The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Menace Page 9

Unless they pursued the Hobbs angle instead. Perry’s photographic find today had offered more proof of a relationship of some sort there, than anything else. He was convinced the two cases were connected.

Now, he just had to discover what had happened to poor Nelly.

Garrett walked through Miss Radcliffe’s small three-room apartment and then turned and nodded at her. “It’s clear.”

Miss Radcliffe had been hovering in the doorway whilst he performed his search. “Thank you for walking me home,” she said, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear. “I truly do appreciate it.”

“Part of the job,” Garrett replied with the type of insincere, professional smile that was easy to call up. Damn Perry, but he felt uncomfortable here, when he shouldn’t. She was the one who’d suggested he walk Miss Radcliffe home, and though he wasn’t doing anything wrong, he felt like he was.

All because of their argument.

“I’ll leave you to it, Miss Radcliffe,” he said. “If you need us, please send a note to the Guild. I’ve checked the locks - you should be safe tonight - but don’t hesitate to call upon us, if something unnerves you.”

“Eliza,” she corrected, her hesitant gaze meeting his. “You may call me Eliza, if you wish. And thank you.”

Garrett turned toward the door, but she caught his sleeve. He glanced down. “Yes?”

Furious heat bloomed in her cheek and she clutched her violet colored coat tight to her front. “Thank you. Again.” Somewhat awkward and sweet. He knew what she was intending to do almost before she acted.

Miss Radcliffe reached up, and pressed her lips against his cheek. The faint scent of her perfume enveloped him and his body tensed, desire bubbling just beneath the surface. If he turned his face, he’d be able to brush his mouth against the trembling pulse that was visible in her throat, perhaps even nip her there. It aroused the darker side of his nature, the part of him that was purely a predator. A blue blood was always tempted by thoughts of blood and sex, though he’d found his own hungers manageable in the past.

But then, Perry had been pissing him off lately. He was already on edge, and strong emotions only exacerbated the hunger’s grip.

Thoughts of her acted like a dash of cold water to the face.

He withdrew, clearing his throat. “Miss Radcliffe–”

“Eliza,” she insisted, her dark eyes shining in the candlelight. So damned tempting...

Garrett shot her a rueful smile. “Perhaps after this is done, I might call you ‘Eliza’. Until then... it wouldn’t be very professional of me.”

Despite the toll the last two days had taken upon her, she drew back and nodded, understanding him perfectly. “And when this is done, Detective Reed?”

Their eyes met.

He shouldn’t. It would only reinforce Perry’s suspicions of his handling of this case, and that irritated him. Damn her to hell. He was handling this as professionally as he could. He was entitled to his own diversions, in his own time... and Miss Radcliffe was lovely, intelligent and intriguing.

He shouldn’t encourage this. He knew he shouldn’t. And yet he couldn’t help picturing Perry’s stern, disapproving face in his mind when he leaned closer and murmured, “Perhaps, when this is done, you might be available to show me more of the theatre. As an audience member, instead of actress?”

Perry was a spur he didn’t need, but a part of him wanted to blandly look her in the eye after the case was finished, and tell her that he intended to take Miss Radcliffe out to the theatre. To dare her to say anything about it.

Miss Radcliffe smiled sweetly. “Until then, Detective.”


“THERE HE IS,” Garrett murmured the next morning, nudging Perry’s arm and tipping his chin toward the young lad who was making his flower deliveries.

The young boy had adapted a pneumatic steam-powered rickshaw into a flower cart that he could ride, and as they watched, he swung his leg off the seat and wheeled it up onto the kerb outside the theatre. He tipped his cap to the stagehand waiting for the delivery, his grin faltering when he saw the pair of them step out of the shadows near the back alley.

“A word, if we might?” Garrett asked, with a smile to set the boy at ease.

“Aye, what can I help you with?”

“You often deliver red roses for Miss Nelly Tate. Do you know who puts that order in?”

The lad scratched his head. “Pick ‘em up from Welham’s Florist. You’d have to ask him. He’s the one as takes the orders.”

