Bold As Brass Chapter 5

facebook twitter

Chapter Five

She tried desperately to focus on his words, but his firm, luscious mouth was so very close. “Y-yes,” she whispered.

He gave her a pained smile. “I thought you’d given up on me. Your broken heart mended so quickly. You moved on to Rotham a month later.” There was no accusation, no censure in his tone, just genuine confusion.

She shrugged and tried to explain that which made no sense to her now. “Then I’m a better actress than I gave myself credit for. I never stopped loving you. And with Rotham, at first I figured, why not? I’d already found my one true love and he wouldn’t have me. Why waste time searching for something I knew I’d never find again? Rotham seemed as nice a fellow as the next. I’d have a chance for the child I’d always wanted, and you would still be in my life, in a fashion. There were worse things I could imagine than that.”

She shook her head slowly. “But I couldn’t go through with it. Right before the fire, I was going to break it off with him. That’s why I harbored so much guilt after the fire. The investigator ruled that the accident was my fault, but also, I was going to tell him we couldn’t marry.” She looked away, embarrassed by the tears glossing her eyes.

“Ah, damn it, Charlotte. I didn’t refuse you because I didn’t love you.” Alistair’s voice was a whisper and she had to strain to hear him. “I refused you because I couldn’t bear the thought of denying you your dreams.” He took a deep breath and let it out in a rush. “I’ve told you, I was married before, almost a decade ago when I lived in France. Annabelle died from a fever in our fourth year of marriage.”

She hadn’t even processed his admission of love when her heart tripped at the pain in his voice. Somehow she knew what was coming, even before he spoke the words.

“What I never told you was that we wanted a family as badly as you do now. For three years before her death, we tried to conceive. I don’t know if she was barren or if I was to blame, but by the time she fell ill, we barely spoke anymore. I was so weighed down by guilt, and she was so bitter and angry. Like a brittle shell of a woman, one blow away from cracking. I couldn’t bear the thought of doing that to you. Of waking up one morning to find you broken that way because of me.”

Charlotte’s eyes burned with unshed tears as she tried to speak through the lump wedged in her throat.

“Alistair, I—”

He held up a hand and pressed on. “But when I thought you had been taken from me…that there was a chance that Rotham had hurt you, I nearly lost my mind. It was only the hope that you were alive that kept me from madness. What I know now is that what we have together can overcome anything. If we cannot have children of our own, then London has more than its share of children in need of love. We’ll find them together. I want to be with you for as long as you’ll have me.”

Her blood sang with joy. “I will have you forever, my love. That’s all I would ever want and more.”

He met her gaze with a fierce one of his own. “I still envision a little girl with your smile, and your sharp mind. A boy with your adventurous spirit and your bravery. If it doesn’t happen, so be it, but I want to try.”

His face held a calm resolve and her already full heart felt like a balloon about to burst.

“The trying will be the best part! Yes, yes to all of that.” She bent low and pressed a kiss to his mouth. He strained forward, but she pulled away. “You are going to injure your wrists again. If we want to get out of here, we’ve got to get moving. Trust me when I say this is the last time I shall ever refuse you, my love.”

He sucked in a breath and nodded. “You’re right. Get the copper nitrate and mix the compound.”

***

Five hours later, she returned to Alistair’s side. She’d done it, with barely a moment to spare. The goggles were complete. “One more kiss. Just in case something goes wrong.” She leaned down and kissed him for all she was worth. As she pulled away, footsteps sounded in the hall.

She stepped back and strode to the closest worktable, scooping up the goggles. There was no time for a test, but any fears she’d had about the upcoming showdown had subsided. Now that she had happiness just an inch from her hand, nothing was going to stop her from grabbing it. Especially not John Rotham. If their plan didn’t work, they’d find another way.

“Ready?” she asked Alistair.

“More than.” He leveled her a lethal smile and the door cracked open.

Rotham strode in, gun first, as usual. His shifty eyes flickered around the room until he spotted them both.

“Well?” he asked, eyeing the purviewers in her hand.

“They’re finished.”

“Excellent! I’ll need to test them, of course.”

“Of course.” She nodded and handed him the goggles. She sucked in a breath as he lifted them to his face then paused.

His icy eyes narrowed and he tipped his head. “Why don’t you try them first, while I watch? Wouldn’t do to flip the lever and have needles shot into my eyes or some such, would it?”

She willed her lips into the shape of a smile and held out a hand. “Certainly not.” She slid the purviewers on and adjusted the lenses before depressing the lever. There was a soft whirring, and suddenly, her perception wavered. She could still see Rotham in the background, but the foreground had become a ghostlike image of the same space, five minutes into the future. Her heart pounded at the image before her eyes but she schooled her features and gave him a wan smile.

“See? No needle shooting.”

Chilly fingers brushed her cheek as he yanked them unceremoniously off her head. “All right then, my turn.”

He kept the gun trained on her as he pressed them to his face, forgoing the leather strap. With a flick of his thumb, he activated them. The whirring began and he murmured his approval. Suddenly, the color drained from his face.

“No!” he cried and wheeled around, letting the goggles crash to the floor. Alistair had slunk up behind him and was almost upon him. Rotham let out a shout as he raised the pistol to shoot. Charlotte kicked the back of his knee with a booted foot and he stumbled. The gun discharged, but the shot went wild. Just as he righted himself, Alistair dropped the stool he’d been holding and let loose a right hook that landed on Rotham’s chin with a resounding crack. The bastard dropped like a stone, out cold. Just the way he saw himself in the purviewers, she thought with perverse satisfaction.

