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Illusion (Chapter 4 There’s a Time to Run)

With our time ticking down in New York before we started our journey back to Bali, I found myself in a melancholy sort of mood. As much as I loved the green lushness of Indonesia, I'd seen another side of Stefan here in New York. He seemed more alive and relaxed since we'd been here. Maybe it was the anonymity of the city, the ability to fade into the obscurity of a crowd of people. As I pictured him swaggering through my thoughts, I inwardly laughed. Stefan always stood out; his inhuman beauty and grace always drew attention to him wherever we went. It was hard to ignore the longing stares and feel the lust that followed him, as normal and natural as breathing.

Stefan had left early in the morning to attend to errands and business issues. With my mind still reeling from Nigel's confession and his information from my mother, I'd wandered out to peruse the numerous art galleries within walking distance of our apartment.

I was standing in front of a painting, admiring the abstract shapes and bright splashes of color. Shades of red and blue tangled together and it was fascinating. Lost in the patterns, I jumped as a voice pulled me out of my musings.

"It is a beautiful painting."

I froze in place and my throat went dry. Kian. My father stood beside me and Stefan's words rang out in my head like an alarm bell. Do not meet him alone. Ever.

Keeping my eyes locked on the painting, I shoved my hands into the back pockets of my jeans. "Yes it is."

Walking to the next painting, I did my best to hide my growing discomfort. Kian strolled behind me and stopped at my side again. He brushed the arms of his expensive, Italian suit and adjusted his tie before slightly rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.

I was quickly losing my patience at the way he was following along behind me, like we were a happy little family and this was a fun little outing. "Is there something you want from me, Kian?

"I'm just a father that is attempting to get to know his only daughter, my dear."

Right. Grimacing, I clenched my teeth together. "I think you gave up that right a long time ago."

"As I said before, I had no choice. I could not raise an infant in a house filled with vampires. I was abandoned and devastated when your mother left," Kian said. He attempted to arrange his features into a look of sorrow, yet it was obvious there was no real emotion behind his expression. It made his words sound even more hollow to me.

Internally rolling my eyes, I had to bite my tongue. This little story he spun sounded rehearsed and contrived. I think he enjoyed the romanticism of being the martyr in his warped version of the truth. Turning to face him, I crinkled my nose in disgust. "I know you mean well but I can't do this with you. I can't pretend to care about you when I don't have it in me to do it. If you knew anything about me at all you'd understand."

He reached out to stroke my arm. "Give it time, Josephine. You will come to love me."

Laughing bitterly, I shook my head. "You just don't get it, do you? There is no gray area with me. I either like you or I don't. I may have to tolerate you because of who and what you are, but that's all it will ever be. You'll never be my father, Kian. The only father I knew died four years ago."

I watched as anger crept across his face, only to morph into a more tranquil expression. "You wound me with your words. You have not given me the opportunity to prove to you that I care."

"Kian, I don't want you to prove anything to me. I want to be happy, to know that someone puts me ahead of an agenda. I need someone to love me, not for who I am and not for what I can do," I said passionately, realizing I had just described how Stefan felt about me. Despite standing in the gallery with my father, a warm feeling of love settled over my chest, enveloping me like a blanket.

Kian only clasped his hands behind his back. He seemed to notice my change in moods and he studied my face intently. "You are thinking about Stefan. He treats you this way?"

Smiling softly, I reached to absently rub the necklace he had given me. "I don't tell him enough, but yes. He loves me more that I can ever explain to you. And I love him more than I ever thought possible. If I had to, I'd kill to protect him."

I meant every word I said. If it came down to keeping Stefan safe or losing him, there wasn't much I wouldn't do.

His vivid green eyes widened. "Those are strong words."

Shrugging, I tossed my reddish-blond waves over my shoulder. "I guess they are. But if you've ever truly loved someone, that's how you feel."

Zipping my leather jacket, I crossed my arms under my chest. "Goodbye, Kian. I'm going to ask you nicely to not follow me again."

I turned on my heel and started to walk away from him when I felt his hand on my elbow, pulling me back to him. My eyes dropped to his hand before looking up to meet his unyielding stare.

