by Bec McMaster
I have always been obsessed with monsters and paranormal creatures, but since my latest book is set in the Victorian era, I’m very aware that there were monsters of the human variety too. One of the things that inspired Kiss of Steel was the legend of Jack the Ripper. I don’t deal with the Ripper case, but there is a murderer on the loose in the Whitechapel rookeries my hero and heroine call home. Whether or not the murderer is human however… you might have to read on to find out.
KISS OF STEEL
Honoria Todd has no choice. Only in the dreaded Whitechapel district can she escape the long reach of the Duke of Vickers. But seeking refuge there will put her straight into the hands of Blade, legendary master of the rookeries. No one would dare cross him, but what price would he demand to keep her safe?
Ever since Vickers infected him with the craving, Blade has been quicker, stronger, almost immortal—and terrified of losing control of the monster within. Honoria could be his perfect revenge against the duke…or the salvation he never dared to dream of.
Setup: When a pair of bodies are found in the rookery, my heroine Honoria fears the worst. Has her old enemy finally found her? Or is this the work of someone closer to home?
“Stay back,” Blade commanded.
Honoria took one look at the crowd and hurried after him. They were three houses down from the small flat she rented. There was no way she was going to stay behind.
Blade pushed through the crowd of people ahead of her, forging a path through the swarm of goggling onlookers with his powerful body. Honoria stumbled along behind. People shot glares at them – until they saw who was pushing through. Then the way miraculously cleared and the master of the rookery found himself in the eye of the storm. It seemed being known as the Devil of Whitechapel was extremely useful in certain situations.
Blood sprayed the cobblestones, gleaming black in the moonlight. One of the spectators had located a flare-stick and the fluorescent glow highlighted the brilliant scarlet splashes near Blade’s booted feet.
Honoria swallowed. She’d seen blood before. In vials and tubes in her father’s laboratory or on the samples she took from her younger brother Charlie to examine his virus levels. Not like this. Not painted across the flagstones as though someone had wielded an artist’s flamboyant brush, flicking drips of it in every direction. The ghastly sprawl of the two bodies was almost garish in the moonlight. Some quirk of fate had found this part of London free of its almost-perpetual ground cover of fog.
Blade turned and found her on his heels. “I tol’ you to stay back.” He looked around. “Go on. You seen it. Now get.”
The crowd dispersed with a handful of whispers. The burly man who’d found them at the White Hart knelt beside Blade, surveying the scene with his burning amber eyes. Two others hung around and the tattoos on their wrists proclaimed them Blade’s men. One had a steel cap riveted to his scalp and a wicked hook in place of his left hand. The other winked at her with a devilish smile.
“Cutthroat Nelly cried beef,” the man he’d called Will said. “O’Shay sent me after you and came ‘ere to clear the street.”
The taller man, the one who’d winked, spat to the side. “Bleedin’ vultures swarmed me before I could keep it quiet.” A thick lilt of Irish filled his voice.
“Who are they?” Blade knelt down, fingertips pressed together and a burning look in his eye as he stared at the bodies. He didn’t go any closer and she realized that he was wearing that expression again. The one that made his nostrils flare and his pupils consume his irises.
No matter how hideous the scene was, he liked it.
Or the smell of it, anyway.
Honoria shivered. She looked down the lane, to the little flat three houses down, with the light blazing in the window.
“Smells like Jem Barrett o’er in Brick Lane and his brother, Tom,” Will said.
“Jaysus,” O’Shay swore. “He did a right number on ‘em. Their own mother wouldn’t e’en recognise ‘em.”
Blade reached out. Touched his finger to a droplet of blood. “Nothing human did this.”
“Aye.” Will agreed. “Tore ‘em apart. Throat first at least. They weren’t aware o’ most o’ it.”
“Only blue blood in these parts is you,” O’Shay muttered. “And you wouldn’t lose control like this.”
Honoria went cold. It started in her stomach, then crept outwards, spiralling through her core. There was a bitter taste in her mouth. Oh God. Her sister Lena!
She broke into a run.
