Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1) (2 page)

BOOK: Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1)
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Chapter 2

"A
bsinthe,” I told Rheneas, setting my trophy on the bar.

He laughed. “Of course, Lily. Hey, you did good today.”

“Oh yeah, it was all great. Losing. Having a man kill himself in front of me. All good,” I replied.

“You’re getting to be a grouch in your old age, Lil,” he replied with an injured laugh, his face crumpling.

“Sorry, Rhe,” I said, feeling regretful for my sharp words.

“Well, nobody likes to lose to an American. Right, gents?” Rheneas called to the crowd who booed in reply. Rheneas set his hand on mine. He poured me a glass of the green fairy then slid me the iced water along with the plate of sugar cubes and a spoon. “That one is on me.”

I leaned across the counter and kissed Rheneas on top of his bald head. I popped a sugar cube into my mouth and sipped the drink. The spirit dissolved the sugar on contact. My mouth filled with the exploding taste of sweet and the sharp taste of alcohol. I could smell the anise, fennel, and other herbs in the absinthe. I closed my eyes and let it slide down my throat. Heaven. After two more glasses, I was feeling remarkably better.

“I’m headed to the back,” I told Rheneas.

“Why don’t you leave that with me?” he replied, looking at the trophy.

I gazed at the cup. It was shaped like a hot air balloon. The stem of the trophy was the basket. The top of the balloon was open at the pinnacle and suitable for drinking. It was a heavy piece with inlaid silver filigree. The trophy, once I’d sold it, would probably keep the
Stargazer
outfitted until the next race.

With the death of the harlequin, the trophy ceremony had been suspended. The Marshalls had given Cutter, me, and the Spanish airship racer, Alejandro Fernando, our awards behind the scenes as the constables ushered everyone away from the airship platforms. Just like that, after two solid months of preparation, it was all over. Cutter had invited me for dinner at some fancy place in Kensington, but I passed. The boys headed to Scarlette’s Hopper, a tavern near the towers, and I headed home to Covent Garden.

I looked at the cup and back at Rheneas. He was right.

“All right,” I said, pushing it toward him. “I’ll be back for it later. Either that, or I know where you live.”

Rheneas laughed. “You should stop by. My wife has been asking for you.”

Flying on absinthe, I wound my way back to the opium den. My head felt light and dizzy. The pent-up tension from the race finally started to leave my body. The green fairy had already led me to another plane. I was seeing stars by the time Miss O led me to my opium cot.

“Lily! You here to celebrate?” Miss O asked, her naked breasts hanging in my face as she set out the equipment for me, including my favorite pipe.

“Oh yes.”

“You need anything else, baby? Want me to bring you someone? We got a new girl. How about a nice tickle?” she asked, rubbing her hands over my breasts.

I laughed. “Miss O. Go away,” I replied, smacking her playfully on the ass as she headed out.

“Call if you need anything or if you change your mind,” she said, wiggling her tongue at me, then closed the curtain.

I picked up the engraved brass and wood pipe and lit the opium. I inhaled deeply, the smoke filling my mouth. The sweet scent of the burning herb filled the air around me. I closed my eyes and let the opium do its work. After a few hits, I felt like the world around me had begun to slow. The voices outside my cot seemed drawn out, Miss O’s laughter ringing like a slow gong. My head filled with a light haze. I felt deeply relaxed. Finally alone, I decided to find out what, exactly, the harlequin had passed to me.

No one had seen him stick the package in my pants. When the constables questioned me, I declined to offer more information than they needed. I told them the clown had asked me to marry him, and I’d said no. Then, he jumped. They didn’t need to know anything else.

The constables had bitched bitterly when they discovered the harlequin had nothing on him except his mask. Apparently he’d been making a ruckus across London all day. He had manhandled an undersecretary at a downtown office and made off with some papers, stolen something from a cathedral, beaten the priest who’d tried to stop him, and knocked out two of the Bow Street boys to get onto the tower.

