Can a vampire truly help the living? Is Kris' love the cure for Hope's pain?"
Hope, what a joke? It seemed even her name was ironic. Here she was, miserable and alone. Correction; miserable, alone, and quite drunk she thought idly. The Cuervo bottle sat nearby, about half empty. Running out would be a travesty, good thing she wasn't normally a heavy drinker, she'd pass out well before then. She couldn't risk that, she had to make it to the ledge.
She sat there on the roof of her building, not even enjoying the beautiful Florida sunset. The ocean was a stunning back drop for her misery, the tide moving as if the world hadn't just ended. The view was amazing, really, and she should be reveling in it, especially since she planned it to be her last.
If she had to accept one more condolence, or overheard another friend's whispered words of pity, she would retch. She couldn't deal with one more day like the one just passed; neither could she just go on as if everything was okay. She wasn't one to complain and couldn't stand becoming some needy parasite depending on everyone else. Enough was enough.
Dealing with Xander had strained her already frazzled nerves. How had he dared show up at the funeral home? Had he imagined she'd want to ever see him again? Had he ever truly cared for her at all? Their breakup had torn her into pieces, and it was more than she should have had to endure on the day she buried her mother.
Once upon a time, Ellen Taylor had been a dynamic young woman; a loving wife and mother. She'd supported her husband's corporate goals with style and grace. Hope and her brother, Adam, had wanted for nothing, including parental love and attention.
Then their perfect life seemed to crumble before their eyes. Michael Taylor had died after a senseless accident and painful treatment at the hospital. With his loss, it seemed the family would never be the same again. Life was about to change.
Ellen certainly never recovered. Weeks after losing her husband, she was diagnosed with cancer … the dreaded "C" that seemed the fear of nearly everyone in the civilized world. That educated world hadn't been able to do much for her during her months of treatment and suffering.
Hope paced the perimeter of the roof again, thoughts racing through her mind with the speed of a freight train. With crystal clarity she recalled the conversation, Xander ever so sorry he'd ever disillusioned her. Disillusioned? A two carat ring seemed real enough to her. The fact that she had planned their wedding for nearly a year had been her only reality.
It hadn't taken much to realize the true reason for his defection. He and his new fiancé, here to fore known as The Slut, had been caught checking in and out of one of Miami's best hotels. Being a quite prosperous event planner made Hope a well known person to most of the best hotels and their staff. The happy couple knew very well that Hope was bound to find out.
It was quite noble of Xander to come forward actually, she thought with disgust. Letting her know before everyone else received the new wedding invitations was only common courtesy … especially since Hope had mailed invitations out the week before!
In five years, you would think she would have recognized some warning signs. She had shared her heart, body, and soul with this man and hadn't recognized the money hungry, depraved, bitter man he truly was. How could she have been so wrong? Love was blind, deaf, dumb, and practically unconscious!
The Slut was from family money which was certainly the reason Xander had decided to marry her. The Slut's daddy was sure to get him a cushy job in his company and set him up for life. Marrying The Slut and producing the requisite 2.5 progeny was a small price to pay. Well, they deserved each other but she didn't have to stay around and watch.
She made an exquisite sight there on the roof. Her long, dark curls had come loose from her braid. The breeze had pulled some of the strands to curl around her slim body to form a breath-taking picture. Silhouetted there against the violent colors of the dying sun as the deep purple of night took over, she looked like an ancient priestess worshipping the coming dark.
He felt her sadness; it overwhelmed him though he stood several feet away. She couldn't have heard him, for his kind made no sound unless they wished. He poised himself just inside the doorway that led to the stairwell, hidden from her view for now … or for eternity if he wished. Khryses Apostolos was well used to doing as he pleased and after hundreds of years that wasn't about to change.
He felt the steady beat of her heart, could feel the blood flow through her veins and arteries as it circulated through her body. Though he had fed recently, he felt the ache of hunger. He was starved not for food, but for her specifically. Perhaps he didn't understand why, but it was true.
