The Girl in the Clockwork Collar Page 30

“What do we do about Whip?” Emily asked when she joined the two of them.

“How is he?” Griffin asked.

“Still unconscious, of course. But the beasties have already begun to work their magic. He’ll be stiff and sore for a day or two, but at least there’s little risk of infection, and his flesh has started to repair itself.”

Sam ran a large hand over her hair. It was an oddly gentle and intimate action, which embarrassed Griffin to witness. But it spoke volumes that Sam didn’t care if Griffin noticed or not. Usually the bigger lad was terribly self-conscious and private.

“You have such a big, fat brain,” he told her. It was obvious from his tone and his smile that Sam meant it as a compliment.

She rolled her large blue eyes at him. “Fool,” she muttered, but the only heat to her words was in her flushed cheeks.

Sam grinned. Such an amazing transformation happened when he smiled—it changed his face so much, made him look the teenager he was. Usually he stomped about looking ten years older, for all his brooding.

“What I meant,” she said, leaning into Sam’s touch, “was what are we going to do with Whip? Even though he’s recovering, it doesn’t seem right to just leave him here, but it’s going to look odd, us lugging a shot-up cowboy back to the hotel.”

Griffin nodded. “There’s no knowing if Dalton’s gang will return to finish him.”

“I’ll stay with him,” Sam offered. “I can handle whatever Dalton throws our way. Wouldn’t mind a crack at the knuckle-dragger he’s got working for him.”

Emily’s face pinched. “I don’t like the idea of you being here alone.”

He smiled, obviously both amused and touched by her concern. “I’ll be fine. Plus, I won’t be alone.”

“An unconscious man doesn’t count as company or protection,” she informed him.

“Em, I can look after myself—and an unconscious man.” As if to prove his point, Sam’s statement was followed by a plink. The three of them looked down to see a bloody bullet on the floor by Sam’s feet.

“Must be the one that was in my leg,” he remarked, as though bullets fell out of him every day.

A horrified gasp tore from Emily’s mouth as she reached for him. “Oh, Lord! Sam, I’m so sorry. In the flurry to help Mr. Kirby, I forgot that you were shot. How could I have been so stupid? Let me take a look at you.”

Sam chuckled. “Nothing to look at.” As if on cue, another bullet popped out from somewhere around his shoulder. Sam caught it before it hit the floor. And held it up between his thumb and forefinger. “See? That’s the last one.”

It was so absurd, Griffin couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Sam looked so comical, standing there, holding up the bullet that had just popped out of him with all the discomfort of a drop of water falling from a tap.

“Don’t laugh!” Emily chastised, swatting him on the arm. “It’s not funny.”

“But it is!” Griffin insisted, eyes watering. Sam began to laugh, as well, and soon the two of them were holding each other up, laughing like lunatics.

Emily shook her head at them and, at some point in their foolish fit, walked away from them in disgust. Griffin and Sam kept going. They hadn’t laughed much at all since Sam was killed by an automaton seven months ago. Emily saved him by replacing his heart with a mechanical one, but the attack had changed Sam—made him more serious.

When their laughter faded, they stood shoulder to shoulder, slumped against the counter.

“So you’ll stay with Whip long enough for him to wake and ascertain if he’s well enough to be left alone.”

Sam nodded. “If he’s not, I’ll bring him back to the hotel with me. I may, anyway. It wouldn’t hurt to have his input into whatever plan you’re scheming up.”

Of course everyone would assume he had a plan, Griffin thought with a sigh. He supposed he’d better start thinking of one. “Right. Always helpful to have another brain involved.” He clapped his friend on the back. “Any trouble, you send for us, understood?”

Sam’s dark gaze met his—intently. “I’ll send for you.”

“Oh, no.” Griffin shook his head. “Don’t put that on me. I’ll be the one who has to tell Emily you want her to stay behind—and you know how she’ll react.”

Broad shoulders shrugged. “So don’t tell her.”

“You don’t want to do that, Sam. I know you want to protect her, but she’ll not take it well, and you know it.”

“You don’t know what it’s like to worry,” Sam moaned, running a hand over his jaw. “I’m terrified she’ll get hurt.”

Didn’t know what it was like to worry? Griffin punched him in the arm—hard. It was like punching a wall. “You great arse. I worry about all of you all the time. I’ve barely eaten or slept since Finley infiltrated Dalton’s gang.”

Sam made a face. “Finley can look after herself. She could rip Dalton’s head off.”

Griffin fixed him with a pointed gaze. “She’s still human, Sam. Still mortal. And now Dalton knows we know her by sight.”


“Exactly,” Griffin agreed, fighting down the fear that churned in his stomach. “I have to get her away from him. Fast.”

Sam shook his head. “Always the hero. Now take Emmy back to the hotel where I know she’ll be safe.”

“Right,” Griffin said, clearing his throat. A bloody hero? “Hopefully Dalton doesn’t know where we’re staying. Yet.”

He waited for Emily to check Kirby’s condition one last time, and then the two of them exited the building, and Griffin hailed a cab on the street.

Once back at the hotel, they made themselves comfortable in Griffin’s room, both of their portable telegraphs out and within easy reach should anyone try to contact them.

“What do we do now?” Emily asked, slumping onto the bed. “Go after Finley and Jasper?”

Griffin took a pack of cards from the desk. “We do what you and I do best, Emmy. We think. We think, and we wait.” They could hardly go charging after Dalton when he had a machine that he could easily use to kill them. As much as he might want to, it just wasn’t smart.

