My Lady Quicksilver

Page 9

It was easy to smile, to play at being Rosa Marberry, now she was out of that carriage. She slipped into the role as if it were a second skin. All of the disquieting thoughts she simply shoved aside. “I don’t believe my supposed wicked tendencies are bothering your men at all.”

But bothering him. Ah, yes. She smiled, let her gaze drop beneath her heavy lashes. It helped to think of him as a man, not a blue blood, to pretend that he was only human.

If she pretended he was only a man, then she could admit that he was quite a fine figure of one. It was no wonder she felt this odd attraction. The thought eased her nervousness. It meant nothing. Lynch’s silence was troubling. Expression flickered over his face when she looked up, but so minutely that she could not decipher it. He was an observer, she realized. Always watching, always thinking. She wondered what conclusions he drew as he examined her. Wondered if he could see right through her.

“I’ll say this once,” he said quietly. “If I suspect you are having inappropriate relations with any of my men, the position will be forfeit immediately.”

“So I’m not allowed to smile at any of them?”

Stillness. Then: “Of course you are.”

“For that is all it was,” she replied tersely. “Garrett holds no interest for me as a man. He laughs too much and he wears far too much cologne.” She gathered her skirts. “Now, if that is settled, shall we?”

Lynch’s lips thinned. “Follow me then, Rosa. If you feel the urge to cast up your accounts, please don’t do it on the bodies.”

With that he strode past her, his broad shoulders framed by the elegant chandelier in the entry. Rosalind licked her lips and gave a frustrated sigh as she hurried after him. The man was infuriating.


“Bloody hell,” Garrett muttered, standing in the middle of the foyer and turning in circles as he examined the scene.

Lynch moved slowly, cataloging each inch of room and analyzing it. One of the servants lay on the grand staircase. She’d obviously tried to flee before Lord Falcone got to her. The woman lay sprawled across the carpeted stairs in her mobcap and apron, blood dripping from the torn gash in her throat. It was messy—made with blunt teeth and not a blade.

The butler had almost made it to the door before he too was cut down. A spreading pool of blood beneath his crumpled body soaked into the carpet. Lynch’s brows drew together. “It’s the same as the Haversham case,” he murmured. “Falcone was more interested in killing them by this stage. No doubt he glutted himself upstairs.” Kneeling down, he touched the sticky pool beneath the butler. His vision blurred momentarily, his sense of smell heightening even as his mouth watered. He wanted to touch his fingertip to his tongue but years of control had taught him better.

Behind him, Rosa scribbled furiously in her notepad, taking down his words. Her skin was pale, her lips compressed, but she gave no other sign that this scene bothered her—or she was determined not to.

Rubbing his fingertips together, he looked up the stairs. Golden lamplight bathed the walls. Falcone had not bothered to update to modern conveniences like gaslight. Some of the older blue bloods were like that.

Perry slipped silently into the room, her dark hair slicked back beneath a cap. “A bloodbath,” she murmured, exchanging an uneasy glance with Garrett. Her nostrils flared, scenting the air, the blood. As one of the five who made up Lynch’s Hand—his best—she needed to be on scene. Perry had gifts of her own, beyond driving a steam carriage through hairpin turns at breakneck speed. With one sniff she could place a man to the London borough he came from.

“Find Falcone,” Lynch commanded. “I want a full CV count by morning.” If Falcone had been close to the Fade, Lynch needed to know.

Barrons appeared at the top of the stairs, lean and moving with a swordsman’s grace. Dressed in black velvet, the only sign of color was a ruby stickpin in the stark white cravat at his throat.

“Barrons.” Lynch nodded, a sign of respect to the young lord. Barrons was often involved in matters requiring an inquisitive mind. Their paths crossed regularly at these events; no doubt the prince consort wished to be kept apprised.

“Falcone’s up here,” Barrons called, his voice carrying the inflection of the well bred. “He’s still alive.”

“Still alive?” Lynch hurried up the stairs. Behind him came the swish of skirts and the lemon-and-linen smell he couldn’t quite escape.

The two men exchanged a look.

“If you can call it that. I’ve managed to subdue him in the study. I’ll warn you, it’s not pretty,” Barrons said, his gaze drifting over Lynch’s shoulder toward Rosa.

“It rarely is,” Lynch replied. He had the brief instinct to step in front of her, his shoulders bristling.

Barrons didn’t have the look of a man eyeing a fine woman, but something about his perusal chilled Lynch to the core. He turned and offered his hand to Rosa to help her up the last three steps.

She eyed it for a moment, then reached out with her right hand and accepted it. Too late, he recalled her aversion to being touched there. But then her warm, slim fingers were sliding over his, the kid leather beneath his touch smooth and well-worn.

“Barrons, this is Mrs. Marberry, my new secretary,” he introduced.

“A pleasure.” Barrons nodded.

Rosa smiled, but Lynch had the feeling it wasn’t genuine. “The pleasure is mine, my lord. I never expected to be rubbing shoulders with someone from the Council of Dukes itself.”

Barrons studied her, then glanced away. “An honorary member, my dear. I stand in my father’s place until he recovers.”

Lynch said nothing. The Duke of Caine had been afflicted with a mysterious illness for years. The chances of him recovering were slim and Barrons knew it.

The fact that the craving virus was a possessive disease was not unknown. It tolerated no other viruses or illnesses in its host’s body. Yet few dared tell Barrons that to his face. He knew it. The man was no fool, after all.

Whatever illness afflicted his father, he kept rumors of it under lock and key.

Barrons gestured toward the study. “Perhaps we’d best view Falcone first. Your men can deal with the bodies. They’re through there.” He gestured behind him, at the library and the bedrooms.

