Text Size Large SizeMedium SizeSmall Size    Color Scheme Black SchemeWhite SchemeGrey SchemePaper Scheme        

LOST 2

Summary:
I'M BACK AFTER A LONG DELAY! THIS IS THE SEQUEL TO LOST. THESE ARE MY AWARDS FOR LOST:#1 MOST FAVORITE STORY AND HAS BEEN SINCE OCTOBER 2007! #3 MOST READ #7 MOST REVIEWED Summary: Simmons is introduced to a certain female vampire that we all know. He has been a player, but what happens when he meets her? ~~~~~~LAST CHAPTER AND EPILOGUE~~~~~~~ Chapter 15:MAGNIFICENTChapter 16:(EPILOGUE) HEADLINE


Notes:
Wow! This sequel has been a long time in coming. I want to thank everyone for keeping this story alive. I have loved reading every single one of your reviews! I have had everything from awesome people translating LOST into other languages, to yucky people plagiarizing my story and calling it theirs. No kidding! I started this just a few months after LOST, but I didn't think anyone would want to read it. It was just for me. But, I kept writing and many asked for a sequel, so . . . . . . . . If you hate it, I will understand. 3 REASONS YOU SHOULD NOT READ THIS STORY: 1. SIMMONS IS THE MAIN CHARACTER, EDWARD AND BELLA ARE ALL THE WAY THROUGH IT, BUT IT IS IN SIMMONS POV. 2. IT HAS BEEN LIKE A YEAR AND A HALF SINCE MANY OF YOU HAVE READ LOST. FOR SOME IT WAS JUST YESTERDAY, BUT FOR THE ORIGINAL READERS, YOU MAY NOT EVEN CARE ANYMORE! 3. I CAN'T THINK OF ANOTHER REASON. SO I GUESS THERE ARE JUST TWO. Lost is long, and I would never make you read it again. To help the original readers, I have given you a quick summary: Bella and Michael Simmons worked for a NYC firm called Berkshire-Hathaway. Bella was heartless and vowed to take down C-Corp Edward was C-Corp (yikes!) Bella had started to date a hot guy named Thomas Vaughn Bella ended up breaking Vaughn's heart Bella gave Edward back his company - after she put Edward through a lot Bella left to be with Edward after she quit the Firm Bella and Edward got married (yay!) E & B set Vaughn up with his first love from High School - Kristin Roberts Alice is very mad that she was not Bella's bridesmaid - it was Simmons Lola is the boutique owner who helped Bella pick out her dresses Rosalie wants Bella's awesomely expensive shoes - - - - - - - Simmons is a player, but he is also sweet and intelligent He is a 6'2 surfer boy from California He is very hotly handsome *Lucky for you this story is about 20,000 words shorter than LOST *THIS STORY IS ALREADY DONE. I WILL UPDATE EVERYDAY!


8. BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT

Rating 5/5   Word Count 6772   Review this Chapter

Chapter 8 - BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT

- - - - - - - - - - - -

This newfound capitalism had been good to Russia. I shifted down in my 1966 black Jaguar XJ13 V12 as I wound my way up the highway that snaked through the Caucasus Mountains. Now that Russia had free trade with foreign automakers, they were also trading in classic cars as well. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted this car. At least I could have one of the things that I wanted.

I hadn't owned a car since College. After getting the job at Berkshire-Hathaway, I got rid of my 1995 Honda Civic. There was no reason for me to own a car when I lived in Manhattan, and when I was working internationally and hitting a new country every few days, there was even less of a reason to own a car. But, since being transferred to Moscow, I had grown tired of a driver taking me everywhere I wanted to go. I wanted freedom. I was making serious money now, and I had nowhere to spend it. Plus, I walked by the dealership the day after Bella had said good-bye, and well, the rest as they say, is history.

