It wasn’t unusual for Georgie to find herself tied up and at the mercy of a villain these days, but this was a bit much, even by her standards. She tugged at her bonds and succeeded in a sort of chair-bound hop, but nothing else gave.
“Blast,” she said, and wrinkled up her face, trying to think of something. So, here she was, tied up and locked in while Dr Irene Everett had gone off to hand that dodgy formula of hers over to Lord Ronald Hamerton who, in Georgie’s book, was deranged enough to use it. Lord Hamerton wanted to make Love, not War in the most literal way possible. And she didn’t have a clue where Adam was right now, but she’d last seen him heading off to Dr Everett’s lab to have a talk with her, because he had been insisting that she was not the type of lady who would ever lend herself to such an obscene and nefarious scheme, and that never went well.
Georgie heaved a sigh. She couldn’t help worrying over the idea of Adam wandering about that laboratory with a woman who was amoral and ruthless enough to sell her invention to the highest bidder, never mind the ethics or the dodgy side effects. And it was ten times worse when you threw in her wretched ‘sex dust’ on top of that. It didn’t bear thinking about. Given what sort of things Adam tended to disapprove of, he’d probably die of shock if he came into contact with the stuff, and that was provided his brain didn’t explode from the side-effects anyway.
Georgie bit back another sigh and told herself firmly that no doubt Adam was battling that horrible Lord Hamerton right now and putting a stop to all his plans. He’d soon be in here to rescue her, and she really ought to try and get herself untied before he lectured her about interfering again. It was so much easier to argue back when she wasn’t fixed to an article of furniture.
Even as she thought it, the door was flung open by one of Hamerton’s men and he and another of the thugs dragged in an unconscious Adam. Georgie had to crick her neck to crane around to try and see properly, but she also thought she saw some sort of golden haze out in the corridor and now creeping in here. She hoped very hard that it wasn’t what she thought it was.
“Beasts!” she said. “What have you done to Mr Adamant?”
They ignored her, merely shoving Adam onto another chair and tying him onto it, back to back with Georgie, before they walked off again, locking the door behind them. She heard the key turn. Lord Hamerton’s home was one of those sorts of gothic manors you got in horror flicks – and quite often in real life when you hung around with Mr Adamant.
Georgie watched some golden specks still floating around and paused to check that she was still okay, but she didn’t seem to feel any different, not yet.
She set her face and pulled at her bonds again, but the rotten men had only gone and tightened them up when they’d tied up Adam behind her. Georgie did what she could and tried to move the chair again.
“Adam!” she said. “Mr Adamant! Oh, do hurry up and wake up!”
He gave a slight groan and she turned her head as far as she could to see if he was all right, or falling prey to the dust or something, but before she could decide, Lord Hamerton walked in through the door.
“Ah, Miss Jones,” he said, removing the cigar from his mouth and walking further around so that she could see him. Not that she wanted to. He had a too-smooth face that was dominated by an unwise and untidy moustache. “And Mr Adamant is rejoining us, I see. Well, you may now sit back and watch me prove you wrong – my plan has succeeded! The world will soon have something better to occupy itself with than all this exploitation, murder, and war. Something purer – higher –”
“And twice as likely to make your head go ker-boom,” put in Georgie. “You forgot that bit. Great. I can’t wait!”
Hamerton moved further round in order to give her a cold stare. “I realise it was too much to expect an antiquated soul like your friend here to understand, but I would have thought better of you, Miss Jones. Those were isolated side-effects, and Dr Everett assures me she has now perfected her formula. Now, everywhere, love and not war will reign!”
“Love! You have no understanding of the word,” said Adam, shifting in the chair behind Georgie, and causing her to smile. “That pernicious formula excites only the basest instincts – it has nothing to say to love in its fullest sense.”
Georgie gave a nod. “Too right! I mean, like you say, I’m not an Edwardian; I don’t have any hang-ups about these things –”
Georgie ignored Adam. “And even I can see it’s a terrible idea, even if it didn’t accidentally kill people sometimes. I don’t get it – you’ll only end up in prison, you know. What’s the point? Some big, stupid, dangerous joke?”
“Oh, he’s not anything like the idealist he pretends to be,” Adam said. “He intends to use this wretched concoction to distract the country while he seizes control. Isn’t that right?”
“Someone’s got to take over,” Hamerton said. “I’ll be better than most – and this is as kind a way to take control as you’ll find. And it’ll be easy. As you say, for a good while after this, people’s wants will be so much… simpler.”
