Forged by Desire Page 42

“Coward,” Perry said softly. She reached down and fisted a handful of her skirts, slashing them off just below the knee. “The Duke of Moncrieff is a coward and a fool.”

Oh, those black eyes narrowed on her. He drew his blade with a hiss. “Nobody calls me a coward. Not even you, Octavia.”

“I just did,” Perry replied, giving him a tight little smile as she kicked off her heeled slippers. Her stockinged feet slid on the timber parquetry beneath her, flexing a little as she found her balance. It all seemed so easy now, like slipping into an old routine.

A muscle ticked in Moncrieff’s jaw.

“You will never take power,” Perry taunted. “The prince consort will likely strip you of your title and execute you for your plans.” She let a small smile show. “And you were defeated by a Nighthawk.”

“I accept.” The duke yanked at his coat and tossed it aside, his broad chest straining against the gleaming white silk of his waistcoat.

“Perry,” Garrett warned.

She didn’t look at him. She couldn’t, at this moment. Still, he deserved something. “Trust me.”

“I do,” he replied. “It’s him I don’t trust.”

“A wise assessment,” the duke muttered.

Whispers had started in the hall below. People were straining to get a better look, lured by the sight of bared steel.

“Perry,” Lynch called.

She let her attention shift to him.

He nodded at her soberly. “Remember that you are a Nighthawk.”

Fight like one. She nodded back, saluted him with the sword, and then turned to face the duke, feeling whole for the first time in years. “Allez,” she called, and the duel began.


“Tell me, Master Reed… Do you enjoy soiled goods?” the Moncrieff mocked.

Garrett surged forward, but a hand came out of nowhere and locked around his upper arm.

A gasp went up as the duke’s sword slashed across Perry’s cheek, cutting her from ear to eyebrow.

He swam through the darkness, finally focusing on Lynch’s face. Lynch shook his head sharply. “You’re distracting her.”

Garrett let out the breath he’d been holding and glanced away. It was true. The duke had scored three slashes in the last minute alone, while her attention was divided. But Garrett’s hands quivered, the hunger aching inside him. This was his woman, and it was harder than he’d thought to watch her fight her battles.

Lynch stepped into his field of vision, forcing him to step back. Steel rang on steel, and the crowd gasped.

“Control yourself,” Lynch murmured. “Let her do what she needs to do.”

“She’s losing—”

“Yes.” Those gray eyes bored through him. “Because she’s thinking about his words. About the effect it’s having on you.”

“It’s not just me,” he snarled, following the path of Perry’s frequent glances. Hague leaned against the Egyptian exhibit, his beard so thick it almost seemed to engulf his face.

As if sensing his gaze, Hague turned, a steel monocle enlarging his pupil grotesquely. Light reflected back off the fellow’s jaw, gleaming on a plate of steel beneath the beard.

Garrett shot Perry an anguished glance as another chorus of oohs and aahs echoed in the hall. Steel screamed against steel and Perry was forced back against the rail overlooking the great hall below. She ground her teeth together as the duke’s blade forced her own close to her face.

Come on. Garrett’s fingernails left little half-moons in the palms of his hands. Their eyes met, and he silently prayed for her to disengage.

“Hit him,” he mouthed. Then tapped his forehead.

Her eyes widened momentarily, then she realized what he meant. Her arms gave way, bringing the blades dangerously close to her throat, and the Duke pushed forward. Perry dealt him a stunning crack to the head with her forehead, shoving with the sword at the same time.

Blood splattered on the white marble floors as the Moncrieff staggered to the side, a slash welling on his smooth cheek. He looked shocked. Only for a moment, though. Then the tip of his steel lashed out at her.

Perry dove out of the way and the blade sheared through the railing, sending shards of gilt flying. She spun, lashing out with her foot and hitting the Moncrieff high in the chest. He staggered again, but Perry was already running, pushing through the crowd to get more space at the top of the stairs.

“Go,” Lynch ordered Garrett, giving him a shove as the duke gave chase. “Take care of Hague. I’ll watch. I promise you, I won’t let her fall.”

