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Snowed In: Kit and Harry

By K.L. Noone


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2019 K.L. Noone

ISBN 9781634868136

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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This one’s very definitely for Awesome Husband, who listened patiently every time I wrestled with the need to balance the paranormal, the historical, the erotic, and way too many descriptions of snow.

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Snowed In: Kit and Harry

By K.L. Noone

Chapter 1

Late Spring, Fairleigh Hall, Yorkshire, 1802

“Hullo! Are you lost, or are you honestly looking for Fairleigh Hall? Which you might be, we are expecting someone, and we hardly ever expect anyone, so it’d be a rather impressive coincidence if you decided to drop by at the same time as someone else, wouldn’t it?”

Kit Thompson, knee-deep in snow and cranky about it, regarded this improbable enthusiasm from the front steps of the sprawling ancestral manor in question. The enthusiasm, in the form of a young man with distressingly broad shoulders and hair made of wayward sunshine, waved at him from the white-heaped lane and then hopped over a gate and ran his way.

Kit gazed at all that sunshine as it bounced through the snow. Thought, well, he doesn’t look like a cold-hearted magical murderer.

Of course most murderers looked exactly like anyone else, right up until the moment, as it were. Years of London streets had taught him that; more than half a decade as a constable in Bow Street’s Preternatural Division had reinforced the lesson. His empathy fluttered and stirred, unhappy and tired, searching for a connection. It, like the rest of him, did not enjoy the ice and the isolation.

The world had gotten colder and colder as he’d traveled north from London. Unseasonably so. Ominous. Bad enough that the coach had had trouble getting through, and according to the driver this had been a good day.

He ran a hand through his own hair, batting at mist that hadn’t yet learned how to be either snow or rain. The young man who had waved did not call out to comment on the informality, the weather, or the tailoring of Kit’s clothing, which happened to be fashionable, but only barely. Kit had needed to be able to move in Society circles, and outward portrayals did matter. But he’d been grumpy about the necessity.

He’d never been part of Society. He’d never be a gentleman, not in the way of birth or breeding. Arguably not in appearance, either; not unattractive, or he thought not, but generally unnerving. Intense. Overly blunt. Black hair that held enough of a wave to hint at a symbolic lack of taming. Eyes the kind of dark brown that was also nearly black, which had made more than one person nervous on more than one occasion: all that unreadable scrutiny brought to bear directly on them. He wasn’t particularly tall—around average, in comparison to most men—and in the sort of good shape that came from running around back alleys and climbing drainpipes and generally being good at both concealment and flexibility. He’d never bothered with any false heels or colorful corseted waistcoats; he did not give a damn about pretenses.

His sister tended to shake her head sorrowfully and then laugh at him for this stance, but then Anne had to keep up with the latest trends; her shop welcomed flurries of ladies in and out in whirls of muslin and lace and ribbons and fur trimmings. She was doing well, these days. They both were. To a certain extent.

That extent relied in large part—or it had initially—on Kit’s usefulness. His magical gifts, his skill at detection and intuition, his profession.

He’d hauled them up from their murky family past and into respectability. He lived comfortably. He ensured that Anne and her daughter did, too.

He rented a townhouse in the sort of neighborhood that suggested the right impression: professional without pretension. That had been partly practical and partly because he couldn’t afford more; the Preternatural Division constables were paid decently, in large part thanks to Sam Rookwood’s ceaseless advocacy as Chief Magistrate, but nowhere near the income of the titled upper class. Kit might take a few private commissions, might be rewarded; he might eventually even be wealthy, given the size of the recent royal bonus.

But he would not ever be a gentleman.

The air bit down like magic. Like fangs on a bone. Scraping along his senses.

Everyone knew, and would not forget, about their background. About their mother and the plushness of that courtesan’s bed—not a common whore, no, but only a different name for the profession, sniffed the gossips. They murmured direly about Kit’s family tree, and his dressmaker sister and her daughter and her lack of any visible husband.

That family tree had a lot of tangles. Most of them unofficial and illegitimate. Equally undiscussed, at least in polite company.

Technically Kit probably only half-counted as polite. Working for hire, even if he did that work in ballrooms and at country house parties. And even that had been a step up from the general Thompson state of existence.

That was at least in part a lie. At least these days. At least given certain marks of favor, and his own reputation.

