The Girl in the Clockwork Collar Page 2

Little Hank seized him by the back of the neck, practically dragged him out of the room, along the hall and down the scuffed staircase. From there they took a right turn and ended up in a parlor, where Jasper was finally released. He might not exactly like Griff ’s friend Sam Morgan, but he wished the large fellow was there at the moment. He’d teach Little Hank a lesson in manners.

Then again, Morgan was just as likely to sit back and smile while Jasper was pounded senseless. Miss Finley, then. She’d knock Hank on his gigantic backside. Jasper would have no problem letting a girl rescue him, but Finley was in London. They thought he’d been taken in by the law and had no idea that it was just the opposite.

Reno Dalton stood at the window, puffing on a cigarillo. He was a little shorter than Jasper’s height of six feet. Leaner, too. He was what in a woman might be called pretty, with longish dark brown hair and ice-blue eyes. He wore a perfectly tailored gray suit that made him appear a gentleman.

In truth he was more like a sleeping rattlesnake. There was just as much chance that Dalton would leave you alone as there was that he’d kill you—and with very little thought to, either.

“Ah, Jasper.” A cold smile curved Dalton’s lips. He was around twenty, but lines fanned out from his eyes—a sign of time spent out of doors. “Looking none the worse for wear, I see.”

If Jasper had been wearing his hat he would have tipped it. “I look good in black and blue.”

Dalton waved a negligent hand. “The ladies will be back to swooning over you soon enough. Have a seat.”

“I’d rather stand.”

The smile vanished. Finally the rattler revealed himself. “Sit.”

Little Hank shoved him into a nearby chair before Jasper could reply. It was spindly and felt as though it might split apart if he sneezed. He jerked free of Hank’s hand—flinching at the pain that followed—and fixed his gaze on the man before him.

“All right, I’m sitting.”

Dalton was back to looking pleasant. “Good.” His voice had a slight Southern accent. Years of living in San Francisco had almost erased all traces of the poor kid from Virginia Territory. “We have business to discuss, you and I.”

Cold—heavy and menacing—settled in Jasper’s stomach. He ignored it. “’Fraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Dalton smiled—without any trace of pleasantness this time. Slowly, he moved around the desk to sit behind the large wooden structure. He plucked a plum from a bowl in front of him. “Let’s not play this game, Jasper. You know where the device is. You stole it from me, and I want it back.”

Jasper yawned. It hurt like blazes, but at least he looked bored. “I stole it when you went back on our deal and tried to kill me rather than pay me for it.”

“I paid you for half the job. The way I see it, you got away with my money and my device.”

“You can see it however you want. I don’t have your money or the machine.” There was no point in lying and no point in arguing that Jasper had taken the money as what was rightfully owed to him.

Dalton’s eyes narrowed. “Who has it?”

Jasper forced a smile. “No one has it. But I know where it is. Seeing as how it’s the only thing keeping you from killing me, I’ll keep the location to myself.”

To his surprise, the gleam in Dalton’s eyes brightened. “I’m disappointed, Jas. You know I’d never kill you.” When Jasper arched a brow, Dalton continued, “I’ll kill someone you care about.” With that, he flicked a small switch on the side of his desk. A door to Jasper’s left swung open.

Jasper’s heart stopped when he saw who stood on the other side of that threshold. She was little and pale, with poker-straight, long black hair that fell almost to her waist. She wore a long turquoise silk dress embroidered with Chinese dragons, and she was even prettier than she had been the last time he saw her—when he had kissed her goodbye. The only thing new was the strange necklace she wore—a snug band of what looked like clockwork pieces all around her throat.

She looked as shocked to see him as he was to see her. Her almond-shaped eyes widened. “Jasper?”

“Mei,” he whispered. He was dizzy, like he’d spun around and around—fast as he could—and then tried to stand still. He started to get up, but Little Hank pushed him back down with a meaty hand on his shoulder.

Dalton’s smile returned. “So you can see, Jasper, you have something I want and I have something you want.” He rose to his feet and crossed the carpet to where Mei stood, guarded by another of the outlaw’s men. He ran the back of his finger along her cheek, causing her to flinch.

Jasper pushed against Little Hank’s hold, but it was as though his posterior was glued to the chair. “If you hurt her … ”

Dalton whipped around, coming toward him like a striking rattler. “Hurt her? I don’t think you understand me, son. You owe me. If you don’t do exactly what I want, I’ll damn well kill her.”

Chapter 2

The combined Waldorf and Astoria hotels on 5th Avenue were the height of opulence and elegance. At seventeen stories, the redbrick structure had only recently been completed by John Jacob Astor IV.

As they climbed out of their hired carriage, Griffin was the least impressed with their lodgings, and even he thought it splendid. He held his beaver hat on his head as he glanced up. “Grand, isn’t it? What do you make of it, Finley?”

“It’s bloody marvelous,” she replied, without taking her eyes off the building.

He grinned at her openmouthed wonder. He had made arrangements to stay at this place, specifically hoping that his friends would love it. That Finley would love it.

Top that, Dandy, he thought to himself. He knew it was foolish to think of the criminal as competition, but Dandy appealed to Finley’s dark side. Never mind that the two halves of her personality had already merged; they still fought for dominance, and there was still a part of her that found Dandy fascinating. Griffin had never been one for physical violence, but Finley’s attachment to the older fellow made Griffin want to punch someone—Dandy—in the nose.

