Bella woke abruptly, perspiring and damp between her legs. She knew it was well past the time she was expected to get up, but didn't care at that moment. Her horror at the dream she had been presented with last night had shocked her. She ran her fingers through her hair repeatedly, appalled at some of the images that had somehow gotten into her subconscious mind. Every kiss, every caress of Sebastian Hoffman's seemed so utterly real that she remembered wondering during the dream if it had been. Apparently not or he would have been in the same bed with her.
She quickly bathed and dressed, deciding to keep her hair down. Instead of going downstairs, she prowled around her room restlessly, reading and sometimes writing random things on parchment. Eventually, when it was nearly dusk, she forced herself to leave her stuffy room and go do something.
She exited her room, her straight, long hair flowing behind her as she walked downstairs. Merryl accosted her almost instantly, looking a bit surprised to see that she had just emerged from her room. "Lady, can I speak with you?" He inquired anxiously. She bobbed her head and followed him to the foyer. "Your father wants us to use your horses, but they will not come. They are being incredibly stubborn! They're acting more like mules than horses."
"They're still very frightened," Bella murmured. "You may have to buy some other horses at the stables, Merryl. Would that be much of a problem?" He looked sulky as he spread his hands out helplessly. She understood that meant he was uncertain. "We'll figure something out," she assured him as a familiar horse came galloping up and an even more familiar male stomped towards the manor. "Excuse me, Merryl." He nodded and watched as she opened the door. "Hello, Michael."
"I just lost my fiancée!" He exploded angrily.
"Your damned guest infuriated her! She told me that if I had such a good friend that associated with – and I quote – 'arrogant nobodies,' then she wanted nothing to do with me. I adored her, Bella – "
"Oh, do shut up, Michael!" She snapped agitatedly. It was the first time she had ever spoke harshly towards him, but she wasn't about to allow him to begin lying to her. "You didn't care a wit about her! You knew her for a short time and she was a horrible woman, anyway. I can't believe you thought I would like her!"
"How can you say that? Damn you, Bella, you might as well just marry me since you made me lose my fiancée!"
"You expect me to marry you after what you did yesterday, Michael?"
"And what did I do?" He demanded.
"You were being a pompous ass!" She angrily said. "She was insulting me – laughing in my face – but all you did was sit there and laugh with her. I thought we were friends, but obviously I was wrong, unless you treat your friends like that."
"I never wanted to be friends, Bella! I've always wanted more than friendship! You know that!" Bella stared at him, bristling with indignation. There was a light clearing of the throat and she blinked as Merryl gently pushed her from the door to face Michael.
"I think that's quite enough," Merryl stated in his quiet, calm tone. "The lady has already had enough torment from you, sirrah. I don't believe her father would like you to treat her in such a way in her own home." He tilted his head, cocking an eyebrow in a cool, arrogant manner in which Bella had never seen in the footman. "Or would you prefer for me to rouse Lord Hoffman, since your once-fiancée seems to be the one who has an aversion to him." Michael's face flushed in anger from both the degrading term, 'sirrah,' and Merryl's threat to call down his master.
"No," he snarled irritably, "that's not necessary." He flicked a look to Bella and then backed away, whipping around to move towards his horse. Merryl shut the door behind him just as he mounted his horse and went plummeting down the road.
"Thank you, Merryl," she murmured. "I almost lost it." He gave her a dashing smile.
"My lord wouldn't like for me to simply stand by and watch as you're harassed. Besides, he was being extremely rude." His mouth turned down as a shadow passed over his face. "Not that I'm surprised. Some of these villagers..." He trailed off, the corners of his mouth tightening with the thought of some unknown memory. She brushed her fingers over his sleeve and the dark look passed from his face as he looked to her.
"We'll go to the stables and find some horses for you. Surely there are some Mr. Briggs would be willing to loan out to you."
"That would be a relief, lady. We have imposed on your family for long enough."
"Not at all," she assured. "If you and your lord are eager to leave, however, we had better start towards Mr. Briggs' stables."
He smiled, nodding. When she turned from him, his eyes widened a fraction at seeing the slight, pink blemish on her neck. As she put on her kid boots, he stood stationary by the door, staring blankly at the floor. What would possess Lord Hoffman to feed from her? Merryl wondered, his brow crinkling. There's no right reason for him to do so. I had noticed his interest in her, of course, but I never thought it would muddle his mind. Biting his lip, he raised his head as she came to him by the door. A puzzled smile was on her lips, but he ignored it, opening the door for her and following her out. Perhaps...Could it be something more?
