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By DixieHellcat

From the Author:

This story was written early this year (2004). While I was passing it to several ‘guinea pig’
friends, an event occurred in Clay’s real life that resonated with a major element of the plot, and made me
very hesitant to post it. (I’m vain enough to not want to spoil the story for the reader, so I won’t say more
now. If you’re fan enough to be reading this , you’ll probably spot it. If you don’t, bless you, and carry on!)
I never post anything I think might upset or offend my fellow fans, or, heaven forbid, He Who Reportedly
Lurks Among Us; so I sat on the story. It kept trickling out though, and the response has been universally
positive (that includes the reader who called me after midnight near tears—and she was only on page 10).
Enough, already. Here it is.
I just want you to be aware: this story is for grown-ups. Some scenes are adult (not just in the
usual meaning of the word, although yeah, there is some sex). The subject matter is dark, but not utterly or
ultimately so. The horror writers Skipp and Spector dedicated one of their books this way: “To God, Who
gave us the darkness that we might better appreciate the light”. This story is kind of like that. Enjoy. Oh,
and one other thing: got tissues?

I was well on my way to getting drunk at the vampire hunter’s party when I noticed the man
across the room. His black turtleneck and jeans, and the dark glasses he wore, made him look like a
strawberry blond version of the guy in the old Matrix movies (and aren’t we all glad in the year of our Lord
2025 that those weren’t prophetic?) The garb was slightly affected, not for a Hollywood party, but
definitely for one of Letitia Heisen’s gatherings—she was remarkably down to earth for a former TV
scriptwriter, now a PhD in Mythologic Studies, and tended to attract the same. She was approached by her
share of kooks, but they didn’t stay long. This one didn’t have the look of a kook, though; he sat in the
corner, trying to hunch his broad shoulders and look small, and certainly looking uncomfortable.
My slimeball ex’s memory was going down for the third time, appropriately drowned in my third
drink of the night, so I took it and myself in the handsome mystery man’s direction. The nearer I got, the
more oddly familiar he looked, and I searched through my gossip-columnist mental database for some has-
been or never-was he matched: high cheekbones, ripe mouth, long neck, rangy frame… “Clay Aiken,” I
said and flopped down on the love seat beside him. He didn’t even seem to acknowledge my presence. “It’s
you, isn’t it? Do you know how many people think you’re dead?”
Finally he stirred. “He is,” he said, not looking at me. Even blurred by years, that Carolina accent
could not be mistaken—I’m a Tennessee native myself, and I had reason to recognize that particular voice.
“Ohh, no,” I grinned. “Twenty years since you dropped off the face of the earth, and here you are.”
What a scoop! I exulted and stuck my hand out, the one not holding the drink. “Rebecca Palmer. I’m a…
The tawny head turned my way, and he pulled the shades off. Oh, my God, those eyes, the same
gorgeous green eyes I had swooned over as a preteen on a hundred magazine covers, were even more
captivating in person. “You’re a reporter for What possessed Letitia to let your kind
in here?”
“If you spent time googling anything other than your name, Mr. Former Superstar, you might
know I also write for Dr. Heisen’s been a great source. I bet you two met back when
she worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Damn, he was sexy, meeting him face to face after all these
years. “You look great. Good plastic surgeon, or good genes?” Probably lack of exposure to the sun too, as
fair as his skin was, had staved off the years.
He sighed and closed his eyes. “I told you, Clay Aiken is dead. He died twenty years ago in North
Carolina. I’m not who you’re looking for, or who you think I am.”
“Okay, I get it.” I made an elaborate show of removing an imaginary hat and sailing it across the
room. “There. There goes my reporter’s hat. I think it landed on the lampshade on the credenza. See it?” I
shaded my eyes and squinted. “Now. We’re off the record, and unlike some of my fellow travelers I respect
that designation, at least some of the time. We’ll call this one of those times. So what’s the deal, Clay?” No
reply. “There was all that HIV talk of course, but I never bought that. My gaydar’s too damn good and

always has been. Then there was the speculation about a pissed-off husband, or an unexpected pregnancy,
et cetera. Somebody online even suggested the American Idol producers put a hit out on you for making
them look like the devious jackasses they were. You broke thousands of people’s hearts when you vanished,
without a word of explanation. Don’t you even care?” I was getting into Righteously Indignant Crusading
Reporter mode.
“You’re drunk,” he snapped and stood, impossibly tall and lanky, and if I admitted it downright
edible. The mature, well-dressed black woman approaching us hastened her pace. “I’m leaving, Letitia.
This wasn’t a good idea, and I told you it wasn’t. Your guests are getting drunk, and drunks disturb me.”
“Oh, Cl—“ she began, then broke off and regrouped. “I’m sure Miss—“
“Palmer.” I rose with as much grace as I could muster. “And if I’m causing your guest discomfort,
Dr. Heisen, I’ll be glad to leave.” I did not say his name—in LA, every wall has ears and eyes, and no one
was getting this scoop away from me. I set my glass on a tray and started for the door, with the exaggerated
care of the not–quite-but-almost-drunk. Halfway there a strong hand gripped my elbow and steered me out.
“Hey, dead guy. Decide you couldn’t live without me? Ooh, that was a mixed metaphor, wasn’t it?”
The man who said he wasn’t Clay Aiken stalked toward a trim black car with tinted windows, the
latest model, with me in tow. “Reporters don’t make enough money to afford auto-drive, and you’re in no
condition to drive yourself. I told Letitia I’d take you home, to relieve her guilt if you should crash and
break your neck.” He ordered the passenger door to open, deposited me inside and got in on the drivers
side. “What’s your address?” I told him, and the car took off in a smooth purr of power.
“Mm, swanky,” I said appreciatively. He sat back and folded his arms. “I’m serious, Clay. So
many people loved you. Hell, so many still do. If you’re online at all you’ve got to know that. Why did you
“People loved Clay Aiken for what they thought he was.” The car turned itself at a stoplight.
“They thought he was strong, and smart and good. But he wasn’t. He was weak and stupid, and that got him
I groaned. “Fine. I’ll quit arguing. I’m gonna get that Letitia for holdin’ out on me, though.” The
quiet vibration of the expensive car lulled me into a relaxed state. When the auto-drive turned onto my
street I opened my eyes and caught him watching me, his gaze intent and his teeth, perfect and white and
keen-looking, biting his lower lip just like in all those videos from my girlhood. The car stopped in front of
the hundred-year-old Hollywood mansion that now held apartments, including mine. The area was
deserted, and after a moment he got out and walked me to the front door. “I’d invite you in, but I remember
you’re not that kind of guy. Or is that something else everybody just thought?” I’d gone straight from angry
reporter to first class bitch, and couldn’t really say why. Maybe it was this sudden reappearance of my first
grown-up crush, or the memory of how my best friend down the street had cried over some of the cruel
things people had said when he disappeared: how she had cried, and kept posting on the internet, and never
gave up believing in the magic of Clay Aiken.
“Whatever,” he said. “Don’t tempt me.” He surprised me by kissing me lightly on the cheek—I
wondered how much he had been drinking; his lips felt chilly, as if he’d been sucking on ice—and lingered
a moment as if his mouth half wanted to continue down my jaw and neck. “Good night, Miss Palmer.” He
strode to the black car, and it glided off into the night.


After I slept my night off and logged into work the next morning, the first call I made was to
Letitia Heisen. “Dr. Heisen, thank you for sending my car home—though I’m not sure how you got my
keys! I do hope I didn’t upset anyone last night. If I’d known you were inviting Clay Aiken though, I
could’ve been more prepared—done some research, made intelligent conver sation, you know.”
“Excuse me? I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, dear. I don’t know anyone by that name.”
No headway there, but then I truthfully didn’t expect any. My next call was to my cousin at the
Pentagon, to beg him to sneak me in a few minutes on the GPS grid. I wasn’t nearly as drunk last night as
Clay Aiken, or whoever he was or claimed to be, probably had thought—I’d memorized his license number
as he drove off. With my cousin’s promise to get back to me as soon as he could, I began to dig into the
history, and the mystery, of Clay Aiken.
I began with one of the oldest tools in the journalist’s kit, best stated over fifty years ago by
someone we still know only as Deep Throat—follow the money. Clay’s records were the biggest sellers for
an ‘inactive’ artist since Elvis. The sizable royalties were divided between Faye Parker, Clay’s mother, and

the charitable foundation he started. A third and much smaller percentage, however, went into a blind trust,
administered not from LA, or from Clay’s hometown of Raleigh, but by a law firm in Nashville, not far
from where I grew up. With visions of scandal dancing in my head, I phoned the firm, engaged in some
creative conversation and managed to get myself put through to the senior partner responsible for the trust.
“Kimberley Locke speaking, how can I help you?”
The voice surprised me for an instant—I’d forgotten that after Clay’s disappearance, his friend and
roommate had also faded from public view, giving up her recording contract to return to her hometown and
her original dream of law school. I described a totally fictitious article I was writing on celebrities who,
whether due to death or other causes, did not run their own affairs, and solicited her input. She was
pleasant, friendly, and told me absolutely nothing. Helluva lawyer, I thought after I disconnected. When
reeling off that list of speculations the previous night, I’d left out the one about Clay getting ‘K-Lo’
pregnant and vanishing rather than face his hypocrisy. A public statement that sex was best left till marriage
would not have mixed well with a baby conceived outside those bounds. Further checking, however,
revealed that Kim had not been that far from media scrutiny; I found pictures of her taken almost weekly
for over a year after Clay’s disappearance, with no pregnant belly apparent, and if she’d aborted why would
he have vanished?
With that train of thought shunted aside, I called the place where every writer on Clay Aiken had
started for twenty years—his mother’s home in Raleigh. Faye Parker was sweet and considerate, despite
how it must have hurt her to talk yet again about her golden son and how he had simply evaporated from
view just as he reached the pinnacle of stardom. “The last time I saw Clayton, he came home to visit.
Everything was perfectly normal, as much so as it could be by then—he visited with me, with his brothers
and sister, and his friends. He didn’t feel well for several days, I recall. Then he was just gone, without even
a goodbye, only a note.”
“Do you recall what the note said, Mrs. Parker?” I asked gently, noting as I did that just talking
with her was waking my dormant hint of Southern accent too.
“It was personal, dear. Please understand, this is still so hard for all of us. Fans still come by—
there’s a big old tree in the front yard, that we had a tire swing in when Clayton was small, and they leave
flowers there, and notes and things, the kinds of little gifts they used to make and send him when…”
“When he was touring, recording?”
“No. When he was alive. I know, there’s been no body, no proof, and the fans still hope, bless their
hearts. But it’s been too long, Miss Palmer. If Clayton was alive, he would have found some way to get in
touch with me. He may have known something was wrong, or there was some threat, because he left his
bracelet with his note, the one that said What Would Jesus Do. I don’t know what happened to him, but I
believe he’s safe in the Lord’s arms, and singing with the angels—“
Her voice broke. A part of me screamed Damn the scoop, Rebecca. This woman is dying inside.
Tell her her son may be alive! Another part agreed with the ‘damn the scoop’ part, but was more cautious,
more interested in why Clay Aiken would have put the people he claimed to love through this anguish.
“Thank you, Mrs. Parker. Is there anyone else who would feel comfortable talking to me? Clay’s siblings,
his friends…uh, your ex-husband?” One thing I recalled clearly, though just a kid at the time, was Clay’s
estrangement from his biological father. I remembered it so vividly because in Rolling Stone Clay had
called him his ‘sperm donor’ and I had giggled hysterically at the first time I’d ever seen that bad word in a
real magazine.
“Vernon died a couple of months after Clayton, uh…His house burned down. Drinking again, I
expect. Until Clayton became successful Vernon never had much use for him. But that last time Clayton
came home, Vernon finally called and wanted him to come over and talk. Clayton was so excited when he
left to drive over there. Ray, my late husband, was all the father Clayton ever had and he adored him—but
Vernon was blood, after all, and Clayton always hoped for a little acceptance.” She halted. “Oh, Clayton
always told me not to run off at the mouth to reporters! He was so protective of our privacy.”
“It’s all right, Mrs. Parker. This is all off the record, I’m just looking for some background.
Nothing you’ve said will be quoted, I promise.” I’d said that innumerable times and lied through my teeth,
but not this time, not to this wounded heart. She told me Clay’s other family and friends would likely be
less forthcoming than she, and I thanked her and disconnected.
With no more leads to chase until and unless my cousin came through, I pulled the phone off my
ear and tucked it back in my key-ring case. I worked a while on the latest Elvis-sighting piece, then stopped
to stretch, grab an apple and check my email. It contained the usual: gripes from my bosses, a few crackpot

