“You have almost nonexistent vitamin D,” my doctor sighs in his voicemail. Because of course I do, with my lifestyle. Work at night, sleep during the day. “Your iron level is critically low. And Jane, your bloodwork has several other anomalies.”
I hold the phone to my ear with my shoulder, listening to the message from Dr. Schuster as I finish packing my husband’s lunch. His alarmed tone barely penetrates as I mentally check off everything for John’s meal and remind myself to add deli meat to the grocery list. My husband eats a lot of deli meat. And cheese, and bread, and everything else. He has an enormous appetite.
“I’ve sent some prescriptions to your pharmacy on file, some supplements, but I need you to come in for a follow-up. Urgently. Today, if possible.”
I roll my eyes. Here we go. Time to find a new doctor, I sigh. Again. These check-ups for insurance are a pain in my ass.
John walks into the kitchen, muscles flexing under his shirt as he rolls up his T-shirt sleeves. I smile, looking him over appreciatively. He flexes his arm a little more, just for me, noticing my admiring gaze.
He must eat so much because he works out constantly for his job as a personal trainer. He’s trim-waisted and broad-shouldered, with lovely, sculpted muscles beneath his tan skin. And he never gains a pound despite eating double servings of everything.
“Who’s that?” he asks quietly, gesturing with his chin to the phone while he packs his gym bag.
“My doctor,” I whisper, as the voicemail begins to wind down.
“Everything alright?” he asks, a bit of anxiety in his expression. How adorable that he worries about me so much.
“Low vitamin D,” I murmur back. “Not serious.”
But if John knew about the anemia, the low red blood cell count, and all the other abnormalities, it would be.
I pull the phone away from my ear as John approaches and stop the voicemail right as he leans in for a kiss. Making sure I press delete, I turn to John and meet his lips, then smile into his light olive eyes. “Your lunch is ready. Breakfast is on the stove.”
“Thank you, babe. You’re an angel.”
Hardly, but I smile at his compliment anyway. I actually hate cooking, especially since I don’t benefit from it much. I think it’s also because no matter how fast I move to get things ready, I still have to stand here and wait for the food to cook. There’s no real way to rush it besides turning up the heat, and you can only do that so much before it burns. But it makes John feel loved when his wife cooks him breakfast before he leaves. And it’s one of those things that helps slow down time, helps me live in the moment.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” he asks, taking bites from the pan even as he shovels the scrambled eggs onto his plate.
“You know I just like tea before bed,” I say, lifting my cup for a sip. His breakfast, my dinner. He works days and I work nights, with a precious bit of time between when we can be together.
He stops and stares at me for a second, a dark brown lock of hair falling over his eye. “You should eat.”
“I’m not hungry.” I shake my head.
“But your doctor said you have low vitamin D. And you’re skinny.”
“Skinny?” I put a hand on my hip and glare at him.
“Slim,” he corrects. Then his heavy brows furrow. “And you look pretty pale lately. You have dark circles under your eyes. Are you sure you’re alright, Jane?”
I sigh. He’s simply worried about me, and it’s best to nip it in the bud now before he forces me to eat spinach or, God forbid, get more sunlight. “I am fine,” I say. “I just got home from work, and I work at night and sleep during the day, remember? I simply need a little boost to my vitamin D. That’s normal. And…” I add, snatching a piece of bacon off his plate and chewing it defiantly, “I am not skinny.” I continue, pointing the meat at him as I chew. “I have not lost a single pound in three years.” Or gained one. One of the perks of my…condition. “I am svelte. There’s a difference.” I do a little runway turn, despite being in my wrinkled work clothes, and jut out my hip and breasts, stump of bacon in one hand. The gleam in his eye says he approves. “Once I get the vitamins, you’ll see. That’s all it is.” And once I get a proper meal in me. Which should be soon. Crunching the last bite, I wipe my greasy fingertips on a paper towel.
He pulls me close with one hand, plate balanced perfectly in the other. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. You’re beautiful and perfect. I just love you and worry about you.”
Yes, my pride hurts a little bit. Everlasting beauty is another one of the few advantages I get in trade for losing so many other things. I sigh and stop my pout. “I know,” I say, patting his chest. “But you don’t need to worry about me.” In fact, it’s laughable. But he doesn’t know that, and I intend to keep it that way. I smirk at him. “You’re never getting rid of me.” I keep the smile on my face by imagining it is true. Live in the present, I remind myself.
And presently, John needs to leave for work. I grab him by the front of his shirt and kiss him. “You’re going to be late if you don’t leave right now,” I say, a little somberness creeping into my voice despite my best efforts. I love him too much to not miss him, to not covet time with him, even for a day. But I have to let him go. Today temporarily, and someday forever. Sadness swamps me, but I keep the smile on my lips.
