Asher could see Belle Morte's signature affinity for beauty in the vampire, Lissette. As soon as she came through the doors
of the library, her youthful beauty took his breath away. She approached him with an air of quiet elegance, stretching her
small hand towards him in a casual greeting.
"Good evening, Monsieur," she hailed, smiling genuinely. "So good of you to come. My name is Lissette. I am the one who
sent the correspondence to your mistress."
Asher took her offered hand and bowed over it, brushing her knuckles lightly with his lips.
"Good evening to you, Mademoiselle," he replied and straightened, releasing her hand. "I am Asher. Thank you for offering
me the hospitality of your graces tonight." He paused and sighed heavily, a petulant expression shadowing his handsome face.
"I've come to see this young vampire you told Belle Morte about."
Lissette frowned. "For all your manners, Monsieur, you don't particularly seem pleased to make my acquaintance," she noted.
Asher shook his head, his long blonde hair shifting over his shoulders as he did. "Forgive me," he replied. "It is not
making your acquaintance that displeases me. It is...being sent here in the first place. Being
forced, as it were, to...audition
Lissette's fair brow furrowed. "Are you leaving Belle Morte then?" She smiled up at him, hopefully. She didn't understand.
"No," Asher said with swift determination. "Not if I have any say in the matter."
Lissette's smile faded. "You speak as though you have already decided not to like him."
Asher had, but he wasn't about to admit that outright. "Perhaps," he said quietly. "Shall we just say, he'll have to impress
me significantly for me to recommend Belle bring him to court."
Lissette leaned closer to Asher. "Oh, he will impress you, Monsieur. One look at him and that will be all it will take."
Raising his chin indignantly, Asher snorted his disbelief. "If he's as comely as you've claimed, then why, may I ask, are
you so anxious to be rid of him?"
At that Lissette bowed her head and turned away from Asher. "There are many reasons, Monsieur. But I do feel compelled
to at least try to answer your question as forthright as I am able." She paused then, her eyes glittering in the dim candlelight.
She clasped her hands together and took a deep breath. "I adore him, but he is...insatiable."
Asher narrowed his eyes with confusion. "Insatiable, how?"
Lissette turned around to face him with a coy, exasperated expression. "His carnal appetite is never appeased. I cannot
satisfy him, Monsieur and I grow weary of trying."
"Oh, I see," Asher said quickly. He licked his lips, trying to think of what to say next. "So, you wish my mistress to
take him off your hands, so to speak?"
"I know of Belle's charms as well as her power," Lissette admitted. "Perhaps she will be able to manage him better than
I." Her face grew quite solemn suddenly and her lips tightened into a thin pale pink line. "Another reason is--"
"What? There's more?" Asher interrupted.
Lissette nodded. "Because of his...cravings, my master, Julian, mistreats him. I cannot bear it, but there is little I
can do about it."
Asher sighed. "Very well, Mademoiselle. Bring him to me and let me consider him."
Reaching forward, Lissette placed her hand on Asher's forearm and squeezed it delicately, her face brightening. "I'm so
happy to hear that!"
Frowning, Asher gazed down at the pretty petite hand touching him. Lissette seemed genuinely pleased Asher was willing
to give her charge a look. She must truly care for him if she was parting with him in order to save him from her master. Either
that, or the young vampire was more of a nuisance
than Asher was being led to believe.
"I cannot promise you anything, Mademoiselle," Asher went on, resigned. "But I will try to keep an open mind. Does that
"Yes!" Lissette exclaimed. "Let me fetch my cloak, and we'll be off." She stalked over to the velvet-covered cord beside
the library doors and tugged it.
Asher shifted his weight to one leg. "Where are we going?"
Lissette's maid promptly appeared at the doors.
"Yes, Mademoiselle?" she said and bobbed in a graceless curtsey.
"I need my cloak, Gisele, please, and have the carriage brought around the front."
"Yes, Mademoiselle." Gisele bobbed once more, and scurried off.
"Can I assume then, he is not here?" Asher asked, his frown deepening.
Lissette faced him again. "No, Monsieur," she replied. "Julian took him from me tonight shortly after he woke." Her face
sobered and her eyes darkened. "But Julian will release him to you once he hears Belle
Morte sent you. I am not worried."
But she did look worried all of a sudden, Asher thought to himself, watching her maid help her into her cloak.
"Is this Julian holding him captive?"
Lissette lowered her eyes. "Only for a little while. Then he returns him to me." She sighed heavily, clutching her cloak
tighter around her shoulders as if she were cold.
Julian, the Master of the City, resided in a small, crumbling villa just north of town. The muddy, rutted roads
leading to it, had frozen in the frigid temperatures and made the drafty carriage ride bone-jarring and unpleasant.
By the time Asher and Lissette arrived at the villa, Asher's foul mood was beyond salvation. The last thing he wanted to
do was engage in protocol with the Master of the City just to look over a prospective lover for
Thankfully, the normal social etiquette involved in such an encounter was waived this evening. A servant led Lissette and
him through the living quarters, down a long narrow hall, and up a stone staircase to the
Asher thought it odd, but Lissette tramped up the stairs after the servant as if such a thing were a casual occurrence
The sound of laughter pricked Asher's curiosity. It was coming from the top of the stairs and made him wonder if the Master
of the City was holding a party in the hall beyond. Lissette paused on the stairs to listen to it, her expression filling
with dread. Asher passed her, eyeing her curiously as he did.
As he reached the top step, he could see several vampires clustered around a closed door in the middle of the hall. Something
beyond that door seemed to be the source of their amusement. They all faced it and took turns leaning against it to keep in
whatever was on the other side.
It was then Asher noticed another sound, periodically interspersed between the vampires' raucous laughs. A startlingly
intense thud. Something, or someone, Asher concluded distastefully, was repeatedly slamming against the door with enough force
to bend its hinges and crack its panels.
