Evelina finally gets to college

Emma Jane Holloway
July 31, 2015  •  No Comments

University Coeducation in the Victorian EraSo, when I was about to begin A Study in Ashes, I was hunting about for some reference material on female colleges. I found plenty of references to the fact that such things existed, but not much detail until I got my hands on this book. I blogged about it here.

To my delight and trepidation, the Baskerville Affair (and A Study in Ashes in particular) has been made part of a college course!  http://cdmyers.info/Steampunk.html

It raises some interesting questions about the use of history in what is essentially fantasy. I tend toward a real or real-ish setting because it grounds the story in an “ordinary world” that is the foil of the fantasy. I don’t think it is “bad” or “good” to include a certain level of historical detail but I do think it’s important to make what’s included reasonably accurate.

The other benefit of researching is you never know what you’ll find. The entire setting of the Dartmoor laboratories is a real place I discovered by chance. It’s an old farm and the ruins of a gunpowder mill. However, it serves delightful cream teas and holds pottery classes. The Hound of the Baskervilles was an old collie, I’m afraid.

 


Kiss in the Dark


August 5, 2017  •  No Comments

Corsair’s Cove Chocolate Shop Series

Book Cover: Kiss in the Dark
Editions:ePub
ISBN: 978-0-9958269-9-1
Kindle
ISBN: B07567PZYV

A Corsair's Cove novella

The last thing he wants is to rest in peace.

Captain Daniel Blackthorne, the swashbuckling pirate they called the Wolf of the West, was cursed to death by a jealous witch. Since that day long ago, he’s haunted the attic rooms of Red Gem’s Chocolates in sleepy Corsair’s Cove. The rules of the curse are clear: He has until Hallowe’en night to help the women of Blackthorne blood find true love, or his soul is doomed forever.

When Eloise Wilson moves in above the chocolate shop, she’s unprepared for a spectral roommate. Sadly for Blackthorne, she’s terrified of ghosts—and with good reason. Gifted with the Sight since childhood, she’s seen hauntings end in gruesome tragedy. Worse, family and friends think she’s just a pretty young college grad with an overactive imagination. When she finds out her new home is haunted, the last thing she expects is a ghostly captain who rewrote the book on seduction.

But Eloise can’t save his soul until he heals her heart, and Hallowe’en is only days away. Blackthorne is the darkness she fears, even if his touch is as sweet as anything from the shop below. He’s delicious, but he’s dangerous, and Eloise knows better than to taste what she can’t have.

And yet lovers are like chocolate—for some, only the dark will do.

 

This novella is available for pre-order and will be published September 30/17.  This book is part of the Corsair's Cove collection.  Visit Corsair's Cove for more novellas set in this world.

Excerpt:

Prologue

 

Eloise Wilson crouched behind the sofa, panting hard. Terror didn’t permit anything but sawing gulps of air. She squeezed her eyes shut, a hot lick of tears dampening her cheeks. Then she shivered beneath the caress of a frigid wind as her breath came out in a puff of fog.

This place she’d just made her home was haunted. Eloise mentally recited every curse word she knew as her heart tried to pound through her ribs. Fear was stupid. It didn’t help anything. And yet she knew firsthand just how dangerous ghosts could be—not that anyone, especially the cousins who had allowed her to use this apartment rent-free, would believe her story if she told them. No, Eloise was the flake of the family, with her hippie clothes and herbal teas. This would be one more reason to roll their eyes and pat her on the head.

READ MORE

Eloise peered over the couch cushion at the door opposite her hiding place. Her rooms occupied the top floor of the old Victorian commercial building, divided from the unfinished half of the upstairs where generations had stowed their trunks and boxes. All that antique charm sometimes meant limited electricity, so her collection of candles flickered in the ghostly breeze, making the shadows twist and jump. The door looked like it belonged on a barn, with rough upright planks and a black iron knob and hinges. Someone had painted it to match the room without bothering to smooth, much less sand, the boards. She kind of liked the rustic look. What bothered her was the white light seeping through the cracks and crawling across the floor like spilled oil.

Glowing was never a good sign.

She swallowed hard and forced herself to rise another inch. The nubbly fabric of the cushion pressed into her cheek as she examined every detail of the haunting. That cold wind smelled salty, as if it had come straight from the ocean. Unsurprising, given the resident spook was supposedly a sea captain.

The black iron handle of the door rattled, the oblong knob turning ever so slightly. This ghost was strong, as powerful as the one who’d terrorized her childhood home. As deadly as the one at college? Eloise shoved the memory away, hating this apparition for reminding her of that terrible, horrible night.

She watched the knob rotate a quarter turn, imagining dreadful possibilities. With ghosts you never knew what you were getting. All the same, she had to deal with her visitor or spend the evening hiding behind the couch.

All at once she found her courage and grabbed a candle from the top of the bookshelf behind her. Scalding wax spilled over her fingers as she moved, but she ignored the pain as she held the candlestick aloft, feeling utterly ridiculous for an instant. She was no gray-bearded wizard, or fairy princess, or elf from a role-playing game. She was a business college grad with no money and fewer prospects, but she’d been able to see ghosts since she was ten.

Furthermore, she’d learned how to keep them in check. Eloise hurried past the end of the couch and set the candle on the floor, facing the attic door. The wind rushed around the circumference of the room, blowing out every flame except the one at her feet. Then the door burst open in a frigid gust of cobwebs and mold, revealing a yawning darkness beyond. The light that had been seeping around it vanished, leaving only the glow of her single candle. Eloise’s scalp prickled, as much a physical reaction to the surge of power as it was one of fear.

She braced her feet, summoning her will. “No dark energy, no unwanted soul, no evil nor haunting shall pass this line of light!”

The room fell utterly, hugely silent. Not even the usual creaks of the old building disturbed the profound quiet. Eloise searched the shadows, nervous sweat trickling between her shoulder blades. Normally she could see ghosts—sometimes just blobs of light, other times entire human forms—but nothing was visible. Eloise held up her free hand, testing for the presence. Her palm tingled as if she’d grabbed a handful of bees.

“Okay, so you’re a different kind of ghost, but you’re definitely there. No one bothered to mention you until my bags were unpacked. Then it’s like, Oh, yeah, Corsair’s Cove is full of hauntings. It’s great for tourism.” She tried to swallow, but her throat ached with tension. “Well, bud, I’m not okay with things that go bump in the night. Especially not where I live.”

The flame danced, but that was all. There was an invisible line formed by the threshold between the attic and her apartment. Eloise sensed the ghost pushing to get across like a steady weight against her will. An involuntary shudder worked its way up her spine. Once she’d moved in, she’d started hearing legends about Corsair’s Cove and its bloody past. Sure, Great Aunt Ruby—the last occupant of these rooms—had told Eloise and her cousins plenty of tales, but they’d been little girls back then and Ruby had stuck to the kid-friendly stuff.

“Are you Daniel Blackthorne, the pirate called the Wolf of the West?” Eloise asked, picking up the candle again and taking a step forward.

A burst of cold touched her cheek, so icy it hurt. Eloise’s heart jumped with fright and she shrank back. She’d guessed correctly. “You’re staying on your side of the door, Blackthorne. A girl has her right to privacy.”

Just for an instant, she saw him. Or perhaps saw was too weak a word. This was like waking up with her pulse pounding and every nerve on alert. Blackthorne stood tall and broad-shouldered, his strong form dressed in old-fashioned clothes. He was handsome, with black hair that curled to his collar, but it was his blue eyes that captivated her and marked him as inhuman. Blackthorne’s gaze was too bright for any mortal man. His focus was absolute, and it was entirely on her, as if he could steal the intimate secrets of her heart—and show her his.
Eloise shook, wanting to respond but too terrified to summon words. The image hovered for barely a second and blinked to nothing.

A moment later, an aching, crushing grief filled her, so profound she fell to one knee. Tears burned her eyes again, blurring the candlelight. Her thoughts crumbled to pieces, the overwhelming emotion making it hard to sort her feelings from his. What had this man suffered? How had he lingered, clinging to an afterlife with this kind of pain? But this was how ghosts caught the living—by dragging innocent mortals into their misery. She could not afford to pity him. “I’m sorry, but you need to move on.”

Like quicksilver, the sadness became rage. In her mind’s eye, Eloise caught flashes of thrashing waves, a blood-smeared blade, a bullet rending flesh. Mocking laughter. In these moments, when ghosts lost themselves in past wrongs, they became deadly. During her time at college, she’d seen what an avenging spirit had left of his victim. The nightmares had never stopped.

The memory jolted her back to the present. Eloise sprang to her feet and slammed the door. “Begone,” she muttered, shaking too hard to raise her voice. “Begone, begone!”

She poured every ounce of will into the words, pushing Daniel Blackthorne away.


Chapter 1

 

Eloise ran her finger lightly along the row of crystals hanging across the attic door. They danced and bobbled, throwing rainbows across the patterned carpet. The last of her collection had filled in the final gap in the row, the chains suspended from a row of cup hooks she’d fastened into the ancient wooden frame. She had prepared each crystal carefully, enhancing the protective powers of the stones with herbal oils and infusions. The crystals needed an extra boost to hold back the very strong energies living in the attic.

To hold back Daniel Blackthorne, if what she’d learned last night was true.

