Wicked Nights With a Lover Page 2

“No.” The woman readjusted her shawl around herself. “You have more time than that. Before the year is out, you’ll meet your end. I have seen it with my own eyes. This Christmas shall be your last.”

Marguerite could not stop her shiver. “I think you should leave.”

Madame Foster nodded as though she couldn’t agree more. “Aye, I’ve had enough of this house. I’m sorry for both of you. But you especially.” Her gaze roamed her face, eyes brimming with pity. “So young. And such a terrible accident.” She clucked her tongue. “Tragic.”

Vexed beyond her limit, Marguerite pulled the front door open herself, with no care that she was effectively kicking one of Mrs. Danbury’s guests from the house. Her further presence could bring no good. “Leave.”

“Happily.” Madame Foster departed. It took every effort not to slam the door behind her. Even from where she stood, the wails of her employer could be heard above stairs. She would not be easy to soothe. With a sigh, Marguerite started up the stairs, unable to credit the heaviness settling in her chest.

She didn’t believe the swindler’s claims for one moment. She didn’t believe in spells or magic or people who predicted fate. Rubbish. If she could see it, touch it, taste it, then it was real.

At week’s end, she would have her proof. Mrs. Danbury would be fine. Hale and hearty and sane. Sane, if not again, then perhaps for the first time in her life, with the evidence of her foolishness staring her in the face.

And Marguerite would be free to move on to her next assignment.

Chapter 2

A week later, Marguerite was free to move to her next assignment. Mrs. Danbury was dead.

Standing over the still warm body of her employer, she stared hard at the lifeless form until her eyes ached. She stared. And she stared. As if she could will the woman to rise and not be dead.

She’d witnessed countless deaths, stood alongside the families and friends as they mourned, shared stoically in their sorrow. And yet never had she felt like this. This was different.

This couldn’t be happening.

Her chest constricted, air impossible to draw. Guilt, she realized, although she couldn’t credit such an emotion. She had afforded her patient every care … even as she had not believed, up until the very end, that Mrs. Danbury was actually relapsing, actually dying. She had performed every measure to try and save her life. All for naught. Madame Foster had been right.

She blinked her dry, aching eyes. When Mrs. Danbury took a turn for the worse, declining swiftly over the course of three days, Marguerite had refused to believe that the seer could possibly have been correct. It was insupportable. For if she were correct …

Marguerite shook her head fiercely and swallowed against the terrible thickness in her throat. She directed her attention back to Mrs. Danbury’s grieving daughter. An unfortunate creature with a too-large nose and a regrettable moustache. She had never wed. Before Marguerite’s arrival, she had been her mother’s constant companion. To say Marguerite’s presence was a point of resentment would be an underestimation.

“Why? Why? She was so much better … on the mend, you said so!” Miss Danbury beat the bed beside her mother, very much like a child in a tantrum. “You said so, Marguerite, you said so!”

Marguerite flinched. She couldn’t say a word, couldn’t offer an explanation. Madame Foster’s face materialized in her mind. You’ll not live out the week. Her prophetic words had come to pass.

Shaking her head, Marguerite placed her hand on the young woman’s shoulders, only to be shaken off.

She wet her lips to summon her customary words of sympathy. “I’m sorry. Your mother lived a good life. A full life … and a life lived is nothing to grieve.”

She uttered the words every single time … had heard them once, when she’d first begun as a sick nurse. A friend of the bereaved family had offered the words of solace within her hearing and she thought them terribly wise. Now she thought them tragic. Tragic for someone like herself … because she hadn’t lived a particularly good life. Thus far, she could not characterize her life as full either. Her life simply … was. A series of days passing, one after the other.

This realization had eluded her … perhaps because she had assumed she had so much time left. Time enough to live a good life. A full life. She folded her suddenly cold hands before her, looking away from the recently departed Mrs. Danbury enshrined in her bed and cursing Madame Foster for making her suddenly examine the state of her life.

All at once, the sight of death chilled her, affected her as never before, tangible as any hand that might reach out and seize hold of her.

“You’re a liar!” Miss Danbury choked. “A liar! I hope you die, you dreadful creature!”

With a cold, humorless smile curving her lips, Marguerite turned and left the room, wondering in the darkest corner of her heart if Miss Danbury’s wish might not soon come to fruition.

It was much later before Marguerite escaped to her room. The undertaker had come and left. The arrangements had been made. Miss Danbury had not been fit to cope, so the task fell to Marguerite. She knew the undertaker well and had been able to expedite matters with her usual efficiency, pretending there was nothing extraordinary about Widow Danbury’s passing.

With a weary sigh, she fell back in the chair beside the window that overlooked the small courtyard situated behind the townhouse. Over the past few months, she’d enjoyed this room, particularly the view. Even in the grip of early winter, the trees looked lovely, the branches swimming in the breeze, their few remaining leaves clinging with laudable tenacity.

Her eyes drifted shut and she began to doze, the toll of the last days catching up with her. A knock sounded, and she rose with a start, smoothing her skirts before opening the door to the housekeeper.

“Mrs. Hannigan,” she greeted. “Did you need something?”

