Authors: Margaret Foxe
Thief of Hearts
The Elders and Welders Chronicles
Copyright © 2016 by Margaret Cooke
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by electronic or mechanical means – except for brief quotations – without written permission. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Cover art by Clarissa Yeo (
Works by the Author…
as Margaret Foxe
Prince of Hearts
A Dark Heart
Thief of Hearts
as Maggie Fenton
The Duke’s Holiday
Table Of Contents
Thanks for keeping me company for the past two and a half years while I finished this beast.
Why did I ever think writing a book about time travel was a good idea? I think it broke my mind.
“Time will explain.”
ROWAN HARKER WAS
dead, taking away all of the joy Hex Bartholomew felt in O’Connor’s defeat and Hector’s safe return. All she could do was cling to Hector and stare numbly at the spot where the earl had last appeared to her before being swallowed up into…nothingness.
This was not how things were supposed to end, before she’d had a chance to understand how he was even alive in the first place. Or how he’d seemed to have no memory of her whatsoever, even after all they had shared together. For she knew in her heart that he was the same man she’d loved and lost a decade ago, even though it should have been impossible. Even though he’d not been entirely real even then.
She’d thought she’d long moved past the crippling grief of his loss, but after the shock of yesterday—of suddenly looking up into a face that had haunted her dreams since she was eighteen, a face she’d never expected to see again—the grief had returned. And now…now, it was like losing him a second time. And it was just as unbearable.
“It’s all my fault,” Lady Christiana murmured next to her, breaking away from Inspector Drexler and approaching the now dormant device that had swallowed Rowan up in its terrifying light. She stared up at its massive, diamond-studded wheels, tears streaming down her beautiful, blood-flecked face. The inspector followed her, wrapping his arms around her from behind and holding her tight, as if he would gladly absorb all of the lady’s pain into his own body.
Hex felt her heart fracture even more at the sight of their love, toxic grief leeching into her bloodstream. Once, long ago, and so very briefly, she’d enjoyed the comfort of strong arms surrounding her, the unconditional, uncompromising love of a man. But that time had long since passed and could never come again, no matter what foolish notions she’d started to entertain concerning the earl. The small seedling of hope that had begun to take root in her heart over the past twenty-four hours had withered and died an abrupt death the moment the earl had disappeared into the light.
“He can’t be dead,” Lady Christiana cried. “He just can’t!”
But he was. Wasn’t he? He’d been
for nearly a decade already.
“I was so awful to him this past week,” Lady Christiana continued. “But I loved him so much.”
Hex nearly choked on the hysterical laugh sticking like glue in her throat as an irrational and completely inappropriate stab of jealousy tore through her heart. She knew Lady Christiana was for all intents and purposes the earl’s sister. Helen had attempted to explain how the two were actually related last night, but Hex had not paid close attention. She had still been reeling over the revelation of
the earl was. A decade ago, all they’d known was that he was different—
She knew she had no call, no
, to be jealous. The earl had been a stranger to her—or at least she’d been a stranger to
“I never had a chance to say goodbye,” Lady Christiana sobbed.
The woman spoke all the words buried deep in Hex’s own heart.
I never had a chance to say hello
, she thought with bitter sorrow. But she kept silent. She knew she would sound like a lunatic if she opened her mouth. No one would understand.
A loud, florid string of impressively creative expletives echoed through the room, followed by the shrill clang of metal hitting metal, diverting her attention. Hex turned to see the tall, bare-chested stranger slamming his sword against the strange black box repeatedly, his face contorted with rage. In all of the pandemonium, she’d nearly forgotten about him. Though she wondered how. He was not very forgettable, with his black scowl and bare feet and glittering dragon tattoo covering half of his formidable body. She would have accused the man of being insane—which he undoubtedly was—had she not witnessed with her own eyes how the man had entered the chamber in the first place.
The man had definitely
come in through the front door.
It made her wonder if she was indeed the one who’d gone insane. Perhaps all that had happened in this subterranean chamber was a hallucination on her part. She certainly wanted it to be.
She glanced down at the top of Hector’s head. He was quite content—for once—to remain in her embrace. No, she wanted this to be real, as much as it pained her. She had Hector safe in her arms, and
could make her regret that.
She had a feeling Ro—the earl—
that man had been—would understand, had he known the truth.
At last, as if thoroughly disgusted with himself, the tattooed man tossed his wicked-looking sword away, stalked toward the device, and kicked the base of it so hard with his bare foot it dented the metal and sent the entire, gargantuan thing skidding a few feet across the floor. He hopped away, holding his injured foot, muttering out a fresh jumble of curses.
Yes, the man was
“What the hell just happened, Brightlingsea?” Professor Romanov demanded, the first among them to recover enough to start demanding answers.
Hex reeled anew as the tattooed man’s identity hit her.
The Duke of Brightlingsea. She’d learned about him in her history classes as a young girl back in Baltimore. The man who’d broken the world half a century ago in order to end Ehrengard’s mad war. She’d not truly believed it last night when Helen had told her he also happened to be the leader of the Elders. Well, she
, just as she’d believed it when she was told the true identity of the demon—Ehrengard himself—who’d been tormenting her family since Cairo. But it was quite another thing to see the duke in the flesh with her own eyes.
in the flesh. The fact that he was dressed only in a pair of fire-singed trousers probably should have alarmed her more than it did. Under the circumstances, however, his lack of proper clothing seemed inconsequential. She was standing in a room littered with vampire corpses, Stieg Ehrengard had just managed to escape justice again, and the man who may or may not have been the love of her life had just been swallowed up by a damned ball of light.
She glanced next to her. Mr. Parminter, who looked half-dead from his battle-wounds, met her glance, looking as overwhelmed and confused as she felt. The man just shrugged helplessly and turned his attention back to Brightlingsea, as if enthralled by the duke. He was certainly…something.