He did not like thinking about his reputation.

He glared at the slab of stone pretending to be a sky. He glared at mounds of snow and the departed coach he’d taken up here and the mud settling onto his boots and his bag. He glared at, by implication, all of Yorkshire. And its damned magical crimes.

He watched while the approaching young man, in rapid succession, hopped over a puddle, narrowly avoided another puddle, accidentally put a boot squarely into a third, waved apologetically in Kit’s direction, and for good measure laughed at himself.

Too much energy. Too many muscles. Annoying, that.

The ball of sunshine had to be some sort of estate manager or overseer for the Fairleigh lands. Awfully young for it, perhaps early twenties—which would put him five to ten years younger than Kit himself—but heedlessly confident. Clothing expensive but clearly made for walking fields or surveying drainage. Mud and slush on those boots and also on rolled-up sleeves. Nothing aristocratically pale or useless; nothing rakish and reckless and callous.

A splash of mud had reached one cheekbone. It sat there and bisected golden freckles proudly, an adornment.

The young man had freckles. This was unfair.

“Hullo again,” announced the owner of the freckles, coming to a stop. He was taller and larger than Kit, plainly much nicer, and had apparently not noticed that his shirt had turned near-transparent from either exertion or general omnipresent damp weather. Kit tried not to appreciate this too much. “Would you like directions? Or are you in fact here from Bow Street, and you’ve been waiting for me, and if you are and you’ve been standing here long I’m really very sorry.”

“You have mud on your cheek,” Kit said, and then only did not put a hand over his own mouth because he had some self-control left, dammit. A stray snowflake had waltzed in to land atop the young man’s hair. It shimmered white on gold.

“Do I?” One big hand investigated. “I do. I suppose it likes being there. Oh, drat, I can’t properly shake your hand now, can I? Oh, sorry again, I’m doing this all wrong. Did I mention we don’t get visitors much? Would you like tea?”

“Tea,” Kit echoed, bemused by this onslaught of friendliness. He stretched out a wisp of intangible power, cautiously.

He ran into honeyed sweetness and the taste of ginger biscuits and the slow lazy throb of a summer afternoon, lake water and radiance; he caught breath amid Midwinter presents and peppermint creams and a brush of springtime like the fur of a baby rabbit against his hand. The universe glowed: honest as an open rose, nothing held back.

He did not trust it. Nothing was that real; no one was that forthright. Secrets, he thought. Secrets, and what better way to hide them than behind supposedly transparent cheerfulness?

“Tea,” the young man echoed right back, turning Kit’s parroting into a shared joke somehow, not mocking but affectionate, “and there might even be biscuits.” He paused, widened eyes conspiratorially, and threw in, “Which might even be chocolate.”

Those eyes were brilliant blue, Kit noticed. Bits of ocean sparkling with good humor. Gold glinting from waves.

He got irritated with himself for noticing.

More snow skittered in, chased by wind. Eddies twirled; flakes pirouetted and piled up. More on the way. Gnawing cold.

And Kit caught himself thinking, nonsensically and for no reason at all, that those freckles should be warm. Little sunny scraps of treasure-dust. Bits of light.

He said, “If you’re promising chocolate I suppose I’ll come in,” and watched the young man beam as if this answer were the key to every happy ending. Exactly what had been hoped for. A gift under a Midwinter holly-bough.

He cleared his throat. Thanked every god he could think of that his talents lay in reception, picking up and reading emotion, rather than projecting. “Is the Earl at home? I’m meant to be meeting with him. As requested.”

Of course the Earl of Fairleigh would be home. The Earl of Fairleigh never left home. The request for assistance had come via a desperate-sounding letter requesting aid in the matter of relentless and likely magical estate-smothering blizzards, and Sam had sighed and thrown it Kit’s way with a parting, “as Chief Magistrate I’m bloody well sending you on a bloody vacation, go to the country, get out of London, get some rest, it’s likely some locals with weather talents playing pranks in any case, you can handle that in your sleep.”

Kit, lingering in his superior’s doorway, had explained in vain that he did not need a vacation, that the country was a suspicious and abstract concept that lacked proper coffee-houses and late-night take-away pie shops, and that Alice Lake or Peter Lyon, both of whom were brand-new junior constables, could use the practice of a trip to the wilds of Yorkshire. Sam had threatened to magically set Kit’s hair on fire, and hadn’t even been smiling when he’d said it. Kit, being fond of his hair, had given in.