Garrett shot her another anguished look. She was dancing like a lithe shadow, the swagged gathering of her bustle curving over her bottom and the long, elegant muscles in her legs flexing as she lunged, her stockinged feet slipping on the parquetry floors.

He tore his gaze away. Hague stalked slowly through the crowd, his hands clasped behind his back as he watched Perry with an intensity that was unnerving. He was moving to place himself within her vision again.

“Take Byrnes,” Lynch said. “To watch your back.”

Both Byrnes and Garrett stared at each other. Garrett gave a short nod. “I’ll need someone. Wouldn’t be the first trap the duke’s planned.” It was as much of an apology as he could give.

Tension drained out of Byrnes’s shoulders. “Finally. Some action.”

“I want him alive,” Garrett snarled.


Garrett was gone. So too was Hague.

Perry ducked beneath a swipe meant to cut her face. She’d started to notice something in the last minute. The duke’s chest rose and fell with startling alacrity. He hadn’t expected her to last this long, and from the way his blows were becoming wider and more aggressive, he was hoping to finish this quickly. She was outmatched in strength and reach, but she was faster than he was and her endurance was better.

“I’ll hazard a guess,” she panted, “that Scotland is notoriously free of fencing masters. Or any opposition of reasonable skill.”

The duke’s lip curled and he lashed out. Their swords squealed as Perry riposted, locking the hilts together.

“Where’s your man now?” he spat.

“Taking care of old business,” she shot back, disengaging and meeting his next strike with a clever prise de fer.

“Hague.” The Moncrieff actually smiled. “I hope that ends well for him.”

Perry danced clear. Something about his tone sent a shiver through her. “What have you planned?”

“Why, nothing, my dear.” His tone was almost solicitous as he cut through her sleeve. The tip of the sword bit into her bicep, and Perry cried out as he wrenched it free with a nasty little smile. “You do realize how very predictable this is? Him showing up here to ruin my exhibition? I couldn’t have extended him a better invite.”

The crowd gasped and Perry staggered into a debutante in acres of pastel pink skirts. Her foot slipped on the silk and the Moncrieff lunged forward. Perry threw herself onto the ground in a roll, coming up on her feet as the girl screamed behind her.

The Moncrieff yanked his blade from the girl’s shoulder and shoved her out of the way. “Clear the bloody floor!” he snapped as a matron screamed and caught the fainting girl.

Perry tried to thrust but her arm felt so heavy. Thick, viscous blood dripped down her sleeve, the lace of her cuffs clinging wetly to her skin. The bleeding would stop soon, but the injury deep within the muscle paralyzed her movements. The duke’s next thrust tore the hilt from her hand. The rapier slid across the parquetry and landed by the top of the stairs.

No time to look for it. The Moncrieff thrust toward her heart.

It was all she could do to drop beneath the blade. Perry hit the polished timber, her hands slapping the ground as the rapier whistled overhead. She had only a bare second to react, for she was vulnerable in this position.

Hooking her foot behind his, she kicked it out from under him and rolled. The duke hit the ground with a curse, but Perry was already up and sprinting, sliding to her knees to snatch up her rapier with her left hand.

Boots echoed behind her. She came up and swung just in time to counter another attack.

“I see,” Perry gasped, “that your thrusts with a blade are almost as ineffective as your attempts at seduction.”

Fury filled the duke’s eyes and he beat her back with furious lunges she could barely deflect.

“Tell me,” the duke demanded. “Would you like your lover’s heart on a plate once Hague is through with him? Or in a box?”

Hitting her corps-à-corps in the shoulder staggered her back, and Perry’s eyes widened as the heel of her foot found no purchase.

She was at the edge of the staircase.


“Bloody mirrors,” Byrnes muttered, staring at the mirror maze exhibit. “Of course he had to go in there.”

Garrett glanced behind him, listening for a second to the sound of steel clashing on steel. If he could still hear it, then she was still alive.

Byrnes muttered something under his breath, glaring at the distorted view of himself with an enormous forehead. A plaque at the front read: There is only one way out of the maze, but to find it is to find your way within.

