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Leave me alone. I am looking into hell.

—King George III,

during an episode of madness

Miranda stood beneath an imposing gray stone lintel. A pair of statues with mouths agape and staring eyes glared down at her, and she recognized them—Cibber’s statues of Madness and Melancholy. She looked at the words engraved in the stained granite: Bethlehem Hospital.

Her heart drummed against her breastbone. Reeling with dread, she turned to her escort, the watchman who had been with her at the fire. “This is Bedlam.”

“Aye, miss.”

“It’s a hospital for people who are mad.”

He moved closer to her, put his hand on her arm. She supposed it was meant to comfort, but instead she felt nervous, trapped.

“Miss,” he said, “at least you’ll have a roof over your head, a meal—”

“I’m not mad.”

His hand tightened on her arm. “You say you don’t know who you are, where you live, who your family are.”

The black gulf of emptiness invaded her again, as it had each time she’d tried to remember before. Before the night, before the fire, before the terror and the insanity.

She stared at the ground, studying the cobbled street and the sparrows and rock doves poking at crumbs. London Wall. It wasn’t a wall, but a roadway at the edge of Moorfields. How was it that she knew the name of this street if she could not even name herself?

The heavy door of the entranceway creaked open on iron hinges. She found herself looking at a beefy man with a mustache that swept from ear to ear.

She shouldered back her weariness, lifted her chin. “I don’t belong here.” Despite the show of resolve, she staggered, on the brink of exhaustion, and her vision swam. “I belong in...in...” Her chest squeezed with dread. “In hell,” she said before she could stop herself. “Just not here,” she finished weakly.

The warden exchanged a fleeting look with the watchman behind her, and she felt their unspoken exchange: Mad as a March hare.

“That’s what they all say,” the warden remarked in a bland voice. “Does she need restraints?”

Restraints. They would chain her like an animal.

She took a step back. Bumped into the watchman. Strong hands grabbed her shoulders.

“Sir!” she choked out. “Unhand me! I do not belong here, and I certainly don’t need re—”

“You did well this time, Northrup. Got here before Dr. Beckworth makes his rounds.”

“He oughtn’t to complain, the stupid cit. The gate fees pay his wages,” Northrup said. His hand snaked into her hair. He pulled, forcing her head up. “Such a pretty piece will be a nice addition to the menagerie.

“I’ll be able to charge the gawkers double. They like the pretty ones.”

Miranda gasped. “You mean, I am to be sold like a monkey to a zoo?”

The warden lifted a bushy eyebrow. “A show of spirit is always welcome. She’ll be an interesting specimen.”

“This is criminal!” she shouted. “Kidnapping!”

The warden captured her wrists in one hand and brought them up high behind her. A wrenching pain seared her elbows and shoulders. She could smell his sweaty body, could feel the heat of his breath on the back of his neck. Could hear the clink of coins in the small cloth purse he gave the watchman.

Outrage gripped her in a choke hold. The man who was supposed to be helping her—a man she had trusted—had sold her to a madhouse.

The watchman slipped away, ambling down the fog-shrouded lane.

Miranda shuddered out a long sigh. “Please, sir,” she said, affecting a small, meek voice. “It has been a rather long, eventful night for me, and I am quite exhausted. Truly, I need no restraining whatever.”

He laughed unpleasantly. “So you’ll make it easy on both yourself and old Larkin?”

She swallowed. Her throat still burned from the smoke. Her mind held nothing but emptiness—and fear. “Certainly, Mr. Larkin,” she forced out through dry lips.

The hard grip eased. She rotated her aching shoulders. Think, think, think...

The man called Larkin opened the door wider. The sharp smells of lye soap and urine gusted out, along with the roars and wails of the inmates.

Miranda ran.

Bunching her tattered skirts in one hand, she plunged down the lane. Her feet, laced into sturdy brown leather boots she did not remember putting on the previous morning, clattered over the uneven cobblestones.

