Excerpt: A Secret Surrender | The Pretenders | Author Darcy Burke
Darcy Burke

Excerpt: A Secret Surrender

Book 1: The Pretenders


East London, 1801

“More gin, girl!”

Selina Blackwell moved to the table where the bottle of gin stood next to the man’s empty cup. He could have poured it himself, of course, but her boss, who was downstairs in the tavern, had told her to serve him up here in one of the private dining rooms. And no one went against Samuel Partridge.

As she poured, the strong scent of the alcohol filled her nose. She forced air out to push the smell away. Unlike some of the other children, she didn’t drink the stuff. Her older brother Rafe wouldn’t allow it, even if she’d wanted to.

After setting the half-empty bottle back on the table, Selina stepped back.

“Where ye goin’?” The man, old enough to be her father, was filthy with bloodshot eyes and a crooked nose. He clasped Selina’s arm and pulled her back to the table. Though she wanted to jerk away, Selina knew better than to cause trouble.

“Nowhere,” she replied quietly.

“Stay where I can see ye,” he growled before taking a long drink of gin. Wiping his hand over his mouth, his small, dark eyes didn’t leave her. “Ye’re a pretty thing. How old are ye?” He picked up his goose pie and took a large bite.

Selina shifted her weight, wishing she could at least move around to the other side of the table, but she didn’t dare. Her brother always told her to follow directions, stay quiet, and hopefully escape notice.


The man’s eyes widened. “That can’t be right. Ye look older than that. Don’t lie to me, girl.”

Everyone assumed Selina was older than her years. She was tall for her age—much taller than any of the other girls in Partridge’s gang. She also had curves, primarily a bosom, that the other girls didn’t.

“I don’t lie, sir. Mr. Partridge don’t allow it.”

The man sat back in his chair and watched her as he used his tongue to try and clean the food from his yellowed teeth. His gaze raked over her crudely.

Selina’s stomach turned.

“Eleven, eh? Ye look fifteen, so I’m sure ye’re closer to that. Yer mama probably lied about yer age.” He squinted at her. “Do ye even have a mama?”

Selina didn’t remember her or their father, but she’d been just two when they’d died. Rafe had been five, so he recalled small things, like the color of their mother’s hair and the kindness of their father’s voice. Selina only knew the man who’d claimed to be their uncle. He’d turned her and Rafe over to Partridge several years ago and disappeared.

“My mother died a long time ago,” Selina said, keeping her voice soft but steady despite the fear racing through her. “It’s just me and my older brother.” She hoped mentioning him might make the man think twice about trying anything. Then for good measure, she said her boss’s name. “And Mr. Partridge. He takes care of us.”

The man snorted with laughter. “Partridge don’t care for no one but hisself.” He pushed back from the table, the chair’s legs scraping against the battered wood floor.

Selina’s body twitched with the urge to run. Hopefully he would just walk away. So far, they always had, even after staring at her the way he was. “It’s Partridge’s tavern,” she said, as if that would get the man to leave her alone.

The man stood. Owing to Selina’s height, he was barely taller than her. “And Partridge sent ye up here to serve me.”

“To serve dinner.” Selina tensed.

“Ye know it’ll be more than that.” His thin lips spread in a grin, showing his disgusting teeth again.

He stood between her and the door. She looked in that direction, her heart thudding. Mayhap she could shove him hard enough to get by and leave before he could catch her. Why had Partridge sent her up here with him? She’d served other men, but they’d always been more interested in the gin than her. Had Partridge set her up for something more? Her stomach twisted again.

The man grabbed her bicep. “Don’t think about it.” He pulled her toward him until she crashed against his chest. Blowing out a fetid breath that made her gag, he lowered his head.

Sweat broke out on her nape and back as she reached for the bottle on the table. She didn’t think as her hand closed around the neck, and she smashed it against his head. The glass shattered and noxious alcohol splashed over both of them.

