Swirling the red liquid in his glass, Dante took another sip. Briar watched him intently, taking a sip of her own. As minutes turned into hours, Dante had retrieved a bottle of wine from somewhere in the house. Briar never had drunk enough wine to feel its effect, but today was the first that she consumed more than one glass. She hadn’t cared much for it before, but Dante’s offer had been rather tempting, and before she knew it her glass had been refilled more than three times.
“What were you doing out of the city, Dante?” she asked.
Dante looked away from his glass to meet her gaze. “I don’t remember.”
“Surely you remember something?”
Sighing heavily, Dante sunk deeper into his chair. “I remember getting on the train on the day I left, all that has occurred after is a blur.”
Briar hummed. “We met on the train back, do you remember that?”
Dante shook his head, setting down his almost empty glass. “What did you think when you saw me?”
“I was curious,” Briar admitted, “I’d never seen the infamous vampire Dante up close before, and when I did he was anything but devilish.” She shot him an amused smile. “Even drugged you were polite.”
Dante chuckled. “I was raised well, for the most part.”
“You were.” Taking another sip, Briar wondered if the heat on her cheeks came from the fire, the wine or Dante. Either way, she didn’t mind it nor felt the need to cover it up. “What reason could you have to leave?”
Dante shrugged, staring at the fire. “Where did we came from?”
Rubbing his forehead, Dante squeezed his eyes shut. “Why would I go to Bristol?”
“Do you have family there?” Briar asked. “Perhaps friends?”
“I don’t ha—” Dante cut himself off, his expression turning as he seemed to remember or realize something. “No, no that can’t be it.”
Briar leaned forward, placing her glass on the coffee table that separated them. “What?”
Dante waved his hand, picking up his glass to gulp down what was left of his wine. “Nothing, it’s nothing, I would never—they would never go to London.”
“Who is ‘they’?” Pouring himself another glass, Briar took hold of Dante’s wrist before he could take another sip. “Dante, who are you talking about?”
He stared at her, hesitant. His cheeks were as rosy as hers, but she was certain neither of them felt as tipsy as before.
“The clan,” he cut her off, letting go of the glass as he sat back. “The clan I used to belong to. They were located on the outskirts of Bristol.”
Briar furrowed her brow. “A vampire clan?”
Dante nodded. “I’m not too fond of them, and neither are they of me.”
“Could they be the ones to have set you up?”
“Perhaps.” Dante bit on his nail, his gaze fixed on the fire once more. “But so far we only have proof of one vampire. It could be a single member that set this up.”
Briar leaned back again, processing the information. “It is plausible. With the police focused on you, no one would suspect a second vampire to actually be the cause, and since the clan knew you lived in London and had quite a name out here it was the perfect decoy.”
“Why would any of them want to go to London, though?” Dante mumbled. “They hate the cities. It’s too loud, too many smells, they wouldn’t be able to stand it.”
“Could they have found a way to go around it?”
“Perhaps they are diluting human blood with animal blood,” Dante suggested.
Briar opened her mouth to add more, only to close it when she noticed the tension that had entered Dante’s body. His leg was bounced up and down repeatedly, his eyes wide and his shoulders rigid. It was clear he feared this clan more than anything. His reason for staying in London despite how badly he was treated became more understandable as well.
Standing from her seat, Briar made her way to his chair, kneeling down in front of him. She took one of his hands, hoping the warmth of hers would somehow soothe him.
“Dante,” she said, her voice gentle, “it’s going to be okay.”
His gaze shifted from the fire to meet hers. Though the tension did not leave his shoulders, his leg did stop its constant bouncing. Briar smiled as she absently played with his fingers, one of her elbows resting on his thighs.
“You’ll be fine,” she whispered. “I’ll make sure of that.”
Taking hold of her hands, Dante pulled her up and to him. Perhaps she wouldn’t have complied so easily if it hadn’t been for the wine, but at that moment all Briar could think about was how anxious Dante looked and how she wished to take that away.
She settled on his lap as he pressed his face to her neck. A soft laugh escaped her lips as his nose tickled her skin, but soon enough she got used to his cold touch. She could feel him smile and sigh, his shoulders finally sagging as one of his arms held her to him.
Briar’s lids began to droop, becoming too heavy to stay open. She might not have been as sober as she thought as she started to drift in and out of consciousness. Dante might not have been warm but his hold was comfortable and the fire made up for what he lacked. It was hard not to fall asleep in the arms of this supposed monster.
“Thank you,” he whispered against her skin, “Briar.”
Despite the splitting headache, Briar walked into the police office with her head held high and shoulders pulled back. She was greeted by some of the officers as she made her way to her father’s office.
“Briar,” Clyde called, stopping her in her track. Turning to him, she raised her brow in question. “Could you spare me a second?”
He gestured at his office, a serious look in his eyes.
“Of course, Detective Graveward,” she said with a nod, following behind him.
“At least someone remembers,” Clyde grumbled to himself. Briar furrowed her brow but didn’t comment on it. He didn’t seem to be in the best of moods.
Briar took a seat in one of the seats in front of his desk as Clyde closed the door behind them. Though, he did not sit in his chair, instead pacing behind it.
“What is it?”
“What did you find at the crime scene of Mrs. Evans?”
