Forged by Desire Page 40

The man offered a rakish smile. “As long as we can discuss the commission afterward.”

Laughter echoed. The duke returned his smile. “Consider this an endorsement.”

The brass spectrometer was brought forward and the crowd craned their necks. Even Perry was growing curious now. She glanced up, just once, but she couldn’t see any sign of Garrett.

She could sense him, though, the gentle caress of his gaze on her back, like the faint tracing of fingers.

“Duchess, would you do me the favor of checking my CV count?” the Moncrieff asked.

“I should be delighted,” Lady Aramina replied, in a voice completely devoid of such stated expression.

Stepping forward, she withdrew a small case from her reticule and removed what appeared to be an elegant fléchette. Taking the duke’s hand, their gazes meeting, she slashed the blade across his finger, then turned and dripped the welling blood into the mouth of the spectrometer.

The small device gave a whirring sound, swiftly overwhelmed by the creak and rustle of clothing as everybody leaned forward.

A little slip of paper shot out and the duchess held it up. “Your CV count is—” The words stopped suddenly, her eyebrows arching in surprise. For a moment her face looked softer, younger. A woman of warmth and emotion, rather than the ice princess who’d stood there but a moment ago.

The Moncrieff tied a small linen around his finger until the cut healed. “My CV count is…?”

“Forty-six percent,” the duchess said. “That’s impossible. I saw it with my own eyes last night. The levels of virus in your blood can’t have dropped almost twenty percent within hours. That’s simply—”

“Miraculous,” the duke finished for her, with the most satisfactory smile Perry had ever seen on his face. Success. He studied the crowd, dwelling in the moment, knowing that every eye in the place was upon him. “And I assure you, quite possible.” Taking a step back, he grabbed a fistful of the curtain. Waited.

“For years, we blue bloods have ruled the world, victim only to the violence of the disease and its inevitable consequences. Living in fear of that moment when our CV levels finally reveal to us the end: the Fade.” His fist tensed in the curtain. “No more.”

With a flourish he yanked it down, revealing an enormous brass device. The crowd gasped. A chair sat between two glass cylinders, with several wires and tubes running between them. Blood filled one of the cylinders, and rearing above them were a pair of conductors, the type that spat charged lightning between them.

Honoria sucked in a sharp breath. “That’s how he does it,” she whispered. “He drains as much blood as he can and then replaces it with human blood to dilute the CV levels.” Her straight brows drew together. “A rather temporary notion, I’d suspect.”

The two sisters glanced at each other, momentarily forgetting Perry. “So it’s not a cure?” Lena whispered.

“I don’t believe such a thing truly exists… Used regularly enough, it should control the craving levels, however.” Honoria slid a hand over Perry’s wrist and leaned closer. “If I were to propose a theory, it’s entirely possible that this would be the perfect time to rid oneself of the duke. He’ll be recovering from the blood loss, and the lower limits of craving virus in his blood will slow his healing and reaction times. For the moment, he’s made himself rather more human than he anticipated—or indeed, has probably thought of.”

“How do you—”

“She knows what we’re about,” Lena murmured.

The perfect opportunity. “Could you relay this information to Lynch?”

Lena nodded and faded into the crowd. Perry’s heart started to beat a little faster, her gaze locking on the duke.

“The process takes several hours,” the duke admitted, “which is why I spent most of the night hooked up to the device in order to provide proof of its authenticity. Some of you may doubt my word, but do you dare dispute what the queen and the duchess—no friend of mine—saw with their own eyes?”

The Moncrieff sat in the chair, resting back like a king on his throne. “This technology is the first of its kind in the world. The only known management for the craving virus! It’s not a cure—and truly, who would not wish to be a blue blood? But with this, who knows, perhaps we could live forever.” He reached inside his shirt and withdrew a long key on a chain. “And to prove my loyalty to the Crown, after the demonstration I will give the key to the prince consort, who my own doctor has been personally treating for the last month.” Tucking it in his pocket, he stood and bowed to the prince consort.

