Because there’s not a lot of wait left in me. The torture I’ve felt, knowing she’s so close yet so far from me, is something I cannot endure much longer.
A voice comes over the loudspeaker, setting out the rules of the contest as the lights in the room dim and spotlights highlight the contestants. There’s a knife beside the pumpkin, but that won’t do. I draw my own pure silver blade from the side of my boot and place it on the table, ready and waiting. It’s served me well all my life, a gift from my parents when I graduated high school.
Silver knives are rare and not always practical, but like the money still sitting in the account, it makes me feel they are still with me.
Seleme is center stage, both here and in my heart, as the announcer finishes and sets us all free to hack at our orange vegetables while the crowd watches in rapt silence.
Before long, pumpkin guts, stringy slime and white seeds spread over the floor, the people and the tables. But still she stands flawless, making me think there is nothing dirty or dangerous in this world that could touch her.
MY VISION OF WHAT I’VE planned for my pumpkin is secure in my mind as my hands move with precision, but my heart is in my throat.
Maxim is one table away; I can feel him. Smell him. The pull is getting stronger with every passing moment.
The difficulty I’ve had running past his house at night is nothing compared to what’s been happening inside me since he took my hand and looked directly into my eyes.
I shiver, even though I’m warm, my fingers moving automatically on the slick inside of the pumpkin, but all I can think of is the intensity of his eyes. The sheer size of him, towering over me, and the thought that went through my mind: that he is the most beautiful human I’ve ever encountered.
His eyes were like black flame as he gazed at me. His face carved from something ancient and wild, unlike anything I’ve seen before. His thick brow from an earlier age making him handsome and dangerous at the same time. He looked at me in a way I’ve not experienced before. As though he could see me.
Not just the vision of me that most men see. I may be inexperienced, but I’m not naive. I know most men find me attractive. But he saw through that. He saw right into my core.
I lost myself in that moment, wondering if this is what humans feel when they fall in love.
Because I think, in an instant, I’ve done just that.
Only, it cannot be. It cannot.
He is not one of us, and my place is with my kind. My place is with Alberto Messina, my betrothed. My place is creating a child for him on the night of my twenty-first birthday. Or trying to at least. That’s my duty, and I won’t betray it for my own raging hormones and a momentary obsession with a human I can’t have.
If I did, it would mean ruin for my family. The Messinas have protected us these past two decades. Without them, the other vampire families would have certainly killed me to prevent my coming of age, the threat of a vampire as powerful as I might become too much for them to risk.
My own father, strong as he is, could never have protected me from that kind of threat. He hasn’t fed on a human being since he met my mother. That was her condition for staying with him, and he would never break his promise, but it leaves him weaker than most of our kind. We’ve needed the Messinas, and in return, I’ll do my duty to attempt give them a powerful heir.
No, not simple.
Those were Anna’s exact words from earlier, but I shake them away. It doesn’t matter what I want. All that matters is the safety of my family. If I betray our pact now, the Messinas would come for revenge, and we are no match for them.
We all have sacrifices to make.
As my mind battles with itself, my hands move deftly, the face of my pumpkin delicately coming into focus. There is a low buzz in the crowd as they watch. Children are laughing and working away on the tables beside me, then something switches. My senses dull, and it’s like someone just pressed the world’s mute button.
Water. Running water.
I don’t know where, but it has to be and it’s close. It is my kryptonite. I glance around me, confused, as a dull crunching sound comes from the darkened ceiling.
There it is again, louder this time.
Feeling groggy, I tilt my head back to look up just in time to see the glint of spotlights reflecting from the thousands of crystals as they plummet toward my head.