The Strange Case of Finley Jayne Page 9


An hour later, Finley was still reeling. Lord Vincent was Phoebe’s fiancé? She knew large age differences weren’t uncommon amongst the upper crust—or the lower for that matter—but the man was more than twice Phoebe’s age!

She watched them on the dance floor. Lord Vincent had a limp, but that didn’t stop him from whirling Phoebe through a waltz. If he were only younger, or she older, they would make a handsome couple.

It was warm in the ballroom—too many bodies in one space. The smell of cologne and perfume mixed with heat and sweat gave Finley a headache. She hadn’t been asked to dance the waltz, and her card was blank for the next few selections—thankfully, as she wasn’t the best dancer—so she took this time to slip from the loud, stifling room.

She was nosy by nature, but her hurting head and pinched toes—Phoebe’s shoes were a titch too small—kept her impulse to look about under control. Rather than remain in the corridor, where she might have to socialize with other guests coming and going, she opened the door of the first room she found and stepped inside.

Finley waited a moment before closing the door behind her. She was in a parlor or a gentleman’s study—decorated in rich mahogany and dark blue. She’d read that such rooms were perfect places for a lovers’ tryst at these sort of parties, and wanted to make certain she hadn’t interrupted one.

“If there’s anyone in here, just clear your throat and I’ll go back where I came from,” she said. Better to feel foolish for talking to an empty room than accidentally spy a gentleman’s naked backside. Some things could not be “un-seen.”

The lighting in the room was mellow, easing the pressure inside her skull. She went to one of the windows and found it controlled by a strange apparatus. Instead of simply flipping the latch and opening the casement, she had to wind the key set into the window frame. Then, she watched as thin brass “arms” attached to the latch pulled it to the open position, and then slowly drew the glass toward her. When the breeze was exactly how she wanted, she merely turned the key back to its starting position and the mechanism came to a halt.

Lord Vincent certainly seemed to like his clockwork and automata. The house was positively crawling with scuttling metal creatures designed to do all manner of tasks. There were human servants, as well, but Finley had never seen such an abundance of brass and steel.

She turned her back to the window so the refreshing spring breeze could cool her nape. She rolled her neck, sighing as it popped and snapped, further easing the tension in her head and shoulders. When she opened her eyes she found herself staring at a portrait of Phoebe and Lord Vincent.

No, wait. That wasn’t Phoebe. Finley didn’t have to move closer to view the portrait in detail, but she did anyway. At this moment she didn’t trust her own eyes—which had become uncannily keen over the past few months. The improvement to her sight had been so gradual that she often forgot she could see much better than the average person. She walked toward the large, gilt-framed canvas, her eyes widening with each step.

It was a portrait of a much younger Lord Vincent—she’d been correct, he had been quite handsome in his youth—and the woman with him must have been his first wife, or at least a betrothed. The woman wore a large sapphire ring on her left hand—the same hand that covered one of Lord Vincent’s.

She looked so much like Phoebe it was eerie.

Of course, on closer examination it was easy to pick out the differences—Phoebe’s eyes were not quite as dark, her hair a bit more red, but the shape of her face was a perfect match, and her features so close they could have been twins, or at least sisters.

It was unsettling. Disturbing. And Finley wondered if Phoebe knew. She was also overwhelmed by the need to find out just what had happened to this woman.

“Robert, I said no!”

The cry came from outside, carried to her keen ears by the breeze through the open window. It was Phoebe’s voice.

Portrait forgotten, Finley quickly crossed to the window. From there she could see into the garden below. Flickering torches cast soft golden light over Phoebe and her companion—a young gentleman. Neither of them looked very pleased.

“I have to go,” Phoebe said. “Mama and Finley will be looking for me.”

The young man grabbed her by the arm. “You can’t leave. Not yet.”

Perhaps it was guilt that she hadn’t been doing her duty that flicked the switch inside Finley, or perhaps it was the way he grabbed Phoebe like he had a right to. Maybe it was a little of both. Regardless, one moment she was watching them from the window and the next she vaulted over the sill and dropped two floors to the grass below.

The two gaped at her as though she had just fallen from the sky—which she supposed she had.

“Let her go,” she told the young gentleman. He was tall and slim with thick dark hair and rosy cheeks.

He scowled, his amazement clearly faded. “This is none of your business.”

“Wrong.” Finley clapped her fingers around the wrist of his hand holding Phoebe. “My friend wants to leave and you won’t let her. Not very mannerly, Robert.” As she spoke she tightened her grip, stopping when his handsome face began to contort in pain. She let go as soon as she felt his fingers release Phoebe.

Robert cradled his arm close to his chest. Phoebe immediately brushed past Finley to stop at his side. Her hands touched him as though he were precious or fragile. “Robert, dearest. Are you all right?”

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