That brief apparition seemed dreamlike now, a nightmare shrunk by the logical light of day. Yet she knew better. Ghosts happened. She’d learned that the hard way. She checked her protections again, her long peasant skirt swirling against her bare legs as she moved. Apprehension bubbled up, but she resolutely shoved it down again. The obvious thing would be to move out of the old Victorian, but she couldn’t afford another place.

Along with three of her cousins, Eloise had inherited a share in Great Aunt Ruby’s chocolate shop, although no one—least of all Eloise—understood why she’d been included in the will. Although the cousins had been close as children, they’d drifted apart soon after Eloise’s parents had moved away. She wasn’t even part of the family tree—her mom and uncle had been born from her grandfather’s first marriage, although Granny Agnes had raised them as her own. The only Blackthorne blood she carried were the few drops the cousins had exchanged as part of a sisterhood pact they’d done when Eloise was nine and the others around thirteen. It was a miracle none of them had seriously hurt themselves with Uncle Bill’s pocket knife. Eloise had pricked her thumb with more enthusiasm than the rest and ended up needing stitches.

All the same, the bequest had come just as she’d graduated from business school and was flat broke. With no job, no place to live, and nowhere to go, Eloise had gladly come to Corsair’s Cove and moved in above Red Gem’s Chocolates and Confections free of charge.

Until she had income, she’d have to put up with the haunting in the next room. At least he didn’t have a loud TV—and now she had a spectacular anti-ghost perimeter alarm. She circled the rooms, inspecting the protective charms at each window and door. Great Aunt Ruby’s antiques blended with Eloise’s fairy lights and the colorful throws decorated with mandala designs. Dream catchers and potted herbs filled the windows, and more crystals and feathers decorated every doorframe. Eloise didn’t follow any system, but simply went with gut instinct and experience. If something worked, she used it.

She pressed a hand against the middle of the door. Energy roiled against her palm, agitated by her attempts to confine it. The thread of darkness and anger lingered. She knew from her brief contact with the ghost that a wrong had been done. Strong magic had been misused, maybe even a curse. It was hard to know for sure. Eloise caught impressions, but they were simply the ghost’s memories, and those could be as flawed as the recollections of the living. Death didn’t make a person any smarter although it did tend to make them mad.

“No dark energy, no unwanted soul, no evil nor haunting shall pass this line of light.” Eloise recited the command once more and released her breath, tension draining away to leave her slightly giddy. She’d done everything possible to keep Blackthorne out. At the very least, she didn’t want ghosts showing up at the breakfast table and moaning on about how they were innocent and would someone please reattach their head. She wasn’t a morning person at the best of times.

She didn’t quite manage to laugh at her joke. Still eyeing the attic door, Eloise collapsed onto Ruby’s ragged but supremely comfy couch. She closed her eyes, experiencing the pull of exhaustion that always came after invoking a charm.

Sadly, there was no nap in her future. A sharp rap on the outside door startled her wide awake. Eloise groaned. Her cousin Brynn always knocked as if the world needed to smarten up and pay attention. A little reluctantly, Eloise rose and let her in.

If Corporate Weekly had centerfold models, Brynn Kato would have been a natural. A beautiful Asian-American, she had been chief financial officer for a high-powered tech company until Corsair’s Cove and Jamie Finlayson had come back into her life. Now she worked her financial magic in jeans and comfortable shoes. Still, Eloise was wary of her cousin. Brynn knew the most about her past, and Eloise didn’t like to share those details with anyone.

Right then, Brynn’s dark eyes examined Eloise from her bare feet to the long mass of her wavy red hair. Eloise’s cheeks warmed. Her cousin hadn’t looked at her that way since seven-year-old Eloise had stolen Brynn’s Sunday dress and played Mud Princess in the backyard.

With concentration, Eloise managed not to cringe. “What’s up?” she said meekly.

“We have a family meeting, or did you forget?”

“Oh, right.” Feeling sheepish, Eloise turned back to glance at the attic door. She’d had other things on her mind.

“We’re waiting for you downstairs,” Brynn said as she turned and descended the stairs at a trot, her red flats clattering on the bare wood.

Obediently, Eloise followed. The storefront occupied the front of the main floor and the kitchens were at the back. The creaking inside stairs led up to Eloise’s rooms from the back door of the building. With its cracked plaster and handrail polished by long use, the narrow passageway fascinated Eloise. More than any other part of the place, the scuffed treads and plain, scrubbed walls spoke of decades of constant work to keep the business running. This dedication formed the real inheritance, and the four cousins took it seriously.

Eloise and Brynn entered the enormous high-ceilinged commercial kitchen. Their other two cousins, Livy Tarbert and Pru Parker, leaned against a steel countertop, drinking coffee and sampling Livy’s latest creation. Both were tall and dark haired, as was typical of the Blackthorne family. Livy was a long-distance runner—probably a good thing, since she was also the main product developer for the chocolate shop.

“Yes to this batch,” said Pru, pointing to the pan on the left with one pink-polished nail. “No to that one. There’s a different ingredient in there that doesn’t work for me.”

“I’m with Pru,” said Brynn. “Are you going to tell us what the mystery element is?”

Livy gave her sly smile. “Not until Eloise has done the taste test.”

Eloise wasn’t in the mood for their good-natured games, but forced herself to get on board. She put on a smile and approached the offerings.

Normally anything from Livy’s kitchen was too good to pass up, but once in a while her experiments led to dodgy results. Eloise eyed the truffles with suspicion. They were dark, on the small side, and topped with a curl of shaved white chocolate. “Do they have a name?”

Bonney, Great Aunt Ruby’s African Grey parrot, was not allowed in the kitchen, but replied from the front of the store. “Delight! Delight! Grog! Bonney’s a good girl!”

Livy smiled. “I’m thinking of calling them Captain’s Delight.”

Since the name offered no clue as to the contents, Eloise cautiously sampled the first tray. She’d never been much of a gourmet, but her taste buds had improved since she’d begun working at the shop. She savored the truffle, letting it melt and blend on her tongue. Livy had melded bitter and sweet notes perfectly with a hint of tart fruit. The combination sent every sensor in Eloise’s mouth into a happy dance. “Dark chocolate, raspberry liqueur, fresh hazelnut at the center, and vanilla cream.”

“Right,” said Livy, looking impressed. “Now try the other one.”

Eloise glanced up, aware the others were gauging her reaction. It made her nervous because the only thing she’d done for Red Gem’s so far, besides occupy an apartment for free, was sell chocolates out front. She’d done a marketing plan but hadn’t put any of it into action. Sure, she’d been busy finishing her degree and moving to town, but the delay weighed on her self-confidence.

Still, they treated her as an equal and she was very, very grateful to have them in her life. Of course, she’d never told them about the whole seeing-ghosts drama. It was one thing to come across as a broke student who liked crystals and unicorns, and another to claim she talked to the dead.

Eloise bit into the second chocolate. Only the liqueur was different, but that was enough. The tangy punch had been replaced with a softer, perfumy flavor that left her wanting to shudder. It tasted like an old powder puff smelled. She swallowed and then drank from the cup of black coffee Pru handed her, keeping her face as blank as possible. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt Livy’s feelings. “Definitely the raspberry.”

“What was in the other one?” Brynn demanded in her no-nonsense way.

Livy’s face fell. “Orange flower water. I was trying for something old-fashioned.”

The silence was eloquent.

“Maybe with white chocolate?” Eloise suggested. “It’s delicate, like that matcha filling you tried.”

Livy began writing notes in a wire-bound scribbler smudged with food residue. “I won’t be defeated.”

“Those raspberry ones are hardly a defeat,” said Pru. “I think we should feature them on Saturday.”

“Good idea,” said Brynn. “That leads me to the main thing I wanted to talk about, which is raising the store’s profile.”

Eloise, who had snitched another of the good truffles, stopped in mid-chew as all eyes turned to her.

Brynn picked up her coffee and peered at Eloise over the rim. “We need you to do some publicity for Red Gem’s Chocolates.”

Eloise gulped down the sticky sweetness. “Marketing and publicity was my college major. I did two co-op terms working for a theater company.”

“Perfect,” Brynn said. “Better than perfect. I dropped in on the mayor and worked a deal.”

Pru raised a brow. “Mayor Hottie?”

Brynn gave her a withering look.

Pru shrugged. “Just sayin’. He is nice to look at.”

Brynn pushed on. “Mayor Briggs and I talked about the Corsair’s Cove Hallowe’en Charity Ball. The proceeds are split three ways—the city gets some for a special project, charity gets some, and the organizing business gets a smaller cut and all the promotion they can squeeze in. The fitness club was going to be in charge this year, but they hit a speed bump.”

“A big bump,” Livy put in. “They went bankrupt.”

“Exactly. Briggs is letting us take their place.”

“Why?” Livy asked.

Brynn shrugged. “I smiled sweetly and played up our importance to the town. Red Gem’s Chocolates is seventy years old, and the building has been here even longer. Tourists love the ghost stories and the history, not to mention the chocolate.”

They fell silent a moment. Without quite knowing why, Eloise envisioned the attic door. She could almost feel the energy behind it, like heat permeating the entire building. Pirates, gangsters, smugglers, and villains. Corsair’s Cove had plenty of colorful history she could use to sell an event. Never mind that she’d spent the morning building a magical barrier to keep it out of her life.

