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Illusion (Chapter 1 Say Hello to Daddy)

Blackness. It kept me unaware of my surroundings, a buffer from the real world.

Awareness came back to me gradually, like slowly pulling a curtain away from the haze that had draped over my mind. Flashes of memories and impressions flashed like a slide show: startling red hair and green eyes like my own, laughter, blond hair and overwhelming anxiety.

The last thing I could recall seeing was his desperate blue eyes boring into my own. Now they taunt me as I remain locked in the darkness that holds me as its unwilling prisoner.

I could sense his presence in the back of my psyche, a constant hum that reassured me that all wasn't lost. My desire to know he was real and not a figment of my imagination forced me to fight to follow him out of the safety of my mind, back into the reality of the unknown. His lilting voice and cool touch the only thing that seemed tangible. He'd been an illusion in my dreams before, but he was real.

He had to be real. Everything hadn't been a dream. I had to find him to reassure myself that he did exist.

Breaking free from the shadows, I rubbed my hand across my eyes. Staring at the ceiling, I took a few deep breaths and reality fell over me like a bucket of ice water, making everything fall into place. It was all real. The fear, the confusion, my vampire father and Stefan.

Stefan!

Managing to pull myself up into a sitting position, my eyes darted around the room in search of him. I choked back a startled breath when I saw him. He had his long arm extended, holding Sofia by the throat, his normally handsome face twisted in rage as his large hand tightened around the female vampire's neck. Her feet dangled off the floor helplessly and her long fingernails scratched feebly at his hand as she struggled against him.

"You will do no such thing, Sofia. One more word from you and I will end you. Are we clear?" Stefan hissed, his voice filled with venom.

Sofia managed to nod as fear flickered across her beautiful features.

What had I missed after I blacked out?

"Stefan," I whimpered, my voice sounding hoarse and weak as I called out for him. I watched as Stefan's head turned slightly to focus on me, relief relaxing the harsh expression on his face. He immediately released his hold on Sofia's neck, causing her to fall in a heap on the wood floor.

He blurred to my side, crushing me to his chest in a tight embrace. I managed to wrap my arms around his neck, burying my nose against his chest. I inhaled the familiar smell of him: sandalwood and home. I wasn't sure what was going on, but I was with him. Home. Safe. Real.

"Josephine," he murmured, his breath cool against my hair. He pulled away slightly and his blue eyes swept over my face. The hands that had gripped Sofia's throat in anger moments ago were gentle as they traveled down the side of my face. He lowered his lips to press them tenderly against mine in a soft kiss. The familiar need for him ignited like a flame inside of me, my body recognizing the feel of his muscular, hard body against my own and wanting to reclaim it as mine.

"How long was I out? And why were you choking Sofia? Did I miss some kind of vampire throw down?"

I felt his mouth curl into a smile against my lips, and he leaned back to brush my hair away from my face. His mental voice was sharp as it entered my thoughts. "It is vampire bullshit. Sofia overstepped her boundaries. It is nothing you need to worry about."

Narrowing my eyes, I wasn't sure if I totally believed him. I'd only seen the end of their "discussion" and it seemed like there was more to it than Sofia sticking her nose where it didn't belong.

"I am happy you are awake. You were asleep for nine hours," Stefan said aloud, his eyes continuing their visual scrutiny of my body. "How do you feel, vackra?"

How did I feel? Where do I begin? I'd just discovered that my birth father is a vampire and I woke up to see my vampire lover ready to kill another woman. I think confused and overwhelmed were two words that best described how I felt at the moment.

"Weird and confused, almost like I've been asleep for too long. I could really use a glass of water," I answered and rubbed my face with my hands again.

Stefan attempted to stand and I frantically grabbed his arms to stop him. I didn't want him to leave me. I was being irrational, scared that if he left the room I'd never see him again. He focused on me with a look of confusion, his brow furrowing in concern as he read my mind. My eyes traveled over his beautiful face as he leaned closer to me, his deep set, blue eyes uneasy over the plane of his high cheekbones. His chiseled jaw tightened, the dark blond stubble on his face more noticeable than normal.

Stefan moved closer to me on the couch, his lips tickling my ear as he whispered to me. "I am not going anywhere, Josephine. Let me get you a glass of water. I will be back in less than a minute."

