As Hildreth looked down at the dead werewolves, he realized that his apology was more than three empty words.
It was inadequate.
Their loved ones will never know what happened to them. Maybe they will suspect. Maybe they’ll full out guess. But they will never know.
And it will always haunt them.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could say more than that. I wish I could do more. But I can’t. I don’t even know who you were. I’m sorry.”
It still felt vastly inadequate to him.
He knelt on one knee and whispered a soft prayer for the dead werewolves and for their families.
That felt better.
Hildreth stood. He raised his penlight and surveyed his surroundings. It didn’t do any good, though. No matter which way he turned, it all looked the same.
There was only one choice: random guess. So, that’s what he did. He chose a random direction and started walking.
Surprisingly enough, that worked.
After a whole lot of walking, of course.
Hildreth stepped through the long grasses into a large clearing.
A castle, complete with turrets and a moat, stretched wide-elbowed across the clearing.
But Elsie was nowhere in sight.
Hildreth ran across the lowered drawbridge. The front door was ajar. He pushed it open and went inside.
He tightened his grip on his penlight as he walked down the long foyer. I was out there for so long. At least, it felt like a really long time.
What if she’s dead?
What if he’s changed her?
What if I have to kill her?
What if she’s given him permission to change her?
What if she’s dropped all of her defenses and she’s given herself to him?
What if she tells me to go away?
What will I do?
He reached the end of the foyer. The black and gold marble staircase loomed about thirty-five paces to his left.
A woman sang, “They say that falling in love is wonderful. It’s wonderful. So they say.” Her voice had a sweet folksiness to it.
He followed the voice around the corner into the kitchen.
“It’s wonderful. So they tell me.”
He entered the kitchen.
And Elsie was there, washing the kitchen table with a dishrag.
“I can’t recall who said it. I know I never read it. I only know they…” She looked up. “Oh. Hildreth.” She smiled.
He could have sworn that his heart melted. “Are you all right?”
She looked down at the table.
He walked over to her side. “Elsie, are you all right?”
“He isn’t here.” Elsie gently scrubbed at a unknown blue stain. “I’m sure he’s out hunting.” She stopped scrubbing, but she kept her gaze down. ” I should be hunting. I shouldn’t be here.”
She looked up at him.
“But you’re right. You need to do this, for your own sanity and peace of mind. See him. Ask him your questions.” He smiled. “I’ll hold his arms and you punch him until he talks.”
“And don’t worry about him not being here. This is his home. He’ll be back in the morning. We’ll come back and—”
“Couldn’t we just stay instead?”
“No. That would be pushing our luck.”
“I don’t want to miss him. Please.”
“No. The thought of staying in a vampire’s lair…It’s something I have nightmares about. Let’s go back to town.”
“Elsie. Please be reasonable.”
“I am being reasonable. You aren’t.”
“I’m not? Huh.” He frowned. “Is this what it’s going to be like when that vampire finally decides to grace us with his presence? Will I have to carry you over my shoulder just to get you away from him?”
She slapped his face with the wet towel. “I am not yours to haul around.”
He turned and walked away from her.
“Where are you going?”
“What does it matter?” He walked hard and fast to the front door.
“Hildreth! Wait.” She ran up to him. “You said we could just be friends. Why can’t we just be friends?”
“Why can’t you and that vampire ‘just be friends’?”
“That isn’t fair.”
His shoulders slumped. “I’m being mean and spiteful, aren’t I?”
She didn’t reply.
“But I can’t help it.” He turned around and hugged her. “I lost you out there.”
Her rigidness softened in his embrace.
“I thought you were hurt. I thought you were dead. I thought…” He took a breath and exhaled it in a shaky sigh. “I thought…”
She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him.
He very gladly kissed her in return. It wasn’t a long kiss nor a wildly passionate one. But it felt just right.
Hildreth smiled at her. “Fine. We’ll stay.”