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mastering a vampire

Anita goes after Humans Against Vampires and comes to terms with her newest supernatural title when Damian's girlfriend has him arrested on false charges.
Rated R
Disclaimer:  The Anitaverse belongs to author Laurell K. Hamilton.  No profits will be made from this fic.  It's just a twisted hobby of mine. 




The phone rang. I woke up and looked at the clock on my bedside table. Twelve thirty-six. Damn. I had gotten all of forty-five minutes of sleep.

The phone rang again.

My phone never rang during the day like normal people's. And when it did, it was on those rare occasions I was trying to catch up on my sleep.

I snatched up the handset and numbly brought it to my ear. Someone was talking before I even had the chance to say 'hello'.

"...down at the police station. Got a vampire we picked up at a freak party raid. He's not being real cooperative and won't even give us his name to process him. Well, I'm sure you can see our predicament, Ms. Blake. We thought you might be willing to come down and have a look at him. Maybe you can identify him for us."

"...Hello?" I said, belatedly. "Uh, who is this again?"

"Sergeant Mathers down at the jail."


Long pause. Then: "Will you come?"

I sighed heavily, inching away from Nathaniel, who was curled up asleep on my right. He was the only one in my bed tonight. Micah was staying with Jean-Claude temporarily and most of the leopards had gone with him. Nathaniel had wanted to stay with me. He knew I needed him and I think he liked the idea of having me all to himself for a change.

"Look, Sergeant. Any of Jean-Claude's people can identify him," I murmured. In other words, no, I did not want to climb out of my nice comfy bed and get dressed to trump on down to the police station to look at some perp vamp. Of course, I didn't say anything of the sort.

"We'd rather not call in another vampire if we can help it," Sergeant Mathers explained patiently. "You understand, don't you?"

I sighed, then sat up as something occurred to me. "Why wasn't RPIT notified?" I wondered out loud. Usually any police work that involved vampires was handed over to them.

"It's my understanding, the officers responding to the initial call were not really expecting to find any vamps on the premises. Usually when cops break up these soirées, the vamps are long gone. They must have a sixth sense about such things. But this one was just hanging around."

Frowning, I shifted the phone to my other ear. "You know, one of these days, you guys are gonna learn not to mess with the monsters if you're not prepared. Those officers should have gone in expecting to find vampires. I'd say they were damned lucky to have encountered just one."

"Yeah, yeah. Tell it to the commissioner. Now. Are ya coming, or not?"

I nodded, even though I knew he couldn't see me. "All right, all right. I'll be there. Just give me a half hour, okay?"

"We'd certainly appreciate it, Miss Blake," the sergeant said again.

"Sure." I climbed out of bed.

"As far as we can tell, he doesn't have any priors. He's not on any of the books. Anything you can tell us about him would be helpful."

I nodded again. "I may not know him, Sergeant. Don't get your hopes up. Despite popular opinion, I don't fraternize with every vampire in St. Louis." I slipped on the black thong and bra I had been wearing a few scant hours ago that had been laying on the floor. Then I stalked over to my closet and pulled out a light cotton blouse and a short denim skirt. Good enough for sticky, humid eighty-degree, middle-of-the-night forays, I thought. "What's he look like?"

There was a short pause, as if the good sergeant had to resort to a police report or was eyeing the vampire in question.

"Caucasian, approximately six feet tall, slender build, long red hair, green eyes."

I nearly dropped the phone. No. No, it couldn't be. I froze, my skirt halfway up my legs.

"Hey, are you still there?"

"Yeah. Yeah." I cleared the amphibian out of my throat. "You said he was picked up at a freak party?"

"Uh huh. We got an anonymous tip. Wasn't much of a party by the time we got there, but we did find him. He fought the arresting officers. Gave Albert a black eye. They had to stun him to finally get him under control. Nasty critter. Does he sound familiar to you?"

"Unfortunately...yes," I reluctantly admitted. But no, come on. It couldn't be, I kept telling myself, all the while my heart was sinking and my stomach was doing flip flops. I struggled to get my skirt fastened and pulled on the blouse. "I'll be right there, Sergeant. Do me a favor and don't let anyone near him until I get there." Just in case.

"Sure, Ms. Blake. No problem. Nobody wants anywhere near this one."

Fuck. I turned off the phone and threw it aside.

"Damian, when I get through with you, you're going to wish you'd just stay dead," I growled through clenched teeth.


I hesitated just a second before stepping into the police station. My mind was off and running in a dozen different directions, but it was only one thought that gave me pause. Namely, how do you punish a thousand-year old vampire?

Just thinking about that sort of thing made me feel like a parent with an errant child who was too big to be spanked anymore. I wasn't about to let Damian off the hook just because he was powerful. I wanted to punish him for this. I just didn't know how yet. One thing I did know, was that Damian--if my suspicions were correct and it was him after all--had done something that had not only landed him in jail, but had pissed me off to the point I wanted him to suffer for it. I had never exercised my so-called authority over him before, but I had every intention of doing so now. This sort of thing was intolerable.

One glance at the monitor was all I needed. It was my vampire all right. My anger, shock, and discomfort increased two-fold. I actually had to close my eyes and tell myself to calm down before I did anything rash.

I should just let him stay in there, I thought. I should tell the police to keep him locked up for a week. It would suit him right. But truthfully, I never liked the idea of vampires in police custody. Damian was being held in the customary windowless basement cell, but there was still a chance some rookie would move him. I'd seen a couple of vamps unintentionally fried while in the jail. It did happen. Rarely, but enough times to make me uneasy.

Having completed all the vital paperwork necessary to ensure Damian's release into my custody, I made my way down the stairs to talk to him while I was awaiting authorizing signatures.

I stepped closer to the cell door and leaned towards it, announcing my presence with a heartfelt sigh, even though I knew Damian was more than aware of me.

Of course, as usually is the case with my life, all my intentions went out the window in a matter of minutes. It happened as soon as I got a good look at Damian, huddled forlornly on a cot, in the farthest, darkest corner of his cell.

The sergeant who had called me said that Damian had resisted arrest, which explained why he looked a little "roughed up", to say the least. His handsome face was the portrait of apathy, despite the smudge of dirt above his left eyebrow, a broad scrape on his right cheek, and a small purple bruise at the corner of his mouth. Then there more bruises and cuts running up and down his arms. Even more noticeable, was a bright, sore-looking reddish streak across his throat--as if the cops had used a baton to try to restrain him in a choke hold. Pieces of grass and flakes of leaves were tangled in his long hair and the sleeve of his shirt was torn at the shoulder.

He looked utterly pathetic. That in itself warped my resolve to punish him, but it was the look in his eyes when he finally faced me, that really got to me. Those dark emerald green orbs which always reminded me of an exotic cat's, were now red-rimmed and raw-looking and glazed with unshed pinkish tears. They mirrored the anger and humiliation his expression refused to convey. It occurred to me I wouldn't have to punish him--he was doing a primo job of punishing himself.

Turning his face away from me again, Damian cleared his throat softly, and shifted his position on the cot.

"I was hoping with all my heart you wouldn't see me like this," he stated hoarsely, probably from the police baton. A smile tainted with irritation flitted across his face. "But just my rotten luck, here you are." He gestured limply in my direction with his hand, then dropped it heavily with a frustrated slap.

That wasn't exactly the gracious and contrite greeting I had anticipated, and it kind of irked me. When I get irked, I tend to get spiteful. I liked Damian, but he could be a real prick at times.

"You should have cooperated with the police then. You should have told them your name, damn it. Instead, you'd rather act like a jerk, and cause yourself even more trouble. That's just brilliant, Damian. Fucking brilliant."

I spared a glance behind me, wondering where the hell the guard was. Supposedly, he only had to get the desk sergeant's signature on one of his papers, then he was going to seek out the powers that be to authorize Damian's release forms. I didn't want to be here any longer than absolutely necessary. I wasn't in the mood to run into any of "the gang" while pulling strings to get "my vampire" released to me under my supervision. Besides, now I was anxious to get my hands on said vampire so I could beat the crap out of him.

Damian leaned his shoulder against the wall of his cell. "I thought if I told them who I was, they would find out about you, and call you for sure," he grumbled softly.

I crossed my arms over my chest, my voice rising with my temper. "Well, you didn't, and they called me anyway. That's karma for you. Besides, who else did you think would be able to get you out of a mess like this?"

Damian cringed ever so slightly at the raised tone of my voice. He swept his hair back away from his eyes with an impatient stroke of his hand. I noticed his knuckles were black and blue. He really HAD put up a fight. My anger rose another notch.

"I didn't want them calling anybody," Damian began. "I was willing to stay here and wait out the 'due process' of the law." He paused and peered up at me briefly before turning his face away from me again. He was finding it hard to look me in the eye. "I would have done anything to keep you from finding out about this."

That did it. The last vestiges of pity I felt for him earlier vanished. Where the hell was that guard?

"Yeah, well, that makes perfect sense too," I shot back sarcastically. "Now that I do know about it, I can certainly see why you didn't want me to! A fucking freak party, Damian?! That is so beneath you!" I started pacing in front of the cell door.

Damian lowered his head into his hands. "It's not what you think, Anita," he informed me. "I can explain if you will let me."

I shook my head. In a way I wanted a full explanation, then in another way, I didn't want to hear his excuses. Nothing could possibly justify what he had done.

"You resisted arrest. They had to stun you. You have to appear in court now, you idiot! You thought racking up more criminal charges was better than facing me?"

Much to my surprise, he nodded.

"Only because, I knew you'd react this way. I knew you would jump to conclusions if you found out. That's why I tried to get away from them. I didn't want to be captured. Your condemnation is harder on me than anything the police could charge me with."

I slammed my hand against the cell door in frustration. Maybe it was a good thing he was in there and I was out here. I really could have pounded on him just now.

"Damn you!" I hissed, infuriated. "Jumping to conclusions? What conclusions am I jumping to that aren't documented in official police files?" I paused and struggled to collect myself. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and counted to ten. A few times. Finally, I opened my eyes and fixed them on Damian. I pointed an accusing finger in his direction. "I have every right to condemn you. I've been to one of those parties, Damian. I know what goes on. Don't try to gloss this over. There's no way you can possibly excuse yourself."

Facing me fully, Damian climbed to his feet and stalked over to the cell door.

"Then why should I even try?" he whispered, a hint of battle-weariness tinging his raspy voice. He closed his eyes momentarily, which made me think he was counting to ten too. "Look Anita, I didn't go there for the junkies." He looked a little indignant suddenly. "Do you really believe I'm that desperate that I need to resort to freak parties?"

He had a point, I realized, but I wasn't about to let it go. Freak parties were in the same league as crack houses in my book.

"You tell me," I demanded, keeping my gaze on his face with a determined intensity. "How do I know you haven't developed a taste for a bunch of whacked-out, over-sexed miscreants?"

The first real spark of anger lit Damian's eyes. He nodded slowly. "Of course. How would you know? You know nothing about me. You don't want to know me."

Startled he would say such a thing, I opened my mouth to deny his accusation, but was cut off by the night guard coming, at last, to release Damian into my custody.

"Step away from the door," the guard duly instructed as he unlocked it. He must be new, I thought. A rookie, or a transfer. I didn't recognize him. Actually, there were a lot of cops on this shift I didn't recognize outside of RPIT. Tonight, that was a good thing. Being known as the Executioner and the Master of the City's main squeeze was notoriety enough. The last thing I wanted to be recognized for was being a Master Necromancer with a troublesome Vampire Servant.

The guard pushed aside the door to Damian's cell and moved quickly away as if not quite sure the vampire he'd imprisoned wouldn't jump out and tear into his throat.

I tried to give him a reassuring look, but Damian stepped out of the cell and stood between us, looking grim to say the least. I immediately reschooled my expression into one of disapproval. He wasn't off the hook yet. Far, far from it.


Neither one of us said anything else until I pulled in the driveway in front of my house. I could tell from the look on his face, Damian wasn't too happy about being escorted back home and banished to the basement for the rest of the night, but I wasn't about to turn him loose on the streets and I wasn't in the mood to put up with his sulking.

As soon as I turned the car off, Damian reached for the door handle to let himself out, but I hit the automatic lock button override. He was trapped now and he knew it. He muttered a curse under his breath and turned to face me.

"What?" he demanded.

"Out with it," I demanded back, knowing he'd have to answer me because I was his master and I had just given him a direct order. Sometimes, there were benefits to such craziness. "I want to know why you felt...compelled to attend a freak party."

Damian dropped his eyes and frowned deeply. "I was invited," he said simply.

I almost laughed. Did he think that would make it all right? He had to attend, see, because he had, after all, been invited, and therefore, couldn't insult his gracious host by not attending. How impolite was that? Yeah, give me a break.

Before I could shoot off a smart remark, Damian wisely elaborated.

"I met this girl. A couple of weeks ago. At Danse Macabre. We...hit it off rather quickly. She told me she had moved here two months ago with her father and older sister. She told me she loved it here in St. Louis and was trying to take everything in and experience what she could. Especially anything that had to do with vampires. She's very intrigued by us and was slowly but surely overcoming her reservations when it came to interacting with us. She told me I was helping her with that. She had never met a vampire like me." He paused and sighed rather wistfully, then frowned. "Seems she got wind of an upcoming freak party and told me she wanted to attend, but not unescorted. So, she invited me."

I sighed too, but impatiently. His explanation wasn't getting any better as far as I was concerned, but I concluded there had to be more to it than that.

"Go on," I urged him.

Damian looked at me, then looked away again. "She was excited, but nervous about the party," he went on cautiously. "I asked her if she'd ever been to one before and she told me she hadn't and wasn't really sure what to expect. I reminded her that they were forbidden, not only by human law, but by Jean-Claude himself. It didn't matter to her. I told her they could be dangerous and frightening for the unexperienced, but she was still determined to go. When she asked me to go with her to look after her, I felt obligated. And I knew as long as I was with her, no harm would come to her."

Damian glanced at me again, catching my dubious expression. He massaged his eyes wearily and exhaled slowly. He seemed to know he had yet to say anything that would merit my forgiveness.

"You're telling me," I began, "you were there just to play big-brother to a misguided youth, is that it? What aren't you telling me, Damian?" I undid my selt-belt and angled my shoulders to face him better. I stared at him for what seemed like a long while before something occurred to me which hadn't before. I cleared my throat. "You really like this girl, don't you?"

Damian bowed his head then, and turned his face away from me to look out the car window. I could see his reflection in the glass however and the undisguised pain it portrayed. Apparently I had jumped to conclusions. This was clearly more than just a case of a misbehaving vampire.

"Damian, please," I said, lowering my voice. "Tell me what happened tonight."

Damian slowly licked his lips before replying. When he spoke, his voice sounded flat and defeated.

"Her name is Isabelle Dalton. She's a lot like you in a way. She looks like you. She's small and dark and very pretty. Also very savy and streetwise most of the time, but underneath it all, there's this vulnerability. She reminded me a lot of you sometimes. Maybe that was the initial attraction, but I came to appreciate her for herself after awhile." He shrugged casually as if totally unaware of the way my jaw was now hanging open on its hinges. "I had never attracted anyone like her before, and I know now, it hampered my common senses." He paused and glanced over at me with a forced smile.

"You were attracted to her because she reminded you of me?"

"Whatever it was," he continued, "she was so attracted to me, I fell for her hard. That kind of attraction can be a potent aphrodisiac. It got to the point, I wanted her so badly I couldn't think around her. But she kept saying she wasn't ready. She was still a little afraid of giving herself to a vampire, even though I assured her we could make it very sensuous and pleasurable."

Damian paused and I could almost see him tensing up as his confession obviously became more difficult for him to relay. His face smoothed to an impenetrable mask of nothingness again, but his eyes darkened, and he turned his gaze away from me. His shame was evident now, but he went on, forcing out every word.

"I didn't want to go to this party and she knew it. So...she promised me, if I went with her tonight, I could have her there."

I closed my mouth with an audible snap and frowned. I still didn't understand the reason for his humiliation or the degree of his anger. I could only guess why he was frustrated.

"But the festivities were raided before you got to partake of your little groupie?" I suggested a little too sarcastically. Well, I had decided I didn't like the idea of this Isabelle having her hooks so deeply embedded in my vampire. She seemed to wield a power over him I had yet to discover. It made me feel a little under-minded.

Damian's eyes flashed. He leaned away from me as if I had physically struck him. I felt bad immediately, but I wasn't sure why.

Apparently, something had gone wrong at this party. Could he have possibly had a worse experience than I did at my first party? My stomach sunk suddenly and a look of horror crossed my face. Maybe all those bruises weren't entirely due to his resisting arrest. I licked my lips and steeled myself for the question I was about to ask him.

"Damian, I'm sorry. Did someone...do something to you at this party? Something you didn't want them to do?" I reached over and placed my hand on his forearm and gave him an encouraging squeeze.

"There was no party," Damian explained dryly. "I was supposed to meet Isabelle outside the house, but when I arrived she wasn't there. No one was there." He paused, blinked at me a few times, then swallowed thickly. "I know I had the correct address. I know she told me eleven o'clock. She even told me what the house looked like. But no one was around. No people. No vampires. Just me and then the police."

Ah. I sat back in the car cushions. Jail bait. That's what Miss Dalton was. Except in this day and age, the term extended beyond the underage Lolita-type to mean a human, male or female, who sets up a vampire for spite--gives into them, then reports the blood-letting to the authorities as an assault. I had heard of it happening before. There were plenty of people out there willing to risk their lives to harass a few vampires. Humans Against Vampires more often than not had their hands in it, and this scenario had HAV stink all over it.

"You were set up, my friend," I told Damian tonelessly, even though I was pretty sure he already knew this. No wonder he was so angry and hurt and humiliated. No man likes to be played for a fool.

In the back of my mind, I couldn't help feeling he deserved it though. He'd thrown precaution and good sense out the window for a little blood and the promise of sex. He was appropriately distressed by this, but he needed to be upset because he done something very wrong, not just because he had been betrayed by the one he was so enamored of.

I took my hand off him and crossed my arms over my chest. Damian seemed to feel the shift in my mood as well as my body and looked over at me with wide, wary eyes.

"Listen. I'm sorry your little princess turned into a toad, but the fact of the matter is, you still agreed to go with her to an illegal freak party to indulge in a little free love. So what if it wasn't a real party? So what if you got your ass hauled off to jail before you even got into the house? You still went there with all the intention of attending that party. You're still guilty, Damian."

Damian frowned and fixed his gaze forward. Long fair lashes that had clotted into wet spikes, swept over his eyes slowly in an owlish sort of way.

"I told you. I wasn't there for the junkies. I was there to be with Isabelle."

I gritted my teeth. "Granted. But you went there with the intent to participate in a real freak party. And I can assure you, Isabelle wouldn't have been the only person there offering you sex and blood. Don't tell me you wouldn't have been tempted."

"Give me a break, Anita. How many times do I have to tell you I was there for Isabelle's sake. If there had been other vampires there, she could have been seriously injured or even raped. At least with me, it would have been consentual. I wanted to keep her safe. That's why I agreed to go."

"But that doesn't excuse the fact you were there!"

"I didn't do anything wrong," he protested. "I was leaning against a tree when the police drew their guns on me. I wasn't at any freak party. I explained this to you, but you're still angry with me. Don't you believe me?"

I sighed. "You showed up. That's what you did wrong. You think just because you were going to protect Isabelle, that makes what you did all right? To make matters worse, you resisted arrest. You're damned lucky all those cops did to you was rough you up. You could have been shot."

Damian looked over at me and bowed his head. A lock of hair fell across his left eye, but he didn't bother to push it away. Now he sat like a statue beside me. I could tell from the tone in his voice he was confused and angry and hurt, but he refused to show any of it. Sometimes your life depended on your ability to look neutral, Jean-Claude had once told me.

It occurred to me then, despite his protests, Damian knew he was in deep trouble, and he might be unsure of just how to deal with me now. Let's face it, this whole Master Necromancer and Vampire Servant thing was just as new to him as it was to me. He'd never had a master like me before. The stuff of legends, Asher had said. Leave it to me to make my mark in vampire history books.

I cleared my throat to try a different approach. I leaned forward, reaching out to tuck that stray lock of hair back behind his small pale ear.