Suddenly, a pealing, agonized scream tore from inside the room, sending the milling vampires into more fits of laughter.
Asher froze momentarily.
"Oh mon dieu!" Lissette shrieked, gathering her skirts in her hands. She broke into a run and bolted up the remaining stairs.
Asher followed her as she plowed through the crowd of vampires, her eyes locking on a particular vampire sitting in a chair
against the wall opposite the locked door.
"Julian! Let him go! I beg of you!" she cried, throwing herself at the master vampire's feet.
Julian only smiled. He reached down and petted the back of her head with slow, savoring strokes. "And spoil the best sport
I've had all week?" he replied. "Surely you do not wish to do that." His eyes caught sight of Asher and he stood up, stepping
around Lissette. "Who's this fine young gentleman you've brought with you, Lissette? Will you not introduce me?"
Lissette roughly wiped at her eyes. She flinched each time the door rattled, but tried to regain her composure enough to
"That is Asher, Master. He was sent by Belle Morte."
"Asher," Julian said, as if testing the sound of the name with his voice. He began stalking around him slowly. "And what
brings one of Belle's trinkets to my humble abode?"
Asher turned away from him and gestured at the now splintering door. "I fear it may be the contents of that room." He shot
a measured, disapproving look at Lissette.
She was still curled up on the floor, weeping quietly, chanting under her breath. "Please let him out, please Julian."
Julian ignored her. His smile brightened as he continued circling Asher. "Ah, that's the evening's entertainment."
Asher looked at the master vampire once more. He licked his lips apprehensively. "What sort of entertainment?"
Julian threw his arm around Asher's shoulders and steered him towards the door. "My young friend in there is fairly possessed
by the ardeur. So when it comes over him, I lock him up. Not being able to feed it drives him insane, you see." Julian reached
out and put his hand on the ruined door. "At that point, I start appeasing him. And at that point, he'll use anyone he can
to quench his heat. It's rather amusing to see the things he so passionately goes after." Julian paused to laugh. "As if they
stunning as our little Lissette over there."
Asher closed his eyes and took a deep calming breath. Then he stepped away from the master vampire and turned to face Lissette
"The creature in that room is the one you spoke so highly of to my mistress?" he demanded.
Lissette nodded, pushing herself to her feet. "You don't understand, Monsieur," she pleaded. "He is not like this all the
time." She paused and peered sorrowfully at the door. "Yes, his ardeur drives him mad." Now she turned and glared at Julian.
"But if they would only release him to feed it, instead of tormenting him with it, he would be able to control it better.
I know he would."
"Oh very well," Julian sighed. "Devising new ways with which to humiliate him is becoming rather tedious anyway." With
a slight wave of his hand, Julian moved the vampires who were holding the door back. "Take him away if you must."
Lissette sprang towards the door, struggling momentarily against its warped hinges, then flung it open. The now silent
room was pitch black with darkness. Its contents remained to be seen.
"Mind you," Julian continued easily. "Nothing has calmed him tonight. We have already given him a half-witted boy, and
a whore with a pox, as fodder. I've sent my agents out in search of a dwarf as we speak. And if that didn't work, I was going
to give him a goat." Julian paused and folded his
arms across his chest.
Lissette's eyes flashed. "If you truly want to repulse him, Julian, offer yourself next time," she snapped.
Julian glared at her. "Guard your tongue, pretty one. Or next time I won't offer him anything at all."
Looking over at Julian, Lissette took a long, steadying breath. Her face was a mask of anger, but her voice when she spoke
was placating and calm. "Forgive me," she whispered.
Julian smiled. He raised his hand and placed it on Lissette's cheek, tilting her head upwards, caressing her skin. "You
may make it up to me later," he whispered back.
Lissette swallowed thickly, but did not move and waited until Julian released her before focusing her attention back on
the thick darkness before her.
"Jean-Claude?" she called into the room, hopefully. Her expression softened, but her eyes welled with reddish tears. "Come
to me, my love. No one will harm you anymore tonight. I've come to take you home."
Asher moved past Julian to stand beside Lissette. He wanted no part in any of this. The cruelty Julian inflicted on Lissette's
vampire was regrettable, but Asher could not let himself be swayed by it.
Apparently, the vampire Jean-Claude was distressingly
"You gave me the impression he was just a little oversexed, Mademoiselle," Asher accused Lissette. "Why didn't you tell
me he had the ardeur?"
Lissette bit her lower lip and pried her eyes from the darkness. "Had you known, you would not have agreed to see him,"
she stated. "I know once you see him you'll feel differently about him."
Asher was about to respond, but movement inside the room captured his attention. A slender, white figure suddenly appeared
out of the darkness, naked and morosely wounded. Blood glistened dark and wet on his pale skin. It ran in rivlets down his
face, and his chest and sides were smeared with it. His hands were all but drenched in it.
"Oh," Lissette whimpered upon seeing him. She reached out for him and he staggered towards her, but no sooner reached her,
then collapsed at her feet. Lissette dropped to the floor beside him and fretfully gathered the young vampire into her arms.
Asher knelt down next to her. "He's only fainted, Mademoiselle," he offered and took advantage of the opportunity to study
Jean-Claude more closely. Asher could see the pulpy contusions beneath all the blood, marring the young vampire's right side.
Both his eyes were blackened and his lower lip was split cleanly in two. Blood seeped from his fingertips and Asher noticed
every nail was jagged and torn as if, at one point, he had tried to claw his way out of the room.
"What did you do to him?" Lissette demanded, glaring up at Julian.
Julian snorted and gestured at Jean-Claude. "I did not put him in such a state. He did that to himself."
