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She thinks I never notice the way that she looks at me. I furtively glance over the top of my screen, and there she is, ice blue eyes pinning me to my chair. She sees me staring back at her, and as has become our habit, she calls me into her office only to send me out on another pointless errand. 

 

She is the most powerful woman in publishing. People fall over themselves to cater to every whim that crosses her mind. She could have anything she requested delivered to Runway, including her Starbucks, yet she always chooses this. She chooses to throw me out of her office multiple times a day to carry out these ridiculous tasks, as though it hurts for her to be around me. 

 

I understand. It hurts for me to be around her too. I accept this. I have learned to accept this, but I know that she does not.

 

“What can I do for you, Miranda?” I ask. My tone almost managing to hide the impatience and disappointment, of her absolute avoidance of me since Paris.

 

“Coffee,” is the only answer that she deigns to give me, and without a word, I do as she expects. I turn on my heel and reach into the closet for my short charcoal grey Donna Karen trench, slipping my arms in and fastening the belt around my waist. I flick my eyes in her direction, and as I suspected, she is watching me like a hawk about to swoop down on its prey. Taking full advantage, like I tend to do, like she expects me to do, I bend down and adjust the strap around my ankle. Her eyes bore a hole into me, and I burn under her scorching gaze.

 

It’s pointless. We both know it. I know she likes to watch, though, just as I enjoy the way her eyes will not leave my body until I'm standing upright again. Satisfied, I strut from the office with as much sway as I can muster on my four-inch heels.

 

This game we have been playing is nearing its end. I know it. She knows it. One of us will crack, eventually, but I know it can’t be me. If we’re ever going to move on from this stalemate we have found ourselves in, then she has to be the one to break it. She was the one who pushed me away from her in Paris, and she is the one that created this void between us.

 

I may be young and I will admit to some inexperience in these matters, but I am proud. I will not go crawling. If Miranda wants me, then she will have to come to me. I’m not even sure what is holding her back anymore?

 

Before Paris, we both silently acknowledged this attraction between us, but she was married, and I was extinguishing the last embers of my relationship with Nate. Now, we are both free. The only person in the way of us being together is Miranda and I am unable to figure out why? This barrier between us is so impenetrable that it may as well be made of steel; so tangible I can almost feel it. 

 

She has a secret, I think. I have no idea what it is, but Miranda is hiding something from me. It's holding her back, holding us back and now she has doomed us both to suffer. My fate is in her hands. Ours is a wave of desire crashing towards the shore, but she is a lead weight, holding me under the sea. I am drowning in her apathy.

 

I step out into the cool evening air, the last light disappearing from the New York skyline, and I turn to walk to the two blocks that lead me to Starbucks. I know the barista that will currently be working rather well, so I text her my order. We went on a few dates, and she warmed my bed an embarrassing number of times during that period. I learned rapidly, though, that platinum blonde was not a substitute for silver, ending things before anyone could get hurt.

 

I know that she still hopes for more, unable as I was to explain that she had only been a substitute, but her optimism works in my favour. By the time I walk in through the glass doors, Jen is summoning me to the front of the short queue. She places the drink into a tray and pushes it toward me, but her hand remains on the cardboard.

 

“Andy,” she starts, sending me a gorgeous smile that I know I would be proud to receive, if not for my current situation. “I was wondering-”

 

“I’m so sorry, Jen. I gotta get this to her.”

 

“Oh. Sure, Andy,” she replies with a sad smile. “Another time, yeah?”

 

“Sure thing. I’ll call you,” I offer over my shoulder as I turn and walk out of the door. We both know I won’t. 

 

I never do.

 

I hold the tray with the single coffee in it in one hand and pull my coat tighter as the wind picks up around me. I am nearly halfway back to the Elias-Clark building when I hear them. Footsteps perfectly timed to match my own but drawing closer. I speed up, heading for the lights spilling out of the lobby of the building, but the footsteps speed up too.

 

I look in both directions as I step off the sidewalk to cross the entrance to a small alleyway when the footsteps catch up with me. For a moment, I think that they will pass but then something heavy, something hard, hits the back of my head. I fall to my knees, skin shredding against the rough tarmac.

 

I turn to face my attacker, but there is little light. My assailant is wearing a dark hood, hiding their face from me. In their hand, they are waving what looks to be a large piece of wood. When my eyes zero in, I realise that the weapon is a baseball bat, but it is too late. The last thing I remember before the blackness takes over is the sickening crunch of my skull cracking under its impact.

 

**********

 

“Miranda, you must act now. We're losing her.”

 

I know that voice, but I cannot place it. Unable to open my eyes, I drift in and out of consciousness.

 

“Please, Andrea. Stay with me.”

 

“Miranda!” a man's voice snaps sharply, and I recognise him this time. I fully expect Miranda to fire him on the spot for the way he has spoken to her, but all I hear instead is a sob.

