Sampler: Innocent Bystander by C.A. Asbrey

 

The clock is ticking–will they be able to save Maddie from a lethal end? For Abi and Nat, it’s a frantic race against time.

Pinkerton Agent Abigail MacKay’s willful sister, Madeleine, is going to be the death of her yet. That is, if Madeleine doesn’t get herself killed first! After running off to marry a widower whose wives mysteriously die—leaving behind a great deal of money each time—spoiled, beautiful Madeleine is unaware of the danger she’s in.

Though no doctor has been able to establish a cause of death for any of the women, Abigail is sure they were murdered—and that her younger sister is going to be next. The only person who can help her save Maddie is the charismatic criminal, Nat Quinn—and Abi left him cooling his heels in jail at their last meeting.

As Fate would have it, Nat and his partner, Jake Conroy, were the last to see Madeleine before she disappeared. She happened to be on a train The Innocents held up—but she was alive and well when they parted ways. And Madeleine is the least of Nat’s worries, now that he’s discovered that Abigail has lied to him about one very important thing—she’s married!

When Abi risks all to ride into the outlaws’ deadly hideout and ask for help, there’s no doubt she’ll get it—but nothing’s free in Ghost Canyon; here, everything has a price. With a new understanding of their relationship, Nat agrees to help her prove David Bartholemew is a cold-blooded killer before he can murder Maddie.

With Jake in charge of Madeleine’s welfare, all hell breaks loose when two competing reporters get involved in the case, along with an old nemesis of Nat’s coming into the mix.

One thing is certain: David Bartholemew is a murderer. But how is he doing it? In a race against time, will Nat and Abi be able to figure it out before Jake runs out of ways to protect Maddie from her evil husband? Or will each of them become an innocent bystander.

C.A. Asbrey

Sampler: Innocent Bystander

He stopped beside the siren in blue and swept off his hat in a show of propriety. “Mrs. Consedine? You left a note for Mr. Dunbar in 126?”

The cornflower eyes brightened, and she put down her cup. “Mr. Dunbar?” She eyed Jake up and down. “I have been seriously misinformed. I had no idea you were so handsome.”

“I ain’t.” Jake shook his head. “I mean I ain’t Mr. Dunbar. Not that I ain’t—” He grimaced. “Anyhows, Mr. Dunbar asked me to bring you up to his room. He’s the one I was talkin’ to a few minute ago. Maybe you saw him? He’s the one who kinda looks like a turtle without its shell. Your information was right on the nose.”

The pretty face fell but she dropped her napkin on the table and stood. “He has people to show guests to his room? How grand of him. Lead on, MacDuff.”

“MacDuff? No. The name’s Jake, ma’am.”

“No. It’s Shakespeare—” She stared into Jake’s frowning face before she reached down and picked up a carpet bag from the floor. “Jake? Of course it is. How silly of me.”

♦ ◊ ♦

Jake was thoroughly bored. He’d been sitting in the hallway outside of Tibby’s room for ages. The chair was designed for a dining room and a prolonged spell on the wooden seat made his butt ache. It affected muscles in a way a day in the saddle didn’t. He’d tried sitting upright with his arms folded, unfolded, and even dangling by his sides. It was still uncomfortable.

He’d had his long legs crossed and uncrossed, splayed, and even stretched out so far the couple from the next room had found their way through the hallway blocked. The gray-haired matron had clucked in disapproval at him until he had drawn his feet back to allow them to pass. The birdcage veil of her black hat had covered the top half of her face, but the pursed lips were a good enough indication of her reproval as the pair swept by.

Jake pulled out his pocket watch and flicked it open. Twenty-two minutes past ten. They’d been in there for almost an hour, and Jake had to get back to South Street. Abi and Nat would be expecting him. He frowned and closed the timepiece before returning it to his pocket. He stood and wandered over to the door, pressing an ear against the door. Silence.

He tapped his knuckles and called out. “Tibby? Is this gonna take much longer? I gotta go.” There was no reply, so Jake rapped at the door once more, harder and with more insistence. “Tibby. I can’t stay. Open this door.” There was something about the thick, heavy silence which felt wrong. Tibby was anything but quiet, so it was fair to assume any room containing him wouldn’t be, either.

Jake knocked again. “Tibby?” All he could hear was the sound of his own breath echoing against the wooden door. A muscle in his jaw flexed and he felt in his pocket for the room key he’d been asked to hold. He grabbed the wooden fob and called out once more. “I’m comin’ in, Tibby. Make sure you ain’t doin’ anythin’ indecent.” He paused, running through what he knew about the man. “Or strange.”

The key rattled in the lock and the door swung slowly open. Jake’s jaw dropped open at the carnage which greeted his horrified eyes.

The room was awash with blood; splattered over furniture, walls, and fabrics. Gouts of gore lay littered on the floor, and adhered to the wall behind the bundle of bloody petticoats in the corner. Thick claret dripped from the drapes in a sickening seep and intestines dangled over furniture and snaked across the floor. Tibby lay unconscious near the door, a knife near his hand, his blood-drenched clothes stained red.

Worst of all, the pale blue dress was saturated in blood and revealed what looked like a dismembered carcass beneath the pulled-back frills. It looked like she’d tried to hide under the bed and had been dragged out as her legs were hidden, but the torso appeared from underneath. The clothing was pulled over her head so all Jake could see were the bare bones of the ribs and the open belly covered in blood with what remained of her intestines.

“Dear God.” Jake’s reaction to the trauma robbed his voice of its power, his eyes drawn to the intestines strewn on the floor near what looked like half a kidney.  “Tibby! What the hell have you done?”

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