Untamed Mackenzie Excerpt 2
The Untamed Mackenzie
Continued from Excerpt #1
Pub Date: September 10, 2013
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London was Lloyd Fellows’ home. He knew every street from Whitehall to the East End, from the Strand to Marylebone and all points in between. He’d known them as a boy living in St. Giles with only his mother to raise him. He’d learned more as a constable walking a beat, and even more as a detective sent to every corner of London and beyond.
Fellows knew every street like he knew his own name—who lived where, what businesses, legitimate or illegal, were where, and what people walked the streets and when. He knew every corner, every passage, every hidden staircase. Metropolitan London might be divided into districts by the government, and into cultural areas by the people who lived there, but to Fellows, London was one, and it belonged to him.
This fine April afternoon, he entered a dark passage off Crawford Street, aware of what awaited him at the end. His constables weren’t with him, because the culprit they were pursuing had changed course, and they’d split up to surround him.
Fellows was after a murderer, a man called Thaddeus Waller, who’d been nicknamed the Marylebone Killer. Waller had brutally murdered his brother and brother’s wife, then covered up the crime and pretended grief, even to taking in his brother’s children to raise.
Fellows, recently promoted to detective chief inspector, had investigated the deaths with a ruthlessness that had alarmed his superiors. But he’d uncovered fact after fact that pointed to Waller as the killer. Finally Fellows had obtained a warrant for Waller’s arrest and had gone with his constables to Marylebone to bring him in.
Waller had seen them coming and used his own wife and his brother’s children as hostages. Fellows’ fury had wound higher as Waller had held a little boy out the upstairs window, threatening to drop him to the cobbles if the police didn’t go away. The lad had cried weakly in terror as he’d hung helplessly, high above the street.
Fellows had left his constables to catch the boy if he was dropped, stormed upstairs and kicked his way into the flat, his rage making him not care what weapon Waller decided to draw on him.
Waller’s terrified and weeping wife at least managed to drag the boy back in through the window. When Fellows burst in, Waller had jumped through the window himself to the street one floor below. The constables tried to grab him, but Waller had fought like mad, they’d lost hold of him, and he’d fled.
Fellows had swung himself out the window right after him. He’d chased Waller through crowded streets to the passage where the man now hid. Fellows knew this passage. It was narrow and dark, twisted sharply to the right at its end, and emerged via a shallow flight of stairs to another street.
He sent his constables around to the stairs to bottle in Waller, while he dashed into the passage alone. Waller was going to fight, and Fellows knew his constables stood no chance against him. Although they were good and robust lads, they didn’t understand dirty fighting or what a man like Waller could do.
Fellows had grown up with dirty fighting. He knew about the destructive power of bits of brick in his hand, the various ways small knives could be used, and how to pit an opponent’s own weight and reach against him.
Waller would know the constables waited for him above. He’d make a stand. He’d killed his own brother, for God’s sake, had killed more men in the past, and wasn’t above using a child as a shield.
Fellows was one man, alone. But he knew that if he waited for help, Waller stood a chance of getting away. Fellows wasn’t going to let him.
The passage was dark, shielded from the April sunlight by high, close-set buildings. Fellows couldn’t see much, but he could hear.
Waller tried to mask his breathing, but the heavy intake of it was too thick to hide. The scuttle of rat’s claws on the cobbles also came to Fellows, as well as the clatter of carts on the streets outside, the wind pouring between buildings. Fellows pinpointed each sound, identifying and cataloging it as he moved to the source of the breathing.
The attack came swiftly. Fellows sensed the first swing of a massive fist and ducked. He rose, bringing up his elbow to slam the man in the diaphragm.
Fellows was rewarded with a blow to the head, one that darkened his world a moment. He dragged in a breath, trying to find his equilibrium, before another punch to his skull sent him to his knees. Waller didn’t waste breath laughing or gloating. He slammed his arm around Fellows’ neck and started to choke him.
Fellows shoved himself to his feet and threw his weight forward. Waller grunted and his hold loosened. Fellows dug his hands into the man’s shoulders and continued the momentum of the throw, ending up slamming Waller against the wall of the narrow passage.
Waller grunted and stumbled but swiftly regained his feet. He came at Fellows, roaring, no longer trying to be surreptitious. The constables poured down the stairs from the other end, against orders, their clubs ready.
