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pieces of always

This is a prequel told from Julianna's point of view.  Julianna has already surrendered herself body and soul to Asher, but Asher's other lover seeks a place in her heart as well.
Rated R
Disclaimer:  The Anitaverse and all its contents belong to author Laurell K. Hamilton.  I'm just borrowing it for fun.  No one will profit from this fic.  Ever.
Please note: This story does contain slash. 




I remember when Asher told me he was a vampire.

Despite the cold and drafty room we were in, winter's winds howling just outside our door, he was sweating and nearly wringing his hands with anxiety, cowering almost, in the dark corner farthest from me.

I was afraid, but I feared for him: imagining all manners of misfortune to have fallen upon him. What could have possibly put him in such a state?

Then he told me. Right out. At first, I did not believe my ears. Senses can be so deceitful in times of trial and anxiety. Then as My Heart's words registered in my anxious mind, I remember I made the sign of the cross, touching my forehead, chest, and shoulders automatically, stupidly, and loosed a flow of tears from Asher I have not seen from him since. Mon Dieu, I had whispered, still unable to think.

Asher had covered his face and turned away from me, fairly dissolving with the most heartwrenching sobs. All the bones seemed to have left his body for he sunk to the floor in fluid distress and huddled there, in that dark corner, crying, his arms wrapped tightly around himself as if desperately trying to hold himself together, certain if he did not, he would simply break apart.

It took me only the span of a breath to recover from my initial shock--to determindedly push aside the innumerable thoughts vying for attention in my mind; mainly the ingrained fear of the evil, godless being now cowering on the floor before me.

A veritable war for my soul began raging in my head, but I would not recognize it. I would only see Asher, my heart, my beloved, suffering such agony on my behalf. How could I not see him for the man I knew him to be? Not as a vampire, but a man. The same man who had courted me so tenderly, doted unceasingly on me, and coaxed from me the first real stirrings of love this heart has ever known. For love him I did. Wholly, devoutly, even madly.

I went to him then, and took him in my arms, pressing his fair, golden head to my breasts, trying to soothe away his pain and reassure him that I still loved him. No matter what. Yes, I even spoke those exact words to him.

Of course, as determined as I was to love Asher, how could I have known at the time all those three little words entailed? My world would never be the same, simple, relatively normal world I'd always known. In taking Asher's hand in mine, I would forever, yes forever, be transported into a new world few in my station will ever see, let alone live in. But I would do so willingly. My love for Asher was what made it all bearable. His love for me gave me the strength and courage to live in his world; to embrace it with all its marvels, oddities, and yes, even its horrors.

No matter what I had sworn that night, and meant every word. Could I have even imagined such a declaration would also include the acceptance of Asher's peculiar lifestyle? Not so much as a vampire, but an extremely uninhibited man? None of which I had even the slightest inkling of before that fateful night. A lifestyle which included Asher's other lovers. Lover, to be more precise, for there was only one other he truly loved.

His name was Jean-Claude. I had met him many times before. It appeared to be at those times, he and Asher were merely fast friends--so close, and affectionate with each other, they could have passed for brothers if not for the sharp contrasts of their looks.

Where Asher was all gold and summer sunshine, Jean-Claude was darkness, and like a snowy winter's night. Strikingly handsome in his own right, to say the very least. I knew him to be in possession of no less than sixteen different females in the span of a fortnight. His lovelife seemed to me to be an endless parade of new faces with nothing in particular in common. Promiscuous, I had promptly and disapprovingly labeled him. I did not know at the time my Asher was ordered to entertain no less the number of lovers Jean-Claude took to his bed.

For I soon learned Asher and Jean-Claude were part of a vampire hierarchy. Asher at least had earned his mistress' abiding devotion long ago. She was a cruel woman by the name of Belle Morte. Both Asher and Jean-Claude were within her esteemed inner circle of lieutenants, so they had earned the respect of many, but Jean-Claude was still striving for power, and like Asher, his hold of Belle Morte's affections was now tenuous at best. He simply had no choice but to indulge her every whim willingly. The fact that I had condemned him for it, now saddens me.

Asher's love for Jean-Claude was another of those anxious declarations made across a room, a different room, sometime later. I had agreed to reside with him in the opulent apartments he kept with Jean-Claude on the Rue de Gavril. Upon moving in however, I found myself somewhat surprised (again!) that Jean-Claude had no intentions of moving out.

Asher had taken me aside, stood me in the center of the library, and positioned himself in front of the closed door, pacing nervously back and forth like a caged beast. That night he told me about Jean-Claude. More specifically, he and Jean-Claude. He didn't love me any less, Asher had said, but he could not deny his feelings for the man, a vampire as well, whom he had befriended some years back, just because I had come into his life. His existence, as he had put it. Only if I insisted upon it, would he cast away Jean-Claude's affection for him. He loved Jean-Claude and fairly pleaded with me to let him keep him.

I found this revelation even more shocking it seemed, though in truth, I cannot recall why. Knowing what I do of vampires now, the surprise seems downright silly, and the accompanying disgust and outrage, shameful. Mais oui, I have changed beyond recognition this past year, ever since that strange winter night in my cottage. I didn't like it, but I could tell from the look on My Heart's face, had I denied his request, something would have changed between us. Since I clung to Asher's love so adamantly, I reluctantly agreed to the living arrangements, and so found myself residing with not one, but two vampires.

At first, I was determined not to like Jean-Claude. Though he and Asher were at first, careful to keep their displays of affection for each other discreet and their occasional trysts far from my disapproving eyes, I was still aware of what was going on between them and did not harbor any kind of assent of my situation. I more readily accepted the so-called assignments Asher was sent on. I understood the necessity of maintaining Belle Morte's favor for my presence had placed a strain on his relationship with her, and thus complying to her demands with absolute obedience on his part was a necessary evil, so to speak. But Asher's relationship with Jean-Claude was different. They didn't have to be together, but chose to do so. I didn't like it, but what could I do?

So I saw Jean-Claude as the solitary rival for My Heart's affection and resented him--his presence among us. He sensed this from me, as I took no pains to keep such ill-will from him. However, it only seemed to make him more determined to befriend me. Despite the challenge I presented to him, he rose to meet it, and in no time at all, I found myself rather fond of him for he became irresistible to me. His rakish manner and rather dry wit soon gave way to his genuinely empathic nature and too-oft concealed compassion.

What truly won me over was his love for Asher. He tried to be discreet as I have afore mentioned, but he could not disguise the adoration in his eyes when he looked upon him, or the softening of his voice when he spoke to him. Here was something my own heart could understand and relate to. How could anyone not love Asher? I pondered. Did it matter that men as well as women fell under his spell? Asher's heart was vast and capable of limitless love--deep and abiding love, such as I had never known before. There was plenty of room in his heart for both of us.


All these past events were occupying my mind as I gazed at Jean-Claude now. He had been depressed and somewhat restless earlier, but now he was standing by the window, peering out into the street with such a solemn look on his face. It was raining and the single candle on the window sill cast his face in an unearthly, almost angelic glow. So beautiful, I thought. For truly, Jean-Claude was beautiful. I found I could look upon him tirelessly if he allowed it. This being one of those times, since he seemed so preoccupied, he was not aware of my adoring stare.

"We should employ an artist," I suddenly said. "To reside with us at all times. To capture such a pose as you are presently striking would surely become a masterful work of art."

Jean-Claude turned slightly and looked at me, a vague shadow of a smile tugging at the corners of his lovely mouth.

"If Asher were here, he would chide you for contemplating such frivolity on my behalf," he replied, his deep, slightly breathy voice brushing against my skin like a warm summer breeze.

"Asher would agree with me, were he here to see you just now," I told him, raising my chin defiantly.

At that Jean-Claude's smile broadened. "I would not be striking such a pose if he were here now." He turned away from me then, and resumed his vigil. He swept his long black hair off his shoulder with a gracefully, languid motion of his hand, making even that small unconscious gesture something exquisitely sensual. He combed his fingers through those waves of black silk and paused to massage the back of his neck. He groaned then, softly and deeply, sending a wave of warmth over me.

I sighed, setting aside the pattern on the pillowcasing I was working on, and folded my hands together in my lap, totally losing interest in what I was sewing. The light in the room was too dim to embroider by anyway, and my eyes were aching with strain. Mid-morning was the best light to do such intricate work by, but like my cohabitants, I had become nocturnal. Practicality had changed my internal clock, and my forays into the daylight now were only made due to a necessity.

I gazed appreciatively at Jean-Claude. The smile I had provoked was gone now, as if it had never occurred. He leaned against the window frame, wrapping his arms around himself as if to ward off the night's chill, but I noticed his shirt remained open to the waist. If he was cold, he made no move to cover himself.

"You keep watch as if you expect Asher to return tonight," I murmured, wondering if Jean-Claude knew something I did not. The two of them had the most vexing habit of keeping me uninformed as to their comings and goings. They divulged details only under extreme duress. But I knew more than they wanted me to. Accompanying them to Court as many times as I had, one could not help but pick up the bits and pieces that made up the rather sordid puzzle of their lives.

I was, after all, Asher's human servant. I had accepted such a bond with him and all it included willingly some time ago. Such a dramatic and drastic alteration in my life and of our relationship had only strengthened our love for each other and bound us together for all time--more so than any blessed union I knew of.

Jean-Claude kept his gaze fixed firmly out the window and when he spoke, his voice was soft and wistful. "Asher wanted to be home by tonight. He said he would try." He paused and gestured out the window with a billowy wave of his elegant hand. "This weather may hinder his progress, I fear."

I licked my lips and leaned forward in my chair by the fire. "You miss him, don't you?"

The vampire lowered his head, but did not turn to look at me. "Don't you?"

"Of course I do!" I proclaimed, rather indignantly. "I miss him terribly everytime he goes away and leaves me behind. I miss the way he looks at me, with such sweet affection, his touch upon my skin, his arms around me, his kiss so tender and passionate all at once. I miss his love. I'm nothing without it. I can scarcely bear the hours when he is away. I crave him. Constantly."

Jean-Claude turned then, stepping away from the window towards me. There was a slight hesitancy in his walk and he held his shoulders back as if leaning away from me, as if his mind was forcing his body to advance when it did not wish to do so.

"Do you find my company so lacking solace?" he whispered unexpectedly. There was no anger in his tone. If he felt insulted by what I had said, he didn't convey it. However, I did notice the small catch in his normally smooth voice when he spoke.

I opened my mouth to protest, to dismiss his ill-conceived notion, but was stilled when he knelt before my chair and grasped the arms of it tightly in his hands. I looked into his eyes and could only shake my head.

"Julianna," he said, breathing my name. "I crave his proximity as well. These times when we are forced, by circumstance, to rely solely on each other, need not be so trying if we could turn to each other."

I leaned back--away from him if you will, and tried to reply to his peculiar insinuation as nonchalantly as possible. "Perhaps it is you who finds my company lacking," I teased.

Jean-Claude dropped his eyes from mine momentarily and took a small breath. His left hand moved off the arm of the chair and he trailed his fingers over my hand. The hard muscles of his long thighs were pressed against my shins and he shifted his weight on his knees ever so slightly, parting my legs with an almost imperceptible pressure.

"I only meant, there is a manner in which we could assuage the craving we both suffer in Asher's absence." His hand drifted up my arm to my shoulder, settling under my chin. He leaned towards me then, parting his lips, and turning his head as if to kiss me.

My heart began pounding with anticipation. For a moment, I could not think. I could only feel. How easily I could succumb to him--the soft sweetness of those beautiful lips. The way I longed for him shook me and it wasn't until his mouth was a mere hair's breadth from mine that I recovered my senses enough to push him away. Hard enough to throw him back on his heels and give me a means of escape.

I knew now, his intention was to seduce me, but he'd actually been subtle tonight, compared to the other times I'd seen him exercise his skill. Brazenly sexual and predatory, his usual methods of seduction left little room for innuendo or miscues. Or escape.

Exasperated and shocked, I scuttled across the room, then turned loose on him the full extent of my displeasure.

"How dare you?" I seethed. "And how woefully masculine too! Thinking nothing of the consequences of your behavior. You would use Asher's absence as an excuse to betray him with me? Shame on you!"

Jean-Claude stayed on the floor, settled back on his heels, and fixed his gaze on the chair I had so recently vacated.

"Perhaps this was not the best time to approach you," he relayed quietly. "Please understand that I would never do anything to hurt either you or Asher. Forgive me. I only sought to...invite you...to consider me--to let you know I am willing, should you be."

I could not speak. I could only stare down at the kneeling vampire dumbfoundedly. I struggled to calm myself. In a way, his interest in me was understandable. I lived side by side with him. I made love to Asher almost nightly. It didn't seem to matter if Jean-Claude were in the apartment or not. Asher was, as I said before, uninhibited, and had made me almost as uninhibited as he. It wasn't uncommon for Jean-Claude to be lying beside Asher when we made love, having just partaken of Asher's boundless passions himself. It had to be difficult, to say the least, for a man like Jean-Claude to be around me the way he was, and not be...moved by me.

"Julianna," again Jean-Claude seemed to breathe in my name. "I thought perhaps we could comfort each other. I know I will never replace Asher in your heart and that is not my intent. But those attributes of his that you named, many of them I can offer you, if you will let me." He paused and closed his eyes briefly, then passed the tip of his tongue over his full upper lip in agitation. "I crave the same things when he is away. I have missed him so much these past few weeks."

I felt all the ire drain from me and moved to stand before Jean-Claude. He looked up at me finally. I shook my head, kneeling beside him on the floor.

"Is that why you tried to seduce me tonight?" I asked him gently, leaning into him and wrapping my arms around his shoulders. I placed my head against his and hugged him in an attempt to comfort him. "I am your friend and I will always be here for you, but I know you don't want to have sex with me tonight, Jean-Claude. Not really. You are simply feeling lonesome. You want Asher." I kissed his silky hair and bent to whisper in his ear. "I understand."

Jean-Claude sighed, heavily as if relieved, but brusquely pulled away from me. He rose quickly to his feet and crossed the room to the door in three long strides. Lifting his cloak off the rack beside the threshold, he threw it over his shoulders and opened the door.

"You thought I was trying to seduce you? You believed the craving I spoke of was for sex? I spoke of love. You are the one whose mind was occupied with sex. Yet you dare to feign such pious outrage. You are a hypocrite." He reached up and dragged his hand roughly through his hair, pushing it back, away from his face. "It was my heart that moved me to kiss you, Julianna, not my...." He turned away from me sharply. I caught the hurt shadowing his expression just before he reschooled his visage to reflect nothing of what he was feeling.

I stared up at him, too shocked and saddened to frame a proper reply. "Don't leave," I simply begged, my heart going out to him now. I longed to ease his pain, but simply did not know how. "Asher will want to see you," I offered him lamely.

"Asher. Yes. There is always Asher," Jean-Claude said and shook his head forcefully. "I am not one of those men who thinks sex is love," he continued, indignantly. "But sex can be an expression of love. It is that expression I sought tonight. Foolishly. Awkwardly, perhaps." He turned his gaze away from me and took a deep breath. "I was...deluding myself." With that he turned and with an audible snap of his cloak, he disappeared down the darkened foyer leading to the steps outside.


Waiting for Asher, I took up vigil by the same window Jean-Claude had stationed himself at previously, my tears flowing nearly as steadily as the relentless rain, hoping with all my heart one or both of them would return home soon. Three long hours passed before I spied a figure on horseback approaching our townhouse. It was Asher, at last.

I did not even wait for him to come inside. I launched myself out of the apartment, not bothering to cover myself with a cloak or shawl, and ran down the steps to meet him.

He had no sooner dismounted and handed his horse off to our groom, when I threw myself into his arms and kissed him hungrily.

It took him only a moment to recover from his initial shock at having been so accosted and within a matter of heartbeats, he swept me up into his arms and carried me up the steps, out of the rain. He set me down just inside the threshold and indulgently kissed me, holding me to him in an almost crushing embrace. When we finally parted, neither one of us could speak coherently, so breathless had our kissing rendered us.

"Par bleu, did I miss you!" he breathed, smiling brightly, his gaze full of adoration. He reached up and stroked my now damp hair with his gloved hand, then took a moment to look me over as if to make sure I had not altered my appearance any in his absence. He frowned suddenly, turning my face to the dim candlelight. "You've been crying."

"Here, let me take your cloak and place it by the fire," I offered moving behind him, dismissing his observation with a wave of my hand.

Asher caught me though and pulled me against him once more. "Julianna, do not turn away from me. What has happened?"

