Patrick had never wanted to kill something so badly in his life. Anything would do. Needless to say, he didn't handle what he perceived as betrayal well. And jealousy, he handled even worse. Seeing her in his arms, watching him consoling her as she cried on his shoulder, wasn't that a bitch! He'd all but practically driven her into another man's arms. And bastard took full advantage of it... of her...because of him.
He blazed a trail of destruction through the woods. Not giving a damn about the natural fauna and all that dumb shit that had to be preserved for future generations. Screw 'em. The need to destroy was consuming him from the inside out. And something, even if it was a tree or a woodland critter he'd startled out of its hidey hole was better than taking his rage out on the person who truly deserved it. And no, the object of his rage wasn't who he thought it'd be. He had only one person to blame for his major fuck up, himself.
And yeah, things were fucked up. Royally. He was a century old and you'd think he'd learn something...eventually. Hell no, he'd earned himself a permanent seat on the short bus. Call him dense. But, in all these years, he hadn't learned a damned thing. Yes, yes, yes, it was his fault. And yes, a bigger man might swallow his pride and let it go. Let her go. Patrick was not that man. And that little fucker was going to pay. Big time.
The current pop culture psychobabble might call his current predicament an opportunity for personal growth. Whatthefuckever. Dr. Phil didn't know shit. Patrick was pissed. He was hurt. And he had no intention of standing on the sidelines with his thumb stuck up his ass while another man made the moves on his woman. Not happening. Ever.
He skulked through the woods with murder on his mind. His thoughts fixated on the one thing he couldn't have. Janine. There were reasons, dozens and dozens of reasons, all of them good, why he couldn't take the plunge and seal the deal. He ticked those reasons off on his mental checklist at least a hundred times a day. It was too bad he couldn't make them stick in his gray matter when push came to shove. Logic didn't seem to apply to affairs of the heart. His heart and his head were definitely not in sync when it came to her. She made him bat shit insane and pushed all of his good intentions straight off the side of a fucking cliff.
Patrick walked the familiar path to her front door and growled low in his throat at what he saw. Damn, did the woman go straight for his balls or what? He crouched in the bushes downwind and out of sight, watching the spectacle on her front porch. Rage didn't begin to cover what he felt. Murder was too kind of a word for what he intended to do when he finally got his hands on the fucker too engrossed in a lip lock to notice they weren't alone.
Janine once claimed she was an all or nothing kind of person. Fine. She was about to find out that he was exactly the same way. Only his version of all or nothing operated just a little bit differently than hers.
"It really was a nice wedding wasn't it?" Desperate to make small talk and cover her embarrassment at bawling all over him, Janine posed the question, just to have something to fill the silence. The downpour of her tears was over, for the moment. And she was glad for the reprieve. Bryce made for a nice distraction from her troubles. The man had broad shoulders. She ought to know. She'd sniveled and cried, like a fool over a man who didn't love her, all over them.
"It was. I really do wish them a happy life together." Bryce slowed the SUV, making the curve with expert precision. Something too fast to be an animal darted across the road, slicing through the wide beams of the headlights before disappearing into the darkness. He ground his teeth and stomped on the gas, sliding a sideways glance across the seat to Janine. Her eyes were fixed on her lap. Focused on her clenched fingers. She hadn't seen Patrick. Good.
Bryce had no doubt the man was tracking them. As usual, Patrick seemed hell bent on making an ass of himself. When was the man going to get a clue when it came to this woman? He needed to give it up. He'd never make her happy. It was high time for Patrick to gracefully step out of the way and let someone else have the chance to try.
Janine bit her lip, hesitating to ask the question. But, she was curious and her inquisitive nature knew no tact. And it gave her something to think about besides her heartbreak. Patrick and she were done, as he'd made abundantly clear at Anna's wedding reception. That simple fact, reiterated over and over again by his actions, was the reason for her whole crying jag in the first place. "You kind of had a thing for Anna didn't you?"
Bryce winced Janine's question. The woman went straight for the jugular. "I thought I did," he answered truthfully. Not so much now. Anna was a beautiful bride. And Toby would make a good husband. And their love for each other was nothing more than a painful reminder of what he didn't have. It hurt. But, he couldn't bring himself to begrudge their happiness. He hadn't moved fast enough to win her heart. As the saying went 'a day late and a dollar short' by the time he saw her in that light, she was already in love with Toby. And there was no changing that.
