To celebrate the release of Michelle D. Sonnier’s The Clockwork Solution, the long-awaited sequel to The Clockwork Witch, we are sharing an excerpt with you today. Hope you enjoy!

Clockwork Solution 2 x 3

Chapter One

The Story Begins Anew with Danger Close at Hand

Arabella Helene Leyden alighted from a hansom cab two blocks from her father’s house. The summer sun still hung above the horizon despite it being well past the hour for supper. She had hoped for a breath of air to clear her head, but the hot and sticky late afternoon air wasn’t much better than the stuffy confines of the cab. Regardless, she walked the remaining distance. She brushed wayward strands of her dark brown hair from her sweaty forehead with a sigh, trying not to think of the oppressive heat.

She had quite enjoyed High Tea with Julian Pattersby, the cerebral young man who’d caught her eye. Even the company of his dour maiden aunt as chaperone hadn’t put a damper on their enjoyment. Between bites and exciting conversation about the optimal number of teeth on a cog for various applications, Arabella watched a curious family drama play out between Julian and his impoverished aunt.

Aunt Adelaide’s frown had deepened each time Julian ordered another pot of tea, but she said not a word. Julian pretended not to notice his aunt slipping part of her meal into the small carpet bag in her lap. No plate left the table with a single scrap of food upon it, and several linen napkins seemed to go missing. Julian paid the exorbitant bill without either concern or complaint.

After tea, while Aunt Adelaide was distracted by a spectacular example of pelargoniums on their garden stroll, Julian whispered in Arabella’s ear that his uncle from his mother’s side forbade him from giving money to his father’s side of the family but never argued over extravagant dining expenses.

Deep in thought, Arabella strolled down the sidewalk toward her father’s house, a dreamy smile on her lips. Even in the midst of a prickly and potentially embarrassing family matter, Julian showed himself to be kind and generous, a gentle soul. He was an eminently suitable young man. For just a moment, she allowed herself to forget about the dangers and political machinations of the witching world and pondered the romantic possibilities of a young heart.

It was in that moment that the perils she sought to distract herself from reinserted themselves.

Arabella cried out as heat from something flew past her cheek, missing her by inches. Yanked out of her woolgathering, she saw a witch a few feet ahead of her on the sidewalk. The witch held her flame-wreathed hands away from her body. Arabella gasped. Footsteps sounded on the pavement behind her. Another woman, dressed in the dowdy clothes of a washerwoman, leapt in front of Arabella. The washerwoman’s hands twisted in an arcane shape, and the next blast from the snarling fire witch slid over a hastily erected shield. The flame shot up into the sky and dissipated harmlessly. The fire witch shrieked in rage.

“Get into the house!” Arabella’s savior hissed over her shoulder even as she kept her eyes on the fire witch. “I’ll hold her off.”

“But? What?” Arabella stammered. “Who are you?”

“That doesn’t matter,” she growled through gritted teeth. “Get to the house. You’ll be safe behind the wards.”

The fire witch threw another fire ball, and the unknown witch projected her shield out and around it. The fire suffocated in the bubble.

“Tabitha!” Arabella’s defender called out. “You don’t have to do this.”

“Lies! She cannot be allowed to live!” Tabitha screeched. She hurled another fireball. The mystery witch caught it and snuffed it out again, her movements sure, but she panted from the strain.

Tabitha was in between Arabella and her father’s house. With a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure no carriages were coming, Arabella dashed across the street. She pelted up the sidewalk, dodging screaming people running for cover. Her unknown savior had Tabitha completely distracted, but who knew how long that would last.

Once she was past Tabitha, Arabella hurried back across the street again. Almost home, she thought. She gasped when she saw another woman by her father’s front gate. She stood transfixed by the battling witches down the street and seemed not to have noticed Arabella yet. She could be a mundane woman; she could be a witch. If she was a witch, she could be here to either hurt her or protect her. Arabella had no way of knowing. Not wanting to risk it, Arabella darted into the alley and hurried to the back garden gate.

