Home > The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(2)

The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(2)
Author: Megan Shepherd

“Let us in, Adam,” Lucy said, pushing past him. “My toes are freezing to the street.”

I slipped in behind her. Shrugging off her coat, she said, “Adam, this is the friend I’ve told you about. Not a penny to her name, can’t cook, but God, just look at her.”

My face went red, and I shot Lucy a withering look, but Adam only smiled. “Lucy’s nothing if not blunt,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’m used to it. I’ve heard far worse come out of her mouth. And she’s right, at least about the last part.”

I jerked my head toward him, expecting a leer. But he was being sincere, which only left me feeling more at a loss for words.

“Where are they?” Lucy asked, ignoring us. A bawdy roar spilled from a back room, and Lucy grinned and headed toward the sound. I expected Adam to follow her. But his gaze found me instead. He smiled again.

Startled, I paused a second too long. This was new. No vulgar winks, no glances at my chest. I was supposed to say something pleasant. But instead I drew a breath in, like a secret I had to keep close. I knew how to handle cruelty, not kindness.

“May I take your coat?” he asked. I realized I had my arms wrapped tightly around my chest, though it was pleasantly warm inside the house.

I forced my arms apart and slid the coat off. “Thank you.” My voice was barely audible.

We followed Lucy down the hall to a sitting room where a group of lanky medical students languished on leather sofas, sipping glasses of honey-colored liquid. Winter examinations had just ended and they were clearly deep into their celebration. This was the kind of thing Lucy adored—breaking up a boys’ club, drinking gin and playing cards and reveling in their shocked faces. She got away with it under the pretense of visiting her cousin, though this was a far step from the elderly aunt’s parlor where Lucy was supposed to be meeting him.

Adam stepped forward to join the crowd, laughing at something someone said. I tried to feel at ease in the unfamiliar crowd, too aware of my shabby dress and chapped hands. Smile, Mother would have whispered. You belonged among these people, once. But first I needed to gauge how drunk they were, the lay of the room, who was most likely not to laugh at my poor clothes. Analyzing, always analyzing—I couldn’t feel safe until I knew every aspect of what I was facing.

Mother had been so confident around other people, always able to talk about the church sermon that morning, about the rising price of coffee. But I’d taken after my father when it came to social situations. Awkward. Shy. More apt to study the crowd like some social experiment than to join in.

Lucy had tucked herself on the sofa between a blond-haired boy and one with a face as red as an apple. A half-empty rum bottle dangled from her graceful fingers. When she saw me hanging back in the doorway, she stood and sauntered over.

“The sooner you find a husband,” she growled playfully, “the sooner you can stop scrubbing floors. So pick one of them and say something charming.”

I swallowed. My eyes drifted to Adam. “Lucy, men like this don’t marry girls like me.”

“You haven’t the faintest idea what men want. They don’t want some snobbish porridge-faced brat plucking at needlepoint all day.”

“Yes, but I’m a maid.”

“A temporary situation.” She waved it away, as if my last few years of backbreaking work were nothing more than a lark. She jabbed me in the side. “You come from money. From class. So show a little.”

She held the bottle out to me. I wanted to tell her that sipping rum straight from a bottle wasn’t exactly showing class, but I’d only earn myself another jab.

I glanced at Adam. I’d never been good at guessing people’s feelings. I had to study their reactions instead. And in this situation, it didn’t take much to conclude I wasn’t what these men wanted, despite Lucy’s insistence.

But maybe I could pretend to be. Hesitantly, I took a sip.

The blond boy tugged Lucy to the sofa next to him. “You must help us end a debate, Miss Radcliffe. Cecil says the human body contains two hundred ten bones, and I say two hundred eleven.”

Lucy batted her pretty lashes. “Well, I’m sure I don’t know.”

I sighed and leaned into the doorframe.

The boy took her chin in his hand. “If you’ll be so good as to hold still, I’ll count, and we can find our answer.” He touched a finger to her forehead. “One.” I rolled my eyes as the boy dropped his finger lower, to her shoulders. “Two. And three.” His finger ran slowly, seductively, along her collarbone. “Four.” Then his finger traced even lower, to the thin skin covering her breastbone. “Five,” he said, so drawn out that I could smell the rum on his breath.

I cleared my throat. The other boys watched, riveted, as the boy’s finger drifted lower and lower over Lucy’s neckline. Why not just skip the pretense and grab her breast? Lucy was no better, giggling like she was enjoying it. Exasperated, I slapped his pasty hand off her chest.

The whole room went still.

“Wait your turn, darling,” the boy said, and they all laughed. He turned back to Lucy, holding up that ridiculous finger.

“Two hundred six,” I said.

This got their attention. Lucy fell back against the leather sofa with an exasperated sigh.

“I beg your pardon?” the boy said.

“Two hundred six,” I repeated, feeling my cheeks warm. “There are two hundred six bones in the body. I would think, as a medical student, you would know that.”

Lucy’s head shook at my hopelessness, but her lips cracked in a smile regardless. The blond boy’s mouth went slack.

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