Glancing up from his bag of sweets, Clyde raised his brow at Rena. She was already watching him, her bag untouched as it sat between them on the bench they had claimed for the late afternoon.
“Why did you let Dante go?” she asked. “Weren’t you after him?”
He lowered his bag to his lap. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“I don’t believe anything you say so go on.”
A pained smile crossed his face as he looked away. “I know he is innocent.”
“For how long?” Rena pressed, irritation building slowly inside her.
“From the beginning,” he said. “It was obvious it wasn’t him.”
Rena clenched her jaw. “Then why didn’t you just say so?”
Setting down his bag beside hers, Clyde leaned forward on his elbows, exhaling loudly through his nose. “I had to keep up the pretense. If I claimed what the Chief did not want to hear he would have rejected me in a heartbeat, and I could risk either you or Briar running your mouth either. I apologize for assuming you would, but I did not know either of you at the time.”
“Do you know who the real murderer is?”
Clyde stayed quiet before shaking his head. “I know as much as you do.”
She doubted he knew what Dante had told her about vampires or about the potential of the killer being part of a clan, but she didn’t mention that.
“Will you be on our side from now on?”
Clyde turned his face to her, a playful smile on his lips. “If I were, does that mean I get to see you more often?”
Remembering how he had looked at her back at the sweets shop, Rena stood, not wanting to sit still on the icy bench any longer as she had a lot to think about. “I suppose, but that isn’t of the importance right now.”
“It is to me,” Clyde said, tilting his head at her.
“Clyde, please.” Rena sighed, starting to pace. “Jane’s killer is still out there, and so far we have made no progress in catching them.”
“Why worry about that now?”
“Because—” she turned, but her sentence was cut short when she was only a breath away from Clyde, who had approached her when she hadn’t been looking. He clenched his jaw, seeming agitated.
“Because . . . ?” Raising his brow, the warning in his voice was clear. “Did you not enjoy yourself today? Was I not enough to distract you from this hideous situation? Because why, Rena? Why—”
He caught himself, though the question was said even without him voicing it. She hadn’t thought he would take today this seriously. It was only to make up for the time she ran out on him, wasn’t it?
“My best friend from childhood has been murdered,” Rena started slowly. “A week has passed since then and I can’t stop thinking about how much I miss her. I’m sorry, Clyde, but how did you expect to take my mind off her case when all I see when I see you is what part you play in it?”
She only realized how insensitive it sounded after she said it, but she refrained from taking back the words. It was the truth, and it might be better if he heard it now. If she had known how serious he was about her than she would never have offered to go somewhere again. She assumed he was only playing around. Maybe she had hoped it as well.
“I see,” he said after a moment of silence, his eyes turned to the ground. “And I shouldn’t care this much, yet I can’t help but feel like today was a waste of time, then.”
Rena reached out to touch his arm, but he moved away the slightest bit before she could. “I’m sorry I can’t be who you want me to be.”
Clyde shook his head. “No, I should have known better, my apologies for not realizing we weren’t on the same page sooner. Enjoy the rest of your evening, Miss Prescott.”
Perhaps it was a trick of the light, a lost snowflake or even a bug, but as Clyde walked off in the opposite direction, Rena thought she saw his eyes shine with tears. Her chest was heavy with guilt as she watched after him, but she couldn’t for the life of her understand what she said that could have upset him enough to be shedding any tears.
Clyde barely knew her . . . what had he hoped to gain from today?
Her eyes fell on the two paper bags full of sweets that sat abandoned on the bench. Was it really that wrong of her to think of Jane on a day like this? Jane would have loved the new chewy candy that the owner of the sweets shop had let them try. She would have loved the snowdrops Clyde gifted Rena, would have loved the snow that surrounded them as they had been sitting eating their sweets. Jane would have loved to hear all about it, was it so wrong to miss not being able to tell her?
Crawling into another man’s bed was still a bit strange to Briar, but more often than not did she forget about it when her head it the soft pillows and she was covered by the warmest of blankets. How Dante was unable to sleep in a bed this heavenly was still beyond her, but neither could she imagine what it was like to be unaffected by either cold or heat.
If only her father knew what she was doing. He would never let her leave the house again.
Sitting upright against the headboard, she tugged at the sleeves of her nightgown. Each time she wore it outside of her own bedroom she felt scandalous, yet the thrill of doing what was seen as improper was one she could not deny.