Adam was doing some tugging of his own at the ropes now. He kept awkwardly pulling at Georgie’s chair and her bonds as he worked, but she gritted her teeth and stayed still. “You scoundrel!”
“Yes, but what about the consequences?” said Georgie. “Even if you don’t care about people’s feelings, you’re going to be in charge of a country facing a population explosion! Not everyone’s on the pill, you know.”
Adam said nothing, but Georgie was certain she could feel him clenching his jaw and glaring at her casual mention of such things.
“Yes!” said Lord Hamerton. “And what an empire we shall build for those future generations to live in!”
Georgie and Adam couldn’t exchange a glance, but they both made disbelieving noises at the same moment; Georgie’s an undignified snort while Adam’s was a sort of disdainful tchah.
“Never mind,” said Lord Hamerton. “You won’t be in a condition to worry over it for much longer.” He held out a small cylinder and sprayed the air about them with the golden dust.
Georgie shut her eyes and mouth and held her breath, but knew that wasn’t going to work for long.
“Ahahahahahaha,” Lord Hamerton said as he waltzed off out the door, locking it again after him.
“Miss Jones,” said Adam from behind her. “Do not move! Stay absolutely still.”
Georgie nodded, and then blinked. Things were beginning to get a bit hooey and golden-tinged at the edges. “He’s completely round the bend, isn’t he? Completely.” She slumped back into the chair.
“Miss Jones?” said Adam. “Er, Miss Jones?”
Georgie tried to shake herself. “Oh!” she said. “Um, yes. Right! What do we do? Can you get out?”
“Need you ask?” said Adam, giving his bonds one last tug as they fell free and he leapt to his feet before turning back to untie her.
“Now,” he said, as she stood up, feeling a lot more peculiar than she liked to confess to him, “Miss Jones, I will go after the villain and you will remain here. The consequences otherwise do not bear thinking about.”
Georgie swallowed. “Okay.” She shut her eyes and tried not to breathe. It really didn’t help at all, so she tried to think about boring things, like most of the décor in Adam’s house, or the multi-storey car park, but both of those led her errant thoughts inevitably back to Adam. She opened one eye, and saw him leaning against the door.
“I regret to say that this door appears to be resolutely locked,” said Adam. “I cannot persuade it to open.” With that, he dashed past her, over to the window, opening it, but that would be no good, Georgie knew. He’d been dragged into the room unconscious, but she hadn’t and she knew that they were in one of the tower rooms, several floors up, but whatever the case, it was certainly a long way down.
Georgie pulled out a hairpin. “I’ve got this. Will it help?”
Adam leant against the wall and closed his eyes, as if in pain. “Miss Jones, I fear I must ask you to render me unconscious. There is a vase over there of a distressingly modern design that would, I feel, be of no great loss to posterity. I suggest you avail yourself of it before any further damage can be done.”
“We can’t get out?” said Georgie. She tugged wildly at the door handle, and then held onto it; she attached to the door, Adam to the opposite wall. “Um. Adam –”
He held up a hand. “Miss Jones –”
“Yes, but, the thing is, if we can’t get out and get the antidote and we’ve been infected – well, you know as well as I do that it’s the people who, um, didn’t whose heads exploded!”
“The fate of some of those who, er, did, as you so charmingly put it, was not much more edifying or any less fatal.”
“I’ll take my chances on a heart attack over my brains getting splatted everywhere any day!”
“Your lack of delicacy, Miss Jones –”
“I’d much rather lack delicacy than my head!” Georgie shut her eyes again. It felt like it ought to help, but it didn’t. Thinking was definitely getting more difficult. Her head – still in one piece and attached to her shoulders as yet – felt full of hazy golden fluff and her body was beginning to do some very inconvenient things.
Adam was suddenly beside her. She froze, hyper-aware of him and trying not to show it. He’d probably never speak to her again if she did.
“I take your point,” he said, more quietly than she’d expected, and then thumped the door, causing her to jump away from it and open her eyes in surprise. “It is, unfortunately, solid. Seventeenth century, I shouldn’t wonder.” He shook the handle again. “Bolted from the outside. This must have been used as a prison multiple times before the current Lord Hamerton took to a life of crime.”
She held her hands behind her back as tightly as she could and tried not to look at him. “Adam!”
“If we keep our minds on the architecture,” said Adam, “we can delay the effects of the formula and perhaps in the meantime someone will come to our aid and we may be spared –” His voice wondered, but he managed to recover his thread. “Yes, on the architecture. The hangings are indubitably modern copies, although at least in better taste than that most incongruous vase. I cannot imagine who would have placed such an atrocity in a place like this.”
