“Do vampires live forever?” I asked. Nathan and I were curled up together in the wrought iron bed, in the loft of the carriage house.
It was sometime in the early morning hours, not yet light out. I lay against Nathan and watched my hand rise and fall on his chest. His arm curled around me, holding me to him.
Nathan glanced down at me before answering. “Depends on how you define ‘forever,’ Abby,” he replied.
“Will we be able to be together from now on?” I clarified. I couldn’t word my actual question; my heart turned icy at the thought of existing alone, without him.
Nathan pulled me in tight and kissed my hair. “We will always be together, Abby, for as long as fate allows,” he said.
I sighed, relieved, and closed my eyes.
We had returned home earlier in the evening. It was a silent walk back; Nathan was adjusting, as was I. He was still recovering from the shock of witnessing my bloody transformation. Mallory didn’t seem bothered at all. She circled us on the road, her tail wagging.
I quietly marveled at my heightened senses. My eyes explored the sharp, bright details of my surroundings. I wanted to know everything. But at this moment, I merely wanted to be with Nathan. The rest would come in time. Something we both have a lot of now.
We reached the carriage house. The glow of the antique lamps shone gold on the snow. Nathan opened the door for Mallory and me. We all entered, and Nathan and I removed our coats and boots. I heard Mallory plunk down on the hearth by the wood stove.
Nathan gently put his hands on my shoulders, his dark eyes scanning my appearance. “I will get you a change of clothes and a towel,” he said and ascended up the spiral staircase.
I looked down; the front of me was covered in dark, dried blood.
Nathan returned downstairs a moment later with one of his flannel pajama tops. He grabbed a folded towel and facecloth from the linen closet and stacked everything on the bathroom counter. I heard the water running, then the shower.
I walked over to the bathroom doorway and stepped through. Nathan followed and drew me in, kissing my hair. I breathed in his scent and sighed.
“I’ll see you in a bit,” Nathan said. He left, closing the door behind him.
I undressed; my clothes were stiff. I distinctly smelled the metallic tang of the dried blood, which didn’t give me cravings or feelings of hunger at all. Interesting.
I stepped into the shower; the hot water felt good on my skin. The bottom of the tub swirled dull red. I washed it all away, a distant memory already.
Afterward, I toweled off and combed my hair. I slid Nathan’s flannel pajama top over my head. I detected his scent underneath the clean smell of detergent. I smiled at the thought of a vampire doing laundry.
I examined myself in the mirror. I was amazed that I didn’t have a scar on my neck. My skin was smooth and unblemished, my appearance the same, as always. I wasn’t pale or gaunt. My eyes seemed normal, and so did my teeth. For now.
I hung the towel and facecloth and left my ruined clothes folded on the floor. I walked out of the bathroom, warm and comfortable.
Nathan was seated on the sofa in front of the wood stove. His gaze followed me; I walked over and sat next to him. I noticed Nathan hadn’t made hot chocolate this time.
“I’m sure you know that you no longer need food or drink to survive,” Nathan said.
“What happens if you—we—eat or drink?” I asked. My mind recalled movies in which vampires were violently ill after eating human food.
Nathan half smiled. “We can still eat and drink to maintain pretenses. Water is absorbed if needed, and alcohol still has an effect. Food offers no sustenance—our bodies cannot digest it. However, you will no longer feel hunger or thirst.”
I hadn’t noticed until Nathan said it; I thought I was still in shock. “Okay, note to self—clean out Aunt Sarah’s fridge when I get back.”
Nathan pulled me to him, enveloping me. I leaned back against him, feeling his warm solidness. I sighed, content to stay like this for some time. I watched the flames dance behind the glass of the wood stove.
After a while, Nathan broke the silence. “Abby. . . I’m sure you must have questions.”
“I do—I want to know everything. It’s hard to know where to start,” I said.
Nathan’s hand covered mine; our fingers laced together. “I understand. Ask me anything—I will do my best to answer.”
“Are you Nathaniel Davenport, Nathan?” I asked.
“Yes, Abby. I admit—I was caught off guard when you made the connection. I have spent years concealing my identity. People expect us to age and die, so sometimes we craft a human lifespan by becoming our own family descendants,” Nathan said.
