“I know. And that is why I will never show you the vampire.”

He laughed aloud, his teeth showing as he rolled his head back. “Yes, and let me tell you, mon amour, after meeting the ogre at the funeral on Thursday morning, I will personally see to it that you never skip another meal again.”

“No, you won’t.” I looked down as I spoke. “You’ll be gone by winter.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way.” He reached for my hand.

“I know. But your world doesn’t sound too appealing—blood and death aside. You have a lot of rules. It’d be like living with your parents for eternity.”

“It’s to keep everyone in line. If vampires had free reign, the world would be overrun with them.”

“So, is that what you do—maintain the law? Is that what the council is?”

“Yes. You might say I’m the judge and jury. I see to it that the law gets followed and punish those who choose not to.”

“And, do you get paid for that?”

“All vampires pay a percentage of their wages to the World Council. Might call it vampire tax. And that’s how we fund the Set, research facilities, and the lavish lifestyle of the council leaders.”

“Ha!” he laughed. “I suppose it is a bit like that.”

“Hm, now that’s the organisation I want to belong to for eternity.”

“There are good things about it, Ara. We have a lot of fun—we’re like a family.”

“And, if I came with you, even though you have to return to duty, we’d still get to be together?”

“We could wake up beside each other every day.”

And those few words almost sold me instantly. I drew a deep breath, biting my tongue before I could tell him to take me away and turn me. “And what about school? And what about my dreams of being a famous pianist?”

“School, you can still attend. But…as for fame…”

My stomach sunk. “Could I be famous without a face? You know, just sell my music?”

David moved closer and pulled both my hands toward his chest. “Tell me something, my love.”

“Anything,” I whispered, feeling my heart cry with the gravity of the shadows in his tone.

“If I were to leave today and promise never to come back, and you knew you would die an old, grey woman—that you would meet your mom and Harry at the pearly gates—” He breathed out heavily through his nose, then looked into my eyes, “—but you would’ve missed an eternity with me—is that something you could live with?” His hand tightened on mine. “Could you watch me leave, knowing you’ll never see me again?”

The thought filled my mind like a roll of film from a sad movie or a Kleenex commercial: David, walking away—saying goodbye to him for the last time, for forever. He’d drive down the long, winding road, and when he disappeared over the distant horizon, I’d turn around and walk away. My life would go on in the exact direction I planned for. I’d marry, have babies and grandbabies, and a happy, full life—but a life without David. And it hurt. It burned in a way I never wanted to feel. But while love could possibly shadow morals, it didn’t quell my desire to live, to die—to see Mum and Harry again on whatever the other side was.

“Ara?” He slid his fingers along my chin and turned my face toward his. “You’ve got to stop making your life about Harry and Eleanor’s death.”

My heart jumped with the mention of my mother’s name. It had been a long time since anyone said that name. A tear fell onto my cheek where the cool air around the lake took the warmth from it, leaving a cold line down my face.

David wiped it with his thumb. “Sweetheart, you don’t have to live in my world, but if you decide to stay human, you do have to live. I care so much for you. And this sadness you keep inside will stop you from finding happiness,” he said softly. “Your every thought, every path you take, is influenced by their death. It has to stop.”

“But you make it all okay. I can’t live without you, David, I’ve already decided that.” His face doubled under my tear-shrouded vision. “Just, living with your lifestyle, that’s a different matter. How do I do that?”

“I’m not asking you to kill anyone, today. But if, at the end of the summer, you haven’t come to accept murder, then you have to accept that we can only ever love each other from afar. Do you understand this?”

With those words, my tears spilled past my lashes, and the reality of losing him suddenly became so much more potent.

He softened, touching the back of his finger to my trembling lip. “I’m sorry, my love. I never meant for you to hurt like this.”

“I’m okay.” I sniffed, wiping my tears away. “I just don’t really wanna think about you leaving for now.”

“Okay.” He opened his arm and I slid over, nestling close to his chest.

“Maybe I’ll change my mind about becoming a vampire once I’ve had some time to think about it all.”

He released a very long, very slow and shaky breath; I looked up, leaving the closeness of his body when I saw a tear in his eye.

His knee came up as a prop for his elbow, his fingers tightly tangling in his hairline, while the sunlight emphasised shadows around his temples, making them seem deep—showing contours of his face I’d never noticed before. “I was so afraid I’d lost you.”

No. You can’t possibly know what I’ve been through these past few days, Ara. There is no way to describe the agony I’ve suffered, worrying that, even driving down here today, that you were going to tell me goodbye.” He cast his eyes to the blue sky, then closed them for a second. “It’s almost like…I am afraid I’ll wake up in a moment and none of this will be real, you—” he touched my face, “—won’t be real.”

“If I had lost you—” He pulled away, resting his elbow back over his knee, “—If you had told me that you could never love me for what I am, I would’ve died inside—enough that I would’ve spent eternity searching for a way to end my life.”

“How dare you—even think like that?” I got to my knees in front of him. “Suicide? That’s a coward’s choice, David. I don’t ever want to hear you say that again.”

“Oh, look who’s talking.” He looked up at me, kind of laughing. “Do you really think I don’t hear your thoughts, girl?”

