The Girl with the Iron Touch Page 2

He swiped at his nose with a handkerchief, then shoved the linen in his pocket, but not before Emily saw the blood on it.

Damn fool. He wouldn’t learn his limits until his brain slid out his nostrils.

“You reckon sending him after Griff was a good idea?” Sam asked.

Emily scowled at him. “Let him tell his own lies. He wants to show off in public, that’s his business. He can ruddy well figure out how to explain it.” Maybe that wasn’t fair of her, but she was worried about him, afraid for him, and that often manifested as annoyance in her. Thankfully people would believe that a machine could do such things. These days folks lapped up science like it was fresh cream and they were a hungry kitten. No, machines they could forgive for doing fantastic things. People, on the other hand, were a different kettle of fish.

People like the five of them—people who weren’t “normal”—scared the rest of the world. She’d read Mary Shelley’s book about the monster, Mr. Stevenson’s book about Jekyll and Hyde (said to have been based on Finley’s own father), Stoker’s vampire novel…none of them ended well for the character who wasn’t simply “human.” None of them—herself and her friends— were monsters, but she didn’t want to try arguing that point against a pitchfork and torch-carrying mob. To them there’d be little difference between herself and the Kraken.

Griffin’s little stunt called attention to them, just as Sam would have done if he’d moved that tank with his remarkable strength. A mob would be the least of their worries if people found out about them. Better the wrong end of a pitchfork than in a cage being poked and prodded, or in a freak show. Griffin’s power as a duke would help them, but she’d had to put it to the test. The Royal Society packed up and left and the crowd dispersed, having realized that there was nothing more to see. Sam went to Griffin’s side and, after a few seconds, Emily followed after him. It would be stupid for her to remain apart when the rest of the group stood together. Petty, as well.

Finley turned to her as she approached. She looked bulky in her underwater suit, but she grabbed Emily up in a fierce hug. Good thing she was already wet and chilled.

“Are you all right?”

Emily nodded. “I’ll have a few bruises later, but nothing my wee beasties can’t fix. You?”

Finley shrugged. “As right as I’ll ever be. At least we got it.” The subtle shift in her voice said more than words ever could. We hadn’t gotten anything. Griffin was responsible for the thing’s capture. If she gave herself any credit it would be that she drove it to the surface so he could seize it.

“Let’s get out of here,” Emily suggested. “Griffin’s not looking so good.”

Griffin turned to shoot her an indignant glance.

“Will the lot of you stop fussing over me like I was an invalid? I’m perfectly—” His eyes rolled back in his head as he collapsed to the rough wooden planks. “Griffin!” Finley was the first to reach him, even though Sam was closer. She gave his pale cheek a light slap. “Griff?”

“Jasper,” Emily commanded, watching blood trickle from Griffin’s nose at an alarming rate. “Get the carriage.”

Chapter 2

“Has he said anything to you?” Finley asked Sam when they were back at King House in Mayfair. Griffin was in his room, asleep. He’d regained consciousness on the way home and insisted he was fine, he just needed to rest.

No one really believed that. But, this was his house. He was the Duke of Greythorne, and his power over the Aether had been known to topple buildings. His power had also been unpredictable as of late, so no one wanted to push him. Not because they were afraid of what he might do to them—Griffin was their friend— but because they were afraid of what he might do to himself. There was something wrong, and he wasn’t sharing it with his most trusted friends.

Sam shook his head. The four of them—Finley, Sam, Emily and Jasper—were gathered in the red parlor having sandwiches and little cakes for tea. “He’ll tell us if he wants us to know.”

“That’s the problem,” Finley shot back, in no mood for his brusque tone or ever-present scowl. She was hungry and she’d tied her corset a little too tightly. “He doesn’t want us to know. Which means he thinks we’ll worry. Which means whatever’s wrong with him is something we should worry about.”

“Blokes are different than girls,” Sam informed her— still scowling. “We don’t need to talk about every little thing. You don’t hear me whining when I break a nail.”

