Gratitude to Laurelinthepale for helping me through another one.
A loud chime rang in the darkness, and moments later, perimeter lights slowly brightened to illuminate the room. Though wrapped in warmth, and with Josef right beside her, Beth's first thought was that her nose felt awfully cold. Slipping her hand from under the covers, she discovered that it was, in fact, freezing. A small price to pay, and a matter of doing nothing more than burying her face further under the covers. But the chimes and light meant she was supposed to get up and go home. She would not let herself cry.
"Good morning, beautiful, sleep well?" Josef's voice wrapped around her like a cocoon, and warmed her more than the cashmere bedding ever could.
Turning to face him, blinking sleepy eyes, she said "Oh yes. Josef, spending the night with you was the very best part of this whole trip." She took his face in her hands, kissing him sweetly, right on his nose.
"Did the cold affect your vision? You missed," he said, reaching to kiss her mouth, quietly content with her words. "Your nose is freezing! Let's get you out of here." Rising and throwing on his robe, he wrapped her in the covers and carried her out to the wine cellar before setting her down on the worn leather couch she liked so well.
Pouting, she said, "You know, I think I've allowed you to spoil me too much. I don't even want to walk anymore."
"I would be honored to act as your personal transportation vehicle, but you're going to L.A. However, I will be more than happy to carry you up to your bedroom, madam. But you'll have to walk down to breakfast all by yourself."
"Could I eat here? I love those little lights…"
"Of course. Breakfast in the wine cellar it is. A woman after my own heart," he said as he scooped her into his arms and carried her to her bedroom.
Her bags were packed, but she was not ready to go. She didn't even want to face breakfast, knowing that when the last piece of toast had been consumed, she would be leaving Scotland, leaving Josef. Scotland she could reluctantly live without; Josef was quite another story. As she walked the stairs to the kitchen, she wondered how she'd ever be happy without him.
He waited in the wine cellar, stalking cat-like about the room, unable to sit and wait patiently. The package in his pocket mocked him, and he was racked with doubt. He heard her enter the passageway, and schooled his face into its practiced neutrality as she entered the room.
"Breakfast is served," he said, holding her chair.
She thought she wasn't feeling all that hungry, but the smell of both the sweet muffins and the savory eggs and sausages put an end to that notion immediately. She ate quickly, not speaking, but smiling at him through every morsel. "Delicious," she said, "I'm going to hate going back to Toaster Strudels after this."
He smiled, not knowing exactly what toaster strudels were but assuming they were not as tasty as the fare she had just consumed. "Let's sit over here for a minute." He led her to the couch, fussing as she sat, arranging pillows, inquiring as to her comfort.
"Josef, sit, relax, I've never seen you like this." She hoped he was at least as unhappy as she was that soon they'd be parted, but this was so out of character…
He did not sit, but knelt before her, taking her hand in his. "I love you, Beth. Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?" He slid a ring onto her finger, and waited expectantly for her answer.
She looked at him, then at the most unusual, beautiful ring she'd ever seen, an enormous, round-cut ruby, resting on a circle of diamonds visible only when looking into the depths of the stone. Taking his hands, she shook her head. "Josef, sit beside me."
He felt as if his heart had just stopped beating, as if he were losing his life all over again. She had said no. Hell, she hadn't even said it, just shaken her head. He'd been a fool, she was going back to Mick. He was the one she wanted to marry.
"I've given a lot of thought to you and me, and I had quite an enlightening talk with Lucy."
"What did she do? What did she say? Did she tell you not to marry me?" He'd have her head, and Andrew's, friendship be damned. If Lucy was the reason Beth refused him, she'd seen her last day.
"No, Josef, Lucy was incredibly protective of you, and warned me not to break your heart."
"Sound advice," he said bitterly. "Too bad it wasn't in your heart to take it."
"She made me think about marriage, and about something much more important to me. I don't want to give you something as hollow as a promise, marriages end all the time, and I can't give you what I'd love to, a baby born of you and me. So I want to give you the most precious thing any human has. I think I could love you forever, Josef. I want to give you my life. I want you to be my sire." She blew out the rest of her breath, relaxing, she'd finally told him how she felt, and what she wanted for her future.
