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Bec McMaster

My Lady Quicksilver

London Steampunk - 3

Copyright © 2013 by Bec McMaster

Cover and internal design © 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design by Joanna Metzger

Cover illustration by Gene Mollica

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

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To Michelle, who loved it first.

One

“You have three weeks to find Mercury…or I swear you’ll share his fate…”

Smoke belched with a coughing roar from a distant furnace as Sir Jasper Lynch leaned against the edge of a chimney, staring through the smoky gloom, the echo of the prince consort’s words ringing in his ears.

His gaze tracked the foggy streets below, hunting for any sign of movement as he slowly stretched cramped muscles. As Master of the Guild of Nighthawks—thief-catchers and trackers—he’d spent the last week hunting for leads on the mysterious revolutionary leader, Mercury, whose humanist movement was plaguing London.

And now he’d found one.

No mention of the name Mercury, but Lynch’s instincts were on fire at the rumor of a shipment that was due to be smuggled out of the steamy enclaves on the edges of the city—a particular shipment that was received every month at this time, though his informant hadn’t known what it was.

Easy enough to guess. The enclaves were both jail and factory, where the mechs within were forced to work steel in repayment for their mechanical limbs. This particular enclave was responsible for manufacturing mech parts for the automaton army that protected the aristocratic Echelon.

In the distance, chimneys lurked in the smog like little watchtowers. A foghorn echoed mournfully as the boat slowly traversed the Thames. The world seemed unnaturally silent beneath its ethereal blanket, but for the faint whisper of movement in the shadows.

“Here,” someone murmured in the alley below him. “Is that them? Someone give ’em the signal.”

Lynch’s head snapped up.

Tendrils of fog eddied around a man on the other rooftop, licking at his legs and cloak—Garrett. Making a sharp gesture with his fingers, Lynch silently directed his lieutenant. There were four other shapes in the dark, but he couldn’t see them, only hear a faint scraping sound that whispered on the tiles through his aural communicator. Made of fine brass pieces and leather, it fit in his ear perfectly, a transmitter receiving every whisper that Garrett made. Garrett’s matching piece could relay his commands no matter where they both were.

The sound of iron scraping over cobbles echoed in the still night. Someone hissed a warning and the sound cut off. Lynch leaned forward, cocking his head to listen.

“Quiet.” This was a voice of command, cool and low. “D’you want the world to ’ear us? Remember, the friggin’ bleeders can ’ear for miles.”

Definitely humanists.

Lynch crouched low on the edge of the tiled roof, his heart fluttering in his chest with anticipation. Darkness swallowed him as he leaned over the edge, his eyes picking out his prey immediately. One of the benefits of the craving virus that afflicted him was superior senses. A blue blood could see on the darkest of nights and hear the faintest whisper, though that barely made up for the fierce hunger he could never quite assuage, the unrelenting craving for blood…

A trio of cloaked figures hovered in the alley, a phosphorescent flare stick shielded by one of their cloaks. One was a tall man, with broad shoulders beneath the concealing cloak and pockmarked cheeks. He knelt and dragged a heavy crate out of the open sewer grate in the cobbles.

Lynch’s eyes narrowed. There were men within the sewers, but he couldn’t tell if they were from the enclaves or more of this mysterious group.

Holding up a hand to counteract his previous command, Lynch melted back into the shadows to listen. If the mechs were using the nearby sewer systems to smuggle metalwork out of the enclaves, then the prince consort needed to know.

A month ago, the humanists had tried to bomb the Ivory Tower, the seat of the Echelon’s power. The handling of the bombing had been a disaster, with half the aristocratic Echelon trampling through his evidence and only one witness, who sullenly refused to talk, in custody. The only piece of evidence Lynch had was in his pocket: a piece of leather that had torn from a woman’s cloak in one of the antechambers. A humanist, he suspected, and one involved in the bombing. The scent of her was long faded from the worn leather, but if he closed his eyes, he knew he could bring her scent to mind. It filled him, branding his memory as if he could never escape her.

Maybe she would be below? His blood fired at the thought. He wanted to find her—he needed to. Though sometimes, in the dark of night, he wondered if his reasons for this madness were the same as the prince consort’s.

Swallowing hard, Lynch forced the thought of the mysterious woman from his mind. He had a job to do.

What could the humanists be doing here? Were they after explosives? Or maybe a weapon to counteract the heavily armored metal automatons that patrolled the streets?

He needed to get his hands on that crate.

“Hurry,” the leader snapped. “We’re already behind schedule.”

A man grunted. “’S bloody heavy, you know?”

“Steel often is,” came the reply.

“What’s that?” someone hissed.

Silence fell. Lynch faded back against the brickwork of a chimney.

“Thought I saw somethin’ movin’,” the same person murmured. “Up there. On the roof.”

“Nighthawks?”

“’Urry it up,” the leader snapped. “We need to move. Now.”

Lynch scowled as one of the Nighthawks darted between chimneys. Too late. They’d been seen.

Lynch stepped onto the incline of the roof and rode it to the edge, leaping out over nothingness. He saw Garrett and the others moving at the edge of his vision, then he landed in the swirling fog that clung to the cobbles

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