Fallen grace, p.15
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       Fallen Grace, p.15

           Jessica Cartwright
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  Lucas was in his study as usual when I entered the house. I knocked lightly and waited to be permitted entry. He was surrounded by papers. I stood next to his desk, my hands clasped loosely behind my back, ready to give my report. It was unusual for me to see Lucas in his current casual dress of a beige linen suit and white collar shirt.

  “Good morning Grace,” Lucas greeted me. “Paperwork, it appears to haunt me these days. The Council has so many reports and documentation that need to be reviewed before each meeting. It is lucky that I am immortal or I might die before I had a chance to finish it,” he stated, gesturing around him.

  “It seems to be an insurmountable task for which I do not envy you,” I replied.

  “What can I assist you with today? I have spoken with Marius this morning and I am happy with the plan you have devised. Your dedication to this mission is unshakable and for that I am so grateful,” Lucas continued.

  “I wanted to assure you that I am doing everything necessary to ensure Alex’s safety. I will make certain that his safety does not come under threat again. Last night was inexcusable and I thank you for your understanding.” I stated.

  “Grace, it is because of you that Alex is alive and part of me is glad that he knows his true self. Of course Katherine is upset, but now Alex can know his family and the power he commands. In time Katherine will see this too,” Lucas continued.

  “Did Marius speak with you in relation to my ongoing involvement with Alex?” I asked, attempting to conceal the uncertainty in my voice.

  “Grace, I could tell from the time you arrived that Alex was besotted with you. Whilst I regret the pain that he will inevitably feel when you leave, he will enjoy the memory of your relationship and it will keep him safe whilst he is here.” Lucas condoned my behaviour.

  “Some pain is unavoidable yet regrettable. I would rather Alex hate me and be alive than the unacceptable alternative,” I agreed.

  “So it is settled. I will speak with Katherine when she is stronger. At the moment she has retired to her room and is refusing to come out. She is undoubtedly distressed by last night’s events and will take some time to reconcile her new relationship with Alex. She did take breakfast with him this morning which is positive, however that was only if I promised not to join them and of course she is not planning on taking your company in the near future,” Lucas explained.

  “That is understandable, our relationship was civil at best and she obviously expects that I orchestrated this event to reveal the truth to Alex. Provided that she allows me to continue my protection assignment as I find necessary, then I will be able to complete my assignment and leave her and Alex with as much as expedience as possible.” I stated this wondering just how I would tolerate leaving Alex and never seeing him again.

  “It’s settled then. From now on you are in control of all security measures and protection requirements you deem necessary for Alex’s protection. I have advised Alistair, Michael and George that you may require their assistance and they will make themselves available. At this time Alex will continue to eat breakfast and supper with Katherine in her parlour and you will remain absent from her presence,” Lucas summarised.

  “As for school, I feel it is best for Alex to remain absent until I have an opportunity to reschedule our classes together and remove Tristan from any contact with him. If the Acelades are watching, they will expect me to leave tonight to assess Creswick Academy. For that reason, I will not leave the manor until tomorrow night after I have been able to provide instruction to Alistair and George. Of course I will require you to converse with the school tomorrow in relation to my obvious emotional distress at the night’s events and that I will require Alex in my classes as protection in an ongoing arrangement,” I informed Lucas.

  “I am happy to undertake that task Grace and will advise you of the outcome,” he accepted.

  I left the room and stopped by the kitchen consuming two pitchers of blood whilst Sienna and Martha went about preparing Alex’s dinner. They smiled sympathetically at me as they removed the pitchers. I knew they would never understand why I lived the way I did, but I also knew the way they came into the vampire world was very different to me. Thanking them for my meal, I left the kitchen and journeyed to find Alistair, Michael and George. I convened an impromptu briefing for the new security measures I would need to implement.

  “The Acelades know that I am here to protect Alex. They also now know far more about Alex’s schedule and life than I would like, due to Scarlet’s creative information gathering. As a result of this some changes will need to be made. Obviously, Alex knows about his true identity and this will facilitate our operations immensely.” I stated this as Michael, Alistair and George sat nodding.