Instead of letting her go, he shoved her backward, groaning as one hand went up to his head. “Silly bitch!”

Off balance, Selina staggered as she tried to maintain her footing. The wall was just behind her. She was trapped. Except for the window, which was to her left. She glanced out past the crack that ran from one corner of the pane to the other. It was a long drop to the cobblestones below.

The man moved toward her, his gaze menacing. “That’s right, back up against the wall, ye little whore. Lift yer skirts.”

Her vision blurred. There was no one here to save her—no Rafe, none of the other children who might help her. Just this man who would take her and do as he pleased.

She’d die before she let him do that. She shot another look at the window. Perhaps the fall would kill her. That would surely be better than the life she was living. No more hunger, no more fear, no more being forced to steal and scheme.

“Do you mind if I open the window?” she asked calmly, even though her heart was pounding and she still couldn’t see right.

He sneered. “Why, so ye can scream for help?”

“No.” Screams were normal in this neighborhood, and no one cared. “I’d like some air. You smell.”

The back of his hand stung against her cheek making her gasp. “Up against the wall now!” He reached for her, but she bent and dashed under his outstretched arms. She probably wasn’t going to make it, but if she didn’t try… She let out a sob.

His hand grasped the back of her gown, pulling the fabric so that it rent down her back. Terror exploded inside her. She shrieked. He held onto the garment, but she reached wildly for the tabletop. If only she could find the knife.

The man pushed her so that she bent over the table then stood behind her, pinning her so she couldn’t move her lower half. Frantic, she put her hands out in the hope of finding anything to use against him.

“No, ye don’t.” He scattered the dishes from the table but not before she clasped the fork. Her palms were slick with sweat, but she closed her hand around the metal and stabbed him hard in the forearm below the edge of his rolled-up sleeve. He yowled and jumped back, the fork sticking from his flesh.

She dove for the rickety chair, and swung it up then crashed it against him. The chair broke, and he fell back, teetering. Then his balance gave out.

So did the window.

The glass, already badly cracked, broke, and he fell. Selina raced to the window and watched as his arms and legs flailed briefly before he hit the cobblestones with a horrid snap. Dark blood oozed from the back of his head.

Selina froze as the door behind her opened. Before she could turn, comforting hands were on her shoulders. She began to shake.

“Shit,” Rafe breathed as he moved past her and looked down. He turned to face her. “I heard the noise, and I knew you were in here, so I came to check. Come on, we need to move.” He ushered her from the room, up a narrow staircase, then up another toward the tiny room they shared.

“Partridge knows I was there too.” She was so cold, and it wasn’t just the fact that her gown was gaping in the back. The ice permeated to the very marrow of her bones. She doubted she would ever be warm again. “He sent me up to serve.” Quivering, she turned to face her brother as he guided her into their room. “Does he want me to whore?”

“No,” Rafe said firmly as he pulled out the solitary bag they owned and began shoving her meager belongings into it. “He knows you’re too young.”

“That man didn’t think so. I told him how old I was. He said it only mattered how old I looked.” Selina wrapped her arms around herself. “Partridge will expect me to whore someday. Mayhap today is that day.”

Rafe, who at fourteen was somewhere between child and man, swore. He stopped and stared at her. “You can’t stay.”

“Where will we go?” Her teeth were chattering.

“Not we—you. I’ve been saving money. Partridge doesn’t know. I knew this day would come. I just didn’t realize it would be so soon.” He swore again.

“What day?”

“When you would have to leave.”

She slowly shook her head and took a deep breath, trying to calm the shaking. “No. I won’t do that.” He was all she had.

Rafe put the bag on her narrow cot and took her hands. Several inches taller, he towered over her as his eyes bored into hers. “Yes, you will. Forget what will happen to you if you stay, what almost happened to you downstairs, you just killed that man. Partridge may not be able to protect you from retribution.”

“Partridge may be the one to seek it,” she whispered.

