The countryside of Virginia looked exactly as she remembered it.
Caroline Forbes supposed she wasn't that surprised. She honestly hadn't expected much to change in the last five years, but her lips still pursed in distaste as perused the road around her. Her fingers were tapping against the steering wheel in an uneven rhythm, her blonde hair swirling around her face from the wind coming in through the cracked window.
The illuminated arrow on her dashboard told her she was less than a few miles from her destination, and she had to fight the urge to whip the car around and head back the way she came.
She wasn't looking forward to this trip home.
She'd promised herself she wouldn't come back here. She'd told herself time and time again that Mystic Falls was behind her, and it didn't hold anything for her anymore. That it didn't matter, and that there was nothing more here for her. And she'd been perfectly content living her life just like that.
And then the invitation came. An invitation followed by a phone call.
Caroline couldn't do anything but stare in shock at the delicate piece of paper in her hands, her eyes taking in the words that were printed so elegantly on it.
She heard Stefan chuckle from the other line.
"I know. Who could have seen it coming, right?"
Caroline scoffed, shaking her head as she set the invitation to the side and reached for her steaming coffee mug. "Uh, pretty sure that's an understatement, Stef. I mean, didn't you just meet this girl?"
Stefan Salvatore was Caroline Forbes' best friend. He had been since the day he kicked over her sandcastle in the third grade and she had sucker punched him the gut for it. They'd been nearly inseparable for 15 years, seeing each other through the divorce of parents, the death of parents, break ups, make ups, promotions, and everything in between.
Six months ago, Stefan had gotten a promotion at his law firm, adding his name to the Saltzman & Fell practice after three years, a feat that was unheard of for such a young partner. His first act was to fly overseas to Manchester to assist in a case of their sister firm. He'd been excited, telling her it would be like a mini vacation in and of itself. Caroline had laughed at him, wishing him the best of luck at finding any kind of fun while was hashing it out in an uptight British courtroom.
Imagine her surprise when he came home with Rebekah Mikaelson.
"We didn't just meet, Care," Stefan stressed. "We've been together for nearly seven months. Most couples don't even wait half that long before taking the plunge. Romeo and Juliet got married within three days of their meeting, if you remember."
"Yeah. And look how well THAT turned out."
"When did you become such a pessimist? You're my best friend, aren't you supposed to be squealing in joy over my happiness?"
Caroline laughed. "Come on, Stefan. It's been years since I squealed about anything. Except that shoe sale at Prada last month. God, that was great."
She heard him chuckle, and she smiled, cradling the phone in the crook of her neck as she leaned against the kitchen counter. "Of course I'm happy for you, Stefan. I mean, you'd have to be an idiot to not see how in love you and Rebekah are." Even if she was an evil she-devil that gives me the stink eye every time we meet.
"Thanks, Care," Stefan replied, the smile evident in his voice. A slight silence spread between them for a moment before he spoke again. "I know it's a lot to ask…having you come back here. But I'm asking. You know I can't get married without my best girl at my side."
Which was how she found herself back here, in the outskirts of rural Virginia, a packed duffel in her backseat and a lingering feeling of anxiety welling in the back of her throat with every mile her car inched on.
Memories from her childhood—bittersweet emotions, missed opportunities—plagued her mind as she drove. Feelings of longing and confusion, disappointment and fear…
She sighed, flopping her head back against her seat rest as her fingers danced across the steering wheel. "God, Stefan, you're lucky I love you," she muttered under her breath.
Up ahead, she caught the familiar pink and blue picked fence that surrounded the old diner that had been standing on the outskirts of town for as long as she could remember. Just like every Sunday of her childhood, the gravel strewn parking lot was packed, customers clamoring for the Early Bird special that was famous county wide.
It was all exactly the same…
Except the large black pick up truck that rested on the side of the road.
Caroline's brow furrowed as she approached, her eyes catching sight of the large man that stood by the steaming hood, a ball cap shielding his eyes from the sun as he lifted his head when he heard her tires against the blacktop.
She supposed she should pull over and see if she could offer him any help. If the raised hood was any indication, he did. But every one of her mother's warning from when she was a child were racing through her head. She was alone, a single woman on a deserted street. And he looked big and foreboding from where she sat.
Nibbling on the lower lip, she tried to avoid his gaze as she pressed her foot on the gas, her car sliding passed him and on up the road. She caught sight of him in her rearview mirror, his tall form turning and watching her go, his hands on his hips, and she bit back a groan.