 

“I know,” she hisses brokenly. “I just need a moment.”

 

“She doesn’t have a moment,” Roy replies, and I can hear the panic in his hoarse whisper.

 

“She hasn't chosen this, Roy. I cannot make this choice for her.”

 

“Miranda, she will die unless you act now. There is no choice to make.”

 

Sharp pain at the side of my neck has me gasping, and I try to sit up. Strong yet surprisingly gentle hands hold me down.

 

“Stay calm, Andrea. Please,” Miranda pleads, and I feel her lowering herself toward my neck again; soft lips brushing against my skin as the world fades to black once more.

 

*****

 

The next time I come round, I have no idea how much time has passed. I am still lying in the cold and damp alleyway, and I can just make out the blurry outline of Miranda on her knees next to me. As I watch, she raises a shaky, pale hand and bites her wrist. When she pulls it away, all I can focus on is the red-stained teeth in place of the usual white perfection, and she lowers her wrist to my lips.

 

“Drink, Andrea,” she whispers. “Please, darling. You must drink.”

 

I think I'm hallucinating. Whatever happened has left me unable to make sense of anything around me. Am I in a coma? Am I dead? I don’t know. All I know for sure is that this is not truly happening. Miranda is not offering me her wrist and telling me to drink. She did not just call me ‘darling’, surely? My brain searches for another reason. It searches for any reason at all why she is lowering the pale skin of her arm against my lips, pressing down and creating a seal. The blood pouring from the two neat puncture wounds leave me no choice. Unless I swallow, I will drown.

 

“Good girl,” I hear as delicate fingers stroke the side of my face. “Just a little more, my love.”

 

I swallow as much as I can, desperate to be done so I can take a full breath. Once again, the world around me fades away.

 

*****

 

“She should be awake by now,” Miranda murmurs.

 

Her voice brings me back from the brink of what I can only imagine is my own existence. 

 

“Her heart is speeding up. She will wake soon,” another voice breaches my awareness. I recognise her driver immediately, even before Miranda speaks his name.

 

“She was so badly hurt, Roy. What if I was too late? What if I hesitated too long?”

 

“Just listen,” his calm voice advises her, and I find myself doing the same. My heart thuds heavily in my chest, blood rushing loudly in my ears, faster and faster. I draw in a deep breath, overwhelmed by the comfort of her presence. I can smell the shampoo she used that morning, the Chanel perfume she sprayed against her skin before leaving the house, and the scent of her washing detergent; soft and floral. 

 

I can smell the blood thrumming through her veins.

 

What?!

 

My own heart speeds up further until all I can hear is a constant hum. This cannot be possible. I know the limitations of a human heart so the fact that mine is still beating and I am still breathing baffles me. I sit bolt upright, panting heavily, taking in the dimly lit room around me. I know without asking that I am in Miranda’s bedroom, even though I’ve never been here before. Her scent is everywhere, invading my nostrils and coating my skin. 

 

“What’s happening?” I croak, mouth impossibly dry as I suck in as much air as possible.

 

As the focus returns to my eyes, I see Miranda, sitting close but not touching me, on the side of the bed. Roy is leaning against the ledge of the window sill, and in between us, all I can see is a million particles of dust, dancing in the dim light from the lamp. They sparkle like diamonds. I am lost in their beauty, watching them weave through the air.

 

“You’re ok, Andrea. Please, lay down. You need to rest,” Miranda tells me softly, reaching out and taking my hand. Her thumb brushes against my knuckles and I swear I must be dreaming. Or maybe I really am in a coma. Coma patients have been known to dream so vividly, that when they wake up their previous life doesn’t feel real to them anymore. I wonder how much therapy I will need when this is over?

 

Despite my many questions, I allow her to guide me back down onto the pillows behind me. She pulls a blanket over me to my waist, covering only my legs.

 

“I have it from here. Thank you, Roy,” she dismisses him with a gentle tone.

 

He nods, rising from his window seat without complaint. “Call if you need me. Andy will need to feed soon,” he reminds her. She answers without her eyes ever leaving my face.

 

“I know,” is all the reply she offers as he waves his hand in the air. He pauses at the door, his face concerned, but nods once and silently exits the room.

 

“Miranda?” I try to sit up again, but the hand on my chest holds me firmly to the bed.

 

“I know you have questions, but you need to sleep tonight,” Miranda states firmly, rising from the bed.

 

I panic. I have no idea what is happening. I don’t understand any of the events tonight but I find myself inexplicably drawn to the woman who has held my heart for so long. I always am and this is not a new feeling but at this moment? I can’t bear the thought of being separated from her.

 

“Stay?” I ask. I plead. “Please don’t leave me.”

 

“Very well,” she replies, but I can see she is pleased with my request, lips curling up into a small satisfied smile. She bends down and reaches for her heels, taking them off and placing them carefully next to the bed. I reach for her and she seems to understand. The mattress dips with her weight as she sits and swings her legs around. Careful not to jostle me too much, she lays next to me on her side, facing me.

