This is yet another fantasy series. I'm just going to hurl you into it. I'm not sure how long this story will run, but it's a testing ground for a longer, more detailed novel.
For the full chapter list of Out of Shadows, go here.
- 1 -
When Dominic Bentley stepped through the front door of his new place of employment with his sister, his new employer was killing a man in the upstairs hallway.
The sound of the gunshot roared like thunder, drowning out the sound of Carlotta Livingstone’s lovely voice on the phonograph. It nearly deafened Jon Perry in the small space, though he thought he could hear a feminine shriek of surprise- or was it an obscenity?
He couldn’t be certain because right at that moment one of his assailants caught him by the back of his shirt and his gun hand and hauled him into washroom. He rammed Perry’s hand against the edge of the marble counter and shoved his face into wash basin as the gun fell with a clatter to the floor. Perry roared in pain and sucked in soapy water before he could stop himself.
He kicked out at the man holding him down, but the man was bigger and kept him held tight against the washstand. Perry could see black at the edges and his lungs burned and was the floor shaking a little?
Suddenly the man let him go and someone hauled him up. He turned, coughing up water, and saw a beautiful woman with curling brown hair and blue eyes beating his assailant with the cast iron skillet.
The man who pulled him from the washbasin clapped him on the back to help get the water out of him and cleared his throat. “You are Jon Perry?” he asked. “I only ask to make sure my sister isn’t beating the wrong fellow.”
“Yeah,” Perry managed, sputtering. “Yes. You-” He stopped, coughing again and had to bend down with his hands on his knees.
“Dominic Bentley,” the man said. “I was the one who answered your advertisement for an assistant,” he added, as if he worried that Perry wouldn’t remember. Then he said, “Lettie, please. The man is clearly unconscious. I’m sorry, Mr. Perry. I didn’t mean to bring her but she refused to stay at the hotel.”
Lettie Bentley dropped the skillet. It landed on the floorboards with a dull clatter. “It’s a good thing you didn’t leave me,” she said.
“I could have done that,” Dominic countered. “Anyone with a brain and working arms could beat someone with a pan.”
“Well, you only have part of that necessary equation,” she replied curtly. She went to Perry and put her hand on his arm. “Are you alright, sir? There’s a dead man in the hallway.”
Perry straightened, drawing in a deep, careful, steadying breath. “I know. We were not friends.”
She bent down to retrieve his gun and aimed it at the unconscious man on the floor. “What should we do with this fellow?”
“We should do nothing,” Perry replied, bending down to put the man over his shoulder. He suppressed a hiss of pain. His hand hurt like the devil. “I will take it from here.”
“At least let me help,” Dominic said. “I am to be your assistant after all.”
“Get my gun from the lady,” Perry replied. “And then you can help me get the dead one downstairs.”
“Get the dead man,” she said. “I’ll bring the gun.”
Perry wanted to argue. That gun kicked like a mule. But he reasoned that Miss Bentley, small and slight as she was, couldn’t be expected to carry a man down the stairs. “Just leave him in the front room,” Perry said. He took the other man down into the cellar and dropped him in a chair. The light from upstairs was dim so he lit the lamps before he found the rope he needed to keep the fellow docile.
“Going to kill this one, too?” Dominic asked from the stairs.
“Maybe,” Perry replied. He slapped the man’s cheek lightly to wake him once he had him securely tied. “You probably don’t want to be here for it. I don’t expect I’ll get into any trouble with it, but maybe you don’t want your first actions in Moorgate Hollow to include murder.”
“I earned that sort of reputation back in Worthington,” Dominic replied. “Why were they trying to kill you?”
“Because I’m getting in their employer’s way.” Perry wrinkled his nose, and then he slapped the man hard. “Robson, wake up.”
The man blinked slowly, moaned, strained feebly at his bonds. “Go to hell,” he muttered hoarsely.
“You did try your damndest to send me there.” To Dominic, he said, “Got hired by Hely Industries. One of their airships was shot down and they’re a bit miffed. Well, specifically the owner is miffed. But I’m inclined to think that I’m being lied to on all ends here. Not surprising, given that Miss Hely can be a bit...” He searched for the right word.. “Well, a bit of a pain in the ass, honestly. Good-looking woman, though.”
“You tell her?” Robson asked.
Without warning, Perry punched him in the jaw with the hand that didn’t hurt. “That seems like the kind of question you should have asked before you tried to kill me. Now you answer my questions. What was in the airship?”
