Have I been quiet lately? I have. Apologies for that. Life, the universe, and everything, you know. And a horrible cold that the kids have been passing around like a chewed up juice cup. That, too.
But I’ve been writing like a banshee (Do banshees write? That may have been a terrible comparison. Apparently NyQuil has not been kind to my brain these last few days) and baking and crocheting and overall adjusting to life now that I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom. *insert additional hyphens here* I’ve also begun working on short stories, which is a format I’ve always felt I needed more practice in. Over on Wattpad, I’ve begun following story prompts set out by @projectwerewolflove, and the first one was the theme “Feel the Love.” The challenge was to present a romantic relationship between two characters, at least one of them being a werewolf, and without the catch of a mate-bond thing that is used in some werewolf and shifter stories.
And it seemed like a fun thing to do. I’ve never written a werewolf story before, but I’ve always loved the Jekyll and Hyde/Frankenstein/Dorian Gray/Wolfman stories of the Victorian era. So that’s what I sat down to write. And I was pretty okay with it, for something I wrote really quick and submitted hours before the deadline.
And then I found out today that I won the challenge.
So, you know. I’m pretty pleased about that, I have to say.
I even won a nifty badge.
Which…. I can’t seem to download at the moment. I’ll edit to add it later. Just imagine that it’s here, and it’s nifty.
*nifty badge goes here*
And also to celebrate, I’m going to post the story here, for those of you who don’t have Wattpad accounts.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you my first foray into werewolfdom, Dust and Silver.
(Just so no one thinks I’m being flippant, I am super pleased to have won. And honestly? I think I fell in love with these characters about five second after putting them on the page. They may just have to earn their own full-length story at some point.)
I step into the room and find myself in darkness. There is little light from the window, whether because the sky produces nothing more than an ochreous glow or because the glass itself is rimed with a mingling of frost and filth, I cannot tell. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust, and then I see the outline of a bed, of a writing desk and chair tucked beneath the slant of the ceiling.
There is more if I give myself time. I gravitate towards a washstand in the corner, a pitcher and basin of what might be a beautiful blue porcelain in the full light of day. And there, his toiletries lined up—toothbrush and powder, a shaving kit kept in a wooden box, with razor, strop, and soap all arranged and ready for the next morning’s use.
I reach out with one hand, then pull my fingers back. A quick tug and I remove my glove before stretching forward again. It is too personal, I think, to be here. To touch these objects as if I had any right to do so. I wonder how I would feel should I learn that he had visited my rooms, pawed over my belongings in the same way in which I run the edge of my thumb over the bristles of his hairbrush, but I cannot find the outrage within myself that should be there.
“What are you doing here?”
A flex of my fingers and I drop my hand back to my side. As I turn around, I raise my chin, though this paltry attempt to make myself seem taller is proved fruitless as he ducks to step through the low doorway.
“Mr. Muir.” My pulse pounds in my throat, and I think of what a cacophony I must be to his ears.
“Lady Drummond.” He returns the greeting, dipping his head low enough that his face is hidden beneath the brim of his hat. “What are you doing here?” he says again.
I could protest at his lack of etiquette, but instead I watch him. He moves fully into the room, shutting the door behind him with a quick snap that manages to produce only a small click of sound. Under my gaze, he removes his hat, his gloves, and unwinds his scarf from around his neck. There is water on the scarf, drops of rain and melted sleet that shine in what little illumination the window provides.
“They are coming for you,” I say, the words pattering out so quick that I find I must stop and take another breath before I can continue. “There was another body, the same wounds… the same marks as the others.”
As I speak, he picks up a flint and tinder. A spark, a whiff of sulfur, and a flame is born between his hands. His eyes glow brighter than anything else in the room for several seconds, shades of green and yellow both vying for dominance beneath dark lashes. He lights an oil lamp and adjusts the wick before setting the glass shade into place. “And you are here… why? Do you believe I’m responsible?”
I pace to the other side of the room, the edge of my skirts teasing the circle of light put out by the lamp. “You’ve seen the photographs. The violence of the attacks is too far beyond anything I’ve witnessed before.”
He matches my stride with a few steps of his own, rounding the table before he hooks a chair leg with his booted foot, the spindly furniture scraping on the floor as he pulls it out and sits down. “And you’ve seen me kill?”
“I’ve seen—” I catch myself. I will not do this with him, not now. He will try to goad me, even when all I wish is to save him. “I know what you’re capable of. This is the destruction of life for the mere pleasure of it. You take great care to abstain from such ferocity unless dictated by necessity.”
Mr. Muir leans back in his chair, the two front legs lifting off the floor an inch as he crosses his right ankle over his left knee. “Necessity, yes.” He tips his head upwards, and my gaze traces the length of his naked throat, the swift bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallows. “How austere you make it sound.”
“There’s no time for this.” I reach into my cuff, two of my fingers pinching at the banknotes secreted there. “Take this. It’s enough to pay for your passage out of London, out of England should that be your desire.”
The front legs of his chair strike the floor as he leans forward. “So I should run away, my tail between my legs?” One corner of his mouth quirks at his own attempt at humor.
