Kiss of Steel Page 31

No.

Pain speared through him—a wound that would never heal, no matter how much time passed. He’d spare anyone that pain if he could.

Blade’s throat went dry. He could barely speak for fear he’d say something irreversible. Honoria couldn’t have known. She’d never felt the violent, all-consuming need. He wanted to wring her neck. “’Ow long’s ’e been like this?”

“Six months since it started,” she whispered. “Charlie? Are you awake?”

“Go ’way,” the boy murmured tonelessly. “Don’t come close.”

Honoria hovered near the bed. “We need to speak. No more needles. I promise.”

Charlie rolled his head toward them. His gaze focused on Blade—and then sharpened. He jerked on the bed linen tying him to the bed, an almost unconscious move. “He’s a blue blood,” he said.

“This is Blade. He’s here to help you.”

Blade moved forward and knelt on the edge of the bed. “I’m goin’ to untie you,” he said, holding the boy’s gaze.

“No!” Charlie went rigid. “No, please. It’s best like this.” His gaze drifted past, toward where Honoria hovered. “Please don’t.”

“Look at me,” Blade commanded. “Charlie, look at me.” The boy met Blade’s eyes, his own wide and frightened. Bloody hell, it was like looking into a mirror of himself at that age, lost and alone and so terribly afraid that he would hurt someone. Blade had had no one to help him through the ordeal and teach him control. Only an object lesson that would haunt him to the day he died. “I won’t let you ’urt ’em. I’m stronger ’n you. Faster. You can’t get to ’em without goin’ through me.”

Honoria gasped. “Oh, Charlie, don’t be silly. You wouldn’t.”

Tears glimmered in the boy’s eyes as he stared desperately at Blade. “Promise?”

“Promise,” Blade replied firmly.

Wetness spilled down Charlie’s cheeks. A sob tore from his throat. “Thank you. Oh, God, thank you. It’s all I can think about. I dream about it—” He broke into a storm of weeping. “They don’t understand. Nobody understands.”

There was a swish of skirts. Blade held his hand out, stopping Honoria in her tracks. “I understand.” Anger filled him again and he tore the bed ties off, flinging them aside.

Honoria flinched.

“You shoulda come to me,” Blade said, unable to help himself.

She swallowed. “I thought…”

“Don’t you even bloody finish that sentence,” he warned. “I ain’t like the Ech’lon.”

A little quiver of anger trembled in her clenched fists. “How was I to know that you wouldn’t simply kill him? You have a certain reputation for it.”

“I don’t ’urt the innocent.”

“Of course. The Devil of Whitechapel doesn’t hurt the innocent.” Sarcasm laced her tone. “Do you know that where I come from they use your name to frighten children into obeying?”

He shot her a heated look. “’Ave I ever, by word or deed, caused you to fear me?”

Honoria glared back, just as stubborn. Her eyes dropped first, seeking out her brother’s figure on the bed. “No.”

He stared at her a moment longer. How he wished to shake her, not for her brother’s misery but for the blatant fact that she had not trusted him. Indeed, if Charlie’s outbreak had not become so bad, she most likely wouldn’t have come to him at all. Only desperation had driven her to reveal her secrets. For a moment he had thought that something had grown between them, a secret little affinity. But now it seemed that he was the only one who thought that.

Blade turned back to the boy. “I’m goin’ to offer you me blood. There’s enough o’ the virus in it to tip you over. You’ll feel better for the moment, then it’ll ’urt—worse than you ever suffered—while the virus makes certain changes in your body. One or two days and then it’ll clear and you’ll be…different.” He settled on the edge of the bed. “’As to be your choice, though, lad. It weren’t mine and I’d not force you to it.”

Charlie considered him and then asked quietly, “Does the hunger ever go away?”

“No. But I can teach you to control it.”

Not the answer Charlie wanted to hear. He looked at Honoria nervously. “If I don’t take your blood? What then?”

