Suspicious best described my family’s feelings about the proposition. Everyone, except Mandy and Robert, agreed that my father could give Wells our threshold. The plan was that, after a Q and A session, Dad would revoke Wells’ invitation, thereby booting him from the house, and the family would make a decision.
I tried to give more details and answer questions. To avoid upsetting them further, I didn’t tell them I was doing it regardless. I was still undecided about whether to talk to Justin about my plans. I couldn’t be sure he would agree, and I wasn’t in the mood to argue.
Later that night, Robert was suspiciously absent when Justin led me to his room to “talk.” There, I found my air mattress next to his. I tried not to be angry about it, but the mattress left no doubt as to his intentions.
I’d only had sex with one other person before Justin, and he died in an attack. It wasn’t the same with Justin as it had been with my first partner, not that I expected it to be. Justin was a different person, already a man when I met him, and I was different, too. When we had sex, Justin always satisfied me, but I thought I shouldn’t lead him on anymore.
When he kissed me and casually tried to remove my clothes, I pushed him back and said, “We shouldn’t do this anymore.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because it means something different to you than it does to me.”
“I know, but you just let me worry about that.”
“No.” I pressed a hand firmly against his chest. “That isn’t fair to you.”
He lowered his forehead to mine and cursed. “I don’t care.”
“Camellia,” he interrupted, “I’m worried that if we don’t agree with you, you’ll go off with this vampire, alone, into a house full of them.”
“You shouldn’t worry about me so much,” I said softly. “I don’t know why, but I have faith in this vampire. He really wants us to have our freedom.”
“It’s not just that.” He brushed my hair back from my face. I hadn’t realized he had loosened it from its ponytail. “I’m worried he’ll take you from me.”
My jaw tensed. “That would be hard since I don’t belong to you or anybody else for that matter.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I’m afraid for you.”
“That’s perfectly natural, and I appreciate it.”
I held him close and stroked his back because he was always doing, or trying to do, that sort of thing to me. Being that way, showing affection and tenderness, reminded me of Peter, my first love, my first partner. It was enough to stop my hand. I curled it up, held it away from Justin, and against my wishes, I thought about Peter. He had been sweet, brave, and so gentle with me.
Because the memories brought pain, I tried very hard never to think of Peter. In fact, whenever I reread my journal, I skipped over the time I had with him, just as I skipped over my record of losing my sister. I needed to start writing again, both for the therapy and to help me collect my thoughts and ideas.
I left Justin and went to the bathroom to freshen up a bit. On my way back, I veered into the dining room and stared out the large picture window that overlooked the backyard. In the waning moon’s light, I saw the path that led to the clearing. There, at the start of the path, I spotted something pale, and I shivered. The house was chilly, but I didn’t think that was why I suddenly felt cold. For some reason, the pale spot made me feel lonely and angry, so I quit looking at it and went to my room to get some rest.
* * * *
Discussions and arguments took place the next day. Contrary to Wells’ prediction, I wouldn’t start my period for two more days. Period or not, I was cranky, and my mood grew more foul as the day progressed.
At mid-afternoon, I took my journal and pencil out to the clearing to write. For the first time in a few years, I was tempted to go back and read what I had written about Peter. I chickened out, telling myself that it would be more productive to write down what I learned in the last few days. That only brought me back to the current cause of stress in my life. I needed physical release of the violent sort.
While I pounded my fists into a stuffed shirt, the time of the meeting grew nearer. In a few days, I would be back at Human Foods, trying to glean whatever I could from the patrons. I wondered how long it would take to get into Benoit’s house. We needed to know the numbers—humans and vampires. I wondered if Wells could get me floor plans.
“You’re killing that poor scarecrow.”
Startled, I leapt back from the dummy. “If you keep doing that, I’m going to die of a heart attack,” I complained, putting my hand over my sternum. “Then, where will you be?”
“Sad, I have to say.” Wells strolled over to me. “Irritated at having to deal with your grieving parents, and of course, your boyfriend would want to avenge you.”
I stiffened. “Why do you keep throwing Justin in my face?”
“He gives you his heart and you throw it away.” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against a tree. “It’s so cruel, so vampiric.”
“Cruel? You think I’m cruel?” I barked. “I could tell you about cruel, Wells.” I paced around and landed a roundhouse kick into the dummy. “And how would you know anything about me and Justin?” Then, I remembered the pale spot in the night. “Oh, you creep! You were lurking around out here last night.” I glared at him as if my eyes could burn him as surely as the sun.
