Bronte sat in the passenger seat of Carol’s rented Cadillac and stared unseeingly out the window. Her mind went time and again to the last time she saw Cyrus. Carol had shot him in the back twice and she had put a stake in his chest. She had wanted to escape him, and she thought she wanted it back enough to harm him, but sitting there replaying that final scene over and over in her mind she could only feel grief and shock at what had happened.
They had been driving for hours and she had no idea where they were going. She didn’t ask and she didn’t care. Carol had spoken very little since they began to drive away from Cyrus’ house.
“How did you find me?” Bronte turned away from the window and the night beyond to look at Carol in the shadows of the car.
“Seth told me where you were,” she answered simply and did not elaborate.
“How would he know?” she asked.
“Seth is very powerful Bronte,” Carol explained, “There are those who would see Cyrus fall and they tell Seth things.”
Bronte already knew there was some unrest with the vampires. She hoped that Cyrus would see that this was really for the best. If he had taken her back there he would have lost his chance at gathering more power. She wasn’t sure he would want her now even with the promise of power, but she also wasn’t sure what she wanted any more. Everything had seemed very black and white to her at first, but now she just wasn’t sure. She needed to get home, not to Minnesota, but to San Francisco where her parents and Aden were. She needed to clear her head and figure things out.
Looking at Carol it occurred to her that the woman was still seeing Seth. It also occurred to her that Carol was now in danger from both Seth and Cyrus. She hoped that Seth cared enough for Carol to keep her out of Cyrus’ way. He did not look like he would be very forgiving.
“Do you know what Seth is?” she asked. She didn’t think Carol could have been with Seth this long without knowing, but she didn’t want to come right out and ask if she knew Seth was a vampire, or ask her if Seth had been drinking her blood.
“I know what he is,” she said quietly, and when she said there was pleasure in her tone as though the very thought of it excited her.
“What has he done to you Carol?” she asked. Carol looked tired with dark circles around her eyes and her skin was very pale. Bronte was worried for them both.
Carol remained silent for some time and Bronte finally looked back to the night and watched the road signs go by. They were heading east toward the coast.
“He has made me stronger Bronte,” Carol’s voice was velvet soft when she said it and Bronte turned her attention back to her friend. “I am not as he is. He has other needs of me,” she shared. “If I were like him, I could not have come into the house like I did. I would have had to be invited in. And, I would have been under the control of Cyrus if I were like Seth. Fledglings are easily led by the vampire king.”
It was the first time Bronte had heard Carol name what they were alluding to. It was more frightening now, knowing that her friend had been drawn into this grisly horror because she was associated with her. Bronte had always feared such things. Her life could never be like other girls. It was too emerged into the preternatural one. It had only been a matter of time before someone was hurt because of it. Looking at Carol she felt guilty and sad and lonely. She promised herself that she would never again attempt to find friendship with humans who did not understand or could not comprehend her life. They were innocent. She had harmed Carol just as Seth had.
“Where are we going?” Bronte asked finally as they made a turn down a secluded dirt road.
“There’s a plane waiting for us,” Carol told her. An airfield came into view and Bronte felt as though she were having déjà vu. The car stopped and the two women were met by pilot. Bronte hadn’t been able to gather her things so she had no luggage. She followed Carol and boarded the small jet.
It was only she and Carol and the pilot and as Bronte sat down in the plush leather chairs Carol excused herself and went up to speak to the pilot in the cockpit.
Bronte looked around the expensive plane. Her eyes alighted on a phone and she unbuckled and walked over to it. She picked it up and realized she wasn’t sure who she should call. She thought about calling her parents, but the thought of telling her father what had happened with Cyrus terrified her. Cyrus would be weak and would not able to protect himself from her father. Just thinking of what might happen between the two men caused her great alarm and she decided she should not call her parents just yet. Her hand lifted the receiver and her fingers trembled as she dialed the familiar number. Her eyes kept looking toward the cockpit as though she needed to hide the call from Carol. She wasn’t sure why she felt that way, but she did. The phone rang until the message machine picked up. She listened to the sound of the voice giving instructions and felt tears pool in her eyes. Just the sound of him voice made her feel safer.
“Aden, this is Bronte,” she began to leave a message, but was interrupted when Aden picked up the phone.
“Bronte, where are you?” He sounded worried and she felt a tear slip down her cheek. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m not okay Aden,” her voice betrayed her and she could hear the tears there. She longed to go home. She wanted to be surrounded by those people who loved her and would take care of her. Aden had known her since she was a baby. He had been her parent’s friend before she was ever born. He had helped to take care of her as she grew up. He was her family and he would keep her safe. She just had to get to him.
She couldn’t talk for a moment. She was so overwhelmed with everything. As she thought of what she would have to tell him she felt as though she were reliving it. She took in a deep breath and could still hear herself tremble as she let it out.
“I’m on a plane in Virginia. I don’t know where we’re going,” she told him. She should have asked, but she just hadn’t thought of it. Her mind was so confused that it could not pull away from the thought of Cyrus’ bleeding body. “I’m with Carol, but she is under some mind control from a vampire named Seth.” She still did not know Seth’s last name and she felt frustrated with herself for being so inept. “I don’t know his last name. I don’t know where we’re going,” she had started to cry. There was so much important information she didn’t think to get and now that she was about to ask Aden to help her she realized she didn’t have enough information to allow him to do that. “I’m sorry Aden, I don’t know anything.” Her breath hitched and nose began to run.
“Listen to me Bronte,” his voice was velvet soft then and so soothing that it made her cry even more, but she listened. “I will find you. I promise.” He was talking so gently that she felt herself begin to calm down. There was something about Aden that had always made her feel safe and calm. It had nothing to do with being a vampire, or being a witch, and had everything to do with what kind of a man he was. “Tell me what you can,” he said.
