There was no electricity in this house so once the battery died, it was over. Melinda had been calling Chuck from Lilith’s phone on and off for most of the night, redialling after every drop, hampered as she was by the poor signal.
Lilith had busied herself, while she awaited Caleb’s return, by seeing to the prisoner. She had tried to wind the clock back on Danny’s memory, but couldn’t get further than a few hours. Fatigued, she’d accepted that she’d have to release the boy into the wild when they fled and hope that his memory was patchy enough to not incriminate her.
She wandered the house looking for April, trying to avoid the plethora of items that reminded her of wasted efforts and empty promises, and found the girl in Caleb’s room, staring out absently over the lake.
Lilith was quite accustomed to being unable to hear the stream of thoughts from her fellow vampires, but April unsettled her.
There had been a time when Lilith had been able to hear both Caleb’s perceptual thinking and Seth’s over-analytical musings, so she knew how their minds worked even if she could no longer read them. There was not a note to be heard from the girl since the completion of the binding and, with hindsight, Lilith had to wonder exactly how much of what she had been able to hear prior to that was actually April.
The spoiled, rich, manipulative brat that had she believed April to be was not who was now standing before her.
Gone was the stubborn, stroppy, selfish girl. This April was softly-spoken, suggestible and irritatingly sprightly. It had Lilith wondering, not for the first time, exactly how much Caleb had actually changed in these recent weeks and how deep those changes were.
She knew how binding worked; she always likened it to being one entity with two shells. Unforced, the bound pair would settle to be almost identical; undefined, impossible to determine where one ended and the other began.
But of course, most of the society vampires with their egocentrism and devotion to the cause did not take a bind, and all her drawbacks, for company or in the pursuit of a tepid middle ground.
Lilith’s own parents were a perfect example. Her mother, Charlotte, had once been a feisty human; a swindler with a temper as sharp as her wit. A million miles from how Lilith remembered her, as the helpless husk, robbed her her spirit and forced into a life of servitude by her own husband.
Silas, who had been heavily ridiculed and dubbed the ‘mortal-loving milksop’ before his binding, became a force to be reckoned with following his treatment of Charlotte.
Remembering this always made Lilith feel five degrees colder, never more so than now. If April was presenting this level of softness and the likes of empathy and introspection, which were not traits Caleb had ever organically had, but ones he had always claimed he’d wanted, he was clearly not taking the ‘neutral’ option.
Where was he? And, worse, what the hell was he doing to tip the scale?
“The sun is up,” April said quietly, stirring Lilith from her thoughts. “Maybe he’s not coming back.”
Lilith could not acknowledge this possibility. She took a seat on the bed and waved April over. The girl took one long final glance out of the window before joining her.
“How are you feeling?” Lilith asked, more as a gauge than a genuine concern. “How is the sickness?”
“Better,” April mumbled, fumbling with her skirt, something she clearly did often judging by the state of the stitching and the looseness of the button she was toying with. “I feel much less nausea today, but my head sure hurts a lot.” She gently chewed her lip and looked at the floor, before glancing back up to Lilith, shyly. “If he’s dead,” she whispered, “will that undo his commands?”
Lilith had been waiting until Caleb’s return before she started explaining the full horror and the intricacies of the vampire ‘marriage’ the pair had unwittingly found themselves in. She still hadn’t ruled out removing her brother’s head in order to rectify the situation, so April’s question floored her.
She blinked, keeping her icy composure. “Commands?”
“Yes,” April confirmed. “He makes me do things I don’t want to and I can’t say no. Melinda said that he told her that he’d turned me the wrong way and he now controls me. Does he?”
Lilith could have lied and given the blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl some sweetened hope to keep her optimistic and fighting, but it suddenly struck her; reassurance wasn’t what April was asking for. Her question, asked with a overly casual, ‘hey-ho’ air, told Lilith more than any unconscious stream of April’s thought could.
This girl was used to mistreatment; so accustomed to being supressed and side-lined that confirmation it was happening again would be a non-event; an additional pin through her already tattered butterfly wings.
Lilith understood that. She had lived that.
“Yes, he does control you,” Lilith said, watching carefully as April nodded, her reaction as expected; nothing. “What sort of commands has he given you, April?”
