Lawmen were never Ellie Whitfield’s type…until now.
When Ellie Whitfield’s accused of a crime she didn’t commit—though she’s committed many—only one man believes her. And he’s the unlikeliest man as well—Detective Bernard Taylor. He’s a handsome chap, but lawmen were never her type. At least, until now…
Bernard Taylor’s hunting down the Butcher of Broad Street, and though Ellie Whitfield’s led the coppers on a merry chase through Islington too many times, the woman’s no cold-blooded murderer. As they work together, he can’t help but be charmed by the vivacious Ellie, and before long, heated glances turn into something more explosive.
However, the closer they get to solving the murder, the deeper the serial killer draws them in—one misstep and they might be his next victims.
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of murder, references to dismemberment, stalking and some semi-graphic corpse description.
General Release Date: 19th May 2020
The blood staining Ellie Whitfield’s hands was as good a reason as any to run from the mutton shunters. Not like she needed one—in her line of work, coppers meant bad news and missed coin. Still, the crimson painting her fingertips didn’t sketch her in the best light—not while crouching beside a corpse.
The shouts rang from the opposite end of the alley, which left no time for rotting about.
Ellie vaulted down the other side—toward the consuming shadows. The coins she’d nicked jangled in her trouser pockets, enough coin to pay their rent for the next month. Nothing someone as poor as a matchstick maker could pass up. The air on this side of town grew thick, coating her skin like oil, but she gulped mouthfuls. She reached the end of the alley, which bisected another one, tall buildings looming on either side.
The clang of police bells echoed through the quiet night in Camden Town.
At least, quiet until she’d mucked around the streets to watch the gents and ladies sashay by—their steps a little lighter after she’d absconded with their niceties. She wouldn’t have gotten caught if it wasn’t for the dead woman she’d stumbled into at the end.
Her ponytail streamed behind her, a few strands sticking to her sweaty forehead. The coppers loved to parade around like they owned this city, but she bolted in the direction of her home, Islington, one of the areas they’d all but given up on. The police only served those with enough coin to flash, and she’d been scraping from the moment she sprang from her mother’s womb.
Ellie’s shoes slapped against the cobbled streets louder than she liked, but right now she needed speed more than silence. The canal burbled in the distance, and the thump-thump-thump of the cops behind her whispered that moving quick-like was more essential than ever.
The blood dried on her fingertips as she balled her hands tight and raced through yet another alley in the shadow of a barber’s and a meat pie shop. Throughout all of London, the shadows marched at night, threatening to suffocate the weak, the foolish or the plain unlucky. She’d been all three in the past, yet had scraped through with her life.
Helps to have a technomancer for a sister.
The alleyway came to an end and she burst out onto the road. Once she stepped into view, a shout came from a few shops down, and the intense beams flashed their way from the hangman’s orbs—mechanisms that cast sunlight even in the dead of night. Blokes like them get equipped with all the knickknacks.
The three coppers had spotted her, and unless she found a hideaway to clean up in, the blood mucking up her blouse made her look as guilty as the governor. Ellie let out a whoop and threw a hand in the air as she surged forward, continuing the chase. If they wanted to target her, she’d run them ragged before making her escape.
At least, if lady luck didn’t abandon her tonight.
Clicks echoed from behind her, and a glance back rewarded her with the glow of aether in the modded pistols the coppers aimed her way. She couldn’t outrun a bullet.
To the right of her, the buildings stretched out, narrow alleys aplenty.
To the left of her, a few storefronts interspersed along the canal.
Luck never favored cowards.
Ellie stepped in the direction of the canal, vaulting as fast as her legs could carry her. Her shoes hit the cobblestones so hard she felt the reverberations up her shins. She tightened the drawstrings to the pouches around her belt where she’d stuffed her latest grabs. The footsteps hadn’t ceased, and any moment, the first bullets would fire. The wind swept strands of her hair back, bringing the noxious scents from the canal. Those Stygian waters churned before her, voracious at this time of night.
Well, she did need to clean this rubbish off.
A six-foot drop separated her from the waters of Regent’s Canal swilling back and forth, refuse floating at the top like foam. No time like the present. Her gut clenched as she leapt to the canal edge. The tips of her shoes skimmed the ledge. Shouts rang louder behind her, as did the footsteps.