“I don’t know how much time I have,” Bronte said as she heard movements coming from the cockpit and wondered what would happen when Carol saw her on the phone. She hoped she was just overreacting because of her recent experience, but she didn’t trust Carol. Carol was under the influence of a powerful vampire that not even the king of vampires would trust. “If we get cut off you can call Cyrus. He might know where they’re taking me,” she said, hoping that Aden would have her father ask Cyrus to help. Her father was a king as well, and Cyrus would be more likely to cooperate if he were asked for help by another king. Of course her father would have to keep from harming Cyrus and that could cause some problems.
“Have you been with Cyrus?” Aden asked incredulously. He was trying to hide his shock, but Bronte heard it before Aden covered up. “And you’re alright?” he asked again.
“I’m alright, but Cyrus had me held prisoner in his house in DC. Carol came to rescue me and shot him, but now I have the feeling that I can’t trust Carol’s intentions.” She left out the part about staking the vampire king in the heart. It wasn’t that she didn’t think Aden deserved to know, she was just too ashamed to tell him what she had done. “I don’t know Aden, but maybe Cyrus is dead. There was a lot of blood,” she said and her true fear was shared and it made it seem more real. She had seen Cyrus standing, but he had not come after them. He looked terrible standing in all that blood. She wanted him to be okay.
“Bronte, you should save your concern for yourself,” Aden advised calmly. “If Cyrus was dead I would have felt it. Any vampire would have. I assure you he is not dead. But, he is in danger should you come to harm. Your father will have to be told.”
“Aden, please just come and get me and let me talk to my father,” she begged. “Do my parents know I am missing?” she asked.
“Your friend Carol was calling in sick for you at the museum, and then called and told your parents that the two of you would be gone for a few weeks working on a project for work,” Aden shared. “Your mother didn’t believe Carol. She said you would never have asked someone else to call for you. She called the museum and found out that the same Carol was calling in sick for you. Your parents are looking for Carol.”
“When did they find this out?” Bronte asked.
“Just today. If Carol hadn’t called they probably would have thought you were enjoying your new job and wouldn’t have thought much about it until you hadn’t called for a couple of weeks.”
Her parents were looking for Carol, but Carol was with Seth. How would they know where to look?
“Bronte, I want you to do something for me,” Aden interrupted her thoughts. “I want you to hang up and call back collect. Can you do that?”
“I’ll call right back,” she said, knowing that he wanted to have the phone number so he could trace the plane. Aden was detective. Aden was a lot of things.
She hung up the phone and then picked it up again. She dialed the numbers for a collect call and when the automated voice asked her to say her name for a recording she whispered it. She had not whispered any of the rest of their conversation and now she was wishing she had. She wasn’t sure how Carol’s hearing was, but if Seth did for Carol what Cyrus had done to her with the giving of his blood, Carol may easily be able to hear everything.
The cockpit door opened as the phone rang to Aden’s house. It was picked up on the first ring, but the automated response was slow in speaking. Carol’s eyes met Bronte’s and Bronte had to force herself to act naturally, as though she had no question as to whether or not she could use the phone. Carol walked quickly to where Bronte was standing with the phone in her hand. Bronte heard Aden answering the automated question, but before she knew it had gone through Carol ripped the phone from her hand and hung it up.
“I’m sorry Bronte, but we are just barrowing the plane, we can’t use the phone,” Carol tried to convince her that it was just a matter of hospitality rules.
“It didn’t go through,” Bronte said as evenly as she could manage.
“I hope not,” Carol told her and her tone was no longer friendly.
Bronte said no more about it hoping that the entire issue with the phone would be forgotten. She did not want to have Seth looking for Aden through the number she left on his phone bill. She went back to her seat and buckled in.
“Carol, where are we going?” she asked as the plane took off.
“To see Seth,” she said blandly as though she were a robot.
“To Minnesota?” Bronte asked, knowing that would be too easy.
“Ireland,” was all Carol said before she reached up and turned off the overhead light signaling to Bronte that she was tired of talking. Carol closed her eyes effectively shutting Bronte out.
Bronte felt the cold seep into her heart. How would Aden find her in Ireland? Her thoughts were in turmoil during the long flight and she was never able to find sleep.
* * *
It was light when they landed in another private airfield. Traveling internationally posed some additional problems. Bronte didn’t have her passport. Private airfield or not, someone was going to want to see some proof of who she was and where she came from.
Carol opened her eyes as they touched down and taxied to a stop near the main building of the small private airport. She got up and began to gather some things that were laying about the plane. She looked to Bronte who had said nothing and considered her for a moment.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Carol surprised her by offering a friendly smile, “but, I went to your apartment and got some of your things. I though you would want some of your own clothes.”
Bronte didn’t ask how Carol had gotten in. It didn’t matter. She smiled at Carol hoping to convince the woman that all was well between them and she thanked her for her thoughtfulness.
They were met by a long black limousine and beautiful blonde driver. No one asked for papers, no one asked for a passport, no one said anything to her at all. Seth had more influence than Bronte had imagined.
Bronte watched the pilot gather suitcases from somewhere off the plane and the female driver helped him load them into the limousine. She curled up on to the far side of the car away from Carol and shut her eyes. She was exhausted. Her head leaned over onto the cool window and she tried to will herself to stay awake and watch where they were going.
Two hours traveling south and Bronte fell to sleep. She did not wake until the stopped for lunch. The driver got out and brought them lunch in the car. Apparently she would not be allowed to leave the car. She took the food and ate some of it. She was not very hungry, but she wanted to keep her strength up. Carol had not spoken to her except to ask her what she wanted for lunch. Bronte continued to watch out the window of the car in silence as they continued their southerly route.
They made their way out into the country and where there were towns and villages along the way there was now nothing but landscape. As the car made its way over a large hill and came down the other side Bronte saw the castle. It wasn’t very big as far as castles went, but it looked strong, sturdy and foreboding. There was nothing around it, no towns, no villages, no people.
It was still daylight out and other than the driver and Carol no one was at the castle to greet visitors. Pulling up in front of the dark castle Bronte could see how tall it was. It was much taller this close up. It was gray and black and made of large square stones. It was very boxy with only a small semi-circular tower that marked it as a castle instead of some large lookout. Bronte knew little of castles, but she felt that this one was very old.
