Caleb and Katrina arrived back home in Atlanta on Saturday evening at the end of spring break. While Caleb had enjoyed his first venture outside of the country, at least the part not relating to being pursued or attacked by vampires, he was nevertheless happy to be safely back home. It was evident by Katrina's lighter disposition that she felt the same. She called Alton and Devon Archibald to let them know they had returned home, while he called Paige. Unfortunately, he had to leave voicemail for her since she didn't pick up. It was yet another unanswered call in a series since February, which bothered him a great deal.
I wonder what's up with her? Maybe it's the situation with Gil, he wondered. It seemed reasonable to expect that such an event would have disturbed her, at any rate.
He spent the remainder of the weekend readjusting his body's internal clock to their home time zone. Naturally, Katrina seemed to be completely unaffected by the change, but she was both understanding and accommodating of his eating and sleeping adjustments. Yet another enviable condition of being a vampire, he considered wistfully.
The next week was rather hard on him. Returning to the routine of teaching after such an international experience seemed surreal. In addition, Paige still hadn't returned his repeated calls and voicemails, a fact he mentioned to Katrina. Her response had been rather subdued, but it was evident to him that she was equally displeased.
Fortunately, Tanisha Browning was only too happy to listen to his overseas experiences, which were naturally devoid of any adventures involving vampires. Still, he mentioned seeing Alton, whom he described as a close friend of Katrina's who operated an investment firm in downtown London.
By the second week following their return, Katrina received a request from Alton to fly to Richmond, Virginia to meet with prospective participants regarding the upcoming summer vampire convention. At least, that's how Caleb recalled the explanation. In the end, it meant she had to leave town on a Tuesday evening with an expected return during the weekend.
By that time, he had stopped looking into dark corners or empty hallways expecting to see a rogue vampire jump out at him. His confidence was bolstered by the appearance of Devon Archibald in and around his office on the evenings that he taught. For once, he hadn't minded the hulking vampire's presence. As a thoughtful gesture, Caleb gave Devon a leather-bound trilogy of plays by William Shakespeare he had purchased in London. The towering vampire had been pleased by the gift and even discussed some classic literature he'd been reading of late. Caleb found their interactions pleasantly unexpected and began to form a tentative appreciation for Devon's company.
By Wednesday evening, another of Caleb's failed attempts to contact Paige resulted in his throwing his phone across the room. It wasn't until Katrina called later that evening that he went to pick it up off the floor. The situation was starting to get to him, and an idea born of desperation formed in his mind. If she refuses to return my contact attempts, then I'm just going to go hunt her down. The only mitigation to his idea was Katrina; he definitely wanted her buy-in on the matter before proceeding. And he wanted to speak to her in person about it.
First, he reserved a late-night flight to Richmond using the exclusive credit card she had issued to him. Following his last class Thursday evening, he rushed home and packed a suitcase with a few days' worth of clothing. He drove his car to the airport, parked in the extended parking area, and flew to Richmond.
Taking a taxi to the hotel where Katrina was staying, he acquired a key under the auspices of being her fiance. The shared credit card account was particularly helpful for convincing the desk clerk, as well as a discreet cash gratuity, so he could surprise her.
When Katrina entered the hotel room, she nearly froze in place, seeing Caleb lying on the bed reading a novel he had brought with him.
"What are you doing here, my love?" she asked carefully.
"Hi, Kat," he offered, setting the book aside. "Just wanted to surprise you, that's all."
"I'm surprised," she conceded with raised eyebrows as she moved to sit on the edge of the bed beside him. She glanced at the novel he was reading and asked, "What're you reading?"
He grinned. "Oh, just Twilight. It's a vampire romance. It's actually pretty good. You should read it sometime. It's the first in a series."
She shook her head, smirked, and chastised mildly, "I'm sure. But isn't the reality of being with an actual vampire enough for you?"
He shrugged. "Well, truth is stranger than fiction. But what can I say? I'm a hopeless romantic, and maybe I can identify a little bit."
"I could use a little of that romance," she suggested.
He smirked. "Lucky I arrived when I did."
Following a passionate interlude, hot shower, and time holding her in his arms, Caleb broached the weighty subject on his mind. "I was hoping to ask you about something while I was here," he ventured carefully.
She heard his heartbeat increase anxiously and lifted her head from his chest to gaze into his eyes. "Oh?" she inquired.
"I'm concerned about Paige," he began, to which she frowned slightly.
"Oh, yeah, that," she noted.
"I feel like our friendship is on the line. And, well, I want to fly out to California and find out what's going on," he explained. "Of course, I'd like your blessing on the idea first."
Her eyes narrowed, and she regarded him for a few quiet moments. "And what if I said no?"
He seemed surprised by her question, but replied earnestly, "Well, I wouldn't go then."
"So, if I forbid it, then you won't go?" she pressed.
He looked directly into her eyes and touched the pendant around his neck. "I won't defy you, Kat. I'm your mate."
Her eyes flashed for a mere second, and her lips upturned ever so slightly.
He knew immediately that she liked his response.
That's exactly what I needed to hear, she thought with satisfaction. She kissed him lightly. "Fine, I approve." She laid her head down on his chest, appreciating the strong sound of his heartbeat, which had calmed considerably after her issuance of approval. "When are you leaving?" she asked quietly.
"Well, seeing as it's Thursday night, and I need to be back by Sunday night, I'd like to go –"
"Tomorrow morning. I understand," she interrupted. "I suppose you've already booked a flight from here?"
