David laughed lightly. “I don’t. I have no choice but to stay alive, but I hate myself for some of the things I’ve done. You just find a way to do it without leaving too many scars on the world—or your own heart. But there aren’t too many vampires with empathy for humans. It gets lost when we change. Mostly, you’re just food to us.” As he shrugged, he flashed an easy smile at me; I shuddered.

Food? “Don’t ever use that term around me again, David. I still care for humans, you know, since I’m one of them.”

“I’m sorry, Ara. We’re just from different worlds, you and I. I’ll be careful what I say around you, I promise.” He looked into my eyes, his gaze guarded. “Assuming you still want to see me.”

He looked down at his feet. “Would you like me to leave?”

I bit my lip, tapping my fingertips on my leg. “Not yet.”

“May I sit?” he asked, motioning to the bed.

“So, is it true that all vampires are totally hot and sexy?” I asked after a few minutes.

“Depends on your tastes, I’d say.” He sat back a little, smirking. “Get to the point.”

“You forget,” he said, pushing my quilt away from his leg. “I can read your mind. What was your point?”

My shoulders sunk. “Why me? Why a plain, ordinary, scarred human, when you could be with a hot vampire chick?”

He moved his words around inside his mouth for a second. “You do things to me that no other girl, human or vampire, has ever done. It’s not optional for me to love you, Ara. I…when I’m with you—” He looked at me, breathing out before continuing. “I’m more human than monster. More heart-and-soul than vacant-shadowy-night.” He blinked softly and added, “Plus,” with a smile.

I looked down to hide my wide grin.

“It’s not enough for me just to love you, though,” he said. “I need to be with you—to see you, to touch you—be a part of you in a way no one else in the world ever could.”

My face fell into my hands, his words sending giggles through my chest. I couldn’t believe I’d managed to fall in love with a real, blood-sucking vampire. And my parents were afraid I’d start hanging with kids on drugs.

“Ara? Are…are you crying, ma jolie fille?” David’s hesitant embrace fell around me, and the fear I felt before edged in the centre of my stomach, while the weight of his arms on my body made my heart beat faster. But I closed my eyes and focused on the truth; this was David. Not some random murderer.

I looked up, and the vampire ran a cool fingertip under my eye—a kind of affection, kind of touch, that felt so normal to me now.

“Sorry.” He broke into a breathy smile. “It’s just that…when a guy tells a girl he’s a vampire, he doesn’t exactly expect to be laughed at.”

“Well, would you expect anything less than fear, David? You’re a dangerous creature—not a Cullen,” I added, with a wry smile.

He laughed, loud and full. The sound warmed the room with its grace. “I wish.” He rolled his head backward as the laugh dissipated to a smile. “Great books, though.”

“Of course.” He breathed out, still smiling as he added, “Wouldn’t life be so much easier if it were really that way?”

“No, because then you’d be icy-cold…and pale. But I like your golden skin.”

My ears and cheeks flushed with heat. “So, you don’t, like, sparkle or anything, do you?”

“Ara. You’ve seen me in the sun,” he stated dryly. “Did I look like a lamp to you?”

Hmm. I remembered how lovely he looked in the sun; how he seemed to glow—an incandescent beauty with perfectly formed muscles. His skin was so soft and smooth, hairless, as far as I could see. But although the memory was bright and golden, making me forget how dark my room was getting, I was pretty sure he didn’t have moths buzzing around his head or anything. So, no, he didn’t look like a lamp. But boy, would I love to take his shirt off right now just to be sure it was all real.

A tiny smile tugged the corners of David’s lips, changing his whole expression.

“Stop it!” I scolded, holding my finger up to warn him against his invasive, mind-reading behaviour. Would there ever be any way to get used to him being constantly in my head?

“Okay. So, those myths aside—” I wandered over and plonked on my floor, crossing my legs to get comfortable.

“Just to save you time, Ara, technically, everything you think you know is a myth.”

“For one, despite ancient storytelling, vampires are not actually dead.” He sat on the edge of my bed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “And we’re not undead, either—we’re actually alive.”

“Yeah. And you know what else we’re not?” he hinted with a lopsided grin.

“We’re not evil demons or weirdoes with anaemia, but—” he pointed to the roof, “—we are, in fact, colder—which is where some of the stories come from, I guess.”

“But…why are you cold if you’re alive?”

“Why are you cold?” He grinned; I shrugged. “If we go for long periods without…nourishment, we get colder and a little pale.”

“So, you’re not so very different from me, then?” I grinned.

“Ha! Maybe you’re a vampire and you just don’t know it.” He pointed at me, his very cute, dimpled smile making me laugh.

It was nice to laugh with him again. “There’s just one thing I’m curious about, though. You said you’re not dead?”

Everything David and I ever did together, every moment I touched him since we met, I ran over in my mind. “I—I can’t remember ever hearing a heartbeat. Do you have a heart?”