It was not well kept she thought as they got out of the car. Her thoughts were momentarily interrupted by the sudden chill. Bronte was still wearing her clothes from the day before, blood had dried on her chest and her dress afforded her no reprieve from the sudden wind. The cold wind slapped at her exposed flesh and she wrapped her arms about herself trying to hold in what little warmth she had. She grabbed at her dress to hold it down and walked quickly behind Carol as they entered the castle.
Inside the receiving area, once the door was closed behind them, the wind stopped and Bronte stopped fretting with her dress. She couldn’t shake off the chill and continued to embrace herself for warmth. It was dark inside and she did not want to move very far until her eyes adjusted. There was warmth coming from an open doorway to her right and it caused her to look in that direction. As her eyes adjusted she could make out the soft glow of a fire and her cold body insisted she seek it out. She left Carol giving instructions to the driver and walked into the warmer room.
The fireplace was the largest she had ever seen. There was no mantle to speak of only a large opening where large pieces of firewood was stacked and set aflame to warm the relatively large room. She walked toward the fire as though its warmth called to her. She let her arms drop and looked about.
There was a candelabra sitting atop a grand piano to her right. The candles and the fire were the only light. There were tall windows, but heavy curtains shut out the sunlight. The room smelled old, as though some of the furniture, or perhaps the curtains were molding. It was the smell moth balls and cedar, not entirely unpleasant, but it served to tell her that the castle was not frequently occupied. It appeared that someone had taken great pains to clean the room, but there was still dust that clung to the curtains and Bronte could smell it as she walked past them on the way to the fireplace. The room was spacious, but it was busy with a multitude of antiques from different eras spread without any rhyme or reason. There was little thought given to the arrangement of the furniture, and little care given to the cleanliness of the room. Still, there had been some thought to comfort she realized as she looked at the chairs and the sofa nearest the fire. They were modern and completely out of place amongst the other items in the room. They were black leather and plush. It was a matching set of two chairs, an ottoman and the sofa. Bronte walked toward one of the chairs and sat down before the fire.
“Don’t get blood on the chair Bronte,” she heard Carol say from the doorway. She looked around then and Carol stood there as though she thought Bronte was being rude by making herself comfortable. Her hand was at her hip, a stance she had never seen Carol use before. “You need to go to your room and clean up. Seth will want to see you tonight.” Her voice left no question that she was giving a command. Bronte stood reluctant to leave the warmth of the fire and followed Carol upstairs.
The stairs were made of stone and uncarpeted. There were paintings of people along the stairway and Bronte thought that some of them resembled their host. There was a wooden railing that appeared to be fairly new and it kept the left side of the staircase from being dangerously open. As they continued to climb the stairs Bronte looked over the edge and could see more of the first floor of the castle. There were doors left unopened below, and more antiques from various time periods. Although it was dark throughout, she could smell the dust and mold and knew that those areas below were not well taken care of either.
Once at the top of the stairs Carol led her down the right hand corridor and to the first door on her right. Carol pulled out a set of keys that she used to open the door. The thought of locked doors made Bronte cringe inwardly. It was not looking well for her here. She followed Carol into the room to find that it was brightly lit with modern electric lights. There was only the room, no restroom and a small fireplace that had been lit and warmed the room.
The furniture was the same in her room, mismatched and uncared for. She worried about the cleanliness of the linens on the bed and her eyes sought out that particular piece of furniture. The bed looked immaculately clean. The wood smelled of lemons and looked as though someone had oiled it down to shine. It had a heavy head and foot board with intricate and ornate carvings in the dark wood. Bronte walked over to the bed and could smell that the linens had been freshly washed. She could smell the detergent on them. Her eyes caught the pictures engraved on the bed and she felt embarrassed. They were men and women engaged in various sex acts. She looked away toward the fire, not wanting to see if Carol had noticed them too, and not wanting to remark on them.
There were two wing-backed chairs and a small table between them. There was a table next to her bed as well and it held a single small lamp. There were no clocks anywhere to be seen.
“It’s the nicest room here except for the master’s.” Carol invaded her thoughts and added to their confused state. Her voice caused Bronte to look at her and with a mild shock she realized that Carol was jealous of her. Carol was the only person she knew here. She was her only hope and she did not want the woman to despise her over Seth.
“You know that I’m not interested in Seth don’t you Carol?” she asked quietly.
“That’s because you don’t know him,” Carol said as she walked the distance to Bronte and stood in front of her. Her eyes shown with the reflection of the firelight and Carol reached out to caress Bronte’s arm in a slow seductive movement. “He can do things to you,” she began and she stepped even closer to Bronte, “that you could only dream of.”
Bronte didn’t know what to say. She stepped away from Carol, but Carol’s eyes continued to burn into her own. She was no longer sure whether Carol was afraid she would take Seth, or afraid she wouldn’t be invited when it happened.
“I need to clean up,” Bronte said to change the subject, “Where’s a shower?”
The spell was broken and Carol blinked away the look of seduction she had on her face. She shrugged her shoulders, but Bronte wasn’t sure what that meant.
“It is at the end of the hallway to your right,” Carol said. “A bath has been run for you. You need to be ready by sundown.” With that Carol excused herself and left Bronte alone with her thought. A place Bronte did not want to be.
* * *
She felt better after she had showered. She stood in front of a long mirror and stared at her reflection. She looked pale and had dark circles under her eyes. She didn’t look as bad as Carol, but close. Her finger fell to the small pink scar above her breast. It had sealed, but it was still tender to the touch. This time tomorrow it would be gone entirely. Small wounds healed in a matter of hours, but deep ones like the one she inflicted upon herself would take a day or so. She was glad it had sealed though. She did not want to share the smell of her blood with Seth. She would never do anything like that again.
