The Return: Nightfall (Chapter 5)

Damon was driving aimlessly when he saw the girl.

She was alone, walking down the side of the street, her titian hair blowing in the wind, her arms weighted down by packages.

Damon immediately did the chivalrous thing. He let the car glide to a stop, waited for the girl to take a few striding paces to catch up with him – che gambe! – and then jumped out and hastened to open the passenger side door for her.

Her name, as it turned out, was Damaris.

In moments the Ferrari was back on the road, going so fast that Damaris's titian hair was flowing behind her like a banner. She was a young woman who fully merited the kind of trance-inducing compliments he'd been handing out freely all day – which was a good thing, he thought laconically, because his imagination was very nearly drained dry.

But flattering this lovely creature, with her nimbus of red-gold hair and her pure, milky skin, wouldn't take any imagination at all. He didn't expect any trouble from her, and he planned to keep her overnight.

Veni, vidi, vici,Damon thought, and flashed a wicked smile into the middle distance. And then he amended – Well, perhaps I haven't conqueredyet , but I'd bet my Ferrari on it.

They stopped by a "scenic view roundabout" and when Damaris had dropped her purse and bent to pick it up, he'd seen the nape of her neck, where those fine titian hairs were startlingly delicate against the whiteness of her skin.

He'd kissed it immediately, impulsively, finding it as soft as a baby's skin – and warm against his lips. He'd allowed her complete freedom of action, interested to see whether she would slap him, but instead she had just straightened up and taken a few shaky breaths before allowing him to take her in his arms to be kissed into a trembling, heated, uncertain creature, her dark blue eyes entreating and trying to resist at the same time.

"I – shouldn't have let you do that. I won't let you again. I want to go home now."

Damon smiled. His Ferrari was safe.

Her ultimate yielding would be particularly pleasant, he thought as they continued their drive. If she shaped up as well as she seemed to be doing, he might even keep her a few days, might even Change her.

Now, though, he was bothered by an inexplicable disquiet inside. It was Elena, of course. Being so close to her at the boardinghouse and not daring to demand to go to her, because of what he might do. Oh, hell, what Ishould have done already, he thought with a sudden vehemence. Stefan was right – there was something wrong with him today.

He was frustrated to a degree that he wouldn't have imagined possible. What heshould have done was to have ground his little brother's face in the dirt, wrung his neck like a fowl, and then gone up those narrow tacky stairs totake Elena, willing or no. He hadn't done it before because of some syrupy nonsense, caring about her screaming and carrying on as he lifted that incomparable chin and buried his swollen, aching fangs in her lily-white throat.

There was a noise going on in the car. " – don't you think?" Damaris was saying.

Annoyed and too busy with his fantasy to go over what his mind might have heard of her speech, he shut her off, and she was instantly quiet. Damaris was lovely butuna stomata – a ditz. Now she sat with her titian hair whipping in the wind, but with blank eyes, the pupils contracted, absolutely still.

And all for nothing. Damon made a hissing sound of exasperation. He couldn't get back into his daydream; even in silence, the imagined sounds of Elena's sobbing prevented him.

But there would be no more sobbing once he'd made her into a vampire, a little voice in his mind suggested. Damon cocked his head and leaned back, three fingers on the steering wheel. He'd once sought to make her his princess of darkness – why not again? She would belong to him utterly, and if he had to give up her mortal blood…well, he wasn't exactly getting any of that right now, was he? the insinuating voice said. Elena, pale and glowing with a vampire's aura of Power, her hair almost white-blond, a black gown against her satiny skin. Now there was a picture to make any vampire's heart beat faster.

He wanted her more than ever now that she had been a spirit. Even as a vampire she would retain most of her own nature, and he could just picture it: her light for his darkness, her soft whiteness in his hard, black-jacketed arms. He would stop that exquisite mouth with kisses, smother her with them –

What was hethinking about? Vampires didn't kiss like that for enjoyment – especially not other vampires. The blood, the hunt was all. Kissing beyond whatever was necessary to conquer their victim was pointless; it could lead nowhere. Only sentimental idiots like his brother bothered with such foolishness. A mated vampire pair might share the blood of a mortal victim, both striking at once, both controlling the victim's mind – and joined together in mind-link, too. That was how they found their pleasure.