He blurred away and disappeared out of the room. He had barely left my field of vision before he'd returned with a crystal glass filled with water, kneeling down beside me and handing the water to me with a crooked smile, watching as I greedily drank the tepid water.

"Is there a reason why you are still here, Sofia?" Stefan questioned harshly without breaking our gaze.

I'd forgotten all about Sofia. Glancing over Stefan's shoulder, I saw her lurking by the door, standing quietly against the wall. I couldn't read her future or feel her emotions, but her body language was easy to decipher. She stared at me with thinly veiled contempt and jealousy seemed to radiate off of her, filling the room with her resentment.

"I was just making sure Josie had recovered," Sofia muttered. She flipped her long brown hair over her shoulder and crossed her arms defensively.

"As you can see, Josephine is fine. Leave us," Stefan commanded stiffly.

Sofia huffed and turned on her heel, leaving the room in a blur and slamming the door behind her.

"We are alone for the moment. I missed you, vackra."

He took the glass from my hands and placed it on the small table beside of the couch. His large hands gripped my face and his lips covered mine roughly, his tongue slipping into my mouth to entangle with my own. I could feel my body responding to him as he pressed me back into the cushions. His hands were everywhere, one slipping underneath my blouse while the other cupped my ass. His thigh slipped between my legs, his fingers brushing across my nipples through the lacy fabric of my bra.

I pulled my mouth away from his, half-heartedly pushing against the solid wall of his chest. "We can't do this here. Stefan…"

His lips recaptured mine before I could say another word and I gave into the desperation of his kiss. Desire coursed through my veins as I felt his agile fingers unbutton my jeans and quickly pull the zipper down. Our eyes locked as he took one of my hands. He rubbed it against the front of the soft denim, his cock hard and straining against the zipper. His striking face stared back at me, his blue eyes pleading for my understanding.

"I need you. Do not make me beg."

The tortured moan that fell from my lips was all the answer he needed. He worked quickly, slipping his hands into my panties. His fingers rubbed urgently across my wet folds, letting two of them slip inside of me. He began stroking and curling his fingers as I bucked against his hand.

I could never resist or deny him, I would gladly offer him whatever he needed or wanted. I needed him just as much.

His mouth was demanding and eager, his hips bucking against mine as he deepened the kiss. One of his hands threaded in my hair while the other kept up the rapid rhythm inside of me, his fingers relentless. I'd started tugging on his zipper when Stefan's cell phone chirped loudly.

With a growl of frustration, he pulled away from me and fished his phone from his pocket. His face tensed and his eyes narrowed.

"What?" I asked. I watched as his shoulders tightened and when he turned to face me, his face was solemn.

"It appears that your father is eager to talk to you."

I snorted and folded my arms across my chest. "My father?!? He'll never be my father. He watched me struggle with my abilities for years and did nothing to help me. I have nothing to say to him. I just want to leave."

"Josephine," Stefan had just begun to speak when his cell phone twittered again, signaling another incoming text alert. He glanced at the screen, saying nothing and simply handing me his phone.

Kian: Please bring my daughter to the fourth floor.

"Vackra, if you wish to leave, you must talk to him. He will not let us leave unless you meet with him," Stefan advised.

I handed his phone back to him and frowned. "So we're unofficial captives until I give him what he wants? Let's get this over with."

"Josephine, this is the way this has to work." He sounded frustrated. "There is no other way."

Scowling, I exhaled loudly. "It doesn't mean I have to like it."

"I know." Stefan took my hand, leading us down the hall towards the elevator. He pressed the up arrow on the panel and we waited as the doors slowly opened. We stepped inside and he reached across to press the button for the fourth floor, watching in silence as the doors closed and the elevator began its ascent.

The doors parted and we walked into a dark, wood paneled room that was a living and office space. On one side, two large couches faced each other in the living room. The walls were lined with impressive artwork, most of which were probably priceless, one-of-a-kind masterpieces. The other end of the room was centered around a large mahogany desk with two chairs at each corner. My father sat behind the desk, silently observing us and rising to his feet to greet us.

"Stefan and Josephine. Thank you for joining me." Kian inclined his head in greeting. He walked around the desk with outstretched hands as if to embrace me. Shrinking back, I huddled against Stefan's side. My father dropped his hands and a wounded expression briefly darkened his face before a small, forced smile took its place.

