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The Nearly Notorious Nun

Book Two of The Conn-Mann Chronicles

by Rie Sheridan Rose

The Nearly Notorious Nun - Rie Sheridan Rose
Part of the The Conn-Mann Chronicles series:

Josephine Mann is bored. New York City had better watch out! Set in an 1874 that never exactly was, and following the events of The Marvelous Mechanical Man, Jo is left to her own devices while Alistair Conn testifies at the trial of the villain Paul Blessant. But Jo is never one to sit idly by, and soon finds herself caught up in a whirlwind of blackmail, deception, and danger as she tries to help her childhood friend, Bridget Doyle, now Mother Mary Frances of the convent where they were raised, get to the bottom of things! If you like your heroines sassy, self-reliant, and Steampunk, then this book is for you!


Amy Archer hugged the brick wall, her breath caught in her throat. The pistol in her right hand felt strangely comforting. The moonlight seeping past the heavy curtains barely illuminated the contours of the furniture in the room. Her fingers itched to light the lamp on the nearby table, but that would shift the advantage from her corner to that of the intruder. She knew these rooms like her own name. She didn’t need much light to make her stealthy way.

On the other hand, the villain who was currently rummaging through the things in her bedroom was an unwelcome guest—and about to meet the business end of her revolver.

— Garrett Goldthwaite — Analytical Amy and the Case of the Covetous Cad

Chapter 1

“Josephine Mann!”


I had my head down, shuffling through the stack of mail I had just picked up from the post office. Was there any chance Alistair might have sent an update on the progress of the trial of Paul Blessant, the villain who had stolen my employer’s marvelous mechanical man, Phaeton? There would be a separate proceeding about the men he had attacked and killed in the process, but Alistair’s participation should not be required for that. No, nothing from my employer, but I was pleased to see a thick letter from my new friend, Winifred Bond—which hopefully included her itinerary for her move to New York.

We had missed the carrier’s delivery that morning, and I had gone to the post office to fetch it for my landlady. When the voice accosted me, I stuck the letters into my reticule and glanced up. Such a hail was unusual in a city the size of New York—I was not well known outside my own circle of acquaintances.

“Excuse me?”

The fellow who addressed me wore a pair of twill trousers held up by suspenders but ending well above his ankles, where socks that could have used a bit—make that a lot—of darning peeked above scuffed boots. His shirt was collarless muslin, and absolutely reeked of body odor and beer. He was not the sort of person with which I had any level of acquaintance.

“Girlie, I’ve got a message for you.”

I sniffed with, I blush to admit, more than a bit of disdain and started past him.

“Don’t go giving yourself airs, girlie. You ain’t no better than me and mine.” He jerked his head, and a second man stepped up behind me.

“What is it you want? I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

“We want a word with Alistair Conn.”

“And what makes you think I even know this person?”

The man behind me grabbed my arm. Quite hard.

“Don’t play with us, chit. We know you work for him. And if you want to keep working for him—as in, if you want him to keep living so he needs an assistant—you will give him the message.”

“Oh, that Alistair Conn. I haven’t spoken to the man in weeks. He’s in—” I stopped myself from an indiscretion at the last second. “He’s incapacitated. Ill. I haven’t been allowed near him.”

“You better find a way to deliver the message,” the first man growled, leaning in and exhaling the smell of liver and onions into my face. “You tell him he better not testify at Paul Blessant’s trial, or he won’t like what happens next.”

“He’s already given his testimony,” I scoffed. “If you’re trying to prevent that, you’re far too late.”

“No, he ain’t. He’s been put off a week. And if he don’t appear in court, Blessant goes free. There ain’t enough testimony to convict without him.”

I jerked free of the man holding my arm.

“You’re wrong about that. Mike Halloway and his grandfather both agreed to speak, and so did Phaeton.” We had been pleasantly surprised when the judge proved open-minded enough to allow the automaton to give his account of the events surrounding our adventures in Ohio several weeks ago.

“An old man and a young boy—neither of them very interested in court proceedings anymore. And there ain’t a judge in the world gonna let that mechanical freak’s say-so make a difference to the trial.”

A chill ran through me. He was probably right about Phaeton’s testimony not being considered anything more than a novelty. Even if the judge let him speak, he could order the jury to disregard his statement. There was a long way to go before he would be accepted by the world in general.

If Mike and his grandfather had been intimidated into changing their minds, the whole trial really would hinge on Alistair. He refused to let me testify, believing a courtroom was no place for a lady—and, I fear, not trusting me to keep my temper in check.

I didn’t actually know if he had testified yet or not. He was not a loquacious letter writer, and I had convinced him that the expense of a telegram was unjustified in day-to-day affairs. Still, I wished I knew for sure he was all right…but at least I could warn him of this development.

