Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)(4)

I shook my thoughts free and listened to the lesson.

“Brilliant deduction skills, Thomas. I, too, believe our victim was attacked from behind while standing. The knife used was most likely between six and eight inches long.” Uncle paused, showing the class about how big the blade was with his hands. Uneasiness crept into my blood. It would’ve been around the same size as the scalpel I’d used last night.

Uncle cleared his throat. “Judging from the jagged cut in the abdomen, I’d say the wound was inflicted postmortem, where the body was discovered. I’d also venture our murderer was interrupted, and didn’t get what he was originally after. But I’ve an inkling he might be either left-handed or ambidextrous based on other evidence.”

A boy sitting in the first row raised a shaking hand. “What do you mean? What he was originally after?”

“Pray we don’t find out.” Uncle twisted the corner of his pale mustache, a habit he often indulged while lost in thought. I knew whatever he’d say next wouldn’t be pleasant.

Without realizing it, I’d grabbed the edges of my own seat so hard my knuckles were turning white. I loosened my grip slightly.

“For the sake of this lesson, I’ll divulge my theories.” Uncle glanced around the room once more. “I believe he was after her organs. Detective inspectors, however, do not share my sentiments on that aspect. I can only hope they’re right.”

While discussions broke out on Uncle’s organ-removal theory, I sketched the anatomical figures he’d hastily drawn on the chalkboard at the start of our lesson in order to clear my mind. Dissected pigs, frogs, rats, and even more disturbing things such as human intestines and hearts adorned the inside of my pages.

My notebook was filled with images of things a lady had no business being fascinated by, yet I couldn’t control my curiosity.

A shadow fell across my notebook, and somehow I knew it was Thomas before he opened his mouth. “You ought to put the shadow on the left side of the body, else it looks like a pool of blood.”

I tensed, but kept my lips shut as if they’d been sewn together by a reckless mortician. Flames quietly burned under my skin, and I cursed my body’s reaction to such an aggravating boy. Thomas continued critiquing my work.

“Truly, you should erase those ridiculous smudges,” he said. “The streetlamp was coming from this angle. You’ve got it all terribly wrong.”

“Truly, you should mind your own business.” I closed my eyes, internally scolding myself. I’d been doing so well keeping quiet and not interacting with any of the boys. One slip could cost me my seat in class.

Deciding one should never show a mad dog fear, I met Thomas’s sharp gaze full-on. A small smile played upon his lips, and my heart trotted in my chest like a carriage horse running through Trafalgar Square. I reminded myself he was a self-important arse and decided the stutter in my heart was strictly due to nerves. I’d rather bathe in formaldehyde than be ousted from class by such a maddening boy.

Handsome though he might be.

“While I appreciate your observation,” I said between clenched teeth, taking careful pains to deepen my voice, “I’d like it very much if you’d be so kind as to leave me to my studies.”

His eyes danced as if he’d discovered a vastly entertaining secret, and I knew I was a mouse that had been caught by an all too clever cat.

“Right, then. Mr.…?” The way he emphasized mister left no room for misunderstanding; he was quite aware I was no young man but was willing to play along for God only knew what reason. I softened a bit at this show of mercy, dropping my disguised voice so only he could hear, my heart picking up speed once more at our shared secret.

“Wadsworth. My name is Audrey Rose Wadsworth.”

A flash of understanding crossed his face, his attention flicking to my uncle, who was still inciting a heated discussion. He held his hand out, and I reluctantly shook it, hoping my palms wouldn’t give away my nervousness.

Perhaps having a friend to talk over cases might be nice.

“I believe we met last night,” I ventured, feeling a bit bolder. Thomas’s brows knit together and my newfound confidence plummeted. “In my uncle’s laboratory?”

Darkness shifted over his features. “Apologies, but I haven’t a clue what you’re referring to. This is the first time we’ve spoken.”

“We didn’t exactly speak—”

“It’s nice to meet you, Wadsworth. I’m sure we’ll have much to discuss in the near future. Immensely near, actually, as I’m apprenticing this evening with your uncle. Perhaps you’ll allow me the pleasure of testing out a few of my theories?”

Another crimson wave washed over my cheeks. “Your theories on what, exactly?”

“Your scandalous choice to attend this class, of course.” He grinned. “It isn’t every day you meet such an odd girl.”

The friendly warmth I’d been feeling toward him froze over like a pond during a particularly frigid winter. Especially since he appeared completely unaware of how irritating he was, smiling to himself without a care in the universe. “I do love the satisfaction of solving a puzzle and proving myself right.”

Somehow I found the strength to bite my retort back and offered a tight smile in its place. Aunt Amelia would be proud her lessons on etiquette stuck with me. “I am very much looking forward to hearing your scintillating theory on my life choices, Mr.…?”

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