"Stefan, thank you for bringing my daughter to see me before you left. I would like to speak to her alone," Kian said as he glanced between us both. By his tone it was obvious they'd discussed this and it was an order, not a request.

"Vackra, I have no choice. I will be close by, I promise," Stefan's mental voice had a nervous edge to it.

Straightening my back, I pulled away from Stefan's side to face my father. I stared at him for a moment, my eyes flickering over him before I spoke. "I would prefer for him to stay with me, Kian."

He clasped his hands together in front of him before sitting down in one of the chairs that was in front of the massive desk. "I would like to speak to you alone. I understand your fear, Josephine. I am your father and I assure you no harm will come to you. Stefan, please leave us."

Stefan's sparkling blue eyes turned into icy glaciers as he inclined his head to my father. He leaned and pressed a kiss to my forehead while his mental voice entered my thoughts. "I can hear you from the other floors. If you need me, call for me."

He left the room and I stood alone, facing the man that was my birth father. His vivid red hair stood out in stark contrast to the paleness of his alabaster skin. His attentive, green eyes seemed to take in my every movement.

"Josephine, please sit," Kian said, gesturing to the chair opposite him. Gingerly easing down on the edge of the seat, I swallowed nervously. I'd waited for this moment my entire life, yet I couldn't find it in myself to be happy. Something about Kian made me uneasy. He seemed too smooth and polished.

"You wanted to see me?" I asked as I tapped my fingers against the arms of the chair. Raising an eyebrow in contempt, I struggled to keep my voice level. "Now that you have and I know who you are, there's really nothing else to say. I'd like to leave with Stefan unless I'm a prisoner here."

He crossed his legs and attempted to arrange his face into a gentle smile. I noticed that the sentiment never reached his eyes. "I can understand why you are angry with me. All I ask is to speak to you for a moment."

Sighing loudly, I stared down at the ornate rug for a moment before focusing back on my father. Part of me wanted to just refuse and get up and leave. Another part of me was interested as to what he had to say. My curiosity won out over my stubbornness and I scooted back in the chair in surrender. "Fine, Kian. What is it you wanted to talk to me about?"

My father leaned forward slightly, resting his forearms on his thighs.

"You are happy with Stefan. I can feel the love between the two of you. He had searched many years to find you, Josephine. His fated mate. It was interesting to watch him on his journey to find you," Kian mused as he threaded his fingers together and a grin pulled at the corner of his lips. "He never gave up on finding you. Others would have grown tired of the constant searching, yet he never did. It speaks of his character."

Fuming, I felt my cheeks flush with anger as my mind absorbed his words. If possible, I was more livid than before. Not only did my father sit back and watch me struggle with my abilities, he let Stefan continue his search for me when he knew exactly where I was all along. I could add these things to my growing list of reasons to be suspicious of my father.

"You knew all along that Stefan would be my mate?" I seethed. The word "mate" felt odd saying it aloud for the first time. "Why didn't you tell him where I was 10 years ago, Kian? He spent so many years looking for me. We wasted so much time. It was time that we could have been together."

He smiled softly, his green eyes gleaming. "Josephine, you were not ready to meet him. You would have barely been 18." Kian sat back in his chair. "I understand your frustration. It must seem unfair that you spent so many unhappy years alone, my dear. I am sorry that you suffered.

He was sorry that I suffered?! That's the only apology he was willing to offer after abandoning me as an infant to strangers? "I can't discuss all of that with you right now, Kian. It's too much to take in. I'm tired and I just want to find Stefan so we can leave. We can talk about this some other time."

"Josephine, you have 28 years worth of questions. When you are ready, we will talk." He nodded in agreement and hesitated as if considering what to say next. "I am pleased he found you. You complete each other."

Shrugging, I gripped the arms of the chair. I was almost ready to stand when a thought occurred to me. Kian was older than Stefan and it made me curious to discover what he knew about him. "How long have you known Stefan?"

"I had not had the pleasure of meeting him until today. However, I have known of Stefan for 875 years. He was Steafedn Hlifsteinn when he captured the Board's attention, a young vampire with powerful abilities and strength. Many years passed and his name changed with the times. Hence we have the Stefan Lifsten you know today."

