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Ace had visited the house every night for six months. He’d started on the night of Rebecca’s 18th birthday, and every time he walked in the door he gave her parents a look. She knew the look meant that they were meant to have told her something, but she was glad they hadn’t. There was something about him, probably the whole vampire thing, that terrified her, so the last thing she wanted to hear was that they’d sold her to him. It was something she’d heard stories about, even though she didn’t quite believe they were true, and she really didn’t want the proof to change her life.

That night their eyes met the moment he stepped over the threshold and Rebecca knew something had changed. “It’s time,” Ace said, sounding irritated. “You should have told her a long time ago, because putting these things off doesn’t make them easier.”

Both her parents shook their heads. “Not now, please, Ace,” her mum replied.

“We made a deal.”

“It’s easy enough to make another deal.”

“I don’t think so. I’m happy with this one. You may not be, but that’s not my problem, and I really don’t care that you’re regretting the choices you made. They were your choices.”

“Ace…”

“If you aren’t going to tell her then I will, because I’m fed up with this. Being immortal doesn’t imbue patience, and I’ve waited long enough to get what I’m owed.”

“You won’t accept my offer of money then,” her dad said, resigned to whatever it was that was going to happen.

“I don’t need money.”

Tense silence filled the room. “There are auctions. It would be easy enough for you to buy a companion.”

Smiling, Ace took a couple of steps towards Rebecca, and she felt a shiver of fear go down her spine. “Why should I pay for one when I can have one for free? Your wife made a deal with me, and if she chooses to go back on it now then I am happy to take what I was offered. It’s up to you.”

Trying not to show how she was feeling Rebecca looked at her parents and made up her mind about what she was going to do. “Tell me,” she said.

“When I was young I made the mistake of getting close to Ace,” her mum explained, staring at the carpet. “I knew from the beginning he was a vampire, but that didn’t bother me. I thought he was a good person and…” She sighed. “It wasn’t until I turned eighteen that I realised he wasn’t the person he pretended to be.”

“You’re being melodramatic,” Ace interrupted. “I’ve been alone for a long time, and I don’t want to be alone for my whole immortal life. When I met your mum I thought she was the one, but I was wrong. When I asked her to join me she said no.”

“He didn’t want to take no for an answer, so I made a deal with him. It’s something I’ve regretted for years, and I hoped for a long time he wouldn’t come back, but he has.”

“Giving up your daughter in return for your own freedom…” Ace shook his head. “I didn’t think you’d actually have children, if I’m honest. That would have been the only sensible thing to do, because then I wouldn’t have been able to take Rebecca, but you did. Were you just hoping you wouldn’t have a daughter?”

When Rebecca looked at her mum it was obvious that was exactly what she’d been hoping. A tear trickled down her cheek. “I’m sorry, Becca. I met your father, and…”

“You decided to be selfish.” Amusement filled Ace’s voice. “Instead of thinking about what would happen to your daughter you thought about what you wanted. You wanted children, so you had them. Three, in total, two boys and one girl. I’ve been watching you for a long time, Mary. It’s not as thought I don’t have time. I’ve watched you crying over the future, trying to work out ways to get out of the deal you’d made with me, and we both know there’s only one way out. A couple of times I actually thought you might try it. The anger you felt, because of your own choice, was almost enough, yet you didn’t. You knew what would happen if you tried staking me.”

“It wasn’t a choice. You either wanted me, or someone in my place. Not letting you have me, at the time, was the most important thing, because I knew you’d get tired of me soon enough. Vampires always do.”

“Not all vampires are the same. What you seem to have forgotten is what I said to you when I asked you to join me.”

“Love?” Rebecca’s mum shook her head. “You didn’t love me, Ace. You don’t know how to love. It was lust, nothing more.”

“Maybe it was.” Shrugging, Ace turned to look at Rebecca. “None of that matters now. Our relationship is in the past. I’m going to be taking Rebecca tonight, and neither of you are going to stop me, because if you try I have no problem with killing you. She’s mine. You both know Mary signed a contract. I can show you my copy if you like, to remind you.”

Feeling like she was the one who had to make the move, Rebecca stood. “I’ll go with you.”

“Becca…”

“Don’t. It’s too late to try to find a way out of this. Your part in this is over.” She ran her tongue over her dry lips, trying her best not to let her emotions get the better of her. “Can I pack?”

