Moonlight & Mechanicals
Book 4 in the Gaslight Chronicles
Cindy Spencer Pape
Genre: Steampunk Romance
Publisher: Carina Press
Date of Publication: Oct. 22. 2012
Number of pages: 276
Word Count: 74,000
Cover Artist: Kix by Design
Engineer Winifred "Wink" Hadrian has been in love with Inspector Liam McCullough for years, but is beginning to lose hope when he swears to be a lifelong bachelor. Faced with a proposal from a Knight of the Round Table and one of her closest friends, Wink reluctantly agrees to consider him instead.
Because of his dark werewolf past, Liam tries to keep his distance, but can't say no when Wink asks him to help find her friend's missing son. They soon discover that London's poorest are disappearing at an alarming rate, after encounters with mysterious "mechanical" men. Even more alarming is the connection the missing people may have with a conspiracy against the Queen.
Fighting against time—and their escalating feelings for each other—Wink and Liam must work together to find the missing people and save the monarchy before it's too late...
Moonlight & Mechanicals
A Gaslight Chronicles novel
by Cindy Spencer Pape
Published by Carina Press
London, June 1859
“Any questions?” Winifred Carter Hadrian looked around the room full of the august gentlemen—and very few ladies—of the Royal Society, and straightened her spine. She’d just finished presenting her paper on the beneficial properties of wind and electric power over coal. The members of the Royal Society remained unimpressed. Whether mustachioed, mutton-chopped or rice-powdered, nearly every face regarded her with a unified disapproving frown.
“What does a young lady like you know about steam engines?” She couldn’t identify the voice—it came from a shadowy corner of the room. Snickers and rude noises erupted in its wake from throughout the so-called genteel membership. The acoustics in the room were impressive. Not only could the audience hear her, but she could hear them more clearly than she’d have liked. The front row, made up of Wink’s family and friends, swiveled and glared at the crowd. Most of the hecklers shut up.
Wink remained polite. “Are there any further questions?” Not a single hand was raised.
“The problem, missy, is that our economy is built on coal. Reducing its use costs jobs.” She couldn’t see the owner of that particularly patronizing tone either, but it obviously met the approval of the audience, because another round of boos and jeers broke out. At least they weren’t throwing anything. Yet. That wasn’t unheard of.
“I’m aware of the monetary value of coal to the empire,” she said. “If you’d read my paper, you’d see I propose to train displaced miners—”
“Go back to your needlework, girl. It’s where you belong.”
Wink’s adoptive father, Sir Merrick Hadrian, Baron Northland, rose and whirled on that voice, fists raised. So did his wife, Caroline, though she lifted her parasol.
Merrick’s aunt, Dorothy, simply gave the man a death
“Better yet, on her back. She wouldn’t be too hideous in the dark.” The speaker didn’t shout that remark, but a coincidental lull in the other noise made it stand out like the smell of dead fish. In the back row, Lord Eustace Irons, son of a marquess and a coal heiress, laughed at his own so-called joke. Wink wasn’t surprised. He also had a tendency to grope during waltzes. When he saw that he’d been heard, his pasty skin paled even further and he mumbled an apology as he looked wide-eyed at an angry Lord Northland.
Meanwhile Sir Thomas Devere, Wink’s foster brother, and his closest friend, Sir Connor MacKay, began to bolt from their seats toward Lord Eustace. Another man, one whose presence had caused Wink’s heart to flutter, caught the two younger men by their coat collars and hauled them back into their seats. “Remember, I’d have to arrest you both for assault. Let’s just get the hell out of here.” Inspector Liam McCullough shot Wink an imperious glance as if commanding her to leave the stage.
She seethed at being told what to do, but he was right. Retreat was in order. She gave him a nearly imperceptible nod and then smiled at the audience with exquisite politeness. “Thank you, my lords, ladies and gentlemen, for your time. My thesis is, of course, on file at
College, Oxford, if you care to refer to it at a
future date.” With that, she gave a hint of a curtsey and stepped away from the
podium, her spine straight and her starched crinoline petticoat rustling.
As she left the stage, she looked back at Lord Eustace and felt his oily grin skimming over her curves—or lack thereof. Next to him stood another man, one Wink had never seen before. His leer wasn’t as overtly slimy, but somehow, his intense and calculating stare made the back of her neck itch. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tom mutter a quick spell under his breath. Eustace seemed to hit a slick patch on the floor and went flying, landing on his arse on the marble. His friend tripped over him and fell as well.
