When a Duchess of the mysterious Old Blooded Nobility calls on Olivia to solve the mystery of her dead husband, Chris finds himself tangled in Olivia Faraday's daily life and unable to extract himself from the macabre questions of the investigation. His involvement grows more complicated as political forces in Darrington close around Rosemary, seeing her as a tool that can be used to end the depression at the cost of her freedom-or even her life. Chris must juggle the question of who killed Viktor val Daren with the responsibility of keeping Rosemary and her magic safe from those who would use her up and toss her aside. Worst of all, he begins to learn that the national disaster that took his parents' lives may not have been the accident it seemed.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.94(d)|
About the Author
Romy Nordlinger is a New York City-based actress whose TV credits include roles on Law & Order, All My Children, and One Life to Live. As an audiobook narrator, she has lent her talents to over two hundred titles ranging in genres from romance and self-help to sci-fi and mystery.
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The Deathsniffer's Assistant
By Kate McIntyre
Curiosity Quills PressCopyright © 2015 Kate McIntyre
All rights reserved.
Christopher Buckley heard the song when he reached the last stair, and his heart stopped.
Somewhere nearby, water was bubbling, ceramic and silverware were clattering, and loudest of all, two female voices were joined together in song. One of the voices was girlish and innocent, the other, experienced and throaty. They curled together like braided locks of hair. It was an ancient song, a binding song, and none of its words were recognizable as any more than an arcane incantation.
"Dammit," Chris breathed. He pushed the door to the dining room open with a trembling hand, breaking into a run as he headed towards the kitchen. "Rosemary?" he cried, throwing open the door to the kitchen.
Rosemary stood by the washtub scrubbing at a pot, face lowered close to the turquoise undine sitting on the edge of the tub. Chris's petrified rebuke died on his lips, his hand went limp on the latch of the door, and he found he could only watch, caught up in the spell of the song as though he were an elemental himself.
The undine's indigo hair moved as though she were still underwater, curling up into the air and waving in time with the music. Her azure skin glowed and it shone wetly in the light. Her dainty feet dangled over the side of the bin and her arms cradled the small jar she held in her hands — the tiny, eternal source her water sprang from. She smiled: a warm, kind, seductive sort of smile, and that observation was enough for Chris to shake his head and snap out of his trance.
He regretted speaking at once. Rosemary jumped and whirled to face him, but so did the undine. Rosemary was more capable than he gave her credit for, however. She never missed a single note. She held up a finger, flashing him a pointed glare before turning back to her little blue captive. Her song changed and the undine shrank away, her face growing sullen and angry. Rosemary's voice swirled upwards and upwards and the undine's expression grew darker and darker. When the song hit a crescendo, the spirit burst into a shower of raindrops. The wash bin pulsed and then blinked into a glow the same turquoise of the undine's skin, and the water within it bubbled merrily.
"Rosemary," he repeated, only this time it was a sigh of relief.
"I was fine," Rosemary pronounced. Even after all these years, he was amazed she hadn't even put down the plate she washed. She set it aside and a jet of warm air erupted from the spinning crystal above the drying rack, blasting away the water.
"Is she secure?" Chris asked, shooting a nervous glance at the glowing wash bin.
"Of course she's secure!" Rosemary sniffed, her brows pulling down over her nose. "I'm not stupid!"
He managed a weak smile. "Of course not. If you were stupid, you wouldn't be able to unbind an elemental just to have a little visit. Reckless, though ..." He tried to make himself relax. His heart hammered in his throat, but at least they were no longer at risk of drowning in their own kitchen.
She sighed, reaching down into the bubbling bin for another soiled dish. "I had it under control, Chris." Her expression went distant, a sad curve touching the line of her mouth. "They just get so tired of being chained to sinks and pipes and tubs, you know.
Sometimes ... they just want to come out and sing for a minute. Wouldn't you?"
"And when one gets loose and sets half of the city on fire?"
"It was an undine. They don't burn anything," she retorted.
He took in her flashing blue eyes, flushed cheeks, and wet forearms, her hands still scrubbing away. Her long, jet-black ringlets were all pulled stylishly up away from her pretty doll's face, but her blue dress was twice as threadbare as his own clothes, and almost as desperately out of fashion. He walked over to lay a hand on her shoulder and felt her melt beneath his touch.
He reached up to touch her hair. "Remember what Father used to say?"
Her shrug was only halfhearted, but he knew she did, and after a moment she answered him.
"No matter how smart you are, the rules still apply to you."
"Just be careful."
"I'm always careful!"
If you're doing it in the first place, you're not being careful enough. There was no point saying it out loud. What could he do? He was her brother, not her father. It wouldn't solve anything to make himself the enemy.
She pulled away from him eventually, setting yet another dish into the bin where the chained sylph hit it with another blast of air. She shot him a look over her shoulder. "You look nice," she said, sizing him up with a quick glance and a shy smile.
