The next afternoon, Warren was having a cup of tea and looking over the newspaper when the telephone rang, its metallic bell chiming throughout the house. He didn’t get up, as he was by now quite accustomed to Cam answering the telephone, but the golem shortly poked its head into the room and said, “Ben is calling you.”
He went to the sitting room to pick up the line there, and Ben greeted him in a grim voice. He wasn’t looking at the screen, and a frown pulled at his lips.
“Something’s happened,” he said. “Can I come by tonight?”
For a moment, Warren hesitated, running a dozen scenarios through his mind as to what excuses might be made or what reasons might be given. He almost laughed at himself. What purpose was any of this if it didn’t actually protect him? “Come by whenever you like,” he said with a smile.
“You’ll leave the back door unlocked?”
“No,” Warren answered, feeling like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “No. Just come whenever you’d like. Through the front door.”
“You aren’t worried about your neighbors?”
“You’re just a friend, of course. I’m allowed to have friends—especially an upstanding constable such as yourself. Not long ago I convinced a notable attorney to give me the entire inheritance of a man to whom I had absolutely no relation except for my word that he was once my employer. I know these people now, Ben. Which one of them is going to report me?” He laughed. “Here I spent days agonizing about it, but there isn’t a thing they can do to me.”
Ben watched him through the screen for a moment, his brow furrowed. “If you say so,” he said warily. “But if you don’t mind, m’lord, I’m still going to be careful for a while. I don’t have quite so many high-society friends. I’ll come after dark.”
Warren clicked his tongue at the mocking title, but let it pass. “As you like. But do come. I want to show you our home.”
“I will,” Ben answered, and Warren would have been able to tell he was smiling without the help of the screen.
Before he could hang up the receiver, the bell at the front door buzzed grumpily, and he paused before glancing down the hall. He wasn’t expecting anyone today. Usually new clients called first—to show up entirely unannounced wasn’t very polite at all. Cam appeared in the hallway, dressed in simple clothing not dissimilar to some Warren himself might have worn while Sir Bennett was alive. The tailor had given them quite a stare when he brought the golem in, but Cam had insisted upon having his own small collection of clothing.
He watched Cam open the door and strained to hear his quiet conversation with whoever was at the door, but when he caught a glimpse of his guest as she stepped over the threshold, he panicked and hid behind the corner. Trentham. Why would she come here? He pushed away from the wall and skittered down the hall into the master bedroom just in time to avoid being seen. He could hear Cam clinking along after him, no doubt to announce his guest.
He quickly made himself presentable, tucking in his shirt and snatching a black waistcoat from the ottoman at the foot of the bed. Cam opened the bedroom door as he was buttoning it, offering him a small card. Warren took the card and ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to straighten it.
Miss Elizabeth Trentham, Trentham Mining Co., New York, New York.
Elizabeth. An Elizabeth seemed much less brusque and intimidating than the Miss Trentham he knew. Warren took a breath and dropped the card onto the nightstand, pausing to glance at himself in the mirror and thanking Cam on his way out the door.
Miss Trentham sat straight-backed on his chaise in the parlor, her folded hands perched delicately on the handle of the parasol stood in front of her. She turned her head as Warren entered and gave him a polite smile.
“Mr. Hayward,” she said blithely, “I do hope I’m not intruding on your afternoon.” She gave him a brief glance up and down. “You don’t seem to be working hard, in any case.”
“Pardon me?” Warren returned with a slight scoff. “Did you have business here other than insulting my work ethic, or did you pop by just to be a nuisance?” He bit his lip, instantly regretting his rudeness. This was a woman who—potentially—was ruthless enough to have someone’s house broken into, and even if she wasn’t responsible, she was a powerful player in the business world.
To his surprise, however, she laughed. A small laugh, and covered primly with a gloved hand, but a laugh. “Now, now, Mr. Hayward. Or may I call you Warren?”
“I don’t quite think—”
“Excellent. Warren, I’ve come to you because you have a problem. A problem that you’d better hope you can solve before your dear Mr. Wakefield actually succeeds in telling the entirety of London about your bedroom doings.”
“My—damnation,” he swore, actually finding himself laughing. He leaned his hands on the back of the chaise, shaking his head. “I’ll kill him. I knew I never should have—” he paused. “And what is it to you, Miss Trentham?” He scowled, leaning forward over the back of the chaise to peer at her. “Trying another tactic, are you?”
