Briar leaned back in her seat, her eyes still on the map of London. Darlington circled his finger around the alley they were supposed to meet the leader in with Clyde.
“I’ll be up on the roofs with two others, that should be enough to hold her while the rest round up the clan at the warehouse,” Darlington said. “Are we certain she won’t bring reinforcement?”
Clyde rubbed his chin, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. It was clear it unnerved him to be under the same roof as Darlington and his followers. “I don’t think so. She wouldn’t risk bringing unprepared vampires into the city. Besides, if it is really needed, I would be enough assistance.”
“Tell me again what you told her,” Briar said.
Clyde sighed, having done this about five times already. “That I’ll meet her at Austin Friars Passage to hand over Briar Blakewell, the last piece that would stop them from entering. Once eliminated, she should be able to enter the city without any hiccups. It would be a simple exchange, no need for reinforcement.”
“One in the morning.”
Briar nodded, leaning once more over the table. “Alright,” she mumbled. “Darlington and his men will be positioned on either side of the passage, the moment she is inside, we strike and she’ll have nowhere to go.”
Darlington tapped the paper. “Yes, unless—”
“Unless more vampires show up, I know.” Shooting a glare at him, Briar stood from her seat. “We already dislike you, Darlington, don’t remind me of your lack of loyalty or I’ll be the one you should be running from.”
“Loyalty is not what I lack, Miss Blakewell,” he said, leaning back in his large leather chair. “It is what has kept me alive for so long. I am loyal to my people, and I will not put them in unneeded danger for an outsider. We are like a family, and family is all that counts. If tomorrow fails, we will plan another attack, without the leader knowing the better of our involvement.”
Briar took her gloves from his desk, pulling them back on before reaching for her hat. “Don’t disappoint me. I promise I can be a lot worse than a whole vampire clan and your hunters group combined.”
As she spoke she made sure she met both Clyde’s and Darlington’s gaze. She hoped it left the impact that she needed. Rena was waiting for them in the carriage. The moment Briar stepped inside did her mouth open, barely giving her the time to sit.
“And?” Rena urged, leaning forward. After long discussions, both Briar and Clyde agreed that it was best if Rena stayed home that night. There was no reason for her to be there. Even if Rena strongly disagreed. The leader only knew of Briar’s involvement with the case, and it was best if it stayed that way. At least Briar could rest easy knowing Clyde would not put her in danger, even if it meant not batting an eye when he put herself in her stead.
“Darlington is caught up with the plan,” Briar said.
The carriage started to move. Clyde sat beside Rena, taking her hand in his gloved ones. He had taken to wearing his gloves more often, she had noticed, but Rena did not seem bothered by it as her cheeks flushed the tiniest bit.
“And you’re certain he’ll be there?”
Clyde nodded. “We’ll meet with him at midnight and go over it once more while we wait.”
His hand squeezed hers and Rena sighed, releasing some of the tension in her shoulders. Briar could imagine how she was feeling. So much had happened in a few short weeks. They had lost Jane, and life hadn’t been the same since. They got tangled in a mess far larger than themselves and the only way out was to confront an entire clan of creatures that could kill them in a heartbeat.
“Rena?” Briar raised her gaze to meet hers, her fingers playing with her necklace. “I might have a task for you after all.”
She sat upright, a flash of excitement in her eyes. “What is it?”
Clyde gave Briar a curious look as well, waiting for her to speak.
“Could you sneak into Darlington’s house while we’re at the meeting?” Briar said. “All the members will be either with Darlington or surrounding the clan so it should be empty.”
“Sure,” she said, her brows furrowed, “but why?”
Briar forced herself to let go of her necklace, feeling as if her worry for Dante was not meant to be comforted by the piece. “I’m suspecting he is hiding Dante somewhere inside.”
“How so?” Clyde asked, crossing her legs. “I know we haven’t heard from him in a while, but for all we know the clan got to him and we’ll find him tonight. There is no need for her to go snooping around.”
“And what if he isn’t?” Briar narrowed her eyes. “This is our only chance to find out more about Darlington as well. There is more to him that he isn’t telling, and I’d like to know what I am up against if he suddenly decided to stay.”
Rena put her free hand over Clyde’s. “I’ll be fine, I’ve done it before.”
“You know how it works,” Briar said as she ignored Clyde’s scowl. “First outside, then inside, pick the lock, in—”
“—and out before anyone notices. I got it.” A smile stretched across her cheeks that Briar couldn’t help but mimic. It was no secret that because of Chief Bakewell’s position that they often got away with a lot as children, and as they grew older, they started to wonder what they could get away with if no one noticed at all. They had loads of years to practice and room for trial and error, and although Jane was against most of it, she was the best out of the three of them when it came to lock picking and switching up items in the house unnoticed to confuse the maids.
“Then it’s settled.”
To say she slept marvelously that night would be one of the biggest lies in her life, which was saying a lot considering she wasn’t known to be truthful by those close to her. Ready for the day, even with her stomach in knots, Briar was about to leave her bedroom before stopping short.
Turning to her dresser, Briar sighed as her eyes fell on the drawer in which Jane’s necklace was safely tucked away. Her hand came to rest on her own, feeling the pattern press into her palm. Whether it was stalling or something else, Briar let her feet carry her to the dresser. She took the small jewelry box from the corner of the drawer where she had hidden it behind a pile of fabrics. Despite not showing the effect it had on her, seeing the little box alone made her want to curl back into bed and face the world another day.
But today she would be strong. She would bring Jane’s killer to justice, would put an end to all these gruesome murders and games between hunter and prey. And she needed a bit of Jane to remind herself.
Opening the soft velvet-covered box, Briar reeling back as a smell hit her nose. The smell of rotting, burned flesh. Covering her nose, she held the necklace closer, frowning deeply as she tried to locate the source of the scent. Wedged between the light blue stone and the silver design was a black remnant that stained the jewelry piece.
Briar stepped closer to the window, removing her hand from her mouth to take the necklace out of the box by its chain. The light gave her a better look, and her breath caught. The smell. The texture. It was burned skin. Burned vampire skin.
That’s why the killer took the chain. While drinking it had burned them, most likely attached itself to the skin with its silver hooks. But that wasn’t what made her heart stop, what drained the blood from her face, what made her pocket the necklace without a second thought and rush out of the room.
She had been right about Clyde. In all the ways she had hoped to have been wrong, she was right.