“Oh,” his young man said, now getting snowed on and undisturbed by this fact, “yes, Ned will be in his study, but you’ll be meeting with us both anyway—oh, I should’ve said, I’m Harry Arden, er, Henry actually, after our father, but no one calls me that, it’s Harry, please, sorry, come in!”

Harry Arden. Henry Arden. Viscount Sommersby. The Earl’s younger brother.

And Kit’s best suspect in the matter of someone trying to sabotage Fairleigh Park’s income and Edward Arden’s health, which according to rumor had never been strong. If anything happened to Edward—a slip on an iced-over lane, a chill, the simple toll of the stress as fields and trees froze beyond their normal capacity to survive—then Henry Arden would inherit it all.

Henry Arden had treasure-dust freckles and felt like summer amid snow. And asked visitors to call him Harry.

Kit found himself, for one of the very rare occasions in his life, entirely speechless.

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Chapter 2

Harry Arden ran ahead of Kit up the steps, opened his own front door, regarded his own boots and the mud and the polished entrance hall, and winced. “Go on.”

“Are you—why are you taking your boots off?” The Earl’s younger brother was also quite possibly insane. Built of sunshine, possessed of herculean shoulders, and blithely disregarding of any sort of proper gentlemanly behavior.

And capable of removing his own footwear, Kit noticed. Definitely not a useless lazy lordling.

“I’m covered in today’s blizzard,” Harry said, looking around for someplace to leave the questionable boots, “and I’m hardly going to make more work for the staff, am I? They barely put up with us as it is—oh, hello, Grayson, is Ned in the study? This is, er, sorry, I haven’t got your name, from London, from the PD.”

The butler took Harry’s boots, held out a clean set of slippers—routine, apparently, and not one the staff minded, from that faint smile—and regarded Kit with the same expression Kit had seen his sister wear when judging ladies’ ill-designed costumes. “Welcome to Fairleigh Hall, sir. And yes,” he added to Harry, tone perceptibly warmer, “he’s where he always is, these days, going over the accounts. Miss Elizabeth’s there as well; she arrived half an hour ago. Shall I announce you?”

“Oh, no need.” Harry grinned at Kit, who had done nothing to deserve this; he caught himself wanting to grin in turn, and shoved the expression down. With purpose.

Harry went on, “We’re horribly informal, I know, but it’s only family, and it seems ridiculous to stand on ceremony all the time. Poor Grayson’s just had to get used to our scandalous ways.”

“Shocking,” the butler said, with a smile right back. For a butler he wasn’t very old, skinny and red-haired and shorter than Harry, though of course small mountain ranges existed that were shorter than Harry. Kit took mental notes. Someone who had come into the position recently? Who might benefit from power over his master?

“Grayson’s father—also Grayson, which makes things easy—was our butler for years and years,” Harry said to Kit, which answered that piece of the question. “He’s retired now. And by retired I mean he can still make me feel guilty about the silver polish and the flowered sofa just by staring at me. By the way, what was your name?”

“Kit—Thompson. Constable Thompson. What did you do to the sofa?” Why was he asking? And why had he nearly told Harry to call him by his first name?

“He attempted to polish it,” Grayson the Younger said dryly. “Harry, did you even bother to find out how long he’s staying? And whether he’s got a valet? Do we need to make up multiple rooms?”

“Oh. Er…” That big blue gaze swung back around to Kit. “I expect I should’ve asked. I’m terrible at this, aren’t I? Do you—”

“I’m staying until we’ve got your weather sorted. I’m hoping to be gone soon. Only a day or two.” That had come out wrong; Harry looked a bit hurt. Clouds passing over the sun. And why did that sight feel like a kick to the ribs? “No valet. Only me. And I travel light.” He did not quite know why he felt inspired to add, “I haven’t brought any silver polish, either.”

“Thank you for that,” Harry said to his butler. “Now the London constable can enjoy mocking me as well.” His cheeks were faintly pink. “And we can all forget everything that’s just happened, and everything you’ve ever known about silver polish. Ned and Lizzie will be waiting for us, if you’d like to just follow me, then, and Grayson can take that bag for you—” This was directed at Kit. “And you can meet everyone.”

