Samantha stared at the screen. Francis Tumblety (1833 -1903), confirmed murderer and believed suspect in the infamous Jack the Ripper murders, had at one time traveled under another name: Frank Townsend. Frank Townsend.
The helpful little website provided another useful document for research buffs –a picture.
“Jesus…” Her voice came out unnaturally weak. She licked her dry lips. It was a joke. It had to be. Some sick joke. Oh they were good. The same face she woke-up smiling at, kissed goodnight, stared back at her on the screen. The line drawing wasn’t perfect. The man in picture wore one of those ridiculously large walrus mustaches in style during the period –had to do that. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be believable, right? His hair receded, and he was a bit heavier –older, even. But the line of the nose, the ears, those eyes. They were Frank’s. Her Frank’s.
She stared at the eyes, her fingers going ice cold. Eyes never lied. Frank said that.
“You’ve reached Detective Frank Townsend. You know what to do.” The phone dropped from her hand. Something inside her clogged up. Frank never ignored the phone twice. It was wrong, all wrong.
Her heels clattered on the linoleum yet she wasn’t aware of moving. Frank. Get to Frank. And then it all went wrong. Black.
She couldn’t move. Buzzing in her ears, limbs. She tried to scream and found her voice gone. The world about her lurched. She was going to be sick. Her lips tingled. Red. Red on the floor, splatters of it across the desk. Entrails like grey ribbons underfoot. A figure hovered over it. Cloven feet, man’s torso, it turned to look at her, then at the body on the floor. Frank? Her mind screamed it. Frank! The pain in her chest pushed from all sides. Agony. Dear God, am I dead? A pair of eyes, unholy blue and utterly beautiful filled her vision, blocking out the horror. Golden brows, summer sky irises. She wanted to weep. A voice like hot caramel and dark dreams touched her ear. Sleep, Samantha. Sleep.
Who was she to resist? So she did.
London, 1888. In a discrete yet refined town house of an undisclosed location.
“We have a problem.”
Lady Olivia Bedelia Monday thought she rather understated herself, but she was not one for uttering expressions of excessive sentiment. Though, ‘We are fucked,’ as Lazarus had so eloquently snarled less than an hour ago, was certainly more apropos.
“Yes, I am sure we do,” snapped Sir Edward Sneedly from his seat across the polished dinning table. His pale mustache twitched under his sharp nose as he glared daggers at her. “Tell me, Lady Monday, when are we not embroiled in a problem? I cannot recount that last time I had a decent night’s sleep or a hot meal without interruption.”
Monday arched a brow toward Sneedly’s rounded paunch. “No doubt it is quite vexing to find oneself deprived of so many meals.”
The bureaucrat went a lovely shade of pink, but a gentle rasp stilled his tongue.
“I believe Lady Monday was about to explain the problem,” said her mentor and leader, Tiberius Nemo. He tented his long fingers before him and waited with a somber expression and twinkle lighting his grey eyes. The fire-red hair and beard framing a gently rounded face gave him the appearance of a carefree Dionysus. Oh, the deception of appearances.
“A rip has occurred.” Monday’s words reverberated through the following silence. “He went through.”
“Tell us,” said Nemo. There was no laughter in him now.
Monday swallowed hard. Lingering, shameful fear still made her muscles twitch. Too many seats were empty around the glossy mahogany table. Seats of the Others. Her comrades. She kept her gaze resolutely away from the unoccupied seat next to Nemo. “We had him cornered. He’d just left the dead woman’s rooms. The unfortunate Miss Kelly’s, I believe.”
Blood had turned his cloak a glistening black. He’d looked right at her, dead soulless eyes filled with unnatural hunger. For death. For her. “Mr. Hunt moved in for the kill,” she said evenly, “and he acted.”
She shivered despite herself. The chaotic sound of it, like a thousand men screaming in terror, the feeling that her bones would crumble to dust under the onslaught. “The fabric of the air ripped open and he slipped through. Mr. Lazarus and Mr. Hunt followed in pursuit. I returned here.” Her heart seized up painfully. Simon.
Hush, child, whispered Nemo’s voice in her inner ear. Many do not need ears to hear you.
She swallowed down her fear as Sneedly looked at her blandly. “I trust you wrote out a report?”
Monday lifted her finger. A leather bound folder flew through the air to land with a punctuated slap on the table before Sneedly. As always, it gave her a perverse sense of giddy satisfaction to see Sneedly quail under her display. Scowling, the man ripped open the file and began reading.
“Where has he gone, Olivia?” Nemo asked. The strain in his voice was stronger now. Monday glanced at his neck, where the high collar of his embroidered jacket covered the gapping slash across his throat. No blood would ever pour from it, not from the ageless man. The wound would heal over time. It might have done so already, had it not been made by a dark blade.
“Forward,” she said, turning her attention to his face.
The file landed lightly on the table. “I don’t see the problem, then,” said Sneedly. His wet lips curled. “In fact, I’d call this a boon. We’ve wanted to stop this bloody Jack for months. Lord Grey has been breathing down my neck with it, and now the fiend is gone.” He sat back with a satisfied smile. “He’s their problem now.”
