Seleste deLaney - [Badlands 02]

BOOK: Seleste deLaney - [Badlands 02]
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Clockwork Mafia
By Seleste deLaney

Inventor Henrietta Mason is retiring from airships and adventuring to return home to Philadelphia. Determined to erase all trails leading to her late father’s duplicity, she dismantles his lab and removes all records of the Badlands gold. While in the city, she can’t resist the lure of a charity gala but winds up regretting the whole experience. Well, everything except a heart-racing dance with a certain U.S. Marshal.

His career and vengeance on the line, Carson Alexander must prove a connection between Senator Mason and the mafia. He lucked out happening across Mason’s strikingly beautiful daughter, only to have her slip through his fingers. On a desperate hunt to track her down, he never expects his search to take him into the brutal Badlands.

With a mechanically enhanced enforcer after them, only Carson knows the extent of the danger they face. He’ll have to win over Henrietta’s trust, and her heart, before it’s too late...

Sequel
to
Badlands.

64,000 words

Dear Reader,

April is when the romance conference season really starts to
get busy for me. Every spring, I attend the
RT
Book
Reviews
convention, a gathering of about 500
authors, readers and publishing professionals who come together to celebrate
their love of both romance and genre fiction. Each year, I come away from that
conference, and the many others I attend that are focused on the love of books
(like the Lori Foster Reader Get Together in Ohio), with a renewed enthusiasm
for diving back into my to-be-read pile. As well as a long list of authors and
books to add to that to-be-read pile! But because it’s a busy travel time of
year for me, that also means more time on the plane and in airports for
reading.

Maybe you’re like me—traveling to conferences and in need of
some plane reading. Or maybe you just need one more book to add to your
to-be-read pile. Possibly you’ve got a newborn baby who keeps you up at night
and gets you up early in the morning, and you need something you can read on the
ereader in one hand while the baby is in the other. Or perhaps you’re just in
search of a good book. You’re in luck; our April books can fill all those
needs!

The first book in our newest genre addition, New Adult,
releases this month. If you love contemporary romance, sports romance, a
(mostly) Jewish, spunky heroine and a hero who will make your heart melt, you’ll
want to read
Rush
Me
by debut author Allison Parr.

This month, I’m pleased to introduce the first book in a
six-book series written by four authors. Ginny Glass, Christina Thacher, Emily
Cale and Maggie Wells kick off a series of contemporary romance short story
collections with
Love Letters Volume 1: Obeying
Desire
. Each volume will center around a different seriously sexy
theme. I’ll bet you can’t guess what the theme of the first volume is, with a
title like
Obeying Desire
! Look for the second
volume,
Love Letters Volume 2: Duty to Please
,
releasing in May 2013.

Fans of contemporary romance will enjoy
Saved by the Bride
, the first book in a new trilogy by RITA®
Award-winning author Fiona Lowe. Who knew that being a klutz
and combining
it with a distrust of wedding bouquets could lead to a black eye?

Joining Fiona and Allison in the contemporary romance
category is Kate Davies, with
Cutest Couple
, book
two in Kate’s high-school reunion trilogy, Girls Most Likely to… Look for the
conclusion of the trilogy,
Life of the Party
, in May
2013.

Co-authors Anna Leigh Keaton and Madison Layle deliver
another scorching Puma Nights story with
Falke’s
Renegade
, while Jodie Griffin joins them in heating
up your ereader with her third erotic BDSM Bondage & Breakfast book,
Forbidden Fires
.

On the paranormal and science fiction front, we have a number
of titles for fans. Veteran author Kate Pearce begins a new series with
Soul
Sucker
, in which
Moonlighting
meets
The X-Files
in San
Francisco Bay and two worlds collide. Kat Cantrell, winner of Harlequin’s 2011
So You Think You Can Write contest, joins Carina Press with her first science
fiction romance,
Mindlink
, while returning author
Eleri Stone gives us another jaguar shifter in
Lost City
Shifters: Rebellion
, book three in this compelling series.

Clockwork Mafia
by Seleste
deLaney brings us back to the Western steampunk world of
Badlands
. Inventor Henrietta Mason is retiring from airships and
adventuring to return home to Philadelphia. Determined to erase all trails
leading to her late father’s duplicity, she dismantles his lab and removes all
records of the Badlands gold. And last but certainly not least in the paranormal
category,
Night of the Dark Horse
by Janni Nell
continues the adventures of Allegra Fairweather, paranormal investigator.

This month, Bronwyn Stuart follows up her fantastic debut
historical romance,
Scandal’s Mistress
, with her
unique regency romance,
Behind the Courtesan
,
featuring—you guessed it—a courtesan heroine.