“Don’t test my patience.” His voice took a dangerous turn, becoming louder and deeper. “I saw the clock and your father mentioned your superstitious nature so get on with it, what did you find?”
Briar clenched her jaw, glaring at Clyde. “What has gotten you so riled up, Detective?”
Slamming his hands on his desk, Briar jumped. “Just tell me and get lost.”
Taking a second to consider what she could tell him, Briar said, “The vampire that attacked her has only one fang, that is all.”
Balling his fists, Clyde turned away again, seemingly unsatisfied with her answer. Though, was that it or was something else bothering him? Shifting in her seat, Briar glanced around the chair so she could see him fully. Her frown deepened as she noticed that he was only wearing one glove, his fingers displaying more unease than his gloved ones.
“Are you alright, Clyde?” she asked. “What happened to your other glove.”
“That does not concern you.” Within a few long strides, he was at the door, holding it open for her, daring her to stay seated.
Agreeing that she did not want to test his patience any further, Briar stood and left. For a brief second, she paused underneath the frame, taking another closer look at Clyde. His lips parted with what she assumed was a snarky remark, but it was cut off when her name was called.
“Briar!” Rena called, approaching them but stopping short as her eyes fell on the person behind Briar.
Clyde scoffed, closing the door and pushing Briar outside simultaneously. Blinking, Briar glanced between Clyde’s office and Rena. “Did—Did something happen while I was gone?”
Rena didn’t answer, taking hold of her arm instead. “Where did you disappear to anyways?”
Briar held a finger to her lips, gesturing at the officers around them. “I was feeling unwell so I went home.”
“Ah.” Rena nodded. “Shame, I missed you quite a bit there.”
The heavy sensation of guilt bubbled up in her chest. “I’m sorry, Rena, I’ll take you with me next time.”
After a second of consideration, Rena sighed. “Alright, I’ll forgive you but just this once.”
Smiling, Briar patted Rena’s hand as she made another attempt at meeting her father. She needed to know what he thought of Mrs. Evans’s case and how far he was convinced Dante was still involved. Dr. Anderson must have told him as much as he had told them. Her father should be aware of the single puncture.
Briar knocked before entering. Both Briar and Rena were greeted by her father’s friendly smile and a nod of his head. “Miss Prescott, it’s good to see you again, I hope you are feeling better?”
Sitting down in the chair beside Briar, Rena nodded. “Yes, much better, thank you for your concern, Mr. Blakewell.”
“Briar hasn’t been too much of a bother, has she?”
“Father,” Briar warned.
Waving his hand, her father chuckled. “I was only joking. Now, to what do I owe this pleasant surprise?”
“It’s about Mrs. Evans.” Briar sat up straight in her chair. “We suspected her to be a witness, and the recent event confirms that she was. We were wondering what else was uncovered at the scene.”
The smile faded from her father’s lips as a dreadful look settled in instead. “Ah yes, Mrs. Annabeth Evans, you must have heard it was a vampire attack. I wanted to thank you again for reporting her missing, it was most likely that her body would have gone undiscovered for many weeks if you hadn’t. With no direct family close, the poor widow would not have been missed for a long while.”
Briar shook her head. “I still can’t believe it. Was Dante behind this attack as well?”
She noticed the slight hesitation before her father spoke. “Yes, we believe he was, but we are uncertain of where he went.”
He knew of the wounds, he knew those didn’t match Dante’s fangs. Dante was, after all, well known for the two fangs that were visible whenever he opened his mouth. Now that he drunk human blood again that was no longer the case, but Briar had seen herself how obvious they were in his mouth.
If her father had doubts than at least there was some hope he would believe her once she gathered enough evidence on the real murderer.
“Is there a pattern in his killings?” Briar asked, thinking back of the Ripper case. His victims had been prostitutes, women he thought lesser of, the dirt of society. Though she knew the only connection the killer had to the victims was that Jane had been at the wrong place at the wrong time and Mrs. Evans had been a witness of it, she was curious if her father had thought of something else.
“Clyde and I have been discussing this, actually,” her father said, folding his hands together. “Although it is clear the second murder had not been planned, the first one definitely was.”
Briar and Rena shared a look.
“How was it planned?” Rena asked, stealing the words from Briar’s tongue. If they believed Dante was behind it then what could he possibly have planned this for?
“To mock us,” her father explained. “Dante has always hated London and so had London, in turn, hated him. He left for Bristol not long after you and Miss Morris did, knowing you were my daughter and Miss Morris was a close friend. Then on the day of your return, he planned his murder and his capture.” Seemingly lost in his theory, his eyes stayed fixed on his desk. “Dante knew how to escape even before he was captured, he knew how to hurt us and he knew how to clean up all the loose strings. Miss Morris was a strategic choice, her father being a well-respected man and her connection to the police caused her demise.”
Briar bit her lip. It was a plausible theory indeed, and she might have believed it if it weren’t for the evidence she already had of his innocence. However, the fact that Jane’s killing hadn’t been random but a strategic one was something she hadn’t considered yet.
“This way he wants to show that he is unstoppable,” Rena added, going along with his theory.
“Indeed.” Sighing, her father rubbed his chin. “That’s why I’d like to ask both of you to be extra careful. It is likely that Dante is after either of you next. His killing will not end with Mrs. Evans. He started something and he is planning on finishing it.”