  “I have spoken with Marius and we have devised a plan of action for going forward. Lucas is organising arrangements for Alex’s return to school and I will be able to monitor him at every moment outside the manor. When he is at the Manor, he is still to be guarded at any time he enters the grounds. He is not to wander the Manor unwatched. I will organise for Lucas to provide you all access to the security monitors and Alex’s tracking frequency. The windows are to be closed at all times in the home and the doors are to be alarmed. I expect that this will be enforced with all staff. Please advise them that if they do not obey these directions, I will have them removed from the premises. In addition no one is to enter or exit the premises without my expressed approval.” I finished and looked to them for agreement.

  “What about the boy?” George asked.

  “What about the boy?” I countered.

  “Does he really understand the danger he is in?” he asked.

  “He knows enough to be safe, but not enough to make him stupid. I do not want Alex being told more than he needs to know. His life is my responsibility and until I complete this assignment I control his security and that includes his understanding of the situation. Alex is like his father. He will tend towards heroism. It didn’t work for his father and I will not let him make the same mistakes,” I stated.

  George nodded and sat back in his chair observing me thoughtfully. Of all the staff and residents of the manor, George was the most insightful. He knew that I was not telling them everything, but would never question me or my reasons. I looked at Alistair who was trying his best to appear nonchalant about the situation but I could tell the mention of Marius’s name had the same effect on him as it had on most protector hopefuls. Marius was a god in our society. He had been the head of the protectors since the Acelades-Sempre split and is the reason the Sempre family is still in control.

  “I will go to assess Creswick Academy again tomorrow evening to ensure that Alex’s return on Tuesday will be with as little risk as possible. From now on, Alistair you will shadow us to and from school to provide additional support if required. If an attack does occur, your direction is to take Alex back to the manor immediately. You are not to attempt to engage in combat or assist me in any way are we clear?” I asked.

  “Crystal.” he replied.

  “George and Michael, whilst I am away from the manor you will need to be in control of security. The biggest risk we have will be Katherine. She has little understanding and even less inclination to assist with this mission. She will need to be monitored as I would not be surprised if she continues to disobey my instructions to keep the manor in lock down. I am sure that after last night, she has already called Stephan and I assume he will arrive soon. He will need to be brought to me immediately upon his arrival. The rest of the staff will follow your direction. Should there be any concern I will be available to return to the manor if necessary. Are there any questions?” I asked George and Michael.

  “What do you mean we need to monitor Ms Katherine?” Michael asked with uncertainty. I knew this was all new to him. He had been present during previous protector missions, but had never been directly involved and now I was asking him to restrict Katherine’s movements. She was a woman who he had served since she was born.

/>   “Michael, I can appreciate that this is a difficult undertaking for you, however Lucas ensured me that you were up to the challenge. You simply need to ensure that Ms Katherine does not do anything to hurt herself or others. She is in her parlour sulking at the moment and her calls are being monitored. If she should attempt to have someone come to the premises, then I would expect that you would take the necessary action by preventing their attendance on the Manor grounds and that you would call me immediately. George has experience in these lock down procedures,” I stated remembering the last time the manor was in lock down. It was the night William was found.

  “Yes lass, regrettably I do,” he answered. “And I am sure we will have a better endin’ this time.” George looked at me, his eyes kind as he tried to convey his belief in my abilities. I gave him a quick nod before returning to the others.

  “Tomorrow Lucas will contact the school and make the necessary arrangements for our return the following day. In the evening I will travel to Creswick with Alistair and Alex to brief them on my security plan. The Acelades will be expecting that Alex will remain at the Manor and that is why he will journey with us. It will also assist in showing Alex the reality of the next three months of his life. This evening I will leave the Manor at 8:00pm to feed and then I will return. For the duration of my stay I will feed daily to ensure my strength is sustained. These times will vary. You will all be required to guard Alex whilst I am gone. Should I fail to return, Lucas will need to be informed immediately so a replacement protector can be arranged. Under no circumstances are you to leave the manor to find me. Is that clear?” I stated, not really expecting an answer.

  George, Alistair and Michael nodded. I knew that I was providing them with the worst possible scenario but given the two attacks, it was also the most likely. A protector’s life span was significantly shorter than other vampires and I had already had a number of lucky escapes. They needed to be properly briefed so that if the Acelades were successful in removing me, Alex would be protected. I dismissed them and Alistair and Michael left leaving George lingering at the door.

  “Can I help you George?” I asked, not really wanting to have any further discussion on the topic.

