If you haven't read the Dark Days series, Stefan is a nightwalker who likes to drive Mira insane. He is definitely a pain in the butt in the Dark Days series and I never really expected to write a story for him. But then Erin Prescott appeared in my head and she convinced me to take another look at Stefan. Stefan first appears in Dawnbreaker and then comes back for more in Wait for Dusk.
The snippet below is the first chapter of the story and is about 5,700 words long. It is told from Erin's point of view. Happy reading!
The thunder rumbled overhead and lightning flickered, dancing behind thick clouds that rolled across the heavens, blocking out the stars. I glared up at the incoming storm, cursing it and my worsening luck as I waited for the ferry to dock. I was still a couple blocks from the apartment I was renting while in Venice and I knew the sky was going to open up before I managed to reach sanctuary. That was just how my luck had been running recently. The flood waters had finally receded that afternoon at the Piazza San Marco, but I hadn't had any time to do any sketches because I was too busy trying to track down my landlord regarding the leaking ceiling and the lack of heat in my place. The spring air was cool and the nights were dipping down close to freezing. I wanted to get through a night without wearing four layers of clothes.
The ferry driver scowled at me, anxious to have me off his boat. I was his last passenger and he was ready to get back to his own home with the sun having sunk beneath the horizon more than twenty minutes earlier. But that was everyone now that the world knew that vampires were real. I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be out walking around at night like I was a pizza waiting to be picked up, but I figured that if they wanted to snack on me, they could come in through my window with the broken latch at any time.
Before the boat even reached the dock, the man was handing me up onto the sidewalk and starting to reverse away. My balance wobbled and I reached out for a railing of some kind to catch myself before I tumbled backward into the canal. What I caught was a hand. A very cold, strong hand. I looked up to see who the hand was attached to and my heart skipped a beat.
Men were not supposed to be this attractive. Straight, dark brown hair hung down to his hard jawline, while piercing gray eyes held mine for a split second. It was only because I wavered on the edge in surprise, once again threatening to fall backward into the frigid water that he broke his gaze, tugging me more firmly onto the sidewalk.
As I regained my footing, I gently pulled my hand free of the man's, but there was a reluctance in his grip, as if he didn't mean to immediately release me. I didn't know if he thought I was so clumsy that I was going to fall into the waters despite his repeated assistance.
"Grazie," I murmured, starting to backpedal away from him while keeping my eyes lowered to the ground. Something about his sharp gaze unnerved me. It was like ... I was afraid that if I met his eyes again, I wouldn't be able to look away.
The man said something in a rush of Italian that I didn't understand, but his voice was almost hypnotic. I shook my head as if to shake off the spell he was trying to weave.
"Sorry. Americana. I don't speak much Italian," I said, waving one hand at him with a little smile. From my experience, most of the locals were happy to ignore you once they discovered that you didn't speak the language — except for the vendors. If they thought you were going to buy something, they were a little more willing to try to communicate.
"Bien. I am not Italian. I said I am sorry that the ferry driver was so careless that he nearly caused you harm," the strange man translated. His accent surprised me, drawing my eyes back to his face when I had been trying to avoid it. He was French, but his accent was different from what I’d heard in Paris two months ago.
"No harm done. He's like everyone else; anxious to be inside when the sun sets."
The man smiled and that initial frisson of warning that had slipped through me at the first touch of his hand proved to be right at the sight of his sharp fangs. "And with very good reason,” he added.
"You're a vampire," I whispered in shock. A heartbeat later, my shoulders slumped. "And I'm dinner."
"Oui, mademoiselle. But I promise, you will not remember a thing."
It was on the tip of my tongue to say that being a meal for someone wasn't something that I was likely to forget when a large raindrop splatted right across the vampire's nose, causing him to jerk in surprise. A loud bark of laughter jumped from me and I clapped my hand over my mouth to stop any further noise when he glowered down at me, though I wasn't quite sure if he was more perturbed by my laughter or the rain that was coming down in fat drops. When a second one landed across his smooth cheek, I didn't bother to hide my laughter any longer, letting it pour from me.
"I don't see the humor, mademoiselle," he said stiffly.
