WARNING: References to self-harm.
Charlotte and Bran receive an invitation and Charlotte finds herself increasingly confused.
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London – 1839
Bran was standing, naked, by the bedroom mirror with his shirt in his hands as if he’d caught sight of his reflection and stopped in the middle of getting dressed. I fought the urge to sit up. It was a foolish thought; the wardrobe was where he kept the scourge, but it wasn’t where he would find it.
The weak light sneaking between the curtains accentuated the scars on his back; opaque fingers that stretched out, thick, jagged and painful to look at. There were no fresh marks. As far as I knew he hadn’t touched a scourge since I’d caught him standing in front of bedroom mirror, shirtless, wearing the same despondent expression with blood on his back. He hadn’t considered that when a woman shared his bed she might walk into the bedroom unannounced.
The guilt about wanting and having me was still there; I hadn’t factored such a reaction into my plan and had no idea what to do about it. If I could do anything. It… bothered me. No, it was something else, something… I didn’t know. I didn’t like not knowing.
I stretched as if I’d only just woken up. ‘There’s a nice view to start the day.’
He turned around and covered himself but I could still see his bare arse in the mirror. I couldn’t understand that either, after all, my fingers knew him better than eyes ever could.
‘I was enjoying that.’ I grinned at him but he didn’t look convinced. ‘Come back to bed, Bran.’
‘I should be working,’ he said, stood there pinned by the notion that getting dressed would mean removing what little he had to disguise his modesty. Perhaps that was the problem; he had modesty, I had indifference.
‘Shouldn’t we all?’ I replied, peeking out at him from my cocoon of sheets and hair.
His mouth moved wordlessly then shut again as he tried to work out my precise implication, or, more likely, the hidden insult.
‘Stop listening to yourself, Brandon, we haven’t had our morning cuddle,’ I said with feigned sleepiness.
‘Don’t look,’ he said.
I put my fingertips to my eyes. There was a rustle of fabric then the mattress dipped and I parted my fingers slightly.
He didn’t notice until he was sitting with his back against the headboard and the sheets across his legs. He flushed. ‘You weren’t supposed to look.’
‘I wasn’t looking, I was peeking.’
A brief hint of a smile passed over his face.
I put my arms around him where his back left a gap, rested my head against his stomach and snuggled into him. ‘Hmmm, got the morbs, chuckaboo?’
He relaxed, ever so slightly, and put his arms around me. ‘It’s nothing.’
‘Nothing?’ I kissed his stomach.
‘It’s not important.’
I caressed my thumb along the scar beneath his ribs. He reckoned he didn’t remember how he got it, I didn’t believe that.
‘It is if it bothers you,’ I murmured.
His heart stopped. It had been disconcerting the first few times I woke with my head on a chest that had no breath or heartbeat in sleep.
He sighed and the steady thud of his heart returned, then he reached into the top drawer of the bedside cabinet, pulled out a folded letter and handed it to me.
Reluctantly I propped myself up on my elbows to unfold the paper and read it. ‘Bran. I am having a small party. Bring the girl. Josef.’ I snorted, screwed up the page and tossed it aside. ‘Charming.’
‘I know you’ve met him,’ Bran said, quietly. ‘I could smell you on him when he came back to the club.’
‘Is that what’s bothering you?’ I asked, settling back down with my head on his stomach.
He touched my hair lightly then took his hand away. ‘He’s handsome and charming.’
Loathed to leave my comfy spot again I pushed myself up to look at him. ‘I didn’t mention him because he’s inconsequential.’ It seemed to be missing something so I added, ‘And I didn’t want to tell you your friend’s an arsehole.’
Bran pushed the sleeve of my nightdress back onto my shoulder then trailed his fingers down my arm.
‘Stop worrying over things that will never happen.’ I kissed him lightly.
His thumb caressed my wedding band. ‘It’s happened before.’
Josef really was an arsehole.
I touched my nose to Bran’s. ‘As I’m immune to all that vampire nonsense he’ll have to compete at a disadvantage.’
‘I don’t like him.’ I settled back into my comfy spot. ‘Hmmm, I’m perfectly happy here.’
‘Are you?’ he asked.
What a question.
I wasn’t hungry, or dirty, or cold. Nobody was going to try and kill, rob or rape me. I had all the books I could want to read, a comfortable bed and enjoyable company.
I settled on, ‘Yes.’
He put his arms around me. I tilted my head to look up at him, unsure what to say I put my head back down and nestled close. If it was happiness it was… nice.