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Hot Vampire Next Door: Episode Twenty-Seven

Full of Ghosts

“That can’t be true,” I say, but my voice comes out barely a whisper and it’s rough, like sandpaper, like it hurts just to get the words out.

“I used a lot of favors to find out otherwise,” Bran tells me.

I get up from his dining room table and pace.

Bran is on edge, watching me, ready to chase me if I bolt.

Am I on the verge of running?

Can I run far enough to escape this?

I feel like I’ve left my body. My feet are moving and my hands are shaking and my heart is beating hard in my chest, but this isn’t my life.

It can’t possibly be my life.

Just when I think there is an end in sight, another corner comes into view, another turn in the labyrinth.

I look back to Bran when I reach the edge of the living room where the large front window overlooks the darkened street. Before Bran, there were only humans and a few witches that lived in my neighborhood. Not many windows remain lit after midnight.

“If there’s no record of me being born, how do you explain my mom being pregnant? There’re pictures of her with her pregnant belly and Kelly standing beside her.”

“That does seem to be true.” Bran comes over to me. “But she disappeared just a month before her due date. Kelly stayed at Locke House until your mom returned.”

I’ve never once heard Kelly talk about staying with the Locke vampires as a child. How could I have missed that detail? How could Kelly have never mentioned it?

Bran leans his shoulder against the window casing and the glow from the streetlight skims his face in a golden haze.

All of this feels like that, like a waking dream.

All of these secrets.

Him.

Me.

The fact that we’ve barely spent more than a few hours apart in the last handful of days. The fact that right now, as the ground shifts beneath me again, all I want to do is clutch to him. Fuck him. Lose myself in him.

Somehow, Bran Duval has become the only real thing in my life. The anchor that keeps me rooted to the earth.

He isn’t the comforting type, but I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather be with right now.

“Do you have a theory about my mom and my birth?” I ask him.

His gaze skips to the street where a cat crosses over the pavement and disappears into the shadows of an evergreen bush.

“I don’t have all of the secrets you need,” he admits. “There are the facts, though. Your mother disappeared right before you were born. She returned with a baby. Your blood tastes like the fae.”

I frown up at him. “I can lie. I thought we agreed fae was out?”

He looks back to me. “We did no such thing.”

“But—”

“You’re forgetting something else, mouse.”

I cross my arms. “Okay, what?”

“Once upon a time, we could easily travel between the mortal realm and the fae realm. But not long after you were born, the gate was sealed and all of the fae on this side were stuck here.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying, I don’t believe in coincidences.”

I snort. “Are you trying to tell me that the gate was sealed because of me? Or in relation to me?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“No. That’s ridiculous.”

“Is it?”

“Yes!” I throw up my arms.

Bran scowls at me like I’m being overly sensitive.

“None of this makes sense.” I scrub at my face.

“Have you considered that there’s a very simple way of confirming whether or not you’re fae? We could have the answer right now if we wanted it.”

I go still.

Iron.

It hadn’t occurred to me, no. Because I never wanted to believe I could be fae in the first place. And beyond that, iron is hard to come by in Midnight simply for the safety of the fae that do live here. You can’t buy iron at the gas station, just like you can’t buy a stake or a vial of shifter’s bane.

“I don’t have any iron sitting ar—”

Bran disappears in a blur, ruffling the hair around my face.

When he comes back and holds out his hand, there’s a metal bar strung on a length of leather cord dandling from his grip.

“Shit. I was being sarcastic.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Why do you have that?”

“For the fae, obviously.”

“Do you have an entire closet somewhere full of weapons for every creature that lives in Midnight?”

He opens his mouth to answer but I hold up my hand. “Wait. Never mind. I don’t want to know.”

“Take it from me, mouse,” he says.

I tuck my hands beneath my arms.

My heart is suddenly pounding against my eardrums and my mouth is dry.

I don’t want to touch it.

Because I don’t want to know.

“Mouse.”

“Maybe I’ll leave Midnight after all,” I say eyeing the iron in his hand. “I don’t have to do this. No one is making me. Are you going to make me?”