“He is our problem,” snapped Monday. “And he will remain so until we destroy him. His presence there is a greater danger to us than if he were here. ”
“I cannot see how so…”
Monday talked over him. “That is because you think of time as linear. Which it is not.” You fool.
The large, dark man at her side stirred with approval. Brahman hadn’t so much as moved until then and Monday had rather forgotten his presence. She glanced at him now and the gold cap on his eyetooth winked at her.
“Time,” Nemo whispered to Sneedly, “is a fluid thing. While it is true that the past affects the future. It is also a truth that what happens There effects Here. The danger being that while we always know how the past affects us, changes in the future can rip apart the very fabric of our world.” He leaned forward, carefully resting his thin hands upon the table. “Here and Now shift simultaneously.”
Monday barely repressed her glare. “In other words, you may find yourself a pig farmer in Nottinghamshire on the morn. Not,” she added with a smile, “that you would notice the change.”
“And,” interjected Nemo with a touch of reprimand, “there is the simple fact that such a fiend knows how to rip through time.”
“It is magic of the darkest sort,” said Monday. “I have not known anyone with such powers--” Her lips pursed tight as Nemo’s eyes found hers. Save for Simon.
Sneedly’s chin lifted a degree. “Very well, I see your point. Fabrics of time should not be tampered, true. However, from what you people have told me of the future, I should think them more adept at destroying this Jack than we are. Are they not leaps and bounds ahead of us in mechanical discoveries?”
Brahman’s deep voice rolled over them like a wave. “They are innocents. They believe with their eyes, not their heart. Empirical facts, science. That is all. It makes them weak and unable to combat dark magic such as this.”
“Well, they have Lazarus and Hunt to help them. Do they not?”
Nemo shook his head slowly. “Mr. Hunt and Mr. Lazarus can only contain the situation. It shall take all of the Others to bring this to a close.” He glanced at Monday. “Where are the rest?”
“Midnight is conducting a few more tests on the samples we have. Linus went to guard the rip. They shall be along shortly.”
Nemo nodded. “And Mr. Hunt.” He closed his eyes. The lines on his face smoothed. “Ah, yes. He has contained the situation and has made contact with…” Nemo’s eyes snapped open. “Townsend.”
A collective breath rippled through the room. Townsend. He’d been among their brightest stars. Until he’d disappeared ten years prior.
“That bloody turn coat!” Spittle flew from Sneedly’s lips. “Hunt damned well better bring the man back with him. He is wanted for questioning…”
“I’m afraid,” said a voice like rich caramel, “that Mr. Townsend will not be of use to you at present.”
Sneedly yelped, nearly jumping out of his chair with fright as a man materialized in the seat next to Nemo.
“Blast it, Hunt! You have orders to walk into rooms like a normal man. Or have you forgotten?”
The corners of Simon’s expressive lips lifted a degree. “My memory is excellent.” He left the rest unsaid. Simon simply never obeyed anyone. Expect, perhaps, Nemo.
Monday sat still as stone, not letting a breath or sigh betray her as Simon settled his long frame more comfortably in his chair. With his classical bone structure, solemn expression, and burnished gold hair flowing in soft wings down to his shoulders, Simon looked like a Renaissance painting of Christ come to life. Or a Bellini saint, perhaps. Foolish women often mistook him for a fallen angle. Something the bloody man was not above using to his advantage.
As though sensing her thoughts were of him, his eyes flicked to hers for a moment. Olivia’s breath came short as that unholy shade of blue caressed her. She saw herself reflected in those eyes –the pale oval of her face, high cheekbones, unnaturally red lips, her black hair pulled high on her crown before running like an ink stain over her shoulders. He blinked once, an acknowledgment, then looked to Sneedly and Nemo.
“Townsend had no memory of who, or what, he was,” Simon said. “I doubt he ever had memory of what happened to him. After what we found when we arrived, it is unclear if he ever shall.” Simon’s hand fell to the leg he propped against the table. “Lazarus is with him, providing assistance only he can. I attended to the girl.” His voice betrayed his weariness as he explained of the woman named Samantha who had seen too much. “She is contained,” he said finally. “But I cannot keep her that way for long.”
Beside him, Sneedly shuddered. Of all of the Other’s talents, Monday suspected Sneedly feared Simon’s the most. He was right to fear. Simon unleashed was a force no one in their right mind would want. Least of all Simon himself.
Nemo stroked his beard slowly. “Mr. Hunt, you and Lady Monday shall return to Lazarus. Brahman and Ms. Midnight will follow shortly. I need them here for the moment. There are rumors that the Dark Ones have captured Clarissa.”
His eyes went slowly round the table, taking them all in. “Use discretion as always. But should the unthinkable arise,” his gaze stopped on Simon, “you must not let fear stay your hand.”
Simon’s golden brows drew together. “One more thing. About this woman, Samantha. She may be--” A clap like thunder drowned out his words. The room shuddered under the blow, plaster falling like hail, the gas lamps above them swinging wildly. From below floors, came the muffled sounds of screams, and another explosion rang out.
