Illusion (Chapter 7 You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover)
"Wait here and I will get our things," Stefan said, motioning to a bank of chairs. He swept across the room, turning heads as he stood with the group waiting for their belongings, his long arms crossed over his broad chest.
As he waited patiently for the luggage to make its way around to him, I just stood back and admired the view. He easily stood eight inches above the other men around him and his blond good looks set him apart in any crowd. To me, he would always be the most stunning creature I'd ever seen. My dream man.
When he found our luggage, he casually tossed the long strap over his broad shoulder, grinning widely as he swaggered towards me.
"I always seem to catch you staring. Are you eye fucking me, Josephine?" he mused and leaned to nip at my lips with his blunt teeth. "I love it."
He reached for my hand and we walked together, dodging people as they darted through the airport. It wasn't until I heard an excited, loud shriek that I realized how we were getting home.
"Josie!" Georgia squealed. She ran towards me, almost tackling me in her haste to hug me. She twirled me around and hugged me tightly. She released me from her freakishly strong grip and gave Stefan a slow once over flippantly, her nose crinkling as if she'd smelled something bad.
I could see they still had miles to go before they'd be friends. It was silly of me to hope that in their case, absence would make the heart grow fonder. Wrong. In the back of my mind, I suppose it didn't really matter if they were friends. We were moving back to the US and I was leaving my so-called human life behind me, learning to live as an immortal hybrid. If I were to be completely honest, the thought of disappearing from Anna and Georgia's lives broke my heart. There was just no other way around it. It would be a matter of time until they noticed Stefan and I were different. I thought back to Nikolaus words. We were unchanging anomalies.
"Georgia." Stefan inclined his head and managed a forced smile. At least I could say he was trying to be civil.
Georgia chose to ignore him, instead focusing her attention back on me. A smile broke over her face, her blue eyes glowing, bouncing around with energy that could rival Lukas. "Anna was supposed to pick you up but she ended up getting stuck with a client. So she called me and here I am, at your service!"
"Lucky me. Remind me to pay Anna next time to take the day off of work if we need a ride from the airport." Stefan was unusually sarcastic today. Even his mind voice was in a mood.
Nudging him in the side with my elbow, we continued walking. "Thanks, Georgia. It saved us from getting a taxi."
She waved me off, flipping her dark hair over her shoulder. She flashed me a bright smile for a moment. Her smile slowly faded and she pulled on my arm, stopping us in the middle of the airport. Her hand dropped and she stared at me critically, as if she was trying to figure out the differences in my appearance. Her dark blue eyes flew over my hair and face, her eyes narrowing as she took in the minute differences.
"There's something different about you, Josie. Don't get me wrong, you look great. You just look… different." She tapped her finger on her upper lip and her eyes moved to sweep over Stefan. I lowered my shields, focusing on her future to see where her mind was headed. She was going to compare the more prominent changes and similarities in my appearance to Stefan: the cooler, firmer skin that almost seemed to glow, the glossy hair, and the sparkling eyes. She was going to become her very curious as to why we appeared so similar. Georgia may be a pain in the ass but she was observant.
"She has noticed you are different. You need to divert her thoughts." Stefan's mind voice had a warning edge to it.
Stefan and I exchanged a look and I nervously laughed, pulling Georgia along. "It must be something in the water and all the good food in New York." I stretched out a fake yawn, hoping that my acting skills were good enough to convince Georgia. "I'll be so glad to get home. I'm exhausted."
Stefan chuckled under his breath as we walked along. "Do not give up your day job, vackra."
"I'm trying to let her know I'm tired before she dreams up going out or hanging out all night. So you better hope she buys my acting skills." I raised an eyebrow sharply and shot him a look out of the corner of my eye as we headed out into the early evening light. The muggy, humid temperatures of Bali were a shock after the much cooler weather of New York.
"Damn it! I was hoping you'd feel up to going out and having a girl's night out," she responded with a small pout on her lips, her voice becoming a whine. "C'mon, just come over to my house for an hour, Josie. I can call Anna and we can stay in."
