“Okay?” His brows pinched with confusion; my shoulders lifted as I clamped my index finger onto the pin in my pocket, then drew my hand out. “Ara!”

“This is my perfume,” I said quickly, before he could get mad, then dropped a dollop of blood onto the hanky. David’s fingers tightened around mine for a moment. “It’s the best way I could think of to give you a part of myself.”

“You silly, sweet girl.” He shook his head, then kissed mine. “Thank you.”

Ouch. “I must’ve pricked it pretty deep.” I squeezed the base of my finger. “It’s still bleeding.”

“Don’t squeeze it—you’ll make it worse.” He pocketed the hanky and took my hand, pausing for only a moment of hesitation, then slid my fingertip into his mouth, closing his lips tightly around it. His smooth, tepid tongue pushed my nail up to the roof of his mouth, sliding slowly down the length of my finger; he closed his eyes, his shoulders lifting with each calm breath. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn't worried he might lose control. There was no urgency to his touch; just a deep longing that I could feel emanating from his skin, coming off him in waves.

He opened his eyes as he slid my finger past his lips, dropping a gentle kiss there. “Ara, you taste amazing—like a creamy dessert wine. Sweet and yet so powerfully intoxicating.” His eyes changed colour around his words, just like they did in the storage closet at school; the green became darker, encircling the growing pupil, almost entirely consuming the whites of his eyes. “I can’t keep doing this.”

I stared up at him, blinking each time his warm breath touched my lashes. “Doing what?”

“Telling myself not to touch you, not to...to want you—to drink from you.”

“Oh God, David, don't you know how badly I want that, too?”

“Yes. And that’s what makes it so much harder for me to refuse you.”

My eyelids fluttered involuntarily. “I don't want you to refuse me.”

He tried an accusatory glare, but the look washed away quickly as he ran his tongue over his lips one last time and the history of my blood clearly fell against it. “Fine.”

The vampire surfaced within his eyes; he cupped the side of my neck, his body inches from mine, his breath suddenly weighted, fast. “I’m going to drink from you. But not with your clothes on.”

I looked down at my jeans, then back up at the vampire. “Huh?”

“Vampires like skin; we need skin. If we do this with clothes on—” he looked away for a second, “—when I get carried away, I might rip them off you. I don’t wish to explain to your father why I’m bringing you home naked.”

“Oh.” I laughed, but a sudden sinking feeling shot through my arms, like a hot blast of toxic, adrenaline-inducing drugs.

“It’s okay.” He placed a steadying hand over my heart. “I won’t do anything to hurt you. You have my word.”

“I know. It’s just—” I disentangled my fingers from their ball-grip. “It’s just that no one’s ever seen me…naked before.”

I tensed, waiting for him to laugh, but he only slid the backs of his fingertips along my cheekbone and stared deeply into my eyes, reaching down to take my wrist with his other hand. “What if I were to undress, and suddenly you decided I was not as...hot as you thought?”

“What?” I smiled. “Impossible. You’re totally hot, and besides, as if I’d care. I love you.”

He smiled down at me. “Precisely.”

“Yes.” He released my wrist and fingered the base of my tank top. “Naked.”

My shoulders rounded, hunching slightly as he lifted it, revealing the strip of white skin above my jeans, then my belly button and my ribs. I stiffened all over, realising I hadn’t planned my undergarments to suit this kind of…misbehaviour.

“Don't worry,” he said with a laugh. “You won’t be wearing them for much longer anyway.”

And so many pictures of all the things we would do ran through my mind; I knew David could see each and every one of them.

I lifted my arms above my head, and a breath of a smile swept across my lips as David dropped my top to the wet grass and stepped back, shaking his head.

“Ara, my love.” That look warmed his entire face. “You are incredibly perfect.”

I quickly covered my purple and pink candy-striped bra. “Even in a bra from the same boutique as Bozo the Clown?”

David’s burst of laughter caught me off guard, making me smile. He reached out, took each of my hands, and pulled them away from my ribs. “This—” he nodded to my bra, “—is just another thing that makes you so damn sweet and cute. You’re seventeen. I didn’t expect black lace.”

“Well, you’re not—yet.” His eyes slowly drifted to my jeans. “May I?”

In one yank of my button-fly jeans, the denim parted, revealing my pink underwear. I drove my thumbs into the waist and shimmied them down my hips, feeling the air cool my skin where the rain made it soggy under my jeans. David watched, his eyes falling past my underwear to the apex of my thighs, down my skinny white legs and to my knees, his lips splitting into a grin when I carelessly stumbled and tripped, kicking my ankles free with about as much finesse as a drunkard.

As I stood expectantly in front of him, more naked than I’d ever been with anyone, the whirling winds circled the clearing, sweeping my hips, my arms, my belly, touching all the places I knew David was dreaming about. And for the first time in my life, I felt beautiful before his eyes.

The patters of rain stopped completely then and the beads of water glistening in David’s hair and over his lashes looked almost out of place. His golden skin showed through his white t-shirt, made almost see-through by the rain, hugging the curvy bulk of his chest and arms. He spread the collar and slipped it past his head, peeling it away, all sticky and soggy, from his skin, then dropped it to the grass beside my clothes. I smiled at the pile; he smiled, too.

The sun wandered in for a peek at this innocent step toward danger, making the water on David’s skin sparkle. He looked as though he was starring in the wrong storybook.

“I like the sun on your skin.”

He angled his arm outward and studied it, running a hand down the droplets, his eyes flashing to another thought for a second.

