The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace Page 8

After all, why buy a woman flowers when he’d already bought her? That type of thinking was clearly up Rommell’s alley.

Garrett smiled tightly. “Perhaps you could see fit to furnishing me with a list of those who might wish you harm.” A way to placate his lordship and see to it that all leads were pursued.

Rommell obviously thought he was the centre of his own little world, but some gut instinct made Garrett wonder. There was more to this than a petty squabble between blue bloods, and although it wasn’t entirely unknown for this kind of thing to occur in the Echelon, it would certainly be frowned upon. Nelly might only be human, but most blue blood lords kept to strict societal rules dictating which type of women were to be thralls - those debutantes that made thrall contracts with lords, exchanging their blood rights for protection, clothing and jewellery - and those that the blue bloods could parade around on a leash as a blood slave. A slave had no rights, but most of those young women were sold from Newgate or other lowly establishments, upon committing a crime. Only rarely were they kidnapped off the streets, or out of a theatre.

That would be somewhat beyond the pale. And Nelly was too well known for her to be paraded around as a blood-slave.

“And if she doesn’t return?” he asked.

“Mistresses come, then they go,” Rommell replied. “You know how it is.” He was watching Miss Radcliffe again, barely paying attention to Garrett.

“Not really. I don’t need to pay for my women.”

The insult was lost on the bastard. Rommell smiled. “Or perhaps you can’t afford them, hmm?” He flicked at a piece of lint on his sleeve. “I imagine circumstances are rather straitened as a Nighthawk.”

“I make do.” It was none of the bastard’s business about Garrett’s relationships with women. Any of them. And he despised the way Rommell obviously thought them interchangeable. Garrett liked women. He was still friendly with the majority of his ex-paramours, and found them mostly interesting and quite witty.

He simply hadn’t found the right one yet. Someone who caught his breath, and made him forget every other young woman he’d ever met.

And speaking of young ladies... Garrett checked his pocket watch. Three O’clock, and no sign of Perry. He glanced at the stage, where Miss Radcliffe was discussing her cue with the director. Indecision gripped him. Stay here to keep an eye on the actress who’d received an interesting letter, or go after Perry?

She hated being coddled, and she was frighteningly proficient when she needed to be, but that didn’t make it any easier to wait for her. If something had happened to her...

Rommell made the decision easier. The way he was watching poor Miss Radcliffe was practically proprietary. It made him feel ill to watch.

“If you’ll excuse me,” he said to Rommell. Miss Radcliffe was safe for the moment, with so many eyes upon her.

And Perry - practical, punctual Perry - was late.

Perry balanced on the table she’d dragged under the trapdoor, and concentrated on slipping the thin metal file she’d found below, between the crack in the trapdoor. It was frustrating work trying to unlatch the lock from this angle, and her lantern was rapidly burning down.

The bell above rang, and she froze as footsteps entered the shop.

Lovecraft? Or someone else?

Perry slid the file back down silently, trying not to betray her presence. Then the unmistakable scent of Garrett’s cologne caught her attention.

Her shoulders slumped. Thank goodness. Reaching up, she hammered on the floor. “I’m down here!”

A snort sounded. “Looks like I am rescuing you, after all. What shall you owe me for this, hmm?”

“I shall not punch you in the chest when you let me out,” she promised, with a faint growl at the end of her words.

“Tempting... But I think you owe me more than that.”

Perry pressed her hand against the timber beams, and grimaced. “What do you want?”

“The paperwork on this case is yours,” he said smugly. “All of it.”

Of all the rotten... Perry glared up through the floor. She despised paperwork. Most of the time Garrett took care of it when her perfunctory notes didn’t meet with Lynch’s approval. “I’ll oil your guns,” she suggested, instead.

“As well as the paperwork? That’s considerably generous of you.”


“Is that a promise?”

Silence. She thumped the trapdoor. “Yes. Fine. It’s a promise. Get me the hell out of here.”

