It was an ordinary night – or as ordinary as they got since I left Bella behind me – when I decided to test the notion that misery loves company. Since there is at least as much misery as congeniality where alcohol is served, I ducked inside a bar.
The air was filled with a haze of smoke, the light was almost nonexistent, and it seemed so old it might have been one of the first buildings the Portuguese erected in Rio. Then, again, it might have been some decorator's idea of ambiance. Whatever.
I sat at the bar, ordered a beer, and let the clamor of the place blur into white noise as I thought about the last evidence I'd found of Victoria's presence in Rio. It had been a couple of weeks ago and I knew I'd have to head north to follow up on the only lead I had. I really didn't want to turn toward the north because my heart wanted to go home and that was the last place I needed to be. I had to reassure myself of that every day.
My brow was furrowed as I pondered that and considered whether there were any reasonable alternatives. Not finding anything I wanted as I picked through the ideas in my mind made my mood even bleaker. I wasn't paying attention to anyone else in the bar, not even when another vampire entered, spotted me, and chose to occupy the rickety stool next to mine.
His scent alerted me first and I glanced at him, only to find that he was watching me with a cocked eyebrow and a sardonic smile. Anyone should have been able to tell that I was not in a sociable mood, but the fellow had the nerve to be congenial.
"You're a little young to be in here, aren't you, kid?" Great. His accent was British.
I gave him a dark look and answered abruptly, "I'm older than I look."
He barked a laugh and said, "Aren't we all?" Then he rose, clapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Let's go. I know a place that I think you might like better than this one."
There was no reason I should have gone with him and it was odd that he was shepherding me about as if we were friends. He was a more typical vampire than my family was, but I liked the black humor in his thoughts and it had been a long time since I actually conversed with anyone. What the hell. It couldn't be worse than the dive we were in.
I was wrong. For one thing, it was underground. It was located outside of town and we passed through a cave complex before stopping in front of the entrance – a ladder leading down. I gave his mind a quick scan before descending, but it turned out to be one of three actual ways into the place, which seemed to be patterned on a rabbit warren.
Once inside, he hustled me past other patrons, including the strangest – umm – entities I'd ever seen. It really stretched the definition to call them people – of any kind. My guide moved to a table in the back, making sure I was still with him. We sat and I glared at him while he smiled amiably back at me.
An odd looking server appeared and the vampire across from me read my dark eyes and the shadows under them while I read his thoughts. He told me, "I know what will help fix you right up." He turned to the server and said, "Two steins of blood."
"No… thank you." I told him. I avoided his eyes. "I'm on a special diet." At least I hadn't abandoned my family's philosophy even if I had pretty much abandoned them.
The vampire across from me narrowed his eyes and took a closer look at me. The gold was so dark it would look black to anyone else, but he was able to discern the color. When he did, he sat back and shook his head in wonder. "I've heard of you. Most of us don't believe you exist, but here you are." He turned to the server and said, "Cancel my original order." Then he asked, "Do you have any animal blood available?"
"Animal blood?" the server repeated doubtfully. "I'll check." He/she/it left us.
"I don't know your first name, but your last name is Cullen, I would bet. Am I wrong?" He spoke like someone who already knew he wasn't.
"No." For someone who was willing to converse, I wasn't finding it easy to do so.
"Look, boy, you obviously have it bad and I know, having been there myself. What kind of girl is she? Another vampire? Some kind of demon? A witch?"
The server returned. "We don't have any on tap, but since you are a regular, the owner is willing to step out and go get some animal blood fresh. There are plenty of animals around here."
"Please tell him thank you," said my companion. "I will have a stein of regular and my friend here will have a stein of animal blood only. Be sure not to confuse them."
When we were alone he looked across at me expectantly, "Well? What kind is she?"
I looked into his eyes and told him. "Human."
"Bloody hell. I had a feeling she was. Couldn't be easy, could it, boy? I ought to know." He shook his head, uncrossing his legs.
A quick read revealed information that startled me. "You're in love with a human girl too."
"Ah, a statement, not a question." He raised his brow again and looked at me curiously. "How did you know?"
Not wanting to tip my hand to a total stranger, however friendly, I pointed out, "It was easily inferred from what you said."
He thought about that and nodded. "You're right, of course. On all counts."
Our order came. I carefully sniffed mine before tasting it. Animal blood, as ordered, with a bonus. It was a carnivore… probably jaguar. I sighed and took a sip. It had been too long since I had hunted, but I hadn't had much incentive to keep going and hunting reminded me of times with my family.
He was watching me. "No matter how low your spirits are, you need to take care of yourself, Mr. Cullen. Things can always change and you want to be in good shape, not looking like a love-sick calf."
"Says the expert," I murmured.
"Well… yes," he responded, laughing.
He looked intently at me. "Tell me. Does your girl know what you are?'
I nodded. "She knows." I raised an eyebrow at him and asked, though I already knew. "Yours?"
A nod of the head and a bark of a laugh confirmed what I had seen. "Ah, yes. She spotted me well enough."
I was surprised. "She's encountered our kind before?"
That was unusual. Most encounters between our kind and humans did not leave the humans with opportunities for any type of future encounter.