She wrapped a towel around herself and walked to a table that sat next to the sink. She had her clothes and toiletries set out. She readied herself quickly and took her things back with her to her room. There was a window in her room and she walked to it to pull back the curtains and see what kind of a barrier was there. There was nothing. She looked out across the landscape and knew why Seth didn’t need barriers. They were out in the middle of no where and she had no idea where she would go if she did get out. She supposed she could drive until she found a town or village. She wondered how far away the last village she saw was from the castle. She wondered if she would be able to see the lights of the village from her window.
As she looked out over the landscape the shadow of night caressed the land. It traveled across the hills and over large stones that were scattered about everywhere. The sun sunk in the west and her room grew dark behind her. She turned and saw the fire go out in the fireplace. The single light was soft so she turned on the light beside the bed. There was a knock at her door and then the driver from earlier walked in. She had changed and looked like a scullery maid. It was almost comical. Like everything else she had seen there time period was all wrong.
“I’m to take you down to dinner,” she announced very professionally. Bronte nodded and followed her downstairs.
They turned to the left and away from the large room Bronte had entered when they first arrived. That door was now closed and there were several candles lit in the receiving area. The driver turned scullery maid opened a set of ornate double doors and stood to one side to allow Bronte to enter ahead of her.
The table was covered in a white linen cloth and there were three large candelabras spread across it. There was a place setting for two on opposite ends of the table, but Bronte knew that she would be the only one eating at the table. The room was spacious like the other had been, and in the same motif. The dining room looked a little more confused as its furniture clashed in colors and times. There was a long service table against the side of the far wall that looked as though it was used for buffets. Feeling the heat she turned toward the fire and saw the same set up of chairs in front of it. More importantly though, she saw the dark figure of a man outlined against the shadows cast by the firelight. He turned and she stood staring at her handsome host.
“Hello Seth,” she said and stood still as she waited to see what he would do.
“I am glad to see you unharmed,” he said as he left the heat of the fire to walk toward her. He stopped only a few feet away, not wanting to cause her undo alarm. “I feared that we would be too late to save you.”
“Why am I here?” she asked without offering her gratitude for his intervention.
“I offer you my protection,” he said and took a single step closer, “and my hospitality.” He finished and looked down at her from him six foot height. “Let us eat shall we?” he said before she could reply to him comment. He reached out and took her hand. When she resisted he added pressure to her hand, not anything painful, just a note to let her know that she was expected to cooperate.
He led her to her chair at the table and as he sat her down he lifted his hand and brushed back a lock of her hair. It felt very intimate and she turned her face away from him. He walked silently to his seat and when he took it two servants came out.
A glass of red wine was placed before him, but nothing else. A course of several dishes were placed before her and she chose the one she would try. She was very hungry and hoped like hell that Seth had not drugged the food.
She ate slowly as he watched. She needed to know whether or not she was a prisoner and she wasn’t sure how to approach the subject. She didn’t like the silence and thought to break it.
“Where is Carol?” she asked of her absent friend.
“She is resting,” he answered. There was uncomfortable silence for a moment and then he went on. “You have known Carol for a long time have you not?”
Bronte picked up her glass of wine and took a small sip. It was rich and she thought she would need to take care not to drink too much of it. She was not used to drinking alcohol and she would need her wits about her.
“Not really,” she answered honestly. “We were roommates in college for a while, and then we got our own places, but remained in touch with one another. It just happened that we were both taken on at the museum for the summer. We’ve really only known each other for a couple of years.” She sat down the glass and began eating again.
“She is very fond of you,” Seth said.
“She’s my friend,” Bronte replied and her mind saw Carol caressing her arm and it made her feel uncomfortable. She hoped Seth was not going to request that she join he and Carol for the evening.
“Then I’m certain you would not want to see any harm come to her,” he said calmly and it made Bronte’s eyes find his and her heart begin to race. Was he going to threaten Carol to get what he wanted from her? The thought of it made her angry.
“What do you mean by that Seth?” she asked. It was time to put all the cards on the table and see exactly what it was she was in for. “I want you to tell me what I’m really doing here because to be quite honest with you, I don’t need your protection. I would much rather have you offer me a phone instead so I can get home.”
Seth stood and walked quietly down the length of the table until he stood directly in front of her.
“I’m glad we won’t have to play games Bronte,” he began and her heart pounded so loud she could hear it, “I want what Cyrus wanted,” he said and watched her for a reaction. “I need the power that only can be obtained through you. I intend to have it.”
It was said and left for her to absorb. She had traded one prison for another and she felt the hopelessness of it invade her heart. She looked at him and felt no desire at all. She could only feel the coldness creep into her heart as she stared at him.
“I did not give myself to Cyrus and I will not give myself to you,” Bronte told him as she sat her food away from her. “I know that you can’t force this or it won’t work.”
“That may be so,” Seth said, “but whether you give yourself to me or not, you will not be giving yourself to Cyrus, and that may be all I need to have what I want.” His statement chilled her heart and she could say nothing.
“I think it’s time for you to go to bed,” he said, and at his command one of the servants came out and walked toward her. She stood ready to leave with the servant when Seth stepped in front of her for a parting remark. “You may want to lock your door at night,” he said. “The things that roam this castle are the reasons men have nightmares.” He smiled at her then, but it was a clear warning. He did not have to insure her incarceration by locking her in. He would have it so that the things outside her prison were far worse than her loss of freedom.
* * *
Her sleep was constantly interrupted by the unfamiliar sounds of the castle. She had taken Seth’s advice and locked her door, but even that did not make her feel safe as she listened to noises that were seemingly outside her door. Moans and screams came intermittently, but she did not recognize the tone of Seth or Carol.
The most unnerving of all the sounds were the whispers. She could hear them, but could not make out the words. At one point she found herself staring at her bedroom door watching for the door handle to move. The whispers were louder and she could see movement outside the door through the crack at the bottom. The footfalls sounded as though someone was in their stocking feet, or perhaps barefoot as they walked back and forth in front of her bedroom door.
Her adrenaline fed her fear and kept her awake. It wasn’t until the hours had passed that Bronte felt even the traces of sleep creep upon her. Her lids would fall and she would force them open wide as she listened to the sounds of the castle. At some point the exhaustion overcame her and she drifted into a fitful sleep haunted by the images of Seth and Carol and those things that had attacked her outside of the club when she first met Seth.
