Get a grip, Etta. She needed to stay here and find the astrolabe, and she wouldn’t be able to do that if she was locked away. But part of her hated that these people had seen her at her weakest, her most helpless, and she couldn’t ignore it. They needed to know she would fight back if they pushed her.
“Easy there!” Julian cried. He craned his neck up to look at the men. “Aren’t you going to do something?”
The pale-haired man raised his small black pistol, then swore, tucking it back into the waistband of his trousers. “Come along, girlie, it’s time for you to go back up to your room.”
Etta swung her makeshift weapon toward him, ignoring the small, warm pool of blood collecting in her palm from where she’d cut herself. “I don’t think so.”
Dull footsteps grew to a pounding storm out in the hallway, and the music she’d heard before cut off with a loud scratch. She caught snatches of voices shouting, “She’s gone!” “Find her!” and a variety of swearing that would have made even the men in Nicholas’s crew blush.
“She’s here!” the dark-haired man called. “The office!”
The rush of panicked activity ceased, but one voice rang out. “Thank you; that’ll be all the excitement for this evening, God willing.”
The two guards straightened—the smaller of the two even reached up to fix the limp cloth hanging around his neck into something resembling a bow tie. A man strode into the darkened corner of the room, hands tucked into his trouser pockets.
“We were handling the situation, sir,” the dark-haired one said quickly. “I was about to return the girl to her quarters.”
“I see,” came the amused response. “But it seems to me that she’s the one who has this situation well in hand.”
The man stepped into the shallow firelight, giving Etta her first real glimpse of him. It was the guard from her room. Dark eyes swept around the room, studying each of them in turn, but his gaze lingered on her, so unflinching that it seemed to wipe everyone else away, leaving just the two of them.
The man’s presence made her blood slow, and finally still in her veins, but the trickle of uneasiness she’d felt at his appearance was nothing compared to the torrent of uneasiness that came in the moment where her memory met recognition. Etta wasn’t aware that the glass had slipped from between her fingers until it fell, striking the top of her bare foot, and rolled away.
The black hair, cut through with silver strands…his rough-hewn features…she wasn’t seeing him in the high-waisted pants or loose white shirt he currently wore. She saw him in a classic black-and-white tuxedo, wearing silver-rimmed glasses, in the Grand Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the twenty-first century.
“You recognize me,” he said, with a small, approving note in his voice—like he’d expected she wouldn’t?
Not only had she bumped into him, he’d come running when she and Sophia had found Alice dying in a pool of her own blood. Almost as if he’d known it might happen.
Or as if he’d been the one to pull the trigger.
The two guards immediately stepped closer to the man’s side, as though they’d been drawn into his orbit.
He looked to Julian and said, this time with a slight edge, “How did I know to check this room first?”
“She dropped in on me,” Julian protested, pointing to the window. “I was minding my own business. For once.”
The man flicked his dark gaze to Etta, and this time she forced herself to meet it. The corners of his mouth tipped up again. “I don’t need to ask how you got in here, for I suspect the mountain of scaffolding piled up outside is likely my answer. Tell me, did it ever occur to you that you could have broken your neck?”
He was so calm, his voice so measured, that he made the rest of them sound manic. Even his posture, the way he hadn’t once tensed up, made her want to ruffle his composure, just to see how far he could be pushed. To see where the boundaries of his anger began. It would be useful later, she thought, in trying to trick him into saying something about the astrolabe, and where the Thorns might be keeping it.
“You know,” Etta said, “you’re making me wish I had.”
She wiped her slick palms against the horrible nightgown, wary of the man’s warm laughter, the spark of enjoyment in his voice. He turned to the bald guard, knocking the back of his hand against the other man’s chest. “I told you she had some spirit, didn’t I?”
“You did,” the guard confirmed. “Sir, I take full responsibility for all of this—”
“Sir” waved his hand before placing it on the guard’s shoulder. “I was there and slept through her clever escape. Have Winifred dress her and bring her to me once she’s comfortable and presentable, will you?”
“Yes, of course, sir,” the guard said, nearly sagging with relief.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Etta said, taking a step forward. “I don’t even know who you are! What right do you have to order me around?”
The man had already begun to turn toward the door, but at her words, his shoulders stiffened. He glanced back over his shoulder, but the candlelight flared in his glasses, masking his expression. Julian coughed, either to hide a laugh or his discomfort.
“My name is Henry Hemlock, and you’re here at my mercy,” the man said. “You will do as I say, because I am your father and we have much to discuss.”
THE STORM HAD BROKEN AT DAWN, bringing a bit of mercy to what had been a night that redefined misery. Nicholas and Sophia trudged and waded through still-flooded streets, following the path of the runoff toward the beach. Servants were waking, appearing on the balconies of bright, two-story wooden buildings to beat rugs and toss out the waste, and the smell was rank enough to leave him feeling as if the small town had become one large chamber pot. After a rather unfortunate splash of something he didn’t care to inspect, Sophia’s mood had gone from sour to curdled.
They’d spent hours hiding from the tavern owner; the whoreson had sent out a veritable gang of men and Redcoats to find someone to hold accountable for the damage the fight had wrought, and had settled on them. This, despite his own gleeful participation. The dodging and hiding had considerably hampered their search for the man who’d stolen Rose’s letter. As it turned out, even a rare Chinese man in the Indies didn’t attract the necessary attention to leave a trail of witnesses behind. Nicholas had caught himself wondering more than once if he’d had more to drink than he thought, and made a man out of a shadow.