chapter twenty-threeMature

Chapter Twenty-Three
Word Count: 3,952

EthanPOV

The girl standing at the bar appeared simple. Her brown hair had natural red highlights and it hung in comfortable curls down her back and over her shoulders. The black silk dress she wore was gorgeous, probably the most gorgeous thing about her. The strange thing was that I wanted nothing more than to rip it off her and leave it on the floor in my room. But she was so plain. For a vampire, at least. She had very little that was distinctive, except that her eyes were a warm brown. I'd never met a vampire who could have natural looking eyes without contacts and those were not contacts. I could smell her from across the nightclub, every inch of her skin seemed to be calling out to me.

So as you can imagine, when the dirty blond guy beside her stopped checking her out for the first time all night and excused himself to the bathroom, I was walking over there without really thinking about it. I vaguely heard a friend of mine calling out to me.

"Ethan, man, where are you going? Dude, get back here."

I had reached the girl by the time I even thought to turn around and by then it was too late. Who really would have wanted to, anyway, with this girl standing before him smelling like lavender and freesias? I reached out and gently tapped on her shoulder, watching in fascination the way the silk moved against her backside as she turned around to face me. And then she was this close and I couldn't breathe and I almost felt lightheaded. Her large doe eyes met mine and I felt so inferior, as if there was something inexplicably powerful pacing in the depths of her eyes, waiting to get out. Her gaze stirred something deep in my chest and if I didn't know any better, I'd swear my heart was going to start beating in my chest.

I smiled down at her and watched the corner of her mouth turn up into a smirk. She reached into her little black clutch and pulled out a long, black cigarette. Was that a clove? I do believe it was. She lit it as I watched, holding the lighter a mere four inches from my chest. Perhaps I shouldn't have stood so close to her, she didn't seem very responsible with that flame. That wasn't safe. Instead of acting on that thought, I reached out my right hand and pressed it against the edge of the bar, consequently leaning my torso closer to her. Her small hand reached up and took the cigarette from between her lips as she exhaled a soft cloud of smoke. Her clutch and lighter had vanished. I studied the black smoke in her hand, positively enthralled by the faint glistening of her lip gloss against the paper.

I met her eyes again, those melted chocolate pools tugging at my chest.

"Hi," I croaked out. What the hell was this? I didn't think I was nervous, why was my voice breaking?

"Yeah."

Yeah? What kind of greeting was that? And did I really just sort of swoon at the sound of her voice? Let's try that again.

"I'm Ethan." At least my voice didn't break.

"That's nice." Her tone was flat, uninterested. She wasn't teasing, she wasn't complimenting me. And yet her voice sent hot pin-pricks all over my body. I felt like I'd never spoken to a girl in my life before, suddenly my stomach was churning and exploding with nervous flutters. Fucking butterflies. Great.

"What's your name?"

"Her name's Bella. You can go now." I fought to tear my eyes from hers as she exhaled another puff of smoke in my direction. When I finally ripped my eyes from her, I met the fierce glow of a pair of green eyes. Another vampire without contacts? What the hell? I pulled my sight back so I could focus on more than just blondie's eyes. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest, his back straight, clearly unhappy with my relative position to his lady.

"I'm rather comfortable, thanks." If looks could kill...

"James, why don't we go dance?" Her voice again. Those same pin-pricks on every inch of my skin. And I do mean every inch. I straightened myself up, grabbing her hand and smirking at her friend.

"I'll dance with you, baby." With that I tugged her onto the dance floor, placing us in the center of the room, before I pulled her against me as much as she would allow. My hands cupped her waist, so small it easily fit in my grip, as my eyes stayed on hers. She danced slowly, not nearly the way she had withJames. This knowledge pissed me off. Why wouldn't she dance with me that way? I pulled her closer forcibly, leaning my face down right against the side of hers. I told her she smelled fantastic. She stiffened momentarily but relaxed slightly. Slightly. She had one hand on my chest, keeping me from moving any closer, and she continued smoking with her other hand. Why was this woman so fucking sexy to me? I pressed my nose against the dip in her neck where her pulse would have been if she were human, inhaling the heavy scent of her skin.

Her friend was tapping my shoulder. I was ignoring him. That is, until he grabbed my arm and yanked me backwards by a few feet, forcing me to release her. Instantly, my body ached to fill the few spots she'd been. With my nose burning from her smell, my mind barely registered that I was speaking.

