BLOOD OF THE HEART
Nineteenth century Paris is the world centre of medical advancement; but when Isabel Knight, an ambitious, freshly-minted physician, arrives in the City of Lights, she fears her career is over before it has begun when she suddenly develops a debilitating fear of blood.
Desperate for a cure, Isabel decides to face her phobia head-on and accepts a mentorship in surgery offered by a mysterious benefactor who insists upon keeping his identity secret. But when her unorthodox tutelage begins, Isabel uncovers a terrible truth - not only is her mentor a sadistic, serial-killing French nobleman with a lust for the blood of street urchins, he is bent upon making her an apprentice of his dark art.
Now Isabel must face down her fear of blood, and face a troubled past her memory has tired to erase, to unmask the killer before he strikes again ... and before she is condemned to the guillotine for his crimes.
You can find Rachel on Twitter @RachelCWalsh or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
An excerpt from Blood of the Heart
Isabel followed the bobbing red beret through a maze of narrow streets, the boy’s loping pace only slowing when they turned down an alleyway shadowed either side by rotting tenements. Here and there a window stood open, as though just a moment ago a mother might have inched it up to call in her children from play. But there were no mothers. No children. Not even a solitary cat upon a doorstep.
A flutter of wings, and a raven launched from a tattered awning, gliding to the far end of the alley where a cloud of dust hung like fog. A gang of tear down men were hard at work, ants upon a carcass of a building. Of course. For the sake of his reputation, whatever the mentor intended for her must be done far from prying eyes. An abandoned street, slated for destruction, was perfect.
The boy stopped before a decrepit corner shop, faded red shutters slumping on rusted hinges, a grimy window with pitted stencilling announcing it to be “Hossard Boucherie.” She drew the mentor’s note from her pocket, checked that the address written upon it matched that of the shop - number 46, rue St Antoine - then felt inside the folds of the note for the key tucked inside.
“I presume this unlocks the door?”
The boy stood mute, an unreadable flatness to his expression, as though he’d carefully scoured away anything - the flicker of an eye, the set of his mouth - that might reveal his thoughts.
Who is your master? Isabel wondered for the hundredth time. What does he expect of me?
But the questions stuck in her throat, and the boy was off, loping as fast as his awkward gait allowed until his red beret disappeared from sight.
Isabel eyed the key in her palm for a long moment. Then, with a quick glance over either shoulder, she thrust it into the door's shiny new lock and stepped inside.
A grey gloom enveloped her. She closed her eyes, forcing her pupils to dilate so that when she looked again, the shapes around her took solid form. A long counter. An empty glass display cabinet. A set of scales. The faint smell of blood. Her senses were suddenly taut.
It is a butcher’s shop, she reminded herself sharply. It is only natural to smell blood.
Yet she was glad it was no stronger than a hint.
“Hello?" Her voice sounded thin and high, like a pauper's child asking for seconds when it knew the pot was empty. No one replied. The mentor was a man of his word, it seemed; she was not to meet him. Not yet.
At the end of the counter she spied something out of place - an ornate candelabra, thick twists of wrought iron for its stem, three branched arms upon which fat candles were spiked. A box of lucifers sat beside it and she fell upon the matches, her cold fingers failing to conjure a flame for several strikes before the candles finally sputtered to life.
Lifting the candelabra high she saw the shop had been cleared of everything, leaving only dust. She frowned. What was she meant to do? She peered into the cabinets. Leaned over the counter.
In the floor behind the counter was a trap door. It stood open, and in the flickering candle light she could make out a set of wooden steps descending into the darkness below.
Of course, there was nothing for it but to climb down.