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Of Rooks and Foxes

Chapter Text

On Rooftops, Assassins and Capital Letters

 

In which Sir Jacob Frye muses on summer heat, awkward climbing, capitalisation and counterweights

Much later, in hindsight, Jacob was glad that it had been him on the rooftops that night. Evie would have bungled it all, or would have never told him anything. He would have missed out on so many opportunities to see his sister nonplussed. He would have missed out on some other things as well.

 

On the night in question, he was anything but glad. The London summer felt like a blanket of overheated soot. Back in the Crawley days (Dull, dull, dull!), he would have pranced around with a light jacket. Now, however, carrying a small armoury on his person required a proper coat. He was uncomfortably hot, even four storeys above the street level.

 

Sighing, he leaned against the chimney, and observed the small group in the courtyard below. Someone had noticed that Blighters had vacated several properties in the neighbourhood. Now another bunch of entrepreneurially minded hoodlums was looking to move in, racketeering or simply occupying the run-down flats and warehouses.

 

Evie had lectured about loose ends until he said that fine, yes, he would send the lads to see. The lecture then changed into a sermon about “ill-conceived strategies” and could he please, just once, find out what was going on first. I’ll have a butcher’s, he had replied, and that shut her up. His sister was still not fluent in Cockney.

 

Now he was overheating, and bothered, and bored.

 

Someone was crouching on the neighbouring roof!

 

The figure was small, dressed in dark garments and hooded. Jacob’s first thought was that Evie had decided to spy on him. But then the figure moved, standing up ever so slightly, and he realised it could not be Evie. Evie would not be swaying dangerously and reaching to roof tiles for support.

 

The hooded figure crouched unsteadily over a small box. One gloved hand clutched at the drainpipe for dear life. The other hand worked quickly over something in the box. The figure then half-crawled, half-walked towards the far side of the roof, further away from Jacob. It was wearing – what the hell was that? A jacket? A cape? Where the roof ended, he knew, there was a three-storey drop into the alley below, with no windows or other handholds on the bare wall.

 

The figure disappeared over the edge of the roof. Jacob grimaced and listened for the sound of a body hitting the ground, possibly bones breaking, and the unavoidable scream of pain that would follow.

 

There was only silence.

 

Feeling properly curious now, he inched closer to the neighbouring roof and waited. Nothing. He turned his attention back to the group in the courtyard.

 

There were five of them altogether, with one a touch better dressed than the other four. That would be Mr. Morecombe, the up-and-coming property broker, racketeer and all-round bruiser. He was speaking while his scruffier business partners listened deferentially.

 

The hooded figure reappeared out of the alley, walking with a measured step, a jar of liquid held high in their left hand. Filthy London moonlighted reflected off the glass.

 

“Please refrain from shooting or sudden movements. This is nitro-glycerine,” the figure spoke.

 

It was definitely a woman. She moved very slowly, her back towards the wall of the building she had been perching on.

 

“I apologise for threats, but some security is required,” she continued.

 

The voice was not highly pitched, but it carried well. Every syllable was enunciated, and he was reminded of what he called Evie’s “schoolmistress voice”. Unlike Evie, however, there was no edge of threat to the voice. It was measured and self-assured to the point of arrogance. If she had been giggling, he would have thought of Mrs. Dizzy. Instead, the voice was a cool, measured stride. Quite different, in fact, from the wobbling spectacle on the roof.

 

“Mr. Morecombe, you were enquiring about making use of my property,” the woman said.

 

“I may have,” the leader of the gang replied, sounding somewhat surprised.

 

“You enquired so energetically that two windows were left broken and those inside scared out of their wits,” the woman said.

 

The hopeful racketeer nodded.

 

“That small warehouse by the old tannery? Din’t know it was owned by a lady.”

 

“It’s not for sale or lease.”

 

Mr. Morecombe squinted in the moonlight. “Come closer and we’ll talk it over,” he offered.

 

On the roof above, Jacob tensed. First she narrowly avoids breaking both her legs, now she waltzes about with a jar of nitro-glycerine. His survival instinct suggested getting away from the spot before something exploded.

 

The woman – girl – idiot – took two steps towards Mr. Morecombe.

 

“Look here – “, Morecombe began.

 

Her right hand now came up from underneath the short cape, and it was gripping a revolver. The woman fired twice at almost point-blank range. Jacob was pretty certain that Mr. Morecombe hit the ground with about a third of his head missing.

 

Before the echo of the shots had died down, the woman hurled the jar at the remaining men. They ducked, yelping when the glass shattered. Instead of a small earthquake, however, there was a hissing, like of steam, and a foul smell filled the air.

 

Like a smoke bomb, Jacob thought. The smell was worse, however, harshly acidic. He peered down at the woman.

 

She holstered the gun, waved her hand at something nearby and flew vertically up the wall. It was a little like his rope launcher, but he could not see how it worked.The woman scrambled up onto the drain, grabbed something from the box she had left there, and ran once again to the far wall.

 

Now Jacob gave chase. He leapt onto the next roof and sped up to the edge. He could see her turning out of the alley and making a run for it down the street.

 

He looked at the bare wall below him.

 

A rope ladder. That’s why she did not break her legs. Somehow that was terribly disappointing.

 

He shimmied down the wall and broke into a run. He could see the figure before him, running at a decent speed of someone slight, unencumbered, but unused to running. Another block and she would have to stop.

 

Fun!

 

The woman turned a corner sharply and ducked into a maze of small buildings off the main street. Jacob allowed himself to slow down. This area mostly held warehouses and small-to-medium workshops. Guards cost real money. Most people here relied on half-rabid dogs.

 

Jacob strolled leisurely into the maze of doors and girders. He looked around very carefully for a moment, then headed for an abandoned-looking shed to his right.

 

The door was unlocked. A lone lantern on a nail was placed so as to illuminate anyone coming in, but not the hooded creature in the corner. He could still see the gun in her hand, though.

 

“I think we are on the same side, Mr. Frye,” the woman said. “If you promise not to leap at me, I will certainly not try to shoot you.”

 

“Why not? You set up the shot pretty well.”

 

“I’m not a complete idiot, Mr. Frye. I’d be dead before I ran out of bullets. But I shall put the gun down in the knowledge that we are probably on the same side.” The barrel of the gun disappeared behind the crates.

 

Oh, for goodness sake, not that again.

 

“Before you say anything else,” Jacob said, “Why are you clambering on the roofs like that? You’re not much of an assassin.”

 

A flicker of a match. She was lighting a very thin, very sweet-smelling cigar.

 

“I am not an assassin at all. I am most certainly not an Assassin with a capital ‘A’,” she said calmly.

 

This could not fly even over his head, Jacob thought. “But you are aware of the existence of assassins with a capital ‘a’,” he said dryly.

 

“Yes.” A puff of smoke. “I am not one, but both my parents were. That is why I was hoping you would not attempt to kill me. You would certainly be successful.”

 

He sneezed at the smoke. It was expensive tobacco, possibly cured with something even more expensive.

 

“Is there not enough smoke in London without that?”, Jacob asked testily.

 

“It calms my nerves.”

 

“And they need calming?”

 

“I rarely take strolls along the rooftops at night time to shoot people in the head,” she replied. “This had to be done.”

 

Jacob walked around the crates. The view up close was not much more rewarding. All that the glow of the cigarillo revealed was tip of a slightly pointy nose. One pair of lips, normally sized, two arms, two legs, all unbroken, a simple outfit in dark grey, probably a man’s clothes adapted to fit a woman. A pair of boots, and a leather bag, like a doctor’s calling bag, by her feet.

 

“You said he and his lot broke two windows on your building and frightened the people inside,” Jacob enquired.

 

“Yes, they did,” came the response. “I live there on my own, Mr Frye. I assure you I was terrified.”

 

“So why not call the police?”

 

“My living arrangements are quite peculiar. That involves a good deal of financial pretence and staying out of the Society.” She twisted the last word so that Jacob picked up on the capital ‘S’. “You are surely aware that property and unmarried women are a marriage made in Hell.”

 

Jacob nodded. “I’ve heard a few thoughts on the subject,” he admitted. Not easy to interrupt Evie’s rants when she is completely right. “But if you knew who I was, why not come to me?”

 

She now looked up. The hood was not too well crafted, so he still could not see much of the face. “I possibly should have. However, I do not appreciate being assigned the role of a damsel in distress. What is done is done.”

 

“How did you know it was me running after you?”

 

“I caught a glimpse of you on the roof. Not many coats and top hats are commonly seen at that height in the evening, you understand.”

 

She had obviously calmed down. The slightly shaky voice recovered the full force of disinterested self-assurance. But truth be told, she was right.

 

He just had to ask.

 

“How did you get back onto the roof? Pardon me, but you cannot climb to save yourself,” he blurted.

 

“Physics, Mr. Frye. A wheel and a counterweight.” She stubbed out the half-finished cigarillo on a crate and pocketed the remaining half. “I’d be happy to show you, and your sister, should you come calling.”

 

She named a nearby address, or rather, a description of an out-of-the way manufacture nearby. Finally she held out a gloved hand for him to shake.

 

“My name is Clara Devine. A pleasure to meet you.”

 

Jacob smiled. “Do you need an escort home?” he offered.

 

“No, it is not far. Good night, Mr. Frye.”

 

She stooped to collect her bag and left the building without looking back.

 

He just had to tell Evie. This was priceless.

 

Chapter Text

Evie’s face had been a sight. First, she frowned in concentration, then perked up at the mention of a hooded figure. Then she was in turn surprised, worried and very worried, until Jacob finished his yarn by giving the woman’s name. Evie’s brow furrowed in thought as the twins’ train clattered on through London.

“Devine, Devine…” she muttered. “Yes. Yes, it matches. That would be the daughter of Robert and Felicity Devine. Father knew them.”

What capacity for Brotherhood gossip his sister had! “Ever met them?”

She shook her head. “No, they travelled a lot.”

“Unlike us.”

“Yes, unlike us. They both passed a few years back. That would make Miss Devine about our age, give or take a few years. How old did she look to you?”

Jacob shrugged expansively and slouched further on the chaise lounge. “She looked like a bundle of grey sackcloth. That is all I recall. Oh, and expensive cigars.”

“Did you see her hands? You can usually tell the age by someone’s hands.”

“She had gloves on. Anything else?”

“I’d like to meet her. She sounds very interesting.”

“You’d like her. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.”

Evie peeked through the carriage window. “We’re near the address she gave,” she nodded. “Let’s pay her a visit.”

“Aren’t you feeling sociable today, dear sister.”

“I just want to make sure you have not stepped into another Templar by mistake, brother dearest.”

That hurt, but before Jacob could collect himself for a proper argument, his sister had left the carriage.

* * *

The address they were given led them to a nondescript warehouse, or a small workshop. Such yard as there had been was slowly being eaten away by crates and fencing from the neighbouring properties. Evie knocked on the door.

A sliding spyhole in the door opened, and she smiled into it. Her friendly smile went unheeded: there was no one on the other side.

The spyhole was closed, and now the door opened. A woman about her age stood in the door. A quick look – clothes like a clerk, thick leather waistcoat, leather cover on the forearms. Working clothes.

“Do come in,” she said, and motioned them both inside. “You must be Miss Frye. I am Clara Devine.”

The handshake was firm and confident, the smile seemed genuine. Evie looked at the door they had come through.

“You did not see us through the spyhole,” she guessed.

Clara Devine shook her head and motioned Evie to a small box attached to the door. “Look through here.”

Evie peered into the box. Mere inches from of her eyes there hovered a clear image of the yard she and Jacob had been standing in a moment ago.

“It’s a periscope,” Clara said. “A game of mirrors and physics.” She moved aside to let Jacob have a look. “Anyone is welcome to stick a hand or a gun through the spyhole.”

To Evie’s slight despair, her brother was checking whether, while gazing through the mirror device, he could slice off an imaginary hand in the spyhole.

“It could work,” he concluded.

Now Evie could take in the rest of the indoors. It was not a large building. To the left of the door, a long, wide bench ran the length of the wall. It held a range of instruments, from beakers and burners for chemical experiment to small lathes and metalworking tools at the other end. Evie noted approvingly that it was impeccably neat. In fact, it was so tidy it may have even impressed Miss Florence Nightingale.

Naturally, Jacob was all over it, probably looking for a toy. No matter. She turned to Miss Devine.

“And you also live here?”

Miss Devine motioned towards the stairs at the back. What would have housed the foreman’s office and clerks’ rooms was turned into a miniature apartment with curtained windows, but no roof. Instead, the murky glass panels in the ceiling lit the whole place from above.

“Yes, that is the inner sanctum,” their hostess confirmed. “Not much to show to guests, I’m afraid.”

Evie frowned. “How do you maintain all this?”

Miss Devine almost grinned. “I am lucky, Miss Frye. I am reasonably rich. That is in no way a reflection of my own ability, you understand. I was blessed with liberal parents who had the forethought to both educate me and provide for me in case of their demise. And I also have an excellent solicitor,” she added, shrugging.

“I think our parents may have known one another,” Evie offered cautiously. Jacob was still fiddling with something on the bench.

“Yes, they did,” Clara replied. “I realized that soon after you and your brother made yourselves known in London.” She sighed. “I never met your family, however. We travelled a lot. I should thank you, though,” she added, with a slight bow. “Your works of the last year or so have made me feel a lot safer in London.”

Evie grimaced at the triumphant ‘hah!’ from the bench.

“And you live alone?”

“I have been on my own since my parents died. As I’ve said, I’m well provided for. I had to come to London, though.”

“Had to?”

Clara grimaced. “It’s not very easy to hide in a country cottage in a small town. Everyone’s proverbial nose is in your proverbial business.”

Evie thought back to Crawley. “Indeed.”

“I once heard a saying: hide a stone among the rocks, and a man among the people,” Clara mused. “It is easier to hide in London.” She looked over to where Jacob was toying with a small mechanism attached to the bench. “Your brother has found the device that so intrigued him the other night.”

Evie looked at a contraption of cylinders and wire as Clara explained. Physics indeed. One end of the wire attached to her belt, a counterweight on the other. Release the counterweight and go flying up.

“I’d wager you don’t weigh too much,” Jacob was saying. “But I cannot see you carrying a weight like that onto the roof and then lowering it to the ground.”

“I didn’t, Mr. Frye. I had hidden it there a day or two before.” She busied herself at the bench. “Let me show you with a smaller weight.”

“I can see uses for this,” Evie muttered.

Clara smiled. “And you’re welcome to them. I do not bother with patents’ office. I will happily bother for you.”

Jacob had moved on to the chemistry part of the bench, poking and prodding.

“What about the smoke bomb?” he yelled.

Miss Devine almost sniggered. “That took longer than calculating weights,” she admitted. “The jar had two compartments. I had to find a mixture that would cause both the fog and the rather acidic cloud. It was not the most pleasant series of experiments.”

“Could I have some?”

Miss Devine shook her head. “I made myself thoroughly ill mixing that up. I have no desire to do it again.”

Jacob looked disappointed. Evie, however, felt rather intrigued. Her fingers tapped a tattoo on the bench. “We could use some of these devices, Miss Devine.”

“Just so. Nothing is as rewarding as bending physics into mechanics. I like to keep myself occupied.”

Jacob snorted. “Certainly a safer pastime than taking the air on the rooftops.”

Evie took in the whole workshop again. “How many people do you employ to run this place?”

Clara’s response was a confused look. “No one,” she said. “As long as I am on my own, I have more to do and less to worry about.”

The two women exchanged knowing smiles, like two conspirators.

* **

“So, will you visit her again?” her brother asked as they walked away from Miss Devine’s workshop.

“I rather think so,” Evie replied.

“You should introduce her to Aleck,” he grinned. Evie looked up to the sky. No telegraph wires here. But perhaps soon.

“She does seem to prefer to be left alone. Which reminds me, I do hope she has not caught you staring.”

“Hm?”

The older Frye gave her brother an unkindly push. “Really, Jacob. One would think you have never seen a woman in britches before.”

Jacob waved his arms about dramatically.

“The only female backside I’ve ever seen in britches is yours,” he explained. “And that one is not on my list of contemplative delights.”

She had to let that slide, really. “What about Mr. Wynert?” To his credit, Jacob thought for a moment before opening his mouth.

“Ned is... Ned.”

They strolled on in the afternoon heat.

***

The next time Evie did not bother with the spyhole. She knocked and smiled up at where she guessed the mirror device would be. The door opened a second later.

Clara was a mess of oil and metal dust, her sleeves rolled up, her hair covered by an old scarf.

“Bad time?” Evie asked.

“Not at all. But I am rather glad it is just you and not your brother.”

The inside of the workshop smelled of turned wood and machine oil. Evie strolled in.

“I am sorry, Miss Devine. He can be rather a pest.”

Clara was wiping her hands on an old rag. “While I am not too concerned with niceties, it is not pleasant to show oneself in rags and filth.”

“However,” she continued, “I am almost finished for the day. Light will be quite weak soon. May I offer you a cup of tea? Or coffee?”

“Gladly.” Evie waited while the other woman washed her hands – and her face, which really needed it – in a nearby basin. “Can I ask you something?”

There it was, a slight tensing of the posture. “Please do.”

Evie tried to affix a smile to her face, but it did not really match the question. “Your parents belonged to the Brotherhood. You obviously have no problem with that. You make – and offer us – things that are useful. But you are not a member of the Brotherhood yourself.”

A tense face turned to her. “Those statements are all factually correct,” Miss Devine said slowly. “I am still waiting for the question.”

“Why not?”

The other woman sighed, and for a moment looked a lot younger to Evie’s eyes.

“Come up to the inner sanctum,” she said and led the way up the stairs.

Evie stepped into the room and felt almost dizzy for the moment. She may have stepped into a kaleidoscope. It was full of strangely ordered clutter: small brass tables, mosaics of mirrors and filigreed lamps, like in the images of a Turkish or Moorish market. Shawls from India wrapped themselves around piles of books that in turn held bowls of – fabric flowers? Made of silk? - in which nested oddly formed Hindu gods. A glass contraption with pipes snaking out of it rested in one corner. Really, it looked like someone had picked up Henry’s curio shop and threw its contents into a boudoir. An unusual scent permeated the air. Sandalwood, Eve realised. A small piece of sandalwood was burning atop a cast iron stove.

In the middle of it all stood Miss Devine, looking a little sad.

“My parents, Miss Frye, were extremely liberally minded people. I am not much for poetry, but it was a little like being raised by Lord Byron and Mr. Shelley.” She sighed. “My parents schooled me themselves, and then let me pursue my own schooling.”

Evie nodded. “Did you know what they did?”

“Not in detail. I was raised with the Creed without ever having been told the Creed.”

Thank goodness Jacob is not here, Evie said to herself. “Oh, you mean she did not have to repeat it like the Lord’s Prayer every night? How’s that, Evie?”

“And, as you know, the purpose of the Creed is to safeguard freedom. And among that they counted my freedom to choose. Perhaps I was weak. Perhaps I was undisciplined. But, frankly, once they were taken from me, I found more comfort in my freedom than in the Creed.”

Now she looked a little bristly. “Does that answer your question?”

Evie gave an apologetic half-smile. “That was... Refreshingly sincere, Miss Devine. Forgive my questioning.”

Miss Devine busied herself with an odd-looking teapot. “Do not apologise. My parents were cautious people, and you, too, have good reason to be so. After all, I’ve had to learn my share of deception and hiding. You see,” she twirled around, “I hide in plain sight, it just takes a lot of effort.”

“But you’ve killed someone.”

“People kill all the time. Soldiers, jealous wives, incompetent surgeons. I’ve killed three people so far: one out of mercy, and two out of self-defense. I am happy to say that I have never killed for sport, for pleasure or to defend the moral order of things. Nor do I intend to make a habit of it.”

Evie felt a sort of relief. No self-respecting British Templar would put up with an attitude like that. With an effort, she forbade herself further prying. Instead, she sat down on a low seat and took in the details of the room.

“Most of these things do not come from England,” she commented.

“Goodness, no. Unless science is at work, I cannot abide England. Before I was twelve, I had lived in India and Turkish Palestine. Before I was sixteen, I had seen the ruins of Greece and taken a ship to Odessa on the Black Sea. These are mementos, or stand-ins for mementos.”

Evie was momentarily distracted by the seat next to hers. She realized it was in fact a box, and a familiar one at that.

“Is that... A rifle case?”

Finally, Miss Devine’s eyes glinted.

“It is indeed. I can barely handle a breadknife, my dear Miss Frye - “

“Please, Miss Devine. Evie.”

“In that case, please, Evie – Clara. Like I said, I can barely slice bread, but I am not a bad shot.”

The box contained two beautiful carbine rifles. The stocks gleamed with polish. Evie, although not half as mad about firearms as her brother, still felt a slight thrill.

“It seems such a pity to keep them in a box,” she managed.

Clara spread her arms helplessly. “I cannot climb on the roof and take pot-shots at pigeons. I have not fired one of these in while.”

Evie thought for a moment. “There a few quite pleasant spots outside London...” she mused. “Miss Dev – Clara, here is my suggestion...”

Chapter Text

“A picnic?!”

Jacob could hardly believe his ears. He looked from his cane-twirling sister to Henry Green, all but standing to attention beside her, then to a basket – no, a hamper – on the seat between them. He could hear a soft clink of china as the hamper rocked gently with the movement of the train carriage. Evie nodded.

“Better you than me,” he snorted. “Well, enjoy holding hands under the scorching sun -”

“Oh, no, Jacob,” Henry intervened. “I am not going.”

Jacob lifted an eyebrow.

“The picnic is for Evie and her friend,” Henry explained. “Miss Devine, I believe.”

Now Jacob had to laugh.

“She does not strike me as the type to sit quietly and contemplate flowers,” he snorted.

“Nonetheless,” his sister said with a grumpy finality. Jacob’s eyes narrowed.

“Hold on,” he drawled. “What are you not telling me?”

“Since when do I need to account to you for my social engagements, brother dearest?”

Jacob pursed his lips and defaulted to the only other target available.

“Greenie,” he purred. “What is she not telling me?”

“Honestly, Jacob, all I know is that she wanted to take Miss Devine out for a picnic.”

“Without you?”

“She feels the young lady would be more at ease without strangers around.”

Jacob grabbed Henry by the upper arms. Gently, out of deference to his sister’s feelings.

“The young lady shoots strangers in the head, Greenie. Come on, what’s really at play?”

Henry gingerly disentangled himself from Jacob’s grip.

“I believe rifles were mentioned.”

“Rifles? What kind?”

“You said you were not interested, Jacob,” Evie interrupted dryly.

What kind of rifle?

His cry was drowned out by the howl of Bertha’s breaks. Evie picked up the hamper and tried to push past her brother to the door of the carriage.

“A Peabody carbine,” she snapped in his face and pushed past. He was after her like a shot.

The mad scientist has a Yankee carbine?

He was off the train before Evie, just enough time to bow to her with some exaggeration.

“Allow me to take your hamper, m’lady. You’ll need a driver, won’t you?”

“Be off with you.”

“Come on, you’ll kill the poor horses before Hackney. Now, let me get you a carriage.”

***

He was rather proud of the speed at which he had procured a modest landau. Evie was cursing and threatening (in a range from “I cannot believe this” to “you had better behave yourself”), but quite comfortably enjoying the breeze in the back seat. Jacob pulled up neatly at the entrance to the warren that housed Miss Devine’s odd abode.

Evie went to fetch her. Jacob cooed to the horses and decided that, for the first time in a while, he felt, well... Good. No flaming rows with Evie, no collecting dead Rooks off the streets. London was oppressively quiet in summer. The serving classes followed the nobility and the moneyed into the countryside. If there was plotting, it was not under his nose at present.

He was rather bored, though. The sight of the lacquered box (two carbines!) cheered him up to no end. The hand holding the box surprised him, though. It wore light gloves that reached up halfway to a forearm enveloped in a -

Miss Devine was wearing a dress. He looked on with some curiosity. Yes, there was a waist, hips somewhere under what he supposed must be a mountain of petticoats and – goodness gracious – an almost open collar. He jumped out of the driver’s seat.

“May I take your utensils?” he purred and reached for the box of rifles. The box was withdrawn from his reach immediately.

“Do you not have enough weapons on your person, Mr. Frye?”

The tone was bad enough, Evie’s snorting laughter made it worse.

“To put them in the carriage, Miss Devine.”

Now the box was relinquished. The two women settled down in the landau, talking in quiet voices. He decided to play the part of the obliging coachman for the moment.

By the time they reached the outskirts of London, the game had grown stale, and he was bored again.

“Where are we going again?”

Evie repeated the instructions in a tired voice.

“Miss Devine, I know my sister is an incredibly entertaining conversationalist, but would you perhaps like to catch some breeze up here? I can barely see any soot in the air.” He slowed down to give Evie the time and the quiet to start complaining. To his surprise, there was a knock on the side of the carriage. He pulled up.

Miss Devine settled in the seat next to him. He offered her the reins. She barely glanced at him.

“I would not presume, Mr. Frye. Do drive on.”

Jacob breathed out through his nose, eyed the horses (still plenty left in them, for sure) and came to a decision.

“Hold onto your hat,” he said simply, and drove the horses into a gallop. He was quite certain he’d hit the right speed, as Evie, forlorn in the back, was calling him a cretin. He shoved the top hat more firmly on his head and glanced at his other passenger.

With one movement, Miss Devine pulled off her own hat and shoved it under the seat, pressing down on it with her heel for good measure. Both hands gripped the edge of the seat tightly and her hair – short, only shoulder-length – was flapping behind her. Still, the expression never changed, except for a hint of smile in the corners of her mouth.

He drove the horses harder. This was a lot more entertaining. Now, any moment – a yelp, a grunt, or, best of all – a frightened scream -

Miss Devine was smiling. It was a happy, self-contented smile. She was being entertained.

“Slow down, you idiot!” Was that his sister or someone on the side of the road? He obliged.

“I really don’t know what you’re complaining about, Evie. The sooner we get there, the more time for the picnic,” he called over his shoulder. Next to him, Miss Devine gathered her hair back under the hat. Still not a sound. “And I am terribly curious about what Mr. Green has packed.”

Now Miss Devine spoke, “Pardon me, but who is Mister Green?”

Jacob fluttered his eyelids theatrically. “My sister’s fiancé, an Indian gentleman.”

At the word ‘Indian’, Miss Devine made a face. Jacob’s eyes narrowed.

“Is there a problem, Miss Devine?” he said in a decidedly unfriendly tone.

“Well, yes. ‘Green’ is a very odd name for an Indian gentleman,” she said.

Evie moved to the other seat, and sat half-turned towards Miss Devine.

“His name is Jayadeep Mir, as a matter of fact,” she said. Miss Devine nodded.

“Now that sounds a lot better. Bengal or Punjab?” She listened to Evie’s explanation.

“Congratulations on your engagement, Evie,” she said finally. “If your fiancé can cook, you are the luckiest woman in London.”

Picnic hampers and cups of tea aside, Jacob had never pictured Greenie as a cook. “And why is that?” he butted in.

“Mr. Frye, my life since my childhood visit to India has been one endless quest for real food,” Miss Devine snorted.

“Sounds like you never had a proper pie,” he offered.

“Do shut up, Jacob,” came a plea from the landau. “Miss Devine has travelled and tasted foods quite extensively.”

Jacob shrugged, “And I have an extensive knowledge of cuisine from Crawley to Croydon. From the best mountain oysters to the least gristly pie.”

He could have sworn she choked down a laugh.

***

Miss Devine’s disappointment at Greenie’s rich but extremely English hamper was almost palpable.

“Would you believe what I miss the most in my life in London? Food with flavour.”

Evie’s eyebrows arched. “Is that so? I wonder if we could do something about that.”

They had not even needed a blanket to sit on, the grass was so dry. The leaves above them drooped in the midday heat. Jacob leaned back on his elbows. He wondered how far it was to the nearest pub.

The spot Evie had picked was actually quite pretty, but the lounging in the grass, with the sounds of birds from the nearby pond, reminded him of Crawley. The scent of grass in the summer, the scent of dullness. The scent of fog at night, the scent of fire -

No. Don’t think about the fire.

He opened his eyes when Miss Devine’s dress rustled past him. She opened the case with the rifles. The day felt less dull immediately.

***

Several rounds later, he was impressed with both the design of the gun and how well it had been maintained.

“We still haven’t seen you shoot, Clara,” Evie chimed in.

At this, Jacob eased his grip on the gun.

“Yes, indeed, Miss Devine. A revolver at point-blank range does not count.”

Clara Devine picked up a rifle, loaded it and sighted along the barrel.

“I am not really sure what to aim for,” she muttered against the stock. Jacob observed her cheek nuzzling against the gun, almost sniffing along the metal. “And I am not about to thin the already sad population of birds in this pond,” she added.

Don’t think about dead birds, either.

“Would you allow me to set up a target?” Jacob asked.

She put the rifle down and considered.

“Of course, Mr. Frye,” she said simply.

“Very well.”

He bent down and took one of the white china cups Greenie had so thoughtfully packed. He counted inwardly.

One, two, thr -

“Those are Henry’s!” Evie screamed.

“He can spare a cup,” Jacob responded blithely, and he was away.

He stopped at the first tall tree at a reasonable distance, then scrambled into the higher branches. Once he had picked a high enough branch, he carefully hung the teacup by its handle. It looked like a Christmas tree ornament. He tested the branch to make sure the unfortunate piece of crockery could not slip off.

Evie was still shaking her head when he returned. Miss Devine, on the other hand, eyed the cup in the distant tree.

“Good enough?” he asked.

“I suppose I cannot prevail on you to spare the cup? Clara?” said Evie without much hope.

Oh, no. Don’t you dare.

“Let’s make it a little more interesting,” Jacob suggested. “I propose a wager.”

The two women looked at him enquiringly.

“Let’s hear it, Mr. Frye,” Miss Devine said in that slow, almost disinterested voice.

He put his hands on his hips and leaned towards her.

“Simple,” he cooed. “Wager you can’t hit the cup.”

An offended cry or at least a wince would have been so rewarding. Instead, Clara Devine nodded.

“Very well.”

She began to lift the rifle, but stopped in mid-motion.

“What exactly are you wagering, Mr. Frye?”

He appeared to think for a moment. “Well, if you miss - “

“If I miss, you have the considerable satisfaction of having been correct,” she said without looking at him. “You are the one wagering. Again, what do you wager?”

Now he really had to stop and think. For a fleeting moment he considered asking for the rifle, but that seemed the less entertaining option. He pursed his lips.

“A dinner at a better sort of a pub,” he finally offered.

He felt more than saw Evie’s gesture: his sister lowered her face into her palm, shaking her head. The rifle was placed on the ground.

“A dinner in a London pub is not worth the waste of a bullet,” Miss Devine said with a shrug. “Besides, I am not fond of beer.”

“Then what?”

She actually smiled, glancing almost shyly at him below the rim of her hat. “Two bottles of good Italian wine,” she suggested.

Jacob agreed. Not that he knew where he would get that wine. Then again, it was not likely he would need it. He had picked a pretty tall tree.

“Very well,” Miss Devine said again. “If you would be so kind, Evie.”

She passed her hat to Evie and picked up the rifle. She put it to her shoulder – slightly awkwardly, hah, not so easy to shoot in that dress - and became very still. The barrel of the rifle rose slowly. Jacob followed the imaginary line extending from the tip of the barrel towards the distant tree. Miss Devine cocked the rifle.

He heard the shot first and then – I bet I’m imagining it – the sound of something breaking in the distance. Miss Devine put the rifle down and held it the way an old dowager clasps her walking cane.

“Evie, would you do me the kindness of being the impartial judge?” she said. “I suppose that is acceptable, Mr. Frye?”

Evie set off to ascertain the fate of the tea cup.

“So, she is Evie, but I am still Mr. Frye?” Jacob muttered. Miss Devine became very still again. Her grip on the rifle tightened. Jacob walked slowly around her and passed her the hat Evie had left on the ground.

“How about I take that?” He reached for the rifle and she passed it to him. Their gloved hands connected over the barrel, and she released the weapon quickly.

“I wish you’d chosen the dinner,” he whispered slyly, and now there was a reaction. She shuddered.

And there was Evie, striding towards them across the grass, carefully cradling something in her palm. A handful of crockery chips was shoved under Jacob’s nose.

“You owe Henry a cup and Miss Devine the price of your wager. The handle is still hanging on the branch.”

Jacob sighed.

***

Where does one get good Italian wine, and how do you tell, anyway? Jacob wondered during the ride back to London. Perhaps one of his contacts at the docks would know? Damned if was going to ask Evie, and Henry never drank anyway. At least I haven’t seen him drink, he corrected himself.

He helped unload the box with the rifles and offered Miss Devine his hand as she stepped off the coach. As the gloved fingers touched his palm, he gave in to a devilish urge.

He squeezed.

She almost lost her footing, swaying on the tip of one boot for a moment. And there is was – the sharp intake of breath.

He leaned in, the brim of his top hat touching the brim of hers.

“Everything alright?”

They stared at each other under the hat brims. Jacob felt a smile tugging at his lips. The eyes in front of him grew wide. He squeezed her hand again, and she drew the air sharply between her teeth.

“Too much sun, I suppose,” he whispered.

She straightened up without pulling her hand back.

“I doubt it,” she murmured.

He released her hand and walked her to the door, where he handed her the rifle case.

“Good evening, Miss Devine,” he said quietly. She turned to look at him over her shoulder.

“Two bottles, Italian, red. Good night, Mr. Frye.”

And then the door closed in his face.

Chapter Text

It was several days later that Evie paid another visit to Miss Devine. The sun was sinking behind the forest of masts and chimneys on the Thames. Miss Devine’s workshop was filled with soft shadows and golden light, as quiet as a church. The warmth and the spiraling motes of dust in the air had an almost soporific effect. It was a lazy evening, heavy with the heat of the day.

“You find me at my laziest,” Clara said apologetically, pointing to two chairs, a glass of white wine and a book on the workbench. “I was tempted to take a stroll earlier, but it seemed cooler in here.” She reached under the bench and pulled out another wine glass. “Care to join me?”

“Has my brother already paid his wager?”

“Sadly, no. In the meantime, my own supplies run short.”

Evie frowned. “I feel that I owe you an apology, really.” She accepted the glass and took a sip. The wine was sweet. “My brother can be incredibly boorish.”

Clara shook her head. “I only expect an apology if I do not receive my winnings, or my wine, as it were, within a reasonable time.”

“Well, our little shooting exercise was one of those occasions where I could only bite my tongue and hope he would not say something altogether inappropriate.”

Clara laughed a full, heartfelt laugh before taking another sip of wine. “I am not easily shocked, believe me. But I do hope that you did not come here only for unwarranted apologies.”

“No. I came on a mission of mercy,” Evie began. “I think we may need your help.”

Clara leaned in. “I’m listening.”

The undertaking sounded almost romantic when told as a story. She and Jacob had been approached by a young man from the faraway colony of New Zealand. He was not English, but a native of the distant islands, and had been in London for some time on a most unusual quest.

“You see, when people of their tribe die, the kin collects the bones after a while, places them in a specially crafted box and puts them to rest in a place sacred to that tribe. Someone has committed the unforgivable sin of trading away the bones of one of his ancestors. Our acquaintance was shocked to learn those self-same bones, with the box his family had carved, were on display in the British Museum.”

Clara nodded for her to go on.

“He tried approaching the Museum clerks,” Evie continued. “But from what he said, I gather it did not go well.”

“What a surprise,” Clara commented dryly. “I imagine they viewed him primarily as a specimen.” She sloshed the wine about in her glass. “I also imagine any of those gentlemen would be aghast if someone were to display the open coffin of their maiden aunt Mary in the very same hall.”

Evie nodded. “He used much the same comparison. He is desperate to take those bones back with him, and he has had to book a passage back already.”

“A heist, then,” Clara grinned. “For a worthy cause. But why do you need me?”

“The case is on display in one of the large halls of the Museum,” Evie explained. “It should not be hard to get in there at night, but carrying the thing out is difficult. It is quite fragile.” She grimaced. “A quick and quiet approach would also mean the removal would not be discovered immediately. Also, I would rather we were not seen.”

Clara was tapping one finger on the rim of her now empty glass. “A fragile package in a large hall, meant to be taken on a ship. It needs to be packed well, but still be easy to carry. The weight should not be too much of a problem, as the bones are probably hollow and brittle by now.”

She stood up. “I will need to see it. Why not make an edifying visit to the museum tomorrow?” she suggested.

“It will be a pleasure,” Evie smiled.

“Another glass of wine? And then we shall stop, because that will be the last of my supply.”

The workshop was warm and quiet. Evie decided that one more glass could not hurt. She looked over the book that rested, spine up, on the bench.

She was glad she did not have a mouthful of wine, as she may have spat it on the book in surprise.

“Is that... Is that Fanny Hill?”

She had heard of the book, of course, but never laid her eyes on a copy. It was most definitely not the kind of reading material Ethan Frye would have left lying around, and she would never have dared ask.

Clara returned her glass, now refilled.

“It is rather hard to come by,” she mused. “Especially an illustrated edition.” She smiled half apologetically, half regretfully. “Those of us with little opportunity to practice must sometimes make do with the theory, as it were.”

Clara was blushing ever so slightly, and Evie felt relieved. She was not sure what colour her own face showed. She tried for a friendly laugh. Clara offered a genuinely sad smile in return.

Evie stopped smiling.

“Clara,” she said softly. “Were you ever married?”

The other woman looked aghast. “Good grief, no, nor do I plan to be!” she exclaimed. “Considering the expectations, a proper marriage would be the end of me.” Then her eyes narrowed. “But that is not what you are actually asking me, is it?”

“I should not be asking at all,” Evie admitted.

Clara reached into her pocket and pulled out a slim cigarette case. She pulled out a thin, almost black cigar and struck a match on the table.

“I should be asking if the smoke bothers you, but how anyone can notice it in the city full of burning coal dust is, frankly, beyond me.”

Evie waited. Yet another misplaced apology would be patronising, she decided.

“I have never been married, and, while I do not wish to presume anything, I suspect your fiancé is one of... One of you,” Clara concluded.

Evie nodded and waited some more.

“Any other arrangement would see me confined to a parlour and a corset, and that would be, as far as I am concerned, an end to a life worth living.” Clara looked up sharply. “I told you my parents were quite the liberal couple. I was given freedom within the bounds of discretion and safety. Let us just say that... I have had what experience came my way, and find myself once again firmly confined to theory... Or to fiction,” she concluded sadly.

On impulse, Evie reached over and took Clara’s hand.

“It is not a very fair world for women,” Evie offered. “This is just one of the many unfair expectations.”

Clara snorted. “The moral expectations of the Society? That was never my concern. I had to learn to curb my own expectations.”

The conversation had already stranded off the polite paths, so Evie went on. Perhaps the wine was helping, too.

“What do you mean?”

Clara stood up and motioned around herself, at the bench, the tools, the book, the whole strange household. “I am hardly an acceptable female companion, aren’t I?” she chortled. “How many men, do you think, would find my manner and conversation agreeable? Look, I had the good fortune to be with a few men I liked, I had the excellent fortune, once, to be with a man I was in love with – he's fruitfully and profitably married now, I believe – but I have learned to curtail my expectations.”

She put the glass down and took a final puff of the cigar.

“What I have taught myself,” Clara concluded, “Is to not expect to ever be with a man who is in love with me.” She finally smiled, and it was not a very happy smile, Evie noted. “I am far too deviant for that.”

The two women stared at each other in the darkening room. It was Clara who finally broke the silence.

“But you are very welcome to borrow the infamous book, of course,” she offered. And Evie started to laugh.

“My turn to apologise for that sickening outburst,” Clara said. “Wine does not mix well with this sort of heat.”

Evie shook her head. “No, I quite understand, believe me. I have felt much the same on occasion.”

I truly did, she thought, But not since Jayadeep and his silly pressed flowers. She stood up to go, but stopped to place a friendly hand on Clara’s shoulder. “British Museum, tomorrow at, shall we say, eleven? Before the worst heat of the day.”

The other woman responded with a clasp of equal camaraderie. “I shall see you there.”

Chapter Text

Jacob was rather amused at the turn his sister’s pastimes have taken. First a picnic, now a visit to the British Museum. He was quite disgruntled, though: his company had been politely requested, and he had agreed. However, as soon as Miss Devine appeared, looking ridiculously prim and proper in a serious, dun-coloured dress, Evie told him to make himself scarce.

“I thought you wanted me to see the inside!” he motioned towards the imposing pillars at the entrance to the British Museum.

“And I do, but you can follow at a distance.”

“What, and miss your edifying conversation?”

“We’re not here for conversation, we are here to look and plan!” she hissed. “I also wish to spare you further humiliation.”

Jacob shook his head, his mouth falling open.

“What humiliation?”

His sister’s face changed into the sweetest expression imaginable.

“You still haven’t found those two bottles of wine, have you?” Then, as Clara approached. “Go away.”

And go away he did, his mood decidedly ruined.

All the cajoling in the world had not made Greenie help him. With many apologies, his future brother-in-law explained that he knew very little about wine, that he did not want to give him bad advice. In desperation, he mentioned it half-jokingly to Agnes and a few Rooks who were loitering about the ‘pub wagon’ and was told that wine was ‘what them toffs and Frogs drunk’. In short, he was on his own.

And now this. He weaved his way through the crowds, his eyes on the prim, stiff silhouette next to his sister. Once in the main hall, he let them stroll off and actually took an interest in the building.

Many corners, few doors. Tall, imposing doors, probably easy to unlock but impossible to open quietly. Windows high up in the wall, which ordinarily would present no difficulty, would not be very useful if his – or Evie’s - arms were full.

He rounded the display case that held the object of their attention. The pear-shaped casket with its intricate carving has been inexpertly opened to show the bones inside. For a moment, Jacob contemplated the sad display. Having met the young man who, well, commissioned the job, he now felt distinctly uncomfortable staring at the casket. Those were not merely bones. Those were someone’s bones, and he looked forward to liberating them from the glass prison.

He moved away just a few moments before Evie and Miss Devine strolled up to the display. They spoke very little, completely engrossed. He smirked to see Miss Devine make a very ladylike gesture of shock and discomfort at the morbid display.

He thought she was taking it a little too far when she took an unsteady step away from the glass case and put a hand to her forehead. She muttered something, reaching for Evie’s shoulder for support. The next moment, her knees gave way and she sank to the floor in a faint.

The crowd murmured, closing in. Jacob slid through the gathering people to find his sister kneeling beside Miss Devine, the latter’s head supported in his sister’s arms. Miss Devine’s eyes fluttered open and shut, chest heaving under the tightly buttoned dress. Evie was whispering in her ear.

Finally, Miss Devine’s eyes stayed open. She took in the scene, the gathered people around her, started.

Oh, mon dieu, qu'est-ce passe? Aidez-moi, s’il vous plait, ma chère amie,” she warbled, gripping at Evie’s arm. Evie held her up and whispered in her ear again.

Je viens de m’évanouir? Ah, c’est trop gênant,” the excited warbling continued. Miss Devine leaned on Evie.

“It must be this dreadful heat,” someone in the crowd commented. Jacob slipped between the onlookers once more and appeared at his sister’s side.

“May I be so free as to assist you?” he offered.

Ma parole, vous êtes très gentil, monsieur,” was the response he heard.

“She says you are most kind, sir,” his sister translated. “The heat has made her quite faint,” she added helpfully.

Portez-moi dehors, s’il vous plait,” the plaintive voice demanded.

“She wishes to step outside,” Evie said helpfully.

I did not expect a farce in French, Jacob mused as he led the two women away from the building and to a little park nearby. Miss Devine lowered herself on a bench.

“Is it normal for young ladies to start speaking French when overwrought?” Jacob asked earnestly.

The voice from the bench was so weak he regretted his joke.

Ce n’est pas la chaleur,” Miss Devine said weakly. He sat down next to her.

“What is it, Miss Devine?”

She rolled her eyes towards him. He leaned in closer, she was so quiet, and looked over her face. She’s probably choking in that dress, he thought, but I can’t very well start loosening her collar in the middle of a park full of people.

Although...

She was speaking again and Jacob strained to hear her.

C'est par le manque des fluides, monsieur. On me n’a pas apporté du vin qu’on me doit.

Evie giggled.

“She says it’s due to a lack of fluids. Apparently, she never received the wine she was owed.”

Jacob jumped up from the seat with a cry of outrage. A farce, after all, was it?

Miss Devine sat up straighter, adjusted her hat and assumed a prim pose, her gloved hands crossed on her knees.

“I told you your French was quite fine, Evie,” she said in a measured, disinterested tone. Evie was still laughing, wiping a stray tear from her eyes.

Jacob took the opportunity to lean over the back of the bench, quite close to the dull little hat and the ear beneath it.

“If your refined Continental palate could bear it, I would offer you a reasonably good ale,” he growled. A sharp, exotic scent emanated from her. “Or would that make you faint again, mademoiselle?”

And now the flush was real. She gripped the bench. Jacob looked up at his sister.

“If our poor Miss Devine is so dramatically thirsty, I suggest adjourning to a pub, for medical reasons,” he offered. Evie nodded.

“Allow me to help, if you are still unsteady on your feet.” He slipped around the bench and deftly pulled Miss Devine into a standing position. She did sway a little, but Jacob was not feeling particularly sympathetic.

“I’d advise you against fainting in a pub, however,” he whispered. “It could quite ruin your reputation.”

Miss Devine looked up at him, mouth half-open.

“What a ruin that would be,” she whispered back.

I did not even need to touch her.

He allowed himself a satisfied smile that lasted until they were seated in a nearby pub and he had taken a good swig of the ale. Half-pints for the ladies, to limit the possible damage. Miss Devine produced a small sketchbook and a short pencil from somewhere.

“I am sorry for the rather infantile distraction,” she said as the pencil moved purposefully across the page. “I really needed to get a good look at the ceiling.”

“And was the ceiling to your satisfaction, Miss Devine?”

She did not look at him, completely focused on annotating a rough sketch of the glass case and the ceiling above it. Evie, in turn, watched the page without blinking.

“As a matter of fact, it was.” She jotted down a number. No ‘Mr. Frye’, Jacob noted. She was working.

“I am not quite sure of the numbers, but I’m sure it can be done.” The pencil tapped against the page. Miss Devine turned to Evie. “You will need a crate, ma chère amie”.

Petty vengeance could wait. This was work. “What sort of crate?” Jacob asked.

“One made to measure and filled with straw. How much would you guess that case and the bones weigh?”

They discussed the matter briefly and came to an acceptable estimate. Still staring at her sketch, Miss Devine continued.

“And you will need a glass cutter. We want to cut out a slice that is large enough to allow you to remove the casket with bones quickly, but small enough that you may put it quietly on the floor. I think I can adapt something.”

She finished her ale with a grimace. Jacob propped his head on his fist and waited.

I spy, with my little eye, my sister’s mouth opening to say -

“Then you have a plan?” Evie asked.

And there it is.

Miss Devine shook her head. “Merely a suggestion. You two know far more about this sort of work,” she stated. “But, in short: one person inside the Museum, let’s say, you, Evie. Another on the roof directly above the case. Cut the glass, remove the casket. At your signal, the one on the roof lowers the crate. You pack the casket and lock the crate, then winch it up. You follow, and – well, once you are on the rooftops, you hardly need my advice.”

She finally looked up from the notebook. “Give me two days, three at the most. I shall have the tools ready.”

The twins looked at each other and smiled.

“Agreed,” Evie said. “I shall pay you a visit in three days’ time.”

Miss Devine put away the sketchbook and slid out of the booth they were sharing.

“Very well, then. À bientôt!

And head held high, arms straight, she walked primly out of the pub.

Jacob smiled innocently at his sister.

I have to find that wine.

Chapter Text

Jacob was sitting on the roof of the last train carriage, mostly because he could. He still had not found the wine.

He was surprised to have his solitude interrupted by none other than Henry Green.

“Since when do you enjoy riding the train like this?”

Henry sat down next to him, and failed to rise to the bait.

“I needed to clear my head,” he said quietly. Jacob gave him a sideways glance.

“What’s wrong, Greenie? You can tell me.”

Henry sighed and said nothing for a moment. The rooftops and walls passed them by, the train rattled on.

“You know that I respect the work you’ve done with your Rooks, Jacob,” Henry said at last.

“But?”

“I have grown too comfortable in my skin around them, I suspect.”

It sounded more dire than Jacob initially thought. “What happened?”

Henry shook his head. “The thing to be expected. Rather unflattering comments about my engagement to your sister.”

Jacob opened his mouth, shut it again, and nodded sagely. “I must have a little chat with the lads, obviously.” His mouth pressed into a thin line. “A short, sharp chat.”

“That is very kind of you, Jacob, but do keep in mind that it’s only to be expected.”

Jacob stared at the tracks unwinding into the distance. “Expected is not the same as accepted, Greenie. My Rooks, my rules.”

“What I mean is, you can teach them not to say such things within our earshot, but teaching them to not think it is another trick entirely,” Henry mused.

“I find that shaking a few heads together can do wonders for the clarity of thought,” Jacob growled. He smiled at a recent memory. “A few days ago, I considered shaking a lady’s head, far more gently, of course, for a similar comment.”

“Oh?”

Jacob briefly related Miss Devine’s apparent disapproval of ‘Indian fiancé by the name of Green’ and the full approval, complete with best wishes for food, once Henry’s proper name was given.

“Turns out, she is rather fond of India. Especially the food.”

Henry grinned. “Would that be the young lady who shattered the tea cup at your instigation?”

Jacob grinned back. “The very same. And that is why I now need the wine.”

“I see.” Henry observed the cloudy sky for a moment. “Like I said, I am no expert, but I’ll try my best. Red or white?”

Jacob slapped him roughly on the shoulder. “I knew you would not fail me, Greenie. Red, I think.”

***

And fail Henry did not. Jacob strutted happily along the street with two bottles of wine securely in a bag.

For his part, Jacob had given an impromptu public address in the Rooks’ largest boozer, his speech punctuated by kicking one chair to pieces, smashing one bottle to alert a particularly inattentive listener, and finally cracking a table by means of smacking down on it with brass knuckles. If his arguments did not sink in immediately, the impression certainly would.

He managed to get to Miss Devine’s yard, if the sad patch of dirt could be called that, before sunset. There was no one around, and no one near the door. He eyed the mirror contraption poking out of the front wall. Once he was sure he had picked the correct spot, he placed the two bottles of wine on the ground, rapped sharply on the door, and hid around the corner.

He smiled as the door opened. A pointy nose and a head wrapped in cloth poked out cautiously, like an animal poking its snout out the burrow. Miss Devine stepped out and looked around. Seeing no one, she walked over to the bottles and picked them up.

As she examined the labels, Jacob gave a polite cough. It would not do to startle her. She might drop the bottles. He stepped out from his hiding place.

She froze on the spot, a bottle of wine in each hand. She was wearing a shirt a touch too large, sleeves rolled up and the excess material held in place under a leather waistcoat. Her hair was wrapped in a colourful scarf of sorts. If there had been a cutlass at her hip and a parrot on her shoulder, she would have looked for all the world like an illustration of a buccaneer in a children’s book.

Jacob laughed.

“You look like a lady pirate,” he blurted.

She gave a caricature of a laugh.

“Anne Bonnie or Mary Read?” she asked.

“Beg your pardon?”

“Those are the only two lady pirates I have heard of,” she explained.

Deciding to not wait for an invitation, Jacob strode past her and through the open door into the workshop. A single lamp shone on the surface of the workbench, illuminating the now familiar contraption – the winch – and a large crate. The place smelled of wood shavings and that exotic, smoky smell.

He heard Miss Devine come in behind him and lock the door. The two bottles were placed on the bench. Jacob examined the crate. It was brand new, with a tight-fitting lid and several clasps to keep it shut. A system of leather strips, like a harness, was fitted around it, with the straps ending in a single metal ring. He turned his attention to the winch.

“I am not quite finished with that,” Miss Devine explained from somewhere behind him. Hooks and weights were scattered about the winch. The mechanism itself was affixed to the table by two strong clamps.

To the side lay a strange instrument. He suspected it was the promised glass cutter, but the handle was jointed and articulated, allowing it to move in a wider radius. He picked it up and toyed with the angle.

“Nor have I finished adjusting that, Mr. Frye,” the voice continued, once more carefully rounded and cold. “Would you mind putting it down, please?”

Butter would not melt in your mouth, he thought again. He put the glass cutter down.

“Is the wine to your satisfaction, Miss Devine?” he asked nonchalantly.

She had disappeared into a corner. Water splashed in a basin. She returned, wiping her hands on the scarf that had been wrapped around her head.

“I will not know that until I have tried it, Mr. Frye,” she quipped. She placed a single wine glass on the bench. It slipped from her hand and clattered.

“Only one glass?” Jacob asked sadly. She straightened the glass and started peeling the wax seal from the neck of the bottle.

Or perhaps I could smash that glass and make you drink from the bottle. An uninvited but amusing image came to him: holding the lip of the bottle above her parted mouth, moving it away as she tried to take a sip. Wouldn’t that be a sight.

“You are a terrible hostess, really.”

Miss Devine ignored the comment. She was looking for something, probably a tool to open the bottle. Jacob shook his head and reached over.

“Would you please not - “

Before she could finish, Jacob flicked his wrist and drove the point of the hidden blade straight into the middle of the cork. He twisted and pulled. Putting the now open bottle down, he flicked the cork from the tip of the blade and retracted the weapon.

“See? It’s opened.”

Miss Devine stared at the gauntlet on his right arm with some curiosity.

“What an utterly practical, yet dreadfully profane use of that blade, Mr. Frye.”

Mi-ster-Frye. Every syllable an agonising half-drawl, a slight pause between the ‘mister’ and ‘Frye’, like a dare. The verbal equivalent of flicking his ear. He closed his eyes and listened to the sound of wine being poured into the glass.

When he looked again, the glass was already empty and Miss Devine’s lips slightly glossy with the red liquid.

Good God, I should leave.

“Can you not just call me Jacob?” he muttered. She poured another glass and lifted it to her lips, not giving him a glance.

“First you barge into my house. Then you proceed to wave dangerous weaponry at me.” Another mouthful went down. “Why must you then insist on further familiarities, Mr. Frye?” Miss Devine concluded, and finished her glass.

Because if I heard you say my name in a normal voice, I might stop imagining how I would make you scream it instead. An honest thought, but probably not the best response. Probably.

“If you call me ‘mister Frye’ in that voice again, I swear there will be trouble,” he promised instead.

Her fingers beat an irregular, nervous tattoo on the bench top. Her teeth bit into her lower lip. Miss Devine shook her head, seemingly deep in thought.

Clever boy, Jacob. And how do you intend to keep that promise, yet remain a gentleman?

He smiled regretfully and took a quiet step towards the door. At that moment, however, Miss Devine reached some sort of conclusion. She turned around and leaned backwards, bracing her arms on the bench behind her. It was a most unladylike pose, almost boyish, one that disagreed jarringly with the measured, cultured syllables. Jacob stopped.

“’There will be trouble’? That was not a very alarming threat. It would appear that you are as bad as making threats - “

Jacob opened his mouth to respond with a suitable counter-insult, but she pressed on.

“- As you are at winning wagers.” Slight pause, wavering, then: “Aren’t you, Mister Frye?”

Jacob rolled his eyes, then shut them, considering counting to ten. It did not help. He saw red.

He crossed the few feet between him and Miss Devine in a single step, pressed his gloved hands to the either side of her face and bent down to kiss her. His mouth worked feverishly, without any semblance of gallantry, and as he tilted her head back, Miss Devine’s mouth opened and he plunged in.

She raised herself by her arms, the tips of her boots slipping on the floor. Jacob leaned his whole body into her, pushing her up on the bench. His hand slid to her shoulder and he pushed further, until she was almost lying down. He did not even stop to catch his breath, twisting his head, starting to tug at her hair.

Butter would melt, he thought, diving in once again, more slowly, moaning for the sheer lack of air.

With a start, he became aware of her hands weakly pushing against his chest.

“Stop! Good god, stop!”

Jacob stepped back, caught awkwardly between the impulse to release her completely and the awareness that, if he did, she would crash onto the bench. He compromised clumsily by still holding her shoulder and keeping her half-upright.

Oh, no. No, no, no.

Miss Devine was trying to lift herself on her arms again, panting heavily.

Bloody hell. How do I now -

She managed to grip the bench and, with a supreme effort, she slid herself a foot or two to the right, away from him.

"Better move,” she gasped, staring at him. The voice was no longer even, it was cracked and hoarse. Jacob felt an icy surge from his chest, into his throat, suddenly disgusted, and – bloody hell, I was wrong – terribly helpless. He stepped away, raising his arms.

How do you even begin to apologise for -

“We almost spilled the wine,” she managed to say.

For a moment, her words made no sense whatsoever. Then he realised the two of them would have – had they proceeded – toppled both bottles of wine, one of them already open.

“The wine,” he repeated dully. Miss Devine nodded.

“You were worried about the wine,” he stated. Again, she just nodded in response, but there was a hint of a grin. Jacob blinked and shook his head. His chest and throat felt a great deal better.

“In that case, Miss Devine -"

One of the wide load-bearing pillars was right behind him. He swiped forward, grabbed Miss Devine’s arm and spun her around so that she ended up with her back to the sturdy wood. He braced his gauntleted arm against the pillar. The other hand gripped – softly – under her chin.

His mind was madly running through possible responses and threats, and finally settled on the simplest one.

“Wine is for later,” he whispered into her mouth.

Now she groaned, a deep, reverberating sound of relief from deep in her chest, and it did not stop even when he kissed her again. The hands were back on his chest, not pushing, but madly gripping, creeping under his coat in darting, almost panicked motions. He released her chin and grabbed at her hair again, covering her entire mouth with his and pressing her against the firm wood.

Damn, iron would melt. I will melt.

Jacob tugged hard at her hair, pulling her head away to expose the throat. The scent of sandalwood was everywhere. He bit down, hard.

She almost screamed, and Jacob bit down again, to get the same response. He withdrew his mouth from her neck and leaned over her.

“Say my name,” he smiled.

In response, Miss Devine licked her lips. He let her get some breath back.

He was slightly surprised, and enormously amused when she slowly shook her head, looking him straight in the eyes.

“Make me,” she said simply.

Now that’s a worthy challenge.

He pressed his whole weight into her, trapping her between his body and the pillar. She lifted her face towards another kiss, but now Jacob cheated, catching her lower lip between his teeth and nibbling, tugging, licking, keeping her entertained while, above her head, he worked to unclasp the gauntlet from his right arm. He shoved it unceremoniously into a coat pocket.

He used his teeth to tug the gloves off, and they went into the other pocket. He laid one bare hand on her throat, and it burned. Slowly, purposefully he circled with his thumb at the point of the pulse. Her whole body jittered and shook.

Jacob slid his knee up, up higher, until it connected with the cloth of her pants. Then he pushed.

Miss Devine howled and grasped for his front, fingers clawing for purchase. When he took a step back, she almost slid onto the floor. He propped her up and whispered in her ear.