Livy looked up from her notes, eyes wary. “We’re just getting the business on its feet. Even with the opportunity—”

“We need the exposure,” Brynn said, cutting her off. “It could put us over the threshold into real success. Otherwise, we’re going to struggle once tourist season ends. Don’t forget the back taxes.”

“What’s that about?” Eloise asked.

It was Pru who answered. “Aunt Ruby never paid her municipal taxes. Like, never.”

“Never?” Apparently all the pirates in Corsair’s Cove hadn’t sailed ships. “How did she get away with that?”

Pru waved a hand. “She had a relationship with her own Mayor Hottie back in the day.”

“Go, Ruby,” Eloise murmured.

“No one knows the details,” Brynn said. “The point is that Ruby never paid and by the time the Town figured it out, she was this lovely old lady no one had the heart to drag into court. Settling the bill took a lot of our liquid assets, but we didn’t have a choice. There were a few businessmen around town waiting to pounce if we decided to sell out.”

Eloise caught her breath, a solid ball of tension forming in her gut. “Okay. Back to the ball. What’s the charity?”

“The NorthWest Heart Foundation is partnering with Corsair’s Cove and the Angels West Hospital in the city to fund a permanent paramedic service in Corsair’s Cove.”

It had never occurred to Eloise that there wasn’t one already. “Great cause. What does running the ball involve?”

“Organizing the event, from finding a venue to sending out the press releases. It turns out the fitness club dropped the ball on pretty much everything.”

Eloise winced. “What’s our budget?”

“What budget?” said Brynn.

Eloise clutched her coffee cup in both hands. “The theater company said pretty much the same thing. I made it work.” They were bold words, but her stomach felt as if she were toppling off a cliff. Hallowe’en was just weeks away.

This was her opportunity to prove she was part of the Red Gem’s partnership. Eloise could immediately see opportunities to raise the shop’s profile—newspapers and local television stations loved charity events—but media coverage wasn’t the same thing as cash in the bank. It took time for exposure to work on sales figures.

“Can you do this, Eloise?” asked Brynn. “We’ll all help, but with everything else on our plates, the lion’s share of the work will fall on your shoulders. If it’s too much, you have to let us know now.”

Brynn’s manner was kind, but Eloise heard the doubt beneath her words. It burrowed into her aching stomach and pulled the knots there tighter. Among the cousins, only Brynn was aware of Eloise’s stay in a mental hospital. Only Brynn knew that Eloise’s father refused to speak to her. She was definitely the problem child of the family. Despite all that, Brynn was giving her a chance to prove she could pull her weight. That was far more than most people ever did.

Eloise suddenly felt like throwing up from sheer nerves. Am I able to do this? They alternative was to say, No, I’m sorry. I’m too fragile. And then she would lose a shot at a new life and the respect of the three incredible women who were inviting her to be a success.

She wasn’t going to blow this. She could and would pull her weight. Not just that, she would make the Hallowe’en Ball a raging success for the sake of the shop. Her efforts would rake in money. She would save the day. Rescue puppies.

Eloise desperately wanted to be part of this family. “Sure,” she said. “I can absolutely do it.”

 

 

 

 

 

COLLAPSE

Cover reveal! KISS IN THE DARK

Sharon Ashwood
June 22, 2017  •  No Comments

Cover reveal! Corsair’s Cove alert! I’ll have Kiss in the Dark up on the site soon, but for now here’s a peek at the cover!

KISS IN THE DARK

The last thing he wants is to rest in peace.

Captain Daniel Blackthorne, the swashbuckling pirate they called the Wolf of the West, was cursed to death by a jealous witch. Since that day long ago, he’s haunted the attic rooms of Red Gem’s Chocolates in sleepy Corsair’s Cove. The rules of the curse are clear: He has until Hallowe’en night to help the women of Blackthorne blood find true love, or his soul is doomed forever.

When Eloise Wilson moves in above the chocolate shop, she’s unprepared for a spectral roommate. Sadly for Blackthorne, she’s terrified of ghosts—and with good reason. Gifted with the Sight since childhood, she’s seen hauntings end in gruesome tragedy. Worse, family and friends think she’s just a pretty young college grad with an overactive imagination. When she finds out her new home is haunted, the last thing she expects is a ghostly captain who rewrote the book on seduction.

But Eloise can’t save his soul until he heals her heart, and Hallowe’en is only days away. Blackthorne is the darkness she fears, even if his touch is as sweet as anything from the shop below. He’s delicious, but he’s dangerous, and Eloise knows better than to taste what she can’t have.

And yet lovers are like chocolate—for some, only the dark will do.

Book 4 of the Corsair’s Cove series is up at iTunes on an exclusive preorder: http://corsairscove.com/?page_id=76


A Study in Ashes


November 3, 2016  •  No Comments
A Study in Ashes
Part of the Baskerville Affair series:
Editions:Paperback
ISBN: 978-0345537201
Kindle
ISBN: B00D5BEDPE
ePub
ISBN: 9780345545671

As part of her devil’s bargain with the industrial steam barons, Evelina Cooper is finally enrolled in the Ladies’ College of London. However, she’s attending as the Gold King’s pet magician, in handcuffs and forbidden contact with even her closest relation, the detective Sherlock Holmes.

Not even Niccolo, the dashing pirate captain, and his sentient airship can save her. But Evelina’s problems are only part of a larger war. The Baskerville Affair is finally coming to light, and the rebels are making their move to wrest power from the barons and restore it to Queen Victoria. Missing heirs and nightmare hounds are the order of the day — or at least that’s what Dr. Watson is telling the press.

But their plans are doomed unless Evelina escapes to unite her magic with the rebels’ machines–and even then her powers aren’t what they used to be. A sorcerer has awakened a dark hunger in Evelina’s soul, and only he can keep her from endangering them all. The only problem is…he’s dead.

Published:
Publisher: Del Rey
Genres:
Tags:
Excerpt:

Chapter One

London, September 16, 1889

Ladies’ College of London

7:10 a.m. Monday

“You are not welcome here,” said the man in the quietly understated brown suit. “Forgive my blunt speech, but I cannot make it any more plain. Those of us on the faculty have established policies.”

Those of us on the faculty. That meant this man who had interrupted her work was a professor. Evelina Cooper gripped her notebook until her knuckles hurt, wishing it was heavy enough to knock reason into his head. Surely he could see the equipment in this place was infinitely superior to what they had at the Ladies’ College. And what harm was there in her using it? She wasn’t in anyone’s way.

The man waited for her to acknowledge his words—no doubt expecting swift obedience—but Evelina couldn’t look at him. A painful knot lodged at the back of her throat, like a stillborn wail of frustration.

READ MORE

“I am happy to assist you in clearing away this equipment,” he offered, “and we’ll say no more about this incident.”

Stubbornness made her stall, and she fiddled with the photograph slipping out from between the pages of her book, tucking it back into place. It was of her Uncle Sherlock, his likeness no doubt at home between the ruled pages of formulae and lecture notes. If someone had tried to toss Sherlock Holmes out of a lab, he would have knocked the offender down. But young ladies were expected to be meek and mild.

Marginal politeness was a more attainable goal. “Your offer of assistance is kind, sir, and yet I don’t understand why I can’t use this facility.”

“I think you do. None of the sciences are required for a Lady’s Certificate of Arts.” He swept a hand around the laboratory. “Therefore, all this is unnecessary for students of the female college.”

“I protest that logic, sir.” It came out stiff with displeasure, but Evelina knew she had lost.

“Miss, be reasonable.”

“I am perfectly reasonable, sir, which is why I am astonished by this restriction.” Evelina twisted her silver bracelets around, fingers alive with agitation.

Her gaze searched the high-ceilinged room, though there was nothing to find in the gray shadows. The laboratory, with its rows of tables and shelves of gleaming equipment, was empty this early in the morning. Most of the students were still groping for their second cup of tea. And the fact that the door to the lab had been locked hadn’t slowed her down for more than half a minute.

He gave her a hard look from under beetling eyebrows. He wasn’t one of the creaky old dons of the University of Camelin—not yet, anyhow—but he had perfected the glower. “Perhaps you should consider something in the line of elocution or moral philosophy.”

Evelina bit her tongue. Do my morals appear to need philosophy, sir? Outside of picking the lock, that is?

The man harrumphed at her silence. “Domestic management, then. Or maybe literature.” He pronounced the latter with a curl of the lip.

Evelina looked away before her temper led her down a regrettable path. She had powers this man had no idea about. She could command spirits of earth and tree. She had dabbled in sorcery and tasted death magic. She had nearly bled to death in a Whitechapel gutter and had made enemies and allies of some of the most powerful men in Mayfair—one of whom had bound her magic to his service with the pretty silver bracelets she was forced to wear. And yet she couldn’t get a seat in a proper chemistry class.

At last, she let out a sigh. “I am an eager student of languages and literature, but I am here to study science.”

“A worthy ambition,” said the man. He might have bottled the tone and put it on the shelf next to the other dangerous acids. “But perhaps the practical work is a little beyond your scope.”

Bugger that. Evelina’s equipment was already set up to begin her exercise. Surely, if she got through it without a mistake, he would see she had a right to be there?

The exercise was of intermediate difficulty, a standard every serious student in the field was expected to know. She reached for the striker and, with a deft movement, lit the gas in the burner. A pale flame sprang to life, and she settled her flask of solution into place. Much depended on getting the exact proportion of alcohol to pure water, and then adding just the right amount of several organic compounds, but she’d measured carefully. “Your kind concerns about my abilities are unfounded, Professor . . . ?” She let the question dangle. The man hadn’t given her his name.