Damian glanced up at me, his expression immediately softening. I felt his hand close over mine, then he brought my fingertips to his lips and kissed them. "Please believe me, Anita," he whispered. "I couldn't lie to you even if I wanted to."

"Damian, I do believe you. But do you understand what I'm trying to get you to be sorry for?"

He lowered his eyes again. "You're angry because I went there for Isabelle?" he so obviously guessed.

I snatched my hand away from his and batted the side of his head in frustration. I turned away from him and hit the lock release on the door. "Get out. Go inside and get cleaned up. I don't want to talk about this anymore right now. It's futile. Maybe later, after you've had more time to ponder the error of your ways, you can come to me and apologize for disturbing what could have been a really good night's sleep for me."

Damian didn't move however. I spared a glance at him to see why. He looked miserable and embarrassed. His head was bowed as low as it would go. I watched his chest rise and fall once before he spoke.

"I am sorry, Anita. What more can I say? I understand what I did was wrong for a lot of reasons, but I still can't understand your anger. Maybe my excuses are shallow and selfish at best, but they are the only excuses I have." He raised his head and looked over at me finally. "If you can, try to understand that I had believed I had finally found someone who cared for me as much as I cared for her, for a change. Someone who mattered a great deal to me. I would have done anything for Isabelle. Anything she asked. I do regret that devotion now, but don't ask me to feel sorry for what I did because of it."

With that, Damian lifted the latch and got out of the car. He closed it behind him carefully and then glided towards the front door without looking back.

I sat where I was, feeling like a heel. I think I finally understood what Damian meant. He was sorry for all the trouble he caused, but he could not feel sorry for agreeing to go to a freak party with the intention of protecting his would-be lover. So, yeah, she had promised him blood and sex to tip the scales in her favor, but I believed he cared for her so deeply, he would have gone to protect her even without that added enticement.

I think I was angry because some little hottie had come along and very nearly stolen Damian out from under my nose when I wasn't looking. And I wasn't as angry at Isabelle for that as I was myself.

Damian and I shared something rare and incredible between us, but that didn't mean I really paid him much attention. He 'lived' with me, but he came and went as he pleased. Half the time, I wasn't even aware he'd left for the night, half the time I didn't bother to check to see if he'd made it home before sunrise.

I had known for a long time Damian had a thing for me, but my plate was so full of comely studs right now, I took Damian's attraction to me for granted. I had even shunned what little affection he tried to offer me. Now I was upset because he'd turned his attentions elsewhere. That was so fucking selfish of me. Fucking selfish. That's me.


The house was as quiet as a tomb when I finally went inside. Only the faint sound of running water hinted any activity. Damian was in the shower already.

No time like two forty-five in the morning for a hot cup of coffee, I thought, tossing the car keys on the nearest end table. I wandered into the kitchen, not bothering with the lights, and began measuring water. No sense in trying to get any sleep tonight. I had to be at work by seven to meet with a client. Even if I went to bed and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, I'd still only get three hours. In my experience, sometimes too little sleep was worse than no sleep at all.

As I stood in front of the coffee maker waiting for it to finish, I felt, more than heard Damian come into the kitchen. I didn't turn around. Cowardly, I know.

I had been thinking about the arrest. The police report said they had been tipped off about a freak party. They had showed up for a raid, but the occupants of the house had apparently already fled. All they found was one irate vampire. Sounded to me like Damian was right. He had most likely been sent to a vacant house. The owners were probably vacationing in the Bahamas, not throwing illegal parties.

I shook my head. "You were so set up," I muttered, taking a mug off my tree and setting it on the counter in anticipation. "Probably from the very beginning."

I heard Damian sigh. "I know," he said quietly. "Now that I think back on it, I should have realized it was all too good to be true. She was too good to be true. My luck just doesn't run that way. It shames me to think I risked so much for someone I barely knew. Well, I thought I knew her. I've definitely learned a hard lesson from all this."

I felt him suddenly against my back. His arms slipped around me and he leaned his head over my shoulder, pressing his warm, still slightly damp cheek against mine. He smelled wonderful. A heady clean mixture of glycerine soap, shampoo, and Lagerfeld cologne.

"Do you forgive me, Anita?" he whispered in my ear.

I leaned into him and folded my arms over his. I was suddenly glad I hadn't turned around. If he was wearing anything at all, I couldn't feel it. My heart skipped a beat and it took me a few tries to find my voice.

"...Yes, I forgive you," I told him. "I'm still not very happy about what you did, but I think I understand it a little better." I turned my head to look at him and ended up brushing my lips against his as he simultaneously turned to face me.

I think it startled both of us initially, because we jerked away as if we'd been burned by the contact. Our eyes locked on each other's however, drawing us back together again before either one of us were aware of what we were doing.

Our mouths sort of fell against each other and settled into place for a steamy, lingering kiss. Damian turned me around to face him and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. My hands slid over the expanse of smooth, soapy-smelling skin, heated from his shower and still moist as if he'd toweled off in a hurry.

He was dressed, kind of. He was wearing some skimpy little silky thing with material so thin, he might as well have gone without.

I pulled away from him just far enough to give him a once over. Good god. I swallowed thickly.

"Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?" I teased.

Naturally, he didn't get the pop culture reference to "The Graduate" and cocked his head in confusion.


I laughed lightly and waved my hand through the air as if to erase what I had said. "Never mind. It's just that, I know it's August and all, but I do have air conditioning."

Damian peered down at himself. "Oh. Don't you like it?"

I nodded and reached out to touch the offending garment. "I like it," I admitted and then stroked the waistband just over the curve of his hip. My eyes suddenly fell upon a nasty bruise just above my fingers. I frowned and immediately began taking stock of his other injuries.

Most of what he had suffered was already beginning to heal, but some, like the bruise on his side, would probably take another day. It had to have hurt. It looked awful.

I placed my hand over it and concentrated my power on healing him. My hands skimmed over the surface of his body, pausing at different wounds just long enough to apply my power to them. I lifted his hands in mine, rubbing my cheek against his bruised knuckles. I kissed them affectionately, then slid my hands up his arms and caressed away any wound I found there with my power and my touch.

Damian watched me for awhile, then closed his eyes, slipping into a blissful, euphoric-looking state. He reveled in my power, readily absorbing it into him for strength and sustenance. His own power was considerable, but he was far from being a Master Vampire and due to some freakish circumstance, he couldn't survive without my power. It was an odd responsibility, that.

Damian groaned softly, pulling me out of my reverie. I realized my hands had strayed to much more intimate parts of his body and my healing caresses and outpouring of power were arousing him sexually.

I abruptly stopped what I was doing, and lowered my hands, which made Damian open his eyes. He gazed at me with such undisclosed desire, it took my breath away.

"Don't stop," he begged me. He reached for my hands and kissed them, then placed them back on his body. "Touch me," he encouraged again, gently.

I couldn't seem to help myself. I continued caressing him, more intent on arousing myself than him. Damian didn't seem to mind. He bent to kiss me, capturing my mouth with his in a tender, succulent embrace which made a thick, deepening heat spread through my body.

Some little nagging voice way in the back of my mind kept pointing out to me that the coffee was ready and wasn't there some late movie on t.v. that I had wanted to watch?

But then, somewhere along the way, while holding Damian and touching him, my brain had lost control. My libido had mutinied my body, and it was very hard for me to pay attention to anything other than how delicious Damian's sinewy curves felt under my hands. Just the cool touch of his velvety lips moving over mine with an impossible searing heat was enough to drive me to distraction. Yes, even the wafting scent of fresh brewed coffee couldn't compete.

We continued to kiss and paw each other until our passions became an odd sensation of need that I couldn't really pinpoint. I felt as if I had to have Damian tonight--that I had to claim what was mine and make up for 'lost time'.

My thoughts drifted back to that sultry, nearly tragic night in Tennessee. Would I have given into Damian's seduction then, if Asher hadn't been attacked? I liked to think I had more resolve than that, but I couldn't deny the temptation he posed.

"Anita," Damian breathed into my mouth. "Let me. Please...let me."

I didn't need to ask him what he was pleading from me. I knew. His hands roved my body and settled on my hips. He pulled me against him and offered me another sizzling kiss which left me all but breathless.

I tried to answer him, but couldn't find my voice. So I nodded. Yes, I wanted it, damn it. I wanted him.

He sighed then, as if more in relief than desire. I peered up at him questioningly, but he only smiled sweetly and leaned forward to kiss me. This time he skimmed my teeth with his tongue, clearly encouraged.

I grasped his head and deepened the kiss, opening my mouth for him and sinking my tongue back into his until I felt the hard points of his fangs. Damian moaned softly. His hands cupped my buttocks and he lifted me effortlessly up against him like I weighed nothing, and deposited me on the kitchen countertop.

Keeping one hand on my hip to steady me, he reached up with the other and stroked my throat: each pass of his hand descending lower until he had reached the top button of my blouse. He deftly unfastened it, paused almost as if he anticipated I'd protest, and then worked his way down the rest of the blouse until it fell open.

Alarms started ringing, distantly, in my mind, but the look of adoration and desire Damian was giving me was making the sound steadily fade away. I could still make him stop, I told myself. He would do anything I told him to, and that realization was like a safety net. Comforting, despite the fact both our motives for this sudden uninhibited passion were questionable at best. But at least I knew there was a panic snap here if I needed it.

Damian's cool fingers traced the lace edge of my now exposed bra. He glanced up at me, still unsure I actually intended to let him continue.

I nodded again and delved my fingers through his hair. I pressed a soft kiss to the base of his neck. He sighed and quivered beneath my lips which made me smile. He was so sensual it made me want to touch him all the more.

I brushed my hands over the expanse of his shoulders, my eyes roving over his naked torso with newfound appreciation of his form. I began looking at him in earnest now, drinking in the sight of him as he continued to kiss and caress me, unaware of my scrutiny.

I took in the shape of his hairline and the slightly imperfect slope of his nose. I studied the rather delicate arch of his brows and the curve of his upper lip. I watched the way the muscles of his shoulders flexed and smoothed as he moved his arms.

He didn't look real. He looked like a tinted black and white photo that had come to life--his coloring not quite ringing true. But it gave him an ethereal presence that held my gaze completely entranced.

I was enjoying my exploration and discovery of him so much in fact, I actually pushed him back a little so I could get a better look at him. I knew for a fact Damian was not using any glamor to enhance his looks. He was of the same lineage as Jean-Claude, an indirect descendent of Belle Morte, who reputedly had an affinity for extremely handsome men.

"God, Damian, you're striking," I mumbled, as if really seeing him for the first time.

"You think so?" he asked sincerely and smiled a little sheepishly. His eyes were just as transfixed on me now. His fingertips traced my cleavage and fanned out over my bare skin.

The coolness of his fingers made me tense slightly as he slipped his hands beneath my bra to cup my breasts. My nipples immediately hardened against his palms, and I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. He continued languidly kneading my flesh until I was fairly aching with arousal.

My hands brazenly toyed with the waistband of the skimpy little silky thing he was wearing that in some circles passed as underwear. "Take this off," I whispered to him, snapping the elastic against his hip. I pretty much had access to everything I wanted with them on, but I wanted to see him. All of him.

The first and only time I had seen him naked, he'd been throwing up blood all over my bathroom floor. I was anything but aroused at the time, so in my book, that hardly counted.

Damian's smile widened as he stepped back to oblige me. He stripped with one quick downsweep of his hands, then patiently stood before me, watching and waiting for my next command.

My eyes began a slow, savory descent. I could feel heat flushing my face and hear my heart banging in my ears as I unabashedly stared at him. I caught myself licking my lips as if it was all I could do to keep from drooling. Needless to say, he was nicely endowed, but then I had yet to meet a vampire who wasn't. I beckoned him closer and then tentatively reached out to touch him.

"Oh yes," he whispered encouragingly as my hand closed around him. He took a deep shuddering breath, growing harder in my grasp. Moving a little closer to me, he placed his hands on my shoulders, pushing my blouse back, and slid the straps of my bra down around my arms until my breasts were completely exposed.

Then I felt his palms on me like soft, cool pads of velvet. He squeezed my nipples gently before dragging his hands over my ribs and down to my hips. Traces of his touch lingered on my heated skin as if his hands were everywhere at once. I lost track of them momentarily, until I felt their weight resting on the top of my thighs. He kissed me passionately, as if to distract me, while he parted my legs and positioned himself between them. My skirt obligingly gathered up around my waist and I fleetingly wondered if he was going to bother removing my thong underwear. When Damian's hand went under my skirt, he stroked me teasingly at first, then slipped his fingers under the material of the thong and simply adjusted it out of his way, satiating my curiosity, and sending tingles of anticipation scurrying over my skin.

For the most part, I was still clothed, but being exposed as I was, made me more self-conscious than being completely naked. I wrapped my arms around Damian's neck and pulled him up against me.

We were really going to do this, in the kitchen, on the countertop. Not exactly romantic, but let's face it. Romance had very little to do with what we were about to engage in. Damian had told me before I didn't have to love him, he only wanted to be with me. In a way, it made things uncomplicated and liberating, but then in a way, maybe because we weren't romantically involved with each other, there was something about all this that wasn't quite right.

Damian placed his hand on my cheek, raising my face slightly. He kissed me softly with a slow, thorough tenderness that made my toes curl. He only had to move his hips a few scant inches and he would be inside me, but he merely continued kissing me like we had all the time in the world.

Maybe he was giving me another opportunity to change my mind, I thought, but I was growing a little impatient for him to take me. I was already starting to think too much, and wanted us to be past the point of no return before my morality got in the way. I slid my hands down his back and over the smooth taunt curve of his buttocks, applying just enough pressure to let him know I was ready and willing. He was mine and I wanted him and was prepared to claim him: brand him with my initial so there was never any doubt in his, or anyone else's mind, who he belonged to.

"Anita," Damian whispered, locking his eyes on mine. There was something in that gaze now. Something beyond desire, that I hadn't noticed before, and it looked a hell of a lot like love.

"Damian..." Suddenly I couldn't think of anything coherent to say to him. I didn't want his love. Did he believe my giving in to him, meant that I loved him now? After all, I was the one who supposedly didn't believe in casual sex. Damn.

Then, of all things, brilliant florescent light suddenly illuminated the kitchen, shining on us like a floodlight, making both Damian and I squint our eyes in pain.

"Oh," Nathaniel stated dumbly as he stood at the kitchen's entrance, staring at us. "Oh, I...thought I heard something...in here, but it's just you...two." He blinked finally and the corners of his mouth turned up slightly.

A heady mix of humiliation and indignation washed over me. I timidly peered over Damian's shoulder at the young wereleopard standing beside the refrigerator.

"It's all right, Nathaniel," I told him, struggling to keep my voice cool and my tone even. "Just go back to bed."

Damian turned his head and joined me in looking over his shoulder at Nathaniel. He clearly had no intention of turning around, but if he was embarrassed at being caught poised over the mistress of the house without a stitch of clothing on, he didn't show it. But then, Nathaniel was just as naked as he was.

"Could you please turn out the light?" Damian murmured. He glanced up at the offending fixture and frowned. "It's great if you want to read a recipe book, I suppose."

Nathaniel grinned. "Sure. Sure." He moved to turn off the light, then paused and gestured at Damian and I, adopting a thoughtful, but dreamy-eyed expression. "I'm really happy for the two of you. You should enjoy each other--being master and servant the way you are. You're naturally drawn to one another. It's a good thing." He nodded for emphasis and offered us both a genuine smile.

Having voiced his opinion, Nathaniel turned on his heel, flipping the light switch back down and plunging the kitchen into darkness once more.

Damian turned his attention back on me, but I was already shaking my head and pushing him away. It had finally occurred to me why this whole scenario felt wrong, and it had nothing to do with kitchen countertops and wasted coffee.

"No, Damian. We're not doing this now," I stated firmly.

For a split second, Damian looked both surprised and dejected, then he quickly blanked-out his expression and nodded curtly. Obediently, he stepped away from me and lowered his eyes. No questions, no protests, no trying to persuade me to reconsider. There was advantages to being his master.

I slid gracelessly off the counter, smoothing down my skirt and righting my bra. "I'm sorry," I lamely apologized. I was too, but my mind was made up now, and I knew without a doubt, this was for the best.

Damian licked his lips slowly. "Please, Anita. Don't feel as though you need to apologize to me."

I frowned. The fact that he just stood there, watching me like a statue with moveable eyes was unnerving. I felt compelled to explain, even though he did not ask for any explanation.

"It would have felt nice, great probably, but it would have been wrong," I started, trying to keep my attention focused on buttoning my blouse straight. Harder than you would think when you have a sexy, naked vampire standing in front of you. "Wrong of me," I hurriedly continued. "You're clearly on the rebound tonight, hurt and vulnerable, and needing to be reassured. And I'm feeling a little too possessive."

I finished with my blouse and leaned against the counter in an attempt to appear casual and in complete control of myself. Damian was still standing close enough for me to reach out and touch him if I felt so inclined. God, he looked good. I could have had him. I really could have....Why did I have to be so goddamned idealistic? I had to look away from him finally.

"Possessive?" Damian spoke at last. He cocked his head a little to the side in confusion. "But I'm yours. You are within your rights to have sex with me whenever you want to. Don't feel guilty about it, please." He stepped up to me, but didn't touch me, thank God. "I hope you want to 'possess' me in that way."

I looked up into his eyes and sighed. "But you're not a possession, Damian," I said thickly. "It's wrong of me to feel that way about you. I may be your master, but you're not my slave. I have no right to force you to do anything you don't want to."

Damian offered me a sad little smile. "You were hardly forcing me," he whispered.

I shook my head. "Maybe not, but I still don't like the way I was feeling about you all of a sudden. I don't own you." I paused and lowered my gaze to the floor, embarrassed. "I don't have the right to use you to suit me...or punish you when you do something I don't like. I wanted to punish you for what you did tonight. Like a master punishes a slave who pisses him off. You know, the kind of punishment that's all about anger and nothing about teaching a lesson. I don't want to be that kind of master to you, do you understand?"

Damian swallowed visibly and tensed slightly. If I hadn't been so attuned to him, I might have missed it.

"If you're that angry with me you should punish me," he told me softly. "Trust me, if you do, I'll certainly learn a lesson from it."

Cripes, he was thick-headed at times, I thought. But I really couldn't fault him for thinking the way he did. He'd been a captive--a possession--most of his vampiric existence. He probably didn't know how to think or act any other way.

"I'm not going to punish you, Damian," I explained. "I'm trying to tell you, I realized I have no right to punish you when you upset me. The only thing I should do, is let you know I'm unhappy with you. Hopefully, I've done that."

"Yes," Damian said and nodded slowly. Then: "Do you want me to leave you now?"

I exhaled forcefully and reached out to cup his jaw with my hands. "No, you don't have to stay downstairs," I stated. "But please, for the sake of my sanity, go get dressed. Or at least put on a robe. Preferably something bulky and shabby that clashes with the color of your hair."

"I don't own such a thing," Damian said and smiled at me, which pleased me to no end, sending a wave of relief washing over me. He turned his face into my hand and nuzzled my palm.

I turned his head back around and stretched up to plant a quick kiss on his lips. There was nothing sexual about it, but there was a lot of affection.

"Go on," I said, stepping away from him. "I'm going to make a fresh pot of coffee and sit here and wait for the morning paper. You can keep me company until it arrives, if you want."

"I will," he responded without hesitation. "Just answer me one thing." He folded his arms over his chest in a contemplative gesture.

"Sure. What?" I asked, firmly keeping my gaze fixed above his waistline.

"You stopped me only because this wasn't the right time?" He lowered his eyes from mine. "I know you wanted me. I'm just trying to understand. I keep thinking you wouldn't have stopped me had we not been interrupted."

I frowned. "The interruption gave me a much needed opportunity to think." Pausing, I purposefully softened my expression, as well as my voice. "I did want you, don't doubt that. It's just that I'm a little old-fashioned I guess. When we do make love, I want it to right." I wondered if he would catch the fact I said 'when' instead of 'if'. I really didn't think it was a question of 'if' anymore. Nathaniel was right. We were drawn to each other. The attraction had become too strong.

