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the witching hour

While RPIT searches the riverfront for clues to a homicide, Zerbrowski and Anita are led to a nightclub owned by a vampire named Jean-Claude.  (Takes place before "Guilty Pleasures.")
Disclaimer: The Anitaverse belong to Laurell K. Hamilton.  I'm only borrowing it to pass the time.


I shrugged, standing up and stripping the rubber gloves from my hands.

"I'm not sure," I replied.

Dolph frowned. "Not sure? What the hell does that mean?" He stepped closer to me, carefully avoiding tramping in the pool of blood the body was curled up in. "Looks pretty clear cut, even to me."

"Okay, he bled to death."

From the look on Dolph's face you'd think I'd just insulted him. "Come on, Anita. I know you can do better than that."

It was 2:47 in the morning. I had had exactly six hours of sleep in two days. As far as I was concerned I had done my job. I was ready to go home and crawl back into bed. The last thing I wanted to do was argue with Dolph over my conclusions. "Give me a break, Dolph. I'm running on fumes

He looked away from me briefly as if trying to collect himself. "All I need is a confirmation, Anita."

I sighed heavily and shook my head. "I know what it looks like," I agreed.
"But there's too many pieces that just don't fit into this puzzle."

Placing his hands on his hips, Dolph peered down at the body. "What puzzle? The guy's from Chicago. An unsuspecting tourist traipsing around alone in the heart of the Blood Quarter. Two puncture wounds to the neck. Blood almost completely drained from his body. Christ, I've never seen so
much blood. It was a vampire. Had to be."

"That's just it," I began. "At first glance, this looks like an ordinary death by vampire feeding. No savagery, just a bite and a whole lot of blood. But in all honesty, I've never seen a vampire's victim left
this messy. Of course there is a first for everything, so I'm not ruling out vampires completely."

I turned and started walking away from the body. Dolph followed me, but didn't say anymore and I knew he wanted to compare his observations to mine.

"This kill just doesn't seem very vampire-like to me," I went on. "Despite the fang marks on the neck, this wasn't a feeding. It was just an attack." I gazed down at the forensics-marked droplets of blood on the street leading away from the body. "The killer left a trail. How far does it go?"

"We lose it two blocks that way," Dolph responded in that curt, no-nonsense tone that smacked of frustration. He flung his arm out gesturing deeper into the heart of the riverfront district. "I've got the uniforms covering a mile radius from here for all the good it will do. Whatever did this is long gone, I'm afraid."

I chewed my lower lip thoughtfully. "They may not find the killer, but they just might find a weapon. There's an indentation in the back of this guy's head as big as my fist. Blunt force trauma. I'll bet it's coup, not contre-coup so he didn't get it hitting the pavement. An autopsy will confirm that. It's as if he was clubbed with something first. Vampires don't need to club their intended victims."

Dolph considered this. Three cheers for me. I quickly continued while the
going was good.

"He went down, but he wasn't knocked out. The wounds on his neck are torn as if he struggled. The look on his face as he bled to death, is fearful. What I find even more odd, is that the body is practically lying in the middle of the street for all the world to see. Vampires usually aren't that careless. They know the police patrol this district regularly. If a vamp is going to actually kill a human, it wouldn't attack one without first putting them under, rolling their mind, so they would come along willingly
to a nice secluded spot."

Dolph stared down at me intensely. "Maybe we've got a rogue on our hands. Or a newbie that doesn't know any better."

"A newbie would explain the mess and why the mind wasn't rolled, maybe. And
a new vamp might attack someone easy like Mr. Pearson back there, but they'd
still have enough of their wits about them to try to conceal the body
afterwards. A rogue would be insane enough to attack a human with the
intent to kill, but rogues have a tendency to shred their victims.
Also, it might not give a damn about someone finding the body, but it wouldn't have
used a weapon, it would have used its own superior strength for the attack."

Dolph didn't look convinced. "Maybe we've got a rogue-newbie then."

I had to smile. He was tired. He wanted to go home too. But this case wasn't turning out to be as cut and dry as he had been hoping.

"There's just something about all of this that doesn't feel right. I can't declare it a vampire killing yet. It just wouldn't be right to pin the blame on the vampires until I know for sure. The vampire community is
walking on eggshells as far as humans are concerned. Every vampire in this city knows the penalty for killing a human, Dolph."

Dolph caved. "Well, what do you want to do then?"

Oh, I was so tempted to tell him I wanted to sleep on it, but I bit my tongue and took a deep breath instead. "Let me do some snooping around. See if anyone saw or heard anything suspicious before the body was found."

"A suspicious-looking vampire?" Zerbrowski put in, coming to stand beside Dolph and myself. "That's a new one on me. Hey, when you find him, ask him if he wants some fries to go with his stake."

I made a face at him. "Cute. We don't know if it was actually a vampire yet, Zerbrowski."

A look of surprise flickered over his face. He peered over at Dolph for confirmation. Dolph held up his hands in a gesture of resignation. Then Zerbrowski focused his attention back on me.

"A lycanthrope then?"

"No. That's obvious," I stated.

Zerbrowski smiled. "Obvious. Okay. So what have we got left?" He made a sweeping gesture towards the crime scene. "I've got witnesses that swear they saw a single male," he paused to consult his notes. "Caucasian, long blonde hair, six-two to six-four, muscular build, black clothes, fleeing the scene minutes before the body was discovered. Smells like a vamp to me, Anita."

Ignoring him, I looked around. I had never been in this part of the riverfront before. There were a lot of new businesses lining the street I had never heard of. Touristy places. At this time of night, er, excuse me, morning, most of them were closed however. I looked up at Dolph.

"Are there any bars or nightclubs in the direction the blood trails lead?"

Dolph nodded. "Yeah. A nightclub." he stated.

I rubbed my eyes, trying to fight off the migraine threatening to split my head in two if I didn't get some sleep soon. "It'd be a good place to start." I glanced back at the body of Chicagoan, Mr. Pearson, as the
EMT's loaded his empty corpse into an ambulance. "If it was a vampire that killed him, a seedy, dark night club run by other vamps is the perfect place to get off the streets and blend in with the crowd."

Dolph shrugged. "Makes sense." Now it was his turn to look around. "There's an all-male strip joint a few blocks from here. Called Guilty Pleasures. A good place for tourists looking to see vampires and a
good place for vampires looking to find naive tourists to munch on."

"All right then," I announced. "I'll get back to you if I find out anything." I started off in the general direction Dolph had indicated.

