Forged by Desire Page 9

“I knew you grew up somewhere in the East End, but Bethnal?”

“Why not?” he challenged.

She tugged on his coat. “With all your cologne, fancy waistcoats, and polished boots, who would ever expect it?”

“People see what you present to them. I learned that early enough. I was sixteen when I found the Nighthawks,” he replied. “My grandmother was a weaver with a bit of book learning—enough to teach me some words. I used to mimic her finer speech as a lad, and when her and me mam died, I became one of the swell mob.

“When you’re born on the streets, you soon realize the only way out is up. And the only way to stay up is get rid of any trace of where you were born.” Like his speech. He often silently repeated the things blue blood lords or merchants said, trying them out for himself. It was rare that he slipped up these days, usually only when he was angry.

“That was almost frightening, the way you started dropping your g’s. You sounded fit to join one of the slum gangs.”

“Aye, well, when I was first infected, I actually considered it. The Devil of Whitechapel and his gang are the only ones who dare defy the Echelon. He’s got a certain swagger a street lad tends to admire.” And Garrett had been full of anger then—at the man who’d cut his mother’s throat and stolen her purse; at the Echelon; and most especially at the prince consort, whose crushing taxes had forced his mother into disreputable work.

“What happened?”

“I tried to pick Lynch’s pocket instead,” Garrett admitted with a wince at the half-remembered thrashing he’d received. “He made an impression. So I followed him home and sat outside the guild for a week. Lynch finally took me in. Anything to stop me from freezing to death on his stoop.” The smile on his face slipped slowly.

Perry saw it. “I’ve never asked,” she said hurriedly. “How were you infected?”

“Three months before I dipped Lynch’s pocket, I may have had a slight altercation with a set of young blue blood lads. Practically dripping lace, they were, which in my neck of town was worth a fortune. I ended up with three fat coin purses, a handkerchief or two, a pair of broken ribs, a slash across my face, a black eye, and a split lip.”

“And the craving virus, I presume.”

“A somewhat unwanted side effect. Obviously one of them was bleeding—and so was I.”

“You seem to have acquired somewhat of a nasty habit in your youth,” she said dryly.

“I’m completely reformed.” He slid a hand over the small of her back as he helped her around a semi-frozen puddle. Even through the smooth leather of her coat and corset he could feel the muscles working along her spine. What would it be like to run his hands all over her body? She wasn’t soft like most women—except in those places deemed desirable by a man—and the thought intrigued him. Strong, sleek limbs, meant to wrap around a man’s hips…

“You wouldn’t know what ‘reformed’ means.” Perry shot him a smoky look that burned right through him.

Garrett’s fingers danced over her waist, a smile lighting his lips. He liked her like this, warm and teasing. For a moment he managed to slip beneath the careful guard she held in place and to see within. And she was letting him touch her, which was a secret delight he’d never thought he’d own. How had he not been aware of this side of her?

Perhaps because she didn’t want me to see…

“True,” he said, holding up her coin purse.

Perry’s hand shot to her hip. “How did you…?”

He tossed her the coin purse, and she snatched it out of the air. “I was a fingersmith, a good one too. Only man as ever caught me was Lynch.”

A trio of objects slipped from his sleeve, and he juggled them in front of her. Perry’s jaw dropped lower as she snatched a small gold lump out of midair. “That’s my ring!” She grabbed again. “And my pocket watch.” The moment she saw the last object he held in his hands, the color washed out of her cheeks. “Give that back!”

He caught a glimpse of a small round coin with a falcon’s head stamped on it, like one of the sigils the Echelon used. Fist closing around it, he held his arm high. “What’s wrong? Something personal?”

She grabbed his arm and spun him directly into the wall of an alleyway, yanking his elbow up behind his back. A knee dug into the back of his, rendering him incapable of moving. Not that he wanted to. Perry’s entire body pressed against his, her breath in his ear. “Give it back.”

