"You don't," Grant replied, his voice rising to a thunderous pitch that rivaled that of the storm outside. "But you know for certain that I'll kill you in the next ten seconds if you don't tell mewhere the hell they went!"

"Awright," the bookmaker said, and began to call for someone named Willie. Instantly a small, skinny lad of eleven or twelve appeared, dressed in ragged clothes that were far too big for him, and a cap that nearly engulfed his small, stubby head. "Me bookie's runner," the bookmaker said with pride. "I sent 'im to follow the bastard when 'e took the wench."

"They went to an' old building not far from here," the boy said breathlessly. "I'll show ye, Mr. Morgan, sir." He began to scamper along the street at once, looking over one shoulder to see if Grant would follow. Grant was at his heels at once. "I know 'xactly where 'tis, sir," the boy cried, and quickened his pace to a run.

The building, or rather the remains of one, stood like a ragged sentinel on the corner, its walls perforated with yawning holes and jagged slivers of glass. "There," Willie cried, stopping well short of the entrance, staring at it mistrustfully. "That's where they went. But I wouldn't go inside, sir...'Tisn't a sound stick o' wood in the 'ole place."

Grant barely heard him as he stepped across the threshold. The factory groaned and creaked around him, as if the entire structure would collapse any second. Rain trickled from the gaps in the walls and roof, its clean scent doing little to freshen the rank atmosphere. There were no sounds of voices, no signs of a struggle, and it seemed impossible that Victoria was here. For a moment Grant wondered if the boy had been mistaken in bringing him here, or if he had been directed by the bookmaker to play a trick on him. If this was the wrong place, it was a waste of precious time. However, a pattern of scuffs and arcs on the floor drew his attention, and his gaze shot to the stairs. There was freshly splintered wood on the third and fourth steps, and more higher up. Someone had just been here.

The sight was a visceral shock. All at once Grant found himself hurtling up the stairs, ignoring the wood cracking beneath his weight, scrambling upward with hands and feet. He had never known real desperation until now, had never felt it racing like hot oil through his veins until every inch of his skin seemed to burn. He had to reach Victoria before it was too late...and if it was...he knew that he could not live in a world without her.

Half running, half crawling up the fragmenting stairs, he reached the second floor. Through a red blur of rampant fury, he saw two figures directly across the factory space...Keyes, crouching over Victoria's prostrate form, fumbling at her skirts while a crack of lightning threw a harsh, brilliant glare through the broken roof. The only color in the room was Victoria's hair, rich as rubies, pooling brightly beneath her head. She was gagged. Eyes closed, motionless, she lay flattened beneath the Runner without a hint of movement.

An unholy noise came from Grant's throat, a devil cry that erupted from the bottom of his soul. No longer aware of his own actions, he sprang at Keyes, his entire being occupied with the need to attack and kill. The other man had only a split second to look up before Grant was on him. A curse exploded from Keyes as he was thrown halfway across the room. He rolled, fumbled for his brace of pistols, but just as he grasped the butt of a weapon, Grant seized his arm and slammed it against the floor with a force that broke bones. Screaming with pain, Keyes struck out with his other fist, ramming it into Grant's jaw. Grant barely felt the blow, so intent was he on murder.

"She'snothing, you bloody animal!" Keyes screamed, glaring into Grant's savage, pitiless face. "You wouldn't kill me over a whore!"

Grant didn't reply, only hammered brutally until no more words came from the Runner's mouth. Gradually Keyes stopped fighting and brought up his arms to defend his face and head. When the Runner was subdued to a groaning heap, Grant reached into his boot and extracted his knife, relishing the feel of it in his hand. He would be satisfied only with death, and nothing would stop him now. All the things he believed in, the strictures of law, fairness, justice, had disappeared like dust in the wind. Nearly demented with bloodlust, he raised the knife in the air.

But a muffled sound made him pause. Panting in harsh, irregular bursts, he looked in the direction of the sound. Victoria was on her side, watching him, her throat working silently, her eyes wide and staring above the gag in her mouth. Grant tensed until he shook from repressed force. He couldn't take his gaze from her face. Victoria's blue eyes seemed to imprison him, preventing him from moving. A thread of sanity penetrated through the first few layers of warlike rage, but he resisted fiercely.

