“What’s wrong?” she whispered, watching Nicholas’s shoulders grow rigid.
“Start walking,” he said, voice low. “We need to keep moving.”
“I know where we have to go,” she told him. “Just follow me.”
Etta wasn’t sure when she noticed it, when the suspicion curling at her neck like a stray strand of hair became strong enough to force her to look back over her shoulder. The man with the trench coat was matching their pace. A woman in a rich brown suit drifted in and out of sight, but always reappeared.
Nicholas nodded, giving her the last confirmation. They were being followed.
Etta took in the street around them, searching for a place where they could talk, when a burst of familiar red caught her eye. Without stopping to explain herself, she lifted an arm and waved, flagging the bus down.
The driver waved back in acknowledgment as she rushed to his window. The scrape of Nicholas’s hurried steps trailed behind her.
“What is this madness?” he asked, his teeth gritted.
The window rattled open. “Entrance’s at the rear—” the driver began.
“Does this bus cut through Kensington?” Etta asked.
The bus driver was an older gentleman, his belly almost large enough to touch the wheel. But he had an open face and a friendly smile. “It does indeed, love. I’ve got no official stops, though. The conductor will be able to tell you how much you owe. You just give me a smile and a wave and I’ll let you off.”
The entrance to the bus was open, at the vehicle’s right rear. Etta hauled herself up using the pole, and, after an uneasy look, Nicholas followed.
Etta should have pulled him into the nearest seat and just sat. Instead, she tried to move them toward the front, where the driver would have a better view of her, and she would have a better view of the road. But she’d forgotten that while she had seventeen years of bus-riding experience, Nicholas had none. The moment the bus pulled back into traffic, he swayed drunkenly, nearly taking out a little boy and an older woman with a bag of groceries.
“Excuse us,” she said, gripping his arm and dragging him upright. She nodded to the supports hanging from the ceiling. “Grab those—just go slow.”
Getting to the front of the bus was a sluggish, lurching process, even for someone used to the heaving decks of ships. Nicholas collapsed onto the seat, a river of sweat working its way down the side of his face. One hand clenched the back of the seat, the other her knee.
“My God,” he shouted over the roar of the engine. “What is that smell?”
A man in uniform, likely the conductor the driver had mentioned, came down the stairs from the upper level. He had a kind of rack hanging around his neck, with small, brightly colored tickets held in place by small springs. “That would be the petrol, lad.”
Nicholas gave Etta a look of utter betrayal. “Will we suffocate before we arrive?”
The conductor shook his head, laughing. Etta forced herself to laugh, too, flashing Nicholas a warning look. But he’d clearly recognized his mistake—he pressed a hand to his forehead and sighed at his own slip. “Destination?”
“Kensington,” said Etta.
“Two pennies each.”
To her surprise, Nicholas dug into his bag and turned over what looked to be actual copper coins, not the gold she’d expected to barter with. The man dutifully dispensed their tickets and moved on to the other new passengers.
“Exchanged the gold and some of my payment,” he explained. “We’ve enough to get by.”
“But that was your payment for bringing Sophia and me to New York,” she said, guilt slicing through her.
He waved a hand, dismissing this. “Focus your concern on the guardians who’ve already managed to track us here.”
“The man with the newspaper was definitely a guardian?” she pressed, somehow already knowing the answer. “Are you sure?”
“I’ve never been to this year,” he said in a low voice. “I haven’t met the Ironwood guardians who call it their home, but what other reason could he and that woman—the one in the brown suit, did you see her? What reason could they have for tracking us?”
It seemed so unfair that Ironwood’s guardians had already found them. Etta sighed, leaning her forehead against the seat in front of them. So much for getting ahead and keeping her movements and travels quiet from the old man.
He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, and dragged his hands back over his closely cropped hair. “He has guardians watching every known passage. They likely were following us for longer than we even realized. They have to be Ironwood’s.”
Her brain had been so cluttered with shock, and foggy from traveler’s sickness, that she hadn’t even thought about Cyrus’s reaction to finding them gone. “How much trouble are we in?” Etta asked quietly.
“Unfortunately, if Ironwood wants us brought in for acting without his permission, a world of it. We’ll be held in one of the Ironwood properties in this time to await the old man and whatever punishment he decides to mete out—and he isn’t renowned for his forgiveness.” Nicholas let a rough smile break through the tension on his face. “Fortunately, however, he doesn’t yet know we pirates are damned hard to capture.”
THE LAST TIME ETTA HAD SEEN THE HOUSE WAS FIVE YEARS AGO, over seventy years in the future.
It had been freezing; the kind of day that switched from rain to sleet every other second, where water seemed to be coming at you from all sides. The last time she’d seen this flat-roofed, three-story beige brick house—this green door with its gold lion-shaped knocker—had been through a rental car window. Etta had been tired and annoyed and cold, pretending to be asleep to end the tour a little faster.