Ashes & Alchemy
The Gaslight Chronicles
Cindy Spencer Pape
Publisher: Carina Press
Date of Publication: Jan 6, 2014
Number of pages: 119
Word Count: 30K
Police inspector Sebastian Brown served Queen and country in India before returning to England to investigate supernatural crimes alongside the Order of the Round Table. If his wifeless, childless life feels a little empty sometimes, that’s not too great a price to pay in the name of duty.
Minerva Shaw is desperately seeking a doctor when she mistakenly lands on Sebastian’s doorstep. Her daughter Ivy has fallen gravely ill with a mysterious illness—the same illness, it seems, that’s responsible for taking the lives of many of Ivy’s classmates.
Seb sniffs a case, and taking in Minnie and Ivy seems the only way to protect them while he solves it. But as mother and daughter work their way into his heart and Seb uses every magical and technological resource he can muster to uncover the source of the deadly plague, it’s he who will need protecting—from emotions he’d thought buried long ago.
Police Inspector Sebastian Brown stirred the coals in his study’s small iron grate. The clock on the wall chimed quarter past two. Another night with no sleep, then. Bloody hell, this insomnia was getting to be a habit. Perhaps he should ask his superior to move him to the graveyard shift. If he was going to be awake all night, maybe he’d be able to rest during the day. It was better than what he was doing now, getting no sleep at all. At forty, he was too old to keep that up indefinitely. He eyed the half-empty decanter of brandy on his desk but shook his head. He’d tried that for the last couple of nights, and all it had earned him was a headache to go along with his fatigue. That, he could do without. It was bad enough that the British winter made his hip hurt like hell—except he knew from experience that hell was hot and dry, not frigid and damp.
An odd thump at the front door, only a couple of yards from his study window, caught his attention. There were disadvantages to having excellent hearing—most would likely have not noticed the small disturbance over the crackling of the fire, the ticking of the clock and all the other sounds of a house at night. Outside, the wind howled mightily. Most likely some debris had been flung up onto his stoop. Still, he had nothing better with which to occupy himself than to go clear it off. His housekeeper and majordomo were away for the weekend, leaving Seb to his own devices. He tightened the belt on his dressing gown and limped his way through the foyer to the front entrance.
A gust of wind nearly ripped the heavy wooden door from his hands as he opened it. Seb looked down to the stoop and confirmed his assumption. A large, dark bundle of something had been deposited against the door.
“Doctor?” The bundle stirred and murmured the word so softly, Seb nearly didn’t hear—and his hearing was above and beyond that of most humans. He reached down to help the woman to her feet. Before his brain even registered the action, he’d drawn her slight, shivering form into the house, out of the wind and fog. Wide blue eyes blinked up at him, their lashes crusted with frost. Her face was thin, and too drawn with cold to tell if she was fifteen or forty. Tendrils of wet brown hair had escaped her sodden hat.
“Are you insane?” She didn’t even wear a breathing mask. With the coal smoke polluting the London air, that was tantamount to a death sentence, if the vampyres or criminals didn’t get to her first. “What are you doing out on a night like this? It’s suicide.”
She stiffened under his hands and glared up at him. “Doctor,” she gritted through chattering teeth. “Are you Dr. Grant?”
Seb cursed himself mentally. Of course it was a medical emergency—the one rational reason for being out in the frigid pea-souper. He grabbed his own cloak off the hall tree where he’d left it. “Next door. Come on, I’ll walk you over.”
She narrowed her eyes, likely trying to see if he was trustworthy. Then she sighed and turned back toward the door. “Th-thank you.”
He nodded curtly at the back of her head. Once out in the elements, he did his best to keep her smaller body sheltered by his. About halfway to the next doorstep, he realized he was still in his house slippers. Fortunately there wasn’t much ice on the ground yet, so he managed to avoid falling on his face. He shepherded her up to the doctor’s door and rang the bell without incident. He hadn’t bothered with a mask, so he held his breath as best he could.
Moments later, Mrs. Parrish, the doctor’s housekeeper, answered the door. The usually immaculate woman was mussed. Blood and filth streaked her white apron. “Mr. Brown. Come in. Did the Yard send you for something?” Behind her, a variety of voices sounded, some stern, some moaning. Rapid footsteps and the normal clinks and clacks of a working clinic seemed more hurried than usual.
“No. What’s the matter?” He gently shoved the mystery woman in ahead of him and closed the door behind them.
“Steam car accident, two streets over. They brought all three young men here. Two just need sewing up, but the third will be lucky to make it through the night.” Mrs. Parrish caught her breath and eyed the shivering woman still leaning on Seb. “Who have we here, Mr. Brown?”
Seb sighed. “Another patient, I’m afraid. She landed on my doorstep in the fog. Will the doctor be able to spare a moment?”
Mrs. Parrish shrugged. “You know him. He’ll find a way.” She cast a concerned eye over the patient. “Meanwhile, dearie, I can at least help you get warm and dry.”
The woman shook her head and swallowed a sob. “No. It’s not me who’s sick. It’s my daughter. She’s only four and she has an awful fever. I’ve tried half a dozen different doctors and none of them will come see her, not on a night like this.”
“Son of a—” Seb broke off the curse at a sharp glance from the housekeeper. “There’s no way he’ll be free for a house call, is there?” The idea of a helpless child lying ill—it was the kind of thing Seb would never be able to forget about Lucknow—the hellhole in India that still haunted his nightmares.
Mrs. Parrish took the younger woman’s hands and rubbed them between hers. “No. I’m sorry. If we could get the little one here…”
The woman sniffled and sagged into Seb. Now that they stood in the light, he could tell she was younger than he, but a woman, not a girl. Tiny lines bracketed her eyes, while her cheeks were smooth. Her face would be attractive when she smiled, although she looked in need of a hearty meal and a long night’s sleep. “Is there any other doctor who might come? I don’t have money for a cab and she’s too big for me to carry all this way.”
“Where’s the girl’s father?” Seb growled at the idea of any man who let his woman out in this weather.
“Dead,” she said with a sniffle, though she lifted her chin. “It’s just me and Ivy. There’s no one else. Now, is there another doctor—one who will take a patient on credit?”
Seb felt like a cad for barking at a destitute young widow.
“Well, there’s Doc Witherspoon, around the corner, but he isn’t much for house calls.” Mrs. Parrish curled her lip. “And he’s not known for generosity either, like dear Dr. Grant.”
“Never mind.” Seb cleared his throat. “I’m hale enough to carry a little girl, and I have a steam car. If we go slowly, the roads should be safe enough.” He looked down the hall, hearing more groaning from the surgery rooms.
Mrs. Parrish snorted. “Especially since you’re not three sheets to the wind, like those idiots.” She gave the other woman a bracing smile. “Never you worry, dear. Mr. Brown will have you and your little one back here before you know it. Though he might want his boots and hat first.”
Cindy Spencer Pape firmly believes in happily-ever-after and brings that to her writing. Award-winning author of 18 novels and more than 30 shorter works, Cindy lives in southeast Michigan with her husband, two sons and a houseful of pets. When not hard at work writing she can be found dressing up for steampunk parties and Renaissance fairs, or with her nose buried in a book.
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