ONE… two… three, Police Constable James Heron counted the solemn, resonant chimes of the clock in the market square. He pulled out his pocket watch and adjusted its hands so that his timepiece read 3:00 a.m. exactly. Only six more hours until the end of his shift—and only one more night before he was back on days, at least for the next few months. Every constable who worked for Scotland Yard took his turn on the night shift, and every man hated it. The night shift was long, cold… lonely. At least at three o’clock in the afternoon, there’d be people about, James thought miserably as he walked the long, narrow corridor between the tenements of Buck’s Row on aching feet—aching legs. At 3:00 a.m., his only companions were rats crawling up from the sewers to eat garbage off the streets.
It was easy to imagine how a madman had ripped his way through the back allies of Whitechapel last year, spreading a wave of terror and suspicion in his wake. Jack the Ripper. Just thinking his name caused gooseflesh to rise on James’s arms. He was new to Scotland Yard back then and hadn’t been much involved in the case. Even so, the young constable continued to see boogeymen crouching in every shadow and lurking in every alleyway. There were other murders, of course, London was full of lunatics and cutthroats, but there was something inhumanly grizzly about the Ripper killings that stuck with James—with everyone who lived and worked in Whitechapel.
So far in his tenure as a constable, the worst James had dealt with were drunkards and petty thieves. He was just as glad; he was a slender man and had only just made the Yard’s height requirement of five feet, seven inches tall. He doubted he would be much good against the kind of man—monster—he imagined someone like Jack the Ripper must be. Worse still, James had the sort of face people described as “sweet” or “innocent”—not exactly the sort of face that instilled people with confidence or made them take him seriously as an authority figure.
He peeled his helmet from his head and ran a hand through short wheat-colored hair.
“Evening, Constable,” came a saucy greeting from the shadows. The boy laughed when James jumped. “You’ll ne’er be making that promotion, acting like a scared cat every time somebody says ‘boo’.” The lilting Irish voice belonged to a slender young man with generous golden-red curls, bright green eyes, and the face of an angel—although as usual, his expression was more puckish than angelic. Either way, he was beautiful. He pushed himself off the wall he’d been leaning on and sauntered further into the amber halo of the gas streetlamp. “Feeling lonely tonight, Sir?” he asked, gazing up at James through half-lidded eyes.
James’s cock stiffened in response to the younger man’s sultry tone. He cleared his throat. “Isn’t it a little late to be soliciting, Rob?”
The other’s smile was bright. “Best time, this. Get ’em stumbling home drunk from the pubs or heading off early to work. Or walking a beat.” He leaned in closer.
“How about I just buy you something to eat, instead?”
“Whatever you want to call it is fine by me,” Rob all but purred.
Ignoring the obvious invitation, James got his purse out of his pocket and handed over a couple of coins. “Get off the streets for a few hours, Robin. It’s not safe out here, this time of night.”
Rob pressed in close, patently ignoring the mixture of irritation and concern in James’s voice. “I prefer to earn me wage, Constable. You’d prolly prefer it too.” He ran a feather light touch over the growing bulge between James’s legs. “Ya canna’ deny ya didna like it last time, can ya?”
James faltered. He’d spent nine months trying to forget the one and only time he’d had congress with the other man… boy… teen. He’d never sussed out exactly how old Robin Perris was, or even if “Robin Perris” was his real name. “That wasn’t business,” said James—he wasn’t sure which of them he was trying to convince. The fact that he hadn’t paid Robin for his services before only made James feel worse about the encounter. Rob had offered his friendship, and in return, James took advantage of him.
Robin reached out and curled James’s fingers over his palm, closing the constable’s hand on the coins he was offering. “So keep yer money, James.” His tone lost all lasciviousness. “It weren’t your coin I was after, anyway. Let me take your mind off your sore feet for an hour. No one will know. I want to, James.”
James remembered the way Robin had looked so beautiful, lying underneath him, a halo of ginger curls splayed across the pillow as the young man panted and moaned, begging for more. It seemed the harder James took him, the more Rob wanted. But that was just a harlot’s stock in trade doing the talking—wasn’t it? James shook his head. It didn’t matter. “I can’t. I’m on duty.” He forced the money into Robin’s hand. “Rent a room, and get some sleep.”
“No rest for the wicked, James,” Rob answered, pocketing the coins.
