He wanted to be her dream man... Lady Tuesday Arlington seeks refuge from the horrible nightmares
that invade her sleep by doing what she does best--she paints them.
But when her husband is found dead in a setting identical to one she has
painted, she becomes the prime suspect in his murder. Lawrence Pickering,
special investigator to Her Majesty the Queen, takes over the
inquiry and cannot help but fall for the beautiful and talented Tuesday.
But a cruelly sinister presence waits in the shadows to turn their
picture perfect love into a masterpiece of murder.
Chapter 1: London, Tuesday 19th of June, 1590
She lies in the field of tall grass, her arms and legs stretched out as far as they will go, breathing in the smell of summer dirt and heat and Mr. Eliot's trimming in the garden. The dragonflies loop over her, their blue-green wings gleaming like the lids of Chinese boxes.
She thinks of that time when she was younger and she climbed the yew tree and the branch fell off and made a crack like a lightening bolt in the garden wall that cost 31 pounds to fix. She had lost her allowance as a result but she can't remember if it had been repaired. It is so pleasant here, with the sun and the dragonflies and the grass tickling and-
The ground beneath her vibrates with the angry pounding of his boots as he comes toward her, for her. He is nearly on top of her before she realizes it, bearing down. Fast. She lies there, completely still, her fingers digging into the dirt, paralyzed with fear. Thinking, not again, please not again. Thinking, don't let him see me, don't let him find me, oh god-
"You can't hide from me you stupid bitch! Show yourself now."
She gets up and runs for her life.
The Lion examined his reflection in the mirror scrupulously, running a hand through his hair.
Who is the most dangerous man? The brave man? The wise man? The rich man?
None of these, sir. It is the mediocre man.
Because he is invisible.
No one would remember anything special about him, the Lion decided. Nothing he didn't want them to, anyway. Done up like this, he would look just how he was supposed to look for where he was going.
When he was not on a job, the Lion was a snappy dresser. He spent a lot of money on his clothes, but he felt it was worth it. He didn't talk much so he let clothes show what kind of a man he was. They drew attention to him, made people remember him, hid his other identity. And he liked to look good, liked the way women eyed him, then blushed. He liked it a lot, it gave him satisfaction.
Not like this, though. Not like the satisfaction of being the Lion.
The Lion was, in his own opinion the best killer in England.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Sunlight slants at crazy angles between the boughs of the trees, making a corridor of irregular golden beams. They dance over her arms and hands like fairies as she flees through them, running as hard as she can, biting her lip to keep from screaming.
"I see you!" he calls from behind her, not sounding winded. Heavy footsteps follow hers, filling the air with crunching and the smell of decaying leaves.
"When I get my hands on you I'll flay you alive."
She can hear him thrashing through the branches behind her. She has the advantage, being smaller, but not for long. He is gaining on her, she can feel his fingertips inching closer to her, smell his sweat now, oh god he's-
She trips on a rock hidden in beneath the leaves and falls, headlong. She scrambles to her feet, gets caught up in the hem of her gown for a moment, then keeps running. She wills herself not to look behind her.
"You idiot," he says and she can feel his fingers first graze, then grab her shoulders. He drags her, her feet leaving long brown lines in the dirt as he says, "There is no escaping from me. Don't you know that by now?"
The Lion had read everything about every other killer he could get his hands on and he knew that none of them even came close to him. Only one man had ever even approached his numbers, and he'd been caught three years earlier. Besides, he wasn't impressed. That man had only killed girls.
The Lion killed men. Lots of men. And no one ever caught him. He was sure he'd done more kills than anyone else he could think of, maybe even more than anyone in Europe. And nobody knew who he was.
The people who saw him every day, men like Joey Blacktooth and "Can Can Kyle" the bar man who kept the tankards full at the Dancing Fawn, they didn't think much of him. They'd call him the Loin or sometimes even the Groin after the way he looked at the ladies, but only behind his back. Truth was, they were a little scared of him. The man-more like a boy really-was strange. He came in at night and sat alone at the table in the back, pulling scraps of paper out of his doublet and studying at them. They elbowed each other in the ribs and laughed at him and pointed him out to strangers as a curiosity, but only when he wasn't looking. If they had been more forward or if a single one of them could read, they would have
died. As it was, they were no threat to him and the Lion was content to let them stare.
