A Study in Ashes

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: December 31, 2013
Publisher: Del Rey
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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.

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“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 . . .