The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 8

The ones they’d already faced hadn’t been that big, but they did a lot of damage. They had cut Griffin up pretty badly. What kind of damage would something bigger do? They could be cutting him right now. Flaying him. Tearing him apart.

Fear gripped Finley hard, crushed her lungs and stopped her heart. God, she couldn’t breathe. “I’m going to be too late, aren’t I? Garibaldi’s probably already killed him.”

Sam looked at her with an expression that offered no hope, no sympathy, but neither was it morose. “He’ll be hurt, but you’ll find him. The bastard’s not going to kill him quickly.”

His words were as effective as a dagger to the gut and just as painful. He was right. The Machinist would torture Griffin patiently—he was too caught up in his desire for revenge to rush things now. He’d want to make Griffin suffer. In a way that was good, because they had time to find him alive, but who knew what sort of shape he’d be in when she found him. It wasn’t just his spirit in the Aether, it was his physical self, and every injury would show. Would scar.

A large hand settled over hers and squeezed. She hadn’t realized how cold she was until that moment. “Griffin is the strongest person I know—stronger than you or me. You will find him, and the two of you will send Garibaldi to hell, where he belongs.” Finley’s gaze lifted to his. There was an awful lot of determination in the black depths of Sam’s eyes. “I mean it. You’re going to destroy him, you understand me? And you’re going to do that for me.”

Out of all of them Sam had the most personal vendetta against The Machinist. The man had manipulated him, kidnapped the girl he loved and now had his best friend. The man was also responsible for the automaton that had ripped Sam apart. Maybe they weren’t really friends, but they were family now, and Finley would get revenge for Sam.

“I will,” she promised.

He squeezed her hand before letting go, and they went back to the books. It was difficult to concentrate when she kept waiting for Emily to come for her, but Finley did the best she could. She needed to learn as much about the Aether as she could.

“Someone should send for Ipsley,” she said, the thought suddenly occurring to her. Ipsley was a new friend of Griffin’s and a medium. He was able to communicate with ghosts, so it stood to reason he could communicate with anyone in the Aether. “He might be able to reach out to Griffin, and even if he can’t, I might be able to talk through him.”

Sam immediately picked up the handset for the telephone that sat on the desk and tapped out a number. Griffin had had the private telephone installed just a month earlier. It was a new design by Bell that eliminated the need for an operator, and connected Aetherically to the local switchboard, opening a line on its own. Fantastic little thing, but expensive. Finley couldn’t believe how much it cost to have them installed throughout the house—more money than her stepfather made in a year.

Sometimes Griffin’s wealth frightened her. Many young men would suspect someone of her background of sniffing around after his money, but Griffin never did that. Another example of how well he knew her—if she wanted money she could think of a dozen ways she could easily make a fortune, and most of them were legal.

She half listened as Sam spoke to Ipsley, and took from his half of the conversation that the medium was all too happy to help. Sam hadn’t given him details, but he had mentioned that Griffin was in trouble. Ipsley was a good enough friend that he only needed to hear that to come running.

Finley was reading about the sorts of creatures she might encounter in the Aether when the library door opened and Jasper walked in. His green eyes were solemn. “Everything’s ready for you, Miss Finley.”

It didn’t matter how many times she asked him not to call her miss he always went back to it. It usually sounded so very charming in his American drawl, but this time it sat like a weight around her shoulders.

Sam stood at the same time she did. Finley placed her hand on his forearm—it was hard as a rock beneath her fingers, and it wasn’t completely because of the metal framework Emily had used during the reconstructive surgery she’d performed on him. The bloke was as solid as a brick privy. “Sam, just in case, I want to say...thanks.” That was all she could manage without getting too choked up.

“Save it for later,” came his gruff reply. Finley wondered what he would have said had Jasper not been there. The two men were getting on better than they had, but they still weren’t best of friends. Maybe they would never be terribly close, but they each had a job to play within their little group, and each of them performed his job very well.

