The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 3

It was also terrifying.

“Griffin!” She cried. He was going to kill the woman if he didn’t release her. Lady Ash might deserve to suffer for all she’d done—she’d killed people—but Griffin wasn’t the law and he wasn’t God. He’d already been haunted by one death this year; his conscience didn’t need another. “Griffin!”

He still didn’t acknowledge her. He began to lift off the ground, pulled up by his own power. Bloody hell, this was not good. She had to stop him.

But before Finley could help Griffin, she needed to take care of the automaton advancing on him. Her wounds were healing quickly, but she’d lost blood, and was still sore. She was nowhere near her peak fighting condition, but it was going to have to do. She had to stop that machine before she could stop Griffin from making a horrible mistake.

She oughtn’t have worried. The metal hadn’t even touched Griffin when an arc of sizzling blue light danced along its fingers, all the way up to its shoulder. The polished body began to convulse and gears ground and screeched. Sparks flew, and Finley raised her hands to protect herself from them. The automaton clattered to the ground, just as Finley saw what it was that had felled it.

Griffin had built a sort of energy field around himself and Lady Ash.

She wasn’t going to make the same mistake of touching it.

“Griffin!” She cried, “You have to stop!”

And he did. Suddenly, the flames around the woman flickered out, and Griffin’s feet touched the ground once again. She ran to him, but he held up a hand stopping her from coming any closer. “Don’t,” he said. When he turned to face her, both of his eyes glowed an eerie blue—no pupil and no iris, just blue. “Finley, don’t come any closer.”

She was dumb at times, but she wasn’t stupid. If he told her not to come any closer it was because he was afraid of hurting her, and she would stand her ground. A few feet away from her Lady Ash crackled and smoked, her body slowly turning into her namesake. Griffin had killed her.

Finley stared at the charred corpse in horror, not because the woman was dead, but because Griffin wouldn’t be able to live with himself for the death.

“Take a deep breath,” she told him. “Just calm down.”

“Get out of the way, Fin.” His voice was quiet and hard. “Now.”

“No.” She shook her head, putting herself between him and the body. “You won’t hurt me, Griffin. I know you won’t.”

“But I will,” came a dark whisper from behind her. The threat slithered down her spine, but she refused to shudder. Instead, her gaze locked with Griff’s. It was terrifying, that blue fire in his eyes, but not as terrifying as the realization that a ghost had just spoken to her.


Griffin nodded.

“You’re more clever than you look,” the voice whispered. Now that she knew who it was, Finley could hear his faint Italian accent.

“Thanks,” she replied dryly, not making any sudden moves. Every instinct demanded she whirl around and put her fist through the villain’s head, but that was the problem—her fist would go right through his head, and that was only if he was visible.

“Finley?” Emily asked, glancing from her to Griffin. “What’s going on?”

Finley barely glanced at her. It looked as though the others had defeated their opponents, as well, but thankfully there was only one corpse. Every bit of machinery was still. Garibaldi obviously hadn’t lost his touch when it came to controlling metal. “We’ve company.”

“Behind you?” Emily asked. She wouldn’t be able to see Garibaldi unless he wanted to make himself visible. She hadn’t heard him either. None of the others had, except for Griffin. Finley had only heard him because she’d spent some time in the Aether with Griffin and had begun to become attuned to it.

“Right behind me.” If the bastard had breath she’d no doubt feel it on the back of her neck.

There was a high-pitched whine and then a blast of white light so strong Finley was momentarily blinded. What the...?

Garibaldi swore—impressively. “Little bitch almost hit me!”

Another blast. This time Finley covered her eyes and dived to the ground. Emily wielded what looked like an Aether pistol, but she had modified it. This thing had a larger barrel, a smaller grip, and a flashing red light on the side. “Missed.” The Irish girl was obviously not pleased. “Where is he now?”

