“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”― Frances Hodgson Burnett
Forgotten Hollow Vatore Castle
Caitlin appeared in the lobby, only feet away from Caleb Vatore, who frowned and opened his mouth, but she raised her hands and waved him off impatiently.
“I know, I know, grandpa, I know and I am so so so SO sorry, I will do all the extra training and reading and anything you can dream up to punish me – but this is more important than proper behavior and knocking – where is he?”
With a deep sigh, but no words, Caleb pointed towards his study.
“You’re welcome, young lady, but we are going to have a talk about the rules and regulations of proper teleportation again soon! VERY soon! And understand I am letting this slide as an exception, not a new rule!”
Ignoring Caleb’s rant, Caitlin nearly ran to the door to the study, entered without knocking and hurried around the corner of the large room, where she found him.
“HEATH!” she exclaimed, as she ran to him, without even stopping to wonder if he would want her to.
Nearly jumping into his arms, he caught her, but remained unusually stiff.
“Please don’t. I am sorry, Heath. You know I love you. You KNOW.”
“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”
“I am so sorry. I reacted wrong, or not at all. I was confused. Please Heath, don’t give up on me now.”
“I would never do that. But something has to give. I don’t think living and working with Leeora is working out for us.”
“But Heath …”
She looked up at him, knew him well enough to know he wasn’t going to bargain, then nodded.
“Okay. Do you have a plan? Sounds like you do. I am willing to listen.”
“Like I said. No more living together, no more boutique together, no more model jobs together. That is my condition.”
“Condition.” he confirmed.
“Heath, I don’t have any other career. I didn’t go to college. And I barely spent any time practicing music, like the rest of my family. At 19 I am almost too old to learn and try an entertainment career now, even with my last name. Music and modeling is all I know, I have nothing if I don’t have the modeling jobs and the boutique.”
“You have me. Look, you can model if you want, just find a new agency. Someone with a famous family like yours and the reputation you already have in the fashion business now has options. And I have a career too. I can take care of you. I want to at least try. Too much Leeora is toxic to us.”
“Well, I haven’t heard from her in days, knowing her and her temper, that’s not a good sign. I don’t know what to do with her stuff.”
“Lucky for you, her father lives right here at the castle. Give him her keys. And yours. After we moved out. Let her have the penthouse. I have tried it and learned city life is not for me. I need quiet.”
“Heath .. but … where are we going to live?” Cait wondered, while secretly happy there still seemed to be a ‘we’.
“Another reason I came here. Your grandfather was holding something for me, something that belongs to me. He’s been trying to give it to me for a long time, I never thought I wanted it, but now I do.”
“And that would be?”
“A key. To a house. My house. One right here in Forgotten Hollow. My father’s house, actually. It’s been sitting empty since he died, long past its prime from back when my great-great-grandfather built it. That was before my family became a disgrace, having to hide elsewhere from the shame. Then my father came back because we had to hide again, and you know how that ended.”
“Your family is from Forgotten Hollow? Why did you never tell me? I had no idea!”
“Because it’s a long, nasty story, and I only know bits and pieces myself, some Caleb could fill in, none of which make for pleasant conversation. Yes, my history roots back here, for many generations, as far as it can be traced, until my great-grandparents fled after my great-grandmother went mad, humiliated, fallen from grace, some time in the early 1800s. There haven’t been many descendants, my family suffered the fate of many old vampire bloodlines, having issues with being either sterile or incapable of producing viable offspring. Rumor has it that it was because of incest, all that was a VERY long time ago, even though written records only go back into the medieval times, somewhere around 13- or 1400s, when nobility liked to keep their bloodlines clean by marrying each other. Landed the Grainger lineage on the proverbial deathbed. I am the bitter rest of it, the only living Grainger left. Evidently my father produced a child just before his death, but I learned she died as well. Probably for the better, as the mother was Veronique Kyran. And also obvious why I wouldn’t want to talk about any of that. But I want you to know what you are getting into. If you still choose me, we may have to face my family’s ‘curse’.”
“Knowing my family’s apparent ability to produce generations worth of healthy children with great enthusiasm, I am not very concerned. My line is very virile on both sides of the family. I’d hold that against your Grainger problems any day of the week and twice on Sunday. But wait, did you say you’re nobility? You mean you are literally my dark prince?”
“Sounds more extravagant than it is. I think at this point, most of our kind from old bloodlines have been part of nobility at some point in history, it’s just how vampires are, we seek luxury and accumulate wealth since we have ample time. The Vatores are noblefolk. I am not, not for several past generations. What you see before you is all I am now, not much noble about me, even though my father did sent me to an exquisite boarding school with princes, at least until he lost the last of the money and we ended up as we did. But I do have a house, an old one, pretty run down, even though I have spent all my time working on it of late, not knowing which direction you and I were heading. You being here now gave me the answer I needed, but now I am going to give you an ultimatum.”
“Oh joy. Who doesn’t love those? Fine, let’s hear it.”
“I have had many long talks with your grandfather and uncle, who are obviously partial to Leeora’s interests, since she is the daughter of one and granddaughter of the other. I get that. But they get that I cannot and will not deal with all that drama anymore. Leeora is your cousin, you have been fairly close since you were kids, I know that, I was there. Leeora isn’t going away, and unless they broke up, neither is KC. So, my ultimatum is probably obvious by now.”
“You want me to move into your run-down house in Forgotten Hollow with you?”
Caitlin inhaled, since vampires didn’t need to breathe it was always a sign of tension.
“Okay.” she nodded.
“Yeah, okay. I’ll do it.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. Can I see my new home first or do I have to move in blindly?”