"Nothing. It is silly, really. I'm just so pleased to have you home." Again I thought to distract him from his concern. I wrapped my arms around his neck and leaned towards him to resume the passionate embrace we'd broken off earlier. Thankfully he complied. It was several minutes before we mutually parted and I saw at once the perplextion in Asher's eyes as he scanned the empty apartment. Yes, Jean-Claude was conspicuously absent.

"Ma cherie, where is Jean-Claude?" Asher asked, letting me relieve him of his rain-soaked cloak at long last.

I gathered it up in my arms and spread it over the back of one of the chairs to dry. "He left a few hours ago. I do not know where he intended to go. He was upset so I didn't ask."

Asher knitted his fair brow and peeled off his riding gloves, tossing them precariously close to the fire. I nudged one aside with the toe of my slipper, certain once the discarded glove dried it would catch fire. I could tell Asher was angry now, or maybe just a little hurt.

"I told him I would be home tonight," Asher relayed. "I would have been home sooner, but the roads were a quagmire from the rain. I had to take it slow or my horse would have slipped. Did he finally give up on me? Did he think I wouldn't make it tonight? I would have taken flight if need be to get here. He should have known that."

I moistened my lips distractedly and made my way back to where Asher stood. "I upset him," I confessed, taking hold of Asher's large hands and squeezing them. His skin was damp and cold and I rubbed his hands briskly between mine to warm them. I pressed his hands against my cheeks and kissed his knuckles, then delicately licked the soft skin between his long fingers.

Sighing with pleasure, Asher moved to sit in the overstuffed chair by the fire, and pulled me with him into his lap. "How could you have possibly upset him, cherie? Are you certain his anger was directed at you? Is that the reason you were crying? Damn him." He began kissing my cheek, down the side of my face to my neck. "Do not take his temper to heart, Julianna." His breath was cool against my skin and made me quiver slightly. I felt his hand slide up the bodice of my dress and tug at the lacing, pulling apart the small bow with an exaggerated slowness.

"I misunderstood him," I began, having to struggle to answer Asher's questions as forthright as I could through my rousing passion. "I believed he was trying to seduce me--"

Asher pulled back far enough to look me in the eye. "He tried to seduce you?" He smiled then, rather mischievously. "The only thing that surprises me there, cherie, is the fact he has not made an attempt sooner than this."

"But he wasn't trying to seduce me," I corrected, playing with the glistening golden locks of Asher's damp hair. "I think he was trying to tell me something, but now I'm not sure what. I think he's lonely."

At that Asher laughed. "Julianna, if there is one thing Jean-Claude is not, it is lonely. The man entertains a different lover every night." I knew Asher was exaggerating to stress his point, but not by much.

Asher had succeeded in unlacing my bodice and was in the process of slipping the garment off my left breast. He bent to kiss me there, but I squirmed away from him. My renewed distress was quelling my libido.

"He is lonely," I declared. "He said he didn't want sex, he wanted love, or sex as an expression of love. I'm not sure exactly. I didn't understand him."

Asher tightened his grip on my shoulders to keep me from evading him again as he covered my exposed nipple with his mouth. I felt the wetness of his tongue on my skin and the careful press of his fangs against my flesh. I sighed and squirmed now for a different reason.

"Asher, you are not listening to me," I half-protested.

Straightening, Asher pulled away from me and gave me his undivided attention. "What would you have me do, cherie? He is not here. But when I see him, I shall make certain he knows how unhappy I am with him tonight."

"No! Do not hurt him!" I countered, leaning away from Asher in dismay. "I already hurt him tonight. I insulted him and accused him of betraying you." I sighed despondently. "He has not been himself, these past few days. I'm worried about him, Asher. Something is wrong with him."

"Merde,"Asher grumbled and captured my head in his hand, then proceeded to kiss me deeply. He released me, trailing the back of his hand soothingly over my bare shoulder and gazing down at me with those astonishingly pale blue eyes of his. "I could not hurt Jean-Claude anymore than I could hurt you, ma cherie. I do not like the fact he upset you so, but it would appear you upset him as well." He paused and shook his head. "What am I to do with the two of you?"

I smiled sweetly up at him. "Just love us," I whispered.

Asher returned my smile and rose suddenly, gathering me up in his arms. He carried me off into my bedroom. Placing me gently in the center of the bed, Asher proceeded to undress me, and I, him.

Once we were both naked, Asher lay over me and peered down at me with the most tender and compassionate expression.

"Ma belle, do not fret over Jean-Claude," he murmured, running his fingers through my long brown hair. "He will be back as soon as his temper has cooled. I am sure he is not as angry with you as he is himself."

I nodded, but I could feel the tears misting my eyes. "He tried to kiss me tonight," I whispered, reaching up to stroke Asher's beautiful face.

"Kiss you?"

"Yes," I said and swallowed thickly. "Asher, he said his heart inspired him."

At that Asher bent down and lifted the threatening tears from my eyes with a brush of his silken lips. He smiled at me with such unabashed love, I felt my eyes misting all over again.

"Julianna, don't sound so surprised," he murmured softly. "How could anyone not be inspired by you? You are the closest to heaven I will ever get. God has blessed me, damnable creature that I am. He has given me one of his precious, precious angels." He paused to press a tender kiss on my lips. "Such perfection, such beauty, and passion, and a heart that knows no bounds. You are heaven, Julianna. How could Jean-Claude not see this too?"

I could feel Asher's love for me then like a tangible living thing. It warmed me and filled me and soothed away my distress. How I missed this feeling of being loved. "I am so happy you are home," I sighed. "I love you."

"I love you, my angel," Asher said with an easy smile.

We kissed yet again, devouringly, our smoldering desires flaring like a stoked fire. Our limbs entwined as our bodies locked together as one. Asher poured his power over me, freeing my consciousness to meld with his on a different plane of existence. He loved me so passionately, so deeply, and completely. The rhythm of his body moving over mine overwhelmed my heightened senses, and the depth of his love all but consumed my heart. It was all the love I would ever need, all the love I ever wanted.

My feelings for Asher were unparalleled in the hours of lovemaking which followed, but fleetingly, occasionally, I thought of Jean-Claude and wished he were here, feeling as loved, body and soul, as I.


I dozed in Asher's arms, drifting in an out of an exhausted, but sensually satiated sleep. He often stayed with me in bed, holding me close, even though I knew he never drifted off to sleep with me.

Distantly, I heard the door to the apartment open and felt Asher's body shift. He placed a gentle kiss on my forehead and carefully untangled his limbs from mine. He must have believed me to be asleep, for he said not a word as he slid from the bed and out of my room.

Through the haze of my fading afterglow, I heard the hushed voices coming from the living room and forced my mind to clear enough to decipher what they were saying. I propped myself up on my elbows, recognizing Jean-Claude's deep silky timbre.

"Asher. In all your glory. What a sight for sore eyes you are. Or am I dreaming somehow?"

I didn't understand what he meant until I remembered Asher had left my bedroom sans clothing.

"And you are just a sight," Asher grumbled. "Yet you manage to be lovely even in those filthy, wet clothes."

I crept out of the bed and positioned myself just behind the partially opened door to hear them better.

"The streets are muddy," Jean-Claude said coolly. "It is still raining. I was out, walking...."

"All this time?" Asher replied, his voice tightening. "Just wandering about in the rain?"

"No. Not entirely," Jean-Claude admitted sounding recalcitrant. "I happened upon an aquaintance of mine and passed an hour or so under their roof."

They were often like this with each other. Lovers who had been together for a very long time, exchanging barbs and veiled insults to incite emotion, to mask their raging passion for each other.

"Why didn't you just stay with her then? Didn't she suit you?" Asher murmured, his voice tinged with irritation. "Or was it a him? Did you believe some whore had more to offer you than I? You must have, mon ami, since you chose the night of my return to seek one out. I told Julianna she was wrong about you. Tonight proves it."

Peering around the door, I could just see the two of them through the narrow opening. Jean-Claude was swathed in a dark, rain-heavy cloak, his long black curls dripping indiscriminately on our newly acquired Persian carpet, his pale skin made even whiter with the night's chill. His head was bowed and he looked miserable and pitiful. Then there was Asher, standing a few paces before him, naked and golden like a mythical sun god, his anger evident in his crystal-like blue eyes.

As if he couldn't bare the sight of it anymore, Asher stripped the muddy, wet cloak from Jean-Claude's shoulders and placed it over his own to dry. He picked up a poker and jabbed a few blackened logs, splintering one and starting the fire anew with its blazing embers.

Jean-Claude said nothing. He stood watching Asher as if in a hypnotic trance, mesmerized by the sight of his ethereally beautiful body.

"Julianna was weeping when I arrived home tonight," Asher continued.

"Weeping?" Jean-Claude repeated. Then he moaned softly as if pained somehow.

Asher nodded, still staring into the newborn fire. "She believes she upset you, but I know I am, somehow, at the root of your anger, otherwise, you would have waited for me tonight."

Jean-Claude sighed heavily. "I did wait....but it just seemed everything I did tonight was all for naught."

Somewhat startled, Asher turned sharply, his mouth open in surprise. Then he stalked up to Jean-Claude, pulling him roughly to him.

"All for naught, Jean-Claude? Is this all for naught?" He grasped the younger vampire's chin and tilted his face up to his. His mouth suddenly descended on Jean-Claude's in a deep, passionate kiss. Gradually his arms folded possessively around Jean-Claude's back, imprisoning him to his naked body.

Jean-Claude tensed at first, then grasped Asher's hips. His hands slid caressingly over the taut roundness of Asher's buttocks. He moaned into Asher's mouth and curled himself tightly around him, so there was no part of him he was not touching.

Once freed of Asher's torrid embrace, Jean-Claude exhaled forcefully. "Not you, Asher, never with you. I meant Julianna...."

I opened the door to the bedroom a little wider, my ears perking up at the way Jean-Claude had spoken my name. Such longing, such reverance, such...despair.

Asher was still holding him, dotting his face with small kisses. Jean-Claude's eyes were closed and I could see the slight glint of tears on his cheeks reflecting the flickering light from the fire.

"Julianna?" Asher mumbled. "I don't understand."

"I'm such a fool," Jean-Claude went on, his voice a breathy, barely audible whisper.

Asher shook his head and leaned back to look at Jean-Claude's face. Jean-Claude opened his eyes and looked up at him and another tear slid down his cheek. Asher sighed heavily and drew Jean-Claude to him in a tight hug.

"My dear friend, what is it? Tell me," Asher pleaded. "Why do you berate yourself so?"

"My reasons are viable," Jean-Claude murmured into Asher's shoulder. "I think I am in love with Julianna."

I felt my heart skip a beat upon hearing Jean-Claude utter those words. I never imagined he'd fallen in love with me. I had always known he desired me--he had made that obvious from the moment I met him. I truly didn't think I was the kind of woman who interested him, however--as far as having a bonafide relationship with goes.

Oh, how I wished I had understood sooner. How differently I would have treated him tonight. But as heartwarming as the thought of having Jean-Claude's love was, I was troubled by the awareness that I was not exactly in love with him. I was very fond of him, and as he knew, I found him quite attractive, but I wasn't in love with him. Did he believe I was? Had I done something to make him entertain such a notion? I cursed myself, though for what reason, I was not sure.

Asher smiled gently. "You think you are in love with her? You are not sure?"

Jean-Claude pulled away from Asher and stepped back. He shook his head, his wet hair flinging tiny droplets of water about the room. "What I feel for her seems different somehow."

Asher shrugged. "Different from what you feel for me?"

Jean-Claude bit his lower lip before replying. "We are lovers, Julianna and I are not. Perhaps that is where the difference lies. Perhaps I do equate sex with love. I have never known love without sex. As it was, I tried to show her what I was feeling, but I only confused her. She thought I was trying to seduce her. My expression of love appeared to be nothing more than a proposition of sex. But truly, I only wanted to touch her to look into her eyes and see a reflection of love in them. For me."

"Julianna loves you, Jean-Claude," Asher countered. "I know she cares for you deeply."

"Cares for me," Jean-Claude fairly growled. "I think I realized tonight that is all she can offer me. After all, her heart is so completely possessed by you. There is nothing left of true love there for me."

Asher reached out and brushed a strand of Jean-Claude's hair off his face. "Would you say the same of me?"

The younger vampire looked up at him, his eyes widening slightly. He grasped Asher's outstretched hand and pressed a soft kiss on his palm.

"I...I don't know what you mean."

Asher sighed softly. "Only that you underestimate our Julianna. I am inclined to say I love her with all my heart, but that is not entirely true, as you too, possess a piece of it. Do you believe Julianna any less capable of such love? She, whose heart is ten times that of mine? Do not give up on her, mon ami. Earn her love, win her heart as you have won mine."

A faint smile brightened Jean-Claude's face. "With you it was easy," he told Asher. "Ours was a very...physical...relationship from the beginning, if you recall." He dropped Asher's hand and sighed heavily. "I cannot express myself in that way with her. Even the slightest, most innocent touch with her comes across as seduction from me. I...do not know how to express my feelings any other way."

"Then perhaps it is time you learn," Asher replied. "Remember, she is a woman."

Jean-Claude's smiled even more. "That should not be too terribly difficult..."

Asher sneered at him. "Maybe I should have said, she is delicate in nature and feminine, and not another vampire. Definitely not one of those oversexed courtiers, or aristocrats you so often find yourself in the company of." He paused then, and his face lit with revelation. "Think of her as an angel. Keep in mind the purity of her heart, the gentle goodness and compassion that makes up the very fiber of her being."

Jean-Claude looked crestfallen. He sighed again and frowned deeply. "How does an incubus vampire go about courting a creature from heaven?"

Moving to stand beside him, Asher threw his arm around Jean-Claude's shoulder and pressed an affectionate kiss on his temple. "With a little care, kindness, and romance, my friend. Be sweet to her. Offer her trinkets. Flowers. Flattery."

"Flowers? Do women really respond to such things?" Jean-Claude sounded rather dubious. From his experience, women responded to being disrobed by him.

"Offer her one, for no apparent reason beside the fact you came upon it and thought of her, and you'll see for yourself," Asher informed him.

Jean-Claude peered up at Asher adoringly. He moved to stand in front of him and reached up to stroke Asher's face with the softest of caresses. They stood, looking deeply into each other's eyes like that for several moments before bending towards each other as if drawn together by some invisible force, and kissed, quite tenderly this time.

Then Asher pulled Jean-Claude's shirt over his head and worked to unfasten the lacings of his trousers. Slowly and methodically, he undressed his lover to give even the slightest movement, the faintest touch, a significance all its own. His hands slid over Jean-Claude's body with undisclosed savor, reveling in the silkiness of his skin, the toned firmness of his muscles, and the perfection of his form.

Jean-Claude's hands were busy as well, exploring the planes of Asher's body as though he was touching him for the first time, marveling at every hollow, curve, and texture within his reach. He dragged his lips over Asher's forehead, kissing his eyes and down his cheeks. Then he took his head in his hands, easing his mouth over Asher's with a slow sinking pressure so sensual, it made Asher moan into Jean-Claude's mouth.

Standing together, the vampires wrapped their arms around each other and descended languidly to the floor in front of the fireplace where they kissed again.

Then Jean-Claude lay down beneath Asher, holding him tightly, as Asher nibbled along the line of his jaw. He entwined one shapely leg around Asher's and used his heel to stroke the back of Asher's knee, his hands kneading Asher's sides.

Jean-Claude knew the backs of Asher's knees was one of his peculiar errogenous zones few were aware of and Asher became quite aroused if touched there just right. He writhed against Jean-Claude, incorporating his entire body to caress him now, bringing forth soft, heated moans from the depths of Jean-Claude's throat which matched his own.

Slowly Asher worked his way down the younger vampire's prone body, kissing random places on his chest and stomach and groin with a fervency that spoke of his increasing desire. So obviously delighting in his lover's body, Asher fairly growled with pleasure, running his hand down Jean-Claude's long legs while gnawing his abdomen. Positioning himself between them, Asher licked a slow, wet line along Jean-Claude's inner thigh.

Jean-Claude released his breath forcefully through his teeth and reached out, stroking Asher's hair several times, pushing it back from his face. Then he delved his fingers into those tousled golden locks, cradling Asher's head in his slender, elegant hands. He closed his eyes in anticipation and gasped loudly when Asher finally took him in his mouth, then sighed softly,deeply, in unconcealed rapture.

I stood staring at the two vampires from behind the door for the longest time, still too taken aback by their exchange of words to move, and also mesmerized by the erotic voyeurism of watching Asher and Jean-Claude make love. Finally, I turned away to grant them some privacy, feeling the weight of fatigue draw me back to the downy comfort of my bed. I slipped beneath the quilts, my mind full of questions, wonder, and discord that I was simply too tired to reason through, and fell asleep listening to the soft masculine sighs and groans coming from the other room.


