The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 22

Blackhurst’s gaze widened. Jack took a lot of pleasure in the fear he saw there. He wasn’t proud of the pleasure, but he enjoyed it all the same. He enjoyed it so very much. “You understand me now, don’t you?”

The man nodded. Slowly, Jack released his hold on his neck and then reached for the door handle. “We’ll talk another time about your debts.”

“You bastard,” Blackhurst rasped as Jack stepped out of the steam carriage. “You’ll pay for this. You and your little whore. You’ll pay.”

Jack, standing on the sidewalk, said loud enough for passersby to hear, “It was lovely seeing you again, as well.” His gaze locked Blackhurst’s and he smiled—a cold smile, full of promise. There was their resemblance.

“Good night, Father.”

* * *

Emily wouldn’t let Finley go back in—not right away.

“It’s dangerous!” she insisted. “Dying and coming back takes a heavy toll on the body, Finley. You need to recover.”

“I need to be with Griffin.” And she needed to deal with Felix, although she had no idea how to do that.

Her friend sighed, and Finley was tempted to cuff her upside the head. If it were Sam in there, Emily wouldn’t be concerned about the possible ramifications either.

“Look,” Emily said in a gently annoyed tone, “I know you want him back. We all do. I know you’re thinking that if the situation was reversed I’d be hell-bent on going back for Sam, and you’re right. I would. But you would be the voice of reason, and you’d stop me from hurting myself.”

“Em, he’s in there—”

“With your father.” Emily obviously wasn’t in the mood to entertain her anxiety. “In a veritable fortress. He’s safe and he’s recovering. Ipsley is checking in on him every hour. If he needs us he’ll let us know. Meanwhile, you need to rest and reserve your strength for the séance. Bringing Griffin back to this realm is not going to be easy.”

“If he had his strength back he could leave on his own.”

“Is that what he told you?”

There was enough of an edge in Emily’s voice that Finley looked askance at her. “No. I just assumed he could.”

“You shouldn’t make assumptions like that.”

The tension between them was too much. Finley slapped her hand hard against the laboratory wall. “Are you having your monthly, or did I do something to upset you, because we haven’t had a conversation in which you haven’t been pissy with me in days!”

“Both,” her friend replied. “I have a headache and I’m terrified that I’m going to lose both Griffin and you, and you just keep harping on me that things aren’t good enough or fast enough, and you don’t seem to care that if I don’t do my job properly you could die! I don’t want to be the person who kills you. Can you wrap that great thick head of yours around that?”

Finley didn’t know what to say, so she grabbed her and hugged her instead. Emily hugged her back. “I’m sorry.”

Finley squeezed her tighter. “So am I.”

“You’re cuttin’ off me air, lass.”

“Oh!” Finley released her. “Sorry.”

Emily looked at her and grinned. She grinned back. Then, the grinning turned to chuckles. God, it felt good.

A few moments later she asked, “Em, what did you mean about me not making assumptions?”

Emily sighed, and fiddled with one of the ropes of her hair. “If he had the strength—if he were able to break free, he would do that. Ipsley told me that something felt off about Griffin’s aura.”

“Off how?”

“Did he look tired to you? A little different?”

“Yes. He’s been tortured and held prisoner.”

“He’s fading, Finley. At least, that’s what Ipsley says. He thinks Garibaldi has drained so much of Griffin’s Aetheric energy that Griffin is bound to him. That’s why he didn’t bother to chase you when you escaped. He knows Griffin’s not going anywhere, and I’d wager the scoundrel figures he’ll get you, too, and your da, if he waits long enough. He’s got plenty of time after all.”

Bloody hell. Finley braced her hand against the cool wall, bracing herself so she didn’t crumple to the floor. Just when she thought things were heading in their direction. Just when she thought this nightmare with Garibaldi might soon be over...

“Is he certain?”

Emily nodded, her expression a study in sympathy. “As much as he can be— Not like the lad’s had a lot of experience with this, but he said that Griffin seemed like a true ghost to him, unlike you who had a glow about you.”

“So how do we fix it?”

“No idea. It’s like Griffin’s lost a piece of himself. His soul.”

Finley clenched her jaw. Bloody hell, this was awful. Terrible. She wasn’t terribly smart, but even she could figure out that trying to bring Griffin back in that sort of state could end in tragedy. She would not cry. “Garibaldi’s not going to make it easy for us. He’ll use it against us.” She rubbed a hand over her face. She was so bloody tired. Dying was exhausting.

“Do you think Griffin knows?” Emily asked.

“Of course he does. Garibaldi probably told him exactly what he was doing as he did it.” And of course, he wouldn’t tell her, because he wouldn’t want to worry her. Oh! She could just slap him silly! He was going to hear about this the next time she saw him.

“I’m sorry, Fin. I didn’t want to upset you, but I couldn’t not tell you.”

“I know, and I appreciate that. I’m going to go polish up some fighting techniques and gather information about the Aether with your fellow. Let me know when I can go back in.”

“Just before the séance. We’ll be able to direct energy at Griffin using your father’s apparatus.”

“All that mucking about in the Aether is going to attract Garibaldi.”

Emily nodded. “Ipsley thinks forcing Garibaldi to come to us is our best chance of beating him and getting Griffin’s Aetheric aura back.”

“Let’s hope he’s right.” Finley walked toward the lift. With every step she said a little prayer—and she wasn’t much for God and such. She prayed for strength and she prayed for Griffin. She prayed for hope, and she prayed that it would be enough, but in her heart she was terrified of the truth.

They didn’t have a prayer at all.

* * *

The girls convened in Mila’s room when they all arrived home much later that night. Each and every one of them was wide-awake and anxious to discuss the evening’s events, especially those involving Mila.

