A/N: I am losing my mind, starting a new story so soon after finishing "Ordinary Loneliness." But this is one of those ideas that wouldn't turn me loose until I had it in a file, which is usually a pretty good sign. It's AU, but back with our favorite couple. Here, Elena is writing vampire romance (aren't we all?) and gets an invitation to meet the real thing. I'm going M because there will probably be some delicious lemon icebox sweetness, and it could get dark. As always, read, REVIEW, fave and follow. And if you have ideas for plot points, by all means, send them to me! I'm open to suggestions.

To the wonderful jairem: Your romance is next, I PROMISE! But this was really clamoring to be written. I may get to both at the same time, if I completely lose my marbles. :) Stay with me on this one, too, please!

I appreciate all those who take time to read my work. And now: let the curtain rise and the show begin! Enjoy

Disclaimer: I do not own or operate "The Vampire Diaries."

"Next Big Thing event planners, Elena Gilbert speaking. Yes, Mrs. DiGiulio, we did get your request for the red velvet cupcakes. Absolutely. We've contacted the caterer, and she said it wouldn't be a problem to add an order for 200 to the menu. She said it would be an additional $175, and that's because you ordered so many other things they could give you a discount. Yes, Ma'am, I realize the governor will be attending your event. We'll have everything absolutely ready by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Yes Ma'am, that means four in the afternoon. Certainly. Thank you." Elena hung up and looked daggers at the phone. "If Tonya DiGiulio wasn't paying us $15,000 to plan this shindig, I'd tell her where she could put her freaking red velvet cupcakes! That's the third addition she's made this week!" she exclaimed in frustration.

"Again?" Oh, my God. That woman seriously needs to get a life. Obviously, the country club membership isn't as fulfilling as it should be." Caroline Forbes, co-owner of the business, came in with a box of tablecloths. She slammed them on the table. "I hope these are the appropriate shade of blush and bashful for Her Highness."

Elena gave a short laugh. They all look pink to me. That ballroom is gonna look like a bottle of Pepto-Bismol exploded in it and she's gonna think it's beautiful! No taste."

Caroline grimaced. "Not a bit. We tried to talk her into blue and gold, but nooooo. What do you expect? She's 25, married to a 60-year-old guy and probably still watches 'My Little Pony.'"

Elena laughed. "Yeah. That's where she got her color scheme from." Both women howled with laughter. "Oh! Big news! 'Good morning Atlanta' called. They want me on the author's corner segment in the morning!" Elena owned the business with Caroline, but wrote romance novels on the side. Her recent foray into vampire romance had been very successful and she was selling books like hotcakes online.

"Cool! I'll make sure to set the DVR. That's awesome! Maybe you'll get to where you can write full time!"

"I'd love that. I like this business, but I want to write."

Elena was pleased with how the TV segment went, and she noticed an immediate uptick in her online sales. A couple of days later, Caroline brought in the mail and tossed an envelope on her desk. Elena picked it up. It was addressed to her, in what she would guess was a masculine hand, but it was beautiful handwriting. It looked antique. "I wonder if he uses a fountain pen," Elena mused. The envelope was heavy stationery stock and when she slit it open, the card inside was also of heavy cream paper. It was embossed on the front with what looked like initials. She examined them. "Caroline, does this say 'DS' you think?"

The blonde took the card. "That would be my best guess." She handed it back to Elena, who opened the card. "Loved the TV interview. Your books are very interesting, but not very factual. You should meet the real thing." She looked at Caroline and chuckled. "Jeez. Everybody's a critic. Too bad 'DS' didn't sign the card. 'The real thing.' Yeah, right.' Nutjobs are everywhere." She slid the card into the desk and forgot it. She and Caroline had a real thing business to operate.

A week later, a dozen red roses arrived. Elena looked at the card. "My offer still stands." It was in the same hand as the "DS" card. She dug that card out of her desk and flipped it over. There, on the back of the card was written, "Call me if you'd like to meet. DS." And a phone number. Well, hell. This was starting to ante up her weirdo meter. The card had been a three or so, but the roses sent it zooming to seven. She looked up the number online. It was a cell, not surprisingly, and based in Rome, Georgia. That was about 60 miles from Atlanta. "Creepers R Us," she muttered, as Caroline bounced into the office and saw the flowers. "Oooh! Pretty. Who from?" she chirped.

