The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 12

Finley didn’t feel at all smug when she returned her attention to Emily. “Put me back in.”

Two angry splotches of red appeared on Emily’s cheeks. Her temper was up. That was fine—Finley’s was on the rise, as well. “I’m not arguing, Em. You can put me back in, or I’ll go slit my wrists. Either way, I’m going into the Aether.” Of course, she wouldn’t really slit her wrists, that would just be stupid. She probably wouldn’t even find Griffin before she died, and if she was a ghost she might be able to reach him, but how would she get him back into the living world?

“Stubborn,” Emily bit out. “Foolish, hardheaded...” The rest was lost because she’d launched into Irish—or what Finley assumed was her native Gaelic—and because the telephone on the near wall rang sharply twice, which was an indication that the call was coming from inside the house.

Jasper answered it. “’Lo? Mrs. D, darlin’. What can I do you for?...Uh-huh....Uh-huh....Send him on down.” He thanked her and hung up. “Dandy’s here. He’s coming down.”

Finley could have knocked him into the middle of next week. “We don’t have time for visitors, Renn.” She used his last name intentionally to let him know she was annoyed.

He wasn’t the least bit cowed. “We have time for Jack.”

Normally she’d agree with him. “Griffin is trapped in there—with The Machinist—and every damn second we spend doing nothing is another second he suffers!”

A heavy hand came down on her shoulder. It was Sam. “Em needs to make some repairs before you can go back in.”

“Is that true?” she demanded of Emily.

Her friend nodded, looking much less aggravated. “The suit sustained some damage in the struggle when we pulled you out. Plus, I want to make certain we’re not caught off guard like that again. It will only take about an hour.”

“An hour here is nothing in the Aether,” Sam reminded her.

Frowning, Finley nodded. She didn’t like not getting her own way. She disliked it even more than she despised being wrong. Having both of these apply to a single situation was embarrassing. It was her fault the suit had been damaged, and now Griffin would pay the price of being in Garibaldi’s clutches a little longer.

The lift engine whirred to life, driving the cage upward to collect its passenger. A few moments later, it came back down and Jack stepped out.

Finley stared at him. She’d never seen Jack looking any less than perfectly together, but his coat was buttoned wrong, and his long hair was a mess. He was without a hat and without his customary walking stick that concealed a razor-sharp sword.

He looked around the room and appeared disappointed. “Where’s his lordship?”

Finley folded her arms over her chest to keep her heart from breaking. “Griffin’s...gone.” She frowned. Frowning prevented bawling.

Jack’s dark gaze locked with hers. Was that suspicion she saw reflected back at her? “Seems to be goin’ round as of late.” He glanced at the others. “Don’t suppose ’e ’ad poppet wiv ’im?”

“Mila?” Emily stepped forward. “No. What’s happened, Jack?”

“I come ’ome and found ’er run off. Figured she’d find her way ’ere.”

“She hasn’t,” Emily replied. “Did she give you any reason for leaving?”

He shrugged. “Said she wanted to see some of the world. Didn’t want to be a bo’ver to the rest of us. To me.”

To Finley’s surprise, Emily smiled. She would have expected the little redhead to go off like a steaming kettle with worry. “She’s growing up.”

Jack looked at her as though she was mad. “What the devil ’as that got to do wiv it? Not very mature of ’er to just run off like that.”

Emily arched a brow, hand on her hip. “What did you do to make her run off?”

Jack Dandy actually flushed. It was snowing in hell.

Sam stepped forward, fists clenched. “If you touched her...”

One touch on the arm from Emily stopped him. “He didn’t hurt her, lad.” Her bright gaze remained on Jack. “If I know our girl at all, I’m willing to bet she ran off to make him look at her as a person and not a child, or a machine.”

Jack’s flush turned to a scowl in a blink. “I know she’s not a child, and I know she’s not a bloody machine. I know exactly what she is.”