Georgie’s head was getting fuzzier and fuzzier and big words like ‘architecture’ were proving hard to follow, especially compared to the fact that Adam was standing next to her in that ridiculous Victorian get-up – that ridiculous, beautifully-tailored and fitted Victorian get-up - but still much too far away. Something inside her was boiling up impossibly and she launched herself at him, throwing her arms around him, causing him to stop talking about the stone carvings and freeze momentarily.
“Georgina,” he croaked.
His reaction filtered through enough to make her pause, but then he stopped objecting and instead caught hold of her, kissing her in a cinematic fashion that should surely have been part of the culture he’d missed. Georgie’s few remaining thoughts deserted her, and she said vaguely, something intelligent along the lines, of “Mmph,” and, “zoinks,” and breathlessly kissed him back. He swept her up into his arms, and carried her across to the bed in an equally dramatic manner.
“Gosh,” said Georgie under her breath, and scrabbled out of her sundress and then her petticoat, before turning to Adam, who seemed to be having trouble with his thick jacket, his fingers unsteady under the influence of Lord Hamerton’s concoction.
Georgie knelt up on the mattress and helped him, getting rid of the jacket, only then to have to deal with the waistcoat, trousers, shirt, and then finally long underwear, all the while the unbearable pressure mounted inside her.
“How many layers do you have? Where do you even buy gear like that?” She waved a hand at the ridiculous archaic under garments, almost in tears of despair and frustration.
“I have – them – specially made,” he said, through gritted teeth.
“Haven’t you heard of central heating?”
“Very unhealthy,” muttered Adam, but it was the last thing either of them said for quite some time.
“Zoinks,” said Georgie some time later, lying back flat on the pillow. “Whoof.”
Adam turned beside her on the bed.
“I mean, oh, dear,” said Georgie hastily before he could talk about her lack of delicacy again. “I mean – oh, I don’t know what I mean, but I feel a lot better, thank you. You’ve got to admit that wasn’t as bad as winding up like poor Mr Alford, surely.”
Adam propped himself up and gave her a small, curious smile. “I think, my dear, that I must concede that much, yes.”
My dear! She thrilled at the words, although he didn’t mean it like that, of course, but now that the effects seemed to be wearing off and she was still in one piece, she had to admit that she hadn’t minded the experience at all. The opposite, if she was honest. She sighed a little, because she felt certain that Adam wouldn’t look at it like that.
“You mustn’t feel bad,” she said, trying to reassure him, remembering that she must make allowances for his extreme age and stuffy notions. He was probably completely horrified. Poor Mr Adamant. He might never recover. “We couldn’t help it, and it was all very nice, and really the only thing we could have done if we didn’t want to end up dead. You mustn’t worry about compromising me, or silly things like that.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I am not in the habit of seducing innocent young ladies.”
“Hey, it was potent stuff,” said Georgie. “And you didn’t. It’s all a bit fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot more the other way around. I keep telling you, things aren’t like that these days, anyway. That kind of thinking went out with the ark.”
“I, however, have not changed – not in that particular.”
She pulled a face. “Well, never mind us, what about Lord Hamerton? If he gets away, the whole country could be at it like rabbits, or having their heads ker-splatted everywhere!”
“As usual, Miss Jones, I cannot approve of your indelicate phrasing, but I believe you have summed up our predicament with unfortunate accuracy. However, one hope yet remains to us.”
Georgie thought about pointing out that after what had just happened and the fact that they were still in bed together, it was a bit much to be calling her Miss Jones and talking about her lack of delicacy, but decided it wasn’t worth it and cut to the chase. “There is? What’s that?”
“Before I entered this place, I left a message with Simms, asking him to alert the authorities – and warn them of the nature of the danger they might be facing. It is conceivable that they arrived here in time to limit some of the damage and begin the hunt for our errant aristocrat.”
Georgie absorbed that, and then gave a squeak and started hunting about for her clothes. Being in this situation with Adam was one thing, but if they were about to be rescued by Simms and the army or something, she wanted to at least be fully clothed before they got here. (It crossed her mind to wonder what would happen if the warning hadn’t taken and instead they got out to find the army or local constabulary, or worse, Simms, having an orgy and decided she’d hope for the best and settle for her head going ker-splat if it came to something as terrible as that.)
“Are we all right?” she asked, a few minutes later, tugging her dress straight while Adam was still working on doing up the buttons of his shirt. And he had two layers to go yet, she thought, feeling sorry for him. “I mean, I know you wanted me to knock you on the head rather than –”
Adam turned sharply and held up a hand to halt her awkward apology. “Miss Jones! Or Georgina, perhaps I should say, given the circumstances. Lord Hamerton’s behaviour – that wretched formula – as I said, it is a degrading mockery of the thing, not love itself –”
“Yes, I know,” said Georgie, and her shoulders drooped a little. He didn’t have to go on and on about that, did he?
