"You summoned me for a reason?"
"We have a job for you."
clasping his hands together in his lap. Prince Albert
"Ah. How large do you want it and what type of motor?" Dante pulled out a small notebook to jot down the requirements for whatever the Prince Consort wished him to build.
"Put away your paper. It's not a build we need from you."
Dante frowned and tilted his head to the side. "I don't understand."
"Your British Council recommended you to assist us." Albert replied softly. For a second Date was sure the man was going to fall asleep as they spoke.
Dante sat back. "Why would the Council align itself with you?"
Instead of an answer, Albert sat forward and handed him a folded parchment. Dante grimaced at the evidence of the Council's involvement. Every Ettarian knew what that particular parchment paper meant and it was never good. He unfolded it sliding a secretive glance at Albert. Albert watched him. What did it say that the Council had decided to include Albert in an issue that was more than likely not a human one?
Dante turned down to the parchment bracing himself for whatever the Council deemed important enough to interrupt his life. He frowned at the incomprehensible script in black ink.
It has come to the attention of the British Council that something of vital importance to both our world and the world of humans has been discovered. One of our agents and his soul companion discovered a mysterious clock that looks to be a countdown device. The word we received, though the information is not yet verified, is that it is connected to a machine that our enemies wish to gain control of. If they get their hands on the machine, the world as we all know it will be ended. The Council requests your assistance in verifying this information. It has come to our attention that you have within your court a girl who can ascertain the information we need. We recommend contacting Dante, an Ettarian inventor living within
to escort this female to the clock. London
"My adopted niece, Calypso Montgomery is not like most women you've encountered."
"As I haven't encountered many recently, I hardly doubt that is of significance." Dante put an ironic tone to the words hiding the irritation bubbling to the surface.
He stood up and made his way to the paned window. Ignoring the reflection in the glass he looked out at the moonlight draped garden below them. A woman. He'd be babysitting a human woman.
"What's her connection to all of this? Why this particular woman?"
Albert sighed, drawing Dante's gaze to his reflection in the glass. For a man of power, Albert looked his age. His shoulders stooped as he made his way behind the massive wood and brass desk. The stress of the decades ruling beside his beloved Queen
was definitely taking a toll on the
"Why am I the only one brought into this?"
"You're not the only one. There are other agents involved in this business, which you will meet with tomorrow morning. Callie is just as talented as her father, Jasper..."
Dante frowned turning to watch Albert shift papers on the desktop. The name was familiar in a vague sort of way. Albert's eyes slid away letting him know he wasn't divulging the full truth. Dante leaned back against the window sill fighting for patience.
"Jasper is extremely talented with clockwork. When he was younger they spent a good amount of time in
archeological digs. He and his daughter brought back artifacts no one has ever
seen before. He always had amazing stories of their uses and life
"And his daughter?"
"Just as talented. She's away in
on a dig
her father abandoned a couple of years ago." Egypt
"Abandoned?" Dante's internal alarm system went off. Chills chased down his spine.
"It's of no consequences. Personal issue I believe he mentioned at the time." Albert waved his hand airily in the air as if brushing the thought away.
Huh. Alright, he'd ignore the slip for the moment. They needed to get back to the woman.
"Again, why does it have to be this particular woman? And why am I the one set to babysit?"
"We are sure your Council has their reasons. We do not deign to understand them or their decisions. Callie is gifted in a very unique way. We completely understand why she is being summoned to help, but we are not happy with it. We've sent a summons to bring her home. Our intelligence has informed us she will be in tomorrow morning. You will go to the docks and retrieve her and bring her here. We have information regarding her father that she won't be pleased to hear."
Huh. If Albert was concerned for this woman, she had to mean a great deal to the man on a personal level. Did that mean they were lovers? Dante shook his head. There had never been any rumors that the Prince Consort took lovers. In fact it was the exact opposite. Albert adored Queen
Dante grimaced. Meeting this mysterious woman brought up a whole new issue. Daylight would be in full swing by the time he would be able to collect her from the docks. And that was certainly not going to work for him. Perhaps he could send the carriage with David to retrieve her? David would make sure she arrived at Buckingham without incident.