Charlotte bent and pulled the gun from his slack fingers and pointed it at him as Alistair positioned him on his stomach. A manacle still encircled each of Alistair’s wrists but only a bit of corroded chain hung from each, jangling as he moved.

“It was a sound idea. The nitric acid did a magnificent job on those chains,” she observed with satisfaction.

Alistair nodded and pulled the twine from his pocket and made quick work of tying Rotham up before turning to her with a grin. “We did it.”

“I was so afraid the floorboards would creak, or you’d sneeze or something,” she said, a giggle bubbling in her throat. The emotional stew of the past couple of days finally boiled over and she began to laugh hysterically.

Alistair chuckled and pulled her close. “There there now, don’t fall apart now, love. We’ve got a lot of making up to do and I’ll have you in your right mind when we start.”

She choked back another laugh and took a calming breath. “Let’s leave this place, Alistair. We’ll send a runner for the constable and be sure Rotham’s locked away for a very long time.”

“And then?”

She pressed a soft kiss to his jaw and whispered, “And then we skulk around carrying on a torrid affair until we can marry.”

He captured her chin in his hand and met her gaze with shining eyes. “You asked me once, bold as brass. Ever the fool, I turned you down. I shall ask you, now. Charlotte Phillips, love of my life, will you marry me?”

She tucked her head into the curve of his neck. “I will,” she sighed. “I will.”

THE END

Bold As Brass Chapter 4

facebook twitter

Chapter Four

With only half a day remaining, Alistair realized he wasn’t going to survive this. He knew it with grim certainty. If Rotham didn’t kill him, then Charlotte would. Frankly, he was surprised he hadn’t succumbed already.

As he stared down at the delicate convex lens before him, all he could see was creamy white skin, full raspberry lips and a tumble of dark curls that had long ago escaped their confines. Surely if he was to finish these damned goggles he’d need an ounce of blood in his brain. Instead, it had all traveled south, and he’d been as useless as an addled boy since.

“How are they looking?” Charlotte called to him from the corner. Rotham had returned that morning to bring them food, take them to the privy and then force them to trade places. Charlotte had been manacled ever since.

Reluctantly, he faced her. Her arms were behind her back, thrusting her glorious breasts forward, and he swallowed hard to unstick his tongue from the roof of his mouth. “Not yet. Close, though. I think if I shave a little more off the front, we’ll be there. Then you can finish calibrating the lever.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “Good, that’s very good. We should have just enough time.”

He turned back to his work and she called to him again.

“Alistair? Would you bring me a drink of water?”

He swallowed a groan. Just when he started to get a grip on his emotions she needed him for something. And all of those things seemed to require his closeness. Adjusting the position of her wrists, moving her hair from her face, straightening her skirts. The day before when she was free, she’d even removed her corset. Now every time he looked at her, he had to will himself not to let his eyes drift to her torso, where her dusky nipples peaked against her petticoat. It was almost as if she was trying to torture him…almost as if—

His thoughts came to a screeching halt as the pieces finally fell into place. That little minx. She was trying to seduce him.

He’d wanted her for so long that the constant, grinding need had become standard. It had taken him all day to recognize that maybe it wasn’t just his natural reaction to her. She was actually instigating it. His heart thumped against his ribs as he tried to piece it all together. Surely, he’d lost his chance when she’d asked for his hand last year and he had denied her? He’d been relegated to the role of “colleague” for God’s sake. But it seemed that, despite having found a quick understudy for her affections, she hadn’t completely given up on him.

If nearly losing Charlotte twice—both times to Rotham, in one manner or another—had taught him anything, it was that he didn’t want to face another day without her.

Now to see if his suspicions were correct.

He bit back a grin and picked up the jug of water. “Coming right up.”

He strolled over to the stool and poured some water into the cup on the floor beside her. She smiled her thanks and tipped her head to drink as he put the cup to her lips. “Sorry,” he mumbled as he angled the cup, causing water to course down her chin in a river, soaking the front of her petticoat. “Well, look at you now. I’ve gotten you all wet. Let me…” He stripped off his shirt in a few quick motions.

Her eyes went wide and her mouth trembled as she stared at his chest. It took all he had to pretend he didn’t notice her gaze as he bent and began to wipe the water away with his shirt. First her chin, then down the long line of her white neck, then lower. She gasped as his fingertips brushed the swell of her bare bosom.

He locked eyes with her and all thoughts of teasing her vanished. He let the shirt fall to the floor and leaned close enough to feel the wash of her breath against his lips.

Footsteps sounded at the top of the stairs and he jerked back. Alistair let out a string of curses as he slid on his shirt and began to fasten the buttons. “He’s early. Must be getting anxious.”

Just as he finished righting his clothes and returned to the worktable, Rotham walked in carrying a tray with food and his ever-present derringer.

“How goes it?”

“Almost complete,” Charlotte said, her voice still husky. It sent a bolt of lust straight to Alistair’s groin and he shifted uncomfortably.

Rotham didn’t seem to notice. He merely grunted in satisfaction. “Good. Eat something. I’ll be back in six hours, then. I believe I may have been recognized this morning and I need to leave as soon as possible.” He set the tray of food down with a clatter. “The purviewers had better be ready upon my return. I will accept no excuses.”

He kept the pistol trained on Charlotte as he unchained her. Despite his fury, Alistair docilely took her place. He briefly considered making a move now, if only to get Rotham to take the gun out of her face, but took a steadying breath. They had a plan and six hours to implement it. Soon, they would be free and this would all be a memory.

Rotham took his leave and closed the door behind him. The silence was thick as Charlotte pinned him with her gaze.

“Are you hungry?” she asked.