A gust of cold wind came up from behind them, carrying with it the foul stench of the Thames. “I have to be on my way, Rob. Be safe.” Please.
“Always am, Constable.” With a sassy wink, the redhead strolled off into the darkness. It seemed to swallow him up whole.
James shivered and headed in the opposite direction.
ALUN BLAYNEY shot a jaunty grin over his shoulder as he exited the Frying Pan pub. Several of the men he’d been playing cards with were already slumped over their table, snoring off the effects of cheap whiskey and gin. They were all human. Alun wasn’t, not that his companions had any idea they’d spent the better part of the night being hustled by a werewolf. Lycanthropes metabolized alcohol faster than humans, but Alun knew how to play the part of the drunkard when he wanted to. Humans got stupid when they drank too much, and when they got stupid, they bet more than they should and stayed in the game too long. Invariably, that meant Alun left the game with a heavier purse than he’d come into it with.
Dropping the ruse, Alun slipped out into the night. He was glad to be away from the pub’s stench—stale food, sour ale, and human sweat. Even if the streets smelled no better, at least they weren’t crowded.
Alun was tall and broad shouldered. He had a lean, hard build, tawny complexion, and coarse, dark hair that he wore longer than was considered fashionable. He doubted his rugged, angular features were anybody’s idea of handsome, either, not that it mattered. He preferred his companionship rented by the hour—but not tonight. Tonight, he had enough money in his purse to rent a room for a week and was looking forward to sleeping on a soft mattress, not sharing it with anyone. Alun picked up his pace; he would have to hurry if he wanted to get to his favorite doss house before the landlord closed up for the night.
As he made his way through the narrow, nearly empty streets, Alun turned his face to the sky and sought out the thin sliver of the moon overhead. She was almost new—he’d been born under the New Moon, the Dark Moon. He snorted. Dark Moon born, during the dark of the year—no wonder he was an outcast.
Tonight, like most nights in the city, the moon was almost completely obscured by smoke spewing from the chimneypots. Still, knowing she was there brought him a measure of comfort, especially after having spent the last few hours in a cramped pub full of loud drunken humans. Like all lycanthropes, Alun considered the moon to be as much of a mother as the woman who had birthed him—perhaps more so, since his own mother wanted nothing to do with him. He hadn’t seen her since he’d been banished from his birth pack’s land, some twenty years ago.
But he’d made his choices, or so he liked to tell himself. There was no going back. He was diangen. Unwanted.
As Alun neared his destination, the streetlamps seemed to sputter, their gas-fueled flames flickering, creating only tiny pockets of faint orange light in the inky darkness. A sharp tingle hammered up Alun’s spine. He stopped in his tracks, peering into the growing shadows, straining to hear anything that seemed out of the ordinary.
The only thing he heard was a rat scrounging through the garbage in the alleyway.
Alun chided himself. He had a purse full of other men’s money, more money than he’d had in his possession in a long time, and it was making him jumpy.
The wind shifted then, filling his nostrils with the scent of fresh blood. Death. Something… familiar. Alun’s gut churned; it was the heated, musky scent of another lycanthrope. He bolted toward the scent, dreading what he was sure he was going to find.
JAMES rounded the corner of Palmer Street and stopped dead in his tracks. Though the light coming from the streetlamps was faint, he could still make out the silhouette of a tall, broad-shouldered man crouching over a huddle of rags on the ground. His stomach wrenched. He knew without raising his lantern that the rags weren’t rags at all. He couldn’t make out whether the person sprawled limp on the cold ground was male or female, alive or dead, but his imagination immediately conjured up images of Robin lying there, lifeless.
The rational part of James’s mind told him Rob had taken the money James gave him and rented a room for the night, but that didn’t stop the wave of nausea from paralyzing the young constable for too many long moments. With trembling hands, James finally raised his whistle to his lips to sound the alarm, but before he got it to his mouth, he found himself slammed into the wall behind him. The force of the blow knocked the wind out of his lungs and made the world go momentarily black. By the time James’s vision cleared, his assailant had pushed both his arms high up over his head. His grip was like iron! The more James struggled against the impossibly strong man, the higher his assailant pulled his wrists, until James was straining just to stand on his tiptoes. He was certain that in just a few seconds, he was going to be as dead as the person on the ground. Even if James cried out, the other man could—would—kill him long before help arrived.
