The Fiercely Formidable Fugitive

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The fourth book in the series finds Jo and Alistair at a crossroads in their relationship. But before they can take things to the next level, Jo is rocked by a stunning revelation–well, two of them actually…

Her long-lost mother might not be so lost, and Seamus O’Leary has escaped from police custody.

With Seamus on the loose, how can Jo even think about her wedding? Find out in The Fiercely Formidable Fugitive!

Here’s a sneak peek at Chapter One:

“Get behind me, Pat!” ordered Nell, rising to the balls of her feet to try and look more intimidating. A rolling pin was hardly a deadly weapon wielded with the force of one hundred pounds soaking wet, but it was all she had, and she was not about to let the blackguard before her do as he was proposing. Not on her watch. This might be one child saved from the gang, and it might only last until Patrick Jones was out of her sight, but she was not going to let some hoodlum gangster take the boy under his wing right from under her nose!

Patrick scurried to obey. She was pleased to see as much. Perhaps there was hope for the boy yet.

Brick Durham sneered, “You think ya kin keep ‘im away from Grisly Jake if he really wants ‘im? You go ahead and try. I’ll be back, and next time, I won’t be so nice.”

Slamming his derby back on his head, he turned on his heel and stormed out.

“Oh, good Lord, that was close!” Nell breathed, letting the rolling pin drop to her side. She was shaking so badly she feared she might faint, and the air stank of fear. She could feel sweat pooling between her shoulder-blades and rolling down the back of her uniform as she sagged against the kitchen counter.

“He’ll be back, miss…what are we going to do?” The tears standing in the boy’s eyes told her that she had done the right thing, and made her more determined than ever to keep the boy safe.

“Don’t you worry, Pat. Brick Durham won’t get hold of you. I promise you that. If it’s the last thing I ever do.”

She would see what “Grisly Jake” had to say for himself.

— Garrett Goldthwaite
Nurse Nell and the Baron of Five Points

Chapter 1

After the entire Seamus O’Leary affair, it felt good to just throw myself into the research assistant work for which I’d actually been hired. Of course, my employer, Alistair Conn, had told me recently that my services were no longer required in the laboratory when he confessed his love for me. But I didn’t let his dismissal stand in my way. I enjoyed the work, and I wasn’t about to be pushed away from it. Besides, I convinced him it let us spend more time together—which I thought was the point of his declaration in the first place.

The afore-mentioned cad—O’Leary, not Alistair—had caused me no end of aggravation as he ruined my summer by proceeding to kidnap me every time I turned around. For a self-declared betrothed, this cousin of mine was exceedingly irritating.

At least he was currently behind bars, where he belonged. He’d be staying there too if I had anything to say about it. There would be a trial, of course. And this time, I would be testifying. I should’ve gone straight to Ireland to find out what truth lay behind his claims, but—to be honest—I was a little afraid of what I might find out. Plus, I didn’t currently have enough for a ticket and—while Alistair or his mother would be happy to buy it for me—I wanted to pay for it myself. It would hardly make a good impression with any relatives I might encounter if I had nothing at all of my own.

I’ll say this for Seamus. He’d done one good thing. He’d awakened in me a burning need to find out more about my family. The letters Bridget and I had found at the convent from my mother and grandfather confused me more than ever rather than clarifying anything. Who was I really?

Ah, well. A worry for another day. Today, Alistair and I had promised to move Martha Douglas and her family to a new home near the Fergusons so Martha would be closer to Gertie, and the entire family would be free of the cesspool that was Five Points.

Leonora had purchased a charming little cottage and persuaded Martha she needed a tenant to move in whom she could trust.

“Besides, dear,” she’d said, on the day we visited to make the proposal, laying a hand on Martha’s knee, “Sinéad will need someone to help with the baby, and Gertie’s a little slip of a thing to do all that heavy wash by herself.”

“That’s true enough,” Martha agreed with a sigh, “though she does love her work so—’tis a blessing that is—that she found a good place.”

“So, I’ll hear no argument. I’ll take care of all the arrangements. And, for my trouble, I would like to offer Caleb a position as my man-of-all-work. He seems a clever sort of boy, and it might lead to a better place in later life.”

Martha dissolved into tears at that point, but she’d been entirely won over. Leonora Conn had that effect on people. Ray and Sarah would be able to get to the convent school much easier now, and the little cottage was near enough to Leonora’s own new home that Caleb would also be able to visit his mother whenever he chose.

Martha was even contemplating hanging out her shingle as a dressmaker. I’d seen some of her work, and it was exquisite. Given the proper materials to work with, she would create marvels. I’d already commissioned several pieces of my own.

It’d been odd seeing Leonora, with her satin walking skirt and carefully-tended coiffure, strolling through the streets of Five Points, but little Sarah had wanted to show her the “park” where she liked to play. Leonora’s aristocratic nose wrinkled at the stench of the place. It was an odor born of raw sewage pooling in puddles of stagnant water. Of unwashed bodies soaked in liquor. Of livestock penned wherever there was a spare inch of space.

Sarah’s “park” was literally an abandoned pig sty, three inches deep in viscous mud. After seeing the dirty slop Sarah had been playing in, I saw an anger on Leonora’s face I had never seen before—to be honest, I’m not sure she’d actually bought the cottage before she saw the conditions of the slum—but she had planned on doing something for the Douglas family, that I was certain of. Knowing exactly what someone needed and providing it was her special gift. She loved to share her wealth.