Heath’s lips curved slightly upwards into a tiny smile.
“You’re not even gonna try to argue with me?”
“How un-Cameron of you. Why not even try to bargain?”
“Because I don’t care where we are together, Heath, as long as we are together. I’ve been through hell since you just left. I know I screwed up. It wasn’t on purpose or because I wanted him to kiss me, but I still just stood there, you called me out on it, and I acknowledge I messed up. So, I am willing to do whatever it takes to make it right. Even if that means to move into a ruin with you.”
“It’s not quite a ruin. One good thing about us being vampires is that we can work hard and long without needing breaks. When I started, I couldn’t even tell where the inside ended and the outside began, vegetation had grown inside and there were spiders the size of Timberwolves. You wouldn’t know anymore now. Even your grumpy uncle was impressed. He actually helped me, as did his son, Connell, also Riordan sometimes and even Caleb himself pitched in. We made great progress together.”
“Caelan? Impressed? Okay, this I must see. Few things impress him, none come to mind. I never understood why my sister Vivien is so close with him. He creeps me out and I am a vampire, Vivien isn’t. If I were mortal, I’d be hiding from him. Oh … and Heath … ?”
“I love you. Only you. Always you. Forever you.”
“I know. That’s why I put up with all this.”
When he saw her pout, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
“I love you, too, Caitlin. I really do.”
“Can we walk to the house? I kinda pissed off grandpa by just porting into his lobby. Right in front of his nose. I know that will be a very long and painful lecture forthcoming.”
“We can walk. Come.”
Hand in hand, they strolled down the long, windy pathway from Vatore Castle down to the main road, where the heart and soul of Forgotten Hollow was located, then turned immediately left where Caitlin noticed a home she had never seen before, but it looked too old to be a recent build.
Forgotten Hollow Grainger Hall
Heath noticed her wondrous look and told her
“It was overgrown. You probably thought it was just vegetation. It still needs a lot of work, a woman’s touch, inside, I am no good at that, but it won’t be able to be a modern home like you are used to. Hope that’s okay.”
“I like old … ah … whatever style this is.”
“Probably mostly gothic, even though it has been patched up through the centuries and is a hosh-posh of styles, like most vampire homes. Welcome to Grainger Hall, Caitlin.” Heath said as he swung open the doors to a home that seemed small, even though it was large, due to the thick stones used to build it probably many centuries ago.
“Ooooh …” she said, looking around.
Heath had been right. It was very different from what she was used to. Unlike her older sister Vivien, who had spent half her childhood growing up at Vatore Castle, Caitlin only new the modern mansion with every creature comfort imaginable and modern homes like it. Her visits at Vatore Castle had been few and usually brief.
Heath showed her through the rooms, Caitlin was afraid to touch anything for fear it would fall to pieces as everything looked ancient.
Until he lead her out the back door.
Suddenly Caitlin felt like she had walked into one of her favorite childhood reads ‘The Secret Garden’. Her mouth fell open.
“You like it? My great-grandfather had this designed for his then-bride, she loved living things, especially flowers. She was a mortal, you see. He dedicated it to her. Interestingly, her name was Rose, like your middle name. Hence a lot of roses everywhere. Caleb actually helped me restore it, shockingly enough, he is quite knowledgeable in botany. Then again, at his age and being the bookworm he is, I don’t think there are many subjects he isn’t an expert on at this point.”
Caitlin still stood there, staring in awe, then started walking, touching plants, flowers, smelling them, running her hand through the fountain, Heath quietly following her, until she stopped and turned to him.
“YOU are beautiful.”
“I love you so much, Heath. I was so afraid I lost you.”
“Never. But things need to change, and fast. Drastically. This is drastic, but I have been thinking. Come sit.”
She followed him to an idyllic bench, where they sat next to one another, Heath visibly tense, exhaled hard, before he spoke.
“Before we do this, I need you to do something for me. I need you to go to KC’s home, and I need you to have a very honest talk with him. You both need to talk. He is very bitter, I don’t know what he needs to get over it, but it can’t be you. You say you want me; I believe that, and he needs to learn to believe that. You may walk out of his home with him a friend or an enemy, but at least he will know for sure what he needs to know, and he will have been able to say what he needs you to hear. Maybe it will be the last time you two talk, maybe it will start a friendship over. I am good with either and need you to be as well. And then, you have to go do the same with Leeora. No matter how it ends, it needs a conclusion. Sweeping this under the rug won’t work. She is family, and we will both be confronted with her again, and that may mean KC as well, so we need to clear up the confusion, for everyone’s sake, but especially ours.”
“Eesh, if KC and Leeora even speak to me at all. But you are a tough crowd, dude!”
“If you think that now, wait till we are actually engaged.”
“Yeah. You think I am putting in so much effort into all this if I didn’t see forever with you?”
“You’re gonna propose?”
“Patience is a virtue, sweet Cait. I will, eventually. You have things to do, we have things to do and there is a big relocation ahead. Once we are settled in here and this feels more like a real home, then, one fine day, I will surprise you with a new piece of jewelry asking you for a promise.”
She kissed him, relieved to know he was still her Heath.
“Heath, is this place safe enough yet to spend the night without the ceiling collapsing on us or something?”
“Nothing will collapse, I guarantee that much, but I am off the mortal-sleep schedule, as I spent all my time working to get this place into ship shape for you. For us.”
“Oh, that’s fine. I wasn’t really talking about sleeping anyway.”
“Who’s the tease now?” Heath smiled.
“Oh, I am not teasing. Not at all. I put my money where my mouth is.”