Epilogue

Once upon a time, my story became your story too.

But then it was yours again. Yours and his.

Isla always said you were a strange girl, but sometimes strangeness leads to happiness.

I’ll try not to be jealous of that happiness, but sometimes we can’t help how we feel, even in a dream.

Isla would say that family is happiness. They’re part of your family now too, aren’t they?

I’m sorry for taking you from your father and brother for so long, Pen. But there’s always room for families to grow, I think.

And sometimes things don’t go exactly the way we want them to with the people we care about most, and sometimes we lose our tempers.

But forgiveness is important, isn’t it?

It’s part of being a family.

Friends are important too, I think. Especially when you’re at your loneliest.

And sometimes your friends need you, too.

Other people find happiness in other ways, like from trying new things.

There are a lot of ways to create happiness.

Sometimes we have to go looking for that happiness, even if it seems frightening or far away.

But we don’t always have to search alone.

And then sometimes…we can only wait and hope.

Humans say that good things come to those who wait. Do vampires say that too?

I hope so. Dreaming is nice, but you can’t dream forever…

I hope I see you again when I wake up, you who welcomed me into your world. But if I don’t…

Thank you for the memories.

The End (or is it?)

Chapter 80: Penny

Byron really, really liked comedy. More than he ever had, probably, or at least more than he had after we started dating. He headed up to the club almost every night, full of stories that’d make any other grown man want to die. Good thing he was a vampire, I guess.

Sometimes his parents showed up too. They really liked the embarrassing sex stories. Well, embarrassing almost-sex stories.

Seeing Byron made me happy too. It’d always been like that with us. But then he started drawing regular crowds, and his routines would go on longer and longer, and even once Bianca and Lysander’s spawn were gone, we barely got any time together.

Well, barely any time together alone.

But then one night, after attempting about a hundred different hand gestures, I let Byron know that his pants were on inside out. He finished off his story about the time my brother and that cop walked in on us in the spa and made for the bathroom (after I told him with my eyes that he couldn’t take his pants off onstage).

He was gone for so long that the whole place cleared out. Either the bartender didn’t notice I was still there, or he didn’t care.

“Penny,” Byron said. “Are my pants good now? Two of the zippers got stuck…”

“They’re fine.”

“Where’d everyone go?”

“You were in there for a while,” I said. “They probably went home.”

“Penny. My routine was really funny tonight, wasn’t it?”

“It was pretty good,” I said. “But a lot of your act tends to revolve around us almost fucking.” I’d joined an online support forum for the wives and girlfriends of comedians who liked to mine their personal lives for material. I never posted, but seeing other women who had it worse made me feel better. Not that there were many.

“We’ve tried a lot,” Byron agreed. “And failed a lot.”

Way too many times,” I muttered. “Byron. We’re alone.”

“We are?”

I answered by kissing his neck. I’d gotten used to the uncontrollable giggles by now.

“Penny,” he managed.

“Byron,” I whispered against his neck. “We’re alone. Finally.”

“There’s a lot we can do when we’re alone,” he said as I pulled away. “Penny.”

“And we’re doing it,” I said. “Got it? Home run. No second base, no third base. Home. Fucking. Run.”

“I love baseball the most.”

“Good. But you have to wear your special baseball equipment, okay?” I pulled a handful of small square packets from my skirt pocket and pressed them into his hand. “Put one of these on, uh…Count von Blackwell. It’s really important for home runs.”

His fangs glistened in the dim club lighting when he grinned. “You really love Count von Blackwell too.”

“And I’ll love him even more after a home run. But I’ll be right back–I have some equipment for me too.” Courtesy of Bianca Lyons and her weird gift basket. Did she even order the right thing? …It was probably from that weird shop she liked.

I had to go upstairs to get to the bathroom. After all this time, and more close calls than I wanted to remember, Byron and I were finally gonna fuck. I even checked all the locks on the way up to make sure no one could burst in on us again and silenced both our phones. This was happening.

Thank god we were alone. But I’m pretty sure the sight of Byron…trying to equip Count von Blackwell would’ve scared off any intruders.

Lucky Fang,” Byron shouted as he tore open another packet with said lucky fang.

“…Yeah, let me do that for you instead,” I said. “With a new one.” After Bianca and Lysander’s spawn, I sure as hell wasn’t taking any chances. His fang had definitely punctured at least three.

“It’s so hard,” Byron said in defeat.

“Wrapping it up or Count von Blackwell?”

“Both?”

But we were a team, and this was happening.

And then we made out. “I love you, Penny,” Byron whispered between kisses. “You’re my favorite.”

“You’re mine too.” Even if I’d probably hate him the next morning, after Count von Blackwell got through with me. Maybe he should be upgraded to Emperor.