“I ain’t no killer,” his attacker growled into the soft curve of his neck, his voice momentarily stilling James’s hopeless wriggling. He was so close, James felt his rough lips brushing against his skin. The sensation sent shivers up and down James’s spine and made his heart pound harder in his ears. “If I were a killer,” the other man went on, in a low, husky tone, “you’d be dead by now.”
James nodded, acknowledging the truth of his assailant’s statement. “Who… who are you?” he stammered. He didn’t think he sounded very authoritative and could well imagine Sir Robert Peel turning in his grave that one of his “bobbies” was so easily frightened by a common mug-hunter, a street thief. Or maybe not so common, he thought, grateful that the other had eased his grip just enough that he could get his footing.
“She’s dead,” was all his assailant had to say.
James let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. If the dead person was a “she,” a woman, it wasn’t Rob, because even as flamboyant as Robin could be, there was no mistaking him for a girl. But that poor woman is still somebody’s daughter, James reminded himself. Somebody’s sister. Maybe even somebody’s mother. “Who are you?” he asked again, his voice only slightly steadier this time.
The other man lifted his head, but James still couldn’t make out his face in the shadows. “You can call me a concerned citizen,” he retorted. “I was passing by, an’ saw….” He shrugged. It was obvious what he’d seen. “Ain’t nothing nobody can do for her now but give her a decent funeral.”
“What about catching the man who killed her and bringing him to justice?” James challenged—which may have been a stupid move, he realized belatedly. Killer or not, the other man was taller than him by at least seven or eight inches and still had him pinned up against a wall. James was starting to lose feeling in his fingers.
As to his comment, the man merely snorted with unabashed amusement. “You do that, Constable, and they’ll be making you head of the CID for sure.”
James renewed his struggle more from frustration than fear or pain. He knew why the people in East End didn’t trust the police, he didn’t blame them, but this wasn’t helping. He said as much aloud.
After a moment’s consideration—and without a word of warning—James’s assailant released his hold on his wrists. James stumbled forward, barely keeping himself upright as his full weight was returned to his feet. The other offered him no assistance.
“You know that assaulting a police constable is a crime,” James pointed out irritably, after recovering his balance.
The man scoffed.
“You never said your name.”
“Like I said,” came the mocking reply, “you keep making observations like that, an’ they’ll be promoting you in no time.”
With a resigned sigh, James knelt on the cobblestones. He didn’t remember dropping either his whistle or his lantern in the “skirmish”—or maybe ambush was more like it—but he found them on the ground nearby. His whistle was fine, but the glass of his lantern had broken when it fell. A sudden flare of orange light filled the shadows, startling James; he turned to see that his assailant had struck a match.
“Thank you,” he managed, as the tall man knelt next to him, carefully re-igniting the lantern’s wick.
The other shrugged. “Ain’t nothing.”
In the flickering light, James finally got a good look at his assailant. It was difficult to gauge his years—people who lived in the East End aged fast—but he didn’t look more than thirty. His features were rough hewn but not unpleasant, though his dark hair was a bit shaggy. Long bangs half-hid intense, blacker-than-night eyes that were surrounded by dense lashes. James felt his pulse quickening again as those dark eyes scanned his face. He licked his lips and swallowed hard.
“She’s been cut up pretty bad,” said the man, his gruff voice bringing James back to the gruesome scene before him.
“Yeah,” he muttered, half under his breath. Reluctantly, James got to his feet and realized that only dumb luck had prevented him from stepping in the shallow pool of blood on the cobblestones. His stomach churned; he ignored it.
James turned his lantern’s spotlight toward the dead woman’s face. She was young and had probably been pretty. Her eyes were still open, her mouth, too, as if it was frozen in a scream that no one seemed to have heard. Her throat was slashed wide open. What sort of a monster…? But he wasn’t sure he wanted an answer to that question. Her skirts had been hiked up indecently around her waist, and she was wearing neither shoes nor stockings. Acid burned at the back of his throat. Where the woman’s belly should have been, there was only a gaping red hole.
Only the gentle touch of the other man’s hand on his back kept James from throwing up; he turned away from the woman’s body toward his… it didn’t seem fair to call the other man his attacker any more. He wasn’t sure what to call him.
