Here’s the first chapter of Forged By Desire. I’m hoping to have it up on the books page soon, but hopefully this will tide you over until then.
Warning: I wouldn’t consider them spoilers for My Lady Quicksilver (book three), but there is an event that occurs here that occurred in My Lady Quicksilver, only this time, it’s from Garrett’s POV. Read on at your own risk.
He dreamed of red silk…
In his dream, Garrett Reed straightened the white bow tie he wore, glanced once at the crowd of elegantly dressed aristocrats, and then turned and opened the hackney door.
“About damned time.”
His gaze slid over the woman within, taking in the acres of tight red silk and the froth of lace framing high, creamy breasts. Perry cursed under her breath as she tried to gather up her skirts and the brass-plated fan she used as a weapon. “You could offer me your hand.”
As he should have. Garrett was still trying to gather his wits. He’d never before equated Perry with dresses; indeed, he’d never have thought that she could actually pull off this subterfuge. The entire time he’d known her, she’d worn the tight black leathers of the Guild of the Nighthawks, hunting murderers and thieves across the rooftops of London with him. At first glance most people mistook her for a lad, and Garrett himself rarely thought of her as a woman. At least until tonight.
It was his own damned fault. He was the one who’d told her he didn’t think she could do it. A dare—fool the aristocratic Echelon into thinking she was one of their own.
Belatedly he offered her his arm. Perry stepped down, her gloved hand resting lightly on his forearm and her eyes raking the crowd for any signs of their targets. As he should have been doing. Garrett was still moving a step behind, unable to concentrate on more than one thing. And that one thing smelled like French vanilla perfume.
“Can you see Lynch? Or Rosalind?” Perry asked.
Garrett slid his hand over the small of her back. He couldn’t stop looking at her, as if a part of him still couldn’t believe that this elegant, beautiful woman beside him was the same partner he’d worked with for the last nine years.
As if sensing his gaze, she glanced up at him, a slow smile creeping over her lips. “I’ve never seen you struck dumb before.”
“I’m not without words,” he countered, guiding her toward the marble stairs that led to the opera house.
“You’ve barely managed a conversation since we embarked in the carriage. I do hope I haven’t stolen all your wits.”
Garrett leaned close enough to murmur in her ear. “If you keep going, you could steal something else as well.”
Those eyes were watchful, as if she wasn’t quite used to flirtation, especially not from him. “If I wanted your heart,” she whispered, “I’d cut it out of your chest with my knife.”
“I prefer something subtler.”
Perry’s painted red lips curved up in a genuine smile, though her eyes still searched the crowd. “Concentrate.”
“I am.” He glanced again at the faint swelling of her breasts—breasts he’d never noticed before. A tight fist of need clenched in his gut.
“On the reason we’re here.”
Garrett plucked the opera tickets from the inner pocket of his coat as they approached the main doors. This was the true test. Neither of them was of the Echelon, the aristocratic blue bloods that ruled London. If they were turned away here, the Nighthawk Guild’s Master, Sir Jasper Lynch, and his secretary, Rosalind, would be alone inside.
With dozens of humanists who were plotting another terrorist attack on the Echelon. They wouldn’t discriminate between the blue blood lords they despised and a blue blood rogue like Lynch.
This wasn’t the first time the humanists had struck. But the attacks so far had been small, merely tests. Several lords had been driven into a blood frenzy by small mysterious devices the terrorists called Doeppler Orbs. If they set enough of these orbs into action in a theater full of blue bloods, it would be a bloodbath.
Perry’s hand tightened on his sleeve as he handed the tickets over to the liveried servant. The man scrutinized the pair of them through a monocle, then nodded and let them through.
Shadows flickered through Garrett’s vision, the darkness in him bubbling up. It was far too easy to summon these days, and much more difficult to dispel.
Garrett forced a smile to his lips and swept a pair of champagne glasses from the tray of a passing servant drone. The automaton rolled away through the crowd with a faint teakettle hiss, the sound itching along Garrett’s skin. He forced himself to continue, to ignore it. It hadn’t always been this way. His craving virus levels had been sitting at a reasonably healthy thirty-two percent for the past three years.
But a week ago, a blue blood lord in the grip of a blood frenzy had tried to rip Garrett’s heart out of his chest and very nearly succeeded. It was one of the few ways to truly kill a blue blood, and in the effort to heal itself, his body had relaxed the fight against the virus. Garrett’s virus level had more than doubled, leaving him struggling to fight a hunger he hadn’t had a chance to acclimatize to.
He was barely managing to rein himself in these days. He couldn’t let anyone see how close to the edge he was. Especially not Perry.
