1888: A year after Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, terror mounts in the city’s slums. A killer has butchered two prostitutes, the crimes brutal even by London’s hardened standards. Rumors of the murders reach Princess Vicky, daughter of Queen Victoria and grieving widow of the German Emperor Frederick III. When her niece Princess Maud visits, she brings with her even worse news: The Metropolitan Police have a suspect. It’s Vicky’s nephew, Crown Prince Eddy. Desperate to clear her family’s name, Vicky rushes back to England.
Det. Inspector Thomas Edmondson believes there is a royal cover-up behind the killings. He will stop at nothing to expose the truth and bring a murderer to justice before he can kill again. But when Vicky joins him in searching for the man who will become known as Jack the Ripper, neither of them foresee the overpowering attraction that will draw together the royal and the commoner—or the danger their love puts them in.
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About the Author
In 2008, Perry founded Write by You, to coach other writers interested in reaching publication. She has been nominated for the prestigious Agatha Christie Award, and won the Heart of Excellence and Bookseller's Best Awards in 2011.
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The Neues Palais — Potsdam, Prussia — September 1888
Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise lifted the black netting from over her face. The mourning veil had begun to feel as cumbersome as her formal title — Her Imperial Majesty, The Empress Frederick.
She stared into the gilt-framed Baroque mirror at one end of her bedchamber, aware that her daughter — now nearly as old as she had been when she married Fritz — was watching her, worrying the lace panel of her day dress with anxious fingertips.
"Look at me, Sophie. I've become my mother. How revoltingly drab and ancient." Whatever had happened to Vicky, darling Crown Princess of the English Court?
The reflection peering back at her was that of a sour-faced old woman in black bombazine. She wasn't as plump as her mother, but she certainly could pass for a younger version of Queen Victoria soon after she'd lost her dear Prince Albert, Vicky's father.
"No, Mama, you aren't old," Sophie protested, also speaking in English. She knew the language of her mother's youth comforted her. Sophie stepped up to hug her. "You're just sad, because Papa's gone."
Gone four months now. Frederick III, Emperor of Germany. Her mate for life, her Fritz. The only man ever to share her bed and body.
She gently pushed Sophie away, ripped off the veil. It reminded her of a sooty shroud. You are not dead. Not yet! She had to constantly remind herself of that fact. She tossed the delicate teardrop hat with its gauze veiling toward the bed, but it fell short.
Her maid rushed to retrieve the fluttering storm cloud of tulle before it reached the floor. Scooping up hat and veil, Agathe cast a concerned look at her mistress and seemed about to say something but must have thought better of it. She silently took the offending thing away to the adjoining dressing room.
Vicky turned away from the mirror's disturbing image. So much that she'd once held dear she'd lost this past year. The man she'd respected even when they fought over their children and the empire's governance. Her say in political affairs as Empress of Germany and Queen of Prussia. The golden future for which her father had so carefully educated her. Lost ... lost ... lost!
And, as if that wasn't enough, she'd already buried two sons — Waldemar and Sigismund — before they'd even lived out their precious childhood. Wasn't all of that enough for any woman to suffer? Must she also relinquish youth and beauty? And with them all hope for love, intimacy, tenderness. She truly dreaded the years to come — widowhood — a bitter dram that she had no power to sweeten.
Sophie, at her side, whispered, "Mama. Please don't cry. I can't bear to see you so unhappy."
Vicky sat down on the edge of her marriage bed and drew her beautiful blonde daughter into her arms. "I know. I'm sorry. I will try to be more ..." She shook her head and kissed Sophie's silky brow. How could she promise a cheerful outlook when the world around her seemed so very grim?
But she drew a deep breath and bravely blinked away the tears. At least she still had her daughters. And her other two living sons. For some reason, her boys had always been more trouble than the girls. Henry wasn't so bad, but dealing with Willy, heir to his father's throne, had aged her considerably. Sometimes she had to remind herself that she was only forty-eight years old.
The truth was, her eldest son now held all the power but shared none of his parents' liberal leanings or affinity for the English people and their ways. Willy, now Wilhelm II, was emperor, and she was out of a job. She had worn the crown and ruled over her adopted country, at her husband's side, only ninety-nine days following the death of Fritz's father. Tragically, her husband had already been sick by then; the throat cancer took him three short months later.
When Albert died, her mother had kept her crown and all that went with it, since it had passed to her directly from her uncle; the English allowed a female monarchy. Germany did not. Most worrisome of all, Wilhelm was the least suited of all her children to guide his country toward prosperity and peace.
"Mama, please, you mustn't torment yourself and hide in your room like this. The country needs you. We all need you."
"My darling Sophie, please, don't waste your entreaties on me. I am a realist. Besides, I'm too tired to fight the inevitable." She squeezed her daughter's slender, white fingers. "The most we can hope for is that your brother won't push Germany over a political cliff and into war. In the meantime, I will satisfy myself with finding good husbands for my girls, and hope for happier lives for you. Now leave me, dear girl. Frau Hoffstetter will be looking for you."
Sophie studied her for a moment longer then huffed in frustration and left the room to find her tutor.
