Fallen grace, p.8
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       Fallen Grace, p.8

           Jessica Cartwright
 
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~7~

  Dinner went by in a flash. Katherine occupied most of the conversation babbling to Lucas about our new outfits for the ball and her other purchases. Lucas had always been indulgent with Katherine and sat listening to her recount of the day. For the most, part Alex and I were silent during dinner, only answering the few questions that Lucas asked us in response to Katherine’s story. Alex grinned at me and rolled his eyes in response to Katherine’s gushing. His smile sent butterflies racing in my stomach.

  After dinner, I excused myself to my room. Changing quickly into my sweats, I exited the house using the servants exit. It felt good to be outside and running. The cool air cleared my head. I could smell the fresh pine from the forest mixed with the smell of the cherry blossoms and apple blossoms from the drive. I could feel the leaves and discarded sticks crunching under my feet as I pounded around the estate. I kept my pace even as I ran around the estate grounds.

  After my second lap, I could feel myself beginning to unwind. My muscles were relaxing and I was getting into a pattern. I allowed my mind to clear and focused only on the sounds my feet made as they landed on the ground. John had always said that running was the most important tool a protector had and I knew from experience that he was right. Running made sure that I kept up my speed and stamina. I ran most days, even when I wasn’t working. It had become part of my routine and it always reminded me of training with John. I had fond memories of running with John. I had learnt more about being a protector during those runs than when I had been actually training.

  I was feeling at peace as I ran along the southern wall of the estate reminiscing about my training sessions with John. One day, I hoped to be able to tell Alex about his father. I knew that he would enjoy these stories. John was a magnificent man. He deserved to be remembered that way. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted. I could feel a change in the atmosphere that could only come from the presence of another vampire. I stopped and listened. I couldn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. Lucas was in his study and Katherine and Alex were talking to Stephan. He was telling them that he would be gone for at least a week. The vampire was nearby and I was not sure if it was friend or foe but at this point I didn’t care. It was then I heard it.

  “I don’t think an Acelades has ever been this close to the Sempre manor before,” the male voice gloated.

  “Being close means nothing if we get caught. Now shut up or they will hear us!” replied a second male voice.

  That was all I needed. My body was flooded with adrenaline as I made my way back to the manor. I was approximately 3 miles away and running at top speed. I was on the lawn of the manor in 45 seconds. Hesitating for a moment, I assessed the situation. I could see the lights on in the manor however, Alex’s room was darkened. Fear gripped my stomach as I ran into the house through the servants exit. Sienna was in the kitchen as I entered.

  “Close the doors tell the others to lock this place down!” I ordered her as I continued through.

  “But Miss, Miss,” she called after me

  “What?” I replied whipping around irritated by her interruption

  “Ms Katherine and Master Alex are outside with Mr Stephan,” she stuttered, clearly afraid of me in my current state.

  I didn’t answer her but continued through the house. Surely, even Katherine could not be that stupid. I was at the front door in a flash and threw it open. There stood Katherine and Alex, watching a black sedan that was travelling down the drive .Scanning the area, I identified that the sedan contained two vampires but did not sense a threat. I could sense others but could not place them.

  “Katherine, Alex!” I yelled. They both jumped as they turned around to where I was standing on the porch. Katherine’s face fell as she saw me and I leapt down the steps in a single bound. Lucas had appeared in the doorway and was watching us.

  “You need to get inside now!” I ordered, grabbing Katherine and Alex by the arm and directing them towards the door.

  “Grace, wait,” Alex said shrugging my arm from his.

  “Alex, now!” I replied, looking at Katherine for support.

  “Come on Alex.” Katherine seconded my order.

  ‘Why?” he replied. Katherine looked at me, her eyes pleading with me to keep up their façade. I didn’t have time for this ridiculous experiment but I also did not want to disobey Lucas.

  “There are wolves. I saw them when I was running. They came after me and they may come for you if you are out here like sitting ducks,” I said to Alex, looking in his eyes to make him believe me. Alex nodded and I turned to Katherine and shot her a dark look. We made it inside the house and I went straight to the kitchen, leaving Katherine, Lucas and a rather astounded Alex in the hall. All the staff except George had assembled in the kitchen, hearing the commotion.

  “The Acelades are here. Sienna, Louise, Martha, I need you to shut this house down. Check every door, window and fireplace to ensure there is no way they can get in. Michael, I want you with Lucas, Katherine and Alex. Alistair you’re with me. George will meet us outside.” I said without waiting for questions I made my way out the servant exit and over to the garage where George was waiting as I knew he would be.

