebook shut and tossed it to Barnett in disgust. "There is no such
address off Dean Street."
George came back to the carriage looking
smug. He swung into the seat next to his mother and patted her hand. The coach
inched away. Still Sarah sat forward and craned to see the constables standing
over the body. She couldn't release her awful fascination with the crime.
countenance in the gloom at the edge of the crowd jerked Sarah back from the face
of humanity to the face of a man. Tall, well-made, dark eyes, arched brows, high
cheekbones, with sensuous, curving lips and wild, black hair against pale skin.
A cape swirled about him. The evocative lines of the red-haired woman's drawing
flashed into Sarah's brain. Could he be the man who had murdered here tonight?
His eyes burned as he surveyed the scene. They were hard, unforgiving. He had
seen everything, forgotten nothing, and he was angry. The crowd shrank away from
him. He seemed to float in his own space. Sarah strained to see, leaning over
to press her breasts against the door of the coach. He was beautiful, she thought,
but like the forces of disorder, he lurked at the edge of the tenuous circles
of light, waiting to engulf them. This man could kill, she was sure of it. She
shuddered. Be sensible. Your mood is coloring your thoughts. But
she could not look away from that face. Was it fear that wound its way into her
heart, or fascination? Before she could decide, his cape swirled and he disappeared
into the darkness.
Sarah stared after him, wondering if he had
ever been there at all. Foolish girl. There was nothing to connect this
strange man to the victim lying in the circle of light. The drawing could have
been anyone. Behind her George apologized for leaving them. His mother revived
and began to scold. It didn't matter. What mattered was one face in the dark,
barely discerned. The face of anarchy, perhaps the face of evil, infinitely repellent,
Sarah trailed behind George and his mother
as Lady Beldon remarked on each new wonder of Carlton House and found fault with
each. Lady Beldon scanned the Dutch and Flemish paintings for "The Shipbuilder
and his Wife" by Rembrandt, as she was pushed through the Blue Salon by the crush
of people. "Rumor has it the Regent paid five thousand guineas for it," she yelled
into Sarah's ear. It would have been a whisper, but the cacophony made whispers
"There it is," Sarah pointed. Souls gleamed out through
Rembrandt's daubs of paint.
Lady Beldon examined the small, dark
portrait. "Disappointing, really," she pouted. "It doesn't look worth so much.
They aren't even handsome subjects."
Sarah gritted her teeth.
This was worse than she had imagined.
The crowd spilled through
the public rooms and downstairs into the Prince's private apartments. The Beldon
party surged with it. The long Gothic Conservatory was a fairy-land. Chinese lanterns
hung below the stained glass ceiling which fanned out in a spider tracery above
its supporting columns. Here the Regent would serve his intimates late supper
at a table 200 feet long. It was said that the stream running down the center
of the table held real fish.
The money spent upon Carlton House
over the protestations of Parliament was a symbol of the Regent's power. With
his father locked up at Windsor, he was King in all but name. The nation was grateful
there was no danger of the old King partially regaining his senses to rule again.
Carlton House was the Regent's reward for services rendered.
crowds pressed around them. Sarah felt elbows and knees prodding her. Why was
she here? Just as she was ready to turn tail, she heard a familiar tinkling laugh
above the hubbub. It could only be Corina, her lifelong, sometimes best, friend.
She craned to see, but she was too short. So she started through the crowd into
the mirrored dining hall said to be modeled after Versailles. Of course Corina
would be drawn to mirrors. She would find Corina the center of a dozen young men.
Her beautiful friend was a magnet for anything male. It was some minutes of concerted
pushing and many muttered apologies before the golden hair appeared.
I thought I would never find you in this crush," she called over the din of conversation.
Corina wore white satin, with topaz dripping from her ears, trembling upon her
breast, around her wrist, from combs in her hair. She was draped on the arm of
Sir Rodney Kelston, of blond mustaches and broad shoulders, who hung on her every
word. But there were several other young men that Sarah knew. John Kerseymere
was there, eldest of the Kerseymere brothersabout to give up the handsome
regimentals he wore tonight and muster out, and the young Viscount Alvaney. They
looked uncomfortable in their collars, so high they could not truly turn their
heads. They had all dressed in their finest. Fobs and seals and diamond rings,
gold and silver snuff boxes and patterned waistcoats in a rainbow of colors were
"Sarah, what are you doing here?" Corina challenged,
frowning. "I thought you were a stick-at-home in Bath when you wouldn't come with
Ten pairs of male eyes focused on Sarah. She cleared her
throat. "I came up to see my solicitors at the last moment. George and his mother
were good enough to bring me."