"Um, just in case you said yes," he replied sheepishly. He hadn't counted on her approval, but thought it best to be prepared just in case.
She chuckled. "You're unpredictable sometimes, my love. But then, I suppose it keeps life interesting, doesn't it?"
He merely smiled, not wanting to risk saying something stupid in response. Instead, he settled down to a few hours of sleep before he got up to prepare for his quick shuttle to the airport.
His flight to the west coast was aided by the upgrade of his tickets to first class, which Katrina had naturally insisted upon. He had initially resisted the suggestion, not wanting her to spend the additional funds, but she had merely smirked.
"The cost is of no consequence, you know," she told him. It was one of the few times she alluded to her financial state, which he knew was considerable after five hundred years or more of development. "Travel under my terms or not at all," she had insisted with an air of superiority. She could be quite imposing when she wanted to, and he felt the better part of valor was to acquiesce peaceably.
He had rolled his eyes and agreed, not wanting either to insult her persistent generosity or risk changing her mind about his trip altogether. Still, he felt that she spent too much money on him. It wasn't something he was used to in his life. He even felt uncomfortable carrying the exclusive credit card in his wallet. Still, it made his vacation purchases much easier to abide. His personal credit card wouldn't have lasted the trip. European vacations sure are expensive, he had reflected on their flight home.
As he reclined in his first-class seat thinking back on events, he shook his head. His mate was one of the kindest, most loving women he could ever imagine. How did I ever get so lucky? I certainly don't deserve her.
After a change of flights in Denver, the last leg of his journey went by quickly. He tried not to think about his upcoming meeting with Paige, though he was looking forward to seeing her. He hated confrontation and anticipated that she had been avoiding him for some reason that eluded him.
So he distracted himself with some in-flight music. He also tried reading more of Twilight. Given his current circumstances, he found the melodrama of the storyline a little too close to home, despite the expert quality of the author's writing. If only vampire relationships could work out like in the romance novels, he thought darkly as he slipped the book back into his carry-on bag. Still, sometimes relationships are just plain difficult, vampires or not.
Finally, he watched part of an unremarkable film playing on the small monitor built into the back of the seat in front of him. After wiping down with a complementary hot towel and briefly napping, he sat quietly as the flight made its descent into Los Angeles. It was early evening, and he was thankful for having gained a couple of additional daylight hours by coming west, though he'd miss those hours when he flew back Georgia.
After picking up his luggage and acquiring a taxi, he gave Paige's address to the driver and sat back in the seat to stare at the passing sites. It was remarkably warm for a March evening, and he marveled at seeming to have changed seasons as well as time zones by flying out to California. It was his first visit to the west coast, and he momentarily wished that Katrina were there with him, partly because he loved traveling with her and partly because he dreaded his eventual meeting with Paige.
He took a moment to text Katrina to let her know he had arrived safely and was on his way to Paige's. He had just enough time to look up at the beautiful sky and waning sunset before her reply arrived.
Glad U R safely on ground. Call when U arrive @ Paige's condo.
Well, she's trying, he mused.
Another message arrived: Luv U. Kat.
He smiled as a warm feeling flowed through him. Then he leaned back against the seat with a sigh and tried to enjoy the ride. At least he didn't have to drive in an unfamiliar place, particularly at night. The traffic was fairly heavy, and he thought it would take the patience of Job to navigate through it on a daily basis. Still, it was Los Angeles.
Darkness had fallen fully by the time the taxi finally delivered him to the address he'd given the driver. He almost thought there had been some mistake when Paige's two-story condominium proved to be one half of a duplex structure and appeared quite ordinary, though relatively new. It was a mix of reddish-brown brick and white vinyl siding. The surrounding neighborhood was a series of duplexes on both sides of three successive streets with medium-sized homes built on either side of the condominium neighborhood. Somehow, Caleb had envisioned something a little grander, or at least edgier, for Paige.
There wasn't a car in the driveway, but perhaps it was already inside the single-car garage. He shrugged, paid the driver his fee and a handsome tip, and took his luggage in hand. As the car pulled away, he silently appreciated the large quantity of cash that Katrina had forced upon him before heading out west. The amount of the cab fare had surprised him. Score another one for Kat's generosity.
He sat his luggage on Paige's small front porch and rang the doorbell. Fortunately, the porch light was on, casting a comforting glow against the surrounding darkness. He paused and rang the doorbell again. Vampires have excellent hearing and move as quickly as lightning, so Paige probably isn't home.
"Hm, sunset wasn't long ago, so I must have just missed her," he muttered under his breath. He honestly hadn't anticipated that possibility and pursed his lips as he considered his next action. I probably should've called her when I landed. Although he admitted he had been too reluctant to do so at the time. Damn.
He pulled out his phone and called Paige. Her cell rang until rolling to voicemail.
"Crap," he muttered before redialing the number again. Once again it went to voicemail. So, he sent a text message to her: Guess who? Big surprise for you!
He sat on the worn wooden bench with wrought iron arms that sat next to Paige's front door and proceeded to call Katrina. Unlike Paige, his mate picked up on the second ring.
"Caleb? Are you at Paige's yet?" she asked in a concerned tone.
"And? Is she upset?"
He shrugged and replied irritably, "Don't know, Kat. She's not here; won't even answer my calls or return my text message. The sun already set by the time I arrived, so she's probably out doing…something."
There was a pause at Katrina's end of the phone for a few seconds, and he frowned. Are you still there?
"Maybe you should call a cab and check into a hotel, my love," she finally suggested.
A wave of annoyance flashed through his mind, and he clenched his teeth together tightly for a moment.
