How lucky Briar was.
Rena sighed to herself, watching her feet as they sank into the white blanket of snow with each step. Although she wanted to wish Briar all the happiness in the world, she couldn’t help but envy her a tiny bit. If only Dante had taken her with them as well, then she wouldn’t have to sit around with a bunch of weeping women.
Rena hadn’t stayed long. If Briar had been there she would have endured it, but without her, there was no reason to. Rena could mourn Jane fine on her own.
The freezing wind started to settle into her bones, announcing that it was time to return home. Rena enjoyed the winter period because of this. If the weather could not stop her from wandering around then she would never return home.
She smiled at the thought, remembering a lovely summer evening when both Jane and Briar had joined her. They had walked for hours until the sun had decided to greet them with a new day.
But those days could never be repeated.
Holding onto her necklace, Rena was momentarily distracted from the road when she collided with someone. She barely held her balance, and if the stranger hadn’t caught her she would have fallen. An apology lay ready on her tongue, her lips already parted to speak, only to shut when she saw who had caught her.
“Steady there, Miss . . .” the new Detective said, his words trailing off out of surprise rather than giving an opening to tell him her name. “It’s you again.”
She had to admit his name had slipped from her mind already, but in all honesty, she didn’t care either. “Glad to see I can be remembered, please excuse me.”
Rena tried to move past him, but he wouldn’t let her, keeping his hold on her shoulders. Glaring up at him, she was met with a sly, half-grin.
“Don’t you owe me an apology?”
“Sorry.” Again, Rena made an attempt to flee, and although she got passed him, it did not stop him from falling into step beside her.
“I never caught your name.”
Tugging at her sleeves, Rena did her best not to show her annoyance. “Rena Prescott, but what is it to you?”
“I was simply curious,” he said, the smile still on his lips, his eyes on her. “Miss Rena Prescott.”
“Aren’t there more pressing matters you need to attend to, Detective?”
He hummed, stroking his chin as he pretended to think. “Not that I know of, no. Did you have something in mind?”
“How about you leave me be?” Rena stopped, turning to him with her arms crossed. The words had left her mouth louder than she intended and guessing from his expression they were harsher, too. The tension left her body as tears pricked her eyes. She looked away quickly, not wanting the Detective to catch sight of a single tear.
“Miss Prescott—” He stopped himself, staying quiet before clearing his throat. “Could I interest you in something sweet?”
“Why?” she asked, still not looking up. It had been hard enough not to cry during the ceremony or in the carriage with Briar. Now with the Detective annoying her, anger and hurt seemed to slither along with it.
“Why indeed,” he mumbled more to himself than to her as he shoved his hands into his pockets. “I suppose I can’t stand the sight of an upset woman.”
Once more he refrained from speaking immediately. Rena might have wondered what he was thinking if the circumstances had been different. Since that was not the case, she attempted to leave herself again when he finally decided to speak.
“I just returned from a murder scene,” he said, his voice softer than before, not a single trace of a smile on his face, “I suppose I’m in the need of some company since I do not want to be left alone with my thoughts for now.” Rena flinched as his thumb wiped a betraying tear from her cheek. “Some cinnamon and chocolate would do both of us some good.”
She considered his words and the sincerity with which he spoke them. The suggestion didn’t sound as unappealing anymore. It would be her chance to distract herself, considering Briar wasn’t here to find one together.
“Alright,” she said as she wiped her eyes, lifting her chin. “One pastry, your treat.”
The Detective nodded. “Deal.”
Sitting at a table in the back of the establishment, Rena watched as the Detective got them their pastries. She tapped her fingers against the table as she struggled to remember his name. She only recalled thinking it was an odd but fitting one.
Rena took her time to examine him, hoping that it would help her remember. Well dressed in a brown suit, long legs and fairly broad shoulders, neither skinny nor extremely muscled nor overweight, she hadn’t lied when she called him a curious combination of genes. And it had been a compliment.
Catching her gaze, she was tempted to look away, though instead kept it as he approached their table with the pastries in hand. Let him know she was staring, glancing away only indicated that she was caught in an unappropriated act, which she was not.
Well, a little bit, but that was beside the point she was trying to make.
“It’s quite a shame,” the Detective said as he placed her fashionable apple dumpling down.
Rena furrowed her brow. “What is?”
“Your choice.” With his own chocolate Bismarck in hand, he sat down. “I would have liked to steal at least a tiny bite if it had been anything other than an apple with dough wrapping.”
The heat that rose from her apple dumpling carried its delicious scent, one she couldn’t imagine anyone not liking. “How can you not like it?”
“I prefer the sweetest kinds of desserts.” He took a bite of his custard-filled delight. “The sweeter the better.”
“Don’t reveal your secrets so easily,” Rena said, a smile tugging at her lips as she picked up her fork.
“I got far worse secrets than this, Miss Prescott.” Setting down his plate, he crossed his legs. “If I had to reveal one I’d gladly let this be it.”
“Careful, you’re almost making me curious about you, Detective.” She didn’t break eye contact as she took her first bite. It tasted even better than it smelled even as a late-ripening fruit.
At this he raised his brow, slowly licking the chocolate from his thumb. “You forgot my name.”
Rena took another bite, trying to calm her startled nerves with it. “What gave you that idea?”
“Simply put, you haven’t addressed me once, neither by my given nor my surname.” That grin once again graced his lips, a grin Rena decided she did not like. “I had my suspicion but the fact that you only called me ‘Detective’ proves it even further.”
Rena looked away, focusing on her pastry instead. “I get embarrassed easily when mispronouncing a name so I refrain from saying it when I can.”
“Let me make it easy for you, then,” he said, leaning forward. When she didn’t meet his gaze he started to pull at her plate until she did. She was met by that grin and had to watch it grow as her reddened cheeks did not go unnoticed. “You can call me by my given name, I’m not fond of formalities.”
Rena pressed her lips into a thin line. This was not what she had in mind when she thought of a distraction. Briar was the one to enjoy sweets with men over a playful conversation. Jane was the one who would drag her away. Rena was the one waiting outside, laughing. Always the furthest away.
“Don’t you agree,” his voice brought her back from her thoughts, only to have her wish he hadn’t as her name rolled off his tongue a second later, “Rena.”
She stood abruptly, slamming her hands on the table a bit too loudly. “I did not come here to be pestered by some—some idiot!”
As she walked past him to leave he caught her wrist, his touch surprisingly cold. Rena expected him to pull her back to her seat, tell her not to make a scene, and he had all the right to. Her emotions seemed to be everywhere today and she had no idea how to calm them. At this moment, all she wanted was to return home and lay on her bed.
Tears had returned to her eyes. Why? She wasn’t sure, but neither did she care anymore. She shot a glare at the Detective as he continued to hold her wrist. He seemed to be puzzled by his own action, and as he met her glare, quickly let go as if he only then realized he was touching fire.
Rena left immediately after, not looking back. Where was Briar to cheer her up? Where was Jane to save her from embarrassment?
Clutching her necklace, the betrayal surfaced with all it had, letting her feel every last bit that she had been pushing away for so long now.
She should have joined them.
She should have been on that train.
She shouldn’t have been such a coward.