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S. C. Stephens

Chapter 1 - Im Sorry, Youre What?


  I never thought I'd be dating a vampire. I never even considered it. Of course, up until a few weeks ago, I had believed that vampires were as mythic as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. That was, until the day I met one, or more accurately, collided with one. It happened in broad daylight on a crowded sidewalk. I had been running late getting back to work from my lunch hour and smashed right into him, dumping my venti, double, non-fat, soy, vanilla latte all over his shirt. I'd had it prepared extra-hot-I like my coffee sweet and searing-and he'd jumped back about a foot, holding his dampened shirt away from his skin like I'd just poured molten lava down the front of him. No, nothing about our first encounter had made me think he was supernatural in the slightest. That revelation came much later, and it shook me to my core. Now I'm starting to wonder about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. . . anything was possible.

  Apologizing profusely on the outside, and cursing at the loss of my afternoon pick-me-up on the inside, I'd shoved my card in his face and told him I'd pick up the dry cleaning bill. His crisp, button up shirt had been white, of course, and had looked expensive. I was sure he was going to call me and demand that I replace it, for surely my sweet, yummy, ruined coffee would never fully escape that once pristine fabric.

  I worried about his phone call when I got back to work. Sometimes I had a lot of time to worry at my job. I was an executive administrative assistant's assistant. In other words, I was the secretary's secretary-the gofer who got all the piss-ass jobs the secretary didn't want. I worked for a prosperous local accounting firm, so my job involved a lot of paperwork-filing, faxing, copying. . . daydreaming. While I worried, I hoped one of my assignments would involve a coffee run for my boss, so I would have an excuse to grab another one for myself; an hour after lunch, I could feel my eyelids drooping as I went through stacks of financial documents.

  It was in this near catatonic state that the phone rang. I answered automatically with a comatose voice. "Neilson, Sampson and Peterson. " I really hated how the firm name rhymed. "This is Emma, how can I help you?"

  A cool voice answered me with, "Is this the Emma that dumped her coffee all over my shirt?"

  My heart started beating faster as I pictured the surely irate man on the other end of the line. I tried to remember what he'd looked like, but I was drawing a blank. The incident was overshadowing his face-although, I thought I remembered dark hair and tan skin.

  "Yes. . . I'm so sorry about that. Do you have a bill for me already?" I twirled the phone cord in my fingers and waited for the surely exorbitant figure he was going to spout at me.

  Taking me by surprise, he laughed. "No, don't worry about the bill. " I wondered why he was calling, if he wasn't interested in repayment. I didn't have to wonder long. "I was just thinking. . . you gave up all your coffee for my shirt, maybe I could buy you another?"

  That took me back a step. Did he seriously just ask me out? "Um. . . sure, I guess. "

  "Great. What time are you off work?"

  It was at this point, that I had the briefest moment of You're agreeing to meet someone who could be a serial killer panic. If I'd only known. . . Quickly pushing that fear aside as irrational, I said, "Five. "

  "Want to meet at the same place? I'll have another venti, double, non-fat, soy, vanilla latte waiting for you. . . extra hot, of course. " He laughed a little on end of that.

  Caught off guard, I blankly stared at the prosaic wall of my cubicle. "Sounds great. . . I'll see you then. " I hung up the phone and only then realized that I'd never asked him his name. I'd been too stunned by the fact that he knew what my drink was-exactly what my drink was. That was my first hint that something was not quite right with this man. It was not my last.

  When I met him after work, he greeted me at the door in a non-coffee-stained light green shirt, with my perfectly recreated drink. He seemed as normal as they come. . . not vampiric at all, not that I was really thinking about such things yet. He was around six feet tall, medium athletic build, black hair in a traditional "guy" cut, a lovely shade of sky blue eyes, the I-don't-really-care-about-my-looks-but-I-care-about-my-looks perfectly light, facial stubble, and a delightful smile, with perfect, and normal, white teeth. Nothing odd about him at all-no fangs, no clammy, pale skin, no Slavic accent, and no aversion to crosses; I'd been wearing one. If I had been expecting to meet a vampire that day, I would have been highly disappointed.

