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after dinner mints

An anthology of six different vignettes: Up For Bids, Jason's Birthday Present, Ma Chere Juli, Interrogation With The Vampire, Tears For Damian, and Cuissade.
Rated R
Disclaimer: All characters, situations are property of author Laurell K. Hamilton.  No copyright infringement was intended.  These fics were written solely for entertainment purposes only and no profit will be made from them now or ever.




Stashing her brochure inside her back jeans pocket, Anita pulled open the door to the Community Center For The Performing Arts, and shoved her recently procured ticket at the waiting usher standing just in the lobby.

"I need to get backstage," Anita growled, as the elderly woman handed the torn stub back to her.

The usher smiled condescendingly and shook her head. "Oh, I'm sorry dear. The public's not allowed backstage."

Anita chewed her lower lip furiously, and looked around, debating whether or not to flash her marshal's badge, and throw her weight around a little. She decided not to, not wanting to alarm anyone.

"Oh...well," Anita conceded. "I was just kind of hoping to check out the merchandise ahead of time, if you know what I mean." She smiled slyly, and shrugged.

"Well, there's brochures over there on the table set up for anonymous donations by the charity's organizers," the usher added helpfully, trying to take other women's tickets around Anita.

Anita gestured at her back pocket. "Oh, I have one already. Thanks anyway," she mumbled, and marched towards the auditorium's double doors. How hard could it be getting backstage at a community center? It's not like they'd have armed-guards blocking the way or anything.

There was forty-five minutes left before the curtains went up, but the auditorium was already close to standing room only. All the seats around the catwalk stage had been taken. Only a few empty tables remained in the back.

Determinedly, Anita marched up to the stage access door which was guarded by another elderly usher. Apparently one of the job requirements for working at the community center was that you had to be over sixty-five.

"Excuse me," Anita said, plastering a non-threatening smile to her face. "I hate to be a bother, but I thought I saw a no-smoking sign somewhere, and the young lady at the table next to mine is lighting up one after the other. Could you do me a favor and speak to her? I'm allergic to cigarette smoke and I'm not going to be able to stand it if she's puffing away all night."

The usher looked appropriately mortified. "Where are you? What table?"

"I don't remember the exact number, but it's somewhere over there," Anita said and made a vague gesture towards the opposite end of the auditorium. "See her? She's smoking right now."

The elderly usher strained to see the offending nicotine-addict. "I can't really make anything out. Wait here, and I'll go take a look."

She started off, and Anita smiled triumphantly, discreetly pulling open the access door, and slipped inside.

It was darker backstage, and the narrow halls winding around the restricted access hallways of the community center made Anita feel claustrophobic. After what seemed like a mile of hallway later, Anita came across the first dressing room. She heard male voices behind the closed door, but couldn't sense the particular male she was looking for inside so she quickly moved on.

After dismissing the occupants of a second dressing room, Anita finally found herself in front of a third, much smaller door, with a single star on its panel with the word 'private' prominently printed out on a brass sign underneath. Yep, this was the one.

"Star my ass," Anita grumbled and pounded on the door, rattling the gilded star. Leave it to him to have a private dressing room.

The door opened readily enough, and Asher peered through it, clearly surprised to see Anita suddenly standing in front of him.

"Anita, cherie, what are you doing here of all places?"

Anita couldn't tell if he meant here at the event, or here backstage where she supposedly wasn't allowed.

"Funny, I was just about to ask you and Jean-Claude the exact same thing," Anita murmured back. She gestured at the door. "Well, aren't you going to invite me in?" She tried to look around him into the room.

"Of course," Asher said with a slight bow of his head. He pushed open the door, and moved to step aside, but Anita simply slipped in under his arm.

Her eyes immediately fell on Jean-Claude. He was sitting in front of the room's only lighted mirror, with his chair precariously tilted on its two back legs. Apparently, he had finished doing whatever it was he needed to do in order to prepare himself for the night's event, and was more or less taking a load off. His long legs were stretched out in front of him, propped up on the dressing room table, with his hands casually folded in his lap.

Of course, he looked spectacular. His hair fell around his shoulders like a rippling black waterfall, set off by the vivid blue shirt he was wearing. His pants were as form fitting as functionally possible--black, naturally, and perfectly accessorized with numerous silver chains attached to his belt. His legs were encased in thigh high black suede boots that looked so luxuriously soft, Anita itched to run her hands over them.

"Ma petite!" Jean-Claude greeted her. "What a pleasant surprise this is! I thought you were working tonight." He righted his chair, and swung his legs off the table to stand up.

"Don't bother," Anita said gruffly, stalking over to him, stifling the urge she had to touch him. Instead, she pulled the rumpled brochure from her back pocket. "This was in Victoria's Secret by the cash register." She smacked the brochure against Jean-Claude's chest. "Imagine my surprise to not only see my boyfriend's picture inside, but find out he's listed as one of the eligible bachelors up for bids tonight."

"You were shopping at Victoria's Secret today?" Asher inquired with a sly grin, sidling up to Anita and putting his arms around her.

Anita shrugged him off of her. "Don't get excited," she said through her teeth. "I didn't buy anything after I saw that!"

Jean-Claude tossed the brochure on the dressing table and frowned. "Let me guess. You are upset because I didn't tell you I was participating in this evening's fund-raiser?"

Anita leaned towards him and looked him squarely in the eye. "That's not the half of it, but you're off to a good start. Try again."

Asher moved to stand beside Jean-Claude. "He received the solicitation to participate by mail only two weeks ago," he put in. "The one and only time we've seen you since then, the subject simply didn't come up in conversation. If you recall, ma cherie, conversation was the one thing we didn't engage in that night."

Straightening, Anita shook her head. "All right. Let me give you a hint why I'm a little bent out of shape about this." She crossed her arms over her chest and took a deep breath. "Mmm...could it be because this is a charity bachelor auction, which means strange, horny women are about to pledge oodles of cash to try to win a date with you? Now think about it, Jean-Claude. Why would that piss me off?"

Jean-Claude exchanged wary glances with Asher before replying. "Ma petite, you are looking at this from the wrong perspective," he began. "It is all for a good cause. One I wholly endorse. It is part of my civic duty...as a businessman and citizen of this fair city, to be involved in its sponsored non-profit functions. There are many other prominent city figures participating tonight. I am simply one more."

"Yeah. Right," Anita quipped and shifted her hands to her hips.

"Jean-Claude is also the Vampire Council's pet poster boy, don't forget," Asher stated, leaning his butt against the edge of the dressing table. He crossed his ankles and leisurely brushed at some lint on his sleeve. "It is also his duty to project a favorable image of vampires and their continued peaceful co-existence with humankind."

Anita's expression softened slightly. She turned her attention to Jean-Claude again. "The Council put you up to this?"

Jean-Claude opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of what he was about to say and snapped it shut again. Anita could see from his subtly shifting expressions he was considering telling her they had, since it clearly would have gotten him more or less off the hook with her. He finally shook his head, opting for the truth.

"No, but that does not mean my participation tonight does not include my duty as the Council's public relations liaison."

Anita's eyes narrowed. "You know, we all agree this is for a good cause, it's your way of giving something back to the community, it will help better your image as a businessman and a vampire, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah, but the point I'm trying to make is: you are not exactly a bachelor."

Jean-Claude shrugged with one shoulder. "Well...technically, I am. The only requirements were that I not be married or engaged to be married. Involvement with someone did not seem to matter." He stopped and moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. He seemed to realize from Anita's bristling, that he was only getting himself deeper in trouble with her the more he talked.

"Involved? Oh, is that what we are?"

Jean-Claude reached out to take Anita's hand, but she pulled it away from him. "You know, and I know, it is much more than that," Jean-Claude said, "but from the organization's stand point, I am a bachelor."

"But you're not eligible!" Anita seethed. "These women are going to bid on you thinking you're up for grabs."

Jean-Claude sighed. "I will only be escorting my date to dinner and perhaps a limousine ride around the more scenic parts of the city. I promise you, there'll be no more to it than that."

Asher chuckled unexpectantly and both Anita and Jean-Claude peered up at him. He shook his head as if to downplay the interruption.

"I was only thinking that the more scenic parts of the city will actually be inside the limousine sitting next to her." He winked at Jean-Claude insinuatingly.

Jean-Claude shot him a look which clearly said he wasn't helping any. Then he turned his attention back to Anita.

"Ma petite, have a little more faith in me than this. I can assure you, your concerns regarding my fidelity are entirely unwarranted."

Anita threw up her hands in frustration. "Don't act so goddamned naive, Jean-Claude! You know your date is going to put the moves on you. There must be at least thirty vampire junkies in that auditorium, and three guesses as to who they're waiting to bid on. You're the Master Vampire of the City. You get within ten feet of whomever wins you, and I guarantee she'll start stripping off her clothes, and offering you her blood."

"Ah, do not worry about the junkies, ma cherie," Asher told her. "They won't be able to afford him. I promise you he'll go for an exorbitant fee. Only the very wealthy, old society widows will have the money needed to procure his services for the evening. Most of them proxy bid by anonymous pledges."

Anita glanced at Asher curiously. "How do you know all that?"

Asher merely shrugged. "I was speaking with one of the event organizers earlier. Apparently Jean-Claude has already received numerous bids."

At that, Jean-Claude looked not only surprised, but pleased.

Anita shook her head forcefully, and turned on him. "You know, that would serve you right! I hope you do get some old rich bat who walks with a cane, and is so wrinkled, she couldn't pass for a day under a hundred!"

"Or maybe he'll be a gift for some high-society debutante's eighteenth birthday," Asher said off-handedly. "I understand vampire bite marks in discreet places are quite fashionable to sport these days. I've heard all the proper young ladies want them now, and are willing to pay handsomely for them." He flashed a taunting grin at Anita. "Of course, you could spare Jean-Claude either fate if you would bid on him, cherie. You're quite wealthy in your own right. You could win him...if you truly wanted him."

Anita glared up at Asher. "No thanks!" she snapped. "I'm not about to pay for something I already get free." Turning away from him, she looked at Jean-Claude and frowned. "Do what you want. I have to get to work. I'm late as it is."

Jean-Claude blinked at her unhappily. "Ma petite, try to understand." He reached out to take her hand again, and this time she didn't pull away. "I had no idea my participating in this event would upset you so. You know I would never do anything with another woman that could be misconstrued by you." Drawing Anita closer, he pulled her unresisting, into his lap, and nuzzled the side of her face.

Stubbornly, Anita wouldn't look at him, but couldn't resist curling up against his chest when he encircled her with his arms.

"Damn you," she muttered, her anger waning in light of his devastating charm. Anita decided it simply felt too good to be held by him, feel his touch, and have his luscious body curved beneath hers, to push him away.

As if sensing this, Jean-Claude smiled at Anita gently, and pressed a soft kiss on her forehead. "I love you," he whispered in her ear, breathing into it, and sending little tingles skittering through her body.

Anita started buttoning his shirt up some so it wasn't open quite so far. "I love you too," she whispered back and finally looked up into his eyes.

Jean-Claude stared back at her adoringly.

Turning her head, Anita slowly settled her lips over his, and kissed him deeply, sliding her arms around his neck, and languidly leaning back into his arms.

After awhile, Asher finally cleared his throat. "It is almost time, mon ami."

