His fingers moved on the roof of the carriage. The top swung open on small hinges. He reached into the cab. A few seconds later the ticking ceased. The currents of energy that Virginia had been holding in neutral winked out of existence. Cautiously, she relaxed her senses. There was no more energy coming from the toy’s windows.

“A standard clockwork mechanism.” Owen got to his feet. “One stops the carriage just as one would a clock. Come, let’s find that girl.”

Virginia was already in motion. She went past a row of ancient dark cells, the lantern held high.

“Becky?” she called. “Where are you?”

“Damn it,” Owen muttered. He moved quickly to catch up with her. “Have a care, Virginia. There may be other traps.”

She was vaguely aware that he had used her first name as though they were longtime friends rather than near strangers, but she paid no attention. She stopped in front of a heavy wood-and-iron door. A small opening in the door was blocked by bars. A terrified young woman of no more than fourteen or fifteen years looked out, fingers gripping the iron rods. Her eyes were hollow with fear and tears.

“Are you badly hurt?” Virginia asked.

“No, ma’am. But it’s a good thing you came along when you did. There’s no telling what would have happened to me.”

Owen took out his lock pick. “I’ll have you out of there in a moment.”

“What occurred here?” Virginia asked gently.

Becky hesitated. “I don’t remember too much, ma’am. I was at my usual corner outside the tavern. A fine carriage stopped. A handsome gentleman inside leaned out and said he thought that I was very pretty. Said he’d pay me twice my usual fee. I got into the carriage, and that is the last thing that I recall until I woke up in this dreadful place. I called and called for the longest time, but no one ever answered. I gave up. Then I heard you and your gentleman friend.”

Owen got the door open and stood back. “Come along, Becky. We’ve wasted enough time here.”

Becky hurried out of the cell. “Thank you, sir.”

Owen did not respond. He was looking at the stone floor. Virginia felt dark energy shift in the atmosphere and knew that he had raised his talent, whatever it was.

“Interesting,” he said.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I believe this may have been where Hollister encountered the person who planted that knife in his chest.”

He kept his voice very low, but Virginia knew that Becky was not paying any attention. The girl was wholly focused on getting out of the stone tunnel.

“You can see that sort of thing?” Virginia asked.

“I can see where the killer stood when she did the deed,” Owen said.

“A woman killed him?”

“Yes. What is more, she was mad as a hatter.”

“Dear heaven. Lady Hollister.”


It occurred to Owen that he had no right to be offended by Virginia’s deeply wary attitude. After all, he was a Sweetwater. As a rule, women were either fascinated or repelled by the men of his family. There was rarely any middle ground. But regardless of which group they fell into, women intuitively considered Sweetwater men dangerous. According to his Aunt Marian, an aura-talent, something about the auras of the Sweetwater males made sensible people — male and female, talented and untalented alike — uneasy.

Nevertheless, romantic fool that he was, Virginia’s edgy suspicion had blindsided him. He was chagrined to realize that he actually felt rather crushed. It was his own fault for employing poor tactics, he thought. In hindsight, establishing himself as a psychical investigator who specialized in exposing fraudulent practitioners had been a mistake. But he had not been able to think of any other way to gain entree into the tightly knit community of practitioners affiliated with the Leybrook Institute.

There would be time enough to ponder his blunder later, he told himself. He now had two females to escort to safety.

He picked up the clockwork carriage and tucked it under one arm. The small horses dangled in their harnesses.

“Miss Dean, if you would take the lantern,” he said.

“I have it,” she said, hoisting the lantern.

He looked at both women. “Stay close.” He started forward. “We will leave this place the same way I entered, through the old drying shed. There is a carriage waiting nearby.”

He heard a small muffled sound behind him. The lantern light flared wildly on the stone walls.

“Are you all right, Miss Dean?” he asked.

“Yes, of course,” she said coolly. “I stumbled on one of the floor stones. They are very uneven, and the lighting is quite poor down here.”

In spite of his ill-tempered mood, he smiled a little to himself. Virginia Dean was living up to his expectations. It would take more than a bloody corpse and an encounter with a deadly clockwork curiosity to shatter her nerves.

Not that he had anticipated weak nerves from her. He had known from the beginning that she was a formidable lady infused with determination and a strong spirit. She was also a woman of considerable talent. He had never doubted that, unlike the talents of so many of her colleagues at the Institute, her gifts were genuine. There was an exhilarating energy in the atmosphere around her — at least he found it exhilarating.

In his experience, the vast majority of her competitors and colleagues were outright frauds. The best that could be said of most of them was that they were entertainers who, like magicians and illusionists, had perfected showy tricks based on sleight of hand. At worst, they were villains who deliberately deceived and exploited the gullible.

But Virginia Dean was different. He had been transfixed by her from the first moment he saw her. That had been a week ago, when he had stood at the back of a small group of Arcane researchers gathered in Lady Pomeroy’s elegant drawing room and watched Virginia perform a mirror reading. When she looked into the glass above the fireplace, he had been acutely aware of the energy that had crackled in the atmosphere.

Their eyes had met fleetingly in the mirror before she looked away. He had sensed in that brief connection that she was as aware of him as he was of her. At least, that was what he had wanted to believe.

She had worn a dark, conservatively tailored gown with a high neck; long, tight sleeves; and a small, discreetly draped bustle similar to the one she had on tonight. Her hair had been pinned beneath a crisp little confection of a hat. If she had chosen the sober attire in an effort to offset the feylike quality bestowed by her red- gold hair and haunted, blue-green eyes, she had failed spectacularly. She was not beautiful in the traditional sense; she was something far more intriguing to a man of his nature: a woman of mystery and power. Everything that was male in him was enthralled.

He had been certain that she was aware of his intense interest that day, and he’d known something else as well. She had been quietly seething. Lady Pomeroy, the woman who had commissioned the reading, had not informed her ahead of time that there would be an audience of paranormal investigators. He could see that Virginia had not appreciated having the surprise sprung on her.

He did not know what Virginia had seen in the mirror that evening, but when she was finished she had turned away to speak very quietly to Lady Pomeroy. The others in the crowd had clamored loudly, demanding to ask questions and conduct experiments on her talent.

She had faced them with an air of icy disdain that would have suited a very displeased Queen Victoria.

“I do not read mirrors for the purpose of entertaining others or satisfying their curiosity. When I

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