Verity Hart Vs. The Vampyres Omnibus by Jennifer Harlow
Genre: Steampunk Romance
Publisher: Devil on the Left Books
Cover Artist: Jennifer Harlow
KEEP CALM AND STEAMPUNK ON
The whole of Victorian London knows there is something not quite right about the Lady Verity Hart. She may be the daughter of an MP and the sister of famed inventor Lord David Hart, but she is a spinster whose own father threatens to send her to the madhouse every fortnight. Because Society is correct-Verity Hart is no lady. If they suspected how quick with a quip she is, let alone the majority of her brother's ingenious machines were her design, the sale of fainting couches would double.
Verity requires one herself when her beloved brother is kidnapped by vampyres in the dead of night. With the aid of an aggravating, rude American bounty hunter with a secret of his own, Verity takes to land, sea, and even air to rescue the only person who could ever love and truly accept her. Or is he?
The Notorious Count Orrlock Has a Ball
Oh, heavens, did I leave my blowtorch on?
As I sit in our carriage, waiting behind one of those new motorcars I have been dying to tear apart, fear grips me like a vice. Burning the house down would certainly be the final straw with Father. He would surely lock me away as he has threatened countless instances these past eleven years. Did I leave it on? I was in such a rush to get ready for the ball, it is certainly possible. I swiftly run through my movements. I was welding the hinge on my latest invention, the Artemis, when David poked his head into my workshop to inform me Father was home. I set down the torch, removed my goggles, then quickly changed out of my leather work clothes into my lavender tea dress. Then I made sure the gunpowder and petrol were stowed properly, checked the hinge, then…I did shut it off. Oh, thank the Lord.
“Verity, did you hear a word I said?” Father asks harshly, bringing me out of my head.
I gaze across the carriage at my father. He’s dapper tonight in his tuxedo with white handkerchief, bowtie, and white rose in the lapel like David. At four-and-fifty my father is still handsome, even though at forty his hair turned pure silver in the blink of an eye. Strangely his eyebrows remained dark brown and are only now beginning to match. He’s known for his patience and grace under pressure, though one would not know this judging from his expression now. As always when his attention is directed at me his face is filled with an undercurrent of contempt with each passing moment. I believe I am the only person in all of Christendom who can crack the façade.
“Yes, I mean no, Father. I was daydreaming. I apologize.”
His lips purse. “I was saying, try to refrain from garishly flirting with that man tonight. You are to be on your best behavior. Several other Parliament members shall be in attendance, along with the head of the India bureau. Avoid that man as much as possible.”
“You mean our host?” I ask.
“I heard Isobel Derbyshire was seen departing his villa most late at night un-chaperoned not a month past,” Mama says, ever the gossip.
“My point precisely. Even a hint of impropriety, and people will talk.”
“Father, people do little else,” I counter. If possible his lips tighten further. I gaze down to the floor. “Sorry, Father.”
“If you will not behave for me, then do it for Margot. She has only three years until she is presented into society. Do not make your sister pay for your ill behavior.”
As always, my father cuts right to the quick. Worst, he is not wrong. “I shall be the paragon of ladylike virtue all evening, Father.”
“See that you are.”
Two weeks. Only two more weeks until my obligation is fulfilled for the year, and I may return to Somerset. Then, unless summoned, I do not have to see him until Christmas. May the good Lord give me strength to hold my tongue, keep my head high, and behave as the lady the whole of London believes me to be. Our coach pulls to a stop at the entrance of the hotel. You are Lady Verity Hart, daughter of the Eighth Earl of Carlisle tonight, nothing more. Bloody well act like it.
The automaton footman dressed in livery with powdered wigs opens the carriage door and holds out its metal hand to help us debark. I have never liked these machines. Created to resemble humans in both form and height with their smooth, blank brass faces, jerky movements, and the strength of three men. Unnatural. More human than human in some respects. I do appreciate their mechanical intricacies, the innovation as dozens of gears, pistons, cogs all firing and moving together as if God himself designed them. I do not spy a bulky engine with exhaust pipes shooting out hot steam on its back, so it must be a newer model powered either by battery or electrical oscillator. What a difference five years makes in terms of progress.
