Top Five Things I Love About Steampunk

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By Eleri Stone, author of THE ADVENTURES OF CASSIUS FLYNN AND MOLLY McGUIRE

 

Steampunk is a mash-up of science fiction and alternate history. The stories are often set in Victorian England, but there are plenty of western tales out there too.  It’s a sometimes dark, always twisted, FUN genre full of adventure and romance. Some of the things I love most about it are…

  • The clothes. Who doesn’t love a corset?

 

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  • The interesting forms of transportation

 

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  • Mad Science!

 

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  • Romance shines brighter in a dark world

 


  • Sci-Fi + Re-imagined History = Lots of crazy adventure

 

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The Adventures of Cassius Flynn and Molly McGuire is a western-set story about a pair of semi-reformed airship smugglers who are out to pull off one last job.

A Reapers novellaCARINA_0615_9781459290532_Cassius_Molly

Cassius Flynn is a smuggler. An outlaw. A scoundrel. Charming, devilishly handsome in a maverick sort of way and fiendishly clever to boot. He’s also the only man Molly McGuire has ever loved.

Molly’d left him a year ago. Stolen his airship, broken his heart and made him look like a damn fool. Still, he’s rushed to her rescue, storming into Reaper territory to snatch her out from under the repulsive bounty hunter who brought her in.

High above the plains, up among the clouds in the most rarefied Scraper city of them all, a ruthless statesman has stolen everything Cassius considers important. And without Molly, without her quick hands, sharp mind and pretty face, he doesn’t stand a chance of getting it back…

What’s your favorite thing about Steampunk?

Available now from Carina Press or your favorite ebook retailer:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | GooglePlay | iBooks | Kobo

 

Eleri Stone is a RITA-nominated author of paranormal and fantasy romance. She was born in New Jersey, but now lives in Iowa with her husband and their three children. All of her stories have some element of speculative fiction in them and they all end with a happily-ever-after.

 

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June 2015 Releases

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Enjoy our Carina Press new releases! With new titles available for download every week, visit this page to plan your shopping for the month. You’re sure to find a story you’ll love!

P.S. Shop our presale titles—buy upcoming titles now and download on the street date!

JUNE 1 | JUNE 8 | JUNE 15 | JUNE 22 | JUNE 29

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June 1

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NO WOMAN LEFT BEHIND: A LEXI CARMICHAEL MYSTERY by Julie Moffett
(action/adventure, mystery)
ISBN: 9781426899782
Price: $4.99

CARINA_0615-9781426899782_NoWomanLeftBehindMy mother’s life goal has been to see me, geek extraordinaire Lexi Carmichael, happily married. So bringing my first boyfriend, Slash, home for dinner has me hyperventilating. Things get a lot worse when bullets start flying over our corn chowder.

Now the entire alphabet soup of government agencies want my help finding the man behind the attack—Johannes Broodryk, a cyber mercenary I foiled on my last case. He wants revenge and he’s taken something of mine to ensure I’ll play, so it’s game on. But the government has its own agenda, and Slash is not on board with the plan. Things are a bit bumpy in paradise.

Although I’m more comfortable with computer code than commandos, I’ve been assigned a team of navy SEALs to help bring Broodryk down. The question is, will they survive me long enough to solve his cryptic puzzles and save the day?

Don’t miss Lexi’s first adventure in No One Lives Twice!

81,400 words

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OLIVIA CHRISTAKOS AND HER SECOND FIRST TIME by Dani Irons
(new adult romance)
ISBN: 9781426899911
Price: $3.99

CARINA_0615_9781426899911_OliviaChristakosandherSecondFirstTimeMy perfect life…

True, I’m in the hospital waking up from a coma, but my loving parents and adorable boyfriend, Wyatt, are here by my side. It’s weird that I don’t remember them—thanks, amnesia! Wyatt’s an amazing person. He’s a Big Brother, volunteers at soup kitchens, delivers food to the hungry—your basic angel. Your basic filled-out-in-all-the-right-places, naughty-thoughts-inducing angel, that is.

Might be the perfect lie…

In fact, the more I get to know Wyatt the harder it is to believe he’s my boyfriend. The more I find out about my life before the accident, the more I don’t like who I used to be. I can’t understand what a guy like that—kind, considerate, generous—would see in a girl like me.

I don’t know what’s worse, living in the darkness of amnesia or discovering the despicable person I once was. But I’ve got to figure out if I have what it takes to be the person Wyatt truly deserves—before I lose my heart as well as my memories.

91,000 words

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June 8

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MIDNIGHT SECRETS by Lisa Marie Rice
(romantic suspense)
ISBN: 9781426899928
Price: $4.99

9781426890697_MidnightSecretsFormer navy SEAL Joe Harris nearly died—twice—on a medevac helo after being blown up by an IED. He’s not moving too great these days, but if there was ever a woman designed to jump-start a man’s hormones, it would be his new neighbor.

Meeting Isabel—loving Isabel—brought Joe back to life.

Isabel Delvaux came from one of America’s foremost political dynasties, until the greatest terrorist attack since 9/11 killed her entire family. She barely survived the Washington Massacre, only to become prey for rabid reporters. Fleeing to Portland and changing her name was a way out, a way to start over. The only way.

She knows she’s safe with Joe Harris. Not just because he’s big and strong, not just because he’s part of a security team that obliterates threats on the regular, but because he’s been to the abyss and back.

But as they help each other heal—through talk, through touch, through spectacular sex—the past comes back to play. When Isabel’s memory starts to return and a mysterious stranger sends Joe emails indicating Isabel is in imminent danger, he’ll do anything to help her uncover the truth. Even if that truth is the most terrifying thing of all.

80,000 words

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June 15

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DEADLY STRAIN by Julie Rowe
(romantic suspense)
ISBN: 9781426899805
Price: $3.99

Carina_0615_9781426899805_DeadlyStrainBook one of Biological Response Team

Major Grace Samuels, a trauma surgeon deployed to Afghanistan, spends her life helping her fellow soldiers overcome disease and combat injuries. But her own wounds are harder to heal. Wracked with guilt over the death of a fellow soldier, she finds comfort in her only friend and appointed bodyguard, weapons sergeant Jacob “Sharp” Foster.

Sharp feels more for Grace than a soldier should, more than he wants to admit. When the team discovers a new, quick-to-kill strain of anthrax, he tries to focus on the mission to find its source. He knows he can help Grace defeat her demons, but first they must defeat the deadly outbreak.

Sharp is Grace’s most loyal ally, but in close quarters, he starts to feel like more. She can’t watch someone else she cares about die—but she might not have a choice. The closer they get to finding the source of the strain, the closer it gets to finding them.

79,830 words
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IN THE DISTANCE by Nikka Michaels and Eileen Griffin
(male/male romance, contemporary romance)
ISBN: 9781426899713
Price: $3.99

CARINA_0615_9781426899713_InTheDistanceTyler Mitchell has worked hard to rebuild his life after his family kicked him out. A culinary student and sous chef who spends his spare time volunteering with kids, he’s happy enough even though he has no time to consider a relationship.

Trevor Pratt is finally getting over losing the one person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, but it’s taken screwing every cute guy in Manhattan to get there. He’s vowed to repair the friendship he broke along the way, but that’s hard to do when his friend’s new employee catches his eye. Despite being warned to stay away from Tyler, Trevor turns on the charm.

Romance is a terrible idea. Trevor is ten years older and a relentless playboy. Tyler is still unsure of his place in the world. Neither of them is ready for life-changing love, but as things heat up, their chemistry in the bedroom might just take that decision out of their hands.

Don’t miss In the Raw and In the Fire, available now!
104,230 words

Carina Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | GooglePlay | iBooks | Kobo

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June 22

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SONG OF MIDNIGHT EMBERS by Dana Marie Bell
(paranormal romance)
ISBN: 9781426899812
Price: $3.99

CARINA_0615_9781426899812_SongOfMidnightEmbersBook four of Maggie’s Grove

Fire elemental Mollie Ferguson is on the wrong side of a group of enraged shifter wolves. She’s been secretly investigating a plot that could destroy the small-town supernatural haven of Maggie’s Grove. But when a beloved pack member is killed, everyone thinks she’s the murderer. In desperation, she turns to the one person who will help her—the true mate she rejected. His presence rekindles an old, irresistible desire, and makes her wish she’d chosen differently.

Without Mollie as his lover, the dryad Greer Berkley is dying, the leaves of his birch turning to autumn shades. But he will not allow himself to fade until he has ensured Mollie’s safety. All know Greer as a healer, but few know the true depth of his power as a defender.

Greer and Mollie must complete her investigation and clear her name before the pack demands vengeance. And if they are to know each other’s touch at last, the only chance is now, before it’s too late for Greer.

83,000 words
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STEALING SECOND by Alison Packard
(contemporary romance, sports)
ISBN: 9781426899942
Price: $3.24

Carina_0615_9781426899942_StealingSecondBook five of Feeling the Heat

Katherine Whitton doesn’t purposely avoid men and relationships, but she doesn’t mind that side effect of immersing herself in her job with the San Francisco Blaze. Years ago she was betrayed by her one true love, and she’s never fully recovered, though she’s tried by building a new life in a city she loves.