Despite Jean-Claude's sorry state, Asher could see hints of what Lissette had professed about him. The young vampire's
body was long and slender, well-muscled, well-endowed, and finely formed. His long hair was as black as a midnight sky and
as full and luxuriant as a wolf's pelt. His complexion, from what Asher could see of it, was pale and his skin smooth. Asher
had to admit, he couldn't find anything disagreeable about the way Jean-Claude looked, other than the wounds and filth covering
knew Belle would be pleased by such fairness and his heart sunk. He straightened and resolutely shook his head.
"I am not impressed, Mademoiselle," he grumbled, trying to convince himself as much as her.
Lissette cradled Jean-Claude's head in her lap, stroking his forehead. She looked over at Asher with panic in her eyes.
"You must wait until he heals, Monsieur." She licked her thumb and futiley scrubbed at the blood smeared at the side of the
young vampire's mouth. "He is quite beautiful, I tell you."
Asher frowned. "He's disgusting. There's nothing beautiful about him and I am not recommending him to Belle."
"Please, Monsieur," Lissette persisted. "Help me get him home. I'll clean him up and then you'll see." She peered up at
Julian. "Where are his clothes?"
Julian smiled and gestured at one of the loitering vampires with his hand. It turned and hurried up the hall.
"Before we locked him up, we stripped him to spare his clothes," the master vampire replied casually. "Well look at him.
He would have gotten blood on them," Julian added, catching Lissette's reproachful look.
One of the other vampires emerged from the dark room and shook her head. "It's not his blood on him, it's theirs," she
said, laughing. "He's ripped them to pieces. Little pieces. The whore and the half-wit. He tore them to shreds."
Lissette glanced at Asher with concern.
"What do you expect? He could not control himself when they put those poor creatures in there with him. They tortured him
tonight, Monsieur." She batted back tears and took a deep breath. "He only wanted to get away from them."
Asher reached out and took hold of Jean-Claude's chin. He turned the young vampire's face towards him and was startled
when Jean-Claude opened his red-rimmed eyes and looked up at him.
Reflected in their dark blue depths was a keen intelligence: a quiet comprehension of the way things were and the way things
ought to be. Asher hadn't been expecting to see any kind of reasoning at all and was taken aback. He took his hand away and
slowly rose to his feet. Then he faced Julian with new disgust.
The vampire who had fetched Jean-Claude's clothes returned and handed the bundle to his master. Julian took the clothes
and in turn, handed them to Lissette. Then he looked at Asher.
"I can see you do not approve of our mode of entertainment, Asher," Julian said with a wistful sigh.
"No," Asher said. "I cannot say that I do."
Julian only shrugged. "It does not matter. It is of no concern of yours anyway, now is it?"
Asher stepped closer to the master vampire. "It is of my concern," he explained. "This vampire has been offered to Belle
Morte. She has taken an interest in him. I am here as her agent and I don't believe she would be very pleased to learn you
so thoughtlessly damaged something which she wishes to make her own."
The master vampire laughed. "Nonsense. By tomorrow there won't be a mark on him." He glanced at Lissette. "And she's right
you know. He's one of the prettiest vampires I have ever seen. Next to yourself, of course."
With that he turned and gathered the other vampires to him. Their sport at an end, they filed down the stairs, leaving
Asher and Lissette to worry about Jean-Claude.
Asher had had enough of Julian anyway. He turned to Lissette.
"Will you fetch me a blanket from one of the rooms to wrap him in?" she asked him. "I don't want to dress him. It will
ruin his clothes. Julian was thoughtful in that respect."
Asher sighed and strode down the hall into one of the bed chambers. He jerked a quilt from the first bed he saw and brought
it back to Lissette.
She had managed to get her charge on his feet, but Lissette was so small, her hold on him was tenuous at best. "I don't
think he can walk, Monsieur," she informed Asher sadly.
"I'll carry him, you carry his clothes," Asher offered. He helped Lissette knot the quilt around Jean-Claude's shoulders,
then stepped forward and effortlessly swept the young vampire up into his arms. Jean-Claude
gasped, his eyes flying open
and glazing with pain. Then he promptly passed out again. His head lolled against Asher's shoulder, dripping blood down Asher's
coat and onto his shirt.
"He's not the only one who'll need a bath tonight," Asher muttered under his breath. "He's getting blood all over me."
Lissette frowned and set about tucking the quilt in between Asher and Jean-Claude. "I'm so sorry, monsieur. I'll have the
servants prepare you a bath first as soon as we get back. You can bathe while I tend him."
Asher peered into Jean-Claude's face. He looked peaceful, despite the severe bruising around his eyes and the blood smeared
over his mouth. He had high aristocratic cheekbones, a fine strong jawline, and a sharp, straight nose. His full lips were
softly curved and enticingly parted. Asher sighed in spite of himself.
"No, I'll tend to him," he said suddenly, before he had actually decided to do so. "The more time I spend with him, the
better I will know him, and the more accurate my assessment of him will be." That sounded fairly rational, even to himself.
Lissette smiled. "Of course, Monsieur. Thank you. Thank you very much."
The carriage ride back to Lissette's townhouse, was just as bone-rattling and each time the carriage hit a
rut in the road, the young vampire leaning against Lissette's side, whimpered with pain.
Asher gestured across the coach at him. "He's probably broken his ribs, you realize." He shook his head, and studied Jean-Claude's
lacerated face. "If I do agree to take him back with me, I'll most definitely need to wait for him to heal. He'd never tolerate
the journey to Paris."
Lissette reached down, lifted Jean-Claude's limp hand and kissed it. "He heals quickly, Monsieur. You won't have to wait
long. If he doesn't heal by dawn, I will take him in my coffin with me and you may use his."
There was a flicker of hope in her eyes as she gazed back at Asher. Asher smiled back at her and shook his head. "Thank
you, Mademoiselle, but I came...prepared."