"Little girl, you have no idea how to function in the world you are now part of. There are rules, ways in which you behave. You will not disrespect me."

"Disrespect you? I don't even like you. Whose fault is it that I know nothing about what I am? I found out less than a week ago I'm not even fully human," I hissed. "Now take your fucking hands off of me."

His hand flinched away like I burned him, his mouth twisting into a sneer. He leaned so close that I could feel his cold breath on my face. "You are so much like your mother. Willful and determined. Those two traits will either save you or destroy you."

Thoughts of my mother drifted through my mind. She'd stood up to him, but at what cost? "Is that a threat, Kian? If I don't bow down to you, what are you going to do? Threaten me?" I questioned. Turning my head slightly to the side, I appraised him with contempt. "You seem to be the type. Smooth on the outside, covering up the ugly inside. If you can't control me, what happens next?"

Kian glanced around the gallery uneasily, smoothing his hand over his neatly styled bright copper hair. "I think you have me all wrong, my dear. Perhaps we got off on the wrong foot."

It was almost comical to watch him back pedal, seeing his obvious regret that he had shown the side of him that he tried to keep hidden away. He was scrambling, trying to salvage what was left of our relationship and his crumbling fa?ade.

"Wrong answer. I think I have you figured out, Kian. You're a megalomaniac that just revealed how truly disturbed you are. I'm finished with this conversation, Kian." I backed away from him, my heels clicking on the concrete floor of the gallery. When I pushed through the gallery doors, I walked calmly to the end of the block before breaking into a sprint, running two city blocks in my high-heeled boots. When I saw our apartment building I almost cried in relief. The doorman opened the door for me and I rushed past him, hurrying for the elevator while pulling out my cell phone. Quickly dialing the number, I didn't offer any greeting, just a breathless request.

"Please come home. I need you."

The elevator ride seemed to take forever. I nervously paced from one side to the other, growing agitated as it slowly moved through the floors. Lukas was the first thing I saw when the doors opened.

He was waiting for me when I stepped out of the elevator. His patrician, handsome face was lined with concern. His thin lips, normally pursed were now set in a thin line of worry.

He wrapped his arm around my shoulder in comfort as he ushered me towards the apartment. "He's on his way. Sweetheart, what the hell happened?"

"Inside," I muttered, unlocking the door and pulled Lukas with me. My hands flew over the locks, sliding deadbolts closed and rattling the doorknob. Peeling my leather jacket off, I was still winded from my impromptu run. I went to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator, opening it and taking deep swallows.

"Josie, please start talking."

I sat the water down on the counter and had just opened my mouth to speak when the locks on the door began turning. Stefan burst into the room, looking around the anxiously until he found me standing in the kitchen. He didn't acknowledge Lukas' presence. He rushed to my side and jerked me in his arms, muttering inaudibly against my hair. I clutched at him, my fingers twisting in his shirt. The adrenaline rush that had propelled me to run had disappeared and I began sobbing, my knees giving out on me. Stefan sank to the floor with me, rocking me tightly against him.

"Lukas? What happened?" Stefan demanded harshly.

"I don't know. She hadn't had the chance to tell me anything."

"Kian," I sputtered. "Stefan, let me show you."

Giving him access to my memories, I replayed my confrontation with my father for him. Stefan stiffened against me and I looked up at his face. His blond eyebrows were angry slashes over his glacial blue eyes. His lips were pulled tightly back, exposing his teeth.

"What?!? Will someone tell me what's going on?" Lukas asked, tapping his foot impatiently.

"Josephine had an argument with her father. He apparently followed her and confronted her," Stefan said, placing a kiss against the top of my head.

Lukas was on the floor beside us before I even realized he'd moved. His fangs had dropped and he looked terrifying, so unlike the sweet Lukas I knew. "If that bastard even thinks he's going to mess with her, I'll end him, Stefan."

Stefan let out a resigned sigh. He reached to place a hand on Lukas' shoulder. "No one is ending anyone, Lukas. Only the game has changed. We knew it would happen eventually." He focused his attention back on me, smoothing my hair back from my tear-stained face. "Vackra, did he harm you?"

"No. But he's a monster."