“Will I be allowed into the inner sanctum now, or shall I just make space on the bench?”

Miss Devine – Clara – nodded and climbed the stairs, gripping the bannister every step of the way. Once she had opened the door to the room on the landing, Jacob gently pushed her in, pulling the door shut behind them.

Then he simply turned them both around, like in a waltz, so Clara ended up against the door. Her hands were fluttering between them as she tried to loosen the leather straps on her waistcoat.

Jacob used the moment to fling his hat aside and shrug himself out of his coat, letting it land somewhere on the ground behind him. Clara’s shirt provided precious little modesty now, so he simply tugged at the collar with his teeth until enough skin was showing. He scraped his teeth slowly over the one bare shoulder. She wriggled around, trying – quite unsuccessfully – to take her boots off by stepping on them.

Jacob’s belt hit the floor with a crash, pouches and all.

Her bite was sharp, like that of a small animal, and it caught him by surprise. He responded by picking her up, a leg in each of his arms, and leaning hard into her against the door. She yelped in surprise and clung onto his shoulders.

“Teeth, is it?” he growled. “Let’s see who can leave more of a mark, shall we?”

He let her feet touch the floor again. His hands ran over the front over front of the shirt, over her breasts – another gasp! - and down until he found the rim of her trousers.

At least that is easier to unbutton that those dresses, he noted gladly, and made short work of the buttons. In a single movement, he knelt down and pulled, baring her waist, her hips and everything below. Then he placed his mouth on the peak of the hip bone and pressed with his teeth. Then up, higher, the waist, grazing over the ribs, standing up to kiss her again.

He heard a scraping sound and looked down. Clara’s nails had scraped along the door, leaving thin white marks where they scraped off the paint. He stopped to look at her. She was gasping for air, her face red and glistening where he had kissed her.

I don’t think my own trousers will hold much longer, Jacob said to himself. Not taking his eyes off her glowing face, still not allowing her to move from the door, he did away with his own waistcoat.

Now her hands were tugging at his shirt, hot little hands, searching little hands, running as high over his back as she could reach, nails scraping up and up and -

He lifted Clara legs, pressing them around his waist and turned to step further into the room. And then he stopped.

There was no bed. There was absolutely everything else scattered about – cups, ornaments, papers, books – and an enormous pile of large, colourful pillows against one wall. Sheets, throws and cushions intermingled in a silken, pliable heap.

Sod it, he thought, and half lowered, half-threw Clara into the middle of that soft mess. She sat up and tried once again to remove her boots.

Don’t think I can wait for that.

Jacob pushed her back and pressed her into the pillows with his entire body. Her hands flew up to his face, pulling him closer. He let her hold him, whispering softly into her mouth, and finally managed to strip enough of his trousers off.

Then he was rolling, back and forth, feeling for her hair with one hand, her hips with the other, feeling – with other parts of flesh now bare – the sliding, rising heat. He raised himself on his arms above her, not a small feat in that slippery, silken pile – and let his hips slide over her. Clara’s eyes widened, a little strangled gasp escaping every time their skin touched. He rocked his hips, enjoying the spectacle, and then gasped himself as he realised her had sunk deep into her, partly from the tightness in his hips but more by her cry of surprise.

Jacob lowered himself down, pushing further with every move. He cupped her cheek with one hand and she turned her face, kissing his palm, sobbing into it with every movement. He gently turned her face upwards.

“Look at me,” he breathed, and she opened her eyes. He started moving again, slowly, both their movements still restricted by clothing and made much sharper and sudden by that restriction. Clara's eyes never left his face. Her mouth was moving and Jacob dropped his head to hear her.

It was a litany of soft demands, interrupted by breathless gasps every time he pushed, and he slowed down to hear it.

“God’s mercy, don’t stop,” she was repeating. “I beg you, don’t stop, please, don’t stop, let me – let me -”

The arching back and the desperately moving hips would have probably been enough, but Jacob realised that the breathless begging was forcing him to move faster, and faster, and faster still, until he had to grip both of her shoulders to slow down his own wild swing. He felt her tightening around him, and the begging – oh I don’t think I could stop - grew louder and twisted into a howl, Clara’s eyes closing, her hands flinging out and pulling fistfuls of sheets and covers. She tossed her head back, ribs rising and falling until enough breath was gathered - don’t stop don’t stop don’t stop – and then he heard it, in the crescendo.

“ - don’t stop, good god – good god – Jacob!”

She called out the name in one long breath. The syllables dissolved in her mouth, her teeth clamping down on her lower lip. A trace of blood appeared, so violent was the bite, and Jacob lost control completely. He crashed once again into her, and sank in and out again and again to the backdrop of the rhythmic moans, until he, too, clenched his teeth and lights exploded behind his eyelids.

He still had enough presence of mind to not collapse onto her and bury them both in that feather mountain. He lowered himself on his elbows instead and waited for his heartbeat – and Clara’s - to slow down.

At long last he moved enough to be lying down next to her. Her face was still glistening. She lifted a shaking arm and trailed her fingers down his collarbone, down his chest, her eyes blinking at the dark shape of the tattooed bird.

“I should have made another wager,” he said gently.

“Huh?”

Jacob touched his finger to the tip of Clara’s nose.

“I made you say it,” he pointed out with a crooked smile.

Clara nodded, her face serious.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

The haughty, delightfully irritating voice was broken. She sounded like a beggar thanking a passer-by for a penny. Her eyes roamed up to the glass ceiling and darkening sky. Jacob looked at her face curiously. What a strange tone of voice.

“Do you need to leave?” she asked, very softly.

Jacob grinned. “I still haven’t tried that wine,” he said. “Now, is there actually more than one glass down there?”

Clara’s face was a picture of pleased surprise. “There is, in fact.”

“Then I’ll be back presently.”

Chapter Text

The time for the heist was at hand. Evie’s days grew correspondingly busier. Today, for instance: a quick dash to Henry’s shop for his sketches of the roof and entrance to the British Museum (he knew that building off by heart), then a more discrete meeting to let their New Zealand acquaintance know where to rendezvous after tonight. A quick check of St Pancras’ station to make sure Bertha could sneak through there at the appointed time, and now back to their train for a quick chat with Agnes. After that, she would have to make another dash to Clara’s to collect the tools and receive the last instructions on the glass cutter.

No Jacob, of course. He figured himself quite familiar with the winch mechanism (I’m quite sure I am able to turn a crank) and was not particularly interested in the intricacies of the work inside the museum (I am equally sure I do not need instructions for lying flat on a roof). He did promise to arrange for a coach to collect them afterwards.

Evie stepped into the train carriage and groaned in exasperation.

From the cursory inspection of the mess in the room, one could deduce that her brother had waltzed in, adjusted his weaponry (gun missing, one of the kukri knives hanging in its sheath on the coat rack), had a bite to eat (a plate with crumbs of bread and smears of jam left atop a pile of books), tidied himself up (a comb was dripping into a basin still full of water) and changed his clothes (shirt thrown here, waistcoat there and – Jacob Frye, I swear to God!).

He’d thrown his coat right across the desk, scattering everything in its wake. Evie grabbed the offending item of clothing, fully intending to hurl it onto the floor.

A strange scent caught her attention. She sniffed the air. It was definitely coming from Jacob’s coat.

Feeling a little bit self-conscious, she lifted the coat closer and sniffed at the collar and the lapels.

Sandalwood. And not just the smoky incense, much stronger.

Sandalwood oil.

She let the coat drop and shook her head. There was no power in Heaven or on earth that would make her ask the question. A few images rushed through her head in a rough sequence: the wandering gazes, Jacob’s rakish grin, the worst dinner invitation ever delivered this side of the British Channel.

And Clara’s sad, resigned face peering into a glass of wine.

All things being equal, and time being short, Evie decided to stick to the topic of glass cutters.

***

When Evie visited that afternoon, Clara was certainly not showing any signs of undue distress. She had finished the crate and explained that the lead placed in the corners should help it stay balanced while being winched up. Evie experimentally opened and closed the crate until she was confident that she would be able to do it quickly and quietly in poor light. Under Clara’s supervision, she practiced with the glass cutter on a few old window panes.

The winching mechanism was so simple that Evie was confident even Jacob could not mess it up. Attaching it to the edge of the window would require more brawn than brains, so she could safely entrust that to him as well.

Clara made her walk around with the crate on her shoulders, then on her back like a knapsack. The straps held. Eventually the two women packed it all together neatly.

“That should be all of it, then,” Clara said contentedly. “Good luck. Do not let the wire tangle when you lower it, and it should work well.”

Evie rolled her eyes.

“I’ll pass the message on to the chief engineer.”

“The hook should help, but yes, some care should be taken.”

Evie shook Clara’s hand. “Thank you again. I should be back in a day or two to return your tools. Unless I am found hanging off a hook inside the British Museum.”

Clara laughed. “No, please. Do not tell me anything else. I am quite happy to hear of your adventures but only after they are finished. The less I know, the better.”

“Why is that?”

Clara shrugged. “I cannot blurt out what I do not know, can I?”

“But who would ask?”

Clara thought for a moment. “My parents used to give London a wide berth for a good reason. It was enemy territory. In France, after their fascinating Revolution, the factions spent years trying to one-up one another. Wars never end overnight.”

Evie nodded. “Yes. Giving in to a feeling of triumph could be very dangerous.”

“Tell me nothing now. Instead let us meet for dinner when it is all done.”

They shook on it.

***

It was hardly the most heart-thumping, exciting work the Frye twins had done. Evie found a comfortable dark nook behind a statue of a pharaoh to patiently wait out the closing time. After a while, the building was silent except for the pacing of the night watchmen.

Somewhere down the hall and to the side, a kettle was rattling. A voice called out something about a cup of tea. That should delay the patrols for a little while, she decided.

A breeze touched her cheek when she reached the desired display case. One of the glass panes in the ceiling had been levered up. Up on the roof, Jacob was crouched by the winch.

The glass cutter worked even better on the fine glass of the museum case. Evie gently tapped and nudged the glass until it gave way. Carefully, like she was picking up someone injured, she cradled the casket of bones in her arms, then signalled to her brother.

The crate descended slowly towards her, barely swaying. Evie lowered it to the ground. The casket was packet into a clean, snug nest of cloth and straw, and the crate clasped shut. She hooked it back onto the winch and pulled at the wire. The ascent was slower now, but still even. She saw Jacob reach down and haul the crate out onto the roof.

Evie appeared next to him as he detached the winch from the window. The frame of the loosened roof tile snapped quietly and neatly back into place. She gave her brother a congratulatory pat on the shoulder.

“Well done,” she whispered.

“Mhm. Now let’s go do something less dramatic and dangerous,” Jacob grumbled. “Or, if you can stand the excitement, they’ve just painted the door at the King’s Head pub. We could sit and watch the paint dry.”

“Fine.”

She helped Jacob into the straps on the crate as Clara had shown her. Now they could both dash away across the roof and slide, one after the other, into the dark tree tops of the nearby park. Evie was forced to take the crate again as Jacob went through – of course, that could not wait – the operation that marked the end of the work shift: hood off, and the top hat restored on his head.

At the gate to the park he nodded.

“There’s our lad Mikey,” he pointed to a rather beat-up coach that waited in the shadow, away from the street lamps. “Let’s give him a tip for the beer and be off.”

While Jacob and his Rook assistant exchanged the grunts and laughs that passed for a conversation, Evie pushed the crate into the coach and climbed in.

She gaped. Clara was sitting in the corner of the coach. She looked from Evie to the crate and shrugged helplessly. They heard a cooing voice from the driver’s seat and the coach began to move.

“Where to, madam?” Jacob called out in the near-perfect imitation of a London cabbie.

“St Pancras, you imbecile,” she called back.

“Now, now, miss, there’s no call for such language,” came the hurt reply. Evie sat down and looked at Clara.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, just as Clara said, “It was tonight?”

“Yes,” Evie answered first. “Your turn.”

Clara let out a long breath.

“I came back from running errands to find a note affixed to my door.”

Evie pursed her lips. “What did it say?”

A note was passed to her wordlessly. Evie read:

Dear Miss Devine,

While the wine was, as you so kindly put it, ‘unexpectedly good’, the service at your establishment is simply dreadful. In order to improve it, I suggest you pay a visit to a reputable public house. It may convince you that drinking vessels can be made of materials other than paper thin glass, which, as you learned, is all too easily shattered.

If you choose to take this opportunity to improve your standards, a young Irish gentleman by name of Mikey will be at your door by nine o’clock this evening. As noted above, the establishment in question is of high standards and good repute, and I hope your dress and comportment will take that into account. Please do not dress like a pirate.

Sincerely, your concerned friend.

“Evie, I had not the faintest idea the – rescue operation, as it were – was tonight.”

In response, Evie banged on the side of the carriage.

“Why are there two of us in here?” she barked.

“Is the company bothering you, miss?”

“The company should not be there in the first place,” she yelled back.

“’Pon my word, miss, I wouldn’t know, my mate just asked me to drive you while ‘e nips off for a pint. I make a point of not askin’ who young ladies take in their coach, bless ‘em.”

“I do apologise,” Clara offered helplessly. “I would not have dreamed – I’ve meant what I said -”

Evie waved her hand dismissively. “He is unbelievable,” she sighed. “How long were you waiting there?”

Clara counted on her fingers. “Enough to have a chat with Mr. Mikey about the varieties of tobacco available in London, advantages of pipes over cigars, our mutual dislike of snuff and the rather odd smell of opium dens.”

Evie laughed. “Sounds like he was good company.”

“I had to bribe him with a cigar to actually make him speak in anything other than deferential grunts. He was quite apologetic later. It would appear that my manner of speech - 'educated-like' – convinced him I was a friend of yours.”

They laughed, but Clara added seriously, “I would not have set foot in the coach if I had known the heist was tonight. But, since we are here – how was the glass cutter? How did it go?”

Before Evie could reply, the coach jolted to a halt.

“St Pancras, miss,” Jacob called out. Evie gathered the crate and stepped outside, then held the door open from Clara.

The coachman’s whip came down on the door frame with so much force that she jumped. The door was slammed shut.

From the driver’s seat, Jacob touched the tip of the horsewhip to his hat.

“Good evening to you, miss!”

He laid into the horses. The coach rattled off at speed, apparently with Clara still inside.

It would have felt very good to see him off with a string of curses normally reserved for coachmen, but that could attract undue attention. Evie settled for muttering quiet curses to herself as she picked up the crate and went into the station.

***

Jacob grinned as he drove towards his destination. His remaining passenger must have moved to the side closer to the driver, as he could hear her quite clearly.

“Where are you taking me?”

On the first bed I can find, Jacob said to himself. Out loud, he simply quipped, “You’ll find out.”

“A reputable establishment was mentioned.”

“Patience, Miss Devine.”

He pulled up in front of one of his favourite pubs. It was full, noisy and loud.

“Would you mind waiting in the coach for a moment?”

“I am quite used to it by now, thank you very much.”

Jacob strolled into the pub and was immediately assailed with friendly calls, greetings and invitations. The smoke was so thick he could barely discern the faces of the patrons. People made way for him and he reached the bar in record time, considering the crowd.

He caught the landlord’s eye.

“Quite a night, is it, Marley?”

“Can’t complain, Mr. Frye. And what can I get for you?”

Talking would not be possible in this din. Jacob was starting to have second thoughts about the whole plan.

“Are any of your back rooms free?”

Marley the landlord looked uncomfortable. “I could certainly free one for you, Mr. Frye. No trouble at all.” Everything about his manner indicated that it would be trouble, and would most likely take time.

He spotted one of the up-and-coming lads in the borough trailing his way through the crowd, followed by two, ahem, working girls. His passage was accompanied by catcalls of the friendly, but rather uncouth sort. The lad, one arm around the younger member of his hired entourage, waved at Marley.

“I’ve taken the key to the upstairs room, mate,” With that, he resumed his progress thorough the room and towards the stairs in the back, the two ladies in tow.

Jacob gritted his teeth together. I did not quite think this through, did I?

He could not complain. It was not so long ago that he made a few discreet deals with trustworthy landlords. It was necessary, he figured, as he did not want any of the lads – or lasses – exposed to the strategic and defensive disadvantages brought on by the practice politely called ‘the tupenny upright’.

Besides, the thought of dragging Clara through the din and into a side room suddenly seemed a lot less pleasant. He made up his mind on the spot and left.

He jumped into the driver’s seat and nudged the horses into a trot. Think quickly. Not the train, Evie would be there and fuming; not Greenie’s shop, too far to Whitechapel. A light drizzle was starting. Finding a quiet spot in Regent Park was then also out of the question.

“Just how far is this reputable establishment?” came a question from the coach.

“If I were you, I would be more concerned with your overall predicament,” he called back.

“What predicament would that be?”

Jacob flicked the reins again. That the weather is turning for the worse and I have no idea where to go.

Out loud, he explained patiently. “You have followed the instructions from an anonymous note to get into a strange coach and now you’re being driven all over London. Consider yourself abducted, dear lady.” Although the request about not dressing like a pirate -

Jacob smiled to himself and turned a corner sharply, taking a shortcut towards the London Bridge.

“Pirates,” he muttered happily under his breath and drove faster. The drizzle was turning into rain. Somewhere over the river there was a flash in the sky. This was going to become a proper summer downpour.

“You may as well enjoy the ride,” he shouted happily. “It’s raining cats and dogs out here.”

“Yet you sound well pleased with yourself,” came the reply.

“Let’s see, I have completed a delicate job without a single thing blowing up, been complimented by my rather exacting accomplice, and managed to abduct a young heiress,” he explained. “I’d call that a good night’s work.”

The voice from the carriage sounded rather amused.

“I hate to disappoint you, sir, but I have already inherited it all, and squandered some. No one would pay a penny for me.”

“Is that so? I’ll have to make it worth my while somehow, then.”

Once off the bridge, he veered the coach sharply to the right, now driving parallel to the Thames. The docks were loud with swearing and imprecations, the rain making the night's work all the more precarious. Once he had a more or less clear view of the river, Jacob pulled on the reins. He squinted into the gloom.

Only one light, thank God. And thank God for HMS Evie.

Once the Rooks and their associates had obtained clear access to the Thames, Jacob soon realised that some sort of boat would be needed. Nipping into someone’s carriage for a quick dash across the city was one thing. Obtaining a boat at short notice was not quite as easy, especially when one needed to intercept goods in the upper locks. Funds permitting, Jacob had commissioned a few river-savvy Rooks to form a discrete flotilla of boats.

Most of them were small, functional affairs. Evie had insisted on a boat that could stand a longer journey upriver. She argued it should look for all the world like a little pleasure boat, an unassuming vessel, common and easily overlooked. In the end it was Jacob’s sister herself who had commandeered a boat formerly belonging to a troublesome Templar, and sailed it triumphantly back to London.

Evie had, of course, given the vessel some incredibly erudite name in Greek or Latin. It amused Jacob to no end to hear the lads refer to it only as “HMS Evie”.

And there she was, with the agreed signal: one light by the cabin door meant the boat was available for whatever riverside business they had planned. Two lights signalled she was in use, or about to set sail. He hoped that the matches in his pocket had remained dry.

He went to open the carriage door. The promised downpour had arrived.

“Here we are,” he announced cheerfully to Clara. She looked past him into the downpour, then eyed him with an air of indecision. A thin rivulet of water was running down the rim of Jacob’s hat.

“I hope you have brought an umbrella, Mr. Frye,” Clara said calmly, not moving from her seat.

Back to that, are we?

“Exactly which part of the term ‘abducted’ is unclear?” Jacob asked. “Get out. Now.”

“What an uncouth ruffian! I shall resist you with every fibre of my being and every shred of dignity,” came the calm response from the comfortably dry inside of the carriage.

Jacob gasped in mock astonishment, shook his head and simply pulled Clara out of the carriage. She shrunk against the onslaught of the rain.

Not dressed like a pirate. In fact – oh dear – she was dressed rather lightly, obviously for a dinner in a warm pub. No coat, a straw hat, a light shawl over her shoulders. For a moment she looked like she was about to dart back into the coach. Jacob gripped her arm tightly and leaned in. Water from his hat ran down her neck.

“I am quite sure your fibres will not be able to put up that much resistance,” he growled in her ear. “As for the shredded dignity, I’m sure I can oblige.”

He led the way across the wet jetty towards the boat. Clara suddenly stood stock-still, staring at the rickety wood and the turgid water below in horror. This was not part of the game. She looked quite terrified. 

“I can’t swim ,“  she managed to say.  

“Well, then you’re not likely to jump into the Thames to escape,” Jacob said cheerfully. Without giving her more time to think, he pulled her into a run, grabbed her by the waist, and leapt the last few feet of  the jetty and onto the boat.  While Clara grabbed onto the wood of the cabin for dear life, he lit the second lantern and opened the door.  

“I assure you that you will be in no danger of a watery death in here,” he said reassuringly. “Now get in.”  

They had outfitted “HMS Evie” with enough comfort to serve for a longer trip up the river, and the dock lads kept her in good shape And it was blessedly dry, Jacob found as he lit the lamps. Clara was half-soaked, her shawl askew and her hat almost falling off her head. She stood uncertainly in the middle of the cabin, eyeing the floorboards as though she expected them to give way under her feet.  

Jacob walked around her, slowly removing his gloves, as the boat rocked from the passing swell. She threw her hands out as though she might topple. Clearly, a distraction was in order.  

“One of the few nice things about the river Thames,” he said quietly, putting a steadying hand on her waist, “Is that with all the clunking barges and steaming behemoths, no-one will hear if you scream.”  

That sounded far more threatening than intended, but the distraction worked. She half-turned to him, chin lifted haughtily.  

“It would appear your intentions are, in fact, quite brutal,” she quipped. The voice was back. “Do you really think I intend to let you ravish me?”  

In the past, Jacob was several times in a position where he had to correct that sort of assumption. Still fresh in his mind was Mr. Hammond’s ludicrous engagement plan that involved an abduction of his intended. This time, however, the downright lewd delight with which Clara spoke the word ‘ravish’ almost made him giggle.  

He grabbed her roughly around the waist, other arm tugging gently at her hair.  

“It depends. Should I make use of the bed or are the floorboards more to your liking?” he asked.  

She relaxed in his arms, leaning back on his shoulder.  

“Let me think,” she said, and rolled her head against his neck.  

Pity,  Jacob thought,  I was enjoying that little game -  

“Ow!”  

She did not stomp on his foot heavily, so he cried out of surprise more than from any pain. Clara, slippery from the rain, wriggled out of his grasp and half-crawled, half-ran towards the other side of the cabin.  

“For shame, Mr. Frye,” she called back triumphantly. Then she stopped, realising that there was nowhere to run except outside.  

Jacob peered at her from under the brim of his hat and grinned. He charged at her, toppling her over the sturdy, built in cabin table. With one free hand he pulled the loop of the shawl over her head. Clara tried to remove it and managed to tangle her arms into the wet cloth in the process.  

Jacob gave a small nod of approval. “Looks like you intend to do the work for me,” he commented and then simply grabbed the rest of the shawl so that it tightened around Clara’s arms. He leaned over the  table and kissed her, his free hand hoisting up the rim of the dress and whatever silly undergarments she had underneath it. If Clara still worried about the safety of the boat, she was most definitely not mentioning it.  

“This would be a lot more pleasant without the bales of cloth you seem to be wearing,” Jacob suggested, his mouth almost touching Clara’s ear.   

Finally, there’s the edge of the damn thing!  Jacob’s fingers found her knee and began to slide upwards.  

“How dare you,” she managed to say between gasping breaths.  

Jacob leaned over her, his face a picture of innocence.  

“Then I’ll simply ask again,” he promised. “When you are once more able to speak.”  

And with that, he let the hand under her dress rush further in, until his fingers found what he sought. He twirled his fingertips around, feeling for an angle and at the same time savoured the look on her face.  

He found what he needed and let his fingers sink in, slowly. Below him, Clara moaned. He kept pushing, bracing himself on the table with this other arm.  

She managed to free one hand from the shawl and grab at his arm, gripping it and pulling it closer. He obliged, making his handling rougher, and now her other hand was gripping the edge of the table with whitening knuckles.  

What a delightful sight.  

He leaned in to her ear again.  

“How is that?” he asked calmly.  

A string of words poured out of her mouth, not all of which he understood.  

“Obviously, not good enough. You can still talk.”  

Now he was half pushing, half stroking, until his thumb pressed against a single fold he had been looking for. Fingers circling, thumb circling, he admired his handiwork as reflected in the buckling shape below him. She was biting her lip .  

“Remember what I said about the river earlier,” he gently admonished, and hopefully before she drew blood again. As if on cue, a steamer rushed past, the howl of its siren deafening all else.  

Clara screamed with complete abandon. Jacob slowed down and gently disengaged his hand. As she stood up, he kissed her again, then nuzzled against her ear.  

“For the love of god, take that thing off.”  

She turned around and began the painfully slow work of loosening strings and stays. Jacob looked on sadly. He shrugged himself out of his coat and only then realised the hat must have fallen off his head at some point.  

As long as it does not end up in the drink,  he thought as he watched Clara struggle with the dress. He thought he heard a murmured curse. He sighed and walked over to her.  

He grabbed the dress at the shoulders and tugged, loosening –  Did something snap?  - the remaining stays.  Oh, now for the corsetry. Honestly, it’s like opening a can of -   

There was no corset. In fact, there was now nothing but a simple fine shift and a pool of clothing around Clara’s feet. He reached out and grabbed handfuls of the smooth fabric. It felt warm under his hands, warm and yielding. He squeezed the fabric and Clara’s body underneath it, kissing her so  roughly  their teeth scraped together.  

It would look dreadful to someone watching,  Jacob thought, once again glad he had thought of the boat. She was struggling like mad, grabbing at him, tugging at his shirt, twisting in his arms.   

Another swell rocked the boat and both of them tottered for a moment, Clara grabbing at nearest wall for support and Jacob joining a moment later. His grip on her now released, Clara clutched at his shirt, raised herself on tiptoe and sank her teeth into his neck.  

He actually gasped at the sensation, the frisson of the bite followed by the feeling of her tongue circling the spot. She moved her head down and now her teeth closed on the leather string that held his lucky shilling. She tugged at it slowly, pressing her fists into his waist in a caricature of a struggle.  

“Leave that alone, would you?” he growled in mock anger. As she did not relent, he grabbed her chin. “Be a good girl and spit it out.”  

She looked at him and he realised her face had transformed again, looking almost wild. She opened her mouth and pushed the shilling out with her tongue.  

“Good girl,” he said, holding her face between his hands. Clara gave him a murderous look. Jacob shook his head, smiling, and gently ran his thumb over her cheek and lips.   

To his surprise, the lips parted and then closed around his thumb. Fire shot up his arm at the sensation. She was pulling on it, caressing it with her tongue, her eyes closing. Her mouth moved over his palm, closing on two of his fingers, sliding over them. The agreed-upon pretence of resistance fell away from her. Jacob stared at that mouth, feeling sweat break out all over him.   

Surely, she would not – certainly, he would not ask -  

Clara held his hand, whispering into his palm.  

He pulled her closer to his chest and she kept whispering like a person in throes of a fever. Jacob could hardly believe his ears. In his experience, that sort of talk could be found only in more exclusive establishments. Men of higher class than his - or Clara’s, for that matter – would have paid good money to be called the names he was being called so earnestly. He could have sworn steam was coming off both of their bodies as she spoke.  

He was also painfully aware that his own clothes have been growing quite uncomfortable, from the belt down at least. What was he saying before about shreds of dignity? He would end up having to salvage his own at this rate.  

“Get into bed,” he rasped. “And not another word.”  

She stepped towards the bed, then  paused.  Jacob watched with some surprise as the thin shift came off. He could not quite recall how his clothes came off him, but come off they did, and he was kneeling next  to Clara on the narrow bed, his knee between her thighs. She was beaded with sweat, and the scent of sandalwood was everywhere. He wrapped his arms around  Clara’s  shoulders and let his mouth wonder all over  her  chest.  

Her hands were slithering down his sides, pressing, almost massaging him. He groaned.  

A little lower and I’ll have to stop her, or this will not end well.  

Clara pinched him, hard. He yowled and grabbed her wrist.  

“Stop that,” he demanded.  

Another pinch, now on the other side .  He grabbed the other wrist. In response, she snapped her teeth at him playfully.  

“First you bite, then you scratch, then you pinch,” he complained, still holding both her arms. “What do I need to do, tie you up?”  

Clara stopped struggling and sank back down onto the bed. He released her wrists.  

Don’t tell me I need to explain I was joking. Well, jokingly suggesting. Suggestively joking.  

Clara’s voice was dreadfully cold.  

“Back to vague threats and empty promises,” she said. “You’re quite an inept bandit, Mr. Frye.”  

For a moment, he gaped at her, then shook his head.  

“You foul-mothed hussy ,”  he  whispered. He  felt on the bed behind him. His hand closed around her discarded, silky shift. Before she could move, he had wrapped the shift around her wrists and half-lifted, half-pushed her so the she ended on her back on the narrow bed. He tugged gently at the makeshift bonds.  

Her response was something between a sigh and a groan, an inviting sound if ever he’d heard one.   And here I was thinking of taking it slowly.  With his other arm he lifted her leg so that the knee rested on the crook of this elbow.  

“Let’s keep those empty promises, shall we?” he said happily. And with that, he dived in.  

Her arms immobilised, her head flung back, it felt like all of Clara’s movement descend into her hips. He gripped harder, almost sobbing with delight. The hand holding the shift lost its grip. Instead he gripped the headboard behind her, and kept going. He no longer heard the noises from the riverside, and even Clara’s imprecations sounded far away. She was warm, her hips held him like a vice, and her arms, now free, gripped around his neck. This could not last long, not at this pace, but he would not, could not slow down for the world.  

Clara was moaning his name, and after it a number of epithets and words he had never even heard himself say.  Her  hands let go of his neck and grabbed his hips, and then slid down, caught between her thighs and his fast movement.  

Oh no, don’t you dare, don’t you -   

He flung himself at her with so much force that his head smacked against the headboard, but he barely felt it. He heard his own voice, calling out to her, to god or to whomever else, and then his body was moving of its own volition until he melted inside her.  

They stared at each other, panting heavily, blinking as though waking up. The sounds of the outside world slowly trickled in: the sloshing of the swell against the boards of the boat, the screech of cranes somewhere further along the docks. Jacob folded himself against Clara in the narrow bed.  

They did not speak or move for some time, lying with their eyes closed and letting the boat rock them gently. Jacob was the first to open his eyes and take a surreptitious look at Clara’s wrists.  

No marks, thank goodness.  He picked up one of her hands and rubbed it against his cheek.   

“I hurt you,” she whispered sleepily, touching his neck. “I bit too hard.”  

Jacob smiled.  

“I’ve learned my lesson. Next time I’ll tie you up first.”  

“Agreed,” Clara said, her eyelids drooping. Jacob leaned over to kiss her and realised she was drifting off to sleep.  

He leaned back against the headboard and rubbed his forehead.  Worth the bump,  he thought. He listened to the beating of the rain.  

Damn, but he was suddenly thirsty. The lads kept a few bottles on the boat, didn’t they? He would have to look.  

Once out of the bed, he shivered. The rain has cooled everything down a little too well. He grabbed a bedsheet and wrapped it around his waist.  

Why bother, darling? You’re too marvelous to cover up.’    

The uninvited memory, once thrilling, almost made him stumble. As if in response, he tightened the makeshift cover.  

He looked around the cabin. No beer.  Damn.  

‘There is no one here but the two of us, and frankly, looking at you is a rare pleasure.’  

Jacob pulled open the door and stuck his head out in the rain, rubbing the water over his face and hair frantically. Back inside, he locked the door and pressed his forehead against the wood.   

Why now?  

The response surprised him in its simplicity.  

Because you remembered the last time your head was sent spinning like that, didn’t you? And now you’d rather pretend it didn’t. Because the last time it felt this way, it was not you leading the dance .”  

He dropped the sheet back on the bed and climbed in next to Clara.  

“Bite all you want, you little fox” he whispered, stroking her cheek lightly. “I probably deserve it.”  

And he settled down for a warm but sleepless night.  

Chapter Text

Evie was only slightly surprised when, upon leaving Henry’s shop, she spotted her brother strolling along the street towards her. She looked at him suspiciously. Jacob looked ever so slightly dishevelled, like someone who got dressed without the benefit of a mirror.  

“Good morning,” he called out jovially.  

“Only for a little while longer,” she answered icily.  

Jacob’s response was to pull out his watch.  

“Indeed. If we hurry, we might be able to meet up with Bertha at the Whitechapel station,” he suggested.   

“Lost the coach, have you?”  

They pushed their way through the crowd around the station entrance. The press of bodies  fairly compressed  Evie against her brother. His coat felt damp. She could not resist surreptitiously sniffing at it.  

Sweat and sandalwood.  She rolled her eyes.  

They jumped on the train as it slowed down. Evie followed Jacob into his den. He looked around.  

“I see you’ve delivered the crate already,” he nodded approvingly.  

“Yes, this morning.”  

“Was our client happy?”  

Evie could not help but smile. “More than that.” It had been a display of humble gratitude she would not soon forget.  

“Did he offer to pay us?” Jacob asked, settling down into his usual slouch on the chaise longue.  

“Of course he did.”  

Her brother smiled at her knowingly.  

“And did you take the money?”  

“Of course I did not.”  

She handed her brother a piece of exquisitely carved dark jade on a strange thin rope.  

“He did insist that I take this, though,” she explained. “He took it off his own neck.”  

“What a gorgeous little thing,” Jacob commented, handing it back. He leaned back, hands behind his head and stretched out. “All in all, a good night’s work.”  

Evie rummaged in the desk drawers, looking for a box to store the jade treasure. “Speaking of money,” she said. “Do you think it would be polite to at least reimburse our mechanic for the materials she used?”  

Jacob seemed to ignored her. She repeated the question more loudly.  

“I asked if we should at least offer Miss Devine some money for the materials, Jacob. Jacob?”  

He was asleep, with a smile on his face.  

***  

It was some hours later that Evie came back to find Jacob drooping over a cup of tea.  

“Good morning yet again,” she said. “At least tell me that Miss Devine got home safely.”  

Jacob grinned rakishly into his cup.  

“Yes. Eventually.”  

It was the slight tone of triumph in his voice that made her wince.  

“What a gentleman,” she snorted. “Anyway, if you are awake, I wanted to discuss something serious.”  

Jacob rolled his eyes. “Yes, unhappily, I am quite awake.”  

Evie sat down opposite him. “I’ve been thinking about something.”  

“That rarely ends well.”  

 “We can’t keep circling London in the same train forever,” she explained. “It’s more than suspicious.”  

“Kaylock did.”  

“Yes, but he was not trying to hide,” she said as patiently as she could. “We need to be more careful with the train. And it cannot remain our base forever.”  

Surprisingly, her brother seemed to be thinking about this. “It would help to change up the engine and the numbers once in a while, I suppose,” he mused.   

“That is a lot of work and expense.”  

“A horrible thought comes to mind,” he said.  

“What is that?”  

His face twisted like he’d just eaten something sour. “We could refit it – and pick up another engine – more easily at Crawley.”  

Evie was impressed. “That is actually a good idea,” she said with undisguised surprise.  

“Glad I can still shock you,” Jacob grumbled.  

“But it is not a solution,” she added. “We need a base in London. We need a house.”  

Just as she had expected, Jacob looked alarmed.  

“Oh,  we   do, do we? Complete with gardenias in the windows and a nursery? Can’t you clear out a corner of Henry’s shop?”  

Evie rolled her eyes.  

“Not for Henry and me. For us. For the Brotherhood. Or have you forgotten about that part?”  

Now he was nodding, considering  possibilities .  

“Of course. An office, like in the olden days.”  

“A  bureau ,” Evie corrected him icily. Before she could outline her plan, Jacob was already running off the rails.  

“That could work. A proper workshop for repairs and a telegraph. A shooting range underground, to mask the noise.  Connected to the sewers! And in the attic, we could - “  

“Something like that,” Evie interrupted sharply. Jacob looked dangerously taken with the idea.  

“Do you have somewhere in mind?”  

Evie smiled sadly. “It would be nice to buy the old Kenway mansion,” she admitted. She glanced at Jacob. He looked decidedly unimpressed.  

“A huge mansion in the middle of a square with a pirate ship over the door?” he commented dryly. “How very discrete.”  

“It’s our history,” Evie said desperately.  

“It’s certainly in plain sight,” Jacob commented. “Just the hiding part is a bit off.  

Evie had to concede that he was right.  

“Still, can’t hurt to ask about,” Jacob said, standing up. “In the meantime, I’ll suppose I’ll go and check on our bookies . This is going to need some funds .”  

Feeling a little less concerned about the future, Evie left him to his much belated toilette.  

***  

Jacob had expected a sleepless night on the boat, but he must have dozed off. When he next looked around, there was a pale light coming in through the windows, a call of seagulls overhead and a very warm, slightly awake Clara next to him. They silently agreed to take their time getting up. In fact, they ended up taking the time Jacob felt they  had  squandered  by falling asleep  the previous evening. By the time they had pulled apart from each other, the sun was well in the sky and they were both famished.  

He had insisted on buying her breakfast. She had insisted that he leave her within walking distance of her workshop so that she could return as if from a stroll. All in all, Jacob found himself feeling a lot better than expected.  

For the next few days he roamed around from one  operation  to another, catching up on the news, totalling numbers in his head and checking up on his Rooks. He was saddened to find that two of the lads and, alas, one of the girls, were brought down by sicknesses they were too ashamed to name. Clearly, the sanitation efforts of Miss Nightingale, while praiseworthy, could not clean the darkest crevices of the city. Some ills, alas, could not be ascribed to Templars.   

Nor were people the only ones affected. Jacob spent several trying days working out what was happening with the horses. Several of their fleet ended up at the knackers, much to his displeasure. A disease was to blame , although Jacob suspected it was not transmitted in quite the same way.  Their stock would need to be refreshed.   

It was becoming quite apparent to Jacob that he and Evie could not keep an eye  –  four  of  them, even -  on all of London.  They needed trustworthy people who could occasionally even solve problems on their own. They needed to train them. His and Evie’s training had taken years, and they had practically lived it. Shortcuts would need to be found.  

One evening, watching children in the back yard of a pub as they scrambled up and down ropes hanging from a scaffolding, Jacob realised that the shortcut he was looking for had been on his arm all that time. Even better, it was an excuse to visit Clara. It had been more than a week since their visit to  HMS Evie .  

Evie agreed that giving rope launchers to the more sensible Rooks was a good idea. Jacob was delighted.   He was less delighted  later,  when he found his sister had pranced off to see Clara and  had  arranged the entire job. Clara seemed delighted with the project, as it would keep her quite busy, Evie reported happily.  

“Wonderful,” Jacob replied dryly. “I’ll just keep running between doctors and veterinarians, then.”  

“If you are that tired of the churning seas of London, you could take that trip to Crawley,” Evie replied with precious little sympathy.  

Jacob had been trying to avoid the subject of Crawley. The thought of the place with its rains of brine and hailstorms of charcoal was almost as unpleasant as being there. Evie would insist on checking up on the old house. Worse, she would insist on going to the churchyard.  

He grabbed his hat and headed for the carriage door.  

“Off to a veterinarian?” she asked sweetly.  

“No, not this time. I’ll check on some manufacturing operations instead.”  

***  

The workshop was locked up as ever, but there was plenty of noise inside. Jacob banged on the door with all his might. He heard the lock click open on the other side and the door opened an inch.  

“Come in,” Clara called from the inside.   

The workshop floor was a mess of wires, coils and springs. Jacob looked up at the wall of her apartment. The planks were pockmarked where she had been firing the arrow-like hooks into the wood. He looked over the rope launcher mechanisms on the bench, some dismantled, others half put together. Clara was running a tap somewhere, probably washing the grime off.  

“I was wondering if you would join me tonight,” Jacob said when she finally showed up.  

Clara grinned. “On what sort of business?”  

“A walk. A dinner, perhaps. A drink.”  

She looked confused. “And what should I bring?” she motioned at the messy  workbench.  It was Jacob’s turn to look confused.  

“Nothing,” he said.  

“I don’t quite understand. What sort of caper are we talking about?” Clara asked.  

Jacob opened his arms helplessly. “No caper. I was wondering if you cared to take a walk.”  

“Where are we going?” She was still confused.  

Jacob shrugged. “I have no idea.”  

She looked positively shocked. “You simply wish to spend some of your evening with me? Walking about?”  

“For a start, yes.”  What did I say that was so unbelievable?  “Unless you are otherwise engaged?”  

She blinked a few times. “Could you please wait here while I change? I shan’t be long.”  

He nodded.  

***  

Jacob offered Clara his arm. They meandered through the neighbourhood as the evening descended. A cold wind picked up, but it carried with it a delicious scent of eel pies and fruit pastries.  

“I could be tempted to a hot pie and coffee,” Clara sighed, sniffing the air. Jacob thought a little bit.  

“Well, I should then introduce you to the inimitable Aldblom family,” he offered. “They run a delightful cart in a slightly less savoury – and cheaper – part of the borough.”  

“It sounds promising. The name is not English,” Clara said approvingly. Jacob shook his head.  

“Indeed it is not. They are a Jewish family from the  Continent , and they can make pastries even from potatoes .”  

They made their way further into the maze of the streets ,  away from the main roads. Jacob laughed.  

“You would not believe me if I told you the name of the last person I took on a stroll like this,” he said. “Mind you, that was Devil’s Acre. Considerably less tame.”  

“A pleasure stroll in Devil’s Acre? Who in the world does that?” Clara sounded shocked.  

Jacob grinned. “Mrs. Mary Anne Disraeli.”  

For the first time in their acquaintance, something sounding like street parlance came out of Clara’s mouth.  

“Pull the other  one , it has bells on,” she exclaimed.  

So he told her at length about the strange excursion, stopping only to purchase the coffee and pastries from Mr. Aldblom and his hardworking wife. He reminisced thoughtfully about Desmond the corgi, the most neurotic mutt in the Empire.  

His story brought about a sound a hitherto unknown. Clara was laughing. It was not a ladylike, coy giggle, but a heartfelt laugh.  

“Did you at least feed her some ‘bow-wow mutton’?”  

“Er, no,” Jacob admitted.  

“At least the mutt did not end up in a pot,” she concluded.  

It was already quite dark when they stopped in a small square. Clara, clearly not proficient with eating at a stroll, tried to get the last of the pastry and fruit filling off her gloves.   

Jacob became aware that something was drawing the attention of the small crowd. Patrons from a nearby pub were poking their heads out. The general audience of a London street was moving towards a small, building in a dark corner of the square.  

There were shouts and catcalls. Jacob spotted a hurry-up wagon and a portly policemen keeping the small crowd at bay.  

"What is that place?” Clara asked.Page BreakThe response came from the gathering crowd, rather than Jacob. 

“They’re raiding the molly house!” *

“The bobbies are packing them pansies away!”  

Clara  started  pushing her way through the crowd and Jacob had no choice but to follow. The ruckus was well under way. Several bobbies were roughly manhandling the clientele of the unfortunate coffee shop. Some of those being pushed in the hurry-up wagon were in various stages of undress.  

None of them were women, Jacob realised.  Of course  not. They  said it was a molly house.  

A man broke off from the policemen and tried to run away into the gathered crowd. Several pairs of arms pushed him back, to the sound of much laughter. A cheer went up as the portly bobby smacked the unfortunate with his baton and threw him towards the dark wagon.  

“Where are you running to, pansy?”  

“Look, that one has a skirt on!”  

Jacob felt Clara grip his arm with both her hands. She stared at the spectacle in front of them, mouth moving  wordlessly.  He tried to steer her gently away, but she would not move. She turned to him and Jacob only then noticed the look on her face.   

“Stop them,” she said.  

“What?” The pleading tone of voice took him by complete surprise.  

“Stop them, Jacob, I beg of you. Stop them,” she repeated.  

Oh , bloody  hell .  

“Hold this,” he said, handing her his top hat. “And don’t go too far.”  

With that, he was off, circling behind the back of the crowd and pulling his hood on. Jacob counted quickly. Two bobbies  were  pulling the men into the wagon, one keeping the crowd at bay and herding runaways with his baton. No one in the driver’s seat on the hurry-up wagon.   

Jacob rounded the wagon from the far side, leaned against it and felt for one of the smoke  gadgets  in his pouch. He flung it over the wagon and into the middle of the panicked men and yelling bobbies. A cry went up. He snuck around through the smoke, grabbed the first policemen  within  reach and rammed the man’s head into the iron side of the carriage.   

“Run! Just run!” he shouted into the smoky chaos. A policeman near him was  doubled  over with coughing. Jacob brought his knee up into the man’s face and kicked him away. That left the portly fellow in the front row . Eyes running, the bobby  was fumbling for his whistle.  

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Jacob muttered. He shot his rope launcher straight at the man’s feet and pulled up sharply, sending the disorientated bobby flat on his face. A quick smack to the head to knock him out and then Jacob had to rush. Smoke was dispersing.  

He ran towards the hurry-up wagon. There  were  almost a dozen men inside. He slammed the door, leapt onto the roof and slid into the driver’s seat. With a rough cry he set the horses into a trot, then a gallop.   

He took the first few turns at speed, the  side of the wagon  scraping against walls. Once on the open street, he whipped the horses madly. He counted the shop fronts for landmarks, then veered off into a deserted manufacture yard.  

Gunshots sounded from the direction of the molly house.  

I do hope that’s not Clara.  

He jumped off the wagon and opened the doors.  

“Get the hell out, now!” he yelled at the men inside. “And get lost!”  

Once the men had filed out, Jacob gave one of the horses a hearty smack that sent the wagon careering off into the street. Another gunshot sounded in the distance. He hoisted himself up on the first wall he could see and ran back.  

The crowd in the little square had dispersed into small groups, all of them talking excitedly. The police were nowhere to be seen.  

Jacob walked around the back of the molly house. The back door was firmly shut. All was quiet on the inside. The night’s entertainment was over, one way or another.  

He became aware of someone behind him. They were trying to move very quietly, but not quietly enough. Jacob spun around and simply stuck his leg out. When the sneaking unfortunate tripped, Jacob grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. There was a howl and a passionate supplication in a heavy Irish brogue.  

“Sweet Mary and Joseph, don’t hit me, Mr .  Frye! It’s me!”  

Jacob peered at the disheveled youth until he made out the brown curls and the pale face.  

“Mikey?”  

“It’s me, Mr. Frye!”  

Indeed it was Mikey, the young lad from Dublin who had been adopted into the Rooks some months previously. The young man had an angelic face and a ready smile .  The large blue eyes and brown curls were his main weapon in extracting all sorts of useful gossip , and probably beer money, from women.  His older mentors admired his ability to never get into trouble even with the toughest matrons. They had taken to calling him ‘the Irish fairy’ in what Jacob had thought was a brotherly manner.   

It looks like I misjudged that particular endearment,  Jacob thought unhappily. He dragged the youth into a darker corner, away from the raided coffee shop.  

“What the hell were you doing there?” he asked angrily. “This is hardly a good area for dipping work.”  

Mikey looked terrified and, Jacob only now noticed, not quite tidily dressed.  

“Mr. Frye, please,” he sobbed. “Please, don’t tell the lads. Please, I beg you, Mr .  Frye.”  

Jacob nodded slowly and let out a breath he was not aware he had been holding in. He patted the young man on the shoulder.  

"Of course I won’t, Mikey,” he said. “It’s none of their business, is it now?” An unpleasant thought came to him. “You’re not – are you doing this for money? Because if you are - ”  

Mikey’s response was barely audible.  

“It’s not for money, Mr. Frye.”  

“In that case, it’s your own bloody business,” he said, trying to sound cheerful.    “I see no reason to tell anyone about it, do you?”  

He gave the lad a push and they made their way out onto the street. “You’ll have to be very careful, that’s all,” he said.  

“Careful? Careful about what? Where’s the fun in careful, darling?”  

For you, none. But you would not have been caught and shoved into a wagon, would you, you crazy bastard?  

Out loud, he added, “Although I am pleased to see that you did not get pinched.”  

“I got out the window,” Mikey explained. “And just lay low when the shooting started.”  

Bloody hell .  

Jacob broke into a run, not checking to see if Mikey was following. The square was almost empty. The curious onlookers must have guessed that the police would return soon  enough  to ask questions. He spotted Clara. She was deeply engrossed in a news sheet on the wall. She was also still holding his hat.  

Jacob turned to Mikey with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “Time for you to scarper to somewhere quieter,” he ordered. “And so shall I. Not that I was ever here tonight. In fact, I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen you or spoken to you at all.”  

Mikey looked like he was about to genuflect.  

“Thank you, Mr. Frye. On my - “  

“I said, scarper!” Jacob repeated and gave him a light shove. He watched the youngster slip away into the night.  

“Here is your hat,” Clara said quietly when he returned to her. Jacob offered her his arm.  

They walked for a while in silence. Jacob  fought  the feeling of bile rising to his mouth.  

“I need a drink,” he said dully.  

“I believe there may be half a bottle  of  cognac left in my den,” Clara said.  

“That will do.”  

***  

Once they were back in the workshop, Jacob slumped into the first available chair, leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The sick feeling in his stomach worked its way up, bringing a coffee-tainted taste of  acid  to his mouth. His head was hurting.  

He upended the first glass Clara gave him and waited. The warming sensation only served to change his innards from  an icy shiver  into uncomfortable, sickening warmth. He poured himself another  drink.  Clara has settled on stool by the workbench, a glass of cognac in her hand.  

“The last place I lived before coming to London,” Clara began in a slow, measured tone. “Was a quaint and safe village beloved of gentry.” Jacob kept his eyes closed.   

“To my surprise, I made fast friends with a son of a respectable family,” Clara continued. “Eventually, he trusted me enough to confide in me. You see, he had the same romantic inclinations as the gentlemen you helped tonight.”  

Clara took a  sip from her glass and went on.  

“He even went so far as to propose marriage,” she said sadly. “He thought that, between his  tastes and my dislike of marriage, we may have a very comfortable arrangement.”  

“Did you accept?” Jacob asked  coldly , pouring himself another drink.  

declined ,” Clara sighed. “While the arrangement sounded sensible enough, it would have meant marrying his family as well.”  She refilled her own glass.  “Not long after, on a trip to London, my friend’s secret was found out by a third party  and relayed to his family.”  

Jacob waited. The cognac was not washing away the bilious taste in the mouth or loosening the vice grips squeezing his head.  

“He did what he thought was decent,” Clara said in a flat voice. “He shot his head off. In order to save his family further embarrassment, he did it with his father’s hunting rifle. The entire village, starting with his parents, could be safely devasted that the wretched thing went off just as he was cleaning it. They could all safely turn out for the funeral.”  

She swallowed a good swig of cognac. In Jacob’s mind, the respectable young gentleman wore Mikey’s face.  

“What a wretched price for a young life,” she muttered , staring at the floor.  “I am very, very grateful for what you did tonight.”  

Jacob stared into his glass.  Don’t tell the lads, Mr. Frye. I beg you, Mr. Frye.  He opened his mouth and then shut it again.   The glass still held  plenty of cognac. Jacob swallowed it in a single gulp .  His head hurt. His fists itched. He glared at the tools and contraptions on the bench as though wondering which one he could smash first.  

“And what would you think,” he said  in a harsh voice, “If you  were to see  me coming out of  that  house one night?”  

There was a long pause.  He closed his eyes again.  

Let’s hear  it , Miss Progressive Counterweight. Let’s have some fine words now.  

Clara voice sounded coy and, to his ears, flippantly light-hearted.  “Although I have no right to say it,”  she said .  “I’d have to admit to feeling slightly jealous.”  

Jacob narrowed his eyes.  

“Jealous?” he repeated mockingly.   

Jacob’s hand clenched and unclenched around the brass knuckles inside his coat pocket.  

“Only jealous?” he said again.   

You and that snot-nosed Dublin dipper made me feel sick, and now you make fun of me.  

“As I’ve said, I do not think I would have the right to -”  

“Oh, I don’t know about right,” Jacob growled, sitting up to face her. “But I can see you are amused.”  

Clara stared at him uncomprehendingly.  

“Amused?”  

Keep talking. Give me an excuse to smash something.  He regretted not simply walking into the first pub. The silence was empty, the place so exposed.  Clara stared at him without saying a word.  

“I cannot believe that the amazing Miss Devine, for once, is at a loss for words. What about ashamed, shocked, sickened, disgusted?”  

Before she could answer, Jacob grimaced at her and went on.  

“How droll, Miss Devine.” He leaned back and poured himself yet another drink. "The fine lady would only be jealous. Is that really true?”  

Clara stood up and walked over to him.   

Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.   

He tasted the coffee, and the cognac, and the bile in his throat. One touch, and it would all come pouring out. He gave Clara a glare usually reserved for the moments before he sent someone flying into a wall.  

She no longer looked confused. Now she looked angry.  

Yes, say something. Give me an excuse. I’ll break the first piece of fucking clockwork that comes to my hand.  

When she spoke, her voice, inasmuch as he heard it through the painful pulsing in his head, sounded like the one she used before blowing Mr. Morecombe’s head off. Cold, measured, distant.  

“I have been reliably informed that nothing is true,” Clara said.  

Jacob spoke through his teeth.  

“Do be careful, Miss Devine. I am not finding you very funny.”   

You  dragged  me into this .  

Clara’s eyes went from his face to the bottle in his hand, to the other hand, clenching and unclenching in his coat pocket.  

“But, that dictum aside,” she spoke coldly. “I am fairly sure that some people, like my poor late friend, and that mousey  Irish  lad you bailed out tonight, prefer the romantic coin to land on the same side each time, shall we say. The same side their coin is on.”  

Jacob peered at her.  

“How delicately put, my lady,” he spat.  

At that, she yelled in his face, making him flinch in surprise.  

“How would you like me to fucking put it?  That I am aware some men prefer to fuck other men? Is that indelicate enough ?”  

She placed a hand on the back of his chair, leaning into his face.   

“And from the story I just told you, I’m sure you realise I do not find it disgusting  or amusing  when a coin lands on that side .”  Her breathing  was  laboured, like she had been running.  

Stop talking. Stop talking. Let me out. Let me the fuck out of here.  

“I’m getting tired of your monetary sermon, Miss Devine.” He moved to get up. Clara’s hand darted under his chin and clasped the lucky shilling around his neck, twisting the cord. In response, he grabbed her wrist.  

“I am almost finished,” she said in that same icy voice. “Indelicately or delicately, we are not talking about those men, are we? We are, at your instigation, talking about the case of one Jacob Frye.”  

He could not believe the next words out of his mouth. He cannot have meant  her , but the words came out nonetheless.  

“Shut up or you’ll regret it.”  

Her breath came out fast now.  

“And knowing what has passed between us more than once, and seeing your fit of rage,” Clara persisted. “I can only conclude that, for Jacob Frye, much to his discomfort, the coin is equally shiny on both sides. Am I correct?”  

Jacob stared at her, his grip on her wrist weakening.  

“Am I fucking right or not?” she hissed.  

Jacob let go of her wrist. Then he let go of the bottle. She, in turn, let the lucky shilling drop from her fingers.  

“You haven’t answered me,” she said coldly.  

Jacob closed his eyes. The invisible gripping vice around his temples was loosening. The sick churn in his stomach was dissolving. He gasped for air.  

“Yes,” he breathed. “You are right.”  

She nodded.  

“And that is why, embarrassingly enough, my only true answer is that, yes, I may be jealous,” she concluded. “Not sickened, not disgusted.”  

She poured herself a drink and took a hearty swig.   

“For one thing, you are in good company. That of Lord Byron, for one.”  

Jacob blinked.  

“I’m sorry, who?”  

“Should I give you a lesson in poetry now or would you like to break my arm first?” she sneered, rubbing her wrist.  

Jacob ran a gloved hand over his face. The leather came away stained with sweat.  

He went to stand up and realised his legs were shaking. The room was slightly askew in his vision. He sat back down.  

“Come here,” he called quietly. When she did not move, he repeated his plea.  

“Clara, come here. Please.”  

She walked over to him. Jacob reached for the arm he had squeezed and pushed the sleeve up. It was not bruised, but he could see the marks of his fingers. He brought her wrist to his mouth and kissed it very lightly. He heard Clara sigh.  

“I am sorry,” he whispered.  

“I am not,” she replied, her voice a great deal warmer.  

Jacob shook his head, stroking her wrist with his fingers. “That was not -”  

“I understand,” she said. “And, if you do not do it in anger - “ she leaned down to his ear. “Between you, and me, everything is permitted.”  

Of all the incongruous thoughts filling his head at the moment, he thought of poor old George Westhouse. At his own surprise, he laughed loudly. The laugh was cut short as Clara started kissing him, one hand gently touching his cheek. She tasted of cognac, and this time the heady flavour had the desired effect.  

He nudged her gently and she settled on his lap, as much as her dress allowed. Jacob’s hands ran up and down her arms, over her chest and waist, his lips roaming her face.  

He let his arms fall further down, gently following the folds of the dress. His fingers felt a hard, angular shape and he froze. Through the haze, he remembered the distant gunshots. With what he hoped was a gentle movement he pried Clara’s mouth off his own.  

“Forgive me for changing the subject,” he began. “But during tonight’s mission of mercy, I thought I heard gunshots.”  

Clara blinked.  

“I heard them too,” she said.  

He tilted his head and looked at her under the brim of his hat, eyebrows raised.  

“No one was shot,” she assured him. “It is possible that someone nearby, a street or so away, fired a gun. It certainly distracted the bobbies.”  

“But you are certain no one was shot,” he said.  

“It is quite possible that the miscreant fired into the air,” she said calmly.  

In response, Jacob squeezed her unexpectedly angular and sharp upper leg.  

“I was not aware ladies’ dresses had reinforced pockets,” he said dryly.  

“I inherited an incredibly eclectic wardrobe from my mother,” was the only response.  

He felt around in the folds of the dress and found the small compartment. Reaching in, he pulled out the revolver and handed it to her. Clara carefully put it on the bench.  

“I ask you out for an evening stroll and you bring a gun,” Jacob said. Clara shrugged helplessly.  

“I was not sure if - “  

Jacob sat up straighter and kissed her mouth shut, pulling her onto him. His apology accepted, he felt elated to the point of lightheadedness. He pulled on Clara’s shoulders and she leaned into him -   

The chair toppled backwards with a crash, leaving Jacob with a painful lump on the back of his head and Clara half collapsed over him, her skirts tangled into the chair. His hat rolled off somewhere under the bench. Jacob felt around with one leg and kicked the chair, sending it across the floor.   

Above him, Clara was struggling to get up, wriggling on top of him. He held her hips down.  

“This will be fine,” he informed her.  

For a moment she looked terribly serious and he almost laughed.  

“Jacob, we do not need to -”  

“Just stay where you are,” he interrupted.  

“But you do not have to -”  

“But I want to,” he interrupted again, burrowing under her dress and tugging at any cloth that got in the way.   

