Olivia saw her sister making her way toward her through the crowd of guests. She hopped down from her perch and met her halfway. They shared a hug.Ivy shook her head. "We don't know that."
"The house looks drop-dead," Ivy told her. "I have to talk to you," Olivia said seriously. She was about to go on, but she noticed their dad approaching. He came up behind Ivy and gave her a hug.
"I know how hard it has been for you to accept this move," Mr. Vega said. "It makes me all the more grateful that you went to all this trouble."
"Olivia helped, too," Ivy said. "I couldn't have done it without her."
Mr. Vega took a tentative step toward Olivia. He took a deep breath and abruptly threw his arms around her. "Thank you, Olivia," he said. "Not so tight," Olivia squeaked.
Her father released her at once. "Have I hurt you?" he asked in a panic.
"I'm fine," she assured him. He's so worried about harming me, she thought tenderly.
"Charles!" Georgia Huntingdon waved from where she was chatting with Mr. Grosvenor on a chaise longue in the corner.Their father smiled at the girls, his eyes sparkling, before heading off to mingle with more of his guests.
Olivia took her sister's hand and led her through the crowd to the alcove off the front hall with the grand piano. Luckily, it was deserted. "I found something while I was setting up," Olivia whispered to her sister. "Our father's journal from right after we were born."
Ivy's black-lined eyes searched Olivia's face.
"And our mother died giving birth to us," Olivia said. She could feel her heart beating in her chest.
Ivy squinted, like she was trying to see through a dense fog.
"Our dad thought that her body couldn't cope with having vampire blood inside her," Olivia explained.
Ivy's knees buckled slightly, and she collapsed on the piano bench. She looked confused, but she didn't say anything.
"That's why he wanted to separate us," Olivia went on. "He thought the same thing would happen to me if I hung around vampires. He was worried I'd fall in love with one or something. I guess he still is. That's why he feels you should both move away."
"But that makes no sense." Ivy shook her head. "It's not as if you're getting a blood transfusion. We just want to be sisters.We just want to go to school together."
"I know that," Olivia said. "But he's the one we have to convince."
Ivy stood up, her eyes clear. "Let's do it now," she said. "I can't pretend to be having fun when all this has come up from the grave."
Olivia nodded, and together they went to go find their dad.
"Dad, can I talk to you?" Ivy said. She and her sister had finally found him in the kitchen, talking animatedly to Rafe, the coffin carpenter.
"Sure," he said and smiled, gesturing for Ivy to say whatever was on her mind.
"In private?" Ivy clarified.
Her dad looked puzzled, but then he saw Olivia standing at Ivy's side and noticed the looks on the girls' faces, and his expression changed to one of concern. "Of course," he said quickly and set his drink on the counter. "Pardon me, Rafe. Let us go up to my study," he suggested to the girls.
The journey through the house and up the stairs to the second floor felt like it took an eternity to Ivy. Every few feet, someone stopped her father and wanted to chat. Finally, the three of them reached the study. Her father shut the door and went and sat in his office chair.
"Is everything all right?" he asked.
This is it, thought Ivy. "We know," she said simply.
A series of reactions crossed her father's face: shock, then panic, followed by denial. "You know what?" he said, then shrugged unconvincingly. "We know you're our father," Olivia answered. "And we know about our mom, too," Ivy finished. Her father stared at them in disbelief. "B-but how... " he stammered.
"We found your wedding photo," Ivy explained. "And the journal you kept," added Olivia.
Their dad searched their faces, his eyes fluttering frantically from Ivy to her sister. Ivy could tell he was desperately trying to figure out what to say. For a second, a crooked smile revealed his teeth, and she knew he was tempted to deny everything. But then the smile disappeared, and a pained look was all that remained.
"You know everything?" he whispered. Ivy and Olivia nodded, and their father closed his eyes. Suddenly he breathed in sharply, as if he had been punched in the stomach.
"I loved your mother so very much." He was holding his breath, his voice high and strained. "I didn't think I could live." He swallowed. "The only thing that kept me in this world... was the two of you." All at once, he slumped in his chair and tears streamed from his eyes. He put his face in his hands and wept.
Ivy felt like she was watching her own father be reduced to dust. It was awful. She and Olivia reached out, but he raised his hands, gesturing for them to stay back so he could go on.
"My parents always told me that vampires and humans shouldn't mix," he explained. "But the moment I met Susannah, your mother, I knew at once she was the only woman for me. I didn't care that she was human." He roughly wiped the tears from his eyes with the palms of his hands. "When she told me she was pregnant, I thought it was a miracle. I had believed - everyone believed - that that just wasn't possible. I thought it was proof of the extraordinary power of our love." He shook his head forlornly. "I could not have been more wrong."
"She died in labor?" Olivia said.
"She died," her father answered soberly, "because of me. I never should have let her love me. My parents were right - vampires and humans should not mix. It only brings tragedy."
He leveled his eyes at Ivy. "You see now, my darling, why we must move?"
"But the Vampire Round Table - " Olivia began.
"My dear Olivia, my beautiful daughter," he interrupted, turning his hopeless eyes on her. "Yes, the Vampire Round Table accepts you. But that does not make you one of us. I could not believe it when I learned you had come to Franklin Grove. It was certainly destiny for you and Ivy to find each other." He sighed. "I suppose, somewhere deep inside, I wanted it to happen. I left you both our rings. But I could not bear to lose you the way I lost Susannah," he said hoarsely. "That is why we must be apart." He rapped the desk with his fist, like a judge decreeing his decision.
Ivy wanted to say something to convince her father that everything would be okay. Except now she wasn't so sure herself. What if something horrible does happen to Olivia if we stay together? she thought. After all, it was my embryo's blood that infected our mom. Olivia's hand slipped from her own, and the three of them were silent, lost in their own thoughts.
