Crave, p.17
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       Crave, p.17

         Part #1 of The Clann series by Melissa Darnell
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  November and December were two of the happiest months of my life. And all because of Tristan.

  They were also the hardest, for the same reason.

  I'd thought he would grow tired of me, find someone else. Someone he could publicly date. Like Bethany Brookes, who was constantly coming over to flirt with him at every freakin' practice. But even though he was polite, he never gave her much attention.

  Whatever his reasons for being with me, Tristan found ways to make it work for us, from secret dinners and dancing in the Charmers practice room after hours, to sweet notes left in my locker when he delivered the Charmers game-day good-luck notes. And of course we could always count on dream connecting, which we did at least twice a week.

  On every date, real and dreamed, he managed to pull me out of my shell. I'd never been much of a talker before, preferring to listen to others. But something about the way Tristan looked at me just drove me to chatter. Maybe talking was my way of fighting the urge to kiss him all the time, which tended to make him shaky on real dates and completely end our connected dreams.

  Or maybe I was just trying to forget the fact that I still hadn't told him I might be turning into a vampire. Which was a debate-worthy topic all on its own, considering the vamp-ward bracelet he'd given me no longer affected me. So how could I really be turning into a full-fledged vampire?

  But no matter how much I loved being with Tristan, it wasn't perfect. The council's watchers hadn't gotten tired of hanging around campus. They'd even started to spy on me at Charmers events. They scared me half to death outside the annual Fall Ball where, after putting up with Bethany Brookes's totally unsubtle flirting with Tristan all night, he and I had tried to sneak outside and have just one dance together. Only to have that dance cut short when I looked up and spotted the watchers spying on us from the parking lot. The only high point of the evening had been seeing Anne get revenge on Brat Twin Vanessa by arriving on the arm of her newly dumped ex-boyfriend, Ron Abernathy. Anne and Ron had further shocked everyone by coming dressed as a football player and a cheerleader. Only for revenge would Anne stoop to wearing a fake version of the enemy's uniform. The icing on the cake was how Anne actually looked better in the fake uniform than Vanessa did in the real version. Afterward, Ron began to sit at our lunch table every day, which made Anne smile a lot more than she ever had before.

  But even with so much happiness in the air now, I couldn't completely forget that Tristan and I were breaking the rules every time we saw each other outside of school events. And to add to that pile of guilt, there were all the things that having to keep our relationship secret meant. Tristan couldn't take me to the movies or out to eat, couldn't sit with me at lunch, couldn't explain to his friends why he wasn't dating anyone right now. He couldn't even dance with me inside the building at the Fall Ball, because it was too easy for everyone to figure out who was behind each mask. So instead he'd spent the entire night working the concession stand with me and refused to go have a good time with everyone else.

  Dating me must be really cramping his party-guy lifestyle.

  By Christmas break, Tristan and I had been officially secretly together for two months. Less time than Greg and I had managed, and yet. . .

  I was already completely in love with Tristan.

  I must have always been in love with him, because admitting my feelings to myself now wasn't a discovery. It was more like how he said he felt when he did magic. . . as if I were finally relaxing a muscle I'd kept tensed up for years. Allowing myself to love Tristan was a relief, giving in to something I'd been fighting for far too long.

  Just being around Tristan was a relief, an escape from the rest of the world and the future. When it was just me and him together, I forgot all the rules we were breaking. He made me feel normal, and good, and right.

  When I was with him, I liked myself. And I knew exactly who I was.

  But when we were apart, I remembered the world we really lived in, and it all came crashing down on me. I remembered that we were breaking the rules, and the people I was lying to, which only seemed to get harder to do with each passing day, and the things Tristan was giving up just to be with me. And when I remembered all of that, I didn't like myself much. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a weak, selfish girl who kept giving in to her emotions instead of doing the right thing.

  When we were apart, I didn't recognize myself at all.

  Something else that I remembered when I was away from Tristan was the continued absence of my father. My refusing to return his calls was way different from not getting any calls from him at all. Even when I'd refused to speak to him, Nanna had always mentioned when he'd called. But he hadn't since October. He'd warned me that he might not be able to contact us for a while, so I was trying hard not to worry about him. But he hadn't said he'd be out of touch for months.