Fellows and Waller fought, close and desperate, in the confined space. Boulder-like fists slammed at Fellows’ face. Fellows ducked under the man’s reach, came up abruptly, and smashed his fist into Waller’s jaw. The jaw broke, and Waller fell, screaming.
He grabbed Fellows on the way down, and Fellows felt the prick of a knife under his arm. He jerked away and punched Waller full in the face.
And kept on punching. Fellows’ rage was high, with a white-hot fury that blotted out all reason. He couldn’t see or hear—he only knew that this man had caused terror and death, and hadn’t held back from hurting harmless children.
“Sir,” one of the constables said. “He’s down.”
Fellows kept on punching. Waller was mewling, broken hands curled around himself. Blood poured from his nose and mouth to stain the already-grimy cobbles.
“Sir?” One of the younger constables dared seize Fellows’ arm. The touch dragged Fellows back from the dark place he’d gone, and his awareness slowly returned.
Waller lay still, hoarse sounds coming from his mouth. The young constable was eyeing Fellows nervously, hand still on his arm. The boy barely had whiskers to shave, and yet they’d sent him out to chase a madman. The constable at the moment looked as though he wasn’t certain who was more dangerous—the killer or Fellows. Fellows felt a surge of feral delight.
He drew back his square-toed boot and kicked Waller squarely in the ribs. “That’s for the little lad,” he said. He straightened up, wiping his mouth. “Arrest this filth and get him away from me,” he told the constables. “We’re finished here.”
Fellows turned away from a killer who’d slain at least five people and regularly beat his wife and children, found his hat, put it on, and walked back onto his streets.
Before Fellows returned to the Yard, he went back to Waller’s flat to tell his wife Waller had been caught and arrested. He’d waited to see the man securely locked into the police van and trundled away to face a magistrate before he’d gone.
Mrs. Waller, Fellows knew, had nothing to do with the murders; she was a victim as much as any of the people her husband had killed. She’d been the one who’d saved the children, not Waller. Fellows went to tell her she was now safe from her husband.
The residents of the area did not like policemen. They hadn’t much liked Waller, the Marylebone Killer, but even so, they’d been closemouthed when Fellows had questioned them. Now the men and women on these streets stopped what they were doing to watch Fellows pass. Fellows knew his face was bruised and bloody, but his walk and his grim look would tell the others who’d won the fight.
Mrs. Waller was upset, confused, grieved, and relieved at the same time. She promised she’d look after the children and keep them well, and Fellows believed her.
The rooms she lived in weren’t a hovel, but they weren’t a palace either. Fellows handed her a few coins before he left. He also stopped and had a word with her landlord, saying he’d be back if the landlord turfed out Mrs. Waller because her husband had been a murdering bastard. She needed help, not blame.
Fellows left, hearing muttered words behind him. But he hadn’t come here to make friends. He’d come to stop a killer and save a family, and that he’d done.
Now he needed a bath, a thick pint of beer, and a good night’s sleep.
But it wasn’t meant to be. First he’d have to report to his superiors then spend the rest of the day and into the night writing up a concise documentation of the investigation and arrest. The reward for his valor would be paperwork.
Fellows walked into his office to cheers. Word had already gotten around how he’d landed the Marylebone Killer, embellished, no doubt, by the constables who’d been on the scene.
“Well done, sir!” Detective Sergeant Pierce sang out as Fellows entered his inner office. “Fought your way through three men, single-handed, did you, sir? And then dragged out our killer by the hair, him begging for mercy?”
“Exactly,” Fellows said, and Pierce laughed.
Fellows collapsed to the chair behind his desk, drew out a clean handkerchief, and dabbed at the wounds on his face.
“Don’t get too comfortable, sir,” Sergeant Pierce said, annoyingly cheerful. “One’s come over the wire from Richmond. Asking for you specifically, Chief.”
Bloody hell, what now? “I’m on leave, Sergeant. Starting immediately. That is, after I spend all night writing a boring report.”
“Sorry, sir.” Pierce didn’t look one bit sorry, the sod. “Detective Chief Super wants you to take this. Police in Richmond telegraphed. A bishop dropped dead at a fancy garden party in the middle of a load of toffs. They think it’s foul play, and they want a detective from the Yard. They want it handled with kid gloves, and they specifically want you.”
Fellows scrubbed his hand through his hair, finding it stiff with blood. “If they want kid gloves, why do they want me?”
“I suspect ’cause you’re related to a toff—a duke, no less.”