 

“I know you are confused, Andrea. I know you have questions,” she says, reaching out to tuck the strands of hair that have broken loose behind my ear. “I assure you I will answer them all in the morning.”

 

I want to fight. I want to demand answers, but even as these thoughts cross my mind, my eyes are closing, and all I can mumble is “ok.”

 

As I drift off to sleep, I am aware of her moving closer, wrapping her arm around my body protectively. A nose is burrowed into my hair and I can hear the breath she inhales and the content sigh she releases afterwards.

 

“Goodnight, Andrea.” 

 

*****

 

The room is silent but for the buzzing of a small fly as it bounces off of the glass by the window. My eyes search for the sound as they open, and I jerk back in surprise. As if in slow motion, I can see every individual beat of its wings as it defies gravity, keeping its body floating in the air. 

 

I listen more carefully and can hear not only the voices but also the heartbeats of four other people as they sit and talk around the breakfast bar downstairs. Three are thudding along at standard rate but the fourth is impossibly fast. Although they are three floors below me, I can hear their conversation as though it is taking place in the next room.

 

I hear Miranda's voice as she shushes the girls, the chatter stopping immediately.

 

“Andrea is awake. I’ll take her coffee while you get yourselves ready for school. Off you go, Bobbseys. I won’t be down before you leave, I have to ensure Andrea is ok. Be good for Cara. Ok?”

 

Twin sighs reach my ears, as they agree in tandem, “yes, Mom.” 

 

I hear Cara prompting them to carry their dishes and place them on the counter, as Miranda says goodbye and leaves the room.

 

I follow the sound of quiet footsteps though I know her feet are bare, as she walks up the three flights of stairs to where I am laying. Selfconsciously I try to run my fingers through my hair, but they instantly become tangled, and I remove my hand only to stare at it in horror. Still-damp blood coats my fingertips, but rather than be repulsed, I watch as my hand rises towards my lips and I meet it with my tongue. Metallic, earthy, but good

 

What the hell is going on? 

 

“Andrea,” Miranda is standing in the doorway, and I realise what I am doing, dropping my hand as casually as possible. “I brought you coffee,” she offers.

 

I pull myself further upright with minimal effort and lean back against the pillows, my posture masking the turmoil of thoughts and emotions inside me.

 

“What happened? Please, Miranda? I need to know,” I plead in the calmest voice I can pull from my lips.

 

Miranda stares at me for what seems like an eternity. She crosses the room and perches on the edge of the bed. My heartbeat racing even faster when she takes my hand, cradling it in her own.

 

“What do you remember, Andrea?”

 

I know my confusion shows when she reaches out and smoothes the wrinkles in my forehead with her thumb.

 

“I don’t know. I went to get you Starbucks. Jen was there and had your order ready. I sent her a text when I left the office,” I recall, the details coming back to me slowly. She purses her lips and I know I have said something to displease her.

 

“Jen? The barista?”

 

I look away guiltily. Miranda might not know how I feel about her, but I always felt like I was cheating on her. Cheating on the idea of her every time Jen lay naked and willing in my bed.

 

“The barista, yes,” is all I can manage.

 

“Hmmm.” She stretches out her fingers from the clenched fist they had formed at my words.

 

“She’s a friend, Miranda,” I clarify, though I am not sure what compels me to do so.

 

“Oh, Andrea. I think we both know she was more than that.”

 

I splutter, choking on my own saliva. “What?” I croak, reaching for the cup of coffee she placed on the bedside table next to me.

 

“Now is not the time to be coy. We both know how many times she stayed in your bed. Did you think I didn’t know?”

 

“But… How… I…”

 

“Enough.” She reaches forward and takes my hand. Her thumb smoothes the back of my knuckles; comforting but still managing to make my stomach flip. I’ve lost count of the times I have dreamt of her touching me. Her hands running over every inch of my body before she eventually takes me into her mouth. 

 

Stop. I reprimand myself, looking up into amused cool blue eyes.

 

“You’re not the only one who has had thoughts like that, Andrea.”

 

What? Now she’s a mind reader?

 

“Yes,” she answers, though I would place money on the fact I have not spoken aloud. 

 

“I don’t understand,” I confess. I lay back down, suddenly overwhelmed by the morning I've woken up to. Unfortunately, the lower into the bedding that I sink, the stronger her scent is. I squeeze my eyes tightly, trying to block out the thoughts I am having of my boss.

 

“I don’t think that’s going to help,” Miranda advises me with a chuckle.

 

“What happened? What’s going on? Please, Miranda. Just tell me.”

 

She stands up, taking a single step toward me, before settling back down on the mattress again, closer than she has ever been to me before.

