AMELIA KNIGHT WAS being sent away to Scotland for good. In truth, her mother had never wanted her. Her mother, who’d been called a whore, preferred men over her own daughter. Afraid and alone, ten-year-old Amelia hid in a corner of a dark, empty room above the tavern, sobbing. Within an hour, her grandmother’s carriage would arrive to fetch her. She wiped her tears with her tattered sleeves. A single candle lit the room, and she saw something move from the periphery of her vision. “Look what I found.” Millie Penn peeked out from under the bed and showed her the bread in her grimy hand, her mouth pulling to form a bright smile. A sudden tug of sorrow held Amelia still. Millie had been her only true friend. “What do you mean, ‘found’?” Amelia questioned, walking over to her. Millie shrugged innocently. “Did you steal from the bakery again?” Millie crawled out of the tiny space. She nodded, and her dirty curls bounced.
“I was hungry.” “You can’t go stealing anymore, ye hear me?” Amelia said. Millie nodded and wiped the dirt off her chin. Amelia dug into a small inside pocket of her tattered, two-sizes-too-small coat and pulled out a silver shilling she’d been saving. She gazed at it longingly, then placed it in Millie’s palm. “Don’t let yer papa know you have it, ye hear?” Millie took the coin and stared at it as if she’d discovered a pirate’s booty. Amelia sighed. “I have to go away.” Millie tucked the coin safety in her pocket. “Where are we going?” “Not we,” she said.
“I . ” She paused, suppressing the urge to cry again. “I’m going to Scotland.” “Sco-land?” Millie said curiously. “Where is that?” “It doesn’t matter where it is,” Amelia said. “The point is, I have to go.” The little girl’s confusion was more than Amelia could bear. They’d always been together since Millie had been barely old enough to walk. Smiling, Millie said, “Can I go with you?” “No, Millie. You can’t.
” No, Amelia would have to endure her mean grandmother for eternity on her own. The little girl’s mouth pulled together to form a pout, and tears formed in her eyes. “Who will play with me if you go?” Amelia sighed again. Part of her wanted to be honest, but how would that help Millie? No, it was better that she didn’t know the truth. “I won’t be gone long,” she lied. She knew she’d never set foot in London again. “You promise?” Millie’s big brown eyes sparkled with hope. “Yes,” Amelia said, halting the tears that wanted to spill. “Don’t I always keep my promise?” The words barely made it out of her mouth. How could she tell Millie the truth —that she was never coming back? The little girl nodded giddily, and she leaned into Amelia.
Millie pulled the bread apart to share it with her. “Here, I saved you some.” Amelia looked at it, a hard lump forming in her throat and hot tears falling. “Why are you crying?” Millie asked, confused. “I promise I won’t steal again.” “It’s not that.” Millie looked at her with her big brown eyes. “It’s nothing,” Amelia said, forcing a smile. Taking a bite of her bread, Millie spoke while chewing. “You promise you will come back home?” Amelia wiped away her tears and gave Millie a reluctant smile.
“I promise.” Chapter 1 St. Giles, London March 1815 AMELIA KNIGHT PULLED the hood over her head and stepped into the mouth of hell. The onslaught of familiar noises and the reek of the slums paralyzed her when she stepped out of the carriage. She looked around the outer limits of her surrounding for signs of the rookery boys that had often roamed the streets here when she was a child. After ten years, nothing much had changed. The stench of hunger and poverty still lingered thick in the air, bringing back memories of her mum, her childhood. She quickly dismissed them. Her mum might have wished a better future for Amelia, but the reality was, the woman had never written to her. Not a single letter.
“Are you sure you know what you are doing, Amelia?” Kate McBride whispered, trailing behind her. “Yes,” Amelia said. “Just follow me.” Kate, her good friend, always loved adventure and would not allow her to venture out alone. Kate had managed to commandeer servants’ clothes earlier today for this purpose, and Amelia didn’t question where she had retrieved them from. “Mrs. Pots will murder you if she discovers what we are doing.” Mrs. Pots, Amelia’s chaperone for the Season and a loyal servant to Amelia’s grandmother, would no doubt disapprove. Amelia’s sole purpose for coming to London was to find a titled husband her grandmother approved of in order to gain access to her large inheritance—a temporary husband, of course, not that Amelia intended to tell her grandmother that—not to look for Millie Penn, her long-lost friend, at East End of all places.
