Authors: Kat Martin
“Who ain't? Kilt her just a few blocks from here.”
“Your boss says you were working the night she was killed,” Thor said. “Did you see a lad come back here to use one of the cots?”
“Slender, sandy hair?” Lindsey added. “He was extremely inebriated. He woke up passed out on the floor.”
Thor handed the old man a coin and his veined hand curled around it.
“I seen him. He were so foxed he could barely stand. Can't remember when he come inâ¦maybe an hour or so after I got here. I seen him back here before.”
She didn't like the sound of that. Gambling could become a very bad habit. As heir to the Renhurst barony, it was a habit Rudy could ill afford.
“The lad was alone?” Thor asked
The old man nodded.
“There is a place,” Thor said. “The drugâopiumâis smoked there. Do you know it?” When the old man hesitated, Thor handed him another coin.
“House of Dreams, they call it. Never been there meself. Bad stuff that.”
“Where is it?” Lindsey asked.
When he didn't answer, Thor gave him another coin. “Where,” he said simply.
“A basement in the Strand. Place sits on the corner of Strand and Percy. But they won't let you in, not unless you know somebody.”
Thor's jaw hardened. “They will let us in.”
Stubbs tilted his head back to look up at the man who towered a foot above him. “I'll just bet they will.”
“Your brother went into the cot room an hour after the old man got there,” Thor said as the carriage rolled toward the Strand.
“Which according to Mr. Adams was around three o'clock,” Lindsey said, “which makes Rudy's arrival somewhere near four.”
“You need to find out what time the witness claims to have seen Rudy running from the scene of the crime,” Leif said. “And you need to find out why she believes it was your brother.”
Lindsey thought the handsome police lieutenant who had helped her before and the ball being given by the Earl of Kittridge, where the lieutenant was likely to be. “I may be able to find that out.”
Thor cast her a look, but made no comment. He sat so close she could feel his chest expanding as he breathed. An image of him working in the back room of the office, his shirt open, exposing that same massive chest, made her face go hot and the cool night suddenly warm.
“Your brother and the Carter woman went to the House of Dreams,” Leif said, drawing her attention and thankfully Thor's, as well. “Then your brother went to the Golden Pheasant.”
“That's right, but Phoebe wasn't with him. Perhaps he dropped her off at the party at the Blue Moon.”
“I do not think so,” Thor said. “A man that drunkâ¦if he went there, he likely would never have made it to the Golden Pheasant.”
“I think you are right.”
“You need to know what other men Phoebe Carter spent time with,” Leif said. “Perhaps one of them was jealous of Rudy.”
“I should have thought of that,” Lindsey said, feeling a jolt of excitement. “A jealous man might purposely make it look as if Rudy were the guilty party.”
“Her flatmates will know,” Thor said.
“But how do we get them to tell us?”
One of Thor's dark eyebrows went up. He dug out his pouch of coins and held it in the glow of the lamp burning inside the carriage. “We will pay them. They sell their bodies. Answering questions is far easier work.”
Leif grinned. “Not bad, little brother.” He lounged against the deep velvet cushions of the carriage, his shoulders nearly filling his side of the seat. “I think you may have a knack for this sort of thing.”
Lindsey studied both men. It was obvious Leif was intelligent. He dressed impeccably, had perfect manners. He had taught himself everything he needed to know to fit flawlessly into society.
She studied Thor from beneath her lashes as he reclined in the seat beside her. He was different, softer spoken, less driven, well-dressed but in a simpler, more straightforward manner. She had noticed that he always seemed to observe what was happening around him without any conscious effort. He had a way of absorbing and analyzing details other people missed.
The more she got to know him, the more she was coming to believe she had been wrong about him. That she had underestimated his intelligence. That in a different way, he was just as smart as his brother.
“I've read about opium,” Leif said. “It's a dangerous, addictive drug when it's misused.”
“People take laudanum for headaches,” Lindsey said. “There's opium in that.”
“That's right,” Leif said. “But opium taken through a pipe is a far stronger dose. According to what I've read, it puts the user in a state of euphoria, a dream-like trance so pleasant it becomes addictive. Your brother is fortunate he only tried it once.”
“Percy Street!” the coachman called out just then, pulling the carriage over to the edge of the road.
