Fallen grace, p.4
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       Fallen Grace, p.4

           Jessica Cartwright
 
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  ~3~

  I ascended the stairs to the second floor and collected my laptop and paperwork from my room before making my way up to the third floor. I entered the sitting room and walked over to the window where two arm chairs and a side table had been set up for the purpose of today’s interviews. I set up my laptop and organised my papers, ready to interview the employees and to check any information they provided to me against the Council database. I quickly reviewed the first employee file. Martha had worked for Lucas for almost 200 years. Lucas had made her a vampire after she had fallen ill with Spanish influenza. She had followed Lucas from England to America and back several times. Martha was the housekeeper and appeared to love her work. She had been offered opportunities to become independently wealthy in her time with Lucas but had chosen to remain on as staff. She stated that she knew her place and could think of no better honour than to work for Lucas who had saved her and her sister Eliza.

  I heard Martha approaching and watched her enter the sitting room. She was the image of an English housekeeper with her salt and pepper hair pulled back in a tight bun and her face set in a stern look. She wore a grey wool skirt, white blouse and apron, with a sense of pride. She walked over to where I was and took a seat. I remembered Martha from my two previous stays at the manor. She had been kind to William and me when we had arrived young and scared. I looked at Martha and smiled.

  “Good morning Martha it is lovely to see you again. I only wish it were under better circumstances,” I said.

  “Good morning Grace, it is nice to have you back in the manor. I am glad Lucas was able to have you assigned to protect Alex, that boy needs the best.” Martha concluded with a nod.

  “I have a few questions I need to ask you Martha. I know you may have answered a lot of these questions when we held the Council ball but, given the importance of this matter, I need to ask these questions again.”

  “Of course Grace, I will answer any questions you have. I have long ago sworn my loyalty to Lucas and that has not changed.”

  “Thank you Martha. Can you please tell me when you started working for the Sempre family?” I asked.

  “I started working for Lucas at the end of the 18th Century. I was working as a housekeeper for a family when I fell ill with the flu and was sent away. Lucas found Eliza and me living in a sick house. I remembered Lucas from when he had visited my employer’s home on business. He asked Eliza and me if we would like him to make us better and if we would like to work for him at his house. We said yes straight away and Lucas took us from the sick house to his estate. That night he made us into vampires and I have worked for him ever since,” Martha stated proudly.

  “Have you ever met anyone from the Acelades family?” I asked next.

  “No. Never!” Martha responded.

  “What would you do if you were approached by a member of the Acelades family and they wanted information or access to Alex?”

  “I would tell Lucas immediately and take whatever measures I thought necessary to protect Alex and this family.”

  “As you would be aware, Martha, I am here because of an eminent risk to Alex and therefore to the whole Sempre family. My duties are very clear on this matter. I need to protect Alex above all else. In the course of this assignment, I may need to ask you to perform certain actions that may not appear clear to you at the time. Are you willing to do this?”

  “Of course Grace, anything you need.” Martha replied kindly obviously understanding my discomfort at having to ask her these questions when it was already clear that she would do anything to protect Lucas and his family. Martha’s kind reply made me feel worse about the next question I was going to ask, but it had to be done.

  “What about Eliza? How would you feel if you had to refuse her?” I asked noticing Martha’s body tightened at the mention of Eliza.

  “Eliza ceased being my sister the moment she left the Sempre fold. She made her choice and chose money and lust over family and loyalty. The last I heard about Eliza she was living in France and was wanted by the Acelades for taking some of their artwork. For all I know, they have found her and disposed of her by now,” Martha responded.

  “I appreciate your honesty and your candour Martha. That is all I have at the moment. If I have any other questions, I will ask to speak with you again.” I rose with Martha and walked her to the edge of the sitting room. “Would you mind asking Sienna to come up here please?” I asked. Martha nodded and left the room.