And then Byron was too busy with baseball practice to talk much.

“Fang,” I said.

His fangs weren’t all bad, though.

I could pick up the bat too. (I think I’ve been dating Byron too long to know if that pun was intentional.)

Byron…was better at taking charge than I expected. Maybe all those comedy routines about almost fucking me made him think about it a lot too.

“Is that the mic stand,” I said, “or Count von Blackwell?”

“How cold is it?” he asked.

“Really cold.”

“How big is it?” he asked.

“Gigantic.”

“Definitely Count von Blackwell,” he said. And then…

“Ow,” I said.

“Penny,” he said. “I can’t win at baseball if you don’t let me through the goalposts.”

“Yeah, I think you’re mixing up your sports metaphors. Just…” I tried to relax and think of things other than icicles the size of stalagmites. “Okay. Try again? And aim for the other hole this time.”

“I’m sorry if this hurts,” he said, stroking my cheek. “If it makes you feel any better, my dad taught me a lot of stuff?”

Surprisingly, it did make me feel a lot better. Repeatedly.

Now I knew how those two cakes at Bianca’s wedding felt, except with Byron’s monster D instead of airborne missiles. He sure didn’t waste any time tearing through my fondant and frosting-flowers. Was it even worth the wait–or the pain?

…Damn right it was. Sorry, Lysander–your sister is as freaky as you are, I guess.

“I love your raccoon noises,” Byron whispered. “The most.” But even that couldn’t ruin the mood.

We probably ruined some of the club’s furniture, though. The tarp and cardboard wasn’t the most comfortable place to pop a plasma fruit, so we made sure to pop it in as many places as possible. After all, who knew when we’d be alone again?

It probably wasn’t very sanitary to bang against the bar though.

Or one of the tables that people ate food on, even if the food was already crap.

We probably made it worse by doing it on another table too.

And up against a window, but at least no one ate off that. Probably.

And then in the bathroom, but that was already kind of dirty.

And then I had to take a piss, but we got right back at it. I wasn’t wasting what could be my one good chance to play baseball, damn it.

Even though I was the one without a vampire’s stamina, Byron was the one who tired out first. Not that I could blame him, after a night like that. His mom had given me some stuff for “the pain,” which I now realized should be The Pain, capitalized. But I could wait until we got home.

I’d waited for a lot of things I never realized I was waiting for. But then I found a family, and I found Byron. And I found something that should probably be classified as some kind of nuclear weapon. But most of all, I’d found myself exactly where I wanted to be for the rest of my life.

Chapter 79: Bianca

Everyone in attendance agreed that my wedding was unforgettable. As it should be, of course. I was pleasantly surprised that my mother and I agreed on so many things during the wedding planning process.

The ceremony itself was truly lovely…

And of course I made a beautiful bride, despite my inexplicable weight gain.

Well. Not so inexplicable, once I gently and beautifully gave birth at the conclusion of our exchange of vows. It was a beautiful wedding all around, though I did worry my newborn sons would draw some of the attention away from me–but they would have to compete with my mother’s short skirt.

Who would’ve thought I could be pregnant–or that I would be able to hide it for so long? I suppose I carried the weight well. Lysander said I had never looked more beautiful.

Becoming a wife and a mother on the very same day…well, better than to become a mother the day before. But as a wife and mother, I simply couldn’t return to that horrid apartment in which Byron and Penny spent far too much time touching each other inappropriately and without shame. It was kind of them to care for the twins in our absence, but Lysander and I would have to take our sons elsewhere at the conclusion of our honeymoon.

As wife, it was my duty to make all important household decisions, and I decided that we would return to the Blackwell estate.

Thaddeus would come along later with the twins, after we had prepared a room for them. (I rather liked shopping for the furniture, even if it wasn’t for me.) But rather than making me feel that everything was as it should be, I felt…strange. Even when Lysander joined me at the front gate.

“I almost never thought we’d return here,” I said. “Especially not as vampiress and husband.”

“We’ve had ourselves quite the journey, haven’t we, Mrs. Lyons?” Lysander said. He’d finally stopped fretting now that Thaddeus had informed us he was on the way.

“It should feel more like home, shouldn’t it?” The house was so very familiar, but I had changed.

He held the door open for me. “Perhaps you need only get reacquainted,” he said. “We’ve been gone for some time.”

The last time we had been here, we had been mistress and butler. I followed him into the kitchen, as I had done so many times over the years. But this time, instead of demanding blood, I sought only my husband’s conversation.

Afterward, I took his advice, returning to my old quarters. The room was darker than I remembered. Lonelier. A dungeon chamber suited for a single vampiress, not a married woman with children.

My phone made the sound of bat wings flapping. A text from Byron and Penny? I’d sent them a lovely gift basket; I don’t know how much more they wanted in the way of gratitude.