“She’s obviously infatuated with you,” Emily supplied. “She wants you to see her as a woman. The question I want to ask is, what are you going to do about it?”

His expression darkened. “I’m going to bring her home. The rest is none of your damn business.”

Everyone but Jack seemed to notice that he had dropped his cockney accent.

“She may not want to go home. She obviously felt she needed to leave.”

For a moment Finley wondered if Emily would also poke a bear with a stick. Provoking Jack had never struck her as a good idea.

“I want to make sure she’s safe,” Jack replied, his jaw tight. “I would like your help finding her.”

“We can’t,” Finley blurted. Jack looked as though she had punched him. He was her friend, and he had been there for her every time she asked and even when she hadn’t. “Jack, Griffin’s been trapped in the Aether. By The Machinist.”

Normally he would have sworn or made some sort of witty comment to break the tension, but he only nodded. A prickle of unease tingled at the base of Finley’s spine. Was Jack in love with Mila? She was happy for him, of course, especially if the girl felt the same way but...

She was jealous. Since their first meeting she had been Jack’s favorite girl. His favorite person. She didn’t feel that way about him, but she loved him so dearly as a friend. He was like her brother, her twin soul. She didn’t want to lose him.

Then she ought to be a better friend. “I can help while Emily fixes the suit.” She began climbing out of it so her friend could get to work.

Jack shook his head. “No. You need to focus on your duke.” There was no judgment in his tone, but she felt like dirt regardless. “I’ll find her.”

Jasper and Wildcat stepped forward. “We’ll help you,” Jasper said. “We ain’t much needed here, and Cat’s a right talented tracker.”

Jack smiled, and Finley could have kissed the pair of them.

“Take your telegraphs,” Emily reminded them. “Keep us updated and we’ll do the same.”

Finley handed the suit to Sam and moved to catch up the three of them before they left. “Jack.”

He stopped and turned. Jasper and Wildcat continued to the lift and waited there. Finley was grateful for the privacy. “You know if it was anyone but Griffin I’d help you.”

He nodded. “And if it weren’t for Mila I’d be helping you.” His eyes glittered dangerously. “I’d like to have a go at The Machinist myself.”

“I’ll hit him especially hard a few times, just for you.”

Their gazes locked, and even though they didn’t speak, Finley felt as though they understood each other better than they ever had. This was the dividing line between love and friendship. She and Jack shared a deep bond, but they each had someone who would always come first, and both accepted that.

He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I’ll see you later, Fin.”

She knew at that moment that he would never call her Treasure again. And oddly enough, it didn’t make her the least bit sad.

Chapter Seven

The boardinghouse was located in the area of Garrick and King Streets. Mila had absolutely no difficulty finding it at all, though it took her nearly three hours to get there. There was so much to do in London! So many amazing sights and delicious foods. She bought a rose from a flower seller and tucked it in her hair. One pub smelled so good she had to go in and order a meat pie—delicious. And she had ale for the first time. She wasn’t mad for it, but it would do. Jack had brought her to this area before, but only to the theater, which she’d loved, but she enjoyed the everyday life even more.

Finally, with her belly full and spirits high, Mila set off in the direction of her destination. It was getting dark earlier and earlier these days, and she wasn’t so naive that she wanted to be out wandering the streets at night. Nor was she terribly afraid of doing just that. She wasn’t easily hurt, but she could be injured, and she knew that she was easily taken advantage of. She wasn’t stupid, she was just new. Human subterfuge and deceit were lessons she was still in the process of learning.

She had good reason to be wary. Two men had been following her for the past hour. They tried to be sneaky, but they weren’t that good at it. She didn’t want trouble. All she wanted was to get to the boardinghouse, secure a room and maybe sleep for a few days. There were a few reasons she could think of as to why they were following her, and none of them were particularly good. Still, for those she thought of, there were probably at least a dozen more that she had not, and it didn’t matter how strong she was if they took advantage of her naïveté.