They did, however, ask me to identify him.

When they removed his mask, we discovered he was young and very handsome. “I’ve never seen him before,” I told them truthfully, a lump rising in my throat all the same.

“Well, that’s it then. Just some loon. Probably was so depressed she rejected him that he killed himself. After all, no one goes around dressed like that,” the Captain told his underlings.

“Unless they
are
a harlequin,” I said.

“Well, yes, of course,” the Captain replied, irritated. With that, they closed the case.

I pulled the package out of my pants and unwrapped it. At first I thought it was a spyglass. It was long, gold polished, and had strange symbols engraved all over it. It looked very old. I lifted it, expecting to see magnification, but my eye was met instead by a waterfall of color. A kaleidoscope? Why had someone died to pass me a kaleidoscope?

I lay back, taking another hit of opium, and looked at the colors. They were exceptionally vivid. I had never seen a kaleidoscope so brightly hued. I turned the glass around and around. Inside the colors changed, at least in my imagination, from vistas of flower filled fields, to bouquets of lilies, to the floral pattern on my mother’s everyday housedress. I stopped. That was an image I had completely forgotten until that moment. Sighing, I turned the kaleidoscope again while my eyes drooped.

I was sweating. I could not move. I stared down at my foster father’s body lying on the cobblestone street, blood pouring from his mouth and ears. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t make a sound. I twisted and turned, unable to get away from the sight. It was so hot. I could not breathe.

“She’s in here,” Miss O’s voice broke in. “You want me to bring a couple of girls again?”

“No. Not this time.”

“Lily, visitor,” Miss O called.

My eyes popped open. I gasped for breath.

“Bad dream?” he asked.

“Lord Byron?” I said, surprised, as I tried to pull myself together. I mopped the sweat from my brow. As always, the fucking nightmares. Would it ever end? “Now, what brings you to this den of sin?”

“I looked for you after the race. I couldn’t find you anywhere. Naturally, then, I knew you would be here,” he said, sitting down on the cot beside me. He lifted the pipe and took a toke. How handsome he looked in the dim light, his chestnut colored hair curling around his ears, his skin, with its alabaster sheen, making him look otherworldly. His pouty red lips always seemed hungry. And then there were his eyes, as clear and blue as a spring sky.

“I’ve missed you, but why are you in London?” I asked him. He handed the pipe to me. I inhaled deeply. The opium made a haze of everything. I felt like I was experiencing the world from a forty foot distance.

“Some legal matters needed immediate and personal attention. And I came, of course, for the race. But I’m leaving for Athens at dawn,” he said, stroking my leg. He toked again then poured himself a glass of absinthe from the small decanter beside the cot. He popped a sugar cube and drank the absinthe in one long swallow.

“So soon?” I said with a sly grin as I grabbed hold of his belt, my fingers inside his pants.

“That’s time enough,” he replied, “unless, of course, my absence has cured your love for me,” Byron said with a smile.

“Love?”

“Of course. It is the duty of a lover to love. Ah, but I forget myself. I have a gift for you,” Byron replied.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wooden box. He handed it to me.

I took another toke then set the pipe down. “What is this for?”

“Your service to your country,” he replied.

“Ah yes, how the British love a loser.”

Byron leaned in and kissed my cheek and ear. “We are giants. That is the reason we cannot tolerate anything less than excellence. Open it,” he whispered.

I opened the lid to discover a small metal pin tinkered into the shape of a lily. “It’s beautiful.”

“Ah, but that’s not all. Watch,” he said and tapped one of the intricately designed carpels extending from the center of the lily. With that, the flower came to life. The petals flexed up and down as if they were in the breeze, the carpels waving in coordination. “A lily that never loses its fragrance. A delicacy that never wilts. It is common metal, yes, but strikingly beautiful in its complexity.”