She dug his fingers open but the object was gone. Snatching at his other hand, she opened it too and snarled in frustration. “Where did you put it?”

One last sleight of hand as she’d manhandled him. “You’re a Nighthawk,” he replied, swallowing tightly as he lowered his arm and pressed his fingertips against the rough brick. “Why don’t you find it?”

I dare you.

The silence practically blistered his ears. Then one of her thighs wedged between his and spread his legs. The shock of it stirred hot fingers of need through him, and Garrett turned his face to the side as she ran her slender fingers up his flanks. They darted into his pockets, coming away empty. Rough hands, jerking against his hips. Up his sides.

“You’re enjoying this,” she growled, her hands growing reckless with frustration.

“Of course I am. A man’d pay more than five quid to get a touch up like this elsewhere.”

He sensed the moment she realized what she was doing. One palm curled over his hip lightly, the pressure almost negligent. The sudden pounding of her heartbeat echoed in his ears. Tension vibrated through him and she felt it, he knew. How could she not? Every muscle in his body was locked steel, tight with desire.

Damn you. Do it.

The pressure of her hand against his hip increased, a languid touch that almost became a stroke.

As if something had been decided.

Garrett almost lost his breath, his brain slowing to a crawl as everything inside him went molten. There was a tremor in his fingers, echoing through his whole body.

“You’ll owe me more than five quid then,” Perry replied in a voice that had turned to liquid smoke.

The rational part of him was arguing against this. But he’d finally found her again—finally found the her that was beneath that damned facade she kept erected against the world. And she was sex and sin and all manner of beguilement.

The shock of her hand sliding over his bu**ocks made Garrett’s h*ps jerk. He was hard in an instant, the ache in his balls so tight it almost hurt as he ground them against the harsh brickwork.

Each touch was torturous. A slow, leisurely glide down the inside of his thighs that made him tense.

“Perry,” he ground out as her strong fingers caressed his calves and circled his boots. How bloody eloquent. All of his charm and wits seemed to have fled. Perhaps south, with the rest of his intellect. He ground his teeth together as she began the return journey.

“Not hidden here,” she murmured, stroking his outer thighs.

“Obviously.” Somehow he bit out the word.

Her hands curled over his arse, sliding over the tight leather and then delving between the backs of his thighs with a touch that rocked him to the core. He made a small sound in his throat, more of an exhale than a word. Hell. She knew what she was doing. Turning him inside out. How could a man think? Heat blinded him, darkness shadowed his vision. It should have been a warning, should have told him something, but he didn’t care. All he cared about were those devious hands and where they were going.

“You may be able to steal my bits and pieces, but I love it when I steal your words,” Perry whispered, her breath curling over his ear as she pressed against him. Her arms curled around his body, her lethal touch sliding up the hard planes of his abdomen and over his chest. Thorough as sin, stealing over and under his skin. Every touch echoing through his raging erection as if he could feel the whisper-soft stroke of her fingers there.

Heat raced through him. Someone, somewhere had struck a match and set it to a line of gunpowder. The shock of it, that this was Perry, nearly undid him.

He should have stopped her. This was taking things too far. But the part of him that was purely male caught his tongue. Why stop her? Just how far would she go? The words broke on his lips. Stop. Tell her to stop. But those hands were still doing wicked things to him, stirring the darkness within him, the hunger…

The alley was thick with silence. Only the sound of their harsh breaths. A silence of their own making, cocooning around them like velvet gloves. Intimate. Dangerous.

“Not here,” she whispered, hands sliding up under his arms. “Not there… Spread your hands against the brick.”

He hesitated and suddenly the long tip of her sword cane slid between his legs, a lingering threat. The way they’d both been taught to act when apprehending criminals.

“Spread them,” Perry insisted, her breath hot against the back of his neck.

Garrett slowly pressed both hands against the brickwork. A hot shiver ran through him. Darkness uncurling like a serpent in his gut, sliding through his veins like poison. This was the last chance to stop her. He could feel it. But everything in him wanted to see where she’d take this.