Both Tom and Connor had moved to the door, so neither Eustace nor his oily friend saw a thing. Wink turned her head and hid a grin. It was fun to have sorcerers in the family. The Knights of the Round Table were all trained in simple spells.
Wink couldn’t wait to get home to Hadrian House and change out of her ridiculous full hoopskirts, back into her comfortable coveralls. Ignoring the crowd and the continued catcalls, she slipped out the side door, whisked open by Connor and Tom as she approached.
Out in the hallway, she breathed deeply and smiled up at her rescuers. “Thank you, lads. That was not my finest hour.”
Tom gave her shoulder a gentle punch. “They’ll come ’round, ducks,” he whispered in the street cant they’d used, growing up together in the back alleys of Wapping.
“I think you were splendid.” Connor took her hand and bowed over it. He never failed to treat her as if she was a real lady, though his family was one of just a few who knew her true origins. Before Wink’s adoption at age fifteen by Merrick and Caroline, she’d been a daughter of impoverished gentry until she was nine, then nothing more than a street rat. Thanks to their protection and support, she’d been re-educated as a lady, her history hidden. Not a single soul in that audience of stuffed shirts had any clue about Wink’s real history, or ever would. They simply saw a young woman of moderate looks, hazel eyes that changed from green to brown depending on her clothing and unfashionable copper-colored hair. Mostly people noticed a female who’d broken tradition to study at
Oxford and then dared
lecture them on the way they managed technology. It didn’t matter that she was
the Honorable Miss, now that her father was Lord Northland, rather than the
girl who had fixed laundry machines for a room and fought vampyres in the
streets. She was female, twenty-four in two weeks and a trained engineer. That
was more than enough to make her suspect among “serious” scientists.
Connor offered his arm. “Tom is right. They’ll come around. You’ll see.”
“Thank you, Connor,” Wink said. He was a dear friend, tall and broad-shouldered with dark auburn hair and lovely pale blue eyes. Like Tom, he looked utterly proper in his charcoal and dove-gray morning suit, with a striped ascot at his neck. In fact, the two men could almost pass for brothers. Tom’s sandy hair had darkened to a rich golden brown now that he was grown and his freckles had faded. His blue eyes were a darker shade than Connor’s, a deep azure that bordered on indigo. Furthermore, both of them, like Merrick, and Connor’s father Sir Fergus, were Knights of the Round Table, and therefore among the most dangerous men in Britain. Connor’s bluff manner and cheerful smile provided effective camouflage, making him seem harmless as a toy bear. He leaned down and swept her into an enthusiastic hug.
“You were brilliant, darling.” Caroline joined the embrace, hugging Wink from behind. “They’re a bunch of nodcocks, but we knew that.”
“Thanks, Mum.” She blinked back a tear. Despite having been adopted so late in life, she’d taught herself to think of them as her parents, partly to avoid confusion for the younger children, and partly because they deserved it. Merrick and Caroline had saved Wink’s life, risking their own. They’d taken in a pack of street rats and claimed them, with the nominal explanation to others that the children were the orphans of childhood friends. The motley collection of Hadrians might not be blood, but they were very much family.
“Let’s get home, shall we?” Tom picked up his top hat while Connor handed Wink her gauze shawl. “There’s ice cream and chocolate cake. That always cheers you up.”
“Well then, of course I’ll be fine.” Wink glanced at Caroline. “Is it all right if I ride home in the runabout with the boys?”
Caroline—Mum’s—green eyes were misty with concern, but she smiled. “Why wouldn’t it be? We’ll see you at the house. But no stops. Remember it’s your party.”
“We’ll be home before you are,” Tom assured his foster mother. Because of his own baronetcy, he was the only one of their crew who hadn’t been legally adopted by the Hadrians, but he was just as much a brother to Wink as any of the others. He took one of her arms and Connor took the other as they escorted her out to Tom’s runabout.
Wink was relatively tall for a woman, at five foot six in her heeled boots, but she was still dwarfed by her escorts, both of whom were well over six feet. The boys handed her into Tom’s steam-powered motor car, partially designed and mostly built by Wink herself. It burned paraffin oil, which gave off far less soot and smoke than the conventional coal. The roof folded down into the boot, but no one in their right mind would keep the top down in the city—the air quality truly was that awful. Ducking to protect her fashionable little hat, she slid into the back seat. She only whacked herself in the face with her skirt hoops once—practically a record.
