Secrets Excerpt: Chapters One and Two

1Sam had been working on one of her machines in the garden when her sister’s maid came to collect her.“Lady Stapleton calls for you,” Kate said, looking at the machine with a narrowed gaze.Abandoning her tools, Sam leapt to her feet and grinned, pausing only to give the machine a quick pat in farewell.Lily and Henry had been gone for a full week this time. The winter’s chills had taken a toll on her sister’s health and so Henry delayed his business until she felt well enough to travel. He took Lily on his trips whenever he could, weather permitting, and her sister seemed happier for the time away from the worries of the estate.Still, she missed them when they were gone.“You walk proper now.” the maid said sharply before Sam could burst into a run.The woman seemed to have a sixth sense for when Sam might misbehave and took every opportunity to scold. She’d treated Sam like a feral child even before the maid’s copper-link necklace got caught up in one of her bouts.No matter how much Sam had tried to explain and apologize, the woman continued to glare whenever Lily and Henry could not see. She’d returned the necklace with its broken clasp repaired, but that made no difference. Even fixing the steam generator so their piped water wouldn’t freeze in the winter had failed to soften the maid’s attitude.It took all of Sam’s focus to keep to a steady pace, but Kate’s annoyance couldn’t dampen Sam’s growing excitement for all the maid schooled her walk.“Now don’t you be tiring your sister, Miss Samantha. She doesn’t be needing any of your antics,” the maid said when they came to a halt in front of the sitting room door.Sam ignored the warning as she waited for Kate to sweep into the room first, a subtle breaking of tradition the woman used to put Sam in her place without drawing Lily’s attention. But the maid only turned the silver knob, pulled the door open, and waved for her to enter.Ducking her head to hide a cheeky smile, she stepped past Kate and into the room, anticipation wiping out the maid’s unpleasantness.“I’m so happy you’re back.” The words burst from her before she even looked around. “What did you find for me this time?”Henry and Lily had gone to Dover, a full day’s carriage ride from the estate. Lily always brought something back to make up for Sam’s inability to leave, and ever since Henry set up a little workshop, those gifts often included small mechanical objects crafted by blacksmiths. Only the most complicated and well-used machines would make her lose control, and she so loved working with the devices.Sam’s gaze found the empty sofa with its elegant, carved wood legs, the table bare of anything, and finally, her sister on the stuffed armchair, looking even more frail than usual after her winter sickness. But color highlighted Lily’s cheeks, streaks of red Sam knew meant a secret waiting to burst out.She crossed to her sister and knelt before the chair, her lanky height taller than Lily’s when seated. “What is it then? I know it’s got to be something special with you all colored up.” Sam could hardly keep still as expectation triggered sparks of pleasure to dance along her nerves.Lily still said nothing, the faint smile dropping from her expression. She put a hand on the top of Sam’s red curls but did not move at first.As always, her sister’s presence brought with it calm enough to ease even the worst of Sam’s episodes before something disastrous occurred. She leaned into the touch, enjoying the attention as Lily stroked her hair. But soon the quiet made her antsy.“Hush, Samantha. Just sit a while.”If anything, the soft words made her more uncomfortable, especially with her sister’s use of her full name.Lily rarely did nothing.She always had some work in her hands.Sam had been growing steadily, and Lily often mended old clothes for the servants’ children when she’d finished Sam’s, one of the many reasons all of Henry’s staff loved her. The table should have had her sister’s latest project scattered across it, whether a crochet napkin or some clothing in need of repair.Instead, it stood empty.“I can’t,” Sam said after a pause. She pulled out from under her sister’s hand and went to the sofa, folding her legs under her in a posture that usually made her sister scold.Lily didn’t even notice.“It’s a baby, isn’t it? That’s why you’ve been going to Dover with Henry, spending so much time away. That’s what Cook says.”Sam refused to repeat Kate’s speculations. Lily would never put a new child over Sam. They belonged together.A faint smile touched Lily’s mouth before she shook her head. “What have I told you about listening to the servant gossip?” As usual, the words held no heat. Lily understood better than anyone how much Sam craved company, even if it meant spending time in reach of the lady’s maid and her barbs.Her sister did not deny the gossip, but neither did she confirm it.