"Steafedn Hlifsteinn," I repeated softly. My tongue struggled over the syllables of his name. "I feel horrible that I've never asked him these things."

"Your love for him is new. Eventually you would have asked."

My father leaned over to softly stroke my cheek. I unconsciously flinched at his touch, pressing my back deeper into the chair to put more distance between us.

"I do not mean to scare you, Josephine."

Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to smile. "Tell me more about Stefan."

"Stefan," he said, tenting his fingers under his chin. "He was remarkable as a human, a protector of his family. He was fortunate and came from what would have been a wealthy family during his human life. He had an extraordinary way of predicting the plans of his enemies. Of course, we know why that is." He raised an eyebrow, the red hair bright against the pallor of his face. "Even his premonitions could not save him during his final human encounter. He was fatally wounded in 1070. If Solveig had not changed him, he would have bled to death on a cold spring night of that year. Don't you see, Josephine? My dear, he died that night to be reborn for you."

I let his words sink in for a moment. Had fate intervened almost 1,000 years ago, sparing the man that would be my soul mate? Listening to my father tell his story made me grasp the enormity of Stefan's vision 200 years ago. I attempted to swallow back the lump that had taken up residence in my throat, unable to control the hot tears that spilled from my eyes.

My father leaned forward again, only this time to offer me a crisp linen handkerchief.

"Thank you." I carefully took the tissue from him, dabbing at my eyes. "Why did his maker choose to turn him?"

"Josephine," he chided softly. "Vampires are not different from humans. We covet the exceptional and beautiful specimens, choosing to change those that will make excellent additions to our race. We too believe in survival of the fittest."

He rubbed a single finger across his chin. "Stefan is a rarity even by today's standards. Imagine seeing him during a time when beauty and intelligence was scarce. Solveig was lucky to have such a child, almost blessed when you factor in his invaluable ability."

"His maker was lucky?" The thought slipped out before I could stop it. I vaguely recalled Stefan's words, explaining that his maker had been killed by the Council. I waited to see if my father would own up to Solveig's demise.

His expression became devoid of any expression, as flat as a mirror. "It is not my story to tell, Josephine. As his mate, you will share everything. I am sure Stefan will tell you when the time is right."

Eyeing my father briefly, I wasn't surprised that he had chosen to divert my question. I abruptly changed the subject. "Since I'm his mate, I'm going need to change to be with him. I can't let him go," I whispered. The thought of losing him was suddenly excruciating.

"You are half-vampire, Josephine. You are immortal with some human frailties. You can still die a human death, however you are more indestructible. You will no longer age and you can stay by his side while still appearing human. It is your choice now if you want to have him change you or remain as you are."

Stunned into silence, I could only stare at him. What do you say when you find out you're immortal and would always look 28? My mind flooded with questions that my father couldn't answer, leaving my head spinning. What did this mean for Stefan and me? Would he still want to change me? How am I going to explain this to Georgia and Anna? My stomach clenched as I thought of losing the only two friends I had, only to gain the love of what I'd just discovered to be my immortal life.

My father picked up a cell phone and typed a message into the keypad. He placed the phone back on the table beside of him and smiled at me again. "You have many things to consider, Josephine. Do not worry yourself with the fine print. Look at all you have gained." His eyes flickered to the doorway behind me, nodding. "Come in, Stefan. My daughter is ready to leave. I assume you have accommodations?"

Stefan blurred to my side, kneeling at my feet. I couldn't refrain from running my fingers through his golden hair and caressing his stubbled cheek, finally rubbing my thumb across his lower lip. He smiled the first genuine smile since I awoke, his face glowing as if lit from within. "Yes."

"Good." His eyes flickered from Stefan to focus on me. "We will talk soon. It was a pleasure to speak with you, my dear."

We were being dismissed. I stood and reached for Stefan's hand, linking our fingers together. I had only taken a few steps when I turned to face my father again. He sat motionless, his eyes somberly watching us.

"Before I go, I have one more question, Kian. My mother. Who is she? And where is she?" I asked, my words coming out in a rush. My eyes searched my father's face, surprised when his expression reflected the shock of my unexpected question.

"Your mother is gone. She left me 28 years ago," Kian replied. His eyes drifted to his hands in his lap before meeting mine again. "She chose to leave us, Josephine. She chose to abandon her child and the husband she swore she loved above all others. I do not wish to speak of her."