Reluctantly, Jean-Claude and Anita parted, but then continued to stare into each other's eyes for a moment or two before unwrapping their arms from each other. Jean-Claude patted Anita's butt affectionately to send her on her way.

"Are you certain you don't want to stay and bid on me? If you win, I promise you will get your money's worth."

Anita smiled, but shook her head. "Sorry, but I have to go." She slid off of him and stood up. "I've got two animating appointments later tonight."

Asher called after her as she walked towards the door. "I will look after him, ma cherie. Don't worry. If he ever misbehaves while away from you, I will take a strap so soundly to his hide, he won't be able to sit for a week."

"Make it a month," Anita sneered, and glanced back at Jean-Claude wistfully. Sighing in resignation, she pulled open the dressing room door and slipped into the hall. Halfway down the hall, Anita came to a rather impulsive decision, and reached for her cell phone.


After calling Larry and arranging for him to reschedule or take over her animating jobs for the night, Anita made her way back to the community center's auditorium. Consulting her ticket stub, she found her table, and sat down, trying to look inconspicuous in her jeans and polo shirt amid this sea of slinky sequins and satin.

Asher was right. There were a number of older women at the tables around her. All well past their sexual prime, but wearing rather skimpy gowns, covered in inch-thick make-up, and all but dripping with diamonds--obviously still possessing enough vitality as well as money, to want a comely young stud on their arm for their next country club soiree. Anita couldn't picture any of them with Jean-Claude, and concluded they were probably too old-fashioned, as well as old, to want a vampire for an escort, no matter how handsome he was.

On the other hand, there were plenty of young attractive women there, eager for a good time with whomever they could get their perfectly-manicured claws into. They probably wouldn't hesitate to bid on Jean-Claude. Then there were the obvious vampire groupies, with their bite-riddled bodies swathed in black, their make-up and clothes practically screaming Goth. Anita knew they were here exclusively for a chance at Jean-Claude since he was the only vampire on the bill. But again, Asher was probably right. There was no way they'd be able to afford him. How they even afforded tickets to the event surprised her. Maybe they were just here to see him.

Jean-Claude was the fourth bachelor up for bids, forcing Anita to sit through three auctions before he came on. One by one the men filed out onto the stage and shyly stood beside the emcee's podium as the women in the audience frantically waved their numbered paddles in the air to bid for them.

Anita peered down at hers, and clutched it tightly to her chest for the time being. This was crazy, but she had decided after kissing Jean-Claude back in his dressing room that there was just no way she was about to let him date one of these women. As it was, the anticipation in the auditorium increased two-fold when the third bachelor exited the stage. Women around Anita began murmuring to their neighbors, and setting down their drinks to snatch up their paddles.

His name was no sooner announced when the auditorium erupted in high-pitched shrieks. Anita suddenly felt like she was the only adult at a rock concert for the latest boy band sensation, with the way the audience was behaving. When Jean-Claude sauntered on-stage, the noise level escalated even more, and some women actually jumped up and down excitedly, all dignity and propriety lost to sheer, unadulterated lust.

Not that Anita could blame them. Jean-Claude was sexy even when he wasn't trying to be, and when he was purposefully attempting seduction, there was no way the average red-bloodied woman could not be affected.

Surprisingly, he looked more coy and taken aback at the moment instead of sultry and seductive, but that only made him come across as adorable. While standing there in front of his appreciative minions, Jean-Claude flashed the occasional dazzling smile, and tossed his head, shaking his long hair from his eyes eliciting even more ecstatic squeals.

The emcee futilely motioned for everyone to sit back down, and tried to speak above all the whooping and wolf-whistles.

"Ladies, please. If you would just take your seats, we'll get on with the bidding." She turned and waved Jean-Claude to the microphone at the podium. "Bachelor number four, would you like to say hello to all the eager young ladies out there?"

Jean-Claude leaned closer to the microphone and took a deep breath before speaking. Anita could feel him summoning his power, pouring it into his voice to flavor it like some decadently rich syrup.

"Bonsoir ladies," he purred, and sent the place into another fit of hormone-induced hysteria. "How good of you to come this evening."

The screaming went on uncontrollably for at least another minute before the emcee could speak again. Jean-Claude started laughing rather self-consciously, which only made things worse, and caused some of the women in the audience to actually faint.

Anita could feel her hackles rise. She knew he was something of a minor celebrity here in St. Louis, but she had no idea he had these kind of "fans." He certainly got enough press--more than any other vampire Anita knew, but she had never thought of him as a pin-up in some teenage girl's school locker before.

"Ladies, please!" the emcee demanded, once more seizing control of her audience. "Allow me a minute to share some basic facts regarding bachelor number four."

With that, she read a short, prepared list of vital statistics and confirmed the fact Jean-Claude was not only a real vampire, but the Master Vampire of the City. She also told the audience he was a fine up-standing member of the business community and owned many local nightclubs. She insinuatingly added that he sometimes graced their dance floors too--no doubt relayed to boost tourism.

Finally she cued Jean-Claude, and he slowly moved down the catwalk, putting just enough bump and sway to his hips to make the chain belts jingle. A surge of women closed in on the stage, jostling each other for prime positions, stretching their arms towards him and trying to touch his legs as he walked by.

Anita looked on mortified. She had to win him. She simply had to.

"Okay, once more, our starting bid is determined by our highest anonymous pledge," the emcee told the audience. She quickly opened the envelopes containing the previously made proxy bids and scanned the figures. Her eyes grew wide suddenly, and she cleared her throat before announcing the opening bid. "Ah, we will begin the opening bid at $6000.00 dollars."

Anita's jaw fell open. Clearly stunned, Jean-Claude turned and faced the emcee with a truly horrified expression, almost falling prey to the sea of outstretched hands grappling in the air for a piece of him. Anita wondered if he believed for that amount of money he'd be obligated to sleep with this bidder if that was what she wanted.

"$6000.00," the emcee repeated. "Do I...um ,hear $6010.00?"

After a few moments of shocked silence, just what the emcee was saying began to register to the audience, and a collective disappointed moan rose over the room.

Anita closed her eyes and shook her head. There was no fucking way she could afford that. Jean-Claude would simply have to fend for himself now. Tossing her paddle on the table, Anita slipped from her chair, and fought her way through the crowd to the exit doors.


Anita had found out through Jason that Jean-Claude's auction date was tonight. Apparently he'd devised something special for the winner, but Anita didn't particularly want to hear the details. In fact, she made sure she had other things to do tonight to keep her mind off it.

She finally headed home around midnight, pulling up in her driveway, noticing for once, there wasn't another car sitting in it. Apparently everyone else had plans tonight too. That was fine by Anita. All she wanted to do was take a bath and climb into bed with Sigmund cuddled close.

There was a card conspicuously taped to her front door however. While fumbling with her keys, Anita pulled it off and tore it open, then struggled to read it by the light of the moon.

Oddly enough, there was a paisley decorated heart on the front of the card and the inscription simply read: Enjoy, cherie! All my love, Asher.

Furrowing her brow, Anita opened her front door and slipped inside, studying the card intensely. She raised her eyes to close the door behind her, and was shocked to see at least fifty candles blazing away in her living room, bordering a winding path to her bathroom. The floor was strewn with red rose petals and the air was scented with some kind of exotic oil, and slightly damp with steam.

Starting forward, Anita laid the card aside, kicked off her shoes, and padded down the path to the bathroom. Maybe Asher had felt sorry for her tonight, and took it upon himself to draw her a bath, and scrub her back for her. She knew someone was in the bathroom, but in moments realized it wasn't Asher.

Candles flickered romantically in every corner of the room and on every flat surface. The rose petal path ended at the side of the tub where a bottle of Dom Perignon was sitting in a gold-colored ice bucket wrapped in a white linen towel. A single crystal champagne glass sparkled in the candlelight and reflected the gold around the room.

Slowly, Anita raised her eyes to the figure of the man reclining rather seductively in her filled bathtub.

"Bonsoir, ma petite," Jean-Claude greeted her. "Would you care to join me?" He leaned over the side and poured the champagne into the glass, then raised it up and offered it to her. Small wisps of scented steam rose from his glistening skin and his wet hair shimmered like oil in the flickering flames.

Anita was simply too mesmerized to move however. Jean-Claude was the last person she expected to see tonight. "Um...shouldn't you...be on your date?" she managed finally, and fastened her hands on her hips to keep from sliding them over his luxuriously slick body...just yet.

Jean-Claude smiled easily, and indulgently sipped at the champagne from her glass, just enough to wet his lips, then set it back on the floor at her feet. "Didn't you see Asher's card on the door?"

Anita took a deep breath. God, that bathtub looked...inviting. "Yeah, I saw it. I don't get it though. What are you doing here?"

"I am your date for this evening, ma petite," Jean-Claude told her, his smooth melodious voice made more so by the acoustics in the bathroom. "If you recall, last Saturday night, I was purchased for the rather daunting sum of $6000.00. As it turned out, that purchase was intended to be a gift. From Asher. To you."

Anita blinked back at him, her mouth falling open in surprise. "You mean, Asher bought you?"

Jean-Claude nodded and shifted slightly in the water, making it swirl enticingly around his body. "Apparently when I agreed to participate in the auction, Asher anonymously arranged a proxy donation for me for the sum of $6000.00 to ensure no one else would be able to outbid him. At first, it was simply made to spare me from the hundred year-old society widows and vampire groupies. Then when you showed up backstage before the auction, so upset, he got the idea to make a gift of me, and arranged all this for us."

Anita grinned. "And when did you find out about it?"

Seemingly chagrined, Jean-Claude bowed his head, and smiled slightly. "When he woke this evening. He let me pull my hair out all week worrying about this date while he planned our time tonight down to the last detail."

Anita looked around the bathroom. "Obviously my leopards were in on it."

"As were my wolves."

Anita peered down at Jean-Claude in the bathtub and took a deep breath. "Damn." She started unbuttoning her blouse. "We owe him one now."

Jean-Claude nodded, his eyes sweeping appreciatively over Anita as she continued to undress. "Mmm, definitely."

Once nude, Anita took hold of Jean-Claude's proffered hand, and let him help her into the bathtub. As she settled back against his chest, he picked up the champagne glass again, and handed it to her, then softly kissed her hair.

"I cannot tell you how relieved I am to be spending the night with you, ma petite," he confessed. "Civic duty or no civic duty, I am never, ever volunteering to be auctioned off again."

"I shouldn't have over-reacted the way I did, but I admit it, I was jealous of the idea of you taking someone else out," Anita told him and sipped at the cold, bubbly champagne. "But now, I'm glad I did. Otherwise Asher would have kept you all to himself."

Jean-Claude laughed lightly. "And he would have probably had me rearranging furniture in his room, or something equally unappealing. So, I too, am glad you were jealous. I'd much rather be obligated to please you than anyone else, ma petite."

Anita craned her neck around to kiss him, and Jean-Claude readily obliged her. He relieved her of her champagne glass and set it down on the side of the tub, then turned her around to face him and wrapped his body around her, deepening the kiss.

"I've got you all night to myself, right?" Anita murmured against his mouth, succumbing to her rising passion.

He moaned breathlessly and gathered her into his arms. "For $6000.00, ma petite, you have me for all eternity...."