"Did you just grit your teeth?" she asked.
That startled him, and he blinked while abruptly relaxing his jaw. "Sorry," he apologized. "It wasn't you, naturally. I'm just annoyed, that's all."
She sighed wistfully, as if in a sympathetic manner.
He considered her advice and made an instant decision based more upon his temper than anything else. "No, I'm going to just sit here until she comes home," he insisted. "After all, she's bound to show up before morning."
"I don't like that idea," Katrina objected.
"I texted her," he countered. "She'll see my message and either call or text me back, and I can tell her I'm waiting at her condo."
"I'm not comfortable with that idea, Caleb," she insisted sternly.
There was no misunderstanding the tone of concern and displeasure in her voice, and he slumped dejectedly against the back of the bench. "Just give her an hour or so, and then I'll leave another detailed message," he negotiated. "How's that?"
She made a growling sound at the other end.
She just growled at me, he thought with wide eyes.
"One hour," Katrina stipulated. "Then call her again, and call me."
He paused for dramatic effect. "Okay, agreed."
"Okay," she concurred in a friendlier tone. "And please be careful."
"Will do," he promised and added: "Love you."
She made a purring sound. "I love you too."
The call ended, and he shook his head putting his phone away. He sighed and settled back to get comfortable. It really seems like a peaceful neighborhood.
He watched an occasional car pass by and tried reading the vampire novel again. After twenty minutes, he sat it aside and closed his eyes to rest. As he relaxed, he failed to notice himself drifting off to sleep.
Katrina heated up a glass of blood in her hotel room microwave as she considered her conversation with Caleb. It annoyed her that Paige was acting so strange, and it frustrated her that she was disregarding Caleb's calls and text messages. That's no way for a guardian to act, much less a close friend. The more she thought about it, the more it upset her. She expected Paige to act more responsibly towards her and especially towards Caleb.
"Dammit!" she cursed and picked up her cell phone to speed dial Paige's number. The phone rang until going to voicemail, so she redialed again.
Failing that, Katrina sent a rapid text message to her: CALL ME NOW! Red.
Less than thirty seconds later, the phone rang. It was Paige.
"'Bout time!" Katrina barked into the receiver.
She heard the sound of loud rock music and voices trying to talk over it in the background as Paige answered, "What? I'm busy."
Out clubbing, I see, Katrina considered irritably.
"Sorry to bother you, but my mate is trying to get hold of you," she complained. "Maybe you could spare him the time of day?"
"Why? What's he done now?" Paige asked flatly.
Katrina's eyes flashed with anger, and she spat, "Wasting his time trying to see you, it seems. I should've told him no."
There was a pause at the other end, and Katrina thought she heard a slight intake of breath mixed with the sound of the rock music.
"What do you mean by 'trying to see you'?" Paige demanded in a quieter voice.
Katrina adopted a smug expression and replied, "As in, he's sitting on your front porch right now, and I'm half tempted to send a cab to get his butt to the airport. You're obviously too wrapped up in yourself for him to bother you."
"Crap," was all Paige muttered in a withering tone of voice. "Why did you let him do that?" she asked weakly.
Katrina inhaled a deep breath, let it out slowly, and answered patiently, "Because he flew all the way to where I'm at just to ask my permission. He misses you and doesn't understand why you've been avoiding him. As a matter of fact, neither do I."
"He flew to see you?" Paige asked blankly. "I thought you two just got back from England together. Where are you, anyway?"
"Oh, now you're curious?!" Katrina demanded.
"Okay, okay," Paige retorted defensively, "Geez, I made a mistake, all right? He's fine on my front porch; it's a nice neighborhood."
"Not all right and not the point," Katrina objected coldly. Given all that had happened recently, she didn't like the idea of Caleb's being left alone in a strange place.
Paige emitted a heavy sigh, conceding, "Yes, I know, not the point. I'm on my way."
"Thank you," Katrina replied. "Bye, Paige."
She ended the call and casually tossed the cell phone onto the nearby bed. She removed the warm blood from the microwave and took a sip with a degree of satisfaction. She sat on the edge of the bed, slipped her feet from her high-heeled shoes, and stretched her toes out before her. Paige is acting like a spoiled teenager.
Paige whipped her red BMW sports coupe into the driveway and immediately noticed Caleb sitting on the bench on her front porch. Is he asleep? she wondered as she pulled her car into the garage and sped around the corner to where he sat.
Her frown turned into a smirk as she viewed him slumped against the back of the bench with his head cocked to one side and his mouth open as he slept. He's so damn cute…Stop! That's exactly why you feel the way you do about him.
She cleared her throat audibly and perched her hands atop her hips as she waited for him to come around. After a moment, she stretched her leg out with the pointed heel of one of her stilettos, tapping him on the thigh as she cleared her throat again.
He stirred slightly and slowly opened his eyes as he yawned into a closed fist. His vision slowly focused on Paige as she stood before him. He took a moment to admire her in the tight-fitted black denim jeans and black leather halter top. He also took notice of the sexy, black high-heeled shoes. His eyes widened somewhat, and he adopted a playful grin as his pale blue eyes met her bright blue ones.
However, she merely glared at him. "I should bite you in the neck for showing up here like this," she threatened.
That caught him off guard, and his smile immediately faded. What's wrong with her? And just what've I done to make her so cross with me?
"Well, you're here, so get up off the bench and come inside," she ordered with aggravation evident in her voice, leading the way back around the corner into the garage.
