Eternity's Edge: Embrace

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Chapter 9

The first gray light of morning filtered in through the filmy curtains of my bedroom and gave the room an oddly surreal look. I stood at the window overlooking the city already humming with activity. A sheet was draped loosely around my body, a sheet which still bore the faint scent of Andrew’s cologne. The room was quiet—in fact the whole apartment complex seemed curiously devoid of all sound or activity, which was almost never the case. I couldn’t help but feel as if this moment had been somehow suspended in time and I realized that it would remain like this in some form, frozen forever in my memory.

I closed my eyes and breathed in Andrew’s scent as I tried to commit every detail of the past day to memory, from the sweet salt of his skin to the warmth of his hands as they tentatively yet skillfully coaxed every last gasp and sigh from me.

I shivered involuntarily, recalling the intensity of such sensations. I had not known another man since my husband’s untimely death over three centuries before, but I felt no guilt or regret. Last night represented a newer and happier chapter in my life, which had already seen so much sadness and loss.

“God, you’re beautiful.” Andrew’s arms encircled my waist, drawing my back against him and I yielded completely.

“Morning.” I clasped his hands which lay just above my navel as he planted a light kiss on the top of my head. “Did you sleep well?”

His breath was warm against my ear. “Like a baby. I haven’t been that exhausted since….” He paused, and I could almost envision his face flaming with embarrassment. Last night had been a wonder to him as well as myself, each of us silently amazed at the intensity of emotions and feelings that we had evoked in one another.

I brought one of his hands up to my face and nuzzled his fingers, gently kissing his knuckles. I allowed my teeth to lightly graze the skin and when he gasped involuntarily my body warmed at his reaction. Last night while in the throes of passion, I had momentarily lost control and effortlessly flipped him onto his back, pinning him beneath me. For a fraction of a second his face had registered shocked surprise at my apparent strength and I had had to remember to pace myself, to be careful not to hurt him. That look of surprise had soon been replaced by a more base and primal one as I had begun to move above him, and in my desperation to be as close to him as possible I had taken both his hands and placed them on my skin, urging him to touch all of me while I brought us both to ecstasy.

While the old and familiar hunger remained at bay for now, last night had ensured that a new one had taken its place, awakened from its long sleep.

I turned to face him and found that his dark eyes were heavily clouded with an equal mix of love and renewed desire. They flicked downward when the sheet wound around my torso slipped dangerously to the side and without warning, he scooped me up in his strong arms and carried me back over to the bed. I laid back passively as the sheet fell away from me and nothing remained between us other than our shared breathing and the pounding of our hearts.

“I love you.” His weight settled on me once again, his kisses paralyzing and inflaming me all at once.

“I love you too,” I murmured against his ear before I was utterly and completely lost.

****************

We were late getting to work, but as Andrew put it, he was the boss’ son so no one would trouble us about it.

The ride over to the store was filled with a subdued yet palpable shyness despite the previous night’s—and this morning’s—events, and neither of us spoke. As we pulled up into the parking lot I was slightly wary as to what the other employees would think about our seemingly-sudden relationship, but I decided that I would receive my answer soon enough.

Andrew was the consummate gentleman as he opened the door for me and then gently yet firmly gripped my hand in his own as we entered the building. I could hear the others chatting towards the back—undoubtedly the break room—along with the faint, poppy strains of a modern song that I couldn’t identify. When we entered the break room hand in hand, the chatter reached a crescendo as everyone turned and greeted Andrew, then almost as if a knife had sliced through the noise, all conversation ceased. For a tense few seconds no one spoke or moved, and it wasn’t until Derrick awkwardly cleared his throat that everyone seemed to come to.

“Hey mate, I stopped by your flat last night but you weren’t there.”

“I was out.”

Impossible to read Derrick’s expression as he tried to remain tactful yet satisfy his own curiosity. “I texted you but you didn’t respond—everything all right?”

