In the spring of 1812, the Luddites are on the march, Lord Byron is taking London drawing rooms by storm, and Penelope Wolfe has become a lady’s companion. When one of the footmen turns up dead with a knife to the heart, Penelope and Bow Street Runner John Chase are entangled in a web of family secrets and political conspiracy that stretches far beyond luxurious St. James’ Square. With the help of barrister Edward Buckler, Chase follows the trail of a mysterious mad woman caught peeping in the window at the corpse. Penelope struggles to fit into the fashionable world, encountering people who hide resentment and deceit under smooth smiles. Set against a backdrop of millennial fervor with thousands awaiting the end of the world, BLOOD FOR BLOOD explores the simple truth that every drop of blood spilled will be avenged.
About the Author
S. K. Rizzolo was born in Aspen, Colorado, but raised in Saudi Arabia and Libya where her father was employed in the oil industry. Returning to the United States for high school and college, Suzanne earned an M.A. in English. Currently a high school teacher, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. The Rose in the Wheel, a mystery set in Regency England, was her first novel. http://www.skrizzolo.com/
Read an Excerpt
Blood for Blood
By S. K. Rizzolo
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2003 S.K Rizzolo
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFebruary 1812
The crying had continued for hours, a low, throbbing noise that allowed her no peace and sent her stumbling over the rough ground. As she hurried through the trees, a low branch cut her cheek, drawing blood that trickled to her mouth. Her body felt leaden with fatigue, but she knew she must find the source of the sound. It went everywhere, borne on the wind, perhaps just the wind itself.
Ahead loomed a massive oak, its branches silvered by moonlight, leaves a-glitter with a thousand trembling rain jewels. In its shadow, she glimpsed movement and quickened her pace, then halted, confused. The cry intensified, a high note of mourning terrible to the ears.
Penelope awakened. Lifting her head, she looked through the gap in the bed curtains toward the open window. At her side Sarah still slept in the silence that had settled over the house. She could hear her own breathing, quick and shallow, a pulse beating a tattoo at her neck. Slipping out of bed, she crept to the window.
Air, heavy with rain-damp, stroked her skin. Below was darkness, but the sound had come from there, outside in the garden. She stood peering into shadows that she knew concealed trees and barren flower beds. After a time she turned away to slip into her dressing gown, its warmth welcome on this late winter's morning. She lit a candle and went out the door, closing it behind her.
* * *
In the library, someone had lit the lamp on Sir Roger's massive desk, around which huddled Timberlake, the butler; the housekeeper Mrs. Sterling, her hair in disarray under a hastily donned cap; and two of the housemaids. A footman, looking oddly unfinished in a loose shirt and no coat, stood at the French window, nose pressed against the glass.
The butler and housekeeper exchanged a glance at Penelope's appearance, Mrs. Sterling's mouth thinning.
"Mrs. Wolfe," Timberlake said, "your rest has been disturbed?"
"Yes, I heard someone cry out. What has happened?" Penelope set down her candle and turned toward the circle of anxious faces.
"You must have keen ears," put in Mrs. Sterling, her eyes coldly appraising. "Sound does not in general carry to the upper regions of the house."
Penelope waited, gazing back at her, then replied in a tone just short of insolence, "My window was ajar, ma'am."
Timberlake spoke. "George and I were on the point of making a circuit of the garden. You had best return above stairs." He turned to the footman. "Where is Dick? Go and rouse him at once, George. Tell him to arm himself with a stout cudgel."
"Indeed, we are only in the way here, Mrs. Wolfe," said the housekeeper, who never lost a chance to put the new companion in her place. "We must see to her ladyship. Would you be so kind as to ascertain that Miss Poole has awakened and gone to her? Lady Ashe may have sustained a terrible shock to her nerves and stand in need of a restorative. George," she added sharply. "You heard Mr. Timberlake. Go at once and fetch Dick."
A strange expression crossed George's face. Turning away, he approached the French window to edge it open a crack. "Listen," he said with an awed horror.
Through the window came a keening moan, alien it seemed, so full of pain and despair that the strangeness of it struck Penelope like a blow. As they waited, paralyzed, the noise repeated.
"What in heaven's name is that?" she exclaimed, striding forward.
The footman had lost so much color that his eyes blazed against the papery white of his skin. "Nothing of this earth, miss," he burst out.
"I beg you will not place yourself in front of the glass, Mrs. Wolfe," said Timberlake. "Who knows but that this uncanny call is meant to beguile us. I will rouse Sir Roger and Lord Ashe."
"Indeed you must, but someone is in great distress. We must go to his assistance at once." Turning to the footman, Penelope gestured into the darkness, her sense of urgency growing. "George, you will go? I will accompany you." The footman started to shake his head, but then nodded reluctantly.