Not from the children–from Daya. Apparently she had recently tied the knot in Lucky Palms, of all places, and in a dress that most certainly didn’t approach anywhere near her ankles or even her knees.

Perhaps she’d gotten herself in a bit of trouble, the poor thing. At least this way she’d be married before any gossip could start–if only she’d had a mother with nearly infinite funds still living.

I pretended to sleep, as I had so many times before, but it wasn’t nearly as exciting now that I was married.

Still, I enjoyed my husband coming to find and wake me regardless.

Rather than my bedchamber and servants’ quarters, however, we would together occupy a bedroom on the second floor. Our first night together, in a bedroom that was truly ours, in the home we’d lived in together for years…

But as nice as the feeling of sleeping beside my husband was, something still didn’t feel right. (His body, however, felt excellent as always.)

Seeing Lysander hold his cake-free son did feel right.

Thaddeus had offered to stay, but I felt that we needed some time alone with our children. I could always hire a legion of nannies later.

I had truly married well, in so many ways.

“Would you like to hold Leopold?” Lysander asked. “Father brought extra gloves.” He was always smiling now, my husband, no matter how much filth he had to wade through.

“I think I shall.” I stared at this tiny face, so different now that it was free of icing. I’m not sure how he managed it, but Byron somehow dropped both of my sons into cakes shortly after their calm, peaceful, lovely births. “He doesn’t look much like me, does he?”

“No one could ever hope to be as beautiful as you, Mrs. Lyons. With luck and care, our sons will take after their mother in other ways.”

Yes, I had married very, very well.

I could think of far worse things than raising children with Lysander Lyons, even if I would’ve liked to have waited a bit longer. Nothing in my life had ever been ideal, and yet…this was almost as close to perfection as I could imagine.

And I’d learned so many lessons from raising Byron. He was my “first pancake,” as I once overheard Lysander explain to Penny as he made her breakfast. Benedict and Leopold would turn out far better. If only Byron hadn’t seen fit to promise me his ridiculous, filthy giant stuffed bat as a wedding gift, or as he’d said, “for the baby-cake shower.” The Blackwell family curse wouldn’t haunt my children if I could help it. After all, they were Lyonses now.

Lysander found me out on the balcony later that night.

The town was as dark and quiet as always, but his smile was brighter than I’d ever seen it.

“Miss Bianca, is something troubling you?” The way he said that old name sent a shiver of delight through me, though it was quickly replaced by that strange, unwanted feeling I couldn’t describe.

“None of this feels right,” I whispered.

“I could spend the rest of the night making you feel right, Mrs. Lyons.”

“Lysander.” Although such an offer wasn’t unwelcome, I needed to fix this. “We don’t belong here, not in Forgotten Hollow. I think…” I recalled my parents’ wedding gift. Because they had amassed such a sum saving for my wedding over the centuries, there had been quite a number of them. “We need to move. Someplace brighter, more welcoming. And my parents did buy us an island…”

Lysander gave me a look of concern. “But the boys are vampires, aren’t they? As is their mother.”

“According to Vampires Weekly,” I said, “there’s a highly recommended brand of 1000SPF sunscreen. That should be adequate. I…” I searched for the right words, to try to put my finger on exactly what it was I wanted. “I don’t want them to grow up in darkness and isolation, not like Byron did. They may be vampires, but they’re half-human as well.” The very thought of the twins’ childhood here, away from other children and the rest of their family, pained me deeply.

“…Then move we shall, Mrs. Lyons,” Lysander said softly. “A mother knows best.”

Well, she certainly did know best…after that first pancake.

Chapter 78: Byron

I don’t remember a whole lot about Bianca’s wedding, even though everybody else says it was “unforgettable.” I did become an uncle twice over, though, which I think is pretty cool. All I can remember is what a beautiful butler Penny made.

Maybe now I can understand why Bianca loves butlers so much.

I’m still surprised my sister let me take care of two living things at once when she wouldn’t ever let me have a pet, but Penny says Bianca really wanted to go on her honeymoon and to enjoy it while it lasts. Benny and Leo are still alive, and it’s been days, so I like to think I’d make a pretty good dad.

But Penny doesn’t want me to be a dad yet. But that’s okay, since I have eternity. Penny says it feels like we’ve been watching them for an eternity.

“No more baby crap,” Penny said. “We’re going out tonight.”

“But then who’ll watch our nephews?” I asked. It was kind of weird, remembering that they were her nephews too.

“Their lucky grandpa.”

“I don’t think my dad watching them is a good idea,” I said, even though I liked the idea of him getting in some early manliness lessons. “My mom says he might’ve dropped me on my head a few times as a baby.”

She gave me a look. “Byron. I’m pretty sure everyone in your family dropped you at some point.”