Normally, I would wake before the vampires. Early afternoon at the latest. It worked out well, for I had time to bathe and dress, do some shopping if necessary and eat a little supper before being in their midst.

Asher and Jean-Claude employed a maid, a young shapeshifter from Belle Morte's court named Portia. She was a pleasant enough girl, but rarely seemed to be around when I needed her. She came to the apartments just after dawn and worked there while the three of us slept, cleaning and cooking for me, receiving the mail and seeing to the household accounts for the vampires. She normally left at half past three, just about the time I would stumble out of my bedroom. Sometimes I could persuade her to stay longer and help me into a gown if Asher and I were going out some evening, that is, if I woke before she left for the day.

Tonight, I came out into the living room well after four to find her sitting on the damask sofa, her hands folded tidily in her lap as if waiting for me.

"Ah, tres bon, you are up at last!" Portia greeted me and hopped to her feet. "Now we can get to work!"

She skipped towards me enthusiastically and tugged at the sash of my robe as I stood staring at her in open-mouthed shock. I tried pushing her off of me, but she would have none of it.

"Mademoiselle, if you are to have a bath and be dressed by seven, you need to relinquish your robe," Portia insisted. "I have the water ready, I need only fill the tub."

I yanked the lapels of my robe from her grasp and stomped my foot. "Wait! What is all this about? Asher said nothing to me last night about going out this evening." A thought suddenly occurred to me and I rolled my eyes. "Please tell me he hasn't been summoned to Court. He just got home last night."

The last thing I wanted to do was follow Asher around Court as he followed Belle Morte tonight. She would often make a point of putting her hands on him lasciviously and kissing him open-mouthed in front of me, just to vex me and try my patience. It does vex me, but I have learned to hide it well, for there is nothing I can do about it. Belle Morte owns Asher and treats him as a mere possession. I know there are other, worse things Belle Morte subjects Asher to--Jean-Claude as well, for that matter--but those things are kept behind closed doors, far away from my too-human eyes and heart to have to suffer through.

I was already working myself into a lather at the idea of going to Court, but thankfully, Portia assured me such was not the case tonight.

"Non, not to Court, Mademoiselle, but I understand you are going out tonight. I was instructed by Monsieur to dress you for the theatre." She produced a small piece of parchment stationery from her apron and offered it to me. "Ah, and there is that left for you by Monsieur." She now gestured at another sheet of parchment sitting on the fireplace mantle.

I raised my brow as I accepted the letter of instruction from her. "Asher is taking me to the theatre?" I wondered why he hadn't mentioned it before.

But one look at the writing on the page dispelled my assumption. The instructions were written in Jean-Claude's hand, not Asher's. I handed the note back to Portia and stalked over to the fireplace mantle. That note too, addressed to me, was in Jean-Claude's hand.

I took it and opened it and read carefully. It said:

My dearest Julianna,

Accept my apologies for my behavior last night.

Asher told me that you were disheartened by

what I had said and done and therefore,

I feel compelled to make amends.

Please come out with me to the theatre tonight.

The curtain rises at eight. I will have to meet you

there, but I will be on time. Until then, cherie.


Inside the note was a single ticket to the new opera which had opened just a few months ago. I had heard about it and secretly wished to see it, but wanted to see it with Asher, not Jean-Claude. I sighed heavily and faced Portia.

She frowned at me. "Why the long face, Mademoiselle? Had I an invitation to the theatre from Monsieur Jean, I would not look quite so sad. Mais non, I would look happy. Much happier than that."

"Oh, I am...happy, it is just...I know what he is trying to do and I know it is not going to work out and that makes me sad. For him," I admitted. I would have to tell him tonight: tell him that I loved him as a friend and nothing more and nothing he could say or do would change the aspects of our relationship. He had the right to know. I would not lead him on. I would accept his invitation as the apology he intended it to be and leave it at that.

Portia shrugged, not comprehending and not particularly caring to. "Your bath, Mademoiselle. It will grow cold soon. We must hurry."


Hurry we did, for I was bathed, dressed, and out the door at twilight. I opted to have supper in a small cafe not far from the theatre and then retire to the box seats Jean-Claude had procured to wait for him there.

I sat fanning myself distractedly, studying the color patterns of the enormous chandlier gracing the ceiling of the opera house. The lamps in the halls were being dimmed as it was nearly time for the curtain to rise. The conductor was making his way to the front of the orchestra to thunderous applause from the opera's numerous patrons. I was beginning to worry. Jean-Claude said he would be on time, but this was cutting it a little too close.

I had no sooner thought that, when I felt his presence just behind me. I turned around the best I could in my corset and numerous paddings and silk skirts, a sharp rebuke on the tip of my tongue. I would have no time to talk to him now before the performance, but then, perhaps he had planned it that way. However all such reproachful inclination left me the moment my eyes fell upon him. To say he looked breathtaking would not do him justice, though he truly did take my breath away.

He wore a beautifully tailored, sleek blue waistcoat of the like I had never seen him in before. It matched the color of his sparkling eyes. His shirt was a mound of ruffled white lace and his vest and pants were of a simliar dark, but more vivid blue than his coat. His long hair was painstakingly curled to perfection in what must have been hundreds of finger-length curls. How he had managed to achieve such a state of formality in so short a time was beyond me. I noticed too, he held a hat, which matched his coat to perfection, in his right hand, and used it to affect the most practiced bow before me, then gallantly presented me with a rose of an exquisitely beautiful powder-like pink.

He smiled at me then and praised my choice of gowns and complimented the styling of my hair, but I was still too awestruck to grasp his flattery. Instead, I sniffed delicately at the rose he'd given me and turned my face away from him to clear my head. I deserved no such praise, for he was far lovelier than I tonight.

"I am so pleased you agreed to accompany me this evening," Jean-Claude continued, arranging himself in the velvet-cushioned seat to my left.

"I accept your apology," I managed and cleared my suddenly dry throat. "And I thank you for the rose. How thoughtful."

"It comes from Belle Morte's garden," he informed me. "Her roses are the finest in the city. She uses her power to enhance them. Their color and their scent. Do you like it? I have spent many hours in her garden and knew the exact bloom I wished to present to you. It comes from a trellised vine by the name of Eternity."

My eyes widened slightly and I looked over at him surprised. "You took this from her garden? Oh Jean-Claude, how could you? You know the woman despises me as it is. Should she ever find out--"

Jean-Claude laughed lightly, which sent a cascade of warm tingles over my skin. "She will not miss it, I can assure you. Would you have settled for a bloom of lesser quality to appease her possessive vanity?"

I opened my mouth to reply, but Jean-Claude's finger was on my lips. Another wash of heated tingles danced over me.

"Hush," he chided. "You may have, but to present you with anything but the finest would not have been worthy of you, ma cherie."

The theatre was completely dark now and the maestro raised his arms. A low humming from a single violin filled the air. The curtain over the stage began to rise and reveal the complex scenery beyond its folds. I turned towards it, clutching my rose to my breast and sank back into the cushions of my seat. There would be no more chance for me to talk anyway. I would simply have to insist on a conversation after the performance if I were to get said what needed saying.

Jean-Claude leaned towards me and I felt the brush of his perfect curls against the side of my face. I resisted the urge to turn and look at him.

"Relax, Julianna. This is your night," he whispered in my ear. "Enjoy yourself." With that, he sat back and focused his attention on the stage below us.

Only then did I turn slightly and peek at him. How absolutely splendid he looked sitting there. He was so entrancing, I was having a difficult time convincing myself the matters of the opera were more appealing than the man beside me. To my chagrin, I soon realized I was not the only one struggling so. I just happened to catch the gaping, adoring gazes Jean-Claude was garnering from the ladies in the booths around us before they noticed me and turned away in coy embarrassment. With a sigh of resignation, I turned my attention to the performance, already well under way.


With regret, I confess I was too preoccupied with my thoughts to follow the opera very closely, though what I was able to grasp was soaringly beautiful.

Jean-Claude rose to his feet after the last of the applause had died away and stretched out his hand towards me. I took it, but was reluctant to leave.

"Oh Jean-Claude, that was marvelous, truly. Thank you so very much."

"You are quite welcome, Julianna. It was my pleasure," he replied. Then: "No doubt you are anxious to get home to Asher now. I will hire a carriage for you to take you back."

I was anxious to see Asher, but then I wasn't quite ready to take my leave of Jean-Claude. I shook my head demurely and squeezed Jean-Claude's hand.

"Can't we find an open shop to linger over a pot of tea for an hour or two?" I suggested, determined to speak with him. "Or do you have to be somewhere tonight? Is that the reason for your haste?" I was painfully aware of the fact Jean-Claude was often sent out on assignment by Belle Morte even more so than Asher.

The smile my simple offer provoked was no less than dazzling. Jean-Claude bowed slightly over my hand and pulled me to my feet.

"If that is what my lady so wishes," he breathed. "There is no where in particular I need to be tonight."

I smiled now, but I know the smile did not reach my eyes. "Good. I was hoping to speak to you about something of a rather sensitive nature that demands to be said. Something that has recently been made known to me."

Placing my hand upon his arm, Jean-Claude escorted me through the milling crowd, saying nothing. His face had taken on that distant, remote expression he often wore when troubled however, and I wondered what could possibly be going through his mind.

"I didn't mean to alarm you," I consoled him, leaning against him as we made our way out onto the bustling street in front of the theatre.

He turned to look at me then. "Do I appear alarmed to you?" he asked, softly.

I nodded. "I know that particular expression of passivity, Jean-Claude, for Asher often adopts it when he is most upset about something," I informed him. I stopped walking, forcing him to stand with me.

Jean-Claude sighed, but still looked utterly composed. "There is only one concern of yours I can think of which may be of, as you put it, sensitive in nature, and that is Asher." He closed his eyes momentarily and took a deep steadying breath, totally betraying the extent of his alarm with the gesture. He opened his eyes and faced me again, his gaze all but pleading. "If this is about him, if you know something which I am yet unaware of, that concerns him, I beg you to tell me now. Please don't make me wait until we are seated at a table over tea. Has it been this bit of news that has distacted you all evening?"

Shaking my head, I almost toppled the hairpiece Portia had so carefully applied. "No. No. It is not about Asher. Nothing is wrong, I swear to you." Naturally he would think my concerns were for Asher. What other subject ever graced our conversation with such frequency and depth? I realized then, Jean-Claude and I scarcely talked of anything but Asher. I knew so little of Jean-Claude, the man. Strange for having resided with him so intimately under the same roof for so long. I decided right then and there I would not discourage him tonight, but instead ask him questions and learn, once and for all, who he really was.

Much to my dismay, his concern, quite readible on his face now, shifted to me. He stepped in front of me and took my free hand tightly in both of his. I still clutched his rose in the other.

"Julianna, has this something to do with you then? You say nothing is wrong, yet you are troubled and sad and no matter what I have done this night, I cannot seem to lighten your mood."

I lowered my eyes and frowned. There was nothing left but the truth. Had I tried to ply him with anything less, he would have sensed it.

"Yes and no," I began, my voice sounding strained. "I was not sleeping when you returned home last night. I overheard you confiding in Asher. I am aware of everything you said to him."

Jean-Claude grew very still before me. "Everything?" he asked breathily.

I nodded. "You believe you are in love with me and have now set out to stir my heart for you." I looked up at him and sighed softly.

He peered at me so intensely then, I could almost feel the weight of his gaze. Several moments passed before he finally spoke.

"I am in love with you, Julianna. I have been for quite some time, but have only recently recognized my feelings for what they are." He paused and squeezed my hand gently. "I regret that I was not able to convey my sentiments to you personally. I did try...and failed, as I am certain you now know--I told Asher as much last night. I truly wanted you to know what I feel for you. I am not put off by the manner in which such information was attained. Did you think I would be offended?"

Licking my tinted lips in agitation, I pulled from Jean-Claude's grasp. I wanted to turn away from him, but forced myself to look him in the eye. "It is not that. My trouble stems from the fact that I do not love you in return, not as you want me to. I do not wish to hurt you, for you have become quite dear to me in the time I have known you, but my heart belongs to Asher. I cannot love you, Jean-Claude and I cannot allow you to pursue me further. I accepted your invitation tonight as a courtesy. That is all." I freed my gaze from his lovely face and let it fall upon the velvety rose blossom I held to my chest.

There. It was said. It was over. I steeled myself for the misery to come, but apparently I underestimated Jean-Claude just then. His finely-honed arrogance would see him through my rejection unscathed and quite undaunted.

"Ma cherie, that makes no sense," he muttered. "How can you be so certain you will not fall in love with me if you will not allow me to court you?"

Startled, I looked up at him again. "Because a woman knows such things!" I replied, indignant and flustered.

A slow, sexy smile lit Jean-Claude's face just then. It made my heart flutter in spite of myself.

"How do you know?" he persisted, placing his hands on his slender hips.

"I just know."

"You don't."

I sighed. Actually, he was right. I didn't know. Perhaps if he did woo me properly, and I came to know him better as a person, there was always a remote chance, the slightest possibility. Observing his rather defiant stance, I quickly came to the conclusion, if I did not give in to him, our present argument would carry on throughout eternity, for he would remain as entirely unswayed by my conviction as he was now.

Jean-Claude must have felt my wavering resolve for he continued on determinedly.

"Julianna, do you recall the way you felt about me when you first learned Asher and I were lovers?"

I did, so I nodded. I knew right away what his point was. "I disliked you. I nearly hated you."

Jean-Claude nodded thoughtfully. "Tell me, cherie, do you feel that way about me now?"

Frowning, I shook my head. "You know I don't."

Raising his hands in a gesture befitting an obvious conclusion, Jean-Claude smiled and said, "There, you see? Had I inquired of you then if there was ever a chance you might like me, would you have said 'yes'?" He shook his head. "I do not think so."

I had to smile. It was true. It was all true. "Very well," I conceded. "You may continue to court me if you desire, but I will not, cannot, guarantee my feelings will be affected by it. And I must insist you not court me so...extravagantly as you have tonight."

Jean-Claude's expression sobered in the blink of an eye. "Tonight was compensation for my behavior the night before," he said quietly. "My indignation gave me no right to speak to you the way I did. It was my own folly which led to your misunderstanding. I deeply regret worrying you. If I could have done more for you tonight to make amends, I would have."

My heart was thudding in my chest as I gazed at Jean-Claude with undisclosed affection. I reached up and touched his cheek with my hand. He closed his eyes and leaned into it, covering my hand with his.

"There is one more thing you could do for me tonight," I whispered.

Jean-Claude slowly opened his eyes and peered down at me. "Anything," he sighed.

I smiled. "Buy me a pot of tea and sit with me while I drink it?"

Turning his head, Jean-Claude pressed a light kiss into my palm and nodded. "I'd be delighted," he murmured. He trailed his soft, full lips down to my wrist before catching himself and releasing my hand. "Forgive me," he breathed. "I promised myself I would not touch you in anyway that could be misconstrued, but it is difficult. You have my permission to strike me if you ever feel I venture beyond what is appropriate." He paused and shrugged slightly. "I will have to experiment, however, to gauge my progress. The levels of intimacy I am allowed will tell me what I need to know."

He sounded so analytical, I had to laugh. He really had given my courtship a great deal of consideration. "I understand," I told him, slipping my hand back in his.

We started walking again. I very much wanted that pot of tea, for I was chilled to the bone now from the dampness of the night, but I wanted my conversation with Jean-Claude more so. As it was, I steered him to the cafe I had dined at earlier this evening. We were given a secluded booth by the fireplace and ordered a fresh pot of black tea. One cup and saucer.


My long overdue conversation with Jean-Claude carried me from his childhood through all the sordid and heartwrenching details of his life, death, and existence as a vampire. Asher had relayed few facts to me previously and so I sat, my pot of tea soon forgotten, awed and moved by Jean-Claude's story.

He spoke quite candidly and eloquently, with only an occasional bitterness tainting his tone. How he had come away from such experiences as unscathed as he had was beyond me. I could not stop the welling tears from falling from my eyes at the suffering I imagined this poor man had endured.

"I'm sorry," I apologized, dabbing my eyes with the white linen nakin folded at my place setting. "Please go on."

Shaking his head, Jean-Claude smiled warmly, and came to sit beside me. He drew me into his arms and hugged me as I cried upon his chest.

"Do not weep for me, Julianna," he whispered in my ear. "You know I cannot bear to see you cry."

I sniffed, rather indelicately. "You were only answering the questions I put forth to you," I began. "It is only that I had no idea."

"How could you?"