A second could spell salvation or a slug in the gut.
Ellie jumped. The world whirled and gunfire echoed, but she couldn’t respond as she hurtled into the river below. The stone walls of the canal swirled around her as she careened toward the morass. She hit the surface of the water with a smack that stung her skin, then she submerged. The water wrapped her in an icy fist, and her breath almost escaped from the shock.
Ellie kicked forward, the water rushing around her limbs, trying to tug her deeper. She fought just as fiercely. She could barely see through the murky water as she swam in the direction of Islington. Let the coppers try and shoot me now. Her breath strained in her chest, tearing at the cavity. She drifted upward and popped above the water for a gulp.
Cold air flooded her lungs, somehow as freezing as the icy water she swam through. Ellie’s arms moved mechanically, like the clockwork dolls her brother-in-law Silas created, but she continued swimming down the canal away from the scene of the crime she hadn’t committed. Shouts pealed through the air, and the bark of gunfire and splashes sounded from farther behind her, but they hadn’t caught up yet. Ellie submerged again, back into the chilly embrace of the river.
The murky water gave her enough cover, even though the oil-slicked liquid clung to her skin. She kicked harder, the eddying swirl of the muck tugging at her sodden heels. Below the surface, the distractions faded away, the frosty water bringing her mind to a crystalline clarity. Her limbs numbed, but she continued to swim ahead, rising for a gasp of air when she needed it. Before long, her surroundings shifted. Two-story houses loomed by the riverside, featuring worn bones and broken shingles, the windows gaping at her like missing teeth.
The shouts of the coppers faded, and Ellie slowed her frantic movement to a more languid pace. She couldn’t swim the whole way back to Islington—besides, they’d be following the river. What sort of criminal would take such a circumspect route? A ratbag, that’s who.
Ellie kicked in the direction of the shore. She’d gotten far enough away from the mutton shunters to ditch them in the backways and alleys now. She prayed the bastards hadn’t gotten a good look at her face. With her ever-expanding reputation around town, the last thing she needed tacked onto the end of her myriad titles was murderer. Her sister, Theo, might faint.
She fumbled for the stone wall ahead of her, gliding her numbed fingertips right over the surface. Her nails snagged on the cracks, and she found her grip. Ellie heaved herself out of the water, blinking the grime out of her eyes as she scaled the stones. Her hands ached and her entire body threatened to revolt, but she clenched her jaw and continued up. The brisk winds around town hadn’t cost her a pence earlier, but with the way her trousers and blouse pasted to her skin and the water slithered down her back and legs, she’d give an arm for a warm fire.
Ellie hoisted herself over the ledge. In this part of town, the buildings glowered, but they didn’t strike her with fear half as hard as the mansions on the genteel side of London did. A crooked moon winked at her overhead, strangled by the smog that the columns in the near distance piped into the sky. A shiver ran through Ellie as she pushed up and fought with her deadened limbs to stand.
Water sluiced off her in a sheet with the motion, splattering onto the ground. Ellie glanced at her blouse and vest—still somewhat stained, but at least it didn’t look like she’d dipped her fingers in blood to paint. A couple of shadows shifted, and her hands slipped to the knives she’d tucked in her waistband. A bloke in soiled trousers stumbled more than strolled by, but the steady stream of murmurs wasn’t aimed her way.
Ellie tugged out her knives, brandishing one in each hand. As she lifted, she skimmed her knuckles against the coin purse to reassure herself of the heavy weight. Rent would be due whether she’d pilfered enough or not, otherwise she and her mother would be out on the streets. Two taller ruffians attempted to slide past her as if they weren’t weighing how much of a threat she might be.
Ellie twirled her knives and bared her teeth as she strode by. Hard to look menacing as a drowned rat, but she’d do her damndest. The two men stared at her a little harder, but she didn’t blink. Predators didn’t shy away from confrontation, and she’d never get caught as prey again.
Even still, the scent of packed earth and the drip-drip-drip of water falling vaulted her back to that time holed away in Blair’s basement. To this day, she cursed herself for slipping in line with the rotten bunch of foozlers. The lure of the cold, hard clink of shillings drew her in every time. Especially with Mama’s health getting worse.
One of the men sniffed in her direction, but neither of them reached for the pistols bulging beneath their waistcoats.