"Mr. DS," Elena answered, and handed Caroline the card.

"Wow. Isn't that just a little -"

"Stalker-ish? Yeah. I thought the same thing. But I did say I co-owned the business on the TV segment, so it's not like it's a top-clearance level secret who I am."

"Still…" Caroline said, her voice trailing off.

"I know. Take the roses to your mom. She can put them at the nurse's station so the residents can enjoy them." Caroline's mother, Liz, was an ex-police officer turned nursing home administrator.

"I will. She's coming by for lunch and can pick them up then."

"Great. I'll be glad when the senator's party is out of the way," Elena said.

"Oh! Big news there! Because the party is a benefit for Habitat for Humanity, his wife said President and Mrs. Carter might be there! I talked to her on my way in."

Elena's eyes widened. "No! Really? Wow. Extra spit and polish, then!"

"Seriously!" Caroline answered.

Monday morning after the senator's party, more flowers arrived. At first, Caroline thought they were a very nice thank-you gift from the senator or his staff, but she looked at the card and her eyes widened.

When Elena came in, Caroline said, "Oh, girlfriend. Look at this!" and handed her the card.

Elena knew who it was from even before she read it - the handwriting was unmistakable. "Congratulations on organizing the event of the Atlanta social season. I hear it was nothing short of spectacular. Please do call me. I insist. DS." She swallowed and looked at Caroline. Her weirdo meter had gone way past 10 and was knocking on the door at 50. "Oh, my Lord," she said.

"So are you gonna call him?"

"Not on a bet! What do I look like - bait?"

Caroline grinned. "Apparently you do - to this guy."

"Maybe if I ignore him, he will go away."

"You can hope. Maybe he wants to plan an event," Caroline said, hopefully.

"I doubt it," was Elena's tart reply.

On Wednesday, Elena's phone rang. "Next Big Thing event planners. Elena Gilbert speaking," she said.

A silky, sensual male baritone sounded in her ear. "Ms. Gilbert. How good to finally talk with you."

Elena's eyes nearly crossed at the pure sex in this man's voice. "Who am I speaking with, please?" she said, her voice coming out as a squeak.

"Oh, my apologies. I'm Damon Salvatore."

Damon Salvatore. DS. Holy crap. Elena nearly fell out of her chair.

"Good morning, Mr. Salvatore. How can I help you?" Elena asked, doing her dead level best to keep her tone professional. Caroline came in about that time and Elena gestured to her and put him on speakerphone. Both stared at Elena's phone like it might bite.

"Did you get the note I sent on Monday? With the flowers?" His voice implied he knew good and well she did. Caroline mouthed Oh, my God! at her.

"I did. That was very kind of you to send them. Are you wanting to plan an event with us?"

He chuckled and both women nearly melted. Caroline fanned herself with a brochure. "I suppose you could say that. Except I had in mind an event for two."

"Is that so? I'm afraid I'm not quite sure what you're driving at, Mr. Salvatore." Caroline couldn't believe how cool Elena sounded. Good thing this man couldn't see her face.

"Damon, please. And I think you know what I'm talking about. I saw you on 'Good Morning Atlanta' and I picked up a couple of your books online. I'd love to discuss them with you."

"I'm very flattered, Damon. Really. Are you in the publishing business?" Elena asked. Caroline nodded enthusiastically.

"I have some interests in that industry," he answered.

"Can't imagine why you'd want to discuss my books. Are you an expert in the field? Like romance, vampires or books?"

"All of the above," came his silky, amused reply. Elena snatched Caroline's brochure and fanned at that answer. Caroline grabbed her notebook and scribbled, "Cocky much?"

Elena nodded and grinned. Deep breath, Gilbert. Keep it together. "That sounds interesting. I'll have some free time for…" she looked at her calendar "...Saturday lunch?"

"Sounds good. I suggest the Bella Roma in Kennesaw. Is that too far out of your way?"

"Not at all. What time?"

"How about twelve-thirty?"

"That would be fine. How will I recognize you?"

