Authors: Jeanne C. Stein
Tags: #Vampires, #Strong; Anna (Fictitious Character), #Contemporary, #General, #Urban Life, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Occult & Supernatural
From downstairs, the trill of my cell phone.
I jump up and run to get it.
“Hey, you,” a familiar voice says. “Where are you? I thought you were coming to pick me up?”
I shoot a startled glance toward the mantel clock. It’s after two. Shit.
“Oh my god, Stephen. I’m sorry. My watch must have stopped.” A lie. I was lost in my daydream.
“Well, get over here, girl. I can’t wait to see you.” A pause. “No. I have a better idea. I’ll take a cab. It’ll be faster.”
“Are you sure?”
“Just make sure you’re naked and ready when I get there.”
“I’m ready now. I’ve missed you.”
“Me, too. See you in a few minutes.”
Perfect timing, Stephen. You’re just the antidote I need to chase Frey’s fantasies right out of my head.
* * *
I ROLL OVER AND SMILE DOWN AT STEPHEN. HIS EYES are closed but I know he’s not sleeping. His lips are curled in a little smile. Satisfied. Spent.
His head rests on the pillow, his right arm curled up behind it. He doesn’t look any worse for the two weeks he’s been gone—a little thinner maybe, but that only accentuates the square cut of his jaw, the razor-sharp cheekbones that look so good on camera. His hair is mussed, longer than I’ve seen it, golden blond touched on the temples with silver. It gives him an air of quiet confidence, of maturity that in spite of his young thirty-some years, attracts viewers and makes his evening news show one of the most watched in Southern California.
I brush a lock of that hair gently off his forehead. “Are you thirsty? Hungry? God, you must be. We’ve been at it for hours.”
He opens his eyes and grins up at me. “Have we? You make me lose track of time.” He glances toward the slider. “When did it get dark?”
I laugh and sit up. “I have some bread and cheese downstairs. Not much. But I figured you’d want to go to dinner at some point.”
He pulls me back down against his chest. “Not yet.” His voice is gruff. “We have two weeks to make up for.”
I slide my hand down between his legs. “You’re hard.”
His hand travels down my stomach, fingers stroke, probe. “You’re wet.” He brushes his lips against mine. “Can you go again?”
“Chosen One, remember? Stamina woman.”
He lifts his chin. “What about you? Are you thirsty?”
An offering. I realize I am. I nuzzle close, touch the spot with the tip of my tongue. I listen for his heartbeat, for the pulse of his blood. His excitement builds. I feel it, not only in the hardness of his erection, but in the quickening of his blood.
I straddle him, pin his shoulders to the bed with my hands, his hips with my knees. I lower my own hips, advancing, retreating, until I have him completely inside me and he’s groaning with impatience. He wants to thrust up, but I don’t let him.
Until the moment I break the skin. His back arches, he gasps and moans. But he doesn’t fight. He surrenders. To the pleasure, to the rhythm, to the vampire.
His blood tastes of cold desert air and snow. Simple food. A bit of fear. Longing. I’m there in his sleepless nights.
The realization that I’ve become a part of him fills me with sudden alarm. Then, confusion. Isn’t this what I’ve wanted?
He’s nearing climax. His body tenses, his hands grip my hips and he forces me down, deep. I’m swept up, too. I stop drinking and meet his movements with my own—frenzied, turbulent, using the overpowering physical sensation of a mind-numbing climax to shatter the uncertainty.
TEPHEN AND I FINALLY COME UP FOR AIR. WE’RE downstairs at the kitchen table. Stephen wolfs down a cheese sandwich like it’s the best thing he’s ever eaten. Makes me wish I could share that simple pleasure with him.
Nothing different here. Frey eats, too, you know.
The voice unwanted, unbidden whispers in my ear.
So what now? I’m comparing Stephen with Frey?
“Something wrong?” Stephen’s eyes are on me. “You look upset.”
I shake away the specter with a shake of my head. “No. Just wishing I could share that sandwich. It looks good.”
“It is. Got to rebuild my strength. You took a lot out of me, you know.”
He leans toward me and I meet him. Our lips brush. He whispers, “I can’t believe how amazing sex is with you. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I think you may be ruining me for anyone else.”
