Chinatown! The name raised chilling images of dark alleys, fallen women, and nefarious men. Marta had heard terrifying stories about thugs and murderers and Chinese women sold into slavery. The idea of going there sent icicles of fear and excitement darting through her. It was the last place she wanted to visit, but she knew she must. There could well be a connection between that Chinese enclave and Missy. Where else would the hypnotist take his captured women? It was the one place where he could hide them from prying eyes and inquisitive neighbors. But to what purpose? Slavery? Prostitution? The thought of such fates appalled her. Would that have been her fate if she had succumbed to his charms? Could it be Missy’s?
“I want to go with you, Byron. I must.” She mustered her courage and looked him in the eye to show her determination not to be left behind. She had to see this place for herself.
Byron’s frown deepened to one of concern. She could see by the way he shifted his weight and looked away from her that he was struggling with her request. When he clamped his teeth on his pipe, she knew he had made up his mind. “I have never been there myself, Marta, but I hear it’s not a pretty place. However, I’m told it’s safe enough in the daytime, and we will be accompanied by a police officer. If it’s your wish to join me, I suppose there is no harm in it.”
Marta beamed him a smile and was pleased to see his face brighten, as well. He looked rather handsome when he smiled. This realization brought a flood of warmth to her own face and she quickly looked away. She was still confounded by her reactions to the man and had no idea how to deal with them. Her greatest fear was making a fool of herself. Byron Wagner moved in different circles than hers, and she did not expect him to show her any interest beyond her problem.
“Then it’s decided,” he said and rubbed his hands once more. “Let me call my carriage.”
Fifteen minutes later they were on the outskirts of Chinatown. They had arrived there in grand style. Byron’s carriage was appointed with leather seats and a family crest on the doors. Its springs were so pliant, she hardly felt the bumps in the uneven pavement. People stared at them as they passed as if they were royalty, which in a way she supposed they were. Well, not her, but certainly Byron. Yet when she observed him, she saw a man who seemed unaffected by his wealth. He wore a simple jacket and tie; his hair was just as tousled as the day she faced him at the club; and from the way he fiddled with his pipe, she had the distinct feeling he was ill at ease with all the attention. In fact, he acted a little shy, a characteristic she found quite endearing.
The Hypnotist - Excerpt
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