He chuckled again. "I'll find you. See you then - Elena." He ended the call.

Elena made sure her phone was turned off before she looked at Caroline. "Lord, help. I never thought he'd call me!"

"After two bouquets and three cards? He was gonna call. And if he looks a tenth as good as he sounds…"

"I know it. But with my luck, he's probably got a face for radio. You're coming with me, right?" Elena asked her friend.

"Are you kidding me?" Caroline squealed. "Of course! What if he is some creeper? You'll need backup. I'll get there at twelve-fifteen and act like I don't know you. And to make it look extra legit, I'll bring Bonnie, if I can pry her out of the store." Their friend Bonnie Bennett ran a small coffeehouse.

"Call her tonight so she can get Derek to help her on Saturday."

"Will do. I cannot wait for Saturday! This is the most exciting thing that's happened to you in - well, a long time."

Elena grinned. "Don't remind me. Not like our jobs leave us much time to socialize."

At 10:45 Saturday morning, Elena was agonizing over what to wear. She looked through everything in her closet - twice. Finally, she decided on a powder blue cardigan with lace appliques over a cream tank and paired it with indigo jeans. Her ballerina flats completed the look - and enabled a fast getaway, should one be required. Light makeup, curl hair, pull it into a ponytail. She looked in the mirror. Casual, but put together.

She walked through the door of the restaurant at 12:25. She scanned the tables and saw Caroline and Bonnie in the corner. Thank goodness. The hostess approached her. "I'm meeting someone," she said. "Mr. Salvatore, if he gave you his name."

The woman smiled. "He's here," she said, and her expression was appreciative. "Right this way."

"Thanks," Elena murmured. She walked past Caroline and Bonnie and they craned their necks to see who she was meeting. They could see a man sitting at a small table. He wore a black button-up shirt and faded black jeans and boots.

The hostess approached the table. "Mr. Salvatore," she said. He stood and turned to greet Elena. Caroline dropped her fork. Holy Mother of God. Bonnie turned to look and froze.

Elena could tell her eyes were as big as saucers, and she made an effort to put them back into her head. She held out her hand. "So nice to meet you. I'm Elena."

He took her hand and softly kissed the back. "The pleasure is definitely all mine," he said. He gestured for her to sit down. She did so with a smile. She wasn't sure what she was expecting, but it wasn't a man who looked like a movie star. He was average height, but he had a body under that silk shirt, or she didn't know anything about men. His hair was jet black and his face was angular, with a strong jawline, but with full, sensitive lips. And then there were his eyes. On a blond, they would have been striking, but with his dark hair, their ocean blue was completely mesmerizing. In short, he was beautiful.

Caroline was texting the same thing to Bonnie.

"So how long have you lived in Atlanta, Elena?" Damon asked her.

"About seven years. I moved from Charlottesville, Virginia."

"Is that so? I'm a Virginia native, myself, from near there. Little town called Mystic Falls."

"I've heard of it," she said, not telling him she had done some historical research there.

He looked at her as if he knew she wasn't telling him something, but continued, "I live in Rome, now. Have you been there?"

"I have. It's a great town. I love the downtown area."

"Lots of history there," he said. "Do you like history?"

"I do. Got a double major in that and English in college. I was going to teach, but changed my mind when my friend Caroline convinced me to come to Atlanta and we opened the event planning business. She has a degree in management and business administration," Elena explained. Damon was easy to talk to. He seemed interested in everything she had to say.

"So tell me how you got into writing romance novels," he said, his eyes gleaming.

Something in his expression made Elena swallow. "Well, I had a terrible case of flu and bronchitis, and I was cooped up at home for three weeks. I didn't have anything else to do, so I got my laptop and started writing. The book sold well online, and it's been something I've wanted to do full time, eventually."

Their food arrived and Damon continued to ask questions as they ate. When the server brought coffee, he asked, "Why vampire romance?"

"Look around! It sells. I wanted my stuff to be more grounded than the 'Twilight' books, though. I liked Charlaine Harris' novels, although I wasn't crazy about the TV show."

Damon grinned. "Yeah, she's good. Especially the first couple of books. I like her characters. She really gets the atmosphere right."

