Authors: Maureen Driscoll
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult Romance
ALSO BY MAUREEN DRISCOLL
THE EMERSON SERIES
ALWAYS TRUE TO HER (Emerson Book 2, James and Irene)
ALWAYS COME HOME (Emerson Book 1, Colin and Ava)
THE KELLINGTON SERIES
NEVER TURN AWAY (Kellington Book 6, Joseph and Evelyn)
NEVER DENY YOUR HEART (Kellington Book 5, Liam and
NEVER RUN FROM LOVE (Kellington Book 4, Hal and
NEVER WAGER AGAINST LOVE (Kellington Book 3, Arthur
NEVER MISS A CHANCE (Kellington Book 2, Lizzie and
NEVER A MISTRESS, NO LONGER A MAID (Kellington Book 1,
Ned and Jane)
THE POLITICAL SATIRE
DATING GEORGE CLOONEY
ALWAYS HAVE HOPE
To my mom. I love you now and always.
London, March 1823
Sergeant Ambrose Fisk studied the scene in front of
Mrs. Winifred Pierce, once known as Lady Winifred,
daughter of the late Earl of Ridgeway, sat huddled in a cold interrogation room
in Newgate prison. The officers had brought her straight there instead of
stopping first at Bow Street, as was the norm with suspects, especially when
the accused was a member of the
Her gown was covered in blood. Her hands were stained
with it. Even her fingernails were encrusted with it. Both of her eyes were
blackened, there was a cut on her cheek and her jaw was swollen. The way she
was holding her arm against her mid-section gave every indication that at least
one rib was cracked or broken. She was staring down at the table and had given
little more than one-syllable answers for the three hours she’d been questioned.
She’d said she didn’t know what had happened. She’d
found her husband dead in his study, his throat slit. When the butler had
walked in he’d sent for the police. There was no sign of forced entry in the
house. According to the butler, Mr. Pierce had no enemies. And his family had
been adamant that only one person might have motive to kill him: Mrs. Pierce
And that’s what had made Sergeant Fisk so suspicious.
When a man is violently murdered in his own home, he has an enemy. And likely
more than one.
From the looks of Mrs. Pierce, there was little doubt
in Fisk’s mind who’d beaten her so severely. She certainly would have motive
to kill her husband. And whether the law said it was wrong or not, Fisk
figured the bastard had it coming. But the woman before him looked too broken
to have done such an act. Not to mention if those ribs hurt as much as he
imagined they did, she wouldn’t have had the strength to carry out the attack.
He’d been at the crime scene. The late Mr. Pierce had
been a large man, with hands the size of ham hocks. His knuckles had been
scraped and there were scars beneath that. Some abusers kept their violence
hidden so their victims could be paraded about with no one the wiser. But,
obviously, Mr. Pierce hadn’t cared.
As bad as Mrs. Pierce’s injuries were – and they were
bad – Fisk didn’t think they had made the scrapes on Mr. Pierce’s knuckles.
He’d fought with someone else recently. Perhaps his killer. Perhaps someone
else entirely. It was worth running that down before they did anything foolish
like arrest Mrs. Pierce.
Unfortunately, it was not his call to make. Inspector
Dunlop was in charge. And if there ever was a man prone to foolishness, it was
Formerly, Fisk had quite happily served under Inspector
Joseph Stapleton. Inspector Stapleton had even recruited Fisk to the force,
when he’d been barely scraping by working menial jobs. Fisk had lost a leg in
the war and it had been difficult to find work. But Inspector Stapleton had
made him his sergeant and been a good friend to him. He still was, but he was
recently married and splitting his time between his estate and working as a
consultant with the Home Office.
If Joseph were there, he’d see the inconsistencies of
the circumstances. He’d have doubts about Mrs. Pierce’s guilt. And he
wouldn’t have spent three hours questioning her when it was clear the lady was
only becoming weaker. He’d get her a surgeon for no other reason than it
tended to ingratiate a suspect to you.
But Joseph wasn’t there.
Fisk continued to observe from a darkened corner. A constable
came in to speak to Dunlop.