Kit, swept up in this whirlwind, trailed after. Noted family portraits, a carved bust or two, plush richly hued carpets over refurbished floors. Evaluative senses trained by virtue of Bow Street detective work—and by having an in-demand dressmaker for a sister—suggested the price of materials, of craftsmanship, of weaving. The Fairleigh estate had been doing well for itself, up until the recent spate of terrible weather. He knew as much; he’d gone over financial records and the previous earl’s will before setting out.

The only irregularity had been the regularity: consistently excellent crop yields, their wool and mutton in demand, even the local honey fetching impressive prices. No or very few cases of illness, disaster, flooded fields, or broken dams.

Fairleigh appeared to be blessed by some sort of deity, in fact, a state of existence which had made Kit instantly skeptical. He wondered, following Harry Arden’s broad back down a hall, what bargains might’ve been made. Weather-witches? Demons? Something even more illegal, under the laws governing acceptable uses of magic?

And what had gone wrong with that bargain, such that the estate currently lay in danger of freezing to death?

The answers to these questions wouldn’t be found in a pot of tea or a plate of chocolate biscuits, though both currently sat on the side of the Earl’s study desk. The Earl himself looked up from writing a note as Harry and Kit came in. He was young for the title, though of course both Arden siblings were young and decidedly lacking in family; the deadly fever of two years previous had led to multiple unexpected inheritances, not only here at Fairleigh.

A sensibly dressed young woman Kit did not have listed in mental files was presently looking over the Earl’s shoulder, reading his correspondence; she looked up and said, “Oh, hello, Harry. How did the Fairfax roof look? Was it very bad?”

“No.” Harry grinned at her, took two long strides over and stole a biscuit, and touched fingertips lightly to his brother’s tired shoulder. “Easy fix. Nothing I couldn’t help with. Ned, your Bow Street constable’s here. Constable Thompson, was it? This’s my brother Ned—Edward, Earl of Fairleigh, sorry—and his, er…drat, Lizzie, what do we call you? Intended? Betrothed?”

“Oh, honestly, Harry, just give him my name.” The young woman, evidently Lizzie, rolled both eyes along with this ladylike mild grumble, and held out a hand to Kit. She possessed English-rose fairness, dark blonde hair and china-blue eyes, and sturdy walking shoes under her plain but flattering pink dress. “Miss Elizabeth Featherdale. Edward and I have an understanding, though we’ve not made the official announcement. We wanted to wait until this situation could be resolved. Not that I’d not marry him in any case, but the estate and the tenants take priority.”

Kit flipped back through those mental files, given the name. Came up with the neighboring family: Mr. Walter Featherdale and his wife Agatha, six children, five girls and one young boy; untitled but unquestionably a country gentleman’s family; living comfortably if not lavishly, nothing that had ever brought the family much attention. Which might mean nothing to hide, or might mean ambition well hidden.

Though if the latter were the case, Miss Featherdale would likely have been pushing the wedding forward, planning to become a rich widow. The willingness to wait spoke well of her, as did the protectiveness in her posture, and the easy way she and Edward fit into each other’s space.

Kit decided he rather approved of Miss Featherdale. Assuming he could trust her.

Edward Arden, who had been calmly watching this haphazard introduction unfold, now said, “Call me Edward, if you’d like; as you can see we’re not terrifically concerned with the formalities,” and offered a hand.

Kit took it. Evaluated. Edward Arden’s grip was sure but not as strong as it might’ve been; those rumors of ill health hadn’t been exaggerated. The Earl, framed by the window’s arch, was a more slender and frail pencil-sketch copy of his younger brother, a tapestry faded under strain: fair white-gold hair and light grey eyes and general thin build versus Harry’s young-hero stature.

They had the same chin, though. And the same gaze, afraid of nothing and not backing down, whether the hurdle in question might be an investigator of magical crimes or a newly inherited estate or the weather itself.

Kit shook that hand. Introduced himself. Properly this time.

“Ah.” Edward picked up the nearest teacup, fingers wrapping around it for warmth. Those thoughtful grey eyes evaluated Kit right back, along with this information. “The Preternatural Division’s best. The most currently celebrated, in any case.”

Kit did not wince. Kit had spent the last few months practicing that set of responses. That set of smile, nod at the lords and ladies, let yourself be paraded around a bloody ballroom responses.