story ideas, greetings from a friend in New Zealand, and one with an unfamiliar address. Hoping it wasn’t
some piece of snark from my ex, I opened it.
<Matthew 8:22b. LEAVE IT ALONE.>
With a click I opened the Bible program on my desktop and found the quote: ‘Let the dead bury
their dead.’ The unsigned communiqué was almost certainly from my escort of the night before, warning
me off. Clay Aiken would be familiar enough with Scripture to quote it for his purpose. Well, he was smart
enough to know I would be investigating. I glanced at the first half of the verse, chuckled and replied:
<Matthew 8:22a.>
which said, ‘Jesus said, Follow me.’ I’d be following, all right. Then, just because I was still pissed
off from my talk with Faye Parker, and because paging through a Bible had roused an itch in the old
Sunday-school-lesson lobe of my brain, I ran a search and added underneath the first reference:
‘And he who was dead sat up and began to speak, and Jesus delivered him unto his mother.’
As I hit Send the phone chirped—my personal ring, not the work tone. It was my cousin, with
good news. The GPS had traced the license of the black car to an address in the hills, to which it had gone
the night before immediately after dropping me off, and where it had stayed all day. The walls were starting
to close in on me, so I tossed on some sweats and decided to cruise up and check it out. One more check of
the email showed a new message from the stranger. This time before I opened it I ran a search on the addy,
and found it was registered to the trust for Clay Aiken’s money. The message read:
<Mark 12:27a.>
‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’ This one threw me, and I paused to organize
what I knew. Clearly, Clay Aiken wanted the world to think him dead, even considered himself—or at least
the person he had been, the person the world had seen—to be so. Was the abandonment of the bracelet that
had been part of his legend, the one every fan knew he never took off, a rejection of the faith, or an
acknowledgement of his rejection by it? Did he believe that whatever had driven him to exile himself from
those who loved him most intimately was so heinous that even the God he worshipped would disown him
for it? I had drifted pretty far from my Methodist raising, but that thought got my Irish up.
Once again, as if meant to be, the other half of the verse answered. I fired back:
<Mark 12:27b.>
‘Ye therefore do greatly err.’
I grabbed my jacket and took off. One way or another, I’m getting some answers out of you, Clay
Aiken, I thought as I drove. Whatever your precious secret is, if I have to blast it to the devil, so be it.
The house was suitably secluded, a small bungalow on a hill set back from the road, the black car
parked alongside. No security—gates, guards, cameras—was apparent. I drove past, parked over the next
hill, and walked back in the gathering dusk; the area was too far out of town to have people-moving
sidewalks. Just before the house came into view I pulled out a do rag, tugged it on over my hair and strolled
past with hands in pockets. No lights were on. Could I have been lucky enough to literally catch him
Almost out of sight of the house, I spotted a mail truck at the foot of the next hill outside an estate
gate. Better and better! I greeted the carrier with a cheery hi and persuaded her I was a lady caller doing a
favor for the presumably sex-exhausted resident of the bungalow. I kept my casual air walking up the hill as
she backed up and turned around; then I dove behind some shrubs, plopped down on the ground and
perused my prizes. There wasn’t much in envelopes, except a few bits of snail-spam, but one froze my
attention: a power bill addressed to Letitia Heisen at the street address of the bungalow on the hill. A
second bill similarly addressed came, strangely enough, from a slaughterhouse. With a shrug I laid them
aside, careful not to get grass or dirt stains on their pristine whiteness, and turned my notice to the rest,
several packages from They contained DVDs, travelogues all: Miami, London, the Smoky
Mountains…the beaches of California, puzzling since they were scant minutes from his door…and several
about the South, including two focusing on North Carolina. The last I found oddly touching, as if he were
looking back with homesickness at a forbidden land.
Cat-quiet, I crept back to the bungalow. A childhood spent squirrel hunting with my brothers in the
hills of Tennessee had been perfect training for the sneakier elements of investigative journalism. It was
almost full night now, and lights were on, one at either end of the little house. I slid up to the concrete porch
and laid the mail there—he’d think it was too much to put in the box and the carrier had put it there—then
slithered around back to check out the trash cans, still a treasure trove for nosy reporters. They were
virtually empty, unusual even for a single guy’s abode: no used-up toiletries or fast food wrappers. The

whole thing stank like rancid hamburger meat, though, so maybe the fridge had been recently cleaned out. I
silently bleched, carefully shifted a pile of Mason jars aside, then gave it up and lowered the plastic lid.
When I scanned the house again I saw a shadow move at one end and decided to risk a peek in a window
on the opposite side before I went on my way. The porch ran along that side of the house too, and I stepped
lightly onto it, thankful for no old boards to creak under my feet. A high, low-silled window looked into a
small, bare kitchen, the only activity a crock pot plugged in and turned on, its red light peering back at me.
“Looking for something?” I gasped and spun. He was right behind me, impossibly—I hadn’t heard
a sound. “You won’t find it here. You won’t find anything here…” His eyes took mine prisoner,
mesmerizing me. I couldn’t look away, could have fallen face first into their sea-colored depths and kept
falling forever. I struggled against their spell, groping for anything to break it. Backed against the wall, my
outstretched hand found the window glass. I gritted my teeth, jerked my jacket sleeve down over my hand
and hit it as hard as I could.
The crash made him start, and I used that instant of broken focus to whirl and dive through the
opening into the kitchen. No, running into the house wasn’t the best option, but at the moment it was my
only option. My jacket stayed behind—he had grabbed it, his speed frightening, and I slid out as I lunged
and sprawled on the linoleum. He appeared inside the window frame, too quickly towering over me, and I
scrambled to my feet and grabbed a long shard of glass to protect myself.
We stared at each other a moment. I was shaken and gasping. He was unrumpled, wearing a sheer
dark green sweater over a white shirt and jeans, and looking as cool as if he had just walked into the
room…until his gaze fell on my hand gripping the broken glass. “You’re bleeding,” he said, and a strange,
almost distressed look passed over his face. I shrugged. This was getting too weird too fast, and all I wanted
was out of here before he tried some other mind games. “I’m not going to hurt you.” Maybe, maybe not.
The documents had never been filed to declare Clay Aiken legally dead, but calling the cops on me would
be decidedly awkward for him. Dealing with me himself would surely be simpler.
He took a step forward, still blocking my way back out the window, and now also cutting off the
route to the door from the kitchen. Panicked, I dropped my makeshift knife, grabbed the crock pot’s
handles and flung it at him. If the hot contents, whatever they were, distracted him for only a moment, I
could run.
The pot was a big, old, heavy number, and didn’t go far. The contents were a quantity of hot water
and a Mason jar full of a viscous reddish substance. All smashed to the floor in bits of glass and pottery,
and crimson splatter. Not pausing to examine it, I launched myself toward the door and thought for one
frantic second I’d made it, till a big hand closed on my right wrist. His long pale fingers were cold and
incredibly strong. “You made the mess, shouldn’t you stay and clean it up?”
I jerked futilely to free myself, avoiding eye contact. “Did your mother teach you that?”
If possible, his face darkened even more with fury. “Leave her out of this!”
“The way you have? Maybe you were telling the truth last night after all. Maybe Clay Aiken isn’t
—or wasn’t—what everybody thought. You’re out here in La La Land partying under cover of night with a
woman old enough to be your mother, paying her bills—or her paying yours, more likely—while your
mother has gone to bed every night for twenty years crying for her dead Clayton ‘safe in the arms of the
Lord and serenading the angels’!” I couldn’t even quote Faye Parker without choking up. I set my feet and
pulled one more time against his grasp, but my sneakers slipped in the mess on the floor.
“SHUT UP!!” he roared at the same instant and flung me from him. Totally off balance, I fell in a
heap and watery red gunk soaked through my sweatpants. The room looked like a murder scene, painted in
tomato soup or spaghetti sauce or whatever was in that smashed jar. “Get out,” he panted, shaking with
rage. As he glowered down at me, his gaze flicked to his hand; where he had grasped my wrist the blood
from my cut hand had trickled down onto his, and he stared down at it as though in a trance.
Clay Aiken’s squeamishness or lack thereof did not concern me in the least. I had a free pass with
his diversion and intended to use it, as soon as I figured out what this red stuff was so I could wash it out of
my clothes. I swiped the fingers of my left hand (not the cut right) through it and brought it to my nose. It
wasn’t tomato soup, or spaghetti sauce, or anything any human I knew was partial to consuming.
It was blood.
When I looked up, Clay’s attention was totally fixed on the droplets of red on his hand. His
expression was mingled loathing and craving; his face was twisted as if in utter revulsion, but his hand
lifted toward his face in slow motion, the eyes that had held me now themselves captives of the sight before
them. His mouth opened, and behind those lush much-praised lips the perfect white teeth could be seen—

except this time some were longer, and sharper. “Oh, my,” I breathed as the pieces came together with an
almost audible click.
The bloodstained fingers had nearly touched his lips when he jerked them away with an obvious
effort. His eyes met mine again, the rage supplanted now by pure horror. “Don’t be afraid,” I blurted, as he
bolted across the kitchen to hit the cold water tap on the sink and thrust his hands under the flow. That was
a truly stupid thing to say. I’m the one who should be scared here. I’m the one without power, the one at
risk, the mortal. He’s the—the—
Clay put his damp hands over his face. “Just go,” he said softly, almost beseechingly, without
turning around. “Go. Now. Please. Write what you want. No one will believe you. If you come back, I
won’t be here.” The flatness of the words said volumes. He had been in this spot before, found out or
almost, and instead of any of a number of permanent and brutal potential solutions available to him, he had
run. Instead of harming me, or even repeating the hypnotic trick he’d tried, he was going to run again.
Slowly I got to my feet and took stock. Other than the cut on my hand, which I wrapped my
headscarf around, and the blood on my pants, which wasn’t as bad as I’d first thought, I was quite intact.
“No, you’re absolutely right,” I said briskly. “I made this mess, I ought to clean it up. You got a mop?”
The look Clay turned on me was disbelieving, and still so scared it was painful to see. Fortunately
I spotted a mop and broom just then, standing in a corner. “Never mind, I see it.” I knocked dust and
cobwebs off it. “Yech, I always heard you were a lousy housekeeper but this is ridiculous.” I parked the
mop against the counter, put my hands on his shoulders and nudged him aside so I could fill the sink, since
I didn’t see a bucket. His bones were palpable under the thin sweater, and he moved without protest and
watched me in silence, green eyes huge in a face far too pale and gaunt. The fangs, I noted in passing, were
no longer in evidence. I filled the void with chatter as I cleaned, trying to be as chipper and casual as
possible. “I’m sorry I broke your pot. It’s a great idea, really. Daycares use them a lot for heating milk for
babies—it warms the bottles evenly and gently to, uh, the right temperature.” I shied away from saying
body temperature. “This isn’t as big a mess as it looked. The water in the pot helped, see? Now, let’s get the
pieces up. Hand me that broom, will you? Don’t think I’m letting you out of cleanup duty because you’re a
guy. Besides, if you hadn’t scared the pee out of me on the porch I wouldn’t have felt the need to come in
here and make a mess to begin with.”
As mad as it seemed, my fear was softening into compassion. What I really wanted to do was get
him moving, talking, doing something, anything to get that awful mute stare off his face, and it seemed to
work. “If you weren’t so nosy I wouldn’t have scared you,” he retorted and handed me the broom.
Ah, that’s better. “I’m a reporter. Nosy is in the job description. Nosy people naturally become
reporters, I think. Or else Peeping Toms, which in some cases clearly amounts to the same thing.” I started
sweeping up glass and crockery. “I’m sorry about your window too. Can I help you get it fixed?”
“I have help.”
“Letitia Heisen,” I nodded. “It makes sense now. After all, she is one of the world’s premier
experts on, um…” I hunted for an acceptable term.
“Vampires,” Clay said quietly. “Go ahead. Say it. Not saying it doesn’t make it any less true.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Vampires.” The word sat heavily between us, and when I gathered the nerve to
look him in the eyes again, they told me that however this state had come about, Clay took no pleasure in it.
I swept up the last fragments and tossed them. “Okay, if you’ve got the window, then I’ll replace your crock
pot. I’ve got a Costcutter Club membership, so I can get a good one cheap, since as you pointed out
reporters don’t make the big bucks—“
“Why are you doing this?” he burst out, as if I were torturing him.
“Because, despite what you may think, I wasn’t raised in a barn, I do have some manners, and I
was always taught to make amends when I hurt somebody.”
“No, why are you acting like this is all—all perfectly normal?”
“Hey, I’ve never had a philosophical block against the existence of…extreme possibilities,
although except for a few psychic moments nothing supernatural’s ever come knocking on my door. Why
make a fuss? Besides, not saying a word may not make the thing less true, but acting normal can make it a
little more normal.”
His eyes, not threatening now, searched my face: for traces of a lie, perhaps? “You’re not from
around here, are you?”
I shook my head. “I grew up in Tennessee, in a little town south of Nashville.”
“I know the area. I…had a friend from there.”

