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His American Detective



Summer Devon





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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.


His American Detective


Copyright © 2017 by Summer Devon

Cover by Fantasia Frog

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.



Dedication

For Gillian, because she’s a good egg.



Prologue

1874



Young Edmund overheard the murmurs from adults. He caught his old name: Poor Little Ned…the only survivor…that hideous murder. But then someone would immediately shush the conversation—usually Papa Sloan.

Only once during those early years did someone come right out and ask. In the school’s refectory, a new student slid onto the polished bench next to Edmund and, after prayers, introduced himself as Wensler. He picked up his spoon and, between bites of soupy porridge asked, “You’re truly Lawton? My mum told me you would be in my year. She said what happened to your family was in all the papers. Even though it was ages and ages ago.”

Edmund’s stomach squeezed tight. “Years ago.”

“Want to hear what my mother told me?”

Edmund didn’t want to know. He needed to know. He couldn’t help himself—he nodded.

Wensler spoke with relish. “It all happened in the dining room, she told me.”

Edmund waited, unable to eat another bite of lukewarm mush. He always had trouble eating at these long tables amongst the crowds of boys, in the air that smelled of burnt toast and sweat, but now his throat closed entirely. The students hadn’t been dismissed from breakfast, so he couldn’t run away from this conversation.

The papers said the whole room was all over blood.” Wensler, pale and skinny, had a wide mouth and restless hands that he used to build the scene in the air in front of him. “The bodies were on chairs pushed into the table. A grand table in a huge grand dining room. All set up like they were eating, but it was bits of their body they were eating. The eyes were all out.

Edmund couldn’t move or speak. After a moment, Wensler went on. “I wager the article didn’t say what parts they were eating. Do you know?”

Edmund shook his head.

I suppose hands or feet?” Wensler gestured to his face and his too-wide mouth. “Shoved right down their throats.”

Edmund had a fleeting glimpse of something even worse, so much worse, and he punched the boy hard on the shoulder to keep him from saying another word.

Ow, hey,” Wensler yelped. Up and down the table, chatter stopped and boys watched, amazed, for Edmund was the best-behaved boy in the school. Despite the attack, Wensler didn’t lunge at Edmund. No teachers had seen the incident, and Wensler didn’t report Edmund.

That was the end of the matter.

Except not entirely, for during his next holiday, Edmund made the mistake of going to the library and asking Papa Sloan about the bodies posed at the table. Papa Sloan carefully lowered the book he held. He stood and motioned to the door. “It’s nothing for little boys to think of. You should go to your room now.”

That cold disapproval added fuel to Edmund’s bad dreams. He woke sweating and whimpering he’d lost another home. Never mind that he’d tried to be a perfect student, a perfect foster son—he’d failed. They would take him away, and he’d lose everything again.

That same holiday, on his last full day, he listened to another conversation—he had become adept at creeping about the house and eavesdropping—between Mother Sloan and her bosom friend. “One shall miss him when he returns to school. He is a quiet, agreeable child,” she told her friend.

With that, Edmund became nearly happy. After he returned to school, he even sought out Wensler to beg his pardon for hitting him.

But you don’t want to tell me about the Dreadful Scene of the Terrible Murder?” Wensler asked, obviously disappointed.

A wave of nausea shook Edmund so he had trouble speaking. He forgot his agreeable nature. “If you talk about it again, I’ll beat you senseless.”

Within weeks, his lost family sank back into the past where it belonged, though several years later, he wondered if that event in his past had turned him into a deviant. But by then Edmund knew better than to express such troublesome thoughts to anyone, even his now-close friend, Wensler. He remained silent as the Lawtons’ tomb.







Chapter One

Ten years later, London



The source of information in London had clammed up entirely, not even returning wire messages, so Patrick persuaded his boss at the inquiry agency to let him go find answers in person. The similarities in the murders had to be worth a trip overseas, he told Mr. Greene, and the agency’s New York clients agreed.

If he were right, he’d prove himself to Mr. Greene. And maybe he’d get a chance to thumb his nose at the cops. Past time to put out the small fire of rage still burning inside him after his abridged career with the New York Police Department.

He got off the train from Liverpool and made his way to the London inquiry office without taking the time to look around the city. The British agent, a gray-haired man whose walrus-mustache ends dangled past his chin, sat behind his desk and didn’t budge from the position he’d stated in his letter. “I have nothing more to report. The gentlemen in question refuse to see us.”

You won’t even go to the house to request an interview from Edmund Lawton?” Patrick almost slipped and called him Poor Little Ned.

The ends of the man’s mustache quivered and his round face flushed. “He is Mr. Sloan. He hasn’t used that other name since he was a small child. And no, we sent a note and were refused. We will not take steps that’ll seriously annoy him. Our company’s standing is at risk. He or his foster father could persuade our clients we’re unethical.”

God save you from the wrath of an irked wealthy man,” Patrick said. “He won’t invite you to his next dinner party.”

Patrick said good-bye and left before the man had an apoplectic fit.



Since he didn’t have any appointments until the next day, Patrick went to a library to discover more about the horrible murders from the past—stories from this side of the ocean. And he was direly curious why the two Mr. Sloans wielded so much power in society. He didn’t find anything new. The foster father, a lawyer, had appeared in newspaper stories and society columns, attending all sorts of highfalutin events until he’d grown ill a year ago.

The younger Sloan had always been a recluse and was rarely mentioned in those endless lists of party-goers. Lawton/Sloan apparently belonged to a number of clubs and was on all sorts of committees. Neither seemed the kind of men to break legs if things didn’t go their way. But what did Patrick know of wealthy men? Maybe they dispatched their enemies as often as dockworkers, but with more finesse and discretion.

The next morning, he took the time to be a tourist only long enough to walk several miles from his hotel to the home of Mr. Edmund Sloan, born Ned Lawton, a man only two years Patrick’s senior, who had spent more money on just this one London address than Patrick would earn in his lifetime. And, ha, the man had another house in the country.

