Heath was taping some kind of flyer to the light post. I could see his face clearly and it surprised me how handsome he looked. Okay, sure, I'd known him since third grade and watched him go from cute to gawky to cute to hot, but I'd never seen this look on him. His face was set in grim, non-smiling lines that made him appear much older than eighteen. It was like I was catching a glimpse of the man he would turn into—and it was a nice glimpse. He was tall and blond, with high cheekbones and a really strong chin. Even from that distance I could see the thick eyelashes that were surprisingly dark, and knew the gentle brown eyes they framed.
And then, as if he could feel my gaze, his eyes slid from the light post and locked on me. I watched his body go completely still, and then a shudder ran through it, as if someone had blown freezing air across his skin.
I should have gotten up and retreated into Starbucks, where it was busy with clusters of people talking and laughing, and where it would be impossible for Heath and me to really be alone. But I didn't. I just sat there as he dropped the flyers. They fluttered around the sidewalk like dying birds as he walked quickly over to me. He stood across the little table without saying anything for what seemed like forever. I didn't know what to do, especially because I was unexpectedly nervous. Finally I couldn't stand the intense silence any longer.
His body jerked like someone had just jumped out from behind a door and scared the crap right outta him.
"Shit!" The word left his mouth in a rush of air. "You're really here!"
I frowned at him. He'd never been exactly brilliant, but even for him this sounded pretty dumb. "Of course I'm here. What did you think I was, a ghost?"
He dropped into the chair across from me as if his legs wouldn't hold him anymore. "Yes. No. I dunno. It's just that I see you a lot and you're never really there. I thought this was just another one of those times."
"Heath, what are you talking about?" I narrowed my eyes and sniffed in his direction. "Are you drunk?"
He shook his head.
"No. I haven't had a drink in a month. I quit smoking then, too."
The words sounded simple, but I blinked and felt like I was trying to reason through mind mud. "You quit drinking?"
"And smoking. I quit it all. That's one of the reasons I've been calling you so much. I wanted you to know that I've changed."
I really didn't know what to say. "Oh, well. I'm, uh, glad." I know I sounded like a moron, but the way Heath's eyes were focused on me was almost a physical thing. And there was something else. I could smell him. It wasn't a cologne smell, or a sweaty guy smell. It was a deep, seductive scent that reminded me of heat and moonlight and sexy dreams. It was coming from his pores and it made me want to scoot my chair around the table so that I could be closer to him.
"Why didn't you return any of my calls? You didn't even text me back."
I blinked, trying to block the attraction I was feeling for him and think clearly. "Heath, there's no point. There can't be anything between you and me," I said reasonably.
"You know there's already something between us."
I shook my head and opened my mouth to explain to him how wrong he was, but he interrupted me.
"Your Mark! It's gone."
I hated his excited tone, and automatically snapped back, "You're wrong again. My Mark's not gone. It's just covered so the stupid humans around here won't freak out." I ignored the hurt look that seemed to take all the adultness out of his face and turn him back into that cute boy I used to be so crazy about. "Heath," I softened my voice. "My Mark will never go away. I'm either going to Change into a vampyre, or I'm going to die in the next three years. Those are my only two choices. I'll never be like I was. It can never be like it used to be between us." I paused, and then added gently, "I'm sorry."
"Zo, I get that. What I don't get is why any of that has to end things between us."
"Heath, things had ended between us before I was Marked, remember?" I said, exasperated.
Instead of his usual cocky comeback he kept looking into my eyes, and utterly sober and serious, said, "That's because I was acting like a jerk. You hated that I was getting drunk and high. And you were right. I was messing up. I've stopped that. Now I'm focusing on football and my grades so that I can get into OSU." He gave me the adorable, little-boy smile that's been melting my heart since third grade. "That's where my girlfriend will be going, too. She's gonna be a vet. A vampyre vet."
"Heath—I—" I hesitated, working hard to swallow back the huge lump that was suddenly burning my throat and making me want to cry. "I don't know if being a vet is still what I want to do, and even if it is, that doesn't mean you and I can be together."
"You're seeing someone else." He didn't sound mad, he just sounded extremely sad. "I don't remember much from that night. I've tried, but whenever I think too hard about it, everything gets all jumbled up into one nightmare that doesn't make any sense and I get a really bad headache."
I sat very still. I knew he was talking about the Samhain Ritual he'd followed me to where Aphrodite had lost control of vampyre ghosts. Heath had almost been killed. Erik had been there, and as Neferet had said then, he had proven himself a warrior when he'd stayed by Heath's side and fought the specters, giving me time to cast my own circle and send the ghosts back to wherever it is they'd slithered away from. The last time I'd seen Heath he'd been unconscious and bleeding from multiple lacerations. Neferet had assured me that she would heal his wounds and fog his memory. Clearly, the fog had grown thin.