He’d never felt this way before. Usually he preferred to be in charge, but there was something tempting about the way she took control. A game of command between them. Garrett slowly straightened his arms. Every inch of her pressed against him, h*ps flush against hips. Perry’s breath caught and he could smell the sweet vanilla oil she sometimes wore.

With her pressed this close, all he could do was tremble as her palms caressed his shoulders. “I always took you for an innocent,” he murmured.

“Of what crime?” The shock of her hand sliding over his hip.

“Are you?” he insisted.

A minute pause in her wicked search. “A lady never reveals her secrets.”

“You never reveal anything.” He wondered if she heard the touch of irritation there.

A soft, wicked laugh, her breath wet against his ear. “If you knew my secrets, Garrett, you wouldn’t be so curious, would you? As soon as a woman’s mysteries are revealed, you’re hying off on the next challenge.”

Garrett glanced over his shoulder, his lips an inch from hers. “You’re talking about other women? Now?”

“What would you like to talk about?” Her finger traced teasing little circles around the waistcoat over his nipple. Slowly tiptoeing down.

Every muscle in his abdomen clenched. If there’d been a thought in his head, it was gone, lost in the feel of her hands. Hell. There wasn’t much of him left to search. She couldn’t be an innocent; she knew only too well how a man’s body reacted and how to do the most damage to him. The thought fired his blood.

“What would you like me to reveal?”

Soft, tantalizing words.

And the surge of answering thoughts was a tangle in his head. “Everything.”

Where had that come from? Every choking emotion from the last month rushed over him. The aching, self-imposed loneliness… The fear, the lack of sleep, and the wish, deep down inside, that he had someone to talk to about it. Someone to tell him that it was going to be all right. Her.

He wanted to know her. To learn her secrets, to discover everything she kept hidden within her. She’d said he liked a mystery. Well, she was the greatest mystery he’d ever come across. Everything he’d thought he knew about her had been smashed by this change between them. He liked it only too much.

And he knew she could feel it in the sudden shudder racking his body, in the way her eyes met his, gray against blue, and then swiftly lowered, sooty black lashes hovering over her cheeks. For a moment, the smile slid off her lips, the laughter dying. This. Yes, this. Hovering between them. Unsaid, unspoken, burning in the air every time they were together.

Even as her hands slid lower, lower…tangling in his steel-plated waistcoat and the softness of his shirt. Fingertips darting under the edge of his belt. Suddenly it was skin on skin and Garrett realized he’d stopped breathing. No doubt a while ago.

Perry’s hand stilled. A tease. Utterly torturous. But the look in her eyes was terribly serious. She was shutting down before him, as if that single uttered word had been a key twisted in a lock. Everything.

“No. You’re not going to stop there.” He caught her hand as it withdrew, holding it trapped against the smooth skin above his waistband.

“Garrett.” That was the Perry he knew. Expression melting smoothly off her face, her voice hard and tight.

He’d pushed too far and now she was pushing back, erecting those damned walls she’d never let him past. How he hated those bloody walls.

Garrett turned, her hand tugging at his. He held her by the wrist, forcing her to meet his gaze. Eyes a man could drown in. They weren’t smiling now.

“And just like that, she disappears,” he murmured. He could think now. Breathe. Barely.

A flicker of uncertainty in her eyes. “She?”

“The woman inside you.”

“You’re speaking in riddles.” Another tug at her hand. This time she got free. “I am the woman I am.”

“Are you? Or is it simply more convenient to pretend to be devoid of any feminine wants and pleasures?”

Perry’s gaze dropped, as if to look elsewhere, but somehow it never made it past his lips. Instantly he stiffened.

“You want me.” His voice was rough. “I’m not a damned fool. Sometimes, when you forget yourself, you let it show. And you can’t blame me for wanting to know more, for wanting—”

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