Jean-Claude kissed Jason's temple and smiled at him affectionately.

"Happy Birthday, my wolf," he whispered in his ear.

Jason reacted with a start, seeing the small, black velvet box appear from seemingly nowhere before his eyes.

Gingerly, the young werewolf accepted the gift from the vampire's proffered hand and immediately tugged on the gold ribbon tied around it. He glanced up at his master, and smiled coyly.

"Ah, Jean-Claude, you shouldn't have," he teased, eyeing the tell-tale box. "I already have a pirate's treasure of gold." He lowered his eyes and bit his lower lip. He hadn't meant that the way it had sounded.

"Do you?" the vampire replied flatly.

Not wanting to seem ungrateful, Jason quickly added, "But hey, I can always use more jewelry. The last chain you got me looks great on-stage under the lights. Thank you. Really." Actually, his master's last gift--which was given merely out of appreciation, was 24 karat gold, an Egyptian antiquity, and probably worth a college tuition.

Jean-Claude folded his arms across his chest and sighed. "Well, this is not gold, mon ami. I decided upon something a little more useful than another bauble."

Jason peered up at Jean-Claude, intrigued, but the vampire's perfectly passive expression gave nothing away. Nervous now, the young werewolf passed his palm over the box's soft exterior a few times, and took a deep breath before opening the lid.

His eyes widened seeing what lay inside, and he quickly snapped the box shut. "You didn't!" he exclaimed.

The slightest hint of a smile played on his master's lips. "I saw the way you were looking at her through the glass the other day when we made that chamber of commerce presentation. You could not keep the desire out of your eyes, especially when you ran your hands over her."

"Oh my god," Jason gasped excitedly, telling himself to breathe. "You saw that? I didn't think you were paying any attention to my lusting with all the press that was there. I can't believe you did this! Oh, Jean-Claude. Thank you! A thousand times. Thank you!"

Now the vampire smiled out-right. "You are more than welcome, mon ami. I am pleased my offering has made you so happy."

"Happy?" Jason echoed, dancing around the room with his little box. "This is beyond happy! This is...ecstasy! Oh god! I can't wait to try her out!"

Jean-Claude gestured at the door. "What are you waiting for? Go now. She's right outside." He put his hands on his hips and pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I only ask that you go easy on her for a little while. She is pristine, so try not to use her up the first time you ride her. It will prolong your pleasure."

"I will, I promise! I'll treat her like a baby!" Jason gushed, reaching for his jacket and slipping it on.

The vampire grinned. "You don't have to go that far. She's not an infant. She's very well-built."

"Come with me," Jason suggested, seizing his master's hand. "We'll go to Anita's place, and make her all hot and bothered. Anita won't be able to keep her hands off of you when she sees your legs wrapped around this beauty. I know you don't want to pass on an opportunity like that."

Surprisingly, the vampire seemed to shy away from Jason. "Mmm. I don't know. As tempting as that sounds, I must admit, my experience with these modern types is limited at best."

Jason grinned devilishly. "You're just afraid once you've had her, you won't want to go back to your own tired old ride."

Jean-Claude laughed. "Oh, and I can just picture Anita's reaction when I tell her, too. She'll think I've lost my mind."

"Aw, c'mon, Jean-Claude. I said I'd take it easy on her. You can supervise me even. Just think, when you straddle this baby, and feel all that throbbing, purring power between your legs...All I can say is, I know you'll enjoy her too."

The vampire shook his head, his long hair swishing slightly around his handsome face as he did. "As tantalizing as all that throbbing and purring sounds, mon ami, I think I'll keep my 'tired, old ride', thank you. She still performs flawlessly, and still smells wonderful when I'm inside her."

Jason blinked back at his master as something suddenly struck him. His expression slowly contorted with mirth, and then the young wolf suddenly burst out laughing.

"We are still talking about motorcycles and cars, aren't we? And if we aren't, all I can say is, don't let Anita ever hear you talk about her like that!" He took the keys to his new motorcycle out of the velvet box and stashed them in his jacket pocket. "Tired old ride that she is!"

When the extent of the double entendres strung throughout their previous conversation occurred to Jean-Claude, he fought not to smile at his wolf's bawdy humor, but his eyes sparkled with mischievous amusement.

"Now I think I know why vehicles are often referred to in the feminine sense." He paused, and looked around discreetly. "Heaven forbid someone heard us just now, and believed we were so crudely discussing women."

"What about it, Jean-Claude? Are you game for a little action on two wheels?"

Inclining his head graciously, Jean-Claude reached for his own leather jacket, and slipped it on, keeping his hair tucked underneath it.

"I am in the mood to do something a little wild and uninhibited tonight. Though I can't imagine why you'd rather have me behind you, instead of some buxom, young blonde."

Jason threw his arm amiably around the vampire's shoulders. "Aw, you're hotter than anything I could pick up off the street. Besides, letting you tag along is my way of saying thank you."

"Really, your happiness is thank you enough," Jean-Claude said and smiled gently, "but if you truly wish, I will accompany you on this historic, maiden voyage. A man can never have too much experience under his belt."

"I was going to say something about teaching old dogs new tricks, but I won't," Jason teased. "From what I hear, you're gonna need some experience like this under your belt. Asher's been talking to me about motorcycles all week. Seems he got bit by the biker bug during that chamber of commerce gig too. I think he has his eye on the sweet little Harley that was next to mine."

Jean-Claude stopped in his tracks, and looked as shocked as he was capable of. "You don't say?"

Jason laughed. "Yep. Asher'll be fighting them off with a stick when the ladies see him all decked out in black leather and studs."

Jean-Claude grew very still, but moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue, obviously giving this new mental image of his old friend a thorough once over in his mind.

"Just think," Jason went on. "The two of you on one of those sleek black beauties, roaring all through town, stirring up the local ladies, and then showing up at Anita's looking fashionably biker-esque. Trust me, when you both pull off your helmets, and shake out your hair, Anita will flip, I tell you. She'll be all over you two. You'll barely get her inside before she rips all your clothing off. She'll want to do you two right there on her front lawn!"

Jean-Claude grinned. "If that were guaranteed to happen, it would be worth learning how to ride a motorcycle...just to see her face. But Anita does not strike me as the kind of woman who is aroused by such macho displays."

"God, don't let her fool you!" Jason admonished him. "There's just something about a guy on a chopper that drives the ladies wild. Now put you, or Asher, on a motorcycle, and I'll bet you a hundred dollars, even our lovely little Anita is not immune. Especially when it comes to you and Asher. Let's face it, you two could make grocery shopping sexy. You'll absolutely blow 'em away on a motorcycle. A machine that simply screams sex. You'll see when we're out tonight. We'll go to Guilty Pleasures. All we have to do is pull up beside a bevy of unsuspecting beauties waiting to get in, pour on a little charm, and voila! We're good to go!"

Jean-Claude considered this. "Shall we then? I'm anxious to put your expertise to the test."

Jason smiled ear to ear. "You'll see. Just don't pour on the charm too thick, Jean-Claude. We don't want to overwhelm the good citizens of St. Louis."

"Well, not all of them anyway," the vampire said and laughed lightly. "Just one in particular."



Asher struck the match and lit the small, vanilla-scented candle on his desk. He could have simply turned on the electric lights, but he believed such modern conveniences were too garish at times, and this was one of them. Besides, over the years he had adopted a ritual of sorts when it came to writing his letters, and the single, sweet-smelling candle always gave the room the right kind of ambiance he needed. It helped put him in the correct frame of mind for what he was about to do.

Fixing his eyes on the large, leather-bound book in front of him, Asher slowly and methodically untied its covers, and then ran his fingertips along the top of its pages to where the frail embroidered bookmark lay. He slid his fingers carefully underneath it, and opened the book to the next blank page, removing the precious bookmark and laying it aside.

Asher smiled down at the delicate floral pattern sewed onto the thin strip of cloth. He couldn't resist tracing it over a few times with the tip of his finger. At one time, the flowers had been blue. Now they had faded to a soft, dove gray, but Asher did not care. He still treasured the little bookmark more than anything else he had ever owned.

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Asher turned his attention to the open book. He picked up the pen with the light blue ink, and pressed it to the top of the page, dating the letter he was about to write in his terribly archaic penmanship. Anita had declared it unreadable, and insisted he print out anything he wrote to her, but in this book, Asher always wrote in cursive. No one would ever read it anyway.

The book's paper was fraying and yellowing after all these years. The leather was cracking despite Asher's best efforts to preserve it. At least, the book's spine and all its pages remained intact. Every letter Asher had ever written in it was still there; not one page had ever been lost. Not that it mattered really. The book was nothing more than a glorified journal. It simply gave Asher's heart a chance to express the love he had harbored in it for centuries.

Closing his eyes, Asher summoned her face. Two hundred years had passed, but he could still picture her clearly in his mind's eye. There, she was forever young and beautiful. Her fair skin glowed with the warmth of vitality. Her eyes sparkled with undisclosed love, and smoldered with unspoken sensuality. Her luxurious hair--the color of old copper--was always piled loosely on the top of her head, but a few soft locks were often left to cascade tantalizingly down her long throat to her white shoulders. How many times had Asher brushed those curls aside to kiss that swan-like neck? At least a thousand times. And every time, she would quiver in anticipation at the touch of his fingers on her skin.

Asher's heart constricted in his chest, and missed a beat, as if it was protesting having to beat without her. If Asher wasn't careful, he would open old, bitter wounds, but it was hard not to dwell on the pain her loss still caused him. Not a day went by when he didn't think of her. Or miss her. Writing the letters helped. It let him pretend, for a little while, at least, that he could still talk to her, and tell her how much he loved her.

Opening his eyes, Asher stared down at the blank sheet of paper for a moment to gather his thoughts, then he began to write:

Ma Chere Juli,

It is springtime again, and inevitably, my thoughts turn to you, for you are all around me this time of year. I see your beautiful face in every newborn blossom. Your smile is the light of the full silver moon. I hear your voice in the whispering breeze, and feel your touch on my skin with the warm May rains. I remembered how you loved this season and all its delicate beginnings. The tiny buds on the flowers, the young leaves on the trees, the pale, lacy new grass. This spring in particular, comes at a time of renewal in my life. I feel as though I am living again after two centuries of merely existing. Like the earth in the springtime, I am shaking off the last grip of a cold, barren winter, and turning my face to the sun for its promise of new beginnings. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Though St. Louis was a far cry from Asher's home abroad, the newness of the season and the awakening warmth of the approaching summer were not so different. Julianna would have liked it here. Asher liked it too. But then, how could he not like it? In this quaint American city that Asher now called home, he had found love again...both old and new, despite convincing himself he could never be loved because of the monster he had become.

I might even go so far as to say I am happy, though, in all truth, it has been so long since I felt happiness, I cannot recognize it so readily anymore. It might be safer to claim contentment. Still, being content is far better than being miserable, being afraid, or in pain, or being lonesome. Maybe I'm not giddy with joy, but I would choose this quiet contentment over anything I have felt the many, many years before I came to reside here. Oh, the time I've wasted, cherie! If only I had trusted. If only I had believed. How different my life might have been.

Enough regrets, Asher chided himself, and lifted the pen from the page. What had passed, was past, and there was nothing anyone could do to remedy the mistakes that were made. Why did he keep punishing himself?