“At least let me - “  

“No.”  

His hands still trapped under the tented cloth, he undid his belt and whatever else constrained him. Then he reached for one piece of fabric that separated him from Clara, grabbed it with both hands and ripped it.  

She was swaying on top of him, mouth open in surprise. Her hips, however, twisted with a mind of their own, seeking him out. Jacob steadied her upright and slid further under her. Clara let out a squeal.  

“Let me in, little fox,” he breathed.   

She lifted her hips slowly and then lowered herself down, wide eyes never leaving his face. Gripping her hip, Jacob thrust upwards. Tight heat enveloped him.  He pushed up again, at the same time pulling Clara’s hips down. She arched her back and almost fell over.  

“Hold onto me,” he said. He felt Clara’s hands tighten on his shoulders. “Hold on,” he repeated.  

Clutching onto her hipbones, he buckled under her, driving himself further in. He no longer felt the rough surface or the pain where he had hit his head on the floor. There was only tight heat and Clara’s face above him, lips parted, wordless cries sounding with his every movement. Another thrust upwards, and another, and she closed her eyes, sobbing, hands tightening on his shoulders and the inside of her tightening around him. Her hips gyrated under the heavy dress. To Jacob she felt as light as a feather. He pressed her down to him again.  

“Not yet, you little fox. Not yet. Keep still,”  

“I can’t,” she gasped. “I can’t, I can’t -”  

Jacob gripped as hard as he could and threw himself upwards. Clara screamed and fell on his chest, moving wildly, sliding, gasping, keening. Jacob pressed her head to his chest, letting her ride out the wave.  

She knows. She knows. No need to hide. No need to lie. No need to -  

He gripped even harder, shuddering, so that nothing moved but her hips, and let the relief wash over him. With it came the other release, almost unexpected. He closed his eyes and kept moving, emptying into her, feeling her twitch above him and around him.   

Eventually the room stopped spinning. Clara was a warm weight on his chest. Jacob lay with his eyes closed. The floor felt cold now, but the feeling of relief was still stronger.  

“Feeling better, Jacob my dear? Feeling respectable again?”   

I was never respectable,  Jacob argued back.  But that was never the problem.  

“Then why not tell her about us, darling?”  

Clara was getting up,  shakily. Jacob rolled to his side, fetched his hat from under the bench and stood up.  He followed Clara up the stairs.  

In good time, perhaps. But for the time being, I think I would like to simply have some fun. Surely you, of all people, understand that. Don’t you, Maxwell?  

Chapter Text

The matters of property had never figured largely in Evie Frye’s life until this point. As much as she hated to admit it, those matters had always been tidily taken care of by someone else. The matter of her eventual marriage was not a consideration for her or for Henry, but it loomed large in the current British property law. There were other ramifications as well, matters of funneling money here and there, especially the parts that came from the not-quite-legitimate sources.  

Evie remembered her father’s lessons about the women and men who shaped the Brotherhood. As a little girl, she would often imagine meeting them. She would imagine asking them endless questions.  

Now, well into her third cup of tea that morning and well into various ledgers and information about real estate in London, she noted her childhood dreams had shrunk to one point: if Ezio Auditore were to appear before her right now, she would ask him about banking and property management.  

She would not give up so easily.  Think methodically. Consider one aspect of the problem at the time. Concentrate once more and -  

The door to the train carriage opened with a crash. Evie did not even look up. Jacob was obviously back to his expedient way of boarding the train. This involved jumping onto it when it slowed down at a curving segment of the tracks and barging into the door with all his weight.  

“Good morning,” he called merrily. “Hard at work already, I see.”  

At least it is still morning, and reasonably early at that.  She muttered a greeting in response.  

A newspaper landed in front of her.  

“Here, I brought you the morning’s edition.”  

As much as Evie hated to admit it, the interruption was welcome. She looked up.  

“Jacob Frye, you look like something the cat dragged in.”  

“I had a long night.”  

Evie made a face.  

“Am I smelling... brandy?” she asked.  

Jacob shook his head despondently.  

“Evie Frye, you are such a country girl. It’s cognac.”  

“No wonder your night felt long. Thank you for the papers. Now, if you’ll excuse me -”  

“I know, I know. Soon you’ll regret that Henry runs a curio shop rather than an accounting business.”  

Cognac. The bastard.  That was one of the very few drinks Evie was partial to. She had truly enjoyed the glass she had shared with Clara a few days -  

“Jacob,” she said seriously. “Exactly where did you spend the night?”  

Her brother looked decidedly suspicious.   

“Since when are my sleeping arrangements of any interest to you?”  

Usually, they would be the furthest thing from my mind , Evie thought.  However -  

“It’s not the sleeping that concerns me,” she replied.  

Jacob’s face settled into a peeved grimace.  

“I’m sorry, when you went and got engaged, did I expect your fiancé to come and talk to me, the only remaining male of the Frye family, as would be good and proper? I considered it your own business. And now you are questioning mine?”  

Evie rubbed her palms together.  

“Normally, I would not. But, you see - “ She struggled for a moment and then decided to go for plain honesty. “I consider Miss Devine a friend, one whose company I genuinely enjoy.”  

And I also enjoy the novelty of a companion who understands the crazy lives we lead.  

Jacob’s face changed from peeved to baffled.  

“So?”  

There was an unfriendly edge to his voice. Evie weighed the options of asking permission versus begging forgiveness and settled on the latter.  

“I am bothered by something Miss Devine told me,” she said.  

And probably told me in confidence, too.  

Jacob tensed.  

“About me?”  

“Amazingly enough, Jacob, I do not waste what little time I have with friends on talking about you,” Evie snapped. “She was talking about herself.”  

“What did she say?” her brother asked ardently. “Tell me.”  

“This is not a joke to feed your vanity,” she growled.  

“Evie!“ And then, to Evie’s shock: “Please tell me.”  

Now I’ve done it.  Evie rubbed her forehead to hide the discomfort.  

“You must have noticed that Miss Devine is quite a lonely person,” Evie began.  

“By her own choice.”  

Evie groaned. “Can you just listen quietly for a moment?”  

Jacob complied.  

“She mentioned once that, while she fully employed her freedom of, well, amorous encounters, she saw it as pure chance. She considered it pure luck that some of these liaisons were with men that she was attracted to.”  

“Still not following you,” her brother offered helpfully.  

Evie sighed. She would have to be a lot more straightforward than this.   

“She does not have very many romantic expectations left, shall we say. How did she put it? ‘While I had the good luck to be with a few men I was attracted to, I do not expect to be with a man who is in love with me’, or words to that effect.”  

Jacob’s lips were moving silently, as though he was working out a difficult equation in his head. Evie tried to help him out.  

“Surely you can see there is not much joy in such a feeling. I suppose I’d hate to – to be involved in making it worse,” she concluded.  

Jacob nodded his understanding and smiled.  

“Is that all?”  

Evie gaped at him. “Jacob Frye, if you really cannot see the weight of such a statement -”  

He held up his hand. “I see no need to worry about that at all,” he shrugged.  

“Incredible. And why is that?”  

“For the simple reason that her statement is no longer true.”  

He tipped his hat in mock salute and sauntered out. Evie stared after him, shaking her head.  

***  

After a few days of running sums, calling on more experienced acquaintances and rightly reasoning that Jacob should not be allowed anywhere near a bank, Evie felt confident that she could handle finding a property. Jacob was busy with the new rope launchers and with half-heartedly convincing Agnes to make the visit to Crawley. Summer was coming to an end and the fog from the river now lingered in the alleyways.   

On those autumn evenings Henry’s shop was a welcome respite from the wet streets and the clatter of the train. Besides, they were used to working together without undue distractions. Well, mostly without undue distractions. The current distraction, however, was perfectly innocent. Henry was making that odd, sweet milky tea he called  chai . Evie allowed herself to lounge in an armchair, delighting in the smell of spices.  

“How are your brother’s students taking to the new methods?” Henry asked. Evie snorted.  

“I cannot tell who is more delighted with the rope launchers, Jacob or his flock. Really, I should warn Dr. Fletcher to expect more contusions than usual.”  

“And is Miss Devine still your main supplier?”  

Evie nodded. “Yes, for the moment. Between her love of mechanics and my brother’s love of crisscrossing London in midair, this training may yet work out.”  

Henry passed her the warm, sweet-smelling cup.  

“Jacob is quite taken with Miss Devine,” he smiled. Evie sat up straighter.  

“Really?” she asked cautiously. “What did he say?”  

Henry smiled again.  

“Nothing whatsoever. He only ever mentions her in a, shall we say, professional capacity.”  

“Then what makes you think he’s taken with her?” Evie prodded.  

“His nickname for her.”  

Evie made a face. “What is it?”  

“That’s exactly it,  mērī jāna . There isn’t one.”  

Evie considered this. “And we are talking about the man who refers to Her Majesty the Queen as ‘old Vicky.” This brought on another consideration.  

“I do wish Miss Devine would let us reimburse her for the materials,” Evie said thoughtfully. “She absolutely refuses any money.”  

Henry finished preparing his own  chai  and sat down.   

“Is there anything else we could offer?”  

“She mostly talks about mechanics, guns and spring-loaded devices these days,” Evie thought out loud. “And complains about -”  

She sat up straighter. “That’s it! Food!” She pointed happily at Henry. He thought for a moment.  

“Is this the young lady with a taste for food from India?” he asked. Evie nodded cheerfully.  

“I suppose I could make some arrangements. There are a few eateries and shops that I know of,” he said.  

“I’m sure Jacob could find us a private room for an evening in one of his haunts,” Evie suggested.  

“Very well, then. A dinner!”  

Evie inhaled the steam rising off the warm drink. The warm room, the warm cup in her hand, the fire in the corner seemed hazily familiar. She realised she was remembering similar evenings in Crawley, back when Grandmother was still looking after them. Of course, the decorations on the walls had been less exotic. The drink would have been cocoa, not strangely spiced milky tea, but still -  

Her face fell.   

“This is silly, Henry. Planning for dinners, gossiping about friends... It feels almost normal,” Evie said. “That is not a life we can choose.”  

Henry sipped his tea thoughtfully.  

“It’s only a short reprieve,” he finally said. “Sooner rather than later, we will stumble across something, or trouble will come calling.”   

Evie nodded. “That is why this - domesticity - feels almost fake,” she agreed.  

“Then why not enjoy it? It is not likely to last long.”  

Evie had another thought. “You do realise, if we ask Jacob to find us a quiet corner, we cannot avoid having him along as well.”  

“There really is no reason to be so unkind to your brother,  mērī jāna,”  Henry looked almost pained. “Besides, it will give him a chance to try food with real flavour. Do you want him to go through the rest of his life extolling the virtues of jelly eel and steak and kidney pie?”  

Evie considered this.   

“How hot can you make those dishes?” she asked innocently.  

“Evie!”  

***  

Jacob loitered under the cover of an empty market stall, waiting to see what would come first: an end to the rain, or Mikey in his capacity of a runner. He absentmindedly twirled a walking stick in his hand. It was a delightfully supple mahogany instrument with a slightly curved handle. Finding it was no small feat: it was the only thing in his sister’s collection that was an actual walking cane without any hidden weaponry. He had checked it thoroughly several times.  

To pass the time, Jacob looked at the note in his pocket again. The romantic soul of Clara Devine wasted no time in answering his letter: she had obviously turned over the note he had sent her and hastily scribbled in pencil on the other side. There was even a pale print of an oily thumb. He looked over the notes again.  

Dear Miss Devine,  

I was informed that there is to be some kind of soiree in your honour. I only found this out after being commanded to find ‘a quiet place to eat in peace’. In return for services rendered, I am allowed to participate in this meal.  

Since you have informed me that you are a) very busy, and b) distracted by my presence while pursuing your scientific investigations, I have decided to exercise discretion for the last few days. However, as I have already been drafted into helping with this soiree of yours, I offer you my services as a coachman, at no additional expense.  

He turned the note over.  

Dear Mr. Frye,  

I am glad you are finding reputable employment. While I regret having to miss out on your company, I must remind you that on the last occasion you decided to hover about while I worked, I almost lost a finger.  

My previous experience with the Frye Transport Company has been less than stellar, consisting as it did of interminable waiting and then almost being flung into the Thames. While I wish you all the best in your endeavours in this line of business, I must politely decline your offer.  

As you are so intimately involved with the dinner arrangements, I expect I will be unable to avoid your presence at the abovementioned occasion in any case.  

Jacob put the paper back in his pocket. Clara was possessed of a single-mindedness similar to Evie’s, which, while commendable, was hardly a lot of fun. He would make use of the time he had before he left for Crawley in a few days.  

Mikey appeared around the corner just as the rain eased up. He looked slightly flushed from running.  

“She’s left, Mr. Frye, not two minutes past,” he reported. Jacob gave him a slap on the shoulder.  

“Well done, Mikey. I’ll take it from here.”  

“Anything you need, Mr. Frye.”  

Leaving Mikey to catch his breath, Jacob crossed the street and took a few efficient shortcuts. Rain was a bit of luck, really. Coaches for hire where but a few. Mikey had obligingly informed the lads in the area to steer clear of this particular street for a few hours.  

And right on time, there was Clara, walking slowly, purse in one hand and an umbrella in the other, looking this way and that in the hopes of finding a carriage for hire. Jacob let her pass him, then slipped behind her.  

“Taking the evening air or looking for transport, miss?” he whispered. Clara almost jumped.  

“Good grief,” she gasped. “How long have you been following me?”  

“Not at all,” Jacob said truthfully. “But now that I am here, shall I escort you to your appointment?”  

“I was rather hoping to avoid being submitted to various indignities in public.”  

Jacob stopped, a hurt look on his face.  

“Always with the insults. How about this: I solemnly promise not a lay a finger on you.”  

He was gratified to see a fleeting grimace of disappointment on Clara’s face.  

“For the rest of the evening?” she asked suspiciously.  

“In public, or in company,” he said. “See, I shall not even offer you my arm.” He fell in step next to her. “I shall not even drive.” And he signaled a nearby coach. Giving the coachman the address, he settled into a seat opposite Clara, taking exaggerated care not to brush against her.  

“I hope you have an appetite,” he commented. She was sitting primly opposite him, holding the umbrella the way a knight might stand his sword in the ground. Jacob smiled, lifted the walking cane and knocked the umbrella onto the floor of the coach. As Clara moved to grab it, he planted the head of the cane under her chin. He pressed very gently, guiding her to lean back against the seat.   

“I thought you promised -” she began breathlessly, but he shushed her by shaking his head.  

“I promised I would not lay a finger on you,” he confirmed. The handle of the walking cane weaved over her chest, gently prodding here and there. “I said nothing about other implements.”  

Colour was pouring into Clara’s face. She pressed herself further into the seat, but without trying to avoid the cane. Jacob let the mahogany handle roam back up, finally using it to make her turn her head to one side.  

“I hope you have a good appetite,” he said softly. Noting the glow in her eyes, he continued. “You look quite hungry to me.”  

He withdrew the cane from her face. Clara was almost panting. Instead, he ran it against her shin, using the tip to slide the fabric of the dress up and down her leg.  

“Practically starving,” he added. “But a promise is a promise.”  

She gave him a desperate look.  

“If you do not stop, I will be a ridiculous sight by the time we get there,” she implored.  

In response he hefted the walking cane like a sword and poked at her middle, then ran it along her waist, slowly guiding it to her lap.  

“Tell me to stop,” Jacob suggested. The only response was rapid breathing. He brushed the cane up and down her arm.  

Eyes shut, head pressed against the back seat, Clara swore.  

Jacob tut-tutted.  

“What foul language. I hope you don’t go on like that in polite company.” He put the cane down and leaned against it, stopping at an angle where he could almost, but not quite, brush his lips against Clara’s ear.  

“I think I’ll stop before you pull a gun on me,” he offered. Clara muttered that she did not have one.  

“Unbelievable,” he breathed against her neck. “I would check more thoroughly, but I did promise not to lay a finger on you. Aren’t you enjoying your advantage?”  

“Is this," she panted, “My punishment for turning you out a few days ago?”  

“Oh, absolutely not. I am just making sure you work up a healthy appetite,” Jacob replied. She was positively radiating heat. He leaned back in his seat, crossing his legs and using the walking cane to nudge aside the curtain. “Almost there. You have a minute or two to make yourself presentable.”  

Clara looked slightly panicked. “Why? How do I look?”  

Delightful,  he thought. Out loud, he said, “Somewhat flushed.”  

She touched a hand to her cheek, then reached into her purse for a handkerchief.   

“You are a bastard, Mr. Frye,” she said as she patted the sweat off her face.  

“I am quite sure there is a church register somewhere in Crawley that confirms I am not,” he countered. “Here we are. Let’s see this culinary extravaganza Greenie’s been promising.”  

***  

In a side room of the pub, Henry was presiding over a host of dishes large and small. Jacob had never seen that much rice in one place. Once the lids came off the dishes, he had to admire the wild mixture of colours and scents.  

Clara sat down with her eyes shut. She breathed in deeply and began reciting a strange rosary.  

“Cardamom... Fenugreek... Cinnamon... Saffron... Thank you so much for this.”  

Even the bread looked unfamiliar, landing somewhere between a bedsheet and an overgrown pancake. Naturally, every single thing had its own name and an exotic list of ingredients.  

The conversation died down as they ate, broken only by occasional murmurs of wonder. Henry was explaining the supposed medicinal benefits of spices, then explained to Evie that naan – the odd-looking flatbread – was not supposed to be cut with a knife and a fork. Watching his sister trying to eat with her fingers was as delightful as the taste of food.  

“Miss Devine, do you remember any of these dishes?” Henry asked. Jacob noted Clara needed precious little instruction.  

Clara shook her head. “Sadly, no. I was a little girl when we went to India. I remember flavours and I remember the delight of being allowed to eat with my hands.”  

“What were your parents doing in India?” Henry asked politely. Clara thought for a second.  

“They made sure I had absolutely no idea,” she explained. “Good god, but this is wonderful.”  

Jacob prodded a strange piece of meat with a fork.  

“What is this thing in green gravy?” he asked suspiciously.  

“That’s  saag paneer ,” Henry explained helpfully. “It’s not meat. It’s cheese.”  

Jacob considered this. “Cheese cooked in spinach gravy. No wonder it is hard to sell around here.”  

Henry shrugged. “And yet it is better, and cheaper to make, than most things you buy off the carts,” he said sadly.  

Jacob had to admit that the taste was quite good.   

“Greenie, what’s in that little pot over there?”  

Evie passed him the dish. It was yet another shade of earthen colour. He suspected there was meat in it.  

“It’s lamb stew,” his sister said.  

“I’d be careful with that,” Clara warned. “I can smell the heat from here.”  

Henry had a similar warning. Jacob was starting to feel slighted.  

“You are talking to someone who used to spread hot mustard like it was jam,” he said.  

“This isn’t mustard, Jacob.”  

“And horseradish!”  

“At least have it with some rice,” Henry advised.  

Evie waved the dish under his nose.  

“Great Jacob Frye, defeated by lamb stew?”  

That did it. Jacob grabbed a spoonful of the meat and gravy and shoved it straight into his mouth.  

The taste was good, the meat well cooked.  What in the world was all the -   

Half a pint of beer later, the ringing in his ears had died down. Jacob glared daggers at Henry. Evie was still laughing, her hands covering her face.  

Clara dipped a piece of bread into the gravy with a great deal of caution. She put it into her mouth and chewed slowly.  

“Hot peppers?” she squealed.   

“Evie insisted on trying a truly hot dish,” Henry said apologetically.   

Evie wiped tears from her eyes.  

“What a charming shade of red you turned, brother dearest.”  

“Did I indeed?”  

It was Clara that replied. “Like a fine claret.” She smiled at Jacob. “One could even say you looked slightly flushed.”  

“That is supposed to be a sign of good health,” Jacob murmured. He passed the dish to Evie. “Your turn, my darling sister.”  

Henry leaned in towards Clara. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I had better bring us more drinks.” He shook his head sadly at the bickering twins. “I do fear this sort of food will never catch on in London.”  

***  

The noise they could hear through the door of the private room turned into a pandemonium once they were outside the pub. Someone was starting up a jolly tune on the piano. The patrons’ voices rose into a crescendo of shouts. They could not really talk until they were some distance away.  

Jacob waited as patiently as he could for the exchange of thanks and pleasantries to come to an end. When he decided enough time had been wasted, he snuck up behind Clara and gently patted her leg with the walking cane.  

“Pardon the interruption, but I think it is well past my sister’s bedtime,” he said smugly. He smiled angelically into Evie’s glare. “I’ll escort Miss Devine.”  

For a moment he thought Evie would argue, but then she turned to Henry.  

“I think I’ve eaten enough food for a week,” Evie said. “Let’s walk it off.”  

Jacob waited until the two were only dark shapes in the fog. He flipped the cane in hand and pointed to a nearby alleyway.  

“This way, if you please, Miss Devine.”  

“I beg your pardon?”  

The tip of the stick now pressed against her back.  

“Don’t tell me you are scared of the dark.”  

She walked into the alleyway ahead of him. They navigated the side streets, Jacob still not laying a finger on her. He called a stop in front of a staircase. Clara peered at the building.  

“Isn’t this the back of the pub we just left?”  

“Quite possibly. It’s quite hard to tell in the dark. Up the stairs, please.”  

Clara obediently climbed up. Jacob followed her to the door at the top of the rickety staircase. Beyond the door, the noise from the pub could still be heard clearly. The hallway, however, was carpeted and free of the smell of beer.  

“This looks like a hotel,” Clara whispered.  

“As luck would have it, the landlord had been planning to expand his business,” Jacob explained with a smile. “We helped him defer some monthly payments and save up the capital.”  

“Deferred in perpetuity, I imagine?”  

Jacob pointed to a door at the end of the hall.  

“I’ll be very surprised if those who came to charge the protection fees ever showed up again,” he said. “After you.”  

The room was large enough to accommodate a small fireplace, the fire already lit. Jacob flung himself happily into the armchair by the fire. He stretched his legs and sank into the seat, chin resting on his chest.  

Clara looked around the room.  

“You do realise that, as a true gentleman, you took the only seat in the room,” she pointed out.  

Jacob smiled at her under the brim of his hat.  

“It was a filling meal,” he said.  

Clara made a face and moved towards the armchair. The handle of the walking stick pressed against her chest. She looked down at it. Jacob slid the curved end between two buttons on her dress and tugged.  

“Off,” he whispered.  

When she didn’t move, he tugged again, harder this time.  

“I said, off.”  

“This is how you digest your dinner?”  

He shook his head.  

“No, this is my after-dinner entertainment. Is that thing coming off or do I need to make a start – on - those – buttons?” The last few words were punctuated by gentle tugs and twists.  

Clara grabbed the handle of the cane and held it steady. Without taking her eyes of him, she shifted her grip on the polished wood. Her fingers wrapped around it and she ran her thumb gently over the knob at the top of the cane.   

Bloody hell.  He tried to think of a witty reply to the shameless gesture, but his mouth felt quite dry.  

Jacob let the cane fall from his fingers. Clara, surprised, allowed it clatter to the floor. Jacob kicked it out of the way. He felt he could speak again.  

“Dress. Off. Now.” he instructed one more time. “Or you can just keep that stick.”  

To his surprise, the threat worked. He watched with half-closed eyes as Clara began to undress. It was almost like shapeshifting, the way the tight, dull, unremarkable dress was slowly made to release the soft body underneath. He let out a quiet sigh.  

If only I did not have to go to goddamned Crawley.  

The dress was discarded, the petticoats released. There it was again, that silky light shift. Clara started unfastening the laces on its front.  

“Stop,” Jacob said. She gave him a quizzical glance, but let her arms drop to her sides.  

Jacob nodded to her approvingly.  

“Attagirl.”  

Clara’s mouth dropped open.  

“I’ve heard you speak to horses that way, Mr. Frye. Whatever will you do next, whip me into a trot?”  

Jacob managed to look aghast.  

“I’ve never whipped a horse in my life,” he assured her. “Besides,” he continued more evenly, “I do not have the required equipment.” He sat up straighter. “Come here.”  

He ran his hands all over the silken fabric. One hand slid up to Clara’s breast, another rounded her waist and rested further down. He put his face against her belly and ran his mouth over the cloth, feeling the warm skin underneath. He moved slowly, almost gnawing at her waist, his teeth sheathed by the cloth cover.  

There. That sound. That little sob in the back of the throat.  His hands kneaded and pinched where they landed, his mouth latched onto Clara’s side. She swayed, catching herself on his shoulders and knocking his hat off in the process.  

Jacob looked up. “So unsteady on your feet,” he breathed against her navel. “You’re not much of a horse.”  

He held her up and stood up himself. In response, Clara pressed her whole body against him, hips and crotch rubbing below his waist.  

“What am I, then,” she slurred as if drunk, her eyes closed.  

Jacob worked his way over her shoulder and collarbone. Her skin felt like it was burning.  

“More like a little bitch in heat,” he growled in her ear.   

There was no shocked cry or angry snapping. Instead, Clara’s hands felt his shoulders, trying to pull off his coat.  

And here I was thinking I went too far.  He gently removed her hands, then shrugged the coat off. He moved in as if to kiss her, his mouth hovering over hers, then leaned back at the last minute. He repeated the motion again, and them once more.  

“Not so fast,” he admonished, pressing his fingers against her lips. “But if you can’t keep those wily hands of your still, you can help me undress.”  

He stared as if mesmerized at her fingers fumbling with the buttons on the waistcoat, then starting on the shirt. As the shirt came off, Clara pressed her face against his chest almost desperately. Jacob closed his eyes. She was tracing every curve of every muscle with her lips, with her tongue, hungrily, adoringly. Her hands ran through the hair on his chest and followed the trail down to his belt. He stopped her gently.  

“No need to rush,” he explained. “Tonight, I intend to take my time.”  

He pushed her gently towards the bed –  a real bed, thank the heavens –  and stopped only to slip his boots off. Then he crept onto the bed and over her, tugging once again at her shift and the skin beneath. Ignoring the desperate hands grabbing for his shoulders, he worked his way lower, making Clara wriggle and move further up on the bed.  

He reached for the edge of the fabric and pulled so that it was now stretched between Clara’s legs, completely covering what lay beneath. One more bite on the inside of her leg, and he lowered his face into the fabric, his tongue pushing against it into the folds of skin below. He could tell by the tensing muscles around him that yes, the friction of the material had its effect. He tugged on the cloth again, outlining every fold with his tongue. The bedspread rustled as Clara grabbed fistfuls of it, desperate to reach him.   

“I said I would take my time,” Jacob whispered against the now moist fabric. As though the sound of his voice – or the feeling of his breath – was the last straw, a torrent of almost hysterical words poured out of Clara. Jacob took a moment to shake his head in amazement, then lowered his face to her again. As his tongue and lips moved, Clara grew almost incoherent, so that all he could hear was a stream of words almost flowing together  oh god oh good god how can you oh god that feels have mercy have mercy havemercygoodgod –   

The words lost all shape, becoming muffled cries. Jacob pressed down on the cloth with his hands and then let his tongue go for  that spot,  his fingers joining in and rubbing the cloth roughly against the soft skin. His tongue never stopped, each movement echoed in another moan.  

You’re almost there, I can tell. I can taste it. Any moment now you’ll scream like a banshee , and he bit down, trying to devour her.  

Instead of a scream, there was a muffled moan and a sound of fabric ripping. Startled, he looked up, releasing his hold.  

Clara must have bitten into the pillow. The cheap stitching on the corner had torn. A small cloud of feathers was settling around her face. She folded her legs and rolled over onto the side, still moaning softly.  

Well worth a pillow , Jacob thought.  

He managed to slip out of the rest of his clothes, then lay down next to her, pressed against her back. She still didn’t open her eyes. A small feather stuck to her lips. Jacob gently wiped it off.  

“You look like a fox that’s been caught in a chicken coop,” he chuckled.  

Clara spoke with difficulty, a heaving breath between words.  

“I never did – I only ever – ” She turned her head to look at him. “I honestly thought I’d faint,” she confessed.  

“Yet here you are,” Jacob said while peeling the wet shift off of her.  

“I can’t believe that you -”  

“Oh, do be quiet,” he grumbled, wrapping his arms around her. Her back was flat against his chest. With every breath, she pressed herself against him.   

Clara did stop talking, but her arm crept backwards, feeling over his ribs and his hip, until her fingers wrapped around him. Jacob clenched his teeth. It was a light touch, but it threatened to get tighter, and more demanding. He tried to stop her.  

“For God’s sake, let me touch you,” she groaned. In response he tightened his grip on her. They were rolling back and forth until Jacob gained enough control to swing over so that he was lying on top of her, his face resting against her back.  

“Stay like that,” he whispered in her ear. Clara’s body tensed beneath him. He ran his hands up and down her back and down her legs until he felt her relax again. All he could see was the length of her back and her head, firmly pressed into the as yet undamaged pillows.   

Lifting her hips and backside gently, he took a deep breath and slid in. There was almost no friction, no resistance, just gripping, sliding sensation and he gasped in delight.  

He had to squeeze to stop her wild buckling, half pleasure and half shocked surprise. He leaned over her, feeling for her mouth with his. She lifted her head to meet him half way. It was a twisted, awkward kiss, but enough to make Clara shiver all over, and the shiver carried onto him.  

Jacob fell forward, his arms bracing to either side of her head and drove himself in and out as slowly as he could, feeling her hips and backside press against him with every thrust. He pushed hard, pinioning Clara to the bed.   

“How is that?” he asked, his voice made rougher than he wanted by their fevered movement.  His hands against the crumpled counterpane, he realised they were not even touching except at the hips. He forced himself to stop, buried deep inside her.  

She lifted herself up on her elbows, the motion impaling her more firmly.  

“You fucking filthy bastard,” she cried out, and for a moment Jacob thought he may have hurt her. But she went on without trying to move away. “You goddamn alley mongrel, you fucking fiend -”  

The stream of delicious insults had to be stopped. They were pushing him too close to the edge. He pushed Clara down, flat against the sheets. Snaking one hand under her, her reached down until he could almost feel where their bodies came together. He found once more the little nub of flesh that unraveled her every time and stroked it.  

Clara’s breath caught in her throat and her whole body went rigid for an instant. Jacob stopped moving, enjoying the sensation of being wedged firmly inside her as she twisted under him. He went on stroking that sensitive spot without stopping.  

She could not speak now, breathless as she was, but he could feel every movement of her muscles and every tightening around him, the insatiable, uncontrollable warm grip. He moved slowly, drawing out the sensation, waiting for the climax that he could tell was not far.  

That’s it, that’s it, that’s good –  and he realised that he was now the one speaking, unconsciously whispering in her ear.  

“That’s it, little fox. I can feel it.”  Oh god can I feel it. “ That’s it. Almost there. Almost -”  

Clara came completely undone, descending into guttural yowls, pulling at his arm, her head pressing against his shoulder. Jacob closed his eyes, letting the heated pulsing around him pull him over the edge. He barely needed to move, so strong was her pull on him, and he only felt himself sinking further into her, one wave after another, until he felt empty, and sated, and delighted.  

And then he simply held onto her, not wanting to move until the last of those sweet shudders subsided. Her felt Clara’s hand in his hair, an unexpected, affectionate touch. Reluctantly, he pulled apart from her. She rolled over onto her back. Jacob settled down next to her.  

“Words fail me,” Clara said weakly. “You must be pleased.”  

“And you?”  

She finally looked at him. “I am – damn it, words can’t do it justice.” She shivered.  

Jacob pulled off the covers – no small feat, in the state the bed was in - and covered them both. Clara moved closer to him. He rolled over, pulling her after him, until she was lying on top of him, her head on his shoulder. Her right hand traced the contour of the bird on the left side of his chest.  

“Is that a rook?” she murmured.  

Jacob had to blink a few times. He was still thinking about the glorious sensation from a moment ago.  

“It’s a raven,” he said.  

“How many things I seem to be learning tonight,” Clara whispered, still stroking the feathers of the inked bird.  

“Learning?”  

“Let me just say that I have never seen a mouth put to such a use before,” she said. Obviously, she was regaining her senses. Jacob pulled her up into a kiss, a very slow and gentle one.  

“The uses I could think of for that shameless mouth of yours,” he said dreamily.  

Fucking trains and fucking Crawley,  he thought, kissing her again. The he held her head up gently so she could look into his eyes.  

“I’ll have to leave London for a while,” he told her.  

There was no change in her face, but her breath caught and she lay very still on him. She nodded.  

“I hope against hope that it is not too dangerous,” Clara said slowly.  

Jacob shook his head. “The only danger will be dying of boredom in a train yard,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “Goddamn Crawley.”  

Clara moved so suddenly that her elbows dug into his ribs. He winced.  

“Crawley? That little town south of Croydon?”  

“Last time I checked, that’s where it was.”  

She stared at him, mouth open, shaking her head, and finally spoke.  

“Fuck you, Jacob Frye.”  

He raised his eyebrows in confusion. “I appreciate the sentiment, but why - “  

Clara sighed. “I thought you were going to the Russian Empire, or to the Colonies, on a mission that would take months. Not to a one-horse town a few hours from London!”  

Jacob felt a smile spread across his face.  You were worried, silly little fox.   

“It’s still soot-covered, wet and cold,” he explained.  

“Just as London is.”  

“Oh, but London has its spots that are wet and warm,” Jacob countered. “I will be cold, bored and miserable for at least a week.” He stretched, almost making Clara topple off him. He folded his arms over her back. “You have no sympathy for that, I see.”  

Clara smiled.  

“I will spare a thought for you while I nestle by the warm fire with a glass of wine,” she offered. Jacob gave her a look of mock disbelief.  

“What a harsh and heartless woman you are, Clara Devine,” he said.   

“Would you prefer me to say that I would pine quietly and count the hours until you have returned?” she said sweetly.  

Jacob framed her face with his hands.  

“I don’t think you could even say that with a straight face,” he said. “But I would not mind knowing you felt it.” He watched her closely, and for a fleeting moment he saw the sad shadow, a look at the same time yearning and resigned.  

Yes, that would be what Evie was talking about.  

“Tell you what,” he said roguishly. “Let me give you something to pine for while I am away.” He felt recovered enough to wipe that sad look off Clara’s face. “And if I do well enough, you should end up counting the hours until you get it again.”  

Somewhere in the dark and rainy city, a clock began striking the hour. Jacob held Clara in a slow kiss until the chimes stopped.  

Can’t tell a rook from a raven. You silly little fox, alone in your pillow-laden burrow.  

“You can start counting now,” he suggested.  

Chapter Text

Just as she was fastening the last of hairpins into the braids on her head, Evie realised that the train was turning. The side track lead away from the station she had meant to take. She called out to the driver.  

“James? What’s going on?”  

“Just got word, Miss Frye. We need to stop at the old depot. The new engine is here.”  

So Jacob was back from his expedition. Evie settled down to wait.  

Once they had pulled into one of the lesser known, half-abandoned platforms, Evie could see a train of three carriages, very different from what they had, and an engine. Agnes was already standing between the tracks and ordering people about. Sitting at the step by the engine, looking for all the world like a scruffy traveller, was Jacob. He spotted her in the window and positively preened, pointing at the locomotive.  

”How was Crawley?” she asked as he entered the carriage.  

“Same as ever. Filthier, maybe.”  

“Did you stop by the house?”  

Jacob shrugged. “It’s still there.”  

Evie shook her head. “Did you not go in?”  

“Whatever for?”  

Evie sighed. “Did you stop by St Johns?”  

“What, the churchyard? It’s there. Not much movement, as you’d expect.” He started to get rid of his soot-stained jacket and gloves.  

What did I expect, anyway? He had nothing to say to Father while he was alive.  

“Did you at least stop at Croydon to look up George?”  

She should have stopped before then, she realised, as Jacob turned around with a wild gesture.  

“What happened to ‘Welcome back, Jacob’? ‘Would you like a cup of tea’? ‘Thank you for getting this done without blowing up half of Crawley?”  

Evie grimaced apologetically.  

“Alright, I am sorry. There’s no tea, but I suppose I could let you wash up before I continue the questioning.”  

“What an excellent idea,” her brother grumbled, starting to wash his face. In between splashes, she caught, “And I also sorted out the new horses.”  

That was a surprise. “How did you manage that?”  

Jacob smiled. “The Gypsies were there.”  

Evie clapped her hands together in disbelief. “Our Gypsies? Old Mandra’s lot?”  

Jacob winked. “The very same. And very happy to see their favourite  gadjo  again.”  

 Ethan Frye had nurtured his contacts with the travellers, and taught his son and daughter to do likewise. The vardos of Mandra the Gypsy’s colourful brood were a welcome childhood memory.   

“How is Old Mandra?” Evie asked. The matriarch was a stern woman who knew how to bank on people’s fear of Gypsies. Her gait and the jangle of her walking stick would send most children in Crawley fleeing in terror. Not Evie and Jacob, of course.  

Jacob smiled sadly. “Died two years ago. Her oldest son and daughter rule the roost now. Last winter they were driven out of London, so this time they decided to go back to Crawley. And they will have horses for us.”  

“I can’t believe Mandra is dead,” Evie shook her head.  

Jacob shrugged. “No one knew how old she was.”  

“Remember how she used to tell us she was two hundred years old and had tea with Princess Anne as a young girl?”  

Jacob rolled his eyes. “And you believed her.”  

“As did you!”  

Jacob was towelling his hair, leaving the clean towel covered in grime and soot. “Anyone else you want to ask me about?”  

Evie pretended not to hear him.   

“No one else? At all?”  

Evie gave up.  

“Very well. Is Ruslo still with them?”  

Jacob grinned. “Yes, he is. Married now, I’m afraid, with a trail of snotty children after him.”  

Evie blushed. “Did he - “  

Amazingly, her brother took pity on her.  

“Yes, he asked after you. Well, wondered if you still remembered him.”  

“How could I ever forget him? I am very glad to hear he is well.”  

Jacob made a face. “As well as a Gypsy can be these days. But he’s got plenty of fight left in him.”  

“Henry told me that Gypsies actually hailed from India,” Evie said, quickly derailing the conversation.  

“Do they? Well, that certainly explains your taste in men,” Jacob said smoothly. Evie moved to smack him, but he raised his hands protectively.  

“Oh, no, don’t you dare, Evie Frye. I had to swallow an entire lecture from Father because of you and Ruslo back in the day,” Jacob growled.  

Evie peered at him. “A lecture from Father? About what?”  

Jacob was digging in his so-called wardrobe for a clean shirt. “About the importance of learning to wait and observe patiently,” he explained. “Father pointed out your dedication in spending almost two days in the trees and the church steeple.”  

Annoyingly, Evie felt herself blushing again. “Ah. That. Did you ever tell him - “  

“Did I tell him that the only reason you waited so patiently was so you could spot the wagons in advance, and run away with your raggle-taggle gypsy-o?” Jacob buttoned up his shirt. “No, my darling sister, I kept your secret.”  

Evie allowed herself a few moments to reminisce while her brother tidied up and re-armed himself.  

“I get no thanks for keeping secrets and covering your amorous escapades all those years ago,” Jacob pointed out. “Instead, I get cross-examined the moment I set foot in the door. Not even a minute to rest my tired head.”  

Evie patted him on the shoulder. “Well then. Allow me to repay the favour.”  

Jacob raised his eyebrows.  

“Before Agnes hijacked the train, I was on my way to meet with Clara,” Evie said sweetly.   

“Mind if I come along?”  

Evie made a face. “I was about to suggest it myself. However, seeing that you are tired, and much put-upon - ”  

“Nonsense. James? Can you turn this train around?”  

***  

“How has the search for the bureau been going while I was away?” Jacob asked as they strolled towards Queen Anne’s Square, taking their time. They had happened upon an unexpectedly sunny, mellow autumn day. It would probably be the last one for a while.  

Evie shook her head. “Not too well. That is why I am meeting with Clara, in fact. Her solicitor may be able to help.”  

Jacob sounded surprised. “I thought she wanted to steer clear of our affairs.”  

Evie nodded. “She does. Her solicitor, however, was her parents’ solicitor as well. He’s an old Jewish gentleman.”  

“What’s that got to do with the price of fish?”  

“A lot, as it happens. Apparently, Clara’s parents helped out his family in Turkish Palestine and later helped some of them make their way to England. He’s the reason Clara’s inheritance has been so carefully managed.”  

The last flowers were wilting on the shrubs in Queen Anne’s Square. Evie picked one up absentmindedly.  

“It would be quite useful to have a competent solicitor who’s sympathetic to our cause,” she explained. “So I asked for an introduction.”  

She eyed the mansion across the park.  So much history, and a chance to set it right. If only Father could see us now.  

Her brother’s voice rudely interrupted the reverie.  

“You’re still thinking about that monstrosity?”  

“Would it help if I told you that it was bought by pirate money?”  

“What?”  

Evie flicked away the flower, irritated. “Edward Kenway was a pirate in the Spanish Main for years before joining the Brotherhood,” she hissed. “Did you not even know that?”  

Jacob’s face showed some grudging respect. “A pirate, was he?”  

“Don’t let it go to your head, brother dearest.” She looked up and down the street. “Here comes Clara.”  

Jacob followed her gaze. “Who is that with her? The solicitor?”  

Evie looked down the street. “I doubt it. We still haven’t agreed on all the details. And that man looks younger.”  

The man walking next to Clara wore a very proper suit with a bowler hat. It made him indistinguishable from dozens of other such men in the square.   

“Jacob? Do you know who that is?”  

“I haven’t the foggiest,” her brother shrugged. “I suppose we shall -”  

Evie raised her hand to shush him.  

Something is not right.  

Clara held herself ramrod straight, her expressionless face staring straight ahead. Something in the pair’s gait was slightly off. Clara was holding onto the man’s arm in a most respectable way. The man’s other arm, however, could not be seen. Clara’s posture was a little too stiff.  

Evie made to move closer. Jacob’s arm stopped her in place.  

“He’s got a gun to her back,” Jacob said quietly.  

They exchanged a quick glance and moved away slowly, allowing the awkward pair to pass them by. Evie looked again. Jacob was right. They themselves have herded enough people at gunpoint to recognise the maneuver.  

To Evie’s surprise, Clara and her companion turned at the gate crowned by the model of the ship and walked into the courtyard of the Kenway Mansion.  

“Seems we did not clear out all the rats,” Jacob hissed.  

Evie narrowed her eyes. The street and the walls unfocused into a bluish mist, interrupted here and there by vague dark forms of passers-by.   

There was Clara, disappearing behind the door of the mansion in the piercing shimmer of gold. Next to the golden shimmer, a reddening shape, almost pulsing. Two more brutish types at the door. Further in, against the ephemeral grey walls, more of them, loitering around the back entrance. The patch of gold, almost merged with the patch of red, was moving up the stairs.  

“Second floor,” Evie whispered. “Two rooms on that side.”  

Without another word, she and Jacob crossed the street, rounded the metal fence and snuck into the garden. Evie concentrated again.  

Both, together. Second floor, last room. The study. Four windows, all shut.  

A man was raking leaves into a large pile. Jacob snuck up to him, knocked him out and laid him to sleep it off against the wall of the house. Evie crept up. Jacob pointed to the roof.  

“Attic?” he whispered. Evie nodded.   

Quickly picking handholds in the brick wall, she reached one of the  smaller  attic windows. She pried it open with the hidden blade just as Jacob joined her. They slipped into the musty shadows inside.  

Right beneath us, about to enter the room. Floor tiles. Crossbeams.   

A trapdoor .  

Evie silently thanked Edward Kenway. There was a trapdoor above one end of the study. She slowly lifted the panel.  

Jacob pointed further down the forest of crossbeams. Another trapdoor probably led into the room next door. He pointed down, then made a circling motion with his hand. Evie nodded. Jacob moved off silently.  

She could not see much of the room, but she remembered that the door was almost opposite her. All that was visible from her hiding spot was the edge of the long table in the study and one of the chairs. Below her, the door to the room opened and was shut. She heard two sets of footsteps.  

The golden glow comes in first, stops at the edge of the table, just out of sight. The red approaches, stops. Both are out of reach.  

A throwing knife ready in her hand, Evie listened. The man spoke first.  

“Do sit down, Miss Devine.”  

The  edge  of Clara’s dress could now be seen through the trapdoor.  

“Thank you. I prefer to remain standing.”  

“As you wish,” the man said. “I’ll get straight to the matter at hand. You know Miss Evie Frye. I need to know where to find her.”  

Above the trapdoor, Evie gritted her teeth.  

“Oh. I see.” Clara’s voice sounded even. “Yes, I can understand that.”  

“Good.”  

Clara went on.  

“It is to be expected, of course. Most full-blooded men who lay their eyes of Miss Frye are very keen to make her acquaintance.”  

The man sounded slightly surprised.  

“I beg your pardon?”  

“Surely no one could blame you, a man still in his prime, for paying attention to such a charming young lady,” Clara said cheerfully. “However, I may not be your best matchmaker. I am not even sure if Miss Frye is in the market for marriage, as it were.”  

Keep talking, Clara. And step back. For pity’s sake, step back.  

Neither of the figures moved. Evie concentrated again. There was Jacob’s golden shadow, quietly making its way down from the attic and into the next room.  

The man in the room below was losing patience with his overly helpful captive.  

“Miss Devine, I have no intention of courting Evie Frye. Tell me where to find her.”  

Clara’s voice resounded with shocked propriety.  

“My word! You cannot expect me to introduce you to an orphaned, defenseless young woman unless your intentions are entirely honourable!”  

Despite herself, Evie grinned. Clara took another step back.  

A little more,  Evie begged silently.  

“You seem intent on turning this into a joke.” He must have taken another step towards Clara, as she moved further back. Now Evie could almost see the man. Almost, but not well enough for a shot.  

Keep talking. Gain us time .  

The golden shadow of her brother was almost at the door to the room they were in.  

When Clara next spoke, it was in a shrill voice full of terror. She waved her arms pleadingly.  

“Sir, please! I dread unsolicited violence!”  

“Miss Devine, there is no need for me and my associates to use violence, even though your Assassin friends find it the preferred method. We have better things than knives and guns.”  

Clara was stepping back again as the man advanced.   

Almost. Almost.  

“Your livelihood is more precarious than you think, Miss Devine. We know the channels of money and trade. Bank accounts can be compromised and frozen due to irregularities. Shares can mysteriously lose value. Who knows, even a long-lost distant male relative may appear from somewhere and rightly lay claim to your rental assets. All without a drop of blood spilt.”  

Jacob was opening the door  silently,  inch by inch .  Evie looked down again. Clara’s shoulders slumped. She hanged her head.   When she  next  spoke,  it  was  in  a choked whisper.  

“Yes. You are right.”  

The man’s voice mellowed somewhat.  

“Good. Then tell me where I can find her.”  

Still looking down, Clara spoke with the conviction of one  speaking nothing but  honest-to-God truth.  

“I have absolutely no idea. Not where she lives, not where she spends her time. I haven’t a clue.”  

“Really? Then perhaps you could find out,” the man suggested. “It would be very much in your interest to -”  

Jacob rose behind the man and covered his mouth with a gloved hand. Evie heard the soft click of the hidden blade and then the sound of the sharpened metal tearing through bone and cartilage. Clara tottered backwards and steadied herself on the edge of the table.  

Jacob pulled out the blade and retracted it with a flick of his wrist. His other arm supported what was now a corpse. He looked up. In response, Evie reached her arms down through the trapdoor.  

Using a chair as a stepladder, Jacob lifted the body up towards  the trapdoor.  Evie grabbed the arms and together they manhandled the corpse into the attic. While Jacob locked the door of the room on the inside, she went through the dead man’s pockets methodically.  

Papers, a wallet, a watch, some keys, the gun. Evie quickly pocketed the lot. Then she looked at the dead man’s  hands.  A wedding ring  on one finger.  On his  other hand , she found what she had expected, a signet ring with a cross on it.  

“No honourable intentions there,” she muttered. She closed the trapdoor and went for the attic window. The pile of leaves they had spotted earlier was close enough. Evie leapt.  

Righting herself after the leap, she looked up. One of the windows in the study was now open. Clara was peering down at the pile of leaves, with Jacob whispering at her urgently. Whatever he was saying was not convincing enough.  

Evie crouched by the leaf pile. The twins could land extremely fast. Clara’s leap, on the other hand...  

The street was reasonably busy.  Still, a little distraction can’t hurt.  Evie lobbed a smoke bomb over the fence and into the road.  

A carriage banged into something, and a coachman swore. Something crashed, people yelled. Evie looked back to the window, hoping Jacob would make use of the moment.  

He did. He picked Clara up, swung around and, leaning out as far as he could, threw her down into the pile of leaves. The sheer shock must have stopped her from screaming, and the landing knocked the air out of her.  

“Fuck,” was the first thing she said as Evie helped her up.  

“Can you walk?”  

“I think so.”  

Evie led the other woman through the mayhem in the street. She looked back briefly, and there was Jacob, flying through the air towards a nearby chimney. They stopped to wait for him, then pressed on towards a larger street.  

Evie handed Clara over to Jacob.   

“Waterloo?” she asked.  

He nodded and motioned towards a growler by the curb. Evie spotted the telltale lick of green paint behind one of the wheels. Once her brother and Clara were in, Evie whipped the horses into a gallop.  

“Stop by the Artichoke,” Jacob called out, naming a nearby pub.   

No one seemed to be in pursuit, so Evie complied. Jacob jumped out of the growler and gave an ear-piercing whistle. Two of the Rooks emerged from the pub.  

“Run down to Lambeth and get a few lads,” Jacob was saying. He gave them directions to Clara’s workshop. “Find Irish Mikey, he can show you where it is. From now, until you hear from me, at least two of you are to watch the place day and night. Anyone comes sniffing around, anyone except me, my sister, or Mr. Green, get hold of them. And let me know.”  

“How badly should we -” Jacob waved his hand.   

“They can’t get away, but they do need to be able to talk. All good?”  

“You’ve got it, Mr. Frye.”  

He gave them both a manly slap on the shoulder and jumped back into the growler.  

“We'll miss the Waterloo stop, I think,” he called out. “You’ve got less than five minutes.”  

Evie raised the whip again.  

“Don’t be silly. We’ll arrive with time to spare.”  

***  

Jacob watched the lads dashing off. That would be enough for the moment.   

He turned to Clara. Her hat had fallen off, who knew where, during their mad dash. Her hair was a mess. Damp leaves clung to her skirt and arms.  

Jacob took off a glove and covered her hand with his. Even through the gloves, her hands were icy cold. Her face, which by all rights should be flushed from their jog through the streets, was pale, lips dry.  

“No bones broken?” Jacob asked gently. Clara shook her head.  

I could have come back hours later. I could have stopped in Croydon.   

Above their heads, Evie was raging at the horses.  

Evie could have arranged to meet her elsewhere.   

Clara was breathing deeply, eyes closed. Her hands clenched and unclenched rapidly.  

The bastard could have taken a different route into the Kenway mansion.  

The jolt of the coach told him they were at the Waterloo station. Both he and his sister stopped and scanned the crowds.  

“Let’s get on,” Evie said after a second and led the way into the station. Clara’s hand was still twitching and he could feel her shivering in the crowded, hot station. She still did not speak, but meekly let Evie help her onto the train once it arrived.  

At last they were in the ‘den’ carriage and the train pulled out of the Waterloo station. Evie, lips pressed in a tight line, laid out the contents of the dead man’s pockets neatly on the desk. Jacob leaned against the window, never taking his eyes off Clara. For her part, Clara took a few deep breaths and fought down the shivers.  

“Evie, I am terribly sorry,” she said in that even, cold voice that to Jacob now signaled either anger or utter terror. “I should have been a great deal more careful.”  

Evie’s face was a sight. Jacob tried to remember when he had last seen his sister that angry.  

When we argued about the goddamn Shroud, perhaps. Or more recently, when she found one of Babylon Alley kids in that filthy -   

“Me too,” Evie said. “We have grown far too complacent.”  

Clara nodded.  

“We?” Jacob butted in. “How is this anything to do with Clara? They were following  you.”  

Before Evie could roar back at him, Clara interrupted.  

“They may have well been following you as well,” she said flatly. “Although that seems less likely.”  

The twins exchanged recriminating glances.  Your fault , they glared at each other.  

Clara still hadn't looked at either of them, staring out the window instead.   

“Evie is easier to notice. Her manner of dress and speech is more recognisable, whereas you can be more easily mistaken for just another unwashed straggler passing the time of day.”  

“That does make sense,” Evie admitted, simmering down.  

“There could well be another thing,” Clara continued. “You heard the way that man spoke. He is - was educated.  He spoke  about banking transactions and trade. He’d hardly know where to start looking for a rough-and-ready gang leader.”  

“In this case, the gang leader found him first,” Jacob growled. Clara’s tone was uncomfortably similar to the one in which she had given the lecture about sides of a coin. It was setting his teeth on edge.  

“We may not be so lucky next time.”  

“Where the hell did that rat come from in the first place?” Jacob growled.  

Evie thought for a moment. “They are headless, but not gone. They’ve tangled themselves around London so firmly it will take years to fully weed them out. In the meantime,  Clara should stay here for now,” Evie suggested. “Until we find somewhere safe.”  

Clara shook her head. She was still staring at the line of rooftops as the train rolled on.  

“There is nowhere safe at the moment. There has not been for a while. You two know that better than I do.”  

She crossed her arms and leaned against the carriage wall. “This is the new world with its new cross. The last Grand Master of the French Rite is said to have laid out the plans for the coming century: no more crowns, mitres or scepters. Gold was what the Order would follow, and that is what they have done. The rats you are  hunting  are in trades, industry and banks, and there is no destroying them overnight.”  

Evie nodded. “Between the unlettered masses and the oblivious nobility,” she said.   

“So what? We just give up? After everything we’ve done?” Jacob said.  

“Of course not,” Clara said sharply. “You are Assassins. But your work in London is not done yet, and this is an unnecessary risk. Just allow me some time to disappear, and this particular problem is solved.”   

Jacob shook his head. The wretched cold spasm in his gut was back.  

“Evie,” he said quietly. “Would you so kind as to check if Agnes has got the kettle on? I daresay we could use a cup of tea.”  

His sister looked at him as though he had lost his mind.  

“Please,” he added. That did the trick.  

“Don’t mind if I do,” Evie said with forced cheerfulness and left the carriage. Jacob faced Clara.  

“Look at me,” he demanded.  

She turned her head slowly, as if the movement required additional strength. There it was, that look that he had spied only briefly the night he told her he would be going away. It was now magnified tenfold.  

“You’re not leaving London,” he stated.  

“It is the only sensible thing to do,” she replied. “I am a loose  end  they followed to find Evie. Those threats you heard are quite easy to act on.”  

Jacob stepped closer.  

“They’ll find those threats harder to carry out if they can’t walk upright,” he said.   

“Do be sensible, Jacob,” she said.   

Don’t say my name like that. That’s not what I want to hear.  

“You cannot kill every corrupt banker with a Templar connection. It is safest if I disappear.” She looked away, blinking rapidly as though looking at him hurt her eyes. “My luck has run out,” she concluded.  

" We’ll  hide you,” he said desperately. “There’s the house in Crawley.”  

Two nights ago, I was sitting by the fire with the Gypsies, talking about them coming to London.  

Annoyingly, a tune from that night began to ring in his ears.  Ruslo had been playing it it. Evie used to play it on a piano for days after the  vardos  had left.  

“What for?” Clara was saying. “If they robbed me of my assets, you’d be paying upkeep on a useless parasite.” She motioned around the carriage. “And the next time they find me, I will already know more. I will be a greater liability.”   

There were three Gypsies, they come to my door, 
And ask about my lady-o... 

He shook his head at Clara.  

“You’re not going anywhere,” he repeated. The ditty in his head would not stop.  

It was up the stairs the lady went 
And put on a suit of leather-o... 

“Loose threads must be cut - “  

“Oh, shut up,” he finally snapped and kissed her.  

It was not a gentle kiss, and was probably made worse by the fact that Clara was trying to move away. He pulled on Clara’s hair, a stray leaf cracking in his grip.   

“If you try to leave,” he said in a hoarse whisper, “I’ll drag you back myself. I’m not done with you, little fox.”  

He heard the door open –  Evie with the kettle? -  but the sound did not make him stop. The door closed again.  

She managed to twist her face away for a moment.  

“Jacob, stop -”  

In response, he grabbed her chin and made her face him again, hungrily sinking his tongue between her lips.  

“No,” he muttered against her cheek a moment later. “Not a chance.”  

Clara finally pried one of her arms free of Jacob’s grip. She pressed her fingers against his mouth.  

“Clara Devine is an eccentric, unmarried woman with a silly toy shop,” she panted. “She has no family connections and no cloak of respectability. She has overplayed her hand and needs to be gone before she puts you and Evie in danger again. All the Templars would need to  in order to  have me over a barrel is to fabricate a respectable male relative.”  

Suddenly her eyes narrowed. Her lips moved silently, as if calculating. Jacob used the opportunity to remove her hand from his mouth.  

“Why? Do you have any - ”  

Clara’s hand waved in front of his face. “Hush. I’m trying to think.” She looked to the door. “Evie!”  

The door opened again, and this time Evie did come in.  

“A dead one would work,” Clara was saying, staring somewhere into the distance. “Dead is respectable.” She turned to Evie. “Would you happen to know of a good forger?”  

Evie peered at her suspiciously.  

“I may do.”  

“It may well work. ’Not a drop of blood spilt’. Fuck them.” Completely ignoring Jacob, she turned to Evie. Her eyes were glowing. “ ’The villainy they teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard’ .”  

To Jacob’s shock, his sister’s eyes likewise lit up.  

’But we shall better the instruction’ ,” she replied.  

“Mr. Cohen will have to earn his keep, but  b e’ezrat HaShem , as he would say – in a few days’ time, Clara Devine can be as good as dead, her assets bequeathed to someone more respectable."  

Jacob stared at them both in disbelief.  

“What precisely are you two gabbling about?”  

They ignored him.  

Clara looked serious again. “I may need to trespass on your time as well as your hospitality, but not for more than a few days. You can keep the carbines and the winches as payment for your trouble.”  

"As long as I don’t have to wear a corseted dress, I should be happy to help.”  

Jacob grabbed their shoulders, one to each hand.  

“Enough!” he howled. “You’re not helping her leave London. London is  ours .”  

And she is  mine .  

“You misunderstand, brother dearest. I’ll explain later, in smaller words,” Evie said. “For now, let’s get to work.” Then, turning back to Clara. “What do you need?”  

Clara thought for a little while. She pulled a set of keys out of her purse and starting rattling off a list, much like when they were planning the museum heist.  

“In the workshop, under the lathe, you’ll find a panel. The safe is beneath.” She walked over to the desk and scribbled some numbers on the piece of paper. “Both boxes and the bag in the safe, two guns and the rifles from upstairs. All else can wait.”  

Evie glanced at the paper and folded it into her pocket.  

“While I am gone, do look at what  that Templar   had in his pockets,” she said.  

“What am I, chopped liver?” Jacob asked.  