“If they did, I don’t remember. Penny.”

“And anyway, it’s their other grandpa.”

The door opened just then. Well, Thaddeus probably fell more on the Lysander manliness scale than my dad’s, but every grandpa should spend some time with their grandchildren.

“What’s with the butler getup?” Penny asked.

“Hey, Mr. Lyons,” I said. I wasn’t really sure what to call him to his face. Bianca had always called him Thaddeus, but he could end up being my future father-in-law like he was Bianca’s, so I wanted to be a little bit formal. Maybe I could ask Penny what I should call him after I married her. Not that I’d asked yet, or I was going to soon, but…I would someday. I knew that.

“Babies are essentially filthy little demons,” Thaddeus said. “The uniform is practical–and some would say necessary. Including any Lyons butler, former or present.”

“You know they’re your grandkids, right?” Penny asked.

“Do they dirty their diapers?”

“Bianca says they’ll grow out of it,” Penny said. “But for now…”

“Then the gloves remain on,” Thaddeus said.

“I wouldn’t recommend white, Dad.”

Thaddeus patted a pocket in his uniform. “I’ve brought spares. A Lyons is–”

“Always prepared. Yeah, yeah.” But Penny was smiling. I was really glad we both had dads now.

“I’ll take care of Penny while you take care of the twins,” I said.

“I trust you won’t add to my grandchildren so soon, young man,” Thaddeus said.

I tried to smile, though I don’t think it was my manliest effort. “…Probably not?”

A baby cried in the distance. “We should go,” Penny said to me, a look of alarm on her face. “While we still can.”

“Sure,” I said. “In a minute.” I sneaked a peek at the twins’ second-manliest grandfather taking care of Leo.

At least, I thought it was Leo. I was really bad at remembering the names of multiples. The Birdsong brothers had been at the wedding too, which surprised me, but Bianca said they were basically the reason she and Lysander ended up getting married. I’m not sure how that happened, but maybe someday I’ll ask. I don’t usually get mad, but I didn’t really like the way they asked to see what was under Penny’s butler uniform.

(It’s Penny.)

“Do you want to go back to that hotel, maybe?” I asked hopefully, before Penny could head for the door. Bianca had gotten a lot more gift cards as wedding gifts–some from the venue itself.

“I’m too tired,” Penny said, glancing toward the two cribs. Thaddeus was feeding Benny now. I think. “Why don’t we go back to that club?”

“What club?”

“The one where we met,” she said. “And the one with an RV parked on the roof.”

“That one’s my favorite. Penny.”

“I know.” She looked me straight in the eyes. “Byron. I think you should try comedy again. We’ve had all this crap come up, and maybe you’d rather do other things first”–she gave me half a smile–“but it’s still your dream. And once Bianca and Lysander move out–”

The last bit distracted me. “They’re moving out?”

“Of course. Once they get back from their honeymoon.” She frowned. “They better be, anyway.”

But then her other words caught up to the last ones. “Do you really think I can do it? Be a comedian. Penny.”

“I have no idea. But you can try.” Now her smile widened, even if I could still tell how tired she was. “Just stick to the embarrassing stories instead of puns, okay?”

“I can do that. I think.”

And then we headed out into the night, leaving Thaddeus and the twins behind. It had been so long since we finally got some time alone together…it kind of seemed like a shame we were going to a club, even if it was my favorite.

But instead of heading straight inside, I sat down on the bench where I’d found her sleeping all that time before. It felt like an eternity to me, and I’d lived three hundred years. I couldn’t remember a time before Penny, or maybe I didn’t want to.

Penny sat beside me and laid her hand over mine. “Don’t be nervous.”

“How’d you know?”

“Because you look like you have to take a dump, and vampires don’t take dumps.” She sighed. “Except for baby vampires, I guess.

“I don’t know why I’m nervous,” I said. “I’ve made a fool out of myself plenty of times before, you know? Maybe because you’re here…”

“You embarrass yourself in front of me all the time,” Penny said. “Like the time you flashed me after almost getting burnt to a crisp. Or the time you thought I was pregnant with my brother’s baby. Or when you made out with a mop instead of me in that strip club closet during the wedding.”

“I guess I did do all those things…”

“I was in the club the first time we met too,” she said. “Oh, and you thought I was a boy. But…no matter what dumb crap you do, I’m pretty sure I’ll always love you. Byron.”

And then we made out, because I loved her so much I couldn’t help myself.

This time, Penny walked into the club with me. The club that had changed everything, even though my jokes had fallen flat. Even though I hadn’t become a famous comedian the first time around…

It was all worth it. My fear flew away like baby bats as I took the microphone. Penny was watching me, even if no one else was.

“A vampire and the love of his unlife walked into a bar,” I began.

