Dead Magic, the fourth book in the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series, won’t be out until the fall, so I thought I’d share another clip from my WIP with you. Miss Emmeline Jardine has pilfered a package from the Spiritualist Society.
The Dorothy Restaurant hummed with chatter only broken by the occasional sharp laugh. Emmeline resisted the urge to shift in her seat. She had been to the Dorothy several times with Cassandra Ashwood, but she never failed to feel odd there. There had never been a public place she frequented where men were not allowed. The room was overly bright even in the dreary weather with its cream and red walls and gaudy array of colorful Japanese fans and parasols artfully tacked to the walls and ceiling. Around them all manner of women ate the same meal at the same white tablecloth and vase of flowers. During previous visits they had spotted Constance Wilde and the Countess of Dorset not far from a table of shopgirls. In a space free of men, the women seemed to change before her eyes into some strange perversion of the womanhood she knew. Cigarettes were lit and overheard table conversation often involved politics, women’s rights, and even colonialism. Of course, there was gossip, but mixed in were stories of tête–à–têtes that bored on elicit. At the Dorothy, they all seemed so free, yet surrounded by a complete lack of restriction, Emmeline faltered.
“You’re very quiet today, Em,” Cassandra said, looking up from her roast chicken and potatoes.
Her eyes flickered over the window where rain pattered against the pane and through the drivel, she inadvertently caught the gaze of a man peeking inside. What he expected them to be doing, she couldn’t imagine, but gawkers, she was quickly learning, were common at the Dorothy.
“Why are they always staring in? It’s rude. It’s a restaurant, not a sideshow.”
“They don’t like that we finally have some privacy. You know, you could have left your book in the coatroom. I’m pretty sure no one would steal it, especially when Miss Barker knows us.”
“That’s not what I was worried about.” She paused. What was she worried about? “I didn’t want anyone to see the title.”
Cassandra shook her head. “Maybe I don’t want to borrow it if you’re that nervous about other people seeing it.”
Emmeline gave her a weak smile. Her eyes traced the outline of the book beneath the crinkled paper. She had placed it on the table facedown with her reticule and gloves on top of it to keep Cassandra from turning it over. Her heart pulsed in her throat, ruining the taste of the meat in her mouth. She was itching to open it. Every time she looked away, she felt its glare upon her, as if the book was watching her—beckoning to her—the moment she turned her gaze. For a moment, she wondered if she should just confess to Cassandra what she had done and open the bloody book.
Before she could act on her thought, Cassandra straightened with a squeak. She wiped her mouth and took a long sip of tea before she asked, “Did I tell you about the gala?”
“What gala? The season is over.”
“Well, it isn’t a society party. It’s a gala to celebrate a new ancient botanical collection at the British Museum. I’m sure you heard.”
When Emmeline raised a dark brow, Cassandra continued, “Your aunt’s cousin, the Countess of Dorset, and her husband donated the main specimen, the silphium plant. Please tell me you know what I’m talking about. I’m sure your aunt mentioned it.”
Thinking back to dinner conversations, she could vaguely recall some mention of a party at the museum. She hadn’t paid much attention. “I don’t think I was invited, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to go.”
Cassandra’s chestnut eyes widened and sagged.
“You actually want to go? But why? It will be so boring. All those old stuffy scholars and their pinch-faced wives.”
“My friends will be there. I don’t think you have met her, but Judith Elliott is my best friend—”
“One of my best friends, and I’m certain you will love her as much as I do.”
“Of course,” she replied tartly as she stabbed a piece of boiled potato and brought it to her lips.
She could feel Cassandra’s gaze upon her, eyes torn between anger and guilt. Somehow, Emmeline had never imagined that she could have friends besides her, that she had a life outside the spiritualist society. That and the Dorothy was the only place she ever saw her, and she didn’t appear to have a beau or that she was even looking. Modern woman, Emmeline scoffed. No wonder Aunt Eliza loved when Miss Ashwood came for tea. Watching Cassandra go back to her meal, Emmeline’s stomach knotted. She knew so little about her even though they spent nearly every weekend together and most nights at the spiritualist society. She knew Cassandra worked as a secretary somewhere, though Emmeline couldn’t remember where, and that she lived in a flat not far from the society along with another woman.
