July 1815: The Prince Regent’s grandiose plans to celebrate Napoléon’s recent defeat at Waterloo are thrown into turmoil when Lady McInnis and her daughter Emma are found brutally murdered in Richmond Park, their bodies posed in a chilling imitation of the stone effigies once found atop medieval tombs. Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy immediately turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for help with the investigation. For as Devlin discovers, Lovejoy’s own wife and daughter were also murdered in Richmond Park, their bodies posed in the same bizarre postures. A traumatized ex-soldier was hanged for their killings. So is London now confronting a malicious copyist? Or did Lovejoy help send an innocent man to the gallows?
Aided by his wife, Hero, who knew Lady McInnis from her work with poor orphans, Devlin finds himself exploring a host of unsavory characters from a vicious chimney sweep to a smiling but decidedly lethal baby farmer. Also coming under increasing scrutiny is Sir Ivo McInnis himself, along with a wounded Waterloo veteran—who may or may not have been Laura McInnis’s lover—and a charismatic young violinist who moonlights as a fencing master and may have formed a dangerous relationship with Emma. But when Sebastian’s investigation turns toward man about town Basil Rhodes, he quickly draws the fury of the Palace, for Rhodes is well known as the Regent’s favorite illegitimate son.
Then Lady McInnis’s young niece and nephew are targeted by the killer, and two more women are discovered murdered and arranged in similar postures. With his own life increasingly in danger, Sebastian finds himself drawn inexorably toward a conclusion far darker and more horrific than anything he could have imagined.
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Richmond Park: Sunday, 23 July 1815
've figured out what's wrong with women," declared Ben. He lay on his back on the grassy hillside, his face lifted to the wide blue sky, his cheeks ruddy from a heady combination of sunshine, fresh air, and a bota of cheap red wine.
Harry swiveled his head to look at his brother. "So what is it?"
The observation struck both young gentlemen as uproariously funny, and they rolled about in the sun-warmed grass, eyes squeezing shut, bodies convulsing with laughter. Separated in age by only two years, the sons of Thomas Barrows, Esquire, had retreated to Richmond Park on this glorious July afternoon to escape the hubbub surrounding their elder sister's wedding, which was scheduled to take place in three days' time.
"I think," said Ben, "that-" He broke off, his jaw going slack as a loud cr-rack echoed across the park.
"What was that?" said Harry, jerking upright.
Ben sat up beside him. "Sounded like a pistol shot."
At the second shot, the brothers looked at each other. "Reckon it's a duel?"
Harry pushed to his feet. "Let's go see!"
Snagging the straps of their leather wineskins, the brothers sprinted up the hill. From the top they could look out over the vast royal park's rolling vista of lush green grass and leafy woodland; London was a dirty smudge in the distance.
"Don't see anyone," said Ben.
Harry nodded to the stretch of oak mingled with chestnut near the base of the hill. "Bet it came from there."
They ran down the daisy-strewn grassy slope, laughing as they gained momentum, arms flung wide for balance, botas bouncing against hips. Then they slowed, breath catching as they stumbled to a halt. Harry felt the sun hot on his back, felt his stomach clench and his mouth go dry.
A woman and a girl lay on their backs in the grass beside a picnic rug scattered with sturdy white ironstone plates and the remnants of a genteel nuncheon. Dressed in fine gowns of delicate white muslin, they lay not side by side but in a line, so that the soles of the woman's shoes almost touched the girl's. Their hands were brought together at their chests as if in prayer, their silent faces turned to the sky, the bodices of their gowns shiny red. The stench of freshly spilled blood hung thick in the air, along with the lingering sulfuric stench of burnt gunpowder.
"Oh, my God," whispered Ben.
His breath now coming in gasping pants, the blood rushing in his ears, Harry heard a child's lighthearted trill of laughter.
He wrenched his gaze away from that bloody horror to see a young girl and boy coming up the path that wound along a small stream, the girl golden haired and rosy cheeked, the boy younger and even fairer. Her arms were filled with a cheerful rainbow of flowers-cornflowers and lilies, daisies and sunflowers, tansy and field poppies-that tumbled to the ground as she drew up, her eyes going wide.
For a long moment she stood rigid, her throat working soundlessly. Then she opened her mouth and Harry tensed, waiting for her scream.
But she simply stood there, her chest shuddering with her ragged breaths, her nostrils flaring and the color draining from her face.
ir Henry Lovejoy, one of Bow Street Public Office's three stipendiary magistrates, stood at the base of the grassy hill, his hands tucked up under his armpits, his chin resting against his chest as he gazed at the scene before him. He was a slight, sparse man in his late fifties, barely five feet tall and quite bald. After fourteen years as a magistrate, he should have become inured to the sight of violent death. But these deaths . . .