Rafe’s lips pressed together. “There’s a school about fifty miles from here. I’m putting you on a mail coach. I already sent a deposit to save you a spot after the new year. Hopefully, they’ll admit you now.” He let go of her hands and went back to filling the bag. “Change your dress, Lina.”

Feeling as though she moved in half-time, Selina drew the ruined garment over her head and donned the only other gown she owned. Then she tied her only bonnet beneath her chin.

By the time she finished, Rafe had completed his task of packing her things and was now kneeling beside the dresser. He reached up under it and brought out a purse, which he handed to her. “Hide this—it’s the rest of what I saved.”

Selina hefted the purse. “You said you’d hoped to save more.”

“I’ll send more when I can. Or you can…you know.” He lifted a shoulder.

She could steal. That was one of the few things she could do well.

Like any good thief, she’d sewn secret pockets into her gown. Stashing the purse, she watched as Rafe swept his hat from a hook on the wall and crushed it over his bright blond hair.

“Come, we must get you away quickly.” He reached for her, his hand closing around hers.

“I don’t know if I can leave you.” Unshed tears burned her eyes.

“Don’t cry, my sweet sister.” He smiled at her. “We’ll be together again. You’ll see. For now, this is safest for you. You trust me, don’t you?”

She nodded, unable to speak past the knot of fear and grief in her throat. He was the only person she trusted.

He stroked away the single tear that slipped down her cheek. “Please don’t cry. I can’t bear your sadness. It’s past time for you to be happy, and to do that, you must be far away from this life.”

Selina took a deep breath and swallowed her tears. She followed him from the room, and they rushed down the back stairs as the alarm was raised about the dead man.

They escaped into the narrow alley and raced through the slums they’d called home the past several years. Fifty miles away from here…Selina could scarcely imagine it. What would the air smell like?

When they were a good distance from the tavern, she slowed to catch her breath. Rafe did the same, looking furtively behind them. “We must hurry,” he urged.

“Why can’t you come with me?” Selina asked.

“It’s a ladies’ seminary.” Rafe chuckled. “Pretty as I am, they won’t accept me.”

She wanted to smile but couldn’t. “Then why can’t we go somewhere together?”

“Where would we go? What would we do? At the school, you will learn. Perhaps you will become a governess even.” His tone had grown harsh, but now he lightened it once more. “Can you imagine that, Lina? You’d have a nice room, regular food, and a family to care for.”

No, she couldn’t really imagine it. “That’s a dream, Rafe.”

“Mayhap, but I’ve always told you that I would try to make your dreams come true, haven’t I?”

“What about yours?”

He shook his head and fixed her with a fierce stare. “I have a plan. Don’t you worry about me. Ever. Promise?”

She hesitated, and he squeezed her hand until it hurt. “Promise me, Lina.”

“I promise I won’t worry,” she lied. If she couldn’t worry about her brother, what did she have left?

He nodded encouragingly. “You’re stronger than you realize. You just protected yourself without my help. Don’t fret.”

Yes, she had. And she’d killed a man. The persistent cold intensified.

“We’ll be together again,” he repeated. “Sooner than you think.”

Selina would look forward to that day, and until then, she’d do whatever she must to survive.


Chapter One

London, April 1819

Harry Sheffield, constable for Bow Street, opened the door of The Ardent Rose on The Strand near Drury Lane. He’d been told he would find Madame Sybila at a perfume shop in this area, and since he didn’t know of any others, this had to be the place.

A myriad of scents assailed Harry as he walked into the shop. There was definitely rose, but also other floral fragrances, as well as spice and a variety of smells he couldn’t quite identify. It was a bit like listening to a quartet warm their instruments before playing an actual song. It wasn’t terrible, but the cacophony wasn’t entirely pleasing either.

The shop was relatively small compared to its neighbors, but well-appointed. A handful or so of patrons milled about, with a pair standing at the counter speaking with a woman of middle age. A gentleman approached Harry.