Damian sighed and nodded. "Thank you for your honesty, Anita." With that, he turned and glided out of the kitchen.

Yeah, I watched him walk away. Yeah, I was kicking myself too.


After the meeting with my client at Animators Inc., I slipped out of the office undetected and headed back to the police station.

I had called there earlier and requested files on any vampire who had been charged with assault in the past three months. Then I placed a call to Veronica Simms: the only person I felt might be able to help me with what I had in mind. That is, if she was willing.

We'd been friends for a long time, Ronnie and I, but lately, our relationship was wearing thin to the point of fraying. She agreed to meet with me nonetheless, so I collected the files from the police and made it back to Ronnie's office just ten minutes before our scheduled appointment. No more just dropping by unannounced. Now it was all business and that was fine with me.

I walked into her office and she waved me into the big cushy chair across from her desk, looking me over with a disapproving shake of her head.

"I'm not going to ask what you've been up to lately, but I will tell you, you look a wreck," she pointed out.

I sighed. "Just a little sleep deprivation, Ronnie," I replied evenly. "Nothing for you to be concerned about."

She gave me a rather smug smile. "I guess that's understandable since your boyfriend only walks around at night."

I took the files and slammed them on her desk, glaring over the top of them as I did.

"I didn't come here to spar with you, Ronnie. I'm well aware of what you think of my lifestyle--you don't have to keep cramming it down my throat every time you see me. So, let's just cut the bullshit. Are you going to help me, or not?"

Ronnie shrunk back into her chair and frowned deeply. "All right, Anita. Just calm down. I apologize." She leaned forward again and pushed aside the shuffle of papers presently covering her desk. "What have you got?"

I stared across the desk at her for a moment longer before handing her the top file.

"These are all cases of vampires charged with assault on a human being," I began. "I checked RPIT's case files dating back to the first of the year and there were only four cases reported. All four of those vampires were convicted. These eleven are just from the past two months and ten out of the eleven vampires arrested during that time were proven innocent. They either had witnesses or the cases were tossed for lack of evidence. They were set up, in other words."

Ronnie looked intrigued, but she shrugged. "Well, summer is the tourist season out here. More naive, unsuspecting humans are around. The vampires know it, and take advantage of them."

I shook my head. "If you care to read the police reports, you'll see none of them involved tourists, but all of them involved young women. Three of the eleven involved the same woman, an Isabelle Dalton. Two more cases involved a woman with the same last name, Mariah Dalton, who also resides at the same address as Isabelle. Turns out they're sisters."

Ronnie thumbed through the first file. "And you believe that's a little too much of a coincidence?" She was listening to me now, having pushed her personal opinions aside like the papers on her desk. I felt encouraged.

"You're damned right it is. I know this Isabelle Dalton is jail bait. She struck again last night."

Ronnie raised her brow, genuinely startled. "You mean to tell me Jean-Claude--"

"Not Jean-Claude," I corrected. Naturally she'd think of him first. "Damian. The vampire who...stays with me."

Now Ronnie looked puzzled. "I didn't know you had a vampire 'staying' with you."

I sighed. "It's a long, complicated story I don't have time to get into now," I said dismissively. "It was a set up, Ronnie. The police report proves he didn't do what he was charged with. Damian told me the Dalton sisters just moved to our fair city this past May." I paused and gestured at the stack of files. "Look at the dramatic increase in assault charges since they arrived here. All against male vampires, all with similar case scenarios."

Ronnie picked up another file and opened it. I watched her eyes skim the report. She spoke to me now without looking up.

"Seems obvious when you put it that way," she said. "Why don't you think the police picked up on the pattern before?"

I leaned back in my chair. "Because of what you said earlier. It's the tourist season. That means an expected increase in clueless people trying to interact with vampires just to have something to write about on the back of a postcard. I think the only reason I found the pattern was because I was specifically looking for one."

Ronnie closed the file and tossed it on the desk. "So, what do you want me to do, exactly?"

My shoulders relaxed and a tension I was carrying inside me eased. Maybe our friendship was salvageable after all. At least our business relationship was apparently still intact.

"I want you to find out more on the Dalton sisters and I want you to see if you can link any of this with Humans Against Vampires. And can you get back to me as soon as possible on this? I'd like to put a stop to this scam before someone gets hurt."

Ronnie's expression hardened suddenly. "Is that an implied threat to these women? You don't want anyone messing with your vampires, is that it?"

My breath left me like a blow to the abdomen. I shot to my feet and had to bite my lip to keep from saying what I really wanted to say to her. When I felt a little calmer, I looked Ms. Simms squarely in the eye, swallowing away the tightness in my throat.

"No, Ronnie. That was not a threat from me, that was a statement of a fact. If one of these women happens to target the wrong vampire, not only could they wind up in a hospital, they could wind up dead. Whether they are aware of it or not, they're playing with fire and so far, they've been lucky they haven't gotten burned. But it's only a matter of time before their luck runs out. There's some nasty, sadistic, powerful vamps out there that won't take kindly to being toyed with." I turned around and headed for the door. I heard Ronnie sigh heavily.

"Anita, I'm sorry," she called after me.

I kept walking until I reached the door.

"I'll look into it, okay?" Ronnie tried again.

I paused, nodded, but didn't turn around. I'd had enough of her self-righteousness for one day. Maybe there wasn't any friendship left. Oh well. I turned the knob and hurried out.


I made a point of being at home before dusk to catch Damian before he went out for the night.

I sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and rehearsing in my head exactly what I wanted to say to him when I did see him. It wasn't coming out right. No matter how I put it, I knew he'd take it the wrong way. I wanted him to stay here tonight, but the only way I could think of telling him this made it sound like I didn't trust him not to go off and do something stupid again. I realized that was exactly why I didn't want him out and about, but I couldn't just come right out and tell him that, could I?

As it was, I was so deeply absorbed in thought, I barely noticed the fading light of day until I heard Nathaniel murmuring something in the living room. He was speaking with someone, and since he and I were the only ones here at the moment, I knew it had to be Damian Nathaniel was talking to. I stood up quickly and made my way into the living room.

"I don't know what she wants to talk to you about, it's none of my business," Nathaniel lied. I had given him strict orders to stall Damian if I didn't get to him first. I noticed he stood in front of the doorway as if blocking it, kind of giving his lie away.

Damian stood a few feet from him, hands on his hips, eyes locked intensely on the young wereleopard. I called his name and he turned sharply to face me.

"Nathaniel said you wanted to see me?" he began, his tone questioning, but slightly impatient. He glanced up at the clock on the wall and frowned. "I need to leave soon. I still have to feed before I go to the club," he added. "Or I'm going to be late."

I took a deep breath. "That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about," I began, his brusque demeanor spurring my resolve.

Damian's eyes flickered from mine to Nathaniel's warily. Nathaniel turned away and pretended to study the pattern of the draperies. Damian sighed heavily and focused his attention back on me.

"You're angry about something," he concluded, his hands slipping off his hips. He adopted a more submissive posture and lowered his eyes.

"Yes, and no," I told him. "I've been thinking and I believe it would be for the best if you just stay here tonight. I don't want you to go to the club...for awhile, until things cool down. You know, just in case Isabelle Dalton happens to show up there. I don't want you confronting her. I want you to avoid any contact with her period."

"Are you punishing me after all?"

"I'm giving you the night off, Damian. How can you take that as a punishment?" I said flippantly.

Damian looked up at me then. "Jean-Claude won't like it if I don't show up."

I swore softly under my breath. "Right now, I'd say Jean-Claude is the least of your worries."

His impatience surfacing once more, Damian shifted his weight to one leg. "Why do you think Isabelle will be there? I'm sure she's moved on to bigger better things. Besides, what do you think I intend to do to her if I do see her?"

I stepped a little closer to him and jabbed him in the middle of his chest with my index finger. "Don't give me that. You think she's going to be there too. That's why you're rushing off to work. You're not late. You want to get there before your shift starts so you can look for her."

A shadow seemed to pass over Damian's face. He dragged his hand through his hair, pushing it away from his eyes.

"All right, yes. I was hoping she'd be there. She's been there every night I've worked for the past two weeks. I...was hoping she'd come to me and tell me it was all just some terrible mistake--that she'd been tricked too...."

Damn. This was going to be harder than I first thought. I reached up and touched his cheek. "Damian, this woman is a bonafide predator. I found out she's done this kind of thing before. She and her sister. What she did to you wasn't a mistake. She wanted to hurt you and she did."

Damian pulled away from me and stalked slowly over to the sofa. He sat down, as if this bit of news was too much to bear standing up.

Nathaniel and I exchanged glances, then we both went to him and took a seat on either side of him.

"You can feed on me tonight," Nathaniel offered. "Anita gave me the night off too. I can stay here with you to keep you company if you'd like."

Damian peered at him and passed his hand over Nathaniel's hair affectionately. "I'm glad you want to stay with me," he began, tonelessly, "but it's not necessary." He turned his head in my direction. "None of this is necessary. If you don't want me to confront Isabelle, all you have to do is tell me. I won't disobey you. You must know that. If she is at the club tonight, I'll just avoid her if that's what you want."

I shook my head. "I know you wouldn't purposefully disobey me, but I'd rather not chance it, Damian." You would have thought I'd just slapped him across the face with the stunned look he gave me.

"You don't trust me," he stated, appalled. "You have no confidence in my judgment now."

"Your judgment was hampered before by your emotions," I put in. "But I understand that."

Damian took a deep, steadying breath. "Anita, I swear to you, if you had told me directly not to go to that party, I would not have gone, no matter what I felt for Isabelle."

"But you didn't give me that chance, did you?" I shot back. "Wasn't it enough to know I'd disapprove? I can't hover over your shoulder like some guardian angel who whispers to your conscience, Damian. I have to be able to know you'll consider the consequences of your actions before you act. And...right now, I don't."

"Until you trust me again, I won't truly feel forgiven for what I did." Damian lowered his head. "Give me consequences to consider if it will convince you I've learned my lesson. Punish me."

Furrowing my brow, I shook my head. "No Damian. We went through this last night. I am not going to punish you."

Damian looked up at me. "You said you wouldn't punish me in anger. For the most part, your anger has passed. I'll accept whatever you chose to do to me. I won't hold it against you. Just...give me some way to make up for what I've done."

I swore under my breath. I didn't like this. I didn't like it one bit. I wasn't any good at being someone's master. I was bossy, pushy, overbearing, and just plain domineering at times, but I didn't feel comfortable thinking of myself as the master of a powerful, thousand-year old vampire, who was also a grown man.

"If it helps, think of me as your creation--your child in some respects," Damian said as though he'd been reading my mind. "If your child had done something foolish and had inadvertantly endangered his life, would you truly hesitate to exact some sort of discipline? Then, once disciplined, wouldn't your faith in that child be restored because of the lesson you put before it? If it's the only way for you to trust me again, Anita, I want you to punish me."

I peered over at him. Maybe he was right. And put that way, I suppose I should punish him. If I made it harsh enough, it would convince me he'd think twice before acting rashly again. The only problem now was how.

Damian had asked me earlier if being forced to stay in tonight was a punishment, so impulsively, I was going to tell him it was. But it occurred to me that wasn't severe enough for what he had done. If I was going to do this, I needed to steel myself and do it right.

I glanced at Nathaniel, who was now leaning against Damian comfortably, his head resting on the vampire's chest. Damian had his arm around the young wereleopard's shoulder, holding him like he was a security blanket. Nathaniel was such an empath, he always seemed to know when someone needed comforting--and he truly liked Damian. Thankfully, because I hadn't even given any thought as to what Damian would do for blood tonight. I wasn't about to volunteer and I hadn't asked Nathaniel to feed Damian, he had offered to do so on his own.

That gave me an idea. I considered it. Considered if I could actually do it and decided I could. I stood up and took hold of Nathaniel's hand, pulling him away from Damian. Damian's eyes widened in surprise. He seemed to know what I had in mind for him already.

"Go back downstairs, Damian and stay there for the rest of the night," I told him, hardly believing what I was about to decree. "I'm not going to let you feed tonight. That will be your punishment."

Nathaniel gaped at me. "Anita, you can't be serious," he quickly protested. "It's been at least 26 hours since he last fed. His going without blood tonight won't just make his stomach growl."

I frowned at him. "Excuse me. I am a preternatural expert. I'm more than aware of how insistent a vampire's craving for blood can be." I paused and looked over at Damian. "By morning, he won't be able to think of anything else. He won't notice anything about the people around him except for the smell of their blood. Their pulses will pound in his ears like a clock ticking away the hours. He'll be weak, and miserable...and oh so repentant." I nudged the silent vampire on my sofa with my foot. "Isn't that right, Damian?"

Carefully avoiding my eyes, Damian nodded hesitantly. "Yes," he replied in a soft, exhaled breath.

I straightened, squaring my shoulders, determined to appear confident and casual about what I was doing, but I tightened my grip on Nathaniel's hand.

"Go on then," I ordered Damian. "I'll see you tomorrow night."

Damian licked his lips slowly and looked up briefly. He rubbed his hands down the length of his thighs as if smoothing out wrinkles in his pants. I recognized the gesture for what it was. He was tense and agitated now, but when he spoke, his voice was oddly calm.

"Are you going somewhere tonight?" he asked.

"Yeah, out," I replied, not really wanting to disclose any details of what I had planned to do this evening.

Damian finally looked up at me, his eyes pleading. "Do you have to leave me?"

I frowned. "Yes, I'm afraid so." I released Nathaniel's hand and stepped back over to the sofa. I knelt down on the floor in front of Damian and sighed. "You'll be all right. It's just for tonight."

He offered me a somewhat dubious look, then placed his hand over mine on the arm of the sofa. "Do I have to stay here? Can't I at least go with you?"

I shook my head. "Not where I'm going," I told him. I gnawed my lower lip a moment, then stood up. I could do this. I had to do this. It'd be for the best in the long run. "Downstairs. Now."

Damian pursed his lips, then opened his mouth as if to say something, then only sighed. He rose to his feet and glided through the living room, disappearing down the hall.

I squeezed my eyes shut and swore at myself. I hated this shit. I really hated it.

It wasn't until I felt the weight of Nathaniel's hand on my shoulder that I opened my eyes. I looked over at him.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

I laughed lightly in surprise. "Is it that obvious?"


I turned to face him fully and launched into an explanation, more for myself than Nathaniel's benefit.

"He wanted a way to redeem himself. I got him out of jail, I healed him, I told him I forgave him--so much in fact I nearly fucked him last night....I took away all the consequences. I needed to give him back some."

"Anita, I understand."

I swore again. "But you think I'm being cruel."

Nathaniel shook his head. "It doesn't matter what I think. You're doing what you feel you need to do."

God, I was getting a headache. Too much stress. Too little sleep. I massaged my temples roughly.

"Go get dressed. You might as well come with me to Danse Macabre now."

Nathaniel immediately perked up. "I am?"

"Yes, you can be my date."

The young wereleopard flashed a smile that was quickly followed by a frown. "Why me? Why don't you just have Jean-Claude meet you there?" He glanced down the hall Damian had disappeared through, then looked back at me and frowned deeper. Maybe he thought I was dragging him with me because I didn't trust him not to go to Damian once I left. He didn't say that of course, but I knew that was why he had asked.

I put my hands on my hips with mock indignation. "What's the matter? Don't you want to be seen with me?" I teased, hoping to lighten his mood.

Wrapping his arms around me in an impromptu hug, Nathaniel kissed my cheek and smiled. "I promise I'm not going to feed Damian if you leave me here," he proclaimed. "It's all right. You can go with Jean-Claude. I know you'd rather be with him than me."

I hugged him back tightly. I needed hugging right now. So did he.

"I want you to come with me for two reasons," I began. "And it's not that I don't trust you, Nathaniel. I trust you probably more than anyone. It's just that, if the house is empty, it will be easier on Damian. He doesn't need to be smelling your blood all night. And as far as Jean-Claude goes, you know as well as I do, he tries to lay low during the tourist season. Going out with him, even in the off-season, is like going out with a rock star. I don't want to attract any undue attention tonight. I need to do a little discreet investigating and I need to be able to move around and ask a few questions."

"Ah, so we're going incognito then?"

I could almost feel Nathaniel's enthusiasm growing. Nodding, I reached up and pinched his cheek affectionately. "You got it. Is it a date, or not?"

He smiled brilliantly then, cheering me up. "Definitely. Give me fifteen minutes. I'll pick you up by the front door." He turned to go, then paused, and looked me over somewhat critically. "You're not wearing that are you?"

Apparently, my black jeans and polo shirt didn't meet his night clubbing standards. I wasn't going to change, but then, on second thought maybe I had better. I was supposed to be looking like I was there to have a good time like the rest of the crowd. The key to good sleuthing was being invisible, so to speak.

I nodded. "Of course," I replied matter-of-factly. "Give me fifteen minutes...and I'll meet you by the front door."

Satisfied, Nathaniel grinned and continued on his way. With a sigh of resignation, I followed him into the bedroom.


Nathaniel and I arrived at Danse Macabre a little after ten. The place was already buzzing with activity. Every table was full and the patrons were wall to wall thick. There were so many dancers, they were spilling out beyond the dance floor, with many couples forced to lay claim to floorspace between the tables. The waiters and waitresses were probably having a heck of a time negotiating the floor tonight.

The atmosphere had a wild, hedonistic, party-like feel to it, complete with flashing lights and pulsatingly loud music. Jean-Claude definitely had another hit on his hands.

What surprised me, was the club had become as popular a hang out with the city's vampires as it was with the humans. I couldn't remember the last time, if ever, I'd seen so many vampires in a public place. It made me wonder if the humans here were aware there was a one in five chance their dance partner was a vamp. Of course, maybe word had gotten around that if you wanted to rub shoulders with vampires, this was the place to be. If Isabelle Dalton knew this, no wonder she came here to "hunt".

I fished out the printed copies of the Ohio driver's licenses I had obtained from the police files and studied them the best I could in the flashing lights. I'd bet good money either Isabelle or her sister, Mariah were here tonight. Somewhere.

I nudged Nathaniel and handed him the photocopies. His lycanthropic eyes were undoubtedly keener than mine and besides, he was taller than me and could see over people's heads better.

"Do you see either one of these women here?" I half-yelled, trying to be heard above the music.

Nathaniel looked carefully at both pictures, then scanned the room.

I was looking around too, thinking how futile it was in this thickening mass of gyrating shadows. I couldn't get a good look at anyone. I was just about to tell Nathaniel to forget it, when his gaze locked straight ahead, in the general direction of the bar.

"There," he announced. "The dark-haired one. She's sitting at the bar, talking to a vampire."

I squinted and strained to follow his gaze, but it still took me a few minutes to spy her. Sure enough, there was the lovely Isabelle.

"Come on," I told Nathaniel, grabbing hold of his arm. "Let's go have a drink at the bar."

Actually, I should have let him lead, I concluded. Even after sharpening my elbows, we still weren't getting to the bar anytime soon. This was like wading through quagmire. And the smell was just as bad. You could tell it was mid-August all right.

When Nathaniel and I finally did reach the bar, I didn't have to pretend to want a drink. So what if it was a diet coke? Who'd know? Nathaniel followed my lead and ordered a club soda. Smart wereleopard.

The bartender was a young vampire named Poulo. He was the swarthiest vampire I'd ever known and if it weren't for his preternatural grace and statue-like immobility, the average person probably wouldn't suspect what he was.

Poulo was ungregarious as far as bartenders went, and fairly agreeable as far as vampires went. After he served Nathaniel and I, I snagged his arm before he could get away to ask him a few questions.

"Listen, Poulo. How much do you know about the dark-haired woman at the end of the bar?"

Poulo fixed his gaze on me momentarily, then glanced sideways at Isabelle Dalton without turning his head.

"Not much," he replied quietly. "She comes here alot. She seems to be sort of a vampire groupie, if you know what I mean."

I did, which made me frown. I spared a quick look in her direction. "Have you noticed something the vampires she goes after have in common?" I finished my coke and motioned for another.

As Poulo refilled my glass, he shook his head. "They're vampires. Seems to be a flavor-of-the-week thing with her."

"Yeah," I muttered. I was hearing this, but I didn't like it. All my suspicions about Ms. Dalton seemed to be true.

