by Juli D. Revezzo
Just released: March 1, 2016
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For Miss Phoebe Lockswell, fashionable London tea parties and balls aren’t her style. Instead, she prefers to tinker tirelessly with a clockwork diffuser she’s built from scratch. If only she can get the invention to work on command, she might earn her way out of an arranged marriage to a repugnant member of the House of Commons.
London watchmaker Mortimer Kidd was brought up hard in the arms of an infamous London gang. Despite the respectability he strives for now, the gang leader is blackmailing him. When Mortimer sees Phoebe’s diffuser, he thinks he’s found a way to buy himself out of trouble. The brash Phoebe manages to steal his heart, however, before he can purloin her invention.
Will Mortimer’s unsavory past catch up to him before he convinces Phoebe of his devotion? Worse, once Phoebe learns the truth, will she ever trust him again?
(From Chapter Three)
This is from the morning after Phoebe returned from the Royal Mechanics Expo—the one her father forbid her from attending!
Phoebe opened her door a crack. Darkness still filled the hallway, except for a trickle of light from the low-burning lamps in the foyer downstairs. As she crept to the stairs, a snore sounded from her mother and father’s bedroom. Phoebe smiled to herself and continued on downstairs. In the kitchen, moonlight gleamed off the pots and pans hanging from hooks along the wall. She crossed to the highboy-style refrigerator and, spying a decanter of sherry, decided a sip or two couldn’t hurt. From the cabinets she pulled forth a glass. Satisfied, she carried her pilfered treasure to her room.
A sip of the sweet drink and she lit one more lamp and opened her toolbox, rummaging around in it as silently as possible. She soon set everything out she needed—screwdriver, small hammer, snips and pliers—unwrapped her diffuser, and set to work.
She ignored the clock, the sounds of milkmen and postmen coming and going as sunrise crept over her windowsill.
Yawning, she blinked at the brass goddess. She settled her eyepiece back to her eye, wishing she had gotten more sleep. Maybe the instrument would correct her sleepy vision. She hoped. She didn’t need to stab her screwdriver in her thigh. What she needed was more sleep. She’d spent half the night dreaming of her utter, abject failure at the Expo.
Mr. Mortimer Kidd inserted himself into her dreams, telling her to set the goddess right with—something. She couldn’t remember what, but even before the sun rose she was awake and determined to make another go of it.
A handsome bloke, that Mortimer, she thought. Maybe he’d come around one afternoon and give her a chance to show him how the diffuser worked. If it ever would function properly. She twisted another screw holding down a spring. The spring twanged as it finally came loose.
Larks twittered outside her window, answering the short, metallic refrain.
A brisk knock sounded on her door.
“Oh, dear God,” Phoebe grumbled.
“Good morning, Miss Phoebe!” the maid sang as she entered.
Phoebe glanced to the door, then turned her attention back to her work. A blanket draped over her lap for comfort as much as to catch any stray screw or cog, a screwdriver in one hand, she puzzled at her creation, trying to figure out why the mechanism wouldn’t budge. No matter she’d spent nearly an hour and a half twisting and tweaking, pulling out and putting parts back in, the brass goddess still wouldn’t dance when she turned its key.
“Go away,” Phoebe grumbled.
“But your tea, Miss,” the maid said, ignoring her plea and setting a silver tray with one of Mother’s blue willow teacups and a saucer on her nightstand.
“I’ve had something already, Giselle, thank you,” Phoebe said, though she suspected she needed more than a glass of sherry. The Exposition and the excitement of the train ride had left her groggy.
The maid ignored her, busying herself with choosing a dress.
“You have no choice!” her father’s deep voice boomed through the room.
Phoebe dropped her screwdriver and squeaked, “Father!”
“Where did you get to yesterday, Phoebe?” he roared. He entered the room, crossed his arms, tugging his dark jacket tight around his buff chest. Usually, she found him handsome, but not so when his dark eyes narrowed at her. “Did I give you permission to go anywhere?”
“I—I—” Phoebe damned herself for stammering. “I was with Cora!”
The maid tried to hide behind her wardrobe’s door. Phoebe thought she glimpsed periwinkle-colored Chinese silk in her hands.
Father’s anger drew her attention away from the hiding woman. “We checked with your dear friend Miss Smythe,” he said. Thick brows knitted together as he glowered, he snatched the dress from the maid’s hands, and threw it at her. “She told me exactly where you’d gone. Get dressed! Sir Dugard is meeting us for breakfast and I expect you to be there.”
Phoebe groaned and collapsed against the back of her chair. “Not him.”
“Five minutes!” Father surveyed her up and down and changed his mind. “Ten, if you wish to wash your face.” He stalked out the room, then. “Hurry up,” he roared as he slammed the door.
The maid pulled the blanket away from her lap. “Better hurry, Miss.”
Phoebe slid her feet to the cold floor and the maid poured a pitcher of cool water into a basin. Phoebe attended to her toilet, damning her father and his poor choice of suitor all the while. The maid proclaimed her “sparkling”—which Phoebe doubted—and handed her a pair of silk stockings, saying, “I don’t want to think what your father will do if you waste any more time.”
“He won’t do anything but scowl,” Phoebe said.
She stood and slid into a slip, then the maid shoved and squeezed her into her gown and tugged the laces tightly. Phoebe sucked in a deep breath on the pain at her waist. She had no time to get her footing before the maid shoved her down onto her vanity’s bench and ripped a brush through her hair.
“Serves you right,” the maid said. She picked up a complementary lilac ribbon and pulled it through her hair, winding it into a braid. “You knew your father was having breakfast with Sir Dugard. Shouldn’t have run away like you did.”
She’d thought that was lunch. Hoped they’d made the date for next doomsday. “I didn’t run away.” But she was considering it now.