Her sister Nell slid gracefully into the seat beside her, not mussing her skirt once. Then she leaned over to give Wink a hug. “Sorry, love. I’ll help you kill any of them if you like.” Her big black eyes, courtesy of the Indian sailor who’d been her natural father, were bright with love and anger.
“Thank you, but no.” Wink squeezed her sister’s hand. “Just teach me that trick you did with your hoops, and we’ll call it square.”
Something bumped her knee and Wink sighed. Waiting on the floor of the runabout, as always, was her eternal companion, George. Though the clockwork mastiff was made of bronze and copper, gears and wires, to Wink, he was as real as either of the young men in front of them. Absently, she patted George, gaining comfort just from touching him.
They moved out into the dim haze of traffic. Coal smoke clogged the air of
London until almost every building façade was
black. Blight stunted the trees and even in Green
Park and ,
there was precious little green to be found. Hawkers still cried their wares
from street corners, but now they kept scarves over their faces, or air masks
if they could afford them. Every day, Londoners too poor to employ air filters
in their homes died of black lung, and other respiratory illnesses as if they
were coal miners. Couldn’t the blighters in the Royal Society see the urgency
of the problem or the elegance of the solution? Electrical power was the stuff
of the future. Wink would stake her favorite wrench on it. Kew Gardens
Was their disinterest based upon not caring about the poor, or the other living things in the city? Or was it simply because the paper had been presented by a woman? Her gender had made great strides since Ada, Lady Lovelace, had turned the world on end by writing the code to operate Lord Babbage’s miraculous analytical engines, but most men still looked upon professional females as suspect and considered them lacking in intellect compared to their male counterparts.
“At any rate, you’ve done what you can for today, planting some seeds if nothing else.” Tom shouted over the hiss and roar of the engine and other traffic. “Tomorrow, you can get back to working on what you’re actually being paid for.”
Wink managed a grin. “You’re just saying that because you want me to install an analytical engine terminal in your office.” Despite society’s horror that a well-heeled lady would actually hold a paid position, Wink was employed as a technical consultant to the Order, and her current task was improving the system the Knights used to keep track of vampyres, magick wielders and other potential threats to the Empire. When she was done, all the desks in the building would be connected to one another and the enormous computing machine in the basement, forming a virtual network of information. Some day, she hoped to connect the Knights’ home machines as well—at least those in the Greater London area, possibly using the newly installed telephonic speaking wires that had begun to lace city streets as well as the countryside.
At least the Order took her seriously. While they’d yet to admit a female Knight, the oldest and most hidebound institution in
Britain now accepted female
employees. It’s a start. The refrain
was a familiar one in the Hadrian household. Move on from here. This afternoon, she had work to accomplish.
Tonight she had to attend the Duchess of Trowbridge’s ball, which meant even
larger hoops and a tighter corset.
She stroked George’s shiny brass head and briefly wished she could return to Northumberland tonight with her parents. Her youngest siblings, Merrick’s and Caroline’s natural children, hadn’t come down from the country for her talk. She missed them. By morning she could be reading stories to her little sisters, Sylvia and Rose, who were seven and three, holding Vivienne, the newest baby, or playing soldiers with five-year-old Will. After that, she could hole up in the workshop her father had built her, tinkering with her latest designs. Either way, she could hide from the embarrassment of today’s debacle.
Unfortunately, she had work to do here in
She’d chosen to take a paid position, and now she had to cope with it. Bother. Sometimes being an adult wasn’t
all it was cracked up to be.
Inspector Liam McCullough stood in his superior’s office at Scotland Yard, frowning. “With all due respect, Superintendent, I don’t believe I’m the right officer for that particular task.” It had already been a long, annoying day, and he had work to catch up on after taking time off for Wink’s speech. He still regretted not being able to shove Eustace’s teeth down his throat.
“Knew you’d say that.” Superintendent Jack Dugan, the man in charge of a small, select unit within the Yard, stroked his bushy mutton-chop whiskers and exchanged glances with the Duke of Trowbridge, another fifty-something gentleman with iron-gray hair and a tidy Van Dyke beard. “You owe me a bottle of French brandy, your grace.”
“Hmmph. Not yet.” The duke’s eyes twinkled at Liam even while his face remained impassive. As head of the Order of the Round Table, the duke had the power, both political and magickal, to back up his aura of command. “We need you, lad. Buck up and do your duty and all of that.”
