After his aunt disappeared into the house, I looked over at Jared. "Dinner?" I asked. They hadn't eaten anything that I'd seen. The realization that they may have been eating something - or someone - out of my sight hit me then. "Jared....what's for dinner?"
Jared shrugged and laced his fingers in mine as if we'd been doing it forever. I looked down at our interlaced hands for a moment and then let him lead me inside the house. "We dress for dinner here Luna..." he said as he looked over the delicately set dining room table. "There is probably something laid out for you in your room."
He was right, of course. When I returned to my room there was a long black dressed laid out on the bed with a pair of slip on shoes set beside it. It had a few pink accent they could have been dyed to match my hair and it was exactly the right size. "Creepy." I muttered but I changed anyway. As I slipped on the shoes I heard a long bell toll from somewhere. I could only assume that was the summons to dinner.
The first course involved prawns and what I sincerely hoped was cocktail sauce. Thankfully my own dish was but the dish of the other three vampires looked a little too thick and dark for my tastes. Jared may have seen me cringe as he was smiling down at his plate.
I noticed that the other vampires didn't seem to be eating their prawns so much as using them as a spoon of sorts. Odd. Why didn't they just pour the blood into a goblet and drink it that way?
"Because that would be uncouth Ms. Taffity." Robert Van Allen said in response to my unspoken thoughts.
"And dipping into your guest's head is not...uncouth?" I countered before giving it much thought. Across from me Jared was attempting not to smile but I got the impression he was amused, or impressed, or both.
Robert gave me a look that would wither most people but I was either too brazen or too foolish to respond to it. Personally I'm thinking I was a fool who let her mouth run away with her. "Perhaps you're right. And perhaps you should check your thoughts around other vampires."
"Honestly, wherever did you go to primary? They ought to have taught you to shield your thoughts." Jared's aunt chimed in. Her name was Annaliese, I'd learned that much anyway.
I was still trying to understand her question when Robert Van Allen spoke for me, "Ms. Taffity has not had any vampire education Annaliese. Her father is Adam Stewart - you remember? The King? He's lived somewhat - off the grid you might say."
I stared at Robert, my eyes wide with shock, and he tapped his head and smiled at me. It wasn't a nice or comforting smile in the least. "How very...odd." Annaliese said before returning to her dinner.
"Yes, well the Taffity family has gone missing and Ms. Luna here has set out to find her parents and her younger siblings - triplets. Of course, since learning of her fate, I've dedicated my own resources to finding them so that she is no longer in danger." Robert continued.
"Triplets? Triplet born vampires?" Annaliese was looking at me with a critical eye - more critical than she had been to this point anyway. "Fascinating."
I wanted to ask them a dozen questions about what he was doing to find my family, about Derik, about what was so fascinating about the triplets - but the dinner table fell silent then and Jared shook his head. After dinner, we all retired to the parlor and continued in silence for a time.
With very little warning or production, Annaliese sat beside me and I could feel her eyes on me as I tried to read. At last I gave in and closed the book, turning toward. "Is something the matter?"
"Are your siblings brothers or sisters?" she asked.
"Well I have human brothers..." I started but she waved them off. "You mean the triplets? They're all girls."
"Fascinating." she said again.
"I must ask, what is so fascinating about it?" I said softly.
"Come, take a walk with me." she said, placing her cold hand on my bare arm. Unlike Robert Van Allen, who I found sinister and certainly untrustworthy, I felt compelled to not only trust Annaliese but to like her.
Robert seemed to go on alert as we stood up together and stepped toward us but Annaliese waved him off. "Just getting to know your guest a bit Robert." she said. Her words didn't seem to comfort him though. "Oh come now Robert, stop being ridiculous. I wouldn't deprive you of my glorious company for too long." she wrapped her arm around my waist protectively as we passed him into the hallway.
I started to speak but she shook her head and continued walking toward the front door of the house. We walked a fair ways around the estate before she spoke up. "Though I can't be sure of his motives, I imagine Robert would prefer to keep you as much in the dark about vampire affairs as possible but knowledge is power Luna - you must know that yes?"
"Um, sure." I said helplessly.
