Later that afternoon, Marley approached Lord Hargrieve’s London townhouse with a sense of trepidation. The gray granite façade, barricaded by a sturdy black iron fence, was three stories tall and at least three windows wide on either side of the main entrance.
If he’d had such a grand house, he likely would have equipped it with a great spying glass mounted to the roof and perhaps a trapdoor beneath the front step to ensure unwanted visitors didn’t call again soon. Seeing no such equipment, he supposed Lord Hargrieve didn’t need to dissuade visitors who might interrupt his work.
The small mechanical dog clicked and whirred in his leather satchel. He never should have let Thadeus wind it up again before he left. For a second Marley wondered what Lady Persephone would make of the little toy, but then he ruthlessly reminded himself of his purpose at the great house. He might want to court her, but he had far greater aspirations on his mind.
The experiment he planned to test his airborne electrical transmission enhancer was to be a crowning achievement. Her Majesty had already drummed up enthusiasm for it among her cabinet members. It could spur an industrial revolution by providing power in ways never dreamed of by those who relied on coal-fired furnaces and simple piston machines. Electricity was going to replace steam. Marley just knew it. All he needed was someone like Lord Hargrieve to give his endorsement.
His hand slid over the small mechanical spaniel in his satchel, and it wriggled at his touch. He wanted to thank Lady Persephone for her intervention yesterday. It h noad set him on an entirely new path in his work, and he at least owed her for the insight.
Marley lifted the great brass lion-head knocker and tapped it against the door three times, each drop of it creating a loud, echoing
Presently a well-groomed, if dour, butler with salt-and-pepper hair and great, sagging, bulldog-like jowls opened the door. “May I help you, sir?”
“Sir Marley Turlock here to see His Lordship.” Marley pulled the calling card from his pocket and held it out to the butler.
The man plucked it from his grasp with a white-gloved hand and then peered down his nose, clearly looking over Marley. “His Lordship will be with you shortly. You may wait in the parlor.”
Marley took a deep breath, pulled back his shoulders, and ventured into the house. While the Turlock family was extensive, their holdings were nothing compared to those of the future Duke of Northumberland.
He followed the butler, but hardly took in his surroundings. His mind was too busy thinking on a dozen things at once, and the most distracting of those was what he should say to Lady Persephone when he gave her the little dog so he didn’t appear either too forward or a bumbling idiot.
“In here, Sir Turlock.” The butler pulled back the partially open door, and Marley stepped inside.
He’d thought he’d be alone and would have further time to contemplate his choice of words. He’d been wrong. Inside the room, with its pervasive color scheme of royal blue, white, and gold, were three people. All conversation stopped the moment he crossed the threshold as Lady Persephone, a maid, and a gentleman Marley had not met before all rose at his entrance.
The powder blue ruffled confection of yesterday had been replaced by a more somber, dark rust-colored gown today, with identical rows of brass buttons down the front and a heavily pleated black underskirt. The color brought out the red highlights in her curls and turned her eyes from cornflower to sapphire. Every inch of his skin contracted, and his heart threatened to crack a rib with its sudden hard thumps.
Lady Persephone started forward with a warm, genuine smile that made his head very rummy. Tucking her hand about his arm, she led him to a comfortable if overstuffed chair. “Sir Turlock, how good to see you. Allow me to introduce Lieutenant William Wallace Frobisher. Lieutenant Frobisher, this is the brilliant inventor, Sir Marley Turlock.”
The man was military. From his black hessians that could reflect an image as well as a mirror in the hall to the cut of his scarlet coat over his massive shoulders, the man’s appearance left no doubt of his occupation. He was all brawn, and Marley suspected not much brain. Marley nodded in greeting, but said nothing.
“So you’re the bloke Lord Hargrieve is so eager to talk to,” the Lieutenant said as he rocked back on his heels. “Have any actual flying experience?”
