Taming of the Beast – Christi Caldwell

The irony of Tynan Wylie’s fate was not lost on him. He used to be the man in control of all the criminals, the jailer of Newgate, titled the Beast of Newgate for the reputation he’d earned, the man who’d decided who lived and who died. Those matters settled by courts and magistrates ultimately had fallen to him. With bribes passing and his pockets lined, Tynan had been the arbiter of fates and futures. Now he found himself devoid of either fate or future. Now he was locked away in the fetid palace he’d once served as king. It was enough to make a man almost feel bad about the life he lived. Almost. Having been the one to watch over these sinful halls, however, had given him a leg up on how to not only adapt, but also how to survive in this new-for-him side of the world. Sprawled on his back, with his arms folded under his head to form a pillow against the hard stone floor, Tynan looped an ankle across his opposite upturned knee and launched into a happy song. “Would ye shut up?” the guard assigned his hall barked, the command reverberating around the corridor. Another guard rushed over. “Who the hell do ye think ye are talking to Mr. Wylie that way?” He shoved his baton at the other man, and a small melee broke out among old guards loyal to Tynan and new. Slowly, Tynan unfurled to his feet, coming to a stand.

That slight movement from him managed to quell the brewing fight. All guards instantly went quiet. Lining up, they directed their focus forward but kept their gazes trained on the floor. “My, my, my,” he said on a steely purr. “Never tell me, you’ve turned.” The sallow-faced guard swallowed wildly. “These bars between us have made you bold, have they not, Ridley?” The older man blanched. “Sorry, sir,” Ridley whispered loudly. He glanced about and stepped closer. “Just, the new man in charge, Hinton”—he added that name needlessly—“wants things run a certain way.

” Ah, as in, Hinton wanted no signs of loyalty toward the one who used to serve in his stead. Perhaps the man wasn’t as bad at all this as Tynan had credited. He was going through and purging from Newgate the men who’d been loyal to Tynan. The warden who’d replaced Tynan sought to eradicate any hint of those still with ties to Tynan. “What’s going on here?” a voice thundered, and the small group of guards parted, allowing their superior, Smithfield, through. He looked from them to Tynan, his suspicion-filled eyes homing in briefly on Tynan. “I asked what is going on here,” he repeated. Tynan resumed singing, raising his voice several decibels in a diversion meant to distract the head guard. As they were walking by the river’s brim. With a hey down, bow down As they were walking by the river’s brim, The eldest push’d the youngest in, And I’ll be true to my love If my love’ll be true to me.

“Nothin’ amiss,” Ridley grumbled. Smithfield took an aggressive step toward the older man. “Do I need to report you to Hinton?” Ridley held his ground, refusing to cede the spot where he stood on the stone floor. Of course he did. Tynan had appointed only the most fearless men to his crew. “Haven’t done anything to merit being reported,” he shot back. Smith’s blond brows slipped. “Are you getting mouthy with me?” The man’s perfect, clipped King’s English was at odds with the coarse, more unrefined accent of the guards Tynan had hired from St. Giles. Ridley glared back at the newer guard.

“If ye can’t tell, then ye’ve got no place serving in Newgate.” The younger man’s eyes bulged. “How dare—?” Tynan broke out more loudly into song, slashing across the escalating conflict between the two men. O sister, O sister, pray gie me thy hand, With a hey down, bow down O sister, O sister, pray gie me thy hand And I’ll gie thee both house and land, Though Tynan appreciated that show of loyalty, neither Tynan nor Ridley stood to benefit by his being tossed out on his arse like the others. The other man would end up with empty pockets and an even emptier belly, and Tynan would be down another connection he had to power in this place. Smithfield gave his towhead a shake. “You’ve gone mad, you have,” the guard spat from the other side of the prison bars. “It was only a matter of time before it happened. Happens to all who find themselves in this place.” He switched his focus back to Ridley and jabbed a finger in the older man’s direction.