I swallowed roughly, glancing up at Stefan. His face was unreadable, his jaw clenching and unclenching as he considered Kian's words. His right eyebrow quirked, confirming my suspicions. He knew something wasn't right with my father's story.

"I deserve to know her name, Kian. You owe me that much," I retorted quietly.

His hands squeezed the arms of the chair and his lips became a thin line. Anger lined his expressive face and his sparkling green eyes flashed with rage. "I will not speak her name. Do not ask me again. We will talk soon."

Stefan lightly squeezed my hand, giving me a non-verbal queue that it was time to leave. I stared at my father for another few seconds before letting Stefan tug me towards the elevator. Stepping inside, I met my father's gaze as the doors closed. His face was an unyielding mask as the door separated us.

"That was unwise, Josephine. I understand that you are new to this world and the protocol that goes along with it. Angering a Board member can have unpleasant ramifications." Stefan's mental voice brushed softly into my thoughts as the elevator began its descent.

"You sound like you're reciting a passage from a rule book, Stefan. I deserve to know who my mother is, Stefan. He owes me that much, don't you think?"

"What I think and what Kian thinks are very likely two different things, vackra. He makes the rules and it is my job to enforce them. He is not a human that can easily be manipulated and controlled, Josephine. He has ordered the deaths of many of my kind without a second thought or a moment of remorse." Stefan turned slightly to face me. He ran the back of his fingers across my cheekbone and looked at me with regret. "You have questions that need answers. We will find them. Together."

The elevator doors opened into the garage area, effectively ending our non-verbal conversation. Walking side by side, we headed through the room to a large door. Stefan paused and pulled his sunglasses from his pocket and swiftly placed them on, covering his eyes. He opened the door and we were met by brisk air, sunshine and traffic. The air was filled with the smells of the city: car exhaust, asphalt and the aroma of different foods, spilling out from neighboring restaurants.

My mind was flooded with visions and emotions of the people that passed by us on the street. Slamming my mental shields into place, I inhaled a shaky breath. Being in the presence of vampires had caused me to lower my guard since they were mysterious voids to me. It was another advantage of being in a relationship with a vampire. I didn't have to buffer my mind from unwanted intrusions.

"Stefan! Josephine!"

We turned in unison to see Nigel approaching us. He wasn't as tall as Stefan, but was more solidly built than him. Nigel's long, tousled light brown hair was shining in the sunlight and his kind, hazel eyes were covered with sunglasses. He inclined his head as he stopped to stand in front of us.

"I have your car waiting for you with your luggage inside. Is there anything else I can do to be of assistance?" Nigel questioned.

"That should do, Nigel. Thank you," Stefan answered, extending his hand to him. Nigel shook Stefan's hand and his sunglass covered eyes focused on me.

"Josephine, it was a pleasure meeting you. We will see each other again under better circumstances, I hope."

I glanced up at Stefan, and he nodded in response. Nigel led us to the silver Mercedes sedan and opened the door for me. I sank into the leather seat and Nigel leaned down slightly as he reached to shut the door for me. He paused for a moment before he quietly spoke. "I loved your mother. She was nearly as beautiful as you, Josephine."

"My mother? You know who my mother is?" My voice came out like a strangled shriek as I grabbed at Nigel's arm.

"Later." Nigel gently pulled his arm away from my grasp and closed the door. My eyes were locked on his face as we pulled away from the carriage house.

"Stefan? You have to go back. I have to talk to him!" I was frantic to go back to find out the information Nigel had about my mother.

"Soon, Josephine. I promise that you will find out everything. You must be patient." Stefan drove quietly through the heavy traffic. He dodged and changed lanes frequently, heading down West 28th Street towards Chelsea. Stefan turned and we drove into underground parking, pulling into an assigned parking space. He gracefully unfolded his large frame from the car, stopping long enough to pull our bag from the trunk. He made his way around to my door, opening it gallantly for me.

"Where are we?" I asked as I pulled myself from the car, slamming the door behind me. Stefan pressed a button on the key fob and the car alarm chirped twice.

