For the remainder of the evening, Justin and I were to practice acting like the mates of our respective vampires. We milled about the house, discussing things like vampire etiquette and societal norms, and my parents gave us constructive criticism.
Since it went completely against my nature, it was a challenge for me to act demur. However, I had a feeling that once I was in a large house packed with vampires, I wouldn’t have any problem keeping silent and being polite. I planned to stick to Wells like glue, and the fact that he was relatively old for a vampire meant I didn’t have to worry about being bothered. Still, after so many years of reacting to a vampire with violence, it was hard to be at ease around them, even if they were well mannered and friendly.
When Wells walked up behind me and put his arms around my waist, I jumped. “No one is going to believe you’re my mate if you don’t relax,” he said. He stroked a finger down my arm, and I twitched away in reaction. “See? You get all stiff and tense.”
“Look, Wells,” I began and then leaned back so that only he heard me, “I’m used to killing vampires, not making friends with them. On top of that, I’m not used to giving or receiving affection. Bonding with other humans, it’s just too risky. I don’t expect you to understand what it’s like to lose someone you’ve become attached to.”
“You have no idea how much I’ve lost,” he said flatly. “But forfeiting the ability to love and receive love destroys part of your humanity. If you aren’t capable of at least pretending to care about me, this won’t work.” With me in his arms, he swayed from side-to-side.
I was a little surprised, and I wondered if Wells was just different from other vampires. The way he spoke, it was as if he had regular human emotions.
“I imagine that very few humans care about their vampire mates, and when humans pair up, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. You can be someone’s mate without all the touchy-feely stuff.”
“Not mine, and that attitude won’t deter Benoit’s man, Luc, or anyone else from making me an offer for you.”
He turned me around to face him and danced with me as we talked. I had no idea how to dance, never having a need for it. I looked down to watch his feet. Before long, I learned the steps enough to look like I knew what I was doing.
I had a lot on my mind, but Wells’ statement about deterring the interest of other vampires bothered me. “I thought you said they would back off, what with you being so old and powerful, and me wearing this.” I deliberately looked down at my broach.
“Of course, but if they were to see that you were unhappy with me, they would continue to press the issue. Even knowing that as my mate, you are free, they might try to lure you away or offer me a trade of several women for you. I am curious what they would offer, but I don’t want to risk it. Do you?” He whirled me to arm’s length and pulled me back.
“No.” I had to try harder. “Okay, so you’ll have to help me.”
“Easy enough. Learn by example.” He pointed to Justin and Selene with our joined hands.
I never knew that Justin could dance. He glided around the floor like a pro. He and Selene smiled and made small talk. A casual touch here and there, lots of eye contact. They were believable as a couple, much like my parents.
“Justin is naturally an affectionate person, though. He’s a people-person. I’m just not either of those, Wells,” I complained.
“First, you have to start calling me Leslie, or no one will believe that we are a couple.”
“Okay, Leslie. How do I act more affectionate?”
He took a deep breath. “Don’t act more affectionate, be more affectionate. Start by touching my cheek or my hair every once in a while, holding my hand, sitting or standing very close to me when we’re not dancing.”
“Maybe I should take notes.”
Leslie shook his head and smiled. “While we’re swaying here, just practice running your fingers through my hair, like I did yours a few minutes ago.”
I lifted my hand and looked into his eyes. They were so bright and clear, like the Caribbean Sea in the picture I had torn out of an old encyclopedia I’d found in one of the many houses we’d inhabited. I slid my fingers into his hair and found it was soft, almost like a child’s. It wisped through my fingers and fluttered against his cheek. I pushed it behind his ear.
“Very good,” he praised. “Your stare could bore holes in a man. So intense.” He continued to look at me. “I almost believed you wanted me.”
That made me uneasy, and I pursed my lips. “Maybe it’ll be enough for other people to believe it, too.”
I refused to let my eyes drop first. It was as if we were engaged in a battle of wills, but I found myself getting lost, swimming around, wondering what it was I should be doing. My hands slid off his shoulders and down so that they pinched his waist. I pulled him closer. His eyes flashed, and suddenly, his touch and his kiss were all I wanted. He leaned toward me, and I parted my lips just a little.
Instead of kissing me, he whispered, “Did you know that a few vampires can hold humans in thrall without having their blood?”
“No,” I mumbled before my foggy head cleared, but I thought I had gotten a taste of it firsthand. Whatever he was doing to me, he stopped. I realized how intimately I held him, and I released his waist and took a step back from him. “I thought the vampire had to bite the human first.”