Lilith hoped for something tangible, something they could test to check if Caleb was still kicking. But as it was her brother they were discussing, and he was evidently slipping back to how he used to be, Lilith had an inkling what kind of demands April had received.
“He told me that I wasn’t allowed to kiss anyone else. He tells me to be quiet and to come upstairs,” April answered, finally fiddling her skirt button free of its weathered thread. “Oh dear, now I have to learn to sew.”
“Do you want to kiss anyone else?” Lilith asked, pondering the implications of testing this command.
April pouted and turned away; her voice so quiet that a human wouldn’t have heard her, “Sometimes I want to kiss Melinda. I know I shouldn’t.”
Lilith thought for a moment before she carefully asked, “Do you ever want to kiss Caleb?”
“Sometimes,” came the hushed response, her final word barely there, “Less.”
“I see,” Lilith uttered. “April, do you simply want to kiss everyone? Do you want to kiss me?”
“Goodness, no!” April squirmed and Lilith nodded, relieved that she didn’t have to test that particular command.
Clearly Caleb had only given April petty, self-serving instruction and there was nothing to test his hold on the girl. Lilith was about to give up when April cleared her throat. “He gave me one big, scary command, Lilith; he told me I wasn’t to leave this house without him.”
It was an awful thing to prevent her doing and yet, knowing her brother had housebound his bind brightened Lilith like a bulb. This was testable.
“Can you disobey?” she asked. “If I asked you to, say, go out to the well, right now – could you? Can you try?”
April tilted her head, perplexed, but quickly cottoned on to what Lilith was suggesting. She rose to her feet but that was as far as she got before being drawn back to the bed like a magnet. “No, I can’t.”
“Why not?” Lilith challenged. “You’re nowhere near the front door. Walk to the front door.”
“I can’t!” April whispered excitedly. She turned to Lilith, beaming. “He’s not dead!”
“No,” Lilith replied. “Appears he’s not.”
April sat back on the bed, clearly deep in thought. “Lilith,” she began. “What happens if he’s alive, but he just doesn’t come back? Will I be stuck in this house forever?”
It was a good question and Lilith did not know the answer. To her knowledge, a sire had never, willingly, left his bind permanently. Not while he had a head, anyway. Whether they saw them as a genuine partner, an investment or purely a dumping ground, the sire was always compelled to return, eventually.
“He will come back,” Lilith assured her. “He’s probably on his way right now.”
“How are you doing?” Wyatt asked.
His buddy responded with a groan and Wyatt nodded. “Yeah. Me too. For someone so young, you really know how to party,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone drink Roxie under the table before; she could barely say goodbye. Where did you learn to neck booze like that?”
Thor shrugged but offered no further response. It seemed that they were back to the one-sided conversation scenario. Wyatt tried again, hoping that the gleeful, interesting side of Thor was not simply a result of the intoxicants. “Wanna come back to mine? It’s only a few streets away. We can chill in my room, play some games. I can whip up something to sort that head out, too.”
“I’d better get back home,” Thor muttered. “Another time, maybe.”
“Where is home?” Wyatt asked, eking out the conversation. “Do you, like, live with your folks? Hey, did you let them know where you were?”
Thor smiled and shook his head. “I live with my wife and her friends. But we’ll have our own place soon.”
“Wha?” Wyatt breathed. “You actually have a wife? I thought that was the tea talking.”
“No, she’s real,” Thor said. “I’m not so sure that the elk was, though.”
Wyatt was a laid-back guy, but the casual way Thor was talking about his life partner, paired with his actions the previous night, rubbed Wyatt the wrong way. “Do you guys have, like, an open relationship or something? You both see other people?” he asked, hoping this was the case.
“No,” Thor replied.
“So… you’ve just outright cheated on your wife with Roxie?” Wyatt asked, still hoping he was misunderstanding something. If Thor would have just looked horrified or guilty, started justifying himself or shown any emotion akin to remorse for Wyatt to hitch his compassion on, his blood might not have been boiling.
“Cold,” Wyatt muttered after a lengthy silence. “Why do I get the feeling it’s not the first time you’ve done that to her?”
