The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 26

“I love you, too, Em.”

The redhead preened. “I know.” Then she went to the cylindrograph and switched the key to the off position. “Für Elise” ground to a halt. “How are you feeling?”

Finley shrugged as she placed cheese and meat between two pieces of bread. “Better than I ought, I reckon. That Organite bath you drew for me helped.”

“Good. You should be healed in time for the séance tomorrow.”

The irony of healing just in time to get beaten again—to die again—was not lost on her. She took a bite of her food, chewed and swallowed. “At least we’ll have my father in our corner. He’s been in the Aether longer than Garibaldi.”

“That must be strange,” Wildcat remarked, opening the bottle of cider. “Seeing your dead daddy.”

“It was.” Finley smiled when Emily placed a hand on her arm. “It’s all right, Em, I can talk about it. I’m not sad. How many people get the chance to meet their deceased parent while they themselves are still alive? Not many, I’d wager.”

“I’d settle for knowin’ who my daddy was,” Cat tossed in. She handed Finley the bottle. “Forgot cups. Sorry.”

She raised the cider to her lips. It smelled sharp and sweet. “So long as you don’t have the plague I reckon I’ll survive.”

“No plague,” the darker girl assured her as she drank. “I do have this odd rash, though.”

Finley choked, almost spraying cider all over herself and the two of them. Cat just grinned. “Sorry.”

“Well done,” Emily praised dryly. “Next time wait until she’s taken a bite, maybe then you can get her to choke to death and we won’t have to use the suit anymore.”

Finley dragged the back of her hand across her mouth. “Is it broken? The suit?”

Her friend waved a hand in her direction as she plopped down in a nearby chair. “It’s fine. Sam washed out all the vomit.”

Oh, right. She cringed. That hadn’t been one of her shiniest moments, but all that dying and waking up, and almost getting killed had taken a toll on her. If a girl couldn’t cast up the contents of her stomach after coming back from the dead, when could she? “I will have to thank him for that.”

Emily’s full lips curved. “Oh, I imagine he’ll see that you do, never you worry.”

For a second her heart was light and Finley chuckled. But then she remembered why Sam had to clean up that vomit and her good humor faded.

“Don’t you dare push that plate away.” Emily had a fierce expression on her freckled face. “I don’t care how terrible you feel—you eat.”

She ate. It did make her feel stronger—perhaps a little more confident and strong. Mostly it gave her something to do while the other girls sat with her. When Wildcat offered her cake she took it.

“I had to sneak it past Jasper,” the American explained with a knowing smile. “Sometimes I think that boy has a nose like a bloodhound.”

“He’s still growing,” Emily told her. “It will calm some in his early twenties, but his abilities will always give him a larger appetite than most. Sam’s the same.”

“I’ve seen Griffin eat an entire batch of biscuits all by himself.” Finley grinned at the memory. “I sat on a kitchen stool and watched him do it.”

Emily lifted a dubious brow. “He ate the whole batch?”

Warmth filled her cheeks. “Maybe I helped a little.”

“I’ve eaten an entire pie in one sitting.” Wildcat took a bite of cake. “And then turned around and had griddle cakes.”

One of Emily’s pale hands came up. She had dirt under her nails from working in her lab. “I don’t want to hear about it. Talking to machines doesn’t expend much energy. If I ate like the two of you I’d weigh twenty stone.”

“It’s not all that fun having to eat a lot.” Finley finished off her cake. “Sometimes it’s a pain in the arse.”

Cat grinned. “But mostly it’s just fun.”

Emily threw a cushion at her, but Cat snatched it out of the air with agile ease.

A knock on the door ended the lighthearted moment. “Come in,” Finley called.

The door swung open to reveal Jasper. “Sorry to intrude gals, but I just saw something that y’all might be able to help me suss out.”

He looked completely confounded—it was a new look for him, Finley thought. “What is it, Jas?”

Sam appeared behind him, wiping his hands on a towel. “Whatever it was you ate for lunch, Jayne.”

