Pulling down his cravat, Clyde inspected the thin line of burned skin. He gently touched the tender skin, biting his tongue to keep from voicing the sting of pain that shot through him. It would take months to heal and leave a nasty scar. How he was going to explain this to Rena he wasn’t sure. A lot of things he wasn’t sure off after this morning.
If only Briar had not seen the burn on his chest he could have gone on like this just a little while longer.
Covering his neck back up, he turned his cheek to the mirror, touching the equally tender skin there. If it hadn’t been for the crème he had stored in his desk convincing Rena would have been quite a task. So would have been explaining the burn in the first place. The only downside was how much it itched. It was not quite the healing remedy he would have liked, but it had to do for now.
Gripping the sink with both hands, he sucked in a breath through his teeth, trying to pull himself together. How did he end up in this mess?
The plan was simple. Kill the girl. Frame Dante. Give the order when clear.
Not befriend the best friends of the girl he murdered. Nor fall for one of them.
Why had it suddenly gotten so difficult?
Taking a final deep breath, he held it for a few seconds before straightening his back and letting it go. Perhaps he could reason with Briar. He doubted it—she had always been less fond of him—but he could try. He had chosen his words poorly before, but perhaps now he could get it right.
Rena couldn’t bear to lose Briar as well, and he couldn’t lose Rena because of that.
Clyde made his way to the cells, thinking over what he could say to Briar to make her understand. And if not understand, simply to comply. He really did not want to hurt her, despite what she had done to him. He couldn’t blame her for acting the way she did. He would have done the same.
Rolling his shoulders back, he prepared himself for her tongue, but his slow beating heart stopped instead when he found the cell door open and the vampire who guarded it gone. When he reached the cell, it was worse than he could have thought.
“Get off her!” he yelled, grabbing the vampire by his collar and pulling him backward. “Have you lost your mind?”
He wiped his mouth, staining his sleeve. “The leader dismissed your orders.”
Cursing under his breath, Clyde bended down over Briar’s body. His hands hovered over her, unsure and afraid to touch her. Her skin was pale, her eyes closed. He couldn’t tell if she was breathing.
“She’s dead,” the vampire said from behind him, getting to his feet. “She passed out immediately and her heart stopped long after she stopped breathing.”
Clyde backed away from her, running his hands through his hair as he watched her, a bit of blood pooling around her head.
“Hide her body,” Clyde mumbled as he took another step. When the vampire didn’t move he raised his voice. “Hide the damn body!”
Without a word, he picked up Briar’s body as Clyde started to pace in the cell. Rena couldn’t find out about this. Even if he wasn’t responsible he couldn’t risk it. Rena would question him, and one would lead to another. He couldn’t keep lying forever, neither did he want to. For once in his life he wanted to be honest, but if he did it could cost him greatly.
Licking his lips, he sighed as he could till taste Rena on them. Could still feel her pressed to him. Her slender fingers on his shoulders. Her warmth making him dizzy, drunk.
Was she aware of the effect she had on him? He doubted it. He doubted she even knew how deeply he felt for her. And if things went south, he doubted she ever would.
The vampire had long since gone with Briar’s body when he finally left the cells. The policemen had returned from the fake call, their grunts and murmurs enough to indicate their displeasure. Before Clyde had a chance to leave, Chief Blakewell stopped him, looking the most irritated of all. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he could meet the man’s gaze.
“Such a childish action,” he grumbled. “Can you believe it, Clyde?”
Clyde furrowed his brow in pretend confusion. “Were they not there?”
Chief Blakewell scoffed, clapping a hand on Clyde's shoulders. He didn’t mean to flinch. “We were given false information, likely to mock the station. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dante had sent the message himself. Those damn vampires.”
He forced a chuckle, but it came out strangely, hiding it behind a cough instead. Chief Blakewell eyes him for a second before releasing his shoulder. “You look pale, Clyde, why not take the afternoon off?”
“Thank you, sir,” he said with a nod of his head. His chest was tight as he left, his stomach twisted as if he could throw up any second.
Why did he care? Bloody hell, why did he care so damn much? He wasn’t supposed to. He never cared before. For the unnatural years he had lived, for those before he turned, he had never cared what had happened to anyone.