It had been a month since Bella left, and I had buried myself in work. It was the only thing that kept me sane. If I allowed myself free time, my mind began to think about things that I simply wanted to put behind me. I wasn't allowing for free time. I wasn't letting my mind wander; if I did, it always turned to her. For now, it was better for me to lock it all away. At some point I knew I would have to deal with it, but I hoped that when that time came, the pain would be lessened enough that I could make it through to the other side of it.

The last four weeks had been tough, but it seemed like I was just starting to relax a little. Like I was able to exhale and still keep it together. Then, a few days ago, I received a text:

"We have not been able to locate Tanya, but we do know that she is safe. Good luck in everything, I wish you happiness. Delete this message after you read it. "B"

I read it over and over several times. As soon as I deleted the message, I immediately called up Mr. Hathaway and told him I would be out of the office for a while.

It was a clear spring day, and I contemplated putting the top down. I decided against it, at least for the time being. The temperature was bound to drop as I reached the summit. The travel agent told me that there would be snow on the mountain peaks for at least another month.

The farther away I got from Moscow, the more I happy I was with my decision to take a week off. I hadn't taken a day off in over a year. I definitely needed it.

The plan was to stay at a seaside hotel in a town called Batumi. It was in the country of Georgia, just South of Russia. It was a full day's drive. At least that was what the travel agent said. I figured at the speed I was driving, it wouldn't take me anywhere near that long.

Luckily, I had satellite radio. Russian radio stations were still a mystery to me. They talked way too fast for me to understand, and the music was not my taste at all. I found a classic rock station broadcasting out of Cleveland, and I sang along as I hugged the corners of the mountain. This was the best day I'd had in a while.

After an hour or so, I began my descent down the other side of the mountain range. Soon, the road began to level out and the landscape changed to rolling hills. I relaxed into my seat as I watched the tall grass along the road fly by. Without anything pressing on my brain, my mind began to wander.

Within a few minutes, I was thinking about Zachary Conner. It had been months and he was still missing. And what about Olivia? A picture of her dead body at the bottom of the stairway flashed through my mind. Friends said that she and her boyfriend had been pretty serious. Was her boyfriend the vampire? Maybe this vampire killed her boyfriend too, but his body just hadn't been discovered yet. Was this something this vampire had done before? Were there more victims around the city that I didn't know about? It would always haunt me what part Tanya played in the whole thing.

I kept thinking about Bella's comment just before she left. She'd been relieved that I wasn't going to help in finding Tanya, because Edward was worried about the man he believed was involved in this. She had called him powerful and dangerous. I kept thinking about the man at the ball. His look had been so malicious. He stood there with his arms folded staring at Tanya as if he owned her. I had never been able to shake the feeling that Tanya was in danger. But . . . . . . .stop. I was doing it again.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I had to stop. I had to make myself stop thinking about her.

I had a new strategy where Tanya was concerned. I would try and imagine her as a vampire. I knew it was childish, but in my mind I gave her fangs and red eyes. I would picture blood dripping off her fangs, and a fresh kill at her feet. I would then say over and over that Tanya was a vampire. It made it easier in my weak moments to fight off my feelings for her. It was harder than I ever imagined it would be, even with all I knew.

My phone rang. Even though I was officially on vacation, Hathaway insisted that he be able to reach me at all times. I picked up my phone in frustration thinking that I hadn't even been gone a day, and already I was getting calls from him. But after I saw the number, I groaned even louder. It was my mom. If I didn't answer, she would just keep calling until I did. That much I knew.

"Hey, Mom," I answered cheerfully.

"Michael dear, it's so good to hear your voice. How are you doing?"

"I'm just great, Mom."

"You sound like you're in a car, are you going somewhere?"

"Yes, I actually just left for a week's vacation."

"A whole week? Why didn't you come home and visit us?"

My face twisted into a grimace. I knew better than to tell her I was on vacation.

"Mr. Hathaway wouldn't let me get that far away from my assignment in Moscow. I am only heading to a place a few hundred miles away. Otherwise, I would love to see you. It's been a long time."

"It's been three years, dear."