Then their father turned his chair away and gently asked them to leave him for a moment. Ivy and her sister walked slowly out of the room. There seemed to be nothing left to say.
Olivia and her sister sunk to the wooden floor in the hallway outside their father's study.
"It wasn't his fault," Olivia said softly. "You're right," Ivy said, a curtain of hair shielding her face. "It was mine."
"What?" Olivia asked in surprise.
"You were the human baby," Ivy explained sadly. "I was the vampire. Our mother died from having me."
"Ivy, that's not true," Olivia protested. Her sister looked at her doubtfully out of the corner of her eye. "Brendan's father said the human and vampire cells polarized. After that it would have been a normal pregnancy."
Our father spent the last thirteen years blaming himself for our mother's death, Olivia thought. I can't let Ivy make the same mistake. She stood up and held out her hand. "Come on."
"Where are we going?" Ivy asked, allowing herself to be pulled to her feet.
"To find Mr. Daniels," Olivia told her.
"We're going to get this straightened out once and for all."
They spotted Brendan's dad in the living room, talking to a short, pale man in sunglasses.
"Sorry, can we pry you away for a minute?" Olivia asked.
Mr. Daniels followed them into the kitchen.
"Ivy and I have something to ask you," Olivia said.
"Of course," Mr. Daniels replied. Ivy bit her lip and stared down at her boots.
"Could a human woman die from giving birth to a vampire?" blurted Olivia.
"It depends," Mr. Daniels answered, and Olivia felt a flicker of worry.
"On what?" she risked.
"Mainly on whether she kept up her iron intake," replied Mr. Daniels. "But, assuming a balanced diet, there's no reason a human mother couldn't act as a surrogate to a vampire child. Why do you ask?"
"Because we found out that our mother died in childbirth," Olivia explained plainly. She looked over at her sister, and it was clear Ivy still wasn't convinced. "Could she have died because she needed more iron or whatever?"
"No, no, that wouldn't have been the situation in your case," Mr. Daniels replied, shaking his wild mane of gray hair.
Ivy looked up. "Why not?"
"Because iron deficiency in the mother would almost certainly result in birth defects in the vampire offspring, and you're healthy as a bat. The normal, human complications that often arise during labor were probably the cause of your mother's death."
"So it wasn't having me as a daughter?" Ivy inquired softly.
Mr. Daniels squeezed Ivy's shoulder affectionately. "No," he said. "Certainly not," he added more forcefully.
Olivia saw relief wash over her sister's face. "Thanks, Mr. Daniels," Olivia said triumphantly. Ivy felt like she'd just had a blood transfusion. "Would you be willing to tell my father what you just said?" she asked.
He looked puzzled. "I suppose so, but why?" Ivy exchanged glances with her sister. We have to tell Brendan's father the truth. Ivy thought, shepherding him further into the corner by the pantry, so no one else would overhear. "If we tell you a secret," Ivy said, "will you promise to keep it?"
Mr. Daniels paused, studying the serious expressions on Ivy's and Olivia's faces. "I will," he pledged finally.
"Remember when you told us about Karl Lazar," Ivy said, "the vamp who fell in love with a human and went into hiding?"
"Yes," Mr. Daniels agreed.
"Well, we found him," Olivia whispered.
"You did?" Mr. Daniels's eyes widened. "Where?"
"In Franklin Grove," Ivy replied. "He changed his name to Charles Vega."
"Inconceivable!" Mr. Daniels gasped.
"But true," said Ivy. "My dad is our real dad. And he thinks our mother died because he got her pregnant with a vampire baby."
Thankfully, Mr. Daniels understood at once why the girls wanted him to speak to their father. "Lead the way!" he said.
Ivy knocked lightly on the study door. "Dad?"
"You may enter," his voice came faintly.
"Dad, Mr. Daniels is here." Brendan's father followed her into the room, and Olivia came in behind him. "He has something to tell you."
"Your wife's death was not your fault, Charles," Mr. Daniels said simply.
Her father bristled. "I appreciate your concern, Marc, but - "
Mr. Daniels put up his hand. "Let me finish. I have been studying human-vampire childbirth for nearly a decade, and your daughters' particular case around the clock for two weeks. When the girls' mother was impregnated, the human cells and vampire cells separated and formed two entirely distinct embryos. From that moment on, the pregnancy would have been completely normal. All my research confirms this. There would have been no toxic effects from the vampire DNA in your wife's womb."
"Then what killed her?" Ivy's father demanded. "Human medicine and science have greatly advanced," Mr. Daniels said. "But even now, in this day and age, there are unpreventable fatalities during childbirth. It is the way of nature. It is human nature, Charles." Mr. Daniels spread his hands. "It has nothing to do with vampires."
Something changed in Mr. Vega's eyes. "Are you sure?" he asked, his voice faltering.
"I am as sure as a geneticist can be," Mr. Daniels said gently.
Charles Vega rose slowly from his desk and came around to stand before Mr. Daniels. Then, to Ivy's amazement, he threw his arms around Brendan's father. "Thank you," he gasped. "Thank you."
"You are most welcome," Mr. Daniels replied generously.
Ivy's father turned to face her. Beaming, he grabbed her hand. With the other, he took Olivia's.
"Can the two of you ever forgive me?" he asked. "For deceiving you for so long? For being so wrong?"
Olivia's lip was trembling. "As long as you promise to forgive yourself," she said tenderly. "Dad," she added with a gulp.
Their father pulled the two of them to his chest, and Ivy looked across to see Olivia smiling at her with tears in her eyes. She heard Mr.
Daniels let himself quietly out of the study.
Ivy hugged her sister and her father as tightly as she could. For the first time, there weren't any secrets to keep the three of them apart.