His eyes drifted unconsciously to the still-damp cloth covering her breasts and he nodded. “Famished.”

She carried the tray over, hips swaying as she moved. She knelt before him and he squeezed his eyes closed for a moment. How many times had he imagined her thusly? Did the witch even know what she was about? As he met her heavy-lidded gaze once again, he realized that she did.

She plucked a morsel of chicken from the plate and held it out to him. He snatched it with his teeth, but her fingers lingered, brushing his mouth in a soft caress.

He swallowed, his eyes never leaving hers. “Do you still want me then, love? Is that what this is?”

Bold As Brass Chapter 3

facebook twitter

Chapter Three

Charlotte pressed her hands to her sides, quelling the urge to straighten Alistair’s tousled black hair. She was just so damned glad he was all right. His warm hazel eyes looked tired and his clothes were a wrinkled mess, but other than that he appeared none the worse for wear. She swallowed a sigh of relief.

“Any ideas on how we might get out of this alive?” she asked.

Alistair’s frank gaze collided with hers and he shook his head grimly. “I’ve been working on it but nothing foolproof yet. You?”

Neither bothered pretending that Rotham was going to just let them go. They knew far too much, maybe even enough to see him hanged. No, he planned to string them along with the promise of freedom, but the moment they handed him the repaired purviewers, they were as good as dead.

“I’m still trying to digest this whole thing, myself. Have you tested the chains?”

He grimaced. “Probably more than I should have.”

She moved behind him and bent to look at his bound wrists that were wrapped around a wooden post. “Oh, Alistair. You’re a bloody mess.” She took his hands gently in hers and examined them closer. “I’ll see what we have here to treat them and then wrap them in cloth. Don’t move.”

He let out a crack of laughter. “Where would I go?”

Removing her evening gloves, she scanned the lab. After some poking around she found some carbolic acid and a hand towel in the mix, which she tore in half. Locating a pitcher of water, she doused a piece of the cloth. She dampened the other piece with the chemical. “This should do. Once we get you cleaned up, I’ll work on the lock. Maybe devise a corroding agent? There are some tools we might use as a pick, as well.”

“Fine idea.”

He let out a hiss as she applied the damp cloth to his torn skin.

“Sorry about that. What about the head wound?”

“No blood, just a lump, I think.”

She wiped away as much blood as she could from his wrists and made quick work of cushioning the manacles with a bit of the antiseptic cloth and stepped away, admiring her efforts.

“There. I’m going to take stock of what we have in the lab. I suggest we spend half our time working on an escape, and the other half on the goggles. John will be checking on our progress, and I don’t want to give him an excuse to shoot us both dead any sooner than he plans to. Besides, if by the time we fix them we still can’t figure a way to get out, at least we’ll have them as a bargaining chip of sorts.”

“Agreed.”

She turned to get to work, and the hem of her gown caught on a pile of debris. “Bother. This dress is going to be a hazard in such a tight space, and there is hardly enough room for my bustle. Besides, being trussed up for a few hours at a ball is one thing, being trussed up for two days is another kettle of fish. I hope you don’t mind?”

She deftly began unhooking the numerous clasps on the back of her dress but froze when she caught the expression on Alistair’s face. His jaw tightened, his warm hazel eyes going hot and bright, to a poison green. His gaze trailed a molasses path from her face down the length of her neck and lingered on her breasts before he looked away. Charlotte’s stomach dropped, need pooling low in her belly.

But surely she must have been mistaken. Had Alistair ever desired her? He knew all he had to do was ask and she’d be his. She’d made it very clear more than a year before how she felt about him. And he had rejected her. Her cheeks burned at the memory.

“Are you certain that is a sound idea? What if Rotham takes your state of undress as an invitation?” His voice sounded as if he’d swallowed something sharp.

Charlotte considered his reaction. What had started out as a mere practicality had suddenly become ripe with possibilities. There had been many times over the past several years of their friendship when Alistair had stared at her in a way that warmed her insides, or when he’d stiffened when she’d brushed by. But after she’d offered herself to him so plainly and he’d insisted that they could never be more than friends and colleagues, she’d put it off to imagination…wishful thinking.

But if they truly had only two days to live, she wouldn’t let the time pass without making certain he wasn’t lying to her—or himself—when he’d said he only cared for her as a friend.

“There are many layers beneath this dress. Surely Rotham will not be driven to madness by the sight of me in a petticoat, Alistair.” She kept her tone light, but her fingers trembled as she began to work on the tiny hooks again.

“You don’t have a maid,” he continued, his words coming more quickly now. “And I don’t have a hand to help. Perhaps when Rotham returns you can ask for more suitable attire. For now, just leave—”

She’d gotten only a third of the way through the hooks, but it was enough to cause the front of her dress to fall forward, revealing her petticoat with its fitted bodice and even lower neckline.

Alistair sucked in a breath and his protests abruptly ceased. She dared a glance in his direction, but his eyes were locked on her breasts and the bright white thatch of cloth barely restraining them. She’d planned to don her shawl again once she’d gotten out of the dress, for modesty’s sake, but that intention evaporated under the heat of his gaze. His pupils were so dilated that his gold-flecked eyes appeared almost entirely black. The pulse in his neck throbbed and his nostrils flared. He looked positively wicked. She’d dreamed of the day he would view her like this.

Her fingers grew more sure as she stretched to reach the middle hooks. His breathing grew harsh. Her heart pounded as the truth settled deep in her soul.

Alistair wanted her. In spite of his earlier words, he wanted her badly, and she wasn’t going to leave this room until he admitted it, Rotham be damned.