“No, no, dear. Sorry to disturb you. I know it’s been a long day, a right trial, and you’ve taken the brunt of Miss Danbury’s pain, don’t we all know it. But this letter arrived this morning.” She pulled an envelope from her apron. “I thought you might like it now. Perhaps it’s from one of those friends of yours.” She shrugged one thick shoulder. “Thought you could tolerate a bit of cheer.”

Marguerite’s heart immediately lightened as she grasped the crisp envelope. A letter from either Fallon or Evie would certainly lift her spirits. Her friends were both happily wed … leading full lives. Despite their less than orthodox courtships, they had found love and happiness in their marriages.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hannigan.”

“Good night, dear. See you in the morning.”

She nodded and this time her smile felt less forced, less tight on her face. “Good night.”

Alone again, she sank to the bed, tearing open the letter with hands that shook in her excitement. Perhaps Fallon was back in London. She could stay with her for a few days before she took a new assignment and put this last week behind her, like a strange nightmare that would grow foggy and foggier until completely forgotten.

Her heart sank as her gaze settled on the page. She didn’t recognize the handwriting. In fact, the scrawl was nearly illegible. Marguerite squinted to read:










   This letter likely comes as a shock to you. You may, in fact, believe I’ve quite neglected you over these many years. Let me assure you that is not the case. I funded you through Penwich, minding my responsibility to you as any dutiful father. It is not until this time that I have deemed a meeting beneficial. I hazard to presume you may not agree, but hope you may reconsider. Even if you have no wish to acquaint yourself with me, think of your sisters. They long to meet you …

The letter fluttered from Marguerite’s limp fingers like a falling moth, the rest of the words detailing how she should contact her father insignificant, lost as her thoughts reeled.

Her father wanted to meet her? She snorted. Not likely. He had not deigned to see her all those years ago when her mother scraped by a humble existence in their small village.

Several times a year Marguerite’s mother left her in the neighbor’s care so that she might venture to London and the bed of her lover. She never recalled her mother sitting her down and explaining the purpose behind these trips, but she had somehow always understood. Her father was in London. That was never a secret. The carriage that arrived to collect her mother belonged to him. Her mother always returned with smiles, a new wardrobe, and a doll for Marguerite. The price of her dignity.

Following her mother’s death, the same carriage that had always collected her mother arrived to convey Marguerite to the Penwich School for Virtuous Girls.

Her father had never bothered to make her acquaintance in person before. She saw no reason to make his acquaintance now.

He was correct. She had no wish to meet him. But … sisters?

For so long she had counted herself alone. She moistened her lips and bent to collect the missive. Could it be true and not some fabrication? A ploy to bring her to her father’s door? And why should he want to see her now? He’d had ample opportunity when her mother was alive. The opportunity had even been there when she was at Penwich’s. Instead, she’d suffered there until her eighteenth year. Not even at Christmas had he sent for her. An orphan, for all intents and purposes.

Sisters. Her heart warmed at the possibility. Dropping back on the bed, she rolled to her side and curled her legs to her chest, feeling perhaps a little less alone, a little less chilled knowing that somewhere out there she had a family. Sisters who might wish to know her.

The echo of the diviner’s words whispered through her head like a sifting wind. You shall not live out the year.

She shivered. Rubbish, of course. Utter rot. Mrs. Danbury’s passing was a mere coincidence. She had been ill, after all, clearly not recovered from her initial affliction.

Marguerite was not ill. She was not going to die. At least not at any time soon, and she wouldn’t let some scheming swindler wreak havoc with her head. She would put Madame Foster firmly from her mind and get about her life. A life that looked suddenly brighter than it had moments before.

Chapter 3

Marguerite lifted her hand for a second round of knocking, ignoring the sting in her knuckles. Blast! She had to be home. Marguerite refused to believe she had made the trip to St. Giles for nothing.

Hawkers called loudly from the street behind her, selling their wares with hard, desperate voices. Carriages rattled past with noisy clatter. Despite the unseasonable cold, the streets were crowded. The only concession to weather appeared to be that passersby moved with haste, no doubt eager to reach the waiting fires and grates of their destinations. She, too, longed to return to Mrs. Dobbs’s cozy boardinghouse. It was a familiar enough place. She frequently stayed there between assignments, if she was not visiting either Fallon or Evie.

At last the door swung open. A woman strolled out, nearly knocking Marguerite aside where she stood on the stoop. Tucking her cloak more tightly around herself, the woman called back into the house, “See you next week, Madame.”

Madame herself stepped within the threshold. “Aye, and mind what I told you, Francie. Stay away from that Tom fellow.”

Francie fluttered her hand in the air as she descended the steps onto the cracked sidewalk.

Marguerite fixed her attention on the woman she had come to confront, despite all her attempts to put her from her head. Firming her lips, she gave a brisk nod. “Madame Foster. I’ve come to speak with you.”

The woman settled a lingering gaze on Marguerite. “You,” she said flatly. “I thought you would be here sooner.”

Before Marguerite could respond, she shrugged and waved for her to follow. “This way. I expect you’ll pay for my time. Just because you got the first reading for free—”

Prev page Next page