Bewitched by the Bluestocking - Jillian Eaton
August 19, 1870
The Office & Private Residence of Mr. Thomas Kincaid, Private Investigator
Many people—and things—had shown up on Kincaid’s doorstep seeking help during his three years as a private investigator. Wives wanting to know if their husbands were having an affair behind their backs. Husbands wanting to know if their wives were having an affair behind their backs (fidelity, it seemed, was not exceedingly common these days).
Occasionally, someone would come searching for a missing relative, and this past winter he’d solved the mystery of a missing cow. His first bovine case, as it so happened. Then there was the time he’d arrived home to discover two tiny kittens on his doorstep; both of whom now happily resided in the flat above his office.
But in all those years, he’d never—not once—opened his door to find a blue-eyed American heiress with hair the color of fire and a plump mouth that immediately brought to mind all sorts of wicked, carnal thoughts. Until one rainy morning in the middle of August, when he proceeded to do precisely that. Truth be told, Kincaid would have preferred more kittens.
“Can I help you?” he asked warily, his dark brows gathering above thin wire spectacles. A light mist fell from the gloomy London sky, coating the lenses of his glasses and causing him to squint at the woman perched on his doorstep.
She wasn’t wearing a cloak, leaving her slender arms exposed to the rain. Kincaid had a primal urge to throw his jacket over her trembling shoulders and draw her into the warmth of his chest, but he’d learned long ago to be leery of beautiful women. And this one, with her thick, auburn lashes and high cheekbones and soft, soft lips, was absolutely stunning.
“I hope so.” Her husky voice—smoke and velvet wrapped together—hit him like a punch to the gut. “Are you Mr. Thomas Kincaid?”
He gave a curt nod. “Kincaid is fine. Might I inquire as to who is asking?”
“Joanna Thorncroft.” Without waiting for an invitation, she slipped past him, the side of her breast leaving a burning path along his forearm as she marched into the foyer and turned around. “Well?” she said impatiently. “Are you going to take my case or not?”
Kincaid blinked at her, then slowly closed the door. It was clear from the hard inflections of her words—and her sheer audacity—that his unexpected visitor was an American. Heralding from somewhere in Massachusetts, if he had to guess. Coupled with a keen sense of observation, he also had an excellent ear for dialects. It was what made him good at his job. Something else that made him good at his job was knowing when to recognize trouble. And it had just walked through his door dressed in rain and smelling of violets.
“I am afraid I am not taking any new clients at this time, Miss Thorncroft.” The world around him blurred as he took off his glasses and wiped them dry on the cuff of his sleeve. He’d worn spectacles since he was a young boy at the orphanage, and had been teased mercilessly for it. Those cruel taunts were what had prompted him to become a peeler as soon as he came of age.
Named for their founder, Robert Peel, the peelers were Britain’s first—and only—organized police force. Kincaid had worn his blue coat with pride, and quickly climbed the ranks from constable to sergeant. Five years in, he was named an inspector and given his own division.
With nearly twenty-four men under his command, he’d earned a reputation as a demanding, but fair leader. From sunup to sundown, and often late into the night, his career had consumed him.
It was gritty, exhausting, and dangerous work. Work that often exposed the darkest, vilest underbelly of human existence. But it had given him purpose. It had given him the opportunity to stand up against the bullies and the bruisers. It had allowed him to protect the vulnerable and save the innocent. To rescue the boy he’d been. The boy no one had ever stood up for. The boy no one had ever cared about.
The boy no one had ever loved.
Some might have taken all of that pain and anguish and drank themselves to death with it. Kincaid had used it to fuel his grueling ambition to make London a better place. A safer place. A place where babies weren’t abandoned by their parents and children weren’t beaten by those charged to keep them safe.
He hadn’t always succeeded, and sometimes those bitter failures weighed heavier