“’Tis true,” the prince consort called. “An incredible device. My CV levels have dropped remarkably since I began treatment and continue to improve with regular infusions.”

“How does it work?” one of the Russians called in a heavy accent.

“Is it dangerous?” another gentleman asked.

Murmurs sprang to life.

“For this, I call upon an old friend of mine to explain and demonstrate. A genius, able to comprehend the very workings of the virus itself.” The Moncrieff gestured into the shadows at the sides of the curtain walls. “Dr. Hague, of Delft.”

Cold eyes met hers as a shadow detached itself from the edge of the stall. Wearing the thick, false beard he’d worn in the alley, the man she’d given chase to—the man she knew as Sykes—stepped forward. His hair was lighter than it had been once, but she suddenly realized that might be the effect of the craving virus upon him. Most blue bloods took longer than ten years to reach the Fade, but who knew what experiments he’d performed on himself, if any?

A tremble started down her spine and Perry’s fingers curled into fists. She wasn’t alone anymore and she wasn’t weak. This time she was going to finish the job she’d started so many years ago—to stop this monster from continuing his evil.

No more girls would ever have to suffer.


Hague. Everything in Garrett went still as the bastard stepped out of the shadows. Perry stiffened, and Mrs. Carver’s sister, Honoria, settled a gentling hand in the small of her back. It wasn’t enough. He could see the fine trembling begin in her body, her shoulders jerking as if her lungs had arrested.

He liked to cut…

Perry’s words echoed in his ears. Instantly the world dissolved into shadows and Garrett found himself pushing his way through the crowd, cutting a silent, deadly path between silk-clad debutantes and thralls and their blue blood masters.

He couldn’t take his eyes off Hague. The man was demonstrating how the device worked, rolling up the duke’s shirtsleeve to insert a fine needle into the vein on the inside of his elbow.

“Using human blood to flush through a blue blood’s veins until the desired cleansing has been achieved…” the duke called. “It lasts several months, until the virus gains hold again, but the effects are instantaneous and significantly decrease the CV percentage. Regular infusions lower the percentage further each time, though the lowest we’ve been able to manage is twenty-one percent.”

Reaching out, Garrett slid his palm across the smooth taffeta covering Perry’s back. Through it, he could feel the boning of her stays. “I’m here.”

Honoria Rachinger gave him a grateful look and stepped aside. Perry’s shoulders sank and she half glanced over her shoulder. “Should you be?”

“I want to get Moncrieff alone,” he replied, rubbing circles in the small of her back. “Which means I need his attention on me. This will do it. We’re going to deal with him first, then arrest Hague. Are you armed?”

“I couldn’t—in case the duke noticed.”

Garrett slipped her thin stiletto dagger from inside his coat and pressed it, sheath and all, into her hand. Perry’s fingers curled around it and she flashed him a grateful smile.

“I’m being brave,” Perry whispered. “It’s not as bad as I expected. Not with you here.”

He bit his tongue against the admonition that he’d never doubted her bravery. That was her doubt to overcome, not his. “Just don’t be reckless.”

“This coming from you?”

“There’s too much at stake,” he admitted, sliding his hand over her hip and stepping closer. Tucked in the shadows near the edge of the curtains, they were out of the way enough that he could take certain liberties. “How was last night?”

“I had to take his blood,” Perry replied, watching Hague like a hawk. He felt the tension tighten each muscle along her spine and her voice grew unusually quiet. “There was no way to avoid it.”

The last thing he wanted to think about was Perry in another man’s arms. But that was his primal side speaking, furious at the thought of another man taking what was his right. “You did what you had to,” Garrett said gruffly. Then hesitated. “He didn’t touch you?”

“No. He had to receive his transfusion. It kept him away all night.”

Relief loosened the tight knotting in his gut. Garrett kissed the smooth skin at her nape, earning a small gasp from her. “Good. I hate to even think of his hands on you.”

