SILK, STEEL AND STEAM, this time in ink and paper!

It’s book day!

Well, it’s book day tomorrow but SILK, STEEL AND STEAM is already shipping from Samhain Publishing if you can’t wait. 🙂

SILK, STEEL AND STEAM is now available in print through the publisher, Amazon (and Amazon.ca) as well as Chapters/Indigo. Samhain’s sale price is also only $11.20 USD – three great steampunk romances for the price of one!

I’ll also be lurking in and around the Samhain Cafe this Wednesday doing give-aways, chatting and avoiding the TAs (I’m in class 12-9 Wednesdays) so stop by and say hi! I don’t want to do THAT well in school.

Don’t remember what the book is all about? Here’s an excerpt from my novella in the anthology, BLUEBEARD’S MACHINE, which you can also buy as an ebook stand alone:

Prologue

Annette checked her pocket watch.1:47.

She slipped the watch into her pocket and put a hand on the door handle. The afternoon sun streamed through the windows of her country home and splashed the hem of her pale yellow dress.

Ambrose’s office was forbidden to her, but lately he’d been acting oddly, locking himself in, watching her from the corners of his eyes as if she was a chimera of wife and stranger. His standoffishness made Annette’s blood boil, but he wouldn’t speak with her, and her questions were met with stony silence. Then she’d stumbled across a key tucked beneath the wooden knob of her bedpost while dressing one morning. Ambrose’s study was the only locked room in the house. One of their maids must have put it there, although she couldn’t guess why. Or perhaps she didn’t want to.

The key lay in the protective curl of her fingers. Sliding it into the lock raised goose bumps along Annette’s spine. It felt wrong. She wasn’t the sort of wife who disobeyed, even if her husband did sometimes act like a rat.

The doorknob turned.

Annette crept inside and shut the door. A prayer in thanks of oiled hinges slipped past her lips.

Rows of leather-bound books lined the walls, detailing esoteric subjects such as physics, evolution, biology and chemistry. A bare mahogany desk stood in the centre of the room with its chair pushed neatly in, and the pen on its top lay at a sharp angle to the edge. A large, gold-faced clock on the wall ticked softly, its pendulums and weights dangling beneath it like the tentacles of a jellyfish. The office was strange only in that it hadn’t changed since she’d been barred from her husband’s most intimate space.

1:48.

She had five minutes to snoop and no more, lest he come home from his ride early. Ambrose locked her in her rooms like a naughty child for far smaller offences, and her skin crawled at the thought of being trapped for weeks on end because she’d disobeyed. She rubbed the back of her neck, and the feeling subsided.

The desk seemed like the best place to find a clue to her husband’s erratic behavior. Annette crossed the room and yanked the drawers open, but they were empty and the inkwell bone dry. The light patina of dust covering the desk’s surface made her frown, and she replaced the inkwell exactly as it had sat.

Ambrose was plagued with ink-stained fingers.

An empty inkwell and the layer of dust meant Ambrose wasn’t spending his time in his office. Except she heard him enter the locked room every night after dinner, and anticipated the turn of the lock and Ambrose’s heavy footsteps in the hall as he returned to his bed late at night. If not here, then where?

The bookshelves were as dusty as the desk, and the fireplace was cold and swept clean of ash and char. Annette glared at the walls with her lips pursed and her hands on her hips. The room was sun-soaked and ordinary, surrounded by books and anchored by the big mahogany desk. It reeked of his secrets.

She glanced at the clock but the minute hand hadn’t moved. Ambrose wasn’t due back at their estate for another half-hour. There was still time to leave his office, and tonight might be the night he’d start loving her again…

Except her mother used to say nothing changed unless you changed it. Annette knew she wouldn’t have the courage to sneak into Ambrose’s study a second time. There was no secret that could stop her from loving him, and if he wouldn’t tell her what was wrong, then she had to discover it.

Walking the perimeter of the room revealed nothing but her husband’s careful treatment and shelving of his library. The sheen of dust lining the shelves was undisturbed, and the books themselves well-kept volumes of Cobb’s Anatomy, The Story of the Living Machine, On the Origin of Species and multiple copies of Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, the last dated to December of 1878. The mantle above the fireplace was barren of knickknacks and as dusty as the rest of the room, save for a small dark smear marring the white paint near the left corner. The fabric of her skirt rustled as she peered beneath the ledge.

There was a little wooden button hidden beneath the lip of the mantle. Her palms slicked with sweat. She pushed it.

A low hum of electricity filled the room, and she gasped as the fireplace rotated on a hidden axle, revealing a cramped, dark space. It looked like the perfect place for bats. She gripped her skirts with sweaty hands and slipped behind the fireplace.

