Nycholas regarded me for a moment, and then his expression drew even more serious as he stepped toward me once – with caution, not threat. “Calli.”
I searched his eyes. “Yes?”
“Why did you put needles into your skin to color it?”
I gulped down fear. “Human beings do stupid things, I guess, in order to look pretty.”
“I can’t bring myself to eat you, to make that… pretty… disappear. I should want to. I tried. Do your colors make you tasteless?”
I’d never had someone discuss with me whether I’d pair well with red or white wine, so I didn’t know how to answer him. “Um, no. Freddy – my friend – he had colors, too.”
“He tasted fine. But he wasn’t your friend.”
I remembered the alcoholic stench rolling out of Freddy’s mouth as he loomed over me on the staircase, and nodded. “You’re right about that.”
“Am I your friend?”
Was Nycholas my friend? Well, gee, let me think, dumbass, you came into my shop with the intent to eat me, you chased me, twice…
And then set the bone in my hand, left me alive, and saved me from a nasty encounter with Freddy that probably would have turned quickly to drunken revenge rape.
“Yes, Nycholas, I think you are my friend.”
Nycholas stepped closer and I lifted my chin, suppressing my fear, inhaling that smell of steel off his skin. His breath rushed like ice across my cheek. “I’m a Vesper.”
I licked my lips because they were dry, and Nycholas’ eyes dropped down and he sucked in a barely-audible breath. “What’s a Vesper?”
“Me,” he said. “Half-snake. Half man.”
“Nocturnal?” Must be. Vampire legends started somewhere.
“Where do you come from?”
“The same place you come from.”
I shook my head. “Portland?”
Nycholas laughed, and I jumped a little at the force of it, his heavy chest shaking with the deep bass of his humor. He shook his head. “No. The Garden. The same place as the humans.”
“You came from Adam and Eve?”
“We don’t call them that, because we know their real names. But yes. And the apples. Apples are important.”
I took a breath to ask another question, but Nycholas’ eyes perked up suddenly again. “Hey!” he said. “I found something for you.” He swept past me to the door and left the room, and I stood for a moment in stunned silence, and then followed him out the bedroom door into the hallway of what seemed like a two-level, suburban home, not the most modern place I’d seen but certainly well-kept. I took the stairs slow, not trusting my consciousness after two fainting spells. Nycholas stood in the kitchen, an orange in his hand, holding open a drawer and frowning.
I stood beside him at the drawer and accidentally brushed my shoulder against his cool, bare arm. I wanted to shiver, but the softness of his powder-white skin spread comfort through my veins before fear could set in. Nycholas hummed, a low, puzzled sound that was sexy as hell, and I followed his gaze into the drawer.
“I can’t remember which one,” he said.
The drawer was full of silverware, and in Nycholas’ hand was an orange. He couldn’t figure out if I needed a fork or a spoon to eat it.
Don’t giggle. Don’t giggle! Oh my God. How seriously adorable. The big bad monster – the big bad man-eating Vesper – didn’t know how to feed his colorful, exotic human pet. I couldn’t speak or I knew I’d break into ridiculous giggle fits, so I just gently pushed the drawer closed and took the orange from his hand. I pulled back a bit of the peel and slipped a segment out, and then popped it into my mouth. I smiled as I chewed, and he blinked a few times, studying me.
“Thank you,” I said. “It’s delicious.”