A T S E C O N D B I T E
by Michelle Rowen
(A short story previously published in The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance)
“Do you know who I am?”
The handsome man’s gaze searched hers so thoroughly she felt as if she’d been taken into a special room at the airport and was being strip searched, rather than just being perched on a stool at a singles bar called The Meet Market.
“That’s an interesting line.”
“The ‘do you know who I am’ line. It’s a bit of a alternate on the whole ‘do you come here often’ thing.”
“My name is Ethan Frost.”
“Julia,” she offered after a moment’s hesitation. “Julia Donner.”
He offered her his hand and she took it expecting a handshake. His warm fingers curled around hers and he brought it to his mouth to brush his warm lips against her skin.
“It is you,” he said. “I know it truly.”
“You know what truly?” She raised an eyebrow. Was he going to buy her a drink? Should she buy him a drink? Damn, she hated getting dragged along to these kinds of bars with her desperate friends. It so wasn’t her scene.
“She told me it was you, but I did not initially believe. Now I do.”
“Who told you what?”
“The witch. The one who led me to you. I have searched three hundred years and you are finally returned to me.”
“What are you talking about?”
He looked at her very seriously. “You, Julia Donner, are the reincarnation of my beloved soulmate.”
She actually laughed out loud at that. “You are kidding me, right?”
He frowned at her reaction. “I do not kid you.”
She had to admit to being a little disappointed. At first glance the guy had potential — serious introduction-to-her-bedroom potential. At second glance, he was just another loser. Pretty on the surface, but crazy underneath.
Julia sighed out loud. “Three hundred years? That’s kind of a long time. What are you, a vampire, or something?”
She was kidding of course, but the look on his face told her he wasn’t.
“You sense what I am,” he said with obvious approval. “You know me,”
She tried not to laugh. “No, I don’t. Besides, vampires are cold, undead creatures of darkness. And you’re…well, you’re –” very hot “– warm and breathing.”
“Real vampires are not what you might expect. We are simply different than human. We do live eternally. But when our soulmates are taken away before they are sired, we must try to find them in their next life. It has not been easy for me to locate you. I feared I never would find you again.”
Right. “I think you should probably take off. My friend’ll be back any minute.”
Instead of departing, he took a step even closer to her. “It is I, dearest Julia. Ethan. Search your heart. You know me. I know you do.”
She leaned back from him. “I know you need to get away from me or we’re going to have a big problem here.”
He looked very confused. Either this guy was surprised his whole reincarnation shtick didn’t work on her or he was completely insane, she didn’t know. She didn’t care. Either scenario creeped her out.
“I didn’t meant to scare you,” he said with a deep frown creasing his forehead.
She slid off the bar stool. He put his arms on either side of her to block her from leaving.
“Please, stay and talk with me a while longer, Julia.”
“I mean it,” she said very firmly. “Get away from me now.”
A small smile touched his lips. “I remember that fire; that spark of life inside you. There are many things that are so very, very different, but that remains. You are the one. The witch is not wrong. She guaranteed me that you are she.”
“That I’m your reincarnated soulmate.”
“Yes.” His smile widened. “You are beginning to believe. That is wonderful.”
She tried to move away from him but he didn’t budge. Was she going to have to call security? Not that anyone seemed like they were paying attention. A quick glance around the bar confirmed that several people were very close to each other getting to “know each other” much like she and Ethan.
“What do you want?” she asked him warily.
“You, of course,” he replied.
“Not interested.” She eyed him. “Maybe you should go bite some necks somewhere else.”
“I need to drink very little at my age.”
“If you’re a vampire, then how old are you?”
“I am nearly four hundred years old.”
He looked no more than thirty. A very hot but creepy thirty.
“I should be able to go wherever I want and not worry about getting harassed by some dead guy.”
“I’m not dead.”
He made a frustrated sound in his throat. “You don’t believe me.”
“The witch told me it shouldn’t take long to convince you of my intentions.”
“Which are?” Julia turned to face him again.
He stepped closer. “To woo you, to take you as my wife, to make love to you and worship your body until our desires are sated, and to sire you as a vampire so we will never have to be apart again.”
That probably shouldn’t have turned her on. This guy was crazy and he spoke like something out of a 1950’s horror movie, but there was something about him…
“I don’t believe in vampires,” she told him, but her voice sounded a bit breathy now. “And I don’t believe in soulmates.”
He leaned closer and stroked the hair behind her ear so he could whisper, “Let me prove it to you.”
