✻ ✻ ✻
Now, now, Damon said and caught the fleeing red-haired maiden as she started to dash beyond the bookcase where he was standing, letting his own night-adjusted eyes get used to the light. They were fine now, but it had taken a while. There, there.
He stepped out, still holding the girl, and then he gave everyone all round a brilliant smile, which he immediately turned off like a candle being doused with water. Three may be a crowd, he said to the terrified, swooning girl in his arms, but four is enough for a round of bridge, yes?
You bloodsucking tick began the guttural-voiced werewolf, as Damon slid the fainting girl carefully into a chair. Head injuries could be dangerous and might interfere with her ability to admire him.
Now then, let me just train these two for a minute, Damon said to the girl, adding, Bad dogs! No! Sit! to the werewolves. He then gracefully got behind the creatures before they could move and grabbed each of them with one hand by the scruff of the neck. The next instant he was dragging them out of the door, where he settled for one quick crunch at the back of the neck for each. They turned back into their human forms after this, and disreputable, lowlife humans at that. Their odor as humans was almost as bad as their rank scent as werewolves, and that was saying a lot. Damon spat a few times, wiped his mouth, and straightened and brushed his black cashmere sweater before going back inside to see his maiden.
She was weakly trying to get up, her eyes on the bloody steel ruler on the floor.
Now, now. There, there. There, now, Damon said, preventing her. You did some very nice work with that but you dont need it anymore. Theyre in puppy heaven now. Well, puppy hell, more likely, but you dont need to worry about them, is the point.
The maiden, who was exceptionally dainty and pretty and had, to a vampire, the most exquisite feature of all, a particularly long and delicate column of a neck, was looking up at him soulfully. It was nice to see that she was short. Damon didnt care that much for tall girls because he wasnt very tall himself. She also hadyou couldnt help but noticeextraordinarily large eyes in her small heart-shaped face, giving her the appearance of a kitten. They were clear brown eyes, with a dark ring at the outer rI’m of the iris, then a very light brown ring, as if light were shining through them in the middle, and then another dark ring around the pupil. Her hair was the color of a strawberry and curled softly all over her head in a way that made you think pixie.
Altogether, she was a lovely little ornament, with fine blue veins in naturally translucent skin.
Damon smiled at her, not bothering to hide elongated canines.
Oooh, the maiden gasped, taking Damon in from dark, silky hair to neatly booted feet in one heart-rending glance. Oooooh. Gorgeous.
I meant: ooooh, you saved me!
Well, I helped, Damon said with a very deep and a very false sense of modesty.
Ooooh, they were monsters.
Well, theyre no danger now, Damon said.
Ooooooh, they were going to eat me!
Damon wondered if he should moan before speaking the way the girl did.
Maybe it was some regional dialect thing. He wanted to make her comfortable. OOH! he said, a bit more violently than he meant to, and the girl jerked in his arms, her brown eyes becoming enormous. Yes, they were, he agreed heartily.
Oh, my God, said the girl, forgetting to oooh at all. Who are you? You wouldnt take advantage of a helpless girl at a time like this, would you? she added, and shut her eyes, tilting her head back slightly, with the tiniest puckering of her lips.
Oh, well, perhaps only a little, Damon said jovially, eyeing the lovely lavender veins in her arched neck.
Damon stood looking helplessly down at the girl, noticing uncomfortably that she weighed almost nothing on his arm, that her skin still had the luster of its first baby-glow, and that altogether she seemed much more like a child than like a maiden at all.
He cleared his throat.
The brown eyes opened. They were not only unusually large but rather wide apart, imparting a childlike look to the owner.
Yes? she said, looking disappointed, which did nothing for Damons canines.
Ah, he said. He tried to impart some of the velvet of the night into his voice. Hm. Do you know what those two things that wanted to attack you were?
Oooooh, yes. The were oooooh werewolves! She shuddered.
So you get a lot of werewolves around here?
Ah, said Damon, who had jumped a little himself at the end of this moan.
Well. They were definitely creatures of the ooooooh, night!
And, ah, do you know about any other creatures of the night?
Ooooh: werewolves and vampires and witches and ghosts and demons and ghouls and ooooooh
Damon leaped at the strategic moan. Okay, take that, go back to the beginning and name the second.
The brown eyes went wide and the pupils dilated with fear, then the girl darted quick looks around the room and toward the ceiling. Wuh-witches? she faltered. I know oneknew onethat wasnt wicked at all. She was my grannie and she knew when she was going to die because she sent me my birthday present a whole month early and the
Stop! said Damon. The girl had a melodious voice and listening to her was no great trialit was rather like listening to a nightingale or a curlew, but he had to get his point across. Witches was third on the list, actually. There was something before it.
No, the redhead said. Werewolves and witches and vamp She stopped, put a small, delicate-fingered hand over her mouth. Vam-pup-pires? she finished, with a small gulp in the middle of the word.