For once he was cryptic and had also shuttered his thoughts. "You could say that."
He looked up. "My lady is beautiful, strong, and exciting. I have hopes, of course, but no expectation of success. So… we shall leave my problems for another day while we sort yours out."
I wasn't sure how I looked, but I wasn't at all sure that I wanted to discuss Bella with him. He had described his girl, so I did my best, "She is beautiful and bright. Her mind is incredible, as is her courage and her degree of selflessness. She never fails to surprise me." Just thinking of her and her wonderful qualities brought a smile to my lips.
"Does she love you as much as you obviously love her?" he asked.
My brow furrowed. "I don't know. She says she does and she acts like it…" I shrugged. "But you know humans. And she is only 18…"
"While you are so much older." He was clearly trying not to smile.
"Well, yes," I met his eyes and saw his head shake slightly. I added, "At least in experience."
"Parent trouble? They don't want her dating a vampire?" he was trying to figure out our problem.
"No. Well, I'm sure they wouldn't want her to date me, if they knew, but that isn't an issue. She's the only one who knows." I was absolutely sure of her.
He raised his own brows in surprise. "She hasn't told her parents and hasn't told her friends?"
"No." I tried to explain further. "We go to school together. My sister and I are her closest friends…. But she's not the kind of person who would tell anyone anyway."
"Mmm… sounds perfect to me." He folded his arms and asked directly, "What's the problem?" He had given up trying to figure it out and wanted to move on to solving it. As if that was possible….
"We had a birthday party for her and, while she was opening her presents, she got a paper cut. Just a paper cut…. But it was enough to incite one of my brothers to attack her. I saved her by flinging her backward, but that was into a glass table. It broke and she was injured further. There was so much blood that the entire room cleared out except for my father, who is a doctor, and me. She even sent me away, since she knew I was struggling against being affected." I looked up, ending my recitation as though that was all there was to say, but he knew there was more.
"I insisted that my family pick up and leave. I told her I was leaving and never coming back. She wanted to come too, so I had to lie to her. I told her that she wasn't good for me and implied that I would soon find other distractions." I shrugged. "I knew, of course, that she was the one who would be distracted elsewhere. How could it be otherwise?"
"Nice birthday," he observed.
"Yes, well, what else could I do? She is fragile… and accident prone. I couldn't take any more chances with her. She's my soul mate." I looked at my hands.
"And anyone can see how well it's going for you… being away from her," he observed.
I knew he was trying to figure things out further, so I explained a bit. "There was a problem last year with a couple of other vampires. One of them captured and tortured her, but my family was able to rescue her and eliminate him. The woman with him got away. She considered him her mate and is after my girl because she's mine. Even though I can't be with her, I've been trying to track this woman so I can kill her and assure my love's safety." I added, "That's why I'm here in Rio."
"Uh huh. So she's here? The vengeful vampire?" he asked, lighting a cigarette.
I had no idea that vampires smoked. None I knew did. He saw my look and laughed. "I don't think I'm likely to get cancer."
I shook my head. "Of course not." Answering his question, I shook my head again, "She was here. I have come to the conclusion that she's headed north to the States again."
"Where your girl is." His gaze met mine.
"Not necessarily." I swallowed hard and tried to think up a reason why she wouldn't be headed for Forks. Of course she would.
He leaned across the table and said, "If that is who she's after… and your bird is there without protection, since you and your family are no longer in the area, I would lay odds that's where she's headed, wouldn't you?"
"Oh, God! You're right, of course. I need to protect her, while making sure she doesn't know I'm there." I started figuring how quickly I could return to Washington, planning a call to Jasper and Emmett for assistance. I would have to ask Alice for an update on the situation… which I really hated to do, since I told her to butt out and not check on Bella's future.
I was about to rise, but my companion put his hand out and held me for a moment. "Just a question more, Mr. Cullen. Have you even discussed whether this girl might want to become a vampire?"
I nodded shortly… not that it was any of his business, but he had put things into perspective for me. "She wants to be. At least she did. I don't know what's going on with her now."
"A word of advice, my friend… What is your name, anyway?" he asked.
He smiled. "A word of advice, Edward. If she is waiting for you… and from what you have said, I think she may be, go ahead and change her. If she is your soul mate it will make the difference between bliss and hell… and you won't have to worry about losing her." As an afterthought, he added, "My name is Spike."
I stood and looked down at him. "You really think I should take her soul?"
Spike smiled. "No one knows if that is the case. And she clearly has been the making of yours. If you lose her, what do you have left?"
I looked into the bleak distance at the thought of eternity without Bella. "Nothing."
"Change her," he said again. "You'll both be happier for it."
"What about you?" I asked curiously. "Are you planning to change your girl?"
"Ah, well," he replied with a sigh. "That's another story. The fate of the world sits on her lovely shoulders. I'm in love with the bloody Slayer."
I didn't know what the Slayer was and had a feeling, from the name, that I didn't want to, but I nodded. Spike rose and we left the bar by an exit into the jungle. We shook hands and he went on his way.
Quickly making plans for my immediate departure, I hardly noticed the ringing of my cell phone because I had spent months ignoring it. Since I was resolved on a new course of action, I answered it. "Hello, Rosalie…."