Ice frosted the air as the golden sun dipped below the horizon. Stan, as good as his word, returned with the night. Sophie woke up with a horrible headache, her stomach rumbling. Peeling off her wrinkled dress, she slipped into faded ankle pants, flats, a halter top and a cardigan. She shuffled from her room and headed to the kitchen. The visions, the dull background of more horror to come set the world off kilter. She did not want to do this. Not again. Not here.
She ignored West, shuffling papers for the meeting, and Stan, who sat opposite her on a bar stool, chatting. She loved them but chatting had to happen after food. A little digging in the cabinets produced a bowl, spoon, and a box of sweet cereal. From the refrigerator she pulled a pitcher of cold milk before perching on one of the mismatched barstools next to Stan.
As she started eating Stan asked, “So, does he sleep in a coffin?”
“Excuse me?” Sophie’s spoon stopped half way to her mouth.
“He’s not my vampire.” Sophie finished her bite of cereal. A dark mood rumbled in the back of her mind. Frustration and irritation boiled the clouds over her forest in her core. A grumbling wind tossed limbs and leaves. Peace of heart gave up and left her to stew in her grumpiness. Sophie rubbed her temples while she chewed. Her flakes were already soggy.
West leaned forward. “Technically he is yours, what with the Kiss and all.”
“Yeah, what is this Kiss I keep hearing about?” Stan asked, leaning in like West. “I only found one reference to it at Addictions.”
Sophie shook her head and kept eating. West obliged the young reporter.
“Well, something us ‘regular’ humans don’t understand very well is that when you kiss someone for the first time, as a man kisses a woman, it creates this magical bond.”
Sophie watched Stan out of the corner of her eye as West explained in layman’s terms the magic of a First Kiss. His face went from interested to poker calm. She guessed he thought back to his first kiss. What was remembering a first kiss was like for a ‘regular’ person?
West continued. “Most of us don’t believe that, so we don’t sense it, but we all remember our first kiss, right?”
“Yeah.” Stan stared off into the room, his eyes glazed over.
“Well, Benj being a vampire, he’s uniquely aware of all these magical lines around us.”
“Being connected to the Spiritual Plane is more accurate.” Sophie corrected West.
“Yeah, the Spirit Plane, the world of the soul. Benj is all connected with that Plane, and so as the story goes, he kissed Sophie to save himself from being seen in a sticky situation not knowing she had never been kissed.”
“And since she’s this SoulReader and he’s a vampire, it created this super strong bond.” Stan finished.
“You got it!” West winked at him.
“I wasn’t a SoulReader yet. Back then I was just a girl.” Sophie said. Just a girl. Only a few years older than the girl who she just watched die.
“So, are you married?” Stan asked turning to Sophie and glancing down at her hands. West grimaced and made a hushing noise, hiding her own ringed finger. Sophie tried to swallow the bite in her mouth. She tried to swallow the anger and disappointment Stan’s questions brought up. She knew Benj would sense her emotions, and then they would have to talk about it. She really did not feel like talking about it after passing out two or three times today already. An argument with a vampire really did not seem like a good way to end the day or start it. But, unlike Benj, Sophie did not hide her feelings well. Both the food and the feelings lodged in her throat. She turned and froze – too late.
“Sorry.” Stan back peddled. “I didn’t mean to pry . . .”
Benj appeared in the office area. Stan leapt back. He knocked over his barstool and spilled Sophie’s cereal as he his arms pin wheeled in a vain attempt to catch himself. The stool clattered to the floor dumping Stan and milk at Benj’s feet. Eyes black as pitch captured Sophie. Fully extended fangs punctured Benj’s thin lips but drew no blood. He held up his hastily pulled on jeans with talons instead of hands. Sophie counted his ribs through his pale, tattooed skin stretched taut across his bones. White hair spiked up in every direction on his head. He struggled to sort out her emotions. Sophie pushed against him.
“What is wrong?” Benj asked, his calm words almost funny contrasted with his claws, fangs and his oh, so not calm body language.
Sophie spoon clattered on the counter. She stood, and stalked off slamming the bathroom door behind her.
West started up after her.
“Wait.” Benj held up his hand. His teeth and claws receded before he ran them through his hair making it messier. “What happened?”
“You can’t tell?” West snapped. The electrical anger in the room fed her negative emotions as well. She pulled a towel from the drawer by the sink and cleaned up the flakes and milk splashed on the counter and floor.
“I can sense her feelings, not read her mind, West.” Benj’s voice was dead-pan dangerous.
“It’s my fault,” Stan and West both said at the same time. They both stopped.
“Look,” Stan held out his hands, palms forward, in peace.
Benj smelled the fear rolling off the reporter. He listened to the sweet song of panic his living, blood filled heart beat out. Anger flared from Sophie at his hungry distraction. He focus on that anger to bring himself back under control. Easy enough since it almost visibly boiled from the bathroom.
