Authors: Shannon Bell
She stood up and chased after me. She pinned me against the wall and placed her arm around me. “Dylan, come on! I’ll only stay a little while, but can’t we have some fun? I’ll only tell him you’re okay and I won’t give him any details. Whatever you tell me to tell him is what I’ll say. Okay?”
I didn’t really have a choice. She was going to have to go back soon anyways and I wouldn’t be able to stop her from telling Chris whatever she wanted to disclose. The important thing was to make sure she didn’t learn too much, which was for her benefit, too.
“Fine, you can stay.” I smiled, but anyone who knew me would see it was forced.
I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I’m glad that you’re here.”
This was going to get awkward. I couldn’t tell her the truth - that much I realized. What story was I going to give her? More importantly, how was I going to introduce her to Nico? Would she sense what he was or would she be like the thousands of others in the clubs and restaurants who never batted an eye? I was praying he’d eavesdrop tonight before barging in so he could prepare himself.
We talked through most of the afternoon and into the early evening of what was going on in Florida and the restaurant and her new job. I kept things focused on her and my old life, but mainly her.
“There is probably something else I should tell you,” she said, suddenly quieter.
“Okay, what is it?” I asked, wondering what could make her go this silent so fast for the second time tonight.
She bit her lip unconsciously. “It’s about Chris.”
I wanted to tell her I didn’t care. Most of me didn’t actually care what happened to him, but that small part won over, especially since he was obviously curious about me. “What about him?” I tried not to sound overly interested.
I stared at her in disbelief. It had been only a little over six months since the wedding had been called off and last I knew, he wasn’t even dating anyone. “Oh...”
“I know it’s fast. That’s what I told him, but he didn’t seem to care what I thought,” Jen said. “You know who she is, though.”
It caught my attention. “I do?” I was racking my brain, trying to think of who I knew that would possibly want anything to do with Chris. All of my friends heard the stories of Chris and none of them seemed keen on how he had treated me. No one left their fiancée at the altar in front of all their friends, especially with no reason.
“You remember Amy, don’t you?”
Amy was an assistant manager at the restaurant I worked at for a while, though she quit about a year ago to attend culinary school. Chefs, last I checked, were very career-focused, which was the very thing Chris used as an excuse to call off the wedding. That is, unless there was another reason he hadn’t told me. Not giving me all the details would be very much like him. He was always omitting key information so he could still be liked. Whenever there was a situation that would put him at odds with someone, he left out anything that might get him in trouble. If Amy was a chef, then Chris hadn’t left me for being obsessed with my job.
“Really? What is she doing these days?” I asked casually, trying not to look at her while I waited for her answer.
“She’s a sous chef at the new hotel that opened up. Remember how she was going to culinary school?”
I nodded. All I could think about was how Chris was a lying bastard and I’d never learn the real reason why he never showed at the church. If I were in Florida I would have marched up to him and demanded answers. I could question Jen, but I didn’t want her to know that I care about him. I don’t, really. I’m over him, but I wish he had at least been honest with me.
I didn’t want to talk about Chris any more. He was an old chapter. I had Nico now, who was like the Anti-Chris. That was one of the reasons he was so attractive to me.
“Good for him,” I forced out to put an end to the conversation.
“I’ll let him know. I think that’s why he sent me over here. He wanted to make sure you were okay with it. Maybe he doesn’t want you causing problems at the wedding.”
They didn’t talk that often, so she was as clueless about him as I was.
As the sun set, I couldn’t help but steal several glances at the clock. I wondered when Nico would make his appearance or if he was going to at all. The mark was supposed to be tonight and I desperately wanted to delay it now that Jen was here. Costin had said no more excuses, especially when Olivier was still out there. Sure, he was behaving himself for now, but as long as I was human and he was thirsty, I was never going to be completely at ease.
“Are you hungry?” I asked, finally, realizing it was eight o’clock. I knew the streets were getting crowded because I could hear the traffic getting heavier and the distant laughing of tourists out for the night.
“Starving! What’s good around here?”
I grinned. “Everything! The food here is amazing. I did promise you a night out, unless you wanted to eat in. It’s your choice.” I knew which she’d pick but it was fun to play with her.
“Let’s go out!” She smiled devilishly and I knew she wanted to check out the nightlife. Hopefully I could use this to get my mind off some things. The evening was relatively early, so there was time for marking later – much later.
As we stepped into our high heels, I knew we would have fun tonight. We headed out the door and down the street for cocktails to kick the evening into high gear. There were just some things you couldn’t do in the company of vampires.
We went into a crowded bar and found a tall table to stand at. A waiter came over and we placed a drink order.
“I need to use the bathroom,” Jen bellowed over the music. “Wait here.”
I nodded to her and stood at the table, waiting for our drinks.
Nico appeared at my table instantly, like I had blinked him into existence.
“Hi,” I greeted him.
“Get rid of her,” he stated in a tone laced with irritation. When he didn’t even give me a proper welcome, something was up.
“Nice to see you, too.” I looked up at him, trying to figure out what was going on. “What’s wrong?”
He stood there, giving nothing. “You need to get rid of her. Tonight.”
I shook my head. “We need a plan B. She showed up unexpectedly because she hadn’t heard from me, thanks to Costin taking my phone. She’s invited herself to at least a few days. Don’t worry, I’ve told her she can’t stay long, though.”
“She can’t stay at all.”
Nico looked away from me and I knew he was trying to compose himself. “Why can’t you be easy?” I stared back at him. “I mean,” he explained, “I can’t be around her.”