"Whoa, wait just a minute," Zerbrowski piped up, skipping after me. "You're not going in alone are you?"

I turned and faced him. "What's the matter? 'Fraid I'll get an eyeful? I'm a big girl, Zerbrowski. I can take care of myself." I noticed he was looking back at Dolph for some support. "Besides, if I go in there
with an entourage of cops, no vamp is going to want to talk to me. If I play the game right, keep my cool, I won't scare any of them off." I smiled slightly. "I know from experience they'll talk to me a lot faster than a cop."

Zerbrowski smiled back at me. "Why is that, I wonder? You'd think they'd run from you screaming. Or at the very least try to kill you."

"They know I'm not their judge or jury. I'm just their executioner."

"Zerbrowski's right, Anita," Dolph said quietly. "They may talk to you, but this is police business. You'll need the authority that goes with a badge to get in the door and start questioning them on an official basis. I doubt they'll offer anything up willingly."

I frowned. "I can take care of myself," I reiterated.

Dolph's brow knitted with irritation. "If you're gonna play the game, Anita, you have to play by the rules or you don't get to play at all. Take Zerbrowski with you. You can't go in there just flashing your hardware. Let's keep this nice and by the book. I don't want to lose this one on a technicality."

Dolph had a point. By the book. That's how he liked his investigations to be run. No chance for loopholes, no perps getting off on technicalities. I sighed heavily and nodded, facing Zerbrowski.

"Okay, but let me do the talking and don't get in my way." With that I turned on my heel and stomped off, frustrated. Flashing hardware would have gotten me a lot more cooperation than flashing a badge. Especially where vampires were concerned.

"Whatever you do," I was saying to Zerbrowski as we stood outside peering up at the glaring red neon sign blazing above the entrance to Guilty Pleasures. "For safety sake, just assume everyone inside is a vampire and keep your eyes down."

Zerbrowski nodded readily in compliance. "I know, I know. But how the hell am I supposed to keep track of what's going on if I can't look at anybody?"

I sighed and licked my lips in anticipation. "You can look at them. Just don't make direct eye contact. They can take your mind just like that." I snapped my fingers in front of his nose to emphasize my point. He flinched slightly which made me grin mischievously. I turned and started up the

The first vampire we encountered was standing just outside the entrance on the top step. I elbowed Zerbrowski as a warning and he ducked his head like he was expecting the vamp to punch him in the face. He already had his badge out and was waving it in front of him like a flag of truce as we approached.

"Police business," he announced sharply. "Let us through. We need to speak with the owner."

The vamp didn't even hesitate. He unlatched the door for us and used his foot to shove it open, keeping his body angled towards the street. "Talk to Marlena inside."

Zerbrowski and I hurried through the door and let it bang shut behind us. We looked at each other. The muffled thump of an amplified bass vibrated through the closed doors just beyond. Obviously an act was onstage. Zerbrowski made a face.

"Why are these places so damned loud?" he asked.

Eyeing him curiously, I shrugged. "You'd know about that better than I would. I don't normally go into these places."

He grinned and tried to look around while keeping his head down. It looked silly, but it would keep him safe.

There wasn't any vampires in the immediate vicinity from what I could tell. I put my hand on Zerbrowski's arm reassuringly and scanned the place myself. What I saw was a pleasant surprise. This club was trying hard to be vogue. It wasn't seedy-looking at all. In fact it was rather classy and looked like it was in the middle of being renovated. There were numerous building permits plastered on the wall to my left and a large courtesy sign that insisted all holy items be relinquished before continuing on. Another sign that said "Please wait to be Seated" and another that showed a cigarette within a circle with a line drawn through it. No smoking.

Zerbrowski noticed it and chuckled. "For some reason, I don't think the owner prohibits smoking simply because of second-hand smoke."

A young human female with scars up and down her neck slowly approached us from out of nowhere and gestured at the sign concerning holy items. "Welcome to Guilty Pleasures. Do you have anything to declare?" she asked us in a wispy, breathy voice.

Zerbrowski glanced over at me. I shook my head. He sighed and fished out the badge again. He held it up in front of the girl's face.

"Are you Marlena? I'm Detective Zerbrowski, this is Ms. Blake of the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team. We were told to talk to you," he said.

She nodded carefully. "Yes, I'm Marlena," she whispered back. "What do the police want with me?" She didn't mention the holy items again. Good thing, because I wasn't about to give up my cross pendant, but I did tuck it just inside my bra to keep it from sliding out at the wrong moment.

"We just want to ask you a few questions," I reassured her. "As the owner of this establishment, you have an obligation to cooperate with civil authorities regarding an investigation currently underway," I added as a reminder.

She froze then, the wheels of her mind churning almost audibly. "Oh," she squeaked suddenly. "I'm not the owner." She clutched her sides and giggled girlishly. I think in relief. "I just work here." That classic line.

Zerbrowski and I exchanged glances.

"Well, then if you would be so kind as to let the owner know we are here, we'd appreciate it," Zerbrowski said.

"Yeah, all right. Let me go find him."

"Him?" I narrowed my eyes. To be honest I was expecting a woman to own this...sort of club. Okay, so what if the owner happened to be a him? Whatever floats your boat.

"Yeah," Marlena confirmed. "His name is Jean-Claude." And with that she disappeared down a darkened hall.

I straightened and turned towards Zerbrowski. He must have been thinking the exact same thing I had been, but chose to voice his biases. "Ah, Jean-Claude, but of course," he muttered in a nasally over-done French accent. He shook his head and glanced around again. "You get to talk to Monsieur Le Owner. I'll take a gander around inside, see if I can find the manager." Badge in hand, he stalked over to the double doors.

"Remember, eyes down," I reminded.

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, but nodded and pushed on the door.

As soon as the door was opened, the music hit me like a freight train. Depeche Mode's "I Feel You" blared over a state-of-the-art sound system, filling the air around me like a tangible presence. A good song to
gyrate to, that was for sure. The women in the audience were going wild, whooping and whistling and swooning with uninhibited lust. I caught just a glimpse of the stripper onstage before the doors banged close. Damn.

I peered around. I was alone. Slowly I crept forward and pried one of the doors open a crack.

Zerbrowski had made his way to the far right side of the room and was holding up his badge, carefully keeping his eyes averted while talking to a statuesque female vampire who stood nodding back at him as he spoke. I wondered briefly if that was the club's manager.