He didn't. It had been five years since he'd had something new tailored. Considering he had been fourteen at the time, it might as well have been twice that long. It would take a perhaps impolitely intent eye to notice his coat was a little threadbare around the elbows, or that the weathered seams of his trousers had been mended by an inexperienced hand in a mismatched thread, but the flaws were there. Even so, the part of him that used to have four wardrobes full of the latest fashions couldn't help but bask in the empty compliment. He grinned, bashful.
"Well," he murmured. "I did my best with what I had."
"Oh, he's going to be so impressed with you, Chris! You're going to do so well. I'm sure he'll request your services permanently."
She was lying for his sake again. How could she possibly know what the mysterious O. Faraday, Deathsniffer wanted from an employee? But his jangled nerves eased. Rather silly, how the uninformed comments of a thirteen-year-old could make him feel better about anything, much less something so serious as an interview for employment after a long string of rejections.
"We'll see." He patted her on the shoulders. "I thought, perhaps?" He heard a door close from a few rooms over, and the bell in the hall begin to chime. "Oh. That must be her," Chris said. He leaned down to press a kiss into Rosemary's hair.
His sister twisted her head around to catch his eyes with her own before he could go to greet their guest.
"Don't you think I'm too old for a nanny?" she asked plaintively.
He half-smiled and touched her nose. "You're thirteen and I just caught you singing down an undine in the sink."
Even she had to smile, though she turned back to the sink to try to hide it from him. "Well," she said, voice dripping with feigned indignation. "Good luck, I suppose."
"I'll be home before you know it." He left her at the tub.
The tutor in question was a tall, slender woman with a prim brown bun pulled up behind her head. He noticed she was dressed respectably — if unspectacularly — in a simple grey gown. It had not been tailored to her dimensions and it was twenty years out of fashion. She was poor or oblivious to her image, then. She was also considerably younger than he had expected. This was hardly an experienced matron, well-versed in the many pitfalls of child-rearing.
Chris fought down a wince. The agency he'd contacted to employ her services was a meager one. Fernand had insisted Chris couldn't afford to give Rosemary the best available, and, after being shown a report of the Buckley family finances, he'd reluctantly been forced to agree. He tried to smile.
She gave a tight nod and did not smile back. "Good morning. Mister Buckley, I'd assume?"
"Yes. A very good morning to you, as well." Chris widened his smile, but it felt very silly in the face of her cold composure, and so he wiped it off his.
"And where is Miss Buckley this morning?"
Chris turned and pointed in the direction of the bubbling water and clattering plates. "She's in the kitchen. You'll find she's a good girl, and I think ... I need to go." The last part came out ruder than he'd intended, but he'd glanced up at the twisted hands of the grandfather clock halfway through the statement and had to swallow a moan at the time. He turned back to the governess, trying to hide his distress. He tried to be minutes early for every appointment, but would be lucky to arrive ten minutes late for Mister Faraday.
The governess didn't seem to notice his curtness. "I see, of course." She stretched a hand toward him. "Rachel Albany, by the way. It's a pleasure to do business."
"Yes, charmed, Miss Albany." Chris took her hand. She had a good, firm grip and he found himself more willing to trust her. "She ... can be difficult." He felt the sudden need to warn her. "She really can, I'm afraid, but ... once you start to get a sense for how she is ..."
Miss Albany gave a small, tight smile, the first hint of one he'd seen. Despite the lack of generosity in the gesture, he felt it was sincere. "As I said, Mister Buckley. I'm not worried. I have a way with people, you'll find. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't."
Really. Well. If her way with all people was as charming as it was with him, he feared for everyone who crossed her path. "No, I suppose you wouldn't." He released her hand, stepping away from her. "Well ... good day, then."
"Good day, Mister Buckley," she said, and swept past him without a glance back, her attention fully focused on the girl she had yet to meet.
He desperately wanted to linger and see if Rosemary was well in hand with this tightly laced woman and her horrible shoes, but another quick glance at the clock was enough for him to abandon the notion. He scurried out the door and started down the walk.
A soft flutter of wind touched his face and hair, telling him he'd passed through the soundshield. A moment later, a cacophony of noise blasted him. Voices called, animals brayed, bells rang. A winged carriage soared close to the gate of their yard, carefully avoiding the borders of the soundshield; its great, swan-like wings flapped lazily as the car glided smoothly through the cloudless sky. People passed by on the sidewalk before him: an elegant woman riding sidesaddle on a snowy white horse, with a large black feather bouncing above her hat; a father hurrying along with a glower on his face, his tie and bowler hat askew, two shouting children hanging from his arms. A gold-trimmed black carriage rattled by, pulled by a majestic pair of turquoise and orange hippogryphs, their wings bound so as not to rip their harnesses — or worse, lift off the ground and try to fly, leaving the passengers to tumble about as the carriage dangled helplessly below.
If the papers were to be believed, the city's dark corners, ripe with unpleasantness, were spreading. Employment was difficult to come by, hard workers were dismissed daily, and poverty grew and grew in the face of national crisis. But he saw none of that here. In the past ten years, the land that had once belonged to the Buckleys had become one of the cleanest, most respectable neighbourhoods in Darrington. Despite how he was inclined to gaze longingly at paintings from when his ancestral home had been an idyllic country estate, the chaos filled him with a strange sort of pride. Perhaps it was because he thought his father would have been pleased. Progress. That had been what mattered most to Michael Buckley.
