Kiss of Steel Page 16

Gone. With Blade’s dagger still buried in its chest.

“Will?” His arms hurt. Blood leaked across his skin, a dark bluish-red that gave the blue bloods their name. The vampire must have clawed him a few more times than he’d realized.

Will forced himself onto his hands and knees, head bowed. There was no sign of Honoria, but they were close to her home. Blade stared in the direction of her home, then looked back at Will. The vampire had gone in the other direction, and his lieutenant was hurt.

“You all right?” He squatted down.

Will bared his teeth. “Hurts. Son of a bitch almost disemboweled me.”

Blade patted him on the shoulder. There was nothing to do but wait for the loupe virus to heal the torn flesh. Heat blazed beneath his cold hand. It was already working hard, spiking Will’s body temperature up several notches. He’d be sweating with fever half the night as his skin reknit itself.

“Told you not to grapple with it,” Blade said, rising to his feet and offering a hand. “They’re stronger ’n we are. Quicker. This ain’t like sparrin’ with me.”

Will clasped Blade’s hand. “Thanks.” He spat out a mouthful of blood and hauled himself to his feet. “I ain’t figured that out.”

Blade ran an eye over him. “You don’t offer me blood again,” he said, “till this is over.”

“You weren’t goin’ to take it from ’er.”

“She ain’t strong enough. Yet.”

Will held Blade’s hand as he tried to disengage. “Don’t get distracted,” he said. “I ain’t the only one who shouldn’t go after the vampire alone. She’s just a woman.”

Blade shook him off. “Go ’ome. Get some sleep. You’ll need it.”

“Where are you goin’?”

“To make sure she got ’ome all right,” he muttered, turning on his heel. The air smelled clean, the rain washing away the vampire’s scent. It was injured; no doubt it would retreat to its hidey-hole to lick its wounds.

“Blade?”

“Aye?”

“You knifed it fair in the heart,” Will said quietly.

He mulled it over. “I know. Keep your mouth shut. Don’t let the others know. And go ’ome. I’ll watch the Todd ’ouse tonight.”

Chapter 9

Honoria slammed the door shut and leaned back against it, gasping for breath. Sweet lord, have mercy…She cringed, listening for any sign of pursuit. That thing—the vampire—had been right on her heels. She’d heard its odd, high-pitched pant. Then it was gone and Blade and Will were fighting for their lives.

Were they still alive? She couldn’t believe that she’d left them there, but how could she have helped?

Her eyes shot to her bedroom. She pushed off from the door and dashed for it, tugging the pistol out of her pocket. Firebolts. They would tear a big enough hole through even a vampire.

Lena was sleeping on the cot. Honoria sneaked past.

She found the bullets in her drawer. Only twenty left now. She knew how to make more, but she didn’t have the money to buy the compounds. Hands shaking, she opened the pistol’s barrel and reloaded it.

Lena yawned. “Honor? What are you doing?” Rubbing sleep out of her eyes, she suddenly noticed the pistol. “Where are you going?”

“Outside,” Honoria replied. “Stay here.”

“What happened? There’s blood on your skirts.”

“It’s not mine.”

She unlocked the door and took a deep breath. This was insane. But, then, if the vampire wanted to get her, nothing—no doors or walls—would stop it.

Fog hung heavily in the street. She took a step outside, shutting the door behind her. Then another.

“Bloody ’ell, woman,” Blade snapped. “What are you doin’?”

Honoria nearly shot the ground. Clapping a hand to her chest, she looked up. Blade peered over the edge of the roof as though he weren’t perched on a twenty-foot drop.

“I was worried that you’d been injured,” she said with a scowl, then added, “you and Will.”

“You were frettin’ over me.” He jumped off the roof and landed beside her, his knees bending to absorb the shock.

“And Will.” Despite the cool tone of her voice, she examined him for injuries. “What happened to your hands?” Then she saw his arms. They looked like he’d put his fist through a glass window.