Lettie had followed them and sat quietly on the stairway, watching her brother and Perry, and when Perry asked his question, she watched his eyes particularly. She saw that when Perry asked what was in the airship, he knew the answer already already. And what’s more, when he said “Miss Hely,” she saw anger and a touch of fear in his eyes, and she wondered what cause he could have to fear one young heiress.
Felicity Hely was, as Perry had so flatteringly put it, a good-looking women. Her hair was golden blond and did its best to artfully escape the pins she used to tame it, and her eyes were very, very green. Her skin was porcelain fair, and she was willow-slender and not quite tall enough to make most men feel inadequate. She wore a becoming rose silk dress and a wide-brimmed hat trimmed with flowers, and she knew she made quite the fetching picture in the light from the gold-tinted windows.
She lounged back in her chair, looking out at the passing countryside far below, at the mountains in the distance and the vast, rocky moors and field of brilliant heather and thought sourly, would that I should never see Moorgate Hollow again.
It was there, too, still in the distance, and it would take some time for the airship to land and let its passengers out. The lonely city in the wild north, built on the bones of a fallen city and fed by a steady stream of precious metals, and the strange and priceless treasures of the ancient world. It was near as huge and sprawling as Worthington in the far more genteel and civilized south, but as wild as the land it sprawled in. It had no universities or great libraries. The fashions were always a year or more out of date. The people were as rough as the land.
Felicity wished ardently that she could return to Worthington, but her father had died and left his business to her, and business had gone awry.
As if to lend strength to her irritation, a man appeared at her table. She knew he could not have boarded the airship in Worthington, or at any of the stops they had made along the way. She said, “Have you glamoured yourself a ticket stub? It would be shameful to create a scene.”
Isaac Teague settled into the seat across from her and smiled a wide, irritating smile at her. He was not unattractive. His hair was dark and thick and wavy, and just touched with grey in a most appealing manner. There was a scar along his right cheek but it was narrow and subtle and might almost have gone unnoticed if not for the way the stubble of his beard would not grow along the line of it. His eyes were a muddy shade of hazel, but that was not what made them ugly. He leered at her across the space between them, and said in a low, lazy, drawl, “Perry not getting it done for you, madam?”
“Crawl back into whatever shadow you slithered out of,” she replied.
“I saw the strangest thing last night,” he said. “I could’ve sworn I saw him in the papers from Worthington. A man that got off the train late last night, I mean. Looked just like the fellow that got into that duel over that actress with James Morgan. Your betrothed, right?”
Felicity did not give him the satisfaction of the correction to his statement. He knew very well she had not been betrothed to James Morgan for nearly a year, and it was the actress that had ended it.
“And oddity of oddities,” he continued, “I saw him going into Perry’s little establishment this morning. Lucky for Perry. I sent men to speak with him. I expect they’ll have been interrupted.”
“How unfortunate,” she replied. “It is such a shame when a conversation is cut off before it has finished.”
“What are you playing at?”
She smiled at him. It was a debutante’s smile, beautiful and reserved. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, Mr. Teague.”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. I know what your father shipped out here. I know who he was dealing with. We expect that shipment, Miss Hely.”
“Oh? Do you work for Mayor Ashworth?” she asked, innocent as her debutante’s smile.
“It was never supposed to reach that damned fool,” he snarled. “And you know it.”
“I am sure I could not say what you are talking about,” she said. “But the shipment has gone missing. I’m here to look for it and when I find it, it will go where it belongs.”
Teague drew a silver cigarette tin from inside his jacket pocket. He did not look at her as he selected a cigarette and said, “You should honor your father’s deals.”
“Provide proof that he made a deal, and then perhaps we can talk.”
“You are always meddling in things you ought to leave alone. Your father’s dead, Miss Hely,” Teague said, putting the tin back and patting himself down with a lighter. “He can’t protect you anymore.”
Felicity leaned forward and snapped her fingers delicately at the end of his cigarette, and a little flame suddenly danced there above her hand. She smiled at him, still reserved, still innocent, sweet as the first spring sunlight. “I have not needed anyone’s protection in some time, Mr. Teague. Now, you really ought to go. I think I see one of the stewards and he will not recognize you.”
Teague glared at her, but he went away. She watched him, looking for the way he came in, and saw him disappear into the shadows behind a curtain. She looked around for other curtains, other shadows, and when she had spied them all and fixed them in her mind, she settled back in her chair again and waited to land in Moorgate Hollow.