I am surprised that so many of the upper crust would deign to travel to Chelsea from Mayfair and Belgravia but here they are, the men in pressed suits and the majority of women in white, though I would wager there is not a black glove left in the whole of London. The Count always throws the party of the Season, which is the only reason Father deigns to be in the same room as him. And we, I mean I, had the added honor of being personally invited by the Count. It would be a slap in the face should we not attend, even with the theme of “Black and White” with mourning clothes encouraged. As always, tongues wagged about the request, with those not invited most vocal.
As white washes me out, I selected a black lace gown trimmed with white, and both my slippers and elbow length gloves are white as well, with a spare pair in my black reticule. I never leave the house without two pair in case of emergency. My hands resemble those of a laborer with calluses, scars, and burns difficult to explain away. I learnt from experience.
My brother David holds out his arm for me to take. With a smile, I lock my arm with his, and we trek toward the hotel door. We usually all but read each other’s minds, but my scowl says it all.
“Father is in rare form tonight,” David says. “Attempting to guilt you with destroying Margot’s reputation? Low swipe, even for him.”
“I know. One would think I was constantly throwing myself at the Count every chance I had.”
“He does flirt with you a considerable amount.”
“He flirts with everyone, I am nowhere near special in that regard. When I do seek him out, it is simply because I find him agreeable. And honest, which is most refreshing.” With a sigh, I shake my head. “I am eight-and-twenty years old, and our parents treat me as if I am a three-year-old who throws temper tantrums whenever there is company about. I just want to…scream. I should be able to speak and dance with my friend if I so choose.”
“You should. Without question. But tonight, please Very, be cautious.”
“Am I not always?” I ask with a rueful smile.
An actual human takes our invitations and informs us the location of the cloakroom. I have never been to this particular hall no one has as the Count just completed its construction for this ball, but it’s cheery with pale yellow walls. Most refreshing from the usual dark wallpaper or red walls found everywhere else. I especially adore the roses in the vases, most white but some literally painted black. David and I stop to admire them until Father and Mama reach us. “Shameless,” Father huffs.
The men break off to the hat room and Mama and I to the cloakroom. “You look quite pretty tonight, darling,” Mama says as we stroll past more shameless displays.
Despite my swift preparation for the night’s event, I do agree with her for once. My naturally thick, honey blonde hair is in a chignon held by diamond encrusted silver geared barrettes that match my interlaced silver clock gear necklace. My grass green eyes, the only indication I am my father’s daughter, are as always offset by my milky skin, as are my pink lips with Cupid’s bow. Even my figure is impressive with the torturous corset doing its job, giving the impression my small breasts are fuller and my waist a near perfect seventeen and a half inches on my 5”4’ frame. Still, I cannot wait until I am back in my real clothes: leather trousers, billowy white shirt, all of me covered in oil or grease. I may not be worthy of note then, but at least I can breathe. Bloody corset.
“Thank you, as do you, Mama.”
I hand the maid my cloak and receive my programme and dance card as Martha Templeton and her eight-and-ten-year-old daughter Emiline begin commenting on the odd décor and apprize all who can hear of the latest gossip. I maintain a smile as I pretend to find it all fascinating until we return to the hallway where Father and David wait. The moment Emiline catches sight of my dapper brother she smoothes her pink hair, which is the newest colour in the D.V. Hart Hair Dye line. I’ve heard that many ladies use the product simply so they have a conversation starter around my brother. He never notices a one of them. Poor dears.
I understand his appeal. Beyond the fact my brother is rich as Crocus, a future Earl to a grand manor, and one of the greatest inventors of our time, but is also quite handsome. He has a lean body, rich brown eyes, thick brown hair that at thirty shows no signs of grey. If he weren’t my brother, I would probably be in love with him as well.
David and I trail behind our parents, who nod at the few people loitering in the hallway. Once again we have to wait in line at the arching entrance of the ballroom to be announced. A lady always enters a room with a smile, so I affix mine. You are Lady Verity Hart. Lady Hart…
“Lord Edmund Hart, Earl of Carlisle, accompanied by Countess Edith Hart with Lord David Hart, Viscount of Lovell, and the Lady Verity Hart.”
The majority of the guests gaze our way. David and I spend ten months a year at our manor house in Somerset, coming to town only for the end of the Season to avoid gossip, so when the magnificent, brilliant D.V. Hart deigns to venture into society, there is always a reaction. Quite a few ladies brighten up. I heard two hundred fifty invitations were sent out, and by the size of the crowd, I would say most are here. The doors and windows are already open to aid with the heat. Balls in mid-June are always rather uncomfortable, not to mention stench filled. Hand fans are already being put to use, mine included. A lady never sweats. Never.