Its not what you are its what you seem to be that matters.
Right now, the Lion seemed just like anyone else. But soon. Soon would be different.
When goddamit? I have waited-
What is the true knight's most important ally? Is it his master?
Is it his weapon?
What is it? Answer me!
It is patience.
I am so tired of being patient.
Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! he cries when the heel of her boot lands in his groin.
His fingers lose their grip on her as he reaches between his thighs, moaning, staggering sideways.
She throws herself forward, away from him. The woods thin and she is in a garden, in view of the house. If she could only get there, only get in, she thinks, she could be safe. Late blooming roses flash by her in blurs of red and yellow as she runs across the paths, weaving drunkenly as her feet touch the uneven stones. Gravel sprays up behind her as she runs like loud rain, pat pat pat pat patpatpatpatpat and over this she hears the sound of his moans.
Then she hears his footsteps.
"You'll never get away, you two faced whore," he calls. Calls, not yells. Calm. Not running, walking. Too calm.
Ha ha ha he laughs. Then he says, "No way you'll get over the wall, is there? And I've locked the gate. May as well stop and get ready for what's coming. You'll need all your strength to pray for mercy, you heartless bitch."
The Lion came up with that name for himself late one night when he was lying in a noisy room with one of the beauties from Fleet street. She'd traced the scar on the inside of his forearm with her finger and said "Where'd you get this, love?"
"Nowhere," he'd replied gruffly, pushing her hand away. There was one thing whores were good for, and it wasn't talking. Plus, he didn't want to think about his past that night. It was his future that was preoccupying him. He'd been working in the same way for awhile now, and he saw that it was time to change, move on. He needed something bigger, more taxing. There had to be better challenges for man of his talents.
"Looks like a sun," the whore had said then, stupid bitch, not getting that he didn't want to discuss it with her. "Or like a lion's head."
The fact that it was a whore who gave him the idea for his name made him a little queasy so he never told anyone. And because he didn't like to owe anyone anything, he saw to it that she couldn't ever tell either. He could have hurt her but as a favor, sort of a thank you present, he made it painless.
Still, he didn't like thinking about it, thinking about her. Especially-well, especially now.
Its just a coincidence, he told himself.
There is no such thing as coincidence.
The Lion swatted the memory away and turned to the table behind him. There were a variety of weapons on it, mostly knives. He had found that a knife worked best for almost every job. They were more elegant, more gentlemanly than any other weapon. And he was, of course, a gentleman.
Plus, he liked to see his victim's blood close up. Liked to sample their last breaths. Liked to savor the taste of death from their lips. There was nothing else like it.
She is a caged animal she thinks, she is doomed, she is going to die at his hands, and then she sees that he lied. The gate is not locked, the gate is open, the gate is her escape and she runs through it.
She does not stop to think how he could have made such a mistake but turns to the left, toward the kitchen yard, hoping he will think she went into the stables in front of her. She can barely smell the roses anymore, where is everyone, her legs are burning, her chest aches, her mouth stings with dryness.
"Stop where you are, you stupid bitch!" he orders, not far behind her, not fooled.
She is not running now, she is stumbling, swerving crazy, slipping on the mud of the yard. She plunges toward the door, blinded by the dimness.
With unsteady hands she gropes along the wall until she finds-
"Where the hell are you?"
-a door. It opens, she falls through it, stumbling over boxes, falls to her knees, to the floor.
She can't run any more.
What is the loudest sound?
What is the most powerful weapon?
What is the path to control?
Very good. I think you are ready.
"I think so too, master," the Lion said to his reflection in the mirror. He pronounced the last word with amusement. It was part of the game he played, the mask he wore. But just as he had no peer, he had no master. He was his own man. He patted down his hair one last time and smiled at himself. He liked what he saw.
He was the best.
Not long now, everyone would know it.
"Where are you bitch?"
She knows not to answer, not to say where she is. If she is quiet he won't find her.
"Come here right now, Tuesday!" He is standing just outside the door, she can hear his boots crackle under his weight. The wall shudders when he pounds his fist on it. "I know you are here," he calls, almost coaxing now. "If you come out I won't hurt you."
He is lying, Tuesday knows.
"Get out here you stupid whore bitch and show yourself."
