Raven put the piece of paper into his pocket and left the pub.
He looked up at the night sky.
A flock of Collectors flew overhead.
Please be safe. I cannot bear to lose either of you.
Ambrose followed Barbara to the doorway and watched her leave with Sarah.
And she’s leaving me again.
I want to go with her.
I want to be with her.
She reached the end of the hall and turned right.
He leaned his head against the door frame.
I want you.
A memory slipped in, rushed in to his mind before he could chase it away.
Ambrose stood in the barn, rubbing his horse down.
“I saw her again today, Brenna.”
The horse bumped his shoulder with her nose.
“I was in town. I cannot even remember whatever for. I saw her. Rebecca, Anna’s sister. She is lovely beyond compare.” He smiled as he rubbed the towel against Brenna’s neck. “She tries so hard to keep her hair in order. Yet, it always springs and spirals out of control, especially when the day is hot. I love the delirious disorder of it. I want to touch her hair and twirl it around my fingers.”
The horse snorted at that and swished her tail.
“If she would only look my way and see me. If I could only make her smile. If I could make her happy, that would the greatest thing. I love her. I desire her more than I have ever desired any other woman. Could she ever feel the same for me? Is it possible?”
He bowed his head as he tended to his horse’s flank.
“If she asked me to, I would yield. I would surrender myself to her. Surrender myself completely. I want her. I want Rebecca to love me as I love her. Am I longing for too much? Am I pining for the impossible?”
Someone touched his shoulder, drawing Ambrose out of his memory.
Jeff stood beside him with a sad sort of smile on his face. “It’s amazing how the women we love can take hold of us. Especially when they are no longer there.”
Ambrose thought about all of the women who had entered and left his life: Anna, Rebecca, Maria, Elsie, and those he had tried to hold on to by changing them.
His heart ached at the memories that stirred with each name. Even Barbara’s. “They do. They all do.”
Elsie punched the vampire so hard his fangs vibrated. He put his hand to his mouth and backed away from her. He side-glanced at his victim who was trying to crawl away.
“Don’t even try, bub.” Elsie launched into another attack.
He tried to fight back, but she quickly overpowered him. He stumbled backwards and tumbled over a wooden crate. He fell hard on his back.
Elsie swooped down at him with her stake in her hand.
“You really are as ruthless as they say, Marauder.”
“I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but—” She staked him. “—I see no reason to prove them wrong.”
Hildreth ran into the alley. “Els! You okay?”
She attached the tracker button to the dead vampire. “I’m fine.”
He walked over to her and checked her neck.
“Hildreth, trust me. I’m fine.”
His fingers moved over the white cyst-like marks on her neck.
“That’s an old one. Don’t worry about it.”
He went down on his knees.
“Hildreth. It’s okay.”
He shook his head. “When I thought that you were a vampire, I wanted you to bite me. But I was terrified. I kept seeing Master Initskay all huddled up in a corner, trying to gouge lines in his arm. I don’t want to become like that.”
“It won’t happen. Not to you or to me.”
“It might. Els. Promise me. If I am changed—”
“Listen to me. If I am changed, don’t. Don’t offer yourself to me. Just stake me.”
“Hildreth, we’ve been over this.”
“I know. But I want you to understand…That this is what I want. Would you do it? Do it for me?”
Her gaze traveled down his head to his chest to his legs. She drank in every detail.
The fall of his hair.
The color and shape of his eyes.
The shape of his mouth.
The exact color of his lips.
The broadness of his shoulders.
The shape of his chest.
The width of his waist.
Her gaze loitered a little too long on his lap.
But Hildreth is more than all of these externals.
He is loving.
He is a good man.
He will be a wonderful father. I know it. I just do.
“Hildreth, if I had to stake you.”
He held his breath.
Is he anticipating my answer or dreading it?
If I had to stake him.
This man I love.
She leaned her head against his chest and listened to the safe comfort of his heartbeat.
“Would you do it, Els?” His voice was a warm echo inside of him. “Would you do it for me?”
She spread her hand on his chest and whispered, “Yes.”