TITLE: THE NINE
GENRE: Adult Steampunk Fantasy
Bess has fled her abusive smuggler employer, choosing a barely-better life as courtesan to a manipulative nobleman. She’s unexpectedly encountered a former delivery client with cause to report discovering her to her former employer.
“Madam, a word,” The Alchemist set his pipe beside the till. “There are some instructions for your medicine.” He began scratching on a pad of paper.
Regenzi nudged Bess back with a reassuring smile and stayed just outside the threshold, searching about the pockets of his frock coat for his cigarette case. The bell rang as the door closed between them.
Bess stepped up to the high counter. The Alchemist pushed the pad and pen aside. The pipe smoldering by his elbow smelled of marjoram and fennel.
“The philter is nothing more than distilled water and some ginger tonic,” he said. “And you’re not a hysteric, in any case.”
Bess tried to look at him squarely. “I know.”
He snorted and looked toward the front window. Regenzi stood under the awning, wreathed by fog and cigarette smoke.
“Stay with that one and we’ll see how long your nerves last,” The old man folded the note and offered it between two fingers. “I have a customer in Oldtemple Down who keeps a ladies’ garment shop. She complains how hard it is to find a good clerk.”
Bess turned the paper over in her hands. Through its ecru fiber, she saw the digits of an address written in a tight, precise hand.
“Thank you,” she murmured. She slipped the note into her bodice.
“Your lover has need of rather dangerous things. Be mindful what that might mean for you.”
And then he turned, shrugging past the heavy curtain behind the till, quite as if she were already gone.