I resolved to spend the money to send a warning as soon as I was clear of these miscreants. I did, of course, know the address of his hotel and the room number—although I had no intention of saying as much to them.

“Well, then, I suppose Blessant will go free,” I replied, with a brittle smile. “Good for you. Now, if you will excuse me…” I pushed past the men and continued on my way, head held high.

As soon as I was out of their sight, I put my back against the sturdy brick of the nearest building, and leaned over, fighting nausea as I attempted to get myself back under control. The encounter had been absolutely terrifying.

I considered further what to do. If Blessant’s men were planning something heinous, I needed to contact Alistair as soon as possible. A letter would take far too long to reach him. Telegram it was.

I hurried up to the counter of a telegraph office on the way back to the boarding house.

“I need to send a telegram to Alistair Conn at the Continental Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio—room 103.”

“Of course, Miss.” The clerk picked up a pen and poised it above a blank form.

I thought hard. There had to be a succinct message which would let Alistair know quickly that he was in danger. I had to put it in terms that a scientist would understand—they could be hard to communicate with at times.

Finally, I dictated:


Danger! You can’t testify if dead. Move.


“Send that.”

The clerk quirked an eyebrow.

“Are you sure this is the message you would like to send, Miss?”

“Yes.” I nodded emphatically. Of course, I was sure. It was a perfectly understandable message. Who was he to question my judgment? “Send it at once.”

Hopefully that would get the job done. One never knew, with engineers, inventors, and the like.

I paid for the telegram and added a less generous tip than I might otherwise have given.

I felt much better about everything now. Alistair had been warned, and that was all I could do from here. Short of travelling to Ohio myself—something he had absolutely forbidden me to do—I had fulfilled my obligation to my employer…and the man I was coming to care for…who happened to be the same person.

Well, at least Alistair was safe from Blessant’s thugs. I had no doubt he would heed my clear instructions and find somewhere safer to be at once.

Now that Alistair’s problem was sorted, I pulled out the letters I had retrieved once more. One of the envelopes that the postal clerk had handed me was dusty and marked with faint stains and creases as though it had been traveling around for some time—and perhaps it had. The original destination was the address of my old boarding house, which had been scratched out and Ma’s added in its place. I had made sure Mrs. Milligan had a forwarding address just in case. It looked like I had been right to do so.

From the desk of the Mother Superior was inscribed in the upper left corner in an elegant hand; below it was the address of the orphanage where I had grown up.

I hesitated, turning the letter over in my hands for a few moments. The Good Sisters of the Convent of Our Lady the Star of the Sea took me in when I was orphaned, but we parted ways many years ago. Why would Mother Superior be contacting me now?

When I was a girl, I had wondered why none of the families seeking a new daughter were interested in adopting me, but by the time I set out on my own at sixteen, I had figured out what was what. None of those quiet, desperate parents were interested in a copper-haired hoyden with the knees out of her stockings and, like as not, a nose dripping some unsavory substance. Especially since she met every query with “You ain’t my ma!”

I must say, now that I am an adult, I don’t blame them. I was a complete disaster as a child. I am surprised I ever survived to my ripe old age of twenty-five!

“From the desk of the Mother Superior,” I murmured. That was ominous. What on earth had I done now?

I sighed and opened the letter:

Dear Josephine,

Please call upon me at your earliest convenience. I must speak to you about a matter of grave importance. You are the only one I can trust in this matter.


Mother Mary Frances

Frowning, I read the letter again…focusing on the unfamiliar signature. Mother Mary Margaret had been Mother Superior when I was an inhabitant of the orphanage. I wondered who had taken her place—Sister Agnes of the quick ruler? Sister Grace with the whispery voice? Sister Catherine who slept through most of her classes?

Only one way to find out, I supposed. I would go around as soon as I changed my clothes. I could hardly go visiting nuns in my summer seersucker. Well, I could, but it would feel very impertinent.

I blew the fringe of bangs off my forehead with a sigh. Heavens. Today, of all days. Oh, well, it would give me something to concern myself with until Alistair replied to my telegram, or returned to town.

However, I decided I could really use a cold drink about now. Ma wouldn’t mind waiting a bit longer for her post. I tucked my letter into the reticule along with the rest of the mail and started off in search of the nearest sarsaparilla.


About the Author

Rie Sheridan Rose's prose appears in numerous anthologies, including Killing It Softly Vol. 1 & 2, Hides the Dark Tower, Dark Divinations, and Startling Stories. In addition, she has authored twelve novels, six poetry chapbooks, and dozens of song lyrics. Member of the HWA and SFWA, she tweets as @RieSheridanRose.