Kiss of Steel Page 14

He had always been dangerous, but Honoria had never realized just how far he would go. It wasn’t until the girl showed up at the Institute a month later, raving and frothing at the mouth in hunger, that she could no longer deny the truth.

Sometimes Honoria wished she’d never seen it, never told her father. It was the beginning of the end. In that last year he’d gone further than simply mouthing the phrases the legitimate Humans First Party believed in; he had joined the secretive humanist movement and started working long into the night on an experiment he wouldn’t confide in her about. It was an experiment that had cost him his life.

Somehow Vickers found out. The next she knew, her father was shaking her awake and bundling the three of them into a steam cab with his diary.

Don’t ever give this to them, he told her, looking over his shoulder in fear. Don’t ever let this fall into the wrong hands.

Come with us!

I can’t. He kissed her on the cheek and dragged her close. I have to get this information to other people. They can use it!

He’ll kill you!

Her father smiled sadly. This is more important than my life, Honor. And I’ll be careful. I’ll meet you at the coaching inn in Fulham. If…if I don’t show up in three days, then go to your mother’s cousin in Oxford. I’ve named Leo as executor in my will, but use him only as a last resort. His lips thinned. He’s a good lad, but…he’s still one of them.

A day later her father’s body was found in the Thames, his throat cut open.

“You all right?” Blade asked.

Honoria shook herself. What had she been thinking, to even voice such a thing to him? She couldn’t trust anybody with that information. Not even Lena or Charlie knew about it. “I’m fine.” She gave him a weak smile. “Just tired. And sick of watching people starving to death or taking drastic actions.” Especially when she’d been so close herself.

The money felt heavy in her pocket. Perhaps she should have bent her neck weeks ago. But who would ever have thought that Blade would be so generous? Or so undemanding?

It won’t last, a little voice whispered. You escaped because you’re weak. Sooner or later he’ll cut a vein open, put his mouth on your skin, and drink.

A blue blood’s thrall. Something she’d sworn she’d never be. It held a position of respectability at least, unlike the blood slaves who were simply anyone’s for the taking.

Blade stalked along beside her in brooding silence.

“Nothing to say to that?” she asked lightly, forcing the thoughts from her mind. She had money now. That was all that mattered.

“You think I don’t give a damn?”

Honoria missed a step, her ankle twisting on the rutted cobbles. Blade caught her effortlessly, a hand on her wrist. She swallowed the instinct to pull away. She’d have to get used to his touch. And it wasn’t…unpleasant. Cool. Firm. A grip that no man—or woman—could break. Just a trifle possessive.

There was no hint of guile in his expression, just a sincere, burning truth shining in his wicked green eyes. But she’d been fooled before. Vickers had once been kind and persuasive, courting her father to his cause with gifts and a “shared” interest. Before there was no longer any need for it.

“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “Do you care?”

He let her go. “I do me bit. But I can’t do it for nothin’. They only respect the strong ’ere. Charity breeds nothin’ but contempt.” He cast a smile in her direction. “And people got their pride.”

“Aye, well, I can under—”

She didn’t get a chance to finish her words. Blade’s head shot up, his gaze roving the rooftops.

“What is it?”

His eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks. He was listening to something. Honoria looked around. A heavy layer of soot stained the buildings. Crooked chimneys formed man-shaped shadows in the darkness, until she blinked to clear her vision.

A chain rattled. “Come on,” Blade snarled, grabbing her by the hand and dragging her toward her home.

“The murderer?” she asked, running behind him and looking up. There were shadows moving now, running along the rooftops behind them and leaping between buildings.

“The f**kin’ Slashers,” he bit out, sliding to a halt in an intersection. He looked up and growled in frustration. “You can’t outrun ’em.” But he could.

Her heart leaped into her throat. The Slasher gangs were the terror of the East End, abducting families in their sleep or running down people who were foolish enough to be out at night. Maimed and enhanced with vicious hooks for hands or razor-sharp claws, they drained a person of their blood and fenced it in the slums. Or, some whispered, to the government’s official draining factories.