Marley adjusted his spectacles. “Yes.” He didn’t feel the need to expound on his experience simply to appease the man. He was far more interested in delivering the mechanical toy to Lady Persephone before her father took him elsewhere.
Marley pulled open his worn leather satchel and pulled out the bit of plain black velvet tied with a blue bow. The bow had been his idea. He thought the satin ribbon would match the color of her eyes. The dog must have wound down again, because it was no longer wriggling. “A gift for you, Lady Persephone, for your assistance at the exhibition.”
Her eyes widened, and her facent and her lit with delight. “For me? Really? You didn’t need to, Sir Turlock.”
“What exactly did she do?”
Marley didn’t like Frobisher’s annoyed, angry tone one bit.
Lady Persephone’s gaze never strayed from Marley’s, and they both ignored Frobisher’s question. The instant she took the gift from him her hand dipped with the sudden weight. “It’s heavy.” She sounded surprised.
“I hope it’s to your liking.”
Her fingers eagerly plucked at the bow, gingerly peeling the fabric apart and revealing the gleaming little mechanical dog.
Frobisher leaned in closer to inspect it. “What the devil is that?”
Persephone glared at him. “Language, Lieutenant. And clearly it’s a dog.”
His face grew thunderous, his dark gaze shifting to Marley; he had the unmistakable look of a man whose territory has been trespassed upon by a poacher. “A toy?” he scoffed.
Marley tried his best to ignore him. “It’s just a trinket, really. My cousin Thadeus and I make them for the little ones in the family, but I—we thought you might enjoy this one.”
Her slender fingers caressed the little dog, then took hold of the winding key and twisted, bringing the creature once more to life. “Oh!” The sound of her genuine laughter, bright and delightful, filled the room as she set the small dog down upon the tea table and watched it with fascination. “Oh, Martha, come and look how she lifts her ears and twists her sweet little head! She even sits and wags her tail. Isn’t she precious?”
Frobisher took a step, inserting himself as much as he could between Lady Persephone and her maid, and Marley. “Thank you for your gift. I’m sure my fiancée appreciates it.” His tone was low and threatening, almost a growl.
Marley’s chest contracted for a moment. Lady Persephone was affianced? She had not uttered a word of this to him. He felt a crushing pressure on his chest at the thought that she was in love with some—with
. The thought of such a capable and brilliant young woman being attached to such an obvious buffoon stuck like a bit of sand where one ought not to get sand, grating and irritating in the extreme. He lifted one brow. “Many felicitations to you both,” he said with no genuine enthusiasm.
Lady Persephone picked up the little dog and held it close in the crook of her arm. “We are
engaged.” Her firm and resolute tone eased Marley’s discomfort some.
Frobisher gave her a hard stare. “We are intended, and that is enough until your father decides we should declare it formally.”
Her nostrils flared slightly, and Marley found the blue flicker of fire in her eyes most enchanting. “We shall see about that.” She turned to her maid. “Martha, I feel a sudden headache.” She glanced at Frobisher and then at Marley, her body vibrating with restrained anger he could feel shimmering in the air of the room. “Will you gentlemen please excuse me?”
The men bowed as she swept from the room.
Frobisher waited a second after she’d left before he flopped himself down on the settee, making himself at home. “I thought she hated dogs.”
Marley’s eyes burned inexplicably. She hadn’t seemed disappointed in his choice. Was she just being kind as a hostess? She didn’t seem the type to offer false flattery.
Frobisher grabbed up three little finger sandwiches at once and stuffed thsm.d stuffem all in his mouth and chewed. “Bit of a fireball, isn’t she? I’ll soon have that corrected.”
Marley swallowed hard. He might not know as much as Thadeus knew about women, but he knew enough to tell when one was truly angry versus just playing the coquette to earn male attention. “She doesn’t seem to take well to the idea of your coming nuptials.”
Frobisher brushed the crumbs from the front of his jacket onto the fine hand-cut wool carpet beneath his feet. “She’ll get used to it. Love isn’t always necessary in these arrangements, is it?”
