Rebekah Lee Jenkins

Taking Til

Difficult doctor with a dangerous past.
Hard-as-nails detective hunting for truth.
International ring of criminals selling girls.

When Doctor Til Stone clawed her way out of the London slums in 1881, she betrayed members of the Bristol Butchers, making powerful enemies with long memories.

When the head of the Bristol Butcher gang is murdered and thirteen girls are stolen, Detective Asher Grayson has one suspect – Doctor Til Stone.

As Grayson pieces the crimes together, he forces Til to make a devastating choice – turn her back on the stolen girls and abandon her career, or face the Bristol Butchers and battle them in the streets that nearly destroyed her.

In This Series...

Chapter 1

September 10, 1906, London, England

At times, Doctor Til Stone stared into the face of death and defeated it. Other times, like today, she welcomed death as an old friend. The young woman, dropped on the front step of her clinic in the night, was a victim of white slavery. She had bled to death from the complications of a procured miscarriage. 

In the battle against white slavery—they were losing.

Til’s heart ached at the extent of the damage. Frustration and defeat pulsed through her. Her lips thinned at the thought of filling in forms and bringing this to the attention of the police. She could raise a hue and cry about this, fill in paperwork to bring this travesty to light until her arms fell off, and it would do no good.

The girls had no chastity—no worth in the eyes of the court.

Lately, Scotland Yard had indicated they suspected Til was responsible for the crimes— life in prison if they could prove it.

“This is the second one in two months.” Shannon’s jaw clenched.

“The police do nothing.” Til’s chest tightened as murky memories surrounding her own brush with white slavery surfaced, dragging up old terrors with it. The only thing to protect her that night had been Malcolm’s fists. 

Sitting down at her desk, Til rubbed between her eyes to alleviate some tension.

Shannon sat down across from her. “Is someone trying to implicate us in these crimes?”

“I believe so.”

Shannon shook her head, “Who?”

“I wish I knew for sure. I have a lot of enemies, Shann.” Fear tightened Til’s throat as she thought about who might be behind these murders and who might hate her enough to implicate her and her clinic.

Pouring brandy into her cold tea so they could share it was an old custom. Til took a sip and then handed her the teacup.

 “Cole will go mad; you here working on a murdered prostitute.” Fear and contempt sharpened Til’s tone.

 “I can handle Cole.” Shannon shot a warning look at Til.

Til knew this look.  She had seen it often. A look that said she was not about to listen to any rants about her husband. Shannon had come back from Canada different. Tough. Equal. The gleam in her eye assured Til that she was a happily married woman who only knew happiness and love with Cole McDougall.

Maybe you can handle him for now, but what about when he demands more than you are willing to give? What about when he wants you to bend to his will? He will abuse his authority at some point. Every man does.

 Til scrutinised Shannon for any evidence that she wasn’t blissfully married. No matter how hard she looked, she failed to find anything wrong between Cole and Shannon. Recently, there was a glow about Shannon that made Til suspicious.

“Are you pregnant?” Til demanded.

“Til!” Shannon gasped. “You are outrageous!”

“Yes or no?”

“No, and I’ll remind you we have an agreement. Mutual respect, remember? If I chose to have a child with Cole, I do not need your permission to do so.” Shannon’s eyes hardened.

“Have you decided about Brandon?” Til refused to be put in her place and pressed forward with her interrogation.

Shannon crossed her arms over her chest. “A position with Doctor White in Brandon, Manitoba, to run my own wing, a wing where I deal only with women’s health, is a gift. I would be foolish to turn it down.”

Til stiffened.

“I love you, I love what you have done for me, Til. We do want a family and we would prefer to raise them in Canada; new land, lots of cousins. You can understand that, can’t you?” Shannon’s eyes searched Til’s for understanding. “These opportunities to run new wings of hospitals don’t come around twice.”

“If you get pregnant, you’re vulnerable.” Til tried and failed to take the fear out of her voice. “I raised you to never be vulnerable.”

“I am with Cole,” Shannon said simply. “Where a pregnancy and a baby may make me vulnerable, he will never let harm come to me.”

“How do you know that?” Til leapt to her feet, turned her back on Shannon, and paced to the window. “I raised you to be strong and confident and...” Til turned to face her.

