It was all wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.
Marley Turlock fisted the missive into a ball in his pocket. Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria informed him that she was looking forward to seeing his work on the Sound Transmission Auditory Ranger device.
A prestigious honor to be sure.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t make the damned thing work.
He flipped another lens down on his specially designed goggles to peer more closely at the complex maze of tubes, wires, gears, and pistons within his machine. Theg w buzz and hum of voices in low, excited conversation reverberated throughout the expansive space of the Crystal Palace. The sound bounced back from the translucent panes of glass making up not just the walls, but the ceilings of the exhibition hall. Everyone was excited about the world’s first Aeronautical Exhibition and the possibility of manned flight. He would be thrilled as well, if he could get the damned device to work as it should. He’d been working so hard on his airborne electrical transmission enhancer that he’d not spent quite enough time on the STAR.
Early morning sunlight, buttery and soft, illuminated his display area and the walkways at the southern end of the great building. The odors of grease and new paint mingled with expensive cigar smoke and heavily perfumed humanity. But none of it sank in. Marley was too focused on getting his invention up and running before they opened the doors to the mass of people waiting outside, tickets in hand.
Clearly in between disassembling the complex device in the laboratory and transporting it to the Crystal Palace, either something had gone missing or been damaged. Marley pulled back the spectro-photometric oglifiers from over his eyes and stared at one of his recent inventions, the one that was supposed to launch his career to a whole new level. The extended brass goggles with their various additions and multiple lenses made him feel a bit like a demented horned beast.
“Damned and blast. Just wait until Her Majesty sees this. I can wave fare-thee-well to becoming the top candidate for her lead royal scientific advisor for certain,” he murmured to himself as he wiped the thick, dark grease from his fingers.
“Is that so?”
Marley cringed, knowing from the tenor of the voice alone that he’d sworn in front of a woman, a most ungentlemanly thing to do. He whipped around. No one who wasn’t an exhibitor at the great inaugural Aeronautical Exhibition was supposed to be within the inner sanctum of the Crystal Palace yet, and he sincerely doubted there were any females displaying inventions at the event.
Burnished copper curls framed a heart-shaped face and made the young woman’s eyes turn an intriguing shade of cornflower blue. Her chin was stubborn, but her features aristocratic. The smell of flowers—hyacinth, he thought—perfumed the air around her. While he could create mechanical marvels, he could not manage to link two cognitive words together in response to her comment.
The sensation taking over his body was not unlike being woken from a particularly vivid dream. He’d heard his cousin talk of women who stole one’s ability to breathe, but until this moment he’d never met such a paragon. He managed to gather enough moisture in his mouth to respond finally. “Sir Marley Turlock, at your service, and whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?” His pulse roared so loudly in his ears, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to hear her.
She glanced quickly over her shoulder and held up her pristine white-gloved hand to partially cover her mouth, as if she spoke a most important secret to him. “Lady Persephone Hargrieve. I really shouldn’t be here as yet. My father is currently putting the finishing touches on his own display, but your machine looks utterly fascinating. I couldn’t resist finding out more about it. What is it?”
Marley wasn’t the only inventor showcasing new ideas or even plans for ideas not yet built. “It’s a Sound Transmission Auditory Ranger device.”
“And what does it do?”
“The STAR functions as a sonic tracking and wind measurement device for guiding air flight carriages.”
“Air flight c/diAir fliarriages?”
“Yes, well, gazing about it’s not hard to see there will be scads of them flying groups of people about in the not too distant future. What we lack, however, is the means to prevent them from colliding with one another while in flight and the means to determine the wind strength and flow while they are airborne. Now, this device, based on the internal ear of a bat, reconfigured mechanically to—” Marley stopped himself mid-explanation.
By the look in her wide blue eyes, he could tell she was interested, but that vivid sparkle in her eyes indicated far more. Inventor’s heat they called it, that unique quality among those so dispensed to invention that their brains became fevered by the rush of ideas.
“Is there something you noticed?” He glanced back at his machine and readjusted the audio projection tube that looked as if it might have tilted out of place.
“If this is bat-like, then does it emit high-pitched sounds?”
“It both emits and receives them, my lady.”
“And that bit, there.” She lifted her pale blue skirt in a thoroughly unladylike manner, enough to step over the thick black velvet ropes that separated the walkways from the exhibits. In the process she completely exposed her neatly little buttoned up white boots and shapely ankles beneath layers of ruffled petticoats. His body took notice. “Does that rotate the emitters and receivers?”
Marley swallowed hard. Blast. He hadn’t considered that. Rotation would have been most useful. “No, but it should.”
She worried her soft, rose-colored bottom lip between her even white teeth, then flicked her inquisitive gaze to meet his. “Do you mind if I take a closer look at it?”
He was still so fascinated by her mouth that it took him a moment to realize she’d asked him a question and another for him to respond. “Are you sure you want to? You’ll likely mar your gown and gloves.”
She waved her hand in dismissal. “Pish tosh. A little bit of good grease never harmed anyone.”
Most unusual for a lady. His own bevy of six aunts had made it abundantly clear on several occasions that such things were precisely what females concerned themselves with. Marley hesitated an instant. He’d never let anyone other than his cousin Thadeus assist him with his inventions before. But then, to be honest, he’d never met any female quite like Lady Persephone Hargrieve before. She was a heady combination that left him stunned.
He wasn’t at all sure what to make of her. Most ladies wouldn’t be caught dead with a mechanic’s wrench in their hands or dark grease marring their pale skin. He’d thought that might dissuade her. Apparently not. Clearly his aunt Lydia, Thadeus’s mother, had never met a woman like Lady Persephone either.