Finley’s own brows pulled together. “Do you ever think before you open your mouth?”

“Did I offend your delicate sensibilities?” Sam asked sweetly. He seemed to take great pleasure in riling her. “Or are you afraid Griff might say something to me he might not tell you? If he had, I wouldn’t betray his trust by telling everyone.”

Finley’s shoulders straightened. She could kick him in the throat. That would remove the smug smile from his face. How did he manage to get under her skin and know what she was thinking sometimes? It wasn’t like Sam was all that bright, which meant she was completely obvious in her feelings. She’d have to change that.

But she was the one who’d cradled Griffin’s head on the ride home, and the one whose clothing was stained with his blood.

“No,” she agreed. “You’re a good little lapdog.”

His humor disappeared, replaced by a scowl darker than his usual. A muscle flexed in his jaw. Finley’s fingers curled into fists, her muscles tightening. If he wanted a fight she’d bloody well give him one….

“Oh, will you two please give it a rest? Just for a wee while?” Emily looked from one to the other like a school matron ready to apply a leather strap to both their backsides. “Regardless of what Griffin does or does not wish to share with us, there’s no denying something is very wrong. He is not himself. As his friends it’s our job to help him, not fight among ourselves over which of us knows more secrets or can better keep them.”

Sam at least look chastised, though Finley imagined that had more to do with the fact that censure had come from Emily rather than a true sense of remorse.

“He’s been getting worse since we returned from New York,” Finley said, and the others nodded in agreement, except for Jasper, who was looking out the window at the lawn beyond.

“It started the night Mei died,” the American said quietly, turning his head toward them. His handsome face wore no expression. This was the first Finley had heard him speak of that night in Manhattan when Griffin had used his abilities to prevent a group of criminals from escaping capture.

One of the criminals had his hand crushed. The other—Mei, a girl Jasper once loved—was killed. She glanced at Emily. The red-haired girl’s freckles stood out on her pale cheeks, her aqua eyes wide with sorrow. Sam looked down at his teacup. The delicate china was tiny in his large hands. Finley’s shoulders sagged. She was on her own, it seemed.

“You’re right,” she told Jasper. “It did start that night. Griffin hasn’t forgiven himself for what happened. It might…be helpful if he knew you had.”

Jasper nodded, his gaze drifting back to the window. It had started to rain since they’d returned to King House, where Jasper now lived with the rest of them. “I’ll have a talk with him.”

Silence fell around them, uncomfortable and thick. Finley took a sip of tea. It was hot and fragrant, replacing the last of the stench from the Thames that persisted in her nostrils even though she’d bathed and changed her clothes. She had put on a purple blouse and black frilly skirt that Griffin liked, but he wasn’t even going to see her in it.

No one spoke. It wasn’t like them to be this quiet, but it had become more and more commonplace since their return from America. They had saved Jasper from outlaw Reno Dalton, but at what price? The wretched thought refused to leave her alone.

And Griffin, who swore he trusted her, who knew so many of her secrets, wouldn’t tell her what he was going through. She felt as though he was trying to push her away, even though he seemed to enjoy being with her, especially when kissing was involved.

The sound of the doorbell made her jump. She giggled giddily—foolishly—at the relief that came with it. Finally, a diversion! The others looked to be just as pleased as she was.

When the door to the parlor opened, Finley rose to her feet to greet their guest. It was the sort of behavior expected from the lady of the house, and while Griffin had never formally called her such, he hadn’t told her she wasn’t, either. It was just one more confusing aspect of their relationship. His aunt Cordelia was off on some sort of adventure of her own, and no one else seemed to want the responsibility of dealing with servants and such. As someone who used to be a servant, Finley knew how life below stairs worked.

Mrs. Dodsworth, the housekeeper, appeared in the door frame. “Mr. Dandy to see you, miss,” she said. Only the slight tilt of her nose as she looked down it revealed what she thought of receiving such a notorious guest.