  As it was, I'd only been expecting to meet a possibly irate man, so the attractive gentleman before me was a very pleasant surprise. He held his hand out to me in greeting; it was as warm as any other man's hand. "Emma? Emma Taylor?" I nodded and he smiled. "Hello, I'm Teren. Teren Adams. "

  I blinked. His name was the oddest thing about him. "Teren? That's. . . unusual. "

  He laughed a little as he handed me my coffee. It was a delightful sound, slightly husky. "You should meet my parents. . . then you'd understand. " He gave me an odd grin, like he'd just said something funny, that I wasn't supposed to understand. And at the time, I hadn't. At the time, I hadn't noticed anything beyond how incredibly sexy my surprise date was.

  He grabbed his coffee from a nearby table and led me to a couple of comfortable chairs in the back. I think we spent two hours in that coffee shop before deciding we were hungry, and moving to a nearby restaurant for a nice dinner. We both ate. We both had wine. We shared a light dessert, along with hours of pleasant conversation. And after he drove me back to my car at the coffee shop, the only thoughts I had about him were pleasant. Well, there were a couple naughty thoughts too when he kissed me good night.

  There was nothing at all that made me think he was anything other than an interesting human man that I'd literally run into. We saw each other pretty steadily over the next few weeks, and I grew even more attracted to him. Of course, I did notice oddities, but then, everyone has oddities and truly, vampirism was the last thing I'd suspected. But I did notice that he was strong. He once nearly pulled my front door off the hinges. It had rattled him almost as much as it had shocked me. With a nervous laugh, he'd explained the incident away as my mere presence had given him an adrenaline rush. Yeah. . . I'd gagged a little at that too.

  He also had disturbingly good hearing. I could whisper our conversations into the phone at work, so as to not get caught by my dried-up old shrew of a boss, and he'd hear every word perfectly. He said he had an Aunt who had been traumatized as a child and spoke very softly, so he was used to it. Uh-huh, sure.

  At times, he was faster than someone ought to be. He'd be running late in meeting me, and then still end up there before me. He'd explained that as hitting all the lights just right. I would have believed him more, if he hadn't been biking while I'd been driving.

  But then, one day, I saw his fangs. Those were a little harder for him to explain away.

  We were on his couch. His long, white, comfortable, leather, sit down and you never want to get up again couch. Only we weren't sitting. We were lying. We were kissing. And I was really hoping we wouldn't be stopping at second base, that we'd be rounding home. I wasn't opposed to going slow, but I really liked this guy, and I was ready to take it up a notch. I'd been ready for a while now, but we still hadn't had our shining moment. I was beginning to get a little frustrated.

  He was an excellent kisser, with the kind of kisses you could feel all the way to the bottom of your toes. His tongue was caressing mine, and mine was caressing his right back, when it happened.

  "Ow!" I pulled away and stuck a finger in my mouth. My tongue felt like it had just been pricked by a needle. When I removed my finger, a trace amount of blood was on it.

  Teren immediately flew off of me. Standing a ways from the couch, his hand pulled on his upper lip, e
ffectively hiding his mouth in a nonchalant way. "I'm sorry. It's been a long day. Maybe I should give you a ride home now. "

  Still wishing for that home run, I shook my head. "No, I'm fine. It's still light out and I'm not the least bit tired. " We'd gone out to dinner earlier at a nice Italian restaurant, and had come back to watch a movie on his big screen with a glass of wine. . . and promptly started making out instead; the movie playing in the background was all but forgotten. "Come back here and keep kissing me. . . " I raised my eyebrows suggestively, but he was having none of it.

  His hand still hiding his mouth, he said, "I really do have an early day. . . rain check?"

  Getting up, I walked over to where he was standing in the middle of his spacious living room. "You said you weren't working tomorrow? What are you doing?" I tried to keep my tone light and airy, but he was disturbing my nightly plans again, and I really wanted to share that intimacy with him. I'd even stuffed my toothbrush, a tank top, flip-flops, a fresh pair of underwear and yoga pants, into my satchel-sized purse, just in case our date turned into an impromptu overnight visit.

  He rubbed his lip and I could see the gears turning in his head. That made me suspicious. . . then it made me mad. "Teren. . . what are you hiding from me?" My tone shifted to definite irritation.

  He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, looking very uncomfortable and sort of embarrassed. "Nothing. I have to. . . go to my parents' place tomorrow morning, that's all. " His pale eyes were giving me the Just believe me look, and I wasn't.