“Kimberley Locke,” I said. “I know. I talked to her today too. Sounds to me as if you still have a
friend there. If she knows about this, she protects you well.”
“She does.” After a long moment of silence he went on, “You talked to my mom today?” I nodded.
“How…how is she? How did she sound?”
“You want a kind answer, or the truth?” He looked away. “She’s a dear. She sounded very tired.”
“What you said before—did she really say that? About me?”
“Yes. She thinks you’re dead; but she still loves you very much, Clay. If you turned up on her
doorstep tomorrow she’d take you in without question…That’s what brought all this on, really, I guess. It
wasn’t about a story.” The admission spilled from me without forethought. “From what I knew about you, I
couldn’t imagine why you’d leave her in that condition.”
“Now you can,” he said simply, with a dull hopelessness that pierced like a knife in my gut, or a
stake through my heart. “Better that I leave her in that condition than let her see me in this one.”
“Yeah.” I reached out and took his hand in both mine. “I can understand that, I think.”
A spark flickered in his eyes, and his other hand folded around mine tentatively, then he pulled
away. “You should go now. Thank you for your help. Goodbye.”
“Fine,” I returned, a bit miffed that my sympathy was so swiftly rejected, but trying to remind
myself that vampires probably don’t get much sympathy, or practice at accepting it. “So, when’s a good
time for me to bring your crock pot by? Tomorrow evening?”
“I told you, I won’t be here.”
“And I told you not to be afraid! Damn, you’re stubborn. I’m not telling anybody about you. Like
you said, no one would believe it, not even the conspiracy nuts and Bigfoot hunters I work for. What would
I write anyhow—‘Pop Superstar Sucks, Details Tomorrow’?” Clay almost laughed, and my heart lifted at
the sight of that radiant smile I remembered, even if it was a fleeting one. “You don’t have to run from me.
I won’t hurt you. Now, when can I bring your pot over?”
The smile faded. “You should just leave it on the porch, where the mail is—yes, I saw you. That’s
best. I can’t be around—people—much. It’s too uncomfortable.”
“I can see how it would be.” I thought of the bill from the slaughterhouse, and the way the sight of
a few drops of human blood had seized him. If he were subsisting solely on animal blood—and that made
sense, from what I knew of him, and what I had seen—close proximity to humans would be worse than
uncomfortable. “But you can’t be alone all the time, and stay sane.”
“That’s debatable,” he said with a hint of scorn. “My sanity, I mean.”
“Hey, you didn’t go grazing through Dr. Heisen’s party guests. That makes you pretty sane in my
book, and self-controlled too, considering some of the jerks she was obliged to invite. Tell you what, I’ll
bring your pot over, and I’ll stay as long as you feel comfortable.”
The scorn remained. “Why, so your story’ll be better?”
“Sure. But not the story you’re thinking of. Letitia Heisen is helping you—and helping you look
for a cure, right?” Clay’s surprised look told me my intuitive jump had landed. “With her on your side, the
headline I’m waiting for is ‘Pop Superstar Launches Amazing Comeback’. And when that story breaks, I
intend to be the one to break it. Deal?” I stuck out my hand, and after a moment he gripped it. “Glad we got
that settled. See you tomorrow.”
I climbed out the window and took off for my car, and from that moment through the next day I
asked myself what the hell I was doing. I had come face to face with solid evidence of darkness walking
among humankind, and instead of screaming to planet earth of its peril I was doing his shopping! Worse
yet, I was going back, walking with eyes open into his home—and wasn’t that the true time of danger, if
you willingly entered a vampire’s lair—no, that was your home he had to be invited into—
Against the frenzy of my rational herd mind, I could place only the memory of Clay’s drawn and
haggard face, and his haunted eyes. The thought of him hiding and hunted and hating what he was, afraid of
people and afraid of what he might do to them, his glorious life irreparably shattered, hurt too much to let it
go without trying to help. So there I was, knocking on the front door of the bungalow in the hills as evening
descended, a shiny new crock pot in its box propped on my hip like a baby.
There was no response, and I hoped Clay hadn’t succumbed to fear and fled. I walked to the
corner of the porch and peered around to see that the kitchen window had been replaced. Back at the front I
knocked again, not wanting to call his name aloud despite the relative isolation of the place. Finally I sat
down in the swing on the porch. “I’m here,” I said to the lowering night and whatever might walk in it, and
waited. The black car was here; mine was parked right behind it, but didn’t vampires have other ways of
getting around—

“And you called me stubborn,” he said and appeared from seemingly nowhere. I swallowed a yelp
and glared at him.
“That’s how you snuck up on me last night, isn’t it?”
Clay sat down in the swing beside me. “It’s supposed to be useful for…hunting.” The twist of his
mouth as he said it conveyed his disgust.
“So you can be ‘Invisible’ now.” He snorted at my feeble play on words, and with one big foot set
the swing into gentle motion. The moonrise shone off his cheeks, even whiter and thinner than before, if
possible. “I was so thoughtless last night. I broke your pot, and I didn’t even think to ask if you had another
way to—eat.”
“I have a microwave. I don’t use it much though. The smell…It’s all I can smell anymore, the
blood.” I held back a shudder. His face was bleakly without expression.
“It’s nice out here,” I said after some minutes of quiet. “Very peaceful.”
“It’s so ironic. I used to wish for privacy, for time alone. Boy, did I get what I wished for…I like to
sit out here at night. I don’t have to turn lights on, although I do in the house—what you said last night
about normalcy, I guess. But I don’t need them, so nobody can see me up here. I see better in darkness than
light now.”
His voice tightened. “And without contacts?” I asked, to try and lighten his mood. He glanced at
me with a lifted eyebrow, as if surprised I knew so much about him, and nodded.
“I can see the cars down on the road, and the people, but not too close.” Thousands had flocked
night after night to see Clay perform, drawn by his talent and his charisma, and now he could barely
tolerate the presence of one person. Pity gripped me, and I put my hand on his knee and squeezed.
“God, Clay, you must be so lonely.”
He shrugged. “I’ve got the net. It’s hard sometimes to find a place to hang, though. I don’t want to
talk about—this—but I don’t want to talk about the past either, so that leaves out chatting with music fans,
and even teachers.”
“Online interaction’s great, but it’s not the same as real human contact. It’s not enough.”
“It can’t be helped. I can’t trust myself.”
“I trust you.”
“You shouldn’t.”
“Maybe not.” I met his eyes squarely, a way to prove to him what I was only this instant finding
words for. “But I do. You were wrong the other night, when you said you were weak. You’re not. You’re
incredibly strong, or you couldn’t have fought this for this long. I think you’re selling yourself short. Every
now and then I…know things. And who or whatever is responsible for that is telling me right now that I
don’t need to be afraid of you. So I’m not. Now, what do you say we get this puppy inside—“ I nudged the
box at my feet—“and see if it works?”
We did, and it did. While a jar from the fridge heated Clay showed me his living room, full
spectrum computerized, with a monitor that took up half a wall. We sat on his huge sofa, in a silence not
nearly as pleasant as the one on the porch. It wasn’t as if I could break the ice with lovely weather we’re
having, or how bout them Dodgers, or any of my usual conversational gambits. “Man, this is awful!” I
finally complained. “It’s worse than a first date. Talk to me. I seem to remember you were impossible to
shut up!”
“Not anymore,” Clay mumbled, fidgeting at the far end of the couch. “Maybe you should go now.”
“Oh, for pete’s sake, I just got here! You don’t get out enough.”
“Then bring the out in here,” he snapped. “Tell me about the world, Rebecca. Tell me about you.”
Well, that I could do, and I launched into spirited recounts of my childhood, eleven aunts and
uncles on my dad’s side alone, hordes of cousins and the trouble we got into. My secret, silly, girly pleasure
that Clay had remembered my name and called me by it was only exceeded when I made him actually
laugh out loud for the first time. Shortly after, though, I paused at an odd smell in the air. “Is your supper
burning?” His laugh vanished as if a switch had been flipped, and he got up and went toward the kitchen,
leaving me hating myself for having to say it. For a few minutes, I think he had almost forgotten.
He was gone far longer than it would have taken to check a temperature, and when he returned his
cheeks and lips held a suggestion of pink they hadn’t before. He had fed, and he hadn’t wanted me to see.
My chest literally hurt for him. “Wow, my throat’s tired,” I said and patted the seat beside me. “Your turn.
Tell me about you.”

“There’s nothing to tell.” There most certainly was, but I wasn’t going to press him. “If you’re
staying, let’s watch a video.” Typical guy behavior: he doesn’t want to talk, he takes you to a movie. At
least in Clay’s case it was understandable.
“Okay,” I said, dug into his large cabinet of DVDs, and spotted one I’d seen in his mail. “Ooh,
London. I’ve always wanted to go there.”
“Yeah, I recorded part of my first album there, and then I went back later on tour.”
“I’m so jealous. I’ve never been farther than Tijuana! Let’s watch this one, and you can tell me the
things they don’t show.”
“I can’t tell you much,” Clay warned as he started the disc. “I worked all the time I was there, so I
didn’t see a lot.”
“Hey, if you’ve seen a loo in a London hotel you’ve got me beat!” He almost smiled, and settled
beside me on the sofa. The images on the enormous screen were magnificent; Clay’s stories were funny—
and I fell asleep. Don’t ask. I don’t know how it happened. One minute I was howling at some outrageous
yarn about a musician who swiped a palace guard’s bearskin hat and what the guy did with it, and the next I
was blinking sleepily at pale morning light tiptoeing in around the window shades.
I sat up, alone, lying on the couch, covered with a worn orange afghan. Now I faintly recalled
moving or being moved, and a cool touch of lips on my cheek—or did I dream that? “Clay?” I called, even
as I realized I would hear no reply. It was past dawn, and he was gone—wherever. Where did vampires
really go, anyhow? I refused to imagine him lying in a coffin somewhere. Stomach growling, I found the
bathroom, which surprisingly had both running water and a mirror, then padded through the bungalow. It
was almost unfurnished; the living room/study showed the only signs of real habitation until I reached a
closed door. The knob turned easily in my hand, but out of reflex I knocked before I peered around the
door, to find Clay stretched out on, of all things, a waterbed, looking back at me.
“Oh…oh no, I’m sorry, I…” Can the sputtering, woman. “I was being my usual nosy self. But I
didn’t expect to see you, much less awake. I thought, ah…”
“Vampires tap out at first light, comatose till nightfall?” He was awake, but barely; his eyelids
were heavy, and his voice a husky drawl. “So did I, but it’s not quite that way. You don’t sleep every second
you’re in bed, do you?”
Shaking my head, I got brave enough to enter the windowless room, lit only by a small night light,
and touch the bed. Instead of the slosh of water, a firmer substance shifted slightly under my hand.
“Carolina dirt?”
“Kim had it trucked in. She told the man one of my fans wanted to plant a garden in my memory.”
“She’s good, I tell you. You probably should open it up and rake it every now and then, though—
it’s getting awfully packed down.”
“I don’t notice.”
I sat on the edge of the bed, breathless at my own nerve. Clay still wore the wine-red pullover and
khaki pants from the night before. “I really didn’t mean to bother you. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I could feel you in there, sleeping. It was nice.”
“Well, uh, is it all right if I come back? I’ve got to go do some things, get something to eat, but I’ll
come back. I might bring some work stuff over if you don’t mind, and use your computer—the setup’s so
sweet, and I can log in where it can’t be traced here.” His eyes were almost closed, long lashes touching his
cheeks, but he nodded. “Do you have a spare key I can use?”
“Door’s not locked…” He was slipping off, but my squawk roused him.
“Not locked? Clay, any fool could come in here and—“
“They’d be a mile away before they remembered their names, and they wouldn’t remember a thing
about this house.” The green eyes opened briefly. “I used to be a sound sleeper.” The slight emphasis on the
last word said he did not consider what overcame him now daily to be sleep. “But I can feel, now, when
people are nearby—it’s the warmth, maybe, or the…I just can. All vampires can, I guess.”
“You guess? You don’t know? I thought maybe you’d talked to others.”
“They won’t talk to me,” he murmured drowsily, “’cause they don’t think I’m one of them. They
love what they are, they revel in it. I don’t. I won’t. So they don’t like me.”
“Screw ‘em,” I declared. “You won’t have to put up with them much longer, anyhow, I’ll bet.” An
‘mm’ and a hint of a wistful smile were my only response. On impulse, I leaned down and brushed my lips
across his cold cheek. “Sleep tight, Clay. I’ll be back soon.”
His eyes fluttered open again, wide, and followed me as I stood. “I’ll know it’s you,” he whispered
before they closed again, and I fancied a hint of tension left his body as he settled into his bed of earth.

I made it to my car before I lost it. I sat and gripped the steering wheel and sobbed. This wasn’t
about a story anymore, if indeed it ever had been. It was about a good and gentle man imprisoned in a
nightmare. It wasn’t right, and I would do anything to make it right. After I cried myself out, I went home,
did some work and ate, then cleaned up and tossed a few things in a bag, and pointed my old clunker
toward the bungalow.
Purely out of habit, I slipped inside as quietly as I could, and then laughed at myself. However
careful I was, the heat of my blood would attract Clay’s notice. He had said he would know me, too: could
he tell me apart from others? I wondered how, and if he could discern heat of another kind within my
body…I shoved those thoughts aside and checked the crock pot. The sun had sank below the horizon, but
the afternoon sky was still a riot of color and light, when I felt a shift in the still air (there’s no other good
way to describe it) and turned in time to watch Clay materialize. “Very cool!” I applauded. “Hello! Isn’t it
early for you to be up?”
“I can be up whenever I want to, as long as I stay away from the sunlight. I always sunburned
badly, so it’s not all that big a change.”
His indifferent dismissal of his restriction sounded like a lie to me, but I did not pursue it. “Wow, I
learn something new every day.” I filled the crock with water, and then stopped in amazement when Clay
got a glass full and drank it. “That too? Bram Stoker and his literary descendents got a lot wrong!”
“People will do outrageous things to boost their sales. Besides, they got enough right.” Do you
always wake in so dark a mood, Clay? I thought. If so, let me see what I can do about that.
He watched as I started the pot, pulled a jar of blood from the refrigerator and plunked it in as
nonchalantly as if it really were spaghetti sauce. “So what else don’t I know?” I asked. “What else did the
writers get wrong?”
We talked as he headed for the shower—another thing he admitted he did solely for the sake of
‘normalcy’—and I learned that he did not perspire and his hair no longer grew, but he could see his
reflection in a mirror, and did appear in a photograph. He shared willingly now, seeming eager for the
conversation. “And other than that, uh, everything else works?” He gave me an odd look and said yes, and I
ducked out of the bathroom before he (or I) could say more. I dashed for the sofa and soon was burning up
the computer. It was a great distraction, until I looked up a while later to find him watching me from the
living room door, in low-slung jeans and a snug black T–shirt. When our eyes met he nodded briefly as if in
acknowledgement and strode toward the kitchen. I watched, and couldn’t stop myself; wounded as he was,
the sex appeal hadn’t gone anywhere. Angrily I scolded myself. If I wanted to help him I had to keep my
mind out of the gutter.
A few minutes later he returned, looking a little less wraith-like but no less dour. I intended to try
and fix that. “You said something last night about me bringing the world to you, so I took you at your
word.” I held up a tiny data storage drive and plugged it into the computer. “I brought over a bunch of my
old article files. They need sorting through, so you can help me with that, if you don’t mind. I could use a
fresh pair of eyes reading my stuff.”
Clay’s expression lightened, and he curled one foot under him and sat down. I didn’t mention that
I had already done some culling of the files, leaving behind any I thought might hurt or upset him. We dove
in, and before long we were both howling with laughter. I’d forgotten the particulars of some of the older
stories I’d pursued, until the copy I’d written was again before me; then tales of how I’d gotten the scoop
flowed back, some even wilder than the story as finally written. Clay lavished praise on my writing,
insisting my talents were wasted on tabloid web sites. I accepted his plaudits with pleasure, and even
confided my dreams of being a novelist; but my greater satisfaction came when he was holding himself
laughing. For a while, once again, he had forgotten the snare that grasped him, and I was glad to have
bought him these few moments of freedom.
“Let’s see, what else have we got here?” I said as I pulled up another file. Clay giggled all the way
through my report about a cross-dressing call girl and an action-hero wannabe, the trouble-prone son of two
professional wrestlers. “Oh, this one was great too. This happened a couple of years ago. A faded British
porn star who just snapped in a pub one night. Took off all her clothes, did unspeakable things on the bar—
she weighs 300 pounds now, so the bobbies had no clue what to do with her…” Clay snickered, but quieted
as I continued to spin my yarn. When I glanced around, he was staring straight ahead, toward the monitor
but not exactly at it. “Is something wrong?”
“I know—knew that woman. She dated Simon Cowell for a while. I met her a couple of times—
the last time was right before I went home, before…”

