Kiss of Steel Page 10

“Do you give a damn?” Leo gave her a direct look.

“Of course I do.”

He blinked. Then looked down into the glass. “You don’t like me.”

“I wouldn’t wish Vickers on my worst enemy. Besides,” she added softly, “Father always had a soft spot for you.”

Their eyes met.

“You need money,” he said, running his finger around the rim of the glass and dropping his gaze.

“I lost my job. My employer knew I was hiding something.”

“Get a new one.” Leo put the glass down and started for the door.

“I can’t.” She grabbed his sleeve. The effect as he froze was chilling. “I can’t afford to look after Lena and Charlie, not even with a job. I need access to the trust that Father left for us. You’re the executor. All I need is some money to tide us over until—”

He broke her grip. Caught her wrist. “You don’t understand. If I access that trust, people are going to ask why. It was bad enough that your father named me executor. I can’t explain why I’m withdrawing large sums.”

“Then take it out of your own drawings,” she said. “You can have whatever Father left. Just loan me enough to see me through the year. I promise I won’t ever ask for more. You won’t see me again.”

“I can’t.”

Her blood boiled. “You mean you won’t. You jealous son of a bitch. You’re doing this because—”

“Don’t.”

“They’re your brother and sister too.” Once the words were out, she regretted them. She’d never once told him that she knew why he’d tormented her so as a child, or why her father had spoken so often of him.

Leo’s face closed over. “I’m a Caine,” he replied. “It would be wise not to cast such aspersions, especially out loud. One might take offense at being called a bastard. You’re lucky that I have some feelings of misguided benevolence toward you and your family. I can’t give you money. You’ll have to make do.” His gaze ran over her, down the violet skirts and the elegant ruffles at the bottom that hid the frayed hem. “I cannot say that you look to be in dire straits. Perhaps you should part with some of the luxuries you evidently took with you.”

Honoria ground her teeth together. “This was a mistake. I thought you were a decent man. I was wrong.”

“You have five minutes.” He crossed to the door in a loose-hipped saunter. “I’ll keep Vickers distracted. And for god’s sake, spray yourself with some of my aftershave to dilute your scent.” He paused with one hand on the door. “By the way, you don’t by any chance have the diary, do you?”

“The diary?” The lie came easily to her lips. “Father’s diary?”

“Yes.”

“I haven’t seen it since I escaped from Vickers’s house.” And she wouldn’t tell him if she did. “Why?”

“Are you certain?” Leo asked, his black eyes meeting hers.

“I’m sure.”

He nodded once, the bright gleam in his eyes dulling. “If I were you, I wouldn’t linger. And I wouldn’t come here again.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t.”

Her last option walked out into the hallway and slammed the door shut.

“Damn it.” After everything, she’d thought that perhaps he might find some trace of humanity within to help them.

Obviously she was wrong. And now she was trapped in the same house as the creature from her nightmares, and she could only hope that Leo wouldn’t betray her.

She’d been such a fool. Trying to run from the inevitable. Honoria rubbed at her arms. Why bother? What was so wrong with selling herself? Perhaps a part of her had believed that they would escape this wretched mire and return to her former place in society.

There was no going back now. No escaping. She’d been starving herself for weeks for a principle. And the worst thing was, a part of her had always known it would come to this.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. Blade had been kind to her so far. And though he was not classically handsome, still he made her breath catch and her body heat at the mere sight of him. They said that sometimes a woman could even find pleasure in it, though the very thought made her cringe inside.

Who was she trying to fool?

***

“Problem?” Vickers inquired as he stared out the windows, the sunlight highlighting his pale, powdery skin and blond, almost white curls. As was the custom in many of the older blue bloods, he wore powder in his hair. His lips were a girlish pink. Even his eyelashes had faded to a coarse white.

Leo closed the door behind him with a soft, controlled click. “Not at all. One of my thralls.” He gave a slight smile, knowing Vickers would smell the blood on his breath. “She missed me.”

The creak of the floorboards whispered outside. An overpowering waft of his aftershave caught Leo’s nose as Honoria crept past. Vickers’s eyes tracked the movement, but his face remained impassive.

“You should teach her not to interrupt.” Vickers’s tone held no inflection.

Leo quirked a brow and slung himself into his chair. He lazed back in it, one leg slung over the arm of the chair. “I did. She won’t bother me again.”

Vickers nodded. “Good. Now, have you made any progress on the whereabouts of the Todd family? It’s been six months, Barrons. Anyone would think you weren’t looking hard enough.”

From anyone else it might have been only a comment, not the threat it was. Leo toyed with his ring, watching the light gleam through the emerald. He wanted Vickers gone. His men were still searching, but Leo knew that so far no sign had been found of the vampire.

They’d find it soon enough. Or traces of it. The creature wouldn’t be able to resist. It would start tearing its way through London, and then the Echelon would have a problem on its hands. It would be the last breath of air to knock down the house of cards that Leo was desperately trying to balance. Everything relied on saving face in his world, and if any of his many enemies could prove that he had known about the vampire, the House of Caine would be destroyed along with the creature.

Knowing a man was close to the Fade and not alerting authorities would earn a severe reprimand from the council, at the very least. If they learned he was directly responsible for the vampire, for causing his infection in the first place…

He had no time left for Honoria or the others. They would simply have to fend for themselves.

“Your precious Nighthawks can’t find a sign of them,” Leo replied, knowing damned well why. Honoria had left little trace, but what there was of it he’d buried long ago. “Patience, Vickers. They will come up for air. And when they do, I will be waiting for them.”

A slight frown flickered through Vickers’s pale gray eyes. There and then gone again. He examined his manicured nails, the lace dripping from his sleeves. “You’ll fetch me first. Just locate them. I’ll deal with the ungrateful brats.”

