Home > Brimstone Bound (Firebrand #1)(13)

Brimstone Bound (Firebrand #1)(13)
Author: Helen Harper

I grabbed the puffy jacket which Laura had given me and pulled it on, then picked up the paperweight on Tony’s desk and slipped it into my pocket. It wasn’t a great weapon but, if I did end up having to defend myself, it would be better than nothing.

The solstice might have been two months behind us, but it was still winter. At that time of day in London, the sky was already dark. I’d lived in the city all my adult life and usually it didn’t bother me; the long summer days more than made up for the long winter nights. However, getting myself murdered in a dark graveyard at night had made me very jumpy.

I scanned the road as soon as I left the Supe Squad building. I couldn’t see anyone shady hanging around – but I hadn’t seen anyone last night, either. Not until it was too late.

‘Evening!’

I only just managed to stop myself from screaming.

The smile on the bellman’s face faltered when he saw my expression. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.’

I gulped in air and tried to get my breathing under control. I forced the corners of my mouth into a smile. I could do this. I could be normal. ‘Hi.’ Relax, Emma, for goodness’ sake. ‘It wasn’t your fault. I was surprised, that’s all.’

Kindness twinkled in his eyes. ‘You don’t have to worry. This street is about as safe as you can get. Nobody comes near Supe Squad. Both this office and you are off limits. You’ll be safer around here than anywhere else in London.’

It was a shame that I knew that was a lie. ‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘It’s Jeeves, right?’

‘You can call me Max. I don’t bother with all that secret name stuff. Tony insists on it, even though he’s perfectly happy to use his own name all the time.’ He grinned. ‘But then again, the man’s a conundrum.’

I couldn’t let that comment lie. ‘In what way?’

‘Dresses like a tramp, acts like a gentleman. He’s a good guy through and through.’ Max blinked at me. ‘But I’m sure you’ve worked that out for yourself.’

‘Yeah.’ I nodded. ‘Sure.’ I wasn’t sure what else to say so I gave him a tiny wave. ‘Well, I’ll be seeing you.’

‘Sure thing.’

I put my hands in my pockets, feeling the heavy paperweight nestling there. I touched it for comfort and lifted my head. The last thing I wanted to do was to look like a victim. I was nobody’s damned victim.

I marched down the street, forcing myself to look straight ahead. I didn’t need to keep looking behind me every five steps, I just had to listen for the sound of footsteps and keep my wits about me. It was only about five o’clock and there were plenty of people around; I’d be fine. I glanced over my shoulder anyway. No-one was there. No-one was there. No-one was—

‘Good evening.’

Goddamnit! I swung round. The paperweight was half out of my pocket when I realised who was standing there. ‘Is sneaking up on people a habit of yours?’ I snapped with more force than I’d intended.

The vampire’s black eyes flicked down, noted the paperweight, and slid upwards again. ‘My apologies,’ he murmured. ‘It wasn’t my intention to scare you any more than it was Max’s.’

He’d been watching my interaction with the bellman? Alright. If I wasn’t nervous before, then I was now.

‘Leave me alone.’ I side-stepped in a bid to get past him. He moved with me.

I felt fear bubble up inside me. Maybe I’d been wrong; maybe it was a vampire who attacked me. Maybe it was this guy.

‘Calm down.’ He raised his hand and cupped my face.

I let out a silent shriek, my stomach clenched, and I tightened my grip on the paperweight. Then I looked into his eyes and instantly my tension eased.

‘You have nothing to worry about with me,’ he murmured.

An odd warmth spread through my body. He was right: I was safe here. He would look after me and ensure that nothing hurt me. Everything was going to be alright.

‘There now,’ he soothed. He leaned further in until our noses were almost touching. A slight smile played on his lips. ‘You have the cutest freckles across your nose.’

I wasn’t sure if it was the compliment that brought me back or if I merely came to my senses. I yanked myself backwards and glared at him. ‘What did you just do to me?’ I demanded.

He held up his hands. ‘I was only trying to keep you calm. You had a hunted look in your eyes and an elevated heart rate that suggested you were moments away from a full-blown panic attack. There’s nothing sinister about my actions, I promise you.’

I folded my arms. ‘Stay the fuck away from me.’

He tilted his head and examined my face. ‘That’s not the sort of response I usually inspire in people. It’s not what I’d expect from a detective, either.’

