Their chance at happiness was ruined by Tom’s hasty marriage to someone else. Heartbroken, Nell left home, finding a new life as a teacher at a school for the blind. But when one of her supernaturally gifted students, Charlie, is kidnapped, Tom reappears and her worlds collide.
Tom claims he hasn’t seen his wife since the day of their marriage…yet he fears the missing student could be his son.
The deeper they dig, the more Tom and Nell discover: a deadly alchemist, more missing gifted children and long-suppressed feelings neither of them is ready for. A race on airship across England and India may lead them to answers—including a second chance at love—but only if all of British Society isn’t destroyed first.
Naughty and Nice
London, December 1863
“Well, Nan, what shall we buy your mother for Christmas?”
Nancy Devere looked up at her father, who had adopted her only last spring, but was already her knight in shining armor. She shrugged. “I don’t know, Papa. What do people give for Christmas? Doesn’t Mama already have everything she could ever want?” Nan had been brought up on the docks in Plymouth with a drunken prostitute for her only parent. Christmas gifts were entirely outside the realm of her experience.
“She doesn’t need anything, that’s true.” Papa, Sir Thomas Devere, lifted her down from the carriage, making her crimson coat swing around her full skirts. She giggled like a little girl instead of a mature lady of twelve and a half. “What we’re looking for is a present that tells her how much you love her. It can be as inexpensive or expensive as it needs to be, but it should be special. It should mean something.” They both wore breathing masks like everyone else in London did when outside, so his voice sounded a little funny.
Nan nodded, taking in the sights and sounds of Bond Street as she thought. So many people, and all the shops decorated with evergreen boughs and big red bows. It was busier than the docks when a whole fleet had come in. She liked it better in the country where Papa lived, and the air was clear.
“I have an idea.” Papa smoothed one of her dark curls and tucked her hand around his arm. “Let’s go find something for Charlie first. I know that should be an easier task.” Charlie had been adopted like Nan, but even after only eight months, it felt like she’d always had a little brother. He was with Mum at Granny and Grandpa Hadrian’s London home, while tomorrow, he would have his chance to shop with Papa.
“That’s an easy one.” Nan rolled her eyes. “All he ever talks about is trains and music. Can I buy him the toy locomotive in the shop window?” She pointed toward the toy store across the street. It was probably a very expensive toy, but her new parents had more wealth than she could comprehend. They’d given her a generous allowance and she’d saved it carefully for Christmas, not really needing to buy anything during the fall term at the school they attended on Stonechase, Papa’s estate, where Mama was the headmistress. Since Charlie was blind, he liked toys that moved and made noise. The locomotive would be perfect.
“Absolutely.” Papa guided her across the street, dodging carriages and steam cars. He plucked the train engine from the shop window as soon as they were indoors. “I think you’re spot on, darling. Your brother is going to love this.”
Nell sneaked a look at the price tag dangling from the rear wheel. She had enough, but there wasn’t going to be much leftover for Mama’s gift. Maybe she could find a piece of new sheet music that wasn’t very dear. Eleanor, or Nell, Devere was a marvelous singer and pianist.
The shop owner bowed to Papa and put the engine in a box, which he handed to an automaton to wrap, while he typed the price into his analytical engine. Nell pulled her red velvet purse from her pocket just as Papa reached for his wallet. “I have enough,” she said, straightening her spine.
“I’d planned a special allowance for Christmas shopping,” Papa said. “Charlie will get one too. You don’t need to spend your own money.”
“But then it wouldn’t really be from me.” Nan looked directly up into her father’s blue eyes, so unlike her own plain brown. She’d already embroidered two handkerchiefs for Papa and argued with Mama about buying the linen herself. She’d lost that argument on the basis that the linen wasn’t the gift, the handwork was. She and Charlie had also made gifts for their cousins and other members of the extended Hadrian family. She wasn’t making the train. “I want to pay.”
“Very well.” Papa returned his wallet to the breast pocket of his coat and gestured for the shopkeeper to take Nan’s purse. “You’re stubborn, you know, just like your mother.”
“That’s why you love me.” Nan smiled with delight. To be compared with Mama was the biggest compliment Papa could give her. Her parents adored one another to the point where it was sometimes embarrassing.
He winked at her. “You’re right, you baggage. Now do you want to carry the parcel too, or am I allowed to do that so I can secure my masculine dignity?”
“You may carry it.” She nodded regally. Having a perfect memory had helped her learn the speech and mannerisms of the upper classes quickly, even though her parents would have been endlessly patient if she hadn’t.
She led him back onto the street and looked around at the bustling, noisy throng. “In there.” She pointed at a store she didn’t recognize, just around the corner off the main street. A small hanging sign said, “Heart’s Treasures.”
“I’ve never seen that before,” Papa muttered. He followed her quickly as she darted forward. As a Knight of the Round Table, Papa was one of the country’s top secret warriors. That always made Nan feel safe. It also meant he was fast, able to keep her pace as she dipped through the crowd.
“It’s new.” Nan had been here before, and if she didn’t remember it, it hadn’t been there. That was her one true talent. She couldn’t do magic like Papa or sing like Mama, but she remembered everything.
“Nan, stop.” There was an element of command in Papa’s voice that had her skidding to a halt even as she reached for the door. Papa took a few steps forward and placed her behind him. “There’s magick here,” he whispered. He paused for a moment, then nodded. “It’s good magick. We can go in.” He held the door and let Nan precede him inside.