"It'll be fun. I can tell you all about the guy I met a few days ago," Georgia was still chattering away as she led us to her sedan, unlocking the doors and popping the trunk so Stefan could stow our bag away. As I watched him place the luggage in the car with tense shoulders, it was obvious all of Georgia's plans specifically excluded Stefan from the equation. He slid into the back seat of Georgia's car without a word and left Georgia and me to stare at each other over the roof of her car. I was doing my best to ignore her pleading, puppy dog eyes.
"We'll see. I'm really tired, Georgia."
With a loud huff, Georgia opened her car door and got in, slamming it behind her. Realizing that this was going to be a stressful ride home, I got in and buckled up, silently willing the car ride to go quickly.
We drove for miles in silence, an awkward pause settling over us. Georgia was transmitting irritation and frustration so vividly that it was making my head hurt, even with my shields in place. I could hear Stefan's fingers tapping away on his phone from the back seat. He'd chosen to ignore the tension and had preoccupied himself with reading e-mails.
"So how long are you staying?" Georgia asked anxiously. She was gripping the steering wheel tightly, her knuckles almost white.
"A few days. However long it takes me to get my things sorted and accounts closed out."
An uneasy quiet filled the car again. I was armed with the knowledge that Georgia was just waiting for the right time to unleash on me. She was biding her time and playing nice for the moment.
"I thought you didn't like big crowds. New York City is kinda known for that," Georgia remarked, glancing away from the road and giving me a pointed look.
"You're right, I don't like big crowds. I think this is a good move for me," I commented, rubbing my hands together nervously. Stefan cleared his throat from the back seat, reminding me he was still present. "I mean it's a good move for us. Stefan has business there, my book publisher is there. It's kind of a win/win for both of us."
She let out a loud, overly dramatic sigh. "Yeah, it's a win/win for you," Georgia mumbled under her breath, figuring neither of us could hear her. Unbeknownst to her, Stefan could hear a pin drop a mile away, and thanks to my much improved hearing, her words were as clear as if she'd yelled them.
"What kind of business does Stefan do, Josie?" Georgia sneered. She was going to continue her charade of pretending that Stefan wasn't in the car, choosing to let her immature, obnoxious side take over. I was relieved to see my villa approaching as we climbed over a small hill in the road. She slowed and turned into my driveway, the gravel crunching under her tires.
"I own some properties in the New York area. I can work from anywhere, however it is helpful to be close by to manage the day to day operations," Stefan answered her, ignoring the fact that Georgia had directed the question to me.
Internally rolling my eyes at Stefan's obvious understatement of his wealth, I sighed as she parked in front of my villa. She finally acknowledged Stefan as she peered at him in the rearview mirror, her blue eyes flashing as she turned off her car.
"Well, goodie for you, Stefan. So you just figured you'd just be your normal over-bearing self and drag Josie along with you. 'Cause I'm sure you figure she doesn't have anything better to do besides follow your ass all over the world."
… And she was off.
Moving quickly, I unfastened my seat belt and leaped out of the car. I was going to attempt to head off Stefan and get between them before she could say anything else. I was too late. He was already out of the car, his six-foot-four frame barreling around the front of the car to Georgia's door. Managing to cut him off, I placed my hands against his chest and looked up at him with imploring eyes. I understood his frustration. I was also trying to figure out her real problem with Stefan. She antagonized Stefan at every turn and was testing his patience.
"Stefan, please. Don't let her do this. She's trying to get you angry," I silently pleaded with him.
His chest pushed against my hands for a moment. He closed his eyes for a second and drew in a deep, unnecessary breath. When his blue eyes reopened, he looked down at me wearily. "I am only tolerating this because she is your friend and I love you. Know and remember this."
My shoulders sagged in relief as I sent him my mental thoughts. "Thank you, Stefan. I love you."
"Georgia, open the trunk please," I called out. The trunk lid popped open and I placed my keys in his hand, my fingers lingering against his longer than necessary.
"Let me handle this. Take our bags inside and let me talk to her, ok?" I thought to him, trying to force a tiny smile.
He nodded imperceptibly and turned to head to the back of the car, pulling our luggage out. He headed towards the front porch with the bag in one hand, impatiently jingling the keys in the other. I waited until he had opened the door and stepped inside before I faced Georgia.
She looked smug and self-satisfied with her little performance as she leaned against the side of her car, her arms crossed under her chest. Seeing her like this made me even angrier, even though I was trying my best to not take sides.