The lock snicked and light flooded in, highlighting Garrett’s broad shoulders, and devastatingly handsome smile. He rested one hand on his knee and reached out the other to her. “Well, this looks like an interesting story. Care to tell?”

Grabbing hold of his hand, she hopped up lightly, and he used his considerable strength to haul her out into the shop. Landing on her tiptoes left her somewhat unbalanced and she slammed a palm into his chest to keep herself from tumbling into his arms. There’d be none of that nonsense.

Though she felt heat spilling through her cheeks.

She’d always been aware of him as a man, but it was only recently - since the start of the case - that she’d begun to realize that perhaps it wasn’t only the temptation to watch him, that she would have to guard. It was troubling, this... this sense of jealousy over a woman who’d caught his eye. More troubling to realize that she’d been feeling this way for a lot longer than she’d been consciously aware of.

“Well, I found who placed the pennies on Hobbs’ eyes.” She hurriedly explained about the meeting with Lovecraft, trying to ignore her feelings. “Hobbs and Nelly have known each other quite a long time.”

“Nobody seems to know her true name,” Garrett replied. “I’ve been asking around. As far as the theatre is aware, Nelly’s her stage name, but it’s also the only one they know her by. So no use trying to track where she came from before she joined up a year or so ago, damn it.”

“We’ll see if we can track Hobbs’ people then. There might be some relation between them. Or perhaps he was her beau?”

Garrett grimaced. “Actually, I believe that honor belongs to Lord Rommell. Or at least, he was paying her to be his mistress.”

“Really?” Of all the people for Nelly to accept... Perry screwed up her nose. “Come on. There’s a cryptograph downstairs I want Fitz to have a look at, and Hobbs’ ledgers. Maybe there shall be some mention of Nelly there, once we’ve decoded them. You can help me with some of the heavy lifting.” Tapping his biceps, she added, “It is what you’re good for, isn’t it?”

“I also think occasionally,” Garrett replied, lowering himself through the trapdoor. “You stay up here, and I’ll pass up what you need. No point both us getting locked below if your handsome friend happens to return.”

“True.” Perry’s smile died as he vanished through the trapdoor. She was feeling a little breathless again, and somewhat weary of trying to keep a smile on her face when inside she felt like a tumultuous mess when he was around.

What in blazes was she going to do about this?


APPLAUSE ERUPTED through the theatre as the actors took their bows.

Garrett idly scanned the crowd.

The play’s first night had been a smashing success. Though both he and Perry had been in attendance - just in case - there’d been nothing to indicate anyone taking an unnatural interest in Miss Radcliffe. Rommell had reigned supreme, up in the boxes, and the director and his staff had rushed about like a stirred anthill.

“What do you think about that?” Perry murmured, her eyes locked on something up in the boxes.

Rommell’s box, to be precise. The theatre was emptying as people streamed toward the exits, but several other aristocrats had joined Rommell. He appeared to be in a heated argument with one of them, stabbing a finger in the man’s face and snarling.


“I’ll see if I can get closer,” he murmured, and Perry nodded.

She didn’t like confronting members of the Echelon. Though he knew there were rumors of a female blue blood among the Nighthawks, both he and Lynch took care to keep her separated from those who might take offense at her gender. The Council of Dukes who ruled the city might not do anything about it... but one couldn’t take that risk. Being a rogue blue blood was a stiff hand to play in life, but Garrett knew that he wasn’t in danger of being executed, or used as an example. Perry however...

“Watch your back,” he warned.

“Always. I’ll keep an eye backstage.” She vanished into the crowd.

Servants in livery hovered outside the boxes as Garrett climbed the stairs. He paused outside the door to Rommell’s box, listening intently.

“ pompous fool. If I’d wanted to make a play for your mistress, then she’d be mine already.” A sneering kind of voice. “I’d certainly set her up in higher standards than this–”

“You call that theatre you own a higher standard?” This from Rommell. He laughed. “Please, Miss Tate would have laughed in your face.”

