All too soon, I’m craving another taste of blood. Unable to resist, I take the glass from Will and toss the rest of the contents down my throat. I get this sense of well-being. I’m floating on a wave of euphoria that’s gently eroding the shores of my anxiety.
Oliver Twist-style I hold out the glass with both hands, and manage two thick words, “More, please.”
Smiling, Will reaches for it just as a painful Charley Horse twists and binds my leg muscles. The cup drops to the floor as I yelp, "Ow. Ow. Ow." The only way I know to counteract the pain is to stand. I struggle to get up but putting weight on my legs hurts so badly I'm practically hopping. At the same time, I'm trying to rub the back of my calves.
“Poor baby,” Will bends so his strong fingers can knead the bunched and quivering tissue. “Cramps are an unfortunate part of the turning process. You need full strength vamp blood to ease the pain and facilitate a smooth transition.”
If that means sinking my teeth into him, I will be condemned to die in agony. The concept is far too disturbing and animalistic. “I can’t bite you.”
“Not until your fangs come in,” he agrees matter-of-factly, “but there are other ways.”
Making quick work of it, Will bites open a vein in his inner wrist, and sticks his bloody arm under my nose. I can't help recoiling from the sight, but the tantalizing scent sends my olfactory senses into overdrive. The faint metallic odor of iron mingles with Will’s unique essence and becomes a heady perfume. My stomach growls loudly in anticipation.
Shutting my eyes, I tentatively touch the tip of my tongue to where blood is bubbling out of the wounds. Ambrosia for the gods—there is no other description. I start to lap at the oozing holes like a kitten with a saucer of milk. Then fully succumbing, I wrap my lips around his flesh and suck in earnest.
Finally, I'm satiated. At least, for the moment. Will tenderly settles me back down in the bed, and kisses my forehead as he adjusts the covers.
The last thing I see as I'm lulled into sleep is Will keeping silent vigil.
I come awake to Will whispering near my ear, “Holly. Wake up, Honey. There's someone nosing around outside.”
My first instinct is to flee, but Will makes a soft shushing sound and presses down slightly on my shoulders to keep me in place.
Keeping my voice equally low, I ask hopefully, “One of the other guests?”
“Everyone cleared out when the ice storm started.” His head shakes before I can ask the next obvious question. “Our cars are the only ones in the lot.”
Not a new guest then. This isn't good. “Is it him?”
“I don’t know,” Will’s answer isn’t as reassuring as I want. Then again, he wouldn’t rouse me if it was only a dog or something like that.
“W-what should we do?” I'm back to stuttering and roll my lips together to keep them from trembling.
“You will stay right here.” Reassuringly, he traces the curve of my cheek with his fingers. “I’m going out to look.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“Not this time.” Will plants a quick kiss on the top of my head as I grab his hand and cling to it. “You’re still too new and fragile. I’d have left you sleeping, but worried you’d wake up and panic to find me gone.”
He’s right. That would freak me out. Thing is? It’s equally upsetting when he detaches his hand from my sweaty grip, and walks away. As he opens the door, I spot several stakes sticking out the back pocket of his jeans.
Bile rises in the back of my throat, I kneel up on the bed, and can't help but plea, “Don’t go.”
The raw quality in my voice has Will looking back, and that brief distraction is fatal. A thin, black-metal stake flies through the open entry and nails him in the chest. He crumples without a sound.
I struggle to comprehend what happened. All I know is Will’s dead, and it’s my fault. Grief and guilt smash into me. But before I can go to him, the killer casually steps over Will and into the room.
Still dressed like a historical fashion plate, he smiles gently when he sees me. Then, sounding more like a benevolent father than a blood-sucking fiend, he scolds, “Naughty, naughty girl.” I’m admonished with a finger wag. “You really shouldn’t have put me to the trouble of fetching you.”
There might be insanity in his eyes, but it’s no match for the crazy that’s come over me. He’s killed my Will. Murderous revenge galvanizes me into action. As brain flips to autopilot, I jump off the bed, and swipe one of the stakes left on the end table.
Screaming, “Will,” at the top of my lungs, I throw the wooden weapon as hard as I can. Even at this close range, I miss by a mile and it bounces harmlessly off the doorjamb. Snatching up the last stake, I hold it like a battering ram and run straight at the deranged vampire. I fully intend to annihilate him or die trying. I see his eyes widen in surprise, but he doesn't seem overly frightened by my Banty Rooster impression.
I’m barely two steps away when Will uses the chaos to rear up and gore the rogue through the heart.
