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Authors: Penny Richards

An Untimely Frost

BOOK: An Untimely Frost
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Drawing a deep breath, Lilly let her troubled gaze roam the room's faded elegance once more.
What she saw was neglect, not destruction. Was it possible that the townsfolk were too frightened of the haint rumored to occupy the house to rob it? Strange, since even she knew the furnishings were worth a small fortune.
Recalling what she'd told William about preachers being unable to afford such costly things, her lips twisted into a bitter smile. The grand lifestyle suggested by Heaven's Gate and its furnishings would have been easily attainable if the reverend routinely fleeced his flocks.
Leaving, she crossed the hall and found herself in a bedroom. A mahogany chest with cabriole legs, claw and ball feet, and decorated with carved shells and scrollwork sat on the far wall. A tin bathtub peeked from behind a carved dressing screen.
Animals had helped themselves to some of the feathers from the rotting feather tick, and the tangle of sheets was stained with rust.
Her breathing hitched. Not rust. Blood.
Lots and lots of blood.
An
U
NTIMELY
F
ROST
PENNY RICHARDS
KENSINGTON BOOKS
www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book.
 
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
 
KENSINGTON BOOKS are published by
 
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
 
Copyright © 2016 by Penny Richards
 
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
 
 
Kensington and the K logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.
 
eISBN-13: 978-1-4967-0603-4
eISBN-10: 1-4967-0603-X
First Kensington Electronic Edition: August 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0602-7
 
ISBN-10: 1-4967-0602-1
 
This book is for my friend Linda Card, who,
many years ago, when I was looking for a jumping-off
place for this book, gave me an idea I'd never have
thought of. At long last, here are the results.
Acknowledgments
This book couldn't have been written without the efforts of many people: Linda Hanabarger, with the Fayette County Genealogical and Historical Society, for the pictures, information, and street map of old Vandalia; Curtis Mann, with the Lincoln Library, in Springfield, Illinois, for the invaluable information about Springfield and especially Chatterton's Opera House; and Sandy and LaRee as usual, for reading and rereading and keeping me straight. Thanks to everyone at Kensington Publishing for taking a chance on me and working with me on my ideas and giving me such an awesome cover, and lastly to my editor, Tara Gavin, whose belief in me and my writing gave me another “first” and whose spot-on editing always makes the book better.
Death lies on her like an untimely frost.
—William Shakespeare,
Romeo and Juliet,
act 4, scene 5
C
HAPTER
1
Chicago, 1881
Peacock Opera House
 
B
last it, he'd promised !
Lilly Warner's rising fury battled with an all-too-familiar disappointment. Pierce Wainwright, the cast's manager and the man who had raised her from the age of eleven, had finally given her a major role in the troupe's new play,
Society's Daughter
. Tim had promised to come and see her debut performance, but he hadn't shown up. Another of her husband's lies, offered for the sole purpose of momentary appeasement.
Too angry to be fearful, she jerked up the hood of her red woolen cape and stepped through the door at the rear of the theater into the darkness of the narrow backstreet. In less than a minute, she entered the main thoroughfare. Tendrils of fog writhed in the flickering glow of the gaslights, turning the few stalwart souls braving the chilly night into wraithlike phantoms.
Annoyance rose with every step as she navigated the four blocks to the boardinghouse where the members of the Pierced Rose Theater Troupe were staying during their brief stay in Chicago. She pushed through the doorway and was greeted by a rush of heat from the foyer fireplace. Pushing back the hood, she marched down the hall, mentally framing a series of questions for her absent husband.
Nearing Pierce and Rose's room, Lilly noticed their door standing ajar. That was odd; the worldly-wise Rose was generally more careful about such things. Lilly placed her gloved hand on the doorknob, wondering if she should stick her head in and mention the oversight.
While she stood torn between the need to confront her husband and check on her friend, she heard the sound of a man's voice from inside the room. Sudden uneasiness caused her heart to beat faster. Who could it be? She'd left Pierce at the opera house.
The man spoke again, menace in his low tone. Before she could do more than acknowledge that something was terribly wrong, Lilly heard the sickening, somehow familiar, sound of flesh meeting flesh. She slumped against the wall, squeezing her eyes shut and covering her ears, attempting to block out the memories that sought freedom from where she'd banished them eleven years ago. She fought the craven desire to escape into the dark vortex of unconsciousness.