  “Just wanted to say that this lad is not John or William. He is unlikely to make the same error that they did. I have watched that boy since you arrived and I’d bet my life that he would do anything to stay with you,” George commented a little too insightfully for my liking.

  “You’re not alive so the bet is somewhat meaningless George but I appreciate the sentiment. Alex’s behaviour is only assisting my assignment. Do not see it for more than what it is,” I replied keeping my face blank and my voice even.

  “You might fool the others but I know two halves when I see it. Alex may not know our ways but that does not stop him being affected by them or you for that matter. Be careful, I don’t think this family could take another loss,” George said, refusing to accept my lie.

  “I will take your comments under advisement George but let me be perfectly clear. I have no intention of maintaining a relationship with Alex once my protection assignment is complete,” I concluded. I could hear George chuckle as he exited the door and felt perturbed by his comments. I knew the loss the Sempre family had experienced and unfortunately I had been unable to prevent its most recent devastation, I would not make the same mistakes with Alex as I did with John.

  Alex was with Katherine in her parlour and I waited outside listening to their conversation.

  “Mom, I can’t believe you called Olivia. We’ve broken up!” Alex shouted.

  “Alex, just listen to me. I know you think Grace is wonderful but she is all wrong for you. You have a real chance with Olivia and when this is over and we return to London you can recommence your relationship,” Katherine replied.

  “I don’t want to ‘recommence our relationship’,” he spat, imitating her voice. “Just because you’re bitter that Grace finally told me the truth…”

  “Don’t speak to me like that Alex.” Katherine truly sounded hurt. “You have no idea what you are talking about. I am only looking after you. Do you really think that you have a future with Grace? She has looked the same way since I met her almost 200 years ago. How is that going to look when your 30, 40 50 years old and she still looks like a teenager?” Katherine asked.

  “Well maybe I’m not planning on looking like I’m 30, 40 or 50. Just because you want me to be human doesn’t mean that I have to be. I’m going to ask Grace to change me,” Alex replied.

  “Well I hope you aren’t planning on that working. If there is one thing I know it’s that Grace would never do that. Besides once she has completed this assignment, she will move on and you will never see her again. Protectors don’t get involved especially not with Council members. There is much you don’t know about the way we live Alex,” Katherine said haughtily.

  “Whose fault is it that I don’t know about the way we live Mother? There is no way that Grace will leave me. Even if she leaves here, I will follow her,” Alex replied harshly. My heart fluttered at Alex’s proclamation. He was so sure of me and what we had together that he was willing to leave everything he knew and follow me. I already felt sick with the hurt I was going to cause him and this conversation with Katherine was only going to make it worse. She was right. I would leave him and he would never see me again.

  “My dear Alex, my son, you are the most important thing in my life. I am not telling you this because I want to upset you. I have seen this happen before and it always ends badly. Protectors have a very dangerous life and they often die. I do not want you to have to experience the loss of a loved one. With Olivia, you have the chance at a normal life. Just a few days ago she was the love of your life and can be again. Don’t throw that away on an infatuation with Grace. She has been trained to make people want to be near her. It is how she completes her assignments,” Katherine pleaded. I could not believe the way she was portraying me, pretending that falling in love was part of my tactic. Above all else she knew that I rarely showed my emotions especially when I was working. I am the ultimate professional. If anything, I was usually too apathetic for most.

  “You are on thin ice Katherine,” I whispered. I knew she had received the message by the way her breath caught in her throat.

  “I don’t care what you think Mom. Grace is the first person that told me the truth. She is the most amazing person I have ever met and I know that she won’t let anything happen to me. You just need to accept it and when you finally come out of your room, you will be nice to her,” Alex warned.

  “If you’re so sure she will protect you, ask her what happened to William,” Katherine said flatly.

  That was it. She had just gone too far and I could feel myself losing control. No one spoke about William to me and I would certainly not have him used as a game play for Katherine. Instead of opening the door as I intended, I looked and saw the door had been ripped off its hinges and was now lying on the floor. My hands were shaking as I fought for control. If I hadn’t scared Alex last night I was sure the same could not be said for now. I strode into the parlour and was met by the shocked looks of Alex and Katherine.

  “That was too far Katherine,” I said through gritted teeth. “I don’t care if you are Lucas’s daughter I will rip your head clean from your body if you ever mention William’s name again. He is not to be used in your war against me. Am I clear?”