God help him, these deaths.
Swallowing hard, he turned to the full-faced, corpulent squire who stood to one side, the wind ruffling his unruly head of thick ginger hair. "No one's touched anything?"
Squire Adams, the local magistrate, shook his head. When called to the scene by the park's keepers, he'd taken one look at the murdered woman and girl and sent word straightaway to Bow Street. "No, sir. Made sure of that, I did."
"And we're certain of the victims' identities?"
"Aye, no doubt about that. It's Lady McInnis, all right-wife of Sir Ivo himself. And Miss Emma, one of his daughters."
"How old is she?" Was she, thought Lovejoy, mentally correcting himself.
"Sixteen, according to her young cousins. The wife of one of the keepers has them at her cottage-the children, I mean. Seemed best to get them away from here."
"Quite right." Lovejoy felt his throat thicken as he stared down at the winsome young girl. Her dark hair was fashionably cropped to curl around her face, her features even, her nose small and almost childlike, her mouth wide. The shot that killed the girl had been fired so close to her chest that the cloth of her muslin gown was charred.
Lovejoy glanced over to where the two young gentlemen who'd found the bodies now sat in the grass, their forearms resting on bent knees, their heads bowed. The younger lad, Ben, had been sick several times. His older brother was thus far managing to keep down his wine, although he kept puffing up his cheeks and then blowing out his breath, hard.
"You say the brothers just happened upon this?"
"Well, they heard the shots and came to investigate."
"But saw no one?"
"Only Lady McInnis's young niece and nephew, who came along right afterward."
"Those poor children."
Drawing a deep breath, Lovejoy forced himself to look again at the bodies before him. The mother and her daughter hadn't died this way; they'd been posed-carefully, deliberately posed by their killer. Lovejoy had seen such a thing only once before, fourteen years ago.
Oh, Julia; Julia, Julia, he thought. How can it be? How can it possibly be?
His head jerked around at the sound of rapid hoofbeats. A gentleman's curricle was approaching at a spanking pace, drawn by a splendidly matched pair of fine chestnuts and driven by a rakish-looking man in a lightweight summer duster with shoulder capes and a stylish beaver hat set at a reckless angle. He drew up where the narrow lane began to curve away again and handed the reins to his young groom, or tiger, before hopping down to the road. He said something to the boy, then turned to walk toward them, his gait slightly marred by the leg wound from which he was still recovering.
A tall, lean man in his early thirties with dark hair, fine features, and the strangest feral-looking yellow eyes Lovejoy had ever seen, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, was the only surviving son and heir of the powerful Earl of Hendon. He'd returned to England some four or five years before, after serving as a cavalry officer in the wars. There'd been a time when his lordship had been accused of murder and Lovejoy assigned the task of bringing him to justice. But in the years since, the two men had forged a strong friendship, and as soon as Lovejoy heard the identities of today's victims, he had sent for Devlin. Murder investigations involving the aristocracy were always delicate. And this murder . . . Ah, this murder.
"Sir Henry," said Devlin, walking up to him. Then his gaze fell on the dead mother and girl and he said, "Christ."
"Did you know Lady McInnis?"
"Not well, although I have met her. She's a friend of Lady Devlin."
"Ah. I am sorry."
Devlin's brows drew together in a disturbed frown. "They were found like this?"
"They were, yes." Lovejoy cleared his throat. "You should know that two other women were killed here in the park fourteen years ago-a woman in her early forties and her young daughter, both shot in the chest and their bodies deliberately positioned exactly like this: feet to feet, hands brought together as if in prayer."
"Good God. Do you know who they were?"
"Oh, yes," said Lovejoy in a voice that sounded strange even to his own ears. "Julia and Madeline Lovejoy." He paused, then somehow managed to add, "My wife and seventeen-year-old daughter."
ebastian drew a slow, even breath as he studied the magistrate's tightly held features. He'd known this man for four years. Over the course of more murder investigations than he liked to think about, the two men had talked for endless hours, sharing some of their deepest thoughts and secrets. Sebastian knew Lovejoy's wife and daughter had died suddenly; knew that those deaths had altered the path of his life and profoundly impacted his spiritual beliefs. So how could he not have known this?
For a moment, he found himself at a loss for words.
Lovejoy said, "It can't be a coincidence."
"No." Sebastian gazed down at the oddly posed bodies. Their postures reminded him of the stone effigies one often saw atop medieval tombs, and he wondered if the echo was deliberate. "No one was ever arrested for their murders?"
"Oh, yes; someone was arrested-a one-armed ex-soldier named Daniel O'Toole who'd been menacing other people in the area. He was remanded into custody, tried, convicted, and hanged."
