Drip Drop Teardrop - Page 6
“So can I still ask questions?” she queried indignantly, determined he wasn't going to see how much he unsettled her.
Brennus appeared happy with her interest and smiled softly. “Of course. And then it’s my turn.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to snap ‘I thought you already knew everything about me?’ but she curbed the instinct and saw by the mischievous flicker in his eyes that he knew exactly what she was thinking. “OK.”
The question she most wanted to ask was the one she was scared to ask.
What made someone like Brennus become an Ankou? Was it the power, the immortality he craved? And if it was, how could he possibly think he was the kind of man she’d want? A man who would choose a morbid existence to live forever? There was just something so empty in that. “Why?” she whispered. “Why did you choose to be an Ankou?”
“Ah.” He nodded, his face tightening, the scar seeming to pulse angrily, the masculine sharp lines of his jaw clenching. He shifted, his arm lengthening along the back of the sofa, his legs crossing over. He stared into the fire, offering her his profile, the cheek without the scar. God, he was beautiful. That wasn’t true. But it was. Her breath hitched and she looked away, even more terrified of how attracted she was to him than the answer to his question. He didn’t seem to notice her inner turmoil. “I thought you might ask that,” he continued. “I will tell you.” He turned back to her, the contrast between his nearly unblemished profile and ravaged front transfixing her. “I don’t like telling this story but I promised we would be honest with one another and so for you I’ll… I’ll explain.”
Avery thought her heart might explode in her chest. Somehow it was only now beginning to dawn on her that this being, this immortal, powerful being had chosen her, had latched onto her. Little ol’ her. It was utterly terrifying.
“I was a mortal man during the 2nd Century A.D. I came from a long line of strong, capable Celts. Britons. By the time of my birth my family were Romano-Britons, and by the age of fifteen I was a wealthy, arrogant tradesman in Londinium. At the time Londinium was considered a large city even then, an important centre of commercialism and trading. Coupled with my father’s wealth… we were very successful and important. We dined each month at the governor’s palace, rubbed elbows with the elite. In fact I married a Roman girl. My father liked her father’s status and her father liked my money.”
Avery kept very still; afraid she would break the mesmerising spell he seemed to be under.
“Her name was Anonna. She was beautiful and I was captivated by her. I thought I loved her,” he grunted. Avery felt the bitterness swell out of him. “Not long after we wed, a great plague hit Londinium as well as the rest of Western Europe. It took hold of Anonna. When the Ankou came for her I could see him, I could see him in my utter desperation to stay with her. So he offered me a choice.”
Without having to be told, Avery knew what that choice had been. In a way he was offering her the same thing. Brennus caught her own bitter smile and he nodded gravely. “Yes, he offered me the choice to save her. In return I would become one of the Ankou.”
At that moment Avery hated him. She hated him for having sacrificed himself for someone he loved, because it drew them deeper into this strange connection. She hated him for his honourable reason for becoming an Ankou. Why couldn’t he have just been a soulless demon who craved immortality and power? Instead he was a man capable of such immense love he had literally sold his soul for Anonna.
Deep down, she hated him for that too.
“You must love her very much,” Avery whispered, disgusted by the prickles of jealously crawling across her chest.
Brennus snorted. “It wasn’t love. It was infatuation. I didn’t even know her that well.”
Avery frowned. “But you were married.”
He shrugged. “Times were different then. A wife was property. I thought because we were kind and considerate of one another, enjoyed one another inside and out of the bedroom, that it meant something. But I didn’t really take the time to get to know my wife. If I had looked closely enough I would have seen the spoilt brat that she was and her poisonous, never-ending need for attention.”
“Wait, I’m confused. If you have such contempt for this woman, why on earth did you give up your mortality for her?”
She could tell he was growing agitated by the subject but Avery had to know, she needed to know if he still loved this woman. She wasn’t even going to question why.
“When I became Ankou I was given Londinium as my province. I kept watch over my wife. I discovered she had been having an affair with my father behind my back.”
His father! Ugh! Avery grimaced. “Your father?!”
He caught her look and smirked. "My father was only fifteen years older than me and I was only nineteen when I married Anonna-”
“You were nineteen when you died?” she gasped, disbelieving. Nineteen year old guys tended to have that cute in-between boyhood and manhood thing going on. Brennus was just all raw masculinity… no boyishness anywhere in sight.
He laughed lightly. “Twenty. We looked older back then. Life was harder.”
She nodded, still unbelieving. “OK. Sorry… you were saying…”
“Well my father was still in his prime and was considered very handsome. So was I before I was scarred.”
“I’ll bet,” she murmured, her eyes washing over Brennus, thinking what his wicked smile did to her insides. It made her forget the unforgettable mar.
His dark eyes caught her and they glistened in the light. A soft sensual smile played on his lips. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
She blushed but rolled her eyes, waving him off. “OK, so your father was only thirty four and a hottie… it’s still gross.”