Since the day it had come out that Fellows was in fact the illegitimate son of the Duke of Kilmorgan, he’d gotten hell from his colleagues. They either looked at him with contempt or went so far as to bow to him mockingly in the halls. Laughter was always present.
Fellows decided he could either play superior officer and quell them, or he could look the other way. He’d gained back his respect by making a rude gesture when he bothered to notice the jibes, then completely ignoring them. Fellows also worked hard to show he was damn good at his job, better than most, and did not let his accidental aristocratic blood hamper him.
Sergeant Pierce went on, “I suspect that if we do have to arrest one of the nobs, the Richmond boys would rather it be one of us who does it. They have to go on living there while we can scuttle back to Town.”
“They want us to do the dirty work, in other words.”
Pierce grinned. “On the nose, sir.”
A jaunt to Richmond to clear up a problem among the upper classes was not what Fellows wanted at the moment. He’d meant to finish his report, go home, bathe, sleep, pack, drop in at his mother’s to say hello and good-bye, and then board a train. He had a week’s leave coming. His half brother, Cameron Mackenzie, had suggested Fellows stop in at the races at Newmarket next week. Fellows, though still uncomfortable with his newfound family, didn’t mind the horse races. Any man might enjoy himself at a racecourse. He’d planned to go to the seaside and stare at the water a while, then make his leisurely way to Newmarket for the racing meet next Monday.
But he was a policeman first, and if he had to postpone his trip, then he did. Policemen didn’t get days off.
Fellows rubbed his hair again. His face was already dark with new beard, and then there was the blood all over him. He didn’t feel in any way fit to face a house party of people convinced a man who’d died of overeating and apoplexy had been murdered.
But there was nothing for it. “We go,” Fellows said in a hard voice. “It’s our job.”
Sergeant Pierce lost his grin. “We?”
“I’ll need my dutiful sergeant for this one. Let me go wash my face, and we’ll be off. Fetch your hat.”
Fellows took some grim satisfaction from Sergeant Pierce’s crestfallen look as he headed off to the washroom to make himself presentable.
“He’s dead, all right,” Sergeant Pierce said an hour or so later.
He and Fellows knelt next to the body while a doctor called Sir Richard Cavanaugh stood nearby and gave them his medical opinion in the most condescending way possible.
“Histotoxic hypoxia,” Sir Richard said. “See his blue coloring? Prussic acid, most likely. In the tea, I would think, a fatal dose. Would have been quick. Only a few moments from ingestion to death.”
Fellows disliked arrogant doctors who presumed ahead of the facts, but in this case, the man was probably right. Fellows had seen death by prussic-acid poisoning before. Still, he preferred to hear conclusions from the coroner after a thorough postmortem, not to mention a testing of food and drink the victim had taken, than speculations by a doctor to the elite.
Fellows ordered Pierce to gather up what was left of the broken teacup with the liquid inside, and also the full teacup that stood next to the pot on the table. He had Pierce pour off the tea still in the pot into a vial for more testing. Fellows scraped up cream from a pastry that had been smashed on the ground, and the remains of the plate that had held it, handing all to Pierce.
He left Pierce sealing up the vials with wax and had a look around the tea tent. Unfortunately too many people had trampled in here; the place was a mess. The grass was filled with footprints—ladies’ high heels, gentlemen’s boots, servants’ sturdy shoes—all overlapping one another.
The local police sergeant stood well outside the tent as though washing his hands of the affair. Fellows approached him anyway. The fact that the local police had sent no one higher than a sergeant meant the chief constable wanted to keep well out of the way. He wondered why.
“Your thoughts, Sergeant?” Fellows asked the local man.
The sergeant shrugged, but the man had a keen eye and didn’t look in the least bit stupid. “The doc says poison in the tea, and I don’t disagree. The young lady they think did it is in the house—my constable’s on the lookout up there. She’s an aristo’s daughter, though, so the lady of the house didn’t want the likes of us questioning her. Says we had to wait for you.” The sergeant gave Fellows a dark nod. “Better you than me, if you don’t mind me saying so, guv.”
He meant better Fellows lost his job for arresting a rich man’s spoiled daughter, which was exactly what could happen. Fellows’ Mackenzie connections might be able to save him from a lawsuit by the girl’s father, but his career could be over.
Not that Fellows wanted to go begging, hat in hand, to his half brothers for their charity. An invitation to the races was one thing. Owing a monumental obligation to Hart Mackenzie was another.
