Here’s a snippet from the third book in the Children of Night series, Now Comes the Night. In this scene, vampire Julie hangs out with her human lover and his son.
You can choose your lover…if only you could choose your family.
Twins Julie and Marc Fischer have always been taught one fact: You can’t choose your family. After six months of living in San Francisco, the challenges each face are an intricate web of complications neither was prepared for.
Marc is torn between staying with Conrad and Damian or embracing his destiny — and the feral vampires that come with it. Julie is torn between the man she loves, and the life she is supposed to live.
Despite the hordes of holiday shoppers, Julie had no trouble locating Brennan in the crowded mall. It helped that she knew who he’d gone there with and had a pretty good idea what they’d likely be doing—that went without saying. But she was convinced there was more to it than that. She was sure that, even if she hadn’t known in advance where to start her search, something, either the bond between them, or her own heightened senses, would have led her to him just the same.
Maybe Damian and Armand were both right. Call it habit, call it addiction, call it any damn thing you like, who was she to say that there was no chemical component to the attraction Brennan felt for her? But who were they, or anyone for that matter, to say it didn’t work both ways, affecting vampires every bit as deeply as it did humans. Maybe no one wanted to accept that, but it would explain a lot, if that were the case. It would answer questions she’d puzzled over for years.
It would also explain why she’d come here tonight. Why she was once again doing the exact same thing she’d done repeatedly over the past six months. Whenever things got scary or overwhelming or too much to cope with she’d run to Brennan, finding comfort in the familiar taste of his lips and skin and blood, in the arms that would always hold her tight. He couldn’t really keep her safe. They both knew that. But time and again, they’d both been happy to pretend he could.
“Hey, you,” she said as she sidled up alongside him.
Brennan’s eyes widened. He drew in a startled breath. “Julie. Hi.”
Julie ignored the faint alarm in his gaze, the rapid patter of his pulse. Come and take me…come and take me… She kept her smile glued firmly in place and pretended not to notice how his hands had tightened reflexively, so that his grip on his son, who was seated on his shoulders, seemed somehow more fiercely protective than it had a moment earlier. If that didn’t show her how little he really knew, or trusted her, nothing would. Damn it, Brennan, chill. I don’t eat children.
Doing her best to appear harmless, she waved cheerfully at the little boy. “Hi, Parker. Remember me?”
The little boy nodded, but without much interest. It was obvious his attention was elsewhere. “I can see Santa,” he announced importantly, pointing over the heads of the other people waiting in line for their chance to chat with the man in red. “He’s right over there.”
Julie grinned. “Wow, that’s really cool. I guess it’s a good thing your daddy’s so tall, huh?”
Parker nodded absently again and Julie turned her attention back to Brennan. The surprise had left his eyes—and about time, too—likewise the wariness. In its place was an uncharacteristically solemn expression, and that might have been even worse. It was a look that combined tenderness and longing with a hint of despair. It made her want to wrap her arms around him and promise that everything would be all right, even though she wasn’t completely certain that was true.
“So…what are you doing here?” Brennan asked at last.
Julie shrugged, reluctant to admit she’d come here for him, that she’d tracked him down for what suddenly seemed like very selfish reasons. “Oh, you know, same thing as everyone else, I guess.”
At that, a crooked smile finally found its way to Brennan’s lips. “Really? You’re here to sit on Santa’s lap and whisper in his ear? You should have told me if that’s what you’re into. It might not be too late for me to rent a costume, you know.”
Julie made a face. “Funny. No. I think I’ll skip Santa’s lap this year.”
“Why? Were you bad?” Parker asked with sudden interest.
“Not especially,” Julie said with a laugh.
Brennan glanced up at his son. “Hey, you. Cut it out. We don’t ask questions like that. You hear me?”
“Because… Hell, I dunno. Just don’t do it, all right? It’s rude.” His gaze cut back to Julie. “So, if that’s not it, then what?”
Julie gestured at their surroundings. “You know, a little shopping, a little sightseeing. Just…taking it all in, really. The music, the decorations, the windows…”
“The lights?” Brennan suggested teasingly.
“Yeah, those not so much.” Julie winced a little at the thought. She’d been trying her best to ignore the glare, but even at night, even wearing dark glasses, all the blinking lights were giving her a headache. “Thanks so much for reminding me.”
Brennan’s gaze turned curious. “Seriously, though. Why the sudden interest? I mean, I didn’t get the impression you were really into religious holidays. I didn’t think you all celebrated that kind of stuff.”
Julie’s eyebrows rose. Is that what we’ve come to? She hated the idea that Brennan had lumped her in with all the other vampires. “I’m sure not all of us do. But what’s that got to do with me?”
Brennan nodded. “Point taken. And I guess…I guess it’s not really like a belief thing, is it? It’s not like you joined a cult or got a new religion or anything like that.”
“No. It’s not.” It wasn’t anything at all like that. It wasn’t something new or different or weird—at least not for her it wasn’t. It was just…life. Her life. The way it had always been. “And who says it’s sudden? I was a kid once, too, you know.”
