Home > Capturing the Devil (Stalking Jack the Ripper #4)(7)

Capturing the Devil (Stalking Jack the Ripper #4)(7)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco

“Brat.” I finished off my tea, grabbed my cane, and headed for the door with as much confidence as I could muster. “I’ll simply ask Thomas about any romantic entanglements right now.”

“Excellent idea.” Liza eyed the bookshelves near my fireplace. “Would you like me to stay until you return?”

I knew she’d like nothing more than to curl up with a good romance novel, and I didn’t want my worries to stop her from enjoying her evening. I shook my head. “I’ll be fine, thank you.”

It was much harder to creep around a house I was unfamiliar with at night, and my cane clicking against the thin carpet didn’t aid my stealthy pursuit. I cringed each time it made contact with the floor, praying Uncle was preoccupied with sleep. Though after our morning of investigating, he was likely awake studying his journal entries, hoping Inspector Byrnes would still send word at this hour.

Mrs. Harvey was staying on the same floor as Liza and me and wouldn’t mind if she did catch me sneaking around. In fact, she might push me off toward Thomas’s chambers all while humming pleasantly to herself. During our time on the RMS Etruria, she’d gone as far as practically encouraging me to sneak off to visit Thomas after she’d given me a note from him requesting a midnight meeting.

I was extra grateful that my father and aunt hadn’t arrived yet. There would be no predicting where either of them would be at this hour. Ever since Mother’s death several years ago, Father rarely slept and wandered the halls of our home late into the night like a restless ghost.

When I came upon Thomas’s door, I found it partially open. I peered in through the crack, curious as to what he might be doing. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d deduced my unannounced arrival. The lamp on his bedside table was on and the fire was softly crackling in the corner. The room itself was a deep blue, like the darkest part of the ocean.

With its carved mahogany furniture and strong color scheme, it fit Thomas perfectly. I tried to keep my attention from lingering on his bed, but its rumpled state was hard to ignore. Papers lay scattered about it and journals were stacked in chaotic towers. I half expected to find him propped up against the headboard, dozing like a tired prince resting on a throne of books.

My stomach turned a few times when I recalled he was reading Jack the Ripper’s entries. He’d mentioned it once in Romania and had tried again while we were crossing the Atlantic. I still wasn’t ready to know what my brother had to say about his crimes. I felt relief knowing the journals were with us, though, safe from anyone who might harm them or share their secrets.

Feeling like an intruder, I knocked. “Thomas?” I called softly. The aromas of cinnamon and sugar wafted nearby. I pushed his door open wider, mindful of any creaking hinges. “Cresswell?” I craned my head into the room. “Where in the—”

“Please tell me all of my salacious dreams are finally coming true.”

I jumped backward and cursed as my cane clattered to the floor. I spun around as gracefully as I could and glared. “What are you doing sneaking about corridors at this hour?”

A sly grin slid across Thomas’s features as he motioned me into his chambers. “You realize the irony of you asking that whilst you are, in fact, sneaking about the corridor at this hour as well, don’t you?” At my annoyed sigh, he held up a plate stacked with treats and eased the door shut with his foot. “The cook made cinnamon buns slathered in melted butter and sugar. Apparently they’re for the morning, but I couldn’t help myself.” At my incredulous look, he added rather indignantly, “You try turning down the scent of cinnamon and sugar and my ultimate love: butter.”

I snatched a piece of the dessert bun off his plate and groaned in sheer bliss as it melted on my tongue. The well-balanced flavors and sweetness were enough to make me forget why I’d initially marched down here at this hour. Thomas set the plate on a dresser and eyed me with the same sort of hunger and devotion he’d gazed at the pastries with.

Without taking his attention from me, he reached over and wiped a bit of icing from the corner of my lip; then his mouth was on mine. It was warm and sweet. And wholly unexpected. The pastries had been good, but this was much better. He slowly backed us into the dresser so I could sit against it, taking my weight from my leg. While we kissed, he gently cradled my face between his hands as if I was the most precious thing in his world.

Somehow, both his consideration and our new position awakened something untamable in me. I longed for more. I pushed off from the furniture and leaned him against the bed, enjoying the flash of surprise as I deepened our kiss. Thomas recovered quickly, opening his mouth to taste me, his hands running along my spine. After a moment or two, neither one of us seemed satisfied with the distance remaining between us. His hands drifted down to my hips, gripping them in a way that was both sweet and possessive. I slipped mine under his jacket and went for the cravat at his throat, before he leashed himself.