She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light of a fire and some lamps. There was no gaslight in here, just the flames of a time gone by. An old man stood behind a counter, in a gray suit with a red flower in his lapel. He had curly white hair with a long beard, and eyes as blue as Papa’s. “Welcome, Sir and Madam. How can I help such a distinguished couple?” The twinkle in his eyes said he was teasing to make Nan feel grown up, not mistaking her for Mama.
“I need something special,” Nell said, stepping up to the counter. “A gift for my Mama.”
The old man tapped his chin. “I see.” He moved along the back of what Nan could now tell was a glass case. “How about this, young lady?” He lifted out an item and handed it over to Nan.
She studied the locket and shook her head. It was beautiful, gold and engraved with songbirds. “There’s only room for two photographs. Mama would need at least four. One for Papa, and Charlie, and me, and the new baby she’s having after New Year.”
“Wise thinking.” The shopkeeper pondered while Nell peered into the case. “I have some lovely silver hairbrushes. Might be just the thing.”
Again Nan shook her head. “Mama has hairbrushes.”
“A pearl brooch?” The helpful old man tipped his head. “It’s an antique.”
“No.” Nan wrinkled her forehead. “Not jewelry.” Mama didn’t wear much of that when she taught music at the school. She followed the case to the far corner and then she saw it. A small, heart-shaped box in pink porcelain—Mama’s favorite. “May I see that box, please?”
“Well, that isn’t much,” the shopkeeper said. “It’s an odd thing. Little pockets in it to hold locks of hair. And who wants a heart with an elephant painted on it?” Nonetheless, he took it out and handed it over.
Nan’s heart sped up. “Mama loves elephants. She’s half from India.” Sure enough, the box, just big enough to fit in her hand, had a daintily painted pachyderm on the lacy-edged top. Inside the box, a small mechanism held a half-dozen little silk envelopes, all empty. “There’s more than enough.” She showed her father. “And room for more if she wants. I could sew those. And embroider our names on the side, so she could always have a piece of each of us with her when we’re away.”
The mechanism in the box tucked the silk pockets down when she was done.
“It’s a very clever piece,” Papa acknowledged. “But it is odd. I can loan you some extra money if you want to go buy her some jewelry or something.”
“No.” Nan was certain. “This is it.” She handed it back to the old man, who was now beaming at her. “I’d like to buy this, sir. Can you tell me how much it is?” She didn’t have much allowance left after the locomotive.
“Two shillings and five pence,” the shopkeeper said at once.
Nan frowned. It didn’t seem like enough, but then he’d said no one had wanted the box, so maybe he’d been trying to sell it for some time. She dug out the remaining coins from her purse and laid them out on the counter to add up. “Two shillings,” she said. “And look—seven pennies. It’s enough.”
“Excellent.” He counted out the requisite coins and handed her back tuppence. There were no automatons here, no Babbage engine to manage the money, just nimble fingers and an old tin cashbox. He pulled a small wooden box from behind the counter, and wrapped in tissue paper, the heart-shaped porcelain just fit. Papa accepted the second parcel gravely.
“Thank you, Mr.—” Nan broke off, since there was no sign to indicate the shopkeeper’s name.
“You’re very welcome, Miss Devere.” He leaned over and shook her hand.
On their way out, Papa turned back to the gentleman in the store. “Thank you,” he said.
“You’ve been very good this year too, Sir Thomas, said the man with the twinkle back in his eye. “Even when you were being naughty. But I think your gifts have mostly been delivered.”
“Still waiting on one,” Papa said. “But yes. I’m a very lucky man. This is the happiest Christmas I’ve had in many years.”
Either he closed the door or it closed by itself.
“Care to buy some licorice with that tuppence?” Papa asked. “Or is there another plan I’m not aware of?”
“No licorice.” Instead, Nan walked over to an old woman selling chestnuts and gave her the money, accepting only two, though she’d paid for four. “A Christmas gift to you,” she told the woman, who’d smiled and waved her off.
Thoughtfully, Nan and Papa sat in the carriage eating chestnuts as the driver turned to take them home. “Papa?” Nan asked.
“Was that Father Christmas?”
Papa paused with his mouth half open. Finally he said, “I don’t know. Why do you ask that?”
Nan tapped the wooden box that held the heart. “Because of this. It was just what I wanted. Mum can keep us all in her heart. But mainly, it was the other thing.”
“What other thing?”
Nan giggled. “He knew that you’d been naughty and nice.”
Meet Cindy Spencer Pape!
Cindy Spencer Pape firmly believes in happily-ever-after and brings that to her writing. Award-winning author of the best-selling Gaslight Chronicles, she has released 16 novels and more than 30 shorter works. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two teenage sons, a dog, a lizard, and various other small creatures, all of which are easier to clean up after than the three male humans. When not hard at work writing she can be found dressing up for steampunk parties and Renaissance fairs, or with her nose buried in a book.
- Steam & Sorcery
- Photographs & Phantoms
- Kilts & Kraken
- Moonlight & Mechanicals
- Cards & Caravans
- Ashes & Alchemy
- Dragons & Dirigibles
- Ether & Elephants
Gaslight Chronicles Box Set 1
Gaslight Chronicles Box Set 2
Motor City Fae (Urban Arcana #1)
Here Be Magic Box Set
Entice Me: Luscious Love Stories
Into the Flames
Wrong Side of Town
Thankful for You (Calendar Men #11)
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