Bee stared at the sheet of paper in front of her, willing the form to fill itself in. She’d already done the easy bits: name and date of birth. She’d ignored the advice of the woman at the agency to be completely honest, since men always thought they wanted women younger than they really did, so Bee reckoned she was justified in taking a year or two off. Okay, five.
Now it was getting harder. What were her strengths and weaknesses? How would she describe herself to a friend in three words? That was easy: she wouldn’t. She didn’t have any friends. And if she did, they’d already know what she was like so she wouldn’t have to describe herself to them. Overly analytical, she wrote in the box labelled ‘Weaknesses’. It was better than Blood-sucking vampire, at any rate.
‘What’s this?’ Bee whirled round to find her flatmate grinning at her, holding the form he’d snatched way up above his head.
‘Adam!’ She jumped up to grab it back but he was too quick and too tall for her. ‘It’s private!’
He gave her a curious look and made as if to start reading.
‘I mean it.’ Bee glared at him, hands on her hips. She generally tried not to show her fangs, even at home, but this time her fury overwhelmed her. ‘Give it back,’ she snarled.
Adam’s blue eyes widened and she heard his breath quicken. He dropped her paper silently on the table.
Bee took a deep breath. ‘Sorry,’ she muttered. ‘I didn’t mean…’
‘It’s okay.’ He didn’t sound okay. Bee grimaced as he gave her a wide berth on his way to the kitchen.
‘Do you want a coffee?’
‘Please. Look, I don’t know what came over me. I wouldn’t ever…’
He didn’t look up. ‘Nothing came over you, Bee. That’s just who you are, isn’t it?’
‘I…’ There was nothing to say to that. All her life that had been who she was. Not Bee, the girl who could turn five cartwheels in a row without stopping. Not Bee, with the dark red hair that hung down to her waist. Not even Bee who fainted during her last maths exam. In her own mind she’d only ever been – could only ever be – Bee, the vampire. A blood-dependent vampire who needed regular transfusions to stay alive. She’d never bitten anyone, of course. It was all clinically done in a discreet portakabin round the back of the doctor’s surgery. Bee went four times a week after work to drink the warm, thick, invigorating liquid. They didn’t call it the Vampire Clinic there, though that was how everyone else referred to the Hyperanaemia Haemo-Dependency Unit.
It worked well enough. She’d come home and sleep for an hour or two then wake feeling refreshed and energised for the next twenty-four hours or so. The day she was due to go back to the clinic was harder and Bee generally tried to make sure she had no appointments with clients on that second afternoon. She shouldn’t have been on edge tonight, though. She’d had a good pint and a half just yesterday.
‘Here.’ Adam pushed a mug towards her. Two sugars and just a splash of milk. Just the way Bee liked it. ‘Take these, too.’ He put the bottle of ibuprofen tablets on the counter.
Bee looked up at him in surprise. ‘How did you…?’
Adam shrugged. ‘You’re always worse when it’s that time of the month.’
Was she? Bee thought about that as she took two pills and swallowed them with the hot coffee. She’d never noticed that her period affected her like that but now he’d said it, it made sense. She cradled her hands round the mug partly for the warmth and partly to cover up the nude woman painted on the side whose breasts were revealed when it contained hot liquid. Adam’s brother had given it to him for Christmas and, though he never used it himself, he liked to give it to Bee to see what sort of reaction he could provoke.
They drank their coffee in awkward silence. Adam was leaning against the worktop in an attempt to appear relaxed but she could see the strain across his shoulders and the tension in his jaw. He’d never been nervous around Bee before. She’d told him before they moved in together, of course. He needed to know in case anything happened. He said he’d never met a vampire before but he’d heard that they could control it all pretty well these days. Bee explained about the clinic and the ups and downs and assured him she’d never bitten anyone and that she would never need to.
And now, six months later, they were standing at opposite ends of the kitchen, neither able to form a sentence that would get them beyond the fact that Bee had lost control. Just for a second, but that had been more than enough. What if he’d resisted, gone on playing the game? Would she have attacked him then? Might he be strong enough to have thrown her off and escaped? Or would she have pinned him down and taken her first taste of his delicious…
Bee shook her head hard, willing the treacherous thoughts out of her mind. This was Adam. Her flatmate. Her friend. Not some nameless fool who would donate their own lifeblood out of some bizarre notion of altruism. She didn’t want his blood. She wanted more than that.
‘What was it, anyway?’
Surprised out of her train of thought, Bee looked up. ‘What?’
‘The paper that you didn’t want me to see,’ he explained carefully. ‘What was it?’
She had no energy left to think up a lie. ‘An application for a dating agency.’
Adam stared at her. Then the corners of his mouth twitched. He put down his coffee cup and turned to her, laughing. ‘A dating agency? That’s what all the fuss was about?’
Bee shrugged and looked back down at her empty mug, fiddling with the spoon. ‘Maybe.’
He was still chuckling. ‘Can I see it now? I could help you with it, perhaps.’
‘Fat lot of help you’d be,’ she grumbled, but she went to pick it up anyway. ‘Here.’
He skimmed the sheet quickly, raising one eyebrow when he came to her date of birth, then looked back at her. ‘Overly analytical? That’s not going to get you many dates.’
Bee snatched the paper back. ‘If you haven’t got anything constructive to say, don’t bother, okay?’
Adam held up his hands in surrender. ‘I’ll help, I promise. I just don’t know why you’re doing it.’
Bee had asked herself the same question a hundred times. ‘Some people like me do get married, you know.’
‘That wasn’t what I meant.’ Adam put a hand on her arm. ‘Come on, let’s go and sit on the sofa and fill in this form.’