“And you? All of you would do well to have a care not looking out for the last man you should.” With that, Smithfield scurried off, his large ring of metal keys clanging. Ridley stole one last, regretful look at Tynan before continuing on his way. Once both guards had gone, Tynan switched over to humming the remainder of the lyrics to “The Barkshire Tragedy.” The new guard, Smithfield, had leveled the charge of madness at Tynan. The young man, however, was correct on only one thing: The majority of the people locked away here eventually lost their minds. Tynan had lived in squalor. He’d been beaten as a child, had nearly broken his back grinding stone in a workhouse, only to rise up and rub shoulders with some of the most ruthless men and women in the whole of England. It would take a good deal more than locking him up in a cell to leave him dicked in the nob. Nay, that was for the innocent.

The pitiable who still had goodness in their souls. Or links to the outside world. And for him, no one knew of his lone link to the living. It was a secret he’d carry, lest it be used against him. And it was also because of that link that he needed to find a way out, too. There was always a way out. He’d witnessed it firsthand. And he’d be damned if he proved the sorry sot who couldn’t maneuver himself out of this mess he’d landed in. Not when he’d invented the ways out of this place. From the corner of his eye, Tynan caught the flicker of a shadow upon the opposite wall before he heard the arrival of his latest guest.

Ah, his replacement. “Hinton!” he called before the other man had even stepped into focus. “A pleasure, as always,” he greeted with false cheer. The warden stopped outside Tynan’s cage. Several years younger than Tynan’s thirty-three years, with pale blond hair and a wiry frame, the other man couldn’t be different in appearance… or how he ran this place. Tall, young, and possessed of a cocksure arrogance that would be his downfall in this place, Hinton looked at Tynan and sneered. “You’re sounding in good spirits… and in your prison cell, no less.” Aye, they could call it a cell. But the fact remained that he and the others here were no different than animals trapped and caged away. “Ah, but then, why shouldn’t I be?” Tynan briefly splayed his arms, and then, folding his hands, he dropped his interlocked fists upon his flat stomach.

“Not many men are fortunate to call their forever home the place that they built.” The right corner of Hinton’s eye ticked. “You didn’t build this place. You ran it… and you corrupted it,” he said sharply, before collecting himself and smoothing the emotion from his harsh features. “Ah, I didn’t corrupt anything.” Arching his back, Tynan sprang to his feet, delighting in the way the other man leaped back at the unexpectedness of his movement. “You are speaking under the assumption that people are inherently good. They aren’t. Men and women of all stations are born corrupt. Born bad.

Evil.” There was just one whom he’d known who’d ever had a purity of spirit. That, however, was a rarity, a gift more elusive than the English sun. And gifts were meant to be preserved, a feat that eluded him as long as he was trapped here. Refusing to give in to the desperation that threatened to unleash within him, he flashed another frosty grin. “Is this why you’ve come, though? To engage me in a philosophical discussion? Tsk, tsk. In my time as warden, I hardly had the luxury of such freedom with my time. Or…” Tynan strolled over to the bars. “Is it that you’ve come to me in search of guidance on running this place?” “Never.” The denial burst from the other man in another show of weakness and a lack of control.

“I don’t require any help from the likes of you.” Tynan begged to differ. His presence here with Tynan alone was a mark of just how miserable the blighter was in his new role that he’d waste his time speaking to him. It was a battle for supremacy the other man had waged, all the while failing to realize or know that he’d engaged in a war with just one. “The likes of me? Do you mean someone who lived in the streets and because of it has greater insight and knowledge on how this place is run than you ever will?” Tynan dangled those words he’d heard whispered among the guards, a reminder that Hinton was an outsider here. Hinton’s cheeks flushed a deeper shade of red. “You are a thorn in my damned side,” he hissed. “A remarkable feat, given that I am here.” Tynan swept his arms wide. “And you are there.

