The Inventor (The Legend Chronicles) (7 page)

“He’s been possessed by a demon. We need to leave. Now.” Her tone was hushed but urgent.
“Where are you going, Marley?” Thad’s voice echoed as if more than one person spoke with his vocal cords at the same time.
“I have to see our guest home.”
“Rude of you not to introduce us.” He tilted his head to the side, a gruesome smile stretching his mouth. “But then, we don’t need much of an introduction, do we, my dear?”
Sephie shuddered, and her hand grew instantly clammy against Marley’s skin. She tugged harder on him. “Now, Marley.”
Marley didn’t stop to think. He went with his instincts.
He dashed for the outside exit, pulling her with him. He hoped if they approached Binky, he’d obey the order to kill anything coming into the lab, but allow them to go out unharmed.
Sephie screamed, and Marley felt the both of them yanked viciously backward. “I want that key!” Thadeus hissed.
She scrabbled with her clothing, reached into her pocket, and pulled out a vial of clear liquid. With one smooth movement of her thumb, she popped the rubber stopper out and tossed the liquid at Thadeus. He let go, howling in protest and clawing at his face as chunks of flesh turned first into a bloody pulp and then charred.
Marley spied Binky clanking and whirring in their direction. Rather than take a chance he’d be inclined to mash them flat, Marley doubled back toward the lab, past his writhing cousin, Sephie in tow behind him.
“Where the blazes are you going? The exit is that way!”
“Yes, and the airship is this way.”
He pulled down a huge lever in the wall, and the large seam in the center of the smaller room off to the side of the main laboratory began to widen, opening to the night sky. “Help me get the tarps off!”
Together they pulled at the heavy canvas sheeting that covered his machine, which had a gondola the size of a phaeton. Part aeronautic carriage, part dirigible, part energy manipulation machine, it was their best chance to get up and away from whatever it was that had taken over Thadeus and seemed to be relentless in pursuing Sephie and the key she wore.
“Get in!”
She scrambled over the wicker edge of the gondola in a flurry of petticoats and rolled into the basket beneath the balloon. Marley climbed in and fired up the propellers. Using electromagnetic energy to heat the water for the steam boilers ensured the water heated almost instantly, providing ready access to steam.
Thadeus came limping toward them. Bile rose bitter and acidic in the back of Marley’s throat to see the damage his cousin had suffered. Out of habit and curiosity he leaned toward him, but Sephie grabbed Marley’s arm, jerking him away as she said urgently, “He’s trapped in his own body right now. The demon controls him. He’ll kill you with his bare hands and not be able to stop himself. Don’t think for a moment the demon will allow him pity or remorse. It’s here to do a job: kill us and take the key.”
Marley stiffened his resolve and his upper lip and removed the anchor rope holding the craft down as the balloon swelled upward. It grew until it was ten times larger than the gondola and lifted them out of the open hatch into the night air.
He had to carefully adjust the direction of the propellers to keep the balloon from snagging on the wrought iron edging and ragged bits of slate th Cs ooutat fashioned the roofline of Bostwick House.
While Thadeus cursed and jumped, scrabbling for a hold on them, Marley noted the dark shadows shifting through and filling the gardens. They weren’t ordinary shadows, of that he was sure.
Sephie peered over the edge. “More demons,” she muttered. “It looks as though your laboratory isn’t as safe as we thought.”
“Clearly.” He peered sharply at her. “What will become of my family?”
“The Legion will be here shortly and help them. I’m sure that the minute Father dispatched the demons at our home he sent word for us to be followed and protected.”
They rose still higher, the gas streetlights of London barely visible through the pervasive coal-smoke haze that perpetually hung in the air. Fog rolled in off the Thames, and as they climbed still higher, they lost sight of the city altogether.
A strong breeze whipped along the gondola, and the steady
whop, whop, whop
of the wooden propellers created a soothing noise that made their daring escape seem that much more surreal.
