Rena’s hand rested lightly in the crook of Clyde’s elbow, her eyes darting from one face to the other in the hopes of not being recognized by someone she knew. This would be the first time in her life that something resembling a courtship would transpire, and she did not want to give the wrong idea to women who couldn’t keep their mouths shut. If her first trip to the pastry store were to be forgotten.
Exhaling a long breath, Rena looked down at the snowdrops that Clyde had gifted her, twirling them around between her woolen gloved fingers. She always thought them to be a bit sad-looking. Their flowers hung so mournfully, facing the ground as if they could not bear to lift their pedals to face the sun instead.
“I would have given a rose,” Clyde said, breaking the silence between them, “but with the many meanings each color has I didn’t want to risk sending the wrong message.”
“Are you well versed in the language of flowers?” Rena asked.
“I once read a book or two.” His free hand moved to cover hers, only to stop before touching her and hold his own wrist instead. “I wouldn’t say I am an expert, but with yesterday’s fright I did not want to throw in a false proposal and shatter more of your hopes and dreams.”
Rena looked up at him, her brows raised. “You’re joking.”
Clyde turned his head to meet her gaze in turn. “I am not. A white rose presented by a man to a woman is seen as a marriage proposal in many cultures.”
A laugh escaped her throat. “A single rose for a lifetime together?”
“Don’t you find it romantic?” Clyde was the one to raise his brow this time.
“Not quite,” Rena said, looking away. “Roses wilt. What you present is a brief moment of happiness in the first few years, but after too long of a time together things will fall apart and the purity of love will be lost.”
Rena stared at the snowdrops, squeezing their stems until she heard their silent snap.
The first night she caught her father returning home late. The first morning she found her mother weeping in the bedroom. She could never forget it.
If a promise over gold couldn’t hold, how could one over a rose?
Clyde snapper her from her thoughts as he took one of the snowdrops, the stem shortened to half its size. He gently tucked it into her hair, his fingers brushing along her cheek as he retrieved them.
“White suits you, though.”
Clyde’s eyes were softer than she had ever seen them before, as was his slime. He didn’t elaborate on what he meant, and Rena was glad he didn’t. As she looked away, her own mind was quick to jump to conclusions on its own. She didn’t need him to confirm anything, fearing that it would only deepen the shade that tainted her cheeks.
Needless to say, he did manage to distract her from unpleasant thoughts, which she only came to realize much later.
Clyde watched as Rena took in every last detail of the store, seemingly amazed by the many colors and sugary sweet scent that accompanied them. His hands twitched to reach out to her, but he shoved them in his pockets instead.
With all that happened he needed to be careful with how he handled things. How he handled her. Why he was so set on Rena and her opinion of him he still wasn’t quite sure, but the mention of the word ‘love’ had tugged at his heartstrings. Although she meant it in a negative manner, using it to describe a marriage falling apart, it still managed to make his heart skip a beat.
Clyde was certain he wasn’t in love, he couldn’t be, and he wasn’t going to fall in either. Rena had captured his attention. More specifically, her touch had. Her touch and her sharp words. The challenge in her eyes. Nothing more. That white happened to bring out her eyes was a coincidence, so was his sudden change in feelings regarding snow.
“Quite the lady you brought in, Clyde,” Mr. Price said as he leaned over his counter, the white apron pressing against the wood. He twisted his mustache as he continued to watch Rena wander around the store. “Out to woo her, eh?”
“Not . . . exactly?” He already felt his cheeks coloring. His behavior so far could be described as such, he was well aware, yet he not once had it in mind when approaching her.
Mr. Price raised his brow, straightening up. “What man answers that question with another question?”
“It’s only that . . . “ Clyde sighed, prying his eyes away from Rena to fully face Mr. Price. “I don’t think I bear romantic feelings for her. I simply wish to see her smile, that’s all there is to it.”
Mr. Price gave him both a look as if Clyde had spoken a different language that he did not understand. “Are you completely sure about that, my boy?”
Clyde furrowed his brow in turn. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Your cheeks betray you,” Mr. Price said, shaking his head before he nodded at Rena. “As does the way you look at her. She has you under her spell.”
Clyde chuckled. “As if, I am quite certain I am un—”
Glancing at Rena, the words locked in his throat as their gaze met from across the room. Her eyes were hopeful as she pointed at one of the jars, her lips parted in a smile that lit her whole face.
“Clyde, can I have this?” she asked, though his mind got stuck at the way she called his name.
“Of course, my lady, how much?” Mr. Price answered for him instead, walking around his counter to assist her.
Clearing his throat, Clyde nodded, though her attention was no longer on him. It was her smile, he reminded himself, just her smile. And her touch. Her smile and touch, nothing else he wished from her.
As Briar entered Dante’s living room, she found him soundly asleep by the fire in his chair, a book beside his feet. Taking off her boots, she quietly made her way across the carpet, picking up the book and placing it on the coffee table before wrinkles started to set in from the awkward way it had fallen.