“That’s not why I called you here, Samantha.”Tension rippled down Sam’s back. Twice her sister called her Samantha when Lily knew she preferred Sam.Lily twisted a strand of long blond hair between her fingers, looking anywhere but at Sam.She tried to remember what she could have done to bring lines to Lily’s face, but nothing came to mind. She’d even transformed a rusty old plow into a contraption to keep herself inside the workshop if she happened to feel a fever coming on while Lily was away. She didn’t want her sister to have to worry.“It’s not about the plow, is it? Surely no one cared that I used it. Why the grass had grown up all around so I had to cut it free.”A laugh burst from Lily, leaving a comical expression in its wake as though her sister had not expected to find humor in the story. “You cut a plow free? And dragged it back to the workshop by yourself, I’d guess. It’s not like Cook would have helped you … or Kate. Tell me you haven’t co-opted one of Henry’s workers? He needs them to keep the estate profitable, not running after your schemes.”Sam flushed and jerked her legs forward so they draped over the edge, her twisted skirt barely reaching her ankles and failing to hide the dirt-smeared feet below. “Old Mister Simmons is nice enough, especially after the steam generator, but he keeps the others away from me.”Lily shook her head. “Maybe better one of them than on your own after all. Someday you may regret your boyish ways.”Sam sat straighter, hands pressing brocade on either side of her. “What’s the point in being a lady? It’s not as if anyone’s going to come courting. They don’t know I’m here. Nor will I have a coming out. Not even in the Merchanter Ball as you would have if Mother had lived. My prison’s larger now, but it’s not much different from that old barn. I can’t leave, and no one comes to see me either.”She remembered Kate’s admonishment a bit too late. Front teeth sank into her lower lip as she stared at Lily.Sam had never spoken so in her whole life. She hadn’t even known the continued strictures bothered her until right then.Lily’s pale features became drawn, and she half-rose from the chair as though coming to cuddle Sam like years before. “If things could have been different …”She drew on the calm Lily’s earlier touch had produced as she prepared to wash away the hurt in her sister’s expression, but Lily never gave her the chance.“That’s actually why I called you here.” Her sister settled back, shoulders curled with an invisible weight. “Do you remember how it was before Henry came for us? Do you remember our plans?”“Safe haven.” The words came out in a reverent whisper, too strong a dream for even Henry’s generosity to squash.Eight years had passed, but the memory of sitting on a pillow of moldy hay as Lily described what awaited on the Continent rose sharp as though yesterday. Lily had read accounts from their father’s journals telling of a place where Naturals gathered without a care for who saw them transform a simple machine into the mechanical that lived at its heart. They spoke of a place where Sam would have friends, people around her who never once wore that look of fear her abilities brought forth. Even Cook, who had befriended Sam for her enthusiastic appetite, still kept a wary eye out for any sign of an approaching bout.It had been a beautiful dream, something to keep a little girl warm at night as Lily worked herself almost to death earning their passage when they had only rumors to guide them after the crossing.“But instead we came here.” Her voice went flat when she’d intended to show Lily that she held no regrets.In truth, most days the estate offered enough room to ramble and the workshop gave her the ability to play with her natural affinity to machines. If she didn’t have many friends — only one really beyond her family — at least she didn’t live in fear that her smallest slip would cost her everything, and worst, cost Lily. Only lately had disquiet rippled beneath the peace Sam had found here.Kate’s sour words had struck hard. Sure, neither Henry nor Lily showed any sign of resenting her presence, but neither had they filled the empty rooms with the children both had wanted. Now Sam had to wonder if the choice lay not in chance but in the same fear that hovered in the servants’ eyes when they thought Henry couldn’t see.“Yes, we came here. And it’s better for you than that old barn for sure, but wouldn’t you want something more? You talk of Merchanter Balls, so I’d guess you’ve been haunting Henry’s library again, but you can never have that here.”Lily rose, her skirts swirling down to tiny feet encased in slippers. “Wouldn’t you prefer a place where you could follow your nature without restraint? Where you didn’t have to watch your every instinct?”Sam had never thought her sister unkind before.She stared at Lily, mouth half open. “Of course I would,” she said, jerking to her feet, “But it’s not possible. It never was no matter how much we pretended. I try not to think on it.”A wistful smile crept across Lily’s face. “I thought I’d taught you how important it is to have dreams. Sometimes that’s all we have.”Anger melted away as Sam crossed to her older sister, noticing for the first time how they stood almost the same height despite more than ten years between them. “You did, and it’s true. But we found our dream of a safe haven here, with your Henry and my workshop.”Lily shrugged and turned half away. “It’s not enough. It never will be with you still trapped. You said so yourself.”Sam stared at her dirty feet, the earlier anger turned inward. “I didn’t mean it,” she said to her big toe. “I wasn’t thinking.”A strangled laugh brought Sam’s face up again.