“What are they doing here?” One of the reasons she’d chosen the Whitechapel rookery was because no Slasher dared enter Blade’s turf.

“I’ll ’ave to ask one of ’em,” he said in a tone that told her exactly how he intended to get answers. Metal gleamed in his hands. “Stay behind me. Don’t run. I’ll keep you safe.”

One, two, three, four…she counted six shapes in the darkness. No doubt there’d be more. They roamed in packs, like stray dogs.

“Are you certain you can handle them?”

He gave her a dirty look. “Just keep behind me.”

Lifting a whistle to his lips, he blew. No sound erupted from it, but he seemed satisfied and dropped it back into his pocket.

Honoria fumbled in her skirts for the pistol. She cocked it and waited, her back to Blade, searching the darkness.

A laugh echoed out of the shadows, an eerie sound, like the hyena in Vickers’s menagerie. A chain clanked and then three of the shapes sailed out of the air, landing in front of them.

Honoria swallowed a scream. A long, curved fisherman’s hook drifted back and forth as the one in front of her grinned evilly.

“You get lost, boys?” Blade called. “Looks like you’re in me turf.”

“Looks like you’re outnumbered,” one of them called back, wielding a vicious hook.

“Oh?” Blade looked around. “But there’s only nine o’ you.”

Which proved that there were more than she’d seen.

“And one o’ you,” the lead man said with a laugh. “Come on, you curs!” He leaped forward, brandishing his knife.

Honoria didn’t have time to see what Blade was doing. She raised the pistol and aimed. The man charging her—with the fishing hook attached to his wrist instead of a hand—suddenly staggered back as the pistol retorted. A great, gaping hole appeared in the man’s chest, and his mouth dropped open in surprise as he fell to his knees, then onto his face.

An automatic reloader, the pistol had six bullets. Now only five. She spun around quickly to shoot again, but Blade was too close to the three men attacking him. He was little more than a blur as he danced among them, the pair of razors in his hands gleaming like little scythes in the moonlight. The Slashers looked as though they moved through air thick as molasses in comparison.

Blade downed one, sweeping under a broad, awkward stroke of a short sword and flicking his razor across the man’s throat. The Slasher went down with a bloody gurgle and Blade spun around, kicking another man in the throat as the other leaped for him.

Blade’s gaze swept past, locating Honoria for a moment before he buried his razor in the man’s gut. As the Slasher folded over the stroke, Blade whipped up with his other hand, neatly decapitating the man.

“Look out!” she yelled, seeing a pair of Slashers on the roof. A heavy net dropped down, and the man who’d been kicked in the face dove onto Blade.

“Get out of ’ere!” Blade bellowed, writhing on the ground beneath the net.

The man stabbed him with a needle-sharp poniard, and Blade grunted in pain. The two who had dropped the net jumped to the ground.

“This your little turtledove?” One of them advanced on her with a leer. A dirty eye patch obscured his right eye. “Maybe I’ll let you watch when I drain ’er.”

“Run, Honoria!” Blade had somehow cut through the net but was struggling to disentangle himself.

Honoria lifted the pistol. Her worst nightmare come to life, and she’d be damned if she would let them take her. Anger bit, sharp and hot. These men—these creatures—had terrorized innocent men and women. She’d had enough.

The man’s head exploded like a rotten melon. The pair of Slashers struggling with Blade looked up in shock as his body hit the ground.

“Christ f**kin’ Jaysus!” One of them muttered. His gaze went to the pistol in her hand. “What the ’ell is that?”

Honoria stared down the sight at him and he scrambled out of the way, ducking into the alley. Damn it. She turned just as the man still wrestling with Blade hurdled his body toward her.

He knocked her clean off her feet with a swoosh of rancid air. The pistol skittered across the cobbles and stopped several feet away.

The man drew back his arm with its deadly hooked blade. “You little bitch!”

Honoria screamed.