“The ’unger’ll get worse,” he said. “You’ll lose control and go after someone, sooner or later. I’d ’ave to put you out o’ your misery before you tore through the rookery. Or worse, turned vampire.”

“What if I asked you to do it now? To spare me this?” Charlie’s burning blue eyes met his.

Honoria gasped, but again Blade held his hand out. “I don’t deal with murder.”

Charlie’s stubborn mouth thinned. Though the boy was fairer than Honoria, he bore a great deal of resemblance to her in expression and mannerism. “That’s not fair. You said it was my choice. Then this is what I want: I want to die.”

“That’s a noble sentiment, boy-o, but ultimately it ain’t necessary.” Blade deliberately shrugged. “And rather dramatic too. Seems it’s an in’erited trait.”

Charlie’s eyes flared with anger. “You said you knew what it was like. Then how can you ask me to accept this?”

“I know more ’n you’ll ever guess,” Blade replied.

Charlie’s lip curled. “You understand nothing,” he choked out, spitting with fury. “What is there to live for?”

“The same as any man,” Blade answered. “To work, to marry, to build a family. A home.” He kept his voice cool and calm. Charlie was already overwrought, the hunger winding him to an anger fit. “Whatever you want to do with your life.”

“I want to kill my own sisters!” Charlie yelled. “Tell me you understand that!”

He launched off the bed, but Blade was ready for him. Wrenching him back against his chest, he hooked a forearm around the boy’s throat and held him immobile, waiting for Charlie’s struggles to cease.

Honoria was backed against the wall, her face pale as she stared at her brother. Finally she understood. Tears gleamed in her eyes.

Blade kept his gaze on her. “You want ’er blood? You think I don’t understand that?” He spun the boy around, tossing him on the bed. Charlie bounced and came up onto all fours, prepared to defend himself, his instincts working against his logic.

“I ’ad a sister once,” he said. “’Er name was Emily. And when she took up with a blue blood lord, ’e took me in too. Decided to give me ’is ‘little gift’ and then locked me up when I wouldn’t do what ’e wanted. ’E swore ’e’d give me blood when I obeyed and not before. And I swore I’d never give in.”

Pride. That was the cost of Emily’s life. Foolish, bloody pride. If he’d done as Vickers commanded, maybe Emily would still be alive. Do you ever wish you’d done something differently? Oh yes. God, yes.

And just as easily as that, Blade’s anger against Honoria abated. She had made a mistake and she knew it. But she’d done so with the best of intentions and with all of the resources she owned. If she’d feared him and distrusted him, then God knew he’d earned that reputation over the years.

“What happened?” Charlie asked.

“’E starved me till I weren’t meself,” Blade replied. “Emily demanded to see me and Vickers gave in.” Charlie’s eyes met his and he saw in them the horror reflected from his own face.

“So don’t tell me I don’t understand,” he said softly. “’Cos I understand better ’n any other poor blighter in London. You don’t want to ’urt your sisters? Well, that’s good. That’s ’ow we does it, then. Every time you feel the ’unger threatenin’ to overtake you, you remember your sisters. Picture ’em. Use that to control yourself.”

“Is that how you do it?” Charlie asked.

“No,” Blade replied grimly. “I use the memories instead. Somethin’ I swear you’ll never ’ave to resort to.”

He could see the boy thinking it over. Charlie might be only fourteen or so, but there was a wealth of pain and fear in those eyes, turning them old before their time.

“All right, then,” Charlie finally whispered. “Do it.”

***

Honoria couldn’t watch. She had her arms buried up to the elbows in soapy water, her mind as blank as a slate as she moved with purposeful intent.

I want to kill my own sisters! The memory of Charlie’s expression was like a knife through the heart. Wrong. She’d been so wrong. All of his pain was her fault, because she could see no other way through her wrong-headed pride.

Who was she to find a cure when her father couldn’t? Who was she to make Charlie’s choices when she had no concept of his pain?