Suddenly, a frigid weight slammed down on Finley’s back, driving her face into the sooty carpet. She managed to turn her head at the last second to avoid being suffocated. Being able to hear and see Garibaldi—and there had been plenty of times when she knew he’d been there and she couldn’t see him—came with other issues: it made her susceptible to attack by creatures of the Aether. But if The Machinist thought she wouldn’t risk herself to bring him down, he was sorely mistaken.

“E-Em,” she called through chattering teeth. The chill of death seeped deep into her bones. “He’s on me. He’s on my back!”

But before Emily could shoot, Griffin charged. One moment she was cold as ice, and the next, the weight was off her. She flipped onto her back—a motion that was far clumsier than it ought to be thanks to every muscle in her body being frozen stiff—and saw Griffin take Garibaldi to the ground. His power made The Machinist visible. He pummeled the ghost with his fists as his eyes blazed. Garibaldi laughed with every blow. “That’s it, lose control. It feeds me, you know.”

The chill in Finley’s heart had nothing to do with Garibaldi’s touch and everything to do with his words. “Em, shoot here!” she placed her hand on the ground near The Machinist’s head. All her friends would see was Griffin’s fists flying, not what he struck. She whipped her head around as another blast struck, narrowly missing her thumb.

It also missed Garibaldi, who pushed himself up, taking Griffin with him, until they were both on their feet and The Machinist had his hands wrapped around the younger man’s wrists.

“Got you now,” he said, chuckling. “You’re mine, Your Grace.”

Finley jumped to her feet and leaped at The Machinist. She grabbed at him, but her arms took only air, and she slammed into the ground once more. Emily opened fire again, the blast aimed right at the spot where Garibaldi stood. It would have hit him if he hadn’t disappeared.

And he had taken Griffin with him.

* * *

Mila lazed on the sofa, her boots propped up on the arm as she popped grapes into her mouth. She liked grapes very much. In fact, they were one of her favorites of all the foods she’d tasted thus far. Almost as good as that Indian chicken dish Jack had bought her last night.

Stupid Jack.

She was still learning words, as well. Stupid was one of the newer additions to her vocabulary. She’d been using it a lot lately, especially where Jack was concerned.

Two months she’d been living in this house with Jack. Two months of incredible food, interesting words, extraordinary books and plays and music. Two months of filling her mind with so much information she thought she might explode, and she kept wanting more.

Two months of Jack being so stupid she wondered how he managed to function in the world. At first she thought the fault lay with her own brain, because she’d been an automaton once, but then she realized that, no, Jack was simply defective. That was bothersome, because he seemed completely adequate in many other ways. In fact, he seemed so smart in many other ways.

Just not when it came to women. Not only did he seem completely ignorant of the changes she’d gone through since coming to live with him, but he chose the most annoying, foolish, idiotic, pretentious, untrustworthy women. He had one upstairs with him right now. And judging from the noises—and the pictures she’d seen in a naughty book he’d since hidden from her—she had a pretty good idea what he was doing with her. It was enough to make even the sweetest grape sour on her tongue.

If Jack’s stupidity ruined her palate for grapes she’d gut him like a...well, whatever people gutted.

Above her head she heard a thump—her hearing was most exceptional. Apparently everything about her was exceptional, or at least that was what Emily told her. Emily was terribly smart, so it must be true. But if she was so bloody exceptional, why didn’t Jack realize it? He seemed to think of her as a child or a pet—she had yet to work out the subtle differences between the two. She knew it was something pertaining to biology and such, but emotions were complex and she didn’t completely understand them yet.

She only knew that no one could make her happier, angrier or sadder than stupid Jack Dandy. And she was stuck in the bloody house listening to him entertain another woman with dubious hair color. It didn’t matter where in the house she went, she’d hear. She could go out, but Jack didn’t like her going out at night, especially alone. What did he think would happen to her? If anyone came near her, she was physically capable of defending herself—more than capable. She wasn’t naive enough to just go off with someone, and it wasn’t as though she’d would go looking for trouble. She just didn’t want to be there, in that house. Listening.