He blinked with confusion, picked up his luggage, and followed her into the dimly lit garage. He immediately noticed her sports car. "Wow! Your car's amazing!" he gaped, carefully sliding past it via the narrow space next to the wall.
"Yeah, well, don't scratch it, or I'll take it out of your hide," she challenged.
He frowned but didn't say anything as she led him into the house, pressing the garage door button on the wall as she entered. She's not usually so mean to me. The garage door shut behind them, and she stepped aside in the small kitchen to let him pass before shutting the door leading into the garage.
Caleb appraised his surroundings as he sat his luggage in the small hallway leading to the front door just outside the kitchen. A small dining room combined with the kitchen and opened into a large living room with a high ceiling. To the left of the living room was a carpeted staircase leading up to the second level. The living room was decorated in a surprisingly conservative manner with a white leather couch, glass coffee and end tables, and leather recliner. A plasma TV hung on the wall above a gas fireplace and white-painted wood mantle. He noticed that a small surround sound system had been installed in the ceiling, and a fully stocked media equipment rack was built into the wall next to the fireplace.
He turned to look at Paige with a hopeful smile. "Nice digs," he complimented.
She returned a flat expression and shrugged. "Thanks."
He bit his lower lip and sighed. Damn, she's cold. What the hell?
"Why are you here, Caleb?" she asked pointedly before he had a chance to consider the situation further.
He was taken aback by her query and noted she hadn't used any of the typical nicknames to address him since he arrived. Instead of playing games with further pointless banter, he simply looked her straight in the eyes with a hurt expression. "I had to see you. What have I done wrong? Why are you so pissed at me?"
She closed her eyes and sighed. I can't be near you, that's all. I don't want to hurt you or Katrina.
When she didn't answer, he reached out to grasp her hand in his own, and her eyes immediately snapped open. She jerked her hand from his and gestured towards the living room. "Don't do that," she snapped. "Just go sit in there or something. Do you want something to drink? I might have a soda in the fridge, I think."
He felt like she had physically slapped him, and he nearly winced. He shrugged and moved into the living room to sit on one end of the couch. "No, thanks," he replied glumly.
She immediately noticed how her actions and tone had bothered him, and a surge of both guilt and shame flowed through her all at once. She never meant to hurt him. Dammit kiddo, why did you have to come out here looking for me? She moved to stand on the other side of the coffee table, staring down at him with her arms crossed before her.
"You look really great," he offered. "Nice strappy shoes. I like them even better than the red ones you bought at the mall last Christmas."
She bit back a smirk as she fondly recalled the shopping trip he, Katrina, and she had gone on. He had helped her pick out some high-heeled shoes that evening, which were one of her favorite pairs to that day. But the memory only sent a fresh emotional pain through her. "Thanks," she replied politely, yet distantly.
He paused, uncertain how to proceed, completely taken aback by his reception. Maybe coming was a mistake, he thought sourly. I wish Kat were here. She'd know what to say or do.
Paige studied him and almost saw the wheels turning in his mind. Actually, his sensitive pale blue eyes spoke volumes to her.
Silent moments passed before either spoke.
"I'm sorry I came," Caleb finally said in a defeated tone of voice. "We're supposed to be best friends. But I think coming here was a mistake. I apologize for bothering you."
He wearily rose from the couch and moved towards his luggage as his mind raced with how to call for a cab. Maybe I can call Katrina for a 1-800 number.
"Where are you going?" she asked suddenly, stepping in front of him.
He looked up with confusion and started to speak but words failed him. "What?" was all he managed to get out.
"Red would kill me if I sent you out at this time of night," she explained.
"Well, I'm sure as hell not staying where I'm not wanted," he grumbled. "I'm already feeling like crap as it is." He turned to go around the other end of the coffee table, but she met him at the other end following a dart of movement. He had seen this before, of course, and realized that he wasn't getting past her unless she allowed it.
"Come on, just let me go," he said dejectedly as he looked over to his luggage across the room. "I won't bother you anymore." As soon as he said that, a wave of sadness washed over him so strongly that it nearly stopped him dead in his tracks. He swallowed hard and briefly looked into her eyes. Why did it have to be this way?
She stared into his eyes, plainly seeing the pain she had generated in them. It hurt her worse than if he had punched her in the gut. Well, a lot worse, actually, because few humans could generate the kind of impact needed to cause that much pain to a vampire's body. She would have smirked at the realization had it not been for the look on his face. Instead, she was left with only previously unfelt levels of self-loathing. Even killing Gil had caused less turbulent emotions than she was feeling at that moment.
Despite all of her attempts to shut him out, she merely felt the urge to reach out to him. She moved in a blur and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him to her in a firm embrace. It surprised her that her body had reacted almost before her mind registered what she had done, and she felt his body's muscles tighten in response.
"What?" he started to demand.
"Sh," she interrupted. "I'm sorry, kiddo. I can't do this to you anymore." I just can't keep hurting him. And it's sure as hell not helping me!
He stood dumbfounded in her arms, remaining silent as his mind raced to process all that was happening. He felt completely out of his element at the moment. "I don't understand," he murmured.
She sighed and swiftly drew him onto the couch while still holding him in her arms. The velocity of her movement caught him by surprise, and he lost his breath for a moment as he bounced on the cushions. She encircled him with one arm as she leaned back into the couch cushions next to him.
"Well, tiger, it looks like I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't," she muttered with resignation.
"Paige, what the hell are you talking about?" he demanded in a confused voice. What's with the emotional rollercoaster? Do vampires get PMS?
She sighed. "I've been trying to avoid you and Katrina lately."
