She returned his eagerness, fumbling with his pants. Her hands closed around him. He staggered, they came down to the floor together. He’d never felt so desperate. She was incredible. He ran his hands up and down her length, lifted her skirt.

She was bare beneath the white dress. The feel of her naked skin was incredibly erotic. His erection surged painfully against the cup of her hand.

He fell back, and she was on top of him. He caught her hips, guiding her.

He closed his eyes as the urgency of their passion rode with them.

Later, as he held her, he wondered how he had survived the days without her.

London Fall, 1888

Having recently arrived in London, the American heiress Megan Montgomery was living in an apartment at St. James’s Place. The next apartments were occupied by a young doctor and his wife, Peter and Laura Austin.

They were charming, and welcoming, and Megan found herself spending more and more time with them. As spring passed, she and Laura became the best of friends. She told Laura about her ancestral home in New Orleans and how all Montgomery heiresses spent time abroad studying fashion until returning to New Orleans to take over the reins of the family business. Her mother had left New Orleans during the American Civil War because of the death of a close friend, and met Megan’s father on a holiday in York. Megan had been to New York City and Chicago and even San Francisco, but she‘d not yet been back to her family inheritance in New Orleans. With both her parents gone now, she would soon return to the States for good.

Laura, in turn, told Megan about her own life. Peter had been born to a wealthy and aristocratic family who had never forgiven him for marrying her, the daughter of a poor church rector. She had grown up without money but with lots of love; Peter had grown up with money and expectations. Having met Laura while he tended to her father on his deathbed, Peter had opted for love.

A friend who was traveling on the Continent had given the St. James’s Place apartments to the Austins for their use for the next three years, so, despite their apparent affluence, they were poor as churchmice. “ Peter is an excellent doctor, but he is even a more excellent man, ” Laura assured her proudly. Then she sighed. “He is desperately determined to help those who are so terribly down and out in the wretched slums of London. He believes that something must be done, there’s such terrible poverty, especially in the East End.” Megan’s heart immediately went out to Peter and Laura. She had seen a great deal. War, poverty, suffering . . . but in the rigid society of Victorian England, she saw a sadness unlike anything she had ever seen before.

Laura often accompanied her husband on his charitable trips into the tawdry filth of the East End. But come summer, she was heavy with her first pregnancy, and Megan insisted on taking over for her friend. “Ask Peter! The place is ripe with infestations and disease. Laura, for your health, for the baby, you must stay away,” Megan told her.

So Megan began accompanying Peter.

In the East End she found a pathetic horror unlike anything she had seen in America or France or anywhere else she had traveled. Not that she had been blind to poverty and suffering before, but here, mothers with children slept ten and twelve to a tiny, rat-infested room. Broken windows went unmended, raw sewage was cast to the streets, and women turned desperately to prostitution for the few pence needed just to have a room in a doss, or flophouse, off the street.

Men and women alike drank away the hours. Although drink stole the money needed for a bed, gin was comparatively cheap. Gin could take the edges off the misery of life, tone down the dirt and decay, make people forget, if just for a spell, that they lived with no hope.

Peter was a saint, Megan determined. He worked office hours at the Austin apartment during the days, and he worked all hours of the night, leaving the apartment quite late sometimes to tend to the children, the alcoholics, and the expecting mothers of the East End. He tended to the men and women cut up in drunken bar fights, the battered women, and the whores. He did so without judgment, quietly giving the name of a friend who might need domestic help to a man or woman if it seemed he or she was really trying to find a way to make a new life off the street. He gave away clothing and toys which were left at his apartment by paying patients who knew about his double life.

Laura’s pregnancy was a difficult one. Peter started spending more time at home, but that merely served to upset Laura. Peter must keep busy, she said, and Megan promised her that she would keep on helping out; she was glad to be busy.

One night in the midst of a wet, cool summer, Megan found herself sitting at a pub table with Peter, talking. “For me ... I am drawn here,” he told her. “I’m a physician, with a gift to heal, I believe. I feel I must do something. But Megan, you ‘re rich and beautiful and young! You need to find a life with a good man who will love you. You will not find such a man here.” She smiled. “I’ve been in love.”


“He died,” she said softly.

“There will be another—”

“No, never. He can never come again.”