"You know, come to think of it," Poulo continued, pulling me away from my thoughts. "There is one thing her quarry has in common."

I grinned. Funny how he'd used the word 'quarry'. "What's that?" I encouraged.

"The lady's not impressed with power. Goes after the newer vamps. Even hit on me once. I told her I wasn't interested. I'd seen her around too much."

"She went after Damian. He's pretty powerful," I pointed out.

"Yeah, but he saved her. Maybe she felt obligated to give him a try after that."

I sat up a little straighter and Nathaniel and I exchanged glances. "Saved her?" This was the first I'd heard about that. "What are you talking about?"

Nodding, Poulo elaborated. "A guy started roughing her up and tried to drag her out of here. Damian just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, I guess you could say. Calmed the guy down."

"Was this guy a vampire?"

Poulo shook his head. "No. He was human. A real, clean-cut, all-American type. He was mad though. From the way they argued, I got the impression they had a history together."

I blinked back my surprise. This was getting more confusing by the minute. "Hmm. Has this guy been in here before?"

Poulo shrugged and passed his rag thoughtfully over the bar. "I don't think so."

I nodded. "Thanks Poulo. You've been very helpful."

With a quick toothy smile, Poulo inclined his head respectfully. "Anything for the boss's lady," he said and drifted off to serve his other customers.

I turned towards Nathaniel. "Follow my lead, okay?"

He nodded readily.

"And if you see anyone coming over to greet me, head 'em off, okay?" I looked around, making sure there was no one in the immediate vicinity I was aquainted with.

"No problem," Nathaniel agreed. "I'll be a lookout for you."

"All right. Here goes nothing," I announced and took a deep breath, then started edging my way down the bar towards Isabelle Dalton.

Now that I got a good look at her, I decided her driver's license photo didn't do her any justice. But then whose did? Isabelle was a looker, that much was obvious. She was a little taller than me, but thin and fragile-looking. Maybe that was part of her appeal. I could easily see why Damian had been attracted to her, and now, knew why he felt so protective of her.

The sun-dress she was wearing was a periwinkle blue which exposed most of her décolletage and all of her neck. Enticing. She sported a late summer tan, that made me think she spent a lot of times outdoors during the day. She clearly wasn't trying to pass for a typical vampire groupie. Most of them tried to emulate their idols and slept all day and partied all night. But Isabelle partied all night too. When did the woman sleep? Maybe I'd come right out and ask her.

I cleared my throat and prepared to introduce myself. I used that classic line. "Excuse me. Don't I know you from somewhere?"

Isabelle Dalton paused in mid-conversation and turned to face me. I couldn't help notice the comely male vampire she was talking to took advantage of the distraction and slipped away into the crowd. Not his type, I guessed. Lucky for him.

Isabelle noticed him leave too, swore, and shot me a scathing look. "No. I don't think so," she said loudly, clearly perturbed. "I'm not from here."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," I apologized, trying my best to look sincere. "From the side, I could have sworn you were my old college dorm mate." I took the barstool the vampire had recently vacated and made myself comfortable. "I didn't mean to chase your friend away."

Isabelle went back to her drink, eyeing Nathaniel somewhat appreciatively. "He wasn't my friend," she grumbled. "Just a guy I met here."

I leaned closer to her. "That was a vampire, you know."

"Yeah, so?" She wasn't looking at me however. She raised her glass and used it to gesture at Nathaniel. "Is he a vampire?"

"Oh. No," I told her and left it at that.

"He's got a supernatural look about him. I like that, but don't worry. I'm only interested in vampires."

Nathaniel must have been feeling self-conscious under her scrutiny. Funny, for a stripper. He moved to stand behind me and placed his hand on my shoulder. Isabelle followed his movement with her eyes.

"Well, to each his own," I said with a shrug. "I prefer something a little warmer between the sheets myself."

That brought her attention back on me. She studied me now, a sparkle of newfound interest brightening her blue eyes.

"To be honest," she began, leaning closer to me. "So do I. But the vamps here are...fun to play with."

I forced a smile. "Sounds interesting."

Isabelle shook her head. "Well, they're so gullible. It's easy to lead them on."

I tried to look surprised now. "Why do you say that?"

Isabelle smiled, but it was anything but pretty. "Trust me, you let them think there's even a remote chance you'll feed them, and they'll follow you right down into hell."

I had to turn away from her, certain my congenial expression was slipping. She was mean, this one. Mean and stupid. A dangerous combination. I pretended to look around and took a quick sip of my coke.

"That does sound fun," I replied finally and tried to laugh light-heartedly. "But I'm not interested in becoming a blood donor, if you know what I mean."

Isabelle bent towards me so close now I could have kissed her had I been so inclined. "You don't have to be. There's an easy way to get rid of them if they start pressuring you."

I was starting to get a little testy and I know it leaked through in my voice. "Why even get involved with them if you're not really into what they are? Why lead them on? It's dangerous."

"It's fun," Isabelle said coldly.

"You must hate them," Nathaniel spoke up.

Isabelle and I turned as one to look at him. Nathaniel was frowning deeply, the disgust on his face clearly evident. I discreetly reached behind me and jabbed him sharply in the thigh with my thumb. I don't think he even felt it, but he looked at me apologetically, then turned around and faced the crowd.

"Ah, my boyfriend's best friend's brother is a vamp," I explained. "So he's a lot more tolerant of them than me. He's the one who brought me here tonight. I wouldn't have come if I'd have known there'd be so many vampires here."

"Yeah, this town is infested," Isabelle muttered, turning her gaze back on me. "Reminds me of cancer. You know, everyone knows someone who knows someone who has cancer." She set her drink down carefully on the bar, fished through her purse for a few moments, then brought out a twenty dollar bill.

"Cancer," I repeated and took a deep breath. I decided there was nothing about Isabelle Dalton I liked. She must have given an academy award performance to have captivated Damian the way she had. And she was nothing like me! I resented the fact he had said so.

Isabelle got up to leave. I snapped out of my repulsion just long enough to make a bid for the academy's recognition myself.

"Maybe I'll see you around. It's nice to meet a kindred spirit for a change. They're few and far between in this town."

Isabelle tossed the money on the bar beside her empty glass. "No, my dear. We're alot closer than you think," she stated with a sly smile. With that, she turned and pushed her way into the crowd.

I noticed a vampire approached her almost immediately. Isabelle beamed up at him, and they seemed to exchange pleasantries. The next thing I knew, they were arm in arm and walking out of the club together. I wouldn't be surprised to find a police file on him soon. I shook my head and turned to look at Nathaniel.

"How could she do something like that?" Nathaniel asked, placing his hands on his hips. "What's she got against vampires?"

I shrugged. "I don't know, but I intend to find out." I glanced around. "You wouldn't happen to see her sister here would you?"

Nathaniel shook his head. "No. I was keeping an eye out for her, but she's not here."

"Let's get out of here, then," I suggested. I tossed money onto the bar next to Isabelle's, tipping Poulo generously, and stood up. "It's early still. Let's check out some of the other clubs before we call it a night."

I didn't wait for Nathaniel's consent. I grabbed his hand and made a beeline for the exit.


Unlike her sister, Mariah Dalton was nowhere to be found. Nathaniel and I hit all the tourist clubs we could, including Guilty Pleasures and The Laughing Corpse.

We finally gave up. Even if we had found her, I was certain the results would be the same. I knew for a fact, she had the same warped idea of fun her sister did.

'We're closer than you think,' Isabelle had said. That told me there was definitely some kind of jail bait organization she was affiliated with that went out of their way to set up vampires. Maybe the women in the other police files worked alongside Isabelle and Mariah. My only hope now was that Ronnie would come up with something concrete I could sink my teeth into. These women needed to be stopped.

Nathaniel and I made it home a little before four. At least I didn't have to be up by seven this morning. I could sleep in until nine or ten. Woo hoo!

Nathaniel went straight to bed, but I was too keyed up. I poked around the kitchen for awhile, washing a few dishes, cleaning up, trying to wind down.

My thoughts were on Damian however. It was hard to believe he had come to care for Isabelle as deeply as he had. She had to be good at what she did, that much was evident. But then, maybe Isabelle was right. Maybe all her 'boyfriends' wanted to believe she was real so badly, they tended to ignore their sensibility. Damian obviously had. Even after he knew he'd been set up, he still wanted to believe it was just a misunderstanding. My heart went out to him for that. Was he really that lonely?

I stretched out my power and touched him. The power that answered mine was feeble and transparent. Sad and disturbing.

I quickly dried my hands on a dishtowel, my resolve torn between duty and friendship. In the end, my friendship for Damian won out. Besides, I was not like Isabelle.

Tossing the towel aside, I made my way out of the kitchen and headed downstairs.


My basement was finished and set up like an efficiency apartment that just happened to have a coffin in one of the back rooms. There was a half-bathroom with a shower and a small guest bedroom, as well as a modest, but comfortable living room which was bordered in bookcases and lamps.

The furniture consisted of a dark blue leather loveseat and two matching chairs. Very heavy and masculine-looking, but cozy too. Perfect for curling up with a favorite book on a cold rainy night. The tiled floor was covered in plush area rugs. My stockinged feet sunk into them as I made my way across the living room.

I was ashamed to admit it had been months since I had last ventured down here. Aside from adding to his collection of books, little had changed about the place however. I knew Damian actually spent very little time here. Even on the rare occasions I was home for the night, Damian went out. I think he had given up trying to get me to pay attention to him.

A single lamp had been turned on in the living room, but Damian wasn't in here. I called his name, more or less to announce my presence and started towards the guest bedroom. It was the only bedroom in fact, but since Damian didn't really use it, we called it his guest room.

The room was pitch black and having mostly black decor didn't help illuminate the place any. I could just make out Damian's form lying on his side on the bed, facing the wall. The stark whiteness of his complexion gave him away.

"Damian?" I whispered, then felt silly. It wasn't as if he were sleeping or anything. He was probably just slightly catatonic by now. I climbed on the bed beside him and placed my hand on his arm. He was so cold to the touch, I almost shivered. Damn. I moved my hand to his face and gently stroked his cheek.

"I'm glad you're home," he murmured in a voice so soft it was barely audible.

"I'm glad to be home," I whispered back, passing my hand over his long, silky hair. "Turn around."

He did, but it wasn't without effort. His usually normal fluidity and grace had been replaced by movements that seemed stiff and choppy. He looked up at me and offered me a small smile.

It was meant to be reassuring, I'm sure, but instead it had the opposite affect on me, making me feel more guilty and miserable than I already did. I stretched out my arm towards him and waved my wrist under his nose. I was not like Isabelle.

"Here," I nearly squeaked. My throat was so tight, it was painful. "Feed on me."

Damian needed no further persuasion. He sat up with a sharp contraction of muscles and seized my arm in his hands. His mouth closed over my wrist and he looked up at me with wide, glossy eyes.

I suddenly felt the stab of his fangs and jumped a little at the intensity of pain. I was his master so he couldn't roll my mind to make the bite a tad more comfortable, but in a way I wanted to feel the pain. A small price really, for making him suffer all night long.

Damian's eyes gradually closed and the tension in his body eased. Still feeding at my wrist, he slumped back down on the bed, taking me down with him. I shifted around until I was comfortable and laid my head on the pillow beside his. I watched his throat work rhythmically and felt his power rising and swirling around us. I let him feed until I started feeling light-headed, then tried to pull my arm away from him.

"Stop," I said finally. "Stop now or I'm going to pass out."

Damian released me as quickly as he'd seized me, then took a deep, shuddering breath as if he hadn't breathed in awhile. He wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand, then licked his hand clean.

"Thank you," he sighed, gazing at me with undisclosed adoration. He also had a very satiated, euphoric look on his face.

I turned away from him and looked around futily for something to put on my wounds to stave off the bleeding, but couldn't see anything handy in the darkened room.

Damian seemed to sense what I wanted however and took my hand and pressed the hem of his shirt firmly against my wrist.

I was about to protest his getting his clothes bloody on my account, but he wrapped his arm around my waist and snuggled up to me with a contented sigh. He was warm now and his long, sinewy body felt sweetly soothing lying next to mine, easing away the protests I had been about to make. I put my head on his shoulder and curled myself around him. I'd worry about the dry-cleaning bills later.

I wasn't sure when I fell asleep exactly, but the last thing I remember was the touch of Damian's lips on my forehead.


I woke, still in Damian's bed, but alone now. It must have been late morning, but I really couldn't tell how late in the dark bedroom.

I noticed my wrist now sported matching purple Band-aids, one over each puncture wound, and sometime before he had retired for the day, Damian had covered me up with a blanket.

Reluctantly, I tossed it aside and crawled off the bed, making my way back into the basement living room. My eyes immediately zeroed in on a pristinely folded sheet of white paper, propped up on the bookcase closest to the stairs. My name was written on it with thinly scrawled, but calligraphic-looking penmanship. The note within was written with the same classical flourish that was a little hard for my modern-trained eyes to decipher at first, but it brought a smile to my face, nonetheless. I realized Damian had probably been taught to write centuries before my grandmother was even born.

It began:

My dearest Anita, Good morning.

My heart is filled once more, not only with the power that

resides in your veins, but the sweetness of your forgiveness.

I go to my rest feeling renewed and strengthened by your

faith and love, and the conviction to never again jeopardize

the possession of either. I am compelled to thank you again

for your gift. It means more to me than you could know.

Then he signed it simply: Damian.

Warmed by his note, I carefully refolded it, wanting to keep it. If any good had come out of what Isabelle Dalton had done to Damian, it was that he and I were becoming closer. Sad that it took something like this to get me to regard him as something beyond a mere roommate though. At the moment, I wished we could just put Isabelle Dalton and this whole sordid affair behind us, but now, more than ever, I wanted that woman stopped.

I also wanted to know why she hated vampires enough to risk her life night after night the way she did. She was so casual about it too; it was just a game to her. In my experience, something had to have happened to someone personally, or someone close to them, to turn them so vehemently against vampires. I had even met people like that who had been attacked, or had lost someone they loved to a vampire attack. But Isabelle didn't fit that general description. Those people had zero tolerance for vampires. They wouldn't be caught in the same room with a vampire, let alone socialize with them--even if it was for the sake of vengence. Her level of hatred was more in line with a prejudice and just as irrational.

That angry young man didn't seem to fit in either. Was he a boyfriend Isabelle had shunned in her pursuit of vampires? I made a mental note to ask Damian about him tonight. For now, I had to make an appearance at work, and then meet with Ronnie to see if she'd come up with anything.

Clutching my note to my chest, I jogged up the stairs to take a shower and start my day.


When I arrived at work, I was almost relieved to find I had no pending appointments, and told Bert he could beeper me if he needed me and I'd be happy to come in again. He didn't give me any grief about it. He was learning, finally.

Mary, our daytime secretary hailed me just as I was about to get in the elevator, however.

"Anita, I have a message for you," she began. "A Mrs. Lucille Storr called. She wants you to call her back at your earliest convenience and set up a time to meet with her." The phone rang while Mary was handing me the memo. She answered it and motioned for me to wait. Then she put the call on hold. "It's for you. Veronica Simms. Shall I put it through to your office?"

I nodded and started back to my time-share of an office. Once there, I closed the door behind me and snatched up the phone.

"Anita, I think I've got something for you," Ronnie began. "Can you come by sometime today?"

I nodded automatically. "I was just on my way, when you called."

"I'm not sure if it's relevant or not, but I think it's something you should know." She sounded a little sympathetic.

My curiosity was piqued now. "Is it something you can tell me over the phone?" I urged.

There was a slight pause, or hesitation, however you want to look at it. Then: "I checked out Mariah and Isabelle Dalton to see if they were members of Humans Against Vampires or some other vampire hate group. It turns out, their father is a member. But not for reasons you'd think."

I wondered what that implied. I waited, but Ronnie didn't elaborate.

"Let me guess," I said, a little impatiently. "A vampire co-worker got the promotion Mr. Dalton was assuming was his." Facetious, I know.

This time when Ronnie spoke, her voice was tinged with irritation. "That's a little shallow, don't you think?"

I wasn't sure if she meant shallow on my part or Mr. Dalton's. I let it go.

"Sorry," I apologized tonelessly. "Go on."

Ronnie took a deep breath. "Actually you weren't very far off the mark. Apparently, a vampire took Mrs. Dalton. Isabelle and Mariah's mother."

My heart sunk and I winced. Now I really was sorry. "A vamp killed their mother?"

"No. I didn't say that. The former Mrs. Dalton, now divorced, left her husband for a vampire. She had an affair with it and ruined her marriage. Mr. Dalton divorced her and moved his daughters to St. Louis nearly three months ago. His ex-wife still lives in Cincinnati with her vampire boyfriend."

"Now that is interesting," I told Ronnie, grasping the receiver with both hands. "That explains Isabelle and Mariah's perception of vampires. Their father probably has filled their heads with so much hate, it has driven them to seek out revenge. That also explains why they don't really see vampires as a threat, but a nuisance. I've got to tell you, I met up with Isabelle last night, and it was crystal clear to me that she wasn't afraid of vampires in the least. It's starting to make sense now. In a twisted sort of way."

"I'd say that family has a right to hate vampires," Ronnie said tightly. "What happened to them was tragic. It destroyed their lives."

I sighed. "Of course it was tragic," I agreed. "But it destroyed their lives only metaphorically. If they keep doing what their doing, their lives are going to be destroyed literally and that's a fact. I'm afraid I can't wholly sympathize with that kind of blind stupidity. If their mother had had her throat torn out by a vampire, it would be different."

Ronnie was silent for a few seconds. "Jesus, you've changed so much. You don't see anything wrong with a vampire seducing away a family man's wife?"

I was starting to get a little perturbed now. "Maybe Mrs. D. was the one who seduced the vampire. Like Isabelle and Mariah are doing now. Maybe she was just unhappy in her marriage and met someone who truly cared for her and made her happy. We don't know any of the circumstances, Ronnie, so it's wrong to pass judgments. Maybe Mrs. Dalton and her boyfriend are in love. Did you think about that?"

"Oh. Right. Love," Ronnie retorted dubiously.

My thoughts flew to Damian unexpectedly. I found myself wondering if he could have fallen in love with Isabelle if given the chance too. He seemed to be well on his way. I shook my head to banish the thought.

"Yes, love. It's possible," I growled into the phone. We needed to change the subject. "Listen. Do Isabelle and Mariah have a brother or any old boyfriends in the area?"

"Ah...not that I'm aware of."

"Any men in their lives at all right now?"

"I don't know. But I can find out."

I smiled. Good ole Ronnie. All I have to do is keep the subject off vampire emotions and it was just like old times again.

"Good. Let me know the minute you have anything. Even if you think it's trivial. I want to know."

"All right. Let me get back to you."

There was a moment of silence. I cleared my throat to break it.

"These girls have to be stopped, Ronnie," I stated firmly. "It's not right what they're doing."

Ronnie sighed. "I know. I'll talk to you later."

"Yeah, bye." I hung up the phone. Damn. I guess I couldn't make Ronnie come around as far as vampires were concerned overnight. It had taken me years of relating to vampires on a close personal basis for me to think of them as anything but evil-minded sadists who'd just as soon kill you as look at you. Granted, there were plenty of vampires like that, but there were some who were almost nice.

I smiled to myself, my eyes falling on the memo concerning Mrs. Storr, Dolph's wife. I immediately picked up the phone to call her. Dolph would be working tonight and that was a good thing as far as I was concerned. I didn't want to have to defend my opinions to him tonight. At least with Mrs. Storr, I could just tell her the truth as I knew it. Just the facts, Ma'am. And...I may just bring along a little bonus visual aid to help her see those facts up close and personal. Her family's well-being depended on her tolerance of vampires. Her son was marrying one. She didn't have the luxury of years to come to terms with them. That's why she wanted to talk to me.


As it was, Lucille Storr was more than happy to meet with me tonight and when I told her I was bringing a friend, she pleasantly informed me she had plenty of coffee to go around. I told her my friend didn't drink coffee, but I don't think she got the hint I was dropping because then she told me she also had tea. Oh well. She'd find out soon enough.

