I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more.
The dream was always the same. Only it was not a dream but a memory, and his body knew it, reacting to the terror imprinted upon his very bones with the same infirm jerks as if responding to that long-ago torture. Trapped within his mind, he could not escape, but lay helpless as it came for him yet again.
Always the same. Strapped by gold chains to a trolley, he could not free himself as the vacant-eyed thug rolled him along. Overhead, coal-blackened stone arches drifted by, the bed beneath him bumping and rattling on ancient cobbles. His heart pounded, fear churning within his gut. But rage overshadowed everything. It made his fangs drop over the gag that cut into his lips. He held himself still, kept his wits about him. Ignore the fear. Focus.
He had a good idea who had him and why. He’d been careless, and loyal to someone who worked for the wrong side. Jack Talent. His best mate. And now he’d pay for helping him. And it would hurt.
The scent of blood and metal hit him before the doors opened. Then he was in a cavernous room, the stench of suffering rising to a cloying thickness. On the far side, a variety of saws and knives hung against the wall. His insides rolled. He struggled against his bonds, testing them for weaknesses. There were none, and his heart threatened to pound out of his chest.
He could almost tell himself it would be all right. Until the being walked up to him, dark power and insanity humming in the silence. Inky wings rose up from behind muscled shoulders. Fallen angel.
Bugger. Bugger. Bugger.
The fallen smiled down at him, a strange, almost paternal expression. Mad bastard. Cold fingers trailed along his cheek, sending shards of terror through him as they went.
“Mr. Thorne here has been telling tales to those who should not hear them.”
Thorne. That was his name. He hadn’t realized he’d forgotten it until the fallen had spoken. He’d been drugged. By someone who knew what to use on sanguis demons. He was William Thorne. And he was mired in a world of deep shit.
Will bucked, the gold bands cutting into his torso. Hot blood ran over his ice-cold flesh. He snarled against his gag, the sound ineffectual and small.
The fallen ignored him and walked over to a worktable set off to the side of the room. He picked up a long, ivory-handled bone saw.
And Will’s entire world stopped, his ears buzzing and his skin prickling. He could not look away from the saw—the dull, rusty saw. Bile rushed up his throat, burning and pooling in his mouth.
Slowly, and with great relish, the winged mad-fuck let the steel blade catch the light as he turned back towards Will.
A prayer old as Cain, and just as desperate, flew through his mind. His breathing grew rapid and raw. Desperation had him looking away. And then he spotted her.
An angel. Huddled on the floor. Eyes of twilight, raven black hair falling in a wild riot about her pale face, she was the most terribly beautiful creature he’d ever seen. Help me. Please. I beg of you. Surely an angel could destroy a fallen.
But she did not move. She merely stared at him without a trace of emotion. Will ought not be surprised. He was a being of Hell, not of Heaven. How could he expect an angel to come to his rescue? Still, he tried. Please. Please. I am not so very vile. He was, but surely she would have pity.
“Shall we try our newest creation?” the fallen asked her with soft menace.
Betrayal slammed through Will so hard he cried out.
The angel came to her feet, and he heard clattering.
“Stop.” Her voice was cold, mechanical. “We haven’t chloroform.”
Not an angel, but one of the fallen’s pets. Will gagged, his vision going blurry, and he fought once more for his freedom.
“Not to worry,” came the voice of the fallen, “it will not affect the procedure.”
When the fallen bent over him, the bone saw in his hand, Will lost all control, bucking so hard that the trolley rocked. He strained until his muscles tore with white-hot agony. He did not stop.
“Come now, Mr. Thorne. I am giving you a gift. Blood such as you’ve never tasted, a bit of my power, the gift of shadow. Should you survive, you will possess a body stronger than you could imagine.”
“Ingrate,” snarled the fallen as if he’d read Will’s thoughts. Good.
Hard hands came down upon him. A metal tube smashed between his teeth. Blood, thick and delicious, poured over his tongue and down his throat. Will almost laughed. Ironic that he should have such a glorious last meal. Instantly his pain dulled, the muscles along his arms and torso itching as they knitted. Dark magic. Jack’s blood.
