He’d called her sweetheart. Oh, she knew he’d done it to annoy her parents, to make them believe that her marriage to Ash was a true marriage in every way, but still…when he said it, she’d felt a deep, corresponding thump in the region of her heart, as if it had been answering him.
Ash had been nothing but kind since their wedding, and before it, for that matter. At first, after her late husband’s abuse, she couldn’t bear to be touched, but now, nearly a year later, she was trying to get over that. She still flinched sometimes when someone touched her, especially when she wasn’t expecting it, but she would recover. She refused to allow that brute to control her life even after he’d left it.
Ash always stepped back from any situation, separated himself from it. He was a man of intellect, not of passion. He either asked for her permission before he touched her or drew back if she responded with a flinch. She felt safe with him.
She did not want passion.
The oars dipped in the water, the distant sound of life on either side of the wide expanse muted, occasionally echoing off the surface as other ferries passed close by. The stink of burning, harsh at the back of the throat, and the ever-present river stench assaulted her nostrils. Having lived in London most of her life, she had become inured to the smells of a big city, but occasionally, they crept in. The difference between the burning and the dank water made a piquant contrast, but not one she wanted to experience again.
“Do we go to the official performance?” she asked him.
“Do you want to?”
She considered. “The tickets will be sold. They must have gone weeks ago.” That would take the decision out of their hands.
“I already have some.” He smiled wryly. “Friends in high places sometimes prove useful.”
The Prime Minister’s brother lived close by, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Newcastle House drew many visitors, rich and poor, but the duke had shown kindness to Ash, after Ash had done what he termed “a small service” to the duke. She had not visited the house much before her marriage, her parents being in a different political grouping. Still Whigs, but the other faction.
“We should go. I like Mr. Handel’s music.”
“Then we will. Perhaps we’ll have solved the murder by then.” He stretched his arms wide, throwing his head back and yawning at the sky. “I never asked you if you enjoyed the fireworks.”
Nobody had bothered to ask her things like that before. She’d gone where she was told and did what she was told to. A thing, the passive recipient of orders and insincere compliments. Her enjoyment was immaterial.
“I did enjoy them. Though they were somewhat extravagant. I fail to see the need to show a whole army marching across the sky.”
“You were not impressed?”
“By the skill of the makers, most certainly. But not the sentiments. This is an uneasy peace.”
“Most certainly. But it should hold for a while, long enough for the country to rearrange itself and for the armaments makers to speed up their production.” He glanced at her, his head still tilted back. “I do not plan to join the army.”
“Good. You’d be wasted there.” His talents lay elsewhere. They’d die a hard death in the army, which did not encourage people to think for themselves.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sky full of stars,” he said softly. “Or I don’t remember it.”
She leaned back, too.
London, set in a valley, covered by its notorious cloud—a result of innumerable coal fires and the general miasma of the biggest city in the world—rarely offered an unencumbered view of the sky. Tonight, with the smoke from the firework display, all one could say of the sky was that it was dark.
“Have you never been to the country?”
He shrugged. “Occasionally. But I’ve never looked up.” He turned his head and offered her one of his rare, sweet smiles. “Perhaps we should go and watch the stars together.”
“Yes. I’d like that.” She could say no more. His friendship meant more to her than any other. The wonder of it all got the better of her sometimes.
The tips of his fingers touched her neck. The touch felt good.
Emboldened, she moved. Not away from him, but into his touch. His fingers caressed her neck now. Warm, unthreatening, even pleasurable. She concentrated on it, allowing and then welcoming it.
“Wouldn’t you grow bored in the country?”
His smile broadened for a second before it disappeared. “Perhaps. But crime happens in the country, too. It’s just that it’s concentrated here. Tonight, for example. If we hadn’t been there, the matter would have been cleared up by tomorrow morning. A robbery gone wrong, because superficially, that’s what it looked like. But I don’t think so.” He spoke as if unaware of what had just happened between them. But she knew he was.
“What makes you think that?”
He lifted his head and regarded her but left his hand where it was. “Why did the robber leave valuables behind? The fireworks muffled the shot; nobody came running. He had time. I’ve known thieves to cut the buttons off a person’s coat before now. He could have grabbed the man’s hat at the very least. The gold braid would be worth selling. Or dip into his pocket for more than his purse, watch and perhaps snuffbox. A thief wouldn’t miss that. And the weapon is a gentleman’s pistol, expensive.” He spoke quietly in the still of the night. “Either Coddington was killed with his own weapon, or he met a friend. A thief would not keep a weapon like that. He’d sell it and buy one just as serviceable.” He clicked his tongue. “But there’s something else, something I’m not seeing clearly at the moment. I sense it.”
“As you did when I told you I had not killed my husband?”
His fingers, stroking her neck softly, paused.
“Precisely. I knew something wasn’t right. Your experience had shaken you, but you were not to be moved into making a confession. You were so sure you had not killed him. Your situation, that would have broken a stronger woman, never broke you.”
“Yes. Just as he will not control my actions after his death. I am determined on it.”
“Yes.” He watched her as he stroked the side of her throat with the tips of his fingers.
“I’ve studied crime and criminals for a very long time. You have seen my study and the files I keep there.”
“I have… I’ve never seen anything like them.”
“More detailed than most, certainly, but that is part of the learning process.” Typical of him to shrug off the compliment. “They form a pattern, expected experience and the ways of behavior. They can be predictable. And eventually, those patterns resolve themselves into something more solid, just as I feel something is not right in this case.”
(c) L.C. Sharp, Carina Press, 2021. Shared with permission from the publisher.
From glittering ballrooms to London’s dark underbelly, Ash & Juliana are back on the hunt for a murderer in the second installment of this thrilling historical mystery series from L.C. Sharp.
The London ton protect their own. Even when it comes to murder.
“There’s been an incident.”
In the finer circles of 1749 London, incident is apparently the polite way to describe discovering a body with a gruesome wound and no sign of the killer. But for newlyweds Lady Juliana and Sir Edmund “Ash” Ashendon, it’s a chance to track down the culprit and right a wrong—something they are both intimately familiar with.
Indeed, it is the only thing they are intimately familiar with. For the moment.
Though their marriage may be one of convenience, there’s nothing convenient about learning the victim has ties to a name from their past: the dreaded Raven. And the Raven isn’t the only danger they face. The aristocracy protects its own, and in London’s darkest corners, no one wants to be unmasked.
With Juliana’s life on the line, time is running out for Ash to find the killer before their marriage comes to an inconveniently bloody end.
About L.C. Sharp
L.C. Sharp lives in the north of Britain. She has researched, loved, and lived history all her life and now she gets to write about it!
She has written stories since her early attempts to rewrite the Morte D’Arthur and the novels of Georgette Heyer. History is important to her, from the days when her parents took her to a different stately home every weekend.
Now she gets to share that love with you.