"Are you happy with yourself?" I asked, walking to stand in front of her, mirroring her stance.
"Huh?" Georgia blinked. She pulled her arms tighter around herself, her head rising sharply as she met my gaze.
"I'm trying to not take sides and you're making it really difficult not to do it," I confessed, glancing away to stare at the gravel before meeting her blue eyes. "I get that you maybe don't like him, or you think he's wrong for me or hell, maybe you're just pissed off that I'm running off with him."
"Dickmatized was more along the lines of what I was thinking actually," Georgia interrupted, her eyes burning holes through me.
A dry laugh escaped before I could stop it. "Whatever. You can think what you want because no matter what I say, I'll never change your mind. You're my friend, and you'll continue to be my friend if I live in New York or New Zealand. You have to stop with the whole 'I'm going to annoy Stefan' thing you've got going on. It's not helping things with him. Or with me."
She glanced over my shoulder, off into the distance. Her face was set in a mask of defiance. "Fine."
I'd had enough, enough of her pettiness and enough of her bullshit. Grabbing her by the shoulders, I gave her a gentle shake. "Stop acting like a petulant five year old that lost her lollipop, Georgia! For fuck's sake, I love him. Does that even matter to you?"
She pushed a strand of dark hair back from her face and looked at me, her blue eyes glittering with tears. "Of course it matters to me. He's going to break your heart. He's too smooth, too pretty and he's gonna be like Jon and leave you once you're not so young and pretty anymore."
A proverbial light bulb went off in my head with her honest statement. Georgia's problem with Stefan had nothing to do with him, it had everything to do with her ex-husband who'd left her six years ago. There was no way to tell Georgia that I'd never have to worry about pesky things like aging anymore. I'd always look 28. If Stefan chose to leave me, it wouldn't have anything to do with me getting older.
"Georgia, Stefan isn't Jon. First of all, Jon is a jerk," I reminded her, moving to her side, leaning against the car. "Second, Stefan is it for me. When I saw him, my heart and soul knew it. He's the one."
I couldn't help but lose myself in the memory of seeing him on the beach and in the bar the first night I met him, with his golden blond hair, high cheekbones and eyebrows that arched over his expressive sea blue eyes. My mind had taken a mental snapshot of him leaning across the polished wood of the bar, dressed in the black t-shirt that strained tightly against his broad chest and the low-slung jeans he wore that rode low on his narrow hips, clinging to his long, powerful legs. I didn't ever stand a chance. Deep down I knew I fell in love with him at that moment. My heart knew it then; my mind was the hardest thing to convince.
"I just don't want to lose you, Josie. You're my best friend," her voice pulled me out of my memories. My eyes refocused and I put my arm around her shoulders. "You're gonna move and forget all about me."
Careful to keep my shields in place, my own sadness wrapped around me and tugged at my heart. I knew how difficult it was for her to admit her feelings like this, which made the fact that I'd eventually have to let her go cut even deeper. Moving away was the first step, slowly cutting ties. In a few years, we'd have to disappear from their lives for our own safety.
Georgia needed me to make her laugh and I gave in, feigning mock irritation. "How could I forget about your exasperating ass? You have to be the most annoying woman on the face of the earth."
My words coaxed a giggle out of her. She put her head against mine and we were quiet for a moment, listening to the quiet sounds of the wind rustling through the trees.
"So are we ok?" Georgia asked meekly.
"Of course. But I'm going to take a rain check on tonight. I just flew 20 plus hours and I have a house to sort through. I promise we'll get together in the next day or so."
Georgia sulked for a moment and then smiled, pulling me in for a hug. "Deal."
I backed away from her car and watched her get inside and start her car, honking wildly as she drove down the driveway.
Waving until her car was out of sight, I dropped my hand and hugged my arms around myself. For the first time in my life, after all of my years of wandering from place to place, saying goodbye was going to be difficult.
* * *
We had been up since 8 am sorting through my bookshelves. Books and clothing were really the only thing I shipped from place to place when I moved. Tackling the bookshelf was also the most time consuming since Stefan was trying to talk me out of keeping the majority of them.
