WARNING: References to abuse.
Josef tells Lot his side of the story.
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London – 1843
There was a buzz of murmuring about Josef and I when I sat down opposite him. Before I became a vampire I hadn’t realised how many disgusting comments people made about him when they thought he couldn’t hear. God knew how he kept his temper, I wanted to smack them.
‘Bran’s furious, isn’t he?’ Josef asked, lowering his pipe.
‘What did you think?’ I replied. ‘I’d give him some kisses and cuddles and he’d be fine with it?’
He pushed a tiny cup of thick coffee towards me as if it was a peace offering. Not being a man I’d never been to a coffee house before and I wasn’t sure about the bitter scent.
I trailed my fingers around the rim of the cup considering my words carefully. ‘You brought the daughter of his abusive former lover into our home, Josef. Where in your thought process did you decide this would end well?’
‘He told you about Elizabeth?’ He frowned at me through the fug of tobacco smoke that filled the coffee house.
‘Of course he did,’ I replied. ‘Bran tells me everything.’
He winced as if my words were a blow. ‘I do try, it just doesn’t work out the way I intended.’
‘The mighty Saracen is as fallible as the rest of us,’ it escaped more sneering then I’d intended. ‘Do you know what she did to him? He was vulnerable and she…’ I glanced around but Josef must’ve used his magic to make the rest of the patrons lose interest in us. ‘She manipulated him.’
He shot me a look.
I gave him one right back. What I’d done and what Elizabeth had done weren’t comparable. I’d manipulated my way into Bran’s life to get at his money, I couldn’t deny that, but I had always tried to make him feel safe and wanted.
Elizabeth had not.
Josef surrendered to my stared and sat back in his chair to chew the stem of his pipe. Then he sighed. ‘First you have to understand it was over twenty years ago, we were different people.’
I could’ve pointed out that twenty years was nothing by their standards but I held my tongue.
‘Elizabeth was very beautiful, far more beautiful than you.’ He glanced at me. ‘She had skin like moonlight made flesh and her eyes were like the water, deep and dark enough to drown in.’
I rolled my eyes.
‘She was like you in some ways; ruthless, clever and ambitious. Bran was a stepping stone for her ambition and she wasn’t afraid to bed a man to get what she wanted. Naturally, Bran let her.’
‘Let’ was not a word I would use, ‘let’ implied Bran thought he had a right to stop her and chose not to. We’d been together for six years and he still didn’t think he had a right to give me a term of endearment, unless the occasional ‘my wife’ counted.
‘So we reach the inevitable conclusion of humans philandering and wealthy men who don’t want bastards. You know what Bran’s like, he would’ve given her anything she wanted, provided for both of them for the rest of their lives while she kept kicking him.’ He squeezed the bowl of his pipe. ‘And he would’ve thought he deserved it.’
I sat forward. ‘So you said Veronica was yours.’
‘As far as society is concerned one dark-skinned man is much the same as another so…’ He shrugged but his expression didn’t match. ‘Elizabeth thought she’d done very well until she realised I wasn’t as biddable as Bran but I paid her plenty to stay away.’ He looked straight at me. ‘I never slept with her or any of Bran’s lovers.’
‘Does Bran know that?’ I asked.
‘It never seemed important,’ he murmured.
I massaged the spot between my eyebrows to ward off a headache. ‘I keep hearing that Bran’s lovers ran off chasing you and it never occurred to you to mention you didn’t sleep with them?’
‘I’ve been a fool,’ he muttered.
‘Understatement,’ I replied.
He put his pipe down and rubbed his face. ‘I thought he’d be disinterested now he has you. He’s had plenty of lovers like Elizabeth. Far too many. But…’ He shook his head.
‘Has it ever occurred to you to admit you made a mess more often? And I don’t mean confessions about how you should’ve killed Richard and whatnot. I mean the everyday that-didn’t-go-as-planned things.’ I sipped my coffee, it was bitter and turning cold. ‘Of course, if you’d told Bran what you were doing to begin with it could’ve prevented some of this.’
‘I said I didn’t think –‘
‘I mean when Veronica was born, you noodle.’
‘He would’ve told me not to.’
‘But he would’ve known you hadn’t slept with his lover and you had good intentions. You’re the one who told me Bran needs the words, not only the actions.’
‘Something else coming back to bite me,’ he muttered. ‘I don’t think I ever apologised to you either.’
‘When we first met I was worried you might be another Elizabeth, I thought it would be better to persuade you away from him before…’
‘I know you want to protect him, Josef, but you have this annoying tendency to make decisions without asking people.’ I tried the coffee again, to give my hands something to do.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ he said. ‘I miss Bran and the children. Even my garden’s lonely without the children playing in it.’ He put his head in his hands.
‘They miss you,’ I said. ‘Merry is worried you’ll be eaten by monsters if you don’t come home.’ I pushed the coffee away. ‘I know you can apologise to Bran, I’ve heard you do it.’
‘An apology won’t fix this,’ he said.
‘Veronica is your little girl and Bran has three little girls, do you think he won’t understand wanting the best for her?’
‘I should’ve given her an allowance but she wouldn’t take it. Her mother made it clear to her I was not her father and she has ideas about “propriety”.’
Our daughters had parents who loved them before they died, we didn’t let them forget. We didn’t let them forget we loved them as our children too. I couldn’t fathom trying to take away the only father a child had ever known. As The Reaper I required evidence, as Bran’s wife I’d decided Elizabeth was the devil incarnate.
I made to sit back but my corset kept my upright. ‘You’ve put Elizabeth’s daughter under Bran’s roof. I assume Veronica will write to her mother, thus granting her the full knowledge that Bran has everything he ever wanted, and she doesn’t.’
He rubbed his face. ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’
It seemed to me he hadn’t thought any of it through. ‘I know you just need a good kick in the balls to get you going again.’
He tilted his head in agreement then drained the last of his coffee. His gaze caught on my hand resting on the table beside my cup. He touched his fingers to mine.
I pulled my hand away. ‘You told me once you loved me. How could I ever love you back if I can’t trust you?’
‘You can trust me.’
‘Not when you do things behind my back and leave me to deal with the consequences.’ Bran hadn’t said he was angry and frustrated with Josef, he didn’t like to make a fuss, but my pelvis had got the message. That my pelvis liked the message was beside the point.
Josef’s fingers played over the spot where my hand had been resting. ‘My apology won’t keep Elizabeth away from him, or you.’
I got to my feet. ‘Just apologise, Josef, that’s all Bran needs.’
‘It’s not that simple.’
‘It really is.’ I sighed. ‘Maybe next time ask first.’
He didn’t reply so I left him to stew in his thoughts. I was Bran’s wife, not Josef’s, it wasn’t my job to lick Josef’s wounds when they argued.
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