Kiss of Steel Page 23

Only now he was insisting that she didn’t have to do it. Unless she wanted to. There was a hint of burning dissatisfaction within her. An odd sense of feeling cheated, but she didn’t know why.

Blade’s hands gently tugged the comb through her hair. It was quite pleasant. Indeed, almost hypnotic. She found her shoulders relaxing despite the nearness of his body. When he sat on the edge of her stool, his hip brushing against hers, her eyes shot open again, but he made no further move, simply concentrating on her hair.

“I guess,” he said simply, “that answers the question.”

Honoria looked at him. He’d almost finished with her hair, stroking his fingers over it as though reluctant to stop.

It took a moment to clear her throat. “I thought you were angry with me.”

“Angry?” His hands froze.

“You wouldn’t speak to me,” she said. “On the way home. You barely looked at me.”

Blade let out a long breath. “Ah, luv.” His hands resumed their pleasant stroking. “I weren’t angry with you.”

“Then what…?” Her brow furrowed.

Reluctance radiated from him. He put the comb down in his lap. “I were angry with meself.” He looked down, his words quietening. “It’s been a long time since I lost control like that. I thought I ’ad it mastered, but one sight o’ Vickers and I weren’t meself.”

“Vickers?” she whispered. “What does Vickers have to do with it?”

“He were the one that put me in the tower. The one that infected me.” His fists clenched, almost obliterating the small comb. “The one that murdered me sister.”

Honoria reached for him before she could stop herself, her hand sliding over his. “You’ll break the comb.”

He looked down in surprise. Then offered it to her. “Esme would ’ave me ’ead. It were ’er ’usband’s.”

Though she took the comb, she let her hand rest where it lay, stroking the roughened skin of his hands. Blade turned his fingers and caught hers in his grip, linking their hands together. Her palm pressed against his, her fingers laced through his thicker ones. So intimate. And yet she didn’t tear out of his grip.

Her heartbeat started to pound in her ears. What was happening to her? She felt nervous. Or was it something else? Something she didn’t understand?

“And ’ow do you know the duke o’ Lannister?” Blade asked.

The question took her by surprise. Her wits were befuddled, muddied. Too busy dwelling on the feel of his cool hands and wondering what they would feel like on her skin.

“Vickers?” Her head lifted like a startled doe. When Blade’s fingers tightened around hers, she realized she’d unconsciously sought to pull free. Her mind racing, she tried to sort out the previous conversation in her mind. Had she mentioned Vickers first? Or had he?

“Honoria.” He gave her hand a warning squeeze. “No lies.”

“I’m not…” She shut her mouth. She had been preparing to lie. Trying to find some way of explaining how she might have known Vickers. “I…I—”

Silence fell. She could feel those wicked green eyes on her, searching inexorably for the truth. But how could she tell it to him? A part of her wanted to, she suddenly realized. She wanted to confide in him—about Charlie, about the diaries and the never-ending watching over her shoulder for one of Vickers’s assassins. But she barely knew this man.

Too many years spent watching the blue bloods play their games at court. Watching what she said. Keeping her father’s secrets from even her own siblings. Tears pricked against her eyes suddenly, which was foolish. There was no point to it, and yet the swelling warmth spread until Blade’s hand was a blur in the candlelight. God, how she wished for just one person to talk to. Someone to listen and hold her while she poured out all the weight sitting on her shoulders.

His hand brushed her cheek, stealing the trace of liquid warmth from her. “Honor,” he said, stroking her face. “I won’t ’urt you.”

“How do I know that?” She looked up and met his gaze. “I barely know you. And you want something from me. How do I know I can trust you?”

His lips twisted. “Per’aps because I’m already keepin’ your secrets. Miss Todd.”

She almost missed the emphasis he placed on her name. Then her eyes widened. He had known her only as Miss Pryor.

Blade caught her by the shoulders as she stood. Honoria pushed at him, tumbling back against the dresser when he let her go, holding his hands up in a position of surrender. A flash of frustration crossed his face.

“How long have you known?” she whispered.

“All along.”

She shook her head. “No. You couldn’t have.”

“I got eyes and ears in the Ech’lon, ’specially around Vickers. ’E put a price o’ ten thousand pounds to the guild regardin’ three people: Miss Honoria Todd, Miss Helena Todd, and Mr. Frederick Charles Todd. It ain’t common knowledge, but it were enough for me to put two and two together.”

Blade took a step toward her. Honoria backed away. The robe was tumbling open and she dragged it closed, feeling the lack of undergarments keenly.

“What do you want with me?”

“If I intended to ’urt you, I’d ’ave done it already,” he said, then paused. “I wanted to know why Vickers wanted you. I want ’im dead, Honor. And I thought to use you as bait. At first.”

The warmth drained out of her face.

“Not anymore,” he assured her. His eyes narrowed. “I ain’t lettin’ that maggot anywhere near you.”

The shock of it still hurt. He had been planning to use her. “Why?” she demanded. “Because you want me yourself?”

He took a step closer. “Ain’t no secret. I want you in me bed, luv. But even if you don’t want it, I won’t let ’im near you.”

Honoria circled the tub, keeping him on the other side. “I was going to kiss you,” she said. “That’s what I was thinking about before you happened to mention this. I can’t believe I was so stupid!”

She might as well have struck him. His eyes narrowed as though cursing his own ill timing. “You were?”

“I was.”

“That ain’t fair.” He moved and she moved too, dancing around the bath together. Blade could capture her in an instant if he wanted to, but he didn’t use his speed. “I were only tryin’ to clear the secrets between us.”

“Why? It would have served your purpose better to keep me in the dark.”

Blade stopped. “You don’t know nothin’ ’bout me purpose or what I want from you.”

