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Home > Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter #2)(3)

Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter #2)(3)
Author: Megan Shepherd

Why are you doing this? I had asked him.

Because I failed to stop your father until it was too late, he’d replied. It isn’t too late for you, Miss Moreau, not yet.

Now, sitting at the formal dining table with a forest of polished silver candlesticks between us, I secretly kicked off my slippers and curled my toes in the thick Oriental rug, glad to put that old life behind me.

“An invitation arrived today,” the professor said from his place opposite me. The hint of an accent betrayed that he’d grown up in Scotland, though his family’s Germanic ancestry was evident in his fair hair and deep-set eyes. A fire crackled in the hearth behind him, not quite warm enough to chase the cold that snuck through the cracks in the dining room windows.

I shivered in my dinner dress. Months of proper food had helped me put on a little more weight, and now my corset dug painfully into my ribs. To make matters worse, my woolen underskirts itched like the devil. I’d never understand why the rich insisted on being so damned uncomfortable all the time.

“It’s for a holiday masquerade at the Radcliffes’,” he continued, removing a pair of thin wire-rimmed spectacles from his pocket, along with the invitation. “It’s set for two weeks from today. Mr. Radcliffe included a personal note saying how much Lucy would like you there.”

“I find that rather ironic,” I said, buttering my roll with the hint of a smile, “since last year the man would have thrown me into the streets if I’d dared set foot in his house. He’s changed his tune now that I’m under your roof. I think it’s you he’s trying to win over, Professor.”

The professor chuckled. Like me, he was a person of simple tastes. He wanted only a comfortable home with a warm fire waiting for him on a winter night, a cook who could prepare a decent coq au vin, and a library full of words he could surround himself with in his old age. I was quite certain the last thing he wanted was a seventeen-year-old girl who slunk around and jumped at shadows, but he never once showed me anything but kindness.

“I fear you’re right,” he said. “Radcliffe has been trying to ingratiate himself with me for months, badgering me to join the King’s Club. He says they’re investing in the horseless carriage now, of all things. He’s a railroad man, you know, probably making a fortune shipping all those automobile parts to the Continent.” He let out a wheezing snort. “Greedy old blowhards, the lot of them.”

The cuckoo clock chimed in the hallway, making me jump. The professor’s house was filled with old heirlooms: china dinner plates, watery portraits of stiff-backed lords and ladies whose nameplates had been lost to time, and that blasted clock. No matter how long I lived here, I’d never get used to hearing the thing go off at all hours.

“The King’s Club?” I asked. “I’ve seen their crest in the hallways at King’s College.”

“Aye,” he said, buttering his bread with a certain ferocity. “An association of university academics and other professionals in London. It’s been around for generations, claiming to contribute to charitable organizations—there’s an orphanage somewhere they fund.” He finished buttering his roll and took a healthy bite, closing his eyes to savor the taste. He swallowed it down with a sip of sherry.

“I was a member long ago, when I was young and foolish,” he continued. “That’s where I met your father. We soon found it nothing more than an excuse for aging old men to sit around posturing about politics and getting drunk on gin, and neither of us ever went back. Radcliffe’s a fool if he thinks they can woo me again.”

I smiled quietly. Sometimes, I was surprised the professor and I weren’t related by blood, because we seemed to share what I considered a healthy distrust of other people’s motives.

“What do you say?” he asked. “Would you like to make an appearance at the masquerade?” He gave that slightly crooked smile again, and a part of me wondered if he’d also taken me in as his ward to keep from growing too lonely.

“If you like.” I shifted again as the lace lining of my underskirt itched my bare legs.

“Good heavens, no. I haven’t danced in twenty years. But Elizabeth should arrive by then, unless there’s more snow on the road from Inverness, and I’ve no doubt we shall be able to wrangle her into a ball gown. She used to be quite the elegant dancer, as I recall.”

The professor stowed his glasses in his vest pocket with a warm smile. Elizabeth was his niece, an educated woman in her mid-thirties who lived on their family estate in northern Scotland and served the surrounding rural area as a doctor—an occupation a woman would only be permitted to do in such a remote locale. I’d met her as a child, when she was barely older than I was now, and I remember beautiful blond hair that drove men wild, but a shrewdness that left them uneasy. When he took me in, the professor had posted a letter to Elizabeth to join us for the holidays. He said it was to liven up the quiet house, but I had a feeling he hadn’t a clue what to do with a teen-aged girl and wanted a woman’s touch.

“You know how the holidays are,” he continued, “all these invitations to teas and concerts. I’d be a sorry escort for you.”

“I very much doubt that, Professor.”

While he went on talking about Elizabeth, I dug my fork beneath my dress and scratched the itchy fabric. It was a tiny bit of relief, and I tried to work it under my corset, when the professor cocked his head.

“Is something the matter, Juliet?”

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