  George was standing next to the door when Alistair and I arrived. He had gathered weapons for us to use. I took two guns filled with silver bullets, they wouldn’t kill a vampire but they would hurt like hell and provide us with an opportunity to go in for the kill. Alistair and George loaded up and were waiting for my order.

  “Alright. There are at least two unknown vampires in the area. We need to track them down, get information if we can and destroy them. We need to stick together and search the area. We will start with the perimeter and then head out to the forest. If we hear from anyone at the house, our main priority is to get back there immediately. Don’t wait for an order just run. Alex is our number one priority. He needs to be protected no matter what. Lucas is second, Katherine third!” I didn’t wait for a response but headed towards the estate wall.

  My senses were alert and focused as I scanned the area. I could hear Alistair and George flanking me as we searched the estate. The night was quiet and we worked hard to keep our steps light to limit the noise. None of us said a word and we focused on finding the vampires who were threatening our charges. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, I felt at ease. This was what I did best, hunting down threats and eliminating the Acelades. My body was ready for a fight. I could feel the adrenaline pulsing through me and I was on edge.

  We made our way around the perimeter of the estate but could find no trace of the intruders. I leapt over the wall in a single bound. Alistair and George took only seconds longer to scale it. As I stood taking in the forest, I could feel the hairs on my neck stand up. The vampires were close. I signalled for Alistair and George to head to the right whilst I went to the left. We stalked through the forest, scanning into the darkness. My vampire sight allowed me to see far into the forest, even in the darkness of the night. I knew they were nearby and I listened intently for any noise to give away their position. The deeper we went into the forest the more rough the terrain. I hoped that Alistair and George would be able to keep up. It was unlikely that I would need their help to kill the intruders but I did not want them getting hurt if they found them first. Alistair and George were strong but they lacked proper training and could easily make a mistake.

  I heard a rustle of leaves to my left and came to halt. I could hear something breathing and concentrated to pinpoint its location. There was a small whimper and a gurgling sound. I slowly made my way towards the noise, careful not to make a sound that could announce my entrance. At last, I came upon the vampire. He was leaning over a body feeding. I could tell from the appearance of the human that he was most likely homeless. His clothes were worn and dirty and his skin showed signs of constant exposure to the elements and a lack of bathing. I felt a wave of nausea hit me. No matter how many times I came across a vampire feeding, I always had the same reaction. I could remember w
hen I was that food source and the pain that seared me during that experience. The revulsion was soon transformed into blind anger. This intruder would pay for breaching my security and taking a human life on my ground.

  I walked into the small space where the vampire was feeding. He was so engrossed he didn’t notice my arrival. I took a quick look around and noticed all of the belongings. It was clear that this human lived in the forest. There were pots and pans, an old tent and other items collected over the years to maintain his existence. This poor soul, he deserved more.

  “Not a smart idea hanging around for a meal,” I remarked. The vampire spun around, his eyes locked on mine. I could see the blood spill down his chin and a frenzied look in his eyes. He would be strong after just feeding but his thoughts would be distracted by his blood lust. He bared his fangs and lunged towards me, throwing the human to the ground like discarded trash. I could tell from his crumpled body that he was dead. I blocked the vampire’s attempt and responded with a blow to his chest that sent him flying into a nearby tree. I didn’t give him the opportunity to recover leaping towards him. Landing on top of him, my knees straddled his chest. I slammed my knife through his shoulder pinning him to the ground.

  “Why did you come here?” I snarled. He laughed at me in return and attempted to sit up. I slammed his head into the ground. Alistair and George had arrived and were standing behind me, ready to attack in case another vampire was nearby.

  “I will ask you again. Why did you come here?” I asked, my voice slightly louder as I fought my anger.

  “They said you were a fiery one,” he laughed testing my patience. I grabbed his arm and snapped it in two obtaining a scream for my actions.

  “You will tell me what I want to know!” I growled picking up his other arm.

  “Ok. Ok. The cape. Benedict wanted his cape back!” the vampire pleaded. I was disgusted how poorly they trained their fighters that they would give up so easily.

  “Well, I guess your boss is going to be disappointed because that house is a fortress” I replied smugly.

  “We have our ways,” he spat back.

  “What does that mean?” I snapped thrown by his bravado. Was I missing something? Why had he stopped to feed on the estate grounds? Was he really that stupid or was he a decoy? The vampire didn’t respond at first and just smiled at me.