"It's just been that kind of day," I laughed as the rain immediately sped up so that thick sheets of it were now pouring down on us. I stared at the man, my flash of fear subsiding. He didn't look quite as menacing now that his hair was flattened to his head and his designer shirt and pants were sticking to his frame. Hell, he looked pretty pathetic as he frowned up at the sky, maybe cursing God for making it rain when he obviously had other plans for the evening.
"Look, I would imagine that it's going to be pretty hard to find a meal since it's supposed to rain all night. You're not going to just let me go, are you?" I said, nearly shouting over the pounding rain and the rumble of thunder.
"No," he said sternly, narrowing his eyes on me. He still didn't look as intimidating as he should have with drops of rain hanging from the ends of his long eyelashes and dripping from the tip of his straight aquiline nose.
"Well, then would you mind terribly if we did this in a somewhat drier location? I don't know about you, but I don't personally care to eat while being rained on."
The vampire just stared at me with an utterly perplexed expression on his lean, handsome face. But then, I didn't imagine that his meal often bargained with him. When he didn't immediately respond and the cold had sunk through my sodden clothes to reach the very marrow of my bones, I threw up my hands in disgust and started to jog in the direction my apartment building. He'd either follow or he'd find someone else more appealing to dine on. I was exhausted, drenched, irritated, and nearly frozen. I wasn’t going to wait on my would-be attacker to make up his mind.
The ancient palazzo I was staying in had been converted into several apartments and was less than two blocks away. It didn't take me long to cut over to it from where the ferry had dropped me. I heard no other footsteps splashing along the wet pavement other than my own and I didn't bother to look over my shoulder for my predator. For a moment, I thought that maybe he had moved on and I was stunned that I was partially disappointed by the idea. It might have been nice to ask him a few questions, though he'd already said I wouldn't remember anything. I didn't know if that meant I wasn't going to survive or if would simply erase my memories. That's what the vampires were always doing in those movies and books that everyone loved.
As I crossed the last narrow bridge over a canal, I slipped on the wet stone pavement and a strong hand caught my elbow, helping me to keep my feet.
"You are not very steady," the vampire observed drily, instantly surprising me. I couldn't imagine anyone moving with such stealth, but he had moved behind me with the silence of a shadow.
I bit back an irritated retort about the rain and tried to pull my elbow free of his grasp, but he refused to release me until I was back on the sidewalk and away from the canal. All I could think was "Don't worry, buster. I won't fall in the canal. I've already been lucky enough to win a date with your fangs." But I kept my comments to myself as I struggled to dig into my jeans pocket and pull out my keys. The combination of the soaked fabric and my half-frozen fingers made it a fight, but I finally got them free and the door unlocked.
The vampire followed silently along, up the narrow stairs to the third floor. I paused long enough to wipe some of the water running down my face from my eyes before inserting the key into the lock. As I turned back after stepping across the threshold, a thought occurred to me. Could he enter without being invited? It was a favorite trope of all the vampire books. Yet as I looked at him, the tall vampire was already stepped into the apartment.
"Well, I guess that answers that question," I muttered under my breath as I shut the door behind him.
A sinister grin slid across his lips. "You were hoping I couldn't enter without your invitation? Was that your plan of escape?"
A little snort escaped me. "Actually, I didn't think of it until just a second ago."
"And if I couldn't, would you have invited me in?"
I paused in the act of locking the door, my eyes focused on the deadbolt in my hands. "Would you tell me the truth about something?"
"Are you going to kill me?"
“No. There is no need."
"Will it hurt?"
The vampire took a step closer, crowding me without actually touching me. "Would you like it to?"
A sound of disgust rose from my throat and I glared at the vampire over my shoulder for a second before pushing away from the door. My shoulder bumped him lightly but it was enough to get him to step back so that I could easily walk past him. "I hope you don't mind but your dinner would very much like to get dry and warm before you dig in."
He said nothing, but I could feel his eyes trained on me as I moved about. The apartment had an open floor plan so that upon entering you could see the living room, the small dining room, and the even smaller kitchen. I peeled off my soggy shoes and socks as I crossed the room, my wet feet now slapping against the cold hardwood floor. I paused at each of the three buckets placed under the leaks to check that they weren't about to overflow.
"It is raining in your home," the vampire said with an air of confusion and wonder.