  "Your parents? Really. " I huffed out an annoyed breath as I straightened my tight skirt and adjusted the red, lacy top that was clinging to my curves. With my outfit and my body language, I couldn't have given him a bigger green light if I tried, but he was still pulling away from me, and I wasn't sure why. I guess I'd just have to be blunt and ask him.

  I shook my head, causing my brown locks to bounce around my shoulders. "I don't mean to be overly forward, but. . . is there a reason you don't want to have sex with me? I thought most men were all gung-ho for that, but we've been dating for weeks now and nothing. " Knowing my question was coming out a bit rudely, thanks to my rising frustration and disappointment, I mentally cringed.

  I could see his jaw drop under the hand still over his mouth and his eyes widened. "I. . . of course I want-"

  A spark of anger at his mumbled response ripped through me. "Would you stop talking through your hand!" I jerked it away from his mouth and we both stared at each other in shock.

  His mouth had been open from speaking, and his fangs were perfectly visible, and to me-perfectly new. I'd seen his teeth plenty of times. I'd run my tongue along them on several occasions. I sure as heck had never seen inch long canines on him before. At first, I didn't make the connection. I thought he'd slipped them in as a joke. Because really, how often in real life do you see something weird and automatically think-vampire! The brain will always go for the rational explanation first.

  "What the hell? Are you role-playing with me?" I cocked an eyebrow and gave him a cautious look. "Because, I'm not into the whole Anne Rice fantasy. "

  He shut his mouth and blushed. That's right, he blushed. "No. . . I'm not playing. "

  "Then what? You had a sudden. . . dental emergency?" I scrunched my brow, still trying to understand what I was seeing.

  He laughed. At the moment, I didn't find it amusing. "No, you got me a little. . . excited, and they kind of slipped out, and I'm so sorry. That's so embarrassing. " He ran a hand over his stubbly jaw and I swear his blush deepened.

  I furrowed my brow to a deep point, still hopelessly confused. "What slipped out? Teeth, even long ones, don't just slip out. " I lost my train of thought as what he'd said finally registered with me. . . well, registered with my body, anyway. "Wait. . . I got you excited?"

  He twisted his lips. The movement looked a little funny around his fangs. "You always get me excited. " He lowered his gaze to my body and I flushed. Maybe we'd get to home base after all. . . But not until he fully explained this new development.

  I shook my head and put my hands on my hips. "You're distracting me from this. " I waggled my finger at his teeth.

  He sighed. "I can't hide this from you forever, not with how close we're getting. I guess you should know anyway. " He started to reach out for me and then seemed to change his mind. He let his hand drop back down to his side as he quietly added, "I want you to know. "

  I started tapping my foot-part nervousness, part irritation. "Know what?" I asked with forced patience.

  His smile widened and I watched in shock as his teeth retracted to normal. My hands limply fell to my sides and my mouth dropped wide open-you could have parked a bus in there. "How did you do that?"

  He indicated the sofa. "Have a seat. I'll explain it to you. " I didn't sit, so much as fall. He clicked off the television and then sat down close beside me; his hands nervously ran up and down his gray slacks. He chuckled at my rapt attention to his mouth. "Well. . . to be blunt, I'm a vampire. "

  I couldn't help it. Any sane person would have had the exact same reaction I did. I laughed. I belly laughed. Pushing his shoulder away from me, I told him, "Be serious. "

  He didn't laugh with me, if anything, he looked a little offended. "I am. "

  My laughter slowly died down as I watched him watch me. His pale eyes relaxed as my giggles drifted off. "Okay. " I bit my lip and forcefully stopped myself from chuckling. "You're a vampire. That's. . . wonderful. "

  He shook his head at my contained amusement. "Well, to be technical, I'm only a little bit vampire. " He relaxed onto his elbows over his knees, seeming to be glad the hard part was over with. . . at least for him. I was still spinning with the absurdity of everything my, up until this point, seemingly normal, boyfriend was telling me.

  "I'm sorry. . . you're what?"

  Now he smirked and looked about to laugh. "I'm pretty sure you heard me. " His grin mischievous, he leaned into my side. "But don't worry, I'm not hungry. You're perfectly safe. " His tone was even more amused now.

