Home > A Murder in Time (Kendra Donovan #1)

A Murder in Time (Kendra Donovan #1)
Julie McElwain


August 1815

He was in hell.

The fire from the torches lent a satanic flicker to the cavern’s rough-hewn walls, molten gold and orange playing over the profane carvings and frescoes. The oily smoke from the sconces undulated, curled, and climbed like thick black serpents toward the ceiling.

The effect pleased him.

The environment was similar to the West Wycombe Caves favored by Sir Francis Dashwood and his notorious Hell Fire Club. Like those caverns, these chambers, thirty-five feet in the bowels of the earth, had been carved out by earlier man, desperate for the flint within the chalky walls, needing the rock to fashion their archaic weapons and tools. Later, someone had transformed the rocky environment into two rooms. He suspected it had been the Papists during Good Queen Bess’s rule. After she’d made Catholicism an act of treason, families who wanted to practice their faith had been driven underground—sometimes, like this chamber, literally—fearing the priest-hunters and scandal, which could cost both their fortune and their lives.

Of course, he could not prove that these caves had been used for such a purpose—no stray religious relic had been left behind—but it amused him to imagine that the pious had once prayed here.

It amused him to take the holy and make it unholy.

He smiled, just a small movement of his mouth, as he thought of the stonemasons and carpenters that he’d hired five years ago from London for this venture. They’d thought him mad. He’d seen how their eyes were drawn to some of his more inspired details in the specially commissioned friezes. He’d seen the shock. And something else . . .


They could not deceive him, even if they deceived themselves. Fools. He refused to lie to himself. He knew who he was. He knew what he was.

Still, he had something in common with the Papists. He couldn’t risk exposure any more than they could. He knew that if he revealed his dark appetites, which twisted his guts to dagger points of both pleasure and pain, society would call him a monster.


It enraged him. He could feel the anger heating his blood, but he hid that, too.

Abruptly, he rose to his feet, the swift motion causing the dark velvet cape he wore to swirl around his calves like black mist. He would have enjoyed that effect, too, had he been aware of it. Yet he’d chosen the silk-lined cape not for its appearance, but for its warmth. No matter how many fire pits and torches were lit, it was impossible to dispel the chilly dampness in the underground catacombs.

The wine, of course, helped.

The men before him had been drinking steadily since the evening began, their faces flushed with claret as much as cold, and the anticipation of what he’d promised them. As he stood, they turned their gazes in his direction. In their dilated pupils, he saw the tiny flames from the candles and torches around them.

Almost carelessly, he lifted the jeweled chalice, surveying the twelve apostles he had selected for his secret club.

So young. So eager. So deliciously depraved.

“Patience, my brothers,” he ordered, and fleetingly wondered if he were addressing them, or himself.

The men laughed as though in agreement, and mimicked his gesture by lifting their own chalices, gold and silver, the metal a dull glint in the room’s mottled light, and then drinking greedily. The wine had already robbed two of the young pups of their usual elegance. With a thin, cold smile, he watched them guzzle red wine, heedless when it ran in thin rivulets down their chins, staining their cravats like blood.

Even as he wondered how long they’d last, a sound, the scrape and soft slap of soles against hard stone, alerted him. The apostles heard the noise, too, and, one by one, the men fell silent. For a second, the dank air, heavy with the smell of wax and smoke, earth and brine, seemed to thrum with their expectations and peculiar excitement.

The shadows came first, bouncing off the walls in macabre distortions. Then the women rounded the corner, following the loyal servant who led them into the abyss, their dark hooded capes matching the style, if not the more expensive velvet fabric, of his apostles.

Initially, he’d considered ordering the women to dress as nuns, just as Dashwood had insisted for his Hell Fire Club more than sixty years before. As with the caves, he’d been inspired by Sir Francis’s secret society, which had rocked England to its faithless core. But whereas the Hell Fire Club had been the ruination of many, he desired a more cautious path.

The men here thought it was a game, a bit of harmless debauchery against the rigid rules imposed upon them, against a lineage that was both a blessing and a curse. They were oblivious to the wild hunger inside him, the desperate need to satisfy his craving.

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