“I’ll bring Ipsley down as soon as he arrives,” Sam promised. “You tell Em that he’s coming. He should be here soon.”

Finley nodded and then joined Jasper, who walked her to the lift.

“I feel like I’m headed for the gallows,” she joked—lamely—as the gate closed.

“I reckon you’d be a simpleton not to feel that way,” her friend replied. “Ain’t no pleasure in contemplating a body’s mortality.”

“But I’m not dying for good.” Saying it out loud, it sounded so completely absurd. Challenging death, trespassing in that domain was not something anyone should take lightly.

Jasper chuckled. “No, you are not. I do wish you’d let me go instead.”

“I’ve had more experience with the Aether.”

“Yeah, but if Mei’s still around, I could probably get her to help.”

There was something in his voice—regret?—that broke her heart. “Mei’s moved on, Jas. I haven’t seen her since she helped me get Griffin away before.” The girl’s ghost had been manipulated by his family’s nemesis, Garibaldi, into doing his dirty work, and it had been easy because of Griffin’s regret for having caused her death when they were in New York. Mei had been an unfortunate victim of Griffin’s powers.

The cowboy looked straight ahead. A lock of sandy hair fell over his brow. “Then I s’pose that’s the end of that.”

“Is it?” He had loved Mei once. The girl had died in his arms. Was there ever an “end” to that sort of thing?

He turned his head to shoot her a wry glance as the lift jerked to a stop. “Got me a future to look forward to—there’s no sense in living in the past.”

“Sound advice. Is Cat your future, do you think?”

He smiled that crooked smile that charmed practically everyone he met. “Indeed she is.”

Emily and Wildcat waited for them by what appeared to be a modified dental chair. It was bloody terrifying, whatever it was. It had clamps and tubes, needles and valves. There were restraints for her arms and feet and a framework to keep her head in place as she reclined.

Finley’s courage wavered a bit. She couldn’t get cold feet now, not with Griffin depending on her. Everyone was depending on her. She was the only one of them who had seen the Aether, let alone been sucked into it. When Griffin helped merged her two selves, a bond had formed between them. Everytime she brushed against the veil between the dimensions it got a little stronger. She would be able to find Griffin because of that bond. She would find him, save him and bring him home. And she would see Leonardo Garibaldi destroyed forever.

Emily must have seen the doubt in her expression. “You all right, lass?”

She nodded. “The Machinist has enough of a head start on us. I don’t want to give him any more. Ipsley is coming to lend his assistance. Help me into the suit.”

Jasper held the heavy canvas-and-wire-mesh suit as Finley stepped into it. It was an odd-looking thing, with dials and switches, valves and hoses attached. There was a headpiece, as well, with a glass front so her face could be seen. Emily put a small glove designed to monitor heart rate and body temperature on Finley’s left hand. Once in the suit, her friends helped her into the dentist chair and began attaching the various loose bits together.

It was a good thing she didn’t suffer from a fear of small spaces, or she’d have a fit. It was like being inside a snow globe.

“In a few seconds you’ll begin to feel sleepy,” came Emily’s voice via a small amplifier near her ear. The disambiguation suit was equipped with communication devices that went both ways—an addition Emily had made to it just in case the wearer ever got into trouble or needed instruction. She certainly had put a lot of work into the bloody thing given that she’d proclaimed it too dangerous for use. “Are you ready?”

Finley nodded and drew a deep breath. Emily flicked a few switches and adjusted a couple of dials on a control panel just a few feet away. As the machinery connected to the suit engaged, a slight hum began inside the helmet. She could feel a low vibration in her limbs. Then a hissing sound as the sleeping agent was released and the cooling system started. Cool air surrounded her as Finley’s eyelids drooped. She forced herself to take deep breaths so the process would be that much quicker.

“May God hold ye in the palm of his hand, Finley Jayne,” Emily whispered in her ear.

It was the last thing Finley heard before she died.

