I won’t retract my opinion that my lovely, loyal butler’s company can be painfully dull. However, she is also exceedingly competent in every way—a trait not shared by either of her two replacements.
I prefer that my warm breakfast be served in a champagne flute within five minutes of my rolling out of my coffin. And what does one of the twin buffoons bring me?
Orange juice. In a normal drinking glass. Has the boy never served a vampire in all his meager years?
And my house-robe. Graham Straud has a signature style. Bold colors, especially infernal greens and oranges, have no place within that style. My looks are striking enough on their own and have no need to compete with garish colors for the attention they deserve.
To make matters worse, neither of them could find my contacts or any of my dozens of stylish gray glasses. (Before contacts were invented, I was content to squint at my enemies rather than wearing spectacles; it made me appear more intimidating.) Orange. Orange juice, orange glasses.
I was forced to remember where in my uncle’s manor the kitchen could be found, searching for a plasma pack like a common fledgling. I refused to drink from either of those butlers in the event that their buffoonery was blood-borne.
The other one (I can’t be bothered to learn their names, especially when there are two of them) seemed to enjoy smiling for no reason. He offered me a drink…that consisted of an empty glass.
I later found that glass elsewhere in the manor. I’m rarely offended, magnanimous spirit that I am, but the sight made me seriously contemplate killing them both. I’ve been in a somewhat murderous mood as of late.
What did Daya do with used dishware? I believe it disappeared when left in the sink for long enough, and so I lowered myself to picking up the forgotten glass with my own fingers.
Why had I hired those butlers? Twin butlers. Ah—for my lovely Bee. I knew of her penchant for twins in great detail, and I’d seen the way she looked at that butler of hers—perhaps I thought she would feel more inclined to play with me if I had toys she liked.
But perhaps I didn’t know her as well as I thought. Bianca Blackwell never changed, or so I had believed; she favored the same house, the same family of butlers, the same style, the same insults…what had blown her so far off-course? Never in my centuries of knowing her had she felt compelled to create her own vampiric offspring. I had searched for any sign of the worthless worm who’d stolen such an incredible honor from my Bee, but her temporary Forgotten Hollow home lay vacant.
And now she wasn’t in Forgotten Hollow at all. Why? What good would young Byron do her? I had the means to help her, to make every one of her problems vanish with a snap of my fingers. Fortunately, I had plenty of sources to offer me news of her activities and track her whereabouts in San Myshuno. She’d need me again soon enough, no doubt.
I returned the drinking glass to the kitchen—where its fellows originated, to my understanding. And then I was off in search of entertainment, if I couldn’t find a decent breakfast. Perhaps I might tug on a fairy’s wing and see how it spat and hissed.
I couldn’t make much sense of the fairy girl Saul had found for me. She kept to herself outside of her performances, retreating to the room I’d prepared for her in the style of her natural habitat. I wondered if she found it comforting or painful—both, I hoped.
She was playing in a bowl of dirt—but neither the bowl or dirt had been gifts from me. Curious.
Eventually she stood—and I took that opportunity to pounce.
“I’m thiiirsty,” I said. (Daya would say “whined,” but Daya was on vacation.)
“Hire a mixologist.”
“I’m a vampire, sweet fae.”
“Bite the mixologist.”
I nuzzled her neck. “But I haven’t had a drop of fae blood in centuries.”
She skillfully escaped my clutches and rolled her eyes. “And look how well you’ve survived without it. When will Daya be back?”
“I wish I knew. I wasn’t paying attention when she told me how long she’d be gone.”
“Typical.” How sweet—she thought she knew me. I’d have to disabuse her of that notion at the first opportunity. “Do I want to ask about the schoolgirl outfit? I hope it has absolutely nothing to do with the play.”
“It’s from a very upscale shop’s most expensive product line, sweet fae—and aren’t you supposed to be a model at heart? You should know very well that it’s not the model who matters, but the clothes she’s wearing. I don’t require opinions of a clothes hanger.”
“As long as you’re paying me, I suppose I can’t complain.” And yet she found plenty of opportunities to complain regardless.
I should’ve asked my former shadows to take pictures of my alabaster dove wearing my shop’s products. Instead, I would have to make do with what I had on hand. Though I was unable to secure exact measurements, I could tell that the fae was…lacking in certain areas compared to Bee.
Ah, well. As with the pair of butler buffoons, I would have to learn to content myself with a pale imitation at present. Though not nearly so pale as alabaster…
“Eyes up here, Straud.”
“I’m merely inspecting the craftsmanship. As a businessman, it’s important to be detail-oriented.”
“Don’t make me reorient your details.”
I indulged her by laughing. “How comically endearing—the insect believes it remains a potential threat, long after its pincers have been severed.” I always liked when my toys had a little fight in them. An actual fairy would have held my interest better—true danger is always appealing, no matter how minuscule.
“Did you want something, or do you just enjoy harassing your employees during their time off?”
“Both.” I sauntered toward her bed and unceremoniously dropped down onto the neatly made covers. That had bothered Bee to an amusing degree when she’d visited, but the insect didn’t seem to bat an eye. Disappointing. Perhaps I’d have to add an ostentatious wriggle of my chiseled buttocks.
“Make yourself at home,” the girl muttered.
“I always do.”
“I noticed.” To my surprise, she sat down beside me. Bee would sooner have danced naked in the morning sunlight. “So why are you really here?”
“Do I need a reason?”
“To harass me? Yes.”
“Perhaps I’m very interested in…dirt and its many applications.” I gestured toward the nearby bowl she’d been contentedly mucking about in minutes earlier.
“Dirt?” She followed my hand. “Oh. There’s something in the dirt, if you must know.”
“Ah, I mistook digging in fresh filth for some sort of fae quirk. Do go on.”