“Dante?” she called quietly. Although she didn’t wish to disturb him, she needed her answers. Patience was never her virtue.
“Yes?” he mumbled, shifting in his seat as he rubbed his eyes.
“Oh, I thought you were asleep.”
Dante shook his head, taking in a deep breath. “No, I was only resting my eyes. Though, a nap does sound nice, care to join me?”
“Maybe later,” she said, pausing for a second to as she realized how natural it felt to answer with those words when it shouldn’t. Deciding to ignore it for at least today, Briar continued, “I got some information on the murder victim of last night.”
“It wasn’t the same vampire that attacked Jane and Mrs. Evans.” Briar bit her lip, watching as Dante’s tired eyes turned wide awake. “This one had two fangs, and if we take into consideration the state the body was left in it seems rather obvious it wasn’t done by the same vampire.”
Dante sat upright, all the thoughts of sleep forgotten. “You’re certain that it was a vampire?”
Briar nodded. “Dr. Anderson showed me the marks himself.” Biting her lip, she voiced the question they both dreaded to be answered, “Can it be that your clan is responsible?”
“I’m afraid so,” Dante said with a sigh. Worry creased his forehead as he rubbed his hands together.
“What can you tell me about them?”
Dante shrugged. “Not much. It has been ages since I last saw them. Everything that occurred during the time I was part of it could have changed over the years.”
“Would you be able to recognize them?” Briar asked, a hopeful hint to her tone.
Separating his hands, he started to massage his neck instead. “Some of them, perhaps, but they could have gotten new members.”
Sitting back against the back of the couch, Briar sighed. “It’s more than nothing.”
“I’m sorry for not being of more help,” Dante said after a moment of silence, his eyes turned to his feet. “This probably wasn’t what you expected when you broke me out, was it?”
Briar opened her mouth to deny his claim, though shut it again when a better idea shot to mind. “You’re right, I did expect more,” she said as she stood, resting her hands against his bare neck when she reached him.
A long breath passed his lips at her touch, accompanied by his hands on her bodice to pull her onto his lap. Though Briar had hoped to gain a different reaction from him for once, it seemed that Dante was only in need of comfort, as he usually was.
“My apologies, Briar,” he whispered against her collarbone. Briar’s shoulders slumped as she gave up on her attempt at seduction. It seemed as if her almost kiss from a week ago had left the opposite effect. All she had now were cold arms that craved her warmth and sleepless nights because of talking rather than kissing.
It wasn’t too bad, and she did enjoy it, but she had at least hoped for something to happen. She had been holding back on other men until Dante finally gave in, and she couldn’t deny that it left her a little restless.
A sudden sharp prick against her skin jolted her from her thoughts as she looked down at Dante, her hand reaching for the pained spot on the base of her neck on its own.
“Was this what you were hoping for?” Dante’s voice had deepened, his eyes dark as they stared up at her, between his parted lips the sharp ends of his fangs peeking out.
Removing her hand, she found no blood to have stained her fingers. Dante’s fingers curled around hers as he turned her palm to his face, pressing a kiss to it, soft yet cold.
“What is it you want from me?” he asked, closing his eyes while holding her hand to his skin. “I never know when you are playing and when you are genuine.”
“A kiss,” she breathed, though it felt like a lie even to her. Briar might have wanted a kiss at first, but after those nights she wasn’t entirely sure if a single kiss could satisfy her anymore. Still, she kept up the pretend, raising her chin ever so slightly as she swallowed her doubt. “I want a kiss from a vampire—from you, Dante.”
She might have imagined it, might have hoped it to be, but for a brief second, she thought disappointment crossed his sharp features. Releasing his hold on her, Dante sat back in his chair. His eyes opened again to meet hers, less dark but just as daring.
“Do your worst, you won’t get it.”
“You’ll regret saying that.”
“Will I?” Dante raised his brow, taking the time to observe the way Briar was sitting on his lap. “Cause so far you have been giving up rather easily whenever the slightest bit of sadness is visible on my face.”
Briar’s eyes widened. “You were faking it the whole time?”
“Not entirely.” Raising his hand, he waved it around to refer to the past week. “It just became noticeable how much you held back, and although it is very considerate of you, I am not some fragile child that can’t handle some teasing.”
Leaning back a bit, Briar eased her features into a kinder expression. “Perhaps if you told me why you feel sad so often I wouldn’t feel the need to constantly comfort you.”
“Tonight.” Tugging at a ribbon on her bodice, Dante pulled her back to him. “Let’s take a nap, for now, I’d like to forget about the clan for a bit.”
A bit reluctant, Briar rested her head on his shoulder, knowing that the rise and fall of his chest would put her to sleep as well. Despite the little sidetrack that their conversation took, there was still a lot she needed to discuss with him regarding the case. Though, she hoped his past could shed some light on who they were dealing with, and if he held to his promise than she would get some answers tonight.
Perhaps a nap wasn’t too bad of an idea. After all, it would help keep her eyes open tonight.