Chapter 2: Home, Sweet Home
Victoria stepped out of the yellow taxi upon the circular, gravel driveway. Matthew exited the other side as the driver came around to the trunk to unload their luggage. William and Eleanor occupied the second taxi that came to a halt behind them, with James trailing behind. A fourth vehicle pulled behind them, and the agent for the estate appeared from around a black Escalade. Although the deal had already been made and the papers signed, the agent felt it necessary to do a new home greeting.
Victoria gave her a weak smile behind her sunglasses. William walked over to the bubbly blonde and held out his hand for her. She took it meekly and then turned towards the estate grounds creating a grand gesture with her arms.
“Welcome to the new Elderidge Estates! My name is Helen. I’m your agent for this purchase, and I wanted to bring you a little southern hospitality before you get all moved in. I’m sure your other luggage is on its way?” Helen asked while noticing their sparse bags.
“This is all we needed at the moment. We figured we’d do a little shopping in the area,” Eleanor replied.
“I see. Made of money, aren’t we?” Helen said with a fake laugh.
“Yes, well,” William began, clearing his throat. “I see that the landscaping is quite beautiful with the fountain in the roundabout and the nice shrubbery around. The Spanish moss is quite lovely in the trees.”
“It adds a sense of culture to it, doesn’t it? Let’s go see how the inside fares to your expectations,” Helen commented as she began her ascent up the marble steps.
A wide wrap-around porch stretched upon the entire front of the house. Marble columns reached up towards the overhang that housed several chandeliers high above them. Rocking chairs and several tea tables lined the porch. Victoria imagined it as a place in the 19th century where Victorian women gathered for tea and cake.
Helen unlocked one side of the large oak entryway. Stained glass was embedded in the doors that housed pictures of roses. They walked into the large parlor with its wooden walls and immediately saw the grand staircase, which led up to the second floor of the mansion.
“Now to your right is the den area where all the bachelors of New Orleans would gather. You can almost smell the cigar and brandy that used to be served in here over a century ago! To your left is the dining area. As you can see, it was built to accommodate about twelve people at the table. Think of the house parties,” Helen gushed.
“The dining area leads into the foyer and then into the main living space. The fireplace here was specifically designed by the original owner. Here, you can see a depiction of the Battle of New Orleans in the stonework about the mantle. As you can see, French doors lead out into the glass-covered courtyard. The previous owners loved to garden. This door goes straight into what used to be the servant’s kitchen. It was renovated by the most recent owners to be fully updated for our times with stainless steel appliances and a gas stove.”
“That reminds me. This estate was rather inexpensive. Did the previous owners find anything wrong with this estate? I find it hard to believe that they made any money off what they had put into it,” William inquired.
“When the market crashed, it was hard for the previous owners to find anyone willing to buy it for its full value. They had to lower the price according to the market,” Helen said.
Victoria and the others could immediately smell the lie. By the increase in heart rate and the rush of blood to Helen’s face, it was evident that her reasoning was fabricated.
“Anyway,” Helen commented. “Moving right along here. This door, from the kitchen, leads down into the servants’ quarters. Of course, this was also converted into a game room, bathroom, and a second laundry area. There’s also another door down there that leads into the six-car garage. Let’s go look upstairs, shall we?”
The family trailed behind Helen up the back stairwell. Upon reaching the top, Victoria felt a coldness around her. She turned around but only saw an empty hallway. She quickly rejoined the group.
“The third floor contains five bedrooms and five bathrooms. You’ll have plenty of guest space on the floor above. There’s another stairwell that leads down into the gentlemen’s area at the other end of the hall. So you have three staircases that guests can go down from here. As for the fourth floor, there are four additional rooms and two bathrooms, as well as the final staircase into the attic of the home,” she finished.
“Is the attic finished as well?” Eleanor asked.
“It’s very spacious with several windows. There are some books and bookcases up there, but it wasn’t redone like the first floor under the main living area,” Helen explained.
“I heard we have a cemetery?” Victoria asked inquisitively.
“Yes. It’s not exactly the highlight of our little tour,” Helen said.
“Tell us about it,” Victoria insisted.