A door opens somewhere, diverting his attention, and she hears his footsteps disappearing down the hall.
Now! She moves on tip toes to the door and pushes it open. Her arms are trembling. The corridor is empty and not empty. His anger, his sweat, fills the air still. From behind other doors voices whisper. Tuesday thinks someone is watching her, a dozen someones, eyes pressed to the cracks beneath the hinges, but she doesn't care.
She slides into the corridor. Everything is eerily precise, her vision extraordinary. She sees a crack in the wall, a place where the iron nail was not set flush with the wood, the dark red lines on the petals of the roses that he crushed under his boots, dark red like trails of blood. She notices everything yet she is running, fast, running hard down the corridor, watched by the unseen eyes. She looks behind her to make sure he is not there. She cannot hear his footsteps any more, she can only hear her breathing, short gasps that sound almost like laughter, ha ha ha.
Ha ha ha she breathes hard, running, turning corners, left, then right. But the corridor never seems to change, it just goes on, more doors, more crushed roses that look like they are bleeding. Ha ha ha. Run, she tells herself. Keep running. You can escape. You can-
"I told you I would get you, whore," he says, thundering up behind her.
It had been a trap. Tuesday pushes desperately against the nearest door and then another but they won't budge, the weight of too many eyes holding them up. Ha ha ha laugh the people with the eyes. Now we'll get a good show.
Tuesday keeps running but he is behind her now, bearing down, she can smell him on the air moving toward her. She can't turn around, won't turn around to see him, but she can see his shadow looming up against her. She is stuck. The corridor ends. His shadow crawls up the wall, bent by the corner, leisurely now.
Ha ha ha. Her breathing. His laughter.
The shadow grows an arm, the arm a hand, the hand a knife
"You are mine now, Tuesday. Mine. I warned you. You just keep your whore mouth shut or I'll do the same to you as I did to him. Do you understand, bitch? Answer me!"
Tuesday woke up, gagging on her pleas for help, gagging for air. She was curled in the bottom corner of her mattress, trembling. Her night dress, soaked through with sweat, was clinging to her skin but she had goosebumps on her arms. The room was dark, it was nothing like the dream, and she was alone. Outside, at the level of her two windows, the street was empty. In the distance she could hear the shout of the night watchman saying that it was three in the morning.
She unfolded herself, put on the old silk dressing gown lying on the floor next to her bed and moved toward her easel. She knew what she had to do, that there was only one way she would ever get back to sleep that night. She used the blank side of the preparatory sketch of the Countess of Launton-mouth 22, nose 34, forehead 12, eyes, uneven, 33-and began to paint. She did not bother with undersketches, but divided the thick paper in half, drawing a line down the center to represent the corner across which the shadow had spread. Bold strokes of dirty gold for the oak paneled walls of the hallway, fast lines barely suggesting the doors, a huge knot in the wood at the end that looked like a deaths head.
This painting was different from her by-the-numbers portraits, ironic since they were similarly born of desperation, but she liked it. There was something more interesting in its bold lines than in the staid renderings of highly preserved aristocrats with failing marriages and mercenary young lovers, which paid her. The greatest challenge she faced in those portraits was to avoid painting the weariness that suffused even the set of her subject's shoulders, the weight of the lies they told themselves to keep going.
The watchman, closer now, was calling half five when she began to clean up. She could still get three more hours of sleep before she had to take her father his breakfast. Maybe today she should tell him. It had been weeks and weeks, more than two months. Of course, since it had already been that long, maybe it could wait until tomorrow.
"Blast," she murmured as her wrist cramped and the brush she had been drying skidded out of her hand. It slipped across her palette and stopped at her easel, leaving a rust colored splatter down one side of the painting. Fixing the mess would take another hour. She felt tears prick the back of her eyes, not because of the ruined painting-no one was ever going to see it so it hardly mattered-but at this further proof of what she already knew: she always ruined everything. It had been like that from the day she was born-on a Monday, instead of on a Tuesday like every other woman in her mother's family since the time of William the Conqueror-and continued on with no appearance of abatement.
