Clyde rose to his feet, turning to Chief Blakewell when the hunters had left. “I apologize, Chief.”
Chief Blakewell put a hand on his shoulder, shaking it. “No need to apologize, you did well.”
“What will you do with them?” Clyde asked as he straightened himself, rolling back his shoulders after Chief Blakewell had released his grip.
Stroking his chin, he glanced at Briar and the rest of the officers. It was clear that these guys weren’t messing around, and Briar hoped that her father would finally turn around his approach on the case.
“I’m not certain yet,” he answered. “We’ll discuss this later.”
Chief Blakewell turned on his heels to return to his office, only to stop as he was met by many staring eyes.
“What are you lot looking at? Clean up this mess at once!” Before stalking off he turned to Briar. “Try to compose yourself, Briar, once you’re a married woman you can’t be ogling men like that any longer.”
Briar nodded, though the words slipped from her mind with a roll of her eyes.
As everyone jolted into action, Clyde took hold of both Rena’s and Briar’s wrist, pulling them with him to his office. Inside, he attempted to close his door as best as he could, though the frame had been shattered where it was supposed to lock. Clyde gave up after noticing this as well.
“This puts quite a twist to your hunter story,” Briar mused, leaning back against his desk with crossed arms. “Who was that man and how do you know him?”
Clyde let out a heavy sigh, taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of Briar. Rena had taken to seat herself in the chair beside his. She watched him curiously, keeping her expression carefully blank.
“Darlington is a hunter from Bristol,” Clyde stated, rubbing his forehead. “He is quite famous, his name known by all in the city. The dapper and brave Darlington, the vampire killer.”
“I thought vampires couldn’t be killed,” Rena said.
“They can,” he said. “But it’s a difficult and quite expensive process and if not done correctly could lead to beast-like vampires. One must cut out the heart with a silver blade and stab it, then bury it with the knife still inside it. After a week without reconnection to the body, it should turn to ash and the vampire would officially be dead.”
“That does sound tiring.” Briar shared a look with Rena. “And your connection with him?”
“I’ve been going undercover.” Leaning forward in his seat, he spat at the carpet, a disgusted look tugging at his features. “Darlington has been tracking the clan for a while now and he has seen me with them, believing me to be one of them, which is only natural.”
“So . . .” Rena started, voicing the question they both still shared, “you’re not a vampire?”
Clyde shook his head, not seeming at all surprised by the question. “I am not.”
As his confession sounded, Briar’s eyes fell once more on his bandaged arm, only a tiny part of it peeking out from beneath his sleeve. She shook the thought from her mind, reminding herself that the proof of his injury was on the wall right beside them, which he had taken better care of covering it up with the map now hanging upright.
“Why haven’t you told this sooner?” Briar asked, raising her chin.
“It is dangerous information, both for you and for me.” Clyde glanced at Rena. “It’s not that I trust neither of you, it’s simply that if by accident you let something slip to the wrong person, things could get ugly real fast. I didn’t want to risk it.”
He seemed genuine enough. Pushing herself off the desk, Briar started for the door. “We’ll talk more later this evening.”
“I’ll be staying a little longer,” Rena called after her, but Briar had expected as much. It wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened the night before between the two, and now with another wall of doubt out of the way it made things a lot easier for Rena.
With her hand on the knob, Briar turned back for a brief second. “Did he use his tongue?”
“E—Excuse me?” Clyde stammered, his face going both pale and red at once.
“During the kiss, did he use his tongue?”
Opening and closing his mouth repeatedly, he eventually nodded.
“That’s all I needed to know.” Before they could question her, Briar left the office. When she stepped outside of the building she sighed in relief, the winter cold cooling her heated skin.
Part of her had wanted to know for more scandalous reasons, but there was another reason for her question.
Darlington had grinned when he broke away. If Clyde had truly been human, if the inside of his mouth had been warm, she doubted Darlington would have grinned the way he did. As if he uncovered a secret. There were still things about Clyde’s story that weren’t adding up, and she would need Dante to confirm a thing or two.
With a steadying breath, she began to walk. Despite the cold, her skin held onto its heat, the image from only minutes before still flashing before her eyes.
Damn that leather-clad man to hell.
When Briar finally found Dante, she couldn’t help but frown at the sight. He emerged from a brothel, a little girl in his arms followed by a woman with the same curls as the little girl. The woman hugged him before taking the child from his arms. They both waved him off as he left.