“Go help Sergeant Pierce,” Fellows growled at the man. “I’ll need statements from everyone. Who was where and what they saw—in minute detail. Understand?”
The sergeant did not look happy, but he saluted and said, “Yes, sir.”
Fellows left him behind and made for the house and the aristocrat’s daughter. He reflected as he approached the large house that running down a killer six feet three and weighing eighteen stone was much more satisfying than having to face a silly girl who probably didn’t understand what exactly she’d done. She likely felt herself perfectly justified in poisoning a man who’d annoyed her. She’d be highly strung and more than a little mad, or else too stupid to realize the consequences of her actions.
Fellows looked up at the giant brick house trimmed in white, strategically positioned for a view to the river at the bottom of a meadow. The very rich lived here, the sort who existed in their own world, with their own rules; no outsiders need enter.
He climbed the marble steps at the rear of the house and stepped into the dim coolness of its interior. Mrs. Leigh-Waters, the lady of the house, hurried toward him from the front hall. She was a large-bosomed woman with hair pressed into tight, unnatural curls, and was garbed in a gray bustle gown that made her look a bit like a pigeon.
“I’m so glad you’ve come, Chief Inspector,” she gushed. “They’ve always spoken highly of you, which is why I told the chief constable to telegraph you. The local constables can be a bit . . . hasty . . . and she needs a bit of sympathy, doesn’t she?”
“Of course,” Fellows said, forcing his tone to be polite. “I will keep the interview brief.”
“Thank you.” Mrs. Leigh-Waters sounded relieved. “I’m certain she will thank you too.”
She led Fellows through the cool, high-ceilinged hall whose draped window at the end cut out most of the light. Mrs. Leigh-Waters tapped on a door halfway along and opened it to a sitting room with back windows overlooking the garden and the view.
Two women rose from the sofa to face him. Fellows halted three steps inside the room, unable to move.
The features of the two red-haired women were heartbreakingly similar, the younger a little taller than the older. The older wore a gown of bottle green with black buttons up its bodice. The younger woman’s gown had a blue and brown striped underskirt, the blue overskirt folded back to reveal a lining of blue and brown checks. Her bodice was buttoned to her chin with brown cloth-covered buttons. Fellows noted every detail even as his gaze fixed to her face.
The older sister, Lady Isabella, was married to Lord Mac Mackenzie, one of Fellows’ half brothers. The younger sister, Lady Louisa Scranton, had petal-soft skin, lips that could kiss with heat, and a smile that had been haunting Fellows’ dreams since the day he’d met her.
Louisa stared back at him, as frozen as he, her lips slightly parted.
Isabella unlinked herself from Louisa and came forward. “Thank heavens you’re here,” Isabella said to Fellows, both relief and worry in her voice. “They’re claiming Louisa did this, can you imagine? You’ll clear this up and tell them she didn’t, won’t you?”
Isabella spoke, but Fellows could see only Louisa. Louisa looked back at him, fixed in place, her face as white as the plaster ornamentation on the cornice above her.
The other two ladies in the room faded, as did the sound of voices outside the windows, the sunshine, the fine afternoon. Fellows could be alone in a whirling fog, where nothing existed but himself and Louisa.
At Christmas this year, Fellows had found himself alone in a hallway with her in Hart’s obscenely large house. Louisa had tried to talk to Fellows, bantering with him as she did the other young men at the celebration. Fellows had only heard her voice, sweet and clear, then he’d had her up against the doorframe, his mouth on hers, her body pliant beneath him. Fellows could still taste the kiss, hot and beautiful, and remember his need for her rising high.
She was the aristo’s daughter the doctor and local sergeant were convinced had poisoned the bishop. Lady Louisa Scranton, earl’s daughter, the woman Fellows dreamed about on nights he couldn’t banish thoughts of her any longer.
He’d have to pull himself from the investigation. He’d never be able to get through it, because anything Fellows found against Louisa he’d toss aside or try to pin to someone else. He knew he’d do anything to keep from seeing this woman led away in manacles, put into a cell, charged and tried, convicted and hanged until dead.
The proper thing would be to excuse himself, summon Pierce to take her statement, and tell the Yard they needed to assign another detective to the case.
Another detective who might find evidence that Louisa had committed murder. Fellows’ heart beat sickeningly fast. If he backed away, Louisa might be convicted for the crime by people too impatient to prove she could be nothing but innocent. That she was innocent, he had no doubt.