Chris pushed open the iron gate and stepped into the busy street. He flagged a taxicab pulled by a twin pair of well-bred grey palfreys, their steps light and elegant.
The driver tipped his hat down at Chris. "Where to, sir?"
He didn't remember. Chris fumbled in his pocket, holding up one finger to request the man wait. There had been an enclosed business card in the response he'd received by mail, inviting him to this interview. He found it now, pulling it out. O. Faraday, Deathsniffer, it read, and then, beneath that ...
"Corner of Tenth and Regency Street," he parroted off the shimmering writing.
"Something in the way of ten royals, that."
Chris slipped the card back into his pocket and pulled out the wad of notes from inside his waistcoat. He held them up to the driver, showing he could pay. "When we arrive," he said politely. He'd been scammed before.
The driver jerked a thumb back towards the car with an easy grin. Chris liked him. "All right, pretty boy, get up and get in then."
* * *
It seemed like barely an instant before the hackey rolled to a halt and the driver was calling back at him.
"Ten royals, then! Don't dally!"
They were in a quieter part of the city now, though sound still assailed his ears. He handed the notes to the driver, his attention mostly taken up by the modest building they were parked in front of. A well-tended sign in front declared this was the Office of O. Faraday, Deathsniffer. The structure itself was austere in design and presentation ... except for the grey fog hanging artfully around it, clinging to every corner, curling up around it like a nest of wispy grey snakes. An illusion spun by a seeshifter, obviously, but the question in Chris's mind wasn't how, but why? There was enough of a bad air around the title Deathsniffer as it was. The way Mister Faraday seemed to embrace rather than shy away from the label was remarkable in itself.
What was the point in making the office even more ominous?
The driver squirmed as he took the notes, licking his lips and regarding Chris as if he were a dog, equally likely to wag its tail playfully or bite his hand off. Gone was the easy smile, replaced by a reverent sort of distaste. Chris darted his gaze from the cabbie to the sign, and then let out an uneasy chuckle.
"Oh, no no, it's — it's not me," Chris explained in a rush. He pushed up his spectacles and straightened his threadbare coat, trying to make himself look more ... respectable. Normal. "Christopher Buckley. I'm ... I'm just a wordweaver."
"Huh." The driver folded the notes, slipping them into a pocket. "Someone you know meet a sad end, sir?"
No more teasing "pretty boy," for him, then. "N-no, it's nothing like that." Chris smiled briefly, but the driver didn't return it. "It's ... I just ... hope to be in his employ, that's all. We all take work wherever we can find it in this day and age, don't we?"
The driver was clearly unsure of what to think of that response. He nodded once, tight and uncomfortable.
"If I do ... ah, maybe we'll be driving this way together again?"
"Maybe so." The man slid his gaze away from Chris's. He flicked the reins over the backs of the horses and the carriage lurched into movement again, starting off down the cobbled street.
Chris watched after him with a twist of worry in his gut. Would he find that cool sort of reception from everyone if he were offered this position?
But then, he couldn't forget the rejections from a dozen other offices that couldn't afford to pay the wage he needed, and seemed incredulous he would even ask. Mister Faraday had advertised an exorbitant sum for a simple clerical worker in his newspaper advertisement. Chris's lips twisted. Stigma or no, he was on the cusp of graduating down from a pauper to a beggar, and beggars couldn't be choosers. Better to relish whatever flimsy illusion of choice he had left.
He sighed, then turned up the stone-tiled walk.CHAPTER 2
Inside the lair of the Deathsniffer, it was dark.
There were no windows. Most of the illumination came from flickering, old-fashioned candles scattered around the room. Their unpredictable light sent shadows dancing across every surface. A door in the far wall led off further into the building. There was a desk pushed against the same wall and several armchairs set up like a waiting room, but there was no one doing any waiting today. The room was empty of all life, and he couldn't hear so much as a flutter of sound from deeper inside.
He walked over to one of the chairs, experimentally prodding one of the arms. It was soft, and well-upholstered with a luxurious velvet covering. Mister Faraday didn't cut corners on details, then, not even when money was on the line. Chris stood for a moment, wondering what to do, and then he slid into the chair. This, too, was followed by an awkward period of waiting, but no one appeared.
He reached for the newspaper on the small, elegant tea table beside him.
SHORTAGE OF HIGH LEVEL SPIRITBINDERS LEADS TO RISING PRICES IN DARRINGTON, the headline shouted in bold black print, and then, smaller, in a forgotten corner of the page, Dr. Francis Livingstone's Alternative Technologies Meet With Heavy Resistance.
Excerpted from The Deathsniffer's Assistant by Kate McIntyre. Copyright © 2015 Kate McIntyre. Excerpted by permission of Curiosity Quills Press.
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