“But—” At nearly thirty-one, Liam didn’t often think of himself as anyone’s lad. However, considering the duke had a son who was a good friend of Liam’s, and a bit older, Liam supposed Trowbridge was allowed the term. Liam looked from one determined face to the other, and let his tense shoulders relax. He was outmatched. “Of course I’ll be at her grace’s party tonight. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” So much for a nice quiet night in his own home, with a cigar and a good book. “I still don’t believe I’m the right man for the rest of it, though.”
“You’re the son of an earl, my boy. That gives you entry into places none of my other officers can go.” Dugan gave Liam a stern glance. “I know you don’t like to tread on your family connections, but right now, we need them.”
“Forgive me, sir, but what information is it you think I can provide that his grace and company cannot?” Yes, Liam was the barely-acknowledged younger son of an earl, but an Irish one, and a werewolf—hardly the cream of
London society. Many of the Knights of the
Roundtable, on the other hand, such as his grace, moved in the upper circles
with the public in utter ignorance of their magickal activities.
“Disaffected younger sons seem to be the primary target of a new organization that has come to our attention.” Dugan’s mutton-chops drooped and the bags beneath his eyes had luggage of their own. Something out of the ordinary weighed on his mind. The superintendent had taken Liam under his wing when Liam had first joined up, teaching him the job and about life. Hell, Jack Dugan had been more father to Liam than his own ever was, and it was nearly painful to see him look so fatigued. “The Order doesn’t have any of those in
London at the moment, so you’re it. We want
you to mingle as much as you can, see if you can get yourself drawn into
whatever plot is afoot. So far, all we’ve heard is that they plan to make some
kind of statement at an upcoming royal event.”
“And when is Her Majesty’s next scheduled appearance?” Liam hoped they were talking about the Queen. If they had to account for all her cousins and offspring, it was liable to be a circus and a half. Liam didn’t even know how many people the term royal family encompassed. All the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of George III? More? The logistics of keeping track of all of them boggled the mind.
“The Royal Ascot races,” Trowbridge said with a look of mild disappointment, as if Liam should have already known.
“Of course.” Everyone in
about Ascot. The races were only a week or so
away, and the royal family always made a big showing. Liam rather hated horse
racing, so he hadn’t paid much attention to the schedule. “Would you like me to
confer with the palace guard about security measures for the royal enclosure?”
“That wouldn’t hurt.” Dugan nodded briefly. “We also expect you to be a guest in the enclosure for the duration of the event. Here are some of the others who will be present.” He handed Liam a sheet of paper. Several of the names were familiar—the duke, of course, and his wife and mother, the current and dowager duchesses. Trowbridge’s son and daughter-in-law, Lord and Lady Lake.
was also a Knight,
so that was good. Sir Tom Devere and Sir Connor MacKay were also both members
of the Order, though Liam hadn’t known they were interested in racing. It
appeared the royal party would be well protected, even without Liam. Hell, even
Winifred Hadrian and her mechanical dog were forces to be reckoned with. Liam
had seen the young woman wield a sword and she was bloody damn good. Kendall
Then Liam noted another pair of names and his eyebrows lifted. “Lord and Lady Bell? I didn’t know my father and stepmother were even in
England at present. Why are they
attending the races?”
“Who knows?” The duke shrugged. “I believe the earl and countess are expected to arrive just a day or so before the event,” Trowbridge said. “They’re staying at
as guests of the
Queen. I know relations between you are strained, but is your joint presence in
the enclosure liable to cause a scene?” Windsor
Liam shook his head. “I suspect the earl will be quite content to pretend I don’t exist. He’s become something of an expert at that over the last decade or so.” Ever since Liam had defied his father, left the pack and come to
London to join the police. Liam had spent years
suppressing his hurt over his father’s rejection, so he was certain none showed
in his demeanor as he shrugged. “My stepmother is unlikely to so much as
recognize my face.”
“Good, then there shan’t be a problem.” Dugan didn’t bother with pointless expressions of sympathy. Liam liked that about the man. You always knew where you stood with Dugan—he was fair and honest to a fault.
“No, sir, Superintendent. Your Grace.” Liam knew when he was licked. He didn’t have it in him to let his mentor down. “I’ll listen to what I can at the ball tonight, and meet with the Yeomen of the Guard tomorrow.”
Dugan nodded. “Good. Now get out of here.” Without another word he turned back to the stack of reports on his scarred wooden desk.
Liam and the duke left the tiny office together. “Kendall and Amy will be happy to see you tonight,” the duke offered. “I’ll warn them ahead of time that you’ll be working.”