Sephie wrapped her delicate hands over the wooden rails of the wicker gondola, looking down on a world that seemed much more peaceful, more serene than it should. The shroud of dark, smoky air beneath them gave way to clearer skies over the country as they headed north.
The warmth of Marley standing behind her kept the shivers at bay. Their escape had been by his ingenuity and her knowledge of Hunter lore. The countryside spread out beneath them, making her very aware just how lucky she was to be with the one man in all of England who could outsmart the Darkin without any Legion training. They would be a fine pair, once she convinced her father to let her marry Marley—if he proposed.
He placed a hand on either side of the rail, holding her in the circle of his arms. “Are you certain you aren’t hurt?” he asked softly, dipping his head to speak softly beside her ear.
“Nothing but a few scratches.”
“That’s good. I couldn’t bear if anything happened to you.” She turned to face him, putting their mouths within inches of each other. Her lips tingled at the memory of what kissing him was like. The moonlight, unfiltered by fog and soot-laden air, cast his strong features in stark relief.
Sephie had never had a man give her his full attention in this way, as if she were the sun and the planets all revolved around her. It was quite a heady thing. “Have you come to care for me that quickly?”
“More than you know.” His gaze dropped for a second. He shoved his right hand in the small upper breast pocket of his vest and pulled out a bit of white tissue paper. The edge of it fluttered in the breeze. “I meant to give this to you this afternoon at your father’s house. I asked his permission to court you.”
He carefully peeled back the folded layers of tissue, exposing a simple gold oval locket on an elegant chain. “I wasn’t positive how your father would take my request, especially after learning he entertained Frobisher’s suit for your hand.”
“But I don’t want Frobisher,” she interrupted. “You know that.”
“I do. But the question remains if your father will see me as a suitable match for you after all this. I think it’ll rest on the success of the electric cannon.”
Sephie huffed. “I don’t think it will matter. He hasn’t a choice now, has he? We’re together. Alone. Unchaperoned. After we spend a night together traveling to North Clinr. Humberland, I hardly think he can in all good conscience reject a proposal, no matter how your experiment goes.”
Marley’s sculpted lips spread into a genuine smile, the kind a boy gives when his dearest Christmas wish has been fulfilled. “I know this isn’t a ring, but I thought you might wish to choose that for yourself.”
Sephie lifted the locket from the paper. The golden oval wobbled back and forth in the breeze. “Marley Turlock, are you making me an offer of marriage?”
“I certainly am. I know I’ll never meet another woman who has your combination of kind heart and inquisitive mind. You are truly one of a kind, and I love you and want you to be my wife.”
Her stomach flipped and a giddy, fizzing sensation spread out to every cell. This was what joy and freedom felt like. Pure, undarkened, unbridled. She smiled, reaching up on tiptoe to brush her lips against his.
He pulled back slightly. “Is that a yes?”
She kissed him harder. “Of course that’s a yes, no matter what befalls us. Will you put the necklace on me?”
Marley unlatched the chain and slipped the locket around her neck. “I thought we might put a picture of you and me in it to keep the pictures of us close to your heart.”
Sephie smiled warmly at him, her fingers slipping over the locket. “You just remember you’re mine while you’re at those fancy royal balls and bestowed with honors, once you test that invention of yours and become world famous, and we have all these amazing adventures together. I’m one in a million, Sir Turlock, and I loved you even when you were just a mere inventor.”
“How could I ever forget? I doubt you’ll let me,” he teased in return.
“You’re right. I never will.” This time Marley cupped her cheek in his hand and kissed her soundly.
Sephie could barely breathe. She didn’t want to. She wanted this moment to last. But when he finally broke the connection between them she gazed up in the warm chocolate eyes of the man she lo
ved. “What was that for?”
He gently took a curl of her hair and smoothed it between his fingers, adoration in his gaze. “Because, Lady Persephone Hargrieve, I’ll never get enough of you.”
Keep reading for more of Marley Turlock and his inventions,
as he helps the Jackson brothers fight the Darkin in
The Hunter
,
 
