Apprentice tinkerer Harriet Hodgkins is skilled in the construction and maintenance of intricate clockwork contrivances. She’s also rather good at masquerading as a man ... for of course, no self-respecting craftsman would hire a woman.
Repairing a salvaged automaton becomes a labour of love for Hodgkins, and the object of her affections, Miss Pandora Piper, comes to hold her rescuer in equal esteem. But Hodgkins has yet to confess her true gender, and moreover the clockwork coquette is destined for resale.
If Hodgkins can’t engineer a more auspicious ending, Miss Pandora’s restoration will signal their separation.
“I ain’t nothing special. ‘Sides, you ain’t never seen me without my clothes.”
Miss Pandora took my broad, rough hands in her dainty white ones. “Now you come to mention it, that doesn’t seem fair. After all, you’ve seen me without clothes.”
Without skin, neither, and a prettier set of pistons and gears I’d wager has never graced this earth. Lord, I worshipped the very ground she trod upon. “Would you want to see me?”
“I would. Very much, dear Hodgkins.”
“Harry,” I croaked. “My given name’s Harriet, but call me Harry.”
“Harry. I think it’s the loveliest of names.” As God is my witness, when she said it, all gentle and low, you’d have believed it to be true. Then she kissed me, my hot face in her cool hands.
Her lips were soft, as I’d fashioned them to be, and eager, as I’d never dared to hope for. She pushed at my coat, slipping it from my shoulders, and I let it fall upon the floorboards as we worked at each other's fastenings.
I was unclothed faster than she was, on account of men’s clothes consisting of vastly fewer layers and a deal less buttons. My fingers trembled as I unlaced her stays -- not that she needed any such thing with her trim figure, but ’twouldn’t be decent for her to go without -- and I laid a kiss upon her bare white shoulder to cover my confusion.
“So gentle,” she breathed, standing there in her chemise like a spirit of the city or a goddess of the forge, and Lord, I wanted to take my hammer to all who’d been rough with her in the past, who’d treated her as less than a person.