The Girl with the Iron Touch Page 1

Chapter 1

London, Autumn, 1897

A giant tentacle slapped the front of the submersible, driving the small craft backward in the water. A crack no wider than a hair split across the view screen as suckers the size of dinner plates pulled free.

“Mary and Joseph,” Emily O’Brien muttered as murky water from the Thames began to seep in through that crack. A sound like breaking ice followed as pressure from the outside pushed against the glass, demanding to get inside like a rowdy drunkard at a tavern door.

“Goin’ up!” she yelled. “The control room’s been breached!” She shoved hard on the guiding lever, forcing the vehicle to rise quickly.

The crack grew.

Emily held her breath.

The glass popped—another crack shot downward. She should have covered the glass with a protective metal grid.

Water spilled onto the control panel. Sparks flew.

Emily pulled her goggles down over her eyes and shoved against the lever, as though she could make the craft move faster with sheer force of will.

Well, actually she could probably do just that. Water ran onto her boots. The glass was a spiderweb of cracks. Any second the entire thing would burst inward, cutting her to ribbons before she drowned. Her jaw set stubbornly. Fear was for the weak. “This is not my day to die!” She tore off her gloves and set her bare hands against the sub’s control panel. She took a deep breath, ignored the tiny trickles of icy water that ran beneath her palms and commanded the craft to rise.

The mechanized workings of the craft recognized the order and jumped to do her bidding.

The sub shot upward so quickly she lost her footing, landing hard on the wet floor. Daylight flooded the cabin as the glass shattered. Daylight, not water. “Emily!” cried a voice in her ear. “Em!”

“I’m all right,” she replied. Later she’d smile over the worry in Sam’s voice. With the amount of time she’d spent worrying over him, it was nice to have the tables turned.

Her enjoyment was brief. She rose up on her hands and knees only to slip on the wet metal beneath her boots. Pain exploded in her chest as she hit the metal floor. A tentacle as thick as her waist whipped the air where her head had been not two seconds earlier as she rolled to her back. Suckers attached to the ceiling and pulled. The submersible’s nose pitched down, cold, pungent water spilling inside the jagged hole left by the shattered glass.

Emily grabbed hold of the foot of the ladder to keep from tumbling through that hole. Her chest hurt from the fall, and from her heart pounding against her ribs.

Were they broken or just bruised? Would one pierce her lung?

It wouldn’t matter if the beastie pulling her under the water succeeded in killing and probably devouring her. She’d take her chances on a punctured lung. Cold, dirty water sloshed over the tops of her boots and soaked through her woolen trousers as she pulled herself to her knees. Clinging to the ladder, she rose to her feet and began to climb. Her sodden clothes and sloshing boots worked against her, keeping her movements slow and awkward.

She turned the wheel on the ceiling hatch, arms straining as she pushed against it. The Thames rushed into the craft over the jagged opening in the front of the craft. She had but seconds before it was completely pulled under. A tentacle brushed her leg. She shuddered, heart racing. Emily put all of her strength into opening the hatch, ignoring the burning in her chest and arms. The lock disengaged with a thunk. She pushed the hatch open and scampered up the ladder as the tentacle reached for her once more. The rubbery flesh looped around her boot, but she yanked her leg up before it closed around her leg like a vice. She climbed onto the top of the submersible and slammed the hatch on the slick, gray appendage, amputating the tip. It slid away, leaving a bloody trail.

A roar escaped from the water. Emily looked up in time to see the Kraken rise out of the river. And though it had been a long time since she’d been to church, or even believed in God, she crossed herself.


It was Sam. He stood on the dock, the helmet off his underwater suit, a look of absolute terror on his rugged face. It was that look that decided her fate. She was not going to let him see her die. He might be physically the strongest person in the world, but inside he was as soft as a puppy.

And she loved him for it.

So Emily ran. The submersible shook as another tentacle hit—the Kraken was coming for her. She almost slipped but kept moving. Her fingers fumbled at her belt, pulled the gun strapped there free of its holster. She aimed it at a point just above Sam’s head—the building behind him—and pulled the trigger.