My mouth fell open. He’d obviously been listening to me a lot more than I thought. “Those thoughts are private.”

“How dare you.” He rose to his knees as well, becoming taller than me again. “You are my soulmate, Ara—your life belongs to me, and I will not let you have thoughts like that. Not ever. Clear?”

“No. Not clear. Those thoughts were…” I looked around for the right words. “Were images conjured up in a moment of extreme heartache and loneliness, David—fleeting thoughts—never intentions.”

“So you would never have acted on them?” he asked, looking down at me.

“God, no. Never. But you would. That’s the worst part about this. You lecture me, but you—” I stabbed my fingertip into his chest. “You’d take the first express to purgatory if it meant easing your own heartache.”

“If it were possible for me to die—” he held back a smile, “—yes.”

“No!” I shook my head. “You don’t get to say that. No matter what happens, no matter what life throws at you, you always have to keep going. I did.” I pressed my palm to my chest. “It hurt me to keep going when Mum died, but what would you be doing if I just gave up when I wanted to, when the pain got too much?”

“Well, it won’t matter what happens to me in our case, because if you stay human, you will never know, will you?”

“No. You can get through it. You can live—find happiness again.”

He shook his head decisively. “I won’t be the same man if I lose you.”

“No one stays the same, David. Everything you are is as a direct result of something that’s affected you in your past, whether it was horrible or wonderful—and no one has the right to destroy themselves because they can’t deal with the pain,” I said. “You have to learn from it. It’s not over—the good in your life—it’s not over until you’re dead.”

A pompous smirk occupied his face. “Pretty passionate about this, aren’t ya?”

“It’s because I’ve been there. I almost crossed that bridge a few times.”

He swallowed hard, becoming suddenly very still. “Will you come to it again when I leave?”

Maybe. “No.” I smiled. “And you won’t, either. Look, I know you can’t die, but you have to promise me that no matter what—” I took both David’s hands in mine, “—promise me you’ll keep going, and that you’ll try to make your life good again after I’m gone.”

“Do you mean gone as in old-and-grey-dead, or gone as in you’re-not-coming-with-me?”

I sighed. “You have to be prepared for it, David. What we have is so wonderful, it will always be wonderful, but it might just be a wonderful memory.” I squeezed his fingertips until he looked at me. “Promise me that if I choose to stay human, you will love again—you will keep fighting for happiness.”

David wrapped his wrists around my lower back and pressed my waist to his. “I am nothing without you. I won’t promise to go on, because it would be a lie.” He kissed my brow. “When you die, when you no longer exist, I will give myself to the monster inside me, Ara. I won’t survive,” he said, then smiled. “You will just have to promise me forever.”

“I want to. But today, I can only promise my forever—not yours.”

He exhaled heavily, leaning back, a mischievous grin igniting his eyes as he looked into mine. “I’ll make you see reason. I can be very persuasive.”

“And I can be very stubborn.”

“And that, mon amour, is one of the things I love about you,” he said with a husky laugh. “But please, just don’t be too stubborn. I only have until the last leaf turns red and falls from the last tree. Then, I must go.”

There was nothing more to say. A choice had to be made. We could have the summer together—it was our only promise. But everything else would just take more consideration.

I sat down between his legs, my back against his chest, his soft breath warming the top of my head, and awed the tranquil serenity of the lake for a while. Then, as my mind wandered over everything we just said, it stopped on one particular inquisition. “Okay, so tell me?” I squinted against the sun as I turned slightly to look at him. “When exactly did you want to feed from me?”

David laughed aloud. “It was right here on this spot, actually. The second time we came to the lake. Do you remember it?”

He obviously didn’t know how clearly I remembered everything he and I had ever done together. “When you should’ve kissed me.”

“Yes. It was very stupid of me. Not just because I didn’t kiss you when I had the chance, but also because I hadn’t had blood in two days. Which would’ve been fine if it weren’t for these—” He ran his thumb along my lower lip; I closed my eyes, revelling in the tickly sensation. “Then, to make matters worse, I had to contend with your warm, velvet skin, your sweet smelling breath and this.” He placed his hand on my chest. “I nearly completely lost control.”

“Yes, but, after that day, I now know what I’m capable of. I need you in my life more than I need nourishment. I’m pretty sure that—” he grinned warmly, “—kissing you shouldn’t be a problem.”

“I think I kinda knew.” I laid back against his chest. “I mean, I knew there was some reason you wouldn’t kiss me, but I just never imagined it was because you wanted to bite me.”

He smiled and kissed my forehead.

“Well,” I mused, “I suppose that’s the best excuse I’ve ever had for a boy not wanting to kiss me.”

“No, well, one—when I was about five. But that was because of cooties.”

“Hm, yes, cooties. Horrible disease. Caught it once, myself,” he joked.

“Well, it wasn’t from a cat, if that’s what you’re asking.” David chuckled and pulled me tighter, kissing my forehead again—like his lips couldn’t get enough of me.

We sat still for a while, quietly listening to the sound of our own thoughts—or maybe just mine. David and I could exist like this, in perfect unity, where the silent whispers of our minds filled the warm space around us. It didn’t feel uncomfortable. And despite him knowing every little thought I had, including things like needing to go to the bathroom, it, strangely enough, wasn’t awkward.