Home > The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(8)

The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(8)
Author: Megan Shepherd

I was alone at least. In someone’s room—the deformed man’s, most likely. A sick taste rose in my throat as I recalled the feel of his hairy hand against my mouth. My breath came fast, faster, until I thought I might black out. I gritted my teeth, holding in the urge to scream. Panic would get me nowhere.

I opened my eyes, slowly. Testing the door wasn’t an option until my head cleared enough to stand. But the room was full of clues about my abductor. Crates and trunks were stacked by the door three deep, surrounded by packages wrapped in brown paper. He was traveling, then, and somewhere far away, judging by the cargo. A caged parrot on the dresser eyed me warily while picking at the bars with its beak. I stared at it.

My abductor traveled with a parrot?

A second door, which I assumed led to an adjoining room, was shut. Beside the bed was an open trunk, which I managed to lean toward without too much nausea. It contained rows of glass bottles, partially obscured by packing straw. I brushed the straw aside and took out a bottle: Elk Hill brandy. Queasiness tiptoed up my spine. My father’s favorite brand.

Before I could piece together what it meant, the door to the adjoining room swung open, revealing the beastly face from the mirror.

“You!” I cried. I coiled my fist around the bottle neck, ready to swing. I tried to stand but my feet wouldn’t obey, and I grappled for the bedpost for support.

His was not the face of a monster, as I’d first imagined, but it was disfigured nonetheless. A wild black beard covered a protruding jaw below a snub nose and deep-set eyes. He moved with an odd lurch, as though he was unused to his own legs. Despite his disfigurement, he didn’t seem so threatening now, partly due to the tray of tea and biscuits he was holding.

Still, my body tensed. He stepped forward with a shuffle, just far enough to set the tray on the foot of the bed. He scurried back and twisted his mouth into what might have been a smile.

The strange act of kindness only made me more uneasy. “Get away!” I cried. I hurled the bottle at him, but my vision was distorted from the drugs, and it fell uselessly past his shoulder into a crate of clothes. I climbed over the bed, stumbling with vertigo, grabbing at his wrinkled linen shirt and hammering him with my fists. “Someone, help!”

The man did not speak. He merely cringed and let me pummel him. But the side door jerked open again with a squeal of hinges and another man rushed in, a young man with shirt half buttoned and suspenders at his sides. He threw his arms around mine to keep me from tearing the beastly man apart.

“Let me go!” I cried. But he was powerfully built, and it didn’t take him long to pin my wrists in the shackles of his hands.

“Juliet! Stop this!” he said.

I froze at the gruff sound of my name. The young man let me go and I whirled on him. His face was deeply tanned, odd during the London winter. Loose blond hair fell to his broad shoulders. My lungs seized up.

I knew him. I’d have known him anywhere, despite the years.

“Montgomery,” I gasped. But what was he doing here, with my abductor? I’d expected to find my father, if anyone at all. The last person I’d expected to find was my family’s former servant.

My knees buckled from shock, but he grabbed my elbows, holding me up. I had thought I was alone in the world. But here he was, the one person who knew me, the only one left who shared my dark secrets. Just seeing him started to untangle the swollen tightness in my chest.

I pulled away from him, not ready for the fragile, preserved knot of my heart to unravel so quickly.

“It’s safe. You’re not in danger.” He held out a hand as though he was calming a wild horse, his handsome features set with seriousness and concern. The recognition in that expression nearly unbalanced the cadence of my heart. He was two years older than me, the son of our scullery maid. When his mother died when he was very young, my parents kept him on to help with the horses and Father’s research. I’d had one of those hopeless crushes on him girls get before they even know what love is, but he had disappeared six years ago, the same time as my father. Wanting nothing more to do with our terrible family secrets, I’d assumed.

Now here he was, flesh and blood and blue eyes and a total mystery.

Montgomery glanced at the hairy-faced man, who shuffled nervously. “Leave us,” he said, and the man obeyed. A part of me relaxed to see his deformed shape disappear into the other room. But then I realized I was alone with Montgomery, totally unprepared. My hand shot to my coiled braid, which had fallen loose and wild in the commotion. Blast. I must have looked like an idiot.

He finished buttoning his shirt and slid the suspenders over his shoulders, throwing me hesitant glances as he tied his blond hair back. He wasn’t a thin, silent boy any longer. In six years he’d become a well-built young man with shoulders like a Clydesdale and hands that could swallow my own. Montgomery and I used to spend so much time together as children, though he was a servant and I the master’s daughter. I’d never been at a loss for words with him.

Until now.

“I am sorry about the chloroform,” he said at last.

I swallowed. “Odd way of greeting an old friend, don’t you think?”

He paused while buttoning his cuffs. “You were trying to break into our room. Balthasar behaves irrationally sometimes. But he meant you no harm.”

I pulled the pins out of my hair and raked my fingers through it, hoping for some semblance of sanity. “Balthasar? That beast has a name?”

“He’s my associate. Don’t let his appearance frighten you.”

The word associate made me hesitate. Montgomery wasn’t even twenty yet, barely old enough to be anyone’s associate himself.

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