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"Carrie, I think it's time you call Nathan."
I knew that statement would come, sooner or later. I'd just been hoping it would be much, much later.
We were lounging in Max's bedroom, the only room in his spacious, opulently furnished condo that had a television. For the past three weeks, all we'd done was lie around during the days and prowl various blues clubs at night. It wasn't as though I hadn't had time to talk to Nathan. I just hadn't wanted to.
When I didn't answer, Max sighed heavily. He folded his arms and leaned against the carved headboard of his antique bed, the only piece of furniture in the room that wasn't modern. He seemed strange and anachronistic on it. Having been turned in the late seventies, Max was the youngest vampire I knew. Besides myself, of course. He'd adapted to the changing times much more easily than some vampires did. Max kept his sandy-blond hair cut short and spiky, and his uniform of T-shirts and jeans helped him blend so perfectly with the twenty-something population of Chicago, I forgot at times that he was really old enough to be my biological father.
Clearly, he was about to pull chronological rank. "It's been almost a month now. I don't mind you crashing here. Hell, most nights you've been one mojito away from a rebound fling, and being the only male here, I'm digging the odds. But Nathan is my friend. If you're splitting up permanently, he deserves to know."
I refused to argue that the only thing my sire and I had between us was the blood tie, our weird psychological link that made us privy to each other's thoughts and emotions. Even that didn't connect us so much, lately. Nathan seemed to be blocking me from his mind. The few times I'd tried to communicate with him, I'd gotten only terse, vague answers. I supposed it was better than begging me to come back, but it stung nonetheless.
Still, Max wouldn't take simple logic for an answer. The many, many times I'd tried to explain my nonrelationship with Nathan, Max had refused to see reason. "He wouldn't have asked you to stay if he didn't love you," he'd insisted. "Just because he doesn't admit it doesn't mean it's not true."
"Oh, kind of like you and Bella?" I'd quipped, effectively ending the conversation. I should have cut Max a little more slack. After all, he had just gone through a nasty breakup himself, no matter how he denied it. Obviously, he had transferred the situation with Bella onto Nathan and me to avoid dealing with his feelings.
"I don't think I can handle talking to him right now," I said, knowing full well how lame that sounded.
"It'll only get worse the longer you wait." Max knew he had a perfectly valid point. I could tell from the gleam of triumph in his blue eyes. "And if it's horrible, so what? We're going down to Navy Pier tonight. You can drown your sorrows in cotton candy. No one can be sad with cotton candy."
I raised one eyebrow. "Not even a vampire with a profoundly screwed up love life?"
"Cotton candy is to vampire suffering as kryptonite is to Superman." He reached for the cordless phone on the nightstand and handed it to me. "Call him."
Helpless, I looked from the alarm clock to the phone. The days had gotten longer. Though the sun wasn't down yet in Chicago, it was almost nine Michigan time. Nathan would be getting ready to open the store. If I called now we wouldn't have long to talk. That was a good thing, considering I had no clue what I would say to him.
I took the phone and punched in the number, a pang of homesickness assailing me as I imagined Nathan navigating the cluttered living room to get to the phone in the kitchen. An overwhelming desire to be home again gripped me, and my heart pounded in my chest in anticipation of speaking to him. The line clicked and I wet my lips, preparing to answer his "Hello?"
"Nathan Grant's residence," a sleepy, female voice purred over the line.
As quickly as my heart had warmed to the prospect of speaking to Nathan, it froze again with the realization of who this was.
"Hello?" she asked, the word marked with a distinct Italian accent. "Is anyone there?"
With shaking hands, I hung up the phone. I couldn't look at Max. How would I break it to him that Bella, the only woman he'd ever had feelings for, no matter how he tried to deny them, had apparently extended her stay at Nathan's apartment by a good three weeks?
I was having a hard enough time explaining it myself. My mind jumped from one possibilityBella's employers, the Voluntary Vampire Extinction Movement, had discovered she'd helped us find a cure for Nathan, leaving her with no job or residenceto the nextshe'd missed her plane and had to wait for a much, much later flightbut none of them dislodged the sick feeling in my stomach.
"Carrie, what's wrong?" Max frowned at me as though he'd be able to discern my thoughts if he stared hard enough.
I opened my mouth cautiously. I wasn't sure I wouldn't throw up. "He wasn't home. I guess I dodged that bullet."
"Yeah, well you're still calling him when we get back." He eyed the window, where rosy sunlight sneaked in around the edges of the curtains. "I'm gonna go take a shower. By the time we're ready, the sun will be off the streets and we can head out."
I nodded and watched him start for his bathroom before I left for my own room.