It’s taken seventeen years for Tom Morgan to get over Katie—Katherine now. Sober now and faced with the incredible opportunity to manage the Blaze, he thinks he’ll finally be able to handle working with this beautiful woman without falling to pieces…as long as she doesn’t get too close.

A crisis with the team’s star pitcher forces Tom and Katherine to put in long hours together. Years of animosity melt away as the sexual tension between them ignites. But it’ll take more than scorching kisses to avoid the wreckage of the past. And neither Tom nor Katie are sure they’re ready to trust each other or risk their hearts for a second chance at happiness.

Read The Winning Season and Catching Heat for more stories about the San Francisco Blaze.

89,190 words

Carina Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | GooglePlay | iBooks | Kobo

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June 29
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TURNING IT ON by Elizabeth Harmon
(contemporary romance, sports)
ISBN: 9781459290549
Price: $3.24

CARINA_0615_9781426899959_TurningItOnBook editor Hannah Levinson couldn’t be happier. This “Nice Jewish Girl” is ready to marry the man she’s longed after for half her life. When her fiancé suggests they audition for Last Fling, a steamy new reality show for engaged couples, she lets herself be swayed. Maybe she’ll learn a thing or two.

Vlad Shustov’s fall from a once-bright career as a competitive figure skater was swift. Now trapped by a shameful past and an uncertain future, “Vlad the Bad” strips for cash. Joining the cast of Last Fling could earn him a fortune—or at least enough to finally leave stripping. But to win the show’s prize, he must seduce an engaged woman, something he can’t even bear the thought of.

Hannah’s not like any woman Vlad’s met before. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and relegated to the ugly-duckling role she’d worked so hard to shed, can she trust there’s more to Vlad than meets the eye? With sleazy TV tactics shattering the last shreds of the contestants’ confidence, they’ll have to believe true happiness is not only possible…it may be looking right at them.

For more Red Hot Russians, don’t miss Pairing Off—available now!

96,000 words

Carina Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | GooglePlay | iBooks | Kobo
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THE ADVENTURES OF CASSIUS FLYNN AND MOLLY MCGUIRE by Eleri Stone
(steampunk romance)
ISBN: 9781459290532
Price: $FREE

CARINA_0615_9781459290532_Cassius_MollyA Reapers novella

Cassius Flynn is a smuggler. An outlaw. A scoundrel. Charming, devilishly handsome in a maverick sort of way and fiendishly clever to boot. He’s also the only man Molly McGuire has ever loved.

Molly’d left him a year ago. Stolen his airship, broken his heart and made him look like a damn fool. Still, he’s rushed to her rescue, storming into Reaper territory to snatch her out from under the repulsive bounty hunter who brought her in.

High above the plains, up among the clouds in the most rarefied Scraper city of them all, a ruthless statesman has stolen everything Cassius considers important. And without Molly, without her quick hands, sharp mind and pretty face, he doesn’t stand a chance of getting it back…

20,000 words

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The Adventures of Cassius Flynn and Molly McGuire Chapter 13

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Chapter Thirteen

It was very strange to have Flynn sitting at her table. She’d won this little shack in a poker game from a miner who was ready to abandon it anyway. It was a roof and a bed and she was hardly ever here anyway so it didn’t matter that there were mice in the attic and nothing but a lonely tin of beans in the pantry.

The bed was made. She’d at least done that before she’d left the last time. Though it would probably be wise to shake out all the blankets before she climbed into it.

“Nice place,” he said politely, pouring a dram of whiskey into the glass she’d set before him. He looked like he needed it.

“If I didn’t already know what a good liar you are, that would have convinced me. I can’t believe you said that with a straight face.”

His eyes flicked up and the corner of his mouth lifted. He shrugged. “I’ve seen worse.”

He’d grown up on Eyrion. That enormous curving stairway inside his childhood home. Floor-to-ceiling glass looking out over the mountains. Crystal chandeliers tinkling like fairy music every time the front door opened.

“You’re welcome to stay for a while if you’d like.”

He stopped pouring for a moment before topping off the glass and setting the bottle aside. “Thank you for that. It’s a shame we lost that necklace.”

She shrugged. “Fortunes come and go. I’ll find another. To be honest, I don’t know what I’d do with that much money. Seems to me it could only be an anchor.”

He stood up, taking his glass with him, and walked over to look out the open door. Not much of a view. Nothing but scrub grass and a scummy pond at the bottom of the hill. She knew what he was doing. He was only awkward around her when he was trying to figure a way to say goodbye. He already had one foot out the door.

“I’ll pay you back for the ship,” she said. “For Penelope Light. I always meant to pay you back for your share.”

He turned around and set his shoulder to the doorframe. “We’re square now, remember?”

“I have most of it.”

He frowned like he didn’t understand her. Distracted. His mind was already somewhere else.

“The money,” she said. “I’ve been saving every cent.”

“Where’d you get that much money?”

She smiled. “Doing what I do best.”

“Turning my hair gray?”

“You don’t have a gray hair on your head.”

He downed the rest of his whiskey and set the glass on the table. “Why did you take it? I wasn’t going to ask but I need to know now.”

“My sister. She sent me a telegram that she was finally quitting Michael. She’d already left Stormking, scared shitless that he was on her trail. I couldn’t wait for you to get back and I needed the money to see her settled somewhere he couldn’t find her, fast.”

“You didn’t think I’d understand that?”

“You always said she wasn’t my responsibility.”

He sighed. “I didn’t mean it that way. Not that you shouldn’t help your kin if you were able. You blamed yourself for leaving when you barely got out yourself. What were you supposed to do with a kid? It wasn’t your fault that your father was an asshole and it’s not your fault that Leah married another asshole to escape the first.”

They both knew it was a lousy excuse, but he didn’t call her on it. It was all about the ring and they both knew it. She’d refused to take it and he’d been angry, hurt. She’d panicked. Leah had given her a way out.

“I’m an aunt now.”

He didn’t ask where she’d hidden Leah. She was grateful for that. She might just have told him if he had and it would have been one more thing to tie them together. Another way for him to track her down once this was done.

She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, meaning it. “You were fond of that ship.”

“I was more fond of you.”

She stood, forcing him to step back. “I’ll go get you your money.”

He called her name when she pushed past him but she was out the door before he could catch up. It took her a good twenty minutes to dig up the sealed metal box she’d buried behind the shed and by the time she returned to the house, she had herself under control.

So long as he didn’t look at her like that again, warm and tender and hopeful, she’d be able to make it out of this in one piece. Locked doors were nothing. Flynn smiled at her once and she was ready to offer up her wrists for a pair of shackles. They’d both hate each other if she let him have his way.

She kicked through the door, avoiding his gaze, and dropped the box on the table before turning and heading again for the door.

“I have to wash my hands.” She paused and looked back. “Go ahead. Count it.”

He pushed the box away. “I don’t need to count it. I told you we’re square.”

“Count it anyway, Flynn. There’s a ship-worth in there. I need you to know it.”

Flynn watched Molly turn away. Her trim figure briefly outlined by sunlight. At some point during the ride here, she’d pulled back her hair in a long single braid that tapped the base of her spine when she walked. He wanted to wrap his fist around it and hold her to him. Molly would probably cut him if he tried. He’d only ever been able to push her so far. And that was too far for Molly.

She’d let him tie her down a time or two during sex but any hint that he truly meant to cage her and she would bolt. His hands curled into fists on the table. He didn’t want to keep her in a cage. He wanted her by his side. He wanted her to be safe and well cared for. Was that really such a god-awful thing?

With a growl, he pulled the box across the table and flipped open the lid. It took him a second to believe what his eyes were showing him and then he lurched to his feet, overturning his chair as he ran for the door.

He heard the engines fire up at the same time. There was money in the box, probably every cent she’d earned over the past year just like she’d said. Not enough to pay him for a ship. And she wasn’t paying him for the Penelope Light anyway. She hadn’t been arguing with him when he told her they were square on that one. She was paying him for the Luna.

The leather packet of papers and ledgers from Stark’s office were in that box. His mother’s ring and the diamond necklace, worth a fortune even on the black market. He’d be able to buy two ships if he wanted, brand-new and decked out exactly as he pleased.

Which was a good thing because Molly was stealing the only one he currently owned.

Again.

He threw himself off the porch and hit the ground at a run. Ahead of him, the Luna was already lifting off, stirring up dust in a choking swirling wave. Swearing and coughing, he stopped and watched her go.

This wasn’t over. He wasn’t going to wait a year this time to find her again. He’d have to walk into town and hitch a ride over to Stormking. He’d clear his accounts and find something he could fly there. No way was he taking the time to unload the necklace on the European market. She had a head start until he got his hands on a ship. And then he was tracking her down.

THE END

The Adventures of Cassius Flynn and Molly McGuire Chapter 12

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Chapter Twelve

Of course Molly would know that he didn’t intend to abandon her to his stepfather. That bastard wasn’t going to turn her over to the authorities. He’d tuck her away somewhere on one of his private properties far away from the prying eyes on Eyrion and then he’d take his anger at Flynn out on Molly’s body. No way in hell was Flynn about to let that happen.