  I shook my head, hoping he was punking me. I decided to play along though. "Okay. Let's assume that you're not teasing me. . . or crazy. How does one become a 'little bit' vampire? Isn't that kind of like being a 'little bit' pregnant? Some things, you either are or you aren't. "

  He softly laughed. "Well, it's confusing. . . "

  I pursed my lips and crossed my legs, as much as I could in my tight skirt, anyway. "Try me. "

  He raised an eyebrow and I startled as I considered the literal way my words could be taken to a vampire. He laughed in earnest at my reaction. "Really. . . I'm not going to bite you. Not unless you asked me to, anyway. " He said the last part quietly, with a sparkle in his eyes and a small smile on his lips. I wondered if he was serious about that, and then wondered if I was just as crazy as he apparently was, for believing one iota of his tall tale. But then he started speaking, and I relaxed into the couch and listened to his smooth, deep voice. I tried to keep my mind as wide open as I could. He hadn't seemed crazy before this point. Maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt.

  "My great-grandmother was turned while she was nine months pregnant. "

  "Turned?" I asked, wanting to be sure of my vampire terminology.

  He smiled at my interest and splayed his fingers out to me as he explained his heritage. "Made into a vampire by another vampire. . . just like in the movies. Anyway, the change induced labor, and the baby was born before being. . . fully changed. My grandmother was born half-vampire, a rarity for our kind. " He paused and sat back on the couch, looking over at me with a thoughtful expression. "In fact, we know of no others like us. " He seemed to contemplate that for a second, and then continued while I soaked up his story like a sponge. "Gran married a human and had my mother-"

  "Who's a quarter vampire?" I asked, leaning into him and bringing my legs up onto the couch. His tale was sucking me in.

  He p
ut an arm around my shoulder and pulled me into him, as he smiled down at me. "Something like that. Anyway, my mother also married a human, and had me, so. . . " he held his free hand out to his side, ". . . little bit vampire. "

  "Huh. "

  He pulled away and gave me an odd, relieved-offended look. "That's all you have to say. . . huh?" He exaggerated the way I had said it, and I twisted my lips at him, a little annoyed.

  "Well, assuming that your little fable was real, I was just thinking that you should marry a full-blood vampire if you want to keep the trait alive, otherwise you'll dilute it right out. " That had been the first odd thought that had popped into my head after hearing his story. Well, second thought really. . . right behind, Is he nuts?

  He blinked at me and then started laughing. Then he grabbed my cheek with his free hand and pulled me in for a heat-inducing kiss. My body forgot his crazy story, forgot his pointy teeth, and focused instead on the multiple sensations coursing through every cell of my now highly sensitive skin. Teren's reaction to me progressed beyond anything he'd shown so far, and before I knew it, he was lifting me up with those incredibly strong arms, and sweeping me to his room upstairs, where we went right on rounding the rest of those bases. I guess his lack of interest had more to do with his hidden secret, than anything else.

  Afterwards, we lay close together in his cream-colored, silk sheets, our legs entwined and my arm over his muscled chest. My head rested on his skin and I could clearly hear his evening heartbeat. I looked back up at his face, at the strong, stubbly jaw, the relaxed full lips, and the perfect pale eyes staring back at me.

  "I think you're wrong," I said matter-of-factly.

  He laughed, deep in his chest. "Am I? I'm assuming we're still on the vampire thing. "

  I scoffed at his casualness. "Vampire thing. You say that like it's only as strange as having a sixth toe or something. "

  His eyes widened and he got a huge grin on his face. "Do you have a sixth toe?" He looked down at my feet loosely coiled up in his sheets and I gently kicked his shin.

  "No! It was just an example. " I raised my head off his chest to fully look at him.

  He laughed again. "Well it's not strange to me. Everyone in my family is. . . well, the women are anyway. " His hand on my bare back started tracing circles into my skin.

  I shook my head, processing his statement. "Your father is human, but your mother is not?"

  He nodded. "Yes. " He said it so easily, like we were discussing his nationality or something.

  "So. . . you drink blood and stuff?" I bit my lip, wondering if I really wanted the answer to that, and thinking maybe I should have asked these questions before sleeping with him. Oh well. I guessed I had survived it, and while mind-blowingly good, it was pretty standard stuff, so if he did sip a little O-positive, he could at least control it.