 

“I’m scared, Andrea. I'm not sure how you will react to this. My children would no doubt describe it as worry you will ‘freak out’ as they like to say,” she admits, with a very uncharacteristic shrug.

 

“I just need to know. I promise I won’t ‘freak’,” I tell her, raising my hands into speech marks. “What happened last night?”

 

She closes her eyes and I can hear her heartbeat increase even further. “You have to understand, Andrea. The world I live in is nothing like you were brought up to believe. Everything you think you know should be forgotten.”

 

“Ok,” I say tiredly, flopping back onto the pillows. “I don’t know if I am concussed or high on something or what, but please. Start talking and just tell me. I can deal with anything, as long as I know.”

 

“I’m so sorry.” She moves closer again and brushes the hair out of my eyes, seemingly unaware of the blood that is matting the strands together, apart from the flare of her nostrils.

 

“You smell divine,” she murmurs, shaking her head and then meeting my gaze. “You were attacked last night, Andrea. Do you remember?”

 

 The events flash through my head. Blurry at first, but then sharply in focus as my brain helpfully replays the sickening crunch of a baseball bat meeting my skull.

 

“I was carrying your Starbucks. I heard footsteps and I sped up, but they caught up with me, I think. The last thing I remember was a man in a hood hitting me with a bat?”

 

She reaches out, and her fingertips touch the side of my head, where the bat had struck. “It will be tender for a few days, but you will be fine.”

 

“I don’t understand, Miranda. I remember waking up last night and I know that I was more hurt. I was more damaged than a bruise on my head. Yet today I feel ok? I should be dead!” I half yell, confusion getting the better of me. “How am I still alive? How am I still here?”

 

I search her face for an answer, but she just looks at me sadly, though I’m not sure why. 

 

“Please, Miranda.”

 

“I didn’t want to do this. I fought against it for months. I knew when you came for your interview who you were. Who you were to me. I refused to be selfish, Andrea. I would never have done this to you, but last night I had no choice, don’t you see?” she begs me, and I see her watery eyes pleading for understanding.

 

“Don’t I see what? You’re making no sense!”

 

“I had no choice, Andrea, because living without you in the world was not an option. I saved your life, but I have condemned you for an eternity. I’m so sorry.”

 

She leans forward, burying her face in her hands, and the noise she makes is my undoing. Faster than I ever believed I could move, I sit up, pressing myself against her side. My arms wrap around her, holding her against me as she cries. My strong, mercurial, tough, resilient boss, is crying in my arms, and I have no idea what to do. I hold her tighter, reaching up with my hand to stroke the side of her face when she turns to look at me. The vulnerability I can see has my head swimming, and I know at that moment, tears or otherwise, I have never seen her look so beautiful.

 

“What did you do, Miranda? Please tell me,” I beseech her.

 

She shudders and takes a steadying breath. “I made you like me.”

 

“Like you? I don’t understand. I have always liked you. Even when you were being kind of a bitch, I always liked you. I more than like you, actually, which you well know. We’ve played this game far too long for you to deny this connection between us now?” I tell her, hoping she's not about to incinerate me on the spot for calling her out. For drawing attention to this thing that has been between us for months now.

 

She shakes her head, and I can see the remorse on her face even before she speaks. “No, Andrea. I made you ‘like’ me.” She turns away, staring out of the uncovered window into the harsh light of the day.

 

I don’t know where my courage comes from, but I reach out, cupping her cheek and forcing her to look at me. “I need you to tell me. I need you to be clear. Spell it out for me.”

 

“You’ll hate me,” she whispers, but her head drops onto my shoulder and she allows me to pull her closer. “I’m a nightwalker, Andrea.”

 

“What the hell is that?”

 

I can almost feel the roll of her eyes as she huffs. “A vampire.”

 

*****

 

A vampire. 

 

My impossibly brilliant and beautiful boss is one of the undead. Except, was she? As she resolutely stares out the window, giving me the time I need to process her words, I can hear her heartbeat. It sounds more like a hum. It beats faster than the wings of a hummingbird, but it’s there. Strong and constant.

 

This can’t be true, it makes no sense. I wonder why she's pulling a stunt like this but even though this thought crosses my mind, I realise that she has no motivation to do this to me. Above all else, there is one thing repeating through my head. She saved my life last night and I owe her the chance to explain. 

 

“A vampire,” I repeat in disbelief. “I don’t understand, Miranda. How can this possibly be true? How can you expect me to believe this?”

 

She turns back to face me, and I can see the truth in her eyes, with a healthy dose of hurt and regret. Miranda is many things but she is not a liar. In fact, her need to tell the absolute truth at all times is one of the things that has earned her the savage reputation that she has.

 

“I have no reason to lie to you.”

 

“I know.” I close my eyes, trying to shut out the pained look on her face, but it is implanted in my brain.

 

A hand rests gently on my thigh. Miranda's fingers are warm, and I can feel the pulse of her heart beating through the thin blanket covering my legs.