Damon felt instant relief. They had got somewhere! He smiled again, brilliantly.
The strawberry-haired girl looked at his smile. She looked at it very carefully. Damon was happy to have overcome the linguistic challenges and held the smile for a long time, almost a whole second.
Just as he turned the smile off, the redhead stopped examining it. Damon knew when she did, precisely, for her eyelashes fluttered in a manner her great- grandmother would have approved of, her face became white as marble, and her body folded and went limp, sending her curly strawberry head on a crash course with the wooden floor.
It would have taken superhuman reflexes to catch her before her small frame hit the ground, headfirst, but fortunately Damon had those. He snatched up the little red-haired songbird almost the instant she began to fall, catching her around her tiny waist and . . . once again they were back to square one, with him holding her, but this time with the addition of her unconsciousness. He looked around for something to put her on and was beginning to make use of a study table when her eyelashes flickered again, she moaned softly, and then awoke.
Oooh, thank God its just youits you! she exclaimed, going from reassurance to terror in about a tenth of a second flat. She struggled feebly to get out of his arms. Since her goal would have landed her on her backside on the floor, Damon didnt let her achieve it.
The redhead was also fumbling at her long delicate necka ballerinas neck, if hed ever seen oneperfect for Swan LakeAm I . . . ? Did you already . . .? she implored.
Never. Id never take advantage of a sleeping maiden. Because I dont care for cold, unreceptive flesh, Damon thought. The warmth, the vibrant pleasure, as well as the life-force of an exquisite treat like this were to be treasured, not squandered as she lay unconscious.
The girl was panting in his arms now like a wounded stag, with the hounds very near. At leastyou saved mefrom those monsters. They would have tortured me.
Looking at her, at the way she clasped the tiny gold cross at her neck, at the way she looked up to a window that was still lit only by moonlight, the way she held one hand toward it as if to grasp an unreachable savior, Damon was bewildered. There was something . . . unreal about the entire moment.
And then he realized that that was exactly what it was. Unreality. She was setting up a tableau, a picture for the canvas. One could even think of names for it easily: The Maiden and the Vampire; or, more poetically, The Last Reach Toward Light. If only, he thought, enthralled by what he saw in his minds eye, she had been wearing a billowing white nightgown that was sliding off one lucent shoulder, and they had been outside so she could reach for the moon itself. What a moment! What a portrait! What a maiden!
The only problem was that she was two or three years too young. Emotionally. Mentally.
Even, he realized, with her slimness pressed against him so firmly, physically so.
He didnt dine off children. And in any case . . .
Just what is it youre imagining that I’ll do? he asked her wryly.
She shut her eyes and crossed her hands over her breast. A born actress and a coquette if ever hed seen one. To takemy blood, she said in tones of heartbreaking humble acceptance.
And just how much were you imagining Id need?
Ooooh . . . well, how much blood do people have? His maiden forgot to look like a virgin sacrifice and put a knuckle to a dimple in one cheek, as if to grind it in deeper. Heh, she said embarrassed, the mood broken, I dont know.
Well, I scarcely need a dram for suppera drams an old word for a small amount, Damon said, feeling rather that this particular maiden might need this explained to her. But in any case, I wouldnt take it from you.
You wouldnt! the maiden exclaimed indignantly, forgetting to ooh at all. And why not, might I ask? Just because Meredith and Caroline and Elena all have moremore . . .she was tracing a sort of formless roundness with both hands as if squeezing ripe peachesmore on top, already? Im getting it, too! I turned seventeen two days ago! If youd seen me dressed properly, youd know!
Now the mood was completely ruined for Damon. And yet hed behed be damned if hed let any other random creature of darkness make a meal off her now that hed saved her. Who knew how many clans of werewolves there were around here? Hesomehowcouldnt just leave her in the middle of the night, far from her home.
Get your things together, he said crossly.
Why? the maiden snapped back, tearfully defiant.
Because Im taking you home, you silly little nitwit. What were you doing all alone in a great building like this that no one lives in?
I was studying! I have a paper due!
Well, if it hadnt been for me, you would have been studying in the afterlife right nowand dont you forget it.
Well, I dont care! the maidenno, the little girl said, beginning to cry in earnest. You dontsobknow my teachersobfor European History! sobHe laughs at me in front of everyone!
Those are the worst kind, Damon said, remembering his humiliations across the years at the hands of Signore Lucca. And always after youve been to a late party and your head is pounding.
Oh, you do understand, the girl turned to him, still weeping, and put her head on his shoulder.
Did you say this man teaches history? European history? What time frame are you looking at? And what country? Damon said, with a sudden tiny quirk of his mouth.
England and Spain, around 1533 the years before, the years after.
Well, what do you know? Damon said, once again flashing his most brilliant smilethe one that turned girls to quivering puddlesaround the room. I believe I might just be able to help you with that. You see I was around then more or lessand what I didnt see I heard through gossip. I always say if its not worth gossiping about, it didnt happen in the first place.