The Girl in the Clockwork Collar Page 37

Then they waited.

They mingled, ate, drank, but all the while, they were constantly on guard, waiting. It was exhausting. Mr. Tesla had recovered enough to join them but seemed uncomfortable with all the attention he garnered. He was so “twitchy” and withdrawn that Finley didn’t know if he’d be any help to them if they needed it—and the machine was his bloody creation.

Finally at half past eleven, Griffin suggested the inventor go home and get some rest. Tesla didn’t argue and quickly made his getaway.

“He’s an odd man,” Finley remarked.

Griffin stared at her as if she had just made a gross understatement. “You have no idea. Come on, let’s look at the ‘realistic’ automaton dog in the corner.”

They spent the next half hour visiting the exhibits, marveling at some, chuckling at others, all the while waiting for Dalton to strike. Finley knew she wasn’t the only one wondering if he had fooled them and actually had a different target in mind. Her anxiety grew with every tick of the clock.

Then at midnight, Dalton appeared. Literally, appeared. One moment, there was a wall with a schematic on it, and the next, Dalton stood in front of that drawing, Mei at his side.

They had walked through the wall.

Finley’s hand tightened on Griffin’s arm. “They’re here,” he murmured so that the others would know. “Far east wall.”

It was so tempting to jump on both of them right then, but Dalton hadn’t done anything wrong just yet, other than sneak in without an invitation. Hardly the sort of thing that warranted police attention. Whip would be waiting outside to swoop in when needed, just as Jasper would now make his way to the roof, where he would be less of a target and where he had set up a rifle earlier that day. From there, he would keep watch over Dalton’s carriage in case the criminal managed to escape the building.

“I’m here.” Jasper’s voice rang in Finley’s ear. She marveled at his speed. Before Griffin announced Dalton’s arrival, Jasper had been in the same room. Now he was in position on the roof.

“We see Dalton” came Emily’s comment. “We’re not far behind you, Griff.”

Finley kept her gaze glued to the criminal. He didn’t seem so pretty to her, now that she knew how evil he really was.

“He’s moving,” she said.

Sure enough, arm in arm, Dalton and Mei made their way through the crowd. They looked like any other influential young couple. They were gorgeous together, Mei’s bright magenta gown a contrast to Dalton’s black-and-white attire. They were heading straight toward the display in the center of the room—a rare diamond on loan from Mrs. Rothschild, which she had been gifted by some European royal. It was as big as a baby’s palm, set in gold filigree. It sparkled under the chandelier, so brightly that at just the right angle it could blind a person. It had been cut using some new process that was apparently a technological marvel—which was why it was on display here rather than in an art museum.

The diamond wouldn’t be the only prize Dalton had his eye on for the evening, but it would be the most prestigious and certainly the most illustrious. For all they knew, he might have already helped himself to other items located within different areas of the building or the vault. This was his primary objective—it made sense that he would save it for last.

Slowly, they closed in on Dalton. He hadn’t noticed them yet, or perhaps he had and just didn’t care. Finley watched in fascination as he pressed a switch located on a wandlike thing in his hand. The glass case holding the diamond shimmered for what might have been a second and then appeared completely normal again. That was when Dalton stuck his hand—the one Finley hadn’t broken—right through it.

It caused a bit of a sensation, as there were other guests to witness his display of criminal bravado. Security approached, as well. Dalton appeared unconcerned, until Griffin said his name.

Dalton’s gaze locked with hers, and that was when his face lost all trace of prettiness. An ugly snarl twisted his features. Would he be brazen enough to try to kill her right then and there?

She and Griffin lunged into action, but they weren’t fast enough. Dalton yanked his hand from the case, diamond clasped in his long, greedy fingers. He took off running, Mei at his heels. Finley and Griffin raced after them, Sam and Emily close behind.

In the corridor, Dalton pointed the wand at the opposite wall, and he and Mei ran through it. It had resolidified when Finley reached it, and she banged her fist against it in frustration.

“Split up,” Griffin commanded. “We can’t let them get away.”

“They won’t” came Jasper’s voice, and Finley thought she heard him pull the hammer back on the rifle. Dalton had better hope they got to him before Jasper did, because Jas was likely to kill the bounder.

She raced down the corridor, rounded a corner and came face-to-face with Mei. That was when she noticed that Mei had one of those wands, as well. Wonderful.

The smaller girl didn’t waste time being surprised. She whipped out her leg and kicked Finley hard in the chest. All the air swooshed out of her lungs, but not before she managed to land a solid punch of her own to Mei’s pretty face. While Finley was bent over, gasping for air, Mei slipped through the wall and was gone.

Cursing and panting, Finley took up the chase once more. She ended up in a storage room on the outside edge of the building. All of the windows were shuttered and reinforced with bars to prevent break-ins, but they wouldn’t be able to stop Dalton. If he made it through the shelf-lined walls he would be free and clear, because there were no doors through which Finley and the others could run.

Sam grabbed hold of Dalton, but the villain pointed the wand at him and slipped out of Sam’s grasp. Sam cried out, clutching his arm to his chest. There was blood on it, even though it appeared to be whole. “It was like he ripped right through me,” he whispered, face white. It must have brought back memories of the automaton attack that had killed him.

“Griffin!” Finley shouted. Dalton and Mei were both headed to the back wall, wands outstretched. She raced to Griffin as he stopped dead in his tracks and began to concentrate.