"Sorry buddy, but I think our lady friend is having a good time right here. Don't be an ass, man, let the woman dance." My voice was sure, confident, but mostly stupid. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew this guy could be trouble. It was clear. It was hard to miss, actually, even just with a glance at him. The way he held himself, the way his jaw set, the way his clothes hung casually from him. He didn't wear anything that would restrict his movements, which was smart. But only if you were used to trouble. The way his hands were buried in his pockets, as if to keep him from swinging. Even standing there, his legs were set apart slightly as if he were bracing for impact.

Yeah, this guy was trouble, all right. Not someone you'd want to mess with. So why was I antagonizing him, then?

Beats me.

The low growl that rumbled from his chest nearly shook me, and if I'd had any sense I would have bowed out and left. Not just left them alone, either, butleft the bar entirely. Yet, I didn't. I took a long breath, inhaling nothing but her scent, and felt a cocky sneer lift my lips up. What the fuck was wrong with me? Did I really want to fight this guy? Unwillingly, my eyes darted to the topic of our disagreement, smoking casually a few feet away from the both of us. I hadn't noticed that the rest of the patrons on the dance floor were avoiding the three of us entirely. Even drunk these humans had more sense than I did.

"You want me to get you outta here, baby? He seems a bit controlling, I'm sure you'd like the chance to get away. Maybe have some fun for once." There it was, my voice again. Speaking without permission. Stupid, stupid idea. I watched his eyes spark with a new level of angry. Perhaps he was right up at rage now? Yeah. Stupid fucking idea, that talking thing. His furor shone in his eyes like a fire blazing in the distance and I knew I was done for.

"I think you should leave."

"I think she wants me to stay. Someone has to get her out of here." I reached out and went to graze the skin of her arm with my fingertips, planning to grab her hand to prove my point.

"I would think twice about touching her, if I were you. Just a suggestion, but I won't repeat myself." This was a bad idea. A very, very bad idea.

"James, why don't we just go home?" Her voice shook, despite her clear attempts to make it even. Baby was scared. What was she scared of? A fight here? Or of him when they got home? Did he fucking abuse her? Oh fuck no. I didn't even bother to disguise myself as I turned to look at her, studying her creamy skin and large doe eyes. She was a vampire, there would be no bruises, but I couldn't help scanning her body anyway. Is that what she was afraid of, him abusing her?

I felt a surge of protectiveness rush through me, mentally watching all my restraint and common sense leap from the window. This was stupid. So very stupid. But she clearly needed someone to step in on her behalf. No one would abuse this girl. I inhaled deeply before I let out a low, menacing growl from my throat. The smell of freesias filled my head, making my vision blurry.

"You don't have to go home to this asshole, baby."

"Really, Ethan, it's all right. I think we should go, James." Her voice was panicked now.

"I would really suggest that you stop calling her that, Ethan." He spat my name at me like it was a filthy word. I felt my own anger building in my chest. This was going to end badly. But I was fast, faster than any vamp I'd ever met, and I intended on putting that to good use.

"Why don't we take this outside?" Before either of them could really expect anything, I swept her up into my arms and bolted out the back door of the nightclub. She had just started to struggle as I set her down outside, her lovely face forming a malicious glare directed right at me. Had I done something wrong? I was trying to help.

"Bella! Did he hurt you?" For the first time since I'd spoken to this James, his voice was gentle, a soft caress between them without the use of hands. I wanted to believe it was fake, it was all a show, but I struggled with it. It didn't stop me from my next stupid idea, however.

I swung my right fist directly into James's jaw. I watched him fly backwards and hit the brick wall of the building we'd just exited.

JPOV

There was something to be said about being thrown towards a brick wall via impact to your jaw. Pain was an understatement, really. Even as a vampire, I couldn't neglect the throbbing ache in my face. I wondered if he'd knocked a few teeth loose. A human would have shattered every bone in his hand with a punch like that. This kid packed a punch, I'd give him that. But he was also stupid. Oh yeah, a few teeth were loose. I could feel them stitching themselves back into their rightful places.

