Squinting at his reflection, Blaine Moreau swept back the hair at his temple. A thread of silver caught the light and he stared at it with an incredulous frown. He wasn’t vain; a hundred years without a reflection did a good job of curing such vices. But every day now brought a reminder that time was moving again. Sometimes he thought it was trying to catch up. There were fine lines at the corners of his eyes and the waistband of his pants felt tighter than it should. Now the first gray hair shone stark and bright against the black at his temples.
The last time he’d been thirty-five, it hadn’t felt so old.
Blaine tore his eyes from the mirror, jerking a drawer open and digging inside. He’d seen it there before, hidden among the tubes of lipstick and mascara like some sort of dirty secret, though he’d never realized its significance until now. Popping the cap, he leaned toward the mirror, catching the silvered hair and holding it fast as he touched it with the permanent marker’s tip.
The door opened without warning and he flung the marker back into the drawer, slamming it shut.
Angela froze, staring at him from the doorway. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing.” He glanced down. The marker’s cap was still in his hand. He slid the drawer open an inch and dropped it inside.
“Well you’re supposed to be getting ready.” She gave his chest an affectionate slap as she stepped into the bathroom and reached around him, taking a few extra hairpins from the counter. Her pristinely pinned dark curls didn’t seem to need them, but she added them at the nape of her neck anyway.
Blaine gave her hair a suspicious look, studying its uniform coloration for a moment before he caught her looking at him in the mirror. His eyes narrowed. “What?”
“Nothing. Just admiring your reflection.”
He glanced at himself again, tucking his polo shirt into his jeans and fastening his belt. “Better?”
“Better,” Angie agreed, smoothing her dress with both hands before hurrying out. “Now hurry up, or we’re going to be late!”
Blaine couldn’t help rolling his eyes.
It didn’t take long for him to put on his shoes and get his wallet, but his wife still beat him to the car. She stood beside it, arms crossed and toe tapping while he locked the house and meandered to the driveway to join her. He pressed a kiss to her temple as he opened the car door for her, waiting for her to settle before he closed it. The afternoon sun was harsh overhead and he flinched away from it unconsciously. Habits could be stubborn and hard to shake. Just like his newfound grays.
“Oh, shoot! I forgot the card!” Angie started to unbuckle, blinking when Blaine cleared his throat and held the envelope out to her.
“Maybe if you weren’t in such a hurry, you wouldn’t be forgetting things.” He slid his sunglasses down over his eyes as she snatched the card from his fingertips, a hint of a smirk twisting his lips.
“Maybe if you didn’t take so long getting ready, I wouldn’t be in a hurry!” She fished her checkbook from her purse, steadying it against the dashboard as he eased out of the bumpy gravel drive.
“Not my fault you used all the hot water. Room temperature showers aren’t very comfortable.”
“Oh, bite me,” she grumbled.
Blaine chuckled, snapping his teeth at her and throwing the car into first gear.
A little more than a month from their fourth anniversary, Angela’s attitude hadn’t changed since their wedding. She was more organized now and a bit more relaxed, but as easy to agitate as she’d ever been. He didn’t know why he’d expected different; he’d lived long enough to know people didn’t often change. It was just as well they didn’t. Adjustment wasn’t always easy. He watched her tear the check free and tuck it into the card.
“What?” She peered at him from the corner of her eye before flipping down the sun visor to check her reflection in the mirror on its back. “Did my makeup smudge?”
He turned back to the road. “You look fine.”
“You were looking at me funny. Like you do when you’re thinking something.”
Blaine cracked a smile. “You’re going to miss her.”
Frowning, Angie stuffed the card into its envelope, licking her thumb and swiping it over the glue. “Of course I am, she’s my sister. And California is a long way away.”
He shrugged. “You should be happy for her. She’s following her dreams.”
“And what about our dreams?” she asked in a murmur.
Laying one hand atop the steering wheel, he patted her thigh with the other. He licked his lips, swallowing a sigh. “We’ll get there.”
