When I returned to the council, the women all said they were glad to see me. Barbara stared more than normal and I glanced over at her husband, wondering if he knew her true desires. Gertrude happily filled me in on everything I missed.
"We need to start discussing the Christmas celebration," Howard said on my third day back.
"You do something for Christmas?" I asked.
"Yes," Carol said, looking excited. "We have a large party right here in front of the hall. We get a tree, decorate it, pass around gifts, sing carols, and eat."
"It sounds lovely," I said honestly.
Erik and I never celebrated Christmas. Each year we were too angry and bitter with each other to even consider wishing one another a happy Christmas, let alone get gifts.
As Howard went over some of the specifics, I thought of Kendra. I wanted to spoil her this year to make up for all she had gone through. Before I could ponder too much, the doors opened.
Two men walked in. I didn't recognize them and, when I looked at Gertrude, I knew she didn't either. They stopped at the stair leading to the tables and took their hats off, bowing. I glanced into their minds and stopped myself from gasping.
"Good afternoon," Howard said cheerfully and I looked at Erik.
Our eyes met. We both nodded, agreeing silently to stay out of this one.
"Hello," the first one said. He was short and looked familiar. I was too afraid to look into his mind again, though. He had black hair and brown eyes. "I do hope we're not interrupting."
"Of course not," Howard said. "How can we help you today?"
The first one looked at his companion. He was a little taller and had blond hair and blue eyes.
"My name is Charles," the first man said. "This is Ronald. We have come because your village is infested."
Howard stared at him. "With what?"
Charles curled his lip. "Vampires."
I didn't look around but the women beside me started to whisper. Howard leaned forward and smiled kindly.
"Vampires do not exist," he said, obviously doubting the man's sanity.
"Ah, but I'm afraid you're wrong there," Ronald said. "You see, just a week ago, three vampires were in London. They killed many people. One was locked up but the others saved it. We have reason to believe they came through here."
Howard glanced at the men.
"All we will do is interview your citizens and do a search of some homes," Charles said and Howard sighed.
"How much will you be charging?"
"Nothing," he said. "I do this in honor of my wife who was tragically killed by a vampire 10 years ago."
I felt like someone grabbed my heart, squeezed it, then shook it around some. I knew who this man was. I didn't need to look at Erik to know he was aware of it, too.
"What do you think?" Howard whispered to the men.
"If they're not charging, I don't see the harm," one whispered.
"Erik?" Howard asked after the others gave their input.
"I think it is utter nonsense," Erik whispered smoothly. "But I am still not an official council member. It is up to you."
"All right," Howard said to the two men. "You have my permission to interview our citizens. Speak with us before you search any homes, though."
Charles smiled. "Of course, sir. Thank you very much. We will start immediately."
He nodded to his companion and they left.
"Are you all right, Camille?" Gertrude asked and I turned to her. "You look pale."
"I am fine," I whispered. "Just this talk of vampires...."
"You were in London when all this happened, weren't you?" one of the men asked Erik and I.
"Yes but this is ridiculous," I said. "Vampires do not exist."
"We'll humor the poor men," Howard said. "No harm will come of it. They'll be gone before we know it."
I hope you're right.
After the meeting, Erik and I walked as fast as we dared back to our home without running. I didn't even take my cloak off before going up to Kendra's room. I knocked and we both waited impatiently. She opened the door, her nose buried in a book, and smiled at us.
"We need to talk," I breathed and she frowned, letting us in.
Erik paced in front of her window, glancing out of it occasionally. I sat Kendra on her bed and ran a hand through my hair. No wonder he looked so familiar.
"What is your father's name, Kendra?" I asked.
"Charles," she said. "Why?"
"Shit," Erik breathed, throwing his head back.
"He is here," I said quietly and her eyes widened.
"Here?" she repeated. "In the village?" I nodded. "Can I go see him?"
"He is here with another man," I said. I sighed. "They are vampire hunters."
Erik stopped pacing to watch Kendra nervously.
"So then the answer is no," she muttered.
Erik sighed. "You have to make a choice, Kendra," he said and we both looked at him. She was crying and he fished a handkerchief out of his pocket. He gave it to her. "If you go see your father, you cannot come back to us."
"Why not?" she asked, crying more.
I held her hands. "Because we are what he is looking for," I said. "He does not know it and I hope he never does. He knows that one was locked up which means he was probably told that a young girl was brought in to feed the vampire. If he were to see you here, in a village where vampires are suspected to live, what do you think he would do?"
"So it's Papa or you," she said and we both nodded.
"You do not have to decide now," Erik said, pulling me to my feet. "We will give you some time to yourself."
Kendra didn't answer and we left, closing the door quietly, and entered our room. I took my cloak off and hung it on the holder by the door. I sat down heavily on the small couch by our fireplace. I had come to care for Kendra; I was very fond of her. If she were to leave with Charles....
Erik sat beside me and held my hand.
"Tell me what you are thinking," he said softly.
"I want her to stay," I said, wiping a tear from my face. "I do not want her to go back with him. He will sell her again, I am almost positive."
"As am I," he agreed.
"But there is still hope that he misses her. There is still the hope that she can be happy."
"Who says she will not be happy here?" he asked.
"We are vampires, Erik," I sighed. "What we do would surely give her nightmares."
"I love you very much, Camille, but you cannot make that decision for her." He shook his head. "Only she can decide now."
"I can feel her conflictions," I said. "Is that normal?"
"For mortals, yes," he said. "I have not read her mind and I do not plan to."
"I do not, either," I said. I sighed heavily and leaned into him. "I am so tired, Erik."
"Because of the meeting?" he asked, putting his arm around me.
"I do not know," I yawned. "I have not felt this tired since you turned me."
I could hear the frown in his voice. "Perhaps it is the arrival of these vampire hunters...."
"But you are not ill," I said.
He helped me to bed. "True, but I have been a vampire much longer than you have. Get some sleep."
He kissed me and I sighed, closing my eyes.