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A Devilish Slumber

A Devilish Slumber

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A Devilish Slumber

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Länge:
353 Seiten
3 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Feb 17, 2015
ISBN:
9781611946093
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

"Fast paced and intricately plotted, A Devilish Slumber spins a tale of lost love, cold-blooded murder, and heartless betrayal. A page turner!"--Award-winning author, Gail Whitiker

". . . the mystery and suspense of ghosts and murders will keep you on the edge of your seat and have you guessing to the very end."--Black Lilac Kitty review of A Beastly Scandal

Since dealing with the death of her sister, and her abandonment by Sir Phillip Jones--the man who professed to love her--Lady Roselyn Ravenstock has lived as if sleepwalking. Mired in grief, she sequestered herself in her home, avoiding all callers. Then she meets Mrs. Helen Beaumont, and Rose starts to come to life . . . until Helen is murdered. But this time, Rose isn't going back to sleep. Vowing to avenge her friend, Rose dons a costume and goes out into the night looking for a killer.

Sir Phillip, the Regent's favored spy, returns from war determined to win back the woman he was forced to leave three years ago. But when he witnesses Rose covered in blood, racing from a brutal scene while gripping the murder weapon, he goes on a desperate mission to unravel what he hopes is a case of mistaken identity.

The investigation leads Rose into a world of enchantment, where people can reshape their features, fires are begun with a snap of fingers, and objects move of their own accord. But the real magic is the blazing attraction that is re-awakened between her and Phillip.

Will Rose ever get her happily ever after? Possibly. But first, she'll have to convince Phillip of her innocence--

before the killer strikes again. . . .

Once upon a time, Shereen Vedam read fantasy and romance novels to entertain herself. Now she writes heartwarming tales braided with threads of magic and love and mystery elements woven in for good measure. She's a fan of resourceful women, intriguing men, and happily-ever-after endings. If her stories whisk you away to a different realm for a few hours, then Shereen will have achieved one of her life goals.

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Feb 17, 2015
ISBN:
9781611946093
Format:
Buch

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A Devilish Slumber - Shereen Vedam

A Devilish Slumber

ROSE, I MUST ask you something, Phillip said.

It was now or never.

That is why we are here, sir, she said.

Promise to be truthful?

It is not I who has a history of lying.

Good point. Best settle the past before moving on. He stopped and took her gloved hands. Rose, I was very sorry to have been the bearer of that sad news three years ago.

You were not the bearer, you were the instigator.

Your sister’s death was an accident.

While you chased her out of the country!

Keeping his voice low and steady required effort. She and your uncle were spies. It was my duty to stop them.

Was it your duty to romance me to find information about them, as well?

That broke his tension. Ah, Rose, that was never my duty. It was utterly my pleasure.

Other Titles by Shereen Vedam

from ImaJinn Books

A Season for Giving

(One Winter’s Night: A Regency Yuletide Collection 2)

A Devilish Slumber

Coming Soon

A Scorching Dilemma

A Perfect Curse

A Devilish Slumber

The Rue Alliance: Book One

by

Shereen Vedam

ImaJinn Books

Copyright

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.

ImaJinn Books

PO BOX 300921

Memphis, TN 38130

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-609-3

Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-592-8

ImaJinn Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 by Shereen Vedam

Published in the United States of America.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

ImaJinn Books was founded by Linda Kichline.

We at ImaJinn Books enjoy hearing from readers. Visit our websites

ImaJinnBooks.com

BelleBooks.com

BellBridgeBooks.com

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Cover design: Deborah Smith

Interior design: Hank Smith

Photo/Art credits:

Apple © Didora | Dreamstime.com

Male silhouette (manipulated) © Liubov Nazarova | Dreamstime.com

Background © Omela at Shutterstock.com

Female silhouette © Sandra Sims | Dreamstime.com

:Asdr:01:

Dedication

For Dad

Chapter One

Midnight, Wednesday, April 8, 1813, London, England

A SCREAM RIPPLED across the misty, dockside air.

Sir Phillip Jones’s pulse lurched at that mournful cry. Gripping his walking stick, he raced down the hilly road of the deserted warehouse district in Wapping. A second muffled scream rang out and was then abruptly cut off. No longer concerned about keeping his movements covert, he ran toward those terrified shrieks. Rounding a corner, he tore past a man staring toward where the screams had come from.

"Imbécile," the large man grumbled from behind him.