Now was the time to speak. To say good day to Mrs. Leigh-Waters and explain that Sergeant Pierce would take over the questioning of Isabella and Louisa.
Fellows opened his stiff lips. “It shouldn’t be too much to clear up, ma’am. I’ll need to speak to Lady Louisa alone.”
“Are you certain?” Mrs. Leigh-Waters fluttered. “Perhaps she should wait for her family’s solicitor . . .”
No solicitors. No witnesses. Fellows needed to hear what Louisa had to say without any other person present.
“A preliminary questioning is all, Mrs. Leigh-Waters,” he said firmly.
“Then her sister at least should stay with her.”
Mrs. Leigh-Waters was perfectly right to try to protect Louisa from an unscrupulous policeman, not to mention being alone in a room with a man at all. But Fellows couldn’t question Louisa in front of anyone, not even Isabella, not even Sergeant Pierce. He had to be alone with her, to get her to tell him what had happened, so he could keep her safe.
“Please,” Fellows said, gesturing to the door. “Lady Isabella, you too.”
Isabella gave her sister a look of concern. Louisa shook her head, the movement wooden. “I’ll be all right, Izzy.”
Isabella studied Fellows a good long time before she agreed. “Please send for me if I’m needed. Never worry, Mrs. Leigh-Waters. Mr. Fellows is a perfect gentleman.” Isabella’s look told Fellows he’d better be a perfect gentleman or face her and explain why not.
Fellows returned the look neutrally. He’d fenced with Lady Isabella before.
Isabella took Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ arm and led the reluctant woman from the room. He heard the door close, their footsteps in the hall.
When it seeped through Fellows that he and Louisa were alone, his awareness narrowed to her. How her body was a perfect upright, how the curve of her waist and bend of her arms softened her posture. Her striped gown made her look taller, her bosom a soft swell under all the buttons.
Lovely, lovely femininity. Fellows was no saint, but he hadn’t been with a woman in a good long while, not long enough to be able to look upon Louisa Scranton without wanting her.
No, it wouldn’t matter if Fellows came to her sated and exhausted from weeks of passion—he would still want her.
He gestured with a gloved hand to the sofa. “Please, sit.”
Throughout the exchanges, Louisa had remained rigidly still, as though turned to the biblical pillar of salt. Now she moved to the sofa, her movements jerky. Her face was paper white, her red hair making it whiter still. From this stunned face, her eyes burned.
Fellows knew he should not sit on the sofa next to her. He should pull a hard chair from the other side of the room and angle it away from her so he wouldn’t risk his legs touching her skirt.
But then he thought again about how they’d stood in the doorway of the empty room last Christmas, the revelry far away down the hall. How Louisa had flowed into him, her lips seeking his, her body soft against his. She’d instigated the kiss, and Fellows hadn’t been able to stop himself turning it into a taste of passion.
He did not seek the other chair. He sat on the sofa with Louisa, putting at least two feet of space between them. Then he stripped off his gloves, took a small notebook and pencil from his pocket, flipped to a clean page, and wrote: Interview with Lady Louisa Scranton, witness.
“Take me through it, Lady Louisa,” Fellows said, not letting himself look up from the notebook.
“Take you through what?” Her voice was brittle. “How I watched the Bishop of Hargate die?”
Fellows kept his eyes on the page. “I need to know exactly what happened. It’s apparent he was poisoned, and I’d like to know how and by who. You went inside the tea tent . . .”
Louisa drew a sharp breath. “We had some tea. The bishop was talking to me about . . . about his recent travels to Paris. Then he looked ill, started struggling to breathe, and he fell. I thought he was choking, and I ran and fetched Sir Richard. By the time we returned, the bishop was dead.” Louisa shivered, her hands moving restlessly.
Fellows resisted the urge to reach over and give her a comforting caress. “Did you drink any of the tea?”
“No. I never had the opportunity.”
Fellows made his hand write the notes. “But you had a cup of tea. There were two cups—one broken on the ground, one on the table near a teapot. The cup on the table was presumably yours.”
“Yes, I poured it. But I didn’t want tea just then, so I set it down to drink later.”
“Why did you do that?”
When Louisa didn’t answer right away, Fellows made himself look up from his notebook.
Louisa was staring at him, no shyness in her. The light in her eyes was angry, very angry, but behind her defiance he saw great fear.
“Why didn’t you drink?” Fellows asked again, this time watching her.
