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The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)
Author: Megan Shepherd

One

THE BASEMENT HALLWAYS IN King’s College of Medical Research were dark, even in the daytime.

At night they were like a grave.

Rats crawled through corridors that dripped with cold perspiration. The chill in the sunken rooms kept the specimens from rotting and numbed my own flesh, too, through the worn layers of my dress. When I cleaned those rooms, late at night after the medical students had gone home to their warm beds, the sound of my hard-bristle brush echoed in the operating theater, down the twisting halls, into the storage spaces where they kept the things of nightmares. Other people’s nightmares, that is. Dead flesh and sharpened scalpels didn’t bother me. I was my father’s daughter, after all. My nightmares were made of darker things.

My brush paused against the mortar, frozen by a familiar sound from down the hall: the unwelcome tap-tap-tap of footsteps that meant Dr. Hastings had stayed late. I scrubbed harder, furiously, but blood had a way of seeping into the tiles so not even hours of work could get them clean.

The footsteps came closer until they stopped right behind me.

“How’s it coming, then, Juliet?” His warm breath brushed the back of my neck.

Keep your eyes down, I told myself, scouring the bloodstained squares of mortar so hard that my own knuckles bled.

“Well, Doctor.” I kept it short, hoping he would leave, but he didn’t.

Overhead the electric bulbs snapped and clicked. I glanced at the silver tips of his shoes, so brightly polished that I could see the reflection of his balding scalp and milky eyes watching me. He wasn’t the only professor who worked late, or the only one whose gaze lingered too long on my bent-over backside. But the smell of lye and chemicals on my clothes deterred the others. Dr. Hastings seemed to relish it.

He slipped his pale fingers around my wrist. I dropped the brush. “Your knuckles are bleeding,” he said, pulling me to my feet.

“It’s the cold. It chaps my skin.” I tried to tug my hand back, but he held it firm. “It’s nothing.”

His eyes followed the sleeve of my muslin dress to the stained apron and frayed hem, a dress that not even my father’s poorest servants would have worn. But that was many years ago, when we lived in the big house on Belgrave Square, where my closet burst with furs and silks and soft lacy things I’d worn only once or twice, since Mother threw out the previous year’s fashions like bathwater.

That was before the scandal.

Now, men seldom looked at my clothes for long. When a girl fell from privilege, men were less interested in her ratty skirts than in what lay underneath, and Dr. Hastings was no different. His eyes settled on my face. My friend Lucy told me I looked like the lead actress at the Brixton, a Frenchwoman with high cheekbones and skin pale as bone, even paler against the dark, straight hair she wore swept up in a Swiss-style chignon. I kept my hair in a simple braid, though a few strands always managed to slip out. Dr. Hastings reached up to tuck them behind my ear, his fingers rough as parchment against my temple. I cringed inside but fought to keep my face blank. Better to give no reaction so he wouldn’t be encouraged. But my shaking hands betrayed me.

Dr. Hastings smiled thinly. The tip of his tongue snaked out from between his lips.

Suddenly the sound of groaning hinges made him startle. My heart pounded wildly at this chance to slip away. Mrs. Bell, the lead maid, stuck her gray head through the cracked door. Her mouth curved in its perpetual frown as her beady eyes darted between the professor and me. I’d never been so glad to see her wrinkled face.

“Juliet, out with you,” she barked. “Mary’s gone and broken a lamp, and we need another set of hands.”

I stepped away from Dr. Hastings, relief rolling off me like a cold sweat. My eyes met Mrs. Bell’s briefly as I slipped into the hall. I knew that look. She couldn’t watch out for me all the time.

One day, she might not be there to intercede.

THE MOMENT I WAS free of those dark hallways, I dashed into the street toward Covent Garden as the moon hovered low over London’s skyline. The harsh wind bit at my calves through worn wool stockings as I waited for a carriage to pass. Across the street a figure stood in the lee of the big wooden bandstand’s staircase.

“You awful creature,” Lucy said, slipping out of the shadows. She hugged the collar of her fur coat around her long neck. Her cheeks and nose were red beneath a light sheen of French powder. “I’ve been waiting an hour.”

“I’m sorry.” I leaned in and pressed my cheek to hers. Her parents would be horrified to know she had snuck out to meet me. They had encouraged our friendship when Father was London’s most famous surgeon, but were quick to forbid her to see me after his banishment.

Luckily for me, Lucy loved to disobey.

“They’ve had me working late all week opening up some old rooms,” I said. “I’ll be cleaning cobwebs out of my hair for days.”

She pretended to pluck something distasteful from my hair and grimaced. We both laughed. “Honestly, I don’t know how you can stand that work, with the rats and beetles and, my God, whatever else lurks down there.” Her blue eyes gleamed mischievously. “Anyway, come on. The boys are waiting.” She snatched my hand and we hurried across the courtyeard to a red-brick building with a stone staircase. Lucy banged the horse-head knocker twice.

The door swung open, and a young man with thick chestnut hair and a fine suit appeared. He had Lucy’s same fair skin and wide-set eyes, so this must have been the cousin she’d told me about. I timidly evaluated his tall forehead, the helix of his ears that projected only a hair too far from the skull. Good-looking, I concluded. He studied me wordlessly in return, in my third-hand coat, with worn elbows and frayed satin trim, that must have looked so out of place next to Lucy’s finely tailored one. But to his credit, his grin didn’t falter for a moment. She must have warned him she was bringing a street urchin and not to say anything rude.

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