Anyone else? I pull back a little.
He catches it. Takes my hand. “That may not have come out right.”
“Is there something I should know?”
“God, no. In fact, I have something to ask you. I’m hoping it’s something you’ll like.”
Excitement shines from his eyes. I hope panic isn’t shining from mine. “What is it?”
He pushes his chair back and takes my hand to pull me up with him as he stands. At least he isn’t getting down on one knee.
“I’ve had a job offer. A great job offer.”
“What kind of job?” An automatic response to hide the confusion rattling around in my head. I don’t know whether to feel relief or disappointment. What was I expecting? One moment I’m insulted because I perceived him to be comparing me with someone else in his life, the next I’m aggravated because it’s a job offer he’s excited about and not me.
What is wrong with me?
Thank god he can’t read my thoughts. He’d be suffering whiplash. He’s still talking, hands windmilling the air.
“The network recommended me for the post of White House liaison. This junket was to see how I got along with the Press Corps, with the president. He’s given the thumbs-up. The job is mine if I want it.”
He’s running out of air. He breathes in, exhales a forceful breath. “What do you think, Anna?”
“It sounds great. But that would be quite a commute wouldn’t it?”
He laughs. “Yeah, it certainly would. But I won’t be commuting. If I take the job, it’s full time. I’d have to quit the local affiliate. I’d be stationed with the network bureau in Washington.”
He doesn’t give me time to process what he’s said before adding, “I want the job, Anna. And I want you to come with me. I want us to live together in DC. Think of it. For a reporter, there couldn’t be a better or a more exciting assignment. A front-row seat to history in the making. And we’d be right there in the middle of the action.”
I turn my face away. I have to. It’s an impossible situation. I couldn’t leave San Diego. How could I? Everything I know is here. Stephen is looking at this as if I’m human. He sees the simple obstacles of moving—selling or renting my home, giving up my business. Things easily overcome. But there are other things, things much more complicated. I’d have to find a place in Washington to feed, introduce myself to a new supernatural community, not to mention a new mortal one.
He picks up on my reticence. “I shouldn’t have sprung this on you. I know it’s a lot to process. But you have no family tying you to San Diego now. And it’s a much shorter flight to Europe from the East Coast than the West.”
“Stephen, there’s more—”
“Your business. I understand it wouldn’t be easy to give that up. You and David are friends as well as partners. But you could find something to do in Washington. Maybe not as exciting as what you do now. Police work, or working for a private detective agency. Plenty of sleuthing to do in the land of political intrigue.”
He’s not letting me get a word in. Maybe in his excitement he’s forgotten that we don’t have a normal girlfriend/boyfriend situation. Maybe he’s so excited about the big boost to his career, so flattered to have the opportunity that he’s blind to everything else. Should I burst his bubble now? Or should I let him go on thinking that there might be a chance I’d actually be able to make a move like that with him?
Like with Frey a few nights ago, I’m dumbstruck. Why is this happening now?
“Hey. Is that a new ring? It’s beautiful. A Christmas present?”
I don’t realize I’ve been twisting Sani’s ring around my finger until Stephen mentions it. He takes my hand and holds it up for a closer look. “Silver and turquoise? Really nice craftsmanship. Native American?”
It’s such an abrupt change of subject, I bark a little laugh. It comes out forced and self-conscious to my ear but evidently not to Stephen’s. His gaze remains curious. “Navajo. I didn’t realize you knew anything about Native American jewelry.”
“It’s Susan’s passion. I guess I’ve picked up a few things along the way.”
Susan is his sister. A witch with the Watcher organization and one of the reasons we met. She and her sister witches made it possible for me to penetrate the astral plain and dispose of Belinda Burke. Because of that connection, Stephen was kidnapped and held to assure my presence at the “trial.”
“Does Susan know of your job offer?”
He shakes his head. “I plan to talk to her tomorrow.” He pulls me close to him. “Tonight is for us.”
Then we’re kissing and one thing leads to another. We don’t make it upstairs to the bed this time, the couch in the living room is convenient and comfortable.
He is right about one thing. The sex Stephen and I have is certainly remarkable. Maybe the best sex ever.
You haven’t given Frey a chance.
That damnable voice is back.