Sloan had lived through hell but now lived in paradise, if a looming townhouse in London fit anyone’s version of heaven.

Every inch of Lawton/Sloans small corner of the city seemed to have been scrubbed clean by an army of servants. Even the potted topiary trees out front of the carved granite steps didn’t have a polished leaf out of place.

Poor little rich boy, Patrick thought as he slapped the gleaming brass knocker against the sky-blue door. A guy in tails answered the door. Patrick’s very first real English butler. He snapped the man a salute. “I’m here to see Mr. Sloan.”

The butler didn’t look him up and down, nothing so vulgar. His gaze flickered, though. “What name shall I give?”

“I’m Mr. Kelly, late of New York, on an official investigation.” In his old life, he would have pulled out his badge, but he worked for Mr. Greene’s private company now and had nothing to show other than a commanding air, which he hoped he could still manage.

“If you would leave your card, sir?”

“No, don’t have one,” he lied. “And tell him I can wait as long as it takes. I need to see him.”

The butler led him into a huge room, all marble, dark wood, and a roaring fire. “Please wait here.”

Alone, Patrick pulled off his hat and threw it on a chair. Why would he be allowed run of the house? And then he noticed a burly man standing in the corner, his feet shoulder width apart, his hands behind his back. He had the blank face of a cop or a vagrant, only with a better haircut.

Patrick wandered over. “My guess is you’re a footman.”

Still staring into the distance, the man gave a tiny nod.

“Ha! Wonderful. What’s your name?”

“Liam, sir.”

“Irish?”

Liam’s mouth went thin, and for a moment, his eyes shifted to Patrick. “No sir.”

Apparently even the question was an insult. Patrick’s mother might give the man a good talking-to. As it was, Patrick felt the need to prod more, just for the sake of entertainment. He already knew that Mr. Sloan was a well-liked young man with many friends and no enemies, other than anyone who tried to talk to him about his past.

He gazed around at all the knickknacks and statues and thought about the man with no enemies. How had a man as rich as Sloan managed that?

Mr. Edmund Sloan gave to charity. He attended the opera, plays, musical fetes, dances, but he didn’t sit down to dine with anyone, not even at his two clubs. Before they’d clammed up, the British inquiry agency had reported that Sloan must live on air.

Patrick asked Liam, “How do you like working for Mr. Sloan?”

Fine, sir.” Liam’s gaze shifted to the door. He obviously longed for the butler to return and rescue him. Which, of course, made Patrick all the more interested in quizzing him.

“Have you been here long?”

“Three years, sir.”

“Mr. Sloan is a good employer?”

“None better, sir.”

“And the pay is good?”

Again the mouth went thin and the eyes grew cold. Patrick had been warned that talk of money was uncultured. “There are no positions open at the time,” Liam said, showing real emotion at last. “And if you wanted to work for Mr. Sloan, you would apply to Mr. Becker, the butler, and enter through the side door, the servants’ entrance.”

That explained the sudden hostility. “Whoops. I’m here for Sloan, not Becker. But I’ll keep your advice in mind.” He wandered over to an ornate display case and examined the pottery behind the glass. It looked ugly to him, all giant blue and red and green Chinese things. On the mantel, a gold-and-china clock ticked, and a bulging-eyed silver cow stood next to that. Sloan might be wealthy, but his taste ran to froufrou junk.

He grabbed one of the heavier sculptures of a mother and child.

This one is a tad nicer,” he remarked to the footman. “Even though they look feeble-minded, the way they’re goggling at each other.”

Liam actually took a step forward. “Sir. That’s a very valuable piece.”

“Really.” Patrick turned it over to examine its base. “Looks like something that I could win on the boardwalk at Coney Island.”

I have a Dalou, if you prefer something more modern.” The cultured voice came from a man standing in the doorway. He and Patrick might be about the same age, but this man had scads more sophistication, which made him seem ancient in a way—timeless. Wealth at a glance at forty paces. The impression came from all the details added up: a fine gray suit, elegant hands, glossy dark hair, and a patronizing smirk.

“Please put that down,” Mr. Supercilious said.

Patrick took another second to look at the sculpture—just to show he wasn’t about to take orders. He needed this guy, though, and when he put the thing back on the mantel, he did so with care. He went to Sloan and stuck out his hand.

“Patrick Kelly from New York.”

Sloan stared at his outstretched hand before at last giving it a short, firm shake. The strength in his fingers surprised Patrick. Then Sloan took a step away and put his hands at his back. Did he avoid touch, or had he been trained to use parade rest?

“Why are you here in London, Mr. Kelly?” Mr. Sloan’s directness suited Patrick just fine.

To see you, Mr. Sloan,” he said. He dropped his voice. “Or, I should say, Mr. Lawton.”

Patrick appreciated the way the man fought surprise and nearly won—a fast pucker of eyebrows, a mouth squeezed tight. Sloan had nothing on the butler when it came to hiding emotion.

Sloan must have sent some signal behind his back, because the footman crossed the room and left, closing the door silently behind him.

Patrick tensed when the expression on Sloan’s face shifted to something more vivid—the dark eyes filled with anger. The illustrations Patrick had seen of Poor Ned Lawton from years ago had caught the shape of those eyes, rimmed by lashes almost as extravagant as the boy had had. That must have been a nuisance for him with other boys.

“How much do you want?” Sloan asked.

“Huh?”

To keep your mouth closed. How many pounds? No doubt some dreadful publication has set you on my trail, but I’ll pay more to kill the story. What’s your price? And I’ll add a bonus if you give me your publisher’s name.”

“Didn’t your butler tell you? I’m an investigator from New York. We sent someone from London around to talk to you, but you refused to see him. And apparently he’s too frightened of you and your foster father to be pushy. I’m not afraid.”

Sloan raised his chin and narrowed his eyes. He still looked handsome rather than threatening. “I am not an idiot, sir. How much will it take? Is that why you were examining the Terrinoni sculpture? Will that suffice to keep you quiet? Take it and go away.”