A handful of bellmen and young boys eager to make a few cents came forward to carry luggage and belongings. Griffin noticed with a smile that none of them tried to take possession of Emily’s cat—a mechanical life-size panther. They all gasped when she powered it up and it came to life, stretching like the real thing, digging dagger-sharp claws into the sidewalk. It’s reticulated joints were well-oiled and moved silently.

“Don’t fret, gents,” she chirped in her soft Irish brogue. “She’s no danger.” Not unless one of them tried to hurt Emily. Of course, she had Sam for protection, as well. Griffin would rather take on the cat than his best friend.

They filed into the hotel lobby, which was just as grand as the exterior. Griffin spoke to the man at the desk, who was clearly impressed at having a duke as a guest. America might have separated from England over a century earlier, but a title and a fortune were still cause for celebrity. The man gave him keys for four rooms. Certainly it would have been more economical to share, but they had separate rooms in London, so it seemed only right to have them here, as well— especially since it was the only way they could escape each other, if they wanted.

They had to take two lifts to their floor—an operator, the four of them and Emily’s cat in one, their belongings in the other. Being inside the small box, packed tightly with his friends, made Griff feel as though someone sat upon his chest. He clenched his hands and tilted his head back and closed his eyes, trying to force himself to remain calm. Soon they would be at their floor.

A soft hand curled around his fist, loosening his fingers so they could twine with hers. He lowered his head, opened his eyes and found himself gazing into eyes the color of warm honey, framed by thick, dark lashes.


Suddenly, he was breathless for an entirely different reason. She smiled but didn’t speak. She simply stood there beside him, holding his hand as they slowly climbed to their destination. Griffin wanted to reach up and touch the streaks of black in her tawny hair. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, pull her close, lower his head and …

The bell chimed. They had reached their floor.

And just in time, too, because he had started to lean toward her.

The operator opened the sliding doors and bid them goodnight. Griffin slipped him a tip for his trouble and was gifted with a grin and doffed hat in return.

After divvying up the keys, each of them went to their room so that their belongings could be taken inside. Griff peeled more notes from his money clip and pressed them into the eager hands of the boys who had brought their luggage.

His room was spacious and as luxurious as he expected, with a plush carpet, large, comfortable-looking bed and heavily draped windows, which afforded a spectacular view of 5th Avenue. He went to one of those windows and gazed out. New York looked like someone had captured the stars and dragged them down to Earth.

It was late, and he wanted to be up early so they could visit the jail and talk to Jasper—or talk to someone about Jasper. He would do whatever he could to help his friend, even buy his freedom, if necessary. There was no way he was going to allow Jasper to hang for a crime Griffin was certain he didn’t commit.

It was that worry hanging over him that kept him standing rather than undressing for bed as he ought. Instead he gave in to his restlessness and turned on his heel. Unpacking would wait.

Griffin closed the door behind him and quickly crossed the corridor to knock on the one opposite. He raked a hand through his hair as he waited, then he heard the sharp clunk of the bolt and the heavy wood opened.

“You should have asked who it was,” he cautioned. “I could have been anyone.”

Finley smiled as she pulled the door fully open. She looked as tired as he felt. Still, she was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen. “I knew it was you. I heard you leave your room.”

Of course she had; she had that bloody sensitive hearing of hers. She was more than capable of defending herself, too. He just worried about her. She was far too reckless and confident at times. It would kill him to see her get hurt.

He pushed the thought to the back of his mind as she stepped back to allow him inside. It was set up much like his own, only with a different view, as her windows overlooked 34th Street.

“I thought maybe you might be interested in taking a walk,” he said, glancing around the room. She had already opened her luggage and begun unpacking. It was a little disconcerting, seeing her underthings, even though they were stacked in an open drawer. He looked away. “Those are lovely flowers.”

Finley glanced at the bouquet of cream tea roses on the dresser. “They were here when I came in. I assumed they were part of the décor.”

“I don’t have any in my room.” He took a closer look. “There’s a card.” He plucked the folded card stock from the blooms and offered it to her.

Frowning, Finley took it. “Perhaps it will tell us who they belong to.” But as soon as she opened the card, Griffin knew the answer. She looked surprised, pleased and perturbed, all at once.

“They’re from Dandy, aren’t they?” He didn’t really need her to respond. Who else would send her flowers? Not him, obviously.

She nodded, clearly bewildered. “How did he even know where to find me?”

Griffin shrugged and tried to look as though he didn’t care. “It would be easy to ascertain that we had left and for where. Then all he had to do was contact hotels.”

“Still, I don’t know why he’d bother wasting the time.”

“Don’t you?” Griff studied her face closely. “Surely you know he has feelings for you.”

Finley blushed. “We’re friends.”

As he ran one of his fingers along the petal of a rose, Griffin’s mouth twisted into a bitter smile. “Perhaps you ought to enlighten Mr. Dandy as to that.”

“Do you believe I’ve led him on?”

He choked on a bark of laughter. “You spent the night at his house. Could you blame him for making assumptions?”

Hands fisted on her hips, Finley glared at him. “And I live with you. What assumptions have you made, Your High and Mightiness?”

He should have stayed in his room. “None. I know better then to assume anything where you are concerned.”

Instead of placating her, it only made her frown deepen. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Griffin shrugged. He couldn’t win. “Nothing, Finley. It means nothing. I’m sorry I bothered you. Good night.”

He moved to the exit and had just wrapped his hand around the brass knob when a hand slapped flat against the door. He turned the knob and pulled, but the door refused to budge—she was that strong.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next