Kiss of Steel Page 34

Rip’s green eyes rolled wildly, searching for escape. He shook his head.

Esme took matters into her own hands, straddling Rip’s h*ps and leaning over him. Her collar gaped, revealing a slim throat marred by tiny, silvery scars. “John Doolan,” she said in a firm, no-nonsense voice and grabbed his face in both hands. “My blood’s as good as any other, and you’ll damned well drink it or I’ll box your ears. You can choose your own thralls when you’re well again.”

Rip’s eyes blazed as they focused on Esme’s face. His mouth thinned, and then suddenly his right hand jerked up, the fingers clenching her skirts. Esme gasped, but Blade was there to ease the big man back onto the bed as he jerked Esme toward him.

“Easy now, lad,” Blade murmured. “I’ll ’elp you through it, but you ’as to remember to be gentle. You don’t want to frighten ’er, do you?”

Movement danced at the corner of her vision. Honoria turned and saw Will watching the scene, his golden eyes burning and his nostrils flaring with an emotion she couldn’t quite name. He should have been in bed, but somehow he had dragged himself up here to watch.

Will’s eyes met hers and then he turned on his heel and strode away. Behind her, Honoria heard Esme’s gasp and Blade murmuring, “That’s it, big man. Be easy with ’er.”

They had the injured man well in hand. There was no need for her to be here. She strode for the door, startling Charlie in the hallway. In her haste she almost walked directly into him, but he jerked back with a horrified expression on his face, as though he was afraid to touch her.

“Where’s Lena?” she asked, fighting the urge to reach out to him.

“She went with Lark to the kitchens to boil water and fetch bandages,” he said, staring at the ground.

Honoria took a step back, giving him the distance he desired. It tore through her, a spear to the heart, but she did it. A part of her would never forget the look in his eyes as he admitted to Blade how much he’d thought about drinking their blood. He just needs time, she thought and then prayed that it was true.

“Do you want me to find you a bed—”

Charlie pressed his back against the wall. “No. No, it’s fine. I’ll wait here. In case they need me.”

Another knife to the heart. He was afraid to be alone with her. Honoria’s voice softened. “I’ll be back. I’m just going to see how Will is.”

She went to Will’s room at the back of the house. The door was shut, but light spilled beneath it. Knocking, she pressed an ear against the thick wood to listen.

“Go ’way,” he growled.

“You’re still bleeding. Would you like me to see to it? I have some skill at tending patients.”

“No.”

“May I come in?” She didn’t wait for him to answer, instead pushing the door open.

The room was smaller than she would have expected. Her eyes darted around, surprised by the accumulation of belongings. The bed was narrow and better suited for a child, with a faded patchwork quilt over the threadbare sheets. Simple shelves held dozens and dozens of children’s books, all of them well read and their spines cracked. There were bits of feathers and rocks scattered in a collection of polished mahogany boxes laid open upon a small desk, and a curl of dark hair, carefully bound with a pink silk ribbon. Esme’s hair.

Will growled and slammed the box shut over the hair, obscuring her view. He was shirtless and radiating displeasure. From the bandages on the bed, his intentions were evident.

“You should wash the wound,” she said. “Before you bandage it.”

He scowled and turned toward the bed, limping slightly. The broad plane of his back was heavy with thick muscle.

“I’m not going to go away,” she said.

“It’ll heal. Your help ain’t needed.”

“You mean you don’t want it. You do, in fact, need it.” She took a hesitant step forward. He was so big and surly that if he made a move toward her, she probably couldn’t stop him. And yet with Blade preoccupied, Will needed someone to care for him.

He ignored her, swiping at his bloodied stomach with a wet swatch of linen. The cloth looked relatively clean, but Honoria couldn’t help pursing her lips as she peered at the bowl of water.

“You don’t like me,” she said, taking another stealthy step toward him. “Since I don’t believe I’ve ever done anything to harm you, I can only assume you don’t approve of my association with Blade.”

Again silence. But his head tilted as if he was listening to her. Water dripped into the bowl, filling it with vibrant red. She’d thought the wound to be closed, but parts of it still gaped like a badly sewn hem.

