Steamy Nights (Montage)
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by Marie Treanor
Category: Erotica/Erotic Science Fiction/Science Fiction
Description: Love, lust, and revenge, woven through the twisted chaos of time? Fighting for her life in Edinburgh's dark, dangerous streets, Miri stabs the wrong man--and ends up in his arms, sparking a sequence of events that alters history, with catastrophic consequences. Wrongfully exiled from his own dimension, Caratacus is determined to find a way home. But that's going to be difficult using only nineteenth century steam technology--even more difficult when distracted by the sort of steam he creates with Miri! Before he can go home, he has to set things right. That means hunting down a Jack the Ripper copycat, prevent Robert Louis Stevenson from becoming an engineer, and help a brutal, game-playing civilization protect itself from cannibals--all without destroying the intense but fragile love he's found with Miri. After that, reversing time should be easy.
eBook Publisher: Changeling Press LLC, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: May 2009
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [348 KB]
Reading time: 199-278 min.
Tonight, "Auld Reekie" lived up to its name.
Miri shivered in the dank mist that clung to her hair and clothes and almost entirely obliterated the dismal street ahead. She wondered if she should risk approaching the one faint glow in the dark--which had to be the World's End Pub--and find some warmth.
The trouble was, you got better trade through discretion. Men were warier of paying for their pleasures in front of friends. And God knew she needed customers tonight. Billie would be furious if she didn't bring in some money. She really didn't want to give him an excuse to rage, not now with all this going on...
And as her unquiet stomach reminded her, another day without food would leave her weak and open to illness. Miri drew her thin, shabby shawl more closely around her and shifted from one foot to another in a vain attempt to prevent the damp seeping through the holes in her ancient boots.
She thought she heard something--a shuffling sound muffled by the thick, smoke-laden fog. It came from behind her, at the steep steps leading down to the least savory part of the city. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled, forcing her into motion.
She took a few hurried steps forward, nearer the pub's welcoming glow, careful to keep hold of the small, sharp scissors in her pocket.
How are customers meant to see me in this pea soup? she wondered miserably. Why are none of them on the street yet?
Because they're all safe and cozy in the pubs, gossiping with delicious shivers, no doubt, about the disappearing girls. Like Jeanie.
Her empty stomach twisted. The loss of her friend and mentor was huge. She missed her companionship, her laughter, her sheer practical good sense. She hated to imagine what had happened to Jeanie and to the others ... This was Edinburgh's old town--rank, filthy, smoky, riddled with dark passages and grim corners where murder could be done without interruption...
Three men loomed out of the mist, almost on top of her. Startled, she fell back with a silent gasp of terror.
But the men looked almost as surprised as she to encounter another human being.
"Good grief, I nearly stood on you," one exclaimed. He wore a slightly bashed-up tall hat at a rakish angle.
"Look, isn't that Miriam?" another demanded, peering more closely until she could make out his fluffy ginger beard and whiskers. "It is. Miriam, my miniature joy!"
Relief flooded her. Not just because these jovial young men were old customers and harmless, but because it seemed suddenly possible to fend off starvation and pacify Billie.
"Well, that's lucky," said the third. Though he slurred more than the others, he was not the only drunk among them. "Busy tonight?" He leered hopefully in Miri's direction.
"I could be," Miri said archly. Please don't have spent all your money in the pub...
She had done them favors before, because she liked them--let them pool their money and share her for less than the cost of three "shots." Students at the university, they might have been gentlemen but they certainly weren't rich. The first, Dixon, threw his arm heavily around her shoulder.
"I'm skint," he mourned.
The others were turning out their pockets. Miri's heart sank. Not even enough for one "shot." Unless she gave all the money to Billie, but then what would she eat?
Hell, they were nice boys.
"Tell you what," she offered. "You can take me home for what you've got there--providing you've got some supper for me."
Dixon's eyes lit up. "I can get some soup and bread off my landlady," he said eagerly. "Miriam, you're the sweetest whore I ever encountered."
Campbell, who called her his miniature joy, slid his arm round her waist from the other side, and all linked together in a somewhat erratic line, they began to weave their way up the hill.
Campbell said sternly, "You know, you don't want to be out alone these nights. Not safe at all. Another girl went missing last night, they say."
"Two," Miri corrected.
Dixon blinked at her owlishly. "Two what?"
"Two women went missing last night. They're not at home, not at work."
All three shook their heads. "Bad business," Forrester stated, as if that ended the matter.