With the curses of the warden ringing through the rows of close-set buildings, she ran blindly. She had no idea where she was going except away.

Away. The thought pounded in her head, counterpoint to the rhythm of her running feet.

Away, away, away.

Why are we going away again, Papa? And why must we leave in the middle of the night, without even saying goodbye?

It was a very old memory, incomplete, a vague impression of a slender man in a shabby coat, a warm hand closed around her small, cold one.

“Stop, thief!” the warden bellowed. His big voice roused a few sleepy-looking pedestrians as they walked along the street. Here and there, shutters opened and heads poked out.

“Stop her!” Larkin called again. “Stop her, I say!”

Miranda plunged on. She had a fleeting impression of inquisitive glances, but no one seemed inclined to stand in her way. There was, she decided, some small advantage to having one’s face and clothing soiled with black soot. No one wanted to touch her.

Don’t touch me don’t touch me don’t— Another memory, this one dark and disturbing. She was almost grateful when it evaporated like the fog.

She careened around a corner, nearly colliding with a costermonger’s cart. The coster swore. Loose onions and potatoes spilled out, filling the narrow lane. She hesitated, then tried to leap past the cart.

Brutal hands dug into her shoulders. She turned to see Larkin’s face, red with fury.

“That’s the last time you’ll run from me, my fine lady fair,” he said, huffing with exertion. Even as she fought him, he hooked his leg behind her knees and forced her to the hard ground. He settled his weight on her, filling his fist with a handful of hair and giving it a cruel twist. “You want to earn your keep on your back, eh?” His eyes were small and hazel in color, hot and hungry. “I can arrange that.”

Miranda screamed.

* * *

Lucas Chesney grew impatient, waiting for Miranda. She had never been late before. He plucked a gold watch—one of the few items he had yet to pawn—from his pocket and thumbed it open, just to make sure.

Yes, it was half noon. She was late. Was she still angry about their ridiculous quarrel? What a barbarian he’d been, ripping her dress like that.

He paced, noting his surroundings with idle curiosity. The clutter of low buildings was dominated by soot-blackened churches, St. Mary-le-Strand, St. Clement Danes, St. Brides. The area near Blackfriars Bridge was not quite a slum, though it had its share of press gangs and flash houses. Some of the residences still possessed a smidgen of old-fashioned charm in their sandstone edifices and boxy gardens, but the neighborhood was clearly a place for people of less than modest means.

The perfect spot for you, old chap. Lucas slammed a door on the thought. He could not allow himself to dwell on the state of disaster known as the Chesney family fortune. He was Lucas Chesney, Viscount Lisle, heir to the duke of Montrond, and he had a reputation to uphold.

Even if that reputation hung on the flimsiest string of lies and excuses since the Whigs had dominated Parliament.

The crumbling neighborhood had one distinct advantage, Lucas observed. No one here knew him.

No one except Miranda.

As always, his heart beat faster at the thought of her. A beauty, she had no particular use for her appearance. Though brilliant, she did not use her cleverness as a verbal lash, to cut and belittle people. While her radical views worried him, he had no doubt that in time she would temper her opinions. She was a delicious enigma, sometimes sweet-natured in a distracted, absentminded fashion, other times fiery and tempestuous.

She was fascinating, funny and passionate. Dazzlingly beautiful. She had but a single flaw. It was the one matter that haunted Lucas, troubled his dreams at night and made him feverish to find some solution.

Miss Miranda Stonecypher was penniless.

She made money and possessions seem unimportant, but Lucas loved his family and felt compelled to provide for them. Ever since the hunting accident that had left his father bedridden and staring mad, Lucas had taken on all the duties and debts of his office. And perhaps, he thought with a surge of hope, perhaps he had found an answer at last.

He had recently made the fortunate acquaintance of a—what was Mr. Addingham? A benefactor?

Lucas shook his head and laughed at himself. Silas Addingham was a ruthless social climber who had more money than shame. He wanted an entrée into polite society. Lucas could give it to him.

For a price.

