Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Kate Cross’s Claire and Alistair from Touch of Steel.
The Wardens of the Realm are a group with extraordinary abilities, dedicated to protecting England from any threat. But in this steam-powered world, there’s a fine line between enemy and ally…
Reeling from her brother’s death, beautiful American spy Claire Brooks has vowed revenge on the member of The Company who she believes to be responsible: Stanton Howard. But when she chases the man to London, Claire is captured by the Wardens of the Realm and placed in the custody of the Earl of Wolfred, the dashing Alistair Payne.
Seeing the prospect of retribution slipping away, Claire convinces Alistair that she has defected and will help him take down The Company. As they travel via steam liner, Claire and Alistair must pretend to be engaged. Claire can’t deny the growing attraction she feels for her pretend husband, but when Howard is finally within her reach, she will have to decide whether her true loyalties lie with The Company or with her heart…
Make sure you stick around to the end. We’ll be giving away a copy of Heart of Brass, the first novel in the Clockwork Agents series.
A Christmas Intrigue
Claire Brooks-Payne, Countess Wolfred, spared a glance for her husband as she leisurely picked through a pile of hand-knit, fur-lined gloves. “All Father Christmas’s look strange to me. There’s just something about a man with a patently false beard and padded belly that’s not to be trusted. Do you think Arden would like these?”
Alastair looked at the red gloves. “She’d prefer violet, or those olive colored ones.”
“You’re right. Those would be much better suited to her complexion.” She smiled and handed him the red gloves. “You can buy these for me.”
He took them, because the notion of denying her never occurred to him, and because his focus was elsewhere. “Are you certain you don’t find that fellow suspect?”
Sighing, his wife turned to look at the man. Claire was the most beautiful woman Alastair had ever seen, and in the warm glow of the shop lamps, her cheeks flushed from the cold outside, she looked positively angelic.
Thankfully she didn’t act angelic.
Her full lips pursed and her eyes narrowed. “You’re right. Is it… It’s an automaton.”
“Cheap skates,” Alastair muttered. Leave it to one of these ridiculously expensive ‘department’ stores to use a mechanical substitute for a real person.
Claire shrugged. “The children don’t seem to mind.”
And they didn’t. They pointed and waved, and smiled, tugging on their parents’ hands to get a closer look as the chubby old ‘man’ moved about his Christmas workshop.
Alastair wrinkled his nose. “Do you smell something burning?”
Claire sniffed. “I do.” Then she pointed one long, gloved finger at Father Christmas. “Is that smoke?”
“Sweet hell. The bloody thing’s on fire.”
Automatons used a variety of mechanical components, determined by their makers. Some were driven by a complex logic engine, while others were more simplistic. Others weren’t much more than wind-up, clockwork toys. This was one of the middle of the road variety. It moved and had a series of recorded phrases on the cylinder in its chest. The phrases played on a random pattern as the machine moved, making it appear even more life-like.
As life-like a mechanical doll could be.
A spark burst from the machine’s back. A family near the display jumped back in surprise. The young boy cried out in dismay.
Alastair moved forward. “It’s quite all right, Father Christmas is just having a bit of sport. Why don’t you come back a little later once he’s had his tea?” The look he gave the parents told them to evacuate the area immediately.
Another spark flew. The machine’s glass eyes seemed to be lit from within. A malfunctioning automaton was about as reliable as a mad man. Brilliant.
“Alert the staff,” he told Claire. “I’m going to shut it down.” He had always been mechanically minded, but automatons were not his specialty.
She squeezed his hand. “Be careful.”
He nodded and stepped over the low ‘stone’ fence that circled the display. There had to be a switch somewhere…
Father Christmas whirled as he approached, turning to confront him with a grinding noise much like nails on a slate.
“Happy Chrissssssstmasssss,” It groaned.
“That is just wrong,” Alastair remarked with a grimace. Obviously the machine took umbrage to his words, because it retaliated by vomiting a stream of hot oil at him. He barely moved in time. Some of the oil still managed to splatter on his hand, causing him to hiss in pain.
This was not good.
He grabbed for the machine, but it evaded him, whisking around the next turn on its track. It was almost as if the bloody thing was running away from him. Alastair gave chase, well aware of the crowd of onlookers that had gathered a short distance away.