"And she's funny. I loved the scene in the first book about when Bill speaks to the ladies in her church about the Civil War. That was priceless. I just had this life-sized picture of all these little old ladies sitting in the church fellowship hall, listening to a vampire give a history lecture. It cracked me up."

Damon laughed, too. "That was inspired, for sure."

"So, are you just interested in the supernatural in general, or vampires in particular? No offense, but that's kind of unusual for a man."

"None taken. Kind of a hobby of mine. Actually, I like that you were very serious about the whole vampire experience in your novels. The 'Twilight' books were fine for their audience, but I don't think vampires are quite as - fluffy - as all that, do you? And they don't play well with werewolves. Ever."

Elena laughed. "You sound like you've met a vampire personally."

He grinned at her. "Maybe I have." He infused a sensual darkness into his voice that made Elena want to rip his clothes off, right there in the restaurant. "I can tell you they definitely have fangs, though, and they don't sparkle in the sun. I'm glad your books didn't even imply such a thing." He reached across the table and took her hand, setting her blood on fire. "I think you could really write a hell of a vampire romance if you actually met a vampire, though."

"Know any?" she said, her brown eyes dancing with mischief.

"Mmm-hmm," he said, still smiling. "Me." He grinned at Elena's shocked expression. Even with her mouth hanging open, she was a lovely woman. "It's all right. I'm telling the truth. Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you." He infused his words with just a tiny bit of compulsion.

"You're a vampire." Strangely, Elena wasn't afraid or freaked out - just fascinated.

"Oh yeah," he said. He flashed his fangs briefly.

"How is that even possible?" she said, still a little - no, a LOT - stunned.

He chuckled. "Tell you what. Why don't we go back to my place in Rome and I'll answer all your questions. I know I don't have to worry about you blabbing to your friends. Who'd believe you, anyway? That was very good of them to come in ahead of you, to watch your back, by the way. I admire friends who look out for each other."

"Um," she started. "Damon, it's been great talking to you, but I'm not sure going to your place is a good idea. We just met, female alone - all that sort of thing." She wasn't even going to touch the whole vampire issue.

He nodded. "I completely understand your concerns. But you don't have to worry. You're not on the menu." He paused. "Unless you want to be. But that's a whole different conversation." His eyes glittered dangerously.

"I'll bet," she said, her voice going squeaky again.

"You can even tell your friends where you are," he said. "Text them my address. I'll have you back here by, say, ten? If you're not here, all in one piece, safe and sound, tell them to call the police." He was being extremely persuasive, but didn't use compulsion. If she came with him, he wanted it to be of her own volition.

It went against every grain of good sense and better judgment Elena had, but she nodded. "O.K. I'll come with you." She believed him when he said he wasn't going to hurt her.

"Great," he said with a grin. He stood and took his leather jacket from the back of his chair and shrugged into it, looking even hotter than before, if that was even possible.

As they walked outside, his hand rested lightly on her back, and it was like she could feel heat from it, radiating into her skin. She introduced Bonnie and Caroline, who were standing by her car. "This is Damon Salvatore, girls. I'm riding back to Rome with him to do some research on my next book. Caroline Forbes and Bonnie Bennett."

"Ladies," he said, nodding at them and giving them a charming smile.

"Nice to meet you, Damon," Caroline said. "About what time will you be back?"

"About ten. You can meet me back here if you want."

"I'll be here," Caroline said emphatically, with a "you'd better bring her back" look for Damon. He acknowledged it with a wink.

"My car's right here," he said, escorting Elena to a blue 1969 Chevy Camaro in cherry condition.

"Wow. Nice wheels," she said.

"I like the classics," he answered, as he opened the door for her.

"See y'all tonight," Elena said to her friends and they nodded.

As they pulled out of the parking lot, Caroline grabbed her phone and got a picture of the Camaro's license plate. "Just for insurance," she said. They looked after the car. "Elena has officially gone off her rocker. She's nuts."

Bonnie laughed. "Care, Damon Salvatore's face is enough to make a girl a little nutty, if you ask me."

"You've got a point, Bon," Caroline said. "You definitely have a point. But my weirdo meter is still off the charts with that hunk of hotness. He's trouble." Bonnie nodded in agreement.