A murder scene is not exactly the place to find romance. But when Inspector Michael Devane is called upon to solve the murder of Robert Bradshaw, he finds a woman who arouses intense passion in his heart. Unfortunately, she’s at the top of his suspect list! Denyse Bridger brings the Victorian Era alive in Book 1 of her romance series The Devane Files.
In 1892 Whitechapel, only a few years after the infamous Ripper murders, Inspector Michael Devane is given the job of investigating the murder of a theatre producer. Devane is a haunted man, driven by the dark demons of his past, the elusive Ripper, and a growing addiction to opium. His brilliance is unquestionable, but his methods are highly unorthodox.
When Devane comes into the home of the victim, an unpleasant man named Robert Bradshaw, he meets Bethany Davenshire-Bradshaw. In Bradshaw’s widow, Michael finds a kindred spirit who defies both the conventions of society, and the trappings of false mourning. As they grow closer, Devane discovers that Beth is a woman of many secrets, but could one of them really be that she is the murderer he’s looking for.
“Mrs. Bradshaw,” Devane walked into his modest home and she turned, her face so filled with concern, and relief, that he felt absurdly guilty for his absence when she’d arrived.
“So,” she murmured softly, “we are once again retreating to the safety of formality, my dear Inspector Devane.”
He caught the hint of dry humor in her tone and smiled.
“Of course not, love,” he said gently and closed the door, then joined her in the small sitting room they’d occupied a few nights earlier. “You look beautiful,” he whispered when he was standing only a couple of feet in front of her. He was able to see the shadows beneath her eyes, but the ethereal beauty that was inherent to her spirit still shone in spite of her weariness and sadness. She was dressed in dark jade silk this morning, again with the obligatory black lace trimming the dress, a reminder that she was a widow, and therefore in mourning; whether or not the grief was genuine paid little part in the necessity for her to play the correct role in their present drama, at least to some extent when she ventured out in public.
“Thank you,” she replied with equal softness. “You, Michael, do not, though.” She touched his arm, acutely and overly conscious of the texture of fine material as her fingers absently stroked it, and of the supple strength in the smooth length of muscle and sinew under the jacket. “Is there anything I can get to ease your pain, Michael?” she asked, seeing the dull presence lurking in his dark eyes. “When was the last time you ate a proper meal?” she went on without pause for his response to the first query she’d made.
He laughed quietly, unable to stop the reaction.
“You are fussing like a distressed mother,” he remarked with gentle teasing.
She flushed red and he refused to let her turn away when she attempted to put distance between them in the small room. His hands on her arms caressed unconsciously, and she stared at him, green eyes both curious and confused.
“I only wished to help,” she answered his words, trying desperately not to succumb to the desire to step into his arms and forget everything her life had been before he’d so unexpectedly come into it and awakened her from a nightmare in which she’d grown too complacent. “Let me fix you a meal,” she requested with a smile, “and we can talk again.”
“I don’t know if there’s anything...” he began, his eyes leaving her to look into his tiny kitchen. He rarely shopped for food. He rarely ate at all. It was all part of the addiction and its way of depleting the body of strength as effectively as it did the mind.
“Then we will go to a very fine café that I am familiar with,” she replied quickly. “The owner is an old friend, and we will be seated where no one can observe,” she added, seeing the doubt rise in his eyes for a moment, then vanish at her assurance of privacy. “I wouldn’t care if we were seen, Michael,” she told him, voice and eyes earnest and truthful. “I could never be ashamed to be at your side. Not as I was with my husband.”
The last statement made his heart ache with its poignancy, and the loss of innocence that nothing could restore to her.
“I would not risk your reputation,” he said, his hand on her chin tilting her head so she would face him directly again. “Not for any price.”
It was flutter of air between them, and Devane felt more than heard the words. He was startled when she stepped back and walked to the small table that was between the kitchen and the sitting room. She looked down at the assortment of bottles that littered the table’s surface, then selected one of them. When she returned to him, she handed him the bottle and he looked down at it, curiously ill at ease with her obvious knowledge of his addiction when he saw that she’d picked up the tonic that Sir William Gull had ‘prescribed’ for him during the Ripper case. Abberline had actually delivered the medicine to Devane after Gull had asked him to remain behind for a private word. Michael had been sent out ahead of his superior. It was to help restore the appetite that was stolen by the opium he smoked. Bethany Bradshaw clearly understood the significance of everything she had found on the table. He met her eyes, and found nothing but warmth and understanding in their deep green depths.