“May I be of assistance, sir?” the man asked while adjusting his gold-rimmed spectacles. He was also of middle age, with an average frame and a dearth of hair. He gazed at Harry with a benign expression.

“I came to see Madame Sybila.”

“This way.” The man pivoted and led Harry to the back corner of the shop and through a curtain. To the left was a corridor, and to the right, a wall. Directly across from the curtain was a door.

The gentleman rapped softly on the wood, then turned back to Harry. “She’ll be with you soon, I’m sure. I do hope you’ll browse the shop before you go.” He offered a genial smile before returning to the store past the curtain.

Harry studied the dim corridor, which appeared to lead to a staircase. Did Madame Sybila live upstairs?

The door opened to reveal a tall figure dressed entirely in black—from the heavy veil covering the woman’s face to the boots peeking out from the hem of her gown. At least, Harry assumed it was a woman. It was impossible to tell.

Except it wasn’t. The veil didn’t cover the swell of her breasts beneath the black muslin or the hint of her waist, just barely suggested by the drape of her gown.

“Good afternoon, Madame Sybila,” he greeted her.

She did not open the door wider. “You don’t have an appointment.” Her French accent was soft but impossible to miss.

“My apologies. I’d be happy to pay extra if you’re able to meet with me now.”

“I don’t see male clients.”

“I’m surprised you can see anyone through that veil,” Harry quipped. He could see the bare outline of her face, but nothing of her expression. So there was no way to gauge her reaction.

He cleared his throat. “I have the same coin as anyone else. I’d like you to tell me my future.”

A lilting laugh soared through the air between them. “I do not tell the future,” she said. “I read the cards or the palm and share what I see. What the client takes from that is up to them.”

“You make no prophetic promises, then?” He found that hard to believe. Hearing such mystic nonsense was the reason his mother had come to see the fortune-teller. While she refused to disclose what was said at their meetings, whatever Madame Sybila was peddling had drawn his mother to return several times, as well as donate to a new charity, about which Harry’s father was dubious. “How are your clients satisfied?”

“I help them look at things in a new way. It is my understanding they are quite pleased with my services.” She cocked her head to the side. “Why are you here, Mister…?”

“Sheffield.” He didn’t hesitate to give his name, doubting there was any way the fortune-teller would realize he was the son of her client, Lady Aylesbury.

Harry offered his hand, and she took it without wavering. Because hers was cloaked in a thick black glove, he had no inkling of the age of the appendage; however, her grip was strong and sure.

He repeated why he’d come. Or, more accurately, the reason he was using for his visit. “I am here to have you tell me my future.” In reality, he wanted to see what rubbish she was—successfully, apparently—selling to kindhearted, trusting women like his mother.

“As I said, I do not do that.”

He looked past her into the room. The space was small, perhaps the size of the silver closet at Aylesbury Hall, his childhood home. There was no window, but several candles illuminated the space, as well as a pair of sconces on the wall opposite the door. The flickering flames conveyed an aura of mystery, or maybe even something more sinister. Her criminal behavior, perhaps.

Near the center of the room sat a small round table, covered with a dark red cloth. A deck of cards sat to one side.

He returned his gaze to her veiled face. “You won’t tell me the future?”

She shook her head gently, causing the edge of the veil to sweep against her collarbone. “I cannot. And, as I also said, I do not provide services for gentlemen.”

Harry found he was curious—not just about her business, but about her. “Why not?”

She lifted a shoulder. “I find most men are untrustworthy. Given the opportunity to meet with a woman alone, they take advantage. Forgive me if I don’t invite you in.”

Reaching into his pocket, Harry withdrew a purse with a substantial weight of coins. He jingled the lot. “Not even for a goodly sum?”

Though he couldn’t see her features, he believed she was staring him straight in the eye. “Not for twice that.”