Chapter Five

“You have a most impressive tolerance for pain.”

Griffin gritted his teeth at Garibaldi’s mockery. Behind the “compliment” was the certainty that the bastard would crush that tolerance, push him to the point of begging for mercy.

He would not beg. Even if he thought it would matter, he wouldn’t do it. Begging would only give his enemy pleasure. He’d die before he let Garibaldi know just how effective a torturer he was.

Blood dripped from beneath his fingernails. The Machinist hadn’t ripped them off—yet—but he’d stuck needles underneath and pried skin from nail. He had burned him, cut him. He’d dripped water in his face until Griffin thought he might scream. The worst was the device used to drain the Aether from him. It felt like claws in his brain, scraping and digging. He didn’t know if it was tears or blood trickling from his eyes.

Garibaldi’s face loomed over him. He’d made himself look younger in death—a man in his prime rather than the broken shell that had slumbered in that large glass canister guarded by machines. A sly smile curved the man’s lips—a slash of mirth in his rugged face. “Your friends. Do you think they worry about you? Do you think Samuel is worried?”

The man had an unnatural interest in Sam. It made a kind of twisted sense—Sam was part human and part machine, something The Machinist held in great fascination. He’d been playing God long before his dark path crossed Griffin’s.

“What about Finley?” Garibaldi pressed when he got no reaction. “I’m sure she must be very worried. Is she a crier, your girl? Her mother was always a bit of a limp rag, but her father could be a very hard man when he wanted. Never showed any emotion. Only time I ever saw genuine feeling in his face was when he was dying. Your father was the same way.”

Griffin ground his teeth. He’d probably wear them down to bloody stumps before Garibaldi killed him. Would the torture stop there, or would the monster continue after he passed? Would he spend eternity strapped to the table, impotent and helpless? His body ached from all that had been done to it since his capture, but he knew his soul would suffer even more.

So, no. He would not spend eternity on that table. He’d find a way out of this. Death might be his only option. At least with death he could slip free of his mortal shell. He’d be stronger then, in this place. If only he’d spent more time testing his powers rather than controlling them. If only he was as certain of his abilities as was the bastard trying to scramble his brain.

“It won’t take her long to find someone else,” Garibaldi told him, hovering above the head of the bed. He flipped a switch and Griffin stifled a cry. It was like hundreds of bees swarming about in his head—stinging and battering their wings against the inside of his brain—trying to burrow through his skull. “It didn’t take her mother long to get over her father. Then again, there’s not much choice for the women, is there? They must have a man to look after them.”

He’d tell Garibaldi to shut the hell up if he thought he still had the capacity for speech, but if he dared open his mouth, Griffin knew all that would come out would be guttural, animal sounds.

“I’m going to wait until she finds a new man before I kill her,” whispered The Machinist in his ear, his Italian accent giving the words drama. “I will wait until she’s happy, so that when I reunite the two of you, you will have her with you for all eternity knowing she loves another.”

It was beyond cruel—and more torturous than anything else the man could have done to him. Griffin could handle anything Garibaldi threw at him, but not Finley. If she found someone who could make her happy, he’d be fine with that—more than fine—but to take that away from her... Garibaldi would ruin her life, as well, just to get to Griffin.

Griffin forced his eyes open, even as wetness leaked out. Red blurred the edges of his vision. It was blood, then. He stared up at his enemy and set his jaw. “Go to hell,” he growled.

Garibaldi chuckled. “Of course, dear boy. But I’m taking you with me.”

Then everything went black.

* * *

Jack wasn’t just stupid—he thought she was, too. It was the only way Mila could explain why he’d say those things to her. He dismissed her feelings, and then suggested she talk to Finley about “womanly” things. That was a, that wasn’t the right word. Joke—that’s what it was. Jack didn’t see her as a woman, he saw her as a pet.

But when he said he’d never see her as he saw his doxies, that she wasn’t like those girls...well, she knew there was only one thing she could do.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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