The young woman knelt beside Dorotea, hugging her. She shot Pierce a confused look. "I could have sworn you were dead."
"Who are you?" Pierce demanded.
"Your sister, Rosalinda. Mother told me not to come till after sunset, but I couldn't wait. I had to see you again, but then, I thought you were dead." She covered her face and sobbed.
Great. He'd started his new life by traumatizing his family. He glanced at Maggie to see how she was doing. Her face was pale, and she was busily buttoning her pajamas. His mother and sister were so upset, he could hear their hearts pounding, smell the blood racing through them. He glanced at the half-empty bottle on the nearby shelf. He needed to eat soon.
"Why are you screaming down there?" Aunt Betty yelled from the hatch opening.
"They're alive!" Rosalinda stood, still crying.
"What?" Aunt Betty yelled. "They're not dead anymore?"
"They're alive!" Rosalinda moved to the base of the ladder and looked up at her aunt. "Call nine-one-one and cancel the ambulance."
"It's a miracle." Dorotea crossed herself as she struggled to her feet. "A Christmas miracle."
"I can explain." Pierce groaned inwardly. Could he really?
"No need." Rosalinda laughed, wiping the tears from her face. "It's pretty obvious what you've been up to all day."
Maggie winced. "Actually, we were asleep most of the day."
"Yeah, right." Rosalinda snorted.
"We were unconscious," Pierce added.
"For thirty minutes?" Her eyes suddenly widened. "Wow. I wish I had orgasms like that."
Dorotea gasped. "Rosalinda!"
A pang of hunger shot through Pierce. He needed to get them out of here quick. "Please, go to the house. Maggie and I will be there soon, and we'll explain everything."
"Very well." Dorotea exchanged a pointed look with her daughter. "We all have some explaining to do."
After they left, Pierce grabbed the bottle from the shelf. He guzzled it down while Maggie drank from her bottle. With the edge off their hunger, they began to dress.
He zipped up his jeans. "I don't know how to tell them."
Maggie took his hand and squeezed it. "I'll be there with you. For good or bad."
"Thank you." He kissed her hand. "Ready to go?"
"Yes." She swung her tote bag onto her shoulder and followed him up the ladder.
As they walked toward the house, Pierce spotted his brother on the porch.
"You're okay?" Patrick ran down the steps, but halted on the last one. A look of shame crossed his face. "I wish I wasn't so damned afraid. You two come in. Dinner's ready."
"Just a minute." Maggie ran to the SUV and retrieved the last two bottles of blood.
As soon as they entered the foyer, Lucy ran up to them with a big grin. "You want to see what Santa Claus brought me?"
"In a little while." Pierce picked her up and kissed her cheek.
Lucy giggled. "You sleep too much."
"I'm afraid so." Pierce carried her into the dining room. She wiggled down from his arms and climbed into a chair with a booster seat.
A tall man in overalls came forward. "I'm your Uncle Bob. I'm glad you're back."
"I'm glad to be back." Pierce shook his hand. "And this is Maggie." He wrapped an arm around her.
Dorotea, Rosalinda, and Aunt Betty finished loading the table with foodturkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and salad.
Uncle Bob took a seat at the end of the table. "I hope you two are hungry. The gals have been cooking all day."
Pierce exchanged a worried look with Maggie. She quietly set their bottles of blood beside two plates on the table.
"Everyone sit down." Dorotea sat at the other end of the table with Lucy on one side and Rosalinda on the other. Patrick sat between his sister and aunt. Pierce took the seat next to Lucy, and Maggie sat beside him.
"Let's say the blessing," Dorotea announced, and everyone reached out to hold hands. "Thank you, Lord, for giving us Lucy who has brought so much joy into this house. And thank you for sending us Pierce and Maggie. My son, who was lost, has been returned. Amen." Dorotea crossed herself with tears in her eyes.
"Now, everyone eat." Uncle Bob piled his plate with turkey meat, then passed the platter to Maggie. She passed it on to Pierce who put some meat on Lucy's plate.
"What's wrong?" Dorotea asked. "Aren't you two eating?"
"We're on a special diet," Maggie murmured as she opened her bottle of Chocolood. She poured some into her glass.
"Well, I never," Aunt Betty muttered. "After all the work we did, slaving over the stove."
"Food's great." Uncle Bob wolfed down an entire turkey breast in two gulps.
Pierce opened his bottle and took a sip. "The night I lost my memory, something else happened, too. I was attacked."
Patrick looked up from his plate. "You were bitten?"
"Damn!" Patrick hit the table with his fist. "I knew it. It's that damned curse."
"Please don't curse at the table," Dorotea murmured. "Go on, Pierce. What happened?"
He swallowed hard. This was it. "I was transformed. Into a vampire." He glanced quickly around the table, but was met with nothing but blank looks. At least, they weren't screaming. Or trying to stab him with the silverware.
"Are you sure, dear?" Dorotea asked.
"I didn't think such a thing existed," Rosalinda mumbled with her mouth full.
"It's true," Maggie said. "Pierce and I are both vampires."
Silence descended around the table as everyone stopped eating. Pierce wondered when the screaming would begin.
"Ah, well." Dorotea shrugged. "Nobody's perfect."
"That's the truth," Aunt Betty muttered.
"Pass the potatoes," Uncle Bob said.
Pierce blinked, then passed the bowl to his uncle. "You're not upset? Maggie and I are sorta dead during the day."
"Ha!" Rosalinda smiled smugly. "I knew I was right."
Patrick frowned. "You're not going to bite us, are you?"
"No. We drink synthetic blood." Pierce demonstrated by taking a swig from his bottle.
A ringing sound came from Maggie's tote bag. She retrieved her cell phone and excused herself from the table. Even though she was talking quietly in the foyer. Pierce could tell with his super vamp hearing that she was talking to Ian.
Everyone else resumed their eating. Uncle Bob was gnawing on a turkey leg. Rosalinda was nibbling at a salad.
"I suppose we should fix up the storm cellar and make it more comfy for you," Dorotea said as she cut up her meat.
"That would be nice. Thank you." Pierce took a deep breath, greatly relieved. "You're all taking the news very well."
Aunt Betty shrugged. "We're family."
"And we thank God you made it home," Dorotea added.
"I have some money saved up," Pierce said. "We could use it for repairs."
"Oh, that's wonderful!" Dorotea exclaimed.
"Or we could buy more cattle," Aunt Betty offered.
"Why should we?" Patrick muttered. "They'll just get eaten like all the others. We're doomed. Nothing can save us."
"Don't say that." Betty sniffled. "He can't help it."
Uncle Bob hit the table with his fist. "I've worked this ranch since I was a young boy. I helped build it with my bare hands. Do you think I enjoy being the one to destroy us?"
"There, there." Betty embraced her husband.
"What's going on?" Pierce asked.
His family grew silent.
"Good news!" Maggie returned, smiling. "I know how you can save the ranch. You can make a bundle selling bat guano for fertilizer."
"Maggie, you're brilliant!" Pierce grinned at her. "Can you still love me when I'm a guano farmer?"
She laughed. "Of course."
Uncle Bob cleared his throat. "I'll be happy to help you shovel that guano."
"Thanks." Pierce turned to Patrick. "You could help, too."
Patrick turned pale. "It's not safe to leave the house."
"I won't let anything hurt you, Patrick. Trust me." Pierce grabbed the fork beside his plate and bent it into a circle.