Surprise, an emotion he rarely experienced, coursed through him. Everyone had a price. Except for Madame Sybila when it came to men. His curiosity about her grew.

He put the purse back into his coat and exhaled. “This is disappointing, Madame Sybila. I had heard your talents were unmatched.”

She scoffed, and he had the sense that she was smiling. “You are an excellent liar, Mr. Sheffield, but not quite good enough.”

Unable to deny that he was intrigued, Harry leaned against the doorframe. “Why do you say that?”

“You seemed to believe that I could tell your future and that I would help you, a gentleman. I can’t believe you spoke to any of my clientele. They would have disabused you of both of those notions.”

She was clever, he’d give her that. A smile teased his mouth. “You have caught me. I merely heard that a woman of your…abilities had taken up here in the back of the perfumery. I need to understand what my future holds, and I thought you could help me.”

“Forgive me, sir, but I am not convinced you think that’s possible.”

“Why would I come here if I didn’t believe that?”

“That is the question I would like to have answered, but I am not sure you will give me an honest response.”

Far too bloody clever. “How about if I tell you why I’ve come? Of course, I would have done so eventually, but I wasn’t sure if you wanted to know before you performed your services.”

She crossed her arms over her chest in a pose of grave expectation. But she said nothing.

Harry said the first thing that came to mind. “My family wishes me to marry. I was hoping you could tell me when that might happen.”

“When, but not to whom?” She chuckled. “Most people would want to know to whom.”

“I suppose that too, but I’m more concerned with the timing.” Because the truth of the matter was that Harry’s father, the Earl of Aylesbury, had been pressing him to wed for some time now. It wasn’t that Harry didn’t want to; it was that he hadn’t met anyone who remotely interested him as a wife. But then he was far too engrossed in his work, a fact his father—and mother and sisters—pointed out at every possible opportunity.

“I see. But I cannot help you.”

“So you’ve said.” He infused his tone with disappointment. “Is there nothing that will change your mind?”

“No, and anyway, I can’t tell you what you wish to know. All I can do is look at your palm and reveal what I see. The same with the cards.”

“I would accept that,” he said, fixing her with a stare. He wanted to see what she could do, how she’d twisted this occupation into something that had captured the attention of women who ought to know better than to trust someone like her. Women like his mother.

“A pity I am not offering that,” she said, putting her hand on the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, my next appointment will be here shortly.”

“Do you lift your veil when you see a client?” he asked, wondering if he should disguise himself as a woman and return. He was suddenly desperate to see her face. Was she young, old, somewhere in between? Not too old. Her voice hadn’t yet weathered with age.

“I do not.”

“That’s a shame.” Harry accepted that he’d learned all he could today. He’d have to find a way for someone—a woman—to visit her and report back to him on precisely what Madame Sybila did. In addition to reading fortunes, she was rumored to sell tonics for a variety of purposes, though he didn’t think his mother had purchased any. If she had, he would have investigated it already.

Whether tonics or false futures, Harry had no doubt everything Madame Sybila did was fraudulent. Women like her would be better served on the stage, performing their act for precisely what it was meant to be—entertainment. Instead, she preyed on the innocent and easily charmed, giving them false hope and impossible dreams, perhaps even causing them to lose things that were very dear to them. His mother hadn’t lost a great deal yet, just whatever sum she’d paid for the fortune-teller’s “services” and perhaps a donation to the mysterious charity. Father had asked her to reconsider this “hobby,” and when she’d refused, he’d asked Harry to look into Madame Sybila.

“I’m afraid you must go,” she urged, closing the door.

He stuck his boot next to the jamb to halt her progress. “I’m sorry you couldn’t help me. I may come again—in the hope that you will change your mind.”

“I would expect nothing less.” From the sound of her voice, he was certain she was smiling. “Besides, Bow Street isn’t far.”

Once again, he felt a jolt of surprise, this one even stronger than the last. He didn’t bother prevaricating. “How did you know?”

