Read Brass and Bone Online

Authors: Cynthia Gael

Tags: #Fantasy

Brass and Bone

Brass and Bone

By Cynthia Gael

Being Simon Thorne, friend and collaborator to Lady Abigail Moran, isn’t easy. Yes, being a daring thief does have its charms. But I still haven’t convinced Abigail that she loves me, and thievery, for all the romantical writers say of it, is not the way to wealth. Especially if Abigail insists we continuously repair the airship with our ill-gotten gains.

So when an old friend summons us to his estate and offers us a daring job with a hefty paycheck, we’re happy to accept. The mission: use our airship to transport secret cargo halfway across the globe. Oh, and we mustn’t forget to take along the witch and her sinister keeper. A witch more beguiling than expected and her keeper—or is that companion?—with secrets darker than one could imagine.

Alas. Perhaps I have finally bitten off more than I can chew…

36,000 words

Dear Reader,

What do you get when you cross summer with lots of beach time, and long hours of traveling? An executive editor who’s too busy to write the Dear Reader letter, but has time for reading. I find both the beach and the plane are excellent places to read, and thanks to plenty of time spent on both this summer (I went to Australia! And New Zealand!) I’m able to tell you with confidence: our fall lineup of books is outstanding.

We kick off the fall season with seven romantic suspense titles, during our Romantic Suspense celebration in the first week of September. We’re pleased to offer novella
Fatal Destiny
by Marie Force as a free download to get you started with the romantic suspense offerings. Also in September, fans of Eleri Stone’s sexy, hot paranormal romance debut novel,
Mercy,
can look forward to her follow-up story,
Redemption,
set in the same world of the Lost City Shifters.

Looking to dive into a new erotic romance? We have a sizzling trilogy for you. In October, look for Christine D’Abo’s Long Shot trilogy featuring three siblings who share ownership of a coffee shop, and each of whom discover steamy passion within the walls of a local sex club. Christine’s trilogy kicks off with
Double Shot.

In addition to a variety of frontlist titles in historical, paranormal, contemporary, steampunk and erotic romance, we’re also pleased to present two authors releasing backlist titles with us. In October, we’ll re-release four science fiction romance titles from the backlist of C.J. Barry, and in November four Western romance titles from the backlist of Susan Edwards.

Also in November, we’re thrilled to offer our first two chick lit titles from three debut authors,
Liar’s Guide to True Love
by Wendy Chen and
Unscripted
by Natalie Aaron and Marla Schwartz. I hope you’ll check out these fun, sometimes laugh-out-loud novels.

Whether you’re on the beach, on a plane, or sitting in your favorite recliner at home, Carina Press can offer you a diverting read to take you away on your next great adventure this fall!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

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Dedication

For Jerry, as always. For Cindy, best! collaborator! ever! And both our thanks to our amazing editor, Rhonda. This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship… ~ KGM

To Robbie, Gail and Karma—thank you for helping me make my dreams a reality. My life wouldn’t be the same without you. ~ CDW

Prologue
Simon Thorne

It was a cruelly cold night, and a cluttered alleyway was not the best place to spend it. I longed for a warm fire and a glass of wine, a comfortable armchair and rather less soot about my person. Instead, I stood amongst dismantled packing cases, empty beer barrels and other bits of rubbish. At least the cold managed to keep the stink from the nearby Thames to a reasonable level. I am particularly sensitive to smells, no doubt a holdover from my misspent youth, and the effluvia from the mighty river could have strangled a curate, even weaned as they are on the scents of incense, wet wool and good works. I huddled deep into my heavy woolen overcoat, caped and double caped, drew my thick silk scarf up over my mouth, pulled my bowler even lower and blessed the rabbit that had given up its life for the fur lining of my leather gloves. My attire was not, sadly, à la mode, but one must make allowances.

