Lukiel nudged the back door open to peek into the office. Once he knew no one would see him, he slipped inside and quietly pushed the latch into place. He preferred it that customers didn’t see his occasional trips to the woods to “hunt,” so he was grateful Adonai had thought to add the extra door as a way for him to sneak out whenever he needed to do so.
He took a moment to listen to his surroundings. The other office door was closed, but he could hear his brother in the lobby as he made various noises to keep himself occupied while he manned the front desk. In fact, a consistent squeak painted a picture of the boy spinning lazily in the chair. Poor Lucien sounded bored.
A snicker escaped him at the thought. Lukiel should probably relieve the kid of his post pretty soon, and he would after he sorted out the remaining papers on the desk.
As he worked, he heard the front door open. The sounds of boredom settled down, and Lucien politely greeted the guest as he had been taught to do.
“Good afternoon, ma’am. May I help you?”
The responding voice had a pleasant ring to it ... but the question she asked made Lukiel stop. “Are you Amelia McNallie’s boy?”
What? Amelia? Why did she ask about their mother?
The next thing he knew, his brother gave the woman a polite, yet short, “Excuse me,” and hurried into the office. Lucien locked the door behind him and slid to the floor, shaking and near the point of tears.
Lukiel left his desk to go to the younger sibling and pulled the boy into a tight hug. No one who knew what happened to their parents and sister ever mentioned it around Lucien because the kid hadn’t yet figured out how to cope. Despite only being a few months old at the time, it still affected him severely.
The vampire did his best to calm his brother, but his attention strayed when the stranger’s voice called through the door. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to upset you. Will you come out, please?”
Lukiel took a moment to think about how to handle this. Eventually, he motioned for Lucien to stay quiet and wriggled out of the boy’s hold. As he stood to push open the door, he heard the woman shuffle back out of the way.
She looked harmless enough. A simple, yet tasteful, faded neutral-colored dress, dark blonde hair pulled back into loose braids wrapped around her head, gentle blue eyes. Nothing about her appearance would set off any alarm bells. And yet, almost immediately, Lukiel put his guard up.
This woman reeked of decay.
For now, he hovered in the doorway to block her from reaching his brother. He did his best not to sound curt and give himself away. “Sorry, ma’am, this area is for staff only.”
She didn’t appear bothered by the brush off, although she sighed with a sad look in Lucien’s direction. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize my sister’s name would have such an effect on the boy.”
Lukiel tipped his head as he played dumb. “Who’s your sister?”
“Amelia McNallie.” Her expression shifted to a wistful grin. “We didn’t get on very well, I’m afraid. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you don’t know who I am.”
She gave a slight bow at the waist as she added, “My name is Lilias Damahl. I apologize if my presence has opened old wounds.”
She sounded sincere, and he wanted to be happy to have more family around. But then he thought back to what Cain told him. How their father messed around with another woman while absent from home. Lukiel still didn’t know if he believed it, so he’d put it out of his mind for the past several months.
But he knew now that for someone to be born a vampire, at least one parent also had to be one. While he never found out the identity of Cain’s mother, enough time had passed since the monster’s demise. Surely the woman would be searching for her son by now.
In the back of his mind, he pondered the chances that this unassuming lady could be Cain’s mother. And if so ... whether she posed any danger, as her son had done.
Before Lukiel could respond to her, his brother spat his own question from the office doorway. The kid did not sound happy. “If you’re our aunt, why haven’t you come to see us before now?”
“I’ve only just heard anyone was still alive.” She averted her gaze as her guilt became apparent. “Amelia and I had a falling out after she and Stephan married. It was bad enough that we stopped speaking to each other. I knew very little about what went on with her family until I heard what happened to them.”
She returned her attention to the older brother. “The news I received was that everyone was gone. I didn’t find out otherwise until a couple of weeks ago.”
Lukiel didn’t speak for a moment. Finally, he said, “I see. Well, you’re here now.” That remark came out a bit forced, but he hoped it didn’t show.
He turned to Lucien. “Luc, can you check her in? I need to speak to Adonai, and then I’ll be right back.”