“Did you not listen? I just told you what to do.” She slipped the bunch of keys into another pocket, gave Clara a pat on the shoulder, and left.  

Clara moved towards the collection of items on the desk. Jacob grabbed her arm.  

"Kindly explain,” he demanded.  

She frowned. “I am still thinking,” she muttered, distracted. “The details still need to be worked out, and -”  

Jacob placed both hands on her shoulders.  

“Does this plan of yours still involve leaving London?”  

“If everything fits together, no. Or rather, perhaps, but only for a few weeks.”  

“That’s all I needed to know.”  

He yanked the gauntlet off his arm and threw it on the desk. Then he grabbed Clara, wrapping his arms over hers.  

“Then you two can do as you like,” he said reassuringly. “As long as you keep in mind that the only man in London who will have you over a barrel is me.” He smiled  apologetically.  “As soon as I find a sturdy enough barrel.”  

Her mouth dropped open at that, and he decided not to miss the opportunity to plug it shut with his own.  

“Jacob, not now!”  

“Now,” he countered in between nipping at her neck.   

“If Evie -”  

“Don’t care,” he muttered .  He rifled through her skirts, tugging away anything that got in his way. With his left arm he swept across the top of the train safe, sending things flying over the floor. He picked Clara up and sat her down on top of the metal cube, her skirts bunched up around  her .  

“Tell me,” he asked between  kisses  and bites. “Does this plan of yours involve you changing your name?”  

The question  surprised  her so much she stopped trying to interrupt him.  

“Yes. Yes, it does,” she nodded.  

“Oh, good,” he said, one hand unbuckling his belt.  

“What?”  

“Because for the next few days,” he grinned, one hand still fumbling with the belt. “I intend to fuck you so hard you’ll forget your own name.”  

And with that promise sincerely made, he pushed Clara back on the safe, grabbing one of her legs  for  purchase. Gripping the edge of the safe with his other hand, he drove himself inside her. She bit down on his coat to muffle a scream. Jacob pressed on relentlessly. He could feel the hands grabbing at his hair, felt the nail scraping the ba ck of his neck.   

“You bastard,” she squealed. “You filthy – my god – Jacob – you hellhound – you - “  

He opened his mouth to respond with a more thrilling insult, but all that came out  were  fast,  panting gasps. He ground her hips down, nailing her to the hard metal beneath. His movements grew more frenzied, as though trying to keep up with his pounding heartbeat. His eyes snapped open and he looked at her helplessly. She did not see it, her head thrown back, her teeth clenched together to hold the howls inside.  

With an inarticulate cry he flung himself against her. He could have sworn the whole safe moved an inch as he fell forward, barely catching himself on the wall behind Clara. He pounded against her, deeper, faster, almost lifting her up with the force of each thrust.   

You’re mine –   you're mine – you're mine -  

He leaned forward and pressed his mouth to hers, feeling more that hearing the barely suppressed moan of her climax. A heartbeat later, he heard his own muffled cry and held onto her, feeling his legs would give way under him.  

They held onto each other, Clara draped over his shoulder, and Jacob leaning into the door of the safe for support, Clara’s skirts still bunched up between them. The train clattered on, its motion rocking them against each other.  

Jacob cast a quick glance at the door.  Did I even lock that?  

Clara leaned back and stared at him.  

“How can you...” she began, breathing heavily. “Why do you want me so much?”  

What a question  

Jacob waited for his breath to slow down, and that gave him time to think.  

Because I saw you shoot a man at three paces, and remain calm, but one filthy whisper in your ear and you collapse. Because you shift  so quickly  between pretended arrogance and genuine abandon. Because you see everything, and ask for nothing.  

Because  you, of all people, just might  understand .  

Outwardly, he shrugged.  

“I have no idea,” he said.  

She shook her head and pushed against him until they came apart. Jacob gently readjusted her skirts, stroking her shaking legs as he straightened the fabric. A quick moment to make himself a little more decent, and he picked up Clara around the waist and helped her off the safe.  

She cried out, in pain this time, and half-knelt on one leg. She grabbed onto him, squealing a curse through clenched teeth.  

“Clara!”  

“I am so sorry,” she winced. “I’m afraid that the landing -” another  wince  - “Left me somewhat bruised.”  

Jacob gaped at her.  

Why  didn’t you say  something?”   

Shaking his head, he sat Clara down on the couch. Settling down next to her, he propped her up gently, so that she rested across his lap, his arm acting as a cushion.  

“There were more important matters to discuss,” Clara groaned.  

“No, I mean, why didn’t you say something before I – before we - “  

Clara smiled.  

“And risk stopping you? Not for the world.”  

Jacob rolled his eyes.   

“That could have hurt you,” he began, but was not sure how to continue that sentence. Clara shook  her  head.  

“Nothing to worry about. A little pain can be an enjoyable thing,”  

Jacob felt forced to disagree.  

“Bruises from a fall hardly count,” he said. “I’m sure that’s not the kind of pain you had in mind.”  

“It has been an odd day. I’ll settle for what I can get.”  

Jacob let his other arm rest across Clara’s waist, his hand gently stroking her side.  

“How badly does it hurt?” he asked. “Evie may have something that could help.”  

It  shall be fine  by tomorrow.”  She closed her eyes and gave a small sigh, whether of pleasure, relief or sheer tiredness, he could not tell.  

“You carried yourself pretty well today,” Jacob said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call Evie a defenseless orphan.”  

Clara grimaced without opening her eyes.  

“’I abhor unsolicited violence?’” he quoted at her. “Just what kind of terrified plea was that?”  

“An honest one.” She opened her eyes. “Must we talk about this? I find it embarrassing enough having to be rescued like a princess in a high castle.”  

Jacob pursed his lips at her.  

“The princess has an impeccable sense of timing,” he pointed out. “Going from a gabby ingenue to a terrified young lady too frightened to even look up.”  

“I was truly terrified,” Clara argued.   

Jacob slowly shook his head.  

“You saw me,” he said.  

“Well, of course - “  

Jacob put a finger to Clara’s lips.  

“You were facing the door,” he pointed out. “And the second I opened the door, you all but slumped to the floor.”  

Clara said nothing.  

“You made sure he was looking at  you ,” Jacob said.   

“It was merely sensible.”  

Jacob gave up. “Oh, alright. You did well for a useless parasite.”  

She finally smiled. Content, Jacob tapped her nose with the tip of his finger.  

"Much better. And now, let's see what Evie’s ill-fated suitor had in his pockets, shall we?”  

Chapter Text

Jacob was getting soaked. The ground beneath his feet was a soggy mess of mud and leaves. His jacket, admittedly the tattiest one he owned, was sticking to him in the rain. He stuck the shovel he was holding into the pile of freshly dug soil and hunched over the handle.  group of mourners  around the nearby open grave  were  almost  invisible under the mushrooming umbrellas.  

If this rain doesn’t stop, our stiff is going to make a splash when we drop him in , he thought What very little sympathy he had for the deceased was rapidly being washed away in the cold rain lashing  the   Brookwood Cemetery.  

Up until now, his efforts to track down the associates of the Templar who had threatened  Clara did  not  involve  inclement  weather . The contents of the man’s  pockets  yielded enough information to find out his name and a few business connections. From there, he simply set the Rooks to watch a few places, including the house of the deceased and the Kenway mansion. Once he had got word that a hearse had appeared and a body was being removed, he called in a favour from a dodgy graveyard digger he’d met a while ago.  

And now, in the guise of a humble gravedigger ,  he was attending the Templar’s funeral. The real work would begin when the serious men with umbrellas broke off from the group to discuss the real cause of death in hushed tones. He’ already spotted a  few  cross-shaped pins and rings.  

The service droned on. Jacob wondered idly what was happening back at the train.  

The argument about sleeping arrangements could have gone better, he thought. Upon hearing that Clara was left somewhat bruised from her unfortunate dive off the second floor, Evie insisted that Clara take her bed. Jacob had concurred, adding that it could comfortably fit two people. In hindsight, he should have kept his mouth shut. Clara immediately excused herself from their presence, muttering that any arrangement was fine. Then Jacob and Evie had their most awkward row ever, punctuated as it was by silences, evasions and semi-polite implications.  

The upshot was that Evie took Jacob’s couch, Clara was settled in Evie’s carriage, and Jacob was nominally left to snooze in the booth of the stricken pub wagon. Yet another spanner in the works, that.  

Finally, the service was coming to a close. Jacob forced himself back to the present miserable moment. The widow and the mourners were throwing the obligatory  handfuls  of soil – mud, really – into the grave.  

He half-heartedly threw a few shovelfuls of the soil onto the wet coffin while the mourners filed away. Then, sure that his bribe more than covered the trouble of an unfinished job, he slunk away, shovel over his shoulder.  

The mourners were slowly making their way towards the railway station that serviced the Brookwood Necropolis. Jacob walked slowly behind two serious-looking gentlemen he had marked earlier.  

“Dreadful business,”  the younger  one said.  

“He really had no place being there,” the other one replied. “What in the world possessed him to involve himself directly?”  

The older man sighed. “Uncontrolled ambition, dear boy. So much of that around since Starrick’s unfortunate death. Uncontrolled passions always lead to a bad end.”  

“What actually happened? I did not wish to discuss it in front of his widow.”  

“He thought he found a trail  to  the Frye woman. Looks like she found him first.”  

Jacob had to smirk.  

“Is the trail worth pursuing?” the younger Templar asked.  You sound very eager,  Jacob thought darkly.  

“It bears investigating, but carefully.”  

“Perhaps I could look into it,” the younger man offered.  

You’ll regret it,  Jacob advised him silently.  

They were almost at the train station. The older man stood by the first-class wagon.   

“If you are so eager, Mr. Jameson, do not let me stop you. His last letter mentioned a young woman by the name of Clara Devine. It would appear she has Assassin connections. But do be careful.”  

“Of course, Mr. Clyde. May the Father of Understanding guide us.”  

The older man sighed. It seemed to Jacob that his confidence in the Father of Understanding had been somewhat shaken.  

“Today and in all our future works,” he said and got on the train.  

***  

Clara had been right, Jacob mused unhappily as the train clattered along  the  Necropolis Railway back towards Waterloo station. What had they expected, anyway? That the Templars would run and hide?  

We used to  run and hide.  Henry did. George did. Father did, at that.  

At least now he had two names, names he had promised Evie he would find out. He shivered in the corner of the now empty coffin carriage, its cargo left behind in muddy holes in Brookbank Cemetery. He was cold, he felt tired and, instead of the elation of the hunt, he felt strangely miserable. The sooner they found their targets, the sooner Clara would disappear. She had adamantly refused to explain her plan, quoting safety and discretion.  

Jacob’s heartfelt promise about making Clara forget her own name had been difficult to carry out. From the moment Evie showed up with the contents of Clara’s safe, his little fox had been doing little but burrowing into letters, papers and diagrams. He had put Mikey at her disposal as a courier, and she kept him extremely busy. On the other hand, the two seemed to have struck up a strange friendship, to the point that he had caught Clara more than once surreptitiously cadging those foul cigarettes off of the young Dubliner.  

She gabbled with Evie in French, at Evie’s request, and had written the letter of introduction to her solicitor, Mr. Cohen. With the letter came a set of instructions that left Jacob baffled: no calling on the gentleman between Friday night and Sunday morning;  suggested way to greet him, like a password in a strange, guttural language. Most baffling of all, no mentioning Mr. Charles Dickens, or at least  not  Oliver Twist .  

Jacob’s frustration  had  reached a boiling point when he found Clara with his sister, with Clara in a state of some undress, toying around with a measuring tape and writing down numbers on a piece of paper. It was for Agnes’ sister, and none of his business, he had been told, and promptly marched out.  

I wish I could have a bath , he thought.  A nice, warm bath and a beer.  

“Damn it,” he swore  out loud , remembering the problem with the pub wagon.   

When the dust had settled down after the adventure in the Kenway mansion, Evie informed him that they’d decided to shut down the pub wagon while he had been away in Crawley. First a whole lot of lads and gals got sick after a celebratory occasion, far sicker than a common hangover would merit. Then the damned  spigot  stopped working. Evie, resenting the damage and the distraction, padlocked the place.  

Perhaps things would look up. Clara must be reaching the end of her letter-writing spree. The lads watching her workshop reported that, apart from some approved and surreptitious night-time packing, no one had come snooping at Clara’s workshop.   

And now we’ll have Mr. Clyde and Mr. Jameson to help us tie up those loose ends,  he thought happily.   

***  

He dripped and shivered his way onto their train. A kettle was whistling somewhere, thank goodness. No-one was around in the den, so he took the opportunity to swap his muddied, dripping clothes for something dry. There would be a fire in Evie’s carriage.  

There was  indeed  a fire, bright and inviting. The two ladies were  enjoying  a cup of tea. He walked in to hear them gabbling in French.  

“...   et alors il dit, ‘Il n’y a du pouvoir  divin  ou  humain  qui me ferrait répondre à cette question’ , ” Clara was saying. Evie laughed.  

Alors, qu’est-ce qu'il a choisi, le marquis ?”  

Clara shrugged.  

Je n'ai aucune idée. Ces livres fichus sont impossible à trouver .”  

“Would it be possible to get a cup of tea or do I need to order it in French?” Jacob asked tiredly. He sat down heavily on Evie’s bed. Clara passed him a cup. Evie, who still knew him a great deal better, dropped a generous amount of sugar into the drink.  

“How did it go?” his sister asked. Jacob reported back dutifully.  

Evie and Clara nodded to each other, thanking and congratulating him warmly.  

“I plan to take care of these entrepreneurial gentlemen quite quickly,” he concluded.  

Clara opened her mouth to say something, but Evie was faster.  

“We’ll do no such thing,” she said. “’Less haste is - “  

“Don’t give me  that  again!” Ignoring Clara’s nonplussed look, he held out his cup for more tea.  

Evie rolled her eyes. “I’ll take care of this one,” she said.   

“Wouldn’t you rather get back to your real estate empire?” Jacob asked hopefully. “You never know, one of these gents might hold the deed to the Kenway Mansion.”  

“It will have to wait,” Evie said briskly.  

“It’s been brought to my attention recently that there are several properties going quite cheaply in central London,” Clara offered. “Around Leicester Square, to be precise.”  

Evie frowned. “Cheap, around Leicester Square? That does not make much sense.”   

Clara shrugged. “I only know what Mr. Cohen told me,” she explained. “There are apparently a few properties with some fire damage on them, from when that music hall burned to a cinder some time ago.”  

Jacob bent over double, coughing up tea. The cup dropped from his hand.  

“Jacob? Are you alright?”  

It was not just  the  tea. The entire contents of his stomach suddenly threatened to come pouring out. He staggered to the carriage door and slammed it behind him, leaning onto the railing. He felt like he would choke on his own vomit.  

“Darling, what a night!”  

Shut up.  

“You see, Jacob, my dear? They are still talking about it! I knew they would!”  

Jacob fought for air as though someone’s hands were squeezing his throat.   

Don’t come out. Don’t follow me.  

With what felt like a superhuman effort, he barked. “I’m fine. Tea went the wrong way.” The effort made him retch, doubled over the railing. Inside, Evie was chuckling.  

“Amazing, really. A fire in central London that had nothing to do with Jacob. No wonder I never heard about it.”  

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.  

He glanced at the locked door of the pub wagon. If only those damned spigots hadn’t broken.   

The door behind him opened slowly.  

Go away. Go away and laugh.  His face felt wet again, clammy with sweat. He did not dare let go of the rail.  

“You look hellish,” Clara said quietly. He stared at her, still not trusting himself to speak. She reached for his cheek and he moved away instinctively.  

No.  Go away.  

“I did spend most of the day skulking round a cemetery in the pouring rain,” he managed. She nodded.  

“Thank you,” she said. “You are saving my life.”  

“As long as I don’t catch my death doing so.” That did not sound half as cheerful as he planned. He was breathing a little more easily now.  

Clara turned back into the carriage and warbled something off in French. Jacob let their voices fade, content to be breathing normally again.   

Now Evie poked her head out the door , her face serious.  “Clara says you look like  you’re  running a fever.”  

“I’m fine.”  

His sister looked him up and down. “You look dreadful,” she concluded. “Moreso than usual. In the spirit of gratitude and sisterly love, stretch out on my bed.”  

Oddly, that idea was incredibly appealing.   

“Alone,” Evie added pointedly.   

Even more oddly, he merely nodded. He stumbled back into the carriage, not noticing whether or not Clara was there, not hearing  either of them  leave. He threw himself on the bed and stared at the ceiling.  

Rain drummed on the roof of the carriage, almost as loud as the clatter of the train wheels. Jacob breathed slowly, his breaths beginning to match the soft rhythm of the train.   

“Damn that place from Hell to Hackney,” he whispered weakly and let himself doze off.  

***  

He woke up from a dreamless sleep to the noise of clanging metal. The train was still moving. Jacob ran his hands over his face. The clanging still sounded somewhere nearby.   In fact, it  coming from the pub wagon. Jacob went to investigate.  

The padlock was off. A strange, unpleasant smell hovered in the air. It came from an empty beer barrel on the floor. Behind the bar, dressed in tattered pants and one of those overlarge shirts, stood Clara. Dismantled pipes lay across the small bar, rattling with the movement of the train.  

“Will you come unstuck, you son of a strumpet,” she was growling at a piece of spigot mechanism. “What in the devil’s - Hah!”  

Something flew out of the pipe in her hand and landed at Jacob’s feet. It was a soggy, reeking clump.  

“What in the blazes are you doing?” he asked.  

Clara dropped the pipe onto the bar. “Trying to fix this spigot,” she smiled. “For the  first  time in days, there was nothing else to do.”  

“What is that smell?”  

Clara grimaced. “You should change your supplier. Something died in that barrel, a mouse or a rat, I am not sure. That’s what blocked up the spigot.”  

Jacob felt slightly sick again. He read the name of the brewery off the empty barrel.  

“Sounds like a sanitary inspection is in order,” he said grimly. “That had better be an accident. Any more of those in there?”  

Clara peeked under the bar. “Two more, by the looks of it . Still  sealed. I suppose you could open one and check. Oh, thank goodness. There’s a spare in here.”   

She waved her hand  triumphantly , holding another spigot.  

“Could you get me a bucket of water? Or even better, beer?”  

“Are you sure you want a bucket? You can barely manage a half-pint,” Jacob pointed out.  

“I want to wash out the pipes.”  

I want a beer , he thought.  If there’s a rat floating in this barrel, Mr. Rowan had better be ready to do us a good discount, and get himself a cat.  

The barrel turned out to be free  of dead rodents.  Clara decanted some into a bowl and started cleaning the pipes. Jacob left the stinking barrel on the other side of the door. He’d show it to the brewer later. Right now, he did not feel like moving much. The smell and the clanging were making his head hurt.  

Clara emptied the cleaning bowl out the window, then busied herself with pipes again. Jacob leaned against the bar, observing her progress with interest.  

“How long ‘til we can draw a pint, landlord?”   

“Beer plumbing - is not really - my specialty,” came the voice from below the bar, each pause accompanied by the sound of metal screwing in. “Just pray – I don’t make it – even worse –  ah, fuck!”  

Jacob leaned over the bar. “Something wrong?”   

Clara stood up, sucking on her finger.  

Caught my hand  in the fucking pipe,” she mumbled. “Pass me that spigot.”   

Spigot in place, and whacked with a spanner for good measure, Clara reached for a metal cup. She pressed on the handle gingerly.  

“Oh, for goodness sake, let me do it,” Jacob said in despair. “Pouring beer is not your specialty either .”  

“The cheek! Next time repair  it  yourself.” She gathered up the tools and put them into – what else - that worn out doctor’s bag of hers.  

“Well, since you’ve gone to the effort to help the Rooks’ cause - “  

“It really was the least I could do,” she said seriously.  

“Beer is on the house?” Jacob offered. She sighed.   

“If I must?”  

“I insist.”  

“Let me wash dead rat off my hands.”  

***  

They were sitting in the booth of the pub wagon, Jacob leaning against the window, Clara curled up next to him. He had his arm over her shoulders and she leaned her head against it. Jacob’s tankard was empty, but he felt too tired to move.  

“Can’t you just stay here?” he said eventually.  

“I’d be useless.”  

“You could maintain the beer tap.”  

“One of your lads could have done it just as well.”  

Her eyes roamed over the wagon.  

“What is that bird up there?” she said.   

Of all the ways to shift the conversation, it had to be that.  

“A baby rook,” he answered in a flat voice.  

“Amazing to come across it.”  

“One of the lads must’ve swiped it from a taxidermist’s window,” Jacob lied smoothly.  

I’m pretty sure that’s what I told Evie.  

“When will you be leaving?” he asked.  

“It depends on Evie’s instructions. In a few days’ time, I suspect.”  

“Where to?”  

He could feel Clara shaking her head against his arm.  

“The less you know, the better.”   

“Oh. Wonderful. But you told Evie.”  

No,  have  not. I am sorry  to be so secretive.  I can only ask you to trust me.” Her hand moved along his arm.  

“Jacob, you’re shivering.”  

“It’s cold. We left the window open.”  

Clara’s hand reached for his face, feeling underneath his chin.  

“You’re not cold. You’re burning hot.”  

She wriggled herself upright and turned on the seat. She felt his forehead this time.  

The unfamiliar touch was almost irritating. “Caught a chill,” he muttered.  

“Then it’s off to bed for you,” Clara stood up.  

“What are you, Miss Nightingale? I’ll be fine.”  

Clara shuffled out of the booth.   

“Fine,” she said with a smile. “I’ll sleep here, then.”  

He gave her an irritated look.   

“What, so you can take my pulse during the night?”  

“Not at all. I should hate to miss the spectacle when Evie finds you slumped over a beer tankard in the morning.”  

Jacob looked out the window. The lights of the city were just visible against his reflection in the glass. His head did hurt, he had to admit.   

“You two bossy, wine-guzzling, Frog-talking hags,” he muttered. “Very well.”  

When he got up, Clara nudged him towards the door that led to Evie’s carriage. Damn, he did feel weak. It was an unfamiliar, terribly uncomfortable feeling. He let Clara steer him to the bed. The air was clearer here, the room warm. The pillow bore the scent of sandalwood. He peered through half-open eyes at Clara.   

She stoked the fire and sat down at the desk, pen at the ready.   

“Have I exhausted all your skills, nurse Nightingale?” he asked.  

“I hate fussing,” she called back. “The only piece of advice I shall impart is that your sister will most likely throttle you if you sleep in her bed with your boots on.”  

Jacob obeyed .  Damn, but it was soft and comfortable  in bed , the sheets cool against his skin. The shivering was getting on his nerves. He forced himself to lie still.  

After a while he felt the mattress sag a little. Yes, she was there, sitting on the far corner of the bed. She sat still and silent, hands folded in her lap, her eyes never leaving his face. In return, he looked at her through half-closed eyes again, not sure if he was pretending or if he was really drifting off to sleep.  

She moved in an odd fashion, like she was shrugging or hiccupping. She would blink and shake her head a little, then turn still again.  

How odd,  he thought. Every now and then her hand would quickly wipe her face, like a cat washing herself.  

Stop rubbing your face,  he thought sleepily.  You’re not a cat.  It irritated him so much that he rubbed his eyes unconsciously. The movement shook him out of the daze. When he next looked, the room was back in focus again. And so was Clara.  The stealthy movements of her hands became clearer as well.  

“Come here,” he called quietly.  

“You’re not well,” she whispered back, shaking her head.  

Neither are you.  

He must have said that out loud, judging by the look of embarrassment on Clara’s face. He pulled the covers off slightly and shifted closer to the wall, making room for her. She settled down next to him, but kept her face resolutely turned away. He had just enough strength left in him to make her turn around.  

He wondered what to say to the tear-stained face in front of him, but his head was too muddled. Instead, he nuzzled against her cheek, feeling the coolness of water on her skin. Wrapping his arms tightly around her, he drifted off to sleep.  

Chapter Text

Evie sat up suddenly, awakened by the pounding on the carriage door. The blankets slid off onto the floor.  

“I’m awake,” she muttered. She rubbed her eyes. The pounding continued.  

She opened the door to a young woman in a bowler hat, a green kerchief tied around her neck. Evie blinked at the visitor muzzily.  

“Lizzie?”  

The Rook looked apologetic.  

“Sorry to wake you, Evie.”  

“I’m awake,” Evie repeated, trying to convince herself as much as her visitor. “Come in. What’s going on?”  

Lizzie nodded eagerly. “We’ve caught someone snooping around that workshop. Mr. Frye said to let him know immediately.”  

Now Evie felt very much awake. “Excellent. Thank you, Lizzie. What shape is he in?”  

Lizzie shrugged. “Dan Malley gave him a bit of what for, but no bones broken. Mr. Frye said they’s to be able to talk. We dragged him off to the old Warren house, and then I went to  fetch  you.”  

Evie patted Lizzie’s shoulder. “Well done. We'll be there presently.”   

It was still pretty dark in the carriage. Evie squinted at her pocket watch. Three in the morning.  

“Were you out there all night?” she asked the other woman.  

“Most of it. It’s not half raining out there.”  

“Why don’t you have a bit of a rest, then?” Evie offered. “I’m sure they can spare you for an hour or two. James has probably got a kettle going somewhere.”  

“Don’t mind if I do,” the girl replied gratefully.  

Evie made her way through the train. The pub wagon was unlocked, she noticed. Two unfinished tankards of beer sat on the table. Someone must have repaired the damned spigot.  

No Jacob.  

She made her way to what she thought of her bedroom, wincing a little. That bloody couch was molded to Jacob and she had been waking up stiff and uncomfortable. No matter, she’d run it off.   

She stepped into her carriage quietly so as not to wake up Clara. The room was barely lit by a few dying embers in the fireplace. She moved onwards, towards the workshop wagon.  

If Jacob’s not there, I suppose I’ll make this visit on my own.  

Her foot caught on something by the bed. She looked down and recognised Jacob’s boots.  

Bloody hell.  

She slowly turned around to look at the bad, fighting the urge to keep her eyes shut.  

Jacob was soundly asleep, still dressed, hair plastered to the sweaty forehead. Next to him, head nestled on his shoulder, slept Clara.  

As Evie watched, her brother rolled in his sleep. His other arm reached over and embraced the sleeping shape next to him. In response, Clara clutched at Jacob’s arm, sighing in her sleep.  

Evie shook her head helplessly. She pulled the covers gently over the sleeping figures and left the carriage.  

***  

She was back on the train at dawn, and much relieved to find Jacob already awake and dressed. He looked better than the day before, if still a touch pale.  

“Had an exciting night?” he asked straight away.  

“Quite useful,” she replied. “Mr. Jameson sent someone to Clara’s workshop.”  

Jacob  grabbed  his hat.  

“What are we waiting for?”  

Evie smiled. “Already taken care of,” she reported.  

“You just went without me?” He sounded genuinely hurt.  

“I thought I’d let you sleep off your chill. You looked terrible yesterday. Would you rather I woke you up at  three  in the morning?”  

He opened his mouth to argue, then wisely shut it again.   

“By the way, your lads and ladies did you proud,” Evie said kindly. “There was barely a bruise on the poor man when I got there, but he was shaking like a leaf.”  

Jacob preened a little.  

“They made my job that much easier,” Evie continued. “I didn’t even need to touch him.”   

She had gambled a little, mentioning Mr. Jameson immediately. That had been enough for the frightened man to start talking, much to Evie’s relief. Still, standards had to be maintained. When he had told her what she needed to know, she loudly informed the Rooks that the wretch had outlived his usefulness and that a swim in the Thames with a stone around his legs was just about what he needed. She then i ns t ructed them more quietly  to knock him out and leave him, pockets thoroughly emptied, somewhere on the docks.   

She decided not to tell her brother that she had rather enjoyed the little charade.  

As suspected, Mr. Jameson was an up-and-coming man in his line of business – something to do with shipping – and would not be too difficult to find.   

“I can take care of that part,” Jacob readily volunteered.  

“Thank you for the kind offer, dear brother, but this will need to involve me. I could still use your help.”  

Jacob peered at her suspiciously.  

“You single-handedly dealt with Lucy Thorne, and you need my help to deal with this?”  

Evie accepted the compliment graciously. “This is different,” she explained. “Mr. Jameson is not going to be brought peace. Quite the opposite, in fact. He needs to pass on a message. We shall see what happens later.”  

Jacob was considering this. “Is this a part of your French conspiracy?”  

“Yes,” Evie confirmed. “And now I must speak with my co-conspirator.”  

“She might still be asleep,” Jacob said innocently. “You’re not planning to take her along, are you?”  

“Absolutely not. But I did promise to keep her informed.”  

***  

The movements of Mr. Jameson were ridiculously easy to establish. He had recently joined a gentlemen's club and visited it assiduously every evening. Evie made a quick note of the name for a later investigation.  

She was waiting patiently on a street corner half way between Mr. Jameson’s office and the said club. A familiar carriage wove its way carefully through the evening traffic. In the driver’s seat, Jacob touched the tip of his cap and pointed to the carriage. Evie slipped her hood on and jumped in, much to the shock of the  man sitting inside.  

She was determined to give a good performance, both for Clara’s sake and, though she hated to admit it, to impress Jacob. The carriage picked up speed immediately.  

“Good evening, Mr. Jameson,” she said coldly. “I’ve heard you’ve been looking for me. I’m Evie Frye.”  

The man boggled at her, then banged on the side of the carriage like mad. Jacob’s response was to speed up as much as the traffic allowed.  

“You will still make it to your club for dinner, Mr. Jameson,” Evie continued. “Just in a roundabout way. Do enjoy the ride.”  

It would have taken someone suicidal to even contemplate jumping out of the carriage. Still, to prevent any surprises, Evie pulled out her pistol and aimed it at  the man .  

“I will be missed,” he managed to say, his voice shaking.  

“Only for the first course, I assure you,” Evie replied calmly. “And if you cooperate, you may not even need to change your shirt before dinner.”  

Mr. Jameson was a sorry sight. Evie silently prayed that this Templar specimen would prove to be a common species.  

“The police will come looking for me,” he tried again.  

“Why is that, Mr. Jameson? Have you broken any laws recently?”  

The coach picked up speed again, rattling over much rougher cobblestones. It slowed down soon after and finally stopped. Evie motioned to the door with her pistol.  

“After you, Mr. Jameson.”  

He stood up slowly. Jacob must have decided that the man was taking too long. The carriage door flew open and Jacob hauled the unfortunate young businessman out of the coach. Evie heard him hit the ground .  

Amazingly, Jacob maintained his part of the hired bruiser, not speaking at all. Evie walked over to where Mr. Jameson was picking himself up from the ground. She raised her leg daintily, then delivered a precise kick to his kidneys with the heel of her boot.   

“Mr. Albert Jameson of Camden, London,” she began slowly, looking at the cowering man. “Owner of a small but thriving shipping company,  on the premises  currently leased from Dean and Sons. A respectable tenant of furnished rooms at Mrs.  Combey’s , Camden Lock.”  

“What do you want  with me?”  The man gasped, clutching at his side.  

You sent one of your underpaid muscle to Clara’s house with a crowbar. You told him it would be easy.  

Evie grabbed his coat and twisted it, making him look at her. She flicked the hidden blade in front of his face.  

“Mr .  Jameson – may I call you Albert?” She could swear she heard Jacob sniggering. “A man in your situation must be looking to marry profitably soon. I’d advise you not to run, as you may end up without parts considered essential for a proper marriage.”  

You paid him a pound for his time and his silence. You promised him two more pounds to drag a woman out of bed at night and bring her to you.  

She had withheld these details from Jacob. A man’s self-control could only reach so far, and her brother’s fuse was  already  shorter than most.  

Mr. Jameson nodded his understanding.  

“Good. All I need you to do is pass on a message, and then you can enjoy the rest of your evening, Albert,” she said sweetly. “That shiny pin on your coat tells me that you know where to deliver it.”  

She twisted the edge of the coat again. He nodded again.  

“I did not  quite  hear you, Albert.”  

Mr. Jameson promised his cooperation through gritted teeth. Evie lifted him up and threw him against the coach. Before he could fully right himself, she was standing next to him, her blade against his starched collar.  

“Clara Devine has joined your last erstwhile colleague who came looking for me, the one I left for you in the attic of the Kenway mansion,” Evie hissed.   

Mr. Jameson’s eyes opened a little wider. “We only found one body!” he squealed.  

Let’s hope that the rest of the Order are equally stupid , Evie thought.  

“Of course you did, Albert,” she said. “After everything Clara Devine told him  about me , a simple stab in the neck was too good for her. An example had to be made.” She pressed the blade closer to the man’s chin.   

“I would not bother looking for a body if I were you, Albert. By now the Thames has dissolved whatever was left of her to throw into the river.”  

She released her grip and let the man crumple on the ground.  

“I don’t know how the Father of Understanding advises you to deal with traitors,” she said. “But betraying  my confidences  is always a bloody business.”  

She gave him another kick, for good measure.  

“I suggest you advise Mr. Clyde to consider this before he wastes any more men,” Evie added. “I’m pretty sure that few would be willing to talk to you after seeing what was left of Miss Devine.”  

She motioned imperiously to Jacob. Her brother dragged the wretched Mr. Jameson onto the street, leaving him to cling to a lamppost. Once Jacob was back,  Evive  got into the carriage. As they passed the bedraggled Mr. Jameson, Evie leaned out of the carriage window.  

“My apologies, Albert . It  looks like you may not make it to the main course. If you start walking now, you may still reach the club for dessert and coffee.”  

She banged on the side of the carriage and Jacob took off like the wind. Leaning back in her seat, she pulled off her hood, feeling like she was stripping off a mask.   

“Forgive me for not applauding,” her brother called out. “That was worthy of Convent Garden. I only wish George could have seen this. Take a bow, Evie Frye.”  

Evie grinned despite herself.  

“Just get us  to Henry’s , would you ? I promised we’d return his carriage in one piece.”  

***  

They had taken their time at Henry’s shop. Evie did not mind. After realising that she had been followed, she advised Henry to go to ground for a while as well. Consequently, she had not seen him for a while.  

She told him how the night’s work went. Rather, she tried to tell him soberly and succinctly. She was foiled at every turn by Jacob, who insisted on telling a much more colourful and somewhat embellished story.  

She managed to shut him up at last and relate to Henry the information they had gathered. By the time their notes were in order, it had gone midnight. The night was unusually clear. She and Jacob walked slowly through the empty streets to the Whitechapel station. Passing by a bakery, they peered into the warm glow. The scent of freshly baked bread was impossible to resist, and they ended up getting some of it.  

The fresh loaves kept them warm as they waited for Bertha to pull into the platform. Once on the train, they headed straight to Evie’s bedroom.  

There was no one there.  

Evie looked over the made bed, complete with folded counterpane and fluffed up pillows. The fireplace had been cleaned, the ash bucket beside it half-full of ashes of burnt paper. Fresh wood was neatly stacked inside, ready to be lit. Pens were laid out neatly on Evie’s desk, every nib cleaned and polished to a shine.  

Clara was gone.  

Jacob pushed past Evie with a muttered curse and set off to check the rest of the train. Evie shook her head.   

The ridiculous little rook, forever perched on its waxy branch under the bell jar, sat on the little table by Evie’s armchair. An envelope stuck out from underneath the base of the ornament. Evie pulled it out.  

It was not sealed and was addressed simply:  Evie.  She opened it and sat down to read the letter.  

Ma chere amie,  it read,  

Forgive me for not waiting to hear the result of tonight’s work. I have every confidence that it will have gone well. I leave in this way not out of ingratitude, but out of sheer superstition. I fear that voicing my goodbyes might attract the attention of some malevolent force, and prevent me from returning. I am quite aware that my fear is absurd. Nevertheless, I cannot bring myself to say goodbye to the first people who have shown me trust and affection I have not known since the death of my parents.  

The workshop is yours to do with as you please, whether you decide to sell it or make use of it in some other way. I have deposited all the relevant papers with my solicitor, Mr. Cohen. Consider it my insufficient contribution to the London Brotherhood.  

You will find the case with the carbines under the bench in the workshop carriage. One is for you and the other one for Jacob. Again, consider this gift a modest expression of much greater gratitude.  

I shall still maintain correspondence with Mr. Cohen, who now knows to expect a visit from you and Mr. Mir. He is under strict instructions not to discuss my whereabouts with anyone, yourselves included, for the time being.  

With fervent hope that it will not be too long until I see you again, I remain  

Your sincere and affectionate friend,  

Clara Devine  

Evie sighed. She put the letter on the table and only then noticed the other envelope. This one was smaller and thinner. The address, written in almost impeccable, formal copperplate, was only two words:  

Mr Frye.  

Evie almost swore with disappointment at cold, impersonal form of address. Regardless, she would have to give it to Jacob.  

Where was he?  

She found him on the roof of the carriage, standing with his hands in his pockets and staring at the passing buildings with an expressionless face.  

“Jacob,” she called softly. He merely grunted in response.  

“This is for you,” she said, passing him the small enveloped. He took it and looked down.  

Evie watched his face without blinking.  

Her brother read the formal appellation on the envelope. To Evie’s surprise, his lips pulled into a smile. He opened the envelope. Inside it, instead of a letter, was only a small piece of card. Scribbled in pencil were just two words which Evie could not help but read.  

Trust me.  

Jacob’s smile grew wider. He carefully put the note in his pocket.  

“What a clear night,” he said.  

“It’s almost dawn,” Evie replied.  

They stood by each other on the roof of the moving train, the panorama of the London passing beneath them. The sky paled, the first light refracted in the clouds of smoke and the mist on the river. By turns the firmament grew lighter, awash in warm pink glow, fading almost into purple on the edges of the wakening city.  

Evie put her arm around her brother’s waist. He responded in kind. Leaning on each other, they watched the sun rise over the city of London.

 

I have had so much fun with this, and have so many hooks and prompts left that I am seriously considering writing some more. If you can be bothered, leave me a comment to let me know if you want more. Thank you for reading, and may your fandoms thrive. Peace out.

Chapter Text

Evie and Henry sat in the waiting room to Mr. Cohen the solicitor’s office. The small  parlour  was kept warm by a potbellied stove. Through the high windows they could see the leaden sky. The winter had truly settled in, covering London roofs with soot-stained snow and the streets with icy sludge.  

Their companionable silence was interrupted by the arrival of another client, a woman in widow’s weeds. The figure in black passed them, then stopped. By the movements of the veiled head,  they could tell she was  eyeing Henry from top to bottom. She then pointedly sat  down  as far as possible from them.  

Evie felt Henry squeeze her hand gently, as if to say,  Ignore  it . It did not help much.  

The widow fossicked in a dowdy black purse. An envelope tumbled out, landing by Henry’s feet with a strange sound, as though it contained something made of metal. Instinctively, Henry bent down  to  pick it up, proffering it to the woman.  

She did not reach out for it. Instead, she half-turned and spoke in a nasal, slightly reedy voice.  

“What a well-mannered servant you have brought from the Colonies, madam,” she said, apparently addressing Evie.  

Gentle handholding was obviously not doing much for Henry’s temper, either. He spoke with icy politeness.  

“I regret to disappoint you, madam, but she has in fact found me right here in London.”  

The figure held a gloved hand to her chest in a motion of surprise.  

“And he speaks English so well!”  

Through Evie’s rising anger, the inflection of the widow’s speech caught  her  attention.  

“Have you had a chance to visit India yourself?” she asked, hoping her voice did not reveal much interest.  

The figure in black shook her head.  

“Please do not speak to me of that dreadful place. My poor late husband, God rest his soul, insisted on trying to make his fortune there. And now I return home without him, not even able to put him to rest in good Christian soil.”  

Henry, the envelope still in his hand, looked suspicious. Both he and Evie peered at the widow, trying to discern the face below the layers of black crepe.  

“My condolences for your loss,” Henry offered. “If you forgive my prying, how did your husband die, Mrs -   ?”  

“Mrs. Michael Rivers,” the woman said. “They said it was cholera, but I am sure those dreadful spices affected his humours. No decent British man should be made to eat that heathen food with impossible names.”  

The widow stood up, still ignoring Henry’s outstretched hand with the envelope. “I really must be going. Do keep that envelope until you can deliver it. Good day.”  

With a short nod, she walked out. Evie and Henry stared after her, then looked at the sealed envelope.  

“There’s something in here,” Henry muttered. “Feels like a key.”  

Evie took the envelope and turned it over.  

“It’s not for us,” she said, grinning, and showed it to Henry. They read the short, incomplete address and chuckled to each other.  

The white paper bore only two words  in a familiar copperplate handwriting :  

Mr. Frye.  

***  

Jacob was not easy to find. In the past few weeks, he had not spent much time on the train. He had spent a good deal of time with the select number of Rooks that Evie thought of as the Rope-Launcher Flock until the early frosts made rooftops extremely precarious for the less experienced climbers. He kept an eye of the clientele of Mr. Jameson’s club and spent a considerable amount of time around the docks. Once the winter started really setting in, Evie mostly saw him in passing – sometimes literally – as he meandered from one Rook hideout to another. Evie had her doubts about the sudden dedication, but kept her own counsel.  

After  leaving Mr. Cohen’s offices with the precious letter in her pocket, she and Henry found Jacob in a cluster of buildings in Whitechapel, surrounded by an attentive group of Rooks. The whole merry band was gathered around a fire burning in a metal barrel. Jacob was demonstrating the finer aspects of knifework on a volunteer. In a rare show of deference to common sense, he was using a piece of wood.  

Coming into the wet yard, Evie gave a loud wolf-whistle.   

“I’m busy,” he shouted back, not even  turni n g  around.  

“This is important.”  

Jacob theatrically rolled his eyes and spread his arms. “You heard the lady. Class dismissed.” He stomped over the muddy yard to where Evie and Henry waited.  

“What is it?” he asked without much enthusiasm.  

“I need to talk to you. Walk with us?”  

They made their way along the muddy street.   

“I did not want to mention it in front of everyone,” Evie began. “But you seem to have been turning heads around London.”  

“Have I indeed?”  

Evie reached into her pocket.  

“Yes. You seem to have attracted the attentions of a dowdy widow.”  

Jacob was looking irritated.   

“What?”  

Evie shrugged. “Yes indeed. A possibly young but extremely sour and patriotic widow  by the name of Mrs. Rivers. A Mrs. Michael Rivers, if that gives you an idea.”  

“Never heard.”  

“Be that as it may,  apparently  she  wants to get in touch with you.”  

“This had better be a lead. If it’s a joke, it’s not particularly funny.”  

Evie shrugged again. “I have no idea what have you been up to in the past month or so. I was just asked to deliver the message.”  

Jacob looked up to the sky, possibly praying for patience.   

“Then deliver it already. I’m getting cold.”  

“Here.” She waved the envelope under Jacob’s nose. Now really irritated, he ripped it out of her hand and looked at the address. Evie pulled Henry a step back to get a better view.  

Jacob looked at the envelope. He stopped where  he  stood, in the middle of the footpath. Someone stumbled into him and swore. He didn’t even notice.  

Evie nudged Henry,  winking .  

Jacob stared at the address. He ripped the side of the envelope and pulled out a small piece of notepaper.  H e shook out the small object into his hand.  

Henry had been right. It was indeed a key. Jacob was staring at it with a strange look on his face.  

“I think the last time I saw him like that was when you gave him that kukri,” Evie whispered to Henry.  

Jacob glanced at the note again, then crumpled it into his pocket. He flicked the key up into the air and deftly caught it again.  

"I’ll see you lovebirds later,” he said, and turning around on the spot, set off at a run.  

Evie nodded proudly at Henry.   I told you he would not even remember to thank us.”  

***  

If there had been room in Jacob’s head for introspection, he would have found it strange that the first thought in his head   had been  I have so much to tell you .  

How long had it been, two months? The past weeks blurred together in the grey sheets of water that fell from the sky, flooded the low-class housing and painted the city a uniform grey. Jacob did his best to keep busy.  

He wanted to tell Clara about the mess Evie had made of poor Mr. Jameson’s dinner arrangements. He thought fondly of sneaking into what he thought of  as  the Templar Gentlemen’s Club, only to find Freddy Abberline already sniffing around a place in yet another unconvincing disguise. Then there was the conclusion of the saga of Mr. Rowan the Brewer and his rat-infested beer kegs.  

He wanted to tell her that she had been missed on several occasion ,   like  when Dan Malley managed to break two rope-launchers in one day. They had especially missed her when the replacement spigot broke again, this time due to the lads having an arm-wrestling contest on the bar.  

The address in the note led Jacob to a tall building. It looked like a former hotel of sorts. The neighbourhood was not opulent, but far from a slum. A small sign in the office window next to him advertised affordable apartments to rent or purchase.   

He looked again at the scribbled note .  Below the address were written brief instructions.  

Back stairs – top floor - door with a green frame  

He walked around the block until he found the back of the building. There were indeed stairs leading up.  The windows were all firmly shut. Icicles hung everywhere except from the smoke-belching chimneys on the roof.   

“The princess in the high castle,” he muttered.  

He was also going to tell her, and proudly so, that he had figured out why no-one was to mention  Oliver Twist  in any dealings with Mr. Cohen. Having made it half way through the book, Jacob quite understood why Fagin, even if fictional, was a  persona non grata  in the Cohen household. Jacob and Evie had met a lot of people like Fagin: the least objectionable thing about them had been their religion, if they had any.  

Thinking of Dickens’s imaginary Jew brought on another memory. A few weeks ago, Jacob had happened upon the Aldbloms’ pastry cart again. The husband and wife were half-frozen, and their youngest child was quite ill. Jacob had bought a fruit pastry from them, telling them to keep the change.  

The pastry had been a mistake. He had crunched through it in the darkness of the train, lying in a freshly made bed. The taste brought back unbelievably vivid memories of the last time he had them. The memories, in turn, brought about a few moments of intense desire. In the morning, he had to change the sheets . He  felt right pissed off at his own body’s reaction, more suited to a spotty schoolboy than to a Master Assassin.  

In fact, the rage w ould  not leav e  him. In the end, he had found Robert Topping and got him to schedule a fight in one of the tougher clubs. He had then proceeded to beat the stuffing out of several optimistic contenders until he felt better. The winnings he put to use immediately, getting the  Aldblom’s  youngest sent to Lambeth Hospital and letting the family set up shop near a well-known Rook hideout.  

And now he was climbing the icy stairs, following Clara’s instructions. He  found himself in a musty, dark hallway with only one lamp. Two doors faced each other at the bottom of the hallway, one of them indeed sporting a green frame.  

The key from his pocket  fitted perfectly  into the  lock. He was about to turn it when the memory of what was best called ‘the pastry incident’ surfaced again.  

First you disappear for months without a word, then I suffer from those damned pastries.  Clearly, a payback of some kind was long overdue.   

Jacob  examined the hallway window. It looked to the main street. He went back out onto the stairs and took a good look at the windows of the apartment the key was supposed to unlock.  

Two sash windows, locked tight, then a frosted pane of glass, possibly a bathroom. Easy enough to get into, but knowing Clara’s growing paranoia, she may well have rigged them to explode if anyone fiddled with them.   

Jacob closed his eyes, concentrated, and opened them again into a world washed of colour and depth. He could only judge the walls and distances approximately, but it would have to do.  

There!  

A figure glowed in his vision, seated some distance away from both the windows and the green door. Judging by the height, the person was probably sitting in some sort of armchair. The space beyond the figure went on :  glow of a fire ,  two more openings, most likely doors, into the rooms beyond. An attic full of piping leading from the bathroom.  

He blinked, waited for the world to look normal again, and  smiled . The bereaved Mrs. Rivers may boobytrap her windows, but she could hardly risk killing a plumber checking the pipes in the attic.  

A quick and quiet scrabble onto the roof and Jacob found a way in. The attic was clean and warm. In a corner he found the loose plate that gave him access to the room below.  

The apartment must have started out as a small hotel suite.  He stood in  a small but well-appointed bathroom, complete with a brass tub. A door led from it into a bedroom beyond. Bright shawls, scarves and cotton throws hung from the decorative frame of a large cast iron bed.   

The other door lead to the main parlour. He could see the back of an armchair and hear the crackling of a fire.  

Jacob crept to the bathroom window and opened it. He then grabbed a handful of ice from the windowsill, squeezed it into a rough ball and hurled it at the window of the main room. The noise was more than satisfying. He ducked behind the tub.  

It worked. The figure in the armchair stood up and quickly moved to the nearest window to investigate.  

For a moment  Jacob  wondered if he’d broken into the wrong apartment. The woman looked more like one of his Gypsy friends from Crawley than a respectable widow: cotton blouse and a mess of colourful skirts, bare feet underneath.  

But it was Clara, undeniably. She poked around the window, cautiously moving the curtains to peek into the yard below. Seeing no one, she shook her head and let the curtain drop back .  

“You stupid woman,” she said. “So certain he would be coming, weren’t you.”   

Still hidden, Jacob smiled to himself.  You first, milady . His slipped his gloves off.   

He gave her a moment to turn around and head back to her seat by the fireplace. The distance between Clara and his hiding spot was negligible. He crossed it in one silent stride and grabbed her, one arm around the waist, the other hand clasping her mouth shut.   

“Such disrespect for your late husband, Mrs. Rivers,” he whispered in her ear. “ Already  e xpecting a gentleman caller.”   

He could feel her gasp against the palm of his hand. She tried to turn around, but Jacob only tightened his grip. She smelled of soap, and  the  smoke of pine cones, and, yes, sandalwood.    

“One would expect you to be in modest bereavement,” Jacob went on. “Not flouncing around in - “ the hand around Clara’s waist slipped lower - “Clothes better suited to a brothel.”    

Not only were the skirts thin and pliant, she seemed to be wearing precious little underneath them. By rights, she should have been shivering, but the conflagration in the fireplace prevented it. Jacob was starting to sweat.    

She was no longer struggling. Under his palm, made cold by ice, a hot tongue darted out and ran along his fingers.   

You little hussy  

“Hungry, are you, Mrs. Rivers?” he asked, taking a step towards the armchair. Now she was trapped between him and the tall back of the chair, freeing his arm.     

"Seems that, after your sad loss, you have not been attended to in a while,” Jacob suggested quietly.    

Clara grabbed the chair, almost leaning over. Jacob used the opportunity to press hard against her. She yelped against his palm, pushing back. He pulled his hand gently across her mouth. Now her other hand meandered down to where he was clutching a fistful of her skirts, feeling the soft cloth grow warmer.     

With a calculating look, Jacob let go of her, taking a step back so suddenly that she almost doubled over the back of the armchair.  

“Perhaps you would rather see to it yourself?” Jacob suggested. Now, that would be a worthwhile punishment for the indignity he had suffered.  

Clara turned around, mouth open, eyes wide. Her hands  reached for  his face, a cautious, feathery touch, as though he were made of glass.  

“You’re here,” she whispered in amazement. She stepped closer. Jacob felt the light, hesitant kisses on his face, on his neck, almost like the gentle nuzzling of a small animal’s snout.  

“You really are here,” she whispered again in those same tones of disbelief. “Good God, you are here.”  

He had expected either a cold, teasing response to his suggestions, or a formidable curse for giving her a fright. The soft voice and the gentle touch completely took the wind out of his sails.   

“Of course I am here,” he said. “Where else would I be? I have not budged from London for the last two months.”  

Did she even hear him?   

“I am so sorry. Everything took so long.” Her hands ran over his coat, wrapped themselves around his neck, her face buried against his chest.  

“You came back,” she was whispering. “Jacob... Jacob...”  

A part of Jacob was sorely disappointed that she spoiled his little game. He came here to give her the comeuppance for the two cold and boring months, and now, instead of the tug-of-war he had been looking forward to, he was left perplexed. How was  he  the one who came back?  

Another part of him reminded him that there had been very few times someone was so madly happy to see him.  

“What about me, darling? Was I not always madly delighted to see you, Jacob my dear?”  

Damn. Not you as well.  

Jacob gently tilted Clara’s head back. Putting one finger on the tip of her nose, he pushed her away until he could see her face.   

“Where the fuck have you been?”  he asked, shaking his head in confusion.  

She sighed.  

“Plymouth, initially, for a week or two. Then over to Normandy, by road to Callais - “  

“You went to  France ? And what is this place?”  

She gave an apologetic little smile.  

“It may take a while to explain. In the meantime, may I take your coat?”  

Jacob happily slipped it off.  

“This room feels like an oven,” he commented. It was better now, with the hat and heavy coat removed. “But you are certainly not dressed like a respectable widow.”  

“That straightjacket is only for the outside world,” Clara grimaced. While she hung up his coat and hat, Jacob took a better look around the room.  

I t was an unremarkable  parlour , with two armchairs by the fireplace accompanied by side tables, a small drinks cabinet by the wall and a good few bookshelves surrounding a large  and  solid writing desk. Then he took in the details: the thick red carpet on the floor, woven with strange designs. In front of the fireplace, a rather inviting fur rug. The sides of the writing desk each held collapsible panels that would, if extended, turn the desk into a large workbench. Thick curtains the  colour  of red wine covered the windows.   

On the  entrance  door hung a small bell, like in a shop. It would announce anyone coming in. Jacob silently congratulated himself for going through the attic instead. He walked over to the door and touched the bell.  

“For customers, is it?” he asked when Clara jumped. She pressed a hand to her mouth.  

“Wait...” She looked from the bell to the door. “How did you get in?” she asked, eyes wide.  

Jacob preened, and, since that was not enough, tapped her on the nose again.  

“You tell me.”  

He watched with considerable satisfaction as she checked every window. She went into the bathroom and Jacob nodded to himself as he heard a curse. She must have spotted the hole in the ceiling.  

He decided to try out one of the armchairs. They were low, but comfortable, and he stretched out with great pleasure. He finally found the word to describe the shadowy scented room.  

“A large tub, scarlet curtains and a bell on the door,” he counted off on his fingers. “Have I just been given a key to London’s smallest brothel?”  

“So Evie did give you the key? Did it not work?”  

Jacob stretched languidly in the armchair.  

“I’m sure it works, but where s the fun in that? Now, how does one get a drink in this miniature house of ill repute?”  

Clara laughed. “Let me summon the help,” she said and walked over to the drinks cabinet to pull out a bottle of beer.  

“I see the brothel has a staff of one,” Jacob persevered.  

“Indeed. A staff of one and a very select clientele.” She passed him the bottle and he took a hearty swig.  

“A clientele that apparently includes my sister,” Jacob said testily. Irritatingly, Clara laughed again.  

“While you know my thoughts on such combinations remain ever open, I must inform you that your sister hasn’t been here.”  

“She brought me your letter.”  

Clara shook her head. “And what did she say?”  

Jacob made a face.  

“She and Henry gave a story about -” He tried to recollect the conversation. “A young, sour and patriotic widow by the name of Mrs. Michael Rivers.”  

Clara nodded happily.  

“That’s all they saw  and heard . That’s all anyone outside these four walls will see and hear.”  

Jacob took another swig of beer. Clara settled down in the armchair opposite him, legs curled up under her. Sitting up straighter in the armchair, Jacob tut-tutted disapprovingly and tapped his knee.  

Again  with the terrible service. Could  the  serving wench tell the madame to send one of her girls to keep me company?”  

He waited until Clara was settled in his lap to finish his drink, in a proper manner of a drunken brothel customer. Now the tug of war between his curiosity and his lower urges could begin. He pushed Clara until she was bent back over the armrest and went straight for her throat, pulling her upright again until her face was close enough for a kiss. Moving slowly, he ran his tongue over her lips, then pulled her into a long, hungry kiss, not letting her pull away until she was moaning with lack of air.  

I’ve missed that sound. I’ve missed the taste of wine in your mouth.  

“Will you now finally explain your grand conspiracy?’ he asked, one hand on her back, the other one resting on the colourful skirts on his lap.  

“Oh, the gentleman is only here for conversation,” she pursed her lips. “This should be easy money.”  

Jacob’s mouth dropped open. She was hitting her stride again.  

“I promise that you’ll have to earn every penny,” he assured her. “In good time.”  

“Very well,” she said, leaning in to kiss him. Jacob pulled her back by her hair.  

“Explain yourself first,” he demanded.  

The plan  had  not  been  complex, but it had required a great deal of planning, and as he had noticed, letter-writing. Clara Devine had to disappear. It was Evie who had hit on the happy idea that Miss Devine, an incautious tattletale, should fall to the blade of the sadistic arch-villainess Evie Frye.   

“Oh, I must tell you about that performance,” Jacob laughed. “She was brilliant.”  

He quickly ran over the whole conversation, including the dinner timings and the unorthodox threat to Mr. Jameson’s marital prowess. Clara nodded.  

“Oh, to have been a fly on the wall,” she said regretfully. Jacob shook his head.  

“Impossible. You had already been painfully dismembered and thrown into the Thames to feed the fish.”  

“What a revolting lie. There are no living fish left in the Thames.”  

That part had been comparatively easy. The rest involved the painstaking instructions and slight changes to a number of documents. Funds had to be convincingly transferred to a Mrs. Felicity Rivers, the widow of a Michael Rivers, who departed this vale of tears in faraway India.   

“My parents came to my help again,” Clara said self-consciously. “I found the widow Rivers in my mother’s stash of disguises. The dates needed some adjustment, but the forger took care of that.”  

The rest of the ploy was mostly hard work for Mr. Cohen the solicitor. She had him find a suitable place in London and take care of transferring her things via several different posts to the little apartment.   

“Once all that was done, I could safely enter England again from Calais as the bereaved widow and make my way back to London. As luck would have it, setting up this place properly took longer than I thought. I had about two weeks of hard work before I could ask Mr. Cohen to track down Evie.”  

Jacob’s eyes narrowed.  

“Precisely what do you mean by two weeks? Two weeks in London?”  

Clara waved her hands about and almost fell off his lap.   

“You would not believe how long it took to get this “little brothel” into shape. The floor was a ruin, I had to build storage other than the attic, as that’s open, and the door - “  

“You’ve been in London for the last two weeks?”  

You’ll pay for that.  

“Tell me, Mrs. Rivers,” he began slowly. “How have you managed since your husband’s death?”  

“I beg your pardon?”  

Oh, you’ll beg alright.  

Jacob grabbed a handful of Clara’s hair and tugged sharply. He ran the thumb of his other hand over her open mouth.  

“It must have been lonely for a young woman on that long journey from India,” he said, his hand sliding over her throat and down to her chest. “And then all alone in cold, grey England.”  

He ran his palm lightly over the cotton blouse. She really wore nothing underneath it. His hand slid back and forth as he felt the nipples stiffen under his palm. Clara’s breathing sped up.  

“How did you keep yourself warm on those long, cold winter nights?”  

Jacob pulled her closer, his mouth against her ear. His hand slid down between her legs. Clara moaned.  

“I take it there was no one at hand to do this,” Jacob whispered, roughly rubbing the cloth of the skirts between her thighs. He waited, enjoying the sensation as she writhed in his lap.  

“Or this,” he added, pressing his face into the chest and lapping at her breasts through the thin cotton cloth. Clara’s whole body clenched.  