Wonderful. Now he was going to be known as the mad man who chased down a mechanical Father Christmas. He grabbed again, but once more the machine avoided capture. Laughter rang out from the crowd.
He ground his teeth. That was it. He wasn’t going to muck about any longer. He dove for the machine, grabbed it around the chest with both arms and drove it to the floor, knocking it off its track. It twitched and struggled as he sought out the switch to power the thing off. One of its metal arms – distressingly skeletal beneath the sleeve of its robe – swung toward him, narrowly missing his face.
The thing rolled him through the false snow, trying to get its hands around his neck. It would crush his throat if it succeeded. Alastair grunted and maneuvered the thing beneath him so that he could grab the Aether pistol he wore beneath his coat.
The automaton’s cap came off as they struggled. Metal limbs thrashed, knocking over a wooden dog. One of those limbs caught Alastair in the chest and sent him flying across the snow, right into the side of a child-sized town house. A shutter fell off and struck him in the temple.
Alastair swore and struggled to his feet. His back and head hurt, but the machine was completely out of control. Thankfully he still had his pistol. He raised it and fired at the automaton.
Sparks flew as the machine jerked and snapped. Aetheric energy ripped through it, frying its engine, disengaging its malfunctioning programming. It moaned to a stop and fell forward at the waist with a slow, disjointed, “Ho… ho… ho.”
He was brushing artificial snow from his sleeves when Claire arrived with the store manager. An even larger crowd had gathered by now. Many cheered Alastair’s efforts, but it was the crying children that he heard the loudest.
“Mama, what did that man do to Father Christmas?”
Bloody hell. The mother tried to console the boy, but without much luck.
The manager thanked him profusely before moving on to address the crowd. Alastair only half listened as the man apologized and offered all manner of enticing recompense to the shoppers to keep them – and their money – in the store.
Claire smiled at him as he stepped over the fence once more. “Well done, my lord.”
“Thanks.” Dear God, he was covered in a layer of white fuzz. It clung to his merino jacket like it was glued on. “Bloody hell.”
Chuckling, Claire bent down and picked something up. It was Father Christmas’s cap. “Let’s go home,” she said.
“I thought you wanted to purchase gifts for our friends.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow.” Reaching up, she put the velvet cap on his head. “Come, Lord Christmas. I’ll take you home and tell you what I want for Christmas.”
He smiled at her seductive tone. “But it’s only the twenty-first.”
She grinned over her shoulder at him as she tugged him by the hand. “If you’re a good boy, perhaps Christmas will come early.”
That was all the enticement he needed to go home and share the first of what would be hopefully many Christmases with his wife. To all a good night, indeed.
Meet Kate Cross!
Kate Cross is a pen name for USA Today bestselling author Kathryn Smith. After many years of writing historical romances, Kate decided to shake things up a bit and add elements of another favorite genre — science fiction. The Clockwork Agents series combines the Victorian Era with fantastic technology and intrigue. The first book in the series, Heart of Brass is up for a Romantic Times Magazine’s Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the sequel, Touch of Steel (Alastair and Claire’s story) has gotten great reviews from RT, as well as Publisher’s Weekly. The third book, Breath of Iron, will be out later this year.
Want to purchase Kate’s novels?
The Clockwork Agents
Steampunk Chronicles (w/a Kady Cross)
- The Girl in the Steel Corset
- The Girl in the Clockwork Collar
- The Girl with the Iron Touch (May 21, 2013)
Immortal Empire (w/a Kate Locke)
Please help spread the word: Tweet: Celebrate the madness with 32 authors while #giveaways ensue during #BlackFriday (Nov23-Dec24) http://tinyurl.com/LEBlackFriday2012 #paranormal #fantasy
Thank you Kate for taking part in Literary Escapism’s Black Friday!
Kate is giving away a copy of Heart of Brass. To enter, all you have to do is answer this one question: What would you like for Christmas this year? Remember, you must answer the question in order to be entered.
Even though I’m not giving the additional entries any more, you can still help support the author by sharing their article, and this contest, on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere you can. After all, the more people who are aware of this fabulous author ensures we get more fabulous stories.
The winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.
All Black Friday contests will remain open until December 31st at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the snazzy new plug-in I have. Have you checked out the other Black Friday contests yet? Check out the Master List to see all the Black Friday giveaways
I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.