“You raised me,” Shannon interrupted, “to have an utter distrust for men.” Shannon stood and faced Til over her desk. “Malcolm raised me too and he is lovely. He taught me all that is good in men, and I found a man who loves and respects me. I wish you would see that. Cole could no more hurt me than he could fly to the moon. It’s been two years. We’re more in love now than ever.”

“Love!” Til threw her hands in the air. “That’s what all these women say.  Queued up, wanting us to patch them up.”

“Stop.” Shannon shook her head. “Please, stop. I am done with this conversation. Babies and Brandon— we’ll let you know.”

Til pressed her hand to her heart at the thought of Shannon leaving.

“What happened to us?” Til asked Shannon.

“I grew up and you’ve had a two year temper tantrum about it.” A grin tugged at Shannon’s lip.

Til failed to stifle a grin. In moments, both women laughed out loud at the truth of that statement.

Finally, they stopped laughing, sipped more brandy and cold tea. Til placed her hand on her stomach, unsettled again.

“Are you all right?” Shannon’s eyes swept over her aunt.

“My stomach is off and no wonder!” Til frowned. “Facing dead prostitutes first thing in the morning would put anyone off.”

 “I disagree with that diagnosis.” Shannon sipped tea. “When were you planning to tell me you’re pregnant, Til?”

Til looked at Shannon as if she had peeled off her blouse.

“What?” Til’s stomach clenched. She pressed her hand to her mouth.

“Til. I know you, and I know a pregnant woman when I see one.” Shannon’s smile broke across her face like sunshine on a cloudy day.

Blood draining from her face, Til grabbed the calendar on her desk and started calculating. Her head snapped up and she looked at Shannon.

“I’m late,” Til gasped. “I was so busy recruiting these new doctors I lost track of time! I thought I had just gone off eggs.”

 “We may need more doctors to step in while you are indisposed.”

“Indisposed!” Til harrumphed. “I’ve never been indisposed in my life.”

“You are pregnant, Til.” Shannon smiled slyly. “This baby will change your life. Furthermore, you are Malcolm’s wife. He will expect to have some input in how much you work, now that you are carrying his child.”

“Input!” Til howled. “His child! What are you talking about? It is my body. I have to work.” Til’s breath caught in sheer terror. The thought of being dependent and then let down, returning to the slums, was her greatest fear. “You’ve taken leave of your senses.”

“Never mind all that. You’re going to be a mother.” Shannon’s smile of delight beamed at Til.

Icy fear raced over her as she thought about the whole ramification of this.

Forty! Pregnant!

Til knew she would need a team of servants, no, not a team —an army. Malcolm would be delighted, of course, but marriage and a child was his dream, not hers. Thoughts of how her life would change, of the vulnerability of being pregnant, bearing that child, and relying on Malcolm to make sure they had what they needed while she was ‘indisposed’ flicked across her face as she looked at Shannon.

“Til, you look as though you just bit into a lemon! This is good news! Congratulations! I wish you and Malcolm every happiness. You will be the worst mother in the world, but Malcolm will make up for it,” Shannon teased her and moved to hug her aunt. “Remember Til, this baby won’t be old enough to sign contracts for at least ten years. Of course, if you have a boy, he won’t need to.”

Til’s mouth opened and then clamped shut. For the first time in this clinic she was speechless. “Don’t say anything please. Let me tell Malcolm. It’s so early I should wait.”

“Do not wait!” Shannon reprimanded her. “He’ll be delighted after all these years of waiting for you and this baby. I’m so thrilled! This is good news Til. I’m so happy for you.” Shannon beamed at her.

“Don’t get any ideas. You don’t need to follow suit,” Til snapped. “Don’t put your career on hold yet.”

“Til, you must learn to calm down and let things happen. I’ll have a baby if I want one.” Shannon patted her shoulder.

“Calm down! Let things happen!” Til sputtered in horror. “Thinking like that I would still be in the slums. I don’t let things happen, Shannon, I make things happen. I never want to hear those words from you again. Let things happen.” Til pointed her finger at Shannon, “Listen to me now, this is very important.  Cole doesn’t need to think he has a say about whether you have children or not.  It changes your life, not his.”

“I am pretty certain it would change both of our lives,” Shannon dared to correct Til.