 

I open my eyes reluctantly and meet her gaze. “I guess… I guess I have questions.”

 

“I will tell you everything you want to know. I have no secrets from you now.”

 

“I’m a vampire?” I ask again, sure that I must have misheard or misunderstood, but she nods mutely in reply.

 

“And so are you?” I clarify pointlessly, buying myself time as I run through the questions I want to ask in my head.

 

“Yes.”

 

“But how can you be one of the undead? You sleep. You go out in the sunlight. I can hear your heartbeat, Miranda.”

 

To my surprise, she just smiles at my questions. “There has been a need over the centuries to protect ourselves. Rumours about us spread, each one more unbelievable than the last. It was in our best interest to allow people to be so wrong about us. In reality, we are very different to what you might have read about or seen on TV. My heart still beats, because I’m not dead, just evolved. It beats at a rate that should be impossible, but it’s not. Our strength and speed, all things you will develop over the next few hours, are directly linked to how much oxygen is flooding our muscles at all times, making them more efficient.”

 

“But why are you known as the undead then?”

 

“You can hear my heart because your senses are greater than before. You can pick out the beats even though they are so fast that they blur together as one steady, almost imperceptible sound. A human with average hearing wouldn’t hear the hum of our hearts. Combined with our ability to stay perfectly still, that can make it seem as though our lives have ended. It has its uses from time to time.”

 

I take a moment to let that sink in, but there is one answer I need before I can truly start to come to terms with everything she is telling me. I don’t think I really want to know the answer, but I can’t stop myself from asking.

 

“Do I need to drink blood? Will I want to?”

 

“That is unfortunately necessary. However, I eat normal food, as you know. Think of the blood more like a tonic. It keeps us healthy but doesn’t sustain us. That said, you will need to feed today, but we will talk more about that later.”

 

The thought of feeding from someone else turns my stomach. If I have to drink blood, then there is only one person's blood I want in my mouth; Miranda’s. 

 

“That can be arranged, Andrea. It’s a big decision to make and there is a lot to consider first.”

 

“Ok, seriously? Can you actually read minds?” I ask jokingly. Oh god, please tell me she can’t? All those times I have fantasised about her…

 

She blushes prettily. “Yes, I can and so will you. As a vampire, you'll be able to read all human minds once you finish your transformation. I tried to respect your privacy, but your thoughts were rather loud at times,” she informs me with a devilish smile.

 

I bury my face in my hands, my skin hot against my palms. This cannot be happening.

 

“If it helps, I’ve had very similar thoughts. Working alongside you has been challenging at times,” she admits with a wry grin.

 

“How long will it take for my transformation to be complete,” I ask, to change the subject, heat still radiating from my cheeks. I stare at my hands rather than meet her eyes. 

 

“Only a few more hours. You will develop your strength and speed and start hearing people's thoughts. You will learn to block them out with practice as long as you aren’t distracted.”

 

“So I’ll hear Roy? Nigel? Emily? What if I don’t want to know what they are thinking?”

 

“You won’t hear Roy, he’s one of us. The others? Well, until you learn control, there's not much you can do about that. It’s unfortunate but helpful at times.”

 

“Roy is a vampire, but you can’t hear his thoughts?”

 

“We can’t hear the thoughts of others like us.”

 

“But you can hear me?”

 

She takes her hand from my thigh, resting both her hands in her own lap and sighs. “I wanted more time before we discussed this. I needed more time, and so did you.”

 

“I think I’m handling this pretty well. Just tell me.” I ease myself into a sitting position and cross my legs. I wait impatiently, seeing the conflict as it plays across her face.

 

“We don't hear the thoughts of others like us, with one exception,” she starts hesitantly. I reach out to take her hand, giving it a light squeeze.

 

“Go on,” I encourage.

 

“I can hear you because you are my ‘intended’. We are destined for each other. I knew it the moment I met you, and if you had been a vampire when we met, you would have known it too.”

 

Oh. Well, that explains the pull I have always felt toward her, since I walked into Runway the very first time. It explains why I was unable to leave in Paris. It explains how I managed to fall in love with a woman who on paper is totally unsuitable for me, and yet I’ve never wanted anyone more. I have craved her presence as I have never craved anything in my life. She is addictive and I am a hopeless addict, powerless to resist her.

 

“I have always fully and completely reciprocated the feelings you have, darling. I couldn’t get involved with you, Andrea, regardless of how I felt. Please understand. Not while I had to hide such a big part of myself. I thought... I hoped that one day I would be able to tell you, but what then? I was unwilling to take your life away by making you like me.”

 

Everything clicks into place then, and things become crystal clear. I’m not sure when I started to believe in things like destiny, but apparently, it can’t be ignored. 

