Maeko hasn't been long away from the gritty London streets and she's already learning that her new "civilized" life comes with its own challenges. She has to dress proper, eat proper and be a proper lady. She can't even talk to a boy without a chaperone. She's got proper coming out of her ears. If not for her feline companion Macak, she might go mad. Her one hope for some freedom and excitement comes when the moody detective, Em, asks her to be an apprentice. But that apprenticeship comes with a price. She must agree to spy on Macak's owner, Lucian, the wealthy businessman and inventor whose life she saved.
Everything changes when Lucian's brother dies in an explosion while visiting Lucian's home in the heart of London. The Literati--a powerful group vying for political control of London--say it was murder and Maeko is on their suspect list. With Macak at her side, she must turn once more to her allies, Chaff and Ash. They will have to brave city streets torn by rebellion and conspiracy to find the truth.
Feisty teenage thief Maeko and her maybe-more-than-friend Chaff have scraped out an existence in Victorian London’s gritty streets, but after a near-disastrous heist leads her to a mysterious clockwork cat and two dead bodies, she’s thrust into a murder mystery that may cost her everything she holds dear.
Her only allies are Chaff, the cat, and Ash, the son of the only murder suspect, who offers her enough money to finally get off the streets if she’ll help him find the real killer.
What starts as a simple search ultimately reveals a conspiracy stretching across the entire city. And as Maeko and Chaff discover feelings for each other neither was prepared to admit, she’s forced to choose whether she’ll stay with him or finally escape the life of a street rat. But with danger closing in around them, the only way any of them will get out of this alive is if all of them work together.
Name: Maeko (Sometimes answers to Pigeon, but only if your name happens to be Chaff.)
Age: 16 or 17 as best she can figure
Birthplace: A brothel in London
The Good Things: Maeko doesn’t let the meager life of a thief get her down. She likes knowing that what she does keeps her alive and will eventually make it possible for her to help her mother. She takes pride in being better than most of the boy thieves she knows at picking pockets and locks and in the way those skills earn her praise from, Chaff, her truest friend and mentor on the streets. Working the streets with Chaff is one of the few things she enjoys. She has also discovered a recent fondness for cats or one particular cat at least.
The Not So Good Things: It frustrates Maeko that, though her short slight figure often lets her pass as a young boy, she still stands out in London for looking like her Japanese mother. Although it still breaks her heart that her mother didn’t want her, she’s determined to help her anyway. She hates the vulnerability of caring about others almost as much as she hates sometimes having to put those she does care about in danger. She finds it particularly irritating when people don’t say her name right (it’s Ma-eh-ko, not May-ko).
Name: Chaff (This is his street name. He doesn’t share his real name.)
Birthplace: Somewhere in London
The Good Things: Chaff grew up on the streets. He doesn’t mind that many people look down on his kind and gets a certain delight out of using experience and cunning to relieve them of their riches. The thing that makes life on the streets most tolerable and sometimes even fun is his favorite apprentice, Maeko. He loves saying her name wrong to get under her skin. His greatest pleasure has been watching Maeko grow in skill as a thief, in confidence as a self-sufficient person, and in shape and beauty as a young woman.
The Not So Good Things: Chaff despises elitist Literati, especially their law enforcement, though he has to admit, they keep life exciting. He has little patience for folks who think being born with privilege gives them the right to mistreat those who aren’t so lucky and even less for those who think being born without it gives them the right to be cruel. He hates that he can’t let anyone know how he feels about Maeko because his rivals on the street might try to use her against him almost as much as he hates Ash for not having that restriction.
Name: Ash (Short for Asher, but only his parents call him that.)
Birthplace: Chelsea, London
The Good Things: Ash loves going with his parents to watch them play in their band, especially when it involves a trip in their outdated patchwork airship. The rest of the time, he enjoys helping his father with his day job working on airships. Machinery makes sense to him, which is more than he can say for girls. He likes picking on his younger brother, Sam, and listening to his father’s often-exaggerated tales of adventures with the underground pirate movement working to rise up against the elite Literati. He isn’t ready to admit it, but he’s starting to like Maeko, perhaps more than all of those other things combined.
The Not So Good Things: Ash hates anyone other than him picking on his brother and is quick to come to his defense, especially since the accident. Growing up in a pirate household has taught him to despise the Literati. His upbringing has instilled in him considerable disrespect for anyone who lies, cheats, or steals when they don’t have to. This is a source of frustration for him when it comes to Maeko because he knows her mother is alive, but maybe there is more to the situation than meets the eye. He’s willing to give her a chance.
Name: Macak (This isn’t the first name he’s had, but he likes it. It sounds important.)
Age: Only humans worry about those things Birthplace: London alley
The Good Things: Macak is a cat who had a rough start in life, but the loss of his leg, as awful as it was, has earned him a place in the lap of luxury, literally. He likes long naps on soft beds, showing his people he cares by leaving fur on all their fancy clothing, and frequent meals consisting of tender meats of the fish and fowl varieties. While life lately hasn’t been so simple, adventuring with his new favorite human companion, Maeko, makes him happy. After all, it’s obvious that she needs him.
The Not So Good Things: Rain is one of Macak’s least favorite things, along with feasting on rotten rat and licking clean the odd-tasting metal of his clockwork leg. Mean people are low on his list and he isn’t afraid to give them a piece of his mind or claws and teeth if they’re slow to catch on, especially if they mistreat his Maeko. He doesn’t appreciate when Maeko leaves him behind, but she’s young and doesn’t yet realize how much she needs him, so he’ll be patient.
About the Author
Nikki started writing her first novel at the age of 12, which she still has tucked in a briefcase in her home office, waiting for the right moment. Despite a successful short story publication with Cricket Magazine in 2007, she continued to treat her writing addiction as a hobby until a drop in the economy presented her with an abundance of free time that she used to focus on making it her career.
Nikki lives in the magnificent Pacific Northwest tending to her husband and three cats suffering varying stages of neurosis. She feeds her imagination by sitting on the ocean in her kayak gazing out across the never-ending water or hanging from a rope in a cave, embraced by darkness and the sound of dripping water. She finds peace through practicing iaido or shooting her longbow.