Authors: Kat Martin
A few minutes later, Pinkard walked up, a gaunt man with deep-set eyes and black hair. “You wanted to see me?”
“We're friends of Phoebe Carterâ¦the woman what was murdered just down the next block. We was wondering if you or someone here might 'ave seen her that night?”
“Maybe she was hereâI wouldn't know. I didn't see her and neither did anyone else.”
“There was a party upstairs that night. There's a chance she was there. Maybe you or one of your employeesâ”
He grabbed her by the front of the coat. “I don't know who you are, but you're through asking questions.” He tipped his head toward a couple of men who materialized out of the shadows. One looked like a walking tree trunk, the other was equally tall though not quite as heavy, and bald as a billiard ball.
The bald man caught her arm while the tree trunk grabbed hold of Elias, who tried to jerk free.
“Hey! Whatcha think yer doin'?”
The big man just laughed, tightened his grip and dragged him forward.
“We're leavingâall right?” Lindsey said, fighting against the forward momentum, but the men didn't stop, just hauled them toward a door at the side of the building and out into the alley. It was tar-black outside except for the flickering light of a torch stuck into a holder beside the door.
“Hand over the pouch,” the bald man demanded.
Her stomach tightened. So the men had seen her coin purse. Lindsey didn't argue. Her hand shook as she reached into her pocket and pulled out the leather bag of coins. Her heart was racing, trying to pound its way out from between her ribs, and Elias's eyes were big and round.
She handed over the pouch, but as she tried to pull away, the man caught her hand. In the torchlight, her fingers were slender and pale, not the sort that belonged to a man. Lindsey stiffened as the bald man reached up, jerked off her woolen cap, and her hair tumbled down.
“Well, ain't this just our lucky night, Jocko, me boy? A little extra blunt and a piece o' tail to boot.”
The blood drained from Lindsey's face. She started to struggle and Elias went wild.
“Let her go!” Straining frantically at the thick arms wrapped around him, Elias fought to break free.
“Take the money and let us go!” Lindsey pleaded, but the bald man just leered and the tree trunk just laughed.
Elias struggled harder, managing to free one of his arms and swinging out wildly, landing a surprisingly solid blow. The huge man growled low in his throat, spun him around and hit him, once, twice. Lindsey screamed as Elias went down. The man hauled him up and pummeled him again and again, until his eyes rolled back and he slumped to the ground unconscious.
Lindsey struggled in earnest as the coat was dragged from her shoulders. Big, callused hands gripped her shirt and ripped the soft lawn fabric apart. A gust of wind chilled the bare skin above the chemise she wore underneath. Another scream and she began a violent struggle as the men jerked off her shoes, then tore off the rest of her clothes. She tried to cry out but a meaty palm slapped her so hard she stumbled and went to her knees.
All she could think was that Krista had tried to warn her but she wouldn't listen. Now she and Elias were paying, perhaps with their lives.
Thor took the corner at a flat-out run. The first cry had been muffled, one of the whores, he had thought, pleasuring a client in the alley. There was no mistaking the second scream, it was female and blood-curdling and it belonged to Lindsey.
Fear clawed at him as he spotted the two big men standing over her prone figure in the torchlight. One held her arms, the other her feetâand she was completely naked.
The instant before he reached her, a single thought occurred: there was nothing the least bit
about Lindsey Graham. She was all sleek curves and lovely breasts, a tiny waist and the longest, prettiest legs he had ever seen.
And another man was touching her, stroking a blunt-fingered hand over her smooth white skin.
Thor let out a cry like a raging bull. He grabbed the first man and jerked him away from Lindsey. Smashing a fist into his ugly face, Thor hit him as hard as he could then hit him again.
With a roar of outrage, the second man lowered his head and charged, ramming Thor in the stomach, sending him several feet backward, slamming him into the rough brick wall. Thor growled low in his throat and drove a fist into the man's face. Blood spouted like a fountain from the man's broken nose. He threw a punch, missed, and Thor hit him again, knocking him into the dirt.
Thor's attention returned to the first man and he started slamming blows, one after another, into the stout man's body. The bald man rushed back into the fray and began throwing punches. Thor almost laughed at the impotent blows that only enraged him. In minutes, both men were down, both bleeding, and still he didn't stop. Not until Lindsey's soft sobs reached him.
Shaking with the effort it took to keep himself from killing the men, he turned to see her huddled against the wall, her man's coat pulled over her naked body. She was trembling so hard her teeth chattered. There was a bruise on her cheek and her honey hair tumbled around her shoulders. Her coat wasn't big enough to hide all of her so he quickly removed his jacket and draped it round her shoulders.