She shrugged, stirring the veil gently against her neck and shoulders.

He narrowed his eyes slightly, then smiled as he withdrew his foot from the threshold. “Maybe you do have certain…abilities. I will consider it my misfortune that you weren’t able to help me.”

“Good day, Mr. Sheffield.” She closed the door in his face, just as he stepped back.

Disappointment curled through him, and not because he hadn’t found evidence of a crime. Madame Sybila had surprised him. Twice. She wasn’t at all what he’d expected, and that was a bloody feat.

Turning, he pushed through the curtain and went back into the shop. As a courtesy, he browsed the perfumes before nodding toward the gentleman who’d showed him back to Madame Sybila.

Harry departed the shop and stepped into the overcast afternoon. Turning to the right, he made his way back to Bow Street, pausing a few times to converse with acquaintances. As a constable, he knew many people of all walks of life. It was one of the things he liked best about his job.

How had the fortune-teller bloody known he worked for Bow Street? He went back over what he’d said. Perhaps he should not have asked how her clients could be satisfied without having their future read. However, that could also have simply been interpreted as his disappointment. Which had been real.

Ah well, he’d find another way to get to the heart of her business. And he was quite looking forward to it. There was a shocking air of integrity about Madame Sybila. Oh, he still believed she was a fraud, but perhaps she truly thought she was helping people. The fact that she’d refused his considerable sum—double what he’d offered, even—was positively fascinating.

Did money not drive her? If not, was it possible she wasn’t a fraud?

Harry didn’t go to the magistrates’ court at number four. Instead, he went across the street to the Brown Bear. As soon as he entered, he was greeted by numerous people, a few of whom were fellow constables. He paused to exchange pleasantries before making his way to a table near the wide front window where two other constables were seated. Harry called out a greeting before sliding into an empty chair.

“What news, Sheff?” John Remington asked before taking a drink of ale. A decade or so older than Harry’s thirty-one years, Remy was, in Harry’s opinion, the best constable Bow Street had to offer.

“Just came from the perfumery.”

The other constable, Clive Dearborn, a younger man who’d come to Bow Street perhaps three months prior, nodded. “Investigating the fortune-teller?”

“Trying to. What are you fellows up to?” A serving maid deposited a tankard of ale on the table for Harry. He thanked her before taking a long pull.

“We just ran into each other outside,” Dearborn said.

Remy fixed his dark eyes on Harry. “I’ve just come from Blackfriars. Heard the Vicar might be lending money out of St. Dunstan-in-the-West again.”

Bloody hell. An old apprehension raced along Harry’s flesh, quickening his pulse.

Dearborn swung his head toward Remy. “Who’s the Vicar?”

“An arsonist and a murderer,” Harry answered, gritting his teeth. “Who has yet to pay for his crimes.”

“How is that?” Dearborn asked.

Remy cupped his hands around his tankard. “Harry is referring to a fire four years ago that destroyed a flash house on Saffron Hill and killed several people inside, including the leader of a large gang of thieves.”

“Along with many innocents.” Harry hated that no one had paid for the deaths of several children and young women. “The Vicar started the fire, so he could take over the gang.”

Dearborn looked between them. “Why wasn’t he arrested and tried for the crime?”

“He’s a bloody ghost,” Harry spat before taking another drink.

“We couldn’t find him,” Remy said. “He’s exceptionally good at being evasive—we don’t even know what he looks like for certain.”

Dearborn’s brow creased with confusion. “But you know he’s leading this gang in Saffron Hill? And lending money in Blackfriars?”

“We can’t confirm either, unfortunately. The moneylending came to our attention last year, but then he went underground again,” Harry explained before leaning toward Remy. “How do you know he’s back?”

“One of my informers. I knew you would want to know.”

