The Strange Case of Finley Jayne Page 13

The sobs subsided after a few moments, and Phoebe reared up and off the bed in search of a handkerchief for her eyes and nose. When she turned to face Finley again it was with puffy eyes and a red nose. “Forgive me.”

“Whatever for? For being upset over a situation that rots? I think you have every right.”

“Lord Vincent has been nothing but gentlemanly and kind to me through the entire process, and I know that I am extremely fortunate to make such a match. I’ll be a countess.”

“But?” Finley prodded, sensing there was more.

Twisting the crumpled linen handkerchief in her hands, Phoebe’s shoulders slumped. “Perhaps you’ll think me naive, but I always thought I’d marry for love. Lord Vincent doesn’t love me. In fact, I think he only wants me because I look like his dead wife. I know you saw her portrait.”

So she hadn’t been asleep the entire carriage drive. “So your father makes a mess and you get to clean it up. You’re a better person than I, Phoebe. I don’t think I could do it.”

“I’m not doing it for my father,” came the firm reply. She sounded a little angry, but she didn’t rush to her father’s defense. “I’m doing it for Mama—and for myself—so neither of us has to suffer through the whispers and stares, the social downfall that happens when ones debtors come calling. I would save us both that humiliation. This way if Father ruins himself, I will be in a position to care for my mother.”

Wanting to protect her mother was something Finley could relate to, though she still had no idea what role she was to play in all of this. Had Lady Morton hired her to make certain Phoebe went through with the marriage and didn’t run away with Robert? Or had she been hired because Lady Morton was uncomfortable putting her daughter in the hands of a man old enough to be her father?

One thing for certain, she was beginning to like Phoebe, and she didn’t want to see anything happen to her. That meant she was going to have to find out all she could about Lord Vincent. Lord Morton, as well.

“I should let you get to bed,” she said, rising to her feet. “Thank you for confiding in me. I want you to know that I’ll do whatever I can to help you.”

A shaky smile curved Phoebe’s lips. “Thank you, but I’m not sure that there’s anything you can do. Although, you never did tell me just what else you are capable of doing.”

It was meant as a lighthearted comment, and Finley tried to react as such, but it struck just a little too close to home for her find it funny. She turned her head to meet Phoebe’s gaze past the corner of the door. “I’m not sure either of us wants to find out,” she replied. “Good night, Phoebe.” And then closed the door behind her.

Finley woke to utter darkness and a sense of determined purpose, which could mean only one thing, though it never occurred to her—her other self was awake, as well, and in control.

It wasn’t fair that Phoebe had to marry Lord Vincent, though Finley was aware that life was full of things that weren’t fair. That wasn’t the issue crowding her head right now. What she wanted to know was why a man Vincent’s age wanted to marry such a young girl—other than the obvious, of course. Old men always leered at younger women, always wanted someone new and fresh to give them an heir and make them feel young again.

If the old earl had nefarious plans for her new friend, he was in for a rude awakening. Friendship was a rare thing, and Finley liked Phoebe, she really did.

As much as she could like a girl without much of a backbone. Honestly, she didn’t even like herself all that much at times.

She tossed back the blankets and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Ten minutes later she was dressed in a short skirt, striped stockings, heavy boots, black shirt and serviceable leather corset that tied in the front. She pulled on a long black coat, secured her hair on top of her head and opened a window.

It was quite a drop to the grass below, but luck was on her side in the form of a trellis a few feet over. All she had to do was ease her body out of the window and stretch an arm and a leg toward the trellis, while maintaining her balance with her remaining limbs. When she had a solid hold on the trellis, she let go of the window casing and swung as gracefully as a monkey.

Quickly, she clambered down the side of the house and dropped to the soft grass. She glanced around to make certain no one had seen her before jogging toward the garden wall. It was better to keep to the shadows than the street—and faster.

She ran toward the wall, pushed up against the moss-covered stone with the toe of her boot and vaulted herself up to grip the top edge. She pulled herself up easily, and crouched there a moment before jumping down into the neighboring garden. When nothing came at her, she took off running, the thick soles of her boots a blur over the grass. She vaulted another wall, and then another, working her way toward Lord Vincent’s estate through a shortcut of back gardens and shadows.

When she reached the top of the wall around his lordship’s garden, she paused, barely winded. Every instinct warned her not to charge in like a bull chasing a red flag. Lord Vincent was a technologically minded man. He had automatons for servants, and automatons never slept.

Just as the thought crossed her mind, her sensitive ears picked up a faint grinding sound that seemed to grow louder and louder. A small light shone through the darkness, and then she saw that the light came from a bulb implanted in the chest of an automaton. The bright beam swelled to illuminate the garden like a torch, sweeping a radius of perhaps seven feet in front of the graceful machine.

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