” In a display of boredom sure to both frustrate the other man and inspire unease, Tynan removed the blade that had been snuck into his cell and proceeded to clean the undersides of his nails. “Where did you get that?” the warden barked. Not waiting for an answer, he did a search about for his men. “Guards.” The two men in the wings rushed over to meet him. “Where did he get that?” Hinton demanded of them. Smithfield shook his head frantically. “No idea, sir. None at all. Perhaps Ridley? It had to be him, sir.

” Hinton’s jaw tense. “Send him to my—” Tynan chuckled, and the sound of his mockery brought the other man’s orders to an abrupt cessation. “What is it?” he snapped. “Ah, but you make assumptions that my only support within comes solely from the men who worked for me,” Tynan said in silky tones. “If you have a guard problem, that, sir, is on you,” Tynan said with relish. Hinton opened his mouth just as another guard appeared. “Sir, the lady’s arrived again, she has.” Hinton wrenched his attention away from Tynan and over to the new-to-Tynan guard. The warden cursed. “Damn it, Long, can you not see I’m in the middle of something?” “No, you’re not.

Not really. You’re just talking to yourself more than anything,” Tynan delighted in pointing out, and he savored the latest rush of ruddy color to suffuse the other man’s cheeks. The guard Long dropped his gaze to the floor. That deference and fear had once been shown him. And he was struck for the first time by just how much he missed being on the other side of all this. The world might say what they would about Tynan Wylie, but he’d kept a tight ship. The men here had all done precisely as he’d ordered. There’d been no rogue operations. There weren’t bothersome interruptions. Nay, with the evil that lived within these walls, one wasn’t permitted to falter… or find oneself at the mercy of the people.

A wry grin formed on his lips. But then, that was what had landed him in trouble, after all. Hinton glared. “You’re amused,” the other man snapped, interpreting that smile as a product of his failings. “You think you’ll somehow reclaim your role here.” The warden gripped the bars and placed his face against them. “But let us be clear,” he whispered. “I’m in charge now. The men answer to me. Everything here belongs to me.

” Tynan stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankles. “Tell me, are you issuing that reminder for me?” He paused, giving the other man a meaningful look. “Or you, Hinton?” It was decidedly the latter. Gnashing his teeth loud enough that they ground noisily enough to be heard by Tynan, the other man opened and closed his mouth several times, and then, turning on his heel, he stomped off. As he left, Tynan resumed singing. Chapter 2 Miss Faye Poplar, daughter in the wicked Poplar family, notorious for their involvement in the disappearance of a young lord years earlier, had just fourteen days. Fourteen days of freedom. Fourteen days to sneak off, with her family none the wiser. Fourteen days to see justice done. With her brother-in-law’s recent passing and her family otherwise occupied escorting back to London Faye’s now-widowed sister, a mother of three, Faye intended to use every single moment afforded to her to right those wrongs.

Alas, she’d already lost two precious days. She couldn’t lose another. Standing outside the office of the warden of Newgate, Faye once more consulted the timepiece affixed to the middle of her black cloak. She’d anticipated the hardest part of enacting her plan would be securing time away from her family’s watchful eyes. What she’d not anticipated was confronting integrity and honor from the new head of Newgate, a place notorious for covering up crimes, where anything and anyone could be bought, sold, or traded for the right price or secret. The echo of footfalls drifted near, and Faye released her timepiece. At last. “Ye got business with the warden?” someone whispered from the shadows. Another woman might have wilted, but she’d come to welcome and understand darkness and danger. She glanced about.

“Mr. Hinton has proven quite contrary—” “Not him. The real warden.” The real warden. She shivered. As in… the Beast of Newgate. The former warden who, by the tales written of him, had with his ruthlessness inspired terror in all. And yet, this stranger’s words gave her pause. He referred to Mr. Wylie as “the real warden” and in that telling word choice alone, revealed his loyalty to the imprisoned former warden.