“I appreciate that,” Harry said. The fire had been one of Harry’s first investigations after becoming a constable. That it remained unsolved had always unsettled him. It wasn’t that there weren’t other unsolved cases, but this one was different. He’d established an informer in the Saffron Hill neighborhood, a sweet young woman who’d been hoping to change her life. Harry had been trying to help her. Then she’d died in that fire. He clenched his jaw. “Looks like I’ll be paying a visit to St. Dunstan-in-the-West.”

“Just know the Vicar’s as guarded as ever,” Remy warned.

“Of that I have no doubt. This time, however, I’m going to catch him.”

“For a four-year-old crime?” Dearborn asked. “Will he actually be convicted?”

Remy chuckled. “You forget that Harry here used to be a barrister. He’ll ensure he has the evidence necessary for a conviction.”

“I did forget.” Dearborn looked to Harry. “Why’d you make the change? I’d think being a barrister would be a more comfortable occupation.” He snorted. “Certainly more profitable.”

It was a question Harry was asked rather often. “I wanted to get out on the street and ensure justice.” It wasn’t that he hadn’t liked being a barrister. He’d just found it…boring. He’d considered purchasing a commission and going to war, but his father had convinced him to stay and make a difference here at home.

Remy took a drink and set his tankard on the table with a clack. “What evidence do you have, Harry?”

“We know it was arson—the circumstances of how it started are documented, if you recall.” At Remy’s nod, Harry continued, “Every person we interviewed said the Vicar started the fire.”

“Sounds like you’ve got him,” Dearborn said with a grin.

“Except no one could provide a consistent description of the Vicar. They didn’t see him. They just reported they knew it was him, meaning they were probably repeating a rumor.”

That had frustrated Harry most of all. It had also troubled him. Why could no two people describe him the same way? He was tall. Or of average height. Oddly, he was never short. He had blue eyes. Or brown. Or gray. He wore a patch on one eye. His hair was dark or fair. Or he was bald. He had a scar. He had a tattoo. He walked with a limp and used a walking stick.

“The Vicar is a powerful figure,” Remy said darkly. “It wouldn’t surprise me if those people didn’t describe him out of fear.”

Dearborn frowned. “But they name him, so that doesn’t seem to make sense.”

No, it didn’t, which was another reason the crime had lived in Harry’s mind. There was just something wrong with it. Now that the Vicar had reemerged, perhaps Harry could finally put it to rest.

“Why is he called the Vicar?” Dearborn asked.

“It’s a nickname,” Remy said. “Some say he listened to the confessions of his fellow criminals before putting them out of their misery.”

Dearborn blew out a whistle. “So he’s a murderer beyond just starting that fire?”

“It’s more than likely,” Harry said. “Men like him have no moral code.” Instead of making him angry, that made Harry sad. What had happened to them to make them that way?

“So you’ll try to catch him?” Remy asked. Harry nodded, and Remy went on, “I’ll assist you in whatever way I can—just say the word.” He leaned back and crossed his arms. “Now tell us about the fortune-teller.”

Harry thought back over his unproductive meeting with Madame Sybila. “There isn’t much to report yet.”

“Did she discern your future?” Dearborn asked. “Will you be head of Bow Street one day?” He grinned.

Harry shook his head. “She refused to provide her services. Seems she’ll only help women, so I either need to dress as a woman or find a woman to see her and report back to me.”

“There is no chance you could pass for a woman.” Remy laughed, and Dearborn joined in.

Harry cracked a smile as he nodded. “Which means I’ll find someone to help me. Furthermore, she insisted she doesn’t tell the future.”

Remy snorted. “Well, that’s hogwash. What else does a fortune-teller do?”

“Precisely,” Harry said. “But I’ll get to the bottom of her scheme. Then I’ll put a stop to it.”

“I’ve no doubt.” Remy lifted his tankard. “To honesty and lawfulness.”

Harry and Dearborn joined him and repeated the toast.

Yes, he’d find out precisely what Madame Sybila was up to, and then he’d shut her down before she could do real harm to his mother or anyone else.

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