Forged by Desire Page 4

A sudden reckless frustration swept through him. “Here,” he said, stepping forward and offering her his arm to help her down.

“You’ve never helped me down before,” Perry said with a sudden scowl. “I know you’re struggling to reconcile the fact that I’m actually female, but that doesn’t suddenly make me useless. Just because I wore a dress, it doesn’t change anything.”

Swinging her legs off the driver’s seat, she slid down into the spare few inches between his body and the carriage. For a moment Garrett was tempted to step back, give her space.

Instead he stilled.

Perry realized that too late, freezing in place as she brushed her gloves off against her tight leather breeches. Slowly she lifted her head, gaslight catching the gleaming gray of her eyes. There was an inch between them at most. A single tantalizing inch that he was too aware of.

“It’s difficult to stop picturing you in that dress,” he replied, forcing his voice to stay soft. He could almost feel the heat of the hunger swimming through his eyes, threatening to drop him over the edge. “Considering how much of you it flaunted.”

“You can’t help yourself, can you? I never should have worn the dratted thing.”

Reaching up, his gloved fingers swept at the sooty rings her goggles had left on her cheeks. The motion soothed some part of him. Maybe this was what he needed. Something to ground him. “I said that you could never pass as a female, and you wanted to throw my words back in my face. You succeeded. Admirably.”

Twirling at the bottom of the stairs, the red skirts sweeping around her and the thick, luscious curls of her wig trailing over her shoulder as she shot him such a direct look he could hardly breathe all of a sudden. “Well?” she’d challenged.

That moment. The moment it all changed. Like some enormous hand reached out and closed its fingers around his heart and lungs, squeezing, forcing the breath out of him.

Garrett didn’t know how to react now. Perry had recovered flawlessly, resuming her aloof, taciturn persona as though nothing remotely unusual had occurred that night. Gone were the practiced flirtation, the smiles that lit her from within…but he couldn’t forget them. How did you forget something like that? Pretend it had never happened? Pretend that his eye wasn’t drawn to her now in a way that was distinctly masculine and not at all friend-like?

The problem was that he now knew a sensual woman existed beneath her logical, focused exterior. If she were any other woman, he would have pursued her relentlessly until he had what he wanted. But this was Perry. Someone he admired, respected, someone he’d give his life for. To cross that line meant their entire friendship—which was evolving, admittedly—would change. And then? He didn’t have a bloody clue what that would mean. But he knew it meant more than sex, more than friendship. Perry deserved nothing less—he just wasn’t certain he could give her what she wanted.

His hand dropped as he searched her gaze. His skin felt hot; no mean feat considering how cool his blood ran now that he was a blue blood. But the hunger in him had settled, comforted by her nearness. He didn’t know quite what to think about that. It wanted her, craved her, yet it gentled at the touch of her skin. She made it easier to breathe again.

Perhaps he’d been wrong to avoid her so much for the last month. Or perhaps not. He didn’t understand any of this.

“You enjoyed making me act like a fool,” Garrett murmured. “Don’t even try to deny it. And now you have to deal with the consequences.”

Her eyes suddenly gleamed. “You’re right. I did enjoy making a fool of you. The problem is that I only intended for you to act a fool for one night. Not this whole bleeding month.”

Sliding past him, leaving behind the ghostly fragrance she washed her clothes in, Perry strode toward the factory.

Garrett followed her toward the gaslights burning at the front of the factory and the people gathered there. He didn’t even understand why he’d pursued this—pushing at her, trying to elicit some sort of recognition, some sign that things had changed between them. Hell, he didn’t even know why he wanted to acknowledge that things had changed.

“You’re a fool,” he muttered to himself under his breath. What the hell did he want from her?

Far better if he kept his distance, forced their relationship back to the familiar grounds of friendship. His hands shook as he slid them into his pockets. Better for both of them.

Still, he knew he couldn’t avoid her forever. A part of him yearned for someone he could trust at his side. Fitz was the only one who knew his blood levels were high, and Garrett couldn’t confide in him. Fitz was the man to speak to if one wanted to know how to calibrate a brass spectrometer or repair a boiler pack, but when it came to dealing with personal demons, Garrett might as well be speaking another language.