“How is it you understand the deprivations of opium addiction?” He didn’t want to ask. He couldn’t keep the words from pouring forth.
“Someone I loved once suffered greatly from his association with opium,” she replied after an instant of consideration for the query.
When she was disinclined to elaborate further, he nodded. After a brief hesitation, Devane swallowed a healthy dose of the bitter tonic, pocketed the bottle, then held out his arm for her. They left his flat in easy silence.
“My carriage is outside,” she said, “Percy will take us to the Café, if you are willing to be seen with me, Inspector,” she grinned as she spoke, a teasing challenge in her tone.
“I think I’ll risk it, Lady Bradshaw,” he replied, matching her tone.
Once they were underway, he looked across the carriage and saw she was still watching him, a wistful smile softening her features. When she saw he was observing her interest, the expression changed, and became one of polite warmth. He was exceedingly disappointed.
“Why did you want to see me?” he asked, finally coming to the reason for their present meeting.
She opened the small bag she carried and offered him the handkerchief he’d given her in the library of her home, after the torrential storm of her tears had passed and left them bonded much more intimately than was wise for either of them. He accepted the freshly washed and pressed handkerchief, tucked it in his pocket, and waited.
“Bethany?” he prodded when she seemed inclined to remain silent. He leaned forward, and saw the ashen features that had been so animated mere minutes prior to his query. He took her hands in his, felt the chill through her lace gloves, and his chest tightened painfully. “What is it, darling?” he coaxed, sincerely anxious when her agitation grew more evident.
“Last night,” she started, choosing her words with obvious difficulty and care. “Do you believe dreams show us things, Michael?” she asked, attention erratic, switching topics so swiftly, he blinked.
“Yes,” he answered her honestly. How could he not believe in dreams as visions of truth when much of his investigative brilliance was based on the abstract images of dreams and drug-induced vision.
If it was possible, the answer upset her further. He left his seat and settled next to her, keeping her hands held tightly between his.
“What have you seen?” he asked, filtering the probable answers through his brain even before she could reply. When she spoke again, she offered him the one possibility that he would never have guessed.
“Your death,” she murmured, voice heavy with dread. “Last night, in my dreams, I saw you die, Michael! You were alone, lying on a dark street...” She shuddered violently, closed her eyes, and tears slid from beneath the veil she’d hidden behind. “I know it is highly inappropriate, but I cannot help it,” she looked at him again, and finished, “I do not think I could bear your death, dearest.”
Devane was speechless for a few seconds, stunned by the revelation of both her nightmare and the depth of her sincere affection for him. Bethany clearly misinterpreted his silence; she pulled her hands from his grasp and stared at the other side of the carriage wall.
“You must think me a complete fool, Inspector,” she murmured bitterly. “Please accept my apology for the embarrassment I have...”
Devane reacted purely on instinct, cutting off the apology that hit him as an offense, not a deference to his feelings. He touched her cheek, turning her to face him. Before reason could censor his action, he touched his lips with hers, covering her mouth with a tenderness that had been missing from his heart since the early days of his marriage. Back when he and Evelyn had been in love and filled with hope. The kiss had been meant as a brief caress of reassurance, but the tentative touch slowly caught him and held, making him deepen the kiss further, turning it into a sensuous exploration of her mouth. The taste and scent of her filled his awareness and he leaned closer, holding her head, guiding her willing response as she sighed quietly and melted into his embrace.
It was several minutes before he withdrew, and seconds more before he knew what had pulled him out of the erotic languor that had seeped into his very bones. The carriage had stopped moving. He looked at Bethany, and she stared back, her expression a combination of wonder and confusion. He was puzzled by the emotions, but decided not to ask.
Percival Vaughan’s anxiety laden voice reached them a moment before the carriage door was unceremoniously opened and the footman peered inside. Devane caught his attention instantly and was startled by the burning resentment that sizzled in the other man’s light blue eyes.