It did not stop his panic.
The ragged blade tore through his flesh. White colored his vision, and he screamed. And screamed. Agony clawed through him as the saw hacked at his sternum. He became pain.
The fallen’s voice sliced through it all. “Come, Miss Evernight, and see your creation be born.”
Evernight, Will thought wildly, his mind needing something to latch onto. And then he saw her, standing at his side, a motionless statue, her dark blue eyes watching his pain with detachment.
When they ripped out his heart, and he finally succumbed to blissful oblivion, he held onto one thing: his hate for his tormentor and the one with the angel’s face and the devil’s mind. Evernight.
London, October, 1886
She was being hunted. Of that Holly was sure. Heart beating a hard rhythm against her ribs, she lay still and silent upon her bed and waited. All was quiet, save the wind, which rustled the leaves on the tree near the house. The silver disk of the moon, shining bright against the ink-black sky, peeked past the corner of her window. And somewhere out there, something stalked her. She could feel it coming for her, the certainty of it like a heavy hand pressing upon her heart.
Odd thing to be hunted when one could barely work up the courage to leave one’s house. Rather like a rabbit hunkered down in her warren, waiting for the fox. Then again, she wasn’t quite so helpless. Her home was built like a fortress. And, up until now, her safeguards had worked.
Last week, the electrified inner fence had fried a demon to a crisp. The foul stench of burnt flesh had hung over Mayfair like a pall, drifting into the house to permeate the drapes despite the tightly closed windows and thick, reinforced stone walls. Holly wondered absently what her neighbors made of the smell. But, before the body had even a chance to cool, Felix had deftly taken care of it, leaving no one the wiser.
The week before, Nan had found an elemental male—rather rare—decapitated on the south lawn near the kitchen doors, the victim of a tripwire that triggered a swinging blade designed to catch the unwary across the neck. As for Nan? The pragmatic cook-housekeeper-et-al had merely searched for his head and found it by a mound of ice. So he’d had the power to freeze. Hadn’t helped him keep his head, however.
Anxiety tightened Holly’s gut and robbed her of sleep. Someone wanted her dead. And she did not know who. Or why.
She could contact the SOS. It was the duty of The Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, or SOS, to hunt down supernaturals who preyed on others. But then regulators would be swarming her grounds in an effort to protect her. And while she admired and missed her colleagues, she did not want them invading her privacy. Worse, she would be forced to explain to Director Lane why she wasn’t capable of returning to her work quite yet. Poppy Lane would see through her hedging and misdirection in an instant. And that really was too humiliating to contemplate.
On the floor below, the clock struck midnight—a soft, usually comforting chime that now had her jumping within her skin. And quite suddenly, Holly had had enough. Cursing, she flung her covers aside and scrambled out of bed. Her feet met with the icy floor, and she marched along, headed for her dressing room. Fumbling in the dark, she threw on a serviceable wool house gown and heavy boots before grabbing her utility belt, complete with knives, spare bullets, and other weapons. She secured it low on her hips, then reached for the handheld submachine revolver she was testing. Heavy and unwieldy, due to a rather large cylinder attached to the base that held 50 rounds of ammunition, the gun needed to be secured to an arm brace for Holly to handle it. Her fingers were steady as she clipped the brace on and left her room.
In the hall, she paused, told herself to move, do what she must. Oh, but she felt the fear. The familiar tight pang of it that occurred whenever she stepped more than a foot outside her front door.
“You won’t be going more than a foot,” she muttered to herself. “Get on with it, old girl.”
Outside was bitter cold and so clear, the moon so very bright, that each blade of grass appeared limned in silver-white light. Poised at the threshold of her door, feet braced apart and hand upon the trigger of her gun, Holly surveyed her land, from the stone stairs to where her front lawn stretched to meet the iron spikes of her gate. Nothing stirred. Even the breeze had died, as though holding its breath.
She was not fooled. She could feel him out there. Watching. Waiting.
