Capturing the Devil (Stalking Jack the Ripper #4)(5)

I blinked several times, finding myself unable to formulate any sort of decent response that didn’t include crying into my pretty new skirts. It might not appear to be of much consequence to anyone without an injury, but to me it meant the world.

“They’re highly impractical,” I said, looking down at them. “They’ll get dirty and ruined—”

“Ahh, about that.” Thomas emerged from around the corner with more boxes stacked in his arms. He paused long enough to run his gaze over me, his attention slow and meandering. Heat rose in my cheeks and I subtly patted the front of my bodice down, physically checking to see if wisps of smoke were coming from my person. He finally met my eyes and grinned in satisfaction. “I had a few extra pairs made.”

“O-oh… what a delightful surprise, Mr. Cresswell! However did you know we’d be here?”

At this, I rolled my eyes skyward. Liza was almost as abysmal at acting as Thomas was at singing. She kissed my cheeks and smiled warmly at Thomas.

The two co-conspirators had planned this moment out. I could have hugged them both. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I saw this darling little robe I need to inquire about.”

Thomas nodded as she moved past him and promptly started up a loud conversation with the dressmaker in the next room. “You look stunning, Audrey Rose. Here.” He set his armful of boxes down on the settee and then took my hand in his, guiding me around to peer into the looking glass. “You’re a vision.

How do you feel?”

I didn’t wish to sound vain, but when I first saw myself standing there, dressed in a gown fit for a princess, with shoes designed by a handsome yet wickedly charming prince, I felt as if I’d stepped out of the pages of a fairy tale.

It wasn’t the sort of story that placed me in the role of the helpless maiden, however. This tale was one of triumph and sacrifice. Of redemption and love.

“I didn’t know you were such a talented cobbler, Cresswell.”

He tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ear, expression thoughtful. “I find

myself striving to learn new talents, especially when the result is you looking—”

“Radiant?” I guessed.

“I was going to suggest ‘like you wish to destroy my virtue at once,’ but I suppose yours isn’t a terrible deduction, either.”

Thomas pressed his lips to mine in a gesture that was meant to be sweet and chaste. I was almost certain he hadn’t intended for me to pull him near, deepening our kiss. And I sincerely doubted he’d planned on lifting me into his arms, skirts puffed around us, as he walked us over to the settee and maneuvered me onto his lap, careful to mind my leg. There was truth in his assessment after all.

I ran my fingers through his soft locks, allowing myself a few moments of unfettered bliss. Times like this, when I was curled into his arms, safely tucked away from murder and corpses, I found stillness and peace. Staring into my eyes as if I offered him the same respite, he brought his lips to mine again. Recalling where we were and the danger of having someone walk in and find us in such an indecent position, I slowly forced myself to sit back. I laid my head against his chest, enjoying the solid beat that matched my own.

“It’s your birthday and yet you’re the one surprising me with gifts. Somehow, I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.”

“Oh? I thought the one with the birthday had the right to choose whatever he wanted. Maybe you’ll want to ravish me for being so irresistible.”

And humble. “Thank you for the shoes, Thomas.” I looked at the stack of boxes, teetering precariously close to the edge of the settee now. He caught my stare and nudged them back to safety. “All of them. It was very sweet. And highly unnecessary.”

“Your happiness is always necessary to me.” He tilted my chin up and kissed the tip of my nose. “We’ll find new ways of navigating the world together, Wadsworth. If you can no longer wear heels, we’ll design flats you adore. If you ever find those no longer work, I’ll have a wheeled chair made and bejeweled to your liking. Anything at all in the universe you need, we will make it so. And if you’d prefer to do it on your own, I will always step aside. I also promise to keep my opinion mostly to myself.”


He considered that. “Unless it’s vastly inappropriate. Then I’ll share it with gusto.”

My heart gave an involuntary flutter and I was sure if I didn’t keep making light of the situation, I’d tackle him to the ground immediately and never be

asked back to this boutique again. “Eighteen.” I sighed dramatically. “You’re practically ancient. In fact”—I breathed him in, trying to hide my smile—“I believe I smell grave dirt on you. Terrible.”

“Wicked thing.” He nuzzled my neck, prompting gooseflesh to rise in the best of ways. “I’m actually here to invite you to the slums, per your uncle’s request.”

Our warm moment came to a sudden halt. I took in his serious expression and the scientific and cool persona that he often donned before we examined a corpse. For the first time I noticed his dark clothing, the black coat and matching leather gloves peeking out from his pocket—perfect for attending a murder scene. My treacherous heart picked up its speed once more.

“Has there been a murder?” A muscle in his jaw tightened as he nodded.

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