Mrs. Sterling looked her with outrage. "Mrs. Wolfe, you cannot mean to expose yourself thus. You will catch your death of cold, if nothing worse is the result of such foolish and immodest behavior."
The moan came again, fainter, the merest breath of sound. "We must not delay," Penelope said, shivering. "I cannot bear that some unfortunate soul should cry out in need, or perhaps even perish, without we do nothing to aid him."
The housekeeper made as if to block her path, reaching out to grip Penelope's arm. "You don't know who or what it may be. What decent person is abroad at such an hour?"
Penelope did not reply. Deliberately, she removed her arm from Mrs. Sterling's grasp, almost pushing the woman aside in her impatience. Seizing her candle, she pushed open the door and stepped onto the terrace, pausing a moment to get her bearings.
The night faded. What two minutes ago had been impenetrable shadow now exhibited a wavering form, yet a fog lay over the whole. George had followed her out, Timberlake hovering in the rear apparently determined that no mere footman ought to be allowed to shame his manhood.
"Look!" cried George. "I saw movement there by that statue. Someone was there a moment ago, I'd swear it."
"Nonsense." Timberlake looked around uneasily. "It's just the breeze rustling amongst the trees. Mind, Mrs. Wolfe, your candle will blow out."
Ignoring him, Penelope slipped to the edge of the terrace, peering first toward the mist-shrouded shape that in daytime would become a statue of Apollo. Her eyes followed the line of the path that led to the small shrubbery just beyond. She could make out the laurel bushes and the flower beds. Then her gaze paused to linger on a patch of darkness in the middle of the gravel. Wordlessly, she tugged at George's sleeve.
Penelope picked up the skirts of her dressing gown and descended the shallow stairs to the garden. Swiftly, she moved to kneel at the side of a supine form, and with a shaking hand, reached out to touch a shoulder.
"What is it, miss?" George was there, bending over her, his face anxious.
Penelope looked up into his eyes. "A man. He's hurt, I think. Help me to turn him."
Before the footman could comply, the voice of her employer's husband issued from the terrace. "Mrs. Wolfe. May I be of help? Timberlake tells me we have suffered some sort of disturbance."
"Indeed, my lord, for there is someone injured here. Send at once for a surgeon and a constable."
She turned her attention back to the fallen man, and, with George's help, managed to roll him onto his back. In the grayish light she saw he was young and well formed. And as she bent over, she caught the faint gurgling as he gasped for air.
"He's alive," she said triumphantly. "George, go quickly and obtain a blanket, water, and some brandy. George?" She became aware of her companion's rigidity. Biting his lip as if in vain attempt to regain control, the footman stared fixedly ahead, eyes brimming with fear.
"What is it?" Her voice rose in spite of efforts to keep it steady. "There is no time to lose. He will die."
"It's Dick, miss. Don't you recognize him?"
Suddenly, horribly, she did. This was the young man who had pulled out her chair in the breakfast parlor just yesterday morning, the one who had blinked and smiled with his eyes when she thanked him for the fresh coffee.
Penelope stared at him. "You are not surprised to find him here, are you? You knew Dick wasn't in his bed?"
The footman took a shuddering breath. "We share a room, miss. I woke, found him gone, and went to look for him. That's when I heard that ungodly cry that brought Mrs. Sterling and Mr. Timberlake a-running too. But I never thought ... what's amiss with him?"
"I don't know." He still wore his silk stockings and black pumps with buckles, but his hair was unpowdered. Then Penelope reached down to run her fingers over the front of his blue and gold livery and felt a dampness. The stain had spread across his chest.
"He bleeds. Go, George," she said through a tight throat. "Get some cloths and inform Lord Ashe of what has happened. Go!"
As the footman backed away, she knelt beside the wounded man, taking his hand. With her other hand she bunched up some of the coat and pressed it against the wound. Her own fingers came back, sticky red. She wiped away the wet and reapplied the pressure.
The early morning birdsong clamored in her ears. Watching the light struggle to pierce the clouds, she thought the new day seemed unnaturally dark and was glad of the candle flickering feebly on the ground next to her. It seemed she waited a long time, dew soaking into the hem of her dressing gown, though it couldn't have been more than a few minutes. Still, it was long enough that she had time to wonder dully where everyone could be.
Penelope could think of nothing to do but pray, bending to murmur exhortations in the man's ear in the faint hope he might somehow respond. His face remained smooth, not so much as a flicker of an eyelid betraying his awareness of her presence, until it seemed he would attempt to speak. The horrid gasping intensified, his lips trembled, and he spoke, his voice so low, so thready, that if Penelope were not crouched close to his face she should never have heard him. As it was, she could not be certain she had understood him right, and it seemed to her that his face had grown even more alarmingly pale.