But he knew hers. “Miss Cooper,” he snapped, “turn down that flame at once!”

Months of frustration made her balk. She stiffened her posture and stood her ground. “I am here to study science. Therefore, I require access to equipment and materials.”

More specifically, she was there to learn the connection between science and magic. Evelina’s mother had been gentry, the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, but Evelina’s father had been a commoner and a carrier of magic. She’d yearned all her life to make sense of these two opposing legacies, because surely everything was ruled by the same natural laws. If she understood those, there was much she might understand about herself.

But first she had to learn the basics, which was why she had wanted a higher education. Of any place, a university should have been eager to throw open the doors to new ideas, but all she’d met so far was a wall of cold displeasure. Never mind telling them about her magic—they still hadn’t seen past the fact that she wore petticoats.

There was a tense moment of silence as the gas hissed and bubbles formed at the base of the liquid. The solution heated quickly, but not fast enough to calm her mounting temper. She could hear Professor No-name’s quick, irritated breathing as he hovered uncertainly at her elbow—flummoxed by her insubordination but too outraged to back away.

She felt her stomach coil into an aching knot. Her fingers crushed the heavy, dark fabric of her skirts until she forced them to uncurl and pick up a glass wand, ready to stir her concoction. She kept her features deliberately bland, hoping that as long as she reined in her mood, she would have the upper hand. That always works for Uncle Sherlock.

Finally, No-name spoke. “I will say this one last time. Students of the Ladies’ College of London are not permitted to use the Sir Henry John Bickerton Laboratory for the Advancement of Chemical Science.”

“But are we not part of the university, along with the other colleges?” Evelina asked tightly. “I believe our tuition flows to the greater institution.” Except that the students resident at the Ladies’ College experienced shorter academic terms, had access to fewer courses, and were only granted an LCA rather than a proper bachelor’s degree.

“The young men will someday attain positions of economic importance, whereas women will not. Squandering resources where they will never amount to anything is simply poor management.”

Evelina couldn’t stop herself from making a derisive huff as she measured out grains of crystalized aether onto a scale. The lime-green sand pattered into the steel pan. “Perhaps a sound understanding of the volatile properties of sodium bicarbonate will assist me to perfect my muffins, Professor . . .” She let the name dangle once more, this time more rudely.

“Professor Bickerton. And this is my laboratory, young lady.”

That surprised her enough that she spun to face him, spilling grains of aether onto the tabletop. This dead squib is the mighty Bickerton? If he’d made assumptions about her, she’d done the same to him. She smoothed skirts with her free hand, a little flustered. The man held one of the most important faculty chairs at Camelin. “Sir!”

He adopted a lecturing stance, his hands clasped behind his back. “And I note you are attempting the reconstitution of crystalized aether into liquid form. What industries require liquid aether, Miss Cooper?”

Her brain stalled for a moment, then lurched forward awkwardly, like a poorly maintained engine. “Aeronautics, primarily. Also weapons manufacturing, cartography and exploration, and some forms of advanced telegraphy.”

“You neglected to mention submersibles and a few branches of agriculture. Do you plan a career in any of these fields, Miss Cooper?”

“No, sir.” She felt her cheeks heat.

“As I thought,” he said with a twist of his mustached lip. “And what is the most salient point about liquid aether in the laboratory, Miss Cooper?”

She answered quickly, eager to redeem herself. “Aether is stable, which is why it has replaced hydrogen as the fuel of choice for dirigibles. But it will ignite if exposed to a steady, high heat. Ergo, one must be careful to regulate temperature to avoid combustion.”

“Indeed. And the fact that your solution is at a rolling boil demonstrates your inability to translate theory into safe practice.” He chose that moment to make a grab for the jar of salts.

“I would have turned down the heat!” If you hadn’t distracted me! Already on edge, Evelina jerked at his movement, snatching the open container out of reach. Their hands collided and a thick plume of green salts flew into the air, coating the entire table and plopping into the bubbling solution.

“Bloody hell,” she cursed before she could stop herself. Boiling aether equaled an explosion.

She felt Professor Bickerton’s grip on her arm and was wheeling around to protest when he pulled her under the heavy oak table. She opened her mouth to protest, but the professor’s weight shifted away, and then he was scrabbling at the floor, shutting off the valve that supplied gas to the worktables.

Terror made her entire body clench into a ball. Instinctively, Evelina raised her hands over her face. She squeezed her eyes closed as Professor Bickerton drew her closer, sheltering her with his arm. And then, right above them, the aether dissolved and came to a boil. She knew the moment it happened because the skin of her face went tight, and her ears popped. Then a blast of light turned Evelina’s vision red through her eyelids—followed by the crash of glass and the rustling rush of flame. She felt rather than saw the rush of air like a wing sweeping across the laboratory, brushing aside everything in its path.

When Evelina uncoiled moments or years later, she felt deaf and blind, and her entire body was shaking. She scrambled out from under the table, boot heels catching in her skirts. Pages of her notebook fluttered to the floor like glowing feathers. With a pang, she thought of her photograph, but there was no chance it had survived.

Green flames licked across the work surface above, but her apparatus had been the only equipment in the path of destruction. In truth, the scene wasn’t as bad as she’d expected, and that helped tame her panic. She stopped, gathering her wits and looking around for the heavy copper-sided fire extinguisher. The air was choking, the smoke heavy with the minty scent of aether distillate.

There! She lunged toward where the extinguisher sat at the front of the room. It was heavy, three gallons of liquid in a solid metal canister, but she heaved it onto a nearby table and depressed the plunger. Inside, a vial of sulfuric acid broke and mixed with sodium bicarbonate to create a carbon dioxide propellant that pressurized the water. Evelina aimed the hose at the flaming table, nearly catching Professor Bickerton as he rose.

She saw his eyes widen, his finger point. Her eyes followed the direction of the gesture and suddenly understood his wordless yelp of dismay. The flames were slithering around the fallen jar of aether salts where she had dropped it, and the container was open and still half full. If a generous pinch had done this much damage, what would twenty times that do?

Her throat closed as if a giant fist had clenched around it. She aimed the spray of water in the direction of the jar, hoping to at least stem the tide of destruction. The hose jumped in her hand, alive with pressure, but it wasn’t enough. With a hungry green flame, the fire licked toward the jar, dancing along the worktable like an evil spirit. Somewhere outside the room, a bell was clanging. They were no longer the only ones aware of this catastrophe.

Her eyes met the professor’s and she saw his face turn chalk-white. He dove for the door and she took her cue, dropping the hose and leaping toward the exit. They nearly collided.

“Run!” Evelina cried, and she pushed the man ahead of her. Cold certainty said they wouldn’t make it out in time.

She turned at the last moment to summon her magic. She needed power, and she needed it fast; there was no time to summon a deva or weave a spell. That meant the more dangerous option of grabbing the fear-fueled energy already inside her and using sorcery.

She shuddered as the dark side of her power reared up, savage and ready to fight. It whispered of hunger, sliding through her with the deadly ease of a serpent—but it held the strength she needed. Evelina was backing away, aware that Professor Bickerton was almost through the door and yelling at her in confusion. He would have no idea what she was about to do, and with luck would never figure it out.

She raised her hands just as the contents of the jar ignited, sending shards and fire and crystallized aether in every direction. The shield of her power surged into place in time to deflect the shower of glass. Force jolted the shield, numbing her arms with the blow. She stumbled, falling to one knee, and braced for what came next, sending a fresh wave of magic surging forward. It wavered as it encountered the resistance of the bracelets, but steadied a second later; the barrier held. She reeled, giddy with the sensation.

Then the aether exploded in earnest, the airborne crystals finding flame. Glass shattered throughout the room, the combustion crushing beakers and retorts, flasks and tubes, and a bank of locked cases filled with myriad substances in stoppered vials. The glass doors of the chemical stores burst in spinning shards, seeming to splash like water through the smoking air. Then the eruption of chemicals met a storm of fire, and the hammer of expanding gasses smashed into Evelina’s protective shield and hurled her through the air.

She landed outside the laboratory door, her back smacking against the hard ground. A wave of sick dizziness rose up, making her head spin as a blast of heat raked over her skin. She rolled over, her hands over her head as the ground shuddered with an explosion. Hands grabbed her, hauling her to her feet and dragging her across the lawn. Her shoulder joints protested as she tripped on her hems and went down, slamming her palms into the ground. Her relentless rescuer heaved her back into a forward stagger.

“No, no, please, let me sit down,” she murmured, but she couldn’t hear her own voice. The blast had done something to her ears.

A fit of coughing took Evelina, her eyes and nose streaming from the fog of chemical stink. She fished for her pocket handkerchief, dimly aware that it was Professor Bickerton at her side. She was glad he was all right—even if his face was a peculiar shade of outraged purple as he shouted at her.

And then she began to understand part of what he was saying, because he was repeating it over and over again. “You foolish girl!” He was so angry, he was spewing saliva.

Evelina stopped, the will to move her feet deserting her. The incident hadn’t been entirely her fault, but she could tell he was going to make it sound that way. She shut her eyes, exhausted. It was abundantly clear that she shouldn’t have defied the man—and yet even now she recoiled at the idea of meekly abandoning her equipment and crawling away.