"You're right, I'm sorry. As soon as I finish this assignment, I will be home for a visit. How is Steven?" I was trying to get the conversation off me and on to my brother instead.

"Oh, he's wonderful. His practice is going so well, and you wouldn't even recognize his children. They have grown up so much." I was trying to remember his kid's names. Sally and Bobby? No, that couldn't be right.

"Michael, I have been worried about you, I haven't heard from you for over a month. How are things with this Tanya woman you told me about?"

Once, back when I thought for sure I was going to see her again, I had mentioned Tanya's name. Even after all that had happened, I had never told my mom that things were over. It was just easier for me to have my mom think I was seeing someone exclusively. She certainly didn't approve of me going to runway shows for my dates. But, now was the time to end it. End what had never really started.

"We broke up, Mom."

"Oh dear. I'm so sorry to hear that. I hoped that you were about to settle down."

The road curved and went behind a large hill. The phone began to cut out. I slowed down so that I could stay behind the hill as long as possible.

"Uh, I think we're losing reception. I'll call you later, Mom."

I couldn't hear anything on my end and I gratefully hung up the phone. I let out a long breath and tossed the phone into the other seat. I loved my mom, but there just didn't seem to be a safe subject for us to talk about right now.

I had turned up the stereo and was on to a much brighter topic, thinking about how much I missed the Deli markets in New York. I had not found a place in Moscow that could load up a sandwich with toasted rye bread, mounds of pastrami, and a thick slice of swiss cheese the way that Carnegie Deli could. I was imagining the French Dip sandwich on a hoagie bun when a road sign caught my attention. "Sochi, 85 miles."

My heart pounded at just seeing those words. Sochi was the town that Tanya had grown up in. It was a detail that I had not forgotten. It wasn't hard to remember. It was one of the only things she had told me about herself, in our one and only conversation.

The sign for the turn-off to Sochi was a mile ahead of me. I had about thirty seconds to make up my mind. Before I knew what was really happening, my plans had changed. I was heading for Sochi.

"Idiot." I said to myself.

This was just going to be a slight detour, I reasoned. I was just seeing the country. From what Tanya had said, Sochi was a seaside town. That was something I was definitely interested in. No harm done. This was just a slight detour. I would be back on the right road to my destination in a few hours. And even though this was farther away than I planned, with the time I saved with my lovely new fast car, I would still get to my hotel before nightfall.

I was great at rationalizing.

The closer I got to Sochi, the more beautiful the landscape became. Dark green rolling hills were all around me. Spring flowers in a rainbow of colors dotted the grass. With twenty miles to go, I put the top down on the convertible. It was a little cool, but I didn't care. I breathed in deeply and smiled. The air had that salty taste to it that I loved. I turned my face up to the sunlight and drank in the warmth on my face. I sang out with the radio, "Stairway To Heaven" at the top of my lungs. This was definitely one the best days I'd had in a long time.

Like many of the towns that dotted the Black Sea, Sochi was a port city, but it was bigger than I expected. From what I gathered from the billboards, it was a big resort town. "Russia's Biggest Summer Resort Destination" one sign said. I could see a lot of stores that were closing out their skis and winter stuff, so apparently it was a winter destination too. Not a bad place to live, I thought.

As I got closer to the Sea, I expected to see a lot of people in the water. But, I soon realized this was not quite like Newport Beach.

There was no long stretch of sand, just black rocks that went clear out to meet the small waves. There were a few people walking down through the rocks, and a few had their feet in the water, but it looked cold. I parked my car and grabbed a light jacket as I headed down to the water.

No matter what form it came in, I loved the water. I remember as a kid hurrying as fast as I could to get my chores done so I could tear out the back door with my surfboard in my hand and literally not come out of the water until it was too dark to see.