Blade caught her at the door of the flat, dragging her into his arms.
“No! Let me go!” She hammered at his chest. “I have to...” She couldn’t speak. A gurgle of something, a sound of inarticulate pain, crawled up her throat.
“Let me go first, luv.” His voice and hands were gentle but he controlled her as easily as if she were a fluttering bird in his hand. “Just let me make sure its safe.”
She collapsed against his chest, feeling the slow, inhuman thump of his heart beneath her cheek. His body was hard, firm. Strangely comforting. “No,” she said weakly. “No. You can’t.”
Because if he found Charlie he’d kill him.
“Honor?” Lena called, from the other side of the door.
Her knees chose that moment to give out. “Lena?” There were arms around her, holding her close, and a quiet murmur against her ear.
The door opened. Lena peered out, her fingers trembling. Honoria pushed Blade away and dragged her frightened sister into her arms.
“I thought it might have been... That you were...” Honoria turned her face into Lena’s hair, breathing in the sweet, familiar scent. Safe. Lena was safe.
“I could hear them all yelling but I didn’t dare go out.” Lena swallowed.
Lena looked past her, at Blade. “He’s still in bed. I didn’t unlock the door.”
“Good. You did good.” Her knees were still shaking. But Charlie was still in bed and Lena was... It dawned on her then. Her brother hadn’t lost control and turned.
Which meant that there had been another blue blood in Whitechapel.
A dash of ice water down her spine. But if the Duke of Vickers had found them, then he would have taken Lena and Charlie and tossed the house, searching for the diary with her father’s secrets.
Or would he?
This was exactly the type of game he liked to play. Cat-and-mouse. Toying with her. Leaving a pair of bodies torn apart in the street just to prove that he could. That nowhere was safe from him.
You are nothing, he’d once whispered in her ear. I could take you here and now and you couldn’t do a thing to stop me...
But he hadn’t, because it was far more enjoyable to watch her live in fear. Once he broke her, the game wouldn’t be as entertaining anymore.
What could she do? Should she run? But where? And how could she take Charlie now, when he was so ill? Where would she ever find another respectable job?
“Blade?” A man called, startling her back to the present.
She’d forgotten about him in the horror. And Blade was just as dangerous – if not more so – than Vickers. When she turned, she found him watching her, leaning back against the railing with that nonchalant way he had. With his leather coat over her shoulders, he wore only a white shirt and black velvet waistcoat. Despite herself, despite everything, she couldn’t help remembering how stroke-able that waistcoat had felt, when he had held her in his arms.
A laugh took her. She was going mad. She had to be, to think such a thing at a time like this.
Blade held up a hand, instantly silencing O’Shay. His gaze met hers and she felt as though she fell into a bottomless well, her body straining towards him, her eyes unable to drop from his.
“All’s well?” he asked softly.
She nodded, holding Lena’s hand tucked safely in hers. “All’s well.” It was a whisper. Her palms itched, as though they hungered for the touch of him.
“I’ll see you tomorrow night,” he told her. “Don’t go out ‘til morn. I’ll make sure Will’s on guard, just in case.”
He looked away. The spell was broken and Honoria blinked, sucking in a deep breath. She felt as though something important had happened, something that her mind couldn’t yet make heads-or-tails of. Then he turned and strode back towards the bodies.
“Honor,” Lena whispered. “That man just called him Blade. He’s not the Blade, is he? Where did you go?”
Honoria held her sister’s hand, watching as Blade sauntered down the steps. “He took me for a meal.” It was starting to rain, a light drizzle that did little but dampen the air. In the distance, Blade knelt down over the pair of bodies, examining them with the trio of men at his side. “I don’t know why.”
“I don’t like him,” Lena said. “You shouldn’t see him again.”
Honoria turned and shut the door behind them. Her eyes were burning with exhaustion. There’d be little mending finished tonight. She desperately needed sleep.
“I don’t have much choice,” she said. “He’s our new protector.”
So what do you think is scarier? Man or myth? Human or monster? Comment to go into the draw to win a copy of Kiss of Steel.