Thor made a sweeping survey of the area while Leif opened the door and jumped down. Thor followed, then turned to help Lindsey down, his big hands reaching out to wrap around her waist. A warm tingle went through her. As he set her on her feet, his gaze locked with hers, the bluest eyes she had ever seen. Something hot and fierce burned in their depths an instant before he released her.
Lindsey's heart pounded. Dear God, when had it happened that the man could merely touch her and all sorts of improper thoughts rose into her head?
Or had it always been that way? Was that the reason she had taken such pains to avoid him?
They made their way round the brick building to a side entrance that led the rooms below. Stone stairs descended to an arched wooden door leading into a basement. A big, beefy man with a small gold ring in his ear stood guard outside the door, his thick arms folded over his chest.
“Is this the place called the House of Dreams?” Thor asked.
“Who wants to know?”
Lindsey moved in front of Thor, parting her cloak, letting the beefy man view the pale swells of her breasts. “We're friends of a client,” she said with what she hoped was a seductive smile. “Mr. Rudy Graham? He was a patron several weeks back.”
The guard's dark eyes moved over her bosom and beside her, Thor stiffened. She stepped on his foot in warning. Dammit, she was playing the role
“Wait here.” The guard disappeared through the door, closing it firmly behind him.
A few minutes later, a woman appeared, tall and stunningly beautiful, with thick dark red hair and deep-set green eyes. Her gaze lit for a moment on Leif, skimmed past Lindsey as if she weren't there, and fixed on Thor. It was obvious she liked what she saw.
“So, you're friends of the future Baron Renhurst.”
“Aye,” Thor answered, since the woman's statement was addressed to him. “Rudy told us about this place. He thought we might enjoy a visit.”
Her gaze ran over Thor's perfectly sculpted features and amazing blue eyes, took in his long legs, trim hips, massive shoulders and chest. It was clear there was no padding in his coat. Lindsey ignored a twinge of jealousy she had no right to feel.
“We have certain rules here,” the woman said. “I don't allow strangersâbut since you are Mr. Graham's friends, I believe I can make an exception.” She stepped back out of the way, allowing them entrance. “My name is Sultry Weaver. Welcome to the House of Dreams.”
Thor set a hand at Lindsey's waist, urging her forward, and Leif fell in behind them. Lindsey paused just inside the door, her stunned gaze barely able to take in the sight in front of her. The low-ceilinged room was nearly dark, lit only by rows of flickering candles. The fragrance of incense filled the air, along with the soft, sweet smell of pipe smoke.
A dozen cots lined the walls. Only a few were empty. Most held an occupant who either slept or drew on the long, flexible stem of a pipe. The brass bowl, on a table beside the cot, was heated by the flame of a candle, which turned the drug into smoke.
“Would you like to try it?” Sultry asked. “I can guarantee your dreams will be pleasant ones.” Her gaze ran over Thor and she looked as if she itched to reach out and touch him, slide her long, slim fingers over his muscular body.
Lindsey's stomach tightened. Sultry was beautiful, her waist tiny, her bosom full and tempting, the sort of figure a man couldn't resist. Lindsey looked up at Thor, dreading to see the same hot look in his eyes she had seen when he looked at her.
Thor seemed unaware of the woman's rare beauty or her obvious interest, and relief filtered through her. It was ridiculous. She had no claim on Thor.
“We are not here to dream,” he said simply. “We would like to know about Rudolph Graham. He came here last with a woman named Phoebe Carter. Later that night, she was murdered.”
“What our clients do is their business. We protect their privacy and that is the reason they feel free to come here.”
“We aren't asking you about what happened here,” Leif said. “Rudy Graham has been arrested for Phoebe Carter's murder. We are trying to prove his innocence.”
“I am Rudy's sister,” Lindsey added on impulse, hoping it might help sway the woman in their favor.
Sultry's brilliant green gaze ran over her, noting the face paint and low-cut, orange gown, guessing the role she played. “You're the daughter of a baron, yet you're willing to go to dangerous lengths for your brother. He must mean a great deal to you.”
“I love Rudy. My brother is innocent. We need your help to prove it.”
“Would you happen to recall what time Rudy and Miss Carter came in?” Leif asked.