Lissette smiled. "I'm pleased you are still considering taking him, Monsieur. After what you witnessed tonight. I would
understand if you felt compelled to take your leave of us now."
"I get the impression tonight was not an isolated incident," Asher said and frowned.
Lissettes eyes darkened and her smile faded. She bowed her head and shook it slowly.
"I made the mistake of going to Julian for help when Jean-Claude's ardeur became too much for me to cope with alone. I
thought Julian would send him other vampires or find him a pomme de sang. Instead, he found the whole matter amusing. Now,
he takes advantage of Jean-Claude's helplessness
and often abuses him. Tortures and humiliates him, like you saw tonight."
Asher shrugged. "Your situation is unfortunate."
Covering her eyes with her hand, Lissette turned her face away from Asher and began crying softly. "I love him," she suddenly
blurted. "But I cannot keep him anymore. He is slowly destroying my heart, Monsieur."
Sighing, Asher reached into his coat and produced a handkerchief. He handed it to Lissette and sat back.
"You weep for him, but I sense your passion stems more from anger than pain."
With a grateful smile, Lissette accepted the handkerchief and blew her nose delicately, then dabbed her eyes. She sat forward
slightly and lowered her voice.
"Tis true. I am consumed by jealousy, but I have no right to be. I knew his nature when I made him. He does not mean to
vex me, but even when he's not under the affects of the ardeur, he...approaches me constantly. Should I refuse him, he simply
goes after Gisele, or one of my other servants, or prowls the streets for prostitutes. And heaven forbid I try to take him
out anywhere with me. His allure attracts women to him like bees to a blossom. If I'd leave him alone for any length of time
at all, he'd go off with one of them. Sometimes two of them. Sometimes two of them at the same time."
Asher fought a smile. "Would Mademoiselle mind very much if I put to you a rather...intimate question?"
Lissette blinked back at him, then shook her head. "No, Monsieur. You may ask whatever is on your mind."
Clearing his throat, Asher leaned closer to her. "Is he...skilled in the act of love?"
Lissette grinned, wiping away the last of her tears. "Indeed, Monsieur. I have never been with anyone as adept as Jean-Claude."
"Intriguing," Asher murmured, folding his arms over his chest. He sat back, regarding the young vampire in a whole new
The carriage suddenly lurched to a stop.
Asher climbed out first as soon as the door was opened and reached back inside to assist Lissette.
"Allow me, Mademoiselle," he said, pulling Jean-Claude out of the carriage and throwing him over his shoulder. "Lead the
way and I will follow with our sleepy little friend."
Lissette stepped out and beckoned Asher forward. She led him into the townhouse, past the parlor and library and to her
bed chamber a few doors down. Asher deposited his burden on the bed as Lissette summoned her maid, Gisele, to prepare a hot
bath. A large tub was immediately brought into the
room and the servants soon formed a relay with steaming buckets of
water to fill it.
As Asher unwrapped the quilt from Jean-Claude's body, Gisele returned to the room with an armload of towels and rags. Lissette
took them from her and whispered something in her ear. Asher noticed the maid's eyes darted towards Jean-Claude. She swallowed
and nodded. Then she began to remove
her apron and blouse.
"Gisele is my pomme de sang," Lissette explained to Asher. "She had agree to let Jean-Claude feed from her to help him
Gisele had stripped down to her waist and was climbing carefully on the bed beside Jean-Claude. Asher saw the numerous
scars dotting her long neck and ample breasts.
"We'll need to wake him so he can take her mind before he feeds," Asher put in. "If he cannot do it, one of us will have
Lissette leaned over Jean-Claude and patted his cheek as Gisele pressed her body against him and swept the long red hair
from her neck.
"Wake up, my love," Lissette cooed. "Look into Gisele's eyes. She will give you what you need."
Jean-Claude's eyes fluttered and they opened partially, almost reluctantly. It took him only a moment to focus on the naked
white skin stretched before him and his eyes widened. His hand slowly reached out to touch Gisele's neck. With great effort,
he rolled himself on top of her and gazed down into her face. Gisele looked back at him and her eyes gradually dulled, then
closed. The young vampire cradled her head in his bloody hands and tilted it back gently. Then he swiftly bit her.
The moans of pleasure began shortly thereafter. His and hers. At one point, Jean-Claude pulled Gisele on top of him and
wrapped his arms tightly around her back, locking her body against his. He entwined one long leg in the folds of her skirt,
easing her hips over his. Gisele sighed and writhed
against him. Asher glanced over at Lissette and smiled.
When Jean-Claude finally released the maid, she looked on the verge of unconsciousness, extremely pale, but happy. As Lissette
helped Gisele to her feet, the young vampire sprawled back on the bed, licking his lips and closing his eyes.
Asher tried not to stare at Jean-Claude, but couldn't help himself. The feeding had helped immensely. Jean-Claude wasn't
nearly as bruised as he had been earlier and the numerous cuts and scrapes on his skin were already starting to seal up. The
deep purpling around his eyes was fading fast and the painful-looking split in his lower lip had all but disappeared. There
was no denying it now. Jean-Claude was not only beautiful, he was stunning, mesmerizing, all those things and more.
The weight of Lissette's gaze interrupted Asher's enchantment. He turned quickly to face her and she gave him a knowing
"You see. I did not lie about him," she beamed, passing her euphoric maid to one of the other servants.
Asher inhaled deeply and slowly sat down on the bed. "No. That you did not." He found he could not resist touching that
soft, supple skin any longer. He leaned over and reached out tentatively towards
Jean-Claude's face. He trailed his fingertips
over his brow and slowly down his cheek.