“A toff is demanding to see ‘er. A Lord James
Mrs. Pierce looked up and for the first time appeared
“What the devil is his interest in the case?” asked
“Says ‘e’s her brother.”
Mrs. Pierce nodded her head. It looked like it took a
great deal of effort to do so. “May I see him?”
Dunlop looked at her for a moment, then turned to the
wooden slats in the wall behind him where others often watched the
interrogations. Fisk wasn’t sure who was back there, since the door had
already been closed when he’d arrived. Now there came one knock on the wall.
That meant no.
“You can’t see no one, Mrs. Pierce,” said Dunlop.
“When can I go home?”
This time Dunlop walked over to the shutters and put
his ear against the slat, listening. Whatever was said made him pause. He
whispered something back, then listened again. He nodded and returned.
“You can’t go home. We’re holding you tonight. Here
“What?” Fisk rose from his seat. It was highly
irregular to hold anyone but the most hardened criminals in Newgate awaiting
arraignment. They rarely held peers and Fisk couldn’t remember the last time
they’d held a female suspect who was a member of the
. It wasn’t
that toffs didn’t commit crimes. It was that they had powerful friends who
could make life difficult for the police. It was usually only when the
evidence was irrefutable that such measures were taken.
“Why not release her into the custody of this Lord
James Emerson?” asked Fisk.
“And have him spirit her out of the country?
“But it ain’t safe for a lady to be at Newgate
overnight. You know that.” If one of the other prisoners didn’t kill her for
her gown – bloodstained or not, it was worth money – she would likely be
assaulted by one or more of the guards.
Something very odd was going on. And it didn’t sit
well with Fisk.
“Last I checked this was none of your concern,” said
Dunlop. “I’m not your precious Stapleton here to listen to your theories.
You’re the sergeant and you’ll do as you’re told. And I’m telling you to
One of the constables came in to collect Mrs. Pierce
for processing. Fisk reckoned he had upwards of an hour until she was taken to
a cell, maybe less.
Dunlop left the room and Fisk waited five minutes to
make his exit. As he suspected, the door to the observation room was open,
giving him a good look at the occupants. There were two men and a woman in
there with one of the magistrates. Toffs by the look of them. But he didn’t
Fisk walked through the dank corridor until he found a
friendly face, a junior constable who’d also come up under Stapleton.
“How’d you like a smoke, Donnelly?” asked Fisk.
“Yer a lifesaver, Sergeant.”
Fisk handed him a cigarette he’d rolled earlier that
day. Though he didn’t smoke himself, he’d learned long ago that tobacco
loosened more tongues than liquor, and more reliably, as well.
“Who are the toffs?” he asked, motioning to the
“Kin of the deceased. They hate the widow. Say she
deserves to hang or worse.”
The constable shrugged. “Just what I heard some of
the fellows talkin’ ‘bout. Didn’t hear it meself. But they certainly seem to
“Is there a lot of blunt at stake?” Hatred that
strong generally came with money attached.
“Too early to tell. You never know from appearances,
but I reckon there’s got to be some blunt to get them that upset at the widow
if she’s in line to inherit. Gotta get back to work. Thanks for the smoke.”
Well that was that.
Fisk wasted no time in getting out of the dingy maze of Newgate. He’d become
adept at moving with speed despite his wooden leg. If Stapleton had been in
town, Fisk would have appealed to him. But with him in the country, there was
only one place to turn.
He had to ask a favor from someone very powerful.
He hailed a hack and gave an address in Mayfair,
telling the driver to hurry. After a seeming eternity, Fisk arrived. He ran
up the steps to the imposing manor and rapped on the door.
Moments later, the butler opened it.
“Sergeant Fisk,” the man said. “Welcome.”
“I hate to bother his grace, but it’s urgent. Might
be a matter of life or death.”
The butler, Heskiss, evaluated the situation in the
blink of an eye, then instead of telling Fisk to wait there while he was
announced, he simply said, “Follow me, Sergeant.”
Fisk followed the butler upstairs to the family wing.