Andrew gently squeezed my hand. “I was a little tied up, but yeah, everything’s fine. Great actually.” He offered me a shy, lingering gaze which did not escape anyone’s notice.

“Oh.” Derrick actually colored a little at the realization and nervously ran his hand up through his hair. “No worries, mate. We’ll hang some other night.”

Meanwhile Karla—who had been standing stock still near the sink with a bottled water in her hands—turned abruptly and exited out through the side door to the storage room adjacent to the break room. Everyone suddenly took a great interest in their microwaved lunches or their shoes, and sighing, Andrew let my hand go. “I should go talk to her.”

I nodded and accepted the kiss that he planted on my cheek and watched as he went after her, unsure how to feel. Guilty? It wasn’t like they had ever been a couple, but it was obvious that she was attracted to him and the events at the karaoke bar had undoubtedly given her false hope. In that case it was completely outside my locus of control—Andrew would have to contend with that.

I casually walked over to the fridge and after rummaging about for a moment took out a yogurt. I was not feeling particularly hungry, but it gave me something to do and added a touch of normalcy to an already uncomfortable situation. I slid into the empty seat beside Derrick, who was trying his best to pick up the conversation from where it had been abruptly cut off in mid-sentence. He smiled and gestured to Amanda—who was staring at me just a little too intently as I nonchalantly stirred my yogurt—to take a closer look at his obviously-fake Rolex, as he attempted to school her in the art of spotting a knock-off. From the corner of my eye I could tell that she couldn’t give a flip about what he was saying, and that the apparent love triangle between Andrew, Karla and myself was way more interesting to her.

Truth be told, I was getting a bit antsy—it had been nearly ten minutes with no sign of either Andrew or Karla. The back room might as well have been soundproofed due to the lack of sound coming from there. Not that I expected any screaming or smashing of expensive stock, but the silence was unnerving.

The sudden slamming of a car door out in the parking lot seemed to snap everyone back to attention and no one dared to move or even breathe as Andrew emerged—alone—from the back room. Without a word or meeting anyone’s eyes, he sat down across from me and scrubbed at the side of his face, a sure sign of nervousness. I waited expectantly, slowly spooning yogurt until someone squeaked their chair. He looked up and met my gaze, his eyes sad and tired looking.

“Is she okay?”

He sighed. “Eventually, I hope. I gave her the rest of the day off.”

Tires squealed and screeched angrily as she lay at least a quarter inch of tread in the parking lot before the sound quickly died away in the opposite direction.

He winced and I squeezed his hand reassuringly. “How about you? Are you okay?” I was keenly aware that despite our attempts to keep this little conversation private, we might as well have announced it over the loudspeakers.

He smiled and returned the pressure. “More than okay.”

I felt my face warm. Someone coughed awkwardly and shifted uncomfortably in their seat. Andrew sighed again and stood up. “I guess it’s no secret that Katrina and I are, well...together, but the simple fact is we’re all adults here.” His gaze swept the room to emphasize his point. “So we’d both really appreciate it if you could all just, I don’t know, deal. Things are going to be a little awkward at first but eventually it will pass.”

Derrick was the first to respond. “Sure thing, mate.” He nudged Amanda, who was still openly gawking at Andrew and me.

She started. “Yeah. You bet.” She pushed the remains of her tuna salad off to the side. “I uh, actually have some work to finish up in the back.” She got up and dumped her foam plate in the trash and made an awkward move towards the store room. From just inside the double doors I could hear the sound of her texting rapidly, no doubt trying to contact Karla, whom she was close friends with.

Derrick finished up the last of his microwaved pasta and then declared that he too had work to finish, which left Andrew and I alone.

When everyone had cleared the room, his shoulders visibly slumped and he let his breath puff out. “Geez, that was awkward. Poor Karla was pretty upset.”

“I know, but I’m sure over time that she’ll be fine.”

“Yeah.” He fidgeted with the salt shaker on the table and I could tell that he was holding something back.

“Something’s still bothering you. Spill.”

