Clockwork Image

So far in Clockwork Image:

Tressa has decided to bequeath her large sum of money to Westwood Orphanage, the home for children which took her and her brother off the streets when they were young.

During the paper signing ceremony, a bloodied platter was found threatening Westwood.

It read:

Westwood has killed,

Now it's time for the orphanage to die.

A chill fingered its way down Tressa’s spine. She blinked, then read the bloody words again. Who could have done this? Then again, all the children who had been at Westwood the same time she had been had ample reason to despise the place.

She glanced up. Brox watched her closely. Though they hadn’t known each other long, she didn’t need him to speak to know he was asking what had caught her attention so wholly. Wordless, she flipped the platter around.

 

His gaze moved over the words, the muscles along his jaw tightening. His gaze came back up and met hers—Tressa found her own outrage mirrored in his eyes. Brox led a still sobbing Miss Brown to a chair where he helped her sit and then stalked over to Tressa.

 

“May I?” he asked, holding out a hand for the platter.

 

“We can’t let whoever did this get away,” Tressa replied, handing it to him. But how? If they were looking for someone with reason to hate Westwood, the list would not be short.

 

“I intend to make sure they don’t.” Brox moved past her and slammed the platter down onto the table where all could see it. “It seems,” he addressed the board, “we have acquired an enemy.”

 

He got no further. The room erupted into shouts and protests, cries of offense and angry murmurings. Tressa watched the individuals of the board—who were, in most ways, a varied and eclectic group—all demand the culprit be caught and held accountable.

 

And it seemed, since no one had yet left their chair, they all agreed that someone else ought to be the one to make sure it happened.

 

“Idiotic peacocks,” Tressa muttered under her breath as she headed toward the door.

 

Jasper jumped up and followed right behind. “I’ve never known you to run from a fight.”

 

“I’m not running,” she spat. “I’m going to send someone for the police.”

 

Jasper slowed his pace. “Do you really think that’s necessary?”

 

“Do you know someone else professionally trained at catching vandals?”

 

Jasper folded his arms and stopped. He was probably still annoyed that she was agreeing to help Westwood at all.

 

“I hear voices down that hall,” he said in a reluctant tone. “Send one of those children for the constable.”

 

Tressa turned the corner in the direction Jasper had pointed. It led her to a long hall with only a couple of doors.

 

One door in particular.

 

Tressa pulled up short. The door seemed to loom up over her. Tressa was no longer the child she had been, but the door felt no less tall and foreboding.

 

She took a half step back. Her hands and feet tingled with the urge to run. She knew the orphanage inside and out; how had she gotten so turned around to have not realized this was that hall. With that door.

 

Tressa took a second step back, then a third. She thought she’d moved past her memories, past the throat crushing fear.

 

Children’s voices came from farther down the hall, beyond the door. Hang it all. She spun on her heel, turning her back to the noise. There were other children about. This was an orphanage after all. She’d find someone else to send for the police.

 

She marched back toward Jasper, who hadn’t moved. His gaze was cast down, but his jaw was still set at a defiant angle. “Just thought you might need a reminder.”

 

Devil take him, he sent her toward that hall on purpose. Tressa’s brow dropped and she held out a finger, ready to ring a bell over his head.

 

She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Her throat closed off. She could breath, but she couldn’t force words out. Gads, she’d thought she’d grown out of this. Her hand started to shake and she dropped it to her side so that Jasper wouldn’t see. Swallowing hard, Tressa tried to force words out again.

 

Still, nothing.

 

Jasper turned away from her and hurried down a different hall and out of sight.

 

Tressa sighed and shut her eyes. She wasn’t going to let seeing that door again upend her so. She just needed to step away for a moment and then she would be fine—her normal, articulate self.

Three children ran by. Tressa reached out and grabbed the tallest one as he passed. He turned and she recognized his face.

 

“You know where the police station is, Michael?” she asked. See, speaking wasn’t so hard. She wasn’t some mute with porridge in her brainbox.

 

“Yes’m.”

 

“There’s been an incident upstairs,” Tressa said. “In the boardroom. Get to the police station and have an officer sent here immediately.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Michael offered her a short bow and then bolted.

 

Tressa would track down and exchange words with Jasper later. Her stunned terror earlier had now turned to boiling anger—and Jasper would hear of it sooner than later. After all she’d done to watch out for him and care for him after their parents died, this is how he repaid her? Forcing her to confront the one thing they both swore never to speak of?

 

Tressa stalked back upstairs. The boardroom was calm once more.

 

Brox seemed to have taken command and was speaking to all. “This is the time for us to rally together. Whoever wrote that message wants us to argue and point fingers. But they can’t break us without our consent.”

 

His timbre and resonance filled the room, drawing every eye to him. His voice tugged on Tressa as well. He spoke on, talking of ideals and working as one, of helping children and continuing to be a bright light in a dark world.

 

He brought peace and confidence as he spoke. Tressa glanced around at his audience. He held them in his palm. Gads, she’d known many a talented orator before, but never one as motivating and unifying as Brox.

 

The shrill cry of a police motorcar broke the enchantment. Heads all around the board table swiveled trying to determine from which direction the sound came from.

 

“I had the police summoned,” Tressa explained. “No doubt, they will be able to sort out this mess post haste.”

 

“Thank you, Seawoman Wimple.” Mr. Clark spoke for the first time since she’d reentered the room. “That was quick thinking.” He was pale and his hands were shaking. For such a large man, he didn’t seem very tough.

 

The room broke out in conversation, though this time it felt less volatile. Tressa walked to where Brox stood at the head of the table. “That was well done.”

 

He stood with hands clasped behind his back. “You, as well.”

 

“Seawoman.” Mr. Clark stood and moved toward them. “It appears we shall have to reschedule for another day.”

 

Just then, the door opened with a bang. Tressa glanced over her shoulder. The police entered and immediately began speaking to each person in the room, asking what had happened and what they might know about the perpetrator. Directly on the heels of the uniformed men and women, were reporters. They snapped pictures and began harassing the trembling members of the board.

 

Tressa turned back to Mr. Clark. “I’m certain this will only take a few minutes, an hour at the most. Could we not just resume after they all leave?”

 

Mr. Clark shook his head. Westwood was founded by his wife’s ancestor. Since Mrs. Clark died five years earlier, Mr. Clark was the closest thing Westwood had to a proprietor. And now, he was just going to throw away the orphanage’s best chance at keeping its doors open? Truly? Wouldn’t that be doing exactly as the perpetrator wished?

 

A hand rested gently against the small of her back. It was Brox. The spot he touched tingled and she was instantly aware of how close he stood to her.

 

“We’re clearly dealing with someone who’s a bit unstable,” Brox said. “Learning that Westwood has suddenly been infused with new funds could send our perpetrator into a dangerous frenzy.” His voice dropped lower. “The children might be caught in the crossfire.”

 

He did have a point. She refused to do anything that could put the children in danger. Tressa blew out a breath of frustration. “All right. We wait until this blows over. But only because I don’t want any children accidentally caught in a crossfire.”

 

But the moment they caught the perpetrator, she was saving children.

Option B Won! Thanks for your vote!