“Ah, but perhaps—”

“I’ve no desire to be in love, thank you. I’m older than you, trust me. I know my own mind, and I’m happy to work with you, and to help Laura—”

He lowered his head. And he broke down and cried. He was so worried about Laura. Megan tried to soothe and assure him. He got control of himself, swallowed down a pint of stout, and apologized. “And here I’ve got you drinking with a man in such a mean establishment! You say you don’t want to find a proper man, but I shall ruin your reputation, nonetheless.”

“I’m not at all worried about my reputation; I am a rich American,” she told him, laughing. Then she added quite seriously, “Peter, truly, I don’t give a damn— see, I’m not a Victorian lady, I can cuss if I so choose!—and I find this loathsome! You ‘ve made me feel so passionate about reform.

So much is expected in the behavior of the people, the nobility and royalty have their great balls, and people speak just so, and tea is served just so— and all this suffering goes on! I swear to you that I am happy to work with you, delighted to have Laura for a friend.”

“Yes, it is possible for us to be the best of friends,” Peter said gravely after a moment.

“Yes, it is.”

They squeezed each other’s hands. Peter went for one more pint.

Megan was suddenly seized by a strange draw. Frowning, she rose slowly, not at all of her own volition. She wandered outside the public house, and across the road. There, she saw a man. Mist swirled low on the ground; the streetlights were dim here, the shadows were vast.

He appeared elegantly tall and slim, much like Peter in a tall hat and black cape. He carried a black medical bag. From a distance, it might have been Peter. She knew immediately that it was not.

His hair was tawny, and he had grown face-concealing, reddish whiskers— very fashionable here these days. He laughed when he saw her staring at him, and seemed to close the distance between them without actually walking to her.

“Why, ‘tis an angel, angel of mercy,” he said, touching her cheek. His fingers had tremendous strength.

She felt cold. Colder than death. But she was strong, too, and she pulled away.

“Come with me.”

“You are a fool. I despise you, I will always despise you. Go haunt some other place.”

“Taking a married lover, Megan— is it?”

“He is a friend, a concept you know nothing about.”

“The concept you do not comprehend is what you are.”

She inhaled and exhaled. Slowly. “No, you are wrong. I have a perfect concept of what I am. I know my strengths, and I know my weaknesses. What you are is not at all necessary.” He shook his head. “Wolves hunt and kill to survive. Lions in Africa stalk their prey. We are no different.”

“We are different; we are not animals.”

“I beg to differ. We are.”

“You are a cruel being, and I will never have anything to do with you.” She started to turn, he caught her arm, dragging her back. “Maybe you could change me. Damn you, we could rule the world together. We could have hundreds quaking in fear, we could change history, events—”

“No, we could bring about the death of all our kind. And I don’t want to rule the world. I—” She broke off, suddenly pained.

“You what?”

“All I ever wanted was a normal life,” she whispered. “A family, a home.” She turned and started walking away.

“Get back here, I am talking to you!”

She ignored him. In a rage, he was suddenly before her, pushing her back against the wall with tremendous strength. She fought him, but he was very powerful. Flush against the wall, she suddenly discovered that he had a very sharp knife against her throat. “What is it? What is it about me? Lucian forced you to him, and you remain friends. Should I not do the same? Force you with the superior strength of a multitude of decades? Force you to learn, to see what you are!

To see that we are as necessary as hyenas, vultures, buzzards, wolves? Look around you— the world is a cesspool, and there are many who would welcome a kiss of death!”

“Let me go, now.”

“I could kill you. Sever your head.”

“Then Lucian and others would be forced to destroy you.”

“Lucian is king now, but I grow more and more powerful! Lucian has lost his blood lust, and thinks that he can form us into a society of scholarly intellectuals! Hah! Lucian will fall from his mighty pedestal, because we are animals. As men seek cattle, we seek men.”

“Let me go!”

At that moment, Peter came out of the pub, calling her name. “Megan?” She was suddenly alone in the swirling fog. She hurried to Peter, explaining that she had thought she heard a cry in the streets, but she had been mistaken. They started walking, seeking a cab.

They heard the clip-clop of horses’ hooves, but the fog had risen so high they couldn’t see. “I’ll just look around the corner ...” Peter said.