She wasn’t sure what time it was, but it had to be early afternoon. Her internal clock told her it was time to wake and find food. She got up and wondered if it would be wise to seek out Carol even in the light of day. Although it had to be afternoon and the sun would be high in the cold Irish air it was most likely still very dark within the castle itself. And there were creatures that did not care about the time of day. They were not dependant upon the darkness to do their vicious deeds. She decided to remain within until someone came for her.
The wait was eternal and she was reluctantly grateful when Carol came for and she was allowed to freshen up and use the restroom. As she stepped out of the sanctuary of her bedroom she cautiously scanned the area. She saw no one, but it didn’t mean that no one was there, she just didn’t see them. The whispers belonged to someone, or to something and she doubted that they had simply vanished. She walked to the restroom and locked herself in until she was ready to return to her own room.
When she entered her room Carol was lying a long white gown out on her bed for her. She did not seem to hear Bronte walk in as she stared longingly at the gown. When she turned she looked at Bronte as though she were angry with her, but then the look vanished and was replaced by a smile that did not quite reach her eyes.
“There you are,” she said as though she were looking for Bronte. “Seth has asked that you wear this gown tonight. It is a gift,” she said as though Bronte should be very honored.
Bronte walked to the bed and looked down at the gown. Immediately she hated it. It looked like a wedding gown and as she touched the soft satin she worried about the meaning behind the gift. She knew not to refuse the gift. She was in the same predicament she had been in with Cyrus and she did not want to piss off a host that could kill her without breaking a sweat. Besides, she had the feeling that Seth’s displeasure would result in seeing the whisperers and she did not want that.
Seth was more cunning than any vampire she knew. He insured her need of his protection by surrounding her with fear. It made her hate Seth that he could manipulate her so easily.
“Dress and I will back for you in fifteen minutes,” Carol said and instead of leaving she walked to Bronte and leaned into her so that she could speak in to Bronte’s ear. “Unless you want me to help you undress?” she suggested.
Bronte stepped back and shook her head, not knowing what to say. Being around Carol was becoming more and more uncomfortable. She tried to reason that it wasn’t Carol’s fault, but that did not stop how she felt about what Carol was doing.
“Suit yourself,” she quipped and the left the room.
* * *
Carol sat across from her at dinner, but ate very little. It was still more than what Bronte could eat as she watched the servants bustle about. They were both men in their early twenties. She wasn’t sure if they were vampires or not, but they were something other than human. They were very pale and their eyes were full of small blood vessels that were so compact and numerous as to appear to be bloody. Their hair was tousled and unkempt. They way the two young men looked at each other Bronte felt they might be lovers. They never made eye contact directly with her and she was somewhat grateful for it.
“How was your day?” Seth asked as though he cared. He was not eating and had only the one glass of red wine in front of him. He never drank the wine and Bronte wondered if it was sat there so he would feel that he fit in with his guests.
“There’s too much noise to sleep,” Bronte answered honestly.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, but offered nothing more.
“When are you going to release me?” she asked as she stared at the fish she had been served. She didn’t like fish and Carol knew that. She wondered if it had been served to her because Carol knew that.
“Once I have obtained your power I will release you, so really it is up to you when you are released,” he said.
“Now that is coercion Seth,” Bronte told him, “You know that’s against the rules.” She knew she was courting danger, but she needed some leverage over him.
He looked at her as though she had done something offensive. His eyes fell to Carol and without a word Carol got up and left the room. Both servants disappeared then and Bronte felt the fear rise in her throat.
“Take care little one,” Seth said as his eyes narrowed on her, “if I don’t get your power I will have to ensure that Cyrus does not get it. There are many ways I can ensure Cyrus never gets to have you.”
It was a threat and she understood it clearly. She felt doomed. As long as Seth continued to use trickery and coercion he would not be able to have her power, and if he could not have it he would kill her to keep Cyrus from having it. The whole thought of her predicament made her realize that the fish smelled horrible and her mouth watered from want of throwing up. She pushed the fish away. She would not eat tonight.
“You do not like the fare?” Seth asked sounding concerned. He had just threatened to kill her if she didn’t give herself to him and now he was worried about whether or not she liked her dinner. He was insane she decided.
“I can’t stand fish. The smell is repulsive to me,” she told him.
Without a word a servant came in and took the plate away. She wondered if Seth had a mind link to them or if they were listening at the door.
Seth stood and began walking around the room putting out some of the candles. The light dimmed and it made Bronte very nervous. He walked up behind her and pulled her chair out for her to indicate she was to rise. She could only look up at him and when he offered his hand she took it because she wasn’t sure what he would do if she refused.
He led her to a settee that was cast in shadows and he sat her there. He walked over to put out two more candles and then walked toward the heat.
“It must be devastating to your parents to know that you are not immortal.” Seth stood close to the fireplace with an arm against the mantel as though he would leap inside the fire for its warmth and held his arm there to keep him from doing so. His voice was a powerful tool, deep and rich with such compulsion she wondered if he were aware that he did it. It was like that all the time, and she was grateful that the compulsion did not affect her as it did most mortals. She had Cyrus to thank for that gift, but like all of Cyrus’ gifts there was a price attached, and she doubted she would ever truly thank him for any of them.
“My parents accept me for how I am.” She said with confidence. She remained seated on the settee in the shadows. The heat of the fire didn’t quite reach her there and she felt the coldness of the room settle about her.
Seth turned and pushed himself away from the fireplace, but he did not leave it. The light of the flames threw his face in shadows as he stood with his back to the fireplace. His figure was intimidating even at a distance. There was such power radiating off of him that it stirred the air of the room.
“I am certain that they do.” He agreed. “They seem by all accounts to be loving parents. I am sure that they adore you, and you them.”
She did not answer. If he were trying to gain her favor by learning more about her that way it wasn’t going to work. Cyrus knew more about her than anyone else in her life, and that had not helped him. She could not be won by intimate knowledge of her life. History did not dictate destiny, and the knowledge of history did little to change the outcome of it.