The trollop across the way, unfortunately, had none of my protective accoutrements. I watched her from my sheltered position, deep in the shadows of my alleyway where I could whiff the horses in a nearby mews. She had bundled up as much as she could in her threadbare skirt and overlarge jacket. Her feet must be cold; I could see the holes in her ragged boots every time she passed the few sputtering gaslights the street boasted. The flickers of light elongated her already lean shadow to that of a ragged scarecrow.

I waited.

I was good at waiting. It is one of my numerous talents. Certainly one of the more mentionable ones.

Soon I knew my waiting would pay off.

A door opened just up the street to my right, and golden light poured out onto the cobblestones. A heavy-set man stumbled down the steps, the silver head of his cane striking sparks in the dimness. The door closed behind him, and I could hear the lock click home even from my distant spot.

No one left a door unlocked in Whitechapel, or Limestone, or any of the other lower-class warrens in the City of London, in this year of our Lord 1887. Our gracious majesty Victoria would have bolted and barred the doors of Buckingham Palace with her own tiny hands if it sat in any of those spots. But we were in a middle-class neighborhood not far from the river, a narrow thoroughfare lined with street lamps. It was no Regents Park, no Kensington, but it was no Seven Dials either. And it had gas laid on. Several of the houses sparkled like jewels, but not all. Gas was expensive, and this parvenu neighborhood did not contain the well-off in every house, certainly.

Still, I had definitely heard the lock click behind him as the man left the well-lit house. He walked away from the dwelling, a four-story affair of brick, with its smug expression of conscious superiority to its less well-endowed neighbors. He had a bit of a stumble and sway in his walk, as if he’d dined well and drunk better. He paused under a gaslight and fumbled with a lucifer for a moment as he lit a long black cigar. I gave a silent tut-tut at the sad cut of his coat. It was more than apparent the man was not of the British upper classes, though no doubt one of our doughty, if less than honest, tailors had assured him he was dressed in the latest fashion. I, however, would never have been caught dead in either his coat or hat.

I felt more than heard a low, almost inaudible hum, and glanced up. Above, the night airship to Calais—
HMS Prince Alfred
, as I knew quite well, having flown in her before—passed over on her way toward the Channel, the vast bulk of her dozen airbags blotting out a fat oval of stars.

I asked once why ships were invariably female; my friend Abigail said because they didn’t dare be anything else. You would have to know Abigail, I fear, to understand her comment.

When the ship had passed and I looked back down, the thin ragged woman stood just outside the circle of gaslight where the portly man lingered.

“Evening, luv,” I heard her say in a soft, exhausted whine. “Fancy a cuddle? It’ll help keep the chill away.”

The tip of the man’s cigar grew brighter as he drew on it.

“Sadly, I have just indulged in rather more than a bit of a cuddle,” he said, his voice deep and slurred; I could detect a trace of an accent as well. “A pity. I am sure I shall miss a treat and, no doubt, a variety of diseases and a choice selection of vermin into the bargain.”

“Ow, now, lovey, no need to be rude,” whined the woman, still outside the circle of gaslight. “A gentleman could offer a lady a pint, at least, on such a night. The Dog and Bone is not but a dozen steps away.”

The man cocked his head to one side as he blew a puff of fragrant smoke into the air. I was sure it mingled badly with the odor of horse manure. “A pint, is it? Or a glass of gin, perhaps? The ruin of the lower classes, I haf often heard it called.” His accent was growing stronger and more Teutonic. My suspicions had proved correct once again. No one could beat me when it came to the cut of a coat or the trim of a hat.

“Ruin it may well be, but it warms a body like naught else,” said the woman. She was still in the shadows. The street lamp above the man’s head sputtered and complained. Behind him, from the house he’d just left, I could hear raucous laughter and the short, sharp sound of glass breaking.

