Kiss of Steel Page 12

Blade crossed his arms over his chest. “Didn’t think you’d want to see me tonight. Ain’t your night for it.”

“I…I…” The words died on her tongue as she stared at him. A flush of heat crept up her cheeks and she dropped her gaze.

“Honor?” His tongue curled around the word, sending a shiver over her skin. He took a step toward her. “Why did you come ’ere tonight?”

“Do you have anything to drink?”

“Whiskey? Rum? Gin?”

“Do you have any brandy?”

Blade crossed silently to the liquor cabinet. Honoria’s knees trembled, so she sat down again, clasping her hands. The splash of liquid gurgled, and then he screwed the thin metal lid back onto the flask. “’Ere. Drink it slow like. She’ll curl your toes.”

She accepted the glass. For a moment their fingers touched and he refused to let it go. Their eyes met. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking. His skin was cool, absorbing the feverish heat of her own body. What would it be like to have his hands on her? Those cool, callused hands that moved with such nimble grace. She’d rarely been touched by a man. Only Vickers, and his touch had always left her nauseous.

Blade’s skin was cool too, yet when he touched her she burned.

“Thank you,” she whispered and dropped her gaze.

He let go. Stepped back. “’Ere,” he said, tugging a small package out of a drawer. “I bought you this.”

Honoria’s gaze narrowed on the small, paper-wrapped package. “What is it?”

“A gift.”

She took it, though she shouldn’t have. “You’re not supposed to buy me things.”

An ember of something hot flared in his eyes. “Are you goin’ to open it?”

She tore the packaging apart. A pair of dark brown kid gloves tumbled into her lap, the leather so fine and luscious that they had to have cost him a small fortune. A little sinking feeling curled through her stomach. “Oh.” She shook her head. “I can’t. You cannot buy personal items for a lady.”

“Who’s to know?” His green eyes challenged her.

“I would know.” And that made all the difference. He must have seen how worn her last pair was. The act was extremely considerate. She almost felt like crying. “I can’t accept these.” Especially not with the proposal she had come to put to him. She set them aside reluctantly.

A flat look came over his expression. “Why are you ’ere?”

The brandy burned all the way down. But it warmed her from within too. She was suddenly shivering, but not from the cold. “How much?”

The words were barely audible. But Blade froze as though she’d shouted at him. “How much what?”

“How much will you give me? For my blood?”

He could have been a statue. Honoria looked away and swiftly drank down the last of the brandy. Damn him. Bitterness burned in her throat. The words were hard to force out. “I no longer have employment. I need to pay the doctor’s bills, to buy food for…for my brother and sister. I’m desperate.”

And still he said nothing. A flare of heat burned in his eyes. He took a step away from her. Another. Turned and glared into the fireplace. “Bloody ’ell.”

Fear ran through her. She’d thought he’d be eager for the opportunity to humble her. He’d made no secret of his intent to have her. But he didn’t look eager at all. In fact, he looked almost as though she’d struck him a blow.

Honoria stood, her hands clinging to her skirts. He couldn’t say no. If he did, then she had no other options. “I’m begging you,” she whispered. It hurt everything she had in her to say it, but the sudden swamping wave of fear that he would reject her was stronger than her pride. Pride wouldn’t see her fed. It wouldn’t give Charlie his medication or Lena the new shawl she desperately needed.

Blade shot her a look over his shoulder, eyes ablaze with anger. She took a step back in surprise. “Damn you,” he snarled.

Honoria didn’t understand. “Do you want me to get down on my knees?” He’d liked the idea of her begging him after all. She swept her skirts out and bent down, the way she’d always done for one of the Echelon.

Blade moved so quickly she barely saw him. Then his hands were on her arms, forcing her back to her feet. Honoria sucked in a shocked gasp and looked up at him. He glared at her.

“No need to be so bleedin’ dramatic!” he snapped and shook her a little.

Honoria clutched at his wrists. “I—I thought you wanted me to beg. Stop it. You’re hurting me!”

