Hell-bent on revenge for the death of her husband, Elizabeth takes the initiative and sets a daring trap for Vladimir, the Russian spy she suspects of the deed. Meanwhile, Peter Smythe, a handsome and dedicated correspondent, is investigating the disappearances of street people in the docklands of London.
The discovery of a horribly mutilated body of one of the victims reminds Elizabeth of the horrendous acts perpetrated by the Whitechapel murderer known as the Collector. Elizabeth slew that monster, itself a creature of Vladimir, and she fears this is a new apprentice.
Sparks fly when Peter and Elizabeth come together, and they set off on a roller-coaster adventure in a fogbound steam-driven world. When the hunted becomes the hunter, Elizabeth is the bait!
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Copyright ©2021 Mikala Ash
Alone at last.
I was sitting unaccompanied in a Cumberland steam-cab. By myself, without anyone to protect me.
It was a strange sensation after the intensity of the last few months. A return to normal, as it were, to a time before I began my Investigation Bureau, and before I became an Agent of the Queen.
A time when I had been just an ordinary widow.
I pardoned myself for what was a small, but understandable, expression of conceit, for I’d given my protector, the ever-reliable Bisby, the slip. I forgave myself the sin of self-congratulation, so enamoured I was on the audacity of my cunning subterfuge. Sin or not, it had been a nice piece of work, using guile, disguise, and a certain boldness. I was still panting, and my heart still pounded with the excitement of it. Perspiration was running cold beneath my shift, and inside my button boots my feet ached appallingly. Despite these reminders of physical effort, the exclamation of conceit turned into a slightly manic chuckle, then into a full-blown belly laugh. Goodness knows what the cabbie perched above the cabin thought.
Today had been intended to be more practice of the techniques taught to me by Oxley, himself an Agent of the Queen, and assessed by the aforesaid Bisby, another agent. The two, posing as footmen, had been assigned to protect my household from the attentions of the Russian agent, Vladimir, a diabolical monster who I’d bested only a few months ago, when I’d killed his murderous slave, The Collector, who had terrorised Whitechapel with a series of brutal mutilation murders. Oxley could, I am certain, gain renown as a teacher, for I’d learned a great deal over the last few weeks. Tomorrow my skills in evasion were to be formally put to the test. The challenge being to evade Bisby for the period of one hour.
“Do you think I’ll be ready for tomorrow’s test?” I’d asked Oxley in a suitably tremulous voice, when he saw Bisby and me off after breakfast.
“We must crawl before we can walk,” he replied sagely. “Just remember what we’ve been practising, and you will do well.”
“I’ll try,” I said with a dash of uncertainty.
Of course, that was nonsense. I’d been ready for over week, so I took the opportunity of taking the test today instead, and not just for an hour. Bisby or Oxley had only themselves to blame, for I had given them fair warning with my dreadful overacting. I mean to say, pinched cheeks, fluttering eyelashes, trembling lips and a voice hesitant and pitched slightly higher than usual? I gave it everything. Proof that even the best Agents of the Queen can be the victims of feminine wiles.
Naughty of me, I know, but necessary, for it was integral to my grand plan.
To be strictly honest, I hadn’t thought it possible to evade the suffocating twenty-four-hour protection the general had erected about me. It seemed impenetrable, a forbidding brick wall a hundred feet high and a mile thick. As silly as that sounds, that’s the way I felt. Of course, a lady was never alone in public. She was either accompanied by her lady’s maid, a burly footman, a relative or mature female friend or companion, or, of course, by her husband. Such was the condition of women of quality, as we are termed in the year of our Lord 1860. Our virtue, and by that, I mean our reputation, was never safe if we were out in public alone.
Yet here I was.
Admittedly the protection I suffered went even beyond what would be considered normal for the upper middle echelon of society. Whenever I left the house either Bisby or Oxley would be with me, disguised as footmen, a decadent luxury for a widow like me. At least they were not dressed in ostentatious livery as those working for the gentry. If those two professionals were not with me, I was with Archie, my late husband’s young batman during the Crimean War, who I considered the son we never had, and who now managed my Investigation Bureau, or with Felix, my former teacher of the erotic arts, a former prostitute and now assistant to Archie. If not with them then I would be in the company of Baudry, a doctor who had been intimately involved in my cases and had also graced my bed.
That was not the full extent of it. The general, my mentor, a confidant to the Queen, and commander of the clandestine force of agents protecting the realm, took it one step further. In addition to assigning Oxley and Bisby to watch from within my household, he also posted watchers over my house and staff. Thus there were eyes focussed on me all the time, unrelenting, and though invisible, the knowledge of their existence was like a heavy shadow from that imaginary brick wall, enveloping me, pressing in on me from every side, suffocating the life out of me. The general feared the eyes of Russian agents were also set fast upon me, ordered by the indefatigable Vladimir, awaiting his signal to strike.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aussie Mikala Ash used to be a mild-mannered training & development consultant by day, and a wild sci-fi and paranormal adventure writer by night. Now she is a brazen full-time writer and nature photographer who is concentrating on having among other things, “… bags, and bags of fun!” Mikala can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.