Thump. She glared up at the ceiling. It would serve the two of them right if she climbed up on some furniture and smashed her fist through the floor. How fast would that painted-up...tart run away when she realized that Jack’s houseguest, the one he hid away but sometimes referred to as his “ward,” was not normal?

Another thump—followed by a trill of laughter that made Mila’s teeth ache, or maybe it was the clenching of her jaw that made them hurt. She swung her feet off the sofa and stood up, setting the bowl of grapes on the table. She had to do something to distract herself. She could get a book, but she didn’t feel like reading. She could listen to music, but Jack had taken the phonographic cylinder player upstairs with him.

Pity he hadn’t put some music on, but even if he had she’d still hear. The tart was loud enough she could be heard over the scream of a steam whistle.

She glanced at the polished mahogany bar in the corner. Bottles of liquor were neatly placed on shelves beneath it. She knew this because she’d seen Jack take them out. He’d taken a bottle upstairs with him earlier.

What was so amazing about the stuff? She’d tried to take a sip once and he’d torn a strip off her for it. Well, he wasn’t there to stop her now. A little smile curved her lips as she walked over to the bar and behind it. Yes, tonight seemed the perfect time to do something Jack didn’t like. Spite, she believed it was called. It was a good word, and she was full of it.

Crouching, she withdrew one of the bottles, uncorked it and poured herself a full glass of the contents. She took a sniff. Not too bad. Then she raised the glass to her lips and drained it in several long gulps. She set the glass back on the bar and waited.

Nothing happened.

She repeated the process again. And again. The third time she paused to enjoy the warmth that filled her belly. Hmm. Perhaps she oughtn’t have drunk it so fast—the bottle was empty. Well, that was a short diversion. She went back to the sofa and her grapes. A few moments later, as she lifted a grape to her lips, it wavered slightly. She frowned at it. No, there was only one grape in her fingers, not two. But two would be better, wouldn’t it? She plucked another one with her other hand and held them up side by side.

“Jolly fine weather we’re having, is it not, Mr. Grapeypants?” she asked in a low voice, bouncing the left grape up and down.

“It is indeed, Lord Cabernet,” “replied” the right grape in a higher pitch. “Nary a cloud to be seen. And isn’t it a travesty, the price of tea these days?”

“Highway robbery. We’ve taken to using the same leaves over and over until the pot runs clear.”

“A sound notion.”

Mila laughed. Now, this was a diversion!

Another thump from upstairs. More laughter—and this time she heard the familiar sound of Jack’s chuckle. It ruined her fun, and made her angry.

Very, very angry, which was surprising because she’d heard that wine was supposed to make a person happy. The laughter continued. Mila reached behind her and took a candlestick from the small table. She tested the weight of it in her palm and then tossed it upward with all her strength. It broke through the ceiling, trailing plaster dust as it tore through the floor of Jack’s bedroom. The doxy screamed. Jack swore. From where she sat, Mila could see through the hole the candlestick created, to where it had lodged itself in the ceiling above. She grinned. She was still grinning when a portion of Jack’s scowling face appeared above the hole.

“What the bloomin’ ’ell was that all about?” he demanded. “’Ave you gone completely mad?”

Completely mad? That implied that he thought her somewhat mad, didn’t it? Her grasp on language might not be as good as it ought, but she knew what mad meant. She tossed Lord Cabernet and Sir Grapeypants into the bowl with their society friends and set it aside. Then she jumped up on the sofa. Another big jump and she was able to grab a handhold in the hole she had made. Jack backed up—good thing, too. She drew back her arm and snapped her fist upward, knocking another chunk of ceiling loose.

More screams from the woman. Mila was going to shove the woman’s own knickers into her mouth just to shut her up. She punched again, and this time a large enough chunk fell—onto the sofa—that she was able to bring her other hand up and haul herself through the jagged opening.

Jack stared at her as though he truly thought her insane. As if he thought she was a monster. Mila had never wanted to hit him before, but she did now. How could he look at her as if he didn’t know her? As if he didn’t understand?

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