Molly should know that. But he’d seen the look in her eyes when he’d kissed her goodbye. Both the accusation there and the fear she’d been trying to hide. The tears hadn’t been real, they were for Stark’s benefit. He’d never once seen Molly cry. The fear was genuine though. He’d bet money on it.

She should know better.

They’d been partners for more than a year before she’d taken off the last time. She’d left him. He’d never let her down. Not once.

Adjusting the controls, he peeled away from the larger ship, dropping low through the cloudbank and slowing to let the larger ship pull ahead of him. Stark’s ship was an ostentatious beast. It maneuvered for shit and had more blind spots than a bat. Stark would likely have spotters out to keep an eye on him but it wouldn’t be hard to escape notice. His ship was modified to blend in with sky and cloud. The sun would be coming up soon, creating all sorts of convenient glares and shadows. And all he had to know was where Stark was taking her.

He wasn’t going to raid the ship but he wasn’t letting it out of his sight either.

He’d never gotten airsick but he felt it now. Stomach sliding around. Throat tight and his mouth dry as a rock. His fingers ached from gripping the controls too tightly and he forced himself to relax his hold. Losing his shit wasn’t going to do Molly any good. But that feeling that had risen up inside him when Stark said he was keeping Molly…powerless. Just as powerless as when he was a child standing before Stark’s desk awaiting his punishment.

It was true what he’d told Molly about Anson Stark never laying a hand on him. He’d always preferred to use his riding crop. He’d put it on the desk, first. Long and slender. Made of the finest leather.

When Anson was courting Flynn’s mother, he’d bought a horse, a young gelding the perfect size for a boy. Flynn had been ecstatic. Stark saw to his riding lessons himself and Flynn had come to adore the wealthy gentleman who wanted to marry his mother. The riding crop had been a gift from Flynn’s mother to Stark the Christmas before they were wed.

And they’d been happy for years. Until after two brutal miscarriages, the doctors told Stark that his wife would be unable to bear him a child. The news made Stark bitter. He turned that anger first on his useless wife and then on her child…the heir that was not the child of his blood.

Flynn hadn’t understood it at the time. Why his mother turned quiet and tearful. Why the man he’d accepted as a father became colder with each visit. The change hadn’t happened all at once. The miscarriages. The laudanum addiction that followed. His mother’s lingering illness. Stark had experienced some business failures as well during that time which certainly hadn’t helped.

Flynn remembered feeling bewildered and alone. Utterly unable to please anyone. He’d spent a lot of time in the stables, riding, hanging out with the mechanics as they worked on the ships in Stark’s fleet. The stable master had been kind to him. His daughter was the only other child in the household. Flynn felt a kinship to her even if she was only a toddler and a girl at that. She was the closest thing he’d had to a friend. And Stark spent a lot of time away from the house. When he returned, the first item of household business he’d attend to was the progress of his heir.

If the tutor gave a bad report—as the nasty old man invariably did—then Flynn would be beaten. No way to avoid it. He was a poor student who chafed at being made to sit down in a closed room for hours at a stretch. Since he clearly was a bright child, Stark decided it was insolence not inability causing him to do poorly. He tried. He did try to learn his lessons. At first, he tried. After his mother died, he gave up trying to please Stark. When he was old enough to run, he did.

To this day he remembered the smell of Stark’s office. Wood polish. Leather. The slice of the crop against his skin. And the humiliation of failure. Of being held down. Of knowing what was coming and being completely unable to escape it. Powerless.

Stark was older now. He’d seemed almost frail compared to how enormous Flynn had once thought him to be. But he still had the power to make Flynn helpless. Sick and scared. And now he’d pulled Molly into the game too.

He pounded the corner of the chair with his fist. He was the one who’d put Molly in this game, not Stark. He was the reason she was there, paying for his transgressions.

The rising sun spilled over the horizon catching the top of Stark’s ship and causing the inflated skin to glow. The golden light slid lower, glinting off metal and glass. Flynn dropped farther back. The clouds were beginning to thin and break up. They wouldn’t provide him cover for much longer. Not in the daylight. But he had a pretty good idea of where Stark was headed now. He had a hunting lodge near here. A modest twenty-room place he used to host house parties when the Council gathered on Eyrion.

He cursed when the gunship slowed and eased back until he was barely drifting forward. It didn’t make sense for them to stop unless they’d spotted him. They sure as hell weren’t preparing to descend, not here. Not in Oro territory so near the plains. There weren’t even any border towns down there.

He reached for the spyglass and had barely raised it when he saw something drop from the deck. His stomach fell with it and he nearly bobbled the glass. His skin was cold, his body heavy. The object they’d thrown from the ship was falling too damn fast for him to focus on it. Flashes of light sparked from the deck. That wasn’t reflected light. That was gunfire. And that could only mean one thing.

Heart hammering against the walls of his chest, Flynn dropped the glass and shoved the lever hard forward. It only slowed moderately when he saw the parachute unfurl below him. She’d waited until she was well away from the ship before pulling the cord and that meant a hard landing, especially with the way the wind was dragging her toward the rocky southern slope.

If it was Molly. They might have noticed him following and tossed something or someone over as a decoy. It was possible as soon as he dropped to investigate, Stark would leave him behind.

The gunship was sitting there like a log in water, drifting on the current. Trusting his instincts, Flynn swooped in low and followed the parachute down.

***

Molly was standing there waving at him when he approached. She’d already cut herself from the chute. She’d tossed a few rocks on it to keep it from blowing and catching in his propellers and then she’d climbed up onto a ledge where he could pick her up without having to touch down. He cruised up to it like a boat approaching a dock. He hit the button that released the door and she clambered aboard, all flushed and gleeful.

His hands were still shaking and there was a cold line of sweat trickling down his spine. She was grinning, ear to ear. He pulled away from the rock while she secured the door. And she came to him, wrapping her hands around his neck and giving him a playful squeeze before dropping a kiss to his lips and taking her seat.

“Did you see that?” She asked brightly and his hands tightened on the controls.

“As if I could have missed it.” He’d thought she was dead. Either dead and tossed from the ship or shot in the air. Lost to a suicidal jump.

She blew out a breath and laughed. “Let’s get out of here, Flynn. Head for Baxter, will you?”

He craned his neck around to check the gunship. Still sitting there in the same spot. “We’ll need to go west through Oro to lose them first.”

“They’re not going to follow.”

He raised his brows at her. His heart still wasn’t beating right. “Why aren’t they going to follow?”

She grinned. “Catastrophic engine failure.”

“How do you know that?”

“I crossed the fuel and coolant lines. They put me in a storage closet right next to the engine room.” Her grin faded a bit. “Don’t look at me like that. I managed to grab your packet of papers before I bailed.”

She reached under her shirt and pulled out the thick leather packet she’d stolen from Stark’s safe on Eyrion. His stomach did that weird lurching thing again and he swallowed to hold it down.

She shook her head. “It was sitting right there on Stark’s desk when I was looking for a parachute. The crew was busy trying to figure out what was wrong with the ship and I made a run for the deck.”

There’d still been armed guards. He’d seen the flash of gunfire when she dropped.

“I’m sorry about your mother’s ring. I didn’t see it.”

He held up his hand. Sapphire glittering on his pinkie. “You’re not the only one with quick hands. You shouldn’t have risked it, Molly.”

Any of it. But the words lacked force. He was the one who’d put her at risk in the first place. For exactly this reason. She was so damned good at what she did. And it drove him fucking crazy. She leaned back in her chair. She sighed a happy sort of sigh and tipped back her head.

“So you’re really Stark’s son then?”

“Stepson,” he corrected automatically. “Why would I have made that up?”

She shrugged. “An honest to goodness top of the heap Scraper boy. I always knew there was something extra unsavory about you.”

“I’m nothing like him, Molly. You should know that. Nothing at all. I wasn’t going to leave you up there. You know that, right?”

She nodded but looked away. Not before he saw the flash of doubt in her eyes. “I knew you’d still be around. That’s why I risked the jump.”

He looked back at the controls, didn’t really see them. “You just about gave me a heart attack.”

She grinned at him, not remotely repentant. “It was a terror.”

“We always were together, weren’t we?”

 

The Adventures of Cassius Flynn and Molly McGuire Chapter 11

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Chapter Eleven

Flynn had asked her if she trusted him and she did, but there were degrees of trust. There was the uneasy trust that your partner wasn’t going to stab you in the back and there was the kind of trust that said no matter how dark the night was, the sun was still going to rise in the morning. She’d have said her trust in Flynn was a sunrise kind of trust, but as she stepped onto Anson Stark’s ship, the niggle of doubt at the back of her mind grew teeth.

Flynn’s stepfather was handsome in that way some older men got. Distinguished in his fine wool coat. His black hair was peppered with gray and deep lines carved his forehead. His eyes were sharp as a knife though. There was intelligence there along with a big dose of arrogance. But she didn’t see any sign of the brutality Flynn had hinted at.