"Oh Jean-Claude," I moaned miserably. "If only I possessed a fifth of your strength. I would feel as if I could take on the whole world."

Jean-Claude laughed lightly and nuzzled my hair. "You do not need to be strong. You have Asher...and me. We will be strong for you."

I continued resting my head comfortably on the pillow of lace covering his chest and snuggled my body closer to him. He tightened his hold of me and I felt his lips brush my forehead. I could hear his heart beating gently, feel the steady rise and fall of his chest with each breath he took, and suddenly became aware of how much I wanted to raise my face to his and capture his beautiful mouth with mine. It seemed strange to feel that way about him so soon. To thwart the inclination, I pushed myself away from him and wiped my watery eyes with the back of my hand.

"It is getting late," I announced. "We should head home."

Jean-Claude nodded readily. "Yes," he agreed. "Asher will start to wonder where we are." Without further delay, he rose and summoned the garcon, who came to us promptly. We were after all, the cafe's last patrons of the night. Pressing a coin into the boy's hand for the tea I had barely touched, Jean-Claude thanked him for the choice booth he'd given us, then turned to help me to my feet. He placed my cloak over my shoulders and took my hand in his.

We walked in silence through the quiet streets until we happened upon a waiting hansome cab and climbed in. Jean-Claude paid the driver extra to take us through the park, for it was scenic and quite peaceful at night.

I found I only had eyes for Jean-Claude however and noticed little of the picturesque view. I had always found Jean-Claude to be strikingly handsome, but tonight, gazing upon him beside me in the cab, knowing what I did of him now, it was as though I was seeing him for the first time all over again.


We arrived home in the wee hours of the morning. There was only a few hours left before dawn, but I knew Asher would still be up and about. It seemed like an eternity since I last saw him. I wanted to feel his arms around me, his kiss upon my lips, and the reassurance of his caress. I was keenly aware that only a scant hour had passed since I craved the very same from Jean-Claude.

I pondered the fact that, yes, these were the cravings Jean-Claude had spoken of the night before. The offerings he had presented to me. Mutually having someone to hold and kiss and love on a lonely rainy night. Cravings I had normally relied on Asher to satisfy, but now saw a real possibility that Jean-Claude could fulfill them too. Last night made so much more sense now. If only I had opened my eyes and heart and understood.

Asher was waiting at the door to greet us as we came in. He bestowed welcoming kisses upon both our cheeks, but it was me he drew into his arms and lingered over. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jean-Claude walk past us towards the room where he kept his things on the opposite side of the hall from mine. He disappeared behind its door and Asher and I were suddenly alone.

"Did you have a pleasant time, ma cherie?" he asked me, casting an appraising eye up and down my person. "You look astoundingly beautiful tonight. Jean-Claude must have been the envy of every gentleman there."

"Yes, I had a wonderful time," I said and blushed. No matter how many times Asher complimented my looks, he could still make my cheeks burn. "Perhaps some men envied Jean-Claude on my behalf, but I know for a fact many a green eye turned on me because of Jean-Claude." I gestured at the closed door to his room. "Did you get a good look at him? He looked incredible this evening."

Asher smiled easily and nodded. "Cherie, how do you think he got that way? Not an easy feat considering our limited time, but between Portia and I, he did turn out well, didn't he?"

Ah, so Asher and Portia had helped dress him. "To say the least," I replied. "I hope you told him as much."

Asher's crystalline eyes sparkled with mischief. "Oh, before he departed, there was no doubt in his mind how delectable I found him this evening. Why do you think he was nearly late?" He paused and winked at me. "I simply could not help myself. Then he insisted on another bath. We had to dress him all over again and Portia, dear sweet, indulgent Portia, stayed to repair his hair."

I laughed. "Why you lecherous cad, how dare you partake of MY date!" I tapped him playfully on the chin with my rose.

Taking me in his arms once more, Asher smiled and kissed me. "I would just as readily partake of you, Julianna, my dove, but I fear by the time I liberate you of your petticoats and corset, the night will have been spent."

Now that he mentioned it, my body began to fairly ache to be free of my fashionable prison. I wiggled uncomfortably in his arms.

"I will barter with you," I said slyly. "Help me undress tonight and tomorrow night when you rise, I will greet you wearing nothing at all."

Asher leaned forward and kissed me again. This time slowly and seductively. A hint of things to come, no doubt.

"Sounds like a fair deal to me," he murmured and nibbled his way down my neck. "Tomorrow you are all mine."

I sighed in anticipation. "Sounds like a fair deal to me as well." I forced myself to pull away from him and started sauntering towards my bedroom. I turned and crooked my finger at Asher, bidding him to follow.


Asher did manage to get me out of my gown before he retired for the day. Thankfully he was as proficient with the intricacies of feminine attire as he was with men's, since I did not have Portia at my ready disposal. There had been enough times when I had to rely on Jean-Claude as well, to help me in and out of my clothes. He too, proved himself quite adept at managing ladies' unmentionables.

Alone now in my bedroom, I sat at my vanity table, comfortable once more in my plain muslin nightgown, and brushed out my hair. I was tired to the bone, but feeling quite appreciated and admired by the two men in my life. A good feeling that.

I went to bed and fell fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and dreamt the most peculiar dreams of costumed angels and operaettas, teapots and copper bathtubs. Throughout the dream, a beautiful boy with luxurious black curls sang an aria so lovely and stirring, I woke to find my pillow casing wet with my tears.

It was early afternoon, my usual time of rising, but Portia had already left for the day. She should have been given the day off considering the extra time she had put in yesterday, but Portia was somewhat enamored of Asher and Jean-Claude--what female wouldn't be?--and there was little she would not do for them.

I stumbled out into the kitchenette and put a kettle on the fire to heat water for tea and to wash my face and hands with. I noticed the small pile of new letters on the table where Portia usually left them. She knew my habits well and always put our mail beside a clean teacup and saucer to be sure I'd see both.

I went to retrieve the letters, usually bills or invitations to some marquis' birthday party or some grand duchess' masked ball. My hand froze however, upon spying the all too familiar, and dreaded, rose motif of Belle Morte's stationery at the very top of the pile. I felt all the color drain from my face and held my breath. A summons, perhaps, or another assignment. The note was addressed to both Asher and Jean-Claude. I stared at it a very long time, unable to move, and debated whether to open it.

The kettle began to whistle, breaking into my reverie. The water was nearly bubbling over! I turned my attention to the kettle with a rare curse and seized it from the fire. The water would be too hot to bathe in now. I could drink my tea first, and wait for the water to cool a little, but felt a little put off by having to alter my waking routine even that much.

With shaking hands, I tried not to think about the letter and set about brewing my tea. I poured a little of the boiling water into the basin I used to wash with. Clutching my robe in one hand and the kettle in another, I tramped to the open window and cast the remaining water into the street below, then returned to the pump to refill it. I added that cold water to the hot water in the basin and tested the temperature with my hand. It was too cold now. Cursing again, I placed the kettle back on the fire and sat at the table to wait for it to heat back up, wondering whether or not to toss out the tepid water in the basin as I had done with the kettle water.

Such decisions! I soon found myself dissolving in tears of childish frustration, but in the back of my mind, I knew Belle Morte's letter was the real reason for my distress. I did not think I could bear anymore of her cruelty. Asher had only been home two nights. The thought of him having to leave me again was like a knife stabbing my heart. And if it were a mere summons, I was to simply stand by and let Belle Morte use him in any manner she saw fit.

I pounded my fist on the table, rattling my teacup and spilling my tea. But I didn't care. The kettle water was boiling again, but I didn't care. I remembered what Jean-Claude had told me last night: of the horrific tortures and abuse he had endured at the hands of the more powerful vampires and how Belle often sent him to someone as a payment of a debt or as a bribery for a favor. He was nothing more than a prostitute to her. Did she know anything of his heart? Did she know anything about him at all besides his prowess in bed?

Finally at my wit's end, I seized the brewing tea and flung it to the stone floor, the saucer thus collided with the wall opposite me, as well as any other small object within my reach. Oh, how tempting it was to hurl that wretched woman's note into the fire!

Well, I had placated Asher the hour before dawn, telling him I would greet him in nothing at all and that is exactly how he and Jean-Claude found me when they rose for the night. I was still in my robe, unwashed, undressed, scrubbing the scalded kettle and floor to amend the mess I had made in my frustration earlier. As it was, my robe was stained now with tea and charcoal,and I had cut my hand on all the pottery I had shattered, thus wrapping it carelessly in a strip of rag. To say I was in a sorry state when Asher happened upon me, was quite the understatement.

He knew immediately something was wrong. He knelt before me on the floor and reached over to brush the loose tendrils of my hair from my eyes. So tenderly. Lifting and examing my injured hand, his eyes narrowed in concern. I stopped my chore and leaned into him, drawing from his quiet strength and let him hold me there on the half-scrubbed floor.

Jean-Claude stood leaning against the wall surveying the damage with a carefully blank expression on his face. The only hint of discomfort I gleaned from him was the small move he made to gather his robe more tightly around himself as if suddenly chilled. He too, knew something was wrong.

"I am sorry," I apologized to him, then looked up at Asher. "So sorry. This was childish of me. I am so very ashamed."

Asher bent to kiss my forehead. "Julianna, my dear. Did you have a bad day?"

All I could do was nod slowly.

Sparing a concerned glance up at Jean-Claude, Asher shrugged slightly before turning sympathetic eyes on me. He rose to his feet and drew me up with him, holding me close. "Leave this. We shall deal with it later. Come and sit down. Tell me what troubles you."

Now I shook my head and gestured feebly towards the table. "The mail," I tried to explain.

Asher and Jean-Claude both looked in the direction I had indicated. It was Jean-Claude who crossed the room to retrieve the bundle of letters, since Asher still had his hands full with me, literally.

I knew the moment Jean-Claude recognized the top piece, for his whole body tensed and he shot a look of undisclosed apprehension at Asher.

"There is a note from Belle," Jean-Claude murmured.

Asher closed his eyes and sighed heavily. Standing as close to him as I was, I could feel the smallest shudder course over his body. I hugged him tightly, shaking my head adamantly.

"No. You are not going anywhere this time!" I grumbled. "I don't care how powerful she is! She can find another vampire to do her bidding."

"Julianna," Asher began in a soft, appeasing tone. "We don't even know what she wants yet. Do not jump to conclusions." He pried my arms from around him and stepped away from me. His expression was quite pained and I know he was dreading his mistress' decree as much as I was, but I also knew he had set me aside to let me know he wasn't about to tolerate my protests. Belle Morte was becoming a rather sore subject between the two of us.

I put my hands on my hips. "There are only two conclusions I can make, Asher," I argued. "A summons to her bedchamber or an assignment that will carry you to someone else's bedchamber or worse."

"Would you rather see me punished?" Asher shot back, his eyes flashing like lightening. He turned from me then and strode into the parlor.

I ran after him and grabbed ahold of his arm once I caught up to him and hauled him around to face me. "How can you let her mistreat you like this?"

Asher pulled free of my grasp. "I will not condone jealousy from you, Julianna. I have explained this to you time and time again."

Tears stung my eyes. "I am not jealous! I am concerned!" I protested, stomping my foot for emphasis.

"You are acting like a spoiled, possessive fishwife!" Asher retaliated hotly.

"Asher! Enough!" Jean-Claude yelled from behind me, startling me. He walked past me, towards Asher with a slow, gliding stride.

Asher looked into Jean-Claude's eyes as he approached, and I saw the hardness of Asher's expression soften. His mask of anger dissolved away to reveal his deepening sorrow and pain.

Sighing, Jean-Claude drew Asher into his arms, tenderly kissing his face and stroking his hair. He whispered softly in his ear. Leaning against the younger vampire's body, Asher close his eyes and trembled.

He folded his arms around Jean-Claude's neck, clinging to him as though he were the only strength he had left. I realized then, as I should have before, that my protests and distress made it that much harder for Asher. He loved me and to see me so distraught had all but broken his heart.

Suddenly, I felt deeply ashamed and sickened with remorse. Jean-Claude had recognized Asher's pain where I had not. Tentatively, I crept forward, ready to throw myself at Asher's feet and beg forgiveness.

"Julianna loves you so deeply, she cannot bear the thought of you away from her again, for whatever reason," Jean-Claude told Asher. "And I cannot bear to see her so torn asunder. I will take your place. Whatever Belle wants of you, I will beg her to let me go in your stead."

My heart twisted inside me at Jean-Claude's noble suggestion. I adored the fact he loved Asher the way he did. The way I did. And he loved me. I truly believed that now. He had said he could not bear to see me in such pain. Sadly, he seemed to believe I would not care so much if he were sent away. That assumption left me feeling breathless and chilled. The fact was, I did care. I cared so much, the thought of him having to subject himself to that despicable woman's barbaric whims made me want to cry, scream, and start throwing things all over again.

Asher leaned away from Jean-Claude and shook his head.

"I appreciate your offer, mon ami,"Asher said to him softly, "but the letter is addressed to us both. You cannot be in two places at the same time." He reached up and lovingly trailed his fingers through Jean-Claude's hair.

Jean-Claude closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He nuzzled Asher's hand and brushed his lips over his fingers.

"Perhaps, if we read the letter first, we can come up with a more suitable solution," Jean-Claude stated breathily.

Asher nodded his consent. I could only stand by, feeling nauseous and numb. I did not want to know what was written. There remained the possibility that I would lose one or both of them to a far off assignment. One of them was bad enough. Both of them was unimaginable.

Jean-Claude pressed a soft kiss on Asher's brow, then released him and glided back into the kitchenette to retrieve the letter. Asher and I looked at each other, an awkward tension filling the room. Finally Asher held out his hand.

"Julianna...come to me," he whispered.

I took one hesitant step, then practically flew into his arms. He caught me and embraced me tightly, his breath hitching with emotion. I wrapped my arms around his waist and lay my head upon his chest.

"Forgive me," I sniffed. "I know I have behaved abominably. It is just that I love you so very much. I would do anything to keep you safe."

"As I would do anything in my power to make you happy," Asher replied. "I loathe these summons. You know I do. But it is not within my power to disregard them. I am not my own person. Neither is Jean-Claude. We do what we must do to survive the best we can. You know we are too valuable to Belle for her to do any permanent damage to us. Jean-Claude and I can endure a little cruelty from time to time. Please promise me, Julianna. Do not be so anxious for us. My heart cannot take it."

I wiped futilely at my rapidly watering eyes. "I wish we could just leave this place. Leave Belle Morte and all of them behind."

Asher kissed me and smiled gently. "One day, cherie. I promise."

He peered up suddenly and I turned around in his arms to see Jean-Claude.

"I do hope such lofty aspirations include me," he said with a grin. He was holding the letter in his hand. It was opened, but strangely enough, whatever it contained seemed to have brightened his mood considerably. He came towards us and held the note out to Asher. "The portrait Belle commissioned some months ago of the two of us is to be presented to her tomorrow night. She requests the honor of our presence at its unveiling." He laughed then, a robust, joyous laugh that sent a tingling wave over my skin.

Asher and I sighed heavily with relief. He took the letter from Jean-Claude and scanned its contents, then threw the beastly thing up into the air. He grabbed me and swung me around the room ecstatically until I was nearly dizzy and begged to be set down. When he did, I half-staggered to the nearest chair and flopped, quite unlady-like into it. Asher turned from me and went to Jean-Claude. He grabbed hold of him as well, but kissed him--deeply, and with such passion, the younger vampire moaned sensuously.

"We need to celebrate!" Asher abruptly announced. "We need to go out! We should take Julianna to the finest restaurant and let her gorge herself on decadently rich food. Then, we need to find the social gathering of the season and waltz the night away under the stars." He faced me with the most boyishly charming smile. "What do you think, ma cherie?"

I laughed, delighted, and nodded my consent. Asher turned to Jean-Claude next, and raised his brow.

"I think we better feed first," Jean-Claude said, the very voice of reason. He sighed softly and started across the room. "I will get dressed and go out. It won't take me but an hour."

He meant to hunt and I knew this, but was suddenly and strangely unsettled by the idea. It wasn't the idea of him feeding--I'd been among vampires far too long to be put off by that. It was more the thought of him having to feed off some unsavory derelict on the street. The blood would fulfill him, but the experience had to be demeaning and could be downright dangerous at times.

Before I realized fully what I was doing, I called out to him.

"Jean-Claude, wait!"

He turned to look at me, a curious expression on his face. "Cherie?"

I stretched out my arms, one towards Asher and the other towards Jean-Claude. "I do have two wrists you know."

Jean-Claude merely blinked at me in something of a stunned silence. Asher was shaking his head.