“Of course, if you wish, please take a look,” he finally said.
She ripped off her white kidskin gloves, stuffed them into her beaded reticule, which she tossed aside, then began tearing at the wires and snatched up a wrench, tweaking at the bolts to rework his machine. Her hands were so slender and dainty that she was able to easily reach into places between the gears that would have required an extendable wrench for him to access. She worked so fast, Marley barely had an opportunity to do more than gawk stupidly, enjoy the fragrant scent of her, and hand her tools to assist as she tinkered with his invention.
She was brilliant. That was the thought that crowded out nearly every other in Marley’s mind for a full minute. Everything she was doing made perfect, logical sediv, logicnse. Not only did she create rotation of the mechanism, she managed to find the connection he had missed. A wire deep within the machine that had lost the bolt holding it in place.
“You’re absolutely right. If we modulate the frequency here, and make it rotate, then we could easily determine not just what is in front of the air carriage, but what is to either side, behind, and below it as well. Well done, my lady.”
Persephone glanced at him, her skin growing warm from the color creeping into her cheeks. No one had ever complimented her tinkering skills before, quite the opposite in fact. Having someone as accomplished and brilliant as Sir Turlock give his approval to her work was a wondrous thing. Little bubbles of joy fizzed and welled up in her bloodstream like fine champagne.
“Thank you. It’s not often I get a chance to work on a new invention.”
Marley grinned, and he was twice as handsome when he looked pleased, and Sephie found herself growing far too warm.
“This is nothing,” he said as he handed her a towel to wipe her hands. “You ought to see the grand project I’m working on in my laboratory right now. It could bolster the industrial revolution in a whole new way, provide electricity to thousands based on extracting static electrical energy from the atmosphere over water and then transmitting it in a concentrated charge. Enough to supply several villages and factories at once.” From the glint of determination in his eyes, she could tell his mind was fevered with inventor’s heat even as they stood in the midst of one of the most fascinating exhibitions of the decade.
He was close enough now that she could detect the faint odor of Bay Rum aftershave on his skin. The smoothness of his well-shaped jaw and chin was evidence he’d shaved only a few hours ago. She fidgeted, wondering what they might feel like beneath her fingers, perhaps even her lips.
She hadn’t expected to be attracted to Sir Turlock. Far from it. From the description her father’s protégé Lieutenant Frobisher had given her, she’d expected a mousey little man, all glasses and intellect. Instead, Sir Marley Turlock was a man who appeared lean, fit, and strong—able to move the great machines he built with his own power. And he was a good head taller than she was. In short, he was very different from the wealthy and titled men with Legion connections who had been parading before her nearly her whole life. His fierce intelligence and easy smile were far more attractive to her than any number of stories of military skirmishes.
She caught his curious brown gaze, flecked with the most interesting bits of gold, and realized he was waiting for a response from her. What had he said before she’d gone all featherheaded for a few seconds? Grand Project. Supply. Electricity for everyone.
“Electricity? Why ever would people want that, to electrocute themselves?”
The inventor shook his head. “I think one day soon, people will run entire factories on it; it’s far cleaner than steam or coal-fired engines. No more foul-smelling oil or coal smoke, no more candle fires. Just think of it. Electricity pulled right from the air.”
Preposterous, and yet, possible. She supposed that those without an abundant supply of water for a good supply of steam power in places like the great deserts of Africa or far inland from the coasts would find it useful. Perhaps even people in the highlands of Northumberland. Perhaps that was why her father had encouraged her to check on Sir Turlock’s machines. She pursed her lips and tapped her chin. “That’s an interesting thought. I would love to see your laboratory some day.”
Marley glanced around, and by the puzzled then agitated look on his face he must have seen it was already far later in the morning than either of them had realized. People were already milling about through the exhibition, paper programs and exhibit maps in their hands. He took off his stained brown leather apron, casting it aside, then pulled the pocket watch from his elegant brown and gold brocade vest and flipped it open. “I think we’ve quite lost track of time.”
Heat flooded her cheeks, and Sephie was suddenly aware of the people staring curiously at her. Her father would be furious. She was to have remained as unobtrusive as possible. That was the mission. She should get back to him as quickly as possible. “Oh dear.”
“My lady, is something the matter?” His genuine concern was touching.
“Oh no. No, no. I find your work fascinating. It’s just that . . .”
“My father. He won’t approve of my interest.” Specifically her interest in Sir Turlock, rather than his machines. Especially if she considered her father’s grand plans to marry her off to his protégé, Lieutenant Frobisher. She snatched up her reticule, pulled out her gloves, and quickly began smoothing them onto her hands. There was no time to think on such things now. Her father would be waiting on her.
“But you’re a brilliant mechanic.”
Sephie couldn’t help herself. She smiled, and her heart beat a little faster. The open, honest look of his face said more than his words. He wasn’t the kind to needlessly flatter a woman. He meant precisely what he said. The slight coloration to his face creeping up from beneath his neck cloth told another story. He’d been bolder with her than he normally was with females. He was simply charming.
“That’s kind of you, Sir Turlock. Not many would have allowed me the opportunity to work on such a personal project, and for that I shall always be grateful.”
“But surely your father recognizes you have a talent for this.”
She buttoned up the small ivory buttons along each wrist, encasing herself once more in the guise of a perfectly genteel lady. “He sees my preoccupation with mechanics and science as extremely discomforting, but occasionally indulges me nonetheless. Like today in bringing me along to the exhibit. He’s one of the Queen’s primary advisors. He thought it would be educational for me to see how our great monarch is protecting the empire’s position by supporting science and aeronautical invention.”