Nadine looked behind to check again that no one was following her. The darkened path was empty, but this was little relief to her scattered thoughts and queasy stomach. All around insects chirped in the meticulously landscaped grounds of her university.
Why did I stay so late?
She hoisted her backpack higher over her shoulder, clutched her biology textbook to her chest and quickened her pace down the walkway from the library to the student parking garage. The silver cross hanging around her neck bounced against her collarbone under her T-shirt.
Tonight was an especially humid eighty degrees, making each breath like inhaling soup. For months a creepy feeling had grown in measured intervals within her. She couldn’t explain it to her best friend without getting tongue-tied and sounding like a paranoid nutter.
It started with a feeling of being watched. She’d be in the cafeteria, and the hairs on the back of her neck would prickle. Or, she’d be in class and suddenly feel eyes stripping her bare. She would scan the faces in the auditorium for the perpetrator who was making her uncomfortable, but only ended up looking weird to the people beside her.
Next came the feeling of being followed. A compulsion would overcome her to look over her shoulder as she walked to class. It grew so strong she couldn’t bear to go jogging in the afternoons anymore.
Soon paranoia stole comfort and safety from her apartment. In the shower, she would peek behind the curtain every two minutes to make sure no one had snuck into the bathroom.
Concentrating in class became impossible. The constant goosebumps drove her to stay awake most of the night, clutching her old high school baseball bat with the television on. Freshman year she’d hated the dorms and her roommate, but now Nadine—in her junior year—would give anything for the safety of Lincoln Hall and to hear Sarah snoring in the bed across from hers.
Every aspect of her life had unraveled, even her body reacted. Her stomach cramped at the worst times from constipation. Sweat stains were a constant presence on her clothing.
Unable to live any longer in hyper panic mode and desperate, Nadine sought counseling from student services. It was either that or quit school and return home to mom and dad in Atlanta.
Nadine had expected the thirty-something, sandy-haired counselor to laugh in her face, especially when she’d confessed that she got an otherworldly vibe from her stalker. Nadine was unsure why or how, but deep in her core she knew whoever the perpetrator was, it wasn’t human.
The counselor took her anxious babbling seriously. She soothed Nadine’s fears, not in a condescending way as if placating a toddler afraid of monsters under the bed, but as if her fears were real.
Mrs. Wallberg said, “There’s a fifty-fifty chance that there is something hunting you…or it’s stress-induced anxiety. Midterms are around the corner, and you’re double majoring in marketing and business.” She had armed Nadine with advice, pamphlets and paraphernalia then sent her out the door with instructions to text her if anything strange occurred or if she felt suicidal.
The car keys jangled in Nadine’s shaking hands.
“I’m almost there,” she reassured herself over and over. “Almost there.”
Her black Nissan was just a few feet away. She gasped. The hairs on her arms suddenly stood on end.
What is this…this feeling?
A gust of wind whipped hair about her face and into her eyes. She looked back, but only saw darkness. On wobbly ankles, she pressed on, then stopped. Soft footfalls sounded behind her. Nadine’s stomach leaped up her throat. Struggling for breath, every nerve in her body said, don’t turn around. Run.
She lurched forward.
“Nadine,” said a deep masculine voice at her back. “You can’t escape me, beloved.”
Her heartbeat accelerated, and her feet refused to cooperate. Slowly she turned.
Standing before her was the most exquisite man she’d ever seen. His eyes were a soft blue that sparkled in the street light. He had delicate high cheekbones, a square jaw with just a hint of blond stubble, and a long, lean body. The man was dressed in what appeared to be an expensive three-piece gray suit that was fitted to compliment his broad shoulders.
Nadine’s pulse slowed, and her ragged breaths eased to normal. Someone so beautiful could never harm her. She hugged her biology book to her chest.
“Who are you?” she whispered.
“Someone who has fallen madly in love with you.” Stark white teeth gleamed in his wide smile. “As soon as I saw you, I had to have you, protect you, make love to you. For days thoughts of you consumed me.”
She gulped when he stepped closer. His woody cologne tickled her nose.
Staring deep into her eyes, he said, “I’ve watched over you at night as you slept. My minions guarded you during the day to ensure no harm ever befell you. I need you by my side, my brilliant queen.”
He caressed her cheek, sliding a lock of hair from her face. His fingers were cool to the touch but zapped electric warmth down her neck to her toes.
“Join me. You’ll want for nothing. We can fly to Paris and drink red wine under the Eiffel tower. Or lounge at my mansion in Monaco. We’ll travel the world, experiencing every luxury. Together we’ll discover art and poetry in each other’s arms forever.”
Nadine shuddered with desire, pink coloring her ears. She wanted to fall into his arms and get lost in the ocean that was his blue eyes. “Live in luxury, forever?”
“Yes, my betrothed. Eternity.” He grinned.
She noticed his teeth. His long, pointed canines.
Nadine placed her hand over his heart and studied his beautiful face. “So, I wasn’t crazy?”
He shook his head.
She sighed, the last dregs of her paranoia faded. Reaching up, she traced a finger over his smooth, rosy lips. Thoughts of a fairytale wedding and a princess-like future fluttered in her mind. She pictured the two of them in evening wear, waltzing under the moonlight in some exotic locale of her dreams. Violins serenading them. The operas they would attend.
“Let me turn you,” he said. “You’ll remain the jewel that you are now.”
Forever. Eternity. The words were music in her head. Nadine stepped back a little and opened her textbook. Inside was hollow.
“I…I can’t. Mrs. Wallberg warned me about this.” In a swift motion, Nadine withdrew the hidden wooden stake and then drove it hard into her stalker’s chest.
“W-why?” he choked out before dissolving into a pool of gelatinous red goop, splattering on the pavement.
“Dickhole,” she muttered.
In the future, Nadine might have one day forgiven him for the stalking. She may have even looked past his sexist notion that she would abandon everything in her life to just be with him, but he’d almost destroyed her mind.
There’s no way I’m spending eternity with anxiety induced constipation created from his stalking. What an ass.
Nadine scraped at the goo on her jeans, then gave up. Those jeans would have to be thrown away. She texted Mrs. Wallberg when she got into her car, thanking the counselor for the book and pamphlets on what to do when being targeted by a vampire.
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Gentleman of Her Dreams Copyrighted by Stacy Benedict 2018