Clockwork and Courtship: Now available for preorder

Book 3 in the Gears, Cogs, and Puppy Dogs series is now available for preorder. It’s coming out December 28th!

Vesta's Clockwork Companions, Steampunk romance, historical romance, kindle


Vesta returns to London, eager to solve the canine crisis once and for all. As she meets with a group of Her Majesty’s scientists and alchemists, their work renews her hope that the puppy population might be restored–even if it renders her clockwork companions obsolete. Despite Vesta’s frustration with their pace, her forthcoming marriage to Henry provides inspiration. Unfortunately, if the irresistible rogue cannot follow her father’s rules and reform his impetuous ways, her father might cancel the ceremony.

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May 22, 1888

“BEFORE WE GO, there will be some rules for you two.” Vesta’s father replaced a few items back into his bags that he’d removed earlier. He gave the zipper a tug.
Vesta closed her clockwork pets back into her bag. Henry too stopped what he was doing. “Yes sir?”
The tall, lanky form of the captain dominated the airship bridge, binoculars to his eyes. At his command, his crew scampered down the decks readying the craft to land. Vesta ignored them for her father. What was he about to slam down on them? She didn’t have long to wait to find out.
“Henry, you will be a perfect gentleman. No touching more than Vesta’s hand.”
Vesta rolled her eyes. “Daddy.”
“What if she trips and falls into my arms?”
Her father glared at him. “I will catch her.”
“Of course you will, Johnathon.” Henry picked the shawl off the back of the chair Vesta had lately vacated and draped it over her shoulders.
“Number two, you won’t be alone together if I can help it. Number three. Henry, you will alert me to any desire you have to visit. In writing. As you plan to stay in Nottingham, I don’t expect to hear from you more than once a week. Fridays.”
Would it be any different from the letters the two of them—and Percy—exchanged when they were teens? Still, she wanted more than letters. Vesta shrugged. “I’ll need his help more than on Fridays.”
“Parker will find you an assistant if you need it.”
The look on Henry’s face told Vesta he was growing more annoyed. “Anything else, sir? Should I dedicate myself to the nearest monastery, too?”
“That wouldn’t be a bad idea, but unnecessary.” Her father set his bag by the door.
“I doubt they’d keep you,” Acton quipped.
Henry scoffed. “Again, you’re thinking of yourself. Anything else?”
“Four. You won’t seek out trouble.”
“What kind?”
“No drinking, no fist fights, no sneaky deals.” Johnathon waved a hand to Acton. “Whatever he’d do? Do the opposite.”
“Four rules?” They didn’t sound so horrible, Vesta thought. “I can live with those rules—but I’d prefer if he was welcome any day.”
“Once he proves himself.”
The airship circled in for a landing. They’d been in the air a full day and night, and Vesta was glad to see the port. She scooped up her carpet bags, three, this time, filled with her clockwork puppies. She’d wedged all her clothes in around the precious pups.
Puffy clouds competed with the plumes of smog from the trains and factories for dominance over the London sky. The dark clouds made her lament again the need to leave the clear open spaces of her Texas home. Unlike last time, she hoped to be home before the end of summer. I suppose that will depend on Her Majesty. “I wish I had time to make more puppies before we left.”
Her father patted her shoulder. Both knew, after the trouble at their ranch the last week, and the injuries to her hands, how hard that would’ve been. “I’m sure you have enough to prove their worth to Queen Victoria.”
Henry took her bags from her and shoved one at Acton, while taking up his own. “Especially after she hears how they performed against Napler and his goons. Once Parker tells her men the entire tale, you’ll have more work than you know what to do with, I’m sure.”
Hundreds of people traversed the airship terminal, yet, Acton and Henry maneuvered through them as if they’d never left. Outside, a man met them. “Mr. Bartlett, Mr. Parker would like you to join he and his colleagues.”
Vesta looked the man over. Tall but somewhat dumpy with thick arms, he had dark hair and eyebrows curving over brown eyes and a wide nose.
“Yes sir.”
“Pray tell.” Her father needed more information. “Who would he like us to meet?”
“A few of his men, and beyond them…” He paused. “Well, you will see.”
