The next morning, Cami woke me up by practically smothering me in my sleep. I laughed and lifted her off my face. Without my papa's knowledge, Ilya had told me how to extend Cami's life span so that she would be with me longer. Until Colin was old enough, Cami was my only companion.
I took her to breakfast with me. Papa eyed her but didn't say anything as she curled up on my lap and purred. I drank my blood in sips and someone knocked on the door.
"That must be Mr. Bailey," Colin said and beckoned for me to follow him.
"Mr. Bailey?" I asked.
"The friend of the drunkards," he said bitterly.
We stood in the foyer, Mama and Papa behind us. Papa was furious when he heard what happened but decided to wait and see if this young man was going to follow through. The butler opened the door and Solomon bowed before walking in.
"A replacement dress and extra gift to apologize," he said, offering them to Colin.
"May I?" Colin asked, pointing at the box and I nodded.
He opened it and I giggled. Inside was a black cat collar with a blue bell. Colin smirked as he put it on Cami. Cami jumped out of my arms and ran in circles, trying to get it off. I laughed.
"Aw, you'll get used to it," I cooed, picking her back up. "Thank you very much, Mr. Bailey. I accept your apology."
"How did you know I have a cat?"
"Word spreads far of the beautiful Lady Kendra," he said.
Normally, his words would make me blush. I learned my lesson, though.
"Did you receive the invitation to my birthday celebration?" Colin asked him.
"Yes but I haven't had the chance to respond," he said.
"We hope to see you there," Mama said, scratching Cami behind the ears.
"Even after yesterday evening?"
"It wasn't you who ruined my dress," I pointed out.
He bowed again. "I would love to, thank you."
When he straightened, his scent changed abruptly. I knew why but I kept my composure as he made pleasant talk with my papa. Papa was wary of him and I'm sure it was from what happened last night.
"I should get back to my shop," Solomon said. "Good day."
"Good day," we all said in unison.
I slipped up the stairs and put Cami in my room. She ran to her bed in the window and scratched at the collar some more. I giggled and Mama came in. I turned to her.
"I know," she whispered, looking at the door. "He's a vampire."
I wore the dress I got for my birthday at Colin's party. For the first time in our lives, it would be me escorting him. I knocked on his bedroom and he gave me permission to enter.
"Happy birthday!" I sang, holding up a small box.
He smiled and opened it. I had commissioned a pair of golden cufflinks.
"Unfortunately, you'll have to have Papa show you how to put them on," I said. "I have no idea how."
He laughed and hugged me. "Thank you."
"Are you ready?" I asked, offering my arm.
"No," he said but put his under mine so that my palm was on top of the back of his hand.
I walked him down the steps outside and everyone applauded. Papa had me stand beside him and nodded to Colin who looked ready to faint from nerves.
He cleared his throat. "Thank-Thank you all for coming this evening," he said, his voice carrying. "I am very honored that you accepted." Papa nodded encouragingly at him. "In just one year, I will be joining my father and I look forward to meeting all of you." He pulled on his sleeve. "I do hope you will come to trust me as you have my father. Please, enjoy yourselves."
Everyone applauded again and he walked over to us on shaking legs.
"You did magnificently," I said and he laughed.
"You're just saying that."
"You really did well," Papa said. He passed us each champagne flutes. "Now go socialize."
Colin was dragged away by some of his friends and I lingered by the fountain. A few women approached me and I smiled, recognizing them from my party.
"It's good to see you again!" one of them said, hugging me briefly. "I'm Miranda, if you don't remember."
"Of course I do," I lied.
Miranda had brown hair and green eyes. Next was Paula who had brown hair and green eyes, too. I could tell they were sisters. Finally was Christina who had blond hair and blue eyes.
"I'm glad you were able to come to my brother's birthday."
"We were surprised to see the invite in our mailbox," Christina said and laughed. "But it would seem all of New York got one!"
I laughed, too. "Yes, my papa went a little... overboard with the invitations."
We made small talk for a while. I found I actually enjoyed talking with them. Suddenly, Miranda began to giggle. I looked at her and she pointed. A man was watching me and I shifted as he started to walk over.
