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Lord of Darkness

By:Elizabeth Hoyt

Chapter One





Have you ever heard tell of the Hellequin? …

—From The Legend of the Hellequin





LONDON, ENGLAND

MARCH 1740


The night Godric St. John saw his wife for the first time since their marriage two years previously, she was aiming a pistol at his head. Lady Margaret stood beside her carriage in the filthy St. Giles street, her glossy, dark curls tumbling from the velvet hood of her cloak. Her shoulders were square, both hands firmly grasped the pistol, and a murderous gleam shone in her pretty eyes. For a split second, Godric caught his breath in admiration.

In the next moment, Lady Margaret pulled the trigger.

BOOM!

The report was deafening but fortunately not fatal, as his wife was apparently an execrable shot. This did not reassure Godric as much as it should have, because Lady Margaret immediately turned and pulled a second pistol from her carriage.

Even the worst shots could get lucky on occasion.

But Godric hadn’t the time to meditate on the odds of his wife actually murdering him tonight. He was too busy saving her ungrateful hide from the half-dozen footpads who had stopped her carriage here, in the most dangerous part of London.

Godric ducked the enormous fist coming at his head and kicked the footpad in the stomach. The man grunted but didn’t go down, probably because he was as big as a draft horse. Instead, the robber began a counterclockwise circle of Godric as his compatriots—four of them, and every one quite as well fed—closed in on him.

Godric narrowed his eyes and raised his swords, a long one in his right hand, a short one in his left for defense and close fighting, and—

God’s balls—Lady Margaret fired her second pistol at him.

The gunshot shattered the night, echoing off the decrepit buildings lining the narrow street. Godric felt a tug on his short cape as the lead ball went through the wool.

Lady Margaret swore with a startling breadth of vocabulary.

The footpad nearest Godric grinned, revealing teeth the color of week-old piss. “Don’t like ’e much, now, do she?”

Not precisely true. Lady Margaret was trying to kill the Ghost of St. Giles. Unfortunately, she had no way of knowing that the Ghost of St. Giles happened to be her husband. The black leather mask on Godric’s face hid his identity quite effectively.

For a moment, all of St. Giles seemed to hold its breath. The sixth robber still stood, both of his pistols aimed at Lady Margaret’s coachman and two footmen. A female spoke in low, urgent tones from inside the carriage, no doubt trying to lure Lady Margaret back to safety. The lady herself glared from her stance beside the carriage, apparently oblivious to the fact that she might be murdered—or worse—if Godric failed to save her from the robbers. High overhead, the wan moon looked down dispassionately on the crumbling brick buildings, the broken cobblestones underfoot, and a single chandler’s shop sign creaking wearily in the wind.

Godric leaped at the still-grinning footpad.

Lady Margaret might be a foolish chit for being here, and the footpad might be merely following the instincts of any feral predator who runs down the careless prey that ventures into his path, but it mattered not. Godric was the Ghost of St. Giles, protector of the weak, a predator to be feared himself, lord of St. Giles and the night, and, damn it, Lady Margaret’s husband.

So Godric stabbed fast and low, impaling the footpad before his grin had time to disappear. The man grunted and began to fall as Godric elbowed another footpad advancing behind him. The man’s nose shattered with a crunching sound.

Godric pulled his sword free in a splatter of scarlet and whirled, slashing at a third man. His sword opened a swath of blood diagonally across the man’s cheek, and the footpad stumbled back, screaming, his hands to his face.

The remaining two attackers hesitated, which in a street fight was nearly always fatal.

Godric charged them, the sword in his right hand whistling as it swept toward one of the footpads. His strike missed, but he stabbed the short sword in his left hand deep into the thigh of the fifth footpad. The man shrieked. Both robbers backed away and then turned to flee.

Godric straightened, his chest heaving as he caught his breath and looked around. The only robber still standing was the one with the pistols.

The coachman—a thickset man of middling years with a tough, reddened face—narrowed his eyes at the robber and pulled a pistol out from under his seat.

The last footpad turned and fled without a sound.

“Shoot him,” Lady Margaret snapped. Her voice trembled, but Godric had the feeling it was from rage rather than fear.

“M’lady?” The coachman looked at his mistress, confused, since the footpads were now out of sight.

But Godric knew quite well that she wasn’t ordering the murder of a footpad, and suddenly something inside of him—something he’d thought dead for years—woke.

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