The Plighted Picklock
[Status: WIP] Steampunk, 638 words
By Anjela Curtis
Having left the ballroom with stealth, Gennie Merrill located the study. The door was unlocked. A large desk dominated the room. She flipped open her fan and removed the picklock she’d constructed to fit within. Then she set to work on the first locked drawer.
Finding only writing equipment within, she moved on to the second drawer. The lock clicked open with ease. A clapping sound came from the shadows. Her fan dropped to the floor. She stood abruptly, picklock in hand. A darkened silhouette in the corner walked into the light.
“Milord, I—” she began. The viscount raised a palm, cutting her off.
“You’ve impressed me, Gennie. For a man of my experience, that’s not an easy feat,” he said as he came close enough to pick up the fan and inspect it. “I hope you don’t mind if I dispense with formalities…considering you’ve been in my drawers.”
Gennie’s felt her face flush, silenced by his implication and proximity.
“This is a fine piece of gadgetry. Where did you get it?”
“I’d prefer ‘Miss Merrill,’ if you please,” she said. He ignored her, admiring the mechanics of her fan. Pride finally won out over propriety. “I made it myself.”
“Impressive,” he said looking at her, then staring more closely. He brushed her forehead, and she gasped.
“How dare you—”
“You’re wearing stage paint,” he said, the evidence of it on his finger. “Exactly what are you hiding?” Gennie trembled and said nothing. It wasn’t enough that he’d caught her; he was peeling back her layers. He was seeing things she’d never revealed to anyone. She had to get out of this room.
“Listen, I’ll accept whatever suitable consequence you deem fit under the circumstances; but, I need to return to the ballroom before my chaperon figures out that I’ve wondered off. If we are found together, we’ll be forced to wed.”
“Would that be so bad? Perhaps, this ball was an elaborate ruse for that exact purpose—to trap you in this room…with me… alone.” Gennie exhaled as he moved away from her, decreasing the chances that she’d faint for the first time in her life. Still, his new position cut off her escape.
“Milord, if your intention is to scare me back onto the path of good behavior, I assure you it has worked. There’s no need to dangle the threat of marriage. I vow to never attend another ball—or party again. Please allow me return to the ballroom.”
“You said any suitable consequence, and I’m in need of a wife. That a candidate such as yourself would fall into my lap…so to speak…is a boon. You see, I work on her Majesty’s behalf. I need a female partner your particular penchant for cloak and dagger for an upcoming mission that will take the better part of a year to plan and execute. You’d need to be available to me all hours of the day and night. You being from a respectable family, marriage is the only logical solution.”
“This is absurd. I have no wish to marry. I’d sooner turn myself into the magistrate and serve a short sentence in County Goals than serve a life sentence as someone’s wife.”
“Pity…I had hoped you’d see reason. ‘Tis a good thing I planned for this particular contingency.
Lord Strain closed the distance between them and pulled her to him, his mouth covering on hers. She’d barely processed that he was kissing her when she heard an exclamation at the door behind them.
Lord Strain moved away to reveal society matron Lady Samantha Merriweather staring at them in shock and outrage. The bans are as good as posted now. What has he done, she looked askance at him. As if reading her thoughts, he winked at her in reply. ■
© 2017 by Anjela Curtis