  Mom and Nanna didn't seem worried about his absence. They claimed the entire vampire society got together for some huge gathering every ten years or so, and that he must be busy helping prepare for this event. Yeah, right. What party, no matter how big, took four months to plan and kept you from checking on your kid once a week? Something was up. But until my father decided to share, I was in the dark and trying not to care enough to worry about him.

  And trying not to let anyone see it, either. After all, how could I possibly explain?

  Going to bed early on New Year's Eve, as I'd promised Tristan, was tougher than I'd imagined. Mom had made a point to be home off the road for a change and wanted to stay up to see the replay of the televised New York City ball drop at our local midnight hour. She even tried to bribe me with a bottle of sparkling apple cider, my favorite. So guilty I could hardly speak, I claimed I was too tired and went to bed right after the live ball drop at eleven o'clock instead.

  The scene I found waiting for me in the dream made me temporarily forget the guilt, though. I'd landed in the middle of a city packed with a huge, noisy crowd. It was totally crazy.

  "Tristan?" I yelled, though I had no idea how he could possibly hear me.

  A broad aisle had been roped off in the center of the crowd. Tristan walked along this aisle toward me, wearing jeans, a black wool coat and the blue-and-gold scarf and hat I'd spent four weeks working with Nanna to learn how to make him for Christmas. The knit hat hugged his head, making his hair peek out along the edges in little curls I wanted to grab and tug. The blue in the hat made his green eyes sparkle.

  "What do you think?" He held his arms out wide.

  "This is nuts! When did you learn how to do this?" We'd both always been able to imagine small changes into being in our shared dreams, but never anything on this scale.

  "I had a lot of free time to practice on all those nights when we couldn't connect. "

  "Well, I am definitely impressed. But where exactly is this supposed to be?"

  "Times Square in New York City, of course. Best place in the world to ring in the new year! Or at least as much of it as I can remember from last year's trip. "

  I looked around me again, this time slower and with even more respect. "Wow. This is all from your memory?"

  "Yeah. Have you ever been to the Big Apple?"

  I shook my head. The only traveling I'd done was when Mom had moved from New Orleans back to East Texas when I was two, plus short weekend trips for dance competitions with the Charmers earlier this month, which unfortunately Tristan's parents hadn't let him go on.

  "Great! Then if I mess up anything, you won't know it. "

  I laughed.

  He reached into his coat pocket then pulled out a cardboard hat and two noisemakers. "Let's party!"

  After the current song ended, he said, "Your turn. Play a song we can dance to. "

  "Me? I can't. "

  "Sure you can. Just pretend you're listening to it on your iPod. "

  "Tristan, I can't do magic. I don't know how!" I probably c
ouldn't even manage it if I really tried because of my vampire side.

  "Sweetheart, you already are. How do you think we dream connect? If you couldn't do magic, I'd be able to see you in your dreams, but you wouldn't be able to see or hear me. "

  That made me blink a few times. I'd been doing magic for years and didn't even realize it?

  Experimenting, I thought of a song, imagining it playing over some unseen speaker system, and it blasted out, scaring a squeal out of me. Laughing, Tristan grabbed me around the waist and spun me. "Keep it going!"

  It was hard at first to focus on both the song and dance with Tristan. Humming the music helped. After a while, I got the hang of it and discovered I was actually pretty good at remembering all the notes of the songs on my iPod's playlists. Once I relaxed, dancing in the middle of Times Square with Tristan was an absolute blast and exactly what I needed to take my mind off all the fears and guilt that dogged me when I was awake. It was one of the absolute best moments of my life, even if it was only a dream and the noisy crowd around us looked suspiciously two-dimensional.

  "Tristan, why are all these people flat like cardboard cutouts?" I teased as he spun me out, twisted me, then tugged me back in to him.

  His smile turned decidedly sheepish. "I only saw one side of them. I didn't really pay much attention to their backsides. "

  "Do your parents go to New York City often?"

  "Yeah, usually every year for New Year's, at least. They like to check in on the Clann families there. "

  "Are there a lot of descendants there?"