“Vampire blood,” he said, holding up his scalded hands.

“Does it hurt?” She couldn’t actually see the virus healing the wounds, but each time she blinked, the raw flesh was slightly less inflamed.

“A little.”

“What are you doing out here?”

“Watchin’ the ’ouse. Will’s in no state to be on guard.”

“There’s no need to do that. What happened? Did you kill it?”

Blade reached out. She didn’t dare breathe. Was he going to…? His fingers caught one of the curls that framed her face, stroking it gently. “I gave you me word I’d protect you.” Then he dropped his hand. “And no. We injured it and it run.”

Honoria was almost disappointed. Her gaze flickered over his ruined shirt and the myriad cuts that smeared his skin with blood. “You may as well come in. I’ll have a look at your arms.”

She turned away before she could retract the invitation. Charlie was locked in his room. Blade wouldn’t be able to smell him—her brother had started losing his distinctive boyish scent months ago.

And Blade had been sitting on her roof, bleeding and hurt, because he’d promised to protect her.

A little curl of warmth unfolded in her chest. Don’t be stupid, she told herself. He might be more honorable than she’d have ever suspected, but he was still a blue blood.

Honoria snicked the three locks into place. Behind her, Blade prowled the room, his gaze flickering over the mismatched furniture and neatly scrubbed floors.

“Sit down,” she said, crossing to the stove and putting the kettle on. The tiny stove was banked for the night, so she knelt down, stoking it. Anything to avoid looking at him.

The next step was worse. She shut her eyes and took a deep breath. “Take your shirt off. I’ll wash the blood out of it.”

“Ain’t no point,” he said. “It’s nothin’ but rags now, luv.” But she heard him pulling it over his head.

Her mind flashed back to that intimate scene in the sheltered doorway, before the vampire had found them. Heat stirred. That damned uncomfortable heat that she wanted nothing of.

Bracing herself, she stood and turned around. Even prepared, the sight of him stripped to the waist stole her breath. Firelight gleamed on his pale skin, highlighting the dips and curves of each long muscle. He was built lean, all smooth and fluid, lacking the broad strength of Will.

And yet she wanted to touch him. To stroke her hands over the mat of springy blond hair on his chest. Maybe let a finger trail down from his navel, following the arrowing path of hair that lost itself in his waistband…

He coughed under his breath, a smile tugging at his mouth. “Me ’ands, Honor.” And she realized that he’d been holding them out for her inspection all along.

“Right,” she said briskly, heat spilling into her cheeks. What was she doing? Bandages. She needed bandages.

She found an old shirt of Charlie’s that she tore to strips. The water boiled and she poured it into a chipped basin, setting it to cool. She could move. Perform small actions. But not think. Or maybe she was thinking too much.

A thin line of blood ran across his abdomen. Soaking a piece of linen, she knelt at his feet. His thigh was hard muscle beneath her fingertips as she dabbed at the cut.

“It’s closed over.” Her voice was low and husky. Foolishness. She’d seen na**d men before—some of the test subjects at the Institute, those who lost control and tore their clothes off, shaking at the bars that held them prisoner. Or some of the grooms at Caine House, swimming in the pond.

Blade was not a boy. Nor was he a raving lunatic.

“Aye,” he said with a nod and leaned back in the chair. His hands rested on his thighs, and he watched her through narrowed, lazy eyes.

“You heal very quickly,” she said.

“It’s the virus.”

No, it’s not. She had treated injuries at the Institute. A blue blood healed fast, but not like this. Unless…The patients she’d treated had all been newly infected. Perhaps as the virus colonized the body, it also quickened healing times and responses. With the increased need for feeding, of course.

“Did you always heal this fast?” The scientific part of her wanted to know.

“Dunno. Depends ’ow much blood I’ve been drinkin’.”

“I see.” She rinsed the rag out. “The blood staves off the virus, giving it the iron and oxygen it needs. More blood provides…” What exactly? Did it hold the virus at bay? Promote healing? Or did the virus itself need more blood to survive and replicate? Did it therefore replicate in the stomach?