"The birth rate for born vampires is almost nil now. Even if a couple is able to conceive, in most cases the baby dies or the mother dies. That's how my dear sister, Jared's mother, died. So the fact that your mother had not one, but four, healthy vampire children is astronomical." I could only nod along as she laid out all this information. "Be careful Luna - there is a lot about vampires you don't know and I can't explain everything now or he'll come out looking for us." She looped her arm in mine then and started walking back toward the house. Why had she told me all that? How could knowing that protect me from whatever Robert's motives might be anyway?
Robert looked ready to pounce when we returned to the parlor but I kept my mind as empty as possible, trying not to think about anything. I had to learn how to shield! I looked around for something I could focus on. "What a lovely piano." I said, though I knew very little about them. I'd taken a few lessons at the insistence of my mom but had never had the dedication to practice.
"It is. Do you play?" Robert asked.
"Not so well as you." I said referring to the first time I'd met him at the same piano.
"Yes well, I've had a thousand years to practice my dear. Do play us a song." he said motioning toward the piano.
"No, I think that would be bad for all of us. I am not afflicted with false modest I assure you. I've not had a lesson in years." I objected even as he wrapped his arm around my shoulders and steered me toward the instrument.
"I insist, just one song." he said, pushing me down onto the piano bench and leaning over my shoulder to select a piece of music. His face was inches from me and I tried not to think or shudder.
The awkward dinner and evening in the parlor was just the figurative dash of cold water I needed to get my mind off of Jared. He was tasty - in more ways than one - to be sure but I had to keep myself focused on finding my family! And Derik...where was he? Was he alright or had he become some vampire's snack?
Of course as much as I tried to avoid him, it wasn't as if there were infinite places to hide in this house. Besides I was summoned to dinner nearly every night now as Annaliese came around constantly it seemed. I got the impression she was trying to keep an eye on me but maybe that was wishful thinking.
Once in awhile Jared would catch me alone in the hall and try to pick up where we'd left off in the conservatory.
"Jared please..." I said trying to push away from him gently. "I have a boyfriend remember..."
"The human." he said, his eyes darkening with the same contempt I often saw in Robert's eyes.
"Yes, his name is Derik. He was with me the night I was brought here...do you know where he is?" I asked - for the dozenth time I'm sure.
Jared growled - actually growled - at me and then clasped my head between his hands. I tried to pull away but he held fast and I turned, sure he was going to try to kiss me but he didn't. Soon I saw his thoughts in my mind as clear as if I'd been there. For the first time I was one hundred percent sure he didn't know who or where Derik was.
I knew something else as well; he was sure that the change would kill him - as it did most born vampires. Wait! Did that mean...?
Before I could finish my thought or put a voice to the fear tumbling around in my mind, he sulked away and slammed his bedroom door.
While Robert claimed to be trying to find my family, I felt even more sure that it was time to take my leave of the Van Allens. Only problem was how. The windows in my room and every room I had access to were locked or barred shut and I wasn't sure even I could get over the fence. And even if I did where would I go?
With a sign, I plopped down on the floor to sulk. After my brief foray into Jared's mind I couldn't help buy be curious about this vampire telepathy though, maybe if I tried hard enough - really focused - I could break down someone's shield or if my family was nearby I might even be able to sense them. Oh sure I know it sounded ridiculous from the completely uneducated vampire that I am but I had to do something!
I closed my eyes and started to tune out the world around me, casting my line out for other vampires. I could sense Jared - and could even tell that he was sullen but could not make out clear thoughts. Somewhere in the house was Robert and soon I felt the presence of Annaliese as well - must be near dark. I pictured myself moving beyond them and, to my surprise, it worked! Their mental signature - as it were - faded as I moved out, seeking someone else.
There seemed to be a lot of vampires in the area..not that I knew exactly what area that was. I was unable to sense human minds and wondered how that was exactly. Maybe it would seem like far fewer vampires if there were humans mixed in. Nearly exhausted I caught an image of someone familiar - one of my sisters I think. She seemed almost happy and I wondered, once again, what was happening to them. Focusing in on her, I picked up the other two triplets and even my parents! I wanted to reach out and hug them!
And then the link snapped as Annaliese's presence flooded my mind. 'Foolish girl!' I knew is a second she was thinking it at me and hadn't actually spoken aloud.
"You'll lead him right to them!" she hissed at me as I staggered to my feet.
"Good! All I want is my family back!" I said, perhaps a little too loudly given that I was in a house full of vampires.