  I returned to the arm chair and reviewed Sienna’s file. Sienna was the newest member of Lucas’s staff. She had only been working with Lucas for 5 years despite being a vampire for almost 80 years. Prior to this, Sienna had lived with her husband in New York. Sienna had come to work for Lucas after her husband was killed when he got caught in the crossfire between two warring vampires. Her husband tried to stop the two men who were fighting with total disregard for their human neighbours and sustained a fatal wound. Sienna had found his body on the street on her way home from work. Sienna travelled across the globe for about two years before coming upon the English estate and was drawn to being around her kind. Sienna had worked as a maid until the arrival of Katherine, Stephan and Alex when she was promoted to chef, a job she had held while living in New York.

  Sienna entered the room and I rose to greet her. Her hair was strawberry blonde and cut short into a bob which she tucked behind her ears. She had pale blue eyes which were framed by a furrowed brow portraying her nerves. She chewed on her thin lower lip and glanced cautiously at me as she entered. Sienna appeared to be in her mid twenties. She was dressed in black pants and a fitted white t-shirt, black cable knit vest and flat black shoes.

  “Good morning Sienna, thank you for making the time to see me,” I stated knowing full well that this was not a choice she made but an order she followed.

  “Hi” Sienna replied looking uncomfortable. I gestured for Sienna to take the opposite arm chair and returned to my seat.

  “As I am sure you are aware, my name is Grace and I am here on a protection assignment for Alex. I need to ask you some questions today and I will be cross checking the information that you give me with the information we have recorded on the Council database as well as with other historical documents. I will inform you up front that if you lie to me I will know and I will report this both to Lucas and the Council. As a whole, they will decide your punishment. This is not a threat merely a fact I always like to provide as a courtesy and a warning.”

  Sienna sat motionless in front of me, apart from wringing her hands which she placed in her lap. I commenced my interview with Sienna and gained little more information than was in her file. She informed me that she had been turned by a traveller who visited with her family during the depression. She had met her husband almost a year to the day after she had been turned and they had remained together until his death. Sienna had never had any contact with the Acelades family, but knew of them through her travels and from her time spent at the manor. She was quick to pledge her loyalty to the family and spoke of her enjoyment at getting to create meals again, even if they were only enjoyed by one of the residents in the manor. I observed Sienna as she spoke, her nerves were evident in her flighty movements and rapid speech but I also noticed a sincerity and kindness to her manner. Sienna had known what it was like to suffer a great loss and appeared unlikely to assist anyone in inflicting that kind of pain on another.

  The rest of my interviews progressed in much the same fashion. I knew all of the staff from my previous visits to the manor or as part of another function in Lucas’s business enterprises. Michael, the butler and Louisa, the maid, had come to work for Lucas after discovering they were to have a child almost 90 years ago. Alistair, the son of Michael and Louisa, had returned with his wife Emma after the Second World War and acted as a chauffer and security detail for Lucas, while Emma was a talented musician and artist. All of the information they provided me was consistent with the information both on their files and in the database.
In addition to this, they had all previously been vetted by the protection detail covering the Council. I had trained Alistair in basic security for his current position. None of the staff I had profiled raised any concerns for Alex’s security and all stated their loyalty to Lucas. I had expected as much but it was still comforting to have assurances.

  My last interview was with George, the gardener and caretaker, who had lived at the manor since it was built and had worked for Lucas for a long time prior. George was originally from Ireland and had been a gardener in his previous life. He appeared to be in his late seventies with stark white hair and a wrinkled leather complexion from his years in the sun before his body stopped ageing. George was a large man with broad shoulders and stood at least a foot above me. I had left my interview with George until last, knowing that it would be the hardest. I made my way down from the third floor and out into the garden knowing full well that while George would make himself available to me that did not include him being inside while the sun was up. I found George in the orchard tending to the apple trees.