"Turn your face away," he said in a voice that didn't seem to belong to him.

Victoria shook her head immediately, understanding that he could not bring himself to kill a man while she was watching.

"Damn you, look away," Grant growled. She did not. Their gazes held, his demonic, hers insistent, until finally she defeated him. He acceded with a low groan and slid the knife back into his boot. Delivering one last blow to Keyes, he knocked the man unconscious and searched his pockets rapidly. He found the key to the handcuffs that tethered Victoria's arms and brought it to her, dropping to his knees by her side. She quivered as the key turned in the handcuffs and the manacles dropped away from her bruised wrists.

As soon as the gag was removed from Victoria's tear-ravaged face, Grant dragged her into his lap and crushed her against his body. The feel of her, soft and small and alive, caused him to groan with tortured relief. His hands raked over her, his mouth dragging hungrily over her hair, skin, clothes, as if he would devour her whole.

"Grant," she gasped, flinching from the force of his kisses.

He gave an animal growl of pleasure and need, crushing his lips hard over hers.

He felt her arm slide around his neck, and her breath puffed against his ear as she spoke. "I thought I would die here. I thought...his face would be the last thing I saw in this lifetime."

"Myface is the last one you'll see in this lifetime," he said gruffly.

"I remembered everything...that man, Keyes...he tried to kill me before."

Grant knew he was holding her too tightly, but he couldn't seem to loosen his arms. "I'm sorry," he finally managed. "I'm so sorry. It's my fault--"

"No, no. Please don't say that." Her hands clasped the hard nape of his neck. "How did you find me? How did you know?"

"I found out about Keyes from Lord Lane. For the last half hour I've been insane, thinking I wouldn't reach you in time." He buried his face against her bodice with a groan. "Oh, God."

He felt her fingers slide gently through his wet hair, and she murmured something soft and indistinguishable.

"I'll never let you out of my sight again," he said, his voice muffled against her breast, and she let out an unsteady gasp of laughter.

"F-fine. That's just fine with me."

As the storm continued to rage and blow outside, the factory creaked and shuddered. The sounds galvanized Grant into action. Reluctantly he set Victoria out of his lap and pulled her up with him. "I have to get you out of here," he muttered.

"Yes." She cast a glance of loathing about the wretched place, her gaze lingering on Keyes's prostrate form. "What about him?"

"We'll leave him to the others," Grant said, not caring if the entire building collapsed around the bastard...as long as they were safely out of it first. He slid a supportive arm around her back. "Can you walk, Victoria?" She nodded, and to his amazement, a smile tugged at her chapped lips. "What is it?" he asked, wondering if the terror of the last few minutes had caused her to become temporarily unbalanced.

"You said my name," she said, her voice scratchy and strained, the smile remaining on her lips. "How did you--"

"I'll explain later." Unable to help himself, he bent and possessed her mouth in a hard, impassioned kiss. "Let's go."

Carefully they made their way down the broken stairs, Grant leading the way. He tested each step and landing before allowing Victoria to proceed. She was surprised by the weakness of her own legs. Although she knew she was safe, she could not stop trembling. Shivers and chills passed over her skin, and she stiffened in reaction.

"Are you hurt?" Grant asked at one point, and although his voice was calm, she heard the undertones of anguished concern.

"No," she said, clamping her teeth together to stop a spate of chattering. "He didn't...that is, you reached me before he..." She fell silent as Grant lifted her gently over a broken step. "I'm perfectly fine," she said, strengthening her voice in an effort to reassure him. However, he seemed far from convinced. She winced as she saw the hardness of his profile, knowing that he was silently berating himself for what had happened.

It seemed an eternity passed before they finally reached the ground floor and stepped outside. As soon as they reached solid ground, Grant lifted her in his arms, holding her high against his chest. Victoria pushed at his shoulder as she realized that they were in the midst of a crowd of constables and Runners and curious onlookers. "I can walk," she murmured as rumbles of praise and relief went through the assemblage.

Ignoring the words, Grant continued to hold her. One of the horse patrol captains approached, dismounting and nodding to Grant respectfully. "Sir," he said, "I'm glad to see that Miss Duvall is safely recovered." He paused and glanced at the crumbling factory. "Is Mr. Keyes still in there? That is, what should we--"

"He's alive," Grant replied, sounding none too pleased about the fact. "But he'll need assistance coming down from the second floor."

