Kiss of Steel Page 6

Blade caught the serving maid’s eye and jerked his head. The woman flushed a healthy pink that spread all the way down her throat, and he paused, watching as the blood flushed through her pale skin. For a moment the color faded and he was left with a world of gray again. It was enough for him to shake it off and follow Honoria.

One of her eyebrows shot up. “See something you liked?”

He slunk into the seat opposite her, their knees bumping. The plump serving maid bobbed toward them, her br**sts threatening to spill out of her neckline. She was everything that Honoria was not; full of fleshy curves, with a healthy shine to her hair that spoke of rich meals and good health.

“Yes,” he replied, watching Honoria’s lips thin. Was that jealousy in her eyes? Or cool disinterest? He couldn’t tell with her and it drove him crazy. Honoria could give a cardsharp a run for his money.

“Well, don’t let me stop you,” she said.

“I’ve already eaten,” he replied. He leaned closer. “Do you know what I see when I look at her?”

“A pretty young woman who would be more than happy to be with you. Unlike certain others.”

“Do you?” He took another look at the serving maid. “I s’pose she’s pretty enough. I ’adn’t noticed.”

Honoria snorted. Then looked horrified at her poor manners.

“I see blood. Flushin’ up ’er neck, runnin’ through ’er veins. ’Er skin’s pale enough to show ’em, almost blue beneath the surface. Like a map showin’ me where to go.”

“Oh.”

“But I don’t dabble with strangers,” he said, sitting back. “When I first saw the Ech’lon lords, with their blood slaves and thralls, I thought it barbaric. I understand now why they take ’em. Drinkin’ from thralls is safer. They knows what to expect and what not to do when I’m bang up with the ’unger. In return I make sure they’re well fed and sheltered, with enough coin to keep ’emselves as they wish. It suits ’em and it suits me.”

“A very convincing argument. Do you tell that to them, or are they free to make up their own minds?” Heat flushed through her cheeks.

“I ain’t ever taken an unwillin’ thrall. You ain’t got nothin’ to fear like that. Only if you wish it, luv. All you have to do is ask.”

Honoria’s face paled and she tried to stand. He caught a handful of her skirts and held her there.

“One day you’ll beg me to take you in,” he whispered.

“When hell freezes over,” she replied.

The serving maid arrived. “Sir?” she asked hesitantly.

“Damn your pride.” He let go of Honoria’s skirts. “What’s the special?” he asked the maid.

“Mutton stew with bread and dripping.”

Blade gave Honoria a direct look. “Do you want it?”

“I don’t want anything from you.” For the first time her facade cracked. He caught a glimpse of tears, and then she looked away, choking them back down as she slumped into the seat again.

“A bowl of it,” he told the maid. “And two pints. Of ale.”

“No!”

He ignored Honoria’s protest and nodded to the serving maid.

“Damn you.” Honoria started digging in her change purse.

Blade caught her hand. “Tonight’s on me.”

“No.”

“Put the bloody money away.”

She slapped a handful of shillings on the table between them. “I won’t be your whore. I won’t owe you anything.”

He growled and caught her hand, holding it flat over the cold metal shillings. “All I want’s for you to talk to me. A bit o’ good conversation for the cost o’ the meal. So I can ’ear ’ow you says things.” He flashed her a smile. “Me first lesson.”

He pushed her hand and the shillings under them back toward her. Honoria’s gaze dropped first. He knew what she was thinking. She couldn’t afford the meal, but she wouldn’t let him pay for it. By turning it into a transaction, she could keep some semblance of pride.

The serving maid returned with two foaming mugs of ale. Honoria flushed and dragged her hand away, taking the shillings with her. The heat of her lingered in his fingers as if he’d stolen a touch of it. He rubbed them together, feeling the residue.

“Well, where you from?” he asked. “You appear six months ago out o’ nowhere. Ain’t no relatives visit. Ain’t no friends. No suitors. Like you sprung from nothin’.”