“Four people are now dead,” I remind him. “You’ll die, too, and the killer will still be out there. And why? Because you don’t want to be branded as a coward?”
A blink of my eyes, and he’s out of his chair, his back towards the light as he joins me in the shadows that inhabit the corner of the room. “Does the great Lord Drummond know you’re here? Is it his money with which you’re trying to bribe me?”
“My husband is no doubt with one of his many whores,” I say, and I experience a twinge of pride that I can make such a statement without the guilt that had once assailed me. “I’ve given him his sons. He no longer knows nor cares how I choose to fill my days.”
“So, it’s you who wants me gone.” No tone of question there, and I can’t help but wonder if he is still provoking me, or if he truly believes his own words.
“I want you safe,” I say, holding the notes up between us. “I want you alive. The Guild has wished you gone for years. Four dead prostitutes, and they think they’ll have your neck in a noose.” I swallow hard over a lump in my throat. “Or a bullet in your heart.”
He grins, his teeth gleaming despite the light behind him. “They’d have to catch me first.”
“I came here easily enough,” I point out.
I watch as his smile loses some of its brilliance. “Did you pause to think that perhaps I allowed you to walk right into my home? I’ve been waiting for you to come here. For too many years.”
“Callum.” I realize my slip before the last syllable is off my tongue. “Mr. Muir,” I hastily correct myself. “Please, don’t—”
“Come with me.”
I take a step back. My head turns and I sweep my gaze along the edge of the room. All of his belongings are here, meagre as they are. Apart from the bed and the desk, there is a narrow wardrobe fitted into the opposite corner, and another chair that has been transformed from a seat into a receptacle for all manner of old newspapers, letters, and hard-used books. At first glance, there is nothing personal about this space, nothing that differentiates it from any other cramped attic room in any other building in the city. And yet, everything on which my eyes alight is inherently his.
For years, this is where he has slept, where he has bathed, where he has dressed and undressed. At least on the nights when he was capable of pursuing such basic, human functions.
“I cannot.” Another step back, and my leg jars against the side of the low, sagging bed. “My husband… I will not break my vows to him, no matter that he’s failed to pay me the same courtesy. And my children…” A quick shake of my head, and he must understand. “I cannot leave them. I will not choose you over them.”
He sets his jaw as he regards an indefinable place beyond my right shoulder. When his gaze finally returns to my face, I see some sign of his age—scores of years lived out before the beginning of our acquaintance—and I rear back from the temptation to abuse myself with imaginings of how long he may live after our familiarity dwindles towards its natural end.
“I know you will not,” he says, his voice becoming a low rumble from his chest. “I think I would love you less if you did.”
The space between us seems to grow as I hold onto my breath for an instant before releasing it between parted lips. Two, perhaps three paces is all it would take to wipe the distance out of existence, but he manages to dispel it with a single stride.
His fingers circle my wrist, a loose grip, and yet the banknotes in my hand tumble out of my palm and flutter towards the floor. His own fingertips move over my skin until he is tracing a long welt that mars the line of my little finger and cuts a jagged web across my knuckles and the back of my hand.
“I will never forgive myself for causing you harm.” His thumb slides over the scar, painless now as the years have turned it from a livid pink to a shimmering white.
“We were still strangers then, and you… you were not yourself that night.”
He turns my hand over and presses his lips to the inside of my wrist. I watch his nostrils flare, feel the intake of his breath as the kiss moves downwards into the center of my palm. “You fear for my safety,” he says, his words caressing my skin. “But I lose sleep at night thinking of you. The Guild will be the death of you.”
A flick of my other hand, and a dagger slides out from beneath the lace and beading of my sleeve. A slim blade reflects the glow from the lamp, yet the metal seems to produce a measure of its own light from the silvered edge. “They’d have to catch me first,” I echo, though my bravado feels so much more of a farce in comparison to his.
“You should go.” Despite his suggestion, he does not release my hand. “I have no wish for them to find you here.”
“Nor you,” I say as I slide the dagger back into its hiding place. My words die away, and then it is only the warmth of our breath left between us, each exhalation sending out faint bursts of vapor that dissipate in the chill air of the room.
I am about to pull my fingers free of his grasp when he leans towards me, his head lowering enough that I part my lips in anticipation of something more. But instead his cheek brushes against my own, his sigh tickling my ear before his teeth give a brief, single nip to my earlobe.
“Don’t fret over me.” He steps back, and I drift with him for just a moment—only a moment—before thoughts of my own life, the lives of my children, replace the barrier between us.
I can think of no farewell to offer in return, because that is what this is, I realize. Whether he will heed my advice and leave London, it is not for me to say. I have made my choice, and he no longer dwells within that framework. If, in fact, he ever truly did.
I look back as I leave, because of course I must. I tell myself that this will only be a temporary parting, but it is the slope of his shoulders in the light of the oil lamp that makes me pause in the stunted doorway. He intends to sever his existence from mine, to secure my safety by removing the danger of his presence. A gift, he would say, to ensure the continuation of my fleeting life.
My life. As if that were the only thing of importance to me.