  He shrugged. "Maybe twenty or so. Nothing like East Texas. We've got just over a hundred in this area. "

  "So why didn't you go to New York this year?"

  He changed the music to a slow song so he could hold me close. It took real effort not to melt into a mindless puddle. "What, and miss this with you? No, thanks. Besides, Emily wanted to go to some local party. " He nuzzled the side of my neck with his nose, tickling a laugh out of me.

  "And you? Are you missing any parties right now?" Ones he would be having fun at if not for me. Crap. As soon as the words were spoken, I couldn't get the thought out of my head again.

  "Nope. I'm right where I want to be. " He shivered in my arms.

  "Cold?" I asked, distracted. Feeling a little naughty, I imagined gloves on my hands and grinned when they appeared. Then I pressed my gloved hands to his cheeks to warm them.

  "In real life, yeah, probably. It was a little chilly when I fell asleep outside. "

  That got my attention.

  "You're sleeping outside?" My voice rose to a shriek. I stumbled to a stop, making him trip over my toes. Was he crazy?

  "I have to. It's the only way I can get around whatever spells my parents hid in my bedroom to keep us from dream connecting. But it's okay, I'm in a tent tonight. Next time I'll just have to remember to use a warmer sleeping bag. "

  This did not make me feel better. "Tristan, are you telling me that every time we dream connect, you're sleeping in your yard?" Where anything could attack him in his sleep. The nearby town of Palestine was notorious for both its dangerously aggressive wild hogs and its black-cat population in the miles of woods surrounding it; any of those animals could easily stray into our area. What if a crazed wild hog or a black cat found their way into the woods behind Tristan's house some night when he was sleeping outside and decided to attack him?

  And even if that didn't happen, this was East Texas. The insects would eat him alive in the warmer months, he was risking getting sick or hypothermia in the winter and tornadoes were practically guaranteed in the spring. This went beyond nuts. Did he have a death wish or something?

  "Would you quit worrying so much?" He gave my ponytail a quick yank. "I'm fine. Now look up, quick. The ball is dropping. "

  Frowning, I let him turn me around, hug me from behind, while he made the pretend ball of lights drop down to light the New Year's numbers. But inside, my organs seemed to be sinking an inch at a time right along with that lit ball.

  All the things he was missing or enduring because of me kept adding up to a really long list. Why was he even dating me? I wasn't worth this much trouble.

  "Hey, I've got an idea," he said. "Why don't you think of your New Year's resolution while I change things around here?"

  I managed a nod and stared down at the ground. The sound of the crowd abruptly shut off, but I barely noticed. Beneath our feet, the cement and asphalt turned to moss.

  "Okay, you can look now. "

  I looked up. We were in the clearing of our usual woods, but where our picnic blanket normally lay now stood a massive oak tree supporting a tree house. The same tree house from our childhood dreams.

  The gnawing chill in my heart melted a bit. "Oh, Tristan. You remembered every detail of it. "

  "After you, my lady. " He swept into a low bow before the ladder, which was actually just boards nailed to the tree trunk.

  I climbed up and through the already open trapdoor then stood. "Is it bigger now?" My head should be hitting the ceiling, but it was nowhere near it. I felt like a little kid again.

  He took my hand and led me to the balcony. "Yep, had to enlarge it. We're a heck of a lot taller now. "

  I returned his smile as I leaned on my forearms against the railing. The view was gorgeous from here. The moonlit forest surrounded us, stretching out in every direction like an endless ocean of swaying, sighing pine trees.

  "It's beautiful," I whispered.

  "But wait, there's more. "

  Booming erupted above us, followed by crackling. I jumped and looked at the sky with a gasp.

  "Fireworks," he said with a boyish grin.

  I laughed even as tears stung my eyes. "Very nice idea. " Too nice. He was way too good a boyfriend for me.

  He put an arm around me, letting me enjoy the pretend display in the sky for a few minutes. Then he turned me to face him.

  "So have you figured out your New Year's resolution yet?" His voice was soft and even deeper than usual.

  "Mmm, probably going to be the same as last year. Try to be a better person. " And then some.

  "Impossible. You're already perfect. "

  If he only knew. "And you? What's your resolution?"