The door swung open. Soft feminine laughter filled the dark room. Dante slid into the shadows, where he was most comfortable.
Dante's body went rigid. His feet rooted to the bamboo flooring as the exotic scent of water lilies floated across the room filling his nostrils. The woman entering the room was not what he expected. He slid his gaze down her lithe athletic body. Then did a double take.
Her leather trousers clung to her curves like a second skin. Her blouse nothing more than a man’s suit shirt tucked in and covered with a short leather jacket. Several hanging gadgets from a wide black leather belt balanced low across her hips jangled like bells with each movement. She sashayed with an efficient grace as if she was a royal herself before stopping in front of
smile. Prince Albert
“You sent for me, Uncle Albert?”
Liquid heat, like melted steel, flowed through his veins settling in his aroused body at her voice. The muscles in his legs went numb. He plopped down on the window sill. He hadn’t felt desire in decades. Even the tingle on the roof of his mouth, signaling the emergence of his fangs was a new sensation.
Swallowing back the need, Dante concentrated on her. With a simple thought he slid his own mind into the personal energy that was all hers. An electrical zap of energy much like the electrical machines some physicians were playing with coursed through his body. His breath froze in his lungs. He tried again this time pushing up against an obstacle.
The air around her glowed as if a protection barrier surrounded her. He scowled. Who was this woman?
He turned to Albert and slipped inside his mind like an oiled feather through water. Easier than it should have been. Albert's mind was riddled with guilt and fear of the possibility of putting Callie in danger. Not to mention the guilt of keeping information of her father's involvement from her. Jasper had met with the British Council over several meetings before his disappearance.
Interesting. He'd have to inquire into those meetings.
“I can't Uncle Albert. I'm filthy. I only just returned to
and came straight away.” London
“You did not stop to freshen up?”
“Your message said it was urgent. What's wrong?"
Emotions swirled on her expressive face. Her black kid gloved hands clenched behind her back. Dante curbed the impulse to rush in and break the news of her father's disappearance to her. And yet, he wanted to hold her in his arms as she cried out her sorrow and swear that he would find her father. No matter what. Dante snorted softly.
Callie straightened, pulling back her shoulders. Her lips tightened into a straight line. Prince Albert approached her with stilted steps.
“We summoned you for as assignment of integral importance to the Empire.”
"I don't understand. What could I possibly do for you? I'm not qualified for anything other than archeology, Uncle."
"Your skills as a clock-worker has been consigned."
She frowned pulling back slightly. "Me?"
"You've got to mistaken. I'm nowhere near as knowledgeable as father. Why wasn't he asked?"
Albert cleared his throat. "There's more. Your connections in Egypt as also in your favor."
"Father has those same connections. Besides, I just came from Egypt. Why bring me here only to send me back? Couldn't you have sent a messenger there?"
"This is not to be shared with anyone outside of the select few who know."
"Again, why not father?"
Albert sighed. "We can't ask your father."
"He's not in London."
She titled her head to the right frowning at him. “What?”
Prince Albert halted at the corner of the desk, surprise flickering on his face. “No one sent you notice?”
“Notice of what?” Her hands rubbed down her outer thighs.
“Your father is missing.”
“Two months ago. You never received word?”
“Two months?" she stared down at her feet. "That was about the time his letters stopped, but he was never good at that. I thought...have you found him?”
Prince Albert tried to lay a comforting hand on her arm but she threw it off.
“No, he hasn't been found."
"Why isn't anyone looking for him? He wouldn't just vanish."
"I have men searching as we speak."
"I'd rather look for him myself, Uncle." Callie turned away from Albert. She stilled as her gaze collided with Dante's.
She owned the most unusual eyes he'd ever seen. Bright amber. She narrowed hers at him and crossed her arms over her ample chest.
“Who are you?”
“Dante is here for your benefit, Callie.”
She snorted. Irritation crossed Prince Albert's face briefly before morphing into resignation.