Not this time. He was done being the nice guy. Finished with being coy and subtle. This time, he was going all out to win the girl. And there was only one girl on his mind these days. Luckily, she was conveniently single and sitting in the seat beside him. All he had to do was erase any lingering traces of Patrick from her heart. Simple.
He rolled down the window, letting the musty, cool, night breeze blow in. The fresh air did little to dampen the light summery scent filling the cab. Janine's essence did all sorts of things to him. Primarily, drive him crazy with forbidden thoughts. Torturous, fruitless thoughts he wished he didn't have, along with the ache that accompanied them. She was still in love with Patrick. And he'd have to play this right, if he even wanted a chance to win her away from him. Being pushy and letting her know exactly how deeply she affected him was not the way to her over. Janine needed romance. She was a hearts and flowers kind of girl and that was exactly why Patrick was skulking in the woods, brooding and alone, and he was the one sitting beside her instead.
Janine looked up from her hands and studied Bryce. The dash cast a greenish glow on his features, highlighting the sardonic curve to his full lips. She hadn't expected his answer. Bryce obviously wasn't the kind of guy who wasted his time pining away for someone he couldn't have. He shook the dust from his feet and moved on. She should take a few pointers from him. Pouting over Patrick wasn't exactly healthy. And it sure as hell did nothing for her sanity.
Janine knew first hand exactly how soft and seductive Bryce's mouth could be. She blushed, dismissing the wayward thoughts. She was exhausted and still must be a little delirious from the heat because the question was out of her mouth before she had a chance to really think about it. "And now?" Immediately, she regretted speaking her mind. Her question sounded too needy, too coy, and too encouraging. She wasn't quite ready to leap head first into the fire, especially when she was still sizzling in the pan. But, given Bryce's good looks, the thought was tempting.
"I've moved on," Bryce answered. Taking his gaze off the road for a moment, he glanced at Janine. She was staring at him. Her blue eyes were big and round and her kissable mouth formed a little 'O' as realization of what he'd said sank in.
Janine quickly glanced away and stared out of the windshield. Subtle much? The intent of Bryce's statement didn't leave a whole of room for interpretation. She knew he was interested in her. The forbidden kiss they'd shared the night of Anna's bachelorette party pretty much summed that up. But, hearing him actually confess it, left her nervously toying with the hem of her skirt. She shrugged off his honesty with an over exaggerated wave of her hand to cover her nervousness. "You realized what you felt just friendship, blah, blah, blah?" Janine babbled dismissively.
"Something like that," Bryce answered tersely. Janine knew exactly what he was talking about. She had no idea how easily he could read her emotions. Her body gave so much away in the flush that spread up her neck to her cheeks. The subtle increase in her heart rate and the way her fingers nervously worked the hem of her skirt, clued him in. She might not be ready to one hundred percent forget about Patrick. Yet. But, he could change that. At least, leave her with no doubt about his intentions. He pressed on the brakes, bringing the vehicle to a halt at a stoplight. "Maybe, I've found someone else I'm interested in," he said, pinning her with his gaze.
Bryce's directness startled her. She stared out the windshield, avoiding his gaze. For once, she found herself utterly speechless and at a loss for words. Deliberately, she smoothed her palms over her skirt and made an attempt to still her fingers to hide her shock. "The light is green," she said with a small voice. She didn't want to encourage him. Her life was very messy at the moment and cluttered by her feelings for Patrick. And until she sorted it out, she didn't want to lead anyone on.
Bryce navigated the SUV through the deserted streets and pulled up in front of the white two-story bungalow that served as Janine's temporary home. He refused to believe that she'd never move back into the compound. She was such a people person and living here alone had to be hard on her. He slid into park, letting the engine idle. "You want me to check out the house?"
Janine shrank in the seat. She hated feeling so dependent and like such a baby. She had to get used to coming home alone and being totally on her own. She couldn't call a brother every time she got home after dark. "I'm good." She bit her lip and stared at the blackened windows. In her haste this morning she'd forgotten to leave a light on. And there was nothing she hated worse than coming home alone to a dark, empty house.