They had given her the maternal family name, Tuesday, despite her lapse of breeding, and she bore the paternal surname, Worthington, but she wore them like ill-affixed labels. She did not fit in with her family, did not look like any of them, could not sing or play the lute or do embroidery like them. Six generations of Worthingtons had been ladies in waiting to the Queens of England by merit of their extraordinary skills as needle-women. But everything Tuesday touched just unraveled.
Like her marriage to Curtis. It was her fault, she knew, that Curtis was not happy. She had been lucky to have Curtis, beyond lucky, and she had not tried hard enough to meet his needs. Even as her heart broke, she could not blame him for leaving. She could not give him what he wanted. What he deserved.
With him gone, she could add 'wife' to the list of W's she had failed at being: Worthington, woman, wonderful, wanted-
Taking up his position to watch her as she put away the last of her brushes and slid back into the bed, the Lion would have disagreed completely. He wanted her. He needed her. And he knew everything about her.
He knew that it was her aunt's dressing gown she wore, he knew the old trunk in the corner of the studio was her mother's, he knew that all her garters were light purple, that her father was an invalid living on the second floor, that there were only three servants left in the house, knew where they slept, how deeply, and how long. He knew how to get in and out through the lose door in the cellar without anyone being the wiser, knew when Tuesday was most likely to be alone, what she looked like close up while she was sleeping, and when she was awake. And although Tuesday would speak of it to no one but her maid, CeCe, he knew all about the dream. And about her late night painting. Oh yes, he knew all about that.
Reluctantly, the Lion made ready to leave. But he would be back. Back to watch, and wait, and dream his own dreams. Dream of the day when he would be who he deserved to be. Have what he deserved to have.
He gave the woman and the painting one last glance.
A day very soon.
Grub Collins kept his fingers hooked over the cracked leather belt slung around his hips in order to keep them from fidgeting. Over the years he'd learned how to control his face and his voice and his walk to keep from showing excitement, but his damn fingers seemed to have a mind of their own.
It was a perfect summer day and the inhabitants of Ram Alley were taking advantage of the fine weather to do all their washing. Laundry hung on lines from almost every window creating a canopy of lacy petticoats and well-worn trousers. It looked just like any other morning, perhaps a bit quieter than usual. Even if someone had noticed the strange feeling of expectation that fluttered on the breeze with the petticoats, they would not have been able to put their finger on it.
Grub peeled himself off the wall he'd been leaning against for the last hour and lounged slowly down the street, squinting at the laundry. An ancient tavern keeper in high leather boots stopped his sweeping long enough to try to coax him in for a drink, but Grub pressed on. He dropped a coin in the outstretched hand of a one-legged beggar, then continued slowly down the street toward a drunk stretched out next to the street door of the Little Eden.
Roused by the shadow being cast over him, the drunk opened one eye, slowly, then the other.
"Nothing doing," Grub started to say, but stopped as the drunk's gaze moved behind him. He turned and saw the beggar, now in possession of both legs, running hard down the center of the street.
Men and women filed from the doorways of about half the buildings to watch as the beggar spoke urgently to the drunk man, and calm turned to acute expectation. This was not the voyeuristic interest of gossipy neighbors, because these were not the normal inhabitants of Ram Alley. Every chamber maid, shop keeper and butcher's boy was a highly trained operative, part of an elaborate surveillance operation designed to catch one of England's biggest enemies. The laundry was not merely hung out to dry but actually spelled out a report, Grub Collins was not a loafer but a messenger, and the surly drunk was no less than Lawrence Pickering, the Earl of Arden, the man Queen Elizabeth herself called 'Our greatest hero,' now the head of Her Majesty's operation against smuggling.
"Its off," Lawrence announced, getting quickly to his feet, and everyone began talking at once. He silenced them with a look. "I am going with Tom-" he gestured to the agent who had been dressed as a beggar, and whose face had gone sickly pale, "-but I want the rest of you stay at your posts until I return." Half way down Ram Alley he stopped and retraced his steps to the old tavern keeper. "Christopher, send word to the Special Commissioner that someone got to the Lark before we did," he barked, then turned and continued down the street.
Lawrence Pickering knew this area intimately. It was here that he had built, with his own hands, the empire that made him one of the wealthiest men in Europe. Two years earlier he had owned almost every one of the newly refurbished buildings he and Tom were now passing, and had funded most of the now thriving businesses. It was also here that he had grown up-sometimes in the buildings he would later own, more often taking whatever shelter he could in the bleak and filthy alleyways between them. From these, he watched the men and women of Alsatia, and watching them he learned the two most important things he knew: that there was a huge difference between living and living well; and that it had nothing to do with money. He knew that for certain.
