Dante jolted awake as a painful burn hissed just above his ear. He pulled away, wanting to touch his fingers to the pained skin only to find them shackled above his head. Gritting his teeth, he looked up at the figure standing before him. Darlington wiped the snakehead of the silver ring round his intext finger with a cloth. Dante was fairly certain the pattern of the snake’s hide was now imprinted on his skin.
“Awake at last,” Darlington said, keeping his eyes on the ring.
“What is it you want?” Dante snarled as his eyes scanned the room. It was dimly lit by two candles. No windows with only a single door as an exit. He shifted uncomfortably on the carpet, stretching his back against the wooden walls. The chains that held his shackles hung from a lantern holder above his head. Not exactly what he expected from a holding cell.
“I thought we already discussed this.” Darlington held his ring up in the candlelight, turning it from side to side before giving a satisfied nod and pocketing the cloth. “Now, be a good boy and keep still, will you.”
“What are you going to do? Torture me? I already told you I know nothing.”
“Oh, I know that. That’s not why I woke you up.”
Dante’s brows furrowed. “Then why?”
Snapping his fingers, one of Darlington’s followers appeared from the shadows where had been nothing but darkness a moment before. With another piece of cloth, she gagged him before returning to her corner.
“I have an appointment with Miss Blakewell in a few minutes,” Darlington said, a foul grin spreading across his face. “I thought it might be fun to have you hear her voice while being unable to reach out to her. I bet she is sick with worry by now.”
It’s hardly been a day, was what Dante wanted to say. Though, a heaviness till filled his chest as Darlington left the room, leaving the door slightly ajar. It was either to make sure he caught their conversation or as another way of mocking him. Maybe both.
Dante struggled with the chains around his wrist until he heard another door open and close.
“Miss Blakewell,” Darlington’s voice rang through the hall and filled the room, loud enough to reach him, loud enough for him to hear the delight in it. “Please, take a seat.”
Why was she here? Dante bit down on his gag as he tried to listen. Briar couldn’t be here for him. She might not even know he had gone missing. What could she possibly want from Darlington?
“I think we can help each other,” Briar said, her voice even and all business. Dante smiled at that.
“We are forming a plan to ambush the leader of the clan. Clyde has direct contact with her and can set up a meeting place and time. We ambush her and take out the clan, fast and easy.”
Darlington laughed. “It almost sounds too easy, don’t you think?”
Briar kept quiet for a short while before answering. “It does, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try.”
“You believe Clyde won’t double-cross you?”
“Why would he?” Her voice sounded a challenge.
Darlington snorted, and Dante could hear him push back his chair to stand. His steps sounded all the way to the room Dante was occupied in.
“He might have made me appear a fool at the station, but the man is a vampire. Trust him with your life for all I care, but there is not a chance I will agree to a plan in which he is involved.”
“There is no risk for you,” Briar said. “All you and your crew need to do is act as a backup when we need it. After we caught her you can destroy the whole clan.”
Darlington’s steps continued to echo as he paced slowly from one side of the room to the other. “There is always a risk.”
“Then all I can ask is for you to trust me on this.”
A moment of silence followed. Dante rattled his chains against one another, attempting to take hold of them only to burn the inside of his hands. The shackles might not have been iron or silver, but the chains certainly were. Biting down on the rag in his mouth, Dante pulled himself to his feet from his wrist, clenching his fists despite the burning pain. He continued to rattle the chains.
“What’s that noise?” Briar asked and Darlington paused his pacing.
“We’re close to water, Miss Blakewell, what do you expect to hear?”
“What is your answer, Darlington?” she asked, the mockery of his tone not getting lost on her. Dante cursed her pride. “A single word is enough to tell me if I wasted my time here, and if I should continue wasting it.”
“Alright,” Darlington said at last. “But if things go south, we will not aid you. Our deal is for a single purpose, and if the plan changes, we are no longer involved.”
A chair scraped against the floor, and Dante imagined Briar standing. With all his might, he tugged at the chains, but the lantern holder wouldn’t budge. Again and again, he let the chains clang against each other, loud enough so that he couldn’t follow the conversation any longer. Only when the click of a lock falling back in place sounded did he stop, a long breath passing through his nose.
Leaning back against the wall, Dante held his head high as Darlington re-entered the room. He ran his thumb across the length of his bottom lip before removing the gag from Dante’s mouth.