"No kidding," I grumbled as I flipped over a small trash can, emptying wadded up paper and a couple candy bar wrappers onto the floor, before placing it under a new leak that had appeared with the storm. I started to head into the bedroom off the kitchen and paused to look back at the vampire still standing near the door. "Do you ... I mean ... are you cold?"
"I don't feel cold or hot like you do, but I cannot say that these wet clothes are particularly comfortable,” he admitted. He held his arms out to side, raining drops of water onto the floor.
There was just something very stiff and proper about his tone that brought a smile to my lips. It was the first I'd had in a few days. My trip to Venice was not going well. With a shake of my head, I ducked into the bathroom and grabbed a pair of towels. Pressing one to my head, I threw the other one at the vampire. It was going to fall painfully short, but he moved with amazing speed, closing the distance so that he could easily catch the towel before it touched the floor. And still, he moved without a whisper of sound. I jerked back, slamming my back into the doorjamb behind me, my heart pounding in my chest like it was attempting to break free. It was the first time I'd seen him do anything to make me think that he was something other than a cold, wet man.
The vampire lifted the towel toward me and nodded, "Thank you." He didn't take another step toward me but proceeded to rub the towel over his hair.
"No problem," I whispered, taking a shaking breath to try to calm my beating heart. "I'll see if I have anything that might fit you."
My pulse only started to slow down again when I escaped to the bedroom. I started to shut the door, but considering that I was his meal, I was afraid that he'd think I was trying to escape. That didn't strike me as a wise idea, particularly after how fast I'd seen him move already. So far, we were both being civil about this whole exchange and I was really hoping to keep it that way. I didn’t want to do anything that might convince him that he needed to become violent.
Alone in my room, I was once again aware of how cold I'd become. I stripped off my clothes with trembling, numb fingers and left them on a pile on the floor, before digging a pair of panties and a bra out of the large travel bag shoved in one corner. I started to grab a pair of jeans, but paused. Jeans might look somewhat nice, but they’d be nowhere near as warm as a pair of cotton jogging pants. With another sound of disgust, I dropped the jeans and quickly pulled on the jogging pants. I was dinner, not a date. He could probably care less what I looked like so long as my blood was warm.
"Hey!" I shouted as I dug for a heavy sweatshirt. "Is it bad etiquette for me to ask what your name is?"
"My name is Stefan."
His voice sounded incredibly close. Turning to look that the door hadn't swung completely open from where I had partially closed it, I gasped to find him standing in the bedroom just past the open door. "Hey!" I shouted, grabbing the towel I'd dropped so I could cover my chest. It wasn't like he could see much, but he didn't need to see anything as far as I was concerned. "I didn't say you could come in here! Get out!"
"You asked me a question. I thought you wished to speak." A smirk rose to this lips and I was tempted to throw a shoe at his head, regardless of whether he was a vampire.
"Through the door,” I snapped. “You could have answered through the door. Now get out. I'll be out in a minute." I turned my back on him and pulled my sweatshirt on. I couldn't hear him moving, so it wasn't until I peeked under my arm behind me to find that he had left the room and returned the door to its previously partially open position. I sighed, my shoulders slumping for a second. Someone needed to put a bell around that man’s neck. But then, I guess that would make hunting humans a little difficult.
After running the towel over my hair one last time, I dropped it on the floor with my wet clothes and grabbed a brush. I ran it quickly through my short blond hair as I searched for the large men’s sweatshirt that had belonged to an ex. I gave up after a minute when I couldn’t find it. Apparently I hadn’t packed it like I initially thought.
“Sorry, but I don’t have anything that would— Whoa.”
I had started talking before leaving my bedroom, confident that my voice would easily carry to him but thought completely left my brain as I stepped into the living room and my eyes fell on the mostly naked vampire standing in the middle of my apartment. Stefan had stripped out of his wet clothes and wrapped a towel around his narrow hips so that I was staring at a wide muscular chest and lean strong arms.
The “Whoa” that had slipped unchecked from my lips should have sounded more like a “Holy shit! What the hell!” kind of angry. Instead, my voice had dipped to a low, husky tone I didn’t know I possessed and sounded more like a breathless “Wow” than “Whoa”, which could also be translated to “Yum.” It was only when he crossed his arms over his chest that I even realized that I had been staring with my mouth hanging open like an idiot. I jerked my eyes up to his face only to find a smug smile on his full lips.