In the next moment his weight was gone. Blade staggered over her, blood welling all over his shirt. “What part o’ run don’t you bloody understand?”

She didn’t hesitate to grab the hand he offered to her. He lifted her to her feet as though she weighed little more than a feather. The man who had attacked her was groaning, having been thrown face-first into a wall.

“You’d be dead if I had!” she retorted. She couldn’t stop her gaze from dropping to his side. “You’re bleeding.”

“Aye. Get runnin’. There’s five of ’em left.”

“Are you coming?”

He pointed a finger at her. “If I tell you to run, you damned well better run! No more ’eroics, you bloody fool!”

“Stop cursing at me!”

A muscle in Blade’s jaw ticked. He took a deep breath, his nostrils flaring. “Honoria…” he warned.

She dashed for her pistol and checked it. Four bullets remaining. Then she turned and tipped her chin up. “I’m not going without you. Come on. Or are you too injured to run?”

“Nothin’ but a scratch, luv.”

Four shadowy shapes shimmied down the drainpipes. Blade pushed Honoria in the middle of the back and they broke into a run.

A low, whistling noise filled the air. Then something wrapped around her legs and she fell forward with a scream. The weighted ends of a rope wrapped themselves around her ankles.

“Blade!”

“I got you, luv.” He hauled her up, tossing her over his shoulder.

When she looked up, she saw four men in pursuit, armed with an assortment of cruel hooks and pikes, and wearing a mish-mash of iron plating sewn together with leather togs. Weighed down as he was—and injured—Blade was barely keeping ahead of them.

She shot another man, but the jolting skewered her aim. He went down screaming, his right arm and shoulder blown away as though an enormous shark had taken a chunk out of him. The sound ricocheted in the night and dogs started barking.

“What the bloody ’ell are those things?” Blade yelled as the Slashers dropped back, wary now.

“Keep running!” She lifted the pistol again, but the Slasher darted around a corner and her shot went wide, exploding a shower of brick and mortar across the street.

“In me pocket,” he said. “There’s me whistle. Blow it.”

She looked down at his breeches. “You want me to—?”

“Do it,” he snarled.

Honoria reached down and felt in Blade’s pocket. Hard, muscled thigh met her fingers, rippling with each stride he took. She swallowed hard and tugged the small whistle out. When she put it to her lips, nothing sounded.

“It doesn’t make any noise!”

“Nothin’ that you can ’ear,” he replied. He put her down, panting hard. Honoria staggered back against the doorway he’d nestled her against. Sweat dampened his hair and the bloodstain on his shirt had spread.

She paled. “That’s more than a scratch.”

Sweat tracked rivulets through the soot that grimed his face. When he flashed her a smile, his teeth gleamed starkly. “Aye.” Bending over, he rested his hands on his h*ps and breathed deep, an odd whistling sound. A bubble of blood broke on his lips.

“Oh, my goodness! You’re hurt!” She reached for him, then nearly fell over. Grimacing, she tore the ropes off her legs, then tossed them aside.

“Hit a lung. Mebbe. Give me…the pistol…”

She handed it to him. Blade’s dark gaze swept the streets. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, leaving a bloodied smear across his pale skin.

Honoria touched the blood on his side. He knocked her hand away with a distracted growl.

“Ain’t no time. They’re…comin’…rooftops.”

The first man who dropped into the street staggered back in a bloody mist.

“It reloads automatically,” she said, taking refuge in the doorway. “There’s one round left.”

“Aye,” he muttered. Ducking out into the street, he aimed up and pulled the trigger.

A scream filled the air and a man tumbled into the streets as Blade ducked back under the cover of the overhang next to Honoria. He shoved the pistol into the waistband of his breeches, hands trembling.

It seemed even a blue blood couldn’t admit when he was hurt. Obviously a man was a man, regardless of what he drank to survive.

Leaning down, she gathered the rope with its weighted ends. She had no idea how to use it, but it was better than having nothing to use against the Slashers.

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