"And no time to order a new dress
I see, though I have always liked that lavender."
Sarah felt herself
flush. It wouldn't have mattered what she was wearing, she told herself. She always
felt dowdy around Corina.
"You're looking very drawn tonight.
You must let me suggest strawberries, just under the eyes here." Corina touched
Sarah's face with one elegant finger, then leaned in. "How fortunate we are to
have escorts who can procure us their mothers' invitation cards," she whispered.
Sarah recognized the signal that she was forgiven. Sarah thought it might have
to do with her dress. What woman wouldn't want a friend who set her off to advantage?
"Oh, I had a card of my own," Sarah replied. Corina frowned, then
consciously relaxed her brow and turned back to her admirers, dismissing Sarah.
Lady Beldon puffed up to the group with George behind her. "I
refuse to stay another night in a town where murders occur on every street corner,"
she breathed. "I am going home tomorrow, whether you come or not, George."
soon? But I told you I must see my solicitor." This was awful news for Sarah.
"And meet your death no doubt, Sarah. No, no, no, no," Lady Beldon
shook her head. "You had best come home with me."
"I can't." Worse,
Sarah could not stay at Beldon House alone with George.
with me, dear Sarah," Corina offered. "I do not return to languish in Bath for
"Thank you," Sarah sighed. She felt an elbow in her
back. "I wonder why we come," she said to George. "No one can even dance."
who is anyone is here," Corina snapped. "Perhaps even your disreputable Mr. Davinoff,
Kerseymere. Why Sarah, whatever is the matter?"
"Did you say Davinoff
is here?" Sarah managed. Her throat had unaccountably closed.
take her arm, I think she is about to faint in this crush," Corina ordered. "I
hardly thought to bring on a spell by the mere mention of rakes. Kerseymere here
was just telling me that Mrs. Hertford may have given him a card, even with all
"What stories?" Lady Beldon asked sharply.
has it he was the root of the Marquise Barone's suicide in Paris last year," Kerseymere
disclosed. "Her husband called him out. Dashed cool customer had a tailor present
at the duel. Fellow got two orders for coats, with fabric and cut, while Davinoff
paced his fifteen. After he killed the husband, he left the Marquise flat. She
was a suicide the next morning."
Could he be here? She might bump
into him at any second.
"Shall I take you for some air, Sarah?"
George asked. "After seeing that dreadful murder tonight, any lady of sensibility
would be distraught."
Lady Beldon turned to greet a dowager whose
turban had even more feathers than her own.
"I am quite fine."
Sarah glanced around wildly. Her heart was skipping beats.
say, what murder is this?" Sir Kelston pounced upon George's revelation. "One
of those where the body is drained of blood?" The crowd in their circle of conversation
"The very same. I go to Bow Street tomorrow as a consultant."
George smiled with satisfaction. "My new device may have a bearing on the case."
A hue and cry of questions began from several of Corina's young men.
could be committing these murders?" Corina interrupted.
believe a madman is involved," George announced, with an harrumph.
draining blood be sane?" Sarah murmured, scanning the crowd. What would he look
like, her persecutor?
"I shall experiment to see if a pump might
have pulled the blood from the body." This drew clamors for information on George's
role in the investigation. George held forth.
Corina began to
tap her foot impatiently. Sarah knew her expression. George was monopolizing attention
Corina felt rightfully belonged to her. Corina turned to her escort. "Let us go
and see the murder scene, Sir Kelston."
"Dash it, no, Madam!"
Kelston was shocked. "What man would take a lady into danger?"
wager Mr. Kerseymere and his friends will go there yet tonight." Corina turned
a pretty pout toward her young escort, then back to the crowd. "Won't you, you
Several pairs of eyes gleamed with excitement.
would not take your wager, Madam," Kelston returned, after glancing round. "But
that does not mean that I will take you there!"
into one of the gigantic mirrors to catch her reflection, then yelped and turned
into the room. Sarah followed her eyes to a dark form at the edge of the crowd,
like a black bird of prey among the gaudy peacocks. He was so tall even Sarah
could see him. Her vision trembled. Classic profile, high cheekbones, long straight
nose. His black coat was cut by the best of tailors, not English, though. The
soft curls at his neck and the comma of black hair that strayed over his forehead
gave him a boyish look. As he turned, she saw the sensual lips that promised secret
knowledge. He was the personification of anarchy from tonight's murder scene.