“You would never wish to cause them pain I know.” He said as he took one step forward away from the warmth of the fire. He stopped then as though he did not like the cold of the room and was reluctant to leave the heat.
Bronte would not allow this man to threaten her parents. He could not if he wanted to. Her father was an immortal king and she had no doubt that if he were there Seth would be dead now instead of trying to intimidate her.
“No.” Bronte said with spirit. “I would not wish pain on them. But I am fortunate in that regard.” She leaned forward as though she were imparting a great secret to him. “They’re immortal and little can cause them pain.” She smiled then because she had taken away his weapon. He would not threaten those she loved to get his way. She would not allow it. “So, if you think to win your way by threatening pain to my parents it is not going to work.” There was no doubt now that he understood her meaning.
“I am wounded.” He said as his hand flew to his heart and rested there. “You think that I would threaten your parents with pain?” He asked and then let his hand fall away as he took another step forward. “That was never my intention. I have no quarrel with your parents, nor do I intend to use such tactics. Perhaps you are used to dealing with men who would say anything at all to gain their will.” Another step and she knew he intended to come to her. She leaned back and her heart picked up speed. He stopped as though he felt her unease.
“I only meant that they would be devastated with pain when you died.” He said as he stood there unnaturally still. “No parent wishes to outlive their child. It is not natural to do so.” His voice was soft and he lowered it to whispers of sadness as though the thought itself pained him. “I am told that some parents are so stricken with grief that they go mad, or take their own life. The thought of your death causing such grief must haunt you.” One more step and he was halfway to her now.
Bronte felt confusion and fear at his words. She had never considered it before. Raised amongst immortals there was little cause to speak of death. She knew of it, and had been to the funerals of some of her human and lycanthrope acquaintances, but death was not fearsome in her world, it was barely acknowledged. Had she considered her own mortality and disregarded the consequences of it? Had it even entered her mind? “No” she thought silently to herself. She was young and healthy, strong and healed quickly; she had no cause to consider death. She considered it now.
“Are you going to kill me then? Or threaten me with death?” She asked. Fear betrayed her in her voice as she considered her fate there in the room with the powerful vampire. The coldness was more acute to her senses all of a sudden and she began to shake.
“Of course not,” he assured her. Two more steps in longer strides brought him close enough to feel her doubt. “That is the furthest thing from my mind.”
She didn’t trust him. Her hand felt for her cross necklace and she was reminded that it had been taken away. She was vulnerable and her fear peaked even as she tried to quell it.
“What I am saying to you Bronte is simply that I can help.” He watched her closely, gauging her reaction, finding power in her fear. “I can spare your loved ones so much anguish.”
Bronte didn’t want to listen anymore. The power of his compulsion was stronger than she had imagined, and although she could fight a vampire’s compulsion, she found that she was not completely immune to it. His words had touched upon something that she found hard to put away. She wanted to believe that he was trying to trick her, but there was undeniable truth in what he said. Her death would have a toll on her parents. She had just never considered it before.
Against her better judgment she looked away from him and into the darkness of the room. There were no answers there, but she also did not have to face the vision he was painting for her.
“And how could you help them?” She whispered into the coldness of the shadows. She turned to face his answer and found herself staring into his great dark eyes only inches from her. She gasped in dismay and her eyes locked with his.
He did not touch her, but he was all around her. She felt his heat and the stirring caress of his breath upon her skin. Her heart raced and she felt flush. She could smell his cologne, soft and masculine on his skin. His wide shoulders barred her from looking beyond him so she had no choice but to turn away or face him. Her eyes moved from his shoulders as though they fought her will. They climbed the lines of his neck and followed along the path of his jaw. When they traveled across his handsome features she felt heat that came not from him, or from the fire beyond, but from within her. Her eyes were fastened to his as her question hung in the air between them.
“I could save you from your fate Bronte. From your fragile mortality.” There was light in his eyes and she considered for a moment that it was dark behind her and she wondered where the light came from. He leaned so closely into her that she tried to back away, only to be stopped by the back of the settee. His arms now moved in fluid grace to either side of her shoulders and gripped the back of the antique seat. He was bent over her, looming above her, surrounding her with his power. He looked down upon her upturned face and then lowered his body so that he was on his knees before her, his face level with her own.
His hands still gripped the seat, effectively imprisoning her there. He shoved his body forward forcing her to part her legs and eliciting a gasp of surprise. Her knees now touched either side of his body and the thought of having those legs wrapped around him settled in his mind as he leaned ever closer toward her.
Bronte was overwhelmed by his nearness. Alarm registered in screams inside her mind. She could not look away from those dark eyes and their dancing flames of light. She needed to escape him. His nearness was suffocating her. She no longer wanted to know how he could save her from death. She knew, but it was not salvation he had in mind; it was damnation, and she wanted nothing of it.
“Stop Seth,” she whispered at him. She was breathing hard in her fear. He stopped and leaned away from her to search her eyes.
“Cyrus has done something to you,” he observed. She could only imagine that he knew that because his power of compulsion did not work as he wished. She said nothing and he stood and walked back to the fire. It would appear that Seth also believed in the legend, and he would follow the rules until the rules angered him, and then he would kill her.
“It is time for you to retire,” he said as he stood facing the fire with his back to her.
* * *
Bronte was happy to lock herself inside her room. It was only an illusion of safety, but it was all that could hold her sanity in place. She threw herself across her bed and tried to cry, but the tears would not come. There comes a time when even tears could not salve the horrors of life, and for Bronte, that time was now. She lay on her bed looking up at the ceiling until the house grew dark and quiet. She had left her light off in case someone thought to stop by. She wanted them to think she was resting, but she doubted her need for comfort would really keep anyone from disturbing her.
She still had the remnants of a fire in the hearth and she considered putting a small log there. As she contemplated the need for warmth she heard the whispers begin. They were a confusion of words that made so sense or could not be translated to something Bronte understood. She rolled on to her side and looked at the door. The whisperers were there outside her door walking back and forth, driving her made with there incessant chanting. She stood and walked closer to the door to see if she could decipher what they were saying.
