As Barbara led Ambrose down the hallway, she side-glanced at him and marveled. This won’t be the first time we sleep together. We’ve already crossed that threshold. But this will be the first time I’ll share a hotel room with him.
The first time we’ll sleep together away from home.
The first time I’ll wear lingerie for him.
A whole bunch of small first times that makes our marriage feel even more real. It wasn’t just a one day thing. Or two people playing at grown-up make believe. It happened. It’s real. He is my husband and I am his wife. And so it will be until death tears us apart.
She felt a small, familiar pang. Death won’t come quietly for him. Death won’t be gentle or kind. Death will be an act of violence, a second of fear, a millisecond of regret. Most likely than not, he will die without me at his side. He will die alone. The Collectors will steal him away. I won’t be able to say good-bye to him. I won’t even know that he’s gone.
He’ll just be gone.
Ambrose stopped in the middle of the hallway and looked down at her. “Are you all right? You seem…tense.”
She shook her head. “I’m okay. Just thinking about you, about us.”
He searched her expression. “Regrets?”
“None, except for one.”
“What is it?”
“Knowing how I’ll lose you.”
He let go of his luggage handle and rested his hands on her shoulders. “You won’t lose me yet, my love. I’m here with you right now and I will not leave you until tomorrow night.”
“Even then, I won’t be gone that long. I will return as fast as I can.” Ambrose moved his hands down to her waist.
She loved how that felt, but something in his expression stopped her from fully enjoying his touch. “Ambrose? What is it?”
There it was. Clear as clear and completely unmistakable.
“I could.” He cleared his throat. “If you want me to…if you tell me to, I could just hold back on hunting until we get back to Pinkerlee.”
She frowned and considered his words. “Hold back on hunting?”
He nodded. “I’d let you lock me in here at night. Or tie me—”
“No.” His hoodie’s zipper pull sheened in the hallway’s mellow lighting. It beckoned to her fingers, teasing and taunting her to take hold and pull it down. Images flashed in her mind.
His bare shoulders.
His bare neck.
His bare chest.
So much bare skin and that was just the top half. There was so much more down below.
Barbara blushed and said, “No.” in a softer tone. She raised her gaze to his face and focused on what she wanted to say instead of what she wanted to do. “No, Ambrose. You are my husband, not my prisoner. Yes, I will worry about you every time you go out to hunt. And yes. One day, my worries will be proven true. But I will not imprison you to keep you safe. Not now. Not ever.”
The fear in his eyes softened into something close to awe.
“Besides, it would be cruel and selfish for me to do that to you. You need to drink blood the same way I need to eat food. And you can’t eat food.”
“You could insist on me trying to eat.”
“Darling.” She caressed his face. “You know I won’t. You’d just throw up everything you ate and it would only serve to make your hunger worse. You need blood to satisfy that hunger and to stay sane. If you need it bad enough, I will offer my blood to you.”
He leaned into her touch. “I will never ask that of you. Never again. I love you, Barbara.” He turned his face to kiss her hand. “I love you so much.”
“And I you.” Her entire body seemed to blush. “Hm. We’ve loitered out here for far too long. What do you say we finally go into our room?”
He whispered in her ear, “I’d say it’s about time.”
She giggled. “So do I.”