Jack? A diversion, indeed! Outside this house, she had very few friends, but Jack Dandy was a favorite, if for no other reason than he always knew how to cheer her up and often catered to her vanity. Finley grinned. “Show him in, please.”

The older woman nodded, clearly not pleased, and left.

“Dandy?” Sam was full-on scowling now. “What the hell does that scoundrel want?”

Finley returned his dark expression with one of her own. “You shouldn’t use words you can’t spell, mutton head.”

He rose to his feet, towering over her. Good grief, had he actually grown? “You shouldn’t invite people into a house that is not yours.”

She climbed onto the low tea table, moving the tea service with her foot, so that they were almost nose to nose. “This is as much my home as it is yours, mandroid.” The two of them had tangled before—Finley still had nightmares about how she had almost killed him—but that didn’t stop her from curling her hands into fists. I dare you, she thought as she glared at the dark-eyed boy. Take a swing.

A hand on her belly—just above the bottom edge of her corset—prevented her from getting any further into Sam’s face. The opposite hand pushed against his torso. Emily stood between them, small and determined.

A rose between two thorns. The wry thought almost made her smile, but then she saw the expression on the smaller girl’s face and she thought better of it.

“Get down from there,” Emily commanded, her Irish brogue thickened by annoyance. “And you, Sam Morgan, sit down, you great, foolish article! Do the two of ye have absolutely no idea of how to behave as proper? You’re worse than two dogs growling over the same bone.”

Shame tugged at Finley’s conscience, but she didn’t immediately step down. She waited for Sam to move first.

“You’ll be waitin’ a long time if you fink she’ll give in first, mate,” came a familiar voice from the door.

Finley didn’t have to look. She’d only ever met one person who spoke so atrociously and eloquently at the same time. “Jack!” She jumped down from the table and ran to him, boots thudding on the carpet.

He looked the same—impeccably dressed in head-to-toe black, hair falling in waves around the points of his lapels. His complexion was as fair as his hair was dark, making him incredibly striking—a fact of which he was well aware. He picked her up as she threw her arms around him, his own closing around her, strong and warm.

“It’s so good to see you!” It was true. She hadn’t seen him in weeks.

He gave her a squeeze before setting her back on her feet. “A right lovely sight are you as well, Treasure. Glad to see your sojourn to the colonies done you no lasting ’arm.” His dark eyes surveyed the room. “Where’s ’is pompousness? I’ve come to speak with ’im.”

Not just to see her then, Finley thought—a little glumly, were she honest. When she first met Jack she had been drawn to him, but not in the way he had wanted. Still, a girl liked attention now and then, didn’t she? Especially when the bloke she wanted was keeping secrets.

“His Grace is indisposed,” Sam informed him, stepping forward. His scowl had deepened. How was that even possible? “Next time make an appointment.”

Jack was a couple of inches shorter than Sam and at least two to three stone lighter, but didn’t seem the least bit intimidated. In fact, he looked amused. He tapped the end of his walking stick on the floor. “Don’t get your drawers all knotted up, Goliath. If I wants to court trouble I never ’ave to leave Whitechapel. I’ve come into possession of some information the likes of which I believe would interest Monsieur le duc.”

“Why don’t you tell us?” Finley suggested, gesturing for him to sit. Emily had pulled Sam aside and was talking at him animatedly, pointing a finger at him and frowning. Sam looked suitably chastised. “Would you like tea?”

Jack turned the full force of his intense gaze on her. It was as though he could see right down into her soul. Instinctively, she laid a palm over her brown leather corset, as though her flesh and bone might offer some protection against the feeling that she had done something wrong.

“Mistress of the ’ouse are you, Treasure? Can’t say as that I’m surprised.”

Heat flooded her cheeks. Oh, good Lord, she was blushing! Blast him for embarrassing her. She raised her chin. “I’m not mistress of anything. I was just being polite.”

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