As children, both she and Marc had been enthralled by the holiday season—a fact that had been met with surprise and resignation by their parental figures. How could they not be fascinated? For a few brief weeks every year, it was as though the whole world opened up to let them in. It was the one time of year they felt no different than all the other kids. The one time of year they weren’t convinced they were missing out on all sorts of fun. Stores stayed open later. The other kids stayed up later. People of all ages thronged the streets, singing carols, buying trees, strolling from house to house to admire decorations. From Thanksgiving all the way through New Year’s Eve—all the really cool stuff seemed to happen after dark.
“I wish I could’ve known you back then,” Brennan said.
Julie nodded. “Yeah, I’d have liked that too.” But that was just a pleasant fantasy. It could never really have happened because back when she was a kid, Brennan hadn’t even been born. Funny how the difference in their ages seemed suddenly to matter so much, when it had never bothered her before.
They were separated by what—maybe a dozen or so years? That was nothing compared to the age difference between, say, Conrad and Damian. Or Conrad and Armand. Or even her and Armand. But, once again, just as it had the previous night, what shouldn’t have bothered her did, while what should have been important wasn’t.
“What was it like?” Brennan asked suddenly.
Julie looked at him in surprise. “What was what like?”
“Christmas. When you were a kid. Was it very different from now?”
When she was a kid? She shouldn’t even be speaking about that. “No, not really.” She glanced around at the stores and the crowds and then corrected herself. “Not different at all, actually. A little smaller maybe.”
Julie shrugged. “A little bit, yeah. It was a small town though, so that would account for it, you know?”
“I guess. So you’re a small town girl then?”
“You could say that.” Small towns, suburbs, she’d lived in quite a few. All of them nondescript, all of them sharing one very important characteristic, a complete lack of other vampires. Why was that? It had to have been intentional. Despite Damian’s insistence that he and Conrad had wanted the twins to have as normal a childhood as possible, Julie couldn’t help thinking that they would have felt a whole lot more “normal” if they could only have spent time around others of their kind.
Brennan reached for her hand and held it tight. A silence fell between them, not exactly uncomfortable, one that lasted until they reached the end of the slowly moving line. Julie slipped her hand free of Brennan’s so he could swing Parker off his shoulders. As the little boy went off with one of the elf-garbed teens who’d been hired to help Santa with crowd control, Brennan wrapped an arm around Julie’s shoulders and pressed a kiss against the top of her head. “Sorry if I acted like a jerk before. I’m just trying to understand, you know?”
“Sure.” She glanced up at him and smiled, entirely too ready to forgive him. “Don’t worry about it.” She nodded toward Parker. “He’s so cute. Do you take him to do this every year?”
Brennan shrugged. “This is the first time, actually. He was too young for it before. But now…yeah, I probably will. I mean, that’s what parents do, right?”
His gaze turned curious again. “You don’t sound very sure of that. How come? Didn’t your parents take you to see Santa when you were a kid?”
“Yeah,” Julie smiled at the memory, even though, at the time, it hadn’t been all that pleasant. “Yeah, they did.”
It had only been once. Though she and Marc had pleaded for years, by the time they’d convinced Damian they could be trusted to control themselves through the flash of the strobe lights and the press of the crowd, they were almost too old to still be interested. He’d prepped them for weeks ahead of time, coaching them on what to expect, how to behave and what not to say to Santa and even with all of that, the resultant photo had showed two tight-lipped, startled-looking children, staring wide-eyed at the camera. It had not been a flattering picture, as she recalled, yet Damian had treasured it all the same. She sometimes thought he’d been disappointed the following year when neither of the twins could be persuaded to repeat the experience. Now, she kind of wished they hadn’t been so stubborn, that they’d tried it again—especially since it was one of the few “normal” childhood memories she had.
“I think that’s one of the things I love most about Christmas. How it’s always the same.”
Julie nodded, even though she knew better. The traditional trappings may have stayed mostly the same over the course of their lifetimes, but that wasn’t really saying much. Certainly neither Damian nor Conrad could make such a claim. In fact, she suspected they had stayed a lot more constant over the centuries than the holiday had. Although it was never actually discussed, she knew neither of them had been in the habit of doing anything to observe the holiday until she and Marc had come on the scene. Even then, had Damian not insisted, she was pretty sure Conrad would have been perfectly happy to continue to ignore it.
Parker, his interview with Santa over, came running back over to them. “I’m hungry,” he announced as soon as Brennan had picked him up and settled him on his hip.
Brennan grinned. “I dunno, bud. You already had your dinner—and dessert. Besides, it’s getting pretty late and I have to get you back to your mom soon. But, I tell you what, if you promise to be real careful, and not spill it all over my car, I’ll get you a hot chocolate and you can drink it on the way, all right?”
Parker nodded. “Deal.”
Brennan turned to Julie. “You wanna come with us?” His smile slid away when she shook her head.
“I can’t.” As much as she wanted to, she shouldn’t. She’d already intruded enough on their time together. “I still have shopping to do, remember?”
“Okay, then…will I still see you later?”
Julie hesitated. She probably should say no to that invitation as well, but being here, the lights, the music, the swell of people all around them, had stirred up more than memories. It had stirred up all sorts of feelings, all sorts of needs. Parker wasn’t the only one who was hungry. “Sure. Why don’t I meet up with you back at the house?”
“Okay. Good. I’d like that.” Brennan smiled and leaned over to give her a quick kiss before walking away.
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