“Never seen a corpse close up, have you, then?” the stranger asked in a far kinder tone than James would have expected.
Unable to speak past the lump in his throat, the young constable shook his head. Nodded. Eventually found his voice. “I’ve seen plenty of corpses, just none… none like this. I… I was on patrol down here last year, but I never saw for myself what he did to them.” He might as well say aloud what he was sure they were both thinking. The dead woman’s injuries bore an eerie resemblance to those inflicted on half a dozen harlots last year by a man known only as Jack the Ripper.
Was it possible? Was the Ripper back?
“Got yer flask on you?”
James blinked up at the other man. “What?”
“Be a good time for a nip.”
“I’m on duty.”
James shook his head. He swallowed back another mouthful of bile and squared his shoulders. Like it or not, he had a job to do.
ALUN watched the young constable with interest, lingering at the scene only—he told himself—because he was sure a lycan had killed the dead woman. That meant sooner or later the leader of the London wolf pack was going to come down on him, just like he had last year. Not that Alun had had anything to do with those murders; he didn’t think any lycan was responsible for the Ripper killings. It was prolly just an ordinary man, he thought bitterly. Humans were more capable of atrocities toward their own kind than any other species he’d ever encountered—but that hadn’t stopped the pack leader from blaming him for killing those girls. After all, he was diangen, an outcast, exiled from his birth pack by his own father, and just like humans, wolves looked first to their outcasts when they needed somebody to blame for the evils of the world.
Alun fished the nearly empty packet of cigarettes out of his coat pocket and lit one up. The bittersweet tang of burning tobacco was a welcome relief from the stench of the city, of blood, and of death.
A few yards away, the bobby got out his notepad and began scribbling things down. He was so engrossed in his work that he almost forgot to blow his whistle to summon assistance.
Alun slunk further into the shadows when two more constables arrived several minutes later, on hurried feet. One of them—a boy who hardly looked old enough to shave—threw up as soon as he saw the body. The other, an older man who reeked of gin, told the boy to pull himself together and go fetch the coroner. The boy looked more than a little grateful to have an excuse to escape. He ran swiftly from the alley, pushing his way past a knot of gawkers that had begun assembling, alerted by the bobby’s whistle, curious to see what was happening.
The older constable turned his attention—his ire—on the younger man. “What’re you doing there?” he demanded, his tone scathing. “Making notes like you’re some kinda inspector? Gorblimey, Heron! Best put that away b’fore the real inspector gets here!”
Color blossomed in the young bobby’s face, and he stuffed his notebook back into his pocket. Alun heard his heart rate quicken as he started to stammer what might have been an apology to the older man.
The other constable ignored it. “Do something useful with yourself for a change, and get ridda that rabble.” He waved his hand toward the entrance of the alleyway.
Alun felt his hackles rise as a low growl rumbled in the back of his throat. He didn’t understand his agitation, but found himself gazing after his young bobby, following the young man’s movements intently. Heron. His name was Heron. It suited him.
Heron was slim and graceful, not tall, but hardly short, either. Although he couldn’t see his bobby’s eyes from this distance, Alun remembered them; they were the color of a storm-gripped sea, and he smelled of sweet musk and damp earth… green grass. It reminded Alun of his home—the home of his birth, in Wales. He closed his eyes, and for a moment, he could almost see the farm where he’d grown up, almost hear his mother’s laugh, almost taste the fresh air.
He opened his eyes. There was little point in dwelling on a place he could never return to. He pitched his half-spent cigarette to the ground. Like it or not, London was his home now.
The sound of an approaching single-horse carriage drew Alun’s attention back to the alleyway’s entrance. Gawkers were still milling about, despite the constable’s best efforts.
Alun was barely aware of the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
The carriage came clattering to a halt, and both passengers hopped out. One was the young constable who had been sent to fetch the coroner; the second, Alun presumed, must be the surgeon himself. He was a portly little man, much shorter than average, with full, white mutton-chop side burns—and he seemed in a foul mood. “I don’t know why you boys were in such an all-fired hurry to get me out of bed! There’s not a goddamn thing I can do in the dark!” he shouted, by way of greeting.
“But look at her, Doc,” pleaded the older constable, the one who had ordered the surly little man to be summoned. “She’s just like those girls from last year. The Ripper—”
The little man snorted. “Never assume anything, Waverly.”