It was working, damn it. Sad but true, she was starved for male attention. She’d put up her “girl power” front for years now, shunning relationships that didn’t seem like they had the legs to go for…
To go for what? she thought. Eternity?
She didn’t believe in true love. And she sure didn’t believe in soulmates. Then why the hell was she letting this self-proclaimed warm-blooded vampire nibble on her ear?
And why was she letting him kiss her, there in the middle of the bar in front of everybody? That was something Julia’s bar-hopping buddies did on their nightly hunt for masculine prey. Not her.
But soon enough she was kissing him back. So much for her half-hearted protests.
After a moment she felt a twinge of pain and pulled away.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Sorry.” Ethan was frowning, his brow lowered. When he looked up at her she realized that his eyes were black. Like, black. Not darker, not shaded because it was low light in the club. But black, even the whites. “I didn’t mean to taste you so soon.”
She touched her tongue to realize that she’d cut it on something and she was now bleeding.
“What’s wrong with your eyes?” she asked.
“It happened when I tasted your blood.” He looked away. “I can control myself. You don’t have to worry about your safety, I assure you.”
She pushed at his upper lip, drawing it back from his teeth.
“You have fangs,” she stated.
“Yes. You may not have noticed them before. They are very small unless my hungers are triggered.”
Her eyes widened as the slow, sick realization began to spread over her. “You’re a vampire.”
He nodded. “I don’t normally share my secret for fear of attracting the wrong sort of attention — especially in a public area such as this. But I knew you had to know as soon as possible.”
She just gawked at him.
His eyes slowly returned to their normal shade of blue. “So you see, I’m telling you the truth. You’ve witnessed it with your own two eyes. I am immortal. You are my soulmate and we are finally reunited.”
Julia slipped off the stool to stand in front of him on her high heels that didn’t even bring her close to looking directly into the tall man’s eyes. He looked pretty happy, actually. The long sharp fangs receded to become slightly pointy canines.
She put her hands on his chest and felt the warmth of his body, the muscles of his chest and abdomen beneath the thin black dress shirt he wore. His heart did beat, but she realized that it didn’t beat very fast. Half as fast as hers did. Maybe less.
“Do you believe?” he asked.
She nodded. “I believe.”
His pleased expression shattered as she kneed him in the groin, pushed away from him, and ran screaming out of the club.
Julia made a beeline for the subway entrance a block away, the gaping mouth in the sidewalk beckoning her back to normal life. But a moment before she reached it she found herself grabbed from behind in an iron vice of a grip. A hand clamped down over her mouth. She struggled but knew it was not going to be any use. Fear and panic fought for first place in her brain. It was a close race.
What was Ethan Frost going to do now? Had she made him mad by running away? Obviously. Somebody didn’t get grabbed and dragged into a dark alley if everything was peachy keen.
Fury then mixed with her other emotions. As soon as his hand left her mouth she was going to scream bloody murder. Her throat muscles tensed painfully in preparation.
She felt the brick wall slam against her back, knocking the breath out of her and suddenly there was a knife at her throat. A big one.
“Say one word and I’ll remove your head,” was the hard-edged threat that made her nod emphatically in agreement. The knife was sharp and she was very fond of her head exactly where it was.
Also, the guy who said it wasn’t Ethan. It was somebody else. Somebody she didn’t recognize. He was tall, with shaggy dark brown hair. One eye was covered with a black patch. The other was dark blue, almost black and it glared at her. He wasn’t smiling.
He slowly took his hand off her mouth.
The guy definitely didn’t look happy. In fact, he looked pissed off beyond words.
“What’s your name?” he growled.
Julia blinked, now confused. “I-I agreed not to t-talk, remember?”
“I’ll only hurt you if you scream. Got it? I need some answers and I need them now.”
“J-Julia.” She bit her lip. She didn’t want to give him her last name if she could avoid it. He didn’t press for it, so that was one good thing. She clutched her purse against her chest.
He was eyeing her very intensely. “So you’re Ethan’s soulmate, huh? How sweet is that?”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“He-he’s a v-vampire.”
The man smiled at that, but it wasn’t remotely friendly. Since she was now paying attention she saw the fangs immediately. The thought that this guy was also a vampire did nothing to help the panic situation. “I smell blood. You bleeding right now?”
She swallowed hard. “Ethan bit my tongue.”
“Such a charmer, isn’t he? Can’t even keep his fangs to himself during a good old-fashioned grope.” He came closer to her and squeezed her chin enough to prompt her to open her mouth so he could see the small cut. His good eye turned to black and he grinned a little. “Probably shouldn’t have done that. I’m really hungry right now, myself. Haven’t had a chance to feed lately. I’ve been too busy tracking Ethan.”
