“I want to buy you a dress for the Masquerade.”

We stopped for a second, and David took my hands. “This will be your first real ball. I want you to feel like a queen. And—” he turned and started walking again, smiling, “—I won’t take no for an answer.”

“But…Vicki?” I ran after him. “She wants to take me shopping.”

“And she can.” He spun around and walked backward. “But when you find the right dress, I want to pay for it.”

“Ara.” He cut in with a finger to my lips. “I’ll have no more of this. Just accept it, as a gift—a token of my affection for you. It will do me great honour to escort you to the ball in a dress fit for a queen—for my queen.”

My throat stopped passage of all vocabulary. I froze in place, my hands and feet numb under the weight of his perfect words. All I could do was nod and swallow the sentence that had been my retort.

Sam’s schoolbooks engulfed the dining table, leaving one space left for me to do my homework; the kitchen counter. I slumped over my books, munching an apple, spinning my hips from side to side on the swishy stool. I’d deliberately moved my schoolbag off the seat beside me, hoping David would sit there to either help me with my homework or just plain old be close to me, but he went and sat next to my pesky brother instead, and helped him. Except, he wasn’t helping him with his math—he was doing it for him.

“David, will you stay for dinner tonight?” Vicki asked, casually chopping away at vegetables.

David looked up from the page. “That’d be great, Mrs Thompson. If Ara doesn’t mind.”

A giant, invisible question mark formed above my head. Why would I mind, dummy? Unless you plan to eat us for dinner.

“Great,” Vicki beamed, without needing my answer. “It’s nothing special. Although, I am making apple pie for dessert.”

My vampire flashed the most incredibly charming smile and said, “Apple pie happens to be my favourite.”

I groaned quietly, rolling my eyes. I think my stepmother has a crush on you, David.

He nodded to himself, his eyes small with humour, aiming the pen tip to the top of the page. He went on then to explain some number jargon to Sam, and I turned back to my books, a breath away from asking for his help. I really just didn’t get this Pythagoras’ Theorem crap. I never had.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw David look over at me for a second, but as the numbers on the page started to shift into place in my brain, I fazed him, Sam, and Vicki out, and concentrated on my homework—taking a sideways glance every now and then to see David look up at the same time. All I really wanted, though, was to go upstairs to my room so David and I could do our ‘homework’ in private. The idea made me smile to myself.

A roll of paper hit my forearm then and bounced up, landing between my wrists.

David winked at me, rolling his hand in the air as if to say ‘Open it.’

As I unfolded the paper, perfect Victorian cursive handwriting stared back up at me in the words: What exactly would we be doing in your room—other than homework?

Stay out of my head!

He laughed and took a sip from his coffee cup; I ditched the paper back at him, but he caught it without even looking.

Smart arse, I thought. But if you were any decent sort of mind reader, you wouldn’t need to ask what I wanted to do with you in there.

He looked over at me, his face tight with a frown, his cup just in front of his lips.

I waited until he dared to take another sip, then showed him what we’d be wearing if Vicki trusted me alone upstairs with a boy in my room.

Brown liquid burst all over Sam’s homework, spraying from David’s mouth as he jerked up out of his chair, wiping his chin on his sleeve. “Ara!”

Vicki stared between David and I, and Sam, oblivious to all other life forms aside from himself, simply shook his head, sighed, like we were immature, then went back to his homework.

“Ara,” Vicki said, handing David a dishcloth. “What did you do to the poor boy?”

David placed the cloth and his cup in the sink, shaking his head the whole time, then popped up beside me when Vicki turned to the stove, and whispered quietly in my ear. “You need a filter on your thoughts, Ara-Rose.”

I scraped the side of my face down his chin, closing my eyes for a second when his soft lips left a kiss behind before he walked back over and sat beside Sam, still shaking his head.

“So, Ara,” Vicki said casually, “you have the girls coming for a sleepover this Saturday, right?”

“Mm-hm.” I nodded, quickly looking back at my homework.

“When are we going dress hunting then? I assume you’ll want to do it soon, before Mike arrives?”

“Did Ara tell you, Mom?” Sam interjected, winking at David. “David’s gonna buy her a dress?”

My head whipped up to look at my vampire; he smiled behind his book, keeping his eyes on the text and nowhere near my infuriated glare.

Vicki looked at me, then at David. “That’s a very kind offer, David. Are you sure?”

“I’m positive, Mrs Thompson. If you take her shopping, I’ll cover the costs.”

“Dresses can be expensive,” she said in a remarkably condescending tone.

David leaned back in his chair and lopped his arm over the backrest. I knew he was looking at Vicki, probably thinking, I’m about eighty years older than you, lady. I think I know what things cost. “There is no price too high. I want Ara to have the prettiest, most extravagant dress money can buy,” he said instead.

Vicki stared, her mouth gaping. “How much do you want her to spend?”

Don’t, David, please don't. Vicki would definitely spend exactly what he told her to, without any hint of remorse. I, on the other hand, would feel like a dirty thief.

He grinned, completely ignoring me as he ripped a corner of his notepad, scribbled something down on it, showed it to Sam, who nodded, then passed it to Vicki. “No less than this.”

“What? Vicki, how much? Tell me?” I whined.

She folded the paper and slipped it into her pocket, spinning back to the stove with a bounce in her step. “So, we’ll go shopping on Saturday morning then, before your friends arrive?”