Miss Featherdale raised eyebrows. Smiled. Handed him tea, apparently reserving comment on Kit’s reputation for some later time and place.

Harry Arden, having a complete lack of polished ballroom manners, nearly walked into the side of his brother’s desk. “You’re Christopher Thompson! The Constable Thompson! You ought to have said—I’d been going on about biscuits and boots—”

“Not kittens this time?” his brother inquired, dry and fond.

“Does it matter?” Kit snapped. Partly the curtness came from the circumstance, because even out in gods-damned Yorkshire he couldn’t escape the Hero of Bow Street label. Partly he felt guilty, and hated that he felt guilty, about the astonishment in Harry’s summer-sky gaze.

As if he had betrayed those eyes somehow. By not revealing his full name. Ridiculous.

“No.” Harry sounded abashed. Chastened, even. Dropping that gaze to the study rug and his own feet. Kit’s guilt got hotter. “No, of course it doesn’t. I ought to’ve been polite about it in any case. My apologies.”

“We do get the news even out in the wilds of Yorkshire,” Edward said, a fraction too close to Kit’s own sentiments for comfort. “And we know your name. Isn’t our weather a bit dull, after magically forged royal seals and rooftop pursuits?”

“It was one seal,” Kit said. “And one rooftop. And he didn’t even put up a fight.”

“Yes,” Harry contributed, forgetting to be forlorn and silent, “because you stopped him, you stood up there and read his thoughts, his heart, and you convinced him to give up his life of crime and permanently repent—”

“Is that what they’re saying happened? Bloody gods of bloody holly and oak—” A lady present. Damn. “Apologies, Miss Featherdale.”

“Don’t you dare apologize on my account.” Miss Featherdale sipped tea and regarded him with sparkling eyes across delicate china, every tidy bit of her utterly unperturbed. “I expect the dashing Hero of Bow Street and the Preternatural Division can say whatever he likes.”

Harry, long legs now scrunched up so he could perch on the edge of a poor overwhelmed study chair, watched Kit’s face. Rather surprisingly, did not pursue the topic. Quiet, instead.

Disconcerted by this, Kit retreated into solid stalwart policing. “I go where I’m sent. In service to the department. And to England. And the Chief Magistrate himself asked me to look into your weather situation, Lord Fairleigh.”

“In service,” Edward agreed, mildness over sharp attention, “as we all are, aren’t we? We do appreciate you coming. I know it’s hardly a convenient trip, most especially under the circumstances.”

“Yes.” Kit set down his own teacup. It’d already gone cold. Like the ice nibbling patterns across windowpanes. Like the skeletal scrape of air along the nape of his neck, the brittleness eating into bones. “The roads are almost impassable. I imagine it’s affecting trade, travel…the estate revenues…”

He watched. Nobody flinched. No shifting signs of culpability. Only massive concern, written so largely a child could read it, across all three faces.

“We’re aware.” Edward threw a glance at the window. At the whiteness beyond. His face was grim too. “That’s why we requested assistance. Elizabeth’s a bit of a greenwitch, but she can only do so much for the crops—they’re mostly gone, other than what she and a few others from the village have managed to save. I’m not a good enough kinetic talent to move any of this. And I won’t let Harry try to—”

“I told you it wasn’t your fault for letting me try,” Harry said to his brother.

“Sorry,” Kit said, “but it might be relevant; what wasn’t, exactly?”

“It isn’t. Relevant.” Edward’s voice stayed level. The voice of an earl. A commander, with an estate to lead. “We’ll tell you if it becomes so. I give you my word. But until then, I’ll ask you to trust me.”

“Oh, Ned,” Harry said, with affection. “You can’t protect me forever.”

“Right now I can.” Wind yelped along old thick walls and dry tree branches for emphasis, outside.

Kit’s instincts didn’t even have to stand up and shout. A secret? Not so much a secret as a looming hand-painted sign. Look this way. Step right over. Play find-the-lady, constable, and no magical powers, now, that’s cheating; but mutual abilities acknowledged with a wink.

Of course he had cheat. He’d damned well listen in and do his job. His particular skill set.

A crime or disruption or difficulty of some magical nature was happening on the Fairleigh estate. He’d see it resolved.

He’d always liked solving puzzles.