“Thank you.” That meant the other Knights would know as well. They’d watch Liam’s back and he wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally offending them if he was distracted. Good. Now if he could just get out of dancing, his evening wouldn’t be a waste after all. There was no chance of that though, not with the Hadrian and
Lake ladies present. Bugger.
Thinking of the Hadrian ladies, or one in particular, anyway, made Liam’s fangs ache. When those buffoons had insulted Wink this afternoon, something deep in the center of his being had longed to shift so he could leap over the seats and rip out someone’s throat. While his human side knew that was a little extreme for an insult, filthy though it had been, his instincts had been to protect and defend her at all costs, which wasn’t at all appropriate behavior for a single man toward an unmarried woman.
Yes, he liked her and respected her brilliance. Of course he found her attractive—he was a red-blooded male, after all. But that’s all it could ever be. Wink deserved to be happy and to have a man who treated her like the treasure she was. It was simply too damned bad that couldn’t be him.
As he walked through the building, he saw two young constables struggling with an iron safe, about waist height, that they were apparently trying to drag into the evidence room. “Problem, boys?”
“Thing weighs more than the bloody
,” one said. Tower
The other cursed, then looked up at Liam. “Oh—pardon, Inspector.”
“No worries.” He grinned and just for fun, leaned over and plucked the safe up off the floor, lifting it easily. Sometimes, it was good to be a werewolf. “So where do you need it to go?”
The two youngsters paled and pointed. Liam carried the safe through into the evidence room and nodded at the clerk. “Afternoon, Frank.”
The retired officer nodded back. “Afternoon, Inspector. Over in that corner if you don’t mind.”
Liam deposited the item in the space requested and left with a wink at the two young men. “That’s how a real copper does it.” He kept his grin to himself until he left the room.
“I told you to watch out for Inspector McCullough,” one of the youngsters whispered.
“Cor, you weren’t half kidding,” said the other. “Wonder what he eats for breakfast?”
“Idiots like you two,” Frank said. “Now get back to work.”
Wink made her curtsies to the duke and duchesses and was warmly embraced by Amelie, Marchioness Lake, at the end of the receiving line.
Wink smiled back at her friend, a photographer who’d married into the Order a few years earlier. Shorter than Wink, a little plump, and with her brown hair gleaming and a look of radiant happiness on her pretty face, the marchioness epitomized domestic bliss.
“Amy, you look marvelous. How’s the baby?”
“Ned is doing fine,” Amy said. “Stop by tomorrow afternoon and visit, if you have the chance. The grandmothers might even let the two of you get close to him.” She turned to hug Nell, who was right behind Wink in the line.
Nell laughed. “We’ve plenty of experience in not damaging infants. I suspect we’ll past muster.”
“They do all right,” Caroline said with a fond smile from her position ahead of Wink in the line. As she and Merrick now had four natural children, ages three months to seven years, in addition to the five they’d adopted or fostered, the older ones had done a fair bit of changing nappies. “Next time we’re in town, I’ll bring Vivi over. She and Ned can play.”
With a line behind them, there was no more time for conversation. Amy’s tall-dark-and-handsome husband, Kendall, bowed over Wink and Nell’s hands. “We’re so glad you could make it.”
The Hadrian party, which included Tom as well as Aunt Dorothy, moved past the line into Trowbridge House’s palatial ballroom. Men flocked to ask Nell and Caroline to dance, backing away at
Merrick’s angry scowl.
Soon they all dispersed to chat with various acquaintances, leaving Wink on her
own, struggling for breath in a ridiculous concoction of lace, hoops, steel
boning and ribbons so tight she could barely breathe. Not two steps into the
chattering throng, she found Connor at her side.
“You’re looking lovely tonight—as always.” He glanced down at the antique pearls gracing her cleavage, which was barely there when she didn’t wear a corset. His flushed cheeks indicated there was some advantage to wearing the torture device.
Now if only someone else would notice. Across the room, Wink saw another familiar face, and her pulse sped up. Her skin heated and she bit her lower lip, trying to hide her reaction from her companion, especially when Liam McCullough began a leisurely saunter across the room to meet them.
She’d known Liam since the day Merrick Hadrian had found her with the others on the streets. Liam had been there that night, a young, handsome constable, and he’d taken Wink’s breath away from the start. Something deep inside her had gotten one good look and said, This is him. This is the one. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to share her fascination, still treating her as nothing more than the child of a friend.
