Dinner was tense these days, with everyone trying not to break the silence Declan's moodiness had imposed on them all.
"Daddy?" Cecily asked timidly.
"What?" he fairly snarled.
"I just wanted you to pass the salt!" she wailed and leapt from her chair and ran upstairs.
"All right, Declan, that's just about enough," Fiona said, standing up. "Get out."
"Get out of here, go hit something at the gym, I don't care, but get rid of whatever's bothering you. Don't come back until you do. I'm tired of walking on eggshells, and you owe your daughter an apology."
Declan stared at her, then seemed to deflate. "I'm sorry. I guess I owe you all an explanation. I'll go get Cecily and then we'll talk."
They came down several minutes later, Cecily still sniffling and Declan looking tired. "Come on and sit in the living room," he said. "This may be a long story."
They all did as he asked, silently. Fiona sat on the arm of Cecily's chair and stroked her hair and the boys sat down side by side on the couch. Declan remained standing, and paced as he talked.
"I am the middle child of five," he began. "My mother died giving birth to my youngest sister and my dad wasn't much of a dad. He preferred chasing after women and gambling the family fortune to fatherhood. So my oldest brother Gareth stepped into the role. He wouldn't hear a bad word about old Dad, though. Very big on family loyalty, Gareth. Dad owned a croft and without Gareth it would have been driven into the ground. He took over the running of it at a very young age and we all pitched in to help, more or less.
"My sister Sinead, the one Connor staked the other night, was the next oldest. She saw the fate that was in store for her--constantly pregnant, hard labor, death at a young age--and decided it wasn't for her. She was beautiful and intelligent and used it to her advantage. By the time she was 25 she had been married and widowed twice, both times with very elderly, wealthy men.
"Liam was the next youngest after me and seemed determined to follow in Dad's footsteps. He was a wastrel, and I suspect the cause of more than one hastily covered up bastard in the neighborhood. But he was always sweet about it and everyone forgave him his nature, except perhaps the fathers of the girls he'd wronged.
"And then there was Niamh." Declan sighed and looked older than Connor had ever seen him. "She was so sweet. I wish you could have known her. Always happy, always kind, willing to pitch in and do her part. Gareth sheltered her a lot, you see--we all did. We just knew she was special. She was engaged to marry a local squire who loved her very much. She would have had a happy life.
"And then." Declan paused for such a long time Connor wondered if he should say something. They had been listening to his story in such silence it was as if they'd stopped breathing. "And then," he continued finally, "there was me. Of all of us siblings I was the least sure of who I was and what I wanted. All I knew was that I didn't want to be a farmer. I wanted adventure, riches, beautiful women--and spent more time in pursuit of such a life than I should have.
"One night I went to the pub and there was a woman there. She was traveling with her servants. She seemed so glamorous to me, so lovely, so pale. She seduced me even though I thought it was the other way around. She controlled me, and then she killed me.
"And when I arose the first thing I did was to track down my family, one by one, and turn them too."
They all sat in stunned silence for what might have been an hour. Of all the stories he'd expected his father to tell . . . Connor didn't know what to think.
"I know they're all here in town," Declan said finally. "They never travel alone. They're still a family after all these years." He headed for the door.
"Declan, wait," Fiona said.
He whirled around, his eyes bright with tears. "You're right, I need to get out of here for a while. Clear my head."
She put her hand on his arm. "Stay."
"Don't you see, Fiona? It's all my fault. Whatever evil they do, whatever lives they destroy, it's because of me. I made them what they are."
She put her arms around him and he started to sob.Next Chapter