  He frowned. "You really want to know this?"

  I propped myself up on my elbows and stroked his chest. "Yes, I do. " And I realized that I did. I wanted to know everything about him, the good and the bad.

  He sighed and his hand stopped its circular motion and dropped to my hip. He watched me for a moment, perhaps judging if I would stay put on his chest once he told me his answer. Finally, he said, "Yes. . . I do, sometimes. It tastes good to me and I enjoy it, but I can eat regular food too and I enjoy that as well, as you've seen. "

  I cocked my head. I'd never heard of an omnivore vampire before. Of course, I'd never heard of a vampire with a heartbeat before. "Oh, that's interesting. So your body is. . . "

  He visibly relaxed, since I hadn't bolted from the room. "Mostly human. I do everything. . . human males. . . do. " He shrugged his shoulders and laughed. His hand returned to my back and he smiled at me.

  "That's so weird. So, you drink blood on occasion and have fangs. . . " Remembering back to our little tumble not so long ago, I gave him a curious look. "Where did your fangs go?"

  He blinked at me, a small laugh escaping him. "What?"

  "When we were. . . you know. . . you were fangless. Why didn't they pop out when you were excited?" I probably shouldn't have asked him such a personal question, not that we weren't quite personal with each other now, but maybe his teeth were something really private that I shouldn't have brought up. Like him wanting to discuss tampons or something.

  Amused, he shook his head. "And you say I'm casual about this. " I twisted my lips into a pout and he grinned. "I can control it. . . most of the time. It's easier to do now, knowing that you know, and if I mess up, you won't go running or anything. It takes the pressure off. "

  "Weird. " He seemed okay talking about it, so I continued my train of thought. "So. . . on the couch. . . You didn't mean to do that?"

  "No. . . definitely no. " His pale eyes looked down at my fingers on his chest. He still seemed a touch embarrassed about his slip-up.

  I brought a finger to his cheek and stroked it; the light stubble grazing my skin was delightful to touch. He looked up at me, a warm smile on his lips. I held my breath, reluctant to ask my next question, since it was one that would probably embarrass us both. I really wanted an answer to it, though, so I sucked it up and said, "And, we've waited all this time, because you were afraid of that happening?"

  He looked at me with a blank expression. I thought for a moment that maybe he didn't understand what I was vaguely referencing. Or maybe he did, and he just didn't want to answer me. But then he finally smiled and said, "It's only been three weeks. You make it sound like I've been holding out on you for years. " His mouth twisted into a devilish grin. "I didn't realize you wanted me so bad. I was just trying to be a gentleman. " He laughed again as the hand on my back tightened into a hug.

  I playfully patted his shoulder. "Shut up. "

  The last rays of the sun sank all the way down as we talked and the room darkened to blackness. I laid my head on his chest and again marveled at his steady and strong heartbeat. Vampire? If I hadn't seen the fangs, I still wouldn't have believed it. He seemed too. . . human.

  "Are you really sure?" I asked, as I looked back up to his eyes. My breath caught as I stared at his face. I believed. I fully believed. With the sun set and the heavy curtains blocking the street lights, the room should have been pitch-black. But it wasn't. There was light in his bedroom, and it was coming from him. . . from his eyes. They glowed, a phosphorescent glow, like someone had painted the whites of his eyes with glow in the dark paint. Aside from his teeth, it was the strangest thing I'd ever seen.

  "Oh. . . wow. That's weird. "

  "What?" The glow narrowed as his eyes narrowed.

  "Your eyes. . . that's just freaky. " It was also a little hypnotic. I couldn't turn away from it, and I felt my head getting lighter and my face starting to relax. I could bathe in those eyes. I never wanted to look away. I'd follow those eyes anywhere. . .

  "Oh, that. Right. . . yeah, that is kind of weird. It's like. . . you know those fish in the deepest parts of the ocean that use light to attract their prey? Kind of the same idea. " I could see his shoulders shrug in the dim light emitted. . . by him.