Tiny Fae faces peered from the foliage as Arabella dashed through the garden. Curious whispers followed her the whole way. She yanked open the kitchen door and threw herself inside. Arabella slammed the door shut and leaned against it, panting.

Safe. But for how long?

Arabella struggled to calm her racing heart and slow her breathing. She strained to hear if the battle still raged between the witches even as she knew it was useless. She would never hear anything this far away, through so much stone and brick. She shuddered to think about the conflict coming close enough to hear.

Her breathing restored nearly to normal, she stepped back from the door, staring at it. She wrapped her arms around her middle and bit her lip. Who was her savior? Which House did she have to thank? And her would-be assassin… Tabitha. Which House did she have to blame?

Would there ever be a time Arabella would be accepted enough to leave her home without risking her life? She briefly considered venturing back out to check on her benefactor, maybe help her, but she swiftly rejected the idea. Without training in the more violent magical arts, she was a hindrance, not a help. Arabella closed her eyes and tried to fix the visage of the brave witch in her mind. She would question her sisters when she got to Blackstone House, after the Investiture ceremony, to see if they knew who she was. Then she could offer proper gratitude to her rescuer.

Arabella sighed. She listened to the creaks of the house, trying to discern if her father or brothers were home. She thought she heard someone tinkering in the lab. Father? Henry? Upstairs seemed quiet. She expected John would be out late with his friends tonight. They were all to leave early in the morning to head for Blackstone Manor and her Investiture. John said something about a “last hurrah.”

Arabella thought about poking her head into the lab, but she changed her mind and wandered toward the stove. There was no point in telling her father or her brothers about the attack. It was over, and she remained unscathed. They couldn’t do anything about it, and it would only upset them. With an absent flick of her wrist and a bit of technomancy, Arabella turned up the gas lamp in the kitchen. She shook the kettle on the stove, relieved to hear water sloshing. A cup of tea would be just the thing to soothe her jangled nerves. After her Investiture things would be better, Arabella told herself. After her Investiture, every member of the English Council of Witches would have to accept her. There would, of course, still be the sly dance of passive-aggressive political maneuvering, but the outright assassination attempts would surely cease. Or so she hoped.

Snapping her fingers, Arabella lit the gas under the kettle on the integrated striker her father had invented for the stove. His little invention sold quite well and had become an integral part of the family’s financial fortunes. The little device was easy enough to use the mundane way, but by using her magic, Arabella avoided streaks of ash on her hand.

Arabella bustled around the kitchen, preparing the leaves while the water boiled. Her eyes fell on the curling burgundy, black, and pearl ribbons of her Investiture invitation lying on the kitchen table. She frowned. It felt odd to be invited to one’s own party, but she supposed it really couldn’t be helped since she didn’t live under Mother’s roof anymore. It was Mother’s own fault, really. She was the one who had disowned Arabella in the front hall of this very house when she refused to come to heel.

Of course, Mother had addressed the invitation ‘Arabella Helene Sortilege.’ Was the gesture a sweet treat offered in apology? Or was it a lure to trap her now that Arabella could be useful?

She found either prospect infuriating. Briefly, Arabella contemplated tossing the invitation into the stove’s flame and watching it burn to ash, but she just shoved it out of the way and started the tea to steep. She could puzzle over Mother’s motivations later. For now, Arabella must focus on her last-minute arrangements before they left this treacherous city for Blackstone Manor in the morning.

Michelle D. Sonnier

Michelle D. Sonnier writes dark urban fantasy, steampunk, and anything else that lets her combine the weird and the fantastic in unexpected ways. She even writes horror, although it took her a long time to admit that since she prefers the existential scare over blood and gore. She is the author of The Clockwork Witch and Death’s Embrace and has published short stories in a variety of print and online venues. You can find her on Facebook (Michelle D. Sonnier, The Writer). She lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a variable number of cats.

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