She made a face—it was as close to a pout as he’d ever seen on her. “I hate waiting.”

Griffin sighed and sat down opposite her. “Me, too, love. Me, too.”

Finley didn’t get a chance to talk to Jasper immediately when they arrived back at Dalton’s. First, Dalton wanted to talk to her. She tried to beg off to go have a bath, but he told her it would just take a second and then she could go get cleaned up.

“What was the Duke of Greythorne doing at Kirby’s?” He asked with fake pleasantness.

Finley shrugged. “Kirby told him he had me. Mr. FancyPants asked me about Jasper—and what you had planned. Didn’t believe me when I told him I didn’t know.”

He stared at her with those unnerving eyes. “Which is exactly why I never tell anyone my plans. Good girl. Go ahead and go get your bath. I want everyone to convene in the library in an hour. It’s time I told you our next move.”

With a promise to be there, Finley went to her room, gathered fresh clothing and went to draw a bath. She didn’t linger in the hot, soapy water. Dalton seemed to believe her story, but he believed it a tad too readily for her liking.

Once she was clean and had dried off, she quickly dressed in shin-length pantaloons, high boots and an Oriental blouse of bright blue, embroidered silk. Over that, she laced a black corset. Then she twisted her damp hair up on top of her head and secured it with one of her favorite chopsticks. Now she was ready for whatever Dalton threw at her.

Quietly, she opened the door and peered out into the corridor. No one was there. She slipped out and tiptoed along the carpet to the room she knew was Jasper’s. She had remembered to bring her portable telegraph with her in case they needed to contact Griffin.

She tapped softly upon the door. It flew open while her knuckles were still on it. Jasper stood on the other side of the threshold, a disappointed look on his face.

“Hoping for someone shorter and Chinese?” she inquired, tone deliberately dry as she stepped inside.

Jasper closed the door. “Maybe. How are you? Kirby treat you okay?”

She nodded and rubbed a hand over the back of her neck. There was no easy way to do this, and she wasn’t even certain it was her place to reveal it. “Jasper, Whip Kirby is married to your sister, Ellen. That’s why he’s here. He’s trying to clear you of the murder charge.”

His normally tanned cheeks paled. “No.”

“It’s true. You’re going to be an uncle soon. Kirby promised your sister he’d help you so you’d be able to meet your niece or nephew someday.”

Jasper shook his head, an expression of disbelief on his face. “I’m going to be an uncle?” His gaze snapped up. “Are you certain he wasn’t lying?”

“He let me sleep in the guest room. It’s only by chance I was actually in the cell when you showed up.”

“About that—what did you tell Dalton about Griffin?”

“That he had come there hoping I’d give him information about you.”

“Do you think he bought it?”

“Maybe. It’s doubtful, though. We need to get out of here before he decides he can’t trust either of us. He’d kill us both without blinking.”

“You go. I’m going to stay with Mei. If we make it through this, I’m going to ask her to go back to England—or go somewhere else—with me.”

What she thought of that must have been written on her face.

“You don’t think she’ll come.”

“Jasper, my friend, I think many things, only half of which are correct—if I’m lucky. I don’t presume to know what Mei will do. You’ll have to ask her and let her make her own decision.”

“No wonder he likes you,” he mused. “You must keep him on his toes.”

“Who? Dalton?” She waved a hand in the air. “Dalton likes any girl he thinks might slap him.”

“Not Dalton. Griff. I bet he’s never met a gal like you before.”

“I should hope not,” she replied glibly, but heat filled her cheeks. “Nature couldn’t possibly make two mistakes like me.”

“You’re not a mistake. Don’t you ever think of yourself that way. You’re exactly as you ought to be.”

She glanced down at her toes as she shook her head, embarrassed by his flattery. “Sometimes I think awful things.”

“Yeah, but you always do the right one, Miss Finley. And even if you mess up, you fix it. That makes you a good person, in my mind.”

A bright smile spread across her face. He was officially her new favorite person. “Thank you, Jasper. That’s lovely of you to say.”

“It’s true. And I think you’re right to want to get out of here as soon as possible. Dalton already shot the man he hired to put that infernal machine together.”

Finley’s brows arched. “Dead?”

Jasper nodded. “Very much so.”

So Dalton really was as terrible as everyone thought. How had she ever thought of herself as a match for him? She could never kill anyone unless she had to. She sincerely doubted Dalton had killed the man in self-defense. She had seen how easily he threatened Emily—something she would make him pay for—and how he hadn’t hesitated to shoot Sam. He would have shot Griffin, too.

All right, so maybe she could kill someone fairly easily. Right now, it was tempting to march downstairs and beat Dalton until the devil himself came to claim him.

Speaking of Dalton … Her gaze flickered to the clock on the mantel. “We need to go downstairs. He’s going to tell us his plans for the machine. Once I know what he intends to do, I’ll make my escape.” She put her hand on his shoulder. “Promise me you’ll run if things go sour.”

He nodded. “I will.” But she knew he wouldn’t go without Mei.

She went downstairs first so they wouldn’t arouse suspicion by arriving together. Dalton, Little Hank and the other men, whose names she couldn’t remember, were already in the library. Mei and Jasper arrived a few seconds later, arm in arm.

The smaller girl spotted Finley and glared at her. It was very difficult to sympathize with her when she made Finley want to slap her stupid.

Dalton called for everyone’s attention. Finley tried to keep her attention centered on him, but Jasper looked so downtrodden, it was difficult to look away.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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