It took absolutely no effort on my part to halt my speeding path to the brick wall. I forcibly threw myself the rest of the few inches, having only been concerned with destroying the wall and bringing attention to us. Even using telekinesis to toss myself into it destroyed part of the wall, though that wouldn't even be noticed until a worker had to take the trash out in the wee hours of the morning. I didn't need Ethan noticing my ability before I wanted him to. So a quick collision with the wall was something I was willing to suffer through for the advantage of surprise. Bella was at my side, cooing in my ear and attempting to dust off the particles of demolished brick from my shoulders. I didn't even bother lifting myself from the ground before I brought my hand up and lifted Ethan from his feet from across the parking lot. I threw him into a parked car. The metal crunched beneath his weight as the tires pushed sideways, forcing the first car to collide with another one beside it. And then another.

I curled the fingers of that same hand into a fist, pulling him out of the wreckage and slamming him down on the ground. Hard. I heard bones snap. The thing about being a vampire, though, is that even broken bones heal in seconds. I opened my hand, releasing my hold on him, and waited for him to recover. No need to kick a vampire while he was down, it wasn't fair and was typically looked down upon by any self-respecting person. Bella wouldn't approve if I destroyed this kid without giving him a fighting chance.

I stood up and dusted myself off, glancing up when it registered to me that Bella was rushing to Ethan's side, running her long fingers through his hair as he lay on the ground face down. She was speaking quietly to him, asking him if he was going to be all right. What. the. fuck.

Now that was just infuriating. Any polite break I was willing to give the kid was shortened dramatically by my temper being aggravated. What the fuck was Bella doing? Did she honestly have any concern for this little shit? I growled low in my throat and lifted my hand again, his body rising from the ground. I stood him up in the air and dropped him to his feet from about thirty feet in the air. Nothing dangerous. He landed on his feet, crouched down with his knees bent and his right palm flat on the concrete. He was healed fine, and I wondered if I regretted that. His head rose slowly as he looked up at me and I knew that look. Fury was not appropriate. Unequivocal malice might be.

He returned my growl and lunged at me, faster than I expected, slamming me to the ground and proceeding to punch me directly in the face. Again. His free hand gripped my shirt and he lifted us both off the ground. I'd let him have his moment, and then I would slaughter him. He pulled me up just inches from his face, growling in his throat again as he spoke.

"No more gifts, fucker. We end this on fair ground." Fine, kid, I can do that.

"Fine," my normal smooth tone was long gone, my voice held nothing except contempt and rage and a fire that was eating me alive.

So this was jealousy, or the vampiric equivalent.

I lifted my left hand and swung with as much force as I could muster directly into the side of his head. He released me and stumbled back a few steps, his hand going up to soothe his now-injured head. Then he turned quickly and brought his foot up in a round-house kick towards the side of my head. An eye for an eye. I ducked and threw my own leg out, catching his grounded foot with mine and knocking him off balance. He landed on the pavement face-first. I heard the cracking of his nose as it gave beneath his weight. That was oddly satisfying.

Bella was yelling but it was nothing more than background noise at this point. I could have tried to understand what she was saying except that to do so would have distracted me from side-stepping a punch to the stomach. But since I wasn't trying to understand Bella's panicked screams, I side-stepped said punch and brought my knee up to meet his mouth with a loud crunching noise.

Ow. That probably hurt.

I reached out and grabbed a fistful of his hair, yanking him up to his feet and throwing him backwards in one powerful toss. He slammed heavily into the dumpster across the parking lot, the metal creaking and folding around his form. He slid to the ground before rolling out of the damaged dumpster and lifting himself to his feet. He shook off the collision quickly and stalked towards me, slowly. He was being deliberate, thinking he could frighten me off by acting unfazed. We circled each other for a moment, taking steps at the same time, watching the other's movements carefully. We were sizing each other up, and if I was being honest, the annoyance across from me was more of a challenge than I gave him credit for. At least, without the use of my gifts he was. It was his speed, really. But it hardly mattered, I was faster. I knew I was faster. But it had been a long time since someone could push me to have to be faster. I could feel my muscles tightening all throughout my body, anticipating my next attack. He lunged at me again, always the eager one, and I leaped from my spot on the pavement. Curling myself into a ball, I spun in mid-air and landed on my feet. Directly in the center of his back, pinning him to the pavement with an explosive pop. I stepped off of his shattered spine and walked a few feet away, giving him room to move. No use making this too easy.

Bella's screams became more urgent but, really, neither of us were paying any attention.

That is, until a streak of white-hot flame flew directly between us and caught a parked car on fire. Then, we payed attention. It had almost looked like a comet flying passed me, the tail of it dancing with little licks of golden yellow flame and bright orange sparks. Slowly, I turned my head in the other direction, my gaze landing on Bella. She was on her knees, her warm brown eyes large and shocked. Panic was clear on her face and the backs of her hands rested on her thighs, her fingers curled up slightly as if she were tense.