Eyes glowing, Jacob removed his hands from her and stretched his legs. With a howl of frustration, she rolled off him, ending up on the furry rug.  

Jacob gave her a sympathetic smile.  

“Tell me you slept with a Bible on your bedside table and your hands firmly on top of the blanket,” he said.  

Which I almost considered doing, you inconsiderate hussy.  

Clara shook her head.  

“Not quite,” she managed to say.  

He knelt on the rug, facing her. “I thought so,” he nodded. “Show me.”  

“What exactly -”  

He picked up her hands and placed them in her lap.  

“You know what I mean. Show me.”  

Kneeling on the rug, eyes closed, Clara pulled up one layer of skirts after another, until only one layer of cotton covered her thighs. Jacob watched in fascinated silence as her chest rose and fell and her breath deepened, her mouth working silently as if trying to kiss the air.  

Oh my god. You actually will.   

Her right hand pressed the cloth between her legs and she groaned, fingers working feverishly. She leaned further back, her knees spreading wider. In the light of the fire, Jacob saw sweat glistening on her forehead and  upper lip  

With a cry, she pulled the last layer of cloth up, her fingers glistening wet. Her breath now turned into sharp yelps, fingers moving faster still.  

We’re even.  

Her voice cut out in a long moan through clenched teeth, and she leaned forward, shuddering, bracing herself against the floor with one hand. Jacob caught her, setting her upright. With one final, sobbing moan, she collapsed against his shoulder.  

“I would have – sold my soul – to feel you – inside me”, she panted against his neck.   

Over and above the fire next to them, Jacob felt heat lick up his chest and into his throat. He was certain, quite certain, he’d never heard anything like that before.  

“Jesus Christ, little fox,” he breathed into her ear. “That mouth of yours.”  

With what little conscious thought remained in his head, he forced himself to speak.  

“Tell me,” he whispered. “How hard would it be to replace these clothes?”  

“Who cares,” was Clara’s only response.  

He gripped the edges of the blouse and pulled with all his strength, ripping it lengthwise, so that it hung in tatters around Clara’s shoulders. He pulled her up onto his knees and sank is face in between her breasts, rounding each with his tongue and savouring the salty taste of the skin. Her hands worked to loosen whatever ties held the skirts in place, and he felt them press against his stomach in the frantic hurry. He rolled the skirts off her thighs.  

For a moment he stopped.  The  body  in his arms  was all soft shapes and sharp shadows, lit by the fire. Leaning over her, he traced the line between the light and the shadow with his tongue, leaving a glistening trail from her neck to her hips and back again, ending at her mouth.  

She almost tore the waistcoat off him, and he was sure he felt a few of the shirt buttons snap. Jacob arched his back, stretching as she peeled the shirt off his arms. Her mouth slid over his chest and back up, over his collarbone, almost gnawing at his arm.  

He undid his belt and threw it to the side, then held onto her, hands in her hair, letting her undo the rest of his clothes. And then he felt her hand wrapping around him.  

“Don’t” he said through clenched teeth. “I’m fit to burst.”  

She released him, but pushed herself up, sitting on his knees, her flesh rubbing against his.  

“Then do it,” she said, raising her hips higher. He felt the moist, inviting cleft rubbing against him. In the firelight, he could see the pulse beating in her neck. He shudd e red as he felt her nails sink into his shoulder   blades.   

He pulled her onto him, almost losing his balance as he sank into the warm flesh. He barely moved, letting her rise up and slide down onto him, only pulling her a little further each time, until he felt her hipbones grinding against his waist. Her mouth hovered above his, her lips twisting as thought she was trying to speak. Jacob held her down more firmly.  

They stared at each other, barely breathing, Jacob feeling himself throbbing inside her, seeing every pulse reflected in her face. He held on as long as he could, listening for those telltale sobs, feeling her shiver as she moved, as though desperate to pull him in further, writhing to help him sink deeper.   

“Don’t hold back,” she sobbed. “I can feel you, I can feel it, don’t hold back – Jacob – Jacob -”  

That did it. With a snarl, he pushed her over onto the floor and kissed her mouth shut, pressing his hips into her. He felt like he was caught in a wave, being pulled backwards and forwards, unable to stop. He could not see her anymore, he saw nothing, only felt himself exploding. And even then, he could not stop, moving inside her and riding on her hips even when the last drop had spilled out of him.  

Eventually he stopped, dropping his head on her chest and not moving again. They lay still, unmoving, letting their bodies separate of their own will. Jacob moved very slightly, enjoying the feeling of the soft breasts against his skin and the sound of her heartbeat.  

After a while, she spoke.  

“May I ask you something?”  

He softly grunted his consent against her skin.  

“What became of the rat-infested beer barrels?”  

Jacob felt too comfortable to move.  

“Why the hell would you ask about that now?” he muttered.  

“Because I felt thirsty, and wondered if you wanted another beer . That  made me remember the rats,” she explained.  

“It was an inside job,” Jacob muttered again. “Turned out one of Mr. Rowan’s cats had kittens and took to storing remains of rats in the beer barrels.”  

“No dark plot, then.”  

“No, but a significant discount for the rest of winter.” Now he made himself move, rolling over onto his elbow. “Must have been a sight, though. Four of us, rough-and-ready, street-toughened, armed to the teeth, peering into a barrel full of kittens and half-eaten rats.”  

Clara laughed. “That story itself is worth another beer. Would you like one?”  

“What I would like is to get off the floor,” Jacob replied. “Does this establishment serve drinks in the bedrooms?”  

“There is only one bedroom, but I am sure service can be arranged.”  

***  

When Jacob woke up, the room was dark and the bed next to him empty. He stood up and adjusted his clothes, including the old paperboy hat on his head.  

Odd , he thought,  I don’t recall falling asleep dressed . Perhaps he had felt cold later.  

He walked into the  parlour . Instead of the lush rug, he felt cold stone under his bare feet. The room was dark, the fire in gone out. He stared uncertainly at a large, dark stain on the floor by the fireplace.  

“Clara? Weren’t we supposed to clean this up?” he called out. There was no response.  

He followed the dark trail into the bathroom. Once in there, he found the glistening tiles were gone, replaced by a dusty floor. The walls around him were an uneven mess of planks, painted wood and cloth. It reminded him of a maze of props and painted scenery in the back stage of a theatre. Some of it looked badly charred.  

Jacob followed the uneven corridor until it widened into a small room. In the middle of the room, on one of Clara’s armchairs, sat Maxwell Roth.  

He looked much the same – slightly unruly hair, a wide smile, an irresistible twinkle in his eyes, the gorgeously lush red cravat under his chin. The only difference, one that Jacob could not miss, was the gaping hole in his neck.  

“You can’t stay here, Max,” Jacob said helplessly.  

In a blink, Maxwell was standing next to him and Jacob felt a gentle kiss on his lips. It felt warm and promising, and his entire body responded to it.  

“You still haven’t told anyone a word,” he heard the familiar hoarse voice in his ear although they were still kissing,  

Jacob opened his mouth to speak, but could not raise his voice above a whisper, no matter how hard he tried, as though something was choking him. He felt his own neck. His fingers found a gaping, dried wound just below his Adam’s apple. Something was stuck in there, and it hurt.  

I think it’s a dead rat , he thought helplessly, but could not make a sound. Whatever it was, he could not dislodge it. With helpless horror, he felt himself reaching into the hole in his  own  throat, trying to find what was choking him -   

He sat up in bed with a cry. He did not have his clothes on, and now he was really awake. As he looked around the room – Clara's bed, one half still empty, a thin line of light under the bathroom door – he unconsciously reached for his throat. There was no wound. He pressed a sweaty palm to his neck.  

The bathroom door opened. Clara stood in the doorway holding a candle. She looked at him curiously.  

“Nightmare?” she asked quietly.  

The wisps of the dream still clouding his eyes, Jacob nodded. Clara came closer.  

Just don’t ask me what it was about.  

“Do they happen often?”  

“Sometimes,” he muttered. He could swear he could still feel something scratching his throat.  

More often than I’d like to admit.  

She disappeared into the bathroom again and came back with a glass of water.  

“I’m fine,” he muttered.  

She put the glass on the bedside table next to him and went to sit on her side of the bed.  

“Did I say you were not?”  

The sour tone stung him. Instead of an apology, he asked, “Do you ever have nightmares?”  

Clara shook her head, settling to sit next to him, her arms hugging her knees.  

“If I do, I  am fortunate enough to  not recall them,” she said. “I have sleepless nights instead.”  

“That sounds better right now,” Jacob said.  

“Not quite,” she said with a smile. “It lasts longer.”  

His heartbeat finally steady, Jacob lay back on the pillow. The evening took shape in his head once again: he and Clara had made their way to the bed, talked, finished their drinks. He had got his second wind, he remembered, and  had  made love to her again, far more slowly this time, until they both fell asleep.  

I can’t go back to sleep.   

“Then don’t,” Clara said. Jacob winced. For a terrifying moment, he thought he was dreaming again, then he realised he had spoken out loud. That brought on another mortifying thought.  

“Did I say anything in my sleep?”  

She shook her head. Jacob started breathing again.  

She leaned over him, or rather across him, and took the glass of water. Now that he saw her drinking it, he felt thirsty.  

“I’m sorry, nurse,” he said. “Can I have some?”  

She gave him a half-full glass.  

“Finish it, you ingrate.”  

The water seemed to dissolve the last remains of the dream. Jacob rolled onto his side and looked at Clara.  

“What will you do now? I mean, now that you are Mrs. Rivers?”  

Or we can talk about the weather. Anything else.  

Clara sighed and frowned.  

“I shall probably find myself cooped up quite a lot, as winter and caution demand,” she said. “Perhaps I shall start going to church.”  

Jacob’s face set into a grimace of profound disbelief.  

“You? To church?”  

Clara sighed again.  

“It is a respectable outing for a widow. I’ve found a most charming Catholic church nearby. It’ll refresh my Latin and put off the neighbours, as everyone knows Catholics are a bit odd.”  

Jacob pursed his lips.  

“I suppose setting up a workshop in this place is out of the question,” he mused.  

“Minor repairs only, I’m afraid.”  

“How minor? Could you fix rope launchers?”  

Clara made a face. “You’ve broken them already? I must have done a shoddy job.”  

Jacob thought back on the weight and grace of Dan Malley.  

“Not exactly, but some do need repairing.”  

“That I can do,” Clara nodded happily. “And I should find something to read as well.”  

“Anything in mind? I’m sure Evie could bring a volume or two.”  

Clara lay down next to him.  

“There is something I’ve been meaning to read for a while,” she said. She recited the title slowly, as though reading it off a piece of paper. “ On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection , by a Mr. Darwin. I’ve been intrigued about him ever since he got lambasted by the press.”  

Jacob snorted.  

“Would you like an autographed copy?” he sniggered.  

Clara gave him a blank look.  

“Why, would you happen to have one?” she asked glibly.   

Jacob  savoured  the moment before replying.  

“Matter of fact, I do,” he said. “With a dedication, even.” He could see in Clara’s face  that  she was trying to find a suitably nasty response.  

“I’ll tell Evie to bring it, if you don’t believe me,” he offered.  

Clara finally spoke, and it was one word.  

“How?”  

W ouldn’t old Charlie be shocked to know he’s come to my rescue as a learned distraction.  

“Well,” Jacob began, settling down more comfortably against Clara. “You would not believe it, but it started as a purely medical investigation...”  

Chapter Text

Evie examined the door  and its green frame  carefully. There was no periscope, sadly. First Mr. Bell started talking about moving to America, and now Clara had apparently forsaken mechanics as well.   

She knocked and waited. There was a peephole in the door. Driven by some silly childhood memory, Evie stuck her tongue out at it.  

The door opened, and there was Clara, wearing an enormous grin.  

Evie couldn’t help herself.  

My dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?”  she said.  

The response came almost immediately.  

Is it possible disdain should die when she has such meet food to feed on as Signorina Evie ?”  

Once in the room, they embraced one another tightly.  

“You look well,” Evie said happily.  

“Yes, quite well for someone you threw into the Thames.”  

Evie grimaced. “If only that had been the last of it.”  

“Has anything else happened?”  

“No, but I feel we have not seen or heard the last of Mr. Jameson.”  

Clara looked her over like a child expecting a gift.  

“Did you bring the broken rope launchers?”  

Evie shook her head. “I left that to Jacob, I’m afraid.” Clara’s face actually fell, like that of a disappointed child.   

“Here,” Evie held out  the  copy of  On the Origin of Species . “I brought you something to pass the time while you wait.”  

That was apparently just as good. Clara sat down and opened the book immediately. She read the dedication carefully.  

Of all the  smug  bastards,”  she exclaimed.  “He wasn’t  lying .”  

“I’m sorry?”  

“Jacob told me he had an autographed copy,” Clara explained.  

We  have an autographed copy,” Evie corrected automatically, settling down into the chair.  

“Has Henry forgiven me that little performance at Mr. Cohen’s office?” Clara asked sheepishly.  

Evie laughed. “He was certain it was you the moment you mentioned spices and humours. But you should ask him yourself. Visit the shop in Whitechapel.”   

“I am sorry I left the way I did,” Clara said seriously. “It seemed so childish later.”  

 “You are back now. Although Jacob tells me I should be worried about you.”  

“Whatever for?”  

“In his words, you are so desperately bored that you have started going to church.”  

“Oh, that. It is quite a charming old church. The organist is divine and the choir is not half-bad. Why should I not avail myself of a free concert on a Sunday?”  

Evie admitted that did not sound quite that bad.  

“You told me you had some French in your family, but I never asked if you were Catholics.”  

Clara made a face.  

“My father was French, so nominally Catholic, I suppose. Not that either of them were great practitioners of any religion. And now, tell me what is new with you.”  

They spoke for while. Clara was glad to hear the old workshop had come in handy more than once. Evie spoke of her worries about the up-and-coming Templar, Mr. Jameson. His business was doing a little too well for someone new to shipping. Jacob had offered to send the lads to investigate, but she was being cautious. The man was already running scared.  

And the lads were a bit of a problem, male as female ones as well . They  were all ‘lads’ to Jacob, and it was rubbing off on her .  The Rooks were good people, but shy and proud beneath the rough exterior. And they’d now lost two more, not to fights, not to Templars, but to disease.  

“Good grief,” Clara whispered. “Syphilis is a horrible way to perish.”  

“And it is a silent killer,” Evie added. “Yet what’s to be done? They’re not exactly the kind of people that talk openly about such things.”  

Neither are we , she corrected herself.  I’ve just said ‘such things’ .  

Clara shook her head.  

“All you can do is find  a doctor you can trust. Someone they would see anyway... You mentioned someone called Dr. Fletcher?”  

Evie considered this. “He would be glad to help, but he cannot cure the entire population of London’s unfortunate women and their customers.”  

“The festering underbelly of London cries out for Claudia Auditore,” Clara said sadly. Evie gaped at her.  

“Ezio’s sister? What does that have to do with prostitution?”  

For once, it was Clara’s turn to look nonplussed.  

“You can’t be serious ,” she said. “Or has the British Brotherhood become that prudish?”  

Evie winced.   

“Perhaps the French know something we’ve forgotten,” was as far as she would venture on the subject.  

Clara laughed.   

“Ah, look at me. Here I sit trying to advise the daughter of Ethan Frye on Brotherhood matters and prevention of syphilis. As though I could help.”  

“You’ve already helped,” she said. “Mr. Cohen is an irreplaceable ally.”  

Clara snorted.   

“My parents’ ally. All I did was pass on the message.”  

Evie sighed inwardly.  Here’s another one that’s not cut out for fieldwork. And by the looks of it, feeling equally guilty about it.  

Technically, Clara Devine’s already died to protect the Brotherhood,” she said  reassuringly.  “And I’m sure more rope launchers will need fixing.”  

“Tell Jacob to bring the spigots as well.”  

“Hah! He  won’t  forget  that ! Now, I want to hear that forgotten lore about Claudia Auditore.”  

En français? On se n’est pas entrainé depuis quelque mois.  

Bien sûr.  

***  

The following day,  Evie had her nose deep in a pile of papers when Jacob crashed in.  

“Well, that looks just riveting,” he trilled, bending over her to read over her shoulder.  

“Will you go away?”  

“I just arrived. What are those?”  

Evie wedged her foot under the desk and managed to push the chair back right into her brother.  

“That’s a lot of lists,” he grunted, rubbing his leg.  

“They’re shipping manifests.”  

Jacob took one of the papers and glanced at it. “Wait a minute...  The Glastonbury.  Why is that familiar?”  

Evie waved a bound ledger in front of him.  

“Probably because it’s one of the ships you spotted while trailing Mr. Jameson,” she explained. “And I think I’ve managed to work out some of shipping times.”  

Granted, she used some of Jacob’s information to pin down a number of ships. On the other hand, it was her who managed to steal the ledger from Jameson’s offices and arrange for copies of shipping manifests.  

Jacob’s only response was, “Oh.”  

“That’s your contribution? I spent a whole bloody week reading shipping news,” Evie hissed.  

“And?”  

“And without putting anyone else in harm’s way, I now know when the next boat Mr. Jameson is expecting is due to dock,” she said as patiently as she could.  

Jacob blinked at the ceiling, one finger thoughtfully curled around his chin.  

“And all without leaving the office. Fancy a stroll on the docks?”  

“Oh, now you want to join in, after I’ve done all the hard work,” Evie replied. “Typical.”  

Jacob looked hurt.  

“I’m only thinking of your health, darling sister. All that sitting at the desk can’t be good for you.”  

***  

Even at a late hour, St Katharine’s Docks were a flurry of activity. The twins avoided the mess of people, crates and carts by the simple expedient of taking to the rooftops first, and the girders and cranes next. Their halted at the crossbeam of a large crane. Evie pointed out  The Glastonbury . The ship was still docking.  

“All hands on deck,” Jacob muttered. Evie nodded. She was relieved to have been right about the type of the ship. The layout of the decks should be close enough to the plan she had studied.  

“Now would be the perfect time to get into the hold.”  

Evie lead the way, sliding from the crane to a nearby mast, and across to another one, finally landing them on a passing boat. Before the occupants of the boat had time to react, the twins were already clambering up the side of  The Glastonbury  that faced away from the docks.  Evie led the way into the innards of the ship.  

As they had hoped, the hold was empty. Lanterns in hand, they crept form one crate to another until they found the ones marked for delivery to Jameson’s company.   

Jacob produced a crowbar from the recesses of his coat and they got to work. The third crate they checked yielded something of interest. Nested among the clearly marked packages that smelled strongly of tea was an oblong patch of darker wood. Unlike the other ones,  this box  was hinged and padlocked.  

The box contained a number of carefully wrapped small packages, intended to keep whatever was inside safe and dry. Evie poked a small hole in one package with her hidden blade. Flakes of a waxy substance landed in her palm.   

The twins sniffed at it cautiously.  

“I could be wrong, but I doubt this is intended to reach the pharmacists,” Jacob said dryly.  

“What is he trying to do?” Evie muttered.  

She carefully put the packet of opium back in the box and locked it again. She pressed down on the lid of the crate.  

Make  money?” Jacob suggested. Evie shook her head.  

“You can buy this in any pharmacy in London,” she whispered. “Remember the syrup?”  

“Yes,” Jacob whispered back. “But this is much stronger stuff. And the dens in the East End can hardly be supplying themselves at the local apothecary.”  

“Or it could be something else,” Evie mused. “In any case - “  

Jacob swung the lantern over the crate.  

“It would go up in minutes,” he suggested.  

“Jacob! This is evidence!”  

“Of what? The stuff’s hardly illegal. Why not hit him in the pocket?”  

“Because the whole ship could go up in flames!”  

They stopped hissing at each other  when  they heard approaching  footsteps.  Jacob put out the lantern .  

Crouching behind a large stack of crates, they watched a man cross the hold, lantern in hand . He headed  straight for the crate they had just examined. He moved furtively, glancing over his shoulder. If he had noticed that the crate was easier to open, it did not slow him down. Jacob and Evie watched as the man burrowed in the crate until he found the box of opium and stashed one or two packages inside his coat. Closing the crate again, he quickly made his way out of the hold.  

“Skimming off the top, are we?” Jacob smiled. “Convenient.”  

“How so?” Evie asked.  

“I know that charming dipper. He works for Jameson. Seen him around the office and the docks.” He turned to Evie.  ”Got him marked, dear sister?”  

“Of course. Let’s mark that crate as well and get out of here.”  

***  

Both the marked crate and the skimming employee made their way to the nearby offices of Jameson’s shipping business. Evie and Jacob took up a post at the window of a darkened warehouse across the street.   

“I’m going to follow that crate,” Evie said.  

“It may not leave tonight,” Jacob said. “I think we’d be better off following our dipper.”  

“I don’t really approve of blackmail,” Evie  grumbled.  “But we need an informant.”  

“Exactly. And he’s not in a position to refuse.”  

“Not that we should throw stones,” Evie said after a while. “The very word ‘assassin’ comes from the word ‘hashish’.”  

“Isn’t that the Turkish thing you smoke?” Jacob guessed.  

“Much older than Turkey. Father told me it was  Altaïr  Ibn  La’Ahad  who put paid to that practice.”  

Jacob thought about this a little.  

“I’ve seen those wretches in the opium dens, and I wouldn’t trust them with a butter knife, far less a hidden blade.”  

“Just so.”  

“Mind you, I’ll try anything once.”  

Before Evie could venture her not-so-complimentary opinion, the man whom they had seen stealing opium appeared in the street. He locked the doors to the building, still glancing left and right nervously.  

Jacob perched on the window sill.  

“Now?”  

Evie shook her head.  

“I’d rather know where to find him later. I’ll follow him.”  

“As you wish,” her brother said. “I wouldn’t mind an early night.”  

Evie, halfway out the window, looked up.  

“Are you feeling alright?” she had to ask.  

“Oh, quite fine. But I want to be up bright and early tomorrow. For the church.”  

Her quarry was turning a street corner. Shaking her head in confusion, Evie shot the rope at the rooftop opposite and slid away into the night.  

***  

By Jacob’s rather shaky calculations, the service – or was that a mass? - should be coming to a close within a quarter of an hour or so. He stepped into the church and looked over the pews. A matronly woman turned to look at him, and then proceeded to glare at him in a decidedly unfriendly manner. Jacob reached up to tip his hat to her.  

Oh. That.   

He took his hat off, and the owner of the glare turned back towards the altar. Shuffling off into a corner, Jacob looked around until he spotted the familiar figure in widowing clothes. Just as he had hoped, she was sitting well at the back, away from the rest of the congregation. He slid into the empty pew behind her and knelt forward.  

“Have you been shriven of your thirsty sins, Mrs. Rivers?” he purred.   

Clara responded with a most inappropriate blasphemy, luckily uttered under her breath.  

“That’s no way to talk in a church, Mrs. Rivers,” Jacob admonished quietly. He looked down. There was a sizable gap between the back of the pew and the seat beneath it. He slid his hand through it and squeezed Clara’s leg. Her hand smacked him off.  

He pulled his hand back, then slid it under the black veil on her head. He ran his fingers over the small patch of bare skin above her high collar, very lightly but persistently.   

“This is altogether too virtuous for me,” he whispered. “How long until the mass is finished?”  

Clara kept staring straight ahead.   

Vade retro, Satana ,” she whispered back in a choked voice.  

She stood up together with the rest of the congregation and Jacob followed suit, his hand still around her neck.  

“Let’s assume I’ve neglected my Latin studies in the last few years,” he suggested, squeezing her neck very gently.   

Now she turned around and almost snapped.  

“In your case, it means wait behind the church for five bloody minutes,” she hissed.  

“Oh, I think I’ll wait right here. You look irresistible on your knees.”  

And he did settle calmly back into his pew, enjoying the quiet yet rewarding spectacle. After a few minutes, the vicar –  no, wait, something else, the priest  – called out something that sounded like  itemise the rest  and a lone bell sounded from somewhere above. The congregation stood up and milled around. Jacob stuck close to Clara, who was readjusting her veil.  

“What did that curse really mean, Mrs. Rivers?” Jacob whispered. “It did not sound very friendly.”  

“It means ‘get thee behind me’, or ‘get away from me, oh Satan’” she snapped.  

“Was that a compliment?”  

Not waiting for a response, he took Clara under the arm and marched her out past the stragglers, the little children in Sunday suits and the priest surrounded by matronly women.  

It had begun to snow outside. Jacob headed onto the street, still gripping Clara firmly.  

“I brought you a gift,” he said, pulling her into a covered doorway in a side street. He reached into his coat and pulled out a small package.  

Clara’s face lit up. “The rope launchers?” she said excitedly.  

“Yes.”  

She tore the package out of his arms. For a moment it looked like she would rip it open right then and there.   

I’ve been upstaged by a packet of broken springs and wires,  Jacob said to himself.  

“May I walk you home?” he purred.  

Clara gave him a stern look.  

“No.”  

Jacob pulled the black veil up.  

“Stop that, would you?” Clara growled. He happily ignored her and began to kiss her instead.  

“Come now, Mrs. Rivers. I’ve never seen you so virtuous.” Another kiss, this time running the tip of his tongue over her half-open lips. “I’m dying to corrupt you a little.” She still held the precious package in her hands. Jacob used the opportunity to grab her by the shoulders and deepen the kiss.  

They both turned at the sound of a scandalized cry. A respectable-looking older woman was waving her walking cane at the two of them. Clara shut her eyes with a groan.  

“For shame!” the crone yelled. “In plain daylight!”  

Jacob gave her his most charming smile.  

“It’s perfectly all right, madam. I’m her dead husband,” he explained.   

He tipped his hat at the old lady’s back as the interloper walked away fuming.  

Clara pulled her veil back down, snorting with laughter.  

“Marvelous,” she chortled. “And now I must go.”  

“I’m coming with you,” Jacob said. She sighed.  

“No, you are not. Stop by later, or tonight.” Seeing his grimace, she patted him on the shoulder. “I promise to warn you before the first stroke of midnight, lest you turn into a pumpkin.”  

“Very funny,” he said, letting go of her.   

“Thank you.” And smiling at him happily from below the veil, she walked off.  

Jacob watched her until she disappeared in the crowd. He checked the time. He should see how Mikey was getting on with Mr. Jameson’s landlady. In fact, perhaps he should also check on their opium skimmer. Sunday night may be a perfect time. Evie would appreciate that. He may not have time to visit Clara -   

“What an excellent idea, darling. Then you don’t need to worry about your nightmares.”  

What little warmth remained from his brief encounter with Clara was immediately gone. Jacob shivered.  

“That’s why you did not go to her little burrow last night, isn’t it, my dear?”  

“Shut up,” he whispered unconsciously, and the irrational gesture made him feel even worse.  

“You’ll have your fun, just like you said. Then one night you’ll call out my name, and you will have to explain yourself.”  

Jacob started walking, as though he could leave the persistent voice behind. He was not quite sure whose voice he was hearing any more, or if he was hearing anything at all.  

“Shut the fuck up,” he whispered again, but it didn’t help.  

The first time you were angry at her, she thought you would break her arm. Wait until she finds out what happens when Jacob Frye is really mad. What will your little fox think of you then?  

Snowflakes melted on Jacob’s face. He looked up at the sky, savouring the cold touch. His skin felt clammy, his shirt tacky with sweat.  

A window opened somewhere above him and he leapt to the side to avoid a cluster of icicles that cascaded onto the street. To his immense shock, he slipped and had to grab at the wall to stop himself from falling.  

Is this your promised freedom? Shivering like a wet dog in an alleyway?  

“Oh, fuck this,” he said tiredly , admitting defeat. Clara would not leave the house  and risk being seen with him, or Evie, for that matter.  Not only was the encounter at the Kenway Mansion still fresh in her mind. She would not risk  ruining the reputation of the dull, church-going recluse Mrs. Rivers.  

Wonderful , thought Jacob  as he walked on The ‘bravest man in London’ cannot go to sleep next to his sweetheart for fear of nightmares  and Mrs. Rivers won’t set foot outside  for fear of –  

He stopped and looked at the du sty windows of a  shop .   The window held a pile of more-or-less folded clothing,  most of it showing signs of more-or-less successful mending.  

Jacob approached the window, peering at the clothes. He lifted one hand  up, palm down, as if measuring the height of an invisible person.  Next, he held both hands out, palms in, trying to gage or remember a width.  

A small man, as dusty as his shop window, poked his head out of the store.  

“Can I help you, sir?”  

Jacob nodded, still looking at the sad pile of garments.  

“I rather think you can…”  

***  

Later that  evening Jacob let himself into Clara’s apartment by way of the door rather than the ceiling.  The desk had been unraveled into, yes, as suspected, a workbench  strewn with springs and coils.  

“What happened to this poor thing?” Clara asked  sadly, lifting a launcher bent out of shape.  

“Dan Malley is a little heavier than average. We forgot to tell him not to use it as a swing,” Jacob explained dryly. He could see her mouth opening to ask for further details, probably Dan’s weight in stones and pounds. To forestall it, Jacob threw a bundle of clothes at her.  

“Would you be so kind as to put these on?” he asked sweetly.  

Clara tried to put down both the clothes and the device in her hand and ended up dropping the whole lot on the floor. She examined the strange heap.  

“I’m pretty sure they’ll fit,” Jacob added helpfully, putting the stricken rope launcher back on the desk.  

Clara was looking from one piece of clothing to the other. It was an unremarkable set of male clothing, possibly sized for a young man, including a bowler hat badly in need of brushing.   

“You want me to… wear this?” she said, some concern in her voice.  

Jacob nodded.  

“Precisely. We’re going out.”  

She was still blinking at him in incomprehension.  

“Well, since Mrs. Rivers cannot be seen strolling around London with strange men  – “ he prompted.  

Clara started to laugh.  

“How devilishly clever,” she said happily. “I’ll only be a moment.”  She disappeared into the bedroom.  

Jacob sighed, eyeing the very comfortable bed. Perhaps it would pass , or he would simply get used to the dreams. On the other hand, he did find a way to bypass them , at least for tonight.  

The clothes fitted her, more or less. Bundled up in a thick coat with a scarf over her face and a hat on her head, Clara bore precious little resemblance from the prim widow of this morning. The fingerless gloves were a nice touch, he thought.  

“One more thing,” he said, walking up to her. Out of his pocket he pulled out a length of green ribbon and tied it around the  tatty bowler hat on her head.  

“Now no one’s very likely to pick a fight with you,”  

“Oh, no,” Clara  groaned. “Not that.  I’ve done nothing to earn it.  What if we run into one of your lads?”  

“I’ll say you’re the engineer in charge of beer dispensation,” Jacob replied , tapping her on the nose “They’ll probably stand you a round.”  

“I am not – “   

Jacob pushed her outside.  

“Out. And not a peep out of you.”  

Once on the street, he had to remind himself not to take her under the arm.  Clara muttered something about the chill and shoved her hands in the pockets of the short coat .  

“Where are we going?” Clara asked, her voice muffled by the scarf.  

“To dinner first, I think.”  

The Aldbloms’ pastry shop was doing  roaring business on a cold night such as this.  Watching the cluster of green-jacketed and hatted people around the shop window, it occurred to Jacob that the Aldblom family  had the most secure premises in the central borroughs.   

Clara was sniffing the air hungrily , but hanging back nonetheless.  

Won’t be a moment,” Jacob said. As expected, the crowd parted for him .  

Shalom , Mr. Aldblom,” he called to the owner .  

Shalom , Mr Jacob. What will you want tonight?”  

The pack of fresh pastries felt wonderful  in the cold evening. Jacob reached into his pocket.  

“Oy , no, Mr. Jacob, I will not argue a round this again. You do not pay,”  

“Don’t be silly, Mr. Aldblom,” Jacob said to the older man.  

“You paid for the shop, you  found my girl the work with Mr. Cohen. Food is free.”  

Jacob still left the coins on the table.  

“Then put it on Miss O’Dea’s tab,”  he said.  

“Ach,  that one! She keeps asking for bacon in her pies!”  

“Good night, Mr. Aldblom,” Jacob called, backing away.   

“Best prize money ever spent,” he muttered, sniffing the hot steam. He shoved the package under Clara’s nose. “Dinner is served.”  

They wandered the streets , munching on the food as they walked.  It was getting late enough that only those unfortunates without a roof over their heads would be out and about.  This part of London did sleep at night, Jacob reminded himself.   

Clara stopped to shake the last of the crumbs off her coat and gloves.  

Thank you, t hat was delicious ,   s he said.  “And thank you for this disguise. I’ve missed  walking about at night.”  

She stretched her arms and looked up, blinking at the tumbling snowflakes.  

“I’ve  forgotten that the English winter   can have its  charms,” she smiled.   Jacob frowned.  

“Where  did you spend the last few winters, then?”  

“Malta,” she said as they walked on. “It’s quiet and a great deal warmer. And the food is incomparably better.”  

Jacob glanced at her while they walked.  You could have gone hiding there. But you did not.  

They stopped as a crowd of people poured onto the street next to them  thought the open doors of a theatre.  Hats and umbrellas filled the air as people jostled for coaches. Clara glanced at the  play  b ill posted on the side.  

“Macbeth,” she sniffed  

“No t a favourite of yours?” Jacob asked as they made their way past the crowd and into the comparative silence of a small park.  

“Possibly the least favourite,” she said. “I can only remember one part of it.”  

“Only one part? Not the entire play?” Jacob said. “I’m shocked.  Is it the one with the three witches?”  

“Do you remember the story?” she asked. Jacob frowned.  

“He’s the king – no, a knight who kills the king and then gets killed in turn,” he offered his summation.  

Clara nodded.  She ran her hand absent-mindedly over  the rim of a bench, grabbing a handful of snow.  

“That was the only part of the play I ever liked,” she said. “The king trusts Macbeth, you could even say he loves him, and Macbeth murders him in his sleep.”  

“Is that so,” Jacob said quietly. Clara was peering into the snowy shadows as though trying to remember something.  

Then he comes out , daggers still in hand, and suffers a change of heart:  Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more!   Macbeth does murder sleep ”  she recited Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor  s hall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.”  

“Sounds difficult,” Jacob muttered.  “What else did he say?”  

Clara went on, reciting in a slightly exaggerated manner. “ Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”   

Jacob stopped. Th e  hand  from the nightmare s , whomever it belonged to , was around his throat again.  

“And then what?” he asked weakly , not knowing how to stop her.  

“No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red,”  Clara finished.   

Jacob closed his eyes, waiting for the grip around his throat to loosen.  

What a smart Aleck that Shakespeare was , he thought.  No wonder Evie’s so fond of him .  

He shook his head and looked around. Clara was gone. Instinctively, he looked down and saw tracks in the snow. As he looked up again, a snowball thrown with considerable precision knocked his hat clean off his head.  

Clara was standing a few feet away, another snowball at the ready.  

“I can’t run and I can’t climb, but I am a good shot,” she called out  

Macbeth’s bloodied hands and his own nightmares were forgotten. Jacob ducked to get some ammunition of his own and also to dodge the next snowball.  

“You’ll regret this,” he shouted as Clara ran off among the shrubs and trees.  He got her straight in the back and heard a satisfying squeal.  

She was not coming nearer, so Jacob  collected his hat and  ventured further into the dark.  

The next snowball  got him in the side of the head, and another  landed at his feet.   

“Do refrain from using your considerable skills for unfair advantage, Mr. Frye,” came a jolly voice from the dark. He heard Clara running and decided to give chase rather than wait for the next fistful of snow.   

She really was no match for him in a race, especially on slippery ground. In a few moments, he had her pinned against a tree. Her scarf hung loose and her hat had fallen off. The sound of her laughter carried across the park.  

“You’re a mess,” he  said,  holding her face with his hands. She shivered at the icy touch , but  did not stop smiling.  

I’m  having fun,” she replied.  

So am I, despite your dead kings,  Jacob thought as he started kissing her.  She lifted her arms  towards him.  

Sod it , he thought.  It’ll be worth a nightmare . I t must be –  

He  yelped and jumped back as  snow cascaded off the tree above them , most of it going under his collar. Clara’s outstretched hands were shaking a low branch .  The moment he looked at her, she let go of the branch, sending more snow on him, and broke into a run.  

Instead of chasing after her, Jacob  waited, counting silently.  S he  would  turn to look behind her,  like so, and in a moment -   

There we go. Far less effort.  

He strolled over to where Clara  was lying  sprawled face-first in the snow.   

“Did you ever consider, with your vast knowledge of natural sciences, that there is likely to be ice under the snow?” Jacob asked. She was cussing a blue streak. He picked her up by the scruff of the neck.  

“Wait!” she screamed. She patted her pockets in panic. She eventually reached into one of the deep front pockets and let out a sigh.  

“Wet, but present,” she nodded. Jacob shook his head and patted her coat, feeling a familiar shape in the pocket.  

“Again?” he asked. “Why did you bring it for this time?”  

She looked at him sadly, water dripping from her hair.  

“Just in case - ”  

“Just in case of what, precisely? ” Jacob smacked the wet bowler hat back on her head. “Can’t take you anywhere,” he commented in mock disappointment. He became aware of a soft clicking sound.  

Clara’s teeth were chattering. He was not feeling particularly warm either, what with the melting snow running down his back.   

“Past your bedtime, I believe,” he decided. Walking would warm them up, anyway. “Do you need to check if you dropped anything else? A case of cartridges, or a small bomb?”  

“Pot calls the kettle black,” she muttered as they headed back.  

“Mmm, kettle. A cup of tea would be good.”  

***  

Although never much for housekeeping, Jacob was more than happy to start the fire going again.   

“Why is there a crossbar over your chimney?” he asked.  

“For this,” Clara said, hanging a heavy iron kettle over the fire. “Good grief, I’m freezing.” She walked over to the bench and unloaded the gun. She peered down the barrel.  

“Not too wet,” she sniffed. “I need a proper holster.”  

“Put that thing down,” Jacob said, coming to stand behind her. She did, albeit reluctantly.  

Her coat was soaked and, he realised now, a touch too large. He slid it off her shoulders.  

“How long does that kettle take to boil?” Jacob asked, starting to unbutton Clara’s shirt.  

“A while,” she whispered. She was still shaking slightly.  

“You’re shivering.”  

“As are you.”  

The wet shirt was finally off. Clara hissed as his fingers touched her bare skin.  

“That bed looks promisingly warm,” he suggested.  

“I thought you wanted a cup of tea,” Clara whispered.  

“Maybe later,” Jacob suggested.   

They inched their way towards the bedroom, leaving a trail of wet clothing in their wake. Still shivering, Clara crawled under the feather quilt. Jacob dove in after her. The room was dark, much to his disappointment, but he was finally warming up. He felt for Clara in the warm darkness. She hissed at his touch.  

“Are my hands cold, Mrs. Rivers?”  

“Like ice, Mr. Frye.”  

“Not for long, I assure you,” he promised.  

He could barely see her in the gloom, and somehow that made each sensation more intense. Jacob closed his eyes and decide to rely on nothing but touch and the sound. The feather down was warm on his back and Clara warmed him from below. He ran his hands the up and down the length of her body, never opening his eyes. He did not need to. For every touch of his hand, for every movement of his lips, there came an immediate, hungry answer. He felt and squeezed every curve and ran his mouth over her  face and neck. In turn, he felt the hands roaming over his shoulders, up into his hair and sliding back down to his neck, in feverish, urgent movements.  

“Slow down,” he whispered above her mouth. “I’m not going anywhere.”  

I am not leaving this little burrow.   

Her response was to wriggle further underneath him, slowly kissing his neck, licking the drops of water that drained from his hair.  

Help me. Make me disappear .  

He pulled Clara’s face up to kiss her. Her hands, no longer so hasty, slid down his hips, felt around his waist, reached between his legs. He could feel her thighs opening under him, felt her hands guiding him, her fingers still slightly cold, but just enough to set him on edge.   

Eyes closed in the darkness, Jacob felt Clara’s breath against his cheek. Below the covers, her hand tugged at him more insistently. He let her guide him inside her, then gently pushed her hand away, intertwining his fingers with hers and pressing them down against the pillow. Her other hand rested on his cheek, stroking his face.  

Now the cold was forgotten as he pressed deeper inside her. He felt Clara’s legs wrapping about his waist, pulling him in further.  

Let me melt into you. Let me disappear.  

He already saw nothing. The entire world narrowed down to the feeling of her touch and her breath against his cheek. In that warm cluster of deep breath and slow movement, he heard Clara’s voice, unusually slow, unusually clear.  

“I adore you,” she whispered, with none of that feverish urgency he had grown used to. “I adore you,” she repeated.  

Jacob’s only answer was a half-choked gasp.  

Don’t say that. Don’t.  

Before she could speak again, he gripped her tightly and kissed her, running his tongue over hers as though he could tear those words out of her mouth. She kissed him back hungrily, her arms wrapped around his back, her legs gripping him firmly.  

Let me stay here. Let me stay like this.   

They both shivered into the kiss, their lips separating only enough to let them breathe, clutching onto each other, then collapsing into one long, drawn out sigh. Neither of them moved for a while, not wanting to disturb the warm shelter. After a while, they heard a quiet rattling from the other room, but neither of them moved.  

Jacob found himself thinking about Macbeth again. With the memory came the unease. He was warm. He was comfortable. He would not leave for the world. And then there may be hell to pay.  

“Clara,” he called softly.   

“Mm?”   

Her hand stroked his arm.  

“Did Macbeth have nightmares after he murdered the king?”  

She moved a little from under him, but kept her hand on his shoulder.  

“I cannot remember,” she said slowly. “I think he may have been too busy with going to war.”   

Now her hand stopped moving.  

“You are not asking about Macbeth, are you?” Jacob thought he heard a trace of worry in her voice.   

“Let’s say I’m not,” was as much as Jacob could manage.  

“You are still having nightmares, aren’t you?”  

Jacob nodded, although the gesture was pointless in the dark room. He forced himself to open his mouth.  

“I am.”  

“That’s hardly surprising, considering the life you and Evie lead,” Clara said gently.  

“Is it?” he mumbled. “How is that supposed to work? An Assassin that has nightmares about killing someone?”  

That will do for now.   

Clara lay quietly next to him, saying nothing for a while. Jacob wondered if she had drifted off to sleep.  

“I suppose,” she said at long last. “That is what makes one an Assassin.”  

“How is that?”  

Clara sighed. “If you were to kill and not even think about it, you would be just a killer. A bloodthirsty thug.”  

Jacob felt her arm wrap around his.  

“But you are not a killer. You are an Assassin,” she said firmly.  

And you don’t know the half of it. But this will do for now.  

“You’ve never asked me what I dream about,” he pointed out.  

Clara propped herself up on the elbow. Now he could see the lines of her face in the faint light from the other room.  

“What a presumption that would be,” she said calmly. “Your dreams are your own.”  

“Even if I wake you up with my screaming?” he said, only partially in jest.  

Clara snaked up closer until she was almost lying on top of him.  

“I can happily ignore it,” she said. Her voices sounded unusually husky, and her hands glided over his chest in a decidedly determined manner. “I would only be interested in your screams if I was given a chance to elicit them.”  

Once again, Jacob found himself translating the convoluted sentence in his head.   

“Is that so?” he asked, his mood decidedly better. “I’d like to see you try.”  

In the other room, the lid on the kettle rattled more insistently. Clara rolled off of Jacob.  

“Your shirt may be dry by now,” she said, sitting up in bed.    

Jacob didn’t move.  

“I doubt I shall need it before morning,” he said. “Tea, on the other hand...”  

Clara stood up and wrapped herself in the first piece of clothing that came to hand.  

“The parlour should be warmed up by now,” she said. “If you can find something dry to wear, join me.”  

Jacob lay in bed for a little while longer, listening to the clatter of cups in the next room. Perhaps he would sleep. Perhaps he would not.  

I think I adore you too.  

Chapter Text

Someone had  kindly left a  fire  burning  in an empty  tin  barrel close to the Aldbloms’ pastry shop. They had also left a number of nicely dry crates around the barrel. Evie, Jacob, Mikey and Lizzie sat around the fire in relative comfort. Mikey was examining a pastry with admiration.  

“Sweet mother of god, Mr. Frye, I can’t believe it’s just potato in there.”  

“I thought you’d know your potatoes,” Lizzie commented between bites. Thin, underfed waif that she was, she never seemed to stop eating. Sadly, none of it stuck to her bones. Evie eyed her with considerable worry.  

“Lizzie,” she began as the pastry disappeared into that ever-hungry mouth. “How has your mark been doing?”  

The girl licked her lips and wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her coat. Evie resisted the urge to button it up and adjust the scarf around  the scrawny neck .  

‘Oh, him. That's proper odd, Miss Evie, the thing with Mr. Williams.”  

Mr. Williams  was  the opium skimmer from Jameson’s shipping company. Evie had found out the address and later, a name. Lizzie had offered to hang around the neighbourhood, watching his comings and goings. Too rough around the edges to pass for a servant girl, years of hunger and sleeping rough have left Lizzie with enough skills to pass for a boy and run errands without anyone looking at her twice.  

“See, he doesn’t ‘ave one of those maids, only this old woman who comes to clean a few times a week. The place is locked up as though it were the Tower of London. Never an open window, even.”  

“Does he live alone?” Evie asked.  

“That’s the funny thing, Miss Evie. They’s on the bottom floor. I’ve checked the windows in the evening, quiet-like, when there was light inside. There’s a woman in there, young by the sound of it, but I never laid eyes on ‘er.”  

Evie passed the girl another pastry. That hungry look in Lizzie’s eyes never went away.  

“I peeked in through the window this one time when Mr. Williams was out. There’s a girl there, to be sure, but just lying in bed. And the place doesn’t half whiff of that pipe stuff  the  Chinese smoke in East End.”  

Evie could not stop herself.  

“The opium is from India. We are the ones selling it to the Chinese.”  

“So, he’s not selling it,” Jacob said. “He’s keeping a young woman drugged in his house instead.”  

“He must like her,” Lizzie commented. “He could sell that stuff for a mint.”  

Evie and Jacob exchanged sad glances.  

“And you, Mikey?”  

“Ah, that new landlady of Mr. Jameson’s is a right harridan,” the young man sighed. “I’ve worked my fingers off doing odd jobs and helping, but not a word.”  

“Had a peek in his lodgings yet?” Jacob asked.  

“Not a thing, Mr. Frye. He must keep  any important papers  in his office, or in his pocket,” Mikey spread his hands helplessly. “He’s good for money, though. Spends like a king on rides and clothes. I think he’s wooing some young lady or other. Seen him with flowers the other day.”  

Jacob clicked his tongue.  

“We’ll need to sink our teeth into Mr. Williams, then,” he shrugged at Evie.   

“I suppose,” Evie thought out loud. “Sargeant Abberline may be of more use in looking into Jameson. As for Mr. Clyde, he hasn’t been seen around the club for a while now.”  

She turned to Lizzie.  

“Leave Mr. Williams to us from now on. You’ve been a huge help, Lizzie.”  

The girl beamed proudly.  

“Anything else, Miss Evie? You just tell me.”  

Stay off the streets and do not end up like the Little Match Girl , Evie thought sadly. Out loud, she gave a different suggestion.  

“Do you know Dr. Fletcher?”  

“’Course I do. He did that really clean stitching on the Southwark boys that time.”  

“Go and see if he needs any help around the place,” Evie said.  

And I’ll make sure he does.  

“Are we ever going to get those wire things fixed, Mr. Frye?” Mikey asked hopefully, rolling a cigarette. Evie remembered what an excellent climber the young Dubliner was. With a rope launcher, he could practically fly. “Now that Miss Devine is gone, I mean?”  

Jacob patted Mikey on the shoulder.  

“Have faith, Mikey, is all I can say.”  

Evie pulled her hood up as she and Jacob walked away. A cold wind howled down the alleyways.  

“Will you look in on Mr. Williams?” she asked her brother. Jacob nodded.  

“I should be able to catch him on his way home,” Jacob agreed. “Although I may have a look through those locked windows first. I did not like the sound of that.”  

“I’ll see if I can get a hand of some of Mr. Clyde’s correspondence,” Evie said. “Oh, damn.”  

“Something wrong?”  

Evie grimaced.  

“Speaking of correspondence, George Westhouse will be paying us a visit,” she said. “He wrote to Henry.”  

“What an honour,” Jacob said. “Where shall we receive him this time?”  

“Ah, yes,” Evie said. The train had been deemed ‘too ostentatious’ last time. “We’ll meet him at Henry’s shop, I suppose.”  

“I’ve missed his sermons,” Jacob said.   

“Wait until he hears you’ve been training the Rooks,” Evie reminded him.  

“Wait until he finds out you’ve been researching how to construct smaller hidden blades.” Jacob countered. “When is the one-man council of Croydon paying us a visit?”  

“Within the week, I think. He did not say precisely when.”  

“There is a part of old George’s visits we enjoy, though,” Jacob said with a smile. Evie looked at him.  

“Yes. The part when he gets on the train back to Croydon,” she grinned.  

“Precisely.”  

***  

The windows to Mr. Williams’s small lodgings were indeed shut and locked. Jacob eyed the rest of the modest building. All the windows would be shut firmly in this weather.   

 

It was time to try out the new  lockpick.  Clara had only lent it to him to convince him of its superiority. You could almost feel the tumblers under your fingertips, she had said.   

 

What business did she have picking locks, Jacob had wanted to know. Clara explained that it was a trick of her mother’s :  to keep the little girl quiet on long journeys , Clara  was not allowed to bother her parents until she had picked a padlock or a lock they had handed to her.  

 

The door into the building gave way easily, as did the lock on Mr. Williams’s apartment. Jacob let himself in as quietly as possible.  

 

The place was clean enough, but it smelled of staid air and sweat, like a sickroom. A pile of tidily folded bedding sat on a worn couch. In the next room, a dull-eyed cat sprawled on the kitchen table. It flicked its ears at Jacob and looked away.  

 

Jacob quietly stepped up to the half-open door to what must have been the master bedroom. The floor around the bed was strewn with discarded magazines, mostly of the sort favoured by young ladies. The room reeked of opium smoke.  

 

A young woman with an unhealthy shine to her skin lay in bed, asleep or in some sort of stupor. Next to her rested a well-used, but currently empty opium pipe.  

 

She was not quite asleep, Jacob realised as the girl’s eyes blinked open. He carefully took a step back.  

 

She spoke in a drowsy voice.  

 

“Papa?”  

 

Jacob held his breath.  

 

“Papa? Is that you?”  

 

The cat jumped off the kitchen table and ran past Jacob to join the girl on the bed. The thin hand next to the opium  pipe  moved to stroke the cat.  

 

“It’s you, Mouser,” the girl muttered and dropped off to sleep again.  

 

Jacob let himself out. Once on the street, he shook his head.  

 

“Complicated,” he muttered. He set off down the street in the direction he knew Mr. Williams would take on his walk back home.  

 

He spotted the older man soon enough. Mr .  Williams walked with the same awkward gait Jacob and Evie had seen previously. He moved in quick, nervous steps, looking around himself every now and then.  

 

Jacob sighed. The idea of blackmail did not sit well with either him or Evie. What he had just seen in Mr. Williams’s household made it even worse.  

 

“Mr. Williams?” he called out.   

 

The man stopped immediately and peered warily at Jacob.  

 

“Do I know you, sir?”  

 

Here we go. May the Creed guide us vagrants.  

 

“Probably not. Name’s Jacob Frye.” Jacob extended his hand. Mr. Williams took a step back.  

 

“What do you want?” he asked.  

 

To help, I hope,  Jacob thought. There really was no gentle way to begin this conversation. He opted for the less painful option.  

 

“It’s, um,” he began, and groaned inwardly. “Well. You see - “  

 

Fuck.  

 

“It’s about those two packets of opium you took from Mr. Jameson’s ship,” he finally spat out.  

 

Mr. Williams suddenly looked a dozen years older. He closed his eyes and ran his hands over his face.  

 

“I see,” he muttered. “Bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose.”  

 

“I’m not here on behalf of your employer,” Jacob said hurriedly. “Well. I’m here because - “  

 

Now the man looked absolutely terrified. Still, he stood up straighter, staring Jacob in the eyes.  

 

“Did Turner send you?” he barked. Amazingly, some anger was edging over the terror.  

 

What?  No! Listen, Mr. Williams,” Jacob looked around. “I know you are probably in a bit of rush, but... Can I buy you a drink?”  

 

***  

 

Despite the icy wind, Evie could feel her cheeks burning as Jacob explained the situation of Mr. Williams and his daughter. She would have to calm down before they reached Henry’s shop. Otherwise, Henry would say something gentle yet insightful, and then she’d burst into a rage.  

 

“If I understand correctly,” she began, snapping each syllable with precision, “This man, Turner ,  met Williams’s daughter, showered her with attention and gifts, and she eloped. Correct?”  

 

“Yes,” Jacob sighed.  

 

“And then she showed up almost a year later, ill and addicted to opium?”  

 

“I know it sounds like a sort of story matrons tell young ladies to frighten them -” Jacob was saying.   

 

“All stories start somewhere,” Evie interrupted. “And now she won’t leave the house for fear of this Turner, and her father supplies her with opium.”  

 

Jacob sighed.  

 

“I am no doctor, but she may be dying ,” he said. “ Anyway, the romance and the promised wedding turned sour very soon. This Turner assured her they only needed a little more money, and she could obviously not ask her father for her pitiful dowry, so...”  

 

“Anything for her sweetheart who knows what is best for her,” Evie growled.  

 

“Precisely,” Jacob confirmed. “And I would not be surprised if a few others ladies were loitering around the place, one pipe  per capita . In any case, Miss Williams was smart enough to run back to her father, who was kind enough to take her back. However, the young lady is terrified, perhaps with good reason, that Turner will come looking for her.”  

 

“Do you think he would?” Evie asked.  

 

“He’s lost an investment,” Jacob grimaced.  

 

“Jacob!”  

 

“What?” her brother spread his arms out defensively. “That’s how  he would  see it.  Now the girl  does not dare leave the house,  her father  is terrified of losing his position, as that keeps them fed, and he can hardly afford opium on a clerk’s wages.”  

 

What  did you tell him?”  

 

That  I could not give a toss about Jameson’s opium. But I did tell him people were keeping an eye on his boss.”  

 

Evie winced.  

 

“Which people, exactly?”  

 

Jacob muttered something.  

 

“Did you say ‘Scotland Yard’ again?” Evie hissed. “Sargeant Abberline told you - “  

 

“I did not mention Freddie! I said I was from a, uh, rival shipping company.”  

 

Evie was impressed.  

 

“A favour owed is much better than blackmail,” she mused. Jacob smiled.  

 

“There you go, sounding like Father again.”   

 

They were almost at Henry’s shop. The sign on the door showed the premises were closed for business. Evie fished a key out of her pocket.  

 

“Could one of your little birds pick out Mr. Turner in a crowd?” she asked.  

 

“I’d be surprised if they couldn’t,” Jacob nodded. “Leave it to me.”  

 

The front of the shop was empty, but light and voices were coming from behind the heavy curtain that separated the front part from the back. The twins listened for a moment.  

 

“... of course, you would have a surgically precise blade, but it would snap under any serious pressure,” a female voice was saying.  

 

Evie and Jacob exchanged glances.  

 

“Mrs. Rivers has come to consult your cultured servant,” Jacob said.  

 

“But what if one used a wider blade, like a katar ?”  Henry said.  

 

“What is a katar?” Clara was asking as the twins stepped into the room. Henry fetched a book off the shelf and opened it.  

 

“It’s a triangular dagger with a groove in the middle,” Evie said, walking in. “What a pleasant surprise.”  

 

Jacob leaned over the book, all but smacking his lips.  

 

“Greenie, don’t tell me you have one of those?” he asked hopefully.  

 

“No, Jacob, I do not.”  

 

Evie watched Jacob make a great show of noticing Clara.  

 

“And what are you doing here, Mrs. Rivers? Once again, we find you talking to strange men. No offense, Greenie.”  

 

Henry’s response was not in English. Evie  made a mental note to  ask him about the phrase later.   

 

“Consulting on metallurgy, Mr. Frye. Have you had a chance to put my lockpick to test?”  

 

Jacob bowed.  

 

“Yes, and it worked.”  

 

“Excellent,” Clara said. “You may return it at your convenience. Mr. Green, thank you again. I should be going.”  

 

Henry smiled. “But you haven’t even had your tea yet.”  

 

“Not if there is business to be discussed,” Clara said,  reaching for  her  hat and  the veil.  

 

“That’s just silly,” Evie chimed in. “We can spare time for a cup of tea, can’t we, brother  dearest ?”  

 

Jacob was still enraptured by Henry’s book on Indian weaponry.  

 

“Of course, my darling sister,” he said without looking up.   

 

There was a loud knock at the front door.  

 

“Ah. I wonder if that is our guest,” Henry said happily.   

 

Evie and Jacob exchanged glances as they listened to the  voices  at the door. At the sound of the visitor’s voice, Clara looked up.  

 

George Westhouse and Henry walked into the back room, with George casting an approving glance around the shop. At least, it was an approving glance until he saw Clara. He blinked in surprise.  

 

Evie thought quickly.  Explanations could wait.  

 

“George, allow me to introduce you to Mrs.  Rivers. Mrs. Rivers, this is -”  

 

Clara took a hesitant step back.  

 

“Good evening, Mr. Westhouse,” she said quietly, a strange look on her face. George looked at her more closely.  

 

“Clara Devine,” he said slowly. “As I live and breathe.”  

 

Clara merely nodded. Evie looked from one to the other. The phrase  Oh, you have met already,  while apt,  felt unbearably stupid.   

 

“Look at you,” George continued, taking in Clara’s clothing. “Married, widowed, and washed up in London. You have been busy.”  

 

His tone was not very friendly at all.  

 

“Just as you say, Mr. Westhouse,” Clara said. It was a voice of a schoolgirl who had just been told off.  

 

“How long has it been since you disappeared? Three years? Four?” George went on.   

 

“About four,” Clara muttered.   

 

“Hold on a bloody minute - “ Jacob finally burst out, only for George Westhouse to ignore him completely.  

 

“And not even a letter in all that time,” George shook his head.  

 

“I was not aware you would be expecting one,” Clara said quietly.  

 

“Perhaps not ,” George said angrily. “ Not   after  that so-called letter from your mother.”  

 

Clara looked up, frowning.  

 

So-called  letter? What do you mean?”  

 

George shook his head.   

 

“You haven’t changed a bit. Felicity’s last report to the Council? It was clear to both Ethan and myself you had written it.”  

 

At the mention of her father’s name, Evie grabbed George’s arm.  

 

“What letter to Father?”  

 

George snorted. “The letter instructing us to leave Felicity and Robert’s little princess well enough alone in case of their death. Well, Felicity’s death. Robert was gone by then.” He turned back to Clara. “She did not even try to disguise the handwriting.”  

 

At the edge of her vision, Evie noticed something moving. Clara’s hands were clenching at her sides, thumbs and fingers interweaving and releasing again, seemingly without Clara noticing at all. The nervous movement continued even as she spoke again.  

 

“Of course not, Mr. Westhouse. I took down that letter.”  

