Their carriage came to a halt in front of Jane’s house. Briar reached over to squeeze Rena’s hand. Jane had always been the emotional one, the one that knew how to comfort others. Both of them did not cry often, but Jane always managed to have them shed a tear. It seemed even after her passing she managed to have them express more than they were comfortable with.
Rena wiped her eyes, sniffing as she composed herself. “I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize,” Briar said, squeezing her hand once again before letting go. “Jane would have been offended if you hadn’t cried at all.”
Rena laughed. “But you haven’t cried yet. Be careful, she might start haunting you now.”
“I have,” she lied, “just when no one was looking.”
Crying was a weakness, and women were expected to cry for that exact reason. They were weak. Briar learned it the hard way the first time her father included her in a case. She still remembered the excitement when he finally allowed her to tag along, and the shame after shedding a tear over the boy that drowned in a lake. They saw her compassion as a fragile mind and heart.
The last time she cried was when Jane had encouraged her to, and the weight that it had lifted was unimaginable. Without Jane, Briar doubted she would ever cry again.
“Let’s get inside.”
Rena nodded, opening the carriage door. They were welcomed back into the white wonderland. The sighed caused Briar’s lips to curve upwards. At least one of her prayers had been heard.
As she readied herself to follow behind Rena, sudden shouting stopped her. Before she knew what was happened, Dante entered the carriage, shutting the door behind him and hitting the roof. The carriage started to move as Rena’s shouting faded.
Dante let out a long breath, relaxing his entire body as he tried to catch his breath. Glaring, Briar waited for him to explain this ridiculousness. First at the burial, now this?
“You’re quite hard to track down,” Dante said after a moment as he straightened himself. “Glad I caught you, though.”
“Can’t say I feel the same.”
Taking off his top hat, Dante placed it down beside him as he ran his fingers through his hair. “My apologies for disturbing your mourning, but I got a more pressing matter.”
“Which is?” she asked, her patience running thin.
“Jane’s killer has struck again,” he breathed. “I was walking home when the scent decomposition caught my attention, and—”
The blood drained from Briar’s face. “Mrs. Evans.”
Briar leaned forward in her seat. “Where did you find the body?”
“At a house in Queen Anne’s Gate, the door was open and the iron gate reeked of burned vampire flesh.”
Briar cursed under her breath. “She was a potential witness.”
“I think we can safely assume she was the witness, then.”
Balling her fist, Briar hit the side of the carriage with all the force she could muster.
“I could have saved her!” When she looked back up at Dante he stared at her with wide eyes. Briar scoffed, crossing her arms as she leaned back again. Taking a calming breath, she continued, “Rena and I passed by her house to question her but she didn’t appear to be home. Later that afternoon we were too tired to go back, but I noticed her gate open. I should have followed my instincts.”
“You couldn’t have known—”
“I did know,” Briar hissed, hitting the bench on either side of her. Dante flinched, pressing himself into the corner. Noting the spark of fear in his eyes, Briar forced herself to relax her shoulders. He had raised his arm, not to hit her, but to protect himself. Why he felt the need to do so she wasn’t sure, but guilt filled her chest nonetheless. “I did not mean to scare you.”
Clearing his throat, Dante shifted a bit uncomfortably in his seat. “You did not scare me,” he said with a slight chuckle.
Slowly, his cheeks turned red, something Briar hadn’t thought possible on a vampire. Though, neither did she think a vampire could have such expressive and bright blue eyes. Now that he’d been drinking human blood again he had changed quite a bit, and this was the first opportunity she got to take a better look at him.
“You are actually blushing.”
Dante met her gaze only to jerk his head in the opposite direction, his neck and ears darkening as well. He tried to cover his face with his hand, but it did not do much. “You’re making it worse.”
Briar laughed into her hand, reaching forward to pull his away from his face. “No need to be ashamed, I have that effect on most men.”
“I’m not used to it,” he mumbled, still refusing to look at her even as she held his hand.
Sudden curiosity took the better of her as she looked at his gloved fingers. She hadn’t seen him without his leather gloves yet, and it made her wonder. Gently, she started to pull at the leather. When Dante didn’t react she continued until all that was left was skin in the palm of her hand.
Although pale, it had a fleshy underlying tone that matched his face. Only when he wasn’t blushing. Briar half expected him having something to hide, but all she found was a normal hand of a normal-looking man. She traced the lines in his palm, smiling as his long fingers reacted to the tickling sensation.
“You really do look like any other man when on human blood,” Briar said as she looked back up. Though, she did not expect Dante staring at her, nor that their eyes would meet while she was still holding his hand in hers. She was almost ashamed to admit that Dante was no longer the one with reddened cheeks.
The carriage came to a halt, jolting both of them from the strange trance. Briar sat back as she released Dante’s hand, looking out the window at the house of Mrs. Evans. The strange sensation in her stomach was replaced by an all too familiar dread.