Maybe parts of my life would have been played out differently, but I am almost certain the end result would have stayed the same. Jean-Claude and I seem destined to be together.

A rare jewel our lovely Jean turned out to be. He carries on as if none of it had ever happened. Any other master vampire of his caliber would have ordered me sealed away as soon as he had gotten the chance. Instead, Jean-Claude orders fresh cut flowers for my rooms. White lilacs to be precise. It is always lilacs in May.

You would love them Juli. They are a large cluster of many tiny blossoms. They have soft green, pleasantly-shaped foliage, and a strong, but sweet, sweet, scent. Unfortunately, the bushes only bloom here in the spring. Too soon their flowers fade, and we all have to wait another year to enjoy them again. However, the coming summer yields its own bounty of new flora, perfect for more fresh cut bouquets.

Summer comes and the world changes yet again, Asher thought. Summer had always been Asher's favorite season. It still was, despite the shorter nights, the sometimes oppressive humidity, and the inescapable invasion of tourists. Which reminded him....

Jean-Claude is thinking of opening yet another club this summer. He's been looking at a property just west of here. He says this one will be more of a gentlemen's club, but as of this moment, no real decisions regarding it have been made. Still, he more or less coerced me into committing myself to attending his opening, since he does not believe Anita will be interested. Though I'm usually not one to engage in any social activities, I think I would enjoy this if it comes to pass.

If you were here, you would come with me, wouldn't you? I wouldn't feel so apprehensive in public if I had a beautiful woman like you at my side. They would stare, but it wouldn't be in repulsion at me. All eyes would be on you, ma belle. If I garnered any looks at all, it would be jealous ones.

Asher smiled to himself, and leaned back slightly, taking a moment to flex his cramping hand. He thought of how Anita dressed for Jean-Claude, and tried to picture Julianna in something similar. Though Julianna had looked nothing like Anita, Asher had a vivid imagination where Julianna was concerned, and the images he conjured of his lover now, made him sigh wistfully. He would give anything to have been able to see Julianna stalk towards him one hot summer night, wearing three-inch heels, a short, tight skirt, and the kind of skimpy little top all the young women seemed to don during the sultrier summer months. As it was, his mouth was going dry just thinking about it.

After we mingled awhile at the club, I would take you around the city. We could go up to the highest point of the St. Louis Arch. Like a carpet of diamonds, my kingdom would be laid out at your feet, stretching out as far as your eyes could see. This city is beautiful at night, cherie. Its lights are like jewels set against the most luxurious velvet. It is nothing like you knew, but I think you would have grown fond of it in time. You always said you wouldn't care where we lived as long as we could be together--a sentiment I willingly shared, for your heart was where I did reside. The circle of your embrace was the only shelter I had needed. Your love, my only sustenance. Oh, Julianna. If only I could truly tell you how precious you were to me. If only you were near. If only...

Asher stopped writing and placed his hand over his heart. That dull, burdensome ache had returned--a yearning so intense, it hollowed him out in pieces, leaving him feeling empty and broken and lost. He missed Julianna so much it hurt him in a very real, physical sense. After two hundred years, he still longed for her. Time's passing had eased his pain, but only a little, not nearly enough. If only...

If only I could dream of you when I sleep, ma chere Juli. At least then, I could take you in my arms, and drown myself in the dark depths of your eyes. In my dreams, you would be mine for all eternity again, and I would spend every waking hour of my continued existence worshipping the divinity that you were.

Julianna, I love you. Come to me and fill my dreams. I want to caress your silken skin, press you to my chest, and taste your succulent mouth once more. How long I have been deprived of the sweetness of your kiss, the tenderness of your touch, the fulfillment of your love. What I wouldn't do to feel the soft warmth of your naked body moving beneath mine--to plunge myself inside the ethereal, moist heat between your beautiful thighs, to bring you to every peak of every summit across the four corners of the earth and beyond to the stars, over and over and over again. Our passion would know no end for my expressions of love for you would carry us on into infinity--an infinity of bliss, like heaven's reward.

For heaven was not so far away from me when locked in the throes of your desire. Making love to you was my heaven, Julianna. What we shared was real and true and exquisitely rare. Even now, our love has transcended the boundaries of time, dimensions, and even death. I've no doubt you still love me--scars and all. You look down on me from paradise's clouds and shelter me with your angel's wings. You've looked after me all this time and kept me close to your heart, even in my darkest, most depraved hours. Your love has saved me. It saved me. You are an angel. I know it. Oh, please be in heaven, Juli. Please tell me I did not really steal away your soul the way I stole your heart.

A single tear fell from Asher's pale blue eyes and splattered the yellowing page he had been writing on, staining it. Another tear fell, then another. Slowly, Asher straightened in his chair, and wiped his damp cheek with the tips of his fingers. It was time to stop. He had written enough tonight anyway.

Sniffing softly and blotting his watery eyes with the sleeve of his shirt, Asher bent over the book one last time and touched the pen to the page.

Yours forever and always,


With that, Asher reverently replaced the embroidered bookmark, closed the book, and tied the covers once more with their fraying satin ribbons. He rose from his chair and carried the book to its place on the shelf, then stiffly walked back to his desk, and blew out the candle.



Zerbrowski sat forward in his chair when the two uniformed police officers led Jean-Claude into the interrogation room. He spared a quick glance up at Dolph Storr, who was standing like a stone pillar beside him, arms crossed over his massive chest, sweat beading on his furrowed brow.

"Sit there," one of the uniforms ordered Jean-Claude and gestured at the chair on the opposite side of the table.

The vampire slid fluidly into the chair and shifted around a little to find a more comfortable way to sit with his hands cuffed behind him. He had to lean to the left to keep from putting pressure on his wrists, but then he sat rigidly still, and looked up at the two detectives across the table expectantly.

"Keep your eyes down," the second uniform rumbled.

Jean-Claude did as he was told, and lowered his gaze to the table's edge. His jaw seemed to tighten a bit, and he slowly drew in a deep, lungful of air as if trying to breathe through his building stress.

Zerbrowski looked over at Jean-Claude and felt a momentary tinge of sympathy for him. It was clear the master vampire was way more unsettled by his arrest than he was letting on. He was trying to play it cool, but Zerbrowski knew it took a lot of pent-up emotion to merit any outward signs of discomfort from the older vamps, even seemingly insignificant signs, like Jean-Claude was displaying now.

He sighed heavily. This was going to be one of the hardest interrogations he had ever conducted, and Dolph's attitude regarding the whole investigation of Anita's death, wasn't helping any. Zerbrowski would have rather Dolph question Jean-Claude by himself, but he also knew his superior was in no frame of mind to play by the rules. After all, this was Anita they'd be talking about, not some random case file number.

The tension in the room had escalated with Jean-Claude's arrival, and now Dolph was glaring at the master vampire like he wanted to tear his head off. Zerbrowski thought Jean-Claude was lucky he had a table between him and the good Sergeant Storr tonight.

Dolph gestured at the officer on Jean-Claude's left. The uniform nodded knowingly, and moved to stand behind the vampire. He drew his service revolver, cocked it, and trained it on the vampire.

Jean-Claude turned slightly at the sound of the chamber's mechanism being readied, but did not look at the officer behind him.

"Let's get one thing straight," Sergeant Storr began thickly. "You try any hocus pocus, anything at all, and your brains are going to get splattered all over these walls in a heartbeat."

Jean-Claude inclined his head in understanding, and offered Dolph a thin, patronizing smile.

"Gentleman, I have agreed to cooperate completely with these proceedings," the master vampire said in a low, even voice. "Against my better judgment, I have even waived my right to have my attorney present. Surely you realize, had I wanted to bespell any of you, I would have done so long before now. Furthermore, my power is not limited to my gaze or a gesture. There is no need to keep me trussed and blinded during our little discussion this evening."

"Well, you'll have to excuse our ignorance, Jean-Claude," Dolph grumbled. "At the moment, we don't have a preternatural expert to consult. As I'm sure you are aware, she was murdered three days ago at a bondage club across the river called Narcissus In Chains--an S&M sex club you took her to."

Jean-Claude sighed with seemingly infinite patience. "How many times do I have to tell you, Anita is not dead."

Dolph uncrossed his arms and clenched his fists at his sides. "How long are you going to keep spouting that bullshit? We've got an eyewitness, for Christ's sake! It's only a matter of time before we find her body. And for your sake, we better find her body. 'Cause if we don't and I find out you did...something with her, I swear I'll--"

"You swear what?" Jean-Claude demanded, raising his eyes briefly to glare back at Dolph Storr. "Who do you think you are talking to? Do you truly believe because I am a monster, I would suddenly turn on the woman I love, kill her, and then dispose of the evidence by feeding her to my wolves? Don't you think it a little preposterous a defense on my part to proclaim her continued existence if she were actually dead? You know as well as I do, such a declaration, would inevitably be proven false, and could only buy me time at best."

"Isn't that what monsters do?" Zerbrowski spoke up, leaning back in his chair, while desperately trying to block out the mental images he got of Jean-Claude feeding pieces of Anita to the werewolves. Sometimes he truly hated his job. Especially in this city.

Jean-Claude frowned. "Very well. If you wish to regard me as simply a monster, then let us look at this situation from a monster's perspective." He paused and bit his lower lip, clearly struggling with his composure. "Anita belongs to me. She is my human servant. She gave herself to me out of necessity, but nevertheless, willingly. Now I rely on her powers to live, just as she relies on mine. We are part of a triumvirate of supernatural power so closely bonded with each other, a death of one would most likely mean death to the remaining two. The longer my triumvirate remains intact, the more powerful I become....It would simply not be in my best interest to murder my servant and the second power of my triumvirate, now would it?"

Zerbrowski shrugged. "How do we know you aren't just making all that up to save your skin? You don't have any proof of what you're claiming, now do you, Jean-Claude?"

Before he could reply, Dolph spoke up.

"You might have seduced Anita into your bed because she had some kind of perverted itch, but she would have never, never willingly submitted herself as a slave to you!" he exclaimed, his face reddening with anger. "I knew Anita! So don't sit there, expecting me to believe crap like that!"

Jean-Claude emitted a chilling chuckle, and threw back his head to toss his hair out of his eyes. He stared up at the ceiling of the interrogation room for a moment, then took a deep, steadying breath.

"You do not know Anita at all if you believe she comes to my bed out of some superficial physical need."

Dolph took a step towards the master vampire and pointed his finger at him threateningly. "Stop lying! Everyone here knows your reputation as some underworld version of Don Juan. Anita understandably had her needs, but why she ever turned to the likes of you to satisfy them, I'll never know. You must have charmed her with a little more than sex appeal, Jean-Claude. Let's face it you're dead. You're a filthy, rotting corpse. How else could Anita stand to put her hands on you if she hadn't been blinded by some vampiric spell?"

Even with his gaze re-focused on the table before him, Jean-Claude's eyes visibly flashed in anger, and his upper lip curled back slightly in the subtlest of snarls. "It took me years, years, to earn Anita's trust...to finally win her heart. She loves me now, and I love her, deeply."

"How deeply?" Zerbrowski asked, folding his hands in front of him on the table.

Jean-Claude appeared surprised by his question. "Wholly and passionately. With everything I am, all the powers that I hold."