"You are safe now." He nodded towards Lukas, who stroked my arm gently before rising gracefully to his feet and leaving the apartment.

Stefan scooped me up in his arms and carried me into the bedroom, sitting me down carefully on the bed. He motioned for me to lay down and he sat next to me. He removed my ankle boots, placing them on the floor beside the bed. He laid down beside of me, collecting me in the strong embrace of his arms, whispering against my temple. "Han kommer aldrig att r?ra dig. Om det ?r det sista jag g?r p? denna jord, kommer jag att d? skydda dig. Du ?r mitt liv, min k?rlek."

I let out a shaky sigh as I breathed in the comforting smell of his skin. "When you speak in your native tongue, it sounds so beautiful. What did you just say?"

"You will not be happy with what I said."

I pushed against his chest. "I'm already unhappy. Unless you just told me we're over, I think I can deal with whatever you said."

Stefan let out a weary sigh. "I used to be a much stronger vampire. I give in to every whim, every request you have." He smiled ruefully and rested his face against my hair. "I told you that he will never touch you. If it is the last thing I do on this earth, I will die protecting you. You are my life, my love."

Letting out a dry laugh, I leaned back to look at his face. His handsome face was lined with worry and a lock of his straight blond hair fell across his forehead. I reached up to cup his cheek, my thumb tracing the taut skin over his cheekbone.

"Why are you laughing?"

"I told Kian that I would kill to keep you safe. That if it came down to losing you or keeping you with me, I would do anything."

His eyes sparkled as he stared down at me. "You are my match in every way. How I lived centuries without you mystifies me."

"So let's keep each other safe, ok?"

He nodded and grinned. His hand started traveling down my back to cup my ass lightly, squeezing my one of my cheeks in his large hand. "Did you actually call Kian a megalomaniac?"

"I took psychology courses in college," I retorted. "If the shoe fits…"

"Dr. Anderson, can you diagnose me?" His voice was teasing as he kissed my nose and pressed a light kiss on my mouth. I pecked at his lip with my teeth and he growled lightly as I drew blood. I traced the outline of his lips with my tongue and licked the blood away, moaning softly at the taste of his bittersweet blood in my mouth.

"You are a sexy beast with control issues. You can be overbearing, dominating and scheming," I murmured softly. Stefan looked offended for a moment. He started to speak and I pressed the tip of my index finger against his lips. "You also happen to be the most generous, wonderful, loving, over-protective vampire I know. I love you, Stefan. Until the stars stop shining."

"You say things such as this and have the nerve to call me a sweet talker," Stefan admonished and kissed me lightly. "Promise me that if you go out you will take someone with you, either myself or Lukas."

"I promise."

* * *

We'd fallen asleep tangled in each other's arms. It was early evening and the room was glowing with the warm colors of sunset. Glancing at the clock, I wiped at the moisture that had beaded on my forehead. I was cocooned in Stefan's arms and normally his cool body kept me comfortable, however our combined body heat had caused a sheen of sweat to dampen my clothing. I placed my hand against his cheek, shocked to find his face warm underneath my palm. I moved my hand to his arm and his skin felt the same: warm. How had this happened? And why?

"Stefan." I shook his shoulder.

He groaned and slumped deeper into the pillow. I shook him again.

"Stefan, you need to wake up."

He slowly opened his eyes, staring at me with unfocused eyes. "Josephine?"

"You're warm!"

"What are you talking about, vackra?" Rubbing his face with his hand, he was struggling to catch up.

"Something has happened. When I woke up I felt like I was on fire. You're warm," I blurted out. I probably wasn't making a lot of sense. "Feel me."

Stefan was fully awake when I said that. His look of confusion changed to a sultry smirk, his eyebrows waggling suggestively at my words.

"I don't mean what you're thinking, Romeo." I smacked his arm in exasperation.

Stefan sat up and massaged his arm where I hit him. His eyes widened as he moved his hand from his arm to touch the side of my face. His long fingers were tepid against my face.

"I am not warmer. You are the same temperature as me," Stefan replied, his voice barely audible. "You are changing."

"Changing?"

