Firelight - By Kristen Callihan

Acknowledgments

If you are lucky, you’ll find yourself supported by the best, the sort whose talent only makes you look better. I consider myself very lucky.

First and foremost, to the two people who helped make my dream a reality: my agent, Kristin Nelson, for being part cheerleader, part wolverine, and all heart; and my editor, Alex Logan, whose elegant editing skills and generosity made my first foray into publishing a pleasure. Every day, I thank my lucky stars that I have you both in my corner.

Thanks to editorial assistant Lauren Plude for your support and infectious enthusiasm. To cover designer Christine Foltzer for a kick-ass cover. To copy editor Lynne Cannon Menges. And to Amy Pierpont and all the talented people who make up the Forever/Grand Central Publishing team.

My eternal gratitude to the best friends and writing partners a girl could hope for: Claire Greer, Jennifer Hendren, Susan J. Montgomery, and Rachel Walsh, who held my hand, encouraged and cajoled me day after day, from concept to completed work. You’ve all helped me more than I can say. My love always.

Many thanks to beta readers Deniz Bevan, Rhianonn Morgan, Kait Nolan, Precie Schroyer, and Carol Spradling.

Huge thanks to Diana Gabaldon, who inspired me to write and is more of a mentor than she’ll ever know. To Jo Bourne for answering many newbie questions, and for being one of the best conveyers of craft I’ve ever met. To the wonderful writers who hang at the CompuServe Books and Writers Forum; you will not find a more welcoming and supportive writing community.

To the home team: my sisters Karina and Liz for listening to endless writer-related babble and all-around sister support. My friends Christine Child, Eileen Cruz Coleman, Kerry Sheridan, and Amy Smith for much of the same. To Jim and Christine Mollenauer for watching my babies countless times so I could write. And to the three who make up my heart: Juan, Maya, and Alex, for understanding when I was holed up in the office, for being my inspiration, for making it all worth it.

Lastly, thank you, Hilde and Herb, my mother and father, who taught me to love books, gave me the gift of storytelling, gave me life.

Prologue

It was the mask engaged your mind,

And after set your heart to beat.

—W.B. Yeats

London, November 1878

The knowledge that Archer would soon end the life of another cut at his soul with every step he took. The miscreant in question was a liar and a thief at best. That the whole of the man’s meager fortune now rested at the bottom of the Atlantic did little to rouse Archer’s sympathy. On the contrary, it only ignited his fury. A red haze clouded Archer’s vision when he thought about what had been lost. Salvation had almost been his. Now it was gone because Hector Ellis’s pirates had raided Archer’s ship, stealing that which might cure him and hiding it away in their bloody doomed clipper ship.

Mud-thick fog hung low on the ground, refusing to drift off despite the crisp night breeze. It never truly went away, ever present in London, like death, taxes, and monarchy. The ends of Archer’s cloak snapped about his legs, whipping up eddies of the foul yellow vapor as his mouth filled with the acrid taste of coal, filth, and decay that was the flavor of London.

Archer rounded a corner, moving away from the street lamps and into shadow. The sharp staccato of his footfall echoed over the deserted cobbled streets. Far off on the Thames, a mournful foghorn wailed its warning. But here all was quiet. The constant clatter of coaches and the occasional shout of the night watch calling the hours had faded away. Darkness swallowed his form, as it always did, both a comfort and a reminder of what he’d become.

The neighborhood around him was old but fine. Like all places that housed those whom fortune touched, the streets were empty and desolate, everyone having long ago tucked into their well-tufted beds.

Ellis’s house was near. Archer had walked the streets of London long enough to move without hesitation through its perverse network of twisted alleys and endless avenues. Anticipation, cold and metallic, slid over his tongue. To end a life, see the incandescent light of a soul slip from its house—he wanted that moment, craved it. The horror of such craving shook his core and his step faltered. Never do harm. It was every doctor’s creed, his creed. That was before he’d forfeited his own life. Archer took a cleansing breath

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