Boston Massachusetts, 1854
Shivering in the wind slicing across Long Wharf, Morgan Turner squinted up at Captain Montgomery’s counting room, which was, as promised, the last office in a long, tall brick building—last office, last hope.
A lump formed in her throat as she scanned the black windows. Did she dare break in? If she was arrested, the police might connect her to the husband she’d left dead on her bedroom floor. A vision of a black-hooded hangman rose in front of Morgan, his eyes gleaming death as he pulled a rope over her head, gloved hands securing it tightly against her windpipe. Her throat clenched. No, she could not risk it—
Another icy gust penetrated her filthy cloak and once-pristine blue satin gown. The tangy ocean air mixed with the pungent smell of wet wood, freezing her lungs. But could she bear another night such as the last, cowering in a damp alley, frightened by a roving gang of drunken men? If they found her—rape or hanging, which was worse?
The gang lived here, the hangman in Philadelphia.
Morgan slunk around to the back of the building where she found a shuttered window and an old, silvered board. Taking a deep breath, she strengthened her resolve. She could do this; how often had she and Amy laughed over similar escapades?
She shoved the board against the window. Wood splintered, glass tinkled, thankfully muffled by waves crashing against the wharf. Morgan stood on tiptoes and peered into the gaping hole. Silhouettes of furniture greeted her, sleeping witnesses to the profitably employed. Respectable, honest people.
Wincing at the ugly comparison to her own character, Morgan wrapped her hands around the windowsill and pulled. Her feet fought for purchase against the rough stone. A minute later she slid through the window and fell to the floor with an undignified thump, grateful for the layers of stiff crinoline petticoats that prevented shards of glass from cutting her. Pushing back her hood, Morgan rose and adjusted her itchy, blond wig. Her eyes fell upon a box of coal next to a big potbelly stove. Heat!
In a trice, she’d lit an oil lamp and the stove. While warming her frozen fingers, she surveyed the office. It was well appointed; Captain Montgomery appeared to have prospered since she’d last seen him. Not surprising. During her disastrous voyage across the Atlantic two years earlier, he’d calmly sailed them through a hurricane and brought them into port ahead of schedule, master not only of his vessel but of Poseidon himself. And still he’d found the time to offer her, a newly grieving widow, solace and assistance.
Rashly declined in favor of marriage to a man she scarcely knew.
Her heart lurched. A grieving widow then, she thought; the Wicked Widow of Philadelphia now. Her latest actions would surely revolt the soft-eyed but ever-so-proper captain.
Her eyes passed over a globe and a gold-framed painting of Boston Harbor, hanging behind a flat top desk of black walnut. At the corner of the desk sat a jar of gumdrops.
Gumdrops! Oh, oh, oh! Her hollow stomach jerked in excitement as she charged across the room.
She ripped off the top of the jar and shoved several in her mouth at once. Food, oh sweet, glorious food! Was there more? Sifting through the desk drawers, she discovered a tea box. A few minutes later, Morgan Turner, formerly Lady Morgan Reynolds of Westborough, widow of Richard Turner, and of Charles Weatherly, and of Bart Drumlin, sat down to a dinner of gumdrops and black tea.