“Well,” Helen began. “The original family of the estate, the Ashfords, had their family plots upon the grounds. The local cemetery was becoming overcrowded, so the city allowed them to rest in a private cemetery. Back in the day, as long as you had the acreage and the money, you were given that privilege.”
“It’s obvious by the intricate detail in the grand foyer that they must have been very wealthy,” James commented as he rubbed his hand along the wooden banister overlooking the main floor.
“Why, yes!” Helen exclaimed. “That’s why I believe you and your gracious family would be a great fit for this place! I left you a little house warming present in the gentlemen’s den. I hope you all enjoy living here.”
Helen descended the main steps as the family followed behind. William crossed the foyer rapidly to open the door for Helen and see her out. She turned around while she was on the porch and appeared to want to speak but smiled instead. William walked her to her car before seeing her off down the drive.
Victoria walked into the gentlemen’s den and took in the room. It had dark green, textured wallpaper with leather couches and chairs. The ceilings were high with exposed wooden beams. Floor to ceiling windows lined the walls flooding the room with light. On the coffee table, she saw a bottle of wine with a white ribbon tied around it. A little card read, ′Congratulations.′
“She left us some booze,” Victoria smirked.
“Lovely,” Matthew said as he flopped down on one of the couches. “So, what now?”
Victoria took a crystal tumbler off a silver tray nearby and uncorked the bottle. She poured herself a glass and walked over to the windows. She pulled the curtains closed one by one, suffocating the light that was streaming through. It had taken them years to become accustomed to sunlight. At first, it brought unbearable pain, causing their skin to erupt in blisters like a severe sun poisoning case. Slowly, they trained themselves to withstand it for specific amounts of time. This was one way you could tell the difference between a vampling, a young blood, and an old vampire.
William had come back inside, and the others found their seats in the den. The taxis had left and placed their luggage in the middle of the grand foyer, ready to be unpacked in their new rooms. Victoria sat upon one of the plush leather chairs and got comfortable.
“Family meeting, I presume?” Victoria took a long sip of her wine. Although it didn’t satisfy her blood hunger, she still liked the taste.
“I wasn’t expecting the house to be furnished,” Eleanor said.
“The previous owners left in a hurry.”
“William, is there something wrong with this place?”
“No, Eleanor. In fact, it’s too perfect. I suggest we lay low tonight and keep to the shadows: no clubs, no bars, no hotels or brothels. Stick to the shadows in the alleyways for your hunting purposes until we can scope out the land. We don’t know who else could be in this area, whether it be Hunters or another clan,” William warned.
“And for Christ’s sake, remember to wipe their memories,” James added while eyeing Matthew.
“This place gives me an odd feeling. Has anyone else felt it?” Victoria asked.
“All new places have their histories, and this place certainly has a long one. New Orleans is known for many things. It’s natural to feel a little off with your senses right now,” William explained.
“It’s not that. I feel like I’m being watched.”
“I’m sure you’re just tired and hungry from the plane over here. Why don’t you go upstairs and get some rest? We have a few hours before nightfall,” Eleanor cooed.
“I believe I will.”
Victoria rose from her seat and drank the remainder of her wine before pouring herself another glass and heading upstairs. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something was definitely different about this place. It was a much older estate than some of the ones they had been in before. It had been kept up very nicely with the banisters and railings polished, and the walls still vibrant with colors.
When she reached the top of the stairs, she took a left and entered the second door on her right. It had called to her that this would be her new room. It had its own bathroom attached to it, light lavender walls, and Victorian cedar furniture. A sized queen bed was centered on the wall to her right with two nightstands on either side. A vanity table was on the far wall with a floor lamp. There was a reading chair in the corner near one of the windows with a small stand to hold a book or two. A desk laid in the corner of the room by another window, and a chest of drawers took up the rest of the wall beside the bed.
She immediately entered the bathroom and set her glass on the marble countertop. Flipping the faucet on, she ran cold water into the basin and dipped her hands underneath. She splashed the water upon her face, dabbing at her neck with a cloth as she spied her reflection in the mirror. A gasp escaped her lips.