He let her go and turned away with a snarl. Honoria staggered to the side, watching as he pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes.

Silence fell. She didn’t dare move. She could feel his phantom touch on her arms where his fingers had gripped her. She rubbed at them. “Don’t you want me?” she whispered. “I thought—”

“I want you.” He lowered his hands, but he didn’t turn to face her. A soft laugh escaped him. “Don’t ever doubt it, luv.” He shot her a look, and she saw that his eyes had bled to black.

Honoria stilled. She’d seen Vickers do that when he was angry or hungry. She’d learned to be very quiet when she recognized that look.

Blade sank into the armchair. “Don’t you ever beg me again.”

Of all the things! “You wanted me to!”

“Aye, well, I didn’t mean it. I says things sometimes that’s only me pride speakin’.” His lips suddenly quirked. “You could say I’ve as much of a stiff neck as you at times.”

She stared at him. The black was fading from his eyes, showing just a hint of hard emerald.

Blade crossed his arms over his middle. “How much do you want?”

She’d done the sums in her head. But it was best to start higher and bargain her way lower. “Thirty pounds a month,” she said boldly.

A high price for just her blood. A high price for the use of her body too. Perhaps her soul might cost as much.

“Done,” Blade said. He stood and paced toward a painting. Behind it was a safe, with careless piles of coins. If it belonged to anyone else, they wouldn’t dare keep so much money together, but nobody in Whitechapel was foolish enough to steal from the devil himself.

“That’s all? I thought…” She trailed off. No need to invite him to lower the price. “How many times a week would you require my services?” A thought occurred. “Only my blood.”

He counted out the money. Honoria licked her lips, trying not to stare at it. As soon as he put it in her hand she would owe him, but a part of her mind raced. Thirty pounds. Rent, medication, enough for a good doctor and food…So much food! New gloves for Lena, new thread for her stockings—goodness, perhaps even new stockings if she dared—and a thick, heavy coat for Charlie, not that he’d be going outside.

How quickly she had become so mercenary. A year ago she’d looked down upon such women as sold themselves on the streets. Now she was no better than they. Hunger and poverty could drive a person to abandon all of their morals.

“I know.” Blade turned and held up the small pouch. It fell into her hands with a heavy jingle. He sank back into the armchair, tugging his gold cheroot case out of his pocket. “We’ll discuss that later.”

She jerked her gaze up from the pouch of money in her hands. “No. I’d prefer to discuss it now. Or I’ll leave this here and owe you nothing.”

Blade ran a cheroot through his fingers, flipping it over and under like a sleight-of-hand artist. “Once every three weeks.”

“So far apart?” Her eyebrows shot up. That was certainly reasonable. She put the heavy pouch down on the table and started tugging at her shawl. Her fingers wouldn’t work properly.

“Takes the body awhile to renew the blood,” he shrugged. “A lesson I learned o’er many years.” His gaze narrowed on her hands. “What are you doin’?”

“I would prefer the marks not to be visible. I still intend to seek employment.” She knew what that meant. There were very few veins that would give him what he needed. And neither her sleeves nor her neckline concealed her adequately enough. The shawl finally came free. She folded it neatly and put it down. Her hands were shaking.

“Honoria. Look at me.”

To look at him would undo her. She slipped her shoes off and crossed toward him, her stockinged feet sinking into the thick carpets. To have his mouth on her skin…She shook the thought off with a shiver. Such an intimacy had never occurred to her. A hot little flush swept through her lower belly.

“What are you doin’?” he asked, voice low and rough.

His booted feet were crossed. Leather strained over his thighs, and his fingers dug into the armrests as though to restrain himself.

“We have a deal,” she reminded him, lifting her skirts delicately and putting her foot up on the cushion. The hard muscle of his thigh rested against her ankle. His fingers went white with sudden strain.

“Honoria.”