The rest, as they say, is history. Literally.

Chapter 77: Graham

As venue owner, I had the privilege of attending the wedding of one Bianca Lyons (née Blackwell). Despite the sheer predictability of the nearly four hundred-year-old bride, the event itself was far more entertaining than I’d expected. And then there was the added reward of glimpsing the bride at her ripest…

In another man’s arms. She would never be Bianca Straud. She would never be mine.

Not while her husband lived, at any rate, but all humans died. I could wait. In the meantime, I’d responded to an internet advertisement to deal with my own wife’s human warlock stalker; the leering nuisance was likely dead already.

The mother of the bride was another treat–she had a number of things in common with her daughter. Two, to be precise.

I can’t imagine why Bee never wanted me to meet her.

I couldn’t imagine being married to a woman who wanted nothing to do with me so soon after the wedding either, but here I was. She no longer invited me to rehearsals on the rare occasions I attempted to engage her in conversation, finally admitting that she’d “decided to go in a different direction.” What sort of damnable excuse was that? Writing, always writing, for weeks at a time. No time for her husband and former lead actor.

I had to settle for watching her from afar, but she always hid her script from me when I got too close.

Her bed was among the places she didn’t hide it when she wasn’t working on it. Though sometimes I liked to sit there and imagine what it would be like to have a wife who invited me to her bed with a smile. Was Bee in bed with her husband now…?

“Wake up,” Isla said as I dozed in a front-row seat. A worthless seat, without a play to be performed.

“Why?”

She took the seat beside mine. “I need you.” The words went through me me like a stake to the heart.

“Do you?”

“For my play,” she said impatiently. “You still want a part, don’t you?”

“You aren’t playing another one of your fae games?”

“I’m trying to put on a performance, Straud.”

“And you still need me?”

“Apparently,” she muttered. “Follow me–we’re having an impromptu dress rehearsal, since you like costumes so much.” She rose from her chair.

I followed. “Of course.” The dressing room had few pleasant memories to offer me. “I hope you aren’t planning to squeeze me into another fairy costume.”

“No,” she said as she guided me into my seat. “I have a different idea for you this time.”

She had a different idea for herself as well, as I soon discovered.

“I must admit,” I said, making no attempt to hide my smirk, “you wore it better.”

“That’s enough out of you, Straud,” she muttered, shifting uncomfortably. “Does your costume fit?”

“It does. Quite well, in fact. You must be intimately familiar with all the finer points of my body.”

“Let’s not go that far.” But she couldn’t hide her smile from me, as small and brief as it was.

“I’m much fonder of this ensemble than the very first you made me wear,” I said as I followed her out of the dressing room. “I think it suits me.”

“It does,” she said softly. “And maybe this one suits me better, too.” Her wings didn’t interfere as she took a seat on the plush red chaise that now served as the centerpiece of the stage.

“Far be it from me to question the costume designer,” I said, “but I don’t feel much like a fae king. Or perhaps I should address the set designer, as we no longer appear to be in an enchanted copse.”

“As I told you, I decided to go in a different direction.”

“And yet you still have need of me,” I said. “Tell me of my new role.”

“You’re an evil vampire lord–and I’m the beautiful fae he’s captured.”

“Evil?”

“Quite. All he’s given her is a single tree for company.”

My eyes wandered to the right side of the set. “Better than a bowl of dirt, I suppose.”

“Slightly,” she agreed.

I leaned closer. “And how did this evil vampire lord capture such a creature? Has it been such a trial for her, to find herself in the clutches of the undead?”

“He’s very cunning,” she said slowly. “And…” She hesitated. “At first it was unbearable. She could imagine no worse fate.”

“And then?”

“Her situation improved. Marginally,” she said, holding my gaze. “He’s handsome and charming, in his own way. A pest, but even a pest can show signs of improvement. He saved her, once.”

“Was she very grateful?”

“Fae are rarely grateful,” she scoffed. Her contempt faded, replaced by a soft smile. “But…in this instance, I think she was.”

“Did she marry him?”

“…Yes, I think. For reasons unknown to either the evil vampire lord or the beautiful fae.”

“I like the sound of this play, Isla.”

“I thought you might.” Her fingertips danced across the back of my hand like a playful breeze. “The old play…it wasn’t my story to tell. But this…”

“This is your story,” I whispered. “Our story.”

This time, when I kissed my wife, she returned the kiss with equal passion.

I kissed her again, just to be sure. I wasn’t disappointed.

“But she was still fae,” she said softly between ragged breaths. “And he was still a vampire.”

“That sounds difficult,” I said, slipping to the carpet. “He must need to fight hard to win her affection–and respect.”

Her face nearly matched the shade of her ridiculous costume. “A–a never-ending battle, honestly.”