  I blinked and shook my head a little, forcing myself to look away from those hypnotic eyes, remembering that, technically, I was his prey. "Oh. . . well, it's weird and a little. . . creepy. "

  "Sorry, I can't shut it off or anything. Luckily, it's barely noticeable unless it's completely dark. There's usually enough light pollution in the city that people don't see it. " He laughed, the glow bouncing with him. "It does make for awkward conversations when I try and go camping in the countryside though. "

  I turned on the lamp sitting on his nightstand to bring his eyes back to normal. Blinking in the now too-bright light, I looked over at him again. "You. . . camp?" For some reason, the thought of a vampire camping struck me as the oddest thing he'd uttered all night.

  He smiled and shrugged again. "Sure. . . who doesn't love camping?"

  "You're so weird. " I plopped myself back
down onto his wonderfully masculine chest. A fresh burst of his light cologne hit my nose as I inhaled a deep, contented breath.

  His amused chuckle vibrated beneath me as he brought his hands up to play with the long strands of my dark hair. "Would you stop saying that. I'm starting to get a complex. "

  I smiled as his hand sweeping the hair away from my bare shoulder gave me goose bumps. "Sorry, I'm trying to process this. I've never met a vampire before. " I nestled further into his chest, relaxing into his capable hands.

  "That's a very good thing. " There was an oddness to his voice. I looked up to his beautiful, pale blue eyes, and there was an odd look in them as well. I wondered if I wanted to know what he meant by that.

  Instead I asked, "How old are you?" I propped myself on my elbows on his chest again, suddenly very excited at an idea that had popped into my head. "Are you a couple hundred years old? Have you seen the civil war, or the first cars, or thin Elvis? What have you seen? I want to know everything. " I rested my head in my hands and waited for his surely fascinating answer.

  He cocked his head at me. "I'm twenty-five. "

  I frowned. "You're twenty-five because that's my cover story and I'm sticking to it, or you're twenty-five because you were birthed twenty-five years ago?"

  He laughed. "The latter. . . I really am twenty-five. I've seen what you've seen. " I sighed and slumped a little on his chest. "Does that disappoint you?" He asked, a grin on his face.

  I sighed again. "Yes. . . actually, as far as vampires go, I find you a little disappointing. "

  I was abruptly flipped over onto my back. The move was so fast, my mind couldn't even comprehend it; one minute I was on my stomach and the next I was on my back. My breath increased as I tried to wrap my mind around this new position. Teren was hovering over me and his fangs were out again. My mouth dropped open watching him.

  "Am I still disappointing to you?" he growled.

  I couldn't even answer him. His presence, his undeniable power-it took my breath away. He leaned over me and very lightly dragged his teeth along my skin. It did wonderful things to my body, but I wasn't about to let him hurt me.

  My speech came back to me in a pant. "If you bite me, it will be the last thing your vampire ass does. "

  He laughed and retracted his teeth. "I wasn't going to. Remember. . . I said I wouldn't, unless you asked. I was just proving a point. " As I relaxed underneath him, I brought my hands up his chest and laced them around his neck. "How exactly were you planning on ending me anyway?" he asked.

  I twisted my lips as I pulled him closer to me. "I would find a way. . . you just keep that in mind, buddy. I'm no snack. "

  Smiling, he gave me a gentle kiss. "You might like it. . . "

  "Why would I like you piercing my skin? Does that sound like fun to you?" Realizing what I'd just said, and who I'd just said it to, I rolled my eyes at myself. "Wait. . . don't answer that. . . "

  He laughed again and kissed me a bit deeper. I pulled away, slightly breathless. "Does anything else. . . glow. . . on you?"

  He flashed me an impish grin. "Why don't you shut the light back off and find out?"

  I laughed and did shut the light off. I searched pretty thoroughly, but didn't find any other glowing spots on him. And eventually his creepy, glowing orbs closed, and the room was blissfully and naturally dark.

  The next day, I studiously watched him over breakfast. He made us bacon, eggs and toast, and he ate it all like any normal guy. I kept waiting for him to do something unreal, turn into mist and slip under the door or mentally call forth rodents or bats. I don't know-something creepy and mysterious. But he didn't. He made espressos.

  He walked around his spacious kitchen with stainless steel appliances at normal, boring human speed. He got food from his fully stocked refrigerator. He put spices away in his fully stocked cupboards. He kissed me on the cheek and asked me what I wanted to do on this sunny Sunday morning. I was a little disappointed again with my very unvampire-like vampire. I had kind of been expecting him to secret away to a coffin last night, after our rousing second romp. But he hadn't, he'd fallen asleep right afterwards and he'd even snored. It was so commonplace that I was beginning to doubt the entire thing ever even happened.

