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A Change in Gravity

From Book I: Revelation

"You bastard!"

Kevin let Valerie hit him several times before gently catching her wrists. "Iím so sorry, Val."

"Youíre sorry?" She tugged her hands as if his touch burned her and Kevin released her wrists. "You think that makes it all better?"

Valerie whirled away to drop heavily into an oversized leather chair in her path. Her body language spoke volumes about her mental, emotional and physical state. She stabbed Kevin with an angry glare that radiated hostility, and Kevin flinched.

His natural inclination was to strike out with a matching anger but he channeled his sire and wove a net of calm to rein in his rampant emotions. Negativity would only make a terrible situation worse, maybe push it beyond hope of recovery. Kevin breathed in and released it with a silent prayer for strength and patience. He had prayed infrequently as a mortal and he had no idea if any deity listened to the pleas of the undead, but after a moment a measure of peace descended over him.

"I know it doesnít, but itís still the truth," he told Val in a calm, quiet voice. "I am sorry, more than I can say, and I wish -" Kevin cut himself off. Some strong emotions slipped free of the net heíd woven to hold them in check. "Christ! I didnít know how to tell you." Pain hung heavy in his low words. "I couldnít risk losing you."

Kevin gazed down at Valerie. His confession seemed to melt her resistance for a moment but then her eyes flashed with a justified anger. He filled his eyes with tenderness and everything else positive he felt for her.

"I love you, Val," Kevin professed warmly.

Valerie folded her arms across her chest, rebuilding her defenses, and refused to be placated. "Oh, yeah, you love me so much youíve done nothing but lie to me."

"I never lied to you," he told her in that same quiet tone.

Her eyebrows shot upwards and she opened her mouth to protest what she likely saw as the granddaddy of all lies. Kevin held up his hands and Val swallowed her outrage.

"I never lied to you, Valerie," Kevin repeated. "I just omitted a few inconvenient truths," he finished sheepishly.

Val snorted but kept her thoughts private. Seeing that as a positive sign, Kevin took a small step towards her. She huddled into the chair and regarded him warily. Kevin retreated until the backs of his knees hit the couch; he caught his balance and sat. Shoving the hair back from his face, he tucked some strands behind his ears, which brought his eyes into stark focus. Sadness dulled the normal brilliant blue of his irises and pulled his features into deep lines.

Kevin raised his eyes to gaze at Val, an unguarded look filled with pain and resignation. He wanted so much to enfold her in a loving embrace, dissolve all her doubts and fears, but he knew she couldnít accept that level of intimacy from him so soon after learning about his true nature. Kevin realized it wasnít about what he wanted, but what she needed.

"Iíll never hurt you, Val."

"You already have, Kevin," she told him in a low voice rich with feelings of betrayal.

Each word was a barbed hook cast into his heart. Kevin covered his face with his hands, shamed by her words. He dropped his hands to his lap and took a deep breath. Hiding wouldnít help matters. "It wonít happen again, Val."

There was a long pause while she evaluated the sincerity of his words, weighing the amount of truth in them. "I have questions."

Kevin gave a mental sigh and allowed his muscles to relax just the smallest amount. "You can ask me anything."

"Youíll tell me the truth?" she asked sharply.

"I will answer everything I can truthfully. I canít reveal many details about my work and I wonít out any other vampires, but everything else is fair game."

"Are you really a Hunter?"

He nodded. "Yes. The process to remain a Hunter after being turned wasÖarduous." Kevin grimaced as the memories of his Adjudication flooded his mind. Kevin thought she would probe those memories but she moved on to a different question. He was relieved; he wasnít ready to talk about those long weeks with anyone, even Val.

"How long have you been a vampire?"

"A little less than three years."

Her eyes widened with surprise and a fear that hurt Kevin to see. "Three years? HowÖ?"

Kevin knew what was behind her disbelief. Most vampires took many years, sometimes more than a decade, to become society-friendly. Here he was socialized in twenty-eight months. "My sire is old and powerful, and Iím the only progeny. My control was a gift of the Turning."

"Your sire?"

"I canít, Val. If my sire agrees, Iíll tell you the whole story."

"So, heís not known to the public?"

"My sire passed Adjudication with no brassard."

"You, too?" Kevin nodded. Her gaze bored into him. "Have you killed?"

"Iíve dispatched many vampires in my years as a Hunter."

Val shook her head. "Thatís not what I mean, and you know it."

Kevin held up a hand, as if swearing an oath. "No. I have never killed as a vampire in the legendary ways," he assured her. "Iíve never bitten anyone but my sire on the night of my Turning."

"Then howÖ" She trailed off, unable to form the words.

He flashed her a dimmer version of his rakish grin. "Bottle fed." She snorted. "You donít believe me, Val?"

Raising an eyebrow, she asked, "Why should I?"

"Touchť," he replied.

She let out a huff of breath that was equal parts frustration, fatigue and exasperation. "Iím sorry."

Kevin was sure his face registered all the shock he felt.

"I knew before I asked the question that you couldnít kill. I wanted to hurt you."

"You earned the right."

"No one ever earns the right to hurt someone; they only take the advantage."