Excellent. Garrett and Perry moved off, following the directions the boy gave. For the first time, Garrett felt as though they had a solid lead upon which to follow. Nelly received flowers all the time, but only two posies were sent to her regularly, which indicated someone – or two someone’s - with a particular interest in her.

Welham’s was set in the heart of the theatre district, where it did prime business. Flowers loomed and dripped from vases as they entered, and there was an air of sophistication and entitlement to the shop. Indeed, the man behind the counter examined them with a faintly arched brow as though wondering what they were doing there.

Garrett introduced them, flashing his credentials. “We’re curious about an order of red roses that is sent weekly to Miss Nelly Tate at the Veil Theatre. Or more particularly, we’re interested in the name of the person sending them.”

Welham pressed his wire-rimmed spectacles up his nose. “A standing order for red roses? Yes, I know the one. A Mr. Hobbs, I believe. Once a week the order is to go through.”

“Hobbs?” Perry blurted. “James Sterling Hobbs?”

Welham looked surprised. “Yes, that’s the one.”

Roses weren’t cheap, but then, they already knew that Hobbs was making a small fortune from his side business.

“And is there a frequent order for peonies?” Garrett asked.

Mr. Welham shook his head. “Goodness, no. That’s the sort of thing you can buy in Covent Garden.”

Thanking Mr. Welham for his time, they turned toward the door. The bell rang as it shut behind them.

“Who sends the peonies then?” Perry asked, as soon as they were alone. “I felt certain they must have come from Hobbs. One of the stagehands seemed to think she was terribly excited to receive them. The roses however... Nelly kept them, but she didn’t seem to make as large a fuss over them.”

There went their lead. A dead end, like all the others. Garrett swore under his breath. “Rommell and Hobbs were both interested in her, for their own reasons. So was Lord Beckham, but he sent no flowers... I feel like we’re missing something.”

“You think there’s someone else involved?”


“We need to know what the connection is between Nelly and Hobbs,” Perry said, “And who sent her the peonies.”

“Back to the theatre?” he suggested. “We should see how Eliza is faring.”


A slip of the tongue. Garrett met her gaze, daring her to comment. “Miss Radcliffe.”

Perry’s gaze drifted away. Sometimes that was worse than if she’d commented, for he had no idea what she was thinking at the moment. Muscles bunched in his gut in expectation, but the moment stretched out, and still she said nothing. “Cat got your tongue?” he asked.

Cool gray eyes locked on his. “No,” she said coolly. “The theatre it is.”

And that told him nothing at all, either, damn her.

Garrett had gone in search of the stagehand who’d originally commented on the significance of the peonies, leaving her to deal with Miss Radcliffe.

Or Eliza. Perry hadn’t missed the significance of that little slip of the tongue. What had he meant by it? What had happened last night?

Don’t, she told herself severely. She’d already made a muck of things. Time to focus on the case, and not on what had occurred between her partner and the beautiful actress, in the privacy of the woman’s apartment.

No sign of Miss Radcliffe in her dressing rooms. Perry withdrew from the room with a frown–

“There you are!” Someone called.

She looked up as one of the stagehands bore down upon her, then glanced behind her. There was no one there, which meant he must be referring to herself. “Can I help you?” Recollection began to dawn; she’d begun to place names and faces here. “It’s Arthur Millington, isn’t it?” One of the stagehands.

“Aye. A man tried to drag Miss Radcliffe into a carriage not ten minutes ago,” the man declared. “Right off the street!”

“Miss Radcliffe? Is she all right?”

“Shaken up and scared, but she ain’t injured if that be what you’re asking.”

Good God. “Where is she?”

Millington gestured toward the stage. “Lord Rommell’s with her. Saved her from the ruffian, thank the devil.”

The sound of raised voices caught her ear as she hurried toward the stage. A pair of figures materialised; Miss Radcliffe and Lord Rommell, deep in quarrel at the side of the stage.