Stefan exhaled a heavy breath. "When we were at the carriage house and you were resting, Kian told me that you would change to become more like a vampire. My influence and blood has only accelerated the process."

"Oh." My response didn't sound very intelligent. I really wasn't sure what to say.

"You are stronger." He rubbed his arm again. "Not so fragile and breakable. I will not have to be as gentle with you now."

His unguarded thoughts flooded my mind. He was imaging all the things he could do now that I was a much sturdier version of Josephine.

"What else is going to change?" I bit my lip. Was I going to keep changing day by day? Would I have fangs tomorrow? Swallowing nervously, I tried to fight the panic that was rising inside of me. I twisted my hands nervously in my lap as I glanced at him.

"That I cannot answer for you. It will be fine, Josephine. You need to relax," Stefan said soothingly.

His cell phone rang, shrill and loud. He glanced at the screen and frowned. "This will just take a minute."

He left the room, muttering softly into the phone. I heard him go into his office and I didn't think. I just reacted. I bent down to grab my boots and moved silently up the hallway. Grabbing my purse, I inched the door open and quietly stepped out into the hallway. As I closed the door, I ran for the elevator, jabbing the down button repeatedly.

"C'mon, c'mon," I grumbled, shooting an anxious look back at the apartment door, praying that it didn't open. When the elevator finally arrived, I let out a sigh of relief.

And for the second time today, I ran.

* * *

I ended up at a coffee shop in Chelsea Market, finishing my third cup of espresso. It had done nothing to calm my nerves, only making me jittery and adding to my paranoia. Stefan had called my cell phone at least 20 times in the last hour, my phone chiming after receiving yet another voice mail message from him. I was sure he was furious with me.

I was furious with me.

I hadn't listened to any of his messages. I couldn't tolerate hearing the disappointment and fear in his voice right now. My life had turned on its axis, spinning out of control, my mind was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I couldn't stop the barrage of thoughts: my possibly dangerous and evil father, my missing mother, the knowledge that I had some sort of immortality, changing, Stefan, moving and leaving behind two of my only friends… I was scared to death, feeling like I was only holding on to the remnants of my old life by a thin thread. And instead of relying on the one person that loved me the most, I chose to run.

Pushing aside my cup with a sigh, I felt extremely silly and stupid.

My phone rang again and I closed my eyes. I'd been waiting on this phone call.

With shaking hands, I answered the phone. "Anna?"

"Josie! Thank god!" Anna yelled out in relief. "Lukas just called me. Stefan is going crazy looking for you."

"Yeah. I figured as much."

"Ok, let me sit down for this. What exactly happened? You need to tell me what's going on."

Running my hands through my hair, I rested my forehead in the palm of my hand. "Where do I start? There's a lot I can't talk about over the phone, Anna. Everything is out of control. Imagine finding out everything you thought you knew about your life has been a big fucking lie."

"I can't imagine what that would be like. Josie, did you ever think Stefan might want to help you with this instead of me calling you to discuss your drama?" Anna asked pointedly. "If you're going to be with him in a relationship, you can't take off running every time you get stressed out about something."

"I didn't think Anna. I just ran."

"Hmm. How's New York?" Anna changed the subject abruptly.

"Loud." I turned my head to the side as I shifted in my chair. "I thought I'd hate being in the crowds, but it hasn't been so bad."

There was silence on the line and I could hear the crackle of the long-distance connection. "What are you going to do now?"

"Oh Anna, I don't know," I whispered. "He's probably going to be so pissed that he's changed all the locks and my suitcase will be sitting by the door."

"Bitch, please. That man loves you. I've seen it firsthand. Quit being melodramatic and get your ass in a cab and go home. Talk to him." Anna urged. "I'm pissed that you left Bali without saying goodbye, but we'll talk about that later. Right now I want to you to fix the mess you just made, Josie. Don't make me come to New York."

Laughing weakly, I fiddled with a spoon on the table. "Alright, alright. I'm sorry about Lukas calling and putting you in the middle of this."

"That bitchy queen means well," Anna snickered for a second and her voice became serious again. "I swear to god Josie, if you screw this up with Stefan I'll kick your ass. Remember what it was like when you had your misunderstanding and you were apart? Both of you were miserable without each other."