 

“You know, if I am truly your mate, Miranda, your 'intended', then it was always fate that I would become like you. It was fate that I would become yours. If you weren’t going to change me at will, then last night had to happen.”

 

She’s thoughtful for a moment and then nods, but her eyes are worried. “That’s true to an extent. However, someone attacked you with seemingly no motive. They didn’t steal anything; I have your purse and your phone here. They beat you to within an inch of your life, but they stopped before you reached the point of no return.” She tilts her head. “Why would they leave you alive? They left you where you would have been found fairly quickly, even if not by me.”

 

“How did you find me?” I’ve been wondering about this since I woke up. I was heading back to Elias-Clark, where she should have been safely ensconced in her office.

 

“I’m not sure. I just had the overwhelming sense that something was wrong. I called Roy and asked him to meet me downstairs, but as soon as I stepped out through the doors, I could smell the blood.”

 

Carefully, I reach up to my head, feeling for what I assume was the worst injury, but she gently pulls my hand away. “Stop touching it. It’s healing,” she chides gently.

 

“This is too much. I need to process it before we talk more. Is that ok?” I ask. I am overwhelmed and close to a panic attack. I recognise the signs, although my heart was already beating too quickly. My hands are clammy and I feel lightheaded. I can hear myself breathing heavily.

 

“Of course. It’s a lot to take in, I know.” She stands up and reaches out a hand, which I take instinctively. I swing my legs around and rise from the bed more gracefully than I would have before. “I will bring you something to wear. Why don’t you go and shower?”

 

“I think that would really help,” I agree, concentrating on the sound of her voice to ground me. I feel disgusting, a combination of drying blood and dirt from the alleyway all over me. I am unsteady on my feet, but underneath that, there is already a strength that didn’t exist before. I almost feel like I am floating as I allow myself to be led into the adjoining bathroom, still grasping hold of her hand.

 

I hesitate for a moment when she shows no sign of leaving. She turns the shower on and shows me how to set the temperature. She gestures to the row of expensive-looking bottles on the shelf, telling me to help myself to anything I’d like to use. 

 

“Would you like me to wash your hair?” she asks sweetly. She sounds so innocent, but the glittering of her darkened eyes gives her away immediately. The gauntlet has been thrown down at my feet. The challenge is visible with the rise of her eyebrow and the slight upward curl of her lips.

 

I’ve waited a long time for Miranda, and I refuse to shy away now. I turn to her, meeting her roving gaze and bring my hands up to the buttons on my blouse. The sharp intake of her breath spurs me on as her eyes drop from my face to examine every newly revealed inch of my skin. I pause just to get a reaction, and I’m rewarded with a breathy request for “more.”

 

I allow the blouse to drop, leaving me in my bra and skirt, and she reaches out, curling her arms around me to unhook the fastening at the back of my skirt before slowly pulling the zipper down. It falls, pooling around my feet, but she barely notices as she stares in open wonder at my body.

 

“I knew you would be beautiful, Andrea, but you… you are so much more than that. You are divine. Flawless.”

 

I have never felt more attractive than I do right now listening to her words. Unable to reply, I simply start undressing her, removing her clothes far more quickly than mine as impatience creeps in. We are both standing in our lingerie, mine dark cherry red and Miranda's sheer black, when she finally steps into my space. The steam from the shower starts to fill up the room, giving her an almost ethereal look. She puts her hands on my hips pulling me closer, and I think she is about to kiss me, but she doesn’t.

 

“I would normally ask you if you were sure, Andrea, but I can hear your thoughts. I know that you are consenting to this. That you want this. If you change your mind, you’re to tell me immediately. I won’t make you feel unsafe.”

 

Rather than dampening my arousal, her words stoke the flames of my passion for her. I put my hands on the sides of her face and finally capture her lips in a slow, deep kiss. 

 

*****

 

We kiss for a moment, bodies pulled flush against each other, only our lingerie separating us. The guttural moan I draw from Miranda's lips is the most erotic thing I have ever heard, making me shiver with anticipation.

 

I groan when she pulls away from me again, but any complaint I am about to utter falls short when I take in her sparkling eyes, mussed hair, swollen lips and faintly pink cheeks. She is more beautiful like this than I have ever seen her.

 

“I want you, Andrea, but let’s shower and take this to the bedroom. I would like to talk to you before we lose ourselves completely.”

 

Confused by her change of pace, I wonder if her words are truly what she means. Has she changed her mind about me? About us? Did I do something wrong?

 

I nod and turn toward the glass door of the shower. More efficiently than I had removed the rest of my clothes, I make light work of removing my bra and stepping out of my panties. I’m stopped by her arms, snaking around my waist as she pulls me tightly against her front.

 

“I can assure you, Andrea. None of that is true. I want you so much, I am aching for you, darling. If you were to put your pretty little fingers between my legs, then you would find all the evidence that you need of my desire for you,” she whispers in my ear, her breath hot against my cheek. “I already know that having you in my bed will be a mind-blowing experience for both of us, but there is something that could make it… so much better.”