“West, sum up what happened, please.” Benj ignored Stan.
West stood and put her hands on her hips. “He asked if you were married.”
In the bathroom, Sophie slapped make-up on her face. She rubbed it in until her skin blotched in irritation. Anger and upset frustration boiled inside her. She could not tell which of the feelings were hers, probably the anger, and which were Benj’s, probably the upset – they had been over this so many times before.
“Kiss me, protect me, but won’t marry me, no,” she muttered at the mirror. “It’s not like I have many options here. No other man is going to marry a woman with a vampire at her beck and call.”
Sophie bit her tongue to keep from crying. She did not want to cry. She wanted to be angry. But, she knew the anger provided a mask for her sorrow and her love. Just a mask. She was just strung out from the visions and the attack. Maintaining emotional control during visions always proved a trial. Calm down. Calm down. Please.
“They might marry me if Benj agreed to go away forever. Agent Jones almost said as much once,” she whispered to herself. Tears spilled down her cheeks. She dropped her face into her hands. The thought broke her heart. Life without Benj?
“Sophie,” he said her name so softly.
“No!” She turned on him.
Benj drew back in surprise. Her face startled him. Foundation covered only half of it. Too much blush for her pale skin gave her a scary clown look. Black mascara ran down her face with her tears. If the pain in her eyes had not been so deep, he might have considered a laugh. She sensed his humor and her anger flared hot.
“What are you doing?” He kept his voice low and soft.
“Getting ready for our client,” she said in a sing-song voice with a too-big smile.
“Sophie,” he said again.
“How dare you?” She slapped him hard across the face. Pain flared in her hand but she ignored it. “You keep me as your own, marked and forever yours, but you won’t have me! You protect me and help me, but you won’t love me!” She emphasized each word with a punch or a slap to his face and upper body.
Benj caught both her wrists and pinned them to her sides. He pulled her up against himself. His skin sucked in her bodily warmth.
“You know why I will not take you as my wife.”
“Because you’re a coward.” Sophie spat in his face.
“Sophie,” he groaned. The pain behind her name almost broke her. “I cannot give you children. I cannot make us a family. I might kill you.”
“It’s not children I want! You might kill me anyway. I wouldn’t be alone.” She stopped. Her shoulders slumped and she hung her head. “You wouldn’t be alone. For this little time, you wouldn’t be alone, and you’d have lots of happy memories long after I die.”
Her tears fell on Benj’s bare feet. He released her wrists. Sophie dropped down on the white toilet lid, her back to him, her face cupped in her hands. She sobbed, unable to stop. Her whole body trembled with the anguish it tried to expel from her thin frame.
Benj knelt down beside her.
“My Dearest, I love you more than I can ever say. But if I could undo that which binds us and give you to one of your own kind, I would do it faster than one of your heartbeats.”
“Don’t say that!” Sophie wailed. “I can’t even imagine not having you in here.” Her words broke as she put her hands over the inheritance tattoo on her chest.
He stroked her hair back from her face as he leaned over her. “We have talked many times about this. I will not inflict the consequences of my sin on you. I will not put myself in the path of temptation. And if I marry you, if I make you my wife, I will be tempted,” he said, his voice husky. He dragged each word from some depth where salvation resided. “If I ever drink your blood I will forever want you until I kill you. I will be filled with an overwhelming appetite for you which only your death will satisfy. I will not only sense you like I do now, I will want you, want your blood, want your life spilled out on my hands. Please, try to understand.”
Sophie knew the echo of the hunger he spoke of and her heart failed. Benj’s vampireness flooded her. She shrank from him. Ashamed of himself, Benj covered his face with his hands. His shoulders slumped in despair. The horror, the great, deep-seated fear of what would happen if he ever lost control of himself and gave free reign to his lust washed over him.
“What of my need to belong?” She had to ask.
“I will not see my wife grow old and die without me. I will not.”
“You’ve already chosen to see me grow old and die, wife or not. You’ve already taken my heart and I won’t marry another.”
Benj sank to the floor and leaned against the tiled wall with an almost-human, pain-filled sigh. He dropped his hands between his arched knees and looked at her.
“If we were to marry, if you and I have the ability to be together, how will it change anything that is now?”
“Love. I will be loved by you and I will be able to love you!”
“Cursed as well, with what we know not.”
“We’re already cursed, and we won’t be any more cursed than any other two people choosing to separate themselves from the world for each other alone.”
Benj took her hand and pulled her down into his lap. He held her close.
“How I need you,” he whispered into her hair.
“And I, you,” Sophie replied. She laid her head on his chest. “Do you think I’m beautiful?”
Benj held her close. “The most beautiful woman I have ever known.”
She hiccupped a laughed. “You’re just saying that. After 400 something years you’ve know prettier women than me.”
