They were out of time and in danger of dying at the massive mechanical hands of his own creation before they ever reached his laboratory.
If Thadeus’s favorite foods weren’t working as passwords to stop his monstrosity, perhaps Marley needed to think of something Thad hated.
“Haggis!” Marley shouted.
His construct’s massive metal arm froze in mid-motion. Marley sagged with relief against the stone wall and breathed a silent prayer, his pulse so hard it throbbed behind his eyeballs.
“Welcome home, sir,” Binky ground out as he stiffened to attention.
“Guard the back entrance,” Marley instructed. “Unless it’s family, kill anything and anyone that gets through.”
He was going to have words with Thadeus once he got hold of the blighter. What could have possibly made him think changing the password and activating Binky in attack mode while he was in the lab would be a good idea?
They scooted past Binky and headed for the laboratory. Sephie kept throwing worried glances over her shoulder. “You’re certain it won’t malfunction and sneak up on us from behind?”
“There’d be no sneaking about it. And I’m as certain as I can be about a mechanical thing. There’s always a chance it will fail, but if we stopped every time there was a chance of failure, we’d never succeed.”
They rounded the corner into the main laboratory. Thadeus was nowhere in sight. The small hairs on the back of Marley’s neck rose—and from the lack of crackling sound Marley knew the phenomenon wasn’t caused by an electromagnetic field.
“Thadeus? Thad, are you here?” he called out.
No one answered. That worried him. It wasn’t like his cousin.
“Perhaps he’s gone upstairs to have dinner with your family,” Sephie suggested.
“Not this close to a breakthrough. He’s as driven as I am. We’ll work through the night and use the voice tube to have meals sent down on the dumbwaiter. I wouldn’t have even come out of the lab myself at this juncture, except that your father insisted.” And now he knew why.
. Fascinating to consider—academically at least—the possibility of dark forces swirling around humankind on this earthly plane.
Sephie gasped, which made him whip around.
But she wasn’t in danger from another of his inventions; instead, her eyes grew round with wonder. “These are amazing!” she said as she pressed her fingers to the glass doors of his curiosity cabinet and gazed at row after row of the little mechanical constructs he and Thadeus had created for the younger cousins.
Marley had never brought anyone into his lab before. Sephie’s excitement and wonder were infectious, momentarily distracting him from the more pressing matter of drubbing his cousin once he found him.
She flitted from one cabinet of creations to the next, inspecting them as if they were cabinets of fantastical wonders at the South Kensington Museum in the heart of London. “So intricate and artistic. You and your cousin really do have a flair for making things lre ifelike.”
She turned and stared at him. “Your tone suggests I’m coddling a child. And I think we both know you are hardly that.” A twinkle in her blue eyes made his gut contract with longing. “Father said you make weapons as well.”
Marley nodded. “He’s asked me to make some for the Legion.”
Her brow furrowed slightly. “I know. That’s why he asked me to go and look at your work and assess it at the exhibition.”
Marley stopped for a moment and stared at her. “You were spying on me for the Legion?”
She nodded and worried her lip between her teeth, giving a dainty shrug of her shoulders. “You aren’t mad at me, are you?”
Marley sighed and shook his head, then started chuckling. “No, but I do find it funny. You’re far more than you appear to be, aren’t you?”
Her eyes glittered, and for a second Marley wasn’t certain if she was about to cry. The thought that he might make her cry struck him like a physical blow to the gut. “You’re the first man to really appreciate all my skills.”
He reached over and brushed the back of his hand over her cheek. “How could I be angry when I find you so intensely fascinating?”
Her lips spread into a tremulous smile. “Thank you for that.”
“Anything for you, my lady,” he said with sincerity. The moment grew too tense, and Marley turned away. “Now where were we? Ah yes, weapons.”
He took her hand and steered her toward his armory within the lab. “I’m afraid the collection I have isn’t extensive.” The collection included the modified Amanarath crossbow from Germany he’d refitted to reload bolts automatically, a few long-range pistols he’d augmented with special sighting scopes that gave the user tremendous range, and a wrist weapon that housed a series of Oriental throwing stars. “Weapons aren’t normally my focus. My efforts thus far have been trained on flight and the use of electricity.”
“These are very good. I should very much like it if you’d make me a gun.” Her finger traced over the sharp tips of the bolts in the Amanarath crossbow.
She nodded. “You didn’t really think all a Hunter’s daughter knew how to do was serve tea, did you?”
He gave her a lopsided grin. “I knew there was more to you than that the moment you stepped across the velvet ropes and began to tinker with my machine.”
A blush infused her cheeks. “You make it sound very risqué.”
His smile got even bigger. “What kind of gun would you like?”
Sephie clasped her hands together. “You’re very good with electricity, and you’re the only inventor I can think of who could create such a thing. What I’d really like is a gun powered by a Tesla coil. One that shoots bolts of electricity rather than bullets or arrows.”
“A Tesla coil shooter . . .” Marley murmured. “I hadn’t ever thought of applying electricity in that manner, but it has potential.”
Her broad smile lit up the room, making the very air seem to sparkle. His heart twisted. Marley realized he’d give anything to see her smile like that every day for the rest of his life.
“I’ll be happy to work on one for you. But it might have to wait for a few months. Thadeus and I are planning to test our great airborne electrical transmission enhance Cssi yoment machine, and we must finish it. In the meantime, I’m being a horrible host. May I order tea? I know I could use something after our greeting from Binky.”