“–not to see that Nighthawk again,” Rommell snapped, then his voice changed to a soft cajolement. “I can keep you safe, Eliza. There’s no need to fear another assault, when I can have a man guarding your door during the day.”

“And what of my nights?” Miss Radcliffe stammered.

Rommell lifted a hand to her cheek, his face tightening when she subtly withdrew. “I’m certain we can come to some sort of arrangement there too.”

“I–I–” Miss Radcliffe colored up, as if realizing she’d walked into a trap. “I spoke in haste. I’m certain that I’ll be quite safe at home. My door has a sturdy lock upon it.”

Something ugly flickered across his expression. “Hopefully, it’s sturdy enough.” He tipped his head to her. “Don’t wait too long to consider my offer. You don’t want to see it withdrawn.”

Rommell stalked in the other direction, his back stiff, and Miss Radcliffe watched him go. When he vanished, she let out a tiny, quivering sigh, and whispered, “When hell freezes over, my lord.” The moment she turned, she caught sight of Perry, her breath catching. “Detective.” A fleeting glimpse of fear darkened her expression. “I didn’t realize you were standing there.”

Sympathy was a brutal crush in Perry’s chest. Perhaps both she and Miss Radcliffe had more in common than she’d thought. She too had been at the mercy of a powerful lord once, though in entirely different circumstances.

But that sense of being alone, trying to deal with consequences you couldn’t quite escape, and knowing that no one could help you... Oh, yes, Perry knew what that felt like.

“Here,” Perry murmured, tugging a handkerchief out of her pocket, and presenting it to Miss Radcliffe.

“I’m so sorry.” Miss Radcliffe dabbed at her eyes, a false, watery smile painted on her lips. “That was most unbecoming of me. I’m sorry you had to hear me say such a thing.”

“Yes, well, it echoed my own thoughts somewhat.” The dark stir of the craving virus lifted its head within her. For a moment Perry had a thoroughly enjoyable image of beating the claret out of Rommell. Heat flared behind her eyes, and Perry swallowed hard, knowing they’d just turned black. “Rommell ought to be given the strap. What kind of man uses such an opportunity to hunt a woman into his own bed?”

“One without so much as a hint of nobility in his nature,” Miss Radcliffe said, somewhat bitterly. Then she flushed, as though realising what she’d said.

“I’m not going to say anything,” Perry murmured. “You may speak plainly.”

Miss Radcliffe’s shoulders slumped, and she worried the handkerchief in her hands. “He makes me feel ill.”

“He makes me feel somewhat violent,” Perry admitted.

That won her a faint hint of a smile. Miss Radcliffe looked wistful. “You’re so brave,” she said. “I wish I could be as accomplished and independent as you. I should like to be able to stand up to men with impunity.”

Truly? Miss Radcliffe admired her? “It’s not quite as easy as you make it sound,” Perry replied carefully. “I hear that there was an incident outside, where someone tried to grab you?”

That washed away any hint of smile. Miss Radcliffe paled. “You don’t think it was the same man as... as kidnapped Nelly?”

“I couldn’t speculate. We don’t yet know if it was a man or woman who had anything to do with Nelly’s disappearance. Did you see who tried to grab you? How did you get free?”

“I was just trying to take some air in the alley behind the theatre, when someone grabbed me from behind,” Miss Radcliffe replied. “I’m sorry, but I was so distracted that I didn’t see anything - just a glimpse of his hands. He slammed one over my mouth so that I couldn’t protest. I was certain that something was going to happen to me - that I was going to end up with poor Nelly, so I bit him, and managed to scream when he let go. Ned Barham - one of the stagehands - ran to help, and the man fled.”

“Did Ned see what he looked like?”

Miss Radcliffe shook her head. “I don’t think so. The fellow cast me aside when he ran, and poor Ned had to help me up. He didn’t know what had happened, at first.”

First, the red roses... and now someone had tried to assault Miss Radcliffe, perhaps even steal her away too. “It sounds like someone has an unhealthy fascination with actresses.”

“Do you think they’ll try again?”

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