His words annoyed me because he was right. Under normal circumstances, I’d never speak to a member of the public like that, whether they were vampire, werewolf, gremlin, human or damned alien. But these weren’t normal circumstances.

I softened my stance and dropped my arms down by my sides. ‘I’m still in training,’ I said stiffly, as if that were an excuse. ‘I apologise. I have important police business to conduct and I need to get on my way.’

The vampire gazed at me for one long moment. Finally he bowed, like we were in some Jane Austen novel, and stepped to the side. ‘Heaven forbid that I should delay important police business.’

If his expression hadn’t been so serious, I’d have sworn he was making fun of me. ‘Thank you,’ I said, determined to bring this conversation to an end. I held up my head and started walking again.

‘Would this police business have anything to do with the fact that you were murdered last night?’ he called out.

My feet came to a stuttering halt. Slowly turning round, I met his black eyes again – but this time I made no secret of the paperweight. I pulled it out of my pocket, tugging at it when it snagged on the material, and hefted it from hand to hand.

The vampire’s gaze didn’t drop. He continued to watch me, clearly waiting for me to make the next move. It wasn’t gallantry, it was pure predatory instinct. I was sure of it.

A gust of wind picked up, sending a few dead leaves and a flyer for happy hour at a nearby bar spinning past us. It lifted a curl of the vampire’s dark hair and flapped at the edges of my over-sized coat. Neither of us paid any of it any attention.

‘Was it you?’ Oddly, I wasn’t scared any longer although I should have been. I didn’t raise my voice. My training was finally kicking in; it was about time. Whether he was about to attack me or not, the chaos that panic would induce wouldn’t help. Maintaining calm confidence was the only chance I had of walking away unscathed. I didn’t brandish the paperweight threateningly, but I was more than ready to throw it at the vamp’s head if I had to.

I wasn’t the only one who was calm. The vamp didn’t blink – he was like a damned lizard. ‘You’re asking if I killed you.’ It wasn’t a question. ‘I can assure you that I did not.’ His eyes glittered suddenly with dangerous intent. ‘Why? Do you have reason to believe that it was a vampire who slit your throat?’

I ignored his question and stared at him hard, attempting to reconcile his figure with the blurry, indistinct image I had of my attacker. It was no good. It could have been the Queen herself who’d slit my throat and I wouldn’t have been able to tell.

The vampire understood instantly. ‘You didn’t see who killed you, did you?’

I gritted my teeth. ‘Not properly.’ Barely at all, if I were being truthful. ‘How did you know that it was me?’ How did you know that I’d risen from the dead, I screamed silently.

‘A human woman was brutally murdered on the edge of vampire territory,’ he said. ‘It was my job to investigate and discover if vampires were involved. I saw your body before it was taken away.’ His eyes narrowed slightly. ‘Unless you have an identical twin, which I very much doubt given your scent and what I smelled from your blood last night, then that body was yours. You were definitely dead.’

‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ I muttered.

‘What are you?’ he asked, sharp steel lacing his question.

‘Was it a vampire who killed me?’ I countered.

He didn’t flinch. ‘No.’ He nodded at me, indicating that he’d answered me, so now it was my turn to answer him.

‘I don’t know what I am,’ I bit out. ‘All I know is that last night I was killed, and this morning I woke up in the morgue.’ I declined to mention the strange fire. I wasn’t about to give up all my secrets to a complete stranger. Especially one as threatening as this one.

‘Injuries?’ he inquired.

‘None.’

He seemed to relax slightly. ‘You’re not a vampire. You’re not a werewolf. You don’t fall into any other known supe categories. And you’re definitely not human. So,’ he asked again, ‘what are you?’

This time the question wasn’t addressed to me; he seemed to be thinking aloud.

‘If you’re so sure that my killer wasn’t a vampire,’ I said, ‘does that mean you know who did kill me?’

He shook himself, his eyes refocusing. ‘No. But the graveyard was all but flooded with the scent of your blood. The tang of it – of you – filled the air. I could smell it from half a mile away. We might not have the same acute senses as the werewolves, but we know blood. I know blood. Instead of taking advantage of the impromptu buffet your death provided, whoever killed you walked away. I followed the scent. It led straight to Piccadilly Circus and then disappeared, either in the crowds or the Underground. There are less than a dozen vampires who could have shown such restraint and left so much blood behind without taking even a sip. All those vampires have already been accounted for.’

I felt sick. ‘Impromptu buffet?’

   
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