“I will see you expelled!” Bickerton finished with a roar loud enough to penetrate her stunned hearing.

Expelled! Her eyes snapped open. She clutched at her bracelets, knowing they bound her to this place for her own safety—because the alternatives for a magic user like her weren’t good.

“You cannot!” she protested.

“Take note and learn, Miss Cooper.” Then he turned on his heel and went to speak to the horde of men arriving to deal with the disaster.

Expulsion? What will Keating say? What will he do to me?

Jasper Keating, the man they called the Gold King, had soldered the bracelets around her wrist—a mark of his patronage and her prison. Wherever she went, the bracelets signaled her presence to Keating’s minions, making her easy to find. They also delivered a painful shock if she strayed out of bounds. She was his property as surely as if she were in chains.

He was one of the steam barons, the foremost businessmen in the Empire with interests in everything from coal to war machines. He’d learned of her magic when she’d bargained away her freedom for the life of the man she loved. And now that he knew her secret, freedom was out of the question; magic users were under an automatic sentence of death.

He’d allowed her to attend the university as long as she never left the grounds. The arrangement was generous, given that the alternatives for someone with magical Blood were execution or a short, brutal future as a laboratory rat. And now—at least as far as public opinion went—she’d shown that his generosity was misplaced. Her patron did not like being in the wrong.

Another small explosion went off inside the burning building, letting out a cloud of stink and sparks. Evelina sank to the ground with a noise halfway between a groan and curse. Mr. Keating is going to be very displeased indeed.

Chapter Two

London, September 18, 1889

Ladies’ College of London

3:30 p.m. Wednesday

Two days later, Evelina left the Ladies’ College and crossed the University of Camelin grounds toward the New Hall, which looked as if it was at least three hundred years old. Plane trees lined the narrow, cobbled road, their wide leaves giving a dry rustle in the light breeze. Though the air was cool, the afternoon sun and the rising slope of the path made her warm, and she paused to catch her breath.

To her right were the mellow stone arches of Fullman College, to her left Usher College with Witherton House and its regal gardens behind. Gowned faculty clustered around the buildings like crows, but this close to the heart of the university they were an almost exclusively male flock. The Ladies’ College of London was at the bottom of the hill, secure behind high walls. It was part of the university, and not.

Rather like her—and based on Professor Bickerton’s harangue after the explosion, soon she wouldn’t be part of Camelin at all. If this summons to the vice-chancellor’s office unfolded as she suspected it would, her academic career would set before the sun did. And then what? Would she go back to working as a spy, or something worse? She couldn’t bring that future into focus. Every time she tried, her breath grew short.

Evelina noticed several conversations breaking off as curious faces turned her way. She looked over her shoulder, making sure there was nothing behind her that was attracting attention. That gave her a view of the lower campus, the blackened shell of the laboratory conspicuous against the pastoral green. Sick, cold dread settled in her gut, driving out the warmth of the sun. She tucked in her chin, letting the brim of her hat hide her face as she marched the remaining distance to the entrance of the New Hall. The watching faces followed her as if pulled by a magnetic force. There goes the silly woman who blew up the laboratory. As she neared the door, she shuddered, the touch of their gazes an almost palpable pressure along her spine.

Once inside, she mounted the stairs to the offices, her stomach a leaden ball of apprehension. Marie Antoinette could not have felt less doomed as she climbed the scaffold. But Evelina bravely knocked and entered the vice-chancellor’s chambers. When the young man who was his secretary rose to show her into the inner sanctum, she followed him with her gloved hands clasped nervously at her waist.

The decor did nothing to lighten the mood; the walls were covered in dark walnut paneling made darker still by age. As she crossed the faded carpet, the smell of old tobacco rose up, tickling her nose. Three men were ranged in a conversational semicircle of oxblood leather chairs. In her anxiety, she had half imagined a judge’s bench and uniformed guards, so the informality was a relief.

They rose as she entered. Bickerton was one, and another was old, white-whiskered Sir William Fillipott, the vice-chancellor. The older man bowed, his manners as always impeccable. “Miss Cooper, how gracious of you to join us.”

“Sir.” She curtsied, long training helping her to fall into the ritual of pleasantries. She’d always got along with Sir William, and hoped that counted for something now.

“You have met Professor Bickerton.” The vice-chancellor gave a rueful smile, and then indicated the third member of his party. “And this is young James, our new chair of mathematics. I have asked him to observe and record this meeting.”

Sir William patted the mathematician’s shoulder with a fond, fatherly gesture. The man nodded politely to Evelina, adjusting a small clockwork device that inscribed a squiggling code onto a wax cylinder. She had seen the police use similar equipment for taking statements. The brass contraption with its whirling gears was not the latest technology, but it was advanced for Camelin, steeped as it was in tradition.

The young professor had nutmeg brown hair and a tidy mustache. His lean build and fastidious air reminded Evelina of Uncle Sherlock. She was sure she’d seen his face before, though she could not remember where. On the campus? She didn’t think so. Memory itched at her like a healing cut.

Sir William gestured toward another chair, arranged to face the three men. “Please, Miss Cooper, have a seat.”

“I’m sure you know why you are here, Miss Cooper,” Bickerton began. “What do you think will be the outcome of this interview?” The man gave a hint of a smile, and she didn’t like it one little bit.

Evelina sat with all the grace she could muster. When she opened her mouth to speak, her throat was so tight she could barely breathe. She cleared it as delicately as she could and tried again. “I would not presume to anticipate your judgment.”

Sir William frowned, both at her and at Bickerton. “Even if no one was seriously injured and even if it was accidental, this was a grave occurrence. Can you please tell me, Miss Cooper, why were you in that laboratory?”

Bickerton snorted, but Evelina was grateful to Sir William for asking. “The Ladies’ College does not have as good a facility or equipment. Nor does it offer the same level of instruction in the sciences. What we get are shorter, less demanding classes that do not teach us nearly as well.”

The vice-chancellor’s bushy white brows shot up. “And so you took it upon yourself to break into our laboratory and help yourself to the men’s equipment?”

Bickerton leaned forward. “A criminal act, I might point out.”

“Let the girl speak,” said Sir William.

“If no one was willing to instruct me at the level I desired, it seemed I must help myself to advance.” Even as she said it, Evelina felt her cheeks heat, alarm trickling through her insides. It sounded so high-handed, but solving the problem on her own had been a natural response. “At the time, it did not seem so rash an act.”

“Let me assure you, it was extremely rash.” Sir William’s tone was dry. “I know the destruction of the lab was not your intent, but bad action inevitably leads to bad results. For shame, Miss Cooper—for you clearly did intend to flout our rules, and see what came of it.”

And yet it really had seemed like a reasonable solution. In the last year and a half, she’d been in too many dire situations, with her life on the line, to bother with rules. Yet somehow that recklessness had trickled down to her everyday conduct. Her goal was to learn everything she could to understand her powers in a scientific light. The lock on the laboratory door had just been another obstacle to overcome and she had conquered it. Such a will to succeed might be heroic, but she had to admit that it hadn’t been smart.

“There is no apology that I can make that will be sufficient to the situation,” she said, meaning every word. “And yet I do apologize. I am wholeheartedly sorry.”

The transcription device whirred and bobbled, writing down her guilt and contrition. The professor operating it watched her with cool, appraising eyes.

“Prettily said, Miss Cooper,” Sir William replied, “but Professor Bickerton has requested your expulsion, and he is within his rights to do so.”

She drew breath, ready to launch into her defense, but Sir William held up a quelling hand. “However, there are a number of factors that come into play, including the wishes of your patron.”

“Does he know?” she asked meekly.

Now she felt her fingers tremble, and she clasped them in her lap. Jasper Keating could buy the University of Camelin a dozen times over, but he could also crush her like a gnat. She couldn’t assume anything, least of all his tolerance for failure. The last time she’d worked for him, she’d nearly been killed. If he lost interest in her, he could order her death in a blink.

“Mr. Keating is aware of what has happened.” Sir William reached behind him and picked up a letter from the desk, unfolding it slowly with the thumb and fingers of one hand. He glanced down at it and let the paper curl shut again, his expression carefully neutral. “He responded in no uncertain terms.”

Nerves made her temper grow sharp. She fingered her bracelets, picturing her patron’s hard, patrician face. “And?”

“You are a fortunate young woman. He is desirous that you remain here.”

She might have been relieved, but the way Sir William said it left room for doubt. She inched forward on her seat. “You said there were a number of factors. What are the others?”

“We must consider the wishes of the governing body of this institution. The chancellor in particular.”

At least there had been no mention of magic, which meant Bickerton hadn’t figured out how he’d lived through the explosion—and that meant, in turn, she might survive. Still, the situation was bleak. Some would align with Bickerton, and yet others dared not offend the Gold King. He owned too many important men and could easily scuttle university endowments. And here I am, the cause of discord. “I assume, then, it will take time before my fate is decided?”

“It will be discussed at the end of the month, during the governing council’s usual meeting.”

As Sir William spoke, Bickerton looked like he’d swallowed one of his own chemical preparations. “An unnecessary waste of time in my opinion. I say make the decision now.”

Part of her agreed. Waiting for judgment would be excruciating. “Is there nothing I can do to redeem myself?”