"Dear...charitable Julianna," Asher sighed. "I am sure Jean-Claude appreciates your kind consideration on his behalf, but do you really believe there is enough blood in that tiny, lovely body to feed the two of us?"

Lowering my arms, I frowned deeply. I hadn't thought of that. They might both feed on me, but then I would scarcely be fit to traipse around town and dance the night away afterwards. Foolish of me to have offered such a thing. I turned to Jean-Claude with a look of apology.

Sweetly, he smiled at me and knelt at the side of my chair. "That is quite all right, ma cherie," Jean-Claude said and squeezed my hand. "I am touched to the heart by your offer, but Asher is right. We cannot both feed from you." He lifted my hand and brought it to his lips in a delicate kiss. "I promise, I will not be gone long."

"Wait," Asher suddenly added. He came to kneel beside my chair on the other side. Jean-Claude and I both looked at him expectantly and Asher flashed us the most breathtaking smile. "I will not need blood tonight. Did I not say we were to take Julianna to the finest restaurant where she will dine on pastries and pies, fish and fowl, and breads and wines?" He paused and rubbed his stomach and licked his lips. "I can taste it all now."

Of course. As his human servant, Asher could sustain himself through me. What nourishment I took, he could utilize.

Jean-Claude looked less than happy with Asher's solution however. His dark eyes flickered from Asher's to mine and he released my hand and stood up.

"But she belongs to you," he said to Asher. Then to me: "Are you certain you want to do this?"

I hesitated only a second before nodding my head. I knew what an intimate act feeding was for a vampire and I knew without a doubt I wanted Jean-Claude to feed from me.

"Tres bon. It is settled then," Asher announced. "I will leave you two and go soak awhile in a nice warm bath." He leaned forward and kissed me, then gave Jean-Claude an encouraging nod. "Salut."

With that, Asher rose to his feet and glided out of the room. Jean-Claude and I both watched him go, then turned and looked at each other apprehensively.


Jean-Claude and I were extremely affectionate with each other and indulged in a rather non-platonic, uninhibited friendship. As I have mentioned before, he often helped me in and out of my gowns. He has tied my garters and laced my corsets countless times. We have even come upon each other nude several times, in the bath and in bed--with Asher. But we had never been intimate with each other. And the way we were staring at each other now, with complete uncertainty and trepidation, you would think neither of us had ever been intimate with anyone at all.

Finally I stood up. Clearly I was going to have to make the first move to show him I truly intended on going through with my inclination. I stepped up to him and loosened the sash of my robe so I could pull the collar away from my neck.

Jean-Claude swallowed visibly. "Julianna...I know you have experienced Asher's...considerable gift in the past, before you became his servant." He shook his head woefully. "I am not so gifted. I never have been."

I shrugged slightly. "You are not Asher. You are Jean-Claude," I said quietly.

I opened my robe wider, exposing my décolletage to him. Within moments, his eyes bled to a solid sapphire blue as he looked upon me and then gathered me into his arms. I became very aware of his body in that instant. Every shapely curve of muscle and bone that was pressed against me. My heart was already pounding and my skin was flushing with a rush of heat centering deep in the cradle of my hips. I felt his hand on the side of my face and leaned into it, purposefully gazing into his eyes.

Jean-Claude's power poured over me then, and gradually, with sweet familiarity, my mind began to empty and all the tension in my body eased away. I slumped against him and felt his arm tighten around my shoulders. His hand moved like cool smoke over my neck, brushing aside the tendrils of hair which had escaped my long braid. My mind began clouding with arousal as I felt Jean-Claude's heavy lips upon my skin, the wetness of his tongue, and the hard press of his fangs. I could think of nothing beyond the intense pleasure of every sensation my body was being subjected to. More, yes, I wanted more.

Jean-Claude's teeth entering my vein felt like the moment a man takes you, filling you up with such blissful solid warmth. I moaned and tightened my fists around the soft velvet folds of his robe. Even that sensation beneath my hands was remarkable. Like a savoring caress, his mouth began working at my throat and instantly, I felt the blood being pulled from my body. I writhed in Jean-Claude's embrace and tugged at his robe until it fell open. My hands eagerly slithered over his chest, and down his sides to his hips, reveling in the naked masculine beauty now exposed to me. I pressed myself as tightly to him as I possibly could, passing my tingling fingertips over his sinewy arms and shoulders. How exquisite he was! How extraordinary it felt to have him locked so fiercely to my body. More, I thought hazily. Please, more.

Gasping and groaning in ecstasy, I entwined my fingers deeply in his luxurious hair. When he tried to pull away from me, I held him fast, refusing to release him even as he was trying to release me. Not yet, I silently pleaded. His body was warm now, bordering on hot. Mon Dieu, how I wanted him in that instant! To explore every part of him, wrap myself around him, and bring him deep inside me. Surely I would go mad if I could not have him!

Jean-Claude pulled harder against my grasp, freed his head from my hands, and managed to withdraw his fangs from my vein. Blood spilled from my wounds and he sensually dragged his tongue over my skin to catch the seepage. The feeling made me quiver. His power still worked on me, but I wasn't being pumped with it now, and my body was calming some, settling back into itself. I still felt incredible, euphoric even, but also sapped, light-headed, and a little bit nauseous.

Jean-Claude was kissing and nibbling his way down my neck. Somewhat impatiently, he yanked open my robe and deftly pulled it off my shoulders. Now I was even more exposed than he was. But the sensation of his nearly nude body covering mine--as exhilarating as it was--quickly brought me back to my senses, so to speak.

I tried wedging my hands in between us to push him back, but he held me in a fetter of a grip, too sexually aroused now to be aware of my feeble protest. He did have the most delectable touch, and used his mouth with an unprecedented proficiency on my breasts, and I was having to struggle with myself to keep from succumbing to such erotic charms. I did not want him to take me. I think. Oh! My mind was still a muddle of desire. I wanted him to continue, then in a way, I didn't. I wasn't certain. When I felt the hard length of his erection brush against my thigh however, I knew if I was truly inclined to stop him, I was going to have to resort to a more forceful means of protest.

I drew my hand back and slapped his face. I did not intend to hurt him, only get his attention, but the sound of my slap seemed to resonate throughout the room and drew such a startled gasp from Jean-Claude, for a moment I thought I had injured him after all.

"Oh! I am sorry!" I exclaimed, immediately regretting my violence. Cradling his face in my hands, I sought to console him, covering it with soft kisses. "Are you all right?" I turned his head from side to side, examining the reddening handprint on his cheek.

Trembling slightly, Jean-Claude nodded and pulled free of my grasp. He closed his eyes tightly and seemed to be struggling with himself, his breaths coming in fast, deep pants. Finally, he became quiet and opened his eyes to peer at me. "I am not hurt," he reassured me, his voice barely audible.

Remorse flooded my heart. I may not have hurt him physically, but I knew my rejection hurt him in other ways. I reached out to him--to stroke his stinging face, but he flinched away from me. I gaped at him in surprise.

"My ardeur," he explained, "is back under my control, but if you touch me, it may overwhelm me again."

I gathered my ruined robe about me tightly and inadvertently stepped back. "Was that the reason you...got a little too amorous?"

Placing his hands on his hips, his eyes flashed at me indignantly. "Too amorous?" He shook his head. "I was not testing you, and you should know, I do not make a habit of indulging my passion without consent. I felt your desire, Julianna, and merely responded in kind." Pausing, he dropped his gaze and licked his lips anxiously. "My ardeur did rise, but I only relinquished my control of it when I assumed it would be satiated with you."

It was my turn to feel indignant now, though staring back at Jean-Claude--that gorgeous face of his, the pose he had struck with that amazing body--made me reconsider my emotions. He had not yet bothered to close his robe. The knave.

"My desire was fueled by your power," I stated, though I must confess, now I was not entirely sure. He was not feeding from me, but my body was still reacting to the sight of him and the recollections of how enticing he had felt beneath my hands. I bit my lip and blinked up at him. "You know how attractive I find you, Jean-Claude. But if I somehow...hinted...my willingness to be with you tonight, then I apologize. It is not that I didn't desire you...Perhaps I simply let myself get carried away. Your bite was quite extraordinary...and the way in which you held me..." I frowned. I could see from his dubious expression, I was not convincing him for a minute. "...The sensuality of it all and the way your mouth felt upon my skin..." Par bleu, I was only digging myself deeper into a hole as black as a well.

"...And the way you undressed me," Jean-Claude added. "The way your small hands explored my body. The way you clung to me after I had released you....all those sumptuous moans and sighs." He smiled then, quite devilishly. "Perhaps, you simply could not help yourself."

"Rake," I muttered under my breath, blushing hotly.

Still smiling, Jean-Claude turned from me then and walked away. I called after him. I did not want him to leave me. In all truth, I wanted him to come back to me, take me in his arms, and hold me close. He paused at my summons and peered over his shoulder at me.

"Where are you going?" I asked lamely.

"To join Asher," Jean-Claude replied. "I have denied my ardeur once tonight. If it rises again, I will need to feed it. I would rather do so now with him, than later, at a less convenient time or appropriate place." He continued on, slipping out of his robe completely, draping it over a chair just before disappearing through the doorway to the washroom.

My mouth went completely dry at the sight of him. Even that one tantalizing glimpse. I do not know why. As I have mentioned, I have seen him naked before. But I never reacted to him beyond a mere appreciation of his striking beauty. I realized then, my feelings for him were beginning to change. I was so much more aware of him now. Everything he said seemed infinitely more important than before. The smallest gesture he made or a certain look in his eyes seized my attention now. He simply mattered to me more than he ever had. And that realization left me wondering how I could have possibily felt anything less towards him before now.

I sighed heavily and reclined on the settee to wait my turn in the bath. I was alone now. Left to ponder the opportunity I had so astoundingly spurned. Left aroused and wanting. It would have been gloriously torrid. I knew that without a doubt. I closed my eyes, opened my robe, parted my legs, and touched myself.


We found ourselves at the Viscomte de Livre's society ball. It was a splendid, grand affair to announce the engagement of the Viscomte's son to the Lady Elaina from Portugal. Both Asher and Jean-Claude were known in high society and had no trouble garnering an impromptu invitation to the festivities at the door. In fact, our host insisted they were indeed sent a letter of invitation some months back. Whether or not this was true, no one could tell, (I recalled no such letter), but we were pleased to be received tonight nonetheless, and wisely left it at that.

As is usually the case in such mixed social gatherings, Asher and Jean-Claude immediately drew the attentions of every lady in attendance, not to mention the Lady Elaina, and even I had my fair share of young, handsome, albeit tenacious suitors. Asher was quick to lay claim to me however, driving the men away with heated looks, as he swept me off to the dance floor time and time again.

Normally, Jean-Claude indulged himself quite freely at these affairs, dancing in turn with any number of ladies, before departing to the privacy of some darkened, unoccupied chamber with a particular zesty beauty from among his throng of admirers, for an hour or so.

Tonight however, he approached no one, dancing only with the ladies possessing audacity enough to approach him. Graciously he would oblige them, then shortly take his leave, retreating back to the fringe of the gathering to mingle with the men.

I noticed his eyes were never off me very long, for I felt the weight of his gaze everywhere I went about the room. It was only after the Lady Elaina twisted an invitation from Asher to dance with her, and I momentarily found myself without a dance partner, did Jean-Claude come to me. A few eager bachelors hurried to take Asher's place with me, but quickly retreated back to their own partners upon spying Jean-Claude's intent.

Watching him walk towards me fairly took my breath away. There was something in his expression, a determination of sorts, that seemed almost predatory and decidedly virile. I felt the heat rising within me. He too, intended to lay claim to me.

I was soon to discover the Lady Elaina had arranged for the musicians to play a tango, a dance from her native Portugal. I had heard of it, but had never had the opportunity before to dance it, being somewhat of a homebody. Asher and Jean-Claude, with their many travels and experiences, were naturally at ease with the prospect. Besides Elaina's kin, Asher and Jean-Claude appeared to be the only two men present tonight who were capable of executing this daring dance, amusingly enough.

My mouth fell open in surprise and acute trepidation upon hearing it announced. The music began, strange and seductive. I pulled my gaze off of Jean-Claude long enough to glance at Asher sidling up to Elaina. I scowled at the woman, realizing she had fairly schemed to claim Asher for this particular dance. They started to move, so very close, so vapidly intimate, I found myself mesmerized.

It wasn't until Jean-Claude touched me that I turned my attention back to him. He smiled slyly, and locked his arm around my back, pressing my body tightly to his. His eyes full of sultry seduction, he stretched out my arm, and lay his cheek next to mine.

My heart was hammering in my chest and I know my skin had to be red with heat. I tried to relax, swallowing down my tension and took a deep breath.

"Shall we?" Jean-Claude murmured and without waiting for a reply, began the tango.

I felt my body gliding down the length of the floor, dipped, and spun and thrown away, only to be pulled sharply back into Jean-Claude's arms. The way he moved against me, with me, beside me, whipped my passion into an intensity bordering on sexual. Soon my gaze was fastened to his face, for I could not take my eyes off of him. Caught up in the intimacy of it all, I slithered over him as we danced, scandalously hitching up my skirts to entwine his long legs with mine, and grinding my body into his as he lay me back almost to the floor, then snapping me back up with a force that threw me against his chest. Such violence executed with such exquisite grace! Oh, what a provocative performance we gave--but clearly acceptable in upper parts of society in Portugal! I was certain those watching us from the punch bowls were aghast.

"Ah, muy bueno, mi amor," Jean-Claude growled passionately in my ear once the dance had concluded. He released me and bowed before me with a natural elegance.

I stood there, my hand clutching at my pounding heart, flushed and breathless from more than exertion. "That was sublime!" I managed, smiling ecstatically.

Jean-Claude smiled too. "You were sublime, Julianna. I thought you had not tangoed before, yet the moves came to you with practiced ease."

I had to laugh. "I was inspired," I told him and reached out to him.

"As I," he whispered thickly in reply, his expression sobering.

Gazing into his lovely eyes, I found myself leaning towards him, my lips seeking his. I kissed him then, softly, savoringly until his mouth began to move over mine.

Slowly, his arms folded around my back and I pressed myself against him. He tightened his grasp, clutching me as though he would never let me go.

I did not want him to let me go. This was the sweetest, most ethereal kiss we had ever shared and I wanted it to last forever. For the first time, there was something beyond affection, beyond desire, in the way we embraced. I wanted him to kiss me this way always. From that moment on, I knew I would never settle for anything less.

I was so swept away, I did not notice Asher standing beside me until he tactfully cleared his throat. Jean-Claude instantly pulled away from me and stepped back. He blinked up at Asher and smoothed his hands down the front of his coat somewhat anxiously.

"If I had happened upon Julianna so embracing any other man but you, Jean-Claude, I might be forced to take up a sword to determine my lady's honor," Asher said and smiled. Affectionately, he reached out and trailed the back of his hand down the side of Jean-Claude's face. "I did give you my blessing, mon ami," he continued softly. "And I see you are indeed making some progress."

Jean-Claude's eyes flicker to me. I looked back at him and smiled.

"Some," he replied a little breathlessly.

Asher smiled and threw his arm over his shoulder amiably. "All in due time, mon ami. There is, without a doubt, a certain zeal between you and her. I managed to steal a glance at the two of you dancing." Here he paused and placed his hand over his heart, his eyes glazing with desire. "Scintillating...to say least. I was nearly overcome to the point I could not concentrate on what I was doing and almost faltered. Gratefully, the Lady Elaina was too fascinated by me to notice." Asher frowned suddenly and looked her way. "We should probably bid our host adieu before his offspring gets the inclination to take up a sword and challenge me to determine her honor. The Lady is quite...uninhibited, despite her new betrothal and I believe the young man will have his hands full with that one."

Neither Jean-Claude nor I were particularly listening to Asher anymore. We simply kept gazing at each other. But the other guests were approaching us now, milling excitedly around us with admiration and awe at the way we had danced. Questions and many propositions filled the air. We fielded them the best we could until it all became a little overwhelming, then we politely took our leave of them.

It was Jean-Claude who took my hand, lacing his fingers through mine as we made our way out into one of the gardens opposite the main gates. He plucked off a sprig of juniper and tucked the small spray in my hair behind my ear. I smiled, touching the tiny evergreen with my fingertips.

"It is not one of Belle's roses, but it is soft, and fragrant," Jean-Claude whispered. "The deep green of its color looks lovely in your hair. A fitting crown for such natural beauty as yours, ma cherie. No jeweled princess could ever compare."

"Thank you," I whispered back and squeezed his hand. I could feel myself blushing at his compliment. I wanted him to find me beautiful.

Asher came to stand beside us and put his arm around my shoulder, then leaned over to kiss my cheek. "Did you have a nice time tonight, little princess?"