"Um, duh!" he retorted irritably. "Like we haven't noticed that."
She sensed his frustration in addition to his exhaustion. She took a deep breath and released her tight embrace, but still kept her arm draped lazily across his shoulder. "Okay, here we go," she began. "I'm a little scared by some recent feelings."
He frowned. "You? Scared?"
"Yeah. You see, I've never felt like this about a human before, and it's unsettling."
"And by 'human' you mean…" he asked dimly.
"You, goofy," she chided.
"Me? But Gil –"
"No," she interrupted. "It's not like Gil at all. Gil was sex, and partying, and frustration."
"I can be frustrating," he observed.
She smirked. "On occasion, but not like Gil. He was unbearable."
He took a few seconds to digest everything she was telling him a rush of exhaustion wash over him. The traveling, dreading, worrying, and length of time he spent over it had finally caught up with him. But he was determined to get through it and try to understand everything and maybe salvage a friendship in the process.
"This is entirely new territory for me," she continued.
Another quiet moment passed. Me too, he thought.
"Well," he began uncertainly, "maybe if you try to describe it, that'll help. Just say the first things that pop into your mind when you think about your feelings. And me, I guess."
She nodded and considered him for a moment with an introspective expression. This was a whole new situation to her, and it made her feel insecure: yet another completely new feeling for her. Usually, she felt uniquely in control at all times, even when unpredictable things happened around her.
"Okay, thinking about you," she said. Her eyes narrowed slightly for a brief second, and she stared into his as she opened her mind completely to whatever entered it.
"Warmth, comfort, laughter, fun," she began, but paused for a few contemplative seconds. "Anxiety, maybe, obsession?"
"Obsession?" he asked with raised eyebrows.
She smiled wanly. "Yeah, I've been thinking a lot about you, kiddo. I miss you when you're not around, more than you might expect."
He was quite flattered and admitted, "I think about you a lot too when you're not around."
"Teasing," she continued with a subtle smirk, to which he smiled. "Friendship, sincerity, caring, happiness, and protection."
She nodded slowly. "I feel the need to protect you, keep you safe."
He nodded. What Kat wanted from you.
"Love," she finally said.
He smirked. "Well, I love you too."
She turned her face towards him with a serious expression and explained, "Yeah, but this is so strong. I've never felt this before. I mean, I love Katrina, but this feels a lot stronger."
He considered the revelation for a moment and admitted that he held very strong feelings for her. But it was nothing like what he felt for Katrina, and those feelings had only strengthened after the trip to England and the restoration of his childhood memories.
She watched the emotions playing across his face and arched one eyebrow. What was he just thinking? Instead of asking, she continued with the exercise. "You mean so much to me. I've even saved your life with my own blood, no less. You're just so valuable to me. No, wait, that didn't sound right."
Something occurred to him that both she and Katrina had once said about vampire mates in the past. "So, do you feel possessive about me?" he asked with upraised eyebrows.
She stared into his eyes and considered that for a moment. "You know, no, not really. At least, not like Katrina seems to be towards you." She frowned. "That's interesting."
Vampire mates are usually possessive, especially about their human partners. It hadn't occurred to me to look at this from that angle before, she considered silently.
Sensing her distraction, he reached out to take her free hand in his and encouraged, "It's okay. Just keep talking it out."
She sighed and nodded. He's being really great about this so far.
"Caleb, I'm over a hundred years old already, and I've never felt about another person like this. Well, not a human anyway," she continued.
"Not a human?"
She smiled. "Yeah, well, there was this one vampire I met on a contract job in South America: Louis. He was something to behold, let me tell you. Well, it didn't work out with us, but for a while I saw him as a potential mate for me."
He nodded as he listened. But something she had just said about Louis struck him. "So, you're attracted to me, too?" he asked carefully.
She considered him for a moment and frowned. "What do you mean by that? I mean, you're an attractive man, after all."
He smirked. "Yeah, but are you wanting to, you know," he stammered. "I mean, sexually speaking…"
It dawned on her what he meant, and her eyes narrowed. Do I want to have sex with you? She wasn't entirely opposed to the idea, but not at that moment. "Maybe sometimes," she replied with surprise. "But that's not at the top of my list right now."
He tried not to feel insulted by her response, instead realizing that he might have just dodged a bullet. "So, maybe love without sexual attraction then?" he asked.
A sly smile crossed her face. "Not that I'm not curious, however."
He smirked in response, silently conceding that he also found her attractive. "And blood?" he asked.
She grinned at him and nodded. "Oh yes. I definitely want your blood." I've tasted you before, and now that I have, it's amazing.
Her response made him swallow hard, and he tensed. That was stupid.
"Wait," she reassured him, "I'm just saying, the desire for your blood is always there. But then, I guess that's a given. I'm a vampire, after all, first and foremost. But I would never just take it from you or anything. It's different with you in that way."
He nodded and relaxed a bit. Yep, that was a stupid question, he chided himself again. It had to be his fatigue hampering his ability to think more clearly. After a pause, something else occurred to him, something so important that he groaned to himself. Idiot!
"Crap! I was supposed to call Kat when you got here," he recalled and reached for his phone.
But she caught his wrist before he could speed dial Katrina. "Not a word about this, kiddo. We have to talk about this first," she instructed him carefully.
He nodded, and she released her grip on him. After pressing the button, he waited for Katrina to pick up. It took only one ring.
"Hey, Kat," he offered. "Paige made it home. We're sitting in her living room as I speak."
