I didn’t know how my father’s so-called reunion with my little sister went, as Miss Bianca arranged for them to have a private chat—with her and Master Byron as chaperones.
“We can easily protect her if necessary, and it’s clearly impossible for you to be impartial about all this,” she’d said before letting Thaddeus into the apartment, forcing me to wait outside. “It’s her decision to make, not yours. Father-daughter reconciliation is a very delicate, private matter.”
Impartial? How could she expect me to be impartial about all this? My father had attacked her—and possibly turned her. Was Miss Bianca so callous? She was a she-demon, it was true, but…this stung more than anything else she had ever done.
And all I could do was wait and wonder. It wasn’t in a butler’s personality to be idle; he was expected to maintain the order in the household. But now that order seemed like it was crumbling, with no hope of repair…
“My daughter has agreed to give me another chance,” my father had said after that private meeting. At least he was ashamed enough to avoid looking directly at me. “She has expressed a desire to get to know her father, despite our…despite my grievous error.”
“Then she’s kinder than you deserve. I hope you aren’t planning to stay here.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” he said with half a smile, meeting my eyes this time. The dark circles around his own eyes hinted at exhaustion. “I’ve already found a place to stay, where someone like me will likely go unnoticed. I plan to closely monitor Lissette’s health as we become reacquainted.”
“Penny’s health is only at risk because of you.”
“I know, Lysander,” he said wearily, again avoiding my gaze. “It’s yet another one of my many failings as a father. But this is one I will attempt to remedy, as she has made it absolutely clear she has no desire to become…like me. If there is something that may halt the transformation’s progression—or reverse it entirely—I will find it.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it, Father.”
To my dismay, it soon seemed like Penny was indeed turning…her appetite was lessening at an alarming rate. She no longer ate the chips or candy I’d pretended to hide from her, nor did she sneak money from my wallet to order pizza. And to make matters worse, Miss Bianca didn’t seem the least bit concerned.
“There’s no sense in worrying about something you have no control over, Lysander,” she sniffed. We still met in the bathroom to discuss private matters, but these meetings were considerably less enjoyable—and the bathroom was increasingly crowded with items Miss Bianca assured me were absolutely necessary for our future happiness.
“Then I’ll take control,” I vowed, barely avoiding a collision with one of three vases in the bathtub as I stepped back.
However, I felt useless in every respect. Miss Bianca continued to plan our wedding in secret (though she did promise the wedding would be delayed until Penny had “recovered”); Master Byron never left Penny’s side; and my father read through dusty tomes he’d had sent from home in between asking Penny about her symptoms. I offered to help with his research, but he’d told me I “wouldn’t know what to look for.”
I gained a small measure of satisfaction when I noticed that my father seemed to be wary of Master Byron. He never approached Penny too closely when Master Byron looked at him. I wondered what had passed between them—if my father had bitten Penny and yet Master Byron had managed to bring her home, my father had likely been tricked or overpowered in some way…though it was difficult to imagine.
But Penny…Penny didn’t seem wary of our father at all. Her every word to him was civil—perhaps more than civil.
One day I finally asked her about it, when the vampires were asleep. “How can you possibly forgive him, Penny? You owe him nothing. He hurt you.”
“You hurt me too, Lysander,” she said quietly. My heart contracted at her words. “Don’t get all bent out of shape about it—it’s no big deal. We were both kids, and you had your own shit going on.” She shrugged. “And I don’t know if I forgive him, but…people make mistakes. People hurt each other. Even the people you love, and who love you. Vampires, humans, fairies—whatever. They’re all just people, I guess.”
“But he’s your father…it’s his responsibility to take care of you. To protect you and keep you from harm—not harm you himself.”
“He’s just a person, Lysander, even before a dad. Like anyone else. Parents aren’t perfect, I don’t think. I’m not making excuses for him or anything—I don’t want to be a vampire, and I wish I wasn’t going through this…but we don’t have a mom. I guess I’d like to have a dad, even if he’s a dad who bit me. And if Bianca hadn’t turned him, I wouldn’t have any parents at all.”
“But he turned you against your will,” I insisted, hoping it would sink in this time. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t seem to grasp that incredibly important fact. “His own daughter. If I ever have a daughter…” I might have a daughter, I realized. The thought came as a shock—and made me even angrier at our father.
She sighed. “Yeah, I know. But he was just putting his own feelings before anyone else’s—and trying to fix everything by, I dunno…making everyone fit into his own weird plans, even if it fucked them over.” She gave me a look. “You love Bianca, right?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t see how that’s at all relevant, Penny.”