His voice trailed off, but I had no doubt how the sentence would have ended. Ever since
discovering Clay’s vampire state, my conversation with Faye Parker had left me suspecting that whatever
had left him trapped between life and death had happened on that trip to Raleigh. I poised on the brink of
the truth, and jumped. “What happened, Clay?”
He did not answer directly. “I dreamed about it today. That hasn’t happened in a long time. I don’t
know why it came back now. Vampire dreams aren’t like human dreams—they’re not crazy mixed-up
things cobbled together from leftovers in your subconscious, that evaporate like smoke. They’re always
real, and they’re so immediate, like you’re reliving the event, every detail…” Clay wrapped his arms
around himself as if suddenly chilled. “It was hot in the car, with the sunshine beaming in, but it wasn’t
quite warm enough outside to put the top down. I turned the radio on to distract myself—the oldies station,
I think. They were playing something by Sting, I don’t know the name but it went ‘there’s a moon over
Bourbon Street tonight, I see faces as they pass beneath the pale lamplight…” It was the first time I had
heard him sing since we met, and his soft voice was as sweet and clear as I recalled from his recordings.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to be as excited as I was; but a part of me always hoped, I guess, and this
was the one dark shadow in my past that people kept harping on. If I could get it squared away, come to
terms with him, there was nothing else to slow me down. At least he’d finally reached out. But when I got
there, he seemed to want to talk about anything but. He went on and on about nothing, offered me a beer
and a big bucket full of small talk. I tried not to lose my temper. I tried to be patient. I thought maybe he’s
just nervous too. It was hot in his ratty little house too—ratty, literally, I could hear them in the walls—even
with the shades pulled down. He was pacing around talking, and I started feeling dizzy…Finally he looked
at me, wanted me to come and look at something—I stood up, I was sitting in the only decrepit chair in the
place—and then I was lying on the floor, alone, with no clue how I got there. There was blood on my shirt
and my mouth. I figured I’d fallen. At least nothing seemed broken. His truck was still outside, but he
wasn’t around, so I assumed he’d gotten annoyed one more time with his less than macho son.” My mind
flashed back to Mrs. Parker’s account of her last days with her Clayton, and I covered my mouth to keep
from crying out as the understanding that had been creeping up on me sprang and clutched at me. “I still
felt dizzy, and really sick, but I made it to my car—the little silver convertible I bought to tool around LA in
like a star, and then couldn’t because I was swarmed everywhere I went. So it ended up back in Raleigh,
and I got back to Mom’s in it. It was almost dark, and my neck was so stiff I thought I must’ve lain there
for hours.
“I guess I looked awful. It scared Mom, but I calmed her down before we went to bed. I couldn’t
sleep; I tossed and turned all night, and I was exhausted by morning. I was supposed to go out with some
friends, and I went, even though I could barely drag myself out of bed. Thought it’d make me feel better,
but it didn’t. I was starving, but I couldn’t think of anything that sounded good. We stopped for burgers, but
it was like eating leather—I always liked meat well cooked, but I pulled celebrity out and got one barely
“The next few days—I’m not sure how many, I lost track of time—it got worse. I’d lie around all
day, with the curtains drawn if I could because the sun hurt my eyes. I took my contacts out one day,
couldn’t tell a difference in my sight, and forgot to put them back in. I wonder what happened to them…At
night after Mom went to bed—and Brett, he was home from school part of that time—I prowled around the
house or sat out in the yard. When I did sleep, I had horrible nightmares about people I knew, screaming,
and then just lying and staring at me, and blood, always blood. Mom had wanted to take me to the ER when
I first came back from—there—but I wouldn’t let her, and then I wished I had. I thought maybe I had a
concussion, or maybe the stress of suddenly being a star had just messed up my mind.
“I didn’t say anything, but moms can tell when you’re sick, you know? Mine figured whatever
was wrong with me, she’d throw food at it. Which was usually a good plan for me. So she organized a
family barbecue.” A pain-braced little half-smile twisted Clay’s mouth. “Lord, how I loved that stuff… The
raw pig was the best smelling food I’d been around in days. I could’ve torn into it right then. But the longer
it cooked, the nastier it smelled. I got some down anyway, and then got so sick. I waited till I thought
nobody was looking, and I walked away from the picnic table into the trees behind the house and I—I fell
on my knees on the ground and threw up everything. Every bite, and more. I felt like my guts were coming
out.” He shivered. “I stayed down till I felt strong enough to get up, and I looked down and—there were
little blisters rising all over the backs of my hands…” His hands rose before his face, trembling, as if he
saw them again disfigured. “I remember kneeling there thinking, God, if you let me live till tomorrow I’ll
go to a doctor, I promise.” The hands moved toward each other as though to clasp and pray, then fell into
his lap, limp and useless. “I got back to the barbecue and hid as far under a tree as I could. Everybody was

laughing and talking, and I just wanted them to go. My family, my friends, people I’d kill to see whenever I
could, just for a few minutes, and here they were, all of them, and I couldn’t stand it. It was like being
caught in a panicked crowd, hemmed in on every side. Somehow I endured it. I tried to focus on the
conversation, catching up on local news. Several people had been killed in the past few months, in their
yards, one man in his garage, and no one knew if a wild animal was loose, or a serial killer. As if anyone
could imagine such in Raleigh. Some neighbors didn’t come over for the barbecue—it seemed a bug was
going around; they were all sick, weak and anemic. I’m ashamed to say hearing that made me feel better. I
was sure I’d caught the same thing. But they were the same people I’d dreamed about, so wouldn’t you
think I should’ve figured out the truth? There are things you never, ever conceive of happening to you,
though. Stardom is one, but there are others.
“Finally, everybody left, and night fell, and I felt better. Still terribly hungry, but I couldn’t keep
anything down. Mom and I sat up late—I didn’t want to separate from her, somehow, like a part of me
knew what was about to happen and was afraid. You know how when you’re a kid mom fixes everything,
and she was all I had when I was very young—maybe a part of me had put it together, I don’t know. But
she had to turn in at last, and I went too, though I was halfway scared to for fear of the dreams. And I
dreamed again, only this time I woke up in the dream, the way you sometimes do, when you suddenly
know you’re dreaming. I was standing over a neighbor woman in her bed with her eyes closed, barely
moving, and her neck and shoulder all bleeding. She had a—a mirrored headboard, and I looked up and
saw my-myself—“ His voice cracked, and he hid his face in his hands.
My control had shattered long before, as I sat with tears pouring down my face; now I moved
closer and wrapped my arms around him. “Shhh. It’s okay, Clay, you don’t have to talk about it.”
“I haven’t,” he whispered brokenly. “Not for a long time…I think I screamed, I’m not sure, and I
tried to run, but all of a sudden I didn’t have legs to run with. I felt myself moving, and then I was lying
across my old bed going ‘please, God, that had to be a dream—let me be sick, or insane or anything, but
not what I just saw!’. But when I moved, the sheets under me were red, and I felt it sticky, drying on my
face, and even my teeth felt wrong. Then I started to remember…He talked about how uppity I was, how
much better I thought I was now, how he’d have taught me better from the start if that blankety-blank
woman hadn’t intervened. I remembered walking toward him, not wanting to, trying not to, and scared to
death because I couldn’t stop.” His hand crept up to his neck, to the point where it joined his left shoulder. I
recoiled at the sight of blood on his fingers, until he lifted his head and I realized it came from the tears that
slid sluggish and dull red down his cheeks. “It hurt so bad at first, the bite, and I couldn’t even yell—then it
started to fade, everything did, it all got dark and echoey. My legs gave way and I fell on the floor, or
maybe he put me there. The next thing I remembered w-was something wet on my lips…oh Lord, it tasted
good…My vision started to come back—he was over me with a hunting knife in one hand, and his other
hand was over my mouth—he was laughing, with my blood on his face, saying I was more his blood now
than I ever had been. Some woman he’d brought home from a bar a few months before gave it to him, he
said, and after he got over the surprise he saw it was the perfect gift to pass on to the next generation. He
moved his hand off my mouth, and I tasted the blood and saw where he’d slashed his palm, and he bent and
I saw the fangs coming at me again…I remembered. I remembered it all.”
Clay was shuddering violently, and I hugged him tighter. The half-healed cut across my hand
twinged, and I knew now why the sight of it had shaken him so. Stop it! I wanted to cry. Don’t say
anymore. Don’t torture yourself because of me! Before I could speak, though, he bit his quivering lip and
finally turned his bleeding eyes to me. “Too much information, right? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dump on
you. It’s just…it’s been so long since I had anybody to talk to.”
“Don’t apologize,” I managed around the tightness in my throat. “If you could live through it, I
can live through listening to it. You say what you need to. I’m right here.”
He swallowed, and blinked and gazed steadily at me. “There’s not much more to say,” he said, his
composure struggling to reassert itself. “I knew I had to get out of the house, get out of Raleigh, and not
come back. I grabbed a few things, and left Mom a note, just that I loved her, and not to worry about me—
and not to get near him, or let anyone else. My puppy, Raleigh, was at a friend’s house—Mom never would
let a dog indoors—so I went by there and left my friend a note to keep her. I couldn’t get a flight out at
three AM, so I hid out in a motel till the next evening.
“By the time I got back to LA I’d decided I had to stop what was happening to me, whatever it
took. In the middle of the night the only place open that sold what I needed was a sex shop. Wouldn’t the
tabs have loved that? I’d gotten a little grasp on what I could do by then, though—I got in and out without
being seen. Then I went home, handcuffed myself to my bed, and waited. I was going to break this thing, or

it was going to break me. Kim was on the road. When she got home a week later, the cuffs were still locked
onto the bed frame, and I was on the floor in a puddle of blood, half crazy and still so hungry I nearly
jumped her. She screamed and ran, and didn’t come back till I was more weak and sick than crazy and
“When Kim got enough raw hamburger down me for me to start making sense, she took me to
Letitia—they’d met at some function and gotten to be friends. She was still Tish Walker then; it was before
her second divorce. She was already deep into her studies, and she knew I wasn’t merely deranged. They
helped me—not adjust, who could do that, but survive. Kim finally had to leave LA, though. That first
moment…She was just too afraid of me after that, but she did all she could at a distance. If it hadn’t been
for both of them I don’t know what would have happened to me.” Clay was silent for a long moment. When
he spoke his voice was breaking again, and my heart with it. “Sometimes I don’t care…I just want it to
stop. I want it to be over. I’d pray to die, truly die, if I weren’t afraid to pray, if I thought I’d be heard, if I
thought that would be an end—but even that may only be the start…” He bowed his head, and crimson
tears trickled off his nose to fall to the floor. His shoulders hitched, silently; he didn’t sob, I realized,
because he didn’t breathe. “I don’t even know if I have a soul anymore, Rebecca. Not knowing is the worst
thing of all. What if it’s been in hell all these years, and I just haven’t caught up with it? What if I’m—“
The anger his emails had stirred in me flared anew. “That’s absurd. It’s not possible.”
“Is it not?” His head came up sharply, his eyes desolate and burning as a desert sun. “Vampires are
damned. Everybody agrees on that. Vampires are soulless, doomed creatures, cut off from humanity on
earth and for all eternity—“
“No!” I choked and pulled him into my arms. “No. Don’t say that, Clay. Don’t think it.” Now I
understood why he had left his bracelet behind. “You’re wrong. Why would a being without a soul worry
about it, weep about it? Those others you talked about, the ones who fancy what they are, might be so, but
not you. Besides, I don’t know what they teach you Baptists, but the God I grew up acquainted with doesn’t
condemn people for things that aren’t their fault. You didn’t ask for this. Someone evil did this to you. No
just God could punish you for that!”
“I didn’t fight.” His body was stiff and unyielding against me. “I didn’t fight this hard enough, and
I didn’t fight him. I should’ve stayed, but I ran.”
“Because you were confused, and scared, and trying to protect the place you loved from yourself.
You know, you may have done the best possible thing for them by leaving. From what you say, his sole
purpose was to ruin your life, and when he thought he’d succeeded he was content. He didn’t stay around
long enough to enjoy his deed—he died a couple of months after you left—but if you’d stayed, he might
have attacked the people dearest to you, to hurt you more. As far as I know, he didn’t. He left them alone,
because he thought he destroyed you.” I took his shoulders and urged him to turn and look at me. He
swiped at his face, and I found a crumpled tissue in the pocket of my cardigan and handed it to him. It
looked like it’d been used for a battle dressing after he dried his eyes on it. “That’s where he screwed up.
Like you said, you survived. You did what you had to do. Going on the down low, dropping out of sight,
was so smart, and so brave. You fought him this far, and you’ve won. He didn’t destroy you. You’re still
here. And now I’m here. You’ve got more help, and we’ll find a way out of this.”
Clay surprised me by almost smiling. “Aren’t you cocky. Letitia’s a genius, and she’s been on this
for two decades. What makes you think you can crack it?”
“’Cause I’m a nosy reporter and she’s not.” And because, I added in my head, no matter how
brilliant or kind she is, I don’t think Letitia Heisen has the motivation I do. Whether I ever acted on it or
not, I had to admit to myself that I had come to care for Clay Aiken far more than I could have dreamed.
“You were never one for giving up, I remember. Don’t start now.”
This time when I drew him to me, he put his arms around me and rested his head on my shoulder.
“I won’t,” he murmured, “if you’ll stay with me.”
“You bet.” We sat that way for a long while. I shifted my weight back and forth and rocked him
gently. His thin body relaxed into mine so heavily I wondered if a loving embrace might be able to soothe
him into a true sleep, a few hours of oblivious peace. I was more than willing to try, until he moved a little,
and gasped and jerked away from me and off the sofa altogether. “Clay? What is it?”
Across the room he stopped, his back to me. “Rebecca, you’ve got to leave. Hurry.”
His voice was low and taut, as tense as his body had suddenly become. “Excuse me? Didn’t we
just talk about this? Didn’t you just—“

