Authors: Amelia Hart
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
86 Kiteroa Street
Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Leys
All rights 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. For information address Kite Publishing.
First Paperback printing: March 2013
Who has a daring
“I wouldn’t think of running, if I were you.” Black Jack gave her a malevolent smile. “If you do, the deal is off. I’ll take you and your pretty little
brother and you’ll disappear into my most expensive brothel.” He savoured every word, leisurely and well-satisfied; a man who enjoyed his work. “I’ll make the money out of your hide.”
Melissa breathed hard through her nose, her mind racing.
“You have no proof of this. There is only your word and that is worth nothing set against that of a gentleman’s daughter. Get out of my house.”
“Not until you give me what I came for.” His eyes glittered, his smile widening
on his flushed face.
There will be no money from me now, in a week or
“I think there will be.”
His lowered eyelids and parted lips made her feel ill to look at, the visible sign that he savoured her terror.
She tried to disguise it, to remain composed.
“You are wrong, sir. Very wrong.”
“It is you who is wrong.
He drew a folded document out of his waistcoat pocket, taking his time as he unfolded it and held it before her.
She tried to snatch it but he was faster, whisking it out of her reach.
“You won’t touch it until the debt is paid in full.” He shrugged. “Then it is yours.”
He tilted it towards her and she saw the scrawled signature of her late and unlamented father, heavy-handed as in all his doings. It trailed off in an inglorious splatter on the page; signed while in his cups, she was certain.
Above it was the brief
I, Frederic Matthew Spencer, declare I owe the sum of ten thousand pounds to the bearer of this document.
She clenched her fists in rage and despair. The room wavered around her before she took a firmer grip of herself.
Careful, careful now. This was her future hanging in the balance; and Peter’s also. There must be some path of escape.
She raised her chin, throwing her shoulders back and declared with authority:
“My father was a drunkard. His signature means nothing. No court will uphold your claim.”
“Of course it would,” he scoffed
, folding the paper again and sliding it back to its place in the fashionable but poorly made waistcoat. “His hand to it, the debt was his. Now it is yours.” He straightened the waistcoat and then the dark coat he wore over it, his thumbs remaining under the lapels, thrusting them forward. “Not that I will apply to the law. I am a businessman, Miss Spencer. And the law gets in the way of my business. So understand this,” he paused, rocked onto his heels and then leaned forward so Melissa instinctively shrank back. “If you are seen consorting with an officer of the law your brother will be taken in the instant, and you at the very next opportunity. Do not doubt me. You are watched night and day, and my men won’t hesitate to act.”
Cool authority did not work to convince him. Would he respond to a plea?
She let her stance soften, her eyes carry a hint of her dispair as she said: “Show some compassion, I beg you. My father is not yet cold in his grave-”
But it was a mistake. He enjoyed her suffering, the macabre grin returning.
“My business does not wait for corpses to cool, Miss Spencer. One week is quite enough time.”
no money.” Perhaps the stark truth of the matter was the only way through. Surely that was unanswerable? “You can give me a week or a year, I do not
ten thousand pounds.”
“Then whatever terror you feel this week is only the beginning of a hell you can’t begin to imagine.” His eyes were
hot and implacably hard above the curl of lip that was half a smile, half a sneer. She had never encountered such evil in a man’s face. “Until Friday next, Miss Spencer.”
He bowed in a mockery of politeness then turned to leave, his two beefy colleagues
hastening to pull upright, chests outthrust as his gaze fell on them.
He led them out of the front door and down the stairs
to the street, Melissa trailing in their wake, determined to be certain of their departure. They left the door open and she watched as they walked along the pavement and out of sight.
She closed the door,
then leaned against it to keep herself from falling.
“Ten thousand pounds!” she whispered hoarsely. “Oh Father, how
She could never hope for
such a sum of money. Only yesterday she had decided to give up the rented house in Kensington. They had no funds to support it.
Father had died a week ago. One week. That was how long it
took to find out the depths of their financial straits. Her inheritance was the furnishings of their rented house, a pile of unpaid bills, her fourteen-year-old brother and ten thousand pounds of debt.
sobbed three quick, dry sobs, nearly choking, folding in half with her clenched fist pressed hard to her mouth. Then she cut herself off, straightened by an effort of will and pushed away from the door. On unsteady legs she crossed the hall into the small withdrawing room. A pale, watery sunshine lay splashed across the carpet. The faded floral prints of the room danced before her eyes. She sank onto the overstuffed sofa, her hands clutching convulsively at the smooth material.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” she murmured. She could not think straight, could not reason this through. How could there be no way out? There must be an
answer. She had only to think of it; only calm herself and think slowly and rationally. That man could not triumph. The world was not so mad as that.
her breath came in little pants of panic. Too well did she know the world was mad indeed, and the yawning pit opened before her was more fearsome than anything she had ever faced.
Melissa looked up with a nervous twitch, half-rising. After a moment she absorbed it was the housemaid, Hetty, the information reaching her brain all too slowly.
Worry was writ large on
the girl’s thin, unlovely face. “Oo Miss, it’s that terrible,” she breathed, her fists bunched at her small bosom. “I’m so sorry. Is there . . . something I can do to help, Miss?”