I jerked my gaze away from him completely, preferring to stare at the scarred hardwood floor under my feet until some kind of organized thought returned to my brain. What was more disturbing to me was the fact that I obviously hadn’t accepted the fact that this person was planning to snack on me! If I really believed that this man was going to drink my blood and potentially kill me, I wouldn’t be attracted to him, right? Dear God, I hoped I wasn’t that kind of a masochistic sicko. I’d dated some less-than-stellar guys in my life, but being attracted to a potential killer was another ball of wax.
“Sorry. I—” I started again but stopped when I realized that I had no memory of what I had been talking about when I walked into the room. It was like my mind had been completely wiped clean. It was a blank slate. My cheeks burned and flamed bright red in my humiliation, my mind churning for anything to say.
“I put my clothes on your heater to dry but it doesn’t appear to be on,” Stefan said, amusement skipping through his words. He wasn’t laughing outright at me, but he didn’t sound far from it.
At least his comment succeeded in snapping my brain from its trudge through nothingness. Keeping my head down, I walked over the cold cast iron radiator and picked up the clothes he had neatly laid out there in hopes of speeding their drying. “You know who would be a good snack for you?” I demanded irritably as I swept past him and stomped into the small kitchen. “My landlord. And while you’re draining him, maybe you could work your vampire magic and convince him to have someone fix my heat. Or the roof. Or the hot water heater so that I can have a hot shower at least once while I’m in town.”
I dropped his clothes in an empty chair before I opened the oven and checked the pilot light. Satisfied that it was still lit, I turned the heat up, leaving the door open so that it would chase away the chill in the air. Very carefully, I laid Stefan’s clothes across the two chairs that were tucked into the tiny dining room table and positioned them before the oven so they would dry faster. I mentally shoved aside the realization that I had not seen his underwear. Did vampires go commando?
“Why has this landlord not taken care of these matters for you?” Stefan inquired. The word landlord sounded so foreign coming from him, as if he’d never said it before.
“You mean other than the fact that he’s a lazy asshole and he’s clinging to the hope that if he puts it off long enough I’ll be gone before he has to actually fix anything?”
“Yes, other than that,” Stefan said in a cool tone that forced my gaze back to his eyes. He was struggling to keep a straight face.
I picked up a dishtowel off the table and flung it in his direction with a laugh. There was something infectious about his amusement. It was like watching a shaft of sunlight break through a bank of clouds. His proper speech and just the stiff way he held his body made me think that he wasn’t the teasing, laughing, joking type at all.
But too soon the silence grew between us and it stopped being comfortable. There was only the steady drip and plop of water as it leaked from the ceiling into the buckets around the apartment. It was on the tip of my tongue to offer him something to drink as I would anyone I was entertaining in my home, but that something to drink was me and I wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“Do you have to do this every night?”
“What is that?”
“Go out and … find …” I stumbled, struggling to find the right words.
“Hunt for prey?” he easily supplied.
This time it was my turn to smirk at him. “You cannot call what you’re doing tonight hunting. I nearly pulled you into the canal and then after discovering what you are, I invited you into my home to take shelter from the storm. I might as well have jumped on a platter and shoved an apple in my mouth. This is not hunting.”
Stefan chuckled softly, sending a shiver through me that had nothing to do with the cold. Hell, I was starting to feel uncomfortably warm, but I couldn’t decide if it was because I was standing so close to the oven or from staring at the sexy naked man before me. I’m gonna go with ‘Naked Vampire for $1,000,’ Alex.
“No, this is not hunting in the traditional sense,” Stefan admitted. He cocked his head slightly to the side, sending several strands of hair down to hang before his eyes. “You have done this before?”
“What? Been dinner for a vampire? Hell no!” I said sharply, my voice jumping before I could catch it. I walked over to sink and grabbed a glass I had washed earlier in the day and carried it to where a bucket was nearly full of water. Putting it under the dripping water, I carried the bucket into the kitchen and dumped its contents. It hadn’t really needed it, but I felt better doing something instead of just staring at the vampire.
“Then I am confused. Why are you so calm?”
I paused in my trek back with the bucket and smiled at him. “What would you have done if I had screamed and run?”
“Stopped you.” There was a coldness to his voice that I hadn’t heard before, instantly reminding me that I was alone with a predator.