Vicky was fully aware that her middle daughter had been trying particularly hard these past two months to cheer her up and bring a little light into her life. But spring had passed and then most of the summer, one season as bleak as the other. She'd watched with growing trepidation as her son scoffed at then abandoned the enlightened policies she and Fritz had only begun to put into place.
It was all so heartbreaking.
Willy had never hidden his hatred for the English, particularly for his grandmother. His arrogant outbursts and cruelty toward others, even in Queen Victoria's Court, foreshadowed political disaster. But what could she do? Any advice she gave her son toward moderation sent him into a fury reminiscent of his childhood temper tantrums. The terrible difference being — now he was Emperor over a wide swath of Europe, and there were few men, or women for that matter, capable of standing up to him. Fewer still able to change his mind once he'd set a goal. And he was hungry to grow his empire — by any means, at any cost. She truly feared they would face a bloody future.
She vaguely remembered her daughter leaving the room. Had it been minutes ago? Hours?
Vicky looked up from her own clenched hands to see that Sophie had indeed returned. "What is it, darling?" Maybe she should ring for Agathe. Her maid would shoo the girl off and suggest Vicky take a nap. What else was there for her to do but sleep? She lay awake all night, every night, felt exhausted the next day. What was the point of even living? If it weren't for her children ...
"Maud has arrived," Sophie said.
Vicky blinked, momentarily bewildered. "Maud? Here in Potsdam?" She looked past her daughter's shoulder to see her niece, Princess Maud, daughter of the Prince of Wales, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, in a pristine white summer gown, all flounces and tiers, her hair just a shade darker than Sophie's, her face a bit rounder. As always her brilliant smile lit the room.
"Auntie Vicky!" the girl gasped, rushing forward as if to embrace her but, at the last moment, dropping to a formal curtsy with a rustle of skirts and petticoats. "I'm so very glad to see you, Your Imperial Majesty."
"My dear girl." She rallied a bit at the sight of Bertie's child. Still, every word she spoke felt as painful as a glass shard caught in her throat. "What a lovely surprise."
"Mama," Sophie said in a patient voice, "I told you days ago that Maud had wired she was coming."
Vicky shook her head. Had she? No matter. Now she'd have to put on a strong, if not entirely cheerful, front. Obviously, the Queen had sent the girl to check on her.
Victoria repeatedly had begged her to come home to recover from her loss "in the bosom of family" as she put it. But her mother, with her impressively substantial bosom, could be so very ... well — there was no other way to put it — suffocating. She supposed her mother meant well, but the Queen felt compelled to control every detail of her nine children's lives, and that had been a source of frustration and tension within the family for as long as Vicky could remember. No doubt that was why Bertie and the other boys in the family had been so very eager to leap into the military. But the girls, of course, had fewer chances for independence. It was either live out their lives with their mother or marry. And then their husbands had the final word on all important matters.
None of Victoria's daughters had achieved true freedom and independence, not in Vicky's opinion. With the possible exception of her sister Louise, who was so stubborn and impossibly Bohemian when among her artiste-friends. Louise seemed utterly unconcerned with class and mixed casually with commoners. A shocking state of affairs, as far as their mother was concerned. Frankly, Vicky thought her younger sister was taking her liberal view of society a trifle too far. But then, she had to admit, Louise at least seemed content with the life she'd chosen. Her paintings were good, but her sculptures were magnificent. Maybe she was even ... happy?
Happiness was a concept Vicky wasn't sure she understood.
Vicky roused herself from grim thoughts and looked up at the two young women standing before her. So innocent, yet ... on the treacherous cusp of adulthood.
"Well, you must be tired from your journey, Maud. Why don't you get settled in. Sophie will show you around so you won't get lost. You've brought your chaperone and maid with you, have you?" Maud nodded solemnly. "Good, then. They'll unpack you. We'll dine at eight o'clock, just family. You girls may chat or play cards until then. Tomorrow we'll arrange a tour of the city and other entertainments for the duration of your stay with us."
Sophie clasped her mother's arm with both hands as if to physically capture her wandering attention. "Mama, that's not why she came."
"Oh? Why did you come, Maud dear?" She gave an inward sigh, prepared for a lecture delivered in the Queen's words through her niece's lips. Strength to carry on! Duty and family are all that's important! And of course, the usual reminders that she would never receive the same compassion from the people of Germany as she would back in England, where she'd spent her childhood. Thus she should return to her birth country to be swaddled in the protective arms of her family. As if that will bring back my husband or my crown.
"We need you to come to London immediately, Aunt Vicky," Maud burst out in her habitually dramatic fashion, eyes bright.
Despite the dark days she saw ahead, and her darker mood, a laugh escaped Vicky's lips. "Oh, you need me, do you?" Preposterous! "A widowed, unseated empress is required in London. Tell me now — why do you need me?"
Maud looked at her — wide blue eyes suddenly stripped of all innocence, all playfulness. "Why? Because of the murders," she said.CHAPTER 2
It took a moment for Vicky to grasp that last word. "Murders?" She shook her head, confused. Then immediately terrified. "Who has been murdered?"