A shadow suddenly crossed in front of me and I jumped back involuntarily like a kid with her hand caught in the cookie jar, letting the door snap shut. I cursed myself and took a deep breath. I was here on police
business. So what if someone noticed I was looking around. Carefully, I eased the door open, a little further this time, and peered inside.

The shadow was actually a vampire. He had long black hair and was dressed entirely in black, which was why I had only seen darkness when he first passed by me. He had discreetly settled himself beside the wall to my left to watch the show onstage, as if he were trying to avoid being detected by the club's patrons. I couldn't really see his face since his back was to me, but the view I had of him was fine. Besides, it gave me the chance to study him a little closer without him knowing it.

He was wearing a sheer long-sleeved dress shirt that shimmered slightly in the flickering stage lights and pants so form-fitting, they left little to the imagination. I let my eyes travel unabashedly down the length of him, taking in that cascade of glossy black curls, his tapered, narrow waist, and slender hips. Not to mention his firm, tantalizingly curvey ass.

The music was pulsating. I could feel it banging inside me like a second heartbeat. It made me want to move with it and let it take me over, despite the fact I was no dancer. The song itself was a heady, pounding, seduction and apparently I wasn't the only one feeling it.

The shadow's hips were rocking slowly, keeping perfect time with the down beat. It was as if the music was too intoxicating and he couldn't help himself. The movement was so subtle at first, I might have missed it
had I not been staring at him in somewhat of a daze. He had superb rhythm, and during the song's thumping interlude, he provocatively shimmied his shoulders in a rolling, fluid counter movement of his hips.

I found him more mesmerizing than the actual stripper who was onstage, and couldn't take my eyes off of him no matter how hard I tried. He must be a stripper too, I concluded, and for a moment, actually considered coming back at a later date to try to catch him onstage. I sighed, feeling things low in my body clench with heat.

Suddenly, the door I was clutching was pried from my hands, startling me out of my lust-induced trance. Marlena pushed herself past me and gestured at the sexy vampire I had been ogling.

"There he is!" she announced to me loudly, trying to be heard over the music. "Wait here. I'll get him." Realization suddenly dawned on me and my stomach did a quick flip-flop. I heard Marlena call his name.
"Jean-Claude!" Then she stalked right up to him.

Gracefully, the vampire turned around. The atmospheric light pouring in through the wide open door suddenly spilled over him with a dazzling illuminating effect. I got my first real look at his face then and
promptly forgot how to breathe. Jean-Claude's face turned out to be just as stunning as the rest of him. He was, quite simply put, beautiful. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I had seen anyone so utterly beautiful before.

Marlena was beside him now, talking to him with her mouth very close to his ear. I noticed he was bending over slightly to catch what she was saying, and then suddenly, Jean-Claude straightened and looked up at me as I stood gaping at him in the doorway. I had to quickly avert my eyes which made me look coy. I hated having to do that, but I wasn't taking any chances.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed he was moving towards me now and took a deep breath. I caught myself inadvertently smoothing my hair back, and cringed. I started shaking my head in elf-admonishment, coming to my senses. Get a grip, Anita. He may be a looker, but he was also a corpse, and no one, living or dead, was that beautiful. I knew vampires could create an illusion of beauty using a kind of personal glamour, and this one was clearly saturating himself with it. Let's face it, Jean-Claude was just too damned gorgeous for it to be real.

I backed out of the doorway to let him through, holding the door to keep it from closing. He drew up beside me with Marlena at his heels, and took the door from my hands, gently easing it shut. The pounding music was back to being just a muffled thump now. It was kind of a relief and I took a deep, cleansing breath, catching the faintest whiff of his cologne. Hmmm.

Marlena returned to her post at the club's entrance, leaving me alone with Jean-Claude. I fixed my eyes straight ahead which locked them onto a smooth expanse of bare white skin. Jean-Claude's shirt was open down to his waist which made it extremely hard for me not to stare at his chest. And a very nice chest it was too, with just a sparse triangular dusting of black hair that tapered down to a single black line trailing over the flat plane of his abdomen before it disappeared beneath the top of his pants. I was careful not to lick my lips as my eyes followed it down, and down, and down.

I suddenly forced my eyes back up as he shifted his weight to one leg, pulling his shirt a little off to the side revealing a cross-shaped scar so out of place in that sea of pale perfection, my gaze immediately
fastened on it. It helped clear my head and remind me that I was standing in front of a

"I'm Anita Blake with the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team of the St. Louis Police Department," I introduced, fishing out my identification. I held it out to him and he took it in his large, slender hands and
studied it briefly before handing it back to me. "My co-worker, Detective Zerbrowski, is inside talking with your manager. We're looking for a possible suspect in a recent killing that occurred just a few blocks
from here."

Jean-Claude nodded slightly and pursed his full lips in a very human gesture. To me, he had the feel of a master vampire that was at least two centuries old; his carefully-controlled power had long since settled around him like a second-skin, but he could still project a very human presence. There was a steady pulse throbbing in his neck, a regular rhythm of respiration, and healthy flush to his pale skin. I even noticed his chest rose slightly with a small intake of breath just before he spoke.

"You're looking for a vampire then," he murmured softly and I felt all of my insides turn to complete mush. Needless to say, his voice matched his looks. He had a silky-smooth French accent with deep purring undertones I could actually feel inside my skin. I let my eyes drift up towards his mouth, watching his lips form the words he was caressing me with. What he said next however, may have sounded pretty, but the words themselves were anything but. "I cannot say I am pleased to meet you. I know who you are. I know what you do to my kind," he continued quietly.

"That's not why I'm here," I told him, licking my suddenly dry lips. There was a tension amassing between us that had nothing to do with sexuality.

His power was pressing against me now, cool and liquid. When it touched my own, I tensed, feeling the weight of it pass over me, but there was no threat to it. It was as if he were merely analyzing my supernatural ability. I also felt the weight of his unblinkingly steady gaze, and tried
not to fidget under the intensity of it. Then his eyes began moving over me with growing intrigue. He looked at my arms and hesitated, taking in the numerous scars.

"You've suffered for your art, I see," he pointed out, somewhat facetiously. "I hope you are well paid for what you do, Anita Blake."

"I don't do it for the money," I murmured in reply. "And I don't do it because I despise vampires. I do it to help humanity."

Jean-Claude made a soft, noncommittal noise in his throat. "Of course. I know you're an animator by trade. And I would guess, a talented one at that. Your power is impressive."

My reputation obviously proceeded me here tonight. I wondered if vampires sat around discussing me with each other after a hard day in the crypt. "Yes. I'm an animator first and foremost. I only hunt vampires on the side."