“He’s been trying to lose me, strangely enough. Thinks I’m too overprotective. By the way, you can quit with the fake stutter now.”
She frowned at him. “It’s not fake. I typically s-stutter with fear when somebody has a knife to my throat.”
He raised an eyebrow. “This little thing?” He raised the huge machete-like blade so it glinted in the light of a nearby streetlamp. “A guy has to protect himself against dangerous women like you in the big scary city, you know.”
“Protect yourself. From me?”
His expression grew colder. “You’d be surprised.” He drew closer to her so she could actually feel his warm breath on her face. “You’re not as pretty as you were last time.”
She glared at him. “Last time?”
“Last time you were with my little brother Ethan three hundred years ago. No, you were a major beauty back then. You know what they say about Helen of Troy? Well, you were even hotter.”
In her current dire situation, she wasn’t sure why his appraisal of her sub-par hotness pissed her off as much as it did. “For the record, you’re not half as attractive as your brother, either.”
He grinned. “I guess I kind of deserved that.”
“I’m not who you think I am.”
“Yeah, right.” He smiled which helped to show his family resemblance to his handsome brother, but she couldn’t really keep her eyes off that big old knife he held. “So you’re Ethan’s reincarnated soulmate. And since I knew her…or rather you…I’m going to have to say that you should have stayed dead.”
“You need to let me go now.”
“Do I?” He eyed her. “You obviously have me confused with my brother. He’d do anything you wanted him to. You had him twisted around your little finger. That was not a good time in our lives. He may not have understood exactly what kind of woman you were, but I did.”
“Oh yeah? And what kind of woman was that?”
“Evil,” he said the word evenly. “Manipulative. Treacherous. Just because of how you looked, you could get away with anything. You nearly destroyed Ethan. I won’t let you do it again.” He reached up to touch his eye patch. “And I still remember when you did this to me. Just because we’re immortal doesn’t mean we can regenerate body parts. I do miss having two eyes.”
She felt cold at that. “I never would have done anything like that.” She took in a shaky breath. “Unless it was self-defense. A big, nasty thug like you probably deserved it.”
He drew closer so that there were only inches separating their faces. “You did it when I was unconscious and tied up.”
“Oh.” Hard to claim self-defense when one person was defenseless.
“You thought I was trying to get Ethan to leave you and you were letting me know you didn’t like me very much. It worked. I know Ethan was shocked at what you did — hell, you almost killed me that night — but you’d already had your soulmate click thing. If you hadn’t fallen down that flight of stairs and broken your neck running away from me when I got loose of the ropes, he never would have been free of you.”
She shivered at the vivid picture he’d painted in her mind. “Soulmate click thing?”
He rolled his eye. “When soulmates find each other, this click thing happens. It’s like their souls recognize each other and come together like magnets. Apparently it’s impossible to ignore. Wouldn’t know. It’s never happened to me, happily enough.”
“Are you going to kill me now?” she asked, her voice shaky.
“That was the original plan.”
But he was frowning now, harder than before. He had a knife and he was going to kill her in cold blood and he was frowning. Hesitating. No one was around. If he wanted to cleanly and efficiently chop her up into little tiny pieces, then she knew this was his chance.
He breathed out through clenched teeth. “Dammit. This shouldn’t be so hard. I know what you are. I know what you’re capable of. But I do wish you looked more like you used to. This would be so much easier.”
“Because that’s what I want. For this to be easy for you.”
He cleared his throat. “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself…Julia. A little small talk might be what I need right now.”
“I’m a nun,” she offered quickly, scrambling for anything that would make him not want to kill her. “I devoted my life to God several years ago. A life of purity and giving to others. It’s very rewarding.”
He cocked his head to the side and damned if she didn’t see a sliver of amusement slide through his one eye. “Nuns usually hang out at singles bars in this neighborhood?”
“I’m trying to help others find their way. Lost souls and all that.”
“Right. Sure, I believe it. So I guess as a woman of the Lord, you would think of vampires as demons, right? Evil incarnate?”
“Since I only realized that they were real about twenty minutes ago I’d have to say that I have no defined thoughts about vampires yet.”
“What’s it like to not believe something, think it’s only myth, and then have it shoved in your face?”
“Jarring,” she admitted. “Not as jarring as being threatened with a big knife, though. By a vampire.”
“I can imagine that.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “So, Sister, what are your defined thoughts about me?”