Was he weakening? Had he drunken too much? Had he not drunken enough?
Clyde was slipping, and the realization alone terrified him.
As she entered, Rena eyed the space and people curiously. They had left quite an impression the day at the station, and both Clyde and Briar hadn’t let her anywhere near the vampire hunters since. Darlington removed his feet from his desk when he saw her, a charming smile pulling at his lips. To an extend she could understand why Clyde wouldn’t want her anywhere near a man that . . . interesting. It was hard to keep her tongue from voicing the many questions that formed in her mind.
“I don’t believe we’d had the pleasure of a proper introduction,” Darlington said in his low voice, but there had been a rumble added to it. Something from deep within his chest. And he was very aware of it.
“Rena Prescott,” she said, putting her hands behind her back to keep him from kissing them. “I’ve come to inform you that we won’t be going through with the ambush this evening.”
Leaning back against his desk, he raised a brow at her. “Oh?”
Licking her lips, Rena wondered how much she could tell him. The entire ride here she had been contemplating what to say, but those words suddenly were impossible to retrace. Lifting her chin, she chose her words carefully.
“Miss Blakewell has been absent since this morning and we would rather not go through with anything without knowing her location.”
Darlington crossed his arms, nodding slowly. “You’re saying that Briar Blakewell got cold feet?”
“Yes,” she lied. Perhaps it was best to let him believe that. She still wasn’t sure of his motives, nor how much she could trust a single word coming from his mouth.
“That’s unlike her.”
It was. “You barely know her.”
Darlington hummed, tilting his head. “I know people like her, and they never pass up on an opportunity to do the right thing.”
Rena knew he was right. Briar would never just disappear like that, not without telling her. Not before something this important. Clyde might have been able to ease her mind, but Darlington was right, this wasn’t like Briar. Worry already started to creep back into her, pushing against her stomach, making her fingers tug at the lace of her bodice.
“She might be looking for Dante,” she said, unsure if it was to convince herself or Darlington. “He went missing a few days ago, she’s been worried about him.”
“So I’ve heard.” A thoughtful look passed his features, his eyes darting to a door behind his desk for a split second. “But would that truly be enough to make her disappear like that?”
“She had gotten quite attached to him.”
Darlington scoffed. “To a vampire? The one who killed your friend?”
Rena glared at the hunter. She might not share the same feelings as Briar did for Dante, but she had come to see him as a friend. “He did not kill Jane. It was a set-up.”
Rounding his desk, Darlington waved his hand dismissively as he sat back down. “Does it truly matter who killed her? He is part of the clan, he is a vampire, he deserves to die. It’s that simple.”
“Not all vampires are evil.” She was starting to understand why Clyde disliked him so much. “Not all enjoy killing.”
“But they still lie,” he said slowly, leaning forward as he placed his crossed arms on his desk. As if he knew a secret. “They lie and cheat and break your heart before they drink you empty. There are rumors it makes the blood taste sweeter.”
“Humans do the exact same thing.”
Pity flashed in his eyes, causing her irritation to grow.
“Miss Prescott,” he said, not breaking his eyes away from hers. “Have you ever fallen in love?”
“Then this might be harder to understand.” Darlington took a deep breath, sitting back. “But when humans fall in love they do it from the heart. They love deeply, truly, to the point where a heartbreak can cause physical pain and wounds. A vampire doesn’t have that ability anymore. Their heart doesn’t beat as fast, they don’t feel any warmth inside, they barely feel anything at all. Their attachment, if they form any, is plain obsession. They wish to possess, have the warmth that they miss, feel what they can’t, but it would never be more than that.”
Rena opened her mouth to object, but he held his hand up to stop her before she could.
“Thank you for informing us, and give Briar my regards when she shows up again.” The smile he offered then seemed out of place on his face. It was sad, but also kind in a way. It told a story that she didn’t know, yet did. “Think about what I said.”
Pressing her lips together, she nodded once, then left. It wasn’t how she imagined how it would go. It left a strange sensation on her stomach, something that overwhelmed her worry with something else. Drowning, in a way. As if there was a single piece just out of her reach, the last one that would form the picture and make her understand.
She welcomed the chill that ran through her body as she decided to walk back instead.