"I know," I paused. "Thanks, Anna. I'll see you soon."

"Bye, girlfriend."

Dropping my phone in my purse, I stared at the table. Anna was right, I needed to find a way to fix this. Pushing my chair away from the table, I hurried through the glass door and out onto the chilly night air. Hailing a cab, I slid inside.

"261 W. 28th Street, please," I said loudly over the sound of the cab driver's radio.

We drove through the traffic and I watched the city go by in a daze. I had no idea what I'd be facing when I got back to the apartment. I rummaged through my purse for my cell phone and was tempted to listen to his voice mails. Losing my nerve, I figured walking into this blind was probably preferable.

The taxi pulled to a stop in front of the apartment building and I absently shoved money at the driver. Drawing in a deep breath, I flung my purse over my shoulder and walked up to the building, nodding wordlessly at the doorman who opened the door for me. I passed an attractive couple getting out of the elevator as I was getting on and I nervously pressed the eight button.

Smoothing my hair, I took a deep breath when the elevator doors opened on our floor. I headed towards our apartment and gripped the doorknob lightly, startled to find it unlocked. Gradually opening the door, I walked in to find every light turned off. My vision was sharper than before and I navigated easily through the darkness, closing the door and finding the counter to place my purse and keys on.

"Stefan?" I called out. My voice sounded louder than normal in the quiet apartment. Anxiously pushing my hair behind my ear, I stood quietly, listening for any sounds. "Stefan? Are you here?

A light switched on by one of the armchairs closest to the windows. Stefan glared at me through narrowed eyes, his large frame slouched over in the chair, his fingers strumming restlessly against his muscular thighs. His lips were pressed into a thin line, his blond hair ruffled from his hands running through it.

"Do you have any idea how worried I have been, Josephine? I leave the room for a moment and you run from me. I call you dozens of times and you ignore me. Explain what the fuck you think you were doing?" Stefan asked. The accent in his voice was more pronounced, but he had no inflection in his voice. He sounded exhausted, like he'd been up for days.

Nervously rubbing the toe of my boot against the wood floor, I looked out the windows, over his head.

"I can only imagine what you were going through. I'm so sorry, Stefan. I just freaked out and I ran," I mumbled. "It's not an excuse. I was stupid."

"You ignored my calls and spoke with Anna though," he muttered angrily. "After your confrontation with your father today, you run off and I have no idea where to find you. If I lost you…. fuck!"

He slammed his fist against the arm of the chair and I heard the wood crack under the impact of his hand. He rose to his full six-foot-four inch height and crossed the room to loom over me. He looked down at me, his blue eyes filled with agony.

"Stefan, I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Tears spilled over my cheeks and I covered my face with my hands, my shoulders shaking with my gasping sobs.

"Go to bed, Josephine. I cannot talk to you anymore about this tonight." Stefan turned and walked to the sofa. He stretched across it and his gaze fixed on the windows in front of him. His body was tense, his face expressionless.

"Stefan," I began.

"No! I said go to bed. Nothing good will come from our discussion tonight. There are some things that are better left unsaid." He didn't look at me and his sharp words stung like tiny knives into my heart.

Fighting the urge to go to his side, I headed down the hallway into our bedroom. I kicked off my boots and stripped off my jeans and shirt, leaving them in a heap on the floor. Crawling into bed, I turned off the light. As I hugged his pillow to my chest, I was wondering if I'd finally pushed him away for good. If I did, I only had myself to blame.

* * *

The sun was rising when I awoke. Flipping over on my back, I gasped when I saw Stefan sitting on the side of the bed, leaning forward with his head in his hands. His clothes were wrinkled and his handsome face looked weary.

"Hey," I whispered. I wanted so badly to touch him, but I was too afraid he'd leave.

"Hey," he repeated. His deep voice was husky and sounded tired.

"Stefan, I shouldn't have run last night. I should have talked to you. I freaked out and didn't think." I plucked at the comforter with my fingers. Glancing up at him, I reached out and covered his hand with mine. "I'm sorry. If I could go back and do it over again, I would. I'll never run again."