Mother Sorrow’s bawdy house was busy as usual, it appeared, and would be until dawn. I gave a quick thought to the other residents of the street, wondering how they felt about such an establishment as a neighbor, while silently stamping my cold feet to restore some feeling. Then I slid one hand into the capacious right pocket of my heavy overcoat and drew out the small brass, copper and crystal device on whose use I had been so meticulously trained earlier in the day. I pointed the funnel-shaped end at the single street lamp in front of Mother Sorrow’s. Even in the darkness, my thumb unerringly found the copper calibration wheel.

I turned it two notches to the right.

The street lamp blazed up, fizzled fiercely for a second—and went out.

Unexpectedly, at least to me, so did the lights in the many windows of Mother Sorrow’s house. The brothel and every other gaslit house on the street were plunged into utter darkness, made even darker by the convenient cloud that had chosen that exact moment to erase the quarter moon. This was not uncommon in these sorts of affairs, I found. No doubt the gentleman in the moon enjoyed a joke as much as the rest of us.

Silence for a handful of heartbeats, as if the very city around us was struck amazed.

Then I heard screams and angry shouts and, unsurprisingly, more sounds of broken glass in the now stygian house of Sorrow. But in the street across from me were far more interesting sounds. I could make out a grunt, a sharp cry drowned by the noise in the house, the sound of a heavy body crumpling to the cold and uncaring cobblestones.

I tucked the apparatus back into my pocket, counting silently to myself as I did so.
Eleven…twelve…thirteen…

Long ere I had reached twenty, a quiet voice spoke in my left ear—I am a trifle deaf in my right, due to a rather sharp blow there in my early youth—and startled me enough to make me jump, even though I had been expecting it. A heavy weight suddenly dragged down the empty right pocket of my overcoat, and I felt something cold pressed into my hand.

“And here’s the other bit,” whispered a voice I know better than my own. “It’s a shame we can’t keep it. It’s just your taste. You would look well with it, I vow. Now shove it in your other pocket, and let’s scarper before someone fetches the peelers. And for the love of God, give me my overcoat. I’m freezing!”

The gaslight across from my hiding place chose that exact instant to flicker into an uneasy life. I grabbed a long, warm coat I’d hung on a convenient nail jutting out from a bit of a broken box and helped the former trollop slide her arms into it.

Lady Abigail Moran grinned at me. Only Abigail could look cheerful on such a night, though she shivered with cold, her grey eyes glittering with devilment, her auburn hair tangled in a mass about her lovely face. Was it any wonder I adored her? What other woman could knock a man down, riffle his pockets and disappear before he awakes, all with a smile on her face? No other, not in all the world. And she was a dashed good sport about my unhealthy need for new waistcoats, too. I noted a smudge on her narrow nose and pointed it out as I handed her my silk handkerchief.

“Verisimilitude, my dear chap,” she said as we headed in the direction of a somewhat more salubrious sector of the city. Even so, she lost no time in spitting on the silk and wiping her face clean—or cleaner, at least.

“Elegance, thy name is Abigail.” I shuddered as I adjusted my gait to the added weight, which dragged my pocket out of shape—quite ruining, I fear, the line of my coat.

Abigail’s reply was unprintable.

Abigail’s replies often are.

She tucked her disreputable trollop’s hat into her pocket—we have all our coats made with a multitude of overlarge pockets; they come in handy in our line of work, don’t you know—and tucked her luxuriant hair into a soft plaid cap.

“I must say, this device worked brilliantly,” she said as we reached a broader street and headed for a hansom cab waiting conveniently by the curb.

It was one of the newer models, pulled by a steam man, and the driver was at that instant feeding bits of coal into the chest cavity to keep the boiler hot. He turned as we approached, nodded without speaking a word and opened the door to his cab.

“Evening, m’lady,” he murmured as he tipped his hat. “Evening, Mr. Simon.”

“Good evening, Jeremiah,” said Abigail as she nipped up into the cab and settled her coat around her. “I hope we haven’t kept you waiting too long on this miserable night?”

“Not a bit of it, m’lady. Old Lamentation here keeps me warm as warm, even on a night like this.” He resettled his mangy top hat.