Wyatt clenched his fist, feeling the excessive heat in his palm as his emotions started to get the better of him. “Dude, what is that face?” he asked, through gritted teeth. “Are you bragging? Because if you are, I’m so not impressed. If you wanna sleep around, whatever, but don’t do it while you’re in a relationship. That’s such a crappy thing to do, dude. Seriously crappy.”
For a moment, Wyatt thought his words had resonated. Thor ran his hand through hair and looked pained. “You don’t understand,” he muttered. Was he slurring? “She and I… we…”
“You and her… what?” Wyatt asked, his patience wearing thin as Thor fell silent again, remaining upright for a single heartbeat before his knees gave way beneath him.
“Thor!” Wyatt called, alarm overtaking anger as the younger guy’s legs slid akimbo. Wyatt somehow managing to wedge himself under Thor’s dead weight in time to prevent his face hitting the road. “Dude! Can you hear me?”
Woah, this guy must be all muscle; his body felt taut and firm like a rock and he weighed a ton. Wyatt tried not to focus on the sudden desire he had to rip Thor’s shirt off and instead planned what the heck he was going do now.
Ralf was rarely at work before nine, especially on a Saturday, but last night, once again, sleep evaded him. He’d driven to the station as the sun rose, determined to find something to occupy his mind. He had a coffee and settled down to check his inbox, noting that the Glimmerbrook Grand CCTV was still pending.
He still didn’t think staring at a night’s worth of footage of a hotel reception was going to yield anything, but it would be one thing off his list. He hit play.
He’d seen this part previously, the receptionist perched on the reception desk, talking to the air. She was obviously just some lunatic trying to garner attention. After five minutes of conversation and, bizarrely, flirting with herself, she headed up the stairs and disappeared into the honeymoon suite.
Ralf let the video roll, each of the four reception cameras showing in turn providing a full view of the empty foyer. He yawned at glanced at his television.
He was itching to put it on and watch something other than grainy footage. With all the drama of the last few days, he’d forgotten just how boring policing in this town usually was. Maybe if he skipped on through a few minutes he might see the receptionist come back and wander into the bar to complete her fictional attack scenario, then he could write this off as the flight of fantasy it clearly was.
He hit fast-forward, watching the same empty reception from all four angles, but faster as the minutes whizzed by.
Nothing. What a waste of…
Ralf blinked and rubbed his eyes but there was no denying what he was seeing. The receptionist, who appeared to be floppy and unconscious, was floating down the stairs as if being carried by an invisible man.
He paused, rewound, zoomed in, repeated until his brain had no option left but to acknowledge what he was seeing.
“What you watching, Widdlefinkle?” Beth asked, causing Ralf to nigh on jump out of his skin.
The brazen woman stood before him, in his personal office, uninvited and dressed far too casually to be taken seriously as an officer of the law, holding a cup of his coffee. He hadn’t heard her enter, let alone register her pour herself a drink.
How long had she been standing there?
“Are you OK?” Beth asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Had Jessica’s bizarre hunch been correct? Ralf glanced at the screen then back at Beth’s suspicious face. He hastily forwarded the email to his personal account and deleted the original before shutting down his computer. She was his deputy; he should be able to share this footage with her without hesitation. They would review, discuss and investigate. In a perfect world.
This was not a perfect world. Ralf had been in this game long enough to know a non-pursuable case when he saw it. Either he was going insane and was therefore becoming a liability himself, or this genuinely was something fishy and he’d be ordered to cover it up as the Wangshafts made it disappear. All while Jessica rotted in the Tower; her mind warped and her reputation ruined when she might actually be right.
He trusted Beth Wangshaft about as far as he could throw her. Ralf knew that everything he said to Beth would be fed back to Wilbur and therefore he should handle her exactly as he handled him.
With a five foot pole.
“I’m going to get a sausage butty from the café. Would you like anything?”
Beth’s left eyebrow twitched but otherwise her face remained in that stoic stillness Wilbur lauded her for. “No thanks, I’ve eaten.”
“Okie dokie,” Ralf replied, a term he’d never used in a voice that didn’t sound like his own. He began to whistle, something he never did, and he walked out of the door in what he hoped was a casual manner.