He hailed a hackney cab for them and the porters loaded their trunks onto it. Meanwhile, Vesta squeezed into the front facing seat beside her father. The carriage bounced over the streets, the sunlight shining in her eyes. She found pleasure in taking in the architecture of the city. Maneuvering around omnibuses, they exited Blackfriars headed for Regent’s Park.
Smoke rose from chimneys all around. The carriage turned another corner and they approached a building of dark brick. On its roof, men stood. She eyed them, wondering.
“You have men on the roof?”
“I don’t think they’re men,” his father said. “Unless they’ve prosthetics?”
“Like the fellows our president employs?”
“Maybe so.”
When the carriage stopped, they exited, and proceeded into the portico. Two large men with metallic skin guarded the door.
Parker greeted them at the door and led them inside. Vesta asked, “Do we need such guards?”
“Don’t worry yourself, Miss Bartlett,” Parker said. “They may not be human, but the moment you step inside here, they will defend you to the best of their ability.” The men opened the door for them and Parker led them into a wide corridor. “But you won’t need such defense this morning.”
Inside, fine marble and plaster statues stood on pedestals, here and there. A painting of Queen Victoria hung on one wall in the path of the sun, as if the sun spotlighted it.
Men in uniforms with all manner of medals attached to them traversed the halls and up a staircase. She lost count of how many of the men paused long enough to bow to her. As many as hesitated for a second before doing so.
She met Parker’s gaze. “Are you sure I’m allowed to be here?”
“Oh, my dear girl. You are our guest of honor today.” He approached the office. Two more men, flanking it, opened the door.
“That’s right.” Her father touched her back. “And even if you weren’t, remember what I’ve always taught you. Don’t ever think you’re not enough for some man.”
“Would that everyone thought that way,” she said, remembering her visit to the Texas president. The office into which she stepped reminded her of the entryway into the president’s dining room. But it was a room unto itself with wide windows, its curtains letting in the sunlight. A desk took up the opposite end of the room whose wall nearby, she noticed, was blank.
Despite her father’s glare, Henry smoothed a hand over her back. Vesta relaxed more at his touch. Surely, this meeting would go better than their meeting with President Nunez.
A fellow entered through a door at the back of the office. Tall, slim, and with light hair and eyes, he seemed unlike anyone she’d met before. “Is this Major General Gordon?”
“That would be his spokesman, Miss Bartlett.”
The fellow carried a few folders under his arm.
Once again, the door behind her opened. Two more men entered. She was the only woman in the room.
The man came and settled at the head of the table. “Gentlemen.” He dipped his head to her. “Miss Bartlett, my thanks to you for coming. I’m Colonel Sayer.” They exchanged the usual greetings and Sayer offered them seats at the table before he spoke. “I realize you only just arrived, Miss Bartlett. However, you understand I’m anxious over what Mr. Parker has told me of your recent discovery. May I also add that I’m pleased to see you fare so well?”
Vesta nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
“If I may,” Henry said. “I understand you’re a busy fellow. Why don’t you tell us why you invited us here on such short notice?”
“I’m coming to that. Gentlemen, the stories in the American press have compromised our hopes for secrecy. To be clear, I mean the stories about your … pets, Miss Bartlett.”
Oh, my word! They’d heard everything about what happened on her ranch. She’d hope they hadn’t. “I must apologize, sir. I didn’t mean for the public to take my work as—”
“Anything more than a pastime?” said one of the other men. “We know. Secrecy on this project was never going to be sustained.”
“No?” Colonel Sayer studied them. “Miss Bartlett, Mr. Bartlett. This is Jasper Tiberius.”
Mr. Tiberius nodded to her. “Miss Bartlett.”
“And to his left is Frank Ainsley.” This fellow had long, light brown hair, which, despite the heat of the afternoon, he wore down.
She gave both men curt nods.
“Pleased to meet you, gentlemen.” Her father turned back to the fellow at the head of the table. “If we’re all here, Colonel Sayer, can you tell us what you need of us?”