He felt as if he were a voyeur, intruding on an intimate moment of this woman's life. It was obvious she was troubled and wished to be alone, yet he felt no guilt. Entitlement was something an immortal took for granted and he felt no shame for his actions. Now he intended to enjoy looking at her as he would any work of art.
There was nothing left for Hope to worry about; she didn't even have a pet. The family dog was something Xander and Hope had planned to choose together after they began their married life. No one would miss her, though her death was sure to make a splash.
The idea actually was funny, in a drunken stupor sort of way. She wouldn't just be left in her condo waiting for someone to worry about her; she'd go out with a bang. It would be a shock, certainly, for Adam, but his wife and new son would be there to console him.
Most of her friends were more like acquaintances. Other than a few business transactions, Hope wouldn't be more than a footnote in their daily lives. Others were actually Xander's friends and couldn't have cared less. She had one friend from college who would give a damn … but her life wouldn't be changed much by Hope's passing.
It was time. Taking another drink of Tequila, she grimaced and set the bottle back on the ledge. Too bad she'd left the lime and salt in her kitchen. No matter, she wouldn't need it where she was going. One more deep breath and a whispered apology to her mother, then Hope stepped up onto the ledge.
The wind whipped around her, flattening her simple black dress against her too curvy body. At five foot every pound appeared like ten … she'd be glad not to have to worry about her weight any more.
Fear washed over her as she contemplated her actions. The drop from ten floors up seemed such a long way, but then she wasn't exactly taking the stairs. It would be over in just a second or two.
"STOP." The command froze her in place. The word seemed to scream thorough her mind, and at the same time she felt steel like hands around her waist pulling her back.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Hope hissed, her system too overloaded with tequila and adrenaline to assess any danger. Who cared anyway, she'd been about to commit suicide.
"Khryses Apostolos … some call me Kris," he replied smoothly. His voice was strong and slightly accented. It was obvious he was foreign, yet English was comfortable for him. He didn't seem even slightly offended at her snide question and he didn't hesitate lifting her from the ledge back onto the roof.
He had a dominant presence that had little to do with being six foot and probably just under two hundred pounds. Nearly everyone was taller than Hope and that failed to impress her. It had more to do with his strength of character and colossal ego. This was a man used to authority and being obeyed without question.
She had to admit he looked the part, like some statue of a Greek deity come to life. His skin was the color of rich honey and rippled over well defined muscles that she sensed hadn't been toned at the local gym.
The Stitch's brand jeans he wore so casually encased his thighs as if tailor made and Hope was afraid she would start to drool. The white designer t-shirt he wore clung to his six-pack and contrasted perfectly with his dark coloring. She worked with enough of the Miami elite to be sure the outfit was worth hundreds of dollars regardless of how "thrown together" it looked.
"The world hates a smart ass," Hope teased, and she was proud her words weren't too slurred.
"Better a smart ass than a dumb one … which refers back to what you were doing on that ledge."
"I'd say that's none of your business … Kris."
"True, unless I was the maintenance crew."
The blunt words brought her back to her senses, at least for the time being.
"I guess I wouldn't want to cause any extra work."
"So you were really going to do this?"
"Oh, so I suppose you're going to pull out the religious issues now, right?" she asked as tears filled her green eyes then started to bead on her lashes.
"No, I don't think new friends should talk politics or religion." The old adage actually brought a smile to her lips.
"We could be … but I still don't know your name."
"Hope … Don't waste your breath, I get the irony."
"I wouldn't waste your time," he admitted, suddenly pulling away from her. She felt bereft, as if her only life line had disappeared, which was ridiculous since she didn't know him from Adam.
"Why did you even bother to save me?" Her voice wasn't the angry roar she was hoping for; it had turned into a weak, helpless question that she instantly regretted.
"Needless desecration bothers me." His answer was simple and to the point. She blinked, fanning the inky dark lashes against her cheek and looking very much like the work of art she was. She was so young; the loss of her life would be senseless.