“One suitcase, and I’m coming with you.”

Nodding, Rebecca headed for the stairs. She didn’t have a problem with either of those stipulations. Even if she did she wasn’t going to fight with him over them. It was safer not to. Until she had a chance to get to know him better there was no way for her know how he might react to her doing anything he was unhappy with. From what she knew of vampires she doubted she was going to be lucky with Ace. As he was the sort of vampire who made a deal for someone’s daughter… she nibbled her bottom lip. That really told her all she needed to know. He would do whatever he had to in order to get what he wanted. Apparently what he wanted more than anything else was a companion.

“Tell me what you’re thinking, Becca.”

“Just about what I want to take.”

“You don’t want to take anything.” He wasn’t wrong about that. “I understand. This isn’t fair on you, and I am sorry for that. Mary and I… honestly, I thought she was the one. Getting close to her was something I never expected to happen. Before her I hadn’t really cared about anyone, and then, when I thought she cared the same way about me, I found she didn’t. She met your dad before I asked her to join with me. I knew about him. I knew she thought she was in love with him. I believed she was in love with me. I could have been wrong about that. I don’t know.” He sighed. “When she said no I was angry. I reacted badly, but I am glad it means I get to have you in my life.”

“Ace, you don’t know me.”

“I’ve been watching you for a long time. She tried to hide you, because she thought that would be enough, but it wasn’t going to be. I found out who you were, and I knew what it meant. Had it not been for your parents I would have approached you sooner. I wanted a chance for you to get to know me. I’m not the sort of vampire you think I am.”

“Of course you are.” Rebecca glanced over her shoulder at him as she stepped into her bedroom. “If you weren’t the sort of vampire I think you are you would have walked away. As you didn’t, and you pushed my parents into following through with that contract, you’re not who you’re pretending to be right now. You’re acting the way you think you should, in an attempt to get me to soften to you. That’s not going to happen. You’re a vampire. I know what you’re capable of. I know what you’re willing to do in order to get what you want. I think being scared of you is logical.”

“Maybe.” The anger she’d expected to hear wasn’t in his voice. “I like you, Becca. You say what you think without beating around the bush.”

Shaking her head, Rebecca started looking through her drawers for things she didn’t want to leave behind. “You’re only going to like it for so long. Then you’re going to get angry with me, you’re going to punish me, and we’ll just keep going round in circles like that.”

“No, I’m not.” Could he hear the lie in his voice the way she could? “I don’t want this to go badly. This needs to work.”

“You’ve done this before.”

“We all have, Rebecca. It’s part of being a vampire. I’ve spent a very long time looking for someone. I thought your mum was that someone, but I was very wrong, so all I can do is try again. I’m going to do my very best not to make you hate me.”

“Like all the others?”

“Like all the others.” He was silent for a moment, as Rebecca took out two of her favourite pairs of jeans. “If it wasn’t me it would have been someone else. Your mum did sign a contract, and it would always have needed to be fulfilled. Had I made the decision to walk away you’d have belonged to someone else. They would have been a stranger to your family.”

A shiver of fear going down her spine, Rebecca turned to look at Ace. “How does that work?”

“Contracts are different when you’re dealing with a situation like this. Most people don’t go anywhere near this sort of situation, and I wouldn’t have done normally, but…” He shook his head. “I cared about your mum. I didn’t want to push her into doing something she didn’t want to do, so I made the decision the contract was the best thing I could do. More for her than for me. All I really wanted was her, but, as she made so very obvious, she didn’t want to be with me. She knew it might not have been me. There’s always someone to take an unclaimed person, and you would have been unclaimed.” His eyes met with hers for a moment. “It’s hard to explain. I wish it was easier, because I want you to understand.”

“Do you know anyone who might be able to explain it to me?”

He nodded. “There are a couple of people.” Feeling more confused than I had done before I turned back to my drawers. “I haven’t seen them for a long time, and they might not be too open to talking to me, but they’ll definitely talk with you. They’ll want you to know everything about the situation you’re unlucky enough to find yourself in.”

“This was Mum’s choice.”

“It was, and it was mine. I’m not going to blame it all on her. Then, before the contract was signed, I could have walked away, and I should have done. Back then I was angry. I reacted badly when she said she was in love with someone else. Although I regret the way I acted I don’t regret this. Maybe I’ll never be able to prove I’m not the vampire you think I am, but I do have a chance. That’s better than not having one.”