Sultry hesitated, then seemed to make a decision. “They came in around two o'clock, I think, but I am not completely sure.”
“Do you know where they might have been going when they left?” Lindsey asked.
“Your brother left by himself. Phoebe remained for a short while after. She came often. She earned her dream-time by bringing new clients.”
“How long did she stay?”
“Only a few minutes. We spoke about another client she was hoping to bring in, then she was gone.”
“Did she tell you the client's name?”
“I'm afraid not, and even if she had, I wouldn't tell you.”
“Do you know where Phoebe was going?”
“She was headed back to her flat. It isn't that far away.”
“But she was murdered before she got there,” Thor said darkly.
Sultry sighed, moving the rich red curls resting on her bare shoulders. Her gown of striped black-and-gold silk was expensive, low-cut but stylish. “I read about it in the newspaper. That's why I remembered seeing them that night. Poor, dear Phoebe. Such a terrible end.”
“Did Phoebe leave by herself?” Lindsey asked.
“I think so, but again, I can't be sure.” Sultry turned toward the people on the cots. One stirred, then rose to his feet. Swaying a bit, he staggered toward a door at the back of the dimly lit room and disappeared outside.
“People leave as they wish. They can only come in through the front, but they can go out through the back whenever they desire.”
Sultry glanced around, anxious to return to her business. Lindsey took the hint. “You've been a great help, Miss Weaver. We are ever in your debt.”
Sultry looked at Thor, reached up and lightly touched his cheek. “Stop by sometimeâ¦even if you don't want to dream.”
The edge of Thor's mouth faintly curved. “Mayhap sometime I will.” But he didn't seem truly interested in accepting the woman's offer.
Then again, perhaps he would reconsider. Sultry was a beautiful woman and Thor was an extremely masculine man.
The thought made Lindsey's stomach knot again.
e can prove Rudy left Phoebe Carter at the House of Dreams,” Lindsey said to Thor as the carriage rumbled along. “The police will have to release him.”
They had dropped Leif off at his town house, the first stop on the route. Thor was escorting her home then returning to his flat near Green Park.
“The police will say he waited for Phoebe down the block and murdered her on her way home.”
Lindsey sighed. “Why are they so certain it was Rudy?”
Thor's gaze found hers. “Your brother is heir to a barony. He has power, money, and position. I think Constable Bertram gets satisfaction out of having a man of Rudy's class under his finger.”
“You mean under his thumb.”
His mouth edged up. “You would know. You also have a knack for wrapping men around your thumb.”
She grinned. “In this case, the word is finger.” When he opened his mouth, she shook her head. “Never mind.” She smiled up at him. “Thank you for helping me.”
Thor leaned back against the velvet seat. “We need more answers.”
“Next time, we will go earlier, talk to Phoebe's flatmates before they leave for the evening.”
“How does that work, exactly? I mean, they're prostitutes but they don't live in a house like Madame Fortier's. How do they get customers?”
He shrugged his powerful shoulders. “Sometimes they go to parties, meet men there. Arrangements are made through friends. Sometimes a woman has a protector, a man who is the only one she sees.” He straightened, his head going up till he nearly touched the roof of the carriage. “This is not a proper subject for a lady to discuss.”
Lindsey laughed. “I am dressed as a strumpet and we just came from an opium den. I think it is a bit late to worry about propriety.”
Thor sighed. “You are a vexing female, Lindsey.”
She ignored him, toyed with a fold of her gaudy orange satin skirt. “The last time you took me home, you kissed me. Did you like it?”
His brilliant gaze sharpened on her face. “This is another subject we should not discuss.”
A muscle clenched in his jaw. “Aye, lady, you've lips as sweet as honey, as smooth as the petals of a rose. Are you satisfied?”
Those words made her heart hammer like rain on tin and her breasts begin to swell. “I justâ¦I wondered. I've thought about it a great deal and I think you should kiss me again.”
His eyes locked with hers. “No,” he said flatly.
He released a long sigh. “Because you are a maid. I am trying to protect you, Lindsey, but I am not one of your saints. If I kiss you, I will want more.” He shifted on the seat, adjusted his coat to cover the front of his trousers. “Already I want more and I have not touched you.”