Phillip was ten feet away before it registered that the man had sworn in French. By then, the woman who ran out of a warehouse gripping a bloody dagger had captured his focus. For a split second, her face was clearly highlighted by a stray shaft of moonlight piercing the mist. He stumbled to a halt, his chest heaving for air as stunned recognition sank in.

Rose?

The lady started and swung toward him. Had he spoken aloud? Pulling her hood up, she then sprinted off into the night.

Phillip instantly gave chase, but when he reached the open warehouse door through which she had fled, he pulled back. If that had been his Rose, he knew where she lived.

Rapidly retreating footsteps behind him suggested the irate Frenchman, probably a sailor, was also prudently withdrawing from this possible crime scene.

Inside the warehouse, despite the wide open door, it was pitch black, but that coppery scent of fresh spilled blood was unmistakable in the chilly sea air. Instead of blindly stepping in, Phillip pulled out his candle and circular silver tinderbox from his pocket. He had not survived the dangers of being an intelligence officer for the past five years by acting foolishly during a crisis.

He methodically placed the candle’s wick end into the hole on the lid and struck the flint until the candle lit. Then, with flickering candle attached to the tinderbox’s socket, he cautiously proceeded inside, his walking stick, with a sword hidden inside, raised to act as a club. If someone lurked within this warehouse, he would need blunt force, not blade finesse.

The warehouse was empty except for the victim who was slumped on the grimy floor, blood pooling at her side. Her throat had been slit. Her eyes were wide open as if in shock. He lowered his weapon, placed his candleholder on the ground, and knelt to check for signs of life. Her arm was limp and there was no pulse at the wrist, and not even a hint of a breath. Her skin was still warm, but her spirit had been effectively extinguished.

With a defeated sigh, he searched her reticule and found calling cards which confirmed her identity. This was indeed Mrs. Beaumont, the woman he had come to meet tonight. Not many from this riverside section of London could afford the luxury of calling cards. Her gown was serviceable, but not of high fashion. He strode restlessly around the empty warehouse, kicking aside empty crates and litter, poking at the walls in search of a hidden door, anything to prove that Rose was unlikely to be the culprit of this crime.

Anger built as he returned, empty handed, to the body. With a grunt of frustration, he flung his weighty walking stick across the room. It struck the wooden wall with a satisfying bang and then clattered as it rolled across the hollow chamber.

Shoulders set with resolve, he proceeded with his last distasteful but necessary search. He examined the underside of Mrs. Beaumont’s sleeves and delved into her bodice. Nothing. He then lifted her gown in case she had strapped something to her limbs. Disappointed there too, he removed her boots and stripped off her stockings. Finding nary a clue, he carefully redressed her, making sure she would be respectably covered before the river police arrived. All the while, words rang through his mind. That cannot have been Rose running away.

As he re-positioned her arms at her side, he noticed one of the lady’s clenched hands. Pulse speeding in anticipation, he raised her fist for closer study. Probing with his forefinger revealed something held inside her fist. He pried her fingers apart until they revealed a scrunched-up handkerchief. Drawing his candle holder closer, he carefully spread apart the material on the floor. There, on the top right, was a small, black, neatly embroidered crest of a raven.

That further evidence of Rose’s guilt left him in choking silence as he battled the urge to compare it to the handkerchief now burning a hole in his breast pocket. Finally, knowing he had no choice, he pulled out the other and gently unfolded it beside the crumpled one. The two crests were a match. His handkerchief had been a gift from Lady Roselyn Ravenstock.

Phillip’s first duty was to protect England and the crown. Three years ago, when assigned to trail two suspected traitors, Evelyn Ravenstock and her French uncle, he had not hesitated to use Lady Evelyn’s sister, Rose, to bring the two villains to justice. Unfortunately, while wooing Rose to gain closer ties to her family, he had unexpectedly fallen in love with the gentle, breathtaking beauty. Rose had been as warm-hearted and innocent as her sister was callous and brazen.

Then, while fleeing Phillip’s men along the coast of Dover, Evelyn and her uncle’s carriage had careened over a cliff. Phillip had been saddled with the distasteful duty of informing the Ravenstock family about the tragic news, resulting in a deeply grieving Rose despising him for her sister’s demise.

Hoping to give Rose time and distance to recover enough to forgive him, Phillip had accepted an assignment that took him deep into the battlefields of France. His infiltration into the French military command structure unfortunately stretched from the three months he had signed on for, to a two year engagement, during which he was unable to contact Rose. Every night, his fear grew that when he returned to London, it would be to hear that Rose was married.