  Taking a deep breath, I walked towards George vividly reliving the last time I had seen him. George had been the first to reach me after I found William’s body. He had been walking the estate grounds and heard me cry out. He ran through the forest to find me in a state of hysteria, lying over what remained of William, in the clearing. George had tried to remove me but I would not budge from William’s side. Realising this, George had carried William and I back to the manor, speaking softly to me the whole way trying to calm me. Over the next week, he visited me everyday breaking his rule about being inside while the sun was out for the first time. At William’s burial, George held my hand and walked me to the casket to place my flowers which he had picked for me. That was the last time I had seen George. I had carefully avoided him on my last visit, arriving only hours before the Ball and leaving at its conclusion. There would be no avoiding George on this visit.

  “Good afternoon George,” I stated making him aware of my presence as he was currently up a ladder with his back towards me.

  “I knew you’d come. Not like the last time eh lass.” George replied not making any effort to climb down the ladder or face me.

  “I’m sorry about that George. I was busy last time,” I stated, feeling embarrassed by my behaviour.

  “Hmmm.” George replied, obviously not believing a word I said.

  “I’m sure you know by now why I’m here and that I’ll be here until Alex turns 18,” I stated starting the formal part of the interview hoping that it would subside my guilt. “My protection duties require me to interview, everyone at the manor to ensure that there are no security risks. I know you have been through this before but I need you tell me about when you came to work for Lucas.”

  George stepped down from the ladder and turned to rest against it. “You look terrible!” George stated looking me up and down, his hand rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I started working for Lucas late in the 1500’s. I’m not sure the exact year it wasn’t important to me back then. I have worked for him ever since as a gardener and caretaker on seven different estates including this one. Before that, I travelled around Ireland doing odd jobs for board, eating when I needed to and trying to figure out what I was going to do for eternity. I was made a vampire by a vampire who thought I reminded him of his father. I chose not to stay with him and travel on my own, preferring to be outside as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’ve never been friends with an Acelades or any of their kind, although I have met them on several occasions when I’ve been with Lucas. You can ask him about that it’s his business. If I was ever approached by a member of the Acelades family, I would tell Lucas or take care of them. I think that should answer all your questions”.

  “That does answer my questions and I don’t think I look terrible. I’ve been working for three years straight on my last assignment. You’d be tired too!” I replied.

  “Lass, I’ve been working for the past 700 years and I don’t look as bad as you do. You didn’t look this bad the first time you came here. It only started after I found you with him in the forest” George looked at me questioningly.

  I was surprised by George’s frankness, most people pretended not to know about William and those that did never discussed him in my presence. I took a breath in and looked at George. I went to say something but the words caught in my throat. George smiled at me and nodded.

  “I know Grace. I know what it's like to lose your family. It changes you and you won't get over it until you realise it’s not your fault,” George said kindly. “I don’t know much about what happened only from the gossip I hear at the dinner table, but by the sounds of it you did everything you could to save him.”

  “William,” I said. “His name was William.”

  “William,” George echoed and with that he climbed back up the ladder and returned to his work.

  I turned and walked from the orchard feeling drained from my conversation with George. It had been many years since someone had spoken so openly to me about William. My head was filled with memories from the past which always happened when someone spoke about William. I didn’t notice Alex until I almost ran into him. He was sitting on the lawn next to a large black Labrador who had its head resting on Alex’s lap. He was still reading the book from breakfast this morning. I stopped when I saw him, not feeling up to putting on a brave face and desperately wanting some peace and quiet. At least being outside his scent was dispersed provided I kept my distance. Alex looked up from his book and stared at me. I noticed him sigh as he placed his book to the side.

  “So how much are they paying you to baby sit me?” Alex asked

  “Excuse me?” I said I could feel my heart racing how could he possibly know about my assignment already “I am not here to baby sit you.”

  “So it’s just a coincidence that you arrive the day after I tell my mom that I am going back to London to live with Olivia and her family and finish school?” he stated.

  “Olivia? Who’s Olivia?” I asked innocently.

  “My girlfriend.”

