Charlotte makes a new acquaintance.
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London – 1839
While Father Brennan considered my offer I decided to return to working out what Bran was hiding and what had kept him away so long. The timing suggested it involved Griffin, a vampire I’d killed though Bran didn’t know it, but what exactly it was still eluded me. How could anyone know Griffin was dead? Vampires burnt up when they died so didn’t leave any evidence.
I leaned against the wall that ran around the edge of the roof and chewed a chunk of my apple thoughtfully. I had no idea why the wall was there other than someone must’ve thought it aesthetically pleasing because the only way anyone was likely to get out onto the roof was to climb through one of the dormer windows. Unless they were a thief; I could navigate parts of the city entirely across the rooftops having been a thief, all you needed was a head for heights and a penchant for stupidity.
Down below the street was teeming with people wrapped up against the chill, if they were lucky. The entrance to Bran’s club was flanked by two footman wearing the outdated powdered wigs the club insisted on. They hadn’t noticed me but I thought that Bran must’ve known I sometimes followed him. He spent so much time inhaling my scent he could surely pick me out on a crowded street, but I couldn’t be certain, despite knowing vampires had sensitive noses I had no idea how sensitive they were.
A pigeon landed on the point of a dormer a few feet away and gave me a look that seemed to imply it was wondering what in the name of God a human was doing on a roof. I shook my head and turned back in time to see someone come out of the club. I would’ve thought he was a little dark-skinned for the toffs but their views were easily bent by the measure of a fortune. He was almost as tall as Bran, his clothes were perfectly pressed as if he’d only put them on a moment before stepping out and even I noticed he was handsome.
The pigeon took off suddenly making me glance round, by the time I looked back he was gone. Completely. The throng on the street below that should’ve stopped him getting off the street so quickly, unless he’d gone back inside. I leaned forward to peer downwards.
‘You must be Charlotte,’ an unfamiliar voice said.
A hand grabbed my belt and I found myself lying on my back at the man’s feet with my half eaten apple in my hand.
He peered down at me as if he was looking at a pinned butterfly. ‘You’re prettier than I expected. He said you were beautiful but…’ He chuckled. ‘You look like you should be flirting with your fan and discussing muslin with silly rich girls.’
‘Who the bloody hell are you?’ I stayed down but curled my hand around the hilt of the knife in my boot, ready to spring up and stab him if need be. If I could, he must’ve been fast to get on the roof without my noticing.
He bowed, spreading his arms wide, making his cane rattle. Fast and he had a sword stick, very reassuring. ‘Josef Mathers, or you may have heard of me by my other name, “The Saracen”.’
I shook my head.
He didn’t look so much deflated as puzzled, anyone would think the idea that someone hadn’t heard of him was a foreign concept. Fast, sword-stick, egotist, I counted off in my head.
‘Well, I don’t suppose Bran would tell his pretty young mistress about me,’ he said casually. ‘Competition.’
With that it occurred to me that he might be more interested in seducing me than killing me, a strange thought in itself. Did friends do that? If Bran’s were anything to go by I felt I wasn’t missing out on much. My second thought was that being completely upright might’ve been better than on my back, but I couldn’t move. It was all too surreal.
Suddenly he grabbed my arm and pulled me up so fast that I banged into his hard chest then looked behind me expecting to see my brain still on the floor. I shook my head waiting for my mind to catch up.
He put his face close to mine and sniffed. ‘What are you, girl?’
His lips thinned. He had very long feminine eyelashes, I thought, before deciding that was a very odd notion to have about a vampire who was holding onto my arm, though not so tight I couldn’t escaped. I supposed I should’ve been worried but for some reason I didn’t think he was going to hurt me, unless it was possible to stare a person to death. I was fairly sure it wasn’t, though you could never be entirely certain when the supernatural got involved.
He let me go with a little push as if I’d been momentarily interesting but the moment had passed. Obviously he didn’t realise he was a terrible liar because he kept throwing looks my way when he thought I couldn’t see as he paced back and forth. Had I done something perplexing? I didn’t think so.
Suddenly he stopped so still it felt unnatural then he was gone. I didn’t even see him tense up to run. One second I was watching him and the next I was watching air. I looked around but the rooftop was empty. I walked around the edge of it. Definitely empty.
I hadn’t known vampires could move so fast. I’d certainly never seen Bran do it, but there were plenty of things I’d never seen Bran do. Drinking blood for instance, I had to wonder what he did about that but I got the sense he’d be embarrassed if I asked.
I returned to my original perch. A moment later Mathers appeared, walking across the street at a very human pace. When he got to the club door I flung my browning half-eaten apple at him. He snatched it out of the air without looking. The footmen didn’t even flinch.
Josef turned, took a bite out of the apple and grinned at me smugly then went back inside. That just wasn’t right.
It seemed wise to go home and rummage through Bran’s study to see if I could find out anything about ‘friend’ Mathers, just in case he came back and brought his strangeness with him.