Sir William frowned, his lined face stern and sad. “It is a question of principle. Mr. Keating has offered a sum in recompense for the damage to our facility, but there is more at stake than mere money. The sovereignty and dignity of our institution is at risk.”

Evelina lowered her eyes, staring at her gloves. She’d put on clean ones to come here, but somehow still managed to get a smudge of ink on one finger. She curled her hand closed to hide it. How am I going to get out of this?

Sir William leaned forward, his hands on his knees. “My advice to you in this interval is to behave as a lady ought, to study what you are assigned, and not to rearrange the natural boundaries of custom to suit yourself.”

Feeling suddenly ill, Evelina slowly sat back in her chair. It was a simple command, and yet unpalatable. She was already confined to the campus. He was taking away the one liberty the university offered—the freedom to learn.

“And you will confine yourself to the precincts of the Ladies’ College. You are to remain within its walls.”

What? She looked up, meeting Sir William’s stern gaze and Bickerton’s mocking smirk. “Not leave the college?” Her voice was high and incredulous. “Not even to walk the rest of the campus?”

“It will spare the feelings of the faculty if they know you are not loose upon the grounds,” Sir William replied. “Especially since locks are apparently no obstacle to you.”

Unless of course I’m trying to escape altogether. But the bracelets took care of that.

“I see,” she said faintly. Bloody hell, she would be penned into a tiny area, just the quadrangle and the buildings around it. She lifted her chin, her face numb with dismay. “That is going to make my world a very small one.”

“But at least it is still a foothold at Camelin,” Sir William said gravely. “Do not slip again, Miss Cooper, lest you fall entirely. The University Council will make its decision in the fullness of time, and how you adapt to these rules will count for much.”

“Or perhaps not at all,” Bickerton added tightly.

“Professor,” Sir William chided, “let penitence do its work.”

Evelina bowed her head, her rueful anger an open wound. If it weren’t for the bracelets and the threat the Gold King posed to her loved ones, she would have simply walked away. She’d disappeared once; she could do it again. “I will do my best, Sir William. You may rely on that.”

“Very well. And now it is time that you retired to meditate upon your actions.” Sir William rose, the others following his lead. “James here will escort you to your rooms.”

“Miss.” The man switched off his device and rose. Then he gave an almost mocking bow and held out his arm.

Evelina felt her eyes widen in shock. Now she remembered where she’d seen the man before. It’s Mr. Juniper! She had seen him almost a year ago, when she’d been sneaking through the compound where the Blue King kept his war machines hidden. Juniper was the Blue King’s man of business, and therefore one of Keating’s bitter enemies. Does Juniper recognize me? Does he know it was me who stole the designs for the Blue King’s weapons?

She could feel the three men watching her, and quickly hid her confusion. “Then I will bid you good day, gentlemen,” she said with a neat curtsy.

The men bowed—Bickerton with a perfunctory jerk, Sir William with gravity. Steeling herself, she took Mr. Juniper’s arm and let him lead her from the room and down the stairs.

Juniper gave a small, cold smile as they left the New Hall. “I see that I am familiar to you, Miss Cooper. No doubt your association with Mr. Keating has acquainted you with many players surrounding the Steam Council.”

“Only in a modest way.” If he believed that she knew him through Keating, it was far safer than the truth.

He led her along the path with a casual air, as if they were just out for a stroll. In the afternoon sun, his face seemed pale to the point of translucence, blue veins visible beneath the fine skin of his temples. “And so here we are. Academia makes strange bedfellows.”

She couldn’t argue with that. “How did you come to be here?”

“Ambition,” he said, without the least embarrassment. “I have been working on a binomial theorem. Perhaps I shall publish a treatise. A university chair gives me credibility in a way that a steam baron’s patronage could not.”

It still seemed a strange leap from managing a steam baron’s business affairs, especially since the Blue King held sway over the poorest parts of the city. “It seems you are a man of hidden talents.”

“We share that quality in common, though your abilities are far more controversial than mine. Oh yes,” he said, smiling at her fresh surprise, “I know what those bracelets you wear mean. Most students just think they’re prisoners here. You are chained in fact, bound to do Keating’s bidding whenever he finally chooses to crook his finger.”

Evelina was speechless for a long moment. “How do you know about that?”

Evelina shielded her eyes from the sun, studying his sharp features. He might have been handsome but for an unpleasant glitter in his eyes. “Are you really here for your theorem, or did the Blue King send you?”

His smile made her pulse skip, and not in a good way. “I have my eye on many interests, Miss Cooper. The steam barons are titans, and they will go to war with one another before long.”

“I think that is common knowledge.”

“Perhaps.” He finally released her arm. “In any event, creatures like you and I will be looking to our own survival once it happens.”

She almost smiled. “Are we not doing so now?”

“A valid point, Miss Cooper. You are as astute as you are troublesome.” A flock of birds flashed across the sun, their wings casting a fluttering shadow. Juniper looked up, seeming almost uneasy. “Nevertheless, I would be very careful to watch my back if I were you.”

“I always do.” Evelina turned away. Juniper was trying to lay the groundwork for something, with his dark observations and half confidences, and she wasn’t having any of it. She began walking again, returning the conversation to safer territory. “But my chief concern at the moment is my education. I have to say the entire college experience has been a severe disappointment.”

His bright gaze darted toward her. “How so?”

“I’ve been to one finishing school already. I did not come here to learn flower arranging and domestic economy.”

Juniper laughed softly to himself. “Then allow me to do you a favor, Miss Cooper, in the name of equitable education. Tutors can be arranged, as can a modest amount of scientific equipment. As a member of the faculty, I will gladly provide you with anything that is not poisonous or combustible. For the time being, that should satisfy your needs and those of the administration both.” He pulled out a silver case and extracted a calling card. “Make a list of what you need and send it to me. I will do what I can to ease the burden of good behavior.”

She took the card from him, still wary. “And why would you do me this favor?”

“Because someday I may need one from you. I am still at the start of my career and building my capital. Do not look for complications where they do not exist.” He gave a slight bow. “And here we are at your gate. Good day, Miss Cooper.”

“Good day, Mr. Juniper.”

“Ah.” He gave a slight grin—a real one this time—gesturing toward the card. “I do not use that name here. Arnold Juniper has nothing to do with my career as a professor of mathematics.”

Evelina inclined her head. “I stand corrected, sir. It seems a nom de guerre is de rigueur these days.”

“As is schoolroom French.”

“Touché.”

And with a last tip of his tall hat, Mr. Juniper left her there, his tall, slim frame elegant in the mellow sunshine.

At last Evelina turned to enter the gates to the Ladies’ College of London. Reluctance seized her, but there was no option but to obey. She shivered as the lock clanged behind her with a sound like the snap of iron jaws. Here I am, and here I shall stay. At least, until she discovered a way out. Evelina walked slowly across the quadrangle of the college, disgusted with everything. Surely I can do better than this.

Only then did she pause to read Juniper’s card: Professor James Moriarty. She slipped it into her reticule without another thought. The name meant nothing to her, except that he looked more like a James than an Arnold.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Reality's a Bore wrote:

A Study in Ashes is well and truly the explosive finale fans of the series have been waiting for and expecting.

Booktalk & More wrote:

Emma Jane Holloway's Baskerville trilogy has been a glorious surprise, each volume an improvement in showcasing her seemingly boundless imagination, world-building, and gift for penning heartfelt, memorable characters.

Fresh Fiction wrote:

Emma Jane Holloway has created multidimensional characters who struggle with the weighty consequences of their choices. They make mistakes, sometimes rather big ones, and it is easy to relate to their dilemmas when the lines between right and wrong seem so blurred.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books wrote:

I can’t overstate how much I loved this series and how impressed I was by the accomplishments of the author who made the tonal shifts feel just right instead of feeling like a betrayal of expectations. The world building, the politics, the shout-outs to Sherlock Holmes legacy – all amazing. . . . The use of steampunk and magic was fantastically rendered and was all the more powerful because a whole society was affected by it. This wasn’t steampunk where you stick some gears on something and call it a day . . .



Bound by Blood

Sharon Ashwood
December 8, 2014  •  No Comments

It’s lovely to share the stage with a guest now and again, so please allow me to introduce fellow author and urban fantasy writer Margo Bond Collins!  Her latest Night Shift novella, Bound by Blood, promises that sometimes the monsters in the dark are real…

_____________________________________________

BBBebookcoverAs a child, Lili Banta ignored her grandmother’s cryptic warnings to avoid children outside their Filipino community in Houston. When many of those other children fell ill, Lili ignored the whispers in her community that a vampiric aswang walked among them.

Years later, Lili returns to Houston to work for the Quarantine Station of the Center for Disease Control—but she is plagued by dark, bloody dreams that consume her nights and haunt her days. When a strange illness attacks the city’s children, Lili is called in to find its source, and maybe even a cure.

But in order to save the city, she must first acknowledge the sinister truth: A monster stalks the night—closer than she ever expected….

_____________________________________________

Character Interview: Dr. Lili Banta

1. Lili, quick. Describe yourself in seven words or less!

Filipino-American, Texan, doctor, epidemiologist, scientist.

2. Tell us something about your current hometown.

I recently moved back to Houston. I went to medical school in Maine because I wanted to get as far away from home as I could—but eventually, I was ready to return. I’m staying with my mother—my Inay—until I find a new place. That might take longer than I initially planned, because my ex-boyfriend just called me in to consult on a strange case at his hospital.