The captain frowned with dismay. "The place is a death trap, sir. I couldn't guarantee the safety of any man who might venture in there."

"Then knock the place over and dig Keyes out of the rubble," Grant said flatly. "I don't give a damn how you get him."

The captain blinked uneasily at Grant's callousness toward a former comrade. "Sir, may I offer the use of my own mount?" He signaled a member of the horse patrol, who led a large chestnut to them.

Grant lifted Victoria into the saddle, immediately swinging up behind her. He flicked a cold glance toward the dilapidated building. "When Mr. Keyes is brought to the ground floor," he said to the captain, "arrest him and have him sent to the Bow Street holding room. I have unfinished business with the bastard...and after Cannon is through with him, he's mine." "Yes, Mr. Morgan," the captain said, regarding him with a mixture of awe and trepidation. Clearly Grant was not a man he would risk displeasing.

Too exhausted to bother with modesty, Victoria sat astride the chestnut, her skirts riding to her knees. She leaned back against Grant while his steady arm came around her front. His long fingers curved around the cage of her ribs, and he pressed her against him as he signaled the horse to an immediate canter. She was jostled a bit, her body too stiff and tired to move naturally with the horse. But she welcomed the cold, pattering rain on her face, and the soreness of her limbs, all physical reminders that she was still alive.

Grant had come for her, she thought in wonder. He had stopped Keyes from killing her. It was a miracle almost too great to comprehend. She was filled with gratitude, and more than that, there was a sense of intimacy that went beyond all her previous feelings for him. She knew now that he would risk anything, do anything, for her, that he cared for her more than anyone ever had. She knew also that he would have killed Keyes, but instead had left him alive because she had willed it. The thought caused a thrill of pleasure inside her. Grant was a magnificent man, and very much his own master...but she had the power to influence him. Because he loved her.

Savoring the feeling, Victoria leaned back harder against him, not minding the cold and discomfort of the ride. The rain-pierced darkness was barely illuminated by the light of a streetlamp as they reached number 4 Bow Street. Dismounting first, Grant reached up for Victoria and lowered her carefully to the ground. He kept his hands at her waist, steadying her. She smiled up at him, sensing the worry lurking behind his expressionless face.

"I'm all right," she said.

His jaw hardened. "I keep thinking of you lying on that factory floor. And Keyes over you--"

"But you stopped him." She reached up and caressed his cheek, his stubbled skin startlingly warm to her chilled fingers. A tremor of fierce emotion went through him, and she felt the vibration against her palm.

"What if I had been too late?" he asked hoarsely, his eyes so dark they appeared black instead of green.

Victoria stared at him compassionately, realizing that he needed comfort as much as she did, perhaps even more. Since the death of his brother, Grant had never faced the possibility of losing someone he cared about. He had not allowed himself to truly love someone, because he had not wanted to risk feeling such pain again.

"It wouldn't have been your fault," she said carefully. "Some things are beyond your control."

But that wasn't what he wanted to hear, she saw with a sudden flash of amusement. He wasn't the kind of man who would admit that anything was beyond his control.

"That's damned cold comfort," he muttered, one dark brow lifting in a sardonic arch. "Can't you do better than that?"

She managed a smile as she saw that he was gradually returning to his old self. "Well, you weren't late," she said. "You arrived in time to save me. Why worry about what might have happened?"

"Because I..." Grant stopped and scowled. "Because it's not every day that a man discovers that one small, fragile, accident-prone woman is the center of his very existence." "Accident-prone?" she repeated with a touch of feigned indignation, while her heart gave a joyful lurch at the rest of his words.

Sir Ross's errand boy, Ernest, emerged from the building to take the horse and lead him to the stable in back. To Victoria's surprise, Grant did not take her to the office entrance in the tiny southfacing yard, but directly into the house. The main building was connected to offices in back, which in turn led to the court where inquiries were conducted and cases were heard.

"Who are all these people?" Victoria asked, instinctively pressing closer to Grant as she stared at the multitude crammed into every conceivable corner of the building.

"Informants, criminals, potential jurors, lawyers...Take your pick."

"Is it always this busy?"

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***