Kiss of Steel Page 30

“I’m not quite sure I follow.”

“Or mayhap,” he said, throwing the shirt across the room, “you were worried it were I with the shiv in me ’and.”

Color started to flood into her pale cheeks. “What the devil are you talking about?”

Blade stalked toward her. Leaning down, he rested both hands on the armrest for fear he’d put them on her body and not stop. Honoria stiffened and retreated into the chair.

“I think you know precisely what I’m talkin’ ’bout,” he said.

The plain gray dress was far too modest. His gaze roved the scalloped edges with a hunger he felt through his core, and he leaned forward. What he wouldn’t give to put his hands on her and lick his way down that slender throat, discovering just how soft her skin could be.

Honoria looked up with a flinty gaze. “I don’t know what you’re referring to. I wish you’d stop speaking in riddles. And in case your nostrils have ceased to function, I should like to remind you that you stink. Like raw sewage, in fact.”

She might as well have slapped him. His eyes narrowed, but he pushed away from her. “Aye. I need a bath.”

“Possibly several,” she countered.

She was certainly recovering her form well enough. Blade eyed her. “Come. You can wash me back.”

“I don’t think so.”

Turning toward the bathroom, he threw over his shoulder, “You’re the one as wants me ’elp with somethin’. So you can damn well wash me back.”

“I don’t have time.”

“Make it.”

Water splashed from the faucets as he turned them, steaming up the bathroom. Honoria hesitated in the doorway, examining it as if she’d never seen it. She looked everywhere but at him.

Blade’s eyelids lowered lazily and he started working at his belt. Just you try and ignore me now. He tugged the belt open.

Honoria crossed to the stand and uncapped a bottle of scented oils, wafting it beneath her nose and closing her eyes to enhance the smell. Steam caused the soft curls at the base of her neck to tighten. Her skin grew flushed and dewy.

Behind the stiffened leather of his breeches, his c**k raged for release.

Honoria finally chose one of the bottles of oils and poured a generous amount into the water. “You found no trouble today?”

Blade sat on the edge of the bath and kicked off his boots. They might have been a married couple, sitting down to discuss the day’s events for the evenness of her tone. Except for the simmering tension lingering in her spine, or the wary glances she stole when she thought he wasn’t looking.

“Nothin’ but old bodies, drained o’ blood. At least it cleared out the Slashers too. Found a drainin’ laboratory down there, though the glass vats were smashed and empty. No doubt the vampire lingered there awhile.” Other images flickered through his mind, some too horrible to dwell upon. The gurneys where the Slashers tied their victims down. The tourniquets. Rusted needles they used to drain the blood until the body was nothing but an empty husk. And those vats—five of them, big enough to hold the blood of hundreds of people.

Practically sitting beneath his turf and he’d never known. How many went missing that he’d never heard about? The furrow between his eyebrows deepened.

“Nobody was injured?” Honoria questioned. She was fussing with the towels, her back to him.

Blade watched her shoulders stiffen as his breeches hit the floor with a meaty slap. His c**k sprang free, bobbing against his abdomen. He ached to take it in hand, but thought better of it. He was already on edge tonight. Best not to tempt fate, not with Honoria in the room.

“Is there anyone in particular you’re askin’ after?”

She hesitated. “No.”

The hot water enveloped him in a steamy wave of scent as he sank into the bath. Honoria’s head tilted to the side as though she were listening to gauge his level of nakedness from the echoes of the water’s shifting.

“All covered up,” Blade taunted, splashing water over his face. “You can look now.”

The smell of something exotic wafted from the water, something lemony and slightly masculine, like rosewood. Water dripped off his lashes as he drew his cupped hands down. Honoria was staring at him as though he’d struck her. At least the sight of him still drew her eyes. Half the time he didn’t think she even knew how often she watched him.

Blade deliberately hooked his feet up on the rim of the tub, sending water sloshing over the sides. Color rose in her cheeks and she gathered the washcloth and soap with her usual brisk efficiency.