  “Yes,” Katherine replied shakily.

  “You are out of control Mom. Grace, come on. We need to leave.” Alex walked towards me keeping his distance but staring straight into my eyes. His gaze was full of affection and anxiety.

  I took a deep breath and willed myself to move away from Katherine. I knew that she was terrified and that she would never again use his name but I still felt vengeful. Turning my back, I focused on walking out of the room and did not stop walking until I reached my room. I looked at Alex as I reached the door.

  “I’ll wait out here. I k
now what you need to do,” he said without judgement.

  I nodded and closed the door behind me crossing the room in two leaps. I gulped the pitcher of blood that was placed on my bedside table. My body returned to normal and I sat heavily on the bed. Alex entered and hesitated briefly at the door before joining me on the bed. He didn’t appear at all concerned about my outburst. Before I knew it, his arm was draped around me and he was holding my hand. My senses were in overload as I was completely consumed by his scent and overwhelmed by the sound of his heart beating in my ears.

  Alex was unwavering in his adoration. I had never seen someone adapt to the news of vampires so well or accept our way of life so readily. He was looking at me concerned. The shame I felt was overwhelming. I could not believe that I had let myself lose control with Katherine. Years of training had meant nothing at the mention of William’s name. Even after all this time I was still unable to hear people mention his name without reacting and now Alex had seen me at my worse. I was supposed to be the one protecting him and this was the second time in a week that he had been the one looking after me. If Marius could see me now he would be disgusted. His first protector was sitting here in a mess and had just acted out against the very people she was supposed to protect. My downfall had been swift and inelegant. I needed to make sharp changes in my actions and restore myself.

  “I’m sorry you had to hear that,” Alex started.

  “Alex, please, my behaviour was unacceptable. I was absolutely out of order speaking to your Mother the way I did. She is entitled to her opinion and it was not my place to override her. My duties are to protect the Sempre family and their interests. What I just did was unforgivable and if Lucas had been present he would have had every right to relinquish me of my assignment and position,” I replied restating what I needed to hear.

  “Grace, my Mom is just used to getting her own way. She thinks if Olivia and I get back together then everything will return to normal and we can just keep pretending that our life is normal like everyone one else. What she doesn’t understand is that I don’t care. Grace, you have been more honest with me than anyone else I have ever known. You have come into my life and turned it upside down and I couldn’t be happier,” Alex said smiling at me.

  “Alex, it’s not my place to turn your world upside down. It’s my job to protect you and maintain the status quo,” I stated. “Don’t get me wrong, you knowing the truth does make my job far simpler but Katherine is right to be upset. She is your mother and I need to respect her wishes. If she does not want us to be intimate, then I must abide.” I struggled to say the last words, wondering how I would keep myself away from Alex when all I could think of was kissing him again.

  “What about what I want?” Alex asked angrily. “I get this whole secret society thing and I think I’ve been pretty fair about it but it seems like everyone else is deciding what is best for me and I don’t even get a say.”

  “Alex, calm down. You are the heir to the Sempre family so naturally people are going to want to protect you and make sure that you make the right decisions. One day you will lead this family and that responsibility is not to be taken lightly. Right now you have no idea about the type of danger you are in and unfortunately we do. I have seen the Acelades at work more times then I care to remember. You just need to let us do our job for the next three months until you turn eighteen,” I attempted to soothe Alex and found the effect worked to release my anger. Focusing on his moods allowed my emotions to dispel and I could feel myself regaining control.

  “And what will happen when I turn eighteen?” Alex asked with uncertainty.

  “The general assumption is that the Acelades will realise they have missed their opportunity and revert their attention to another cause,” I informed him.

  “I don’t mean the Acelades. What will happen to you when I turn eighteen will you stay here?” Alex asked, his eyes hopeful. I knew that I would have to explain this eventually but somehow I hoped it would be in a letter after I had left.

  “When you turn eighteen my assignment will be complete and there will be no reason for me to remain here,” I said quietly.

  “What about us?” Alex’s emerald green eyes bored intensely into mine.