His fingers stilled. “I’m still kind of amazed at how things turned out between us—we haven’t known each other that long and given my past history….” He scoffed. “Never mind.”

“What?”

His posture was tense and he kept his gaze fixed on the tabletop. “Let’s just say that my past has some regrets haunting it too.”

My own nerves tensed and a feeling of trepidation crept along my spine. “Would one of those regrets happen to include what happened last night?” I licked my lips. “And this morning too?”

“What? No. No, Kat that’s not what I meant.” He sighed and looped his arm around me, drawing me closer to him.

I yielded, although the feeling of trepidation lingered. I was still wary of just what we did have in terms of a relationship, and while I desperately wanted this to work I was still afraid that it would end in disaster before it even had a chance to blossom.

“I only meant that seeing Karla like that reminded me of something that I hadn’t thought of in a long time, something that I thought I had dealt with and which was long buried.”

“Oh.” I didn’t know what else to say and seeing as how he didn’t elaborate, I decided not to press the issue. “I’m sorry.”

His fingers stroked my arm. “Yeah, well that’s all in the past. I’d much rather focus on the present right now.”

I smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”

“Hey, speaking of which,” he moved my half-eaten yogurt closer to me. “We still have that estate over at Stonehaven to finish processing, so eat up. Estate sales are hard work.”

“Good thing I have stamina.”

His pulse sped up as he undoubtedly recalled last night’s—and this morning’s—events. “Yeah, I kind of noticed that.”

My own body responded to the sudden shift in his physiology, as his scent intensified with the increase in his respiration. An overwhelming urge to pin him to the table in order to satisfy at least one of my hungers flared up in my mind and I hurriedly reached for the yogurt.

There were some lines that were not meant to be crossed, even though everything about this current situation was far from the norm.

I shook my head.

God, what have I gotten myself into? I thought as I turned off the break room’s lights and headed towards the front of the shop with Andrew in tow. But more importantly, just what had Andrew gotten himself into?

****************

“I could use a hot shower and some food chock full of carbs and calories—in that order.”

Andrew started the truck and backed out of the house’s narrow driveway carefully. We had put in a decent-day’s work—nearly nine straight hours—and we were both ready to call it quits.

“Well, we’re not all that far from where I live, and I know plenty of take-out places that deliver late.”

The silence filled the space between us with all its unspoken nuances and tantalizing implications, namely that the present situation was allowing me the opportunity to spend the night over at his place. My body reacted instinctively and I became keenly aware of just how small the cab of the truck was. It was tempting, oh so tempting to continue to let myself pretend to be human, but part of me felt repelled at the deceit.

Andrew sat next to me with his fingers drumming nervously along the sides of the steering wheel as the silence continued to stretch out. Our new-found intimacy had alleviated some of the nervous tension between us, but I still picked up on a deep-rooted sense of insecurity from him. He had already hinted this afternoon that his own past accounted for this, and I found myself wondering—not for the first time—just what had happened to him during his life to cause this.

I slowly released my breath. I risked ruining our relationship over my own insecurities—however justified—but more than that, I risked hurting Andrew’s already-compromised sense of confidence. We had both already passed the point of no return and whatever consequences our union would reap in the future, the present situation demanded that such an opportunity not be wasted.

“I’d like that.”

He swallowed thickly and I couldn’t help but fix my gaze on the strong curve of his neck, which as it turned out was one of his more sensitive areas. “Great.”

The thing within me recalled what he had tasted like in those moments of passion that we had shared the night before and I silently warred with these emotions, repulsed and ashamed at such a base response. My body hungered for his touch sure, but there was more to what we had than simply physical attraction. What I craved more than anything else was the companionship and self-reassurance that a normal evening could offer, and I quickly pushed the hunger deep down inside of me where for the moment it lay dormant.

His place was indeed close by and the drive lasted no more than ten minutes. I remembered the layout of the neighborhood after the karaoke bar debacle and we quickly fell into step as we made our way up to his house. Once inside he set about rummaging through a stack of take-out menus that were piled haphazardly on the counter. He held up a few for me to see.