 

George fell momentarily silent.  

 

“I had to be the one writing,”  Clara continued.  “Mother could no longer hold a pen by that time. She dictated it to me.”  She  grabbed her hat off the bench. The twitching fingers finally stopped moving. “ She died a few days after I posted  it to you and Ethan Frye.”  

 

“I see,” George said quietly. He sounded only half-convinced.  “And you, of course, disappeared.”   

 

He looked from Clara to the other three. “What is she doing here?”  

 

Evie saw her brother opening his mouth to say something, and rushed in before him.  

 

“Clara’s been helping us, George . If you would just - ”  

 

George laughed, shaking his head. “The precocious little Clara, helping the Brotherhood? How, exactly?”  

 

“Look here,” Jacob growled.  

 

Clara put her hat on with shaking hands.   

 

“Would you excuse me for a moment?” she said with some effort. “I need to take some air.”  

 

As she moved to the door, Jacob touched her shoulder. She shuddered and stepped away.  

 

George grimaced. “Look at you.  You’re not half the woman your mother was .”  

 

“Do excuse me,” Clara muttered, and then the door slammed behind her.  

 

Evie looked from George to Jacob’s gaping face. She was about to run after Clara when she felt Henry’s hand on her arm.  

 

“It’s good to see you too, Brother George,” Henry said with a small smile. “May I also compliment your ability to bring someone’s mother into a conversation?”   

 

He looked at Jacob –  did Henry just wink? -  and motioned towards the door. Evie watched her brother leave without a word. Then she turned to George and forced out a smile.  

 

" It’s always a pleasure when  you  visit , George,” she said sweetly.  “Last time you were here, you complained about the train,” Evie said. “And now this.”  

 

George sat down.  

 

“I am sorry. It was unexpected. Where in the hell did you find Clara Devine?” He looked around. “And where did Jacob go?”  

 

Evie perched on the counter.  

 

“I think he went to check if you have cost us the person who maintains our equipment, prepares bespoke tools on request, serves as a contact with a very clever solicitor and also keeps the beer tap on the train in working order.” She turned to Henry. “Did I forget anything,  meri  jana ?”  

 

“The carbines,” Henry said helpfully. “Seriously, George, what was all that about?”  

 

George ran a hand over his eternally scraggy beard.  

 

“Clara’s parents were quite particular about her,” he said. “When she was fifteen or so, your father offered to train her. Robert and Felicity flat out refused, much to their daughter’s relief.“ He stopped to take a cup of tea from Henry’s hand.  

 

“Why did they refuse?” Evie asked.  

 

“They claimed she was not ready and did not want it.” George took a sip of tea. “To my mind, she was just a brat spoiled for choice. Of course, Robert and Felicity were mavericks themselves.”  

 

George shook his head.  

 

“Still, I wish we had parted on better terms. I could not have known that my last hours with them would be spent arguing with their little princess over the paradox of the Creed and obedience.”  

 

“The three ironies,” Evie said. “So they did teach her something.”  

 

George snorted. “Your father could have taught her a lot more. That was the other problem, of course. Neither Robert nor Felicity could stand Ethan.  I think that is why they steered clear of the council.”  

 

Evie winced.  

 

“Why did they dislike Father so much?”  

 

“Robert had his own ideas, probably picked up from his family in France. They steered clear of London, though. They respected Ethan’s judgement that much, at least.”  

 

Henry sighed.  

 

“You know how much I respected Ethan,” he said to George. “But why would you be so unkind to the girl?”  

 

George put his cup down.  

 

“Because she is a little ingrate born with a silver spoon in her mouth,” he said. “Not stupid, either. She could have put her talents to good use. Instead, she was mollycoddled by those two and left to stick her nose into her books and toys.”  

 

“Unforgivable, really,” Henry said dryly.  

 

“You’d think differently if you had been there to hear what that fifteen-year-old whippersnapper had to say about Ethan,” George snapped.  

 

Evie shifted uncomfortably. “What did she say?”  

 

“Can I remind you both that, whatever it was, it was years ago?” Henry said.  

 

“Oh, I remember it quite well,” George grumbled. “The nerve of that girl. I asked to talk to her alone, without Robert or Felicity hovering about. She told me to my face that, even if she had confidence that she could be trained, she would not train under Ethan Frye.”  

 

“But why?” Evie almost shouted.  

 

“She said that, from what she knew, Ethan’s idea of protecting the innocents was to leave them behind and run off to India.”  

 

Henry groaned and put a gentle hand on Evie’s arm. She shrugged him off, staring at George.  

 

“Now, that may have been her father talking. Robert always had a vicious mouth on him,” George mumbled. “And if that had not been enough, the little princess threw the Creed in my face. ‘If everything is permitted,’” He imitated a young girl’s petulant voice. “’Why are we sitting here in Devonshire, Mr. Westhouse? Why aren’t we in London?’”  

 

“And what did you say to that, brother George?” Henry asked.  

 

“I told her she was far too young, not to mentioned untrained, to question the Council’s orders. She growled something in French at me, a curse, I suppose, and simply turned her back on me.”  

 

Henry stood between Evie and the older Assassin, his arms outstretched .  

 

“That was years ago!” he shouted. “Things are somewhat different now!”  

 

“Very well,” George shrugged. “The three of you know best, as always. I suppose I should have at least given her my sympathies. How long has she been widowed, do you know?”  

 

Evie heard the question, and thought she should reply, but her mouth would not obey her. She swallowed hard.  

 

“Ask her yourself,” she finally said. She pressed her lips in a tight line. Someone else could work on breaking the uncomfortable silence.  

 

How dare she.  

 

The clock ticked on. Evie heard Henry talking quietly with George. He mentioned Clara’s name, and Evie ground her teeth together.  

 

And then she has the gall to ask for my help.  

 

She thought of Clara, seated in the train bedroom, passing the time by relaying the seemingly endless anecdotes of her parents’ lives.  

 

You’d sing their praises, but you never bothered to mention this part. You never said a word about Father. You sat next to me and never thought to mention any of this.  

 

Henry was talking to her, she realised with a start.  

 

“Evie? I said I’m going to go and look for them.”  

 

‘Ma  chère amie.’.  The little French slut.  

 

“Do as you like,” she snapped. “Just give me the notes we have on Clyde and Jameson so I can show them to George.”  

 

Henry brought out their papers. Evie snapped them out of his hands and spread them on the counter.  

 

“George, would you care to have a look?” she said breezily. “These two gentlemen have been of interest to us.”  

 

She heard the front door open and shut, but she did not turn around.   

 

***  

Jacob stepped out of the shop .  To his relief, there were no coaches rattling away down the street. He peeked around the corner into Henry’s small yard. Nothing. He walked to the next alleyway.  

 

There was  Clara , leaning against the wall, hat askew and her hands still twitching madly. Jacob walked up and took her hands in his.  

 

She jerked away violently, tearing herself from him .  He heard her elbow smack into the wall behind her.  

 

“Don’t touch me!” she cried out.  

 

“Stop that,” he said, grabbing her hands again.  

 

“Don’t touch me,” Clara wailed. “I’m a piece of shit. You heard what he said.” She flailed around, trying to shake him off. “Let go of me!”  

 

The street was fairly empty, but not empty enough for such yelling to go unnoticed. Jacob pulled Clara further into the alleyway.  

 

“Who gives a fuck what George Westhouse says?” Jacob hissed. “Listen to me.”  

 

Clara’s eyes were closed, her teeth chattering worse than when the two of them had walked a mile in snow-drenched coats a few nights before.   

 

“Evie,” she sobbed. “My god, Evie -”  

 

She had not even heard him.  The rest of the street, however, would hear her soon enough. Grimacing in disgust, but not knowing what else to do, Jacob raised his hand and smacked Clara across the face, aiming for more noise than force.  

 

It worked. She gasped and started. The shivering ceased for a moment as she held a hand to her cheek.  

 

“I’m sorry,” Jacob said. “I had to make you stop.”  

 

Clara nodded her understanding. She licked her lips. She was looking past him, blinking like someone who was waking up.   

 

“Come back inside?” Jacob suggested. “Help me teach old George some manners?”  

 

He lifted Clara’s chin with one hand. She jolted again, shrinking from his touch.  

 

"I said I was sorry!” Jacob almost yelled.  

 

"You should not be,” she sighed. “I deserve worse.”  

 

“What, because you didn’t write to George?” Jacob laughed. “Let’s go back in, shall we? Henry can tell you all about how helpful George is when someone writes to him.”  

 

Clara adjusted her hat.  

 

“Yes. Let’s go back,” she said in a quiet, dead voice.   

 

How did we end up here , Jacob wondered miserably as they walked back to Henry’s shop.  Nightmares, sobs and accusations.  He resisted the urge to kick the door open.  I want our saucy, shameless little games back.  

 

Evie and George Westhouse were leaning over a mess of papers on the counter. Henry was nowhere to be seen. Clara walked over to George.  

 

“I owe you more than one apology, Mr. Westhouse,” she said. “I regret that we parted and then met again on such ill terms.”  

 

George nodded.  

 

“I did forget to offer you my sympathies for your loss,” he said stiffly.  

 

“Thank you,” Clara said quietly. “I apologise for the mayhem I’ve caused. I am sure all of you have much to discuss.”  

 

Evie turned around, her hand still on a stack of papers. Jacob blinked in disbelief at the icy smile on his sister’s face.  

 

“Just so,” Evie said. “And since this is Brotherhood business, as you pointed out earlier, we shouldn’t detain you any further.”  

 

Once again, Jacob found himself looking from one face to another in confusion. He noticed Clara’s hands clench into tight fists. She pressed them against her sides, almost like a soldier standing to attention.  

 

“Of course,” she said and licked her dry lips again. “Evie, may I speak with you for just a moment?”  

 

“I am rather busy,” Evie said sweetly. “Perhaps you could send me a letter before you disappear again?”  

 

This cannot be happening , Jacob said to himself.  I am dreaming again, and it’s just as pleasant as usual.  

 

“Evie, for goodness’ sake,” he groaned.  

 

“Yes. Yes, I see,” Clara said hoarsely. “I quite understand. Good night.”  

 

Jacob heard the door close, and with it, his head began to pound. He was still staring at Evie as she turned back to the papers.  

 

“Can I suggest -  ,“  George began cautiously.   

 

“Can  I  suggest,” Jacob snarled at him, “That you shut your fucking gob?”  

 

“Now, listen here -”  

 

“What, listen to you? If we’d listened to you, we’d still be chasing pidgeons in Crawley!”  

 

“Jacob, stop that right now!” Evie commanded. He rounded onto her.   

 

“Or what?” he sneered. “You’ll send me to bed without dinner?”  

 

“Enough!”  

 

Henry stepped back into the room. He gave each of his guests an exasperated glare.  

 

“George, you could probably use a rest. Evie, the papers will keep until tomorrow. Jacob -”  

 

“Where is Clara?”  

 

“I’ve  just helped her onto a coach.” Henry said tiredly. As Jacob opened his mouth, Henry held up a warning hand. “I’ve had quite enough for one night,” he explained. “Just come back tomorrow with cooler heads.” He motioned towards the door.  

 

Jacob nodded at him and stomped outside, Evie joining him a moment later. She started walking towards the train station with a determined step. Jacob hurried after her.  

 

“What the hell was that about? Evie?”  

 

“Brotherhood business.”  

 

“Don’t give me that gobshite!” Jacob pulled at his sister’s arm. “What in the world possessed you to speak to her like that? Don’t tell me it was because of George.”  

 

Evie wrenched her arm away and kept walking.  

 

“Not only because of George. You ran out after her, so you did not  hear  the entire story.”  

 

“What story?” he shouted.  

 

“I’m not having a shouting match with you in the middle of the street,” Evie snapped. “I’ll explain when we get home.”  

 

Jacob boggled at his sister.  

 

“You’ve got some nerve, Evie Frye,” he said.  

 

“As does your little French sweetheart,” Evie hissed back. “Come on, we’re almost at the station.”  

 

That story had better be good, darling sister , he fumed as they waited for the train.  If I find that she’s run away again, George Westhouse will regret the day he set foot in London.  

 

The twins almost collided jumping on the landing by the engine, and glared at each other without a word.   

 

Once  they were in the carriage with the doors closed , Jacob faced Evie and crossed his arms   

 

“I’m listening,” he said impatiently.  

 

“Did you know that Father offered to train Clara?” Evie asked.  

 

“Oh.” That was a little unexpected. “When?”  

 

“When she was fifteen or so,” Evie explained.  

 

“I guess we both know that did not happen, then. I still don’t see -”  

 

“She refused, that’s why it did not happen.”  

 

“So what?” Jacob spread his arms wide. “Her parents were still alive then, weren’t they? Why would she want to leave them?”  

 

Evie shook her head, her eyes narrowing.  

 

“That was not the reason she gave George. Do you want to know what the real reason was?”  

 

“I’m all ears,” Jacob sneered. His sister faced him, arms akimbo.  

 

“She said she would not train with someone who ‘ran away’. Her words, according to George, were ‘Ethan’s idea of protecting the innocents is to leave them alone while he goes off to India’.”  

 

“I see,” Jacob said quietly. “Go on.”  

 

“What more is there to go on about? She did not know the first thing about Father’s work in India!” Evie had her hands in the air. “And in all this time, she never saw fit to mention that he offered to train her!”  

 

Jacob nodded. “Go on,” he said again.  

 

“She told George that Father was a coward, hiding in the countryside while Templars ruled London!”  

 

“Shocking,” Jacob whispered. Evie’s fury showed no signs of abating.  

 

“I thought she was left all alone after her parents died, but no! She could have sought out George, she could have even sought out Father, but she chose not to!” Evie paced up and down the length of the carriage. “And then she latches onto us! Poor little orphan!”  

 

Jacob crossed his arms  again.  

 

“Was there anything more?” he asked quietly.  

 

Evie stopped, face flushed as though she had been running.  

 

“Well? Anything else?” he repeated.  

 

“No, but -”  

 

“Good. In that case, I’ll be going out for a while,” he said. “I’ll be back when you’ve stopped thinking with Father’s head and can think with you own.”  

 

He would have happily left it at that. However, as he turned to the door, Evie shouted at his back.  

 

“Perhaps you should come back when you’ve stopped thinking with your tackle, Jacob Frye!”  

 

“Oh, I’m thinking with my tackle, am I?” he shouted, turning around. “Last time that happened to you, we lost the plans to the Buckingham palace vault!”  

 

Evie gaped at him, momentarily lost for words.  

 

“I bet that would have impressed Father!” he added triumphantly.  

 

“That’s got nothing to do with Clara!” Evie yelled back.  

 

“Neither does Father!"  

 

“Her parents hated him!”  

 

Jacob  smiled, shaking  his  head .  

 

“Oh, so that’s what’s got you all riled up,” he said. “What a shock, to discover there were people in this world who did not worship Ethan Frye. Assassins, even.” He grimaced at Evie’s flushed face. “That’s why you’re frothing at the mouth.”  

 

“They knew nothing about him,” Evie said desperately. “They told her he left us.”  

 

“Because he did!” Jacob shouted. “Or did you forget our six years with Grandmother? Six years, Evie!”  

 

“You don’t know how important his mission in India was!”  

 

“I know it was more important than us,” Jacob sneered.  

 

“Father had a sense of duty!” Evie sneered back. “Something you clearly lack.”  

 

"Oh, we’re back to that, are we?” Jacob said with pretended surprise. “I suppose that, with Father gone, you had to take up the burden of pointing out all my faults.”  

 

“You never understood, did you? He was trying to correct them,” Evie said, hands opening towards him as if in supplication. “He worried about you.”  

 

Jacob snorted.  

 

“Really? Did he tell you that?”  

 

“He didn’t need to, it was quite plain to see,” Evie snapped. “Not to you, obviously. You’re practically glad that he’s dead!”  

 

That left him dumbstruck. He could only stare at Evie and, staring, he realised his sister’s eyes were full of tears.  

 

“That’s not true,” he said weakly. “You know that.”  

 

He watched in silence as Evie turned away and slowly divested herself of gloves and weapons, placing each one carefully in its designated spot. She did not even wipe her eyes.  

 

“You said you were going out,” she said over her shoulder. “Don’t let me stop you.”  

 

I can’t even remember the last time I saw you cry,  Jacob thought sadly.  Was it when Father died?   

 

He thought back to that entire miserable week in the late winter. He remembered they had stood with their arms wrapped around one another, but each with  their  own thoughts. He could remember Evie, pale from the winter and the weeks in the sickroom, staring at the drops of water as snow melted on their father’s coffin. But he could not remember her crying.  

 

I can’t remember the last time I cried, either.  

 

“Evie,” he called out softly.  

 

“Just go already,” was the only answer. She would not even turn to look at him. He stepped into the little hallway between the landing and her room. A thought struck him as he reached for the door. He pulled it open and let it slam shut, then stepped behind the curtain that separated Evie’s tidy wardrobe from the rest of the room. Evie still didn’t look up.  

 

Jacob counted to ten quite slowly and poked his head around the corner. Evie sat at the desk, head in hands. He heard a sniffle, and the sound chilled him more than if she had screamed.  

 

He padded up to the desk. Evie was a crumpled little heap in the chair, stray wisps of hair poking out of the usually perfect braids. Jacob awkwardly put his arms around her.  

 

“I miss him, Jacob,” she said through sobs. “I miss him every day.”  

 

“I know,” he said as gently as he could. “I know.”  

 

“I don’t even know if what we are doing is right,” Evie hiccupped through sobs. “What would he say?”  

 

“He’d be proud of you,” Jacob assured her.  

 

As for me...  

 

Deciding to leave that train of thought for the moment, he rifled in his pocket for a handkerchief and waved it in front of his sister’s face.  

 

“I also miss Grandmother sometimes, to be honest,” he said.  

 

Evie dried her face.  

 

“Of course.”  

 

“But not that dreadful tonic she used to spoonfeed us every winter,” Jacob added.  

 

Evie, crumpled handkerchief still in hand, made a terrified grimace.  

 

“That horrid concoction!”  

 

“In all fairness, she did follow it up with custard,” Jacob said, nodding sagely.  

 

“No one made custard like she did,” Evie agreed.  

 

“Bread and butter pudding.”  

 

“With treacle on top.”  

 

“Devon tea with scones,” Jacob said dreamily. Then, as though he had suddenly come back to the present, he looked Evie in the eyes.  

 

“Better?”  

 

She nodded and managed a small smile.  

 

“Better.”  

 

“I thought we’d agreed we would not let George Westhouse make us argue again,” Jacob pouted. “Look what he’s done.”  

 

“Clara could have still mentioned something,” Evie said, but without the rage this time. “At least to you.”  

 

Jacob considered the topic in the light of his recent visits to Clara.   

 

“It would hardly have been an appropriate subject,” he said uncomfortably. “Besides, what’s there to say? Our dead parents happened to dislike one another, and George Westhouse holds a grudge against her for not writing?”  

 

“Thank you,” Evie said dryly. “Now I feel absolutely dreadful.” She drummed her fingers on the desk. “Henry is right. It was years ago.”  

 

“What a bunch of hysterical women, starting with George,” Jacob sighed. “Like I’m caught in a bad romance penny dreadful.”   

 

“What was that George said? ‘You’re not half the woman your mother was?’” Evie said.   

 

“Imagine if he’d said that to you,” Jacob smiled. He stretched. “Now, if you’ll forgive me, I will sleep a lot more easily if I’ve checked on Clara first.”  

 

Evie pressed her lips tightly together. Deciding against starting yet another argument,  Jacob  kept his mouth shut .  

 

“Can you wait?” she said.  

 

“Why?” he asked cautiously.  

 

“I need to freshen up a little before we go out.”  

 

***  

They could see some light in Clara’s windows as they approached the building. The lock proved to be a problem, however. Jacob swore as he tried the key for the third time.  

 

“Is there a key in it on the other side?” Evie whispered. “We can handle that.”  

 

Jacob knelt at the keyhole and looked in.  

 

“Can you believe it? She jammed the bloody lock,” he whispered back.  

 

“Breaking the door down is probably not the best approach,” Evie mused. Jacob smiled.  

 

“There’s another way in. If she’s blocked that up, I’ll be bloody impressed.”  

 

Jacob led the way up to the roof and into the attic. To the twins’ relief, the planks above the bathroom had not been secured. They listened for a moment.  

 

“Do you think she may be asleep?” Evie whispered.  

 

“Let’s find out.” Jacob opened the improvised trapdoor.  

 

The bathroom was dark, but there was a faint light coming from the parlour. Evie and Jacob dropped down quietly and made their way to the door.  

 

“Oh dear,” Jacob said softly. Evie still picked up the relief in his voice. She peeked into the room.  

 

Both brother and sister stood quietly for a moment as they surveyed the state of the room and reconstructed the scene. The black hat, with the veil ripped to shreds, lay in the middle of the floor. A packet of cigarettes had also been ripped open, the little white sticks rolling all over the place. The front of the fireplace was littered with butts.  

 

In the middle of it, slumped on the floor against one of the armchairs, slept Clara, a half-empty glass of wine cradled in one hand. A green bottle rested next to her, with some wine still remaining.  

 

“I can’t believe she passed out from half a bottle,” Jacob said in a jolly voice. Evie looked at him in disgust, only to see he was smiling.   

 

You were expecting one glass next to the bed and an empty bottle of laudanum, I suspect.  She shuddered at the thought, and stepped into the room.  

 

“Half a second bottle,” she corrected, pointing to the shards of a wine bottle in the fireplace.   

 

Evie slowly removed the wine glass from Clara’s hand. She heard a soft snore. Good sign, that. She gently righted Clara up and patted her face.  

 

“Up you get,” she whispered. “Come on. Let’s get you into bed.”  

 

Clara groaned and mumbled something in French.  

 

“What was that?” Jacob asked, coming around the other side. Now there was another mumbled phrase.  

 

Evie sighed.   

 

“I think it was,  Forgive me, maman, I think I’ve had too much. ”   

 

They lifted Clara up between them, her head still lolling about.  

 

“Come along now,” Evie said gently.  

 

Clara’s eyes opened. Without looking to either of them, she pressed a hand to her mouth. They made out a single word, this time in English.  

 

“Oh, shit,” Clara mumbled, stumbled into Evie and bounced off towards the bathroom door.  

 

Evie and Jacob exchanged sympathetic glances at hearing the unmistakable noises of two bottles of wine going back the way they came in.  

 

“Should we try the thing that I had to do with you that one time?” she asked Jacob.  

 

“What thing?” Her brother was collecting the scattered cigarettes.  

 

“Do you remember the time the landlord of the White Hart wouldn’t serve Ruslo beer?”  

 

“That prick, yes. He wouldn’t serve Gypsies, so we helped ourselves to a barrel from the back.”  

 

“And do you remember how you wagered you’d finish the barrel?” she prompted.  

 

“Did I?” Jacob said, standing up. His face twisted as the memory caught up with him.  

 

“Oh, no,” he said. “Not that.”  

 

“There’s a tub in there,” Evie gestured towards the bathroom.  

 

“You almost drowned me!” he cried out. “I had water in my ears for a week!”  

 

“But you were sober by the time Father came home,” she pointed out.  

 

Jacob carefully wrapped the remaining cigarettes and put them in his pocket.  

 

“Let’s give her a moment first.”  

 

The sound of retching was replaced by that of running water. They waited a little more.  

 

Clara appeared at the door to the bathroom, face and hair dripping wet. She put a shaky hand on the doorframe to steady herself.  

 

“Stupid bitch,” she muttered. “Stupid, stupid.”  

 

She finally looked up. Her mouth dropped open.  

 

“Still drunk,” she said, closing her eyes.  

 

“You look better,” Evie offered kindly.  

 

Clara peered at the two of them.  

 

“You’re really here?” she said. “Evie?”  

 

Evie ignored her brother’s remarks about chopped livers. She stepped towards Clara, extending her arms, but was nailed to the spot with the next, slightly slurry, words from Clara’s mouth.  

 

“George Westhouse isn’t here, is he?” she said with genuine dread. “Or am I dreaming this?”  

 

Evie put a hand on Clara’s damp shoulder and spoke in a warm, almost motherly tone.  

 

“Fuck George Westhouse,” she said. “Let’s get you into bed.”  

Chapter Text

Once Clara was soundly asleep, which did not take long, Jacob turned his attention to the door. She must have shoved the key into it with so much force that it twisted, blocking the lock. Feeling too tired for precision mechanics, he left it as it was.  

Meanwhile, his sister, with her typical practicality, left a pitcher of water and the empty ash bucket by the bed, then stretched out next to Clara, boots hanging off the side.   

“Good night, brother dearest. And close the door,” she said, waving him away.  

“You don’t have to watch her,” Jacob suggested. “I can - “  

“Jacob, you don’t even know how to take care of yourself when you’re ill. Leave this to me.”  

Jacob managed to at least grab a pillow before Evie blew out the candle by the bedside. He made a sort of bed by putting the two armchairs together and stuffing the pillow behind his back. His glance fell on the unfinished bottle of wine. There was no cork in sight. Clara must have hurled it into the fire.  

Waste not, want not.  He poured himself a glass.  

It always felt strangely quiet at night, used as he was to the constant noise of the train. The snow outside wrapped even London in silence, at least at this late hour.   

Jacob spotted another cigarette poking out from under the rug.   

I suppose I could leave her that one,  he thought.  The rest is going to Mikey.  

His thoughts meandered from Mikey, to Lizzie, to the poor Miss Williams, addled with opium in her sickbed. He would find that Turner bloke, or whatever his name was, and it would not go well for the earnest suitor. If Mr. Williams could return the favour, all the better. If not, well, it would be a slightly cleaner world.  

Jacob finished his glass, checked the bottle and decided to finish the remainder. He felt himself drifting off to sleep. Tomorrow they would all hopefully wake up into a world free of dead parents and ancient gossip.  

“Aren’t you lucky, darling.”  

Oh, no.  

“Imagine having to explain our whirlwind romance to the departed. Honestly, how many times have you said to yourself, thank goodness my father is dead?”  

And so are you.  

“Of course, my dear. And not even a bunch of wilted flowers to mark the spot. One would think you don’t miss me, either!”  

Jacob finished the wine in a single gulp.  

Alright, you win. I miss you. I miss you, you crazy bastard. Now will you let me sleep?  

The clock on the wall was ticking more and more slowly. Jacob curled up into the pillow and waited for the silence to lull him into sleep.  

***  

Evie was shaking him awake, with the usual gentleness she reserved for him. He batted her away.  

“I’m going to get some food,” she whispered. “Clara’s still asleep and I am starving.”  

Jacob stretched, wincing.  

“I’ll be surprised if she can look food in the face after last night,” he commented.  

“Tea can help,” Evie advised and left in search of breakfast. Jacob managed to find the kettle, then stumbled into the bathroom to fill it and splash some water on his face.  

Tea preparations underway, he peeked into the bedroom. Clara was still soundly asleep.  

The back yard was covered in a pristine layer of snow. Jacob idly watched the black shapes of several crows hopping across the white expanse until he heard water running in the bathroom. Clara showed up a moment later, slightly tidier than last night. She wore the unmistakeable expression of someone who deeply regretted the last several hours of their life.  

She blinked at him and smiled.  

“When did you come in?” she asked.   

Jacob smiled back.  This will be priceless.  

“You look like you had a rough night,” he said.  

“At least I slept,” Clara replied.  

“No nightmares?” Jacob prompted.  

“No. In fact,” she said almost coyly. “I had a very pleasant, if incredibly silly dream.”  

Jacob leaned back on the armchair, concealing the crumpled pillow.  

“What was it?”  

She looked embarrassed.  

“I dreamt that Evie was here,” Clara began. “And then, in the dream, I started panicking that Mr. Westhouse might be there as well. I suppose it was expected, given the events of last evening.”  

Jacob kept a carefully straight face.  

“How did you know it was a dream?” he asked.  

“Because, in my dream, Evie said, ‘fuck George Westhouse’,” Clara sighed. “Please don’t laugh. I feeI dreadful about yesterday. I must – whatever is so funny?”  

It was hard, but he managed to stop giggling.  

“All I will say is, if you ever jam that lock again, I’ll kick the door in. Try explaining that to your neighbours, Mrs. Rivers.”  

Clara was nonplussed.  

“What is wrong with the lock?”  

Jacob motioned expansively towards the door. She went to have a look, and put her palm to her forehead. The doctor’s bag was produced from under the desk and searched until Clara was holding a pair of pliers and a screwdriver.  

“Think you can fix it before Evie comes back with breakfast? Or would you rather get dressed first?”  

The tools clanged onto the floor.  

“What?”  

“You two schoolgirls will have your chance to kiss and make up,” Jacob chuckled.  “In French, even.  Now put some proper  clothes on, would you? You’re distracting me.”  

***  

The reunion of the two birdbrains went quite well, Jacob figured, even though the conversation was whispered and mostly in French. All in all, it reminded him of illustrations in those novels his sister used to devour, by Jane Someone-or-Other, and was just as interesting. He helped himself to food and tea instead.  

“We should head back to Henry’s,” Evie said, spreading a generous portion of butter on a piece of still-warm bread.   

“Without me this time,” Clara added.  

“Oh, no. You’re coming along.” Jacob said.   

“Why should I?” Clara asked. “What Mr. Westhouse said was not very gently put, but it was true.”  

“Help us teach him a lesson, then?” Evie said sweetly. “You are far more informed about our work in London than he is.”  

“Do it as a favour to Henry,” Jacob muttered. “I’m dying to hear more about unanswered letters.”  

Clara nodded.  

“If you both insist.”  

“We do,” Evie said. “I do have another question, though.”  

She leaned towards Clara conspiratorially.  

“Can you teach me that expression in French that left George so baffled all those years ago?”  

Clara winced.  

“Oh, goodness,” she squealed. “He remembers that?”  

Evie nodded.  

“It’s not about what you said, I just - “  

Clara shuddered, almost spilling her tea.  

“Evie, please. I was a spoiled brat who thought she was exceedingly clever.”  

“Don’t start again, you two,” Jacob warned.  

 Evie waved a calming hand.  

“I just wanted to hear the saucy French expression,” she grinned.  

Clara shook her head.  

“It was not an insult, I’m afraid. Well, if Mr. Westhouse understood French, it may have been.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I was such a fucking know-it-all.”  

Despite himself, Jacob felt curious.  

“You still are,” he said reassuringly. “What was it?”  

“Something my father always used to say when he and mother discussed the way Brotherhood was headed. They did that a lot,” she said apologetically. “I must have wanted to make a  grande sortie  and impress Mr. Westhouse with my philosophical prowess:  le credo n'est q'un avertissment.  

 

Evie frowned for a moment.  

 

“The Creed is nothing but a warning?” she said cautiously.  

 

Clara was nodding. Jacob saw them both headed for another rabbit hole, most likely a francophone one, and decided to intervene.  

 

“Philosophy aside, isn’t it time we went?” he butted in.  

 

“Not all together,” Evie cautioned.  

 

“Fine,” he agreed. “You go first, and Clara – pardon me, Mrs. Rivers – and I will follow shortly.”  

“Not together,” Clara repeated.  

“Fine!” Jacob said again, far more loudly. “When you are done overcomplicating things,” he nodded at Evie, then turned to Clara. “And when you are wrapped in that black straightjacket again, we’ll meet at Henry’s.”  

Evie decided to take the roof exit and Clara disappeared to finish her toilette. Jacob let himself out, locking the door behind him.  

Finally , he thought as he crunched over the freshly fallen snow. All that was needed now was a comfortable spot to wait in.  

***  

Clara hailed the first cab she saw. Once she was in, Jacob treated himself to a run-and-slide maneuver that landed him safely on the back of the cab. Hunching his shoulders against the wind, he enjoyed the morning ride across the snow-covered city.  

As they neared Henry’s neighbourhood, Jacob enjoyed another slide along the icy streets, putting good distance between himself and the carriage. He cut through the maze of small streets towards Henry’s shop.  Stopping at the back of the shop, he gave a whistle. Three of the lads poked their heads out of various spots.  

“I need you to clear off for an hour or so,” he called out. “I think The Crown’s open for breakfast.”  

He smiled and waved at the several variations of ‘right you are, Jacob’. Once they were gone, he turned his attention to the small shed tacked on the back of the shop. Henry used  it f or storing horse feed and the bits and bobs for the carriage.   

The padlock was work of seconds. Jacob peeked in, nodded to himself and closed the door again. He made his way back onto the street.   

Just as he had hoped, Clara alighted nearby and picked her way carefully across the icy ground.  Observing her, Jacob wondered yet again how women were supposed to walk in those dainty shoes and goddamned tents of cloth.  

He pressed himself against the wall just in time for Clara to walk past.   

“Mrs. Rivers,” he called out in a singsong voice. She stopped and turned. Jacob beckoned with his finger.  

“Since you prize discretion over all else, I should show you another way in,” Jacob offered.  

They squeezed past Henry’s carriage and into the small back yard. Jacob glanced around quickly. Yes, the lads were all gone. He opened the door to the little shed and waited for Clara to step inside. That accomplished, he slipped in and shut the door, wedging a box against it for good measure.  

Clara was looking around the clean little space that smelled of leather and hay, most likely trying to find the promised entrance. Jacob wrapped his arms around her waist, nuzzling at her neck through the black veil. This elicited a little gasp of surprise.  

“You said -”  

“I said I  should  show you another way in,” Jacob agreed. “But I think it can wait.”  

Clara was wriggling against him in a rather half-hearted attempt to free herself.  

“You’re taking advantage of my weakened disposition,” she murmured.  

“What can I say?” Jacob whispered in her ear. “I did the gentlemanly thing and visited my favourite brothel last night, but the staff was curiously indisposed.”  

“And this cannot wait, Mr. Frye?” she asked.  

“Patience is not my strong suit, Mrs. Rivers,” he replied, having finally managed to get the damned black crepe out of the way. He turned Clara to face him. A pair of wide, darkened eyes stared back at him.  

“But you will have to play that suit anyway,” Clara argued. “I shall hardly be presentable otherwise.”  

His arms still around Clara’s waist, Jacob made a great show of considering this while his eyes roamed the small shed and its tidy display of equipment. He pushed Clara backwards, pinning her against the wall.  

“I can leave you looking perfectly presentable,” he said. “If you don’t struggle.”  

“Oh, woe is me,” Clara said weakly, her eyes glowing. Jacob ran his hand up and down her arms, finishing by raising them over her head. He closed her fingers over a sturdy-looking hook in the wall above them.  

“Just stay like that,” he advised. “And leave the rest to me.”  

And then he remembered the tree branch that she had used to her advantage several nights ago. Wide pupils and quickening breath aside, he wouldn’t put it past her not to bring a whole harness crashing down on his head.  

He kissed her, reaching above to where her fingers still wrapped themselves around the hook. With one hand, he felt for one of the leather strips on the harness. He wrapped it around Clara’s wrists. Her only response was to deepen the kiss, moaning delightedly.  

His hands finally free, Jacob lifted the edges of the dress slowly, with the due care he had promised. She would not keep still, hips grinding against his belt. He unbuckled it, and that seemed to only encourage her.  

“I said, keep still,” he admonished, his own voice rather hoarse by now. Gripping Clara’s leg with one arm, he placed his other hand gently against her neck. In that one still moment, he could hear the sound of doors and voices in the shop behind them.  

Fun. No, even better. A thrill.  

He moved slowly, carefully, gaging his progress by the look on Clara’s face. As they finally joined up at the hips, she squealed through clenched teeth. Jacob stopped moving to lightly cover her mouth with his gloved hand.  

“Did I tell you,” he breathed. “That there’s only a plank wall between us and the shop?”The resulting look of panic on Clara’s face was quite rewarding.  

Adjusting his grip on her leg, he leaned into her, and growled in her ear.  

“It would be wise to keep quiet.”  

She nodded weakly and moved her head so that his hand covered her mouth. Jacob felt her teeth sink into the leather glove.  

Just don’t bite my fingers off, little fox , he thought, and then decided to stop thinking. With every movement, Clara bit down harder, her head tossing this way and that. Jacob pressed his lips under her chin, feeling the quickening pulse.  

Clara spat out the glove, pressing her head against his shoulder. The muffled voice was whispering his name, mixed with pleading demands. He tried to kiss her.  

“No,” she shook her head, teeth clenched. “I can barely – oh my god - “  

A strip of leather came loose from the hook above. Jacob was no longer sure how much noise they were making. Clara’s eyes followed the piece of harness and she caught it in her teeth, biting down hard.  

The close quarters, the creak of leather straps and, finally, the sight of Clara tearing at the hardened leather were quite overwhelming. Jacob gripped her harder and buried his face in her neck to  stop  himself from howling.  

Oh god, I love this, I’ve missed this, I love -  

When he next opened his eyes, he could barely see. As his vision cleared, he became aware of something in his mouth. He spat out a small piece of lace, previously attached to Clara’s collar. He lifted his head slowly to look at Clara and the strip of the harness dangling next to her face.  

Let’s hope Henry won't notice those toothmarks.  

Clara rested her head against the wall, eyes still closed, lips parted. He heard the creak of leather above them.  

“Would you... mind...” she whispered, wriggling her fingers.  

“Of course.”  

Once disentangled, and once again fully buttoned up, they used each other as mirrors, Clara straightening his collar and Jacob, with some difficulty, helping with her hat. By the time they finished, they could speak normally again.  

“Where is that door?” Clara whispered.  

“What door?” Jacob asked muzzily.  

“You said there was another entrance.”  

Jacob opened the door to the shed and peeked outside. He picked up the padlock.  

“Oh, that. The back door to the shop. It’s right around the shed,” he explained as they shuffled out and he padlocked the shed. The cold helped clear his head a little.  

“What?”  

“It’s triple-locked anyway. Henry’s no fool,” he said over his shoulder.   

“You lying beggar,” Clara gasped, looking genuinely disappointed.  Jacob smiled happily and tapped her on the nose.  

“Were you expecting a secret entrance of some sort?” he asked jovially. “Oh, my dear Mrs. Rivers, you’re such a romantic.”  

Clara said something in French that sounded neither romantic nor complimentary.  

“Good, keep practicing those insults.” Jacob gallantly offered her his arm, which was refused. “I can’t wait to hear them used on George.”  

Still smirking, he led the way back to the shop.  

***  

The look on George’s face was everything the twins had hoped for. Henry shot warning glances all around.  

“I see you are back, Miss Devine,” George said in response to Clara’s greeting.  

“It’s no longer Miss Devine,” she shook her head.   

“When did you get married?” George asked with what seemed to be genuine interest. Behind Clara, Jacob and Evie exchanged grins.  

"I didn’t,” Clara replied. “I needed a dead husband, not a living one. And it’s no longer Clara, by the way, present company excepted. Do you remember Mrs. Felicity Rivers?”  

George nodded slowly.  

“Of course,” he said. “Felicity’s little caper in Nottingham, wasn’t it?”  

It was Clara’s turn to nod.  

“Of course, it needed some adjustments,” Clara added. “Like an old dress.”  

“But why?” George asked.  

Clara settled down into a chair, removing her hat.  

“It did not quite fit, obviously,” she explained. She cast an apologetic glance at Henry. “But rather than go into all that again, I’ll just say it was a preventative measure. Evie and Jacob can tell you a lot more.”  

“I’m sure they can, but why are you here?” George persisted.  

“Because Evie and Jacob asked me to come along,” she said. Jacob nodded to his sister. Clara’s voice changed into that familiar icy calm.   

George grimaced and shook his head.  

“I see that I am outvoted. Very well . Let’s hear about the Templars .”  

By the time Jacob and Evie had finished filling him in on Mr. Jameson, Mr. Clyde and their suspicions, George was deep in thought and apparently back in the present.  

“Mr. Jameson has become a rather slippery fish,” Evie concluded.   

“You put the fear of God into him,” Jacob noted.   

“But I’ve cost us a lead. I can’t very well go and spy on him in a gentlemen’s club.”  

Jacob sighed. “I stick out like a sore thumb there. Let’s see what Mikey comes up with over the next few days.”  

George was tapping his fingers on Evie and Henry’s notes.  

“What about Mr. Williams? He works for Jameson. Wouldn’t he be able to find out where that opium is going?”  

Evie rubbed her forehead.  

“The problem with the poor Mr. Williams is that his hands are tied, and I am not about to cost him his job,” she explained. “If we could help him first, he may be willing to return the favour. As it is, however...”   

She looked at Jacob.  

“I for one would like to find that Turner bloke,” he muttered. “The problem is, Miss Williams has not said a word to her father about him, apart from dreading him finding him again.”  

“She’d hardly talk to her father about something like that,” Henry said.  

“Don’t look at me,” Jacob snorted. “I’m no confessor either.”  

Clara shifted in her seat.  

“But Mr. Williams has told you about his daughter’s unfortunate affair, correct?”  

As Jacob confirmed this, Clara nodded to herself, staring somewhere past them.  

“He thinks you are from another shipping firm, or some kind of hired inspector, correct?” she said, without looking at anyone in particular. “There really is no reason why you would want to speak to his daughter, then. But a well-intentioned do-gooder...”  

She fell silent, counting off something on her fingers.  

“Evie,” she said finally. “Would your Dr. Fletcher be able to help in this case?”  

“As a physician, certainly, but not as a spy. He’s too principled for that,” Evie said.  

“But a physician could recommend another sort of visitor,” Clara said with a slight smile. “One of those dowdy, idle women who go around saving fallen souls by talking at them until they are blue in the face. London is full of them, their pamphlets and their clubs.”  

Evie and Jacob looked at each other, then snuck a glance at George’s nonplussed face.  

“Do you know any of those?” Henry said warmly.  

“I can become one,” Clara said, her eyes still staring into some invisible distance. Jacob snorted and got a kick from Evie for his trouble.  

“How would that work?” George asked. “Why would she talk to you?”  

Clara pursed her lips.  

“If she is still addled, the poor thing, she may let slip a full name, or at least an address. It would be something to go on.”  

George made a face.  

“That is a nasty piece of trickery,” he grumbled.  

His comment brought Clara back from her speculations. She looked up at George.  

“Of course it is,” she said coldly. “But who can blame a nosey, bored widow? More importantly, what can such a person have to do with the unexpected death of this Mr. Turner?”   

Evie patted Clara’s shoulder.  

“It’s worth a try. Are you sure you want to do it?”  

Clara nodded.  

“It involves no climbing,” she shrugged. “Let me know when the time is right.”  

“Settled,” Henry said just as George opened his mouth. “Next point of order, Mr. Clyde. Not half as exciting, but anyway...”  

***  

Several days later, Jacob was walking across the small churchyard in Clara’s neighbourhood. He and Evie had happily seen George off on a train to Croydon. The poor man could still not seem to make heads or tails of London, and had boarded the train looking a little overwhelmed. Jacob and Evie had waved happily until the train disappeared into the distance and then slapped each other on the shoulder in relief.  

Jacob stopped at one of the few remaining tombs with a locked iron door. This one was graced by a slim, vase-like sculpture that was probably meant to hold flowers. He felt inside the rusting metal tube and pulled out a piece of paper.  

Found T , it read.  

Things were starting to look up. Mikey had given up on doing odd jobs to spy on Mr. Jameson. Instead, he prudently asked around until he had found the man’s fiancée instead. As Evie had jokingly guessed, the man was intent on marrying. Even better, Mr. Jameson’s future father-in-law was a member of the same gentleman’s club.  

Evie had commented rather dryly that the Order seemed to be picking up the same intermarrying habits as the Brotherhood. Henry had pointed out, less sarcastically, that it was a good way to keep both money and contacts close.  

And now it would appear Clara had managed to sniff out Mr. Turner. Jacob took the long way to her apartment, stopping to catch up with the lads here and there. He was pleased to see that Dan Malley, bless him, had not broken his newly repaired equipment. While not the most graceful of the Rook lieueenants, Dan only had to be told something once. He hid a very keen mind behind his large frame and a carefully blank expression.  

Jacob was starting to wonder how long his gang would last in its current shape. Given half a chance at a decent life, not many people chose the career of unpaid thugs. Evie was still laughing about two recent weddings that came about, or at least laughing at the idea that Jacob was asked to be the best man.  

But that was what we wanted, to free London and give them a chance at a better life,  Jacob wondered as he walked on.  And where does this freedom leave us?  

Those like Dan, Mikey and Lizzie would never give up the Rooks, but the Rooks might disappear. And what would replace them?  

Free of boring directives,  he thought glumly, and winced at his choice of phrase.   

The first thing he noticed as he stepped into Clara’s little parlour was the bandage around Clara’s right wrist.  

“What have you done to yourself now?” Jacob asked.  

Clara waved the bandaged hand dismissively.  

“It’s only a sprain. A miscalculation of the tension in a coiled spring,” she said.  

“What device was this?”  

She sighed.  

“One that needs further adjustment, obviously.” She turned to look at him, and Jacob thought she looked exhausted.   

“I’ve found him,” she said. Jacob nodded, the note from the dead drop still in his hand. He flicked the piece of paper into the fireplace.  

“Well done,” he said sincerely. She did not even smile.  

“Something wrong?” he asked cautiously.  

“No,” Clara said quietly. “Or nothing new, more precisely. I spent three days altogether with Miss Rosemary Williams. I cannot get the smell of the place out of my clothes and I can’t get her voice out of my head.” She rubbed her face with the uninjured hand. “At least Dr Fletcher is optimistic about her recovery.”  

“Is she still scared of this Turner?”  

Clara nodded. “Terrified, the poor thing. His compliments gave way to threats quite quickly.”  

Jacob grimaced. “What else did you find out?”  

To his surprise, Clara motioned to the window. “Ironically, the place where she lived with him is nearby.”  

Jacob narrowed his eyes.  

“You haven’t gone there yourself, have you?”  

“Not inside, of course.” Clara reached for her coat. “Would you care for a walk? My head hurts from being cooped up for days.”  

***  

They stopped in a small park a few blocks away. Clara pointed out a small building wedged between two larger structures. In the gathering dusk, the golden glow in the windows revealed a small coffee shop of sorts, plush chairs and a few billiard tables.  

“Looks timid enough,” Jacob said dryly. “Apart from the two gentlemen hovering near the entrance.”  

“I doubt they were hired for their knowledge of hexametric verse and Restoration theatre,” Clara agreed. As they looked on, two passing gentlemen stopped to look into the establishment. One of the not-so-timid guards spoke to them quietly and sent them on their way.  

“By invitation only?” Jacob wondered out loud.  

“Absolutely,” Clara confirmed. “Last night they turned away about four men, and admitted a party of three just by looking at them.”  

“Last night? How do you know that?”  

Clara shrugged. “That disguise you kindly brought me was quite handy,” she said. “No one bothers a penniless young man who loiters around the park.”  

Jacob rolled his eyes.  What the devil has got into you,  he wondered. At least no guns were mentioned. He looked at the rest of the building.   

“The windows on the first floor never open,” Clara went on. “There are lights, but the curtains stay drawn. Last night there were no lights on the top floor, at least not when I left around eleven o’clock.”  

“You sat here until eleven o’clock?”  

“Walked, mostly. It was too cold to sit in one place for long.”  

“Why?”  

“To see if I had the right spot. Poor Miss Rose may not be the most reliable witness. And I am still not sure what Mr. Turner looks like. Her descriptions were, as you can imagine, quite subjective.”  

There was that voice again, cold and well-articulated. Jacob shifted uncomfortably.  

“Let’s take a closer look.”  

Clara had broken one of her tenets and left the house in a dress this time. Jacob took her arm. It felt stiff and unyielding, as though he was holding onto a piece of wood. As they approached the billiard room, a coach rattled past them and came to a stop at the door they were heading for. Jacob stepped into a nearby doorway, pulling Clara after him.  

“I’m sorry to do it just for show,” he whispered quickly and kissed her. He felt almost embarrassed, opening his eyes to peer under the brim of Clara’s hat at the coach. A moment later, the charade was rewarded as one of the thugs at the door stepped up to coach with a polite “Good evening, Mr. Turner.”  

Clara leaned against his chest, her face turned towards the street. Jacob has a distinct feeling that she, too, was looking at the same thing.  

The man was well dressed and youthful looking, but probably in his early thirties. The blonde hair and the confident stance reminded Jacob vaguely of that little prick from the East India Company, the former bosom friend of Duleep Singh. He supposed the man could be considered winsome, and he certainly dressed with just enough flair to turn the head of a clerk’s daughter.  

“Wait a moment,” he whispered to Clara, taking a step back.   

I see you.  

His vision misted over for a moment as colour drained from the world. Turner entered the building, and Jacob’s sight followed him.  

I see you still.  

Jacob watched his target cross the billiards room and take the stairs up, stopping –  unlocking a door?  - then climb into the next floor.   

Six doors.  

Turner opened one of the doors and looked into the room. Jacob breathed out slowly.  

A figure on the bed, not moving. Asleep.  

Turner moved on, towards a door at the far end of the hall. He stopped for a moment–  this one is definitely locked -   and went up another floor. There were fewer doors, and no one else around.  

Jacob closed his eyes and this time embraced Clara in earnest. He blinked as his vision cleared.  

“Keep walking?” she murmured against his chest.   

“A good idea.”  

They walked slowly back in the direction of Clara’s building. Street lamps lit up around them.  

“That, then, is the gentleman in charge of the very exclusive establishment,” Clara said once they had left the place behind. “One that does not get raided a’ nights.”  

“Good point,” Jacob said dryly.  

“I could not bring myself to ask poor Miss Rose how much she remembered,” Clara said through clenched teeth. “Or what he put her through. Obviously, enough to run from him once her head cleared.”  

"You sound angry enough to kill him yourself,” Jacob commented.  

“That is exactly why I am not the one to do it,” Clara said fervently.   

“Why ‘exactly’?” Jacob asked.  

“One can kill out of fear, or rage, or revenge,” Clara muttered. “Kill, but not assassinate. You understand that.”  

Jacob nodded.  

“I hope so,” he said. “There was at least one girl in those rooms.” He shook his head despondently. ”Not that this city is lacking in such things, but what is the point of Mr. Turner’s filthy little undertaking?”  

Clara shrugged.  

“I can only guess,” she said. “He seduces respectable young girls, plies them with chocolate liqueurs and opium, and then sells them. I suppose he can brag of a hand-picked troupe for a well-paying clientele. And where would the poor things go afterwards?”  

Jacob thought back on Evie’s reaction when she had first heard the story of Miss Rose Williams. Perhaps this was a case where even his sister would burn a place to the ground.  

“Can’t simply smoke them out of there, then,” he mused out loud.  

“I suspect he would bolt at the first sign of trouble,” Clara joined in. “And as luck would have it, all the windows look to the street.”  

“I don’t think I could pass for one of his customers, either,” Jacob said. ”And I don’t think I can wait for an invitation.”  

“Early hours of the morning,” Clara said suddenly.  

“Beg pardon?”  

She started tapping one finger after another again, counting the rushing thoughts. Sha started rattling off a list again: early morning hours, times, locks and lockpicks, back entrances and exits. Jacob blinked at the feverish onslaught of words. He took Clara’s face in his hands.  

“What has got into you?” he asked worriedly. “First you won’t leave the house, you see Templars in every shadow, and now you spend half the night casing the place? On your own, I might add.”  

Like the first time I met you , he remembered.  And then you ran scared.  

Clara’s face settled into that look of a child that’s been scolded. Jacob was reminded of the first words out of her mouth when Evie had shaken her out of drunken stupour.  

“’Forgive me,  maman ,” he muttered. “It’s George bloody Westhouse, isn’t it? He got under your skin.”  

“But he was quite right to - “  

Jacob leaned into Clara’s face.  

“So you’ll try to get yourself killed to prove him wrong?” he asked. He looked down at her bandaged arm. “What really happened to your hand?”  

“What I told you!” she snapped back. “I was testing a device and my calculations were wrong!”  

In the yellowish light of the street lamp, Jacob noticed the feverish glow and the grey shadows under her eyes.  

No nightmares,  he remembered her saying,  Just sleepless nights .  

“When was the last time you slept?” he said.  

“Here and there,” Clara replied dismissively. “Never mind that -”  

“You’re not going to prove anything by wrecking yourself one piece at a time,” Jacob shook his head.  

Clara raised a gloved hand and gently touched the scars on his face.  

“You’re the one to talk,” she stated.  

Jacob gave up.  

“Let’s get you back into that warm little burrow of yours,” he said. “And they you can talk and plan as much as you want.”   

“And what will you do?” Still in that fevered, snapping voice.  

Jacob pretended to consider this deeply, then had to grin at Clara’s deathly serious face.  

“I’m sure I’ll find some use for my mouth as well,” he whispered. “Let’s see who runs out of breath first, shall we?”  

She leaned onto him, lowering her head, and folded into his arms like a puppet with its strings cut. Jacob put a gentle arm around her and led the way back.

 

 

Chapter Text

The vicious cold had mostly emptied the streets. Somewhere nearby, a clock had just finishing striking three in the morning. Standing in a dark corner, Jacob eyed the roofs thoughtfully.  

A match flicked next to him. Without looking, he reached out and smacked at Irish Mikey, putting out the match and probably crushing the lad’s cigarette as well.  

“I said no light,” he whispered.  

“Sorry, Mr. Frye.”  

Next to him, Dan Malley was shaking his head. “I’m going ‘round the side, Mr. Frye.”  

Jacob nodded.  

“See you in the yard,” he said to Dan. “Nicky?”  

The young woman held up a folded cloth that reeked of chemicals. At his nod, she set off around the corner towards the main entrance to Mr. Turner’s establishment. There was  but  one man out there, half-dozing on a chair.  

Dr. Fletcher is going to kill us if he finds Lizzie has been nicking chloroform , Jacob thought. Still, he had wanted to give Nicky an edge in dealing with the brute at the door. He turned back to Dan and Mikey.  

“Once I am in there,” he said quietly, “No one leaves that yard. Especially a blonde dandy from the second floor.”  

Both men nodded. Dan walked off to find an entrance into the inner courtyard that did not involve climbing down. Dan could still not descend very quietly, and the rope launchers could not be used for abseiling down a wall.  Jacob  would have to talk to Clara about that option. But first,  after several days of talking it over,  an end to Mr. Turner was due.  

Jacob and Mikey launched themselves over the rooftop and quietly descended into the small inner courtyard. The back entrance to Mr. Turner’s building was locked and the place quiet. Once Dan had joined them, Jacob repeated the last instructions.  

“No guns. Keep it quiet.”  

They both nodded. Jacob gave the lower floor a quick glance. The figure at the front door, on the other side of the building, was now slumped in the chair, and a smaller shape –  well done, Nicky –  was hovering nearby, keeping an eye on the door. Some unfortunate was sleeping on a park bench across the road, and that was all.  

A single guard sat in the otherwise empty billiards room.  Good spot you picked , Jacob commended him silently. The man was sitting in the corner, back to the wall and commanding the view of all entrances.   

Leaving Mikey and Dan to watch the building, Jacob quietly opened the back door. A small corridor with a door at the end led to the billiards room.   

A smoke bomb would have made it so easy, but it would  have looked  too much like a fire. Jacob snuck to the end of the corridor and crouched by the door. He rattled the handle for just enough noise.  

The guard in the corner turned, but did not move.  

Damn, he’s good .  

Nothing for it, it would have to be a short, sharp and above all quiet fight. Jacob stood up and spun himself around the doorframe, landing  far  enough  into  the  room  to leap at  the man  in the next second.  

The man looked straight at him. Jacob stopped as though he hit an invisible wall  

“I was hoping I’d run into you again, sir,” a deadpan, leaden voice said. It confirmed what Jacob’s eyes refused to believe.  

“Lewis,” he mouthed, still frozen on the spot.   

A hefty knife appeared in Lewis’s hand.  Out  of sheer habit, Jacob threw himself out of the way.  

His head connected quite painfully with a hard edge, but the blood pouring out of the small cut was the lesser worry.  

Too slow, too slow -  

He had moved fast enough for the knife to miss his neck, but the blade cut cleanly through his clothes, sinking into his upper arm almost to the hilt. The blood from the cut on his forehead almost blinded him in one eye.  Jacob rolled onto his back. He  pressed his uninjured hand against the floor, gritting his teeth. His right arm was going numb. He heard Lewis close the door and lock it.  

Stand up, you idiot. Lewis will tear Mikey into strips. Stand up.  

Lewis was approaching him, a second knife at the ready. Jacob saw the burn scars, like melted wax, on the man’s neck.  

You got out. I got out.  

A strange tingling was spreading through his wounded arm, making his fingers twitch. He slumped back on the floor. Lewis knelt next to him.  

Now you have the same scar, almost the same,  Jacob thought.  

“I do regret having to kill you quickly, Mr. Frye,” Lewis said calmly.  

The numbness was spreading up to Jacob’s shoulder now. Unable to take his eye off Lewis’s scar, he nodded.  

“Fair enough,” he whispered.  

Go ahead. It’s only fair.  

A door handle was rattling somewhere, and each sound dragged out and deepened in his hearing. Lewis raised the knife and stopped. For a moment, he did not move.  

Perhaps that is it,  Jacob thought. The last moment, frozen and extended, until the white mists appeared.  

No more nightmares he thought with relief .  

Lewis’s frozen form was now falling away, to the side, its grip on the knife weakening. Jacob realised the man was falling over. An oddly shaped piece of sharp metal was lodged under Lewis’s jaw bone.  

Lewis’s body hit the floor next to Jacob.   

I can’t move. My chest hurts.  

“Mikey!” Jacob shouted, but all that came out was a whisper.   

A door slammed next to him –  I said to keep it quiet -  and the slamming sounded like thunder. Hurried, hushed voices sounded all around. To his relief, he heard Mikey from a distance.  

“I thought you were gone!”  

I thought he was gone, too,  Jacob concurred.  Who would have thought Mikey knew Lewis?  

More doors opened, and there were footsteps on the stairs, each one sounding like a hammer blow.  

“Don’t touch that knife,” someone was saying.  

Yes, that’s good. Father always told me never to rip a weapon out of a stab wound. Evie will know what to do.  

Someone was picking him up and urging him to walk.  

“That’s it, Mr. Frye. One foot in front of the other.”  

I know how to do that,  he argued back, but could not hear his own voice. He let the strong hands – how many of them were there? - guide him and carry him somewhere.  

Behind him, over an immeasurable distance, he heard a gunshot. It was as loud as the Big Ben.  

“I said no guns,” he whimpered, but nobody minded him. Walking felt very confusing. He let his knees sag and gave himself over to the flock of helpful arms.  

***  

In a way, it was a lot more relaxing when she did not know what Jacob was up to, Evie thought grumpily. For one thing, she would  now  not  allow  herself  to  sleep. For another  thing , and this annoyed her more, precious time with Henry was being wasted when they had the train all to  themselves.  She did not dare make herself more comfortable.  

Perhaps there are some advantage to dresses , she thought regretfully, kissing Henry again. She would have to be content with that for the moment. Her frustration, however, only increased when Henry gently slid her off his lap to sit next to him.  

“You’re tense,” he said.  

“A lot on my mind,” Evie sighed.  