"You're an idiot." she shook her head and seemed to be considering heavy thoughts.
"Come." she turned on marched out of my bedroom, directly for the tower door. "Now!" she said glancing back at me.
I fumbled along but stopped short of the door, recalling Jared's ominous warning.
"I don't have time for this!" She grabbed my arm and shoved me toward the winding staircase. "Go on!"
The stairs seemed to keep going up but most of the rooms seemed barren. I wondered why Jared had tried to keep me from up here as I continued to ascend, Annaliese close at my heels.
We exited the tower onto the roof and I was surprised to find that the stars were flooding the sky and it was full dark. How long had I been meditating - or whatever I'd been doing?
"Now listen and listen closely Luna, Robert Van Allen does not do anything for free. So if he finds your family he will expect some sort of payment..."
"Well my family has money..." I said slowly, I couldn't actually make that promise on my own but it was true.
"He's not interested in money Luna." she said rolling her eyes at me. "Your father is a King!"
"Was. Was a king - but according to history he'd dead now. So it's not like he holds that title anymore." I was terribly confused, my father had no power now really.
"According to human history yes, but in the vampire world he's rather well known and famous - even if he doesn't know it. It was out of respect that he's been left alone as long as he has."
"But what does it matter anyway? It's not like he could do anything in the human or vampire world!" I felt like I was drowning in this conversation. Annaliese just rolled her eyes, "Look! You know I know nothing about the vampire world or anything else! I don't understand!"
"Do you remember what I told you about the birth rate? The deaths? Robert has gone through eight wives at least. He wants two things in life; power and an heir..." she said. "An heir that will live..."
"And Jared...?" I stumbled away from her as the prospective of Jared dying assaulted me again.
"He's always been a frail thing - in vampire respects anyway - he won't survive the change." Her face was clouded in sadness as she said it but she was blunt. "Robert has his eye on you Luna, he'll use your family against you if he finds them." With a flourish she took flight and left me floundering on the roof.
My head was a million miles away as I meandered back down the spiral staircase to the ground floor. All thoughts of Derik and my family were banished for the moment as I sought out Jared. I pushed the door to the library open, hoping to find him with his nose in a book like usual. Unfortunately it wasn't Jared I found but Robert.
He didn't look up from his book or acknowledge me so I started to back out of the room. "Now now Ms. Taffity, no reason to be rude." he said.
I gulped, my feet stilled beneath me. "Sorry, I didn't want to disturb your reading."
"Now you're just lying. Have a seat." he commanded. I had no choice but to obey. I closed the door behind me and sat in the seat next to him as he continued to read his book.
After a long, dreadful moment of silence, his book snapped shut and he turned his attention on me. "I think I have a lead on your family."
I nodded and cringed inwardly. All my own fault no doubt. "That's wonderful."
"It is, so why do you look like I just ate your puppy?" I had no response to that so I kept my mouth shut and my thoughts as empty as possible. "Very well, I hope to have them here within the week."
He returned to his book and I took that as permission to leave. I was at the door when he spoke again. "Oh and your human is alive - though beyond that I'm not sure what sort of condition he's in. Seems a few French vampires got a hold of him and..." he trailed off. "Regardless, I have expended great resources to get him out of that terrible situation. I only hope the damage isn't too severe."
"I thank you sir." I said as fresh tears sprang to my eyes thinking of Derik and what he may have gone through. I didn't continue my search for Jared that night. Instead I returned to my bedroom and curled up into a ball to cry.
"Luna...Luna, are you alright? You've been so...I don't know. But I thought you'd be happy considering..." Jared said stroking his finger along my hand.
"I am happy. Just overwhelmed." I lied. I didn't put up a fight as he walked me outside into the chilly night air. He'd laid out a blanket and motioned me toward it.
"I thought we might make use of the time we've got - once your family arrives I suspect you'll be ready to go home 'eh?" I merely shrugged and sat down on the blanket next to him.
I stared up at the stars and thought back to the times I'd sat under these same stars with Derik. Would he remember the stars and the names of the constellations? Would he be the same person?
"That's Cassiopeia." I said somewhat flatly.
"I know." Jared said with a small smile. "Cassiopeia was a beautiful queen, like you."
"I'm no queen." I said quietly.
"But you are beautiful." he whispered. I awarded him with a small smile and laid my head against his shoulder.