The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 13

Mila was not accustomed to violence for the most part. The kick didn’t hurt badly, but it did hurt. Instinct made her grab that foot and give it a sharp twist. The blond screamed as a loud snapping noise filled the deepening darkness.

“Was that your knee?” she asked, dropping his foot and whirling around just in time to use her own boot to drive the darker bloke back to the ground. Her foot came down hard on his hand, smashing his fingers so he had no choice but to release the dagger altogether. His hand would never heal properly, she realized with a touch of shame, and even more confusion. Why did they come back for more when she had already hurt them so badly? Why not quit when they had to know she had them beat?

“I wish you hadn’t made me hurt you,” she told them. “Please don’t ever do it again.” Then, she picked up her bag and crossed the street to the boardinghouse. As she reached the steps, she looked up and saw an older woman with jet-black hair and violet eyes in the doorway. She wore a black gown made of feathers that made her appear otherworldly. There was something different about her, but Mila couldn’t determine just what. Still, she was beautiful and nonthreatening. Somehow, she knew that if she let the woman hug her, everything would suddenly be right with the world.

“That was quite the show,” the woman told her with a smile. “Are you hungry?”

Mila’s stomach growled in response. “A bit, yes.”

The woman stepped back and held the door open for her. “Then you’d better come in.”

And Mila did.

Two months earlier...

“This is your room.”

Mila walked through the open doorway. Her eyes widened at the sight before her.

“We can make it more to your liking if you want.”

She whirled around to face her friend Jack. “I like it. You live in a palace!”

He chuckled at that. “Not quite, but I suppose anything’s better than a subterranean cave.”

Nodding in agreement, Mila moved about the room. She was almost afraid to touch anything, but she couldn’t help herself. The wooden furniture gleamed and smelled of lemon and beeswax. The curtains were rich blue silk that matched the bedclothes. There was carpet on the floor, so soft her feet sank into it. Her feet also left dirty smudges on it.

Jack arched a brow at the marks. “I’m sorry,” Mila said, sensing she’d done something bad.

“It’s just a bit of dirt, poppet. It will clean, but we’d better get you clean first.”

She cocked her head. “Clean. You mean to bathe?” Emily had done that in the cave. She’d wanted water to clean herself, and fresh clothing to put on. Mila’s own clothing was dirty and smelled bad.

“Yes,” Jack replied. “You’ll feel much better once you’ve bathed. We’ll get you into some clean clothes.”

He sounded so sincere she just knew it would be a wonderful experience. She pulled the braces off her shoulders and let the baggy trousers she wore fall to the floor, and tore off the equally dirty shirt. When she was done—naked, it was called—she turned to Jack.

He was staring at her with wide eyes and an odd expression on his face. “Little warning before you disrobe in the future, pet.” He shook his head. “You don’t look like a child.”

Mila frowned. “Why would I? I’m not a child.”

“I know you’re not, but you’re new to the world, and that makes you like a child, doesn’t it?”

She supposed it did. “I’m like Pinocchio. I wasn’t real, but now I am.”

His expression softened as he kept his gaze on hers. “Now you are.” There was a little silence. She was starting to get cold. “Right, let’s get that bath started. Finley sent over some clothes that should fit you.”

He pulled the quilt from the bottom of the bed and wrapped it around her shoulders, then led her out of the room to another chamber down the hall. This one had odd-looking things in it—almost like the tank the master had been in, but thicker, and prettier.

“It’s called a tub,” Jack told her. “You fill it with water and sit in it.”


He seemed to think that should be obvious. “To get clean. You really don’t know anything about this, do you?”

She shook her head. “Not really. If you teach me, I’ll learn.”

He ran a hand through his long hair. “Teach you?” Jack looked around as though hoping someone else might appear and offer to do it instead. “I reckon it has to be me, doesn’t it?”

Mila watched with great interest as he collected two fluffy lengths of cloth from a cupboard. Towels, he called them. He placed the towels on a strange little metal rack that he called a warmer, and then turned the handles inside the tub. Water began flowing into it at great speed. She gasped and, grasping her blanket more tightly around herself, peered into the porcelain vessel. “Astounding.”

Jack chuckled. He seemed to find her amusing. “I suppose so. I’m afraid the only soap I have smells of clove. It will have to do for now, but I can get you some of your own if you don’t like it.” He offered her a brownish block.

She took it, and something made her raise it to her nose. It smelled strong, but wonderful. “I like it.”

When the water reached a certain level, Jack stopped the flow and offered her his hand. “Climb in. Wait, give me the blanket first.”

She pulled the quilt off and handed it to him. He took it with the hand not holding hers and set it aside. Mila swung her leg over the side and stepped into the water.

“Oh!” This was wonderful! “It’s warm.”

He grinned. He had a huge smile that showed off his straight white teeth. “Nice, what? Now, sit down. It’s even better.”

She did as he instructed, sighing as a shudder racked her body. Delightful. That was the only word she could think of to describe the experience—delightful.

Jack showed her how to lather a sponge with the soap and scrub herself clean. He also showed her how to wash her hair—his fingers massaging her scalp made her shiver. It was so lovely and felt so good that she thought it was only right of her to do it to him, as well.

She grabbed him by the lapels and pulled him over the side of the tub, into the water with her.

He came up sputtering, practically lying on top of her. “What the bloody hell was that for?” he demanded.

He was angry. Mila cringed. What had she done wrong? “I wanted to wash your hair. It’s so nice I wanted to do it for you. Was I supposed to warn you first?”

For a moment, he glared at her, and then...then it disappeared. He shifted himself so that he was sitting up rather than reclining on her, and then he began to laugh. He laughed so wonderfully that she began to laugh, too, even though she had no idea why. Was this some part of human behavior she had yet to understand? Or was Jack Dandy just a very odd man?