Even Finley had to laugh at his quick wit, but Jasper shot him a brief scowl. “I was comin’ back from fetching those parts you wanted, Miss Emmy, when I saw Mila standing on the front steps of the big house on the corner—the one with the lions on the gates.”

This time it was Sam who scowled—no real surprise there, Sam always scowled. “Blackhurst’s house?”

Jasper glanced at him. “Is that who lives there? Huh. Anyway, Mila was there. Is that cake?”

“What would Mila want with an earl?” Emily wondered aloud. Finley shrugged, and offered Jasper some of the cake Cat had brought. He took a huge piece.

“Seriously?” Sam seemed genuinely perplexed, but that didn’t stop him from taking some cake either when Jasper offered it to him. “Don’t any of you know who Blackhurst is?”

“He’s an earl?” Wildcat smiled lamely.

Sam’s frown deepened, but he directed it at Finley—as though she ought to know better. “He’s Dandy’s father.”

“What?” they all chorused.

The big lad shook his head at them, his inky hair glinting blue in the light. “It’s obvious if you’ve ever seen the man. Dandy looks just like him.”

“I don’t recall ever seeing him,” Finley remarked—a little defensively. She looked at Emily for backup, but her friend looked just as dumbstruck as she felt.

Sam shrugged. “I thought Dandy probably told you.”

“No.” She wouldn’t have expected him to, but it needled her just a little. She was the closest thing Jack had to a real friend. He knew about her father. “Maybe he doesn’t know.”

“He started a club for bastards,” Sam informed her with his usual blunt delivery. “I think he knows. More importantly, why would Mila go to the house of a man Dandy obviously despises?”

“I wonder if Jack knows?” Finley thought out loud. She turned to Jasper. “Last time you saw him had he spoken to Mila?”

The cowboy shook his shaggy head. “No, he had not.”

“Oh, my God.” Cat stood up with a hand pressed to her mouth. She looked at each of them before settling her gaze on Finley. “My sister works at Pick-a-dilly. She told me that there was a rich fella who came sniffing around some of the performers. He likes young, pretty girls. Agile girls. Strong girls. She said his name was Blackhurst.”

Oh, no. “Mila would be awfully appealing to such a man.” Finley’s lips thinned. She was getting heartily sick of men who liked to take advantage of young women. “But would she go along with it?” This she asked Emily, who knew the girl better than any of them.

Emily shook her head. Her aqua eyes flashed with anger. “She’s a little naive, but she’s not stupid. Plus, she’s got a terrible crush on Jack. If she’s at Blackhurst’s house, he’s either coerced her or she thinks he’s a threat.”

Finley paused, her brain sticking on the remark that Mila had a crush on Jack. “How much of a crush?”

“Jealous?” Sam inquired sweetly.

She glared at him. “What would you do for the person you loved, Sam? Would you pound the snot out of, oh, the father who abandoned them and treated them like rubbish?”

“Good point,” he agreed. “If Mila hurts an earl, she could hang for it.”

“The drop wouldn’t break her neck,” Emily remarked—rather needlessly, Finley thought.

“It would still hurt,” Jasper commented. “And they’d keep trying till they found something that took.”

Emily fidgeted, folded her arms over her chest. “This is all just speculation.”

Finley glanced at her. “We should check on her just to make certain. I don’t want to be the one to tell Griffin or Jack that we let Mila get herself into trouble—and Blackhurst is trouble regardless.”

“Let’s go, then,” Sam said, already crossing the threshold. One by one, they followed out after him. Finley took another piece of cake with her. She had a feeling she was going to need it.

Chapter Fifteen

When the bell rang, Jack’s first thought was that it was Mila, even though he knew in his heart that it wasn’t. She would never use the bell. Still, it was a surprise to find Gracie Adams standing on his step, and a less pleasant one to see the state she was in.

