THE SHADOW PRINCESS, by Mary Hart Perry
To catch one of history’s most notorious killers, a princess risks losing her family, her life—and her heart…
London, 1888: A year after Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee terror mounts in the city’s slums. A killer has butchered two prostitutes, the crimes brutal even by London’s hardened standards. Rumors of the murders reach Princess Vicky, daughter of Queen Victoria and grieving widow of the German Emperor Frederick III. When her niece Princess Maud visits, she brings with her even worse news–the Metropolitan Police have a suspect. It’s Vicky’s nephew, Crown Prince Eddy. Desperate to clear her family’s name, Vicky rushes back to England.
Detective Inspector Thomas Edmondson believes there is a royal cover-up behind the killings. He will stop at nothing to expose the truth and bring a murderer to justice before he can kill again. But when Vicky joins him in searching for the man who will become known as Jack the Ripper, neither of them foresee the overpowering attraction that will draw together the royal and the commoner—or the danger their love puts them in.
The Shadow Princess
The Neues Palais—Potsdam, Prussia—September 1888
Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise lifted the black netting from over her face. The mourning veil had begun to feel as cumbersome as her formal title—Her Imperial Majesty, The Empress Frederick.
She stared into the gilt-framed Baroque mirror at one end of her bedchamber, aware that her daughter—now nearly as old as she had been when she married Fritz—was watching her, worrying the lace panel of her day dress with anxious fingertips.
“Look at me, Sophie. I’ve become my mother. How revoltingly drab and ancient.” Whatever had happened to Vicky, darling Crown Princess of the English Court?
The reflection peering back at her was that of a sour-faced old woman in black bombazine. She wasn’t as plump as her mother, but she certainly could pass for a younger version of Queen Victoria soon after she’d lost her dear Prince Albert, Vicky’s father.
“No, Mama, you aren’t old,” Sophie protested, also speaking in English. She knew the language of her mother’s youth comforted her. Sophie stepped up to hug her. “You’re just sad, because Papa’s gone.”
Gone four months now. Frederick III, Emperor of Germany. Her mate for life, her Fritz. The only man ever to share her bed and body.
She gently pushed Sophie away, ripped off the veil. It reminded her of a sooty shroud. You are not dead. Not yet! She had to constantly remind herself of that fact. She tossed the delicate teardrop hat with its gauze veiling toward the bed, but it fell short.
Her maid rushed to retrieve the fluttering storm cloud of tulle before it reached the floor. Scooping up hat and veil, Agathe cast a concerned look at her mistress and seemed about to say something but must have thought better of it. She silently took the offending thing away to the adjoining dressing room.
Vicky turned away from the mirror’s disturbing image. So much that she’d once held dear she’d lost this past year. The man she’d respected even when they fought over their children and the empire’s governance. Her say in political affairs as Empress of Germany and Queen of Prussia. The golden future for which her father had so carefully educated her. Lost … lost … lost!
And, as if that wasn’t enough, she’d already buried two sons—Waldemar and Sigismund—before they’d even lived out their precious childhood. Wasn’t all of that enough for any woman to suffer? Must she also relinquish youth and beauty? And with them all hope for love, intimacy, tenderness. She truly dreaded the years to come—widowhood—a bitter dram that she had no power to sweeten.
Sophie, at her side, whispered, “Mama. Please don’t cry. I can’t bear to see you so unhappy.”
Vicky sat down on the edge of her marriage bed and drew her beautiful blonde daughter into her arms. “I know. I’m sorry. I will try to be more …” She shook her head and kissed Sophie’s silky brow. How could she promise a cheerful outlook when the world around her seemed so very grim?
But she drew a deep breath and bravely blinked away the tears. At least she still had her daughters. And her other two living sons. For some reason, her boys had always been more trouble than the girls. Henry wasn’t so bad, but dealing with Willy, heir to his father’s throne, had aged her considerably. Sometimes she had to remind herself that she was only forty-eight years old.
The truth was, her eldest son now held all the power but shared none of his parents’ liberal leanings or affinity for the English people and their ways. Willy, now Wilhelm II, was emperor, and she was out of a job. She had worn the crown and ruled over her adopted country, at her husband’s side, only ninety-nine days following the death of Fritz’s father. Tragically, her husband had already been sick by then; the throat cancer took him three short months later.
When Albert died, her mother had kept her crown and all that went with it, since it had passed to her directly from her uncle; the English allowed a female monarchy. Germany did not. Most worrisome of all, Wilhelm was the least suited of all her children to guide his country toward prosperity and peace.
“Mama, please, you mustn’t torment yourself and hide in your room like this. The country needs you. We all need you.”
“My darling Sophie, please, don’t waste your entreaties on me. I am a realist. Besides, I’m too tired to fight the inevitable.” She squeezed her daughter’s slender, white fingers. “The most we can hope for is that your brother won’t push Germany over a political cliff and into war. In the meantime, I will satisfy myself with finding good husbands for my girls, and hope for happier lives for you. Now leave me, dear girl. Frau Hoffstetter will be looking for you.”
Sophie studied her for a moment longer then huffed in frustration and left the room to find her tutor.
Vicky was fully aware that her middle daughter had been trying particularly hard these past two months to cheer her up and bring a little light into her life. But spring had passed and then most of the summer, one season as bleak as the other. She’d watched with growing trepidation as her son scoffed at then abandoned the enlightened policies she and Fritz had only begun to put into place.
It was all so heartbreaking.