He seemed too cold for that. But people were tricky that way. She might be seeing the black ice covering a deep and murky pond. She didn’t doubt that Flynn was telling her the truth about that. Something had made him run. People didn’t leave the safety and comfort of Eyrion unless they had a damn good reason to do so.

Stark didn’t waste any time getting down to business. He stepped forward as soon as Flynn boarded, his men adjusting the angle of their guns to accommodate for his movement. At least a dozen rifles were aimed at her and Flynn which nearly made her smile. Were they worried the pair of them were going to storm a ship this size? There had to be at least fifty crewmen to run it. Let alone Stark’s personal guards.

“Cassius,” Stark snapped. “I warned you that if you attempted to interfere with my business again that I would see you hanged.”

She couldn’t help but flinch and Flynn touched her arm in warning. “Come now, Father. Think of the scandal. Your own son.”

Stark’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “You think it’s not a scandal as it stands now? My friends and business associates know who you are and what you do.”

“And they pay well for my services. So long as they turn a blind eye, so can you. Stringing me up in front of the Council is another story, isn’t it? You won’t publicly disgrace the family name.”

“Flynn isn’t my name,” Stark said smoothly. “It was my wife’s maiden name and the name of her bastard child.”

“The child you legally adopted. Deny the connection all you want, the court will sentence a Stark, not a Flynn. Not even you can prevent that once you turn me in.”

Anson Stark smiled. A small, secret smile that chilled the blood in her veins even before that icy gaze briefly flicked her way. “Who says I have any intention of turning you in? I could drop you over the side and there’s not a single person aboard this ship who would object.”

“Word would get out.”

Stark brows rose. “That I disposed of a problem? No one would blame me.”

“Not blame. They’d shake their heads and talk about how unfortunate it is that the head of the great Stark family can no longer hold on to the reins. That if he can’t control his own son, how can he be trusted to control anything at all?”

Stark took a step forward and Molly was hard pressed to hold her ground. His eyes sparked fire and there was a tension in his body that screamed at her to run. And he wasn’t even coming for her. He was after Flynn. “You’ve timed your little rebellion well, I’ll give you that. It would be an embarrassment to me to have you executed, publicly or privately, at the moment. But it is a fine line, Cassius. I honor your mother’s memory by staying my hand.”

“Why?” Flynn scoffed. “My mother never stopped you before.”

Stark’s visage darkened. “The moment you are more trouble to me alive than dead, I will gladly kill you myself.”

Flynn glanced down at her and smiled bitterly. “Family is grand, ain’t it, Mol? You’re lucky that you were able to cut ties to yours so easily.”

Yeah, lucky. That’s what she was. She elbowed Flynn in the gut. If there was a chance that Stark was truly going to let them go, she didn’t want Flynn to screw it up over old grudges. Anson Stark was an ass, she got that. She truly did. But he was the ass who presently held their lives in his cloven hooves.

And his men hadn’t lowered their guns yet.

“The girl stays.”

Molly nearly choked on her spit. Behind her Flynn went very still. The hand on her shoulder felt like a rock. “She’s coming with me. You have no quarrel with her. She was paying off a debt to me, nothing more.”

Stark’s expression didn’t change but there was something in the gleam of his eyes that told her how much he was enjoying this. The sick bastard. “Then she ought to be more careful to whom she becomes indebted, shouldn’t she?” His head tipped slightly to the side, considering. “Of course, it is an error she won’t have the opportunity to learn from. Pity, that.”

His tone suggested it was anything but. She shrugged Flynn’s hand from her shoulder and took a step in Stark’s direction, stopped when every gun followed the movement. “You’re going to let him go and charge me with the theft?”

“Fraud, theft, destruction of property.” Stark smiled. “The injury my gardener suffered trying to get out of the way when you ran. All of it.” His gaze lifted to Flynn. “And I’ll have my property back. That’s the price for you walking away.”

She swung around to glare at Flynn. They should have taken their chances with the mountain. Flynn wasn’t happy but he didn’t seem surprised either. Jaw set and eyes spitting fire, he refused to meet her gaze and she knew before he spoke exactly what he was going to say.

“It’s a deal.”

“Flynn!”

He didn’t even look at her.

Stark barked a laugh. “He’s as fickle as his mother. You didn’t know what you were dealing with, did you?”

She knew Flynn well enough to know he damn well wasn’t going to abandon her with his crazy stepfather. But what his plan was here, she had no idea. She stood there in shock, watching as Flynn handed the bag containing the jewelry and ledgers over to Stark. Flynn waited for him to check that it was all there and then turned to leave as soon as Stark nodded his head. When she took a step to follow, Stark caught her arm.

“I don’t think so, little thief. I have plans for you.”

Flynn paused and slowly turned. His hands were balled into fists and for a heartbeat, she worried he might do something stupid. There were still guns aimed at his head. It would have been better to take their chances jumping from the ship than to attack Stark while he was surrounded by his men. But she didn’t need to worry. Flynn ignored his father and smiled at her with the lazy grin that had made her fall for him in the first place.

“Didn’t think you’d want to say goodbye to me after all this.”

She didn’t want to say goodbye. She wanted to leave with him, but barring that, she at least needed a word. Summoning up a flood of tears, she turned to Stark. “Please, let me speak with him…just a moment to say our farewells.”

Stark was a Scraper, used to dealing with sniveling, fainting, soft women. She was betting the tears might throw him off and his sneer told her she was right. She didn’t care what he thought. Let him believe she was the biggest fool in the whole world. Maybe she was. Some of those tears were real.

“Please.”

He nodded but didn’t step far enough away to offer any privacy. Flynn leaned down, his eyes intent. He was trying to communicate something with that look but damned if she knew what it was.

“Don’t leave me here.”

“I have no choice, Molly. You heard what he said.”

“What I heard is he wants you dead.”

A flicker of regret crossed Flynn’s features before they hardened once again. “He’ll settle for hurting me.”

“Hurting me won’t hurt you. I stole your ship. Tell him about that, why don’t you?”

“It wouldn’t matter. He saw me lift you off the back lawn in the middle of a firefight today. He knows I care. I said he was evil, not stupid.”

“Then what’s the plan?”

He winced. “Haven’t quite figured that one out yet.”

“Flynn—”

He leaned in and kissed her, cutting off her words. Cupping the back of her neck, he nipped at her lips until she opened for him. Then, he kissed her so thoroughly that her knees started to go weak before she came to her senses and pushed him away. She didn’t want a kiss from him now. She wanted a plan.

“What the hell was that?”

He swiped his thumb across her cheek, drying her fake tears. “I don’t want you to worry. I’ll think of something, I promise. Just…don’t do anything rash.”

She and Flynn had different ideas about risky. She knew they couldn’t very well run for his ship or they’d both die. But she couldn’t think of any other option and they were out of time.

Stark, who’d been studying the approaching storm, suddenly turned and nodded at someone in the cockpit. A moment later the sound of the engine changed.

“Time’s up,” Stark said to Flynn. “If you want off, go now. I’m setting your ship free in two minutes whether you’re on it or not.”

Flynn brushed his lips to her cheek. “Be ready.”

He would figure something out, he always did. Unless he meant to leave her behind. Then she was well and truly screwed. It took tremendous effort not to cling to him, not to lunge after him as he walked away and jumped the short distance to his ship. He didn’t even hesitate as he ducked inside, leaving her behind. Alone with his vile stepfather and a crew full of Scraper sheep who wouldn’t question a single one of his orders.

The crew began the process of decoupling the ships and Stark nodded for his men to take her. Tearing her eyes from Flynn’s shabby little ship, she allowed the men to lead her away. What choice did she have?

Her legs felt heavy and stiff. She nearly tripped as they ushered her down the stairs. Two levels and she was shoved into a small cell. A closet. Deep in the belly of the ship. When she pressed her hand to the wall, she could feel the vibration of the engine against her palm. She had to be right next to the engine room. This wasn’t a holding cell. It was a storage room and if she didn’t miss her guess…she popped the panel on the wall, exposing a tangle of wire and tubing. Grinning, she set to work.

The Adventures of Cassius Flynn and Molly McGuire Chapter 10

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Chapter Ten

The moon had set and it was very dark, just a scattering of stars ahead and black clouds behind. Lightning still flickered occasionally from the direction of Eyrion but they’d already outrun the worst of the storm. It was clear to the east and dawn was only a few hours off. The good news was they’d seen no sign of pursuit. Flynn glanced her way.

“Why did you take the necklace?”

She lifted it with her finger. It dangled there, catching starlight. “It’s shiny. How much do you think it’s worth?”

“It’s not worth my head,” he answered. “Or yours.”

She smiled. “Our heads are already on the block, Flynn. But then, you knew that going in, didn’t you?”

He shrugged as he turned away. “It would look bad if he kills me. That’s more protection than you might imagine in Eyrion.”

“A man like Anson Stark won’t let that stop him. Maybe he won’t drag you into the public square and put a bullet in your head. But you and I both know there are all sorts of ways to make a man dead if you’ve a mind to.”

Fool man grinned. “You’re not volunteering for the job, are you, Mol?”

“I might.” She let the necklace drop. It slithered into a graceful pile into the basket between them. “How much can I get for it?”

