He lives according to science. She struggles to define her destiny. But who has time for love when they’re pursued by an ancient cult that will kill to protect its secrets?
After a dishonest woman broke his heart, renowned aetherist Edward Bailey buried the pieces under a strict routine built on solid, scientific predictability. Iris McTavish is determined to prove her worth as a scholar and scientist, and save the financially ruined house of McTavish without accepting an unwanted marriage proposal. But keeping her secret is difficult when she’s faced with Edward’s compelling gaze and unrelenting logic.
Amid clockwork spy devices, threats from a mysterious society who’ll stop at nothing to conceal their secrets, and plots from a guild bent on stealing them, Edward and Iris are forced to undertake an undercover expedition to find an element that will harness the power of aether.
Betrayal and danger from supernatural and mundane forces await them on the road from London to Rome, and the revolutionary discovery they seek could save or destroy the world…or their hearts.
Warning: Contains a brilliant professor with a white-knuckle case of anxiety, a woman with an ahead-of-her-time spirit of adventure, real and made-up history, and a Grand Tour that serves up murder plots and secret temples along with wine, tea, and cream puffs. You may wish to pack your shovel along with your silks.
Praise for Eros Element (click on source for full review):
“Golden Compass by Philip Pullman meets The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. This first in the series from Dominic (A Perfect Man; The Mountain’s Shadow) defines a compelling world with many provocative and unanswered questions.” – Library Journal
“A book full of life and death, blackmail and betrayal, suspicion and secrets? I recommend buying this one.” – Girl of 1000 Wonders blog
“…There is one problem with Eros Element. That is, although it does not end in a cliffhanger, I know there is more to the story. But I am going to have to wait to get it. If you can’t tell by now, I will put it plainly. Eros Element is highly recommended!” – Smart Girls Love Sci Fi Romance
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From Chapter 9
Edward hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that his clothes were soiled after their little sojourn on the floor of the train car. No matter how many times he washed his hands, they felt sticky, and now he added the gritty feeling of the sand that seemed to coat everything in the station. He wanted to rub his palms on his pants to get rid of the feeling, but he would have to wash them again, and he didn’t trust the washroom in this tiny station. It reminded him too much of family trips to the coast and the final, disastrous one with Lily when they were to have celebrated their engagement.
“Bad memories?” Johann asked. In spite of having slept for much of the journey, he had dark circles under his eyes.
“Perhaps,” Edward replied. He tried to keep his tone light so his friend wouldn’t ask further. Johann knew everything, of course. The entire town heard the story when he and Lily returned. He stopped himself from rubbing his hands on his pants but couldn’t help but wonder how Miss McTavish would spin the tale of them all ending up on the floor of the train carriage. No doubt she would find fault in something he did even if she didn’t complain about having her head on his chest. Truth be told, he hadn’t minded so much, but he wouldn’t admit that to anyone.
“I don’t trust all this open air,” Johann said. “A small town is better than the countryside. It’s too exposed here.”
The arrival of the coach forestalled more conversation. Johann stood and stretched. Edward had remained standing. He suspected the sand on the benches would stay invisible until it clung to his clothes and tried to get in every nook and cranny of his body. Miss McTavish and the maid entered, and the young archaeologist frowned like she was deep in thought.
Everything and everyone were loaded onto the carriage with great efficiency, and it rolled over the shell- and gravel-strewn path. Edward clutched the handle due to the precarious nature of the path along the bluff and the swaying of the cart in the breeze. They turned a corner, and the new angle revealed a view of the town below with the harbor and sparkling sea. And beyond the town, the white bulk of an airship stood, its canvas reflecting the luminescence of the sun like a beacon.
“A dirigible!” Edward exclaimed. “Is that what we’re to travel on? Not a boat?” The itinerary had given the name of the vehicle, not the nature of it, and he hadn’t dared to hope this disastrous trip would allow him to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams.
Miss McTavish faced him, and amusement turned up the corners of her eyes. “Yes, didn’t you see on your itinerary?”
