My Lady Quicksilver

Page 5

Ingrid laughed under her breath.

“Unfortunately not,” Rosalind replied. “I lost the shipment and five men.”

“Steel can be replaced,” Jack replied.

“So can men,” Ingrid called back.

But not the money for either. Rosalind ground her teeth. The money was filtered through the Humans First political party, along with information from several sources in the Echelon. The humanist network had already been in place before she stepped into her husband’s shoes and tried to fulfill his dream; it was only lately that she’d begun to wonder where so much money was coming from.

Ahead of them, a rectangle of darkness was limned by bright yellow light. Home. Rosalind’s shoulders drooped, starting to feel the exertion of the night. The excitement with Lynch had driven her through the streets on the run from his men, but now, in the shadowy darkness of safety, her energy began to flag.

Beyond the door a single candle sputtered on the table at their entrance. The furnishings were sparse and mostly scavenged. They didn’t need much for their purpose and everything could be left behind in a hurry.

Jack shut the door behind them as Rosalind sank into one of the stuffed armchairs. A spring dug into her hip and she shifted.

Jack crossed his arms again. “Talk.”

“You haven’t told me about your night,” she said as Ingrid lit the gas boiler to make tea.

“I’m more interested in yours.”

There would be no shaking him in this mood. “We were ambushed as we left the enclaves. Lynch and his men were waiting for us, no doubt given the tip by somebody.” Rosalind frowned. “I need to discover who—that could be costly.”

“What’s he like?” Ingrid asked, looking up from the kettle.

Intense. Rosalind stilled as unwelcome memory flooded through her body. “Exactly as they say. Hard and cold. And very determined.” The way he’d looked at her—as if he’d tear apart the world to get his hands on her again. She shivered. “I don’t think I’ve seen the last of him.”

“You should have put a bullet in him,” Jack said.

“I wasn’t in the position,” she lied, dropping her gaze. “The best I could do was paralyze him with hemlock. His men came while I was getting away and I had to flee.”

Rosalind could feel Jack’s gaze boring into the top of her head. Looking up, she smoothed the expression from her face. “So tell me about your night. Any luck?”

Tension lingered in his shoulders, then he blew out a breath and glanced at Ingrid. “We intercepted the coach carrying the London Standard’s editor toward the Ivory Tower. The escape went as planned and one of our men got him out. Unfortunately, a group of metaljackets came and we were forced to separate.”

Another avenue lost tonight. The editor had printed a caricature in the London Standard of the prince consort with a monstrously deformed head, dangling puppet strings over a wan image of his human wife, the queen. He wouldn’t be doing that again.

“No casualties?”

“Not on our side.” Though she couldn’t see it, she could sense the vicious smile behind the mask.

“And no word of Jeremy?” she asked, looking toward Ingrid with deceptive casualness. Though it rankled, there was no use in her looking for Jeremy when Ingrid’s senses were far better suited. She’d spent the entire month blundering along behind Ingrid, no doubt hindering her. Tonight had been the first night she’d forced herself to let go, to let Ingrid do what she did best.

This time it was Ingrid’s turn to drop her gaze. “Nothing. No sightings, no scent trail.” Ingrid took a deep breath then looked up, her bronze eyes gleaming. “He’s not outside the city walls, Rosa. If there’s any hope that he survived—”

“He survived,” she snapped. There could be no other option, for if there was, then she had failed him. Her baby brother, the one she’d practically raised. The world blurred, a haze of heat sweeping behind her eyes.

Jack’s hand slid over hers and Rosalind looked up in shock as he squeezed her fingers gently, then let go.

“It’s not your fault,” he murmured, then turned to Ingrid. “And nor is it yours. If you can’t find him, then he’s not there.”

It was her fault though. Rosalind had been too wrapped up in her cause to pay attention to her brother. Jeremy had fallen in with the mechs, lured by their rough talk and bawdy laughter. He was almost a man, and she couldn’t blame him for wanting the company of other men. It was only when he went missing that she realized how much she’d been ignoring him lately.

“So he’s not outside the city walls,” she murmured, rubbing her eyes. So tired. “That leaves the city.”

“No,” Ingrid snapped. “You can’t even think it.”

The thick wall that circled the city borough kept the riffraff out and the blue bloods in. Inside it was their territory. Their stalking grounds. A world of glittering carriages, fancy mansions, silk, and steel.

Rosalind slowly lowered her hand. “Where else do I look, Ingrid? He was last seen in the Ivory Tower during the bombing and the bodies were all accounted for. I’d hoped he’d escaped with the few mechs that got away but we’ve hunted some of them down and nobody knows where Jeremy is.”

“Which leaves the blue bloods,” Jack murmured.

“Or the bloody Nighthawks,” Ingrid snapped. She shoved to her feet. “And none of us can get near the Guild Headquarters.”

Nighthawks. Rosalind stilled. The very men who were hunting the mechs—and Mercury. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? “If anyone knows what happened to the mechs who blew up the tower,” she said quietly, “it would be the Nighthawks.”

Sensing trouble, Jack shot her a sharp look. “What are you planning?”

Rosalind looked around. “Where’s my file on my lord Nighthawk?” She spotted it on a pile on the table and pushed out of her chair eagerly. “There was an advertisement,” she said recklessly, tearing open the file and hunting through it. Pages and pages of notes on Lynch and his comings and goings scrawled across the page. Know your enemy. “Several weeks back in the London Standard.” Her fingers closed over the piece. “An advertisement for a secretarial position—”

“No,” Jack snapped, knowing precisely where her mind was going.

Ingrid looked between the two of them, then frowned. “The position might be filled.”

