All Her Wounds Excerpt 7

Vivian guided her to the next stage of temptation on their schedule. Overflowing with intoxicating nectars and treats, the bar was her favorite target in the Toxic Mistress. If this club was the Garden of Eden, bartender Gavin Erwood was surely the snake serving up temptation.

Camilla had taken a new liking to Gavin since their first encounter, primarily because he was Vivian’s confidant and mentor. He was the keeper of liquors in the Toxic Mistress, but he also moonlighted as a mortician at Prague’s medical examiner. Any introduction to Gavin was bound be to memorable thanks to his otherworldly appearance.

At the ripe age of forty-six, the roguish fellow was wiry with a hawkish nose, thin lips, and narrow eyes that gleamed like razors. Not one speck of hair resided on his long, angular jaw, for he viewed any facial hair as inherently filthy. Harsh lines left their wisdom marks just above his perpetually arched eyebrows. A devilish smirk was never far from his lips as if he continuously savored a joke too cryptic for mortals to grasp. His presence was a staple for the Toxic Mistress. One simply couldn’t exist without the other. He was the quintessential gothic dandy decked out in a satin overcoat, leather gloves, leggings, an 18th century neck handkerchief, and a dashing spectacle.

The only missing article was a top hat—although the blades jutting from his skull in a Mohawk fashion would surely impede any such headwear. Those steel fragments were the remnants of a dire explosion at an anatomy model plant. The shrapnel should have killed him instantaneously, but fickle fate spared him that night.

The brain injury altered Gavin’s personality and cost him his career as an anatomy professor, but perhaps this harrowing mutation was a godsend. In the hazy aftermath of his injury, he wandered the city for two mindless nights, trying to understand where he was, why he existed, and most of all, where all his clothes had gone. He was a new man with a substantial portion of his frontal lobe compromised. Having never married or fathered children, no one searched the streets for the deranged Professor Gavin.

Thus, he wandered into the Toxic Mistress one chilly eve and was inspired by the darkness he saw. He’d never seen such heart-stopping art, flavors of Gothic and Victorianism, and ritualistic indulgence as those within the confines of the Toxic Mistress. “Do what thou wilt” soon became the codex by which he lived. Not to mention, his newly acquired British accent scored him points with the ladies.

However, there was only so much of this newfound paradise that Gavin could take before he passed out from brain swelling and was rushed to the hospital.

Several surgeries later, doctors concluded that the metal shards couldn’t be removed without killing Gavin. Instead, he opted for refashioning the blades into a Mohawk and embarking on his pilgrimage to the Toxic Mistress. Ever since, he’s hardly set foot in the outside world.

The head injury was the best thing that could have happened to Gavin. With the addition of a few colorful eccentricities to his Faustian persona, his high-strung demeanor shattered like a mirror—and he liked the new man he saw reflected in those shards. Who knew it would take a near death experience to make him feel alive for the first time in decades?