The rumble of the carriage nearly obscured my sister trying to tell me something. It was a shame it didn’t. I loved her, but she definitely had a bee in her bonnet about my position in our family. Not that a literal bee seemed likely, she was meticulous in keeping her bonnets clean and free of insect coaxing substances.

“Loxley.” My sister gave me an exasperated sigh and tucked her blonde strands tighter into the complicated twist at the back of her neck. “You’re the heir. You’re the eldest.”

I tried to refrain from rolling my eyes. She loved reminding me. And I loved ignoring her. The two things worked in perfect harmony if anyone asked me, and drove us both crazy if anyone asked her. I was right, though. As I normally was.

Eleanor,” I said in an exaggerated mimic of my sweet sister. “I know.”

She raised an eyebrow, making it clear that she expected me to say more on the subject.

I gave out a dramatic sigh as I slapped my gloves down onto my skirts. My annoyance was only partly for her. I hated wearing a dress. I didn’t know why they made the things so uncomfortable.

“What?” I demanded.

“How many times will we have this conversation?” She huffed and crossed her arms. Her glare reminded me just how serious she was. This was a subject Eleanor refused to let go of. “You must marry. You must act like you’ll be stepping into position as Lady of our lands and kinsmen in the future.”

Ah. Eleanor. The good Robbins sister. The one who echoed our parents’ words and seemed to actually believe in them. It would be a lot easier if I felt like we were on the same side.

I raised my voice to a higher register and imitated our mother. “Find a husband, Loxley. Settle down, Loxley.” It was my turn to huff and glare. “No, thank you. I’ll be Lord, like Father, or nothing at all,” I said in my normal voice.

Eleanor threw up her hands in exasperation. She hated it when I said things like that. But I refused to sit back and accept my fate simply because I was a woman. That wasn’t my style, and it was never going to be.

She stared out the window. She’d make the perfect Lady Robbins, but would never get the chance thanks to an accident of birth. Despite living in a new world, the nine vampire clans of the uncivilized American West were yet to abandon the traditions of our ancestors. If it were up to me, then we’d have come up with a completely new system. One that was based on talent and drive, rather than lineage. It would give people like Eleanor more of a chance in the world.

As it was, Clan Robbins was stuck with me. The even more eccentric daughter of a lord and lady they considered to be a little out there. That was the price we paid for keeping the humans in the dark about our existence. They thought we were a little strange. But we had to keep it that way. We were very careful to cover our tracks and had intricate systems in place. Of course, there were some humans who knew about the vampire clans. There had to be. we needed a food source. But we made sure they were well compensated for their trouble. Though I didn’t think anyone would believe them if they went around announcing there were vampires running around the desert.

“I could abdicate,” I suggested softly. It was something I’d been thinking about for a while, but I hadn’t suggested it yet because I had no idea how she’d take the idea.

Eleanor whipped her head around, a scandalized expression on her face at the mere thought. I should have known better than to suggest something so drastic.

“Bite your tongue,” she hissed. “You’ll do no such thing. The shame it would bring our clan. You should have ridden yourself of that notion at finishing school.”

I let out another sigh. This was becoming a habit when we talked about East River Academy, the place where most future Lords and Ladies of the Western Territories were educated. We only returned home once we were nearing adulthood and ready to be introduced to society. After we reappeared, rich humans from the surrounding area would bring their eligible children to marry one of the peculiar Robbins sisters. I wasn’t naive enough to think it was anything to do with us. Though by human standards, we were considered beautiful. Most of them simply wanted to gain a title for their families.

Naturally, we turned them all down. A human husband would be problematic. Even on the off chance love between a vampire and a human was involved, one human was not enough food for one vampire. Which tended to lead towards jealousy surrounding the intimate experience of feeding. Something we couldn’t avoid doing if we wanted to live. Other vampires understood that it was nothing more than sustenance, making them the much more suitable choice for marriage.

“The academy isn’t the real world,” I muttered.

“We had a lovely time at the academy, but it’s finished now,” Eleanor said wistfully.

She’d studied with tutors to be able to leave school a year early with me. Mother and Father hadn’t minded. They hated having us so far away. Every holiday, we made the long journey home when many of the others remained behind, unwilling to journey for days on end just for a short visit, then to have to make the return trip. While my parents could be annoying when it came to duty, I had no doubt that they cared about us.

“It is.” At least we could agree on that.