“Mr. Lawton—”

“I am Sloan.” He snarled the words.

“And I am not lying. I really am an investigator. I’m looking into some murders in New York.”

“You’re already facing difficulties,” Sloan snapped.

“What do you mean?”

“You apparently don’t realize New York is in the United States, not Great Britain.”

Patrick laughed at the unexpected flash of humor from this man, even if the joke was stupid.

Lawton said, “I’m serious. I’ve never been to New York and have nothing to offer. The person who was responsible for the Lawton affair died years ago in prison. He admitted to committing the crimes. Why would any investigator wish to unearth the matter now?”

Good. Lawton/Sloan seemed more curious than outraged now. Patrick reached for the papers he’d put in his inside jacket pocket. “We have a theory now that Weller, the man who died in prison, did not work alone. I need to see if any details of the murder scenes I’m investigating match the scene of your family’s death.”

Sloan took a step back, almost stumbling over a large chair near the fire. “No. The killer is dead and buried. You don’t need me. If you’re so fascinated by the details, read the newspaper accounts from that time.”

“Not every detail showed up in the papers. I just need a quick comparison. I’ve read the public records and the official reports, and here’s the thing. The similarities between that murder and the more recent ones are pretty compelling.”

“Weller must have been alone.” He pinched the bridge of his nose hard. “If you want to pursue this nonsense, feel free to waste your time. Look at the police reports. You need nothing from me.”

It finally dawned on Patrick that fear rather than anger propelled this Lawton. Poor Edmund Lawton had been about five the night his family died.

Just like that, Patrick abandoned his hostility for the man, despite Lawton’s wealth and sneering. Patrick suddenly wanted to pull the pale creature into a comforting hug.

Patrick knew his world could be simplistic, the way it often divided into two easy-to-spot camps: oppressors and victims. He was firmly on the side of the victims, of course, and handsome, wealthy Mr. Lawton/Sloan had stepped over the line to huddle with the masses.

“Of course a man wouldn’t want to revisit the worst nightmare of his life. I wouldn’t ask if I could find someone else”—Oh, very clever, Patrick, remind him he’s the sole survivor. That should soothe him—“but if I’m right and one of the people who did this is still killing people, I need all the help I can find.”

“You must look elsewhere for your help.” Lawton/Sloan walked over to the door and opened it. “Please leave now.”

“Mr. Sloan. No one has asked you for any details in the past, at least not on any official records. No one. Yet you must have seen something.”

“Nonsense.” But Sloan’s voice quavered, and his already pale skin went whiter. “Nothing. They caught the man, and they didn’t need me. I wasn’t there.”

Patrick riffled the papers in his hand. “I’ve read the inspector’s report. You had blood on you, sir. No one could accuse a small five-year-old child of setting that stage. But you wandered onto it at some point.”

“No.” The man lunged away. Patrick thought he was running from the room, but he grabbed a chair and eased onto it.

“Are you going to faint, Mr. Sloan?”

*

It had been so long since he’d had to fight off the ridiculous cowardice.

“I’m not going to swoon,” Edmund said peevishly.

He felt sick but even more disturbing was the rage coursing through him. He longed to rip this man to shreds. Pieces. Of bodies.

He imagined plowing a fist into Kelly’s face. The last time he’d hit someone had been more than ten years earlier.

He and Wensler had become best of friends after that, but Edmund would never be friendly with this idiot American.

“Mr. Sloan?” Patrick Kelly stood too near him. “Here, let me show you this.”

Oh Lord, no. Could this Patrick Kelly have found the other culprit? No, no, there wasn’t another.

“Mr. Sloan?”

“I am not going to look at your blasted papers. Reporter or investigator, whatever you may be.”

“It’s not a report. It’s a letter from my boss.”

Rather than open his mouth and risk screaming or worse, Edmund took the paper and scanned the words. The bearer of this paper, Patrick Kelly, had been dispatched on behalf of Greene Investigations. Edmund swallowed and managed to speak. “You’re not from the police, then?”

“A family of one set of victims hired us.”

The faintness and nausea had passed, and Edmund straightened in the chair. He didn’t rise to his feet, though—he’d be nearly chest to chest with Kelly if he did. “Could you move, Mr. Kelly? You’re crowding me.”

“Sure. If you’re fine?”

“My health is not your concern.” He folded up the paper and handed it back.

“You believe I’m not a newspaper reporter?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t change my answer to you.”

Kelly walked away. For a happy second, he appeared to be heading out the door. No, he grabbed a chair—a heavy wood-and-padded chair he carried as if it weighed next to nothing. He plonked it next to Edmund’s and sat as if settling in for a cozy chat.

“Mr. Sloan, you hide yourself well.”

“Apparently not well enough.”

Kelly reacted as if Edmund had made a joke. He had one of those smiles that brought laugh lines into sharp relief and lifted his face into magnificence. He’d been too good-looking already, blue eyes, dark hair, pale skin, a round chin, and a full lower lip. That expression made Patrick Kelly into something Edmund thoroughly resented—and he couldn’t look away.

“I found you, but others might not. Greene Investigations has resources,” Kelly said. “My point is I understand how much you value your privacy and that you don’t want to be associated with what happened to your parents and sisters.”

Was the bastard threatening him with blackmail? Edmund pulled in a long breath and shifted his gaze to the fire. “My parents are Mr. and Mrs. Sloan. I have no sisters.”

Absurd to give this automatic response to a man who knew his secret. Edmund waited for Kelly’s ridicule or the threat.

Instead, Kelly only nodded. “Edmund Lawton died that night, then? In a manner of speaking?”

No, he survived, the little rotter. “Yes, that’s right,” Edmund said cautiously. Yet the investigator’s statement had a ring of truth after all. Edmund, once known as Ned Lawton, hadn’t died that night, but soon after—when Mr. Sloan had taken him in.

Several days after his family died came a far smaller loss, one he barely noticed. Ned became Edmund. Mr. Sloan had insisted the name didn’t fit. Strangers might call him Poor Little Ned, but nobody who actually knew him called him by that nickname again. Mr. Sloan, always formal and kind and always calm…except perhaps that one time.