Combing back his hair with his fingers, Dante repositioned his top hat, hiding his white strands that peeked out with his high collar. Briar nodded approvingly, pressing her lips together tightly as their eyes met briefly.
She followed behind Dante as they left the carriage. Briar was all too happy to welcome the cold on her cheeks. Saying a quick thank you to the coachman, Briar readied herself when he called out to her.
“Is everything alright?” the coachman asked, shooting a worried look at Dante’s back from where his eyes peeked out between his scarf. “Did he attempt to hurt you, my Lady?”
Briar shot him a confused look before realizing what he was referring to. “Oh no! My apologies, I get worked up at times, that was all my doing.”
After a hesitant second, the coachman nodded. “Very well, Ma’am, have a nice day.”
With a whip of the reins, the coachman hurried the horses on as Briar turned back to Dante. He patiently waited for her at the iron gate, though keeping a respectful distance from it. As best as she could Briar tried to prepare herself for the scene that awaited her. She had to do her inspection before her father came. Oblivious to the setup, he wouldn’t look as closely and brush it all off as another unfortunate victim of Dante’s.
“Are you ready?” Dante asked, pulling at his scarf so it would cover his nose. She couldn’t smell anything yet, but she guessed that would change soon enough.
Pushing open the gate, Briar noted how part of it was darkened as if it were burned. It didn’t resemble a handprint, meaning the vampire most likely accidentally touched it, knowing fully well that it could hurt them.
The door was left unlocked. As Briar stepped inside, the putrid scent hit her immediately, causing her to cover up her nose as well. An uneasiness crawled along her skin as she met her own gaze in the large mirror that hung in the hallway. It was too late to cover it up now.
Walking farther into the home, Briar found herself sooner than she might have liked facing the body of Mrs. Evans. Her body was at least a day old she deducted from the smell alone. As she got closer, she noted the vampire’s bite. A single slit and rough bruises marking the other teeth.
Again, the vampire didn’t break the skin while drinking, though there was no sign of interruption. Glancing around the room, she noticed a knocked over lamp and the slightly off placement of the coffee table. Mrs. Evans had fought back, offering at the very least some resistance and a potential wound on the vampire.
“Could you stop the clock, Dante,” Briar said as she rubbed her temples. “It’s getting on my nerves.”
She didn’t see him nod, but she gathered he must have since his footsteps faded to the room where the grandfather clock was placed. When it stopped, a sudden silence fell over the room, one that left a smile on Briar’s lips.
The killer had come in through the front door as there was no sign of forced entry. Mrs. Evans had either left the door unlocked or welcomed the stranger into her home before he started his attack. Though, he was no stranger. Mrs. Evans must have known they were the same person as the one she caught on the train.
Walking back to the hallway, Briar’s eyes fell on a side table underneath the mirror. One of the porcelain animal figures was missing while a second one had been knocked over. Briar kneeled down to search for the missing piece, finding the cat’s head in tiny pieces while the body was still mostly intact in a corner beside the door.
Mrs. Evans had been backing away from the door, searching for a weapon as the vampire entered. She had found the porcelain cat and thrown it. Briar followed her supposed attempt at escaping her threat. If she ran to the kitchen she would have run into a door, so naturally, she went for the opening that led to her living room.
As Briar imagined her struggle, the tip of her shoe hit the carpet. Mrs. Evans had tripped, falling against the coffee table. As she attempted to defend herself in a disoriented state from her fall, she had reached for the lamp, either hitting the vampire over the head with it or throwing it.
Scrambling to her feet, she got herself on the couch when the killer finally reached her. Briar continued to stare as the scene played out in front of her. The marks on Mrs. Evans's body all started to make sense. The scratch on her head that appeared to have been licked clean of blood, the scratched on her arms from where the killer dug their nails into her skin. It was all there, and the scene was complete. All that missed was the face of their killer.
“Found anything useful?” Dante muffled voice sounded from the hall.
“The killer injured themselves,” Briar said, stepping away from the body as she realized how close she stood.
Dante entered the living room, pointing behind him as he pulled down his scarf to speak. “They burned themselves at the fence, yes, I noticed it too.”
Briar shook her head, nodding at the broken lamp. “Mrs. Evens probably hit him with it, and from the clumsy state he seemed to have left the house, I’m guessing it was over the head. How quickly do vampires heal?”
“A normal wound takes perhaps a day to heal, though it will not bleed.” Once more, he gestured at the gate. “Pure iron, however, can take up to a month to fully heal. Our killer is most likely walking the streets with a bandage as the skin will be tender during the whole healing process.”
Biting her lip, Briar noted it down in her mind. Taking a second look around the room, Briar started to leave when she found nothing of interest. “At least we no longer have to search for a witness.”