The Strange Heart

By: Allyson Jeleyne

(Neill Brothers 1920s Romance Book 3)


England, 1927

Charles gagged on the revolver in his mouth. It tasted cold, hard, and sour. The unmistakeable tang of trench mud and gunpowder burned his tongue. His first reaction was to pull it out—some natural instinct of self-preservation working against him—yet he shoved it deeper, until the blunt end of the barrel bumped the back of his throat.

He had to cram the gun in as far as it could go. God help him if it slipped. He wanted to kill himself, not make things worse.

Frowning, he removed his old service revolver, wiping saliva on his trouser leg. There were other ways to shoot oneself, of course. He’d seen it done in France, and in the aftermath of peace. Charles pressed the warmed barrel to his throbbing temple. How he longed to blow his brains out. He’d dreamed of nothing else for weeks.

In his fantasies, he sat alone in his darkened room, with only the crackle of a fire burning in the grate. No footsteps. No voices. Only blessed silence. He’d have to be sober—the job called for a steady hand—but didn’t see the harm in a good meal and a glass of wine before. Perhaps roast beef and raspberry tart, washed down with the Château Mouton he’d been saving for just this sort of occasion.

Charles had planned it all, down to what clothes he intended to wear, and how he wished things handled after the funeral. He even knew the exact moment he would take his own life—the night of his thirtieth birthday. Ten years after his injury, because he couldn’t imagine suffering ten more years of headaches, seizures, and angry outbursts. For Charles, whom every waking day was agony, death would be sweet release.

Speaking of release…he remembered the one thing he would regret, the only thing he hadn’t managed to do in his thirty miserable years on this earth. Charles hated the idea of dying a virgin.

Before the war, he’d been much too young to think of sex and marriage. Afterward, both seemed out of the question. He could not leave his house, much less attend a dance, or even take a girl to the cinema. If, by some miracle, he found one on his doorstep, what woman would go to bed with a chap who pissed himself if he weren’t careful?

Then again, he’d arranged everything else, planned his suicide with military precision—why couldn’t he arrange a little something for himself? One last hurrah to send him to the afterlife with a smile on his lips.

He could have Wicks, his manservant, procure a girl. He’d pay well for her time and her discretion, but the details of the transaction were unimportant. He didn’t care where the whore came from, or what she looked like, so long as she was pretty enough to whet his appetite. She didn’t even have to be clean—a spot of V.D. wasn’t going to trouble a dead man.

Charles only wanted to feel a warm embrace on a cold night, and a hot body writhing beneath him. He wanted to kiss a girl. To squeeze, fondle, and taste what he’d only ever dreamed of. He’d also like to come somewhere other than his hand, just once, if he were being honest.

Tucking the revolver back into its drawer, he tidied his desk to hide all traces of his plan. No one could know about his suicide. Though they were only servants, the people who worked in his home seemed to care about him, and would surely try to save him.

To be stopped now, so close to liberation, would be the cruelest blow of all. He must keep his plotting a secret. Hide the gun, the will, and the letters he still had left to write.

He could tell Wicks the whore was for his birthday. It wasn’t an unreasonable request, and it wasn’t exactly a lie. Once he’d lost his virginity, Charles would spend his last day on Earth eating good food, loving on his dogs, and penning his suicide note. Then, he would bid his staff good-night, climb the stairs to his bedroom, and turn the lights out one final time. Until the gunshot popped, no one would be the wiser. By then, it would be too late.

He’d finally be free.


Agnes ducked the coal scuttle being chucked at her head. The pail hit the wall behind her, leaving a sooty dent in the rose-sprigged wallpaper.

“Careless girl,” Mrs. Priggins said. “You’ve left smudges all over my walls!”

“ ‘Smudges?’ What you call that, then?” Agnes pointed to the damage behind her.