The noise swelled to a dull roar. Brightly colored silk filled the room, and feathered headdresses bobbed like a menagerie of birds. Garrett grimaced as he directed Perry to a small, out-of-the-way place beside a marble column. He usually liked these events, but since the attack, the presence of too many people only seemed to crowd in on him.
“There’s Rosa.” Perry tilted her head toward the stairs as she sipped her champagne.
Indeed, when he looked, he saw the coppery curls of Rosalind’s coif beneath the candelabra’s light. A dark shadow almost obliterated her as a man swept her out of the way of the crowd. Lynch.
Garrett turned his back on them. Lynch was a recognizable figure. If any of the humanists saw him here, they’d know what he was about. However, Garrett and Perry were unknowns and needed to keep it that way.
“Keep an eye on them,” he instructed quietly, pressing close enough to Perry that her skirts brushed against his polished shoes. “But don’t stare. And act like you’ve seen all of this a thousand times before. You’re my thrall, remember?” The thought sent a flash of darkness through his vision. The idea of Perry as his personal blood slave was heady.
For a moment he almost envied the blue blood lords parading their thralls—young ladies who exchanged their blood rights in exchange for protection, gifts, and an honorable thrall contract—through the room. Garrett’s gaze drifted to Perry’s throat and the fierce, flickering beat of her pulse.
Idly fanning herself, Perry glanced around the room with a slightly bored expression. “I do know what I’m doing.”
“So do I.”
“Yes, but playing a cad is already within your repertoire.” The fan stirred cool air over his lips as he reached out and leaned his hand against the column behind her. Perry’s expression lashed pure heat through him. “That was never in any doubt.”
“If I doubt you, it’s only because you’ve never played the lady before.”
“Perhaps you simply never noticed.”
He looked down. There was a slightly challenging note beneath the words.
“You do play the role well.” His eyes narrowed. It was an unspoken rule that when a blue blood showed up on the guild’s doorstep, nobody ever asked about their past.
Most blue bloods were created during the blood rites, a rite of passage offered to certain privileged sons among the aristocracy and strictly controlled. Accidents occurred, however, when the merest scratch could transmit to others the virus that made the blue bloods what they were. Those accidents were declared rogues, forced to join either the Nighthawks or the Coldrush Guards that guarded the Echelon. Kept alive only for their usefulness.
He’d never asked about Perry’s past, though he’d often wondered. Women were strictly forbidden the blood rites for fear their gentle natures would succumb to hysteria at the fierce hunger of the craving. He wasn’t certain if any of the men who’d decreed such a law had actually met Perry, or the only other female blue blood, the Duchess of Casavian.
“Indeed, you play the part almost too well,” he continued, to see how Perry would react.
The fan fluttered, stirring the black curls of her wig and the lace trim of her dress. It drew his attention to the faint pulse in her bare throat, to the fine tracery of blue veins beneath her creamy skin. Hunger burned within him. Again his vision flickered to black-and-white tones. The world became a little distant, as if something was drawing him away from it.
“I wasn’t born in breeches, Garrett.”
She’d said something. He yanked his gaze up, trying to focus. “I hope not. I’d have thought you’d have been naked.” It was what he would have said a month ago. An idle flirtation that didn’t require much thinking to mouth. Reaching out, he caught the top of the fan, feeling the razor-sharp edge against the pads of his fingers. It was irritating him, making the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
She rapped his knuckles with it. “Behave.”
“Just playing a role, my love.”
“So am I. La femme fatale.” She sliced the fan in the air just in front of his nose, forcing him to take a step back. With a slow, wicked smile, Perry strolled out from under his arm, catching up her skirts with one hand as she deposited the empty champagne glass on a drone’s tray. He followed her lead as she stalked away.
“That way,” Perry said, pointing along the corridor with her fan. “Rosa and Lynch are heading for the stairs. Which means we need to disappear until the crowd has thinned.”
Then it was their task to search the foyer and backstage for either the humanists or the Doeppler Orbs.
“I am your humble servant,” he replied, following in the wake of her swishing bustle.
“Servant, perhaps,” she murmured under her breath. “Humble? Never.”
The bell rang, signaling that the patrons ought to be seated. Suddenly Garrett and Perry were fighting against the tide of the crowd. A young lord’s shoulder hit Garrett’s, throwing him off balance, and he bared his teeth in a silent snarl. He could smell blood in the air, his gut clenching. It was probably in the champagne.
Bloody hell. He needed to get this over with and get out of here.
“Perhaps you’d care to use the powder room?” His hand slid to the small of Perry’s back, helping her keep her balance against skirts that had to be somewhat unfamiliar. Fingers flexing against the supple muscle along her spine, he let out the breath he’d been holding. Touching her felt like holding on to an anchor. In the darkness that was slowly becoming his world, Perry was a reliable, solid light that slowly drew him back to safer shores.