  We sat at his metal kitchen table, sipping our espressos after breakfast. I was wearing my "just in case clothes" and was happy for the fact that I had planned for that little eventuality. I was even happier that the scenario had finally happened, although the night hadn't mapped out quite like I'd expected. I watched him sip his coffee and read a magazine, wearing a pair of perfectly faded blue jeans and a casual looking t-shirt. He was the perfect sight to wake up to-dark hair, pale eyes, full lips, strong jaw, sexy as all get-out stubble. Delicious. . . and impossibly human. Last night must have been a vivid dream. One way to make sure, I suppose.

  "Let me see again," I said after another couple minutes of comfortable silence.

  He looked up at me, a little confused. "See what?"

  I pointed to his mouth as I set down my coffee cup. "The fangs. . . whip 'em out. "

  He looked a little embarrassed, his eyes darting back down to the cup in his hand. "No. "

  "Come on. You don't have to be shy. " I reached over to him and stroked his forearm with my fingers. "I've seen everything on you. There's nothing to be embarrassed about. Show me. " I smiled encouragingly.

  He met my eyes again. "Why?"

  I took my hand off his arm and gestured in the air. "Because I'm starting to think I imagined the whole thing last night. " I gestured to the drink he was still holding. "I mean, you're drinking a cappuccino for God's sake. "

  He twisted his lips. "What's wrong with cappuccino?"

  "Well, it's not blood for starters," I deadpanned.

  He smiled wide, showing perfect, white, even teeth. "Well, I have some humans tied up in my underground lair, next to my coffin, being guarded by my hunchback assistant Igor. " He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. "Would you like me to have him bring one up so I can devour them in front of you?"

  I smirked. "Funny. " I sure hoped he was kidding about that.

  He shook his head and went back to his coffee. Apparently, he wasn't caving to my request for a peep show. I tried a different approach. "You can bite me?"

  Without looking up from the magazine he was reading (National Geographic, of all things), he calmly said, "No. " He peeked up at me from under his eyebrows. "I thought that would bring about my end anyway. "

  Ignoring his one hundred percent accurate comment, I, as seductively as I could, said, "Oh, come on. " I leaned my head to the side, exposing my vein, and stroked my neck with my finger. "It's a nice, juicy artery. "

  Teren smirked. Looking back down to his magazine, he pointed at himself. "Nearly all human remember? That isn't as much of a temptation as you seem to think. "

  Disappointed, I slumped back into my chair. "Fine, be all modest on me. I would have shown you mine," I muttered.

  He exhaled loudly and looked at the ceiling for a moment. "God. . . " Making a fake growling noise like a five-year-old would, he looked over at me with his hands raised in the air like claws. Extending his fangs, he said, "I vant to suck your blood," in a horrible Dracula impersonation. Then he immediately retracted his teeth and went back to his magazine as if he hadn't done anything strange at all. "Satisfied?" he asked.

  Laughing at his over-the-top display, I walked over and sat on his lap. He looked up at me with a semi-amused smile. "Yes. . . that was priceless. Thank you. "

  He shook his head. "However I can entertain the human. "

  I laughed some more and gave him a soft kiss. I was a little surprised at how well I was taking things. I never realized I was so. . . progressive. Well, good men are hard to come by, and I'd had more than my fair share of duds. If his only drawback was a pair of sharp teeth and a penchant for hemoglobin, well, I'd take it.

  We decided to spend our Sunday afterno
on doing the most vampire-like thing we could-we took his collie, Spike (as in stake-har har), to Golden Gate Park. Teren and I lived in beautiful, sunny San Francisco, which one would think would make it a natural deterrent for vampires, but Teren seemed perfectly happy and un-crispy, walking hand in hand with me as Spike ran ahead of us for a few feet, before coming back and then running forward again. We walked through the green grass and under a few large trees and I watched the sunlight filter through the leaves to speckle my honey in shadow and light, a fitting metaphor if I'd ever seen one.

  When Spike got too far in front of us, Teren put a couple of fingers in his mouth and let out an ear-piercing whistle. Spike immediately turned around, his shaggy, multi-colored coat bristling in the breeze, and loped back to us with his tongue extending and retracting as he merrily panted. Teren reached down and ruffled his fur, earning him a lick on the cheek.

