Charlotte has a surprise.
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London – 1839
I hit the ground so hard I lay there for a moment while my brain worked out how I’d got there. One minute I’d been standing, the next there was a rush of air, then I was face down on a Persian carpet. I hoped I wasn’t leaking blood on it, and for the soreness of my body I might be, it would be a pity to ruin a good Persian.
‘Is this original?’ I ask, pushing myself onto all fours then pausing for a break.
Josef snorted. ‘Only a fool buys replicas.’
I looked at Bran who was sitting on the edge of a chair in the corner but he was too worried to show any reaction to Josef’s comment. Then it occurred to me that if Josef was really two thousand years old who knew what his idea of original was.
‘Get up,’ Josef said.
‘Maybe it’s time to stop,’ Bran offered but Josef ignored him, having eyes only for me, so to speak.
‘I’m fine.’ I shoved myself to my feet, surprised to find them steady beneath me. I was about as fine as our increasingly creaky bed but I wouldn’t have been there I was the giving up sort. If I could prise Bran’s chastity belt off I could go one-on-one with a vampire. No problem.
My insides disagreed.
I braced and raised my fists.
I was used to being the smallest and fastest, getting my blows in quick and avoiding high swings. Despite being taller than me Josef didn’t seem to have a problem catching me when I went low. He wasn’t even hitting me, the floor that was doing the beating. He’d duck and weave my blows, occasionally brushing them aside, until I stumbled and he knocked me over. If my ego needed tenderising it was getting it.
I was on the floor again.
‘You’re all rage,’ he said, walking round me. ‘Focus. You want to use your memory better. You want to fight. Focus.’
‘Try kissing the floor then tell me to focus,’ I muttered.
‘I can hear you,’ he said.
‘Fight with your brain, not your fists.’
I wasn’t sure that actually made sense, but my head had been shaken about.
I waited for him to reach my feet then lashed out. He grabbed my foot and twisted. I flipped over and landed on my back, ankle yelping. Maybe I yelped, a little.
‘Better,’ Josef said. ‘Again.’
‘Enough,’ Bran snapped. He abandoned his chair, came over to me and helped me up. Had it been anyone but Bran I would’ve shoved them away but that would do Bran more harm than accepting his help would do me.
‘She’s barely –‘
Bran gave him such a look I was astonished, I didn’t know Bran had a scary face. Had I been on the end of that look I might’ve run a mile, or hirpled one.
Josef stared at Bran. Bran stared at Josef.
Josef made an exasperated sound, walked away and threw himself down onto the couch that had been shoved up against the wall with all the other tables and oddments. And there was Josef saying no-one could resist him.
Bran brushed my sweat damp hair away from my face. ‘Are you alright?’
I was too astounded to do anything but nod. Quiet, shuffling Bran who never wanted to be a bother had just stared down a supposedly more powerful vampire and there was Josef looking like a boy who’d been scolded. I worked at smothering the urge to giggle, perhaps my head had been more shaken than I realised.
Bran fussed over helping me to a chair, pressing his handkerchief to my bloody nose and easing off my boot to examine my ankle. ‘There doesn’t seem to be any damage, it’ll be better soon enough,’ he murmured and kissed my ankle.
Josef’s lips thinned.
Bran slipped my foot back into my boot and set it on the floor. I leaned forward, cupped his face and kissed him. Kneeling between my legs he rested his hands on my thighs, but didn’t pull away.
‘Now, this is more interesting,’ Josef said and sat forward.
Bran broke the kiss but didn’t move from his place between my legs, he seemed to be caught somewhere between embarrassed and possessive, which couldn’t be good for his knees. Then he kissed me again, he even put a tentative hand on my breast. And I’d though that getting thrown about by a vampire was as strange as my day was going to get.
I wasn’t going to complain, I’d been trying to get him to assert a small degree of possessiveness for months as some sign to Josef that he wasn’t going to simply accept Josef walking in and stealing me away. Bran couldn’t own me, and I didn’t think he’d ever want to, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t show Josef that he wasn’t a push over.
I suspected I was feeling a little bit proud of Bran, or at least pleased. He needed to put his foot down more often or people would never stop using him like a doormat. I couldn’t stab all of them with chisels.
Still kissing Bran I looked over his shoulder at Josef who was watching us with… interest. More than interest, from his expression I suspected that Josef wouldn’t mind playing Peeping Tom. It wouldn’t bother me but I doubted Bran would agree.
So I relented, broke the kiss myself and nuzzled his nose with mine. I had no idea why I did that, simply that I did.
‘Aw, sweet,’ Josef said with vexing spite.
‘Shut up, Josef,’ I said.
He grinned that annoyingly nice grin of his.
What an arsehole.