Mysterious Lover (Crime & Passion #1) - Mary Lancaster Page 0,2


His lantern shone in her eyes, blinding her until he lowered it again. He looked very young and very determined.

“Nancy is dead,” she said, a sudden wave of grief catching at her voice.

The policeman shone his lantern over the dead girl’s body. Briefly, Grizelda closed her eyes.

“She’s been murdered,” he uttered grimly.

“With this, I imagine,” the stranger said, holding out the dagger.

The policeman snatched it from him. “And you just happen to be holding it,” he said with satisfaction. “Name!”

“Tizsa, Dragan.”

“Foreign,” the policeman accused. “What are you doing here, and what are you to this poor, dead young woman?”

“I was passing, and I am nothing to her.”

“She’s my maid,” Grizelda blurted. “Nancy Barrow.”

The policeman stared at her, no doubt taking in her opera finery wildly out of place in this squalor. “And your name, ma’am?”

“Grizelda Niven.” Her eyes flickered to the young man, Dragan, who was watching her intently. He had very intense eyes.

“What happened here?” the policeman asked her. “Did you see this man murder your maid?”

By then, another, older constable had run up from the opposite end of the passage and now halted beside them, panting.

“No,” Grizelda said. “I just found her here, already dead, and then…”

The older policeman walked around the body portentously, while the younger told him all that he had learned.

“My lady!” exclaimed the second policeman, suddenly interrupting as he recognized her. With an effort, Grizelda remembered him from last month’s dog and meat-barrow incident. “What in the world are you doing in this place?”

“I was at the opera with my parents.”

“But it hasn’t finished yet,” the first policeman pointed out. “And you shouldn’t be out here alone. ’Specially not dressed like that!”

“Were you looking for the maid?” the older constable asked, suddenly enlightened. “Then followed her out here, I daresay?”

“Yes, that was it,” Grizelda said with relief at telling at least partial truth. Though she did not look at Mr. Dragan, she could feel his gaze boring into her. More policemen came running from either end of the alley.

“Come, we’ll escort you back to the theatre,” the older constable said kindly. “Send someone to Her Grace…”

“Oh, no,” Grizelda said quickly, “there is no need. I’ll go back myself. Only Nancy…” She blinked rapidly down at the dead maid who would never scold, pry, or serve her again.

“Don’t you worry, my lady,” the constable soothed. “We’ll see she’s taken care of and her family informed. Now you,” he added in quite another tone to Dragan, “had better come to the station with us.”

At his nod, two officers seized hold of Dragan, who made an instinctive jerk to throw them off.

“No, no,” Grizelda protested, perversely annoyed because they shared her initial suspicion. “He arrived after me. I very much doubt he did this.”

“He was holding the weapon, my lady,” the first policeman said dryly.

“I picked it up there, and he took it from me,” she retorted.

Several constables stared at her, frowning.

“How long have you known this man?” the older policeman demanded, as though he suspected an assignation.

“I’ve never met him before tonight,” Grizelda said indignantly.

“Good, because I’m very sure His Grace would not approve! Take him away.”

To her surprise, Dragan cast her a quick, sardonic smile over his shoulder. Somehow, he brushed the policemen’s hands off his arms, and they let him walk freely between them, a tall, straight figure that made her think of battered but unbowed nobility.

She stared after him, helpless, for once, unable to think, to cope.

“Shall I bring your lantern, my lady?” asked one of the policemen.

She blinked, turning to see him picking up Dragan’s spluttering lantern that stood on the ground beside Nancy. “It isn’t mine,” she observed.

The older constable urged her to walk with him out of the alley and back toward the opera house. At some point, before she walked back inside, her body began to tremble. Her head pounded, and wherever she looked, Nancy’s expressionless, dead face swam before her eyes.

There seemed to be even more people in her parents’ box when she reentered it. The final act was in full swing. Since someone else now sat in the chair that had once been hers, she murmured an apology to two gentlemen as she brushed between them and dropped the fan over her mother’s shoulder into her lap.

The duchess looked up quickly. “Did you have another made?” she asked with heavy humor.

Grizelda smiled dutifully and stumbled her way to a vacant seat at the back of the box beside her brother Forsythe and Miss Watters.

Forsythe wrinkled his nose