Stefan was silent as he turned, heading towards the elevator. He punched a code into the keypad by the elevator and the doors separated quietly. He stepped inside, jerking his head backwards for me to join him. Sighing heavily, I followed and moved to stand beside him. He reached a long arm over to press '8' on the panel and the doors closed and the elevator quietly began moving, a small ding chiming as it passed each floor. It rocked to a stop on the eighth floor, the doors opening to plush carpeting and beige walls.

He exited the elevator to the right and I trailed behind him as he sauntered down the short hallway to 8B, pulling a key out of his pocket, unlocking the door and opening it. He stood in the doorway, a smirk settling over his handsome face.

"Are you going to come inside our home or would you like to meet our neighbor?"

I jumped in surprise at his casual mention of referring to this apartment as ours. Faltering for a second, I finally was able to get my feet to cooperate and move. "Our neighbor? Whose apartment is this?"

Stepping inside the spacious living room, I took in my surroundings. The entire living room and kitchen was a wall of windows, offering a fantastic view of the nearby Gallery district and the Highline. The furniture was modern and sleek, the apartment decorated in neutral shades of cream and beige, accented with bright splashes of red and turquoise. A giant fireplace with built in bookshelves lined one wall.

"This is my apartment, which is now yours as well. It is something more for us to discuss later, yes? Stefan asked as he shut and locked the door behind him. He turned to face me with a smirk. "Would you like the grand tour now?"

Pursing my lips, I ran my fingers through my hair. "By all means. Lead the way."

Stefan walked through the living room and kitchen which led into a hallway. I should have been paying attention to the house, but I was more interested in staring at the muscles in his broad shoulders and his taut ass as I followed closely behind him.

"Eye fucking me already, Josephine?" He tossed a leer over his shoulder. "This is the office." He motioned to a room on my right. "Guest bathroom, laundry room. And finally, this is our bedroom."

He stalked into the spacious room, dropping our suitcase on the dresser. Plopping down on the king size bed, I braced my arms behind me and watched as Stefan crossed the room and flicked a switch on the wall. Chocolate brown motorized curtains closed across the wall of windows, darkening the bedroom. He blurred to my side and lounged on the bed beside me, propping his head on one of his large hands. I relaxed my arms and lay back on the bed, staring up at his handsome face. He stretched across to kiss me gently before reluctantly lifting himself from the bed.

"You need to eat. Shower and I will order food for you," he murmured. He stood and lingered in the doorway for a moment. "The bathroom is fully stocked. Come and find me when you are finished."

He disappeared down the hallway. With a tired groan, I got to my feet and wandered into the master bathroom, removing my wrinkled blouse and letting my jeans pool around my feet. I turned on the shower, adjusting the temperature before stepping in. I made short work of washing my hair and body, relieved to finally wash the grime of the last two days away. It was tempting to stand under the streams of hot water until it ran cold, but tension and fatigue were slowly creeping up on me, making my vision blurry and my eyelids heavy.

Stepping out of the shower and quickly toweling off, I grabbed a comb off the vanity and ran in through my long hair. I glanced at my reflection in the large mirror and the realization that this face would be staring back at me in 20 years hit me like a ton of bricks. No more worry about laugh lines, crow's feet and sagging skin. That revelation was quickly tempered by knowing that in a few years I'd have no more Anna or Georgia in my life as my friends. They'd never understand why Stefan and I didn't age. Hell, I didn't understand it and I was living it.

Tearing my eyes away from the mirror, I walked into the bedroom and slumped down on the bed. Sighing, I fell back and closed my eyes against the hot tears that were stinging my eyes. I just wanted to lay here for a moment and get myself together. Just a few moments of peace to get the scramble of my mind back in order. The quietness and darkness of the room had other plans for me, and I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

* * *

"Pad Thai with Shrimp or Pad Sew with Chicken? I was unsure of which you would prefer so I ordered both."

Stefan didn't look up from his laptop as I padded into the kitchen wearing one of his dress shirts as a nightgown. He was seated on a swivel bar stool at the counter, his fingers flying over the keyboard, making me wonder how the computer could keep up with the speed of his keystrokes. He glanced at me over the screen, the corners of his eyes crinkling as his handsome face broke into a wide smile.

"Pad Thai." I opened the takeout container and unwrapped the wooden chopsticks. Walking around the island, I sat down beside of him on a matching stool. "Thanks."