"What do the police say?" asked Dixon.
"The police aren't interested in missing whores. Not until one of them turns up dead!" She didn't bother to keep the indignation out of her voice.
Campbell, the eternal optimist, said bracingly, "Well, at least it's a good thing that nobody has. Turned up dead, I mean."
"Tell you what, Miriam, you should wear more clothes," Dixon observed. He was a medical student.
"I would if I could."
"Bad for business?" Campbell grinned.
That and I don't have any more.
"Well, you have a delicious little body," Dixon said warmly. "Don't neglect it."
"Don't you neglect it." Miri giggled, letting his questing hand creep down over her breast. "At least, when we get to your rooms."
"This way." Dixon weaved--and stopped dead to listen as a distant rumbling noise fought its way through the mist. "What's that?"
To Miri, it sounded like a runaway cart without its horse. But before she could urge her tipsy companions to a safer location, the rumbling became a roar that vibrated under her feet. There was a whoosh like rushing wind, followed by a massive jolt that knocked her off her feet.
She lay on the ground in a tangle of limbs with her companions. She knew an instant of fear, an almost superstitious terror that they'd been attacked by the creature who'd taken Jeanie and the others. But as she struggled to disentangle herself, Forrester's indignant voice dragged her back to reality.
"Take a bit of care there. What's the almighty hurry?"
Still dazed, Miri saw not three, but four men scrambling to their feet. The fourth leapt over her, as if he was going to leg it down the hill. But he only swept up something from the road--like a broad plank of wood on wheels--before turning back. Without ceremony, he reached down, took her hand and drew her to her feet.
The unprecedented courtesy left her speechless. A swirl of mist uncurled itself from the gas lamp, temporarily allowing a faint, hazy glow to fall on the man who'd crashed into them with such force.
Tall, almost lanky, with his worn coat buttoned askew, he wore no hat, and his fair hair hung around his clean-shaven face in untidy clumps. Dampness glistened on his spectacles. Though she couldn't see his eyes, his young face looked impatient rather than intimidated by the three men squaring up to him for retribution.
For an instant, he stood quite still. The city seemed to recede; his fingers were warm on her freezing hand, and Miri had the curious impression that something about him shone...
"Sorry," he said, and dropped her hand.
He would have passed on without any further exchange, except that Campbell said incredulously, "Caratacus?"
The newcomer glanced around at Campbell and nodded. Still, he made to pass on, but Forrester exclaimed, "Why, so it is. What in God's name are you doing, hurtling about in the mist? In the middle of the night!"
The man's spectacles glinted. "Experimenting."
"On what? Seeing how many people you could knock down in one go?"
"I didn't think there'd be anyone around on such an awful night." He didn't sound in the least repentant.
"And did it work?" Campbell asked, apparently amused, tugging futilely at the wheeled plank dangling from other man's hand.
The newcomer shrugged. "It showed me I can't make enough kinetic energy this way. Steam is the way to go."
"Hear, hear," Forrester sniggered, nudging Campbell to share the joke. They clearly thought he was crazy. "Anyway, what's all this we hear about you? Did Jenkin really send you down?"
Another student, then, despite the poverty of his dress. He looked the studious type.
"Did he?" Campbell echoed, sounding entertained. "What the devil for?"
"I forget," said the disgraced student.
"You stay round here?" Forrester asked.
Grinning, Forrester winked at his two friends while he addressed the newcomer. "Come on then, show us this machine you're making."
"What machine?" demanded Dixon and the studious one in perfect time.
Campbell laughed. Forrester explained. "Brodie told me it was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen. Go on, Caratacus, I'd love to see it."
"Me too," said Campbell at once and even Dixon nodded. Though not studying specifically engineering like Forrester, they were all scientists.
Caratacus--strange name--seemed to hesitate. But it was hard to tell since the mist closed in again. Miri could barely make him out at all now. Forrester, however, had an affectionate hold of his arm, and the other two, dragging Miri with them, were pressing in behind. He may have decided he couldn't shake them off anyway.
Whatever his reasons, he shrugged without a great deal of grace. "If you want."
Resuming their linked, weaving line, they turned and followed the tall young man back up the hill. As they giggled and nudged each other, exchanging quick nods toward Caratacus along with comments they clearly imagined were private, Miri began to wonder if they'd forget about her altogether. However, since her own curiosity was aroused, she entered into the spirit of their fun and concentrated on keeping them upright.