The young vampire did not bother opening his eyes, but the corners of Jean-Claude's mouth turned up slightly in a lazy
Growing bolder, Asher passed his hand down Jean-Claude's neck to his chest and teased his nipple with his fingertips until
it hardened. Asher's eyes continued down the length of Jean-Claude's naked body, his eyes leading his hand over the young
vampire's abdomen, down a line of dark hair that started beneath his navel and disappeared in a mass of glossy black hair
furring his groin.
"Let me help you get him in the bath, Monsieur," Lissette offered, coming to stand on the opposite side of the bed.
Asher pulled his eyes back up to Jean-Claude's face and was surprised to see the young vampire glaring at him with open
hostility. He must have thought it was Gisele or Lissette touching him.
"So, you've decided to join us?" Asher quipped, slightly unnerved. To mask it, he purposefully slid his hand between Jean-Claude's
legs, daring him to object.
Much to Asher's surprise, he did. His eyes flashing in anger, Jean-Claude seized Asher's wrist and shoved him away with
such force, Asher almost toppled off the bed.
"He's got a bit of a temper, I see," Asher grumbled, standing.
Lissette took ahold of Jean-Claude's hand and shook her head at him. "No, no," she soothed. "He will not hurt you. He is
here to help." She kissed his hand. "He's a friend."
Jean-Claude's eyes darted from hers to Asher's. Gradually, his expression eased and the fire in his eyes cooled. He studied
Asher a moment more before turning his gaze back on Lissette.
"Come," she said, pulling on Jean-Claude's arm. "We've drawn you a bath." She leaned back and assisted him to his feet.
He winced slightly, but rose readily enough. Watching him, Asher stepped away and backed towards the steaming tub of water.
"We believe you may have broken some bones tonight," Asher addressed him. "Can you walk, Monsieur?"
Slowly, Jean-Claude turned his eyes towards the tall blonde vampire and nodded. He moved slowly and a little stiffly, but
managed to make it to the tub and into the water.
The young vampire moaned deeply as he settled himself in. He stretched out his arms along the sides and leaned back, closing
Asher took a deep breath and turned to Lissette. "I will take over from here, Mademoiselle," he began quietly. "It will
give me the opportunity, as it were, to spend some time alone with him and...get to know him better."
Lissette smiled and nodded. "Of course, Monsieur," she said. She bowed slightly and turned to leave, then quickly disappeared
through the chamber doors and closed them tightly behind her.
Asher turned and knelt beside the tub. Jean-Claude had rinsed his face and hair and sitting motionless now, looking up
at Asher curiously. Asher offered him a congenial smile. He reached down and picked up the cake of soap laying on a towel.
He held it up, offering it to the young vampire.
Jean-Claude's eyes focused on it and his hand slowly rose out of the water to grasp it.
"Thank you," he murmured and set about washing his face.
"Ah, so you can speak?" Asher inquired cheerfully. He wasn't really doubting it, but he hoped his teasing would put Jean-Claude
at ease. He folded his arms on the edge of the tub and rested his chin on his
crossed wrists, keeping his gaze firmly
fixed on Jean-Claude's face.
For a brief moment, Jean-Claude looked insulted. "Yes. Very well, I might add," he responded petulantly, wiping the water
from his eyes. "And of whose acquaintance have I the pleasure of making this evening?"
Asher smiled brightly. Jean-Claude had a soft, dulcet voice, deep, slightly breathy, and very seductive.
"My name is Asher. I am one of Belle Morte's agents. I've been sent here by her to...appraise you."
Jean-Claude huffed dubiously. "I fear you are wasting your time, Monsieur. Lissette would never part with me." With that,
he eased himself completely under the water and remained under until Asher reached in and tapped him on the arm. He emerged
quickly, pushing his hair off his face and looked
at Asher expectantly.
"Lissette is more than willing to part with you, my friend," Asher began. "She seeks to spare you further mistreatment
from Julian as well as spare herself from your lechery."
At first, Jean-Claude looked startled, then he lowered his eyes and frowned deeply. A look of shame darkened his expression.
He swallowed hard, fighting the emotions playing across his face.
"If I choose to take you with me, would you want to join Belle Morte's kiss?"
Jean-Claude looked up and licked his lips thoughtfully. "I know she is very powerful and influential in court," he answered
carefully. "Joining her could only improve the lowly state in which I now reside." He fixed his eyes on Asher and nodded.
"Yes. I do believe I would."
Asher watched him, focusing on the water streaming down Jean-Claude's white
torso from the long wet tresses clinging
to his shoulders.
"I must admit," Asher went on, nonchalantly. "You are fair and very pleasing to look at, but this whole business with your
ardeur is rather daunting."
"Daunting?" Jean-Claude repeated. He tried to no avail to lather up his hands, but kept dropping the soap. Finally he gave
up, sighed, and looked over at Asher. "Try living with it sometime," he added. He raised his hands and flexed his fingers
stiffly as if examing his motor function skills.
Asher noticed. "Can I offer my assistance, Monsieur?" He got to his feet, stripped off his coat and rolled up his shirtsleeves.
Then he reached into the water and scooped up the soap.
Jean-Claude nodded slowly. "Thank you. My hands...hurt," he half-whispered, as if bothered by the fact he had to admit
that. "It is painful to move them."
Asher knelt again and began soaping up Jean-Claude's hair, scrubbing away the encrusted blood with the tips of his fingers.
"You've hair like an infant's," Asher murmured, rinsing it carefully. "It's very fine, very soft." Very beautiful and very
sexy, Asher added in his mind. He eagerly soaped up his hands again and applied the lather to Jean-Claude's neck, down his
chest and over his arms.
The young vampire did not object. In fact he closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the side of the tub, allowing
Asher to continue washing him where he may.
"Stand up," Asher told Jean-Claude. Without hesitation, the young vampire did as he was told. He rose carefully to his
feet and passively stood before Asher, perfectly at ease, his eyes still closed.
