Barbara poked his shoulder until he finally woke up.
“What do you mean you have to leave? Why?”
He closed his eyes.
“Hey!” She poked him even harder.
“Ambrose. Look at me.”
He managed to open his eyes to half-mast.
“Why do you have to leave? Is this because of Kevin?”
“Ugh, no. tired. later.”
“No. I want to talk now.”
He bleared irritation at her.
“Please. Just explain. You don’t have to go into long details. Summarize all you want. Just tell me why.”
“I want to go home.” He closed his eyes. “I’ve been away for far too long. I need…I need to pay my respects.”
“Can I come with you?”
He didn’t respond right away.
She was all ready to poke him again, but he opened his eyes and said, “It’s best if you don’t. I don’t know how I’m going to react to that place. It might trigger some violent outburst or…I don’t even know what.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt.” He struggled up into a sit. “I don’t want to hurt you ever again.”
“But to go there alone…”
“I have to. I’m sorry.”
“But why now? Can’t it wait?”
“It has waited. For too many years, my family’s home has waited for me to return. I know they aren’t there. They’re all gone. But I feel this need to go back. I can’t explain it. I know I need to do this alone.”
She bowed her head and contemplated the floral design on the blanket.
“I will return.” He kissed her forehead.
She looked up at him.
“I promise I will.”
Elsie stared at him in wordless shock.
“I’m not going to go that far. Just to Master Shinowa’s place.”
“Why?” She managed to make that one word sound like an accusation.
“My misadventure with that vampire last night…It got me thinking that I need more training.”
“Hildreth. She caught you unawares. There’s no training in the world that can prepare you for that sort of thing. It just happens.”
He thought of Ambrose and shuddered. “I don’t want it to happen again.”
“Okay. Fine. I’ll come with you.”
She flinched as if he’d slapped her.
“I’m sorry. Just no. This is something…” I can’t tell her. I can’t even hint. “This is something I need to do alone.”
“I…” He shrugged. “He and I are going to indulge in man talk.”
Her mouth dropped open. “What? About me?”
The expression on her face made him stop.
“No. Not you.”
“Elsie. It’s man talk. It’s…” Lies upon lies upon lies. If she finds out, will she be able to forgive me? “It isn’t about women. It’s…personal.”
It’s about you and me. It’s about protecting you. It’s about me defeating your demon for you. “It’s something I’m not comfortable discussing with you.”
He sighed. “Why are you making this so difficult for me?”
“If you would just be honest—”
“I am!” I’m not. I’m lying. I’m a liar. She can see right through me. “I can’t explain.” At least that’s true. “I will say this much: It’s regarding a job I’ve been asked to handle.” Complete truth.
“Could you be a little more vague?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t say more than that.”
I want to protect you. I want to know that I can beat him. I want to face him knowing that I won’t lose. I won’t be caught off guard. I will stake him.
He looked out at the lake. “I wish this were a summer day. Birds would be singing. The swans and herons would be out in the lake. The rain would be warm and comforting. Everything would be green and alive.”
She wrapped her arms around his waist.
He closed his eyes and leaned back against her. “I will come back. I promise.”