, Hetty, but I’m sure I shall be quite all right,” said Melissa automatically, her eyes wide, staring fixedly at the wainscoting while her mind travelled a small and frantic circle of fear.
“Miss, I heard
. You’re fearful brave, Miss. That rascally fellow was nasty as never was.”
There was silence.
Melissa’s gaze sliding slowly back to Hetty, noting she was still there. The two young women gazed at each other, Melissa barely seeing her housemaid for the sick whirl in her head.
let off the nervous nibbling on her lower lip. “Miss, if . . . if you don’t mind me being so bold, did you
“Good God no.
I’ve never seen the man before in my life.” There was a pause before she thought to ask: “Why? Did you?”
, Miss,” said Hetty importantly. “I’ve had him pointed out to me, Miss. He’s one to steer clear of, he is.”
Yes!” said Melissa, feeling this was a crushing understatement.
, Miss,” Hetty continued, enunciating clearly with a heightened sense of drama. “As nasty and dangerous as can be. That’s what my cousin says.” She nodded to herself. “My cousin Simon.” She huffed a little as if drawing in courage for this unusually long speech. “Miss, you must
let me run and tell my cousin. He’s clever about handling trouble, he is. He’s . . . not a bad sort,” she hesitated, a conscious look on her face, “but you might say he . . . knows his way about the back streets. Too well, maybe. Anyhow, he watches out for me. He could maybe have something useful to say. Advice maybe, if you’ve a mind to listen. I could send for him, Miss. Or go and fetch him myself. Please say I can.”
There was a roaring in Melissa’s ears that drowned out thought. She wanted to weep, to gibber, to collapse on her bed and not move again. Ten thousand pounds! It was an unbelievable sum. Surely Father had never seen such an amount in his life. How could he be such a
to sign a promissory note to that tune?
Please Miss, I hate to see you carry this all alone. It’s not a mite fair, Miss, not to you. Please say yes. Please.”
Hetty,” said Melissa, rubbing the heel of one hand over her brow as if she could physically force sense in there. “What . . . ah . . . yes, certainly you may send for him, if you believe he would be helpful.” She flapped her hand in a gesture of dismissal, wanting the girl only to go, to stop talking at her so she could
he had seen the note, had it thrust full in her face by that . . . wretched,
excuse for a man. The signature was her father’s. An awkward scrawl that was difficult to duplicate, as she had good reason to know.
Business dealings, the man had said.
, and the innuendo in his voice left it quite clear that these dealings were not fit for the light of day.
What could her father have possibly been up to? Did it matter? No, it probably did not. All that mattered now were the consequences of his selfish idiocy.
She moaned. She and Peter in a brothel? Unthinkable!
She would not choose to shirk an obligation, but there was no chance of fulfilling this one. A lifetime of frenetic work and wise investment might be enough to set that much aside
, but a week?
They must flee. They
. There was no other choice; Out of the City, away from the reach of that man.
She knew no
thing about the countryside; had never travelled out of London in her life. But surely – pray God – there would be some friendly farmhouse where two willing workers would be welcome.
Once beyond the bounds of London they could find such a place, set themselves up under false names and
live in quiet retreat. Peter could learn a trade. He was clever enough, if neither big nor strong. Life on a farm might even be good for him; wholesome.
Maybe someday – she swallowed, tears prickling the back of her eyelids – maybe they could venture back to the capital, to everyth
ing known and familiar. Maybe . . .
he swabbed fiercely at her eyes. No. No she must not think of the things she was leaving behind. Not if she was to be strong, to act with the necessary resolve. She must set her course and never look back. She was done with this life, now. It was over.
mplacably she pushed all hysteria aside, schooling herself to calm self-control. She had had her fit of self-pity and now it was done. Peter needed her clear-headed and able to make a plan and see it through.
To get away: How was she to do it? And how
to shelter poor Peter?
the city posed the largest hurdle; particularly if that man had not been bluffing. She thought of his hot black eyes, like death itself with hell burning behind them.
No, he did not seem a man to bluff.
But she had to pray he was. She shuddered. Ten thousand pounds deserved dozens of hirelings to guard it, and if there were only half that many, flight might be impossible.
an instant she imagined falling to the mercies of that wicked man. It was enough to raise all the hair on the back of her neck.
“No!” she whispered harshly.
“No, never!” Not her and not sweet Peter.
So there must be a way. Somehow
she must get them out of this nightmare.
stood to pace, twitching her skirt out of the way with each turn, her steps hurrying with the drive to simply run, as fast and hard as she could, Peter’s hand in hers. But she must have a better plan than that. Their lives depended on her wits.
They could stow
away in the cart of some deliveryman, a few necessities strapped to their backs; or run across the rooftops under the moonlight, scrambling from one chimney pot to another; perhaps they could visit Covent Gardens, slip surreptitiously into a boat and paddle madly off down the river Thames.
squeezed her hands together in a fierce grip, muttered aloud:
. . . A distraction? Misdirection . . . or disguises.”
would they get out of the house? Lose their pursuers in a crowd? Where should they go once they were away?