Zerbrowski spared a glance up at Dolph, and cleared his throat. "So, maybe this wasn't the act of a monster, but maybe a crime of passion?"

The master vampire looked up at Zerbrowski questioningly, then lowered his eyes again. "I...don't understand."

"A crime of passion," Dolph explained, seizing on Zerbrowski's idea. "You say you loved Anita so much, that after she came to her senses and left you--rejected you, you couldn't stand the idea of not having her anymore, so you plotted her murder when she returned to St. Louis, and struck her down the first chance you got."

"Makes perfect sense," Zerbrowski added. "And it happens all the time. The way I see it, you arranged to meet up with Anita at this bondage club to try to reconcile things with her and get in a little S&M on the side. When she refused to come back to you, you lost it, and murdered her in a fit of rage."

Jean-Claude sighed. "I was there at Anita's request to negotiate the details of her...passage into the club's more exclusive realm."

Zerbrowski shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Now why would someone like Anita want in a club like that?"

Jean-Claude peered over at him, but said nothing, and lowered his eyes to the table once more.

Dolph laughed humorlessly. "Are you saying you went to Narcissus In Chains to protect her?"

"In a sense, yes."

Zerbrowski furrowed his brow, and shifted in his chair. Unlike other suspects, human suspects, it was hard to read Jean-Claude's expression--especially with his eyes cast down, but Zerbrowski's years of experience as a police interrogator told him the vampire was telling the truth as far as why he was at the club. But he was also holding something back.

Maybe it was an insignificant detail, but it gave Zerbrowski the feeling the vampire was somehow still trying to protect Anita. Maybe Anita was into all that BDSM shit. Who the hell knew for sure? When it came down to it, he and Dolph had worked side by side with the woman for years, but did either of them really know her at all? She had been a very private person, and projected a rather conservative image, which was why her sudden intimate involvement with Jean-Claude, and the rest of the creepy-crawlies he kept company with, came as such a shock to everybody on the RPIT.

"Well you did a piss-poor job of protecting her, didn't you?" Dolph suddenly spat, shaking Zerbrowski out of his thoughtful reverie.

The vampire bowed his head, and licked his lips slowly. "Yes," he admitted in a soft, breathy voice.

Still fuming, Dolph stepped around the table. "You went there to protect her and she winds up getting murdered! Under your protection, she was fucking ripped to pieces! Maybe not by your hands, but I wouldn't put it past you to have stood by and let it happen!"

"There was no murder," Jean-Claude stated flatly. "So, there was no crime. Of passion...or anything else you gentlemen would care to concoct."

Rising stiffly from his chair, Zerbrowski opened the manila envelope in front of him, and withdrew the enlarged photos that were inside it. Methodically, he placed them one at a time in front of Jean-Claude's lowered eyes.

"These were the photos provided to us by our eyewitness," Zerbrowski explained. "As you can see, they were taken on the night in question just outside the club." He paused and tapped on the center photo, a particularly gory depiction. "You're covered in her blood, Jean-Claude. It's all over you."

The vampire stiffened slightly as his eyes skimmed over the grainy photos. "I was holding her. She was wounded. These pictures prove nothing."

"According to our witness, you weren't too broken up about her death. The pictures show that much," Dolph pointed out, struggling with his temper. "In that one, you're licking her blood off your fingers, aren't you?"

"It proves nothing," the vampire repeated with an irritated glance up at Dolph. "Except that I am a vampire."

Dolph slammed his fists on the table in front of the photos. "It proves that you killed her! Look at these, damn it! You're not going to sit there and tell us she was just a little hurt in these pictures! She may have been alive when these photos were taken--maybe, just barely, but she's got to be dead by now considering you loved her so much you didn't bother taking her to a hospital. Nobody survives those kinds of wounds, and that amount of blood-loss. It is not humanly possible."

"Anita is not wholly human," the master vampire stated matter-of-factly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Zerbrowski questioned, his own irritation starting to rise. He couldn't believe Jean-Claude was sticking to his story the way he was.

Jean-Claude simply offered him a noncommittal shrug, and re-adjusted his position in his chair.

Dolph straightened and swore under his breath, turning away from the vampire as if he couldn't bear to look at him any longer.

Zerbrowski sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to stave off the headache that was threatening to develop just behind his eyes.

"Come on, Jean-Claude," he grumbled. "Tell us what happened. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe you weren't planning on murdering Anita at all. Maybe it was just something that happened--a situation that got out of control. Just do yourself a favor, and tell us where the body is. Can you give us that at least?"

Jean-Claude shook his head. "She is somewhere safe now. She is healing. I will not allow you to interfere with that process, even if it means I will have to remain in your custody a while longer. I will."

"Oh, you'll do more than remain in custody, you fucking blood-sucker," Dolph growled, turning on his heel to face the vampire once more. "Despite what you think, we have enough proof to condemn you, and see you executed by order of the courts. You can play these little games with us now, but the fact is, you're a vampire who killed a human. It doesn't really matter how or why. Either way, you're going to die for it. We're going to make damn sure of that!"

Jean-Claude's head snapped up and he looked Dolph straight in the eye. Both he, and the sergeant towering over him, were too caught up in their anger to give a damn about protocol anymore.

"If you execute me, you will adversely effect every vampire in this city and the suburbs beyond that rely on my power to thrive."

Forcing a smile, Zerbrowski shrugged. "You mean with one pound of the stake, we could rid the entire St. Louis metropolitan area of its vamps? From our point of view, why would that be such a bad thing?"

Jean-Claude turned his narrowed his eyes on him. "There are those who would replace me as master of this city who've no love of humankind, and little regard for your laws."

"Well, we'll just have to deal with that when the time comes," Zerbrowski stated, leaning nonchalantly back in his chair, trying to look casual. "Anita wasn't the only vampire executioner licensed in this state. In fact, we've already got someone in mind for this prestigious occasion. He's on his way to St. Louis as we speak--flying in specifically for you, Jean-Claude. If we have to keep him around a little longer on retainer, I'm sure he won't mind."

The corners of the master vampire's lips turned up in a seemingly wry smile. "I would advise you to save your money. Your own laws will not let you unjustly prosecute me for a crime I neither committed, nor has ever been committed at all. I need only bide my time until Anita is once more fit enough to show herself to you. Then you will be forced to see you have wastefully expended a considerable amount of energy and finances conducting this...unwarranted investigation."

Zerbrowski sat forward again as something the vampire said struck him. His stomach clenched and he had to take a deep breath before he could speak.

"My god, you didn't turn her, did you?" he asked, not really wanting to know if he had. How else could Anita have survived such severe wounds without medical attention? If Jean-Claude had killed her, but turned her into a vampire, she'd still be alive in his eyes. That was why he kept insisting she hadn't really died. It only made sense.

But the master vampire was now staring at him in such a way, Zerbrowski knew Jean-Claude didn't even think such an accusation merited a reply.

In a barely controlled outburst of rage, Dolph grabbed Jean-Claude's arm and hauled him to his feet, tearing the sleeve of his shirt as he did. The two uniformed police officers gaped at their superior in alarm, not sure what to do.

"Dolph, take it easy," Zerbrowski warned, motioning the two uniforms back.

Dolph ignored him.

"Answer him! You turned her?" he seethed at Jean-Claude, and tightened his grip on his arm. "You turned her?"

Jean-Claude looked back at Dolph the way an infuriated cat looks at someone threatening them before clawing out their eyes.

"No, I did not turn her."

Zerbrowski nervously stepped forward. He believed him. "Dolph, come on. Back off."

Dolph more or less dropped the vampire back into his seat and shook his head. "He's lying," he stated tonelessly, and took a small step back. "He's lying, I know it."

Jean-Claude glared up at Zerbrowski. "This interrogation is over, Detective. I will not concede to further questioning without my attorney present. Do I make myself clear?"

Jean-Claude had spoken with such authority, Zerbrowski found himself nodding at him in acknowledgment. He frowned, and swallowed down the thickness building in his throat. Chagrined, he waved to the two uniformed officers.

"We're through. Take him out of here," he ordered them, waiting until the door had closed behind them before turning his attention to Dolph. "What the hell was that all about? You can't go off half-cocked like that! If his lawyer were here, he'd run you through the wringer!"

"He's lying," Dolph repeated, staring at the closed door. "I wish I could tear that smug bastard to pieces the way he...." His voice trailed off and the bravado suddenly left him in one deflating breath. "I hate those goddamned things. I fucking hate 'em. Why did she have to get involved with him? Why?"

Zerbrowski tentatively put his hand on Dolph's shoulder. "I know," he said simply, and moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue.

He didn't tell Dolph what he had really been thinking. How peculiar he found it that Jean-Claude never once referred to Anita in the past tense, and how the vampire had clung to his admittedly preposterous declaration that Anita was still alive, no matter what they had thrown at him or accused him of. Maybe this case wasn't so cut and dry after all.

He peered down at the photos on the table and shook his head. He hoped with all his heart Jean-Claude was telling the truth--that somehow, Anita had survived and she was just recuperating now with a bowl of chicken soup or something. It was always preferable to believe what you wanted to believe, instead of the cold hard facts. Cold hard facts that Anita's vampire lover continued to deny.



Belle Morte turned to look at her young companion and frowned, letting him know the full extent of her disapproval.

"I take it you find the evening's entertainment...lacking?" she asked him, keeping her voice low for his ears only. "Why do you keep turning your face away? I thought you were of stronger character, my pet."

Jean-Claude glanced up at the wretched scene being played out before the court and quickly re-fixed his eyes on his mistress. The vampire tied between the two pillars was being beaten into unconsciousness. As it was, there were only tattered shreds of skin left on his ravaged back.

"This has nothing to do with the strength of my character, Milady," Jean-Claude whispered back, leaning closer to her. "Considering my past, sometimes, I simply find it hard to be amused by the gross misfortune of others."

Belle Morte laughed lightly. "Misfortune of his own doing, Jean-Claude. It is my understanding he was a rather despicable creature, even before he was turned. He was a rapist and murderer. One of those who raided and pillaged our coasts before their empire was brought down by the strength of civilization. Save your pity, my love. Morvoren's sentence for his heinous crimes, admittedly, is somewhat harsh, but justly so."

"And who are we to judge this man?" Jean-Claude growled through clenched teeth, flinching unconsciously as the whip smacked wetly across the vampire's tortured body once more. "Surely he has repented, time and time again, under such a brutal reign."

Again, Belle Morte laughed. "Oh, Jean-Claude, your indignation is priceless, and far more amusing than anything going on out there. One would think you would be honored to be here. Morvoren truly graces us with this prepared entertainment. We should try to give her the respect her rare presence among us deems, but if you truly cannot abide any more, be off with you. Just do so, discreetly. I do not wish a member of my kiss to humiliate our guest by departing prematurely."

Jean-Claude bowed his head. "No. I will stay with you. I would not wish to insult her. Or you." He closed his eyes and took a long, shallow breath, but the smell of the tortured vampire's blood was in the air, laced with a detectable sense of his agony, and made Jean-Claude's stomach lurch.

Belle Morte smiled down at him, and gestured ahead of her into the courtyard. "There, the beating is over. Another phase is about to begin. Watch now. Maybe you'll enjoy this more."