Her heart lifted. He wanted her. She wasn't alone in her secret desires.
She studied his handsome profile as he sat on the seat beside her, thought of the amazing kiss they had shared. In that moment, she made a decision. Her aunt believed if a woman was discreet she could enjoy the same freedoms as a man. Lindsey wasn't ready for marriage and even when the time came, odds were it would be a marriage based on practicality, not passion. Her parents would insist she find a suitable husband, a man who would likely turn out to be more companion than lover.
She might never know what it was like to experience the kind of feelings Thor stirred with a single kiss.
“I can only imagine what you will think of me when I tell you this, but I am not a maid.”
She steeled herself. Once he knew the truth, he might look at her with disgust. He might think she was the same sort of woman as the ones who worked at Madame Fortier's.
It was a risk she had to take.
“I was sixteen when I became a woman. I thought I was in loveâ¦and I was curious. One night I let my suitorâ¦I let him have his way with me. It was over in minutes and extremely disappointingâat least for me. It never happened again.”
“This man stole your innocenceâtell me his name and I will kill him.”
She hid a smile. “You needn't kill himâit wasn't his fault. I encouraged him. It was stupid, I know, but at the time I thought I was in love.”
“He should have wed you.”
“He asked. I refused. I was too young to marry, and by then I knew I didn't want him for a husband.”
Thor mulled that over. “Why do you tell me this?”
“Because now that you know you won't ruin me, we can make love.” She studied him from beneath her lashes, suddenly uncertain. “That is, if you want to. I mean, you don't have to feel obligated. It just seems we have this mutual attraction and I thought maybe you would wantâ”
“Stop. Do not say another word.”
“Not one more word.”
She stared down at her lap. He was angry. Somehow she had insulted him. Or perhaps she had read more into his desire for her than he actually felt. She bit down on her lip. Now that he knew the truth, perhaps he would refuse to help her. Tomorrow, Leif was leaving town on business. That left only Elias and he wasn't much good as a protector.
She looked up at Thor. “I am sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I justâ¦I thoughtâ¦I don't know that much about making loveâ¦I mean, I just tried it the once. I thought with you it would be different and Iâ”
“Lindsey,” he said softly. “You are killing me, sweetheart.”
She just stared at him.
“There is nothing I want more than to make love to you. But you are Krista's friend. You are a lady, no matter how much you might wish it were not so.”
She swallowed, an odd lump building in her throat. “Even ladies have needs, Thor.” She glanced away. “Sometimes I get so lonely. My parents are never at home. Rudy is out with his friends. My aunt is there but it isn't the same. Sometimes at night I lie there, aching to be held, wishing someone were there who truly cared for me.”
To her horror, her eyes filled. Frantically, she dug into her reticule in search of a handkerchief, looking up at the touch of Thor's hand against her cheek.
Bending toward her, he very softly kissed her. “You are too beautiful to be lonely. It hurts me to know that you are.”
Lindsey slid her hand around his neck and lifted her mouth to his. Thor hesitated only a moment, then claimed her lips as if he owned them. It was a wild, fierce, burning kiss that left no doubt as to his desire for her. Her body softened, heated, turned liquid. Desire tugged low in her belly and Lindsey swayed toward him.
“Thorâ¦” She kissed him sweetly, then deepened the kiss, parting her lips, making a tiny mewling sound as his tongue slid inside to taste her.
Heat and need burned through her. She had never known anything like it. She wanted to feel his skin against hers, wanted his heavy weight on top of her, his massive chest burning into her breasts. She wanted to be joined with him so urgently for a moment she was afraid.
His lips moved to the side of her neck, kissing her softly, nibbling her ear, gentling her as if he read her thoughts.
“I won't hurt you,” he said softly. “I would never hurt you, Lindsey.” And then he kissed her again and all she could think of was Thor and how much she wanted him. He opened the front of her cloak and she could feel his eyes on her breasts. Her nipples tightened and began to throb and damp heat slid into her core.
“So lovely,” he said, pressing his mouth against the pale swells pushed up in the low-cut opening of the dress. “At night, when I close my eyes, I remember how pretty they were that night when I saw you naked. I remember the hard little tips and I ache to taste them.”
