Charlotte’s got a plan and Bran isn’t going to like it.
London – 1842
I propped myself up on my elbow to watch Bran sleep. He looked so peaceful. I touched his chest lightly, he didn’t stir, and I rested my hand over his heart. There was no rhythm, no rise and fall of his chest, in sleep he was a corpse, except he didn’t look dead. It had been unsettling at first but I’d got used to it and it had become familiar, even comforting. It was a strange thing.
I stroked his nose with the tip of my finger.
His nose twitched and he inhaled deeply. ‘Morning already? He rubbed his hand over his eyes.
‘Not quite.’ I kissed his chest. ‘I’ve been thinking.’
‘Hm?’ he said, playing his fingers through my tangled hair.
‘You should really stop paying me,’ I murmured between kisses. ‘I’m your wife.’
‘You deserve –‘
‘I don’t need it,’ I said and rested my chin on his stomach. ‘I make more money from my business interests then you pay me.’
‘Oh,’ he said.
Bran paid me ten thousand guineas a year to be his mistress/companion, more money than most heiresses could boast. I’d never needed to spend so much money, I had no idea what I would spend it on, only that I had no intention of ever ending up back in the workhouse. The best way to do that was independent wealth. Twenty-three and I’d gone from a workhouse orphan to a woman of independent means, it was impressive.
‘But why would –‘
I put my thumb over his lips and cupped his cheek. ‘I’ll stay for you because I love you.’ I smiled. ‘And the children but that seemed to detract from the grand roman –‘
He pulled me to him and kissed me. I revelled in the kiss. Hands all over, tasting and touching, drinking in the whiskey and old book scent of him.
I broke the kiss and touched my nose to his, hands caressing his face. ‘I love you so much, Brandon, but I need you to do something for me.’
‘Anything,’ he whispered.
I rested my hands on his chest. ‘I need you to tell Rich –‘
‘No,’ he said. ‘Not that. If you don’t tell me I don’t know. If I don’t know he can’t make me tell him.’
‘Except if I don’t tell you then what you think I’m going to it will only confirm it so you will know.’
‘I won’t because I don’t know what you’re going to say.’
‘I killed Griffin and Icarus and Handleson,’ I said.
Bran’s eyes scrunched tighter with each name.
‘I’ve burnt his business records. Out manoeuvred him on investments.’ I tried to smile, it was more of a wince. ‘Generally caused him a lot of trouble.’
His breath shuddered. ‘He’ll ask what I know and I’ll have to tell him.’ He inhaled sharply. ‘He’ll come for you. He’ll hurt you.’
‘I know,’ I replied. ‘That’s why need you to tell him. I can’t find him.’
He was shaking.
‘I’m going to kill him, Brandon. I need you to make him come to me.’
‘You can’t kill him. No-one can. I – I –‘ He slid out from under me and off the bed then stood there in his night, weight shifting between his feet as if he couldn’t work out what to do next.
‘He’ll kill you,’ he said when he caught his breath. ‘He’ll kill you and I’ll have done it to you. If I’d just… I should’ve…’
I had no doubt Richard would try; not because he would believe I’d done any of it, just to get at Bran. If he hadn’t worked out how important I was to Bran by now he would when Bran told him what I’d done. It was high-risk but Richard would come for me eventually, either way. It had been inevitable from the moment I made Bran fall in love with me. I’d sooner it was on my terms than Richard’s.
I went to him and rested my hand on his shoulder.
‘Life is risk, Bran. But I always count the cards,’ I whispered.
He turned to me and gripped my arms. ‘You should leave. Take all your money and go far away where he can’t find you. Take the children too. You’ll all be safe from him then.’
‘If you send us away for fear of him he’ll hunt us down, Bran, you know that.’
‘I should never have sort you out. I should’ve let the mystery lie.’ He inhaled sharply. ‘When I realised I was in love with you I should’ve left. I could’ve given you plenty to have a good life. At the least I should’ve warned you about Richard, you didn’t know what you were walking into.’
‘You can’t change the past, Bran,’ I replied and rested my hands on his forearms. ‘My plan is sound. I can’t tell you it.’
He frowned at the space between us. ‘No, you can’t. I can’t… You shouldn’t have told me.’
‘I’m afraid not, my love.’ I clasped his face and made him look at me ‘There is one certainty, chuckaboo. I. Will. Win.’
‘You can’t,’ he whispered.