WARNING: Bad Language and sexual references.
Josef makes Charlotte an offer.
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London – 1839
‘Do you often follow young women in the dark?’ I asked the cold night air.
One moment I was stood in the street alone and the next Josef was in front of me. I wasn’t sure how he did that, I knew he couldn’t mask himself from me but the thought that he could move faster than I could see didn’t want to take.
‘Impressive,’ he said, walking in a circle around me. ‘How did you know it was me?’
The tap of his shoes against the cobbles or the swish of his long coat gave him away, but I’d never said it was him.
‘Are you going to keep turning up at random intervals to bother me?’ I asked.
He lifted the hem of my jacket to look at the knives on my belt. ‘How many of those do you have?’
‘You should ask Bran.’
He smirked. ‘I’ve only ever seen you with one.’ He rapped my left forearm. ‘Or here.’ He touched the small of my back and chuckled. ‘A warrior woman.’
‘A prudent one.’ I stepped out of his circle and started walking back towards home.
‘What are you doing out so late and so armed?’
‘That would be telling, Mr Mathers.’ I glanced over my shoulder at him. He grinned. ‘What are you doing with, Bran?’
‘Questions, questions, questions.’
He trailed behind me like a wraith, silent except for the tap, tap, tap of his steps and the snap of his coat when the wind blustered. Somehow it made the houses seem taller, darker, more closed in. Men trailing me had never ended well in the past.
After a few streets he said, ‘I want to know what you’ve done to Bran.’
‘He’s walking straighter, he looks tidier and… He smiled,’ the way he said it a person might start thinking that Bran lacked the facial muscles to smile. I liked the idea that Bran had saved his smiles for me, it was… nice.
‘And what?’ I asked. ‘You actually think I’ve got a magic vagina?’
He chuckled. ‘He’s in love with you, I don’t remember the last time I saw him so in love.’ He considered for a moment. ‘Perhaps never. Perhaps you are magic.’
‘Lucky me,’ I muttered. When I was much younger I had realised that my ability to resist vampire magic would make me a person of interest to them but following me around like puppies hadn’t been the result I’d expected. I’d imagined something a bit deader. Still, I wasn’t going to make a habit of associating with them, some might not like my ability so much.
‘He told me that he suggested to you that I might be of some help with your… memory, is it? Untrained retrocognition, by the sounds of it. You refused?’
‘Having a man stuck somewhere between seeing me as an experiment and a potential conquest isn’t all that appealing,’ I muttered. ‘Does Bran know you’ll try to seduce me at every opportunity?’
‘He’d expect no less.’
‘Do you know I’m going to refuse at every opportunity?’
‘It’s so much more fun that you do.’
I smiled in spite of myself and shook my head. I hoped I wasn’t starting to like him, liking people was very inconvenient.
He gasped my arm and tugged me to look at him. ‘Do you know how many people resist me?’
I held his gaze. ‘I’m getting an impression.’
He leaned in very slightly, reconsidered and stepped away. ‘You are worth a fortune.’
‘Nice to know I’m not over charging him.’ I released the hilt of my knife.
He grinned. It was a nice grin, very straight teeth and bright eyes. I ignored it and walked ahead.
‘I do have something you want,’ he said.
I kept walking.
‘I can teach you to fight.’
‘I fight already,’ I replied.
‘You fight humans. I can teach you to fight vampires.’
My steps faltered.
‘Imagine what you could do with a memory like that the skills I could teach you.’
I turned to look at him. ‘I’ve never needed a man to teach me anything.’
‘I’ve been a soldier for two thousand years.’
‘Trying to impress me?’
‘It’s a simple observation.’ He shrugged. ‘I know you take full advantage of Bran’s library. I’m offering you a library of a different sort.’
It was tempting. I learned to fight on the street but I couldn’t argue that my experience outweighed his. Yet he had openly admitted that he would try to seduce me at any opportunity and I knew full well why he was offering to teach a woman to fight, and it wasn’t so I could defend myself.
‘You’re tempted, I can see it.’
Tempted, but there was a large gap between temptation and action. With a swipe of my hand I told him what he could do and walked off.
He followed me home and, surprise, surprise, Mrs Stapleton had locked me out again. She didn’t know I had a key, not that I needed one.
‘You’ve got blood on your boot,’ Josef said, nodding at my feet.
‘Not so much as the fella has on his face,’ I replied and shut the door behind me. Not all men who snuck up on me in the dark got conversation.
When I reached the bedroom Bran was sitting up in bed reading a Radcliffe novel bound in battered leather. The candle was halfway to a stub which made me wonder how long he’d been pretending he wasn’t waiting for me. I kicked off my boots scattering morally dubious implements across the floor and stripped down to my shirt. Bran continued to pretend to read but he was watching me from the corner of his eye.
I jumped onto the bed and straddled his lap. ‘Josef was following me again.’ I took the book from him, closed it and set it on the bedside cabinet. ‘You won’t be needing this.’ I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him.
His hands found their favourite spots on my thighs, just under the hem of my shirt. ‘Is that why you were out late?’
‘Hardly.’ I went to kiss him again but he turned his face away. I sighed. ‘It’s a secret.’
‘That’s what worries me,’ he murmured, looking at the mattress to the right of my knee.
‘I’m not having an affair with Josef.’
I chuckled. ‘You’re supposed to say “good” and then make passionate love to me.’
He blushed. ‘Where’d you get that from?’
‘It’s a sensible notion.’ I nipped his jaw. ‘Or do you want some help?’ I slipped my hand downwards.
He grabbed my wrist, if the gentle touch that swept it away from interesting places could be considered a ‘grab’. His eyes found their way to my collarbone but he didn’t seem able to meet my gaze. ‘Please don’t leave me,’ he said so softly I almost didn’t hear.
I tugged my wrist from his grip, caressed his cheek and tilted his face to meet my gaze. ‘I’m not leaving. Especially not for a man with enough ego to power the aristocracy.’
I didn’t take his disbelief personally, from the sounds of it there was plenty of precedence.
I kissed him softly. ‘So, do you want to fuck me or not?’
He flushed deepened. ‘You don’t have to.’
‘Really? I want to fuck you.’
‘No, you don –‘
I shut him up with a kiss, it was usually the best way. We lay down for kisses and caresses but nothing more. These moods of his were strange, one moment he was encouraging me to take lessons with Josef, the next he was worried I’d run away with Josef.
He couldn’t even nuzzle up to me in bed and ask me if I wanted to play, as if two hundred guineas a week didn’t entitle him to the question. I wasn’t sure he saw the difference been asking and forcing, or an invitation and forcing for that matter.
Eventually he fell asleep lying between my legs with his head on my stomach while I played my fingers through his hair. I’d wondered at why he’d taken to such a position, if he was trying to stop me leaving without realising it, but I could shove him off easily enough. It probably had something to do with the groin sniffing fetish he tried to pretend he didn’t have. The first time he sniffed my groin I was glad I was a very regular bather, it was strange and ticklish. Having stepped into a world of vampires and magic I supposed it was hardly the strangest thing in my life.
‘Brandon O’Connor, enigma,’ I murmured and he shifted restlessly in his sleep. ‘What happened to you?’