“This vampire lord…I suspect he enjoys a good, lengthy battle.” I planted a kiss at her ankle.

“Good,” she said in satisfaction. “This is a very long play.”

Rehearsal was off to a very good start, if the lead actress’s noises of approval were any indication. Her costume, regrettably, met with an untimely demise.

There were, however, some small hiccups as rehearsal proceeded. The lead actress rejected the lead actor’s suggestion of restraints or certain positions, as the scene called for “visible signs of intimacy,” among other things.

“Damn it, Straud,” she said. “She’s a fae, not a vampire.”

“It was my understanding that fae are remarkably durable.”

“Durable,” she said. “Not indestructible.”

“The evil vampire lord will strive to keep his evilness within an acceptable range,” I said. “I hope the beautiful fae finds this more to her liking.”

“Better,” she said. “But it wouldn’t kill him to–to slow down.”

“You’re right, my lovely wife. The evil vampire lord is immortal. And the slower pace might prevent his wig from falling off.”

The beautiful fae soon had her revenge, her cruelty on full display, though the vampire lord didn’t mind in the least. They were husband and wife, after all, and forgiveness came easily.

“Isla,” I whispered, after the very lengthy rehearsal had at last concluded. “This evil vampire lord and beautiful fae…do they live happily ever after? I’m no expert on fairy tales.”

Her previous play had been utterly incomprehensible to me, but I thought it best not to mention that now.

“No,” she whispered. “They fight every day. Sometimes they hurt each other. Sometimes they hate each other. But they don’t stay apart for long.”

“Because they love each other and are destined to be together?” So had gone the story of the fae king and his human bride.

“Because they’re idiots. And…because they need each other, maybe. For now.”

This play suited me far better than the last. And by the way Isla fell asleep so easily in an evil vampire lord’s arms, I knew it suited her too.

Chapter 76: Lysander

“Do stop pacing, Lysander,” Miss Bianca–no, Mrs. Lyons–said. “We have a lovely honeymoon to enjoy.”

“Yes, Miss Bianca.” Despite the official change in title, she generally preferred Miss Bianca. Mrs. Lyons made her feel old if used too frequently. I sighed and joined her on the bed.

“Put the phone down, Lysander.”

“But Penny hasn’t responded in over fifteen minutes,” I said, phone still firmly in hand. “Perhaps some terrible fate has befallen poor Benedict, or even Leopold. Your brother is rather clumsy, and should he decide to venture out on the balcony alone with one or both of our sons…”

“Penny could just as easily drop them,” she snapped. “Or perhaps forget to feed them in favor of playing with Byron’s family curse.”

“…That isn’t especially reassuring, Miss Bianca.” My fingers began to cramp from texting so furiously. I was rather out-of-practice, and texting was a young person’s game.

“Lysander.”

“Still no response from Penny. What if one of them has a dirty diaper as we speak? Should they forget to change it, there are all sorts of rashes our poor sons could get–the pictures are very graphic.” I held up the phone to my wife’s face.

“Lysander, please be reasonable,” she said. “They’re vampires, and as such are quite durable. I dropped Byron from varying heights when he was their age, and you can see he’s survived long into adulthood.”

I let the useless phone fall into my lap. “…I don’t want to lose them, Miss Bianca. Not like I lost my mother. Or Penny.”

Her expression softened. “And you won’t. Have a little faith in your sister at least, if not Byron. She’s a very responsible girl, isn’t she?”

“Where Master Byron isn’t concerned…”

“And your father will be happy to help.” She placed a hand on my bare shoulder and squeezed. “They’re not alone in this world–nor are you. Need I remind you that you have a very beautiful wife?”

“I could never hope to forget, Miss Bianca.”

She was beautiful, and she was mine now. Wife, mother of my children… “We did have a rather lovely, unforgettable wedding, did we not?”

I coughed. “It was certainly unforgettable,” I managed.

No, I would never forget the officiant who also overcharged for drinks at the open bar at our wedding, though fortunately Lord and Lady Blackwell had generously spared no expense. Miss Bianca’s insistence on a Modern City Woman Club as venue–as well as the proprietress of many such establishments as officiant–had perplexed me, but I couldn’t refuse the woman who was to be my wife.

Lady Blackwell had only encouraged her in these choices–as she had insisted upon sending us to a somewhat questionable hotel for our honeymoon, due to it being part of some kind of “package deal.” My wife’s mother had displayed a number of alarming behaviors during our nuptials, not the least of which was flirting shamelessly with Graham Straud. (He hadn’t even been invited to our wedding, or so my wife claimed, yet showed up regardless–and outside of the requisite butler attire for gentlemen guests.)

But beautiful the wedding had been, when I looked only upon my wife’s face…and the round belly that held not a daughter but the stuff of nightmares packed into cake-seeking missiles.