“Wait,” he said, breathless.

I drew back, startled. “I—Is this too much?”

Thomas hooked an arm around me and tugged me near, dropping kisses from my lips to my heart and back again. Like his demeanor in the laboratory, his attention to detail was slow and deliberate. He listened to each thrum of my heart, each inhalation of breath, and used his powers of deduction for my pleasure. When he finally managed to pull away again, his breathing was as heavy as his lids. “No, Wadsworth. It’s not too much at all. It’s just—”

“It’s your virtue, isn’t it?” I teased. “You want to wait until we’re properly married.”

“God, no.” He snorted. “I’ve wanted to ravish you for an indecently long while. If I was a more selfish creature, I’d take you right this moment if you’d have me.” My attention moved from his mouth to his bed, considering. “However”—he sat down on the mattress and patted the spot next to him—“you might not wish to take things any further tonight. I—”

My earlier worries came rushing back and I interrupted him before I lost my nerve. “Have you courted someone else?”

“I—” He studied me in that swift deductive way of his. I expected to see mirth; instead he leaned over and kissed me chastely. “I have never officially courted or asked permission to court anyone. Only you.”

I breathed out, though relief was short-lived. One little distinction caught my attention. He and I weren’t officially courting, either. At least not until my father agreed to it. Thomas ran a hand over his face and I finally noticed the worry he’d been hiding.

“There’s something you ought to read,” he said. “I found this earlier and have been debating the best time to show you.”

Something akin to hysteria writhed in my gut. He must have received an anonymous letter, too. My palms were suddenly damp and my mouth bone-dry. Someone was targeting us for reasons I dared not consider. “What is it?”

“It’s—I think it’s best to see for yourself.” He flipped through a journal and removed an envelope, eyes downcast as he handed it to me. For a moment, it seemed as if the entire universe had drawn a breath, waiting for my response. My panic only increased when I removed the letter and was struck immobile at the handwriting.

It couldn’t be.

I blinked, certain I must be hallucinating. It was not written in the same hand as the letter I’d received. This one was much more familiar. I’d know it anywhere.

“What is this?” I asked, my voice betraying my fear. Thomas shook his head and remained silent. I steeled myself. His demeanor indicated it would be worse after I read it.

Blood rushed in my ears as I began reading. I now understood precisely why Thomas had held back from our clandestine moment. My limbs felt weak and I couldn’t decide if I wished to scream or cry or do some mad combination of the two. I fought the upheaval of emotion swirling in me, hoping I wouldn’t be sick this very second. Like a golden sun rising on the horizon, a new nightmare was dawning bright.

My beloved brother had one more secret he’d been keeping.

And it changed everything I thought I knew.

Dearest Sister,

If you are reading this letter, it means I’ve either been arrested or have already met with justice. What a pity. I suspect the queen and Parliament have been waiting to rip me apart for the trouble I caused. I imagine it’s been a hard time for you, but I ask that you remain strong of will and mind. Despite whatever circumstances have led us to this point, I hope this note finds you well, though perhaps you’ll feel a bit sick after you’ve finished it. It is one more regret to add to the list, I’m afraid.

I know there’s a strong chance you’ll not be pleased by my deeds, but I have one final confession to make. I liked to fancy myself as Jekyll, really. My colleague, well, let’s call him Mr. Hyde, is returning to America soon and he’s promised to continue our work there.

I love you, no matter what anyone may say—know that as truth. I’m sorry for what I’ve done, but I swear you will soon see the value of my work, even if you disagree with the methods. One day you’ll understand the truth of who Jack the Ripper is. Do not forget about my journals, dear sister. I wrote them for you and our family’s legacy.

Love forever and always,

Nathaniel Jonathan Wadsworth

SIX

A VICIOUS DISCOVERY

THOMAS’S ROOMS

FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK CITY

21 JANUARY 1889

There were two of them.

I trembled violently, almost crushing the letter in my fist as I leapt from the edge of the bed. Pain lashed up my leg like a fiery whip, reminding me to be gentle with my body, though there was no protecting my heart. I tried to ignore the angry throbbing by reading the note again. And again, my pulse raced with each treacherous sentence.

There were two of them.

It couldn’t be true. It couldn’t. And yet… I couldn’t breathe. I could barely think through the cacophony in my head. I wanted to claw my corset off and set it on fire. I wanted to run from this room and my life, and never look back.

   
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