Of course she was tense. Someone just fired off a flame-thrower behind her. That's when it hit me, Bella was in danger. I took off running towards her, scooping her into my arms as my eyes covered the entire span of the parking lot and the area passed us. No one. She was untouched, luckily for the shitfuck who'd done it.

"Find the fucker with the flame-thrower, I'm going to put her somewhere safe," I couldn't believe I was calling Ethan to arms to defend the woman we were, in essence, fighting over. But this wasn't about us, this wasn't about jealousy, this wasn't about pride. This was about Bella, it was about keeping her safe. And it meant I needed someone to watch my back as I hid her, and he was the only one here. He would have to do. I ran towards the ocean, my speed literally so fast that my feet never fully touched the ground. Easily two hundred miles an hour. I held Bella firmly against my chest as I ran, wondering if she knew what was going on at all. She hadn't said anything, her eyes were still wide with shock and I was not going to make it worse by telling her exactly what I thought was happening. There really was only one option.

Hunters.

It was a rare occurrence, to be sure, but it did happen. It was happening. Some egotistical human somehow found out about vampires and didn't simply dismiss the notion. Instead, he went and bought a flame-thrower and decided to eliminate the species. Yeah, because that was the logical thought process. Obviously, it was an even more rare occurrence when the moron succeeded. And when he did, it was only one vampire and it was always by way of absolute surprise.

He was usually slaughtered shortly thereafter. Sometimes, it has to be done.

I was at the water's edge now, Bella in my arms. I set her on her feet and cupped her small face in my hands. "Baby, listen to me." Her eyes lifted to meet mine, but I knew that she was barely here with me. She was somewhere else entirely, buried in her mind beneath shock and fear and surprise. I wanted nothing more than to lift her back into my arms and run my hands through her hair and soothe her until she was no longer afraid. But the only way I could do that would be to eliminate the threat entirely. "Bella, you have to go underwater for me, okay? Stay here until I come to get you. Go out about three miles and sit on the ocean floor. They won't be able to find you there. Okay? Do you understand me?" She nodded gently and I kissed her lips hard. I took her clutch and hid it a few feet away. I returned to her and kissed her again, quickly. "All right, baby, go now." And she did, diving into the water and speeding off just like I told her to.

Then I sped back to the parking lot. It took me no more than a minute and a half. Ethan was scouting the area as I'd instructed but when I returned, he looked at me as if I'd lost my mind.

"There's no one here, James. No one could have gotten away that quickly. If it was a hunter, he'd have stayed until he could hit one of us. Don't you think?"

The kid had a point actually, but I had to be sure. I couldn't risk someone coming after Bella simply because I trusted some kid. Some kid I didn't even know.

"We look again. I can't take that risk."

And so we looked. Everywhere. Rooftops, cars, buildings. We looked in cars that were hundreds of blocks away. I scanned the minds of everyone within range. Nothing. We couldn't find a single trace. In fact, every fresh scent in the parking lot was either from us or was traceable into the nightclub. There was nothing for us to find. But I kept Ethan searching for hours. We were chasing nothing, even I knew it, but I couldn't let it go. The fear of someone coming after Bella because I'd neglected one tiny little thing was overwhelming.

"Dude, we aren't finding anything. Why can't you just let it go?"

"Because Bella is the one at risk here," I spat. The acid in my voice was painful even for me, my throat burned with it as I spoke. Ethan looked shocked.

"She's not at risk if there isn't anyone at all to find, James."

"Then how do you explain the fucking fireball, Ethan? If you're so fucking sure of this, explain that to me."

And then, as if Ethan had punched me in the back of the head, the realization hit me. And it hurt. Christ, I was so fucking stupid. How could I have overlooked this? I felt my knees buckle and crash into the pavement. Ethan froze where he stood, his mouth half open as if to respond to me. Shock was apparent on his face, he had no idea what could have caused me to collapse like that. Vampires don't have heart attacks.

"Uh. You okay?"

The tension was still thick between us and the idea of having to ask the other if he was okay was simply torturous. All we wanted to do was make sure hewasn't okay, but until the threat was discovered we were forced to work with each other. And I was certainly not okay.

"I figured it out."

"What? Where is the guy?"

"About a thousand feet under water."

The End

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