The birth of my two sons was not something I cared to remember in vivid detail. However, that vivid detail still haunted me even in my dreams. The blood…the cake…the mess… Miraculously, not a drop of filth stained my wife’s dress afterward, and I was able to choke down a single bite of a spare wedding cake before I was thoroughly sick in a fondue pot.

The thought again made me queasy. “I believe I need to excuse myself for a moment, Mrs. Lyons.”

“Mrs. Lyons,” she repeated as I stood. “If I weren’t so very traditional, I would’ve insisted upon Blackwell-Lyons, but hyphenated names are for cruel butlers and the woefully indecisive.”

“Indecisive you are not, Mrs. Lyons.” And neither was I. I fled to the commode not to relieve myself, but to send another five texts to my sister.

Unfortunately, there was no door to speak of, and my wife followed me in before I could retrieve my phone from my pocket.

“Lysander.”

“Ah…did you wish for me to draw you a bath?”

She shook her head. “We’ll only have this one honeymoon. This short amount of time to ourselves, with no Byron or Penny or young children.”

My gaze wandered to the floor of our unconventional hotel room, something I soon came to regret.

“And I treasure every moment with you,” I said.

“Then why are you contacting Penny yet again? Is it me you don’t trust–or our family?” She lowered her head. “Or am I not enough for you, even now?”

“I…I’m sorry, Miss Bianca.”

She offered me an unmistakably sultry look. I knew nothing could come of it, not when she swore she was still abominably sore after the whole messy ordeal of giving birth to twin vampire boys. “Do you know what you need, Lysander?” she asked.

I needed to be with my children. But I needed to make my wife happy as well. “Ah, I haven’t the faintest idea…” I couldn’t impose on her, or harbor any unrealistic expectations.

She circled around me like some sort of blood-sucking predator. “A distraction.”

“A…distraction, Miss Bianca?”

“Allow me to show you, husband.”

My eyes widened as my pants…were summarily ripped off my body. Vampiric strength was a wondrous thing.

My beautiful wife…my proud, beautiful wife knelt at my feet, heedless of any possible absence of cleanliness in this establishment’s restrooms. (Though this one looked adequately clean, I highly doubted their thoroughness.)

“You,” I began, “ah, forgive me, but what exactly…are you…?”

She squeezed. “If Penny can do it, I don’t see why I can’t.”

“Ah–I was under the impression that there was no act more foul…”

She looked up at me, her face more solemn than I’d ever seen it. “I’m your wife now,” she said. “And my husband needs me.”

No, I had not been one to argue with my employer. Nor would I start off our new marriage by arguing with my wife.

Yes, though perhaps it made me less of a father, I was able to go a surprisingly long while thinking only of my proud, beautiful wife and how dearly she loved me. And her fangs, but I thought it best not to bring up any discomfort they induced at such a time.

I very much enjoyed being married to Mrs. Bianca Lyons, fangs or no. Fatherhood could wait, at least until the end of this stolen time together.

Chapter 75: Penny

“Benny’s crying again,” Byron said.

“He’s always crying,” I said as I scooped him up from his crib. “Crying and pooping. And you’re not supposed to call him Benny. Bianca banned all nicknames, period.”

“She should’ve thought of that before giving him a name like Benedict, you know? Benny suits a baby better, I think. And I keep calling Leopold Leo too…”

“Bianca likes her fancy names, I guess.” And her fancy cribs. Lysander had been sad about returning the pink one, but Bianca had actually seemed happy about the two cribs her mom had gotten her as a wedding gift. I don’t know how that weird lady knew she was having twin boys, but I figured it was better not to ask. I tried not to talk to either of Byron’s parents alone, especially after seeing them almost have “man-woman relations” on a wedding buffet table.

Byron picked up Leo as I laid Benedict back down. “He likes it when I make this face.”

I snorted. “You’re lucky Bianca didn’t set any rules about weird faces. Yet.”

And then Bianca’s son erupted in a very Bianca-like wail in Byron’s arms. “I didn’t mean to make him cry…”

“He’s a baby. And he’s Bianca’s. Good luck ever shutting him up.”

“He’s Lysander’s too, though,” Byron said. He lowered his voice. “When do you think they had man-woman relations for the first time? And does a bride always pull up her dress and launch her babies into wedding cakes right after she says her vows? It was really lucky she insisted on seven cakes, even if she only had two babies.”

I really, really didn’t want to think about either question. At least I could answer one question, anyway. “Bianca and Lysander’s wedding was…really fucking weird,” I admitted. “Babies don’t usually go flying out of the bride and into the cake, honestly. Or even show up at the wedding at all.”

Most people didn’t have their weddings at strip clubs, either.