There was a pause at the other end before Katrina spoke. "Good, I'm glad she made it home," she said. "Is everything okay?"
"Okay?" he asked with as much innocence as he could muster. "Yeah, sure. We're just getting caught up, that's all.
"Hm," Katrina replied guardedly. "Okay, well, maybe give me a call in the morning, all right?"
"Sure, Kat. Will do," he assured her. "I'll talk to you in the morning."
"Sleep well, my love," she replied.
Paige quietly chewed the tip of one thumbnail as Caleb talked.
"Thanks. You too. And Kat," he added, "I love you."
Something in the way he said it made Paige suddenly look up into his eyes. So much said in so few words.
There was another pause, and Katrina replied, "I love you too."
He returned his phone to its holder. "Sorry about the interruption," he apologized.
She smirked and shook her head. "No, you needed to do that. She would've worried too much if you hadn't. Then again, she would've been angrier with me too."
He frowned slightly at her odd statement, but was too tired to connect the pieces in his mind. Instead, he merely rubbed at his eyes and stifled a yawn.
She reached out, squeezed his hand, and offered, "Hey, you look kind of tired, kiddo."
He shrugged, stifled another yawn, and admitted, "Well, yeah. I'm kind of beat, to tell you the truth."
"You're always supposed to tell me the truth," she noted with a smirk. She regarded him for a moment and suggested, "Why don't you go take a shower and turn in? I have a lot to consider and could use the quiet time to think. We can talk more in the morning."
"Sure," he conceded and considered it really was a good idea. In the morning he should be thinking more clearly and might avoid additional embarrassing questions. He leaned over to her and kissed her on the cheek lightly. "I missed you, Paige," he offered sincerely. "We're best friends, after all. And I'm not trying to make life more difficult for you."
She nodded and reached up to run her fingers lightly across his cheek. "I missed you, too, tiger," she replied with a grin.
He rose, and she darted from the couch in a blur. Before he could walk past the coffee table, his luggage disappeared from the floor, and a gust of wind whipped past him heading upstairs.
"You're in the bedroom at the top of the stairs and to the left," she called out. "And you have your own bathroom."
"Thanks," he replied, slowly making his way upstairs.
He took a shower, changed into a pair of sweatpants and t-shirt and was awake barely five minutes longer once his head hit the pillow.
An hour later, Paige quietly peered into the bedroom to gaze at him from the doorway. She fondly watched him soundly sleeping and quietly returned downstairs.
He's going to be hungry when he wakes up, she realized suddenly. As with most vampires, she never kept much food in the house. There wasn't any need. Just some chocolate, which she had loved as a human, and some colas and alcohol. Her fridge was mostly filled with a variety of human blood packets.
She gathered her car keys, credit card, license, and some cash and went out to her car. Then she sighed, trying to recall any local all-night grocery stores in the area. Moments later, she pulled out of the garage on her way across town. At least she had a mission to distract her thoughts for a short time.
An hour or so later, and with the stealth that only a vampire could manage, she tip-toed into the bedroom where Caleb still slept. She opened the blinds so she could glance outside at the night sky from across the room and lay down carefully on top of the bed next to him. Once settled, she propped herself up on one elbow, staring down at his peaceful features. He's so adorable, she thought. It took her sheer willpower not to reach out and stroke his hair with her fingertips.
She lay on the bed just watching him for hours and considered her feelings, as well as the conversation they had earlier that evening. It was nearly dawn when she heard a car pull up outside. She briefly cocked her head to one side and carefully moved off of the bed. Moving as a silent blur out of the room, she went downstairs and to the front door.
She swept open the door with a smooth motion and looked up into Katrina's eyes with a knowing smirk. "Hey, Red," she greeted with a sigh. "I wondered when you would get here."
"You know me so well, it seems," Katrina replied with a serious expression. "Let's talk, girlfriend."
Paige's eyebrows shot up, and she nodded with resignation, stepping aside for her to enter.
Later, Katrina sipped on a glass of warm blood as she listened to Paige recount most of what was discussed with Caleb. Having grown concerned following the brief chat on the phone with her mate earlier that night, she knew immediately that she needed to get to California as soon as possible. Somehow she guessed that both of them might need her; at least, she had hoped that was the case. She cocked her head slightly as Paige paused to reflect and heard the sound of Caleb's steady breathing upstairs. It was a comforting sound.
"You're not in love with him, you know," Katrina observed calmly. At least, not right now.
"What makes you so certain?" Paige asked with narrowed eyes. It's not as if you know how strongly I'm feeling about him.
The redheaded vampire responded smoothly, "You're not exhibiting any of the signs that would concern me."
"Such as?" Paige queried carefully. Damn. I should have Googled for a checklist or something.
"Well, you're not trying to initiate overt sexual advances on him," she began. "There's no secret communications going on between the two of you. You're not trying to exert any subversive emotional control over him. And you're conducting yourself honorably in other ways as well."
Paige raised both eyebrows curiously. "We're okay, so far. Go on."
Katrina shrugged. "You're not trying to lie to me once confronted about your recent strange behavior. There's no attempt to circumvent my relationship with Caleb. And you're not endeavoring to break any of my rules for him, much less convince him to break them."
"So, I get a pass then," Paige surmised. "And you're not worried about my feelings for him?"
One of Katrina's eyebrows arched imperiously. "I didn't say I wasn't concerned. But we've been best friends for a long time, and I trust your integrity."
Paige smiled supportively. "I appreciate that, Red."
"He's –" Katrina started to stipulate, but Paige cut her off quickly and held up her hand.