Willy had never hidden his hatred for the English, particularly for his grandmother. His arrogant outbursts and cruelty toward others, even in Queen Victoria’s Court, foreshadowed political disaster. But what could she do? Any advice she gave her son toward moderation sent him into a fury reminiscent of his childhood temper tantrums. The terrible difference being—now he was Emperor over a wide swath of Europe, and there were few men, or women for that matter, capable of standing up to him. Fewer still able to change his mind once he’d set a goal. And he was hungry to grow his empire—by any means, at any cost. She truly feared they would face a bloody future.
She vaguely remembered her daughter leaving the room. Had it been minutes ago? Hours?
Vicky looked up from her own clenched hands to see that Sophie had indeed returned. “What is it, darling?” Maybe she should ring for Agathe. Her maid would shoo the girl off and suggest Vicky take a nap. What else was there for her to do but sleep? She lay awake all night, every night, felt exhausted the next day. What was the point of even living? If it weren’t for her children …
“Maud has arrived,” Sophie said.
Vicky blinked, momentarily bewildered. “Maud? Here in Potsdam?” She looked past her daughter’s shoulder to see her niece, Princess Maud, daughter of the Prince of Wales, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, in a pristine white summer gown, all flounces and tiers, her hair just a shade darker than Sophie’s, her face a bit rounder. As always her brilliant smile lit the room.
“Auntie Vicky!” the girl gasped, rushing forward as if to embrace her but, at the last moment, dropping to a formal curtsy with a rustle of skirts and petticoats. “I’m so very glad to see you, Your Imperial Majesty.”
“My dear girl.” She rallied a bit at the sight of Bertie’s child. Still, every word she spoke felt as painful as a glass shard caught in her throat. “What a lovely surprise.”
“Mama,” Sophie said in a patient voice, “I told you days ago that Maud had wired she was coming.”
Vicky shook her head. Had she? No matter. Now she’d have to put on a strong, if not entirely cheerful, front. Obviously, the Queen had sent the girl to check on her.
Victoria repeatedly had begged her to come home to recover from her loss “in the bosom of family” as she put it. But her mother, with her impressively substantial bosom, could be so very … well—there was no other way to put it—suffocating. She supposed her mother meant well, but the Queen felt compelled to control every detail of her nine children’s lives, and that had been a source of frustration and tension within the family for as long as Vicky could remember. No doubt that was why Bertie and the other boys in the family had been so very eager to leap into the military. But the girls, of course, had fewer chances for independence. It was either live out their lives with their mother or marry. And then their husbands had the final word on all important matters.
None of Victoria’s daughters had achieved true freedom and independence, not in Vicky’s opinion. With the possible exception of her sister Louise, who was so stubborn and impossibly Bohemian when among her artiste-friends. Louise seemed utterly unconcerned with class and mixed casually with commoners. A shocking state of affairs, as far as their mother was concerned. Frankly, Vicky thought her younger sister was taking her liberal view of society a trifle too far. But then, she had to admit, Louise at least seemed content with the life she’d chosen. Her paintings were good, but her sculptures were magnificent. Maybe she was even … happy?
Happiness was a concept Vicky wasn’t sure she understood.
Vicky roused herself from grim thoughts and looked up at the two young women standing before her. So innocent, yet … on the treacherous cusp of adulthood.
“Well, you must be tired from your journey, Maud. Why don’t you get settled in. Sophie will show you around so you won’t get lost. You’ve brought your chaperone and maid with you, have you?” Maud nodded solemnly. “Good, then. They’ll unpack you. We’ll dine at eight o’clock, just family. You girls may chat or play cards until then.Tomorrow we’ll arrange a tour of the city and other entertainments for the duration of your stay with us.”
Sophie clasped her mother’s arm with both hands as if to physically capture her wandering attention. “Mama, that’s not why she came.”
“Oh? Why did you come, Maud dear?” She gave an inward sigh, prepared for a lecture delivered in the Queen’s words through her niece’s lips. Strength to carry on! Duty and family are all that’s important! And of course, the usual reminders that she would never receive the same compassion from the people of Germany as she would back in England, where she’d spent her childhood. Thus she should return to her birth country to be swaddled in the protective arms of her family. As if that will bring back my husband or my crown.
“We need you to come to London immediately, Aunt Vicky,” Maud burst out in her habitually dramatic fashion, eyes bright.
Despite the dark days she saw ahead, and her darker mood, a laugh escaped Vicky’s lips. “Oh, you need me, do you?” Preposterous! “A widowed, unseated empress is required in London. Tell me now—why do you need me?”
Maud looked at her—wide blue eyes suddenly stripped of all innocence, all playfulness. “Why? Because of the murders,” she said.
Bio: Mary Hart Perry (aka Kathryn Johnson)
Mary Hart Perry grew up in New England and now lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and two feline writing partners, Tempest and Miranda. She’s the author of over 40 novels published by major U.S. and foreign publishers. She writes historical fiction as Mary Hart Perry and contemporary romantic thrillers under her own name, Kathryn Johnson. She also teaches fiction-writing workshops for The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Her popular 8-week course, The Extreme Novelist, supports and encourages class members through a full first draft of their novels. In 2008, she founded Write by You, a writer’s mentoring service, to aid individual authors in reaching their publication goals. She has been nominated for the prestigious Agatha Christy Award, and won the Heart of Excellence and Bookseller’s Best Awards (sponsored by the Romance Writers of America). Her works in progress include Victorian thrillers inspired by the lives of Queen Victoria’s daughters, and a new contemporary romantic-suspense series scheduled for release in 2014-15. Kathryn is a member of the Author’s Guild, Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Novelists Inc, and the Historical Novel Society.
Contact: Mary@MaryHart Perry.com, or Kathryn@WriteByYou.com
Twitter: @Mary_Hart_Perry or @KathrynKJohnson