He looked back out the window. “You won’t find a buyer here and it’s too rich for Appalachia or even Canada. You’ll have to look to Europe or China and that’ll eat some of the profit. Ten thousand after all’s said and done. That’s on the conservative side.”

Ten thousand. That would keep her afloat for years. Flynn sounded awfully calm about it. But from where he’d come from, talking about that much money was probably commonplace. “You know anyone I can trust to fence it?”

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course I do.” It was the truth, God help her. She watched his reflection in the glass, memorizing it. His hair was dark as a shadow. Strong nose, sharp eyes. His lips held just a hint of a smile, even as he went about his routine work. If all went well, they’d reach Baxter by sunrise and then they’d part ways.

His expression changed when he looked up. The blood drained from his face and all of his attention fixed on a point out the starboard window.

“Damn it.”

She swiveled around and spotted the trouble right away. The shape of the black spot against the clouds was unmistakable. A ship, big. One of the gunships with more horsepower than a herd of mustangs.

Flynn hauled back on a lever and she felt the rumble of the engine as it changed gears. “I didn’t think they’d risk the storm.”

He wouldn’t have risked the storm if there had been any other choice. Cautious for an outlaw, at least where his ship was concerned. She used to like to tease him about it.

He glanced out the window again and shook his head. “We’re not going to outrun it.”

“We could drop here. It’s too dark for them to risk maneuvering through the mountains in that tub.”

The ship was gaining quickly. They had maybe a half hour before it would be close enough to fire.

Flynn scowled. “Too dark for us to risk it. You see those lights down there?”

She looked where he pointed, down through a porthole cut in the starboard hull. She’d noticed the lights. She knew what they were too, even though she’d rarely flown through the mountains at night. Lighthouses that served as guideposts for the pilots, kept them from flying into the rock. She didn’t understand why it was a concern. She frowned at Flynn.

“They’re armed with cannons. We drop any lower and we’ll be in range. Stark will have sent word to the keepers to fire on sight. We’re the only ones stupid enough to be flying in this weather.”

She stared at the lights below. There were big gaps between them, miles and miles of space they might be able to weave through looking for somewhere to land. Flynn wasn’t a gambling man, she knew that. He was downright conservative for a smuggler. And while he liked to say that was why he was still alive, she’d always thought skill and cunning had more to do with it than caution. She wasn’t afraid of anything.

“We can do it, Flynn. You’re the best pilot I know.”

He made a soft scoffing sound. “I can’t dodge cannonfire, Mol. Nobody’s that good.”

“It’s worth a chance.”

He stared at her for a long time. His expression was closed to her. She’d always been able to read him easily but this trip, it was like he’d built a wall to keep her out. Slowly, he shook his head. “Blaze of glory, that’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“It’s better than the alternative. If they catch us, we’ll hang anyway.”

He looked down at his hands on the controls. “Stark is unlikely to let me hang. He wouldn’t want the scandal.”

She’d been kicked once by a mule when she was ten. It had hurt less than hearing Flynn say he might give her up. “That’s no protection for me. You can’t just hand me over to him.”

His hands tightened but his expression remained infuriatingly cool. “There might still be a way out of this.”

She pointed toward the porthole. “There is a way out.”

His jaw firmed. “There is a stupid way to die.” He looked at her, green eyes dark and solemn. “My mother used to say quitting is losing without honor.”

“Then we don’t quit.”

He pulled the lever and throttled back the engine. “I’m not.”

The Adventures of Cassius Flynn and Molly McGuire Chapter 9

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Chapter Nine

Fear is a funny thing. A flutter in your belly. The way your skin feels hot and cold at the same time. The pattering beat of your heart. If you think about, it really doesn’t feel any different from excitement. And if you choose to think of it as excitement, well, sometimes you can fool even yourself.

Everyone expects a girl to be nervous on her first day of work so she didn’t even have to try and hide that part. And by the time the old housekeeper had decided to rest her feet and waved her off toward the stairs with orders to empty the trash receptacles in the private rooms, Molly actually was starting to feel excited instead of just scared.

It was working. Easy as pie, just as Flynn had said it would be.

She trailed a hand on the slickly polished wood of the banister as she made her way up the carpeted stairs.

Light from the high arched windows danced on her skirts. The view was phenomenal. Eyrion was on the highest peak of the pinnacle city. A true cloud city and this house had been built to take advantage of that, on the edge of a sheer cliff. To her right was an entire wall of glass with thin strips of stone and wood used sparingly to hold everything in place. The drop was dizzying. Even on a gray day like today with fog obscuring much of the view it was a sight. She’d love to see it on a clear day, or better yet, at night.

Which was a stupid wish. If she was still here after nightfall, it would mean something had gone horribly wrong. She wanted to be on her way home before lunch. She turned left when she came to the top of the stairs and walked down a wide corridor. There were doors to either side, placed every dozen or so feet. Large rooms, thick doors, all of them closed. From the map Flynn had given her, she knew Stark’s office adjoined his sleeping room. She was to make the bed and leave the office alone. The housekeeper had told her the door was locked in any case, as Stark had left for a meeting at the capital. Flynn had known that too. He’d known Stark’s entire schedule down to the second. Thanks to Ben.

She smiled at a passing servant who merely raised her brows and turned up her nose. Slowing her steps until that one had reached the stairs, she entered the bedroom.

“Hello?” She called out softly, to be on the safe side, but no one answered her. Nothing but the tap-tap-tap of rain hitting the window on the opposite wall. She could only see a bare sliver of light from the window. All but one of the heavy curtains was drawn.

When there was no answer, she passed swiftly through the suite, checking the bathing and dressing rooms. She pressed her ear to the office door for several minutes but heard nothing but matching silence.

Once assured she was clear, she slipped the tightly wrapped pouch of tools from her garter and set to work. The lock turning sounded loud in the still room and she hesitated, poised to run. There’d always been a chance that the office was occupied. Stark was supposed to have been away from Eyrion. Ben had come to tell them that he was remaining through the break but would be gone all day today. That didn’t mean he hadn’t left a secretary behind.

When nothing stirred on the opposite side of the door, she took a deep breath and pushed through. No one. It was a single room, large and well lit with floor-to-ceiling bookcases on one wall and a row of windows and a pair of glass-fronted doors on the outer wall, looking out over a wide stone balcony. It faced the same direction she’d seen from the staircase. Some of the fog had lifted and while the glass was still wet, the sun was just starting to break through the clouds.

It was a glorious sight and she’d have loved to linger over it but this was the tricky part of the plan. Most disastrous if she was to be caught out now. She had to hurry. Running to the bookshelf, she fell to her knees. Right, two up from the bottom…Catechism of the Holy Council of Trent. That was the one. She pulled it forward, releasing the latch that held the panel above it in place.

Flynn knew the combination—said he knew the combination. But she didn’t really trust that until she entered it in and pulled the lever. The heavy iron door swung smoothly open. It was such a small safe, only the height of a single shelf. Barely a foot wide and barely a foot deep. Not so much of a treasure chest as a treasure cubby.

There was a larger safe in the corner and the file cabinets beneath the desk were nearly as secure locked up as they were. But clearly this was the important one. How many people would know about this? Stupid, stupid man. There was nothing simple or straightforward about this job. Stark would know as soon as he opened this safe who it was that’d robbed him. For a second, she was sorely tempted to close it all up and tiptoe back the way she’d come.

She didn’t know a lot about Anson Stark, just rumors and conjecture. She knew enough to know he wasn’t a kind or forgiving man. Flynn. It would have been simpler to clean out the safe and shove his bloody head in there as recompense. Save everyone a good amount of time and frustration. Instead, she pulled the ledger out, searched through a small box until she found the ring he’d described and was just starting to pack everything back up when she heard voices.

The door muffled the sound and it was impossible to tell how close they were. Definitely male, though, and headed her way. Briefly, she considered hiding under the desk. Discarded the idea when the knob began to turn. Caught red-handed. There was only one option left. Cursing under her breath, she surged to her feet. When the door began to swing slowly open, she ran for the balcony.

***

It had been a mistake to involve Molly. The plan was logically sound but potentially lethal. He’d known that going in. He’d survived this long because he wasn’t a gambler. Practical in a world that idolized risk-takers. Levelheaded in a world where having a short fuse was proof you had a dick. Not that he didn’t like a little excitement but he knew the difference between a good risk and one that got you dead. He didn’t cross that line. Ever. Except where Molly was concerned. Lines didn’t exist for him where Molly was concerned. For her, he’d throw himself into danger again and again. He didn’t count the cost because Molly was worth taking a risk for every time.

So when he saw her leap off that balcony into a pathetically straggly pile of bushes, his heart lurched into his throat and it didn’t drop back down again until her head popped up. She immediately started running. A rocky, open field between him and her. A man stood on the balcony, lifting a revolver. The guards didn’t give the grounds crew time to take cover and one of them was hit as he dove for a wheelbarrow only five steps from Molly. Flynn’s mind figured the odds before he could blink. Any fool could see she didn’t stand much of a chance.