  “Things are not always what they seem. Scarlet will get her mate and you will be punished,” he said with a sense of foreboding.

  “That was your biggest mistake,” I replied. “You underestimated me and you allowed your troops to leave you here as bait.”

  With a single twist, I snapped his head and separated it from his body. I turned back to George and Alistair. George was already lighting a small branch to set the body alight and Alistair was dragging the man’s body over towards me. I stood for a moment, assessing the situation. I knew there were no more intruder vampires in the area but it still didn’t make sense that they would leave one here as bait. I knew that there was something more to this than I was seeing but right now I knew that Alex was safe. I took the branch from George and set the bodies alight. We made our way back through the forest in silence. When we arrived at the estate wall, George collected the guns we were carrying. He headed towards the garage to replace the weaponry. Alistair looked at me for directions. I nodded for him to make his way up to Alex’s room. I knew Alex was safe but I still wanted a guard on him at least until I was sure the manor was safe.

  I made my way towards the manor, my fury building with every step. I entered the door and found Michael at the ready.

  “It’s done. You can step down.” I offered no further explanation as I made my way towards the library. Arriving at the door, I didn’t bother to knock. Lucas was sitting in the arm chair whilst Katherine was pacing in front of the fire place. They both looked worried. Lucas held his better that Katherine. She appeared completely distraught, her faced stained with tears. Both were searching my face for an answer.

  “One dead, the other or others could not be found. They are no longer in the area. One human was murdered by the vampire. We disposed of him with the other,” I reported, trying to keep the emotion out of my voice.

  “Oh thank god!” Katherine cried walking towards me, her arms out stretched. I held up my hand focusing on Lucas.

  “Where is Benedict’s cape?” I asked. Lucas stood up and walked over to his desk, removing the cape from his top draw. I sighed in relief. Their attempt had failed. I still needed to figure out what they were up to but whatever it was, they hadn’t succeeded this time. Knowing this, my control slipped. I turned on Katherine.

  “What the hell were you thinking?” I exploded.

  “What …I?” Katherine stammered looking startled.

  “You heard me. Of all of the idiotic and irresponsible things, you have Alex outside, unguarded at night!” I continued.

  “We were saying goodbye to Stephan. He turned up unexpectedly. I was going to call you straight away but I just wanted us to spend some time together before you had to interrogate him. Then he said he had to go back to New York on business so we went out to say goodbye like we always do when he goes away on business,” she fumbled in a small, pathetic voice.

  “You have no idea about the real world Katherine and you put your son directly in harms way tonight. If anything had happened, it would have been on your head. And why? All to protect this fake image of a perfect family. You spend your days worrying about dresses and balls when there is a war going on. Lucas may indulge your tendencies but I have neither the time nor the inclination to. If you ever place Alex in danger like this again, the Acelades will be the least of your worries. I will come after you myself!” I shouted.

  “Grace,” Lucas stated softly, interrupting my tirade. I looked at Lucas who had made his way over and was standing between Katherine and I. She was wringing her hands, tear streaming down her face. I expected that I was the first person to ever raise my voice to her. Katherine walked towards Lucas seeking comfort but he held his distance.

  “I apologise for my daughter. You are correct. I have indulged her. I understand your anger. I know how seriously you take your assignments and you have been more than accommodating with regards to protecting our story,” Lucas spoke softly but the anger in his voice was clear. I was only unsure if it was directed at me or Katherine. Taking a deep breath it was only then that I realised how keyed up I had become. My muscles were tight and filled with adrenaline. The breath soothed me a little and Katherine appeared to take this as a sign that the danger was over.

  “I would never intentionally put my son in danger Grace,” she spoke cautiously. I shot her a dark look.

  “I know you don’t believe me. I have never had to confront something like this before. I am not part of your world. My main focus has always been my family,” she continued, taking my lack of response as an indication that I wanted her to continue.

  “Katherine, I couldn’t care less about your reasons,” I said levelly. “I stand by my earlier comments. If you put my assignment at risk again, it may be the last thing you do.”

  “I understand,” Katherine said looking towards Lucas, the fear evident in her voice.

  “Grace, I will ask you to continue with this assignment. I assure you neither Katherine nor I will risk it again,” Lucas stated firmly.

