Page 85

But there had been a moment, as Alice and Etta had dissected Ironwood’s possible intentions, when the confession had nearly tumbled off his tongue.

You could keep her. The words slithered through his mind, bringing a host of images with them that filled his heart with a savage kind of joy. When had it become his policy to give up his prizes? When had Nicholas ever given up a treasure that was rightfully won?

We were made for each other.

Once the thought was there, it clung to him like a second skin, near impossible to scrub away. Because no, of course they weren’t. They were two ships sailing in opposite directions, having met for a short time in the middle of the voyage, and he could no sooner “keep her” than capture the wind. Nor would he insult her by trying, let alone think it was possible. When the time came, they would continue on as they had before. She would be with her family, safe; he would have his ship, be in full control of his fate, the only thing he’d ever truly wanted for himself.

This would be a mild disappointment in an otherwise successful life.

He would not surrender to the disaster of loving her.

In time, the pain would pass.

But…he would regret the loss. The simplicity. Neither of them had to work for the other’s regard, nor did they make the other feel as if they had to. It struck him as very peculiar, given his somewhat limited exposure to future centuries, that this girl fit so well beside him; that they understood each other so very well. Life had shown him that there were only two ways he could gain something: through the kindness and pity of others, or by taking it through sheer force of will. Why had this arrived in such a different manner?

He looked around him again, at the spread of sleeping families, husbands and wives, friends…how uncomplicated they made it seem. The couple that had danced together hours before—how freely they could hold and touch one another, live in a moment they created.

Enough, he ordered himself. This is a job. She is my companion in it. The stakes were too high for either of them to be distracted by feelings.

Nicholas searched for the uniformed man he’d seen walking along the edge of the raised platform the night before, and found him asleep on the steps they’d used to come down. Here and there were patches of space scattered among the sleeping Londoners—some must have left at the end of the air raid and gone to whatever was left of their homes.

He heaved himself up into a crouch, trying to avoid thinking about the city’s destruction. The inhuman sounds of the flying machines and the shelling hadn’t been half as terrible as the thought of what might have happened if they hadn’t run as fast as they did; if the firestorm had been dropped on top of them.

They needed to leave this era. Quickly. The guardians of this time would be up and searching for them by now.

He reached over, his finger hesitating a moment before stroking Etta’s cheek to wake her. She shifted, stretching her legs out, and drew his jacket over her with a soft sigh. Nicholas put a hand on her shoulder and shook it until her eyes blinked open. She stared, all warm and rumpled by sleep, and his reason for waking her almost flew out of his head.

“What are you…?” she mumbled.

He held a finger up to his lips as he stood, sliding the leather bag over his shoulder. Etta took the hand he offered to pull herself up off the ground, swaying. Holding her steady, Nicholas wrapped his jacket over her shoulders. It was only after they started to make their way along the edge of the track, skirting the sleeping Londoners, that he realized he was still holding her hand.

Nicholas gestured toward the other end of the raised platform, and Etta nodded—he was headed the right way, then. Good. Once he lost sight of the sky, it felt impossible to tell north from south, east from west. He found the experience of being underground about as pleasant as being blown to bits, like the ship in his dream. There was something unnatural about not being able to feel the sunlight on your skin in the morning.

The platform ended abruptly; he was forced to release Etta’s hand and jump down onto the tracks. His shoes butted up against the raised metal beams running along the ground. Etta sat on the edge of the strange cold, gray, stone ledge and slid down into the dark with him, careful to avoid the clusters of families packed between the tracks. Determination and focus sharpened Etta’s features in the glow of the lights. She turned toward the dark tunnel and led the way.

The air smelled vaguely of fire; his frown deepened, a new uneasiness stirring in him. He kept close to Etta, forcing her to slow her pace. When he turned, there was a man leaning over the platform, peering down the tunnel. At first, he thought the man had skin darker than his own, but the truth came like a swift blow: the man’s face was stained with soot, but his features were recognizable. He’d shot at them the night before as they’d run toward the station. How the bloody hell had he found them already?

“One of the Thorns,” he said. “We need to move faster—”

“I see something,” she said. There was a light up ahead, a break in the tunnel. “It must be the next station. We’re getting close.”

Without breaking his stride, Nicholas reached into the bag and pulled out the harmonica. He put the instrument to his lips and blew softly.

The note was nothing but a faint gasp of sound. In return, they were showered with such clapping thunder and monstrous shrieks that Etta instinctively pulled back against him, trying to escape it. They had come up just short of what had to be the Elgin Marbles. Indeed, he saw the top of a white chiseled head over its wooden shelter, the lifeless eyes tracking their path through the thick darkness.