“Be that as it may.” The maid tied off the bow. Phoebe made a face at her reflection. Behind her, the maid bent and plucked up her button-up boots. “You have an obligation, like anyone.”
Phoebe snatched up her hat, the one around whose brim she’d laced a pair of magnifying glasses a good friend and glassblower in Bond Street had helped her make. The maid stole it from her hands.
“You won’t need that. Come now, Miss,” the maid said pushing her toward the door. Phoebe snatched her hat again and set it back on her head, trying to step into her boot at the same time. Doubly-distracted, Phoebe hopped her way into the hall—only to stumble to a halt, right into her father.
He surveyed her ensemble and snorted. “That’ll do. See how ladylike you can be when you wish?” He tucked a loose lock of her hair away from her ear. “Smile. It suits you, whether you think so or not.”
She tried to do as Father ordered but she knew he didn’t tell the truth. She rather thought her smile always looked strangled.
Father dashed down the wide staircase ahead of her and she grumbled under her breath. “Five minutes. Just five minutes and I would’ve finished my work. Oh no! You can’t very well let me do as I please.”
Father paused to speak to his valet, and she entered the dining room. One of the family’s maids bustled around, laying china plates with various succulent foods on the oak side table, pouring cups of tea.
Phoebe saw that her brother, William, sat at the family dinner table, pouring cream into his tea, fighting back a yawn. He rose from his seat. “Good morning, Phoebs. Fancy seeing you home today.”
“I should say the same to you.” She placed her hand to the back of his head as she passed, tousling his warm brown curls.
“Oh, stop that, would you?” he said. One eye closed as if he couldn’t keep them both open, he peered at her, and took his seat. “I don’t need accosting, thank you.”
She flopped into her chair and plucked up the teapot.
“Father already said his piece, did he?” William said. “I thought he might see the paper.”
She froze. What paper? “I haven’t seen the newspaper today. Has something interesting happened?”
William’s lip twitched in a smile. “Are you sure you haven’t seen it?”
“Not at all,” she said. “I’ve only arisen this hour.”
“Liar. You’ve been up since before the larks.”
“And you arrived with them,” she said. “How is Sally? Or did you see Maggie, last night?”
William swept up a scone. “Yes, she’s the one who handed me the gossip sheet.”
“Is he?” Father said as he entered the dining room. He tossed a newssheet down on the table before him, and glared at Phoebe. “I’ve seen it, too. The reporter says he spotted you at the Royal Mechanics Society Expo, yesterday. In Southend-on-Sea.”
“And on the train to London, afterwards,” her brother added around a yawn.
Blast it! “Must be a case of mistaken identity,” she said, taking a biscuit from the china plate in the center of the table. “Cora and I went to the park yesterday.”
“That’s not what she said.”
Phoebe’s hand froze in mid-air. “Yes, you said you’d happened upon Cora. I’m shocked to learn she was out so early. She was as worn out as I, last night. The heat, you know. She probably didn’t know what she was saying.”
“Then my hours must be transposed. I thought I saw her last afternoon,” Father said. “She wished to tell me she couldn’t wait to hear about how the Royal Mechanics Expo went.” He ground his teeth, causing his dark beard to twitch. “I want to hear all about it too.”
“I can’t remember any Expo,” she lied. Cora, you are dead when I see you.
“Don’t see how you forgot,” her brother interjected. “Did you find anything interesting there?”
Phoebe narrowed her eyes, angling her head to see the story he pointed to. The word “Expo” stood out in bold letters above a sepia toned photograph of a crowded hall. Beneath that, a story about suffragettes and she briefly wondered if Cora might be attending some meeting tonight.
“A good question,” her father continued, his age-softened face turning red in an attempt to keep from screaming, she hoped. “I thought you took your tittering brass music box with you.” His glare said he knew already that she had.
“Really, Father,” she said, ripping a biscuit in two and planning to do the same to her dear friend Cora as soon as she saw her.
“After I expressly forbid you from showing that obscene thing to anyone!”
Phoebe buttered the biscuit, trying to think of how to save this situation and hoping for the best. “I don’t remember anything about an Expo. I do want to hear about your meeting with Sir Evans, though.”
“Young lady, I suspect you’ll have plenty of time to remember,” Father roared, “since you are to stay to our home for the next two weeks. You’ll have plenty of time to think, while you help your mother with her correspondence.”
Phoebe blinked. “Father, I protest—”
“Starting today,” he said.
“But I had plans.”
He poured tea into his cup, ignoring her. After an unbearably long silence he added, “I should ground you for the rest of your life. However, Sir Dugard is attending Miss Smythe’s party, so you must go.”
God spare her! Why must Dugard ruin the party for her? Maybe accepting Father’s punishment would be preferable. “Yes, sir.”
“He, along with several other eligible gentlemen,” Mother said as she entered, perfectly arranged in a fashionable silk morning gown, her long brunette hair piled up on her head in a bun, she exuded an air of elegance Phoebe envied. Mother and Father kissed, then she bestowed a kiss on her son and took her seat between them. “Between Miss Cora’s party and our dinner, next month, we can’t help but find someone to accept you, my sweet.”
Phoebe stabbed at a slice of ham. Let them try to find her a husband. She had no intention of accepting anyone, for her part. Not yet, at any rate. Least of all the corpulent Sir Dugard. Any punishment her father doled out would be preferable to spending time with Sir Fat Pig.
The butler entered the dining room then and Phoebe could’ve kissed him for interrupting. “Sir Dugard has arrived, sir,” he announced.
She groaned and dropped her head into her hands.
“Smile, my dear,” Father said. “He loves you, after all.”
“You love his money, is the truth of it,” she grumped.
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