"Yes! I have had a wonderful time, but I must confess, I am ready to go home and put my feet up," I told Asher, leaning into him. "And get out of these clothes."

Asher said nothing but flashed a smile which was entirely masculine with innuendo.

I rolled my eyes in feigned exasperation. "I only meant that I would prefer something a little more comfortable. I adore my finery, but it becomes rather constricting after awhile." Turning my gaze fondly upon Asher, I reached up and patted his hand on my shoulder. "Get me out of these clothes. Then who knows. We'll just let come what may."

Truthfully, I could think of no better way to cap off such a grand evening than huddling in bed with my two sumptuous men to let come what may. I smiled my own insinuations, feeling more than a little hopeful, not to mention decadent, at the moment. But out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Jean-Claude bowed his head and turned away slightly. I faced him fully, but his expression was unreadable.

To my surprise, he stepped away from us and gestured towards the doors we had just come through. "If you do not mind, Asher, I believe I will linger here awhile longer," he said quietly. "You two go on. There is a young lady here who has piqued my interest tonight. I should very much like to stay and make her acquaintance."

My mouth fell open. I felt my heart sink and the color drain from my face upon hearing Jean-Claude voice his intentions. Suddenly I was confused and angry, and a little hurt as well. Apparently what we shared tonight had not stirred his heart as it had mine. Not his heart anyway, and not for me, but someone else.

"Of course," Asher said casually, thinking nothing of such a thing, as men often do. "Go. Enjoy yourself, mon ami."

Jean-Claude nodded and he spared a quick glance at me. "I intend to," he replied, rather coolly.

Truly incensed now, I wiggled out of Asher's grasp, and stepped up to Jean-Claude, practically under his nose. "By all means, go. Enjoy yourself. I am so pleased I could be of some service to you tonight," I began sarcastically, not bothering to disguise my irritation.

The look which crossed Jean-Claude's face now was beyond words. "And what exactly do you mean by that, dear Julianna?" he answered tightly. "You will have Asher tonight. Please, do not spare a thought for me. There are dozens of comely little ladies here with no one to love. I will quickly find someone to amuse myself with. There is no reason why I should have to be alone tonight."

I knew then he was nearly fit to be tied. So angry was he, in fact, I found his unwavering gaze practically scalding, but why he was upset with me, I hadn't a clue. I was the one who was being spurned. I swallowed thickly, unnerved, but I was determined to have this out. After all, I was angry too.

"You are a shameless, wanton creature, Jean-Claude! After one dance and one kiss, now you are...prepared, if you will, to lavish your attentions on some nameless little lech!" Sidling up to him, I pressed my hand between his legs and cruelly squeezed him, forcing myself to laugh. "Ah, indeed you are!"

Jean-Claude jerked away from me with a startled, but quite fierce snarl that bared his fangs. Something I had never seen him do before. I think it made my heart miss a beat. Placing my hand upon my breast, I gaped up at him. He stared back at me now saddened and ashamed. Asher immediately stepped between us. He pushed me behind him and glowered at Jean-Claude.

"Whatever this is regarding," Asher seethed, addressing us both, "this is neither the time nor the place to vent it!" He turned and cast me a sharp look of rebuke, then faced Jean-Claude and roughly seized his jaw in his hand, forcing him to look up into his eyes. "If you are going, then go. In fact, stay away." He released him with a slight shove before turning back to me and taking hold of my arm. "Come, let us say our farewells and return home."

Asher started dragging me off, but I pulled against him in protest, my heart seizing with remorse. I couldn't leave Jean-Claude like this. I had to try to apologize. I truly did not know I could be so mean and did not have the faintest inkling where such ruthlessness had come from.

I only knew I had felt used and betrayed by Jean-Claude's intentions of seeking a lover tonight and was very nearly consumed by a kind of jealousy I had never felt towards him before. I did not want him with another woman, I wanted him to come home with Asher and me. No doubt he and Asher would make love and Asher and I would make love and then, perhaps....All I knew was I wanted to look upon Jean-Claude tonight the way I looked upon Asher; to touch him, kiss him...experience him.

Suddenly it occurred to me that Jean-Claude had been lying, for I had been watching him nearly as closely as he had been watching me all evening. There was no one he had even remotely shown any interest in. I doubted he even wanted to remain here. All this was simply an excuse to leave, but what had prompted it?

"You're lying!" I snapped, freeing myself from Asher's grip, and rushing up to Jean-Claude. "There is no one here you seek! You only seek to be away from us! Why? I insist you tell me this instant!"

"Ju-li-anna!" Asher growled, accenting each syllable of my name as he had a habit of doing when he was truly upset with me.

Resolutely, I ignored him and fixed my gaze on Jean-Claude's face. He would not look at me however, but I could see the glassiness of unshed tears in his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was soft, his anger since replaced by despair.

"What does it matter?" he whispered and shrugged slightly. He looked at me then and a single tear spilled down his cheek.

My heart fairly broke in two at the sight. I reached out to him and tenderly wiped the tear away, then stretched up on my toes and gently kissed his moist cheek. He sighed raggedly and grasped my hand, but only to push me away.

"Don't, Julianna, please," he begged, edging away from me. "Leave me alone. Go home with Asher. It is Asher you want, it is he whom you adore. I will content myself with your pity."

I blinked up at him unhappily. "I want to love you too," I murmured. I did. I did so want to love him.

Jean-Claude shook his head. "You do not love me! You never will love me! Your heart belongs to Asher and I was foolish to seek even a diminutive piece of it. No matter what I do, I am unable to stir anything from you beyond lust and I cannot even maintain hold of that. I can touch you and kiss you, yet time and again it is Asher you turn to." He paused momentarily and licked his lips in agitation. "I am the one who primes you for him, ma cherie." He turned slightly and looked up at Asher. "She is ready. Enjoy yourself, mon ami." With that he turned on his heel and strode off before either of us could say another word to him.

It was only then did I realize what I had done to set him off. I did turn to Asher. It was he I smiled so slyly at, gazed so adoringly upon when I spoke of letting come what may. I suppose I merely assumed Jean-Claude would realize I meant him as well, but then how could he have?

I closed my eyes tightly and sighed heavily. What a mess I had made of things. I had all but shredded Jean-Claude's feelings--hurt him deeply, in fact. It made me wonder if he would continue to court me. Realistically, I did not believe he would and mourned the lost opportunity between us to have shared something real and wonderful.

Asher brushed against my back and put his arms around me. He hugged me tightly and pressed a soft kiss on my temple.

"What am I going to do with the two of you?" he whispered in my ear and sighed. "Come along, Julianna. There is nothing either of us can say or do tonight to amend this situation. We will have to let him be for now."

I turned around in Asher's arms until I was facing him, then began to cry, burying my face against his chest. He held me close and stroked my hair soothingly, but I could not be comforted this time.

"I do not know what has come over me lately!" I lamented miserably. "I am so confused anymore. I have never felt so possessive of Jean-Claude. I don't understand what made me strike out at him like that. What do I care if he takes a lover?"

Asher kissed my forehead. "If it is any consolation, I do believe you are right about him. He seeks no lover tonight. He has gone off to sulk."

I shook my head. "I crave his attention and approval now as I crave yours. I find myself trying to capture his gaze, longing for him touch me, wanting him near me in ways I had never contemplated before. When he is away from me now, I feel almost incomplete. Do you feel incomplete without him?"

Asher sighed heavily. "...A little, yes, for he takes a part of me with him wherever he goes. Then I am so madly in love with him." Asher paused and peered down at me curiously. "Ma cherie, it sounds to me as if you are in love as well."

I wiped at my drizzling eyes and sniffed indelicately. "No, Asher. That is impossible. He has only courted me these past two nights and they have been so wrought with emotion, we clash more than concur."

Raising his brow, Asher smiled easily. "I have said before, you two are quite zealous together, but then you and I are very much the same. I believe such passion stems from--"

"Love?" I could barely make myself say the word, but there was a truth to what Asher said. I had to consider it.

"Perhaps, cherie, your love for Jean-Claude grew over time. It did not happen over the course of a single night. Only now do you both realize how important you are to one another. So important it hurts. To think the one you hold so close to your heart, does not feel the same can be unbearable."

I closed my eyes and lay my head upon Asher's chest. "Do you believe my love for him has only gotten deeper, then?"

I felt Asher nod. "As his love for you deepened with time."

Tears began welling in my eyes. I sniffed again, loudly, fighting desperately not to cry. Grasping the lapels of Asher's waistcoat, I twisted them fitfully in my hands.

"But he has lost all hope. He has given up on me. Therefore, I have lost his love as well."

"He hasn't given up, Julianna," Asher assured me. "Jean-Claude is far too arrogant to be discouraged for long. And he is too much in love with you. He will just have to learn the virtue of patience."

I looked up into Asher's eyes. "He won't have to be patient if he just comes home."

"Now, cherie, do not worry," Asher whispered in my ear. "He will return to us. His love will bring him home in time."

I know that was meant to be reassuring, but thinking of how much Jean-Claude loved us only made me cry more.


Sleep evaded me. With my head cradled in the pocket of Asher's shoulder, I yawned and snuggled closer to him, but his body was cooling now, for the power which brought him to life at dusk had left him with the coming dawn.

He was so beautiful, I marveled, letting my eyes drift over his naked body, while running my fingers through his long blonde hair. My gaze caressed every sinewy curve, down his well-muscled abdomen to his groin and the thick curls of coppery gold still moist and glistening from our lovemaking. He had been so tender, so gentle. Every touch was meant to soothe more than stir. His kisses burned with love; his body gave shelter; his passion offered peace. Afterwards, he had stayed with me to hold me close for he knew I did not want to be left alone. Morning had taken him from me, but in a sense he was still with me.

I stroked his smooth masculine chest and wrapped my leg around his thigh. How grateful I was to have someone like him love me. He was so kind, so thoughtful, so understanding. His love gave me the greatest joy I had ever known. He was truly My Heart. He was my everything.

Did he feel the same for me? There was no doubt in my mind, yet I knew, despite his tremendous love for me, he also loved Jean-Claude. Asher had shown me it was possible to possess love enough for two people. At first, the prospect of loving Jean-Claude the way I loved Asher seemed unfathomable, but now I was beginning to accept the reality of my feelings. I could love Jean-Claude as I loved Asher.

I beginning to accept the fact that I already loved him that way. In that respect, Asher had been correct. In a way the idea appealed to me, yet in another way, it disturbed me. It is trying enough to care for one person so deeply you do not think you can possibly live without him, but to care for two that way was positively frightening. Perhaps that is why I resisted the idea. I did not want Jean-Claude's love at first, but now, imagining the love he could give me, filled my heart to overflowing. I would be loved as no woman ever has--by two of the sweetest, most romantic, considerate, not to mention devastatingly handsome men on the face of the earth.

Well, vampires anyway. I had met my fair share of vampires in all my time spent with Asher, and I can personally attest to the fact that Asher and Jean-Claude were two of the nicest. Most were mean-spirited, sadistic, and down-right insane. I do believe Asher and Jean-Claude's love for each other gave them a certain insight of compassion. Love enabled them to endure the prospect of eternity. Love is what makes them strong, for even a mortal lifetime spent without knowing true love can be unbearable. Vampires could live for centuries. I tried to think of how tormented an immortal existence would be without someone to love and could not even imagine it.

Here I was, merely missing the piece of my heart which Jean-Claude had claimed for himself, and I was miserable. He had not returned home before dawn. He had no other safe place to go during the day that I knew of, and I could not help but worry and wonder what happened to him after he left us last night.

Oh! If only I could fall asleep! Asher was lucky in that respect. At least he wasn't worried anymore.

A small sound coming from beyond the bedroom door made me look up. Portia, I thought. She was already busy with the daily chores. I rolled away from Asher and scooted off the bed. Perhaps I could persuade Portia to make me some lemon tea and sit and talk to me for a little while. Sometimes it was nice talking to another woman.

I slid into Asher's robe--mine was beyond salvaging--and padded out into the parlor. I fairly startled poor Portia coming upon her the way I did. Normally everyone in the household was beyond waking at this time in the morning.

"Mademoiselle! What are you doing still up and about?" Portia asked. She was sweeping the floor in the kitchenette, clearing away the last remnants of my tantrum from the night before. "What on earth happened here? It looks as though a storm went through."

I grimaced. "No, just me. It is a long story," I said, dismissing it with a wave of my hand. "If you wouldn't mind, could I beg of you a cup of tea? I cannot fall asleep and I think something warm to drink might soothe me."

Portia immediately stopped what she was doing and put the blackened kettle on the fire to heat the water. "We shall need another pot," she went on. "This one has been scorched and will not heat well anymore. Will you tell the monsieurs? I'd be happy to purchase one if they leave me a note."

I swallowed thickly and sat down at the table. "I'll tell them."

Portia bustled around me, setting out a cup and saucer, and prepared the tea leaves and condiments. Then much to my surprise, she all but slapped her hand upon my forehead and peered into my eyes with a look of undisclosed concern. I scowled at her and squirmed away.

"What are doing?"

"I thought to check mademoiselle for the fever," she explained. "If you do not mind my saying, you look a little flushed this morning."

"I am not sick. Only bone tired and...troubled," I admitted. I leaned forward and propped my head up in my hand, resting my elbow on the table. "Jean-Claude did not come home this morning. Neither Asher nor I know where he went. He left us...last night."

"Monsieur Jean is with Our Lady," Portia relayed as casually as if she had been commenting on the weather.

My heart felt as though it skipped a beat just then. I stared up at Portia, my mouth falling open in dismay. "Belle Morte?"

"Oui, Mademoiselle. I saw him arrive for I happened to be at Court last night. I know the mistress sent him a letter. She summoned him, non?" Portia turned from me and fetched the kettle from the fire and busied herself preparing my tea.

I took hold of her arm to stop her. I wasn't interested in tea anymore. "It wasn't a summons we received but an invitation. We were to appear before her tonight for an unveiling of a portrait. He went to her last night of his own accord."

Portia frowned slightly. "Am I to stay on this evening to help you dress? I received no instructions but will be pleased to assist in anyway I can."

Now I frowned. "I suppose, though I confess, I could not care less how I appear before that woman. I wish with all my heart I did not have to go to her tonight. But Asher will need me with him...and I must speak with Jean-Claude." I could feel my throat tighten with emotion. My eyes began stinging with tears. "Oh, Portia, what an absolute mess I have made of things with him. I was so cruel to him last night, but I was beside myself with jealousy. And now my heart aches for him. I would give anything to have him with me now. To take him in my arms and soothe away his pain....Tell him that I love him." My tears were streaming down my face now and my chest was so tight I could scarcely breathe. "If only I had told him so last night, but I did not recognize what I was feeling, or would not recognize it! He would not be with Belle Morte now if he knew how much I loved him."

Portia sighed heavily and tried to comfort me, rubbing my back soothingly. "Mademoiselle, do not blame yourself. Sometimes we cannot see what is so obvious. It is like the nose upon your face. We cannot see it, even though it is right there. Most of the time we are not even aware of it, yet others see it. I am certain Monsieur Jean has seen it too for it has been there all along."

I peered up at the maid through my watery eyes. "My nose?" It was such an endearingly amusing analogy, I had to smile. But the truth of it struck me down deep. "You knew, didn't you? You saw my love for him long ago."

Portia smiled at me and nodded. "I do not see mademoiselle very often, but I knew. The times you spoke of him to me, so dreamy-eyed and wistful, praising his manner and charm. His admitted love for you has been like a tap on the nose. It has only made you realize what has been a part of you all along."

"That diminutive piece of my heart," I whispered, recalling Jean-Claude's words. I wiped at my face with my hand and leaned forward to give Portia a hug. "Thank you. I think I will sleep now."

Portia hugged me back. "Sleep well, Mademoiselle. I will see you again when you rise."

I nodded and stood up. "Dear Portia. Wise beyond your tender years," I murmured as I stumbled off to bed.


I told Asher about Jean-Claude being with Belle Morte. He said nothing--conveyed nothing, for his face became that expressionless visage that told me he was more troubled by the news than he wanted me to know.

Neither one of us were feeling very sociable or festive when we arrived at Court. The courtiers were quick to greet Asher, if you can include such things as sexual propositions, taunts, and outright threats, as greetings. It was like this more often than not. Asher's authority was constantly being challenged or his favor supplicated. His exchange with the other vampires and their servants was an endless array of off-handed, understated insults and harassment. Within a matter of minutes, I was reduced to clinging to Asher's arm like a frightened, lost child. I knew the other vampires would not or could not truly hurt us. It was all for show. But there was one vampire here tonight who would and could hurt us if so inclined. Belle Morte.