Her skin was even softer than it looked and Kris had to fight with himself not to reach for her again. Weakness was not one of his faults, not for the entire millennia of his existence. Even the thought of such limitation astounded him, yet his fingertips still tingled from when he'd touched the mortal.
"You don't know me … My life is useless." Hope managed these words without the tears. Right now she just wished this intruder would go away and let her finish her jump before the alcohol wore off … even if he was heartbreakingly sexy. Any other day of the week and she'd have paid to gain his attention, but in another ironic twist of fate, here he was.
If there was one man that epitomized tall, dark, and handsome it would have been Kris'. His bronzed skin, dark eyes, and chiseled form would have made any woman take her coffee break. Though his dark hair was styled short, she was sure it would have a thick wave to it, something for a woman to run her fingers through.
"No life is useless." And Kris had cause to know. He'd seen thousands born and die, snatched well before their time. He'd seen others live merely to make others suffer. One's very existence was a gift, even if circumstances were not fair. It was a shame that anyone would think of throwing themselves away.
"You have no idea what I've been through. Leave me alone … I'll be finished in a moment." The statement had a sad, breathless quality to it that Kris couldn't ignore.
"Nonsense. You don't truly wish to die. Nothing could be that bad."
It was the best lie Kris could fabricate on such quick notice. Of course things could be that bad. Life could be full of pain and suffering, as he had cause to know. He'd seen such terrible things, but it wouldn't do any good to try and explain that to this human, she was in no mood to listen. Perhaps it might be enough to get her talking.
Suddenly his arms were around her again, making Hope feel warm and safe. All the terrible weight that life had piled on her seemed lighter and for the first time in days she took a deep breath.
"It's all just too much," she admitted, looking into his ebony eyes it felt a relief to admit it.
"That may be true, but we all have our burdens to bear."
"You act as if you know what I'm talking about," she replied with a sarcastic snap.
"More than you can imagine. Life comes with great joy and just as much pain."
Suddenly his words felt more sincere. Hope felt more pain than she could have guessed from looking at his perfect form. How had someone so close to her own age have suffered that much? She didn't have to be told, she sensed he was more hurt than she was herself.
"I've lost everything." The words slipped out of her. Suddenly she was admitting every ugly thing to this virtual stranger; her pain at losing her parents, her failure at keeping close to her brother, her lack of even close friends, even the embarrassment of Xander's cheating.
She felt almost hypnotized as she purged herself of the poison. It was as if she were compelled to tell him everything, and her words spilled from her in an unfiltered rush. Far from feeling weak or beaten, Hope suddenly felt strong and brave. Where had that come from?
Kris let his lovely woman speak, and it took only a little persuasion. She needed free of her burdens, and by focusing a small portion of his will he coaxed it all from her. When her strength or spirit waivered, he sent forth his power to fill her. He had more than enough to spare.
For an hour she spoke, now comfortable on a bench that sat a safe distance from the roof's edge. He moved an arm around her, making it easier to share his gifts and to comfort the mortal that had so captivated him. When hope was done, he carefully walked her back to her apartment while holding her soft, warm hand.
He wanted very much to stay with her, but knew he must deny himself for now. Patience had never been his strong suit, even when he was mortal. Now that he had changed, it was nearly unheard of. Something told him this time the wait would be worth it. Besides, he had nothing but time.
Hope woke with a killer headache and her stomach rolling in rebellion. As she succumbed to the porcelain god, she knew she deserved her hangover … every bit of it in fact. Had she really considered suicide? Though killing herself had seemed her only option last night, now it seemed silly and too overdramatic for the light of day.
And had he really been there? Who was the all too sexy man who'd let her pour her heart out last night? Was he a fellow tenant who she'd never seen, or an alcohol induced mirage? The second seemed more likely, since she couldn't imagine not noticing a hot body like that in her building.
She slowly stumbled around the bathroom, brushing her teeth and rinsing her mouth out. Thankfully, the nausea had receded, leaving her with a massive headache and feeling empty and weak. She downed some Tylenol and slunk to the kitchen.