“I told you we would miss the quiet domesticity,” Henry pointed out. “What in particular is bothering you?”  

“Tracking the opium shipments,” she grumbled.  

Henry made himself as comfortable as possible on the weathered sofa.  

“You spoke to Ned,” he said. “He will take care of it. Just give him time.”  

“I wish I could get into that club,” Evie grumbled on. “If only Jacob weren’t so useless.”  

Henry spread his arms out apologetically.   

“Jacob is of the entirely wrong demeanor,” he said. “And I am of the entirely wrong colour.”   

“And I cannot pass for a man even with the help of Ned’s tailor,” Evie concluded.  

It had been funny, she had to admit. Ned’s reaction to the mention of a gentleman’s club was a hearty laugh. Very boring places, he had said in that lovely American drawl. That’s not how he was used to running business deals. Half-jokingly, with that impish sparkle in his eyes, he had flicked out yet another card and handed it to Evie.  

“For when you or Mr. Green need a decent suit of clothes,” he had said. “Just don’t tell your brother about it. He’d never leave.”  

Evie had pointed out that Jacob had the fashion sense of a bollard. Ned had disagreed.  

“He’s a dandy, alright. Just an uninformed one.”  

Now Evie  was turning  the card over in her fingers, admiring Ned’s insights, but still not hopeful. More thinking was required. She sighed and turned to Henry again.  

“What was that phrase you taught me the other day?” she purred, running her hand through his hair.  

The desired quote never reached her lips. They were both thrown off the sofa as the train came to a sudden stop with a hellish screech. Evie picked herself off the floor.  

Whoever was at the engine was cussing a  storm , calling someone else a fucking Irish idiot. Another voice –  Mikey?  - was yelling equally loudly, but more politely.  

“Miss Evie! Miss Frye!”  

Moments later, Mikey barged into the train carriage.  

“Miss Evie, come quick! Jacob’s been hurt,” he panted.  

Evie grabbed her gauntlet off the desk unthinkingly.  

“Where is he?” she yelled back.  

“Come with me,” Mikey managed and ran back out.  

She turned to Henry.  

“Wait for me at the shop,” she said. She set off after Mikey, her feet pounding on the iron steps, then on the gravel of the tracks. They kept the pace with her quickening heartbeat.  

Catch up to Mikey. Don’t panic. Breathe. Breathe.  

Without stopping, she raised her arm, fired the rope and slid off the tracks onto the nearest roof. Mikey was already there.  

“Where is he?” she repeated as they slid from one chimney to another.  

“At Miss Devine’s,” he called back. “We sent Nicky to Dr. Fletcher’s and Dan managed to - “  

Evie grabbed at Mikey just as the young man lost his footing.  

“Stop,” she said, both to him and to herself. “We won’t get there if you break your legs. Let’s get down.”  

The quiet descent gave her time to collect herself and figure out where they were. The streets were still reasonably empty. A coach rattled past. That would be faster.  

Grimacing apologetically, Evie leapt onto the driver’s seat and grabbed the reins.  

“I am so very sorry,” she said to the shocked coachman and gently pushed him off, leaving Mikey to manhandle the poor man out of the way.  

“What the hell happened?” she shouted to Mikey once they were underway. The coach slid on the ice and she righted it, pulling on the reins like mad.  

Mikey finally got some breath back.  

“I’m not sure,” he panted. “One moment, we were waiting for Mr. Frye to signal us, after he went into the Turner place, and then he didn’t, so Dan and I went in, but I wouldn’t let him break down the door, as Mr. Frye said to keep it quiet, and - “  

Evie lost what little patience remained.  

“For god’s sake, Mikey, is he alive?” she screamed.  

“Yes!” Mikey squealed back. “It’s just his arm, but he went all funny from it.”  

“What do you mean, funny?”  

“He’s not talking sense,” Mikey explained earnestly. Evie let that one slide for the moment.  

“What about Turner?” she asked.  

“Oh, he’s dead,” Mikey confirmed happily. “She got him straight in the face.”  

Between the rattling of the coach, thoughts about her injured brother and Mikey’s incomprehensible tale, Evie decided to concentrate on driving. He was alive, Turner was dead, and the rest would have to wait.  

What did you do this time, you idiot , she wondered, very glad in the knowledge that she would be able to ask him the question.  

They scrambled to a halt next to Clara’s building. The back door was open and Clara’s door unlocked. Evie stepped in, almost tripping over a pile of bloodied clothes. She looked up into the familiar face of Dr. Fletcher.  

The elderly man looked quite calm, and she breathed out, closing her eyes.  

“Where is he?” she asked.   

Dr. Fletcher patted her on the shoulder. She smelled the strong scent of soap and disinfectant mixed with a whiff of pipe smoke.  

“It the other room,  young lady,  and, with any luck, asleep,” Dr. Fletcher said. “The injury is not too dangerous, considering what I’ve seen from the two of you...”  

Evie didn’t like the way his voice trailed off.   

“But?” she prompted nervously.  

Dr. Fletcher turned around and picked up a knife from Clara’s desk.   

“It was a clean cut, easy to stitch,” he explained. “But this, this thing ...”  he pointed to the hilt with the stem of his pipe. Evie saw a curious accretion where the blade met the hilt.  

“Poison?” she  asked .  

Dr. Fletcher shrugged. “Could be.  His arm has gone numb. On the other hand, it did save him from too much pain when I removed the knife and stitched him up.”  

He patted Evie on the shoulder again encouragingly.  

“Don’t be  too worried,  young lady.  He’s as healthy as a horse and as strong as an ox. He’ll scrub it out. But between whatever this thing was and the whack on the head he took, he’s not thinking very clearly.”  

“Can I see him?”  

Dr. Fletcher sighed. “I gave him  some  laudanum to shut him up, so don’t expect much talk,”.  

Evie shook her head at seeing Dan Malley’s face poke out from what was now a sickroom. His clothes were spattered with blood.  

“He’s simmered down, doctor,” Malley said. “Oh, you made it, Miss Frye. Bit of a shambles, this.”  

Evie stepped into the room quietly. They did take good care of him, she thought gratefully. Jacob did not look too bad, if pale and glistening with sweat. The  wound  on the arm was bound, the cut on his forehead cleaned. His breathing was even, except that every now and then he would murmur something.  

Evie sat down on the bed and leaned over him, gently stroking his hair.  

“You’ll be fine,” she whispered. “You’ll be fine.”  

Jacob was mumbling an apology , in the slurred voice of someone talking in their sleep.  

“Hush,” she  said.  “It can wait.”  

Just surprised ,” he said slowly, and she realised he was not hearing her.  “Forgot  about  him after  that last  letter...”  

His voice tapered off.  

Never mind  the letters now,” she whispered. “Go to sleep.”  

Not more bloody letters,  she thought.  And what letter was this?  

Evie stood up and marched into the parlour.  

“Where’s Clara?” she asked.  

Mikey breathed out a long-awaited puff of smoke.   

“Gone to get med’cine,” he said, leaning against the wall.  

Dr. Fletcher looked up from the armchair.  

“The young lady who lives here?” he said. “She and Nicky volunteered to get some more supplies from my office. He should stay here for a day or two until his head clears.” He gave Evie a sympathetic look.  “Young lady , do sit down.”  

Evie slumped gratefully into the other armchair.  

“Dan, Mikey,” she said as calmly as she could. “Could you start at the beginning, please?”  

Thankfully, Dan could tell a more cogent tale than Mikey, who nonetheless interrupted at every opportunity. The events were slowly arranged in a chronological order.  

Dan and Mikey, under instructions to watch the back door, had decided to wait outside. They heard a crash and came closer, but still waited before opening the inner door. But then they heard the front door slam open, and Nicky  was shouting.  

Evie tried to picture the scene in her head. They had seen Jacob, flat on the floor and bleeding. Next to him lay the corpse of whoever had the bad luck to be the inside guard, a well-dressed man with a scarred face.  

“That’s where you could have knocked me over with a feather,” Mikey butted in. “When I saw our Miss Devine standing in the door.”  

“What was she doing there?” Evie asked.  

“No idea, Miss Evie. I thought she was long gone from London,” Mikey offered. “But there she was - “  

Dan put a gentle but heavy hand on the younger man’s shoulder.  

“I had no idea who she was, but Mikey did,” he explained. “We thought we should see to Mr. Frye first. She just looked at him and  said to bring him here.”  

“How’d she know  anything  is beyond me,” Mikey waved his second cigarette about, narrowly missing Dan’s face. “She just said where to take him,  Mr. Frye , that is, and marched off up the stairs.”  

“But she came back?” Evie asked. It was Dan who nodded.  

“We were slow to make our way to here, what with Mr. Frye barely able to walk,” he said. “We did get a second wind when we heard the gunshot from Turner’s place, and then she caught up to us, and brought us here.”  

Evie added up the incidents in her head.  

“How do you know Turner is dead, then?” she asked.  

“The young lady said do,” Dan explained. Mikey nodded happily.  

Mr.  Frye had said no guns, but I guess he didn’t tell her,” he grinned.  

Evie’s head was starting to hurt both from the smoke and the still incomplete story. The door opened, letting in Clara, dressed in a man’s clothes, and Nicky with a box piled with medical supplies.  

While Dr. Fletcher examined the contents of the box, Clara turned to Mikey.  

“How did it go?” she asked.  

“He’ll be fine,” Mikey grinned. “We made it in good time.”  

“Silver lining,” Clara muttered and held her hand out to Mikey. He obliged, going as far to light the cigarette he put in her hand. Clara took a long drag and stumbled towards the armchair, almost sitting down on Evie. There were dark blood stains on the washed-out suit she was wearing.  

“Mikey found you,” Clara said with evident relief. Evie let the other woman sit down.  

“Dr. Fletcher, did we get everything?” Clara murmured, breathing out smoke.  

“You have indeed,  young lady.  Let me look in on him once more,” he said to Evie. “And then I’ll be back later tomorrow.” He glanced at the clock on the wall and corrected himself. “Later today,  as it were.  I suggest you all get some rest, and keep it quiet.”  

“I’ll come by with something clean,” Dan offered. He shook Mikey roughly. “We’re leaving now.”  

Clara stood up.  

“Thank you,” she muttered. “Do try to get some sleep .”  

“I’ll be staying,” Evie said. “Can one of you stop by Mr. Green’s and let him know what’s happened?”  

The Rooks and Dr. Fletcher filed out, Mikey still gabbling. Clara collapsed back into the armchair.  

“Fuck,” Clara muttered, closing her eyes. Evie adjusted the other armchair so she could still see Jacob in the other room.  

“Agreed,” Evie said in what she hoped was a patient tone of voice. “What in the world happened?”  

Clara flicked the end of the cigarette into the fireplace. “I’m not sure where to start,” she said tiredly.  

“Start by telling me how Jacob talked you into this mess,” Evie suggested.  

“He didn’t,” Clara replied. “I had kept an eye on the place.”  

“Then why did you get involved?”  

For a moment, there was no response.  

“I was being half the woman my mother was,” Clara said at last. “I was determined to stay out if it until I saw that man leaning over Jacob with a knife in his hand.”  

“You barged in through the front door,” Evie guessed.  Much like Jacob,  she added to herself. Clara nodded.  

“You’re lucky Mikey recognised you,” Evie continued.  

“I was lucky Miss Nicky didn’t brain me with that cosh of hers,” Clara added.  

Something was still missing. The way Jacob had described Turner, even allowing for some male bravado, she could not see that rat getting the drop on her brother. She said as much to Clara, who shook her head.  

“That was not Turner , whoever it was.   Turner was in his own rooms upstairs,” she said.  

“But Mikey assures me that Turner is dead,” Evie persisted.   

“He is,”  Clara  said with deathly seriousness. Evie stared at her.  

“How did you do it?” she said at last.  

Clara reached into the coat pocket and put her gun on the table.  

“I walked up the stairs to what we suspected were  Turner's  rooms,” she said slowly, not looking at Evie. “I knocked on the door until he opened it. The others would have made it out by then, I figured.”  

She tapped the handle of the gun.  

“At that distance, as you can well imagine, one shot is quite enough,” she concluded in a flat voice. “Mr. Turner is quite, quite dead.”  

“What happened to the girls?”  

“I’m afraid I have no idea,” Clara said. “I ran off to catch up to others.”  

“And that guard?”  

“Dead as well,” Clara said.  “That  part of the story will have to wait until Jacob has woken up.”  

With that, she stood up and pulled at the armchair.  

“Could you help me get this into the bedroom? With a few pillows, you’ll find it quite comfortable.  Otherwise, make  yourself at home.”  

“What will you do?” Evie asked quietly once they had placed the armchair by the bedside.  

“The rug should be comfortable enough for a night or two,” Clara whispered back.   

Evie looked at the sleeping shape on Clara’s bed.  Further questions  would  indeed  have to wait.   

Thank  you,” she said to Clara, hugging her tightly.  

Clara smiled tiredly.  

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said and left, closing the door quietly.  

Evie stretched out in the armchair, her feet resting on the edge of the bed. Perhaps it was safe enough for a quick nap. She had always been the lighter sleeper, anyway.  

“Should have  trained for  a nurse,” she muttered, sinking back into the pillow. “That’s what you two idiots need.”  

***  

There had been so much noise everywhere. People kept telling him what to do and what not to do. Don’t fall over, mind the step, don’t move, don’t worry, don’t fret, keep still. Jacob finally gave up trying to make sense of it all.  

His vision was still blurry, but he was pretty sure they were in an apartment, and that the place was familiar. Were they at Clara’s? That did not make much sense. He wished the fussing hands would leave him alone.  

They finally did, and they let him lie down. Doors kept opening and closing, but all he could see was the ceiling above him. It really hurt to move his head.  The injured arm was shifting between an odd numbness and a burning pain.  

Someone gave him a drink of water, and he drank it, and it tasted a little strange, but the coolness of the water was glorious.  Then s omeone was poking and prodding at his arm.  

What ‘bout  Turner?” Jacob mumbled.  

“And how would you expect me to know that, young man?” a  voice  replied. “Having been dragged out of bed at four in the morning.”  

The voice was gruff, but calm and familiar. Jacob tried to find a name to go with the voice.  

Dr. Fletcher. No one else calls me ‘young man’ to my face.  

“You certainly outdid yourself this time,” the voice continued. “As did the fellow who threw this knife.”  

“Was too slow,” Jacob muttered, closing his eyes.   

“I daresay you were. This looks like two more scars for your ever-expanding collection.”  

“S’not my fault,” Jacob argued. “Max always said Lewis was an odd fi –  ah, fucking hell!  

He could definitely feel his arm now. It was a straight, red line of agony. He ground his teeth together until the pain faded  a little.  

“Language, young man. That was the worst of it, anyway.”  

“Wasn’t,” Jacob managed. His tongue felt leaden. “Thought he was dead. Is he dead now?”  

There was no response, only an uncomfortable feeling of someone sticking needles into his arm.  

“Should tell Evie I'm sorry,” he tried again. The planks on the ceiling swam in and out of focus, turning into strange shapes and colours when he closed his eyes.  

“You can tell her yourself, young man, but later. All you are going to do now is go to sleep, I hope.”  

The next voice was familiar. He thought it was Evie, but he could not quite see her. If it was her ,   he was in trouble .  

“You’ll be fine,” the voice was saying.  

He tried to explain that it  could not  be fine, but the voice wasn’t having any of that.  

“It can wait,” it said, hushing him. He tried to explain that he had completely forgotten about Lewis since that last letter  from Max .  

“Never mind the letters now,” the voice whispered. “Go to sleep.”  

The last words dragged out, he could almost feel them rolling around in his head. There had only been two letters, anyway, he wanted to say. He was sure he had burnt them both, but did he? He could not bring himself to throw the little bird into the fire.  

Why not, he wondered now, it was dead anyway. The letters were dead too. His arm was dead. Maybe he was dead as well . If  he was, it  had been  a fool’s bargain, because he could still remember and it still hurt . Perhaps  Lewis was dead now too, or maybe it was just him, or maybe it was just the bird...  

Nothing more, he  would  have sworn to anyone  listening , just two  pieces of  paper in spidery handwriting, and the red glow in between  them.  

Max…  

Chapter Text

The first letter Jacob received from Maxwell Roth  caused much curiosity, his as well as Evie’s. Jacob could barely resist waving it under his sister’s nose. She had been climbing towers and crawling through sewers, mostly getting bruised for her efforts. His efforts, on the other hand, had been noticed.  

By that time, the off-handed lying to Evie had become second nature. She nagged as much as Father used to, and Jacob responded accordingly. Of course he would not accept a dinner invitation from the man who ran Blighters, he assured her. That done, he set off happily towards the majestic building in the Leicester Square.  

Now, lying in an uncomfortable daze that left him too weak to move but too irritated to truly sleep, he saw himself as the little country boy from Crawley, admitted into the majesty that was London.  

I don’t think I’d ever seen a stage larger than the back of a pub before coming to London,  he admitted to himself.  Or heard such music, or seen people dance with such abandon.  

The inside of the Alhambra was a symphony in crimson and gold. The place smelled of wood, oil, makeup and paint. Beyond the back stage cluttered with sparkling costumes and dusty cloths, the gilded balconies rose to the painted cupola, majestic even in dim light.  

And then there was Max.  

Majestic would not even begin to describe the wiry figure bursting with sheer joy of being alive. Jacob had not been complimented as much in his entire life as he had been in those first few minutes in Max’s company.  

Of course, it wasn’t ‘Max’ back then , he thought sadly.  I called him Roth.  

Yet, even on muzzy, laudanum-addled reflection, it still sounded so natural when Maxwell used Jacob’s first name.  

That had been a bloody entertaining night. Instead of being told   off for blowing  things up, he was explicitly encouraged to do so. The fireworks at St. Pancras station went on for while after Jacob had left on the commandeered train.  

And afterwards, having gallantly relinquished the train to Maxwell and his foot soldiers, he had made his way back ‘home’, whistling all the while and feeling inexplicably happy.  

How long did I wait before I visited the Alhambra again , he wondered. It cannot have been too long. He thought of little else in the following days.  

Although used to the thespian clutter that covered everything, he was still surprised to see the little bird in the cage. He ascribed both the bird and Maxwell’s admiration for it to the man’s delightfully eccentric nature. That nature was further confirmed when Maxwell’s conversation somehow ranged across the nature of freedom, the purpose of creation, the training of Blighters to expounding the delights of the National Gallery. Jacob did feel somewhat left in the dust.  

“The late bank governor Twopenny had quite an impressive art collection,” Jacob had interjected. “Or so I’ve heard.”  

“That unimaginative bastard!” Max said in despair. “He could see the value in nothing but money!”  

That made Jacob smile, at least until he remembered how his ambush for Twopenny had played out.  

“I wonder what became of that collection,” Max mused sadly. “Some of those artworks won’t see the light of day again.”  

Jacob remembered the sound of the kukri ripping through the canvas. He kept his mouth firmly shut for a while, until the conversation had swung back to business at hand.  

Hunting down the people he would have never found on his own was akin to being on holiday, especially without Evie’s priggish comments. Maxwell could talk endlessly, calling him ‘my dear’, but never interrupting when Jacob spoke. The night’s work done, Jacob gladly followed him back to the Alhambra.  

“No shows on tonight,” he commented. Maxwell shook his head.  

“We’ve provided tonight’s entertainment ourselves, haven’t we, my dear?”  

“I’ve always wondered what happens after a show,” Jacob said, hoping his tone painted him as a seasoned theatre goer.  

“Well, it is quite customary to have a drink,” Max said, grabbing a bottle from an old armoire that now served as a drinks cabinet. Jacob eyed the unfamiliar label suspiciously. He became even more curious at the dark amber colour and the strangely smoky smell of the liquor.  

“Bourbon, my dear! One of the most refined things to come out of the Great Plains!”  

The smell was heady, the flavour divine. Jacob almost smacked his lips as Maxwell refilled his glass.  

What did we talk about? Bourbon? The Americas?  

They must have been on their fourth glass when Jacob decided he was feeling a little unsteady. If Maxwell   was affected by the delicious American spirit, it did not show at all. The man could probably sink a galleon, Jacob thought admiringly. He put his own glass down very carefully.  

“I am feeling a little peckish,” he said.  

“Naturally,” Maxwell replied. “That’s why they call it an  apperitif .” He turned in his seat.  

“Lewis!”  

Not long after Lewis received his instructions, a well-cooked chicken appeared from somewhere. Slicing it up turned into a rather tasty competition between the two men equally adept at knifework. Eventually, Jacob got up to leave, but very regretfully.  

Maxwell saw him to the back door, reminding him to stop by again before too long. Jacob nodded, tipping his hat, and Maxwell gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder.  

The informal, friendly touch sent a jolt through Jacob’s chest, much like one of those voltaic trinkets that Aleck Bell had supplied him with. His heart danced in his throat as he walked away from the building, and his neck was burning under the upturned collar. He ascribed it to bourbon.  

In the weeks to come, he learned that Maxwell rarely drank heavily, and never anything cheap. Jacob came to admire the man’s ability to climb like a lizard, despite his slight frame. Even a hearty dinner and a solid bottle of Bordeaux would not slow him down, and the only thing he had trouble doing was keeping still.  

One evening, drinking wine out of a prop  brass  goblet, Jacob enjoyed the spectacle of  Maxwell  walking around the stage, pointing out the details in the balconies.   

“It’s a dream palace,” Jacob agreed.  

“Rubbish, my dear!” Maxwell shouted. “It is nothing, a cheap trinket in comparison to the real Alhambra!”  

“Where is that?” Jacob asked, taking another sip of his drink.  

“In Spain, Jacob, in Spain! Andalusia!”  

“Ever been there?” Jacob asked conversationally.  

“I wish, darling, I wish!”  

At the word ‘darling’, Jacob felt that little  jolt  again, not at all unpleasant. This time, however, he could not blame it on distilled spirits.  

“It is a marvel of Moorish architecture, gardens and arabesques, pillars and springs, surrounded by the scent of herbs sweating in the Mediterranean sun. Can you imagine that, Jacob, my dear?”  

His eyes were glowing in the dim lights. Jacob shook his head, partly in response and partly in admiration.  

“It’s not so bad here, either,” he offered meekly.  

“Cooped up in here? Let’s at least get what pitiful sights we may out of this place.”  

Maxwell sprung towards the door and Jacob followed him, his drink forgotten. In a moment they were standing by the back entrance, looking up at the cupola with its miniature tower and the small circular balcony around it.  

“What a pathetic copy,” Maxwell sighed. “But the view can compensate.”  

They scrambled up the wall of the building, hand over hand and ledge over ledge. Jacob joined Maxwell at the railing under the tower.  

The lights of London spread out underneath them in the summer night. Jacob looked around from Nelson’s column on one side to the imposing cupola of St Paul’s cathedral on the other.  

“Not too bad, is it, Max?” he said happily.  

Maxwell Roth was looking at him strangely.  

“Max,” he repeated, not taking his eyes off Jacob. “I like the sound of that.”  

Jacob shrugged, smiling, and tilted his head towards Max. With that movement, the time changed pace, slowing down, and his eyes grew wide as Max leaned in towards him.  

It took a moment, perhaps a few moments, for Jacob to realise that they were kissing. By the time he had realised it and the shock had washed over him, he no longer wanted to stop. When they finally separated, Max was shaking his head at him in disbelief, as though admiring an exquisite work of art.  

“Beautiful,” was the only thing he said, his long fingers tracing the contours of Jacob’s face.  

Jacob could not think of an answer to that, other than to kiss him again.  

***  

I thought I was going to die. I thought my heart would explode.  

There was light in the room now, the pale winter light seeping through the cracks in the curtain. Cups were clattering somewhere and the room smelled of disinfectant.  

Jacob’s arm hurt badly and his forehead tingled. He tried to roll onto his good side. Someone took hold of him gently and tried to stop him. He closed his eyes against the light, groaning in discomfort.  

“Can’t let him toss around like that,” someone said. “He’ll rip the stitches.”  

“Thank you for your confidence in my handiwork, young man,” someone else said icily. “But we do need him to keep still if I’m to have a good look.”  

“Get off me,” Jacob muttered. The cold hands and the light would not let him think clearly.   

“Young lady, would you close the curtains? He is still sensitive to the light.”  

Maybe I’m in a hospital,  Jacob thought. The itching on his forehead was now joined by a headache. He resolutely kept his eyes shut. The voices  became quieter , but he could still hear them.  

“How many drops is that?”  

“Same as last night, my dear. Use the same glass if you are not sure.”  

“More laudanum? But what if there is infection?”  

“Then he’ll suffer some more iodine and this will help him sleep it off. Thank you. Now, kindly get out and take nurse Malley with you, and let me do my job.”  

Jacob carefully opened his eyes. The room was dark and quiet once again. He gratefully downed the glass of water someone held up for him.  

“Now, try not to move or jilt, young man. I can’t take punches like you can.”  

There was some pain and squeezing, but at least they left him alone with his thoughts. People were hawking their wares in the street below. Carriages rattled past, coming closer and disappearing. The sound was soothing, despite the argumentative cries of the coachmen. He tried to blink, but his eyelids felt too heavy. He listened to the distant clatter and thought of soft velvet seats.  

***  

It took him a few days to return to the Alhambra. In fact, it took several days of nervously walking around the neighbourhood, approaching the building and walking off again. When he finally screwed up enough courage to try the back door, it was Max that opened it.  

“Jacob,” he said. “I was hoping you would be back.”  

And that was it, to Jacob’s enormous relief. They went back to work, if such a fun pastime as irritating Starrick could be given such a dull name. While they were out and about, a sudden change in the wind brought on an unusually cold downpour. Jacob gratefully accepted the chance to wait it out inside Max’s carriage.  

The carriage was spacious enough as carriages went, but to Jacob it felt worryingly small. He took off his hat, leaned back and went to the safest conversation topic known in England.  

“London weather,” he commented as he settled down, closing his eyes in mock despair. “What can you do?”  

“You want to talk about the weather, my dear?” the rasping voice said in his ear.  

“Not really,” Jacob had to admit. He felt Max’s hand on his chest and grasped it, turning his head slightly, mouth half open. He was trembling all over.  

“Thank god for the rain,” Max whispered and kissed him.  

The long fingers ran lovingly over his chest.  How does any of this work , Jacob wondered for a moment. But if he was puzzled, his body was not. He almost slid off the seat trying to press closer against Max. Max’s fingers were all over his chest, his shoulders, his waist. Jacob whimpered through gritted teeth.  

“You are beyond gorgeous,” Max was saying. The raspy voice dropped even deeper. “You are glorious, my dear Jacob.”  

They wrapped around each other almost clumsily, or so it felt to Jacob. Eyes still shut, he ran his hands over Max’s face and down his neck.   

They faced each other. Jacob stared into Max’s glowing eyes.  

“I don’t know -” he whispered helplessly, not sure how to continue.  

“You do, darling. And there’s nothing to know.”  

Max sat back, one hand resting on Jacob’s knee.  

“I’ll drive us back,” he said.  

Jacob nodded, quite relieved he did not have to stand up. Perhaps he would figure something out, on his own, as Max drove back towards the music hall.  

By the time the coach had stopped, Jacob was no closer to any clarity. He managed to leave the coach without stumbling, and got as far as the back door to the Alhambra without a clue  as to  what he would do next.  

Max was standing in the doorway, not saying a word. He did smile and take a step back, his arms falling to his sides. Jacob glanced from the door to the wide open street only a few yards away.  

“Oh, bloody hell,” he breathed. He stepped into the hall, slamming the door shut  behind him .  

***  

No one could dance like Max. The man combined the quickness of an experienced boxer with a great sense of rhythm. Jacob found this out in the oddest possible way.  

The night had found them running across a rooftop, and he could not remember why or where. Jacob stopped once he realised Max was not following him.  

“Something wrong?” he called back.  

Max was standing on the rooftop, tapping his foot to a tune that was coming from somewhere inside the building.  

“Music, my dear! Can’t you hear it?”  

Jacob could hear it just fine. He walked back to where Max was standing, arms spread out and grinning happily at the world.  

“Let’s dance, darling,” Max said.  

It must have been the oddest jig in the world, a dance between two adept partners who were both used to leading. Jacob could barely stop himself from laughing. The inattention cost him the lead and he ended up with his back against a chimney stack.   

“Now, that’s a dance,” Max said, his eyes glowing. Jacob jolted at the unexpected kiss.  

“What’s the problem, my dear?”  

“That we are outside?” Jacob ventured.  

“So what? Nothing wrong with a kiss.”  

Jacob had to admit that the rooftop was hardly a crowded place. Nonetheless, he managed to mumble that someone could see them.  

“So what if they do?”  

“You crazy bastard,” Jacob said weakly, and gave in.  

***  

Not all dances took place on rooftops. Jacob remembered showing up at the Alhambra with a performance already underway. He was leaning on the balcony rail, enjoying the musical number, when Max showed up at his side. Jacob could not understand how the man found him in the crowd.  

“Enjoying the show, my dear?”  

“Of course.”  

The compliment didn’t help. Max wanted to disappear before he got smothered with comments and requests for help, and other boring matters. Besides, he explained, they could still hear the music from one of the back rooms.  

And this particular room had enough space for a dance, despite most of it being taken up with a rather impressive four-poster bed.  

I tried to pirouette, and I was not even drunk , Jacob recalled.  I was flying.  

He ended up falling backwards on the large bed, unable to stop giggling. In a blink, Max was there to stop him from getting up.  

Jacob knew that he could still remember every detail of that night, but he could never describe it. The touches that were familiar were somehow more elating, and the hitherto unfamiliar ones left him breathless. Over and above them was the stream of words, adoring, unceasing words.  

In Jacob’s world, lovemaking had always been a furtive and quiet affair, whether from prudence or from prudery. But Max would not shut up.  

“I adore you,” he would say, gazing at whatever part of Jacob’s body his hands were landing on. And Jacob savoured every syllable, and the night went on long after the music had stopped and the building returned to silence.  

He got up in the middle of the night on shaky legs, hoping to find a drink. From habit, he wrapped a bedsheet around his waist. Even that motion elicited an immediate comment.  

“Why bother, darling? You’re too marvellous to cover up.”  

Jacob must have made a face of shocked prudery at that.  

“There is no one here but the two of us, and frankly, looking at you is a rare pleasure.”  

There was no fireplace or stove in that room, but Jacob flushed all over as if he’s been standing next to one.  

I thought I would burn to a cinder , he remembered muzzily.  But I did not.   

When did the chill first set in? Certainly not that night. But perhaps he felt the first tendrils on the morning after.  

He had overslept. By the time he made his way to the backstage of the theatre, Max was already deep in the day’s work, yelling his head off at someone.  

“And tell them not to come back! I’m done with them!” he was shouting at someone at the door, slamming his fist on the table for emphasis. The cage with the little bird shook, sending its occupant into a fluttery panic. Jacob steadied the cage and poked his finger at the little bird inside.  

“Bad review?” he asked.  

Max waved off his question.  

“Rubbish, my dear. Two musicians I sent off came back asking for more work.”  

“Where they that bad?” Jacob grimaced.  

“Oh, no. But I got bored of them, so I sent them on their way.”  

Jacob paused for a moment, not quite sure he understood.  

“You fired them because you were bored?”  

“Dullness and boredom are the slow death of our divine spark,” Max said. “You know that.”  

“Hope you don’t grow bored of me, then,” Jacob said offhandedly.  

Max took Jacob’s chin in his hand. The rage was replaced by that admiring look.  

“How could I ever, darling?”  

***  

That had been the time he first felt the chill. It went away, and came back, and then trilled to a crescendo in that wooden box Lewis handed to him. The second and last letter had been stuck to what would turn out to be  little velvet-lined coffin. The baby bird rested inside it, its neck snapped.  

“Although our time together was brief, it's left a lasting mark,”  the spidery handwriting had said.  It turned out to be true,  Jacob thought wearily. Max never lied.  

There were now alleyways in London Jacob would never willingly set foot into again, crammed as they were with the once thrilling memories. There were shortcuts among roofs and chimneys he avoided at all costs. There were words he never wanted to hear again. There were caresses he missed, but avoided for the painful stabs of guilt they now caused.  

There was not a  single  fake gilt leaf that the fire did not consume.  

There were no letters left.  

There were even no more lies, not since he had told his sister that the stuffed feathery knicknack was found by accident at a random taxidermist’s shop.  

There was a chill, and the uncomfortable pulsing in his arm. When he tried to move it, it felt stiff and painful. The air on his face was fresh, but cold. The sheets over him felt uncomfortably clammy.  

Jacob opened his eyes, and kept them open. Ceiling, wall, door to the bathroom. A curtain swaying in the half-open window.  

He rubbed his face with his good hand and looked around, amazed that his eyes were staying open. He tried to turn his head and was pleasantly surprised to feel no pain.  

Clara was curled up in the armchair next to the bed. She raised her head off the back rest.  

“Good morning,” she said quietly. “How do you feel?”  

She looked rather like he felt, hair tousled and uncombed, her clothes crumpled and circles under her eyes.  

“I’ll live,” he managed to say after a few attempts. “How long have I been asleep?”  

Clara uncurled from the seat and passed him a glass of water.   

Almost two  days,” she said. “You did wake up briefly once or twice, when Dr. Fletcher changed your dressings, but he insisted we leave you to sleep.”  

Jacob upended the glass and let Clara take it from his good hand.  

“What happened?” he asked. “With Turner, I mean.”  

Clara settled back into the chair, wrapping her arms around her knees.  

“Once the man downstairs was dealt with, Mr. Malley and Mikey brought you here, and Miss Nicky ran to get Dr. Fletcher. You’ve been here ever since.”  

“Does Evie know?”  

“Of course. She should be back  shortly .”  

“And Turner?” Jacob asked quietly.  

Clara shrunk further into the armchair.  

“I suspected all hell was going to break loose anyway,” she said. “I went up the stairs and tried for  panicked knocking on his door.”  

Jacob felt there was something else he should ask, but his mind was still meandering between the sudden wakefulness and the vivid memories.  

“And?” he prompted.  

“He opened the door. I shot him.”   

That had been the gunshot that had rung out so agonisingly in his ears.  

“You think you killed him?” He was sure some other piece of the puzzle was missing.  

Clara nodded. “I did not stop to check, but the distance was small.”  

Jacob tried to recall the events of two nights ago. Annoyingly, they seemed murkier than the far more distant memories.  Questions  still  needed answering , but he could still not think straight.  

“Can I ask you something?” Clara said. He nodded.  

“What was the name of the man downstairs, the one who almost killed you?”  

Jacob grimaced. Clara’s fingers were making those twitching movements again.  

“Lewis,” he said finally. “Is he dead?”  

Clara covered her face with her hands and, leaning back, let out a huge sigh. Her hands fell back into her lap, the twitching gone.  

Gloria in excelsis Deo,”  she muttered.   

Jacob made himself move  his  injured arm. The pain proved he was awake, but it didn’t help make sense of Clara’s reaction.  

“Yes, he is dead,” Clara muttered, eyes still closed. “Oh, thank god.”  

“You sound... relieved?” Jacob offered cautiously.  

Clara looked straight at him.  

“You talked in your sleep this time,” she said.  

Of course. And now the trap’s snapped shut.  

"What did I say?” Jacob asked.  

“Not much that was intelligible,” Clara replied, almost smiling. “But you kept mentioning someone called Max.”  

Jacob wished his pounding heartbeat would make him faint, but that particular mercy was withheld.  

“And I thought,” Clara continued, her voice almost breaking. “I thought that was the man downstairs. The other one I killed.”  

It still made no sense. Jacob shook his head  and  motioned with his good arm. Clara walked around the bed and sat down next to him. He leaned on her shoulder, trying to sit up. The room swayed. He gripped Clara’s shoulder harder, squeezing his eyes shut.  

“No, you silly little fox,” he said. “I killed Max.”  

And then the tears finally came.  

Chapter Text

Every  time he remembered that particular morning, Jacob had to admit to himself that the shock of bursting into tears was almost as bad as the shock of running into Lewis had been. As if that had not been disturbing enough, the embarrassment of someone seeing him cry was  more  painful  than  the cut in his arm.  

He also thought that, if  there had been another person present in the room, they  would  have been shocked at Clara’s seemingly heartless reaction. She laid a hand on his shoulder and left it there, not  moving, not stroking, not even  giving him  a small, comforting pat. Not a word crossed her lips: neither to hush him,  nor  to ask any questions,  nor  to reassure him that all would be well.  

When she finally did open her mouth,  her voice was soft and warm, but  the words were unexpected.  

“Jacob, listen. Evie could be back any moment Would you like me to tell her you are still asleep?”  

Jacob nodded. As she stood up to leave, he grasped the hand that had rested on his shoulder  and  brushed his lips against it. Clara  reciprocated  his gesture before quietly leaving the room.  

Jacob leaned back into the pillows. The memories of the past three days slowly emerged as his head cleared.  

I almost let Lewis kill me , he thought, and immediately corrected himself.  

would have  let him kill me.  That sounded a lot more truthful.  

Jacob hoped such cruel introspection was a result of two days’ diet of water and laudanum and would not become a habit.  It  was  exhausting.  

Getting up was not as difficult as he thought it would be. After a few careful steps to reassure himself that he would not plant face first into the floorboards, he snuck into the bathroom. He was back in bed  by the time he heard Clara talking to Evie in the front room.  

“.. and he did wake up properly for a while. I’ve left him to rest, though. He may have dropped off again,” Clara was saying, voice slightly louder than necessary. Jacob had to smile. She really adored not lying.  

“I’ll just peek in,” Evie replied.  

Jacob tried to affix a suitably martyred look  to  his face. It was not much help against the sisterly insight. Evie took one look at him and grinned happily.  

“You look dreadful,” she  said cheerfully .  

I’m  happy  to see you too ,” he  replied.  “I understand that you kept watch at my side day and night.”  

And I really wish to know what you heard during that time, just to see if my day can get any worse.  

Evie shook her head.  

“Only for the first few hours, to make sure you were still alive. After that I needed to check on the mess you left behind.”  

Jacob sighed with relief.  

“How bad was it?” he asked nonchalantly.  

Evie sat down on the bed.  

“You’ve done worse. Two dead bodies, one of them Turner, four or five benighted young ladies and an almost equal number of well-moneyed gentlemen in a very uncomfortable situation,” she summarised. “Unfortunately, there was not a chance to go through any of Turner’s papers.”  

Jacob made a face.  

“Brothel keepers are, of course, known for keeping extensive records.” Giddy with relief, he could not resist another jibe. “Or did you think he had a piece of Eden stuffed in his mattress?”  

He made to get up and Evie pushed him back with more force than strictly necessary.  

“You might as well stay there. Dr. Fletcher wanted to check up on you one more time,” she informed him. “As for me, I’ve got my hands full with you lazing about.”  

“Evie Frye, the up-and-coming gang lord of central borroughs.”  

She picked up something off the floor.  A  clean pair of pants landed in Jacob’s lap.  

“Here. Clean clothes, for when you decide to stop mouldering in bed.”  

Evie headed for the door and gave him another smile.  

“Jacob Frye, what would you do if you didn’t have us women to clean up after you?” she said sweetly, ducking out the door before he could throw something at her with his good hand.  

Jacob heard his sister leave. The grin melted from his face. That was the easy part done with.  

Clara was leaning against the bedroom doorframe in one of those boyish stances.  

“I suppose that now I should ask if you are hungry, or if you need your pillows fluffed up,” she said  without  looking at him.  “And try to persuade you not to leave – not to leave the bed, I mean.”  

Jacob toyed with the  clothes  in his lap.  

“I suppose I could try standing up on my own,” he said.  

“I’ll be near should you need help.” She left him to get dressed.  

Once in the parlour, they faced each other in silence. It lengthened uncomfortably.  

I wish I was still drugged , Jacob thought wistfully.  Apparently, I talk without stopping for breath.  

“I don’t know what to say,”  he finally  muttered.  

Clara stared at the floor.  

“That is quite understandable,” she spoke without looking up. Her hand reached into her pocket and came out holding a key.  

“This was in the pocket of the coat you were wearing. I’m afraid the coat is done for. Dr. Fletcher insisted on cutting you out of it.”  

It was the key to her apartment, the same one that Evie and Henry had delivered to him.  

“I imagine you won’t be wanting it anymore ,” she said in that  flat,  dead voice.  

Jacob blinked at the key. From the moment he had woken up, the slight pain in his arm was competing with the much worse discomfort of the memory. To this was added the choking fear of questions that would inevitable be asked.   

Now the proffered key joined the ensemble, feeling much like a kick to the stomach.  

What did you think would happen, clever boy,  he said to himself. For once, he was the only voice in his own head.  Did you think she would keep sitting quietly at the foot of the bed while you call out for a dead lover?  

Clara kept staring at the floor, the key still in her hand.  

Or do you expect her to wait in a smoky room while you chase ghosts around London?  

Jacob sighed in resignation.  

She already has a place where Arabic gardens swelter in the Mediterranean sun. You can stay here, and dream of Max dying in your arms. With any luck, you won’t dodge the next knife.  

He cleared his throat.  

“If that is what you want,” he said at last.  

The key clattered onto the bench.  

“What  want?” Clara almost shouted.  

They were  now  facing  each other with matching expressions of utter confusion.  

“You told me to give you back the key,” Jacob said.  

“I thought you would not want it again,” Clara replied.  

“Why would I not want it?”  

“What do you mean?”  

“If you do not want to see me  again  -” Jacob began, only to be interrupted.  

“Why would I not want that?” Clara squealed.  

“I thought that you -”  

“Why would you even think that  -”  

Jacob  lifted both arms, ignoring the discomfort.  

“Stop!” he pleaded. “Could we try this another way? I’ll start,” he offered.   

“Did you think I no longer wanted to be here?” he asked cautiously.   

“Yes. Yes,  of course  thought that ,” Clara said.  

“Why?”  

“I burst in on your target, I killed someone you knew, and  saw  you break down in tears,” she said, sounding almost exasperated.  “It did not bode well for the future.”  

Jacob let out a shaky breath.  

“Your turn,” he said weakly, but with some relief.  

“Did you think I was turning you out? That I no longer wanted to see you?”  Clara asked cautiously.  

“Yes!”  

“Why?”  

Where do I start , Jacob wondered.  How do women manage to spin out such confessions? It’s like another bloody language.  

He took a deep breath and steeled himself as if for a leap.  

“Because I was brought bleeding to your house after almost letting myself get killed by the lackey of my dead lover! And then I cried on your shoulder for it!”  

He waited for a response, flushed as though from a mad run. That was a lot of words on one breath, and each one tasted foul.  

I think that covers about everything, except for a few dozen  unanswered  questions.  

They went back to staring at each other.  

“This is worse than a sentimental novel,” Clara said at last. “Of the worst serialised kind.”  

“Should tell Charlie about it,” Jacob muttered.  

“Who the fuck is Charlie?”  Clara snapped.  

“Charles fucking Dickens!” he shouted back.  

They both looked at the door to the apartment and cringed. The hallway must have rung out with that last round of questions.  

Clara approached him. Her hand reached for him, then stopped, as though afraid her touch might hurt. Instead, she put the key in his hand, closing his fingers over it. Jacob pressed his forehead against her hair.  

“If we are done shouting,” he said. “I suppose I could bear some sentimental fussing.”  

“Of what  sort?  Clara murmured.  

He kissed her very lightly, almost shyly.  

“You frightened me,” he said.  

“You scared me half to death,” she replied.  

“Don’t say such things again.”  

“Don’t you dare, either.”  

Jacob shoved the key into his pocket. There was a knock on the door.  

Clara grimaced.  

“That would be Dr. Fletcher, I suspect,” she whispered.  

Jacob settled down in the remaining armchair and readied himself for the oncoming barrage. Dr. Fletcher’s brusque manner was in full swing once he was certain his patient was recovering quite well.  

“Knowing full well I speak in vain, try not to favour that arm,” he said. “And some more rest would speed the recovery.”  

“I’ve got a cut on my arm, not two broken legs,” Jacob grumbled, pulling his shirt back on.  

“Well, I suppose a brief walk would be acceptable,” Dr. Fletcher said gruffly. “I’d recommend it for fresh air, but you won’t find that anywhere in London. In any case,” he continued, now with the pipe in his mouth. “I leave you in the modestly capable hands of this young lady.”  

“Thank you,” Clara muttered behind the doctor’s back.  

“Two words of advice for you, my dear,” he turned to Clara. “Firstly, laudanum is not arsenic, and as you can see, it failed to kill him. Secondly, if you are going to keep up this charade of a bereaved widow, I recommend you obtain a wedding ring from somewhere. Your little story falls through the moment someone glances at your hands.”  

“Quite,” Clara said, rather dryly. “I shall make a note of that for the future.”  

And with that sweet exchange of barbs, the door closed on what Jacob hoped had been the last visitor of the day.   

“You two seemed to get along quite well,” he commented. “Any chance of a cup of tea?”  

A cup was placed unceremoniously next to him, together with a jar of sugar. He reached for the spoon and only then noticed a box full of cigarettes on the small table.  

“Mikey,” he said. It was not even a question.   

“It was his idea,” Clara said defensively. “He considered it a welcome home gift.”   

She was actually blushing. Jacob remembered the shout that so confused him on the night of the Turner operation.  

He tried to reconstruct the scene in his head. Lewis was already dead on the floor, Mikey would have come in through the back door. The lad must have been talking to someone standing in the front door. Lewis had fallen over away from the front door.   

“’I thought you were gone,’” he quoted at Clara. “Mikey was talking to you.”  

"I beg your pardon?”  

"That night, at Turner’s, I heard him shout ‘I thought you were gone’,” Jacob repeated.  

Clara pulled a chair out and sat down to face him. Her hand snaked out towards the box of cigarettes. Jacob sighed.  

“Ask away,” she said.  

Jacob thought back to the dramatic night. There had been two people at the front, Nicky and the knocked-out guard.  

And the drunk on the park bench...  

“How long were you in that park?” he asked at last.  

“From one o’clock,” Clara said.   

Jacob tried to piece the sequence in his head.  

“You ran straight at the front door,” he said. “How come Nicky didn’t stop you?”  

In response, Clara turned and picked up a length of green ribbon, now spattered with blood stains. It must have been the same one Jacob had given her.  

“You said no one would pick a fight with me,” she said. “Miss Nicky let me pass.”  

Jacob rolled his eyes.  We’re going to have to get rid of these colours,  he thought.  

And then? There was Mikey shouting, and doors opening, but something was still missing.  

“I didn’t hear a gunshot,” he said quietly. “Not then.”  

“I didn’t use a gun,” Clara confirmed. Jacob waited.  

“I’ll show you,” Clara said, going over to the desk. She fiddled with something for a moment. Then she shut the bedroom door and stepped back several paces.  

“Can you see that knot in the wood?” she pointed.  

“Yes,” Jacob said.   

Clara raised her right arm and twisted her wrist slightly. There was soft click and then a heavy thud as the projectile hit the solid wood of the door. She lowered her arm.  

Jacob got up to inspect the door. A blade, too thick and short to be a knife but too heavy to be a dart was stuck half an inch into the plank.  

Clara turned her forearm up. An odd mechanism, not unlike a miniature crossbow, was affixed to the leather bracer.  

“It’s something my father brought from France,” she said. “The Parisians were very fond of it. It’s only one shot, at a limited distance, but quieter than a gun.”  

“That’s what sprained your arm,” Jacob guessed.  

“Yes. The recoil was too strong.”  

Jacob nodded at the device.  

“Clever,” he said. He pulled the blade out of the door with a grunt.  

“In summary,” he said, holding the small projectile like a schoolmaster holding a piece of chalk. “You ran in, shot Lewis with this thing, ordered Mikey and Dan about and then went up the stairs to shoot Turner in the face.” He leaned towards her. “Did I cover everything?”  

In response to his schoolmaster’s voice, Clara nodded shyly.  

Evie will never let me live this down.  

Jacob shook his head.  

“What in the world made you run in like that?”  

“That man had a knife to your throat,” she said simply.  

And I nodded,  Jacob reminded himself. He slunk back to the armchair, refilling his cup with tea to gain a minute or two more before she started asking questions.  

“So it was Dan that carried me here,” he asked, now busying himself with the sugar.  

“Who else?” Clara asked. “That man is a rock in more ways than one. I could hardly have carried you myself.”  

“What about Mikey?” Jacob asked.  

“He was on the verge of tears, poor soul,” Clara said. “That young lady, Nicky, was off like the wind to get Dr. Fletcher. We sent Mikey to get Evie to stop him from panicking.”  

Jacob smiled.  

“And you didn’t panic,” he said. It was not a question.  

“There was no time,” Clara said, flicking the cigarette into the fireplace. “There was no time for anything.”  

Jacob looked around the room, noticing for the first time the untidy pile of blankets in a corner. He considered the two days he had spent in the only bed in the place.  

“Where did you sleep?” he asked at last.   

“Why does that matter?”  

“I’m convalescent,” Jacob said.  And delaying, but that’s by-the-by . “Indulge me.”  

“The armchair was quite an acceptable substitute.”  

“Then why is there a pile of blankets on the rug?”  

Clara waved a hand dismissively.  

“You slept on the floor,” Jacob said.   

“Only while Evie was here,” Clara shrugged.  

“You didn’t sleep at all,” he amended.   

“So? Will you pour laudanum down my throat?”  

The snappy remark reminded him of Dr. Fletcher’s little sermon.  

“What was all that about laudanum?” Jacob asked.  

“That man dishes it out like it’s small beer,” Clara snorted. “I cannot stand it.”  

“I think it’s your turn to lie down in a proper bed,” he said.  

“Am I being dismissed?” She sounded more cranky than anything else.   

Jacob stood up.  

“Only for a little while.”   

She was getting ready to snap again, he could tell.  

“I’m injured,” he pointed out. “You wouldn’t want to make an injured man strain himself by carrying you? Get in there.”  

She shook her head, but complied. Jacob waited. Being upright and walking, even pacing up and down, felt incredibly good.  

When he peeked into the bedroom, Clara was indeed in bed, or sitting on it, at least.  

“If you promise me you’ll sleep, I promise to be back tonight,” he said gently.  

And answer all your questions.  

She lay back, sighing. Jacob rounded the bed and lay down on his side. She reached for his face. He took her hand and kissed her palm.  

“Was there anything you wanted to ask me?” he said.  

“Can you bear just one question?” she asked cautiously. Jacob nodded and steeled himself for the inevitable.  It never came, at least not quite in the form he expected.  

“Who was Lewis?”  

“That’s part of a... Much longer story,” Jacob said. “Ask something else instead.”  

She closed her eyes for a moment. Jacob wondered if she was drifting off to sleep, but then she looked at him again.  

“I imagine this is not a bedtime story either,” she said carefully, as though feeling her way over thin ice. "And I don’t expect an answer, certainly not straight away.”  

“Ask me anyway.”  

She bit her lip and took a deep breath.  

“Do you want to tell me about Max?”   

To Jacob’s amazement, the words came out easily, almost eagerly.  

“Yes,” he replied. “Yes, I do.”  

Clara nodded and rolled onto her side, wrapping herself more tightly in the sheets. One hand crept out of the warm bundle to rest in his palm. Jacob looked at it against his own hand.  I never noticed how long her fingers were , he thought.   

He waited, not moving, until he was certain she was fast asleep. He then quietly went through the pile of clothes, belts and weapons that Evie had left for him. He picked up his hat –  Goodness, someone thought to grab it!   - and then leaned over the sleeping shape one more time.  

“Sleep, little fox,” he whispered before leaving.   

***  

It was time to head back out onto the streets of London and perhaps clean up the debris left in his wake. Jacob walked slowly, enjoying the sensation of getting about on his own two feet and the sharp, wakeful bite of the cold air. He made his way towards Turner’s former establishment.  Unsurprisingly,  Dan Malley  was  loitering  on  the first corner.  

“Yes, I’m up and about again,” Jacob smiled. “I hear you took good care of me.”  

Dan tipped his hat.  

“You’d do the same for me, Mr. Frye.”  

“Let’s hope I never need to,” Jacob said earnestly. “Now, what did I miss?”  

“Not much. Bobbies have been all over the place,” Dan said, reaching into his coat pocket. He handed Jacob a folded newspaper. It was dated a day or so ago. A short column was circled in oily blue pencil. Jacob read it carefully.  

“A den of iniquity, residents shocked, formerly well-respected resident, et cetera, et cetera,” He nodded. “We might as well leave this one with the bobbies.” He shoved the paper in his pocket. “What became of the girls?”  

“Hard to say,” Dan signed, falling in step next to Jacob. “Probably ended up in the tanty.”  

Jacob wondered if a word in Freddie’s ear could fix that. In the meantime, he had another message to deliver.  

“Let’s get us a set of wheels, shall we?”  

Once the transport had been arranged, Jacob settled next to Dan, who held the reins.  

“Wouldn’t you rather sit inside, Mr. Frye? Rest and all?”  

“I’ve spent three days  resting ,” Jacob grimaced.   

“Dr. Fletcher said that knife was poisoned. It knocked you clean out.”  

“Let’s pretend it was meant as an abject lesson in field medicine,” Jacob suggested. “Not to mention a lesson that anyone can screw up royally, myself included.” He gave Dan a pat on the shoulder. “You did really well.”  

The large man smiled.  

“I suppose there is something to be said for not barging in alone,” Jacob thought out loud. “I got too used to being a big fish in a small pond.”  

“How is London a small pond, begging your pardon?”  

“I grew up in Crawley, Dan. How about you?”  

“I came here down from Manchester a few years back,” Dan explained.  

See?  That’s a considerably bigger pond,” Jacob agreed.  

“You gave little Mikey a bloody good fright, that’s for sure,” Dan chuckled as the carriage rattled to the address Jacob gave him. “I thought I’d buy the poor lad a beer to wind down a bit. Four pints later, he was still gabbling away.”  

Jacob threw a sideways glance at Dan.  

“You’ve really taken him under your wing,” he commented. Dan shrugged.  

“Reminds me of my little brother, just a lot more bent,” Dan said, shifting the reins into one hand to fish a cigarette out of his pocket.  

If Mikey’s ‘bent’, I guess I am a  corkscrew , Jacob thought uneasily.  

“That a problem?” he asked  cool l y  

Dan blew a puff of smoke through his teeth.  

“Nah,” he winked. “There’s much worse things people can be. And he’s a good lad.”  

They had reached their destination, the street where Mr. Williams and Miss Williams made their home. Jacob left Dan waiting with the carriage and made his way to the building. It was getting dark and he could see the light behind the drawn curtains.   

He raised his hand to knock and hesitated. Of course, he could go in and have an awkward conversation, and get tangled into evasions.   

And delay some more.   

He and Evie did consider asking for a reciprocal favour. Now Jacob wondered how to actually phrase it.  

Good evening, Mr. Williams.  W e blew the head off the bastard who ruined your daughter’s life. Would you spy for us and risk losing your job?  

Jacob folded the newspaper so that the notice of Turner’s  death  was immediately visible. He pushed the whole thing through the letter slot and returned to Dan.  

“Where to now, Mr. Frye? Get you back to the train?”  

Jacob remembered an expression he had heard Ned Wynert use a few times.  

“To hell in a handbasket,” he muttered under his breath. “Just drop me off where you found me.”  

Dan obliged and Jacob waved him away, wishing him a good night. The streets were still full of people. Here and there he could see tinsel in the shop windows. Of course, it would not be long until Christmas, he remembered. He carefully made his way through the crowd of shoppers and errand boys.   

I’m not delaying, I’m just sparing my arm , he assured himself.  Not playing for time at all.  

On the trestle table in front of a small shop someone was offering pet birds for sale, including robins, to match the season. Jacob stopped to let the crowd pass. Two ladies cooed at the cages and finally decided to step into the shop.  

Jacob looked at the caged goods on display. The shopkeeper was deep in conversation with the two women.  

You promised,  he reminded himself.  

Sidling past the table, Jacob flicked open the doors of the cages open, one after another. He slunk away before the inevitable chaos that would ensue and set off towards Clara’s.

Chapter Text

Clara was stopping every few minutes to adjust her hair. It kept escaping from the bowler hat on her head.   The delicious scent of roasted chestnuts wafted down the street towards them. Jacob remembered he had not eaten in a few days. Clara traipsed after him in her boyish disguise.  

They blew on the hot chestnuts and nibbled as they strolled.  

“So,” Jacob said as bravely as he could. “You wanted to hear about Max.”  

“While I am terribly curious,” Clara said between bites. “I remind you again that I have no need to know about it. I do not recall giving  you  an annotated list of my former lovers.”  

Jacob refused to accept the kindly offered exit.  

“I think this is different,” he said.  

He could never have talked about it sitting in a parlour, or standing like a man in a witness box. Meandering freely through the streets, aimlessly turning corners and crossing roads, felt a great deal easier.  

“You once mentioned a music hall that was destroyed in a fire,”  Jacob  began. Clara had to think for a moment.  

“Yes, off the Strand.”  

“The Alhambra. Have you ever been there?”  

Clara shook her head.  

“I’ve passed it once or twice, that is all.”  

She slowed down.  

Weren’t we  talking about it  the day  you took sick ?”  

“No,” Jacob corrected her. “To be precise, I felt sick because you and Evie were talking about it.”  

He sighed.  

“The Alhambra was owned and run by Maxwell Roth, the man who trained Starrick’s gang lieutenants,” he said.   

They had made their way to the river. Ice floes bobbed in midstream. Jacob leaned on  wall above  the  water .  

“I went to meet him, at his invitation,” he said.   

The river sloshed beneath them. Jacob looked at the row of lights along its southern bank.  

This is going to be hard work without a decent drink.  

Clara waited patiently, but he did not know what to say next. He was relieved when she spoke first.  

“You have also met Charles Dickens,  Mrs. Disraeli  and Queen Victoria,” she said cautiously.   

Jacob had to smile.  

“But I don’t call out their  names  in my sleep, you’re going to add?”  

Clara smiled back, leaning on the  wall  caked with ice.  

“I will not put words in your mouth.”  

“Well, he sent me a letter asking me to meet,” Jacob began at last. “So I went to the Alhambra.”  

He flicked pieces of ice off the wall , still staring at  the river .  

“Lewis was the man who met me at the door. The guard dog, groom and butler in one.”  

Clara winced, but nodded for him to go on.  

“I have no idea what I expected to happen,” Jacob said flatly. He stared at the river, once again desperate for words.  

“From what you told me of how you and Evie dealt with the Blighters, I would  expect  it to be like walking into a lion’s den,” Clara suggested after a while.  

Jacob thought for a moment.  

“One would expect that,” he said. “But no. As it turned out, Max thought the whole game of  managing the  gang leaders had turned boring and sour. He’d had enough of Starrick. He offered me an... alliance.”  

“Forgive my confusion,” Clara said. “But a gang leader running a theatre sounds almost fantastic.”  

Jacob grinned.  

“He was born into a travelling troupe of actors. He worked with Starrick for the money, so he could have a theatre again.”  

“What a character,” Clara smiled.  