“True, but none that loved my heart so well or who gave their heart so freely to me.”
His words pierced her gloom. The storm in her core subsided, burned out. Peace returned. Benj held her close. Tears of relief fell on his chest and soaked into his lukewarm skin. Sophie wrapped her arms around his head and pulled his face in, kissing him. Mid-kiss, Benj shifted to the sink. He set her on its edge. Sophie’s heart flooded with want and his heart responded. A warmth, edged with desire, wrapped around them as they held unto each other. She pressed her head against his warming face. Benj breathed in her ear a softly whispered, “I love you”. It sent chills sliding down Sophie’s back, but a sad sigh escaped her lips.
“What?” He cupped her face in his hand. His violet eyes were all she could see, his soft music all she could hear.
“Oh Benj, I won’t say it again but you know what my heart wants.”
The warmth fled the room swift as a Blue Northern. Benj stepped back from her. Sophie slumped on the sink wishing he had not asked. A guarded feeling filled Benj.
“Sophie, I cannot enter a church building with other people gathered together to get married.”
“Is that all that you’re worried about?” She said with a slight laugh, knowing it was just an excuse. He had used it before. “Marriage isn’t about where you get married. It’s about the vows you make to each other before the King.”
Benj grew colder, further away. The same fear filled him, the fear of his lust. Sophie knew only one way to expunge that fear. She slid off the sink and stepped up to him. She put her hand on his chest afraid of what she was about to say but knowing she would say it anyway.
“You could turn me. Make me like you so we can be together. Satisfy the lust.”
“Damn it, Sophie.”
Sophie trembled in the tempest of Benj’s soul. His skin tightened around his face and darkness swallowed his violet eyes. The darkness deep inside him reared up pushing him towards desire and death. Despair returned Benj fought to keep his footing but the darkness threatened to drown him.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Sophie said
She took his hand in her own. It was like holding the hand of a statue, cold and hard. With a sudden shock she glimpsed for a moment just how utterly different Benj was from her, how very vampire he was.
“I will not damn you for eternity. Sophie,” his tone softened, “you promised never to offer your blood to me again.”
“Then what are we going to do?” Sophie asked feeding off the despair he fought. “Are we going to be a priest and a nun forever? What is it about marriage and me you’re so afraid of Benj?”
The haunted look in his eyes flowed from his soul and almost overcame her. She wanted to gather him in her arms but she feared the consequences, feared playing the game with fire they were playing now. To have and to hold with no right to have and to hold was a line she did not want to cross, but she knew at some point she would if they continued as they were.
“Afraid of? Afraid of? I am afraid of myself.”
“Then why did you kiss me if you can’t marry me?”
“I never dreamed it would be your first kiss.”
“Why? Cause a woman as old as I was should have been kissed by then?” The question spewed from her mouth before she could stop it.
“No. But one as beautiful…”
Sophie flung herself into his arms. His gentle words filled her with thankfulness. She knew she would have accepted a harsh response from him because her snide comment deserved it. But Benj spoke kindly and she felt the love in his words. She felt the truth of his words in his soul.
“From the moment I saw you in the bookstore, I have been captured by you. The kiss is just the manifestation of that.”
Even as he spoke, Sophie’s heart begged for him to marry her, but she did not speak. She held her desire down in her core and decided she could wait a little longer. She could wait for him and she could do it quietly and patiently. She could wait. The fear within him subsided as she calmed her own heart. The darkness in him returned to its cage. It, too, could wait. The deep desire within him to take what he no longer was remained, always just behind the wall of ice. To take by manipulation or force, it did not matter, take he would if he ever lost control.
Sophie vowed to herself she would never leave him even if he never slipped a ring over her finger. Mustering a last ounce of strength, she took his cold hand from her waist and pressed it between her own.
“I understand and I’ll respect your request,” she said.
Shame shown in his violet eyes, but the self-disgust fade as she held his hand. Benj shook his head and an awed relief brought a small smile to his lips. She furrowed her brow. Relief?
“I am accepted,” he said. He pressed his forehead against hers. “I felt you shrink from me. What made you come back?”
“I love you.”
“And I you,” he whispered.
They held one another for a little longer, rebuilding stability within one another. They sat together for eternity, they sat together for only a moment, and then Jack called them for a meeting. The whole house took a deep breath as if awakening from a bad dream to real life.
“Company will be here soon! All hands on deck!” Jack called.
Sophie shrieked, jumping from Benj’s arms. Some quick scrubbing with hot water and soap returned her to a normal not-mad, crying-clown state. Benj’s crooked smile made her giggled. Giggles led to hiccups. Benj’s smile broadened, showing his fangs. He hugged Sophie around the waist, looking at her in the mirror.
“Beautiful,” he whispered and was gone.
Sophie shook her head. It was always disconcerting not to see him in the mirror.