Mysterious Lover (Crime & Passion #1) - Mary Lancaster Page 0,1

to go back inside and was sure she saw a skirt vanish around the side of the building.

It could have been anyone’s skirt, but on impulse, she followed it, walking the length of the building quickly and around the corner, where there were only more carriages and coachmen. She crossed the road and, hearing quick footsteps to the left, turned into a dimly lit alley. Since she could still be seen by the coachmen and an old couple were waddling toward her, arguing, she did not hesitate. There was still no sign of anyone who might have been Nancy.

She paused and cast one glance up the next opening before she meant to return to the opera house. There was no lighting here. And she could hear no footsteps in that direction, only the snorting and shifting of horses closer to the theatre, and some distant, raucous coughing followed by a stream of male and female laughter. A faint sound of scraping stone reached her, but she could not tell the direction. Nothing moved in the dark passage ahead.

But as she stared, it seemed to her there was a blacker heap of something on the ground. A wink of moonlight glinted on an object closer to her, perhaps a coin. Griz cast another glance to either end of the back street she hovered in and then darted up the darker, narrower opening. She had no intention of lingering. Apart from anything else, the smell was unpleasant. She didn’t like to think what she was walking on, merely held up her voluminous skirts as much as she could.

Something skittered off the toe of her shoe, and she bent to pick it up. The glinting object. As she grasped it, the heap she had discerned resolved into a troublingly human shape. She straightened, took a step nearer, and the moon blinked down again. On a woman lying on her back on the ground, a woolen cloak barely covering the black dress she normally wore under an apron. And the face was only too familiar.

“Nancy!” She bent over the girl in alarm, but even before clouds blocked the moon once more, she had seen the open, staring eyes of death. Please let me be wrong, please!

Her movements suddenly clumsy, she tore off her glove, touching the girl’s hand, her face, both reassuringly warm. Abruptly, a swinging lantern light swept up from the direction she had just come.

“Please, can you help her?” Griz called urgently. The light moved faster, rising higher to reveal the handsome face of the stranger she had walked into at the opera house.

Immediately, he dropped to a crouch on Nancy’s other side, setting the lantern in the filth beside him without looking at it. His attention was all on the maid. He took her wrist in his hand, then pressed his long slender fingers to her neck.

And then she saw the terrible, red stain on Nancy’s chest, blooming from the small tear in her dress.

Everything inside her seemed to lurch in horror. Especially when the stranger took hold of Nancy’s face and bent over her. For a bizarre moment, she thought he would kiss the dead girl, but it seemed he was trying to give her his own breath.

Appalled, she could only watch as he straightened and sat back on his heels.

“She is beyond anyone’s help,” he murmured.

“Except God’s,” Griz whispered, touching Nancy’s hair. Her bonnet had been pushed back, crushed under her head.

The stranger did not respond. When she glanced at him, his gaze was on her other hand, the one that held the glinting object she had picked up. A dagger.

A Renaissance Italian dagger with a jeweled hilt, remarkably like the one in her father’s collection.

She stared at it with ominous fascination.

“Perhaps you should give that to me?” He had risen and stood holding out his hand over Nancy’s body.

Instinctively, Griz leapt back. After all, she did not know this man, who could have followed her, or, worse, Nancy. He could have come back to Nancy, perhaps to find the dagger with which he had killed her…

He moved quickly, stepping over the body and grasping her wrist. Before she could cry out, let alone flee, he had wrested the dagger from her.

At least he released her immediately, leaving her glaring at him.

“Here! Stay where you are!” shouted a voice from the end of the alley. The sound of a policeman’s rattle ensued, summoning his colleagues, and a tall-hatted policeman, lantern in one hand, truncheon in the other, ran toward