“I don’t even know you.”
“You know I’m a vampire and that I obviously have murderous tendencies.”
“You haven’t killed me yet.”
“Give me time.”
She had no reason to doubt him, but there was something in the set of his mouth and in the way he wouldn’t look her in her eyes when he said it that made her doubt him.
Why would she doubt him? She didn’t know this guy. He even looked scary, although not as much as he had a few minutes ago. Underneath his less than stylish black duster and eye patch and days-growth of beard, was something that wasn’t unattractive. Normally it was hard to judge somebody’s physical appearance when they were threatening your life. Fear could be blinding.
He’d threatened her with a damn knife. She should be passing out from that fear, screaming with terror, not appraising his hotness factor.
And yet…she was. Sort of. In fact, the longer their strange conversation continued, the more she didn’t believe he was capable of murder, even though he was a self-admitted vampire.
He was trying to help his stupid little brother from making a mistake, that was all. This guy wasn’t a murderer. She knew it then. It was a gut thing.
And she’d reached this verdict, why? Because he had nice lips? Good cheekbones? A deep, sexy voice? A tall, muscular body?
No, it was something deeper than that. Something she couldn’t put her finger on. Besides, if he was a murderous vampire, then why wouldn’t he bite her? He didn’t even need an actual weapon since he already had sharp fangs. And her neck was as exposed as her cleavage in the tight black dress she’d chosen to wear to the club that night.
She was going crazy. Possibly going into shock. It was the only explanation.
He was a vampire. A monster. And he had a big knife. Anything outside of that shouldn’t have made one damn bit of difference to her.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He stared at her for a long moment, and then said: “Henry.”
She was surprised that he’d actually answered. She was equally surprised that his name was Henry. He didn’t look like a Henry. Maybe a Lucien. Or a Damian. Something dark and dangerous and sexy.
Wait, she thought. Why am I thinking that? No sense. I’m making zero sense.
Her head felt cloudy. She didn’t know what it was about this guy that intrigued her so much. He was a vampire and he wanted to kill her. She had information overload. She was in shock because of it. That had to be the reason.
“Henry Frost,” she said out loud, figuring he and Ethan shared a last name.
“Have you always looked after your brother, Henry?”
He looked at her with a frown. “What?”
“What I said. I don’t know you or your brother at all –”
“How can you say that?” His dark brows knitted together. “Are you trying to tell me you have no memory of your past life?”
She hissed out a breath. “Number one, I don’t believe in reincarnation or soulmates. Number two…no, actually that’s the only point I have. Of course I don’t have any memories of it. I’m not the person you think I am. Trust me on that.”
“The witch said it was you.”
“Were you there? Did you hear this witch?”
“Yeah, I did. I wasn’t in the room with Ethan at the time but I was close.”
She blinked. “Well, she was wrong.”
“Of course you’d say that. You’re just as manipulative as you’ve always been.”
“We can discuss this until the cows come home, but it’s not going to change things. I’m not your brother’s reincarnated soulmate. I’m just somebody who works at the Clinique counter in Sears. And my roommate who was in the bar with me is going to be looking for me. Any time now. And she’s very mean.”
“I thought you said you were a nun.” Henry raised an eyebrow and his lips twitched with the barest glint of a smile. “And did you just use the expression ‘until the cows come home’?”
“You need to let me leave now.”
His expression tensed again. “I can’t do that.”
Frustration now mixed with fear for her. This man was unbelievably stubborn, but she wasn’t giving up. She’d given up a lot of things in her life because they were too hard to get or maintain, but damned if she was going to give up now. Something about Henry made her want to keep talking, keep fighting, keep trying to convince him that he was wrong about her.
“Have you considered what will happen if you’re wrong? If you kill me and I’m the wrong person? Like, oops, the witch made a mistake?”
“This witch doesn’t make mistakes. It’s what she does. She’s a soulmate recovery expert. It’s her specialty.”
“Soulmate recovery,” Julia repeated. “Maybe I’m dreaming. Maybe I didn’t get up earlier. I did have an afternoon nap, after all. That would make much more sense than this.”
Henry’s frown was only deepening the longer she spoke. “The only strange thing is, normally a reincarnated soulmate will recognize their partner on sight. They might not remember every detail of their former lives, but they have that soul recognition and attraction which clicks for them. So either you’re a very good actress, or something did go wrong.”
She finally managed to breathe a little at that. “Well there’s your answer.”
“That you’re a very good actress?”