Taller than Wink but shorter than her father or Tom, he still had a powerful presence. Even Connor stepped back, dipping his head in deference when Liam approached.
Liam was too rugged and broad-shouldered to be considered traditionally handsome, but most of the women in the room watched him as well. His hair was neatly trimmed, the wave in his black locks ruthlessly tamed. His face was a study in sharp chiseled planes, and thick brows hooded eyes of such a dark brown they were nearly black as well. Stark and elegant in his black evening suit and pristine white shirt, he shook Connor’s hand before bowing over Wink’s. Even through her satin gloves and his kid ones, she felt the warmth of his touch, impersonal and rote though it was.
“How’s your family?” he asked Connor. Him, Liam treated as an adult, while Wink was still a child in his eyes. That was utterly unfair as Connor was barely a year older than her. “Are your sisters doing well?”
Connor nodded. “Both doing grand.
and Magnus are enjoying their new baby.” His elder sister had married a
highland laird just last summer. While Wink was genuinely pleased for Geneva, she couldn’t help
a tinge of envy. What would it be like to know you had someone to stand beside
you every day of your life? To share all the good and bad, and keep each other
company through long, quiet nights?
“Congratulations to them both.” Finally Liam turned to Wink. “You’ve recovered from this afternoon, I hope?”
“There was nothing worth recovering from.” Wink shrugged. “I’m sorry you had to witness that disaster, but I’m not going to let it destroy me or divert me from my work.”
“Honestly, I found it fascinating. Your ideas have a lot of merit.” The orchestra began to strike up the opening number. Connor turned, no doubt to ask her to dance, but before he could, Liam smiled. “Miss Hadrian? Would you do me the honor?”
“Of course.” She closed her mouth, which had dropped at his compliment, and smiled apologetically at Connor, ignoring his stricken expression. Wink was going to have to do something about his infatuation—eventually. She cared for him, but more as another brother than as a potential husband.
At the moment, though, she relaxed and gave herself up to the superb music and the enjoyment of being exactly where she wanted to be—waltzing in Liam’s arms.
He was a powerful and gifted dancer, though with his supernatural strength and grace, he could hardly have been otherwise. The pleasure she felt was more than that though—it came from simply being near Liam, feeling his breath on her hair, his hands warm even through gloves and layers of clothing. This wasn’t their first dance—he was a long-time friend of her family, after all. They’d run into one another on numerous social occasions in the six years since her debut. Each time she waltzed with him, though, seemed as magickal as the first. She’d been sixteen then, at her parents’ wedding, on the same day they’d formally adopted her, Nell, Piers and Jamie. Even then, with the stink of Wapping still clinging to her, Liam had treated her like a lady, and Wink had fallen in love with the werewolf constable and his sad, lonely dark eyes.
She forced her mind back to the present as they whirled through the patterns of the dance. They didn’t speak at first, both seeming caught up in their own thoughts or the music.
Finally Liam tapped a whalebone stay at her waist with the tip of his finger. “Why on earth do women wear such ridiculous garments? That thing looks so tight you can hardly breathe, let alone swing a rapier if you needed to.”
Wink didn’t know whether to laugh, be hurt by his dismissal of her most flattering gown or preen that he remembered her weapon of choice. She settled for saying, “I have no idea either. I was wondering the same, not half an hour ago.”
“And yet here you are, trussed up like a Christmas goose.” He looked down into her meager bustline and only snorted, deflating any hope Wink might have had that he saw her as a woman.
“I blame Her Majesty. For someone so adamant about being the ruler in her own right, she’s reluctant to extend similar autonomy to other females.” Wink couldn’t believe she’d actually said that, out loud and in public. A quick glance around showed that no one else was looking at them so she went on. “These idiotic fashions are designed for the sole purpose of keeping us as dependent as possible on the male sex. By emphasizing our so-called feminine attributes, they inherently downplay and actively inhibit our usefulness in any other capacity.”
Liam nodded his agreement. “I’d grumble about the wastefulness of all this wealth on display in the ballroom when so many are starving not far away, but you know about that better than most.”
“I do.” She spun easily through the motions of the dance, following him as if she were an extension of his arm. “And I also know how hard the
family works to help others. This ball is part of their efforts—maintaining the
social standing and power to see that good is done, by their votes in
Parliament, by the money they raise for charities, by the Order itself. That’s
the only reason I’m here. I understand the purpose. Other parties…” She
wrinkled her nose and Liam chuckled.