For his part, Damian was pleased to assist me and be my visual aid. I filled him in on the Storr's particular situation on the way to their house in the car. I also took the opportunity to question him regarding the night he met Isabelle.

"Had you ever seen that guy before?" I was saying.

Damian shook his head. I could tell he was reluctant to talk about it, and seemed a little uncomfortable all of a sudden.

"What were they arguing about, do you remember?" I glanced over at him.

"He wanted her to leave with him. She didn't want to. I wasn't really paying attention to them until they started yelling at each other. He didn't like what she was doing and told her to just 'get over it'."

I noticed Damian shrugged slightly and turned to look out the car window. I cleared my throat. "So what prompted you to intervene?"

Damian's voice was soft now. "He had grabbed her arm and was trying to drag her away from the bar. I had just gotten offstage and was only a few feet behind them. Isabelle fought the guy and freed herself, but lost her balance and nearly fell. I caught her. She clung to me and begged me to help her. I couldn't tell her no. She looked so frightened and angry...and beautiful."

"What did you do?"

Damian licked his lips apprehensively. "I approached the young man and...made him calm down."

I shot him a quick look. "What did you do?" I repeated, putting a little more demand in my voice.

Damian sighed. "I forced him to look at me and took his mind."

I nearly slammed on the brakes. "You took his mind without consent?!"

"I doubt he would have consented in the state he was in."

"Jesus H., Damian. She had you breaking the law from the very beginning!" I seethed.

"I had to help her," Damian stated.

We pulled up along the curb in front of the Storr house and I parked the car. Time for me to close my eyes and count to ten again, but as usual it wasn't helping. I didn't know why I bothered.

"So, what did Isabelle do after that?"

"She was a little anxious about the mind trick and asked if I was a master vampire," he went on carefully. "When I assured her I was not, she introduced herself and asked my name. We talked the rest of the night and got to know each other." He paused and lowered his eyes. "The rest is history, as they say."

I huffed loudly. "History. Thank God for that." I unbuckled my seat belt and angled myself to better face him. "Didn't you find it odd that the first thing she asked you was if you were a master?"

Damian considered this. "Not really. Women ask me that alot, but usually when I tell them I'm not, they leave me alone. Why settle for a corporal if you can snag a general? I think it said a lot about Isabelle that she wasn't interested in my powers."

I knew the real reason Isabelle wasn't interested in power and it wasn't because she had risen above such pettiness. She wanted to know up front if Damian was someone she could handle. Master Vampires were simply out of her league.

"The truth is," I began, my hackles rising. Damian mirrored me, but his gaze was fixed on his hands which were folded loosely in his lap. Maybe it was a trick of the moonlight, but he looked very boyish and vulnerable just then. I sighed heavily and shook my head. "Oh, never mind."

The vulnerable, boyish visage vanished in the blink of an eye. Now Damian looked somber and somewhat seductive. He slowly raised his eyes to meet mine and his lips parted slightly, showing the tips of his fangs.

"Whatever you were going to say about Isabelle, you can say it," he murmured, his voice just this side of breathy. "It won't upset me. My feelings for her have passed. If I've learned anything from her, I've learned there's no substitute for the real thing." He raised his head slightly and a lock of hair fell rakishly over his brow, making me just itch to push it back.

I leaned back a little. I didn't understand exactly what he was saying, but I had a pretty good idea. It made me very self-conscious.

"Does that make you uncomfortable?" Damian continued, in that eerie way which made me think he could read my mind sometimes or at the very least sense what I was feeling. I knew he couldn't. He was just incredibly perceptive for a man. He knew how to read a woman's expression with pinpoint accuracy.

I tried to shrug it off. "I don't know what you're talking about, so how can I feel uncomfortable by it?"

A shadow of a smile played across Damian's face. "I think you do." He leaned towards me. "You are the reality I crave, Anita. I need you and no one else will satisfy me. I feel it more intensely now than I ever have before."

I leaned farther away from him, but in all truth, I could feel it too. The sexual tension between us was increasing at an alarming rate, becoming a need like a hunger, that demanded satisfaction. It could be because of our bond, but I couldn't attribute it entirely to that. Damian and I had shared a sexual tension long before I fully became his master. I couldn't deny the fact I was attracted to him. He was an attractive man.

I heard Damian sigh which brought my attention back to the here and now. He settled back into his seat and frowned at me.

"Say something, Anita," he urged. "Admit to me you feel it too. Why else would you have come to me last night?" Damian sat looking at me for a few tense moments, then reached across the distance separating us and brushed my cheek with his knuckles.

His touch sent a tingle over my skin. Looking into his eyes, I could feel their pull. With any other vampire, I would have said it was supernatural, but I knew Damian didn't have that kind of power over me. What I was feeling in that instant was entirely natural, sensual, and very human.

A kiss seemed inevitable until the front porch light of the Storr residence suddenly blazed over us. Damian and I froze. Then I sat back, and he swore softly. I shook my head.

"Maybe somebody's trying to tell us something," I muttered. "I tell you what, I can't take much more of this." I turned and opened the car door to get out. "Come on. She's waiting."

We climbed out of the car and headed for the front door. It opened before we could knock and Lucille Storr appeared, graciously smiling and waving us in.

That is, until she saw Damian. She knew the moment she laid eyes on him what he was. Damian couldn't pass as human on the best of days. Her smile slipped and her eyes widened.

"Mrs. Storr, I'd like you to meet Damian," I began. "Damian, this is Mrs. Lucille Storr." I faced Lucille. "Damian is a thousand-year old vampire and a friend of mine. In fact he's my vampire. My power is what animates him. I'm his master and he's entirely obedient to me." Well, that was debatable, but I wanted to reassure Mrs. Storr, not frighten her. I knew I was throwing a lot of information at her at once, but I wanted to give her something to digest before she acted irrationally. The goal was to get inside. Everything after that should be smooth sailing.

"How do you do, Mrs. Storr?" Damian softly greeted.

A few tense moments passed as Lucille Storr continued to appraise Damian, but then she summoned a smile.

"I'm fine, thank you," she replied, still somewhat hesitantly.

"You need to invite him in, Mrs. Storr. Otherwise he can't cross your threshold," I reminded her.

Lucille nodded. "Yes, please come in," she urged and ushered us inside. "Forgive my manners, Damian. It's just that I've never actually met a vampire face to face before." She flushed and turned to look at me.

I put my hand on her arm apologetically. "I hope we didn't fluster you too much. But I thought it was important for you to meet a vampire. Especially one like Damian. One that definitely has a preternatural look about them. Someone old and powerful, but relatively non-threatening." I said the last with a wink and a smile.

"Some vampires can pass for human," I continued, not wanting her to get the wrong idea, "but don't ever think of them as human, Mrs. Storr. That's the first rule of thumb."

Closing the door behind us, Mrs. Storr nodded wholeheartedly. "Please, Anita, call me Lucille," she said, turning to guide us into her living room. "No, I've never thought of them as human. Not after hearing some of the things Dolph has told me."

Mmm hmm. I could just imagine. I took a seat on the sofa beside Mrs. Storr as Damian settled into the chair across from us.

"And well, just the fact that they're...well...dead," she added, and gave Damian a look of apology that made him smile.

"Overall, they are technically dead," I agreed. "But they are animated with such a sophisticated power they are closer to being alive than any of the other undeads." I furrowed my brow. Hopefully that made sense to her, but the way she was looking at me told me otherwise. It was hard to define what truly constituted as dead anymore. "When they are animated, they are essentially alive. Their hearts beat, they breathe, they think and feel sensations--pleasure and pain, although a little hyper-sensually. They still experience emotions. Fear, hate, happiness. Love."

Lucille glanced at Damian again, then turned her eyes back on me. "So you believe they really can be in love with someone?" Of course something like that would be important to her.

I opened my mouth to reply, but it was Damian who answered her first.

"Yes," he sighed, rather wistfully. "We can fall in love if we let ourselves. Though our lifestyles make it a bit difficult most of the time. It's easier to simply indulge our need for companionship with sex, but everyone knows love is not like that. Love comes when it is least expected and doesn't always let you choose someone convenient to bestow your feelings on. Love knows nothing of boundaries, isn't that what the poets say, Anita?"

Damian turned his attention off Lucille Storr and gave me a rather peculiar challenging look. It was unsettling to say the least. Damn him.

"You'd know more about poets than I would," I mumbled and faced Lucille. I noticed she was staring at my vampire with a dreamy-eyed expression. Shit. I snapped my fingers in front of her face a couple of times. Startled, she turned to look at me. I tried to calm her by patting her hand.

"I'm sorry, did you say something?" she asked, confused.

I smiled reassuringly. "Um, try not to look him in the eye if you can help it," I warned. "I know it's hard sometimes, especially when a vampire has such gorgeous eyes as Damian's, but it only takes a moment for them to bespell you." I spared a reproachful glance at said vampire. "Even unintentionally."

"Oh. Yes. Of course," Lucille agreed. She busied herself pouring me coffee from a service set out on the little table before us. "So, they can love human beings?" she went on, trying to sound unphased. A policeman's wife to the core. "Even though they prey on them?"

"They're not allowed to prey on humans," I quickly informed her. "They can seduce people, but they're not supposed to take their minds unless that person agrees to it. It's against the law. Isn't that right, Damian?" Two could play at this game. I felt, rather than saw, Damian look away from me.

"Yes," he answered simply and quietly. A little too quietly.

"What was that, Damian? I didn't hear you," I taunted him.

He looked up at me again. "Yes," he said, his voice loud and clear this time.

I smiled smugly, then turned back to Lucille. She looked too deep in thought to have noticed the odd exchange between Damian and I.

"Anita, is it possible for a vampire to influence a person's mind too?" she questioned earnestly.

I hedged on this one. "Yes to a degree. But if you're implying you think your son was coerced into this marriage by his fiancée, I can assure you, their powers don't extend that far." I set my nearly empty coffee cup down and refilled it with the carafe in front of me.

Lucille peered at Damian, but continued addressing me. "But a vampire could still bespell a person to cause them harm if they wanted to. What's to stop this woman from hurting my son then? From...preying on him?"

"Her love for him," Damian put in. "Just as his love will keep him from harming her."

Lucille straightened a little indignantly. "My son has no powers. How could he possibly harm her?"

Damian leaned forward slightly. "When she sleeps, Mrs. Storr. A vampire is at their most vulnerable when they sleep."

Lucille faced me, clearly troubled. "I hadn't thought about that. And here I have the Executioner sitting right beside me."

"Don't worry, Lucille," I soothed. "I'm sure your son consents to everything his fiancée needs, because, like Damian said, he loves her. Naturally he'll want to care for her."

"Care for her?"

"Feed her."

"Oh. I see."

I noticed Lucille had yet to drink any of her coffee. I was on my third cup. I was going to mention something about it getting cold to her, but I felt the weight of Damian's eyes on me again and raised my gaze to meet his.

"Feeding, for a vampire, is a very intimate experience," he said, obviously talking to Lucille, but still staring at me. "For a human to willingly give themselves to a vampire is a significant show of nurturing and trust. In many ways, it's sexual--a joining of two bodies in a pleasurable manner. Taking and giving. Wouldn't you agree with that, Anita?"

"Pleasurable, my ass," I quipped. I suddenly became aware of my matching purple Band-Aids and tried to discreetly tuck my wrist beneath my thigh. I shot Damian a look of warning. If he didn't stop putting me on the spot, he was going to get himself banished to the basement for another week.

Thankfully, Lucille was too busy considering this information to notice us again. She nonchalantly reached for her cup of coffee and took a sip. She immediately made a face and set the cup down.

"Oh, Anita, this is awful and it's cold!" she stated. "Why didn't you tell me? I'll just go make another pot." Before I could stop her, she was gathering up the service and heading into the kitchen, leaving me alone with Damian.

I seized the opportunity to ask my vampire just what he was playing at tonight.

"What's got into you all of a sudden?" I whispered loudly.

Damian was wearing one of his perfectly blank, innocent expressions. He was of Jean-Claude's lineage, all right.

"What are you talking about?"

"You know damn well what I'm talking about," I continued hotly. "If you have something to say to me concerning our relationship, I'd appreciate it if you'd pick a better time and place and quit masking what you want to say with sly insinuations."

Damian dropped his eyes from mine. "Is that a direct order?"

I was just about to reply, when the front door opened and a familiar voice said my name, surprised.

"Anita, what are you doing here?"

It was Dolph. He never actually greeted people. I wasn't sure if I was pleased to see him tonight or not.

I turned around, wiping the anger that had been building towards Damian off my face as I did. "Dolph! I came to see Lucille. She called me earlier and this was one of the few nights I had available to meet with her."

Dolph moved farther into the room and seemed to fill it up. He looked over at Damian somewhat suspiciously, but his tone, when he spoke, was courteous and sincere.

"I'm sorry. I don't believe we've met before," he said to the vampire. "But for some reason, you look familiar to me."

Damian peered up at Dolph passively. "My name is Damian. Dolph Storr, I presume."

Dolph nodded.

Damian continued. "Then perhaps you recognize me from the file the police compiled of me upon my arrest last Tuesday evening."

Dolph's mouth slackened in surprise.

I cringed inwardly. What a way to introduce yourself, I thought. But Damian just didn't know how to lie to anyone about anything. He valued the truth and readily disclosed it to anyone who'd listen. He'd probably been a tattle-tale when he was a little kid.

I suddenly noticed Dolph was nodding his head. "You're right," he said to Damian. "That's exactly where I know you from. I did see your file." He turned to look at me. "It was forwarded to my office this morning because it had your name on it."

My heart skipped a beat. "Does that mean RPIT is going to investigate it?"

Dolph frowned. "Investigate what? It's a pretty open and shut case, Anita. Your 'friend' here was picked up at an illegal freak party and decided to assault his two arresting officers. But don't worry, I think they're gonna let him off with just a nice hefty fine since he didn't use his powers on them. Just brute force." He shot Damian a disapproving look.

"Open and shut?" I protested. I rose to my feet, unable to contain my outrage. "Why am I the only one seeing a pattern here? Did you even read the file? There was no party, for one, the woman who set Damian up has set vamps up for criminal prosecution before, and if you want to talk about assault, Damian could have filed police brutality charges on those officers."

Scowling fiercely, Dolph put his hands on his hips. "Don't yank my chain, Anita. Nobody said anything to me about a possible pattern."

"Well I'm saying it," I proclaimed. "I found out there's been similar cases involving two women in particular who are affiliated with Humans Against Vampires. All the vamps stated they were involved in a relationship with one of these women. Then, when things started getting a little heavy, the women pressed charges."

Dolph actually looked interested now. "And it's the same two women every time?"

"In four out of eleven cases in the past two months it has been," I informed. "I think HAV has got something going here. Some kind of scam. I bet if anyone checks into the background of any of the women in the other cases too, HAV will show up somewhere."

I heard Damian swear softly and turned to face him. He looked back at me, angry and surprised.

"You didn't tell me she was part of HAV," he said accusingly. "I can't believe it."

"It's true," I told him. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before. I only found out recently myself. I'm sorry too you had to find out about her this way. I wasn't thinking."

Lucille Storr walked in then. She spied her husband and smiled. "Oh Dolph. I didn't realize you were home." She set the tray of fresh coffee on the table and looked warily around the room, suddenly sensing all was not right. "What's the matter? Is something wrong?"

Dolph and I simultaneously shook our heads. Damian sat back in his chair with a heavy sigh.

"Nothing, just police business. The usual," Dolph told Lucille. He took in the coffee tray and nodded. "I take it you were talking to Anita about your concerns?"

Lucille smiled shakily. "It's been a very informative evening."

"But we really should be going now," I said. As if on cue, Damian rose to his feet and came to stand by my side.

"Oh, of course, I understand," Lucille said, her smile becoming a little more genuine. "I know you're a busy lady." She gave me a quick hug. "Thank you. You really have enlightened me tonight. At least now I know more of what to expect when I meet my new daughter-in-law."

"Oh, glad I could help," I replied. We both turned and faced Damian.

To my surprise, Lucille held out her hand to him. It must have surprised Damian as well because he looked at me with uncertainty. I nodded reassuringly.

Damian took Lucille's hand in his and covered it with his other in more of a warming grasp than a handshake. Lucille beamed, pleased.

"I want to thank you too, Damian. You're kindness and eloquence tonight has helped put my mind at ease."

Damian flashed her a disarming smile and released her. I think it made Lucille blush.

"You're quite welcome," he said softly. "Thank you for allowing me into your home."

Yes, Lucille Storr was definitely blushing. Perhaps I should have warned her about a vampire's ability to charm. I took hold of Damian's arm and inched him towards the door. Ever the hostess, Lucille walked ahead of us to see us out.

"Anita, I want to see you in my office tomorrow," Dolph called after me. "I want everything you've got on this, up front. Do you understand?"

Glancing back at him, I grinned. "Hey. I'm there," I called back. Now this investigation would really take off. I almost wished we could meet and discuss things tonight, but it was late and I understood not everyone kept the same screwy nocturnal hours I did.

I thought about swinging by the house and picking up Nathaniel to resume the search for Mariah Dalton, but decided against it. I didn't want to make Damian stay home alone for a second night, but I didn't want him out on the streets or in the clubs yet either. I know. He'd learned his lesson, but I was a hard sell.

It occurred to me, while fastening my seatbelt, that what I should do is find a nice secluded spot somewhere quiet and have a little heart to heart with my vampire. He obviously had things on his mind and it would give him the opportunity to get everything out in the open.


"May I ask where we are going?" Damian said, after a good twenty minutes had passed in silence.

I had turned down a gravel lane which ran behind one of the nicer cementaries. There was a little pond and a wooded lot just beyond the graveyard which lent an atmosphere of serenity to the place. And it was peaceful, especially at two-fifteen in the morning. Even during the day, it was a quiet, picturesque spot for someone to come and think. But I had brought Damian here hopefully to talk without distractions. I parked the car in the lot beside the pond's foot bridge, undid my seatbelt, and faced my vampire.

"Let's take a walk, shall we?" I climbed out of the car without another word.

Damian followed me, but looked around somewhat suspiciously. "For a minute, I thought you were taking me out onto some dark, rural pathway to leave me by the side of the road."

"Don't tempt me," I grumbled. I glanced back at him, trudging over the little bridge towards the woods. There was a grassy clearing in the center and a whitewashed gazebo with carefully tended climbing roses tacked to the sides.

However, by the time we reached it, I was sweaty and even more irritable. It had to be at least eighty degrees still, with a ninety-percent humidity rate. I felt like I was melting in my clothes. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I dropped down onto one of the built-in benches and unfastened a few buttons on my blouse to try to feel what little breeze there was tonight.

Damian stood a few feet to the left of me, watching me curiously. Even with all that hair, he didn't appear to be the least bit affected by the weather.

"Sit down," I told him.

He didn't argue or ask why, he just sat down on the bench nearest him and pretended to study the placement of the bricks that made up the gazebo floor.

"What have I done to piss you off now?" he inquired, annoyed.

I chuckled humorlessly. "I was about to ask you the same thing."

Damian's eyes shot up to mine.

"Don't look at me like that," I continued wiping my brow with my palm. "Ever since we arrived at the Storr's, you've been putting me on the spot."

"I don't know what you mean," he snapped back. "Everything I said to Mrs. Storr was true," he replied.

"Yeah, in terms of vampires in general. At least that's the way Lucille Storr interpreted it, thankfully. I got the feeling however, you were talking to me about you."

Damian raised his brow and gave me a look that clearly said 'if the shoe fits, wear it'.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I can see this was a waste of time," I mumbled.

"Well, what do you want me to say, Anita?" Damian suddenly errupted, startling me. He'd never raised his voice to me before. "Sometimes I just get the impression you take all this a little too lightly. Or maybe I'm fooling myself, like I did with Isabelle, reading more into this than there is, or ever will be. I'm in waters way over my head again and completely out of control."

Damian was truly angry now. He stood and began pacing around the circumference of the gazebo like a tiger in a cage.

I cleared my throat to speak, but became mesmerized watching him move. All that coiled strength and grace and virility was stirring things inside me that had no business being stirred in the heat of battle. I finally had to close my eyes and shake the image of him out of my head. Unfortunately as soon as I opened them, there he was again.

