Authors: Calista Taylor
Tags: #fiction, #mystery, #historical, #scotland, #science fiction, #steam punk, #erotic romance, #london, #sci fi, #highland, #scottish, #highlander, #romance steampunk
Book 1 in the Viridis Series
Calista Taylor 2011
by Daeron Publishing at Smashwords
Copyright © 2011 by Calista Taylor
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, 2011
Credits for cover:
Model: Marcus Ranum
Brushes: Obsidian Dawn
London, January 1866
The body lay as it had fallen, the man’s
limbs bent at awkward angles. Holding the lantern out to shed light
onto the scene, Inspector William Thomas crouched down, careful to
avoid the pool of blood that had frozen onto the cobbles. Shifting
the body over, he made note that the blood beneath had not yet had
a chance to ice. The man couldn’t have been dead more than a few
hours. Any longer, and he’d have been stripped of any valuables,
the harsh cold being the only thing to keep the street urchins at
bay thus far.
Looking around the dark alley, there was
little evidence to be had, other than the body itself. No signs
that a struggle had ensued. Nothing left behind. It must have been
done quick and with surprise, since a young man like this would be
apt to put up a fight.
Even through the dim flickering lantern
light, William was able to identify the killing blow as having come
from a fuse gun, the burn in the fabric and the hole of singed
flesh all the evidence he needed. At least his death would have
come quick, a small mercy.
The man’s face had frozen into one of shock.
It was still a beautiful face even in death, framed by locks of
gold, youthful, with a strong jaw.
Someone would be missing this man come
morning. By the cut and quality of the cloth he wore, it was
certain this was a man of wealth. The poor went missing and dead
too often for most to notice or care. It was a cruel injustice, but
that did not change the reality of the matter.
“Do we have any identification?” William turned to
the constable who had found the body during his rounds.
“That we do, Inspector, and it’s not likely you’re
going to have an easy night of it. According to the calling card
found on his person, this is Lord Niles Hawthorne.” The constable
handed it to him.
“A bit out of his way to be wandering into this part
of town. More than likely he’d been over to Viridis. No other
reason to be in this part of the city.”
Viridis was a dinner theatre and club offering a
drink by the same name. Lady Phoebe Hughes had developed the strong
distillation from a variety of plant essences, and as of late, more
and more of London’s elite were turning to the newly developed
herbal for refreshment and escape. Viridis offered all the best
traits of intoxication—and then some— with none of the undesirable
side effects. Indeed, the club Viridis had been designed with
London’s elite in mind, offering them not only a fashionable and
entertaining destination, but also one that managed to retain a
sense of respectability and decorum, despite the nature of the
herbal, which once consumed, was rumored to have the effect of an
William could see the attraction. Physically, the
herbal did not make one susceptible to dependency. However, that
was not to say one did not develop a mental predilection for the
euphoria and heightened senses it brought on, both mentally and
physically. And it was the physical effect of the drink that
attracted so many followers. It was rumored that when Viridis was
taken in its undiluted form, an orgasm could be brought on by a
With so many of influence frequenting the club, the
local authorities had been willing to overlook its rather
salacious, yet tasteful reputation, but with a murder only blocks
from Viridis’ doorsteps, William would need to take a much closer
look at the club and its proprietress.
It was high time William paid Lady Phoebe Hughes a
Lady Phoebe Hughes moved through the club, greeting
her customers and making sure they were enjoying themselves. The
second show of the night— far more risqué than anything else in
London— had just gotten underway and nearly all the tables were
filled with London’s elite, men and women alike.
She had made the club as extravagant as time and
money had allowed— gilded chandeliers above, rococo carved
furnishings, and exquisite Persian rugs below— offering the
nobility of London a place to come and dine while watching a bit of
entertainment, not too unlike what one would find in Paris. Though
the theater and show allowed the ladies some semblance of an
acceptable façade, the true reason they came was for her herbal
concoction, Viridis, which had become all the rage among London
Though she had originally developed the herbal to
lift one’s mood, she had not anticipated the scope of its effects.
Once consumed, it induced a certain euphoria, heightening the
senses and making skin sensitive to the touch, leaving a person
acutely aware of their carnal needs.
Satisfied that things were running smoothly, Phoebe
headed to the Sanctorum—a private area reserved for her best
customers, connected to the front of the club by a wide corridor.
She had spared no expense in this room, and though it had been
dear, it had paid for itself in short time.