the first book of the Legend Chronicles,
available in paperback and as an eBook.
They’re the Chosen—Winchester, Remington, and Colt—brothers trained to hunt down supernatural beings using the latest steam-powered gadgetry. It’s a hard legacy to shoulder, and it’s about to get a lot more dangerous . . .
 
A DEVIL OF A JOB
 
Colt Jackson has gotten his name on many a wanted poster with success in the family business: hunting supernaturals across the frontier. Lately, though, there’s a sulfur stink in the wind, and the Darkin population is exploding. A rift in the worlds is appearing. To close it, Colt will have to do the unthinkable and work with a demon to pass arcane boundaries Flinr.the wno human alone can cross.
 
Except when he summons his demon, he doesn’t get some horned monstrosity: he gets a curvy redheaded succubus named Lilly, who’s willing to make a bargain to become human again. He also gets Lilly’s secret expertise in the machinations on the dark side of the rift. And her charm and cleverness help to get them out of what his silver-loaded pistol and mechanical horse can’t. Of course, when all hell breaks loose, he might have to sacrifice his soul. But what’s adventure without a little risk?
 
 
The adventure continues in
The Slayer
,
out now,
and concludes in
The Chosen
,
in stores in March 2013!
 
In the Beginning
 
Near Springfield, Missouri, 1873
 
“Aren’t you Cy Jackson’s boy?”
Colt looked up at the stranger through the ragged edge of his thick, dark hair. The afternoon sun that had all but baked him alive now slung low in the sky, making it difficult for him to see more than a backlit outline of the man through the dusty haze.
“Yeah.” Left behind by his pa and two older brothers to chop wood while they went hunting, Colt had spent his energy for the day. His faded red shirt, gritty and damp with sweat, stuck to his lean body. He straightened, keeping a firm hold on the smooth hardwood handle of his axe just in case he needed it. He might be only fourteen, but he knew how to protect himself and what was theirs. The hair on the back of his neck rose in warning. Strangers didn’t just “drop in.” The homestead was thirty miles out of town and not on the road to anywhere.
It took only a second, just a mere blink, for the stranger to launch off his horse and clamp his cold, pale hands around Colt’s throat. He’d never seen anything move so fast in all his life. Hard fingers lifted Colt off the ground so that his feet swung awkwardly from his long limbs. The pressure caused sparks to pop in Colt’s vision. Choking and gagging, he dropped the axe from his nerveless fingers as he clawed at the icy hands squeezing off his air.
“I’d like to kill you, just to prove a point to Cyrus, but Rathe said to bring you back alive.” The stranger’s breath stank so bad of sulfur it made Colt’s nose burn and his eyes well. “’Course, he didn’t say I couldn’t have a little fun first.” The unnaturally icy pale blue eyes glaring at him turned violent crimson, the vertical pupils widening with anticipation. Colt’s heart stopped beating for a second.
Everything seemed to blur as his eyes bulged with pressure. The next instant, the stranger shoved Colt beneath the water of the horse trough that had been ten feet away. Glimmers of sunlight streamed in from above as the water seeped into his nose and he fought to hold his breath.
Colt dug his fingernails into the hands holding him down, kicking and squirming, anything to get a sip of air into his burning lungs. The stranger pulled Colt from the water at the last moment, before blackness clouded his vision completely.
“Where’s the Book?” His voice was hot against Colt’s ear.
Colt coughed and choked, the water rasping his throat.
“Tell me.”
All Colt could do was shake his head and gasp. He didn’t know what the stranger meant.
The water closed over him again. Colt wanted to scream, but he didn’t dare. There hadn’t been time to take a deep breath. He fought hard against the iron hold keeping him beneath the water. Panic turned to outright terror as he realized he was going to drown.
Suddenly, above the shifting surface of the water, the stranger bucked forward, his head arching back, his mouth a rictus of pain. He lifted Colt from the water and flung him to the ground with a crunching thud, then whipped around, the axe stuck firmly in his back.
Pain ripped fire through Colt as he gasped for air and scrabbled backward, his gaze darting to Winchester, now behind the stranger. His older brother leveled the barrel of his shotgun at the stranger’s head. Winn was smaller than the stranger, a young man on the cusp of twenty. But the look in Winn’s cool blue eyes said he’d seen plenty.
“Go to Hell,” Winn said, his voice tight and gravelly.
The stranger’s mouth widened into a reddish slash in his pale face as he twisted his arm back and around, ripping the axe from his back with a wet sucking sound. His gaze flicked briefly to the glistening blackness oozing off the blade. “Already been there.” The axe flew in a wide arc directly at Winn the same instant the gun exploded.
Colt screamed as Winn fell to the ground.
The stranger evaporated into nothing but a dark swirl of smoke.