"Sir Kelston, whoever is that man in black?" Corina caught at
her escort's arm.
Kelston looked dismayed. "Davinoff has procured
an invitation after all."
Sarah's knees went weak. She grabbed
George's elbow for support. Of course! The chaos of murder in London and the chaos
likely to engulf her life if Clershing was lost seemed to merge into a single
pinprick of light illuminating a man called Julien Davinoff. The face of iniquity
on the streets of London and the force of evil that threatened her future were
one and the same. She raised a hand to her forehead, feeling alternately faint
"Of course that would be him," she whispered. George
drifted away to tell more responsive guests about his new device. Sarah had eyes
only for the harbinger of chaos.
"What a quiz he is," Corina laughed,
"all in black. How have I never encountered him?"
"I expect he
doesn't run in your circles, Mrs. Nandalay." Kerseymere laughed.
let her eyes follow the dark man as he spoke to a fellow in the group surrounding
George. They were talking about the murders, no doubt. Others were pushed and
jostled by the crowd. But not he. The crowd swirled around him. He seemed distracted.
He scanned the room for something or someone. Sarah felt his gaze brush her and
"You must introduce me to our rake, Sir Kelston," Corina
murmured, behind her. Sarah glanced over to see that Corina was fascinated, too.
Her friend had no time for her admirers now.
"But no, Madamit
is not an introduction you would enjoy. He is an evil man!"
have already denied me one opportunity for excitement tonight," Corina pouted.
Corina and Sarah both watched as Davinoff made his way toward a ravishing woman
wearing an oriental-collared brocade, lavishly embroidered. He bent and whispered
into her ear. Her eyes searched his in shock. She grasped his arms, frantic, shaking
her head. Davinoff was implacable. Suddenly the woman drooped. She almost fell
before the tall man grasped her elbow. Sarah could not help but wonder what he
had told her.
"Come, you are not afraid of this man, surely Sir
Kelston?" Corina asked, rapt. Sarah turned back to her friend. What game was she
"I should think not," Kelston replied indignantly, then
stopped. Corina had him.
"What can happen in a room full of people?"
Corina placed her lace-gloved hand on Kelston's arm and looked up, expectant.
Kelston sighed. "I hope you have no male relative present, Mrs.
Nandalay, who would take me to task for the deed I am about to perform."
whatever, your Lordship. I am my own mistress."
Corina and Kelston
maneuvered through the crowd toward the man in black, leaving Sarah and the others
to stare after them. Corina was on the hunt. And her target tonight was Sarah's
persecutor. Sarah gathered her courage. Her target must be Davinoff, too. Perhaps
she could find out some detail of the brute's claim against her land. She pushed
"Mr. Davinoff, allow me to introduce Madam Corina
Nandalay ," she heard Kelston say as she approached. Davinoff at close range was
a frightening man. His eyes were black pools of dreadful knowledge, his form a
study in languid power. Sarah tore her eyes away with difficulty. They came to
rest on his beautiful companion. She heard Kelston stutter, "Countess Vadim..."
Corina curtsied just in front of Sarah, her eyes never leaving
the woman's face. The soul-engulfing need still emanating from the Countess was
evident. Corina would be drawn by that need. It would make her want the object
of it all the more.
"His Lordship provides his introduction at
my request," Corina said lightly.
Davinoff's eyes flicked over
her. "Perhaps you do not know my reputation." His voice was a deep rumble, utterly
masculine, used to command. Sarah shuddered.
"No, Sir Kelston
was careful in his duties on that point." Kelston reddened beside Corina, but
her quarry did not even glance in his direction.
"Yes? Then you
are, perhaps, an unusual female." The woman at his side came to life, her eyes
sparking in Corina's direction.
"I have been told as much," Corina
agreed. She glowed with a dangerous radiance.
