With a sad exhale, she reflected that the evening in this house had not started out as she’d expected. And it wasn’t ending that way, either.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

When he nodded, she wanted to ask again. And again. Until she could peek into his mind and know his truth—and not just the details of the female who had come between them. She wanted to know the rest of his past, too, all of the good and the bad. She was not going to get that, however. And it was likely even he didn’t know the answer to the question of whether he was all right.

One thing she was certain of was that it was a female. She knew that as surely as she could see him sitting before her, on the floor by the foot of that bed, that towel around his waist, his bare feet planted stock straight forward as if he were still considering a bolt down the stairs. Hell, he’d probably considered that bathroom window she’d used while he’d been in there. She was glad he’d decided to stay, however, even though she had been the one doing the telling, and he the listening. When she’d intended it to be the other way around.

Therese cleared her throat. “I think I’d better go—”

“Do you think we could get in bed—”

They both spoke up at the same time, and they both stopped at the same time. And then they did it again.

“Yes, I’d like that—”

“I totally understand if you want to go—”

She put her hand up. “I would like to stay.”

Getting to her feet, she felt a little weird with a rug wrapped around her, the tough matting showing, the soft faux fur against her skin. But she didn’t feel comfortable being naked, either. She didn’t regret the sex they’d had—at all. She just didn’t want him to think she was taking things in a sexual direction. He looked spent. And frankly, so was she.

“I’ll be right back,” she murmured.

In the bathroom, she was tempted by the shower. She didn’t want him to think she was washing him off of her, though—

Stopping that train of thinking, she knew she couldn’t worry about him like that. She wanted to take a shower because she had worked a shift at the restaurant, and she had just shared the most personal thing in her life with him. She needed a minute to gather herself.

And there was no better place to do it than under some hot water.

Back at the door, she ducked out. “I’m going to grab—”

He was gone.

His clothes were still where they’d been left on the floor, though. And downstairs… yes, she heard him moving around. A moment later, a scent drifted up the stairwell.

Toast. He was making himself some toast.

Looked like both of them were resetting in their own ways.

Reclosing the door, she cranked the shower on and yeah, wow, talk about water pressure. As she put her hand into the spray, the stuff coming out of that head was like a sandblaster. Perfect. Just… perfect.

As she put her rug robe aside, she stepped under the spray and exhaled more than just oxygen. The stress funneled out of her, particularly as she tilted her head back and felt the water dive into her hair. There was shampoo in a stone cut out in the wall, as well as conditioner and bodywash.

Jeez, this was like being in a hotel.

She used it all. Everything. She even shampooed twice just because she liked the smell of the Biolage whatever it was. After she was done with the cleaning thing, she backed into the spray and closed her eyes, letting the water hit her head, and flow down her hair, and fall over her shoulders, her back, her legs, and her feet.

Before she ran the hot water heater out—in case he wanted to take a shower, too—she turned things off and stepped onto the bath mat. The towels hanging on the rod across from her were fluffy and white, and as she took one off and put it to her nose, she breathed in and smelled a delicate scent of meadow flowers.

Big difference from the rough, pilled-up stuff she had at the rooming house. That one bath towel she’d bought at HomeGoods was on its last legs already. Then again, for $1.99 on clearance? What could she expect.

Once she was dried off, she took a gamble and opened a couple of drawers under the pair of sinks. Yup. Brand-new toothbrushes in every size and brush configuration Oral-B had ever thought up. As well as seven or eight different brands and kinds of toothpaste. Unbelievable. Whoever managed this house was worth every penny.

Plus they brought groceries. Even when you didn’t ask them to.

As Therese brushed her teeth, she wanted to stay. She really did—and not just as in tonight. She wanted to live in a nice place like this, with clean, sweetly scented towels, and cupboards that were stocked by a thoughtful doggen, and rugs that were vacuumed by someone else. She wanted internet that she didn’t pay for, and shelves she didn’t have to dust herself, and dishes that cleaned themselves.