“One of the advantages of all these new inventions,” I said as I entered behind Abigail—not quite as nimbly, I fear. While she has a year or two—I am unable to be quite certain as to exactly how much—on me in age, my early life has left its mark.

“Indeed, sir,” said Jeremiah as he shut the door behind me, climbed up on the seat and worked the levers that set Old Lamentation into motion. The groans and gurgles as the brass-bounded iron legs began to move made the nickname most apt.

“Well, Simon,” Abigail said after we were well underway, the first few jolting steps evening out to little more turbulence than if one were on horseback. “I am well pleased with this night’s work, aren’t you?”

“And I hope whoever assigned us this job will be as well.” I didn’t mean to sound so dreary, but I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Take it from one who knows: rich is always better.

“There, there, dear old thing. Never fear.” She patted me on the arm. “Our coffers will reach a more viable state soon, I have no doubt, else we’ll pull a job or two on the side.”

“Those aforementioned coffers best overflow with guineas if you still insist on rebuilding that old wreck of an airship.” I sniffed and watched the street lamps as we barreled by. “Honestly, won’t you reconsider and put the old wreck off for a while? We need a rest—I do, at any rate. Can’t we go away for a few weeks, perhaps to Monte Carlo, or even down in the country to Bartleby Manor? Think of it: long nights in the casino, taking everyone’s money at the roulette tables. Or, nearly as good, lazy days on the veranda in the country, away from engines and oil and stinks, sipping tea…” I finished my tirade with a sigh of longing, admittedly somewhat theatrical, as in overdone.

Abigail snorted, and this time she slapped my knee, hard. “Sipping tea? My dear old thing, you know you prefer cocoa. And you know how much you hate the local at Bartleby. All those upright and honest country folk talking politics and drinking beer. Although a pint would be smashing about now, wouldn’t it?” She took my cane and pounded on the glass separating us from Jeremiah. He leaned over and looked inquiring. “A stop at the Elephant and Castle on the way, if you please.”

The cabman tipped his hat and fiddled with the row of levers. Old Lamentation burbled as if in disagreement but began the process of turning, one massive iron leg slowing as the other sped up just a fraction.

Yes, I realize she had made no mention of my suggestion regarding her airship. Also, I confess, I agreed with Lamentation. “Do you think that’s wise? After all, aren’t we supposed to deliver—?”

“Our timetable, Simon, is our own affair,” Abigail said. “Now, we haven’t had the opportunity until now, and I should really like to see exactly what it was we just stole. Or stole back, as I believe is the case. So hand them both over, my dear fellow, and let me have a butcher’s.”

Honestly. Lady Abigail Moran, of one of the oldest families in Britain, using that vulgar Cockney rhyming slang. I would not dare do so myself unless the impersonation called for it—which, sadly, it often did—but she seemed to revel in it. I would never understand her, I feared. But I should happily spend my life in the effort.

I reached into my right pocket and hauled out a heavy device, a small box all knobs and sharp pointy bits, then handed it to her.

“Cor lumme,” she whispered, “this does look interesting. Wonder what it’s for?”

“Don’t touch any of those knobs and things, for the Lord’s sake,” I warned her. “You know what happened last time you fiddled with something you knew nothing about.”

“Pish and tosh, Simon,” she said as she turned it over in her long-fingered hands, catching as much light from the passing street lamps as she could while Old Lamentation barreled us along at a blazing seven miles an hour. “That was the merest accident. And besides, the old warehouse was falling in anyway—I simply hurried the process along a bit. Why, the owners should take up a collection and buy me a medal.”

I decided it was wise to make no reply; instead, I drew the other object from my pocket to examine. As soon as I saw it, I could not prevent a small cry of delight.

I held it up to catch more light. It was a silver pocket watch. “I say, Abigail, this is smashing!” I exclaimed as Old Lamentation paused in a convenient patch of brighter luminescence.

“Showy,” said Abigail, barely glancing at it. “But such is your style.”

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