Did he cut line and take off like any self-preserving outlaw would have done? No. The brass spyglass dropped from his hands to the deck with a clatter and he lunged for the controls to get in closer. Flew his firetrap of a ship toward the field of bullets. And it wasn’t until he was halfway there that his brain kicked in again and he angled his approach so he came in from the direction of Stark’s personal ships. They shot at his ship, they were destroying their own.

They still fired at Molly though she was nearly out of range. He could see the flash of each shot from the wall. Molly ran, one hand fisted in her skirts holding them out of the way, the other clutching something that sparkled like sunlight on water even on the dreary day.

Despite everything, Flynn began to laugh.

A bullet pinged against an iron piling, kicking sparks. Someone in black livery ran down the wall waving his arms and the shooting stopped. They’d figure the ships would be more valuable than anything Molly might have lifted from Stark’s office. Maybe they hadn’t noticed the empty safe yet.

Besides, Stark had the fastest fleet on Eyrion. Once they got a good look at his ship, they’d be able to track him down. Or they would if he didn’t have a few tricks up his sleeve. Still didn’t have much time.

He pulled a lever to release the hatch and drop the stairs. Molly clamored on board and Flynn took off, peeling away from the cliff and dropping fast, before the men on the walls could get a clean shot at them. For the next several minutes all of his attention was on getting them the hell out of there.

She pulled the leather packet containing the ledgers and papers out from the waistband of her skirts. She was alive. She was alive and she wasn’t bleeding anywhere. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were sparkling bright as the diamond necklace still clutched in her fist. Flynn scowled first at the papers and then at her.

“What the hell happened?”

“Stark came back early.” She dropped into her chair. “Guess he doesn’t like red hair as much as you thought.”

The Adventures of Cassius Flynn and Molly McGuire Chapter 8

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Chapter Eight

She was dressed as a maid in plain navy with a white ruffle at the bodice. The detail drew the eye to her bosom as Flynn had surely intended. Not for his own pleasure, but as a distraction for another man. That’s what she had to remind herself as she entered the room and he glanced up from where he sat beside the window.

His gaze caught and held. She felt her skin warm at the raw hunger in his eyes. Every inch of skin he’d touched last night held the memory of his hands and mouth and when he looked at her like that, she could feel him still.

“Why aren’t you wearing the corset?”

He stared at her breasts as he asked the question. She looked down, saw that everything was in place and shrugged like the question didn’t sting. “I don’t like wearing corsets. Too tight. Can’t run if you need to.”

“I can see how that would be a problem for someone in your line of work.” He bent and grabbed for his boot. “Put it on. All of the women up here wear them. It’ll seem strange if you don’t. You’re trying to blend in.”

“Oh really?” She smoothed her hands over her curves. “Because I thought I was trying to stand out. Dazzle Stark with my charms so he doesn’t see what my hands are up to. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

He rolled his eyes. “I don’t want you to dazzle him too much.”

She leaned her shoulder against the door jamb and arched her brows. “Besides, my body’s just fine the way it is. Don’t you like the way I look?”

It was cruel. She knew it was cruel, but it was also fun, poking at him. He muttered something under his breath and stood, walking toward her. He must have seen the sparkle in her eye because instead of arguing with her, he grabbed her hand and yanked her closer. Close enough for her to feel the heat of him.

“You always were difficult.”

“Oh, no.” She shook her head slowly. “You are the difficult one, Cassius Flynn.”

Cradling her jaw, he angled her head up. A smile flirted at the corners of his mouth. “Cassius. We’re finally on a first name basis now, are we?”

“Don’t let it go to your head.”

He bent to take her mouth in a gentle kiss. His fingers barely brushed her skin as he traced the edge of her bodice. His lips, he made sure she felt. Sweet kisses. Tender ones.

He lingered at the side of her neck. He knew it was a particularly weak spot for her. Just like she knew exactly what his aim was. But she wasn’t going anywhere. It was as if her feet were rooted to the spot. No, that wasn’t it either. It was as if her legs had turned to taffy, warm and pliant. When he turned her around, she nearly lost her balance and had to reach back to hold on to his thighs to steady herself. So rapt was she by the light warm pressure of his mouth that she barely noticed as he unfastened the row of buttons. Barely.

He brushed his lips across her shoulder blade. Briefly, she felt his tongue trace along the curve of her spine. The gown slipped lower.

“Always your servant, Mol,” he whispered against her neck.

She was a heartbeat away from dragging him back to bed when he wrapped the corset around her torso. The cold, stiff thing locked around her ribs and forced the breath from her body as he began to fasten it.

She stood scowling at the wall, her body jerking as he tugged it tight. When he was done, he lifted her hair aside and licked the spot just beneath her ear. She shivered and then rubbed at the spot as if she could erase the sensation. Every bit of pleasure Flynn offered came with a price tag. Good to remember that too.

Unperturbed by the dirty look she shot him, Flynn finished getting dressed, pulling up his suspenders before reaching for his vest. His clothes were fancy. A silk vest embroidered with tiny perfect stitches. The jacket was soft wool that had been perfectly tailored to suit his slender body. He’d always appreciated fine clothing, Flynn. Although he was perfectly comfortable in the clothes of a laborer too. Perfectly comfortable in whatever skin he was wearing which made him so damned good at his job.

When he was done, he looked her over once more and grinned. “It’s a pity you don’t like the corset, Mol. It certainly likes you.”

The heat in his eyes warmed her skin and for a second she couldn’t catch her breath.

“It’s too damned tight.” She hated wearing a corset. Always made her feel trapped, just like her relationship with Flynn. He was always seducing her into these sorts of things.

She wandered the room, making sure he hadn’t missed anything. Also, to see if there wasn’t some small memento she might take with her to remember him by. Last night was worth remembering. He hadn’t brought much. His pocketknife sat on the table beside the bed along with a handful of scattered coins. There was a pretty blue-and-white vase filled with small white roses. She picked one of the flowers and used Flynn’s knife to trim the stem. She wouldn’t take his knife. That she set back down on the table, but the rose she tucked it into the braid behind her ear. Maybe it would bring her luck.

“It’s out of character. Too frivolous for a maid. Too cheap for a woman who looks like you. It will only draw attention.”

A woman like her.

“Well, I’m keeping it.” She took a step back as he reached to take it. “It may seem tacky to you but I like it.”

A slight frown formed between his eyes.

“Why do you so badly want me to be someone else?”

“I don’t want you to be anybody else. You’re wearing a costume, just for today.” He shrugged. “Keep the flower if it’s important to you.”

She moved to the window to peer out at the dreary day as he sat on the rumpled bed to pull on his boots. “You never told me much about your mother. I knew she married a Scraper up here and that you left as soon as you learned how to fly. I had no idea the Scraper was Anson Stark.”

A gentle prod. She’d back off if he didn’t wish to speak of it. He didn’t say anything as he continued to dress. It started to rain, a drizzle. She’d given up on the question of Flynn’s mother when he spoke.

“She wouldn’t leave him.” His voice was rough. “She had a life here. Friends. The house. I always thought she was a coward but maybe for her all of that was worth living with a monster.”

She turned and leaned her hip against the arm of the chair. “He beat her?”

“Never laid a hand on her.”

There were other ways to hurt a person, she knew that. But there was something in Flynn’s expression—in his lack of expression—that sent her off in a different direction. He’d been a child when his mother remarried, she knew that. Not more than eight. Another man’s son. So far as she knew Stark didn’t have any children of his own. “Did he lay a hand on you?”

Flynn didn’t acknowledge her statement with so much as a glance. Instead, he turned his wrist to slip on his cuff links. When he had trouble with the other hand and she moved to help him, he finally looked up. She didn’t like the look in his eyes. Not fury, but a quiet anger. A deep one.

“I’m not really after the ring. Or at least, not just the ring. I want it, hate that Stark has any piece of her, but I wouldn’t risk you to get it back. I know he keeps it in his safe box with other important papers. You’re going to nick those, too.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What kind of papers?”

“Incriminating papers about the business interests he doesn’t want anyone knowing about.”

“And that’s what we’re after.”

“Everyone thinks he’s an honest merchant, a philanthropist and a good man. But he’s not. I want to shut him down.”

“How are these papers going to help you do that?”

“I have a buyer lined up already. Stark screwed with the wrong people. Him and his friends… They think they’re immune from repercussions. That they can take whatever they want from people who aren’t strong enough to hold on to it.”

“And you think you’re the one to stop them?”

Flynn shook his head. “I can’t take on Stark, not toe-to-toe, but I know who can. It’s a bonus that they’re willing to pay good money for the information.”

“You’re starting a war.”

“War’s already started, Molly. I’m just picking a side.”

The Adventures of Cassius Flynn and Molly McGuire Chapter 7

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Chapter Seven

She opened her eyes and stared at the patterned sunlight moving on the ceiling for a long moment before recalling where she was. She’d slept in a lot of different inns lately. She was used to waking up feeling slightly disoriented. Flynn was lying beside her with an arm flung over her waist. His lips were slightly parted and his expression was more relaxed than she’d ever seen it. She rolled to face him fully. His arm fell away and his face scrunched up like he had an itch but he didn’t open his eyes.

