In the freebie Forgotten Lullabies, the apparition of a blue rose in their home confuses Jacob, and causes him to 'interrogate' his father. He never learns the full story behind that flower, but now you will...
The thing about winter balls was that, having attended one, Andrew found himself obligated to attend all of
He’d worked his way into New York’s high society for five years before finally revealing to his closest business partner and ‘in the strictest confidence’ that he was a vampire. As he had expected, his partner had promised to keep Andrew’s secret and proceeded to share it with his entire circle of acquaintances, always with the warning that no one else should be told. The information had spread through town, a susurrus shared by businessmen, proper ladies and their servants alike. By now, few were those who didn’t know. And every person who had sent Andrew an invitation to their winter ball had known, he was sure of it.
It was all a calculated risk on his part. Humans and vampires had a complicated history, and humans had cause to be wary of vampires, even vampires who, like Andrew, did not bite humans to feed. Andrew had hidden what he was for a long time, he’d moved around, even changed continents whenever people were beginning to notice he didn’t age.
This time, he intended for things to be different. This time, he wouldn’t have to start from scratch again – or at least, that was the plan. His business had suffered from his revelation, with a few partnerships falling through, but he’d expected that. People would be scared. Then they’d be curious enough to invite him to crowded parties, believing that there was safety in numbers. And then, if he played his cards right, they’d want to boast they were close friends with a vampire, and he wouldn’t have to worry about hiding what he was ever again.
That night’s ball, like all the most fashionable parties of the season, had a theme: blue. Privately, Andrew thought it was a little silly. The hostess meant to make her event memorable, but all people would remember from the night was a color, and little more than that. They certainly wouldn’t remember her extravagant gown or the sapphire necklace glittering at her neck, not when half the women present wore similar colors and jewelry. Still, clad in his midnight blue tuxedo, he played the role of a perfect gentleman and bowed low to press the lightest of kisses to her knuckles as she welcomed him into her home.
“You honor us by your presence,” she said with a smile as he straightened up again. He was becoming used to this particular smile. In the privacy of his own mind, he called it the ‘scared but unwilling to show it’ smile.
“It is you and your husband who honor me,” he responded smoothly, trying to appear as non-threatening as he knew how. It wasn’t easy; he was, after all, tall and rather fit. Before his revelation, his physique had warranted him some attention from ladies – and even, very occasionally, from gentlemen. Now, it only seemed to intimidate.
“When my condition was first revealed to the city,” he continued, “I feared being ostracized, but you, along with a few others, are reminding me that the leaders of our community can see beyond my fangs, and for this I can only thank you.”
He bowed to her again, and she replied with a graceful nod of her head. Her husband was, as a matter of fact, one of the ‘leaders’ who had been most vocal – although always behind closed doors – in expressing their fear of the kind of monster he was. She’d only invited him because other ladies with whom she competed had invited him first. This was his one chance to convince her he was no monster, so that she could influence her husband. So far, it seemed to be going well enough.
“I need to welcome the rest of my guests,” she said, and now her smile seemed a little more sincere. “Will you find me, later tonight, and we can chat a little longer?”
Andrew translated this as: ‘Too few people are here to see us interact. We must talk again later when more of them can bear witness.’ He excused himself and stepped further into the mansion, nodding here and there at people he knew, allowing them to decide whether they wanted more than a nod from him. Few did, but every invitation to join a circle of conversation for a few moments was a small victory. Small, but nonetheless important.
An hour passed, then two. And Andrew remembered why he hated parties like this one. It wasn’t about the guests enjoying themselves with good company, good food and fancy drinks – blue, to fit the theme. It was about their hostess trying to stake a claim, and for her guests to try to outshine her and each other. Only by repeating to himself that he was here for business and for his future did Andrew manage to keep a smile on his face and gracious manners towards all, but eventually it became too much.
He needed a moment to himself, a moment of quiet and solitude. He found it by escaping into the gardens. The frigid temperatures guaranteed he would be alone… or so he thought until he noticed a trail of footsteps in the wet snow. Had there been two trails, he would have assumed a couple was seeking some privacy and would have remained away, but as it was he couldn’t suppress his curiosity, and followed the steps around the corner of the house.