Incandescent lights flickered into life to reveal a staircase spiraling down into the foundations of her home. It was delightfully bat free, but the lights hummed like bees—Ambrose refused to replace their gaslights with modern electricity because it was too expensive for their isolated estate, but apparently he’d lied and installed power without her knowledge. Annette narrowed her eyes and glared at the modern white lights. He’d lied.

The air at the bottom of the staircase was moist and sharp with the scent of antiseptics and chemicals. Her lungs felt tight as she alighted from the last step onto the uneven floor of a hidden room beneath her house.

There were no windows in the damp brick walls. The far end of the room was curtained off with burlap, and bookshelves huddled together like gypsies. One bookshelf held a row of four identical human skulls amid neat stacks of books. The tops of the skulls were sawn off and placed neatly beside their mandibles. Goose bumps rose on her arms.

Skulls could be bought easily at medical universities. Why Ambrose needed skulls, and four of them, was another matter.

There was a second desk here, this one a utilitarian block of wood with a mess of papers across its surface. A workman’s desk, a scientist’s. Annette crossed the room and picked up the first paper that came to hand.

Her own face stared back at her, but the left half was peeled back to expose muscle and bone, and the right showed the scar on her chin she’d earned as a child, carefully labeled. Shuddering, she dropped it, then turned it face-down so she wouldn’t have to see herself mutilated. As she did so she spotted a leather-bound journal half buried in the mess. Ambrose always kept meticulous notes.

Specimen 5, 1879—

The blank space beside the date seemed ominous. Annette flipped to the first page.

A detailed drawing of a naked adult woman greeted her. The subject’s face was blank, and an umbilical cord trailed between her bent knees. Beside her were a series of smaller drawings showing the growth of an embryo into a child, into a youth—but like the woman, the older versions all had an umbilical cord like an unborn babe.

Beneath the diagram was a list of chemical compounds linked to dates, all from 1879 and 1881. Annette closed the book, took a deep breath and opened it to the middle.

March 17, 1882

She has awoken, and like the others was confused at first by the lapse in time and our move to Shropshire, then accepting of the excuse of a prolonged illness and memory loss caused by trauma sustained in the accident. I pray I have succeeded this time, for I am older too, and that is becoming harder to explain—

Annette’s hands shook. It was ten years since her accident, and her head injury stole her memories of the intervening years. So said Ambrose. Ambrose also claimed her illness last March was pneumonia, but he had refused to send for a doctor. She flipped forward in the journal, not wanting to finish reading the entry.

September 29, 1882

Specimen 5 has finally demonstrated knowledge of the harpsichord. I was beginning to think that skill had been lost due to a deterioration of the preserved original right hemisphere, but Annette performed beautifully before our guests—

The journal slipped from nerveless fingers and hit the brick floor with a muffled thud. The hot taste of acid rose in her throat as she bent to retrieve it. They’d held a ball for their neighbors in September of last year, and it had been the first time since her illness she’d touched the harpsichord. The first minute or so had been embarrassingly bad, but Annette’s fingers eventually remembered the feel of the strings, and Ambrose…he was so happy with her that night.

Ambrose was experimenting on her.

Her breath came in short, sharp gasps, and Annette put a hand to her belly and steadied herself against the desk. Calming down was essential or her corset would make her faint, and Ambrose would find her.

Her husband had always been interested in the experimental edges of modern science, but to use his own wife as a test subject… Specimen 5. Who are the others? Her head spun, and she clutched at the edge of the desk to keep her balance. Her gaze fell upon the skulls on the bookshelf.

Four skulls. Four previous specimens, plus herself. Specimen 5. Had they sustained head injuries too?

Annette replaced the journal on the desk and staggered toward the shelf. Ambrose was gentle—he’s been cold of late—he was kind—he fired Mary for speaking informally with me—he was gregarious—he refuses to let me return to London—and he loved her. Didn’t he?

The skulls were placed in a neat row with a leather-bound journal beneath each one. Perfect domes of yellow-white that had once contained a person, and were now empty husks. Her skin crawled as she slipped her fingers into the nearest pair of gaping eye sockets and lifted the cranium to retrieve the journal it guarded. As soon as the book was free she dropped the skull and wiped her hand on her skirt. The bone rang hollow against the shelf.

Her hands shook as she opened the journal. Ambrose’s strong, cursive writing covered most of the surface.

Specimen 2

1874—d.1879

Flawed copy. Not Annette.

Autopsy May 2, 1879.

No physical imperfections.

Imperfect mind.

The page blurred before her eyes. Annette had the distinct sensation that if it wasn’t for the tight bones of her corset, she’d shatter into a million sharp little pieces.

Flawed copy. Not Annette.

