By for Lisa.
The call came in the middle of the night. Bonnie, having fallen asleep at her desk, was so startled she almost banged into the desk lamp. The cold glow of her computer monitor disoriented her, but she got her bearings quickly enough to find the telephone and answer it. "Hello?"
There was nothing on the line but a thin hum, and something about it sent a little shiver down her spine."Hello?"
"Bonnie? Do you know my voice?"
Of course she did. Of course. Twenty years, yet in her memory it was like he'd spoken to her yesterday. Time had changed her, but not him. Not at all.
"Stefan. I'm sorry...were you expecting Mrs. Flowers?" The old woman had died (quietly, in her sleep, while her grandson was visiting) eleven years ago. The boarding house was vacant when Bonnie moved back to Fell's Church, third publishing contract in hand, and she couldn't pass up the opportunity to own the most romantic, mysterious building in town. she'd even been able to keep the old phone number, which came in handy now and then, as there were a few long-time boarders who only came stay every few (or in some cases, perhaps, twenty) years.
He hesitated before responding, "No, I knew the signora had passed. I was calling for you."
There was something comforting about talking to him, as if time had not passed. She was talking to a constant in the universe.
Stefan explained that Elena wanted to make contact with her little sister Margaret, who was now living on her own in the Gilbert house, Judith and Robert having moved to Florida to retire. Bonnie saw Margaret often enough, but they weren't exactly close, and she told Stefan so.
"Bonnie, you don't need to be involved in this personally. The situation is rather...complicated, you see."
"Well, yeah, Stefan, Margaret thinks she's dead!" Bonnie paused and thought for a moment. "Wait. Stefan, is Elena...um...?"
"Like me?" He said it very delicately, almost clipped, in a way that reminded her strongly of his brother. "In...a manner of speaking, yes. I'm not at liberty to explain, but it's fair to say she doesn't look any older than Margaret herself." The mysterious way he talked about it made it even more frustratingly clear that Bonnie would never really understand what happened that night in the clearing, when Elena came back. They barely saw each other again before Elena and Stefan were off, into the night, never to be heard from...until this phone call.
Bonnie did have the forethought not to ask to speak to Elena herself. She figured, if Elena was ready or able to talk to her, she would have done so on her own.
"I can see how that could be a problem, Stefan. Of course you can come and stay, and if I can help, I will. I'm on kind of a tight deadline for the next few weeks, with work, but I'll definitely be around."
"No, no, Bonnie, you don't understand. I have to stay with Elena here. We're sending Damon to bring Margaret to us."
"I said, we're--"
It made perfect sense. Of course it did. Damon would come and tell a lovely twentysomething-year-old blonde that her equally lovely sort-of dead sister was waiting for her on the other side of the globe, and she would walk safely away with him into the night and onto a plane and nothing bad would happen at all.
Nothing to worry about.
That's what Bonnie kept saying to herself, in the back of her mind, for the next five days. She had a very pressing deadline on her next installment of her latest bestselling book series, Love Rushes In, and spent nearly all that time in her usual spot in front of her monitor, furiously typing away in order to help drown out her apprehension of Damon's arrival. Every time she started reliving memories of the last time her was around, she tried to channel those feelings into her book and focus on reaching her word count goal for the day. Or the day after that.
Her readers would soon be overjoyed to find that this volume had even more "naughty scenes" than all the rest of the series combined.
But finally, on the sixth day, Stefan emailed her a final flight itinerary, which showed that Damon would be getting into Raleigh-Durham late that same evening. Fell's Church was several hours from there, so Bonnie guessed he'd be in town by 3am at the earliest. She had considered changing her mind and asking Stefan if Damon could just stay in a hotel or something, but then decided that they'd probably all be happy if she was able to keep an eye on him.
But maybe she was being paranoid. After all, Stefan didn't seem concerned at all. Maybe Damon turned over a new leaf. If Stefan and Elena were on good terms with him now, something big must have changed, right?
