Home > The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes
Author: Cat Sebastian




Rob Brooks had not survived to the age of five and twenty without having mastered the art of escape.

He had been arrested heaven only knew how many times and convicted rather more often than he cared to admit. He had been charged with robbery (true), burglary (false), smuggling (true, but he hadn’t known what was in those barrels), counterfeiting (false), and horse theft (he had done that horse a favor). By the age of five and twenty he had visited so many of His Majesty’s establishments that if any publisher wished to commission a travelers’ guide to the prisons of Surrey, Oxfordshire, and Buckinghamshire, they could seek no author more qualified than Rob. On one memorable occasion, he progressed so far as to make the acquaintance of the hangman. He had been shot, stabbed, whipped, cudgeled, and thrown overboard.

And yet: here he was, quite thoroughly and unmistakably alive, not to mention intact and in the pink of health. He knew he was impulsive, maybe even reckless, and that this lack of caution had made his biography nothing but a string of narrowly avoided disasters.

The fact was that he had made something of a career out of close calls and near-run things. When people talked about Rob—which was to say Gladhand Jack, the nom de guerre he and his friend used when liberating coin from rich men’s purses—they spoke of his escapes as much as his triumphs. He escaped, evaded, and wriggled out; he bribed, cajoled, and charmed.

It boiled down to this: people liked Rob and they wanted to help him. As luck would have it, Rob liked them right back and wished to return the favor. The world, as far as Rob could tell, was filled with people who were simply waiting for the chance to participate in an adventure, and Rob was willing to furnish them with precisely that. This transformed the difficulty of sneaking lockpicks, rasps, and files into prisons from the merely transactional and uninspiring business of bribery into a jolly time for everyone concerned. Everybody went home feeling good about themselves and their fellow man.

That was why it was especially galling that, try as he might, Rob could not see a way out of his current predicament. There was nobody to charm, nobody to bribe. No quantity of lockpicks, no number of rasps cunningly baked into cakes or sewn into cloaks could undo the trouble he was in. The sorry truth of it was that his mother—his beloved, inscrutable, maddening mother—had seen fit to marry the eldest son of a duke some months before Rob’s arrival into the world. What could possibly have been going through the minds of his mother, the piece of aristocratic vermin she took to the altar, the priest, the witnesses, or anyone else who allowed this catastrophe of a marriage to take place, Rob could not guess and had given up trying to understand.

Upon learning of this marriage the previous year, Rob spent a month in the comforting embrace of a gin bottle, then got down to the familiar business of attempting to wriggle out of this mess. He wanted to inherit a dukedom about as much as he wished to further his acquaintance with the hangman. He had gone directly to the godforsaken church in Boulogne where this lunatic marriage had taken place, only to find a parish populated by the most intractably honest and dull citizens he could have conjured up in his worst nightmares. Nobody there was in the least bribable, and perhaps Rob’s charm didn’t translate into French, because when he attempted to steal the parish register, the townspeople did not prove to be terribly understanding about the matter. On the whole, he preferred English prisons.

This left him with few options. London was filled to the very brim with people who would identify him as his mother’s son and who would prove depressingly glad to see a title and fortune inflicted on him.

After dedicating one’s life to creating mischief for his betters, Rob would be the worst kind of hypocrite if he found a place among that very group he had spent years robbing, cheating, and otherwise tormenting. It would be sadly unmotivating for the criminal classes to discover that their figurehead was one of the enemies. It would have the effect of a reverse Agincourt speech. The entire city would lay down their arms—or lockpicks, daggers, and coin clippers—and become honest citizens. It would end with decent young troublemakers becoming ardent monarchists and Rob simply couldn’t let that happen. He had to be responsible, for the children if nothing else.

This left him with blackmail. If he couldn’t erase all evidence of his mother’s marriage, he could persuade his mother’s husband—now the Duke of Clare, may the pox take him—to pay Rob handsomely to keep his secret. The duke, after all, had a son—Percy, Lord Holland, the worst sort of coxcomb—who the world thought was legitimate; surely the duke would pay through the nose to ensure his son’s inheritance and protect his family from scandal, not to mention prevent infamous commoners from moving up in the world. This would be a happy arrangement for everybody concerned.

Rob supposed he could go to the duke in the manner of a beneficent fairy godmother and simply offer to forget what his mother had told him, but—given what he knew of the Duke of Clare—this would likely result in his prompt murder. Besides, he hated the Duke of Clare even more than any run-of-the-mill aristocrat and was rather looking forward to emptying the duke’s purse and putting its contents to good use.

It was a good plan. A few anonymous letters, an appropriately mysterious location where he would collect his payment, and he’d go on his merry way.

But then he saw the duke’s new wife: much too young for him, with disapproving black eyebrows and an obviously pregnant belly.

And so he did what anyone would do, or at least anyone with a long-standing habit of making terrible choices—he addressed his correspondence to the lady herself. She deserved to know the truth about the man she believed to be her husband. She deserved to choose whether to present him with information that might make him extremely difficult to live with. If the duke were as bad as Rob suspected, then he didn’t like to think about what might become of a woman who found herself in possession of such a dangerous secret. He didn’t like to think about what might become of a child who was revealed to be illegitimate. Perhaps it would be in everybody’s best interest to get this business settled without the duke ever finding out. Surely, the duchess could raise a bit of money on her own.

He wrote the letter. “Dear Madam,” he began—polite, but not ingratiating—“As much as one hates to be the bearer of bad news, I regret to inform you . . .” It should have ended with that letter, and indeed would have done if he had been halfway reasonable. But among all the acts of which Rob had rightly and wrongly been accused, nobody had ever accused him of making reasonable choices in matters of the heart.

And yet, nearly three months later, he still thought it was a sufficiently good plan until he tasted the laudanum in his beer and recognized the woman across the table.






October 1751

Ten Weeks Before the Incident


Dear Madam,

As much as one hates to be the bearer of bad news, I regret to inform you that the man you believe to be your husband contracted a valid marriage in 1725 to a woman who still lives. This marriage was duly recorded in the parish register of the Église du Sacré-Couer, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. I have myself seen both the parish record and the woman. You will, of course, note that this renders invalid not only his marriage to you, but also his marriage to Lord Holland’s mother.

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