This is a scene from Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard, but rather than seeing it through Eleanor Fitt’s eyes, this snippet shows it from Daniel Sheridan’s.
After Eleanor’s brother fails to arrive on the train, and after a walking corpse appears with a hostage note (er, yikes!), Eleanor really has no idea how to find her missing brother. Worse, the Dead are rising all across Philadelphia and her mother accidentally let a vicious, bloodthirsty ghost into the city the night before.
For a high-society gal, there’s really only one solution: ask the Spirit-Hunters for some supernatural help. Of course, the three-man, Dead-fighting team have enough on their hands—at least in Daniel’s opinion—so when Eleanor turns up at their laboratory door in need of help, he’s all set to dismiss her. But Eleanor Fitt does not take well to being dismissed….
It was midmorning, and I was working on my latest invention: a pair of goggles that would let me see if ghosts were in the room. I had the goggles strapped firmly over my eyes, and I’d just about calibrated the lenses to Laurel Hill Cemetery soil.
In fact, I was staring directly at my one and only vial of grave dirt. The magnetic particles behind the lenses had clumped together, forming a giant blob in the middle of my vision.
It was just as I reached for that important vial of grave dirt that someone came waltzin’ into the lab.
That’s right—despite the very clear sign on the door saying “Experiments running,” someone swung that door wide…and knocked my dirt off the table.
The vial hit the floor with a crash.
But because the goggles gave me splotchy vision, all I could make out was a female figure with one hideous bonnet slinkin’ into the lab.
And that female figure and her hideous bonnet had just destroyed my two weeks of hard work.
I was mad. Hell, I was spitting furious. I’m not a fan of the so-called fairer sex anyway, and this particular specimen was about to feel the full weight of my wrath.
“Didn’t you see the sign?” I bellowed.
“P-pardon me?” she asked.
“Didn’t you see the sign?” I repeated, even more loudly this time.
She glanced back at the door—or I thought she did, since her bonnet shifted to one side. “Well, yes,” she said.
“So . . . ?” I rolled my hands in a wheel-like movement, as if to say, “That means you shouldn’t have come in.”
“I knocked,” she declared, “but no one answered.”
“Because I’m busy.” I stomped toward her, disappointed when she shrank back. Wilting flowers are about as interesting as mud. My irritation keyed up a notch.
“S-sorry,” she stammered.
“You should be! You’ve contaminated my grave dirt—look!” I thrust a finger in what I hoped was the general direction of the shattered vial. The magnetic particles in my lenses had started to drift apart now, so I was left with a view of brown water and nothing else—not that I much cared. I didn’t need to meet this girl’s eyes to know I wouldn’t like what I saw in ’em.
“See that?” I barked, pointing again for good measure. “D’you know how hard it is to get dirt from Laurel Hill? I ought to make you get more! Make you face the Dead and have your face clawed at by skeletons. I ought to make you swim around that iron fence and climb your way up the cliff and then sneak around all those walkin’ corpses.”
At this point, my hands had curled into fists so tight, my knuckles throbbed. But still I shouted. “You’re reckless, thoughtless, and rude! Learn to read signs, why don’t ya? And get me some grave dirt while you’re at it. You’ve contaminated my entire sample. I needed it to calibrate my goggles.” I threw my fist in the air for emphasis and then—lungs heaving—waited for her to respond.
She didn’t. Empty seconds ticked by.
And just like that, all of my anger whooshed out. I still couldn’t see a damned thing through the goggles, so, clearing my throat, I reached up to unfasten the strap. A heavy breath later, I eased the lenses off my face and finally examined this snooty, uncaring. . . .
My throat clenched shut the instant I saw her. She was . . . not what I expected. Where I’d thought I’d find a wilting flower, I found a rod-straight back and fierce blue eyes. Where I’d expected flushed cheeks and discomfort, I found only a tilted head and blatant curiosity.
And I couldn’t conjure a damned thing to say.
It didn’t help that this girl was a fine example of the female variety—all soft curves and rosy cheeks. And even with that ugly bonnet on top, her hair was striking an unusual mix of honey and ash.
I blinked, realizing my fingers were trembling. I folded my arms over my chest, hopin’ this would hide it, and shifted my weight to one foot. “You’ve ruined my experiment.”
The girl lifted her gloved hands and—in a very different voice from earlier—said, “I’m truly sorry, sir.”
“Why’re you talkin’ like that?”
“Like you’re a kitten.”
Red exploded on her cheeks. It was entirely too cute. “I thought it might calm you,” she said.
“I don’t need calming. If you’ll just leave, that’ll take care of everything.” I thrust a finger toward the door. “There’s the exit.”
“Now see here, I’ve come to see the Spirit-Hunters.” She jabbed her parasol to emphasize each word and took two bold steps toward me. “I won’t leave until I speak with them.”
My jaw fell open. I was more than a bit surprised by her unflinching attitude. I hadn’t seen a girl act like this since…
So I did the only thing I could think of—I sneered.
The girl sneered right back.
“What would a laaay-dee,” I drawled—or tried to drawl, had my voice not been so pinched—“possibly need the Spirit-Hunters for?”
“That is none of your business.” She pushed back her shoulders. “I will speak to Mr. Boyer and Mr. Boyer only.”
“Is that so?” I rocked my weight on my heels and examined the girl from head to toe, thinkin’ if I could just break away from her gaze, I could regain my composure.
Land sakes, was I wrong. The more I saw of her, the more I couldn’t think. Or breathe. Or even stand up straight. What a figure! It set my blood to stirring twice as hot as before.
I gulped, and my eyes grabbed hold of the broken glass beside the girl’s boots. “I have, uh, grave dirt to sweep,” I finally managed to growl, “so if you’ll be, uh…be stayin’ around for Mr. Boyer, could you at least stand somewhere else?” Then, in my total panic to get this girl out of the lab, I reached up and gripped her arms.
While the girl’s eyes might have bulged with satisfying horror, my stomach twisted with painful horror. What was I doing? Touching a lady? Shoving her out of the lab? I’d always fancied myself a cool head under pressure, yet here I was acting a fool and staring way too hard at the slope of her neck.
Fortunately, by the time I got her out of the lab, I’d managed to control the tremor in my throat—so much so that I was able to say, “I’m Daniel Sheridan, by the way.” But even as the words rolled out, I was cringing inside.
Introducing myself? That was the best retort I could conjure?
The girl seemed to feel the same ’cause her eyes narrowed to slits. She twisted free from my grasp, tipping her chin high. “I am Miss Eleanor Fitt of the Philadelphia Fitts.”
Oh, she was far too pretty for her own good with her eyes flashing like that. Without thinking, I bounced my eyebrows and doffed an imaginary hat. “Why then, you’re practically royalty.” Then I whirled around and strode into the lab.
But my words rang in my ears with each step. Practically royalty? And “doffing my hat” like that? What the devil was happening to me?
I slammed the door shut and staggered to the nearest stool. I needed to catch my breath. I needed to dunk my head in cold water. I needed to punch something…or someone. And, blazes, I needed to see that girl again. . . .
And try to be less of a cad and more of a gentleman whenever I did.