“It’s when we don’t think that the truth comes out, and a surer truth I’ve never heard from your lips. Whether you admit to it or not, the confinement chafes. It has since you got over the delight of grass beneath your feet.”Sam crossed the toes of one foot over the other in a feeble attempt to hide the grass stains that always seemed present, wishing she’d stopped long enough to put on the slippers her sister preferred she wore.Lily only shook her head. “You might have put the Continent from your mind, but I’ve had Henry make discrete inquiries since you turned thirteen. There’s more to life than running wild in a cage. You deserve that as much as anyone, and the accounts in Father’s journals prove there’s something to find.”Sam barely heard anything past the fact that Henry had kept searching. The dream came back with the full force of longing, a vision of the two of them in true freedom now grown to include Henry’s strength. “Has he discovered something?”When Lily glanced away, Sam’s shoulders slumped. There had been nothing despite Lily’s hopes. She’d figured that out years ago, though she’d never let on.Her sister straightened her spine. “He has found it.”The soft words took a moment to sink in. Tingling swept through her limbs, and her scalp tickled as the dream became reality.Around her, the room broke into its component parts, metal highlighted in her vision and a mantelpiece clock she desperately ignored every day called out for mobility.“You’re old enough now to go on your own.”The rest of what Lily said hit with the force of a blow, silencing the aether-driven pull from the clock and everything else.“My own? What of you and Henry? Why can’t you come too?” Sam’s voice spiraled up until it sounded much younger than her fifteen years, but she couldn’t help the desperation in its tones. “We’re supposed to be together.”The way Lily had avoided Sam’s eyes now gained another meaning.Her sister pressed both hands to her stomach and slumped into the chair. “We were supposed to be together, Samantha. Father asked me to keep you safe, and I have. But I can’t give you what you need any longer. It’s cruel to keep you here when I know there’s a better place for you to be.”“Yes, a better place. But one with room for you as well. Like we’d always planned it.” Sam grabbed Lily’s fingers and laced them through hers. “Together.”Lily pulled free. “My place is here with Henry.” Her voice trembled on the words.Sam relaxed, sensing the weakness in her sister’s argument. She had only to press, and Lily would give in. Her sister would let them stay together as they were meant to be. “Henry can come too. I’m sure there’s a place for him on the Continent. Who wouldn’t like your husband? It would be perfect.” She reached for the hand again.Lily pulled out of reach then raised her fingers to rub at her temple. “Henry belongs here. He has roots going back generations.”Sam stared at Lily. She couldn’t believe her sister would even think such a thing, much less plan it.Lily’s expression didn’t change. Her sister didn’t laugh and reveal this to be a jest. The pain shining from her eyes showed the decision hadn’t been lightly made, but made it had been.“You really mean it. Just like Kate said.” Sam took a step back toward the door. “You are going to cast me out. You have your normal life here with Henry, your trips to Dover, your hateful lady’s maid. Why do you need a dangerous little sister who can never leave?”She twisted and stumbled from the room, vision clouded with unshed tears.Lily called her name, but Sam didn’t stop. She couldn’t. 2Sam longed for the comfort of her workshop. It was the one place she could be sure no one else would come to find her except Lily, and now she knew her sister wouldn’t come either.At the last moment, though, she sought refuge in her room, unwilling to chance a meeting with one of Henry’s staff. She couldn’t face questioning whether they’d been told she would be cast out, or whether they would rejoice when they learned of Lily’s plan.Her chest felt tight, as though she couldn’t breathe, and her temples pounded out a rhythm nothing like the one signaling a bout of mechanical energy too strong to contain. No, this gaped more like a freshly dug well, too deep to see the bottom and too tall to climb out of should she tumble. She teetered on the edge of despair for the first time in her life, now when things were supposed to be better.The room she’d once thought wonderful looked bare as