The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 28

“Are we going to be in trouble?” Mila asked when they were alone.

Jack looked at the broken door and the blood on the foyer floor. A handful of servants stood in the hall, dressed in their nightclothes, watching them curiously. “No. Blackhurst won’t ever bother us again.” Then he offered her his hand—it was just as bloody and battered as hers, the skin of his knuckles torn open. She entwined her fingers with his and squeezed.

Jack smiled at her. “Let’s go home.”

They made the drive back to Whitechapel at street level. Mila was silent until they were inside the house. Gracie met them at the door, and seeing that all was well, left to go back to Mrs. Rhodes’s where she had secured her old room. Jack loaned her his steam carriage for the trip. Then he and Mila went into the parlor where there was still a hole in the ceiling and plaster dust on the carpet.

“It seems like I did this years ago,” Mila remarked.

“You’re still going to pay for it,” he told her with a cheeky grin.

She smiled—a little. “Jack, you didn’t need to rescue me.”

“Yeah, I did.” All traces of humor were gone now. “Mila, I’ve been a wreck since you left. Whatever lesson you wanted to teach me, I’ve learned it. Just say that you’re home to stay.”

She swallowed, eyes wide. “I wasn’t trying to teach you anything. No, that’s not true. I suppose I wanted you to see that I’m a girl, Jack. A real girl, but now I know that I still have so much to learn about what it is to be human. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand. I just wanted you to miss me a little, to want me like I want you.”

The sorrow in her gaze broke his heart. “Real? Of course you’re real. Miss you? Want you? Bloody hell, poppet. Why do you think I stopped you that day when you kissed me? I want you too much. Mila, I...” When wonder lit her eyes he was struck momentarily speechless. Gutless. Courage, Jack. “I love you.” It took every ounce of his strength to say those words and wait for her reaction.

She stared at him.

Jack arched a brow. “Normally a girl has a response when a bloke makes such a declaration.”

Mila burst into tears and sank onto the sofa.

Alarmed, Jack sat down with her. “Poppet? Are you...all right?” Seemed like a ridiculous question. Had he been wrong? Did she not feel the same? Had he ruined everything? He cursed himself for being an idiot, but then she threw her arms around him and showered his face with kisses and tears, knocking him onto his back on the cushions. He laughed.

“We have to go to the séance,” she told him between kisses.

What the devil did that have to do with anything? “All right.”

She kept kissing—and crying. “Because they’re our friends, and Finley loves Griffin. And, Jack?” She reared up, gazing down at him with wet eyes. “I love you, too. I only went to Blackhurst’s because he threatened you.”

He reached up and stroked her hair back from her face. His heart was so full it felt ready to burst. “I know, love, I know. Let’s not talk about him right now. Why don’t you kiss me some more?” He could kiss her forever.

She grinned. It was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. God, did she have any idea just how much she had changed his life? Changed him? The old him would have ruined his father, taken what was rightfully his and rubbed society’s face in it. But now nothing was more important than being on that sofa with Mila in his arms.

“All right,” she said, kissing him again. “But, Jack, there was something I was hoping we might do later.”

His breath caught in his throat. “What’s that?”

Her grin grew. “How would you feel about being my doxy?”

Jack laughed. It was difficult to laugh and kiss but somehow they managed it. And then Mila’s fingers unbuttoned his shirt and Jack stopped laughing. And as they made their way upstairs to his room and fell on his bed, he realized what it was to love and be loved. And sometime just before the sun rose, Jack Dandy discovered his place in the world—and who he wanted to share it with.


Chapter Sixteen

Finley read the books on the Aether that Griffin had in the library. They had some useful information, but nothing that could tell them what to do with Garibaldi, which was their biggest problem. It wasn’t the books’ fault—not too many people who went to the Aether lived to write about it. Most of the information came from people who had been “touched by Death,” as one book put it, or was speculation from people who studied various phenomenon associated with death and dying. None of it was from anyone who had spent any amount of time there.

When this was over she was going to make Griffin write a manual or guidebook so no one had to go through this again.

If they survived it. Her confidence wasn’t what it ought to be. In fact, she hadn’t much at all. She had hope, and a lot of it. She even had prayers and wishes. Whether or not any of it would help remained to be seen. There was one thing she knew for certain; she wasn’t leaving the Aether without Griffin, and if that meant her own death she was prepared to do it.

Of course, she neglected to mention that to Emily, or anyone else. Finley was at peace with it, though. She knew the odds were against them, especially with the shape Griffin was in. He hadn’t said anything, but Emily had told her enough, and she’d seen him for herself—Griffin was dying. The truth of it brought a hot, prickling sensation to the back of her eyes, but she blinked it away while biting the inside of her cheek. No tears. Not yet.

She glanced at the clock. It was almost time for the séance. Ipsley and his friends would be arriving soon. He would once again be her anchor to this world while also being a conduit of strength for her in the Aether, drawing energy from the others. Hopefully they would be strong enough to summon and hold Garibaldi. The Machinist would know they hoped to trap him and he’d be ready, but if they could distract him just enough...

She slipped on her favorite boots—the ones she’d worn when she first took on Lord Felix—and laced them before heading downstairs. She wore her steel corset, as well. The hand-fashioned steel plates were small and allowed her ease of movement. These things were her armor; they made her feel invincible, and she was going to need all the help she could get.

It had been decided that the séance would be held in the ballroom since it was the largest room in the house outside of the cellar laboratory, and it was the room with the least amount of furniture or devices Garibaldi could use against them should his spirit manifest. All of the household automatons had been disabled and locked away for the evening, as well. The servants had been given the night off so that there was no chance of any of them getting injured in the fray.

