Chapter 1: My heart does begin to race every time…
I love him.
The declaration echoed like a mantra inside Bonnie Bennett’s mind every time she thought of Jeremy Gilbert. The words had meaning and power. As much power as any spell in all her grimoires combined. And yet, she hadn’t repeated them. She could only voice her feelings as he lay dying in her arms. Now that he was alive and well she was too scared to open up. The words wouldn’t come. Not at the cemetery as they stood over the graves of Jenna and John or in his room after the funeral when they were alone. Nor when they did their nightly video chat. Just some silly “tomorrow and the day after that” bullshit giggled from her mouth.
What’s wrong with me?
She grabbed a pillow and hugged it to her chest. Confusion like this warranted a SOS call to a BFF, but both of hers were too busy with boy issues. If she had a mom—Nope. Don’t go there. If her Grams were alive, she’d know and understand. Shelia would be able to identify the ball that had lodged inside Bonnie’s chest and refused to nudge. She’d give it a name and give Bonnie the courage to kick its ass. And she’d help her get over the crazy sensations that fluttered just beyond her grasp.
The whisper of slippers paused on the hardwood floor outside her door. She held her breath and waited. Would her dad show an interest in her life or would he keep walking? Things had become so strained between them even before Grams died and it just got worse after. He’d heard the rumors about Grams and her henky, voo doo bullshit and he wasn’t having it. He had blown it off for as long as Bonnie could remember so much so that Bonnie was skeptical until her abilities overpowered her and she sought answers from her grandmother. Of course, Grams had the answers. She always did. Man, what Bonnie would do to have her grandmother there with her now.
The pause only lasted a millisecond. The steps continued down the hall to her dad’s room. So much for that all intensive Kleenex-grabbing-father-daughter moment.
Bonnie pulled the covers over her head and willed herself to sleep.
Reckless, impulsive acts never led to happy endings. Damon Salvatore knew this. Experience had imbedded the fact on his ass several times. Hell, his reputation for diving in without thinking was as known as his skills as a damn good lover. But none of that explained his reason for hiking through the woods in the middle of the night.
The mangy mutt’s bite still stung like a motherfucker despite the magic elixir of Klaus’s blood. Breezes whistled the leaves overhead as twigs snapped underfoot. A damp chill seeped through his leather jacket and he pulled it closer around him. In the centuries of being undead, he’d never felt anything like it. Him, cold?
What the fuck?
Distracted by the chill and his goosebumps, Damon didn’t notice the low hanging branch that latched onto the elbow of his jacket. Tugging hard with a few muttered curses, he freed himself. A twig dug into his forearm just enough to prick his flesh and elicit an, “Ow.”
Too determined to slow down or turn back, his footsteps kept onward. He mindlessly rubbed the injury and took note of the hole in his favorite jacket. Fuck. Whatever was driving him there had better be worth it, he thought.
Finally, he reached the clearing. The once majestic mansion stood before him. Prior to the Civil War, it hosted many soirees and cloaked even more meetings to counter the oppression of the North. Now the old place stood close to ruin, dilapidated and gray with its horrid secrets of mayhem and murder. Damon remembered the fateful night as if it was last evening. Of him coming to save Emily only arriving too late. There were times when a dreamless sleep rolled into the unforgiving nightmare where the acrid scent of smoke filled his lungs and the witches’ screams released a deafening pitch inside his eardrums.
“What am I doing here?” he muttered under his breath.
The soft voice carried to him over the still night. He half expected an apparition to appear on the step and beckon him inside. When Bonnie stepped into the moonlight, he did a double take.
Wavy dark brown tresses caressed her shoulders. An ivory, gauzy sheer flowy dress type thing clung to curves he had spent a good deal of time pretending not to notice during their numerous debates and bickering. And the way she moved—was she gliding across the grass to him?
“You came,” she said, taking his hand. “Take a walk with me.”
He frowned at their joined hands but made no move to release her. Just yet. “Witchy, I don’t know what kind of game—”
“It’s just a walk. Through the woods. In the moonlight,” she said. “I can’t sleep, and I probably shouldn’t be out here alone.”
The skeptic in him had half a mind to snatch his hand back. Yet, there was something about this moment that intoxicated him. Hell, it couldn’t be real. This had to be a dream. She drew circles on the back of his hand and squeezed against him. The swell of her breast pressed against his arm. The heat was scorching.