"Heath, don't think about that night. It's over and done with and better if —?"
"You were there with someone," he interrupted me. "Are you going out with him?"
I sighed. "Yes."
"Give me a chance to get you back, Zo."
I shook my head, even though his words tugged at my heart. "No, Heath, it's impossible."
"Why?" He slid his hand across the table and put it on top of mine. "I don't care about the vampyre stuff. You're still Zoey. The same Zoey I've known forever. The Zoey who was the first girl I ever kissed. The Zoey who knows me better than anyone else on this earth. The Zoey I dream about every night."
His scent drifted up to me from his hand, hot and delicious, and I could feel his pulse thumping against my fingers. I didn't want to tell him, but I had to. I looked him straight in the eyes and said, "The reason you're not over me is because when I tasted your blood that time on the school wall I started to Imprint with you. So you want me because that's what happens when a vampyre, or apparently some fledglings, drink blood from a human victim. Neferet, our High Priestess, says that you haven't Imprinted all the way with me, and if I just stay away from you it'll fade and you'll be normal again and forget about me, so that's what I've been doing." I finished in a rush. I knew he'd probably freak out and call me a monster or something, but I really hadn't had a choice, and now that he knew he could put all of this in perspective and—
His laughter interrupted my mental tirade. He'd thrown back his head and was laughing with typical Heath exuberance, and the familiar, sweet, silly sound of it made it really hard for me not to smile at him.
"What?" I said, trying to frown.
"Oh, Zo, you crack me up." He squeezed my hand. "I've been crazy about you since I was eight. Like that had anything to do with you sucking my blood?"
"Heath, believe me, we've started to Imprint."
"I'm cool with that." He grinned at me.
"Will you also be cool with me outliving you by several hundred years?"
Dorklike, he wagged his eyebrows at me. "I can think of worse things than having a hot, young vampyre chic when I'm, like, fifty."
I rolled my eyes. He was such a guy. "Heath, it's not that simple. There're a lot of things to consider."
His thumb traced a circular pattern over the top of my hand. "You always did make things too complicated. There's you and me. That's all we need to consider."
"That's not all there is, Heath." A thought came to me and I lifted my brows and gave him a pretend-innocent smile. "Speaking of, how's my ex-best friend Kayla?"
Totally unaffected, he shrugged. "I dunno. I hardly ever see her anymore.
"Why not?" That was weird. Even if he wasn't dating Kayla, they'd hung out in the same group for years, we all had.
"It's not the same. I don't like the stuff she says." He wouldn't look at me.
"What has she been saying?" I couldn't decide if I was more hurt or pissed.
"Just stuff." He still wouldn't look at me.
I narrowed my eyes with realization. "She thinks I had something to do with Chris."
He moved his shoulders restlessly. "Not you, or at least she doesn't say you. She thinks it's vampyres, though, but so do a lot of people."
"Do you?" I asked softly.
His eyes shot back to mine. "No way! But something bad's happening. Someone's kidnapping football players. That's why I was here today. I'm taping up flyers with Brad's picture on them. Maybe someone will remember him being dragged away or something."
"I'm sorry about Chris." I laced my fingers through his. "I know you guys were friends."
"It sucks. I can't believe he's dead." He swallowed hard, and I knew he was trying not to cry. "I think Brad's dead, too."
I thought he was, too, but I couldn't say it out loud. "Maybe not. Maybe they'll find him."
"Yeah, maybe. Hey, Chris's funeral is Monday. Would you go with me?"
"I can't, Heath. Do you know what would happen if a fledgling showed up at the funeral of a kid people think was killed by a vampyre?"
"I guess it would be bad."
"Yes, it would be. And that's what I've been trying to make you see. You and me together—we'd have to deal with issues like that all the time."
"Not when we're out of school, Zo. Then you could wear that cover-up stuff you have on your face now, and no one would even know."
What he was saying probably should have pissed me off, but he was so serious, so sure that if I slapped a little concealer on my tattoos everything could go back to the way it was. And I couldn't be mad because I understood his wanting it. Wasn't that what I was doing there? Hadn't I been trying to relive part of my old life?
But this wasn't me anymore, and deep within me I didn't really want it to be. I liked the new Zoey, even if saying good-bye to the old Zoey wasn't only hard, it was a little sad, too.
"Heath, I don't want to cover my Mark. That wouldn't be who I am." I drew a deep breath and continued. "I've been Marked specially by our Goddess, and Nyx has given me some unusual powers. It would be impossible for me to pretend to be the human Zoey again, even if I wanted to. And, Heath, I don't want to."