"What in the hell are you going off about now?" I growled.

Damian stopped pacing and turned to face me. He shook his head. "I never meant to feel this way about you. I didn't want this bond between us, but it's here and it's real and it's the truth. Just like I told Mrs. Storr."

I must have been more tired than I thought. Nothing he was saying was making any sense to me now. I held up my hands.

"Will you please calm down and sit down and give me the chance to try to understand what exactly is wrong with you."

Damian glared at me and placed his hands on his hips defiantly. "I'd rather stand, if you don't mind."

I raised my brow in surprise. "Exercising a little civil disobedience, Damian?" I was actually only kidding, trying to lighten the moment, but Damian looked back at me like I'd just shot his best friend. I blinked at him in confusion and held my hand out to him.

He came to me in an instant--so quickly I didn't really see him move. He dropped to his knees in front of me, seized my hand in a crushing grip and buried his face against my leg; his long dark hair falling like a veil over my thighs.

"Damian, talk to me, please," I urged. "What's the matter?"

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before speaking. "I thought it would be different with you as my master," he murmured, dejectedly, "--that eventually you would love me and I would become a part of you besides just an extension of your power." He paused to rub his cheek across my hand. "But things aren't working out that way between us. When I'm not around, you barely notice and when I am with you, I only upset you. I haven't been allowed to please you the way I know I can. I'm lucky you refer to me as a friend, but I know you really think of me as just an obligation. And more often than not, just some pain-in-the-ass you're stuck with due to circumstance."

Stung, and feeling more than a little ashamed by the truth in his words, I reached down and stroked the length of his hair and passed my hand soothing over his shoulders.

"Damian...I don't understand," I stammered. "Did I say, or do, something tonight to make you think that?" Though honestly, I couldn't recall doing or saying anything to the contrary.

Damian sighed heavily. "It's not just tonight," he told me, resigned. "But ever since last night...." He paused and started over. "I've been trying to tell you, I think I'm falling in love with you, but both times, you've only responded with anger. It's as though you don't want my love. You don't want what I have to offer you."

"Wait a minute," I interjected. "That's not why I got angry. You made me uncomfortable and I reacted. I'm a very private person, Damian and I don't like the general populace knowing the intimate details of my life. I didn't mean to give you the impression I don't want your love. It's just that I can't accept your love. There's a difference. It wouldn't be fair to you, because I couldn't reciprocate it the way you need me too. I'm already in love, Damian."

Damian looked up at me finally and seemed to study my expression intently. He placed his hands on my thighs and raised himself up on his knees. His face was mere inches from mine now, but he made no move to close the gap. I continued running my hands through his hair savoringly.

"I told you before, I don't need you to be in love with me. Whatever you want to offer me, I will gladly accept. I was hoping you would love me, but at this point, I'd be happy if you simply liked me."

My mouth fell open. I tapped the bridge of his nose with my index finger in a mild rebuke. "I like you plenty," I protested. "I may even love you. And whether I like it or not, we are metaphysically bound together. That bond makes what we have special. I know I haven't gone out of my way to develop our relationship, but we've become so much closer in just these past few days; I know things will be different between us, Damian. It won't be like it was before, I swear to you."

Damian did lean forward to kiss me then. A soft, chaste kiss of gratitude, but one that sent tremors down my spine.

I cradled his face with my hands and pulled him back to me for another, purposefully deepening the kiss, opening my mouth and sinking my lips into his. He wrapped his arms around my shoulders, pulling me closer to him. I ran my hands down his shoulders and settled my palms against his biceps, pressing myself tighter against him. His skin was so cool, it felt like a breath of fresh air.

Damian leaned his face away from me just far enough to look in my eyes. "You're very hot," he stated matter-of-factly.

I knew he was referring to my near heat-stroke inducing body temperature, but I couldn't resist teasing him. I smiled coyly and batted my eyes.

"Why thank you," I murmured breathily.

It took him a heartbeat to understand. My humor is like that sometimes. But when he did, he smiled and laughed lightly, which was like a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds after a storm. Something inside me broke through the clouds too. I suddenly felt more for Damian in that moment than I ever had before.

My mood sobered as I locked my eyes on his and reached up to touch his face. He seemed to sense something had changed and became almost statue-like before me. I don't even think he blinked, but his eyes were searching my face for something that would tell him what it was.

"Let me go," I whispered.

Damian's arms fell away from my shoulders and he fluidly rose to his feet. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he lowered his eyes.

The heat pushed in against me as soon as Damian released me. It was a heavy, suffocating, oppressive kind of heat. I started to unbutton the rest of the buttons on my blouse and slipped out of it before I even had a chance to give any thought to what I was doing. I let the blouse fall from my hand onto the bench beside me.

I noticed Damian's eyes sliding up my body. He was watching me now with a distinctly uncertain look. I couldn't tell if he was unsure of what I was doing, or unsure of what I wanted him to do. Probably both. How could I tell him what I wanted when I wasn't sure myself? All of a sudden, this had become a defining moment; something that would forever alter our relationship for better or worse.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. "I think I do love you," I said finally. "It's hard to be supernaturally bound to someone and not feel some kind of love for them."

Damian sighed. "I know."

"And I want you. I want you so badly I can taste it." I opened my eyes and looked up at him. "I feel as though I'm being drawn to you and it has become stronger, but sometimes I think it's my own desires that enhance it. My own natural cravings to be close to you."

"We share a need to be together," Damian said quietly. He took a tentative step towards me. "Do you want to be with me?"

I nodded and stepped up to him. "I need to be with you." I reached down and slipped my hand in his. His fingers closed around me with a slight squeeze. I turned and pulled him after me, out of the gazebo and down to the little pond.

The grass on the banks was neatly cut and there were little wildflowers scattered here and there. Crickets chirped nearby and the sound of the water lapping at the pond's rim permeated the moist night air. I knelt down, carefully avoiding crushing any of the flowers, and urged Damian down beside me. This was a far cry from the countertop in my kitchen in more ways than one. I had felt an almost desperate need for him then, but it didn't compare to what I was feeling now. Not that my desire for him was more intense, but this time, it felt more real and more justified as if I deserved to feel this way about him now where I hadn't before.

I wrapped my arms around Damian's waist and pressed myself against him. Once more the temperature of his skin cooled my own a few delicious degrees. I let my hands slide down over the hard curves of his buttocks and squeezed him savoringly. He covered my mouth with his and kissed me devouringly until I felt the sensation of his embrace sharply between my legs. Only a vampire could cool you off and make you extremely hot at the same time. His kiss set fires deep within me, making me moan into his mouth. Slowly, still locked in our embrace, we sank down to the grass and stretched out beside one another, our legs automatically entwining.

Damian rolled me onto my back and settled himself on top of me, his body molding around mine. He lifted his head and gazed down into my eyes, his breath coming in soft, deep pants.

"Anita, are you sure you want to do this?" he asked me. "I can go no further until you tell me yes or tell me no." He brushed the hair from my face with a delicate touch of his fingers.

"And if I tell you to just let come what may? Would that be good enough?"

He blinked several times, momentarily considering what I had said, then he shook his head. "I don't want you regretting this. That would finish me."

I smiled up at him reassuringly and placed my palm against his cheek. "I know I won't regret it."

Damian bent his head to brush his lips over mine, then placed soft, feather-like kisses on my eyes and forehead. "No regrets? Promise?"

"I promise." I pulled him down for another kiss. "You won't give me any reason to regret this, will you?"

He smiled. "No," he said simply.

"Then please me--the way you know you can."

At that he laughed lightly and nuzzled my cheek affectionately. "You sound as if you don't fully believe me, my master." His eyes were glittering with adoration and smoldering with desire now. He took my face in his hands and kissed me deeply, passionately.

"Mmm...well," I half-sighed. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist you prove it." I started nibbling my way over his jaw and down his neck.

He trembled slightly and I felt his hips move suggestively against mine. I shifted my position beneath him to bear his weight more evenly.

"I'll try my best," he whispered seductively. "But with you, I think the pleasure will be all mine." His mouth descended to capture my lips once more in an intense and fervent kiss.

I could feel myself slipping away into a blissful euphoria of sensuality and desire. A doubt did cross my mind then. I doubted sincerely the pleasure would be all his.


The following morning, I made my way slowly, but surely down the hall to Ronnie Simms office to discuss her latest discovery.

Needless to say, Damian was as good as his word. He had 'pleased' me so thoroughly last night, I was finding it difficult to walk with any kind of rhythm or grace. I really didn't mind however. The soreness had a sweetness about it. It reminded me in a way of how you feel after a few hours at the gym. Your muscles burn, but you know you've had a good workout. Last night wasn't exactly a workout, but Damian had proved himself to be an athletic lover, to say the least.

Ronnie had called me first thing this morning and told me she'd managed to come up with the name and the address of who she believed might be the young man who confronted Isabelle at Danse Macabre. She was going to call him and try to arrange a time and place where we all could meet to discuss things.

When I arrived, Ronnie's secretary was on the phone. She looked up and waved me on by. I shrugged and walked past her and into Ronnie's office, not bothering to knock. Apparently, there was no need.

A young man was seated on the chair across from Ronnie's desk. Both he and Ronnie looked up as I entered. Ronnie even smiled.

"Anita Blake," she began rather formally. "I'd like you to meet Evan O'Neil. He's Isabelle Dalton's boyfriend and a member of the local chapter of Humans Against Vampires."

My mouth fell open in surprise. Ronnie had outdone herself. Not only had she identified the mysterious boy, she had somehow coerced him into meeting us in her office this morning. Fast work, that.

Recovering from my initial shock, I strode forward and held out my hand in greeting. "How do you do, Mr. O'Neil?"

"I'm pleased to meet you finally," Evan O'Neil said, shaking my hand firmly and sincerely. "Of course I've heard so much about you, Ms. Blake. It really is a thrill for me to meet a real vampire executioner."

Ronnie motioned for me to sit down in the chair next to him. "Anita is known as 'The Executioner'," she told Evan. "She has more vampire kills on her record than any other licensed hunter."

The rather boastful way Ronnie had stated that fact made me peer up at her curiously. She was giving me a look that was half-clue, half-warning. Play along with me, in other words. Let the HAV fanatic think I was the scourge of vampire-kind. I was, but why let him know I was also the Master of the City's human servant and lover? No need to bore him with details.

I nodded. "Yes, that's true."

Evan gazed back at me, suitably impressed. "When Miss Simms called and told me you wanted to help me, I asked if I could come here this morning. I hope you don't mind?"

I gave Ronnie a quick, questioning look. "No, I don't mind. I'm pleased to have you here in fact. But I don't know how much help I'll be. I take it, Miss Simms explained to you about Isabelle?"

He nodded. "I know all about what Isabelle's been doing. I can assure you, Ms. Blake, HAV does not condone her group or claim any affliation with it. This was something she started on her own. After what happened to her mother."

I lowered my eyes in a show of sympathy. "Oh. Yes. I understand." I could hardly contain my enthusiasm however. So Isabelle did run some kind of organization. This kind of information was priceless. Finally something concrete. I cleared my throat. "Could you tell me what you know about this group of hers, Mr. O'Neil?"

"Naturally," Ronnie spoke up, "any information you give us here this morning is strictly confidential and off the record. You can speak freely."

I frowned. I knew she said that because she was more than aware I would take it to the police.

"Naturally," I grumbled. So I couldn't divulge my source. I'd still have the information.

Evan looked down and brushed some imaginery lint from his pleated pants. "I'll tell you anything you want to know if it will help you put a stop to this madness."

I glanced up at Ronnie again. She smiled and nodded. "I'm going to try, Mr. O'Neil," I addressed Evan.

He took a deep breath. "Well, they call themselves the Avenging Angels. It's basically a group of young, attractive women who go out among the vampires with the intent of setting them up for criminal charges. They pick up a vampire, lead him on like they want to give in to them, and when the vamp tries to take them, they file charges with the police against them. It's a way to harass them. Shake them up and teach them to stay away from humans. But Isabelle has been wanting to take it a step further. She told me she was actually going to let a vampire bite her so she'd have the evidence against him to get him executed. None of the other girls in the group want to go that far, but Isabelle thinks if she does it and succeeds, the rest will eventually follow suit."

I sat back with a heavy sigh. Christ. "You do understand why I'd like to stop her then? You know what she's doing is dangerous? All it takes is one psychotic vampire, and she's going to learn the hard way that they can hold a grudge for centuries and they're vengeful as hell."

He nodded. "I want her to stop too, but no matter what I say to her, I can't seem to convince her to. She's hell-bent on revenge, Ms. Blake. She wants to do to the vampires what she believes the vampires did to her mother. Maybe if you talked to her...."

"You just told me talking to her does no good," I stated firmly. "I'm not going to waste my time then. What she's doing is also criminal, and I'm going to get her out of those clubs permanently. Her and her little group."

Evan looked back at me startled. "You're going to have her arrested?"

I shrugged. "If I can."

Evan shot to his feet. "Ms. Blake, I didn't come here to help get Isabelle put behind bars!" he protested. "I thought you wanted to help her!"

"It's the only way," I said evenly.

Evan was shaking his head. "She just needs some guidance. Someone to sympathize with her. She can't get over what happened to her mother. She needs help!"

I got to my feet as well. "She doesn't want anyone's help! She's so blinded by hatred, she can't see clearly anymore. She's the one who needs shaking up, not the vampires."

"Ms. Blake, please," Evan pleaded. "Come with me tonight. Talk to her. I know you can put some sense into her head. I've heard about you--what you've faced before. If you're with me this time, I can get her out of that club. The vampires won't dare cross you."

Narrowing my eyes, I put my hands on my hips, and stared down my nose at the young man before me. "I know you tried to get her out before. She fought you."

The expression on Evan O'Neil's face hardened and he took a deep, measured breath. "She would have come with me if the vampires hadn't interfered. But they must have known what she intended to do and wasn't about to let her go. Once they get the smell of blood in their noses, there's no stopping them."

My ears perked up. "What do you mean?" I knew he was talking about the night at Danse Macabre when Damian had regretfully intervened on Isabelle's behalf, but it didn't sound like the same account I had heard before. I was interested to hear Evan O'Neil's take on it.

"Isabelle told me that was the night she was going to let one of them bite her," Evan explained and shuddered visibly at the idea. "I panicked and went to the club to try to get her to change her mind, but one of the vampires attacked me and took Isabelle away."

I blinked at Evan, stunned. "Uh, come again?" I demanded. No, that wasn't the way I had heard it. I spared a glance at Ronnie. I could tell from the look on her face she was just as startled, but for obviously different reasons.

"You were attacked?" Ronnie exclaimed, outraged. "Mr. O'Neil, why didn't you call the police?"

Evan looked ashamed and pale. Could it be because his nose was suddenly growing?

"What good would it have done? Isabelle's work is proof that the police side with the monsters more than the humans. They slap them on the wrist and turn them loose to go assault more people."

I glared at him. "That's not true and you know it. A vampire faces the likelihood of a jail sentence if he's convicted of assaulting a human. If they kill a human, it's an automatic death sentence. There is no trial or jury. The vampires who were targeted by Isabelle and her group were let go because they had witnesses come forward in their defense. These women may be vengeful, but they're sloppy. They're never going to get their charges to stick without valid proof."

"I have proof of my attack," Evan seethed. "The police were useless."

I looked him over and shook my head. His golden-tanned skin was unmarred by any mark I could see. His throat was smooth and perfect. "You were attacked?" I asked, putting as much sarcasm in my voice as it could hold. "Funny, you don't look like you survived a vampire attack." I knew he was lying. I knew Damian did not attack him.

Evan was clearly taken aback by my accusation. "Just whose side are you on Ms. Blake? Don't tell me all those disgusting rumors about you are true."

"You little bastard," I growled. "How dare you?"

"Excuse me?" he growled back.

"You heard me."

"Anita," Ronnie cautioned. I wondered if she knew I was armed.

She would now. Angrily and without really thinking, I yanked off my shirt and threw it into the chair behind me. I spread out my arms and leaned towards Evan O'Neil.

"This is what surviving a vampire attack looks like!" I hissed.

Evan's mouth fell open as he took in my collection of scars. Then, slowly, his face flushed crimson beneath his tan, but I had the distinct feeling it wasn't from shame. To my amazement, he jerked off his own shirt. This was getting bizarre.

"I know what a vampire attack looks like," he murmured, his voice low and vaguely threatening. "I see it in the mirror everyday."

He did too. His chest bore a hideous, diagonal scar as if some...thing had bitten into him and tried to rip the skin off sideways. My anger fizzled and turned into a numbing nausea. Evan and I stood looking at each other for the longest time, neither of us daring to move or speak to the other.

It was Ronnie who snapped us out of our stand-off. She snatched up her phone and hailed her secretary.

"Get me the police--"

I seized the phone from her and slammed it back down on its cradle. Ronnie gaped at me in disbelief.

"Damian did not do that!" I stated, pointing at Evan's chest. "You are not calling the police."

Evan roughly pulled his shirt back on, mussing his perfectly coiffed hair. "And who's Damian?" he asked, contemptuously.

I swallowed thickly. "Damian is the vampire who confronted you at Danse Macabre."

"Anita, what do you think you're doing?" Ronnie grumbled.

I reached down and picked up my shirt from the chair just as Ronnie's secretary came blustering in.

"Miss Simms! Is everything all right?" She froze at the door, her eyes wide and fearful. She looked at all of us in turn, clearly confused.

Ronnie fought to reschool her expression and waved the woman away. "Everything is fine now...Just go back to your desk."

I put my shirt back on while Ronnie's secretary obediently withdrew, closing the door behind her. I felt the weight of Evan's gaze and turned to face him. He was shaking his head at me in disbelief.

"My God, it's true," he muttered. "You're with them now, aren't you?" His gaze turned unexpectedly sympathetic. "How convenient for them to have their executioner on their side. They got to you and turned you and now you defend them." He frowned deeply. "They are the ones who need to be stopped, Ms. Blake. If they can corrupt you, they can corrupt anybody. Maybe what Isabelle is doing isn't so far off track after all. She's got the right idea anyway."

"She's putting herself in danger. The vampires are in no danger from what she does. Believe what you want about me, but that's the primary reason this 'madness' as you call it, has to be stopped."

Evan smiled slyly. "You don't think the vamps are in danger? Well, I wouldn't be so sure about that." He turned then, without another word and stalked out of Ronnie's office, slamming the door behind him.

"Great," I mumbled. "Isabelle's got herself a recruit, thanks to me." I massaged my eyes wearily and sighed. "What do you think he meant by what he just said?" I had sudden, unpleasant images of vigilante groups scouring the night clubs with flaming torches and wooden stakes.

Ronnie sat down at her desk and folded her hands in front of her. "I don't know and I really don't care."

I stared at her, long and hard, but she didn't cave in. I could tell she was angry, disgusted, and oh so tired of trying to understand what happened to me. I nodded finally.

"Well, thanks for your help, Ronnie. Maybe I'll see you around." There was nothing else to say or do, so I simply turned around and walked out.


"They call themselves 'The Avenging Angels'," I told Dolph, as he sifted through the same files I had shown Ronnie. "They splintered off from Humans Against Vampires and are kind of doing there own thing now. Following their own rules. It was started by Isabelle Dalton."

Dolph was shaking his head. "What next, for Christ's sake?" he muttered. He slapped down the file he was looking at and wearily massaged his eyes. "Where'd you get this information?"

I sighed and lowered my eyes. I didn't really care about what Ronnie had proclaimed in her office concerning confidentiality, but if Evan O'Neil was going to embellish his account of what happened that night at Danse Macabre, I'd just as soon keep him out of it. Damian was in enough trouble from trumped-up charges as it was.

"I can't say. But I have witnesses who will back me on the important stuff. Damian, of course and Nathaniel. He was with me when I talked to Isabelle at the club. The bartender there knows quite a bit about her too. He's seen how she operates. It's the same over and over in those cases."

Dolph leaned back in his chair, which made it creak in protest. "Well, what do you want me to do? These cases were closed."

"Can't we track down some of the accused and get them to make a statement?"

"I don't have the manpower for that, Anita," Dolph pointed out. "Unless they want to press their own charges against her, there's nothing I can do about those cases."

