He laughed and turned back to the steering wheel. “Yes, you are.”

“Well, you make up in annoyance what I lack in height.” I folded my arms. “So, can I meet him?”

“There’s no need—he was obviously satisfied.”

“Er! That’s so creepy.” I dusted myself off as if I’d walked through an empty web.

“I’m sorry, Ara. I’ll talk to him, okay?”

I swiped my hair from my face, looking out the window. “You better.”

David put the car in gear and we pulled away again, gaining speed a little faster than usual. I sat watching the world go by for a minute, sorting out my inner fears by imagining everything; that vampire slipping through my window, standing over me, his face and his smile just like David’s, while his eyes told a different story. And that damn cat. He was on my bed that night. How could he call himself a guard cat if he couldn’t even alert me to strange predators sneaking into my room? I bet he would’ve slept through my death, had it been a murderous vampire. “So, you said I’d already be changed if he’d bitten me. How long does it take?”

“A day or so. For some it can take only hours.”

“It’s based on the strength of your immune system; the venom kills it slowly, and when it finally gives out, you change permanently into a vampire—assuming you have the gene.”

“Well, it won’t matter, because you refuse to become what I am. So—”

“David! Tell me. What if he’d bitten me, and I didn’t have the gene?”

“Then—” he went quiet again until he looked at me, “—you die.”

“Whoa! Hold on. So, you bite someone to feed off them? If they have the gene, they become a vampire, and if not—”

“Something like that.” He nodded, scratching the back of his neck. “I’ve never turned someone. Of all the people I left alive in my years, not one has survived. My uncle is the only person I know who’s done it successfully.” He picked at the crumbling leather where his fingers had gripped the steering wheel during our abrupt halt. “It’s not an easy task; the exact method’s a closely-guarded secret—to prevent unauthorised transformations. All I do know is if Jason and I hadn’t been compatible for the change, we would have grown ill.”

“Yes.” He looked back at me. “Our venom numbs the skin and induces euphoria; they desire the bite—we drain them and…they die,” his voice softened. “It’s peaceful; serene. But if we leave them alive, the venom becomes parasitical; they get a fever, their immune system deteriorates, as do the cognitive functions, then, they fall into a coma. It’s a degrading and…painful death.”

“Can someone survive—if they don’t have the gene?”

His eyes scrunched tightly for a second. “I’ve heard of a few cases; they recover from near death—go on with normal life, like it never happened. But it’s rare, and they’re never quite the same again.”

“So, I could choose to give up my life—to be with you—and it might not work?”

“It’s a possibility. But, do you remember that feeling you had at the lake? The uh—” He smiled, rubbing his chin, “—gravitational pull?”

“That’s how I know you’re my soulmate.”

I pulled the seatbelt away from my neck a little so I could turn in my seat. “And that means I can be changed?”

“Kind of. You see, soulmates are designed for each other, Ara. If you couldn’t be changed, the phenomenon wouldn’t have occurred.”

“Did you feel that with the person who changed you—with your uncle?”

He laughed. “No. You only feel it with your soulmate, and it’s especially rare to feel it with a human. My uncle took a risk changing Jason and I, on the hope we would be more like him, genetically. And there was nothing to lose anyway. We’d just signed up to join the army. He wanted us protected if we ever went to war.”

“Really? That’s how you became a vampire?”

“Why would he do that? He could’ve killed you.”

“He swore an oath to protect our bloodline. It was either death by Arthur or by something possibly a lot worse.”

“Love? Love is not plunging two barely nineteen-year-old boys into a world of murder.”

His knee sunk as he pressed his foot to the clutch and changed to a lower gear, bringing the car smoothly onto the gravelly roadside, then sat staring at the dash for a second. “Being a vampire’s not all bad, you know.” He twisted the key in the ignition, shutting it off.

“I know. I'm sorry, David.” I reached across and grabbed his hand. “I didn’t mean to imply your uncle didn’t care for you or anything, I just—” Was just implying that if he loved the boys, why would he possibly think a life of vampirism was better than death?

“I’ve lived a good life, Ara. I have no regrets about immortality.” He smiled down at our hands then, opening my palm to trace a line down the middle. “And you wouldn’t either, you know—once you got used to it.”

“Used to the killing, you mean?”

“There is a bright side.” He ran the tip of his finger down the Fate Line on my palm. “You never age.”

“I’m seventeen. I think I have a few years before ageing is going to bother me.”

“I don’t know,” he teased, “You’re already changing. Look—” He pointed to the line. “This is shorter than it was a week ago.”

I snatched my hand back. “Are you saying my days are numbered?”

“No.” He smiled to himself. “Just that things are…changing.”

“I don’t know. I think your maturity levels stayed the same as your eighteen-year-old human self.”

“Is that so?” His emerald eyes met mine. “This coming from a girl who thinks throwing a tantrum is an acceptable manner of getting her own way.”

