Confessions of a Dangerous LordBy: Elisa Braden
(Rescued from Ruin Book 7)
“We all have hidden depths, dear boy. The question is whether those depths conceal treasure or monsters.” —The Dowager Marchioness of Wallingham to Lord Dunston at said gentleman’s annual hunt.
March 15, 1819
Most men saw poorly in the dark. Sabre was not most men.
Call it breeding or training or random fortune, but an alley beneath London’s coal-choked sky posed no greater hardship to his eyes than a candlelit ballroom. Less, perhaps. Here, at least, the vermin did not bother with disguises.
Which was why the rat caught his notice. It gnawed something boot-shaped and motionless.
“Like bleeding pitch,” muttered Drayton, a looming wolfhound at Sabre’s side. “Should have brought a light.”
The Bow Street runner had left the lantern with the coachman two streets over, fearing their contact would balk at being seen. That assessment might have been correct had their contact still been breathing.
He glanced again at the rodent’s furtive form. Heard the whisk of rodent feet, the squeak of rodent teeth on cheap leather. It knew what was becoming obvious, if only from the odor, floating beneath the stench of human refuse and animal waste.
“Return to the coach.”
Sabre’s grim order straightened Drayton out of his habitual hunch. “He’s a mite late, I’ll grant. But he’s the first source we’ve had in seven—”
“Late, yes. As in the ‘late’ Mr. Chalmers. Fetch the lantern.” He moved deeper into the dark, toward the rat’s feast. “Be swift, now.”
Behind him, Drayton groaned. “Ah, bloody, bleeding hell.”
Sabre crouched beside the corpse as Drayton’s loping clomps receded. The rat flew with one hand’s impatient swipe. The tang of blood entered his nose.
Three alcoves and two piles of rubbish in this alley. An attacker would have little trouble hiding long enough to dispatch a craven mouse like Chalmers. Sabre had warned him a public location was best. Instead, the mouse had insisted on this narrow spot between back doors and brick, far from the green glow of gaslights in more respectable parts of the city.
Stupidity had killed him, as it had many who entered the Investor’s sphere.
Sabre searched the man’s coat—rough wool suited to his recent poverty—and found only a gilt-brass watch, a wadded handkerchief, and a ruined pouch of snuff. He tossed them all aside with a curse.
This had been a fool’s errand. Ending in yet another fool dead.
After more than a decade chasing the Investor like a hound hunting smoke, Sabre should have known better. But leads were few in this particular hunt, and consequently, more tempting.
One breath before he attempted to rise, he felt the prickle. Heard the thwick of metal leaving a sheath.
Spinning low away from the sound, he sprang from his crouch. Withdrew his own dagger from the scabbard at his hip. Sliced upward in one ghostly motion.
Caught cloth and shadow but no flesh.
Heart slowed. Eyes sharpened.
By contrast, the shadow breathed fast. Probably surprised by his quickness. Rats who inhabited the dark often were.
Sabre grinned, bouncing lightly on his toes, the long knife’s ebony grip cradled in his palm like a woman’s breast. Warm and sweet. Familiar. “You should have contented yourself with Mr. Chalmers.” He tsked. “Your employer’s name, if you please.”
The shadow stilled. A blade shone in the meager light from windows along the adjacent street. The assassin must have wiped his weapon clean after withdrawing it from Chalmers’s kidney.
“Come now,” Sabre chided, slowly circling. Dancing. Waiting. “Few men desire an excruciating death over a swift one. Surely you are not among them.”
“Y-you’re him.” The shadow’s voice trembled and broke.
Sabre tsked again. “Dreadful moniker.” He held up his knife, tossing it with a practiced spin. He liked the way it caught the light before returning home to his hand. “Inaccurate, as you can see. Well, perhaps you cannot, dark as it is. Knives are my preference. Portable. Efficient.” He nodded toward Chalmers. “I note your fondness for them, as well.”