“The rest of these guys don’t deliver after nine p.m., so we have a choice of Chinese, Indian, or pizza.”

“Mmm, I haven’t had Indian in a while. Samosas and chai sound really good right now.”

He tossed the remaining menus off to the side. “Indian it is then. Chicken Vindaloo and saag paneer are my personal faves. I’ll call them up, but I’ll first need to put your clothes in the wash while you go get a shower.”

“You know if you keep spoiling me like this I might never leave.” It wasn’t until after I’d spoken that I realized how loaded a response that was.

He ducked his head and began dialing the number to the restaurant. “Maybe that was my plan all along.” He turned and flashed me a shy smile. “Go. Food will be here in about half an hour.”

“Okay.” As I turned to leave I carelessly tossed my shirt over my head and made my way slowly towards the bathroom. I left a trail of my clothes—all of them—along the way and by the time I reached the shower I heard Andrew’s rueful chuckle from the hallway.

I smiled as the hot water hit me and reached for the bottle of shampoo on the hanging shower rack. This was going to be an interesting evening.

When I emerged from the shower there were clean towels and one of Andrew’s marathon t-shirts waiting for me on the small end table right outside the door. The shirt was soft and smelled faintly of Andrew’s own personal scent and I shivered as I let it drape over my body. It was just long enough to reach to my knees, and after toweling off my hair I made my way back to the kitchen.

Andrew looked up at my arrival and his eyes widened slightly as he took in my appearance. He sighed heavily and set a plate down on the counter along with a couple of canned sodas. “I’ll never be able to wear that shirt again without picturing you in it.”

I smiled and leaned across the counter. “Maybe that was my plan all along,” I said mimicking his earlier comment. He grinned and indicated the entertainment center behind him.

“Feel free to pick a movie from my collection—Wednesday night t.v. is pretty much crap.” He opened a steaming carton and began spooning the contents onto plates. The warm, fragrant scent of Indian food filled the kitchen as I knelt in front of the shelves full of movies. Andrew had a significant collection of superhero films, and I found—to my delight—both classic and contemporary movie monsters. I must have made some small sound of approval because he came over to investigate.

“You have quite a collection.” I indicated the bottom shelf where I had set aside several possibilities.

His face colored when he saw that I had pulled these movies from the same shelf as his superhero films. “Uh, yeah, those are—”

“Really good movies. I saw them when they came out.” I quirked an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me that you’re embarrassed to like these kind of films.” His face colored even more which I found incredibly endearing. When he didn’t immediately answer I stood up smoothly so that we were face to face. “It’s not embarrassing to admit that you like something.” I edged closer so that there was nothing but our shared breath between us.

He swallowed thickly and once again I found myself mesmerized by the curve of his neck. “That’s good to know.” He indicated the movie that I held in my hand. “Is that the one you picked out?”

“It is.” I arched up on tiptoes so that our lips met briefly in a flirtatious peck. “I’ll start the film, you bring the food.”

Andrew seemed surprised at my choice of movie, Kenneth Branagh’s “Frankenstein.” “I don’t know how you do it, but you continue to amaze me—this is one of my favorite films.”

He handed me a plate piled high. “Mine too.”

We both sat down on the couch and dug in, famished from the long hours that we had put in today.

“So why is it one of your favorite films?”

Andrew took a lingering sip from his soda and leaned back on the couch as he considered his answer. “This may sound funny, but I always used to feel sorry for the monsters in these films. I mean it’s not like they asked to be what they were, they just did what came natural to them. Take Frankenstein’s monster for example: all he ever wanted was to find his place in a world that he didn’t belong in. It wasn’t his fault that he was an unnatural aberration, it was his creator’s.”

Memories of my own creator Amaris rose up unbidden. I had struggled for nearly four centuries to find my place in a world that had no place for me and had struggled constantly to reconcile my never-ending hunger with the desire to be accepted and loved as I had when I was human, knowing all the while that such a possibility was forever lost to me.