Sayer opened a case before him and drew out a pair of glasses, and placing them on his nose, opened the first folder. “Your little creations removed you from that burning barn. Can you tell me how they managed to do so?”
Vesta folded her hands around the handle of her carpet bag. “I can say I’ve created them to help mankind. Several commands have been wired into their innards.”
“Fetch, lie down.” The man to her father’s right, brass encasing most of his right arm, and medals on his coat, nodded. “Charming.”
“None of which accounts for moving its owner out of harm’s way.” Sayer scanned the papers. “You’ve taught them to remove dangerous objects from the vicinity of a person. Our soldiers and—presumably—civilians?”
“That was an objective your generals requested, yes.” Her father eyed her. “Perhaps that explains it.”
She shrugged. “I didn’t think it was a crime to program them with loyalty, but I can’t explain how the puppies rescued us.”
“Indeed not, Miss Bartlett. If we are to mimic reality, why should you not?” Sayer flipped another page in his file. “Dogs have been known to react as yours did. However, who’s seen a toy do so? Your clockwork companions have taken a step farther than any windup puppy I know of. But before I offer my congratulations we’d all like to see it.”
Vesta tightened her grip on her carpet bag. “I don’t know if I can make them rescue you when there’s no threat here, Colonel Sayer.”
“But rest assured, sir, they will.” Acton sat forward and placed his forearms on his knees, studying the colonel. “Why, I saw them pull several men out of that fire. Not just Miss Vesta.”
“You don’t say? I’d like to see that.”
Still, Vesta hesitated.
Her father laid a hand to her back. “It’s all right, Vesta. They’ve commissioned the things, after all.”
“That’s right. They’re as ready as they’re going to be.” Henry winked at her. “Besides, I doubt anyone here will say boo to you.”
Vesta laughed and opened her bag. “I suppose you’re right.”
Inside, her puppies shrank back, but stared up at her. Vesta stroked the nearest one’s snout. “Come on, girl. It’s time for you to show our friends what you can do.”
The puppy whined.
The man to her left scoffed. “I’m surely hearing things.”
Vesta removed the puppy from her bag and set it before Colonel Sayer. “This is one, sir.”
“What is it?” asked Mr. Ainsley. “A male?”
“She tends to consider them all little girls,” Acton said. “Of the puppy persuasion, I mean.”
Vesta clucked her tongue in a scolding manner. “They’re clockwork. They may be any gender you wish.”
“Does it have a name?”
“I leave that up to the individual adopter.” She glanced at Colonel Sayer. “If you’ll permit me?”
He nodded. She rose. The other men began to but she waved them back. As they regained their seats, she rounded Henry’s chair and, approaching the end of the table, snapped her fingers. The clockwork puppy wagged its tail, turned to face her, and trotted down the table. “You see they come on command.”
“She set an intention into their wires to ensure your men won’t have to call out to them.” Her father took up the explanation. “Don’t want to put them at risk.”
The man to the right laced his hands over his belly. “Indeed. A good thing, that. But we’ve another thing we’d like to see.”
“Name it. They can run, jump.” Henry smiled. “Pull bodies out of fires, as you’ve heard. All useful in battle.”
“What of the rest? I read that you use some form of steam to make their clockwork run.”
“Ah.” Vesta put the first puppy back into her bag and retrieved more. These had somehow escaped what happened in their blacksmith shed. “I know what you’ll ask. If its power source is steam, what will your men do in the desert? I’ve succeeded in building a few with wind-up mechanisms.” She turned its key as far as it would go; the puppy vibrated, and marched straight for Colonel Sayer.
“And the ones that pulled you from the fire?”
She mentally crossed her fingers and removed one of those from her bag.
The men leaned forward a little more, studying.
The puppy walked a circle, presenting its head to her for a scratch; he even nuzzled into her palms.
“I want to see him curl up.”
Vesta commanded the puppy to lie down. “Take a nap, now. We won’t need you, right away.” The puppy did as she instructed, its back bowing as it found a comfortable spot.
“I’ll be.” Colonel Sayer rose from his chair. Vesta noticed the fellow limped. Why, she wondered.
He leaned over the puppy, and placed his hand to his chin. “Hmm…”
