Josef gives Charlotte an insight into her abilities.
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London – 1839
Josef’s reflection in the window considered me. One moment I’d been staring at the shop window puzzling over a display of paperweights and the next moment he was beside me.
‘Why on Earth are you interested in paperweights?’ he asked.
‘They’re pretty?’ I said without looking at him. Having smashed one of Bran’s against a vampire’s head it only seemed fair to replace it and I wanted to pick one he would like, the effort would mean a lot to him.
‘Dressed as a lady today, not a boy,’ he observed as if I hadn’t spoken. ‘How does Bran like you dressed?’
‘Thinking of visiting Mrs Palm and her five daughters?’
He raised his eyebrow. ‘Very clever.’
Finally I looked directly at him. I could smell his cologne, despite the pervasive stink of the city, it had sage notes to it. ‘Why the interest in what Bran likes, Josef?’
‘Curiosity,’ he murmured, looking oddly chastised. ‘Where is Bran?’
‘No idea,’ I said. ‘Some fella named Jack told him the boss wanted to see him and I haven’t seen him since.’
Something ran across his face too fast for me to catch. ‘When was this?’
‘What’s it to you? I hear you’re always disappearing.’ I started walking along the cobbled street, carefully avoiding the manure, not avoiding the people in the crowd. People were never on their guard around a well-dressed lady. It used to be said that when I ended my days on the gallows I’d have plenty of weight to pull me down.
‘I think we got off on the wrong-foot,’ he said, appearing at my side. ‘Bran would like us to be friends.’
‘Would he now?’ I muttered.
‘Why wouldn’t he?’
I stopped. He walked passed me and had to retrace his steps.
‘From what I hear you have a tendency to steal his lovers.’ My fingers flexed, with no knife belt or pockets I had nowhere to put my hands.
‘Not steal, per se.’ He looked away. ‘They didn’t care for him. I made no promises, offered no incentive, they saw a better prospect where there wasn’t one.’
He looked back at me. ‘So you don’t see greener pastures?’
‘Fairly sure I’m better off tending these pastures. Investment accumulates capital.’ I continued walking, this time the crowd stayed clear. Bloody vampires and their magic tricks.
He laughed. ‘What does a girl know of investment or capital?’
‘You’re meant to be old, didn’t wisdom come with that?’ I asked.
‘You’re an infuriating girl.’
‘Woman.’ I smiled. ‘My turn for a question. Who’s Jack?’
Amusement danced around his mouth. ‘Jack and Bran share a maker, you might call them brothers.’
‘Who’s their maker?’
‘You need not concern yourself with that,’ he said.
My instinct was to argue at being patronised, but I resisted. Pretend you weren’t interested and people would let information slip like sand between their fingers.
‘I’ve never met anyone like you,’ he said when we stepped off the main thoroughfare.
Bran’s house was nestled halfway down the quiet street of big houses designed for small families to be served by multitudes of servants. No matter how long I lived with Bran I couldn’t forget that I’d once been sold to a house like the ones I walked passed every day. A little larger, a little grander but still the same.
‘Is that old one supposed to get me into bed?’ I replied.
‘Bran hasn’t told you?’
I said nothing and kept on walking.
He smiled. ‘You’re unique. In all my centuries I have never met a being so completely immune to vampire magic. They don’t exist.’
‘Don’t I feel special,’ I said, without sparing him a glance.
Bran had told me that he’d never known anyone who could see straight through his illusion but I’d assumed he meant my ability was rare, not singular. I still wasn’t convinced I was the only one, given all the people that had ever lived it was silly to assume no-one else could do what I did. The fact that Josef thought other people like me didn’t exist simply meant they were rarer than I’d thought.
I realised I’d stopped in the middle of the street frowning at the cobbles. Giving away that he had completely floored me.
‘What else can you do?’ he asked close to my ear. ‘An ability like yours is a symptom, not a cause.’
I pulled away. ‘And why wouldn’t Bran mention this?’
He shrugged. ‘Because Bran wants you all to himself.’
‘You say that like he shouldn’t,’ I said and stopped by the railings outside the house. People were eyeing us curiously as they passed, I wondered how many of them had seen a man like Josef before. They needed try the Seven Dials.
‘At our age monogamy is foolishness,’ he said as if he hadn’t noticed the observers; I wondered if he didn’t care or if he was very good at hiding that he did.
‘Your age, not mine.’
‘Is that the Catholicism coming out?’ he asked and flicked the rosary wrapped around my wrist. ‘Catholicism and magic… always an interesting mix.’
‘Bran pays for exclusivity, exclusivity he gets, we have a contract.’ A verbal contract was still a contract, though not everyone believed that.
‘If I were to pay more?’ he asked.
‘It sounds like Mrs Palm is going to be busy.’ I turned and strode up the steps to the door.
‘You haven’t told me what other abilities you have,’ he called.
‘A magic vagina, by the sounds of it.’
I shut the door behind me.
Bran still wasn’t home. I went up to our room and sat down on the edge of the bed. I’d turned down an offer of more money without a moment’s hesitation.
I lay back on the unnaturally soft mattress and looked at the crack in the ceiling plaster. I supposed my situation couldn’t improve.
Still… it was unnerving.