She slid her skirts up. There was a lump in her throat. Her hands trembled but obeyed her will. The threadbare wool at her ankle was revealed. Then higher. Her calves. Her knee. She slid her skirts all the way up, revealing the faded pink ribbon of her garters. Heat flushed through her cheeks. What a shame that she couldn’t be wearing better undergarments, like the fine painted silk stockings she’d once owned.

Blade sucked in a breath. “Put your skirts back down.”

“I made a deal,” she repeated firmly and started working on the ribbons that held her stocking in place.

His hand caught hers. Cool fingers against her own, the very fingertips touching her inner thigh.

Honoria couldn’t help herself. She looked up. And nearly fell forward, into the burning depths of his black gaze. The hunger roared within him, a bottomless chasm that could never be fully sated.

Her breath hitched.

“You’ve been starvin’ yourself for months. You ain’t fit to lose any blood, let alone provide a decent feedin’. Put your bloody skirts down,” he snarled.

“You want it,” she whispered. “I can see it in you. And I won’t owe you anything.”

His fingers brushed against her thigh. For a moment he looked as though he was reconsidering. Then a steely expression settled on his face. “Damn your pride. It’ll be the death of you.” He moved in a blur of speed. Honoria found herself tumbled into the armchair as he streaked across the room.

“I’m not—” She fell silent as he turned, sweeping an arm out.

A vase smashed off the mantel. Blade spun and she froze, sinking back into the chair beneath his furious gaze.

“You ain’t got a lick o’ self-preservation. You’re not strong enough for me to feed on. It’d do you in, quicker ’n the Drainers, but, no, you’re more worried ’bout what you owe me. Do you know ’ow bleedin’ stupid that is?”

It stung. Because he was right.

“You listen to me,” he snapped, pointing a finger at her. “I take care of me thralls. I know ’ow much I can take, ’ow much they can afford to lose.”

“An eighth of a pint a day,” she said stiffly. “That’s the base limit of what you need to survive.”

“Where’d you ’ear a piece o’ codswallop like that?”

“They’ve done studies,” she protested.

“Aye. Studies on the newly infected. The more the virus takes a man over, the more blood it needs. I’m close on ’alf a pint most days, though it can be more or less. Ain’t no rhyme nor reason to it.”

“Half a pint?” she said faintly.

“You ain’t the only thrall I got. I got ten I feed fresh from the vein off, and the rest I take cold, out o’ the icebox.”

“From the draining factories.” Her thoughts on that flavored her tone.

“You think the Ech’lon’d let me ’ave any o’ their precious blood supplies? I got me own stable o’ donators. It’s what it costs ’round ’ere for me protection. People is ’appy enough to bleed the odd ’alf pint for me.”

The thought bothered Honoria somewhat. Ten thralls? That was practically a harem. And what a foolish thing to cause such prickling nausea. What did it matter if she were one of eleven? Or one of dozens even? It only meant that she would be spared the trials of feeding him more often. He could wallow in his blood whores for all she cared.

Pushing herself upright in the armchair, she tugged her skirts down so that they decently covered her ankles. Confusion reigned. She felt rather uncomfortable sitting there exposed, with one of her garter ribbons trailing loosely down her thigh.

“What are you thinkin’?” The fire crackled at Blade’s back, shadowing his features once more.

“Would you turn your back while I tie my garter?” she blurted.

Green eyes locked on hers. A slight smile curled over his mouth. “As you wish.” He turned slowly, facing the fire, leaning one hand against the mantel.

Honoria tugged her skirts up again and swiftly laced her garter back into place. The rustle of material seemed so loud in the still room. He couldn’t see her, and yet his hearing was so superior that he had to hear each slither of material over her legs, each little tug of the garter ribbons into place.

Her cheeks burned and she tugged her skirts back down. “You can turn around now.” She had to clear her throat twice to get the words out.

He pushed away from the fireplace, balancing on the balls of his feet. The way he moved was rather appealing. Blade was never clumsy, never unbalanced. He owned the space he moved through, whether it was on a rooftop, or roughened cobbles, or sitting in a rickshaw. That quiet confidence of body drew the eye. Frequently.

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