Try though he might, he was unable to process what she was saying. She was looking at him expectantly, and through the fog of his misery, it finally processed; she'd said she wanted his baby, she'd said she would love him forever.
"I'm not ready yet; I want a couple of more years of sunrises, I want you to be sure you really do want me forever. Because I promise, you'll have to burn me or take my head to get rid of me once you turn me. And after that, who knows? If you think we could possibly be closer, ask me again. Or I'll get on one knee and ask you. So what do you think? Will you consider my proposal?"
Would he consider it? It had been his only real desire, to have her as his vampire, since the night she had asked him to kill Foster. Now it would be reality, Beth echoing his own craving to stand beside her forever. "Yeah, okay, if you insist. Did you have a particular date in mind? If not, I'll have Lisa pencil you in for an autumn turning, say, November, 2010?"
She flung herself at him, laughing, kissing, and hugging him, full of joy. "I'm really going to hate getting on that plane," she said, settling seductively into his lap. "Won't you come home with me?"
He held her around her hips, rocking her slightly against him. "No. You still have to spend some time alone with Mick. I know you love him, too. You need time to decide what relationship you two will have and I need to give some thought to what relationship I can live with you two having. And I need to do some work, or we'll be living in an almshouse in a hundred years or so."
"I'm sure it will be an almshouse that Kostan Industries funds," she laughed. "Besides, I don't care if we live in a cave. Come back home with me, Josef. I really don't want to spend a day without you." She bit him hard, right where his jaw met his neck. He groaned, wanting to take her right there, to seal their promise, to ameliorate the loneliness he had felt creeping upon him like kudzu all morning.
"I won't be more than a month, I promise. You can come over on weekends. And if that new boss of yours has a problem with that, I will officially declare you a kept woman. Or you could work for me. I have investigative people in every office. I know you're really good, and, ask any of my employees, I offer one of the best compensation packages on earth." Nipping at her neck, he added, "And I'd be the one getting all the really good fringe benefits."
Moments later, while happily drowning in her loving eyes, Josef heard the helicopter in the distance. "We have to go," he said sadly, rising to his feet and lifting her with him. "There are a couple of papers you need to sign, and then we're off." He lifted her one last time, carrying her up to the kitchen.
"Papers?" she asked, not sure she even wanted to know. "A turning pre-nup? No, it couldn't be, you didn't know I was going to ask. Oh I know, you want me to sign a release for the photos Lisa took. Well, I won't."
He put her down in the kitchen, where Lisa and a lawyer he introduced as Keith MacTavish stood waiting for them, legal-sized documents and a very nice pen waiting on the kitchen table. Andrew was calling hello form the front of the house, and Josef did not look pleased; he truly hadn't expected him, and just wanted to be alone with Beth. "Beth, trust me, sign your name, we really have to go."
She took the leap of faith, signing wherever MacTavish pointed. Josef was smiling, so whatever it was she'd signed her name to, it was probably a good thing.
"Josef, Beth, let's go," Andrew bellowed, his brogue more pronounced, or maybe just more obvious at that decibel level.
"Keep it in your kilt Andrew, we're coming," Josef answered as they said their goodbyes to Lisa.
Beth stopped him momentarily, putting the ring he'd given her into his hand. He looked crushed, not her intention, and she said quickly, "Josef, I couldn't love it, or you, more, but you offered it with a marriage proposal and I declined your very wonderful offer."
Smiling, he dropped to one knee and placed it on her hand again, asking, "Beth, will you be my vampire?"
Giggling, she answered, "Oh yes," bidding him rise and kissing him deeply, just as Andrew came into the room.
"I'd tell you two to get a room, but there's no time. You can snog all you want in the copter, but if you intend to get to the States today, we need to leave, now."
Hadn't Andrew just said I could snog her senseless in the copter? Josef wondered. Instead, Lucy was there, oohing and ahhing over what she was sure was an engagement ring, and it was, but not of the type she assumed. If she didn't shut up and let them have at least some quiet together, he'd stake her until they reached Glasgow, Josef thought. But Beth held his hand tightly as Lucy chattered on, and the excitement in Beth's eyes as she spoke of him lovingly, albeit as if he were not there, almost made it okay. Almost.
