Continuing our serial of GeekMom Corrina Lawson’s steampunk adventure/mystery novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract:
In a Victorian London where magic fuels steam technology…
Joan Krieger dreams of revolutionizing fashion for this new, modernized world but a hidden enemy stalks her family’s clothing business, turning her dream into a nightmare.
When Joan is a witness to a client being murdered by magic, she turns to the only man who can help: Gregor Sherringford, consulting detective. Together, they become a formidable team but their investigation pulls aside a curtain of sorrow and secrets that threaten everything in Joan’s life. Only by risking her very soul can she uncover the truth, a truth that Gregor fears she may not survive.
In continuing the cliffhanger of part 5, part 6 has Joan dealing with an unwanted suitor and playing for time.
The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, Part 6
“Completely impossible!” Joan sputtered.
“Why?” Father asked in a mild but deceptive voice. She knew that voice signaled a fit if she did not acquiesce.
She must buy time in case Sherringford found a solution. Tomorrow was too soon.
“What does my mother say to such haste?”
“She will agree,” her father said. “It is past time, Joan, and this is a fine match.”
“Do you doubt me, Miss Krieger?” Sir August said. “I assure you, I will do my utmost to make you a good husband. I take marriage vows very seriously.”
So do I. That is why I do not want to make them to you.
His gaze roamed over her as if she was being assessed, like goods to be purchased. He was not supposed to be in the women’s section of the shop, but over the past year, he had found many excuses to accompany her father to the offices and speak to her. It had not bothered her more than momentarily until now.
She curled her hand around the pendant again. Her fiancé hid something about his interest in her. She would view any contact with him through that prism.
“Sir August, I believe that your intentions are exactly as you state them,” Joan said. There. A safe answer.
Milverton smiled. She nearly shivered. It was the smile that did him in. For some reason, it always seemed leering, as if he was already thinking of undressing her. He saw her body. He did not see her. And that mattered far more than his being a gentile or their class differences.
“But I barely know you.”
“No matter. The marriage is satisfactory to me.” Her father’s words were nearly a growl. He began to tremble. He clenched his hands into fists.
“What are your objections to my suit, Joan?” Sir August asked.
Nothing. Everything. “Tomorrow is so soon! I do not have a proper dress. Above all, a seamstress should have the right dress. And I have not had a chance to invite my cousins. I should love for them to be there. And shoes, I do not know if I have shoes!” Her voice rose in real panic. “Where are we to be married? And, after, how do I get my affairs in order? And I have not yet even seen where I am going to live and—”
She cut herself off, unnerved by her own ranting. How appalling. The stress of the situation had bled out in front of Sir August.
“That is a valid list of concerns,” Sir August said firmly. “From my experience with my sisters, it seems to me that every woman worries about what her wedding day will be like. I have sprung it upon you without warning, though I have good reasons.”
“What reasons, sir?” she asked.
He hesitated a second before answering. “Well, to protect you, of course.”
He had lied. No, he was not trustworthy at all.
“Any woman would want a proper dress,” he continued. “I believe I have a solution to that.”
He smiled at her. No, he smiled down at her, though he meant to appear to be kind.
“As it happens, I have my mother’s wedding dress in my home. That, I trust, would be suitable.”
He smiled that smile that made her shiver again. She wondered why she was so afraid of it.
“Is this acceptable?” he said.
Delay, delay. “The dress will likely need to be altered,” she said, regaining some strength to her voice. “This cannot be done in a day, especially as I have promised to finish the Merrill dress today for an impatient client. It would not do to send business away under our current situation.”
Sir August nodded. “Of course not. Your loyalty does you credit. Then we will delay two days while your seamstresses sort this out. Will that be enough time to make the alterations?”
“What about inviting friends and family? I don’t want to face the day alone.”
“I would be happy to have a gathering after the ceremony at our new home to celebrate our union. Hmm…that might take time to organize.” His brows furrowed. “My head cook and my housekeeper will have my head if I do not provide proper warning. I believe you might be right about the rush. Next week, then.” He stared at her, as if trying to read the answer in her face. “How does that suit you?”
She nodded, hardly able to speak.
“There, you see, it will not be so bad, Joan,” her father said.
She barely heard his words. A week. She had a week’s reprieve during which Sherringford could do his job and she could question Sir August. She should push for longer.
Sir August clasped her hands. His movement was so unexpected that she froze. “I know this is new to you, my dear. You’ll get used to it.”
His hands were cold, and he had a heavy touch, so different from Sherringford’s gentle caress.
“This is very strange to me.” He called her “my dear”? Oh no.
“I know,” he said. “But your very life depends on being married as soon as possible. You have to believe that.”
“Do you know something I do not?”
Sir August and her father exchanged a glance. “He means your future will be secure,” her father said.
That was not what he had meant at all.
“I only have to look at how things have become so difficult here to know that being with me will keep you safe.”
“I believe that you wish to give me a fresh start in life, Sir August,” she said carefully. Trust her instincts, Sherringford had said. That might be part of her mage gift. And her instinct said to not trust Sir August.
“That’s a good girl,” Sir August said and let go of her hands. “I ask an indulgence. You said you had not even seen where you were going to live. Will you come with me now to see your future home? Perhaps you will rest easier once you visit and see your new life set before you.”
She looked at her father. He nodded, urging her to accept. She thought of Roylott’s badgering and Sherringford’s suggestion that she should investigate her fiancé. Why not? “I will come.”
Milverton bowed to her. “This will be my pleasure, Joan. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.”
He was the picture of courtesy, yet that was the second time he’d used her given name. Strictly correct, as they were to be married, but he’d not asked her permission. And that said all there was to be said about him. What aura was about him that he had this negative effect on her? It was the exact opposite of how she had instinctively reacted to Sherringford, even though he had been far more curt with her.
“Let me change for an outing and find a coat, milord,” she said.