* * * * * *
The sun blazed in the afternoon sky, leaving a yellow haze of heat above the park trees. Uneven rows of cars spilled from the parking lot into the field beside it and Blaine grumbled as a third lap of the gravel lot proved futile.
“I told you we should have left earlier.” Angie craned her neck to look for familiar cars. Her brother’s Jeep was parked halfway down a row of vehicles in the grass. Maybe arriving earlier wouldn’t have helped.
“It’s a Sunday at the end of summer. Yours isn’t the only family wanting to enjoy the weather.” His expression didn’t change as he eased across the ditch and into the field, but Angie grimaced enough for both of them as mud pinged in the wheel wells. They were fortunate to have clear weather after days of rain, though she supposed it would have been just as easy to celebrate in her mother’s large house. But there was a certain charm to an afternoon in the park, especially knowing Krissy would be leaving in the morning.
“They said they had pavilion 8 reserved.” She unbuckled, glancing between the muddy earth and her high heels as she opened the door. She crinkled her nose.
“Is that the one with the inflatable castle?” Blaine stopped beside her door to offer his arm, but she waved him away.
“Very funny.” She pulled off her heels and slid out of the car. As an afterthought, she inched toward him and laid a hand on his bicep, her shoes dangling from her other hand. “Mom said she invited the extended family, but nobody could make it. Not that there’s a lot of them, or that we see them often. I think it was more an act of courtesy.”
Blaine shrugged and said nothing as she tugged him toward the shady pavilions on the other side of the parking lot. She tried not to rush him, but her stomach grumbled at the smell of charcoal and she hoped they hadn’t waited to start cooking.
Though her family’s pavilion wasn’t decorated, the faces beneath it were bright enough to make up for the lack of balloons and streamers. Krissy leaped from her place at a table, half-running to meet Angie in the grass.
“Sorry we’re late.” Angie swept her sister into a hug, grinning before offering the card.
“You’re not that late, Russ just got here a few minutes ago.” Krissy gestured toward their brother as he carried plates of food from the grill. Their father hadn’t noticed their arrival, making faces and squinting against the smoke.
Angie let go of Blaine’s arm, motioning him toward the grill. “Go see if he needs help.”
“You know he does,” Angie’s mother called as she took the food from Russell and directed him back for more. Rebecca wore one of her calm smiles, as always, though her eyes sparkled with amusement at her ex-husband’s efforts. “Trusting Martin with a grill was the first mistake.”
“So I’m a little rusty!” Angie’s father shouted, turning his head to cough into his shoulder. “Cut me some slack, Becca. I’ll get the hang of it after I retire.”
Angie snorted a laugh. She couldn’t imagine Martin Pierce retiring any more than she could imagine pigs flying. Then again, she was married to a former vampire. Stranger things had happened. She watched Blaine walk toward the grill with a slight smile curving her lips.
“Sit down, Ange! I’ll get you a soda.” Krissy tucked the card into her purse before turning toward the cooler. “It’s going to be so weird being away from you guys. I mean, I’ll see you at Christmas, but that feels so far away.”
“So are you going to miss us, or are you excited to finally be getting some distance from your family?” Angie murmured a thanks as she took the can of cola, settling across the picnic table from her mother.
Krissy grinned. “A little bit of both, but it’ll be worse once the family starts growing.”
Angie raised a brow.
“You are still trying, aren’t you?” Rebecca asked, peering over the rim of her plastic cup.
Warmth bloomed in her cheeks and Angie dropped her eyes to her soda. “We’ll get there,” she muttered, unconsciously echoing Blaine’s words.
The men came back with the last of the food in hand, saving her from any more questions. Martin speared a steak with a fork and moved it to Rebecca’s plate, pressing a kiss to her temple.
“Hey, how come she gets steak and the rest of us get hamburgers?” Russell pointed at the plates of grilled patties and vegetables on the table. His complaint was playful and cheery, but Angie thought he looked tired. Then again, the redness in his eyes could have been from smoke. She didn’t know how long he’d been standing over the grill.
“Because she asked for steak and no one else expressed a preference,” Martin said. “Now get your food and dig in.”