Bold As Brass Chapter 2

facebook twitter

Chapter Two

A door slammed shut overhead and footsteps sounded on the stairs. Alistair sat up on the stool as best he could and pasted a bored expression on his face. No sense in giving Rotham the satisfaction of knowing just how painful the manacles around his wrists had become. The bastard was pleased enough with himself for capturing Alistair in the first place.

If he hadn’t been so distracted, it would never have happened. He had suspected Charlotte’s fiancé was alive for a few weeks now. Some of the gossipy chaps at The Wakefield Gentlemen’s Club had begun whispering about Rotham’s disgruntled creditors. While John and Charlotte weren’t yet man and wife, news of their betrothal had rocked London, and the money grubbers hoped to capitalize on her guilt and extreme wealth by asking her to honor Rotham’s debts. Strange when a man, deep in arrears, dies in a tragic accident at the same time that a priceless invention is also lost. Once Alistair had realized the purviewers were destroyed and there was so little found of Rotham’s remains, his suspicions had grown. He’d already begun looking into the “accident” and had just hired an investigator to handle the legwork when Rotham had accosted him from behind and coshed him on the head.

The door to the makeshift laboratory swung open, and his heart stuttered as Charlotte stepped in, resplendent in a stunning red gown. Her sharp gray gaze flickered around the room until it landed on him.

“Alistair.”

She breathed only the one word, but the look on her face said so much more. Her relief was almost palpable and he worked up a smile for her. It wasn’t difficult. Bloody hell, she was alive, and that was all that mattered. He’d clung to the belief that Rotham hadn’t harmed her, but it hadn’t made the hours pass any quicker. He’d needed to see her in the flesh, and now that he had, everything was right with the world. Aside from the pesky manacles and the gun pointed at them….

“If the two of you are finished making eyes at one another, you might want to pay mind to the man with the gun,” Rotham groused. He sounded like a petulant three-year-old, but Alistair reminded himself that such a person would be even more dangerous than a proper man wielding a weapon. He tore his gaze from Charlotte and reluctantly focused on their captor.

“Very good. Now, Charlotte, you will have free reign of the laboratory tonight and every night. At dawn, I will chain you and release Sinclair to do his part. That should keep you both in line, because if one of you attempts to escape while you are unrestrained, the other will be left behind to face my wrath alone. At the end of two days, I expect the purviewers to function as they’re meant to. Then, you will be free to go. It’s quite simple, really,” he said with a casual shrug and a flash of perfectly straight white teeth.

Alistair vowed to knock them out the moment he had the chance.

“It would assist in our task if we knew how they were damaged,” Charlotte said.

“They worked perfectly for a few weeks. I’d made my way through all the gaming hells in France. Cards, games of chance, horse races, I wagered on them all, and won. Small stakes, you understand, to keep from being noticed. I was on my way to creating a whole new life there. Almost had enough to send for Emily to join me. Then one evening I was peeking through the purviewers right before a bout of boxing, and someone walked by. In my rush to take off the goggles before they were seen, I dropped them on the cobbles.”

He curled his lip in disgust as he tossed the brass on the worktable. “They haven’t worked since. I’ve lost every sou I won and then some. Tried to read your stupid notebook to fix them. A load of gibberish, that.”

“The goggles aren’t meant for rigorous use. Besides, if we fix them, what’s to stop you from resorting to this should they break again? I refuse to live my life in fear, John. What guarantee do we have that this will be at an end in forty-eight hours?” Charlotte crossed her arms over her breasts—plumping them up against the scooped neckline of her dress—and eyed their nemesis pointedly.

“You’re not in a position to demand guarantees. But, I will only require the purviewers for one more use. I’ve worked out a plan that will make me rich as Croesus. You have my word, fix them this once and I shan’t trouble you again.” He started toward the door. “I will be back early to release Sinclair and secure you for the day. Use your time wisely. Two days,” he sang as he exited.

Charlotte called after him, “Just so you are aware, milord, the wedding is off!”

Alistair shook his head in amazement as the door slammed behind Rotham. Even in the face of a crisis, Charlotte Phillips’s dry wit did not fail her. He loved that, and everything else, about her. Alistair gave her a proper grin, then looked closer at her pale face. She was not quite as unaffected as she seemed.

“Are you all right?”

She nodded and attempted a weak smile. “Yes. A little shaken, is all. It’s not every day one’s intended comes back from the dead, kidnaps your colleague and threatens to murder you, but I’m managing. You?”

Colleague. That stung, but he probably deserved it. He’d had the chance to be so much more to Charlotte but he’d turned her away. Now it was too late.

“Alistair?” She pinned him with her too-perceptive gaze as she picked her way across the cluttered room, muttering a curse as she stumbled. “I asked how you were faring.”

“Same as you, taken aback, I suppose,” he said with a shrug.

“To tell the truth, I feel rather a ninny for trusting him in the first place.” Her cheeks flushed and she looked away.

John Rotham had been a bit of an unknown from the start, and while Charlotte had trusted him, Alistair had not. The second son to Charles, the late Duke of Rotham, John had spent most of his time in France up until his brother’s death the year before. He’d returned to London to claim his title, but there had been rumblings of his poor judgment with money early on. His sudden and relentless interest in Charlotte had been a surprise—and very suspicious to Alistair—but she had taken his courtship as sincere. John had suited her purposes; more than anything, Charlotte wanted a child, and at eight and twenty, time was growing short. She’d lived in America for almost a decade, leading many of the bachelors in London to question her morals. Her willful nature and sharp wit had scared off the rest despite her wealth.

Weak-minded pratts, all of them. He would have done almost anything to have Charlotte as his wife, but marrying him could have cost her her most precious of dreams. And that, he would not do.