She’d scooped the child into her arms, heedless of the muddy boot-prints left on her fawn-colored skirt. “I’ll take you to a new park, Sarah, my sweet. One where you can roll on the grass if you like.”

“There’s no such place!” the little girl protested, her eyes wide as saucers.

“There is!” Leonora promised, “and Phaeton shall take you there whenever you wish.”

I thought this promise exceedingly reckless, as Phaeton might actually have something he needed to do when the child wanted to play…and how was he supposed to know her whims? Though Alistair had been working on such a device, there was currently no way to transmit thoughts or voice through the ether…

Regardless, it would be a relief to put Five Points behind us for good and all. Once the Douglas family were out of the area, I could see no reason why I’d ever have to return. Everything was coming together nicely for everyone, and I was quite looking forward to the holiday season this year.

I’ve never been fond of winter. Growing up, there were never enough blankets or heavy coats to go around at the orphanage. It was always cold in the stone dormitory, and I’d vowed never to be cold again. So, I’d been preparing this year.

I was glad of the new wool coat I’d bought. It was the first such item of attire I’d ever purchased for myself, and I loved the hunter-green color. It was difficult to wait until the weather allowed me to wear it! It wouldn’t be long now, though, as October was beginning to wind down.

I’ve particularly not looked forward to winter around the holidays. Christmas has always been my least favorite day of the year. It was a very lonely time for me, when all I remembered of most years were interminable masses and perhaps an orange to share with Bridget or Sophie.

This year would be very different. I’d already begun collecting presents, even though it wasn’t quite November yet—after all, I had an extensive list to fill!

I gathered my things and went downstairs to meet Alistair. He was already at the bottom of the staircase talking to Ma.

When he heard me on the stair, he turned to look up, and my heart nearly broke from my chest. He’s still the handsomest man I’ve ever met, and—propriety be damned—I just want to hurl myself into his arms every time I see him.

However, I took a deep breath and smiled instead. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Alistair. I was just finishing up some…research notes.”

I try to mention my diary as little as possible, because I know he sees it as being a trifle frivolous. It isn’t. It’s a record of everything that’s happened to us since we met, which I consider a very important account. Someday, he will too.

“Roderick’s bringing around the cart.”

When we ordered the new conveyances after the disastrous carriage accident which had left two households without transport—although it had prompted Alistair to proclaim his love, so it hadn’t been a complete disaster—we’d had the foresight to include a heavy-duty reinforced cart in the order, capable of carrying the not-inconsiderable weight of a nine-foot-tall mechanical man.

Today, however, its main function would be to transport Martha’s meager furnishings to the new cottage. I was sure Leonora had already furnished the entire cottage, but Martha’s pride would want her own things as well.

I knew that pride well. She’d worked hard for the little she owned, and she probably wouldn’t want to give any of those hard-won possessions up. Any more than I’d given up my own worn books and chipped crockery.

“I’m ready.” I looked him over. He was dressed in a three-piece suit that almost matched. I was impressed—but it wasn’t the most practical ensemble for the occasion. “You seem awfully well-dressed for a trip to Five Points.”

He glanced down. “What should I wear?”

I indicated my own frock, which was one of the meanest in my closet. “Something old…that you don’t mind getting filthy.”

He shrugged. “That’s what the laundry is for.”

Men! They have no idea what’s entailed in keeping their collars starched and linens spotless.

“Well, I suppose there isn’t time to change now. Just…try to stay tidy.”

“Yes, Mother,” he drawled—which wasn’t at all the response I’d been hoping to elicit. I knew how he felt about Leonora’s “interfering.”

There was a knock on the door, and then Roderick poked his head inside. “The cart’s ready. Shall we go?”

“Are you sure we shouldn’t take Phaeton to help with the lifting?” Alistair asked.

I remembered again the dim little room with its threadbare rug and heaped rags for beds. “I’m sure we can manage.” There was nothing in the place heavier than my packed reticule, and I carried it every day! “Besides, didn’t you say he and Fred were going to conduct some experiments today? I’d hate to keep us all from the laboratory.”

“Oh, yes—quite right.” The reminder seemed to mollify him. Good.

The truth was, I feared Phaeton would attract more than his fair share of attention in Five Points, and that might be disastrous. Though Fred and I’d been lucky when we’d taken the automaton for protection while visiting Martha alone, I was quite sure the sight of Alistair—and more importantly, Roderick—would deter unwanted assailants in the present case. Besides, the sight of such an obviously valuable creature as Phaeton might put nefarious ideas into the wrong heads—and there was no need to risk that, especially if we were never returning to the slum. Which was certainly my plan.

Alistair offered me his arm.

“Here, don’t forget this,” said Ma, handing Roderick a basket obviously well-laden with foodstuffs—the scent of fresh-baked bread was a dead giveaway. “Martha don’t need to be worryin’ about feedin’ those wee ones after a day like this.”

“Thank you, Constance,” said Roderick, with one of his rare smiles. “She’ll be most grateful.”

Ma blushed as red as a rose and made a shooing motion. Apparently, we were dismissed.

What do you know about that…Ma had a lovely given name. And Roderick knew what it was, when I had never heard it mentioned before…very interesting.