From the edge of her vision, Emmeline studied Cassandra’s features. She envied her prominent cheekbones and her expressive lips. When she smiled, it made Emmeline’s face join in her joy, but it was her bearing that caught her attention when they first met. She had thought of quitting the spiritualist society for good until she spotted Cassandra waiting at the front door. She stood tall despite her short stature, with her walking suit smartly cut to accentuate her curves and the color rich enough to bring out the flecks of gold and green in her eyes. There was a self-assuredness about her that didn’t require words to enforce. Maybe that was what five years of relative independence did to a woman. Still, it was troubling to know she had no suitors to fall back on or tear her attention away from the gloom and tedium of the spiritualist society.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this since you have decided to be peevish, but Mr. Talbot’s cousin just walked in,” Cassandra whispered, her eyes darting toward the front door as a rush of warm, damp air washed in.
“How do you know who she is?”
“Because I just saw him drop her off.”
Whipping around, Emmeline turned in time to see a dark-haired woman enter and a charcoal grey steamer pull away from the curb. “I can’t believe I missed—”
The words died in her throat. Cassandra was holding the book, her book, regarding her with pursed lips. Emmeline reached to snatch it from her grasp but pulled back. It wouldn’t do to make a scene. Shaking her head, Cassandra handed the paper-wrapped book back to her.
“I knew something was wrong when you wouldn’t give it up. You never wait to open a book. Nostra is a fool, but this is hers. You can’t steal her property, Emmeline,” she replied in a harsh whisper.
Groaning, Emmeline placed the package in her lap and covered it with her napkin. “But she isn’t even the head of the society, not yet anyway. Besides, it probably isn’t even hers.”
“If it isn’t hers, then whose is it?”
Emmeline opened her mouth, but his name refused to leave her throat.
Sensing what she wouldn’t say, Cassandra shook her head. “But it’s been over five months. Do you really suspect it was meant for him?”
“I don’t know. I know taking it was wrong, but you didn’t know him, Cass. He was evil.”
“You think it’s something malicious?”
She shrugged. “It could be. Would you want Nostra getting a book on soul-stealing or God knows what?”
Cassandra sighed, her gaze traveling to the book in Emmeline’s lap before coming to rest on her concerned eyes and drawn mouth. “Maybe you should open it and see what it is. If it’s just a book, we could rewrap it and bring it back tomorrow, and if it’s something bad—”
“We can get figure out what to do once we know what it is. Good idea.”
Using her untouched bread knife, Emmeline carefully slipped it between the paper. With a crack, the must of centuries old paper and ink rushed out. Emmeline locked eyes with Cassandra as she tipped the package and let the book slide into her hand. Laying across the front cover was a letter. Setting the book and torn wrapper on the table, she turned her attention to the missive. The sole page was stained with ink and flecks of brown, but the lines of the long, looped writing had been written with such force that it had been incised into the page. As she lifted it closer, minute beams of light broke through the parchment.
September 14th, 1892
To the person the grimoire chooses,
I hope whoever is reading this letter can forgive that I know not to whom I am writing. I don’t have much time left. The duke is ailing and has entrusted the book to my care, but I fear my time will be as short as his. They have discovered me, and the grimoire is no longer safe in my care. This book has passed through many hands before reaching you. Others like us will have received this package, and in turn, sent it to another to keep the book out of the hands of those who would pervert the knowledge within. If you are reading this note, you are the end of the line. It is my hope that the book has fallen into worthy hands.
You must know dark forces are in Berlin and are moving north to London. They move against all of our kind. Those who would seek to keep the balance of death and life are being cut down by practioners wanting to tip the scale. They need what the grimoire possesses.
Protect it or send it to someone who can.
There was no signature. Flipping the paper over, she found the same note written in Latin. Emmeline’s heart thundered in her throat. Dark forces were coming to London. What had she taken?
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