Some designer coffee and wheat toast made Hope feel a million times better, but still not quite normal. Deciding she deserved some rest and relaxation, she plopped on the couch to enjoy a good book and some Law and Order reruns.
She tried calling her brother while she fixed a sandwich for lunch, but was once again sent to voice mail. Hope knew he'd have some good excuse, being a busy father and husband, but that didn't make her feel any better. It seemed no one really needed her anymore.
Puttering around the apartment, she straightened up the kitchen and living room. Really, she'd let things go these past few days and it felt better to have things in order. There were bills waiting on her desk and she took a few moments to get on line and take care of normal, everyday business.
She suddenly felt caged. Most times she could enjoy being a couch potato, just reading or watching some TV, but not today. She prowled around, going from room to room without anything holding her attention. It seemed as if her very skin was electrified, tingling in anticipation even if she didn't know what she was waiting for.
He arrived with the sunset. There was never any question that he'd return, she acknowledged that now. Hope hadn't consciously known it, but she'd felt it as certainly as if they'd made the arrangements. She opened the door and Kris was there waiting for her.
He hadn't needed to knock, his power announced him. The air shimmered around him, seeming to make him glow even in the dim light of the hall. The man was just as breathtaking now as he had been the night before. There had been no alcohol induced psychosis, Kris was real.
"What are you doing here?" Hope asked, regretting the snappy words as soon as they left her mouth. She was normally more polished that that.
"I believe I told you I'd return." Kris couldn't help a small smile. It seemed he was always flustering this woman and he enjoyed it thoroughly. Those females of his kind were not nearly as enchanting.
"I … must have forgotten."
"You were quite drunk," Kris reminded her.
"And a gentleman wouldn't have brought that up."
"I never claimed to be a gentleman," he agreed.
She blinked large green eyes up at him and he was lost. The wait had been too long and he drew her to him and sealed his lips over hers. The kiss was exactly as he expected; warm, exciting, life changing. They stood in the corridor, pressed together and trembling.
"Aren't you going to come in?" she asked at last, her voice still breathless and her lips finally curved into a genuine smile.
"I thought you'd never ask." Once he was invited, he crossed the threshold into Hope's condo.
He seemed to own the room as she crossed the immaculate hard wood floor and settled onto the overstuffed sofa, which just happened to be Hope's favorite spot. He held a hand out to her, beckoning her to join him. Instead of letting her sit beside him, Kris pulled her onto his lap.
She settled against him, shocked at how right it felt. He was rock solid, yet smooth and it seemed as if she was meant to sit there against him. He was slightly cool, as if he'd just been sitting in front of an air conditioner, and smelled of exotic oils and spices she couldn't quite name.
"I guess I didn't dream last night."
"No, Agape Mou, you didn't."
"What were you doing on the roof then?"
"Coming to you." The answer was so simple, yet still she didn't quite understand. She couldn't understand until Kris convinced her.
"I don't even know you." Her brow wrinkled in confusion and he kissed the skin softly, enjoying the chance to hold and touch her.
"Yet you called me just the same."
"Of course I didn't. I don’t even have your number." Hope pulled away, a little nervous now and not liking the way this conversation was going.
"I'm not talking about a phone. I felt your pain and had to come. I believe we are … bonded would be a good word for it."
"Bonded? Sorry, I'm not into S&M"
"Not bondage … I mean we are meant to be together. You feel it too, even if you don't want to admit it."
"I think you're possibly psychotic …" her voice became tight and fear pulled the pitch several octaves higher.
"You know what I am … Or rather, what I am not. I know it is shocking, but you have nothing to fear."
"Nothing to fear? You could be a delusional serial killer! I don't know you."
"Yet you have not asked me to leave. You feel our connection, Love, even if you don't wish to."
"What … what are you?"
That was the million dollar question he'd been waiting for.
"You would call me a vampire."
"What? You must be joking?" Hope shrieked, bounding to her feet.