 

“What?” I ask breathlessly, her voice in my ear ratcheting up my need for her even further.

 

She hesitates then, and I feel her stiffen. I wait patiently for what feels like a hundred years, but it seems she comes to a decision and she perceptibly relaxes.

 

“I want to make you mine and I want to be yours. I want to be bonded to you, as we are intended to be. There are things to discuss though, Andrea. This decision is not to be taken lightly. If we do this, it can’t be undone.”

 

“I don’t need time and I don’t need to talk,” I reply as confidently as I can, turning in her arms. I trace the side of her face with my fingertips, relishing in the shiver that goes through her. “I already know I want to be yours. I am already yours and I have been for a long time now. Just as you have been mine, right?”

 

“Yes,” she confirms, smiling again now. “Let’s get cleaned up and then I’ll explain what needs to be done.”

 

“Just like that?” I can’t help but ask, not having expected her agreement so quickly. I know that she wants to keep me safe. She has been trying to keep me safe for a long time now.

 

“You forget, I can hear your every thought, darling. If you weren’t sure, I would know.”

 

Instead of answering, I pull her into the shower with me, backing her against the now warm tiles. I kiss her again and again until we are both left breathless and gasping. She giggles, the sound so unexpected that I stare at her in shock.

 

“I can see we are going to be more than compatible,” she purrs in my ear, manoeuvring me under the spray and rinsing the blood from my matted hair. I expect her to be disgusted, but her eyes are blown wide and the look on her face is feral. She shudders, and I can see her canines lengthening as she leans toward me. She licks the side of my face where a steady stream of red is being washed out of my hair.

 

“Fuck, that’s hot,” I groan.

 

She grins then, her teeth startlingly long, but it suits her. She runs her tongue over her lips and puts the tip against one of the preternaturally long teeth. She presses hard enough that it pierces the skin, causing a small bubble of blood to rise. She leans forward, eyes calculating, checking for my reaction as she kisses me again, slipping her tongue into my mouth. The first burst of flavour as her blood hits my tongue makes my knees wobble. If not for her quick reflexes and extraordinary strength, I would have been on the shower floor. I feel my eyes roll back in my head as I kiss her with everything I have, sucking more of her blood into my mouth until I know my teeth will be stained as red as hers.

 

The kiss ends and I am desperate to pick her up and march her straight into the bedroom, but I am all too aware of the grime from the alleyway I had been laying in. 

 

She picks up the shampoo, proceeding to do exactly what she had offered when this all started. She washes my hair. She is thorough but gentle, her fingernails running over my scalp; her touch soothing now. Next is my body, which she undertakes cleaning with the same tender care, soaping up a sponge and washing every inch of me gently. She takes the shower head from the wall and rinses the lather from my skin.

 

“Go and dry yourself off. You have many messages to reply to, so make your excuses. Then, Andrea, you’re mine for the rest of the day,” she promises with a small growl.

 

I do as she asks, leaving the bathroom wrapped in a soft fluffy towel. I stare at the bed in horror when I see just how much blood is on her once immaculately clean cotton sheets. Somehow I don’t think she will mind. I consider changing them, but I have no idea where she keeps her linens. If I am right about what we are about to do then I’m guessing it could get a little messy, anyway. 

 

I sit awkwardly on the end of the bed, listening to her in the shower. I try to focus on the sounds of the water running over her body instead of my sudden nerves. The sound of melodic humming reaches my ears, and I don’t know the song, but it’s hauntingly beautiful. It sounds like it was written in another time and it makes me wonder. Just how long Miranda has been alive? All my preconceived ideas about vampires have been quashed, but there is one question left to ask. Am I immortal now? I mean to ask her but all rational thought leaves my head when she walks out of the shower, skin flushed pink from the heat. She has forgone the towel and stalks toward the bed, eyes laser focused.

 

I scoot backwards so I am laying against the pillows and the strong scent of my blood hits my nostrils. She reaches the end of the bed and crawls across its surface on her hands and knees until she is hovering over me. I burn with excitement, as an aura of pure strength radiates from her. I’m not scared of her. I could never be scared of her, but at this moment she is otherworldly and dangerous. Every bit the vampire of my childhood nightmares, but rather than fear, I just feel a pure need for her. I realise I want nothing more than to submit to this incredible woman. I am hers. Let her take me how she will, I am a willing subject, ready to worship my queen.

 

She dips her head, lips capturing mine in a slow kiss, and I can still taste the slight tang of metallic on her tongue as she teases me with it. Her hand opens my towel, revealing me to her, and her eyes dilate further.

 

“When we feed from a human, it sustains us. It is something we all need to do,” she explains. She settles next to me on the bed, placing her warm palm across my ribs. “When you feed from another vampire it creates a bond between you. This bond can never be shaken, can never be broken. It is permanent, Andrea. As my ‘intended’, we are already intrinsically linked, but this is a big step. Together we will be stronger.”

