A Peculiar Combination (Electra McDonnell #1) by Ashley Weaver

We had it on good authority that there was jewelry in that safe. We were rather counting on it, in fact. I tried not to get my hopes up, reminding myself that, if we didn’t come across what we were after, there was always the dining room silver.

Uncle Mick turned to look at me. “Come see what you think.”

Holding my torch up with one hand, I reached out and touched the frame, testing it for any hint of movement. At first I felt nothing, but as I ran my fingers around the edge, I felt a little projection, almost like a knob of some sort. I pressed it, heard a slight click, and the painting swung back from the wall on hinges.

“That’s my girl,” Uncle Mick said.

I flashed my torchlight over the face of the safe that was set into the wall behind the painting.

I frowned. This wasn’t an inexpensive wall safe. It was a Milner, rather more heavy-duty and more of a challenge than the cheaper model I had been expecting.

Uncle Mick was apparently thinking the same thing, for he gave a low whistle. “Looks like they take their valuables seriously.”

This was said in a cheery tone. This more difficult lock might take him a bit longer, but Uncle Mick had always relished a challenge.

I stepped to the side, giving him room and holding up the light so he could see, and he moved closer.

Watching Uncle Mick open a safe was like watching an artist paint a picture or a violinist play a complicated piece of music. There is an art to it, and Uncle Mick had flair. What isn’t as obvious, however, is that it is also like watching a mathematician solve a complicated equation. I used paper when I worked out combinations, but Uncle Mick did it all in his head. I suppose, if he’d come from a different background with better opportunities, he might have been a great success at any number of lofty professions.

The room was dead silent as he worked. I studied his face in the light of the torch. He was a thin, wiry man, with a shock of black hair gone gray and sharp gray-green eyes. Those eyes were focused, his head tilted toward the dial as he moved it, listening. The minutes passed, all quiet in the room except for the tick of a clock somewhere behind us.

“Ha,” he said at last, and the safe handle gave beneath his grasp. I let out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding.

He pulled the safe open and reached inside. A smile spread across his face as he turned, took my hand, and placed a flat velvet box into it. A necklace.

He reached inside again and pulled out four more jewelry boxes: two for rings, and two I assumed might be bracelets and earrings. I couldn’t resist opening one of the boxes and was met with the brilliant flash of diamonds and rubies.

“Not bad for a night’s work,” Uncle Mick said with a smile.

“No,” I said, smiling myself for the first time that evening. “Not bad at all.”

Uncle Mick put each of the items into the bag that was slung across his torso. It was an excellent prize, and it had been exceptionally easy, all told.

Too easy, my mind said, and I tried to push the thought aside, longing to be back out in the safety of the streets, where we could blend into the shadows. The worst we might have to deal with was encountering an air-raid warden, out patrolling for errant lights. We could slip through the mews and out onto another street and disappear into the night.

Uncle Mick closed the safe, and we left the room and went out the way we had come.

Stepping out into the night, I immediately noticed that something felt strange. The air felt different, as though there was some kind of change in the atmosphere. It was like a sixth sense warning of impending danger. I suppose some people would call it superstition. My Irish ancestors might have called it the Sight. Whatever the case, I’ve learned to trust my instincts, and, in that moment, they were banging the alarms.

I was about to turn to whisper to Uncle Mick when I heard the footsteps. I thought someone might be passing along the front of the house, and I stilled, waiting for them to move out of earshot. But an instant later, I realized, whoever it was, they were coming toward us. And they were coming from both directions.

I turned to Uncle Mick, eyes wide, as I assessed our options.

Ahead of us, parallel to the house, was the hedge and, behind that, the high iron fence. Much too high to climb. And we had relocked the door of the house before closing it behind us, so that route was closed to us, too.

It was Uncle Mick who found his voice first.

“Run, Ellie!” he hissed, giving me a little push forward, but it was too late.

A man materialized out of the darkness beside me. “Not so fast, love,” he said, grabbing my arm just as my wits returned and I made to run off.