Authors: Ann Vremont
Tags: #New Adult Vampire Erotic Romance
"They'll have stuff. Boston's got cucumber sandwiches and other totally weird things on the menu."
He was only half listening, his gaze resting on the necklace. At that moment, I felt as guilty not wearing it as I would have felt dancing with Chris with it on. I stepped past him, moving out of the room. Glancing behind me, I saw the reflection of his hand reaching out to reposition the pendant.
I moved around the front room and then into the kitchen, looking for something to busy myself with. I poured myself a glass of water and leaned against the counter as I slowly drank it. I could hear that Danny had left the bedroom and was back in his office, his desktop thrumming with the strain of whatever he was working on. I watched the minutes tick down, almost sprinting for the front door when I heard the Mustang rumble to a halt outside.
Danny met me in the front room, lightly catching me by the wrist at the same time Chris knocked at the front door. I turned to Danny, noticed the brief caress of his gaze but pretended that I hadn't.
He stepped in, close to me, and spoke lowly. "You can make him wait a second."
I stood very still, trying to read him - his breathing, his pulse rate, the diameter of his pupils. It was like trying to read a blank slate. I might as well have been standing in front of a Buddhist monk.
He leaned forward, his lips pressing just at the corner of my mouth. His heart rate didn't change. Neither did his breathing. I watched him pull back slowly, his eyes lifting to meet mine.
"What are you thinking?" I whispered.
He shook his head, blinked away the question. "We'll talk tomorrow."
Chris knocked again before I could ask Danny what he meant.
"That's long enough, don't you think?" He nodded at the door but his hand still lightly circled my wrist.
"Right." I didn't move. My mind was cycling through possibilities. If he leaned forward again, if he kissed me a second time...
Only he didn't. He let go of my wrist and took a few steps backward. I tried to mask my confusion with a weak smile and then turned on my heels and answered the door.
Chris greeted me with a devastating grin. He had dressed closer along the Goth spectrum of the night's theme than the Victoriana. His brows were darkened and a rich brown ringed his hazel eyes, the thick lashes elongated with two coats of mascara. His shirt was a dark green tweed with a black velvet collar standing up to frame the bottom of his face and strong jaw bone. The collar was an open vee, showing the sculpted lines of his upper chest. Crushed velvet pants colored a deep chocolate hugged his lower body. My stomach did a little flip looking at him.
I quickly stepped onto the entry patio and pulled the door shut behind me. "Boston's going to faint when you walk in."
Unlike with Danny, there was no wondering what Chris thought. His hands fell on my hips and he dipped his head to nibble just beneath my bottom lip, the small bites calculated to avoid smearing my lipstick while doing maximum damage to my self control.
"There's only one girl I want to make faint," he assured me. His hands moved up under my jacket to grip my waist. "You look amazing."
"That makes us a matched pair."
Still staring at me, Chris walked me to the car and tucked me into the Mustang's front passenger seat. On the dashboard was a small black box with a black satin ribbon tied around it.
Smiling at Chris, I directed my gaze at the box. "For me?"
"Yes, but not yet." He took the box and tucked it on the other side of him where I couldn't reach it.
Leaning as far as my seatbelt would allow, I rested my head on his shoulder and placed my palm flat against his firm stomach. "When?"
"At the dance - before we go in." He covered my hand with his, lightly stroking my skin with his thumb as he drove.
The hotel was out in Avondale, near the spring training camps for the baseball teams. Driving west, we could see the sun just beginning to set over the valley. At the hotel, Chris parked the car facing towards the sunset and we just sat for a few minutes, holding hands.
When the sun had cleared the horizon, he got out of the car, grabbing the gift box and coming around my side to open the door. There were fountains in front of the hotel and he led me over to the one that was farthest from the small line of our classmates waiting to get into the banquet hall.
Standing on the far side of the fountain, he held the box out on his open palm. I untied the silk ribbon so that its ends trailed over his fingers, and then I lifted the lid. The first thing I saw was more ribbon - a dark red velvet that matched my jacket. I pulled it slowly from the box to find that it was a ribbon necklace. Dangling from it was a small bird's skull, its bones bleached white and its beak dipped in a black enamel that glittered like polished stone.
Chris placed the box on the fountain's edge and took the red velvet ribbon and its pendant from me. He moved behind me, where he could fasten the necklace. When it was in place, he remained standing there, his body pressed against my back.
Instead of his usually clean shaven face, he had let the hair grow this week - only to carefully trim it before the dance, giving him a rough brush of bristles down along his jaw and a goatee that was a painful match to Danny's. I felt him push aside my jacket collar and then his mouth was against my neck, his breath warm and that little swatch of hair teasing exactly as he had planned it.
His hand reached around the front to lightly stroke the pendant. "I thought it suited you. Is it okay?"
I nodded, little shivers of pleasure shimmying across the surface of my skin from the touch of his lips and the hard press of him against my backside. "It's beautiful."
"It's you, really. What you've seen. What you've survived." He sucked my earlobe into his mouth and my knees started a slow collapse. "You inspire me, Rapunzel."
Shaking, I turned in his arms and placed my hands against his chest.
"What's wrong?" He kissed my mouth, cupped my face between his hands and kissed me again.
Danny's words echoed through my mind.
We'll talk tomorrow.
"Nothing," I lied. I was close to crying and I buried by face against his shoulder. Tomorrow, Danny might tell me to walk, and I would deal with his pushing me away. It would be okay. The constant tugging would be at an end and I'd be free to love Chris completely. But, if tomorrow Danny said, "stay," if he wanted to move out of the spare bedroom and back into my bed? I'd still love Chris, too. I realized that now.