“I know. I’m just out of sorts because I’m here under orders. When I return you to your faithful swain MacKay, will you tell him and your brother I need to speak with him in the card room sometime tonight?”
“Of course.” Her heart plummeted. He was only dancing with her to send a message to Connor? Or to make a showing before he disappeared? Catching the attention of Liam McCullough was going to take significantly more work than she’d anticipated.
Perhaps she should have padded her corset.
They finished the set in silence. “Thank you,” she mumbled and curtseyed as the dance concluded.
Liam bowed, but left her without another word—or a backward glance.
She danced the next set with Connor, who persisted on making calf’s eyes at her the entire time. Drat it, she didn’t want to hurt him, but she was going to have to discourage him somehow. How to redirect his attentions toward someone else without breaking his heart? Perhaps Nell would know. Wink’s next-younger sister was much more fluent in human relations. Possibly because Nell was a genuinely kind person—far more so than Wink, who tended not to trust and had little tolerance for hypocrisy or stupidity. Since Nell was studying music at the
she would be staying in London
when the others left. Wink could easily corner her for a heart-to-heart.
Come to think of it, she’d done little more than wave at her sister in passing since she’d gotten to town a month ago. She’d been so caught up in her new position and preparing for her talk that she’d taken little time to catch up. There was no getting around it—she was a horrible excuse for a sister or even a person. Really, Connor deserved far better than she.
And Liam doesn’t?
Clearly that line of rationalization required a little more work.
As she danced with one acquaintance after another, she spotted Lord Eustace watching her more than once, his expressionless, dark-haired friend by his side. The small hairs on the back of her neck prickled. Don’t let him get to you. He was a lecher and rude, but she wasn’t frightened. She was surrounded by friends and could defend herself if the need arose. Still, she’d avoid being alone with the creature and she’d warn her sister to do the same.
She sent Connor off to Liam in the card room and danced with Tom, Kendall,
father, the duke of Trowbridge, and a couple other gentlemen in between. By the
time the supper dance was called, Wink was dewy and exhausted. “Let’s walk,”
she said to Connor who’d returned to claim her for the dance and the subsequent
meal. The musicians struck up an energetic reel.
“Capital.” Connor took her arm and led her out onto the spacious glassed-in terrace at the rear of the mansion. “I wanted to talk with you tonight anyway.”
A trickle of dread crept down her spine—or maybe it was just sweat. Either way, she braced herself to hear something she wasn’t going to like.
“Winifred, you must know how much I admire you,” he began. To her horror, he dropped to one knee in front of her, looking up at her with an expression of fervent adoration and hope. “I find you the ideal specimen of feminine beauty. Your hair, the color of burnished copper, your changeable eyes, such a sweet mirror of your generous soul…”
Stop. Please. She held up a hand, but Connor simply took it and kissed it through her glove. Now what was she supposed to do?
“Your graceful form, your exquisite face. Your kindness and care for others—I love each and every little thing about you.”
No, no, no! Wink looked around, hoping to escape, but of course she couldn’t. Connor was a family friend. He deserved at least a considerate, thoughtful rejection.
Considerate and thoughtful weren’t her best attributes. She had no idea what to say when he went on. “Winifred Hadrian, beloved, will you do me the very great honor of becoming my wife?”
“Oh, Connor.” She bit her lip, searching for the proper words. “You are the best of men and a dear, dear friend. But I don’t love you—not like that. You’re Tom’s closest companion, just as Melody is mine. I think of you as another brother, not as a husband.” Connor’s younger sister Melody had been another of the few female engineering students at
and was, indeed,
Wink’s closest friend outside her family. Lovelace
“Perhaps if you set your mind to it, that could change.” He stayed on one knee, clutching at her hands. “Please, my love, I adore you. I can’t imagine my life without you.”
Wink shook her head. “I’ve tried, Connor. Honestly. I know you will make some lucky girl a marvelous husband, but she isn’t me. You deserve someone sweet, ladylike and even-tempered, not a woman with my temper or my shady background.”
“This isn’t because of my uncle, is it? I’d understand, if it was.” He clung to her hands. “It destroys me, knowing that he hurt you. I still can’t understand how he succumbed to evil like he did.”
“No. What Gideon did is on his head and his alone. I’d never tar the rest of your family with the same brush.” Years ago, when she was just settling into the Hadrian household, Connor’s uncle had worked with vampyres and kidnapped Wink, tried to use her to further a twisted plan for immortality. “Any more than you’d condemn me for your uncle’s death. It was my father who ended Gideon’s life, after all.”