After the email she was able to pound out three more chapters in a sitting, and could have done more if hunger hadn't forced her away. After throwing together a quick stir-fry, she climbed the stairs through the dark house to the attic room and made up the bed with fresh sheets, even dusted a bit. No one ever slept in this room but sometimes she'd have guests up here for coffee in the mornings (oddly, in the daylight, with the trap door open, it was rather cheerful) or a nightcap before bed. The room was much the same except for the liquor cart and small coffee service, neither of which she thought Damon would mind. Before she left the room, laughing a little to herself although she wasn't quite sure why, she left a mint on the pillow.
She walked back through the house, again without turning on lights, checking that everything was as it should be. Sometimes she liked to imagine herself as Emily Bronte, in that stone parsonage high on the hill, surrounded by nothing but headstones.
When Meredith first heard that Bonnie bought the boarding house, she could hardly believe it. People reading her lighthearted, fluffy (if adventurous) novels probably would have a hard time understanding it too. But since high school Bonnie had begun to feel...somehow set apart from other people, as if those events had, not quite tainted her, but changed her in some fundamental way. Darkness and solitude still did often frighten her, but nonetheless she felt she belonged there more than anywhere else. She was very social in college, even lived in Greenwich Village for a while, but it just never seemed right for her.
Bonnie often wondered if people allowed themselves to think she was naive, because naivete was easier to accept than morbidity. In fact, when she was younger, she even encouraged that perception.
When she was done making her rounds, she noticed with annoyance that it was only a quarter to midnight. She didn't to have to think about whether she needed to wait up for Damon or not. She supposed, whether she was awake or not when Damon arrived, he would need to be invited in, so he could get up to equal amounts of mischief either way.
She wasn't afraid of him. In most ways, she never had been, because she really wasn't able to be properly afraid of real things. She realized now that most of what she had thought was fear, had actually been...well. Bonnie was great at internalizing her sexuality: one reason why her books had become so successful. Being afraid of someone, and being afraid of the mere fact of their existence, of what they could do if you let them, was something else entirely.
Bonnie crept down to the bottom floor, and put the kettle on. She tore a sheet off the shopping list on the fridge and wrote:
The trap door is open & you're invited in.
She remembered, embarrassed, that the last time she'd seen him, she still dotted her "i"s with little hearts.
Bonnie stuck the note to the outside of the front door, locked it from the inside, and turned off the porch light as a favor to Damon's sensitive eyes. Then, when the water was hot, she took a cup of tea up to her office and started up again.
This far into a book, things usually went quickly like this, the words pouring out of her, but this time there was definitely a new drive behind her work. She paid special attention to describing her anti-hero's disdainful, aloof, yet charming manner, making it just barely believable that her Southern belle might possibly run away with him. Boy, her readers were just going to eat that up!
Rutherford didn't take his eyes off Miss Polly when he answered her father. "Mr. Beacham, I am a businessman. I cannot offer you a loan without some sort of...collateral." His dark eyes swept over the satin folds of her gown, with a distinct pause over her decolletage. Polly felt heat flood over her face and breast, and to her shame, Mr. Rutherford met her gaze and smiled knowingly. His eyes spoke dark secrets to her, and she shivered, locking her knees to keep from swaying, pulled to him as if by some magnetic force."
Bonnie blinked slow and hard at the screen, then leaned back in the leather chair to think on how far she should let Rutherford go before the book was over. The readers seemed to like it best when a certain amount was left to the imagination, but this Polly in particular seemed like a bit of an exhibitionist. She let her eyes fall closed as she pictured the scene...
At this point Bonnie was used to waking up sitting upright in her office. She stretched languorously, pleased to note that it was at least still dark outside, and idly poked the power button on the computer monitor, the room still lit by the green desk lamp that she seemed to leave on all the time. She turned in her chair and--
Bumped into something. Someone.
Bonnie sucked in a loud gasp before recognition set in. "Oh, it's just you!" she almost yelled. The fog of sleep had momentarily made her forget what night it was.
Damon--who had been standing just next to her chair, for who knows how long--smiled: a real, spontaneous smile that she'd never seen before, followed by a warm quiet laugh. "There's a reaction I don't usually get."
"Hello, Ms. McCullough. I was going to apologize for frightening you, but you are perhaps...less easily intimidated than I remember?"