The kid clearly didn’t like the idea of being left alone with this woman, yet he went along with it. “Okay, but after this, I wanna get something to eat.”
The vampire pulled him into a quick hug. “You got it, kiddo.” He didn’t wait for the younger brother to object before he excused himself and headed out the front door. The phoenix would be at the house this time of day to prepare dinner, so Lukiel headed down the street with a quick pace.
He doubted Lilias would try anything with so many people in the vicinity. Just the same, he wanted to get back to the inn as soon as possible.
* * * * *
Adonai turned away from the stove when he heard someone enter the house. It was near dinner time, so he expected to see Lucien step into the kitchen. It surprised him, then, to instead see the older brother in the doorway. And his face sported the dark look that gave away when something wasn’t right.
He extinguished the heat under the pot before he left the stove. Lukiel met him halfway and pulled him into an unusually tight embrace. He might have been shaking a little, too.
Concerned, the phoenix returned the hug. “What’s the matter?”
“I just got a surprise guest at the inn. And I hope I’m wrong about why she’s here.”
“Yeah? Who is it?”
Lukiel hesitated. “My aunt. Or ... at least, that’s who she says she is.” He pulled away enough to meet the other man’s gaze, his unease painfully obvious. “But Mom never mentioned a sister. I have no way to know if she’s telling the truth.”
Adonai could sense there was more to it. “Something else about her bothers you. What is it?”
His expression hardened. “She’s a vampire. I could smell decay on her, and it was strong. I’m wondering if she’s a pure blood.” He went off on a momentary tangent, and his next remark was spoken mostly to himself. “Or ... turned by one, I guess ... if she’s Mom’s sister ... That has to be it, right? Is that how it works ... ?”
The ex-hunter caught on to his line of thinking. He reached out to gently take hold of Lukiel’s arm and ease him back to reality. “You think she’s Cain’s mother?”
The vampire shrugged, clearly at a loss. “I don’t know. I wanna ask, but I’m afraid to overstep, especially if she is family. I mean, it’s just Luc and me, so he needs some kind of mother figure. But if this woman turns out to be somebody different, I ... ” He trailed off and shook his head. “And does this mean Cain was telling the truth? I don’t know what to do.”
The phoenix sighed and went quiet for a moment to ponder the problem. “Okay, well ... If you wanna ask her, then ask her. I should think you could judge her intentions by how she answers. If she doesn’t want trouble, she’ll be open and honest.”
The vampire bit his lip. After a little while, he seemed to get an idea and shook his head again. “No. No, I want to see what she does first. If she really wants to reconnect, she’ll have to prove it and be honest on her own. I’ll give her a few days to speak up, and if she doesn’t, I’ll make her leave.”
His face flushed a bit with his next remark. “All I ask is you stay with me whatever the outcome.”
Adonai flashed a playful grin. “Well, duh.” He leaned in for a brief kiss and added, “If I haven’t turned tail by now, you can pretty well bet I’m not going anywhere.”
Lukiel managed to work up a smile. He returned the kiss and held it for a few seconds, and as he did, his arms slipped around the ex-hunter’s neck to pull him in closer.
The phoenix resisted the urge to tease the other man - at least verbally. One hand snaked around the vampire’s waist to the small of his back, while the other trailed behind Lukiel’s neck and through his hair.
Lukiel tensed at first, as he still did even after so many months, but he relaxed almost immediately. Adonai knew this was the easiest way to help the other man calm down, so it didn’t surprise him when the vampire leaned into him to rest his head on his shoulder.
He let him relax like that for a minute or two - and then he playfully poked Lukiel in the side. Right where he knew the guy was ticklish.
The vampire shrieked in surprise and wiggled away. His expression shifted to a smirk as he swatted at Adonai’s hands. “Behave.”
The phoenix responded with a grin of his own and stuck out his tongue.
Lukiel rolled his eyes but couldn’t bite back a snicker. “I better go rescue Luc. Poor kid’s bored out of his skull. I’ll send him this way.”
Adonai waited for the other man to leave before he re-lit the flame on the stove. He didn’t know what to think about the appearance of this long-lost aunt, but he hoped it didn’t hint at a new problem around the corner.