Bee curled her feet underneath her and leaned comfortably against Adam’s shoulder. His hair was still damp from his shower but his old denim shirt was soft against her cheek.
‘Go on then, tell me what guys are looking for.’
Adam sighed. ‘I don’t know what other guys are looking for.’
‘Okay, tell me what you’re looking for.’ Bee sat up so she could look at her flatmate. ‘I’ll start you off. Enormous breasts.’
That brought a grin and, she hoped, a release of some of the tension between them.
‘Of course. But a tiny waist, so that if she tries to stand up on her own she’ll topple over. That way, she has to press up close to you.’
‘Clever,’ Bee replied. ‘Though, wouldn’t that get irritating? What if she wants to go shopping? You couldn’t just abandon her and go off and look at man things.’
‘Man things?’ Adam gave her an amused glance.
Bee waved her hands. ‘Cars. TV’s. Computers.’
‘Oh, right. Yes, that would be annoying. Maybe she could have a walking stick to use on her own?’
‘A zimmer frame?’
They smiled at each other in mutual appreciation of the ridiculous scene. Then Adam cleared his throat and turned away. ‘This isn’t helping you fill in the form.’
‘No. Adam?’ Bee looked down at her toenails. The nail varnish from last summer was still just visible. She really should do something about that.
‘What do you want in a woman? I mean, you haven’t been out with anyone since I’ve known you, so…’
He leaned back in the corner of the sofa and gave her a strange look. Then he sighed again and put the form back down. ‘I want… the whole package, I suppose. Looks, intelligence, sense of humour. Someone I’d enjoy spending time with. Someone I can have a conversation with. And hot as hell, of course.’
‘Of course,’ she replied seriously. ‘No wonder you’re still single.’
Adam rolled his eyes. ‘You’re in no position to talk.’
‘It’s not the same. There aren’t many men queueing up to go out with a vampire, you know.’
‘More than you’d think,’ he muttered. ‘Right. Hair colour: red. Eyes: pale green. Height: five foot three?’
‘Five foot four,’ he wrote down. ‘Weight?’
‘None of your business.’
He eyed her measuringly. ‘About nine stone?’
Bee made a noise of disapproval but Adam merely waited. ‘Oh, very well. Nine and a half stone, if you must know.’
‘Good. Strengths: witty, fun-loving, great arse.’
‘Adam! You can’t put that.’
‘Can, actually. Fries an incredible breakfast. Picks up wet towels in the bathroom without complaining.’
‘You’d be surprised how important that is to most men. Let’s see now, weaknesses. Never punctual, doesn’t do the washing up, always puts herself down.’
Bee hid behind a cushion.
‘Three words to describe her to a friend: brilliant, barmy and beautiful. There, all done.’
Adam pulled the cushion out of her hands and waved the application form in front of her, grinning smugly.
Bee grabbed it back and gazed in horror at his answers. It seemed he knew all her strengths, weaknesses. In a few short lines, he’d laid her bare. She flipped over the page. He’d even filled in the “What would you like to ask the man reading this?” section.
‘Will you go out with me?’ Bee read in bewilderment. ‘Isn’t that a bit desperate? Even for someone using a dating agency?’
Adam’s face had gone red and he was sitting very still. ‘I, um, don’t think you should send that form in.’
Bee looked at it again and laughed resignedly. ‘No, I don’t think I should. It’s hopeless.’
‘No, I meant, um, I think you should…’
‘Adam? Adam, what on earth’s the matter?’
‘Will you go out with me?’ He looked as though he might faint.
Bee’s head was buzzing. She couldn’t have heard him right.
‘Adam, you don’t want to go out with me.’ Did he? He’d never shown any interest in her like that. And besides, ‘You saw what happened earlier.’
‘You were angry,’ he pointed out. ‘You lost control.’
‘I scared you,’ she murmured. That was always the problem. People could be as impartial as they liked in theory and as curious as they wanted when they first got to know Bee. No matter what, when they got too close, they got scared.
Adam reached over to put his hand on her knee. ‘Yes. You’re beautiful, and clever and funny and I’m terrified that I’m falling head over heels for you without ever telling you.’
Bee removed his hand carefully. Taking a deep breath, she looked him in the eye. ‘That’s very sweet, Adam, but it’s not the point and you know it. You were scared of me. The vampire. The bloodsucker in the room that we all oh-so-carefully ignore most of the time. Only I can’t ignore her, because she’s always bloody well with me and I… I hate it, Adam. I hate it. I can’t ask anyone else to love me when I hate the person I am.’
‘You don’t ask someone to love you, Bee. That’s their choice, not yours.’
She reached for the cushion and hugged it tightly, needing some kind of barrier against him. ‘What if I really lost control? What if I…’ She swallowed hard. ‘What if I bit you?’ Bee couldn’t look at him any more. She’d never talked about this stuff with anyone.
‘What if I said it was okay?’ he whispered hoarsely, leaning towards her, showing off his beautiful, beautiful neck with that throbbing vein. ‘Would you bite me if I let you?’
She couldn’t help it. She reached up a finger to stroke along his jugular, feeling the pulse beating strongly. She’d never imagined anyone offering themselves to her like this.
‘You can’t,’ Bee told him, though she didn’t make a move to push him away. ‘If I get a taste for your blood…’
‘…then you’ll keep coming back for more. I know. I’ve been reading.’ He was so close she could feel the warmth of his breath on her skin. She could smell the faint tang of soap and something else. She could smell his blood.
‘Adam,’ she breathed.
‘Go on, Bee,’ he urged, twisting to place his neck precisely in line with her mouth. ‘Kiss me.’