She stood and smoothed her no-doubt hopelessly rumpled clothes. "Perhaps. A little."
"Hmmm." His eyes narrowed as he stepped out of her path, gesturing toward the door. "I shall have to keep that in mind." He looked away from her, briefly, to glance around the room. "Sleep here often?"
"Ah...well, you know, the glamorous life of a writer. Did you bring your stuff in yet?" Bonnie felt an almost urgent need to change the subject. She didn't really want to be in a position to tell Damon all about her solitary, quiet life writing romance novels. Did she?
"You were on my way downstairs," he said simply, and when she left the room and turned out the lights, he followed her.
He didn't speak again until they were halfway down the stairs to the first floor. "Is at At Any Price nearly finished? I quite enjoyed Passion's Bargain."
She nearly fell. She definitely tripped. Damon actually caught her by the elbow, and continued before she could reply. "Rutherford is quite a scoundrel. How on earth did a girl like you imagine a character like that?" Standing on the step below her, as he was, they were almost perfectly eye level. Damon's skin was flawlessly pale--it stood out starkly in the moonlit room, his eyes and hair in stark contrast. Bonnie gulped (audibly, no doubt) and steadied herself, then gently nudged him to the side and continued down the stairs--perhaps a little wobbily.
"I didn't realize you were such a big reader, Damon." She felt much more confident when she didn't have to face him. It helped that she couldn't really honestly believe he read her books. He must just have flipped through one in order to have something to goad her with. The best thing she could do to stay on firm footing was to play along. "And like I say in all my interviews, I think people like my characters because they're fantasies, not real life. Romance readers want escapism, and that's what I give them."
"Yes. You must have a very...active imagination."
He was up close behind her now, so close she could almost feel his breath on the back of her hair, and she had to make an effort to steady herself again, this time by focusing on unlocking the front door. "I've always been imaginative, but I've definitely been good at gathering fuel for it too. Do you need help with your bags?"
Damon gave a particularly sarcastic smirk, then brushed past her--unnecessarily close, of course. His car was parked right outside (a nondescript rental, much different than his usual snazzy ride) and he proceeded to unload one small valise. It actually surprised her that he hadn't just flown it up in his crow form. He ushered her graciously inside, closed the door behind them, and placed one hand on her shoulder, leaning close to her ear. "Looks like we're in for the night. Care to give me a tour?"
And so she did, even though the sky was lightening just a little outside and most decent people were fast asleep. Teenage Bonnie would have been riddling him with questions about his plans for Margaret, about how all this was going to work, but now it was easy to just let it go. She would find out or she wouldn't. It would work out one way or another, and whether or not Bonnie knew didn't actually make any difference. This Bonnie, this grown Bonnie, paid a lot more attention to how he looked at her, the placement of his body, the way his eyes moved to take in a place or an object. That sort of almost contrarian stillness about him, the fact that he was both contained and unrestrained. Like a cat...or some other predator.
Which is what he was, of course, but was she still supposed to care? Stefan wouldn't have sent him if he was a threat to her. If he wasn't...well, perhaps safe was taking it a bit too far. Life-threatening, then. But then, Bonnie had never really believed he would do that to her. It wasn't that she thought he was tame by any means, but more that there was an implicit understanding between them. Maybe never really acknowledged by her until now.
"You didn't answer my question, about the novel." Of course he had to bring it up again. She'd been showing him the rather grand front room, which still went mostly unused, but was definitely less tattered than when Mrs. Flowers was alive. The windows looked out towards town, and they could just make out a few of the taller buildings over the trees.
"Oh! Well," she sat down, "if you really want to know, it's going ahead of schedule. I think it'll be going to my editor within the week."
Damon sat down on the other side of the loveseat, and stretched so that his legs knocked into hers, and then rested there. "Shame. I was hoping you were having writer's block and perhaps needed some inspiration. I'm sure I could add a few tricks to Rutherford's repertoir. That scene with the china cups was brilliant, but I could do better." He grinned wickedly. "I must say, you have aged beautifully." He paused at her indrawn breath. "Speaking of which, I brought some wine. I had a layover in Paris. Would you like some?"