They’d made love twice more last night, once in a fury that had ended with Flynn’s back on the floor with the sheets tangled around his legs. Once so slow and sweet, it might have been a dream. He’d said things to her, she’d said things that needed to stay in that dream place. And as the sun came up, she resolved to leave them there.

She and Flynn had made each other a lot of promises over the years. All of them dreams.

Curling up against him, she rested her head against his shoulder and placed her palm over his heart.

She felt him come awake, the way his breathing changed and his muscles tightened, long before he pressed a kiss to the top of her head and said, “It’s time we got going.”

She didn’t move right away. She didn’t even know exactly what it was he wanted her to do. And once they rose from this bed, everything would change between them.

“Won’t you tell me what I’m really doing here first?”

“You’re paying me back. The ring, remember?”

“White gold and a sapphire. You wouldn’t drag me up here just for a ring.”

He sighed and cupped the back of her head. His fingers drifted through her hair. “I told you it belonged to my mother. I have nothing else left of her.”

His tone didn’t invite further questions. She knew he was from one of the wealthy families on Eyrion. Couldn’t get higher than that. But he was tight-lipped about it. Whether he’d turned his back on them or been tossed out, she didn’t know. What she did know is that no one had ever come looking for him. And that Flynn didn’t like to be reminded of it. She pressed her cheek to his chest and closed her eyes, listening to his heartbeat.

“Tell me about your plan then. This ring is in Stark’s office, that’s not anyplace I can just stroll into.”

“You’re a maid. The housekeeper is expecting you to report for duty in the kitchens this morning. I have a map and the combination to the safe.”

He had put a lot of preparation into this. “Slip in and slip out. And if I’m caught?”

“You can talk your way out of anything, Mol.” His fingers drifted through her hair. “He likes redheads.”

“You could dye your hair.”

“He likes breasts too and he knows who I am. You’re exactly his type. He won’t be able to resist you once we get you cleaned up.”

“All sorts of men can resist me, Flynn.”

“Trust me on this.”

“Heard that one before.”

The muscle beneath her cheek tightened briefly. It was the only sign that she’d struck a nerve. His voice was calm, reasonable. “I didn’t betray you.”

“You sent Crenshaw after me.”

“He didn’t hurt you, did he? And that was only after you stabbed me in the back.”

There was more to the story but she didn’t think he wanted to hear that right now. Didn’t think it would make a difference to him why she’d run, only that she had. He wasn’t ever going to trust her again, but she’d known that when she left. She’d made her bed where Flynn was concerned. So long as he was willing to lie in it with her now and again, it wasn’t really such an awful bed, was it?

“I needed the money.”

“I hope you spent it well.”

His voice was flat but his hands were gentle as he untangled himself from her. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he sat up. But instead of leaving, he stared out the window at the gray dawn for a time before turning his head to look down at her. She cringed inside, knowing what was coming even before he spoke. Flynn had the liveliest eyes she’d ever seen. They could laugh, spark or cut holes in a person. She’d never seen them look so dead.

“Why did you leave me, Molly?”

It was a rainy morning and the light made him look tired. Emphasized the faint lines at the corners of his eyes especially now that he wasn’t smiling. She could tell him why she’d needed the money and he might even understand it. Might possibly even forgive her for taking the ship. They both knew it wouldn’t really matter in the end.

And he saw right through her.

“You’re right.” He stood up and pulled up his trousers to fasten them. “It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference.”

His back was to her. She couldn’t see his face but she knew him. Knew him well enough to read the tension in the set of his shoulders and in his quick, tight movements.

“Get dressed,” he said, walking toward his bag. “We have about an hour before we have to leave.”

The Adventures of Cassius Flynn and Molly McGuire Chapter 6

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Chapter Six

He helped Ben into bed and turned off the lights. Grabbed the key Mae had left on the small table beside the door. Molly waited for him in the hallway, quiet as he closed Ben’s door and unlocked the smaller room across the hall. It wasn’t nearly as fine as the honeymoon suite Mae had originally placed them in but it didn’t stink of blood and gunpowder. Damn Ben.

He threw the key on the table and turned to Molly. “Sorry about that.”

“Not your fault, really. Reliable help is hard to find, especially up here.” She paced to the middle of the room and turned around. “There’s only one bed.”

He ran a hand through his hair. There’d only been one bed in the other room too and she hadn’t made a fuss about it. Of course, she might have expected him to sleep on the settee. There wasn’t one here. No room, not even for him to stretch out on the bare floor. While he was still considering how to answer, Molly began to undo the buttons to her dress. She was wearing the simple maid’s outfit he’d purchased for her to blend in with the Stark servants. A prim navy blue, the neckline tailored just a touch lower than was proper. It displayed her phenomenal cleavage to perfection.

Her nimble fingers worked at the gown and he forgot how to breathe. She smiled as if she sensed his reaction, her sweet mouth turning up at the corners like a portrait of temptation. She’d always been able to play him like a fiddle.

As the front of her gown began to slip from her breasts, she turned. Her narrow back was still completely covered by the dark cloth. The tie hugged her waist, keeping everything in place. She looked at him over her shoulder. “Help me with this? I think it’s knotted.”

He shouldn’t.

Nothing with Molly was ever as straightforward as it seemed. It had taken him a long time to get over her and it wouldn’t do to fall back into old habits. He wasn’t ready to forgive her. He’d asked her to marry him and she’d taken off like her hair was on fire, with his ship. Now, here she was undressing for him like none of it had happened. The most frustrating thing was that it didn’t feel like anything had really changed, not between them. She was still the same impossible Molly and, despite everything she’d done, he still wanted her more than any other woman he’d ever met.

He stepped forward, eyes fixed on the pale skin of her shoulders. Long red curls a decadent splash of color against the plain blue wool. She smelled of the flowery bath soap Mae kept in her fancy rooms. Nothing he’d ever smelled on Molly before but it suited her just fine. She should always smell of lilac and roses, be wrapped up in silk, sleep on soft sheets.

The sash came loose with one tug and the gown pooled around her hips. Not waiting to see what he’d do, she pushed it down her slender thighs and leaned against him.

And the rest was inevitable really. He wasn’t walking away. There’d never been a chance of that happening. Molly well knew it.

He wrapped an arm around her waist and pressed his mouth to the side of her neck. “I missed you, Molly.”

“I know.”

* **

A shudder ran through her as Flynn pressed his open mouth to her neck. That spot…he’d always known her most sensitive spots, knew exactly how to touch her, how fast, how hard. He was the best lover she’d ever had. She’d hoped he’d missed her a little bit. Okay. Maybe a lot. She wasn’t above that, but it made her sad too. Made her question everything even knowing she’d done the right thing. He still wanted to change her. She’d known that as soon as she’d peeked in his bag and saw the clothes he’d picked out for her. Lace-trimmed garters and the satiny drawers. He didn’t see her. He’d always only seen what he’d wanted to see. She wasn’t a lady and never would be. Didn’t want to be.

Still, Flynn’s hard chest against her back felt right as rain, so perfect it brought a sheen of tears to her eyes. She blinked them back before turning to wrap her arms around his neck. Then, his mouth was on hers. Soft at first. A sweet tentative brush of his lips followed by the gentle probe of his tongue, slick and certain, skipping over her teeth to delve inside. He was still dressed. The rough texture of the embroidery on his vest abraded her nipples and they drew into tight points. He skimmed his palms down her back to cup her ass. She’d left the drawers in the bag.

He groaned into her mouth and started to walk them toward the bed. Nearly tripping over the tangle of her gown, he gripped her legs and lifted, taking her weight easily as she wrapped herself around him. He was stronger than he looked. Lean but well put together. The muscle he had was rock solid.

She was wearing the garters he’d picked out and the silk stockings too. She should have left those in the bag. It was almost cruel to give him hope but she knew it was a particular weakness. The way he worked his fingertips under the garters and the way his kiss became harder made that small concession worth it. Despite what he might think, she did like to please him. And she was capable of compromise.

He dropped her onto the mattress and followed her down, his weight pressing her into the feather-stuffed bedding. His hands bracketed her face as he kissed her deeply. His hips moved forward, pressing his erection against her. She gripped his hips, holding him back before reaching to unfasten his pants. She wanted to feel and see all of him. Trace his tattoos with her tongue. Taste every last inch of the body she’d once known as well as her own.

Flynn traced the line of her jaw with the tip of his tongue and lowered his head with a groan when she finally was able to wrap her hand around his cock. Hot. The skin was so hot there, startlingly soft over a rock-hard core. She dropped her head back onto the mattress and caught her lip between her teeth as she closed her eyes.

She squeezed him gently, pulling her hand toward the crown and then sweeping her thumb over the head. With a shudder, Flynn began to move again, pulling back just enough to shove his trousers from his hips. Yes, his clothes must come off. When she reached to undo the buttons of his vest, he caught her hands and pinned them beside her head.

“If you keep touching me like that, this will be over before it’s started.”

She smiled. “Is that a new problem of yours?”

He nipped at her chin. “Vixen. You’ve always done this to me and I’m out of practice where you’re concerned. I can’t be held accountable.”