I folded my arms and looked at David.

“What?” He shrugged, holding both hands out, looking so cute and human my heart melted.

While David had mastered the styles and behaviours of the twenty-first century, practicing them well at school, when it came to automatically switching to ‘good boy’ mode around a girl’s parents, old habits died hard. He ate with the perfection of his inner English Lord, talking topics over dinner that had my dad more than a little impressed, and even complimented Vicki’s cooking. I kept watching his fork go from his plate to his mouth like a graceful bird flying, wondering how it affected him to eat human food. But when it came to the apple pie, I don’t think he was lying about it being his favourite, because he ate mine too. Then, he scored extra points with the parental units by helping me with the dishes, forever winning Sam over by giving him the night off. Didn’t earn enough trust for my dad to leave the kitchen, though. Instead, he decided to ‘read his paper’ while David and I stood by the sink, trying to talk about ‘human’ stuff.

David finished wiping the counter and re-rolled his sleeves before sticking hands back into the water, then handing me a soapy plate.

“Is it awful?” I asked, taking it in my towel-covered hand.

David let out a short breath of laughter. “No. It’s very normal for me. I mean—” He bent his knees so his lips came in line with my ear. “It’s not totally necessary, but I still enjoy it.”

“Yeah.” He laughed. “I guess it’s like chocolate; you don’t need it, and you can’t survive on it, but you can enjoy it now and then.”

“Oh.” I nodded. “I thought it’d be like vamp—I mean, like your kind in the movies, you know; how it tastes like ash.”

“Nope. Things actually taste better,” he added, handing me another plate. “My senses are very finely tuned, so, taste is enhanced, touch is enhanced. Everything.” His smile was oh-so incredibly suggestive.

“So?” I said slowly, running one finger at a snail’s pace down his spine, feeling the soft silk of his shirt bunch up as I glided along. “This feels better when you’re a vampire?”

“Shh.” He nodded toward my dad, his shoulders lifting with the slow breath he took after. “And, yes. That feels incredible.”

Dad stood up suddenly and walked out of the room.

David listened for a second, then shook his head. “No. He’s gone to talk to Vicki about Mike coming to stay.”

“He just realised he might need some help getting that giant sofa out of the spare room. He’s going to ask me.”

“So he trusts you to help move furniture and do dishes, but not be alone in the kitchen with his daughter?”

“Yeah, well, maybe we should tell him you’re a vampire—at least then he’d stop worrying about me getting pregnant.”

“What!” My eyes nearly bulged out of my head.

He laughed and looked at the pile of dishes. “You know, I can think of at least three better ways to be spending our evening. You want me to get this done in record time?” A hint of mischief shimmered behind his eyes.

He grabbed both my shoulders and gently directed me to stand centre to the room. “Count to twenty,” he said, then disappeared into a blur of grey and black, like watching the road out the window when driving down the highway. The faucet ran, cupboard doors shut and opened, and I stood, mouth open, towel and plate still in hand, until David grabbed it and placed it on the shelf, closing the cupboard door after, dusting off his hands as he stood beside me. “All done.”

“I only counted to ten!” I said.

“Told you.” He jerked one shoulder up and dropped it. “I’m fast.”

“Hm.” I wrapped my arms along the sides of his waist and pressed my cheek to his shirt buttons. “I knew there was a reason I should keep you around.”

“Shall we go upstairs? I’ll give you a few more.”

“Tease.” I smiled, squeezing him tighter. We both knew he wouldn’t come upstairs with me. It was past ten o’clock, and he had his rules.

“It’s out of respect for you, Ara.”

“I know, but it’s annoying.” I pulled my scarf away from my neck a little, allowing the bruises to breathe.

“Look at you.” David ran his thumb over the skin just beside the mark. “We shouldn’t have done that. You’re going to have bruises for weeks.”

“No, you’re not.” He covered the bruise again. “I watched you fidget with that all night. I know it’s bothering you.”

“No. I was way too rough with you.”

“I liked it.” I looked up, my voice and my eyes filling with all the guilt of a child who just stole the last cookie.

He let a breath out through his smile. “You’re not the shy, meek little thing I thought you were, are you?”

“No, I’m really not—and, you know, when you did that to me, it made me feel—I don’t know.” I shook my head, lost for the right word.

David smiled warmly. “I do. I believe the words you’re looking for are excited, lustful—” his voice lowered before he said, “Aroused.”

My cheeks turned hot underneath. He was right. “What does that mean, though? That being bitten makes me want to…to have sex with you?” I whispered the ‘s’ word.

“Yes, but I prefer to think of it as—” he stroked the backs of his fingers slowly over my cheekbone, “—making love.”

My breath shuddered. “Surely that’s not right—for me to be turned on by you doing dangerous things to me?”

“Of course it is. It’s called human nature. What’s not right is taking pleasure in taunting me when I’m about to kill you.”

“Is it—” I chewed the inside of my lip. “Is it wrong for me to want—” Gah! I huffed the rest of my words out in one gust.

“Ara?” David stepped closer, towering over me a little, eyes of concern stealing his smile. “S’il te plaît, mon amour? What is it?”

“Ara,” Vicki called before she walked through the doorway. “It’s late, time you were getting to bed.”