“I’m fine, Percy,” she said, sounding slightly breathless. “Really. Thank you for your concern.”
“I told you we was here, ma’am,” he stated quietly. “When you didn’t answer, I thought you’d fainted again.”
She winced at the reminder of the last time she’d ridden in a carriage with Devane, and he tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the smile from curving his lips upward. She pretended not to notice his amusement.
“I’m sorry, Percy,” she apologized, quite unnecessarily. “The Inspector and I were discussing Robert’s death, and I truly didn’t hear you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he bowed his head in deference, and held the door open while Devane stepped from the carriage then turned to assist Bethany.
Devane caught the anger in Vaughan’s eyes again the instant his hand touched hers, but he made no outward appearance of having noted the emotion. Bethany stepped daintily onto the cobble-stoned walk, and asked Percy to return for them in approximately an hour. He nodded, slammed the carriage door shut with needless force, then climbed back into the driver’s seat. Devane felt the prickle of ice at the back of his neck as they approached the door to the café, and he glanced back, long enough to see Vaughan glaring at him with open hostility. The vehemence of the resentment struck Devane like a blow, then he entered the building and turned his attention to Bethany as she spoke quietly to a young man, asking for a private room. He clearly knew her and was happy to accommodate the request.
* * * *
Hours after they’d returned to Devane’s flat, Bethany worked quietly in the small kitchen, preparing a light meal for later in the evening. Devane had finally surrendered to his need for sleep, and periodically she would walk to his bedroom door and watch him. He was like a fragile angel when he slept, she thought, his smooth, angular features relaxed and at peace. The raven’s wing of his hair fell across his forehead, and his pale skin had less of the ash tone on it now. As she went to the door again to look at him, Bethany knew without doubt that she’d fallen deeply in love for the first time in her life. She knew with equal certainty that she would never forget this beautiful man, whatever happened in the coming weeks. He’d shown her kindness, compassion, and respect; all things with which her late husband had had little acquaintance.
Devane had told her to go home, making a half-hearted effort to observe the mandates of society. He had not insisted when she refused to acquiesce. She’d told him to go to bed, and promised she would be here when he woke. Since her presence seemed as much a comfort to him as his was to her, she knew she had been right to stand firm in her decision. She had told him she would cook, and after his initial skepticism had incited a small, if teasing exchange between them, he did go to his bed, and she to the kitchen. Percival had been sent for groceries, then dismissed once he’d delivered them.
She was setting the small table when a sharp banging on the door, it could hardly be called a knock, made her drop the cutlery she’d been placing. It clattered to the floor with a rattle, and she scowled at the door before walking over to open it. She backed up a few steps in automatic retreat when her father’s glowering countenance stared down at her.
“So, it is true!” he snarled, coming into the flat like a hunter stalking hapless prey. “Where is he?”
“Inspector Devane is sleeping, Father,” she said in a furious whisper. “Please keep your voice down, there is no need to shout!”
“No need to shout!” he roared. “Have you taken leave of your senses, Beth? I don’t give a damn if Devane is asleep or not. You, my girl, are leaving this flat at once!”
“I am going nowhere,” she stated quietly.
“What’s going on?”
They turned together when Devane appeared in the bedroom door, wrapped in a heavy robe, his eyes still dreamy with sleep and his hair an unruly rumple. Michael resisted the audacious, “Hello, darling,” that wanted to be tossed in Bethany’s direction, and focused on her outraged father instead.
“Mr. Davenshire,” he nodded in greeting. “Is there something I can do for you, sir?”
The courtesy was absurd, though the humor wasn’t lost to Bethany, who stifled a smile.
Davenshire puffed up like he would explode at any moment. His face reddened with the effort it took to keep from taking Devane by the throat.
“Are you trying to destroy my daughter’s reputation entirely, Devane?” he managed to grind the question out without shouting, barely. “She is a woman in mourning. A widow for less than a week, man! Where’s your sense of decency?”