"Lady," Merryl mumbled to her as they left Mr. Briggs' stables with two, strong beasts with them. "I must confess to you something. Please do not be alarmed." Bella turned to him with a confused look. He had been acting strange ever since they had left the manor and she knew he had been thinking over something very carefully by his silence and brooding expression. "If Lord Hoffman knew I told you such a thing, I could be in great trouble. You must promise not to tell another soul and not to run screaming from me. Please promise me."
"If it is such a secret, Merryl, why are you bothering to tell me?" She asked, frowning. They had passed out of the village and were moving through the empty land to the manor. Stopping, she fixed him with firm look, eyeing him suspiciously.
"Because it would be best...if you are becoming close to my master...that you should know it. He is too secretive, too prideful, to ever tell you such a thing until it is too late." Her heart dropped and she swallowed, licking her lips nervously. "Do I have your word?" Bella looked from him, her grip on the reins of the horse she was leading tightening briefly. She nodded, keeping her eyes from him. "Very well...You have heard of...vampires, have you not?" Her head snapped back to look at him.
"Surely you are not suggesting – " She began, but he interrupted her.
"I am not suggesting it. I am telling you what he is. He arrived by carriage at night, did he not? The animals were nervous when he arrived, am I correct? And he is never around during daylight, only after dusk. Can you say this is a coincidence?"
"That's absurd! No such things exist!"
"Do you know where he gets blood?" She shook her head slowly, fearing the answer. "He doesn't hunt and kill people like most do. He took me in as an orphan, taught me to be a footman with two conditions: that I provide him with blood and keep his secret. He doesn't need much to survive. He has already taken some of your blood." He lifted his hand and brushed it against the spot on her neck. "He made it appear as a bug bite."
"This...cannot be." She groaned, pressing a hand to her face. "No...Then this means...Oh, no..."
"I am a fool, Merryl. The bloody man..." She shivered a bit. "I've lost myself to him. He is too..." She hesitated and then sighed. "He is too much like myself. If I had known this before, I would have been able to despise him. But now..." She trailed off hopelessly, dropping her hand. Merryl stared at her steadily before looking away.
"The animals trust you," he said abruptly. "Would you mind accompanying us? For the horses, lady, not for Lord Hoffman."
"Perhaps," was her vague response. He tilted his mouth in a half-smile and took one of her hands, squeezing it briefly and then returned to walking. After a pause, she followed.
Sebastian was pleased that, as soon as he and Merryl were ready to go, the carriage and horses were as well. The animals were restless, though, just as they all were when he approached. He would have to train two new horses so that they didn't run him off the road. He didn't particularly like the idea of getting into that carriage with the two horses, especially when they were acting in that manner.
"My lord," Daniel moved towards him, Bella at his side. Sebastian was irked by her sudden withdrawn attitude towards him. "My eldest daughter is best with horses and Mr. Briggs' are bound to thrown your carriage into a tree if they're already anxious. Perhaps it would be best if she rode along until you arrived at Yorkshire. It will give you a way back to the village if anything happens and might calm the animals." Sebastian frowned.
"You would leave your daughter unattended by two males, Lord Gales?" He asked with a slight tone of mockery.
"She is not like the other females of this family," he responded with a hint of disgust in his voice. "She knows to take any means possible if she is put in any...situations...that she does not like." Bella raised her hand to show a silver dagger in a leather sheath.
Silver, he hissed in his mind. That's a strange choice of metal... "I suppose, if you believe it will work best."
"I don't want her riding back until at least dawn, my lord, so please don't listen to her if she insists."
"Of course," Sebastian grunted. "And tell Mr. Briggs that he will have his horses back in due time." Daniel nodded and then gestured to Bella. She left briefly and returned with her fur-lined cloak. Passing Sebastian and her father in the doorway, she left outside to get her mount. Sebastian watched her, his mouth taut. Why was she acting so cool towards him? When he returned his gaze to Daniel, he cringed at the knowing look on the man's face.
"You like my daughter, don't you, Lord Hoffman?" He queried lightly, not once allowing his eyes to leave Sebastian's.