Someone else would come. He would be fine—this was Mystic Falls for crying out loud. Nothing bad ever happened here. People were friendly, they offered to help and were happy to.
He could probably even walk into town. It wasn't that far. Just a few short miles. Nothing that was too tragic or overwhelming.
She glanced in the rearview mirror again, seeing him still standing there. The road was deserted apart from their cars, everyone either in church or at lunch. It could be hours before someone else would cross his path.
Groaning, Caroline eased on her break, slowing her car until she could whip it around in a U-turn, her tires sliding against the pavement slightly. She double checked her windows and locked, making sure each were latched tightly, as she eased her car over to the shoulder, side by side to the truck, watching as the man slowly made his way towards her.
She let her eyes travel across him as he approached. Up past the obviously hard muscle that lay beneath his tight fitting gray shirt. Across broad shoulders and firm jaw, a slight graze of stubble adorning it. She leaned back in her seat and met his gaze. "Car trouble?"
He nodded, glancing over his shoulder. "Appears so." His voice was thick with an accent of some kind, one of those you heard regularly on the BBC Network. British, she thought. Like one of those Jane Austin movies she was always embarrassed to admit she watched weekly. "I'm guessing it's something electrical, because I can't figure it out."
"Are you sure you didn't just, you know, run out of gas?" The words slipped from her mouth before she could stop them, and she saw his eyes narrow slightly.
"No," he answered, annoyance in his voice. Clearly she had wounded his masculine pride. "I tried calling for a tow, but my phone died."
Caroline nodded. "How long have you been out here?"
"About an hour."
She watched the stranger sigh in frustration, his shoulders slumping, and his arms crossing over his chest. She looked past him—trying to ignore his seriously sexy stubble and his piercing blue eyes—and nibbled at her lip again. She could just leave him here. It wouldn't be that much longer until the diner let out, and he would have a whole slew of do gooders to choose from.
But she honestly wouldn't risk them on anyone.
She sighed, tapping her fingers against the wheel once more. "I have a stun gun."
His brow furrowed as he looked at her again. "Excuse me?"
"A stun gun. You know? Form of self defense. I have one," she lied easily, praying he bought it and couldn't see straight through her. "So you know, I can use it. I'm trained well. Highly deadly."
One corner of the man's mouth quirked up. "You realize, sweetheart, that a stun gun is not a deadly weapon?"
Caroline blinked at him through her sunglasses, trying not to focus too much on how much she liked the way he called her sweetheart. "Well, regardless, it would still hurt like a bitch if I had to zap your ass."
He laughed, shaking his head. "Look, love, I'm not looking for any trouble or to get my ass zapped. I just need a ride into town." He smiled, leaning down to peer at her through the window. "I promise I'm not a serial killer."
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure that's what they all say," she sighed, shifting in her seat. "Okay, here's the deal. I'd feel super guilty if I just left you here to fend for yourself, what with all the crazy old biddies about to head out of the diner, because honestly, they shouldn't be driving to begin with. So I'll give you a lift into town, but you should know that I'm the sheriff's daughter, and she knows I'm coming to town today, so if for any reason I don't show up, there will more than likely be a search party. So your odds of escape are incredibly slim."
She watched an amused smile spread across his face with every word he spoke, and she pushed down the odd fluttering she felt in her chest at the sight, unable to even stop smiling in return.
"Crystal, love," he said, chuckling softly.
Caroline nodded. "Okay, good. Seriously. Don't make me use my stun gun on you." He laughed, a deep, throaty laugh, and she smiled. "What's your name?"
"Nik," he replied, smiling. "And who might my rescuer be?"
"Caroline. Now are you coming or what, Nik?"
"Let me just get my bag."
Caroline hated awkward silences.
Like…hated. You head every little thing in awkward silences. Teeth grinding. Seats shifting. People swallowing. It was just uncomfortable.
It certainly didn't help that her handsome passenger made her incredibly nervous.
"So…first time in Mystic Falls?"
Nik's blue eyes stayed trained on the road through the windshield, though his lips quirked up slightly. "Afraid so."
Caroline laughed, nodding. "Yeah. Well. You're in a for a treat."
"Your tone suggest otherwise, love," he said, finally turning to look over at her. From the corner of her eyes, she could see his piercing blue orbs fixed on her face, and she fought to keep her expression impassive. "I take it you're not a fan." When she shrugged, her lips twisting to the side, he nodded. "What brings you back, Caroline?"
