Forged by Desire Page 7

“I’ll test them for signs of the craving virus. Whoever our killer is, he’s had a lot of experience with a scalpel. He’s also very strong.”

“We’re looking for someone from a medical trade then.”

“A surgeon, a barber, a butcher… Someone who uses a blade in their day-to-day life.” Gibson sighed. “The other strange thing is that there are no defensive wounds whatsoever on Miss Keller, no signs of struggle or hints of skin beneath her fingernails. As if she simply lay there while he performed the deed.”

“Chloroform or ether?” Perry asked. “Mrs. Carver could smell ether, after all. Perhaps she didn’t fight because she was unconscious or dead from inhalation.”

“Maybe. Miss Fortescue was another matter.” He used a stylus to lift back her bloodied lip. There was some foreign substance caught in her teeth. “She bit him. Hard enough to tear skin. She was struggling when this happened, and I would presume that he had his hand over her mouth.”

“Mallory startled him in the process of moving her.” Perry was starting to draw conclusions.

Gibson nodded. “Perhaps. From the wounds on her chest, the removal of her heart was done in a hurry. And I’m fairly certain I can make out a stab wound, though I’ll know more once I’ve completed the autopsy.” Moving away from the bodies, he cleaned his hands. “God only knows why he took the time to remove her heart, if he thought Mallory might find him.”

Perhaps because he couldn’t bear to leave it behind. She’d encountered a man like that once.

That was her cue to leave. Perry muttered her good-byes and closed the door behind her with a soft snick. She stayed there for a moment, forehead pressed against the cold, iron-bound door, as memory assaulted her. A cold, sterile laboratory, outfitted with dozens of shelves featuring glass jars full of strange amorphous shapes… Her vision clearing as she blinked her way back into consciousness… Light reflecting back off steel implements… The jars… Something about the jars…

About the shapes in them.

A human heart. And other organs. Hague’s little trophies.

Hague had been only a human, a scientist who worked for the Moncrieff. There was no way he could have survived what she’d done to him the night she’d fled.

Was there?

I cut half his face off. His jaw was dangling by a single scrap of tendon… The thought made her stomach revolt, but she forced herself to push through it. She’d seen Hague go down, bleeding all over the Moncrieff’s fine silk sheets. She could remember that from the morass of nightmarish images that were all that remained of that night. Stricken with the first stages of the craving virus, she’d barely been lucid as she fought her way free of the laboratory and staggered out into the streets.

But she’d never seen Hague actually die. For the first time, doubt assailed her. He was the type of man who would have stayed long enough to remove a girl’s heart. He’d have needed to. It was an abnormality in him that she’d never encountered before. And though he’d been human, the Moncrieff was not. If the duke had returned home from his club in time, he might have been able to save his precious doctor by using his blood to infect him with the craving. He’d always boasted to her of his high CV levels. Such a thing could heal almost everything, and Hague had been a genius, irreplaceable.

They’d blamed the Moncrieff for her disappearance, so he must have returned soon enough after her escape. All they’d found was blood splashed across his bedroom. No sign of Hague’s body, but she’d assumed the duke covered it up. Couldn’t have anyone seeing what was going on in the cellars, after all. Which was probably why he’d set the house on fire.

“Don’t ever go down those stairs. That floor is off-limits,” the duke had told her when she’d first come to his house.

“But why?” Perry had asked, always curious and insatiably so at seventeen.

“Perhaps I have the bodies of my former consorts hidden down there,” the duke had replied with a slight smile, as he referenced the old tale.

At least there was one thing she could say about him. He’d never actually lied to her.

Slowly Perry pressed her fingers against her chest. There was no scar there, thanks to the craving virus, but she could almost feel where the blade had cut in, slicing through her flesh while she screamed and strained against her manacles. Cold trickled down her spine like a trail of marching spiders.

“Just be still, mijn lief… This won’t hurt for very long…”

Unlike the duke, Hague had lied.


Informing someone that their daughter’s body had been found was never a pleasant task.

The moment the butler opened the door, Garrett knew it was going to be one of those meetings. He and Perry were ushered into Lord Keller’s front parlor, while the butler went to fetch his master. Perry traced her fingers over a fragile glass vase. Garrett had the uncomfortable feeling that she was no longer with him; there was a sense of distance about her.

“Are you all right?” She’d been quiet on the ride over, distracted again. Those small silences might have fallen one too many times in the last month, but they’d been silences full of things left unsaid and swift little glances that each of them stole when they thought the other wasn’t looking. Silences that seemed thick and lush and full of what had happened at the opera.

This was different.

“I can’t help thinking that this is where they’ll display her,” Perry whispered, trailing her fingers over a lace doily on the back of an embroidered armchair. “It’s already like a crypt.”

A stuffed parrot stared glassily back at him from its perch on some ornamental table display. Garrett silently agreed. The parlor was still, waiting. Full of polished furniture that would never see use until someone passed away and needed to be displayed. Even the ormolu clock on the mantel had frozen. No doubt someone had simply forgotten to wind it, but the silence held a deafening feel.

The staccato of shoes echoed on the marble tiles in the entrance, and then Lord Keller appeared, the silver wings of his hair powdered and swept back from his forehead. His skin bore traces of rice powder and his lips had been slightly rouged, which gave him the appearance of something that had returned from the dead. One of the more old-fashioned members of the Echelon then, still wearing his Georgian pumps and silk stockings. Some of the older blue bloods did that, lingering in their pasts.

Keller’s gaze raked over them. “Nighthawks in my home.” His lips thinned and pressed together, as if to contain something. “You’ve found her then.”

So Miss Amelia had been missing? Why hadn’t anyone sent word to him?