Tremors started in his hands as he kept cleaning the wound.

“Here,” she said, closing her fingers over his. “Let me. Please.”

A growl vibrated through his throat. A warning.

Honoria put her hand in the small of his back and pushed him toward the sturdy rocking chair by the window. “Yes, yes. I know you’re not happy about it, but let us pretend for a moment that neither of us finds the other rude, surly, or obnoxious.”

His legs chose that moment to give out, and he found himself staring up at her, his nostrils flaring with pain.

Honoria collected the bowl of water, pleasantly surprised to find that it was still hot. It had been boiled after all. She knelt at his feet and wrung the cloth out. “Do you need stitches? Or will it heal naturally? Or supernaturally, as it may be?”

“It’ll heal.”

Honoria rolled her eyes. “Honestly, would it hurt you to be polite?”

Will met her gaze. “I don’t like you ’cos you ain’t good for him.”

“Blade seems to think otherwise.”

“Aye. When a man’s dog-drawn, he ain’t thinkin’ with the best of his faculties.”

Honoria patted gently at the fleshy wound. “I’m not entirely certain what you mean, but I assume it isn’t flattering.” Silence lingered as she cleaned the wound. She sat back and discarded the rag in the water, reaching for the clean linen bandages. “I don’t intend to hurt him,” she said. “Never that. He’s been so terribly good to me.”

“You aren’t part of this world.” He sneered down at her work-a-day dress. “How long before you head back where you belong?”

Honoria drew the bandage around his waist, gesturing for him to sit upright. “You’re mistaking me for someone who cares for the fancy silks and fine steam carriages of the Echelon. That’s Lena’s style, not mine. It never has been.” She gave a tug and drew the bandage tight, causing his breath to hiss between his teeth. “And you’ll have to come to some sort of accommodation with your dislike of me, for I’m not going anywhere.”

As soon as she said it, she realized it was true. She had never had a home, not truly. Caine House was a distant memory, and Lannister House was nothing but a nightmare dreamscape to her. Her present little flat, while shabby and barely habitable, had become the first place she’d ever had for herself. And the thought of leaving Blade behind made her sick to her stomach.

The rookery was a dangerous place, and he was reckless with his own life, placing himself between his own men and danger. A blue blood was not indestructible. She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him behind, never knowing if he was alive or hurt. Never being able to hold him in her arms. To kiss him.

She blinked and realized that she’d frozen in thought. Will watched her, his expression unfriendly. Honoria leaned forward to wrap the bandage around his waist again.

“He’s mine, you big brute,” she said fiercely and tugged the linen tight. How curious to realize that she meant every word. “And you shall simply have to reconcile yourself to that fact. Now, may I fetch you anything?”

“Raw meat,” he said sullenly. “From the larder.”

Chapter 22

Silence echoed through the warren. Honoria found herself at loose ends, having seen Lena and Charlie to their beds. Esme was sitting by Rip’s side, and Honoria couldn’t find Blade anywhere.

Nervousness settled down her spine, like ants tracking across her skin, as she climbed the stairs to his chambers. There were plenty of spare beds for the night, but she knew she’d find no rest until she’d seen if he was all right. Grief had etched itself into the hard lines of his face, and though his tone had been light as he talked Rip through his first feeding, a line of tension lingered in his shoulders.

It was frightening how much she had begun to think of him. He haunted her every thought, every action. She found herself looking for him when she entered rooms, and when he was not there the flare of excitement in her stomach died a little death. Worry ate at her, her heart opening just wide enough to reach out tentatively toward him. Once, only Lena and Charlie had owned pieces of her worry, her care. Now there was another claim on her emotions.

A blue blood. A creature Honoria had always despised, and yet he’d managed to force her eyes open, to make her question everything her father had always told her about them, to question everything she’d seen herself. She was so confused.

Perhaps she had been hasty in declaring her hatred. And perhaps, she was embarrassed to admit, a trifle prejudiced. After all, had it not been her own voice that said, “Manipulation is not a symptom of the disease…”?

Light shone beneath his door. Honoria took an unsteady breath and eased it open. “Blade?” There was no answer.