He had tried to explain it to her the previous night, just before their row. Addingham’s money would enable Lucas to marry Miranda at last. To bring their relationship out in the open instead of sneaking around, hoping they wouldn’t get caught.

Eager to patch things up after their quarrel, he did something he had never done before. He went to her lodgings.

Lucas stood outside Number Seven Stamford Street. He knew only that Miranda lived here with her crack-brained father and a servant called Midge.

Feeling conspicuous, he rang the bell pull, then waited on the stoop. The air was filled with the smells of cooking and rubbish, the occasional laughter of children and shouts from watermen on the river.

When no one answered, he rang again. Not being able to introduce Miranda to his family, to his friends, had always brought him a faint sense of shame. It would be a relief to be open now.

He laughed to himself, picturing the look on Lady Frances Higgenbottom’s face when he appeared in public with Miranda.

Lady Frances, as lovely as she was wealthy, had been after Lucas for years. Though her relentless pursuit flattered his manly pride, he had long since grown weary of her shallow, tiresome ways. She swore that only by marrying her could Lucas save his family’s estate from the auctioneer’s hammer. But he had found another way. He had found Silas Addingham.

There was no response to his second ring. Lucas pushed open the door.

“Hello!” he called out. The smell of sulfur hung in the air. Miranda and her infernal experiments. She was always dabbling in some chemical reaction or other, trying to generate nitrous gases or hydrogen. Once they were wed he would delight in giving her a new outlet for her inventiveness—their marriage bed.

As he mounted a flight of creaky, uncarpeted stairs, he became aware of a subtler scent—acrid, hot and rusty.


Lucas took the stairs two at a time, calling Miranda’s name. He emerged into a dim sitting room that reeked like an abattoir. The last time he had smelled death this sharply had been in a field hospital in Spain.

He forced away the nightmare memory of his soldiering days and went searching through the flat. It was a ghastly quest marked by a thickening trail of blood, overturned furniture, broken lamp chimneys, scattered papers.

He came to a tiny room with a single bedstead, the coverlet trailing along the floor.

A muffled moan issued from beneath the frayed cloth.

Lucas plunged to his knees. “Miranda!” With a shaking hand, he moved the blanket aside. A death-pale face stared up at him. The odor of fresh blood slammed through him.

And Lucas felt a shameful flood of relief, for the face of the dying woman was not Miranda’s.

“You must be Midge,” he said gently. “I am Lucas, a special friend of Miranda.”

The woman’s crusted lips moved. He bent forward to hear.

“’Randa...has no friends,” the servant whispered.

Lucas’s heart constricted. “She has one,” he said. “She has me.”

A bloodied hand clutched his sleeve. “They took her. And...Gideon.”

Lucas squeezed his eyes shut. Somehow he had known from the moment he’d set foot in this house. Damn! He should never have let her storm off in anger last night.

“Who?” he forced out as grief and rage and panic tore into him. “Please. For Miranda’s sake, you must tell me. Who did this?”

She spoke again, her voice fainter than ever. “Vi... Violet.” The word was more sigh than speech.

Despite a pounding sense of urgency, Lucas could not leave her. He held her for what seemed a long time. Her hand, icy cold on his sleeve, went slack and dropped. A rattling sound he remembered from the field hospital filled the silence.

He felt strangely calm as he relinquished his hold on Midge, poor Midge, whom he had never known. He put her head on a pillow and settled the coverlet around her as if she were a child being tucked in for the night. For eternity.

Then, still seized by an eerie serenity, he went through the apartment, seeking clues.

The problem was, someone had been here before him. Someone had ripped out desk drawers and rifled through papers and books. Someone had taken three innocent lives and cut them short.

He must contact the authorities. He would do so anonymously, of course, taking care that his name not be connected with this whole unsavory affair.

As he left, he passed through the vestibule. On a peg behind the door hung Miranda’s plain blue wool shawl. He pictured her in it, strolling along with him, gesturing as she spoke, her eyes brighter than stars as she gazed up at him.