"Explain why you have two copies of The Great Gatsby?" His question was more of a statement. He flipped through the first well-worn copy before tossing it aside to reach for the second. He looked down at me, waiting for me to answer him.
"One was given to me by my Dad. I mean, my adopted father." I pointed to the book in his hand. "The other I picked up at a thrift store while I was waiting for my books to arrive to my new address during one of my moves."
Stefan nodded and flipped through more books. He picked up another, his eyebrow raised in humor as he ran his hand over the cover. "The Picture of Dorian Gray. Ironic book to have, yes?"
From my cross-legged position on the floor, I observed him as he stood barefoot in front of the giant, built-in bookcase with the leather bound book in his hand. His bright blond hair was messy and rumpled, his navy blue t-shirt snug against his chest. He leaned against the wall and crossed his denim clad legs, skimming through the pages of the book, reading at what seemed to be super speed.
"I suppose it is now that I think about it. A beautiful man that doesn't age," I said. He glanced up from the book and his tongue swept over his lower lip as he waited for me to continue. "You don't have a painting of yourself stashed away in an attic somewhere that is revealing your true age and evil deeds, do you?"
He chuckled and waved the book in front of him. "No, I can assure you I do not. I am going to assume this goes in the keep pile. Should I mention I happen to have the 1891 First Edition copy of this very book?"
My mouth gaped for a moment. I tucked a piece of hair that escaped from my ponytail behind my ear, trying to act nonplussed about the fact that he owned a First Edition copy and he'd been around to purchase it, instead trying to refocus on packing. I couldn't help watching him from of the corner of my eye. "Please."
He sighed and placed the book in what was the unofficial "keep" pile. He started on the last shelf, pulling out another leather bound volume. He examined the book in silence, opening it and flipping through the pages. He stopped and concentrated on a page, tension pinching between his blond eyebrows.
"What?" I asked, distracted by packing books away in a box. Each book I touched made me think about the only man I would ever call my Dad, my adoptive father. Seeing all of these books always made me think of him, remembering the joy he would feel when he would read them, the happiness apparent in his dark blue eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses.
"This book. The Life of Napoleon by John Holland Rose. The 1904 version. Interesting." He held on to the volume and crossed the room to sit on the floor beside me, one leg bent with his arm resting on his knee. "How did you come to own this edition?"
"It was another gift from my adoptive father. He was a book lover as well as a collector. When my adoptive parents died, his collection became mine." I shrugged and went back to packing.
Stefan was still holding the book. He reached over and placed one of his large hands on mine, stopping me. Looking up at him, I was confused at his sudden interest in a book on Napoleon that my adoptive father had gifted to me.
"There is a note inside. Did you know that?" Stefan questioned, his voice low.
"What? A note? No, I've never even opened it."
He placed the heavy text in my hands, his finger marking the spot where the yellowed note rested. As the pages fell open, my eyes were drawn to the paper that was folded and lodged in the binding of the book. I recognized the scrawl of my adoptive father's handwriting immediately.
Running my fingertips over the fragile note with my fingers, I hesitated before opening it, sucking in a ragged breath.
"What are you waiting for, Josephine?"
Laughing nervously, I twisted my mouth to the side. "More bad news?"
Stefan leaned across and cupped my cheek with his hand. "Read it. Unless there is news about your other side of the family being werewolves, I think we are fine."
Blanching, I forgot about the note. "Werewolves? Are there werewolves?"
Stefan rolled his blue eyes at me. "Are there vampires!? Yes, there is a scarce amount of werewolves in the world." He waved his hand and pointed at the note. "Read."
I sat slack jawed for a moment. Werewolves? What other mythical creatures could there be? My mind drifted to thinking about the possibilities of Bigfoot, pixies and unicorns existing. If there are vampires, could they be real too?
He reached over and closed my mouth. "Josephine, focus. Werewolves are mainly in Europe. I assure you we are safe. As for the other creatures, even I do not know. Now stop stalling and read the letter."
My hands were trembling as I opened the delicate paper. Glancing at the top of the page, I noticed the date. It was dated over 15 years ago, when I would have only been 13. I could almost see him sitting at his desk, writing this letter to me. I suddenly missed him more than I could understand, or even begin to put into words. There was so much I wished I had said to him, that I wished I could say to him now.