On the non-romance side, Jean Harrington brings us the third
Murders by Design cozy mystery installment,
Killer
Kitchens
.

And joining Carina Press with an epic fantasy trilogy, Angela
Highland tells the story of a half-elven healer with no control over her magic.
Faanshi has always been a pawn of the powerful, but after healing two mysterious
and very different men, she faces a choice that may decide the fate of a whole
kingdom. If you love fantasy, pick up
Valor of the
Healer
, book one in the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy.

As you can see, April is full of books to distract you
wherever you are, whatever you’re supposed to be doing, and even if you have a
baby in your arms. I hope you enjoy these titles as much as we’ve enjoyed
working on them.

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
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To Mom and Dad for all the books, all the stories,
and the knowledge that different can be a good thing.

Acknowledgements

As with every book, this one wasn’t created in a vacuum. To Katee and Janelle for talking me through all the stress and issues when I first wrote it and for tearing that draft apart with the kind of loving bloodletting only you can manage. To Katee, Janelle, Kelly and Tamy for tearing apart the second draft. Without all your help, the manuscript never would have been worth a tinker’s damn.

As always, my husband and my kids deserve a ton of thanks for putting up with my late nights, stress-outs and hours spent desperately banging my head on my keyboard. Thanks for your patience...and for the ibuprofen and ice packs. Much love always.

Thanks to Angela James and the staff at Carina Press for not only taking a chance on
Badlands
, but for embracing me as an author. This series means the world to me, and I’m glad it matters to Carina as well.

Most of all, to Gina Bernal. You are a brilliant editor and force me to be my best. I am forever grateful to you for pushing me beyond what I thought were my limits and for reminding me that change can be good.

Chapter One

Carson growled a curse at the contraption creeping toward him, and the thing cowered like a beaten dog before scuttling back through the door. Half machine, half animal, one hundred percent abomination. The creature had no place in the world as far as he was concerned. At least this one seemed harmless enough, unlike the others.

He rubbed at the scar on his neck—his reminder that in this new world, sometimes the dead didn’t stay that way for long. With every stroke against the thickened skin, a man’s face—what was left of it—grew clearer in his mind. Gears and filters where a nose had been. A shiny lens and brass rings in place of a right eye. Metal that should be flesh. Flesh that should have been dead many times over.

Gambini.

Carson shuddered, trying to shake away the image and the memories.

To think that was what people like St. Clair and Mason brought into being turned his stomach. The two of them had all the money and brains in the world and not a lick of sense between them. Only fools would turn to the mafia for employment. Only madmen would create and loose something like Gambini on the world.

At least St. Clair he could almost understand. Lawyers were a slippery bunch that fancied themselves above the very same law they swore to uphold. William Mason, however... The man had served on the Senate for as long as Carson could remember and was a well-respected scientist to boot. The kind of person a desperate man might turn to in order to save the woman he loved. Too bad he’d found out that Mason was the worst sort of liar far too late.

Now, with Senator Mason dead and his home freshly emptied, Carson had no choice but to focus on Mason’s “assistant,” Tobias St. Clair, instead. Their connections were the answer to more problems than Carson wanted to admit. Judging by the papers and broken machines scattered around St. Clair’s house, he may have been too late—again. He shuffled through the documents on the high table behind the sofa, hoping for some information on where Mason’s private lab was tucked away or where St. Clair might hide. Nothing.

He swept the lot of it onto the floor, sending the dog-thing skittering to a corner once more. Hunting for anything, Carson stalked back and forth through the room.

The machines were shattered and useless.

The papers nothing but notes on old cases.

Clothes gone.

Any documents linking St. Clair to Mason—gone.

Carson had spread his net so carefully, and now everything was trickling through it like water—his little fish washing away with it and the damn shark nowhere in sight. He should have grabbed both of them when he first found the link between their work and the mafia. Someone needed to pay for Lily’s death. He’d staked his damn career on finding a way to destroy the men responsible, and now his off-the-books investigation had dead-ended with nothing to show for it.

Fury and frustration boiled inside him until he snatched a meaningless chunk of metal and pitched it at the wall. Cracks radiated from the point of impact, one reaching up and spreading several feet across the ceiling before it stopped, raining plaster down on him.

Veins stood out on his arms, his pulse throbbing visibly. Closing his eyes, Carson pushed the rest of his emotions deep. He needed focus, not rage. St. Clair had disappeared, and the man prided himself on his lack of emotional ties. His home and office were both empty, which meant Carson had to move back to the dead senator. Searching for the man’s private lab had seemed a waste of time before, but he’d run out of options. Mason’s haunts were the only trails left worth following.