If it was a dream, it was unlike one he’d ever known.
Jeremy had just pulled into a space outside of the Mystic Grill when he saw his girlfriend walking on the next block. His interview was in fifteen minutes so he had some time to kill. Being with Bonnie would be better than sitting in the car and wondering if he’d blow the interview. He slammed out of the car, locked it and broke into a light jog.
What the hell? She just kept walking. Was she mad at him? Everything seemed all right last night. Plans for thanking her for saving his life had already started to form and evolve into a weekend getaway at his parents’ lake house. Correction. His and Elena’s lake house. With Jenna, Uncle John and their parents dead, the lake house belonged to—he didn’t want to think about it. Not at that moment. Not when grief created ghostly images in his house and the one person who could ground him was walking away as if he was a stranger.
“Bonnie?” Jeremy caught her wrist as she reached Sofia’s Boutique. “Hey, what’s up?”
She blinked and stared. Confusion flickered in her emerald eyes before they fluttered closed and she collapsed into his arms.
Jeremy’s reflexes went into overdrive as he swept her into his arms. Strangers approached him, but he blew them off as he strode to his car. Somehow he got her inside and took her to his place. With Alaric grabbing a few personal effects from his apartment and Elena out doing whatever, Jeremy and Bonnie had the Gilbert house to themselves when she came to.
“What am I doing here?”
“I brought you,” Jeremy answered, brushing his fingertips against her cheek. “You fainted outside Sofia’s.”
“I did what?” she asked. She sat up quickly. A pained expression struck her features. She grabbed her head and fell back against his pillows.
Concern rolled into anger. “Have you been casting spells?”
“No!” he barked out against the voices. A shadow hovered behind his right shoulder. He turned away from it.
“Jeremy?” Bonnie shrank away from him.
“Bonnie, baby, I’m sorry.” He took her hand. “I wasn’t yelling at you. I just… I was worried, you know. You just fell. And the spells weaken you. You can tell me the truth.”
“I’m not lying,” she said, tugging her hand free.
Yes, she is.
Jeremy frowned at the voice, but he kept his temper in check.
“What spell would I do?” Bonnie released a short, humorless laugh. “Elijah betrayed us. Stefan’s with Klaus now. Everything went to hell and I almost lost you. The witches warned me. I’m not… I won’t, okay, Jer. I won’t at least not for that.”
“Well, just don’t lie to me—”
“I won’t.” She looked down, reached for his hand and brought it to her lips. “I won’t.”
The touch of her mouth on any part of his skin always soothed and excited him at the same time. This time was no different. The nagging voices of his ex-girlfriends Vicky and Anna were forced from his mind as he bent forward to mold his lips to his present love’s. She tasted sweet as honey and he craved her, like a moth to a flame.
TODAY I DON’T FEEL LIKE DOING ANYTHING!!!!
With great reluctance, he pulled away. “Stupid phone.”
“Who is it?” Bonnie asked, sliding her hand up and down his bicep. “Maybe you can blow them off.”
“Crap, it’s Matt,” Jeremy murmured. He slammed the heel of his hand against his forehead. “The interview.”
“Oh, I forgot. Answer it!”
He took the call. “Hey, man.”
“What the hell, Jeremy?”
“I know, man. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all you got for me?” Matt questioned. “Sorry? Okay—”
Bonnie snatched the phone from Jeremy. “Hey, Matt. It’s Bonnie. I’m the reason Jeremy missed the interview. I got sick and he was taking care of me. From one ole lifeguard buddy to another, could you help him out again?”
Jeremy watched as a huge grin spread across her face and she expressed extreme gratitude to Donovan. He wanted to be happy, but it kind of ticked him off. Then he was back on the phone making arrangements to have an interview later that afternoon.
“I was handling it, you know.” He tossed the cell over his shoulder, rose from the bed and moved to the window.
“I know, but since it was my fault--”
“You can’t keep rushing in to protect me like I’m a little boy, Bonnie.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “I’m a man.”
“I know--” She stood and moved toward him. He backed away.
“Do you really?” He headed to the door. “You can chill here while I’m gone. We can do something when I get back.”