He snatched up the shawl and buried his face in the soft wool. It smelled of Miranda and memories.

He had been too damned late to save her.

Ah, God, Miranda. I’m so sorry.

The dam broke. Lucas Chesney, Viscount Lisle, hero of the Peninsular Wars, sank to the floor and sobbed.

* * *

Miranda forced herself to stop screaming as Larkin yanked her to her feet and dragged her back to Bedlam. “I have a wealthy family,” she said. Her voice had taken on a surprisingly cultivated tone.

“Have you, then?” Larkin asked cynically. “I thought you didn’t remember.”

“Perhaps I do, perhaps I don’t,” she said in a singsong voice. “The question is, will you risk it?”

Larkin paused at the entranceway to the hospital. “Risk—”

She barked out a laugh. “Your decision, Mr. Larkin. Are a few moments of fleeting lust worth losing a handsome reward?”

He studied her for a long moment, his mustache twitching. “You’re a skinny, filthy wretch anyway,” he muttered. Then he hauled her through a corridor with cracked plaster walls, stopping at a wide, barred door. “Your home away from home, milady,” he spat.

He shoved her into the women’s gallery. She pressed a fist to her mouth to stifle another scream. A high fanlight let in streams of the afternoon sun. Dirty straw covered the floor. The plaster walls were crumbling and weeping with moisture. And everywhere, in every nook and cranny, on each rickety bench or moldering pallet, some dangling from manacles and leg irons, were the insane.

A few of them looked up when she entered. Most continued their mindless rocking and moaning, some screeching or muttering to themselves. One had plucked out the hair on the left side of her head. Another sang a tuneless, repetitive melody. But for the most part, the women lay as unresponsive as corpses.

“Hey, warden!” A buxom woman with bad teeth and jet black hair sidled toward them. “What have you there? A new jade ornament?”

“Stand aside, Gwen, she’s none of your affair.”

Ignoring him, Gwen put her face very close to Miranda’s. “’Neath all that dirt and soot, she looks a bit too fine for the likes of you, Larkin.” Gwen lifted an eyebrow. “What say you to that, mistress?”

A spark of outrage flared to life inside Miranda. She jerked her arm from Larkin’s grasp. “What I say, Mistress Gwen, is that any woman in this room is too fine for the likes of Warden Larkin.”

In the stunned silence that ensued, more women lifted their faces toward Miranda, like broken blossoms seeking the sun. Gwen let out a laugh of delight, braying loudly until the warden backhanded her across the mouth.

She barely flinched. A group of women ambled closer, baring their teeth. Sweat broke out on Larkin’s brow. He took a coiled leather lash from his belt. A few inmates shrank back, but still more advanced.

Barking an oath, Larkin stepped outside, slammed the door and shot the bolt home. Gwen laughed again, and others joined her, their shouts of mirth no longer eerie, but strangely joyful.

Miranda stood with her back to the wall of iron bars and stared. When at last she found her voice, she asked, “Why did you do that, all of you? Why did you defend me?”

Gwen clasped Miranda’s hands in hers. “Because of what you said, girl. About us all being too fine for Larkin.”

“I spoke no more than the truth.”

“Aye. But no one’s ever said it before.”

* * *

The explosion was four days past and Miranda’s trail was growing cold. Ian MacVane had inquired at churches, poorhouses, bawdy houses, almonries. He had paid bribes to wharfside idlers and shipmasters, to innkeepers and stablers, all to no avail.

His superiors were growing more insistent by the hour. Frances had been shocked to learn the young woman had survived the explosion, and she was frantic to speak to her—or so she said. But Ian knew instinctively that Frances was not particular. She merely wanted the girl found—alive or dead.

Frustrated, he stalked through the ransacked house in Stamford Street for the tenth time. Curses trailed like a black banner in his wake.

Four days, and he was no closer to finding her than he had been after the night of the disaster.

And to think he had held her in his arms!