He prattled on, ignoring me. “A member of my family, Selene, has been admiring Justin.” The description put me in mind of a work of art or a prized pet. “Perhaps he could join us on our fact-finding missions, as her date. He will feel better if he believes he can protect you.”
Irritated by the things he said, I couldn’t decide which to get angry about first. “Ask him yourself.”
“Don’t snap at me. It’s only a suggestion.”
“I can’t be concerned with feelings,” I shouted. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I flung a stake into the dummy. It struck where the heart would be, if it had one. Wells’ eyebrows went up.
From the back door, my father called, “You must be Leslie Wells. I’ve heard of you.”
“You have?” I turned to my father. “When were you going to share that with me?” I put my fists on my hips, but he gave me a dismissive wave.
Wells, ignoring my interruption, bowed and said, “Mister Rosegarten, the honor is all mine.”
“You are welcome in our house,” my father said, granting Leslie permission to cross our threshold. He gestured for Wells to enter.
“Camellia, are you coming?”
“I think she wants to finish taking out her anger on that poor scarecrow first,” Wells mused as he went inside the house.
My father gave me a questioning look, which I ignored. I already felt as though I was bungling things. Because I couldn’t kick my own ass, I nearly destroyed the dummy.
My work completed, I glanced up to see everyone gathering around the dining room table, humans on one side, Wells on the other, and my parents at opposite ends of the table. Only a vampire would have the guts to sit with his back to a window. As I watched, Wells tucked his hair behind his ear. It was such a human gesture. He wore dark brown pants and a yellow button down—warm, friendly hues. I had no doubt that was on purpose.
Without a sound, another pale figure emerged from the forest. I crouched, stake raised. The vampire held out her hands in a defensive gesture, making her long, black hair swish.
“I’m Selene, of House Wells.” She had an unusual accent, eastern European maybe. “Leslie said to wait out in the woods, but I am curious.” I moved to put myself between her and the house, in case she attacked. “Leslie, show her I mean no ill,” she said toward the window in a voice hardly louder than the one in which she’d spoken to me. I glanced over my shoulder to find him at the back door.
“It’s okay, Camellia,” Wells said. “She’s Selene, the one I told you about.”
My father joined Wells at the back door a few moments later. No one acted upset or tense but me, but then again, I couldn’t see most of the family.
“I’m sorry for intruding.” She bowed her head to him. “I was just too curious, and I see what you mean.” She deliberately turned and looked at me before turning back to him.
“Don’t be sorry,” he said to her. “It would’ve been nice if I could’ve warned them though.” He wasn’t angry with her. Maybe a tad disappointed. He turned sideways in the door to address my father. “Mister Rosegarten, we’ll leave now if you wish.”
“If you wanted us dead, you would’ve killed Camellia two days ago, and we’d all be gone,” my father said.
It sounded cold and callous, but I knew my father only spoke the truth. He went back to the table, and after a beat, Wells followed him.
“What did you mean?” I asked Selene.
“Leslie has an eye for things,” she said absently, her eyes locked on his back. “It will be good for him to have you working with us, but we hope your whole family will agree.” She scanned the scene at the table.
When I understood why, I grumbled a bit then said, “You’re hoping they agree so you can work with Justin.”
“That would be an added bonus. I am fond of him.” She craned her neck to try to locate him at the table.
“You mean you’re fond of how he looks.”
“Well, of course. He has an exceptional body for a male human. He has all that thick, dark hair with those unusual golden brown streaks, and his eyes are stormy gray, but it is more than that. I have heard him and watched him train your people. You are both warriors, yet he is kind.”
When she found Justin where he stood behind Robert, a warm smile spread across her face. I disliked her immediately.
“When you break his heart, and you will,” she said quickly when I tried to interrupt, “I will be there. Don’t be angry, and don’t be afraid for him. You don’t love him, not the way he needs you to. If he wants me, I will.”
She didn’t even know him, and yet she claimed she loved him. It was ridiculous. I wanted to go in and get away from her, to make Justin promise not to get involved with her, but that wasn’t my place. I had no more business telling him how to live his life than he had telling me how to live mine. I needed to keep from getting any more emotionally involved and take steps to reverse any attachment I had to anyone other than my parents.
I was torn between going in to get away from her and staying to make sure she didn’t get up to anything. Then, my father took the decision out of my hands. The door opened again, and he stepped onto the back stoop.
“Selene, you are welcome in our home. Camellia, come on in, too. We’ll need you both.”