When he knelt in front of her, she looked at him through eyes glazed with shock and fear.
He wanted to hold her, wrap her in his arms and carry her away. Instead, he reached out and gently brushed back her hair. “It's all right, sweetheart. They won't hurt you again.”
Tears slipped onto her cheeks. “I can't believe you are here.”
“I heard you scream. I came as fast as I could.”
Her head jerked toward the wall as she remembered her companion. “Wh-what about Elias?”
“I will take care of him.” Though he wanted to stay, reassure himself she was all right, he forced himself to turn away, to search out the boy, who lay moaning in the shadows.
“How badly are you injured?” he asked.
Elias opened his eyes. “They beat me good. I hurt all over.” He tried to sit up. “Miss Graham! Is sheâ”
“Do not worry. She is safe.”
The lad struggled to his feet, swayed a bit then straightened. “Who are you?”
“A friend. I followed you here in case of trouble.”
The young man nodded. His lip was swollen, his eye an ugly purple-black and swollen nearly closed. “Bloody well glad ye did.”
“Can you walk?”
Elias nodded. With a quick glance to make sure that Lindsey was safe, Thor helped him the short distance down the alley to the street. A cab rolled toward them from in front of the gambling hall, a tired old horse in the traces. Thor helped the lad climb aboard and paid the driver to take him home.
“You will not mention Miss Graham.”
Elias shook his head. “No, sir. She wasn't even here.”
Thor nodded his approval. By the time the carriage pulled away, he was running back to Lindsey. Both men still lay unconscious, facedown in the dirt and refuse of the alley. He fought an urge to finish what he had started but moved away at the soft call of his name.
Lindsey stood propped against the brick wall, barefoot and shivering, clutching his coat around her. It came almost to her knees.
“How badly did they hurt you?”
“I-I'm all right. I justâ¦I just want to go home but I can'tâ¦notâ¦not like this.”
Beneath his coat, she was naked and the thought of what the men had intended infuriated him all over again. “If you were not here, I would kill them.”
Her eyes widened, then filled with tears. “But you are here.” She started crying and he scooped her up in his arms.
“I am here. There is no more need to be afraid.”
She slid her arm around his neck and clung to him. “You saved me. Oh, God, Thor.” Burying her face against his shoulder, she wept as if she could not stop.
“It's all right,” he said softly. “I will not let them hurt you again.” Whispering soothing words, he held her gently against him as he strode down the street. She couldn't go homeânot without clothesâbut he knew a place he could take her.
indsey clung to Thor's muscular neck. Over and over, he spoke to her in a voice so soft and low she could barely hear the words. He told her she was safe, that he wouldn't let anyone hurt her. He said that she didn't have to be afraid, that he would take care of her.
Sometimes he spoke in his native tongue, Nordic sounding words she didn't understand. It didn't really matter. It was the tone of his voice, the rhythmical cadence that calmed her. It was the way he held her, his gentle care of her that told her she was safe.
She had no idea where he was taking her. She should have been concerned, but she was not. Thor had saved her from a fate worse than death, perhaps from death itself. She would never forget the way he had come to her rescue, like a fierce dark angel bringing the wrath of God down on her enemies.
She understood now what Krista had meant. Thor was a warrior, a man skilled in fighting, willing to die for those he protected. She thought of the hard, tough men he had defeated with an ease that was frightening. She had no doubt he could have killed them.
She shivered as he carried her in his arms.
“We are almost there, sweetheart.”
The endearment rolled over her. She tried to ignore the soft little flutter in her stomach. Thor was there and she was safe. She should have gone to him for help in the first place.
In truth, she'd been afraid. She had never felt such a strong physical attraction to a man before. Now that attraction was heightened by the gratitude she felt that he had come for her and the care he was taking of her.
She nestled deeper against his massive chest and closed her eyes. She was safe. Elias was safe. For now that was all that mattered.
Lindsey came awake to the sound of female laughter and the clink of glasses. Men laughed and gas lamps, burning low, hissed softly into a low-ceilinged room whose walls were covered with red-flocked paper.
She straightened in Thor's arms. “Where are we?”
“The Red Door,” he said simply, setting her carefully back on her feet. “Madame Fortier is a friend.”
A woman stood in front of them, with full breasts and a curvy figure, silver-streaked black hair. She was overly made up but she was still a beautiful woman, though she was perhaps in her fortieth year.
