My actions were completely inexcusable. I had felt her uncertainty long before I’d ever entered the room. But because I was a foolish idiotic asshole, I’d assumed she was questioning her own anger at me from our fight.
Instead I had made her question what she meant to me. The fact she meant everything to me. And it had nothing to do with the reasons she’d listed, tallying the true and yet inconsequential details that didn’t even begin to describe her significance to me.
It was because I knew her before I even knew my own name. I felt her at my core and it was what gave me purpose. She was my anchor in the storm and the rudder who continued to guide me through the calm. But with both my words and my actions I had given her reason to pause. To question. To doubt her own worth and her importance to me. I berated her remarkable intelligence when she had already proven to me time and again how smart she truly was. She had done so much for me already. Given me more than I could have possibly expected and certainly didn’t deserve.
It wasn’t just the warmth of her smiles and affection. Nor was it the comfort of her body’s embrace. Even the sustenance of her uniquely sweet blood paled in comparison to the one thing she had given me which was worth more than anything.
Little Miss Nobody from Nowhere Louisiana had given me hope. Hope for a future with her. Hope that she could find something redeeming within me. Something that would allow her to love me in return. But now it was abundantly clear she had no hope or expectation I would, or perhaps even could, feel that for her.
I truly was a foolish idiotic asshole.
It was indefensible.
The moment she had invited me into her car when I didn’t even know up from down, I should have thanked her. She could have easily left me there to suffer alone. Hindsight told me she should have left me there now that I knew the reason she was fleeing New Orleans to begin with. She’d only just left the hospital, against the advice of her healers, and was still feeling the effects of her injuries. Injuries she’d suffered because of me and my kind and yet she had continued to protect me and my secret.
And even then when I could remember it all, I still hadn’t thanked her.
Perhaps it was a pattern, indicative of my inherent hubris.
Perhaps I should impale myself on a tree branch to free her from my constant presence. My true death would be the only way I would leave her alone otherwise.
Perhaps it would make no difference because my inherent greed for her would undoubtedly make my spirit return to her side and haunt her for the rest of her days.
I didn’t deserve her.
But I didn’t care.
I would just strive to do better in the future.
I knew I was considerably better off than she was financially and yet I knew from my blood in her veins, she expected nothing in return. I would’ve felt it when she spoke of moving money around her accounts. But there was no sense of expectation from her. No sense of anticipation she would be repaid for her troubles. I would forever be indebted to her and yet the only thing she felt was proud. Everything she did for me, had done for me, she did because she wanted to.
And all that she had done for me was just that.
For no benefit of her own, she matched my selfishness with her selflessness each and every time.
It was a humbling realization.
She didn’t even flinch seeing me rip that woman’s head from her body on the screen. Her emotions led me to believe she’d felt more indignation the woman had confronted me at all than the slight disgust she felt seeing what the woman got for her troubles.
Of course I’d felt my darker nature. It too was intrinsic and lurked in the shadows of my mind, waiting to be called upon. It had no reason yet to make itself known because I knew there was no danger here. Here, in my home, we were safe. But witnessing the violence I was truly capable of made me feel even more concerned about exposing my lover to others of my kind. She had already been attacked once.
I would not allow it to happen a second time.
She had been right when she’d said we didn’t know who we could trust. Any and all supernatural beings were suspect in my mind, regardless of any labels my sentient self had bestowed on them. If my addled brain had retained enough knowledge to know magic of some sort was responsible for my memory loss, then a vampire, witch, or Were with all of their knowledge retained could do significantly more damage.
And it wasn’t me I was worried for.
How would I protect her from magic when I hadn’t even been able to protect myself?
I was still searching for a way to do just that when she left my embrace to go and retrieve my ‘killing jeans’, returning moments later with the physical evidence of the violence I was capable of in her hand. I had been too overwhelmed with confusion on the night I had come to her. My mind too muddled to take notice of the odor I had carried on the fabric with me, having been more attuned to her scent than any other. Feeling elated more than anything else because detecting my own blood in her veins, I knew it marked her as mine.
At least, I had thought she was mine.
“Were and magic,” I confirmed as she reentered the room, unwilling to confirm anything else I had been too muddled to realize that night.
“I only smell rainwater,” she replied, holding the denim to her nose. “Is that normal? Are werewolves magical like witches?”
“Not that I can recall,” I admitted, hating the vulnerability my lack of memories caused.
And I absolutely despised the vulnerability still contained in my lover’s eyes when she looked back at me, knowing I had caused it all on my own.
No magic needed. Just one foolish idiotic asshole.
I took the offered jeans from her hand and sat on the couch, studying them and hoping something else from that night would return. And while I loathed the distance I had put between us, both physically and emotionally, I did nothing to coax her to come with me.
I would not try and take from her ever again. I could only hope she would find me worthy enough to offer me any part of her.