At that moment Marley was quite sure of two things. One, given the right opportunity, he’d like to light Lieutenant Frobisher up with a great wallop of an electric charge just to watch him bounce about on the ground like a beached fish; and two, Lady Persephone Hargrieve deserved better than this big lout for a husband.
Marley pulled back his shoulders, stretching himself to his full height, and glared openly at Frobisher. “Perhaps the arrangement isn’t necessary at all. She might have more than one suitor to choose from.”
Frobisher rose to his feet, his face turning red, his fists bunched by his sides, arms slightly bent, as if he intended to throw a punch. Marley stood his ground, refusing to budge. Let the oaf do his worst. He’d find a way to make him pay in spades.
“Don’t go getting ideas about Lady Persephone, little man. She’s mine. And if you get in my way, I’ll squash you. You haven’t the skills it takes to protect her.”
“I’d say that matter is up to the lady.”
A deep clearing of the throat from the doorway had them both turning to see Lord Hargrieve staring at them. “Is there a problem, gentlemen?”
Frobisher’s stance changed immediately. “No, my lord. No problem at all. Just giving our inventor some useful advice.”
Lord Hargrieve gave Frobisher a pointed look. “He’s not our inventor yet, Lieutenant. We might want to be more cordial to him in the meantime.” The man looked over his shoulder. “Wattly, please show Sir Turlock to my study.”
“Yes, my lord.” The butler edged around Lord Hargrieve and inclined his head to Marley. “This way, if you please, Sir Turlock.”
From the alcove in the great hall, Sephie spied Sir Turlock following Wattly to her father’s study. She’d found pleading a headache or some other sort of feminine ill was the easiest way to extract oneself without too much questioning from a room full of men. There’d been many such occasions in her father’s house, and since her mother’s passing, she’d had to act as his hostess, even in the most tedious of social situations.
Her hands were still shaking. Overhearing the exchange between Frobisher and Sir Turlock had left her giddy. In her own flights of female fancy she’d imagined that the looks Sir Turlock had given her were more than his approval of her mechanic skills. Now that she knew he might even offer for her, she was beside herself with joy. Not only was Sir Turlock fascinating, he found her passion for machines a wonderful thing rather than trying to quash it as Frobisher and her father did. How marvelous would it be to be one’s self with one’s spouse?
She held up the adorable little dog he’d brought her, her heart swelling with emotion. She’d been given so few toys as a child, and had never been allowed to have a dog because of her allergies to them, despite her fondest wish to have one. In one fell swoop, Sir Turlock had given her both and made her smile 1eme her sfrom the inside out. But her happiness was drowned out by low and angry voices coming from the parlor where Frobisher and her father argued.
“He has intentions toward Persephone,” Frobisher ground out. Sephie huffed. He was complaining as if she were his property already. The great oaf.
“You will not undermine my authority in this, Lieutenant. He is not to be harmed until we have the weapon from him. It could make all the difference in our battle with the Darkin. We need him. Do I make myself clear?”
“And what if his energy cannon doesn’t do what he thinks it will?”
“Then that will change matters. But until that time, if he wishes to court Persephone, then I shall allow him to.”
Anger filled Frobisher’s voice. “And what of our agreement? You promised her to me!”
“I promised you could court her, Lieutenant, and I’ve made every effort to place her in your presence so that you could convince her of your sincere interest. But you know as well as I do how headstrong she can be.”
Sephie ducked back behind the edge of the alcove as her father stalked back to his study.
“Perhaps you ought to beat that stubbornness out of her,” Frobisher muttered as he stamped out of the parlor toward the front door. “I know I would.”
The front door slammed behind him, and Sephie shuddered and held the little dog closer. She knew the risks her family took. Her father thought Frobisher could protect her from the hideous things they hunted and were in turn hunted by. But Sir Turlock was smart. If he knew the truth, perhaps he could think of ways to protect her that Frobisher never could.