The thought haunted him. He remembered how fragile she had felt, remembered the fright and confusion in her eyes. The urge to protect her had been powerful. He should have heeded his instincts rather than entrusting her to the watchman.

“You should hae listened to the voice in your noggin rather than shunting her off on that peeler,” Duffie said, shouldering open the door and stepping inside. “You knew that, did you not?”

Ian glared at his assistant, Angus McDuff. “Not before you did, it seems. Truly, you give me the willies.” Duffie had an uncanny gift for reading a man’s thoughts. “If I were the superstitious sort, I’d call you a devil’s imp and banish you to the Outer Hebrides.”

“The London peelers are as corrupt as the criminals themselves,” Duffie said. “It takes no great gift to figure that out.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be looking after Robbie?”

“The lad’s fast asleep in the coach, bless his wee heart,” Duffie said with fondness. His bristly, graying beard outlined the bow shape of his broad smile. “At the moment, you need me more.”

They stood together in thoughtful silence, surveying the place that had been the home of Miranda Stonecypher.

It was a modest suite of rooms with scuffed plank floors, threadbare upholstery and papers crammed on shelves or strewn about. Black smears of dried blood marred the walls and floors.

Books were piled on every available surface. The topics ranged from works on moral philosophy to scientific tracts on physics and cosmography.

Had Miranda read them, or had they been her father’s? The Englishwomen Ian knew did not trouble themselves to read anything more challenging than La Belle Assemblée. God forbid they should actually have to think.

By far the most disquieting item in the room was a painting over the mantel. It was a reproduction of The Nightmare by Fuseli, Swiss painter and darling of the radicals. A sleeping woman, clad in a gauzy night rail, reclined on a draped bed. On her bosom perched a creature with a burning gaze and a wicked leer, and in the background loomed a horse with glassy eyes and flaring nostrils.

“Now that,” Duffie said, “gives me the willies.”

“Be certain Robbie doesna see it.” Ian turned away from the picture. The room was in a shambles, destroyed by the murderers and then rifled by officers from Bow Street who had been alerted by an anonymous citizen.

Ian grinned humorlessly. Lady Frances hated the Runners. This was not the first time they had interfered in her work.

He and McDuff picked through the rubble that was left. A half-written letter responding to a lender’s dun for money. Greek symbols sketching out some mathematical formula. A mundane list in a more feminine hand: foolscap, ink, silk thread...

In a carpetbag he found a stocking to be mended, along with an unfinished needlework project depicting a spray of forget-me-nots around an old-fashioned tower house. The caption read, “One father is more than an hundred schoolmasters.” A faint floral scent clung to the bag. Ian dropped it and raked a hand through his hair.

He knew nothing about this woman.

Except that she read wonderful books and liked dangerous paintings and loved her father.

And that when he’d held her, he had felt a reluctant stirring in his heart.

“Och, I dinna believe my eyes,” Duffie exclaimed.

“What do you mean?” Ian asked in annoyance.

“The great MacVane of the Highlands actually felt something other than hatred and rage. Ah, dinna deny it. I saw it in your pretty face. You care about the lass, don’t you?” Duffie gave a sly wink.

Ian clutched the back of a wooden chair and glared down at his gloved hands. The gloves spared him from seeing the stump of his finger, from remembering the past.

“She’s a puzzlement, Duffie. There was something...not right about her that night.”

“People dinna generally appear their best following a massive explosion,” Duffie observed helpfully.

“It was more than just panic and confusion. It was—” Ian nearly strangled on his own words as a blinding flash of memory cleaved his thoughts. Just for a moment, he was in another place, another time...

Burning buildings, thick smoke, people running to and fro. And his mother, unable to stand what they had done to her, had that same look in her eyes. That look of madness...

“Madness, you say?” Duffie asked.

“Did I say that?”

“Well, if people were to perceive the poor lass to be mad, then...”

Duffie and Ian looked at each other. At the same time, they snapped their fingers and spoke the same thought.



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