He frowns at me, but it’s devoid of his usual edge of irritation.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think Bran feels sorry for me.

“You’re not leaving,” he says.

“If I touch that and—”

“I know.”

Tears burn in my sinuses.

I don’t want to appear weak in front of Bran, but I’m quickly losing my shit just thinking about the consequences of touching that piece of iron.

If I react to it, that’s it.

Then I’ll really know I’m fae and my entire life will have been a lie and my mom and sister have been keeping a very big secret from me for who knows what reason.

Bran reaches over and grabs me gently by the wrist. He guides my hand over his. My fingertips tremble over the bar of iron now lying flat in the palm of his hand.

Is it just me, or can I feel the heat already?

I try to yank my hand back, but you can’t fight a vampire’s grip and especially not one as old as Bran.

“Please,” I say, bordering on a whine.

“Don’t you want to know?”

Fuck.

No.

No, I do not.

But I have to know.

I exhale, shoulders deflating.

There’s no way to move forward until I do this.

I let Bran lower my hand over his and the second my fingers brush the iron, white hot pain races through my skin.

I yank back with a high-pitched hiss as the pain sinks to bone and reverberates up my arm like someone whacked my funny bone with a baseball bat.

Smoke curls from my hand as a giant red welt blooms across my fingertips.

Tears stream down my face.

Bran tosses the iron aside and yanks me into him, his arms wrapping protectively around me.

Before I can get hold of myself, I’m sobbing into his chest.

Not from the pain.

From the sheer magnitude of the truth.

I cry and cry and cry, body shaking, barely able to catch my breath.

And Bran holds me close, surrounds me with his scent and his protection.

I’m so fucking relieved to have him that I cry harder.

I cry for who I was and who I no longer am.

I cry for the void at the center of me, where so many unknowns still lurk.

When the tears finally dry up and I can take a full breath without it catching on a sob, Bran blurs away and returns with a tissue.

I plop onto the couch and dry my face and tuck my hair behind my ears.

Am I surprised by this?

This isn’t new information, only a confirmation.

It could be worse. I could have found out I was an honest-to-god mouse shifter.

Bran hands me my glass of liquor. I take a generous sip and let the alcohol warm my insides and drive away the tension building at my breastbone.

Everything is going to be okay.

I’m going to be fine.

I’ve got this. I can handle this. I can—

Bran looks over me at the stairs.

“What?” I ask.

“It’s Kelly,” he says. “She’s up.”


We wait for her to come downstairs on her own. It takes her a good twenty minutes and I pace the entire time.

When her footsteps finally hit the staircase, I hurry over to the bottom and peer up at her as she descends. Her eyes are heavy and circled in shadows, but some of the color has returned to her cheeks and she doesn’t shine with sweat anymore.

“Jessie?” she says when she sees me standing beside Bran. “What is going on?”

“You had compulsion fever,” I explain. “We brought you here to keep you safe.”

She comes down the last few steps, her hand trailing on the banister. The black nail polish on her fingernails has started to chip away. Kelly never goes longer than a week without getting her nails done.

“Keep me safe from who?”

“Julian,” Bran answers.

Kelly rakes her teeth over her bottom lip. The look she gives me next is haunted and hollow. It’s the look of someone who knows they’ve been drowning.

Why didn’t she tell me she was in trouble? We could have figured it out together.

“Kelly, I really, really need you to tell me everything,” I say. “I know you’ve been keeping things from me. I can’t take the mystery anymore.”

My sister frowns at me and her gaze goes distant. “I…” She licks her lips and closes her eyes. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Why not?”

She leans her weight into the column at the base of the staircase banister. “It’s…when I try…” She squints as if trying to make out the shape of the secrets from a distance.

“She’s been compelled to forget,” Bran says.

I go to my sister’s side. “Try harder, Kels.”

Her eyes turn watery as she taps at her forehead. “It’s all a blank right here. And my head is still pounding and…” She trails off again. “Wait.”

“What?”

“Mom!” Kelly clutches at my hand and squeezes. “Mom wrote you a letter. Julian didn’t know about it so he couldn’t compel me to forget.”