Surprised, but pleased, Asher took a deep, somewhat shaky breath in anticipation. He licked his lips as he lathered his
hands, then tentatively placed them on Jean-Claude's thighs. Slowly, gently and very
carefully, Asher moved his hands
over the young vampire's genitals.
Asher heard the faintest intake of breath from Jean-Claude, but that was the only reaction Asher's intimate touch inspired.
Asher was thankful Jean-Claude could not see his face. He wasn't sure he was adequately maintaining a neutral expression
in light of the abject desire stirring inside him now as he passed his hands sensuously over Jean-Claude's perfect body. He
wasn't sure how the young vampire would react if he knew how Asher was feeling and he didn't want to provoke his temper again.
Asher took his hands off of Jean-Claude and told him to sit down again. Then he stepped back and took several deep breaths.
"Lean forward," Asher suggested and quickly moved around behind Jean-Claude.
"I'll wash your back."
Jean-Claude obliged him, practically bending himself in half. He stretched out his arms and rested his wrists on the opposite
side of the tub, then lowered his face in the crook of his arms, exposing his back to Asher the best he could.
When Asher focused his gaze on Jean-Claude's back, what he saw made him catch his breath, but not from admiration. The
young vampire's skin was cover in ribbons of silver-colored scars. Whip marks that started at the base of his neck, over his
shoulders, and continued down his waist beneath the water line.
"Merde," Asher growled and swallowed uncomfortably. "What a shame."
Jean-Claude raised his head slightly and peered over his shoulders. "So I am not perfect, Monsieur. Very few men are."
Asher caught the trace of humor in the young vampire's tone and smiled, relieved.
"Please. Call me Asher."
"Very well, Asher. I am Jean-Claude."
It seemed strange exchanging names at this point, but doing so seemed to initiate a commitment of friendship. Sighing happily,
Asher rubbed the soap over the myriad of scars on Jean-Claude's back, digging his thumbs into the muscles beneath to give
him an impromptu massage. Jean-Claude groaned appreciatively and Asher could feel the tension ease under his hands.
"You're very sensual. You like to be touched, don't you?" Asher questioned Jean-Claude in a low voice. "It's almost as
if you need to be touched."
Jean-Claude leaned back against Asher's hands. "I do," he admitted softly. "I feed my power with the desire touching me
instills in others."
Mortified, Asher abruptly stopped his massage and rose to his feet.
"I suppose you've been feeding off me, haven't you?" he demanded, acutely embarrassed.
Jean-Claude looked up at him and a slight smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "It was hard not to," he whispered,
then lowered his eyes. "Do not be ashamed. Many lust after me."
Incensed, Asher shook his head. "Lissette told me you were insatiable. Now I know why."
At that, Jean-Claude's expression darkened. "I do not force anyone to desire me," he said, miffed. "But if their lust is
offered to me, I will pursue it."
Asher forced a laugh. "I do not lust after you, Monsieur," he stated adamantly, refusing to concede. "I only admire you
with same kind of passion one admires a fine work of art."
"Call me Jean-Claude," the young vampire said with a quick smile. "And do not lie to me, fair Asher. Or yourself. I can
feel your need, even now. I know you want to touch me again." Jean-Claude stretched out his hand and brushed it against Asher's
leg. Asher jumped back and Jean-Claude laughed
lightly. He rose out of the water, grabbed a towel beside the tub and began
drying himself off.
Asher was so angry--at himself more than Jean-Claude--for being so transparent, he wanted to turn away and walk out of
the room. But he was also so mesmerized by the beautiful young vampire, he could not take his eyes off of him. Jean-Claude
stopped drying himself and stood very still, his eyes locking on Asher's expectantly.
"In my experience, when wanting to do one thing, but wanting another thing keeps me from fulfilling it, I know I must choose
which is the greater want in order to obtain a true sense of satisfaction," Jean-Claude told Asher quietly.
"You are so seductive," Asher began, shaking his head. "How can any want compete with wanting you?" He sighed and stepped
towards Jean-Claude, not bothering to hide the hunger in his eyes now.
Asher touched Jean-Claude's shoulder with his fingertips and Jean-Claude reached up and smoothed his hand lightly over
Asher's hair. They exchanged touch for touch. Asher slid his hand down Jean-Claude's arm and Jean-Claude lowered his hand
to Asher's neck. When Asher placed his hand over Jean-Claude's heart, Jean-Claude covered Asher's hand with his.
"I do desire you," Asher whispered thickly. He had to admit, Jean-Claude was a veritable feast for the senses. His beauty
was easy on the eyes, his body, enticing. His voice was like the sweetest of violins and his sexuality rivaled that of Eros.
And if he was as skilled in the act of love as Lissette had proclaimed, Belle Morte would be beyond pleased with him.
The sudden thought of his mistress shattered Asher's enchantment. Asher had been with Belle for ten years. She had to be
growing bored with him to have even suggested bringing another vampire into her kiss. There was no doubt in Asher's mind if
he were to advise Belle to take him, Jean-Claude would quickly gain the favor of her bed. And for all his devotion, Asher
would be forgotten by her, and cast aside like a worn out toy that had lost its ability to keep a child's interest.
"No," Asher stated, pulling away from Jean-Claude's seducing hands, his temper flaring all over again.
Sensing the abrupt shift in Asher's mood, Jean-Claude stared back at him, confused.
Asher sneered at the young vampire contemptuously. "One would think, after having already indulged yourself this evening
with a half-witted boy and an infected whore, your appetite would be appeased for one measly hour. At least any normal being
Jean-Claude's eyes narrowed in anger, then a shadow of humiliation dulled his expression. He lowered his head and wrapped
his arms around his chest as if he were suddenly chilled.
