A lady never reveals the true extent of her decay…
Hannah Miles lives a quiet existence helping her parents conduct research into a most terrible affliction—until a gruesome murder during her best friend’s engagement party pulls her from the shadows. With her specialist knowledge and demur disposition, Hannah is requested to aid the investigation.
Except Hannah discovers her role is to apologise in the wake of the rude and disgraced man tasked with finding the murderer. The obnoxious Viscount Wycliff thinks to employ Hannah purely as a front to satisfy Whitehall, but she’ll have none of that. The viscount is about to meet his greatest challenge, and it’s not a member of the ton with a hankering for brains.
Can the two work together to find the murderer before the season is ruined?
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 “Take a few members of the ton in Regency London, mix in some zombies and mages, stir up a good murder mystery, and you have a terrific series opener.” Shelley Bates
March 1816. London, England.
Life did not bestow her gifts with an even hand. There was so little in Hannah Miles’s favour that, in the quietest moments, she wondered if she had been overlooked by the Fates entirely. She possessed neither beauty nor fortune to make her a desirable catch, and her most constant companion was solitude.
Once, her father had been the brave surgeon saving the lives of dashing military men on the battlefields of Europe. That brought a modest number of social invitations, as other women thought Hannah could pass on love letters to wounded officers. Then tragedy struck their family and Sir Hugh Miles turned his focus to the research of Unnatural creatures and their diseases, which earned him the moniker, whispered discreetly, of mad scientist.
Hannah’s engagements became few and far between when it was known she assisted in her father’s research and even handled his test subjects. She wasn’t certain whether it was the stain of employment that made her unacceptable, or the risk of contamination escaping her father’s laboratory. Perhaps they feared that Hannah harboured a contagion in the folds of her clothing or catching a ride on her bonnet. Regardless, social invitations were in scarce supply when your peers feared a plague-ridden rat would jump from your reticule and spoil the scones.
Her mother, Lady Seraphina Miles, had once been the most powerful mage in all of England, and as such, held a rank equivalent to that of a duke. However, magical ranks were only bestowed on the mage and did not pass to family or descendants. That meant her mother’s position and any associated privileges had been lost upon her untimely death.
To add to society’s misgivings, Lady Miles still resided in the family home.
There were simply too many blots on Hannah’s name for society to know quite what to do with her. Far easier to omit her name from invitation lists entirely. Few missed her and she had no desirable skills to add to an evening. Life had not blessed her with a fetching singing voice or skill with a musical instrument.
This invitation was a rare exception.
She ran a finger over its rich, embossed paper. Her dearest friend, Lizzie—Lady Elizabeth Loburn, daughter of the Marquess of Loburn—had become engaged to a most handsome young duke. There would be a grand ball at the Loburn mansion to celebrate the engagement and soon there would be the society event of the year—the much anticipated wedding.
Hannah had no such expectations of marriage. There were no suitors knocking on the family’s forest green door and no prospects on the horizon. Some women were born to be the darlings of society. By dint of their beauty, wit, or talents, they dazzled others and were the centre of attention. Lizzie was one such woman, exceptionally beautiful and with the voice of an angel.
Then there were women like Hannah, whose place was in the shadows, applauding a performance or holding a shawl for a much-loved friend. Not everyone could be a star. Some people had to be the night sky, the dark background that allowed the star to shine.
While some women became bitter at never finding a place in society, Hannah greeted her prospects with quiet acceptance. The world needed spinsters to be companions, nurses, or governesses. Like any young woman, her heart ached to know true love, but she knew she was loved by both her parents and her friend. That would suffice, even if their love didn’t quite reach all the empty hollows in her heart.
“Have you said good night to your mother yet, my dear?” A booming voice echoed through the house.
A wistful smile touched Hannah’s dusky pink lips. Papa didn’t give a fig for society’s conventions. She could picture him standing at the bottom of the stairs, his gold pocket watch in one hand as he tapped his toes with impatience. It didn’t matter that they were supposed to be late; he would hustle her out the door and away so that they reached their destination early. Oh, the horror.
Her mind skittered away from that word and her smile dropped. One hand went to her breast, her fingertips resting lightly on the primrose yellow silk over her heart. So many unseen horrors existed in the world. How she wished to return to a time when her only experience of horror was being the first to arrive at a dance!
Thousands of years of magic and dark arts had fundamentally changed their world. A rift had opened with another mystical world, allowing creatures to seep through and walk the earth. Those who did not follow the rules of Nature were called Unnaturals—creatures outside the normal realms of humanity.
Others, like her mother, were called the Afflicted, and things that once had only resided in fairy tales and ancient myths now expected invitations to soirées or lurked in the dark to snatch the unguarded.
Smile in place, Hannah rose from the padded stool, picked up a gossamer-thin green shawl, and left her room. The soft satin slippers on her feet made no noise as she walked the short hallway and then took the wrought-iron spiral staircase upward. The balustrades were carved to resemble a vine and she felt like an adventurer climbing to a dangerous and unknown world above.
At the very top of the stairs was a small landing and a large panelled door. Hannah rapped on it.
A chill washed over her skin as she grasped the door handle and pushed into her mother’s tower. The atmosphere was charged with electricity that made her hair prickle on the back of her neck. Whispers rose from the bed—words of power that circled the high ceiling like ravens caught in thunder-laden clouds.
Silence fell, and the storm vanished as Hannah crossed the rug.
“Hannah!” Lady Miles looked up, her features and expression obscured by the thin muslin veil covering her face. The fabric rested on her shoulders and brushed against her collar bones. Death had taken a cruel toll on her mother, but she was still a part of family life.