"I wouldn't joke about any such thing. And no, I'm not exactly like the vampires you see on your scary late night movies. I do drink blood, I stay out of direct sunlight when I can, and I am nearly a thousand years old."
"Do you think I'm an idiot? No one would believe that." No sooner were the words out of her mouth than his body began to fade. There were no other words for it. One moment he felt like flesh and blood, the next he was simply a scattering of glistening particles, like gold glitter suspended in the air.
"You have never been stupid." The words were just as real as his body had been a moment before. Slowly, Kris materialized again, sitting on her couch in the same expensive shorts and shirt he'd arrived in.
"Wha …" Hope stuttered, momentarily robbed of speech.
"I am what I claim. You knew that before I did my little parlor trick."
"And you're … a thousand year old vampire?"
"Give or take a decade," he answered with a grin.
"And that's why you didn't let me die? Why, did you want my blood?"
"You're hysterics are not required. You know why I stopped you … We belong together."
"So you think eternity is a good option as opposed to death?"
"In most cases, yes," he agreed.
"I didn't want to live another moment, yet you think I should stay with you until infinity?"
"Life is harsh, Agape, I know this. I know it is not easy, yet if we are together we can accomplish great things. I say this even knowing the great tragedies I've seen."
"How could people like you help?" she asked, her voice still sounding more frightened than angry.
"I hope I have contributed, but it has never been enough. Together we can do more."
"It's too hard as it is," Hope sighed.
"I fought alongside my countrymen at Constantanople as the Moors flooded her gates. Men were hacked to bits by battle axes and sabers. Women were raped, ripped apart, and left for dead. Children were trampled under the hooves of war horses. I battled while I heard women and children scream.
Those men were the true demons. They brought their horses and even pack animals into the Hagia Sophia, the greatest church in Christendom, and let them defile our place of worship. The urinated on our alters, and tore the gold from every adornment. They ruined hundreds of years of work and devotion in the matter of hours."
"And yet, you couldn't save them? You must have been … what you are by then."
"There were only a few of us there at the time. Not enough to make a difference, anyway. We tried."
"So, if you couldn't save them, why do you still think it's worth it?" she asked softly.
She reached out and touched his cheek, truly moved by his story. She was compelled to move closer, to sooth this man who wasn't truly a man. She believed him now, though she wasn't sure why. Anyone could have made up a story about being at a battle that had occurred in the 15th century. She knew he was telling the truth, the emotions were much too strong.
"I saved a few lives as well. I was in Milan when the plague struck. I watched as nearly a third of that city died one by one. The fear and the stench were overwhelming. Once again, the children suffered. Orphaned by the sickness, they roamed the streets alone.
I had seen the sickness before, and knew how it spread. I took those children to shelters. I could care for the dying, since I wouldn't be one of their numbers. Several of my kind worked to quarantine the area and slowed the spread of the disease."
"That must have been awful," Hope gasped, now in tears. Nothing in her life would have compared to that, even at its most desolate.
"I never wish to see such devastation again. Life is cruel, everyone understands this. Sweetness, do not throw this connection we have away."
It wasn't just the words Kris spoke, nor was it any supernatural power he may have been graced with, that made Hope wrap her arms around him. He was a man, even if not mortal, and she was a woman. The sparks between them were too strong to ignore.
Hope felt complete when she kissed him. She needed him as much as the air she breathed. She realized then that it wasn't the pain in her life that had made it so desolate. Kris had been missing, and with him she could handle any challenges she faced.
Wrapping her arms around him, she forgot her pain. Her loss would be something she felt forever, but for now she'd accept the love Kris was offering her. His strong body shifted over hers, pressing her deeper into the couch cushions and enveloping her in passion.
"I love you," she admitted breathlessly.
"And I you," Kris promised, stroking her dark curls softly.
"So what now?"
"You come with me."
He lowered his face to her neck. The pull of his lips made her heart race. The sting of his bite was sharp and sweet, over nearly before it had begun. Overwhelmed and dizzy, she closed her eyes and greeted her new life.
Word Count: 4418