Her grandmother would find a way to make sure Amelia remained married permanently if she discovered what she planned to do once she inherited. Her heart squeezed tightly. She’d promised Millie she’d come back, and now she had. In the loneliest of days when she was a child, Millie had kept her company and happy. Now, after all these years, she had plans for them both. Once she found Millie, she needed to acquire a titled man who was desperate enough to agree to her plans. She had no intention of staying married. To anyone. Not if she had anything to say about it. Amelia pulled off her gloves—it was easier to control the pistol that was safely tucked away in her reticule.
“You are welcome to wait for me in the carriage, if you wish. There is a pistol under the seat should you run into any problems while I am gone.” Kate frowned in offense. “I am not about to let you do this alone.” They’d become fast friends in Scotland. The only reason her grandmother approved of their friendship was because Kate was wealthy—extremely so—and her late husband had a long lineage and was a part of Boston society. Amelia looked at the ungodly looking creature with horns on the signpost that read “The Bull Tavern” dangling above the wooden door. Even before she entered the tavern, the door swung open fiercely, smacking against the brick wall. Soon, bursts of laughter shattered the silence and filled the quiet streets. She instantly took a step back, Kate right behind her.
Her instinct was to run far from this unearthly place, but she remained still. Two grungy men soon stepped out of the tavern. One wobbled side to side, tripped, and fell face-down on the cobbled street; the other man was obviously too inebriated to notice Amelia and Kate. “Hand ’em over,” the still-standing man said. When the man on the ground didn’t respond, the other man proceeded to kick the fallen man in his leg, shouting at him for the money he owed for the lady upstairs. To Amelia’s estimation, it went on for at least half a minute. When his attempt to collect the money proved unfruitful, he spat at the man and wiped his mouth with his dirty shirtsleeve. “Don’t ye show yer face here again, ye hear.” He grudgingly went back into the tavern without even noticing the women. Amelia and Kate both unleashed their held breath, and Amelia felt the blood rushing to her limbs.
As they neared the tavern door, a faint cry alerted her. Gooseflesh rose on her skin and her heart pounded in her chest. She heard it again, that haunting cry that had often crept out of her own mum’s room and into the dingy hallway where Amelia used to play with Millie as a child. She halted and listened carefully. Sniff, sniff. Someone was most definitely weeping. “Do you hear that, Kate?” “Hear what?” “Over there,” she said, pointing to the alley between the two buildings. “I am certain I heard a woman’s cry.” She took several steps, halted at the entrance of the alley and listened. Sniff, sniff.
She took a deep breath and stepped forward into the dark passage, but Kate stopped her. “We don’t know who might be lurking in there.” “She may need our help,” Amelia said, still looking at the darkness. Kate was correct, of course. What good would it do to try to help if she ended up was hurt or killed? How was that going to solve anything? Still, Amelia could not in good conscience leave the poor soul to suffer alone. Amelia untied her reticule and pulled out her pistol for good measure, and both women proceeded to inch closer, looking into the alley. The faint light from the street lamp showed a silhouette of a small-framed person sitting slouched against the wall. The weeping stopped. Amelia froze. “Kate, stay here and keep watch.
” “All right, but be quick,” Kate said. “Who’s there?” a voice cried out from the darkness. Amelia didn’t want to frighten the woman, but time was of the essence. She put the pistol back in her reticule and moved closer. “Stop or I’ll scream,” Amelia heard the woman say. She halted. “I’m only here to help.” “Don’t come any closer.” It was nearly impossible to see the woman’s face from where Amelia stood, but one thing was very clear—she was with child. Perhaps this woman might know Millie and where she might be found.
