Murder On Black Swan Lane
Book One—The Wrexford & Sloane Series
In Regency London, an unconventional scientist and a fearless female artist form an unlikely alliance to expose unspeakable evil . . . . . .
“Thoroughly enjoyable . . . with sharp, engaging characters, rich period detail, and a compellingly twisty plot, Andrea Penrose delivers a winner . . . fans of C.S. Harris and Kate Ross will be rooting for Charlotte Sloane and the Earl of Wrexford. Devilishly good fun!”
—Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author
“Fans of C.S. Harris take note! In this new Regency-set mystery series,
the artist Charlotte Sloane and the scientist Earl of Wrexford are the perfect mismatched pair of sleuths. A riveting ride through Regency London, from the slums of St. Giles
to the mansions of Mayfair.”
—Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author
“A wonderfully engaging Regency mystery, with a most determined heroine and an engaging pair of street urchins at her side. Historical chemistry meets alchemy . . .
A delight of a book.”
—Joanna Bourne, award-winning author
The Earl of Wrexford possesses a brilliant scientific mind, but boredom and pride lead him to reckless behavior. He does not suffer fools gladly. So when pompous, pious Reverend Josiah Holworthy publicly condemns him for debauchery, Wrexford unsheathes his rapier-sharp wit and strikes back. As their war of words escalates, London’s most popular satirical cartoonist, A.J. Quill, skewers them both. But then the clergyman is found slain in a church—his face burned by chemicals, his throat slashed ear to ear—and Wrexford finds himself the chief suspect.
An artist in her own right, Charlotte Sloane has secretly slipped into the persona of her late husband, using his nom de plume A.J. Quill. When Wrexford discovers her true identity, she fears it will be her undoing. But he has a proposal—use her sources to help unveil the clergyman’s clandestine involvement in questionable scientific practices, and unmask the real murderer.
And so Wrexford and the mysterious Mrs. Sloane plunge into a dangerous shadow world hidden among London’s intellectual enclaves to trap a cunning adversary—before they fall victim to the next experiment in villainy . . .
An hour passed, though as she glanced out the window Charlotte realized it might have been two. She often lost track of time when she was working. It was the growling in her stomach that had broken her concentration.
Or perhaps it was the faint rasp of metal on metal.
She froze and cocked an ear. The sound came again.
The outer entryway had nothing to steal within the bare-bones space. But she always kept the main door locked, and aside from her only Raven had a key.
Snick. Snick. The latch slowly lifted.
Swallowing a spurt of panic, Charlotte grabbed her penknife. A meager weapon, to be sure, but if push came to shove, she’d learned a few nasty tricks over the years to fend off attack. Steady, steady. She slipped off her chair.
The wall lamp shivered as the door creaked open. A figure stomped through the opening, his skirling overcoat sending a spray of raindrops spattering over the floor. Great gobs of viscous mud clung to his black boots. They were exquisitely made, noted Charlotte in spite of her fear, the leather buffed to a soft sheen. A gentleman, not a ruffian from the stews.
She jerked her gaze upward. Well-tailored wool, burnished ebony buttons. Shoulder capes that accentuated the breadth of his shoulders. She took an involuntary step back.
He pulled off his hat and slapped it against his thigh, sending more drops of water flying through the air. Wind-whipped hair, dark as coal, tangled around his face. At first, all Charlotte could make out was a prominent nose, long and with an arrogant flare to its tip. But as he took another stride closer, the rest of his features snapped into sharper focus. A sensuous mouth, high cheekbones, green eyes, darkened with an undertone of gunmetal grey.
Ye god, surely it couldn’t be . . .
“Forgive me if I have frightened you, madam.” He didn’t look the least contrite. Indeed, there seemed to be a momentary flash of amusement as he flicked an emerald-sharp glance at the knife in her hand. “I am looking for A. J. Quill.”
“You have come to the wrong place,” replied Charlotte, dismayed to hear her voice had come out as a mouse-like squeak.
“I think not.” He came closer. “The two little imps who deliver Quill’s drawings were followed back to this house.”
“Stay where you are!” she warned, trying to regain some semblance of control. “Another step and I’ll scream.”
“By all means go ahead and shriek to the high heavens. Though I imagine it will be a prodigious waste of breath.” He placed a fist on his hip. “I doubt there are many Good Samaritans in this part of Town.”
She thinned her lips, unwilling to give him the satisfaction of being right. “How dare you invade my home! Whoever you are, I demand you leave at once.”
“How ungentlemanly of me. You’re right—I neglected to introduce myself.” A mocking bow. “I am Wrexford. I daresay you’re familiar with my name.”
Charlotte maintained a stony face. “No, I’m not. Now please leave, or . . . or . . .”
“Or you’ll cut out my liver with that dainty little penknife?” He made a tsk-tsk sound. “Yes, well, A. J. Quill is quite skilled in skewering my person. Let him fight his own battles.” Wrexford looked around the room. “Where is he?”
“I tell you, sir, you are mistaken—”
For a big man, he moved with feral quickness. A blur of wolf black, leaving the sensation of predatory muscle and primitive power pricking against her skin. “Stop!” she began, the protest dying quickly as Wrexford leaned over her desk. And began to laugh.
“Your husband has captured Prinny’s self-indulgent squint to perfection.” He looked up. “That is, I assume he is your husband.”
Charlotte didn’t answer. Like a helpless mouse, she seemed frozen by her fate, waiting for the paw to flash out and deliver the inevitable coup de grace.
“Or perhaps it is a more casual arrangement?” His lidded gaze lingered for a moment on her face.
Think! Think! But all that came to mind was the overwhelming urge to stick the knife into one of his eyes.
“Ah, I see you’re in no mood for pleasantries.” Wrexford hooked one of the stools with his boot and pulled it over. “No matter. I’ll wait.”
Panic seized her. Charlotte felt as if its unseen hands were crushing her ribs, squeezing the breath out of her. “You cannot!” she rasped. The knife slipped from her grasp and fell to the floor. Her hard-won existence shattering into a thousand tiny shards . . .
Suddenly fury crested over fear. She flew at him, fists flailing. Be damned with the consequences. Her life was already over.
Wrexford caught her wrists, not before she landed a nasty blow to his cheek. “Tut, tut, there is no need for violence, madam. Your husband and I can—” He stopped abruptly, those infernal eyes now focused on the fingers of her right hand. One by one, he pried them open.
She tried to pull away.
“Bloody hell,” he breathed, studying the smudges of ink. “Let me guess—it’s not your husband. It’s you who are A. J. Quill.”