When Caratacus dove into a narrow alcove on the left, Miri thought they'd lost him, but then she made out a figure halfway along, pushing open a creaky door. They followed him across a dank court surrounded by tall tenement buildings and through another door.
Inside, a sputtering oil lamp lit a stone, spiral staircase leading upward. Ignoring that, Caratacus walked to the back of the close and down some steep, dark steps. Miri heard a key screeching against a lock and then they all trooped inside.
Comfort flooded through Miri. At first, confused, she couldn't think what it was, or why she suddenly felt so good. Then she realized, it was warmth.
A breath of happy laughter caught in her throat. Dixon had moved away from her and in the darkness she bumped straight into something hard and solid--their host, turning up the oil lamp which stood in an absurdly elegant iron bracket on the bare stone wall.
"Sorry," she muttered, stepping back onto Campbell's toes.
"Ouch," Campbell protested. Miri ignored him.
In the sudden rush of light, Caratacus gazed down at her in surprise. His spectacles were steaming up, yet somehow he looked ridiculously handsome. The sort of good looks that still, despite her jading profession, sent butterflies gamboling through her stomach.
"Ah. We brought a girl," Forrester apologized. "Hope you don't mind."
Caratacus took off his spectacles. His glance flickered from her face down to her gaudy shawl, gaping to reveal her flimsy, low-cut dress, which was too short to completely cover the worn old ankle-boots she'd worn since childhood. Her profession must be obvious to him now, if it wasn't before from Forrester's awkward remark. Miri flushed red, hating herself for caring. Though her fingers itched to pull the awful red and gold shawl across her breasts, she forced them to be still, made herself smile brazenly at her host.
Rather to her surprise, his lips began to tug upward in response. Those butterflies burst into flame, licking downward, catching at her breath.
"This isn't a room, it's a cellar," Dixon exclaimed. "How much do you pay for this, Caratacus?"
Her host's gaze released hers to glance at the men. "I forget," he said again, pushing past Dixon into the room.
Miri blinked, still dazed by her sudden rush of lust. But Dixon was right. It was a cellar. The walls and floor were bare stone, with just one worn old rug thrown down near the iron-framed bedstead that stood at the far end of the room. There was a small chest of drawers beside the bed. A wooden chair and a table littered with books, papers and pens stood in the middle of the room, and along the wall nearest her, another wooden table littered with the remains of a meal. Hanging from the walls were several oil lamps in the same kind of elegant brackets.
Caratacus moved around the room, lighting them until the whole room was filled with a rosy, friendly glow. Moisture glistened on the walls, yet there was no smell of damp.
The room was strange and bare, but overall it gave an impression of sheer space that was unprecedented in Miri's experience of the old town.
Space, yes--and heat like you wouldn't believe.
"How do you keep it so warm?" she blurted.
"It's the engine," said Caratacus, pulling off his coat and tossing it on the wooden chair. Beneath it, he wore no tie, only a white, collarless shirt, open at the throat and half out of the waistband of his dark, patched trousers. His sleeves were rolled up, revealing arms that bore unexpectedly large, powerful muscles.
He began to polish his spectacles on his shirttail and she saw that his large, capable hands were stained with something black. Oil, perhaps.
He said, "Sorry, I'm not geared for visitors here." He put the glasses back on. Then, while everyone else gazed around in wonder, he walked back across the room. Miri liked the way he moved--loose-limbed, casual, a man at ease with his own body. He lifted a large jug off the food table and inspected it before glancing up at Miri. "I'm afraid I've only got beer. Would you like some?"
Miri blinked. The others glanced at Caratacus in surprise. Men occasionally bought her a drink as a prelude to buying her body. They didn't apologize for the quality of the beverage, or serve her first as though she were a lady.
She licked her lips. "Yes, please."
He found a rough, earthenware cup, poured the beer into it and brought it to her. She met him halfway. His fingers were still cold from being outside, yet when they brushed against hers, she felt warmed from the inside out.
For no reason at all, she felt herself blushing. To cover it, she moved past him and caught sight of the bread on the table. Though she looked away at once, her stomach rumbled and her eyes kept straying back to it. She was salivating like an animal.
Beside her, Caratacus slopped beer into three more cups. Then, without a word, he picked up a knife, cut a large but neat slice of bread and pushed it toward her.
Her gaze flew up to his face, but he'd already turned away.
"Cheers!" Campbell cried. "I must say, Caratacus, you've done wonders with a cellar. What in the world possessed you to live here?"
"It suits me."