Stefan tapped the paper again, drawing my attention back to the letter and I began to read.
If you are reading this letter, it is well after my death and you have either found out about your true parents, or will soon. You cannot begin to understand how difficult it was for us not to tell you the truth about your birth parents, even when you begged us to do so. It will always be my deepest regret.
Your birth mother, Armes, was my younger sister. She disappeared soon after your birth, and your father and his representatives showed up on our doorstep with demands for us to take you in and raise you. We fell in love with you at first sight and agreed to their terms to never disclose who your true parents were. We were silenced by our fear, their threats and money, I am ashamed to admit. You were well provided for, so I can only say that did alleviate some of the guilt which has plagued me for many years.
If your birth father, Kian, has already approached you, tread with extreme caution. I fear my sister met her end at his hands and your father is a dangerous man. If he has not yet found you or approached you, know that he will at some point. Look beyond his words to find the truth.
As I watched you grow, you reminded me of your mother and made her loss from my life a little easier to accept. Having you in my life was one of the greatest joys of my life, Josephine. You share the same gift as your mother, and I know that she would be proud to see what a beautiful, intelligent woman you are sure to become.
With much love,
Handing the note to Stefan, I rubbed over my face with my hands. How many more skeletons did I have in my closet? Over the span of a week, I found out my father is a powerful vampire, my mother was killed by my him, I have a long-lost brother and it looked like I needed a new hanger for my expanding closet. My adoptive father was really my Uncle.
"Interesting," he muttered. "Josephine?"
There was that word from him again. Interesting.
"I'm at a loss for words. What are your thoughts, because I know you have more to say than just interesting."
It was his turn to rub his large hand over his stubbled chin, his blue eyes serious. "Your adoptive father knew Kian was someone to be concerned about 28 years ago. He then took the time and the risk to write you a letter 15 years ago and place it in an obscure book about Napoleon. To me, that is telling."
I leaned towards him and grabbed his arms to get his full attention. "Go on. You think there's more, don't you?"
"Possibly. Napoleon was a very successful leader for many years. He was cunning and intelligent, however his thirst for power led to his political demise and his imprisonment and exile in 1815," Stefan theorized, his eyes taking on a distant look. "Your adoptive father chose this book for a reason, Josephine. Tell me about him."
"His name was Garreth Anderson. I thought he was an only child, but that doesn't seem to be the case," I said, turning my head to the side as I sorted through my memories of the man I called Dad for so many years. Flashes of him laughing, helping me with my homework, watching me graduate high school ran through my mind. "He was a librarian at the University where I grew up. He loved books, collecting antiques and rare books. He considered himself to be an amateur historian. He was a wonderful man and an even better father."
"He was obviously intelligent enough to have figured Kian out as well." Stefan took the book from me and closed it, placing his hand on the cover. "What do you want to do with this?"
An evil smile spread across my face. "Put that in our carry on bag. I'm taking it back to New York and sending it to Kian as a thank you gift for the painting he sent to me."
Stefan cocked his eyebrow. "I thought you were sending the painting back to him? What are you planning?"
"He lived during the time that Napoleon ruled. Maybe he needs a reminder what happens to tiny men with gigantic egos."
Stefan pushed the books aside and pulled me on his lap so I was facing him. He wrapped his arms around me and leaned to kiss me, his lips as soft as feathers against mine. When he pulled away, a smirk graced his handsome face. "As I've said before, you are my match in every way, vackra."
* * *
After a full day of sorting through closets, bookshelves and drawers, I taped the final box closed, picking it up and carrying it across the room and stacking it against the wall. Standing with my arms crossed, I surveyed my work. My life was now packed up in a series of 15 boxes that would be shipped via courier to the Chelsea condo in New York. We'd be staying at Stefan's house until we left for the US, so this was my official last night in my villa in Canggu, and I couldn't help feeling nostalgic.
I thought of all of the lonely days and nights I spent in this house, thinking I was content with being alone for the rest of my life. And then I met Stefan…he turned everything I knew upside down. He showed me what it was to truly love and to be loved. I'd take all of the baggage, all of the mysteries I'd yet to discover about myself to spend a hundred lifetimes with him. My gorgeous, deadly, loving immortal other half, a walking contradiction in every way.