She felt at such a loss. For months she’d had purpose. To work from dawn till dusk, to scratch together every coin for the doctor, for the colloidal silver…None of it was necessary now. Blade had given her far more money than she could ever hope to spend, and now he was taking Charlie away from her too.

That wasn’t fair.

He was helping Charlie when she could not, and a part of her resented that. Pride again. She looked at her feelings, all of her ugly feelings, and pushed them away.

Right now he’d be giving Charlie his blood. Helping them again when she had given him so little in return.

She’d never met a blue blood like him. For too long all she’d seen when she looked at him was the Echelon, flavored with her own prejudices and her father’s as well. She’d not allowed herself to see more. She’d held him at arm’s length, erecting walls around her heart for fear he’d find his way through.

And now he was angry with her and justifiably so.

What a mess she had made of everything. A tear slid down her cheek. Then another. She dashed them away. She was sick of crying. It solved nothing. And yet she couldn’t stop the silent slide of wetness down her cheeks.

In her distraction, Honoria didn’t notice the floorboard squeak behind her.

“’E’s restin’ up now.”

She jumped and then started wiping furiously at her eyes. Soap clung to her hands.

Blade caught her wrists, his chest a solid presence against her back. “Easy now, luv. Easy. You’ll get soap in your pretty eyes.”

Honoria slumped in his grasp. Blade held her up like a puppet-master with a marionette. He slid her hands down, circling her stomach and drawing her back into the sanctuary of his arms.

“Lean on me,” he said.

Her ni**les were uncomfortably tight. A different kind of tension began to wind its way through her. Honoria looked up and met his obsidian gaze in the reflection of the window.

“Is it done?” she asked.

His lashes fluttered against his cheeks as he reached out with his tongue and traced the tantalizing rim of her ear. “Aye.”

A stab of grief and failure shafted through her, but she nodded. Heat stirred behind her eyes again, and she shut them, trying to force it back. “Is Charlie all right? Does he want to see me?”

Blade hesitated, then pressed his mouth against her throat. “No.”

No. Honoria clutched at his hands across her midriff.

“’E ain’t angry at you, luv. ’E’s afraid o’ what ’e might do. It’ll take time for ’im to trust ’imself when you or Lena are there. And I won’t push ’im to forget—it might be all as keeps ’im from killin’ someone.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“For what?”

“I should have come to you earlier.”

He pressed his mouth against her neck again. “Aye.” The word whispered over her skin. “But I can understand why you did as you did. It don’t matter. Nobody were ’urt or killed, and the boy’s goin’ to survive.”

Honoria turned and looked up at him, pressing her back against the sink. She wanted to make him understand. “All my life I’ve lived among the Echelon. I’ve seen how they treat their thralls, how they treat their servants. And then when I lived under Vickers’s roof…it was awful. He developed some sort of obsession with me, perhaps because he knew how much I despised him.”

Blade stroked the back of his hand down her cheek. “Aye. That’d do it. ’E’s rotten to the core.”

“He used to hunt me. Like I was prey. I was so afraid to go anywhere alone. He would never do or say anything when there were people around, but when we were alone…he used to pin me to the wall and whisper in my ear what he was going to do to me. I didn’t dare tell my father. And when we finally escaped, it felt like I was done with them for good. Until you sent for me that night.”

“And you thought you were ’bout to be toyed with again.”

“It’s all I knew of them. And with your reputation…They hate you in the city. You’re the monster hiding under the bed, Blade.”

He took a step toward her, his legs brushing against her skirts. “And you. What am I to you?”

She looked up into his face helplessly. His hands came to rest on the sink on either side of her hips. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “I’m still trying to work out what I feel.” She saw his face and grabbed his sleeve as he moved to step back. “You wanted the truth between us? I’m sorry, then, but this is how I feel. I’m so confused. There’s been so much going on with Charlie, and losing my employment and then…you. You’re not who I thought you were.”

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