He was making copies of her. It wasn’t possible. Only God could make a human, and Ambrose was far from Godly. Annette could barely feel the bone of the skull as she replaced the journal beneath it.

The journal on the desk recorded Specimen 5. Breathing became difficult as she staggered back to the desk and opened the journal to the last page.

June 2, 1883.

That was yesterday. Annette bit her lip as she read.

I am slowly being convinced of my error. Ann Specimen 5 repeatedly displays behaviors utterly unlike my Annette. I suspect the damage to the right cortex during the initial preservation was more extensive than I first thought, although how I can correct this in later trials still mystifies me.

Yesterday at tea she asked after my research. I did not answer. She requested a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species, which I know bores her. Annette lacks a scientific mind, and yet has abandoned her watercolors and harpsichord in favor of detailed inks of the plants in the garden. She also repeatedly loses at backgammon—and Annette always won. I am realizing Specimen 5 is another distorted reflection of my beloved. And yet sometimes I see my wife shining through that artificial shell.

I am tempted to begin anew with Specimen 6, which is almost fully developed. Yet I wonder if I have not waited long enough for results. The development of the soul in young children is arduous—it takes many years to acquire speech and reason. Arguably this is linked to the development of the brain, so the postulation of the time it takes to develop the soul should involve some correlation with the time it takes for a human babe’s brain to grow into intellectual maturity.

But how much time is enough?

Perhaps my efforts to duplicate Annette are in vain, and bringing a human back to life should be left to God and God alone. Yet I have come so far and advanced science so much in my quest to return her to my side, I feel God could not have abandoned me.

I will not give up. I cannot. But it is hard to be so close to perfection and still see a monstrosity stare from the frame of her eyes.

Specimen 5 was close, but I must steel my heart and erase my mistake. Imperfect copies will ruin both Annette’s social reputation and my own scientific one, and to leave such a monstrosity roaming free is unthinkable. I must kill her, peel her skin from her flesh and tease the flaws from the grey of her brain. Specimen 5 must die. I cannot have two wives, especially when one is so insidiously flawed.

My goal is resurrecting my beloved. What higher cause can there be but this?

Annette closed her eyes. The entry had to be fictional, and yet it was written in Ambrose’s hand. His Annette was dead, but somehow she was still here. She remembered the day they met, their courtship and their wedding night. No wonder she didn’t remember the last nine years. She hadn’t lived through them. And he’d isolated her in a godforsaken country estate so that their friends in London wouldn’t know what he’d done.

Worse, Ambrose didn’t believe she was the same woman. She was merely Specimen 5, a scientific breakthrough, but not good enough to replicate the real Annette—and she was to be murdered for it.

Dropping the book, she walked toward the burlap curtain at the back of the room before she’d consciously decided to move. Its fabric was rough beneath her fingers.

There was still time to go upstairs, to dismiss the journal and line of skulls as nonsense and go back to being Ambrose’s loving wife. Oh Lord, she thought helplessly, and drew back the curtain.

The other end of the room was illuminated by a giant tank whose contents glowed faintly red in the shadows. Copper pipes ran to and from it in a complex web, linking it with glass containers filled with bubbling, steaming liquids. A dark shape floated in the tank. Annette pressed her hand against the glass. Her skin crawled as her face was reflected over the figure inside.

Only it wasn’t—the thing inside was wearing her face. The clone was naked, wrapped in a membrane and attached to the far edge of the tank with a twisting, purple umbilical cord. Annette crossed herself and backed away from the curtain, turned and fled up the staircase to the relative safety of Ambrose’s false study. Fumbling with the wooden switch made the fireplace swing silently back into place.

The quiet tick of the clock on the wall underscored her panicked breaths. Annette glanced up, and its gold display read 2:01.

Ambrose was due back from his ride at any moment. Annette began to shake. It would be so easy to flee—he’d never know, she’d have a head start and could leave the horrors of the basement and her husband’s obsession behind.

Except there was nowhere safe to run. Her courage abandoned her and she slumped against the fireplace. The tile was cool against her feverish skin.

When Ambrose found out she’d discovered his horrific laboratory, he’d do to her what he’d done to the women on the shelf below. And nobody would know, since he’d grown a replacement wife.

Annette drew the key from her pocket. It had been left beneath the bedpost—a favorite hiding place of hers as a child—and she’d thought it had been hidden by one of the upstairs staff. But what if it was hidden by one of her predecessors? It had to go back. In case she didn’t make it.

Annette’s hand tightened around the key until it cut into her skin.

Somehow she had to pack without anyone noticing and smile at Ambrose over dinner. Somehow she had to escape before he discovered what she’d done.

Annette rose to her feet and smoothed the wrinkles from her yellow dress. Her hands shook as she locked Ambrose’s office door and did her best to smile as if nothing had changed.


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