Reminiscent of a gentlemen’s club, the Sanctorum was
a large sitting room, comfortably outfitted with plenty of areas
comfortable chairs and a roaring fire, which bathed everything in a
gilded light. It was a casual atmosphere affording a more intimate
environment away from the theater. It was in this private area that
her most elite customers congregated, and though the theatergoers
had access to Viridis, it was only in this part of the club that
one gained access to the stronger version of the drink.
Beyond the Sanctorum, Phoebe had added yet another
area which housed private rooms, enabling one to seek a clandestine
rendezvous. The entrance was hidden by an optical diffuser, a
tinkering that allowed one to pass through unnoticed. She thought
of the tinkerer who’d drawn up the original plans for the diffuser,
and her heart ached at the memory of him. He had left over a year
ago, and she’d been forced to hire another tinkerer to build
A long mahogany bar occupied the far corner of the
sitting room and was currently being run by her younger brother,
Gabriel, who chatted with his patrons, entertaining them as he
poured their drinks. He was the only family she had left. Their
mother had died when she had been just ten, with her father dying
several years later of a broken heart. Then there was their sister,
Imogene, gone just over a year. They only had each other now.
He nodded to her in acknowledgment, and she could
not help but smile at his handsome face. Just a few years younger
than herself at three and twenty, running the club would have been
impossible if not for his constant help.
She approached the bar with a smile, but grew wary
when her brother’s eyes darted around the room, a sigh escaping his
lips. “What is it, love?”
Gabriel reached out and gave her hand a quick
squeeze. “Phoebe…” He gave his head a shake, then looked up at her
with a hint of smile. “There’s someone here to see you.” He
motioned with a tilt of the head and a sparkle in his eyes to the
gentleman sitting by the fire.
Though the man’s back was to her and she could only
see his luscious chestnut locks, she knew, without a single doubt
in her mind, that it was he. It had been over a year since she had
last seen him, over a year since his duty to the Cause had called
him away. And now he was here. Her tinkerer.
Her chest tightened and her heart picked up its
pace, thundering away against her ribcage. She glanced at Gabriel,
steeled herself with a deep breath, and moved across the room on
wobbly legs, her pulse deafening inside her head. She closed the
distance between them quickly, scarcely acknowledging the friendly
greetings of her regular customers as she passed, her focus on him
She reached out, her hand hovering above his
shoulder, not sure she could touch him without having her heart
stop. Before she could muster the courage, he turned around, his
eyes locking on hers.
“Phoebe.” He stood to greet her, but took no more
than a step towards her.
“Seth.” Her mouth had suddenly gone dry, her heart
tripping over itself. How she wished he didn’t have this affect on
her. “I hadn’t realized you had returned.” She was barely able to
get the words out.
“Just this morning. Please, sit with me. It’s been
too long.” He motioned to the vacant chair across from him, sitting
back in his own.
Phoebe fell into the chair before her legs gave out,
her corset the only thing keeping her upright. She was unable to
look at him without being flooded with memories of their nights
together, of his touch, and of the dark days after her sister’s
death when no one—not even Seth—could reach her.
Soon after their father’s death, Imogene had become
plagued by melancholy and Phoebe had spent countless hours in her
father’s abandoned laboratory, desperate to develop an herbal cure
that would help her save her. Unfortunately, Phoebe’s breakthrough
had come only months too late. By the time the formula had been
perfected, Imogene had already taken her own life.
“You look beautiful, Phoebe.” He moved to the edge
of his chair, and reached out to take her hand in his. “Do you know
how I’ve missed you? There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t
think of you.”
Though she wanted nothing more than to sink into his
arms and forget how desperately alone she’d been this last year,
she yanked her hand away, her anger and hurt getting the best of
her. “How dare you! How dare you say you’ve missed me. You left me,
Seth. Left me when I needed you most.” All of the emotions she’d
kept bottled up for so long came flooding back, and she had to
blink away the tears that threatened.
He flinched at her words. “You know that’s not the
reality of it. It killed me to leave you the way I did.” He reached
out to her again, but stopped just short of touching her.
“My sister had just died, but your assignment for
the Cause took precedence. It always has, and I know now that it
always will— which is fine, but let’s not pretend, Seth. I know
. I would have stayed if I
could have, but you know I was the only one who could have fixed
the geostat on such short notice. You know how important it was to
get it back up and running.”
Seth was a brilliant tinkerer—one of the many
reasons Phoebe had fallen in love with him. The geostat was one of
Seth’s most innovative tinkerings, bringing much needed income to
the Cause by making the mining of the arctic Outlands a
Controlled by the Cause, the Outlands were located
so far to the north that water and land iced to become one. While
the earth in the Outlands was rich, the severe weather conditions
had made mining previously impossible. Only Seth’s geostat was
capable of digging through the hardest earth and working in the