“I’m a terrible actress. The worst. I couldn’t even get a part in the school play in grade six.” She was grasping at straws but she had to. Her survival instincts had kicked into overdrive. “You don’t want to kill me.”
She shook her head. “You’re not a murderer.”
His eye narrowed. “You don’t know me.”
“I’m a really good judge of character.”
“That is debatable. So let me get this straight. I grab you. Drag you into this alleyway with a knife to your throat. And now you’re trying to tell me that you don’t think I’m capable of murder? Maybe you want to reform me? You see past the rough exterior to the goodness in my heart, is that it?”
She swallowed. “Okay, it does sound a bit naïve.”
“A lot naïve.” He shook his head. “You weren’t naïve in your previous life. You were a devious vixen who played men and got them to do whatever you wanted.”
His expression darkened. “You tried. But it didn’t work. I was immune to your particular charms. A pretty face isn’t enough to turn my head.”
“So you’re trying to say that you’re gay?”
That got a flash of shock on his face. “No.”
“But you don’t like women.”
He made a low groan of annoyance deep in his throat. “I’m not gay. I do like women. But I didn’t like you. I could see through to your dark deception in ways that Ethan couldn’t.”
“So this woman…what was her name?”
“So Katerina threw herself at you, even though she was already soulmated to Ethan –”
“She was a whore.”
Julia ignored that. “She threw herself at you and you weren’t interested. Not even in a quickie? The woman was hot, wasn’t she?”
“Like I said, her beauty was not enough to turn my head. Besides, she…you…” he groaned with annoyance again. “You were involved with my brother. My bond with him prevented me from any disloyalty, even if there had been an attraction. Which there wasn’t.”
“She kissed you.”
“She tried to do a lot more than that when she had me tied up. Before she took my eye.” He shook his head and touched his patch again. “Her kiss disgusted me. And you know what they say about a woman scorned –”
Julia went up on her tiptoes and kissed him full on the mouth. She felt Henry’s sharp intake of breath against her lips, his shock at what she was doing. Hell, she was shocked at what she was doing.
What the hell was she doing?
A moment later she heard a loud metallic clatter as the machete fell to the ground. She was a bit afraid at what would happen next, him being very anti-kissing and all. But for somebody who was repelled by Ethan’s previous soulmate macking on him, he didn’t push her away and wipe away her lip cooties. Instead she felt his strong arms come around her waist to pull her closer to his very firm, very warm body. The kiss deepened and as his tongue swept across hers a strange and intense wave of desire nearly knocked her right off her feet.
The crazy, warm-blooded vampire could kiss. And he didn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. She could feel his sharp fangs and was certain that they were bigger than they’d been a minute ago. Then again, his fangs weren’t the only thing that had gotten bigger since their kiss began.
Guess he isn’t gay after all.
That was two crazy vampires she’d kissed that evening. And she hated to admit it, but she much preferred the one-eyed version.
“Wait –” Henry breathed and finally moved back a little from her. His eye was fully black again. “What the hell was that?”
Her mouth felt swollen and she bit her bottom lip. “Sorry, I must have slipped on something.”
He was frowning so hard it had to be painful. “You disgust me.”
“You have a funny way of showing disgust.”
“Why did you kiss me?”
“Why did you kiss me back?”
He growled. “This isn’t funny.”
“I’m not laughing.” She swallowed. “I was trying to prove to you that I’m not Ethan’s soulmate. You said you didn’t like kissing Katerina.”
“So you kissed me to prove I was wrong?” He shook his head, his good eye growing wider. “You are just as devious as you’ve always been.”
His voice was harsh, but he wasn’t pulling away from her or trying to retrieve his fallen weapon. She reached up to gently touch his eye patch. “I’d never do something like this to you.”
He flinched but still didn’t pull away. “What the hell is happening to me?”
“First of all, I’m hoping that you don’t want to kill me anymore.”
He sucked in a breath. “I don’t.”
“That is very good to hear.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. “I don’t understand what’s going on. How can you not be her? You must be her. The witch is never wrong. Not for a thousand years. Not once.” He shook his head. “And yet, I feel that you are different from Katerina. When she kissed me, all I felt was coldness. Your kiss is pure heat.”
She studied him for a moment. “Your eye is still black.”
“Strong emotions will cause my hunger to increase. Like anger, or pain, or…or desire.” His attention moved to her mouth. “I must never kiss you again. It’s too dangerous.”
He nodded. “Ethan is your soulmate. Even if you have changed…” he drew in a ragged breath. “Perhaps one is not doomed to be the same from lifetime to lifetime. In that case I am happy for him. My brother is a lucky man.”