I spot Aunt Esme gliding toward us with her daughter Cricket and Cricket’s husband Arthur following behind. The sisters kiss cheeks as I smile at my cousin. Though she’s two years younger than I, we used to be good friends at least until her marriage. Gone was the bright, exuberant girl who loved watching me weld. Four children, two who didn’t survive infancy, have taken their toll on her. Her blonde hair remains limp even though it is wrapped around various gear ornaments, and figure fragile underneath the ivory taffeta gown. Arthur’s a good man but dull as dishwater. He towers over his wife and is as gaunt as she. As Mama and Esme repeat all the conversations they’ve had since arriving, the men begin with politics. Even Cricket’s eyes glaze over. “Cricket, could you show me where the refreshment room is? I’m parched.”
“Of course,” she says.
Taking her arm, I lead her from the group. “I am sorry my dear, I have not been available to keep you company this week,” I begin. “I—”
A tall woman with flaming red hair and skin the colour of snow bumps into my frail Cricket. Instead of apologizing, and her equally pale escort scoff and continue on their way. Our mouths plop open. “How rude,” Cricket says. My jaw drops further as I watch them approach David, but Oliver Blaylock reaches him first. The rough couple exchanges an angry look but change course away from him. What odd people.
As we make our way to the refreshment room, I nod and smile at those I recognise as Cricket updates me on her children. We get our lemonade, even if I asked they would not serve me whiskey, and sink gracefully into chairs near an open window to people watch. A few ladies rebelled against the theme by wearing bright colours and dying their hair the same colour with greens, purples, blues all the colours of the rainbow both garishly adorned with clockwork gears similar to mine. David commissioned the clockwork gear necklace I wear tonight for my twenty-first birthday as an inside joke. I wore on a few occasions, blinked, and the whole of society were adorned in rivets and gears. The style was then translated into home décor, ours included. Brass gears and rivets now adorn most light fixtures, lampshades, even wall moldings like those in this very hall. Took some of the fun out of it.
It is easy to glean why the dye is David’s highest seller. Where the women try to distinguish themselves with said colours, the men could be interchangeable with the same tuxedo, clipped mustaches, and short hair parted down the middle. I spot the always delightful Lord Dickie Hopper, the last of my three potential husbands, holding court amid a dozen people, only one whom I do not recognise. The stranger’s black hair peppered with grey is longer than is fashionable as it reaches his shoulders, and his skin is dark from hours spent in the sun. Not from London then. He’s also most handsome in a rugged way not often appreciated in society. It must be tonight as everyone seems fascinated by him, and judging from the near scowl on his face, he does not enjoy said attention. Dickie collects people to show off, so the stranger could be an exiled crown prince or circus performer. His new friend just sips his tumbler of liquor between deep scowls.
“American,” a familiar voice purrs behind me, “among other interesting characteristics.”
With a smile I pivot around and find our host looming over me with his usual catlike grin. Another man of mystery. He simply arrived in town five years past, purchasing a large parcel of Chelsea and throwing the most elaborate parties I’ve ever attended. Fire eaters, swamis, tigers, even ballet dancers have been showcased at his events. Tonight men in black and white jester costumes with kabuki masks juggle or perform mime around the ballroom. I’ve heard he hails from Russia, but others insist it’s Romania or Hungary. It is difficult to gage as when he speaks, there is only a trace of Eastern Europe in his voice. I do know one or two people who affirm they met his father in Austria at balls decades ago. His name wasn’t Orrlock, but they swear based on the uncanny resemblance, the men have to be father and son. The mystery rages on, and my unconventional friend revels in every wagging tongue.
He looks to be in his mid-thirties with olive skin, dark brown hair the same colour as his eyes, athletic physique, and straight nose. I have only ever seen one man as beautiful as he, though Jolyon’s was restrained whereas Orrlock’s is wild like a gypsy, though a dandy gypsy. Though we flirt, there is no real romantic attachment towards one another, at least on my part. Ever since I rapped his hand with my fan and told him I would break his nose if he was ever forward enough to attempt to touch my neck again, we have been good friends.
“That fact alone makes him more interesting than the whole of the room put together,” I say.
The Count glides around, fixing his jewel encrusted gear cufflinks as Cricket rises. “I had best be getting back to Arthur,” she says, curtsying. “Pardon me.”