The investigator’s presence brought back too much. Papa Sloan’s expression of horror as he reached to pick up Edmund—had that been to haul him up from the bloody table? That came from a dream. Papa Sloan hadn’t been at the scene—neither he nor Edmund had been…

Edmund wet his lips. Another person had been there? When Kelly had said there had been two perpetrators, the expression the other shoe has dropped came into his mind. He hadn’t been as shocked as he should have been.

Weller hadn’t been alone. This man had come to his house now to find another killer.

Now Edmund felt as frozen and compelled as he’d been that morning with Wensler in the school’s refectory. “Where was the blood?”

Kelly’s dark brows went up. He leafed through the papers on his lap. “Everywhere. Some had been put in teacups and—”

“No! No.” Edmund lowered his voice. “I mean where was the blood on young Lawton?”

“On his nightshirt and his foot. And a few small footprints.”

He used third person for Lawton. Mr. Kelly wasn’t as much of a brute as he’d first seemed.

Still, Edmund could not, would not, open that box in his mind any wider. He’d lose everything. “I can’t help you.”

“I could give you some descriptions, see if you find anything familiar in the other homicide scenes.”

More than the man’s obnoxious persistence, that last word seemed to punch Edmund in the chest. Because he’d said scenes, plural—more than one horrific incident had taken place. More people had died, and his nightmares might be coming to life.

He didn’t want to hear any sort of description of murders. The thought nauseated him. But killing had happened again, and he couldn’t ignore Kelly now, no matter how much he longed to, no matter how insufferably pushy the man might be. “How many times?”

“Three. Two in New York, one in Boston. A total of seven victims. We’ve been hired by one of the New York families. You haven’t heard of these murders? They’ve made it into the British press. Our local agent sent us the clippings. The man you refused to see?”

Edmund shook his head. “I had no idea. I have an assistant to deal with any inquiries.” And curse the man for going out of town for a wedding.

“Of course you would,” the detective muttered.

Edmund didn’t know what that meant, so he went on. “I avoid even glancing at articles with headlines with words such as ‘gruesome’ or ‘murder’ or ‘hideous deaths.’”

The detective nodded. “That makes sense.”

Edmund could breathe easily again. He still resented this man’s intrusion, but the past was slinking back into the shadows. “I find it hard to believe there’s any connection to the Lawton family. That event occurred more than a dozen years ago and outside of London.”

Kelly leaned forward, elbows on knees, an informal hunch. “I have read the reports from the authorities, Mr. Sloan. Parts of the reports were secret. Details were not repeated in the press because they were so…offensive.”

What body parts do you suppose they ate?” Wensler had asked

Kelly went on, “But those same specific details were repeated in the American murders. Do you see? Someone who had firsthand knowledge of the Lawton event is now killing people in the US. Or maybe it’s one of the investigators or a witness. We need all the help we can get to find the killer.”

The Lawton deaths were very old news, Edmund reminded himself. Never mind that after all these years, simple talk could send him careening into a near swoon. Never mind that there could be another perpetrator.

What more embarrassing thing could happen if he explored the forbidden past? It wasn’t as if he’d die. He wouldn’t be dragged to the table and slaughtered.

Edmund felt a kick of frustration. Come, frustration must be an improvement—it might drive out the terror.

Papa Sloan had said don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. All these years, Edmund had stayed true to his promise he wouldn’t. But that vow had been made before someone asked for help…Kelly asked not out of morbid curiosity but because he required assistance.

“Mr. Sloan?” Kelly’s voice broke into his peculiar, disjointed thoughts. “Is that some kind of whisky or something in that decanter? Do you need something to drink? You’re awfully pale.”

“No.” He shook his head.

“Should I come back another day?”

“I will try to help you if I can. Now.” He wanted this man gone.

“That’s the boy!” Kelly said enthusiastically.

Edmund concentrated on Kelly’s smile, until he realized he was staring at the other man’s lips.

“You sure you don’t want something to drink?” Kelly asked.

For the first time since he’d entered the room, Edmund felt like laughing. “Good heavens. I’ve just realized that ought to be my question. Would you care for some tea?”

No, that was a mistake. He shouldn’t treat an investigator as a guest. The man would be more at home eating with the servants in the kitchens.

“Sure, thanks,” Kelly said, so Edmund had to rise to his feet and walk to the bell. At least he felt as steady as usual now.

Now that he’d offered Mr. Kelly food and drink, Edmund would be stuck with him for at least another half hour. They’d talk about the day the Lawtons had died. Another wave of dizziness hit him, but Edmund would be damned if his body’s strange response would control him.

When Becker appeared almost at once, Edmund considered requesting hot food for Kelly—a laborer might enjoy the fare of high tea—but that would take more time. The less time the man remained, the better. “Also a selection of cakes and perhaps a few sandwiches. Nothing elaborate.”

“Yes, sir.” Becker took a second to examine the visitor. No one else would have noticed the pause, but Edmund knew his butler—and he could tell by the quirk of his mouth that Becker strongly disapproved of Patrick Kelly. Too rough? Too loud? Was the disapproval simply because Edmund entertained him like a gentleman? Edmund wished he could simply ask, but he knew better than to gossip with the servants.

Mr. Kelly’s dark blue suit and frock coat couldn’t be called elegant and had probably not been made for him, yet he presented a reasonably sober and businesslike appearance. If it weren’t for his size and breezy manner, and accent, he could be mistaken for a professor over from Trinity College in Dublin. Once he walked or opened his mouth or slouched in a chair, however, that impression was lost.

The trays of food were soon delivered. Edmund dismissed Liam, Becker, and Joseph as soon as they set the small table for tea. He held a cup and saucer and didn’t even pretend to eat.

Mr. Kelly ate enough for two of them.