“As we explained before, we need you for a special task."
“I want to know about my father.”
"At this moment, your father doesn't matter. You will be meeting with someone in the morning to inform you further."
"Then I want to know about father."
Albert narrowed his eyes at her. "Calypso."
She turned back to Albert with a sniff. "Father first."
"You're not going to let this go are you?" She shook her head. "He disappeared two months ago. That is all the information I have for you."
"What about the servants? He never leaves without some notice."
"There was nothing left behind. Dante-"
“There has to be.” She insisted putting her clenched hands on her hips. A small smile graced Prince Albert's mouth for a brief second before fading to a sternness Dante had yet to see from him this night.
“Dante will take you home."
She turned half way to glare at Dante again. Clearly she didn’t trust him. He wondered if it was his interference in her life or the orders from her Prince that caused the feeling. She looked him up and down curling her lip before speaking to Albert.
“I will say again Uncle, I don't need anyone.”
“This is not an option Calypso Montgomery. This is an order from your Regent. It will stay an order no matter how much you complain or whine.”
After a minute Callie sighed.
“Yes, your majesty.” She replied softly bowing her head slightly.
The harsh sound of her boots against the bamboo floor echoed his heart beats as she approached. Her exotic water lily scent invaded his nose. He held his breath keeping still like a prey in the sight of a predator. She stood still watching him emotions flickering across her expressive face before settling on resignation.
“Dante, is it?” He nodded his acknowledgment. “Well, Dante, call me Callie." she held out her hand to him. He grasped the small delicate appendage securely in his own left hand. "I guess we better get to work then. The faster we get this over with the faster I can find my father.” She turned back to Prince Albert. “Where was the last place father was seen?”
Albert stood up before rounding the desk. She stepped towards Prince Albert as if she wanted to hold him back. She scowled before following him to the desk.
"Where did this come from?" She scooped a dull metal object off the top of his desk.
“It is for Elizabeth.”
“Oh!” She smiled briefly.
Dante moved closer. In the palm of her hand sat a small brass statue of a cat about the size of a child's wooden letter block. The metal shined like newly pressed brass.
“It is the smallest one yet.” Her hushed voice filled the empty silence.
“He was here only long enough to grant it to us.”
She frowned. “Father didn't start it for you?”
“Start it?” Dante looked closer at the statue but didn’t see any key to wind it up. The mechanical toys were just starting to make an appearance in the human world.
“My father makes mechanical pets for the wealthy. At each birth of the royal house the new babe is presented with one.” She held it up to the light scowling at the thing. “It hasn’t been started.”
“Your father was missing an intricate machinery piece. He said he would return the next morning to fix it. He never did.”
“What?” She looked up at him. “Father would never leave it if it wasn't working. He would never have brought it in the first place."
“He is meticulous with that?” Dante asked.
She nodded. He held out his hand for it. She hesitated a minute before putting the small cat in his palm. The softness of her kid glove scraped across his burn scars. The copper was cold against his scars. The toy was smaller than most he’d seen and very intricate.
“There doesn't seem to be any pieces missing.” Callie’s voice floated over his shoulder.
Dante started; surprised he hadn’t heard or felt her getting so close to him. He was always hyper-aware of movement near him. He glanced out the side of his eyes to watch her. The closer she was the more the color of her eyes stood out, and the stronger the desperate urge became to sink his fangs in her carotid and make her his forever. Licking his lips he dragged his gaze from the steady pulse point at the base of her throat.
“Can I take this home Uncle Albert?” She turned to look at the Prince.
“Only if you bring it back working.”
She smiled taking the toy from Dante, the sound of material scraping scars loud in his ears. “I promise to return it in perfect working condition.”
She had already opened the door and was heading out when she stopped mid-stride. She glanced at him over her shoulder irritated. “Well, are you coming or not?”
Dante looked back at Prince Albert, whose eyes crinkled in amusement. “Remember. It does not matter how powerful of a creature you are, if she is hurt in any way, you will answer for it. Protect her with your life.”
Available Jan. 21, 2014
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