  “That’s nice but listen Alex this may come as a surprise to you but I came here to go to Creswick Academy, not for you. I didn’t even know you were here until I arrived last night and Lucas told me that you and your parents have decided to move here from London. I was hoping we could be friends both being from a long way away but clearly that isn’t going to happen,” I retorted.

  “So, you really are here just to go to Creswick?” Alex asked obviously feeling stupid for his previous comments.

  “Yes, I am really just here to go to Creswick. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go inside and let Lucas and your mom know that the game is up and their bait hasn’t worked. You won’t be swayed from Olivia for me, despite my best womanly charms,” I replied sarcastically before I could stop myself. I was feeling irritated at Alex’s attitude when I knew how much Lucas had done to keep him safe, and I was feeling edgy from my earlier conversation with George and the memories of William.

  Alex was clearly shocked by my response, but recovered quickly and smiled at me. He looked like he was going to respond, then stopped and looked down at the Labrador.

  “This is Duke,” he said as he stroked the dog on the back, earning himself a lick on the cheek. I laughed in spite of myself and the dog looked towards me wagging its tail clearly pleased with himself.

  “It’s a nice dog,” I replied and started to make my way over to pat Duke.

  “He’s not my dog but he has kind of followed me around since I got here.” Alex shrugged and returned to patting Duke on the head to avoid another lick.

  I sat on the other side of Duke and began patting him. His fur was soft and I could feel his heart beating as I patted him. Alex and I sat there in a comfortable silence with Duke in between us panting contentedly. I looked at Alex and noticed that he was staring at me.

  “What?” I asked.

  “Nothing,” Alex replied quickly looking
away a blush appeared on Alex’s cheeks. I smiled and looked down at Duke giving Alex a few moments.

  “So, what should I expect at Creswick tomorrow?” I asked. If I was going to spend the next three months with Alex day and night I needed to at least try and make him think that we were friends.

  “It’s ok. I have only been there for a couple of weeks but the people there are cool.” Alex replied.

  “That’s good. I hope it’s not too different from my school back home.” I stated, continuing the story I was trying to make sound convincing.

  “There aren’t that many people at the school so we will probably be in the same classes so at least there will be someone you know,” Alex said smiling at me. His smile was amazing and made his eyes shine. His hair fell carelessly across his forehead as he tilted his head to the side. I turned my head away from Alex and stared out across the lawn. I did not trust myself today .I could feel the poison building in my teeth as I stared at him smiling at me, feeling the urge to taste his blood. I was too tired to keep my body in check and it probably wasn’t safe for me to be around humans right now.

  “Well, I better head back and get ready for starting school tomorrow.” I stood up and turned to look at Alex.

  “Oh, ok,” Alex replied looking disappointed that I was leaving “I guess I’ll see you at dinner?”

  “For sure.” I replied and started my walk back to the house. My body started regulating itself the further I got away from Alex. The poison started to recede from my teeth and the hunger in my body receded. I shook my head to clear the thoughts of attacking Alex from my brain. I hadn’t had thoughts like that since I first became a vampire. I couldn’t understand why I would feel like that now. It must have been because I was so tired and stressed. I needed to get my feelings under control if I was going to be able to complete this mission. Being tired wasn’t an excuse. I was here for at least three months and I had to get used to being reminded of William, being around humans and ignoring the exhaustion that was gnawing at my every fibre, calling me to sleep for months on end.

  I finally made it back to the sanctuary of my room and allowed myself to lie on the bed and sink into its covers. I remained there for a few hours, slipping in and out of sleep, dreaming of past assignments and William. Realising that this was doing nothing to ease my exhaustion and only fraying my nerves even more, I rose from the bed. I returned to my laptop which I had placed on the coffee table when I had left the manor to interview George. I opened a new report and completed a brief summary of my initial surveillance and security checks including the interviews that I had conducted today. In my recommendations, I included the need to inform the mark that he was the subject of a protection detail and the nature of this assignment, knowing full well that Lucas and Katherine would never allow this to occur. I also included a need to speak formally or at this point even informally with Stephan, to ascertain a greater level of detail about his relationship with John, Alex’s father, and his history before becoming a member of the Sempre family. I still found it odd that he would not be here, given the current state of things, but then again, I had found many things quite odd and disturbing over the last 24 hours. No reason that he should be particularly different.