A minute thinning of her lips. She was good. A bleedin’ Jack-in-a-box. He took a sip of the ale and forced it down. If he concentrated, he might be able to swill it all, but most of the time he had no need of food or drink. Still, he missed the taste of things sometimes.

“Oxford,” she replied. “My father was a professor. I taught the local young women their finishing touches.”

“What ’appened? How’d you end up ’ere in the East End?”

A flash of something real, something painful, flickered through her eyes. “He passed away. The lease was sold and we were without a roof over our heads. I had a cousin in London, but that didn’t work out. I took a job with Mr. Macy, but the pay wasn’t enough to support a life in the city, and I can’t say I like the idea of being under the Echelon’s thumb.”

“Why the prejudice against ’em? You ever run afoul o’ the Ech’lon?”

“No.” A slight hesitation. “Everybody speaks of them, though, and they sound like something I’d prefer to avoid.”

For a moment she almost relaxed. Then the mutton stew appeared. Blade spread his arms across the back of the seat and watched her stare at it as though she’d never eaten in her life…and had suddenly found a dead fly in her bowl.

“Try the fork,” he recommended. “It’s much easier than mentally consumin’ the meal.”

A hot little glare made him smile again. But she picked up the fork and started tearing off delicate pieces of bread. Blade looked away, enjoying the clink of silverware and the heady scent of lamb stew and ale. If he closed his eyes, he could almost smell her, the faint musk of woman lingering beneath the spicier scent of stew like the base notes of an aromatic. There was no scent of his own to add except the touch of oil he used to sharpen his blades and the soap used to launder his clothes.

A blue blood had no personal scent. No warmth. Sometimes he felt as though he were slowly turning to marble, devoid of any of the touches of humanity that surrounded him. Until nothing but the hunger remained.

Something caught his ear—the rustle of waxed paper. He fixed Honoria with a hawkish glare, but she was dipping her fork into the stew again. The bread was gone. Too quickly for the small pieces she’d been breaking off.

He could smell pork now too. “God’s teeth, you’re a stubborn wench.”

She looked up in surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

“The ’alf-eaten pork pie in your pocket and the bread.” He shook his head. “Aye, give it away, even though you obviously need it more.”

“My brother and sister are at home wondering where I am,” she said. “The least I can do is bring something back. I can’t eat all of this.” She put the fork down. The stew was hardly touched. “I can’t eat a thing more.”

The way she eyed the bowl, with reluctance in her eyes, made him believe her. She’d been starving herself so long that now she had the appetite of a bird.

“Next time it’ll cost you,” he said.

Honoria’s chin tipped up. “There won’t be a next time. I agreed to three lessons a week. No more. No less.”

He leaned closer, breathing in her scent. “We’ll see.”

“No. We wo—”

The door to the White Hart smashed open. Blade was on his feet with his razor tucked in the palm of his hand before he realized it was Will, breathing hard from running.

“Bodies. Two of ’em,” Will said. “Torn up and drained, like a bloody blue blood went crazy down in Pickle Road.”

Honoria’s head jerked up and she went white as a ghost. “That’s my street!”

Chapter 4

“Stay back,” Blade commanded.

Honoria took one look at the crowd and hurried after him. They were three houses down from the small flat she rented. There was no way she was going to stay behind.

Blade pushed through the crowd of people ahead of her, forging a path through the swarm of goggling onlookers with his powerful body. Honoria stumbled along behind. People shot glares at them—until they saw who was pushing through. Then the way miraculously cleared and the master of the rookery found himself in the eye of the storm. It seemed being known as the Devil of Whitechapel was extremely useful in certain situations.

Blood sprayed the cobblestones, gleaming black in the moonlight. One of the spectators had located a flare stick, and the fluorescent glow highlighted the brilliant scarlet splashes near Blade’s booted feet.