“You were so good!” Marissa enthused. “No one would ever know you were new.”

“You’re one of us now,” Gina commented, patting Mila on the back as she offered her the bottle of wine they’d been passing around.

Mila shook her head at the bottle. “The last time I imbibed, I punched a hole in the ceiling.”

Gina passed the bottle onto Millie. “While the place could use some renovation, I’m certain the missus would appreciate your restraint.”

“I can’t believe you turned down Lord Blackhurst,” Henrietta blurted.

From the rapt attention of the others, Mila figured this was a topic they’d all been wanting to bring up.

“It wasn’t very difficult,” she answered. “He’s not a nice man.”

Henrietta waggled her brows. “Who wants nice?”

That got a few chuckles, and even Mila smiled. “I’m serious. He’s not someone a girl should trust.”

“No one’s ever turned him down.” Millie’s eyes were huge in her pale face. “Mila, you’re the first to refuse him.”

Mila frowned. “I find that hard to believe. Why would any girl take up with him?” Then she remembered that they had a friend who went with Lord Blackhurst just a short time ago. “No offense.”

Gina waved a dismissive hand. She was on her stomach on the bed, feet crossed above her backside, head propped on her hand. “You haven’t offended anyone, ducky. Chits don’t refuse him because he could make our lives very difficult if we did. Plus, he is handsome and he’s rich. I’ve heard he pays the girls he takes quite well, and settles a large amount on them when he’s done.”

“That’s not all he leaves them with,” Marissa commented. “I’ve heard horrible stories.”

“And I’ve heard ones that turned out all right,” Gina interrupted, giving the other girl a warning glance. “Money can fix all that other stuff.”

“Not the scars,” the other girl challenged. “You can’t ever fix those.”

The two of them stared at one another, and Mila wondered what it was all about. It was none of her business, though, so she didn’t ask. It was fairly obvious anyway that Marissa, and quite probably Gina, had been ill-treated by a man in the past, and had opposing views on how to carry on.

Mila had heard of “pleasure automatons” that were available for humans to use for their pleasure. It had to be awful to not have any choice in the matter. She just as easily could have ended up one of those poor machines, forced to give herself over to whoever owned her. Instead, she’d ended up with Jack, who didn’t want her at all.

Henrietta cleared her throat. “Girls, what if Lord Blackhurst comes back for Mila?”

“If he comes back I’m going to break his bloody arm,” Mila informed them. “It’s a crude, but effective plan.”

Her new friends chuckled. Only Henrietta remained quiet. “He’s dangerous, Mila. Be careful.”

The girls sobered a little—enough to make Mila reconsider. “I’ll be careful, Hen. I promise.”

“Speaking of dangerous men,” Marissa piped up, clearly wanting to change the subject. “Did any of you notice who else was at tonight’s performance?”

They shook their heads. “Who?” Gina asked.

The other girl smiled coyly. “Jack Dandy.”

Mila’s heart stopped. For a split second she thought she might have to punch herself in the chest to get it going again. Jack had been there?

“Ohh,” Gina pursed her lips as though she was about to kiss someone. “He’s entirely too delectable. I’d like to have him for dinner. And breakfast.”

The other girls laughed. Mila did not. “What do you mean?”

Their laughter trailed off. Gina shrugged. “I’d like to have a go at him, that’s all.”

Mila stared at her. Gina had become her friend, but at that moment she could have cheerfully broken the girl’s nose.

Instead, she said, “I can introduce you if you like.”

The girls all sat upright. Millie pointed the wine bottle at her. “You know Jack Dandy?”

Mila nodded. “He’s a friend.”

“You’ve been holding out on us!” Henrietta cried.

Gina scooted closer to her on the bed. “What’s he like?”

Mila opened her mouth and hesitated—just for a second. “Brooding.”

The girls giggled. “What else?” Marissa demanded, leaning in.

“Violent. I once saw him take out three men at once and receive barely a scratch for the trouble.”

More giggles. This time it was Henrietta who demanded more. Mila gave it to them. Some of what she said was true, but most of it exaggeration. The truth—the real Jack—she kept to herself. She wasn’t about to share the man who read to her, who took her to shows and played cards with her, even though he mostly taught her to cheat. That Jack was her Jack, and he wasn’t up for public enjoyment. She saw a side of him he didn’t show other people, and that was a gift. She wasn’t going to dishonor that gift by treating it as if it had no value.

Besides, these girls wanted to think of Jack as a dark and gothic hero, and he was that. He was also so much more.

And he’d been in the audience. He’d seen her performance. Had he recognized her? Of course he had. Jack didn’t miss anything—except the fact that she was a girl, apparently. Maybe he had finally seen her differently. No, she would be foolish to even entertain the idea. He probably had wanted to wrap a blanket around her shoulders and protect her, but he hadn’t wanted her like Blackhurst did. And even if he did, Jack Dandy had too much honor to act on it. For a man who prided himself on being a rake and a rogue, he did a piss-poor job of it.

“I can’t believe you know Jack Dandy,” Marissa remarked.

“I just gave you ample proof,” Mila responded. While she understood the concept of lying, it was not something she’d found use for thus far in her existence, and she resented the implication that she might not be truthful. Truth was important. Truth meant something.

Henrietta touched her arm. “She means she’s surprised, love, not that she doubts you.”

“Oh. All right.”

Millie was watching her. “You’re so odd.” It was delivered with about as much judgment as “your eyes can see things,” so Mila decided to take no offense.

“I’m bored,” Henrietta bemoaned dramatically. “Let’s go out.”

Mila’s head whipped around. “But it’s late.”

The girls laughed. “That’s the point, silly!” Marissa informed her. “We want to go have some fun. It’s not as if anyone’s going to punish us for it.”

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