  "So, you don't chow on dogs?" I asked with a small smile on my lips.

  Teren looked up at me and grimaced. "No. . . do you?" I laughed and shook my head. He smiled and stood, coming to my side and pulling me close to him. "Good, I don't think I could keep seeing you if you ate dog. That's just gross. "

  I poked him in the ribs while he laughed and Spike ran around our feet. He brought me in for a tender kiss as Spike's attention was diverted by a squirrel running up a nearby tree trunk. I relaxed into the comfort of his kiss-a wonderful mix of soft lips and scratchy stubble. Abruptly, he pulled back from me and I frowned as my comfort was ripped away.

  "Come to my parents' place with me. "

  I blinked at him, startled. "I'm sorry. . . what?"

  He half-grinned at my stupefied face. "Now that you know everything. . . and seem to be perfectly fine with it, you should meet my parents. "

  "Today?" My voice came out a little strained, and I tried to relax my throat.

  "No, I wasn't serious about that. I do need to go up there soon though. Maybe in a couple of weekends we could go?" His pale eyes sparkled in the sunlight, and I had the odd thought that they were charging in the sun for another glow session this evening. I shook my head to shake away the strange vision.

  "Um. . . I guess that could be fun. Where do they live?" Please don't say a castle. . .

  He nodded vaguely to the right of us. "They manage a ranch about sixty miles from here, near Mount Diablo. "

  I nodded as I absorbed that. "Wait. . . your family are ranchers?"

  He smiled, like he didn't see anything odd about that. "Yeah. "

  I pulled away to look at him better. "Your. . . vampire family. . . are ranchers?"

  He laughed at the expression on my face. "Yeah, it kind of makes sense for us, if you think about it. "

  I blinked. "What do you mean?"

  He took my hand and we started walking through the grass, catching up to his hyper collie that was chasing his tail, ten feet up the lawn. "Well, to the outside world, my family comes from a long line of successful ranchers, but to us. . . ," he glanced over at me walking beside him and gave me a wicked grin-he only needed his fangs out to complete the look, ". . . to us, it's more of an open-air pantry. "

  I paled a bit as that statement sank into the ridges of my brain. I envisioned the teeth that he had dragged along my neck, plunging deep into some poor Holstein. "Oh. . . I'm never going to be able to look at a cow the same way again. "

  Laughing, he squeezed my hand. We watched Spike roll on his back and frolic in the sun, and I thought about meeting his family. . . his vampire family. Dealing with his weirdness was one thing-I mean, for the most part, he acted completely human. But he was only slightly vampire. The rest of his family would be even more foreign and his great-grandmother was a full-fledged mistress of the night. I had to admit that it intimidated me a little bit. Although, it was nice to hear that they snacked on livestock.

  "We've only been dating a few weeks. . . isn't it a little early to bring me home?"

  He smiled down on me as Spike ran up to him and licked his jeans. "You got so irritated by the abstaining you thought we were doing, I don't want to mess up again by making you wait. "

  I frowned at him and he pulled me tight. "I really do need to go up there. . . it's been too long. And I'd love for you to join me. I'd love for you to meet them, and for them to meet you. " He looked down as we walked, seeming almost shy. "You're kind of important to me. "

  "Oh," I said quietly.

  Before I could respond further, he added, "It's not every girl who would stick around after hearing what I really am. " He nudged my shoulder playfully. "And you're really pretty. "

  I smiled as he bent down and clipped Spike's leash back onto his collar. We made our way back to his Toyota Prius (yes, my vampire drove a hybrid), and went over to a breezy outdoor diner for a late lunch. At the end of our day and a half date, he drove me home, walked me to my door, and kissed me goodbye like a perfect gentleman.

  In the safety and solitude of my cute, Victorian townhouse, I analyzed how much things had changed in my life in the past twenty-four hours. Vampires were real. I was dating one. I'd slept with one-twice. He wanted to take me home to his. . . nest. He thought I was really pretty.

  I had a dream that night, once I finally fell asleep, of being surrounded by beautiful, black-haired women with sharp fangs and glowing eyes, and a deep voice rumbled in my head, "Don't worry. . . they won't eat my girlfriend. "