Bracing himself on one arm, he slipped inside her, just the very tip stretching her open, testing her slickness with a gentle prod. She blushed at his brief smile. She was ready for him and he’d barely touched her. It was almost embarrassing how ready she was.

Rather than drive forward, he stayed where he was, bending his head to kiss her softly on the lips. Her jaw. He traced a line down her neck to her collarbone. Gentle, teasing kisses that made her want to squirm. Had her back arching, her hips moving to receive him. She felt him smile against the upper curve of her breast.

“Always so impatient. Just feel this, Molly. Tell me it doesn’t feel right. Perfect.”

It felt so right. It wouldn’t feel perfect until he was inside her.

“You’re not quite there yet,” she said. “Maybe you’ve forgotten how this works?”

A huff of laughter fanned across her skin before his mouth closed over her nipple. He sucked lightly and then moved to press a disappointingly chaste kiss to the peak of her other breast. She arched her back and he sucked her neglected nipple into his mouth and circled it with his tongue.

“I remember how it works,” he said. “I remember exactly how to work you. Now?”

He pressed deeper, deliberately slow, letting her feel every thick inch of him. The stretch was nearly uncomfortable. It had been a while. She bit her lip, her hands curling to fists with the desire to pull him closer. His grip only tightened. Flynn liked to think he was in control. Usually, she liked to allow him the illusion.

Still barely halfway in, he smiled. “Better?”

“Let go of my hands. I want to touch you too, Flynn. It’s not fair. You still have your clothes on.”

He was still wearing his shirt though she’d managed to free the top buttons. She could see the edge of his tattoo. The very tip of the raven’s wing that touched his collarbone. He adjusted the spread of his legs, forcing her thighs wider and she arched her back, angling her hips to welcome him deeper. She groaned, closing her eyes to savor the sensation. Closing her eyes against the smug look on his face. He withdrew again, nearly completely, lingered over her breasts for a moment before returning to her. Teasing her. She’d be pissed if it didn’t feel so damn good. And the infuriating man knew it. He knew her, inside and out. Every last bit.

Finally, he released her wrists to wrap an arm beneath her hips. He angled her up and then pushed fully inside her, withdrew immediately and then filled her again, harder, moving in a single smooth thrust that shifted her back on the bed.

She reached for him and this time he let her pull him down, closer. She kissed him with all the pent-up feelings she couldn’t possibly put into words. She wrapped her thighs around his hips and used that leverage to set the pace. Flynn moved with her, against her, inside her.

He bent his head, lips parted just above her collarbone. The heat of his breath fanned across her skin. The soft strands of his short hair tickled her cheek.

Small things she shouldn’t have even noticed but she did. She wanted to notice everything. Remember it. The scent of him. Open skies and engine grease, the slight tang of whiskey on his breath. The way the bones of his hips felt against her thighs. The slide of her silk stockings along the back of his calf. And the thick length of his cock filling her, driving the tension rising in her body higher and higher.

She could feel the tension in him too. In the arms braced on either side of her rib cage. The stutter in his thrusts. As if he wanted to hold back but was just as incapable of patience as she was right now. She didn’t want that anyway. Sometimes she liked Flynn to be controlled. He had an inventive mind and liked to play games in bed. But this wasn’t play, not for either of them. No point in pretending it was. Not play. Not love. Just plain need.

He kissed her, skimmed his mouth along her jaw and buried his face in the side of her neck again. His body was coiled tight as a torsion spring, but his pace slowed, his breathing harsh as hers. He always slowed when he was close to coming. It excited her. Hard to resist pushing him harder now. She wanted that, to feel him give himself over completely. He wasn’t quite there yet but he was close.

He felt harder, bigger, and she could feel every movement. She wished for more of him and slipped her fingertips under his shirt. Hot skin. Smooth and taut. She pressed her palms against his flexing muscles, felt his chest expand as he drew in a deep breath and let it out on a harsh exhalation. He turned his head and kissed her neck. When she felt his teeth graze her throat, she came apart. That light stinging touch pushed her right over the edge. He drew out the moment, slowing his thrusts even further, because he always seemed to know exactly what she needed.

Her body tightened and she couldn’t do more than hold on to him, her nails digging into his back to pull him closer, and feel her body spasm around him as ripples of pure pleasure flowed through her body. Flynn’s arm pulled her hips higher and his thrusts turned hard and fast. But she wasn’t quite ready for it to be over.

This might be her last chance. Hooking her foot around his thigh, she twisted her body to turn him. He paused as though he’d fight her for control but then rolled back onto the bed, letting her straddle him. He was panting and the heat in his eyes practically scorched her skin as he raked his gaze down her body. He palmed her breasts as she leaned forward to adjust the angle and then lowered herself fully onto him. His gorgeous green eyes hooded and his lips parted. His fingers flexed and she felt her nipples tighten against his palms.

She rode him slowly, unfastening the line of buttons down his vest and shirt and pushing the fabric aside. The tattoo was inked in black. A raven marking him as a pilot. The wingtip set at the edge of his neck and curved down past his collarbone, covering most of the right side of his chest. Flynn didn’t have a lot of hair on his body, a light drift between his pectoral muscles and a line from his navel to his cock. She let out a shaky breath. Beautiful, that’s what he was.

His hands skimmed down her sides to her hips as she leaned forward to scatter kisses along his collarbone and chest. When she came to his nipple, she caught it between her teeth and applied the gentlest of pressure. He dropped his head back and arched his neck. She couldn’t help but taste him there too. The knot of his Adam’s apple and the dip at the base of his throat.

He pressed a hand low on her spine, firm. Holding her in place as he rocked into her. His other hand slipped beneath the weight of her hair, caught there and tugged, forcing her head back. He pushed himself higher onto the pillows and kissed her neck.

“I want to feel you come again, Mol.”

She started to shake her head but his hand in her hair prevented it. “Yes. It’s there. Right there. All I need to do is coax it out of you.”

“It’s your turn.”

“That’s right, it is my turn and I’m telling you this is what I want—you coming around me again. I want to feel the pull of it. Don’t worry, I’ll follow you down.” His hand left her back to move between their bodies, fingers seeking until he found her clit. He tugged more sharply at her hair, his mouth working down toward the tops of her breast. “You’re beautiful.”

His voice was ragged.

“You’re close.” If he kept working her like this, she’d end frustrated. Better to stop while she was ahead.

“Not as close as you.”

He bent his head to clamp his mouth over her nipple and her body shuddered. “Feel that? Right fucking there. Give it up. You owe me, Molly.”

She did owe him, that was true. But she didn’t see how this would pay him back for anything. She moved, resting her hands on his chest, moving her hips to try to regain some control. She wanted to feel him come, that release. Wanted to watch him. See him throw back his head and lift his hips. Wanted to feel his body shake beneath her.

“No.” He rolled with her again, this time looming above her and spreading her thighs wide, wedging his knees under her body. “Grab hold of the post. Both hands.”

Another shiver washed over her but she did as he asked. The very corners of his mouth turned up, but it was a fleeting smile. Quick and tight. He barely thrust at all now though he was hard as a rock and deep inside her. He withdrew slowly and pressed back inside. His thumb moving in lazy circles on the hood of her clit. Light pressure, so light on her sensitized parts. Swollen and wet and throbbing in time with those lazy thrusts. She groaned as he filled her. “See that? Beautiful.”

He liked to push her to the edge, further than she thought she could go. That had always excited her. Scared her sometimes too. Not that she was afraid he’d ever go too far, but the feelings he stirred up were so intense that she didn’t always know what to do with them all.

As if he sensed her uncertainty, Flynn gripped her hip, pulling her more firmly against him. The pressure of his fingers against her clit increased and the muscles in her thighs tightened as her legs instinctively sought to close. He was having none of that. He held her spread open. His gaze raked her chest, her belly, to focus on where they were joined. He clenched his jaw and a blush heated her skin. He was watching as he slid inside her. He’d never let her hide anything. Had always demanded she give over everything.

She did. She didn’t really have a choice, did she? Her fingers clenched around the post and she arched her back, closing her eyes against Flynn’s smug smile. This time the pleasure was slower to wash over her, almost reluctant, but it was deeper because of it. Rolling through in great waves. And Flynn stopped holding himself back. He leaned forward, planting his hands to either side of her rib cage, and pounded into her. She had to let go of the post to hold on to him, wrap him up as his body shook and the pleasure finally took him too.

She kissed his shoulder and then his neck. He shivered. His breath harsh, every inhalation a caress against her sensitive nipples. She moved her legs to tangle with his, not quite ready to give him up. Once he caught his breath, he rolled to the side, throwing an arm over his head and resting the other on her thigh.

After a moment, he turned his head. “I missed you, Molly.”

His smile was easy, unguarded for the first time in such a very long time. His dark hair was tousled and the shadow of a beard touched his jaw. His green eyes fairly sparkled. How could she not smile back at him when he was like this? The man she’d fallen in love with. “I missed you too, Flynn.”

The truth. She’d missed him too damn much. No matter how she tried to cut him out from under her skin, it simply couldn’t be done. And how the hell was she supposed to walk away this time?