I took off my shoes and socks and stepped into the wet sand at the water's edge. A wave pushed over the top of my feet, and just as I suspected, the water was pretty cold. I started walking down the beach, letting my feet sink into the wet sand. I had no destination in mind, just to walk. There was a light breeze with seagulls flying overhead, and a lot of other birds that were unfamiliar to me. About 100 yards from where I started, I saw a large rock jutting out from the hillside. I put my shoes back on and began picking my way through the pebbles and debris until I perched myself on top of the rock.

It was beautiful here. Different than my experience with the water, but a picturesque view all the same. I thought about Tanya. I knew I would. Her words about this place played in my mind. I had memorized our conversation. I recalled her exact words:

"I grew up near an ocean too. I lived quite close to the beach. It was a little different than Newport Beach, but I loved it so much. I spent my days in the sun and lived to feel the sand on my feet and the salt water on my skin."

In the weeks just following my one and only night with Tanya, I kept having a recurring fantasy. I saw a beautiful little girl, with hair the same color as Tanya's. She was running along Newport Beach and we were chasing her, laughing and splashing. She was my daughter, and Tanya was my wife. I imagined catching the beautiful little girl and swinging her around with Tanya right there beside me, smiling. Of all the dreams I had, that one was the hardest to let go of.

But now, I pictured Tanya as a little girl. I imagined her with that same long hair as she ran and laughed down the beach. She had been so sad and almost wistful as she spoke of this place. At the time, I had wondered what had happened to make her so nostalgic and melancholy for the time she spent here. Now that I understood, a new emotion came to me that I hadn't felt before.

My heart ached for her.

My heart ached for her and the dreams and hopes that she had lost. I hadn't thought about the conversation of her time by the ocean since I had learned the truth about her, and I suddenly realized that becoming a vampire was not something she wanted. I suddenly understood her talking of fates being unkind. I thought about how I held her and how she had melted into me. I thought about how she had closed her eyes and gripped onto me so tightly. I had spent so much time the last weeks feeling sorry for myself and nursing my hurt pride that I never thought about what this had all done to her.

I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply, and then let out the breath slowly. This was not a good place for me to be. This was unhealthy. No matter if my newfound thoughts concerning Tanya were a revelation or just my mind running wild. No matter that being here made me feel that much closer to her. She and I would never be. I would never see her again. I was angry that I had to remind myself, yet one more time, of that cold hard fact.

Suddenly, a figure suddenly blocked the setting sun from my view. I turned and saw a beautiful girl with long chestnut hair smiling at me.

"Hi," she smiled. She spoke in Russian.

"Hello," I answered back in English.

Her eyes showed surprise as she said in a heavy accent, "You are American?"

I smiled and nodded.

This seemed to intrigue her. With her head tilted to the side she asked, "Are you here alone?"

I chuckled a little as I answered. "Yes, I'm here alone."

She had a small smile on her face as she stepped closer and asked, "Are you in Sochi for a long visit?"

"No, just the day," I replied.

Her face showed a playful pout. She raised an eyebrow and said, "Could I change your mind?"

I used to be so good at this. I stared at her as I said, "Why do you ask?"

She smiled shyly and said, "I want to invite you to come to a club here in town with me tonight."

This seemed very ironic that this would happen at this moment. Sitting here thinking about Tanya the way I had been. I'd had plenty of opportunities over the last months to date, and I had walked away from all of them. Then, as I was about to decline the invitation, for some strange reason a long forgotten conversation with Bella came back to me.

She was angry that I had set her up on a date with Thomas Vaughn, and I had accused her of not being alive, of not really living. I had accused her of being more like a walking corpse. I remembered how she had been then, and I knew I was in real danger of becoming just like her. It would be so easy. To just let myself retreat, to live for work and the kill.

There had to be another way.

This was a vacation, right? I didn't have to be anywhere. Why not stay one night in Sochi?

"Actually, that sounds great," I tried to sound enthusiastic.

Her smile was large and genuine, and I scooted over so that she could sit next to me. I tried not to be obvious as I took a good look at her eyes to make sure that they weren't red, or gold, or reddish gold. They were just deep pools of dark brown. I looked away as soon as possible.