After volunteering to fight against the Spanish and doing everything he could to get himself killed, from sail a burning ship into the middle of the Spanish fleet to lead a jailbreak of 200 prisoners-
("I just wasn't lucky," he'd said with a beguiling smile and a shrug when he returned England.
"You don't believe in luck, Lawrence," his best friend, Crispin had reminded him. "But I do, and I am glad you are back."
"So am I," said Lawrence, sounding like he meant it.)
-he had returned to London a hero. His attendance became the most crucial ingredient for a successful dinner or ball, his title the most valued accessory a marriageable young woman could hope to wear, and his presence the most sought-after accouterment for every boudoir.
("Last year it was diamond shoe buckles, this year it is me," he had joked with one of the women who invited him to her bed.
"My diamond shoe buckles broke," she commented, looking him over with a sweep of long lashes. "There does not appear to be anything broken about you."
Lawrence had chuckled, acting like he meant it.)
But even his most ardent and attentive admirers would have been hard pressed to recognize the Earl of Arden in the filthy but determined figure who now accompanied Tom away from the tavern, which was, of course, the point. His men had only been undercover and in position for the past three hours; Lawrence himself had been there all night, checking and double checking. He had enough enemies that he knew better than to go to an anonymously called meeting without real precautions.
With his jaw clenched, Lawrence followed Tom around a corner and into a narrow alley. They had to skirt a group of mangy looking dogs fighting over a piece of meat, and then duck under a short arch before reaching the door of the abandoned house where the Lark had been found dead.
It was dark inside but the circle of light given off by the lantern Tom held illuminated a figure slumped half against the wall and half on the floor. Lawrence bent down toward the motionless form and wrinkled his nose. Of the three things Lawrence disliked most in the world, one of them was lilacs, and the dead man must have drenched himself in lilac water before going out. Close inspection revealed no wound on the man's back, so Lawrence reached out and carefully turned the corpse over.
Behind him, Tom inhaled sharply then retched and dropped the lantern. The light flickered madly back and forth as it fell and crashed on the ground, spluttering out. With their eyes unused to the dim interior, they were instantly plunged into impenetrable darkness. But even the darkness the corpse seemed to hover before them.
Lawrence felt as if the image had been seared into his mind, joining so many others and trumping them. There was the agonized expression on the man's face. The long, red gash that crossed his pale throat above his ruff like a bloody smile. And then, below it, the gaping cavity in his chest where his heart should have been.
"Tom," Lawrence turned to call behind him into the darkness. His voice sounded hoarse and strange to his own ears. "Tom, are you all right?"
"Yes," was the unsteady reply.
"Good. Do you think you could do me a favor?"
"Yes." A little more steady.
"Please go outside and stop those dogs from eating-whatever they are eating."
There was a gag, a pause, a scratching noise, and then the sound of footsteps clumsily receding.
When he was sure the young man was gone, Lawrence steeled himself and relit the lantern. Until that moment he believed he had seen all that man could offer in the way of death and destruction, both on the streets of London and on the field of battle. And until that moment he had not understood the security that such a belief offered.
Those other killings, while pointless, at least were motivated by something: patriotism, greed, love, loss, rage. But even if that had been the case here, the violence of the killing moved it beyond that, beyond the space of motive. There was something chillingly malevolent, hauntingly calculated, about the way this man's life had been taken. Something that went beyond mere murder.
As he looked at the heartless body in front of him, Lawrence perversely remembered one of the axioms he used to drill into his men: It is not what you take away that matters, it is what you leave behind. He had always considered it as a way to control his enemies, send them the message he wanted them to see.
What message was the killer sending through this violated body?
Lawrence knew with overwhelming certainty that he did not want to find the answer to that question, did not want to again find himself wading into a dark pool of violence and death and betrayal. He knew that finding it would cause him to suffer in ways he could not even imagine.
Just as he knew, with equal certainty, that he had no choice.
He was right on both counts.
A Division of Random House, Inc.
all rights reserved
Copyright © 2002 Michele Jaffe