Emotionally or physically.
So when she slowly moved forward, studying me as I studied my malodorous pants, I was grateful when she took the seat beside me of her own volition.
“Thank you,” I murmured. My guilt and self-loathing made it impossible for me to meet her gaze.
“For what?” she asked. Her question finally drew my eyes upward and seeing the innocent expression on her face, it was more apparent now than ever she had no idea how much she affected me. How her taking any step in my direction – no matter how small – was a gift. One I knew now I should treasure.
“For everything,” I answered simply and sincerely. No amount of words or fortune could ever repay what she had done and continued to do for me.
My lover stared back at me, emoting too greatly internally for me to pin down any one emotion swirling through her. When she was forced to blink it seemed to snap her out of whatever was on her mind and she smiled softly back at me. Matching my two words with two of her own, she replied just as simply and sincerely, “You’re welcome.”
I was sure such a vast array of emotions had never been uttered more succinctly by any other pair.
And my lips formed into a reciprocal small smile with the realization we were matchy-matchy yet again.
Knowing there was much to be done, I got down to the work of telling her all I could recall about the supernatural world. She hung on my every word. Asked questions when they formed in her mind and didn’t feel at all bothered when I sometimes could not provide an answer.
Because she would always be better than me and would never make me feel inadequate as I had shamefully done to her.
“Perhaps we should just stay here,” I offered once I was done telling her about Shifters and the different types of Weres I could remember.
She only acknowledged my words with a look all but calling me daft and ignored them entirely by asking, “How much do I smell like you? I bought some hair dye to try and disguise my appearance, but would it make any difference?”
I knew my scent on her was stronger due to our continued close contact. My blood in her body was wearing off with every passing moment, so unless she had more it would only be detectable by other supernaturals up close.
Closer than I would ever be comfortable with.
Not to mention, I didn’t want her to alter her appearance in any way. She was naturally beautiful and the thought of her purposely marring her appearance was abhorrent.
“Besides,” I offered, “your position as my assistant would’ve made you known to any others who worked for me at the very least. Any supernatural in my employ would be able to distinguish your features beyond any attempts you made to disguise them by coloring your hair.”
“Well that sucks,” she sighed.
Hoping to lift her still somewhat despondent mood, I playfully joked, “Those of my kind do. It is unavoidable, I’m afraid.”
Both of our moods lifted with her laughter, but mine sank back down when she lifted herself from her seat beside me and said, “And so is our trip to New Orleans, so come on procrastinator.”
Was it that obvious?
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay here for a few more days? We could practice your fighting skills and perhaps more memories will come to me.”
I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of her willingly walking into a dangerous situation. We knew nothing more than what we had witnessed on the video, so we were left in the dark about who would be friend or foe.
“I guess you don’t think much of my gift,” she began and looked away for a moment. When her eyes met mine again, she explained, “My telepathy is an asset I’ve used to my advantage my whole life. The only advantage I would ever have over a vampire would be a surprise stake in the heart. And since I refuse to practice that on you, I’ll just have to rely on pure adrenaline to help me out if the time comes. Everyone else, I think I can manage. I have no intention of picking a fight or even tipping my hand with anyone, regardless of their genetics. If I can hear their thoughts, I don’t even need to be in the same room as them once I have a bead on them. And if I hear something that sounds dangerous – if I get even the slightest inkling that someone is on to me at all, I’ll retreat and regroup.”
Her extraordinary gift had slipped my mind. It only made her even more remarkable as a whole, but I hadn’t given it any real thought.
I would have wanted her to be mine regardless of her incredible gift.
“Again I have failed acknowledge your merits,” I admitted. “Your unique talent does give you an edge. One no one would suspect nor would they have reason to. You are truly remarkable, lover.”
Her praise was deserved and she rewarded me with another smile, but I found it bittersweet.
Because I’d just confirmed there was no need for us to remain where we were.
“Will you help me pack?” I asked, stalling the inevitable.
“I already did,” she smiled and then chuckled, “You have more clothes than my house back home has closets, so it barely made a dent in your denim forest. Your bags are with mine in the car.”
Of course she did. She was kind, smart, beautiful and efficient.
And I was out of stall tactics.
I had no choice but to follow my lover out of the house, carrying the cache of knives and stakes along with two of my swords, while she shut every door we exited through. She made sure to pull on them to make sure they were secured, but all I cared about was keeping her safe. As far as I was concerned, it was just a wooden box. Her presence was what made it a home.
“I took some notes today,” she began saying while we walked towards the garage. Only it turned out I was the only one walking in that direction when she called out, “Hey! Where are you going?”
“To the car?” I answered redundantly. It would be faster to fly, but with the bags and my missing sense of direction it probably wouldn’t be wise.
“It’s over there,” she replied, pointing towards her rusted deathtrap.