“Then why bother accusing me of stealing her away? If I’d wanted her, I’d have paraded her out of here right beneath your nose. You’d know all about it, Rommell.”

Rommell’s voice darkened. “I know you offered her a place at the Highcastle! I saw the note, don’t you dare–”

There was a scuffling sound, and then someone else cracked out: “Gentlemen, please.”

The door jerked open, and Garrett stepped behind it as someone stormed out of the box, a theatre cape swirling around his legs as he stalked toward the stairs. The man didn’t even bother to look behind him, and Garrett set out in pursuit.

Outside the theatre, the fellow paused on the steps, and tugged his cheroot case from his coat pocket as he gestured a servant to send for his carriage. A match flared as he lit the cheroot, and Garrett took his opportunity.

“My lord?”

The fellow looked up. His eyes were a pale, pale blue, and his skin ashen, a sign that revealed high craving virus levels. The longer one was afflicted with the craving virus, the paler their coloring became, until they hovered on the verge of the Fade: a moment in time when the craving virus finally overwhelmed a man and they became something more... Something entirely predatory, and driven only by the thirst for blood.

Vampires had torn apart the city on more than one occasion. The Echelon had since decreed that a blue blood’s CV levels were to be strictly monitored. The moment they reached seventy percent, the matter was to be reported to authorities as a risk. Any higher, and that blue blood faced execution, before they could begin to devolve into their vampiric state.

Whoever he was, Garrett suspected the fellow was staring the Fade in the eye.

“Garrett Reed, of the Nighthawks.” He flashed his identification and Nighthawk badge, gaslight gleaming off it. “A word, if I might?”

The lord froze, smoke curling around his nostrils as he slowly breathed out. “Harrison Cates, Lord Beckham. What do you want?”

“Miss Tate’s disappearance.” Garrett put the badge away. “You seemed to know something about it?”

Beckham exhaled smokily, almost a laugh. “Did Rommell set you upon me?”

“No, I overheard some of the conversation taking place upstairs.”

The man shrugged. “Like I told Rommell, if I’d wanted to take his mistress from him, I would have. With the coin the Veil is sucking from his pockets, I could have bought her thrice over.”

“You own another theatre?” Garrett jotted down the man’s words in his notebook.

“The Highcastle.” Pale eyes raked over the facade of the Veil, a twist curling his lips. “Somewhat higher class than this.”

Until then, Garrett hadn’t realized that a man existed who thought more highly of himself than Rommell did. “Yet, you attend the Veil tonight?”

This time, Beckham spread his hands. “Guilty as charged. I might have been stirring the pot with Rommell. I’ve no interest in his mistress - it’s not like she’s any connections or great wit - but it’s a devilish fun time making him think I do.”

“He spoke of a note...”

“Yes, I offered her employment, and certain other... benefits.” A smirk. “Then I had it delivered when I knew he was around.”

“You don’t by any chance send her flowers?”

“I don’t send any woman flowers. Not even my mother.” A light gleamed in Beckham’s eyes as if a thought struck. “Though, that would have been more convenient than attending so many lacklustre shows here, and Rommell would have suffered an apoplexy.” He clapped a hand on Garrett’s shoulder and laughed. “Thank you, my good fellow. That’s utter genius.”

There was nothing here to be gained. Garrett asked a couple more questions, then snapped his pocketbook shut. Beckham’s main interest seemed to belong to Rommell. Indeed, if asked, Garrett had little doubt the bastard would even know if Nelly were blonde or brunette. She was simply a checker piece in play between the two lordlings.

“That’s all, thank you, my lord,” Garrett said, seeing his lordship’s horseless steam-carriage wheel up to the curb. The gilded sigil on the door reminded him of a weasel - somewhat appropriate considering who it represented.

“Glad to be of help. Cheerio.” The lord waved behind him and hopped up into his awaiting carriage in considerably good humour.

Garrett turned away in disgust. Where the devil had Nelly disappeared to? Without a body, they had few leads, and every time he thought a new lead presented itself, it turned into a dead-end.

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