“Kat?”

“Hmm? Oh, sorry.” I set my empty plate down on the coffee table beside his and sat back with my arms crossed as an unsettling sense of doubt and self-loathing overcame me.

“You okay? Hey, you look cold. Come here.”

He drew me close to him and I yielded without argument and snuggled closer. “This is nice.”

“Yeah. Yeah it is.”

The movie continued to unfold and I allowed my head to rest against the crook of his arm, comforted by his warmth and acceptance. The fingers of his left hand played idly with the strands of my hair and I sighed contentedly.

“So why is this one of your favorite movies?”

My body tensed and I felt his fingers pause. The sense of doubt and self-loathing peaked and I lay very still against his chest as I chose my next words carefully. “When we first met I hinted that my past was a bit…murky. There are some things in it that I’m not proud of, so the main reason I can identify with the monster in this film is because I am one.”

“What?” He shifted and I squeezed my eyes shut, hating my cowardice. “What do you mean, you’re like one of the most amazing people I know.”

“That’s because you don’t know everything about me; I’ve hurt so many and been hurt so many times in return—most people would call that monstrous.”

“When you say that you’ve hurt people, are you saying that you cheated on them? Like had an affair?” His voice had gone soft with wariness and offered the first clue to his apparent insecurity.

I raised my head and met his gaze, amazed and troubled at the look of utter desperateness in his expression. He looked like a man who has just discovered that someone he loved and trusted was not all that they seemed, and the knowledge—far from being reassuring—was actually killing him a piece at a time. How ironic that he was right to look at me in such a way, though not for the purely human conclusion that he had reached.

I sat up so that we were face to face. His eyes searched mine for some clue as to what I had meant and I leaned forward and kissed him, warm and soft. He returned the kiss but it was guarded and tentative.

We parted and I maintained eye contact. “I’ve never cheated on those that I have loved and have remained faithful to them always,” I said solemnly. He visibly relaxed and I continued. “Someday I’ll tell you about my past such as it is, but for now I want this,” I kissed him again. “To be just about us.”

He returned the kiss in full and when we parted he allowed me to rest my head on his chest once again. “You’re a complicated woman, but I’ll respect your privacy. Besides, the past is past and nothing can change it.”

“Thank you. For not only understanding, but for trusting me.”

“You’re welcome.”

We remained in relative silence after that, each of us engrossed in the film, which never failed to make my heart ache as the creature committed atrocious acts all in a misguided effort to be recognized and accepted by their creator and of the world. I continued to lay against Andrew, all the while silently amazed at just how drastically my life had changed in the last few days. For the first time in centuries I felt something that I had not felt in a very long time: hope. For the time being I was being allowed to pursue a relationship with someone who loved and trusted me, and while I could never divulge the full truth of what I was, I was nonetheless grateful for the opportunity.

The movie reached the ending where the monster, having caught up with his dying and exhausted creator, lay weeping over his body on an ice flow in the Arctic. I had not wept when Amaris had died by my hand and had vowed that each breath I took afterwards would be my own form of revenge for the life that he had stolen away from me. The end credits began to roll and Andrew shifted beneath me.

“So, this has been…interesting.”

“Mmm hmm.” I stretched languidly, not wanting to move from my current position.

“Hey.” He cupped my chin and I blinked up at him slowly. My body did not require sleep due to my immortal nature but there were times when I craved it or simply engaged in the act for the sake of feeling human. “You checking out on me here? Because I won’t argue if you want to stay over.”

I offered him a drowsy smile. “Sounds lovely.”

His dark eyes regarded me seriously. “Kat, I just want you to know that, well, my past experiences have, uh….” he fumbled to find the right words. “What I’m trying to say is, is that this is a big step for me. I’ve never been one for the one night stand kind of thing and I’d like to pursue this further. That is, if you feel the same way.”

My heart rate sped up and I felt like it was going to explode with joy at this newfound opportunity. I placed my own hand over his heart and found that it beat as equally fast. “I’d like that.”