“Lover, your car is…” hideous. I paused for a moment to gather my thoughts before I thought it best to abandon that train of thought all together and asked, “Why not take one of the others?”
“Because,” she replied and got into her car so that she could stare at me through the windshield.
Apparently, my succinct lover felt her answer was sufficient enough.
I had no choice but to follow along, unwilling to upset her even more on this night. My battles with her would have to be chosen wisely and her car wasn’t something I was willing to go head to head with her over.
Not when there was always hope it would die halfway to our destination point and she would have no choice but to fly back here with me to obtain another one.
I noticed immediately her car was no longer filled to capacity with the boxes it had contained on the night I had gone to her. Finding room to fit my swords was another battle I wasn’t forced to wage and feeling her slight agitation, I offered an olive branch by saying, “These likely would not have fit so easily in one of the other cars. This one has much more room, especially now that the backseat is empty.”
Instead of feeling appeased by my words, worry ratcheted through her once more as she spoke quickly, saying, “I put most of it in the spare…my…other bedroom, so we would have more room. It’s mostly just crap from my dorm that I haven’t had a chance to go through yet. Is that okay? I mean I have every intention of getting them when we’re done. You know, with everything. I didn’t plan on leaving them there or anything and I…”
“Lover,” I sighed. It was my own fault she now felt so insecure. Before this night she likely would not have thought twice about leaving her things in my house. Back when it felt like our house. Before I ruined it all by being a foolish idiotic asshole.
“Of course it’s okay.”
And asking her to move in right now probably wouldn’t be well received at the moment, so I held it in.
She waited until we were on the highway headed south to break the growing silence and say, “I know you’d rather be in one of your cars, but they don’t blend in. We’re trying to be inconspicuous and all of your cars would draw attention to us.”
She was right. Again. But I’d felt the thrill run through her driving to the store. She’d enjoyed driving that car and I suspected the same could be said about any of the others. Seeing what she had been forced to drive in comparison to what was in my garage, I couldn’t help but ask, “Did I not provide you with a…more reliable car when you worked for me?”
Had it not occurred to me back then? I couldn’t imagine I would have been agreeable to her running errands on my behalf in this car when I could barely stand the sight of her behind the wheel.
“Don’t mince words Eric,” she laughed. “My car is ugly and old and sometimes you have to put your beer goggles on and rub her just right to get her motor running, but it’s mine. Bought and paid for. And to answer your question, yes, you did.” She paused for a moment while I felt an odd mixture of tender adoration coming from her, along with a good amount of incredulous indignation, before she finally added, “But I don’t work for you anymore Eric. Besides, it was just as flashy as the rest of your fleet of batmobiles, so that wouldn’t blend in any more than the others. No one is going to look twice at this car.”
I had both heard and processed her explanation, but the only thing going through my mind was that I missed her. She was sitting inches away from me and yet it felt like there were miles in between us. My blood in her veins pinpointed her location without the need of my eyes, but it had nothing to do with the physical distance. Instead it was the distance I had put between us by giving her reason to doubt my intentions for her. Even with her sporadic periods of amusement, her laughter was more reserved. Everything about her was more reserved because she felt she needed to protect her heart from me.
And I hated it.
And it was entirely my fault.
I couldn’t recall the reasons for her standoffishness the first time, but now I knew I was the only one to blame. Both then and now. And now I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to tempt her. To use her admitted lack of willpower against her for my benefit. I deserved to be punished for my actions and so I would pay my penance.
Breaking me from my thoughts, she said, “Speaking of trying to be inconspicuous…” In the next moment she pulled a hat out from behind the seat and placed it on my head, chuckling softly and said, “You’re just as flashy as your batmobiles and just as recognizable down in New Orleans. Especially to the humans. Other supernaturals might be able to spot you a mile away, but hopefully a baseball cap will be enough to keep anyone else from noticing you. But humans tend to see what they want to see and from what I’ve heard in their heads, they all want to see you. So it’d probably be easier trying to hide a pork chop in the middle of a pack of hungry dogs. You being the pork chop, of course.”
She ended her explanation with another laugh, but confused by her reasoning, I asked, “Why am I a pork chop?” It made no sense humans would be so aware of me. So I owned a few businesses.
“You’re Louisiana’s hottest catch,” she smiled knowingly.
Now I understood.
And I smiled feeling the bolt of jealousy fire through her veins.
It was yet another gift to cherish.
And hoping to earn favor with her, I smiled in return and said truthfully, “That can’t be when clearly, you have already caught me, lover.”
She laughed out loud again, feeling even more amused. And possessive. I relished in it while she reached over, placing her hand on top of mine and lacing her fingers through my own, saying, “We’ll call for a press conference later on then. Prepare yourself for the weeping women while I prepare to dodge their daggers.”