"…yours. Yes, I know, and I have complete respect for you as his mate," Paige conceded earnestly. "That's why I've tried to stay away until I could sort out my emotions."
Katrina considered her friend with appreciation regarding her understanding of the situation. But I'm not stupid, either, she silently acknowledged. "You're smitten with him, Paige. And I would say that you love him," she continued. "That much is obvious. I'm okay with that, so long as it remains relatively harmless."
Paige nodded and sighed.
"But stop trying to hurt him like you have been," Katrina stipulated. "It's not helping either of you. And Caleb's been miserable over the development. It's not fair to him, okay?"
Paige seriously considered her friend's comments. She had no desire to hurt Caleb.
"Sorry about that," she apologized. "I really didn't know what else to do. Listen, I'm really not trying to cause trouble for you or him. But I do appreciate your advice and understanding. You're a good friend, Red. The best, in fact."
Katrina sighed with a wan smile. "Sure, Paige. It's just what friends do."
Both shared a quick embrace, and Katrina gently patted Paige on the back. Then she sat back and held up her empty glass. "A refill, perhaps?" she inquired with a hopeful grin. "I'm still thirsty after my flight, and I don't want Caleb to awaken two quarts lower."
Paige took her glass with a smirk and a slight shake of her head. She felt fortunate to have such a good friend in the tall, redheaded vampire, and she was relieved to have discussed everything so openly with Katrina. But while she cherished her friend's advice and her understanding, she wondered if Katrina were truly as insightful as she had claimed to be.
Caleb awoke to the sunlight in his face and groaned as he rolled over in bed. He stretched his body and thought he heard voices talking downstairs. It took only a second before registering that it was Katrina and Paige. He smiled, surprised that his mate had made the journey out to California so quickly.
He rolled out of bed and took a moment to appreciate the sun shining in through the window. Quietly moving to the bedroom door, he slipped out into the hallway, closing the door behind him. Try as he might, he still wasn't quiet enough to evade the acute hearing of the vampires downstairs, and their conversation stopped abruptly. He shook his head and sighed as he descended the stairs. He stopped halfway downstairs to stare into Katrina's eyes while she sat on the edge of the couch next to Paige.
The childhood memories that seemed so recently acquired rushed through his mind, and he felt a warmth flow through him as he recalled the short-haired brunette who had saved him from the hands of his abusive father. Angel Amber, he thought fleetingly. Finally, his love for the redhead before him cascaded over those memories. My Kat, my vampire.
Katrina noted the emotions washing across his face in those few seconds and smiled at him warmly. That's a look I would walk through hell for, she realized.
Paige's eyes darted to Caleb, then to Katrina, and back to Caleb as she watched the brief, silent exchange between them. I'd give anything to have someone look at me that way, she thought forlornly. It was then she realized the difference between how she looked at Caleb and how her best friend did. She also understood in that instant just how devoted he was to Katrina. A moment of clarity followed, and she mused, Maybe Red's right. Maybe I'm not in love. But it's the closest I've come to it so far, and I do love him.
"You two belong together," Paige muttered under her breath. It was a hard concession for her, but at that moment she believed it to be true.
Caleb and Katrina looked at Paige nearly simultaneously and back to each other with astonished expressions.
"Well? Don't just stand there, tiger," Paige insisted with a smirk. "Get down here and hug your old lady. And I mean the redhead, of course."
Katrina cast her friend a withering expression she rose from her seat, returning her attentions to Caleb, who walked into her opened arms. She placed a light kiss on his lips and embraced him.
"You got to California fast, Kat," he whispered in her ear. "How long have you been here?"
She parted from their embrace and pulled him down to the couch to sit next to her.
"Not long. A couple of hours ago, actually," she replied.
He glanced over to Paige to try to gauge her emotions. "It was the phone call, wasn't it?"
Katrina smirked knowingly as she placed her arm across his shoulders. "Face it. You're not much of a poker player, my love."
She reads me like a book, he considered with a roll of his eyes. Paige smirked back at him, but her expression quickly faded to a more sedate one.
"Is everything okay?" he asked tentatively.
"We're fine," Paige offered, but gazed at Katrina with a mildly curious expression.
Katrina looked at both of them and agreed, "Yeah, we're all okay now."
Relief washed through Caleb as he silently appreciated not having to continue the line of conversation from the previous night. He honestly had no idea of where to begin, and it was better that Kat and Paige talked it out. After all, women understand each other better, right?
"So then, is Paige going to…?" He regrouped. "Did you ask her about what we discussed in London?"
Paige frowned at him. "What is it you think I'm going to do, exactly?"
Katrina's eyes twinkled, and she gazed over at her friend with an expectant look, which immediately unnerved the youthful vampire.
Paige's gaze shifted from Katrina and back to Caleb.
"Well, you're moving out to Georgia, actually," he began. "Like somewhere in or around the Atlanta area, perhaps?"
Paige's eyes flashed with surprise. Georgia? Where the hell did that come from?
"Yeah, I'm not so sure about that," she objected.
He adopted a pleading expression and reached out to grasp Paige's hand in his own. She didn't pull her hand away, but her eyes went directly to Caleb's with a sharp look.
"We need you in Atlanta," he urged. "I mean, a true babysitter has to be close to the kids, right?" he asked with a smirk.
"But –" Paige began to protest.
He squeezed her hand and stated emphatically, "No, no buts. You. Atlanta. Soon."
Paige studied his face silently for a moment and read the urgency in his eyes. She looked over to Katrina. "Red?" she asked.