“Quite cunning, isn’t she?”
“Will you betray her?”
Darlington took a long breath as if contemplating the idea. “No, but I will stay true to my word. If Clyde double-crosses them, then I will not risk the lives of my people to protect any of them.”
Dante pressed his mouth into a thin line. The chance that Clyde would do exactly that was too great of a possibility. Despite having said he was on their side, it guaranteed nothing. It were empty words. Dante doubted his feelings towards Rena would have him switch sides in less than a week.
Then there was the confirmed doubt Dante had about his true identity. Briar and Rena might not want to believe it, but if there was one thing he trusted Darlington on, it was that he could recognize a vampire.
“What will you do with me now?”
A grin stretched his lips to either side of his face. “I’ll leave that to the element of surprise.”
Briar welcomed the warmth of the coffee house eagerly as she stepped inside. The bitter scent hit her immediately, leaving the taste on her tongue. Spotting Rena and Clyde at one of the tables, she joined them. They halted their conversation, looking at her expectantly.
“Well?” Rena asked, leaning forward. “What did he say?”
“He will help us,” Briar said. “Once we have all the details, I’ll meet with him and we can get this over with.”
Clyde leaned back in his chair. “I guess it’s a good thing to have a backup without Dante.”
Nodding, Briar shot him a brief glance. “Any word from him yet?”
“No.” Rena shook her head, her shoulders slumping slightly. “The brothel you mentioned hadn’t seen him either after he left yesterday.”
Briar sighed. “It was a mistake to leave him on his own.”
“At least he can’t be bleeding out in a ditch somewhere,” Clyde offered with a raise of his hand.
“Could Darlington have gotten to him?” Rena asked.
Frowning, Briar crossed her arms. “Could be. I did hear strange noises coming from the back, but he brushed it off as coming from the canal.”
“Where else could he be?”
“Why would Darlington bo—” Clyde’s sentence was cut short when one of the waiters tripped, spilling hot coffee all over his chest. Clyde hissed, his chair falling back as he stood, pulling at his clothes to prevent them from touching his skin.
The waiter set down the tray, grabbing the napkins from the table in a panicking. “I—I am so sorry, sir.”
Clyde slapped away the waiter’s hands. “Get some damn water.”
As the waiter rushed away, Clyde started to unbutton his vest, revealing the white blouse underneath completely soaked in the brown liquid.
“God! Are you okay, Clyde?” Rena made an attempt with the napkins as well, and Clyde let her despite it not doing much.
“It’s not that bad,” he said through gritted teeth, taking in a sharp breath as Rena put a napkin to his chest. She pulled her hand away as she flinched.
Despite the chaos, Briar refrained from helping, narrowing her eyes to specific places on Clyde instead. He shrugged off his blazer as the waiter returned with a bucket and a cloth, other members of the staff close behind him to clean up the mess and offer their aid.
Briar’s eyes fell on the bandaged that peeked out from underneath Clyde’s blouse. No coffee had spilled on it. Shame. Then her gaze turned to the spot Rena had been trying to clean. Parts were still sticking to his skin, though most of it he had unbuttoned. Briar might have appreciated the show of extra skin if it wasn’t for the odd mark on it. It looked like a healing burn wound.
He might have made me appear a fool at the station, but the man is a vampire. A chill ran down her spine. There was no reason for her not to believe Darlington’s words. He had kissed Clyde. He knew the inside of his mouth was cold. There was no other reason for Darlington to take Clyde’s mouth like that unless to prove his suspicion right.
As everyone continued to fuzz over Clyde, Briar nudged one of the waiters on his arm. He turned to her, bending down. “Yes, Miss?”
“How hot is the coffee here served?” Briar asked.
“My apologies, Miss, I don’t know the exact temperature.”
She gave him a gentle smile, and the young man visibly relaxed. “All I’d like to know if it is hot enough to burn one’s skin when spilled.”
The waiter nodded. “Yes, Miss, I’ve burned myself many times when spilling the coffee, I always advise to blow before taking your first sip, Miss.”
“Thank you, that’s all.”
Returning her gaze to Clyde, her frown returned. No fresh burns were forming on his skin. The redness was fading rather quickly as well. Shaking her head, she refused to jump to conclusions. Even if Clyde was a vampire, even if he lied once again about it, it did not mean he was going to double-cross them. His reasons were his own, and for this plan to work, she had to trust him.