“And the girl? Honoria?”

This time Vickers couldn’t quite hide the flare of lust in his eyes. “Honoria.” His voice caressed the word. “Honoria is mine. It’s about time I broke that arrogant little bitch.” He stood with a snap of his fingers. “Find them. Then send word.” Without further ado, he strode past in a cloud of perfume. The strong scent couldn’t quite hide the faint trace of rottenness that lingered about him.

Leo watched the door shut, chewing idly on his fingernail. He caught sight of his hand and paused. In the light the skin looked almost gray. The effects of injecting himself with colloidal silver were starting to show. He couldn’t keep it up forever, or else the Echelon would recognize it for what it was—a desperate attempt to allay the virus.

He needed that diary. Before he too started to smell like rot. But if Honoria didn’t have it, then where was it?

Chapter 6

Honoria rapped on the door, her stomach tying itself in knots. Around her, thick fog swirled. She cast a nervous glance over her shoulder, then tucked her new shawl tight around her arms.

She’d sold all of her dresses this morning and her mother’s brooch. It was enough to see the doctor’s outstanding bills paid and a handful of coins left over for the month’s rent. She’d bought a pair of decent work-a-day dresses made of scratchy brown and gray wool and a pair of sturdy shoes. When Lena saw what she’d done, she’d cried.

Honoria had thought it would hurt more. The final cutting of ties with her former, privileged life. No going back now. But strangely enough, she’d felt nothing as she handed the dresses over. Nothing more than concern about how much she could get for them.

She could have waited. She had enough money now to see them through the month, but there was no point holding out, hoping for a miracle. If she didn’t make this offer to Blade now, she feared she never would.

The door sprung open and the small boy who’d accosted her in the square peered out.

“You ain’t s’posed to be out after dusk,” the child said. “It’s martial law.”

“I need to see Blade.”

“He ain’t ’ere.”

Still time to get away. She crushed the thought down ruthlessly. “What do you mean he’s not here? Where is he?”

“The Pits,” the child said. For a moment there was a softening of expression that gentled the child’s heavy jaw.

“The Pits,” she repeated. A blood-thirsty arena where men pitted themselves against each other or animals. The ultimate in blood sports in the city. And the last place a decent woman would go.

The child caught Honoria’s arm as she turned. “’Ere now, where you goin’? You ain’t s’posed to be out without an escort. Where’s Will?”

“Will? I don’t know. Why?”

“’E’s s’posed to be watchin’ you.”

Honoria’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

The child’s mouth opened. Then shut. “Nothin’.”

Honoria took the grimy wrist in her hand. “What did you mean, Will’s watching me?”

“Watchin’ your ’ouse!” The child pulled out of her grip, giving her an insolent look. “Keepin’ you safe from the killer.”

Keeping them safe? The only one who could have ordered that was Blade. But why? She was technically under his protection, but so were a lot of citizens, and none of them had a burly bodyguard.

“What is Blade up to?”

“’E protects what’s ’is.” The child gave a shrug that could have meant anything. As it did, its coat pulled tighter, revealing the slightest hint of curves. A girl.

“What’s your name?” Honoria asked.

“Lark.”

“Do you know how long he’ll be gone, Lark?”

“Most o’ the night, mebbe.” Lark squinted up at her. “’Ere, now, you ain’t still goin’.”

Honoria took a step back into the fog. She had to do this tonight, before she lost her nerve. But there was a murderer out there, and she wasn’t foolish enough to venture so far by herself. “Where is this Will? I might as well make use of him.”

“Right behind you.” A voice came out of nowhere, startling them both.

The big youth jumped off the rooftop, landing beside her with his fingertips touching the cobblestones. Leather braces rode over his massive chest and broad shoulders, and his once-white shirt had been hacked off at the shoulders, leaving his straining biceps bare.

Oh my. She’d seen her share of near-naked men in Whitechapel, but none of them had his…quality of muscle.

Honoria looked up as he straightened. And up. His yellow eyes met hers and she shivered. “I need to see your master.”

“Tol’ you not to open the door, Lark. Get back inside and stay there.” Will’s gaze swung to her again, his jaw stiffening. “You’re bad for him, you know that?”

The cockney in his voice wasn’t as pronounced as the others. Indeed, she could sense a vague Scottish burr within certain words. He took a step toward her and Honoria held her ground, though she was tempted to back away. “How?”

“He ain’t thinkin’ right with you. You’re one o’ ’em, all high in the instep. A fancy lass, who’ll do his head in and not give a damn, ’cept what you can get from him.”

Honoria took a step back. He was right. She had been thinking of what she could get from Blade. But then she remembered his words in the pub. You’ll beg me to take you in…Any sense of guilt fled. This was purely a transaction between them. Nothing more.

“He wants blood. I’m prepared to provide it,” she replied stiffly. “Are you going to escort me or not?”

Will’s eyes narrowed, a thin slit of lambent gold. “Aye,” he said. “But you hurt him and you’ll have me to reckon with. Just you think on that.”

***

Noise washed over him, a roar from the crowd as someone in the ring went down. Blade leaned back in his chair, boots kicked up on the rail of his private box in the Pits as he peered through the haze of smoke from his cheroot.

“That’s Grady’s bout!” O’Shay laughed, holding up his wager slip. “Told ye ’e’d win!”

Blade flicked the ash from the tip of his cheroot. “Scurvy’s down. ’E ain’t out yet. Watch.”

O’Shay peered closer just as Jim Scurvy kicked out, his steel-plated boots striking Grady in the kneecap. There was an audible crack and Grady went down, a look of shock and pain on his grimy face. Scurvy was on him in a second, drawing back his meaty fists and pounding the claret out of Grady. It splashed across the white sand, drawing another appreciative gasp from the crowd.

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