Heskiss knocked on an ornate door, then called within.
“Your grace, Sergeant Fisk is with me. He is here on
a matter of great urgency and requests an audience.”
After a moment, Fisk heard a deep voice on the other
side of the door.
“I shall be ready directly. Just one moment, please.”
Fisk waited, hoping he’d taken the best course of
action in going there. For if he had to start over, it would only delay
matters. He had an acquaintance with the Duke of Lynwood, who was firm friends
with Stapleton. But this was a big favor to ask. And even a man as fair and
powerful as the duke might not want to grant it. Finally, the voice on the
other side bade them entrance.
The door to the Duke of Lynwood’s dressing room opened.
The duke was there, impeccably attired. Only three things indicated he had
been interrupted while in the midst of something else. One was that his color
was heightened. The second was that he was standing behind a chair. The third
was that the Duchess of Lynwood was flustered. Her hair was mussed, her
petticoats were showing on the right side and she looked like she’d been
Which Fisk was certain she had been.
“Yer grace, yer grace,” he said, bowing to them both.
“I am so sorry to interrupt you, but I fear Lady Winifred Pierce will lose her
life this night in Newgate if I don’t have your assistance.”
The duchess said “Oh, dear” and looked at her husband.
The Duke of Lynwood said, “I am at your service,
Sergeant. Tell me how I can help.”
Win wasn’t sure what was happening to her. It had all
been a blur since finding Clarence’s body earlier that evening. There had been
so much blood. She didn’t think a person had that much blood in him, but it
had been everywhere. And before she knew it, it had been everywhere on her.
She’d known he was dead just by looking at him lying on the floor of the
study. No one could survive his condition. His throat had been cut, yet she’d
knelt to see if there might be some life in him. Anything, even just a vestige
of the man she’d seen not four hours earlier.
When he’d been beating her.
She wasn’t sure what had brought on that beating. But
after six years of marriage, she’d learned Clarence had never needed a reason
for his outbursts.
Her late father had been the impoverished Earl of
Ridgeway. He, like his father and grandfather before him, had spent
frivolously, gambled as if he had the money and embroiled his estate with so
much debt it was a miracle he hadn’t ever been taken off to debtors’ prison.
But when Winifred turned eighteen, he’d arranged for a
marriage to the very wealthy Clarence Pierce, the son of a merchant speculator
who’d made much of his fortune by capitalizing on shipwrecks and bankruptcies.
Clarence had been in his early 40s and of pleasing looks. He was politely
indifferent during their brief courtship, but then backhanded her during their
The violence only grew worse.
Pierce hadn’t allowed her to maintain contact with her
siblings, other than two letters a year, which he dictated to her. She never
knew how often they responded, for Pierce opened the post, only passing on the
The beatings had hurt a great deal, but were of
limited duration. The pain of losing her family stayed with her on a constant
Win had three brothers. Colin was thirty and, since
the death of their father three years earlier, the new earl. He was recently
married to a former governess. Pierce had had a long laugh about that one.
He’d crowed about how the lofty earl had been forced to marry so far beneath
him. It seemed like Pierce sometimes forgot that his social standing was only
what it was by virtue of marrying an earl’s daughter. Win had read in the
paper that her new sister-in-law was named Ava. She’d savored that bit of
news. It was if she were just a tiny bit closer to Colin.
Because of her father’s numerous infidelities, Win had
a half-brother who was Colin’s age and also an earl. Nicholas Chilcott was the
Earl of Layton, though it was common knowledge that his father had been the old
Earl of Ridgeway. But since Nick had been the third-born son, society had considered
his birth only a mild indiscretion. However, after both of his older brothers died
from illness, Nick’s father had been outraged that Ridgeway’s get was now his
heir. Many believed the apoplexy that killed him was the result of the old
earl’s rage at Ridgeway and his hatred for Nick.
Nick was now the earl, but from what Win had heard,
his cousin Simon Chilcott was making his life miserable. Simon believed he was
the rightful heir and there was talk he would press his case all the way to the
House of Lords.