Honoria swallowed. She had seen blood before. In vials and tubes in her father’s lab or on the samples she took from Charlie to examine his virus levels. Not like this. Not painted across the flagstones as though someone had wielded an artist’s flamboyant brush, flicking drips of it in every direction. The ghastly sprawl of the two bodies was almost garish in the moonlight. Some quirk of fate had found this part of London free of its almost perpetual ground cover of fog.

Blade turned and found her on his heels. “I tol’ you to stay back.” He looked around at the crowd. “Go on. You seen it. Now get.”

The onlookers dispersed with a handful of whispers. The burly man who’d found them at the White Hart knelt beside Blade and surveyed the scene with his burning amber eyes. Two others hung around, and the tattoos on their wrists proclaimed them Blade’s men. One had a steel cap riveted to his scalp and a wicked hook in place of his left hand. The other winked at her with a devilish smile.

“Cutthroat Nelly cried the alarm,” the man he’d called Will said. “O’Shay sent me after you and came ’ere to clear the street.”

The taller man, the one who’d winked, spat to the side. “Bleedin’ vultures swarmed me before I could keep it quiet.” A thick lilt of Irish filled his voice.

“Who are they?” Blade knelt down, fingertips pressed together and a burning look in his eye as he stared at the bodies. He didn’t go any closer, and she realized that he was wearing that expression again. The one that made his nostrils flare and his pupils consume his irises.

No matter how hideous the scene was, he liked it. Or the smell of it, anyway.

Honoria shivered. She looked down the lane to the little house three houses down with the light blazing in the window.

“Smells like Jem Barrett o’er in Brick Lane and his brother, Tom,” Will said.

“Jaysus,” O’Shay swore. “He did a right number on ’em. Their own mother wouldn’t e’en recognize ’em.”

Blade reached out and touched his finger to a droplet of blood. “Nothing human did this.”

“Aye.” Will agreed. “Tore ’em apart. Throat first, at least. They weren’t aware o’ most o’ it.”

“Only blue blood in these parts is you,” O’Shay muttered. “And you wouldn’t lose control like this.”

Honoria went cold. It started in her stomach, then crept outward, spiraling through her core. There was a bitter taste in her mouth. Oh God. Lena!

She broke into a run.

Blade caught her at the door of the flat, dragging her into his arms.

“No! Let me go!” She hammered at his chest. “I have to…” She couldn’t speak. A gurgle of something, a sound of inarticulate pain, crawled up her throat.

“Let me go in first, luv.” His voice and hands were gentle, but he controlled her as easily as if she were a fluttering bird in his hand. “Just let me make sure it’s safe.”

She collapsed against his chest, feeling the slow, inhuman thump of his heart beneath her cheek. His body was hard, firm. Strangely comforting. “No,” she said weakly. “No. You can’t.” Because if he found Charlie, he’d kill him.

“Honor?” Lena called from the other side of the door.

Her knees chose that moment to give out. “Lena?” His arms closed around her, holding her close, with a quiet murmur against her ear.

The door opened. Lena peered out, her fingers trembling. Honoria pushed Blade away and dragged her frightened sister into her arms.

“I thought it might have been…That you were…” Honoria turned her face into Lena’s hair, breathing in the sweet, familiar scent. Safe. Lena was safe.

“I could hear them all yelling, but I didn’t dare go out.” Lena swallowed.

“Charlie?”

Lena looked past her at Blade. “He’s still in bed. I didn’t unlock the door.”

“Good. You did good.” Her knees were still shaking. But Charlie was still in bed and Lena was…It dawned on her then. Her brother hadn’t lost control and turned.

Which meant there had been another blue blood in Whitechapel.

A dash of ice water down her spine. But if Vickers had found them, he would have taken Lena and Charlie and tossed the house, searching for the diary with her father’s secrets.

Or would he?

This was exactly the type of game he liked to play. Cat and mouse. Toying with her. Leaving a pair of bodies torn apart in the street just to prove that he could. That nowhere was safe from him.

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