she crossed the threshold and sank onto the bed, her eyes gone dry.No clock rested on a shelf, no metalwork at all, and the furniture held only the simplest of contraptions. Her chest was just that, a lidded box rather than the drawers found even in the Cook’s room. Every piece told her what she should have seen, her mind trapped in the knowledge that Lily had not denied Cook’s theory.The mechanical man she’d repaired back in London, and kept despite the dangers, came out to comfort her now. Her creations never denied her. They would trail after her, find her wherever she might go, if they could. They would never abandon her by choice.Sam shoved it away.Its chilled metal form held none of the comfort her sister had offered over the years. Before it could topple off the coverlet, though, she caught hold of its toothpick-thin arm and pulled it back against her chest. Her memory locked on the way Lily curved fingers around her womb when she thought Sam wouldn’t notice, much like how Sam cradled her creation now.The truth glared at her with the bright glimmer of fresh-beaten brass.Lily was pregnant, but more, she didn’t dare bring a child into a house where Sam, an unchecked Natural, roamed free.All this time, in her workshop, or wandering across the fields and sending the cattle scattering with her latest invention, Sam had missed the obvious. She hadn’t seen the choices in her furnishings, the way her workshop had bars inside and locks outside, nor in how no one knew she existed beyond servants loyal to Henry.Lily loved Sam, but did not trust her, and she never had.Sam folded both arms under her chin and stared out at the rolling green of Henry’s estate. She longed for the peace she’d denied to her sister just hours before. Her gaze did not see the dog snapping at the heels of an early spring calf, or Mister Simmons calling the cattle boy to task.What scrolled past her vision took the form of lecture after lecture as far back as she could remember. Lily telling her the same things over and over: to make sure they were safe, to make sure Sam stayed hidden, to make sure …No matter how much she grew, no matter how much she read and learned, Sam would not be able to change her very nature. She could try all she liked, but never again to experience any emotion strong enough to trigger a bout, never to feel the pull of a metal object begging for a new form, seemed a greater curse than being trapped in a moldy stable. And no more possible than making an instrument capable of tearing away her ability to see the heart and soul of what others believed to be lifeless objects.Awkward movement in the corner of her eye caught Sam’s attention, and at first, she thought one of her contraptions had escaped. Then she saw it for the broken cart it was, a wooden one dragged by a farmhand. Her emotions had taken hold so strongly that she could see the soul in objects containing almost no metal, a rare event when aether clung best to metal in high concentrations. The nails holding it together should not have had any pull at all.Where the farmhand cursed in words Lily would have blushed to hear, Sam saw possibility, a longing for this broken-down cart to be something different, something wonderful.Her mechanical man twitched against her, no more comfortable with sitting still than she normally was.Sam glanced from the cart to her creation and felt a bubble of laughter climb through her body where she thought joy lost to her forever.“I don’t have to go after all,” she told the mechanical. “I just have to prove to my sister that I can help with her children. I can help them understand a bigger world than most can see, and I can be careful. Isn’t my guard to lock me in the workshop proof enough of that? I can tell when a bout is coming and sequester myself.”The mechanical man offered no answer, speech not one of the abilities she’d found in the ethereal energy wrapped around its once-broken form. Much like the cart, she’d given it another chance to become something more and would continue to do so as long as it cried out for change.“And if you can grow and change through the aether wrapped around your form, surely I can as well. The priests in Henry’s books say we’re born with a soul, that people are at least. So I must have more aether than you’ll ever gather.” Maybe someday she’d be able to go down to the village church and hear the priests on her own. That would prove to Lily she’d learned control. Not yet, but maybe someday. For now, it would be enough to show that she would never ever harm any child, much less one of Lily’s.She put aside her mechanical man with a peck on its little, geared cheek, and paused long enough to straighten her hair and skirt. When her bare feet met the woven fibers of the hall runner, Sam turned back to add stockings and slippers to her outfit. If she were to be a good aunt, she had to put her wild years behind her. Convincing Lily wouldn’t be easy, but something as simple as shoes seemed a good start.steampunksceneSam’s return to the