"What about her sister? Or her father? Can't we at least go talk to them?" I persisted, nearly wringing my hands in frustration.

"They're not gonna tell us anything that could convict her. There'd be no point in questioning them right now. Anita, there's no on-going investigation here. There's no current charge against her."

I lowered my eyes to the floor. This was sounding hopeless. "I know she's out there, right now, plotting her next move, setting up another vampire for false arrest. Can't we haul her ass in on filing bogus reports?"

Dolph rolled his eyes. "What bogus report? There is no bogus report!"

I gestured furiously at the stack of files on his desk. "Then what the hell are those?"

"There's no proof that any of them were filed falsely!"

"But most of the vampires were cleared!"

"That doesn't mean the charges were falsely filed!"

Shit. He was right and getting into a shouting match with him wasn't going to help matters any. I sank back into my chair and folded my arms over my chest, shaking my head. Then something occurred to me. I sat forward again.

"What about Damian's case?"

Dolph leaned forward too. "What about it? It was an anonymous tip. Isabelle Dalton's name isn't even associated with that report."

"But it was Isabelle Dalton who set him up. There was no party. He hadn't done anything to be arrested for. The only reason he was arrested is because of that tip and ten to one, you know as well as I do, who made that call to the police."

To my dismay, Dolph seemed unconvinced. "Anita, you're not listening to me," he rumbled. "There's no proof she was the one who set him up. There's no proof she filed any of these reports falsely. We take this before a judge and he's just going to see a barfly with a thing for vampires, but not a criminal. You-lay-down-with-dogs-you-wake-up-with-fleas sort of thing."

I was starting to get angry again. "Isn't there anything we can do to stop her?"

"Not until she strikes again, so to speak."

"She strikes again and somebody could wind up dead," I stated.

"Then get me proof," Dolph said a little calmer. "Get your witnesses' statements on record. Give me the name of your source. Get Miss Dalton to come in here and confess. Otherwise, leave it alone."

"Oh right. Get Isabelle to confess," I muttered dejectedly. Wait a minute. She had practically confessed when I talked to her at the bar. She was proud of what she was doing. She'd talk readily enough. The trick was to get the police to hear what she was saying. I grinned. "If I can get Isabelle to spill the beans to the police, could you arrest her?"

Dolph laughed until he realized I was serious. Then he looked at me from across his desk warily. "What do you have in mind?"

"A wire tap."

Dolph froze momentarily, then began to nod. "That could work if I can get it approved."

My mind was off and running now. "If I got Damian to wear the wire, could you do something about the resisting arrest charges against him?"

I watched the line of Dolph's mouth tighten and grow thin. "Why do you think he'll want to cooperate with the police all of a sudden?"

Raising my brow, I smiled knowingly. "He'll do anything I tell him to. Besides, he'll want to help with this. He's not real fond of Isabelle Dalton anymore."

Dolph picked up the phone on his desk. "Let me make some calls and see what I can arrange. I'll get back to you, but don't hold your breath on this. In the meantime, why don't you go home and try to get some sleep. You look like hell."

"Gee thanks," I said with mock indignation. "I think I'll just do that."

But first, I had to run and tell Bert he'd have to find another animator to take my appointments tonight. If they didn't want another animator, they'd have to reschedule. Police business always came first. Too bad, so sad....


Despite it being late afternoon, I fell into a deep sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

As usual, it was the phone that roused me. At first, I thought the ringing was an oven timer. I was dreaming of baking blackberry tarts, of all things. Obviously 'Someone' was feeling a tad neglected this week, and couldn't resist inserting himself indirectly in my dreams. I turned off the oven timer, but the ringing persisted. Then I remembered, distantly, that I was expecting a phone call. My eyes snapped open and I grabbed for the handset.

It was Dolph. Somehow, he'd actually managed to get the wire tap approved and made arrangements to have Damian fitted with one later tonight. Then we'd turn him loose in Danse Macabre and have him confront Isabelle. The very thing I had hoped to avoid, but now it was necessary.

I hung up the phone and peered at the alarm clock on my bedside table. I was supposed to be at the police station by nine and it was a little past seven now. I had time to jump in the shower and change before heading out.


With a towel wrapped around my damp hair, I donned my fave little black dress and strapped on as much firepower as I could comfortably conceal. I padded barefoot into the living room, surprised to find the house deserted.

No, not deserted. I could feel Damian. He just hadn't come upstairs yet. I wondered why, but didn't dwell on it.

I scrubbed my hair with the towel and applied the appropriate amount of make-up before heading down the basement steps to talk to Damian about tonight. This was the second time in one week I'd ventured down there. Quite an improvement. It wasn't because I was anxious to see him or anything, I just couldn't afford to wait for him to eventually wander upstairs. Or so I told myself.

I found Damian curled up on the loveseat, reading a tattered paperback by John Grisham. It seemed he had anticipated spending the night lounging at home. I noticed his feet were bare and his long red hair was tied at the nape of his neck with a yellow elastic band. His clothing consisted of a black sleeveless tee-shirt and soft, faded jeans: the top button conspicuously left unfastened at the waistband. I don't think I had ever seen him this dressed down before. He looked sexy as hell. I almost hated to tell him he'd have to go change.

Damian glanced up from his book as I came into the room, dog-earred the page he was on, then set the book aside with a distinct frown.

"Well, well. Look at you," he began and stood up, looking me over with even more disapproval. "I heard the phone. Someone must have beckoned you to go out with them tonight."

Okay. Was it me, or did he sound pissed off for some reason? Taken aback, I peered at him curiously, gnawing my lower lip. I guess I had been expecting him to be a little happier to see me; a little more affectionate maybe? Well, he had complimented my looks, I think.

"Hello to you too," I said sourly, placing my hands on my hips. "And yeah, I'm going out."

Damian looked back at me, his face expressionless, but his body stiffened slightly. "Go then. Enjoy yourself."

Maybe it was just the way he said it. I cocked my head and added: "What business is it of yours if I'm going out?"

"Absolutely none," he said flippantly. He crossed the room in two long strides, bumping my shoulder as he passed me.

Angry now, I seized hold of his arm and hauled him around to face me.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Avoiding my eyes, Damian took a deep breath and licked his lips slowly. "I thought I might as well get dressed and go to work," he told me. "If that's okay with you." His voice was as casual and even as I'd ever heard it, but I knew there was enough tension in him to launch an arrow. I could feel it rippling through his body from the grip I had on his arm.

I shook my head. "You're not going to work," I replied. "Sit down."

A flicker of frustration played across the vampire's face, but he walked back to the loveseat he'd been sitting on and eased himself down into it. Every movement was executed with careful control. He was determined not to let me know just how angry he was, but he still wouldn't look into my eyes. That in itself spoke volumes.

Now I was the one getting frustrated. So we had sex last night. Why did I think that would help us become more in tune with each other? Here we were, not twenty-four hours later, and he was being as disagreeable and hot-headed as he'd always been, and as usual, I didn't have a clue as to why.

"Fine," Damian said quietly. "I'll just stay down here by myself again." He made a sweeping gesture around the room with his hand. "I can't get into too much trouble in my little gilded cage." He finally looked up at me. His eyes were like twin green fires.

I swore under my breath and moved to stand in front of him. "Don't fucking start, Damian," I warned.

"Sorry," he shot back. "I suppose that was facetious of me."

I kicked at his feet. We were both barefoot so I knew I wouldn't cause him injury, but I wanted his attention. "What's the matter with you?" I demanded, letting the full extent of my irritation come through in my tone.

Damian lowered his eyes again, his gaze drifting aimlessly off to the left. Anywhere but on me. "I am sorry," he said a little more sincerely. "Please, Anita. Just go if you have plans....Maybe I'll see you later?"

He said the latter so hopefully, I got some insight as to what it was that might be bothering him. He thought I was going out on a date. I sighed heavily and sat down beside him.

"Do you want to see me later?" I asked.

He nodded. "Yes." His eyes flickered up and swept over me longingly. "Very much so."

"Damian, listen to me," I began. God, I hated this shit. "...There are other men in my life. You knew that from the start. Last night didn't change that fact. What we shared was wonderful and it has opened a whole new avenue in our relationship. I'm not going to forget about you now. I'll still spend time with you, but I can't promise anything exclusive--and you can't be jealous of the time I spend with the other men. Otherwise, we're going to end this right now."

Damian frowned. "Play by your rules, or I don't get to play at all, is that it?"

I hated it put that way, but it pretty well summed it up. "Yep, you got it."

He looked a little chagrinned now. He bowed his head and sighed. "I can't help what I'm feeling, but I'll remember the rules. You won't have to remind me of them again."

I sat back and took a deep cleansing breath. "I'm glad this came up and all, but truthfully, we're arguing over nothing. I don't have a date tonight, but I am going out, and you're coming with me. I came downstairs to find you. Why didn't you come upstairs?"

Damian peered up at me hesitantly. "I came upstairs shortly after I woke, but you were sleeping very soundly," he began. "I watched you for awhile, envisioning an entire night with you alone, loving you endlessly for hours and hours. I had to wrestle with myself not to lie down beside you. So, I came back down here to keep away from you and wait for you to wake up. I'm sorry I let my disappointment get the better of me. When I saw you dressed like that, I knew I wasn't the one on your agenda tonight."

Hours and hours, huh? I cleared my throat and reached out and patted his thigh.

"But you are on the agenda tonight. You're a big part of the agenda. I need you to come with me to the police station. I kind of volunteered you for some undercover work."

For a moment, Damian stared at me like I had grown a second head. Then he frowned and leaned away from me.

"You're serious, aren't you?"

I nodded. "If you do this, the police are willing to drop the resisting arrest charges against you."

Damian still looked stunned, but I could tell he was starting to warm to the idea. "What would I be doing exactly?"

I took his hand in mine and squeezed it tightly. I could order him to do it, and then he'd have no choice in the matter, but this involved rather delicate circumstances. I wasn't about to force him into this.

"Dolph Storr and I have enough information on Isabelle Dalton now to have her arrested for what she's been doing. What we don't have, and hope to acquire tonight, is proof. That's where you come in. We need you to go to Danse Macabre and confront Isabelle. Get her talking and get her to admit to what she did to you. Actually the more you get her to confess, the better."

Damian nodded. "Even if I can get her to talk to me, why would the police believe me? It will be my word against her's."

I fought a smile. He was going to do it. "You won't have to convince the police of anything. They'll be listening."

Damian raised his brow. "They want me to wear a wire?"

My eyes widened slightly. "You know about wire taps?" I thought all vamps were technophobes. Hell, he even knew the lingo.

"Maybe you haven't noticed, but when I'm not dancing in a night club, or attending wild freak parties, I tend to read...a lot."

I grinned. "Then you know how they work," I continued, and glanced at my watch. "Come on. We have to meet Dolph by nine. You need to change into something 'clubbish', then we'll be on our way." I got to my feet and pulled Damian up with me.

He looked thoughtful all of a sudden. It made me wonder if he was just now considering what he'd truly be doing tonight. I didn't want him to feel nervous.

"You'll be fine," I assured him. "I'm going to be at the club with you, and there'll be two other officers close by. Dolph and another agent will be outside in a van, listening to what happens. All you have to do, is get Isabelle talking."

Damian squeezed my hand. "I know. I'm not worried. I was just thinking of something that struck me as odd."

"Oh yeah? What would that be?"

The vampire gazed back at me with a satisfied gleam in his eye. "I'll be setting her up this time."

I nodded. "Ironic, isn't it?"

"Fitting, is more like it."


Agent Barclay was our surveillance wizard on the force. He was a fairly young-looking, geekish kind of guy, not much personality-wise, but he sure knew his job. The unmarked van he used was full of sophisticated equipment. Throw in one tall vampire, one linebacker of a police sergeant, Agent Barclay, and myself, in the back of that van and you've got yourself something as cozy as a can of sardines.

Sweat was running down the side of my neck and pooling in my cleavage. It was all I could do not to scratch at it like a dog with fleas. Dolph was pressed up against me, coaching Damian on what he wanted him to talk to Isabelle about, and chugging out heat like a veritable furnace. Damian was the only one among us who looked cool and relatively comfortable, but then he was a vampire and practically naked at the moment as Barclay busied himself taping the wire to Damian's skin.

I frowned, snatching a tissue from a handy box of Kleenex to the left of me and blotted my face with it.

"Isn't this a little archaic?" I complained. This was taking far too long for my tastes. "Can't you just pin a broach to his collar or something, and let us get the hell out of here?"

Barclay glanced back at me. "This was a last minute, low priority gig," he mumbled and pushed his coke-bottle glasses back up the bridge of his nose with his forefinger. "If I were you, I'd be happy you got what you did." He peered up at Damian and frowned. "Jesus, are they always this cold?"

I furrowed my brow, half in irritation, half in concern. "You know, Barclay, Damian understands English just fine and can hear a pin drop on a carpet. Why don't you try asking him that yourself?" Barclay's frown deepened. I sighed. "All right, I'll ask him. Damian, why are you so cold?" Then something occurred to me. "Haven't you fed tonight?"

Slowly, Damian shook his head. "Everyone was already gone when I woke this evening. I thought maybe you'd be willing--"

I swore under my breath, cutting him off. "You thought wrong," I scolded him. "You should have said something. You should have told me. We could have stopped somewhere--"

It was Barclay who cut me off. "Do you mind? You're talking about drinking someone's blood, not pulling around the drive-thru at Taco Bell."

I glared at him. Dolph gestured at Damian.

"Is he going to be able to do this without having fed?"

When did I become a vampire interpreter? For Asher, or Jean-Claude I could almost understand. But Damian didn't even speak with an accent. "You know, you can ask him that yourself..."

Damian sighed. "I'll be fine. I'll draw from your power if I have to. I did that last night when we made love. Do you remember?"

I did remember him drawing from my power, but I knew he frequently absorbed my power into him. I didn't think anything of it at the time. I had no idea it was a sign of weakening on his part.

I suddenly felt the weight of Dolph's gaze and turned to look at him. He was eyeing me with something close to anger and disgust. I furrowed my brow in confusion and looked at Agent Barclay, who was also staring at me, but regarding me now with newfound interest.

It suddenly occurred to me just what Damian had said. My mouth fell open and I shot to my feet, nearly falling into Dolph's lap as I did. If there had been room enough for me to slap Damian across the face, I think I would have. I wasn't sure if I was more angry with him for just announcing to everyone that I had fucked him last night, or because apparently, he'd gone two nights without feeding. I chose to rebuke him for the latter. Why draw attention to something I'd just as soon be forgotten? Yeah, I know. Fat chance.

"You haven't fed since Wednesday? Why didn't you tell me?" I demanded.

Damian locked his eyes on mine. His voice softened and his tone leveled out in much the same way psychiatrists used when talking to an insane person. "You haven't let me out to hunt all week," he relayed matter-of-factly. "I fed a little off Nathaniel this morning after you'd gone to bed. Just enough to take the edge off my hunger though. But since you fed me, I haven't really felt the need to feed again. Your blood is potent. It has sustained me these past few days. Why does that surprise you? You're my master."

I covered my eyes with my hand. Good God, I was never going to hear the end of it from Dolph now.

"So you keep telling me and telling me," I seethed hissingly through my teeth. I pointed an accusing finger at him. "When we're through here, I want to talk to you."

Damian eyed me warily, but nodded.

Agent Barclay sat back on his heels and cleared his throat tactfully. "I'm through." He made a point of speaking to Damian now. "You can get dressed. Just be careful of the tape."

Damian looked down at him, grateful for the distraction, I think. He nodded again, a little more enthusiastically this time and pulled on his clothes.

Dolph squeezed past me and threw open the back doors of the van. The air that flooded in was humid and warm, but at least it was fresh. Dolph climbed out and walked over to the curb, turning his back to the van, the nightclub, and me. I could almost feel the effort it was taking for him not to explode.

I jumped out of the van too, almost twisting my ankle in my heels. I swore and steadied myself on the door. Damian stepped out next. He looked at me expectantly, but when I failed to say anything to him, he bowed his head and continued on towards the club. I waited until he was inside, then reluctantly trudged after him.

The two plainclothes men who were acting as my back-ups looked more like a Mormon Missionary team than Danse Macabre patrons. Oh well. So much for blending. If we had to, we could always say they had ventured into this den of iniquity to save lost souls. Actually, I had seen tourists wandering around in here that looked even more out of place.

I met up with them as soon as I was inside. We parted ways immediately and took up posts at different points in the club. Barclay was doing his airchecks when I reached mine.

"Damian, can you hear me?" Barclay's voice crackled over my earpiece. I automatically touched it through my hair, making sure it was secure and concealed.

"Yes," Damian replied quietly. I could barely hear him over the music.


"Yeah," I answered a little louder.

"Detective Ross?"


"Detective Marks?"

"Loud and clear."

"Okay folks," Barclay announced. "Here we go. Damian, let me know when you find our girl."

"I see her," he said a moment later.

I looked around but I couldn't see far enough over peoples' heads to see where Damian was. I knew I was supposed to stay out of sight, but I could do that and still keep an eye on things.

"Damian, where are you?" I whispered loudly. He told me, but all I could hear was something "floor." I shook my head in frustration, my eyes futilely scanning the crowd. It was a full house tonight, standing room only. The farthest I could see was three people deep on either side of me. Damn. "Where are you?"

"I see him," Detective Ross said. "He's on the edge of the dance floor by the fire exit."

I sighed, relieved, and immediately started heading that way.

"Maintain silence people," Barclay ordered. "It's hard enough to hear over the music."

"Damian, if you can, try to get her somewhere quieter," Dolph's voice boomed over my earpiece. I fought the urge to yank it out.

"No mind tricks!" I reminded him.

Damian began speaking again, but I could tell it wasn't to any of us.

"May I have this dance?"

Isabelle Dalton's voice suddenly rang out over the earpiece. "Oh my God, Damian! I'm surprised to see you here!"

"Why do you say that?" Damian replied. "I'm here almost every night, Isabelle. I work at Danse Macabre, remember?"

"Well, I know, it's just that...you haven't been around lately." Isabelle sounded more than a little flustered to me.

"Where were you Tuesday?" Damian asked.

I started pushing my way onto the dance floor, simultaneously looking around. They had to be around here somewhere.

"I...ah, was just about to ask you the same question," Isabelle declared. "I didn't get to go to the party because you never showed up."

I heard Damian laugh lightly. "I was exactly where you told me to be," he said.

I spied them finally just as I was about to step off the dance floor. They were dancing together about ten feet in front of me. I made a quick turn to the left, trying to stay out of sight, but keep them in sight too. Easier said than done.

"You stood me up," Isabelle argued. All of a sudden, she seemed angry. She pulled out of Damian's arms and turned around. She pushed her way through the mass of dancers with an anxious look on her face. It looked to me like she was trying to get away from him.

Damian caught up with her and seized her by the shoulders. He wrapped his arms across her chest and pulled her up against him, pressing his cheek to hers.

"Can we go someplace to talk?" he suggested. He nuzzled her ear and kissed it softly.

My hackles rose automatically at the intimacy of their posture. I told myself it meant nothing--that they were supposed to be a couple, but it didn't make me feel any better.

I recalled what I had told Damian earlier this evening. There were other men in my life, I had no right to begrudge him other women if he wanted them. It would only be fair. Richard slept with other women when he was looking for a new lupa; Asher, well, he wasn't really mine...yet; Nathaniel regularly indulged himself with a healthy assortment of females; Micah seemed content to just be with me for the time being, but I knew he had a thing for Jean-Claude; then there was Jean-Claude...no fucking way. Pun intended.

"I have nothing to say to you," Isabelle told Damian. "Let go of me please."

"Why are you upset with me?" Damian persisted.

"Because you promised me you'd be there and you weren't," she went on, trying to pry his arms off of her. "You knew how much I wanted to go to that party. I guess you weren't interested in my offer."

Damian tightened his grip on her. If he couldn't get her someplace quieter, at least he was keeping her close enough to him that we could hear her every word.

"Don't be curt with me," Damian said softly. "You know I was very interested in your offer. I still am. Come backstage with me and I'll show you how interested I am."