  The bell sounded in the hall informing me that it was now 6:30pm and dinner was served. I emailed my report to Marius and Lucas and closed my computer. Summoning all of my strength, I rose from the lounge and prepared myself for dinner. I did not feel up to putting on a performance pretending to be hungry for whatever food they served and I was especially not looking forward to a repeat of the uncomfortable feelings I experienced this afternoon when I was with Alex. I hoped that being in the room with Lucas and Katherine would limit these feelings and that I could excuse myself quickly from dinner as I had my first day of school in the morning.

  I entered the dining room and was disappointed to see only Alex sitting at the table. I had hoped that Lucas and Katherine would be here by now. Alex looked up and smiled at me. Forcing a smile to my face, I made my way over to the table, feeling the poison build in my teeth at the sight of his smile. I sat opposite Alex as I had at breakfast this morning and looked hopefully at the door for Lucas and Katherine to arrive.

  “Did you get all of your things ready for tomorrow?” Alex asked.

  “What?” I replied startled by his question

  “You were getting ready for school when you left?” Alex repeated slowly as if trying to jog my memory for some story that he now obviously no longer believed.

  “Oh yes, of course,” I stated “Sorry you’ll have to forgive me I guess I am still a little jet lagged.” I added, trying to explain my lapse in memory.

  “I know exactly what you mean,” Alex nodded knowingly “It took me two weeks to fully adjust after we moved here.”

  At least, he had accepted my story. On the upside, he was actually trying to be friendly which I would have been grateful for if every cell in body did not want to jump over the table and drink his blood. I swallowed hard and lifted my glass, hoping to mask his smell with its contents. I would need to feed daily whilst I was here. If I had this reaction around just one human, I could not imagine what Creswick Academy would be like. I stared out the window to my right and hoped that Katherine and Lucas would soon join us. Attempting to regain my attention, Alex asked “So will you be driving with me to school tomorrow?”

  “I think so, I mean if that’s alright with you of course. I’m sure Katherine and Lucas would be happy with that as it fits in with their master plan.” I joked, remembering our altercation earlier today. Alex blushed slightly and laughed.

  “Have you filled in all of your paperwork? I remember it seemed to go on for every when we had to do it,” he said.

  “I did a lot of it before I came,” I lied. “So hopefully I won’t have much to do tomorrow.” That part was true. I did not look forward to filling in endless mindless forms asking irrelevant questions as to my real purpose for being at the school.

  Lucas and Katherine entered the room and took their seats. “Sorry we’re late,” Lucas stated. “Let’s eat.”

  Dinner proceeded quite pleasantly with the four of us talking politely about my impending start at Creswick and Alex’s current progress there. We discussed what classes we might have together and the different clubs and activities that were available. Thankfully, Alex had not joined any of these and I would not be forced to attend some inane group during my lunch times or after school. Towards the end of dinner, Michael entered the dining room and informed Alex that he had a call from a Miss Olivia Hutchinson. Alex nodded and he quickly asked to be excused from the table, leaving before his mother had time to grant him permission. When he had gone, Lucas, Katherine and I were able to speak freely.

  “I have submitted my initial report to you and Marius,” I informed them.

  “I will review it after dinner. I must say I am impressed by your efficiency. Are there any surprises?” Lucas replied.

  “Not really. I know you won’t agree with my recommendations but they need to be known,” I stated.

  “Am I to assume that you recommend we tell Alex?” Katherine asked.

  “Of course,” I stated. “My duties would be inordinately more effective if he was told, but I respect your wishes and will enact them to the best of my ability.”