My darker nature rose up and snarled with me saying, “I will kill every last one of them. No one will harm you.”
“That’s sweet,” she chuckled. “Scary, but sweet. But I was talking about the daggers they’re going to shoot from their eyes. No need to go Rambo on them.”
She didn’t feel as though she would be in any true danger, so I settled down and asked, “Is this Rambo a hot catch too? They can have him since I am already spoken for.”
“I’m sure someone out there thinks he’s a hot catch.” She cringed as she said the words and I could admit I felt better feeling no amount of lust from her when she spoke of this Rambo.
I would kill him if she had.
There would be nothing sweet about it.
Knowing my premeditation would likely only upset her I kept it to myself and asked, “You were saying something earlier about taking notes?”
“Yes. I jotted down the names of the vampires you listed as loyal and studied the pictures you have of them so I’ll recognize them, aside from not being able to hear their thoughts. I’m not going to go running up to one if I see them or tell them anything, but it could come in handy if I hear anything useful from anyone else. We might not have a choice but to ask one of them for help.”
I had total recall, at least of everything since I’d come to be with her, so I wouldn’t need to look at her notes. But I praised her efforts nonetheless by saying, “That was good thinking and you’re right. We shouldn’t alert them to my…new state. But the time may come when we will require their assistance.”
Again, worry gnawed at the pit of my gut. My lover was mouthwatering both by sight and scent. I was uncomfortable with the thought of her being in their presence without me and yet I knew it would be foolish to accompany her. If someone was indeed out to get me, it could be any one of them and I would be placing her in even more danger by being seen with her.
Or would she be in more danger due to the fact it was known she was no longer in my employ and give them the impression she was free for the taking?
I snarled at just the thought of someone trying to whisk her away, for either her beauty or her blood, and gripped her hand tighter, practically growling out, “You should have more of my blood.”
Buckets of it.
“I thought you said that’s what makes me smell like you.”
“It is,” I confirmed.
Mostly. And if I had my way, she would walk in there wearing me as a hat. Not to disguise her identity, but to let it be known to all she was mine.
Feeling her confusion, I explained, “If the vampires of this state do indeed report to me, then it is my hope they will recognize my scent. Distinguish it is my blood running through your veins and treat you accordingly as mine. As you said, you are no longer my employee. So any protection your station provided you is now gone.”
Instead of feeling any warmth over my desire to protect her, she only felt growing levels of distress as she turned to me and asked, “So…what? Can you feel all of your employees? Or did you just call dibs on your previous…lady friends?”
I stared back at her in disbelief, using my total recall and realizing once again the error was all my own.
Before she could say another word and before her blood pressure could get any higher, I explained, “You are the only being in existence who has my blood in their veins.”
“Say what?” she asked incredulously. When I only stared back at her, waiting for my words to sink in, she finally asked, “Just me?”
“Just you,” I confirmed. “I could not imagine feeling the emotions or locations of multiple beings, nor would I want to. I would not share my blood freely with others. Not even to call dibs. Whoever my previous lady friends were, they obviously meant nothing to me or else I would have shared it with them.”
Her brain seemed to lock up, so I patiently waited and was rewarded with her distress being replaced with not only warmth and affection.
Hope flooded through my lover’s body and through her now glassy eyes when she turned to me and said, “You gave me your blood after you found out I had lied to you and before you lost your memories.”
“I did,” I confirmed.
I didn’t need to remember because being able to feel her was confirmation enough.
“So that means…you must have cared enough about me, even then, to have given me your blood. No one else. Just me.”
“Must have,” I smiled softly. “Just you.”
I would confirm these kinds of suspicions all night long and never tire of them. Not when I could feel her happiness with every affirmation there was no one else.
The barriers she’d slowly been erecting around her heart since our fallout were now falling to the wayside. Blown down by the joy and relief now flooding through her body.
To say she was pleased to be the only person to have my blood in her veins would be a gross understatement.
Myself as I was now, in love with this little human girl. Desperate to make right what I had wronged, with both my words and actions earlier tonight. Worried about regaining my memories and having my feelings for her as they are now tainted by what I could not remember.
Worried, myself as I was then, had not fully appreciated her. Not seen her value or acknowledged she was worth my time and affection. Certain I had been a complete asshole based on all that I’d been able to surmise from what I was sure was her grossly understated version of events. But that very same asshole had just redeemed us both.
Perhaps we truly were one and the same.
What I was sure had been a mostly selfish – if not significant – gesture on my part, had redeemed me in her eyes.
And because it couldn’t hurt my cause, I reminded her of our exclusive connection while confirming in a gross understatement sort of way, “You are pleased.”
Her eyes were beaming, but she kept her smile somewhat subdued when she admitted, “And hopeful.”
And I couldn’t help but smile in return. After all, I did so love it when we were matchy-matchy.