He squeezed my hand and pulled it away to trace the pendant around my neck. "You are still afraid, vackra."

"Of course I'm afraid. Everything I thought I knew has been turned upside down. Not to mention I don't always handle change well." I grabbed his hand and held it against my chest. "This is my screwed up mind you're dealing with. I'm afraid of losing you, Stefan. I'm afraid Kian will try to kill me or worse, kill you."

"I will never leave you, Josephine," he assured me. "No relationship is perfect and I have told you time and time again that we are in this together. You cannot just run off and not talk to me."

"I know. I guess I needed time to think and I didn't go about it in the right way."

"I thought you had left me, Josephine." He lay down beside of me with his head on my pillow, our heads touching. His fingertips lightly stroked my face and his eyes swept over my face, as if committing it to memory.

"I wouldn't leave you, Stefan. I just needed to leave reality for awhile. I had a few cups of espresso at Chelsea Market."

He offered me a weak smile. "You were in a coffee shop in Chelsea? You drowned your sorrows in over-priced tiny cups of coffee?"

I nodded and huddled against his broad chest, which was now as warm against me.

"You befuddle me, Josephine," he sighed softly. "No more running from me. You not only ran from Kian, vackra. You ran from what we have." He gestured between us, raising his eyebrows sternly.

"No more running," I agreed vehemently.

He nodded and finally, his arms embraced me, overwhelming me with his ferociousness. It was like coming home, erasing all of my doubts and quieting the voices in my head. I peeked into his mind, and the fear and confusion he felt was overpowering. His thoughts were like mine last night, chaotic and conflicted.

"I spent the night staring out the windows, reflecting back over the last few weeks. I wondered if I made the right choice in finding you and exposing you to this life. I feel as if you never truly heard all the things I said to you," he said impassively against my hair. "And not with your ears, with your heart. Perhaps I have not told you what you needed to hear."

"Stefan…"

"Let me finish," Stefan continued quietly. "Yet I am selfish. I realized that I would have continued to search for you regardless. I was on a mission to find you, the only thing I've known for two centuries. There will never be another for me except you. However, I will let you go. I love for the first time in my long life, and I will not force you to give up who and what you are because I think I know what is best for you."

Craning my neck, I regarded him in a new light and with different eyes. Possibly Stefan was right. I'd never really listened to him, not with my heart. It was if someone flicked on a light bulb in a dark room and I could see the light. Stefan Lifsten, in his almost 1,000 years on this earth, had said he'd never loved anyone until he met me. He was willing to sacrifice it all to let me go.

And what did I do? I single-handedly did the worst possible thing to him. I ran from him. He assumed the worst, figuring I'd had enough and taken off. In his mind, I proved his theory right.

What did I know about love? I'd never loved a man in a romantic way until Stefan. Most of my relationships failed even before they had a chance to begin. Stefan and I were both stumbling through a relationship, a millennia old vampire and a hybrid vampire. Helplessly lost, hopelessly in love.

"I'm going to talk now." I pushed him to his back against the bed and climbed to straddle his hips. My fingers began methodically unbuttoning his shirt and once it was open, I met his gaze. "I love you, Stefan. The best night of my life happened the moment you walked into it." I leaned over him, pressing my breasts against his chest, fisting my hands into his thick hair. "I was foolish because I ran from you last night and I won't ever make that mistake again. I'm not giving you up. You were reborn for me."

Stefan had flipped me to my back before I could blink, standing at the foot of the bed. He tossed his shirt to the floor and his jeans were off in a blur of movement, lowering himself to his knees on the bed at my feet, staring down at the cover.

"Stefan?"

His face lifted up and the look he gave me was one I'd never seen before. His handsome face was stripped bare, no arrogance or age marring his smooth features. His was wide eyed as our eyes met, shocked at my admission. He looked impossibly young…and pure.

Slowly crawling to meet him, I sat in front of him, reaching out to carefully run my hands over his broad chest, my fingers caressing his pale pink nipples and stroking over the rippled muscles of his abdomen, his body jerking from my touch. He swallowed roughly and the corner of his mouth twitched.

"Josephine," he whispered harshly. "You were made for me."