“This is excellent, thank you,” Mr. Kelly said after he’d consumed nearly all the sandwiches and cakes. “Are you sure you don’t want anything? Oh, wait! I recall you don’t eat in strange company, and I guess I count as a stranger.”

Edmund drank his tea and didn’t answer. What else did the intrusive stranger know about him?

“From what I understand, that and your reclusive nature are your only eccentricities. Pretty good, considering your past. And avoiding dining with others makes sense too.”

And, for the first time, the pieces fell into place. Edmund understood as well. How ridiculously simple the explanation. Why had he never seen it for himself? The dining room. That night and food, a link he hadn’t seen, despite the obvious truth.

A link had been formed—very well, he would break it. For a moment, his throat closed again. He coughed.

“It is a choice,” he lied to Kelly, his unwelcome guest. “Nothing to do with my past.”

He didn’t even bother with a plate but simply plucked a small sandwich from the pile and put it in his mouth. It tasted of dust and cement, but he chewed, swallowed, and said, “See?”

A sense of pure triumph chased away nausea. The next time his parents invited him to dine with strangers, he would do more than simply cut and mangle the food on his plate. They’d be astonished, and their one complaint about their foster son would be silenced.

A grown man needn’t woo his family, he reminded himself. An adult could be less eager to please.

The private inquiry agent watched him intently, like a cat taking position outside a mouse’s nest. That hungry gleam irritated Edmund.

He said, “Surely you didn’t sail all the way across the ocean just to talk to me.”

“I want to check all possible details of the Lawton case, and some of the police reports and other material can only be examined here in London. I’d hoped you’d be able to come with me.”

“Never. Not if my life depended on it.”

Kelly chuckled as if he’d said something funny. “All right, all right, Mr. Sloan. I won’t force you. And no one else will either. Apparently, the police are scared of you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Part of the reason I’m here today is that I couldn’t get anyone in the whole blasted country of England to come to your house and talk to you about your past.” Kelly put his empty plate on the table. “I’m not sure who you paid off or threatened, but I’ll bet it must have been some tidy payment to shut them all down.”

Edmund’s palms had grown damp, and he rubbed them over his thighs. He hadn’t spoken to any representative of the law about Ned Lawton for years. Not since he was a child. Papa Sloan… But why would he go through so much effort to protect Edmund now that he was an adult?

“You exaggerate,” Edmund said.

“Probably a little.” Kelly leaned forward and held Edmund’s attention. His hunter’s gaze would see far too much, yet Edmund couldn’t look away. Kelly said, “But I’m not lying. I wrote to the metropolitan police and two private agencies, and they refused to contact you. They said you threatened them.”

Edmund shook his head.

“No? You’re still not going to cooperate?”

He had to speak. More people had died, and he must answer this man’s questions. He had to clear his throat again. “No, that’s not it. I have never instructed the police or anyone other than the press to leave me alone. And I’ve never threatened anyone with more than expulsion from my home.”

Kelly’s eyes sparkled with obvious amusement. “Well, well. Isn’t that interesting. The one person who was willing to write to me seemed to think the prohibition and bullying came from you.”

“What did he say?”

Kelly opened the packet and rummaged around. He pulled out a grubby bit of paper and handed it over. “A police constable. You’ll forgive me if I don’t show you his name and address.” The page, part of a letter, had been written in a rounded hand.

I showed your missive to several of my superiors. The detective I talked to was told we should not bother the gentleman named Mr. Sloan, who you say is poor Little Ned Lawton. We are not to open the case despite the information you shared with us. I am curious, as you can imagine. I must believe money has changed hands, tho I dare not say more. If you find out anything, I hope you will send a note. Best to send it to my home address.

Edmund read and quickly put down the paper so Kelly wouldn’t notice the faint tremor in his hand. “Likely this man imagines conspiracies behind every potted palm.” He was about to say something about those who resent the wealthier members of society, but he suspected Mr. Kelly might also be one of those.

Mr. Kelly ignored his remark. “If you didn’t stamp your foot and demand silence, then who did on your behalf?”

He wasn’t ready to answer that question, not yet. Not until he’d had a chance to speak to his father.

Chapter Two

Patrick had been prepared to dislike the wealthy Mr. Edmund Sloan, but he couldn’t hate him despite his best effort. The heir’s entitled manner seemed more like a dread of the past than snobbery. Patrick couldn’t even loathe him for his good looks—they didn’t have that exaggerated winsomeness of the old etchings of Poor Little Ned Lawton. This adult version of Ned/Edmund had grown into those eyelashes and large dark eyes all those drawings had shown. The rounded cheeks had given way to hard angles in a thin face, though the Cupid’s bow mouth still had a strong indentation on the upper lip.

Despite his confident and well-groomed exterior, the gentleman’s hands trembled with any mention of the Lawton case. Ned Sloan was frightened, and that intrigued Patrick. More than just fear of the past, he likely had a secret—probably the identity of the person who’d forced law enforcement to stay away from Edmund Sloan.

Patrick would put his money on the lawyer who’d taken in the boy after the murder. “Say, I know you took his name, but how come Lawyer Sloan didn’t formally adopt you?”

The way Sloan started, Patrick knew he’d hit on the truth of who Sloan might be thinking about.

“That’s quite a personal question,” he sputtered.

“Yep.” Patrick waited.

“It has nothing to do with your investigation.”

“I’m a curious person.”

“An intrusive one.”

“Of course. I’d be a rotten investigator if I wasn’t.”

The hint of a smile flashed across Mr. Sloan’s face. “There is a good reason he did not formally adopt me.”

He told Patrick some peculiar story about the Lawton inheritance and Sloan’s unwillingness to touch it. “He is my father,” Sloan finished. “There might not be legal papers to prove it, but he has always been my father.”

“No, not always,” Patrick said.

“Nearly as long as I can remember.”

“Nearly, you say? That must mean you do have some memories of life before that night.”

Sloan scowled. His shoulders-back, chin-high gentleman’s posture seemed to melt a little, as if he slid into himself.

