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Page 2

“Keep your money,” Daniel said. “Give me a horse or your best servant in lieu—I’m not particular.”

Mortimer’s friends didn’t move. “But I insist,” Mortimer said.

Eleven against one. If Daniel argued, he’d only end up with bruised knuckles. He didn’t particularly want to hurt his hands, because he had the fine-tuning of his engine to do, and he needed to be able to hold a spanner.

“Fair enough,” Daniel said. “But I assess the goods before I accept it as payment of debt.”

Mortimer agreed. He clapped Daniel on the shoulder as he led him out, and Daniel stopped himself shaking off his touch.

Mortimer’s friends filed around them in a defensive flank as they made their way to Mortimer’s waiting landau. Daniel noted as they pulled away from the Nines that the bone-breaker had slipped out the door behind them and followed.

Mortimer took Daniel through the misty city to a respectable neighborhood north of Oxford Street, stopping on a quiet lane near Portman Square.

The hour was two in the morning, and this street was silent, the houses dark. Behind the windows lay respectable gentlemen who would rise in the early hours and trundle to the City for work.

Daniel descended from the landau and looked up at the dark windows. “She’ll be asleep, surely. Leave it for tomorrow.”

“Nonsense,” Mortimer said. “She sees me anytime I call.”

He walked to a black-painted front door and rapped on it with his stick. Above them a light appeared, and a curtain drew back. Mortimer looked up at the window, made an impatient gesture, and rapped on the door again.

The curtain dropped, and the light faded. Tap, tap, tap, went Mortimer’s stick. Daniel folded his arms, stopping himself from ripping the stick from Mortimer’s hands and breaking it over his knee. “Who lives here?”

“I do,” Mortimer said. “I mean, I own the house. At least, my family does. We let it to Madame Bastien and her daughter. For a slight savings in rent, they agreed to entertain me and my friends anytime I asked it.”

“Including the middle of the bloody night?”

“Especially the middle of the night.”

Mortimer smiled—self-satisfied English prig. The ladies inside had to be courtesans. Mortimer had reduced the rent and obligated them to pay in kind.

Daniel turned back to the landau. “This isn’t worth two thousand, Mortimer.”

“Patience. You’ll see.”

The rest of Mortimer’s friends had arrived and hemmed them in, blocking the way back to the landau. The bone-breaker was still in attendance, hovering in the shadows a little way down the street.

The door opened. A maid who’d obviously dressed hastily stepped aside and let the stream of gentlemen inside. The drunker lads of the party wanted to pause to see what entertainment she might provide, but Daniel planted himself solidly beside the door, blocking their way to her. They moved past, forgetting about her.

Mortimer led the way to double pocket doors at the end of the hall and pushed them open. Daniel caught a flurry of movement from the room beyond, but by the time Mortimer beckoned Daniel, stillness had taken over.

They entered a dining room. The walls were covered with a blue, gold, and burnt orange striped wallpaper, its many colors bright in the light of a hearth fire. A gas chandelier hung dark above, and a solitary candelabra with three candles rested on the long, empty table. A young woman was just touching a match to the candlewicks.

When the third candle was lit, she blew out the match and straightened up. “So sorry to have kept you waiting, gentlemen,” she said in a voice very faintly accented. “I’m afraid my mother is unable to rise. You will have to make do with me.”

Whatever Mortimer and the other gentlemen said in response, Daniel didn’t hear. He couldn’t hear anything. He couldn’t see anything either, except the woman who stood poised behind the candelabra, the long match still in her hand, the smile of an angel on her face.

She wasn’t beautiful. Daniel had seen faces more beautiful in the Casino in Monte Carlo, at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. He’d known slimmer bodies in dancers, or in the butterflies that glided about the gaming hells in St. James’s and Monaco, enticing gentlemen to play.

This young woman had an angular face softened by a mass of dark hair dressed in a pompadour, ringlets trickling down the sides of her face. Her nose was a little too long, her mouth too wide, her shoulders and arms too plump. Her eyes were her best feature, set in exact proportion in her face, dark blue in the glint of candlelight.

They were eyes a man could gaze into all night and wake up to in the morning. He could contemplate her eyes across the breakfast table and then at dinner while he made plans to look into them again all through the night.

She wasn’t a courtesan. Courtesans began charming the moment a gentleman walked into a room. They gestured with graceful fingers, implying that those fingers would be equally graceful traveling a man’s body. Courtesans drew in, they suggested without words, they used every movement and every expression to beguile.

This woman stood fixed in place, her body language not inviting the gentlemen into the room at all, despite her words and her smile. If her movements were graceful as she turned to toss the match into the fire, it was from nature, not practice.

She wore a plain gown of blue satin that bared her shoulders, but the gown was no less respectable than what a lady in this neighborhood might wear for dinner or a night at the theatre. Her hair in the simple pompadour had no ribbons or jewels to adorn it. The unaffected style hinted that the dark masses might come down at any time over the hands of the lucky gentleman who pulled out the hairpins.

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