“Where’s Lauren, Russ?” Angie asked.
“Ah,” her brother grimaced. “Work. It’s always her or me.”
Angie nodded and started to put her heels back on, but Blaine put a full plate in front of her before she finished. He sat beside her, stealing a sip of her soda before passing her a fork. She smiled, murmuring a thank-you and taking a chip from her plate.
“Now, before everyone starts eating-” Martin began, pausing with a scowl when Angie crunched down her chip.
“Sorry,” she said, covering her mouth with the back of her hand.
He shook his head, continuing. “Before you start eating, I have an announcement I’d like to make.”
“You won the lottery and are paying off my student loans?” Krissy grinned.
“No,” her father laughed. “Your mother and I are getting remarried!”
“What, really?” Angie brightened. “That’s amazing, congratulations!”
Rebecca almost glowed.
“And one other thing,” Martin added. “I’ve been saying it to Rebecca for a while, but I figure it’s time to go ahead and make it official: I’m retiring.”
Angie’s jaw fell open.
Russell choked on his drink.
“Seriously?” Krissy looked between her siblings before turning back to her parents.
Martin nodded, resting a hand on Rebecca’s shoulder. “We’ve spoken about it a lot, and together we decided that now would be the perfect time. It’ll leave me free to devote all my energy to the wedding. Your mother always wanted to travel, so I promised her we’d do a little globetrotting after things settle. The company is stable and now that Russ is comfortable in his position, we can begin training him to take over.”
Her mouth worked, but Angie couldn’t find words. She closed her jaw, realizing it was still open. Her gaze turned toward Russell, his face grim and his eyes trained on his food.
“Sounds like you’ve been working out the details for a while,” Blaine said, propping his elbows on the table. “You must be looking forward to it.”
“I am,” Martin laughed, seating himself and finally filling a plate of his own. “It’s an earlier retirement than most men get to take, but that sort of stability is why I started the company in the first place. But those are all the surprises we’ve got for the day, go ahead and eat up.”
“So where are you going first, Mom?” Krissy asked.
Angie only half heard the answer, staring at her hamburger and chips. All of a sudden, she didn’t feel so hungry. Instead, her stomach tied itself in knots.
* * * * * *
“What’s the matter?”
Startled, Angie tore her eyes away from the sunset. “Nothing,” she lied, adjusting her seatbelt as she shifted.
Blaine gave her a reprimanding look. “What’s the matter?”
She grimaced at the repeated question. Her stomach still turned on itself, but she didn’t dare hope it was more than nerves. Her mind spun so fast it almost made her dizzy. She wet her lips and made herself speak. “Mom asked if we were still trying for a baby.”
His face didn’t even twitch. His cool and calm demeanor hadn’t changed in their years together, nor had the sarcastic twist of his smiles. She wished he would give her one of those smiles, offer some small reassurance, but he didn’t take his eyes from the road.
“What did you tell her?”
Angie shrugged. “I didn’t tell her anything. I worry about it enough without her asking me all the time. I know she’s excited, but I don’t think she puts this kind of pressure on Russ and Lauren.”
“Russ and Lauren aren’t married,” Blaine said.
She threw up her hands. “Well no, but it’s not like I’m her only chance for grandchildren! And I mean, I still want to take a test tonight, but even if it comes back positive, I wouldn’t want to tell her right away, just in case-”
“Calm down.” He reached across the center console, laying a hand on her knee. “Getting worked up about it isn’t going to help anything.”
Angie bit her tongue, forcing herself to exhale before speaking. “It’s not like I won’t tell her when it happens.”
“No, but she’s trying to be a part of your life. Having kids is something she can relate to.” He rubbed her knee gently. “She’s not trying to upset you. If you want her to ease up, just ask her.”
She turned away, watching the last sliver of the sun sink beyond the horizon.
“Is that it?”
Her father’s second announcement teetered on the tip of her tongue, but she swallowed it. “Yeah. I guess so.”
Blaine sighed, patting her leg. “I love you, Angela, but you make mountains of the smallest molehills.”