Katrina shrugged. "I already gave my blessing. And it would be a lot easier if you were closer. You are his surrogate vampire, after all."
"But Devon –" Paige began.
"He's growing on me, I suppose. But he isn't you," Caleb interjected emphatically. "I need you. You're one of my best friends, remember?"
The sense of hopefulness that passed through Paige's mind was replaced by a moment's hesitation. We just got through the emotions part of the problem, and now this?
As if sensing the doubt in her mind, he added, "There's nothing in California for you now. Your family is in Georgia, which is where you need to be, too."
"Family?" Paige asked. "I thought you just said we were best friends."
Katrina's eyebrows rose. "Close friends are really just extended family, right?"
Caleb smiled at the tact Katrina took with the topic and sensed victory on the horizon.
"Well," Paige considered out loud, but in an uncommitted tone.
He squeezed her hand in his own and made a simple, final bid on the subject. "Please? For me?" he asked with an innocent, pleading look. His heartbeat raced a little bit, a fact not lost on either vampire.
Paige thoughtfully regarded him at length and shook her head. You're quite the master manipulator, it seems.
"Well, okay then. Atlanta it is," she conceded. Then another instant decision entered her mind, "But."
Caleb accepted her first statement, then frowned. "But what?" he asked guardedly.
"I've decided to accept a contract job offer for the early summer, so it won't be until after that's over."
He looked displeased. Early summer? That's two months away still.
"What kind of job?" he pressed.
Katrina seemed quite interested in her answer, as well.
"Never you mind," she said. "Just something that was offered to me recently, and I've decided that I could use the additional funds to replenish my savings."
"Anything dangerous?" he pressed.
Paige shrugged. "Dangerous? Nah, just a quick contract security job."
He considered the vague explanation and looked at Katrina with a silent question in his eyes.
She shrugged back at him and appeared unconcerned. "Paige is an accomplished alpha now," Katrina explained. "She can handle herself. But it's agreed, then? You'll move to Atlanta at the end of that job?"
Paige smiled smugly and nodded. "Yep, I'll move when I return. No sense packing up and moving, only to leave a few weeks later."
Caleb considered the logic of that and conceded that it seemed sound. It'll have to do, I suppose. At least she's moving by summer's end. "Okay, it's a deal," he agreed before changing the subject. "Now that that's all settled, I'm kind of hungry."
Katrina rolled her eyes, while Paige merely shook her head.
"Well, I made a quick trip out to the store before Katrina arrived," Paige offered. "There's frozen waffles in the freezer for breakfast."
"Great," he replied happily, rising from the couch with a lurch. "Where's your toaster?"
"Uh, toaster?" Paige asked with a frown. "Can't you just microwave them on a plate or something?"
He slapped his forehead with his palm and shook his head, while Katrina chuckled.
"Got a lot to learn about human food again, I see," the red-headed vampire observed. Yeah, like I'm an expert already.
"How about a ham sandwich?" Paige offered helpfully. "I bought mustard."
"For breakfast?" Caleb asked incredulously.
Katrina stifled a laugh and covered her mouth with her hand as Paige adopted a dark expression. The petite vampire crossed her arms in front of her and cast an irritated glance to the ceiling.
"Sorry. That's okay," he apologized after seeing her reaction. "I appreciate your buying food for me. That was very kind, actually."
Katrina smirked at the exchange and suggested, "Last night on my drive from the airport, I noticed a fast food restaurant that serves breakfast about a mile up the road from here."
He beamed with renewed optimism. "Great! Perhaps I could borrow Paige's car?" he asked with a hopeful expression.
"Ha!" Paige retorted. "Not likely, kiddo." She envisioned her car being raced through the city streets by him, not to mention an expensive traffic citation. He's a twenty-six-year-old male, after all.
Katrina picked up a set of keys from the coffee table and passed them to him. "Here, take my rental car that's in the driveway. It's parked in front of the garage, anyway."
"Oh," he replied with a hint of disappointment. "Thanks."
Paige grinned victoriously, while Katrina suggested, "Now, go upstairs and get dressed. Paige and I still have some catching up to do regarding our trip to England. And please shutter the windows from the sunlight when you're done up there, too."
Caleb pattered halfway up the stairs, and then paused. He turned and looked back at Paige and Katrina with a satisfied smile. And the ship pulls safely back into harbor from rough seas, he mused silently.
Paige's bright, blue eyes caught his, and she winked at him while flashing one of her classic mischievous grins.
In A Bloody London Sunset, Caleb Taylor learned that vampires are everywhere. Soon, he experiences firsthand the mounting scale of that revelation.
Powerful vampire Katrina Rawlings and her human mate, Caleb Taylor, are once more drawn into dangerous circumstances. Representatives of the most powerful and influential vampires from around the world converge upon a scenic mountain retreat located in Slovenia's Upper Bohinj Valley for a summit of historic proportion. Mystery leads to treachery, and events quickly spiral out of control. With the fates of both vampires and humans in jeopardy, Katrina desperately struggles to reconcile the balance of worldwide vampire power against honoring her commitment to the love of her life. Unwilling to be rendered helpless, Caleb initiates a desperate gamble that leads to a mortal decision. Meanwhile, the sexy and sassy vampire, Paige Turner, spearheads her own mission involving both surprising revelations of heart and grave circumstances for those around her.
In Summit at Sunset, unlikely alliances will be sought, eternal bonds of friendship will be tested, unrequited love will be unleashed, blood will be shed, and one pivotal person's fate will collide with destiny.READ MORE >>