“Another tactic?” She tilted her head at him, and then a look of recognition crossed her face. “Ah, you’re referring to your unfortunate break-in. I heard. Brutish. You don’t suppose that I had something to do with that, Warren, do you? We aren’t off to a very good start.”
“Why not? You said yourself that my machines were a threat to your fuel business.”
“Oh, tosh,” she said with a slight wave of her hand. “The whole world runs on steam, and steam runs on coal. I may as well sell air. When and if you build a power source strong enough to power more than your wind-up toys, perhaps the matter will be more pressing. In the meantime, I believe we can be beneficial to each other.”
Warren stood straight, watching the woman with an uncertain gaze. “Beneficial.”
“Quite so. I did mention that I was looking for a residence, did I not? It’s beastly trying to find decent lodging in this crowded little city, let alone a decent home.” She paused to take a quick glance around the room. “But I like this place well enough. Do you catch my meaning, Warren?”
“You can’t be serious. You did just say that Wakefield told you about my...problem. Is this blackmail?”
“Not at all. It’s business. My father will die soon, and control of his company will be split amongst a small number of investors rather than me, only a daughter—unless he had a son to inherit his fortune. For obvious reasons, I would prefer this not to happen.”
“So why not get a real husband?”
“Oh, I’ve no interest in courtship, Warren. There are endless rules and tricks for which I have no patience, and besides, a ‘real’ husband, as you so nicely put it, would doubtless have ambition on his mind and would think only of the fortune I would bring and his own running of my father’s business.”
Warren took a step closer and leaned against the arm of the chaise, folding his arms across his chest as he listened. “But you don’t think I’m so ambitious?”
“I think you’re frightfully ambitious,” she said with a slow smirk, “which is precisely why I can trust you to keep building your automatons and making a name for yourself, and leave me be. There’s money and power to be had in the mining business, but there isn’t much of the glory, which I suspect is what you really desire.”
He chuckled. “You think you know me so well, having spoken to me thrice in your entire life?”
“I’m an excellent judge of character,” she said easily. “Am I right or wrong?”
“No, I suppose you’re right,” he answered with a small shrug. “But you don’t want...you know, a husband, children?”
Miss Trentham shifted in her seat, betraying a moment of discomfort as she shifted her gaze momentarily from Warren to the floor. “I’m afraid that is not my destined lot in life. Or so the doctors tell me, in any case,” she said, her voice cooler than Warren suspected she felt. She sniffed pointedly when Warren opened his mouth with a sympathetic look on his face and quickly went on, “So you see, a husband is of little use to me. I require that my father have a son, but I wish to continue as I have been when it comes to running my business and doing as I please. I expect you want the same. Is such an arrangement agreeable to you, Mr. Hayward?”
“It isn’t the most romantic proposal I’ve ever heard.”
“Shall I get upon one knee?”
“I wouldn’t want you to ruin your dress.” For a moment they shared a faint smile. “You’re sure about this? You want to get married?”
“I have faith in my ability to make decisions for myself, as long as this isn’t a clever ruse to involve unsuspecting women in your deviant behavior with Mr. Wakefield.”
“With Wake—oh, Christ, no. It isn’t him.”
“No? That’s good to know, actually; I find the man to be quite tiresome. In that case, are you sure about it?” She ticked an eyebrow at him. “Your paramour has been informed of your intentions, I assume?”
“Well, yes. He isn’t pleased, of course, but it’s the way it must be.”
She turned to face him, offering her hand. “Then do we have an agreement?”
Warren hesitated, but then he reached out and took her hand to give it a firm squeeze. “I suppose we do, Miss Trentham.”
“Elizabeth,” she corrected him as she stood, releasing his hand. She took a moment to smooth the skirt of her dress and adjust her gloves. “Well then. I’ve been invited to Lady Weyland’s salon a week Thursday; I expect I will have accepted your proposal by then. Is that agreeable?”
“I’ll bring roses.”
“See that you do,” she said with a nod. “I’m likely to refuse, otherwise. I wear a ring size five.” She smiled at him gave him a small curtsy before heading to the front door, Cam trotting along in a hurry behind her to open the door. When it was shut, Warren collapsed onto the chaise and put a hand to his forehead to laugh.