"The sun shall be turned into ... darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come." He could say no more, for blood there was, streaming from his mouth and down his smooth chin to stain the white cravat knotted at his neck.
"Help will come." She squeezed his hand. "I promise. It will come." Feeling the wetness of tears on her own face, Penelope put her cheek to his lips a second time, seeking desperately for breath.
She heard footsteps and looked up to see George, gripping a decanter of brandy, accompanied by Lord Ashe, garbed in a rich velvet dressing gown.
"Come away, Mrs. Wolfe," said Ashe. "Assistance will arrive shortly. You can do nothing further here, will only distress yourself to no purpose. George tells me that life yet lingers. Perhaps Dick may survive."
"No. I feel certain he is gone now," said Penelope. She released her grip on the cold fingers, accepted Lord Ashe's proferred hand, and came shakily to her feet.
"You shall have the brandy then," he said, taking her arm to lead her back toward the terrace. But first perhaps you will like to wash your face and change your dress?"
Penelope gaped at him, at first unable to fathom such concern with so trivial a matter as her appearance. But as her gaze followed his to the bloody streaks smeared across her dressing gown, she understood.
Chapter TwoEdward Buckler propped his elbows on the balustrade and gazed out over the river, his dog Ruff patient at his side. On winter days the omnipresent London soot mingled with the fog to form a gray pall that blanketed the river, enveloping him in its embrace. Then Buckler could not see the wherries and barges that plied the waters below, though the shouts of the watermen reached his ears as if from a vast distance.
Tasting soot on his tongue, he raised a hand to brush the black flecks from his cheek and nose. He liked days like this, for a man could make his way through the streets to stand on this bridge as if alone in all the world. And when a ray of sun chanced to strike the cloud that hovered always ahead, the atmosphere glowing suddenly golden-orange, the effect was truly beautiful.
He glanced down at Ruff, who looked back with a kind of weary trust that never failed to bring a smile to Buckler's lips. He ought not to keep the dog so long from his breakfast, he thought. But as he turned to go, he saw a figure emerging from the mist and approaching at a rapid pace along the footpath. An arm lifted in a vigorous wave. On Buckler's part, too, recognition was instantaneous even without the aid of the lamps that remained lit at this hour.
"I've been round to your chambers," boomed Ezekiel Thorogood. "Bob told me I'd likely find you here. Fortunate for me as I have a particular desire for a word with you."
"Here I am, as you see." He turned back to lean on the balustrade.
Thorogood chuckled. "That hardly sounds promising, but you will alter your tune once you hear my news. I don't suppose you've any fresh business of your own?"
"I've been pondering the brief Greer sent my way. I'm not so certain I wish to take it on."
"Why not? It's not as if you anticipate a full calendar, Buckler. Never mind that right now. I came to talk to you about Penelope Wolfe."
Buckler was silent, reflecting that of all the topics of conversation, he had not expected this one. Why this should be so he wasn't sure, as he knew the old lawyer was very good friends indeed with the lady. Penelope Wolfe did enter Buckler's thoughts at odd moments, especially when his eyes rested upon Ruff, the ragged companion she had foisted upon him. He felt he had done his duty in helping Mrs. Wolfe to obtain her current position as a lady's companion-and tried not to think much about her otherwise.
"Well? You are not curious? I own I had thought better of you than that."
"I don't suppose you mean to discuss the lady's affairs here. Shall we retire to my lodgings, or would you rather proceed to the Grecian and take some refreshment?"
"Neither," Thorogood boomed again over the din of wheels rumbling on stone. "We must go to my office."
Buckler glanced at him, surprised, and noticed for the first time that the lawyer's long face fairly quivered with a suppressed excitement, and his hat was squashed at an awkward angle on his head. "Not a social visit?"
"Not precisely, no. Let us get out of this confounded fog."
Buckler accompanied him down the walkway and into Chatham Place, where a hackney awaited them. The fog had begun to lift as a sharp breeze flirted among the clouds, blowing, subsiding, blowing again. Finding Thorogood strangely quiet during the short journey, Buckler sank into himself, seeing but not really seeing the familiar scene glimpsed through the coach window.
The streets roared with traffic of all sorts, mud-bespattered carriages, massive lumbering wagons, carts laden with meat or vegetables, the occasional flock of sheep driven by harassed guardians, and, of course, endless, teeming humanity in all its color and stench.
Unlike his friend, who seemed to thrive on the City's jostle, its ability both to feed a man's senses and to spice his life with challenge, Buckler preferred more convivial, eminently civilized surroundings such as his usual haunt, the Grecian Coffee House.
Excerpted from Blood for Blood by S. K. Rizzolo Copyright © 2003 by S.K Rizzolo
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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