He bit back a sigh and tried to reassure her. “He was a fine actor. It wasn’t your fault.”

She met his gaze full-on then and gave a weary shake of her head. “You are a true gentleman for saying so, Alistair, but it was my fault entirely. Better that I accept it and learn from my mistakes than repeat them.”

He pretended to consider that, and gave a solemn nod. “Well then, if you insist, it was rather silly of you. What in the blazes were you thinking?”

She laughed, and the sound warmed him. She had the most inappropriate laugh. A bawdy, throaty chuckle that vibrated in her throat long before it spilled from her lips. It called forth visions of silky skin and dueling tongues, of curvy hips and creamy thighs. Today, though, the sound was soothing, a balm to his soul. When he’d awakened, chained in the lab, he’d been terrified. Until she’d walked through the door, he hadn’t been certain if she was alive or dead.

The thought of John killing her skewered his guts like a lance, but Alistair willed the nightmare away. She was here now, and very much alive. Now they just had to keep it that way.

Bold As Brass Chapter 1

facebook twitter

Chapter One

Charlotte winced as an inebriated party-goer stepped on her foot, but she kept moving determinedly toward the doors that led to the balcony. The Duncans would be delighted with their party; it was clearly the event of the season, and their daughter had been successfully launched into society.

Unfortunately, the noise, the heat and the crowd combined with Charlotte’s pounding headache to make her want to escape for a breath of fresh air. Reaching the balcony doors, she opened them to find two people engaged in a passionate kiss.

“I’m sorry.” The words escaped her mouth before she realized it would have been better to make an exit without being noticed. The couple jumped apart.

Charlotte felt the blood drain from her face as she stared at her fiancé.

“John! I thought you were dead!”

The stormy blue eyes gazing back at her flashed with surprise for just an instant before growing so cold, she flinched.

“How did you recognize me, Charlotte?”

She pushed through the shock and confusion clouding her thoughts, trying to make sense of this astonishing turn of events. “False mustache or no, I would know my own betrothed, John. I’m not a fool. But I don’t understand why you would let me believe you perished in the fire…” She trailed off as the truth hit her like a slap. “You never wanted me. This was about the purviewers from the very start.”

It wasn’t a question. She was as sure of it as she was of Faraday’s law of induction. Maybe she’d always known, somewhere deep in her bones, that John’s interest in her had been false, but pride had kept her from admitting how thoroughly she’d been duped.

Though she understood why he’d gone to such lengths to procure the purviewers. The brass goggles were certainly a temptation for the greedy. They allowed the wearer to see exactly five minutes into the future. She and her partner, Alistair, had created them almost by accident during an attempt at unlocking the mysteries of time travel.

They’d been set to unveil them before the Alchemists Tribunal when a terrible fire had broken out in their laboratory. The blaze had consumed her home, her work—and her fiancé. The purviewers were replaceable, but John’s death had left her paralyzed with guilt for the past six months. The Duncans’ Ball was the first social event she’d attended since the “tragedy.”

Only now, with the proof of his duplicity literally staring her in the face, did she realize the truth—John had staged the fire so he could get his hands on the purviewers. Her hands trembled with repressed fury as she thought of what he’d put her through.

John gave her a chilly smile and inclined his head. “I wondered if I’d have to spell it out for you. I should have known better.” He regarded her for a long moment before turning his attention to the pretty blonde on his arm. “Emily, why don’t you go and rejoin the party. I’ll see you later this evening.”

The young woman nodded, scowling at Charlotte as she passed. Charlotte moved to follow her, but John stepped smoothly in front of the French doors and closed them with a snap, trapping her with him on the balcony. He was near enough for her to smell the liquor on his breath, and she drew back instinctively.

She squashed the sudden blast of fear that rose within her and instead focused on her ire. “You’re drunk. I won’t speak with you under these conditions. Besides, you got what you wanted—the purviewers. I cannot imagine why you would return to London or what you would want with me now. Let me pass, John. This instant.”

As his handsome face screwed up in fury, she braced herself.

“Always wanting to be in control, bossy wench. Not this time.” The stranger who would have been her husband by now pulled a gun from his waist and aimed it directly at her heart. His mouth twisted into a sneer. “Your contraptions have stopped working. Now you’re going to fix them.”

“Why would I help you?”

“Because I have your precious Alistair. He’s chained to a chair in Emily’s house as we speak. I’ve set up a lab for you there so the two of you can repair the purviewers. I’ll even be generous and give you forty-eight hours to complete the task.”

The riot of emotions scrambling Charlotte’s brain instantly gave way to calm determination at his words. He had Alistair and beyond that, nothing else mattered. There was no alternative. She would go with John and figure out a way to save both the only man she’d ever loved and her invention, or she would die trying. The whys or hows didn’t matter.

“I’ll need more time than that. I don’t have my notes, they were burned—”

“In the fire? No, darling. I have them.”

She barely restrained a snarl. “And if we still cannot manage it?”

He shrugged nonchalantly. “Then I will kill you both.”

Well that was certainly clear enough.

“Then we’d better move along,” she said, bustling over to the doors and eyeing him expectantly.

Confusion furrowed his brow. “That’s all you would say to me? Aren’t you ashamed I deceived you—the brilliant Charlotte Phillips—so easily?”

It was a real kick in the bloomers, to be certain, but she’d never admit it to him. John’s signet ring and some charred bits of bone had been the only indications that he’d been in the lab during the fire. She hadn’t even considered why the brass goggles had succumbed to the flames so completely when his gold ring had remained fully intact. The inspector had ruled that she must have left a burner on, accidentally causing the inferno and John’s death. She’d been so overcome with guilt that she hadn’t thought it through. Or noted the fact that in fifteen years of experimenting, she’d never once left a burner on. Now the ruse seemed as plain as day.

