Lot and Josef get an unwelcome interruption.
Hastings – 1844
Josef was more relaxed as we walked back along the seafront in the twilight. He was lovely. His gorgeous grin that made my heart beat faster, the mischievous sparkle in dark eyes at the thought of wickedness, and beautiful brown skin so warm under my hands and delicious against my tongue.
‘What are you thinking?’ he asked with a half-smile that said he knew exactly what I was thinking.
‘I was thinking about how beautiful you are.’
He smiled and shrugged. ‘So I’ve been told.’
‘Hmmm…’ I stopped, leaned against the railing and pulled him to me. ‘But I’m looking at you.’
His smile became a grin and he kissed me deeply. I took his top hat off before it fell off and wrapped my arms around his waist. People commented as they passed but we ignored them.
He pressed his forehead to mine. ‘You didn’t always think me beautiful.’
‘I knew you were.’ I kissed him softly. ‘To see beauty and to desire it are two different things.’
‘You definitely desire me now.’
I suppressed a grin. ‘It turns out there’s a soft squashy centre under that arsehole exterior that’s utterly delicious.’
He laughed. ‘I might say the same about you.’
He broke away and tilted his head to the side. ‘Come out of the shadows, Rache.’
A woman stepped to the end of an alley opposite and crossed the road, her blonde hair sparkling in the gaslights. Her expensive patterned silk and porcelain perfect skin looked too perfect to be on the street, I wondered if she’d ever seen dirt.
‘The little girl hasn’t got a firm grip on your balls yet,’ she said.
I arched my eyebrows at Josef and he gave me his ‘I dare you’ look. So I grabbed his balls.
‘It’s pretty good,’ I said.
Josef chuckled and pressed his face to the top of my head. ‘Oh, it is.’
I made to take my hand away from Josef and he put his over it. I suppressed a smile.
‘God, you always follow your prick.’ Her fists tightened. Daddy hadn’t given her what she wanted so she was going to throw a tantrum.
He swung round, his power turning the air hot. ‘You brought your immortality. You did not buy me.’
I rested my hand between Josef’s shoulders, his power cooled and he pressed into my touch.
She straightened and met his gaze. ‘Do you expect me to give a street urchin respect?’
‘I expect nothing of you,’ Josef replied. ‘Go home, you’re embarrassing yourself.’
She bared her fangs at him. Josef ignored her and jumped down onto the sand with a soft thump. I shrugged and followed, she was up to something, I was sure. Her footsteps retreated as we walked towards the sea but she didn’t head back to the hotel.
‘Bran always told me vanity was a sin,’ Josef said, still striding across the sand along the line where wet met dry. ‘Rache is the price.’
‘She brought her immortality?’
He stopped and I bumped into his back. ‘Material wealth.’ He smiled bitterly. ‘Long gone. She wanted to be young and beautiful forever and I was bored.’ He turned to me. ‘Perhaps I thought she’d improve with age or found her entertaining, I don’t remember. If I’d given it serious thought I might’ve decided she wasn’t well suited to being a vampire.’
‘And how did you treat her when she turned?’ I asked. ‘Like you would the men? Or differently?’
‘It can’t be easy when you’ve been taught to please a man and find yourself tethered to one you can’t please.’
He sucked his teeth. ‘How do you do that?’
‘Figure people out with such accuracy?’
I grinned. ‘I cheated. I looked in your book, remember?’ I tapped the side of my head. ‘I do.’
The book said Rache had been French aristocracy; she would’ve been taught ways to persuade wealthy men to do what she wanted, her value placed on her appearance and money, not herself. Some things didn’t change, I’d met women who had been taught their value had nothing to do with the truth of themselves. It never ended well.
‘I thought she was a silly vain creature so I treated her as a silly vain creature.’ He pinched the bridge of his nose.
‘It must’ve been lonely for her. Surrounded by men and looked down on…’
He caressed my cheek. ‘You’re not lonely?’
‘You treat me as an equal, that’ll rub her the wrong way.’
‘Should I apologise?’
‘Sounds like you didn’t treat her particularly well but she walked up and tried to treat you like she owned you.’ I caressed his chest. ‘But I am biased.’
‘Not comment on her issue with you being…’ He cleared his throat.
‘She might think you found me in the gutter but at least I don’t dwell in it.’
Josef chuckled and looked out across the sea. It was creeping in towards our shoes. The bottom of my dress was already damp and sandy, I wasn’t sure silk was fond of the beach.
Josef’s fingers played absent-mindedly with the little wooden rosary wrapped around my wrist. ‘I think age made me arrogant and inconsiderate.’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I’ve managed both quite well in under thirty years.’
‘I don’t think you were inconsiderate.’ I pressed into his side. ‘I think, in retrospect, you were guarded.’ I rested my hand against his heart and spread my fingers. ‘When you’re being considerate you get all sweet and clumsy, doesn’t really fit the image you foster.’
He stooped and touched his forehead to mine. He was warm and smelt of cut wood and beeswax, once upon a time he wore sage cologne as if he didn’t want me to smell his workshop on him.
‘I love the smell of you,’ I murmured and bunched his soft silk waistcoat in my hand.
‘Sex on a moonlit beach is very romantic,’ he said.
I laughed and pushed him lightly. ‘We’ll get sand everywhere. Not fun.’
He lifted me up and I wrapped my legs around him.
‘I don’t even have to put you down,’ he said. ‘I have excellent balance.’
‘You have excellent everything, sugar stick.’
He grinned. ‘You admit it then?’
‘Under duress.’ I nipped his lip.
He hissed. ‘Was that you’ll admit it undressed?’
I laughed harder. His foot found a hole and his hands caught us just short of the sand. He stared at me, breathless and lowered us.
‘That balance wasn’t excellent,’ I murmured, loosening his caveat.
He grinned. ‘I’ll have to compensate then.’
‘You’ve got trousers under here,’ Josef said, hand up my skirts. ‘It’s like unwrapping a present.’
‘I came prepared for trouble.’ I kissed him deeply, caressing, peeling back clothes.
My stomach lurched and I shoved him off. Panic set my heart beating faster than a windup toy. It wasn’t my panic. It was outside me yet part of me at the same time.
‘Bran’s in trouble.’ I ran, leaving my skirts to be taken by the sea.
Josef’s weight hit my back, air rushed passed, and we landed on the street.
I stumbled as I waited for my brain to catch up, shook my head, and held up a finger. ‘Don’t make a habit of that.’
He bent over and rested his hands on his knees. ‘Doing that on sand is a mistake.’
I was already running.