The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 11

That meant Mila was gone.

Jack’s chest tightened. And tightened. And tightened. He gasped for breath, pressing his fist against his heart because the damn thing felt as though it was trying to chew its way through his ribs. He staggered forward, his other hand coming down on the bedspread. His fingers curled around something small and cool. He gripped the unknown object and clung to it as he dragged deep breaths into his lungs, forcing the muscles of his chest to relax.

What the ruddy hell had that been all about? He’d been left before, had people run off on him when he’d served their purpose. It had started with his father, so why should it hurt so much now? She was just a girl. Not like she was Treasure or his mum.

No, Mila wasn’t either of those women. Mila was something else entirely. Mila was strong like Finley, and full of the same wonder as his mother. Nothing had been able to diminish his mother’s love of life, not even being treated like rubbish. But Mila was oddly smart and intuitive in ways that most people weren’t. She made connections that most wouldn’t make. She was so frank and so honest. Too much so, and more often than not, she was dangerously innocent and naive.

Where was she? It didn’t matter that she could throw a grown man around like a rag doll. It didn’t matter that her bones couldn’t break. She could still bleed. She could feel pain, and there were people out there who would take advantage of her. He knew this because he used to be one of them. But he hadn’t been that Jack since the day he decided he needed to save her. He wouldn’t say he was necessarily a changed man, but he was certainly an altered one.

He straightened, the pain in his chest having subsided, and opened his hand. The object he’d found on the bed was a small brass cylinder—the kind used for capturing music or voice performances. It wasn’t one that came with music already engraved because there was no stamp in the metal to identify it. It had to be one Mila had made herself.

With the brass clutched once more in his fist, Jack went to his own room—“the cave” as he liked to think of it. It was decorated in white and black, with the odd splash of color. Normally, he found the austere colors soothing and peaceful, but nothing could calm him at that moment. He put the cylinder in the small Victrola and wound the clockwork mechanism tight. Then, he sat down in a chair near the small table and pressed the switch to begin playback.

Static crackled softly. “Hello, Jack.” He smiled at the sound of her voice. “If you’re listening to this, well, it’s because I left. If you’re not listening to this...well, I guess there’s no point in saying much. I’m not terribly talented when it comes to words, but I’ll try to say things properly. I just couldn’t stay here any longer. You have been so good to me, and I...appreciate that. You’ve been a good friend, but I don’t want to be your friend, Jack. I don’t want to be your burden, your...responsibility. I want more. You already know this, and now I know that you don’t want me the same way. I can’t be your pet or your doll or whatever it is I am. I’m not a child, and I need to learn to take care of myself rather than let you or Griffin do it. You understand, don’t you? I hope you’re not upset with me, but most of all I hope you’re not glad to be rid of me. Don’t worry about me, Jack. But could miss me just a little. I’ll miss you.” Her voice cracked on the last line, and Jack felt the lump that must have been in her throat erupt in his.

He swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. He must have gotten something in them because they began to water. Mila was out there in the dark, alone. She was strong, but she was still vulnerable, and a pretty little thing like her was easy prey for a man like his father—or a man like him. God, why couldn’t she understand that he wasn’t good? Why did she insist on making him something he wasn’t?

Miss her a little? God, was she daft? He was going to miss her more than a little.

No, he wasn’t. He leaped to his feet and practically ran to the door. He wasn’t going to miss her at all.

He was going to find her and bring her home.

* * *

When Griffin woke up, Garibaldi was blessedly gone, leaving him alone with his pain.

His eyes adjusted to the dim light—he had half expected the villain to leave him under searing lights to further torture him—as his ears opened to what sounds permeated the walls of his prison. He heard the in and out of his own breath, the soft whirls and clicks of the machines tethered to him, to this realm, preventing him from going home, It was Liszt if he wasn’t mistaken. Either his captor had an orchestra installed in his home or he had some superior recordings.

Music was good. He wouldn’t be heard above it if he screamed, but it meant that he wasn’t alone, that this was actually Garibaldi’s main base. Homes were more vulnerable than warehouses and prisons. Houses had more nooks and crannies and places a body could hide, even houses in the Aether. If he could get out of this damn bed he could find some sort of advantage, he just knew it.

He wished his parents were here, but the fact that they weren’t meant that they had either moved on to some other realm, or Garibaldi had managed to conceal him from them. There was no way they’d allow him to remain in the clutches of the man responsible for their deaths.

His limbs felt like lead, but instead of trying to move his entire body, he concentrated on just his right hand. It took almost all of his strength, but he managed to flex his fingers and rotate his wrist. Bloody hell, just that simple movement broke a sweat along his hairline. He’d take it for what it was—a victory. Griffin took all that strength and focused it on his left hand, putting it through the same exercise. It left him exhausted, but satisfied.

He could move. He wasn’t entirely helpless. He drew a deep breath and turned inside himself. In his mind he followed the path inside his body to the place where his power sat. It was all through him, but he felt it most in an area the size of a tea saucer, just between his navel and breastbone. It was into that sphere that he burrowed and breathed. He let the image of Finley fill his mind—his talisman, his reason.

His everything. She drove him to distraction, could make him laugh one second and throw his hands up in exasperation the next. She knew just how to tease him, how to engage his temper and his wit. She inspired the most tender of feelings as easily as the most passionate. Just the touch of her hand could make him tremble inside. That was the spot where he lingered now—the place where his power and Finley collided.

His soul.

Warmth filled him, cleansed him. Calm rolled down from his head to his toes, centering in that sphere in his chest until it began to swell, pushing outward against his ribs. There was nothing but Finley and a tiny spark of Aether that gave him more hope than it ought.

A little hope had been known to win more battles than the most fearsome of armies, and right now that hope was all he had.