On his return home last autumn, he had been happy to discover, nay thrilled to learn, that Rose was still unwed. But before he could seek her out, he was sent on another urgent mission, this time to Cheshire, to recover missing naval plans.

Since the main suspect was none other than Phillip’s cousin Rufus, Lord Terrance, whom he loved like a brother, Phillip had been unable to refuse. After recovering the stolen plans and identifying the real traitor, the Prince Regent had privately proclaimed Phillip England’s savior. Phillip might have been able to stomach that fulsome praise with grace, but then the regent insisted on knighting Phillip for his service. Though the prince prudently refused to mention why, news of Phillip’s role in saving England still leaked out. One newspaper even foolishly printed a drawing depicting his bravery, and his secret work became all too public.

He had begun to receive letters fast and furiously from strangers asking him for assistance with any number of inane threats, from missing jewelry, and suspiciously lost pets, to distrustful neighbors. When he received Mrs. Beaumont’s missive, he had thought it to be of the same ilk. What restrained him from immediately tossing the letter into the fire, as he had the others, was her mention of Lady Roselyn Ravenstock.

Mrs. Beaumont’s missive said she had vital information pertaining to Rose’s safety. What he should have done was paid Rose an immediate visit. Instead, perhaps dreading Rose’s reception after his three year absence with nary a note, he had come to the docks to first ascertain the facts of the matter.

Far too late, as it turned out. Because, he now suspected Rose had become as villainous as her sister.

Early Evening, Thursday, April 9, 1813, London, England

The Morning Chronicle

Horrid Murder by the Thames

On Wednesday night, in the darkened East End of London Town, along the churning muddy shores of the Thames, a most atrocious crime was committed. For reasons as yet unknown, a widow, Mrs. Helen Beaumont, was killed, her throat slashed, in a deserted dockside warehouse.

LADY ROSELYN Ravenstock jolted upright in her chair in her breakfast parlor. Her hand jerked, knocking her teacup and splashing liquid over the rim. Helen was dead? Helen Beaumont? She quickly reread the details. With each word, her chest constricted, awakening her long-suppressed talent for molding her body at will. Her face began to quiver. She shut her eyes and snapped her control into place. No shifting, no shifting, no shifting.

Hannah, her maid, came in. Seeing Rose’s distress, she rushed to her side. Milady! You have spilled your tea.

"You must not shift in public, my darlings, her late mother used to admonish Rose and her sister, Eve, when they were very young. Or your prince will be too afraid to approach."

Watching Hannah’s fretful movements as she attempted to clean up, Rose struggled for breath and restraint. She willed her pulse to slow and her mind to stop whirling until each thought became distinguishable. How could Helen be dead? Rose was expecting her for supper tonight. She picked up the letter she had received this morning by the penny post.

Rose,

I look forward to our next meeting. I have important news to share about your family. Exciting news. My dearest girl, if what I hope to verify tonight holds true, come morning, your world will be transformed.

Your friend, Helen

What was Helen doing alone on the docks last night? Did it have something to do with Rose’s family? But that made no sense. Rose had no family left. They were all gone, dead. Could Helen have discovered a new connection? Was that why she had been killed? She shuddered. Surely not. Rose’s fear that she was a curse on anyone who cared for her could not be proven true. Not again.

After a year of self-imposed isolation, three months ago Rose had finally broken her seclusion when she had met Mrs. Helen Beaumont. Then, over the course of subsequent meetings, the lady had convinced Rose it was time for her to rejoin society. Intelligent and confident, Helen was twenty years Rose’s senior and reminded her of the mother she had lost.

She glanced again at the newspaper. The printed words were unmistakable, yet they remained unfathomable. Hannah wiped at Rose’s fingers and gently murmured, Is anything amiss, milady?

Amiss? Did extinguishing a vital woman—someone who had seemed so unshakable, so certain of herself and her place in this confusing world—count as amiss? No, it was more than that. It was too much! The last words clanged like a church bell, calling Rose to attention, demanding action.

Leave me. Blinking, Rose dashed her tears aside for the useless encumbrances they were, and added, Leave the house.

But I have not finished my work for the day. Hannah picked up Rose’s tea cup and saucer. The girl’s hands shook so much the dishes rattled. I still have to tidy the kitchen, sweep the front entrance and...

Go. Rose infused the quiet word with the weight of command.