“I know,” he sighs. His hands tighten on my hips as he brings me in for a longer, sweeter kiss. He groans as we pull apart.
My only consolation is knowing he feels the same.
“See you tonight?”
“You bet,” I confirm. With a hug, he picks up his lunch and waves as he shuts the door.
I watch his truck pull out of the driveway and spend a few minutes thinking about how short our time really is. How this all might end when I reveal I can’t have children, knowing how much he wants a family. Or if it doesn’t then, in ten years, when my condition becomes obvious. I twist my wedding ring, a nervous habit I’ve picked up lately, the inscription inside promising Forever and always, ’til death do we part. But it’s a lie, at least on my part. Maybe all the face creams I use would buy us an extra five years, telling everyone I got Botox, perhaps another five after that…but the time would come.
And even if, by some miracle, we could stay together—maybe if I got lucky and he went blind?—in seventy or so short years, he would die.
And I would not.
With a sigh, I open the fridge. I’m hungry, but there isn’t much for me to eat, and there aren’t any places that deliver at the rest of the world’s breakfast time. At least, not in our town.
What I’d told John is mostly true. I do prefer tea most times before bed. But this tea needs a little kick to get me through my day sleep. I get out the pork roast and a pan. The raw meat goes back in the fridge for tomorrow’s dinner, the blood goes in my mug.
One minute in the microwave, and I have a cup of the closest thing to human blood I can get without the real thing. It’s not great, but it will allow me to sleep without being too hungry, and it keeps me going until I can wake up and order dinner. Animal blood can sustain me in an emergency, but it’s basically like living on water. I’ll survive, but I’ll be starving. Human blood is the meat and sides.
I’ll drink this, watch a little TV, and go to bed for the day once I get too tired to fight the sun.
And John will never know, which is the whole point.
I’ll have to be more careful, eat more regularly, until his worry goes away.
Because worry leads to scrutiny, and scrutiny leads to suspicion. And suspicion leads to investigation. And if John investigated, he would learn I am not who he thinks I am, so I have to address this now.
Because no matter what, John must never find out that I’m a vampire.
* * *
Distracted, I drive to work through Salem, Oregon’s traffic on autopilot. Something is up with Jane. And it must have to do with the phone call she received from the doctor. Even with my excellent hearing, I couldn’t understand what he had been saying, but alarm colored his tone. Sure, Jane works at night and sleeps in the daytime, and probably doesn’t get enough sun, so it is likely she would be low on vitamin D, but why would there be alarm in the doctor’s voice over that? And why would she stop the voicemail as soon as I got close enough to hear it? And then delete it?
Jane has always been a bit mysterious about her past and her family. She’s an orphan, and she never wanted to elaborate on things that caused her pain, and I respect that. But this morning seemed so purposefully secretive.
Damn it. I smack the steering wheel in frustration. That alone raised my suspicions. But then when I’d asked her about it, she hadn’t told me everything. I’m sure of it. Her eyes had been smiling the whole time, but…she’d smelled sad.
I can’t identify everyone’s feelings through scent, but it’s a bit like facial expressions. When you’re around someone a lot, you start to recognize the different looks on their faces that convey their emotions. Same with a familiar person’s smell.
Jane has always been pale, always been slim, but more so lately. She looks tired and thin. Her dark hair and eyes and delicate bone structure just make it more obvious.
I knew marrying a human, and loving one, would have risks beyond possible exposure of my secret. Through sickness and health and all that. But what if it’s something serious?
Good lord, what if she has cancer or something?
My heart drops through the floor of the car, and I have to catch my breath. The wheel creaks under my hands, complaining about the grip I have on it. In the back of my mind, there’s a howl of pain at the thought.
But I can’t overreact. It could be nothing. I can’t just assume it’s the worst news and the end is coming already. I have to live in the present and enjoy every moment I can. I need to not worry so much.
Whatever it is, she’ll tell me when she’s ready, and then we’ll deal with it together. And it’ll be fine. Yeah.
I take several deep breaths and loosen my grip on the steering wheel as I pull into my parking spot at Transformation Fitness, the gym I own.
When Zach and Thomas stride in, I’m already warming up with a few bench presses.
“Hey, good morning.” Zach sets his towel and water bottle down on a machine as Thomas goes to load up the leg press. They join me first thing so we can work out hard and get our aggression out. It’s impossible to do that once we start dealing with clients, and I need to keep a level head.
“Morning,” I reply, doing more reps, obsessing about Jane and the phone call, despite trying not to.