Jean-Claude frowned. "You make it sound like a hobby," he replied, his voice dropping an octave or so before easing into a silky whisper. "I never thought I would get to meet you face to face. In fact, I vowed never to give you just cause to seek me out. Now that I see you in the flesh, Mademoiselle Blake, I must confess. You're not exactly what I was expecting."

Oh, here it comes. Something just short of anger pricked my senses, and I put my hands on my hips. "It's Ms. Blake, if you don't mind. And just what were you expecting, Jean-Claude?"

A moment passed before he answered me and I could almost feel the shift in his temperament, like someone had just flipped a switch inside him. His expression softened and he leaned towards me ever so slightly. "I am sorry. You are my guest and I am being rude. I did not mean to offend you. You've only caught me off guard. You are known for your ruthlessness and fierce intrepidation. So, I wasn't expecting someone as fascinating, and lovely, and quite so.....petite, as you are."

I shook my head. A vampire, yes, but above all, male. "Yeah, I hear that from all the boys," I replied, letting my anger edge out of my tone. "My size surprises a lot of people. I guess they expect me to be some sort of Amazon woman. Why should you be any different? Just a friendly word of caution, Jean-Claude, don't underestimate me because of my size."

He smiled then, a quick flash of straight, white teeth without a hint of fangs. "Oh no, I would never underestimate you, ma petite."

I furrowed my brow. "Ma petite?"

"My little one."

I sighed. "Don't call me that."

He bowed slightly at the waist. "Whatever your desires, I'm here to fulfill them."

Infuriatingly, I felt my face flush and quickly dropped my gaze to the floor in front of him. He was teasing me now and I truly hoped he didn't notice the affect it was having on me. I quickly decided I had had enough chit chat. Time to get down to business.

"A man was attacked earlier," I duly informed. "Witnesses saw a tall, blonde Caucasian fleeing the area moments before the body was discovered."

"Male or female?"


"You believe he came here?"

I shrugged and let my eyes wonder around the perimeter of Jean-Claude's perfect face. "It's a possibility. That's why I'd like to have a look around the premises if you don't mind."

Jean-Claude smiled indulgently. "Not at all. I shall be happy to escort you even." He reached out and placed his hand on my shoulder--I'm sure with the mere intention of leading me away--but the gesture startled me because I wasn't expecting it. My reflexes took over and I jerked out of his reach, holding up my hands to ward him off.

"Hands off," I snapped and immediately the silver cross necklace I was wearing began heating up, burning my skin. I cursed, fishing around for it inside my shirt, then yanked it out. For modesty's sake, I turned
around and repositioned the cross outside my bra, but back inside my shirt.

When I turned around again, I noticed Jean-Claude had backed away from me almost to the far side of the entryway. Then I remembered the scar on his chest. Someone had shoved a cross against his skin, in a sense, branding him for all eternity. He didn't like crosses. I guess I couldn't blame him.

"It's nothing personal," I offered by way of consolation. "I just don't care to be touched."

He sighed petulantly, planting his hands on his hips. "By vampires?"

I shook my head. "By strange men in general."

Turning slowly, he gestured me forward, apparently appeased. "Very interesting. From what I am sensing in you however--the way your body is reacting to me, little animator, I would have thought you'd welcome my touch."

Shit! Was it that obvious? I fought my embarrassment, masking it with irritation. "Just can the personal observations, Jean-Claude, and while you're at it, can the chauvinism, and can the flirting. I'm not

At first, Jean-Claude seemed taken aback from what I could read of his expression. Then he laughed. A deep clear, pealing laugh that reminded me of bells chiming on Christmas morn, warm fuzzy kittens cuddled in a basket, and cool satin sheets against hot naked skin. The sound of his laughter made my skin tingle. Was there no end to this assault on my hormones?

"I prefer not to make promises I cannot keep, ma petite," he purred and stalked slowly up the darkened hall.

Was there no insulting this guy? Apparently not. He was far too full of himself. I followed him, somewhat dazed, watching his slim hips roll suggestively with every step of his graceful, gliding stride. Does the
term "poetry in motion" mean anything to you?

Jean-Claude led me into a security office of sorts. The room was long and narrow and one wall was lined entirely with television monitors. Every part of Guilty Pleasures, its interior and exterior, was being filmed and shown on the screens. Two security guards sat facing the screens, their eyes roving over each monitor in a slow, synchronized circle. They didn't even look away from the monitors long enough to acknowledge our presence.

Jean-Claude leaned forward and placed his hand on one of the guards' shoulder and pointed to a group of four screens.

"I need you to make a few passes over the audience and the backstage area," he told him. The guard nodded and began adjusting dials and flipping switches on the control board in front of him. Jean-Claude glanced over his shoulder at me and waved me closer.

I inched my way in front of him and peered at the monitors with intrigue. The audience was mostly of women, no surprise there. The few men I picked out looked more than a little embarrassed. It was obvious the only reason they were there was because they had been dragged by wives or girlfriends. A couple of others seemed too drunk to care who or what was stripping on the stage. Most likely tourists looking for booze and vampires. They were just there to have a good time. Then I spied Zerbrowski. He stood beside
the stage studying the current dancer with a peculiar expression on his face.
That alone was a tip off. I addressed the guard closest to me.

"Can I see the stage please?"

The guard nodded, did some more minor adjustments, and the monitor changed its picture. The camera zoomed in on the stripper and I noticed he was tall and muscular, with long blonde hair. His upper body was smeared with what looked to me like dried blood. Maybe it was a stage effect. Maybe not. I
made a face in disgust, but apparently the audience didn't care. That was the kind of thing they had paid to see.

"Who's that?"

"His name is Derek."

"Is he usually covered in blood like that?"

"Not usually." Jean-Claude crossed his arms over his chest, striking a casual pose. "But then my dancers tend to play on morbid fascination as well as desire."

Okay....I leaned closer to the monitor. Besides a g-string, Derek was also wearing a tool belt. Oddly enough, the belt was laden with sadistic-looking surgical tools of all shapes and sizes. But one loop on the belt was conspicuously empty. An oversight on his part? I didn't think so.

"He's not a vampire, if that is what you are thinking," Jean-Claude offered. "Not yet anyway. He's one of Malcolm's converts. He is merely human for the time being."

There was something about the way he stressed the word 'merely' which made my hackles rise. I looked over at him and focused on the tip of his nose.