She sat at the end of the great hall, looking spectacularly beautiful in a dark and sinister sort of way. From her position she could observe the entire room and everyone in it, overseeing the events of the night without the slightest effort.

Asher came before her and presented himself with a low, sweeping bow. I stood a little off to his left and managed a somewhat stiff curtsy. I barely heard what they said to each other, for I was too preoccupied scanning the hall for any sign of Jean-Claude. It was all pretentious praise and flattery anyway. A sure way to stay within Belle's graces was to carry on about her stunning beauty and desirability. Vain creature that she was, she drank it all down like...blood.

"Of course I remember your servant," Belle Morte assured Asher.

I turned to face her once more upon hearing this reference to me. She offered me a somewhat thin smile and made a gesture towards me with her bejeweled hand.

"Come, little one. Sit beside me."

Swallowing down any objection, I stepped forward and looked around for a vacant chair next to her, but naturally there was none. Apparently she meant for me to sit on the floor at her feet. I sighed heavily and looked up at Asher.

He already had come to that conclusion and offered me his hand to assist me to the floor with some relative grace. I ended up having to fold my legs under me, my long skirt pooling in blue waves like water all around me.

"Ah, splendid!" Belle Morte smiled and reached down to touch my hair. "Fair Julianna. The light of my Asher's heart." With that she rose to her feet and approached Asher, leaving me all but trapped on the floor now until someone helped me back up.

Infuriatingly, she sidled up to Asher and took his head in her hands, then kissed him, forcefully enough to bend him backwards, nearly driving him to his knees. I lowered my gaze to the floor in front of me and tried to take several deep, steadying breaths. Maybe I would feel differently about Belle Morte if I knew she actually loved Asher, but there was no doubt in my mind, she did not. Never, in all the time I had known her had I ever seen her demonstrate anything even remotely resembling love for him. To hear her talk, you would be led to believe he was the very center of her world. But I knew better. She lusted after him and used him because he was resourceful, but that was the extent of her real feelings for him. In her twisted mind, she had convinced herself that was loving him. Oh, how I hated her.

Finally, she released Asher and turned to look at me as if gauging my reaction to her audacity. I forced myself to meet her eyes.

"Why, Asher, my love, one would think your servant does not feel displaced by our passion," she purred, passing her hands over his chest. She leaned over and nibbled on his ear, all the while keeping her eyes fixed on me. "Could it be her so-called love for you wanes? Could it be her heart burns for another? After all, it has come to my attention that you have a rival for her affections."

I knew immediately who she spoke of. Asher knew too for he turned his gaze on me, his expression entreating. I took another deep breath and looked away again. It was all I could do to keep from struggling to my feet and launching myself at her snake-colored eyes.

"Jean-Claude is not my rival," Asher replied quietly.

Belle Morte only laughed. "Do you not consider Jean-Claude capable of stealing your servant's heart? I would not underestimate him, dear Asher. Jean-Claude can be quite...persuasive at times."

Asher shook his head, his long golden hair billowing around his face like the rays of the sun. "Jean-Claude is in love with Julianna," Asher stated. "But he seeks only part of her heart for himself."

Belle turned her attention back on me now. "Is the human heart capable of such love? I love many, but then I am Belle Morte. My love knows no bounds as fair Asher can attest. Can you love Jean-Claude and love Asher too?"

Without hesitation, I nodded. "I do love him."

Belle Morte frowned now. She looked up at Asher, decidedly unhappy. "What is it about this girl the two of you find so appealing? She is somewhat pleasant to look upon, but her beauty is dull compared to mine. What can she possibly offer you that I have not? I have given you, and Jean-Claude, pleasure beyond your wildest dreams. You cannot tell me you find her more desirable than I."

Asher bowed his head momentarily, then faced Belle, and stepped towards her. "Love," he said softly. "She gives us love."

"I give you love!" Belle Morte exclaimed indignantly. "I give you wealth and power too."

Asher did not reply. He knew there was no end to this argument. He would never make Belle understand. To my surprise, he stretched out his hand to me. I took it, somewhat hesitantly, glancing up at Belle. Asher pulled me to my feet.

"Come Julianna."

Belle Morte glared at me, then turned to face Asher. "Where are you going?"

Asher drew me into his arms and brushed his lips across my forehead. "I am going to find Jean-Claude."

Belle snorted rather unladylike through her nose. "You may see him after the unveiling."

"I did not come here for the unveiling," Asher growled. "I came to get Jean-Claude."

"Well, you cannot have him."

Asher and I both froze. We watched Belle resume her seat and carefully arrange her gown around her, too stunned to say or do anything else. Finally, Belle Morte looked up at us and smiled.

"Jean-Claude gave himself to me last night," she began with an insinuating lick of her dark red lips. "It had been a long time since he and I were last together, but we soon recalled the sweetness of our passion. I bestowed ample rewards upon him for his devotion. I made sure he knew how pleased I was he had returned to my bed." Here she paused and cast a withering look at me. "I made him forget about you."

What she was saying might have been true, it was difficult to tell with Belle Morte. But I found I could not look at her any longer and took refuge behind Asher. My eyes were misting, but I absolutely refused to let her see me cry. I leaned against Asher, drawing from his strength and could feel his heart pounding inside him. He took a deep breath and began to speak. His voice was soft, sultry, and seductive.

"Understandable as that may be, for what man can resist such erotic confection? However, I only wish to speak with him for a moment or two--merely to clear up a certain misunderstanding between us. I would not presume a single conversation with me will entice him away from the graces of your favor. Therefore, neither should you, Milady."

Belle Morte smiled slowly, pleased by Asher's reasoning. "Oh, very well. He will have been returned to my chambers by now. You may seek him there."

Asher and I exchanged startled glances. I took Asher's hand and squeezed it tightly. We both knew that could mean any number of things and more than likely, nothing very pleasant.

Asher forced himself to smile back at Belle. "I must beg one more indulgence."

The smile on Belle's face faded. "You are trying my patience, Asher. What is it you wish from me now?"

I felt Asher's body tense against mine and his grip tighten on my hand. "You know you need only summon Jean-Claude and he will come to you. I do not hold such sway over him. To make matters worse, he is unhappy with me, and I am sure he will not wish to return to me of his own accord. That is why I ask you give him back to me, if only for appearances. To let him know it is your power and your power alone which decides his fate."

Oh, what a way with words Asher had! I knew exactly what he was doing, downright manipulating Belle into releasing Jean-Claude, but naturally, she only grasped his praise.

She pursed her full lips and waved her hand dismissively through the air. "Take him. With my blessing."

Asher was careful to release the breath he had been holding with an imperceptible slowness, but pressed to him as tightly as I was, I was able to detect his relief. He bowed gracefully and blew her a kiss before turning on his heel and making a hasty retreat before she could change her mind.


I dogged Asher's every step, still clinging to him like a frightened child, making him move through the darkened halls much slower than I am sure he would have preferred.

We came to Belle's chambers after what seemed like an eternity and stopped to address the sentry at her doors.

Asher knew the man, though I had never laid eyes upon him before. He told him he was under orders, no less, to collect the vampire Jean-Claude and take him away.

The sentry, a wereleopard by the name of Johannes, merely grinned and waved us inside, so apparently Jean-Claude had indeed been "returned" to Belle's chambers.

At first we did not see him, so Asher and I split up, each of us taking opposite rooms. I was the one who found him. I screamed for Asher over my shoulder and rushed into the room, gathering my skirts into my hands.

Jean-Claude was lying on Belle's bed face down where he had more than likely been deposited. His bare back was covered in dried blood. The pants he wore were blood-stained down to his hips and there was blood smeared on Belle Morte's yellow silk sheets. He'd obviously been beaten recently for the grievious wounds inflicted upon him had only begun to heal.

I knelt carefully beside him on the bed and reached out to stroke the side of his face. His eyes fluttered open and but were so glazed with pain I don't think he actually saw me at first.

"Jean-Claude, it's Julianna."

He swallowed thickly and licked his lips. "...Dreaming?" he asked, his normally melodious voice was hoarse and raw sounding.

I leaned down and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. "No, you are not dreaming." Then: "Do vampires dream?"

The faintest shadow of a smile flickered over his face. "I dream of many things."

Asher was beside me now. He looked down at his lover as though his heart had just been rent in two. "Mon dieu," he breathed and spared a glance at me. "Jean-Claude, you must get up, mon amour. We have to get you out of here." He reached down and trailed his fingers delicately over the younger vampire's arm. His wrists were cut and bruised and Asher took care not to touch any of Jean-Claude's wounds. Taking his hand, Asher laced his fingers through Jean-Claude's and squeezed gently. "Come. You can lean on me."

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Jean-Claude carefully rolled to his side and let Asher pull him up. As soon as he was upright, he swayed alarmingly however, and slumped against Asher's chest panting with

pain. Asher covered Jean-Claude's face with kisses and brushed the damp tendrils of hair from his eyes.

Slowly, Jean-Claude raised his arms and folded them around Asher's neck. "Mon amour," he breathed against Asher's cheek. "Thank you for that."

Asher's eyes watered. He closed them tightly for a moment and bit his lower lip. "My beautiful, Jean-Claude," Asher whispered in his ear. "I love you. I will love you always."

Jean-Claude leaned back, just far enough to look into Asher's eyes. Asher bowed his head, parting his lips to kiss him. Silently, I watched them together. I could feel the moment their lips touched and their soft, sinking pressure. Was there anything more beautiful? This sweet, sultry kiss, so full of their love and adoration for each other. This was their moment, and as much as I longed to bestow such a kiss on Jean-Claude myself, I would not intrude.

"Can you stand?" Asher said quietly, after they had parted.

Jean-Claude smiled. "From the whipping, I believe so...from your kiss, I am not so certain."

Asher returned his smile, but it did not reach his eyes. "Why did she have you beaten, Jean-Claude? What did you do?"

For a moment, Jean-Claude lowered his eyes, then he raised them and peered over at me. "I confided in her."

I glanced up at Asher. He looked back at me and sighed heavily. I leaned forward slightly and reached out to touch Jean-Claude's face.

"About me?" That explained Belle's indignation earlier.

Placing his hand over mine, Jean-Claude nodded slowly. "She knew I was troubled when I came to her last night. I...could not go home, and truly had no where else to go."

"What did you tell her?" Asher inquired.

Facing Asher once more, Jean-Claude frowned. "I told her I was in love with Julianna and sought her love in return, but it was not working out the way I had hoped. Through the night, Belle listened to me and appeared to be quite sympathetic. She took me to her bed and made love to me so tenderly, I believed she truly was trying to console my shattered heart." Here he paused and licked his lips apprehensively. "I woke this evening however, chained to a board."

"You made Belle jealous," Asher pointed out needlessly.

Jean-Claude fought not to smile. "So it would seem."

Asher slid off the bed and motioned for me to do the same. I took hold of Jean-Claude's left hand as Asher took his right and between the two of us, we managed to get him standing. I felt Jean-Claude squeeze my hand. He raised it to his lips and kissed my knuckles.

"Do not look so somber, ma cherie," he said a little breathlessly. "This was only a lesson in etiquette."

I lowered my eyes and shook my head. "A lesson? And what, pray tell, did you learn from being whipped senseless?"

Asher looked over at me and narrowed his eyes. "You are a woman, you figure it out."

My jaw slackened and dropped. If I could have put my hands on my hips, I would have. "What is that supposed to mean? I do not tenderly make love to a man one night and then order him ripped to shreds the next."

"If Jean-Claude has learned anything from this whipping, it is never to sing the praises of one woman to another. Especially if the latter is Belle Morte." Asher paused and glanced at Jean-Claude. "Am I correct?"

Jean-Claude nodded.

"Jealousy can provoke even the sweetest, most-kind hearted woman to real evil, ma cherie," Asher went on. He wore a peculiar expression on his face as he gazed over at me. It was almost as if he were telling me to take a look in the mirror. "I am referring to what happened last night at the Viscomte's ball."

I could feel the heat reddening my cheeks at Asher's accusation. "That was different. Do not place me alongside a creature such as Belle Morte just because I am a woman. Her jealousy stems from her vanity. I am jealous because I care, because I love..." I caught myself just in time. "...So deeply."

"...Jealous?" Jean-Claude repeated softly, somewhat belatedly comprehending the point Asher was making. He peered curiously over at me, but I was suddenly too ashamed to look him in the eye.

Asher sighed heavily. "Come. Let us leave this place before Belle suddenly changes her mind." Asher paused and unexpectedly glared at me. "Another hellish woman's perrogative," he muttered. And I knew that was directed at me.

He was clearly unhappy with me now. I was more than aware of what he was trying to incite me to do, or say, rather, but the time just wasn't right. I could not just blurt out my feelings. Jean-Claude would probably see it as just a means to placate him after his ordeal here tonight.

Releasing Jean-Claude's hand, Asher shed his coat and gingerly placed it over Jean-Claude's shoulders.

"Can you walk, mon ami?" His voice was soft again, soothing.

Prying his eyes off me, Jean-Claude turned to Asher and nodded. With that, we started off.


Asher would not speak to me. Clearly he did not understand why I had not yet told Jean-Claude I loved him. Truthfully, I was beginning to wonder that myself. We had been home for nearly two hours. In that time, Asher had paid a prostitute to come and feed Jean-Claude. Jean-Claude had bathed and Asher had dressed the deeper wounds on his back that had yet to heal. All the while, I sat on the settee, too overcome with guilt and shame to even approach Jean-Claude, let alone speak to him.

It was only after Jean-Claude had slipped off into the bedroom murmuring something about a headache and closed the door behind him, that Asher finally turned his attention to me. I could tell by the way he stood towering over me with his hands on his hips, I was in for a tongue-lashing. No doubt Jean-Claude had merely sensed the tension emanating between us and sought to give us some time alone together.

"What is the matter, Julianna?" Asher began. "You have not spoken to Jean-Claude all night."

I blinked up at him. I could feel my bottom lip trembling. "I am sorry," I whispered.

Asher rolled his eyes in exasperation. "You are apologizing to the wrong vampire, ma cherie." He made a sharp gesture with his hand towards the bedroom. "The one you need to speak to is in there. Go talk to him. Now."

I winced at his command. He wasn't in the habit of ordering me to do things and when he did it always caught me by surprise. Disobeying him was not an option.

I rose to my feet, my hands twisting the material of my dress in knots. "But I don't know what to say to him!" I moaned. "I am so confused as to how to amend this situation I fear I may mess things up between us even more."

"Three little words," Asher growled. "I. Love. You. Remember, love conquers all. Give it a try. What have you got to lose?"

"Him!" I shot back. "I could lose him. So I tell him I love him, that I've always loved him. He will not believe me now. Not after what has happened to him. He will assume I have come to him out of sympathy."

"Then find some way to convince him! You owe him this, Julianna! Do not let him go on thinking his love for you is in vain." Asher paused and dragged his hand through his hair, pushing his long bangs off his face.

I turned away from him and tried desperately to come up with something to say to Asher to appease him. I nearly gnawed my lip to pieces before an idea struck me. "Jean-Claude has not spoken to me either. Perhaps he doesn't want to talk to me. Perhaps he is angry with me." I tentatively turned around and peered up at Asher hopefully.

Shaking his head, Asher sighed. "That is because he believes you are still angry with him. You did not part on the best terms the night before."

I knitted my brow with frustration. "Neither did you!"

Asher swore hotly and stepped up to me, grabbing my arm. "I made my peace with him. Now it is your turn. At the very least, Julianna, go tell him you are sorry and let him know you are no longer angry with him."

"How do you know he thinks I am angry with him?" I protested.

"Because he told me as much when I was washing his back," Asher stated. He tightened his grip on my arm and steered me towards the bedroom.

It was hopeless. I was never going to reason my way out of this and my stalling was just making Asher mad at me. A thousand thoughts were suddenly racing through my head. I tried to pick out the appropriate one to let Asher know I would concede to his wishes, but what came out of my mouth was anything but.

"The kettle needs replacing."

Asher stared down at me, puzzled. "What?"

"The kettle," I said, gesturing towards the washroom. "Portia says we need a new one. The old one is scorched and does not heat properly now." I am not sure what made me think of the kettle. Perhaps it was the mention of Asher washing Jean-Claude's back. Surely he would have noticed the kettle when he had heated the water.

Asher let his hand fall from my arm. He looked dazed, but nodded his head slowly. "Fine. Yes. Of course. If that is so much more important to you, so be it." He turned on his heel and strode towards the door, snatching up his cloak on the way.

I gaped at him in surprise. "Where are you going?"

Asher threw open the door and turned to face me. "I'm going to purchase a new kettle."