“I’d rather not.”
I stood. “I suppose I can look for myself…and perhaps learn to dig like an insect?”
“Don’t.” A note of genuine fear? Fascinating. “I’m taking care of it for someone else. It’s…just a seedling right now. Nothing you’d be interested in.”
“Is that so?” It did sound rather boring. Living things generally failed to garner much interest on my part. Her fear, on the other hand…
“Why don’t we talk about your wonderful play instead?”
I heaved a sigh. “My crowning achievement, consistently ruined by others’ incompetence. I’ll never find the perfect actor to play m—my male lead.”
“Of course. You…r male lead.” She used those irritating finger motions—air quotes, I believe they were called. How I longed for the days when I could have hands chopped off for even the most minor of offenses… “But honestly, I don’t think it’s the actor that’s the problem.”
“Is that so?”
“I’m well aware that you don’t care about a lowly actress’s opinion…”
“It’s true,” I agreed amiably. “Not in the least.” When she said nothing more on the subject, I added, “But I do find myself mildly curious. Continue.”
“I think the problem lies more with the material than the actor—by far.”
“The material, you say? How so?”
“Well, the lead just doesn’t make for a very sympathetic hero.”
“What if he’s meant to be the villain?”
“And why, may I ask, is that?”
She took a deep breath, then proceeded to count those fingers I really ought have the right to chop off. “The man is a childish, debaucherous, vain, thrill-seeking man who only cares about his own amusement and pleasure. Any time things don’t go exactly as he likes, or the second he gets bored, he flings all the pieces off the board and starts a new game elsewhere. There’s no room for growth, for character development. His struggles are meaningless, because he refuses to allow himself to struggle for long. There’s no reason to root for him, or even against him. It’s…” One shoulder rose lazily. “Boring, honestly. No actor could carry that kind of lazy writing, no matter how talented they are. And then there’s the sheer length of the production—over a thousand hours for a single play?”
“The length is both necessary and quite avant-garde—a sophisticated resident of San Myshuno should be more open to such a thing. And what do you know about good writing—or acting, hm? I’ve watched your commercials. I must say, even the most charming feline is a far cry from my dashing hero.”
“At least the cats are cute. I’d rather watch them eat fifty cans of food than pretend to be in love with your play’s ‘dashing hero’ for the hundredth time. And his permanent fixation on a random unseen woman who doesn’t even seem to particularly like him is disturbing, especially when he’s always marrying or sleeping with everyone else—and I’m not a traditionalist, by any means.”
“The woman is part of his tragic past.”
“Tragic? It feels like it’s supposed to be a farce, but it isn’t funny enough. She really ends up hating him for her entire life because…he tells her she has adorable tiny teeth as a small child?”
“The canines specifically. The distinction is very important.”
“It’s strange. I don’t get it.”
“He’s haunted for the rest of his life by one careless slip of the tongue, forever kept apart from his true love over something that would be trivial to any other woman…I think the nuance is lost on you, sadly.”
“She seems like kind of a bitch, honestly–excuse my language, but it’s the only word that fits perfectly. Then again, that seems to be his type.”
“And to me it feels less like love and more like wanting what he can’t have, like a spoiled child.”
“What purpose does wanting something serve if you already have it in your possession?”
“Ugh. You really need to rework the whole romance angle. Why are all these women falling all over themselves to get with him? And plenty of men too. Do they have any standards or self-respect at all?”
“I don’t think you fall into my target audience. And what do you know of love? Do you love my good friend Saul?”
“Oh, is that his name? I forgot.”
“Clearly I can’t take your advice regarding the art of romance seriously.”
“Clearly. But do you take anything seriously?”
“Art. And romance.”
She had the indecency to snort in response—she really was much closer to a farm animal than a beautiful fairy.
“I believe this conversation has reached its inevitable conclusion,” I huffed, rising to my feet. As I raised my arm in farewell, something fluttered to the floor. “Ah—what’s this?” I snatched it up before she could—not that she so much as tried.
“It isn’t mine.”
But I ignored her, breaking the seal of an envelope that had fallen from a pocket of my house-robe. “This can’t be…”
I looked gravely down at the letter. “My dearest butler usually handles all of my mail as well as my outgoing responses…but in her absence, this one apparently slipped through the cracks.” I sighed dramatically. “My mother wants me to visit her all the way in San Myshuno—and bring a new bride to show her.”
“I feel sorry for your bride.”
“I’m afraid it’s been some time since I’ve secured myself a new bride…and my alabaster dove is so frustratingly stubborn.”
“Is stubborn another word for smart?”
“It will be difficult to find an appropriate bride on such short notice—my mother should’ve received a proper response weeks ago. She must be furious with her only son…I’m her pride and joy, you see.”
“Well, if that’s all she has to work with.”
“Rather than actually bothering with the trouble of courtship and a wedding, however, I could merely hire someone to play the role of my ideal bride…”
She shot me a look. “You’re right—I’m not that good an actress.”
“Come now—the job will pay quite well.”
“I’d rather not.”
“My mother appreciates the arts as well—she owns the Argent Theatre. Ah, it’s located in San Myshuno, I believe. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?”
Her eyes glinted with interest. “The Argent Theatre? Are you lying to me right now?”
“Not about that, sweet fae. And my mother is always interested in poaching talent from other directors; she loves making enemies and stealing precious gems for her own crown. If you made a favorable enough impression, she might even try to—”
“I’ll do it.”
“I knew you would.”
And the little insect thought she knew me. I smiled and crumpled the blank parchment I’d pulled from the envelope. If the insect had actually known me at all, she would never have doubted my love for my dear, sweet mother for a moment. If I asked, I knew my mother would be delighted to make time for her only son; she did so enjoy playing with the toys I brought her.