“If there’s only one exit, we’ll have to separate. I’ll enter through it and meet you in the middle,” Byrnes said.

“We’ll trap him there,” Garrett replied and stepped through into the maze.


Ahead of him he could hear footsteps and harsh breathing. Garrett darted through the mirrored passage, a thousand distorted images of himself reflecting back at him. What a damned foolish exhibit. Designed by some German philosopher to examine the perception of self. He looked at the bug-eyed image staring back at him and wondered how that would ever make him understand himself better.

His quarry thundered ahead of him, darting through the maze. Not even an attempt at stealth, but then perhaps the bastard didn’t realize what was hunting him.

He liked to cut…

Perry’s whisper haunted him. Years of nightmares and fear, forever carved into her soul by this man. The darkness in Garrett curled through his veins in delicious anticipation. He needed Hague—needed the information about how to work the device—but the less rational side of him, the side that hungered for revenge, was dangerously ascendant.

He couldn’t stop seeing Ava and Alice and the other girls trapped in those hideous aquariums. That could have been Perry. Or worse. She could have suffered the same fate as Miss Keller or Miss Fortescue. His hands quivered. Easy to end this. Easy to make sure Hague never hurt another woman again…

Ahead of him a corner loomed. He could see a dark shape distorted in the image and pressed his back against the mirror wall. One hand dropped to the pistol at his side. Then away again. For this he wanted knives. Something bloody.

“Just you and me now, meneer.” Hague’s voice was deeper than he’d expected. Almost guttural with the accent. “You good with knives? As good as me? I like knives. You should know this. She did. She knew how good I was with knives.”

Garrett’s teeth gleamed in his reflection, bared in fury. Blackness washed over him. The urge to tear this bastard apart with his bare hands. “I think you know more about them than I do,” he shot back. “Like how a blade feels when it carves through half your face. Did you like that? Did you know there’s not even a single mark of what you did to her on her flesh, but you… You can’t ever forget what she did to you, can you? You’ll wear it always. Monster. Steel Jaw. A sign of exactly what you are so that no one ever forgets.”

There was a snarl of rage, then a fist smashed through the glass next to his ear. Garrett caught it, using the man’s momentum to slice his own forearm to shreds as he hauled him through the gaping hole. Thousands of glass slivers splintered over him, cutting at his face and hands. Then Hague yanked back and his arm disappeared.

All Garrett could smell was blood. It fired his nerves, left his heart pounding in his ears. He darted around the corner, but Hague was already running down the passage. Away from him.

Coward. He pounded after him, images dancing away from them. Dozens of images of Hague, but only one of them was bleeding. Droplets of it painted a clear path on the floor. Garrett leaped forward and tackled the man, driving him into the reflective wall. Cracks screamed out through the glass and Garrett spun the bastard, grabbing his coat lapels and smashing him back against the mirror.

The thick beard had half torn away, revealing the cold gray gleam of the man’s iron jaw. His teeth were metal too, half of his mouth revealed behind the mess of his lips. Or what was left of them. A nightmare in itself. For a moment Garrett just gaped.

Then Hague’s hand came up, a pistol gleaming in the light. Garrett shoved Hague back as the pistol discharged next to his ear. Glass cascaded from several mirrors as the bullet struck behind him—and exploded.

Not the first time he’d come across firebolt bullets. Rosalind and her humanist contingent had been responsible for unleashing them into the human population. When the bullet struck anything, the chemicals inside it would mix, resulting in an explosive reaction that could even kill a blue blood.

Garrett grabbed the pistol, wrestling with Hague for control. He smashed their hands into the sharp, ragged edges of a broken mirror and Hague screamed, dropping the bloody thing. Garrett kicked it out of the way, going for his knife.

Movement stirred at the corner of Garrett’s vision, distracting him for just a moment, then something hot and sharp stabbed into his back. Twisted. Garrett went down on one knee with a grunt, his vision blazing out in a haze of white. Heat and ice quivered over his flesh. He could smell blood, feel the sting of it as the knife was withdrawn.

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