His hands shook. Was he afraid that the “ghost” might be waiting for him? Or was he worried that he might not be able to shut the machine down and Dalton would get away? Finley didn’t know, but she did know that she was there for him. She reached down and wrapped her fingers around his arm—she knew better than to touch his hands. His gaze locked with hers for a split second, and then his eyes closed.

And then something strange happened. It was as subtle as a breeze, but Finley felt it—a shift in the Aether. When she looked, the wall looked as it had, and Dalton and Mei were gone.

“Damn!” It was Griffin who swore, not her. “I thought I had it.” He raked a hand through his hair, mussing the previously perfect waves.

Finley grabbed his hand. “Come on, we need to get outside.”

“Jasper,” Griffin barked. “Do you see them?”

“Not yet,” he replied. “What the tarnation … ? Griff, there’s something going on. I’m going down.”

“We’ll be right there.”

The four of them tore off in search of the back entrance to the building. When they found it, they raced along the side of the building until they turned the corner where Dalton’s carriage supposedly waited.

Finley stopped dead in her tracks as the scene before her suddenly came together in her mind. The horror of it brought a rush of bile to the back of her throat. And the noise. That horrible noise.

“Oh, my God.”

If there had been anything in his stomach to come back up, it would have. Tears filled Jasper’s eyes as his heart twisted in his chest and his stomach rolled in protest. He heard the others approach and whirled to face Griffin.

“Do something!” he cried.

Griffin and the others stopped and stared, just as Jasper had done when he raced down here and arrived on the scene.

Dalton had made it through the building but not quite into his vehicle. His hand was lodged inside the newly solid carriage door, and he whimpered in pain. But it was Mei …

Mei hadn’t gotten as far before Griffin shut the machine down. Mei hadn’t made it completely out of the building. Most of her upper body protruded from the brick and stone.

The rest was trapped in the wall, and she was screaming in pain.

Griffin held out his hands. There was a slight shift in reality—so subtle, like a blink—and Dalton fell to the ground by his carriage, clasping his ruined hand to his chest. Mei tumbled from the wall into Jasper’s arms. He caught her and slowly lowered her to the ground as her screams gave way to a guttural, gurgling sound.

“Mei,” he whispered. He thought his heart had broken when she’d betrayed him, but that hadn’t hurt nearly as much as this.

Wide dark eyes gazed up at him from her pale face. Blood stained her lips. Jasper turned his gaze to Emily. “Can you help her?”

Emily shook her head, her face a study in anguish and remorse. And Griffin … Griffin looked like hell.

“Send for an ambulance,” he shouted as Whip and his men came onto the scene. Jasper’s brother-in-law took one look at the carnage and nodded grimly, sending one of his men to do as Griffin commanded.

Little Hank tried to escape, but Sam grabbed him, and that was all the attention Jasper bothered to give the others. He turned back to Mei, knowing full well that there was nothing anyone could do to help her now.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered, voice hoarse with the tears he fought to hold back. He brushed a stray lock of inky-black hair back from her face. “I’m so very, very sorry.”

She made a choking noise in the back of her throat. “Not … your … fault.” Her fingers clutched at those he held to her face. “For … give me.”

And then she was gone. Her eyes changed, and all the tension left her body, and that’s how he knew that she was dead.

He couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. A sob tore from his throat as he held her against his chest. He buried his face in her silky hair and, heedless of the crowd around him, wept as though his heart was breaking.

It was.

Chapter 19

“What are you doing?”

Griffin managed a small smile as the cold night air numbed his cheeks. He was on the narrow deck on the front of the airship, leaning against the rail. “Thinking.”

Finley came up beside him, the lights of the Helena casting golden highlights on her hair as the wind tried to rip it from the knot at the back of her head. “It’s not your fault,” she told him.

He nodded. He had heard similar sentiments over the past two days, but none of them—not even the one from Jasper— could ease the horrible feeling of guilt and responsibility that weighed heavy on his chest. “I know, but I still did it.”

Mei was dead because of him. It didn’t matter that it had been her own greed that had brought her there in the first place. He had killed her and—worse—he’d had to stand there and watch her die.

It made him want to vomit every time he thought about it—which was about a thousand times a day.

Jasper didn’t blame him. Jasper forgave him. He said he knew that Griffin would have done anything to save Mei. None of them knew it, but Griffin had even gone to Tesla on the wild hope that maybe the eccentric inventor had managed to construct a machine to travel back in time. But he was told that no one had yet perfected the art of time travel. Griffin would have gone back if he could. He would have even let Dalton get away if it meant that Mei might live.

But there was no going back, no matter how much he might wish for it. He hadn’t killed Mei on purpose, but he just hadn’t thought of timing. His only thought had been stopping them.

Well, he had certainly done that.

“Are you going to be all right?” Finley asked, a small frown pulling at her brows. “I’m worried about you.”

He took her hand in his own and brought her knuckles to his lips. “Thank you. I’ll be fine in time, I’m sure.” But that was a lie. He didn’t think he’d ever be “right” again.

Finley watched him closely, as though she could see through him. Maybe she could—she seemed to know what he was thinking at the most inconvenient times.

“How long did Jasper say he’d be in San Francisco?” she asked, turning her gaze back to the sky.

“A few weeks. He wants to spend time with his family.” He didn’t need to add that he was also going to make certain Mei had a decent funeral. He and Whip took her body with them, as well as Dalton and the other prisoners. Personally, he’d be surprised if Jasper returned to London afterward. If he was the cowboy, he wouldn’t want to stay under Griffin’s roof—but perhaps that was just his guilty conscience talking.

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