"I don't mind. I'd rather have you assured that you're safe and sound than spending the night pacing and jumping at every little thing that goes bump in the night." Pushiness was one of Janine's main complaints about Patrick. And yes, Bryce knew he was pushing his luck by turning off the ignition and pocketing the keys. But, he wasn't one to let any opportunity to be close to her pass him by.
"Usually, you guys are the things that go bump in the night," Janine snorted. Bryce was at the passenger side and opening her door before she could blink. Resigned that pushiness was just one of the less than admirable qualities common to all vampires, she took his hand and let him help her out of the SUV.
"Good one Janine." Bryce splayed his fingers across the small of Janine's back, steadying her as she teetered precariously on the narrow heels of her sandals. The warmth of her skin radiated through the soft cotton of her turquoise colored sundress and played hell with his senses. He had all sorts of tactics he could employ to garner an invitation into her home. Not that it was necessary. That particular bit of folklore was pure bullshit. Gently, he worked the keys from her hand and guided her up the concrete porch steps. "I wouldn't be very chivalrous if I didn't at least walk you to the door."
Janine rolled her eyes and issued no further protest as he pulled her to a stop at the front door. Sometimes, guys were just guys. And Bryce was no exception. Chivalrousness aside, she couldn't help but appreciate his attempt to impress her. So what? Call her a girlie girl. She had a soft spot for male flattery. He did not take his hand from the small of her back as he worked the key in the lock and eased the door open. And now the awkward moment, which would it be? The good night kiss he so obviously wanted? Maybe, a friendly hug, which would require touching and holding her in his arms for a moment. Or a quick, utterly platonic handshake that seemed so out of place given the way they'd kissed the night before?
Bryce opened the door and smiled down at Janine, running a finger along her jaw. The handle of the screen door dug into his hip and the hinges groaned piteously from the strain of being forced open wide enough to accommodate the two of them in the narrow space. The way she nervously tugged at her bottom lip with her top teeth was enough to make him come undone. He knew what he was going to do before he tilted her chin up and bent his head to do it. Slowly, he lowered his mouth to her lips, working a response out of her. The kiss was questioning and curious, anything but a gesture of mere friendship.
Janine responded to the feel of Bryce's lips on hers. Standing on her tiptoes she returned the kiss. Doing her damnedest to keep it light and friendly and still manage to leave a bit of mystery hanging in the air between them. Wobbly and worn out from the very long day and the emotional roller coaster she'd been riding, she draped an arm around his neck and another around his waist, trying to keep herself upright before she toppled over out of sheer exhaustion.
Bryce took her gesture as a sign of interest and deepened the kiss. Teasing her lips apart with the tip of his tongue and sliding in when they parted for him. Slowly he circled her tongue swabbing along its pink surface with his. He caught the tiny puff of breath as she exhaled. Interpreting the sign as encouragement and delight, he sped up the kiss, locking his arms around her waist and gently lifting her off her feet. Pressing their bodies tightly against one another.
Janine hesitated for a brief moment before giving fully into the kiss. She should stop Bryce before he really, really got the wrong idea. But, it felt so good to be held so tightly and with such care. He reveled in her kiss as if it were something tangible and precious, a rare gift to be savored. She wasn't ready for this or for him. Her heart was fractured into bits and Bryce sure as hell wasn't helping matters any with the effect his kiss had on her. His kiss only left her with more questions. Slowly and reluctantly, she tipped her chin, breaking the contact.
Bryce lowered Janine's feet gently to the porch and loosened his hold on her curves. He ran his hands along the graceful arch in her back and bent to kiss her forehead. The skin beneath his lips was slightly salty with the taste of summertime sweat. His lips curled into a smile at the gentle musk of her scent as evidence that she was not as immune to him as she pretended to be. "Get some sleep," he whispered. "I'll see you later."
"Ok," Janine swooned, ashamed because she did so. Leaning heavily against the doorjamb for support, she watched as he backed the SUV out of the drive. Determined not to make a bigger fool of herself tonight than she already had, she closed the door and locked up for the night.
