Broken slants of moonlight patterned Ambrose’s upturned face.
He opened his eyes and looked up at the apple tree’s branches.
But they were only shapes to him.
The leaves shurshurred in the breeze.
But they were only sound.
Ambrose had dreamed of Elsie and only of Elsie. No thunderstorms. No Mark Caten.
Just her and him.
And they were happy. That happiness had felt like dancing in the moonlight and singing loud, noisy songs at the stars. It had felt like something bright and sparkling and delirious, but it had felt like something real. Something he could hold in his bare hands, if he dared to grab onto it.
He raised his hands to eye level and contemplated their emptiness. First Maria. Now Elsie. Am I doomed to lose every woman I love?
But it isn’t my fault.
It’s Mark Caten’s fault.
It’s Elsie’s fault.
It’s Jane’s fault.
They’re all to blame. I didn’t do anything wrong! It isn’t my fault. It isn’t. It isn’t!
But what can I do about it? Nothing. I can’t go back. She’ll stake me if I go back. So, fine. I won’t. If she wants me to stay away, fine. I’ll show her. I’ll stay away. I’ll move on.
He crawled out from under the tree and stood – tall, proud, and defiant. The day exhaustion was gone. “I’m free. I can go wherever I want and bite anyone I want. No one will stop me. Elsie won’t.”
And one day, the pain I feel when I think of her or say her name…It will be gone. Then, I will truly be free.
His stomach growled and Ambrose smiled. “It’s time to hunt.”
“I should be hunting.”
“Hildreth Mayhew is covering your watch, Mistress. You need to relax and heal.”
Elsie looked out her window. But she didn’t look at the moon or the stars. “Where did Ambrose go?”
“He ran deep into the woods. I couldn’t catch up to him.”
She sighed. I hope he’s all right. But…no. I don’t care. After what he did to me and Jane, I don’t care. I don’t. I don’t! “Do you think he’ll come back?”
Ephrem didn’t reply.
She looked back at him. “Do you?”
“It’s hard to say, Mistress. Vampires are nothing like gargoyles. Their minds don’t follow clean paths. They follow broken, jagged lines, as animals do.”
She shivered. “Do you think he’ll come back to change me?”
“If he tries, I will stop him.”
“You mean, you’ll stake him.”
“If I must to keep you and Lady Jane safe, I will.”
She turned and looked up at the moon. “Go back to Jane. I’m fine. I’ll be going to bed soon.”
“And you won’t…”
She smiled, but it wasn’t happy. “I won’t go hunting. I promise.”
“Very well, Mistress. Good night.” He left the room.
If Ambrose comes back…No. He won’t come back.
Her chest hurt.
I know he won’t. And what does it matter if he doesn’t? It doesn’t matter. It’s all for the best if he stays away. I hope he stays away. I hope he doesn’t come back.
She closed her eyes and tried to regain her composure. But the pain was too strong. Tears fell down her face. If he stays away, I’ll be fine. I’ll be able to put him out of my mind. I’ll forget him.
I’ll be able to move on.