My hands froze in place, afraid to move. I glanced up at him through my eyelashes, my breathing shallow. He hadn't moved, he was simply watching me.

I nodded and smiled. My hands were still, waiting for his permission to continue. "You were saved for me."

Stefan sighed softly. "Touch me. Please." He was beautiful, completely unguarded with soft eyes. "Please."

Hesitantly, I continued my exploration over his soft skin, letting my mouth follow the path my hands had made. My lips and tongue skimmed over his stomach, back up to his chest. I traced around each of nipples with my fingers, rubbing my mouth over the satin skin of his neck, feeling the muscles in his throat constrict under my lips.

I inched closer to him, until our lips were almost touching. His impossibly pretty mouth was curved in a small smile, his fangs fully extended. I took a finger and caressed each one, moving as if to kiss him, instead my tongue tracing each sharp incisor. His chest rumbled, his blue eyes becoming unfocused.

Stefan rose to his knees. I scrambled back against the pillows as he rushed to move between my legs. One hand grasped his cock, rubbing it over my wet folds. The other gripped my waist, drawing me closer to him. His body draped over me and he pushed gently inside of me, causing us both to break into shuddering moans. His hips pulled back, dropping his head to against my shoulder. His large arms enveloped me, wrapping around my back, finally sheathing himself to the hilt inside of my pussy, our bodies perfectly aligning to one another.

"This is right," he moaned, burying his face in my hair. "Tell me this is right."

"Yes," I agreed desperately. "It's always perfect."

He began stroking in earnest, setting a steady pace. He bent to suck one of my nipples into his mouth, his fangs grazing along my tender skin as his tongue swirled and pulled.

"I never knew it was possible to have this, Josephine. To feel love, this kind of affection. Then only to feel the pain of losing you," Stefan admitted. "I do not like to feel vulnerable."

I pushed him to his back against the bed, never breaking stride. I straddled him, increasing our speed. Stefan hissed in pleasure and I kissed him hard, my mouth unrelenting. His hand grasped my face, pulling my lips from his to look into my eyes.

"I was in hell last night. You were lost to me and I was afraid too much had happened and you had left." He kissed me briefly before pulling away again, gazing back into my eyes as if he was staring into my very soul, his blue eyes becoming dark pools of emotion. "Vackra, it has always been you. Hur bevisar jag min h?ngivenhet till dig? Du har mig i bojor, din villig f?nge."

As he spoke the words to me, he once again gave me access to his thoughts. He was wondering how he could prove his devotion to me. He was letting me know he was my willing prisoner and I had him willingly shackled.

"I don't want you to be my prisoner, Stefan. I want you to be my lover. My equal. My partner." Offering my neck to him, I wordlessly spoke to him. "Bite me, Stefan. Please."

"Mine." Stefan clutched at my hips and began bucking his hips, moving me faster over his cock, his mouth on my throat. His fangs broke through my skin, the feel of his bite causing me to slip over the edge of desire.

"Yes!" I cried out, riding him harder, tightening and contracting around him, moaning and crying out loudly.

His hips jutted a few more times until he exploded inside of me, his bellow filling the apartment with his satisfaction as we rode out the last of our violent tremors.

We were still for a few moments, and I stretched out to lay across his chest. Filled with elation, I giggled. A smile broke over his face and he stared at me as if I'd suddenly grown two heads.

"We've probably woken all of our neighbors." I blushed. Turning serious, I met his eyes. "We're stuck with each other, Stefan. I can't be without you. I love you and you love me. We need to learn to make this work."

His answering smile was brilliant, dazzling in its intensity. "We will, Josephine."

Our lips met, his mouth soft and gentle. This kiss was different. We weren't frantically trying to reconnect this time, he was pouring all of his love and adoration into this kiss. When he lifted his lips from mine, he was smirking.

"I want everyone to be jealous of what I have. To feel what I just felt, I would gladly deal with the wrath of this entire city," Stefan boasted proudly. "Come with me. There is a shower with our name on it. I want to get you clean so I can get you dirty again."

"My sexy talking vampire," I chided, sneaking a kiss from his soft lips.

"Always."

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