Series: The Airship Racing Chronicles #2
A sabotaged airship.
A recovering opium addict.
A messenger with life-shattering news.
With the 1824 British airship qualifying race only weeks away, Lily Stargazer is at the top of her game. She’s racing like a pro, truly in love, and living clean. But on one ill-omened day, everything changes.
Pulled head-long into the ancient secrets of the realm, Lily soon finds herself embroiled in Celtic mysteries and fairy lore. And she’s not quite sure how she got there, or even if she wants to be involved. But Lily soon finds herself chasing the spirit of the realm while putting her own ghosts to rest. And only accepting the truth–about her heart and her country–can save her.
A chartreuse-colored leaf fluttered down onto the wheel of the Stargazer. It was early morning. The mist covering the surface of the Thames reflected the rosy sunrise. Yawning, I reached out to brush it away only find it was not a leaf at all. Carefully, I balanced the fragile creature on the tip of my finger.
“Mornin’, Lil. Hey, what’s that?” Jessup called as he bounced onto the deck of the Stargazer.
Angus was cursing as he cranked out the repair platform below the ship. We were preparing for our morning practice run to Edinburgh.
“A luna moth,” I replied.
“I thought maybe you’d finally caught the green fairy,” Jessup joked as he climbed into the burner basket.
I grinned. The moth’s green wings, dotted with yellowish eyes, wagged slowly up and down. It was beautiful, but it was dying. “My mother once told me that they are fey things, that they live in the other realm until it’s their time to die. Then, they come to humans.”
“Why?” Jessup asked as he adjusted the valves. Orange flame sparked to life.
“She said that even enchanted things want to be truly loved at least once.”
“Don’t we all?” he replied with a laugh.
A harsh wind blew across the Thames, clearing the morning mist. It snatched the delicate creature from my hands. I tried to catch it, but the breeze pulled it from me even as it was dying.
I lost it to the wind.
I sighed heavily as I picked up my tools then bounded over the side of the ship to the repair platform. I pulled out a dolly and rolled under, joining Angus who had fallen remarkably silent. The moment I saw the gear assembly on the Stargazer, I understood why.
“What the hell?” I whispered.
“Jessup!” I shouted. “Get the tower guards down here!”
“What’s wrong?” Jessup called.
“The Stargazer has been sabotaged!”
I stared at the mangled gears. From the saw marks on the gear assembly to the metal shrapnel blown around the galley, it was clear what had happened. I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.
Seconds later I heard Jessup’s boots hit the platform and the sound of him running toward the guard station.
“They removed Sal’s torque mechanism. Sawed the bloody thing right off,” Angus said angrily.
“But . . . who?” I stammered.
“The Dilettanti?” Angus offered as he strained to examine the rest of the assembly.
“No,” I said as I touched the saw marks. The rough metal cut my finger. “That business is finished. Byron saw to that.” I stuck my bloodied finger in my mouth. The salty taste of blood mixed with the tang of gear grease.
“Someone who didn’t want us to race in the qualifying. Someone who wanted to learn what had us running so fast.”
We were less than a month out from the British qualifying. While there were other good race teams in the realm, no one raced better than us. After all, we were the champions of the 1823 World Grand Prix. My stunt in Paris had brought us heaps of acclaim, but not all our British competitors were impressed. Envy had set in.
“Grant?” Angus suggested.
Julius Grant, whose team was sponsored by Westminster Gas Light, was our greatest competition at home. He hated us. He was annoyed that we were sponsored by Byron, annoyed that I was female, and annoyed that we were faster than him. Grant was the most likely suspect.
But he was not the only one. “Almost too obvious. What about Lord D?” I wondered aloud.
“He’d love to, but he doesn’t have the stones,” Angus replied. “Might be someone who doesn’t want us in the Prix. If they take us out during qualifying, we aren’t a threat abroad.”
“That means it could be anyone.”
“Hell, maybe one of Byron’s lovers took a stab at you.”