For now, he had to stop for the night—empty-handed—to go to a ridiculous gala. He wanted to skip it, pretend he’d forgotten, but it was too important to the program.
An
opportunity
to
remind
people
in
power
how
vital
the
marshals
are
. The government had pinned a medal on his chest and called him a hero. Too bad they wanted all the heroes to stop working and parade like show horses in front of a bunch of debutantes and housewives to raise money for charity.

Of course, many of the very senators Mason worked with would be there. Perhaps even St. Clair. The possibility of new information helped him believe it might be worth the time. A tingle of anticipation only cemented the idea that he’d find something tonight. What, he didn’t know, but he always trusted his feelings.

* * *

Her bustle secure and her corset tied tightly, Henrietta Mason checked one last time to ensure the brass butterfly clockworks hadn’t slipped from her coiffure. One couldn’t be too careful—at the slightest hint of weakness, the women would attack. Of course, if they didn’t see a weakness, they would take care to ferret one out.

Church bells chimed nearby. Eight o’clock. She was late.

Sighing, Henri lifted her skirt and descended from the steam carriage. The building loomed in front of her, one more challenge to overcome. Considering all she’d been through, this should have been the least of her concerns, but if she wanted any chance to maintain her status, she had little choice but to go inside. Damn her father for sending her away for so many years.

“I am Dr. Henrietta Mason.” She held her head high, speaking to the brisk evening air. “I have survived far worse than anything this night can possibly bring.” Curving her lips into the perfect ghost of a smile, she made her way past the bowing doorman and into the hotel.

She had attended any number of galas in this very building when her parents were alive. This should have been second nature to her. Her tiny infirmary on the trading dirigible,
Dark
Hawk
; the Badlands, where violence was the rule of law and criminals cavorted with queens; among the unwashed—very unwashed—masses of Texas...
those
were places she didn’t belong. If she truly had a place anywhere, it was here, among the elite of Philadelphia. This was home. This was what her mother had always wanted for her, what she’d been destined for since birth. At least until Mother had died and her father had sent her into exile aboard the blasted airship.

No matter. The past was past, and Henri was home now. At the entrance to the ballroom, she donned her last accessory for the masquerade, slipping it over her eyes with practiced ease. The mechanisms hidden inside the brass and silver butterfly mask whirred to life at the touch of a button, the gears spinning until the hooks wrapped around her head and latched securely in her hair.

A curt nod to the attendants, and they swung open the doors. The grand ballroom stretched before her, tables draped in white linens spread throughout the room. Servers, also in white, roamed through both levels with trays of hors d’oeuvres and flutes of champagne. But they were just the canvas.

All the guests milled about, laughing and drinking, painting the ballroom in a dizzying array of color. The women spun in gowns of crimson, turquoise and violet, sometimes all three combined. In order to match their masks, fur, feathers and scales adorned their clothes. Even many of the men had abandoned their basic black tailcoats in favor of something with more flair.

Henri smoothed her hands down her gold brocade corset and sought comfort in the feel of the hand-embroidered silk bustle. Compared to the other women, she was plain, simple, her elaborate clockwork butterfly mask notwithstanding. Perhaps she
had
been away from society for too long.

The urge to duck out before she was seen melted away when a man stepped up next to her. She could hardly disappear without notice now. Tiny mirrors within the mask allowed her to observe him without turning. He towered over her by at least a foot with the broad shoulders and muscles of someone more accustomed to hard labor than formal wear. The way he fidgeted with his cufflinks and tie confirmed it.

“Are these damnable things always so uncomfortable?” His voice was deep, gravelly and sent a tiny shiver through her.

Definitely not society. His language had him better suited to the more common parts of her life—the one she intended to leave behind as soon as she made all the necessary arrangements. Still, propriety dictated she respond even if his introduction had been less than polite.

Her practiced smile in place, she turned toward him and inhaled sharply. The mirrors needed adjusting. They had done him a great disservice. Even though his brass and silver wolf mask hid much of his face, the man was breathtaking, with long, dark gold hair tied back at the nape of his neck and blue eyes that seemed to pierce right through her façade of ease into the deepest recesses of her soul. She had to swallow hard in order to make her mouth work properly.

“Fashion is rarely designed for comfort. However, perhaps I might be of some assistance?” She tilted her head to the side in the way that made most people see her as less abrasive. As soon as she moved, she wondered why on earth she cared how this stranger looked at her. But she did. The moment those eyes, bright even beneath the shadow of his silvery wolf mask, locked on hers, she wanted very badly for this man to speak to her further.

“Of course.”