Turning and heading down the hallway into the bedroom, I was surprised to see Stefan propped up in bed, flipping through the book he'd chosen to stow away in my carry on bag for our flight. Standing in the doorway, my eyes took him in. He was simply striking, from his golden blond hair, his expressive eyes over his high cheekbones to the soft curve of his lips. He was bare chested and his pale skin gleamed in the light from the bedside lamp, his muscular chest covered with a dusting of downy, blond hair. I inhaled deeply, savoring the familiar scent of him that could either sooth or send my senses reeling. Tonight his woodsy fragrance sent me reeling, my excitement and hunger for him burning deep inside of me, tiny darts of desire pricking my skin.
Walking to his side of the bed, I snatched the book from his hands, marking his spot and placing it on the table beside the bed. He regarded me with surprise, his sparkling blue eyes darkening as he watched me boldly strip off my tight t-shirt and panties. I stood naked before him, relishing in the heat from his burning blue gaze.
"You are fucking beautiful, Josephine. Min enda k?rlek."
Pulling back the covers, a moan escaped from my lips when I found him to be naked underneath against the sheets. Climbing over him to straddle him, my hands pressed against his chest as I captured his lips in a lingering, soft kiss. His hands drifted up my arms to grip them lightly as he deepened the kiss, his tongue slipping into my mouth and meeting mine, tangling together in an unhurried, sensual dance. One hand laced in the waves of my hair, pulling my head closer. When I reluctantly lifted my mouth from his, the look of longing in his eyes was and would always be my undoing.
"Stefan," I breathed.
In a blur, I was underneath him, his large body suspended over me, his hard cock pressing into my hip, encased in his powerful arms.
I wanted to lick him, taste his skin. Reading my mind, he bent over me, wrapping my legs around his waist. He slightly arched his back to bring his chest close to my eager mouth. My tongue darted out, licking across his smooth skin. It circled around his nipple before my lips closed around it, lightly sucking until he moaned, a heady sound that sent my senses trilling.
"Ah, vackra. Bite. Hard." His mental voice sounded strained as he pushed his command to me.
My teeth bit into the soft skin around his nipple and he growled deep in his chest. Encouraged by his response and wanting more, my teeth scraped across his flesh, drawing blood. I lapped at the drops of blood that seeped to the surface and I met his dark, nearly black eyes, the taste of his bittersweet blood still in my mouth.
"I want you," I demanded softly, unwrapping my legs from around him and parting my legs wide for him to fully see my arousal. He raised himself on one arm, his eyes dropping from mine long enough to look down, his thick fingers slowly moving to slip through the wetness that had escaped to coat my folds. His eyes slid back to mine, his face transforming into the more primal Stefan that could so easily lose control: wild eyes, tight jaw, furrowed eyebrows. His fangs dropped as his true nature took over.
In an instant he had me pinned back against the bed, his cock deep inside of me, his hips thrusting in deep, steady strokes. His eyes were closed and he was whispering to himself, so fast I couldn't understand his words. His thoughts were difficult to read, mostly in Swedish, but I knew what he was doing. He was trying to reign himself in, reminding himself that he didn't want to hurt me.
"Come for me, Stefan," I begged, as I writhed underneath him, welcoming every vigorous plunge of his cock as he completely filled me. The look of surprise and lust on his face sent need flooding through my veins. "I want to watch you. Come for me, Stefan."
He took a deep breath, opening his eyes and fixing them on mine until he simply had to look away. His pleasure overtook him, making him close his eyes and convulse violently, his immense body shaking against me. He curled into me, resting his head on my breast, letting out a satisfied moan that shook me to my very core. My own orgasm barreled over me as I clutched and shuddered underneath him. For the first time it was me that pushed him over the edge into sweet bliss, making him crumble while he dragged me over the edge with him.
Every single thought in my brain left me when Steftan's fangs slipped into my neck. I was still trembling with the aftershocks of my own release. The feeling of his bite only intensified my pleasure, the renewed tremors making me tighten rhythmically around him again and again, softly whispering his name.
He kept stroking inside of me gently as he drank from me, soft purring timbres emanating from his chest as he swallowed my blood in greedy sips. We were wrapped around each other, lost in our communion together.
"What in the fuck is going on?"