His hands were moving now, roving brazenly over her curves, hinting at his normal sexually aggressive nature. He seemed so confident and sure of himself with Isabelle. He wasn't like that with me, but then I was his master, and above all, I knew he respected me.

"Well, I'm not interested anymore," Isabelle snapped. "You didn't keep your end of the bargain. I don't like being stood up, Damian." She jerked herself free of him and waded through the milling crowd.

"I swear to you I went to the address you gave me. But no on was there. There must have been some kind of mistake."

Isabelle stopped and turned around to face him unexpectedly. "So, what did you do?"

Damian leaned towards her slightly. "What do you mean?"

Isabelle put her hands on her hips. "Did you just leave? What did you do?"

"Oh, you want to know what happened to me," Damian replied. He smiled at her slyly. "Don't you know?"

For the briefest of instants, Isabelle looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Then she shook her head. "Of course not. How would I? All I know is that you haven't been here for almost a week."

"Somebody tipped the police off that I'd be where you told me to be, when you told me to be there," Damian said, his voice thickening with emotion. "Imagine that."

Isabelle shook her head and held up her hands. "You don't think I had anything to do with that do you?"

Damian reached out and grabbed her chin in his hand. He forced her to look at him, but Isabelle wouldn't meet his eyes. Good thing because if he'd have taken her mind, none of this would fly in a court of law.

"I know you did. Why don't you just make it easier on yourself and tell me the truth?"

"Let go of me Damian, or you're going to be sorry," Isabelle threatened, but I could see her hands shaking from where I stood. Obviously, she had never had one of her victims confront her before and she was finding it a bit unnerving.

Damian released her and she turned and fled, making a beeline for the exit. He started after her, but at a much slower pace.

"She's got a gun," he said, obviously to us. "I can smell it."

A gun? Shit. Where the hell had she gotten a gun and where did she have it on her? She was pretty damn good at concealing, considering the skimpy outfit she was wearing. I suddenly recalled Evan O'Neil's parting words to me. Ten to one he was the one who had given her the gun. If she had carried concealed weapons on her before, I'm sure Damian would have mentioned it as another endearing aspect of her personality that reminded him of me. I made a mental note to get after Jean-Claude for the lax security here.

I darted after her, trying to keep Isabelle in sight. Damian was moving almost parallel to me but he was making more progress then me. I lost track of him just before I got to the doors.

"Marks, Ross, do you see them?" I demanded.

It was Marks who answered. "I'm right beside the door. They just passed me."

"Stay on them," Dolph's voice crackled. "If she's armed, we need to maintain visuals."

"They're heading for the alley behind the club," Detective Ross informed.

I dashed through the door. Damn it. How had everyone gotten ahead of me? I suddenly heard Isabelle's voice again.

"Leave me alone or I'm going to call the police," she declared shakily.

Damian laughed again. Even over the earpiece, it gave me chills. "You could have told me that before you called the police on me the first time," he replied.

I rounded the corner, walking at a pretty good clip considering the heels I was in. I practically ran right into Ross. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the white, unmarked van parked across the street. Damian and Isabelle were towards the back of the alley, beside a chain link fence. There was a small crowd milling about out here too: a few couples necking, and what looked to me like a drug deal going down. I pretended not to notice, wrapping my arms around Detective Ross so it appeared we were just another couple in search of wall space.

"Look," Isabelle fairly snarled. "There was obviously some kind of mistake. You must have gone to the wrong place, all right?"

Damian had Isabelle backed up against the fence and was stroking her throat with his knuckles.

"Tell me the truth, Isabelle," he urged, then leaned forward to kiss her.

Isabelle firmly planted her hand in the middle of his chest to stop him, then withdrew it quickly and made a face.

"God, you're ice cold," she grumbled.

Damian shrugged. "I'm hungry."

Her eyes widened and suddenly, something seemed to pass over her. "Haven't you...fed tonight?"

"What do you care?" Damian asked accusingly. "You promised to give yourself to me if I went to the freak party with you. I waited for you, but you clearly had other things on your mind. You weren't concerned for my hunger that night, why should you be now?"

Isabelle sighed heavily. Much to my surprise, she reached out for him and ran her hands up his chest now as if enjoying the way he felt. "I was concerned for you," she began. "After I thought about it, I didn't want you to show up at the party. You told me it would get you in trouble, so I just gave you the wrong address, that's all. Don't be mad at me. I was worried about you."

Damian stared down at her intensely, then took her face in his hands and raised her head for another kiss. How she could keep from looking him in the eye, I'll never know. I turned Detective Ross around so his back was to the alley and peered around him.

"What are they doing?" he whispered to me.

"Nothing. Kissing," I whispered back, frowning. "All of sudden, she's all lovey-dovey. I don't trust her."

"Oh Isabelle," Damian lamented. "You're driving me insane. I want you now more than ever, but I can't trust you anymore. Vampires need to trust the humans they're involved with. We are more vulnerable than you know. Why did you call the police on me? Just tell me what I did wrong. Everything was perfect between us up until then. I thought I meant something to you."

"You do, Damian, you do."

Running her hands through his hair, Isabelle stretched up and kissed him again. It was all very soft and tender at first, then I saw her fists tighten in his hair. Her kiss became aggressive and she moved her mouth forcefully over his. Damian seemed to be trying to pull away from her at first, then he groaned and kissed her back just as devouringly. The next thing I knew, she released him and jerked back as though she'd been stung. Her mouth was bloody. She giggled sheepishly, however, and passed her tongue slowly over her lower lip. "Oh, you nicked me, sweetheart."

For a moment, Damian looked down at her in a stunned silence, then he licked his lips. He had gotten a taste of her blood and in his present state, that was like the sound of a dinner bell to an emaciated man. He appeared almost hypnotized now. The only thing that seemed to exist for him was that droplet of blood pearling on Isabelle's mouth. I could feel him fighting with his hunger, but his control was weakening.

"Fuck!" I screeched, a little too loudly. Dolph heard me through the wire.

"What's going on?" he demanded.

"She's baiting him!" I relayed, half talking into Ross's chest. "She purposefully cut her lip on his teeth and then force fed him her blood!" I looked up at Ross in desperation. "I need to let Damian know I'm close by. He needs to see me."

Ross nodded. "What do you want me to do?"

I thought about it. "Just cause a bit of a scene. Make some noise to get their attention. Anything. I don't care."

"All right," Ross agreed.

The next thing I know, he's planting one on me and feeling me up. I pushed him away from me hard enough to send him flying backwards into the side of the building. Calling him every derogatory name in the book, I took a swing at him, and connected solidly with his jaw, rocking him precariously but not off his feet. I noticed he was fighting a smile, holding up his hands in surrender.

"I give, I give," he told me. Then in a much lower voice: "It worked. Look around you."

I did. All eyes were on Ross and I, including Isabelle's and Damian's. It worked in other ways too. I suddenly felt Damian's cool power swell around me, calling to mine. Then our combined powers melded and errupted like a solar flare. They withdrew from me just as quickly as they had emerged to be absorbed back into my vampire. Damian had tapped into my strength just like he said he would. He knew what Isabelle was doing and knew he needed to resist her.

The vampires around us apparently got brushed by the power surge and made a hasty retreat back into the club. The drug dealer must have thought someone had seen a cop and he took off. Only a few couples, too enveloped in their passions to care, were left in the alley now and that was fine by me. The fewer people around, the better.

Detective Ross edged away from me, back towards the mouth of the alleyway. I followed reluctantly. We were playing the couple. I noticed Detective Marks on the opposite side of the alley, leaning against the wall. He smiled at me, but I glared at him in warning, and settled myself deeper into the shadows beside Ross.

"You owe me, Isabelle," Damian said, back in control, turning our attention back on him. He had Isabelle caged to the fence with his arms. "Something. Be it blood, or sex, or the truth. Take your pick. Whichever one you choose, I accept."

I snorted, stifling a laugh. Vampire negotiating at its best. Plenty of options, none of them particularly pleasant.

Isabelle smiled at Damian coyly and licked away the fresh blood oozing from the cut on her lip. "Just one? Why not all three?"

Damian shook his head. "One will suffice." He paused and leaned towards her, his eyes still locked on the expanding bead of blood forming on her lower lip.

Isabelle smiled tauntingly. "If I offer you my blood tonight, will that make things up to you?"

"You would rather do that, then admit what you did to me?"

"You already know I'm lying." Isabelle shrugged. "What would you do if I told you I set you up? Would that make you trust me?" She paused and shook her head. "I don't think so. But by giving in to your heart's desire, I know that will win your trust and I'll be forced to trust you as well. We'll just have to trust each other now, won't we?"

"She confessed, can we go in?" I heard Marks over the wire. I glanced over at him, gratefully. He nodded at me in return.

"Not yet," Dolph answered. "That wasn't a confession."

"Damn it, Dolph!" I sputtered, easing my hand away from my Browning and trotting back around the corner so I could talk more freely. "She just practically raped my vampire with that little stunt she pulled! The only thing that's keeping him sane right now is my power. We have to get her away from him."

"Then I suggest you keep feeding him your power, Anita," Dolph grumbled, "because if he attacks her, you're going to have to move on him."

My mouth gaped open. Shit! Did that mean what I thought that meant? I couldn't ask him to explain because Isabelle was speaking again. I hurried back to Ross's side.

"At least give me a hint, sweetheart," she was saying. "Which one do you want the most?"

Dragging his hands through his hair, Damian turned away from her and began pacing a short path in front of her.

"Don't torture me anymore," Damian whispered. "Let me feed from you, or leave me now. The taste of your blood in my mouth has wreaked havoc with my control, but I will not take it from you against your will. I must have your consent."

Control? There was nothing wrong with his control for the time being. He was still drawing from my power, growing stronger with it. He should be able to resist her better than this. Then my eyes widened with realization. Damian was taunting her now. Setting her up for more than what we had hoped for. I had told him of her plans to let a vampire bite her. If she consented to him now, then tried to press charges against him later, we'd have her for sure.

Isabelle gathered her hair in her hands and stretched her neck to the side. "Trust me, Damian. Take my blood, if that's what you want. It's a small price to pay to restore your trust in me. You have my permission."

Damian stopped pacing and faced Isabelle. He seemed to drift over to her and tenderly grasped her head in his hands. Even in the dark, I could see his eyes had bled solid. He leaned his body into Isabelle's, pinning her to the fence.

"Then I accept your gift," he whispered breathily. He bared his fangs and struck.

"Christ Almighty," Ross gasped beside me. "That's gotta hurt."

I shook my head. "No. Actually it is supposed to be very pleasurable, almost erotic. When they roll a person's mind..." My voice dwindled down to a mere breath. He hadn't taken her mind. She wasn't under. She was still coherent. I had told him no mind tricks and he had obeyed me.

As if in confirmation, Isabelle cried out in pain and tried to push Damian off her. She squeezed her eyes shut and whimpered pitifully.

"I thought it wasn't supposed to hurt," she whined. She tried pushing Damian off her, but he wasn't budging.

I knew from experience, once a vampire latched onto you, you were dinner until they had their fill. If she kept fighting him the way she was, she stood a good chance of getting her throat ripped out. Damian knew this too. He seized her arms and plastered them to her sides, using the fence and his body to hold her immobile. She wasn't going anywhere soon. Isabelle cried out in protest.

"He didn't take her mind," I announced, making sure everyone knew Isabelle still had her wits about her.

"What the hell is going on?" Dolph came back.

"Is he feeding on her? God, I'm going to be sick," Barclay mumbled.

"Yes, he's feeding on her, but you heard her--plain as day, give herself willing to him. He didn't attack her," I informed.

"Plain as day, Anita, calm down," Dolph crackled.

"Let me go!" Isabelle shrieked suddenly. "You fucking liar! Get off of me! You said it didn't hurt! You lied to me!" She started sobbing.

Big tears rolled down her face and I wondered briefly if Damian was purposefully making it more painful for her, indulging in a little private retribution for what she'd done to him. Either that or Isabelle just didn't have much tolerance for pain. Her cries were pathetic. Damian had bitten me in the neck before and granted, it hurt, but it didn't hurt that much. She was practically screaming now. The other people in the alley were turning to look at her.

"Call him off her now, Anita!" Dolph's voice boomed in my ear.

I was just about to protest when Damian released her and stepped back. Isabelle sagged against the fence, her hand clasped to her neck, glaring daggers at the vampire.

"You bastard! You fucking lied to me! You told me this was like an orgasm. Is this your idea of sex, you pervert?"

"Yes," Damian said simply, licking his lips savoringly. He started laughing at her. Jesus, he could really be an evil sonofabitch when he wanted to be.

"Well you know something, baby, your ass is mine!" Isabelle seethed. "I'm going to put you away for this. You fell right into my trap. I just set you up again."

Damian looked appropriately shocked. "A set up?"

Isabelle smiled cruelly. "You better believe it. You, and every other filthy vampire who ever laid a hand on me. I hope they crucify you to a fucking rooftop. I hope you burn to a crisp."

"That's it, folks, we got her," Barclay trumpeted. "Move!"

I needed no further prompting. My gun was drawn in the blink of an eye. Ross and I nodded to Marks.

"No, Isabelle," Damian was saying. "You're the one who was set up this time. To clear my past charges, I agreed to work with the police tonight." He gestured at us with his head. "Look over there. It's all over for you."

Isabelle looked around wildly, spied us approaching, and reached around behind her suddenly. The small gun she now brandished looked something like a Midnight Special. Older, but still effective I'm sure. She stretched out her arm and aimed it right at Damian's chest.

"It's over for you too," she growled.

"Drop the gun!" Marks hollered, his own weapon drawn and ready.

"Police! Freeze!" Ross commanded. He must watch cop shows on t.v. I thought.

I pointed my Browning right between Isabelle's eyes at first, then told myself to calm down. I couldn't blow her head off in front of two police officers. I readjusted my aim and retrained my gun on her upper right arm. If she even flinched, her arm would be hamburger.

Damian had backed up some, but he stood statue-like now, sensing Isabelle's instability and not wanting to provoke her. She was crying again and her hand was shaking, the gun wavering this way and that.

"But your humans!" she declared, obviously directing her attention to Ross, Marks, and myself. "How can you help them? Why don't you help humans?"

"You're not helping humans," I told Isabelle. "You're endangering them with this little game of yours. It's time to stop. You're not avenging anyone. Not even yourself."

Isabelle spared a quick glance at me, then the light of recognition dawned in her eyes. "You?"

I nodded and inclined my head at Damian. "I'm his master," I stated with more pride than I had ever uttered those words with before. "And I don't like anyone fucking with him but me." There, I said it. And I didn't care if the whole world heard.

Damian turned his head to look at me and smiled knowingly. Unfortunately, that was all it took to provoke Isabelle. She suddenly opened fire on him.

I thought I heard four shots, but I was firing too now and it was hard to distinguish between the different guns.

Isabelle crumpled to the asphalt like a ragdoll, screeching in pain, her right arm shattered and dark with blood. I heard the doors of the van slamming shut and heard Dolph's voice, but couldn't make out what he was saying. Everything seemed to be in a haze now.

I put up my Browning and turned to face Damian. Apparently I had thrown Isabelle's aim off and she had missed him completely. He was just standing there with a slightly glazed look in his eyes. Then he coughed and blood spewed from his mouth. Shit.

I ran over to him and grabbed hold of him. The entire front of his black shirt was wet with blood. I ripped it open to try to find out where he'd been hit, but he was bleeding so profusely, I couldn't see anything. He started to sag against me and the weight of him brought us both to our knees.

"Hang on," I whispered to him desperately, gathering him to me as he slumped to the ground. I poured my power over him, hoping to at least close the wounds and stop the bleeding. They could always dig out the bullets later.

"Call an ambulance!" Dolph ordered, taking command of the scene. He was suddenly kneeling in front of me, a startled look of concern in his eyes that I rarely ever saw. He turned his head and directed his next order at Detective Marks. "We're going to need another ambulance!" He faced me again. "Is he bad?"

I brushed Damian's hair away from his face with my hand and laid my cheek on his forehead. "I don't know. I can't tell where he was hit."

Dolph placed his hand on Damian's chest and gingerly palpated it to try to find the wounds. He finally pulled his hand away and shook his head. "I can't find any holes. Where'd the hell all this blood come from?" He looked at his hand covered in vampire gore and frowned.

"He was hit," I explained. "I healed him, but he's lost a lot of blood."

"Anita," Damian said and coughed up more blood. "I'm sorry."

I looked down at him, startled. "You've nothing to be sorry for," I told him. "You were great. We got everything we needed from Isabelle thanks to you."

He shook his head weakly. "But you were angry with me again."

"I'm not," I protested.

He nodded now. "In the van."

I conceded. "Yeah, well."

He smiled slowly. "You had your chance to be rid of me," he said softly, his voice growing fainter. "You could have just let me bleed."

I shook my head determinedly. "No chance. You're stuck with me."

Closing his eyes, Damian took my hand and squeezed it. "I love you."

That nearly made me burst into tears. "I love you too," I whispered, my throat clenching with emotion. He wasn't dying. He wasn't. But he had lost so much blood. He needed to feed again.

I looked up at Dolph. "I need to feed him. If that's going to bother you, I just as soon you go away."

Dolph hesitated, then shook his head. "Do what you have to do, Anita." He sighed, looking weary and resigned, but stayed by my side.

"Damian?" I shook him. "Damian?" I felt a sudden flash of panic and felt his neck for a pulse. There wasn't any, but that didn't mean anything. I shook him harder. "Damian!"

His eyes fluttered open and he looked up at me curiously. I sighed with relief.

"Jesus, you scared me," I reprimanded. "Here. Feed off me before you pass out completely." I held my wrist up to his mouth.

His hands slowly reached up and took hold of my arm. He placed a soft kiss on my wrist and looked up at me longingly.

"I wish I could roll your mind," he said wistfully.

"Never mind that now," I argued. "Just feed."

I felt the brush of his wet lips on my skin and then the burning sting of pain as he pierced me. Our powers merged once more and swirled around us like a cold updraft. I concentrated, willing my power into him, letting it fill him along with my blood. Damian drank it down deeply. I could almost feel the blood being pulled out of my veins as well as my power. In moments, my hand went completely numb and my mind started to black out.


I must have fainted, but I couldn't have been out for long. I was still in the alley, but now I was the one lying on the asphalt, Damian was holding me in his arms, and the EMT's that had been summoned for him at Dolph's request were now buzzing around me. I tried to sit up and felt the world tilt alarmingly on its axis.

"No, no, lie still," Damian cautioned me. He passed his hand over my forehead soothingly.

"What happened?" I asked, looking around me, trying to take it all in.

Damian frowned. "You passed out," he explained. "I had lost more blood than even I had realized. It took a lot to restore me."

I touched my hand to my head and noticed my wrist was taped and my arm had numerous I.V.'s snaking out of it. "Fuck, what is all this?"

"Relax, Anita, it's just a precaution," Dolph said. I hadn't even realized he was beside me still. I peered over at him and smiled.

"Oh hi Dolph," I murmured.

"Are we ready to move her yet?" Dolph asked. Not me. Must have been the EMT.

"Move me? Where am I going?"

"We're taking you to the hospital, Miss Blake," the EMT explained. "Just a precaution."

I shook my head and immediately regretted it. "No. I just want to go home."

"Anita, don't be a hard ass," Dolph grumbled. "You're both going to the hospital and I don't want to hear another word about it."

Damian bent over me and smiled. "I have to go too. They insist on taking these bullets out of me."

I sighed and snuggled against him. "Okay, but then I want to go home."

Damian kissed me. "We'll go home soon," he assured. He leaned closer to me, brushing my ear with his lips. "And when we get home," he whispered, "I'm going to make wild, passionate love to you."

At that I laughed. "You're going to look like a patchwork quilt when they get through with you. You're not going to be in any shape to make love to me." The EMT looked at me a little funny, but I didn't care.

"When I've healed then," Damian said, nibbling my ear. "It will give you something to look forward to."

I grinned up at him, already tingling with anticipation. Or was that residual numbness?

Nevertheless, I knew things would be different between us now, for the better. I had finally come to terms with my newest title. It had taken me awhile to accept all my other titles. Human Servant. Lupa. Nimir-Ra. Necromancer. And now, I was mastering a vampire.

No sweat.



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