"You're the one who assumed I was looking for a vampire," I grumbled. "You should have mentioned you employed someone fitting our suspect's description." There. That seemed to catch him off-guard. His posture tensed and he leaned away from me slightly. Good. One for me.

I focused on the monitor again, just in time. Derek suddenly smiled down at a woman next to the stage, flashing ready-made fangs. It made me catch my breath.

"If he's not a vampire yet, where'd he get the teeth?"

Jean-Claude shrugged. "Perhaps he had them filed. Some of them do that."

Hmmm. Interesting.

"You believe he may be the one you are searching for, ma petite?"
Jean-Claude continued quietly.

"I don't know, but I intend to find out." I pointed at Derek's empty belt loop. "Would you happen to know which tool he's missing?"

If Jean-Claude thought that was a strange question, he did not show it. "A type of hammer, if I remember correctly."

I nodded absently and tried to visualize the wound on the back of Mr. Pearson's head. "I want to talk to this guy when he's done onstage," I said, straightening. Then I cleared my throat. "After he gets dressed, of
course." I'll admit it, the idea of questioning a strange guy while he was naked made me a tad uncomfortable.

A shadow of a smile flickered over Jean-Claude's face. "Of course, ma petite."

Feeling my patience at its end, I closed my eyes. "I asked you to stop calling me that!"

He scowled fiercely at first, as if I was being deliberately fractious towards him, then sighed with resignation. "May I call you Anita then?"

Normally I would have said no, but at least Anita was an improvement over a pet name. "Fine. That's fine. Call me Anita."

He turned slowly, opening the door for me like the perfect gentleman he was. I really didn't think he meant it to be condescending, I think manners just came naturally to him. Nevertheless, I glared up at him as I
hurried through the door and turned around to face him as he sauntered past me. I followed, lengthening my stride to walk beside him. He seemed to like that however, and gazed down at me, somewhat amused.

"I will see that Derek makes himself suitably presentable before speaking with you," he told me, his voice rich and decadent like a two-pound box of Godiva chocolate. "Though I must admit," he continued. "Your
reservation surprises me, ma...Anita."

Here it comes. I licked my lips in anticipation. For some reason, people often assumed tough-as-nails vampire executioner also meant wanton slut. The last thing I wanted to do was defend my virtue to a vampire, but I would if I had to. "Oh? And why is that, Jean-Claude?"

Jean-Claude offered me a graceful shrug in reply. "Simply because I am not used to it," he answered quietly. "The women I know do not have your sense of...propriety."

I stifled a laugh. He sounded like he was complaining. The woeful lament of a self-induced sex object: constantly surrounded by fast, lascivious women. Poor thing.

"Gee, maybe you should tone it down a little then," I offered, flippantly. I was referring to his overuse of personal glamour, but naturally he didn't interpret it that way.

"Tone it down?" he questioned, earnestly, cocking his head endearingly to one side. "Forgive me, I'm not sure what you mean."

I sighed and made a sweeping gesture down the length of his body. "Well, honestly Jean-Claude, what do you expect when you work so hard at looking like...the personification of female gratification?"

Jean-Claude stopped in his tracks and looked away from me, and I wondered briefly if I had finally managed to insult him. Shit. So sue me. What I had said was true. I was not about to apologize.

The drawn-out silence between us was becoming unbearable however. Just when I thought I couldn't stand it anymore, Jean-Claude turned back to face me.

"You truly believe that, my little animator?" he inquired, somewhat hesitantly.

I frowned, debating whether or not to smooth things out between us by lying, then resolutely nodded my head. "Yes, I do," I told him.

Jean-Claude flashed a breathtaking smile. "Then I'm quite flattered. Many women have told me as much, but coming from you, makes me more inclined to take it to heart." He sighed softly, wistfully. "You've just made my night, ma petite."

Great. Just great. I had fallen right into that one, eyes wide open. Jean-Claude had put just enough emphasis on the word 'flattered' to let me know he wasn't insulted by my accusation in the least. But then, why should he be? I had just told him I thought he looked like the reason why women had orgasms. I cringed slightly. Now he knew without a doubt just how impiously attracted I was to him. I sighed and massaged my eyes wearily. So what? It wasn't as if anything was ever going to come of it.

My beeper vibrating against my bare skin made me jump involuntarily. I retrieved it from my belt, grateful for the interruption for a change. "Is there a phone I can use?" I asked, peering down at the number paging me. It was Dolph.

"My office," Jean-Claude suggested, then led me down to the end of the hall and around a corner. He opened the door for me, again, and I rolled my eyes, but bit back my tongue. I began to think he truly couldn't help it. It would be a waste of time trying to break him of a centuries old habit in
one night.

"Thank you," I simply told him.

He pointed at his desk. "Press nine for an outside line."

Nodding, I wandered in and looked around with my mouth hanging open. It was a nice enough office, but everything inside was either black or white. Black desk. Black leather couch. White walls. White carpet. There wasn't a speck of color in the whole room. Even the phone was black.

While Jean-Claude settled his hips against the back of the couch, I snatched up the phone and punched Dolph's number. He picked up on the first ring.

"We've got something," Dolph said, starting right in.

"Yeah? What?"

"The forensics team found a discarded maul hammer with blood smeared on the head about two blocks east of the crime scene. I think it may be what the killer used to bring his victim down. We're sending it to the lab for an analysis on the blood."

"A maul hammer? That wouldn't be a type of hammer used in surgery would it?"

Dolph laughed, caught off guard by my question. "Maybe, if you're name's Dr. Frankenstein. This thing's like a sledgehammer with an ax on the opposite edge."

"Ooo." I had never heard of such a thing. Sounded nasty.

I turned my back on Jean-Claude for all the good it would do me and lowered my voice. "We may have something here as well. One of the dancers matches the description, uses surgical tools in his set, and just happens to be a vampire-wannabe."

"A wannabe? Hadn't thought of that one," Dolph said and sighed. "I'm sending some uniforms over. Look, Anita. Just keep your eye on him until we get there." With that he hung up. I hung up too. It was time to
find Zerbrowski. I sighed and turned around to face Jean-Claude, but he wasn't there. I was alone. Shit!

Dashing out into the hall, I frantically looked around the corner. Jean-Claude had disappeared just like that. I wondered if he'd done something to make me lose time. Unnerved, I drew my Browning and trotted
back up the hall towards the club's entrance.

I wasn't sure how to get backstage from where I was, but I did know how to get to the stage itself. A start. Zerbrowski should be lurking close, if he hadn't made it backstage by now.

