Duke of Pleasure(3)

By: Elizabeth Hoyt

Which they did.

There were still eight or so of the attackers left, and although they weren’t trained, they were determined. Hugh slashed and punched and kicked, while his feminine savior danced an elegant dance of death with her swords. When he smashed the butt of his sword into the skull of one of the last men, the remaining two looked at each other, picked up a third, and took to their heels.

Panting, Hugh glanced around the courtyard. It was strewn with groaning men, most still very much alive, though not dangerous at the moment.

He peered at the masked woman. She was tiny, barely reaching his shoulder. How was it she’d saved him from certain, ignoble death? But she had. She surely had.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice gruff. He cleared his throat. “I—”

She grinned, a quicksilver flash, and put her left hand on the back of his neck to pull his head down.

And then she kissed him.

ALF PRESSED HER lips against Kyle’s lovely mouth and thought her heart might beat right out of her breast at her daring.

Then he groaned—a rumbling sound she felt in the fingertips on his nape—and tried to pull her closer. She ducked away and out of reach, skipping back, and then turned and ran down a little alley. She found a stack of barrels and scrambled up them. Pulled herself onto a leaning balcony and from there shinnied up to the roof. She bent low and tiptoed across rotten tiles, some broken, until she was nearly to the edge of the roof, and then lay flat to peer over.

He was still staring down the alley where she’d disappeared, daft man.

Oh, he was a big one, was Kyle. Broad shoulders, long legs. A mouth that made her remember she was a woman beneath her men’s clothing. He’d lost his hat and white wig somewhere during his mad dash away from the footpads. He stood bareheaded, his coat torn and bloodied, and in the moonlight she could almost mistake him for a man who belonged in St Giles.

But he wasn’t.

He turned finally and limped in the direction of Covent Garden. She rose and followed him—just to make sure he made it out of St Giles.

The one and only time she’d met Kyle before this, she’d been dressed in her daytime disguise as Alf, the boy who made his living as an informant. Except Kyle had wanted information on the Duke of Montgomery, who had been employing Alf at the time.

She snorted under her breath as she ran along the ridge of a rooftop, keeping Kyle’s shorn black head in sight. Insulting, that had been—him thinking she’d inform on the man paying her. She might not be a lady, but she had her honor. She’d waited until he’d bought her dinner and outlined what he wanted to hire her for—and then she’d turned the table over into his lap. She’d run from the tavern, but not before thumbing her nose at him.

She grinned as she leaped silently from one rooftop to another.

The last time she’d seen Kyle, he’d worn potatoes and gravy on his costly cloak and an angry expression on his handsome face.

Down below, his stride was increasing as they neared the outskirts of St Giles, his boot heels echoing off the cobblestones. She paused, leaning on a chimney. There were more lanterns set out here by the shopkeepers. She watched as Kyle crossed the street, looking warily around, his sword still in his hand.

He didn’t have need of her to see him home to whatever grand house he lived in. He was a man well able to look after himself.

Still, she crouched there until he disappeared into the shadows.

Ah, well. Time to go home to her own little nest, then.

She turned and ran over the shingles, quick and light.

When she’d been a child and first learned to scale buildings, she’d thought of London as her forest, St Giles her wood, the roofs her treetops.

Truth be told, she’d never seen a forest, a wood, nor even treetops. She’d never been out of London, for that matter. The farthest east she’d ever traveled in her life was to Wapping—where the air held the faintest hint of sea salt, tickling the nose. The farthest west, to Tyburn, to witness Charming Mickey O’Connor being hanged. Except he hadn’t been, to the surprise of all that day. He’d disappeared from the gallows and into legend like the wondrous river pirate he was. But wild birds—free birds—were supposed to live in forests and woods and treetops.