She ignored the shiver that went down her spine at the sound of her name pouring from his lips. She kept her gaze straight on the road ahead. "Wedding. My best friend is getting married in a few weeks. And, unfortunately, owning the title of best friend kind of means that I'm obligated to help out with the whole thing. Which, you know, I get, kind of. Stefan's parents died a few years ago, and his brother is kind of worthless when it comes to these things." She tried not to let her thoughts linger too long on Damon Salvatore. It only led to sad little teenage girl memories of being naïve and foolish and eager to please…"Anyway, Stefan kind of fails when it comes to party planning. And I pretty much rock at it. And I mean, what bigger party is there than your wedding, right?"
In the back of her mind, Caroline knew she was rambling. It was an uncommon occurrence. It was pretty much one of her trademark traits. Caroline Forbes could talk. It didn't matter who she was talking to, either, as evidenced that she was going on and on to a total stranger who may or may not be a serial killer.
A serial killer with really, really great lips.
"Anyway, the engagement party is tonight. Weird, I know. And engagement party on a Sunday. But Rebekah preferred it that way. She's the bride," she added, glancing over at Nik briefly before returning her gaze to the road when she saw his eyes still fixed on her. "She's a hot mess, let me tell you."
"Really?" Nik asked, a hint of amusement in his voice. "You know I've never understood that phrase. Hot mess. Doesn't particularly make sense, does it?"
"Well, it fits Rebekah to a T. Don't get me wrong. She's…great. You know…pretty, blonde. Surprisingly a perfect match for Stefan. But she's kind of a drama queen. An bit uptight, kind of bitchy. Which, you know, I get. I'm a little bit that way too. But she takes it to a whole new level. And they haven't really known each other that long. It was one of those overseas, whirlwind romances. Totally overrated. But, she makes him happy. Like…happier than I've ever seen him. So…I'm putting all of my issues with Rebekah to the side. Which isn't easy. But for Stefan, I'd do just about anything. Hence me coming back to this whole in the wall town I swore I'd never come back to."
She sighed, pursing her lips as she looked over at him again. He was staring at her with this expression on his face, as if he honestly didn't know what to make of her.
"I'm sorry…I tend to ramble a lot. Especially in awkward silences. I really hate awkward silences." She laughed, shaking her head. "You probably think I'm nuts, huh?"
Nik laughed, shaking his head. "On the contrary, sweetheart. I think you're the most entertainment I've had in quite some while."
Caroline laughed. "Well…glad I can be of service." She shook her head, rolling her eyes behind her sunglasses. "So, where should I drop you?"
"The convenience store right up there should do," he said, reaching for his seatbelt as she pulled into the parking lot. She glanced at him as she put the car in park, smiling slightly when he reached into the backseat and pulled out his duffel bag. He opened the door, slinging it over his shoulder. He rose to his full height, stretching, before he leaned back down, on hand on the hood of her car as he leaned in through the still open door. "Thank you for your assistance, Caroline," he said, a small smirk on his face. "I do appreciate you not leaving me at the mercy of reckless driving old biddies."
Caroline nodded, smiling as her grip tightened on the steering wheel. "No problem," she said, tapping her fingers once more. "Sooo…I guess I'll…see you around. Um…enjoy your stay."
Nik nodded, smiling once more, and he met her gaze for a long moment before pushing away from the car and shutting the door. He lifted a hand in farewell, a smug, unbelievably dashing smirk on his face, and he turned on one heel and headed towards the store, one hand stuffed into the back pocket of his jeans.
Caroline watched him go, biting her lower lip as she watched him disappear through the doors of the grocery. She sighed, shaking her head as she slumped back in her seat. "Seriously, Caroline? Your first day back in town and what's the first thing you do?" She scoffed, shifting her car into gear and backing out of her parking spot. She muttered under her breath, her eyes darting to the rearview mirror, seeing Nik approaching the man at the counter, his lips parting as he spoke.
It wasn't until she was halfway to the Salvatore Boarding House on the other end of town that she realized she never got his last name.
So it was brought to my attention that the first chapter of this fic had a lot of similarities to a book by the same title by an author named Rachel Gibson. I looked into it, and sure enough, it was very similar.
When I first started writing this story last year, I had the plot planned out, but had trouble introducing the story. My roommate had been listening to me complain that I couldn't put anything into words, so she helped me by suggesting the original version of this chapter. I loved what she helped me come up with, and didn't give it a second thought. Clearly, I should have, because I loathe plagiarism, and have never wanted to be a part of it.
So I rewrote this chapter, and I apologize for anyone who noticed the similarities and thought I was just ripping off someone else's work.
I sincerely apologize, and hope that this story is still just as enjoyable as it was before.