3. What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?

When I was a child, my grandmother warned me about the aswang hunting the children at my school. An aswang is a woman who turns into a monster at night and attacks women and young children. I didn’t believe in them . . . but I might be changing my mind.

4. What’s your favourite food?

I love the traditional dish adobo from the Philippines. My grandmother—my Inang—made it with chicken and peppercorns, cooked in soy sauce and olive oil, and lots and lots of garlic. At the last minute, she took it out and pan-fried it to get the edges just crispy enough. Mmmm.

5. Can you tell us a little about what to expect in Bound by Blood?

When I get called in to consult on Will’s case, we’re all surprised by what we discover. I don’t want to give away too much, but my past and Will’s present case are all tied together in ways we never expected.

6. Can you tell us something about yourself we don’t learn from the book?

My father died when I was very young—I don’t even remember him at all.

7. What is your author Margo Bond Collins like?

She’s kind of quiet until you get to know her—she likes to sit back and watch for a while before jumping into any kind of social situation. But then it’s hard to shut her up! She grew up in Texas, and after living all over the country, has come back to North Central Texas, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and a bunch of pets.

8. Name five items in your purse or pockets right now.

Two IDs: one for the CDC in Houston, the other for Houston General Hospital. My car keys and cell phone. A scrunchie to tie my hair back. A pen. And that’s pretty much all my lab coat pockets have room for!

9. If you had one chance to change anything about your life, what would it be?

I wish I had believed my grandmother—that I had figured this out before someone got hurt . . .

_____________________________________________

Excerpt

Sitting straight up in bed, I gasped and threw myself back against the headboard, the thud dying away along with the remaining shreds of my dream.

But the word still ricocheted through my mind.

Aswang.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t thought of the term in years—not since I’d left Houston for med school in Maine, determined to get as far away from home as I could.

But this resurgence of the same, odd illness that had swept my city years before was apparently also dredging up the old stories from deep in my subconscious: the aswang, a vampiric woman who lived a quiet life by day and fed on children in the night, flying back home on bat-wings just before dawn.

My unconscious mind had clearly also expanded on the idea, casting me in the role of aswang and adding schizoid conversations with a chorus of internal voices.

Great. I’m insane in my dreams.

And I’m a monster.

Shuddering, I wiped my hand across my gritty, raw eyelids.

_____________________________________________

Buy Links

Only $.99 via Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Bound-Blood-Night-Shift-Novella-ebook/dp/B00PB3AIGC/

Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Bound-Blood-Night-Shift-Novel/dp/0990743365/

_____________________________________________

About the Author 

MargoBondCollins

Margo Bond Collins is the author of urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and paranormal mysteries. She has published a number of novels, including Sanguinary, Taming the Country Star, Legally Undead, Waking Up Dead, and Fairy, Texas. She lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, and several spoiled pets. Although writing fiction is her first love, she also teaches college-level English courses online. She enjoys reading romance and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about heroes, monsters, cowboys, and villains, and the strong women who love them—and sometimes fight them.

_____________________________________________

 

Connect with Margo

 

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/margobondcollins

Email: [email protected]

Website: http://www.MargoBondCollins.net

Blog: http://www.MargoBondCollins.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MargoBondCollin  @MargoBondCollin

Google+: https://plus.google.com/116484555448104519902

Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/vampirarchy

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/MargoBondCollins

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mbondcollins/

 

 


Chasing the Green Fairy: The Airship Racing Chronicles Book II

Emma Jane Holloway
February 14, 2014  •  No Comments

New from steampunk author Melanie Karsak!

 

  • A sabotaged airship.
  • A recovering opium addict.
  • A messenger with life-shattering news.

Chasing the Green FairyD3_colour variationWith the 1824 British airship qualifying race only weeks away, Lily Stargazer is at the top of her game. She’s racing like a pro, truly in love, and living clean. But on one ill-omened day, everything changes.

Pulled head-long into the ancient secrets of the realm, Lily soon finds herself embroiled in Celtic mysteries and fairy lore. And she’s not quite sure how she got there, or even if she wants to be involved. But Lily soon finds herself chasing the spirit of the realm while putting her own ghosts to rest. And only accepting the truth–about her heart and her country–can save her.

Begin the adventure with Chasing the Star Garden, The Airship Racing Chronicles I, available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Chasing-Garden-Airship-Racing-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B00GXUU6IC/

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

About the Author:

Melanie Karsak grew up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania where there wasn’t much to do but read books and go for hikes. She wrote her first novel, a gripping piece about a 1920s stage actress, when she was 12. Today, Melanie, a steampunk connoisseur, white elephant collector, and caffeine junkie, lives in Florida with her husband and two children. She is an Instructor of English at Eastern Florida State College.

 

 

Chapter 1:

A chartreuse-colored leaf fluttered down onto the wheel of the Stargazer. It was early morning. The mist covering the surface of the Thames reflected the rosy sunrise. Yawning, I reached out to brush it away only find it was not a leaf at all. Carefully, I balanced the fragile creature on the tip of my finger.

“Mornin’, Lil. Hey, what’s that?” Jessup called as he bounced onto the deck of the Stargazer.

Angus was cursing as he cranked out the repair platform below the ship. We were preparing for our morning practice run to Edinburgh.

“A luna moth,” I replied.

“I thought maybe you’d finally caught the green fairy,” Jessup joked as he climbed into the burner basket.

I grinned. The moth’s green wings, dotted with yellowish eyes, wagged slowly up and down. It was beautiful, but it was dying. “My mother once told me that they are fey things, that they live in the other realm until it’s their time to die. Then, they come to humans.”

“Why?” Jessup asked as he adjusted the valves. Orange flame sparked to life.

“She said that even enchanted things want to be truly loved at least once.”

“Don’t we all?” he replied with a laugh.

A harsh wind blew across the Thames, clearing the morning mist. It snatched the delicate creature from my hands. I tried to catch it, but the breeze pulled it from me even as it was dying. I lost it to the wind.

I sighed heavily as I picked up my tools then bounded over the side of the ship to the repair platform. I pulled out a dolly and rolled under, joining Angus who had fallen remarkably silent. The moment I saw the gear assembly on the Stargazer, I understood why.

“What the hell?” I whispered.

“Aye, lassie.”

“Jessup!” I shouted. “Get the tower guards down here!”

“What’s wrong?” Jessup called.

“The Stargazer has been sabotaged!”

I stared at the mangled gears. From the saw marks on the gear assembly to the metal shrapnel blown around the galley, it was clear what had happened. I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

Seconds later I heard Jessup’s boots hit the platform and the sound of him running toward the guard station.

“They removed Sal’s torque mechanism. Sawed the bloody thing right off,” Angus said angrily.

“But . . . who?” I stammered.

“The Dilettanti?” Angus offered as he strained to examine the rest of the assembly.

“No,” I said as I touched the saw marks. The rough metal cut my finger. “That business is finished. Byron saw to that.” I stuck my bloodied finger in my mouth. The salty taste of blood mixed with the tang of gear grease.

“Then who?”

“Someone who didn’t want us to race in the qualifying. Someone who wanted to learn what had us running so fast.”

We were less than a month out from the British qualifying. While there were other good race teams in the realm, no one raced better than us. After all, we were the champions of the 1823 World Grand Prix. My stunt in Paris had brought us heaps of acclaim, but not all our British competitors were impressed. Envy had set in.

“Grant?” Angus suggested.

Julius Grant, whose team was sponsored by Westminster Gas Light, was our greatest competition at home. He hated us. He was annoyed that we were sponsored by Byron, annoyed that I was female, and annoyed that we were faster than him. Grant was the most likely suspect. But he was not the only one. “Almost too obvious. What about Lord D?” I wondered aloud.

“He’d love to, but he doesn’t have the stones,” Angus replied. “Might be someone who doesn’t want us in the Prix. If they take us out during qualifying, we aren’t a threat abroad.”

“That means it could be anyone.”

“Hell, maybe one of Byron’s lovers took a stab at you.”

“But I’m not even romantically involved with him anymore.”

“The rest of the world doesn’t know that.”

I rolled out from under the ship. Leaning against the Stargazer, I wiped my hands. The cut stung as grease mingled with the open wound. I wanted to either beat someone to death or cry. I wasn’t sure which. Maybe both.

Angus joined me.

“Can we get it fixed in time?” I asked him.

He wiped sweat from his bald head as he thought. “It’ll be close. I’ll need Sal’s help.”

“You? Need Sal?”

“Aye, lassie.”

“He’s busy getting the factory ready, but he’ll come.”

Jessup returned with Edwin, the stationmaster, and Reggie, one of the guards.

“Where the hell were your people last night?” Angus demanded of Edwin. We’d known Edwin for a long time, and we trusted the guards in London. Something wasn’t right.

As Angus and Edwin discussed, a terrible ache rocked my stomach. I set my hand on the side of the Stargazer. Her honey-colored timbers shone in the sunlight. Just as sleek and beautiful as she was the first time I laid eyes on her, she was my pride and joy. My ship. My love. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“What do you think, Lil?” Jessup asked.

Clearly, I’d missed something. “Pardon?”

“Edwin suggested we post a private guard,” Jessup explained.

I nodded. “We’ll sort it out.”

“Lily, I’m so sorry. Someone must have sneaked past us. I can’t believe it,” Edwin said. His clear blue eyes were brimming with tears.