“I assume I will have to cut my ties with Aunt Sarah.” The thought saddened me. She was my only close family, besides Julia.
Nathan kissed my hair. “Not necessarily. You could reveal to her that you’re immortal now, as I did with Samuel. Although she may not believe you. Samuel didn’t—he thought I had invented a fantastic story. When he aged, and I did not, he finally acknowledged that I was telling the truth. That is when we discussed establishing the trust, so I could someday return to a place that was protected.”
“Did Samuel ever see you in vampire form?” I asked. I thought about how Aunt Sarah might react if I suddenly sprouted fangs.
“No.” Nathan’s breath was warm against my ear. “Vampires were not perceived as they are now—vampires were feared, misunderstood, and blamed for the disease, consumption. I didn’t want Samuel to think I played any part in his family’s death.”
“You told me that some vampires return and feed on their families. . .” I couldn’t finish my thought. I would never hurt Aunt Sarah.
Nathan sat up. He clasped my hands in his, his dark eyes mirroring painful sympathy. “Abby, contrary to what you’ve read or watched, you will not suddenly be ‘consumed by bloodlust.’ As I told you, unless you are grievously wounded, you do not need blood to survive. You will not harm anyone around you.”
Nathan squeezed my hands and continued. “Blood is a powerful temptation to some vampires. The taste is like nothing I can describe, Abby. It can turn into a voluntary habit—and like any drug—into an addiction. Any vampires feeding on humans risk exposing us. Over the centuries, this behavior is what has helped fuel the ‘bloodthirsty’ myths and legends.”
I let Nathan’s words sink in. “Is this why you warned the draugr?”
A flash of surprise washed over Nathan’s features; he tensed for a moment. “Yes. You remember.”
I didn’t answer; I felt so relieved that I would not be a danger to anyone, especially Aunt Sarah. But I also wondered about Nathan’s comment. Did he feed once?
Nathan’s dark eyes pierced mine, his gaze intense. “Abby, I’ve never fed on anyone, nor will I ever. I’ve only tasted my own blood when I’ve used it to heal another. Our blood has restorative properties, that’s all—what you know about the transformation process is a myth.”
A revelation sparked in my mind. “You healed Mallory that day, in the woods,” I said. “I thought you cut yourself on the wire.”
“Yes, Abby. I thought for sure that you realized what I was, then. I wanted to tell you, but I wasn’t yet certain whether you would accept me or not. I was afraid I’d lose you,” Nathan said, his voice lowering.
“I understand now, Nathan.” I thought of our conversation in the kitchen after the Halloween carnival. “I think I knew, deep down, but my brain didn’t fully acknowledge it. You saved Mallory that day. For that, I will forever be grateful.”
Mallory’s tail thumped at hearing her name.
Nathan half smiled, his gaze softening. I smiled and lay back against him again. His arms curled around me, holding me close.
“Nathan,” I circled back. “I do remember the night at the carnival. . . the draugr. What happened?”
Nathan inhaled a deep breath. “After the confrontation, you lost consciousness. I revived you—when you awoke, you were hysterical, blind with fear. I was afraid that you were nearing shock.
“Our fangs, like some other blood-drinking creatures in nature, produce and secrete an anticoagulant and an antiseptic. Upon piercing the skin, a sedative is released. I gently bit your wrist, enough to inject the sedative without drawing blood. As you relaxed, your mind relaxed. I was able to close off those memories and remove the trauma.
“Vampires cannot ‘compel’ a human, but we can use something akin to hypnosis. The rest of the events you remember happened—the parade, accepting the awards, walking home. We cannot manufacture false memories or erase them; only rearrange them. And we can only influence humans in this way. I pulled the pleasant memories to the forefront of your consciousness so that they would be the experiences you would recall in the morning.” Nathan’s voice held remorse. “I hope you can forgive me, Abby. I wanted to help you, but I also did it for selfish reasons. I didn’t want you to be afraid. . . of me.”
I could tell how deeply Nathan regretted it. I didn’t just hear it in his words; I could feel it. And I understood why he did it.