Vesta glanced to Henry, wondering. What did he mean by “hmm…”? Nothing in Henry’s gaze, or her father’s, gave her the answer.
“Charming.” Sayer addressed the men. “Here, now, gentleman, you see we may have many representations of the species, here, and indeed, in books. What we lack, what we’d like, is a living, breathing version. I’d think you’d do your work better if we had a true model to compare with yours.”
“What’s left in the museums?” Mr. Tiberius likewise studied her puppy. “That’s the model you worked from, Miss Bartlett?”
“To a certain extent,” her father said.
“Mind you, Queen City has no museum.” Vesta picked the puppy up and returned to her seat, settling it into her lap. “But I do have a book of Audubon’s sketches.”
“You’ve worked from art? Commendable, but isn’t that the hard way?”
Henry rankled. “Sir, you don’t expect her to craft it from life, do you?”
“No, but forgive me, you’re alchemists as we are.”
He is? Vesta looked to her father.
“As you’ve seen the drawings, your work should animate itself.”
“Does yours?” her father asked.
“Doesn’t yours?”
Her father declined to answer.
“I’ve never tried,” Vesta said.
“Because it would only inflame what others think of us,” her father said. “You’ll forgive me, but my family raised me to be cautious.”
“Even though you joined the army.”
Her father nodded.
Mr. Ainsley approached and touched the puppy. This close, the man seemed far more delicate than on her first impression. The puppy squirmed around and sniffed his fingers. That was when she noticed the right forefinger bent in at the knuckle. Perhaps he was older than she thought. “Charming, Miss Bartlett. A nice model, certainly. We may yet have a need for it. As a model to work from.”
“Wait.” Vesta broke in. “What is it you’re working on?”
Colonel Sayer removed a paper from his folders and regained his seat. “For a start, if you won’t mind sharing your prototype, we’d like to make one for each of our generals.”
She hugged her bag a little closer. “I’m uncertain I can do it for you. How many would you need?”
“Twenty, but the newer generals would make it closer to thirty.”
Thirty? She’d barely been able to make the few she’d sent to them so far.
“We do have manufacturers, if that would be of help.”
“If you wish a simple matter of metal, gears, and cogs, then yes,” her father answered for her.
Henry waved his hand to them. “But such a one as these? I doubt your manufacturers can replicate it exactly.”
“You’d need an Alchemist, I don’t doubt,” said Mr. Tiberius. “And even I can’t power thirty at once. Not without a nap.”
“Anyone of us would need rest after something like that.” She’d slept half the day away after what happened back home.
Colonel Sayer tapped his fingers on the table. “Perhaps we should think about recruiting a regiment of alchemists then.”
“Good luck to you, when most of them are in hiding.” Henry nodded to Mr. Tiberius. “Present company excluded.”
“He’s right, Sayer. Our governments would have to repeal the anti-alchemy laws first.” Mr. Tiberius looked at her. “I’m only here because we were all part of the regiment before he tapped us for this little project.”
That begged a question in her mind: “I take it your work has been unsuccessful to this point?”
“In animating an animal the way you seem to have, Miss Bartlett? Were I, would this discussion be necessary?”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“That’s not to say we haven’t tried.” Colonel Sayer opened a drawer and pulled forth several more folders. “I could take up your whole day by explaining our past experiments, unless you’d like to read about them yourself.”
She took the folders he held out to her. Inside, the first sheet explained the work, in dense, unbroken blocks of text. Alongside these, someone made sketches of dogs in dark deliberate pencil strokes. Aware of the time, she closed the folder. “Thank you, I’ll read as much as I can tonight and return it to you tomorrow.”
“Correction. We’ll read after we take some rest,” her father said. “Though I appreciate Mr. Parker’s enthusiasm, I have to admit, I haven’t stopped vibrating yet.”
The men laughed, and Parker even blushed. “Airship travel will do that to one. With what do you wish us to begin today, Colonel?”
“What I’d like is to put you straight to work. We appreciate your clockwork animals, Miss Bartlett, we do. However, as you’ll see when you read those documents, we’d like to go a further step.”

What’s the colonel suggesting? You’ll have to read to find out!

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