I stared at it. It was amazing. I set the box down, and lying back, pulled Byron on top of me. I kissed him deeply, my tongue roving inside his mouth, my fingers twisting around his curly hair. I could taste the sugar and alcohol on his lips. His intoxicating scent of patchouli and orange blossom overwhelmed me.

He moved to unbuckle my corset. “No buttons?” he asked. Puzzled, he eyed the corset with great interest.

Guiding his hand, I set it on the small metal rosette at the center of the corset between my breasts. “Press down.”

When he did, the mechanism inside released and the corset fell open. At once, I was topless.

“Now,
that
is amazing,” he said, spreading his hands wide.

“A friend designed it for me. I think it will become fashionable.”

“If men have anything to say about it, indeed.” He lifted a sugar cube off the tray and licked it once, rubbing it on my nipples. He then nuzzled my breasts as he pulled off my belt.

I slid out of my pants and pulled the corset aside. I helped Byron unbutton his vest and pulled off the blousy white shirt that lay beneath. Moments later his boots and pants were off too.

Byron was an infamous lover, and I think many wondered at the relationship between us. It was not that I was so beautiful, so smart, or so alluring that enchanted him. What Byron liked best about me was that I knew what he wanted-it was the same thing I wanted.

I grabbed my belt and pushed Byron down on the cot. He smiled at me. With a wink, I grabbed his hands and belted them together, cinching the belt tightly to the post. I straddled his waist. Then I leaned in and kissed him deeply. I sat back up. We were locked into a deep stare; then, I hit him hard. Blood leaked from the corner of his mouth. He stuck his tongue out and tasted it.

“Again,” he whispered.

I did as he asked, again and again. When tears of pain finally came to his eyes, I stuck him inside me and rode him hard. After I untied him, he grabbed my breasts roughly, squeezing the nipples until I cried out. He was good, knowing just how and when to raise and lower his hips. The first moments were strikingly clear but then the rest became a blur of flesh and feeling. I remember untying him, being flipped on my stomach, and the sharp feel of a lash on my ass, but after that everything else was hazy.

I woke an hour or so later to find Byron lying beside me looking into the kaleidoscope. My post-opium head was already starting to ache.

“Where did you get this?” he asked, turning it.

“The harlequin passed it to me before he jumped.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. I sat up and opened the curtain. “Miss O?” I called.

I could see from the open skylight that it was dark outside. An airship passed over; it was a passenger transport.

“Baby, your lip is bleeding,” Miss O said when she came up to me. She handed me a handkerchief.

“Thanks. Can you bring some water?”

“Of course,” she replied and walked away.

I leaned back in and blotted the blood from my lip. Byron smiled apologetically, but I shrugged. I noticed he had a dark ring under his eye. I said nothing.

“Did the harlequin say anything?” Byron asked, rolling over.

I looked at his naked body. I loved making love to him, but there was something so endearing about seeing Byron naked and unaroused that moved me. It almost made the great Lord Byron seem vulnerable.

“He asked if I was Lily, told me to go to Venice, and stuck this in my trousers.”

Byron half laughed, half grunted. “When are you leaving?”

“I cannot afford a holiday to Venice, my Lord,” I said jokingly, taking the kaleidoscope from his hands.

I put it to my eye again. Once more, I was treated to the beautiful colors.

“What about your prize money?”

“Used immediately to settle my debts. I still have to hawk the trophy; the money from that will cover most of the
Stargazer’s
expenses with a few crowns left over to feed myself. But I need to take fares and get ready for the next race.”

Byron looked at the kaleidoscope. “No. You should go. It is, after all, Venice,” he said, looking wistful, “a place where dying glory smiles. It is the perfect place for an escape. I have people there who can help you. I will arrange a place for you.”

I shook my head. “You already do too much for me. Besides, I have fares lined up starting tomorrow.”

“My secretary will cancel them. Do this, Lily.”

BOOK: Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1)
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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