“GET OUT!” he almost screamed and spun. His face was contorted with horror, and those long
sharp teeth peered out and distorted his sweet mouth. Once only he looked full at me, before his eyes
screwed shut and his hands clenched into fists.
By all rights I should have run, the way Kim Locke had run years before, when her friend lunged
at her changed beyond recognition, with eyes wild and fangs bared. I should have been terrified. Instead,
my vision fuzzy with tears, I slipped my cardigan off and let it fall across the back of the sofa, and went
toward him. “It’s all right, Clay.”
“Go, Rebecca,” he hissed, his speech blurred by the fangs’ intrusion. He did not open his eyes, but
he could feel my approach. My blood was calling to him. “I don’t know how long I can hold this at bay.”
“You don’t have to.” My hands folded around his bony wrists, and his eyelids flew up. “Look at
yourself. You could go out anywhere right now, and no one would give you a second glance—they’d
assume you’re a junkie! You look malnourished. Animal blood can’t be meeting all your needs.”
“It has to. I can’t…I won’t…and certainly not you—“ I didn’t budge. “This isn’t a game!” he
yelled. “This is about pain, and fear, and death. I could kill you!”
“No. When you were first—turned—you fed several times. You said so yourself. You didn’t even
know what you were doing, but you didn’t kill anyone. You didn’t hurt anyone. How much easier would
this be?”
“They didn’t know. I—I made them forget. They didn’t feel the pain.”
“Maybe it hurt, maybe it didn’t. I think it hurt when you were bitten because he wanted to hurt
you. Even if it does, it can’t hurt as much as you’ve been hurt. And this is different from all those. You’re
not taking from me, Clay. I’m giving.”
For a moment I thought I’d persuaded him. “No,” he growled and caught my face in his hands. “I
can’t let you. You’re leaving now, Rebecca. You’re going to get your things and go, and not come back.
You’re not going to remember this place, or me.”
I struggled against his uncompromising grasp. “No, Clay, please, please don’t—“ His eyes held
mine, those beautiful anguished eyes, trying to bore their will into me; but I did not forget. If anything, his
presence grew, filling me like the fire that smoldered hidden inside. Instead of trying to pull away, I reached
up and clasped my hands behind his neck and pulled him down to me, my mouth finding his, fangs and all.
His arms tensed as though to push me away, and then pulled me to him just as fiercely, returning my kiss.
“That’s not what’s supposed to happen,” he gasped when we persuaded our mouths to separate. “It works. I
know it works. I’ve done it—well, lots of times.”
“It didn’t work the first time you tried it on me either. Maybe I’m immune. Face it, Aiken, you’re
stuck with me.”
He tried to move me away, but I would not relinquish my hold. “Don’t tempt me. If you won’t go
for yourself, do it for me. Human blood…it’d be better, yes, but it’s like—I was allergic to coffee, but from
what people say, it’s like the difference between decaf and espresso. It’s stronger than animal blood, richer.
It’s addictive, almost. When I didn’t—take it—anymore, I was pretty ill for a while.”
“And your point is?” I demanded. “I thought I made it clear I’m not going anywhere. Ever since
the first night I came here, I’ve wanted to do something to help you now, not next week or month or year.
This beats the heck out of buying you a new crock pot. Please, Clay. I want to see you healthy and strong
and able to fight. Please let me give you this.” His fangs had retracted; he had regained control, but need
and fear still warred in his face. This was my conscious choice, and it would be so for him as well. “So,
how do we do this?”
We walked back to the sofa. Clay sat down on one end, one foot on the floor and the other leg
stretched out. He put his hands on my waist, turned me so my back was to him, and guided me down to sit
in front of him. His touch was strong and gentle, and I ached for it to move, up, or down. Imagining those
long powerful fingers on my breasts made my nipples harden from sheer anticipation; the thought of them
between my legs made me shiver before I could stop myself. Behind me, Clay froze. “You’ve changed your
mind,” he said, the words slightly sibilant again; the fangs were back. “Hurry, then, before I can’t stop.”
“I have not!” I snapped. “If you must know, I…This is the first time you’ve held me, really, and it
feels good.” I couldn’t see his face, but the hands paused, then moved to my hips and shifted them so I lay
back against his chest. Soft cool lips started to nuzzle the side of my neck, sending new shivers through me.
I reached back with one arm and found his shoulder, then the back of his head, and scratched lightly at his
scalp. He shivered a little himself then, as if he hadn’t expected me to reciprocate his touch. One hand left
my hip, stroked my side, and then moved my hair aside at the nape of my neck. His other arm went
completely around my waist, and I melted into his embrace. “Ohh, yes, Clay, don’t stop, please...” If he

were a mortal I’d turn around and impale myself on him right now—thank heavens I didn’t say THAT out
loud! What a singularly poor choice of words!
I giggled at myself, and then gasped as he dropped the strap of my tank top off my shoulder. His
mouth moved to the exact spot he had touched on his own body when he talked about being bitten, the
place where my neck and shoulder met. He kissed, and licked, and sucked, and somewhere along the way I
felt a tiny sting like a love nibble. To be honest, it felt like getting the best hickey you could imagine. The
only way I knew blood was leaving my body was the tingly lassitude that crept over me as I sagged back
against him. The acuteness of my need eased, and I floated in a quiet haze till I felt Clay start. I looked
around, and was startled myself at his grimace of discomfort. “What’s wrong?” He shook his head without
speaking. Alarmed, I pushed myself to my feet and helped him to his bedroom where he curled up on the
bed clutching his stomach. “Clay, is it me? I don’t drink that much, and I haven’t at all since—damn, since
the night we met. I’m not on any drugs, except birth control—I don’t have any diseases, that I know of—I
don’t even smoke weed except on special occasions, it takes forever to get a permit—oh God, Clay, I can’t
have made you ill, I couldn’t stand it—“ I crouched by the bed, utterly distraught.
“Hey!” He made another face, but then reached for my hand and pulled me up to sit on the bed.
“Calm down. I’m okay. I—think it’s just a bellyache,” he said sheepishly. “I didn’t take much, but even
that was too much, apparently. It’s like when someone’s been starving, they can’t eat a full meal right
“Thank goodness,” I breathed and then glared at him. “Starving. Hmph. And you kept insisting
cow blood was just fine.”
“I know,” he admitted. “I should’ve known better and paced myself with you, but it was so good. I
don’t remember it tasting like that, ever. The other times, it was salty, sort of metallic. Yours…” Clay’s eyes
half closed, and he licked his lips with a look of such rapture I was jealous of my own bloodstream. Why
couldn’t another secretion of mine give him such pleasure? “It was so sweet and rich.” He frowned for a
moment in thought. “You tasted like a Krispy Kreme.”
Relief burst within me, and I literally lay down on the bed laughing. “Gosh, I hope I’m not
diabetic!” I gasped when I recovered my breath. “I’d better get that checked.” Clay nodded in agreement,
grinning widely at my amusement. The sight stopped me where I lay flopped on the Carolina dirt beside
him. Open-mouthed, I touched his face.
“You’re smiling. Actually smiling, and not at some dumb story of mine. It’s wonderful.” He
started to laugh then, a real head-back laugh, and I started to cry. “I’m sorry,” I sniffled. “I’m just so happy
to see you better.”
He chuckled and held me close. “You’re right,” he murmured. “I haven’t felt this way in a long,
long time, and it’s because of you.” Joy swelled in my chest as he kissed my forehead, and I shoved aside
the selfish wish that I could make him feel that good another way. “How do you feel? I didn’t—hurt you,
did I?”
“Not a bit. I’m fine. In need of a nap, maybe.”
“You’d better stay right here then, where I can keep an eye on you. I don’t want you getting sick or
fainting on me. Unless this is too uncomfortable a place for you to rest.”
“No more than camping out.” Anywhere with him couldn’t be too uncomfortable. I snuggled
against him—was it only me, or did his body actually feel warmer? “Just promise me if you get hungry
again you’ll wake me up first.” To his mock-exasperated groan, I drifted off to sleep, and dreamt I was
dragging the waterbed liner out the front door of the bungalow. I opened it, dumped the dirt and raked it
into two neat flower beds. The black car pulled up and Clay got out, dressed all in white, jeans and sneakers
and one of those lace-up pirate shirts that were in when I was a kid and are again now. He almost glowed in
the dazzling California sun, but his smile was even brighter. Together we planted flowers in the soil that
had been his prison, and then walked indoors where every window was wide open and the smell of food
cooking wafted on breezes through the air. A real waterbed sat in the bedroom now, and Clay pulled me
down onto it, kissing and caressing me. I gasped, and almost cried out—and woke alone, startled till I heard
the shower running. The sound comforted me, and I dozed off again. When next I woke, Clay lay quietly
beside me, in pajama pants and a T shirt; his eyes were closed, but as I pulled my awareness together they
opened fixed on me. “Any idea what time it is?” I yawned.
He smiled sleepily. “Almost dawn. I just lay down.”
“Clay! You let me sleep the whole night away?”
“You needed it. Besides, it’s good just having you here, whatever state you’re in.”

“Well, I’d rather be awake with you. I need to shift my sleep cycle a bit. And I need to stop
waking you up all the time.”
His eyelids lowered. “Don’t,” he sighed. “Please don’t stop, not ever…”
I kissed his cheek and slipped off to the bathroom. In the mirror, I was pleasantly surprised to see
no trace of fang marks on my shoulder, only a faint discoloration very like an old hickey. All day long,
though, Clay’s words followed me. As I phoned Robodoc and scheduled a drive-through checkup, as I
stocked up on multi-vitamin patches and iron-rich foods, the parameters of our relationship began to
emerge. It was grand now, but in forty or fifty years, when I was old, and Clay, if I hadn’t found a cure for
his vampirism, still looked as young and handsome as he did today, he would need to move on. God grant I
could find someone then who would love him as I did now. Yes, I said the L word, finally. As Clay said, not
naming it wouldn’t make it any less real. So I said it, but only to myself. As much as I longed for him to
love me in return, the parting would hurt him far worse if he did. Better I keep the confession to myself,
take care of my needs, and concentrate on finding him a cure.
With that determination, the days fell into an agreeable routine. During daylight hours, I took care
of business, scoured libraries and bookstores and anyplace else I could think of for vampire lore, and
napped, often beside him. At night, we cruised the world online, read, talked, played cards, danced, argued
and made up. I shared lurid tales of worthless exes, and he his countless failed attempts to free himself from
his curse. My friends complained they rarely saw me, but partying had never really been a favorite pastime
of mine, and I led them to believe I had a very hot and very demanding new lover. Clay was equally
discreet, which surprised me at first. Finally, he confessed he hadn’t yet found a way to explain our relation
to Letitia Heisen without her assuming I was digging for a horrid expose…or assuming his will had at last
been overpowered by the dark thirsts of the vampire within. He didn’t say it in so many words, but I
suspected if she thought he had lost self-control and was dominating me to satisfy his blood-lust, she would
take action, terrible irrevocable action, and wouldn’t believe a word either of us said to the contrary. It
would have been nice to have her help, to have her to confide in, but I agreed with him. I would not be the
cause of Clay meeting a stake through his heart.
My bosses praised the new eloquence in my writing, not knowing Clay’s contributions. Every
couple of days he slipped up behind me for what I jokingly started to call ‘a nip and a sip’, and I watched as
he blossomed into vibrant aliveness, no longer the despondent image of the walking dead. All in all, it was
the most fulfilling relationship I had ever had, on every level except one. My mind drifted in that southerly
direction one night, while I was in the living room working on the computer—how quickly I had stopped
thinking of it as Clay’s living room or computer; sometimes I rejoiced in that level of comfort, and
sometimes it troubled me. This particular night my thoughts were more carnal. I had about decided to sneak
my hand between my legs the next time he fed, to try and do a better job than I had been of getting that
persistent itch scratched. When I felt him materialize behind me and start to massage my shoulders, I
sighed, “Do you only love me ‘cause I keep your grocery bill down?”
I could cheerfully have bashed my skull in against a wall. Dear God, why did I say such a mean
thing? Clay’s hands stopped moving. “You don’t really think that, do you?”
“No,” I said hastily. “No, I don’t, Clay. Honest. I don’t know what came over me. Bad choice of
words, very bad. I—“
“Because it’s not true.” He came around and knelt on the floor in front of the couch where I sat,
clasping my hands in his. “It’s not, I swear. I don’t love you just for that.” In shock, I realized he had said to
me the word I had sworn to myself I would never burden him with. “With you here, my existence feels like
a life. You validate my continuing to be. You make me feel almost human, again…” I slipped off the sofa
and into his arms. “Don’t ever think it’s only about—that. If it were, I truly would be that monster you keep
insisting I’m not. You said you’d bring me the world, and you did. You are my world, Rebecca. You make
me want to keep fighting.” His voice in my ear was as urgent as his embrace. “Maybe I shouldn’t be saying
this, maybe you don’t want to hear it—“
“Oh, you have no idea how I want to hear it!” I turned to straddle his lap and hugged him as
tightly as I could. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too,” he whispered, stroking my hair and my back. “When you touch me, when you let
me touch you, it makes me feel things, want things, that I haven’t even thought of in years…”
I pressed my body to his, and abruptly, unbelievably, the evidence of his words was right there
poking me between the legs; the hard truth, so to speak. “Yes,” I gasped in incredulous relief. “Make love
to me, Clay. I don’t care if it’s right here on the floor. I need you so badly.”

