Rena practically jumped up from her seat as Clyde walked through the front door. She glanced around him into the hallway, but Briar is nowhere in sight. His eyes meet hers as he enters the living space, making him stop abruptly.
“She’s not here?” he asked, to which Rena shook her head. Clyde cursed, removing his hat to run his fingers through his hair. “I’d hoped she’d be here by now.”
“I started to worry when you took so long.” Rena sat back down, staring at the cup of tea she had poured herself, and forgotten about halfway through it. “You don’t think something happened to her, do you?”
Clyde sighed, placing his hat on the coffee table beside her cup as he sat down. He took her hands in his gloved ones. She silently wished he would have taken them off.
“Let’s not panic,” he said, though worry laced his voice. “Briar is perfectly capable of taking care of herself.”
“But we were to meet here hours ago—”
Gently, barely a whisper again her skin, Clyde brushed away a stray hair before cupping her cheek. The freezing leather almost made her flinch as he stroked his thumb back and forth in what was meant to be a soothing manner. She really did try not to wince.
“Maybe she went to look for Dante.” Although his voice was warm, Rena had trouble to keep from shivering. She took his hand from her cheek, squeezing it tightly in an attempt to feel his skin through it. “Maybe she found a new trail and got lost in time following it.”
“And what if she hasn’t? What if she’s in trouble?” Rena shook her head. “Briar is reckless, but she is never this late and keeps to her promises. If something had come up, she would have informed us by now.” Swallowing, Rena lifted her gaze to meet Clyde’s. “She’s in trouble.”
Clyde squeezed her hands in the same manner she had done, as if he too was willing the gloves off. He made no attempt to remove them. “If that were the case, where could she be?”
Biting her lip, she averted her eyes. Where could she have gone? If Clyde couldn’t find her at the station or at her house, where else could she be hiding? If she really went to look for Dante as Clyde suggested . . . but that wouldn’t make sense. She was supposed to look for Dante at Darlington’s place during the meet-up. If Briar had gotten new information she would have run it through them first.
“Could the clan have gotten to her?”
Clyde frowned, staring at their joined hands. “Why would they? For all they know they would be getting her tonight without a struggle, unless . . . ”
“Unless they are onto us.” The blood drained from her face. “Clyde, they must know we were planning an ambush. What do we do?”
Clyde shifted closer, shushing her as he lifted his hand once more to her face. This time she did nothing to hide her discomfort at the touch. He seemed not to notice. “They can’t have known.”
“But what if they did—”
“Then we play ignorant,” Clyde said with a firm nod. “I’ll show up at the meeting, telling them Briar had escaped my grasp. They will either confess to having her or not. Either way, I’ll return with them to the base and look for Briar and bring her home.”
“No,” Rena protested. “No, you won’t be going alone, they’ll suspect something is wrong.” Leaning back, she released herself from him. “I’m coming with you. You can offer me and we’ll look for her together.”
The corner of his mouth tucked up ever so slightly before he shook his head and it was replaced by a concerned frown. “Rena, I’m not risking your life as well.”
“And I’m not going to sit by and do nothing as my best friends get killed.” Clyde leaned away from her, looking to the coffee table. His cravat, which sat higher than it usually did, moved at the strain of his neck. For a split second, Rena thought she saw a thin, black line following the edge of the soft crimson fabric.
“I can’t.” Her attention snapped back to his face as he shook his head again, licking his lips. “I can’t. I can’t lose you.”
“You won’t.” Taking his face between her palms, she sighed silently as her skin was met by warmth. The little reassurance she needed. “I’m just as strong as Briar, I can do it.”
A moment of vulnerability passed over his features, causing her own to break down along with it. There were no words that could convince him, but perhaps there was another way. Another way to show Clyde that he wouldn’t be losing her.
Before he could tell her no again, Rena closed the space between them. His lips were deliciously warm, tasting of coffee with too much sugar. Any doubt that still resigned somewhere in the back of her mind washed away as he kissed her back. His hands came to rest on her back, pulling her closer to him, but Rena broke away before he could deepen their kiss.
“Trust me, Clyde,” she whispered, staying in his embrace. “You won’t lose me ever.”
A smile played on her lips. “I promise.”
“Alright.” A grin lit his face before he captured her lips again as if she had said three instead of two little words. “I’ll be with you and protect you at all times. You won’t have to worry, I’ll keep you safe.”
His grin grew wider as she repeated his words to him.
Throbbing. Her head was heavy and wouldn’t stop throbbing. Briar squeezed her eyes shut tightly before blinking them open. She was met by the backside of a pair of boots. Blinking again, her eyes fell on the iron bars that stood between her and the boots. Slowly, with a hand to her head, she lifted herself, gazing at the person before her.
It was a man. His back was turned to her, but she could make out the warm hue of his skin and the luscious and richness of his blond hair. She would have passed him off as human not too long ago, but she knew better now. Judging from the distance he kept from the bars she could be right.
Sitting upright, she tried to recall what had happened. Most of it was a blur, but she knew one thing for certain. She was going to kill Clyde.
“What happened?” Briar asked, keeping her voice innocent and confused. Vampire or not, he was still a man, and she was a helpless and weak woman. She touched her throat in a hopefully unnoticeable way. Her necklace was gone.
When the man didn’t answer, Briar moaned softly, gripping the bars. “My head hurt so badly, I can’t remember anything.” She faked a gasp, if only just realizing her surroundings. “What—what am I doing in a cell? Did I do something wrong?”
“Save your breath, sweetie,” a female voice sounded from the hallway, followed by the clicking of heels against stone.
Leaning back on her heels, Briar set her face in disinterest as the woman came into view. Her golden hair was a slight shade darker than that of the man. Her amused eyes shone almost red instead of brown in the little light that was provided in the prison cells. Briar used to think it made her final goodbyes to her lovers more romantic, now it left a chill down her spine.
“You’re the leader, aren’t you?” Despite the still present throbbing, Briar’s voice was steady. “My apologies, I never caught your name.”
She kneeled down before the bars, careful not to touch them. “Clyde ordered for you not to be hurt, for whatever reason I cannot understand.”
Unease settled in Briar’s chest as the leader inspected her nails. The image of Andrew Smith flashed in her mind. Unlike Clyde, Briar was certain this woman had no problem with killing her in a heartbeat. Neither would she do it silently.
A wide, toothy grin spread across her face. “That’s a good girl. Now, as much fun as you have been, I’m afraid I can’t hold onto Clyde’s promises any longer.”
In a manner that both seemed lazy and elegant, she lifted herself to her full height. Her eyes remained on Briar as she spoke to the man beside her.
“Your orders have been dismissed,” she said, taking her time to speak each word and the next. Unbeknown to herself, Briar held her breath. “Kill her. Drain her until nothing is left.”
“I’ve just eaten—”
“Just do it.” Turning on her heels, she left.
Briar swallowed heavily as the man let out a matching sigh. As if she were a mere bother. As if he was not about to end her life. As if the blood he was to drain from her were the vegetables he didn’t want to eat at dinner.
With a gloved hand, he opened the cell door. Failing to breathe, Briar shuffled back until she hit the stone-cold wall behind her, the throbbing in her head the least of her problems.
“Keep still,” he grumbled, taking hold of her ankle as she began to kick at him.
“S—Stay away,” Briar gasped as he grabbed her wrist next. She wanted to scream, fight, to run while the door was still open. But she couldn’t. She was frozen. Completely frozen. Her head was light, her limbs heavy, her breathing—was she eve breathing?
Black spots entered her vision, and before she registered the movement, the man—the vampire—had sunken his teeth into her skin.