She told me about herself. She was a college student in Sochi. Her parents were originally from here, but her family had lived in different places in Europe until she was 12. She had just come home after an internship in Berlin. Her name was Smina.

I told her about myself, and we had a nice conversation. She was an interesting, bright, and beautiful girl. The sun was beginning to go down, when I said I should probably go find a hotel. She dug in her bag for a pen and wrote directions as to where I should go for the hotel, and on the paper she also wrote her number. We walked to the top of the hill, and she seemed pleased at my choice of vehicles. She touched my arm as she said good-bye, and gave me what had to be her best smile as she walked over to her car. She waved one more time before she drove away.

I gave one last look at the ocean, and let my mind catch up.

What just happened?

I was on my way to a quiet seaside bed and breakfast, and instead, I was staying the night in Tanya's hometown, and going to a club with a beautiful girl. I shook my head and thought, it could be worse, and it was true, things could be a lot worse.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I kept stealing looks at the long, slender legs seated in the car next to me. She was even prettier than she had been at the beach earlier. Her dress was very short and made of a slinky silver material. Her shoes were those really high kind that always made women's legs look amazing. What was even better, was that she could actually walk in them. I tried not to be too obvious as I kept sniffing her great - smelling perfume. It really had been a long time.

She was directing me to the turn that would take us to Solyana Fabrique. Judging from the outside of the building, the high end cars parked outside, and the line of people waiting to get in, this was a hot place.

I was feeling a little nervous, anxious even. This used to be my life, I kept telling myself. The fleeting thought ran through my head at how much I wanted it to be Tanya that was on my arm right now, and how different things had been the moment I had seen her. I fought it. That kind of thinking wouldn't be helping anyone tonight.

Apparently, Smina had connections because we walked past the throngs of people and were let in immediately. She smiled and looked at me through the corner of her eye as we walked through the large doors. The club was dark, as all clubs are. The music was playing loudly and she took my hand and led me over to the coat check. I then asked her if she wanted a drink, and she nodded yes. We walked over to the bar and after a few sips she took my hand and pointed her head at the dance floor. I smiled and followed her.

The nightclub was decorated in a modern way. Everything was clear glass or black. There was a massive stairway against the far wall that led up to the upper level where another bar with televisions was located. The dance floor was tightly packed, and we made our way into the middle of the group. She was a very good dancer. She made it very easy to have a good time. When a slow song began I took her hand and pulled her close and she melted into me, her arms wrapped around my neck. Yes, she was making it very easy to have a good time.

We danced for about a half an hour, and then I noticed it was getting very hot on the dance floor. I was feeling a little claustrophobic with everyone pushed in so close. A slow song started and I suggested that after the next song we should go back to the bar. She smiled as she took my hands and placed them low on her hips and brushed her cheek against mine as her arms wound tightly around my neck.

A year ago, this would have been a sure thing. The night would definitely not end here on the dance floor. A year ago, I would have moved things along much faster than I had been tonight. I would have been much more forward with her, and from what I could tell from Smina's actions, I would have been successful with everything I tried. I was at war with myself. She definitely excited a part of me, the stereotypical male part of me, that had always been excited by things female and beautiful. But I had discovered a new part of me. The part of me that finally knew what real love felt like, to want just one certain woman forever. I didn't know how to get past that.

I could use Smina. It probably wouldn't even really be using her, since she already knew I was leaving tomorrow and that there would only be this one date. Smina certainly didn't seem to mind that this was just going to be one night. Before I had a chance to complete my thoughts, I felt Smina brush her lips across mine, and then she moved in. Her kiss was hard and passionate and was demanding in what she wanted from me. I kissed her back. I can do this, I reasoned. I had to start living sometime.

Then I opened my eyes.

My eyes traveled past Smina to the stairway. It was as if a part of me knew Tanya would be there and was forcing me to look.

And after all this time, there she was.