"Why would you ask such a question?"
"I am not blind. You two have become close in the scarce time you've been here. It takes a lot to impress my Bella and you have left quite an impression on her. I can see that you're upset with her impassiveness, but it is how it always is. She always draws away when she thinks she can't get what she desires." A smile curved Daniel's mouth. "I hope you can show her that she can."
You don't understand, Daniel, Sebastian told the man silently, turning from him and moving outside as Bella came up with one of their horses saddled. I can't have her. No one can accept what I am, not even if I explained it to her. Not even if I told her that my feelings lie beyond lust. "Thank you for allowing me to stay, Lord Gales."
"Please visit us soon, my lord," Daniel replied pleasantly, as though he hadn't just lectured him. Bella lifted herself onto her horse as Merryl opened the carriage and Sebastian stepped in. The horses kept their eyes on Bella, wary of the stranger that was inside the carriage. Bella smiled to Merryl as he stepped up and took the reins of the horses and the whip. She waved a hand to her father and then pulled at her horse's reins, turning him away from the manor, leading Merryl down to the road.
Bella peered up ahead and let out a shuddering breath. There was no mistake. They were finally at Yorkshire estate. She turned in the saddle and waved an arm at Merryl, calling, "We're here! We'll be at the steps soon!" As soon as they stopped at the steps, the doors were flung open and two maids came skipping down the steps. They gave her a baffled look and then beamed at the carriage behind her. Bella slipped off her mount, smiling at the maids in greeting. "Lord Hoffman is in the carriage," she explained. They bobbed their heads and waited until he got out of the carriage before speaking to him.
"My lord, we've been expecting you!" They chirped.
"I was delayed," he said softly. "Direct Merryl to the stables so that he can take the carriage away. One of you take Lady Gales' mount."
"Yes, my lord!" The two hurried to do as bid while Sebastian ushered Bella to follow him. She hesitated for a brief second before following him up the two sets of steps. The doorman bowed, welcoming him as the new master. Other servants scurried around, pretending to do things only to get a glimpse of their new master. The housekeeper bustled them upstairs, showing Sebastian the master bedroom. She seemed puzzled when he asked that Bella be given a guest room.
"She is not your wife, my lord?" She questioned him.
"No, housekeeper, she is not," Sebastian replied steadily. She gave a tiny shrug and then began to drag Bella down to one of the guest rooms.
"My lord?" Bella called as he turned towards the master bedroom. He paused, glancing her way. "If you're not too weary...I need to have a word with you. I expect to be gone by dawn." His eyes moved over her face carefully and then he nodded.
"As you wish."
Bella had wanted nothing more than to ignore her affections for Lord Sebastian Hoffman, but they would not leave her. Whenever she tried to convince herself that it was better if she simply forgot him, her heart angrily protested and demanded she go to him. It was a useless battle, especially since she had a horrible feeling that she would never feel the same way for another man as she did with Sebastian. She had never felt such ardor for one person.
And even if he were to feel the same and ask that I join his world of darkness, what would I be leaving behind? Two sisters that enjoy to sleep around and bring ridicule upon our family? A mother that has no wits and is a disloyal wife? The only true person I would miss is papa. If I told him the truth...if Sebastian allowed me to...he would understand. I know he would. She sighed, pausing in front of Sebastian's door. I'm getting ahead of myself. If I'm lucky, I won't even need to make any of those decisions. I'll just have my heart broken. Her mouth slanted down at the idea. She raised her head and knocked softly, entering when he permitted it. She shut the door behind her and flinched, seeing that he had stripped down to only his breeches and shirt.
"You have been shy of me lately, my lady," he remarked, spinning a quill between his fingers.
"I have my reasons," she answered softly, moving further in the room. It was large and spacious. If he got angry, she could easily avoid his wrath. It seemed that way to her, anyway.
"I hope you intend on giving me those reasons."
"Yes...That's why I wanted to speak to before I...left." She grimaced, twisting her fingers in her skirts. He watched her with an expressionless face from his spot at the desk with his feet propped up on the top. He let out a slow breath and dropped his feet, pushing a hand through his hair. "My lord..." She let out a shaky breath. "This is going to sound ridiculous, but in the past few days, I have...grown attached to you. If you find this repulsive – "
"Repulsive?" He repeated, his eyes widening a fraction. "How could I find that repulsive, Bella? I – " She held up a hand, her face pained. He could see there was something else holding her back.