“Sure,” she muttered, letting him drive in silence.
She didn’t expect him to understand. She’d been content in her job for as long as they’d been married, a stark contrast to the feelings about her career she’d had early in their relationship. But Martin Pierce was the CEO and she was his daughter. She didn’t pretend there was anything else keeping her employed. She was an independent contractor, according to the board; the first thing that would be cut once someone younger and less experienced was at the head of the company and struggling to win favor with the board elders.
And that was another matter entirely. Angie couldn’t be angry at her father for looking to Russell as future head of the company. She had suspected he meant to groom her elder brother for the position, but she couldn’t help resenting it, either. She’d worked various positions in her father’s company since finishing college, climbing her way to her place as a director for art and advertising.
Russell hadn’t. But he had been in need of a job after his unexpected departure from the military, a severance resulting from a fight she’d dragged him into. He hadn’t told anyone in the family about the nightmares or panic attacks, but if he wanted to keep it a secret, he shouldn’t have moved in with Angie’s best friend. She blamed herself for his troubles, but couldn’t help her bitterness toward him now. Of the two of them, she was the better candidate for CEO, and it rankled that she hadn’t even been asked if she wanted the job.
Angie sighed, taking her purse and shoes from the car’s floorboard as they pulled into the rocky gravel drive. The old farmhouse loomed pale against the darkening night sky, leaves of the old silver maple whispering overhead as she stepped barefoot onto the rocks and pranced across the driveway on tiptoe.
Blaine took his time walking to the door, jingling keys in hand. He aimed the remote toward the car over his shoulder to lock it, as if that made any difference.
She watched him with a pleasant ache in her chest. He still looked at home in the dark, the shadows and moonlight flattering as they moved over his European features. But he wasn’t part of that world any more. Now he was part of hers.
“Could you hurry up? I need to pee!”
“Well maybe you shouldn’t have had three sodas,” he teased, giving her a quick peck as he joined her on the steps and unlocked the door.
She darted inside without turning on the light, stifling a shout as she knocked her shin against the coffee table on her way through the living room. Only half of her hurry was because of her bladder. The other half was the nervous fluttering in her stomach and the nagging desperation in the back of her mind.
Most of the lights were on when she returned to the living room. Blaine glanced up from his place on the couch, removing his other shoe and pushing them both aside with his foot. He looked expectant. Calm, as always, but expectant, with a light of hope in his dark eyes.
Angie tightened her hand around the narrow white stick as she took a seat beside him. She sat straight and drew a deep breath, turning the test over so they could see the other side.
She swallowed, and Blaine wrapped an arm around her as she closed her eyes. “Negative.” The word cooled any fire of hope left in her as it left her tongue. “Again.”
Blaine squeezed her gently, pressing a kiss to her temple. “This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed this,” he murmured. “You know how it is. You get stressed at work, we take a test-”
“I know,” she snapped, grimacing and repeating the words, softer. “I know. It’s just that after this afternoon, and after last month, I really thought…” She trailed off, shaking her head. Her heart ached with disappointment now, and even the gentle rubbing of his hand on her back didn’t soothe it. “It’s been a year and a half, Blaine. A year and a half of trying and waiting and testing.”
“It’s not uncommon.” He still sounded calm. He always did.
“But our situation is.” She stroked his face, her fingertips lingering beside his mouth. He’d had a pulse for six years, but he still had fangs. He hid them well with his closed-lipped smiles and quiet manner of speech, but they were there, reminding them of the trials they’d faced.
An unwelcome reminder, given the trials they had yet to overcome.
Blaine took her hand into his “We knew it was possible.”
“I know,” she sighed, leaning her head against his shoulder. “But I think… It’s been long enough, Blaine. I think it’s time for us to look into treatment options.”
He didn’t frown, though the corners of his mouth twitched just enough that she knew he wanted to. But he restrained the expression, still caressing her back, the touch beginning to calm her. “All right,” he murmured, kissing her brow. “All right.”
— Keep reading: Chapter Two