Copyright © 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 Kathy Linn Nappier
All rights reserved under United States, International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Paula Brackston fans will want to add KL Nappier to their favorites lists.
There are no unlikelier sleuths than Greta Roscoe & the Reverend Aaron Shane. Not because Greta is the most elegant courtesan of St. Louis’s Rag Time high society & Aaron the city’s most priggish minister. It’s because they’re dead & an angel has tasked them with solving their own murders.
“This book is wonderful! Original and totally addictive.” ~Lesley Mazey, The Eternal Night Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Website
“Most of the novels I read get thrown in a box under my bed, but Voyagers will be placed on my bookshelf.” ~Margaret Marr, NightsAndWeekends.Com
“…layers of historical fiction, murder mystery who-done-it…romance, supernatural thriller…and suspense…make for a most delicious reading.”~Lisa Ciurro, Tampa Book Buzz
“I wouldn’t let him in last night. He was so drunk, mumbling something about how he wished things weren’t like they were, begging me to let him in. Then, this morning, when I unlatched the door, he was there to hit me.”
Greta cupped her sister’s chin and tilted the girl’s face toward the hurricane lamp so she could see well. There was a dark bruise under the girl’s eye, the lid red and swollen. Greta forced the lump from her throat and cursed Marshall, but kept her voice low. On important evenings like this one, he often had his help follow Greta around the house.
“It must hurt fiercely, Tess,” she said. “But this will be the last time he ever lays a hand on you. We have an ally now. Tonight should put it all in place. I promise you. ”
Tess’s eyes grew teary and she whispered, “When can we leave, Greta?”
“It’s only a matter of days now, darling…”
“Then tell me what I can do. I can help, I know!”
“The best help you can be is to behave as though nothing is different. You understand?” Greta touched her sister’s face again, gingerly, just below the bruise. “He doesn’t know it, but Marshall has just given you the perfect excuse to lay low and avoid him. For the next few days, you can pretend to sulk here in your room. By the time his attention returns to you, we’ll be long gone.”
“I’m so angry! I’m so afraid! It feels like we’ve been trapped here a hundred years, Greta!”
They clung to each other in Tess’s barren little room: the young woman dressed in finest satin, the fourteen-year-old in a plain, cotton frock. And Greta thought, yes, it seems like centuries. It may have only been two years since Marshall had had his way, but she and Tess had lived under the shadow of his damnable family for as long as they could both remember.
Greta stroked her sister’s hair, so much like her own -dark red, sable soft- and a shudder came over her, to think of what Marshall might have wanted from Tess last night. Dear God, shouldn’t she have told her sister to let him have whatever he wants? Wouldn’t that have been easier to bear than a battered face? No. No!
“Hold your ground, darling,” she whispered. “This is almost over.”
* * *
She found Marshall waiting in her chambers. He did that frequently without consent. It was bizarre in its parody, this false gentleman standing by the elaborate gas hearth, its iron logs pretending to burn. All around were the trappings of the elite: Thick, dark tapestries against gilded wallpaper, the finest horsehair divans. Four feet above their heads, the ceiling’s plaster molding was shadowed deeply by lamplight. Below Marshall, the great Persian carpet was so busy with magenta, indigo and green it seemed to be in motion.
Greta realized she was nauseous: nauseous like she had not been since this nightmare had began. Everything in the room sickened her. The etched crystal shades of the gas lamps sparked and glinted, making her eyes smart. The great mahogany bed looked obscenely gauche, canopied with dark, embroidered silk. Oh, that silk alone could have fed Greta and Tess for months.
Marshall had yet to say a word. He had been watching her all this time, her skirts having announced her arrival as they rustled across the threshold. At last she steeled herself to walk toward him, but he held up a hand suddenly, motioning her to stop. The tangy taste of fear surged in her mouth. Had she’d given something away…perhaps in her expression, perhaps in her posture…?
No, it was simply inspection time. Marshall smiled. “The judge is going to be delighted.”
Tonight she wore emerald silk as luxurious as that adorning the bed. The gown was intended to barely escape scandal, provocatively snug at the bodice and hips, flaring below in a riot of ripples, her opera gloves cut from the same bolt of cloth. Her diamonds, too, were dazzling, but tasteful. Greta’s dark red hair was gathered away from her neck with an aigrette set above her right ear. The jeweled comb at the feather’s base glinted in the gaslight.
She was the most elegant courtesan in St Louis.
Greta ignored his comment. She’d regained herself and was set on a comment of her own, imagining Marshall’s fist against her sister’s face. “I just saw what you did to Tess.”
She moved into the room at last, pleased to see Marshall lose his smile, pleased to see him pat his fashionable, macassared hair, too close in color to her own. It was something he only did when he was nervous. Rare to see him so. He turned and lifted the cordial glass that had been sitting on the fireplace mantel.
“She was belligerent,” he said.
“Was she? What did she say to you, Marshall? No?”
“I just wanted to talk to her, Greta.”
Revulsion and anger knotted her stomach. “She is not part of our bargain, you sick bastard. If I ever see another mark on her, Marshall, I swear to you–”
His laugh stopped her. “You should know by now, Greta, that all your oaths are empty.”
“There’s a stench around you worse than your father had…”
He slammed his glass onto the mantel and came across the room in four strides. Well, that was crossing the safe margin, she thought, and gasped when his nails dug into her arms. She refused to cry out.
“Watch your mouth, damn you, watch your mouth!”
“Careful, Marshall. If I’m damaged goods, the judge is sure to renege.”
She could see the struggle in his eyes before his grip slackened. He said, “He won’t see the damage on Tess, though, will he? You owe me an apology.”
Greta swallowed and, thinking of her sister, said woodenly, “I’m so sorry.”
Smug in victory, Marshall replied, “I don’t like your tone.”
“You can’t do this to us forever.” Why did she bother to say things like that, what good did it do?
Marshall’s smile became more civil. He rubbed her arms where his grip had pained her, almost brotherly in nature, and it galled her. He returned to his cordial. “Don’t worry about Elias tonight,” he said. “Someone’s keeping him busy with supper and brandy until the judge can steal away with you.”
“I never worry about your end of things, Marshall. I just do as I’m told.”
Marshall’s expression didn’t change, but he didn’t ignore her sarcasm. “Greta. You really don’t want to sabotage the evening. This favor I’m doing the judge is valuable for all of us…”
Greta’s laugh was bitter. “This favor you’re doing?” She glanced down at her dress. “Are you going to wear this, then, and try to bear the touch of that–”
“He’s a very powerful man, Greta. He’ll make a powerful ally.”
“How happy I am for you.”
Marshall opened his arms in a gesture of reconciliation and moved toward her. She stiffened.“Greta. Don’t be such a grouse. This will be an advantage to us both. Tandy’s a bigger catch than his fellow Elias. If you behave and help me into his circle, I might relax the rules a bit. Give you more leash. Why insist on making something good so hard to live with?”
Greta couldn’t look at him. It was hard to pretend, being so close to the end, so hard! She cast her gaze about her chambers, but the excess and opulence assaulted her. Marshall smiled and rested his hands on her shoulders.
“All right, then?” When she didn’t reply, he gave her a firm, warning shake.
Think of Tess. She managed a quick nod.
“Good. Now. Give us a kiss.”