Blackhurst was a monster. If there was some way to remove his father’s taint from his blood Jack would do it in an instant. Every awful thing he had ever done was because of that man—either to spite him or because he’d had little other choice given the relative poverty he and his mother had been left to. His father had paid for him to be educated, but that didn’t put food on the table when you were stuck in Whitechapel.

“Hello, Jack.” The young woman peered inside his house. “Can I come in?”

“Of course, pet.” He stood back to allow her entry. As soon as she crossed the threshold his attention was drawn to the coat draped over her shoulders. It was a dark teal with shiny brass buttons, and he’d know it anywhere. After all, he had bought it when Mila insisted that she had to have it, even though it was one of those ready-made items he despised.

“Gracie? Where’d you get that coat, love?”

Wide eyes turned to his. Poor thing looked a fright. Looked as if she thought he might hurt her—him of all people. She knew him. Knew he wasn’t like that. “Mila.” Her voice was frail.

He was going to kill Blackhurst, and after that he would do all he could to make this up to her. God, he felt responsible. “Where did you see Mila?”

“At Blackhurst’s,” she whispered. “Jack, I think she’s in trouble. She helped me escape, and Blackhurst isn’t going to like that she laid out his footmen.”

No, he wouldn’t, even though Jack could hug her for it. This was his fault, as well. If he hadn’t threatened Blackhurst over Mila, the bastard might have forgotten about her, or at least lost interest eventually, but now that he knew she was important to Jack, she was that much more attractive to the lech. He’d be that much meaner to Mila knowing that Jack cared about her.

The thought of that man touching her... He ground his teeth as he strode stiffly to the cabinet where he kept his Aether pistols. “Stay here.” Gone was all pretense of cockney. He yanked the door to the cabinet open and removed both pistols, checking to make sure both were fully charged. “If I’m not back in an hour call the authorities.”

“The authorities?” Obviously that distressed her more than the sight of the weapons. “Jack, what do you mean to do?”

“I’m going to make certain Blackhurst doesn’t hurt another woman ever again.” He fastened the holsters for the pistols around his h*ps and cinched the belt snugly. “You’ll be safe here.”

“Jack, I got something from his safe you need to see.”

He grabbed his coat. “Later.”

“No, Jack.” Gone was that waifish tone, replaced by one of sheer determination. “You need to see this now.”

Jack stopped at the door, and turned his head toward her. Bruised and disheveled, she faced him with a grim countenance as she held out a folded piece of yellowed paper. He snatched it from her fingers and opened it. His gaze skimmed over words that his brain struggled to make sense of, even though he was fully capable of comprehending them.

Blood drained from his face and dropped to his feet. For a moment he thought he might do something embarrassingly foolish like pass out. “Where did you get this?” His voice was a hoarse rasp.

Gracie’s eyes were full of sympathy, perhaps even pity. “Blackhurst’s safe. That is your mother’s name on the paper, isn’t it?”

Jack nodded, his fingers holding the page so tight they crumpled the edges. “You don’t tell anyone about this, Gracie. Do you understand? No one can ever know.”

She frowned, clearly not understanding at all. “But, Jack—”

“No one. Ever. Give me your word.” He pushed a little persuasion behind the words, let his will shine in his eyes. In a second, Gracie took on that slightly dazed look of someone open to whatever suggestion he had to make.

“I swear to tell no one. On my honor.”

Jack didn’t like using his abilities on people he liked, and using them on Gracie after all she’d been through seemed a tad callous, but it was necessary. “That’s a good girl. Now, go on upstairs and run yourself a bath. Use my tub. What are you going to do if I’m not back in an hour?”

She was still a little dazed. “Send for the authorities.”

He kissed her forehead. “Off with you now.” He only spared a moment to make certain she was off to do as he instructed before yanking open the door and stepping out into the dwindling night. Blood pumped wildly through his veins as he fought to control his emotions. He couldn’t lose himself. He had to remain focused and calm, but damn his eyes if it wasn’t almost impossible at that moment.

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