“We’re alone.” Garrett pushed ahead of her and pressed his fingertips to the door to the powder room, listening for a moment. Nothing.
He shoved the door open and stalked inside, shrugging out of his evening coat. A white silk waistcoat strained over his chest, gleaming back at him from the floor-length mirrors. A pair of white leather holsters rode over his shoulders, with two small pistols that would each fit in the palm of his hand. There was a knife in his boot, but the main weapon was his body.
Behind him, Perry locked the door. She lifted her heel onto a champagne-colored divan, then slowly dragged a fistful of her skirts up, revealing her flesh-colored stockings. He caught a glimpse of her gray eyes, watching him in the reflection. Watching his reaction.
She might not have owned an abundance of curves, but she had legs as long and lean as a dancer’s. “Perry,” Garrett warned. This was no longer fun. She was pushing him toward the edge, and he was far too close to it as it was.
Her gloved hands slowed, dragging her skirt a fraction higher until her garter ribbons were revealed. This time Perry watched him openly, her gaze locking on his in the reflection as she slowly dragged her pistol from the holster strapped to her thigh.
Garrett tugged at the gleaming white silk of his bow tie. “Bloody hell. That’s enough, Perry. You win. You look entirely fetching in a gown. And partially out of it.”
“I’m nowhere near finished, Garrett.”
This was a side to Perry that he’d never seen, never even dreamed existed. As a Nighthawk, she’d been forced to expel the myth that her gender made her vulnerable in any way. She generally preferred her own company and rarely jested, let alone flirted. It was as if putting on the dress had relaxed her inhibitions, and his dare had only served to throw down the gauntlet between them.
The predator inside him noted that they were all alone, locked inside by her own devices. It stirred restlessly.
She snapped open the barrel of the pistol and checked the ammunition. When she looked up, the heeled slippers brought her face almost to his. His cock hardened, each muscle in his abdomen tightening as if for a blow. Don’t.
Their eyes met. “Do you remember when you laughed at me and said I wouldn’t know one end of a dress from the other?”
“So this is revenge?” His lashes lowered. “Don’t play games you can’t afford to lose. I’ll only offer my surrender this once.” He gave in. Let his eyes bleed to black for her. To show her just how close the line was for him.
Perry sucked in a sharp breath but she didn’t back away. And that was the mistake they both made.
His hand slid up her cheek, the silk of his gloves cupping her face in his. He knew what her blood tasted like. She’d cut her wrist for him when he lay gasping on the floor a week ago, with his heart ripped half out of his chest. Perry’s blood had healed him, but the desire for it had never quite gone away.
And this time he wasn’t injured.
Perry caught her breath and wrenched away from him. Her eyes glittered darkly in the mirror as they met his. “You’re right. I accept your surrender.”
Garrett stepped closer, sliding his hands over her shoulders. “I’m no longer offering it,” he murmured and pressed his lips against the smooth silk of her neck.
“This isn’t… We shouldn’t—”
He could feel her trembling. God, he wanted her. One hand slid around her waist, drawing her back into his arms. Perry’s hand caught his, holding it against her abdomen as if uncertain whether to draw it away or tug it closer, but the softening of her stance betrayed her. She melted back against him with a low moan. “Garrett…”
The thought skittered away, drowning in a flood of darkness as the hunger washed over him. His lips trailed against her nape, the edge of his teeth riding over that flawless white skin. The hunger in him burned hot, until he could barely see or hear anything that didn’t have to do with her.
All he wanted was her. All he needed… And damn her, he was going to take it.
Hand fisting in the pearls at her throat, Garrett yanked her head to the side. He couldn’t remember triggering the concealed knife in his sleeve, but the hilt of it was warm in his hand. Their eyes met in the mirror, and his irises were black flame. Shouldn’t do this. Control yourself. Then the moment was gone and he slashed the small blade across her throat.
Warm blood splashed against his mouth as Perry gasped. He lapped at it, suckling hard. Not enough. Never enough.
Soft cries cut the air as her body jerked in release. Then she was melting against him, her weight falling into his arms and her blood wetting his lips.
He caught a glimpse of those amazing gray eyes, wide and alarmed, but couldn’t stop himself from drinking more, feeling her weaken, hearing her heart shudder in her chest, her breath catch in her lungs. Blackness swept through his vision, turning the world dark. Prey. His prey. And she was all his. He’d drink her dry, steal the last shuddering breaths of ecstasy from her body as he—
“Garrett, stop!” she whispered, and he realized she’d been saying it for a while now. “Please, stop…”
The dream shattered.
Garrett sucked in a huge breath and bolted upright, breathing hard. His fingers clenched in the blankets as they fell into his naked lap.