“There’s nothing to forgive, Nathan. It was a frightening thing to remember when I awoke in the crypt. I admit—witnessing you in full-on fury like that—you were downright terrifying. I would hate to meet you in a dark alley,” I said with a tentative smile. “However, I was not afraid of you, Nathan; I was afraid for you. At the time, I was certain we were both going to die. The thought that I might lose you was unbearable,” I said. I pressed his hands with mine against my face and kissed his fingers.
Nathan pulled me close and kissed my hair.
I was soon lulled by Nathan’s rhythmic breathing and the flames dancing around the red-hot coals. Mallory snored away on the rug below. I let everything he told me sink in.
“Nathan, can I ask another question?” I rolled over to face him.
“Of course, Abby—anything,” he replied. Nathan propped himself up on one elbow and draped his arm across my waist.
“Since you have mad mind skills—can you also read my mind?” I asked. It always seemed as though he could.
A hint of a smile crinkled the corners of Nathan’s eyes. “Not exactly. You will be highly attuned to the emotions and body language of others. It is part of the predatory—and survival skills—vampires possess. With time, you will hone that skill, as I have. You will also be able to sense other vampires—if they allow you to. I will help you learn to block your mind, to avoid detection.” He pushed a strand of hair away from my face.
“Are all encounters with other vampires dangerous, then?” I asked. The thought chilled me.
Nathan ran his fingers over my hair, and his hand rested on my shoulder. “No. The draugr pursued you because you were human, Abby. Not every vampire encounter is a threat, but it’s always best to exercise caution. Many individuals are solitary and territorial. It takes meticulous effort to safely establish oneself in an area inhabited by humans. If another vampire enters and decides to feed, it could endanger them both. At the very least, the residing vampire may have to leave and start the process over. Some vampires choose to live together for a common purpose, such as protection or companionship. I have met other vampires in my travels, and there are a few I would dare call friends.”
I had a feeling that Nathan spoke from experience but decided not to ask him about it tonight. My brain was already on overload.
Nathan stirred. “We should go to bed, Abby,” he suggested. “I know it is a lot to take in; it would be good to get some rest.”
I sat up. “Yes, I’d like that.”
Nathan stood up and turned back the stove. I slipped my boots on and brought Mallory outside.
I was only wearing Nathan’s nightshirt, but I didn’t feel cold at all. And, I could see just fine in the darkness. I watched Mallory as she wandered over to the trees.
The woods were still and quiet; I stood and listened. I sensed a deer bedded down under an evergreen, some distance away. An owl silently flew overhead. Cool.
Back inside, Mallory went to lie on the hearth again. I met Nathan at the stairs. He smiled and took my hand. We went upstairs, as I did the night before. How long ago it seemed, and how much had changed.
We went to bed, smoothly slipping under the covers. I moved next to Nathan, and our legs entwined together. I rested my head on his bare shoulder; his arm curled around me, holding me to him. I felt his love for me and a sense of immense relief that I was here with him.
“Nathan. . . why did you think I might hate you when I awoke?” I asked.
Nathan remained quiet for a moment. “When I awoke and learned what I had become, I was furious. I loathed Aldo for what he had done. He hadn’t offered me a choice—he stole my life from me. I never wanted that for you, Abby—I wanted you to be able to freely decide when the time came. For that, I am deeply sorry. . .”
I felt his agony surface, and I lifted my head to look at him. His eyes reflected his anguish. What had it been like for him?
I met his gaze. “Nathan, if you sense my feelings, then you know I don’t regret what has happened. I also don’t blame you, either,” I said, hoping he felt the truth of my words.
Nathan didn’t look away. “I know, Abby, and I am grateful for your acceptance and forgiveness.”
I inhaled and continued. “I’ve been fascinated with vampires for a long time, Nathan. I used to lay awake at night, imagining what it would be like, to be turned. I admit, I pictured it being a little more romantic. . .” I felt my face flush. “To know vampires are real is mind-blowing, but not a shock. You could say I felt prepared for this.”
Nathan half smiled, a mix of affection and sorrow swirling in his dark eyes. He pulled me close. “Would that I could have been the one to turn you, Abby—to have made it a painless and pleasant experience. All I can promise is that I will try to make up for it.” He kissed the top of my head. “I love you, Abby.”
I tilted my chin upwards, and our lips met. Nathan showed me all of the tenderness I had envisioned.