No one should hide from memories the way this Sloan did. But it wasn’t Patrick’s job to drag the poor man to the truth. He only needed some details of that day, but that would be kicking a puppy at this point.

Patrick sighed and gave up. “If you want to toss me out on my ear now, I won’t protest. I guess I’ll look for answers elsewhere.”

“I said…” Sloan stopped and drew in a breath. “More people have died. I must help. If there was some connection…and I ran away—that would be selfish.”

Patrick reached over and put a consoling hand on Sloan’s arm. Bad idea. Under his palm lay surprisingly firm muscle and heat—and all sorts of images and ideas flooded his mind. Pull him over onto your lap. A long embrace will help you both.

He’d long ago shut away that nonsense and spent very little time regretting his misdirected instincts. Life was too short and interesting to moan about such things. But sometimes when lust woke up and picked out a particular fellow, his mind got clouded. Patrick didn’t want that now, and not with this man.

“Right, good.” What were they talking about again? He shifted away and became the awkward one in the room—unusual for him. “Thank you for helping. Um… You don’t need to see the illustrations. All thirdhand drawings, at any rate. No artists or photographers visited the scene.”

Sloan folded his arms over his chest. “Perhaps the reports are exaggerated.”

“Sorry, no. Not from what I’ve read and heard. Many of the same descriptions come up in the reports.” He didn’t look down at the paper. He didn’t need to. Instead, he watched Sloan’s pale face. “In the attack on the Americans, all of their faces were mutilated…”

“The eyes were gouged and laid out,” Sloan whispered. He closed his own eyes for a long moment. “That was from my…past. I’m not sure where I heard that detail. I must have gotten it from Wensler.”

“Who’s that? An officer who’d been on the case?”

“No. A boy I was at school with. He insisted on approaching me and talking about the Lawtons. I didn’t even know him then.”

“Was his father a police officer or inspector?”

Another ghost of a smile touched the corners of his full mouth. It took a sharp eye to see emotion on Edmund Sloan’s face. “The school I attended had no sons of police officers or even inspectors. His father was a wealthy merchant, I believe. Wensler was considered highly vulgar by my classmates.”

“Ah. So no one you associated with.”

“He eventually became my best friend.”

“Interesting that the one pushing person would end up your friend. But here’s something even more interesting. That detail about the eyes being laid out in a row was not mentioned in any newspaper stories. If you know it, you probably didn’t learn it from your boyhood friend.” Patrick waited, but the man only stared at him. In a soft voice, Patrick said, “I suspect you saw it, sir.”

“Dear God,” Sloan whispered. He rose to his feet. No more subtle emotion—his face had gone pale as milk. Patrick sprang up, ready to grab him should he fall.

Sloan managed to steady himself—but a tear ran down from the corner of his eye. Patrick silently cursed. He’d hurt someone who’d done nothing to deserve it. Never mind the fact that Patrick had to gain information—or perhaps the man’s pain wasn’t real—he fought the urge to say never mind all this; I’ll go now. Being a tender-heart could be a nuisance sometimes.

“Aw hell,” he said. “I’m sorry you have to face that night again.”

That stiffened the gentleman’s backbone. “There is absolutely nothing wrong,” he said stiff and correct. “You have no reason to worry about me.”

Patrick reached over and touched the trace of a tear with his forefinger. “It’s fine,” he said. “I won’t tell anyone.”

And he did the one thing he’d already dismissed as lunatic. He pulled Mr. Edmund Sloan into a hug—not the hail-fellow-well-met sort of hearty embrace, but something far more gentle, without so much as a slap on the back.

“Mr. Kelly, you are absurd. You forget yourself.” Yet Sloan didn’t push away. All right, Patrick liked the feel of the man, just a bit taller but more slender than himself, skinny, even. For a moment, Sloan rested against him, only a second and his breath came faster.

He held on through several heartbeats, only dropping his arms when Sloan pushed against him.

“Sorry,” Patrick said, without feeling a bit of remorse. But seeing the stricken look in Sloan’s eyes, he did feel a bit sorry after all. “Aw, no, don’t tell me my poor attempt to offer comfort has made the whole thing worse.”

“No, no.” Sloan backed away and put a chair between them. He glared.

Patrick raised his hands, palms out. “I won’t assault you again, I promise.”

“That is correct. You won’t.”

“At least you’re not sad or afraid anymore. You’re just angry.”

Sloan shook his head. He did that a lot. A few seconds passed, marked by the tick of a clock somewhere in the room. “You are one of the strangest men I’ve ever met.” Sloan sounded nearly steady again, though hardly friendly.

“Ill-bred, I’ll bet you’d say,” Patrick said.

Sloan only raised his eyebrows.

“Just occurred to me. You liked that Wenceslaus character you went to school with, so I must be the sort you’re attracted to for friendship.”

“Mr. Kelly, you have no right to…” he began, then blinked a few times. “You’ve distracted me.”

“That’s a good thing,” Patrick pointed out. “You were upset by what I was saying, so I kinda stomped on your toe, so to speak, and sidetracked you.” He gave Sloan a big grin.

Sloan put his face in his hands. For a moment, Patrick worried he’d broken down entirely, but no, he just gave his face a brisk rub and looked up again. “What an interesting method. I’m not sure I understand what you intend with that particular ‘sidetrack.’” His voice had gone even colder.

“Sure you do.”

Sloan’s attention dropped to the empty platter that had held the sandwiches. Maybe he was hungry. Patrick shouldn’t have wolfed down all the food.

“I don’t know where you received your information about me.” Sloan spoke to the crumbs on the plate, it seemed. “But I won’t admit to anything. You’re wasting your time if you think I’ll pay to keep silent about that.” He looked up and met Patrick’s eyes. “If I’m wrong and you’re not trying to entrap me, I apologize for the insult.”

Understanding finally dawned, and Patrick began to laugh. “I must be tired or something. I didn’t catch on.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I didn’t understand—now I do. You think I’m going to extort money from you because you…ah…” Words failed him. He wasn’t sure what men who desired men would be called here in England. Sodomite was an ugly word, and Sloan was already on edge, poor bastard. “Because you got more than comfort from the hug.”