  “Alex, protectors are not allowed to become involved with their targets. I have rules to follow. If I were to stay here, there would be far too many questions and now that Katherine has forbidden it my actions would amount to conduct unbecoming.” I attempted to explain this to Alex but I could see the determination already forming in his face. He set his jaw square and continued to hold my gaze. Quickly, changing tact, I continued, “For that reason we will need to be subtle. Just because I am no longer at the manor does not mean that we won’t see each other, especially if you return to England. Most of my assignments are in Europe. And as for now we have three months until this happens so let’s just focus on the present. Remember it was only a week ago that you thought I was sent here to ruin your relationship with Olivia.” I finished, attempting to lighten the mood. It worked and a small smile spread across Alex’s face.

  “Three months,” Alex replied raising my hand to his lips and softly kissing it. Each kiss sent burning heat through my body I breathed deeply allowing his scent to send my head swimming. Being with Alex made me feel human again and a small part of my heart ached. I imagined how proud my parent’s would have been if they had seen me find a partner to marry. I pictured William smiling as he sat with Alex and I in the small parlour of our family home. But this would never happen and I would never again see my family. Before I realised my body was shuddering with sobs and Alex was no longer kissing my hands but was holding them against his chest and staring at me intently. I moved to hide my face but Alex held my hands together and lightly cupping my cheeks with his hand.

  “Grace, who was William?” he whispered as if saying it softly would lessen the blow. I turned my head away and disengaged my hands from his. I could not allow Alex to be kind and caring when he was asking about my most shameful secret.

  “It’s ok if it’s another guy,” Alex said quickly trying to fill the silence. “I didn’t actually think I was the only one. I mean you had a life before you came here and I’d been with Olivia so I’m not upset or anything.”

  “Alex. Stop!” I interrupted his rambling. “Katherine I hope you are happy with the situation you’ve created.” I said swallowing hard. I knew she would be listening at the mention of William’s name. She would want to know what I had told Alex so that she could pass judgement on my irreversible poor decisions. Taking a deep breath, I rose from the bed and moved towards the window. I sat in the seat looking out across the estate as I spoke. I could not face Alex while I spoke of William. This was the first time since his death that I had talked to anyone except Marius about him and that was only to give my incident report.

  “William was my brother, my best friend, he is the reason I am what I am. He was made into a vampire by the Acelades and then was brought home to watch his family be destroyed. He watched as our Mother, Father and servants were murdered. I was left for dead by two Acelades vampires in the hope that William would be over come by his blood lust and kill me. He didn’t and Lucas saved me. I spent the next year searching for William and when I found him, we returned here and learnt about the Sempre way of life. William and I became protectors and became well known for our abilities. We hunted down those responsible for killing our family and dealt them justice. On one such occasion, I came under heavy attack. Against all my training and my better judgement I called out for William to help me. Of course my older brother came to my aid immediately but it was a trap. They wanted to return William to Lillian Acelades, the vampire who he had loved as a human and who had turned him into a vampire. She was unforgiving and cruel to my brother. Their final act was to return him to me here, whilst I recuperated from my injuries.” I stopped to swallow hard. My body trembled with sobs that threatened to escape from my body. I could feel Alex standing behind me. He had mov
ed closer to provide comfort but understood that I needed space. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes remembering that night

  “I went out to feed. It was the first time I had been strong enough to leave the manor in three weeks. I was hyper alert and ravenous as I made my way into the forest. I headed towards the clearing where William and I had hunted previously hoping to find some easier prey. The moment I entered the clearing I was struck by a sickly sweet scent. The mixture of blood and perfume was overwhelming yet somehow familiar. I moved towards the centre of the clearing where I could see an outline of something. As I moved closer, the scent became more familiar and I began to run. I knew it was William and I thought he had come back to me. When I reached him I started to scream. The entire manor was at my side in minutes but it was too late. I held William’s dead mutilated body in my arms and knew it was my fault.” I whispered, my head resting on my knees and my body was shaking with grief and shame. Alex sat next to me wrapping his arms around me. Resting my head upon his chest, he silently stroked my hair. He seemed to take great pride in comforting me and I allowed him to remain there far longer than necessary. I loved the feel of him so close to me and the way his heat consumed my skin. I knew that Alex could never understand how I felt about William, but I also knew that it didn’t matter. Katherine would be unsuccessful in her attempts to separate us now and that was all that mattered. I needed Alex by my side so that I could ensure his safety. I knew that if something happened to him, I would not recover.

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