"I'm afraid of these emotions, because I've never felt them. And..." She bowed her head, her fingers tightening further, crinkling the cloth. "...I know what you are. I know what you've done." There was a long silence, so thick and tense that she didn't dare raise her head to see his expression.
"...What?" His voice was soft. "What I am? What are you speaking of?"
"Don't try to act as though it's not true!" She snapped, raising her head, angry at his attempt at lying. She could hear the underlying panic beneath his calm façade. "For goodness' sake, you bit me! You've been...feeding...on Merryl! He told me. He knew you would never tell me, never admit it and didn't want me getting hurt! If you truly cared anything about me, you wouldn't try and act as though you're not a...a..." She made a furious gesture with her hands.
"A vampire?" He filled in, his eyes pools of darkness. "He had no right."
"I'll not have you hurt him," she said, backing up to the door as he stood and stepped towards it. She clutched her fingers over the doorframe, glaring up at him as he came to stand in front of her. "He had every right since you've been using him like a brandy bottle. Don't you dare harm him!" His eyes narrowed on her.
"I could kill you." He raised his hand to slide on her neck. "I could break your neck and leave you lying here. If anyone came to find you, I'd just disappear. Is that what you want? Do you want to die for someone as inferior as my footman?" Her lips trembled from the threat, but she didn't move aside or unlatch her fingers from the doorframe. His fingers curled around her neck and she let out a small sound of fright. He sighed and uncurled his fingers, sliding his hand up to her hair, leaning down to press his forehead to hers. "I couldn't hurt you, not even if it cost my life. He shouldn't have told you, though. You would have been safer!"
"So you don't want me," she stated blandly, dropping her arms, and pushing him away. "Because I'm not like you."
"No, because I am what I am, Bella. Do you want to sacrifice your life to see nothing but darkness? To be with a creature? I couldn't condemn you to such a life." She turned from him, folding her arms over her chest.
"It won't matter. My life will be horribly dreary without you. What do I have at that village? What do I have that makes me happy? Nothing! I have my piano, my books, but what else? I have no friends! I have only my father as family because my sisters are whores and my mother is corrupt. I have lost everything, have gambled everything on you. If you're lying to me again, then just say so. Don't give me petty lies, just say that you don't feel the same and I'll be satisfied. I'll leave at dawn and try – uselessly, hopelessly try – to forget about you."
"I wasn't lying."
"Then I don't see the issue!" She whirled around to look at him, her cerulean depths shining from restrained tears. "Why are you resisting it?" He pressed his hands to his face, willing his own pain and agitation away. With her becoming hysterical, he had to stay steady.
"I won't let you become what I am. You're better than that. You don't need me as badly as you believe." She stared at him, stricken. Slowly, she shook her head and then pressed her back against the door. "Bella..." He moved towards her, a hand outstretched. She flinched when he took her hand and slipped it from his, holding it to her protectively.
"No. Please. You're firm in your resolve. If what you wish is for me to stay away, then that is what I'll do." She fumbled with the knob and pressed down, the door clicking open. She turned and pulled it open, quietly saying, "Goodnight." He watched the door close and felt his heart shatter into pieces. He knew it was his own discouragement that had led her to leave, but he felt as though he had killed the light he had always seen in her, trampling on it so it would never return.
"Bella?" Daniel quietly called from his study, pushing from his desk and moving towards the foyer. He saw his daughter's pale face and the stain of tears on her cheeks and knew that, for some reason, Sebastian had rejected her. He went to her and took her in his arms. The tears had not quite dried out of her, for she sobbed in his shoulder with all the agony of a heartbroken person. He stroked her disheveled curls, hugging her tightly to him. "Shh...It's alright. It's going to be fine, Bella..."
Weeks passed. Bella rarely left her room or her parlor. All Daniel heard from her piano was soft, slow music that sounded like it belonged to a funeral rather than his young daughter's parlor. Merryl had come by after returning Mr. Briggs horses, asking in concern whether Bella was well. Daniel could only shrug his shoulders and tell him she was taking it hard. It was apparent that he had not been the only surprised person when Sebastian had turned her away.