The skin around Sloan’s mouth went white.

“I can see you’re pressing your lips together so tight you’re liable to hurt yourself. Go on and tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I don’t wish to continue this sort of conversation with you. I don’t know you. I don’t know if you’re honest or a schemer. You walk into my house and upset my…my plans.”

“You have something to do this afternoon?” He really was curious but that question came out all sneering. It didn’t help when he explained, “What does a gent like you do all day? I couldn’t figure it out from the report.”

“Never mind.” He began to pace. “I can’t stand this,” he muttered.

“What’s the problem?”

“I’m not allowed to leave that goddamned night behind. You’re…” He shook his head and didn’t continue.

He remained too pale, with spots of color on his cheeks, and his eyes seemed haunted, little lost Ned Lawton once more.

“All right. Let me try again,” Patrick spoke too heartily. “Say, I’ll bet being cooped up in this house while we talk isn’t a good plan. How about we go for a walk or something. I can walk and take notes—a peculiar skill of mine. The air outside helps to settle jangled nerves.”

“My nerves are fine. And they’re not your concern.”

Yes, they were his concern, at least until he got what he needed from Sloan. And the poor man vibrated with suppressed emotion. Maybe Patrick could help alleviate the tension.

He allowed himself the sort of grin he only used on occasion, usually late at night in very particular company. It had been a long time too since he’d indulged in visits to a private club’s smoky back room.

“But my nerves are shot.” Patrick lowered his voice. This was a dumb risk, but he did enjoy watching the man’s eyes widen. “That hug we shared? It might not be something you enjoyed, but I did. Yes, indeed. Enjoying male companionship? I’m not sure what that kind of thing does to a man here, but back home, it would earn me five to twenty years.” He leaned close enough so he could smell the scent of expensive cologne and warm male and see the rapid rise and fall of Sloan’s chest under the elegant suit. “Do you ever risk time in prison?”

He came closer still. Sloan didn’t move, and Patrick actually brushed his cheek with his fingers. He felt warm flesh and a wash of air from an astonished gasp. Just a bit of a lean and he could feel that roughened skin under his lips. Not that he’d indulge with Sloan, but he could contemplate the idea—and see what such a suggestion did to the man.

“No.” Sloan drew away from Patrick. “I do not do such things.” Hallelujah, he didn’t scream for the constable—or deny such impulses ever came to him.

Patrick rubbed his fingers over his mouth to wipe the start of desire. Hell, he’d touched other people, even his own mother in such a way, but this moment held far more power. Who was he fooling? It had been an intimate touch and he shouldn’t have done it. It had been a sort of taunt—to them both, really.

Sloan was speaking, understandably furious under his calm tones. “The only reason I will deal with you, Mr. Kelly, is because you’ve convinced me that, if I can, I must help catch a criminal. I pray you’re not a criminal as well. Let me assure you once again that I am not going to break any laws.”

His voice might be even and quiet, but he did an awful lot of protesting—Patrick was smart enough not to point that out. He was too busy yelling silently at himself for being an idiot.

Sloan strode toward the door, though at least he stopped to look back and jerk his head at Kelly to follow. In the grand foyer, Sloan tugged on gloves, grabbed a swell-looking hat from his butler, and slammed it on his head, all without looking at Patrick. The butler handed him a silver-topped walking stick. And sure enough, Sloan had a narrow-eyed expression, as if he wished he could thump the cane over Patrick’s head.

Fine. Sloan had shaken himself out of that strange state. And good thing he hadn’t said yes to Patrick’s baser desires, because maybe they could get back to business. The thought of Sloan’s body, those dark eyes glittering with excitement, oh, and that warm body against his—he’d contemplate that image later. Now he’d return to the details of murder.

*

Edmund did not care for strong feelings—and that meant he was a hypocrite, because he had some very strong emotions about change and mayhem. He loathed them. Patrick Kelly appeared and offered him both with a twanging accent and a big, white-toothed grin.

The American should have behaved as a professional, not treated Edmund like a casual acquaintance, pushing him every which way, offering sympathy and then offering pure temptation. He’d never seen such a jolly, easygoing attempt at sodomy, and had rarely been so tempted to break the promise he’d made to himself.

Utter nonsense. They should both be more concerned by the fact that the Lawtons’ killer might still be alive.

That chilling thought would be enough to draw any man out of the confusion of desire.

Edmund stood indecisively on his own doorstep, unwilling to walk one of his usual routes. They would not go west toward Hyde Park or east in the direction of the British Museum. He didn’t want to have to explain Kelly to anyone he knew.

He set off in the direction of Regent’s Park. If they walked far enough, they might see the ladies of Bedford College, and he could and would admire their figures and fresh faces.

Kelly walked with a small leather-bound book in one hand and a pencil in the other. His fingers were long, and a bit of hair showed at his cuffs. Those hands and roughly cut short nails drew Edmund’s attention too thoroughly but Kelly apparently didn’t notice as he flipped through the book and didn’t turn those annoyingly blue eyes in Edmund’s direction. He stopped and looked up from the book briefly, but didn’t meet Edmund’s gaze. “Let’s start with what you do recall.” He spoke briskly, as if he hadn’t embraced Edmund or made outrageous suggestions. “You don’t have memories of that night.”

“No, I don’t.” Edmund walked a few more steps. The words stuck, and he forced them out. “I have had dreams about it, though.”

“Oh?”

Before he could continue, someone called out, “Sloan, it is you. How d’you do?” A familiar man walked quickly toward them, holding out a hand ready to shake in greeting. He had reddish hair and large teeth, and was probably on some board or another. The orphanage? Edmund’s skill at recalling names and faces abandoned him.

The man grasped Edmund’s hand and pumped it. “I’m Dawlish, and of course you wouldn’t recall me. I was two years behind you at university.”

Dawlish turned his attention to Kelly. “How do you do, sir?” A prompt for an introduction that Edmund did not want to perform.