“Yes, please. Tea would be lovely.” She tilted her head to one side as he went to the voice tube that led to the kitchens upstairs and ordered tea for the two of them.
“Is the invention you and Thadeus are testing, the one my father is so interested in?”
Marley nodded as he returned to the edge of his work desk. “I’m planning on testing it in North Umbria.”
“That’s a fairly large lake. In fact, it borders one side of one of the family’s country estates.”
A tight knot swelled in Marley’s throat. “It does?”
He had best be certain the invention would work. The last thing he wanted to do was anger Lord Hargrieve or any of his relations.
A small brass bell rang three times, providing a very welcome distraction. “That should be the tea. Cook is most excellent about making sure there’s always something about for Thadeus and me no matter what time of day it is.”
He walked over to the wall and slid up the wooden door of the dumbwaiter. Inside the wooden contraption sat a silver tea service and three china plates on two trays, one heaped with sandwiches, one with scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam, and another with sliced fruit and boiled eggs. He picked up the trays, balancing them two on each arm as he carried them over to his workbench.
The back of Sephie’s mouth began to ache and water, and her stomach took the opportunity to growl. She pressed her hand to her stomach to quiet it. She’d missed any chance of having something to eat when Frobisher had rudely shown up uninvited at their home that morning, as he did far too often.
He usually consumed everything from the tea tray, leaving her little besides the comfort of a cup of hot Earl Grey tea.
She picked up one of the sandwiches and bit in, enjoying the crisp, fresh taste of the cucumber and the green bite of the watercress, along with the sweetness of the soft butter. It was simple enough fare, but she was hungry and so it tasted as good as any of the fourteen-course meals her father had their staff serve on important occasions.
Marley poured her a cup of tea and added a generous helping of sugar. “I didn’t ask, but I hope you like your tea sweet. It’s how I take it.”
She offered him a grateful smile. “It’s perfect.” It could have been the weakest, most pathetic cup of tea in the realm and she would have thought it special, only because he’d poured it for her. It had been a very long time since a man had treated her as something other than a featherheaded female or—worse—a china doll to be wrapped in tissue and cosseted away in a drawer for fear of breaking it. Marley was attentive, yet believed in her strengths and reveled in her intellect. Sephie decided he was a most unusual man. Brilliant, but with a tender heart, and a fierceness when it came to protecting others.
He peered at her over the edge of his teacup, his great brown eyes the color of dark tea, but flecked with bits of gold that seemed to make them sparkle. Marley set the cup down. “That key you’re protecting,” he said, nodding at her, “what does it go to?”
Sephie lifted the dark metal key that hung about her neck and stared at it. The black iron was pitted and in truth it looked as old as it l Cs oan>Sikely was, but the metal was still warm from the heat of her own body. “Doesn’t look like much, does it? This little key unlocks a chest that holds a very special book.”
Marley snorted. “Your father sent you away from his home and risked his life battling demons to protect a book? Surely he has libraries full of them!”
“Yes, but the Book of Jezriel is one of a kind. It tells how the archangels and their followers came to be, and how some of them fell, becoming the most powerful dark forces in our world.”
“And am I correct in guessing that you are its keeper?”
Sephie smiled. “I knew you were astute.”
“Is that why Frobisher wishes to wed you so badly?”
She shrugged. “That, and he wants to be the next leader of the Legion. He hopes if he aligns himself with my father by marriage it’ll be more likely. But that’s up to the Legion leaders to decide, no matter how he manipulates the situation.”
Marley glowered into the dregs in his cup. Just by the stiff set of his shoulders and the way his great dark brows drew together in a frown, she knew he was agitated. He hadn’t even shown her his invention, which didn’t seem like him at all.
“You’re still worried about Thadeus, aren’t you?”
His gaze connected with hers. “This isn’t like him. Cook said he hasn’t been home since this afternoon. He left about an hour after I did.” He plucked the round watch from the small pocket in his vest and checked the time.
Sephie racked her brain. She didn’t know where Thadeus had gone or why, but it was clearly distressing Marley. Until they received the notice that things were safe from her father, she needed to stay here and keep Marley here as well. It was just safer for both of them.
“Perhaps he was working on the invention and needed something,” she said. “If we go and look it over you might see what happened.”
Marley’s mouth flattened into a line of resolute displeasure. “I suppose you are right. No use fretting like a mother hen, is there?”
He wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood, straightening his vest. He waited for her to rise. “The machine is this way.” She followed a step behind him, eager to see the electrical machine that could pull current from the air. She’d heard only snatches of the conversation between her father and Frobisher. If Marley was truly as brilliant as they both believed, this machine might be altered into an electrical cannon, capable of being flown in the skies to destroy their enemies with a focused beam like a lightning bolt.
A scraping noise of a door opening at the far end of the laboratory and heavy footfalls on the wooden stairs leading down from the house upstairs stopped Marley in his tracks. “Thad? Where the devil have you been, old chap?”
He stepped toward his cousin, but Sephie gripped him hard on the arm and held him back.
“It’s all right. It’s just Thadeus.”
“No, it’s not.” Her face was white and drawn, her lips pressed together in a thin, tight line, and her body stiff. “Look at his eyes,” she whispered.
As Thadeus emerged from the shadows of the stairwell, Marley could see his eyes were not the familiar brown he’d known but a dark, golden yellow. The raw, prickly sensation of something unnatural that one felt walking through a graveyard at night coiled and twisted in Marley’s belly like a ball of worms. Sephie’s reaction and his own intuition told him whatever h Cim a gad happened to Thadeus wasn’t normal.