Not So Innocent
Sophie Haversham would give anything not to have the gift of foresight. After all, her "talent" has already cost her one fiancé. And reporting a crime that hasn't happened yet is no easy task, especially to a tough, street-wise Scotland Yard detective. Inspector Mick Dunbar doesn't believe in visions, and he's convinced Sophie is actually shielding a would-be murderer. Only when Sophie's life is in danger does Mick realize he has fallen in love with this beautiful, courageous woman who can see into his very mind and heart, but will the knowledge come too late to save her?
When he awoke on the morning of May 28, Mick Dunbar was not a happy man. Today was his birthday, his thirty-sixth birthday, and he had to face the bitter fact that he wasn't so young anymore.
On this particular morning, he even felt old. His shoulder ached from that bullet wound ten years back, he seemed to have more gray in his dark hair than he'd had the night before, and shaving off his mustache didn't make him look any younger. Mick knew then it was going to be a long day.
By late that afternoon, after getting a black eye from a drunken aristocrat, a stern reprimand from his superintendent, and several less-than-amusing birthday pranks played on him, Mick knew he'd been right. A very long day.
He glanced at the clock on the wall. Half past four. He was supposed to meet Billy and Rob at the pub for his birthday in half an hour. He hadn't eaten all day, and his mouth watered at the thought of an underdone beefsteak, a plate of chips, and a pint of ale, but he couldn't tolerate the idea of leaving his desk in a mess. As he worked to put things back in order, the sounds of the voices in the crowded room floated by him, but he didn't really pay attention until a soft, West End, very feminine voice penetrated his consciousness.
". . . and I really feel that it is my public duty to report this. Being detectives, you'll know better than I how to resolve this situation. I have no experience with this sort of thing myself. Murder, I mean."
Mick lifted his head at the mention of murder and saw a young woman seated in front of Fletcher's desk, a woman who seemed ludicrously out of place in the offices of Scotland Yard. He saw the profile of a slender figure in a froth of pale yellow silk. Dozens of tiny, dark green bows trimmed her dress, and many of them were untied. Long, untidy tendrils of chestnut brown hair had come loose from beneath the unfashionable, wide-brimmed straw hat she wore.
"After all," she said to Fletcher, "I saw the poor man lying there, bloody, and dead as dead can be. I'm certain you'll be able to do something."
Mick raised an eyebrow. Quite a startling statement from a woman who looked as soft as whipped butter. This might be a case worth investigating.
As if sensing his scrutiny, she turned her head in his direction. When she caught sight of him, her dark eyes widened with what appeared to be complete astonishment. Fletcher began asking her the questions customary to any police report, and she answered them without taking her gaze from Mick's. "Haversham. Miss Sophie Haversham. 18 Grosvenor Mews, Mayfair."
Fletcher wrote down that information, then asked the very question that was going through Mick's mind. "Now, what would a young lady such as yourself know about a murder, Miss Haversham?"
She didn't answer. Instead, she stood up and circled Fletcher's desk, leaving the bemused constable staring after her, his question still hanging in the air. She came straight to Mick.
"I think perhaps it would be best if I spoke with you about this, Mr.--umm--" She broke off and glanced at the brass nameplate on his desk. "Inspector Dunbar," she amended. As she sat down, Mick caught the delicate fragrance of her perfume, something spicy and exotic, a scent he didn't recognize.
Though her clothes were expensive, her frayed cuffs told Mick the dress was not a new one. Genteel poverty, he guessed. There were dozens like her in the West End. She was nervous, twisting her gloved fingers together and apart as if gathering her courage. That was understandable if she'd found a dead body. Silent, she continued to stare at him with a sort of apprehensive fascination he couldn't fathom.
Mick was accustomed to the attentions of women. He was a big man, tall and dark, with blue eyes and a brawny body that many women found attractive. He didn't get too swell-headed over the attention, though, because most of the women he met were working-class girls who thought any unmarried man with straight teeth and a steady job was a good catch. But this woman wasn't that sort, and he found it odd that she was staring at him so intensely. It bordered on rudeness.
Not that he minded. He stared right back and enjoyed the view. She had thick-lashed brown eyes, and the soft, pampered ivory skin typical of young ladies within her class. But when his gaze reached her mouth, Mick caught his breath. There was nothing ladylike about that mouth. It was a wide, generous cupid's bow with a plump, delicious bottom lip that would give any man, including Mick, lustful thoughts and wicked intentions. It took an effort for him to bring himself back to the business at hand.
He pushed aside a stack of files and reached for a pencil and notepaper. "You said you've come to report a murder?"
She continued to stare at him in silence for several seconds, then suddenly she shook her head as if coming out of a daze. "I'm sorry for staring, but I'm a bit rattled, you see," she said, her trembling voice validating the truth of her words. "Murder is rather disconcerting, isn't it?"
Without waiting for an answer, she rushed on, "Oh, I've dealt with a bit of crime here and there. Petty theft on the part of servants, and merchants who try to cheat you by putting too few herring in the barrel or shortweighting the flour, that sort of thing. And there are those street urchins who look so innocent when they swarm around you and ask for money, then there you are without your reticule or a farthing in your pocket. Dealing with a murder, I'm afraid, is beyond my experience."
She paused for a quick breath of air, but not long enough for Mick to get a word in. "Of course, there was the time that Mrs. Archer hit Mr. Archer over the head with a frying pan. Cast iron. He died, but she never meant to kill him, I daresay, just cosh him on the head, and that's not the same thing as murder at all, is it?"
Mick stared at her, a bit stunned by the rapid stream of words. His carnal imaginings about her lovely mouth were forgotten as she continued rambling on about Mr. and Mrs. Frying Pan, and he wondered if she ever intended to come to the point.