Connor brushed that aside. “Then at least promise me you’ll think about it. We’ll get on famously. You’ll see that if you look closely enough. We have so much in common. Think of it, darling. Our families would be ecstatic.”
They would, without a doubt. The MacKays and Hadrians had a friendship that transcended generations. A marital tie would only strengthen that connection. Still, Wink shook her head. “I know they would, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to give you false hope. I just can’t imagine us together in a romantic sense.” Connor didn’t appeal to her at all on a physical level, but she couldn’t quite come out and say that. There wasn’t anything wrong with him. He just wasn’t—her mind veered from thinking of a specific name—the right man for her.
“Just agree to think about it for a while—a week, perhaps. Can you give me that much?”
Wink squeezed her eyes shut, hating to see such a proud, fine man begging on his knees.
“A week then,” she said. The words tumbled out, though she hadn’t meant to say them, hadn’t meant to leave him any hope. “But, Connor, please don’t get your hopes up. The answer will still be no.”
“I have seven days to change your mind.” All smiles now, he bounded to his feet and engulfed her in a bear hug. “Thank you, my darling. Thank you.” With that, he pressed a kiss on her lips.
Wink’s eyes widened in shock. She’d been kissed before, but never with such enthusiasm. Skill, too, she had to admit as she stood passive in his arms, too stunned to react. But technical proficiency aside, the kiss did nothing to make her melt, the way she felt when she simply looked at… Damn and blast, she wasn’t supposed to be thinking about him.
Steady now, she put her hands on Connor’s chest and shoved, none too gently. He backed away with a mild look of horror on his classically handsome face. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen.” Wink straightened her puffed sleeves where he’d crushed them with his hands. “Good night, Connor. I’ll hold to my promise and think about what you said. But you need to reconcile yourself to the fact that my answer is still going to be no.”
I’ve always loved odd things and mixing things that aren’t supposed to work together, like pinning a vintage brooch to a modern denim jacket. (FYI, I adore the background of this blog! Thanks for having me here today.) I listen to music that’s a blend of Celtic folk and punk rock. (Sometimes separately, sometimes in the same song.) When my husband and I started deciding how we wanted our house to look, I told him I wanted it to seem as if generations of sailors had brought back cool bits and pieces from all over the world for a couple centuries. I’m definitely a woman of my own era, but I enjoy the grace and power of vintage lace or old steam engines. That made steampunk romance a natural fit for me. It kind of has it all—the mannerisms of Victorian society mixed with the grit of the punk aesthetic, blending modern or futuristic technology with the attention to form of the steam era.
Since I also like the paranormal, my Gaslight Chronicles adds that element, too. The Victorians were deeply into spiritualism and the occult. Both Dracula and Frankenstein were popular, along with Jane Eyre and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Feminism was just coming into its own, and there was a dawning awareness of racism and workers’ rights. At the same time, it was considered indecent for a woman to show a glimpse of ankle. The paradoxes make it all the more fun to explore.
I hope you’ll enjoy my world of werewolves and mechanical dogs, of glittering wealth and choking poverty, of horse-drawn carriages and networked computers. And romance. No matter the setting, the human heart is one thing you can always count on.
If you enjoy steampunk novels, then this series is a must read. Full of action, dialog that stirs and a story line that will keep you reading late into the night, you will love this book! I have to go back and read the first three to get the back story, but author Cindy Spencer Pape has something here. Bonus points for cover art that rocks!!
About the Author:
Award-winning author of over forty popular books and novellas in paranormal, historical, and erotic romance, Cindy Spencer Pape is an avid reader. According to The Romance Studio, her plots are “full of twist and turns that keep the reader poised at the edge of their seat.” Joyfully Reviewed said, her “colorful characters and plot building surprises kept me spellbound,” and Romantic Times Magazine says her “characters are appealing, and passionate sex leads to a satisfying romance.”
Cindy firmly believes in happily-ever-after. Married for more than twenty-five years to her own, sometimes-kilted hero, she lives in southern Michigan with him and two college-age sons, along with an ever-changing menagerie of pets. Cindy has been, among other things, a banker, a teacher, and an elected politician, but mostly an environmental educator, though now she is lucky enough to write full-time. Her degrees in zoology and animal behavior almost help her comprehend the three male humans who share her household.
Newsletter group: http://yhoo.it/ni7PHo