My hopes were crushed when he shook his head. “I’m afraid to. If I lost it and bit you, I don’t
know what might happen to you—or I might not be able to stop—I can’t risk it.”
“I can! How many times do I have to tell you I’m not afraid of you? It’ll be all right. I know it
will.” I did; I felt it in my gut—and various other body parts, admittedly. I threw myself at him, utterly
wanton. I ground my crotch against his, plumbed the depths of his mouth with my tongue, and pulled at his
T-shirt to get my hands under it and onto his body. When my mouth wasn’t otherwise occupied, I was
begging him to take me.
Clay’s hands slid under my thighs, and suddenly he was standing with me wrapped around him, a
reminder of his unhuman strength that flicked past me in an instant. Frankly, if he did bite me I wouldn’t
care. My thoughts were consumed with desire, with the thrilling knowledge that it was returned, and with
the closeness of its consummation. Before I knew it we were in the bedroom, and clothes were flying. I was
on fire, and the eerie coolness of his body against mine did not calm it at all. He touched me all over, with a
wondering intensity in his face as if I were the most amazing thing he had ever beheld, and kissed where he
touched more desperately and hungrily than he had ever taken my blood.
When his mouth found my breasts I caught my breath—was that the smooth hint of a fang that
glided across the sensitive skin? If so, the weirdness, crazy as it sounds, did nothing to dampen my arousal.
His lips teased my nipples with precise care, until they were taut pebbles that throbbed at the slightest
contact, even of moving air. My gasps dissolved into moans as his fingers stroked up the insides of my
thighs and reached the goal I had ached for them to attain. My hips twitched and thrust in rhythm to the
music he played upon my body.
He lifted his head from my chest, and in the faint glow of the nightlight I could make out the white
tips of fangs, but I rejected their notice. They were not Clay. Clay was the long slim powerful body pressed
to mine; the hands that caressed me with such tenderness and need; the eyes, now dark green, that reflected
my passion back at me. Clay was a man, this man I loved and who loved me. I always laughed at that
euphemism ‘manhood’ that people still use, uncomfortably, for a penis, but it became real for me at the
sight of his erect and eager flesh. Only a man could desire so earnestly. I sank back into his bed, and tipped
my hips back to afford him entry. I was accustomed to his cool touch, but apparently my muscles weren’t,
and I tightened reflexively around him when he entered me.
“You’re so hot,” he gulped.
“Hot for you,” I breathed. “Only for you. I love you, Clay. Come with me.”
“Yes…yes…oh, I love you, Rebecca…”
Our bodies began to move as one, lifted on the tide of desire. His thrusts quickened, and I rose to
meet him, straining to bring release nearer with each beat. Clay’s body tensed, a low forceful sound rolling
from him—a groan, a growl, what? He pitched forward the next instant; his mouth found my shoulder, and
the sharpness of great needles pierced my skin. My yelp was an off-note in the continuing symphony of
cries, as his strokes did not waver, and the flash of pain was swallowed by roaring pleasure. I cried out and
clung to him, pumping against him as he sucked at my neck, shuddered, moaned and fell on me, still
quivering, and still feeding. Slowly I slid down from the summit of my climax, into a valley of torpor that
deepened and deepened. I hardly felt Clay pull away from me, but when he grabbed my face, frantically
calling my name, I roused myself to look up at him. His eyes were panicked, his lips still red with my
blood. “You missed some,” I mumbled and reached for him with a tweak of my mouth that was meant to be
a teasing grin.
His fingers fumbled on my neck and stopped at my pulse point. “Oh, Lord…Lord help me…no.
No more. No more!” he wailed and was gone. Drained by the fervor of our lovemaking, made even hazier
by Clay’s feeding from me, it took a few minutes for me to register that he had dematerialized, not merely
gotten up from the bed or even left the room. I struggled to sit up, and after more minutes sitting with my
head down I was able to toddle to the bathroom. The fang marks were a little more noticeable, though not
much, and my shoulder was dappled red, odd since Clay normally never missed a drop when he fed from
me. The shakiness of my legs I honestly had to attribute more to the marvelous sex I’d just had than to any
weakness from blood loss. Remembering Clay’s horrified face, however, and the unsteadiness of his hands
as he’d searched for my pulse, made me wonder if he’d thought he had seriously harmed me. If so, he must
have fled the bungalow to get himself under control before he returned. I sat down on the toilet and was
greeted by a flow of blood—what a time for my birth control implant to run dry and present me with an
unexpected period. I cleaned myself up and curled up on the bed to wait for him. My heart beat alone, as it
did even when he held me: the only sound I heard.

I dozed for a while, and woke to find the house still unoccupied. It was well past midnight and I
started to worry. Clay would be back before dawn, though…wouldn’t he? Had I looked so wiped out that
horror had snapped his reason altogether? He could wander in fright until the sun caught him unaware—or
worse yet, his dread of hurting others, of hurting me, might overcome his fear of death and what awaited
him beyond it. His cry of no more now filled me with terror. I didn’t have a clue what to do though, or
where to search for him…or did I? I threw on my clothes, ran to my car and raced through the night.
“Clay’s gone,” I said when Letitia Heisen opened her front door to my banging. “Is he here? Have
you seen him, heard from him?”
“Miss Palmer—Rebecca, my dear, this obsession of yours with the memory of Clay Aiken is quite
unhealthy. I assure you—“
“Cut the crap!” I yelled and stormed past her into her foyer. “I know about Clay. I know
everything. I’ve been with him for weeks. And now—now he’s gone, and I don’t know where he is, and
I’m so afraid he—might—“ I stopped in my tracks and burst into tears.
“Child, child!” She put her hands on my shoulders and led me to a chair in her study. “I wondered
why I hadn’t heard from you for a good while. And Clayton hasn’t been in contact as regularly either. I
begin to see now. You found yourself a better research source, it seems, and he—“
“No!” I sobbed, and hugged myself in agony as I blurted out everything, from the night I’d
stumbled out of her party on Clay’s arm to now.
Letitia listened quietly until I finished. “I needn’t ask if you’re certain you hadn’t been controlled
—one look at you tells me you’re free,” she said. “Well, well. I feared this might happen one day. If
Clayton’s finally convinced himself he’s irretrievably lost, there’s nothing to prevent him from indulging
every vice and lust known to the vampire—“
“Except his being Clay,” I snapped, “and your being damn dead wrong.” I hit my feet, anger
restoring my equilibrium. “Clay didn’t want to tell you about us for fear you’d assume the worst of us both,
and I see now he knew best. I’m glad I didn’t know this about you when I was running to you for
information every other day. If you’re the best help he’s had all these years, it’s no wonder he was in such a
pitiful state when I found him. What was he, your personal caged guinea pig, your experimental vampire?”
“Rebecca, I didn’t mean that at all!” Letitia rose and reached out to stop me from stomping out the
door. “I was playing devil’s advocate, though ‘playing’ is hardly the word for so grave a situation. For what
it’s worth, I agree with you, with all my heart. For Clayton to sink into the cesspool of most vampires’
debauchery, he would have to be truly and irreversibly mad. I’d met only a few of the Dark Kind face to
face when Kimberley first brought him to me, but I knew immediately he was different. A good and pious
soul, forcibly turned by one whose sole motivation was to torment him—how could he not be different?
He’s been a hermit for years, to avoid the temptation to feed on humans. He’s fought the demon in him with
every weapon he could find—well, except the one I urged on him all along, the one he most feared…But
that’s not relevant right now. You need to find him, and persuade him to come home. We can talk later.”
“But where do I look?”
“You’ll know.” I must have looked as dumbfounded and frustrated as I felt. “You realize that,
don’t you? You two can never hide from each other now. Remember in Dracula, when he desired to make
Mina his, he bound her to him with his power, so that he could always locate her?”
“Yeess…” I thought back to the classic and gasped. “It worked both ways! She led the hunters to
him, because she could find him too!” Then my hope foundered. “But he was controlling her, creating the
bond. Clay’s never controlled me.”
“Stoker wrote in Victorian England, so if he were cognizant of the true means of joining he would
hardly have dared write of it directly. He couched it in metaphor instead. It wouldn’t have fit his storyline
anyway. An exchange of blood, freely given in a true act of love, between a vampire and a living mortal, is
what binds them together.” I started to argue that I hadn’t taken any blood from Clay, then paused and
thought of my bathroom experience; and he did weep blood, after all…”So get in your car, baby girl, and
follow your nose. Or your heart, more like.”
I flew to my car and took off. My focus was totally on Clay, on every line of his handsome angular
face and his strong wiry body, on every facet of his mind and heart—and soul, whether he believed it or not
—that I loved with all my being. I concentrated, and prayed harder than I had in years, and drove; and
every now and then, as I turned a corner, I had a suddenly sharpened sense of his presence. My path took
me high into the hills overlooking LA. The sky was still dark, but dawn could not be far off, and for the
first time in my life I dreaded it. If I couldn’t find Clay in time, would I feel him die? I shook back tears and

kept on the narrow hill road I found myself on, till I rounded a curve and saw his car parked on the shoulder
between two hills.
I pulled up behind the black car, empty, and got out. Which way? To my left, the view would
command the way I had come, the city still lit for night, and the darkness of the sea beyond. To the right
was no such spectacular vista; but it faced east, toward the sunrise. A terrible foreboding seized me, and I
started up the steep embankment, certain after only a step or two that this was the way. If the inner sense
that linked me to Clay wasn’t enough to convince me, the voice that rose in song ahead was: “Oh, it
reaches to the highest mountain, and it flows to the lowest valley, the Blood gives me strength from day to
day, it will never lose its power…” Tears blinded me, but I pushed on, letting my ears and the eyes of my
heart lead me.
Clay knelt on the east slope of the hill, his back to me, a book at his side. “How’d you find me?”
“I can always find you now, and you can find me.” I made my way from the top of the hill down a
short distance to him. “It happened when we made love. You’re really stuck with me now.” I put out my
hand. “Obviously you went home and got dressed after I left, you rat, and didn’t wait for me. I guess I can
forgive you that. But it’s getting late. C’mon, we can still beat the sun home if we take your car. You can lie
down in back, and with the auto-drive engaged I can go like a bat out of, uh, you get the idea. You can
bring me back this evening for mine, unless I get lucky and somebody steals the hunk of junk.” He didn’t
move. “Clay, I’m fine. Come on.”
Slowly, he shook his head. He wore black again, as he had the night we met, an open-necked shirt
and jeans this time. “I can’t do it anymore.” Bloody tears streaked his cheeks, leaving his face looking as if
a beast had clawed it, trying to get out, or trying to get in. “I’ve been out here most of the night, praying.
It’s the first time I dared to do it since …You were right about one thing, by the way—lightning didn’t
strike me.” His small laugh was ironic, and he wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. I didn’t have a
tissue to offer. “It felt good to let it go, to lay it all down and be done with it. I’m so tired.”
“You’re breaking your promise to me,” I said as harshly as I could. “You promised if I stayed with
you you wouldn’t give up.”
“I’m not giving up. I’m doing what I should’ve done twenty years ago. Every big decision in my
life, every major event, good or bad, I prayed, and left it up to God, and lived with it, and you know what?
It always worked out. I hope this won’t be any different. At least now I’ll know if I’m damned or not.”
“Clay, don’t do this to me!”
“I’m doing it for you, and for myself in a strange way. I don’t want to live without you —or rather
exist; I’m not living—and that’s exactly what I would have to do if I stayed. I couldn’t be with you, not and
be unable to touch you, hold you, make love to you, because I’d never know if the next time would be the
one when I couldn’t stop. Tonight taught me that. When I looked down at you so white and dazed…” He
shuddered. “No more.” I settled to the ground, beside him and the battered leather-bound Bible on the
grass. “It’s almost sunrise. I checked the schedule. Too late to talk me out of it.”
“I know.”
“You should go now. I can try to make you forget, if you want. It might be easier for you in th—“
“Shut up, Clay!” I yelled. “Just shut up, will you? I love you. You’ve been all alone all these years,
and I will be damned if I let you die alone!”
I couldn’t hold the sobs back any longer. “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to me
when the sun comes up,” he said softly as he took me in his arms, “although I have an idea it won’t be
pleasant. I don’t want you to have to see it.”
“I don’t care. I won’t leave you to face it alone. I won’t.”
He looked down at me, and in the graying predawn his face bore the same wonder I had seen in
his bedroom. “I may burn in hell,” he breathed, “but there’ll be a little bit of heaven there with me. I’ll have
your memory, and the only way they can get that away from me is to rip my being apart.”
“They won’t. You won’t burn. You can’t. And if—if you did—then they could damn me to hell
too, because I don’t want to be anywhere you’re not!”
Clay held me close, and then he started to sing again: “Oh, my love, my darling, I’ve hungered for
your touch, a long lonely time…” I choked back my sobs, so I wouldn’t miss a note of his celestial voice.
“Goodbye, Rebecca,” he whispered while the last glory notes still hung in the air. “You’re mortal, you’ll
forget me in time.”
“When hell freezes over and platypuses fly out my ass.”
He gaped, and then giggled and crushed me to him. “Thank you!”
“For what?”