All I could think of was that Jean-Claude had gone to warn Derek he was about to be apprehended, leaving me to fend for myself in this maze of darkened passages. I should have insisted he wait outside while I made my call. I should have never let him lull me into a false sense of believing he was willingly at my disposal. Damn!

I found the club entrance, complete with Marlena standing dutifully at her post. I hurried over to her.

"I want backstage now!"

Marlena looked back at me with wide, fearful eyes. She took in the gun and the desperation in my voice and launched herself at the door to alert the bouncer on the other side. I slammed into her, knocking her off
balance. She shrieked as I grabbed her hair and pointed the Browning at her throat.

"Don't!" I warned, hauling her upright. "Get me backstage and get me backstage now before someone gets hurt!"

She whimpered and nodded. I locked my hand around her upper arm and shoved her towards the double doors, but to my surprise she resisted.

"It's faster this way," she offered in a trembly little voice, gesturing down another of those infernal hallways.

God, I wish I would run into Zerbrowski. I felt decidedly outnumbered, but it wasn't a first for me. At least Marlena was human. I had to trust her.
"Okay. Let's go then."

Keeping my attention mostly on my immediate surroundings and the rest on Marlena ,I followed her through another set of doors. This one led into a room that actually looked like another hallway except it was larger and had several large wall mirrors on one side and narrow lockers on the other. The
sound of humming pipes and running water vied with strains of muffled music and screeching females for background noise.

There were chairs that reminded me of something you'd find in a beauty salon, and a single black marble ledge running the length of the mirrored wall. The ledge obviously served as a dressing table. It was piled
high with pancake base, powders, oils, glitter spray, and tons of hair styling products. Clothes and costumes were strewn everywhere. Sequins and satin lay tangled on floor with studs and leather.

No one was backstage at the moment however and I had a sinking feeling in my gut that I was too late. With Jean-Claude's help, Derek was probably on his way to Argentina by now.

The door suddenly burst open and I whirled around, gun aimed and ready. It was Zerbrowski with his own gun aimed and ready. It took me a moment to ease the Browning off him.

"Where is everybody?" Zerbrowski questioned, scanning the room without turning his head.

I shrugged, but Marlena responded, having recovered nicely from our little woman to woman.

"Usually the guys go out and mingle with the audience when they finish their sets."

Oh. Maybe we needed to be out on the floor then, looking for the elusive Derek.

"Did you ever meet with the owner?" Zerbrowski asked me.

"Yeah, but I lost track of the owner," I confessed to him.

Zerbrowski grinned. "Don't need him. I think I found who we were looking for." He started looking around automatically. "Christ, this is as bad as a woman's dressing room." He picked up a g-string lying over the top of one of the chairs and dropped it on the floor. "Ick." A heartbeat later: "I found out from the ladies the bloody guy with the tool belt belongs to the Church of Eternal Life. Fits our witness statements to a tee. Has fangs even."

I nodded. "I know."

Zerbrowski looked crestfallen. He'd been so proud. "Damn, Blake."

I grinned. "There's security monitors in a remote room on the other side of this building. I got to watch the going-ons from there for awhile." I didn't bother telling him that it was his odd interest in that particular
dancer that tipped me off however.

"Where the hell is he? I watched him walk off the stage and came directly back here afterwards," Zerbrowski muttered.

I sighed. I didn't want to share with him my suspicions about Jean-Claude. Not yet, anyway.

"What a waste!" Marlena suddenly exclaimed.

We both jerked around to face her and saw she was peering into a large aluminum garbage can lined with a black plastic bag. Okay....

"Somebody threw out their clothes," she announced and reached down into the can to retrieve them. "Oh, they're stained."

Something in me clicked, but before I could tell her not to touch them, she screamed. Zerbrowski hurried over to the garbage can and pulled Marlena away. Her hand was bloody. My mind suddenly zoned in on the sound of running water. Somebody was taking a shower. Zerbrowski and I looked at each other.

"The showers," I stated and made a mad dash through the length of the dressing room looking for the showers' entrance. I found it on the far side of the dressing room, tucked discreetly around a small corner. The sound of water splashing was louder now, but I could also hear voices. Deep, soft,
and male. I raised the Browning, took a deep breath and stepped in.

The shower was one of those large, communal types. No stalls, just eight shower heads, four on each side surrounded by black tiled walls. There were just two men showering inside at the moment. Derek and another man. Actually a lycanthrope, if you want to get technical. They were standing very close to each other, under one shower head, lathering each other's bodies with slow, sensual determination. They kissed passionately and I felt a wave of heat wash over me that had nothing to do with the steam. I
was just about to clear my throat when they suddenly seemed to sense they were no longer alone and turned as one to look at me.

Derek put his hands on his hips and glared at me angrily. "And just who the fuck are you?" he grumbled in a pronounced British accent. The lycanthrope turned his attention back to Derek and began slowly licking the water off his skin, seemingly unphased by my sudden appearance.

I kept my eyes locked on Derek and inhaled deeply through my nose. "My name is Anita Blake. I need to talk to you, Derek. Would you mind coming with me back into the dressing room?"

Derek shook his head and deliberately turned away from me. The lycanthrope frowned at me, then began gnawing on the back of Derek's neck, eyes fixing on mine as if daring me to object.

"Get out," Derek said to me. "This isn't part of the show." The fact I had a gun pointed at him didn't seem to intimidate him all that much.

I cleared my throat. "Let me introduce myself one more time," I replied, putting as much menace in my voice as I could muster considering the circumstances. "My name is Anita Blake. I'm with the Regional
Preternatural Investigation Team. I'd like to talk to you about a man found murdered on the riverfront tonight."

At that Derek froze. "Murdered?" He brusquely shrugged out of the lycanthrope's embrace.

I narrowed my eyes. "Yeah. Know anything about that Derek?"

He turned slowly towards his, ahem, friend and whispered something in his ear. The lycanthrope promptly stepped around Derek and started walking towards me. His eyes locking on mine.

I forced myself to take a step to meet him. "Not a good idea," I warned, raising the Browning just a tad. "Silver bullets can do a lot of damage to a body like yours. Might even force you into a change of career."
That stopped him.

"What do you want with Derek?" he addressed me in an unnaturally gravelly voice.

"I just...want to talk to him," I said, inching to my left a little to keep Derek in my sight. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Zerbrowski moving to stand beside me. His gun was out, trained on Derek.

"I called Dolph," he murmured to me. "He told me the uniforms should be here any minute now."