There, leaning against the wall, he found a young man clad in the white livery of the serving staff. His cheeks were pink from the biting cold and one of his hands was shoved deep in his trousers’ pocket. The other brought a cigarette to his lips and took it away again in regular movements – although that stopped when he noticed Andrew and dropped the cigarette to the ground. His eyes, dark green and gleaming from the snow reflecting light all around them, widened as he took in Andrew, and he jerked away from the wall.
“Don’t be alarmed,” Andrew said, raising a hand toward the young man, palm out. “I was only looking for a moment of quiet, same as you.”
“My apologies, sir,” the young man said. “I shouldn’t—”
Just then, a burst a noise came from inside, voices and music escaping probably through the same French windows Andrew had used to step out. The noise receded again, and Andrew could hear two voices, a man and a woman, whispering endearments and urging each other to find a secluded place.
“I should go back,” the young man said, but Andrew stopped him before he could walk past him and, more than likely, walk onto the couple.
“Wait,” he whispered. “People are out there. I don’t think they would take it likely if you walked on them in a delicate situation.”
The young man’s mouth formed a silent “Oh” of comprehension.
“They shouldn’t stay out very long,” Andrew said, still as quietly.
He doubted the couple would hear him, not when they seemed so preoccupied with each other and their shared pleasure, but he’d rather be safe. Embarrassing someone now would not help his plans to gain more allies.
Abruptly, the young man took in a sharp breath. Andrew looked at him, curious, and when he saw the hint of fear in his face he knew exactly what was going on.
“You’re him,” the young man breathed. “The one they’re all whispering about. The vampire.”
Andrew held back a sigh. “That would be me, yes.”
He expected the young man to run, but while he wavered a little on his feet, he held his ground. “Is it true what they say? That you don’t drink blood? What do you eat, then?”
When Andrew frowned, the young man’s rosy cheeks only darkened further with a blush.
“Pardon me, sir. I didn’t mean to be insolent. I’ve just… I’ve never met a… a person like you before.”
Andrew relaxed a little. Most people were just as curious as the young man, but few dared be as straightforward with their questions. The change was refreshing.
“It’s not insolence to be curious,” he said quietly. “And I do drink blood, just not human blood.”
He left it at that. His feeding preferences concerned no one but him.
“It’s… fascinating,” the young man whispered. “Is it magic? They had a magic person here, earlier. He set up spells, made things glitter—” He pulled the blue rose from his own lapel, looking at it with a slight frown. “—and he changed the color of the roses, too, so they’d all be blue. Is that how vampires are made? Does magic change who you are?”
Smiling faintly, Andrew shook his head. “I’ve heard it said that long, long ago, the very first vampires were created with magic. But no, that’s not how it works anymore.”
He plucked the rose from the young man’s grip, and they both shivered when their fingers touched.
“Blue or pink,” he said, tucking the rose in his own lapel, “this rose is still a rose. It’s still beautiful, and it still smells as sweet. Human or vampire, I’m still me. I just won’t fade as quickly as a rose.”
The young man’s blush returned, and he dropped his gaze for a second, his mouth opening as though he wanted to say something, but closing again without a word. His heart was beating extraordinarily fast, all of a sudden, but no fear rose on his scent. Instead, Andrew realized with some mild surprise, the young man smelled faintly of musk – of attraction. Before either of them said a word, quiet voices, then a burst of noise when the windows opened and silence again announced that they were alone once more.
“I should go back inside before I am missed,” the young man said without meeting Andrew’s eyes. “Good evening, sir.”
“Wait,” Andrew said, grasping his wrist to hold him back. “What is your name?”
Those lovely green eyes looked back at him, half swallowed by dilated pupils. “Nicholas, sir.”
Andrew’s hand slid down to clasp Nicholas’ hand and shake it.
“And I’m Andrew,” he said with a small smile. “It was nice to meet you.”
Nicholas shook his hand once, smiling shyly, then stepped away. Andrew watched him go and waited for a moment so they wouldn’t be noticed returning at the same time. He needed to go and find his hostess, he decided, fingering the blue rose at his lapel. He needed to charm her, and make sure she’d invite him into her home again soon. That would be his only chance to see Nicholas, and he wouldn't let it pass.