The Girl in the Clockwork Collar Page 1

Chapter 1

High above the Atlantic Ocean July 1897

“What are you doing?”

Finley Jayne smiled in the darkness. She should have known Griffin would come looking for her. Gripping the slender prow with both hands, she glanced over her shoulder and saw him standing just inside the dirigible’s softly lighted observation deck. The wind blew strands of hair into her face. “Finding out how it feels to fly,” she replied.

“You’re over three thousand feet in the air.” His gravelly voice carried over the sound of the airship’s engines. “Flying might prove fatal.”

Finley laughed. That was his way of scolding her for having ignored the signs that warned passengers not to climb out the windows or over the protective railings. Griffin King was the Duke of Greythorne, and sometimes he carried the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. That he was worried about her was … sweet.

“We’re going to be landing soon,” he called, trying another tactic. “Why don’t you come in and make sure you have all your things?”

“I’m packed and ready,” she called back. “Why don’t you come out here and see how beautiful New York City is at night?”

She didn’t expect him to take her up on the dare. It wasn’t that he was a coward—he was anything but. However, as a duke and an only child, it would be irresponsible of him to risk his life for no reason but a pretty view, just because she asked. No, Griffin wouldn’t be so foolish, but Jack would.

Finley pushed the thought of the notorious criminal Jack Dandy from her mind. Jack was in London, and it wasn’t fair of her to compare Griffin to him when neither of the young men had an equal.

There was a faint noise behind her, and the next thing she knew, Griffin was there, sitting with her on this narrow shaft. All that was below them was the ship’s figurehead—a robust blonde woman of dubious virtue carved from wood—and thousands of miles of night.

“What are you doing?” Finley demanded, her tone a reflection of what his own had been—only slightly more panicked. She wasn’t that breakable, but Griffin was. “You shouldn’t be out here.”

One of his legs brushed the back of hers. Beneath her striped stocking, her skin prickled. “I know, but I hear it’s the only way to experience the sensation of flying.” She could tell he was smiling without being able to see his handsome face. “It is magnificent, isn’t it? Look, there’s the Statue of Liberty.”

It was magnificent, so much so that Finley couldn’t find words to reply. Spread out before them—just beyond the ship’s lanterns—was a blanket of lights. It looked like stars covered the ground, and set a short distance from it all was the largest lady she’d ever seen, the glow from her torch illuminating from her raised hand to just the top of her crowned head. The lights of the dirigible brought the rest of her into view.

“I asked the pilot to fly by her so we can have a better look,” Griff said.

“Asked or told?” she teased. This was Griffin’s private airship—the Helena, named after his mother. Someone else might fly it for him, but he was the one in charge.

He smiled. “Asked. What do you think of America so far?”

“It’s grand.” It came out a little more exuberant than she’d planned. She had never been outside England—never been outside London—so this was already the adventure of a lifetime for her. Never mind that only a fortnight ago, she’d been battling for the safety of all the world against a madman. That had been terrible and frightening and not really a proper adventure at all. But this—soaring above the vast Atlantic Ocean with the night wind in her hair and Griffin sitting behind her—was amazing.

She felt close to him, enough that it scared her a little. She didn’t even know who she was inside, and he was a duke who could bring down buildings from the inside out by controlling the Aether. There could never be anything but friendship between them, but that didn’t stop her from the occasional daydream. He made her feel like she could do anything she set her mind to—what girl wouldn’t have a bit of a crush?

“Would you like to know how it really feels to fly?” he asked her.

Finley turned her head. Their perch was precarious at best. One wrong move, and one, if not both, of them could tumble to their very death. Part of her was terrified at the thought and another part was thrilled by the danger. Recently, she’d started trying to reconcile the two very distinct halves of herself, and with Griffin’s help she’d made incredible progress. But now she was left trying to ascertain just what sort of girl she was. Was she the sort of girl who truly wanted to know what it felt like to fly?

“I … ”

“Oy!” cried a strange voice from behind. “What in the blazes is you two up to? You’re not allowed out there!”

“Caught.” Griffin’s voice held a trace of regret. “Let’s go in before Emily and Sam come looking for us.”

Finley waited until he’d slid away before inching along the polished wood. Griffin was waiting for her on the narrow expanse of deck to give her a hand up. Then he helped her through the window before easing his own body through.

A man in uniform stood on the glossy wood of the viewing gallery floor, a frown on his face. The man glared at her, then turned his attention to the young man beside her, who stood tall and lean in a dark gray suit, his reddish-brown hair mussed by the wind. A lopsided smile curved his lips as his stormy blue gaze settled on the officer. The man paled.

“Your Grace.” His voice was hoarse.

Griffin’s grin broadened. “Apologies, my good man. You were right to scold us. We’ll give you no more worry.” Then he turned to Finley. “Want to watch the landing?”

He offered her his arm, and she took it, allowing him to draw her toward the large glass window next to the one they’d just crawled through. It was so amazing that he owned all of this.

“You know, if you weren’t a duke and this was a public ship, we’d be in a terrible spot of bother right now.”

Griff made a scoffing noise. “If I weren’t a duke and this were public, we wouldn’t have been able to afford passage. Honestly, what they charge for a transatlantic voyage on these contraptions is akin to highway robbery.”

“So you thought buying your own was the more economical choice?” She managed to keep a straight face but not the laughter out of her voice.

He shrugged, but she caught the smile he tried to hide. “They gave me a very good price. Besides, it was the only way I could make Sam fly. He has Emily check the mechanical parts before every voyage.”

