Ambrose followed him into the empty dining room.
“Please, sir. Have a seat.”
He sat on a spectacularly lumpy Queen Anne’s chair at the dining table. “So. Tell me.”
Raven sat across from him and steepled his gloved hands, which he stared at for far too many minutes. “My name is Raven, but that is not my true name.”
Ambrose fidgeted, but that didn’t make the seat any more comfortable. “You don’t have to tell me your true name. That is part of your past and your own business. I go by my true name, because someone else had chosen my vampire name for me and I hate it. I have always hated it.”
He spread his hands on the table. “I understand, sir. Raven is the name I gave myself after I was changed. Before the change, I was the butler of this fine house, this beautiful house. I loved it here. I still do.”
“Raven. Your past is yours alone to keep and to remember. You shouldn’t share something so personal with just anyone.”
“I am aware of that, sir, and I do appreciate your concern.” He sighed softly and rose from his seat.
If it’s as uncomfortable as mine, I can’t blame him for getting up.
Raven strolled into the kitchen area and pulled a glass out of the nearest cabinet. “It was different then. I had the family then.” He filled the glass with faucet water. “The Lord and Lady Farlington, their three daughters, two spaniels, and my crew of servants.”
He took his good old time watering the tangled mess of potted ivy on the windowsill above the sink. “The Farlingtons threw a grand party for their oldest daughter’s birthday. Her name was May Rose. May Rose Farlington and she was lovely.” He stopped and gazed out the window. “But,” he said softly. “I knew my place. I was the butler and she was high above my station.”
Ambrose felt queasy as he guessed the end of the story.
Raven cleared his throat and resumed watering the ivy. “It was a glorious event. I still remember. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can still hear it and smell it in the air. All of the correct people were in attendance. All of the people who truly mattered in society were there.”
Ambrose watched him water and water and water the poor potted plant. The ivy must be half-drowned by now.
“Night fell and still the party continued. I went inside to refresh the lemonade carafe.” He set the cup in the sink. “I found a woman in the parlor. I remember her.” Something in his posture tightened up. “Marigold hair. Black licorice colored eyes. A yellow dress that hugged every curve. I still remember the sound of her voice.”
He flinched as if remembering a bad pain. “She changed me. And my life changed completely. I stayed here, of course. This was my home and the Farlingtons were my family, no matter how much I may have changed.”
Ambrose fidgeted again, but it still didn’t help. He gave up on trying to find a comfortable spot on the chair and stood. He considered smashing it to bits.
Raven turned to face him. “I am…I was the Farlingtons’ butler. I knew my place. Even in my changed life, I knew that there were lines I dared not cross. I never bit any of them. Not even her.”
He thought about Elsie and how close he came to changing her. “How did you resist?”
“It was not easy. It was never easy, but I loved them. I did not want to hurt them. I did not want to betray their trust in me. So, I kept my secret well.” Hurt came into his red eyes. “And they all died. Each in their turn. They all left me. Including her. As May Rose Farlington lay dying, I gave it a thought and I came so close to giving in. But I let her go. I knew I had to.”
I couldn’t. I would have changed her. But would it have been right?
“For one hundred years, I lived here completely alone. I could not abandon it. Looters and unsavory lowlifes would surely come and tear her into ruin. I could not bear the thought of her home being destroyed. So, I stayed and I kept her home safe and their memories alive. But I was lonely. The loneliness touched me and prodded me to find a companion. I met one. Vincenzo.” He smiled. “And he was the worst vampire the world has ever known. I had never seen such incompetence from a vampire before. I took him in to help him, to protect him, to keep him safe.”
His smile fell. “He was staked by a hunter named Arlington Folks. The loss grieved me, but I knew there had to be more like Vincenzo out there. Vampires who needed a shelter to hide, to be cared for, to just be. So, I created this club.”
His smile returned – like the sun breaking through the clouds. “And here we are now, sir.”