I nodded, then inclined my head towards the lycanthrope staring me down. "Dolph told me earlier just to keep my eye on Derek until the backups arrive but this gentleman isn't exactly cooperating."

"C'mon Derek," Zerbrowski suddenly barked. "Wouldn't you be a little more comfortable talking to the lady with some clothes on?" I got the distinct feeling Zerbrowski wasn't encouraging him to get dressed for my
benefit, however.

Derek was beginning to coil with tension. A sure sign a body was about to bolt, but instead he glanced from me to Zerbrowski, then back to me again.

"You're lying," he stated, his voice quieter, deeper. "No one was murdered."

Keeping my gaze fixed on the lycanthrope, I addressed Derek. "Well, a man's dead. Bled to death. Left to die in the street. Why didn't you just dump him in the river?"

It could have been my imagination, but Derek was starting to look a little paler. "Look, I didn't kill anyone." He stepped out of the water finally, holding up his hands. "Let's not do anything rash, all right. Let me
out of here so I can throw on a robe."

I leaned towards Derek's friend. "You first. Nice and easy."

The lycanthrope smiled slightly. "As I'm sure you can see, we're not armed. Now you wouldn't shoot an unarmed man, would you?" He took another step forward.

"Try something stupid and I might," I said, my finger tightening ever so slightly around the trigger. Of course, he had to test me.

One minute he's standing five feet from me, the next he's flying at me full tilt. The Browning jerked as I squeezed the trigger and landed a shot in the lycanthrope's right shoulder just a split second before he would have collided with me. Blood began pouring from his shoulder and he dropped heavily to the floor in front of me, screeching in fury, and writhing in agony. I scooted away from him before I tripped over him.

"No!" Derek screamed. "You fucking bitch!"

Zerbrowski wheeled around and suddenly Derek smashed into him, knocking him down on the slick floor. Something snapped in Zerbrowski's wrist as he fell, his eyes glazing with pain. He swore hotly, struggling to right himself, and shifted his gun to his other hand.

Derek went to his lover's side but hesitated only a moment, before he took off running. I helped Zerbrowski to his feet and swiveled around to try to keep track of Derek, but he was too fast and had already slipped by me.

Zerbrowski fired a shot after him, taking out a chunk of the wall in the process. I darted back into the dressing room after Derek with Zerbrowski at my heels.

Lucky for me, but not so lucky for poor Marlena, Derek ran right smack into her and got tangled up momentarily. Jean-Claude chose that instant to stroll into the dressing room. He froze, startled, I think, but
blocking the way out, thankfully.

Marlena screamed all the while Derek was shoving her away from him, and I seized the opportunity given me to tackle him with all the finesse of a pro-linebacker.

Zerbrowski and I were both yelling at the top of our lungs for Derek to freeze, but Derek took a swing at me and I was forced to roll back on my heels to avoid getting my head knocked off my shoulders. He just
clipped my chin with his knuckles and in that instant I decided human or not, enough was enough. I brought the Browning up with all the intentions of ending this here and now, but Marlena jumped to her feet in front of me in hysterics, and I had to pull up at the last second.

As Zerbrowski yelled again, this time for everybody to freeze, Derek launched himself towards the door, and then suddenly saw Jean-Claude. He skidded to a stop inches away from the master vampire and looked around the room frantically. I climbed to my feet and took careful aim.

"Don't you even fucking breathe!" I hissed, taking a tentative step forward. Zerbrowski crept up to him on the opposite side.

Derek swallowed hard and took several deep breaths; then held up his hands in surrender. "You got me. I give. Don't shoot, all right?" I took another careful step forward.

Throughout the duration of our little melee with Derek, Jean-Claude had remained absolutely motionless, like a great garden statue, but suddenly he seemed to snap to life again. His head rotated ever so slowly and he looked at Derek with complete and utter contempt. Since he wasn't looking at me anymore, I was able to take in the full extent of his expression, and what I saw in his eyes scared the bejesus out of me. If looks could kill, Derek would be nothing more than a wet, greasy stain on the dressing room floor by

Like a rattlesnake striking a rat, Jean-Claude's hand shot out and seized Derek by the throat. He smashed him forcefully against the nearest wall, before either I or Zerbrowski could react.

Jean-Claude stood holding Derek up without the slightest hint of strain, even though Derek was a good couple of inches taller than Jean-Claude. Derek squirmed and gasped and clawed at the vampire's hand around his neck.

"Do you know who that woman over there is?" Jean-Claude asked him in a soft voice.

Derek tried to shake his head, failed, and gasped out a fast "no."

Now Zerbrowski and I had our weapons pointed at Jean-Claude.

"Let him go!" Zerbrowski hollered.

"Don't make me shoot you, Jean-Claude!" I added. Damn it all to hell.

Ignoring the both of us, Jean-Claude squeezed Derek's neck tighter and his face went from red to purple to blue. "That woman is Anita Blake," Jean-Claude continued coolly. "She is known among my kind as the
Executioner. If you are going to join us, it would be wise of you to appreciate that bit of infamy of hers."

"Drop him now!" I yelled. Jean-Claude didn't seem to hear me. I might as well have been talking to a wall.

"Help...me," Derek squeaked.

Shit. I walked right up to Jean-Claude and pressed the nose of the Browning against his temple.

"If you kill him, I will kill you," I seethed.

Jean-Claude only smiled. "See?" he whispered to Derek. "That's what happens when a vampire kills a human being. It is her duty to kill the vampire. No questions asked." He flexed his fingers, digging them
deeper into Derek's neck. "Mon juene homme, if you were a vampire already, I would kill you now for what you have done, but since you are not, and I do not feel you are worth risking my own existence for, consider your humanity a blessing this night. It has saved your life twice now." Jean-Claude
suddenly released Derek, then stepped back. Derek slumped to the floor at the vampire's feet and began to sob.

The collective sigh of relief that Zerbrowski, Marlena and I emitted, resonated in the suddenly still room. I lowered my gun as Zerbrowski came forward with handcuffs. Derek was blubbering now, saying he didn't
mean to kill anyone. He only needed to see if he could actually hunt humans before his ceremony next week. Derek was getting cold feet, as the saying goes.

I doubted he would go through with becoming a vampire now. He'd have a trial, spend some time in jail perhaps on manslaughter charges and most likely get out with his first parole hearing. Jean-Claude was right. Derek's being a human was the only thing that saved him tonight.

The ambulance was pulling away from the curb with the lycanthrope I had shot tucked inside, just as the squad car eased off towards police headquarters with Derek, in borrowed clothes, secured in the backseat. Zerbrowski was busy getting statements, his broken wrist already splinted and taped. I holstered my Browning, massaged my aching jaw, and went back inside the club to find Jean-Claude.