She poked around for some heartache over her fiancé’s betrayal, but all she found was anger. In any case, it wasn’t as if she’d ever loved him or expected his love in return. She wanted a family, more than anything, and that meant marriage. He had the title, she had the money, and they got on well. Alistair hadn’t wanted her, so what did it matter who she married?

John slipped the weapon into his pocket and tried to move her toward the door, jostling her with the cloth-covered revolver. She made a silent vow to work on her instincts.

She looked down her nose at him. “I would appreciate if you would not do that again.”

“You and that haughty stare. As if you’re so much smarter than the rest of us,” he spat.

“Not the rest, John. Just you.”

He was quick as a viper, rapping the butt of the pistol smartly against the side of her already pounding head. Pain exploded at her temple and she gasped.

“I’ve always wanted to do that, silence that sharp tongue for a change. I should have married you and killed you off after the wedding. That was my mistake. Emily didn’t like the idea of blood on my hands. Last time I listen to a woman, mark me.”

Angering the lunatic with a pistol was not one of her better ideas and she vowed to bite her tongue moving forward. So long as they kept their heads, surely she and Alistair could outwit John Rotham before the two days were up. They had no choice.

Music and Mayhem: the World of Cherry St. Croix

facebook twitter

By Karina Cooper, author of ENGRAVED

Whenever I write a project, I have a playlist or a type of music I dedicate solely to that project. This has made for some interesting compilations over the years, across several platforms. A lot of my contemporary and “for fun” listening playlists appear on Spotify, while I use Grooveshark for much of my fantasy worldbuilding.

Cherry, however, was different.

Throughout most of her misadventures, I relied on classical music to carry me through the bulk of it. Everything from Baroque symphonies to the Romantic Period classics, every step above the drift and below was punctuated by a score from periods past. Yet as I wrote Engraved and Transmuted, I relied heavily on three scores: The Black Swan and the combined scores of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.

To be fair, when I first sat down to work on Engraved, I fell back on my classicals. What could possibly go wrong with Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and all the other greats?

Turns out, not wrong so much as not right. As I was writing, I realized something was missing. There just wasn’t enough… creep. I needed creep. So where else to turn but movie scores?

Now, as I write the final pages for Transmuted to Angels & Demons’ ‘God Particle’, I can’t help but be grateful for these marvelous composers and the atmosphere their music inspires. From the thick, devil-fog below to the gilded cage of above, from the Midnight Menagerie’s manicured lawns to the circus terrors it inspires, the misadventures of Cherry St. Croix are punctuated beautifully by the haunting, ambient scores of musical geniuses.

And there’s a side benefit to this: when I wake up to an earworm in my head, as I did earlier, then the music helps drown that out!

So if you’re reading Engraved and wondering what Transmuted will have in store for you come January, give these scores a listen. Who knows, maybe they’ll inspire your own misadventure!

Tell me, adventurous ones: what’s your favorite music to listen to as you write, read, or go about your days?

 

CARINA_0814_-9781426898815_Engraved

ENGRAVED by Karina Cooper

Cherry St. Croix returns to the fog-ridden streets of Victorian London, where the balance of power threatens all that she loves.

I will not wither without laudanum. Sober and determined, I have chosen another way– alchemy, and the pursuit of wellness it embodies. My name is Cherry St. Croix, and though freedom is finally at my fingertips, I return to the blackened streets intent on righting the wrongs I’d left behind.

All is not well in London low. Caught in a war between gangs, men are torn limb from limb, and I am called on to ascertain how. The immoral Karakash Veil is no doubt involved, and Micajah Hawke, a prisoner in his own Menagerie, cannot soften the danger this time.

Armed with the alchemical arts I have learned, my ever present guardian, and what few friends are left to me, I embark on a campaign to rescue the ringmaster I cannot abandon, save the Brick Street Bakers from annihilation, and finally face that which frightens me the most–my own heart.

Book five of the St. Croix Chronicles

Connect with Karina Cooper: Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | website

The Many Faces of Tarot

facebook twitter

Karina Cooper's Tarot DecksDid you know that I like tarot? It’s true. I might have something of a problem.

The first deck I ever owned was the Arthurian deck, which you can see on the left side of the picture. I’ve had that deck for—wait, let me get the abacus out… okay, too long. Since I was a sophomore or junior, I think, in high school. I love tarot. I love the art, and the symbolism and the fantastic way it can help one work through questions one might have about life, the universe, and everything.

I had never, until now, successfully thought of a good enough reason to bring tarot into a book series. Sure, there’s all the usual methods—the fortune teller, the tarot as a method to figure out plot, and so on—but I really couldn’t settle on one.

Until Mr. Oliver Ashmore.

Tempered finally introduces Cherry St. Croix’s mysterious guardian, and I had so much fun with him. Cherry, fierce defender of reason and science over myth and magic, is suddenly placed face to face with a different kind of tool altogether: Tarot.

Tarot as Alchemical Tool

Wait, wait, I’m crazy, right? Well, a little bit. Here’s my overlap: in extreme short version, alchemy is the pursuit of perfection; perfection includes not just physical perfection (e.g., gold, immortality) but a perfection of the soul, too (e.g., Zen, or inner harmony, spiritual strength); Tarot is, in what’s commonly called the Fool’s Journey, about reaching the conclusion of a cycle beginning at the naive Fool and culminating in the completion of the World.

Ergo, alchemy utilizes tarot.