“Then we’ll have to ensure it’s vacant again,” Rosalind said flippantly, not averse to kidnapping anyone temporarily for her needs.

“Roz, this is insane,” Ingrid said. “We don’t have anyone to play the part. I can’t do it, not with these eyes.”

“But I can.”

Her words fell into an abrupt silence. Ingrid’s jaw dropped and Jack took a menacing step toward her.

“No,” he said.

“This is what I do,” Rosalind replied, knowing where the trouble was going to come from. “This is what Balfour trained me to do.” And perhaps the only thing she was truly good at. Though she hated him, the prince consort’s spymaster had recognized her talents and nurtured them early on. He knew her in a way even Jack did not. The only thing he had ever misunderstood were her limits, what even she could not be coaxed to do.

Like the day he had asked her to kill her husband.

The only time she had ever disobeyed him—the cost of which still haunted her at night. Her hand sacrificed to save the man she’d betrayed. And Nathaniel lying dead at Balfour’s hand in punishment.

“You were too late, mon petit faucon,” Balfour murmured, cleaning the blood from his hands with a rag and eyeing her dispassionately as she’d slumped to the floor from the blood loss. “I gave you five minutes to prove your loyalty.” A furious glance at the bloodied stump with its rough tourniquet. “And so it is proven.” Throwing the rag aside.

She could barely see him or Nathaniel. Her vision was bleeding black around the edges.

“Come,” he whispered, lifting the wrist and making her scream as her vision went white. “I shall make you a new hand. And you will serve me again.”

But she hadn’t. It had been Jack who broke her out of the healing ward where she lay delirious, his own skin acid-burned and bloody from the cost of her betrayal. And Ingrid, the young verwulfen girl from Balfour’s menagerie whom she’d always felt sorry for.

Because she too knew how it felt to be trapped in a cage.

“I don’t give a damn,” Jack snapped, his hand slicing the air in a sharp gesture. “Balfour used you. And me. He didn’t care whether we came back from our missions alive or dead, Rosa. Well, I do. I can’t find my brother and I’m damned well not going to watch my sister walk into such a dangerous situation.”

She couldn’t bear the cost of Jeremy’s loss on top of what she already owed those she loved. “You can’t stop me,” she said simply. “And I can manage Lynch. I know I can.”

“I’ll chain you to the bloody—”

“Why are you so certain you can manage the Nighthawk?” Ingrid asked.

Rosalind backed away from her brother. Avoid rather than fight. “He’s attracted to me—to Mercury rather. I can manipulate that. Lynch might be a blue blood but he’s still a man.”

“Christ, are you listening to yourself?”

She ignored Jack. “It’s perfect. Almost too perfect. As his secretary, I’ll be given free rein to examine his paperwork at my leisure. If he knows anything about the mechs and Jeremy, then I’ll be able to find it. If not, then I walk away and he never sees me again.”

“That’s if he offers you the position,” Ingrid replied.

“He will.” Jack shot her a cutting look. “Rosa always gets what she wants, doesn’t she?”

Rosalind curled her hands over the back of the chair and stared at him. Hard. He didn’t realize it, but that was capitulation in his voice. “Then that means I’ll find Jeremy.”

“If he’s there. If he’s still alive.” One last parting shot.

Rosalind hid her flinch. She felt better now that she had a plan. “True. But I need to find out if he is. It’s the only way I’ll ever be able to move forward.”

Ingrid frowned. “You’ll need to disguise yourself.”

“It’s one of my talents.”

“Even your height and scent,” Ingrid muttered.

“Find someone roughly my height. ‘Mercury’ can make an appearance while I’m with Lynch. He’ll never suspect me.”

Jack’s face tightened. “So be it. But we do this the way we were trained—and you get out the moment you find the Nighthawk doesn’t have him.”

“Deal,” she said softly, knowing that she had won.


Fog swirled at his feet as Sir Jasper Lynch strode through the narrow alleyway, his great cloak flapping around his ankles and his cane echoing on the cobbles. Each slap of his boot soles seemed to echo the frustration beating in his chest.

Crossing Chancery Lane, he caught sight of the grim building that housed his men. Almost all of them were blue bloods, but their infections had been by chance or accident, rather than intention. Only a son from the best bloodlines of the Echelon was offered the blood rites when they turned fifteen. Any chance infections were considered rogues, and they were offered either a place in the Nighthawks or the Coldrush Guards that served the Ivory Tower. Or death.

Lynch had been the original Nighthawk, but over time the entire guild had come to represent his name. The Nighthawks were legendary in the city, a threat used to cow criminals and revolutionaries alike.

They’d never once been unable to track their prey.

Until now…

The streets were starting to bustle with pre-dawn traffic. A young paperboy with ruddy cheeks from the cold shoved a copy of the London Standard in front of him. “Murders in Kensington! Read all about it! Blue blood gone mad!”

Lynch slipped him a shilling. The Haversham massacre was being investigated by his man Byrnes, a task he’d usually save for himself but for the importance of capturing Mercury. It had been an effort to keep it out of the papers so far. “Any other news, Billy?”

The lad wasn’t the only one he used for information. Though they stood in plain sight, the paperboys were almost invisible in the city. “The Coldrush Guards arrested the London Standard editor yest’day, sir. Found ’im in a cellar with a printing press and a pair of ’umanists.”

“A shame.”

Billy’s eyes gleamed. “Not really. They was escortin’ ’im back to the Ivory Tower when they was attacked last night. Bunch o’ lads swarmed the metaljackets guardin’ ’em and knocked the Coldrush Guards out some’ow. Them ’umanists, they says.”

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