“I love her, yes…even if she certainly has her own way of doing things,” I admitted.
“Yeah, that’s putting it lightly,” Penny muttered. “But so do you, Lysander. You had an idea of what our family should be like, after you found me—to make up for all the shit that went wrong and the time we can’t get back. But instead of biting me, you decided to treat me like a little kid. You didn’t give me a choice about that either, I guess—watching everything I did, threatening Byron every time he took a bath, following me to a spa so he couldn’t fuck the shit out of me. Not that he was going to, but…that should’ve been my choice, too.”
I hung my head. “I’m sorry, Penny. For everything.”
“I don’t need an apology, big bro.” She shrugged again. “I’m just saying…sometimes people do things you don’t understand, or things that are just plain stupid and selfish, maybe…but you can’t help but love them and put up with them anyway, I guess.”
“…Do you love me, Penny?”
“You’re my brother—and you went through all that shit to find me, and tried so hard to take care of me afterward. Even if it annoyed the shit out of me. Do you even have to ask?”
Knowing my little sister loved me somehow made it easier to respect her decision, as uneasy as our father’s continued presence in her life made me—and the thought of her becoming a vampire. But soon I had something else to worry about.
Why would Miss Bianca go anywhere alone in the city—without even taking Penny, as she was wont to do for “ladylike shopping”? Penny never stopped her from buying gift cards, so there was no excuse to not take her along instead of me. But to take no one—and lie to me about her intentions? (“Wedding planning,” she’d told me.) And with my child in her belly…?
I almost regretted following her.
Of all the people she might meet with in secret, why did it have to be Graham Straud? Was this why she’d refused any bathroom liaisons the last seven times I’d tried to initiate them, despite my putting on my cruelest butler persona? I never expected her to be able to hold out until the wedding, not with appetites as large and…intense as hers.
I’d have killed for a vampire’s hearing. What could she possibly want to talk to him about? She detested Graham Straud; she’d repeatedly made that quite clear. And now…now she was avoiding time with me in favor of his company?
“…Play with me,” came words on the night breeze.
Miss Bianca did love to play…but she had apparently tired of playing with Mister Chutney-Worthington.
Eventually, she tired of Graham Straud as well, setting off along the dark streets. Alone. Pregnant with my child. (Was it my child?)
What was she thinking? Did she truly want to marry me, or did she only want to be married? She was prone to passing fancies… I would give her a piece of my mind. No one seemed to listen to me any longer, but Miss Bianca Blackwell would listen to me for the first time tonight.
“What do you want?” I snarled.
“Leave her be, son.”
“She’s carrying my child. If it’s even my child.”
“I know. And you have nothing to fear on that account, I promise you.”
“…I refuse to believe that is an actual vampire power.”
He half-smirked as he approached me. “Perhaps you need to brush up on your research. Vampiric offspring’s powers are often connected in some way to their creator’s.”
I wasn’t sure if he was teasing me or not—the father I had known had been an unfailingly serious, humorless man—but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing that. “Why shouldn’t I demand answers?” I clenched my fists as I spoke.
“Because your questions will sound more like accusations—something Lady Blackwell will not take kindly to. Nor will your future wife.”
“How did you know…?”
“I know my son would do right by the mother of his children—and he would never touch a girl he didn’t intend to marry.” He coughed politely, seemingly taking great care to keep a straight face. “And I’ve seen the bathroom.”
“Before I was your father, I was your mother’s husband. Lyanna and I were content together, Lysander. We had our disagreements, as every living couple will, but we knew what was worth fighting for—and what wasn’t. Let Lady Blackwell keep her secrets—and her pride.”
Her secrets. How many secrets would keep piling up? But soon I would be her husband…and did I really want to know what she had asked of Graham Straud? “You’re sure no other man has touched her?”
“I’ll trust you, then—for the first time, and hopefully not the last.” I turned in the opposite direction that Miss Bianca had gone and started walking.
I didn’t hear any footsteps.
“Are you coming, Father?” I called over my shoulder. “There’s work to be done at home.”
“Indeed,” he said quietly. Footsteps sounded behind me a moment later. “I have a promising book I could use your sharp eyes on, Lysander—the tiny print is too much for these old eyes, I’m afraid.”
“I’d be glad to be of service, Father.”
Even if I knew perfectly well that he had a vampire’s eyesight now—as any Lyons son would know.