Want to know more? Mr. Ashmore has you covered. See how deftly he manipulates his addled ward into giving alchemy more of a chance than she has been willing until now. Watch as our intrepid heroine struggles for a eureka! moment that has, so far, eluded her.

Have you ever had your cards read? Are you a collector—of Tarot, that is, not of bounties (although far be it from me to judge)—or perhaps just idly interested? Or are you one of those who favor the deification of reason and science over that of the more esoteric arts?

Tempered: The St. Croix Chronicles

Tempered: the St. Croix ChroniclesForced out of London’s coal-blackened streets, Cherry St. Croix is faced with her most difficult undertaking yet: sobriety.

At long last, my guardian, the enigmatic Mr. Oliver Ashmore, has revealed himself—and his order is clear: I am to be dried out at once, regardless of my wishes.

I loathe the country estate I am imprisoned within. Footsteps follow me, voices call for me, and my sanity wavers. In my fevered dreams, I am haunted by those I failed, while waking proves no protection from the ghosts of my reckless past. The craving for laudanum plagues me. I require a distraction.

To unravel the alchemical mysteries of my mother’s family, I must rely on Ashmore’s tutelage. I am lured to the art and drawn by the secrets my guardian possesses. Yet the deeper I delve, the more I believe that something dreadful disturbs these haunted corridors. In my madness, I fear that what it wants most…is me.

Available now from Carina Press! Or you can read an excerpt here.

Want to find me on the web? I’ve got you covered:

How Hot is Too Hot?

facebook twitter

Some people like their romance sweet, some readers like the characters to steam up the page. I’ve written a lot of romance, much of it erotic. There’s not a lot of sexual content I shy away from. I’ve published over 50 books and novellas, and each one has had at least a few fairly explicit sex scenes. But what does a writer do when sex just doesn’t fit the book?

In Ashes & Alchemy, I decided not to force it. Even though morals are a little different in my steampunk version of 1960, my hero, Seb, is still a gentleman, through and through. He not only falls in love with Minnie, the heroine, but he also respects her deeply. Minnie, mind you, doesn’t necessarily agree with this waiting business. She’s not an innocent young maiden—she’s a mother, after all. But she’s had a rough life and Seb’s out to prove that he considers her just as special as any diamond-studded debutante. So…no sex until after they’re married.

I had a choice. I could tweak Seb’s character and have him give in. It’s a novella, so it’s not like there’s room for much extraneous fooling around. Or, I could wait until the very end to slip in a little heat. Since I fell so deeply in love with Seb on my own, there was no way I was going to weaken his resolve. In this case, the characters won the battle. Seb and Minnie will have the rest of their lives together to heat up the sheets. I hope my readers aren’t too disappointed they’ll only get a taste.

So tell me, what would you prefer, as a reader or writer? Stick with the author or series’ standard heat level, or follow the characters and the story? I did struggle with this question and would genuinely love to know your opinions, since I’m sure it’ll happen again. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy my peek at how the middle class lives in the world of the Gaslight Chronicles.

Ashes & Alchemy
Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and All Romance e-Books.

London, 1860
Police inspector Sebastian Brown served Queen and country in India before returning to England to investigate supernatural crimes alongside the Order of the Round Table. If his wifeless, childless life feels a little empty sometimes, that’s not too great a price to pay in the name of duty.

Minerva Shaw is desperately seeking a doctor when she mistakenly lands on Sebastian’s doorstep. Her daughter Ivy has fallen gravely ill with a mysterious illness—the same illness, it seems, that’s responsible for taking the lives of many of Ivy’s classmates.

Seb sniffs a case, and taking in Minnie and Ivy seems the only way to protect them while he solves it. But as mother and daughter work their way into his heart and Seb uses every magickal and technological resource he can muster to uncover the source of the deadly plague, it’s he who will need protecting—from emotions he’d thought buried long ago.

***

Contest: a Rafflecopter giveaway  Win a custom piece of steampunk jewelry or pocket watch from The Spectra Nova. Enter again by following my Bewitching Book Tour over the next two weeks!

***

Cindy Spencer Pape firmly believes in happily-ever-after and brings that to her writing. An award-winning author of 18 novels and more than 30 shorter works, Cindy lives in southeast Michigan with her husband, two sons, a granddaughter and a houseful of pets. When not hard at work writing she can be found dressing up for steampunk parties and Renaissance fairs, or with her nose buried in a book.

Connect with Cindy on Facebook, Twitter, or her website and sign up for her newsletter group!

Introducing Agamemnon Frost

facebook twitter

Agamemnon Frost sort of crept up on me, over time. A slow…inveigling. Which is just like him.

Writing a steampunk story set in Liverpool had been at the back of my mind, but I’d shied away from it for a long time. It crystallised when my son started to practice Jujitsu. And yes, there is a connection. Honest.

We were looking for Karate lessons for my 7 year old, but the times never suited, so we expanded the marital arts search and found Jujitsu lessons. Me being me, I googled its history as I knew little about it, and came across the strange fact that Jujitsu was very popular here in the nineteenth century. It was taught to Victorian gentlemen in the business district as self-protection against gangs of roughs who saw them as easy prey. The image of a well-dressed Victorian provincial gent taking on criminals with slick, fast kicks and punches lingered at the back of my mind. I didn’t know it yet, but I’d just met Agamemnon Frost.

Still, the idea of writing a SF historical/steampunk story scared me. The research needed would be vast. But…the world poured into Liverpool in the nineteenth century. I couldn’t ignore the wealth of history right outside my door. Literally. My street is built on land once owned by a copper and shipbuilding magnate. The mysterious death of one of his family started me off down the rabbit hole of research.

