I forced back a grin. David was in Mr Adams’ class. I’d love it if he moved me. “Sorry, Dad. It won’t happen again.” Or maybe it would—just a bit.

“Uh. Great. I’m doing mine on vampires.” I just decided.

Dad raised one brow. “Is that inspired by last week’s intriguing lecture—on Lilith?”

“Actually, it is.” And the fact that my boyfriend just happened to know that history firsthand. “But, if I determine that I believe the truth behind the myth…are you and Vicki gonna have me admitted into psyche care?”

Dad laughed once. “Aw, honey. We’d never do that. Even if you decide I’m a vampire and try to stake me through the heart.” His face softened away from his grin as he shook his head. “I love you, okay? I know we’ve been a little watchful of you lately, but it’s because we care about you.”

“Ara, you know Vicki cares for you, too.”

“She’s just trying to give you space,” he said. “She’s afraid you’ll accuse her of trying to replace your mom.”

I rolled my eyes. “Okay, Dad. I’ll try—with Vicki. It’s hard, you know. I’m just afraid to let her in, that’s all.”

His stern expression melted and he stood up. Then, even with his next class filling the room behind us, he still walked all the way around his desk and wrapped his arms around me—really tightly. I patted his back, dreading the thought of everyone watching.

The old man pulled back and held me at arm’s length. “I love ya, honey. Now get to class, you’re late.”

I waved and threaded my other arm through my backpack, making haste for the exit—with thirty pairs of eyes burning into my spine.

Warm water splashed over my wrists, spraying up in my face a little. I readjusted the faucet and rubbed my hands together under the soft flow of water, studying my face in the mirror. The last time I looked at myself in this mirror, I felt completely alone, isolated, unsure. But so much had changed since my first day of school, and even my reflection somehow looked different.

I smiled, drawing my hands away from the basin and dried them on my jeans as the door opened and two cackling girls came in with the steady breeze.

“Oh, hey, new girl.” Gypsy bumped her hip playfully with mine.

“Hi.” I shouldered my schoolbag. “Did you guys come in here to bitch about somebody else today, or am I on the hotlist?”

“Actually, you are on the hotlist.” She leaned on the counter, folding her arms. “Rumour has it you and David Knight are an item.”

“Rumour would be correct—this time.” I folded my arms and leaned beside her.

“You know there’s only one reason that boy dates girls—and it’s not love,” Summer said, propping her hand on her hip.

“Yeah, right.” Summer’s eyes flicked to Gypsy. “He says that to every girl.”

“I’m sure he does.” I stood up from my lean. “But, I bet he’s never said it to you.”

Her head bopped from side to side in the hollow of her shoulders. “What if he has?”

“Nah, I doubt that.” I shook my head, gazing down my nose at her as I passed. “You’re a little out of his league—he only likes us ugly girls.”

“Uh, Summer. I think that was a compliment,” Gypsy said, looking a little confused. “I think she just said you’re pretty.”

“Have a nice lunch,” I called over my shoulder as I stepped out of the stinky toilet block, leaving them and their gossip where it belonged.

The white glare of the open corridor framed the silhouette of a boy. “David? I thought we were meeting in the auditorium for lunch.”

He unhitched himself from the railing. “We are, but I…”

“You were late, so I went looking for you. Then I saw Summer and Gypsy, and…”

“Aw.” I slid my hands inside his denim jacket and snuggled against his chest. “You were worried about me.”

“I’m sorry.” He kissed the crown of my head. “I know you can take care of yourself, but I…I just didn’t want them to make you cry again.”

“Aw, David.” I hugged him tighter, smiling like a little kid, breathing deep his vibrant, heart-tingling scent—all sugary and mouth-watering. “You’re so sweet.”

“Mr Knight!” a booming voice shocked my thoughts from inappropriate paths. “Not on school grounds.”

“Certainly, Mr Rogers. Won’t happen again.” David held me out from his chest.

I kept my face down until Mr Rogers passed. “Didn’t you see him coming?”

“Yes, but what was I supposed to do?”

He smiled his secret smile. “Getting sprung showing affection on school campus is not a good enough reason to step away when you’ve got your arms around me like that.”

“Maybe not for you, but he might tell my dad.”

“He won’t.” David started walking—without touching me. “He was a boy once, himself. He understands.”

“So does my dad. Except when it comes to me.”

“Okay, we won’t touch at school, then. Will that make you happy?”

“No. Just keep watch, next time. What good is a vampire boyfriend if he can’t use his powers to keep you outta trouble?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I must be good for something.” He grinned widely, opening the door for me.

“Well, you’re a good kisser, but that’s the human in you—not the vampire.”

“That’s because the vampire me hasn’t kissed you yet.”

“Ooh.” I pretended to feel a shiver down my spine. “Well, maybe you should let him out for a while, then.”

David leaned closer as we passed a group of students. “Meet me under the stage, and I’ll show him to you.”

The second toll of the lunch bell rang loudly as David went to speak. He swallowed his sentence, remaining quiet until we reached the auditorium. “After you,” he said, opening the door.

“Thank you, kind sir.” I curtsied, making him laugh. I loved making him laugh.

“Hey, guys.” Ryan stood up and waved from the front of the room.