A thin rope with a claw attachment on the end shot from the gun and latched on to the wooden building. Emily wrapped both hands around the pistol and pulled the trigger again. She was yanked off her feet just as a massive tentacle came smashing down on the top of the submersible, driving it completely underwater. She sailed through the air like she’d been shot from a cannon—right into Sam’s arms.

He reached up and grabbed the taut line and pulled, yanking the claw free from the building so it could retract without pulling Emily any farther. Behind her, the monstrous sea beast thrashed in the Thames, sending waves as big as fishing boats crashing onto the dock. Her shoulders hurt from being jerked like a fish on a hook. Sam’s chest was warm and broad. I could stay here all day, Emily thought. She glanced up into intense eyes almost as dark as his hair. “Thanks, lad.” He didn’t speak. He just held her. Her heart thumped.

Was he going to kiss her? Because she would like that, very much, even if she did have the faint whiff of chamber pot about her from the river.

A sound like the igniting of a gas lamp—a hiss and pop—broke through the air, destroying the moment.

What the devil…?

Both Emily and Sam turned to see Griffin, the Duke of Greythorne, in wet shirt and trousers, kneeling on the deck as though he’d been struck by more than just a foul-smelling wave.

“Bloody hell,” Sam whispered.

Emily followed his gaze. Her jaw dropped. Bloody hell, indeed.

The Kraken hovered just above the surface of the Thames, trapped in a watery bubble of bluish light. It waved its tentacles but remained held. The thing was as big as several carriages stacked together, and yet it reminded her of the glass globes her mother used to admire—the ones that were filled with water and particles of white substance that looked like snow when shook. Only this globe held the largest sea creature she had ever seen, and made it seem as ineffectual as a delicate crystal novelty.

Finley Jayne, Emily’s good friend and fellow member of Griffin’s little group, ran forward to help him, yanking off the helmet of her underwater suit. Finley was a pretty girl—honey-colored hair with a streak of black in the front, and amber eyes. It was no secret she and Griffin had feelings for each other, though they’d continued dancing around them since returning from America a few months ago.

“I’m worried about him,” Sam said as he released Emily.

She tried to hide her disappointment. “Griffin? Me, too. He looks so tired.”

Together they approached the other couple. Jasper joined them. He was a blond, green-eyed American with more charm than sense and the ability to move faster than humanly possible. Like the rest of them, he wore a diving suit. He, Sam and Finley had tried to secure cables from Emily’s craft to the Kraken, so they could capture it, but the monster had proved too wily.

Griffin had remained on the dock to use his own abilities to assist.

He’d ended up capturing the bloody thing all by himself. His power was increasing—a fact that was as frightening as it was awesome.

Finley helped Griffin to his feet. His reddish hair was a damp mess and his gray-blue eyes were heavy.

“Aetheric containment field,” he told them. “It will hold it until the Royal Society gets here.”

His friends exchanged glances. To have conjured such a huge amount of energy from the Aether and directed it so precisely was a remarkable feat. Griffin had been honing his skills like mad as of late, though he didn’t care to explain why. That had everyone worried, because previously Griffin had said he was reluctant to give too much of himself to the Aether for fear it would consume him.

Emily worried it had begun to do just that. “Tarnation,” Jasper murmured, his attention turning to the thing in the Aether bubble. “A real live Kraken.

I always thought the stories were just make believe.” So had Emily, though there’d been sailors about Ireland who’d told stories of seeing the giant octopuses on their travels. Kraken were monstrous creatures that could destroy a ship and devour its crew in as little as thirty minutes. Those who had seen one up close didn’t often live to tell about it, which explained why they were believed to be more myth than fact.

The Kraken they’d caught was a small one if the accounts were to be taken as truth. It was said that a mature Kraken could make a frigate look like a toy.

Those large ones could overpower and snap the large ship like dry tinder.