“Biting isn’t necessary. Drinking the human’s blood is. To not require it is a very rare gift.”
“And you have it?”
“Yes,” Leslie said.
“It can be, very. I’ve used it to diffuse situations and add fuel to the flame, like I did to you just now.”
I sweetened my tone. “Makes me wonder.”
“What is that?”
“How many women you’ve hypnotized in order to get what you want.” My voice could have iced a glass of tea.
Unoffended, Wells said, “It works on men too, but I assure you that I stopped using it for sexual gratification a long time ago.”
He took my hands and resumed dancing with me. “Like having slaves, it left me feeling as though I had taken their rights away. However, it can be very useful when you wish to command a large room. It makes it especially easy to kill when your targets are all mesmerized.”
“I hadn’t thought about that,” I said, intrigued. “It would be a good way to take out patrols, bodyguards, overly-protective mates.”
“Not just humans.”
I drew back from him to look into his eyes. My mouth fell open in surprise. “You can do this to vampires?”
“Yes. It’s one of the main reasons why I am a judge.”
“You’re a judge?”
“Did I not mention that?” He shrugged. “Anyway, truly exceptional talents vary, and few vampires have them. Those that do tend to stay alive longer, and hence, rise to positions of power. Because of my talents and position, I’ve met vampires that possess extreme talents in speed, agility, strength, vision, hearing, and smell. The most common sort of bonus skill is flight.” He paused for effect. “I can do that, too.”
Flight. Every human, at least once in his or her life, dreamed of being able to fly. Too bad you had to die first, and that wasn’t even a guarantee. I had encountered a few vampires that could fly and guessed that was where all the turning-into-a-bat stories originated.
“I haven’t ever met a vampire who could shape-shift, was psychic, or was telepathic. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” he was quick to add, “just that if they do, they are extremely rare.”
“Like you.” This time, he nodded before he whirled me around the room. “What about being a judge?”
“The vampire justice system is somewhat similar to the justice system that humans used.” I nodded. I knew a little bit about government and civics, as my father had tried to explain the old ways to me and my sister. “In the case of vampires, when there are crimes or disagreements in the south, they call on me to make decisions,” Wells explained. I hoped that meant that he was wise and fair. Changing the subject, he said, “Those two paired nicely, I think,” and gestured toward Justin and Selene.
It was disconcerting how cozy they had gotten. I shouldn’t care if Justin was intimate with someone else. No, I shouldn’t, but why did she have to be a vampire? I frowned in their direction. “Sun’s almost up. Shouldn’t the two of you be heading for home?”
With a heavy coat of sarcasm, Leslie said, “I was enjoying your company so much that I lost track of time. Are you always so rude?”
“I prefer blunt.” I dropped my voice lower. “Even though I don’t love him, I don’t like her fawning all over him.”
“Well, I’m sure he doesn’t like me touching you either, but he has some manners.” Leslie’s brow furrowed as I set my jaw. We stopped dancing and just stood there, glaring at each other.
“People are going to think you two have been married forty years,” my father said, stopping beside me to pat my shoulder. “I’m off to bed. I’m old, and I prefer to sleep mostly at night. This staying up until dawn stuff is for the vampires.”
Selene glided over to us and said, “Please don’t fight. Make peace, and we’ll go. We shouldn’t leave in anger.” I gave her a sharp look and folded my arms over my chest. Justin had already left the room. “I’ll be outside, Leslie.” She darted out the back door so quickly it shocked me.
“She’s fast,” I said, impressed.
I cut him off by saying, “You should get used to calling me Lily.”
“Point taken.” He frowned down at me. “And, you shouldn’t get mad at me just because I tell you the truth, even when it’s not what you want to hear.”
He tugged at my arms until they unfolded. He took both my hands in his and sighed. “I think I’ll rest today. You take a lot out of me.” He squeezed my hands gently and released me. “Something else to think about practicing.” He quickly cupped my face and kissed me softly. He rubbed his lips lightly over mine and hummed. “Sweet, just like the scent of your blood.”
Then, he was gone, and I stood in the living room all alone. My arms dangled out at my sides where he’d left them, and my body leaned toward where his had been. I stood there with my chin still upturned and the feel of his lips on mine. I shivered as chill bumps popped out all over my body.
He kissed me, a vampire. I covered my mouth to stifle the scream. The fact that it never came worried me.