“Because I did not want tea at the moment.” Louisa said every word slowly and deliberately. “I was speaking with the bishop. I didn’t want to spill anything.”
“You were eating tea cakes.”
“Profiteroles,” Louisa said. “Choux pastry filled with cream. I took two but I didn’t eat because I was having a conversation. I could not be very dignified stuffing cream and pastry into my mouth, could I?”
Fellows had a sudden flash of her licking cream from the profiterole, then taking a dainty bite. Her red lips would part as her teeth bit down, cream would cling to her lips, then she’d lick it away. Slowly.
Fellows tightened his grip on the pencil. “Continue.”
“That is all. The bishop coughed and fell. I told you, I thought him choking or fainting. I had no idea he was dying . . .” She shivered again.
Fellows wanted to throw his notes to the floor, pull her to him, and enfold her in his arms. He’d stroke her hair, kiss her, shush her. It’s all right. I’m here. I’ll keep you safe.
He remained rigidly on his end of the sofa. “Then what did you do?”
“I rushed out of the tent looking for the doctor. Sir Richard said the bishop had been poisoned and looked at me as though I’d done it. Isabella brought me to the house.” Louisa opened her hands. “And here I am.”
Here they both were. The police had been summoned, and Mrs. Leigh-Waters, likely at the insistence of Isabella, had asked for Chief Inspector Fellows to come and take over.
Fellows closed the notebook and set it on the tea table next to the sofa. He folded his hands and leaned forward slightly, a posture he hoped didn’t threaten.
He was a master at threatening, had had many more than one criminal fling themselves at his feet and beg for mercy. But mercy wasn’t his job. Fellows’ job was to track down and arrest murderers, as he had earlier today, and bring evidence to their trials. Mercy was left to judge and jury.
But he’d do everything in his power to keep Louisa Scranton from standing in the dock at the Old Bailey, facing a jury who’d find her guilty of murder. He’d do anything to avoid the judge looking at her and voicing the awful phrase, Take her down.
Fellows held her gaze. “I need you to tell me the truth, Louisa. Did you poison him?”
Louisa’s eyes widened, then she was up and off the sofa. “No! Why on earth should I?”
Sincerity rang in her every word. She was innocent, Fellows knew it. But he was not who had to be convinced—the rest of the world must believe it too.
“Perhaps you didn’t mean to,” he suggested. “Perhaps you put something in the tea and didn’t realize what it was.”
“I gave him tea. I dropped in one lump of sugar and a dollop of cream. I’m very certain it was sugar and cream. I have served tea before.”
Fellows did not reach for his notebook. He’d had Pierce take the sugar bowl and pour off the cream as well.
“Or you thought to make him sick,” Fellows went on. “You didn’t realize what you gave him would kill him.”
Louisa stared in shock. “No. Inspector, you know me. I would never be so cruel. I am telling you, I did not poison the bishop’s tea, deliberately or accidentally. I would never do such a thing. You have to believe me.”
Her desperation sang of her innocence. But Fellows had heard the same tone from lying murderers—they were masters at it. If Sergeant Pierce were in the room, he’d say, “That’s what they all tell me, love,” and be on his way back to London to apply for an arrest warrant.
Facing a magistrate would be traumatic for Louisa. She needed to understand that. Fellows’ next words were what he knew a stern magistrate’s would be. “You were alone in the tent with him, no one else near. He died, and if we are right about what kind of poison it was, it acted swiftly. That fact will get out. Newspapers like a murder, especially in the upper classes. The bishop had given your father trouble over their financial dealings. No one else had time to put poison into his teacup. Only you. So you tell me what happened, exactly what you saw—who you saw. I will keep you out of jail and away from the courts at all costs, Louisa, but I’m going to have to work very hard to do it.”
Louisa listened to the speech in the same shock, but color returned to her face in a furious flush. “What are you saying? That you don’t believe me? I thought you knew me. Why are you . . . ? How dare you?”
Fellows was on his feet, his professional persona evaporating. “For God’s sake, Louisa, help me. My sergeant is even now listening to fifty accounts of you going into the tea tent alone with Hargate. Why did you?”
She blinked, dragging in a deep breath as she tried to calm herself. “I don’t remember . . . No, I do. Mrs. Leigh-Waters asked me to make sure the bishop was looked after.”
“And you do everything Mrs. Leigh-Waters says? You let yourself be alone with unmarried gentlemen to please Mrs. Leigh-Waters?”