“I agree,” he growled. “But my father and I were competitive and he decided to take it to a new level with Anonna. He wanted to prove he could have and do anything I could have and do. Anonna didn’t care if she was betraying me. When we married my face was unscarred. But, as I said, I was arrogant and selfish back then. One day I was out at market discussing transport of stone from a nearby quarry with a client when a man I had ceased doing business with approached me. He had been a wool merchant and we had done fine deals with one another for years. I had turned my back on our business relationship six months before when told his wife and child had died from an illness that sounded suspiciously like plague; my disinterest made others follow suit, and callously I did nothing to stop it. I even laughed at the poor man’s misfortune. So he attacked me, slashing me deep across the face, screaming that now I would know what it felt like to be abhorred. And he was right. Anonna flinched from me. Foolishly I convinced myself I understood, having worshipped beauty all my life I realised how difficult it must be for her to be faced with my disfigurement. But I thought that underneath she still loved me. I realise now that instead she had turned to my father.”
“So you kind of made a big mistake giving up your life for hers huh,” she stated sadly, actually feeling bad for him. At least she knew if she made the decision to save her Aunt Caroline that she was doing it for the most decent person she had ever had the privilege of knowing.
“Yes,” his voice was low again, hoarse with the old pain. “But Anonna got her comeuppance.”
“The plague ravaged Londinium and although the city remained important during Roman reign it never really recovered economically. My mother died in childbirth, my father was wifeless. A year after my death he offered marriage to Anonna. She was sleeping with him as well as the governor. When the governor heard of my father’s proposal he told Anonna that he would make her his mistress, a wealthy mistress, if she refused my father. My father was struggling financially at the time, he still had his wealth but he wasn’t adding to it, so Anonna snubbed my father and became a kept woman. Her own father had died in the plague so she didn’t have anyone she was disappointing.”
“Except your father.”
Brennus nodded at her, his eyes soft on her. “Yes. Except father. Who foolishly, like me, loved her.”
“What happened to her?” She almost dreaded knowing.
“The governor was cruel. As soon as she agreed to the contract of being his mistress his attitude changed.” Brennus’ eyes darkened. “She was subjected to vile things. Things even she didn’t deserve.”
“Oh my God.”
“Yes. If I were a harder man I would say it was justice for what she had done to me, but, in the end, it had been my choice to sacrifice myself for her. One night the governor beat Anonna so badly she begged for death. So I came.”
A well of deep sadness opened up inside Avery and she felt her eyes prick with tears. Unbelievably, she felt for him. For him. “You granted her mercy even after what she did to you?”
“Yes,” Brennus replied softly. “I gave her the choice.”
Avery gasped. “Anonna is Ankou?”
At his slight nod, at the clenching of his jaw, her heart began to race a little. She felt a little sick. “Anonna is Ankou.”
So… his ex was immortal. Did they still…? “Do you still see her?”
Brennus raised an eyebrow. “You think the Ankou have time for social events?”
“Yeah. You have spirit dudes to help you out remember.”
He chuckled. “OK, so sometimes we bump into one another. We aren’t supposed to though.”
“Do you bump into Anonna?”
“She bumps into me.” He frowned and looked away. “Like me, death has changed her.”
Great. His ex was still hanging around. “Where’s her area?”
He shifted uncomfortably. “Texas.”
Avery felt even sicker. “Has it always been Texas?”
Brennus threw her a look. “You know it can’t possibly have been.”
“How long has it been Texas?”
He inspected a piece of lint on his trousers. “Nine years.”
For some inexplicable reason Avery felt more than a little annoyed. “She followed you?”
“Your ex isn’t quite over you, huh?”
Again with the shrugging!
An awful thought occurred. “I don’t look like her, do I?”
At his deep chuckle Avery narrowed her eyes on him. This sooo wasn’t funny. “Avery.” He shook his head. “You are nothing like Anonna. You don’t look like her, you don’t act like her and you feel nothing like her. She has nothing to do with what’s between us.”
She sniffed, crossing her arms over her chest defensively. “There isn’t anything between us.”
At the sound of material whispering against material, Avery looked up as Brennus stood slowly and crossed over to her, as lithe as a big cat. He sank down beside her on the sofa, so close she could feel that delicious warmth radiating from him. She gulped, trying to shift away from him but she was already at the very edge of the sofa. He leaned back, his arm drifting across the back of the sofa, his fingers flicking her ponytail. “If there was nothing between us, Avery,” he whispered and edged a little closer, his dark eyes fixated on her mouth, “You wouldn’t be jealous of Anonna.”
Her mouth fell open at his arrogance. “Jealous!” She spluttered. “I am not jealous! I don’t even know you to be jealous!”
“You keep saying that but you know it isn’t true.”
God, the man was insufferable. He may quite possibly be even more annoying than Josh. She threw him a dirty sideways glance and turned away from him to stare into the fire. She felt the heat of his finger on her skin as he trailed it down her arm, goosebumps following in its wake. She shivered and told herself she hated him for it.