 

“I want this. I want you,” I reply quickly, wanting to get the conversation over with so I can be at her mercy.

 

“Your life will no longer be your own,” she warns. “When you are fully transformed, you will hear my thoughts, as I can hear yours. This will speed up your transformation process. If we do this, you will never have a private moment again. Anything you feel, I will feel too. Any emotions I have will also be yours. This is a two-way exchange, Andrea. Do you understand?”

 

“Yes,” I croak, too distracted by the hand running over my body now. Featherlight touches that make my nerves tingle wherever she strokes me.

 

She pauses in her ministrations, sensing, I think, that rational thought has left my brain. I know what she is asking though no words are spoken.

 

“Please, Miranda. I understand what this is and I want this. I want you. You must know by now if you have heard my thoughts, how ridiculously in love with you I am?” I remind her, pulling her towards me so her body half covers mine. She looks down into my eyes and smiles.

 

“And I love you, Andrea.”

 

“No more talking,” I plead, leaning in and kissing her desperately.

 

She laughs then but agrees. “No more talking, darling”

 

The relief I feel when she moves and covers me with the whole of her weight is like nothing I’ve felt before. She kisses me hard, my legs opening to accommodate her slender frame, and I feel how wet she is as she slides her body so slowly against mine. Her mouth leaves mine, and I nearly complain, my hands automatically reaching for her to bring her lips back to mine, but she doesn’t stray far. 

 

I lay there trembling as her mouth and tongue blaze a trail across my body, and I arch up from the bed when she takes my nipple into her mouth, tongue circling it deliciously.

 

“Miranda,” I groan. “Please.”

 

She glances up to meet my gaze with a smug smile, all too aware of the effect she is having on me.

 

“All in good time. I promise you won’t be left… unsatisfied,” she purrs, moving further down and biting my hip gently. I almost don’t recognise the whine that leaves my throat when she immediately soothes it with her tongue. 

 

“Harder,” I beg, but she doesn’t reply. Moving further down she noses my trimmed curls playfully, and I think she is about to dive in, but she moves down even further. One final glance up at me and then she lowers her lips to my thigh and bites down; unerringly finding my femoral artery on the first attempt. There is barely any pressure, but the sting from her teeth takes me by surprise.

 

She sucks and I can feel the blood leaving my body as she drinks from me, as though I am the last glass of water on earth. The sensation of her feeding from me is like nothing I’ve felt before. I feel it everywhere,  and the orgasm that creeps up and rocks through my body takes me by surprise. She sucks harder, her hand moving to my clit, circling firmly and I am coming again. The edges of my vision start to blacken, but there is no need for me to say anything. She knows.

 

Without saying a word, she releases my thigh from her teeth and swipes across the two puncture wounds with her tongue, stemming the flow of blood almost immediately. She moves at a speed I wouldn’t be able to see if I were still human, hovering over me and offering me her neck.

 

“You must drink enough to complete the bond,” she informs me, breathing heavily.

 

“How much is that?”

 

“You’ll know.”

 

There is no hesitation as I pull her down onto me completely, latching on to the main artery there instinctively. I reach an arm down between us, and she raises her body slightly to accommodate my wish. As I sink into her slick heat with my fingers, I suck as hard as I can, rewarded by the sensation of her clenching around me as she climaxes. It’s long, drawn-out, and powerful. I feel an odd sense of pride that I have been the one to elicit this reaction from her body. I wonder if anyone else has ever made her feel like this before.

 

“No, Andrea. Only you,” she answers, panting hotly in my ear. I withdraw my teeth and bring my lips to hers, blood mixing between us. I should be disgusted by the smears of red on her face but I use my tongue to swipe more of it into my mouth, not caring if it is mine or hers. I am almost consumed by my passion for her and it strikes me what people mean when they talk about blood lust.

 

I do not for one moment imagine that I can be any more turned on than I am at this moment, but Miranda chuckles evilly, sitting up to straddle my hips, staring down at me with amused eyes. She raises an eyebrow, and there it is again. That challenge I am unable to resist. 

 

I realise I can hear her request even though she has not opened her mouth to speak, and we move together as if we have done this a hundred times already. She turns herself around to face the end of the bed, lowering herself back down onto my mouth. I eagerly put my tongue to work, teasing her entrance and flicking towards her bundle of nerves. All ability to think leaves my head, as she leans forwards, and I feel her mouth on me. It takes the breath from my body. I can feel pleasure, both mine and hers; connected in an infinite loop. Giving, taking, feeling.

 

This woman is going to kill me, I think, as I attempt to concentrate on what I am doing, decidedly distracted by her tongue circling my clit, and her fingers slipping inside me, fucking me roughly.

 

But what a way to go.