“Maybe.” Rebecca took a few tops out of her drawer. “What am I going to do about other clothes? I’m going to need more than I can get in a suitcase.”

“Normally I would have told you to leave everything behind, because it can be easier to start all over again, but as you had no warning I thought it was best for you to have something. When you’re settled in to my place we’ll go shopping. I can buy you some new things, to represent your new life.”

That wasn’t what Rebecca wanted. As she didn’t have a choice she nodded, wondering how much she could fit into her suitcase. She didn’t want to owe Ace anything. She didn’t want to stay with him. She definitely didn’t want him to turn her into a vampire, but she knew it was going to happen. How long it would take him was a question she wanted to ask, but the answer… knowing when it would happen wouldn’t make it any easier. No matter what she wanted she was going to be turned into a vampire. She was going to live forever.

“Do I have to stay with you for as long as I’m a vampire?”

Silence followed her question. Obviously he didn’t want to answer, and as he didn’t she was pretty certain the answer was no. “It would be best for you to stay for a little while, so I can teach you what you need to know about being a vampire, but you can leave. While you’re human you need to stay with me.”

“Due to the contract?”

“Yeah. If another vampire found you out wandering it wouldn’t be good. They’d see you as being unclaimed. Depending on how long it took me you might not be the same person you were before they took you.”

“Is that why you’ve been spending so much time here?”

“Keeping you safe was important. Your mum doesn’t understand what signing that contract meant, which was why she was trying to find a way out. It was never going to happen. There was no way out. She made her decision twenty years ago. Now she has to live with it, otherwise something will happen to you. Something she really wouldn’t want.”

“You wanted to walk away.” Rebecca turned to look at him again. “You didn’t want to do this.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Even though you’re here to claim me I’m not the person you want. You still want Mum. I think you always will do.” She brushed a hand through her hair. “Coming here was nothing more than your way of making sure she didn’t get hurt. The way you were acting downstairs… it was an act. Nothing more.”

“She believes I’m someone else. I made her think that, Becca, because I was so angry with her when she said she didn’t want to be with me. That’s something I’ve never felt before, and I hope it’s something I never feel again. Anger like that doesn’t fade away. I left her, went to find some way of punishing her, and that contract…” He looked down at the floor. “From the moment I saw it I knew I shouldn’t get her to sign it. I should have walked away. I should have let her be happy with your dad, but I wasn’t happy, so she wasn’t allowed to be happy either, and… it was the worst decision I could have made. I made it in anger. I’ve done my best to change from the vampire I was then. I never want to act that way again.”

“The contract means you have to change me?”

“As much as I wish I could give you another answer it does mean that.” He lifted his eyes. “I’m sorry. None of this should have happened to you.”

“No, it shouldn’t.” Breathing deeply, doing her best to let go of all the emotions she was feeling, Rebecca turned back to her drawers. “Tell me what I need to know about what happens next, Ace.”

“When you’re packed we’ll leave. I hope this isn’t going to be as hard as I think it’s going to be. There is a chance your parents might have found a hunter to challenge me, and that means I’m going to have to fight him. I will win. I will…” He shook his head. “After that it depends on how your parents react. Neither of them are happy, and that’s the be expected. I don’t want to hurt them, but if I have to I will, because you, right now, are the only innocent person in this whole mess. If I had to hurt them to protect you I will.”

“Your death would mean another vampire claiming me?”

“Exactly. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is. Once we’ve got out of here I’ll take you back to mine. We can get to know each other, and in the end I’m going to have to turn you. That’s not what I want. Unfortunately for both of us the vampire I was twenty years ago was impetuous, angry, and did a very stupid thing.”

“Okay.” Nodding slowly, she dumped some of her underwear into the suitcase. “Then I guess we should go. It would be better to get this over and done with sooner rather than later, don’t you think?” She zipped it up. There were probably other things she could take, but she wasn’t sure she wanted them. They’d just remind her of the choice her mum had made. “Especially if there is going to be a hunter.”

“Take as long as you need. I don’t think he’d here yet, and even if he was it wouldn’t matter. I’ve dealt with hunters before. They’re far better against vampires who don’t want to live any more, because vampires who have made that decision don’t fight, but I will. For you… and for me.”
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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

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