Sebastian glanced over at his friend. "You're thinking they hanged the wrong man?"
Lovejoy's small, dark eyes were filled with silent anguish. "What else can one think? The man did die shouting his innocence from the scaffold."
"Someone could have learned the details of the previous murders and patterned this after them. We've seen it before."
Lovejoy considered this. "I suppose. But . . . why would he?"
It was a question for which Sebastian had no answer.
He hunkered down beside the still, lifeless husk of what was once Laura McInnis. She'd been an attractive woman, probably somewhere in her late thirties, still youthful and slim, with honey-colored hair and delicate features. In death she looked peaceful, serene.
He hoped she was.
"What time did this happen?" he asked. Flies were buzzing around her open mouth and blood-soaked chest, and he batted them away in a spurt of useless rage.
"Half past one or thereabouts, we believe."
It had taken time for the brothers to summon one of the park's keepers, more time for the keepers to call in the local magistrate, and more time still for word to be sent to London some eight miles away. By now, Lady McInnis and her daughter had been dead at least four or five hours.
Sebastian picked up one of her ladyship's limp, still vaguely warm hands and turned it over. The edge of her fine kid glove was stained bright red from where it had rested against the blood-drenched cloth of her bodice. He could see no sign that she had attempted to fight off their attacker. But then, how could a couple of gentlewomen grapple with an armed man?
He shifted to where her daughter lay in a similar pose. Unlike her mother, Emma McInnis's soft brown eyes were open and staring, and she looked so young and innocent that it tore at his heart. He said, "Christ," again and pushed to his feet.
He was intensely aware of a woodlark singing sweetly from the top of a nearby oak, of the restless sighing of the breeze through the leafy branches of the adjacent wood, and of the late-afternoon sun drenching the long summer grass with a deep golden light. Turning, he let his gaze drift over the nearby picnic rug and hamper. The cheese, bread, and chicken that remained from the women's nuncheon were now dried and crawling with ants.
He said, "Has anyone told Sir Ivo?"
"One of my colleagues has undertaken the task of breaking the news to him, as well as carrying word of the situation to the surviving children's father. But it's difficult to say if he's managed to do so yet."
Sebastian's gaze shifted to where the brothers still sat. "What do we know about those two?"
"Their father is a prosperous barrister-has a small estate not far from Richmond. They say they came here today to escape a house filled with relatives for their sister's wedding."
"And they neither saw nor heard anything?"
"Nothing beyond the pistol shots," said Lovejoy, just as the younger brother pushed to his feet, whirled, and was sick again.
Harry Barrows was twenty years old, with lanky brown hair, a thin face, and a long, narrow nose. He sat now with his arms wrapped around his bent knees, his hands locked together so tightly his knuckles were turning white. His face was pale, and a muscle kept twitching beneath his right eye, but Sebastian could tell the young man was gamely fighting to maintain his composure.
"I hear you're down from Cambridge for the summer," said Sebastian, settling in the grass beside him.
Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. Magdalene College."
"I'm an Oxford man, myself."
A faint smile touched Harry's face, then was gone. "Sir Henry said you'd be wanting to talk to us, but I don't know how much we can tell you."
"Where were you when you heard the first shot?"
Harry nodded toward the top of the nearby hill. "Just over there, sir."
"How many shots did you hear?"
"Only two, sir."
"Sir Henry says you think it was a pistol?"
"Yes, sir. No doubt about that. Ben and I've been going shooting with our father since we were breeched."
"Do you remember how much time there was between the first and second shot?"
Harry was silent, as if mentally reconstructing the moment. "Only seconds, sir. I figure it had to have been a double-barreled pistol-there wasn't enough time in between for anyone to reload. Ben thinks so, too." He turned his head to look at his brother, who was now lying on his back in the grass with his eyes closed. "Is he going to be all right? He's been awfully unwell."
"It will pass. How long was it between the last shot and the time you and your brother arrived here?"
"Not long, sir. Not long at all."
"Yet you didn't see anyone running away?"
"No, sir. But then we wouldn't, would we? I mean, not if whoever did that had headed straight into the wood."
"And you didn't hear anything besides the pistol shots?"
"No voices? No screams?"
The young man pressed his lips together and shook his head. There was a bleakness to his expression that Sebastian had seen before, the look of someone whose safe, predictable existence has suddenly been touched by evil and horror. The world would never be quite the same for him again.
Harry said, "That girl-the one who'd been picking flowers down by the stream with her little brother. She didn't scream. She opened her mouth, and I kept waiting and waiting for her to scream. But she never did." He swallowed. "In a way, it was almost worse than if she had screamed."