Chapter One

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London, December 4, 1888

I can’t be late. He hates it when I’m late.

Kate Guthrie’s fingers wouldn’t obey. She fumbled with the fastening of her necklace, willing the trembling to stop. Taking a deep breath, she tried again and finally jerked the latch apart, only to feel the strand slip down her neck.

Blast and bother!

She’d broken the clasp. Weak on one side, the metal had been repaired after a break years before. Kate grasped a few of the lapis lazuli beads before the rest plinked and clattered across the polished wood of her dressing room floor. Vision blurring, her mind conjured another floor and the bedroom she’d shared with Andrew, her late husband. He’d ripped the strand from her neck during one of his rages—simply because she adored it, a birthday gift from her brother, posted all the way from the Asia. She’d watched the beads scatter around her. They’d bit into her knees when he knocked her down and pressed against her forehead as she crouched on the rug, arms and hands covering her face, praying he wouldn’t kick her again.

Later, she’d retrieved each blue bead, studying the flecks and threads of gold sparking from each one, praying she had a vein of fire in her too—a little spark of hope and strength he couldn’t extinguish.

Ten years dead, Andrew Guthrie still haunted the corners of Kate’s mind, sending tremors of fear skittering down her spine whenever she did something that would’ve set him off. Like now, when she was late. He’d never tolerated tardiness, and she had spent each moment of her life with him attempting to avoid his displeasure. Treading softly, stifling her tongue. Striving to be proper, always polite.

Some days she could still hear his voice, the melodic rolled r’s and long o’s of his rich Scottish brogue, berating her in terms she wouldn’t use against her worst enemy.

“Make haste, woman. A hobbled nag moves quicker than you do. You’re useless.”

Biting down on her lower lip, Kate focused on the pain and pushed away thoughts of her late husband. She undressed quickly, wrenching and straining against the confines of the purple silk and velvet day dress she’d worn for luncheon with Mr. Thrumble. He hadn’t proposed again, as she’d half expected, but he would, and she’d almost made up her mind to accept him next time.

Kate winced as the gown’s fabric ripped at the seams, but she didn’t slow her progress. Mending her gown and collecting the beads from the broken strand could come later. Now she had to get to Whitechapel.

The violet gown was lovely, the finest she owned, but it wouldn’t do for her charity work in the East End. The grime of the crowded streets always soiled her hem, no matter how often she lifted the edge to avoid the mire. And even if she managed to save her skirt, whatever cleaning or tending she did at the clinic invariably left its mark on her jacket and blouse too. Depending on her duties or who she tended on a given day, her shirtsleeves might reek of the carbolic-infused water they used to clean the clinic or bear the stains of blood from a patient.

Finally free of the frock’s tailored finery, she stepped into the skirt of the dark blue woolen gown she usually wore to Whitechapel. The fabric was soft, suppler beneath her fingers than the newer gown, and well worn. The dress knew the curves of her body and hugged her comfortingly. She’d miss wearing the old garment, miss how donning it as she prepared for her work at the clinic made her fizz with anticipation and look forward to being useful, to serving a purpose. Her throat burned and a tear threatened at the corner of her eye at the thought of never wearing the dress again, at least not for her charity work at the clinic. She swiped at her cheek. There was no time to lose. She’d promised to begin her shift at the clinic at five and couldn’t be late. Not on her last day.

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