“Show yourself, you coward.” Her voice sounded small and thin in the empty expanse of the front garden. Thud, thud, thud went her heart. Her breath rasped in and out of her lungs. Ice traveled along her spine, making her fingers tense upon the handle of the gun. Easy. Easy.
Though there was not a cloud in the sky, shadows began to coalesce over the garden. Dense, black, and complete, it swarmed along the grass and crept up the sides of the house. Instinct had Holly spinning left and raising her gun as the dark shadow hurled towards her.
The gun went off in rapid succession, each shot punctuated by a loud clang as the bullets ricocheted off of some kind of metal that sparked on impact. It was all she registered before the thing was upon her, and cruel, icy fingers gripped her throat even as the hard body slammed into her. They crashed into the door, her bones rattling, her breath choked from her lungs. A flash of silver, two long white fangs gleaming, and eyes—terrifying, mindless—locked on her with complete hatred.
She would die now. Even so, she reached out, her hand connecting with something smooth and hard.
Power surged through her in a rush so fast and strong that her head spun. The body pressing into her froze on a gurgled gasp. Everything went painfully still—the night, her heart, her breath. She couldn’t move, her fingers stuck against a cold curve. The shadows around her cleared, and she stared into a face of aching beauty and bone-deep terror. Whatever sort of being she held captive by her touch—for he’d yet to move either—was made not of flesh but of metal, shining bright and gleaming in the moonlight.
The sharp angles of his features, the high, sculpted cheeks and knife-blade thin nose, seemed familiar to her. But the thought fled in favor of the strengthening hum coursing through her. Oh, but she knew this power. It was as much a part of her as her bones. Metal. It was hers to command. Her friend.
Holly didn’t have to think. The metal responded as if being called home. And on the next draw of power, the male on top of her fell to the side with a clang, lying helpless and unmoving, save for the rapid cadence of breath that hissed between his clenched teeth. Keeping her hand upon his cheek, she scrambled to her knees and peered over him. His eyes, wide and wild, stared back.
“It is unfortunate for you,” she said, “that you are made of metal.”
A low, animalistic growl rumbled in his throat, and fear danced along her spine. Holly didn’t let it show. She studied the creature, trying to think of what to do with him. She wasn’t sure how to kill him, nor if she ought to. He held answers. How to get them was another matter.
He was in pain. She could see that now. It vibrated through him, pulling at the clean, sharp lines of his face. That face. She knew him. Spots danced before her eyes as panic and guilt speared her soul. She had created him.
Beholding the transformed face of Will Thorne, the terror Holly had felt during her captivity surged to the fore on a wave of shocking cold. Guilt was a bitter stew in her stomach. She hadn’t let herself think of him. Hadn’t wanted to. From the day Jack Talent and Mary Chase had freed her and Thorne, she had tried to put him and the whole incident out of her mind. And while she’d been able to successfully relinquish all thoughts of Thorne, her life was lived in an effort to not think about the hellish moments that had played out in the dark cellar they’d shared.
Now here he was, glaring up at her in accusation. And she could only return that gaze by going numb. Feel nothing. Retreat to that safe, quiet place of logic and facts.
Holly reached up and hit the small brass button by her front door. A series of hisses and buzzes sounded in the dark night, and then Felix’s faint voice crackled through. “Yes?”
“It’s me. I need assistance. Presently,” she added, before letting the button go.
Thorne was beginning to shake and pant like a horse that had been run to ground. His gaze had yet to leave her. The last time she’d looked into his eyes, rays of black and silver had radiated from his cornea. Now his irises were entirely silver. Platinum, actually. The hard metal that made up his clockwork heart had invaded every inch of his flesh. Even his hair, once a brilliant snow white, fanned out in silken skeins of shining platinum. Quite beautiful, this metal man.
Deadly too, if the promise of retribution in his eyes ever came to fruition. She would see that it did not.
“I shall not hurt you,” she said to him. If he understood was another matter. He appeared completely maddened. More animal than logical being.
Another growl gurgled in his throat, and she could feel the hatred vibrating from him.
Felix yanked open the door. Now fully dressed, save for his cravat, he assessed the situation in a glance and pocketed the gun in his hand.