She still wore her shoes and the long white gown and the sound of the moving fabric added to the sounds of the whisperers. It was dark except for the few burning embers of the fire and a slight suggestion of light that cast shadows where the things outside her door moved about. She stopped at the door and leaned her ear against the cold wood. As she did so the whispers stopped abruptly. There was only silence now. Bronte wondered if the whisperers had gone away, but she was too close to the door to see the movement. She slowly lowered herself to floor in an effort to look beneath the door for movement. She was as quiet as she could manage to be in the satin dress as she bent down and rested on her knees. The silence fed her curiosity as the side of her head touched the floor and she peered through the crack at the bottom of the door.
Her scream broke the silence. Another eye on the opposite side of the door looked into her own, but it did not look human. It was bulbous and held in a fleshy face of purple and gray marbled skin. She didn’t see a mouth or nose, only the eye that appeared to protrude from the fleshy tissue and stare at her. The eye was white with many red blood vessels running through it, much like the servants she saw earlier in the evening. The pupil was almost as white as the rest, but held a hint of blue and a pupil that was so tiny as to almost be non-existent. The eye moved and Bronte’s screams increased. She pulled away from the door as a long finger came through the small crack. It was long enough to have three knuckles that she could see, but the crack was too small to allow the entire finger entrance. It was purple and gray marbled as well, with a yellowish fingernail that was dirty and jagged.
Bronte’s mind was full of her own screams. It took a moment for her to realize that the whispers had started again. In between her gasps and screams she heard them.
“See you, see you, see you…” they whispered again and again.
As Bronte backed away from the door the finger disappeared. The whispers turned into something she couldn’t understand again, but they sounded more excited. They were louder and she could hear them moving in front of the door. Her eyes were pulled toward the doorknob that began to move slowly, checking to see that it was locked. Although she had locked it she ran to a chair nearby and shoved it under the doorknob. She heard a whispered snicker from the other side and she back away again.
The whispers began to invade her mind and seemed to grow louder and move about the room itself. She looked in panicked fear, but there was nothing in the room with her. She stood perfectly still in the center of the room to attempt to ascertain what was real and was imagined. She had to calm herself enough to determine whether or not there was a threat from the voices. As she stood facing the door she realized that she heard something coming from behind her. She turned her head very slowly toward the sounds emitting in the direction of the fireplace. The last of the embers glowed red and then orange as they breathed their final life into the fire. Soot fell like tiny snowflakes from high above and the whispers were there. They were coming.
Bronte ran to the fireplace and began to throw kindling on the dieing embers. It wasn’t going to be enough. She glanced about the room looking for something that might ignite the fire faster. There was nothing and she stared back at the wood as is slowly began to smoke. She ran to the table that held her brush and comb and she raked the hair out and ran back to throw it on the fire. It ignited quickly, but went out just as quickly. She blew on the small flames that began to dance along the wood in an attempt to supply the fire with oxygen. It helps, but her breaths were coming too fast as she heard the whisperers coming closer and the soot began to fall in larger flakes. Her entire body was shaking as she stared at the growing flames and wondered if it would be enough. She began to back away from the fireplace. The flames leapt a little higher then and Bronte knew if she put a fire log on it right now it would either spring to life or kill the new flames. She didn’t think the smaller flames would keep the whisperers out and she began to walk toward the logs. In her fear she collapsed and crawled the remaining two feet to the wood. She picked it up and looked again to hearth. She tossed the log on top of the flames and pushed herself away, unable to stand again.
At first the log blanketed the newly formed flames and the room grew dark. Then they sprang to life in full force and Bronte heard the whispered screams of rage as the things inside the fireplace rescinded in defeat.
Bronte couldn’t move. She could only stare at the growing fire. The room grew warm and then hot as she continued to throw logs on the fire all night long. There would be no sleep. There would be no rest. There would be no peace.
* * *
For three days Bronte had the same routine. She was given a white gown to wear to dinner. Seth asked her to give herself to him, and she would refuse. At night the whisperers would come and she would not sleep.
On the fourth day she dressed and went to dinner to find that Carol had joined them. There was no food on the table and Bronte took the seat the servant pulled out for her, but was never served. She thought that perhaps they meant to starve her, but she was having a hard time discerning anything at all without the much needed sleep her body craved.
Seth had his glass of wine, but as usual it was only a prop. Bronte said nothing to either Seth or Carol.
“You don’t look well,” Seth finally said. “Aren’t you resting well?”
Bronte knew he was baiting her. She had no doubt that anything happened in the castle without Seth’s knowledge. She elected not to answer him.
Seth stood and walked the distance to her and pulled her chair out. Carol sat across from her, but made no move. Seth kneeled down in front of her to ensure her undivided attention.
“You can stop all of this easily Bronte,” he told her in soft soothing tones. “I would offer you my protection if you would just give yourself to me willingly.” His hand went to her face, but she pulled away. “You know, I have a special treat for you tonight,” he said as he stood then.
Her eyes followed him as he nodded to Carol. Carol stood and walked to Bronte. The two servants with the disturbing eyes came in as though the entire show was synchronized. They wheeled in a piece of furniture that Bronte could not take her eyes off of. It was made of large wooden beams. It was like a doorway on wheels, but it had chains coming down from the top beam. The servants put the device in front of the fireplace. Seth stood back and Carol reached down and pulled Bronte from the chair. Fear filled her immediately. She looked from Carol’s strong grasp to the device. Carol dragged her to the fireplace and then let her go. Bronte wanted to run from the horrific thing, but she knew it would not be allowed. She stood there waiting to see what they would do next.
To her surprise the servants that approached them walked past her to Carol. They assisted Carol on the slight platform that the wheels of the device road under. Carol said nothing. She put her arms up so that the servants could shackle her, and then they spread her feet and Bronte noticed the shackles there.
