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.“Did you get what we needed?”Garrett nodded and slipped a hand inside his waistcoat pocket.The Moncrieff glanced behind him, his brow furrowing when he saw who stood there.“What the devil is going on?”“I was trying to explain,” Garrett announced, climbing the steps with slow deliberation.The duchess looked interested now, turning to see what had caught Lynch’s attention.The Duke of Malloryn echoed her movement.“How easy it is to gull a flat.You see, I kept telling you to keep an eye on the glass with the penny.But all the time, my hands were moving behind the scenes.” He tugged out a second ECHO and swiftly rewound the clockwork.The instant he stopped, it clicked into motion and the duke’s tinny voice echoed out.“…have the prince consort in my damned pocket, you fool.If I want him to jump, then he’ll damned well jump.I own him, I own them all—they just don’t know it yet…”The Moncrieff’s face drained of color.Check.Mate.Garrett met the duke’s gaze with vicious satisfaction.The Duchess of Casavian took several steps down the stairs, her embellished cream skirts swishing around her feet as she reached for the device.She looked up, a devious little smile curling over her red-painted mouth.“Oh, Moncrieff.Bested by a pup.And a rogue, at that.” She laughed.The duke’s hand slid over the hilt of his sword.Garrett stepped past him, shooting him another deadly look.“I did try to warn you about the rules of the game.You weren’t paying enough attention, Your Grace.”Perry’s eyes were wide as she stared down at him.For Garrett, none of the others existed.He climbed toward her, reaching out to cup her face.“You’re free.I have him over a barrel.”Perry’s lips quivered, then her gaze slid past him toward the duke.“Don’t turn your back on him yet, Garrett.”The duke looked furious.His black eyes raked over the group, seeing no sign of any potential allies.“I believe the prince consort will be most interested in this,” the duchess said, tapping the ECHO against her cheek.She tipped her chin to Byrnes and the pair of Nighthawks that had materialized at the Moncrieff’s side.“Arrest him.For collusion against the Crown.”They took one step toward him, the duke bristling with fury.“You lay one hand on me and I’ll remove it,” he snarled, then turned his attention to the duchess.“You’ll regret this.”“I doubt it,” Lady Aramina said, holding up the key that Garrett had slipped to Byrnes.“Whoever owns the cure, owns the Echelon.” Garrett lifted his voice.“Isn’t that correct, Your Grace?”All of the Council members shifted uncomfortably.Those black eyes turned on him.“You insolent little prick.” The sword slid free of its sheath with a steely rasp, but Barrons stepped forward.“Are you offering challenge, Moncrieff?” Barrons asked.“To the Master of the Nighthawks?”Garrett’s eyes locked on the duke.Do it.He’d been holding himself back, but the sudden urge to spill the duke’s blood was almost overwhelming.Perry squeezed his arm in warning.“Don’t you dare,” she whispered.“Master Reed’s not of the Echelon,” Lady Aramina stated.“The duke cannot offer challenge.”Moncrieff’s eyes glittered as he surveyed them.Finally his gaze locked on something—or someone—just past Garrett’s shoulder.Footsteps echoed on the marble as all eyes turned to the aging Earl of Langford.Perry’s grip tightened on Garrett’s arm, her face draining entirely of color.“I offer challenge,” the earl said, one hand sliding to the hilt at his side.He never looked away from the duke.“You gave your word that you would care for my daughter.” His nostrils flared.“I failed her once.I won’t ever let you touch her again.”Perry let out a small gasp.Garrett slid his fingers through hers and squeezed, but he never took his eyes off the duke.“Father,” Perry whispered.“I won’t let you do this.”Her father glanced at her, his blue eyes sad.“I’m sorry, Octavia.So sorry I didn’t believe you.” His hand closed around the hilt of his sword.“I must make things right.”Perry lurched forward, slamming the sword back into its sheath and holding his hand there.“No! Dying won’t make anything right!”“I don’t intend to die,” he replied.“Come, old man,” Moncrieff called.“No one else can challenge me.Let my steel taste blood today.”Perry looked up into her father’s face, silently pleading with him to say no.The earl gently removed her hand from the sword hilt.“Let me do this,” he said.“Let me make amends.”Only Garrett saw the stubborn change come over her face and recognized it for what it was.There was a moment where he could have stopped her.The “no” even formed on his lips, but something held his tongue.Perry needed to do this.She needed to prove to herself that she could, and only he, with his own nightmares, understood precisely why.Perry threw her father’s hand off and grabbed the hilt.Steel screamed as she withdrew it, spinning on her heel to face the Moncrieff.“So be it,” Perry whispered, staring at the duke.“I challenge you to the death.”Twenty-five“Octavia!” Her father, of all people, reaching for her shoulder.She threw him off, stepping out of his way with a subtle grace.All of her attention was locked on the duke.Somewhere deep inside, she’d always known it would come to this point.She needed it.To bury the past, once and for all.That was why she’d taken her father’s lessons and used Lynch to hone her skills.The duke’s gaze flickered between her and her father.He didn’t want this, she realized.No, he wanted to kill someone else, someone that she loved.If it couldn’t be Garrett, then her father would be enough to twist the blade deep inside her.“I was born of the Echelon and I am a blue blood,” she called out.The entire Echelon knew it after last night.The girl who’d seen her eyes at the ball had spread the rumors, no doubt.“Thus I have the right to challenge you.”“She states the law,” the Duchess of Casavian added.“She’s a woman.I’m not dueling a bloody woman,” the duke snapped.“Are you afraid?” the duchess asked mockingly, and Perry glanced her way.Perhaps not an ally, but the duchess seemed to have some sort of disagreement with the duke.And perhaps she understood what it was like to be a female blue blood in this world.“Coward,” Perry said softly.She reached down and fisted a handful of her skirts, slashing them off just below the knee.“The Duke of Moncrieff is a coward and a fool.”Oh, those black eyes narrowed on her.He drew his blade with a hiss.“Nobody calls me a coward.Not even you, Octavia.”“I just did,” Perry replied, giving him a tight little smile as she kicked off her heeled slippers.Her stockinged feet slid on the timber parquetry beneath her, flexing a little as she found her balance.It all seemed so easy now, like slipping into an old routine.A muscle ticked in Moncrieff’s jaw.“You will never take power,” Perry taunted.“The prince consort will likely strip you of your title and execute you for your plans.” She let a small smile show.“And you were defeated by a Nighthawk [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]