The gown, fashioned for a lady of the evening, was made to come open easily and he loosened it with an ease that amazed her. She felt his big hands sliding inside to cup a breast, then he lowered his head and took her aching nipple into his mouth.
Lindsey moaned and slid her fingers into his wavy, dark hair.
Dear God in heaven.
Heat engulfed her. Blood pounded at her temples. She wanted more of him, wanted to rip open his shirt and press her lips against his skin so fiercely her hands started shaking. The thought of stopping made her almost physically ill.
“Thorâ¦” With her eyes closed and hot sensation pouring through her, she was barely aware that the carriage had rolled to a stop and that Thor was pulling her gown back into place.
“If I could, I would make love to you, Lindsey. We both know that cannot happen. But when you are in bed tonight, remember there is a man who wants you above all things, and you will not be lonely.”
Her eyes misted. “Thorâ¦”
“Promise me you will remember.”
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “I will remember.”
Thor climbed down from the carriage and helped her down.
She took a steadying breath, wishing the beat of her heart would slow. Around her, the night air began to restore her senses. An owl hooted in the darkness above the carriage house. “Will youâ¦will you be working at the paper tomorrow?”
“I am working on the docks.”
It was surely for the best, or at least she tried to convince herself. She straightened, forced her thoughts away from Thor, back to the problem of finding a murderer. “We need to speak to Phoebe's roommates again, find out if she was seeing someone special. Tomorrow I have a party I need to attend. Shall we go the evening after?”
“We should not be together, Lindsey. If I had not vowed to help youâ”
“But you did.”
He sighed. “And I am bound to keep my word. Leif has loaned me his carriage while he is away. I will pick you up at six o'clock Sunday evening. The women will likely be home.”
“Shall I meet you in the alley?”
“Aye. It would be best if your neighbors did not see us together.”
“Should I wear the orange dress?”
The edge of his mouth tipped up. “The dress has its uses. I can touch you as I please, but since I will not be tasting your lovely breasts again, I think you had best wear something else.”
Her stomach contracted and she blushed all the way to her toes. “Wellâ¦all right, then. I'll see you Sunday evening.” Turning, she started walking toward the gate leading into the garden. Her body still burned, throbbed as it never had before. Thor was determined they would not make love.
But when she wanted something badly, Lindsey could be equally determined.
Leif stood up from behind the desk in his office at Valhalla Shipping. His valise sat at his feet. Outside the window, the
bobbed in its berth at the dock. He was packed and ready to leave for his weeklong journey north in the hope of adding additional ports to his packet trading route.
He glanced up as a light knock sounded and the door swung wide. Thor stood in the opening.
“I know you are busy, but I was hoping you could spare a moment before you leave.”
“Come in. I've still got a little time.” His brother, usually the milder temperament of the two, looked upset and worried as Leif had rarely seen him.
“From the look on your face, I'm guessing this has something to do with Lindsey.”
Thor settled into a chair on the opposite side of Leif's desk. “Aye, how did you know?”
“I know because you're my brother and little upsets you. Lindsey can do it without even trying.”
“She wants me to make love to her.”
“What?” Leif jerked forward in his seat.
“It is hard to explain.”
“I think you had better try.”
“Your word you will not tell Krista.”
“You're my brother. I won't tell anyone. This you know.”
Thor sighed. “She is lonely. She needs a man. The woman should be wed and raising a family. Instead she works all the time and sleeps alone.”
“There are women who work and also have a husband and family, as Krista does. I have grown used to it. You will, too.”
Thor's head came up. “You speak as if we are wed.”
“She is your destiny, is she not? Or are you still trying to fool yourself?”
Thor glanced away. “I will admit she makes me feel things other women do not. But I have always wanted a different sort of mate, one who is soft and gentle, one who does not behave as a man. You and Kristaâyou were perfectly suited from the start. Your wife was clearly meant for you. Lindsey and I, we are two far different people.”
“Perhaps it only seems that way.”
“I do not think so. I worry about her. I fear for her safety. At night, I ache to have her in my bed. But even if the gods have chosen her for me, it does not mean it will happen. You know this. And even should I wish to wed with her, her parents would not allow it. My earnings are meager. I have no title, no social position.”