Home > Firelight (Darkest London #1)(2)

Firelight (Darkest London #1)(2)
Author: Kristen Callihan

Martin took pity and helped the boy to his feet. “Call it quits, then?” He offered his hand once more in peace.

The youth grumbled a bit then took the proffered hand. “I suppose I must. Take the sword, will you? Father almost found it the other day.”

“And we mustn’t have that, hum?” Martin tweaked the boy’s nose.

The two parted ways, each going toward opposite garden doors.

“ ’Night, Martin.”

“ ’Night, Pan!”

Smiling, the blond boy watched his little friend leave the garden and then left.

Archer moved through the shadows, heading toward the door where Pan had gone through. Prickles of unease danced over his skin. Fighter or no, the boy was too fragile to walk alone and unarmed in the dead of night. A rare bit of entertainment certainly earned the boy a safe passage home.

He stalked him easily, staying to the shadows, keeping well behind. The boy moved through the night without fear, a jaunty near swagger in his step as he turned from the sidewalk into an alleyway.

Thus his squeak of alarm was all the louder when two grimy older boys slipped out of the shadows and blocked his path.

“An’ who’s this?” The fellow was a big brute, short and wide. The type, Archer thought grimly, for he was in no mood to throttle children, who always wanted a fight.

“Hello,” said Pan, stepping back one pace. “Don’t mind me. Just out for a stroll.”

The taller one of the two laughed, showing a large gap between his teeth. “ ‘Out for a stroll,’ ” he parroted. “Who you think you are? Prince Bertie?”

Pan was quick to rally. “Eh? Can’ a man use the Queen’s English now an’ then?” he chided, slipping into street tongue as smooth as plum pudding. “Especially when it helps wit me fannin’?”

Young Pan eased around them, slyly moving toward the back of a large town house. There lied safety, Archer realized. It was the boy’s home. It was Ellis’s home, he realized with a little shock. Who was this boy?

“Them marks always appreciate a kind word,” the boy went on.

Archer had to appreciate the boy’s flair with the common tongue; he hardly understood a word. But the lad was putting it on too thickly. The young roughs knew it, too.

“You think we’re flat?” one of them snapped.

The youth backed up as the older boys closed round. “Here now, no need to kick up a shine…”

“Need a slate, do ya?” The taller of the two roughs cuffed the boy lightly on the head. The boy’s hat flew off, and Archer’s heart stopped short. A silken mass of fire tumbled free, falling like molten gold down to the boy’s waist. Archer fought for breath. Not a boy, a girl. And not thirteen, but closer to eighteen. A young woman.

He stared at the mass of red-gold hair. He’d never seen hair so fine and glorious before. Titian hair, some would call it. That ineffable color between gold and red that captivated artists and poets alike.

“Keep back!”

The high pip of a voice pulled Archer out of his reverie. His urchin moved into a defensive stance as her attackers loomed in with interest. Surprise had overcome the two roughs as well but they recovered quickly and now sought a new opportunity.

“Aw, come on, luv. No need for tantrums. We didn’t know you was a dollymop, now did we?”

They moved in, and the hairs lifted on the back of Archer’s neck. A growl grew in his throat. Archer took a step, then another. They wouldn’t hear him yet; he was too quiet, his form steeped in darkness.

“Show us your bubs, eh?” said the shorter one, and clearly the first who would feel the business end of Archer’s fist.

Surprisingly, the girl didn’t appear as afraid as she ought to be. She stood defiantly, keeping her fists raised and her eyes trained on the boys. The idea was laughable.

“Leave off,” she said with iron in her small voice.

The street roughs laughed, an ugly sneering sound. “Oh right, leave off, she says.”

The taller one snorted. “Listen ’ere, toffer, behave an’ we’ll leave you intact.”

Green eyes blazed beneath her auburn brows that arched like angel’s wings.

They were green, weren’t they? Archer squinted, his abnormal eyes using what little light there was to see. Yes, crystalline green ringed with emerald, like the cross section of a Chardonnay grape. Yet he swore he saw a glint of orange fire flash in them.

“Leave now,” she demanded, unmoved, “or I’ll turn you both to cheese on toast.”

Archer could not help it, mirth bubbled up within, and he found himself laughing. The sound echoed off the cold stone houses and brick-lined alley. The young men whirled round. The fear in their faces was clear. They weren’t up for an exchange with a grown man, most especially any man who’d be out on the streets at this hour. Archer knew their cut, cowards who preyed on the weak and fled at the first sign of true danger. He came close enough for them to see his shape and the toes of his Hessians, preferring to stay in shadow until necessary.

“Hook it! This ’ere’s our business,” said the tall one with forced confidence.

“Stay a moment longer in this alleyway,” Archer said, “and your time in this world will come to a swift end.” His voice was not his own. A pale rasp after his last battle, it had been torn by injuries that should have robbed him of his ability to speak. But he would heal. Soon.

They sensed the unnaturalness in him—the street wretches always did—and stood gaping at him like dead fish.

He cracked his knuckles. “Or perhaps not so swiftly. I do enjoy playing with my prey.”

The pair gathered their wits and ran, the rapid patter of their footfall clamoring on the cobblestones of the street beyond.

They’d gone but the girl had not. She stood, frozen it seemed, in her ridiculous stance of defense.

The bones beneath her alabaster skin were exquisite, with high curved cheeks, graceful jaw, and straight, delicate nose. Michelangelo might have sculpted her. And a blow from one man’s fist would smash that beauty in an instant.

“Go home,” he said to her.

She flinched slightly but stayed set, swaying a bit as though dazed.

He sighed. “Go, before I decide to teach you a lesson.”

That snapped her out of it. She eyed the wall behind her, where the safety of her home lay, and then the alleyway to her side. She didn’t want him to know she was home, but had no desire to run off down that alley. Was she a servant? No, she hadn’t the hands of one. Nor could Ellis afford a servant. But he had daughters. Three that Archer knew of, and only one that remained in the home. Miranda. His mind rolled over the name, savoring it like wine.

“Leave,” she squeaked. “And I’ll go home.”

He bit back a smile. Had defiance ever been so intriguing? Youth so beguiling? She was old enough to marry. He blinked, clearing his mind of that insane thought. She was an innocent. He would not think of her as seductive. But she would be—someday. Would that mouth grow lusher still? The slight baby softness at her cheeks melt into greater delicacy?

He watched her, momentarily entranced by the golden strands of hair that swirled about her angular face like flames.

“Who are you?” she snapped.

The sharp query brought him to attention. He made a courtly bow.

Hot Books
» Buy Me Sir
» Daddy's Pretty Baby
» The Dom's Virgin: A Dark Billionaire Romanc
» Wet
» Mastered (The Enforcers #1)
» The Greek's Forgotten Wife (The Boarding Sc
» If You Were Mine
» His Erotic Obsession (The Jamison Sisters #
» Dominated (The Enforcers #2)
» The Sheik’s Sensuous Trap
» Kept (The Enforcers #3)
» Fallen Crest High (Fallen Crest High #1)
» The Billionaire Takes All (The Sinclairs #5
» Pregnant with the Sheik's Baby (The Samara
» Dragon's Storm (Legion Of Angels #4)