“Thor 'as explained what 'as happened,” the woman said, her words tinged with a soft French accent that might have fooled someone who didn't speak fluent French. “'E is a very good friend and since you are a friend of 'is, you are welcome 'ere.”
Lindsey managed a smile. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Madame Fortier.”
“Thor! Is that you, lover?” A red-haired woman started toward him, scantily dressed and smiling.
“It's him!” Two blond women sauntered out of the back in sheer French negligees, one pink and one blue, that barely covered their bottoms. They were clearly twins and equally beautiful. “It's hard to mistake a man that big.”
“And he's that big all over,” giggled the redhead with a seductive look in her eyes, her gaze admiring Thor from head to toe.
Lindsey just stared. When her shocked gaze found several more scantily clad women in the room, for a moment she thought she was dreaming. Dear God, of all places, it never occurred to her Thor would bring her to a house of ill repute!
“Need company tonight, big man?” The twins came up on each side of him. Long-nailed fingers stroked through his dark hair. “You know how well Greta and Freda can please you.”
A flush rose under the bones in Thor's cheeks. “Not tonight.”
“How about me?” the redhead asked, her breasts nearly spilling out of a filmy gown Lindsey could see completely through. “It's my night off. You can stay with me and keep your money.”
Thor shook his head. “I have other business, but I thank you for the offer.”
Lindsey knew he was popular with women, but she couldn't have imagined even prostitutes would throw themselves at him! An unexpected surge of what felt oddly like jealousy rolled through her. It was insane. She should be furious that he would bring her to a place like this!
On the other hand, in her state of undress, how many choices did he have?
For any number of reasons, she was grateful when Madame Fortier began to shoo the women away.
“The three of you, leave Thor alone. Can you not see he is otherwise occupied tonight?”
Occupied? Occupied with her?
Lindsey caught a glimpse of herself in the gilt-rimmed mirror above the table in the entry. Thor's coat hung to her knees, but her legs and feet were bare, her hair a tumbled mass around her shoulders. Dear God, did these women think she was one of them? That she was a prostitute in need of Thor's help? That she was one of his bedmates?
She flicked him a glance. Standing there with his shirt torn and bloody, his dark hair mussed and curling over his forehead, he was so handsome her breath hitched.
And yet he felt not the least attraction to her. He had followed her because she was a friend of Krista's. Even though she wore not a shred of clothing under his coat, he hadn't once looked at her the way men looked at the half-naked women at the Red Door.
She tried to tell herself she wasn't annoyed.
“She needs something to wear,” Thor said to Madame Fortier. “I will gladly pay whatever it costs.”
One of the woman's silver-touched eyebrows went up. “I will be 'appy to provide your friend with clothes, but are you certain you would not rather stay 'ere until morning? I 'ave a very nice room upstairs the two of you could share for the rest of the night.”
Thor's gaze swung to Lindsey, ran over her bare legs and feet. The look he gave her wasn't the least bit bland or tinged with disapproval. It was scorching hot, a fierce, burning glance that said he remembered exactly what she looked like under his coat. That she was naked as sin, that taking her upstairs was exactly what he wanted to do.
Lindsey sucked in a breath. It said that Thor Draugr just plain wanted her.
Her pulse started hammering. She couldn't drag her eyes from his face.
Thor glanced away first. “Just the dress,” he said a bit gruffly. “That is all we need.”
Madame Fortier started walking. “Follow me, dear. I'll see what I can do.”
Thor caught her arm. “You are not recovered. Mayhap I should carry you.”
For a single, insane moment, she almost agreed, just so he would hold her in his arms again. Good Lord, she was perfectly able to walk. She wasn't under Thor's spell like the rest of his women. She was not!
“I am fine.” Abruptly she turned away, refusing to look at him again. Lindsey caught up with Madame Fortier, who led her into a back room of the house. A few minutes later, she was dressed in an orange satin gown that looked exactly as if it belonged in a brothelâwhich of course it didâthe bodice cut so low all but her nipples were exposed.
“I am sorry,” the woman said. “This is the best I can do.”
“It's better than what I was wearing.”
But not much.
Taking a deep breath, trying not to blush, Lindsey followed Madame Fortier back to the main salon.
Thor turned at the sound of footfalls. Crossing toward him was a woman with honey-brown hair and catlike golden eyes. She was slender but not boyish, as he had once thought. Instead, her figure was willowy and gracefulâ
âwas the English word he might choose.