"And you flatter yourself, Monsieur, if you truly believe I craved intimacy with you just now. The only thing I sought
to indulge was my power. I crave power above all things because I know power is the only thing
that will truly liberate
me. I will use whatever means at my disposal to increase it. But I can assure you, I have no desire, whatsoever, to have sexual
relations with the likes of you."
At that, Asher smiled. "The likes of me? Of course. I'm too pretty for you, aren't I?"
Jean-Claude's eyes flashed. "Your intrigue is like that of a serpent, Monsieur. Beautiful to look at, but craggy and cold
to the touch."
Asher shook his head, his smile widening. "You're lying. In fact, I'm fairly certain I can prove it to you."
Jean-Claude eyed Asher warily and trembled. The look on Asher's face and the insinuation behind his words had frightened
him. He began slowly backing away from Asher.
Feeling empowered by Jean-Claude's sudden fear of him, Asher grinned, and launched himself at the young vampire, grabbing
him, and throwing him on the bed.
Jean-Claude snarled at him fiercely, but Asher was undaunted. Larger and heavier than Jean-Claude, Asher quickly subdued
him by climbing on top of him and pinning Jean-Claude's wrists above his head.
"You do desire me, you arrogant little slut," Asher whispered into Jean-Claude's ear. "And since you happen to be naked,
it really won't take much to confirm it."
Jean-Claude struggled against Asher's grip, but was apparently too weakened still by his earlier ordeal at the villa to
free himself. Asher preferred to believe he was simply stronger.
"Get off of me," Jean-Claude growled menacingly.
Asher shook his head. "Not until you tell the truth." He nuzzled Jean-Claude's neck and nibbled on his skin. "Not until
you admit you want me."
Jean-Claude curled his upper lip back in a snarl. "If you take me by force, I will kill you," he seethed.
At that, Asher laughed heartily. "Such bravado from one so young!" he exclaimed. "You're what? Four? Five at the most?"
He shook his head, his expression sobering. "You are scarcely powerful enough at that tender age to challenge me, my friend."
Asher paused and purposefully tightened his grip on Jean-Claude's wrists. "Sooner than later, I will need to lie with you
in order to give my mistress a fair assessment of your abilities, but don't despair, Jean-Claude. I truly did not have anything
along those lines in mind for you now. A simple kiss will more than suffice."
"Let me go, Monsieur," Jean-Claude said through his teeth.
"Call me Asher, and let me kiss you."
Asher grinned devilishly. "So you can say 'no' after all. But alas, you truly have no choice this time, my young friend."
With that he covered Jean-Claude's mouth with his in a rough and brutal kiss.
Outraged, Jean-Claude growled and struggled harder, but to no avail. Asher
increased the pressure against the young
vampire's mouth, forcing him to open it, and thrust his tongue deeply down Jean-Claude's throat. Jean-Claude tried to bite
down on it, but Asher's chin held Jean-Claude's lower jaw in place. Every time the young vampire tried to resist him, Asher
punished him by digging his fingers into Jean-Claude's wrists or bruising his lips with his teeth. Then, with a faint whimper
of resignation, the contention left Jean-Claude, and he lay quietly beneath Asher, apparently ready to submit to the more
powerful vampire's will.
Pushing aside his anger and relenting to his passion, Asher softened the kiss, easing the pressure against Jean-Claude's
jaw, and withdrew his tongue. He focused on the exquisite feeling of Jean-Claude's velvety-soft lips, and caressed them soothingly
with his own, waiting for Jean-Claude to
allow him back into his mouth. He soon complied.
Smugly, Asher could feel the young vampire's body beginning to respond to his kiss. He released Jean-Claude's wrists and
slid his hands down his arms to his shoulders. Jean-Claude lowered his arms and wrapped them around Asher's neck, delving
his fingers deeply into Asher's thick hair. Now he was kissing Asher with as much passion as Asher had been kissing him. Asher
could feel the tip of Jean-Claude's tongue laving his upper lip, then languidly slipping between Asher's teeth, and teasing
the wet recesses of his mouth. Asher moaned softly and dragged his hand down Jean-Claude's chest to his slender hips.
Jean-Claude bent his leg, shifting Asher's weight and rolling him onto his side, thus giving Asher better access to his
body. He tore his mouth from Asher's and began kissing his neck fervently, nipping and sucking on the sensitive skin beneath
Asher squeezed the taut round firmness of Jean-Claude's buttocks and pressed his hips tightly against him.
"Tell me you want me," Asher pleaded. "Tell me it is my body you desire now. I could not bear it if you were only using
me for power, Jean-Claude."
Jean-Claude pushed Asher over onto his back and straddled him. He sat gazing down at him with a smoldering expression before
reaching out to touch his cheek with the back of his hand.
Asher closed his eyes, feeling as helpless and trapped underneath Jean-Claude as he knew Jean-Claude had felt earlier.
He wanted the young vampire so badly, he was ready to do anything to have him. Lust was a vile, debilitating thing.
"Asher," Jean-Claude whispered. "Look at me."
Asher slowly opened his eyes and took in the sight of the young vampire above him, drinking him in like a man in the desert
dying of thirst. Jean-Claude's hair was drying and naturally curling around his ethereally
beautiful face in wild spirals
and waves. It spilled over his shoulders and down the front of his chest which was rising and falling steadily with deep rhythmic
breaths. The muscles of his abdomen flexed and rippled beneath his soft white skin with the movement. Asher found it entrancing,
but forced his eyes lower, past Jean-Claude's slender waist to the hardened length of his erection pushing eagerly against
the fabric confining his own. Asher swallowed convulsively and flicked his eyes back up to Jean-Claude's face.
Jean-Claude smiled seductively. "There are some things even I cannot lie
about," he breathed. He leaned forward and
placed his hands on Asher's chest, tugging at his shirt suggestively.