Finally, my arms start to get a little tired, and that’s pretty much all I can ask for. I put the bar on the rack behind me and sit up for a drink to find Zach and Thomas staring at me.
“What?” I ask as I take a sip.
“You okay, man? You smell stressed. And you’re maxed out on that.” Zach tips his head toward the bar, each end loaded with so much weight the center bows up a little. “But you still went at it like you were mad at it.”
I sigh. “Jane…” I start. I don’t know how much to say to them.
“Ooh, are you guys fighting?”
I glare at Thomas. He’s way too pleased at the possibility. “No,” I grind out. “She just got an odd phone call from the doctor this morning, and I’m wondering what it’s about.”
“She didn’t tell you?” Zach arches a brown brow at me.
“No, I was leaving for work, and we were in a rush.”
“Then she’s pregnant.”
I light up. “You think so?” But then I shake my head. “I don’t think that’s it. She was sad after, but I know she wants kids.”
“There are a ton of ailments that could make a human sad. All kinds of disorders and diseases.” Thomas starts listing them on his fingers. “Hepatitis, cancer, a tumor.” His words echo my worst fears.
“She wasn’t that sad,” I inform him. I don’t think.
“STD then. She’s cheating.” He claps his hands once and points at me. “I knew it.”
Zach and I glare at Thomas until he puts his hands up in surrender.
“Sorry, I’m just saying.”
“Well, don’t just say.” My voice comes out growly in challenge. “Jane is an amazing woman and has never given me—or you—any reason to doubt her.”
“I’m sorry, John.” His eyes drop to the floor. “Really. I don’t mean to offend you. I don’t really think she’d cheat on you. I’m just joking.”
“Then why are you such a dick when it comes to her?” Thomas and I get along in every other way, but he’s never really liked Jane and has always made his opinion clear about me marrying a human. Zach agrees with him on the latter but has never been an ass about it.
Thomas visibly struggles to answer, unable to hold my gaze for long. “I’ve always had a bad feeling about her, I can’t really say why. Maybe it’s because she’s human. Maybe it’s because she seems too good to be true, like she must be hiding something. Maybe it’s just that—” He wrinkles up his face. “—she smells funny.”
“She smells funny?” Of all the things he might have said that one throws me the most. It shocks me enough that my anger evaporates.
“Yeah, man. Like…cold and metal or something.”
I look at Zach. He gives me a small, apologetic nod in agreement. “I take it she doesn’t to you?”
“No.” I shake my head, calling her specific scent to mind. “To me she smells like…a forest stream dappled by sunlight. Like a storm in the desert.” I close my eyes and inhale as if she were close by right now. “Like a sunset breeze off a lake. Starlit dew on pine needles. A flower garden soaked by rain—”
“I get it,” Zach interjects dryly, snapping me back to reality. I open my eyes and glare at him. Holding his hands up, he continues, “I can tell by the way you’re drooling that she doesn’t smell funny to you. Maybe it’s because you guys really are mated, even though she’s human.”
I nod at Zach’s suggestion. Once werewolves find their mate, their scent changes so others find them less attractive. Perhaps that was true with human mates as well. By the time these guys met Jane, I’d already been head over heels for a while.
“No, she does not smell off to me at all. And however she smells to you—” I swing my head around to address Thomas. “—that doesn’t excuse your rudeness when it comes to her. I won’t tolerate it any longer. No matter what you think about her or how she smells, she is my mate, my wife, and human or not, she deserves your respect. Are we clear?”
The wolf and I both stare at Thomas. He and his wolf both submit with a drop of eye contact and a nod.
“You’re right, I’m sorry, John. Really. It’s not like she’s a vampire.” His tone and expression are apologetic. Maybe he doesn’t really dislike her as much as he seems. Or maybe he just knows I’ll tear his head off if he says one more disparaging thing.
After a tense moment, we can look at each other normally again.
“But John, she’s human. The pack will never accept you as alpha with a human mate. They’d never accept her as luna.” Concern fills Zach’s tone, worry flavors his scent. Some of it is for me, some of it is for the future of the Northshore pack.
“I guess it doesn’t matter though,” Thomas adds. “I doubt she’d stay with you if she knew anyway. Humans are like that.”
I don’t take offense at Thomas’s words this time because they aren’t intended to be offensive, and I know it. But that’s the rub. It may never matter if my mate is human if she leaves me once she finds out I’m…not.
“I will deal with it all when the time comes,” I say stubbornly, looking down at my hands.
How? I have no idea.
But even if I have to choose a wife from the pack to breed with and then go home to Jane… Even though it would kill me every single day…
She can’t ever find out I’m a werewolf.