The world was dark and silent, the steel shutters drawn across his window to keep the sunlight out so he could sleep. Yet everything in the room was clearly visible, his blue-blood senses so superior he could make out each piece of furniture and article of clothing. Holding his head in his hands, he rocked back and forth, trying to fight the raging desire that burned through him.
Perry. At the opera.
The dream struck him every time he closed his eyes, though events had not played out that way in life. Perry had stopped him before he took her blood, slamming him back against the wall with her own eyes bleeding to black and their breath mingling. They were so close to kissing that if the screams hadn’t started echoing down the hallways outside, he didn’t know what would have happened.
“Bloody hell.” Swallowing hard, he brought his shaking hands down from his face. The dream always ended that way. The hunger overwhelming him until all he cared for was her blood. Sometimes he woke before the end. Those were the better nightmares.
Sometimes he had to witness the whole damned thing.
A month since that incident at the opera, and he couldn’t forget it. He’d never thought of Perry as a woman, as a beautiful woman, until that night. Now the thought haunted him.
His hands were still shaking. Garrett sucked in a steady breath and lowered them. Movement fractured off the small mirror attached to the vanity. Himself, still in shades of gray instead of color, his eyes as black as the demon inside him. The hunger.
Shoving the blankets aside, Garrett made his way to the vanity and stared at himself in the mirror, taking slow, steady breaths until he could see the blackness washing out of his eyes. Come on. The muscle in his jaw tightened. He could control this. He would.
But it was growing harder and harder each day. No matter how much blood he drank, the hunger kept growing until it was a gnawing pit within him, eating away at bits of his soul until he was afraid one day he wouldn’t wake up from the dream. One day, the dream would be real.
“Damn it,” he muttered, grinding the heels of his palms against his eyes. Anything to force it down.
The intensity was ebbing slowly, his heart returning to its normal rhythm. Garrett slowly lowered his hands, staring at the blue of his eyes in the mirror. Almost normal. Only a shadow existed, a warning that the demon of his hunger haunted him still.
Pouring water into his shaving jug, he splashed it across his face. The heavy brass spectrometer in the corner caught his eye. There was no point avoiding it. Ignoring the truth didn’t make it go away.
Taking up his razor, he slashed a small cut across his finger and squeezed it to make blood well. It oozed slowly through the cut, the dark bluish-red that gave blue bloods their name. Slowly the drop quivered on the tip of his finger, then fell into the glass vial at the end of the spectrometer. Garrett squeezed another two drops out, but the cut was almost healed. With a grimace, he turned the dials on the spectrometer to start the acidic reaction.
The device spat out a small roll of paper with several numbers printed on it. He ignored the first three and went straight to the craving virus percentage.
Garrett stared at the piece of paper for a long time, then scrunched it up in his fist. The numbers were still burned across his retinas. They’d increased since his last reading, which had been yesterday morning.
Suddenly it wasn’t enough to clench the paper in his fist. He tore it into fine shreds, discarding them among the ashes in his cold hearth. He had a duty to report this. Any blue blood that reached CV levels of nearly seventy percent was staring the Fade in the eye. It was something every blue blood feared, the final, unstoppable progression of the disease.
Soon his skin would start paling, the color bleaching out of his hair and eyes as he evolved—or devolved—into something inhuman, something utterly vampiric. A blood-thirsty monster incapable of rational thought, driven only by its hungers. The albinism probably would have started already if his levels had climbed slowly, but the swiftness of his increase had saved him from that at least. He had time to hide this.
A rash of vampires a century ago had made it compulsory to deliver reports of high craving levels to the authorities. Nearing seventy percent was cause for increased surveillance. Any higher and they’d consider executing him.
Panic burned through his chest. He couldn’t let anyone know. He had to find a way to deal with this. He wasn’t ready, hadn’t done everything he wanted to… Garrett turned and scraped the spectrometer off the bench as incoherent fear roared through him. Kept going. Smashed the mirror, the shaving bowl, ripped the linens from the bed.
None of it made him feel better. None of it made the truth go away. He froze in the middle of the room, quivering as the rage left him. The carnage was catastrophic. The type of thing the authorities would expect to find if they discovered out how high his CV levels were.
Water spilled across the floor, mingling with the small patch of blood from the spectrometer. Instantly the puddle diluted, but all he could see was blood. Could smell it, feel the need for it bubbling up within him.
And suddenly Perry flashed into his mind, an image from his dream, smiling up at him from behind her fan as she flirted with him. Blood welled from her throat and the smile died as she clapped a hand to her throat, blood pouring through her white satin gloves and running down her arm and décolletage.
Garrett collapsed to his knees on the floor, sinking his head into his hands again.
If he didn’t report this, then the consequences could be catastrophic.
For he knew who his first victim would be.