And he was starting to feel lonely. He was surrounded by Nighthawks all of the time and yet forever aloof. Lynch was the only one who might have understood how that felt, but Lynch was gone now, dealing with the pressures of the dukedom and enjoying his new wife’s company. Besides…after what Garrett had done to Rosalind, Lynch barely spoke to him.

Not only had he lost Perry, but the only other man he’d counted as a true friend. And both times were his fault.

One of the men in front of the factory doors turned and half blinded Garrett with his lantern. His workman’s shirt was stained with coal and grease, and the pants he wore had seen better days. One glance at his pale face and the strain that tightened his mouth, and Garrett knew he’d been the one to find the bodies.

The man saw him, his shoulders sagging with relief. “Me lord Nighthawk. Thank the heavens.”

“I wouldn’t be thanking the heavens just yet,” Garrett murmured under his breath with a glance at the horseless carriage alighting behind his own.

The man followed his gaze and paled. The gilt-covered carriage, with its inlay of mother-of-pearl, signaled its occupant more clearly than a fanfare could.

“Looks like we’re about to receive a visit from a duke,” Garrett said. He could just make out the hawk emblem carved in gold on the side paneling, with a ruby for an eye. “Or a duke’s heir. Barrons, by the look of it.”

The heir to the Duke of Caine stepped down from the carriage, his dark eyes raking the scene. Tossing his gloves and top hat to his footmen, the young blue blood started toward Garrett with a deliberateness of purpose.

They’d met before, as Barrons’s role on the Council of Dukes was that of liaison between the Council and the Nighthawks, and he had even been counted one of Lynch’s few friends. Garrett’s dealings with him, however, had been as second-in-command of the Nighthawks. Now he walked a fine dagger’s edge. He was acting guild master, but not yet officially recognized.

As if he didn’t have enough on his mind.

“Barrons,” Garrett murmured, with a slight nod of the head that wasn’t as deep as usual. He had his own position to establish.

Faint humor stirred in the other man’s predatory gaze. “Master Reed,” Barrons replied. His bare knuckles tightened over the silver-edged handle of his sword-cane as he glanced up at the enormous building behind them. “I hear we have reports of ghosts and two bodies.”

“News travels swiftly.” Garrett had barely received the report himself.

Dark eyes flickered to his. Unreadable. “The Duke of Malloryn and I are responsible for the rebuilding of the draining factories. We can’t afford to have anything go wrong with the one draining factory still in working order.” Gesturing to Garrett to fall into place beside him, he continued, “The foreman sent a clockwork raven to Caine House as soon as he heard the news.”

I wonder if that was before or after he sent one to the Nighthawks? Garrett’s lips thinned. He liked Barrons, but the absoluteness of power that the Council wielded didn’t sit well. And they frequently meddled in affairs that belonged firmly in the Nighthawks’ jurisdiction.

“I’m afraid I’ve only just arrived at the scene myself,” Garrett replied. “If you give my men an hour or two to examine the factory, I’ll have a report directed to you.”

“You needn’t bother,” Barrons replied, with that faintly mocking smile on his lips again. “I know how this works. Consider me a silent bystander. I won’t get in your way, and I won’t tamper with your evidence. I’m only here to observe.”

To observe what, though? The mystery? Or my effectiveness as commander?

“As you wish,” he replied, for he couldn’t very well insist otherwise. Ignoring Barrons, he glanced past him to the foreman who was following dutifully at their heels. “Mr. Mallory, yes?” Garrett gestured for the man to step up to his side.

“Aye, sir,” the fellow replied, doffing his cap nervously.

“Tell me, what time did you find the bodies?”

“’Twere half five, sir. I come in early, as I wanted to get the fires burning hot before the workers arrived. We been working night and day since the burning of the factories, but we have the night off on a Sunday.” A nervous glance at Barrons told Garrett all he needed to know about the man’s religious convictions.