I found him in his office, pouring over the night's receipts like any good business owner would at the end of a workday. He looked up as I tapped on his door.

"Your partner already took down my statement, Ms. Blake," he said with the slightest bit of ice in his tone. "The police have confiscated my security tapes, warranted my personnel files, and closed down my club. But only temporarily, I was assured. What more can I do for you?"

Ms. Blake? Ouch. That was the most formal he had been with me all night. I had tried to no avail to get him to address me that way and now that he did, it just didn't feel right.

I walked into the office and stopped in front of his desk. He had every right to be pissed. But why was he pissed at me? Maybe because I had shoved a gun against the side of that lovely face of his and threatened
to kill him. Petty.

With a sigh of exasperation, Jean-Claude sat back in his chair, tossed his pen aside, and folded his elegant hands across his waist. "What do you want, Anita?"

Anita, now. Curt, but a little better.

I opened my mouth to say "nothing", but snapped it close again. What did I want anyway? In a way I wanted to thank him for the assistance he'd given Zerbrowski and I tonight, but that wasn't why I had sought him out. But damn, he did deserve something for his cooperation. Some sort of gratitude
from someone, at least.

I let my eyes drift over him slowly. Damn, he was pretty. Once again, in the more intimate atmosphere of his plush two-toned office, I felt a prick of longing and sighed wistfully. I found myself aching to look into
his eyes, which startled me. I was about to rebuke him for trying to bespell me, but then stopped myself. If he was using his power on me, I'm sure I would have sensed it. No, this attraction was of my own making. He was doing nothing but sitting there, being attractive.

"Where did you go, Jean-Claude?" I found myself asking him.

His brow raised slightly in inquiry. "Go? When?"

I sighed. "When you brought me in here to use the phone."


He stood up then and walked around the big black desk to stand beside me. I fought with myself not to back away. If he was trying to intimidate me with his close proximity, it wasn't working. In fact, it was beginning to have the opposite affect on me. I found myself wanting him even closer. I licked my lips and looked up at him, carefully avoiding his eyes.

"Well?" I prompted.

"Well, I went out to give you some privacy, and was called away to attend to a slight problem at the bar," he explained nonchalantly. "Then, one of the waiter's needed to speak with me about a particular night off, and once I was noticed on the floor by my patrons, there was no swift way back to you. I do apologize."

I bowed my head, feeling a little ashamed. Just because he was a vampire, I had assumed the worse. And here he was only trying to tend his business. He was the owner after all. I felt like I owed him a big apology, but let it pass.

"Oh," I responded lamely. "I was just curious."

I sighed heavily and suddenly I realized I'd probably never see him again. I didn't come to this side of town often--tried to avoid it altogether, unless I was down here on official business. And when on official
business, I hoped never to have to see Jean-Claude again.

I felt that way because I realized I actually liked him. He was one of the ones who was trying: making an existence for himself, if not a living. Interacting with the community and abiding by the law. He wasn't like
the vampires of old who locked themselves away in dusty old mansions, emerging only to feed on hapless strangers passing by their secluded abodes. Jean-Claude seemed more alive than that. He was, in fact, better at being alive than any vampire I had ever met before.

Staring at him quietly the way I was, seeing the life coursing through that perfect body, my mind began to wander. I suddenly wondered what his skin would feel like. If it was as cool and soft and as alive as it looked. I could sense the weight of his eyes on me, wondering, marveling at my suddenly outstretched hand. As if to encourage me, he leaned closer to me, until we were a mere hair's breadth apart. I wanted to touch him so badly in that instant, but I lowered my hand, and took a deep cleansing breath.

"Stop it, Jean-Claude," I whispered, still caught up in the lingering affects of my desire to touch him.

"Stop what?" he whispered back to me. He straightened slowly, easing his body away from me slightly and lowered his head.

Surely he had used some kind of magic on me. Why else would I suddenly want to paw him? I shook my head as if to clear it. It didn't seem to help.

"Well," I sighed. "I'll be going now. I just wanted to thank you for your cooperation tonight."

"Your welcome," he replied automatically. Then: "I was very impressed with the way you conducted yourself tonight. You were very professional. You remained objective and fair throughout this investigation. I would have thought someone in your line of work would have biasly targeted my vampires. Others would have. They wouldn't have given Derek a second thought once they realized he was human." He paused briefly, collecting his thoughts. "And you never exhibited the slightest qualm, even when it came to
bodily throwing yourself at a naked man."

I smiled up at him. "Yes. I would have preferred him clothed, but he wasn't," I admitted. "I didn't have time to think about what I was doing. I just reacted. I did what I have to do to get the job done."

Jean-Claude sighed softly and emitted a faint moan. "You should do that more often," he unexpectedly suggested.

I laughed. I couldn't help myself. "Do what? Tackle naked men?" What the hell was he talking about?

"Smile, ma petite. Smile." He shifted his weight to one leg and casually crossed his arms over his chest. "You have the most enchanting smile."

"Oh," I murmured, caught totally off guard by that remark. No one had ever said anything like that to me before. But then I really didn't smile all that much either. Jean-Claude was right about that.

And at least he was back to calling me by that infernal pet name again. He couldn't be too angry with me anymore. For some strange reason, that pleased me.

I abruptly decided it was time to go. I took another deep breath. "I wanted to tell you this is a nice place you have here," I babbled on, delaying the inevitable. Why, I don't know. "No wonder it's so
popular. Your dancers seem...quite good. From what I saw of them." Escape now, Anita while there's still a shred of your dignity intact.

Jean-Claude smiled at me, finally, and I felt my heart skip a beat.

"Merci beaucoup, ma petite. Sometime, when you are not on police business, come back and be entertained as my personal guest."

I shook my head as I inched towards the door. "Oh, I don't know. I don't think so, but thank you for the invitation anyway," I said coyly. Okay, one last languid look and then I had to get away.

Jean-Claude was leaning against the desk now, hands gripping the edge lightly on either side of his slim hips. Long legs crossed at the ankles. Long hair curling seductively down his shoulders. Full kissable lips
set in a slight pout. I sighed.

"Goodnight, Jean-Claude."

"Au revoir, ma petite."

Yes, it was time to go home...and sleep for the next two and a half weeks.

Who knows? Maybe I'd even have a dream or two. With this last image of Jean-Claude secure in my mind, I could only hope.




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