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A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter #3)(9)
Author: Megan Shepherd

“The girls say your quiet associate—Mr. Balthazar, is it?—belongs here.” She pointed a gloved finger at a small portrait beneath a flickering electric lamp. “They say he’s the spirit of Igor Zagoskin.” The portrait portrayed a large man in an old-fashioned suit, stooped with a hunchback, face covered by a hairy beard. Balthazar blinked at the painting in surprise. The resemblance was striking.

“Who is that man?” Montgomery asked.

“One of Lord Ballentyne’s most trusted servants, back in the 1660s. He was rumored to be a smart man, strong as an ox. He helped Ballentyne in his astronomical research.”

Balthazar blinked a few more times in surprise, then grinned at the girl with the limp. “Thank you, little miss. I like the look of him. I shall hope to carry on in his tradition.”

“Your room is through here, Miss Moreau.” Valentina opened a door into a bedroom that emitted the smell of must and decades of disuse, but inside I found it freshly tidied. Balthazar set my bag on the soft carpet. Valentina handed me a smaller key.

“What’s this one for?” I asked. The bedroom door only had one lock.

“A welcome present from McKenna.” She smirked. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out soon enough. Mad Lord Ballentyne was full of surprises when he built this house.”

The little girl with the limp giggled, and Valentina shushed her and swept her out of the room, leaving me alone while she showed the others to their rooms down the hall.

I went to the window, where I could make out little in the dark rain. Lightning cracked, revealing a sudden flash of ghostly white. I jumped back in surprise. It looked like enormous white sheets, spinning impossibly fast, and I threw a hand over my heart before the whirling shapes made sense.

A windmill.

At least now I knew the source of Elizabeth’s electricity. Glowing lights flickered from the other exterior windows on this wing. I wondered which room was Montgomery’s, and Lucy’s, and which room they’d put Edward in earlier. Sorrow washed through me at the thought of him. If only Lucy’s premonitions were right, and the fever would break and he’d be himself again, miraculously cured of the Beast.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t nearly as optimistic as Lucy. Something things didn’t work out for the best. The King’s Club massacre, for one. It had been a messy, cruel solution, even if it had saved us.

Would I take it back, if I could?

The answer eluded me, and I started to pull the drapes closed over the window, tired of the same guilty thoughts circling in my head, only to find that the curtains spanned a wider section of the wall that hid a secret door. The small key Valentina had given me was a perfect fit, and I swung it open.

I let out a soft sound of surprise when I found a second bedroom that was like a mirror to my own—except for the young man standing by the wardrobe in the process of undressing. Montgomery turned at the sound of the door. His suspenders hung by his side, his blond hair loose and still damp from the rain.

“Adjoining bedrooms,” I explained, holding up the key. “This must be the welcome present Mrs. McKenna meant for us. How scandalous. I guess the household isn’t as puritanical as their clothes make them seem.” I tried to keep my voice light. Since fleeing London we’d barely spoken, and I didn’t want our new life here to begin in sullenness. But he came to the doorway and rubbed his chin, distracted.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It doesn’t feel right,” he said. “Those bodies in the cellar. This place, these people, greeting us with a rifle to our heads.” There was fear in his expression, which made my heart dim. Montgomery was rarely afraid of anything.

“It’s better than being arrested for murder,” I said.

He folded his arms, unconvinced. “Well, of course. The housekeeper is kind enough, and they’re good to take us in, but they’re hiding something. I can smell it.”

“Does it smell like musty old clothes?” I tried to lighten the mood again. “Because that’s just the carpets.”

He tensed, not in the mood for joking.

“This isn’t London,” I said, more seriously this time. “Elizabeth clearly lets them run wild, and they’ve no idea what to do with us. You saw the disdainful look Valentina gave Lucy, like we’d die without our tea and crumpets.” I laid a hand on his chest, toying with his top button. “I suspect she’s just jealous of our nice clothes and fancy address in the city.”

For a moment we stood mirrored on either side of the door while the wind whistled outside. His jaw tensed, and he stepped back so my hand fell. “We don’t have a fancy address anymore. We can never return to London, not since you murdered three men.”

I blinked. The fire crackled, heat trying to push us even further apart, and my heartbeat sped. “You know I had no choice. I didn’t want to do it.”

“That isn’t what you said at the time. I could see in your eyes how badly you wanted to kill Inspector Newcastle. You burned him alive.” He paused, breathing heavily, arms braced on either side of the door. I could only gape, wanting to deny the accusation but not quite able to. “Sometimes you remind me so much of your father it’s frightening.”

The sting in his words settled into the musty curtains and bedspread like the smell of chimney smoke, and just as impossible to get rid of. “It was better than letting them use Father’s research,” I said in my defense. “They would have hurt so many more people. Father would have helped them, not stopped them.”

He cursed under his breath. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

I placed my hand on my forehead, trying to calm the blood searing in my veins. “No. Don’t apologize. We said we’d always be honest with each other. And if I’m being honest with you, I think you should be thankful we have a roof over our heads and walls around us, and stop questioning Elizabeth’s generosity. There’s nothing wrong with these people, and there’s nothing wrong with me.”

I closed the door in his face, twisted the key, and leaned my back against it. He knocked and called to me, but I didn’t answer. I crawled in bed and thought about Montgomery’s words. It was true that I’d been obsessed with bringing the water-tank creatures to life, even knowing the bloodshed that would follow. Maybe the fortune-teller was right. Reading the future was nonsense, but there was a grain of truth in how his predictions had made me feel—as though escaping Father was impossible, even in death. Maybe, just maybe, I should stop trying so hard to fight it.

 

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