Silence had fallen. Blade was watching her. “You know a lot ’bout it.”

She’d said too much. Very few people understood what the virus did, knowing only that it was spread by drinking or injecting a blue blood’s blood. She had to think quickly. Blade’s eyes were already narrowed with suspicion.

“I read Sir Nicodemus Banks’s Travels in the Orient,” she said, “when I was younger.”

“The first blue blood.”

“Technically he wasn’t the first. Here, let me have a look at those arms.” She dragged a chair closer and took his hand in hers. Her fingertips brushed over the calluses on his palms. He kept his nails short and neat. Working hands. Nothing like the cool, manicured hands of the Echelon. And yet she could picture them on her, his roughened skin abrading her own. “He was merely the one who spread the virus to Europe.”

Dodging White Court assassins from the Orient the entire way. When she’d been a child, it had seemed an exhilarating adventure and she’d made her father read it again and again.

“Ain’t ever ’eard of it,” Blade said. “It tells ’bout the virus, does it?”

“He went as ambassador to the Forbidden City and the White Court. The Imperial family believed they were gods and that the virus was a gift. They passed it down through their family. Sir Nicodemus wrote of rumors that it came from a mysterious lost world hidden among the Himalayas many years before, and that the emperor had deliberately infected himself to gain power and terrify his enemies.”

“So ’ow’d Banks get it?” Blade asked.

Honoria finished washing the cuts on his arms. They were almost healed. Only his hands bore traces of the scalding burn. “He was only allowed in certain areas of the palace, but Sir Nicodemus was…an explorer.”

“A skirt chaser, you mean?”

“Apparently.” Her own lips betrayed her, a smile sneaking over them. “He heard a girl singing and climbed the walls to see her. He wrote that her voice was as fine as a nightingale. He fell in love with her before he ever saw her.”

Blade rolled his eyes. “A bloody poet too, by the sound of ’im.”

“Somewhat poetical, yes.”

“You like the story,” he accused, a grin lighting up his face. “You’re a romantic.”

“I am not,” she replied. “Sir Nicodemus took a terrible risk. The emperor considered it blasphemous for anyone in his family to spread the virus, let alone for it to be ‘gifted’ to a foreigner. When they realized what had happened, he barely escaped with his life.”

“And the girl?”

“She was supposed to run away and meet with him. Instead they sent her hands. In a basket. And their finest assassins.”

“So what ’appened then?”

“He escaped across the silk route and into the desert. He remembered very little of it; indeed, he believed he fell into a sort of melancholy. By the time he had regathered his senses, he was in Greece. And blood-thirsty.”

“If ’e truly loved the girl, ’e shoulda taken revenge on ’er father.”

“He did take revenge,” she replied. “The Imperial family’s power came from their secret and the fact that they alone were gifted. If the whole world knew of it, then they were no longer unique, no longer powerful. They were only human instead, cursed by a disease. So he started in Greece, spreading the virus to, ah, ladies of the night.”

“Aye. I know the sort.”

“By the time he reached England, he’d become more strategic in who he offered his blood to. In France he made a small fortune selling it to the French aristocracy. He was an extremely rich man by the time he’d spread it to England.”

“Why would any man pay money for such a curse?”

Honoria glanced at Blade’s expression, fighting the odd urge to reach out and stroke his face. “Increased speed, better vision, stamina, longevity. A guarantee that you would never become ill from anything else. They did not know then the course of the disease. The only negative was the fact that those who were infected needed to sustain themselves on blood. And once one of them was infected, the whole court wanted it.”

“Now, that sounds like a plan I could approve,” Blade said. “Sell your blood for your weight in gold and strike at your enemies at the same time. I could almost admire ’im if ’e didn’t sound like such a bleedin’ peacock.”

“Typical,” she muttered. “There. I’ve done what I can.”

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