“You are making this sound sordid. It wasn’t like that. You don’t understand.”
Fellows was over her, the scent of violets that clung to her floating to him. “Then tell me why.”
“Mrs. Leigh-Waters didn’t want him left by himself,” Louisa said stiffly. “And apparently he wanted to speak to me.”
Fellows stood too close to her, could feel the warmth of her body, see the smoothness of her skin as her pink flush deepened. “None of your business what about,” she said. “It was a private conversation.”
“Yes. Why are you talking to me like this? I’d thought we were friends. Why are you accusing me?”
Fellows curled his big hands. “Right now, I am the best friend you can have. But you have to tell me everything. What you were speaking about, why you decided to be alone with him. Why I should believe you didn’t deliberately poison him.”
Louisa’s breath tangled his for an instant before she stepped back. She put her hands to her temples, red curls snaking around her fingers. “This has to be madness. I didn’t kill him.”
“You expect me to take you at your word?”
“Yes, I do.” She glared up at him. “An Englishwoman’s word is as good as an Englishman’s.”
“Not in my world.” Fellows made his voice hard. “In my world, everybody lies. They might think it for a good reason, but they lie. And those lies hurt. They can even kill.”
“You come from a terrible world, then.”
“Oh, it’s bad, all right.” Fellows gave her a wolfish smile. “And I don’t want you to be part of it. So tell me, Louisa, why did you go off alone with the bishop?”
The tears that flooded Louisa’s eyes made his heart pound. But they weren’t tears of sorrow, they were tears of rage and embarrassment. “I don’t want to tell you,” she said. “It had nothing to do with his death.”
“You can’t know that. It might have everything to do with it.”
Louisa had opened her mouth to argue, but she stopped. She turned away again, still massaging her temples, moving to the window. The light silhouetted her, her gown gently swaying as she walked.
The vulnerability in her stance nearly undid him. Fellows wanted to go to her, slide his arms around her from behind, kiss her hair when she leaned back to him. He wanted to caress her, as though she belonged to him, and say, It’s all right, love. I’ll take care of everything. You don’t worry about any of it. I’m here.
If Fellows touched her, he wouldn’t let go. He’d draw her into his arms again, crush her up to him, let their mouths meet. He’d taste her, drink her, and let the rest of the world go to hell. He’d take her away with him, anywhere, to be safe, alone with him. Never letting go.
When Louisa turned back to him, her face was blotchy red, the tears wiped away, but one still damp on her cheek.
“You’re a policeman,” Louisa said. “From what Mac and the others have told me, you’re very good at it. A detective first, they’ve said. Like a bloodhound on the scent.”
Fellows dragged in a breath, pulling his thoughts back from burying himself in Louisa and never coming out. “Flattering.”
Ian Mackenzie had once lumped Fellows’ dedication in with the Mackenzie family’s madness, saying Fellows’ focus on catching criminals was as intense as Cameron’s brilliance with horses, Mac’s with painting, or Ian’s with numbers and total recall.
“If I tell you, the good policeman, everything, it will end up in a report on a desk, will it not? The foolishness of Lady Louisa Scranton in black and white, for all to see. Shall I then find it splashed across every newspaper and scandal sheet in London?” Louisa gave a half-hysterical laugh. “Why not? They played out my sister’s marriage and near-divorce there. They’ll quite enjoy themselves over me.”
Fellows held up his empty hands. “My notebook is over there. Whatever you say to me, in this room, will go no further. I’ll write it into no report. What you tell me will be between you and me, I promise you. You’ll have to take me at my word.”
“And why would you, the good policeman, not write down every syllable I say?”
Because I’d do anything for you, Louisa.
“Because I’m not always the good policeman,” Fellows said. “Never mind what the Mackenzies tell you about me—sometimes I’m just a man.”
Just a man who remembered every brush of her lips, every touch, their impulsive kisses, the stolen moments. I shouldn’t have done that, she’d whispered after the first time. But I’ve been wanting to kiss you. Fellows’ world had changed that day and hadn’t righted itself yet.
“I want to trust you,” Louisa said.
“I want to trust you.”
Louisa looked away, head turned, but not bowed. She was courageous, elegant, beautiful. Fellows wanted her with the intensity of a small sun. Somewhere not this overly large sitting room where she could walk so far away from him, somewhere he could close her in his arms, lay her head on his shoulder, and simply be with her.
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