Reluctantly, Jean-Claude raised his eyes, and schooled his expression to match the rather bored-looking faces of his mistress, and those around him.

The vampire being tortured collapsed to his knees as his chains were unlocked from the pillars. Armed with a sword, his mistress, the master vampire, Morvoren, approached him, and though barely conscious, he cringed away from her, and struggled to his feet. He tried to stagger away, but the lycanthropes holding his chains jerked him back so severely, they clearly broke his outstretched arms. The snapping of his bones resonated throughout the courtyard.

The tortured vampire screamed hoarsely, then pleaded pitifully for mercy as his captors dragged him towards Morvoren, keeping the chains cruelly taut. Suddenly, the tortured vampire froze as if someone had thrown him against an immovable force. His screaming abruptly stopped. His eyes opened wide with undisclosed terror, and fixed on his mistress as she raised his face to hers with the tip of the sword.

"Yes, you should be afraid, my loathsome little worm, for I have your mind now," she spoke, her voice low and menacing.

Everyone in the courtyard seemed to be straining to hear her. A strange hush fell over the captivated crowd. Jean-Claude dragged his hands through his hair a few times, then settled them discreetly over his ears. He did not want to hear anymore.

"You think you know suffering? You think this is pain?" Morvoren continued. She paused and gestured at the tortured vampire's blood-drenched, naked body. "I will show you what real suffering is. Displease me in any way again, big or small, and you will know the true meaning of fear." Morvoren lowered her sword, but raised her hand above her vampire's head.

The vampire on the ground suddenly reeled and screamed again, this time with an ear-splitting intensity. He threw his body forward, doubled-over in newfound agony.

His mistress then motioned to the lycanthropes holding the chains. On cue, they gathered up the chains and drew the tortured vampire up to his knees, then yanked him over onto his back.

Jean-Claude watched, his heart fairly breaking for the misfortunate slave. The pain he was being subjected to, had to have been excruciating, but the tortured vampire simply could not scream audibly anymore. The only sound he made now was a long, drawn out expelling of air.

"I grow tired of you," Morvoren snarled. "I think I will leave you here to rot in the dawn. Let the sunlight on your fair skin be my last departing caress to you. Farewell, my pathetic, sniveling little leech." She looked him up and down, then settled her eyes between his legs. "I should have castrated you centuries ago. For all the use you were."

With that, Morvoren raised the sword over her vampire's exposed genitals, but instead of mutilating him, she drove it deeply into the soft flesh of his belly, effectively pinning his body to the ground. The tortured vampire's struggling came to an abrupt end. Morvoren laughed diabolically, as the lycanthropes holding her vampire's chains re-fastened the links to the pillars.

"Ha! Nothing terrifies a man more than the prospect of losing his sex," she sneered, eliciting muffled laughter from her audience. Bending down, she grasped the tortured vampire's chin and wrenched his face around to look at her.

"Now breathe for me," she whispered, peering into her vampire's wide, pain-glazed eyes. "Breathe. I want to hear your death rattle."

The vampire's chest suddenly rose and fell, and the most sickening, rattling sound filled the courtyard as he struggled to take in air.

Morvoren smiled smugly, and faced the audience, then inclined her head in the subtlest of bows. Thunderous applause rang out in appreciation.

Jean-Claude drew his knees up to his chest and encircled them with his arms. He quickly lowered his watering eyes, and turned his face away from the brutal carnage as tears slowly streamed down his face. He felt Belle Morte's hand on his head, stroking his hair soothingly.

"Is she really going to leave him there to die at dawn?" he asked Belle, sparing a quick glance up at the open courtyard. The formerly rapt audience was moving back inside now and on to the awaiting feast.

"Perhaps," Belle cooed. "Perhaps not. One never knows with her. She may truly wish to be rid of him. She's had him for centuries now. I can see why she would want to find someone else at this point."

Jean-Claude turned his eyes on his mistress. "I don't understand why she treats him this way. He is fair, and pleasing to the eye, and seems entirely devoted. She'll drive him to insanity, torturing him like this, if she hasn't already. Surely she could make better use of him than this, and if she doesn't want him anymore, why doesn't she simply give him away? Why torment him to death?"

Belle Morte frowned, clearly growing impatient with her companion's sentimentality. "Enough! Or I'll never allow you to accompany me to a banquet at court again. Oh, I should have brought Musette. She would have enjoyed this." She rose and gathered up her skirts to leave, but looked down at Jean-Claude, and then sighed heavily. "Morvoren doesn't use her vampire so much for sex, Jean-Claude. She feeds off a different kind of power. Fear. Can't you smell it? The air is thick with it. His fear of her is extraordinary."

Climbing rather stiffly to his feet, Jean-Claude nodded slowly. He stood beside his mistress and took hold of her arm. "Yes. I can feel it. I can taste it, and smell it. It is most disturbing."

Belle Morte patted his hand. "Then let us retire indoors. A bounty of blood awaits us. Let us have no more talk about disturbing things." She smiled at him indulgently, and slowly led him inside the banquet hall.


Following the banquet, Belle Morte dismissed Jean-Claude, claiming he was too sullen and brooding to keep her proper company. Despite the fact Jean-Claude knew he'd be punished later for offending his mistress in such a way, the young vampire was grateful to have been given the opportunity to be alone tonight.

Try as he might, he could not stop thinking about the vampire left to die in the courtyard, pinned to the rough ground like an insect specimen to a collector's board. Only a few hours remained before the sun rose, and if Morvoren did not free him soon, he would be burned beyond recognition until he was nothing but a pile of black ashes.

Hesitantly, Jean-Claude approached him. The tortured vampire's terror hung heavily in the damp night air, carried along by a soft southerly breeze. His eyes were closed, but he was still breathing hideously, as his mistress had commanded him. The sound was repulsive, but at least it assured Jean-Claude, the poor thing was still alive. What this vampire could have done to merit such abuse, Jean-Claude simply could not fathom.

Carefully, Jean-Claude knelt beside him, positioning himself so he wouldn't step in the filth and blood surrounding him, or accidentally jar the sword still piercing the tortured vampire's waist.

Curiously, Jean-Claude regarded the other vampire, taking in the sinewy musculature of his bruised and bloodied body, his fine, handsome face, and long, dark red hair. His eyes were the most exquisite color of green, which effectively drew away any attention one would pay to his slight facial faults. His fair skin was an almost luminous white, and his full, pale lips were the color of water-diluted wine.

Jean-Claude could tell this vampire was much, much older than he was, which surprised him, considering his lowly status. At his age, he should have been a master, but there seemed no chance of that now. His powers had probably languished for so long, they would never develop into anything significant now.

His eyes suddenly flew open and fixed on Jean-Claude's face. He struggled momentarily against the chains that held him, then slumped back to the ground in a heap of exhaustion and pain.

"Free me!" the tortured vampire suddenly pleaded, his voice raspy and barely audible. "Unlock the chains! I beg you."

Apparently his arms had healed well in the past few hours. If he were free of the chains, he could pull the sword out of his body and escape the coming dawn. But Jean-Claude didn't dare.

"I cannot," Jean-Claude told him looking at the thick silver manacles. "I would...if I could."

The vampire on the ground sneered at Jean-Claude and jerked at the chains with his outstretched arms. "Have you merely come to gawk at me then, popinjay? You with your fine silk coat and perfectly coifed hair. You make me sick, the lot of you! I should welcome death, no matter the pain. At least I would be free of the likes of you."

Jean-Claude sighed, a slight smile playing on his lips. "I was told you had a rather unpleasant demeanor. I believed it was merely court gossip however, but now I see the talk was true. Nevertheless, I will excuse your manner under the obvious circumstances. I suppose after the way you've been treated, you have every right to be a little unpleasant. What is your name?"

"Oh, just go away," the other vampire grumbled. "Leave me to die in peace."

"In peace, mon ami? I think not," Jean-Claude went on. "And you know that. Despite all this bravado, your fear hovers over these grounds like a mist-riddled fog. You truly believe she will kill you this time, don't you?"

Turning his head slightly, Morvoren's vampire took a moment to study Jean-Claude more closely, then lowered his eyes and nodded.

"What do you care?" he said and took another forced, rattling lungful of air.

"What is your name?" Jean-Claude repeated.

"Damian," the other vampire said on an exhaled breath. "My name is Damian. All right?"

"Be nice to me, Damian," Jean-Claude admonished him. "I may be the only friend you have at the moment."

"I don't want your friendship!" Damian growled. "If you don't have the power or authority to release me from this bondage, be off with you! Who in hell are you anyway? Why does someone of your station care what befalls a slave like me?"

"I am Jean-Claude. And I didn't always reside in this station, mon ami. In fact, my first years as a vampire were very much like yours are now. I may not have the power to contest your abuse, but I know others who do. I may be able to help you. If not now, then later."

"Ah, so you believe you've found a kindred spirit in me, Jean-Claude? You must want something of me, is that it?"

Exasperated, Jean-Claude shook his head. "You are either out of your mind with pain, or you truly cannot recognize a simple gesture of kindness, can you? Such is the result of your incessant, unrelenting torture. Perhaps one day, when you are free of all this, I may beg a small favor in return for the compassion I have offered you tonight, but until then, we won't worry about it, all right?"

Damian growled. "I would be happy to return your favor, if you actually did me one tonight. But then, what good will my promise do either of us if I shouldn't survive the coming dawn? If you can't release me now, mon ami, then just go swive yourself in the rose bushes, and stop bothering me."

"I think you are mad from the pain you are in," Jean-Claude concluded. "So I will attribute that rather crude sentiment to your suffering." He reached out and stroked the back of his hand down the side of Damian's face, pouring his power over the hapless vampire, using his voice to balm his pain and soothe his fears. "Close your eyes now. Quiet your mind, my friend. I cannot unlock your chains, but I can help you a little, if you will let me. You are still strong. Embrace my power and bind it to your own. Be calm. Ssshh. Be at peace, Damian."

The tension in the other vampire's pain-wracked body steadily eased under Jean-Claude's ministrations. His breathing became more regular and quiet, and his eyes fluttered shut. Tentatively, he moistened his cracked lips with the tip of his tongue and swallowed hard.

"Thank you...Jean-Claude."

"Is that any better?" Jean-Claude asked, even though he could tell from Damian's slackened expression that it was.

"Yes. Yes, thank you."

"As you can see, I am not very powerful," Jean-Claude lamented. "But I will do for you what I can. If I can ease your suffering even a little, well, at least it is a little. Watching you being tortured tonight, I couldn't help thinking back to the times I was rendered completely powerless and made to suffer. I would have given anything for even a moment's reprieve; for someone, anyone, to be moved with pity, and weep for me, the way I wept for you."

Damian's eyes snapped open. He looked up at Jean-Claude, awed. "You wept for me?"

Jean-Claude nodded, but turned his face away from the other vampire, feeling oddly shamed by his admission. "My mistress believes I'm too sentimental. She knows my past, yet the empathy I feel seems beyond her grasp."

Damian lifted his chain-laden arm, and held out his hand. "Take my hand, please," he softly begged. "Stay with me...as long as you can."

Seizing Damian's hand in both of his, Jean-Claude looked down at him, sympathetically. "I will stay awhile. I promise. And I swear to you, if ever I am able, I will free you....If you survive. Either way. I won't forget you, Damian."