“Yes,” he said finally. “A little warning would have been nice.” Then he dragged himself out of the tub, his sodden clothes dripping on the floor. “I’m going to disrobe, poppet. You might want to avert your eyes.”

Why would she want to do that? Regardless, she sensed that was what he expected, so she pretended to take great interest in bathing herself while Jack undressed. She watched out of the corner of her eye. Oh. Males were certainly put together differently than females. She quite like the way Jack Dandy looked without his clothes on, but he’d probably get rather cold if he walked around na**d all the time. Humans were very fragile that way. The less machine she became, the more she began to understand this.

Jack pulled a robe from the back of the door and pulled it on, tying it tightly at the waist. “I think you’re clean,” he announced. “Let’s get you dried off.”

The towels were warm around her head and body. He showed her how to rub the water from her skin, and then helped her into her new clothes. They fit so much better than the ones she’d been wearing, and the plaid trousers, white shirt and black corset were so much prettier. She ran her hands over them.

“We’ll go shopping tomorrow,” Jack promised. “Get you some new clothes. What’s say I go get dressed and make us some supper? We’ll stay home for the evening.”

Mila’s stomach growled in response, drawing another chuckle from him. She felt so...overwhelmed? No, that wasn’t quite right. Lucky didn’t quite describe it either. She felt...good.

She threw her arms around him and hugged him. Then, into his shoulder she said, “I don’t know what home is.”

Jack patted her on the back. “This is your home now, poppet. You’ll know it soon enough.”

* * *

“Is it ready?” Finley asked...again.

She expected Emily to tell her no, that it hadn’t been ready when she asked five minutes ago, and it wasn’t ready now. Instead, her friend looked up from the bench where she she’d been at work making adjustments to the suit’s helmet for the past forty-three minutes and eighteen seconds. “Yes. Are you?”

She paused. “Is that a trick question? Of course I am.”

“All right. You’re so determined to do this, let’s get it over with.”

“Em, you can’t be angry at me for wanting to save him.”

“I’m not,” came the snapped reply as Emily shoved her goggles up onto her forehead. “I’m bloody angry because Garibaldi is dead and still able to play with us. I’m angry because you’re going to risk your life to save Griffin, and even if you succeed, we still might not be free of the bounder.”

Finley hadn’t thought of that. She hadn’t thought of anything beyond saving Griffin, really. “How do you destroy a ghost?”

“You can’t destroy energy, Finley. It’s everything and everywhere.”

She didn’t believe that. “Birds have to rest. Lightbulbs burn out. Even fire will dwindle if there’s nothing for it to consume, or if you snuff it out. We just have to figure out a way to extinguish him.”

Wide eyes stared at her. The goggles had left indentations around her eyes and she looked like a little ginger raccoon. “I can’t believe you thought of that and I didn’t.”

Finley’s mouth quirked. “You can flog yourself later. Do you think you can figure out a way to drain him of his strength?” This was the first real hope she’d felt since Garibaldi’s death. They’d known then that he might become powerful in the Aether. She’d been worried about Griffin ever since.

“If I can’t, I know someone who can. Come on, then, into the suit.”

“Oh, now you’re eager.” She walked toward the table.

A bright but earnest gaze locked with hers. “Not really, but at least I’m not totally convinced that I’m going to end up having to bury both you and Griffin.”

Fair enough. Finley hadn’t thought of things that way. It was still odd for her to think of herself as having a friend who would miss her if she died. She’d almost had a friend like that once, but they drifted apart. She didn’t even consider how her mother would feel to hear such horrible news. She hadn’t thought of anything beyond how painful it would be for her to lose Griffin.

She really was a terrible, selfish person. The realization didn’t stop her from jumping into the suit once more.

The lift dinged just as she fastened the last latch and was about to let Emily place the helmet over her head. Sam and Ipsley walked out of the box. The medium looked so incredible fragile and lanky next to the much larger bloke. Ipsley’s jacket was tailored to fit his lean frame perfectly, while Sam’s shirt threatened to burst at the shoulder seams.

“Wait,” Ipsley requested, coming toward them. “I need a personal item of Miss Jayne’s.”

“Why?” Finley asked.

The ginger smiled. “It will make it so much easier for me to find you in the Aether without physical contact.”

Of course. He was going to shadow her in the Aether so that he could report to Emily and Sam on everything that happened. Normally Finley would protest such a plan—she would be afraid of Ipsley discovering her secrets, but she didn’t care what he discovered about her if it helped save Griffin. If she was honest, she would have to admit that she rather liked the idea of having company on the journey, in case Lord Felix and his hellish girls decided to show up again.

She removed the earrings Griffin had given her a few weeks ago and placed the rubies into the medium’s palm. As his hand closed around them, she wrapped her own fingers around his. “I didn’t kill him,” she said softly, trusting he would know what she meant.

Ipsley’s gaze rose to hers. “I know. The father of a girl who committed suicide after being one of Lord Felix’s victims had that pleasure. His lordship was a nasty bit of work, and well on his way to becoming even more of one.”

Now that she understood a little better just what sort of monster Lord Felix had been—and had evolved into—she wished that she had been the one to end his miserable life. “You might have told me that the day we met,” she said. Ipsley had made a point of mentioning the bastard, but had then left her in suspense, afraid to know the truth. She had thought she might have done the deed and not remembered—a pity. She’d also believed that Jack had done it. She was both relieved and a little peeved that he hadn’t.

She truly was a horrible person sometimes.

The medium didn’t look the least bit apologetic. “You didn’t need me to tell you a truth that in your heart you already knew.” He pulled something from his pocket—it was one of Griffin’s watches. “Hopefully this will help me guide you to him.”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next