Her hair was exactly the same. Her figure was exactly the same. Her skin was exactly the same. But in the past year, my memory had betrayed me in remembering her face. Her cheekbones, her lips, her eyes. I felt my chest cave in and my breath came out in a large gust as I realized she was looking at me too.

I didn't even turn to look at Smina.

"Michael, where are you . . . . ." I didn't hear the rest.

I pushed my way through the crowd, never taking my eyes off her. For a moment, she continued looking at me, and then, she began rapidly climbing the stairs.

"Oh no you don't." I breathed to myself. "You are not running away from me again."

I was bordering on rude as I ascended the staircase. I pushed through people as I kept my eyes on her. I prayed there wasn't an exit from the second floor, but then I realized that wouldn't stop her. I pushed harder. I saw her move to the right, deeper into the crowd, as I reached the top of the stairs. I took a different route, behind the bar. One bartender tried to stop me, but I rushed past him and then vaulted myself over the counter as I landed right behind her. Then I reached out and grabbed her hand.

I felt something in me release as soon as I touched her.

"Tanya," I said softly. I knew she would be able to hear me.

She stopped and kept her back to me for a moment before she turned her beautiful face around to mine. To be looking at her again, to be touching her again, was indescribable to me. There was so much. So many questions. So much I wanted to talk to her about. So much that I had to say to her.

I just smiled and said, "Hi."

It was the right thing to do. She smiled back at me. I was extremely aware that she hadn't tried to release my hand.

"Hello, Michael." She said warmly.

Great, at least she remembered my name.

"It's so good to see you," she added.

"Yes, it's very good to see you too." Could there be a bigger understatement?

"It's a surprise to see you here in Sochi." She swallowed hard as she plastered a smile on her face.

I gave my full effort at being casual. "I have been on assignment in Moscow for several months. I needed a vacation," I answered.

She either wasn't surprised by my news, or didn't care. It was impossible to tell.

Her eyes flitted down to the dance floor. "You didn't come on vacation alone."

She didn't phrase it as a question, and for a moment I was confused. Then it hit me. Smina. I had forgotten all about her. Damn.

I started in quickly. Probably a little too quickly. "No. I only met her today down at the beach. I'm not with anyone . . . ah, what I mean to say is that I came alone and . . ."

"Hey," she gently interrupted. "It's okay, you don't have to explain anything to me." She squeezed my hand for a moment, and then said softly, "It was so good to see you."

She began to turn and walk away. I still had her hand. I held on as tightly as I could and cried, "No!"

I didn't care about the strange looks I was getting. I was panicking. She couldn't leave, not yet. Not like this.

She turned and looked at me curiously as I blurted out, "Please, please, don't go yet. It has been so long since I've seen you, and Tanya . . ." I didn't care what a fool I was making of myself. "Tanya, I think about you all the time. Not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about that night in New York."

For a split second, she held on tighter to my hand. She stared hard at me and I had absolutely no idea what she was thinking. After almost half a minute her eyes softened and her chest began moving. Had she stopped breathing all that time? I began pulling her closer to me, but she would have none of it. She stopped herself, and it would have been easier to move a 2 ton marble statue than to make her move another inch.

"I have to go, Michael." She said flatly.

"Why?" I challenged.

"Because it will do neither of us any good for me to stay."

She began to let go of my hand and I knew there was only one thing that would keep her there longer.

"I know everything, Tanya," I whispered.

She slowly turned back to me with wide eyes. Her chest was moving up and down rapidly now.

"What do you mean ‘you know everything'?" She asked harshly.

"You know exactly what I mean." I said evenly.

Her eyes narrowed as she looked hastily around the room. She looked at me again with real anger on her face as she held tightly to my hand and pulled me to a dark corner of the room. We ended up behind a black partition that was used for stacking chairs.

She turned furiously to me and whispered harshly, "What are you talking about?"

"I know what you are, Tanya."

She clenched her teeth as her head went down. "That's why Edward has been trying to get a hold of me," she said to herself. Her eyes then rose back up to me and her look was scorching. "There are dangerous people here. Do you have any idea how vulnerable you are?"