For an instant he remembered her naked: her tiny waist, the perfect apple-roundness of her breasts, the pale pink crests diamond-hard against the chill night air. He could almost see them now, barely covered as they were by the whore's clothing she wore.
In his mind, he could still see the triangle of soft tawny curls above her sex, the long legs and slim feet. As she crossed to where he stood, he imagined those pale legs wrapped around him, the sweetness of her lips, the taste of her skin, the womanly scent of her in his nostrils as he brought her to fulfillment.
His shaft throbbed and he stifled a groan. By the time she reached him, he was hard as granite, aching to be inside her. He had tried to convince himself she wasn't the woman for him and in his heart he knew it was true.
And yet he wanted her. Had since the moment he had seen her beautiful bodyâin truth, had wanted her for months before that. But she was Krista's friend, a maiden, daughter of a wealthy aristocrat, as far from his reach as any of the Viking goddesses his people worshipped on the island.
He couldn't have her and so he had convinced himself that she did not appeal to him.
She handed him back his coat and he pulled it on, hoping she wouldn't notice his reaction to her, hoping she wouldn't see his powerful erection. Madame Fortier had a keener sense of such things, and a faint, knowing smile touched her lips.
She stared pointedly at the bulge in his trousers hidden by the coat and shook her head. “Such a waste. You are certain you do not wish to stay?”
He wanted to stay more than he wanted to breathe. He wanted to carry Lindsey to one of the rooms upstairs, strip away her whore's clothes, and bury himself as deeply as he could. He wanted to cocoon himself in the long silky strands of her hair, feel the hardness of her nipples against his chest, know the tightness of her sweet woman's body, milking him in pleasure.
Thor silently cursed. For months, he had maintained a faÃ§ade of indifference, fooled her and even himself. Tonight, seeing her naked and vulnerable, attacked by criminals who meant to brutally take what she was unwilling to give, his control had finally snapped.
He couldn't lie to himself any longer. He wanted her as he had never wanted a woman.
Thor vowed he would never let Lindsey know.
Lindsey rode next to Thor in Madame Fortier's private carriage. So much had happened. She and Elias might have died if it hadn't been for Thor. She tried not to think of the Red Door and Madame Fortier, but the image of the beautiful woman kept creeping into her mind.
“You must go to the Red Door often for you and Madame Fortier to have become such good friends.”
Thor cast her a glance. “We have taken pleasure in each other's bodies.”
Her eyes widened. She tried to hide her blush. She was, after all, the one who had brought up the subject and she knew how blunt Thor could be. Still, she was curious.
“The other women seemed to like you, as well.”
He shrugged his powerful shoulders. “A man has needs, and I am not yet married like my brother.”
She sat up a little straighter on the seat. “Then Leif doesn't go with you?”
“My brother has found his life-mate. He will not be unfaithful.”
So he believed a husband should be faithful. Not a common philosophy among the men of her station. “Are you searching for your own life-mate?”
“If the gods will it, I shall find her.”
Thor had the most unusual way of speaking. She wished she knew more about him. She pulled Thor's coat a little closer around her, fighting not to shiver against the cold. She had declined the cloak Madame had offered. She didn't want Thor taking back the cloak, though she was sure, sooner or later, he would return to the women. As he had said, a man had needs and one as virile as Thor must have stronger needs than most.
In the darkness, her cheeks began to burn. She knew what happened between a man and a woman. She had experienced the event firsthand with Tyler Reese when they were just sixteen. She had foolishly believed she was in love with the handsome young viscount, and she was curious.
Being a man, Ty had clearly enjoyed himself, but it had been an utter disappointment to Lindsey.
“You said if the gods will it. Do you believe there is more than one?” she asked.
“Many years before I was born, a priest came to our island. He taught our people about your Christian God, but we also believe in the Viking gods of old.”
“Then your island was once the home of Vikings.”
He looked at her hard. “We are Vikings, still. It is a way of life that has not changed in hundreds of years.”
“You don't mean you're really aâ”
“Aye, lady, I do.”
She stared at his profile, trying to convince herself she had heard him correctly. She thought of his strength, the fierce way he fought, the ease with which he had vanquished his opponents. “Oh, my.”
“Leif and Iâwe do not speak of it often. It is hard for people in this country to believe. And I do not wish to see it written about in your column.”
“Of course not! I would never repeat something you told me in confidence.”
Beneath the passing street lamps, he studied her face. “No, I do not think you would. You are stubborn and head-strong and far too outspoken for a woman, but you are also loyal and I believe you are worthy of a man's trust.”