“I don’t think it gets me my own way. It actually does.”

He laughed. “Only because your dad’s treading on eggshells around you until he’s sure you won’t run away or commit suicide.”

“Then why do my tantrums work on you?”

“Because,” he said, taking my hand. “I love you.”

I sat back in the chair and let my hand fall into my lap. “I wish we could be like two characters in a book; that some miracle could keep us together.”

“I know, my love, but this is life,” David said. “And our reality is that fiction doesn’t mix with fact.”

“Yet I’m sitting beside a vampire right now,” I said sarcastically.

“The only thing fictional about vampires is the possibility of one falling for a human.”

He stole my hand back and sat quietly then, tracing his fingertip down the middle of my palm again.

“Perhaps not just the future, but maybe…”

“Nothing.” He laughed and folded my fingers around his, but the smile faded from his eyes and a flicker of something foreign flashed for only a second before it disappeared. “I’m just being melodramatic.”

“David.” I squeezed his hand a little tighter. “Is something wrong?”

“I—No.” He patted my hand and released it, smiling. “It’s nothing. Let’s just enjoy this day.”

“Okay, but, you’d tell me, right? If there was something wrong?”

I cleared my throat, unbuckling my seatbelt, but as I turned to open the door, looked up at the vampire standing there.

He offered his hand. “Would you like to go back to the island today?”

Raindrops broke the glassy stillness of the water, distorting the deep red reflection of autumn foliage. Ripple upon ripple stretched closer to the shore, pushing the clusters of orange and brown leaves in laps up onto the clay banks. David and I stood at the cusp of the lake, hand in hand, watching the watery road out to the island.

“It’s always magnificent,” I said. “But I wish I’d worn a skirt instead of jeans.”

I stood between him and his distracted glare. “David?”

“Hm?” He managed to look at me this time.

“I know there’s something wrong. What is it?”

“Well, it’s nothing that needs discussing right now.”

Above us, the dark grey clouds closed in, swallowing the last smudge of blue left in the sky, making the sudden dread in my gut go deeper. “So?” I closed my eyes for a second, pushing the swell of worry aside. “Are we going to the island, or are we gonna stand here and get incredibly wet?”

He looked up at the sky. “Perhaps we should go home. I’m not sure even the island can contain that storm.”

I hugged myself, shivering a little as dots of rain fell over my bare shoulders.

“And so follows the winter,” he said absently, his shoulders dropping. “Come on then.”

My hand linked with his. “Home?”

“No. The island. Never know when it might be our last chance to go back there.”

“I’ll always go back there—even when you’re not with me anymore.”

His nose and chin stayed pointed at the island, while his eyes slowly drifted onto me, narrowing, the question on his mind a breath away from his lips. But I squealed, my arms flailing out in an octopus manner when he bent down and scooped me up.

“Getting us to the island faster.”

“Oh. Crap!” I buried my face in his neck, my teeth making a cage as the forces of gravity tried to hold me down under the vampire’s need for speed. It felt kind of like going upside down on a roller coaster, gravity pushing at my head, compressing my arms and legs, possibly trying to cube me.

We stopped abruptly and my gut kept going as my feet touched the ground. I folded over, feeling heat rush into my cheeks and ears.

“I’m okay.” I reached up and grabbed his arm, using it to steady myself. “I’m okay.”

I nodded, rolling to a stand under the majesty of our secret little island. Even if I was about to puke, the cool cave of foliage stole my thoughts enough to make me forget how fast I’d just travelled, and the fruity tingle of wild flowers filled my senses, making it easier to breathe.

In my peripheral, a vibrant purple petal caught my eye; I turned to David and smiled.

“For you,” he said, tucking my hair back with the flower.

“You know, I still have the one you gave me here last time.”

“I know,” he said, sliding his hand down my arm to take my hand. “Ara?”

“Mm?” I tore my eyes away from the canopy—the way the gaps in the leaves, if I looked only at the grey behind them, looked like blurry, floating lanterns.

“I need to tell you something.” As our eyes met, a flash of sadness turned his pale green. “Something which, I’m afraid to say, is not good news.”

“I told you I’d warn you when it was time for me to leave?”

“Well…the—” his voice steadied with a chest-lifting breath, his gaze fixing on my lips, rising up to my eyes. “The time has come.”

“I’ve been called to return to duty.”

“Two weeks? But, that’s not enough time. How can I—how can you expect me to...” I fought several arguments with him in my head, not winning any of them. “No, you can’t do this. You have to tell them no.”

“That’s not the worst part, Ara.” He took another deep breath. “In that two weeks, I am expected to operate the Set from the New York offices. I will only be able to see you at night.”

“Night? Two weeks? And that’s it? For forever?”

“Unless you change your mind and become a vampire,” he said in a low, dry tone.