"Looks like you've caught his eyes," she giggled and the other girls did, too.
"And every other man in New York," I grumbled and Paula laughed.
"I can imagine you've had several young men come to you."
"Especially since I am the duke's daughter," I said with a wrinkled nose just as the man got to us.
"Good evening, ladies," he said and we returned his greeting. "I was hoping Lady Kendra would join me on a stroll."
I hesitated but Miranda pushed me forward. I sighed and passed her my champagne glass to hold, taking the man's offered arm. He seemed familiar. He had blond hair and silver eyes. As we walked, he cleared his throat.
"I heard you spurned the affections of Mr. Mathias Lance," he said.
"It wasn't like that."
"Ah, you made a good choice. He's not an honorable man." He shook his head. "There are rumors that his ex-wife still lives with him so they can indulge-"
"You haven't told me your name yet," I interrupted, wanting to get away from that subject.
"Oh! Forgive me. I am Benjamin Smith," he said and I stopped walking.
I felt like I had a heavy weight on my chest and I took a few deep breaths.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yes," I said quickly. "I just forgot- I have to- Excuse me."
I slipped my arm out of his and hurried back to the girls. I let out a long sigh.
"How did it go?" Paula asked eagerly.
I took a sip of the champagne. "He seems like a kind man."
Miranda giggled. "Did he kiss you?"
"Of course not," I said.
"Then why did you come back?"
"Er.... I'm going to find my brother," I said. "I'll have my papa send invitations to you ladies for tea one of these days."
"That sounds wonderful," Christina said happily. "Good evening."
I slipped into the crowd of people and found Colin standing not far away. I sighed in relief when I got to him.
"Thank goodness," I said.
"Are you all right?" he asked. "You're flushed."
"Just some stupid- Oh." I stopped, just noticing Solomon standing there. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize he was in conversation."
"It's quite all right," Solomon said. "I was just wishing your brother a happy birthday."
"Not again," Colin groaned as Mama made her way over. "I already talked to them, Mother."
"There is another man here," she said. "Come along. Hello, Mr. Bailey."
"Duchess Moreau," he returned politely.
Mama dragged a disgruntled Colin off and left me in an awkward silence with Solomon. His hair was slicked back and he had a small amount of stubble on his chin now. The silence dragged on. I was almost certain he knew I was a vampire, just as I knew he was one.
When I tried to think of something to say, I stalled by drinking my champagne in one go. Solomon chuckled.
"Well, I've never seen that before," he said and I looked at him, confused. "In fact, I don't think I've even seen a lady finish a glass of champagne."
I cleared my throat. "I'm just thirsty and-"
He smirked. "Your secret is safe with me, Lady Kendra."
I chuckled. "Thank you."
"If," he said, "you will take a stroll with me."
He offered his arm but I hesitated.
"Just around the square," I said and he nodded.
I took his arm and put my empty flute on a passing servant's tray.
"I noticed you fled from Mr. Smith," he said. I laughed. "Is it because you recognized him?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
He smiled. "He was the young man who ruined your dress."
I gasped and looked around. "Where is he?" I demanded. "How dare he not apologize?"
He laughed. "He probably doesn't even remember, Lady Kendra," he said.
"Do you know him well?"
He shrugged. "He works for me."
"So you're friends."
"In a sense," he said slowly.
Was he a vampire, too?
"I was going to be at your party," he said, "but I was ill."
I glanced at him. "You're not from New York, are you?"
"No," he said quietly. "Like you, I am from London."
We got closer to my parents and I stopped walking.
"Which part?" I asked casually.
"Does it matter? I'm not there anymore."
"What brought you to American, then?"
"My sister," he said. "She was ill and we were told there is a doctor here that could help her. Unfortunately, she did not make it."
"I am very sorry," I said.
"Thank you." He cleared his throat and pointed. "Benjamin is right there if you wish to-"
"I have to go," I breathed and ran up the stairs, leaving him to watch me with narrowed eyes.