His bedroom was dark, but light beckoned from the bathroom. Honoria paused in the doorway, the warm candlelight illuminating the room with an ambient glow. Something in her chest tightened as she saw him, na**d except for a towel around his hips, his head sunk into his hands as he sat on the stool by the mirror. He didn’t move when she entered. There was a half-empty bottle of blud-wein by his feet.

Honoria took a hesitant step forward and drew breath to call his name again.

“You shouldn’t be ’ere.”

Her lips parted in surprise. “I wanted to see if you needed anything.”

Black eyes met hers in the mirror, stealing her breath. The look on his face was expressionless. “Do I look like I need anythin’?”

A lump formed in her throat. “Yes.”

His gaze darkened. “Get out.”

“No.”

Suddenly he was on his feet in front of her. She had barely taken a step back in surprise before his hand tightened on her arm.

“I ain’t fit company tonight.”

Honoria stared up at him. Her heart was pounding madly in her ears. He was giving her a chance to leave. A chance to escape before…before things changed between them. This was not the man she knew. This was a man driven by his demons tonight. Crushed by grief, by hopelessness, by failure. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and hold him tight but knew immediately that such was not the comfort he would take tonight. The look in his eyes was too heated. Blistering.

His gaze lowered at her hesitation. Settled on her br**sts. There was just the slightest hitch in his breathing. “Last chance, damn you,” he said.

Her hands curled into fists. The very thought of it left her breathless. And yet when her mouth opened, the words that came out were not quite the ones she’d expected. “I’m not going anywhere.”

A stunning realization. She wanted this man, wanted what was to come between them. The very thought tightened her ni**les. Wet heat pooled in her stomach and lower, in places she tried not to think about very often.

If she had expected him to be pleased with her response, she’d thought wrong. Blade turned and swept his shaving kit off the vanity. His little mirror shattered across the floor into a million shards. The soap skittered under the claw-foot bath, and his shaving brush rocked slowly to silence beside the razor. Blade leaned on the vanity, his head lowered as though he sought some measure of control. His back, his spine, his shoulders—all tight with rippling tension.

It should have frightened her. His passions were wild and animalistic, his fury sharp-edged. But he would never hurt her. She knew it with a certainty she’d never felt before.

It encouraged her to step forward, her shoes crunching on the glass shards. Nervousness faded. “You don’t scare me,” she whispered. “You would never hurt me. So if you’re trying to make me run away…then you’ve failed.”

His head lifted. Black eyes met hers in the mirror. Honoria’s breath caught, but not in fear. A pulse of desire throbbed between her thighs at the look.

“I am dangerous,” he said through tightly clenched teeth. His nails dug into the vanity. “Damn it, Honor. Are you so foolish? These ’ands ’ave known blood before.”

“I trust you.” She reached out to stroke his trembling back. She’d seen him in this state before, knew how hard he fought to control himself. And hearing what he’d admitted about his sister, Emily, only strengthened her resolve. This was a man who knew the cost of failure. She trusted him more than he trusted himself.

Blade flinched. His nostrils flared as he squeezed his eyes shut. “I need to be alone tonight.”

“I want to be with you.”

Silence fell, broken not even by the sound of his breath. His head lifted, the predator staring at her once again in the glistening facet of the mirror. “You’ve only ever seen me at me best.” He did not want her to see him like this. There was a faint self-loathing undertone to his voice. “’Ow can you forget what I’ve done?” He spoke of his sister.

“Does a pistol murder a man? Or is it the man who pulls the trigger? Can we blame a rabid dog who tears apart a child? Or should we blame the one who kicked and starved and tortured it?” Her heart ached at the look on his face. “I don’t forget what you’ve done. For me, for Charlie, for Lena even. I don’t forget my gloves. I don’t forget all the times you bought me food when I was so hungry I could cry. The people you look after.” Tears flooded her eyes. “I’m sorry. You can never bring her back. A part of you will probably never forgive yourself. But when I look at you I don’t see a man who murdered his sister. I see a man who clawed his way out of the gutters and took control of his life. I see a man who made a family of his own. Who loved. And is loved. I see a man I want to kiss.” Her hand stroked down his back. “I see a man I want to…to give myself to.”

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