“For one more good laugh.” Still giggling, he kissed me. “For loving me. For giving me a little
time that was almost happy. If you won’t take forgetfulness as my gift, then always remember—“ Clay’s
chin trembled momentarily; the grief and fear he was trying to force down for my sake were still there.
“Remember that of everyone I ever loved in this world, you were the last.”
A thread of molten light appeared in the east. I laid my head on Clay’s shoulder, and we held each
other and watched the horizon in silence. I felt wrung out and sat dry-eyed. He bowed his head and
murmured something I didn’t catch: one last quick prayer, I guessed. I would’ve joined him, but I didn’t
know what to pray for. A quick and painless end for him? Justice? Not when I yearned to kick justice’s ass
till it bled mercy. I lifted my head and turned my eyes from the glowing eastern sky to Clay’s face. I
remembered the night of the American Idol finale, how I hadn’t moved my gaze from his face on my
parents’ TV screen at the end. If he won, I wanted to be the first to see it; if he lost, I wanted to be there
with him, in some foolish but heartfelt little-girl way. This was far more grim, but the principle was the
same. I would bear Clay witness, whatever the outcome.
The sun peered out at us like a shy child peeking over a fence. Clay raised his eyes to it and caught
his breath. “I’d always rather have slept in than gotten up to see a sunrise. Now I’m sorry I missed so many.
It’s so beautiful…” Fresh tears spilled from his eyes, washing the blood tracks from his skin—
Whoa. Wait a second. Back that thing up.
How could tears wash blood away, when moments ago the tears had themselves been blood?
How could he catch his breath at the beauty of the dawn sky, when moments ago he was not
The brightening morning flamed his hair to a red-gold halo of glory and his wet cheeks to ruddy
life—or was it only a passing trick of the light, before the cruelest blow of all? I put my hand to his throat,
to the same spot he had touched me in a panic the night before. And as his fingers had found a pulse then,
mine did now, the steady beat of a heart where no beat had throbbed only seconds before.
He turned toward me, baffled. “Nothing’s happening.”
“Yes, it is!” I yelped. “Can’t you feel it, Clay? Can’t you—it—oh God, Clay—you’re alive.” At
his look of utter bewilderment I ran my fingers across the fragile, freckled skin beneath his eyes and held
them up for him to see the clear moisture; then I leaned forward and kissed him there, and tasted the thin
salt-water sweetness of his tears.
He drew a breath in surprise, and then another in more surprise at the first. Next he frowned as if
in concentration, then gasped and jumped to his feet. “I can’t dematerialize. I—I’m not a—“ His chest
expanded again, and he coughed. “The California air’s as bad as I remember it!” he yelled and cast his eyes
upward. “Oh, my…oh Lord, thank you…”
Clay flung his arms outward and stood with his face turned toward the heavens, then pulled me to
my feet and spun me around in his embrace till we were both dizzy. Finally we flopped back onto the dew-
damp grass laughing, and I pressed my ear to his chest to hear that impossible drumbeat and feel the
warmth of his body. This was not what either of us had expected, and far more than I would have dared ask,
and I added my own astounded mental thanksgiving to his.
He lay out of breath and clearly loving it, but then sat up. “Hey, this is somebody’s property. We’d
better go before we get busted for trespassing.”
“Agreed. So where to?” I asked as he helped me up. “What do you want to do with your life
“Wow. It really is the first day of the rest of my life, isn’t it? There’s so much. I want to eat a
Krispy Kreme—a real one. I want to go to the beach! I was never all that big on it, but I want to dip myself
in SPF 500 and run down the sand hollering. I want to make love to you all night tonight.” His eyes
widened. “It’s Sunday, isn’t it? I lose track of days sometimes.” I nodded. “I want to go to church. Oh, I
want to. I’ve been afraid to set foot in one!”
“I know just the place. They don’t care what you wear or anything,” I added as he tugged at his
rumpled shirt. We climbed and topped the hill. “Oh no!” I groaned when I saw our cars parked along the
road. “I don’t really want to leave my clunker, but I do not want to be apart from you!”
“We’ll drop one off—“ Abruptly he halted, blinked, shook his head, and moved one hand in front
of his eyes.
“Is something wrong?”
He started to laugh again. “I’ve got to go home and find my glasses. I can’t see!” I suspect poor
vision was never such a cause for rejoicing for anyone as it was for us then. Thank heavens for auto-drive,
because Clay could never have seen to drive safely back to the bungalow. I followed, and since we both

have Cartalk in our rides we could chat till we arrived. It took only a few minutes to find the glasses, and
did he look fine in them! “I don’t know why I kept these, but thank the Lord I did…What are you staring
“Other than your gorgeous self? I was looking to see if you’d aged. I thought maybe you’d catch
up with your chronological age, but I don’t see anything. It’s like your biological clock was stopped that
night, and somebody just rewound it and started it back up.”
“Somebody did,” he smiled. “C’mon, let’s go to church.”
We sat in the back and held hands the whole time, and the way Clay’s voice rang when we sang
old hymns made me almost burst with happiness. Several people approached us after the service to say
hello, and a couple eyed him with an I’ve-seen-you-before look. “By this afternoon it’s likely to be all over
the net that Clay Aiken’s been sighted—either him or his womanizing identical cousin Trey.”
He almost squealed. “Where did you dig that up?”
“The web is forever, sweetie,” I smirked and kissed him. “That reminds me, you owe me an
exclusive, remember? If I get to a computer quickly enough, I can file a first report with InquiringMinds.
No details, only the sighting report. We’ll worry about details later.”
“Yeah. I’ll have to come up with some kind of cover story. You can help with that—use those
fiction skills of yours that are atrophying unused.”
“Unused? You think fiction skills are unused at InquiringMinds?” I snorted as we got in his car.
“Now—no Krispy Kreme nearby, unfortunately, so what’s our next stop?”
With a grin, Clay gave the auto-drive Letitia Heisen’s address. I wriggled with anticipation all the
way there, and had to run to keep up as he took the front steps to the scholar’s house in two long strides.
The total stupefaction on her face when she opened the door to his knocks and calls was beyond price.
“Clayton?” she gasped and dropped the tea cup she held to hug him. I tried to stay out of the way, but
neither of them would have that, and I was pulled into an extended group hug that started on the porch and
ended in the kitchen. Clay and I tumbled over each other in our eagerness to recount our experience and ask
her opinion. “Let me think,” she said after we finished. “In the meantime, I’m no chef, but I have cereal and
milk if you two are hungry.”
“Starving!” Clay declared, and she went to her cupboard. I scooted the straight chair in which I sat
around the corner of the table so I could sit right up against him. He was watching Letitia rustle up bowls
and spoons with an air of awe, but when my arm slid around his body he turned to smile and kiss the tip of
my nose. I couldn’t keep my eyes (or hands) off him, and he seemed the same.
Letitia brought over a box of dry cereal and a bottle of milk, and you would have thought it was
the top of the menu at LA’s finest five-star from the way Clay greeted them. He reached for a spoon, then
halted and lowered his head to say grace. Letitia was about to say something when I waved her off. He sat
for a moment, and his shoulders shook a little. I enfolded him in my arms. “It’s over, Clay,” I said in his ear.
“It’s all over. You’re safe now.”
He sniffled, but was smiling again when he raised his head and dug into the cereal. “Ohh, that’s
good.” He crunched the squares with relish, rolled them around in his mouth, and drank the cold milk out
of the bowl. Watching him revel in a simple pleasure so long denied him moved me deeply. It also made me
experience my own breakfast more fully—I don’t think I’d ever enjoyed a bowl of cereal more.
After eating we went into the study. While Letitia and Clay searched old books, I composed a brief
email to my editor at As Clay and I had agreed, my report said only that he had been seen at a
church, described his appearance (in a creative and deliciously biased manner), and ended by saying I was
pursuing a hot lead and would be in touch. “Find anything?” I asked after sending.
“Not much,” Letitia replied from her seat behind an antique writing table, “but some interesting
bits and pieces, which perhaps we can assemble. There are numerous references to the idea that a vampire
who freely sacrifices himself to protect a mortal may be rewarded by restoration of his soul; but none
mention a return to full mortal life. It’s implied the vampire still dies, but as a mortal.”
Clay walked behind the rolling chair where I sat and rested his hands on my shoulders. I reached
up and covered them with mine. “I don’t believe Clay’s soul needed restoration,” I said. “I don’t think it
ever went anywhere.”
“I consider myself a scientist, and souls aren’t the province of science, so I can’t speak to that.”
Letitia turned some more pages in the book she was perusing. “Very little is documented about the effects
of a true love-bond between vampire and mortal, but I daresay that could have some bearing on your
situation as well. It’s possible, Rebecca, that your presence when Clayton attempted to end his existence,

and the depth of your love for each other, the physical manifestation of it, wrested control of his body from
undeath to life, from the vampiric state back to the human.”
”Maybe,” I shrugged. “I’m leaning toward more direct intervention.”
“You believe God answered your prayers?” Letitia’s smile was indulgent, but a little wistful.
“Clayton? I always suggested you should try prayer, since that was—is—so large a part of your world view.
What do you think?”
“Occam’s Razor, Letitia. The simplest answer is usually the right one.” Clay’s arms went around
me and hugged me to him. “I do agree with you to a certain extent though. I don’t know what might have
happened if I’d done it twenty years ago. I do know Rebecca’s love gave me the courage to try.”
“Well, there’s a great deal about this of which I will plead ignorance,” Letitia finally said. “All I
can say with certainty is that the last time I saw you, Clayton, you were a vampire, and this morning you’re
a mortal man.”
I squeezed Clay’s hands and felt them close around mine in reply. “I can think of a few other
people who need to hear that.”
“I don’t know how some of them will like it,” he returned. “The record label, for one. I’m
probably selling better dead than alive.”
“Oh, please,” I snorted. “You might be surprised. They’d be pretty low on the priority list, though,
if I were the one doing the listing. First place should go to those who would welcome it most. Like
Kimberley? And your mom?”
Clay moved away, but I kept hold of one hand and coaxed him around in front of me. “Kim’s
never going to believe this. And Mom—good Lord, what’ll I tell Mom?”
“Then maybe you should call Kim while we’re here to vouch for you. And as for your mom, I
think what she would want to hear from you first is that you’re alive and you love her. The rest we can
work on.” I unclipped my phone’s tiny case from my key ring and held it out to him. “But if you’re not
ready, say so. I understand.”
“Yes,” Letitia agreed. “You must be as overwhelmed as overjoyed.”
Clay nodded, but he took my phone. “I can do this. I need to. They’ve suffered as long as I have.”
He told the phone a number and nestled the device into and behind his ear. Nice ear, I thought, and
imagined running my tongue along the very edge of its outer shell, and nibbling daintily at the lobe. “Kim?
Hi, it’s Clay…What do you mean? Nothing’s wrong. I just wondered if you’re free tomorrow. I want to
show you something…Me. I’m okay, Kim. I’m healed…How do I know? I’m standng in Letitia Heisen’s
study, burping up a humongous bowl of cereal I just inhaled, wearing my glasses ‘cause my eyesight sucks
again, with my heart pounding out of my chest because I was afraid to call you for fear you’d hate me. I’m
not that thing anymore, the thing that scared you into giving up everything you worked for here; but I don’t
know how on God’s earth I can ever make up for what I did to you.” His hand went to his mouth. “Kim?…
oh, goodness—don’t cry, Kim…So, does that mean you can get together for lunch tomorrow?—ooh, that
came out all wrong, didn’t it?” Clay grimaced, but then a small smile chased the discomfiture away. “No
kidding?…Is that Cajun chicken place still there in Nashville? Remember the time we…yeah…okay. I’ll let
you know. I want you to meet somebody too—you’ve talked to her, I think. Her name is Rebecca.” His
eyes darted toward me and lit with mischief. “I’m taking the Fifth on that, for now. See you then…You too,
honey.” He touched the phone to disconnect. “Well, she says she doesn’t hate me. That’s a start, I guess.”
Letitia groaned. “Of course she doesn’t. I’d lay money, however, that she calls me in a little while
demanding to know what’s happened. And all I can tell her is what I just told you two: I don’t know.”
“I’m glad, Clay,” I nodded. “I know how much Kim always meant to you.” He raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, uh, did I ever mention I was a fan?”
“No,” he growled, but he was laughing. “No wonder you knew so much and were so persistent!”
I laughed too. “So I’m invited to lunch tomorrow in Nashville? I’d better make plane
reservations.” I rolled my chair back toward the computer, but was stopped by Clay’s hand on my arm.
“Not yet. It may only be a stopover.”
Instantly, I understood. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“No, but I can’t go one more minute in the daylight without hearing her voice, even if I fall apart,
or if…” His voice trailed off, his face far more anxious than when he had phoned Kimberley.
“I can place the call,” I suggested. “It’d give you a minute to get yourself together, and it might
ease the shock if I talk to her first.” Letitia murmured something about giving him some privacy, and left
the room. He spoke the number, then handed me the phone. “Now what exactly I’m going to say I don’t
have a clue,” I grumbled as I poked the earpiece in my ear and draped the receiver behind it, “but—“