Still, Damon found himself excited by the idea of kissing Elena, of forcing kisses on her, of feeling her desperation to get away from him suddenly pause – with the little hesitation that came just before response, before yielding herself completely to him.

Maybe I'm going crazy, Damon thought, intrigued. He had never gone crazy before that he could recall, and there was some appeal in the idea. It had been centuries since he'd felt this kind of excitement.

All the better for you, Damaris, he thought. He had reached the point where Sycamore Street cut briefly into the Old Wood, and the road there was winding and dangerous. Regardless, he found himself turning to Damaris to wake her again, noting with approval that her lips were naturally that soft cherry color, without lipstick. He kissed her lightly, then waited to gauge her response.

Pleasure. He could see her mind go soft and rosy with it.

He glanced at the road ahead and then tried it again, this time holding the kiss. He was elated with her response, with both of their responses. This was amazing. It must have to do with the amount of blood he'd had, more than ever before in one day, or the combination –

He suddenly had to wrench his attention from Damaris to driving. Some small russet animal had appeared as if by magic on the road in front of him. Damon normally didn't go out of his way to run over rabbits, porcupines, and the like, but this one had annoyed him at a crucial moment. He grasped the steering wheel with both hands, his eyes black and cold as glacial ice in the depths of a cave, and headed straight for the russet thing.

Not allthat small – there would be a bit of a bump.

"Hang on," he murmured to Damaris.

At the last instant, the reddish thing dodged. Damon wrenched the wheel round to follow it, and then found himself faced with a ditch. Only the superhuman reflexes of a vampire – and the finely tuned response of a very expensive vehicle – could have kept them out of the ditch. Fortunately Damon had both, swinging them in a tight circle, tires squealing and smoking in protest.

And no bump.

Damon leaped over the car door in one fluid motion and looked around. But whatever it was, had vanished completely, as mysteriously as it had appeared.

Sconosciuto. Weird.

He wished he wasn't heading into the sun; the bright afternoon light cut down his visual acuity severely. But he'd had a glimpse of the thing as it got close, and it had looked deformed. Pointed at one end and fan-like at the other.

Oh, well.

He turned back to the car, where Damaris was having hysterics. He wasn't in the mood to coddle anyone, so he simply put her back to sleep. She slumped back into the seat, tears left to dry on her cheeks unheeded.

Damon got back into the car feeling frustrated. But he knew now what he wanted to do today. He wanted to find a bar – either seedy and sleazy or immaculate and expensive – and he wanted to find another vampire. With Fell's Church being such a hot spot on the ley-line map, that shouldn't be difficult in the surrounding areas. Vampires and other creatures of darkness were drawn to hot spots like bumblebees to honeysuckle.

And then he wanted a fight. It would be completely unfair – Damon was the strongest vampire left that he knew of, plus he was tick-full of a cocktail of the blood of Fell's Church's finest maidens. He didn't care. He felt like taking his frustrations out on something, and – he flashed that inimitable, incandescent smile at nothing – some werewolf or vampire or ghoul was about to meet itsquietus . Maybe more than one, if he were only lucky enough to find them. After which – delicious Damaris for dessert.

Life was good, after all. And unlife, thought Damon, his eyes glinting dangerously behind the sunglasses, was even better. He wasn't just going to sit and sulk because he couldn't have Elena immediately. He was going to go out and enjoy himself and get stronger – and then sometime soon, he was going to go over to his pathetic milksop of a younger brother's place andtake her.

He happened to glance in the car's rearview mirror for a moment. By some freak of light or inversion of the atmosphere, it seemed that he could see his eyes behind his sunglasses – burning red.