Someone in the Royal Family? Certainly, if the Queen had been assassinated, she'd have been informed by her son's ministers immediately. Lord knew there had been more attempts on Victoria's life than most of her subjects were aware. Thankfully, none had succeeded. The little Queen seemed invincible.
Vicky reached out, took her niece by the hands and pulled her closer so that she could look her directly in the eyes. "Maud, is this one of your silly pranks?"
"No, oh no, not at all, Aunt Vicky! I'm so sorry. I thought you would have heard."
"Come then." She guided the girl over to the wine-colored velvet chaise by the window and sat her down. Standing over her, Vicky gazed down at her sternly. "I think you had better explain."
Sophie stepped up beside her mother, taffeta underskirts swishing as whisper soft as her voice. "Mama, I've read about them in the newspapers. They're called the Whitechapel murders, and they're truly horrible. She's not making it up."
In truth, Vicky hadn't read a newspaper in months. What was the point when there was nothing she could do about either local or world events? She was as powerless as her seamstress, cook, or even ... loyal Agathe.
Maud slipped a gray parchment envelope from the satin reticule looped around her thin wrist then seemed unsure what to do with it, and so left it in her lap. "I guess I'd better just start at the beginning."
"Excellent," Vicky said.
Maud took a deep breath. "There have been two most shocking murders recently in London. Sophie's right, both in Whitechapel."
Violence in any large city was not uncommon. Vicky knew, as well as anyone who had lived in London, how dangerous the East End was. The district was little more than a mass of crude tenements built over cesspools. Overcrowded. Filthy and disease-ridden. Occupied by the poorest of the city's poor. Even the Metropolitan Police, whose jurisdiction it was, ventured into neighborhoods like Huxton, Whitechapel, and Spittlefields only in numbers and, it was said, fully armed. She'd never even set foot in those horrid streets. She was sure her parents' coachmen took care to avoid the area entirely.
"Go on," Vicky said when Maud hesitated then sat down beside her.
"Women have been threatened or attacked with a blade before. But most recently, on separate occasions, two were brutally stabbed to death in the street." Maud's sweet face paled and she stared down at the paper rectangle beneath her nervously twitching fingertips. "Actually, not so much stabbed, so they say, as mutilated."
"I read the bodies were disemboweled," Sophie added helpfully. "Turned inside out, their organs taken from —"
Vicky silenced her daughter with a wintry glare. "I shall have a word with your tutors regarding your reading materials, missy."
"Mama," Sophie groaned, "everyone has heard about these ghastly murders." She turned to her cousin. "But I really don't see what the fuss is about. The victims, they're just dirty old whores."
"Sorry, I should have said 'prostitutes.'"
"That wasn't why I objected to what you said," Vicky snapped.
Ever since her sister Louise, now the Duchess of Argyll, had protested against the cruel laws that kept women dependent upon the good will of men for shelter and support — as females were unable to own property or businesses, or to even take on decently paying jobs like men — Vicky herself had become more protective of women's rights on the Continent. It was said that thousands of females wandered London's streets — destitute and unable to support themselves. Once there, they had only one way to delay starvation or put a roof over their heads.
Vicky shuddered to think of their desperation. She couldn't imagine being forced to let a strange man access her body, to do with her as he willed! She turned to her daughter.
"Sophie, these women can't be blamed for what they've been reduced to. It's not their choice to be poor or to have to sell their —" She pressed her lips together, unable to say more in front of the two princesses. Sophie was a tender seventeen years old, Maud just eighteen. Both were so impressionable, sheltered, vulnerable.
"You mean, they have sex with men for money?" Maud's eyes suddenly sparkled with mischief.
Sophie clapped a hand over her mouth and giggled.
"That is quite enough of that language, Maud dear." Vicky looked down at the envelope still resting in her niece's lap. "Is that a letter for me? Something to do with these disgusting events?"
"No, it's —" Instead of completing her thought, Maud turned the envelope over and uncoiled the thin red string securing its flap. She pulled out a sheaf of newspaper clippings. "I thought you might want to see these reports of the murders, in case you didn't believe what I came here to tell you."
Vicky looked down at the ink-smudged newspaper clippings. Some were from The Star, others from the more respectable Observer or The Times. But all included chilling sketches and photographs. When Sophie reached for them, Vicky cast her daughter a warning look. "These aren't for a young girl's eyes."
"But Maud has seen them. I don't see why I c —"
"Hush." Vicky flipped through the half-dozen articles, catching a word here, a phrase there. There was even a coroner's photograph of the first victim. Undoubtedly the only photograph ever taken of the poor soul. The black-and-white image was no less horrifying for showing only the woman's face and shoulders. Whatever the police surgeon had done to clean her up, it was still obvious she'd been cruelly beaten and slashed.
"Maud, I'll have a word with your mother about this ... this collection of yours. These are totally inappropriate for a young lady." She scooped the horrid images into her lap, intending to toss them into the flames in the fireplace.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Shadow Princess"
Copyright © 2014 Kathryn Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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