"Anything for you, vackra," he said. He swiveled in his seat to face me. He was shirtless, only wearing black silk sleep pants. My eyes had a mind of their own as they traced across his broad chest, following the long expanse of his finely muscled arms. How was I lucky enough to wake up to this for the rest of my life?

"What are you working on, my sexy man of intrigue?" I asked as I popped a shrimp into my mouth. As I chewed, I watched amusement flicker across his face. He raised an eyebrow at me and closed the laptop.

"Business e-mails. How are you feeling, Josephine?"

Turning my neck from side to side, I stretched. "Physically, I feel much better. I'm clean, rested and not hungry thanks to you." I picked at my Pad Thai. "Mentally, I'm still trying to come to terms with feeling like my entire life has been a lie. I find out that my birth parents abandoned me, I'm some weird vampire hybrid and my father is one of the most powerful vampires in existence. The only bonus is that you're still here."

"And you are here with me. As far as what happened with your father, I can only sympathize with you. If I am to be completely honest, I am happy you are some 'weird, vampire hybrid'. That means I get to keep you for an eternity."

Placing my Thai food on the granite countertop, I scooted closer to him and rested my head against his cool shoulder. Forever with the love of your life? How many people get that opportunity? Pulling back and placing a kiss against his bicep, I sighed with contentment as I felt the weight of his head against mine.

"Do you have any idea what Nigel knows about my mother?"

"Nigel is an honest vampire. He is undecided on what he wants to tell you about her. I would believe in whatever he chooses to tell you." Stefan's cool breath tickled my scalp. "If you have no reservations, I would like to stay in New York for a few days. I have business matters to attend to and we can meet with Nigel."

"That's fine with me. Do you have Council business?"

Stefan released a deep sigh. "No."

"Is this some sort of top secret business you can't tell me about? If we're going to be together you need to tell me what's going on. No secrets."

"I know. I only worry about how you will react to this information."

I gave his shoulder an affectionate shove and rolled my eyes. "Is it worse than finding out you were a vampire? I think I took that information in stride."

It was his turn to roll his eyes. He leaned over to nip at my neck with his teeth. "No, it is not worse than the night you discovered I was an immortal creature that longed for your blood. It is about my business holdings and what that means for us."

Why would his business holdings have anything to do with me? They belong to him and should be no concern to me.

Reading my thoughts, his blue eyes searched my face. "You are my mate, vackra. Everything I have is yours now." He stood and walked down the hallway and disappeared into his office. He sauntered back into the kitchen, his silk sleep pants resting low on his hips, showcasing the deep V that disappeared into the drawstring waist. He placed a thick manila envelope in front of me and patted it with his large hand.

"What's this?" I looked up at him suspiciously.

"Open it," he commanded as he sat back down beside of me.

Shooting him a look of irritation, I opened the envelope and pulled out another portfolio with LM Holdings Incorporated embossed across the front in bold script. As I opened the folder, I flipped through the stack of papers. Page after page listed his assets: the building in which I was currently residing and two other properties in SOHO and TriBeCa. Business properties in the Financial District. Assets in Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, London, Milan, Indonesia and Stockholm. Completely overwhelmed, I scanned them quickly, completely bypassing the bank statements. I'd finally reached the end of the stack when I noticed three credit cards with my name on them: a Black American Express, a Platinum Visa and what appeared to be a bank debit card.

"What the hell, Stefan? I don't need your money," I huffed, slapping the cards down on the counter. Pushing my stool away from the island, I made my way to the windows, taking in the sunset as it dropped behind the New York skyline.

"I know you do not need my money. You have already given me your love and commitment. The least I can do is share what I have with you. Is that not the way a relationship works?"

Angrily spinning around to face him, I saw the questioning look on his face and the irritation and fight drained from me. How could I argue with his logic, no matter how old-fashioned it seemed to be? He loved me, we were together and he wanted to do this for me. It wasn't worth the argument.

"Then it works the same for me. Whatever I have is yours as well." I didn't have much to offer him. I owned my villa in Bali, had a sizeable trust fund and book advances. It couldn't compare to his financial portfolio, but it was something.

"Josephine, if it makes you happy, then I will agree on one condition." Stefan had moved from his stool to stand behind me at the windows, wrapping his strong arms around my shoulders and pulling me against his chest.

Uh oh. A condition. I wasn't sure I liked the sound of that. "And what is your condition?"

"Live with me."

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