“I wasn’t sure.” Now the carriage couldn’t move fast enough. He fixed it in his sight, refusing to look away in case it should lift without them. “Will we be on time?”
“Don’t worry, Professor,” the maid, who sat on the bench with Miss McTavish said. “That’s Mister Cobb’s personal airship. He’s waiting for you.” The two women exchanged amused glances, but Edward didn’t mind if they mocked him. He ignored the exclamations over each new view and the information the maid tried to impart about the seaside town. He fixed on their destination, and when the carriage stopped at the airfield, he was the first one out.
The Blooming Senator loomed overhead, its balloon crowding the view of the sky and the bluffs beyond. The last time Edward had felt so small next to a massive object was when he was a child, and his father brought a new stallion named Lucifer to the stable. His brother had insisted they go see it when it arrived. From what Edward recalled, it stood seventeen hands, and as a boy of five, he didn’t reach the bottom of its massive chest. The horse had never liked him, had never allowed him near it after that, and he took some satisfaction in the thought that even Lucifer would be dwarfed by the airship’s mass.
“It’s amazing,” Miss McTavish breathed beside him, and he squelched the impulse to grab her hand and run toward it.
“Have you ever seen something so huge?”
“No. The only dirigibles I’ve seen were the smaller mail blimps in and over London. I’ve never seen one big enough for trans-Atlantic travel—they won’t fit in an urban airfield. Mister Cobb must be very wealthy to afford it.”
Edward glanced at her. Wariness and wonder warred for dominance in her expression, and he understood why. If Parnaby Cobb could afford a huge airship like the Blooming Senator, he should have been able to hire someone to go on this adventure, someone more amenable to travel than he was.
“Come now, Professor,” the maid said when she appeared beside them carrying his and Miss McTavish’s valises. “If you stand here gaping at it, it will leave without you as you feared.”
Panic at potentially missing this opportunity replaced suspicion. He did have to save his department, after all, no matter what the motivation of the benefactor, and perhaps Cobb had reasons for wanting everything to be subtle and secret. Edward followed her.
“She doesn’t speak as a maid should,” Miss McTavish said, and he wasn’t sure he was meant to hear, but he responded anyway.
“Maybe she’s excited for the journey as well.”
Edward remembered his excitement the first time he saw the sea with its myriad demonstrations of physics, everything from how water moves to the pull of the moon. Now he experienced something similar, wonder at the miracle that allowed mankind to fly among the birds. He recalled how he and his brother had clasped hands and run toward the sea on their first trip to the shore.
This time he acted on the impulse to grab Miss McTavish’s hand and pull her toward the gondola. “Come on!”
“Professor!” She grabbed her skirts and, laughing, ran beside him. He adjusted his speed to accommodate for her legs and wished maybe he hadn’t been so foolish. She slowed him down, but the look on her face—delight to mirror his own. The thought that perhaps she would expect more such moments from him niggled at his mind, but he pushed it away. Nothing to be done for it now—they arrived together at the gangway breathless and flushed.
“Well, now, I haven’t seen two young people enjoy themselves half so much before getting on my ship since she was launched.” Parnaby Cobb’s smile rivaled the brightness of the sun’s rays upon their heads, and Edward’s neck became warm at the thought he’d been caught acting a fool. And with a woman. He dropped Miss McTavish’s hand and rubbed his own on his pants before he remembered his attire was no longer clean.
“Come, come, Professor, let me show you the laboratory,” Cobb continued, either oblivious to or choosing to ignore Edward’s discomfort. “I thought you might want to take advantage of it to do some aether experiments at high altitudes.”
Now all thought of Miss McTavish flew from Edward’s mind. “Oh, that would be grand.”
“Excellent. Marie, please take Miss McTavish to her quarters so she can freshen up after the professor’s and her mad run.”
Edward shot her a glance of apology, but Iris wasn’t looking at him. She studied Cobb and nodded once to indicate she’d heard him.
“Thank you,” she murmured, but Edward knew she wasn’t as meek as she appeared.
A light touch on his arm told him Cobb was waiting, and he followed the older man into the ship of his dreams.