I grinned as I said, "I imagine I could be killed rather quickly."

She let out a gust of frustrated air as she whispered, "Then you know exactly why I am going to walk away right now and never see you again."

"Because you are a vampire?" I said with raised eyebrows.

"Shh!" She said fiercely. "Don't ever say that word out loud again!"

I moved closer to her and whispered, "Vampire."

"Stop it!" She hissed.

I stepped closer. "Vampire."

"Do you have any idea the danger you could be in?" She frantically demanded.

I stepped within an inch of her face and whispered, "Vampire." And then my lips were on hers. I grabbed her on each side of her face and kissed her. I kissed her the way I had dreamed of kissing her everyday and every night for over a year. I felt every part of me coming alive. This was it. This was all I wanted. I heard her sigh. It was a sigh like she was giving up, giving in. And then she was kissing me back.

I pushed her against the wall and continued kissing her with all the pent up emotion that had been building in me. I never thought I would see her again. I never thought I would touch her, smell her. And yet, here she was in my arms. Her granite lips were all I needed.

"Tanya, I love you," I managed to breathe out.

I could have died from passion when she whispered my name.

I kissed her neck, then her mouth, then her neck again. I was completely lost in her when she said in a thick voice, "This will never work, Michael."

I pulled back just enough to see her eyes and said, "I know what you're saying. I found out your secret just weeks ago, and I was sure I was done. I was sure I was leaving you in my past. I was on vacation to clear my head. To start fresh. That girl down there is my first attempt at going on with my life since you ran away from me. But now . . . ." I ran my fingers over her cheek. "I don't know who I was kidding. You are all I'll ever want. All I'll ever need."

She stared at me defiantly. "There is no way this will ever work. Be serious, be honest with yourself."

I spoke with my lips brushing over hers. "For months I have been trying to convince myself that I didn't love you. I have been telling myself I needed to move on. Right here, right now is the first time I've been honest with myself in a long, long time."

"I could kill you right now."

"I'm sure you could."

"I could drink your blood right now and walk away and no one would ever know what happened to you."

"I don't doubt that for a second."

"I could . . ." I put my finger over her lips and said, "Just answer me one thing." I searched her eyes earnestly. I held her with my gaze and whispered, "That night at the ball, did you feel it?"

She squirmed beneath my gaze and I persisted. "Tanya, this whole conversation comes to this one question. Did you feel the same thing I felt that night?

She began to protest again and I shook my head. "Tanya, when I touched and held you that night I wanted you like I have never wanted anything. But I knew, that it wasn't just that one night that I wanted with you. I wanted a million nights and a million days just be near you."

She finally began to relax into my arms. "Tanya, there has been no one else since you. I have been in hell without you. I have fallen totally in love with you. Absolutely and completely."

I touched her face again and said, "You can't know how good it feels for me to tell you these things. I never thought I would be able to tell you. I never thought I would be able to see you and hold you in my arms and tell you that you have my heart."

We just stared at each other. Her eyes were soft and I was aware that she was breathing deeply, and completely at peace in my arms.

"Tanya," I sighed. I loved saying her name. "Did you feel the same that night? Do you feel the same way about me now?"

Her eyes closed for a moment, and when she opened them again, her eyes were different. They were sad.

"It doesn't matter how I feel," she said flatly.

I put my finger under her chin and lifted her face to mine and said forcefully, "No, you're wrong. It is the only thing that matters."

"It's not that simple, Michael."

"Tell me you love me," I implored. "Tell me I am not alone in feeling this way. Tell me you have been thinking of me too."

"What will that change?" She seemed like she was crying, but there were no tears.

I brushed my lips across her cheek. "For me," I whispered, "It changes everything."

I pressed in closer to her and kissed her as I said, "Tell me you love me."

She sighed and feebly pushed me away.

"You can do this, Tanya."