“What were you just thinking?”

“Oh. Uh—just that…” He laughed. “I hope the rain didn’t soak through my jeans.”

“Because,” he said, slipping them down his hips. “My briefs are white.”

“So?” I said, but as soon as I heard my own words, the white of his shirt, all see-through with the water, registered in my mind. “Oh.”

He winked and tossed his jeans aside, allowing me a moment to scrutinise. My waterfall gaze drifted over his broad shoulders and the tight skin across his chest, down the cagey ripples of his ribs, stopping at the thick band of his underwear. Above those, there wasn’t the obvious six-pack I kind of expected, just that nicely contoured ‘V’ leading up smoothly to his ribs.

A girly giggle twitched at my lips. “I always wondered if you were a boxers or briefs guy.”

David looked down, then shrugged. “These are kind of in between.”

“Well—” The heavens forced my gaze away from him, “They won’t be dry for long.”

“No.” He curled his palm and caught a few raindrops. “I should be taking you home.”

“I don’t want to go home.”

My toes angled inward, my lip hiding behind my teeth as his suggestive smile brought my blood up to my heart in a heat wave. “I want you to come closer.”

“I know.” His words landed all hot and moist on my face, his chest suddenly inches from mine. “And it’s taking everything in me not to want you right now.”

I shook my head. “You can want me.”

David folded over a little, his brow coming to rest on mine; I looked up into the anguish his closed eyes tried to hide. “Lay down,” he whispered, stepping back.

The grassy bed beneath my feet felt sticky, the summer’s dying heat making the rain rise off it in a warm cloud. David stayed standing, stiff and tall as a tower, while I pressed my palms to the grass, my elbows shaking, and edged jaggedly onto my back, trying to look relaxed.

“Close your eyes,” he demanded sweetly, still not opening his.

“Okay,” I said, but after six long breaths and two fistfuls of grass pulled from the soil, only an empty breeze had caressed my half-naked body. I opened my eyes. David?”

I watched him expectantly, waiting for him to look at me. He didn’t. He was fighting that battle within—the war between the vampire and the human—and as he dropped to one knee, then the other, his fists tight, my main concern was not the possibility of my own death, but that he might deny himself the pleasure of my blood.

Without a second thought, both his hands cupped my face, then slid down my jaw and over the curve of my neck, slipping my bra strap off my shoulder. “Just stay still, Ara.”

The air coming into my lungs felt empty. “Are you…are you going to take my bra off?”

“Not if you don’t want me to.”

My eyes opened to his breath on my chin, his lips within reach, his body immensely close but not touching; wanting but not taking, practically floating down the length of mine like he was just a layer of heat in the atmosphere. Every nerve in my brain called out to him; every part of my body, tingling hot, begged him to press himself against me.

But he didn’t move. He just smiled to himself, leaning on his elbow beside me. “Well, do you want me to take it off you or not?”

I could feel my pulse, racing like a twitch in my neck; felt my body succumb to the lust—scream out its own instinct-driven desire to die at his hands. But I wasn’t ready to undress completely. “Not yet.”

His eyes stayed on the bare patch of skin, his lips softly landing there as he smoothed the strap back in place. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, then quickly reached down to scratch my sticky leg. “The grass is just really itchy.”

“Shall I run to the rock and get the picnic rug?”

“No,” I said, eyes wide. That would just give him too much time to think about what he didn’t want to do to me.

He smiled to himself—his secret smile—and cupped my neck, his thumb sliding down over my chin easily with the rain’s assistance, coming to rest just under my jaw, tipping it up to expose my throat. “Your life is in my hands right now,” he whispered against my pulse. “And the most beautiful thing about that, Ara, is that all I can read in your mind is desire.”

“That's because you don’t scare me, Mr Knight.”

“You’re right,” he said, keeping his eyes on mine as he reached down and took my hand, folding it open to press a firm kiss on the softer, more delicate side. “I like you this way.”

I looked at his nail sitting ready at my wrist, one firm indent away from releasing my blood. “Then what are you waiting for?”

“You shouldn’t.” He traced a shallow, horizontal line, drawing slivers of red out over my milk-white skin, like pinhead rivers running quickly for the sea. But I didn’t feel the cut—just the pressure of his fingers gripping my bone.

Only a beat passed after that before the black in his eyes washed the human away—the vampire taking control, pressing his teeth down on the outer edges of the wound to open it further. Thousands of tiny bubbles raced up my veins, making my fingers want so badly to flex out and either shove him away or run along his jaw.

My blood could finally reach him—was deep inside him right now, touching his heart, coursing through his veins, warming everything I could never physically touch. I wanted it to stay there forever. I wanted the sun to go down around us, and rise again tomorrow, leaving us here like this, always.

I rolled my face to the leaves above, watching them swirl around, while my lungs filled with humid air, the rain moistening the back of my throat with each shallow breath. And the feel of David's thumb in the cup of my palm, holding my hand in place against the stubble on his chin, made me feel so close to him—to the human that loved me; the human that was buried deep beneath desire right now.

But the trust was magic—almost euphoric, as if the world around me was just a soft echo—like being lost in the perfectly tuned note of a song I’d never heard. I could float away, were it not for David grounding me, keeping me here. I finally knew what it felt like to be his victim; a human that could nourish him, but loved enough to be left alive. I felt the lick of death, felt the peace others must feel when they finally give over to it—how nothing in the world really mattered anymore. In a funny way, it all just seemed kind of silly to worry about the things we did.