"Shhh..." Chris stroked my hair. "Don't think beyond tonight, Lee. Promise?"
I nodded and hugged him tighter. "Can we go inside?"
We stopped by the car long enough for him to tuck the gift box on the dash and then we entered the hotel. In the ballroom, he led me straight to the area roped off as the dance floor.
He pulled me close in a slow dance. "My arms go weak when they can't hold you."
"Damn, Kennedy, you're smooth." I rested my head against his shoulder as we danced and closed my eyes.
"Not everywhere." He brushed his bottom lip against my throat, lightly rubbing the bristles against my skin.
I sighed, letting the sensation slow crawl down my back, over my breasts and tightening stomach until it slid like a finger between my thighs and stayed there. We danced, song after song until I completely lost track of time. We didn't break to eat or drink or respond to our friends with more than a smile before we turned back to each other. Pressed so close to him, I remembered the night at the skating rink, out in the parking lot, in his car. I pictured our bodies in the greenhouse, my coming and calling his name.
"You keep moving like that, I don't know what I'm gonna do," he whispered in my ear.
I could feel him hard against me, his breathing and heart beat erratic and advertising his arousal. Blood rose to my cheeks and I eased away to put a little air between us. I whispered back, "Sorry. It just feels..."
"So right," he finished for me.
"Yeah." Closing my eyes, I pressed my cheek against his, still careful to keep space between our bodies. Guilt crept through me, slowly stiffening my limbs as I thought about how perfect it felt.
He rubbed his cheek against mine. "I'm losing you again."
I offered an apologetic sigh. "How'd you get so perceptive?"
"Easy." He gave a dry laugh and pulled me close again. "Five sets of foster parents, eight case workers. You learn to read people fast."
My arms were around his shoulders and I tightened them in a hug. "I can't believe I never knew that. You never said anything before that afternoon in the greenhouse."
"Just trying to keep up the pretense of being all-American." He tucked a strand that had escaped my messy up-do back behind my ear. "And you had your own worries." He tilted his head and studied my face. "You still do..."
I tried to brush the idea away with an eye roll but he wouldn't let me.
"Like where you will be living next week..."
I shrugged. I felt like Danny had made a decision, I just had no clue what the hell it was. He seemed to be at peace with it, but that told me nothing. Or it told me something I didn't want to listen to - if he wanted me to stay and develop our relationship beyond his role as my self-appointed guardian, why had he let me go off with Chris tonight? There was more than one couple from school that had booked a room at the hotel. I could tell from the enticing smells of youthful lust which ones had already snuck up to those rooms in between dances. In that light, it could hardly bode well for my chances with Danny.
"You can stop wondering." Chris stiffened as soon as the last word left his mouth, like he was bracing himself against something.
I looked at him, tried to read his expression.
"I'm saying..." He stopped, swallowed hard and glanced away for a second. "I've got money saved up and Tedna already told me they needed my room for twins they're going to foster."
It hurt to watch his face, to see the pain rise up and cloud his handsome features at the way his foster parents were ruthlessly pushing him aside. I still didn't know why, beyond the lost scholarship, which he still hadn't admitted to.
"Lee," he touched his forehead to mine, his grip at the curve of my waist tightening. "I'm saying I want you to move in with me. Danny may not be ready to commit, but I am."
My head bobbed in a little circle, lost between "yes" and "no." I placed my palm lightly against his cheek, knowing I'd already waited too long to say anything. "I can't answer you tonight."
"I understand." Chris sucked his bottom lip in, chewed at it. "But before you answer, there's something you need to know..."
I waited while he tried to push it out, and then his gaze started shutting down. I stroked my thumb along his cheekbone. "Chris, I already know you lost the scholarship. It doesn't change how I feel about you."
He shook his head. "It's about why I lost it, Lee."
"Not from anything you did." I tried to hug him but he pulled back.
"Can we talk somewhere else?"
I nodded, starting to worry. His body was tight, wary, his expression injured soul deep. This wasn't the Chris I was used to seeing. "Let's go out to the car," I said.
I had to lead him through the crowd like a sleepwalking child. Every few feet he'd pull back, as if he'd changed his mind about telling me. When I finally had him back at the car, he hugged me.
I slid my arms around his waist, up under his shirt to where my palms were against his lower back. "Quit stalling, Kennedy," I said, my voice gentle.
"Give me a second." He threaded his fingers through the back of my updo and tilted my head back so that I was looking up at him. "I'm afraid you won't look at me the same - that this is my last chance to hold you, to ..."
Chris dipped his head, covering my mouth with his. I could feel the tug on my hair, forcing me to arch into him. His tongue parted my lips, gently probing. Licks became small bites. His free hand dropped to my bottom to press me close to him. Bending over me, curving me closer to him, his hand cupped lower, between my thighs so that I could feel the pressure of his fingers against my cunt.
Slowly we started to rock against one another, our worries melting away for the moment. All of me felt like it was melting, evaporating. I was wet, close to coming, my senses in a spiraling plummet.
I tightened my grip on Chris. "I'm dizzy..."
"I've got you," Chris promised.
"No." I clutched at him, panic setting in. "I'm falling..."
I landed on my hands and knees, my skin and clothes bathed in red light that dissolved to black nothingness a few feet from me. I could still feel Chris's arms holding me, hear the faint, urgent strains of him calling my name. Concentrating on his voice, I tried to find my way back to him, but my head and spine felt like giant hands were wrapped around them to hold me in place.
"You want to fight me, Lee, you need to feed more." The circle of red expanded its borders far enough to show me a silhouette of Oscar.
Beyond him, I could hear ragged, wet breathing.