“Do I know you?”

Griffin’s eyes snapped open. At the foot of his bed stood a man—one who looked strangely familiar. There was something about his eyes...

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Do you?”

The man frowned. He was in his late twenties or early thirties, and he was obviously a citizen of the Aether. Judging from the style of his clothes he’d been dead at least fifteen years or so. “I think I must. How else could I enter this place that I’ve never been able to enter before?”

This was interesting. “You’ve tried to infiltrate this house before?”

Looking around the room, the man nodded. “Ever since Garibaldi crossed the threshold to this place I’ve tried unsuccessfully to gain entrance. What are you doing here? It’s obvious you’re not of this realm.”

“No, I am very much alive. For the time being, at any rate. Do you think you might be able to release me?”

His visitor moved toward him. He reached out for the shackle that bound Griffin’s right foot, but the moment his fingers touched it, a flash like an exploding lightbulb filled the room, blinding the both of them. Griffin swore as color danced behind his eyelids.

“Reckon that answers that question,” the man grumbled, shaking his injured hand. “Good lord, lad. What did you do to deserve his wrath?”

“Foiled too many of his plans,” Griffin replied honestly. “And held him accountable for his crimes.”

The man’s eyes—a pale shade of brown—narrowed. “What’s your name, son?”

For a second, he thought against telling the truth. This man could be friend or foe, but there was only one way to find out—to trust him.

“Griffin King.”

“King?” The man reacted as though struck. “Greythorne’s boy?”

At the use of his title, Griffin started. So, they weren’t strangers, then. “Yes. And you are?”

“Thomas Sheppard. I was a friend of your father’s.”

Griffin stared at him, disbelief coursing through his veins. “You’re Finley’s father.”

* * *

Finley woke screaming. The bruising pressure of the girls’ fingers lingered on her skin. The smell of Lord Felix’s breath was hot in her face, the gore from eyeless faces sticky on her fingers. She lashed out, flailing arms and legs, fingers like claws as she struggled to free herself. Can’t breathe. Can’t see.

“Finley!” Someone shouted. “Stop! Sam, I need you!”

Suddenly, a great weight settled on her, pinning her limbs. There was a clicking sound and cool air rushed across her face.

“Be still,” murmured a deep voice that rumbled through her ribs. “You’re safe. Be still.”

She knew that voice. More importantly, she trusted it. Sight and clarity returned. Sam loomed over her—held her down. Good lord he was heavy!

“Get off,” she growled, lungs struggling beneath his weight.

She didn’t have to make the demand twice. Sam jumped off her as though she were a hot coal. “Are you all right?” he asked, a flush of pink in his cheeks.

“I’m fine,” she shot back. Normally she’d tease him for blushing just because he touched a girl that wasn’t Emily, but she couldn’t do it. Her nerves were raw, jumpy and pinging. She needed to punch something. She wanted to vomit. Fear tightened her body, refused to let go just yet. Lord Felix was going to be the subject of her nightmares again, the piece of dirt.

Sam held up one broad hand, palm out toward her. He didn’t have to say a word—she knew what it was for. She pulled her fist back and then shot it forward, right into his open palm. She felt it all the way up to her shoulder, and it was good. The blow actually knocked him back a couple of feet. “Good shot.” Then he offered her the same hand. She took it and let him help her into a sitting position.

Emily stood a few feet away, clutching the helmet of the suit to her chest. Her knuckles and face were white, tiny freckles stood out on her cheeks. Finley looked back at Sam. “Was it bad? Did I hurt anyone?”

He shook his head. “You didn’t make a sound, not until Em woke you up.”

“Then how...?” She turned her head and saw that they had company. Beside Jasper and Wildcat—who also looked alarmed—was Silverus Ipsley, the medium Griffin had befriended. The poor gingery fellow looked as though he might puke up his guts at any second.

“Miss Emily asked Ipsley to monitor you in the Aether, just in case you ran into any trouble,” Jasper informed her. His green eyes were full of concern. “Which it appears you did.”

“It was Lord Felix,” she admitted with a shrug. She wasn’t going to volunteer anything else.

“We know,” Emily replied, voice hoarse. “He told us what he saw.”

For a second, she was tempted to backhand the medium, but then she met his gaze and all anger—all humiliation—faded. He had only been trying to help, and he’d been shoved straight into a little bit of hell that should have been hers alone. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

He nodded, head wobbling as though his neck was made of Indian rubber. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Ever. I knew there could be bad things in the Aether, but that was...extreme. Did they hurt you?”

Finley shook her head. “No.” That was all she intended to say on the subject. They could ask her questions later, and maybe she’d tell them what Ipsley hadn’t revealed. Maybe she wouldn’t tell them anything. The only thing she knew for certain was that she couldn’t think about it right then. Couldn’t think about it until they’d found and rescued Griffin, because the fear it had made her feel could cripple her if she allowed it to.

She turned to Emily. “Thanks for pulling me out, Em.”

Her friend only nodded, as though she’d lost her voice, or couldn’t trust herself to use it.

“All right, then, put me back in.”

They all looked at her as though she’d lost her bloody mind. Maybe she had, but it hardly mattered.

“No,” Emily said—in that tone of hers that she sometimes used with Sam and the other boys. It was the tone that meant “my word is law.”

Their gazes locked. Finley thought she heard Sam swear. She and Emily had never really butted heads before. “Yes.”

The little redhead drew herself up to her full height, which still wasn’t intimidating. Although, she did have a lot of dangerous-looking tools lying about. “He could have killed you.”

“He didn’t.”

“Because we pulled you out.”

“And you can pull me out again.” She turned to Ipsley. “You fine with that?”

He didn’t look fine at all, but he nodded. “If it will save His Grace, of course.”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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