“Dawlish, yes, of course. You read history I believe? We shall have to meet and discuss the old days. Another time.” Edmund wasn’t usually so clumsy, but he wanted to get Kelly on his way. That outspoken man would announce the American investigation to the world. Poor Ned Lawton would rise up again.

“I’m Patrick Kelly, visiting from the US.” Kelly shook Dawlish’s hand.

“Are you enjoying your stay?” Dawlish asked.

Kelly glanced sideways at Edmund, and his eyes glittered with amusement or mischief. The bastard. “Yes indeed, London’s a lovely city. I’m here on business, but I hope I’ll get a chance to see all the sights.”

Edmund began to breathe easily again.

“Ah, wonderful. What sort of business brings you here?”

Hadn’t this prying Dawlish ever paid any attention to the rules of society? Why couldn’t he discuss the unseasonably warm weather like an ordinary gentleman?

“I’m investigating possibilities for my company,” Kelly said. And even Dawlish, pushy though he was, wouldn’t try for more information after that ambiguous response.

They exchanged a few more phrases—agreeing that the weather was indeed fine—before Dawlish continued on his way in the other direction.

Edmund felt as if he had successfully clambered to safety. He relaxed as much as he could in Kelly’s presence.

Chapter Three

“Thank you for not telling Dawlish about your purpose here,” Edmund muttered.

“I’m not going to drag your old life into your new one, Mr. Sloan. I think I’ve already made that promise. If I hadn’t, I will now. Anything we say will be confidential.”

“In exchange for my cooperation, of course.”

“Sure,” Kelly agreed. “Now that Mr. Dawlish is out of earshot—”

“Lord Dawlish, actually.”

Kelly stopped walking, and a delighted smile lit his face. “You’re kidding. My first British lord, and I didn’t even know. I’m collecting these things.”

“I beg your pardon? What are you collecting?”

“I’ve met up with my first butler and footman. And now a lord? This is a rich day for me.”

“And what, pray tell, will you win when you have collected a full set?”

“Bragging rights? What do you get when you collect all that sculpture in your house?”

“Many of the pieces of art came to me from my…past.” He hadn’t told anyone. Only Papa Sloan knew that, as an adult, Edmund had taken many of the Lawton family’s items from a warehouse where they had been stored.

“Interesting.”

What the devil did that mean? Interesting how? Why? Edmund increased his pace to stop himself asking. Kelly kept up easily. Edmund asked, “What else is on your list for this visit?”

“If I have the time, Madame Tussaud’s, of course.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Edmund.

“Hey? I’ll just bet you hate the place.”

Edmund, who’d heard there was a wax figure of the Lawtons’ murderer with red fingers, would rather go blind than set foot in it. He said, “I’ve never visited. Any other objects or people you need to meet for your list?”

“None I can think of. But I’ll know what I should check off my list after I see it.”

The conversation had lapsed into something almost normal, nearly the sort of talk Edmund would have with any friend—and that was strange enough. Kelly’s intimate way of holding his gaze added a surreal quality to their walk together.

Those glittering eyes, that admission that he liked men. Gracious Lord, why would someone admit such a thing to a near stranger? A fool—that would be the answer. Only a fool would say such things out loud.

But perhaps Kelly had been showing a peculiar sort of humor as he sat in Edmund’s house, because now he changed and became an investigator, brisk and businesslike. He held his pencil above his pad. “You don’t have memories. Very well, tell me about the dreams.”

Edmund had spent so much effort trying to drive the nightmares from his mind that they had burnt themselves into his brain. Those perverse images lingered, though they were considerably less enjoyable than his usual form of perversion. The one doctor he’d consulted had surmised his desire for men arose from the trauma of the past.

He’d have no trouble seeing the images, but describing them, saying them out loud with real words… He had not done so before.

His throat spasmed and clicked as if it would close up and not give him the air he needed to speak. He wet his lips, tried to swallow. Start with the easy part, he told himself.

“Go on, Mr. Sloan.” The voice was soft, coaxing, but not allowing him to escape.

Edmund stared at the pavement just in front of his shoes as he walked and spoke in a low voice, dragging up the dreams. “I’m under the table. I was not a well-behaved boy. I was…willful.” He had nearly forgotten how headstrong he’d been—a spoiled little boy used to getting his way. That might have been in the dreams, but hadn’t it been true as well? No one talked about his life before that day.

“In the dreams, I’d been given a chance to eat with the others, and I was ruining it for myself. Once they dragged me out, I’d have to go back upstairs with Nanny. But not then, because there were no servants? Sometimes I think the servants are dead in the dream, all of them.”

“Only the serving maid was killed at the Lawton residence. And the nanny was drugged. The rest had the night off for a dance.”

“Look, these are dreams, bringing in reality makes it go blurry. I have trouble enough sorting them out. I’m not mentioning the dreams with packs of wild dogs or a battalion of soldiers.” Or hordes of naked men, he didn’t add. “So I shall tell you what I recall and let you pick through it all.”

Kelly nodded and touched his fingers to his lips, indicating he would be silent. He ruined it by saying, “Sorry. You take your time, Mr. Sloan. No more interruptions from me.”

Edmund pulled in a long deep breath he felt all the way to his belly. An easy inhalation, because he was alive and healthy and strong enough to take on an attacker. He looked too thin, but he was very strong. This reminder usually proved enough to calm himself. Walking faster helped. Kelly broke into a trot to catch up. Once Kelly strode next to him again, Edmund began to speak.

“The dream I have most often… I’m under the table, and sometimes there are screams and sometimes shouts. Mr. Lawton’s voice sounds nothing like him. That is a consistent feature of many dreams. Funny, I can’t remember how Mr. Lawton actually sounded—except that voice in the dreams. His voice is too high-pitched. Wails and cursing, a deep man’s voice curses. Just one I think. Just once, and not every time. The worst ones are the dreams when there is only silence except for a drip, drip, drip, and I know it’s blood or tears.”


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