"But...there are no markets open at this time of night!" I pointed out.

"I will find one," Asher rumbled. "Even if I have to go to Milan. Or London. Or...Cairo!" With that, he ducked out and slammed the door, rattling the small decor on the walls.

All of a sudden, I was alone. I swallowed down the tightness in my throat and grasped my head in my hand. Before I could stop myself, I screamed at the top of my lungs, filling the empty room with the sound of my frustration.

Jean-Claude came flying out of the bedroom in such haste, he had not bothered to put on a robe. Suddenly he was standing naked before me, with such a look of shock on his face, he scared me. He looked around the parlor once before fixing his dark eyes on me.

"I heard a scream," he said, somewhat hesitantly.

Placing my hand over my pounding heart, I frowned and bowed my head. "I'm sorry. Did I disturb you?" I asked in a small, childlike voice.

"Ah...no, it's just that..." He paused and looked me over carefully. "Are you all right? Where is Asher?"

I gestured towards the door, wiping roughly at my watering eyes. "Egypt!" I snapped. "To buy a kettle!"

I stomped past him over to the fireplace and wrapped my arms around myself, feeling chilled and miserable. I started to cry, great hitching sobs. Sometimes it seemed I would never learn any lessons when it came to managing Asher. Time and again, I pushed him away when I needed him close to me. The irony of it struck me, as did the similarity, for I had begun to do the same with Jean-Claude. The three of us were so damned passionate, we made war like we made love. With extreme passion.

Jean-Claude walked over to me and tentatively placed his hand on my shoulder. "No, no tears, cherie, please. You know I cannot bear to see you cry."

I turned towards him and looked up at him dejectedly. He opened his arms and I all but threw myself into them, burying my face against his chest. He sighed heavily and kissed the top of my head softly.

"Did you and Asher have a fight?" he questioned quietly. He passed his hand over my back soothing.

I nodded and whimpered, trying to calm myself enough to speak. I distractedly traced the smattering of hair on Jean-Claude's chest with my fingers, cuddling as close to him as I could get.

"I hate it when we fight," I mumbled.

"I do too," he confessed. "All that passion can surely be put to better use."

At that I smiled. "Passion, yes."

Jean-Claude shrugged slightly. "Misplaced emotion, then. Arguing stirs the emotions into something...unrecognizable. Our feelings for each other is what makes these battles so passionate."

"I was thinking how ironic it all was," I replied.

"Yes," Jean-Claude said in a single exhaled breath. "It is always the ones you love the most you tend to lash out at."

I took a deep, steadying breath. "The way I lashed out at you the night before."

Jean-Claude grew very still against me. I do not even think he was breathing. "Asher accused you of being jealous..."

Nodding reluctantly, I pushed myself away from him and turned to face the fire. "I was. When I thought you were leaving me to go to another woman, I was incensed."

"But you did not believe me," Jean-Claude said, his voice getting quieter still. He crossed his arms over his chest and rested his chin on his wrist.

"I did at first, until I realized you were only trying to get away from Asher and me. I was jealous of your concocted lover."

"I was jealous too. Of Asher." Jean-Claude winced at the thought and quickly amended his words. "Not of Asher. Of how deftly and completely he had captured your heart. I saw for the first time that night how futile my displays of affection for you were. And it pained me. I could not bear to watch you with him, knowing how much I loved you and yet knowing nothing would ever come of it." He inhaled slowly and raised his head, letting his arms slide off his chest. "After you kissed me the way you did...the way you gazed at me. I saw something in your eyes. It was profound and beautiful. I thought I had finally done something right. I believed you were beginning to respond to me. To think of me as something more than a friend. Was I wrong, Julianna?"

Forcing myself to face him, I shook my head. "No. You were right about me. And you should have realized when I became so jealous, just how right about me you were."

"I did not understand your anger."

I shrugged and stepped a little closer to him. "You said it yourself. We tend to hurt the ones we love. All that passion. All those overwhelming emotions. The intensity of our feelings frightens us and we...strike out at each other."

Jean-Claude gazed at me longingly. "Do you think then...perhaps in time, you will come to love me?"

I sighed and let my eyes drift slowly over him. How absolutely beautiful he was. The light from the small fire was dancing over his pale, perfect skin, making it the color of ivory, flickering soft shadows in his long black hair, and turning his eyes into two fiery jewels. His full lips were parted slightly, enticingly, and the hopeful expression on his lovely face was ethereal. I smiled gently. I could rhapsodize his beauty forever.

"We should employ an artist...to reside with us at all times. To capture such a pose as you are striking, would surely become a masterpiece," I murmured, recalling the words I had spoken to him a few nights ago when the sight of him then had also stirred my heart.

Jean-Claude bowed his head as if my admiration had only made him self-conscious and somewhat uncomfortable now.

I stepped even closer to him. I could have touched him, but I did not want to give him the impression I only found him appealing physically. I licked my lips apprehensively. I had to convince him without touching him provocatively, as he had attempted to convince me.

"Do you remember when I first spoke those words to you?"

He nodded hesitantly and I noticed he was becoming more disheartened with each passing second. I think he believed I was procrastinating because I did not want to hurt him, and I did not have the courage to come right out and reject him. I was not about to reject him, but I had to take this slow. I had to properly frame each phrase.

"We had a fight," I continued. "But I have since come to understand what truly happened between us that night. I have come to terms with what I was feeling. I was angry because you made me feel things I did not recognize and did not wish to feel. It unnerved me. It made me confused. You had those feelings too, but you embraced them more readily than I. It took me awhile longer to accept them, but now that I have, I embrace them wholly."

Jean-Claude took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Julianna, I--"

"I love you," I proclaimed. "I loved you that night and long before then....And I love you even more now."

Jean-Claude looked up at me then, his mouth falling open in surprise.

I smiled at him warmly. "You were right when you said your efforts were all for naught. For there was no need for you to strive so to win a place in my heart. You have long resided there and you always shall."

"Dear, precious Julianna," Jean-Claude whispered. "I have longed from the moment I saw you to hear you speak those words to me. I have always been so enamored of you. I can scarcely believe what has come to pass between us. It is only within these past few nights that I have dared to dream you could ever love me."

"I do love you," I repeated. Now that I had said it, I wanted to say it over and over again. "I love you, Jean-Claude."

He smiled, at last. "I love you, Julianna. I will love you for as long as my heart continues to beat. You will always have a piece of it. Always."

Sidling up to him, I gazed adoringly into his eyes. "That night too, you sought to offer me the love I craved in Asher's absence, the love you craved as well. I was not ready to express my love for you then. Now I am." I placed my hand over his heart and stretched up on my toes to whisper in his ear. "Tell me. How are you feeling?"

He nodded. "...I am better. Nearly healed."

I took hold of his upper arms and slowly turned him around so his back was to the fire. I passed my hands over the faint bruising that remained on his shoulders and lower back. His skin quivered beneath my palms and I could not stop myself from exploring him further. Slowly, savoringly, I trailed my fingertips over the curve of his buttocks down to his thighs. I slid my hands around his hips, encircling his waist, and leaned into him, resting my head on his back.

"Then love me tonight," I whispered. "Make love to me, I beg you. And I will make love to you." I pressed a tender kiss between his shoulder blades then stepped back. I took my hands off of him and began to unfasten the ribbons of my dress.

Jean-Claude languidly turned back to face me, clasping his hands around mine. "Let me," he breathed and slowly pulled the small satin bow apart. Then the next, and the one after that, until he was able to peel the garment from my shoulders, exposing my breasts. He stood gazing at me the way he often gazed upon Asher, as though he were seeing him for the very first time. He bent to kiss me then, capturing my mouth with his, holding me to him tightly.

My mind quickly clouded with anticipation and desire. I could think of nothing beyond fulfilling my need to love him and be loved by him. I had always wanted him, but now I wanted to possess him, and claim him as my own. I longed to show him how much I loved him--to take his body and give him mine in return. At last. At long last!

I struggled to be free of the rest of my clothing, letting Jean-Claude assist me with the buttons and ties I could not reach. Once I was nude, I pulled him down to the carpet front of the fireplace, kissing him fervently, reveling in the sensation of his perfect body beneath my hands. I wanted him so badly. My caresses were consuming and demanding. When he stretched out beside me, I reached for him, pressing him against me, entwining my leg encouragingly around his.

Jean-Claude reveled in me too, but he clearly wanted to go slow and be tender. He used his power to enhance my senses, making me more aware of him, even on a preternatural plane. With his power he was touching my body in places no human ever could--in ways no human could: with his voice, his gaze, and even his breath. Under such influence, I was nearly going mad with passion.

"Why are you torturing me like this?" I breathed, twisting my fingers in his hair and dragging him down to me for another passionate kiss. "I want you to take me now. Please!"

Jean-Claude only smiled sweetly, somewhat condescendingly, running his hand along the curve of my waist and over the span of my hip.

"You are very sensual, ma cherie, but you are not ready," he whispered. "You are too tense." He kissed my ear and breathed into it, sending a rush of tingles through me. "You need to relax."

I took a deep breath and peered up at him. "It is hard to relax, knowing what I have wanted for so long is finally within my grasp. The anticipation of our loving is nearly overwhelming me." I lowered my eyes briefly and licked my lips. "Then, I must confess, I am somewhat nervous. I do so want to...please you."

Stroking my hair soothingly, Jean-Claude sighed, and kissed my gently. "If I am not pleased with you, Julianna, it shall be my own fault, and if it makes you feel any better, I am more than a little nervous myself."

Such a confession from him fairly startled me. I reached up and touched his face and shook my head. "I love you. I want you. Believe in me."

Jean-Claude closed his eyes momentarily. "Yes," he sighed. He leaned towards me and kissed me hungrily. "You are so gloriously beautiful, ma cherie. I love you and want you as well." Trailing his lips down my neck, he left a searing line of moist heat upon my skin.

He then turned his attention to my breasts and kneaded and suckled them until they felt hot and heavy. My nipples became so taut and sensitive even the touch of his tongue on their tips made me cry out as if in pain. His left hand skimmed down my abdomen and soon I felt his fingers softly stroking the thick glossy hair between my thighs. With an excruciating slowness, his hand explored the moist folds of my skin causing me to writhe ecstatically. When I felt his finger slip inside me, the sensation of such blissful pressure made me quake with need. Jean-Claude continued stroking me inside, using his wrist to push against my clitoris, all the while nibbling on my neck and shoulder, and rubbing my leg with his thigh. If he didn't stop soon, I was going to climax before he even got on top of me.

But Jean-Claude knew exactly what he was doing and eased his stimulation on me just as I thought I could not possibly take anymore without my mind bursting into a thousand pieces. Apparently satisfied with the degree of my wetness, he withdrew his finger from inside me, and licked my moisture from his skin savoringly.

"Oh! Please, Jean-Claude! I am so very ready. I swear it!" I grasped his arms and tried to haul him on top of me. He laughed lightly and dotted my face with kisses, complying finally, and positioning himself over me.

"Let me ask you something," Jean-Claude murmured in my ear.

Anxiously, I wrapped my legs around his hips and nodded, admittedly curious. "Very well. What is it?"

He smiled slyly and leaned down to touch the tip of his tongue to my lips, teasingly. It made my lips tingle. Then he kissed me lingeringly, sinking his mouth against mine with the most ambrosial sensuality. After what could have been hours later, we parted, and he decided to put forth his question.

"Are you normally this impatient with Asher?"

I blinked up at him in surprise, then shook my head. "Not really."

"Then, all in due time, ma cherie," Jean-Claude replied. "I want to touch you everywhere, taste you, breathe you. This is our first time together. I have wanted this for so very long, I am not about to indulgent your impatience and finish you in a few scant minutes." He took my hands and stretched my arms up over my head. He began kissing and nibbling his way to my elbows, his long hair brushing over my breasts and armpits, tickling me, and making me wriggle underneath him. I struggled against his grasp. I could feel how hard he was with his hips locked against mine, but he still would not penetrate me.

"Jean-Claude! I am begging you!" I protested. He stopped gnawing on my arms and looked down at me.

"Julianna, let me enjoy you," he protested back. He kissed the tip of my nose and nuzzled my cheek, then pulled back and looked me in the eye as if something suddenly occurred to him. "Were you this impatient the first time with Asher?"

At that, I grew still and felt my cheeks flush with embarrassment. "Yes," I confessed. "Our first time, not quite so much our second time. By the third time I was becoming accustomed to his...torturous ways."

Jean-Claude smiled, amused, and nodded slowly in resignation. "Oh very well, ma cherie. I will give my lady what she wants." He rose off me slightly, bracing himself up on his hands, parting my legs further with his thighs. My body was aching for him and the moment he entered me, I felt as though I could not breathe, the sensation was so euphoric; but I gasped and moaned, and then nearly shrieked when he began to move.

I tried to stay calm, I tried to savor every delectable sensation, but I was being transported in ecstasy and I could not stave off the shattering orgasm overtaking my mind for very long. My very soul errupted and I screamed my pleasure, digging my fingers deep into my lover's fair skin in a nearly violent spasm of fulfillment.

Jean-Claude could not rein in his passion either once I had climaxed. With one final, forceful thrust, his body locked against mine and he shuddered magnificently, burying his face in the curve of my shoulder and groaning loudly in my ear. It was all so astoundingly sensual, I found myself coming again, over and over, until my body was satiated.

We seemed to melt into each other then, our breaths ragged, our hearts almost bursting, they were pounding so hard. How beautiful it was to be able to feel his great heart beating so close to mine--to breathe in the very air he breathed, for his body was mine now. There was no distinguishing between the two.

"I love you," I sighed, happily. "I love you so much. Could you feel my love for you?"

"Mmm, yes, love," Jean-Claude whispered softly. "We have made love." He brushed aside the damp curls on my forehead and pressed a soft kiss on my brow. "I never believed I would feel such love from another person and I doubt I will ever love another the way I love you. I do not offer my heart lightly and when I do, it is forever. I promise you this."

I reached up and delved my fingers into his hair and drew him down to me for a kiss.

Jean-Claude smiled, gazing down at me with such adoration in his eyes it made my heart all but soar. His kiss was a sweet and passionate caress that stirred my body and soul with a born again desire.

"More," I whispered back. "Love me some more."

"Perhaps, by the third time...you will be accustomed to my tortuous ways?" he teased.

I smiled back at him and shrugged. "Perhaps...in a century or two."


I woke to the sound of a door closing. At first I didn't remember where I was, but I could feel the body next to me, holding me tight, and steadily my mind began to clear. I blinked groggily up at Jean-Claude and snuggled closer to him with a contented sigh.

The fire had all but died and the room was nearly pitch dark and cool, but I was comfortable and happy and so sweetly fulfilled. We had made love for hours and I had finally fallen into a deep, exhausted sleep in Jean-Claude's arms. Like Asher, he did not leave me, but stayed beside and held me close.

Asher! I suddenly remembered the sound of the door. I struggled to push myself up, forcing the sleepy haze from my eyes to look for him.

He was kneeling before us, talking quietly to Jean-Claude. He turned to face me when I sat up and smiled warmly at me. It made my heart skip a beat. Much to my surprise, he brandished a new copper kettle, which he presented to me with considerable flourish, obviously pleased with his accomplishment. I laughed and clamored over to him.

"Oh Asher! You shouldn't have!" I reached for him and drew him closer to me and kissed him hungrily.

He looked me over admiringly, then looked at Jean-Claude in much the same way. "I see you two have worked through your differences," he said slyly. "I could not have returned home to a more beautiful sight than the two of you entwined so intimately, all moist and flushed beside the fire. I must insist you greet me this way more often."

"Join us," Jean-Claude said softly. He leaned forward and cupped Asher's chin in his hand, then pressed a sultry, lingering kiss to his lips.

Asher had to take a deep breath before replying. "Normally, I would not resist such an invitation, but it is nearly dawn, and by the looks of our Julianna, I would say she has had quite her fill for the night. We should put her to bed and let her sleep awhile. There is always the coming night. And the night after that one. And the next...."

I looked at both of them in turn. Our Julianna, Asher had said. How I adored the sound of that! "Our love will know no bounds," I whispered.

"And our passion no end," Asher said gently. He looked from me to Jean-Claude.

I looked from Jean-Claude to Asher. Jean-Claude looked from Asher to me. Then we all began to laugh, a sweet, joyful laugh. I reached over and pulled Asher down until he toppled over Jean-Claude and me, and the three of us hugged and kissed each other. We were so very much in love.

I nearly started to cry again, but this time it was because I was so very happy. I knew my heart was full now, for each of them occupied their own part. And I knew, without a doubt, I had a piece of each of theirs. Always.


















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