Colt scrambled to his brother, ignoring the burning ache in his ribs and the rivulets of water still streaming down his face. Sod and dust burned his eyes and stung his nose as he slipped and stumbled across the ground to reach Winn. “Winn! Dammit, Winn, you still alive?”
The axe blade quivered in Winn’s upper thigh, bright red blood gushing everywhere. Lord, that must hurt like hell. It had clearly struck bone. Winn’s breathing was shallow, his face greasy with sweat and pain. “Don’t just sit there. Tie it off.”
Colt ripped off his wet shirt and tied off the limb as tight as he could to stem the flow of blood. He didn’t dare try to remove the axe. He wasn’t big enough to haul Winn to the cabin by himself. He swore under his breath and shivered, his skin tight with cold and fear. Winn’s left eye cracked open.
“Don’t swear.” The words came out a bare puff of breath. Any other time the rebuke would’ve stung. Now Colt was grateful because it meant his brother was still alive. He glanced up, scanning the horizon for a sign of his pa and other brother Remington.
He looked down at Winn, who was now almost as pale as the stranger had been, beads of sweat making his face shine, his lips tinting blue. “They’re coming. Just stay with me.”
He glanced nervously at the axe head and gulped against the bile rising in his throat. There was so much blood he was sure Winn was bleeding to death. “This is bad, real bad.”
“Pa will know what to do. Just keep talkin’ to me. I don’t want to pass out.”
“What the hell was that, Winn?” Colt hated the tremor of fear still in his voice.
“Vampire. Demon. Something unnatural.”
Curiosity bit him hard and wouldn’t let go. For years he’d wondered what was so all-confounded important that he’d be left alone days at a time. But when his father and brothers returned, they’d never tell him where they disappeared to or exactly wha Kr ealone dt they’d done. “Is that what you and Pa have been hunting?”
“And others like it.”
The thumping of running feet caused Colt to look at the tree line. Pa and Remington raced on foot toward their homestead. Pa got there first, easily outrunning Remy. He eyed Colt for a second, not bothering to ask for an explanation. He grabbed Winn’s hand and gave it a hard squeeze. “This is gonna hurt, boy.”
Winn’s jaw jumped as he gritted his teeth. “Do it. Fast.”
“Get your brother a leather strap to bite on.” Colt knew he was talking to Remy, as his middle brother sprinted into the cabin to fetch the strap.
Inside Colt’s stomach was an oily mess of anger and guilt. Somehow he shoulda known what that thing was. He shoulda been able to fight it off. But he hadn’t. And now Winn was hurt bad. Likely as not, he’d lose his leg. Possibly even die.
“What can I do?”
Pa leveled a steely blue gaze at him. “Stay out of the way.” The words were gruff, but laced with concern.
And that was the way it always was. Ever since Ma had died when Colt was seven, Pa and the two older boys had banded together and Colt had been left behind. He’d done everything he could to prove he was as worthy as his two older brothers to be included, but Pa had always turned away when he’d asked what they were hunting.
Remy came back, then crouched beside Winn to shove the strap between his tightly clenched teeth as Pa pulled the axe from Winn’s thigh. Winn’s scream pushed past the strap as he reflexively forgot to bite down in anguish.
Holy crap.
His piercing scream went through Colt like an electric charge he’d once gotten from one of his pa’s weapons hidden under the bed, stinging and sharp. It sliced through his skull and echoed in his head, making his insides curl in around themselves away from the gut-wrenching guttural sound.
Blood gushed out of the wound, saturating Winn’s pant leg in scarlet. Winn started panting through what was surely agony as Pa carried him into their cabin. Colt didn’t bother to follow. He knew he’d only be in the way. The single room wasn’t hardly big enough for four of them.
Hours later he heard the stiff scrape of Pa’s boots in the soil behind him. Pa’s hand, broad and thick, settled on his shoulder, giving him an awkward pat. The metallic scent of blood, Winn’s blood, tainted the air. “He’ll live. It’s not your fault, Colt. Winn knew what he was dealing with. You didn’t. And that’s my fault, boy.”
Colt turned, gazing up at his father, whose dark blue eyes were now bloodshot and shining with unshed tears. His ma used to say they were so like Winn’s it was kinda eerie. “I was trying to spare one of you boys from the life. I figured it should be you, being as you were your mama’s favorite and the youngest. But I guess those bastards won’t let me.”
Colt fisted his hands against the damp cotton of his pants, his face heated. So many times he’d asked and been put off. He didn’t dare believe the little leap of excitement in his gut or the light-headed feeling in his head. “Pa, you’re not makin’ a lick of sense.”
His father shook his shaggy head, the dark hair thick and unkempt as all his boys’. His hand grazed over the three days of stubble along his square jaw. “Colt, it’s time for you to learn exactly what you are.”

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