His eyes searched my face. "Okay. We'll do it your way and say to hell with people who don't like it."
"That's not my way, Heath. I don't—"
"Wait, you don't have to say anything right now. Just think about it. We can meet here again in a few days." He grinned. "I'll even come at night."
It was a lot harder than I'd imagined to tell Heath that I'd never see him again. Actually, I hadn't imagined that I would have to have this talk with him. I'd thought we were over. Sitting here with him now felt weird—part normal, part impossible. Which actually described our relationship pretty well. I sighed and glanced down at our joined hands, and caught a look at my watch.
"Oh, shit!" I pulled my hand from his and grabbed my purse and my American Eagle bag. It was 2:15.I had to make that damn call to the FBI in fifteen minutes. "I gotta go, Heath. I'm really late for something at school. I'll —I'll call you later." I started to hurry away and wasn't really surprised that he came with me.
"No," he interrupted when I started to tell him to go away. "I'm walking you to your car."
I didn't argue with him. I knew that tone. As goofy and exasperating as Heath could be, his daddy had raised him right. Since third grade he'd been a gentleman, opening doors for me and carrying my schoolbooks, even when his friends called him a pussy-whipped dork. Walking me to my car was just part of what Heath did. Period.
My VW was sitting all alone under a big tree, just like when I'd parked it. As usual, he reached past me and opened my door. I couldn't help smiling at him. I mean, there was a reason I'd liked the kid for all these years—he really was sweet.
"Thanks, Heath," I said, and slid into the driver's seat. I was going to roll down the window and say bye to him, but he was already moving around the car and in about two seconds he was sitting in the passenger's seat grinning at me. "Uh, you can't come with me," I told him. "And I'm in a hurry, so I can't give you a ride anywhere."
"I know. I don't need a ride. I have my truck."
"Okay, well. Then bye. I'll call you later."
He didn't move.
"Heath, you have to—"
"I have to show you something, Zo."
"Can you show me quickly?" I didn't want to be mean to him, but I really had to get back to the school and make that call. Why the hell hadn't I put Damien's disposable phone in my purse? I tapped the steering wheel impatiently while Heath put his hand in his jeans pocket and felt around for something.
"There it is. I started carrying this around a couple weeks ago, just in case." He pulled something that was about an inch long and flat out of his pocket. It was wrapped in what looked like folded cardboard.
"Heath, really. I gotta go and you ..." My words faded as the breath left my body. He'd unwrapped the little thing. The blade caught the dim light and glittered seductively. I tried to speak, but my mouth had gone dry.
"I want you to drink my blood, Zoey," he said simply.
A shiver of terrible longing broke over my body. I was gripping the steering wheel with both hands to keep them from shaking ... or reaching out and taking the razor blade and slicing it into his warm, sweet skin so that his delicious blood would drip and drip and.
"No!" I shouted, hating the way the power in my voice made him cringe. I swallowed and got control of myself. "Just put it away and get out of my car, Heath."
"I'm not scared, Zo."
"I am!" I almost sobbed.
"You don't have to be afraid. It's just you and me, like it's always been."
"You don't know what you're doing, Heath." I couldn't even look at him. I was scared if I did I wouldn't be able to keep saying no.
"Yes I do. You drank some of my blood that night. It was ... it was incredible. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it."
I wanted to scream with frustration. I hadn't been able to stop thinking about it, either, no matter how hard I tried. But I couldn't tell him that. I wouldn't tell him that. Instead, I finally looked at him and forced my hands to relax. Just thinking about drinking his blood made my skin feel tight and hot. "I want you to go, Heath. This isn't right."
"I don't care about what people think is right, Zoey. I love you.
And before I could stop him, he lifted the razor blade and drew it down the side of his neck. Fascinated, I watched a thin line of scarlet spring up against the white of his skin.
Then the smell hit me—rich and dark and seductive. Like chocolate, only sweeter and wilder. In seconds the little car was thick with it. It drew me like nothing I'd ever experienced before. It wasn't just that I wanted to taste it. I needed to taste it. I had to taste it.
I hadn't even realized that I'd moved until Heath spoke, but suddenly I was leaning across the small space between our seats as his blood drew me to him.
"Yes. I want you to do it, Zoey." Heath's voice sounded deep and rough, like he was having a hard time controlling his breathing.
"I—I want to taste it, Heath."
"I know, baby. Go ahead," he whispered.
I couldn't stop myself. My tongue flicked out and licked the blood from his neck.
“I’ve been crazy about you since I was eight. Like that had anything to do with you sucking my blood?” - Heath.
My poor heart.
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