“How’s rehearsal going?” I asked, stashing my schoolbag next to the group of desks.

“Eh—” Ryan shrugged. “Haven’t started. We’ve mostly been making paper airplanes and seeing who can hit the lighting rig.”

“Sounds productive.” I looked at Emily, who rolled her eyes and leaned on her hand.

“This might be a little cold,” David said, sliding a tray of food in front of me, then flashed a wildly mischievous grin. “I made it to the cafeteria line first.”

“Well—” I sat down between him and Emily, digging my fingertip into the lukewarm nachos, “—you do run really fast.”

“So, Ara, did you get totally busted by your dad?” Alana asked.

“Uh, not really. Why do you ask?”

“I was in his next class—saw him talking sternly with you,” she said. “Em said it was ‘cause you were all gossiping during a lecture.”

My brows rose. That had to be the most I’d ever heard that girl say. “Um—no, he just wanted to find out how my mythology paper was coming along.”

“I’m doing mine on fairies,” Alana said in a dreamy tone. “I love fairies.”

“Yeah, I’m doing mine on trolls,” Ryan added. “What about you, Dave?”

David looked up from thumbing his phone, and the words he was holding back washed across his face; he hated being called Dave, but he’d never say it. I smiled sympathetically at him. “I’m uh—I’m actually in Mr Adams’ class. We’re doing a different topic this semester,” he said.

“Yeah, me too,” another kid added from the other end of our little rectangle of friends.

While the conversation continued, I excluded myself, watching David focus intently on his phone, wondering what he was doing.

He grinned without looking up, then inched his body closer so our shoulders touched and his screen sat between us. “I’m tweeting.”

“Really?” I whispered, reading the reply he’d sent to an EricDelaR. “I didn’t know your kind used social media.”

He laughed once and slipped the phone into his pocket. “How narrow-minded of you.”

It amazed me how much more human he was around everyone from school, and how, now I knew what he was, I could see right through his poorly-executed disguise. His movements were so deliberate; blinking carefully, closing his eyelids a little too slowly, and he shifted on a counted beat.

One, two, three—I made it to ten and he crossed his ankle over his knee.

One, two, three—yup, ten again and he uncrossed it.

He turned his head and smiled, branching us away from the group conversation again. “Problem?”

“Would you prefer an odd count?” His smile gleamed.

I nodded, and counted in my head. One, two, three; he ran his hand through his hair.

One, two; he picked up his cup.

“What about you, Ara?” I looked up, like I’d been sprung talking in class. “What’re you doing yours on?”

“Honestly, Ara.” Emily shook her head. “Do you ever pay attention?” I stared blankly at her; she smiled and said, “Your mythology paper. What are you doing yours on?”

David coughed beside me and shot up out of his chair, dusting soda off his jeans. “Damn it!”

“Uh—” He stood up straight, holding a now oddly-shaped cup out from his body, glancing over the wide stares of all the other kids at our table. “Yeah. Swallowed the wrong way.”

Emily’s cheek tightened on one side, and the others, not thinking anything of David’s strange reaction, went back to their food and conversation.

“David?” I whispered, mostly talking through my teeth. “What’s wrong?”

“Can we talk?” he asked, his eyes widening for a second.

He jerked his head in the direction of the stage. “We’ll be back,” he said to everyone else.

“Okay, don’t be too long,” Emily said, “I’m gonna kick everyone’s butts soon and get this rehearsal into swing.”

“Of course.” David nodded, though it looked more like a bow, then took my hand and led me away.

Is this just an elaborate escape plan—to get me in private?

The heavy black door creaked as I pushed it open, and David ducked under the low frame, closing us into the musty darkness, thick with the smell of latex and old books.

“Ara, you can’t do your paper on va—”

I cut his words off with my lips, flinging my arms around his neck; he attempted protest, laughing under the kiss, but, after a deep breath, slid his long, elegant fingers up the sides of my face, finally letting me have my own way.

“Show me the vampire,” I whispered into the hollow of his mouth.

“Then we’re in a perfect place for me to try really hard not to scream.”

He clicked his tongue, shaking his head. “Do you even understand what the vampire is?”

“Yes. Very much so. And he may be inclined to bite you or, at the least, be rough with you, perhaps even do things I might regret after.”

That only made it harder for me to breathe. I knew, deep down inside, that David would never actually hurt me, so the thought of biting only stirred the idea of him as a primal being, all his emotional guards down—just David; raw, instinctual, completely exposed David. And I wanted it bad.

I jumped up and wrapped my legs around his waist, forcing his lips open with mine.

“Ara, please,” he groaned loudly, but tucked his hands under me, beneath my dress, and finally took control of the kiss. “You know, you really shouldn’t wear dresses to school.”

“Take it off me, then.”

“Ha!” His breath burst from his lips in a cool gust. “Don’t say things like that. I haven’t eaten enough for this kind of misbehaviour, my love.”

“When did you last eat?”

“Monday morning—right before I brought you the pastry.”

“That’s two days. You should be fine.”

“Ara.” He set me down on the ground, and my toes tingled with prickling pins. “This isn’t a game.”

I chewed the tip of my finger for a second, attempting control, but it was just too much—his skin, his warmth, his chest under my breath; I slid my fingers into the neckline of his jacket and pushed it away from his shoulders.