His gaze fell on his clasped hands. “I don’t have a heartbeat, because I don’t need my heart to beat. You see, the energy—the life force I draw from a human—moves the blood through my arteries. It’s very powerful.”

“Kind of. And I don’t need my heart to pump blood to my lungs for oxygenation either, because I don’t make the blood. It comes to me with oxygen in it. See?” He held out his forearm and rolled up his sleeve to reveal clear veins, slightly protruding from his skin as if he were flexing his muscles. “They don’t contain blood. They carry the remaining life force—the energy that makes me immortal. The blood I drink runs through the arteries, which are deeper. That’s why my veins look skin-tone.”

“So…really? You don’t make your own blood?”

“Nope. When the blood I drink runs out of oxygen and nutrients, I simply drink more.”

“So, if you get a cut and bleed, it’s not your blood seeping out?”

“No, it is. My body coverts the blood I drink to use as its own.”

“But,” he added, rolling his sleeve back down, “I do still have a heart.”

My head bounced and my lips pressed together into a thin smile. “I know.”

“Then you know I love you?” His hand flinched a little—like he was going to reach for me, but thought better of it.

“I know you do. The trouble is—I love you, too.”

“Why should that be a problem?”

“Because you’re a vampire, David. You—” My words were lost. What could I say? That I wasn’t sure how I felt about him now I knew he killed people? That’d be kinda shallow, wouldn’t it?

“It’s not shallow, Ara. This,” he said, motioning to himself, “is a lot for anyone to handle.”

I let my cheek lift my lip in the smile it forced. “Touché.”

He sat back again, rubbing his thumb over his chin. “I was human once, you know. And I do understand how you feel about the deaths.”

I nodded, thinking for a moment. “So, how long have you been a vampire?”

“I knew it! I knew you weren’t an eighteen-year-old boy.” I shook my head in amazement. “It all makes so much sense now—especially how you keep appearing at my side all the time.” After that thought came another, but a more carefully considered question this time. “Are you…alone?”

He shook his head. “No. I live in a large community of vampires. Plus, I have my uncle and my brother, which is more than most vampires have.”

“What about girlfriends? Have you ever had one?” I probably didn’t really want to know, especially if she went out to dinner with him and ended up becoming the main course.

David laughed again. “I’m not that careless, but, yes, I have had girlfriends.”

“Was anyone special? I mean, you’re pretty old, right, so have you ever, like, loved anyone?”

“Like I love you?” He shook his head. “Never. But there were two other girls I’ve loved in my existence. Neither of them worked out.”

His eyes narrowed slightly. “Why do you want to know this?”

“Same reason you wonder about Mike.” I pointed at him. “And I know you do.”

David nodded. “So, you wanna know who the competition is.”

“Okay. Fine. Well, let’s just say that for one of the girls—it turned out that we were really too different, and…” He took a breath, biting his lip, his eyes distant. “And the other was…just not meant to be.”

“Well, what happened to her?” I moved an inch closer, sensing his obvious distress.

“Perhaps this story is for another time.”

“Is that what happened two years ago?” I asked after dropping it for a whole three seconds. “Is she the reason you missed so much school—why you came to live here?”

“Ara, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“So, you can tell me that you kill people, but you won’t talk about ex-girlfriends?”

“Why? Why won’t you tell me?” Agitation wandered into my tone. “Was she human, like me? Did you love her as much as you love me?”

My heart jumped. I sunk back into myself. “I’m sorry, David.”

My hand moved and I felt his fingers around mine before I realised he was beside me.

“I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. It’s just—they took her away. She was a vampire, and they took her away.”

“Ara, please, I don’t want to talk about it.” He studied the ground, as if he couldn’t look at me.

“Yes. But nothing like the way I love you—that has no measure, but I loved her enough.”

“Will she ever come back?” I studied his eyes.

“Do you want her to?”

“No,” he raised his voice a little, then softened it, running his fingers through his hair. “Look. It doesn’t matter. I just. I don’t want to talk about it yet, okay?”

“No,” he moaned, rolling his head back a little. “You can ask—just not today.”

“That’s what you always say.” I looked right into his eyes; he looked ready for a challenge, but too much was going on in my head. I wasn’t up to arguing with him. Instead, my mind wandered through the past few weeks, analysing and going over everything we said or did together, then stopped on the best memory I had stored away up there in my catalogue of thoughts; the butterflies—the look of concentration on his face as they fluttered around us; the seemingly perfect timing.

David’s head titled down a little and a very sexy smile spread across his lips.

“It wasn’t a timing thing at all, was it? Did—did you do that?” I asked, full of wonder.

“It’s one of my many talents,” he said, still grinning.

“But, how? Are you magic?”

“No.” He shook his head, almost laughing. “I’m a creature of nature, Ara. Hard as that is to believe—”

“A creature of nature! But you kill people?”

“Ara?” he scolded softly. “I’m no different to the lion killing the antelope.”