  “I trust that this will be the case. This threat obviously increases the security needs. They were unsuccessful in breaching the measures in the house. They were after the cape and left empty handed. So, while Alex is in the house, he is able to roam freely. Outside of the manor is a different story. Under no circumstances is Alex to leave the manor without me. I will accompany him on all excursions even when he is on the grounds,” I stated. Katherine and Lucas both nodded their agreement.

  “Now as for tonight, I am sure that Alex will have questions about my actions,” I said.

  “Yes,” Lucas replied. “We sent Alex up to his room after we came inside
. He wanted to know where you had gone and I informed him you were telling George about the wolves so that he could hunt them.”

  “That’s a plausible story,” I agreed “I suppose we can just inform him that Sienna and Martha made me stay in the kitchen and have some tea and cake after such a shock and that will explain my absence until now.”

  “Perfect,” Katherine joined the conversation. “Alex will believe that. You know how mothering Martha can be.”

  “Well, with that settled, I will take my leave. It has been a long night and I want to be rested for tomorrow.” With that, I turned from Lucas and Katherine and left the library. I slowly made my way up the stairs, keeping my steps silent. I did not feel like explaining myself to Alex tonight. He could wait until the morning or else speak to Katherine or Lucas. I reached the landing of the staircase and saw Alistair standing guard outside Alex’s room. Motioning for him to follow me, I made my way down the hall to my bedroom.

  “The house was not breached, the cape is still in Lucas’s study,” I informed him.

  “Thank god,” he replied.

  “Therefore, it will not be necessary for you to keep guard any longer.” I continued.

  “If you need anything else please let me know,” Alistair offered.

  “I will,” I replied. As he turned to the door I called after him, “And Alistair?”

  “Yes,” he said mildly surprised.

  “Thank you for your help tonight.” I nodded.

  Once he had left the room, I walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. I felt exhausted. I slowly removed my running clothes that now stank of smoke and death. Slipping into my nightgown, I felt the weariness of my body forcing me into bed. I pulled back the covers and lay down. A knock at the door jerked me back into consciousness. Momentarily disorientated, I looked around the room. Surely it was not morning already. I felt as thought I had just fallen asleep. I looked at the clock and saw it was only 11:30pm. My visitor knocked again.

  “Just a minute,” I called out, reaching for my robe. It was black satin and matched my nightgown. It had fuchsia tiger lilies embroidered on the back. Hurrying into my robe, I briefly looked at my appearance in the mirror. I looked far better than I felt. The night’s events had brought some colour to my checks. I quickly ran my fingers through my hair whilst I walked over to the door. As I approached, Alex’s scent spilled through the door. Damn it, I thought, I should have just ignored the knocking. Lucas would have waited until morning to see me.

  I opened the door to see Alex looking very sheepish and being held around the collar by George. I looked at both of them, raising my eyebrow for an explanation.

  “Sorry to disturb you lass but I was making my way up to tell you that I’d shot that wolf you was worried about and I found Alex peeping through the lock in your door there,” George said gruffly, clearly unhappy with Alex’s audacity to spy on me.

  “Well, thank you for letting me know George. I feel much safer in the house knowing they are gone,” I replied sweetly to George trying to convey my gratitude towards him. I knew that he had come to check on me and the thought of that made my heart swell. He reminded me of my own father. I turned to Alex who was beginning to look a little uncomfortable and embarrassed.

  “Did you need something Alex?” I asked him innocently.

  “I…ah…I was...ah…I just wanted to come and make sure you were ok? You were acting really freaked out by those wolves,” he finally managed to stammer out.

  George looked at me and I nodded slightly. “Well lass, I’ll be off then. Come and see me if you find any more wolves.” he said and started to make his way down the hall.

  “I will make sure I do and thank you again George,” I said. George bowed his head slightly in return and made his way down the stairs. I turned to Alex who was still standing in my door way fidgeting. He was dressed in brown and latte striped flannelette pants and had a white t-shirt on with a brown lion printed across his chest.

  “Well, I suppose you can come in,” I sighed moving aside to let Alex into my room. I tightened my robe closed as I walked over to the lounge and sat on the armchair closet to my bed. Alex sat on the lounge nearest me.

  “So are you ok?” Alex asked his voice thick with concern.

  “I’m fine. I just don’t like wolves,” I replied shrugging. Alex did not appear convinced by my response so I continued. “When I lived in Ireland we had horses and one night we heard the horses making a terrible racket. My father and I ran out to the stables to see what was causing the commotion and we saw that a wolf had gotten into the stable and had attacked one of the horses. It was badly injured and we had to put it down.” This part of the story was actually true. Wolves had gotten into our stables when I was still alive and living with my parents. It had just happened nearly 200 hundred years ago.