Victoria spun around, expecting to see the girl she saw in the mirror behind her but only saw an empty glass shower stall. She looked back into the mirror and saw only her reflection. Confused, she walked back out into the room and laid down upon the bed. Spreading her arms wide, she kicked off her heels, feeling the fluffy white rug beneath her bare feet. A coldness spread across her, and she sat up, expecting to see another anomaly that couldn’t easily be explained.
“Okay, what the hell is going on here?” she asked herself aloud. Lifting herself from the bed, she strode over to the curtains to pull them closed. She wanted to black out the rays of the setting sun but soon realized the curtains were sheer.
She sighed heavily. “Well, that’s obviously not going to work. I guess I need to invest in blackout curtains in here. Maybe white, velvet drapes?”
She thought to herself about how she wanted to arrange the room and claim it as her own. She loved the color, purple being her favorite. It amazed her how the first room she had chosen seemed almost perfect for her.
“How are you doing?” James asked from the doorway.
Victoria turned around to face him. “The same as always.”
“I came up here to check on you. William is already assigning our jobs in the city. He wants us to become a vital part of the community, just like we always do. Very by the book for William.”
“You know how he is,” Victoria smirked. “So what job did you choose this time? Banker? Lawyer? Ah, let me guess, real estate agent?”
James chuckled under his breath. “Stockbroker. You were close. What do you want to do with your new life?”
“New life,” Victoria scoffed. “I’ve had a thousand new lives, and I still can’t get it fucking right. I don’t know. What do you think I should do?”
“Well,” James sighed, “if I were you, I’d do something fun. Maybe something that I thought was enjoyable and not boring or safe like what I usually prefer. Maybe a museum curator or something in antiques. You’re very creative, so I think you’d like something more befitting to your personality.”
“Antique dealing does sound kind of neat. I am pretty interested in history and beautiful things,” Victoria pondered. “We’re already kind of dealing with an antique here with this estate.”
“That’s true,” James laughed. “William wants us to live lavishly, so I understand his choice. This is quite a place. Have you looked into its history yet?”
“Not yet, but I will. That reminds me. I have to grab my bags from downstairs.”
“No need,” James answered. “I brought them up for you. They’re right outside the door for you when you need them.”
“Anytime. I’ll let you rest. We’ll be up for a while debating why it’s not wise for Matthew to become an exotic dancer.”
“Matthew wants to be a stripper?”
James frowned. “No. He just wants to be an asshole as usual. Get some rest, Vic.”
Victoria went to grab her bags from the hallway as James was leaving. It was kind of him to bring them up to her. Her mind had been filled with so many thoughts that she had forgotten all about her bags downstairs. She picked the heavy suitcases up with ease and laid them on the bed in front of her. Her laptop was in its case, and she quickly pulled it out to research the history of the estate.
It appeared the estate had a dark history indeed. Victoria rapidly scrolled through news articles of unexplained disappearances, scandalous affairs, and unsolved murders. Throughout its 200 years of existence, the mansion had acquired quite the reputation, something that William had forgotten to mention. She could only assume that he hadn’t known the history since they did have to make a quick decision on buying the estate.
“Catching up on some homework?” Matthew asked from the doorway. Night was beginning to fall. “You going to come with us tonight to the streets? I know you must be starving.”
“Have you seen this?” Victoria asked, turning her laptop towards her little brother to view. “Does William know about any of this?”
Matthew walked up to Victoria’s bed and peered at the screen, frowning. “I highly doubt it. Since when did a dark past make you uneasy?”
“Since a vampire clan moved into an estate that’s already known for unexplained disappearances and murders. This isn’t exactly the best reputation for our cover, now is it?”
“Come on, Victoria. We haven’t played with our food in a very long time. No one is going to go missing around here, at least not anymore. Look, it even says that the last known disappearance was half a century ago. This place has been through three buyers since then,” Matthew chastised.
Victoria closed her laptop and sighed. “So, what job did you pick?”
“Grow up, Matthew. Seriously?”
“What?” Matthew asked, feigning to be hurt by her words. “It’s my life. Why does everyone want me to change it? I’m tired of doing the boring and the ordinary. We aren’t those kinds of people.”
“People?” Victoria stood up from the bed to rummage through her suitcase. “Since when have we ever been considered boring or ordinary?”
“William can be a lawyer, and Eleanor can be the owner of a high-end massage parlor, but I can’t choose who I want to be. That’s unfair,” Matthew explained with a smile.