He seemed so sure that she was Ethan’s soulmate. Was it possible? If she pushed away her disbelief at the bizarre situation that had been thrust into her face that night, was she willing to consider believing it was true? After all, she didn’t know vampires were real. But they were. She’d seen it now and she couldn’t deny it even if she tried. Maybe the same was true of soulmates. Did the idea of having someone that you’re destined to love throughout eternity appeal to her? Yes, it did. She’d never been in love before. She thought it would never happen to her. But maybe she’d kept finding fault in other men, not letting herself get close to them, because she’d been waiting for that night. For her soulmate to finally find her.
If she was willing to believe that, then it meant that her soulmate was Ethan.
But she didn’t like Ethan. He was attractive enough, but she hadn’t felt any real, deep connection with him.
Like the connection you feel to Henry? she asked herself, knowing that she was making no sense.
Yeah, like that.
“So what do we do now?” she asked after a moment.
Henry still studied her intensely. “I’m sorry for what I said earlier.”
“What was that?”
“That you weren’t attractive. It was a lie. You’re a very beautiful woman.”
“Not compared to the original Katerina.”
“Hers was a cold beauty. Untouchable. You…” He looked down to where he still held her. “Are obviously very touchable.” He swallowed. “Are you still afraid of me?”
“I probably should be, but I stopped being afraid around the time I attacked your lips.”
“I see.” His jaw tightened. “This will prove to be a very big problem for me. Seeing you with my brother. Knowing that you and he have found happiness together again.” He shook his head as if trying to clear it. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve never felt this way before.”
His gaze moved to hers again and locked. “No?”
She shook her head.
And it was at that moment that she felt something very strange — a clicking sensation deep inside of her.
“What just happened?” Henry’s breathing increased. “That can’t be what I thought it was.”
“The thing that felt like we’re two Lego pieces that just got snapped together?”
“Yeah, that.” He pulled away from her finally, releasing her completely to take a few steps backward. “You are not mine. You belong to Ethan.”
“I don’t belong to anyone.”
Except you, she amended internally. Then she frowned.
What in the hell was happening to her? It wasn’t right. She hadn’t just “clicked” with Henry. She only just met him and under very unusual circumstances to say the least. She didn’t believe in love at first sight, especially when the subject was a centuries-old vampire carrying a big knife. And she didn’t believe in soulmates.
Never had. Never would.
No, she told herself sternly. Just no.
“Something has gone terribly wrong,” Henry managed after a moment. His expression now giving way to a little of that panic she was very familiar with. “One cannot have two soulmates. It doesn’t happen.”
“Then I think we might have a problem here, don’t we?”
He nodded, his expression haunted. Then without another word spoken, he moved toward her, pulling her into his arms. “Tell me to stop. Tell me to go away and never come near you again.”
“Kiss me,” she said instead.
His eye widened. “That definitely isn’t helpful.”
Then, just as she thought Henry was going to kiss her again, he stiffened. And not in a good way.
“Release her,” Ethan growled from behind him.
Henry moved his hands away from her and raised them up to his sides. He shuffled back a few steps so Julia could see that Ethan had grabbed the machete from the ground and had it at Henry’s back.
“This isn’t what you think,” Henry began.
“This is exactly what I think. You’ve always hated her. How could you do this to me after my long, difficult search? Do you deny that you planned to kill her?
“I can’t really deny that, actually. But –”
“Shut up,” Ethan snarled. “You always try to run my life, brother.”
“What, by keeping you safe and alive?”
“I’m tired of it. Hundreds of years of being under your thumb. I wanted to escape you once and for all, and you follow me here?”
“You weren’t that hard to follow.” Henry shrugged. “Kind of sloppy when it comes to travel arrangements, actually. Always have been.”
“How did you learn of her?” Ethan flicked a glance in Julia’s direction.
“I overheard you with the witch.”
“I see. So you followed her from the club after I’d made contact with her. And you planned to use this,” Ethan now pressed the sharp blade against Henry’s throat. “To end her life over an old squabble.”
“She took my eye. Not to mention that she was generally evil and liked killing people for fun and profit. Remember that?”
“She had her reasons. Just as I have my reasons for killing you now where you stand.”
Julia watched them in horror. There was nothing friendly or brotherly about this confrontation. It looked as deadly as that machete. A fine line of red appeared at Henry’s throat to prove just how sharp that blade was.
Ethan turned to her. “Are you all right, my love?”
She held out her hands. “You need to put down the knife.”