Forty reference books, a wall of OS maps and a scary amount of Scrivener research links later and I still needed more. Yes, I had the nebulous idea of secrets, of everything not being quite as it seemed, but I now needed characters to discover this hidden world. The quote, “A man is no hero to his valet” gave me the first true hint of my main characters.

I hunted for a reason to throw the two men into each other’s path. Enter huge machines that did the job of soldiers, setting men adrift and scrambling for any work they could find. And that necessity would be the only reason for a decorated soldier like Edgar Mason to consider working for an fashion-plate of a dandy such as Agamemnon Frost. Well, Mason likes to tell himself that. There may be other reasons.

But where had the technology behind the machines come from? Mars fascinated the Victorians, and as a nod to HG Wells, I really couldn’t resist! Not that Mars is the whole truth…

So sprinkle in my love of Sherlock Holmes, the mask of the Scarlet Pimpernel and a hefty dose of Martian threat and the Agamemnon Frost serial was born.

—————–

Kim Knox brews sex, magic, darkness and technology in a little corner of North West England. She writes erotic science fiction and fantasy romance for Carina Press, Entangled Publishing, Ellora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing, Cleis Press and others.

Website || Blog || Twitter || Facebook

Agamemnon Frost and the House of Death

AGAMEMNON FROST AND THE HOUSE OF DEATH

Book one of Agamemnon Frost

Liverpool, 1891

Decorated artilleryman Edgar Mason was forced to find new work when the British Empire replaced its foot soldiers with monstrous machines. Now he waits on the Liverpool elite as a personal servant. He has just one rule: he won’t work for fashion-addled dandies.

Agamemnon Frost, however, is far from the foppish man-about-town he appears to be. He’s working to protect the Earth from an alien invasion being planned by a face-changing creature known as Pandarus. And on the night he plans to confront the aliens, he enlists Mason to assist him.

For a man to love a man is a serious crime in Victorian England. But when Mason meets Frost, his heart thunders and his blood catches fire. And when Pandarus drags the two men into the torture cellars beneath his house of death to brainwash them, Mason’s new passion may be all that stands between him and insanity.

The trilogy continues with Agamemnon Frost and the Hollow Ships.

Buy links: Carina Press || Amazon US || Amazon UK || B&N || Audible

A Little Bit of Fan-Service Wrapped in Love

facebook twitter

The Mysterious Case of Mr. StrangewayWhen I first started writing The St. Croix Chronicles, I had no real intentions to do any novellas. At the time, I figured that the books would have more than enough going on to fulfill any storytelling craving I might be having.

Cherry’s stories are filled to the brim with adventure, with choices both good and bad, with the people she meets and the things she does that affect them. It’s an ongoing tale about choices and consequences, cause and effect, and—naturally—my three favorite ‘M’s: murder, mystery and mayhem. That was more than enough, right?

Then I went to TeslaCon—a weekend long steampunk affair that prides itself on its immersive environment and hilarious “historical” re-enactments. I had a blast. I attended panels, spoke on LGBTQ matters in the steampunk aesthetic, met so many great people. I had so much fun that I’m going back this year and pulling together a writer’s track for attendees.

While there, I met a gentleman by name of Mr. Strangeway. When I first uploaded the image, I called it “The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway”. After all, he might look like an everyday sort (in a kilt!), but looks really are deceiving. In truth, our Mr. Strangeway spends his time much like Cherry does: adopting armor and hunting down vagrants!

The Villainess and the Bounty HunterOnce I titled the original image, I thought to myself: That sounds like a story title, right?

Next thing I knew, I was contacting him to ask if I could use his likeness for an inspiration, and at his excited encouragement, The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway was born!

Initially, I had thought to make this novella take up the slack between Gilded and Corroded, but for those of you who read the former, you know how difficult it would have been to make that happen. (No spoilers!)

Meanwhile, I was fielding emails, tweets, Facebook messages, even in-person flailing asking me why, oh, why wasn’t Micajah Hawke in Gilded for any longer than he was, and other such spoileriffic things. In a  flash, it came to me: not only would I create a character inspired by Mr. Strangeway’s love of steampunk Mandalorian armor, I would give these (rabid!) readers a glimpse of something Cherry has only hinted at.

So, a little novella inspired by a chance meeting became a chance to show just when, how, and why Cherry introduced herself to Hawke—five years less the wiser, five years less patient, and five years before Tarnished painted Hawke in an all-new light.

So, how awesome is our Mr. Strangeway? This awesome: half of everything I make with this novella will be going to Make a Wish, Steampunk Boba Fett’s charity of choice. Why? Because I wrote this for fun, because I love a good opportunity to lend a hand to kids, and because The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway was as much for me as it was for you.

As a Star Wars fanatic, how could I not enjoy this?

So, here’s my question to you: if you could steampunk out any character of choice from your favorite book, comic, movie or TV series, what would you choose and how would you do it?

Buy It: August 5th, 2013

Karina CooperAbout the Author

After writing happily ever afters for all of her friends in school, Karina Cooper eventually grew up (sort of), went to work in the real world (kind of), where she decided that making stuff up was way more fun (true!). She is the author of dark and sexy paranormal romances, steampunk adventures, crossover urban fantasy, and writes across multiple genres with mad glee. Her award winning steampunk series, The St. Croix Chronicles, is the RT Reviewers Choice Awards recipient for Best Steampunk Novel 2012.

One part glamour, one part dork and all imagination, Karina is also a gamer, an avid reader, a borderline hermit and an equal rights activist. She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with a husband, a menagerie and a severe coffee habit. Visit her at www.karinacooper.com, because she says so.