When the Church in Rome had excommunicated them as demons, the Echelon had burned most of the churches and cathedrals and forbidden the masses from worshipping in public. Most of the working class, however, held private gatherings in secret places to worship. The more the Echelon tried to weed faith out, the more it dug its roots deep in the population.

Humans might be forced to yield to the blood taxes and their place in the social hierarchy, but they’d be damned if they’d give up their religion. Such a thing, however, was dangerous to speak about in front of a blue blood lord. Only a year ago, the prince consort had ordered ten men flayed for attending such a gathering.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” Barrons murmured. As if sensing the foreman’s nervousness, he nodded toward the door. “Do you mind if I observe your men’s examinations of the bodies?”

Effectively giving Garrett time to question the foreman alone. “Go ahead.”

The moment he was gone, color began to return to Mallory’s cheeks as though he were unaware that he still stood beside a blue blood. “Do you think he’ll report me?”

“I think,” Garrett said, “that Barrons is rather more liberal than one would presume. He needs to get these factories rebuilt as soon as possible and keep this one running smoothly. Informing on you defeats his purpose.”

The foreman breathed a sigh of relief, his fingers twitching as if to make the sign of the cross. “Aye. He’s better than some o’ them others.”

“I agree.” Garrett smiled. “Do you mind if I record our conversation?”

“With what?”

Garrett retrieved the small, brass recording device from his pocket. “We call it ECHO.” Echometry communications…something starting with H and observations. No matter how many times Fitz told him, he never could remember it all.

Once the information was recorded, Garrett could play it back over a phonograph in the comfort of his study. Fitz was working on making something smaller that could repeat the information instantly.

Mallory peered at it. “Why, I ain’t never seen the like. Records me voice, aye?”

“Clearly enough to fool your wife.” They shared a smile.

“Aye, well, go ahead and question me, sir. I’d like to hear me voice, I would.”

Gesturing him through into the factory, Garrett clipped the ECHO to his lapel. “Monday, twenty-first of November. This is Acting Guild Master Garrett Reed, recording a conversation with Mr. Mallory, foreman of Factory Five. So, Mr. Mallory, last night the factory was closed and you arrived at half five this morning to stoke the boilers. Can you explain to me how you found the bodies?”

“Aye.” Mallory leaned close, speaking slowly and loudly, as if to a deaf man. “I come in through the side door and turned the lights on back there. Didn’t need to light the whole factory, see? Just down here where the furnaces stand.”

“You may speak normally,” Garrett instructed. “The ECHO has an accurate recording radius of twenty feet.”

“Aye, sir.” Mallory shuffled in embarrassment, then pressed on. “Through here, sir. You’ll see the row of furnaces there? They’re what we use to purify the blood.”

The enormous row of furnaces radiated waves of heat in the chilly morning. Gaslight gleamed on the heavy black iron, though almost everything else fell into pools of darkness. The Nighthawks were instructed to leave any scene as it had been found, at least until initial observations had been recorded.

“So you lit the furnaces? How long did that take?” He could see the wheelbarrow tracks and taste the coal dust in the air. Coal bins were full to overflowing and a shovel still sat in one of the wheelbarrows.

“Aye, lit them up. Then I went upstairs to boil a spot o’ tea at half six, so I must have been down ’ere an hour.” Mallory gestured to a grimy clock face on the wall. “Been a factory man all me life, sir. It’s habit to keep time.”

No doubt Mallory did the same thing every Monday morning at precisely the same time.

Garrett followed him up the stairs to the factory. Morning light gleamed through the dusty windows, casting a grayish pall over the enormous room, and it was frigidly cold up here. Somewhere in the eaves a pigeon fluttered and cooed, frantically searching for a way out. Huge steel cables hung from the ceiling, suspending the walkways that overlooked the main room and led to the offices upstairs.

A dark figure caught his attention: Perry. Dressed in her tight black leathers, she almost blended into the shadows that swallowed up the walkways above. The only thing that caught his eye was the pale oval of her face, almost as familiar to him as his own. She paused here and there as if examining the area. Scenting the air, he knew. Perry could track a man to the London borough where he lived, purely by the scent trail he left.

Prev Next