Her maid, the last servant Rose still employed, stood with her tears now overflowing. Then, dropping the dishes on the breakfast table with a protesting clatter, she ran out of the room. Her footsteps pounded across the entry hall.

I am coming back tomorrow! Hannah shouted, sounding more like a threat than a promise, before she slammed the front door shut.

Into the blessed tranquility, Rose reached for the sense of alienation with which she was accustomed to shrouding herself whenever people she cared for were ripped from her. Her first loss had been her parents, to whooping cough, when Rose had been ten and Eve, thirteen. Then, within the space of a few months, their uncle took advantage of the Peace of Amiens that had made travel to and from France possible once more to come and lay claim to his two nieces.

Once they met him, Eve was overjoyed, saying she was sure they would have more freedom under his rule than with their overly strict grandmother. But Rose could not fathom leaving her beloved grandmother and the only home they had ever known to live in a foreign country with a stranger. Still, as their father’s only brother and therefore the girls’ legal guardian, he had the right to take both girls. Rose’s grandmother, unhappy at the idea of losing the girls, had insisted that if Rose did not wish to go, she did not have to go. And she had been willing to fight him to keep her in England.

Since his connections to France might have lost him both girls in court, their uncle had cut his losses and left with Eve. Rose, still grieving over her parents’ deaths, had been absolutely devastated by her sister’s absence, just when she had needed her most. Her grandmother had consoled her, even while gently suggesting that perhaps Rose might be painting Eve’s character in a more glowing fashion than reality deemed accurate.

Rose had refused to listen. Yes, she and Eve had sometimes fought. Eve could be cruel if she wanted something that belonged to Rose, but they were family. And they possessed the same talent. Their grandmother’s ability had faded with age, while their uncle was not of the blood, as her grandmother labeled him.

As far as Rose knew, there were no others in London, perhaps even the entire world, who could do what Rose and Eve could. And her separation from her sister made Rose feel completely alone. She lost all interest in using her shifting ability and only practiced when her grandmother insisted, saying Rose might one day need her ability.

Then, on Rose’s eighteenth birthday, her dearest wish came true—Eve and their uncle, fleeing French prosecution, escaped to England.

Shortly after, Rose met Phillip. Eve was immediately jealous of his particular attention to Rose. But then Eve had died in that terrible carriage accident, and Rose learned that Phillip had betrayed her trust. Before they could resolve their differences, he too deserted her for France.

Two years later, her beloved grandmother had died, leaving Rose completely alone, with no one to lean on, no one with whom to share her sorrows, no one to help her understand why she seemed to be a curse on anyone who loved her. Deciding the fewer people who cared for her, the better, Rose closed off her friendships, her home and her life.

Until the day Helen interrupted her reverie at the marketplace. Helen had instigated a conversation, and at the end, issued an enticing invitation to join her at Gunter’s to taste some ice the next day. Rose’s immediate reaction was to refuse. But then she had reconsidered. What harm could there be in one outing? That meeting had led to another. Eventually, under Helen’s gentle persuasion, a friendship had developed. And Rose began to question her conviction that she was living under a dark thunder cloud.

Helen’s strength reminded Rose of her indomitable mother and made Rose wonder if withdrawing from society had been the best course to take. Her mother would have never run away from her troubles. So perhaps Rose should consider accepting an invitation or two, welcome a caller into her home, and employ more servants than one inexperienced young maid.

After months of being entombed by the overgrown vines around her Mayfair townhouse, where all the windows were always shut and curtains drawn, Rose found herself surprisingly open to the idea of rejoining society. Go to a dance. Perhaps even attend a play. Or sing. That last thought brought with it a wrenching pain. She breathed slowly until the ache receded. She had not sung since the day Eve died.

Helen, too, was now dead. But this time, Rose refused to bow to her loss, her curse, without exacting retribution. This time, there was a villain she could punish. For, somewhere in London, there was a heartless killer who could be brought to justice.

She stood and threw the newspaper and Helen’s letter into the cold hearth. Retrieving a lone candle, Rose headed upstairs. She passed the first floor where her bedroom was and did not even hesitate near the second floor that used to be the servants’ quarters. Instead, she climbed straight up to the attic in search of old things. Her flickering candlelight painted this cramped space with eerie shadows.

This was a part of her home that Rose normally avoided, because its untidy, cobweb-covered, dusty atmosphere housed memories of happier times. When Eve and Rose first began to manifest their talents, their mother had brought them up here and unearthed two amulets called the Cimaruta. She said they were an ancient blessing and that the girls must wear them at all times.