He opened up an insubstantial hand, imperceptibly. Let a wisp of empathy come out to play.

As ever, the universe wanted to leap in. If he’d been a more projective talent, he could’ve pushed outward, thrown his own emotions and senses wide, changed the minds of criminals on rooftops, heralded himself forth to everyone else—

He wasn’t that kind of talent. Receptive, instead.

The hum of worry and anxiety and love and loyalty flowed through his soul, his thoughts. Like golden threads woven into one of his sister’s dress designs, dancing in and out and laughing at violet and green and scarlet ribbons; like all the colors, true-blue commitment and deep coal-fierce family and a dizzying calico whirl of fretfulness that was both Harry’s and his brother’s, the two of them not quite the same but matching, apprehensive about both old weariness and more recent pain…the unwavering fidelity of the staff of this house, and more widespread, far flung, the radiant anchors of the estate’s farmers and craftsmen and lace makers and brewers…

The usual minor discontentments, village frustrations, a kitchen maid’s haste to peel potatoes more swiftly, all scratched faintly round the edges, but that was normal; the low-lying distress over the weather had spread, but that was understandable. Over everything the soft golden purr of conviction settled like honey: the people of the estate considered Edward a good caretaker, and he loved them right back. Whatever was wrong, it wasn’t there.

The wrongness existed, though. A quicksilver dazzling chill fought against the warmth, like the shock of metal in winter, cruel as frozen skin and blood.

Kit tried to poke at this iceberg, wondering vaguely if it had to do with the family secret, and promptly ran into a big stalwart wall of blue and gold and russet protectiveness.

The Arden brothers felt like shields and stones and strong earthworks buttressing each other, roots entwined in complex twisting ways; beside them, Elizabeth Featherdale shimmered leaf-green and lemon-yellow and lush and quick as forests in sun, branches sharing shelter with Edward’s less substantial presence.

And Harry Arden—

That sweetness burst across his senses like a river in flood: unrestrained and joyous, but dangerous too. A man could drown in that river. Swallowed up by sunshine on water, rippling light, devotion and passion, for family and for the land; Kit could dive into that water and be swept away, and he might not even mind the dashing-apart on rocks and shoals, because to feel all that, oh, that was—

Dangerous. Yes.

He’d meant this to be a minor eavesdropping. He pulled back. Leaned hard on decades of practice: he could pretend to not be feeling rainbows for a moment or two while sensations dwindled. “I’ll trust your word on that. As a gentleman.”

“Thank you.”

“For now. We’ll revisit the question if I decide it’s necessary.”

“But, Ned,” Harry said, “what if—”

“Be quiet, Harry,” Ned said. “Yes, Constable. Of course.”

“There’s clearly something wrong on the estate,” Kit said, and paid attention to their expressions. “Not in this house, but not too far distant, either.” He did not mention his own moments-ago eavesdropping; he’d let them assume he was good enough to’ve picked it up without even trying.

“You can tell where it is?” Harry’s eyes got wider. “I knew there was something but I couldn’t pick it out. I kept getting lost in everyone’s emotions.”

Every single one of Kit’s senses snapped to attention at that lie. “You’re an empath?”

Harry threw a desperate look at his brother. “No…I mean yes…in a sense. I’m not very good.”

“I’ll want to have a talk with you later,” Kit told him, and tried not to enjoy Harry’s gulp and shifting position. Harry Arden might be as genuine as new gold, in which case Kit couldn’t help picturing all that eagerness and those big eyes shifting position again, perhaps kneeling, gazing upward, lips parted. Or Harry might be a brilliant liar, in which case he’d be a challenge.

That thought sent rockets down his spine. Harry Arden, beautiful and tall and strong, and a match for him. Someone who could keep up with Kit’s own desires. Someone who had know exactly what Kit wanted, perhaps already aware of passion and pleasure, no longer innocent under the façade of sun.

The pairing of two men or two women—or indeed any consenting of-age partnership—hadn’t been officially illegal for over twenty years, and among the upper classes Kit knew it had been accepted practice long before that. Marriages might be made for reasons of wealth, or birth, or power: if the younger son of a great house wanted to marry a skilled weather-worker, for instance. Most people weren’t that strong in terms of magic; while nearly everyone had a bit, it was the sort of talent that could heat a cup of tea or rescue a falling saucer. Empaths, like Kit himself, were more unusual, and consequently more useful.

