As soon as Ronan shoved him out of the hukka den, Gideon saw why Nahmin had complained of the street’s size.
Like most of the streets in this neighborhood, Wolstonecroft was less a road, and more a glorified bridle path. For all that, the butler had managed to maneuver a coach and four large enough to hold Jessup Rand’s ego into the narrow byway, with a half-a-hand’s width to spare.
Gideon wondered if Rand was inside that carriage now, waiting, but before the thought could become a question, a sack was yanked over his head from behind.
The sack was burlap, and smelled of oats, so Gideon assumed it was a feedbag appropriated from the carriage itself.
Thus blinded, he was guided (none too gently) into the carriage interior, which felt as spacious within as it had appeared without.
The burlap which currently rendered him blind, also muffled his hearing, but he did catch the essence of well-tended leather through the oaty bag, a sense confirmed by his hands pressing against the back of the sprung leather bench onto which he’d been pushed.
Weaving through the burlap, oats, and leather was also the merest hint of something else—something female, and spicy, and cunning—and somehow familiar.
Not that he had time to trace the origins of that familiarity.
No more than he had time to address whoever was seated on the opposite bench… an unseen presence as palpable as the twins on either side of him.
Gideon suspected it probably was Rand, and, if he was right, he also suspected this would be a very short, very final trip.
And then the carriage began to move, and the first fist drove into his kidney and, much to Gideon’s disappointment, the journey—its route punctuated by the steady and expert application of fists, boots, and Ronan’s shock-stick to various parts of his anatomy—was not short.
Not that Gideon was unfamiliar with pain.
His years as both a soldier and a convict had been filled with explorations in the many and varied ways men and women could do damage to one another, but always before he’d been able to see what was coming at him, and at least mentally prepare.
Here, inside a moving carriage, deprived of his vision, his hands, and most of his hearing, Gideon had no sense of himself in space, and no idea from whence the next attack would come.
The only time he’d experienced anything close to this level of helplessness had been a brief stint in the hands of a Midasian interrogator, when a mission had gone swarm and left Gideon in enemy hands.
Rolling on the carriage floor from another prod of the shock-stick, he remembered that interrogator.
He remembered, in particular, how satisfying it had been to snap the man’s neck, once Gideon’s company broke through the lines (against orders) to retrieve him.
As a fist (Boot? Large handbag?) knocked his head sideways to rap against something hard and roundish (A knee?), he recalled that Walsie had been the first through the door of that small, dark chamber in Midas.
But this wasn’t then, he reminded himself, spitting blood.
Walsie wasn’t coming because Walsie was dead, murdered by a lie.
A lie told by the man who was even now seated in this carriage, silently watching Gideon being beaten to a pulp.
Over the rush of internal static accompanying another application of the shock stick, he thought he heard a word, and that word might have been “enough” and perhaps this was so, as the attacks ceased as suddenly as they’d begun.
In the quiet that followed, he curled on the rumbling floor, where the odor of his own blood soured the leather and perfume trace he’d noted earlier.
His mind, eager to grasp at anything other than where the next shock would strike, danced over those scents, and what they meant in the vocabulary of his experience.
Leather—that was easy. Leather was war—boots shined to gleaming for inspection, and the scabbard of his sword; the strap of a rifle; the commander’s saddle; that interrogator’s whip—and the interior of this very fine carriage, he thought, sliding closer to the present.
“Suede,” Dani said, drawing him back, back to the past… to when she was his… her long fingers cool against the broken skin over his cheekbone. “Blue suede shoes.”
“You never wore blue suede shoes,” he told her.
“No,” she agreed, leaning close to brush her lips over his as she added, “I never wore perfume, either.”
Which was when he remembered.
Under the hood, Gideon’s eyes popped open.
The carriage had ceased moving, and he felt the rush of chill air which said a door had opened, and hands were already hauling him up and shoving him forward, to stumble over the carriage steps and down, down, down onto the cold, damp smooth of a paved drive.
He hit hard, then deliberately rolled sideways and to his knees before any more hands could get a grip. “Celia,” he said her name, forcing a voice thick with blood past the muffling burlap. “Why didn’t you just tell me it was you?”
There was a pause—longer for Gideon, unseeing—and then a laugh filtered through the sack, followed by the smoke from the high-end cigarette.
“Because,” Celia said, exhaling a silver plume that echoed the color of her fur coat, “you have a history of refusing my invitations. Nahmin.” She glanced at the butler, climbing down from the driver’s seat. “See to the horses, and then see that the general continues to remain undisturbed.” She looked at the twins. “Bring him. And, Gideon…” She paused, looked back over her shoulder. “Try not to bleed on the carpet.”