"Lucy, my love, can we get just a moment of silence? Beth might like to inject a word, and I get the distinct impression that Josef is looking about for something to stake you with," Andrew finally intervened.
Lucy, looking properly contrite, said, "I am sorry, you probably didn't even expect me, but I just had to see what happened, and that is the most exquisite ring, I knew that the two of you belonged together and I-"
"Darling? Enough," Andrew said, and Lucy fell silent, smiling and leaning against her beloved husband, never noticing the thumbs-up that Josef gave him.
The walk to the plane was only slightly less morbid than the Bataan Death March. Josef clung to Beth's hand as they crossed the tarmac, and her tears mixed with the rain that had begun to fall just as the helicopter landed. He saw her up the stairs and into the plane, greeting the pilot and checking all the mechanical reports himself. If anything happened to her, there would be
absolutely no reason to go on. His mood spiraled further downward as he realized that his best friend waited eight thousand miles away in Los Angeles, almost certainly feeling exactly the same way. Mick's heartbreak couldn't be helped. Beth was his now, and whether she slept with Mick, whether she loved him, whether she married him was of no consequence. She wanted to be with him, now, a hundred years from now, five hundred, always.
Beth could not stop the tears flowing freely down her sad face. She had to go home, she had to work, to live her life, to see Mick and somehow explain all that had happened. But she wanted Josef at her side through every step, and that would not be. It would be a very long flight.
"Here, don't forget this," Josef said, handing her the envelope he'd carried from the house.
"What's this?" she sniffled, without caring to open it.
"It's the deed to the house on Loch Awe. I did mention that it was yours, did I not?"
"Josef, I thought…so that's what I signed?" He nodded, and she smiled. "Good. Then as soon as I get home, I'll call the local police and have you removed, and you'll come to L.A. I can do that, right?"
He caressed her shoulders, watching the tears track down her face even though she smiled. "You could, but I'd be disappointed. I really need to be away from L.A., and Scotland really is my homeland." But you're my home, my love, he thought. Hoping to hide the tears he felt welling in his own eyes, he held her tightly to him.
Beth felt his tears leak onto her face, and molded her mouth against his, sucking his tongue deeply into her, wanting her heat to fuse them, allowing no possibility of further goodbyes. "How long until we have to take off?" She whimpered.
Glancing at his watch, he said, "Twenty minutes. But the door will have to close in ten."
She smiled broadly into the face she loved so well, and asked, "So, want to fuck?"
That's my girl, he thought, and throwing his head back in sheer pleasure, he laughed as kissed her, speeding them toward the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
Beth stared through the window, smiling and waving, unable to see Josef through the pouring rain, but feeling he was still there, watching her as the plane taxied toward the runway. She felt so tired, but knew she would get little peace; Josef would certainly have made sure that the flight attendants would be stuffing protein and liquids down her throat as soon as they'd reached altitude. Taking care of her, whether he was physically present or not. She nestled further into her seat, closing her eyes with a smile of contentment.
Josef watched until the plane disappeared through the clouds. He missed her from the moment the door to the plane had closed, even before, and thought that perhaps he would find a way to get to L.A. next weekend, even if only for a day. Charles was waiting to take him back to London, he simply could not live in that unfinished house, and he was anxious to get to work. For once, the money game he had played for centuries as both a challenge and a distraction had a real purpose; he would ensure Beth's future comfort, not merely fulfill his own desire to best everyone else at the game. He'd need all the money he could get his hands on if he wanted to give her the gift she'd planted in his mind just a few hours ago; he'd need the finest scientific minds on earth, state-of-the-art laboratories. And he would have to find Coralline and Lance; he needed their help if he wanted to be human long enough to erase his regret. If she wanted his baby, he needed the cure.
Thanks for all the kind reviews. I've appreciated every one. "Every Good Boy Deserves Favor" is on its way, if you're curious about L.A. ...