Nemo rose. “They’ve found us.”
The force of a gale roared against the carved panel door of their chamber. Six inch thick plaster walls buckled, groaning inward. Prospero. Monday threw her powers forward, holding the wall in place with invisible hands.
Sneedly dove beneath the table as Brahman and the other leapt to their feet. Brahman sucked in a deep breath, his muscled bulk expanding to inhuman proportions. Upward and outward he grew. Higher. Bigger. His bronze skin turned clear, shimmering like crystal, pebbling with droplets.
A familiar ring of female laughter drifted up from below. Magda. Electricity crackled thought the air. Olivia’s arms shook with the effort.
“Simon.” Nemo’s voice was thin as water. Small fangs slid over bloodless lips. “Take Monday…”
Simon’s blue eyes locked with hers. Olivia shouted her protest but darkness had her. Her limbs locked tight, the slightly sick, yet utterly familiar feeling bubbling up from her core. A warm dry hand slipped into hers, holding her fast. Damn you, Simon. Her voice could not push past the buzzing in her ears. Gently, he laughed. A strong arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her against a hard body. Simon’s eyes gazing down at her, his soft mouth against her cheek. Don’t resist, Livy. Despite her pride, tears ran hot from her eyes. No, no, no.
In the vortex of swirling light and darkness, she saw the door explode, the black shadow that caused Sneedly to scream like a mad man. Brahman’s arms lifted as water swirled around his feet. The vision spun. Frank Townsend lying in his blood as Lazarus bent over him, “Rise up, my friend,” and the slim body of a girl named Samantha suspended in time. Olivia felt the pull of them all.
Brilliant blue eyes, like the heart of a flame, claimed her. Stay with me, Livy mine. The soft brush of a kiss on her temple. Sleep. Dream. With me. She could not resist him. She never could. She let her head fall to his hard shoulder. Dark claimed her. And she dreamed of him.
Simon felt the moment Livy’s slim body yielded. His body registered in with a sigh of relief. Livy. Safe in his arms. The black, dark thing that only he understood took over. For once he was grateful for it and the surge of power that rushed like lust through his limbs, hot and strong. And then it all went wrong. Pain pierced his heart. Bemused, he looked down. The length of a black blade quivered from his chest, binding him to Livy. Her onyx eyes opened. Crimson blood poured from her lips even as she dissolved before him. NO! He could not scream. He was already air.
Frank’s throat burned. He kicked out, his feet sliding in something viscous. Son-of-a-bitch! Blindly he swung hard, desperate to hit anything. A hand grabbed his arm and wrenched it down. He registered the ice cold feel of it before a voice, low and soothing calmed him with unnerving efficiency. “Rise up, friend.”
He blinked, his eyes tearing up under the glare of blue-white fluorescent bulbs. A gaunt face half hidden by a heavy brown beard hovered before him. Some goddamn hippy junkie. But it was the eyes, deep-set and smudged with blue shadows, that got to him. Those weren’t the eyes that laughed at him while his guts where ripped from his body… Frank lurched upward, grabbing his middle. Bile surged within. But he was whole. His hands trembled over the flat, hairy expanse of his abdomen. Jesus. He shivered with sick dread. God, he hurt.
Frank swallowed hard, but a childlike sob escaped. Fuck. What the fuck had they done to him?
The man at his side spoke with gentle humor. “Seven lives left, Townsend. Tread carefully from now on. I can only stay death’s hand so far.”
“Shit, my heart only half-stopped that other time--” His head jerked up. He knew this man. Lazarus. Shit on a stick. His head spun wildly. He did not want to remember. “Sam?” he asked with numb lips. He’d felt her near, but now she was gone.
Lazarus’s eyes smiled. “For that, we shall need Simon…” he trailed off going an impossible shade of white as he stared into nothingness. A terrible groan sounded, as though the building were falling in on itself. The cheap board ceiling began to shake, the windows rattling. Another groan came, louder this time. The hairs on Frank’s arms lifted. Something was coming.
“Good god,” Lazarus rasped. “It’s all gone wrong.”
Comfortably numb. Wasn’t that the song? Sam couldn’t agree more. She was warm from her head to her toes. Better than the best hotel bed money could by. This was an hour long hot stone massage. After hot sex bliss. If she never moved again, that’d be okay. Where was she, anyway? Wasn’t she supposed to… No, no, let’s not think about that. Frank always accused her of not being able to turn off her mind. Here was her chance…
Holy Hell! Awareness shot through her like adrenaline. Frank. She’d seen Frank on the floor. Blood and torn flesh. And that man with the blue eyes had pulled her under. For a moment, she thought she heard him screaming. It seemed sacrilegious for that kind of pain to ring in such a beautiful voice. He screamed again. Livy! Sam lurched up and the darkness around her shattered like glass, letting blinding white light pour in. Simon. Unexpected protectiveness welled up within her at the thought of the strange man. And Frank. They both needed her. Another thought gripped her as she fell hard on her knees. It was all wrong.
Choose wisely, for one way leads to certain death for one of these characters. While another might save them all.
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