But hey, if it made Bianca happy…then it probably made Lysander happy too, though I wished he’d stop texting me every five seconds to check on his damn kids. If he was so worried about them, he should’ve brought them along on their honeymoon. But my brother deserved a couple weeks’ break. He’d have eighteen years of Benny and Leo–and a whole lifetime of Bianca.

And the twins weren’t too bad, once you got used to the smell. And the screams.

“Penny.”

“Byron.”

He tucked Leo into his crib, probably making another weird face at the same time. “Taking care of babies is kind of fun, right?”

“It’s okay,” I said as I fed Benny for what had to be the millionth time. “Maybe it’d be better with only one, though.”

“Penny. Do you think…we could have babies someday?”

“If you don’t wrap it up,” I muttered. And if Lysander hadn’t desperately needed towels to wipe the cake and blood off two newborn babies, Byron might’ve actually fucked me in a strip club closet at the wedding. (He really, really liked me in a butler outfit or whatever.)

“I want a son too,” Byron said eagerly. “Maybe more than one. Maybe seven, since Bianca says it’s a lucky number and all.”

“Byron. I am not having seven kids. Ever.”

“What if you had them all at the same time to get it over with?” he asked hopefully.

“I never want to see that much blood–or cake–ever again, thanks.” Benny was definitely a future vampire by the way he sucked and sucked and sucked on the bottle. But he was also kind of cute, in a squished pasty potato kind of way.

“Oh. …Five sons?”

“What’s wrong with a daughter?” I muttered. “Or two daughters?”

“Daughters aren’t very manly…”

“But would you be fine with daughters?”

“Penny. If they’re yours, I’ll love them the most. And I can name them all after my favorite female Henry Puffer characters.” He pressed a (lightly fanged) kiss to my cheek.

“One,” I said.

“One?”

“You only get to name one after a Henry Puffer character. I get to name the other.” Save the other, more like. I whispered a silent apology to the poor, innocent daughter who’d be saddled with a name from her weird dad.

“Penny. So we can have babies?” He sounded like a kid at a Henry Puffer book signing.

“Maybe.” Far, far off in the future, hopefully, I thought as I watched the twins’ faces. They were probably secretly thinking about how to ramp up poop production. “But we have to actually have man-woman relations first.”

During the months before the wedding, there had been one thing after another preventing me and Byron from having any alone time. Between Bianca waffling over color schemes (she went with black and red, to absolutely nobody’s surprise), Lysander wanting help choosing names for the daughter that never was, and Byron’s parents in general (did they really think I didn’t notice the red light on the camera above their bed?)…we were lucky if we even got to second base.

“Man-woman relations…” Byron repeated, making it sound like some distant dream.

“Byron. We’re finally alone.” It was actually kind of a good thing that his mom didn’t really like babies–well, except for how she dodged her airborne grandsons at the wedding.

“But we’re not alone. Penny.” He jerked his chin toward the now-sleeping Bianca spawn. “Leo and Benny are here too…”

“Well, that’s why the bed has that privacy curtain, I guess.”

“But…”

“Byron. Do you wanna fuck me or not?”

“I do. Penny. More than anything.”

It was kind of nice, having Bianca and Lysander far away somewhere. We could actually use the bed without worrying about one or both of them walking in one us. At this point, I was almost willing to give them a show worthy of “Bart and Cor’s Home Movies.”

“Penny.”

“Byron.”

“I love you.”

My breath caught. “You’re just saying that because you’re about to fuck me.” I knew he loved me, but…it was weird to hear him finally say it after all this time.

“That’s not true,” he protested, squeezing me harder in his arms. “I think…I think I loved you from the first night we met, you know?”

“Then you’re a giant weirdo.” At his crushed look, I added, “But that’s just one of the reasons I love you too. Byron.” I kissed him back.

His hand slid up my shirt. Usually it moved so fast that I couldn’t even see it, but this time, I felt it. Cold. But Byron could never really make me feel cold, not for long.

“Penny. I love the raccoon sounds you make.”

“The what?” I muttered. The “raccoon sounds” sounded more like a blender stuffed full of ice and aluminum foil on max power. “Byron, that’s the baby.” Leo, by the sound of it.

“Oh.”

“Bianca and Lysander better bring us back a really nice fucking souvenir,” I said as I rolled away from Byron and out of bed. Was there even any souvenir in the world worth the price of dying a virgin?

Byron followed me to the screaming Bianca spawn. “You’ll make a really good mom, Penny.”

Benny apparently agreed, because he took that chance to destroy his diaper.

“Maybe,” I said again. “But you better be a good dad, too.”

But I already knew he would be, even before he tried to change Benny’s diaper. (It was a good effort, for someone with his level of hand-eye coordination.)

Even with the smell and the sounds and the virginity, I was happy.