I set my hand on his shoulder. “Who was stationed on this end last night?”

“Morton.”

I sighed. I wasn’t one to point fingers, but that explained it. “Was he still drunk when he went home this morning?” I asked Reggie.

Reggie shifted uncomfortably as Edwin turned to look at him. “He was,” Reggie answered after a moment.

“That lazy, rummy bloke. I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him!” Edwin shouted, and in an angry huff, stomped back down the platform.

“Sorry, Lily. Angus. Jessup. I won’t take my eyes off her,” Reggie said sadly then went to take a post near the Stargazer.

“We’ll sleep on the ship until we get a guard on board,” I told Angus and Jessup who nodded in agreement.

“A guard . . . but who can we trust?” Jessup asked.

“The Stargazer is family. We need family to keep her safe,” Angus replied then looked at me.

“You mean . . . Duncan?” About three years earlier, I’d been, albeit briefly, in a relationship with Angus’ older brother Duncan. While I’d fallen for Duncan the moment I’d laid eyes on him, we were not suited for one another. Back then, I wasn’t ready to give up Byron or anything else.

Angus shrugged. “I suppose he’s over you by now.”

“That’s all well and good,” Jessup spat, “but we need someone to look into this! Someone needs to be held accountable! We should send for the Bow Street boys.”

Angus shook his head. “Only if we want everyone in London to know.”

“Well, we need to do something!” Jessup protested.

“Let’s keep it quiet. I’ll talk to Phineas,” I replied.

Jessup nodded eagerly. “Yeah. Good idea.”

Angus frowned. “Are you sure about that?”

Phineas and I had a convoluted opiate history, but as Angus knew well, I’d been keeping my habits in check. “It’ll be fine. I’ll check in with Phin, go get Sal, and come back. We can head out to the league meeting together.”

“If Grant looks even a wee bit guilty, I’m going to squeeze his neck,” Angus cursed.

“If he looks guilty, I’ll help you,” I replied. I set my hand on the Stargazer. It was so painful to see something you loved damaged.

“It’ll be all right, Lil,” Jessup said trying to comfort me. “We’ll get her fixed.”

I smiled weakly at Jessup then turned to leave. I knew he was right, but it didn’t make me feel any better.


Dangerous Magic

Emma Jane Holloway
November 19, 2013  •  No Comments

The Baskerville Affair is a steampunk fantasy, with all the Victorian atmosphere, fantastic machines, and Sherlockian shenanigans that implies. But it also has a touch of the paranormal, and it’s that magic that plagues and defines the heroine, Evelina Cooper.

 

Evelina’s mother was Sherlock Holmes’s sister, and from that side of the family she inherits a quick mind and a taste for detection. But her father’s people come from the circus, and they carry a talent for magic in their veins. Gran Cooper taught Evelina the basics, but there wasn’t time for Evelina to learn everything before the Holmes family took her away and sent her to school. There is much Evelina still longs to learn. More than anything, she wishes she could reconcile the world of science and the world of magic, because then she might begin to understand her own dual nature. At the beginning of A Study in Silks, the first book of the series, she has her heart set on attending a women’s college in search of higher learning.

 

Unfortunately, Evelina can’t simply seek out other magic users. Magic is against the law, and anyone with talent is executed or sent to Her Majesty’s Laboratories as a guinea pig. All kinds of practitioners are treated with equal harshness—there is no difference between the gentle folk magic Gran Cooper taught Evelina and the death magic the sorcerers employ. The laws aren’t about right or wrong, they’re about destroying a power source the ruling Steam Council can’t control. If magic is gone, the common folk have no means to defend themselves or the land.

 

Folk magic borrows power from devas, or elemental spirits. Most are friendly, although some can be fearsome. Sorcerers don’t use devas, but they do use life force to power their spells—sometimes their own, but usually their victims’. Evelina rightly fears their kind, but before long a mysterious mesmerist named Magnus appears on the scene, wanting to teach Evelina what he knows. Her gut tells her he’s bad news—even if he might be able to give her the answers she longs for, she knows he is just the kind of sorcerer her Gran warned her against.

 

Unfortunately, knowledge is the one thing that tempts Evelina the most. And though her existing talents allow her to breathe life into Mouse and Bird, her cheeky mechanical spies, before the Baskerville Affair is over she needs stronger magic to defend those she loves. The question is what price she pays for dealing with the dark side of her powers—something Magnus is all too ready to help her to do. He knows she has a rare talent and in too dire a situation to ignore that advantage for long. The question is what—or who—will it cost her before the end?

 

(Originally published at As the Pages Turn)


Lorem Trivium

Sharon Ashwood
March 4, 2010  •  No Comments

Y’know how some things just suddenly bug you until you figure them out? I was staring at a Lorem Ipsum passage and wondered why this particular placeholder gobbledegook kept turning up again and again.

I’ve always assumed it was Latin-based nonsense, but I don’t know Latin. Today that not knowing got to me. I mean, was it a joke I was missing? User instructions? A first-century warranty?

Google to the rescue.

This site explains that the passage first started its career as dummy text in printing galleys back in the 1500s. Variants have appeared since. The really cool bit is that a researcher (Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia) tracked the origins of the passage to “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” by Cicero (“The Extremes of Good and Evil,” written around 45 B.C.E.). Check out the web site for a translation. The passage in question is all about pleasure and pain. And exercise. Must have had a trainer like mine.


High concept

Sharon Ashwood
April 1, 2009  •  No Comments

Successful authors know how to use this important tool. Part of its value is that its utility extends beyond the editorial process:

• It’s useful for marketers, because they can create a catchy campaign from it.
• It’s useful for sales people, because they know right off the bat how to place a product in their catalogue or store.
• In some cases, it’s useful for the consumer, because they get an idea from a tag line or logo what to expect from the product.

And this is all good, because we write commercial fiction which is, y’know, meant for commerce. The good and the bad of it is that almost nobody along the supply chain actually has to read any of our books because they’ve been given high concept pitches that bypass all that page-turning stuff. Efficient but—kinda weird.

(Which reminds me of a peculiar movie I saw and loved called How to Get Ahead in Advertising. I won’t even try to explain it, just rent it. Trust me.)

High concept must be used cautiously during the pitch phase of a book. All too often the author is stuck trying to live up to what seemed like an excellent idea in the thrill of the sales moment.

“Yeah,” says Author, “the story is kind of like Edgar Allan Poe meets Shrek. With flying monkeys.”
“Great,” says Editor. “Just make sure it has lots and lots of sex.”

So there sits Author, despondently wondering how to get Edgar and Donkey into bed. Author remembers college daydreams of the Booker Prize, and wonders where it all went wrong.

For me, high concept is a tool, not a method. When my world is nearer the “perfect” end of the happyometer, I get to hold off on addressing marketing concepts (high or low) until I actually know what the book is about. For me, that means writing at least a good chunk of it. Then I can figure out how to explain it to other people and adjust accordingly. If I do it the other way around, I end up with Edgar and Donkey in the back seat hoping the flying monkeys don’t have cameras.

(x posted in part from www.SilkandShadows.com)


Someday I might pay handsomely to keep this all quiet …

Sharon Ashwood
February 24, 2009  •  No Comments

Cross posted from www.SilkandShadows.com

The topic “favourite paranormal stories that I didn’t write” is a bit ambiguous. Does that mean a story that someone else wrote? Or does the “I didn’t write” mean books that I wanted to write, but never got to? Too many of those to list in one blog!
The topic might also mean my problem children—books written or partially written that will never see the light of day. I have at least five ‘under the bed’ books. My earliest full-length, complete novel was written when I was 16, and it was a coming of age story which I believed worthy of common stock in Kleenex. Enough said.
During university I wrote a peculiar novel about a frat house where some of the Romantic English poets lived and attended classes. I also had John Constable and Eugene Delacroix having a torrid affair. There was a beach-at-dawn duel between John Keats and the narrator. No, I don’t know what I was thinking. Probably exam stress.
Then there was one I wrote when I was incarcerated in Secretarial College. Yes, that’s where (during the last major recession) cash-poor English majors went after graduation and there were zero jobs to be had. We weren’t allowed to wear jeans and had to sign in and out. Absences required a doctor’s note. A come down from cum laude, let me tell you.
I wrote, during the particular hell known as typing class, a comic adventure about a vampire, a werewolf, and a tiger’s eye ring. Writing was my means of mental survival and, what the heck, I was typing, wasn’t I? It was a very hot summer, I was stuck in a room with about forty IBM Selectrics all going at once, and the roof next door was being tarred. Blargh!
While I was clerking at the mall part-time, I wrote another historical involving a consumptive poet, an opera-singing count, devil-worship, a secret baby, sorcery and, oh, a few other odds and sods. It had (she says with a sentimental quaver) my first ritual sacrifice scene.
There were others, plus a boatload of fragments, bright ideas and things that puzzled my editor. Yes, I’ve become much more aware of the demands of the commercial market, but I’m glad I wrote for a long time with no eye to sales potential. I had amazing adventures, made mistakes with gusto, and plumbed the depths of cheesy plots—all with no one (except teachers and employers) looking over my shoulder. Now I can settle down and proceed with more method, less hysteria, and a snowball’s chance of getting another human to read it.
Those old manuscripts had better stay buried, though. Good thing I’m too poor to be worth blackmailing!