accepted this commission, I believed it to be a serious request. I did not realize that I was to be tested and examined. I’m afraid I don’t have time for that sort of nonsense.”

At that point she had given them her back and walked out the door without another word. The shock that had momentarily electrified the small group that was left behind in the drawing room had amused Owen to no end. Lady Pomeroy and the researchers from the Arcane Society all moved in eminently respectable — and in some cases exclusive — circles. They were not accustomed to enduring the cold scorn of a lowly psychical practitioner, a woman who actually went into the world to earn her living with her talents.

When they had recovered, they awaited the verdict from a flushed and very annoyed Lady Pomeroy.

“What did she tell you, madam?” Hedgeworth asked.

“Miss Dean informed me that my husband was not murdered, nor was his death a suicide, as some suspected,” Lady Pomeroy said brusquely. “According to her, Carlton was alone here in the drawing room when he died of natural causes, as I have always believed. There was no indication of violence.”

“Well, that was a perfectly safe thing for her to say, wasn’t it?” one of the other observers pointed out. “There is no proving otherwise after all these months.”

“She no doubt researched the matter of your husband’s death before she came here today, Lady Pomeroy,” Hobson said. “The particulars were in the papers, after all. The press called it a stroke.”

“Quite right,” one of the others said. “The Dean woman could well be a fraud. The charlatans in that field are very clever. And since none of us is a glasslight-talent, we cannot be certain that we, ourselves, were not deceived.”

But Owen had known with every fiber of his being that Virginia Dean possessed a true talent. The shadows in her eyes told him that she had witnessed death many times over. He knew those shadows well. He saw similar ghosts in his own eyes every time he looked into a mirror.

He turned down another hallway, Virginia and Becky at his heels.

“I admire your fortitude, Miss Dean,” he said. “And that of Miss Becky, as well. You have both been through a great deal tonight. Many people, male or female, would have been thoroughly rattled by now.”

“Never fear, Mr. Sweetwater,” Virginia said. “Becky and I will indulge ourselves in a bracing case of shattered nerves at a more convenient time, won’t we, Becky?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Becky said. “Right now I just want to get out of this place.”

“My sentiments precisely,” Virginia said. “Becky, are you certain you can’t recall anything after getting into the man’s carriage earlier today?”

“No, ma’am.” Becky hesitated. “Just that the gentleman seemed so handsome and so charming. And the flowers. I remember those as well.”

“What flowers?”

“I’m not sure, but I think I smelled something sickeningly sweet, like dying roses.”

“Chloroform,” Virginia said grimly. “You were drugged, Becky. That is why you don’t remember what happened to you.”

Owen opened the door at the top of the stairs and ushered them into the old drying shed.

“Please do not mistake me, sir, ma’am,” Becky said. “I am truly grateful to both of you. But I don’t understand how the two of you managed to find me tonight. How did you know where I was?”

“Mr. Sweetwater is an investigator,” Virginia said. “A sort of private inquiry agent. Finding people is what he does. Isn’t that right, sir?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Owen said.

“Oh, I see.” Becky’s expression cleared. “I’ve never met a private inquiry agent. It sounds a very interesting profession.”

“It has its moments,” Owen said.

He opened the door, heightened his senses and looked out into the night-shrouded gardens. Nothing moved in the fogbound darkness. The walled grounds that surrounded the mansion were as eerily silent as they had been earlier, when he had arrived. The mansion also appeared deserted. No light glowed in any of the windows.

He led the women out of the shed.

Behind him, Becky spoke quietly to Virginia.

“Are you Mr. Sweetwater’s assistant, ma’am?” she asked.

“No,” Virginia said firmly. “I do not work for Mr. Sweetwater.”

“Ah, then you are his mistress,” Becky said, speaking with the wisdom of the streets. “I thought so. It must be very exciting to be the mistress of a private inquiry agent.”

Owen winced and braced himself for the thunderstorm he knew was about to light up the garden. But to his amazement, Virginia did not lose her temper. She kept her voice polite, almost gentle. One would never know that she had just been grievously insulted.

“No, Becky,” she said. “I do not have any sort of personal or intimate relationship with Mr. Sweetwater.”

“I don’t understand,” Becky said. “If you don’t work for him and if you’re not his mistress, why are you out here with him in the middle of the night?”

“I was at loose ends this evening,” Virginia said. “I thought it might be amusing to go out on an adventure with a private inquiry agent.”

“I expect it was thrilling,” Becky said.

“Yes, indeed,” Virginia said.

Owen glanced back over his shoulder. “Thrilling, was it, Miss Dean?”

“Perhaps that is not the perfect word,” Virginia said.

He got them through the garden gate and down the alley to the waiting carriage. The figure on the box stirred and looked down.

“I see you found not one but two ladies, Uncle Owen,” Matt said. “A good night’s work.”

“There was a bit of luck involved, but everyone is safe.” Owen opened the door of the cab. “We are going to drop our guests off at their respective addresses.”

“Aye, sir,” Matt said.

Virginia drew Owen aside while Becky got into the vehicle.

“We will take Becky to the charity house in Elm Street,” she said quietly. “She will be well taken care of there tonight. The woman who operates the house will give Becky a clean bed, a good meal, and offer her a way off the streets.”

“I know the place,” Owen said. He smiled. “Are you aware that it has recently come under the auspices of the Arcane Society?”

“Arcane is operating a refuge for young prostitutes?” Disbelief rang in Virginia’s voice. “I don’t believe it. When did the Society develop an interest in charity?”

“I’m told it is the modern era, Miss Dean. The world is changing, and so is the Arcane Society.”

Hah. I sincerely doubt that lot of arrogant, hidebound old alchemists is capable of change.”

She turned and went up the steps and into the cab. He climbed in behind the women, put the clockwork weapon on the floor of the vehicle, sat down and closed the door. The carriage rattled forward down the lane.

Becky frowned at the clockwork device. “Is that a toy?”

“No,” Owen said. “It is an automaton, a clockwork curiosity. Someone evidently left it behind. Thought I’d salvage it.”

“Oh,” Becky said. “It is very pretty.”

“Yes,” he said.

She lost interest immediately and sank back into the corner of the seat with a small sigh. “Do you think the handsome man in the carriage will try to find me? He will no doubt be very angry when he discovers that I am gone. He knows the corner where I conduct my business.”

“I promise you that you will never see him again,” Virginia said. She touched the girl’s hand. “You are safe.”

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