More than anything, though, she wanted to wake up next to Trez every night. And take coffee across from him down at that little table. And ride into work with him to her job at the restaurant. She wanted text messages from him throughout her shift, just little nothings, a meme, a stupid gif, a quick story about a crazy happening at his club. Then she wanted him to pick her up and drive her back here, the two of them chatting about what work had been like.

When they got home, she wanted to split meal prep with him. She wanted to chop vegetables on a wooden cutting board while he broiled steaks in the oven. She wanted fresh bread that smelled good, and a meal set out family-style on plates on the little table. She wanted more traded stories, from the human news or the vampire social media groups or something he’d overheard at the club from one of the bouncers.

Then cleanup. Then making love up here.

Then again, and again, until the years became decades and the decades centuries.

’Til death—in a long, long, incalculably long time off—did they part.

After which… the Fade. For eternity. Side by side.

“God, what am I thinking,” she muttered to herself.

But yes, fine, if she were honest, she wanted the mortal version of forever on the earth with him and then the mystical one on the Other Side. And if there were young? Great. And if there were not, great.

That they were together was all that mattered.

As these wild fantasies went through her mind, she stared at herself in the mirror over the sinks, a strange awareness rippling through her consciousness and going deeper. Much, much deeper.

It was as if she had thought these things before, and not because she was in a relationship with someone else.

It was him. For some reason… it had always been him.

Trez seemed, tonight at least, to be her ghost lover and her destiny, all wrapped up in one.

“And I know that’s crazy,” she said as she pulled a towel around herself.

Turning the lights off with her mind, she meant to turn away from her reflection. She did not. She could not.

That strange sense of connection with Trez, of bonding with him, of being fated to be with him, refused to go away—and she didn’t want to go back out there until she placed it in a more reasonable context. She had learned long ago that romantic feelings were powerful—but that didn’t mean they were permanent. And considering the sex they’d had? Followed by his emotional breakdown and her SuperSoul Sunday sharing stuff?

To paraphrase Oprah.

It was best to remember that anything her brain coughed up right now was the result of all the endorphins that had been released—

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of something down in the snow-covered backyard.

Frowning, she went over and looked through the double-paned glass she’d leaped free of.

Right next to her messy landing spot, there was a glow out there, and not as in a security-camera kind of thing. It was more like a residual phosphorescence, a lingering, rainbow-colored shadow, as if something—

“What. The. Fu… dgeknuckles.”

In her mind, she went all the way to “fuck.” In this nice bathroom, however, with the fluffy scented towel around her and the shampoo and conditioner someone else had paid for perfuming her damp hair, she wanted to keep the cursing to a minimum even if she was alone.

And even if it was warranted.

And even though she wasn’t sure that “fudgeknuckles” was a word or what it would mean if it was.

But some kind of f-something or another was warranted… because right under the odd, dissipating glow was a mark in the snowpack. A large mark with two triangles on either side.

Like someone had lain down next to where she had flopped and made an angel by moving their arms and legs up and back.

To send her a message.

Abruptly, the hairs at her nape tingled and goose bumps rose on her arms. Shaking her head, she twisted the venetian blinds down so that she couldn’t see out—and whoever had done that couldn’t see in.

Although given that glow? She was willing to bet normal rules didn’t apply. Assuming this wasn’t all a figment of her unreliable mind.

Determined to put this, and so much else, behind her, she walked out of the bathroom.

Trez was in the bed on his back, his bare shoulders emerging out of the duvet that had been pulled up almost to his collarbones. His eyes were closed and his breathing was uneven, the hand he’d left out of the covers twitching, his lids fluttering as if he were dreaming.

And not of pleasant things.

Staying where she was, she watched him for a while. If he hadn’t explicitly asked her to stay, she would have left him. She had a feeling he hadn’t slept in a while, and surely a good day’s repose could offer him more than she could when it came to help. But she didn’t want to go, and not just because she didn’t want him to be alone.

Approaching the bed, she lifted the duvet and slid in between the sheets, ditching the damp towel onto the floor. Turning to face him, she was about to close her eyes when he rolled toward her. With a groan, his arms reached out and drew her into his warm, vital body, and as the contact was made, the ragged sigh he released in his sleep both broke her heart… and made her whole at the same time.

He needed her.