“Where is this letter?” Bran asks.

“At the house. In our mother’s bedroom.”

“Come on.” Bran darts for the door and yanks it open. “We’ll go together.”


When Mom died, after we picked out a funeral outfit, Kelly and I shut her bedroom door and pretty much sealed it off.

I’ve been in there twice since then and every time I get the creeps like I’m walking into a tomb.

As we step over the threshold now and Kelly flicks on the bedside lamp, a shiver crawls down my spine.

Mom’s hairbrush is still on the dresser. Her earrings from when she last took them off rest beside the brush. The romantic comedy she was reading sits on the bedside table, her favorite bookmark still tucked inside the pages where she left off.

The bed is made, but it’s full of ghosts.

The room still smells faintly of her perfume. The sweetness of jasmine and clary sage and vanilla.

It only takes one deep breath of the scent to immediately transport me to a time when Mom was alive and her life filled this room.

It makes me miss her all over again.

“Where’s this letter?” Bran asks.

“Um…” Kelly turns a circle in the center of the room. “It’s…” She goes to the dresser and pulls open the bottom drawer, then shoves aside several folded sweaters. “Here.”

She hands me an envelope with my name written across the front.

Just hours ago, I was taking a different envelope, tearing open its flap, unraveling its secrets.

That envelope produced a deed to a house.

What will this one give me?

I look up at Bran and Kelly, both watching me with barely constrained apprehension.

Unlike Bran’s envelope, this one isn’t sealed, but the flap is tucked inside.

I find a letter folded up and my mother’s looping cursive scrawled across the paper.

I read it out loud.

Dear Jessie,

If you’re reading this, it means I’m not there to tell you myself and that absolutely breaks my heart. I hope your sister is by your side. If she is, I know she’s doing the very best she can under the circumstances. Please go easy on her.

First, I need to tell you, everything I did I did with a mother’s love.

After your father died, and after I somehow managed to crawl out of the grief to the extent I could function, I was so grateful to be pregnant with his baby. I could have one more piece of him by my side.

But then the absolute worst thing happened—I started having complications.

After many tests and several visits to the doctor, I found out the baby was dying. I petitioned Julian and asked for his blood, but he refused. Vampire blood while a baby is in gestation can result in Very Bad Things.

Yes, all caps. That’s the impression I got when he explained it to me.

I went to Rita next and she performed a healing spell but it didn’t take.

I had one last idea. One last ditch effort.

I was so desperate to save a piece of your father.

So I went to the faerie realm and sought out fae magic.

But by the time I found someone willing to help, I was already in labor. I passed out, the pain was so intense, and when I woke, there was a baby in my arms.

You smiled up at me and when you cooed, I swear my heart swelled in size.

I loved you so much.

Instantly. Without question.

When I returned with you to Midnight, I thought we’d been blessed with a miracle.

But then…strange things started happening.

And I started to doubt that the baby I had in my belly when I went to the fae realm was the baby that I returned with.

You were just over a year old when I took you for a walk through the park and we crossed paths with a fae, a brownie.

He immediately came over to us and got down on one knee in front of you and peered at you like he was inspecting a strange creature. He said to me, “Did you steal her?”

“She’s my daughter,” I told him.

“What you believe and what is true are not the same thing.”

And then he walked away like he hadn’t just shattered my entire world.

Because deep down, I knew, I knew you weren’t my flesh and blood.

Right then and there, I had to make a decision.

The fae realm had already been sealed off by this point, so I had nowhere to go, no one to turn to.

I went to Rita begging for help again, but I couldn’t tell her what you were. I was too afraid of what others would do if they found out the truth. Like the brownie, I worried they would think I kidnapped you and the fae, while peaceful here, have never exactly been on our side.

I asked for a binding spell and Rita performed it, no questions asked.

I did it to protect you and if I’m honest, to protect me and your sister too.

The things you did, Jessie…you were only a year old and it terrified me.

If you’re reading this, I’m begging you, burn it and forget about it and go on with your life.

Sometimes, baby girl, secrets are better left buried.


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