Damian summoned a shaky smile. "I won't forget you, Jean-Claude. Now let me swear something to you. Should you ever find that ability needed to free me, I will be yours, completely. I will pledge my allegiance wholly to you, and follow you down to the depths of hell if need be. I was once a Viking warrior, Jean-Claude. Vikings were a proud people, and once their oaths left their lips, those words were burned upon their hearts. With all my now scorched heart, I will honor my pledge to you. I swear it."

Jean-Claude nodded. "Be at peace, Damian," he whispered, sensing the other vampire's growing agitation at the steadily approaching dawn.

Tears welled in Damian's vivid green eyes. He took one deep, painful breath, and squeezed Jean-Claude's hand tightly.

"I do not fear death," he rasped hoarsely. "My greatest fear is life. Having to endure yet another day of my mistress' hatred and cruelty. I am exhausted. I cannot please her without being terrified of her. You are right, my friend. I'm slowly going insane. I simply cannot abide this miserable existence any longer. I want to die, don't you see? It is my only hope. Living is the real torture."

Jean-Claude swallowed down the thickening lump in his throat, and squeezed Damian's hand in return.

"You are stronger than this," he told him. "Bide your time, Damian, for if you go insane, I will not be able to release you from your bondage ever. Stay strong. Promise me."

Damian tried to nod, but a slight commotion just beyond the courtyard drew Jean-Claude's attention away from him.

"Someone is coming," Jean-Claude whispered, looking around.

Damian's eyes grew wide with newfound fear. "It is her. She comes for me. She is going to save me." His whole body started trembling, and what little color he had in his face visibly drained away. He started to cry, great gasping sobs, clearly wracking his abused body with even more pain.

Jean-Claude placed his hand on Damian's shoulder and peered down at him helplessly. "Take heart, mon ami. I promise, someday, I will help you," he repeated, his voice cracking with emotion. He rose slowly to his feet and shook his head. "I swear it."

But Damian was beyond hearing him. "No! No!" he screamed and thrashed wildly against his chains, tearing his stomach further on the embedded sword. "No! Let me die!"

Sparing a glance at the approaching master vampire and her entourage, Jean-Claude forced himself to turn away from Damian and conceal himself in the deeper shadows behind a rose trellis. Morvoren drew closer, a chain of keys jingling in her delicate hands. Damian was right. She had come to take him back.

Jean-Claude watched as Morvoren pulled the sword from her vampire's waist and casually tossed it aside. Damian released a mind-shattering scream--a scream Jean-Claude swore in his heart never to forget. Sadly, it was all he could do for Damian at this point. It wasn't nearly enough, but it was something.

As new tears welled in his eyes, Jean-Claude turned away from the courtyard and stalked silently from the gardens to return to his own mistress' side, eternally grateful her name was Belle Morte, and not Morvoren.



Asher walked into his bedroom wearing nothing but a navy blue towel. Apparently, he had just gotten out of the shower. The ends of his hair were damp and curling wildly around his slightly flushed face. There was the faint trace of a cucumber and melon scent wafting from his skin--probably from the shower gel he had used, and a fragrant steam billowed from the open bathroom door into the bedroom like a coastal fog.

Asher stopped mid-stride in the center of the room as soon as he saw me. Now he stood as immobile as a statue, looking back at me with an unreadable expression on his face.

I sat up in my chair and made a conscious effort to blink. It was all I could do to pry my eyes off that blue towel clinging damply to Asher's slim hips. I found myself wholly fascinated by the thick knot centered just beneath his navel and imagined myself tugging it open, and letting the towel fall to the floor.

"Hi," I managed, suddenly feeling awkward. I couldn't think of anything to say to him beyond that. Anything tactful, that is. I knew what I wanted from him, but even thinking about saying it out loud was making me blush madly.

The slightest little crease formed between Asher's brows as he studied my expression. "I am afraid Jean-Claude is not here tonight, ma cherie," he answered me quietly. "He is meeting with his accountants. I'm not sure when he'll be back."

I shrugged, and tried to summon a reassuring smile. "Yeah, I kind of noticed he wasn't around." I tried to discreetly take off my shoes. "But in a way, that's good. I really didn't come here tonight to see him."

Keeping his gaze fixed on me, Asher edged closer to the bed. His robe lay across it and I got the feeling he was about to retrieve it. Maybe he didn't feel comfortable talking so casually to me while standing there practically nude. I had the same problem. I didn't mind nudity during intimate situations, but I had a hard time even talking to someone on the phone if I was naked.

"You are here to see me, then?" Asher surmised and as I had expected, he reached for his robe to pull it on.

"Yes," I said lightly, rising to my feet. "Don't put your robe on, Asher. Leave it off. You won't need it for what I have in mind." I walked over to him, but he actually backed away from me. He clearly wasn't feeling very comfortable with this situation at all.

Not that I could blame him. The one and only time we'd been intimate had been glorious at the time, but turned out to be a near disaster with me getting sicker than a dog, Asher deciding to leave us, and Jean-Claude becoming so fed up with me, he actually kicked me out.

We'd all made up since then, but I had decided I wanted a little something more from Asher. Call it an exercise in trust; I needed to know without a doubt that what I felt for Asher was real--lust-wise. I knew I loved him, and I didn't think for a moment he didn't love me, but every once in awhile, I still wondered if maybe he'd influenced me with his powers. Even now, as I drew up in front of him, I wanted him with every molecule of my body. I looked up into his eyes and I wanted to kiss him so badly it hurt. In a way, it seemed...unnatural.

Asher wasn't trying to bespell me though. He wasn't even trying to seduce me. He looked wary and uncertain, and almost frightened. That was another thing. His confidence had been shaken, in himself, and me. He didn't believe he could love me the way I wanted him to. What was worse, he thought I had only invited him back into my bed to keep peace between me and Jean-Claude. I was hoping tonight I could convince him otherwise. He'd been hurt enough, and it was time to set things straight. I tentatively reached for him, offering him a small smile, and settled my hands on either side of his neck.

Asher stood a good head and half taller than me since I had taken my shoes off, so I suddenly found myself in a bit of a predicament. There was no way I could reach him to kiss him if he didn't bend towards me, and at the moment, I might have well been trying to embrace a brick wall. I laughed lightly, a bit self-consciously, thinking the only way I could make this work would be to jump into his arms.

"Asher," I half-whined. "Kiss me."

He merely licked his lips. "Cherie...I don't think that would be...wise."

"Why not? I want to," I countered, sounding like a contesting child. "I've been thinking about you a lot lately. Your kiss. Your caress. That amazing body. I can't seem to get you out of my mind. I want you, Asher." I gave him my best smoldering look, and leaned against him. I slid my hands down his chest to his waist, and toyed with the damp edge of the towel.

Asher pulled away from my groping hands however. "Anita, stop." He turned away from me, and took a deep breath.

At least I knew I was getting to him, but I felt sorry for him too. I may have been arousing him, but I was also making him tense with apprehension.

"It's all right," I told him, resisting the urge to go behind him, and wrap my arms around his waist. I contented myself with admiring his smooth, well-muscled back. "I thought we could spend some time together tonight. You know, have a little one-on-one? I think it would help feel each other out a bit." I winced slightly. "Uh, no pun intended, but I was kind of hoping you'd want to have sex."

Asher twisted his torso around to look at me. The fact that he wouldn't turn around completely made me think he was a little more aroused than he wanted me to know. "Is it the ardeur?"

I rolled my eyes. "No, it's not the ardeur. It's not even that time of the month. Can't I just be horny? Why don't you men realize that women sometimes want sex because they want to have sex? You know, when you guys do it right, we women like it just fine."

Asher smiled, obviously amused by my tirade. This was the first time he'd smiled at me tonight, and the sight of it sent tingles of happiness skipping through me. His smile was like the sun bursting through a cloud after a rainstorm, welcome and radiant. He sobered quickly however, as the implications behind my words sunk in. The sunshine was once more lost behind a dark cloud.

"Yet you come to me of all people for fulfillment?" he questioned, his voice soft and somewhat breathy.

I shook my head and took a small step towards him. "Don't sound so awed by it," I scolded. "We are lovers now."

Asher didn't look exactly happy about that at the moment. "Since when, Anita? You still insist we have not had sexual relations. According to you, I was simply getting off using your body while watching you make love to Jean-Claude." He turned away from me again, dragged his hand roughly through his already tousled hair, and walked over to the huge wardrobe at the opposite side of the room. It was as if he needed to put some more distance between us to keep his wits about him.

"Regardless, we are supposedly a threesome," he went on, still peeved, but at least his voice was a little more even now. He jerked open the wardrobe and rifled through his clothes for something to wear, clearly still feeling vulnerable without any clothes on. "I would not feel...comfortable, without Jean-Claude. You belong to him, cherie. Not me."

For a moment, I felt as though he had taken me and shaken me, leaving me rattled and speechless. To my chagrin, everything he said was more or less technically true, but put that way, it sounded a lot nastier than it was. I held up my hands as if to ward off his anger, and took a steadying breath to stave off my own.

"Look," I said through my teeth. "I'm here because if we're going to continue being a threesome, even a modified version of one, we need to reach some kind of understanding with each other."

Asher turned away from the wardrobe, bowed his head, and crossed his arms over his stomach, looking as if he were suddenly feeling cold.

"The danger has passed, ma cherie," he stated, sounding somewhat defeated now. "Why don't we simply leave well enough alone." He hugged himself tighter, then raised his arms to push his damp and heavy hair from his face. The gesture inadvertently stretched his rippling abs, elongated his narrow waist, and accentuated his slim hips which effectively drew my attention back to that clingy, knotted towel.

I bit my lower lip and took another step towards him. I could have reached out and touched him, but I didn't. He clearly wasn't the least bit aroused now, and would have only pulled away from me again. I tried not to be discouraged, and tried to think of something to say that would make everything all right, but my mind became fixated on how much I wanted to pull off that damn towel.

"I don't want to leave well enough alone," I protested, angry now because this shouldn't have been as difficult to work out as it was. Shit. Arguing over the technicalities of our relationship was the last thing I had wanted to do with him tonight. "Asher...don't you want to be lovers? Real lovers?"

Asher's expression softened visibly and the tension in his body eased slightly. He let his hands fall limply to his sides, and then extended them towards me, entreatingly. "More than anything, cherie, but I don't know how. Your reality and mine are too different. We see the same things from two opposing perspectives."

I was starting to worry now. "But that's why I came here tonight. So we could work these things out."

Fixing his eyes on mine, Asher grunted dubiously. "Non, Anita. This is just not a good idea. I know you have the best intentions, and my heart is warmed by your resolve, but to undertake something of this nature without Jean-Claude around is too...risky."

Now I was discouraged. I shuffled over to Asher's bed and sat down, lowering my eyes to the floor. "I can't believe I'm hearing this right. Jesus, Asher. Don't you think we're mature enough to do the deed without Jean-Claude's supervision? Are you saying we need him to act as our chaperone?"

Asher was suddenly in front of me. He'd moved so fast, I hadn't caught it. He was clearly pissed too.

"That is exactly what I'm saying, Anita!" he seethed in my face, caging me with his arms, and forcing me to lay back on the mattress to still look into his eyes. "You were the one urging me inside you! He kept me from penetrating you, and he wouldn't have let me bite you if he had known my intent. But you felt my fangs against your skin, and you told me 'yes'. I wasn't so far gone I wouldn't have stopped had you said 'no'. I would have done whatever you desired, ma cherie. I wanted to please you, above all things."