“Maybe I should just go home.”
He stood in the open doorway with his hand on the knob. “I don’t want you to go, but it’s your choice.”
“You can’t keep rushing in to protect me like I’m a little boy, Bonnie. I’m a man.”
“Do you really?”
Eavesdropping was uncouth, bad manners, and rude. And Damon didn’t give a damn. He couldn’t wrap his head around last night. Bonnie casting a spell for a hook up with him in the woods was a little out of the ordinary. So when he came over to help Alaric unload a few boxes before they hit up the Grill for a game of pool and he caught a whiff of the witch’s scent and the tail end of her convo with the kid—let’s just say pool would have to wait.
He and Alaric were in the Gilbert basement. His only friend began to unpack the last load of massive personal shit from his truck. Overnight, the history teacher had erected a wall of fame of vampire hunting weaponry in the lower floor of the house. Any other day, Damon would have been slightly offended and had comments out of his ass. Today was different. He stood still and listened as Jeremy offered Bonnie a choice before he stalked down the stairs and slammed out of the house.
A man, huh. Damon smirked. That kid had no idea.
“What are you doing?”
“What?” Damon asked, just barely holding in the annoyance at being interrupted. What was Bonnie doing? What’s that clicking noise? Is she texting? Whoosh…hmm, that could have been her sitting on the bed.
“Is somebody coming?” Ric reached for a vervain bomb and a wooden stake launcher that he attached to his wristband that hid inside his shirtsleeve. “Is it Klaus?”
“I don’t know. Dammit!” Damon bit his lip in frustration. “It’s nobody. Nobody is coming. I thought I heard something. It was Jeremy leaving.”
“Yeah, he had an interview at the Grill,” Ric said, “I wonder how it went.”
“He’s going now.”
Ric replied with words of doubt about moving into the Gilbert household and being a good father figure. Damon mumbled and grumbled at the appropriate pauses. The pesky little witch had captured his full attention. All that clicking, clicking, clicking. What the hell was she doing up there? What the hell happened last night?
Bonnie sat at Jeremy’s computer and searched for answers. She fainted outside of Sofia’s Boutique, that skanky lingerie store. As if she’d ever shop there! Not only that, she didn’t even remember going downtown. The last thing she remembered was going to bed the night before. But here she was and dealing with a serious case of amnesia and a tension headache. Telling Jeremy seemed out of the question. Hell, his interrogation about casting spells was bad enough. If he even thought magic made her lose time, he’d throw a fit.
She should trust him, she thought. He was her…man. She giggled a little at the memory of the whole boy versus man debate. Then she remembered the whole scene. The fierceness in his chocolate brown eyes. The way his jaw locked with determination and how his polo shirt stretched across the width of his back and his khakis clung to his muscled thighs. Man. Warmth pulsed through her veins at that.
His bicep had felt so strong. Firm. Hard.
“Oh, Jer…” she murmured.
The bedroom door swung opened. Wild, ice blue eyes zeroed in on her as Damon strode in. “Oh, Jer? What the hell, witch?”
“You’re not funny.”
“Am I laughing?” He stood wide-legged with his arms folded across his chest. His dark attire and raven locks enhanced the paleness of his porcelain features.
Although she knew he’d be cold to the touch, heat generated from him in waves. Like an inferno. A commanding blaze that was aimed straight at her. Bonnie had half a mind to blow his brain cells to smithereens.
“No!” His hand shot out and a finger straightened into a decisive point. “And don’t pull that witchy migraine shit on me either!”
She made no promises. “What do you want?”
“What’s your deal?”
Bonnie reared back in surprise. “What deal? I was just sitting here.”
He stared for at least thirty seconds if not a full minute. Then as suddenly as he flew in with rage and fury, he mellowed out and softened. His voice dropped to a seductive drawl. “So this is how we’re playing it.”
Everything about the way he was looking at her unnerved her. The tantalizing smirk sparked at the corners of his mouth. His glacial blue eyes gleamed with a dazzling light that threatened to blind her. Blinking, she scrambled from the desk chair and searched her brain for a spell—any spell—that would get things under control. Because in that moment, Bonnie hated to admit it, but Damon was sexy as hell.
“Okay, witchy,” he said, raising his hands in mock surrender as he backed out of the room. “Game on.”