Adam patted her hand. “However, in our case, at least we have – I think I may say – a certain amount of respect and affection already established between us, yes? And I would not for the world have had your head explode, my dear. Despite everything, I think that would be a great shame.”
“You mean it could have been worse?” Georgie cheered up instantly.
He gave a slight smile, surveying her. “My dear Miss Jones, will you stop trying to put words into my mouth? What I mean to say is that I have always been resolute on the subject that love, marriage – such things are out of the question for one who leads such a life of peril as I do –”
“Peril like being locked up in a tower room with you while a maniac tries to take over the country?” said Georgie. She looked at him hard.
Adam returned the look. “I have tried to warn you, but to no avail. Now you see the dire consequences that can ensue.”
“Oh,” said Georgie. “Um. Yes. Awful.”
“If I were to court a lady,” said Adam, “I would hope for more romance – and dignity – to be involved. This is quite the reverse of my ideal – and an insult to you. You deserve a great deal more consideration and respect, Miss Jones.” He paused to kiss her hand.
“Wow,” said Georgie. “I mean, thanks. I think.”
“Nevertheless, while I find the whole situation appalling, let me to assure you that I would never even dream of implying that this specific incident was not in itself – ahem – a pleasure.”
“Then I do mean thank you,” Georgie said, and felt entirely happy again. She shot him a look, possibly unholy thoughts stealing into her head as she reviewed what he’d just said. “So… How would you go about love and all that, if you weren’t being driven by something out of a bottle and if, say, a certain person wasn’t put off by danger even if she ought to be?”
She thought he might scold her for that, but he almost seemed glad of the excuse. And, after all, they had already done the worst thing that a Victorian would imagine they could do together. He leant in and kissed her, more gently than before, but still with a certain dramatic flair.
“Gosh,” said Georgie, when he pulled back. “Yes, all right, I think that was much nicer, too.” This time, she knew that he really meant it, and that, she thought, made all the difference in the world.
Adam gave a cough. “And, er, oh, dear, most unwise. Miss Jones –”
“Yes, oh, yes,” said Georgie shaking herself, not needing any further explanation as to what he meant. “Whoops, there must be some of that formula still flying about! Let’s try the door again – it’s not as if we were thinking clearly last time. I bet we can get out now if we really put our minds to it!”
Adam got up. “Yes, absolutely,” he said with fervour. “Let us attend to the door!”
They both turned as the door in question suddenly swung open to reveal Simms standing there with a large metal bucket in his hands.
“Simms! Splendid,” said Adam, striding forward. “I trust the villains have been apprehended?”
Simms nodded. “Caught red-handed after Lord Hamerton caused a distressing commotion in the queue at the petrol station while trying to refill for his getaway. We haven’t got any further with the antidote yet, but hosing everyone down seems to have worked in the meantime.” He gave a brief shudder. “For which we may all be thankful. The sights I’ve seen today –” He glanced down at the bucket. “And since Hamerton told us he’d locked you in with Miss Jones and a dose of the stuff, I hurried over to save you from a fate worse than death. I trust I was in time?”
“Perfect time,” said Adam with an obscure smile for Georgie. “And certainly, nothing in the least fatal or unpleasant occurred between us, I may assure you of that. Is that not right, Miss Jones?”
She gave a nod. “Too right, Mr Adamant!”
Simms’s brows furrowed, and then he threw the water at them, anyway.
“Simms!” said Adam. “What the devil do you think you’re doing?”
Georgie spluttered and coughed. “Simms! You pig!”
“Better safe than sorry,” said Simms. “I didn’t think you sounded quite yourself, sir.”
Adam looked around the room, and then picked up a spare blanket to wrap around Georgie’s shoulders. “Sometimes, Simms, one can be too careful. Miss Jones and I are entirely unharmed – or we were until you decided to try and drown us.”
As Adam adjusted the blanket to his satisfaction, he gave Georgie another smile. “And I assure you,” he continued, ostensibly addressing Simms, but looking directly at her, “I was precisely as clear-headed before your drenching as I am now. Make no mistake about it.”
Georgie felt a warmth inside her as her heart did worrying acrobatics that she trusted was just her and not dodgy side-effects of the formula. “Me, too,” she said, looking back at Adam, allowing herself a sudden, dizzying hope for the future. “Me, too.”