Ellie stalked by, droplets of water slithering down her back, her arms and her legs. With every step, more sprinkled onto the ground like she brought the rains themselves. This part of town, riotous cheers and catcalls rang out from the bars, the blokes in there arfarfan’arf as if the night neared a close.
Home. She needed to get home to make sure Mama had taken her medicine. The woman liked to test her patience on the daily with her myriad ways to avoid the treatment syrup. First though, Ellie needed to make one more stop. She’d fallen an hour behind on picking up the next shipment of her mother’s medicine from the abandoned Gladstone house. The back-alley pharmacist who sold to the roughs of Islington didn’t take any chances. Money up front before they placed the goods in locked, technomancer-proof contraptions.
Her shoulders tensed as she walked, her body braced for a scuff with every alley she turned onto. This close to Islington, the familiar stench of piss, sweat and stale ale wafted her way with intention. Ellie squeezed out her hair with one hand, the other wrapped around a knife. Better a bastard stepped into her blade than she found herself victim to theirs.
Death was as regular as smog in this section of the city, but the precise, methodical disfigurement of the corpse she’d stumbled over wasn’t. Whispers had mounted through the weeks as the papers circulated stories of this killer, the Broad Street Butcher, right from the first murder. And now, the coppers might try to pin these atrocities on her.
Condensation clung to her arms, her damp clothes threatening to suffocate her as she slipped through another dank alleyway, the cobblestone rot squishing beneath her shoes. The gas lamps struggled to cast their rays into the dark mire that clung to these familiar streets. The gentle clip of her footsteps sang to its own melody, as did the lurch of the occasional autocart through the street and the rough shouts and calls from tavern to tavern.
Ghosts passed through these side streets, whether they were dead, dying or marked for death. Ellie had been the third from the moment she was born into this world. No powers like her sister, poorer than a chimney sweep and of the female persuasion—she’d be married off or sent to the factories to bleed out on the pavement like all the others languishing back here.
The broken lattice of the Gladstone house stood out at the end of the alley.
Ellie quickened her step. At this point, she burned to be out of this sodden clothing.
The air tensed with quiet around her, and she slipped out her other knife at the ready. Most veered away from the Gladstone house, learning long ago they wouldn’t be able to nick or tinker with these boxes. Still, some tried. She hadn’t spent all that while running from the mutton shunters to get offed once she stepped into the house.
Ellie tested the knob. The door opened with nary a creak. For an abandoned building, the main thoroughfare remained intact, kept that way as a silent respect to the few who took pity and offered medicines to the poor at all. Normally a tipple of gin for the constitution was the most the denizens of her tenement could afford.
The shadows cascaded over her—no lights in this wayhouse. She reached into her pocket for the flintlight her sister had made for her at Kylock Industries. A few flicks and the encapsulated device tick-tick-ticked. A faint aether glow cast greenish beams on the floorboards ahead. The air in here smelled of a combination of must and elderberries—rich and decaying all in one breath.
She counted the steps as she went, listening all the while for a breath, a creak or a whisper in the dark.
Ellie entered the first room, where the desk spanned the entire back wall with a dozen different metal boxes soldered to it. Mama’s medicine was in number six today. She took the paces forward, brushed her finger across the top seam to wake the machine up and input the seven-digit code into the long combination lock attached to the side of the box. After the first four digits, a click of the mechanism echoed, and she input the other ones in backward.
The lock clicked open, and a breath slipped out of her lips. Perhaps she could escape this night unscathed after all. Ellie reached in and pocketed the bottle into the coinpurse with the rest of the treasures she’d nicked tonight. A whistle of a song escaped her lips as she strolled out of the front door of the Gladstone house.
A click sounded from her left.
A muzzle glowered her way, almost as dark and fierce as the uniformed man wielding the gun.
Word Count: 39,384
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Genres: EROTIC ROMANCE
Strong women. Strong words.
Katherine McIntyre is a feisty chick with a big attitude despite her short stature. She writes stories featuring snarky women, ragtag crews, and men with bad attitudes—high chance for a passionate speech thrown into the mix. As an eternal geek and tomboy who’s always stepped to her own beat, she’s made it her mission to write stories that represent the broad spectrum of people out there, from different cultures and races to all varieties of men and women. Easily distracted by cats and sugar.
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