“I am looking for Millie Penn.” The woman was awfully quiet for a moment, and Amelia held her breath. Did she have information that might be of use? Amelia prayed that she might. “Why would I help ye?” the woman finally said, trying to stand. Her tone was bitter, resentful. “I can pay you if that is what you desire.” No answer came from the woman. Amelia inched closer and saw her expression was one of lost hope, as if she had spent too many cold nights out alone in the dark, and her crestfallen expression, with her mouth cast downward as if she had had enough of this wretched life, was more than Amelia could bear. The young woman touched her swollen belly, and her disheveled hair hung loose from the confines of her barrette. With her free hand, she pulled her frayed shawl over her shoulder and stood on her own two feet.
“Wot do ye want with her?” “She is a friend of mine,” Amelia said. She swore she heard a cynical chuckle. Perhaps the woman did know, but didn’t want to assist. Still, Amelia probed further. “Do you know where I might be able to find her?” “Psst,” Kate said from a distance. “I hear footfalls, so I’d hurry if I were you.” The young woman jerked back in fright as Kate walked up to them. “It is all right,” Amelia said to the frightened woman. But before she could soothe her, they heard the catcalls of the street gang approaching. All three women remained still.
“Can you walk?” Amelia asked. “Yes,” the woman said quietly. “My carriage is not far . Here, this way.” Amelia led the woman away from the cold brick wall. Beyond the alley, she heard the jeers and taunts of the street gang approaching. For heaven’s sake, they didn’t have much time. “Do you think you can walk a little faster?” Kate asked. Even with the pistol, Amelia was no match for brute force if her aim missed and the men decided to hurt them. They picked up speed and kept walking toward the street.
The sound of boots slapping against the wet cobblestones paralyzed them. And before they could safely reach her carriage parked nearby, a deep voice shattered the silence in the alley. “You’ve been a naughty woman, Miss Knight,” said the voice, ripe with cynicism. She felt her stomach drop. How did he know her name? She couldn’t tell what the man looked like in the dark. Not that it mattered. She hadn’t been out of her Mayfair townhouse more than a few times since arriving in London, and she hadn’t been back in this part of London for over a decade. The young woman slowly pulled away from Amelia and gazed at her strangely, as if she had seen a ghost. This was going to end very poorly if she did not soon figure a way out of this predicament. Amelia turned and faced the tall, well-framed, hooded man several feet away.
She quickly pulled out the pistol and cocked it. “Come any closer and I will shoot you.” He stopped dead, his face hidden by shadow. “I hardly think your puny pistol will do significant damage.” She’d never shot a pistol in her life, never mind held one. Kate had acquired the pistol and Amelia hadn’t questioned it. “You can test your theory if you like.” She forced herself to focus, despite the fact that she desperately wanted to run. “Either way, I will shoot, you can be sure of that.” Was her voice trembling? He observed them for a few seconds.
“I doubt that,” he said. All three women inched backwards, step by step. “I have several Bow Street Runners on their way here as we speak. I will not be responsible for the outcome,” she lied. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. I don’t think so, Miss Knight. I have eyes everywhere, you see,” he said, gesturing with his hand. “This is my domain. You are all alone in this foolish endeavor to rescue a whore.” Her childhood memories flooded her like a torrid storm, slicing away what little courage she had left.
Her mother had been a whore, that much she would not deny. She had watched as tyrannical men had dictated her mother’s life and harassed her as if she were no better than property. Amelia would not succumb to such abuse by men, that she was certain of. “Heed my warning,” she said, pointing the pistol directly between his eyes. “I have known men like you . ” She paused, forcing her own emotions down. “One more step and I will shoot to kill.” For a moment she thought she had won, but his mouth curved into a grin and her resolve diminished. “Rest assured I am not here for that kind of business. Not tonight anyway.
I am here to deliver a message and take that bitch off your hands.” He took a step closer. “You see, you have most defiantly inconvenienced my employer.” She dared not move, for if she did, she would likely try to shoot this horrible man and miss her target. “You tell your employer we will not be bullied by him, not as long as I am alive.” He paused and looked at her as though he were considering her words and their merit. An errant smile tipped the corners of his mouth. Chills ran down her spine. “Well then, we shall have to do something about that, won’t we?” he said to her, and slowly approached…