“My lord, I’m so terribly sorry,” Garrett said. “We discovered two bodies this morning at the draining factory, and Amelia has been identified by a contemporary. We would like you to confirm this identification.”

Keller sank into the nearest armchair as if someone had cut his strings. He bobbed his head, pressing his fist to his mouth, unable even to speak.

As usual, Perry looked uncomfortable at the sight of such a display. The butler hovered in the door, and Garrett gestured for him to find something alcoholic. He knelt and took Lord Keller’s hand.

The man squeezed his fingers almost painfully, swallowing again and again. The silent display of grief lashed at Garrett. This was the part of the job he hated the most, but he did it, because he knew he was better at it than the others.

“Here,” he said, offering a bloodied glass of whiskey when the butler returned.

Keller forced it to his lips, coughing some of it down.

“Is his consort here?” Garrett murmured to the butler.

“She passed away three years ago,” the man replied.


“Miss Amelia was the only child. He does have a brother, though, in Kensington.”

“Send word.” Garrett turned back to the grieving lord. “My lord, you mentioned that Miss Amelia was missing. Might I ask the circumstances?”

The session droned on as Keller sputtered his way through several glasses of whiskey and blood. Miss Amelia, it seemed, had returned from a ball early the previous morning, made her way to her room, and was missing by the time the afternoon sun started to set. Keller had immediately set his people to searching for her, fearing the worst. Assassinations or kidnappings were not uncommon among the Echelon. They were practically expected, in order to further one’s family name or House. And Lord Keller couldn’t fathom his shy daughter sneaking out of her own volition.

“Her relationship with the Earl of Brumley was cordial?” Garrett asked.

Keller looked up. “Brumley? Of course. Brumley would never have lifted a hand against her.”

They’d have to confirm that—and Brumley’s whereabouts. Perry began shifting restlessly. Garrett glanced at her and she tipped her chin up.

He nodded. Go.

Perry excused herself to search the debutante’s room, while Garrett began making a list of those who might be enemies of Lord Keller and his House.


“Well?” Garrett demanded, strolling along the footpath in Mayfair with his hands in the pockets of his leather great cloak and a bowler hat perched cockily on his head.

He could have been any one of the blue blood nobility on the streets here. Others barely gave him a glance as they hurried about their business. Perry was a different tale. Eyes caught hers and skittered away, then back with a slight widening as they recognized her gender and the body armor she wore.

How ironic that in the world of the Echelon, a man like Garrett, born to streets far to the east of here, fit in, while she, who had been born onto silk sheets, did not. He was a damned chameleon, mingling with every level of society as if he belonged, an ability she’d never owned. Indeed, she’d never felt as though she belonged anywhere—not the Echelon of her youth or even strictly the guild. She was always slightly aware that she was a woman in a man’s traditional role. Easier sometimes to fade into the background and pretend that she wasn’t there.

“The window’s on the second story,” she murmured, glancing up at the gleaming white brickwork of the Keller mansion. A black iron fence guarded the house, with thick, lush roses twining around each bar of the fence. The alley that ran along the side of the house was cobbled and wide enough to fit a dray. “There’s no way a sheltered debutante like Miss Keller climbed out.”

Garrett strode down the alley and looked up. “I could climb that.”

“I never doubted your skill at entering any sort of bedroom.”

He flashed her a grin. Her heart kicked in her chest like a mule.

“Where there is a will…” Garrett reached up and gripped the downpipe, lifting himself onto his toes. Above him, iron squealed as a screw threatened to pull loose. “However, not using this.”

“Most blue bloods could climb the wall. There’s no sign of entrance in the room, however. No marks on the sill or scratches on the lock. No dirt on the floor. No sign she slept there, either,” Perry replied, following Garrett as he turned back toward the street and the steam carriage. “The bed was freshly made and the sheets smelled laundered. I asked the maid, who admitted they were changed yesterday.”

“So she vanished sometime after she came in?”

“Or perhaps she said her good nights, kissed her doting father on the cheek, and slipped out the back while nobody was looking.”

Garrett walked backward in front of her, his hands in his pockets. “He claims there was no one else courting her. The thrall contract was all but signed.”

“Brumley’s old enough to be her father. If she had a younger beau, then he would be a secret.” Some of the games that young blue bloods and potential thralls played were carried out in secret, after all. She could well remember the little clockwork butterflies Moncrieff had commissioned to lure her into darkened spaces. A little code, just between the two of them during the initial stages of their courtship, when she’d been young and captivated by him.

One would flutter onto her shoulder, and then he’d call it back to him with the beacon and she’d follow, slipping from the ballroom with her heart pounding madly in her ears… The thought made her toe catch on an upraised cobble. Garrett caught her arm as she tripped, and Perry grabbed a fistful of his coat, the nearness of his mouth swallowing up her vision as she staggered against his chest.

There was an awkward moment as his eyes widened and they tried to disentangle themselves.

The moment stretched out, Garrett’s expression strangely unreadable. Then he shook himself and graced her with one of those charming, insincere smiles he had in abundance. “Well, I’m used to women throwing themselves at me, but this—”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Perry replied, stepping away from him and straightening her long leather coat. The feel of his hard body lingered, igniting her own. Strike her blind, but she was no innocent. Sometimes she wished she was, just so she wouldn’t know what she was missing out on. “I’m a woman of rather discerning taste. Whereas you have none.”

“Taste? Or discernment?”

“Both could be applicable.” Could he see the flush of red in her cheeks? Perry strode ahead. “Come. We still have to visit the Fortescues. They’ll be slighted by anything less than the guild master himself. Let some of the men do the groundwork.”

“I’ll send Larkin and Hayes to question whether Miss Keller had a secret beau, one she didn’t want her father to know about.” His brow furrowed. “I hate it when you’re right.”

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