The Regent's Devices • Book 3
Only one thing could be worse than Napoleon’s invasion of England…
After their daring adventures behind enemy lines in France, Loveday Penhale and Celeste Blanchard cannot settle into everyday life at home. Has the Tinkering Prince forgotten them entirely? What of the prize he promised? Then, with the flourish of a royal messenger’s hand, their lives are changed. Not only have they won the prize, they are to join the Prince’s Own Engineers in London!
They must overcome many a stone in the path, however—leave all they love, find a suitable house, and worst of all, cope with a chaperone—before they can take their rightful places among the most intelligent and forward-thinking minds in the kingdom. Their goal? To develop an airborne fleet that will end Napoleon’s dreams of conquering England forever.
But the saboteur who has been plaguing their efforts for months has not yet been caught. And along with battling for acceptance among the engineers, tiptoeing closer to falling in love, and receiving invitations to Almack’s, they must discover the traitor’s identity … before the Prince Regent steps forward to command the fleet and finds himself playing right into Napoleon’s hands.
© Shelley Adina & R.E. Scott
Truro, Cornwall — Early November 1819
“If you ask me, she’s pining.”
No one had asked Thomas Trevithick, owner of the now even more famous Trevithick Steam Works in Truro, Cornwall. Certainly no one would have asked him to state his opinion in such a loud voice, which carried over the lovely sound of pistons pumping and hammers on copper. Yet Celeste Blanchard could not argue with him. Ever since she and her friends had returned from France and presented their air ship as a faît accompli to the Prince Regent, it was as if her dear friend Loveday Penhale had wilted, like a silk balloon leaking lifting gas.
Celeste understood. To have invented something so marvelous as Lark Deux, their second air ship, sailed it through the skies from enemy territory to land upon the Prince’s very doorstep, and then to have been sent home, with no further word, for nearly two months! Who wouldn’t feel a bit despondent?
The entire countryside had welcomed them home, but now whispers were beginning to circulate in manor house and public house alike. If they had truly won the Prince’s prize, as His Royal Highness had promised, why hadn’t it been delivered? Emory Thorndyke and Captain Arthur Trevelyan’s word aside, had Celeste and Loveday even met the Prince? Or were they merely two foolish young ladies who thought themselves better than they should be?
Celeste lifted her blue wool skirts and sidled in next to Loveday at the workbench to bump her shoulder. “We have no reason to pine. We have achieved that which none other can claim.”
Loveday sent her a wan smile. “Indeed we have. Though it would be nice to have that achievement acknowledged in some concrete way.” She bowed her blond head once more over the two sheets of metal she had been evaluating for weight and material properties, but her shoulders under her chambray work dress were slumped.
The doorway of the steam works opened to admit two older men. Celeste recognized the taller as Mr Thorndyke, Emory’s father.
“There he is, just as I promised!” Mr Thorndyke declared with a nod into the shop.
Their friend set down the hammer he had been using and straightened from his own workbench a few feet away. He, at least, showed no ill effects of the wait. He had simply gone on to work on his next invention, a boiler of appropriate size and weight to power a carriage. “After all,” he had mused one evening over cards, “if an old, cut-up carriage may fly these days, why cannot a perfectly sound one roll on its own?”
The light through the isinglass windows caught on his sandy hair as he turned toward the doorway. “Father? What brings you here?”
Mr Thorndyke had not been supportive of engineering and tinkering, until Emory had invented the steam pump that was even now emptying Cornish tin and copper mines of the seawater that had plagued them for years. The lifting gas emitted by underground thermal springs had once sickened men and put others out of work. But now, folded into the pumping process, the gas was stored in barrels and would make him and several other gentlemen of the neighborhood rich should air ships become as commonplace as she and Loveday hoped, crossing oceans and continents like so many migrating birds.
In answer to Emory’s question, his father looked to the shorter man at his side.
Dressed in velvet breeches and a fine wool coat with lace at his cuffs, the fellow minced his way across the floor of the steam works as if he thought the metal filings and sawdust scattered about might leap up and attack him. He came to a halt in front of Emory, grey head high and shallow chest puffed with his own importance. From the satchel at his side, he selected an envelope.
“Emory Thorndyke,” he announced in a voice surprisingly deep for one so slight, “His Royal Highness thanks you for your service.”
Every tool hung suspended. Even the pistons hissed to a stop. Celeste glanced at Loveday and saw her eyes widen.
Emory accepted the envelope, turning it in his large hands as if he could determine its provenance and reasoning through the vellum.
“Well, go on, boy,” his father urged, stepping closer. “Read it.”
Grip visibly tightening, Emory broke the red wax seal.
Their visitor didn’t wait for him to read it. He turned to Thomas, evidently rightly thinking he must be the master in charge. “Am I right in assuming I might find Mr Rudolph Clement here as well?”
The air rang with the sound of a hammer abruptly dropped on the slate floor.
Thomas’s gaze followed the racket to one of their youngest engineers. Swallowing, Rudy ventured forward, his face turning red. “Aye, sir,” he said, bobbing his head. “I’m Rudy Clement.”
The messenger produced another envelope. “Your Prince thanks you for your service, sir.”
First Emory, now Rudy? Could there be something in that satchel for Loveday and Celeste, or had they truly been forgotten?
Frowning, Rudy broke the thick seal with trembling fingers. He read with maddening care the words contained therein. Then his head jerked up, and his gaze veered toward Loveday and Celeste. “Miss Penhale, Miss Aventure—His Royal Highness thanks me for my help with the air ship.”
“As well he should,” Loveday said magnanimously. “Without your help pulling that skin of silk out of the harbor last summer, there would have been no prototype.”
Celeste smiled, but she was in truth more interested in what the Prince had written to Emory, particularly as the king’s messenger did not appear inclined to offer her or Loveday an envelope.
“What does your letter say, Monsieur Thorndyke?” she asked.
Emory raised his gaze to hers, the sea-green depths swimming with possibilities … and shock. “He offers me a—a—” His voice failed. “A knighthood. For my pump.”
His father whooped and clapped the messenger on the shoulder, nearly oversetting him. “Did you hear that? My son is to be knighted,” he shouted to all and sundry. “Sir Emory Thorndyke of Truro, praise all the saints!”
“Sir Emory Thorndyke of London,” Emory corrected him, his gaze on Celeste. “It seems I have been invited to join the Prince’s Own Engineers at St James’s Palace.”
He was leaving? The floor seemed to open between them, widening a gap she had tried so hard to close.
But of course he must go. He had earned this. His pump not only cleared the mines of seawater, but the lifting gas was vital to the operation of air ships. Vital to winning the war with Napoleon.
The messenger righted himself and tugged down his waistcoat before turning to her and Loveday, eyes narrowing. “Did I understand correctly? You are Miss Loveday Penhale and Miss Celeste Aventure?”
After six months of using a false name, Celeste was just beginning to accustom herself to it. She nodded, even as Loveday said, “We are.”
Once more he dipped into his satchel to offer them a pair of envelopes thicker even than the one he had handed Emory. “You are also commended for your service to the Crown. His Royal Highness hereby awards you the Prince’s prize and commands that you travel forthwith to London, to claim it and to take your places among the Prince’s Own Engineers.”