Pressing her lips together, Henri slid her fingers over his right cuff, easing the shank through the hole and twisting it to hold the cloth securely. She repeated the exercise on the other arm before rising on her toes to adjust his tie. He flinched as her fingers brushed a scar along his neck. Then his hands found her waist as she teetered, holding her steady. It wasn’t proper, and she should insist he release her. But it didn’t feel wrong. On the contrary, warmth radiated from his touch, chasing away the remnants of the chill from outside. She didn’t want him to let her go at all.

“The trick to these things is to make them only tight enough to perfect your appearance. Looser and it appears sloppy. Tighter and any pretense at comfort disappears.”

“In that case, perhaps you could use some assistance with your corset.”

Henri’s eyes widened at the audacious suggestion, her fingers itching to slap him even as she quietly thrilled at the possibility. Then she noticed the way heat rose beneath his skin, coloring his neck and cheeks red while his mouth opened and closed in a manner altogether more fishlike than appropriate for a wolf.

“Apologies, miss.” He eased Henrietta down to her heels and released his hold on her waist, taking his heat with him. She started to lean forward but caught herself before she did anything foolish. The man cleared his throat. “I didn’t mean that in the way it sounded. It’s only that your corset looks very tight, and I thought I might be able to return your kind favor and help you loosen it...” He trailed off, going even redder.

As much as she tried to stifle it, laughter escaped from between Henri’s lips, and her society smile burst into a real one. “I can assure you, Sir Wolf, my corset is secured perfectly. And do not trouble yourself, I promise no one will know of your minor faux pas.”

“In that case, I would like to say that you look lovely, and I appreciate the kindness.” He stuck out his hand as if he thought she’d take it as a man would. Instead, awkward as the move was, she draped her fingers over the edge of his. This blunder he recognized on his own, raising her hand to brush his lips across her knuckles. “Please, call me Carson. And you would be?”

Her breath caught for a second before his words even registered. The innocent, socially approved touch sent a strange thrill dancing over her skin—the heat of his lips even headier than that of his hands.

“I am a butterfly who understands the point of a masquerade is a degree of secrecy.” Crimson threatened to stain his skin again and, amusing as she found it, Henri didn’t want to be the society belle who embarrassed those less accustomed to its inner workings. “However, since most of us here know each other to some degree, an exchange of names seems only fair. As I’m sure you can remember to practice some discretion, when others cannot hear, you may call me Henrietta.”

“In that case, Henrietta, would you care to dance?” He bowed slightly, his head still towering over hers, and she slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow. On the dance floor, Carson’s lips pulled into a small frown, and Henri stepped back, wondering what she’d said wrong. “You’re not like the other women here, are you?”

Ah, this was a topic she could cope with, and would, in fact, have to answer regularly once she was back in Philadelphia on a more permanent basis. She rested her left hand on his shoulder as he encircled her waist. As much as her body craved his warmth, she took care to put an acceptable distance between them. “Only in so much as you are unlike the other men in the room.”

“And how is that?”

She tipped her head back in order to see the hint of a chiseled jaw beneath the edge of his mask. “None of them would have chosen—as gorgeous as your mask is—to present themselves as a wolf. Particularly not one wearing a suit made from wool.”

* * *

Carson paused in the middle of the dance, almost tripping over his own feet in the process. Fortunately, Henrietta stopped with him—her too-tight forgery of a smile firmly in place—and he regained the step on the next beat.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’d been called worse.

“I’d think that’s a fairly apt description of most people in the room.”

A real smile flared to life for a second again, lighting her crystal clear blue eyes with a twinkle that was otherwise absent. “Quite true.” She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “The rest of them don’t like to advertise though.”

He chuckled. His feet shuffled through the steps to the dance while hers seemed to glide effortlessly across the floor. “Before I bumbled over my words earlier, I meant to compliment you on your mask. I’ve never seen one quite that intricate before. Did one of the crazed inventors here make it for you?”

“In a manner of speaking. Though I’d rather not refer to myself as crazed. I leave that to the gossips.” Her eyes sparked with challenge, as if she expected him to admonish her.

While there was a certain contingent of scientists he wished he could see behind bars, he failed to recognize any danger in the delicate wiring and clockwork mechanisms of her mask. Besides, his presence here tonight was to raise money for charity, and despite his earlier gut feeling, he’d quickly realized the odds of finding anything to help his case were slim. Best not to dwell on work—time enough for that come morning. “As I said, you don’t seem to have much in common with the other women here. A fact I find refreshing to say the least. I have to admit, though, I had hoped the same person had made both our masks. It would have given us a tiny bit of common ground to tread on.”

BOOK: Seleste deLaney - [Badlands 02]
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