Just inside the door of Rutledge’s Fine Crafts and Handiworks, Astrid inhaled deeply and briefly closed her eyes. The air was rich leather and polished brass, warm and faintly metallic, punctuated by the steady ticking of pocket-watches and grandfather clocks. She traced her fingertips against the velvet tablecloth beside her even as she glanced around the shop for Eli.

He leaned over the counter, his attention focused entirely on the clockwork gears in front of him, dark curls falling over his forehead. Her gaze skimmed over his broad shoulders and lean hips framed by the sleek cut of his pinstriped coat, her fingers itching to trace each of those stripes down his back. As Astrid slowly approached the counter, she saw him fitting two small gears together on some small object she couldn’t identify, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth in a way that made her own mouth go dry.

Finishing his task, he finally looked up. “Astrid.” He sounded flustered, surprised. He glanced over her, and she couldn’t read the expression on his face. Her usual confidence wavered and she felt acutely aware of her unique appearance. She liked the wildness of her short black hair, the brass accents on her corset, her knee-high buckled boots, but here in the city proper, she wondered what he thought of her.

She shouldn’t care. Their relationship was purely business; he carried several of her inventions in his shop. They were from different worlds. She was born to revolutionaries and had grown into a renegade inventor and machinist. He was a respectable shopkeeper with a successful business. They would never be more than that.

His smile was warm but a bit tense as he set aside the small object he’d been working on and covered it with a cloth. Something private, then. That secrecy felt like one more wall between them.

“What brings you into the shop?” he asked. “Some new device for me?”

“No, not today.” Astrid pulled an engraved silver watch out of her bag. “It’s not winding properly. Would you mind taking a look?”

“It would be a pleasure.” He examined the front and back. “This is beautiful.”

“It was my father’s.”

While he unscrewed the facing, she wandered over to the table of her inventions, watching Eli work while trying not to appear like she was doing so. She loved watching the way he handled such delicate gears. When he had finished the watch, he looked up, catching her eye. She tried not to blush as he walked around the counter to her. What was it about his dark eyes? She felt his gaze like a touch.

“It should be fine, now.” His hand lingered slightly on her palm. She closed her fingers around the cool silver and slipped it back into her bag.

“Thank you. How much…?”

He waved her off. “It wasn’t a problem.” His gaze was tense again, now, and he glanced back at the counter, at the cloth-covered object he’d been working on when she’d entered.

She took the hint and turned to leave. “Thank you, Eli. I’ll… see you soon.”

“Astrid, wait.”

His hand on her arm made her stop and turn back to him, confused. He drew her toward him, slowly, close enough that she could smell the woodsy scent of his aftershave. He took the small item from beneath its cloth. “Astrid, I… I made this for you.” He pressed a tiny clockwork rose into her palm.

She held it up, speechless, examining the rose made from tiny gears and curling bits of brass. Her heartbeat quickened, hand trembling slightly.

“If it’s all right with you, I’d very much like to take you to dinner.” His voice sounded hesitant. Astrid felt a flush of affection toward him that stole her breath.

She hoped her answer was clear as she leaned up and pressed her lips to his.

About the Author

Elia Winters is an author of saucy romance for sassy readers. An unapologetic geek, she enjoys many genres, but has a special place in her heart for steampunk. She lives in New England with her husband and an odd assortment of pets.