Bonnie nodded dazedly, and he walked out without another word. Things were definitely not going how she'd expected. She'd thought he'd flirt with her, sure, but she expected he'd only really be interested in Margaret. Margaret was younger...and plus she looked just like Elena. But here he was, and it was almost as if he'd followed up on Bonnie. How else would he be so familiar with her writing? She even used a pseudonym.
Well...up until this point she'd never really considered turning down his advances because she hadn't expected them to go anywhere anyway. But now that they seemed to be, what was the harm? He wasn't Elena's any more, and Bonnie wasn't anybody's. And she hadn't had a fling in a long time...
Damon came back with two glasses, the bottle, and opener, and sat next to her again--albeit closer. After popping the cork he set the wine down and turned to face her, placing one confident hand under her chin. "Let's let it breathe a few minutes, shall we?"
Things began to move like a dream. She felt as if she was just melting toward him, liquid, as they were moving closer, guided by that sure hand and that confident powerful gaze, until her lower lip was meeting his upper lip, until her hands were tentatively yet urgently on his shoulders. The tip of her tongue dipped into his slightly open lips, and they were breathing into each other, the stubble of his cheeks scratching deliciously against hers. One of his hands cupped her breast, and he deepened the kiss still further, and she moaned when she realized she just felt one of his fangs against her tongue. He withdrew just slightly, hands on her arms and the kisses mellowing down to soft-yet-firm nips
She was flushed and gasping when he broke away, seemingly unaffected now, and poured. Damon was perfectly composed and that turned her on even more. They sipped quietly at their glasses, watching the light increase in the room. "Although I like Rutherford well enough," Damon said, his hooded eyes flashing as he looked at her, as his hand slowly caressed her thigh, "I think I most enjoy reading the thoughts of your heroines. They're so...hungry to be ravished, aren't they? They think they're contented with what they have...until he shows them something more."
Damon's eyes were as magnetic as she'd remembered. She tried to focus on the half-finished wine but in truth she'd barely tasted it. She set it down--noted that he'd already done the same--and went in for another kiss. She may have even clawed his shoulders a little--who could keep track?--and he definitely scratched one of her nipples. Despite his cool composure mere moments ago, he was all passion now, hands dusting over her in just the right places at just the right time, his tongue so soft and teasing and his lips and breath heated against her mouth, cheek, throat. She was whimpering, her legs trying to pull him in closer to her almost of their own volition.
But despite her best efforts, soon enough he was once again slowing things down again, until they were eventually just nuzzling in each other's arms.
"A toast," he said, his now-warm lips barely brushing her cheek, his other hand teasing the back of her neck. Bonnie sighed and leaned further into his arms, as he repeated, "A toast...to tonight," and clinked his glass against hers.
"Tonight?" she squeaked, pulling slightly away.
"Ah,my dear Bonnie, I'm afraid even vampires have to rest now and then." His hand was still in her hair, and his mouth was at her ear, and every nerve in her body was hot and singing and throbbing for him. "I am meeting Miss Margaret at noon today, and I really must get my beauty sleep before then."
"But--" But it was too late, and she was too stunned and dulled by pleasure to stop him. He was untangling his fingers from her hair, smoothing it, and straightening his own shirt. He was standing, holding his wine glass, drinking it down. "Damon--I mean, um," and she too straightened and began to get her bearings. "Uh, when will you be back?"
That bastard, he actually grinned at her, an almost evil look on his face, and chuckled. "I told you. Tonight." No specific time, nothing more--and then supernaturally fast, he was out of the room, leaving her a now-slightly-chilled, trembling bundle of overfired nerves.
She was sitting there, collecting herself, still half-stunned, when it dawned on her: she did this all the time, in her books. Built them up and then left them to their own devices, to wait who-knew how many chapters before they were satisfied again. This was just a little taste of her own medicine--from someone who was, in fact, one of her fans.
"Well played, Damon, well played," Bonnie said to the empty room, and stood very hesitantly. She'd cork the bottle and go up to her room and have very pleasant dreams. The best parts were always where your imagination took you, after all, weren't they?
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