"I didn't ever dream such a thing would happen," she went on, "and even if I had, I'm not certain I would have done anything to prevent it. Archer was a cruel man indeed, and even though he was her husband, I still say she was defending herself." Miss Haversham's nose wrinkled with distaste. "He drank, and men who drink can be unpleasant, even violent." She gestured toward Mick's face. "But then, you already know that."
Mick sat up straighter in his chair and felt a tingle along the back of his neck. It was a sensation with which he was very familiar, a sensation he usually got just before entering an opium den in Limehouse or turning down a dark alley in Whitechapel after midnight. A sense that he'd better watch his step and pay attention. "What do you mean?"
"Well, didn't a drunken man hit you?" she asked. "I'm getting quite a strong impression that's how you received that black eye." Before Mick could ask what had prompted her to such an impression, she spoke again, a tiny frown drawing her brows together. "Of course, I could be wrong. So many possibilities swirling around, and it's difficult to sort it all out. I get muddled sometimes."
Mick was not surprised. If there was an actual crime somewhere in all this, he wanted the facts as quickly as possible. "Tell me about this murder you saw."
"Well, I didn't actually see it with my eyes, but the impressions are so clear that I might just as well have witnessed it." Her frown deepened. "I must confess, it's a difficult cross to bear, knowing the things that I know."
Mick didn't have the slightest clue what she was talking about. "So you have seen a murder?"
She lifted her head, looking at him with those pretty, chocolate-brown eyes. "Of course. Isn't that what I've been telling you?"
There was no answer to that question. He tried again. "Where did this murder occur?"
"I'm not exactly certain." She closed her eyes and tilted her head to one side, causing a broken ostrich feather on her hat to fall forward across her face. "I knew the police would want to know that, and I've been trying to figure it out. I could clearly see greenery--trees, grass, and such. There was a border of rhododendrons and a bronze statue, though it had gone to verdigris, and those green statues are so hard to see amidst the shrubbery, aren't they?" She opened her eyes and pushed back the feather. "Of course! It was Robert Burns. So there you are."
Mick stared at her, feeling a bit dazed. He didn't know what Robert Burns had to do with anything, especially since the fellow had been dead for nearly a century. "I don't understand."
"The statue I saw was of Robert Burns. So the murder must be in the Victoria Embankment Gardens."
"Must be? Don't you know where you were when you saw this murder?"
"Of course I know where I was," she answered. "I was in bed. I'm just not certain where the murder is, but now, because I remembered about Robert Burns, I am certain. Do you see?
What did meeting him have to do with anything? A dull ache began between his eyebrows. He tried another question. "Did you see a body?"
"Oh, yes." She gave a shudder and recoiled slightly in her chair. "I'm so sorry to be the one to tell you about this."
Mick's patience was coming to an end. "Let me see if I understand you, miss," he said heavily. "You believe that a murder has been committed in Victoria Embankment Gardens, and you saw the body there, but you were in bed at the time?"
"Oh, no, no, you misunderstand me. The murder hasn't happened yet, thank God. If it had, you and I would not be having this conversation. You see--"
"How could you possibly see a dead body from a murder that hasn't happened yet?"
She took a deep breath and met his gaze across the desk. "I saw it in my mind."
He didn't need this. He didn't need one of the loony ones today. He was tired, he was hungry, and he was getting a headache. Rubbing his forehead with the tips of his fingers, he thought with wistful longing of his steak and chips. "It's lack of food," he muttered to himself. "I should've eaten that pasty."
"But you hate mutton, don't you?"
"What?" Mick lifted his head and stared at her, feeling again that little tingle along the back of his neck. What on earth had made her ask that? How could she know he hated mutton?
An explanation came to him at once. Billy and Rob. It had to be. His two best friends were behind this. They had hired this girl to come to him to report some incredible, silly, made-up crime. Another birthday joke.
She was a damned fine actress. They'd probably found her in some rundown theater off Drury Lane. Now that he understood what his friends had done, Mick's good humor began to return, especially when he began plotting how to get them back. He leaned back in his chair and grinned at her. "How much?"
She stared at him. "I beg your pardon?"
"How much did they pay you?" When she didn't answer, he went on, "I'll tell Billy and Rob that this time they got me good and proper." His smile widened. "But I will get my revenge."
"I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head in confusion. "I have no idea who Billy and Rob are. Whoever they may be, they haven't 'gotten you yet', as you put it. That's still to come, unless we can prevent it. You see--"
"Really?" he interrupted, laughing. "You mean there's more to their little joke?"
"Joke?" Her confused expression changed to one of consternation. "I should hope you don't find murder amusing. I don't, and I doubt you will either once I tell you about it."
"Right." Mick stood up. "I think I've heard enough already."
"No, wait." She rose as well, eying him in dismay. "I haven't finished."
"Don't worry. I'm seeing the lads in just a few minutes, and I'll be sure to tell them what a fine job you did." He pulled his jacket from the back of his chair. "Goodbye, Miss Haversham. If that's really your name."
He started for the door leading out to the courtyard, ignoring Fletcher's grin as he passed the constable's desk.
"Wait," the woman cried, jumping up to follow him. "Please, listen to me. I have to tell you the most important part." She caught up with him just before the door and grasped his sleeve, desperate to stop him. "I have to tell you who is going to die."
"Luv, I don't care if it's the prime minister." He shook off her restraining hand and walked across the huge foyer to the entrance doors of Scotland Yard.
The woman would not be deterred. She ran around in front of him and turned around, blocking his path out the door. "You will care, believe me."
She sounded so desperate that Mick gave in. Maybe she had to tell him the whole story or she wouldn't get paid. "All right, then," he said, laughing. "Who is going to be the victim of this murder in your mind that hasn't happened yet?"
She put a hand on his arm and stared at him with what seemed to be compassion. "You are."