He smiled down at me. “Great, but I call dibs on the right side of the bed.”

I laughed. “Deal.”

“But there’s something we need to do first.”

“Like what?”

“You’ll see,” he answered cryptically. He left the couch and retreated into the kitchen, and after rummaging about for a few minutes he returned with, of all things, a box of fortune cookies.

He reached into the box and handed me one and I took it, dumbfounded. “Andrew, what is—?”

He held up a hand for silence. “This is kind of a family tradition that we used to do whenever we were tasked with making an important decision or faced a life-changing situation. My dad swears by it—in fact that’s how he got up the nerve to ask my mom out—and the rest is history.”

“Hard to argue with that logic.” I held mine up. “So how does this work? Do we both open them up at the same time, or take turns?”

“Open yours first but don’t read it until I’ve opened mine.”

“Here goes nothing.” I snapped the brittle cookie in two before extracting the folded paper and palmed it in my right hand.

Andrew mimicked my actions. “Ready?”

I nodded and then unfolded the tiny paper and read the message printed on its surface: Stop searching forever. Happiness is right beside you.

A shiver traced its way down my spine and I looked over at Andrew. He read the words on his paper and then made a face. “Something wrong?”

“It says: Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.

I frowned. “What does that mean?”

He set the paper down. “I have no idea.”

I burst out laughing and handed him mine. “Well, at least one of ours makes sense. Take a look.”

His eyes scanned the scrap of paper and then came to rest on my face. Without a word he suddenly scooped me up and I laced my fingers around his neck, loving the sensation of being equal parts pampered and cherished. He effortlessly carried me down the hallway towards his bedroom as if I weighed nothing and set me down on his bed. “Wait here while I grab a quick shower.”

I settled back on the bed and propped myself up on the pillows. “I’ll be waiting.”

He entered the bathroom and began to shut the door then hesitated. He cast me a shy look and then smiled enigmatically before he began to slowly remove his clothes. I lay absolutely still with my gaze transfixed on him, my eyes drinking in the sight of his lean, youthful build hungrily. Without a word he entered the shower and I laid back, wondering how in the hell a creature of my vast age and experience could be made to feel like an awkward, fumbling teenager in the throes of their first crush.

I sighed heavily and clamped a hand to my forehead. “I am definitely getting old.”

“Did you say something?”

I looked over to find Andrew coming out of the bathroom after an impressively-short shower wearing only boxer shorts. He rubbed a towel through his hair and the action caused the muscles of his chest and abs to flex and ripple.

I bit back a groan. “I said I’m getting cold.”

“Oh.” He casually tossed the towel on the top of his dresser and strode over to the bed. “I guess I better get in there then and help warm you up.”

I swallowed thickly. “Yes, you’d better.”

I scooted over and patted the space beside me and he laid down while I drew the covers over us and then snuggled closer to him.

“Better?” He drew me close and once more let his fingers play idly with the strands of my hair.

“Better.” I breathed in his clean, warm scent and sighed contentedly.

“Kat?”

“Hmm?” I murmured against him. I could feel myself drifting slowly towards unconsciousness despite our close proximity. I felt perfectly safe and for the first time in centuries, completely at ease.

“I’m glad that you came into the shop that day—this is the happiest I’ve been in a long time.”

“Me too.” I laid my head on his chest and felt the steady, driving rhythm of his heart. He was so strong yet so frail as all humans were, so innocent in his love and trust in me that I once more felt fiercely protective of him. I would protect him with my life, I found myself thinking as the silence enveloped us and grew heavy with all manner of unspoken possibilities. With Andrew I would find more than happiness for a time, but possibly—just possibly—the monster inside me would be overshadowed and somehow redeemed by this love.

He held me closer. “Good night.”

“’Night.”

We lay together in silence like that for a while longer until Andrew’s slow, rhythmic breathing informed me that he was asleep and then I allowed my own eyes to slip shut.

I slept, but did not dream.

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