"You mean, like I did."

"Iím trying to understand, Kevin, really I am."

"I didnít know which would hurt more - telling you the truth or keeping it from you. I didnít mean for it to happen this way. Iíll never do anything to harm you."

"So you wonítÖ" She poked two fingers at her throat. He just shook his head slowly from side to side. "No, of course not," she said softly, mostly to herself.

"I wonít ever hurt you, Val," he repeated for the third time. Her body language was still wary and fear permeated the scent pulsing in time with her rapid heartbeat. "Please donít be afraid."

Her laughter rose towards the hysterical end of the spectrum. Valerie pressed a hand over her mouth but her eyes popped wide as if the hysteria couldnít be contained and had to find another outlet. She took her hand down and allowed the laughter to spill out. It was a harsh sound that quickly devolved into coughing and then wracking sobs. Kevin wanted to comfort her, tell her everything would be all right, but he wasnít sure about that and he had promised only the truth going forward.

After a few minutes, the sobs died down. Valerie dug in a pocket for a tissue; she blew her nose and dabbed at her eyes. The glare she turned on Kevin scorched him wherever her eyes hit. He knew how she hated to cry, especially the emotional and physical aftermath of the tears.

"You still have bullets in you. Doesnít that make youÖangry?"

"You really mean hungry, donít you?"

Valerie jerked her head, allowing the word substitution.

"Iíll never be hungry enough to hurt you," he stated plainly. He watched her digest those words, try them on for size and nominally accept them.

"So are you?"

"Arenít you?"

"I canít eat," she said flatly.

"Neither can I," Kevin told her with a meaningful glance backing up his words. She compressed her lips and shook her head, still unsure. "Donít you think if I was going to hurt you, Iíd have done it already?"

"Maybe you were playing with your food," she snapped at him.

His eyes narrowed and his lips thinned to an angry line. "If you really believe that, why did you come and why are you still here?" He flung the words at her like a challenge.

"I - I can leave?"

Hurt crowded out every other emotion on his face. "Leaving is easy, Val. All you have to do is walk out that door."

She stood and edged backwards. Kevin stood as well but kept his distance when she gasped and a true terror flared to life in her eyes. He put his hands out from his sides in what he hoped was a benign gesture.

"I know how hard this is. Iím not expecting you to just accept this - us. Me." He grimaced. "I only ask one thing." She nodded expectantly, as if she knew his request. "Please keep an open mind. Donít give up on us."

Her eyes widened in genuine surprise. Kevin lifted a shoulder in question.

"I thought youíd ask me not to tell anyone."

Kevin met her eyes, his gaze intense. "No. I trust you."

Valís face crumbled beneath the weight of the nightís events. "This is a nightmare, Kevin. Tell me Iím asleep."

"Yeah, I wanted someone to tell me that, too, these past few years. But youíre not asleep, Val. I am a vampire, but Iím not the stuff of nightmares, except when it comes to the bad guys."

"I am on total overload. I canít process even one more thing." Kevin nodded in understanding. "I need to go."

She eyed her bag and Kevin could follow her thought processes as if he could read her mind. He sidled slowly to his right, away from the path she needed to negotiate in order to retrieve her bag and walk to the door. Val pulled on her cardigan, but her fingers were trembling too much to do up the buttons. She slung her bag over her shoulder and drew her cardigan closed with her hands, all the while regarding Kevin with doubt and indecision.

"Thereís plenty of time till dawn. Can I walk you home?"

A sharp spike of fear in her scent alerted Kevin to her answer before she spoke it. "No."

"Youíre more afraid of me than some faceless vampire or pervert who might attack you?"

"Donít pressure me, Kevin," she warned.

He closed his eyes and let out a breath. "Iím sorry. I just donít want you running from me and into trouble." She frowned and shook her head. "At least let me call a cab for you."

Val must have seen the genuine and deep concern in his eyes, for her expression softened. "All right. Thanks."

Kevin pulled out his cell phone and made the call. "Ten minutes. Itís a Dial-a-Car."

"Iím not doing this to hurt you, Kevin."

"I know, Val. I told you - I know how hard this is. Itís as if gravity suddenly has you sticking to the sky instead of the ground."

Her eyes grew round and she stifled a laugh. "God, yes. Up is down." Val pushed her hair behind her ears and took a step towards Kevin. Looking at her watch, she shook her head and her hair came loose. Val pushed it back with impatience. "I should go."

Kevin cleared his throat. In a low voice meant to hide his uncertainty and pain, he asked, "Can I call you?"

"I need some time. Iíll call you." Her discomfort was obvious as she told him, "Iím not used to sticking to the sky."

They shared a stilted laugh that was all about pain management and nothing at all to do with humor.

"Bye." Val backed up a few steps and then turned and practically ran to the door. She jerked it open with a desperation that hurt to witness.

"Bye," Kevin whispered as she threw herself into the corridor. Kevin heard her slapping steps running to the elevator. He waited for the bell to ding and the elevator doors to open and close before swinging his apartment door shut, hoping this wasnít the final time heíd see Valerieís face or hear her voice.

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