Stumbling to a stop, no longer seeing anything but Will, my heartache morphs into amazement. Arms dropping to my sides, the stake slips from suddenly nerveless fingers as I cry out, “How?”
Will moves slowly, as if in extreme pain, but he stands before pulling the stake from his chest. I want to puke.
“Missed,” Will says with satisfaction as he tosses the bloody piece of metal over by the baseboard. Absently, he rubs at his left pectoral muscle. Only then does my hero and very canny love explain, “Didn’t even nick the heart. I was playing possum until I got the opportunity to strike." He winks. "Thanks for the assist. You created the perfect distraction."
He says this as if I'd been in on his plan all along. "Yeah, right," I mumble.
It’s a mistake to look down. The dead vamp's open and blankly staring eyes are a sight that will haunt me forever. I can't look away until Will grabs the duvet off the bed and throws it over the body. I wish I could blot him out of my head as easily, but it's impossible. Because of him, my life has been irrevocably changed.
Lifting my gaze to Will, I blubber, “I thought you were dead.”
Picking me up, Will carries me back to the bed and sits with me on his lap. In a firm voice, he tells me, “Now that I’ve got you back in my life, it’s going to take a lot more than a little chest wound to kill me.”
The aftermath of adrenaline, affirmation of life—whatever—spurs me to take his face between my hands. I kiss him. Mindlessly. At least I’m no longer thinking.
It’s a long time before we speak again. Then he has the never to say, “It almost killed me when you got married.”
This rouses a little righteous indignation in my breast, but not enough for me to leave the shelter of his arms. “It's not like you wanted me.”
With a long sigh, Will gingerly adjusts our positions until he can rest his back against the headboard. “The Nosferatu Council got wind of our relationship. Hols, I was summoned before them, and told to back off.”
It's a good reason, and one I didn't expect. That doesn't mean I’m ready to let him off the hook. At least not yet. Though, I probably will. Hell, I know I will. “You could have told me.”
“No, I couldn’t.” Taking my hand, he presses my open palm to his heart. I feel the steady thump thump. “A very long time ago, the Council created a calculated catch-22 meant to prevent vamp/human relationships. We're forbidden to disclose our nature to humans. At the same time, it’s against the law to change a person without informed consent.”
While I heartily agree with the idea of informed consent, such diametrically opposed laws smack of double jeopardy. “I would think that would be… I don’t know, unconstitutional. Do vampires have a constitution?”
“We operate under a slightly different system. Sill, with the addition of stiff penalties, the laws steer us away from intimate relationships with humans.”
“Huh,” I don’t know how to respond to that.
“Then I met you,” he smiles down into my eyes. “I refused the order and petitioned for a dispensation. I wanted to tell you everything. Then, if you agreed, I hoped to turn and marry you.”
I try to picture Will in front of a dais filled with robed and fanged vampires. Fighting for us. “I take it they refused?”
“Due to your age,” he nodded gravely, “they refused.”
“I was twenty-three.”
“That’s a young age to be making such a life-altering decision. I was ordered to end the relationship, but I argued until I got a compromise. Of sorts. If I stayed away from you, until you'd passed the acceptable minimum age of twenty-five, the Council would grant my request.” He tugged on a lock of my hair to show his disapproval. “I never believed you’d marry someone else.”
My heart took root in the pit of my stomach. I’d been five months shy of my twenty-fifth birthday when I married Mike.
“You ass.” We’d lost so much time. “One single word and I’d have waited.”
I met Mike while still part of the walking wounded, and he’d convinced me to rake a chance on him. I was honest and he knew I carried a torch for someone else, but he claimed I’d learn to love him. Since he was a good man, I thought he might be right.
At any rate, I did my best. However, the second miscarriage broke us, and we divorced.
Will’s jaw works before he admits, “I kept track, you know. From a distance. Each time you lost a baby, I was at the hospital. Grieving with you. I stood at the back of the cemetery when you buried your parents. When you got divorced, I was going to give you a year and then come for you.”
Hot tears wet my cheeks. Knowing Will had been there, silently supporting me through each crisis heals something inside me. Turning in his arms, I bury my face in that warm and comforting spot between his neck and shoulder.
“I was honest. Mike knew I never stopped loving you.”
“And I've always loved you, Hollis. Always have and always will.” Lowering his head, he kisses me, and in that press of lips, I know I've come home. Much much later he whispers, “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” I repeat. Heart swelling, I believe the curse of bad luck has been lifted. Will’s love has saved me from the toxic gene pool of my ancestors. “You know—after getting bitten, all I wanted was to get to you. I knew you’d take me in.”
“You’ve always had my heart,” Will fervently swears, “and you always will.”
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