Hildreth walked over to the kitchen table and sat down. He stared at the phone in his hand.
Tell Elsie to kill Ambrose.
She’d stake him.
He’d be dead for good.
That’s what I want.
I want that vampire gone.
I want him to be staked.
But I don’t want her to go anywhere near him. He’ll hurt her. He did before. He’ll change her. He tried before. Nothing has changed. That monster will never change.
He will always try to seduce her, to hurt her, to change her, to lure her away. It’s in his nature. I don’t want him to touch her ever again.
What if I forget to tell her? What if I disregard Caten’s message? She’d never know. But that vampire will always be there, lurking in the background, always waiting to rush forward to steal her away. I will live in constant dread of him coming back, of seeing his face outside our door. Of finding him in our room. Of finding him with his fangs in her neck.
I can’t live with that uncertainty.
But what if I do tell her? What if she sees him again and…
The scene in the restaurant played in his head.
What if she can’t resist him?
What if she goes back to him?
But I shouldn’t doubt her. I should trust her.
I do. But I don’t trust him.
I will never trust that vampire.
The phone fell from his hand as the solution occurred to him.
What if I do it?
Am I that nuts? He’s beaten me before. If I go anywhere near him, he will kill me.
Hildreth shuddered. He’ll change me.
But it’s the only solution.
It’s the right solution.
What else can I do?
He went into her call history.
He highlighted Mark Caten’s number and pressed call.
He waited and waited.
“Caten. This is Mayhew.”
“Is Elsie there now?”
“No. I have a proposition.”
“Does this involve Elsie getting my message?”
“Good-bye.” He ended the call.
Hildreth gaped at the cell phone. What the…?
He called him back.
“Look. I know you don’t have any confidence in my abilities.”
“Oh, look. The low-ranking hunter is making an understatement. How cute and precious and daaarling.”
Hildreth sighed. “Could you please shut up and listen?”
“Oh, you want me to shut up? Fine.” He ended the call.
“For goodness’ sakes!” He called him again.
“Look. I know you’re mad. I know you’re hurting. But can you just stop being a jerk for fifteen minutes?”
“I am never a jerk.”
“Really? Maybe you don’t know what that word means.”
“Maybe you don’t.”
This conversation’s going nowhere too fast. “Okay. I’m sorry. But can you please listen to me? I have a proposition.”
Long, long pause. “I’m listening.”
“I know you want Elsie to handle this Ambrose Smith situation.” He paused. “I’ll do it. I’ll stake him for you.”
Mark Caten scoffed. “Oh, you’ll do it. You’ll take care of it for me. Oh, of course you will. And he’ll slip right through your klutzy fat fingers again.”
“He won’t. Believe me. I won’t let him get away this time. I will do my job. I will stake him.”
“I don’t believe you. I don’t trust you. I think you’re an utter fraud and waste of space. I would recommend you going into another field of work, but I can’t even imagine what kind of job you’d qualify for. You’d fail at doing something as simple as painting a wall.”
Hildreth waited a few minutes. “Sir, I realize you’re just lashing out.”
“I am not lashing out. I’m venting. I’ve wanted to tell you this for some time now.”
Hildreth’s face grew warm with anger. What a jerk faced…But he’s right. “You’re right, sir. Not necessarily in what you’re saying. Everything you’re saying is all wrong. But you’re right to be angry at me. I’m a trained hunter. I shouldn’t have let my guard down around that vampire. I shouldn’t have let him escape, certainly not that easily. Please, sir. Give me this chance to prove my worth.”
“If you fail—”
“If I fail, I’ll be either dead or changed. Believe me. I will not fail. Not this time.”
“You sound confident.”
“I am.” I’m not. I’m not confident at all.
“How do I know this isn’t a display of fine bravado?”
“Because it isn’t.” It is. “That vampire needs to be staked. He deserves it.”
Deliberately long pause.
Hildreth rose from his seat and entered the living room.
He looked at her sleeping still, so peacefully. “I need to do this.” He said it more to himself than to anyone else. “I need to protect her from that vampire. I need to keep him from ever returning to her life. I need…” He smiled slightly. Is that what it’s been all along? This feeling deep inside? Is it need? I need her? Is that it?
His smile grew. Yes. I need her in my life. I need to be the one she hugs and whispers Good morning to. I need to be the one she argues with about grocery bills and the price of ham and…”I’m sorry, Caten. I need to call you back.” He ended the call and came over to her.
She had stretched into a more comfortable position, which left him without a spot on the couch.
He knelt before her face.
In one month, we’ll be standing side by side. Me in my tuxedo. Her in her dress. We’ll say those vows that will bind us as husband and wife. Then…
He kissed her forehead.
“Mmm.” She sighed. “You’re kissing the wrong spot. Just so you know.” She opened her eyes and smiled at him.
She curled her fingers into his hair and gently pulled him down into a kiss.
He wrapped his arms around her and returned kiss for kiss.
And the phone rang.
“Mmm. Ignore it.”
The phone kept ringing.
“I would, but I…I think I know who this is. I’ll be right back.”
He disentangled himself from Elsie and returned to the kitchen. “Hello?”
“Do you think you can stake Ambrosia?”
He thought about Elsie. “I know I can. But, if I may, can I wait a couple of months?”
“I want it done now.”
“I’m aware of that, sir. But I’m getting married next month.” He paused. “I would like to actually marry her.”
“What? Do you think you’re going to fail?”
“No. But I would like a couple of months just in case I do.”
Mark Caten sighed loud into the phone. “Fine. As long as the job gets done.”
“It will, sir.”