“I’m not saying—”
“I’m just teasing. Lighten up. Are you coming with us or not? I’ve got some things to do,” Matthew cut her off.
Victoria frowned. “Are you really looking into being an escort?”
“No,” Matthew chuckled. “But I am looking into owning the business. I think it would benefit the family to have connections to the darker side of New Orleans, just in case we get into trouble. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice to have fast food?”
“You’ve lost your humanity, I see.” Victoria rolled her eyes.
“Haven’t we all, my dear sister?” Matthew smiled mischievously. “Get your clothes on. I want to check out the town. I’m not waiting for you forever.”
He turned back toward the door and gave her a wink over his shoulder before disappearing. Victoria shook her head and smiled to herself. She truly did have a beautiful family, even with their dark past. Although she wanted to continue her research on the old estate, her bloodlust was rising. She had to satiate herself; otherwise, she would go mad, killing everything in sight until she was satisfied.
Victoria picked out a midnight blue mini dress and wiggled into it. It had a low cut, round neck that accentuated her features and was skin-tight to show off her curves. She shook her hair out in beautiful, thick waves around her face and applied a touch of mascara and lipstick. She was minimalistic when it came to makeup, which she found over the centuries to be more alluring.
She grabbed a long strap, black purse, and placed it over her shoulder. She threw her lipstick and mascara into the bag along with her wallet and cell phone. It was best to travel light when on their hunting expeditions. Since they were taking to the streets that night instead of hitting the clubs like they usually did to avoid confrontation with neighboring clans, she decided the best look to draw in her prey was to appear as someone looking for a good time.
Victoria headed out into the hallway and down the stairs where her family was waiting for her. Eleanor was dressed similarly in a black leather mini skirt and tight top. On the other hand, her brothers and cousin were dressed in business casual attire to display their wealth and stature. It was amazing how little society had changed over the years. The courting rituals were still very much the same.
“Ah, there she is,” Matthew commented as Victoria stepped onto the floor landing. He held out his arm for her to take. “Ready to get out of here?”
“Where are we heading tonight?” Victoria asked.
“Well, since William here decided the clubs, bars, and everything fun is off-limits until we know the surroundings, I suppose we’ll be forced to walk the streets of New Orleans aimlessly,” James answered with a sly jab at William.
“I’m only doing this to keep everyone safe. We don’t know this area. We don’t know who’s out there watching, and I don’t want us getting into any fights on our first night in town. We can’t afford a vampire showdown, and we certainly can’t afford to attract any more Hunters.” William eyed Matthew.
“Are we really going there again?” Matthew sighed.
Eleanor placed her hand on William’s shoulder. “I’ll go with Victoria, and you boys can head off in your own direction. The only thing I know about this place is Bourbon Street, which I know has a high tourist volume. Let’s go there. It’s less of a chance that we feed on a local.”
“Agreed,” William said.
“It looks like we have our orders,” Matthew commented.
Victoria felt an uneasy sensation overtake her as she walked out with her family to the rental cars that had been dropped off. Eleanor got into the driver’s seat of their black Lexus while the boys took the Escalade. Night had fallen entirely upon the estate, the moon casting shadows upon the grounds.
“Have you gotten any weird vibes from this house?” Victoria asked her sister.
“No, I can’t say that I have. Have you?” Eleanor asked, puzzled.
“I don’t know. It feels off. It feels foreboding,” Victoria answered. “Maybe it’s my nerves and my hunger getting the better of me.”
“We’re all hungry, Vic. I almost jumped the man across the aisle on the plane over here. We didn’t exactly get a chance to hunt the night before with the Hunters about.” Eleanor turned on the car and pulled out of the white gravel driveway down the many streets. “You’ll feel better after tonight.”
Victoria sighed and turned on the radio to an alternative rock station as they headed to their hunting grounds. She hated feeding off the streets because it made her feel like a common whore, something that she knew Eleanor could relate to. The boys usually got invited to the woman’s house, but the girls only got shown the nearest alleyway. Hopefully, this would all be over soon. She could get her fix, and then she could rest, something she was having trouble doing for the past few days. It was as if the nightmare never ended.