Jessica Rothe
Israel Broussard
Home > A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter #3)

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

ONE

THE LAST TRAVELERS’ INN on the road from Inverness was no place to die.

Freezing rain lashed the windowpanes as I huddled over a warm bowl of soup in a corner of the inn’s ground-floor tavern. Across the table, Montgomery rubbed a scar on his arm and stared out the window, scanning the muddy road for signs that we were being pursued. In the upstairs room just over our heads, locked away from the other patrons, Edward lay dying.

I rested my hands on Montgomery’s anxious ones. “We’re safe here. No one would come after us this far north.”

Beneath the worn canvas shirt and the pistol strapped to his side was the young man I’d agreed to marry. His silver ring circled my finger, scuffed and dented after our escape from London. For the past three days, Lucy, Edward, and I had huddled in the back of the carriage while Montgomery and Balthazar had driven us through snow and rain without complaint, north to Elizabeth von Stein’s estate, Ballentyne Manor, where we hoped to hide.

I threaded my fingers through Montgomery’s. My hands were cold, as always. His were warm and solid. They belonged to a surgeon, not a servant, but I suppose it didn’t matter anymore. Now, like me, he was simply a fugitive.

He turned back to the window. “I keep thinking the police will find us.”

“We didn’t leave any evidence for them to trace. Besides, Elizabeth stayed behind to make certain they don’t suspect us. They’ve no reason to tie us to the . . . the deaths.”

Deaths. Murders is what I should have said. Just days ago, in the King’s College’s basement laboratories, we had brought to life five of Father’s water-tank creatures that, in turn, had slaughtered the most dangerous members of the King’s Club. I could still picture the blood seeping from Dr. Hastings’s eyes.

Montgomery and I hadn’t yet spoken of what happened at King’s College, though I knew the violence of it bothered him deeply. It had been terrible, but necessary—a fact we didn’t quite seem to agree on.

“We were very thorough,” I added in a dry voice.

A dark look crossed his face. He started to answer, but the sound of laughter drowned out his voice.

Annoyed, I turned to the inn’s fireplace, where a dozen red-faced men and women in gaudy satin clothes swapped stories and pints of beer. They were part of a traveling carnival troupe following the winter fair circuit, and were the only patrons sharing the inn with us. A scraggly-haired woman finished telling a ghost story with a loud belch, and the others roared with laughter.

I didn’t realize how tense I was holding my muscles until Montgomery leaned in. “Ignore them,” he said.

“It’s nonsense,” I muttered. “Telling ghost stories. There’s enough in this world that’s frightening. Only the ignorant would scare themselves on purpose.”

Overhead, a floorboard creaked and I sat straighter, watching the ceiling, wondering how Edward was doing. Days had passed, and yet I hadn’t come to terms with the fact that he’d poisoned himself. He had tried to end his life before—misguided attempts to kill the monster inside him—but the Beast had always been too strong. It hadn’t been until the very end, when Edward and the Beast had nearly melded into one, that he’d been able to force arsenic down his own throat. He’d have been dead in hours if Montgomery hadn’t stolen drugs from a chemist shop outside of Liverpool to counterbalance the worst of the poison’s effects. It wasn’t a cure, but it was a chance. Now, overcome by delirium and fever, he was caught somewhere between life and death, between being Edward and being the Beast. Lucy was up there now, tending to him at his bedside, while Balthazar stood guard outside the door.

The floorboards stopped shifting, and I relaxed. I leaned forward, letting my hair screen my face, and toyed with the ring on my finger.

“Ignorant, are we, lass?”

I tossed back my hair to see the speaker—a thin man with a wide gut that stretched his cheap green satin tunic. The leader of the troupe, I assumed. The room had gone silent, save the sounds of the fire popping and the barmaid cleaning glasses. None of his troupe was laughing now.

“It was a private conversation,” I explained. “You shouldn’t have listened in if you didn’t want to hear what we had to say.”

The thin man’s eyebrows shot up in surprise that a young woman would speak to him so boldly. He dragged his wooden stool next to mine, leaning in so close that I could smell the sour beer on his breath. “You’ve a fine accent. City folk, are you? If you’re smart, you’ll turn back.” He dropped his voice to a theatrical hush. “Strange things happen this far north. Flashes of colored light. Pools of black water. They say half the women smell of witchcraft.”

He was trying to frighten me, and it wasn’t working. “It’s probably the smell of soap,” I said. “I don’t suppose you’d recognize that particular odor.”

The barmaid snickered.

Montgomery’s hand tightened over mine. “The last thing we need is to draw attention to ourselves,” he whispered in my ear.

He was right. I started to turn away, but the thin man grabbed my stool with surprising strength and dragged it over until my face was only inches from his. “If you’ve a better ghost story, then by all means, lass, tell us.”

Montgomery let out a sigh.

I narrowed my eyes. I should go upstairs. I should leave it be. But my nerves were agitated, and my patience was a prickly monster. If this man thought I didn’t have my own horrors to tell, he was wrong.

I started to open my mouth. I could tell him about a madman banished to an island who twisted animals until they spoke and walked on two legs. Or a murderer stalking the streets of London who left behind white flowers tinged with blood. Or I could go upstairs and unlock Edward’s door and let the Beast’s six-inch claws show these carnival performers what real terror was.

“We’ve had a long journey,” Montgomery answered for me. “Our nerves are frayed. We didn’t mean to offend.” His words had a finality to them that sent the man grumbling back to the fireplace, where the old woman let out another belch.

“I could have handled it on my own,” I said.

He raised an eyebrow. “By dumping your soup in his lap, most likely, and starting a brawl. I told you, we need to remain unnoticed. Now I should check on the horses while there’s still a bit of daylight. Eat that soup before it goes cold. You need it.”

He pulled his oilskin jacket over his shirt and disappeared into the freezing rain. Alone at the table, ignoring the din from the carnival troupe, I watched the steam rise from my soup while I calculated the distance to Ballentyne Manor. We’d been riding for three days, but the rain and snow and a broken strut had slowed us, so it might be another full day before we arrived. Not much time to keep Edward’s fever stabilized until we could find a cure.

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