Tension curled down her spine, but this time it wasn’t fear. Sweet, delicious tension. Garrett’s fingers stroked her hips, curving under her bustle to cup her bottom.

A swift intake of air crossed her lips. But her attention had dropped from Hague, which was what he wanted.

“Garrett, the duke is looking at us.”

“Good,” he murmured, pressing another kiss to her bare shoulder and looking up at the duke. Moncrieff glared pure hate back at him, unable to enjoy his and Hague’s triumph. His weren’t the only eyes watching, either.

This was a direct challenge to the duke’s stated ownership of her, and those watching knew it. Another layer to add to the mystery and drama of Octavia Morrow. He’d have to marry her now. For her reputation, of course.

“Here he comes,” Garrett murmured. “Stay here.”

“Be safe.”

“Always.” He moved to intercept the duke.

“A word?” Moncrieff’s smile was sharp edged enough to cut.

“Perhaps several?” Garrett murmured.

“This way.” The duke gestured through the crowd, toward the end of the exhibits, where they’d have some semblance of privacy.


“I must have missed your name on the guest list,” the Duke of Moncrieff murmured, slipping two glasses of cognac off the tray on a passing servant drone’s head. “I believe only those of noble birth were invited to attend the first day.”

Garrett smiled and held out his arms, displaying the elegant coat he wore. “One only has to look the part. Besides, what is nobility, if not the sense of impunity to do as one wills?” He’d learned that, if nothing else, from the streets. Watching as the prince consort slowly ground the human classes beneath his heel.

“You have stones, at least. I could almost admire your courage.” The duke’s smile slipped. “Or perhaps ‘stupidity’ is the better word.” He set one of the glasses on a small stand at the end of the row. “Would you prefer it neat? Or bloodied?”

Garrett’s gaze narrowed on the flask in the duke’s hand. Darkness stirred within him, his vision changing. He forced it down. Blood would only affect his focus. He already wanted to kill this bastard. The rational side of his mind fought his primal side; the only way to beat the duke was to outthink him. “Neat.”

“I hope you don’t mind if I choose to have mine bloodied. It’s the way I prefer it.”

“Not at all.”

The duke offered him the crystal-cut glass. Garrett took it, staring into the amber liquid. Everything depended on the next few minutes.

“I assure you it’s not poisoned,” the duke remarked, swirling blood through his own cognac. He took a sip, watching Garrett over the edge of the glass with dangerous eyes. “I prefer more direct methods of removing a man.”

It was excellent, as predicted. Garrett stared up at the enormous exhibit in the center of the aisle. One of the Scandinavian kraken submersibles, if he wasn’t mistaken. It hung from iron wires, the long strands of its propellers streaming like a windswept flag behind it. “Your direct methods confuse me, I admit. This whole game of asking me to look for Octavia Morrow, when you knew who she was all along. I’m afraid I don’t quite understand why you bothered to waste my time.”

“Have you ever been hunting?”

Garrett shook his head. Only thieves and murderers.

“In Scotland we shoot pheasant. First we send the beaters out, to frighten them out of the heather. They’re cunning birds. It’s only when they take flight that one gets a chance at them. Otherwise they lie in hiding, nothing moving but the frightened beat of their hearts.”

“So you were using me to force Perry’s hand.”

“I knew where she was. I just needed to flush her out.”

She’d been so out of sorts this week. Garrett could only imagine how afraid she’d been to come back to the duke. The thought stirred his protective instincts, which was dangerous. Only one thing could undo this. He downed the rest of the cognac to calm himself and put the glass down on the drone’s tray. “You’ve thought of everything.”


“Do you gamble?”

The duke arched a brow. “Of course.”

With a smile, Garrett reached out and upended both his and the duke’s empty glasses. “Have you ever seen the three-cup trick? They play it out on the streets, to gull passing flats out of their chink. I used to turn my hands to such tricks when I was a lad.”

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