I cleared my throat, holding desperately onto my smile. “And if I had tried to fight you?”
“You would not have had the chance.”
I gave a little shrug as I changed places with the glass and bucket. “So there you go. There wasn’t a shot in hell I could get away. You won before the fight even started. I just hoped that you wouldn’t kill me.” I paused there with the glass tightly clenched in my hand and met his gaze, waiting.
Some of the coldness that had filled his eyes seemed to ease and he nodded, reaffirming his earlier statement that he would not kill me.
“So why panic?” I said with a shrug. “I’ve given blood to the Red Cross before. I can donate a little to you.”
He frowned in thought as he looked at me. “If all humans thought like you, hunting would become…”
“Obsolete,” I suggested.
“Boring,” he finished.
“Boring!” I repeated. “Oh my god, the man thinks I’m boring. Can you believe that, Venice?” I said, talking to the furniture as I placed the glass on the coffee table before the small sofa. Moving as fast as I could, I snatched up a pillow from the sofa and launched it at him. He easily dodged it as I had expected, but I continued to throw pillows, towels, and anything else soft I could find at him while giggling like a lunatic. “There! How’s that for boring? Ever had dinner throw pillows at you?”
“No, I haven’t.” Stefan’s voice dance around me, sounding extremely close. I twisted around, trying to keep him in sight, but he was gone. My heart pounded in my chest as I searched the apartment. But as I started to turn back toward the kitchen, Stefan grabbed me by the waist from behind. I screamed in surprise and tried to dart away from him, but his hands fastened on my upper arms, holding me in place. His grip didn’t hurt, but there was a tension and strength that made me think that I hadn’t a chance at escaping.
“Don’t, ma petite,” he said in a harsh whisper, as if he were suddenly straining, fighting something that I could not see. “I do not wish to hurt you, but you may come to harm despite my wishes if you struggle.”
“Wait, Stefan. Not yet,” I said before I could stop myself. I hated the anxious pleading tone to my voice. I had been handling this all so calmly and rationally, but now that I was out of time, I could feel the panic rising.
“It is best if we do not put this off. I would rather have you smiling than gripped with fear when you need not feel any.”
“Okay, but not from behind like this. Let me face you. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life afraid of what I can’t see behind me,” I said, proud that my voice was strong and even.
Stefan seemed to hesitate for a moment before his hands loosened from my arms. Taking a deep breath, I turned around to face the vampire and immediately took one step backward to put just a little breathing space between us. Somehow in my momentary panic, I’d forgotten that he was naked except for a towel and I was now staring directly into his wide chest. Until that moment, I had been sure I couldn’t be attracted to a pale man, preferring men with a somewhat swarthy complexion, but Stefan made pale skin look good. Really, really good.
While his physique was lean, his chest was clearly defined with thick muscles. His shoulders were impossibly wide and muscular; reminding me of pictures I’d seen of Olympic swimmers. His chest was completely hairless except for the most interesting trail of dark hair that started at his belly button and disappeared under the towel. I was desperately trying to keep my eyes from that dark trail because it would lead me to think about where that trail ended and … Wow, I really didn’t need to be thinking about that when Stefan was about to snack on me!
Forcing a smile when I dragged my eyes to his, I extended my arm out to him with my wrist turned up, confident that he couldn’t tell I was shaking. I figured he could easily take my blood from my wrist or the inside of my elbow. Stefan smiled, his fangs poking out as he gently took my wrist in one hand. He pressed a light kiss to the inside of my wrist and then shook his head at me. “I do not think so, ma petite.”
“Wh-what do you mean?” I stammered, forcing my brain away from the goosebumps that were slipping along my arm at the sweet touch of his lips.
“That is not my preferred spot,” he murmured, his eyes dropping to my neck.
I instantly took a step backward, but he stepped with me as if we were dancing, not allowing me to put any more distance between us while at the same time not trapping me by halting my movement. “But doesn’t that seem a bit… intimate?” I frowned as soon as the words left my lips and I stared up at Stefan. “Well, I guess maybe not for you.”
A puzzled look crossed his face, wiping away the heated look he had been giving me. “Why do you say that?”
I shrugged, feeling the last of my fear drain out of me. “I guess because I never felt any kind of attraction for a steak. That’s how you see me, right? A nice big juicy steak?”