Everything was done without any emotion or fanfare. As Bronte stared at the scene in front of her she saw one of the servants take out a small multi-tailed whip. He positioned himself behind Carol and Bronte screamed out as the whip ripped through Carol’s dress and into her soft skin.
Bronte heard the whip come again before she could turn to Seth who was watching with mild interest.
“Stop!” Bronte shouted to Seth. “What are you doing?” She ran to Seth then and as she began to strike his chest he grabbed her and pulled her into his body. Her breath stopped as his face came close to her own as though he would kiss her.
“You can stop this Bronte,” he said little emotion. “Give yourself to me and I will release Carol.” Then he seemed to consider something. “Or, take her place.”
Bronte stared from Seth to Carol and saw the whip come down again. Carol’s back was bloody now and Bronte wondered if whatever Seth had done to her friend would allow her to heal quickly, or if Carol would be scarred forever.
She felt something then. It was similar to something she had felt fleetingly once before with Cyrus. It was feeling her emotions as though they were solid mass. She felt her fear and she pushed it aside as though she could put it into a compartment and take it out later. She moved her head slowly back to Seth.
“I will take her place,” she said quietly.
Seth’s eyes gleamed brightly as though the thought of it excited him as much as sex. He pulled his eyes from hers and nodded to the servants who immediately began to take Carol down. Carol fell in a heap and one of the servants picked her up and moved her body away from the device. She was left on the floor, but Bronte could see that she was breathing.
The other servant came to Bronte to take her arm and force her to the device. Bronte pulled her arm from him and began to walk of her own accord. She stepped upon the platform and allowed the servant to shackle her. She was facing the fireplace and stared directly at the flames. When she heard the first crack of the whip she felt nothing at all.
From her peripheral vision she saw Carol move. The woman stood and her face showed no expression. She walked out of Bronte’s field of vision, but then Bronte heard her voice.
“Give me the whip,” Carol instructed the servant.
The next ten minutes were full of pain and the smell of blood. Bronte never cried out. Tears filled her eyes and spilled over, but not because of the pain, because at that moment she knew Carol could not be saved.
* * *
Her back was on fire and she had lost a good deal of blood. She was thrown unceremoniously into her room and fell forward onto her stomach. She stood as she heard the door shut and walked over to lock it. She saw that there was a strong fire in the heart so she walked then to the window. There was a ledge to it and she sat there with her back close to the window then. It was cold there and it soothed her shredded flesh. She would heal. She could feel the healing already. It would take time, but it would be healed in time for a repeat performance that Seth had promised her at dinnertime tomorrow night.
They offered her food only after they bled her. The pain made her nauseas and she couldn’t eat. Seth acted as though nothing had happened. He remained a gracious host to the end. She never spoke after that. She couldn’t.
Now she cried. There was no one to see it so she did so freely. She wondered how much she would be able to take. She wondered how much longer it would be until she was found. She remained at the window until she had to put a log on the fire. She put two in the hearth although she knew it would make it unbearably hot. She walked to her bed and lay on her stomach there. She heard the whisperers, but tonight she didn’t care. She had removed the fear from herself this night, and she stared at the blazing fire until her eyes could no longer remain fixed there, and she shut them into the darkness that awaited her.
She wasn’t sure how many nights went by just as that one had. Some nights she would force herself to eat after she was beaten, and some nights she just couldn’t do it.
At some point Carol began coming in during the day and giving her assignments. She was turned into a servant like everyone else in the house, but she didn’t care. And each night there was a white satin gown and dinner with Seth. She did as she was told and then she waited for Aden.
* * *
It was evening, but too early for dinner as Bronte cleaned the bathroom near her bedroom. There were sounds in the house that brought her attention from her task. She heard the other servants running down the stairs and it made her stand to look out the door. She stood a little too suddenly and had to grab hold of the sink to keep herself from falling. She was weak. She had little sleep, little food and little hope.
She walked down the hall and to the top of the stairs. She could hear things, but she wasn’t sure what it was. She walked halfway down the stairs and could see that someone had come. The servants were brining in suitcases. Her heart sped as she wondered who the visitor was. Could it be Aden or someone sent by Aden or her father? She walked the remainder of the way down the stairs. No one noticed her. No one ever noticed her. It was forbidden. She stood at the foot of the stairs and then she heard Seth’s voice from outside. It sounded strained. Bronte wanted to see out of the open door, but she couldn’t from her present position, so she moved further into the reception area.
It never occurred to her to try and escape through the open door. It never occurred to her to try and escape anymore at all. Seth had promised that Carol would be punished if in her stead should she try to escape or disobey him in any way. Carol was a monster now, not a vampire, but something just as insidious, but Bronte couldn’t help but believe that it was her fault somehow. If Carol had not been her friend she would not have been turned into a monster. Pain was penance.
Bronte stood back away from all the bustling servants and they came in from outside. She saw a long black limousine in the driveway behind Seth as he walked into the reception area followed by a darkly cloaked figure. The figure was larger than Seth, but not by much and Bronte’s attention was pulled away from it by Seth’s disapproving glare. She backed away from the vampire as though he had burned her with that look. She looked away and wondered if there would be something special done to her tonight for displeasing him.
Seth turned to introduce the new arrival to the servants who had not lined up in the reception area. Carol was not among them and Bronte tried to stay out of the way as introductions were made.
She watched the figure remove his cloak and hand it to the first servant he was introduced to. Her eyes were riveted on him. She wasn’t sure if she should laugh or cry at the irony of it. She had told herself not to get her hopes up for help when she realized someone new was here, but she couldn’t believe that destiny would be so unkind as to send the only other person she could think of who might want her dead as much as Seth.
He moved his head slowly toward her as though he sensed her. His green eyes locked on her form hovering in the shadows. He wondered what she was thinking now. He wondered if she still wanted him dead. He wondered if she preferred Seth’s company. He intended to ask her.
Seth waved his hand from the servants to the guest as though he too were royalty and making an announcement of great significance to the household.
“As all of our homes are your home Cyrus,” Seth said waving his arm about the place, “I welcome you.”
The servants bowed to the dark figure that was the Vampire King.