“I can’t do that. I need to kill him once and for all. Now that I’ve found you again, I won’t let you come to any harm.” His expression softened. “I know you don’t believe all of this yet. I know this has been a great shock. It will take my genitals some time to recover from what happened earlier –”
Henry raised an eyebrow at that.
Julia shrugged. “I kneed him in the balls when he got a bit frisky with me.”
A small smile twitched at his mouth. “See, I knew you were dangerous.”
“Did I say you could speak?” Ethan growled at his brother. “This must end tonight, Henry. I can’t be constantly afraid that you will try to kill the woman I love for crimes that are now 300 years in the past. It ends here.”
“You’re really going to kill me?”
“I have to.”
Julia knew in that moment that this wasn’t fun and games. Ethan was actually going to slit his brother’s throat. She wasn’t sure if that would be enough to kill a vampire, but she didn’t want to take the risk.
“Wait,” she said. “Please don’t do it, Ethan.”
He turned to you. “You wish to yield the blade yourself?”
It took her a moment to figure out what he meant by that. Did she want to kill Henry? Definitely not. Sure they’d started off on the wrong foot, but something was there between them, something major, and whether or not it was magical or mystical or whatever she didn’t want it to end quite so quickly. She didn’t want him to die before she figured out the tornado of strange feelings that whirled inside her.
“I’m your soulmate, right?” she said to Ethan.
He nodded emphatically. “You believe it to be true?”
“Yes, of course,” she lied. “You and me. Together forever. It just took me by surprise, is all. Apparently I was kind of evil in the past.” She and Henry exchanged a glance.
Ethan frowned. “You mustn’t listen to anything Henry says.”
“Why? Was he wrong?”
Ethan cringed. “Well, I wouldn’t so much as use the word ‘evil’ to describe you. Challenging and exciting are better words.”
“You have got to be joking,” Henry said dryly.
“Shut your mouth,” Ethan hissed. “You mean to kill the woman I love and now you are smart-mouthing me? You are in no position to do anything but beg for mercy.”
“Don’t kill him,” Julia said simply.
Ethan frowned. “Why not?”
“Because…” She scrambled to come up with something that sounded like a reasonable excuse to prevent murder. “Because I’ve changed. I’m not into evil things anymore. I just want everyone to get along and be happy.”
“That’s wonderful, but I have no assurance that my brother feels the same way. He will never give up. He’s relentless in his pursuit of what he wants. It’s very annoying, actually.”
Julia looked at Henry, his head tilted back to avoid the blade Ethan still held tightly against his throat. “Do you promise to…not relentlessly pursue me?”
Their eyes locked and she only felt that click from earlier tighten up a notch.
“Not sure I can promise that,” he managed. “I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from you even if I wanted to.”
She knew he didn’t mean murder. But Ethan didn’t.
“Thank you for making this easier, brother.” Ethan pulled his arm back to prepare for the death blow.
Julia moved quickly, putting herself between Henry and Ethan before he could bring the knife down across Henry’s throat.
“Stop,” she said. “Nobody has to die here. I’ll go with you. Anywhere. We never have to see Henry again. Just don’t hurt him. Please.”
“You are acting very erratically,” Ethan said with a frown.
“It’s been a strange evening to say the least.”
Julia heard something then. A low buzzing sound.
Ethan grimaced. “One moment, please.” He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and held it to his ear. “Ethan Frost here.” A pause. “Yes, that’s right.” Another pause, and he raised his gaze to look at both Julia and Henry in turn.
Julia could feel the heat from Henry’s body behind her. She didn’t want to turn. She didn’t want to say anything else. She knew what would happen if she couldn’t convince Ethan to turn around and leave with her. He’d kill Henry with no more questions asked. It didn’t matter how long they’d been brothers, how long they’d lived and survived. One would be dead. And she was sure that Henry wouldn’t raise a finger to defend himself. He’d spent his existence trying to keep his younger brother out of trouble, not fighting to the death against him.
She knew it was impossible to have fallen in love with somebody in a matter of minutes — to love him so deeply that she’d be willing to change her life in order to save him. And yet, that’s exactly what she was doing. She’d leave with Ethan if it meant saving Henry’s life.
It was crazy, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. She’d never felt so sure about anything before in her entire life. She loved Henry, and she didn’t want him to die.
“Don’t do this,” Henry whispered into her hair. “Let him kill me. It’ll be easier for everyone involved.”
“Shut up,” she told him.