The doorbell rang as Finley made her way to the ballroom. Wildcat ran past her and leaped over the banister, landing in a crouch on the floor below before springing up and bounding to the door. When she opened it, Ipsley and two more of his spiritualist friends stood on the step.

They were really going to do this. Finley had to stop to catch her breath—she’d blame it on the corset if anyone asked. She was scared—so much so that her palms were damp. She clenched her hands into fists as she strode into the ballroom.

The room was usually used for sparring and training, but tonight there was a round table in the center of the marble floor, with chairs around it, and the Tesla suit was set up on a table that was partially upright a few feet away.

Finley stopped. Was that a second suit next to the first? She walked closer. It was.

“I’m going with you,” Sam said from behind her.

She turned and looked up into his dark eyes. “The hell you are.”

He sighed. “Right, let’s do this quickly. I’m Griffin’s oldest friend, I’m strong enough to back you up and if anyone is going to be there when Garibaldi gets his arse kicked, it’s me. It’s not up for discussion, so just accept it.”

She didn’t have the strength to argue, and he was right on every point. “When did Emily have time to build a second suit?”

“She’s been working on it ever since we got back from New York. You’re not surprised, are you?”

A small smile tickled Finley’s lips. “No, of course not. She’d have to build one herself just so she could figure out how it works. Has it been tested?”

He nodded, jaw tight. “The little fool tested it herself earlier today.”

“What?” Finley could slap her friend for being so foolish.

“Exactly,” Sam commiserated. He glanced toward the door. “Looks like everyone’s here.”

Finley followed his gaze as the others came into the room. Jack and Mila were among them.

It was foolish, but the sight of Jack brought those tears perilously close to the surface again. This was proof of their friendship, and how much he thought of all of them. He looked so happy with his hand on Mila’s back, and the way the girl looked at was almost embarrassing to witness, but oddly adorable at the same time. Adorable was not a word that fit Jack Dandy, but there it was.

As if hearing her thoughts, Jack turned his head and met her gaze. He grinned that self-assured grin of his that never failed to make her believe that everything would work out as it ought.

Emily clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “Thank you all for coming. Let’s get started.” A woman of few words was Em.

“Do you know the plan?” Finley asked Sam, nodding at the table as the others took their seats around it.

He shrugged. “Not much. Emily seems to think it’s better if we just concentrate on our parts.”

“She would.”

Sam’s expression was equal parts sheepish and defensive. “They’re going to try to call Garibaldi and hold his spirit while you and I beat him senseless and get Griffin out of the Aether.”

It was almost too simple. “Then what?”

“Then they’re going to try to send him on to wherever people like him go.”

Hell was too good for the bastard. “Then let’s die, Samuel.”

Each of them climbed into a suit—Sam’s was obviously the newer and larger of the two—and made all the adjustments they could on their own. Seconds later, Emily was with them, taking care of the rest.

“You be careful,” she told Sam with a firm kiss on the mouth. Her voice trembled just a little, and Finley wanted to climb out of her suit and hug her. “I’ll take care of him, Em.”

“See that you do.” There was just enough gravity to her tone that Finley knew she’d be in trouble if anything happened to Sam.

Someone dimmed the light in the room as Finley’s helmet settled and was latched into place. Within minutes she felt that now-familiar chill settle over her, and then let herself drift away into darkness.

She became aware just outside of the house she recognized as the one her father had created in the Aether. Obviously he had good safeguards in place because she had focused on arriving inside the house, but Sam’s accompanying her changed that.

“How do we get in?” Sam stood beside her—even taller and broader than in life. Obviously there was no deficiency in his confidence.

There wasn’t any visible door, but Finley knew what to do. She walked up to the house and put her hand on the stone wall. “Papa? It’s me. I brought Sam Morgan with me.” The house was an extension of her father in the Aether, it made sense to her that it would recognize her, and it did. A door shimmered into existence beneath her palm, and then swung open.

“Showboat,” Sam teased as they crossed the threshold.

They entered into the parlor—the only part of the house Finley had ever seen. Maybe that was all there was—not like her father had to eat or sleep. Thomas Sheppard rose from his seat at the piano where he had been playing. He immediately came over and hugged her before offering his hand to Sam. “I knew your father. He was a good man.”

“The best,” Sam agreed. Finley had never heard him say much about his parents but then, until recently, she’d never heard Sam say much of anything.


She turned in the direction of Griffin’s voice. He was on the sofa, a quilt pulled around him. And from what she could see there was absolutely no color left in him except his eyes and his hair. The shock of it was like a kick to the throat. Garibaldi had drained him, and now he just had to sit and wait while Griffin literally starved to death. In the living world he’d have more time, but time was not the same here. It moved faster in some ways and slower in others.

“Griffin.” She wasn’t going to let him see how much the sight of him upset her. Instead, she went to him and knelt beside the sofa so that she could touch him and kiss him—hold him. Because it might be the last time she got to do any of it.

And then Ipsley and his two friends—a black man and an old woman—arrived, wispy but visible. They stood in a close circle, holding hands, glowing with eerie silver light. Either her father had let them in, or the same rules didn’t apply to spiritualists.

“We’re going to begin trying to summon Garibaldi,” Ipsley explained. “Once he is here we will bind and hold him within the ring of the table.” It was so faint Finley could barely see it, but there was the actual table from the ballroom, with everyone around it holding hands. It was like a reflection in a window.

Her father’s face was grim. “We’re ready for him.”

No, they really weren’t, Finley thought. Griffin certainly wasn’t, but it wasn’t as though they had a choice in the matter. She squeezed Griffin’s hand as the spiritualists began to call The Machinist.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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