  “That must have been awful,” Alex consoled me. He reached out and put his hand on my leg. My body surged with emotions as if Alex had struck a match. I tried to remain calm and looked at him.

  “It’s ok. It was a long time ago but I just didn’t want the same thing happening again, especially not to you… or Katherine.” I added her name at the end when I realised the intensity I had used to convey my message. This event had certainly not helped me to keep my distance from Alex. We sat in silence for a few minutes. Alex did not remove his hand from my leg and appeared content to sit and watch me. Eventually I broke the silence.

  “It’s getting late and we have school tomorrow,” I said with as much strength as I could. I really did not want Alex to go but I knew that him staying was not good for either of us.

  “Oh yeah,” Alex replied disappointedly “I, ah, guess I better let you get some sleep.”

  “Will I meet you down stairs in the morning?” I asked, as I made my way over to the door. I wanted to make sure Alex wasn’t planning on leaving the house before school.

  “For sure,” he smiled “You’re not going for a run tomorrow?”

  “I don’t think so,” I responded. “I think I’ll give the forest a few days to settle down.” We were standing in the doorway. I could feel the heat radiating off Alex’s body and his scent was thick and heady. He paused in the doorway, unwilling to end our meeting.

  “Well goodnight.” He stalled.

  “Night.” I breathed trying to keep my urges at bay. Before I could react Alex leaned in and kissed me softly on the check.

  “Sweet dreams Grace,” he whispered in my ear before walking quickly down the hall and into his room. I stood there for a few moments processing what had just happened. My skin burned from his kiss and I still felt encased in his scent. I leaned against the doorway and exhaled deeply. My hand unconsciously made its way up to me check where Alex had kissed me and a smile crept across my face. I shoved this aside. I was here to do a job and if tonight had taught me anything, it was that I needed to be vigilant and focused. Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I returned to bed. The exhaustion I had felt earlier was gone. I lay in bed unable to stop the thoughts racing through my mind. I replayed the events of the night including Alex’s visit to my room. I felt a surge of excitement through my body as I remembered him placing his hand on my leg and when he kissed my cheek.

  For a moment I allowed myself to imagine what it would have been like to be engaged in a real courtship. I knew that was the intent of my parents in the summer of their untimely demise. They wished for me to meet a man who could take care of me but more importantly, one that I loved. They had been lucky enough to marry for love and were not the sort to force me into a marriage of convenience or fortune. I remembered my mother recounting the dances that she used to attend, just hoping that my father would be there. They had courted each other for almost two years before my mother’s parents consented to the marriage. William and I came soon after, only three years apart in age and the product of the great love my parents had for each other. The memory of my parents love saddened me. They had been gone for so long that I rarely missed them now but at tim
es like this, I was reminded that I was all alone in the world. They were never afforded the opportunity to see William or I settled with a partner and have the sound of their grandchildren’s laughter filling the halls.

  I tried to imagine what they would say if they could see me now. They would most likely disapprove of my behaviour, allowing a gentleman into my room unaccompanied and at night. Mother would have said it was scandalous in front of Father, then come to my room later for all of the details. Father would have acted disappointed but gained all the information from Mother when she returned. William of course would have congratulated Alex on his conquest and baited me for eternity about my social faux pas. But they were not here to comment on my actions and nor was I the same young lady who they had raised. I was now a cold blooded killer. I had killed tonight and I would no doubt kill again before this assignment was completed. No longer was I looking for a man to be my husband and have a family. Alex was not a potential husband, he was a protection detail. His feelings and actions were just a complication to my work. I had simply underestimated the impact that our close proximity would have on us both. For Alex, he was confusing the compliance I afforded him and our similarities for attraction. As for me I had underestimated what being so close to a human would do to me, given my chosen diet.

  Tonight had shown me that I was still very much on assignment and there could be no room for error. Any slip could result in Alex’s death or mine. I could use Alex’s fondness for me to my advantage. It would provide a good cover for my close proximity to him and provided that it did not endanger his relationship with Olivia when I left, he would be no worse off then before I had arrived. As for me, I would need to organise with Martha to have blood brought to my room twice daily. I could no longer afford to go hunting, even whilst Alex was at the house. With this decision made, I felt myself beginning to relax. Soon, I could sense my eye lids becoming heavy and I fell into a deep sleep.

 
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