After years of physical, mental, and emotional abuse by her husband, Wren Coatsmith attempts to defend herself during one of her husband's drunken rages, accidentally killing him. With the help of her faithful housekeeper, she disposes of the body in the Thames, and reports him missing to the police. Ready to move on with her life, she's shocked and frightened when the police insist she identify his body in the morgue. A woman lying on a slab in the morgue reaches something deep inside Wren with her multitude of bruises and Wren suspects she too, is a victim of abuse.
Detective Sergeant Alfie Beckett isn't quite so convinced of Wren's innocence despite his attraction to the newly widowed Mrs. Coatsmith. When Wren insists his other case could be murder, Alfie fights his attraction and let's her help him investigate the woman's death.
Will Alfie and Wren find the out whether the woman was murdered or just the unfortunate death of a prostitute at her pimp's hand? Will Alfie learn of Wren's deception in the death of her own husband?
Alfie stood in his small office, putting on his smart wool overcoat.
“Are you off, Sir?” Constable Jones waited at the open door.
“Yes, Jones. It was nice to have a quiet Monday for a change, wasn’t it?”
“It was, Sir. No one murdered, anyway, but lots of complaints at the front desk.”
“You’ll survive.” Alfie grinned. “I’m looking forward to my dinner and an early night.”
The constable raised his eyebrows questioningly. “I will survive, Sir, but will you survive for another few minutes without your dinner?”
Alfie groaned. “What now?”
“There’s a woman, Sir, at the desk. She says her husband is missing.”
“Husbands are always going missing, and they always turn up a few days later, usually looking very shamefaced.”
“I know, Sir, but she seems like such a nice, respectable lady. I thought you could put her mind at rest, if you’d take the time. The ladies like you, Sir.”
“Do they?” Alfie asked, genuinely curious. If that was the case, why didn’t he have a wife by now?
“They do, Sir,” Jones confirmed.
Alfie sat down without removing his coat. “Go on then, Jones, send her in.”
When Constable Jones ushered the lady into his office, Alfie rose to his feet. He could not remain seated in the presence of this young but very dignified lady. He would not normally rise to his feet for anyone but his superior officers, but there was something about her that was out of the ordinary. This was not the usual sort of woman to report her husband missing by coming to the station. She was the kind who would send a servant with a note demanding he come to her.
“Why did you not send a servant out, Madam?” Alfie was instantly curious. “A policeman would have come to your door.”
“I have no servants, only a housekeeper,” she said quietly. Alfie indicated the chair across from him, wondering if he had managed to keep his surprise to himself. He watched while she sat down, folding her small gloved hands in her lap.
“I am Detective Sergeant Alfred Beckett,” he said, seating himself after she was settled. He paused longer than he should have to take in her delicate features, soft brown eyes, light brown hair with hints of gold highlighted by the fading sunlight coming through the window, and small rosebud mouth. She was little and lovely. “Your name, Madam?” He opened his notebook automatically and found a stub of pencil on his desk.
“Mrs. Coatsmith.” She looked directly into his eyes. “My husband Cedric has not returned home in four days.”
She looked surprised when Alfie asked, “Has he done this before, Madam?”
“No,” she answered after a moment.
Alfie made quick notes as he spoke. “You’ll find, Madam, that even the best of husbands will sometimes do something uncharacteristic.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” she replied.
Assessing her expression and movements, as he would with anyone he questioned, Alfie asked, “Why did you not come in before now? Four days is a long time.”
She looked at her hands, then back up at him, forcing a small smile. “I don’t know. This is all very unpleasant. I suppose I thought I had better give him a chance to return home of his own volition.”
“Very wise,” Alfie nodded. “But Madam, no one can force him to return. He might not be missing. He might have left you. Do you have any reason to suppose he has come to harm?”
“No,” she said firmly. “I can’t imagine that he has, Mr. Beckett.”
“And tell me, is your husband employed?”
A slight embarrassment colored her cheeks. Ladies of her class did not usually have husbands who worked. “Yes, he is. At the Bank of England—the branch in Piccadilly Circus.”
“What does he do there?” he asked.
“He’s a junior clerk.” She thrust her chin higher.
Alfie watched her carefully. Only a junior clerk? “I see. And have you been into the bank to see if he went to work today?”
Again she looked surprised. “Why would I do that? He has not returned home. He appears to be missing.”
“Just because he hasn’t come home doesn’t mean he didn’t go to work. He could be sleeping somewhere else. I suppose it would be embarrassing for a lady to have to enquire at her husband’s place of employment in order to locate him.”
Mrs. Coatsmith looked down at her hands.
Alfie winced. He had been indelicate, and he wished he could take it back. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “But until we know for certain he is missing we cannot assume anything.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“Have you been to enquire with his family? He could be staying with them. Where do they live?”
“They live in Limehouse,” she said quietly.
Alfie was beginning to see the picture. “And your own family? Would he have been in touch with them? Stopped in to visit perhaps?”
“No, that is very unlikely,” she said.
“Where do your parents live, Madam?” Alfie asked, knowing already that she came from the upper classes.
“And your present address?”
Looking him directly in the eyes, she said, “Number 6 Hobart Street.”
Alfie stared for a moment. The discrepancy between where she lived now and where she had grown up was enormous. Her speech and manner made it plain she was from a wealthy family, but he had not expected that she had married quite so far beneath her.