Even he had limits. And he absolutely hadn’t stood on a rooftop and reached into a criminal’s heart and magically changed it, no matter what rumor suggested.

For one thing, that wasn’t possible. For another, the logic of a hard street below versus Sam Rookwood’s new Preternatural Division rules about humane treatment of magical prisoners had done a lot of the convincing.

If Harry Arden was in fact secretly sabotaging the estate, if Harry was a criminal—

That didn’t make sense. And not only because Kit’s entire body felt frustratingly aware of Harry’s presence, as if every piece of himself had automatically reoriented that direction, a compass-needle spinning home.

Would Harry Arden harm the entire estate simply to pressure his frail older brother into an early grave? If his brother might be contemplating marriage and an heir?

Their affection argued otherwise; the fact that Harry already comfortably lived here and seemed well-liked by the servants supported that affection. But men had done worse for the promise of a title, and the Fairleigh estate—when not drowning in snow—was a temptingly wealthy one.

Harry did have a secret. But Kit had well-honed instincts. He would’ve bet quite a lot of money on Harry not intending harm.

Of course he’d been wrong before. And not intending harm wasn’t the same as not causing it.

Aloud, he only said, “For now I’ll attempt to discover the actual cause behind the weather. I should be able to do that from here, if you don’t mind.”

“Please do,” Edward said. “We’d appreciate it.” Elizabeth glanced at him, wordless and supportive, and nodded.

Harry asked earnestly, “Is there anything you need? Any way we can assist you?” He was sitting forward more; the offer was truthful, stamped in eyes and shoulders and hands. “Anything at all.”

“No.” Kit shut both eyes. Was surprised at how much something in him wanted to answer yes. To find out whether Harry meant that offer, and how much would be given, if Kit pushed at that anything at all. “Be silent for a moment, if you would.”

This time he made a show of it. He knew how he looked, and he knew the rumors, and he deployed them to advantage. Head tipped back. Eyes shut. Elegant stillness. Lost to the sweep and soar of emotions, drinking in the world, gathering it up and swimming through everything. He knew they’d be imagining power, the Hero of Bow Street, someone who could stroll through desires and pick them up and turn them over. He knew that, like most people, his audience would not be able to help imagining all the desires Kit could possibly be open to.

He was not above using this knowledge. To impress, to intimidate. To get what he wanted.

To get Harry Arden to gaze at him like—

Like what? A social equal? When Christopher Thompson—story-of-the-day celebrity or not—came from London streets, possessed a hazy ungentlemanly background, and supported a working-class sister and her illegitimate child to boot? Harry Arden was the son of an Earl and the brother of the current Earl, and promised assistance as if it had be easy as breathing, and maybe it was, for someone like that. No comparison. Nothing Kit should want.

Annoyed with himself, he shoved that want away. Flung invisible hands wide, and fell into the universe.

The universe, or in this case the Fairleigh estate, sang back in welcome. Ribbons of melody, individual and coiled through one another. Streams like cow’s milk and a beekeeper’s bounty and drenching rain. The low contented murmur of stories in the library, and the sapphire-in-sun presence of Harry Arden nearby, beckoning and protective and worrying just a bit about Kit himself.

Kit ignored that too. What right did Harry have to fret over him?

He found the ice-white chime of sharpness, discordant among the melodies. He chased it. He felt the chill of it burn and sear and scour; he did not let go.

He found the heart of it, nestled like a spike-ringed tangle of winter amid a dead field.

He bent intangibly closer. Winter stretched and yawned at him and curled back up, and went on pouring out cold, heedless of the disruption.

He felt the shape of it, the size, the pulsing hunger.

Icicles sprouted from the earth. Literal and figurative, spiking through empathic senses, they burned. They promised defenses; they leeched life from underground, from veins, from the heartbeat of any reckless intruder.

Kit, shivering, opened both eyes. Breathed in, and found the house’s old book-lined study, solid walls and family portraits and Edward Arden’s desk. The windows had gone so heavily frosted he couldn’t see out; he half expected to exhale ice when he breathed.

Harry Arden, who’d apparently come over to kneel at Kit’s feet and peek upward at him, offered, “I can send for another pot of tea? Hotter?”


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