Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 72

He gestured casually with the pistol as he talked.

Soap said, calm and mild-mannered, “I take your point about guns, miss.”

Sophronia said up to the airship, “I’m disappointed, Your Grace. I thought you hired others to do your dirty work.”

The duke was not to be distracted by taunting. “Sometimes if you want something done properly, you had best organize it yourself. You can’t distract me, young lady; my son here has told me all about your wiles and ways. I fail to see the appeal, but he assures me of your many stealthy means of attraction. I’ve loosed your coils about him and I assure you they will have no effect on me.”

Sophronia was slightly revolted at the idea that she would use any wiles whatsoever on someone the duke’s age. She was also angry that Felix had attributed their nascent romance to her training. Although, of course, he might be blaming her to get out of trouble with his father. But she was also a little flattered that the duke thought she was that good.

Nevertheless, there was a gun to think about. It was now pointing, despite the dirigible bobbing and the train swaying, with a remarkably steady hand, directly at Soap’s chest.

Sophronia looked into Soap’s face. “I’ll be quick as I can.”

He whispered, unheard by the men floating above them, “Just make a break for it, miss. Now that we dropped the dead weight, I’m certain the train can outrun them with the last of the coal. I’ll be fine.”

Sophronia looked over his shoulder, out into the countryside rushing past, stalling for time. She caught sight of something moving at speed across the open fields toward them. Probably attracted by the cannon fire.

Two somethings.

One of which had a top hat tied to his furry, lupine head.

“Now, Miss Temminnick!” insisted the duke, pistol cocked. So he knows my name as well as my gender. Fantastic.

Sophronia leaned in to Soap, who still wore the hurlie, which was still hooked to the top railing of the freight carriage.

She fell against him as though to embrace him good-bye in an excess of emotion. “They only have one ship,” she whispered into his ear.

Soap was confused but willing to participate even under the threat of an anxious gun. “Yes, miss.”

“And there are four of us, four people who know too much.”

“Yes, miss.”

“If we separate, they can’t chase all of us.”

“Ah,” said Soap, following her reasoning, testing the tension in the hurlie. “Yes, I see.”

Soap understood her. Soap would always understand.

SESSION 15: DEWAN EX MACHINA

Soap was still shaky from his head bang, but he was stronger than Sophronia, and they hadn’t time to switch anyway. Thus, for purely practical reasons, he had to hold the hurlie.

Sophronia turned to say to the duke, lips trembling with simulated emotions, “I’ll do anything you say, Your Grace, only please don’t hurt him.”

The duke looked utterly disgusted by this. Whether it was the idea that he would waste a bullet on a sootie, or the idea that Sophronia might harbor real feelings for an underling, it was difficult to tell which.

Then Sophronia threw herself at Soap, wrapping her arms and legs about him in the apparent throes of some passionate fit. It was the final embrace of lovers about to be parted forever, worthy of Romeo and Juliet.

In the same movement, like a dance, Soap sank them to their knees. Then he leaned backward and with a shift of weight slid them both off the side of the moving train.

Though the hurlie did enough to slow their fall, it played out too swiftly, and the train had picked up enough speed that they tumbled hard to the track below. The moment they hit the ground Sophronia had out her bladed fan and cut them free of the hurlie. Soap curled himself protectively about her, because he was prone to being stupidly careful with her welfare, so that he took most of the fall—and that on top of his crash earlier.

They ended with Sophronia sprawled indelicately on top of him. She unwound herself, heart beating double, because Soap was lying so very still.

“Soap! Soap?”

“Just give me a moment, miss, gathering my wits back about me. Not every day a lad intentionally throws himself from a train. Not every day I get you on top of me, neither, could be the shock of both at once.”

Sophronia ran her hands over him for the second time in so many minutes, checking for injuries. Not that she was a trained surgeon, to know when a bone was out, but she could at least determine if he had any open wounds.

He shifted uncomfortably under her touch. “Whoa there, miss,” he almost squeaked, “that’s enough of that!”

“Oh, dear me, are you hurt? Have I hurt you more?” She’d never forgive herself if she damaged him further.

“I think most of me’s fine, miss. Just, please, leave off the touching.”

“I do apologize.” Sophronia was mortified. Of course, Soap’s dignity! He’d hardly want her pawing at him. “I was only checking.”

“Whoa, now. Not that I didn’t like it, miss. You can check me much as you like, only later. I think right now we needs must focus on those friendly fellows. They’ve chosen to stay with us and let the train go.”

Sophronia rolled off Soap and onto her back, looking into the sky.

The flywaymen and their military dirigible were sinking down to the berm at the side of the track.

The train was out of sight—Sidheag, Dimity, Dusty, and Bumbersnoot with it.

Sophronia stood and brushed herself off.

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