“But I’m not even romantically involved with him anymore.”
“The rest of the world doesn’t know that.”
I rolled out from under the ship. Leaning against the Stargazer, I wiped my hands. The cut stung as grease mingled with the open wound. I wanted to either beat someone to death or cry. I wasn’t sure which. Maybe both.
Angus joined me.
“Can we get it fixed in time?” I asked him.
He wiped sweat from his bald head as he thought. “It’ll be close. I’ll need Sal’s help.”
“You? Need Sal?”
“He’s busy getting the factory ready, but he’ll come.”
Jessup returned with Edwin, the stationmaster, and Reggie, one of the guards.
“Where the hell were your people last night?” Angus demanded of Edwin. We’d known Edwin for a long time, and we trusted the guards in London. Something wasn’t right.
As Angus and Edwin discussed, a terrible ache rocked my stomach. I set my hand on the side of the Stargazer. Her honey-colored timbers shone in the sunlight. Just as sleek and beautiful as she was the first time I laid eyes on her, she was my pride and joy. My ship. My love. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“What do you think, Lil?” Jessup asked.
Clearly, I’d missed something. “Pardon?”
“Edwin suggested we post a private guard,” Jessup explained.
I nodded. “We’ll sort it out.”
“Lily, I’m so sorry. Someone must have sneaked past us. I can’t believe it,” Edwin said.
His clear blue eyes were brimming with tears.
I set my hand on his shoulder. “Who was stationed on this end last night?”
I sighed. I wasn’t one to point fingers, but that explained it. “Was he still drunk when he went home this morning?” I asked Reggie.
Reggie shifted uncomfortably as Edwin turned to look at him. “He was,” Reggie answered after a moment.
“That lazy, rummy bloke. I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him!” Edwin shouted, and in an angry huff, stomped back down the platform.
“Sorry, Lily. Angus. Jessup. I won’t take my eyes off her,” Reggie said sadly then went to take a post near the Stargazer.
“We’ll sleep on the ship until we get a guard on board,” I told Angus and Jessup who nodded in agreement.
“A guard . . . but who can we trust?” Jessup asked.
“The Stargazer is family. We need family to keep her safe,” Angus replied then looked at me.
“You mean . . . Duncan?” About three years earlier, I’d been, albeit briefly, in a relationship with Angus’ older brother Duncan. While I’d fallen for Duncan the moment I’d laid eyes on him, we were not suited for one another. Back then, I wasn’t ready to give up Byron or anything else.
Angus shrugged. “I suppose he’s over you by now.”
“That’s all well and good,” Jessup spat, “but we need someone to look into this!
Someone needs to be held accountable! We should send for the Bow Street boys.”
Angus shook his head. “Only if we want everyone in London to know.”
“Well, we need to do something!” Jessup protested.
“Let’s keep it quiet. I’ll talk to Phineas,” I replied.
Jessup nodded eagerly. “Yeah. Good idea.”
Angus frowned. “Are you sure about that?”
Phineas and I had a convoluted opiate history, but as Angus knew well, I’d been keeping my habits in check. “It’ll be fine. I’ll check in with Phin, go get Sal, and come back. We can head out to the league meeting together.”
“If Grant looks even a wee bit guilty, I’m going to squeeze his neck,” Angus cursed.
“If he looks guilty, I’ll help you,” I replied. I set my hand on the Stargazer. It was so painful to see something you loved damaged.
“It’ll be all right, Lil,” Jessup said trying to comfort me. “We’ll get her fixed.”
I smiled weakly at Jessup then turned to leave. I knew he was right, but it didn’t make me feel any better.
Melanie Karsak grew up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania where there wasn’t much to do but read books and go for hikes. She wrote her first novel, a gripping piece about a 1920s stage actress, when she was 12. Today, Melanie, a steampunk connoisseur, white elephant collector, and caffeine junkie, lives in Florida with her husband and two children. She is an Instructor of English at Eastern Florida State College.
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