It’s been too long. You thought sex with him was pretty damn good, too.
I almost say shut the fuck up, out loud, until I catch myself.
And then Stephen is busy with fingers and tongue and I don’t have to.
TEPHEN HAS JUST LEFT TO SEE HIS SISTER AND I’M suffering from sensory overload. His smell fills my nostrils, the warmth of lovemaking and feeding sends heat to my skin.
Still, I didn’t get up to see him out. I couldn’t. Very little sleep and a body numb from a lot of sex leaves me inert, snuggled under the covers while Stephen jumps out of bed, showers, and takes off with the promise to be back before dark.
Where is he getting the energy? A day in transit to get home, a night of energetic lovemaking, very little food, no coffee even, and he’s bright and chipper and whistling his way out the door.
Probably from his excitement about this new job offer,
my little voice replies.
And I think it’s right. While Stephen didn’t push for a commitment from me, he did manage to work into every conversation how great it could be for us in Washington. If he sensed my lack of enthusiasm, he didn’t mention that, either.
It might have been better if he had. It might have been better to make me put into words just what it is that has me so ambivalent about something he wants so much.
What would I have said? How could I have made him understand how impossible it would for me to hide my true nature in such a media-saturated city? Especially as the consort of a high-profile reporter?
I pull a pillow over my head and stifle a groan.
The telephone on the bedside table rings. I toss the pillow aside and reach for the receiver. “Hello.”
“Anna, it’s Max.”
Great. “What’s up?”
“Have you talked to Culebra?”
“Not since Christmas Eve.”
“You hurt his feelings, you know.”
“I hurt his feelings? How? By being shocked to find out about his past?”
Max answers with a hiss into the receiver so pregnant with recrimination, it’s like a slap.
Maybe because I’m tired, maybe because my head swims with too many uncertainties about my own life, maybe because I’m looking for an excuse to vent, the words spew out. “So, Max, tell me. What should I have done? Pat him on the shoulder and say it’s all right that he was an assassin? That it’s all right that he killed indiscriminately on the orders of a drug lord? That it’s all right that it led to the massacre of his own family? Just tell me. What is the proper reaction?”
“So you’re going to write him off?” Max’s heated reply comes just as quickly. “Just like that. You can be such a bitch, you know that, Anna? He’s done a lot for you. Made it possible for you to pretend to be human as long as you have. Kept you from turning into a predator. Without Culebra in your life, where do you think you’d be now? Probably dead—oh, excuse me,
dead because you’d have had the Revengers after you the first time you left a corpse. Yeah, there are vampire hunters out there, remember? And I swear to god, right now I have half a mind to turn you over to them myself.”
He cuts me off in midsentence. “Save it.”
I stare at the receiver in my hand.
Since when has Max become Culebra’s champion? I’m tempted to call him back, remind him that he has a strange attitude for someone who works for an agency whose main purpose is to put narcos out of business. Culebra helped him do that job once, okay, but that doesn’t balance the scales. How could Max think that it did?
And what in the hell does he want me to do? If Culebra is suffering a crisis of conscience, good. He should be.
And killing doesn’t bother you?
The annoying voice in the back of my head chirps up once again.
How many people are dead because of you? How many supernatural creatures, your own kind, have you eliminated? How many humans? You had reasons. But you killed nonetheless. So exactly how different are you from Culebra?
It’s not the same thing. It wasn’t indiscriminate. It was never indiscriminate.
You worked for Warren Williams and his Watcher organization once. He used you like a loaded gun, pointed you at the target and pulled the trigger. Wasn’t that indiscriminate?
Am I really arguing with myself?
I thrust away the covers and get out of bed. May as well. I doubt I’ll be getting any sleep. I’m sore and sticky and pissed. I head to the shower and crank on the hot water. When the room is filled with steam, I step under the spray and let the heat scald my skin red. I soap up and scrub. Still, thoughts keep spinning themselves around inside my brain like a dog chasing its tail.
Why do things have to change? A few days before Christmas, I was simply looking forward to Stephen coming home. Since then I’ve had a confrontation with Culebra, found out my parents are selling their house, been presented with an out-of-the-blue proposal from Frey and blindsided with Stephen’s announcement that he wanted me to move with him to the other side of the fucking country.