“Then we need another plan because she wants to meet the man in my life.”
“You told her about me?”
“I told her there was a man named Nico but I didn’t tell her about
,” I whispered, knowing he could hear me over the music.
Nico was silent another moment, listening to something other than the thunderous beats of rock. “She’ll be back in a moment, so I need to be quick. I will see if I can borrow Costin’s pet to help out. He can pose as me, so go along with any visitor that may come by your place later.”
He was gone before I could ask anything about this impromptu plan. I didn’t even know Costin had a pet, let alone a male one. As usual, he left me with more questions and not enough answers. Now I was going to have a stranger posing as Nico and I was supposed to what? Go along with it? My acting skills were limited. I hoped it would be enough to convince Jen.
She returned while bobbing to the music, grabbed her martini glass, and held it up in the air. “Cheers!”
I forced a smile and picked up my glass, clinking it to hers, trying to remain casual as I waited for the rest of the night to unfold. “To Florence!”
“To Italy!” She giggled.
Drinking and dinner ended by eleven and we were back at my apartment. Jen’s stamina, she admitted, was off from the long flight.
“The jet lag should wear off by tomorrow,” she swore. “Then we can do this so much better.”
She began peeling clothes away before I even had the front door shut. “I’m going to bed,” she announced as she unstrapped her heels.
The door to the guest room shut and I collapsed on the couch. Just as I was reaching for my book, I heard a knock on the door. I let out an exhausted sigh and pushed myself up.
I opened the front door to a handsome man in his early thirties with a schoolboy charm emanating from him. Blue eyes smiled at me as he pulled me into an embrace. “Dylan,” he called into my ear. “I’m Antonio, but I’ll be your Nico for the night.”
I took a step back to rid myself of the goose bumps from the warmth of his skin. “Come in,” I breathed. “My friend Jen is asleep for now,” I added, knowing she would probably wake sooner than later.
“You’re as gorgeous as Costin said you were,” he commented, sitting on the couch. My cheeks burned with a blush I knew was taking hold of my cheeks. He was pure Italian beauty with an olive complexion and short black hair that he had slicked back to show off his beautiful face. He rested his arm along the length of the back of the couch. “Come sit next to me.”
He patted the couch and exposed two dimples in his tanned cheeks.
I hesitated, unsure of myself. Why couldn’t any of the guys in my new life be unattractive? Nico wasn’t making this easy, considering I had to pretend Antonio was him in front of Jen, which meant I had to play along now in case she came out of her room.
I can do this
He rested his arm on my shoulder when I joined him on the couch and pulled me a little closer to him. “I’m going to keep whispering, so we can get to know each other and make it look as natural as possible in case your friend decides to join us, yes?”
“Okay,” I whispered back, smiling at his effort to talk softly. “So how did you get involved with Costin?”
“First, it’s not what you think. We are not lovers, though many others in town will tell you differently.” He sounded very defensive about this. I wondered how many of the others teased him about this.
“I didn’t mean to imply….”
He placed two fingers to my lips to quiet me. This was going to be harder than I thought. I would have to thank Nico later, I thought sarcastically. His warm skin was the biggest attraction here. It had been a while since I’ve been this close to another human.
“It’s okay, I’m not offended. It was a natural thought.”
“Can you read my thoughts?” I asked. He seemed to know everything in my head. I had thought about him and Costin as lovers before I asked the question and he knew where I was headed before I could go into detail.
“No, but your face is very expressive. I knew what you were thinking, and I was right, yes?”
“Costin actually found me about three years ago. I am a doctor, or was, and he found the research I was doing interesting. He watched me for about five years before he approached me.”
“What did you do when you found out what he was?” I asked, glad to find someone I could finally talk about these things with.
“I thought I lost my mind,” he laughed softly. “Even so, the evidence was there and my research started to make a little more sense.” Antonio stopped for a moment when he read my confusion. “You see, my research is on the dead and what makes the body actually die. I was trying to find a way a human could become immortal. When Costin offered eternity to me, I was hooked.”
“When is he going to turn you?”
“I have asked to wait a little while longer. There are certain things I can research better while being human. He has left it up to me to decide when. I figure within the next few years, I’ll be ready. And you?”
I looked up at him. “Nico has said within the next year. We have run into some problems with others in the area trying to…err…stake claim. How long have you been his pet?”
“Almost three years. Costin says you haven’t been marked yet. What’s holding you up?”
“Well,” I sighed. “It’s been crazy lately. Nico’s never marked anyone before, so he’s a little hesitant. I can’t say I’m excited about it, either.”
Antonio smiled. “It’s nothing to worry about. It hurts at first, but once the initial pain is through, it’s actually pleasurable.” I could tell he was a little embarrassed to admit this, since he was talking about Costin.
He nodded. “Something about the bite, it’s very sensual. It can be better than sex.” It was his turn to blush. I laughed a little, though I didn’t think he was being completely serious with me. “I’ve let Costin bite since then. It is a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever grow old of.”
I pulled back a little to look at him. His bronzed skin was taut across his face and he grinned at me. “I can’t imagine.”
“Let me show you,” he said, moving my hair away from my neck. His fingers traced the lines of my neck and his warm breath came closer to my skin. “Usually right here,” he whispered, pressing his lips to the base of my neck, “or here.” He moved his mouth just below my earlobe.
I pushed myself off the couch, removing myself from the temptation. He just met me, and while yes, he was supposed to be Nico, he
Nico. I went to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of Chianti.