Immediately obliging him, Asher raised his arms and let Jean-Claude pull the shirt over his head. Jean-Claude eased himself
over Asher and kissed him lingeringly; then slithering down his body, he dotted Asher's chest with quick, wet kisses, and
slow, tantalizing licks. The young vampire made his
way down Asher's bare torso until he was lying between Asher's legs.
Then he meticulously worked to untie the lacings of Asher's pants.
Asher could not think of anything beyond the anticipation of indulging in Jean-Claude's beauty. But he also knew in that
moment he would take Jean-Claude with him to Belle Morte's kiss. He knew he never wanted to be apart from Jean-Claude now
and if that meant losing his favor with Belle, then so be it. He had Jean-Claude's favor. And at the moment, his favor was
all that mattered to Asher.
The moonlight cast shimmering silver shadows over the fragrant secluded courtyard. It was one of Asher's favorite
places to come whenever he was apprehensive or depressed. The multitude of flowers and sounds of the night always filled the
air with such life, it never failed to cheer him. Until now.
He saw Belle Morte, in all her exotic beauty, sitting on the bench beside the calendulas and wild roses, staring out into
the darkness beyond the latticed gate. She turned abruptly, and smiled when she saw Asher, either having heard his approach,
or having sensed his presence.
Belle Morte stood up gracefully and moved towards him. "I felt your return, my love," she confirmed softly, her voice caressing
Asher as if she were stroking him with her hands. "I'm most anxious to hear what you have to say."
"I came to you as soon as I arrived, Mistress," Asher said and bowed low. "I missed you while I was away, Belle," he added
Belle smiled coolly at her lover's platitude and looked around conspicuously. "Did you bring Lissette and her vampire back
with you?" she asked, her tone sharpening slightly.
Asher did not meet the master vampire's eyes. He rose, but kept his gaze firmly fixed on the polished stones in front of
"No, I did not bring them," he began hesitantly. "In my opinion, the young vampire and his master were not suited to your
Belle gazed at Asher skeptically, her full mouth pursing. "Look into my eyes and tell me that, Asher. There is something
in your tone that betrays your heart."
Taking a deep breath, Asher forced his gaze upward. "Mistress, the young vampire suffers from an extreme ardeur which he
cannot control. He would be more trouble than he is worth. I cannot consciously advise that you bring him among us. He's ambitious
and temperamental and completely insane
at times. It would be best to forget him. Turn your eyes to another."
Raising her chin, Belle Morte clucked her tongue and started walking around her vampire slowly. "Ardeur does not concern
me. He can be taught to control it. Yet, you berate him so passionately, Asher, I believe your passion is misplaced."
Asher shook his head and swallowed hard. "You sent me to appraise him for you. I did. If you do not trust my judgment,
why didn't you go see him for yourself?"
Now the master vampire frowned. Her power flared around Asher like a cold north wind. "Tell me the truth, lover of mine,"
she whispered. "Did you not find him beautiful?"
Asher closed his eyes and bit his lip. He could not tell her the truth about Jean-Claude. Asher knew it would be over for
him if he did. He had taken Jean-Claude's advice and compared his desire to remain at Belle's side and his desire for Jean-Claude,
and decided since one want would always cancel out the other, there was little left to do but choose between the two. He had
chosen to remain with Belle, but now, since she was aware of the fact Asher was not telling her everything, the choice he
had made was all for nought.
"Answer me," Belle demanded, her voice tightening. "Is he or is he not beautiful?"
"Yes!" Asher cried out. "He's the most beautiful creature I've ever seen! He's sensual and provocative and thoroughly enchanting.
I think I fell in love with him the moment I saw him, but I fought it until I had nothing left to fight it with. My desire
for him quelled my fear of him, and when he offered himself to me...my heart's fate was sealed. He loves skillfully and passionately.
With little inhibition. I have never experienced such bliss in another man's arms." Asher bowed his head again as shame washed
over him. It was all true, but he had left Jean-Claude behind. Left him to suffer at the hands of Julian and the other vampires
in his kiss, and by doing so, shattered sweet Lissette's heart.
"Fear him?" Belle Morte questioned, latching onto the one bit of Asher's confession that did not make sense to her. She
reached out and plucked a rose from its bush, ignoring any pain the thorns may have caused. "Why would you fear him?"
"I...I feared he would take my place at your side, Mistress," Asher began quietly. "I was afraid you were getting bored
with me--that you didn't want me anymore." He paused and took a deep breath. "I knew if I told you the truth about Jean-Claude,
you would not hesitate to send for him. He will
please you, Mistress, perhaps far better than I."
Asher steeled himself for the wrath and punishment to come, but instead, he only felt the velvety soft petals of the rose
brush across his lips. He looked up hesitantly.
Belle smiled at him. "Lips as full and soft as a rose blossom? Eyes the color of a cloudless midnight sky? Skin like silver
moonbeams?" she cooed. "Your thoughts betray you, lover. It would appear as though this young vampire made more of an impression
on you than I ever could have imagined."
Belle paused and reached for Asher, drawing him close. "Even if he is all that
and more, how could you think I'd ever seek to replace you with him? I adore you, Asher, you know that. You are my beautiful
one. But I will send for...what did you say his name was? Jean-Claude?"
"I will send for Jean-Claude and his mistress and bring them to court but not to replace my heart," she paused and kissed
Asher suggestively. "My soul," another kiss, then: "My love, my life." She kissed him again.
Asher wrapped his arms around her, kissing her back, and felt as though the world itself had just been lifted from his
shoulders. Not only was Belle keeping him close to her heart, she was also sending for Jean-Claude. The young vampire would
be his once more, to have and to love for all eternity.
And nothing would ever be wrong again.