Click. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Parker, good morning. This is Rebecca Palmer, in Los Angeles. We spoke several weeks
ago, about your son.” Had it really been only weeks? I stole a glance at Clay, who looked about to mangle
his lower lip, and found it hard to recall a time when he had not been a part of my life and my heart.
“Hm, uh, oh yes, I remember you, dear. Listen, I’m on my way out the door to church. If you
could call back this evening—“
“No, ma’am. This can’t wait. Considering the circumstances, I believe the Almighty would be
more than tolerant.”
The firmness of my voice must have seized her notice. “You know something about Clayton,” she
said, and suddenly sounded old and very frightened. “They found something. Did… they find his body?”
Not exactly, I thought, aching for her long grief, and ready to jump up and down with delight that
it was about to end. “Hold on, Mrs. Parker. I’m putting someone else on the phone, someone who really
needs to talk to you.”
I pulled off the phone and offered it to Clay. He situated it in his ear with one hand, holding my
hand with the other. His eyes moved, listening, but he was silent for a few moments that felt like a lifetime.
Finally he said “Mom?”, his voice quiet, his tone uncertain. “Mom, it-it’s Clayton…” His hand clenched on
mine. “Mom—don’t hang up!” he cried. “Please—I’m sorry—I’m sorry, I didn’t know what else to do—“ I
jumped up as he bent over, his knees almost buckling, and guided him to my seat. He wrapped his arms
around my waist and pressed his cheek to my body, sobbing. My heart nearly stopped as dead as his had
been. Had my read of her been so hideously wrong? Had a mother’s grief turned to rage and rejection? It
was one of the few times I cursed having a top of the line phone—on an old-fashioned one I could have
listened in, or pulled it from his hand to defend him to her. I hugged him to me and felt him tense,
struggling to control his emotions. “Mom, the note I left, I know you found it, Rebecca said so—did you do
what I said?…Yes, I heard you, you don’t believe me but that doesn’t matter. You’ve got to listen to me.
Did you do it? Did you stay away from him? Did you keep everybody else away?” His gaze sharpened as
he listened, and then he let out a shuddery, heartfelt sigh of relief. “Ohh, thank God…What?” Clay sat up
straighter, and a hint of a smile began to creep across his tremulous lips. “Yes?…Yes, it’s me…I’m okay,
now…You did? My bracelet? Do—do you maybe still have it someplace?…Yeah, I’d like it.” A short laugh
burst from him. “Oh, that’s a trick question. I know better than that. You never wanted Raleigh in the house,
that’s why I left her with Suzanne…Really? But wh—“ He bit his lip and tears filled his eyes again. “I’m
sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t want to, but it wasn’t safe for me to be around you…Not over the phone. I’ll
try when I see you, but you may want to pack me off to the State Mental afterwards…I love you too, Mom.
I want to come home. Can I come tomorrow? And—can I bring somebody?” He looked up at me, his smile
amid tears like the sun shining through summer rain. “Yes. If we can get plane tickets we’ll see you
tomorrow afternoon. Can you get off work—oh. I didn’t think about that.” Clay looked very sad for a
moment, then brightened. “You will? Barbecue, maybe?…okay, hold on. I love you.” He laboriously
removed the phone, mumbling something about monitors and old hearing aids, and held it up for me to
take. “She wants to talk to you.”
Those few words scared me worse than facing down a pack of angry vampires. It must have
shown, because as I took the phone and answered her Clay brought me down to sit on his lap. “I can’t
imagine a reason anyone would play so vicious a trick on an old woman, Miss Palmer,” Faye Parker’s
voice said in my ear, but her tone was more uncertain than irate.
“Neither can I. Believe me, it’s not. You’ll see for yourself tomorrow. And please call me
Rebecca.” Clay’s face was one big smile. “I hope I’m welcome to come and meet you.”
“Of course you are. I want to meet the woman who brought my Clayton back.” She laughed, then
gave a small sob. “I know I shouldn’t believe this—but I do. How long have you known?”
“I didn’t know when we spoke before. Things didn’t really get settled till this morning.”
There was a moment of silence, as she absorbed it all. “How?” she asked finally.
“My honest opinion, Mrs. Parker?” I grinned. “A miracle.”
After talking with Clay’s mother, we said goodbye to Letitia and went shopping. Clay had already
started a mental list of things he hadn’t needed in a while, and we laughed like kids all through the store as
he encountered some of the changes of twenty years. More fun yet was the grocery—he walked down the
aisles of food with the expression of a monk on leave in the Sex Quarter. For my part, I had never been so
excited about cooking dinner for a man in my life, and I almost panicked when I turned around in my
kitchen later to find Clay sniffing the air with an intent look. “What is that?”

“Uh, chicken tetrazzini.” I realized I hadn’t sensed his approach—the vampiric bond between us
was no more, but I hoped another would take its place, if my cooking didn’t scare him off. “Nothing’s in it
you’re allergic to, and everything’s fresh—I mean, it’s not like the ricotta’s been in my fridge for a month
He didn’t even seem to notice my apologies. “It smells incredible,” he said, and I remembered that
for years on end he could scent only one awful aroma.
“It’s not nearly as lavish as what your mom will probably lay out.”
“That doesn’t matter.” Clay stopped for thanks and then dove in, but paused a few moments later.
“It may not be so lavish. Mom’s retired now. I didn’t think about it, but everybody’s aged, while I sat still.
My little brother’s grown, with kids of his own.” Sadness reappeared in his eyes. “I lost so much.”
I was sitting across the kitchen table from him, but gave up and slid my chair to sit beside him and
put my arms around him. “You’re here now, Clay. That’s what’s important. I can only imagine what this
must be like, though. It must make the change in your life when you won American Idol look like nothing.”
Clay sighed, smiled at me, and took another bite. “Wait a minute,” he said around a mouthful of
salad. “Is that how it came down through history? People think I won?”
“You did! Oh, you avoided entertainment news, so you wouldn’t know! A busload of clowns from
AI got indicted, several years after you disappeared, under those fraud laws they passed after the old game
show scandals. Some guy confessed in open court that season 2 was the worst rig of them all. Everything
people said afterwards was true. You were—are—the American Idol.”
Clay sat quietly, chewed and swallowed. “Wow,” he said at last. “That must’ve been hard on
Ruben.” Somehow it didn’t surprise me that he thought first of his old friend. “I ought to call him.”
“I can find him,” I nodded, and went after dessert. Modern kitchens may look like the deck of a
starship, but you still can’t beat a can of condensed milk in a pot of boiling water for an hour. I made a big
deal of bringing out the caramel trifle, hoping to chase Clay’s pensive mood. One bite, and his eyes all but
rolled back in his head.
“Oh, my. That’s—that’s—have you tasted this?” he demanded.
I reached for a spoon, but miscalculated and ended up with my thumb and finger in the bowl.
“Oops, darn,” I said, and being the messy soul I am, my first response was to lick it off. This was normally
a fine way to conduct myself, except when a very attractive man suddenly couldn’t take his eyes off me
doing it. I slowed down, every movement of my tongue and lips deliberate, and was thrilled at the way his
breathing grew ragged. Hey, I was thrilled just to see him breathing!
“That wasn’t much of a taste,” he murmured and scooped a healthy spoonful. It was almost to my
mouth when with equal deliberation he paused, turned the spoon upside down, and let the soft sweet slip
off, leaving a sticky trail to where it vanished down my cleavage. “Oops. My bad.” He scooted closer, his
sea-green eyes darkening with desire. “I made the mess, I guess I’d better clean it up, right?”
“That would be good,” I managed, my heart speeding up. He started with my lower lip, licking
and nibbling while his hands tangled in my hair, then moved to my chin and then my chest, caressing my
shoulders, before he ever reached for a button on my blouse. Our first lovemaking had been almost frantic,
and Clay clearly wanted this time to be different, which suited me fine assuming I didn’t explode first. His
mouth coursed further down me, and his fingertips stroked my breasts and tickled my already erect nipples
through my bra. I got a double handful of his hair and arched against him, wanting those fingers, so deft, so
warm now, on my bare skin so much it was maddening. Finally, he assayed the front hooks of my bra, and
the remainder of the spoonful of trifle, freed, slid slowly down my belly and landed, well, about where
you’d expect. Clay watched it go, then looked up at me, and we both burst into giggles.
He pulled me to him and to my feet with him. “I haven’t made much of a start on my to-do list. I
didn’t get my donuts yet, and I haven’t gotten to the beach; but I know what I want to spend the rest of the
night doing, if you’re available.”
“I am available forever!” I declared. At the words his eyes widened and I gasped. Open mouth and
insert foot, again. “Uh, I mean, I didn’t—oh hell—don’t think I’m pressuring you, I shouldn’t have sounded
like I was assuming something—you’ve been through so much, you need to get back into the world, see
what’s out there, make up for lost time before you—“
“Ohhh, shut uuuup,” Clay almost whined and then kissed me, his lips hot and hard. “I want to
wake up with you beside me, Rebecca, every morning—every morning!” he laughed as if he had just heard
what he’d said, “for the rest of my natural, mortal life, if you can put up with me.”
There’s not much a woman can say to such a proposition, except yes, and I said it with my words
and my actions. This time my mouth claimed his, while my hands lingered only briefly on the silk of his

shirt. As appealing to the touch as it was, I yearned to touch something more responsive. I unbuttoned it
and ran my hands over, then under the T-shirt beneath, relishing the soft crispness of the hair on his chest
and stomach. When my fingers found his nipples, I caught them between my knuckles and tweaked. Clay
moaned into my mouth and started to pull me toward the bedroom. I disengaged my tongue from his long
enough to ask archly, “Should I bring the dessert?”
“I don’t think we’ll be needing it,” he replied with a wicked grin.
I ached to rip his clothes off and jump him, and forced myself to hold back, to enjoy every instant
of his undressing. He was still far too thin for my comfort, but that could be fixed. Every move he made
was focused and unhurried, as he helped slip my clothes off, nudged me back onto the bed, and finished
cleaning the sticky caramel from my breasts and belly. By the time the task was done to his satisfaction, I
was half out of my mind with need. ”Think I got a little on me,” he rasped, taking my hand and guiding it
to his crotch. Sure enough, a little something sticky was there, though I seriously doubted it was anything I
had prepared in my kitchen. “You made the mess, you clean it up.”
Clay rolled over, and I all but threw myself on his manhood—yes, the word stuck in my mind, the
way the cleanup joke had stuck in his, and both looked to be with us for years to come. I disciplined myself
to slow down, teasing his balls with my tongue, kissing his belly, and lovingly licking and sucking fictitious
sweet (and an occasional droplet of the real thing) off him. His groans and whimpers and the writhing of his
body beneath mine only raised my excitement to a fever pitch. Finally I had to stop, and rested my head on
his stomach, dizzy with arousal. “Is—something wrong?” Clay gasped, and struggled to raise his head and
look down at me.
“No—no—I just want you inside me so bad I can’t breathe—I can’t stand it anymore—“
Even without the vampire’s inhuman power, Clay was far stronger than I. The next thing I knew I
was stretched out on my back with his weight pressing the wind out of my already breathless body. His
mouth beset mine again, and his hands plied my body until I screamed my need; then with one smooth
thrust he buried himself in me, and I groaned with a promise of relief. His strokes, long and slow at first,
picked up speed quickly. We strained together and urged each other on with words, and sounds when words
failed our feelings. Climax, when it came, shook me like a mighty wind, and my body’s spasms squeezed
him to his own peak. Clay threw his head back, his face as I had longed to see it, ravished with a passion
for me that made his pleasure in my blood pale into nothingness. I nearly came again, just from sheer joy.
The first time we’d made love, the experience had come to an abrupt end; this time, exhausted, we
lay wrapped in each other’s limbs for a long quiet time. I ran my fingers through Clay’s sweaty hair and
kissed his cheek, damp with perspiration, and the sweet saltiness and the musky man-smell of him made me
happier than anything I could recall in my entire life. I brushed a tear away and said a silent mental thank
you to the power who had made this happen.
Clay stirred, then started a little and lifted his head. “I almost fell asleep,” he marveled, squinting
up at me. I couldn’t remember how it happened, but his glasses were safely folded on the little table by my
“Well, you should. Heaven knows you’ve worn yourself out just now,” I teased. “And it’s been a
long day.”
“A twenty-year long day,” he said wryly, but shook his head. “I’ll sleep later. Right now I’m
enjoying this too much.” He rolled to his side and I fitted my body to his. “I was just listening to my blood
run. Did you know that’s what you hear, when you put your ear to a seashell and you think it’s the ocean
“Mm. Another good reason for us to go to the beach.”
He chuckled, and then began to sing softly: “Look what love has done to me, look what love has
done, this must be how it’s meant to be, look what love has done; now my heart is dancing through each
day, my soul is running free; look what love has done to me…” I could have wept for bliss, except that
emotion so overpowered me that I could hardly move, only lie in Clay’s arms and listen to the most
beautiful sound I had ever heard. “This must be how it’s meant to be,” he repeated. “There’s got to be a
purpose for all this. Everything else in my life, even the crap, happened for a reason. Sometimes it took
years to see it, but it was there.”
“It is,” I affirmed, sure from some place deep within me that it was so. “Although I’d like to think
it was just so you’d stick around till I caught up to you.”
We both laughed, but Clay grew serious first. “You might not be so far off. If not for you, I might
never have escaped the vampire’s life. It might’ve gotten me in the end.”

“I doubt that. But there is a reason, Clay. I’m sure of it. There’s a reason you suffered through all
that, a reason you survived it, a reason you were healed. Eventually, we’ll find it out.”
His eyes were as bright as stars. “I like we.”
“Me too.” I snuggled up to him till not an inch of space remained between us, determined to keep
it that way, to not be separated from him by anything or anyone ever again.

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