The Strange Case of Finley Jayne Page 14

A sentry. It had pistols mounted on its shoulders and pincers on the end of its humanoid hands. It was made to maim, perhaps even kill intruders. Finley frowned. She understood that Lord Vincent was a rich and powerful man, and that his house was full of things thieves would love to steal, but the Watch kept an eye on this area, and Lord Vincent already had iron grates over his lower windows, and top-notch locks on all the doors—she had noticed them the night of the ball.

Which begged the question: what was Lord Vincent trying to protect? Or better yet, what was he trying to hide?

Finley stayed where she was until the automaton had navigated around the side of the house; it gave her time to figure out a way in. She jumped down from the wall, thighs slightly tight from crouching so long, and bolted toward the house. She didn’t have much time. The automaton would eventually make its way back, and if her estimation of Lord Vincent’s secrecy and intelligence was even half of what it should be, the metal would sense her from a distance.

She was strong and fast, but a bullet could kill her just as easily as it killed anyone else.

Speed gave her momentum and she leaped up at the house, fingers clutching at the top of a window casing. Toes and fingers dug in as she pulled herself up. Was she getting stronger? She felt even stronger than she had before punching that idiot governess.

That silly part of her that worried too much was not going to be happy about that, but she was! Quickly, she scampered up the side of the house, sometimes using nothing more than breaks in the mortar for purchase. Past the ground floor, then the first. She stopped at a second-floor window—one without shutters—and pushed.

There was a slight popping noise as the latch broke, bits of it hitting the floor. The window swung open and she pulled herself over the sill just as the automaton approached far below.

As a precaution, she closed the window once more. It gaped slightly without its latch, but as far as she was concerned that wasn’t her dilemma.

She was in a bedroom. As she surveyed her surroundings in the dark, with nothing but moonlight and her keen eyesight to guide her, she saw that she was in what must have been the late countess’s bedchamber. Either the earl had never closed the room up after she died, or he was in the midst of preparing it for his new bride.

She picked a brush up from the vanity. Auburn hair clung to some of the bristles, answering her question. He had never closed the room up after his last wife’s death.

Did he plan to move Phoebe in here without changing a thing? Or would he put her elsewhere, so this room might remain a museum of sorts? Whichever he chose, it was still…creepy. Marrying a girl who looked that much like your dead wife was just unsettling. Surely society thought the same way? But no one would dare tell an earl that he was clearly on the short list for Bedlam, the lunatic asylum.

Flesh prickling with goose bumps, Finley made for the door. She couldn’t stay in this room any longer, cryptlike as it was. Why, her overactive mind could almost imagine the husk of the former Lady Vincent beneath the bedcovers.

Her heart was pounding as she slipped out into the corridor. It was dark and quiet here—not a mechanized servant to be seen, nor a human one. The only light was what peeked from beneath a door at the end of the hall.

Finley crept toward that light, wincing when the floorboards creaked beneath her feet. She froze, scarcely daring to breathe. Nothing. No metal guards, no weapons flying out of the walls, no trip wires designed to maim or kill. Lord Vincent put all of his energy into keeping people out of his house rather than taking precautions against a stranger romancing the inside—thankfully.

At the end of the corridor, she crouched down and put her eye to the keyhole.

Please, don’t let him be naked, she prayed. She might have to gouge out her own eyes if Lord Vincent was prancing about in his flesh pajamas on the other side of the door.

She needn’t have worried, she soon realized. This wasn’t a bedroom—or at least it wasn’t anymore. It might have been at one time, but now it appeared to be a laboratory of some sort. Lord Vincent stood with his back to her—fully clothed. He seemed to be fiddling with some sort of cabinet with a glass top. She couldn’t quite see it all because he was in the way.

The room was brightly lit, and the odor seeping from underneath the door smelled vaguely of chemicals and smoke, and was moist with steam. Jars and beakers sat on shelves and workbenches. Strange tools that looked like things a dentist or surgeon might use hung ominously from hooks in the walls. If it wasn’t so clean and bright, she might think she was spying on Dr. Frankenstein himself.

Lord Vincent was probably building a new automaton, or working on one of his inventions. She’d been foolish to be overly suspicious of him. At worst he was an eccentric, dirty old man eager to marry someone almost a third his age.

Finley was just about to move away from the door and go home, when Lord Vincent moved away from the cabinet. Sitting on top of the wooden base was a large glass tank filled with a viscous pink liquid. Coils of wires ran from various apparatus and switches into the tank, bobbing as whatever it was they were attached to moved—or rather twitched—in the fluid. The movement brought the thing flush against the glass….

Finley barely covered her mouth in time. Swallowing her cry, she rocked back on her heels, gripping the wall for support as prickles of heat swarmed her mind. She did not shock or surprise easily, especially not when the weaker side of herself was asleep, but what she had seen horrified her.

She peeked through the keyhole again despite her better judgment. She had to know if her eyes had deceived her. Her heart hammered as she turned her attention to the tank.

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