The Wild Adventure of Jasper Renn
Page 8

 Kady Cross

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One of her sharp black eyebrows shot up. “Like me and Sparrow? What do you mean, like me and Sparrow?”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Cat. I mean girls who are different. People who can do things most people can only dream of. I’m one of them, too. You know I’ve never cared if your skin is dark or light or purple.”
She stared at him. For a moment he thought she might take a swing, and he was ready for it. Then she dropped her gaze. “You’re right. You’ve never acted like you were better than me, or treated me like that. I’m sorry.”
Their pies arrived at that moment, so nothing more was said. Jasper smiled at the barmaid and thanked her, and he didn’t care what Cat thought of it. He was not a flirt.
They didn’t eat in silence. Neither one of them was much good at staying put out with the other, just as they couldn’t seem to keep their hands and lips off each other. He asked about people they both knew and they shared amusing stories as they enjoyed the savory beef, vegetables and flaky crust.
Afterward, they took a walk by Pick-a-dilly, but it was closed for the evening, so there was no one about. They were on their way back to the velocycle when a strange whirring and clattering arose from a nearby underground exit.
“What’s that?” Cat demanded.
Jasper listened, a sense of dread suddenly overtaking him. “Metal,” he whispered. “And it’s in a hurry.”
No sooner had the words left his mouth than half a dozen automatons of various shapes and sizes came streaming up the steps, headed right at them.
“Cat, move,” he said. When she didn’t, he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her against the side of the building, putting his own body between her and the machines. The metal gang moved fast, mowing over anything in their path. Most people got out of their way, but a lamppost was twisted and bent as if it was nothing more than taffy, and the steps they had ascended were chipped and smashed from heavy footfalls.
Jasper braced himself for the sound of the velocycle being ripped apart like a cheap toy, but as soon as the automatons got within three feet of it, the cycle’s lights began to flash and a high-pitched hum emanated from it. The machines didn’t stop in their tracks, but they altered their course, swerving at just the last moment to avoid collision with the velocycle. Some of the automatons spoke as they marched. He couldn’t make out anything but one word, Master.
Most people might assume these were household machines that had gotten loose and were trying to find their way home, or some sort of prank, but Jasper had spent enough time with the crew at King House to be wary. And suspicious. He’d mention it to Griffin the first chance he got.
“That,” Cat said, “was one of the strangest things that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of strange things.”
“Me, too.” He glanced down the street where the automatons had gone. He could barely see them in the darkness. “Come on, I’ll take you back to the hotel. Where are you staying?”
“The Continental.”
He whistled softly. In the next alley over, a dog barked. “Fancy.”
She shrugged. “When am I going to get to London again? Figured I might as well live it up a bit.”
“Fair enough.” He didn’t want to think about the cost, or what she’d done to get the money. Cat wasn’t cruel and she wasn’t evil, and he had no right at all to judge.
They climbed on the cycle and made the trip back to the West End. He found a place to park just a short distance from the hotel door. “I’ll walk you up.”
Cat made a face. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, I do.” His mother would tan his hide if he ever let a girl walk somewhere unaccompanied.
They strode along the walk side by side, watching the brilliantly dressed guests of the hotel leaving for the evening’s entertainment. It was early to the upper classes. They’d likely be out half the night.
At the door of the hotel, he stopped. He wasn’t wearing his hat, so he couldn’t take it off or tip it to her. “I can fetch you tomorrow evening if you like, or is this where my part in the intrigue ends?”
“Yes. I mean, no. I would like you to come with me—if you don’t mind.”
She was so pretty when she was flustered. “You know I don’t.”
“Yeah, I suppose I do.”
Jasper cleared his throat. “All right, I’ll see you tomorrow night, then.” He began to walk away.
He’d only made it one step. Slowly, he turned. “Yeah?”
It took her two tries to meet his gaze. The uncertainty in hers inspired a fluttery feeling in his chest, as if a dozen butterflies were in there flapping their wings in excitement.
“Would you...” She folded her arms over her chest. “Want to come up?”
The distance between them was barely two feet, but he closed it regardless, coming to stand so that they were toe to toe. He placed his finger under her chin and lifted so that she was forced to look at him. “You know what’s going to happen if I come up.”
She nodded, and he removed his finger. This was when she said good-night—or goodbye.
Cat took a step back, then two. Jas felt each movement as though his soul was being pulled after her. She held out her hand. “Coming?”
Oh, hell.
He should say no. He should go. He should run away, or cut his heart out and hide it in a lead box, buried somewhere deep. Or maybe he should just ask someone to give him a good hard kick in the arse.