Dante entered the bedroom not too long after, crawling into the bed beside her. Though instead of the pillows, he used her stomach to rest his head on, and instead of a blanket to keep him warm he pressed her close to his body. A chill ran down Briar’s spine as he did so, still getting surprised each time by just how cold his touch could be. It often made Dante chuckle as well.
“You better start talking before I decide my own bed is warmer,” she said, starting to weave her fingers through his hair in a manner that started to become a habit.
Turning onto his back, he stared up at her with his pale blue eyes. “Where should I start?”
Briar thought for a moment. She would have said from the part where he got involved with the clan, but curiosity took the better of her. “Tell me about your brother.”
A soft smile tugged at his lips. “My little brother,” he repeated fondly. “Christian was his name. Six years younger than I was.” He swallowed thickly, his lids falling. “After our parents passed from sickness I was all he had left, and I did my best to take care of him. Though, after two years I caught the same sickness our parents had and soon I found myself unable to leave my bed.
“I knew I couldn’t leave him alone in this world. He was only fifteen at the time and having seen how much the passing of our parents had hurt him I couldn’t let him go through that again.”
“So you sought out the clan,” Briar said.
Dante nodded. “With the last bit of strength I had, I went to them and begged them to turn me. They complied and bit me, though the did not think I would wake from the coma.” He scoffed, shaking his head. “I still don’t understand how I survived myself.”
Briar continued to stroke his hair, frowning slightly. “What did it cost you?”
“I owed them my service for a hundred years,” Dante said, his tone grim. “After that, I was free to go where I pleased, but they didn’t expect me to actually leave. Most turned vampires stay with their clan, having formed a relationship with the member over the years, but I never felt like I belonged.
“But, I kept up with it since I could take care of my brother. I watched him outgrow me, become a successful man and marry a beautiful woman who he claimed was the love of his life. Together they had a son, Dennis, who adored his immortal uncle.”
A smile once again broke across his face as he recalled the memories. Briar mimicked his smile, unable not to. “Sounds like you loved him just as much.”
“I loved all of them deeply.” Taking one of her hands from his hair, he rested her palm against his eyes, sighing deeply as his smile faded. “But they left, gripped by death and taken from my life. Although I knew the day would come where I had to watch my younger brother become older and eventually outlive me, I hadn’t expected it to happen the way it did.”
Taking a deep breath, he continued, “It was winter and the lake had frozen over. Dennis had been begging to go skating on the lake, and although Mary did not approve, Christian and I took him. Christian and I were talking on the riverbank when Dennis ventured farther and farther onto the lake.” He took another breath, shaking the slightest bit. Briar's stomach dropped as she could already imagine how this would end.
“When we turned back to look at the lake Dennis was gone. We started to panic, running in the direction we had last seen him, and soon enough noticed where the ice had cracked and swallowed him. I jumped in after, but my—my idiotic brother followed. The freezing water did nothing to me, but it was fatal to him. In my moment of panic, I couldn’t think, I could only watch as he sought for his son until his own limps turned stiff.
“Briar, please believe me when I say that I tried to save both of them. I really tried.” He shook his head, every breath he took now shaking with his pain. “But—but by the time I got them out they weren’t breathing. I—I—I even bit them, I tried to turn them, but nothing happened.”
“I’m sorry, Dante,” Briar whispered, tears wetting the inside of her hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“Mary hated me after that,” he continued. “I didn’t blame her, I still don’t. She had every right to hate me.”
“It was an accident—”
“I could have prevented it.” Dante removed her hand, sitting upright. “I could have stopped Christian from jumping in, I could have kept an eye on Dennis, I could have prevented all of it from happening.”
“Dante—” She tried to reach out, but he moved away.
“After that, we went our separate ways. I was left with this empty house while she left for a different city. Not long after I returned to Bristol to serve my hundred years. I never got used to drinking human blood straight from their person, neither did I enjoy the times they had me lure unknowing women into their greedy hands.” Sitting beside her against the headboard, Dante refrained from touching her. “I’m not a good man, Briar, I deserved to be locked up.”
Resting her head on his shoulder, Briar was at a lost for words. She hadn’t expected him to carry such a large baggage. Though, she was glad he shared it with her, for what it was worth. He told her more than she needed to know about his past. Although she wasn’t any wiser on who this clan was and what they wanted, she was content with what she came to know for tonight.
“A good man would never admit to being one,” she said, glancing up at him. “I won’t be able to change your mind now, but I hope you can make peace with it one day.”
Giving in, Dante leaned his head against the top of hers, sighing. “I do so, too.”