“Listen to the doctor’s advice, Waverly,” said a new voice.
Alun’s hackles rose again, and he turned. The speaker was easily as tall as he and had a strong build; he smelled of cigars and bourbon. A huge handlebar mustache dominated his hard face, and humorless dark eyes peered out from underneath the brim of his derby.
He strode toward the dead woman’s body without reservation. “Gentlemen, let’s get a little more light over here, shall we?” he said over his shoulder. He frowned when his gaze settled on Heron and his broken lantern. “What the hell happened to your torch?”
Shite! Alun suddenly regretted his decision to stick around. Assaulting a constable was indeed a crime, and as soon as Heron told them what had happened…. Alun surveyed the alley, hoping for a way out, but there was no easy escape. He edged further into the shadows.
“I… erm… I guess must’ve dropped it, Inspector Lamont,” Heron stammered in reply to the angry question.
The inspector’s eyes narrowed. “Either you dropped your torch or you didn’t! There’s no guesswork involved.”
Heat rose in the young blond’s face. “I dropped it, Sir,” he answered meekly.
The other two constables snickered.
Alun’s lip curled back, but he held himself in check, kept his silence in the shadows. Police Constable Heron should be the last of his concerns. So Alun just watched as Lamont spent the next ten minutes berating the blond for his negligence. “I hope you realize the cost of replacing it will come out of your wages!” he finished with a snarl. Then he turned on the other two constables, who were clearly enjoying the show. “Stop twittering about like a pair of ruddy schoolgirls and give me some light over here!”
With frustration burning in his cheeks, Heron sagged against the wall near Alun, bringing with him the scent of sweet musk and green earth. He peeled his helmet off his head and ran one hand through sweat-sopped ash-blond hair, not seeming to notice how close he was to the other man.
“He’s a real arse,” Alun murmured quietly, not wanting to startle him. He held out his pack of cigarettes.
“No, thank you. And yes, he is, isn’t he?”
Alun shook his head. “You don’t smoke, either?”
Heron chuckled wryly. “Yup, pinnacle of virtue, that’s me.”
The sarcasm in his tone made Alun smile. “Thanks, by the way. I owe you.”
“Not mentioning the circumstances under what you come to drop your torch.”
The constable shrugged. “He’d still tell me I had to pay for it. No point in making trouble for you too.” He settled the heavy helmet back onto his head and pushed himself off the wall.
“Why don’t you let me buy you a drink—or a cuppa tea?” Alun suggested impulsively. It seemed the least he could offer; Heron could have caused him a lot of trouble if he’d wanted to. Alun wasn’t sure why he hadn’t. “There’s prolly a couple of early houses opening up. You must be entitled to a tea break, ’specially after something like this.” He nodded toward where the inspector was still trying to get more light on the dead woman’s body.
Heron regarded him a moment. “If I say ‘yes’, will you tell me your name?”
Alun gave over a wry smile. “Alun Blayney.” He held out his hand. “You?”
“James Heron.” Heron accepted it—and hissed loudly in pain when Alun’s fingers clenched tightly over the raw skin on the back of his hand.
The lycan winced too; it was his fault. If he hadn’t been so rough… he shook himself. Why should he care about a human, even one with eyes like those, one who smelled of green grass and sweet earth? “Sorry,” he apologized anyway.
Heron shrugged it off, but the little coroner had spotted them and made his way over. He examined Heron’s injuries with a critical eye and informed the inspector that he was sending James home for the night—and no, he wasn’t going to listen to any of the inspector’s protests, the boy’s health came first. He wasn’t listening to Heron’s protests, either.
“It’s been a harrowing morning,” the surgeon said to James. “Why don’t you save yourself the walk and take my carriage? I’ll send Mr. Collier out this afternoon to fetch it—heaven knows he could use the exercise. I can catch a lift to the mortuary with our poor, unfortunate lady over there. I’m sure she won’t mind sharing,” he added with a smile.
“That’s really all right, Dr. Stodderley,” said Heron, still trying to argue.
“You’re quite right, my boy, it is.” He turned to Alun. “You’ll see he gets home safe and sound, won’t you?”
The lycan balked. But how far could Heron live from Whitechapel? Besides, it was already too late to get to a doss house, so he might as well see the younger man home before he went to find a place to curl up and sleep for a while. He could always rent a room tomorrow.