Intrigue drew Faye deeper into the shadows. She had questions for the man lurking there. “Do you know Mr. Wylie?” “Better than anyone,” that graveled, rough voice returned. “Ye mean ’im ’arm.” The stranger stepped forward, and this time, she couldn’t stifle the gasp. His face marred by pocks and his rheumy eyes showing an advanced age, the man, nearly two feet taller and fifteen stone broader than her, was a veritable monster. Only… the tension ebbed from her frame, and Faye drifted closer to the man. Pausing a pace away so she might not have to crane quite so mightily, she angled her neck back farther and farther until she held his gaze. His harsh, ugly smile revealed ground-down, yellow teeth.

Faye cocked her head, continuing to study him. Alas, size… was just size. Her mother was an inch shorter than an already diminutive-in-height Faye and had proven herself to be capable of an ugliness not possessed by Satan himself. “No,” she said softly. “I don’t bear any ill-will toward Mr. Wylie.” In fact, she didn’t even know him. All he was, was stories in newspapers. Gossip about his sins. In that way, she and Mr.

Wylie were not very dissimilar. Not very dissimilar at all. The old man eyed her warily for a long moment and then stole a glance about. “Ye better not,” he whispered, and this time there was such menace contained within that not-at-all veiled warning, she shivered. When he returned his focus to her, he lowered his voice another shade. “Bears pointin’ out for the new warden that as long as Mr. Wylie’s ’ere, this place ain’t going to be ’is.” With that, the old man vanished into the inky darkness of the hall. His words lingered after he left. Bears pointin’ out for the new warden that as long as Mr.

Wylie’s ’ere, this place ain’t going to be ’is. She’d gone back and forth two times before with Mr. Hinton, even offering him all the funds to her name if he would release the jailed former warden to her care. He’d resisted at every instance. But, it appeared, she’d simply been offering him the wrong bribe. “Of course,” she breathed. Given what she’d learned of her late father’s role in the kidnapping of the real Earl of Maxwell, she should have realized immediately what it came down to. What it always came down to. Power. The most important currency a man traded in and collected.

More footfalls approached. This time, several sets, all in a mismatched, discordant beat, like an army that couldn’t find the proper formation. Faye squinted into the distance, the lit sconces barely illuminating the corridor beyond three large, murky shadows moving rapidly toward her. “She’s back,” one of the guards flanking Mr. Hinton was saying. The other man at his side handed over papers, which the warden promptly attended. “I’ve already told Mrs. X I’ve no time to indulge her or her curiosity.” He didn’t so much as glance up from his notes. “I’m not here to see you,” Faye said softly the moment he reached her.

The warden jumped, and the papers went flying out of his hands, raining down in a flutter of white around him. “God, she’s terrifying as hell,” the other guard beside him muttered, making the sign of the cross. He moved closer to his superior. Yes, she’d come to have that effect… on everyone. Following the discovery of her parents’ involvement in the sinister plot to kill a young lord, all in their quest for power and wealth, the world had come to view Faye as… an oddity. Mr. Hinton glared at her. “Mrs. X, I told you…” “I will not be deterred. I will speak with you,” she said.

Setting her hands on her hips, she positioned herself in the middle of the hall. The guard reached for her arm, but Faye angled her head, and even around her deep hood, she managed to fix her focus on his arm. The young man swallowed loudly and hastily backed away. Mr. Hinton, warden of this place, lifted a hand. “My office,” he said tersely. One of his minions opened the door, and more than half fearing that Hinton would change his mind and turn her away, she hurried into the room. Immaculate, elegantly arranged, with Chippendale furnishings and flawless mahogany floors. She might as well have stepped into the office of any proper gentleman. Faye availed herself to one of the oak wing chairs.

The oddly cut, uncomfortable seating was at odds with the formal décor of the remainder of Hinton’s offices. Hinton took up a place behind the functional, meticulously organized mahogany desk. Catching his chin in his palm, he studied her. Suddenly, he let his hands fall to the surface of the desk. “Is he your lover?” he asked bluntly, without preamble.

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