Stefan’s head snapped back on a loud laugh. The sound filled the room, bouncing off the walls so that it brushed against me and hugged me close. The vampire gave my wrist a little jerk and I fell forward against him. My free hand landed against his chest, but I couldn’t stop myself from completely crashing into him. His other arm wrapped around my waist, trapping me flush against his hard body. He was cool to the touch, but not uncomfortably so.
"You are not a steak, ma petite," Stefan said gently.
"Erin," I corrected while trying to remain stiff in his arms and not melt against him like a pat of butter. "My name is Erin Prescott." I figured if Stefan was going to use me as a meal, he could at least know my name, not that I didn't like him referring to me as "my little one" in French. I certainly felt small in his arms.
"Oui, Erin. You have proven to be very interesting so I cannot see you as merely a meal," he murmured.
"That's a good thing, right?"
I relaxed a little more against him, some of the tension finally easing from my arms. It sounded that he at least saw me as a human being, not that I was entirely sure that such a thing was good, but I guess it was better than being viewed as a cow. Stefan lowered his head and took a deep breath, drawing in my scent. I shivered and I didn't know if it was out of fear or something else. It certainly wasn't cold. I was feeling incredibly warm already and the cool touch of his skin was a relief.
"Wait!" I said sharply when he continued to lower his head to my neck.
A low chuckle shook Stefan's chest. He didn't lift his head but he stopped moving forward. "We cannot keep putting this off, Erin. It is inevitable. Your smell is intoxicating and I am famished."
"Am I going to pass out?"
"You're not going to just drop me on the floor, right?"
Stefan lifted his head at this so that he could glare at me in the eye. There was no question that I'd insulted him. I guess the vampire had manners of some sort.
I blinked at him, giving him wide innocent eyes that didn't convince him in the least, but his lovely mouth did twitch as if he were desperately fighting a smile. "I was just checking. I'm a bit heavy."
"No, you're not."
"If I'm not conscious when you leave, could you turn off the oven so the apartment building doesn't burn down around me?"
Stefan solemnly nodded and resumed his pursuit of my neck. The hand on my wrist slid down to my back to hold me close, while the hand my waist rose to move my damp hair from my neck. His fingertips brushed across my skin in a gentle caress as if he were exploring that tender area. I flinched and drew in closer to him as if seeking solace and protection from the man who was about to harm me.
His lips brushed over my warm flesh next; just the faint touch of butterfly's wings. My muscles were taut with anticipation and my stomach jumped with every touch. I tilted my head up, giving him better access as his kisses grew firmer. The tip of this tongue slid slowly along the throbbing vein and my fingers clenched on his thick biceps.
I turned my face into his chest and when I spoke, my lips brush against his skin in a tender caress. "Do I have to forget, Stefan?"
The vampire paused, his hands tightening slightly as if he were suddenly afraid that I would disappear in a puff of smoke. "I don't know." His voice was rough velvet.
His fangs plunged into my neck and my whole body jerked. There was a whip-crack of lightning and I wasn't sure if I'd merely seen the flash outside my window or if I'd been struck. Pleasure and pain scorched through me, burning nerve endings and frying away brain cells until I was sure that I no longer knew my own name. The first draw from the holes in my throat was painful and I winced, but the pain was followed by all-consuming pleasure that immediately wiped away all memory of the pain.
I moaned, holding him as tightly as possible against me. There was some tiny part of my brain that was telling me that none of it was real, but it felt too damn good for me to care. Somehow I'd gotten one hand up to bury it into his soft brown hair. It was like plunging my fingers into cool, damp satin. For a moment, I was assailed by the haunting scent of dried leaves and burned wood, as if he embodied the spirit of Autumn. I turned my face into his neck and kissed along the straining muscles I could reach. Flicking my tongue exact spot he was drinking from me, I marveled at the sound of his deep moan. His hands tightened almost painfully while a new wave of pleasure washed over me.
I wanted more. I wanted to be closer so that my skin was touching all of his wonderfully cool skin. I wanted to be closer so that we were both drowning in this feeling. But as soon as the thoughts formed, they began to fade. A languid darkness was crowding close and where there had been tension before, I now felt only a welcoming lassitude. I managed to brush one last kiss along Stefan's throat before a soft sigh escaped me and I sank into the gentle embrace of the darkness.