The Copper Horse: Fear – Prologue

December 1906

“I saw a body!” Petunia, the new head maid, wouldn’t stop shaking even when Mr. Fry gathered her in his arms for comfort.

“Was it the master?”

“Couldn’t tell!” She clutched her pale fingers in his apron, keeping her head down.

Jack looked at them from behind one of the marble horse statues guarding the entrance to Bluefinger’s mansion. A sharp cry tore through the open window and he cowered, much like the other servants. Hans, the master’s personal guard, had chased them all out minutes ago.

He pressed closer to the statue’s pedestal and put his arms around it as if it could protect him from the chill of the evening rain. He tried to ignore all the stares they got from passersby, closing up in his own guilt. He knew something like this would happen. He warned the master Chestnut couldn’t be controlled, but he wouldn’t listen. And now, one of them was most likely dead.

“It can’t be the master, we just heard him squeal!” Ollie, the cook’s assistant, spat into the muddy torrent beneath their feet. He was a tall, brawny man with scars on his face and a past Jack didn’t want to know. There was gossip that he’d broken out of prison, but Jack didn’t believe that.

The footman glared at Ollie and took his jacket off, walking over to Petunia. He made a move to put it around her shoulders, but judging from the deep line that formed between his brows, it must have occurred to him that they were all drenched to the bone and the garment wouldn’t do her any good.

“How d’ya know?” asked the scullery maid, quickly fishing out a copper flask from beneath her jacket and taking a mouthful. Her wrinkled face tensed in apprehension.

“Hans would never let a horse hurt Master Erik. That’s what he’s paid for.” Mr. Fry shrugged, and Jack shivered into the cold stone. He couldn’t take the wait! He didn’t want the master hurt, but Chestnut didn’t deserve cruel punishment either, even if he was the most stubborn stallion Bluefinger had ever had.

With a temper like his, beauty had to be the only reason Master Erik hadn’t gotten rid of Chestnut yet. Everyone was bound to fall under the exotic stallion’s spell, and Jack was no exception. Taking care of him had been pure pleasure. He spent hours braiding the long dark hair, massaging and oiling up his whole muscular body, preparing it for the evening feast. Most of the other servants envied him this privilege. The master would rarely let anyone else touch his pet.

A sudden roar made him jump. It sounded as if someone was being skinned alive.

“What’s happening?” Petunia stood on tiptoes to look above Mr. Fry’s shoulder. Before anyone could voice their suspicion, the double door swung open to reveal Hans, the master’s bodyguard, who rarely even spoke to any of the other servants.

“Go fetch a medic!” He bared his teeth and pointed at someone with his fat finger. “Missy!”

Petunia blinked, moving out of Mr. Fry’s embrace and turning to run along the street, muddy water staining her otherwise neat dress.

Jack’s heart made a painful jump when Hans turned around to enter the mansion. He took a step forward, leaving the safe haven of the marble statue. He had to know what had happened. “Can I help?”

“You keep your twig hands the fuck away!” Hans snarled, gesturing to two well-built servants to approach.

Jack bit his lower lip, feeling slapped in the face when one of the men shoved him out of the way. He was forced to stand back and be a passive onlooker. As if it didn’t concern him.

He remembered Chestnut’s smooth dark skin. It had taken a few weeks to get him to look that gorgeous. Clean, pampered, well fed. None of this tamed the stallion’s fiery temper though, and he sometimes unleashed the pent-up aggression on Jack. But even at those times, Jack was unable to resent him.

Jack’s head snapped up as the door opened again. The servants were carrying something… someone covered with a black sheet. The heavy rain immediately made the cloth stick to the brawny body beneath it, cognac-colored limbs dangling bonelessly in mid-air.

A broken sob tore out of Jack’s chest and he had to clutch at the statue to keep from falling to his knees.

This couldn’t be happening. Not like this.

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