“It’s time to look to our futures.” She nodded her head decidedly.

“Right.” I gave her a flat look. “You’re going to marry some Lord you don’t know or love and make him a perfect Lady. Move away from home, bear him children, and live your life far from our parents? Far from me?”

She probably would. Just like all the women in our family for thousands of years. Back in Scotland, we’d probably have been married off already. But we were the first of our family to have been raised in the New World, and I was determined that it was going to make us different.

Eleanor’s eyes softened and fear sparkled within them. At least she wasn’t as oblivious to the horrors of that as I feared. I loved Eleanor with all my heart, but she chose to ignore a lot of the horrors in the world.

“Of course I am. And you’re going to marry a man you don’t know or love and he’ll move into our castle and help you run Clan Robbins.” She spoke with confidence, as if there it was already written in stone. I tried not to think about that too much.

I snorted. “I can run it quite well without any assistance. Besides, Father and Mother will remain the heads of our Clan for many years to come.”

It wasn’t like they were about to die on us without any warning. Vampires lived extraordinarily long lives. Not quite immortal, but we aged a lot slower than humans, much slower. Our infancy and childhoods were several decades long, necessitating our exclusion from mixed society. Once a vampire hit puberty, growth accelerated, our bodies completed the ascension into adulthood, and this was when we, as nobles, spent time at one of the private academies which had sprung up to accommodate us, learning how to survive in vampire society around the world.

Now that I was seventy, I was considered an adult, and expected to do the right thing and join my parents in the day to day running of the Clan, waiting for the moment I would take their place.

Unless they suddenly decided to have a son. But after having Eleanor and I so close together, I didn’t see that as a real threat to my power. Though it wouldn’t be the worst thing if that happened. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to run the Clan. The only thing I did know, was that if I did run it, then I wanted to do it my way.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as shouts outside the rumbling carriage caught my attention. At times like this, I was grateful to have better hearing than humans did.

I leaned forward and stuck my hand in the specially sewn pocket of my dress, pulling out a small pistol. It had been a birthday gift from my father. He wanted me to have a little bit of extra protection just in case I encountered human bandits. Using our vampire strength against humans wasn’t advisable, especially on the road like this, where we could be discovered easily. Using a human weapon to defend myself was far preferable.

“Loxley,” Eleanor hissed. “Why do you have that?”

I arched an eyebrow at the small pistol. “I wish I had three or four more, but this will have to do.” It took far too long to reload to be any help against more than one attacker. If there were others, I’d have to ignore the rules and use my vampire speed and strength anyway.

Leaning my head out the small window in the door of the carriage, I looked toward the driver. “Hurry please,” I said. “I’d like to avoid being accosted.”

He chuckled. One of my father’s most beloved soldiers, Percy, would die before allowing us to be harmed.

But I hoped to avoid that. Loyal staff should be treated well to keep them that way. And that meant not putting them in death’s path unless it couldn’t be helped.

Luckily, that was something Percy understood, and the speed of the carriage increased. I settled back with the gun in my hands and waited until we came upon the cause of the shouting.

“Halt!” I yelled. I’d hoped to drive by whatever the commotion was, but when I realized it was a small carriage of humans being robbed, I had to intervene.

Eleanor reached out and placed a hand on my arm, stopping me from rising out of my seat.

“No,” Eleanor cried. “Loxley, please don’t get out!”

I flashed her a sympathetic look. The thought of being left alone in the carriage terrified her. She was just as strong as I was, but she hadn’t gone through the extensive extra training with Father, nor practiced after hours at school. She thought she was only good for ladies’ duties. She was wrong about that, but I didn’t want to rush her about it. She’d come to the same conclusion in her own time.

“I have to,” I said.

She didn’t understand why I felt the need to put myself in dangerous situations like this. But I felt compelled to help people. I’d been given a blessing in the form of being a vampire, and I wanted to use it to do some good in the world. If I was really lucky, the man robbing the carriage would be the Highwayman who has been whispered about so much lately. He needed taking down a peg or two, and I was happy to be the one to do it.

“Stay here,” I said and jumped from the carriage door, cursing my skirts as I went. “I’ll be right back.”

Eleanor sighed. “At least try and stay safe.”

“I will do,” I promised.

“And try to keep any blood off your dress. You know what a pain it is to get out.”

I chuckled. “I’ll keep everything I can clean.”