“Lean forward,” she muttered, “so I can wash your back.”

“You could get in with me.” He said the words lightly, leaving just a slight question at the end.

“No, thank you.”

“You’ll get wet.”

“I’ll be careful,” she replied and dipped the washcloth in the bath to wet it.

Careful or not, she was going to get wet if he had anything to do with it.

Oil shimmered on the water between them, gleaming over his exposed flesh. Honoria scrubbed the bar of soap as though she wished it were lye and then pushed his shoulder. “Lean forward.”

He did. Anything to get her to touch him. The coarse feel of the washcloth abraded his skin, but it felt delicious and Blade hooked his knees up, resting his head on his forearms as Honoria washed his back.

“You even have mud on your shoulders,” she murmured. Angry scrubbing gave way to a gentler, more determined stroke as she tried to wash off a particularly stubborn spot.

He could imagine that washcloth, soaped up and wet, her hand clutched around it as she stroked him elsewhere. His jaw tightened with strain.

“You ought to see your friend Barrons,” he replied, lifting his head. “Weren’t watchin’ where ’e were goin’. Ended up on ’is back like a turtle in ’bout four inches o’…we’ll be generous and call it mud.”

Honoria stopped running the cloth over him. Their eyes met and hers narrowed almost imperceptibly. “My friend Barrons,” she repeated.

Blade leaned back against the tub, watching her through lazy eyes. He caught her wrist and dragged it to his chest, indicating for her to continue soaping him.

“It’s a funny thing, keepin’ secrets,” he said. “You never know ’ow much the other person knows.”

Her face drained of color, and Blade’s heart plummeted into his gut. His c**k actually flagged at the sight. Jaysus. It had been a shot in the dark, but he’d hit the target. He felt as though the world staggered around him.

“If ’e’s good enough for you, then why ain’t I?” he growled. “Bloody ’ell. Do you love ’im?”

“Love him?” Honoria’s jaw dropped. A certain look came into those luscious brown eyes—a look that spelled trouble. For a moment he thought maybe he’d made a terrible mistake.

“Love him?” she repeated. The washcloth dripped all over the floor, clenched in her fist. She seemed to consider the question for a moment. “Yes. I believe I do, though I sometimes wish otherwise.” She threw the washcloth at him, but he caught it, soap suds flying everywhere.

“However, you asked the wrong question,” she replied. “You should have asked whether I wanted to kiss him.”

His head shot up, a hound scenting the fox. “What do you mean by that?”

“I’m very tempted not to tell you,” she replied.

Blade caught her wrist. “Honoria,” he warned. “Was ’e your lover?”

“Let me go.”

“Answer the question.”

Their gazes met in charged silence. Honoria tugged at her wrist, but there was no way in hell he was letting her go until she answered him.

“No,” she whispered. “Nor do I want him to be.” The fight seemed to drain out of her. “Though I should have made you suffer.”

Relief flooded through him, leaving him breathless. “You ain’t that cruel.”

Sudden tears flooded her eyes. “Aren’t I? Perhaps not intentionally.” Two big fat tears slid down over her cheeks and her shoulders slumped. “I want to be so angry with you right now, but I haven’t the strength for it.”

A tear dripped from her chin into the bath. He stared at the ripples and then remembered the bruises beneath her eyes. Bruises he’d overlooked in the face of his sudden, leering jealousy. “You were cryin’. Before you come ’ere.”

“Yes.”

Blade reached up, stroking her cheek. A fat, salty tear slid over his thumb. “And you needed me ’elp.” Guilt burned in his throat. “Before I started actin’ like a great, bleedin’ lummox.”

She pressed her cheek into the palm of his hand like a cat seeking a pat. Her hand came up, holding his in place. “I’ve done something very wrong. I thought…I thought I could stop it. I thought I could help Charlie, but all I’ve done is hurt him.”

Light shimmered off the sudden flood of liquid in her eyes. She closed them and the tears streaked down her cheeks.

