What Darkness Brings - By C.S. Harris

Chapter 1

London Sunday, 20 September 1812


he man was so old his face sagged in crinkly, sallow folds and Jenny could see pink scalp through the thin white hair plastered by sweat to his head.

“The irony is delicious; don’t you agree?” he said as he slid a big, multifaceted piece of blue glass down between the swells of her breasts. The glass felt smooth and cool against her bare skin, but his fingers were as bone thin and cold as a corpse’s.

She forced herself to lie still even though she wanted desperately to squirm away. She might be only seventeen, but Jenny Davie had been in this business for almost five years. She knew how to keep a smile plastered on her face when inside her guts roiled with revulsion and an exasperated urge to say, Can’t we just get this over with?

“Think about it.” He blinked, and she noticed he had no lashes fringing his small, sunken eyes, and that his teeth were so long and yellow they made her think of the ratty mule that pulled the dustman’s cart. He said, “Once, this diamond graced the crowns of kings and nestled in the silken bosom of a queen. And now here it lies . . . on the somewhat grubby breasts of a cheap London whore.”

“Go on wit’ you,” she scoffed, squinting down at the pretty glass. “Jist because I’m a whore don’t mean I’m stupid. That ain’t no diamond. It’s blue. And it’s bigger than a bloody peach pit.”

“Much bigger than a peach pit,” agreed the old man as the glass caught the flickering light from a nearby brace of candles and glowed as if with an inner fire. His dark eyes gleamed, and Jenny found herself wondering what he needed a whore for since he seemed more excited by his big chunk of blue glass than he was by her. “They say that once, this stone formed the third eye of a heathen—”

He broke off, his head coming up as a loud pounding sounded at the distant front door.

Before she could stop herself, Jenny jerked. She was lying on her back on a dusty, scratchy horsehair sofa in the cavernous, decrepit parlor of the old man’s house. Most men took their whores in the back rooms of coffeehouses or in one of the city’s numerous accommodation houses. But not this man. He always had his whores brought here, to his cobweb-draped old mansion in St. Botolph-Aldgate. And he didn’t take them upstairs either, but did his business here, on the couch—which suited Jenny just fine, since she never liked being too far from a way out of trouble.

He muttered something under his breath she didn’t understand, although from the way he said it she figured it was some kind of curse. Then he said, “He wasn’t supposed to be here this early.”

He reared up, straightening his clothes. He’d had her strip down to her stockings and shift, which he’d untied so that it gaped open nearly to her waist. But he hadn’t taken off any of his own clothes, not even his fusty, old-fashioned coat or shoes. He glanced around, the blue chunk of glass held tight in one fist. “Here,” he said, gathering her stays, petticoat, and dress and shoving them into her arms. “Take these and get in—”

The knocking sounded again, louder this time, as she slid off the couch with her crumpled clothing clutched to her chest. “I can leave—”

“No.” He moved toward the looming, old-fashioned chimneypiece that stood at one end of the room. It was a fantastical thing of smoke-darkened wood carved into tiers of columns with swags of fruit and nuts and even animals. “This won’t take long.” He pressed something in the carving, and Jenny blinked as a portion of the nearby paneling slid open. “Just get in here.”

She found herself peering into a dark cubbyhole some six or eight feet square, empty except for an old basket and a couple of ironbound trunks lined against one wall. “In there? But—”

His hand closed around her bare upper arm tight enough that she squealed, “Ow!”

“Just shut up and get in there. If you let out a peep, you won’t get paid. And if you touch anything, I’ll break your neck. Understood?”

She supposed he saw the answer—or maybe just her fear—in her face, because he didn’t wait for her reply but thrust her into the little room and slid the panel closed. Whirling around, she heard a latch click as a thick blackness