Ethan frowned as he continued to speak to whomever was on the phone. “I don’t understand. Very well, if you insist.” He looked again at Julia And Henry. “It’s the witch who performed the soulmate recovery spell. She wants to be put on speakerphone.”
He pressed a button and held the phone out at arm’s length.
“Hello, can you hear me?” the witch said.
“Uh…yes,” Julia replied.
“Loud and clear,” Henry said.
“Very good,” the witch cleared her throat. “I’m afraid there’s been an error and I’m not quite sure how it happened.”
“An error?” Ethan sounded disturbed. “What do you mean?”
“When you were here yesterday, Mr. Frost, I felt as if there was something awry. The feeling has lasted until a moment ago when I got a surge of power here in my lair. My crystal ball lit up like a lantern. And I knew then, without a shadow of a doubt, that something was horribly, horribly wrong with the recovery I did for you yesterday.”
Ethan still clutched the machete as he gazed wistfully at Julia. “There is nothing wrong. I have found my true love with your help and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Every penny of your fee was earned. She is mine forever. Our souls reunited. I have never felt such deep love in my entire existence.”
“Julia Donner is not your soulmate,” the witch said simply.
“Say what now?” Ethan replied.
“I know, it’s very unusual. I found the wrong one. The energy I channeled yesterday pointed in the wrong direction but I don’t understand why. No one else was with us. There was no other life essence that I could have drawn from. I can’t understand this.”
“Well…I was there,” Henry’s voice was soft.
“Pardon?” the witch said.
“I was there,” Henry repeated. “I’d followed Ethan. I wanted to find out the location of his soulmate so I could find her and murder her so she wouldn’t exert her evil influence on my brother ever again.”
There was a pause. “And is she dead?”
“No, still alive,” Julia spoke up. “Very confused, freaked out, and generally shaken, but alive.”
“Then that must be the answer,” the witch said. “Okay, that totally makes more sense. I thought I’d screwed up and that, like, never happens, thank you very much. Hello? We’re talking a millennium of perfect soulmate recovery here. I have a very good rep for this sort of thing, you know — the best in the biz, in fact. I didn’t realize that there were two Frost brothers in attendance at the recovery yesterday. It’s obvious to me now that I channeled the wrong essence and found your soulmate, Henry. Not Ethan’s.”
Henry and Julia looked at each other. He swallowed. “That’s impossible. I don’t have a soulmate.”
“You’ve never found her before probably because you didn’t have my help, but there she is. Congrats. Live happily ever after. I’ll send you my bill.”
Julia was stunned. More stunned, that is. So it was true? That deep and nearly immediate connection she felt for Henry was because they were soulmates who’d just never connected before?
“Um,” Ethan said, the machete now lowered to his side. “What the hell?”
The witch cleared her throat nervously. “So very, very sorry about any inconvenience, Ethan. If it helps, I did manage to locate your true soulmate, formerly known as Katerina.”
Ethan’s previously dejected expression turned optimistic. “Where is my truest love?”
“It’s a good news, bad news situation. She was reincarnated as a Pit Bull. That’s the bad news.”
His shoulders slumped. “What’s the good news?”
“She’s in the same city you’re in right now. If you want to see her again.”
Ethan chewed his bottom lip. “Yes, I’ll be needing that address.” He took the phone off speaker. “Henry,” he said. “So sorry about the mix up. No hard feelings?”
“Consider it forgotten,” Henry replied.
Ethan wandered off with the phone pressed to his ear.
“So –” Julia began after a few moments of silence went by. “Strange night, huh?”
Henry swallowed hard. “I deeply apologize from the bottom of my heart for everything that has happened here.”
She pressed her lips together. “You should probably know that I’m still not totally convinced on this whole soulmate thing.”
“No?” He raised an eyebrow.
She shook her head. “It’s a bit outside of my comfort zone of knowledge.”
He nodded gravely. “I would assume so.”
“I suppose I’d be okay with learning more about it.” She grinned at him. “That is, if you wanted to teach me.”
“I could easily be convinced.” A smile touched his lips. “So you forgive me for trying to kill you?’
“No. But if we potentially have forever together then I’ll probably get over it eventually.” She reached down to take his hand in hers. “But how about we start with drinks back at the bar and take it from there?”
“I’d say that’s an excellent start.”
The world seemed much bigger than it had before. Full of strange things like handsome vampires and soulmate recovering witches.
Was Henry the one-eyed vampire her soulmate? Was he the man she’d waited her whole life — possibly several lives — to find, only to have him fall into her arms at a most unusual moment?
She was definitely willing to find out.