And yet, she wasn’t afraid. She was distracted, and annoyed. Was Jack thinking of her? Had he even noticed she was gone yet? Probably he had one of his doxies with him and he hadn’t thought of her at all. The idea caused a burning sensation in her stomach. Was it rage or jealousy? Maybe both. Regardless, the nasty emotion did nothing for her...disposition—that was a brilliant word—and she practically itched to find a little trouble.

Which was exactly why, after turning a corner, she pressed her back against a darkened shop front and waited. When the two men followed in her steps a few moments later, she grinned at them. They seemed surprised to see her.

“You fellows have been following me so long now I thought I’d give you the chance to catch up.” And if she’d allowed them to follow her all the way to the boardinghouse, then they’d know where she was staying, and someone else might get hurt.

The first one—a lanky, skinny sort with spiky blond hair and icelike eyes grinned at her. He had two small metal bars through his left eyebrow, and six small hoops in his right ear. “Aren’t you just the sweetest little bird.”

“No. I’m a girl.”

They seemed to find that very funny, but there was something in their laughter that made her spine tingle with unease.

“No denyin’ that, ducks,” the second one allowed. He was shorter than his friend and dark in skin, eyes and hair. He had what looked like metal studs coming out of his cheek and a small bar through his lower lip. Did these personal adornments serve any purpose? They appeared almost tribal in nature, and seemed out of place with their English clothing. “So, we’ve caught you, now what?”

Mila tilted her head. “You haven’t caught me. I caught you.”

The two of them shared a look—as though they thought themselves extremely lucky. “What are you goin’ t’do with us, then?” The blond one smirked.

“First I’m going to tell you that it’s not very polite of you to follow young ladies. It could be seen as...predatory.”

The darker one whistled. “Predatory. Listen to that, would you, Len? What big words the little bird chirps.”

She frowned at him. “I think you will begin to annoy me very quickly. The two of you don’t seem very nice.” In fact, the pair of them made her very uncomfortable. There was

“We’re not very nice, poppet,” the blond told her.

That name made her stiffen. Slowly, she moved her gaze to his. He was smiling. “Did you think we didn’t know you? Dandy cut you loose? Makes you fair game for the rest of us.”

Stillness settled over Mila. A cold certainty that if it came down to her or them, she’d leave them dead in the street. She didn’t want to kill them—some part of her knew it would be wrong—but she would if she had to. For that reason, she wasn’t afraid. The only weapons they had were a knife each. She could see the outline of the blades in their jackets—the fabric basically had the imprint of the knives worn into it. Not very subtle, but effective. They didn’t smell of gunpowder or any other substance that would indicate they had more dangerous items on their collective unwashed persons.

Now that they mentioned Jack she remembered seeing them at his house once. Their piercings should have alerted her. Many of the young men that visited Jack often sported similar decoration. They’d come to him looking to get Jack involved in some scheme. He had tossed them out with a warning never to come back. If Jack didn’t want anything to do with them they were either very dumb or very evil.

Maybe a little of each, because they looked at her as though they were going to hurt her—badly—and as though they expected her to just let them do it. Not just dumb—imbecilic. Another great word.

“You don’t know me at all,” she told them, softly.

The smaller one moved toward her, reached out his hand to brush his dirty fingers across her cheek. “We’ll change that soon enough.” His fingers slid down to grip her jaw—hard. He liked pain.

Fair enough. She’d give him something to love, then. Calmly, Mila dropped her valise, lifted her own hand and wrapped her fingers around his wrist. Her gaze held his glittering one as she applied just the right amount of pressure in the right spots. How quickly his expression changed from triumph to realization to pain as she snapped the bones in his wrist with a flick of her fingers. So fragile, human bodies.

He yanked his hand back with a cry, leaving himself open for a punch to the face. His partner lunged for her, blade out. She grabbed his forearm and cracked it. He fell to the ground with a grunt, lashing out at her with his boot. She moved, but he still connected with her hip rather than her stomach.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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