It wasn't until a month and a half passed when Bella finally began to move around the house again. She usually spent her time in her father's study, curled up at the window seat, reading or doing some other thing. When he would look at her, she would flash a reassuring smile to him and then return to whatever she was doing. He could see she was making an effort to mend her broken self, but he also knew how much of a struggle it was with only himself and occasionally Merryl keeping her company.
It was one night when Daniel was with his daughter in his study that the three other occupants of the home suddenly rushed to the door in an unusual frenzy. He heard carriage wheels outside, but ignored it, guessing it was Michael or one of the other villagers since a carriage builder had arrived some time earlier and had been designing carriages. He heard the three chat to someone at the door and heard it shut before Madeline came to his study, giving a coy look. "Lord Hoffman wishes to speak with you, husband," she announced. Bella's head jerked up and she sent a terrified look to her father. She had told him, after the month, what Sebastian's true nature was, and though, as an intellectual, he could not believe in such things as "vampires," he did not doubt his daughter's words.
"Bring him in, then," Daniel wearily said. Madeline disappeared and a moment later Sebastian was shown in by the three females. He glared at them and then snapped the doors behind his visitor, locking them for extra measure. He glanced at Sebastian, and then at his still daughter who sat at the window seat with her head bowed. "What have you come here to say, Lord Hoffman?" He asked icily. Sebastian glanced at him, then at Bella, but let his gaze return to her father.
"...I owe an apology," he slowly told him.
"You owe more than an apology!"
"Papa," Bella said in a world-weary voice, "please. Let him speak." She raised her tired eyes to Sebastian's and made a careless gesture with her hand. "My lord. You have come all this way from Yorkshire and in the middle of the night. It is unusual, but not unheard of. Please. Continue what you were saying." Both males stared at her, one in shock, the other in numbness. At last, Sebastian nodded, moving his gaze back to Daniel.
"My life, however dull it is, has seemed to me extremely...lonesome. I have never had this issue in the past before. I had hoped that by sending Bella away, I would protect her and give her more choices. I don't pretend to deserve her, Lord Gales, and I wanted her to understand that. I'm not fit to have a woman in my life as my wife. Surely, Bella has told you what I am." Daniel gave a curt nod. "Then, can you understand why I might come to that conclusion?"
"Bella has nothing here but me, my lord. She hasn't had anything ever since we were exiled. I don't have anything here. Even if you are...what you are...she would be happy. She has to deal with a mother and two sisters that are selfish and don't love their family anymore. I wanted you to take her away from this life. I knew she liked you. I thought you felt the same."
"Don't mistake me, Lord Gales," Sebastian rumbled. "I care a great deal for her. I just don't..." He trailed off, his mouth tightening into a thin line.
"Lord Hoffman, why has it taken you so long to come here?"
"...I didn't think it would take so long for Bella to recover." He sounded guilty, upset even. "I knew I would never recover, but I thought it would take less time than this for her to resume her normal life."
"You ass!" Daniel barked out. "I don't care what the hell you are! You've still got something between your legs, haven't you?"
"Papa – " Bella began, but he raged on.
"If you had any sense, you wouldn't have sent her away! You should have known what this would do to her. You knew she wasn't like those other bitches that I call my wife and daughters! You should have come the night immediately after!"
"Papa! Stop!" Bella ordered, getting to her feet. "It's not your place to force him to do things he doesn't want to do. He doesn't want me in his life, so just let it be. How much more do you want me to suffer?" Daniel stared at her, gaping.
"You're mistaken, Bella," Sebastian told her, his face guarded. "I want, very much, for you to be in my life. If you'll still take me, then I'll gladly sweep you off to Yorkshire. If it will make you smile again, if it will make you the woman I fell in love with, then I'll take you into my life, but on no other conditions." Bella stared at him, a wary look in her eyes. She slid her hands on her arms, surveying the carpet as she deliberated over what he said.
"...You love me, then," she said, raising her eyes to his.
"Yes." She looked from him to her father, in the same cautious manner. Whatever she saw in his face seemed to reassure her, because when she looked back to Sebastian, there was a beginning smile on her lips. "Does this mean you'll come with me to Yorkshire?"
"Only if you make me your wife." His mouth twitched.
"I wouldn't want it any other way."
Kanna-sama: I was going to add more, but I decided this was running a bit longer than it should be for a two-shot. Please leave a review and give me your input, even if it is criticism. Ciao!