Please, God, make him stop. Make him go away.

The words echoing through her mind were chanted by a child's voice. Her voice.
Do something!
Lilly whimpered. What could she do? She was only eleven, and someone was hurting her mama....
Another cry, this one laced with an unmistakable pain, scattered the distressing fragments of memory. She opened her eyes. She wasn't eleven, the sounds she heard were not memories from her past, and the man in the other room was not her mother's killer, but whoever he was, he was hurting Rose. Lilly couldn't stand by and do nothing. Not again.
Taking tight hold on the doorknob, she shoved away from the wall and burst into the room, gauging the situation in a single glance. Rose lay across the bed, blood trickling from her mouth, a mark that would become a bruise on her cheekbone, and tears seeping from her eyes into the graying hair at her temples. A man stood over her, a leather pouch clutched in one fist, a small revolver in the other. Lilly's eyes widened and her footsteps faltered.
“Tim?” Her voice was an agonized whisper. “What are you doing?”
“What do you think I'm doing, you stupid cow?” He held the money bag aloft. “I came for the money.”
Money? Her heart began an agonized throbbing. “But . . . I gave you money this morning.”
“Barely enough to get my shoes shined.”
Hearing the mockery in his voice, she urged sternness to hers and held out her hand. “Give me my money, Tim. You have no right to it.”
His beautiful lips twisted into a taunting smile. “Your money? You seem to forget that when you said ‘I do' everything of yours became mine.”
He spoke the truth. The law favored men in every way. Rose lifted herself to one elbow and swiped the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Let him have it, Lil. It's not worth it.”
Perhaps Rose was right, but it was money Lilly had been setting aside since she was old enough to do small tasks for the cast. Money she was saving to buy a little house somewhere . . . someday. Money she'd told him she'd given to Rose for safekeeping. A surge of guilt washed through her at the idea that her own naïve trust had brought about this betrayal.
“It's mine,” she repeated. “I've worked hard for it.”
Timothy's handsome face contorted with disgust. His burst of laughter was short and hate filled. “So have I. I've listened to your pious preaching about taking a salesman's job until I want to puke. Well, I'm not a damned peddler,” he all but growled. “And I might also mention that the thrill of bedding an innocent lost its appeal weeks ago.”
Both Rose and Lilly sucked in sharp breaths. Old insecurities flooded her. Being beautiful, confident Kate Long's plain bastard daughter had never been an easy role.
“I'm done with it all,” Tim was saying, “including you.” His lips twisted into a parody of a smile and he shook his head. “What an easy mark you were.”
Stealing her life savings and hurting Rose were hard enough to take, but when Lilly realized that he had taken advantage of her inexperience in the most dreadful way possible, rage overcame her shock. Without considering the consequences, she launched herself across the room at him.
Rose gave a shriek of fear. Not the least threatened, Tim stood his ground. When Lilly was within reach, he simply swung the arm with the pouch and hit her with a backhanded blow that sent her reeling against the fireplace.
Her head hit the mantel with a sickening
crack
. Pain sent her to her knees and darkness threatened once again. She heard the sound of boots thudding on the planks of the floor, heard a door slam and voices coming from somewhere far away.
Then someone lifted her, and a gentle voice asked, “Lilly, are you all right?”
She wanted to answer, but instead, she slipped deeper into the dark emptiness that held no pain, no frightening memories, and no hateful, lying words or acts of deception.
BOOK: An Untimely Frost
10.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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