sitting room held none of the rush of her leaving. She contemplated all the ways she could help with children, from making a self-rocking cradle to entertaining them with mechanical men. There should be time to convince her sister while the baby grew inside Lily.Her sister would forget about sending Sam away, and everything would be back to normal.No. A smile crept over Sam’s lips. It would be better than normal.Fate watched over her because Sam ran into no one, not even Cook, before she reached the sitting room door. She must have left it ajar in her haste. A crack showed light from the windows beyond.Sam paused, and in that moment, she heard the deep rumble of Henry’s voice.Good. Better for them both to hear at once. Then she wouldn’t have to explain twice and chance messing things up.Her palm touched wood, but before she could push the door open, Henry’s words came through the slight gap.“I’m capable of caring for both you and Sam. You know I am. This decision is tearing you apart, and I can’t imagine Samantha’s faring much better.”Sam couldn’t move, unable to leave for all she knew it would be the right thing to do, and frozen stiff so she couldn’t call out and reveal her presence either.One muffled thud followed by another sounded as though Henry had dropped to his knees at Lily’s side, much like Sam had done earlier. “I can’t bear to see you hurting.”“Hush, Henry. You’re not helping by taking my pain onto your own shoulders. The doctors don’t know what’s wrong. None of them — not a one — gave much hope.”Henry’s groan muffled Sam’s gasp as everything she’d thought true shifted.Lily wasn’t pregnant. Her sister was still sick — very sick.“I don’t care what they say. They’re wrong. And so are you. You need Sam here. I can watch over her while you recover your strength. You just need more time.”Lily’s voice sounded weak when she answered his refusal to hear her words. “You have to accept the truth, Henry. You’ve been nothing but devoted to Sam since you discovered her existence. No one could fault you for your care, even when something has gone wrong.”“Then why do this? Why hurt all three of us?”Her voice hardened. “You think I haven’t considered all the possibilities? You think I haven’t tried to figure out a better answer? Samantha is trapped here. You should have heard her when I spoke of your discovery. It cut me that I’d kept it hidden for so long in the hopes something would change. Nothing changes. She won’t get better any more than I will, and my pretending only cost her time she could have been happy among her own kind.”“She welcomes this?” His voice rose higher with each word, straining against his incredulity.The strength went out of Lily’s tones, and Sam had to lean forward to catch the end of her words.“Until she learned she would go alone.”The door creaked where she leaned against it, and Sam held her breath, waiting for discovery. As much as she was afraid of what her sister would say, another scolding would be kinder than what she had heard.Neither seemed to notice as Henry began speaking again, urging Lily to let go of this idea, to keep her family together as she’d always promised.“Henry, stop. You’re not helping as much as you want to. You know as well as I do that simple love is not enough for Sam. When her bouts come and she loses control, only my touch can calm her. What will you do once I’m gone?”“You’ll never be gone.”Lily sighed heavy enough for Sam to hear the exhalation of air. “You know that’s not likely. And you can’t afford to chance Sam running off and revealing her true nature. Neither can Sam. Do you know what Mister Simmons told me when we arrived? He was so proud of her. My lovely little sister has changed the workshop you made for her from a refuge into a prison. Do you know why? So she can make sure she doesn’t cause trouble when a bout overcomes her. What kind of life is that for her? Sending her away is the only answer. Keeping her here is selfishness.”Sam wanted to burst through the door and protest, to say she didn’t mind protecting them, but instead, she heard what lay behind her sister’s words. She remembered how Lily’s coughing lasted longer each year. The visits to Dover became something other than pleasure jaunts, her gifts less treats than an excuse.Her sister lay dying, and rather than focusing on her own needs, she worried about Sam. Lily had always focused on Sam, and now she called herself selfish for keeping them together.Samantha swore from that moment on she would do everything in her power to make this easier on Lily. If she could do nothing to help, at least she would no longer make things harder. It was time for her to stand on her own and prove Lily had raised her well.Forcing her lips into a cheerful smile, Sam returned to her room to start packing. Lily needed rest, relief from the burdens she’d carried since she’d been a little younger than Sam was now.If her sister had any chance of survival, Sam had to leave. steampunkscene

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