I kissed her softly on her forehead and let my lips travel slowly down her face. Her eyes were closed, and I kissed both her eyelids. Then I put my lips back on hers and murmured, "I love you Tanya, do you love me?"

She pulled me close and huskily whispered, "Yes. Yes, Michael, I love you."

It was like fire flashed through my veins.

I pressed on. "And you ran away that night, not because you were trying to get away from me, but that you were trying to protect me and keep me from learning your secret?"

She just nodded her head. I put her face between my hands and just stared at her. She loved me. Tanya loved me. I laid her head against my chest and held her. I kissed her hair and tried to think of how I could go about marrying a vampire. I wouldn't ask her tonight. But it would be soon, very soon.

I didn't want to spoil the moment, but I wanted to leave the nightclub. I wanted to take her back to my hotel. I suddenly realized that she may have a house here in Sochi. Perhaps this was where she had been all this time. I knew nothing about her, really. Did she live here to be near family? If so, they would have to be vampires too, wouldn't they?

There was so much to learn about her, but I wasn't concerned. There was plenty of time to find out everything. I planned on us being pretty much inseparable. I wanted her as near to me as she wished to be.

"Can we leave this place?" I asked softly.

She didn't answer.

"We can go anywhere you want. I have a hotel nearby," I whispered.

"Can we . . ." She swallowed hard and began again. "Can we just stay here a little longer?"

"Of course?" I replied.

I kept my arms around her. I laid my cheek on her head and ran my fingers slowly down her back and just took her in. Her scent was so captivating. The feel of her so familiar in my mind. There was nowhere on earth that I would rather be.

I still was amazed that just holding her brought me peace. It was like she calmed all the storms in my soul. I had heard of love my whole life and never understood what it meant. I never understood all the songs and stories about love, and why someone would die for it.

Now, I understood.

I don't know how long we stayed that way. Time seemed inconsequential when I was with her. But without any warning, I felt her stiffen and then she let out a long sigh.

"I'm ready," she said softly.

I felt at the time, that she didn't say it for my benefit, but that she was actually talking to someone else.

I kissed her once more as I took her hand and turned to walk out from behind the partition. But when I turned, I was surprised to see a man blocking our exit. It took less than a second for me to realize this was no man. No human man, anyway. His coal black hair was to his shoulders, his eyes were dark red, and his stare was the most menacing thing I had ever seen. It was him. The man from the ball.

Tanya stepped in front of me and said calmly, but forcefully, "Alexei, you will not hurt him."

She then turned to face me. Her eyes were determined, but her halting voice betrayed her. "I will always remember this. I will forever be thankful you found me again, Michael. You have no idea how much seeing you again means to me."

My head was swirling. I was in complete shock. "Tanya, you can't possibly be telling me you are trying to leave me, again."

She backed a step away from me. "I will not bring you anywhere near this life. I will not put you in danger. And I will not let my demons come any closer to ruining you."

I grabbed her face and put my hands into her hair. "Didn't you hear any of the things I said tonight? I love you, Tanya. There will never be anyone else!" I put my forehead to hers and whispered, "Be happy with me."

For a moment her breath caught and in her sigh I heard her whisper something to me. "Sudba."

Then, she moved quickly. I forgot how fast she could move. I opened my eyes and she was standing behind Alexei, looking at me over his shoulder.

"Make a real life, Michael."

"Don't do this, Tanya," I pleaded.

Then she was gone.

I did stupidly try and push past Alexei, but he placed his fingers gingerly around my neck and squeezed just tightly enough to make the room go black. When he finally let go, I fell to my knees and gasped for air. By the time my lungs stopped burning enough for me to look up, he too, had vanished.

I don't recall much more of what happened that night.

But, there were three things of which I remember being absolutely certain.

One, there was some part of Tanya, I wasn't sure how strong, that loved me, but not enough to see this through.

Two, I was absolutely, unconditionally, and irrevocably in love with a vampire.

And three, if given the chance, I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, I would become a vampire for her.

- - -