“Then what do you want?” She was so angry she wanted to throw something. Preferably at his head. Why did this hurt so much? For a moment it had been nice between them. There was no pressure, and she’d been relaxed, melting under his hands as he combed her hair. Then he’d ruined it.

Blade glared at her, his eyes narrowed.

“Well?” she asked. Anger was easier to deal with than tears.

“I don’t know.” The words were soft, spoken entirely without accent.

“Well, that’s…honest.” She leaned against the wall. Then slowly slid down it. The anger was starting to melt away in the face of his stricken expression. He didn’t know what he was doing any more than she did.

Blade crossed toward her, his boots making no sound on the tiles. Her shoulders tensed, but she made no move to escape.

“Why does Vickers want you?” He knelt in front of her. “Why’d you go to the Institute?”

She stared at him. Her silence was answer enough. If it were only herself, she might have given in. But as much as she wanted to trust him, she was afraid she couldn’t. Not with Charlie.

“I see.” He pushed to his feet and took a step back. “I’ll send Esme in with some clothes. Then I’ll walk you back ’ome.”

Honoria let out a breath of relief. He wasn’t going to push her to divulge her secrets. She was safe. Charlie was safe.

But why did she feel so awful inside? As though she’d struck him another blow? And why should she even care?

Chapter 15

“Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for hours after I got your note. Are you insane? All I could think of was Vickers with his hands on you! I thought you were dead!” Lena scraped the chair back as she stood.

“Blade told me that he sent word.” Exhaustion clung to Honoria, a result of the recent emotional upheaval. She put her bag on the table and crossed to the washbasin to splash water on her face.

“He did.” Lena sniffed. “Is that a new dress?”

Honoria didn’t know where the burgundy silk had come from, but she suspected either an actress or a merchant’s mistress. Esme had pinned it at the back, where it was too large for her, and the front was a little too low for her liking. When she looked down, she saw a good couple of inches of pale flesh on display, and when Blade had walked her home, his occasional sidelong glances told her that he too was very aware of it.

“It’s borrowed,” she said, sitting down.

“From who?” Lena dragged her own chair around, prepared to interrogate her.

“Blade.”

There was a long moment of silence while she felt her sister’s eyes boring into her. Honoria started unwrapping the bag, searching for the precious diaries.

“Honor, what were you doing that required disrobing?” Her hedonistic Lena sounded almost puritanical.

“I was taking a bath to wash the coal dust off me.”

Lena’s eyes went wide. “Honoria!”

“Alone,” she added. “His housekeeper found the dress for me. It was entirely proper. Indeed, it might be the last we see of him for a while. We quarreled.” She slid the first diary out of the bag then froze. A copy of The Scarlet Letter stared back at her. She tore the bag open and dragged out the other book, a slim edition of The Taming of the Shrew. Rifling through the pages changed nothing. These weren’t her diaries.

“That…lying…scheming…bastard!”

“Honoria!”

She slapped the book down on the table and stood, biting on her knuckle to contain the sudden surge of emotion. This wasn’t a game to her. She needed those diaries. “He must have swapped them while I was getting dressed. He must have thought I had no intention of returning.” She swung toward the door in an angry sweep of skirts.

Lena grabbed her sister’s arm. “Don’t you dare! It’s nearly midnight. There’s a murderer on the loose.”

“And a verwulfen on the roof,” Honoria snapped. “I shall ask—no, demand—that he escort me.”

Lena’s mouth gaped. “A…a what on our roof?”

“A great big, hairy werewolf!” Honoria exclaimed, glaring upward. “A spy who listens to everything we say!” She was furious. How dare he? Blade had no right to take her diaries from her. She needed to start working on her father’s notes. To try to find a cure for Charlie before it was too late. If it wasn’t already. But she refused to think about that. She’d sworn an oath to her father that she would take care of them. She wasn’t going to let this happen to Charlie.

“I don’t think you should go tonight,” Lena said, sweeping in front of the door and holding her arms out. “You’re too vexed.”

“I am not vexed. I am beyond vexed.” Honoria held up her right hand, her steel ring glittering on her forefinger. “I am tempted to incapacitate him with the hemlock and then castrate him.”

Lena paled. “I don’t think that would be very wise,” she said. “And the only knife we own is what I use for the cooking. You’re not using that.”

“I was planning on using a spoon,” Honoria replied. She scraped her hands over her face, trying to drain away her tiredness.

“It’s not as though you can do anything with the book tonight,” Lena said. “Be reasonable. You’d be better off calming your temper and descending upon him in the morning. You’ll have had a good night’s sleep while he’ll be just seeking his own bed. It will give you the advantage.”

“Dash it,” she muttered. She could barely keep her eyes open, let alone deal with that high-handed blue blood. And she knew she wasn’t thinking at her most optimum when Lena, of all people, was offering a reasonable solution.

“You’re right.” Honoria’s shoulders slumped. “I’ll deal with him in the morning.” After she’d had a good, long night to brew her anger to the boiling point.

***

Bang. Bang. Bang.

Honoria stepped back. Her reticule hung off her arm, weighted down with the books. If worse came to worst, she could simply bash Blade over the head with it.

Thumping the door again, she heard footsteps coming. Esme opened the door with flushed cheeks as though she’d been running.

“Honoria.” Esme brushed a black curl behind her ear. “We weren’t expecting you.”

“Blade is.” Honoria swept inside. Stark morning light lit the hallway with little motes of dust swirling through the air around her swishing skirts. “He offered me an invitation last night.”

“He did?” Esme was no fool. Her eyes narrowed with suspicion.

Esme’s loyalties were quite clear, but surely as another woman, Honoria thought, she would understand. “He stole something of mine. I need it. Please, Esme.”

“And just how do you plan to get it back?”

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