  I provided Katherine and Lucas with a brief summary of my findings after my inspection of the manor and my interviews. Katherine looked relieved to know that there did not appear to be any security threat at the manor and that I had been able to begin to interact with Alex. I did not inform her or Lucas of my thoughts or feelings when I was with Alex, feeling it was best to keep these private. I was about to inform Lucas and Katherine of my reconnaissance plans for the evening when Alex returned.

  “That was quick!” Katherine commented, obviously surprised by Alex’s return.

  “I expected to have to pry the phone from your hand after you had fallen asleep,” Lucas added.

  A
lex smiled sarcastically and returned to his seat. “I am planning on talking to her later on the computer if you must know,” he stated looking quickly at me before returning to his meal. I couldn’t tell why, but this made me feel uncomfortable. I remained silent for the rest of dinner and excused myself straight after dessert informing them that I was retiring to my room for the night to get rest for my first day.

  “We will need to leave by 8:00am tomorrow to make sure we are there in plenty of time for your first day.” Alex informed me.

  “Ok. I will meet you in the hall then,” I replied and left the dining room.

  I returned to my room and changed into black pants, a black v-neck sweater and black boots. I tied my hair back into a pony tail. I walked over to my equipment bag that had been placed on the floor in the cupboard, untouched and retrieved my hunting knife, placing it into a custom made holder on my belt. The knife had been a gift from John when I had finished my protector training. William and I each had one. They were a matching pair of ornate hunting knives that had been John’s fathers; mine with an ebony handle, William’s with an ivory handle. They fitted together to make a double bladed knife if necessary, but were just as effective in the hand of a vampire on their own. I never knew what became of William’s but mine travelled with me on every mission.

  I went to the window in my bedroom and cut the alarm. I opened it slowly, careful not to make any noise and quickly slipped out and descended down the manor wall. I made my way quickly across the lawn and into the garage where I was met by Alistair. He handed me the keys to my black BMW. I slid into the leather seat and started the engine. The motor was whisper quiet and powerful. I drove slowly through the estate grounds, careful not to alert Alex to the presence of a car leaving. I noted that the gauges gave off an eerie blue colour in the night. In addition to the standard gauges, there were also screens that displayed vision from the cameras that were placed around the exterior of the car, a heat sensor vision and an audio visual link up to Lucas’s study. The windows had been replaced with tinted bullet proof glass and the shell of the car was armoured. I had requested that Lucas make arrangements for my car to be garaged here in case the need to travel arose. These security measures were necessary to protect whatever detail was in my charge and also me. There was currently a price on my head of $5,000,000 set by the Acelades family after my last altercation with their protection squad.

  Once I was out of the estate grounds, I opened the car up on the highway, enjoying the feeling of speeding through the night into the unknown. My head always felt clearer when I was travelling fast. I had missed my car whilst I was on assignment in Europe. Swerving in between the light traffic, I made it to the school in no time. I parked my car behind a tree at the front of the Creswick Academy, gates hiding it from view. I jumped the gates in a single leap landing noiselessly on the gravel driveway inside. I stopped for a moment to take in my surroundings I noticed that Creswick Academy was made up of several different buildings, some of which were connected by covered walkaways. The architecture was gothic and the front building, which I assumed to be the administration building, had stained glass windows depicting various flowers that were found in the surrounding gardens.

  I spent the next two hours investigating the grounds to get a feel for any possible security threats or weaknesses in the school’s lay out that could allow for an Acelades assault. Provided that Alex classes and mine were near each other when we were separated, I felt confident that I could be by his side within 30 seconds. I ventured into the forest surrounding the school grounds and quickly found a deer to feed on, taking it down quickly and allowing the blood to rejuvenate my body. I returned to my car and checked my appearance in the rear view mirror to ensure no trace of my feeding remained. Pulling the car out from behind the tree, I headed back to the manor, allowing the speed to calm my nerves.

 
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