  "Hmm. How about to be the perfect boyfriend for you?" He whispered the words against the sensitive skin below my ear, making a shiver ripple over me.

  "That's sweet. " But all the kisses in the world couldn't distract me from the inescapable truth. No matter how right we seemed together, we could never truly be perfect for each other. Not as long as the rules and the rest of the world said we were supposed to be off-limits to one another.

  Not as long as everyone thought I was a danger to him.

  He searched my eyes. "Are you happy, Savannah?"

  Tough question. The true answer was both yes and no. The more I was with him, the more I fell in love with him. But the more I loved him, the more I hated having to keep him a secret from my family and friends.

  Still, he wanted an answer, and of course he expected it to be a happy one. "Why wouldn't I be happy? I get to date the sweetest-"

  "Hottest?" he suggested.

  I nodded. "Hottest, funniest-"

  "Smartest?" Eyebrows raised, he lifted his nose in the air, apparently trying to look like some sort of genius.

  "Most arrogant guy in our school," I finished with a laugh. Growling, he bent his head down and nipped my earlobe until I giggled.

  "Who's also a good kisser?" The tip of his nose brushed a path over my cheek, his strong hands on my hips tugging me closer to him.

  "The best," I corrected in a ragged whisper before he gave me a light kiss. We had to keep our kisses short and to a minimum in our dreams. Otherwise we tended to get distracted and lose the connection between our minds. Too many of our shared dreams had been cut short until we'd figured this out.

  He pressed his forehead against
mine and stared into my eyes, his expression solemn now and filling up the entire view before me. "I love you. "

  Something bubbled up inside me like a fountain of liquid sunlight. "Really?" I whispered, unable to stop a grin from forming.

  "Yeah. Really. "

  "I love you, too, Tristan. " And in that moment, they were the easiest, most natural words in the English language to say.

  He tugged the rubber band out of my hair, setting my wild curls free so he could bury his hands in them. Then he kissed me, and I kissed him back, forgetting to keep it light, letting myself drown in the sensation of his lips moving over mine until the dream ended.

  I woke up but kept my eyes closed, the memory of those three little words warming me from head to toe.

  If only we could stay asleep and in our dreams together for the rest of our lives, my life would be perfect.

  But gradually, maybe inevitably, the sensation of his kiss faded from my lips and an ache filled my lungs. Being with him felt so right. Until we were apart, when it all suddenly felt so wrong.

  I loved him. Utterly. Completely. Totally. There wasn't a single cell inside my body that did not adore him. If he weren't in the Clann, he would be the single most perfect boyfriend imaginable.

  But he was in the Clann. And worse, he was expected to become their future leader.

  And I was a half-breed outcast.

  And all the love in the world couldn't change those two facts.

  Hot tears burned their way down my cheeks. I let them fall, too tired to bother wiping them away. No one could see me in the predawn darkness of my bedroom anyway.

  What could I do to change things, to make it okay some how for Tristan and me to be together openly? Could I talk to my father, maybe get him to convince the vampire council to change their minds? Could Tristan talk to his parents and the other elders in the Clann, make them see that they were wrong about him and me?

  I rolled over, hugging my knees beneath the blanket Nanna had crocheted for me.

  Who was I kidding? The Clann and the vampires had been fighting each other for centuries. Their hate and fear of each other had begun long before even Nanna was born. They hadn't changed their minds for my father and my mother. Why would they change their minds just because Tristan and I had fallen in love, too?

  I remembered the way Tristan had looked at me in last night's dream, all the elaborate details he'd pulled together just to give us a perfect New Year's Eve celebration. The way he'd stared right into my soul and told me that he loved me.

  Everything might change if he knew the truth.

  What would he think if he knew I was half vampire? There was no telling what he'd been told all his life about vampires. At the very least, he had to have been taught to fear them, to view them as the enemy waiting for a chance to drink his blood and drain him dry.

  He might start to see me that way, too.

  Maybe if I loved him a little less, I could take that chance and tell him the truth. But I couldn't. I loved him too much to risk it. I never wanted him to question even for a second why I was with him or how I felt about him.

  I just prayed that the adult descendants in the Clann kept their promise and never told him, either.

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