Bryce braked at the end of the block and glanced in his rearview mirror. A grin spread across his face as he saw the dark shadow stalk across the road. It seemed they had an audience tonight. Janine must have really had him distracted since he hadn't noticed Patrick's presence sooner. Not that he minded. Let the selfish prick come for him. He could tell by Patrick's stance, his stiff posture as he paced back and forth on the sidewalk in front of Janine's house that the man had witnessed their parting kiss. Tough shit. Patrick should have thought about that sooner.
Janine decided to skip a shower and barely made it out of her dress and into her nightgown before collapsing on the bed. As tired as she was, she couldn't sleep. She tossed and turned, trying hard not to compare Bryce and Patrick to one another. It wasn't fair and it certainly wouldn't solve her problems. She had to sort through and straighten out her own mess.
At one time, she'd thought Patrick was the love of her life. Who was she kidding? He still was. But, he'd failed to give her the thing she wanted most. She turned onto her back and stared up at the slowly turning blades of the ceiling fan over her head. She stood on the sidelines, watching her closest friends find true love and ride off into the sunset. While she remained planted, waiting for the magic moment when she would get her turn. And Anna's wedding was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Janine turned onto her side, fluffing the pillow under her head and sighing in irritation at her stubborn bout of insomnia. Her turn had never come and she'd grown weary with hinting and waiting. The biggest hint she'd ever dropped a guy in her life went unreciprocated. She had stuck post it notes all over the place, reminding Patrick that Valentine's Day was just days away, hoping he'd get a clue from her persistent prompting and finally confess his love for her. He didn't. His gift, although sparkly and gold, sure as hell wasn't the engagement ring she'd hoped for.
The words she longed to hear from his lips eluded her. Finally, she surrendered, giving up hope that he'd ever give her what she wanted most. She moved out of the rooms they shared almost every night, into her old room, and then out of the compound all together. Patrick still didn't get it. They were at an impasse. He wouldn't give in and tell her what she needed to hear and she wouldn't go back until he did.
Janine guessed that only reason he hadn't said what she needed to hear is that he really didn't feel the same way for her that she did for him. Despite his faults, Patrick was an honest and honorable man. He would never lie or sugar coat the truth. The truth, as bitter as it was, stung both her heart and her pride. She flipped over onto her belly and buried her face in the pillow. Gritting her teeth in desperation for sleep to come and cart her off to the world of dreams, to a universe where everything and nothing made sense at the same time. Patrick and the Sandman must be related, she mussed for neither one of them would come to her.
Patrick knew Janine was still awake. He could hear the groan of the springs as she tossed and turned in the bed. His fingers were wrapped around the house key he'd copied off Robbie's key ring. He grasped the metal so hard in his palm he thought he'd have a permanent key shaped indentation. Determined not to let her have the last word, and in saying nothing and kissing another man, she had gotten the last word. He stormed off the porch and paced the uneven sidewalk in front of her house.
What part of this didn't she get? Was she trying to be a bitch or did she really not have a clue how he felt about her? Maybe, and this grated him most of all, she didn't really give a damn how he felt. The reasons flitted through his mind. He could not go there with her. Confess what he should not feel. It would condemn the both of them if he did.
Always, always when he thought about this, about how he felt. His guilt slammed home with a vengeance. He'd killed. Nikki had a life, until he took it from her. And no matter how many times Janine had tried to save him from his self-damnation. The thoughts were always with him, hidden beneath the surface. He would never take another life. Not if she begged him and offered it freely as his to do with what he pleased. In loving her, in his confession, he risked the one thing he cherished the most. And for that reason and no other, he pocketed the key and walked away.
Maybe, it wouldn't have hurt as badly as it did if Janine had fallen for a nice, stable, human man with a limited lifespan. A man capable of giving her everything he could not. Babies. Growing old by her side. A life, not the substitute he had to offer, but a real chance at a real life. He could accept that. Step aside gracefully and let her go. However, that was not the case. Bryce had nothing more to offer her than he did. Yet, she'd ended up in his arms and kissing his lips. Why? What did Bryce have that he didn't. What was the one thing that kept her dangling so close to the edge?