Max's penthouse condo took up three stories in a corner of an old building near the museum campus, the lakeshore park where the city's big attractions clustered. It wasn't the hip, happening part of Chicago I'd imagined Max inhabiting, but he hadn't had much choice in the location, as he had inherited it.
Marcus, the former owner of the place and Max's late sire, stared accusingly from an oil painting on the landing. Max had always described his sire with glowing words, but it was hard to imagine the grim-faced man in the powdered wig as being "loving" and "fatherly."
Though it had happened twenty years prior, Marcus's death still haunted Max. I saw no need to heap another broken heart on him by revealing his werewolf almostgirlfriend was boning Nathan, the man he considered a close, loyal friend.
How could he? I fumed silently as I took the stairs to the guest rooms on the lower level. I flopped onto the ornately carved bed in my neoclassical guestroom and pulled the duvet over my head.
Cold tears escaped the corners of my eyes. Nathan had made it clear from the beginning that there would never be anything between us except the blood tie, but each new reminder stung more than the last, because I'd never really believed him.
I thought it had been settled the night Bella's spell let Nathan relive losing his wife. He'd as much as said there would never be anything between us. I thought it was because he hadn't yet gotten over killing his wife. Now, less than a month later, he appeared to have moved on. So either he'd needed seventy years and a month to get over his guilt, or it hadn't been the memory of Marianne at all. He just wasn't interested in me.
My parents had raised me to be a logical thinker. Logic insisted that the most plausible assumption was the correct one. Nathan was probably still screwed up, he just wasn't going to be screwing me.
Because I didn't want to break the news to Max yet he was still in deep denial over BellaI acted as if nothing was wrong as we gorged ourselves on cotton candy and elephant ears on the pier.
Unfortunately, Max picked up on my vibes. "Carrie, what's going on? You're not acting right."
"I'm acting fine," I snapped, then instantly regretted it. It wasn't his fault I had nonstop images of Bella and Nathan engaged in myriad sexual positions. "I'm sorry, I'm just"
Worried the man I love is at this very moment fucking the woman you refuse to admit you love.
"Yeah, I guess." I tried to sound more cheerful when I said,
"You know what's a good cure for homesickness?Alcohol."
Max grinned. "Now you're speaking my language. Let's take a turn on the Ferris wheel, then we'll find some."
I've never been a fan of heights, so I should have been grateful to be preoccupied on the halting trip to the top. Somehow, I couldn't be grateful for the torrid images of Nathan and Bella that swamped my mind.
It occurred to me that he'd never be able to hang on to Bella, who had Call of the Wild stamped all over her. Knowing they were probably doomed to failure cheered me up a little.
Still, I couldn't shake the torturous scenes, or the selfdeprecating commentary that went with them. Of course he's attracted to her. She probably doesn't wear pajama pants in public or go a day without washing her hair. She's also a size four around her hips and the size of a small solar system around her chest.
Feeling fat, ugly and petrified of falling to my doom, I closed my eyes and sighed.
Max apparently took it for an expression of contentment, because he looped an arm companionably around my shoulders and sighed in turn. "I know, this is awesome, isn't it?"
"I'm not really into being off the ground. But the view is nice."
"The view is gorgeous." He looked at me as though I was insane for not appreciating the experience. "But that's not what I was talking about."
It was my turn to give him the are-you-insane? look. "This." He gestured broadly, as though he could encompass the entire city with his arms. "Hanging out, screwing around, just being normal people."
"Normal people who drink blood and burst into flame in sunlight?" I snorted. "But far be it from me to interrupt your little delusion."
He settled against the seat and replaced his arm around my shoulder. "You know what I mean. For the past three weeks there hasn't been any occult shit going on. Not a peep from the Soul Eater. No faxes from the Movement. No drama."
Except for in our love lives. But you don't know that part yet.
"Well, there was that whole thing where I broke up with my sire and you got dumped by Bella." I'd sworn to myself I wouldn't bring her up again, but I was desperate to get him off his life-is-great kick. The way he talked with his hands when he was happy seemed bound to tip us out of our car.
Not that I begrudged him his I'm-on-top-of-the-world attitudeokay, maybe a littlebut when he found out about Bella and Nathan he would come crashing down from his high as quickly as if he'd fallen from the Ferris wheel.
Instead of arguing with me, he chuckled. "You're trying to pick a fight."
"Guilty as charged."
He inhaled deeply. The air smelled of the cityhot cement and traffic exhaustand carnival food, the scents of humanity only a vampire could truly appreciate. "Try all you want, I ain't gonna bite. Nothing can ruin tonight for me. Nothing."
With a parody of his contented sigh, I leaned my head on his shoulder. "If I don't get a drink soon, I'm going to stake you."