Charlotte discovers Bran’s secret.
For past episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page.
My nose kept twitching. I was supposed to sit still and imagine myself in a library to assemble all of the information in my head. The only problem was that every time I tried to sit still all I could think was that my nose was itchy. Back when I was thieving I could sit still for an age watching my prey, ask me to ‘meditate’ and all I could think was about a nose itch.
Josef pinched the end of my nose. I spluttered and shook my head.
‘You’re not concentrating,’ he said, from where he sat on the floor opposite me.
‘Hmmm, funny that, what with the vampire sat staring at me like I’m a macaroon.’
‘I don’t like macaroons.’
I coughed to cover a laugh.
He tutted and shook his head then bent forward and touched his lips lightly to my forehead. I let him but gave him a dubious look.
‘Sometimes I find it hard to concentrate because I want to kiss you,’ he said. ‘What are you thinking about?’
Having spent so much time with Bran his frankness took me by surprise but I shrugged it off. ‘My nose is itchy.’ So I scratched it.
‘You’re very beautiful,’ he said.
‘When I scratch my nose?’
I blinked. For once I had a feeling he wasn’t trying to tease me or argue, and he did like to argue, he seemed to find it a fresh experience.
‘It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve wanted anyone as much as I want you. It’s not good for me. Say you don’t want me and you never want to see me again and I’ll go.’
I tilted my head to the side but a different angle lent no clarity to the matter. Just a few months earlier he’d asked me if I wanted him to go and I’d said ‘no’ and he seemed perfectly happy about it.
‘I don’t think Bran would be very happy if you left.’
‘We’ve been apart before,’ he said, looking at the carpet between us. ‘We don’t live in each other’s pockets.’
I recognised his expression I’d seen a similar one on my face when contemplating what I felt for Bran.
‘I should walk away but I’m trapped in your gravity. I can’t… I think about you all the time. I imagine…’ He looked towards the ceiling in a way that reminded me of Bran when he was uncomfortable.
I rested my hand on Josef bent knee and hoped I didn’t look surprised at the muscle I felt there. If he’d been a sword swinging soldier in life it made sense he’d have some muscle to him, I’d just never paid attention before. ‘What’s happened, Josef?’
He got up and crossed to the drinks table which had been pushed up against the wall near the fireplace, not my idea of a good place for it but if Josef wanted to burn down his house that was his business. He poured himself a whiskey and sipped it before he spoke again, ‘It took me a long time to work it out but…’ He shook his head. ‘Richard sensed Griffin die. He pays me to find who did it but I can’t. It’s not a vampire.’
He inhaled deeply. ‘A maker always knows when their progeny die. So Griffin is definitely dead. If someone did it I can only find one suspect.’ He turned to look at me.
‘You weren’t following me because of ridiculous obsession, were you?’ I asked.
He took a pocket watch with a Celtic cross engraved on it set with a stone in the centre. ‘A thief isn’t going to leave that.’
‘Ah, undone by my sticky fingers.’
‘I didn’t think a woman could, but…’ He sighed. ‘I’ve seen what you can do.’
Josef considered me for several seconds that seemed to amplify the clock on the mantelpiece. ‘I accuse you of murder and your heartbeat doesn’t changed at all.’
‘Are you going to tell Bran?’ I asked.
‘It’s safer if he doesn’t know.’ Josef leaned against the mantelpiece and looked at the fire. ‘Richard can’t make him tell. Richard’s fury would make Jack’s tantrum look like a babe throwing a rattle.’
‘”Make him tell”?’ I asked, still sitting cross-legged on the floor.
‘A maker cannot be disobeyed or harmed by their progeny so, whatever you do, don’t tell Bran you killed Griffin.’
‘I understood without the patronising tone.’
‘You don’t understand anything.’
‘You don’t tell me anything,’ I snapped.
He pinched his lips together. ‘Richard is dangerous. You’re a weak spot for Bran and Bran is his favourite toy. Do you know what that means for you?’
I said nothing. I stared at him. I wasn’t sure I breathed. Josef was standing there professing love for me on one hand while telling me that with all the power he reckoned he had he’d let Bran’s maker use him like a plaything. I might not be a good person but even in my morally grey world that was wrong.
I’d known something bad had happened to Bran, I’d seen the way other vampires had treated him but… How hadn’t I figured it out? How did I miss it?
But then, I realised, how could I figure it out when I didn’t have all the puzzle pieces? Why had none of it been in Bran’s library… It was a foolish thought. None of the pieces had been in the library because Bran had taken them out, he didn’t want me to know. He was ashamed.
I strode across the room and smacked Josef across the face. My palm went numb then burned and my fingers throbbed with the pain of contact. He didn’t so much as flinch. I snatched my jerkin from the low couch.
Josef touched his cheek gingerly. ‘Would that be a request to leave?’
I pulled on my jerkin. ‘I’m leaving, you absolute bloody shit. I’m not giving you an excuse to walk away. If you’re so powerful do something to help your friend.’
‘I can’t help Bran, there are laws,’ he said with infuriating calmness.
‘Laws,’ I muttered, rubbing my aching hand. ‘There’s always bloody laws when people are too cowardly to do anything.’
He got to his feet. ‘A maker can do as they see fit to their progeny, I cannot interfere.’
‘Can’t?’ I swung round to face him. ‘There you were trying to convince me you’re so powerful and you can’t? You’re just a coward in a fancy suit.’ I strode towards the door.
I slammed the door.
He didn’t follow.