Sarah stepped up
beside Corina and saw her frown at the unwelcome intrusion. She did not like to
be disturbed at the hunt. Sarah didn't care. "May I present Sarah Ashton, Lady
Clevancy?" Kelston murmured, throwing to the wind all reservations about introducing
young women to the notorious rake.
"Ah, the owner of Clershing,"
Davinoff eyed her gown with an almost imperceptible flicker of distaste. Sarah's
color heightened. She raised her chin half an inch.
"Who are you?"
Sarah asked. Perhaps not a propitious means of introducing her topic.
neighbor," Davinoff nodded, a contemptuous smile just visible at the corner of
his lips. Still, some curiosity lurked behind his eyes. "I look forward to the
time when Clershing runs again with Thornbury Abbey."
owns Thornbury Abbey," Sarah sputtered.
"I am desolate to disagree
with you," Davinoff observed.
"I don't know what you think you
can get away with, but I have no intention of letting Clershing run with the Abbey."
Sarah trembled with emotion.
"How final. But there is always a
way to get what one wants." The brute seemed amused.
Sarah said between clenched teeth. "You may be mistaken."
would certainly be surprising." Davinoff bowed. He seemed taken aback by Sarah's
vehemence. How could he be so maddeningly sure of himself? "Who knows what time
"How true." Corina inserted herself into the conversation.
"But one thing time brings is never a surprise. Time always brings death." She
cast about for a way to interest him. "I saw you conversing, Sir, with Mr. Upcott's
circle. You have no doubt heard there was another murder."
"Mr. Davinoff is not unfamiliar with these murders," Sarah
said in a low voice, watching him. "You were present at the scene of the murder
tonight, were you not?"
He looked down to search her face. "One
hates to admit a fascination with the macabre. You have caught me out, Lady Clevancy."
"I don't hate to admit it at all," Corina said, glaring at Sarah
as though to announce a prior claim to her quarry. "I have only now been pressing
Kelston here to take me to the scene."
"It seems we have much
in common then. It is unfortunate that we will not have an opportunity to pursue
our acquaintance." He swept his eyes over Corina, Sarah, and even the Countess
Vadim. "I leave London tomorrow."
The Countess's bleak expression
said that this was the whispered confidence. He was leaving her. She touched her
throat, covered so strangely with that oriental collar.
are you bound, Mr. Davinoff?" Corina boldly ignored the Countess and Sarah.
plans are not set." Those horrible, wonderful eyes swept the crowd.
you own land near Bath, perhaps that should be your destination. My own estate,
Chambroke, is near Bath. How is it we have not seen you in those parts?"
he seemed to consider. "How common a name compared to Aquae Sulis." He came to
himself. "I have not lived there for many years."
"But you must
remember how beautiful the country is this time of year," Corina rushed on, oblivious
of any but her quarry. "As for society, my own estates attract a small but select
guest list. The hunting is tolerable, if you are hunt-mad."
I cannot avoid Bath," he drawled, and glanced to Sarah. Sarah thought she might
melt. Unaccountably, she did not want to see Corina at the hunt any more.
I shall expect to see you," Corina said, a tiny note of triumph in her voice.
"Perhaps." He committed nothing. "Excuse me. I have business yet
And he was gone, cutting once more through furtive glances
and murmurs toward the great double doors, leaving the Countess to drift after
him, her handkerchief to her mouth.
"Well, I must say, you were
very bold," Sir Kelston reproached Corina.
"I hope so," Corina
murmured, gazing toward the giant doors. "For the course I have set requires boldness."
She spun on Sarah. "What's this about Clershing?"
my ownership." Sarah gazed after Davinoff, stomach churning.
you were certainly rude," Corina admonished. Then she turned her smile on her
escort. "Sir Kelston, I am afraid I have quite a headache. I find I must retire
"But, but the evening has hardly begun, I thought
..." Sir Kelston stuttered
Corina glanced to the doorway. "I can
see you want to stay. I shall call for the carriage."
applied to Sarah. "Tell Mrs. Nandalay that her plan is out of the question."
roused herself. "I never tell Mrs. Nandalay anything is out of the question."
"I could not allow you to go home alone," Kelston announced stiffly.
"I shan't be alone," Corina confided. With that she whirled and
hurried through the crowd, Kelston sputtering behind her. She would get Davinoff
to take her home, Sarah knew.