“That’s what I thought, too!” Jacob agreed. “The man was full of surprises. We ended up wreaking havoc all over London.”  

They set off again, walking upriver.  

“I take it you don’t mean musical theatre reviews,” Clara prompted.  

“Not at all,” Jacob said cheerfully. “Let me tell you about the mess  we left  at St. Pancras.”  

He went on talking, one story after another. After a while, he  felt  it  sounded  like a version of  Boy’s Own  magazine, but with fewer fishing rods and a lot more dynamite. Suddenly embarrassed, he looked at Clara from the corner of his  eye .  

“I sound like an idiot,” he suggested.  

“It sounds like you were having a most thrilling time for a good cause,” she said. “One could almost say you were lucky to have met him,” she added. “What did Evie make of him?”  

“Evie? She never met him, of course. She would have been furious, and besides - “  

For the first time that evening, Clara looked shocked. She stopped.  

“You never told Evie about any of this?”  

“Of course not,” Jacob said simply. Clara was peering at him under the rim of her hat.  

“Of course?”  

“I could never,” he said, his enthusiasm deflated. He shut his eyes.  

“Because Templars lost a few packets of dynamite at St Pancras?”  

“No!” Jacob said desperately. “Because I fell in love with him.”  

He looked to the river again. Now that the words were out of his mouth, he really did not want to see the expression on Clara’s face.  

“Was the feeling...  Reciprocated?”  Clara asked quietly.  

“Very much so,” Jacob replied sadly.  

Clara cleared her throat.  

“I can see  how  that would have been difficult to explain,” she said.  

“Let’s keep walking .”  

They turned away from the river into the more crowded streets.  

“You do not sound terribly curious,”  Jacob  said to Clara as they walked.  

“I am dying of curiosity, but how does one ask?” she replied.  

“I can’t find words for it,” Jacob said .  “It was all spinning in my head, like those little moving images in that cylinder thing,  whatever  you call it -”  

“A zoetrope ?”  Clara  suggested  helpfully.  

“Could be.  We’d have a  three-course meal at two in the morning, because we felt like it. Races over the rooftops, a  dance  on the rooftops, that one time... And Spanish wine. And the music.”  

He turned to Clara.  

“For god’s sake, say something!” he said angrily. “Is it so amusing to listen to me talking like an idiot?”  

She gave him an odd look, somewhere between concern and annoyance.  

“Keep talking,” she said.  

“It sounds mad!”  

Jacob stopped. He had shouted, people were milling  about them  and talking, carriages were rattling. It was almost as bad as after that recent whack on the head. He looked around the street, wondering how his feet had led them to this part of the City.  

“Come with me,” he said and dragged Clara behind him into the side streets. Finding what he wanted, he turned his back to her.  

“Listen carefully,” he said. “Both arms around my neck, and hold onto my shoulders.”  

The look on her face was probably priceless, but she complied without further questions.  

“Knees up, and hold,” Jacob instructed. “Now hold on as tightly as you can. Imagine you are about to be flung off a boat into water.”  

Clara’s grip increased considerably.  

Jacob gritted his teeth, stretched his arm, ignoring the pull on the stitches, and fired the rope launcher at the roof above them. Clara's scream was cut short by the sheer speed of the ascent. Jacob steadied himself on a wide stone ledge just below the roof. He gripped the edge of the roof with both hands and pulled himself up, going a few more feet until he reached the flat section on top.   

He lowered Clara next to chimney stack. She clung onto one of chimney pots for dear life.  

“Fuck,” she said.  

“Don’t look down,” he advised. “Admire the view instead.”  

She looked around and smiled, but did not let go of the chimney.  

“Amazing,” she whispered.  

It was a great deal quieter here. Jacob leaned against the chimney. The arm hurt like the blazes, but it was worth it.  

“What can I say?” he whispered. “I still can’t make any sense of it.”  

“It sounds like you were swept off your feet,” Clara said calmly.  

Although the tone was nothing but friendly, the comment stung.  

“What would you have done in my place?” Jacob asked.  

Clara looked at him, then at the cold and sooty vista around them.  

“Let me see,” she said. "What would I do  if I  had a lover who dragged me all over London with his crazy schemes, never refused a good drink and expected me to follow him on the rooftops, not to mention insalubrious deeds in inappropriate places?”  

She looked at Jacob with an impish grimace.  

“As you once said to me,” she smiled, shaking her head at him. “I have no idea.”  

“You clever little fox,” Jacob whispered, his lips pulling into a smile. “With your clever little mouth.”  

I was right. You do understand.  

Clara moved towards him, and then made a panicked little sound as her feet slipped on the wet roof. Jacob held her up.  

“You’re doing fine,” he said. “Here, let’s get a seat.”  

He walked her carefully to the other side of the roof, where a wide scaffolding held up an advertisement made of tall metal letters. Jacob allowed himself a small smirk. He could not be bothered reading what the letters spelled now, inverted as they were from  this side  of  the roof.  He did, however, remember that no long ago they had spelled ‘Starrick’.  

Clara gratefully sat down, leaning against the iron bars that held up the structure.   

“I imagine you can guess my next question,” she said. “What went wrong?”  

“Everything,” Jacob said. He shifted uncomfortably. “You remember that little stuffed bird you saw on the train?”  

Clara nodded.  

Jacob rolled his eyes.  

“It did not come from a taxidermist’s window. Well, not quite how I told you.”  

He told her about the rook in its cage.   

“I am not much for pets, but surely a bird in a cage is hardly an oddity,” Clara was saying. “If it was a rook, well...” She thought for a moment. “One could say it was quite sweet.”  

Before Jacob could stop himself, a sound escaped him, somewhere between a groan and a sob. Clara drew a sharp breath.  

“What did I say?” she squealed.  

“Look to your left,” he growled. He himself did not turn. Instead, he observed Clara’s face as she  looked across the square to  the burnt-out husk of the Alhambra, patched here and there with cloth and scaffolding, like an inexpertly dressed wound.  

“That and the bird is all that’s left,” he managed.  

Clara’s hand wrapped around one of the poles that held up their improvised lookout.  

“Nightmares,” she said.  And then she smacked her forehead.  

“Macbeth Oh, no. I am so sorry I did not understand.”  

Jacob shook his head.  

“I didn’t tell you,” he said simply.  

“Perhaps  you  have talked enough,” she said. “The rest can wait.”  

“No,” Jacob said tersely. “Let me finish  it .”  

If the description of his adventures with Max had felt awkward, the next part felt well nigh insurmountable. Word by word, answer by answer – he can’t have been making much sense – Jacob managed to explain how a lovers’ spat deteriorated into a bloody row above a workshop that  Jacob  himself had rigged to explode.  

Jacob took off his hat and leaned against the cold iron.  

“Of all the things he could have said, he  told me I’d be free like he was.”  

“Surely the first of all freedoms should be the freedom to disagree,” Clara muttered.  

“That sounds like one of those clever things your parents taught you,” Jacob said.  “But philosophy was  the last thing on my mind once those charges went off in a building full of  children .”  

He toyed with the hat in his lap.  

“Even after that, I would have gone back, to talk it out or fight it out,” he said. “But Max was gone, and  then Lewis showed up with that damned box .”  

“What box?”  

Jacob closed his eyes and grinned.  

“A wooden box with a polite letter  attached to it , notifying me of the dissolution of our business arrangement, and  of  a show at  t he Alhambra. The invitation was in the box.”  

He turned his head to look at Clara.  

“That little rook was inside, dead as a doornail . He’d snapped its neck .”  

“And you went to  the  Alhambra.”  

Jacob looked up at the sky.  

“Max managed to surprise me again,” he whispered.   

Perhaps his  own  rage would have cooled down,  Jacob  explained to the dark sky, hoping that Clara was listening as well. He must have still been hoping  for  an earnest exchange of insults, or even blows,  that  would put things right again. But that last slim, shameful hope evaporated against the onslaught of taunting words from the stage, his name  being  called out in front of all of London, at least in his mind.  

“’Jacob, dear boy, tonight is for you’,” he quoted at the indifferent sky. “And then  Max  set the entire fucking building, his pride and joy, on fire. With everyone still inside.”  

Clara drew a hissing breath through her teeth.  

“Do you know how  quickly  paint and canvas burn?” Jacob said conversationally. “Can you imagine the sound of several hundred people trapped in a burning cauldron?”  

“No,” Clara said quietly. He turned to look at her.  

“I killed him,” Jacob said for the second time that day. It felt no better.  

Clara opened her mouth to say something, then changed her mind. She looked back to the stricken building opposite.  

Small  wonder you’ve had nightmares,” she finally said. “But there is still one thing I cannot understand .”  

Jacob sniggered.  

“Only one?”  

“Why did you think I would break off with you over all this?”  Clara  asked.  

“Why would you not?” Jacob laughed.  “Let’s see, what  have we here? A little provincial thug, apparently bent as a corkscrew, drunk on the city lights, falls in love with a maniac and then kills him? I’m amazed I can still look at myself in the mirror.”  

“That’s altogether too harsh,” Clara said firmly.  

“Oh, that’s not enough, is it?” Jacob argued. “I can’t forget him. I still miss him , him and  all that  happened  before it all went to hell.”  

Clara nodded.  

But how  could you forget it?”  

“How can I  miss  him?” Jacob asked angrily. “How many counts of idiocy and murder can one man commit?”  

Clara crawled closer to him, very carefully.  

“My count of murders stands at five as of three days ago,” she said. “And  it  does not even include any Templars. How exactly am I supposed to judge you?”  

“But what of - “  

She held up her hand to hush him. It would have looked a lot more impressive if the said hand had not been trembling like a leaf.  

“As for missing  Max ,” she said, quickly gripping the scaffolding again. “If you were to throw me off this roof right now, and I survived, I daresay I'd rather not lay my eyes on you again.”  

“I think we both know that - “ Jacob interrupted, and his interruption was ignored  once more .  

“But I would still miss you every day of my life,” Clara concluded. “Again, why do expect me to sit in judgement?”  

Instead of an answer, he took Clara’s hand in his. He rolled his thumb over the cold, trembling fingers. One of them felt slightly unusual to his touch. Clara helpfully took the glove off.  

“I’ve completed my disguise,” she said, showing off a shiny piece of metal around her ring finger.  

"You happened to have a gold ring lying around?” Jacob asked.  

“That would be a waste of money,” she replied, tugging the glove back on. “It’s just a brass nut from an old microscope, with a  wash  of zinc and some polish.”  

Jacob shook his head at her.  

“The respectable Mrs. Rivers.”  

“Can I ask you something else?” Clara said quietly.  

“Anything,” he said sincerely.  

“How the hell are we  going to get  off this roof?”  

***  

Once  they were back on  the  street level , Jacob leaned against the alley wall and waited for Clara to release her death grip on him. When she was once again sure the ground was firm and flat, she looked him over.  

“How do you feel?” she asked.  

Jacob went for the first word that came to him.  

“Alive”, he grinned.  

And quite content to be so.  

“That is a good start,” Clara agreed.  

Jacob felt almost lightheaded. He bent his face to Clara’s.  

“And tired.” He gave her a quick kiss, almost a bite. “And thirsty.” Another one, longer this time.  

“I want a drink,” he muttered in between kisses. “And a long soak in a hot bath.”  Nuzzling  against her cheek, he ran his hands down her back and lower, squeezing as he went. “Is your little brothel open for business, Mrs .  Rivers?”  

“Of course,” Clara replied. “With a significant discount.”  

“Why is that?”  

“A drink and a bath should not be costly, and I daresay you will not be up to much else.”  

Jacob squeezed harder.  

“Perhaps you could pull your own weight for once,” he suggested. The light pecks would simply not do, he decided, and kissed her in earnest.  

He heard footsteps passing by the alleyway and ignored them. He could not ignore the next thing he heard.  

“Oi, you two fucking mandrakes!” a voice called out. It sounded belligerent and none too sober.  

“I’m talking to you two ,  fucking pansies!”  

Jacob rolled his eyes and slumped slightly against the wall. Clara’s disguise had completely slipped his mind.   

Clara, however, turned towards the speaker.  

“Come here and say that to my face, you tosser!” she called back in a  passable boyish voice .  

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Jacob muttered, his fingers slipping into the brass knuckles inside his pocket.  

“Is there a problem?” Clara hissed out of the corner of her mouth.  

“I hate having to lead with  the left hook, is all, ” he muttered back.  

The rather large drunk advanced  toward  Clara.  A  second man  appeared  at the entrance to the alley.  

“What did you call me,  young fella ?”  

You  deaf as well as drunk? I called you a tosser,” Clara called back.  

Jacob decided to slump a few inches further, letting his head droop. The would-be attacker picked up the pace.  

“Look here, you little piece of shi -“  

The man stopped short as  Clara pointed  the barrel of the gun at his face. His mate also stopped  half way , probably unsure which way the conversation was going.  

“Do go on,” Clara said in her usual voice. “You have my undivided attention.”  

Jacob kept playing the part of the wobbly drunk. It was relaxing.  

“Oh, shite. I’m sorry,” the drunk spoke quickly, lifting both hands. “Sorry.  Didn’t  know  it  was a lady,” he muttered.  

“Oh, that is quite alright, then,” Clara chirped, still pointing the gun at him. “An honest mistake. Good evening to you, sir.”  

As the large fellow backed off, Clara swung her leg and kicked him straight in the crotch.  

“Now you can open with either hook,” she said to Jacob, stepping back.  

Jacob nodded and leaned over the groaning man.  

“I’m sure this young lady will be disappointed,” he said apologetically. “But since it’s the season of good will and peace on earth, and all that tripe - “  

He picked up the drunkard and flung him at his hesitant friend. Both collapsed in a heap, then scrambled out of the way. As Clara holstered the gun, Jacob grabbed her collar.  

“Look at you, running wild and picking fights all over London town,” he shook his head disapprovingly. “I ought to put you on a leash.”  

A pair of glowing eyes turned to him, and her next words restored a sense of normalcy.  

“Is that a firm promise?”  

***  

The bath felt divine. Jacob was all but floating in the warm water. With due caution, he kept the injured arm over of the side of the bathtub. It allowed him to keep both the bandage and the wine glass in his hand at a safe distance from the water.  

Clara must have added something into the water, as a faint scent was rising with the steam. Jacob used the towel as a cushion and leaned back, closing his eyes.  

You see, Max? I told her everything.  

He heard rustling of cloth in another room, the crackle of the fire and the ticking of the clock.   

And I am still here. And I  probably  still miss you.   

Jacob sank a little further into the water, feeling the warm liquid sloshing around his neck.  

But I don’t think I’ll miss feeling your cold grip around my throat. That, too, is a sort of freedom.  

He jolted upright at the sound of glass breaking. Clara was standing in the door.  

“Truly, you should not be allowed any breakable utensils,” she sighed, pointing at the broken wine glass on the floor. “I am amazed you're allowed to eat with a knife and a fork.”  

Jacob swiped the wet hair off his face. The water felt somewhat cooler.  

“Must have drifted off,” he said, drying his face. “With the glass in my hand.”  

He looked up from the towel and stared. That she had changed was no surprise. What he had not expected was a waterfall of purple cloth barely held together by a wide sash.  

“Not one for doing things by half, are you?” Jacob commented. “It’s either more layers to peel than an onion, or almost nothing at all.”  

Clara daintily stepped around the shattered wine glass and leaned over the bathtub.  

“Be that as it may, I was right,” she said coolly. “You’re not up to much. You fell asleep.”  

“I’m feeling quite refreshed after that  little nap ,” he growled back. “Come closer.”  

“Not for the world,” she said, stepping away. “Water stains  can  ruin silk.” With that, she sashayed out of the bathroom.    

Knowing how hot the little parlour could get, Jacob decided that getting fully dressed again was unnecessary. He strolled out in nothing but pants, and was confirmed right. Clara was topping up her glass, and almost dropped it when he embraced her from behind.  

“Did you enjoy the bath?”  

Jacob was momentarily too fascinated with the slippery smoothness of silk in his hands.  

“Hmm? Oh, yes.”  

“Fed, watered and bathed,” Clara said, slipping away. “You might as well be tucked into bed now.”  

“So little sympathy for the wounded,” Jacob muttered. True to form, she answered seriously.  

“Jokes aside, you’ve had a rough  few  days.”  

“I’m tired of lying down,” Jacob countered.   

Clara gave him an appraising look.  

“Then sit down before you fall down, Mr. Frye.”  

He settled into the nearest armchair, pulling on the sash of Clara’s robe and twisting it around his hand so that it tightened even further. She moved towards him and he  twisted  harder, stopping her in place.  

“Since you are the hale and hearty brawler, you can stay standing,” Jacob said, toying with the folds of the robe with his other hand. Her hand grasped his shoulder. The silk felt strange, cool and warm at the same time.   

“Jacob -”  

“I’m done with long and exhausting conversations for the night,” he said. The silk parted under his hand. He reached up, and a little further yet.  

“I only - “  

Ah. There.    

Whatever else she had been about to say was apparently forgotten. Jacob tightened his grip on the sash and let his fingers sink further in.  

“Keep talking,” he purred.  

Nails sank into his shoulder. His fingers moved faster. Clara whimpered, leaning towards him. He tugged at the sash again.  

“Don’t even consider biting,” he advised.  Now, what were you going to say?”  

He grinned happily at the stream of gasping curses.  

“I thought so,” he  smiled.  The movement of his  fingers  slowed down, and  gasps above him grew louder.  

Do be quiet, Mrs.   Rivers,” he purred again.  “Whatever - will – the neighbours – think?”  he asked, punctuating each  word with a sudden, sharp  slide.  

Clara  arched her back, legs  shaking,  small whimpers sounding through clenched teeth. She lifted a hand to her mouth and bit down on her knuckle.  

Jacob stopped, and pulled his hand away, letting go of the sash at the same time. With a frustrated yowl, Clara sank to her knees.  

“You filthy bastard,” she muttered, pulling herself up onto his knees.  

“I thought I was the one who could not  stand  up straight,” Jacob said innocently. He reached down, undoing the sash of the silken thing, whatever it was called.  

“Is this my thanks for nursing you for days?” Clara asked, crawling onto his lap. “Falling asleep in  my  bath, breaking  my  wine glasses, and - “  

She ducked under his arm and pressed her lips against the bird on his chest. Her tongue moved over it, slowly, patiently, as though tracing the line of every feather. Jacob closed his eyes, feeling the warm lips and cool silk all over his chest.  

The sharp bite made him almost jump. Clara looked up at him and ran her tongue over her lips.  

“So clean and warm,” she whispered. “How could I resist?”  

Jacob tugged gently on her hair. He motioned with the hand that still held the silken sash.  

“Did I mention a leash before?” he asked.  

“You did,” came a rather hoarse reply.  

“What a mistake. A muzzle would be better.”  

Clara’s fingers ran the length of his chest, following the trail of soft hair.  

"Did you consider there were other ways of shutting my mouth?” she asked. “Or is that too outlandish for your English sensibilities?”  

The sash fell out of Jacob’s fingers. To balance it, he pulled tighter on Clara’s hair.  

“Shameless French hussy,” he breathed.   

“Only half French,” Clara whispered against his waist. He felt the fingers pulling on the buttons of his trousers, in addition to a few other things he definitely felt in that region of his body.  

Clara was moving under his hand like a cat rubbing against someone’s legs.    He felt the touch of her lips first, then the tongue, and then he just closed his eyes, her hair slipping  from  his fingers. He gripped the  sides  of the armchair, trying to stop himself from buckling up.  

The sensation changed for a brief moment as one of her hands wrapped around him, firm enough to make him gasp, but moving very gently. Cool silk rubbed against his inner thighs. He opened his eyes, but would not let himself look down. The agonizingly slow movements of her tongue and lips would not cease. Without thinking, he grabbed at her hair again.  

“Bloody hell,” he hissed with what little breath he had left. One of her hands snaked its way up is chest, nails digging in every now and then. The gesture made him gasp again and tighten his grip on her hair. Her response was a little self-satisfied grunt, followed by yet another hungry movement of her tongue. Jacob swore again through clenched teeth.   

"Stop,” he hissed.  

Clara sat back, surprised. Jacob joined her on the floor.  

“I want to see your face,” he gasped.  

The folded back onto the floor, wrapping around each other. Jacob propped himself on his elbow, his other hand stroking Clara’s face.  

“Look at me,” he whispered.  

Two nights ago, I thought I was done for.  

Not moving, he stared into darkened, wide open eyes.  

This morning I thought you’d never touch me again.  

Clara’s hands tangled into his hair.  

Three hours ago, I was in agony.  

"Clara,” he whispered. “Oh, my god, Clara.”  

“I thought you were gone,” Clara whispered back. “Twice, I thought you were gone.”  

Me too , he admitted to himself.  But I’m here.  

“I’m here,” he whispered back, and sank down towards her.  

And now we can have another sleepless night, but for the right reasons.  

Chapter Text

Evie sat on the corner of Dr. Fletcher’s desk, making faces at her brother. It was a discrete and pleasant pastime: every time Jacob winced at the stitches being removed from his arm, Dr. Fletcher made a dry, sarcastic comment. Jacob had to keep mum, as swearing out loud would mean a telling-off. Therefore, Evie could safely stick her tongue out at him and watch as he frowned in frustration.  

“Good work, young man,” Dr. Fletcher said as Jacob got dressed, glaring daggers at his sister. “Now, young lady, don’t tell me you’ve cut or broken something.”  

“No, she’s here out of sisterly concern,” Jacob said dryly.  

“I am most certainly not,” Evie corrected him. “I wanted to check on Lizzie.”  

Dr. Fletcher looked uncomfortable.  

“Just as well,” he said, washing his hands. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that young lady.”  

Evie and Jacob exchanged a worried look.  

“Please do,” Evie said.  

She had seen Lizzie in passing and almost had almost failed to recognise her. The stringy hair was cut and washed, there was some colour in her face and possibly even some additional weight.  

“My dear Miss Frye, that girl is a godsend. She was not starved only of food, she was starved of all purpose and respect,” Dr. Fletcher said. “She has the makings of a first-class nurse. For better or for worse, she is imperturbable. I fear to imagine what things that poor girl has seen, but it left her with a very strong stomach.”  

“What is the problem, then?” Evie frowned.  

Dr. Fletcher lit his pipe.  

“I want to keep her on, but she works for the two of you, doesn’t she?”  

Evie frowned again.  

“She’s a dear friend, not an indentured servant,” she said. “She is free to do whatever she wants.”  

“I don’t think she sees it that way,” Dr. Fletcher replied.  

Evie smacked her brother on the arm.  

“Jacob? Care to help out?”  

Her brother shrugged.  

“She’d be mad not to stay on here,” he said simply. “Not to mention her bedside manner is a lot more pleasant than some practitioners,” he added pointedly.  

“Young man, if you are not happy with my services, you’re welcome to go to some backstreet clinic where they still use waxed thread,” Dr. Fletcher advised.  

Evie smiled.  

“I’ll have a word with Lizzie before we leave,” she promised.  

They shook Dr. Fletcher’s hand. The old man remembered something.  

“I almost forgot. As if my medical services were not enough, I need to play postman for you as well.”  

He handed an envelope to Jacob.  

“This was given to me by Mr. Williams, the father of that unfortunate girl,” he said. “The man must have guessed there was a connection. Luckily for me, he did not pry.”  

“How is his daughter?” Evie asked.  

“Much better,” Dr. Fletcher said. “Physically, at least. They are planning to move to the Colonies, for the sake of her health and reputation.”   

He shrugged.  

“I live for the day when a young lady’s reputation is valued less than her health, but there it is. At least the air will be cleaner in the Colonies.”  

***  

“A Christmas gift from the Williams family,” Jacob muttered as they sat down in a park to open the letter. They read it together.  

Dear Mr. Frye,  

As you have not called on me again, I can only hope this letter reaches you. After the visitors you sent our way, first Dr. Fletcher, followed closely by Mrs. Rivers, I can safely say that my daughter seems to be on the mend.  

I would not hazard a guess as to what Christian soul delivered that marked newspaper to us, but we bless him nonetheless. As uncharitable as it feels, that news may have done more good than all the visitors and well-wishers so far.  

My daughter and I will be departing for Australia within the next few months, and I will accordingly be giving my notice to Mr. Jameson. If he is still of interest to you, I hope that what follows is of some use.  

The shipments you were interested in keep coming at regular intervals, but are not shipped further out with the other goods. However, I overheard a conversation between Mr. Jameson and his solicitor, who also happens to be his future father-in-law, a Mr. Matthew Reese. Mr. Jameson is engaged to be married to Mr. Reese’s daughter, as I understand.  

“That would be the young lady Mikey’s been serenading for the last three weeks,” Evie commented.  

“Excuse me?”  

Evie snorted.  

“He’s been casing their house and sweeping the street. To pass the time, he’s been going through his impressive repertoire of Irish ballads.”  

Jacob nodded his appreciation.  

“I’ve heard him sing ‘Carrickfergus’,” he said. “Miss Reese’s a lucky girl.”  

“As long as she does not get her hopes up,” Evie said with an impish grin.  

“You think he’d find her too posh?” her brother asked. Evie gave him one of those looks full of disappointment.  

“Honestly, Jacob, you can be so clueless. He’d find her too female, if you know what I mean.”  

“Of course I do,” he said calmly. “Nothing wrong with that.”  

“Good,” Evie said. “Let’s read on.”  

From the overheard conversation,  the letter went on,  I gathered that Mr. Reese was well pleased with the progress of the shipments. The only other thing of note was the mention of Mr. Clyde. As a banker he had been quite instrumental to our business. I was therefore quite surprised to hear Mr. Reese earnestly advise Mr. Jameson to ‘unhitch his cart from Mr. Clyde’.  

“Now we’re cooking,” Jacob commented.  

“There’s a rift,” Evie nodded.   

“Let’s deepen it,” Jacob said.  

The rest of the letter repeated Mr. Williams gratitude and best wishes. Evie slipped it back into the envelope.  

“This game of cat-and-mouse has gone on long enough,” she stated. “Let’s see if we can get it wrapped up before Christmas.”  

***  

Evie eyed the pinboard on the wall critically. The ambitiously amorous Mr. Jameson took the pride of place in the centre. She shifted her sketch of the young Templar to the side and placed Mr. Reese in the middle. The biggest problem was still the piece labelled ‘opium’. It still lead nowhere.  

She took a step back and eyed the crowd assembled on their train. There was Nicky, who had been selling cigarettes around Jameson’s offices and keeping an eye on things; Mikey, whistling yet another tune to distract himself from the lack of cigarettes; Clara, in her Mrs. Rivers edition, poking about on a map of London, tracing the distances between Templar households; and, of course, Jacob, who irritated her by throwing pins at her sketch of Mr. Jameson.  

One person missing, she thought as the train slowed down at the station.  

“Who do we hit first?” Nicky asked, resting her feet on an empty chair.  

“No one yet,” Evie said firmly. “Not until we understand what is going on.”  

Clara patted Nicky on the shoulder.  

“I like your Christmas spirit, Miss Boyd,” she said.  

“Don’t you flatter me, Big Clara,” Nicky snapped. “You proper pulled wool over my eyes that night.”  

Jacob suffered a coughing fit.  

“Big Clara?” he said, wiping his eyes.  

“Apparently, to distinguish me from Miss O’Dea, I have been given this soubriqet,” Clara said, somewhat dryly.  

“Well, it’s proper muddling,” Nicky grumbled. “Same as he’s the Irish Mikey, to tell him from Mikey from down in Seven Sisters.”  

Evie turned to the carriage door as Ned Wynert sauntered in.  

“Sorry I’m late,” he said jovially. “I think I know everyone here, except -”  

Clara blinked, then offered her hand in greeting.  

“Mrs. Felicity Rivers,” she said.  

“Henry Wynert,” Ned said smoothly.  

Clara stared into Ned’s eyes for a moment.  

“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Wynert,” she said, shaking his hand.  

Evie marched up to the board again.  

“As you can see, things have shifted. Mr. Jameson seems to be under the thumb of a certain Mr. Reese.”  

“That’s his sweetheart’s father,” Mikey confirmed. “Very posh and proper.”  

“Walks like he’s got a broomstick up his arse, and it holds up his top hat,” Nicky added. “No offense, Mr. Frye.”  

“He’s also advising Mr. Jameson on opium shipments,” Evie added. “Ned, have you had any luck?”  

Ned shrugged.  

“I don’t rely on luck, Miss Frye, I rely on information. The last two crates have been loaded on a train to Manchester,” he explained. “And I gather they arrived there safely.”  

“Why Manchester?” Jacob muttered. There was a collective shrug in response.  

To Evie’s despair and distraction, Ned pulled out his elegant cigarette case. Noticing Clara’s interest, he offered her a cigarette and gallantly lit it. Mikey followed suit, and Nicky unabashedly helped herself to Ned’s supply.  

“It’s got the best railway link,” Ned explained. “And no shortage of people. Dead centre of North England.”  

“Let’s stick to London for the moment,” Evie said. “Apparently, Mr. Reese has been advising Jameson against working with Mr. Clyde.”  

“Nothing on that one,” Nicky admitted. “Goes to the bank, goes home, goes to that club of theirs. Widowed, has two children, both long married.”  

“Clean as a whistle, according to Freddy,” Jacob interjected. “Must’ve had a nest egg stashed away. He didn’t crash with Starrick.”  

“Cautious, then,” Evie thought out loud. “And what about the Reeses?”  

Mikey glowed.  

“I had a bit of luck,” he said proudly.  

“Luck of the Irish,” Nicky commented dryly.  

“If there’s one thing we’ve always been fucken short of, it’s luck!”   

“I just love the history of the British Isles,” Ned said happily.  

“Mikey? About the Reeses?” Evie reminded him.  

“Oh, that. Yes. I helped Miss Helen, that’s Jameson’s intended,” he explained helpfully. “She had bought a whole heap of boxes for some Christmas charity dance. And since she got me to carry all the boxees in,” Mikey paused dramatically and whipped a piece of card out of his pocket. “Voyleh,” he said.  

“Voilà,” Clara corrected.  

Evie and Jacob peered at the gold-edged invitation card.  

“Good lad,” Jacob said happily.  

“You’d better put it back,” Evie said. “It is for Mr. Reese and family.”  

Clara looked over Mikey’s shoulder.  

“I know the place,” she said. “It belongs to one of the better-moneyed charitable and missionary societies. They’ve been breaking their necks for peered patronage.”  

“How do you know that?” Jacob asked.  

“I visited with them a few times before going to see Miss Williams,” Clara said, still eyeing the invitation. “I should not think they would have much in the way of security. They are not quite as exclusive as they would like.”  

“Well, Miss Helen was all aflutter about going,” Mikey said. “Apparently, her betrothed is coming along as well.”  

“Wouldn’t it be nice to overhear the conversations in the smoking room,” Jacob mused.  

“They don’t have one,” Clara said, breathing out smoke. “The ladies are all very proper ladies, and, as we all know, only loose women partake of such things.”  

Ned chuckled, and looked out the window. The train was slowing down.  

“I hate to cast stones,” he said. “I’ll leave you all here to figure it out.” He turned to Clara. “You seemed really interested in my suit, Mrs. Rivers.”  

“It’s such an elegant cut,” Clara said smoothly. “You must have an excellent tailor.”  

Ned peered at her over his glasses. He reached into the inner jacket pocket.  

“I never figured myself an advisor on fashions,” he said.  

“Your taste recommends you,” Clara said.  

He put a card into her hand, tipped his hat to others, and sauntered out.  

“We should still attend this occasion,” Evie commented. “Jacob, you should go.”  

“Why me?” her brother leaned back in horror. “Why not you?”  

Evie gave him an exasperated look.  

“We’ve been over this before,” she said.  

“Oh, I need to spend an evening in a stuffy reception because you hate corsets?” he whined.  

“Because Jameson knows how I look!” she snapped.   

“That’s a better excuse,” Jacob agreed.  

“I doubt much business will be discussed if their wives and daughters are tagging along,” Clara said.  

“Their digs will be empty, though,” Nicky said. “We could have a butcher’s.”  

Evie nodded.  

“There really is no need for everyone to freeze in the street,” she said. “Whoever is in there can signal the runners to warn us when our Templars leave the reception.” She thought for a moment. “I wonder if this may also be an occasion for quiet word with Mr. Clyde.”  

“If he’s there,” Jacob said.  

“I’ll sit with the runners,” Evie said. “You can signal me from across the street.”  

She turned to Mikey and Nicky.  

“Could you find us a comfortable spot with a view?” she asked. They nodded at each other and set off.  

Jacob dragged a pin with a piece of string to a corner of the board. He pinned a piece of paper to it and wrote  Manchester?.  

Evie thought about the invitation. It was not nearly as detailed and decorative as the ones Jacob had nicked off the Gladstones.  

“This should be easy enough to copy,” she said.  

“A small lantern with a cover and a mirror would do the trick for the signaling ,” Clara mused. “Just slip it behind the curtain and give the agreed signal.”  

“You can handle that part,” Jacob growled.  

“I beg your pardon?”  

“I’m not going to slink around dying of boredom for hours,” he said to both Clara and his sister. “I hope you can find something to wear, Mrs. Rivers.”  

***  

The appointed evening had gone well up to a point. Evie and the runners had ensconced themselves in an office building opposite the venue for the charitable event. The signals were agreed – one flick of the lantern for Jameson, two for Reese and three for Clyde. The lantern, its miniscule candle amplified by a mirror, sat safely in Jacob’s pocket.  

Once he reached Clara’s, however, he was forced to wait and listen to the litany behind the bedroom door. It was an interesting mix of French and English swearwords, punctuated here and there by swishing of cloth and growls of irritation.  

She came out wearing some sort of thing decked in ribbons and a scowl to match the complexity of the dress. She had made a valiant attempt to put her hair up, even. Jacob had to admit that the only detail that made sense to him was the neckline that plunged so low other body parts were involved.  

“I’m dying to know where you’ve hidden the gun,” he said. Clara stared at him.  

“What, no guns?” he said again. She was still staring.  

“The suit,” she finally managed.  

“Hmm?”  

“You are in a suit,” she managed, flushing.  

“This old thing? It’s the only one I have,” Jacob shrugged. “What about it?”  

“Distracting,” Clara muttered, collecting her purse. “We are supposed to be highly respectable, remember?”  

“Then keep your hands to yourself,” he said, holding the door open for her.  

T he bored and overdressed man at the door  to the venue barely glanced at their invitations . Once inside the decked-out reception room, Jacob pointed out the main actors to Clara. There was Mr. Jameson, not leaving the side of his future father-in-law , Mr. Reese . Nicky’s  desc ri ption  of Mr. Reese was more than apt. His entourage included a stern-looking woman, probably the wife, and a young man with a passing resemblance to his father.  

“And I imagine that the vision in pink, the one using her fan like a windmill, would be the happily affianced Miss Helen Reese,” Jacob concluded. “Clyde is here somewhere as well.”  

“And now we mingle?” Clara grimaced.  

“I suppose so. When one of them leaves, I’ll  h op upstairs and signal the lads.”  

After about half an hour of meandering about the room, they rendezvoused again at the corner of the table laden with food.  

“This is dreadful,” Clara whispered. “I am so glad my parents never bothered with these things.”  

Jacob nodded. “And the worst is yet to come. I imagine there will be speeches.”  

“At least I overheard Miss Reese chirping about her impending nuptials,” Clara said. “If that’s of any use, she’s to be married in April and her father is generously sending the newlyweds to the Continent. Jameson won’t be around.”  

“That man is a sop,” Jacob shook his head. “Evie was right not to take him out. We’d be doing the Order a favour.”  

Clara sighed, twiddling with the wine glass in her hand.   

“Look at all this food,” she said sadly. “Is this how we help the poor?”  

“I’m sure there will be leftover scraps,” Jacob mumbled grimly. “Come on, one more round, and pray our Templar lads leave soon.”  

The speeches began and went on for a while. Jacob managed to find a comfortable corner to keep an eye on Mr. Reese and his entourage. Mr. Clyde hovered nearby, looking dreadfully bored.  

You look like you’ve had enough of the charade,  Jacob thought.  But can you ever get out?  

Where Templars went wrong, he figured, was to confuse logic with order and agreement with discipline. Jacob would not think twice about whacking Mikey upside the head for disobeying clear instructions, not because he was the lad’s boss, but to knock some sense into him. When his lieutenants stuck to something, it was by agreement, not out of fear of punishment , he hoped . If Lizzie wanted to give up the life of a gang runner to train as a nurse, she was free to do so.  

To be honest, both Father and Evie had laid about into him about discipline more often than he would like to remember.  

It’s not the same , he thought.   He suspected that only boredom could bring about such insights.   

Clara appeared at his side while another speaker droned on. Virtues of those present were exalted and the failings of the unwashed masses greatly regretted. Jacob thought of Lizzie and the  Aldbloms , and Mikey’s desperate efforts to  send  his ‘ma’ in Dublin  some  cash that someone else would not piss away.  

“If I hear the words ‘deserving poor’ one more time,” he growled to Clara.  

“Oh, do be quiet. At least  you  can vote,” was her response.  

The speeches moved on to thanking individuals, especially Mr. Clyde and Mr. Reese,  for  their efforts in supporting the missionary work of the society, helping bring progress to the dark corners of the world and spreading the word of God.  

“We’ll leave the dark corners of London to  f end  for  themselves,” Jacob whispered. Clara nodded.  

“Miss Reese’s dress alone could feed a family for a month,” she added. “Not that I should throw stones.”  

“Why, what did you spend?”  

“I bought Miss Agnes’s sister two new  hats  and a magnifying glass in exchange for fixing up one of my mother’s dresses.”  

Candles twinkled in the large Christmas tree and fans fluttered, their owners trying to cool the air grown warm and stale from gas lamps. The speeches were finally over and small groups broke about in search of food. Jacob watched the tall figure of Mr. Reese raise a toast to Mr. Clyde, of all people. He listened as hard as he could, but could pick up nothing but trivialities. Mr. Clyde bid farewell to the rest of his group and headed for the door.  

Finally,  Jacob said to himself. He snuck out of the room and headed to an office on the upper floor. Evie would be pleased, he thought as he gave the agreed signal. He blew out the candle and slipped the small lantern back into his pocket, then returned to Clara.   

To his surprise, he found her chatting happily with Mr. Reese the Younger. Unable to contain his curiosity, he snuck behind them.  

“Law sounds so difficult,” Clara was warbling in a jolly voice. “How in the world do you remember all those rules and paragraphs is beyond me.”  

“My father was quite insistent,” the young man replied. “I would have preferred joining the army.”  

“Oh, how dashing!”  

Jacob raised an eyebrow.  

The young man tugged self-consciously at his jacket.   

“It would certainly be easier to pick clothes for an occasion. A uniform is never out of place.”  

Clara fiddled with her fan.  

“But you must admit that such a career would be more fraught with danger,” she chirruped.  

“Our Empire must be kept safe,” the young man replied.  

Jacob spared a passing thought for the late Earl of Cardigan.  

“Surely we are in no danger of barbarian hordes here in London,” Clara said firmly. Jacob wondered if Mr. Reese the Younger realised Clara sounded exactly like the man’s sister. Going by the way the lad’s eyes kept straying to Clara’s, ahem, neckline, he was not particularly interested in her voice.  

“In fact, we are,” the young man said conspiratorially. “They are right among us.”  

Clara’s fan fluttered excitedly.  

“Now you’re scaring me, Mr. Reese,” she cooed. “Whoever do you mean?”  

“Fenians, socialists, all kinds of similar elements working towards anarchy,” young Mr. Reese said earnestly. “Not to mention the Irish.”  

“I am almost scared of setting foot in the street now, Mr. Reese.” The fan fluttered again. “Oxford must be so much more peaceful. When are you going back?”  

“Soon after Christmas,” the young man replied. “You should consider visiting Oxford. It is an incredible place.”  

The conversation was cut short by the stern-looking figure of Mrs. Reese bearing down on her son. Her daughter followed, eyeing Clara’s dress with critical eyes.  

“Clarence,” the older woman said sharply. “We will be leaving shortly.” She eyed Clara suspiciously. “I do not believe we have been introduced, Miss - ?”  

“Mrs. Roberre,” Clara said, offering a hand, which was ignored.  

“French?” young Mr. Clarence Reese said eagerly.   

“My late husband was French,” Clara said sweetly.  

At the mention of a late husband, Mrs. Reese all but winced.  

“A pleasure, I am sure,” she said coldly. “But we must be going.”  

Clarence turned to follow his mother and sister, then turned back to Clara.  

“Do look me up if you come by Oxford,” he said and kissed her hand gallantly.  

“Well, wasn’t that fun,” Clara said dryly as the Reese family, with Mr. Jameson in tow, moved towards the door. Jacob lead the way upstairs.  

“Considering a trip to Oxford?” Jacob grinned.  

“If his charming attitude weren’t enough, the lad was well behind the door when the chins were handed out,” Clara commented. “Let’s send word and get out of here.”  

“I heard the streets were dangerous.”  

“Then we shall bravely face Mikey O’Donnell, the bloodthirsty Fenian,” Clara growled.  

“You certainly charmed the mother.”  

“Widows are dangerous, too.”  

They snuck into the office upstairs and locked the door. As the Templar party left the building, Jacob readied the lamp.  

One, count to five, then two , he reminded himself. “How did you pick your surname this time?”  

“That was my father’s first name,” Clara replied.   

“Thought it was Robert,” Jacob muttered, folding away the lantern.  

“That’s how you say it in French,” Clara sighed. “Can we please leave now?”  

***  

Evie all but rubbed her hands when the signal from across the street announced that Mr. Clyde had left. She shimmied down the wall and ran to the line of coaches.  

To her surprise, the elderly man walked past the line of waiting vehicles. Evie remembered he lived reasonably close by. Perhaps the walk home would serve as his evening constitutional.  

Evie followed at a distance, once again thinking over the ways to approach him. A threat should be a last resort. A friendly warning about Mr. Reese may be a better opener. And if Clyde was becoming disillusioned, as Jacob had guessed, perhaps even an honest, forthright approach would make sense.  

She followed the figure through the misty glow of street lamps. He was starting to sway a little. Evie picked up the pace. The man, had, after all, been to a reception.  

Mr. Clyde swayed some more and leaned on his cane. It twisted under him and he almost lost his footing.  

The Good Samaritan approach may be the best option of all,  Evie figured as she rushed up to the wobbling figure. She held the older man up carefully.  

“Do you need some help, sir?”  

Me. Clyde gave her a cursory glance.  

“Why, thank you, young lady,” he gasped. “I am rather -”  

He swayed again, clutching at his chest. Evie quickly sat him down  on a nearby staircase . The man was having serious trouble. Every breath sounded like a hiccup.  

“Do you have heart trouble, Mr. Clyde?” Evie asked. “Is there something you need?”  

The man shook his head. His lips were turning an odd shade.  

“No,” he gargled. “Not heart.”  

“Let me get you to a doctor,” Evie said, looking around for a coach. Mr. Clyde’s eyes were barely open.  

“No time,” he said, tugging at her arm. “Too late.”  

A trail of spittle ran down his chin. Evie tried to pull him up.  

“Poison,” she said. “You have to throw it up, Mr. Clyde. There’s still time.”  

His breathing sounded more laboured. He grabbed at Evie’s arm.  

“Reese,” he gasped. “Reese, and Bronn. Can’t stop it.”  

Evie was a little shocked at how quickly her training took over.  

“Who is Bronn?” she asked hurriedly.  

“Manchester,” Clyde muttered. His felt around his neck.   

Evie pulled the old man up, leaning him against her shoulder.   

“Come on, Mr. Clyde, move. We can still get that thing out of you,” she urged. The man was choking now and his legs gave way. Evie knelt next to him, one arm around his shoulder. She glanced around the mostly empty street.  

A man was standing underneath a nearby tree, observing the scene. Evie’s eyes narrowed. He was most definitely watching, and most definitely not coming any closer. She sat Mr. Clyde up on the stairs again.  

“I’ll get help,” she promised, and sprinted towards the unhelpful observer. He took one look at her and broke into a run. Evie sped up, now concerned at how empty the street was. All that was needed would be a sniper in a window.   

Tall trees lined the street. Still at a run, Evie fired her rope launcher into a sturdy branch and swung several yards above the street, her boots slamming into the running man’s back and sending him sprawling on the wet pavement. Evie knelt on top of him, her knee digging into the man’s kidneys.  

“Did Reese send you?” she growled. The man tried to shake her off.  

“Who is Bronn?” she hissed again, gripping around his neck.  

The man swung his fist upwards, hurling something at her face. Evie ducked and rolled, hearing glass smash behind her.  

The man was on his feet again, and now Evie noticed the pin in his coat lapel. Obviously, this job had been important. Reese had not merely sent a runner to keep an eye on things. The man was reaching into his jacket pocket. Evie grimaced, spun around from a crouch and scythed his legs from under him. The hidden blade caught him cleanly on the neck as he fell.  

“Dammit,” Evie gasped, stepping away from the spreading puddle of blood. Steam rose from the shards of a broken glass vessel and an acrid smell mixed with that of blood. She ran back to where she had left Mr. Clyde.  

A small group of people had gathered around the stricken man. Evie  walked  up  to them  

Mr. Clyde was well beyond any help. One hand still clutched helplessly at his collar. There was nothing more to be done.   

Evie made herself scarce. She took to the rooftops at the first opportunity and finally stopped to catch her breath. She shook her head. Her hands were certainly not free of blood. Then again, for every life she had taken, she had put her own in danger. Mr. Clyde had died like a dog in the street, and someone had been set to watch and wait.  

If Reese had taken such extreme measures, Mr. Clyde must have been close to leaving the fold. And now there was another player on the horizon, and the mention of Manchester again. And there she was, on the rooftop, none the wiser, but a great deal angrier.   

How could she leave for India now? She had lectured her brother about duty. Evie allowed herself a few moments for selfish, angry thoughts. The  dreamed-of  journey would be delayed once more.  T he  difference between her and her brother was that she had learned when to keep her mouth shut about how she felt.  

Of course, Henry would be his usual patient, reasonable self. He had been watching, albeit helplessly, over London for much longer than Evie and Jacob. If he could be patient, so could she, Evie thought as she slid from one roof to another.   

She briefly stopped to check on the night’s hiding spot. All the runners were gone. They had agreed to reconvene at Marley’s pub. It was easier than chasing the train. In the side rooms, the general ruckus and merriment provided more than enough noise to cover up even a full-blown brawl.  

Evie spied a familiar  figure  in the street below, a woman in a thick winter cloak on his arm. They were headed in the same direction as she was. She kept to her shortcut on the rooftops, not very much in the mood for conversation. Half a block down, however, her brother looked up and stopped. Evie descended.  

“Back already?” Jacob asked.  

“Aren’t you perceptive,” she muttered. “Let’s head on to Marley’s.”  

“We’ll be in through the back door,” Jacob said.  

“Is there a reason you can’t use the front?”  

“I would, but Mrs. Rivers here is dressed like a Christmas tree. Hardly discrete.”  

Even a nasty, well-thought-out curse in French failed to lift Evie’s spirits. To be honest, Jacob sounded glum rather than jovially irritating.  

Mikey and Nicky were already there, sitting under a thin veil of bluish smoke.  

“Are we done for the night, Miss Evie?” Nicky asked hopefully.  

We’ll never be done,  Evie thought grimly.  

“Is everyone out?”  

"Yes,” Mikey confirmed. “Though nothing at Clyde’s.”  

“He probably keeps his things in the bank,” Jacob muttered. “A safety deposit box is better than a locked desk.”  

“What have you got?” Evie said tiredly.  

Clara informed them of the upcoming activities of the Reese family, including the young man at Oxford. Nicky produced a wad of letters from Mr. Jameson’s desk, including one or two with a Manchester postmark.  

Mikey fiddled with papers in his hands.  

“I found this little notebook in Mr. Reese’s study,” he began shyly. “But I left it, figured he’d check on it.”  

“What was in it?”  

Mikey put several pieces of paper down on the table.  

“I figured I’d just snip a few pages, make it look like they fell out,” he said timidly.  

Evie was impressed.  

“But it’s some sort of weird code,” he added. “I’m sorry.”  

Evie and Clara picked up a page each. The fine paper was covered with tidy handwriting.  

“Of all the presumptuous bastards,” Clara said, shaking her head.  

Jacob peered at the papers.  

“I guess he figured that was enough to hide it from bloodthirsty Fenians,” he snorted.  

“Can you crack it, Mr. Frye?” Mikey asked, his voice full of admiration.  

It was Evie’s turn to snort.  

“I highly doubt it. This isn’t a code, Mikey. It’s just written in Greek.”  

“I can’t tell if it’s just the alphabet or an actual translation,” Clara muttered. “But  lambda  to  mu  looks promising.”  

Evie collected the assorted papers.  

“I’ll have a look at them,” she said. “Anything else?”  

Mikey shook his head, then winced as Nicky elbowed him under the ribs.  

“Oh, that.” He reached under his chair.  

“Mr. Reese has such a well-stocked house I figured these won’t be missed.”  

He put two bottles of expensive-looking sherry on the table.  

“Merry Christmas?” he offered, looking timidly at Evie.  

Evie forced out a smile.  

“Why don’t you two go and share the Christmas cheer with the others?” she suggested.  

Mikey and Nicky left, leaving one bottle on the table. Jacob procured some glasses and filled them. The three stared at them in silence.  

“I have a distinct feeling something went wrong,” Jacob said.   

“Clyde is dead,” Evie replied. “Did he have anything to drink at that reception?”  

“At least one glass for the toast,” Clara said.  

“Who toasted him?” Evie said, still not looking up.  

“Reese, as it happens.”  

“That was it, then,” Evie nodded. She tersely went over the events of an hour ago, with some help from the glass of sherry.  

The three sat in silence for a while. Finally, Jacob refilled his and Clara’s glass and stoppered the bottle. He pushed it along the table to Evie.  

“For you and Henry,” he said.  

“We should look at those papers,” Evie muttered.  

“My Greek is non-existent,” Clara said. “I’m sure Henry would be far more helpful.”  

Evie looked at Jacob, who simply nodded.  

“You know how much I care about documents in general,”  her brother said  and nodded towards the door.  

Evie sighed in relief and picked up the bottle.  

“Meet at Henry’s in the morning?” she suggested.  

J'espère que nous vous y trouverons endormis,”  Clara said.  

“Perhaps,” Evie said weakly.  

“I insist,” Clara replied.  

Evie managed her second smile that evening.  

“Very well then, I promise.”  

***  

Jacob stared at his glass for a while after his sister had left. He should probably finish the drink before he smashed the thing against the floor, he figured.  

He could not quite decide which was worse, the glittering crowd mouthing off about the deserving poor, Reese pulling the wool over their eyes, or the dejected look on Evie’s face. An angry Evie was so much better. Tonight, however, he seemed to be the angry one, with his hands tied, and that was the worst of all.  

“Fuck,” he finally said.  “Right under our noses.”  

“Who would have thought the upright solicitor had it in him,” Clara muttered  glumly  

“What’s that last thing to you said to Evie?” Jacob asked.   

“I said I was hoping to find them both asleep tomorrow morning,” she explained.  She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Is it always this loud here?”  

“Would you prefer to go back to our very respectable reception with complimentary poison?” Jacob hissed. Next moment, Clara’s fan smacked at him. He grabbed the thing out of her hand  and put it on the table.  

“I’m not in the mood for sweet nothings,” he muttered. “I’ve seen enough fans and costly dresses for a year.”  

He heard Clara’s dress rustle. She was sitting on the table next to his empty glass.  

“If looking at me is so displeasing, would you mind driving me home finding something to break and someone to beat up, in that order?” she  asked.    

They’d unlocked the piano next door and the noise rose even higher. Jacob watched Clara’s hand beat the rhythm with her fan, waiting. He pushed himself slightly away from the table.    

“Don’t even try to hit me with that thing again,” he said.  

She opened it with a flick of her wrist and smacked him on the nose. The gesture was so ridiculous he almost smiled.  

“I told you to stop,” he said.  

The fan smacked at him again, but this time he was ready. He stood up, twisted it out of her hand and pulled Clara off the table in the same movement, spinning her around and twisting the attacking hand behind her back.  

“You look even less threatening than usual in that damned dress” he said into her ear. “And a fistfight with you would be unsatisfying at the best of times.”  

Would a mad dash through the streets help at all?” she asked hoarsely.  

Standing upright, not half-slumped over  an  empty glass, made a world of difference. The view had also changed from the stained table to the neckline that had so fascinated Mr. Reese the Younger.  

“I ’ve  just thought of something else I could ride,” he said. He eased his hand over Clara’s shoulder and into the edge of the dress. There was not much room, but he managed. Clara yelped.  

“I think my hand is stuck,” Jacob whispered.   

He squeezed hard to demonstrate. The heartbeat under his hand sped up. He moved his hand along the tight edge. Clara reached  a w kwardly  for the stays that help the dress at the back.  

Jacob  tugged on the edge of the dress and the topmost button at the back fell off. He bit down into Clara’s bare neck, pulling at the stays at the same time. They came undone and he pulled at them again, hearing them snap. Both hands now freed, he pushed Clara face down onto the table.  

“I could rip this thing to shreds,” he whispered, bending over  her “But  since it is an heirloom, I suppose I could be gentler.”  

She twisted as much as she could to look at him and  whispered something in French.  

"What was that,  mademoiselle ?”  

I said,”  Clara  began  through clenched teeth.  “Spare the dress and rip me to pieces instead.”  

Jacob tugg ed  the tight cloth off  her shoulders  inch by inch, biting down as he went. He pressed his knee  between  her legs.  

“Then lift it up before I decide to make it pay for the sins of others,” he muttered against her shoulder before clamping down with his teeth again. He slid his hand over the bunched - up cloth and reached down.  

Clara pushed against the table with all her strength, as though trying to throw him off. Jacob pushed back, one arm pressing her firmly against the table.  

“Do that again,” he suggested. He pulled at the last layer of cloth that covered her and rammed his hips against her.   “I am not feeling very gentle and loving,” he admitted.  

“Come closer if you dare,” she hissed, licking her lips. As she righted herself on her elbows, Jacob grabbed her chin and twisted her head towards him.  

“Like this?” he asked, pressing against her again. She tugged away from his grip and bit down on his hand. Jacob swore and squeezed her leg with his other hand. She moaned, releasing his fingers.  

“Chomping at the bit, are you?” he panted against Clara’s neck. “I’ll teach you to bite.”  

“Can’t wait,” she spat. Jacob felt the pressure as she buckled against him, seemingly intent on pushing him away. “Do you need a riding crop to help you along?” she panted.  

Instead of answering the insult, he  pressed Clara’s shoulder down to the table again and more or less tore his one pair of good suit pants open, feeling the hot wetness on his hand as his knuc k les brushed  between  Clara’s legs.    He pulled her up slightly by her hair.   She was gasping, drinking in large  lungful l s  of air with his every movem ent . Jacob lay down over her.   

“How is  that? ” he asked roughly. He could feel Clara’s legs shaking against his. “Do you need a riding crop? To bite down on, perhaps?”  

  “I doubt I should need it ,” Clara panted.  You are s uch a gentleman,  I can barely feel anything.”  

Jacob’s mouth dropped open at the elegant combination of consent and insult.  

You  gabby little bitch,” he managed , and bore into her with all his force, one hand holding her in place, the other one gripping the edge of the table. He rode on her back, sweat dripping off his face onto her bare shoulders. Clara’s hand wrapped around his arm.  

I’ll bruise you, silly,  he thought helplessly, but it felt too good to stop.   

Clara’s hand closed over his. Her hair, now undone, was plastered to her cheek.  

“Don’t you – dare – stop,” she whimpered against the wood of the table.  

She pressed her forehead against the hard wood, keening through clenched teeth. Jacob sank his nails into the soft flesh of her legs. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to do exactly the opposite of her request, and stopped.  

“I’d rather not stop ‘til I’ve wrung you dry,” he gasped against her protestations.  

“Then why -”  

Reaching under Clara, he all but flipped her over to lie back on the table.  

“Because I think I will need to clamp that filthy mouth of yours shut,  mademoiselle, ” he explained, leaning over her. He ran his hands along her legs, biting on the inside of her thighs, leaning her lower legs against his shoulder s . Clara ran her hands over the silken red cravat around his collar. Jacob leaned further over her. He moved one hand enough to loosen the red silk and let it drop down over Clara’s face. She moaned into it, nibbling into the silk.  

“You can bite on that,  you  hungry little slut,” he growled, stretching the cloth over her mouth. As her teeth clamped down onto the silk, he pressed his hands into the table and swung himself up, stabbing into her. She gripped the edge of his waistcoat, pulling with all her strength.   

“No more – of your – little – jabs,” he grunted, moving his hips violently with every word. “Here is your promised ride.”  

He heard the scraping of wood as his swing pushed the table into the chair behind it. He buried his fingers in Clara’s hair, still hearing the table shake and move slightly as he rode up on her hips. The red cloth was flung to the side as Clara  tossed her head left and right. Jacob caught her face between his hands. Her skin was slick with sweat.  

“Bruise me,” she breathed. “Tear into me, just don’t stop, don’t stop for anything, don’t ever – oh god - ”  

Jacob pressed his palm lightly against her mouth to contain the oncoming scream, surprised to hear himself almost growling in response, and moving even more violently.   

“That’s it,” he whispered, “That’s what I wanted to hear.”  

And he let himself loose, growling against her neck, gasping for air, and letting all the accumulated rage pour over into his movements.  

I’ll show them, we’ll show them, the bastards that they are, we’ll show them -  

He bit into  Clara’s  shoulder with barely enough time to contain his own guttural yowl and clung there until his body slowed down and his legs could hold him again. Catching his breath with some difficulty, he turned his face towards  Clara,  blinking at her.  

“Fucking hell,” he whispered. “I needed that.”  

She licked her lips, breathing  just  as heavily.  

“Me too,” was all she managed.  

Jacob decided against standing up, and merely slithered down onto the floor, Clara joining him a moment later. He shook his head at the ruin he had wrought on both the dress and her formerly neatly pinned hair. Clara sighed at the spilled glasses of sherry.  

“What a mess,” Jacob offered apologetically.  

“Yet I am all the better for it,” Clara countered.  

Jacob kissed her.  

“So am I,” he whispered. “Let’s get you home, little fox.”  

“I think we only have a few hours before we are due at Henry’s,” Clara said sleepily, nuzzling against his neck.  

Jacob was suddenly too tired to care. The most appealing place in the world, free of rage, Templars and notes in Greek, was Clara’s quiet, comfortable bed.  

“If those two have any idea what to do with, or after, a bottle of sherry, we may be able to sleep in a little,” Jacob said.  

Clara stood up shakily.  

“Let’s bank on that,” she agreed, wrapping the cloak over the rather sad-looking festive dress. “I am the soul of discretion, but from what Evie once mentioned -”  

Jacob stopped in the middle of putting on his coat.  

“I don’t need to know that, thank you very much!” he hastily interrupted. “I’ll trust your judgement. Now let’s get some sleep. The festivities are becoming altogether  too  exhausting.”