The duke ignored Romanov’s demands and fell to his hands and knees. At first Hex thought the man was too overcome by grief to remain standing, but there seemed to be method to Brightlingsea’s madness. He crawled underneath the device, muttering to himself as he began to pull the thing apart piece by piece.
“Answer me!” Romanov bellowed, crouching down, trying to grab the man’s attention. “What happened to Rowan? What is this thing? And how the bloody hell did you get here?”
The duke yanked one of the heavy cables from a small golden ball and rose to his feet, scowling at the professor. He scanned the rest of them, his gaze lingering on Hex the longest. She gasped as something like pity flashed over his hawkish features. How could he possibly know? He didn’t know her at all…did he? Before she could recover enough to find her voice, however, he stalked back toward the mysterious, coffin-like black box, tugging the cable with him, dismissing her from his notice.
He pressed a lever down with one of his powerful hands, and the top of the box lifted on mechanized hinges with a hiss, steam rising up from the inside. He gestured at the contents, and the professor joined him, glancing guardedly into the open box. Whatever he saw made him curse under his breath and unconsciously rub at his chest, looking slightly ill.
Hex picked up Hector despite his protest and followed the inspector and Lady Christiana over to the black box. She looked inside with them, wondering what could possibly unsettle an immortal like Romanov. She half expected something gruesome to jump out at her—though she didn’t think anything could be more gruesome than watching Romanov and the earl literally pull apart O’Connor’s men, then having to finish off many of them herself after realizing they just wouldn’t die, even after losing whole arms and legs.
The contents of the box were remarkably anti-climactic in comparison—at least at first. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was supposed to be looking at, but there were four of them, sculpted of a strange, burnished metal that she couldn’t identify. They thumped with life, expanding and contracting their bulbous shapes as if they were actual living organisms rather than parts in a machine. A series of thick, copper-toned tubes connected them to each other, then linked them into what appeared to be a steam engine. It seemed surprisingly similar to the one that powered her dirigible back home, only smaller in scale and far more sophisticated in its design.
A glorified steam engine
? she thought bitterly.
the earl hadn’t lost his life to a damned steam engine.
“I am assuming these belonged to the four Elders who defected to Ehrengard’s side,” Brightlingsea said grimly. “It seems they learned to their detriment how Ehrengard rewards his allies.”
“Good God,” the professor murmured, looking near to casting up his accounts.
It took a while, but Hex’s mind finally grasped what those strange, thumping things were inside the box, and why the professor looked so ill. They were Da Vinci hearts. And Ehrengard must have murdered four Elders in order to harvest them.
“The power in one Da Vinci heart is incalculable, but four together…” The duke shook his head, as if too overcome to continue. “I have been working on an engine capable of generating power like this, but I wasn’t even close to this magnitude. It’s worse that I could have ever imagined.”
“Yes, Rowan was just killed by that thing!” Lady Christiana shrieked, trembling in the inspector’s arms as she glared at Brightlingsea, looking as if she might attack the man.
Brightlingsea gave Lady Christiana a long, knowing look, and she gasped, her body stiffening. “My God!” she breathed. “You knew this was going to happen. All of this. Somehow, you knew. Like you knew about Elijah the other day.”
Brightlingsea sighed and ran a hand over his face wearily. “Yes, I knew. Not all of it, but most of it. I knew what would happen to Rowan. And
I couldn’t stop it.
I tried—that’s why I’m here—but I see now it had to happen just as it did. If he didn’t pass through the portal, and his heart hadn’t neutralized this engine, the device would have never stopped. It would have grown stronger and stronger until it consumed this city—the world, perhaps. Leo didn’t bother with an off switch on this bloody thing, damn his eyes.”
Hex didn’t have a clue about half of what Brightlingsea was talking about, or who the hell Leo was, but she could feel that small tendril of hope beginning to unfurl in her chest once more.
“You called that light a portal. And you stepped through one to get here, didn’t you?” she asked the duke in an unsteady voice.
Brightlingsea cocked an eyebrow at her, and his scary amber eyes were almost approving. “
quick. I have perfected a device that allows me to travel forward through time and space at an accelerated speed. I journeyed here from Wales through the portal that you saw.”
What the bloody hell?
Who was this man? But the tendril of hope grew even stronger inside of her breast. What he said was absolute rubbish…but why did it make so much sense to her? Why did it explain so much? It couldn’t be possible…
But then again, what had happened to her ten years ago hadn’t been possible either. She’d never had an explanation for what
been, or where he’d come from.
“Can you not wear clothing in the portal?” the professor asked wryly, though his voice shook on the last word, as if he too couldn’t quite wrap his mind around the duke’s words.
Brightlingsea looked down at his bare chest as if noticing it for the first time. “Rowan’s summons came while I was…napping. I hadn’t time to waste with my damned toilette,” he growled, his face heating. “But this device does not do the same thing, I’m afraid,” he said, gesturing toward the giant metal wheels above them.
“Then what does it do?” she demanded, breathless, hope and dread warring in her heart.
“This was a prototype that would allow one to travel backward in time, rather than forward,” Brightlingsea said. He frowned. “It was not supposed to work even at this crude level, but I had not expected Ehrengard to have the…resources he does.”
“So what you’re saying is you’ve built a time machine,” Romanov stated flatly.
Brightlingsea just shrugged, as if he’d not done anything extraordinary. As if he’d not just thrown the laws of the universe right out of the window.
“But why?” Romanov cried.
It was a very good question, and one Hex would have asked, had she not been struck dumb with shock…and her ever-burgeoning hope.
“Why would you want to invent something so dangerous? Have you not learned your lesson, after what happened at Sevastopol?” Romanov continued.