Briar hesitated for a bit before going after Dante, waiting at least for the woman and her child to disappear back inside. Something strange gnawed at her stomach, it almost being enough to turn and wait for him at the house instead.
Shaking her head, Briar continued to go after him. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was in danger she might have done just that, but this wasn’t about just her.
“Dante,” she called as she got closer, taking hold of his arm. He turned to her, his brows raised.
“Briar, what a pleasant surprise,” he said, fully facing her with a soft smile. “How did it go at the station?”
Glancing around the street, Briar weaved her arm through his, pulling him along. “Not quite as well as I had hoped.”
The smile fell from Dante’s face. “What happened?”
“A group of vampire hunters barged in,” Briar said. “They were lead by a man named Darlington, do you know of him?”
Dante frowned, shaking his head. “I can’t say I have.”
“Whoever he was, he assaulted Clyde under the impression he was a vampire.” Briar glanced up for a brief second, her stomach turning in an unnerving knot. “I’d rather not find out what he would do with an actual vampire.”
“So Clyde really isn’t a vampire?”
“Until proven otherwise.” Briar sighed. “Though there is still so much he isn’t telling. Each time it seems like he is has concocted a new story that sounds even more ridiculous than the one before.”
Dante hailed one of the carriages that passed them, helping Briar inside before sitting down himself. Briar leaned back in her seat as it started to move, looking out the window.
“What does Rena think?” Dante asked from his seat across from her. Their knees brushed as the carriage wobbled over the uneven streets. It had been smaller than she had thought when she stepped in, though she did not mind.
“I haven’t discussed it with her yet,” she answered, taking her eyes from the window to meet his. “I left to find you as soon as Clyde finished explaining himself. Rena wanted to stay behind.”
“Naturally so, what did this Darlington person do to him?”
A laugh escaped her throat before she could stop it, her hand coming up to cover her mouth. Dante raised his brow at her, not having expected her to laugh at such a thing.
“He . . . he kissed him,” she told Dante, unable to keep the amusement from her tone.
Dante hid his face behind the back of his hand, barely holding back his own chuckle. “How terrible.”
“Indeed,” she said. “Though, they made quite the pair. A supposed vampire and a vampire hunter, a forbidden love in more than one way.”
Dante’s laughter broke free, and Briar’s followed right after.
“If only I had been there to see it,” Dante said, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Careful now.” Briar held up a finger between them. “There is no doubt in my mind he would have kissed you as well, and I cannot let that happen.”
Dante’s grin turned mischievous as he took hold of her hand. “And why is that?”
Her stomach twisted once again as the woman and her child flashed before her eyes. That she was seeping with jealousy was no longer something she could deny, and so she acted on it instead. Taking hold of his cravat, Briar pulled him to her until his hands were beside her hips and his face inches from hers. Her smile matched his previous one, full of mischief and daring what-ifs.
“Didn’t you know, Dante?” Briar let his name slip from her tongue like a purr, her free hand finding its way under his bowler hat to cares his white strands. “You’re mine.”
His face reddened to her delight, his eyes falling to her lips. Briar was certain she had won now as he leaned in, his lips already parting and his head tilting. With half-lidded eyes, she didn’t see it coming when he moved to her neck instead. A chill ran down her spine at the freezing touch of his lips, followed by a sharp graze of what she could only assume were Dante’s fangs.
With a jolt she let go, reaching for her neck to find that he did draw blood this time. Briar stared at him wide-eyed but was taken off guard as Dante slumped back in his seat, taking the time to clean the blood off his lips with his tongue. His fangs were out as well.
“Don’t tempt me like that, Miss Blakewell,” he said, the use of her surname sounding more intimate than it had ever been. “If I am yours, then that must mean you are also mine. And with a younger brother, I soon learned to claim what belonged to me.”
Another bump in the road caused Dante’s knee to brush hers, though he did nothing to remove it from their shared contact. Somehow, Dante still managed to surprise her. He wasn’t like any of the other men she had seduced, and she had seduced quite a lot. Cranky, hopeless, lousy, drunk, unfaithful, immature, her list could go on forever. And yet, not one of them could have prepared her for Dante.
He almost had her there as well. Almost had her give in and steal her much-awaited kiss. Briar would have done it if it wasn’t for the head splintering scream that interrupted them.