“Sam’s a baby,” she remarked, thinking the comparison fit. She didn’t mean any insult—well, not much. Sam Morgan was Griff ’s best friend. He was also part machine, moody and the biggest lout she’d ever met. Still, he had a way of growing on a person, like mold on cheese.

She kind of liked knowing he was afraid of air travel. He was even harder to hurt than she was and wasn’t afraid of much.

“Speak of the devil,” Griff murmured, looking over the top of her head.

Finley turned and saw Sam and Emily walking toward them, both dressed for dinner. Sam looked uncomfortable in his black-and-white evening attire, though he looked decent enough with his long dark hair smoothed back. There seemed to be nothing that could be done for his perpetual frown. Emily, on the other hand, was like a ray of sunshine. Ropes of copper hair were wound into a loose bun on the back of her head, and her blue-green eyes were brightened by the russet-colored gown she wore. The four of them looked as though they were going to a ball rather than following a suspected murderer to a strange country.

Their friend Jasper Renn had been accused of murder and taken from Griff ’s house by bounty hunters five days earlier. They would have followed immediately after him if they could have, but despite having his own airship, it took Griffin almost a day to make preparations and get everything ready.

“Been sucking lemons again, Sam?” Finley asked when the other couple joined them.

The big lad arched a dark eyebrow at her but didn’t speak. Since she’d saved his life—after him trying to kill her—he had been almost nice to her, which made her try to bait him all the harder.

“We came to watch the landing,” Emily told them in her Irish lilt. “We heard that there were a couple of idiots out on the prow. Did you see them?” A slow smile curved her lips.

Finley and Griff laughed in unison, which made Sam’s scowl deepen. “Idiots indeed,” he said drily.

Emily started to roll her eyes, but then her head whipped toward the window. “Oh! There’s the Statue of Liberty! Isn’t she grand?”

Her excitement was contagious, and the four of them went to the glass to watch the Helena glide by the statue that Griffin had pointed out to her earlier. It was so big. So beautiful. They would set down on the island of Manhattan, on the landing field in Central Park, and from there, on to their hotel. Tomorrow morning they’d begin looking for Jasper. Surely it wouldn’t be difficult, given that he’d been brought back to face criminal charges.

Finley couldn’t believe Jasper would kill anyone—not in cold blood. There had to be some kind of mistake. Griffin was convinced he could fix this, but this wasn’t England, and Americans might not be so impressed by his title and his fortune. And though each of them had their own unique abilities—evolutions, Emily had taken to calling them—they weren’t above the law.

What if they couldn’t save Jasper?

As far as prisons went, this one wasn’t so bad. Jasper had certainly seen worse—been held in worse.

There were bars on the windows, but his understanding was that those were normally employed to keep folks out rather than in, as the case may be. Still, the bed was big and comfortable—an old four-poster monstrosity—and the room was big enough that he could walk around a bit and exercise.

Dalton—the fella in whose house he was now a “guest”— was an old “friend.” Jasper fell in with his gang almost two years ago, when he was too young and stupid to know better. Dalton was a couple of years older and had spouted the usual romantic nonsense about being an outlaw, which sounded good to penniless boys.

Obviously Dalton had done well for himself, if this house was any indication. It was nice—nicer than anything Jasper had seen during his time in the gang. Did Dalton think of himself as some kind of gentleman now? Was he rubbin’ elbows with the same kind of people from whom he stole? The Bowery neighborhood was close enough to Five Points to give him an in with the criminal set, but removed just enough to have a little respectability.

Respectable, however, Dalton was not. And it was painfully apparent that his old boss hadn’t forgiven him for running off. The tender bruises that covered Jasper from face to hip were proof of that. He had a perfect impression of the sole of someone’s boot on his left side. Must’ve been Little Hank—he was the only varmint in Dalton’s outfit with feet that big.

If he had some of Miss Emily’s salve, he’d be set to rights; but he didn’t, and so he had to heal the old-fashioned way instead of letting her “beasties” do it for him.

He thought of his new friends often since he’d been forcibly taken from Griffin’s mansion by men claiming they were going to bring him to America to face murder charges.

Jasper went willingly, almost eager to face his past, maybe clear his name in the process. It wasn’t until he was on the airship, without any chance of escape, that he discovered the men worked for Dalton.

Once they’d landed, he had tried to run. It had been stupid, but he had to try. They caught him, beat him, trussed him up and brought him here, where’d he’d been for more than twenty-four hours.

Finally there came the sound of a key in the lock. Jasper moved to the dresser, a heavy piece of furniture he could dive behind if someone started shooting.

It was Little Hank’s huge form that filled the doorway. Over six and a half feet tall and as wide as a bull through the chest, Little Hank was Dalton’s chief muscle. He was strong and surprisingly fast. Jasper’s only advantage came in being faster, but he didn’t want Dalton to know just how fast he had gotten.

Little Hank ducked his head into the room. “Boss wants to see you.”

“Now’s not a good time for me,” Jasper replied, words as stiff as his jaw. “Come back later.”

The behemoth hesitated, clearly uncertain of what to do. Jasper would have smiled if he thought it wouldn’t hurt so much. Then a scowl settled over Hank’s heavy-boned face and he glared at him. “Still a jackass.”

Jasper shrugged. “Sometimes a fella has to live up to expectations.” He moved stiffly toward the door. Dread twisted in his belly, but he refused to let it show.