Blade couldn’t help himself. He leaned up and kissed her cheek, pressing his lips against the salty rime. “You ain’t got a mean bone in your body. Whatever you done, it were done with the best of intentions.”

“Was it? Or was it something else? Pride? Or the desire to…to control the situation? I’ve been so bloody blind. It’s been too late—” A sob caught in her throat, but she bit it down. “Too late for a while.”

He slid his arms around her, trapping her tightly against his chest. Curse him, but it felt good to hold her like this, without any of her usual customary stiffness. “Hush, luv,” he murmured, stroking her hair.

Tentatively her arms slid around him, and she burrowed her face into the crook of his neck. “I’m so scared. But you’ve been so good to me. I never expected it. Not from a blue blood. It makes me think—hope—that maybe it isn’t so bad after all.”

“Now I don’t know what you’re talkin’ ’bout, luv.”

She drew back, eyes serious. She wasn’t the type of woman made for crying, and yet something punched him in the chest at the sight.

“Can I trust you?” she asked.

There was a weight of seriousness to the words that stopped him from simply replying. He gave it some thought. “I would never ’urt you. Or anyone you cared for.”

“Promise?”

“Promise,” he repeated.

She gave him a sad little smile. “I think you should get out of the bath, then. There’s something you need to see.”

Chapter 19

The walk home was silent. No matter what questions Blade asked, Honoria refused to answer him. Indeed, the brief spurt of willfulness she’d shown in his rooms had faded under the weight of her weariness. She was quiet now, mostly withdrawn into herself, her arms wrapped around her body as though she were cold.

Blade paused in front of the house. “We’re ’ere.”

Honoria looked up, blinking.

“Are you goin’ to invite me in?” he asked, his curiosity rampant. This was the most she’d ever allowed him to see into her life. The walls that she held up against him were slowly crumbling, and he was intent on seizing this chance to tear them down.

Honoria drew her shawl tighter. “Do you ever think that maybe if you’d done things differently, you might not have failed?”

He gave a bitter laugh. “Aye. But we ain’t ever given those choices. That’s the joy o’ hindsight.”

“Is it…is it bad?”

“Is what bad?”

“Becoming a blue blood?” She gave him an earnest look as though she desperately needed to hear his answer.

A chill ran down his spine as little connections started forming in his mind: the brother who was always ill, the locked door. “Honoria, what exactly is the problem you need ’elp with?”

She gave him a heartbroken look. Then opened the door. “Inside.”

Blade pushed his way inside, taking in the room. The sister looked up from the table, where she was toying with a variety of springs and cogs, trying to put some form of clockwork toy back together. Her eyes widened when she saw him, and she sprang to her feet.

“Has there been any change?” Honoria asked in that quiet voice she’d taken to using.

The sister shook her head. “He’s asleep.”

Honoria crossed to the door and unsnapped the lock. She hesitated once more, then slowly pushed the door open. Reluctance showed in the curve of her spine. She didn’t want to do this, but he suspected she had no choice.

The door swung open. Blade caught a glimpse of a narrow bed, an empty jar of colloidal silver, a syringe, and a young boy turning listless eyes toward them. The boy’s hands were tied to the bed and thick bandages swathed his lower arms. Blade felt a chill at the sight. Bloody hell. The boy had gone for his own wrists.

Better that than the alternative.

White-hot anger speared through him at the thought. It could just as easily have been Honoria or her sister lying there with her throat torn out. And Blade wouldn’t have been able to blame the boy. He knew how harshly the hunger bit when a boy was starved for blood. People ceased to be relatives or friends and became nothing more than a source of food. Vision fled. Sound fled, leaving a roaring rush in the ears. And then the smell of it. Coppery. Warm. The taste of it, so fresh. Like water to a man dying of thirst, finally satisfying an ache that nothing else could assuage.

A moment of sheer ecstasy. But that wasn’t the best part. The best part was that the hunger no longer hurt so much. Burning relief that almost made him sob. And then the gradual returning to his self, crouched on the floor, licking the blood from his fingers. Emily’s blood.

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