“That woman was not the one who broke in?” the golem asked as it returned to the parlor.
“No,” Warren chuckled. “Apparently, she’s my wife.”
When Ben arrived later in the evening, Warren greeted him with a firm kiss. “How did it feel to walk through the front door?” he asked, his hands still on the lapels of Ben’s uniform.
“Dangerous,” Ben admitted, but he was smiling just a little.
Warren sat across the table from him, leaning back in his chair with his feet resting on one adjacent. The remnants of supper lay on the table between them, and Ben was holding a cup of coffee with both hands and looking into it.
“What was it you wanted to talk about?” Warren asked, noting Ben’s solemn face. “You said something happened.”
“Hawkins is missing,” he said without looking up from his coffee. “He was on patrol last night, an’ never checked in this morning. Nobody’s heard from ‘im.”
Warren swallowed, but he maintained his relaxed pose, only lightly drumming his fingers once on the arm of his chair. “Missing? Are there any leads?”
“No,” Ben sighed. “We talked to a few people who saw him early on in the evening, but nobody saw anythin’ later on through the night. He’s just disappeared.”
“What a shame,” Warren said, hoping he sounded convincing.
“It’s strange,” Ben went on with a frown. “We’ve been gettin’ reports of missing people for weeks. More than usual. Nobody’s looking into it very ‘ard cause it’s always the poor. Half the time it’s impossible to tell if they’re really missing or if they just up and died somewhere without anybody noticing. But all that, and now Hawkins...I don’t like it.”
“You don’t think there’s something sinister going on, do you?” Warren did his best not to grip the arms of his chair too tightly.
“I don’t know. There may be.” Ben looked up at him. “You’ve been spending a lot of time with those Travers. You haven’t ‘eard anything, have you? Anything they might be up to that might end in some poor bastard going missing?”
“Heard anything?” Warren scoffed. “I told you; they’re working for me now.”
“And where are they?” Ben lifted his hands, glancing around the room. “They live ‘ere now, don’t they? So where are they?”
“I’m their employer, Ben, not their mother. You don’t honestly think they would risk an easy job like the one I’ve given them for the sake of going on some sort of kidnapping murder spree?”
“You’re mistaken if you think that lot aren’t killers, Warren. There’s not a thing in this world I wouldn’t put past them. I know you said they helped you, and I suppose I believe that, but it doesn’t change who they are.”
“They aren’t idiots. What reason would they possibly have for doing what you’re accusing them of?”
“I don’t know,” Ben sighed, putting his head in his hands. “There isn’t any reason for it. We aren’t findin’ any bodies. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between the victims.” He paused to shake his head, and he laughed emptily. “I ‘alf thought someone else was making golems. You ‘aven’t been spreading secrets, have you?”
“Even if I did, why wouldn’t I tell them how to do it properly? Besides, you expect me to give up my monopoly on automated butlers?” Warren smiled, ignoring the pit in his stomach. Somehow, he had managed to become accustomed to killing innocent people in his workshop, but the thought of directly lying to Ben still made him ache. He couldn’t possibly tell him the truth; he was too good. He was better than Warren deserved, he suspected. He decided to change the subject.
“A woman I met recently came by the house today,” he began, attempting to keep the mood light despite Ben’s continued frown. “We came to an...agreement. Which means we’ll shortly have even less to worry about,” he added quickly. “You’ll be able to come and go as you please.”
“A family friend, eh?” Ben chuckled without humor, and he pushed away his cup and fell back in his chair. “I don’t like it, Warren.”
“I know you don’t. But the best thing we can do is hide in plain sight.”
“Just remember your promise,” he said.
Warren pushed back in his chair and moved around the table, running his fingers affectionately through Ben’s hair and bending to kiss his temple. “All of this is for us. You don’t have anything to worry about.” He leaned forward to look Ben in the face, gently touching his knuckles under the other man’s chin as he kissed him. “Trust me.”
“Is she ugly, at least?” Ben asked with a hint of a smile. “You promised.”
“I did my best,” Warren admitted with a sigh, “but it turns out that I’m just too attractive.”
“Who would have expected?” Ben mumbled, and he tugged Warren down by the front of his waistcoat to kiss him again.