I swallowed down the thickness constricting my throat. "I know," I said rather meekly. I couldn't believe how I'd come so close to messing everything up. Between me and Asher, me and Jean-Claude, and Jean-Claude and Asher. I could have lost them both. As it was, Asher was still smarting from what had happened. No wonder he didn't want to be intimate with me anymore. Hesitantly, I reached up and trailed my fingers down his sideburns, then delved my hand into his hair, stroking his temple with my thumb. "I know and I'm so sorry."

"Non, I am sorry," Asher replied, sounding battle-weary. The spark of anger dimmed in his eyes and he lowered his cheek next to mine. "It sickens me to think what I did to you--the suffering I caused you. Had I known you were not immune to my powers, I would have never...."

"Ssshh," I soothed him and rubbed my face over his. "So now we know better. No more vampire powers." I pressed a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth, and slid my lips down his perfectly shaped chin. "I still want you. Now more than ever." Wrapping my arms around his bare back, I urged him closer, nudging at him with my hips.

To my delight, Asher opened his mouth, and settled his lips over mine. He kissed me deeply while shifting my position underneath him, scooting me up farther onto the bed. I closed my eyes and dragged my hands down his back to the edge of the towel. I could feel Asher getting hard against my thigh and cocked my leg slightly to force him between my knees. He rose up on his arms and stared down at me, his full, parted lips still moist and glistening from our kiss.

"I want you," I told him again softly.

"I know," he said, but sighed as if not really sure what to do about it.

"Make love to me, Asher."

He lowered his head and nuzzled my brow with his nose. The ends of his long bangs slid forward and brushed against my skin as he delicately kissed his way down my face back to my mouth. I felt him climb completely on the bed and curl his body around me. I squirmed with anticipation.

"Are you so certain, ma cherie?" Asher whispered, his mouth a hair's breadth from mine now.

Wrapping my thighs around his towel-clad hips, I pressed the soles of my stocking-feet to his calves and slid them up his legs, over the backs of his knees. Asher's breath caught in his throat and he emitted the sexiest little growl.

"Oh yeah," I replied, breathlessly and raised my head enough to close the minuscule distance separating our mouths. I kissed him hungrily, cradling his head in the crook of my arms, imprisoning his lips to mine.

I don't really think he was going anywhere at this point, however. His kiss was equally demanding and devouring, effectively stoking the first fires of real desire in me. I fed from his luxurious mouth as if my life depended on it; surrendering myself to the exquisite pressure of his heavy lips, and the tantalizing grinding movements of his jaw.

Moaning softly, Asher pushed his hips against me suggestively, shifting his left hand to the collar of my blouse. As if to distract me, he penetrated my mouth with his tongue and tangled it around mine before drawing it between his teeth, and sucking on it.

My head was starting to reel with passion, but I could feel him pop the buttons of my blouse one by one down past the center of my chest. His hand slipped deftly beneath the material and settled over my right breast. Lifting his mouth from mine, he focused his gaze on my heaving chest. He squeezed my breast once, then drew down the lacy cup of my bra, and gathered the exposed mound of flesh up in his cool hand. My nipple hardened immediately, and Asher swiftly covered it with his wet mouth, sending me into a whole other realm of pleasure.

I stretched out my hand, and tugged at the knotted towel around his waist. I managed to loosen it, but couldn't get it off of him completely since he was lying against me now. I stifled my frustration, and contented myself by running my fingers through his hair while he continued sucking on my nipple until I could feel his expert ministrations between my legs as much as on my chest.

"I can smell your desire," Asher suddenly announced, raising his head from my breast to look into my eyes.

I stared back at him curiously. I didn't doubt he could, but the fact he sounded so surprised by it, kind of threw me for a second. Then I knew. I shook my head.

"It wasn't all about protecting you," I said thickly. "I wanted to love you too."

"I love you," he whispered back, and moved to capture my mouth with his. This kiss was tender, intimate, and sweet, but made me want him even more, if that was possible.

"Help me undress," I urged, wriggling out from under him.

Obligingly, Asher rose off me, and set about the task of disrobing me with a practiced ease. Seizing the opportunity he'd given me, I tore the towel from his body, and banished it over the side of the bed. I let him take off the rest of my clothes while I happily reveled in the feeling of his taut naked flesh beneath my eager little hands. Not to mention my mouth. At one time, we were so entwined around one another, I lost track of exactly where I ended and he began.

As soon as Asher had stripped off the last of my clothing, we started kissing each other again, harder and faster, with a growing sense of urgency. I wrapped my arms around Asher's back and held him to me tightly, rolling with him across the length of the bed.

I couldn't seem to get him close enough to me, and no matter how much I touched him, I needed more. My hands roved his body, taking in each new sensation: the smoothness of his skin, the firmness of his muscles, the corded scars, the soft furring of his groin. Parts of him were cool and smooth, and other parts were warm and rough. He was unlike any other man I'd ever been with before--exquisite and exclusive. Touching him so intimately made me feel a special kind of euphoria. And it wasn't due to any vampiric powers. It was deeper than that. I could only hope Asher felt something even remotely close to it whenever he touched me.

Fervently gnawing the side of my neck, Asher grasped my arms in a vice-like grip, and rubbed his body suggestively over mine. His erection slid against my inner thigh, hard and heavy with heat. He was obviously as ready for me as I was for him. I twisted sideways, angling myself to better center Asher's hips between my legs, but he shifted away from me, lying beside me instead, and grasped the back of my knee.

At first I thought he wanted me to turn over on my stomach, but then he drew my leg up, and simply crossed it over my other one, planting his hand in the middle of my chest to keep me flat.

"Okay...this is new," I confessed, smiling self-consciously.

Asher leaned over my crossed leg to kiss me thoroughly before breathlessly explaining: "It is called, 'cuissade'. You will like it, Anita. I guarantee it."

He ran his hand over my thigh, then around my buttock. He gave it a little appreciative squeeze, and traced the moist crease between my legs with his finger once, then slipped it inside me, making me gasp. I pushed my hips against his hand demandingly as he continued pleasuring me.

"This position will give you better control," Asher went on, delving another finger into me to increase the pressure I was feeling.

"Control?" I mumbled thickly.

I wasn't sure I understood what he was saying, but then my mind was so muddled with lust at the moment, it didn't surprise me. Then, Asher once more covered my mouth with his, preventing me from questioning him further for a good five minutes.

"Control over what exactly?" I asked as soon as he let me up for air, and dragged my nails over the contrasting sides of his chest.

"Control over me," Asher whispered, lowering himself down on me again. He grasped my hip with one hand and lifted my bent leg higher with his other hand, murmuring pretty-sounding French words to me in a soothing, sexy voice.

Then I felt him enter me under my raised thigh, and moaned low in my throat. The sensation was surprisingly different, and very intimate. When he started thrusting, I realized I couldn't feel the anticipated grinding of his body with his weight resting on my bent leg the way it was, just the rhythmic movement of his erection inside me. I became more aware of it this way, despite the fact the penetration wasn't very deep, but instead, teasingly shallow and tight. I closed my eyes, digging my fingers into Asher's biceps, and tried to move my hips to match his rhythm.

"Use your thigh," Asher instructed, clamping his hands over my breasts, and grazing my brow with his teeth. He dropped a quick kiss on my closed eyes, then reared back, and thrust into me a little harder. My thigh took the brunt of the blow however and instead of getting jarred, I only felt its force between my legs.

I braced myself against Asher's body using my cocked leg as he had suggested. I soon discovered I could either rock forward to meet him, or push him away and hold him off, simply by raising or lowering my thigh.

"Cool. It works," I exhaled and deliberately pushed him back.

Asher flashed a smile. "I see you've already caught on."

"Mmm," I moaned to acknowledge Asher's astute observation, and drew him down to me for another protracted kiss.

Needless to say, I was loathe to keep him away for long. I wanted to feel him buried inside me hilt-deep, so to speak, but had to admit, all this teasing was building my excitement to a whole new level. I raised my thigh, and Asher readily pushed against it, filling me once more. He was right, the cuissade gave me a kind of control over him I would not have had any other way.

Out of the blue, it suddenly hit me. I had lost control the last time we were together, and so had he, to a certain extent. Clearly Asher had decided to teach me this new position to ensure I maintained my control this time.

And it felt marvelous too. My mind was already shorting out with bursts of ecstasy. I couldn't really think past the sensations I was experiencing. I peered up at Asher through my lust-glazed eyes, and inhaled deeply, catching a whiff of that cucumber-melon shower gel he had used.

His eyes had bled to a solid, pale blue as vampires' eyes did when on the cusp of sexual release. His mouth was open slightly in a passion-induced snarl, but I could see the tips of his formidable fangs, and feel each cool breath he exhaled on my hot, bare skin. Like a veil of spun gold, his long hair swayed back and forth with his movements, spilling over his flexed shoulders, and sweeping over my body; so many tendrils of silk.

On the verge of a sensual overload, I squeezed my eyes shut and gritted my teeth. I rarely experienced vaginal orgasms, but when I did, they were all-powerful and mind-shattering. I screamed practically at the top of my lungs, clawing Asher's arms to shreds trying to ride out the explosions of pleasure over-taking me.

Tensing, Asher pushed against me one last time, and then shuddered in release. He buried his face in my hair and groaned low and long in my ear. I cradled his head in my hands and turned to kiss his cheek, feeling his amazing body lock exquisitely into mine as he came inside me. There was no disputing it now. We were definitely lovers.

For a little while, we lay immobile together, simply holding each other. I closed my eyes and snuggled as close to Asher as I could, breathing through the resulting haze from my afterglow. I don't think either of us could have moved, even if we wanted to. Our bodies were too tangled, and too overcome with pleasure at the moment.

"Asher...God, that was incredible," I rasped hoarsely, and ran my hands over his back. "See, you don't need powers to please me. That body of yours does...a fine job on its own." I laughed lightly, and hugged him to me, dotting his skin with fervent little kisses.

Asher leaned away from me slightly, just enough to look into my eyes. "Incredible for me too, cherie," he breathed and nuzzled my neck. "But then I'd be a fool to expect anything less than incredible from you."

I smiled up at him, and reached out to press my palm to the side of his face. He caught my hand in his and softly kissed my knuckles.

"I'm really glad we've reached this understanding," he continued. "You taught me a timely lesson in conduct and self-esteem tonight. It did my battered ego good to know I can still thoroughly pleasure a woman without bespelling her. Especially now, considering the way I am."

I took Asher's head in both my hands and forced him to look me squarely in the eye. "I know your powers enhance your lovemaking, but if you ever use them to mask the way you are, you're depriving your lover of one of the most enriching parts of being with you."

Asher lowered his head and kissed me lingeringly. "I love you, Anita," he murmured after sliding his mouth over my cheek to my ear.

"I love you too, Asher," I whispered back. "Make love to me again. And teach me something new."

Asher smiled. "I will teach you everything I know, but you must promise me to continue to teach me as well."

"Deal," I said without hesitation and uncrossed my legs in open invitation. Like Asher, I was really happy we'd reached this understanding.




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