Rose absently stroked her amulet that still hung around her neck as she looked about the jam-packed room. To her right, her mother’s old gowns were packed away in trunks. On her left, stacked from one wall to the other, floor to ceiling, was her grandmother’s collection of ancient lore.

Rose had closed her extensive library downstairs and ordered those books brought up here. Since she planned to discharge all her servants, leaving the books downstairs would make keeping them dust-free cumbersome. She wiped away a stray tear and made her way to the back of the room where her father’s clothes were stored.

Soon, with her arms full of musty old garments, she climbed down the creaking stairs, taking care to not to trip over her skirt hems. Once she kicked shut her bedroom door, she set her candle on an end table and dropped her handful of clothes on the bed and a pomander rolled to the floor and bumped against her slipper. She retrieved it, inhaling an elusive scent of orange and vinegar. Orange had been her father’s favorite scent.

She quashed a sudden longing for his advice, and straightened her shoulders. Quickly, before she might change her mind, she put on his shirt, breeches, neckcloth, waistcoat, and coat. Then she sat on a chair and tugged on his Hessians. Wearing his clothes was oddly comforting, and reminded her of the many times that she and Eve had played dress-up with their mother’s clothes and shoes.

Chin lifted in defiance of all the propriety and comportment lessons heaped on her by the governesses her grandmother had employed, Rose strode before her tall oval looking glass for inspection. Her father had not been a big man, so his attire, though a little loose, was presentable.

For a moment, she could have sworn she felt someone pat her on her shoulder and whisper, There is my brave girl.

With a firm breath, she next resurrected the most dangerous part of her disguise—to magically change her body. Shifting, her grandmother called the ancient family gift.

This shift would be more difficult than any she had done before, for, if her plan was to succeed, she must be able to convince a stranger that she was a man. Only a man would be able to delve into the details of Helen’s death with impunity. Rose called on her talent and felt cold satisfaction as her magic sprang to life. Every part of her tingled with animation.

She began her transformation at the top of her head by shrinking her shoulder-length blond hair until it hugged the curves of her skull like a snug cap. The Cimaruta immediately warmed, like an alarm rung. Ignoring its caution, she reshaped her pert nose into a snub shape. The sensation was similar to twitching her nose in reaction to an oncoming sneeze.

Then she set to work on her distinctive sea-green eyes. Her sight went out of focus before the candlelit room became clear again. Her eyes were now a muddy forgettable brown. She then dulled the fullness of her lips into a thin straight line. Finally, she flattened her breasts. That felt akin to a wide steel band being strapped across her chest, or a corset tied too tight, too high. And in the looking glass, Rose vanished, and a male stranger appeared.

For the length of a pent-up breath, she stared with critical scrutiny at the image of a nondescript, ordinary, and she hoped, forgettable, young man. Then she nodded with satisfaction.

With top hat in hand, she picked up her father’s walking stick and headed outdoors, muttering, I will avenge you, Helen. You have my word.

An hour later, Rose’s hackney stopped in front of a brick and stone row house, and the driver pulled out the carriage’s two shallow steps with a loud rattle.

We have arrived, sir.

Cool night air swept inside the carriage, generating a shiver of alarm along Rose’s neck. She stayed glued to her seat, suddenly unsure about her plan. Her grand scheme to catch her friend’s killer had seemed well thought-out and reasonable when she was home with all her doors locked and the windows barred.

She now peered into the dark night and wrinkled her nose. The stench of overflowing sewers was especially ripe here. Down the street, a splash suggested that a bucket of refuse had been tossed out a window.

Her thirst to avenge Helen’s murder still burned, but the trip from Mayfair to the seedier south side of the Thames had eroded her confidence. She sat with her father’s top hat weighing heavy on her forehead as uncomfortable questions poked and prodded. How well had she known Helen anyway? Did a three-month acquaintance warrant such a suicidal move as to get out of this coach, at this time of night? And why must she conduct this investigation?

Answers came swift and damning. Because Helen tried to help you. To drag you out of the quagmire of grief you had sunk into. To give you a chance to live again.

She could not bring Helen back, but she could ensure Helen’s murderer saw justice. Although, she supposed many killings probably happened in this dangerous section of London and Bow Street. Nobody was likely to pay attention to one lone murder by the Thames. Even if that woman

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