Though Lynch wanted to see the bodies himself, Falcone was of the greater interest to him. “I was unable to examine Haversham properly. He’d killed himself before we arrived. I thought it guilt at the time.”

Barrons shot him a sober look. “I don’t believe so. I don’t believe Haversham had enough control of his senses to suffer such an emotion.”

“Then you think he was murdered? I examined the body myself. The entry and exit wounds seemed consistent with suicide and powder burn was found on his hands and jaw. I could smell other people on his skin, but I assumed they were his victims.”

“Like I said, I don’t believe Haversham had the faculty to kill himself.”

They strode along the carpeted hall. It was darker here, a single candle burning in the sconce.

“What should I expect?” he asked. “Was Falcone close to the Fade?”

“Falcone’s barely forty.”

“There’s neither rhyme nor reason to the Fade,” Lynch argued. “Sometimes the virus colonizes a man swifter than it does others. I’ve seen an eighty-year-old with a CV count as low as twenty-three.”

“There’s no sign of albinism,” Barrons countered. “His skin carries a healthy glow, his hair is still light brown, and his eyes are hazel. If his CV count were higher, his color would have begun to fade before now.”

Muffled screams began to penetrate. Lynch’s gaze locked on the closed study. “How precisely did you subdue him?”

“I shot him with a dart of hemlock,” Barrons replied. “It paralyzed him for barely a minute.”

“A minute?” Rosa blurted.

Lynch had almost forgotten her. Almost.

The two men looked back.

“My apologies,” she said. “I’ve read of these new hemlock concoctions in a scientific journal. I thought they paralyzed a blue blood for nearly ten minutes?”

No scientific journal would dare speak of such a thing. Lynch’s lashes lowered in consideration, running over her. The propaganda pamphlets the humanists printed, however, were a different story. Did his secretary have humanist tendencies? Or was she simply one of the many curious in London who read the pamphlets when they were distributed?

He knew a man, an informant who was emphatically loyal to the Echelon, who liked to read the pamphlets, regardless of his loyalties. Jovan thought the caricatures of the prince consort as a pale, bloated vulture hovering over the queen were humorous.

“The amount of time the concoction paralyzes depends upon the amount of craving virus in the blood,” Barrons explained. “The higher the CV levels, the quicker paralysis wears off. I’ve tested it on myself, actually. It takes me four and a half minutes to begin regaining control of my limbs.”

Which meant Barrons had a high CV count. Lynch filed that away for future thought.

“Then if Lord Falcone doesn’t have a high CV count, how on earth did he manage to recover so swiftly?” Rosa frowned.

“That is the question,” Barrons said. “There’s no explanation. In fact, there’s no explanation for his state at all.”

The three of them stopped in front of the study door. From within came the muffled sounds of a thud. Then something splintered.

Barrons reached grimly for the dart gun at his side. “I tied him to the chair,” he admitted. “I believe he’s just broken it. Be prepared for anything.”

Reaching for the door, he eased it open and slipped inside. Lynch clutched his cane-sword and glanced at Rosa. “Stay there,” he snapped, and hurried after Barrons. If he allowed the Duke of Caine’s heir to get killed, then his own head would be forfeit.

The room was silent and dark, a breeze blowing through the gauzy curtains. The splintered remains of the chair littered a rug in front of the desk, with rope discarded in bloodied pools.

Barrons hurried to the window and looked out. “Bloody hell,” he swore. “He must have gone through it.”

The hair along the back of Lynch’s neck lifted.

“This is a catastrophe. If he gets loose in the city, it’ll cause mass hysteria,” Barrons said. “We have to capture him before he goes too far.”

“What are we dealing with here?” Lynch asked, aware of everything the young lord had not said in front of Rosa.

“A blue blood acting like he’s in the Fade when he isn’t. Presume you’re facing a vampire, Lynch, and you might come close to the truth.”

Lynch stilled. Becoming such a creature was the only fear a blue blood had. A vampire could kill hundreds before he was brought down—and had in the past. But the Echelon had become adept at controlling such matters. If a lord somehow managed to alter his CV readings, then the telltale signs of the Fade began to show in his flesh. He began to stink of rot, his body slowly deforming into a wiry, maggot-pale quadrupedal creature.

The hair along his spine tickled. Lynch scrubbed at the back of his neck. Barrons strode past him toward the door but Lynch hesitated. He could smell something now. Something sweet, like flavored ices or sugared buns.

Blood dripped.

“Barrons,” he said slowly. “I don’t think he went out the window.”

The lord reached for the door, his gaze snapping back over his shoulder. Lynch slowly rolled his eyes up and Barrons’s head lifted. He didn’t need to see what had caught the lord’s attention to know where Falcone was.

Barrons jerked his pistol up and Lynch dove out of the way as the man who’d once been Falcone dropped from the plaster ceiling. It landed where he’d been standing and as Lynch rolled to his feet, it sprang for Barrons.

Gunfire spat in the dark room, momentarily singeing Lynch’s vision. All he could see were a pair of dark forms grappling and then Barrons’s yelp as the young lord went down.

Lynch had his own pistol up, but the center of his vision was a mess of glittering lights. Leaping forward, he reached for Falcone and yanked with all his strength, tearing the creature off the fallen lord. Blood stained the air. He could taste it in his mouth, smell it thick in his nostrils. There was no time to see the damage however. Falcone twisted in a way not even a blue blood should be able to and leaped for him.

A blow smashed into his hand and the pistol skittered across the floor. Lynch ground his teeth as his arm was nearly wrenched clean out of the socket. He twisted back, avoiding another blow, and finally caught a good look at his adversary.

Falcone’s face twisted in an expression of rage, his eyes bloodshot and wild. Nothing human lurked there. Blood matted his hair and clothes, and the nails on his hand were sharp. Lynch had a split second to examine him before they raked toward his face.

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