If this was a young one, she hoped its mama didn’t come looking for it. It thrashed against its prison like a child in the middle of a tantrum, but Griffin’s power held fast. He refused to allow Finley to support him, and wavered slightly as he stood on the dock, palefaced.

Emily glanced back at the Kraken and at the energy that encased it. She shivered, and not just because of her damp clothes. Griffin’s power scared her at times; there seemed to be no rules or boundaries to it. The Aether was not only the spirit realm, but was made up of pure life-energy. Everything, living and dead, was part of it, fed it.

And as much as it fed Griffin, it also fed off him. “You all right, Miss Emmy?” Jasper asked. While their plan had been for the underwater team to secure the Kraken, and keep it from attacking the dock, Emily had been charged with the task of trying to drive the thing to breach for capture. If that failed, the plan had been to try to force the thing out to sea once more. “Right as rain, lad,” she replied. “Though I’m a wee bit concerned about the submersible. I don’t think there’ll be any saving her.”

The cowboy smiled. “Better to replace a ship than you, darlin’.” He winked and then walked toward a group of people who had just arrived in a large vehicle pulled by several automaton horses. The back of the vehicle was a huge metal tank.

“Looks like the Royal Society has arrived,” Sam announced. He hadn’t even bristled when Jasper flirted with her. While this was a good sign, showing that he trusted her and was secure in their relationship, a little jealousy wouldn’t have been unwelcome. She was becoming one of those foolish girls who wanted to be the center of the universe.

“That tank’s not very big.” She frowned. “It will fit, but just barely.”

He shrugged his incredibly broad shoulders. “It should hold until they get to the aquarium. It won’t be our problem regardless.”

He had a point. And perhaps it was for the best if the beast had limited movement for those giant tentacles could crush a man to death with the ease of snapping a twig.

To say the society people were amazed would be an understatement. They stared openly—not just at the Kraken but at the containment bubble, as well. The Royal Society was scientifically driven, of course they’d be enthralled by what Griffin had conjured.

Griffin didn’t look the least bit concerned—another disturbing fact. He had always stressed the need for secrecy, knowing full well that society would either fear them or exploit them for what they could do. The Society’s driver backed the vehicle as close to the edge of the dock as was safe. Two men scampered up iron ladders bolted to the side of the tank to turn matching wheels. A loud clang—almost like that of a church bell too close to your head—sounded as the lid of the tank flipped open.

“How the devil do we get it into the tank?” One of the lady members asked.

A group of spectators had gathered round. Emily wasn’t the least bit surprised. There seemed to be nothing Londoners liked better than a scenario in which someone might get maimed or—if the onlookers were very fortunate—killed. Unfortunately, a crowd made the chance of an accident all too great.

“Maybe I can tip the carriage over the edge of the dock,” Sam suggested. “It would make driving the thing into the tank easier.”

Griffin shook his head at Sam and straightened his spine. He even waved Finley off as she tried to offer him support. Emily’s chest tightened. She’d known Griffin quite a while now, and she knew that stubborn expression on his face. What was he about?

The bubble containing the Kraken began to float toward the society’s vehicle. The crowd gasped in unison. “Bloody hell!” someone gasped.

Sam scowled. “Now he’s just showing off.” Emily stared as the water-filled Aether field slid down into the tank as carefully and precisely as though gently placed there by a giant, invisible hand rather than the force of Griffin’s will. The men on the tank slammed the top down as the bubble burst and water splashed over the side.

One of the men from the society turned to Emily and Sam, his eyes wide. “What did that?” His mustache twitched.

“It’s a new scientific advancement for the navy,”

Emily lied, jaw clenched. “A device meant to save sinking ships or drowning men. It’s still being tested.”

“Brilliant,” the man replied, looking slightly dazed.

“Simply brilliant. Who built it? I would very much like to ask the fellow to speak at one of our gatherings.” Blast. “I cannot tell you that, sir. Only His Grace has that information, and you know how close he likes to hold such things.” And she was going to kick His Grace’s backside for such a blatant display of his abilities. The man nodded and set off toward Griffin, who looked as though he might fall down at any moment.