A Breath of Frost

Free A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey

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Authors: Alyxandra Harvey
her father had owned an unmarked one, which he did not. He thought it only proper that he be recognized wherever he went. He could travel between gaming hells, Parliament, and brothels with impunity since earls were accorded special allowances.
    Earls’ daughters were not.
    Emma stopped long enough to slip a small paring knife from the kitchen into her reticule. The newspapers were forever reporting on people getting robbed at night—even in the glittering neighborhood of Mayfair. Sometimes especially then.
    Besides, she was enjoying the thought of brandishing it at Cormac.
    She kept to the hedges, darting from cover to cover as she made her way down the street to the nearest ball. Luckily, she didn’t have to go far to find the road clogged with carriages, ladies in diamonds, and men in crowned hats. She used the crowd as a shield, dashing between the horses until she found an empty hansom cab for hire.
    She tossed the driver a coin and an address, slamming the door behind her. The seats were squashed and the dim interior smelled like rosewater and cabbages. She bounced along the worn cushions, holding onto the edge of the window when the carriage turned sharply. Peeking out between the curtains, she saw gentlemen laughing together outside a tavern, the windows of her father’s club lit with oil lamps, and a woman wearing a very questionable gown standing inside a doorway. Torches and gas lamps gave everything a yellow glow, like gold coins at the bottom of a very deep wishing well.
    The carriage stopped in front of a large house with a clean front step flanked with burning torches. She jumped out, unable to make the steps lower properly. The coachman was huddled in a greatcoat, yawning. “If you wait for me, I’ll double your fee,” she said.
    He grinned. “Aye, miss.”
    She hovered on the pavement, trying not to imagine what he must be thinking of her and what she was doing here. She certainly had bigger problems than that. For one thing, this particular street was most disobliging. There wasn’t shrubbery anywhere in which to hide; there were only lampposts and paving stones and the clatter of wheels on the cobblestones behind her, none of which were especially helpful. Also, a formidable butler now stood in the open doorway, eyeing her.
    Blast.
    She crossed behind the carriage, hiding behind its bulk. She hovered there uncertainly, running through curses under her breath. The coachman, overhearing her, gave a startled guffaw. “I didn’t know goats could do that,” he said.
    She smiled at him weakly. Her mind raced as she tried to imagine a way past the butler. If he was anything like Jenkins she would need nothing short of magic.
    A carriage pulled ahead of her hired cab and disgorged young gentlemen and ladies who should’ve known better. They were a riot of colorful silks, all hats askew and crooked cravats. They stumbled across the sidewalk, arm in arm. They headed toward the bachelor apartments like a flock of geese constantly changing leaders mid-flight.
    Finally, a little luck.
    Emma crept close enough to smell the port from the open bottle the young man with red hair swung negligently from his fingers. One of his friends was singing a song about a sailor and his sweetheart. It put her poor cursed goats to shame. She trailedafter them, trying to appear part of the festivities without actually drawing their attention. The butler nodded to the gentlemen and politely refrained from noticing the women at all.
    Oil lamps burned in the foyer, casting wavering light over the marble floor and doors opening onto rooms down the hall. The balustrade of the staircase was shaped like a buxom mermaid. She’d never drown with proportions such as those. The party trampled up the steps. Nerves had her palms tingling. She rubbed them on her dress.
    That was when she noticed the light spilling out from the front opening of her cape.
    Light spilling from
her
, in fact.
    She gasped, holding up her hands. She squinted at

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