Now it was Bethany who looked about ready to erupt with fury, and Devane was a great deal more concerned with her feelings than he’d been about her father’s indignation. He crossed the space in a few steps and shook his head in warning. She met his gaze squarely, and to his surprise, she smiled.
“This is between me and my father, Michael,” she stated softly.
Then, she turned her look to her father, and Devane felt helpless while he watched the mutation of her lovely features as she allowed herself the luxury of speaking freely, at long last. “Decency, father?” she queried, the ice in her voice was painfully cold.
The old man winced and Devane felt a moment of pity for him. His daughter was about to flay him with words and the young Inspector was fairly certain each slash of the verbal knife would be more than justified.
“You dare to speak to Inspector Devane about decency, when you sold me into slavery to Robert and his filthy demands!” She walked past Devane, who looked on in perverse fascination. “If I’d known someone like this man before I’d met Robert, I would have been lucky enough to have some happiness in my life. But,” she hesitated at the pale, shaken features of her father, then her voice softened very slightly, and she chose not to continue as she’d intended, “I can hardly blame you for what he did to me. Still,” she drew herself up straight and laced her fingers together in front of her, casting a quick glance over her shoulder at Devane, seeking his strength, and finding it in the smile he offered her, “I will not have you destroy my friendship with the Inspector, Father. He is a good man and a good friend.”
“He’s a police inspector, Bethany!” Davenshire stated, frustrated and edgy in equal measure. “Meant to be investigating the death of your husband.”
“A job I am sure he is doing, Father,” she replied.
The defense angered the old man again, and Devane stepped forward to avert the wrath he knew was about to be unleashed. He needn’t have made the attempt.
“The only job he is doing, Bethany, is the successful enterprise of destroying your standing in society, while a murderer walks free!”
“I think you should leave now, Mr. Davenshire,” Devane interjected before they could say more things that would inflict wounds that might never heal between them.
Davenshire and Devane faced each other, both men measuring the strength in his opponent and discovering they were finely matched. It was Davenshire who broke the intense lock first, though. He turned to his daughter.
“Get your things, Bethany,” he ordered firmly. “We’re leaving.”
“Damn it, girl!” he roared, “do as you’re told or I’ll drag you out of here.” When she hesitated, her eyes going to Devane for guidance, Davenshire’s erratic temper snapped and he grabbed her by the arm and hauled her toward the door.
Bethany broke away and went to Devane’s side.
“Go with him for now, darling,” he advised quietly and kissed her temple, despite the smoldering rage in her father’s eyes.
She nodded, accepted his wisdom, and went to retrieve her cloak from the coat rack by the door. She left the flat ahead of her father, and Devane, who had crossed the room to place her cowled cape on her shoulders, spoke again, this time his hushed voice murmured to Davenshire. “Touch her again, and I’ll see you dead for what you’ve done to her.” It was a whisper of vehement fury. Davenshire actually paled slightly as he stared in open astonishment at the young police inspector. If he doubted Devane, there was no evidence of it in his mute acceptance of the very real threat the inspector had issued. Davenshire turned on his heel and followed his daughter.
Once he’d closed the door, Devane dragged his shaking hands through the thick tangle of his hair and decided to go back to bed for a few hours. The smell of the meal Bethany had prepared was pleasant, but not overly enticing to his temperamental stomach. He twisted the lock on his door and walked silently back to his bedroom.
Dropping his robe, Devane nestled between the still warm sheets of his bed. He fell asleep quickly, but his comfort was short-lived. Dreams invaded his mind again, the same erotic torments that were beginning to plague his subconscious on an almost nightly basis. Bethany Bradshaw’s supple body lured him into a tempest of passion-induced madness and he went to her eagerly, his entire being caught in the throes of hungry desire. Her hands and mouth were everywhere and he lay flat on his back, willing slave to her kisses and caresses...
Michael woke with a gasp, still caught in the tangled remnants of the dream and the twisted sheets that covered him. He flung the bedding aside as his body trembled under the assault of memory and longing. He groaned loudly and closed his eyes. His hand moved of its own volition, strong fingers curled around the pulsing heat of his erection and in his mind, as the motion of his stroking hand increased in momentum, he imagined Bethany sucking the smooth length of his shaft deep into her mouth...