Til wasn’t sure what to think of back-from-Canada Shannon. She had left timid and malleable. Now that she was home, licensed as a doctor and practicing medicine with her own qualifications, she often asserted herself and forced Til to look at life through new eyes.

Til disagreed with fervour.

“There is nothing to think about, Til. This is good news, and in our field, what we do here, we get precious little of it. I’m thrilled for you. Do you want a girl or a boy?” Shannon’s smile lit up the examination room.

“I don’t care. A girl of  course!” Til sat down heavily. She picked up the newspaper and started fanning herself. “I can’t even fathom this; honestly, I thought it couldn’t happen.”

Shannon patted her shoulder. “I’m thrilled. You and Malcolm need a baby. Your lives are too structured. This is the best news I’ve heard all day.”

“Don’t be daft,” Til huffed. “Everyone needs a structured life! Otherwise, it’s chaos. Come on. Back to work. Let’s get this sorted.” Til frowned as she double checked the calendar and then tossed it across the desk.

Two weeks late. How could I have missed that?

As the calendar dropped down beside the newspaper, Til’s eyebrows drew together with concern. On the front page, the headlines screamed—Nora Blackburn missing. 

God blind me, Nora Blackburn!  Not Madeline Blackburn’s niece! Oh, please no.

Til snatched the newspaper up off the desk. Her eyes raced over the article. East End… last seen on August 31st, 1906.

Crikey! She’s been missing for almost three weeks!

Hands trembling, she put down the newspaper.

“Are you all right?” Shannon’s eyebrows drew together in concern.

“Yes.” Til tried and failed to shake off the worry about Nora Blackburn.

“Who’s Nora Blackburn?” Shannon peered over Til’s shoulder.

“Lady Harper’s niece.” Til’s heart pounded in her throat.

This girl is no coincidence. This girl was sent for me. Only me…

“How awful! I must write to her at once.” Shannon’s brow furrowed worrying about her friend. “She must be frantic.”

“I’ll send a note as well.” Til forced the words past the knot of fear that strangled her.

The last Blackburn that was very nearly abducted... involved... stop! Don’t think of it. It’s in the past. It has to stay in the past.

Til straightened up and together they returned to the examination table and the poor, broken young woman who lay there. Shannon detailed the injuries while Til wrote them down.

“If you hadn’t taken me, Til, I wonder where I would have ended up,” Shannon murmured. She left her hand for the briefest of moments on the dead girl.

Til looked at her gorgeous niece and shuddered. Til knew exactly where she would have ended up and it made her sick that she had found only Shannon. Til lay awake at night wishing she could have saved her other siblings or their children. Her heart broke as she thought of her baby brother. Six months old the night she fled. 

What had happened to Jimmy? An orphanage?

“Maybe the police will care about this girl and investigate.” Shannon removed the girl’s skirt to survey more of the damage. “The letter ‘B’ is branded on her left hip, like the other ones,” Shannon said with the professional indifference of a doctor.

Til stopped writing, she moved to Shannon and looked at the brand for herself. Their eyes met and then they returned to the gruesome detailing of what this girl had endured.

“Can you think of who ‘B’ might be?” Shannon tilted her head to the side as she re-examined the brand. “Is this the work of the Bristol Butchers?”

“That would make the most sense.” Til scrambled to think of ways to protect Shannon. “From now on, you’ll have to have Cole escort you here. Until we know what this is all about. You’ll need his protection.”

“What about you?” Shannon’s eyes widened in alarm.

“I’ll talk to Malcolm and he’ll walk with me. We must be very careful, Shannon, no risks.” Fear pooled ice cold in the bottom of Til’s stomach.

“Is this personal somehow?” Shannon’s tone sharpened as she spoke, her head tilted to the side.

“There are things about my past, Shannon. Things I don’t speak of.” Til swallowed hard. Her eyes flicked over Shannon.

“Til, are you in danger?” Shannon’s voice escalated with fear.

“I’m not exactly sure,” Til lied smoothly.

Oh, Shannon! If I told you the whole story, it will look like I clawed to the top right over ‘B’.

 

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Excellent book! Well written, easy to read and kept my attention. I've read all 3 of this authors novels, and they are all excellent! I highly recommend this and the other 2 from Rebekah Lee Jenkins!

Amazon Reviewer