Orrlock furrows his brow as she scurries away. “Am I that repellant?” he asks as he sits.
“The family does not approve of you. I am sure she received the same speech I did about keeping away from you.”
“Well, thank you for not obeying. And for wearing black. It was most bold of you.”
“Bold nothing, it was purely for cosmetic reasons. White washes me out. People would think I was a member of the undead, haunting the hall otherwise.”
A large yet private smile crosses his face. “Now there is a thought, Lady Hart.”
I smirk back. “So, I have not seen Isobel Derbyshire here tonight. Will she be attending?”
“I very much doubt it, I am afraid. I am not her favourite person at present.”
“And you wonder why proper ladies flee in your presence.”
“Yet you never do. Are you not a proper lady?”
“Depends on whom you ask, Count Orrlock.” We both grin and grow silent before the sound of laughter draws our attention. Dickie imitates gunfire with his fingers as all but the American laugh at his antics. “Poor American,” I say. “He looks about ready to scream. Shall we attempt a rescue before the gunfire begins in earnest?”
Orrlock rises, holding out a hand for me. “I would be remiss in my duties as host if I did not.”
I take his perpetually chilly hand and accompany him to the jubilant group. Halfway to our destination, the American notices us approaching. Staring straight at Orrlock, his back straightens and shoulders fall back as if he’s threatened. Orrlock smirks. Are we that frightening? Dickie notices us a second later and lights up further, smiling enough to show teeth. Even that’s boyish. “Our host and my favourite heartbreaker. I am honored.” The men bow except the American who just nods.
“Heartbreaker indeed,” I say as I curtsey. “You proposed to Hester not two weeks after you did me.” To avoid going to debtor’s prison. I suppose I should be flattered he thought of my fortune first. “And speaking of, where is your lovely wife this evening?”
“Home with one of her headaches per usual,” Dickie says. He smacks the American’s back. “Thankfully, I met Jamie here two nights ago, and he agreed to keep me company tonight.” Everyone in the group exchanges a look as Dickie should have introduced us right away and failed to do so. He realizes it far too late to avoid impropriety. “Oh, forgive me! Your beauty made me forget my manners. Lady Verity Hart, Count Ivan Orrlock, may I present Mr. Jamie McQueen of the Oklahoma territory of America.”
“Pleasure to meet you, sir,” I say, but the man doesn’t remove his eyes from Orrlock, who still smirks.
“Yeah,” the American says.
“Jamie McQueen, an Irish name if ever I heard one,” Orrlock says. “You look remarkably like an Irish acquaintance I once had. James Roarke? Are you by chance related?”
“He’s my grandfather, but I never met the man,” the American says icily.
“A shame. He was a colourful man.”
“He’s dead?” the American asks.
“I heard of his death almost ten years past, though I do believe the rest of your clan is still on that island of theirs.” Orrlock’s smile grows. “You know it has been years since I ran into one of your kind.” He glances at the confused group of which I am a part. “An American that is.”
“And it is always a pleasure to meet one of yours,” he says with a sneer.
What an utterly rude man, and judging from the ladies pulling their escorts away, I am not alone in thinking this. Orrlock does not seem to mind. “Cats and dogs, ha ha,” Orrlock says gaily. He glances behind Dickie. “Oh my, it seems as if I must attempt another rescue. Mr. Stoker has been cornered by an aspiring actress hoping to join the Lyceum.”
“I heard you two were working on a book together,” I say. “Whatever is it about?”
“He’s simply interviewing me for research. It’s hush hush at the moment, I am afraid. Excuse me.” Orrlock steps away but instantly thinks better of it. “I almost forgot. Lady Hart, I demand the first dance and you cannot refuse me. I am the host after all.”
About the Author
Jennifer Harlow spent her restless childhood fighting with her three brothers and scaring the heck out of herself with horror movies and books. She grew up to earn a degree at the University of Virginia which she put to use as a radio DJ, crisis hotline volunteer, bookseller, lab assistant, wedding coordinator, and government investigator. Currently she calls Northern Virginia home but that restless itch is ever present. In her free time, she continues to scare the beejepers out of herself watching scary movies and opening her credit card bills.
She is the author of the Amazon best-selling F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad, Midnight Magic Mystery series and The Galilee Falls Trilogy.
You can find Jennifer here: