The circus bleachers’ only occupant was a pretty little five year-old girl dressed in a matching pink shorts outfit
with two white ribbons twisted haphazardly in her baby-fine hair. Her face was sweetly cherubic and deceptively innocent-looking--something
she often used to her advantage to help her get her way with the grown-ups around her. But tonight, in spite of her best
efforts, nothing had worked and she couldn’t figure out why.
She sat sulking in the middle of the bleachers’ highest tier, chewing her thumbnail down to the quick until it bled.
She squeezed the end of the joint to force the blood to well up faster and then stuck her thumb in her mouth and sucked on
The sweet metallic taste of the blood made her smile, but the little girl soon grew bored with this activity and abandoned
it in search of something more interesting.
Standing up now, she took a good, long look around the empty circus tent, trying to imagine herself performing in the center
She’d be wearing a glamorous sequined costume which would sparkle in the dazzling spotlight. Her lips would be painted
dark red and her large eyes would be lined with kohl for the occasion. As she stepped into the ring, her beauty would make
the audience murmur and sigh.
In the middle of that ring, secured to a table with shiny silver chains would be her victim for the evening: a comely male
vampire, modestly-clad of course, for the titillating effect. He’d have flawless, pale skin that would glisten with
perspiration under the bright, white, lights, and his long hair would be fanned around his face in an attractive disarray.
He’d be struggling against his bonds dramatically, muttering pleas for mercy…to no avail.
As she brandished the butcher knife, the whole audience would gasp and then hold their breaths, clearly fearing the worse.
People might scream as she drew the tip of the knife down the center of the vampire’s chest. The razor sharp blade
would split him wide open and expose his organs and guts. His blood would pour over his sides from the gaping wound like
a red waterfall onto the ground beneath the table.
Some people in the audience would faint then, and children would puke while her victim cried and writhed on the table in utter
agony. At this point, everyone would be amazed he was even still alive.
Theatrically, the little girl would reach inside the vampire’s body with her small hands and pluck out his ribs one
by one. Snap! Snap! Snap!
Valentina grinned deliriously at the imagined scenario and executed a perfect curtsey to her imaginary audience, tugging at
the hems of her shorts as if they were that sequined skirt.
Straightening, she sighed rather wistfully. If only she really could perform for an audience like that. What fun that would
be. For her anyway--not so much for the other vampire. But then, it wasn’t supposed to be fun for him. He was supposed
to suffer and it was her job to see that he did.
She was a torturer after all and a damned good one too. Her deep-rooted hatred for her fellow vampires--the men in particular--made
that occupation perfect for someone like her and one she took exquisite delight in performing. It was also one she could
do without any moral baggage or ethical difficulty.
Valentina’s smile dissolved. She knew she’d never be allowed to put on such a performance here. Her temporary
master, Jean-Claude did not understand the entertainment value of torture. He frowned on the very idea of it and had made
it clear to Valentina more than once it was simply not his way.
As it was, just last week, Jean-Claude had admonished Valentina for taunting Gretchen, that sorry old crone who was nothing
to Valentina--or anybody--but a waste of warm blood. Valentina had only been teasing her, trying to get a rise out of her,
but Gretchen had only ran wailing into Jean-Claude’s arms. Jean-Claude had told Valentina he would not tolerate that
kind of behavior from her and had ordered her to spend the remainder of the night in her room.
The whole thing was disgraceful, Valentina recalled as she stomped her way down to the lowest bleacher. She hopped to the
ground, fury distorting her adorable face.
Jean-Claude just wasn’t any fun and he never let her have any fun either. Just tonight, she had told him to take her
to Guilty Pleasures with him. She wanted to see Stephan so he could fix her hair properly, but the master vampire had refused,
saying such an establishment was no place for a petite fille.
Petite fille? Valentina had duly reminded Jean-Claude that she was actually older than he was. Still, he wouldn’t
be swayed saying anybody who saw her would assume she was what she appeared to be and since children were not to allowed access
to adult night clubs in this city, he would not permit her to go.
Valentina tried every tactic she knew to convince him otherwise, but it seemed no matter what, Jean-Claude, the Master of
the City would not fall for it.
As a last resort, Valentina threw a tantrum, following Jean-Claude all the way above to his waiting limousine, protesting
his reasoning at the top of her lungs. Lots of children got their way by doing such things and Valentina knew her tantrums
grated so heavily on the nerves of the adults around her, they’d give into her no matter what, just to get her to calm
Jean-Claude merely turned his back on her, climbed into his car, and departed Valentina’s presence with a spray of gravel.
That made Valentina even more rebelliously determined to get to Guilty Pleasures regardless of Jean-Claude’s wishes.
Angrily, the little girl had returned below the Circus in search of someone more sympathetic to her plight…and more
gullible to her ploys.
Hours passed. Valentina had questioned everyone she encountered. The trouble was, no one even pretended to want to help
her out. Others, like Asher, Valentina suspected, simply disliked her and refused her request on the false pretense of having
somewhere else to go.
Things weren’t like this at Belle Morte’s court, Valentina reflected. Belle always doted on her as if she actually
were a beautiful five-year old child. Belle had told her it made it easier for her to treat her as such and anything that
pleased her mistress, pleased Valentina. Being the only baby in a dark world of adults definitely had its advantages, Valentina
found, but it only seemed to be an obstacle here.
Marching down one of the many corridors below, Valentina cursed Jean-Claude and his backward court. She stomped her way through
many deserted twists and turns feeling the presence of others, but unable to find them. They were hiding from her, she concluded.
No one wanted to help her.
In a fit of anger, Valentina beat her small fists against one of the closed doors and kicked it with her feet.
“You people are cowards!” she screeched at the top of her tiny lungs. “Useless pieces of meat! Soul-less,
heartless, blood-less husks! Good for nothing! All of you! Good for NOTHING!”
Two doors down, someone stuck their head out of their room to investigate the ruckus Valentina was making.
Valentina recognized him immediately though she admittedly did not know him well. It was Jason, Jean-Claude’s pomme
de sang, a rather powerless, weak-minded creature. A glimmer of hope shot through Valentina’s veins. She locked her
eyes on the werewolf as he blinked back at her. His expression said something along the lines of “I should have known”,
but that did not deter Valentina. She dashed towards him before he could retreat back inside his room and melodramatically
threw herself at him, wrapping her small arms around his legs, all the while hiccupping with forced sobs.
“Oh Jason! I just know YOU will help me! You’re so much better than the rest of them! You won’t turn
your back on me. You’re not like that! You’re nice. I know you are.”
For a moment, the young werewolf stared back at Valentina with a shocked look on his face. A moment later, it morphed into
a wary, dubious glare. He seemed sure Valentina was up to something. Reaching down, he peeled her arms from his legs with
the same care and revulsion one would use to remove a poisonous snake.
“It would be nice if you actually meant that,” Jason began and backed away a few steps.
Valentina looked up at him. “I do,” she countered and forced herself to smile.
“Uh huh. What do you need help with? What are you talking about?”
Clearly Jason wasn’t as affected by her childishness as she had originally hoped he would be. It was all very frustrating.
There were other strategies she could try with someone like him considering what he was. Valentina stepped forward and gazed
deeply into Jason’s blue eyes.
“You’ve got really pretty eyes,” she murmured. “Do you think I have pretty eyes too?”
But Jason quickly looked away, clearly seeking to avoid the influential power in her gaze. “Don’t even try it,”
he warned. “Get out of my head and stay out, you little piss-ant!”
Valentina liked the fact this werewolf actually feared her powers, but she didn’t like the fact that he seemed to know
not to trust her. Her mood flipping like a switch, Valentina put her hands on her hips and struck a petulant pose.
“You can look at me,” she told Jason. “I wasn’t going to take your mind. You know if I took your
mind without your permission, our master would punish me severely.”
Jason glanced at Valentina and flashed a crooked grin. “I could only hope. No offense, but I prefer to play it safe,”
the werewolf stated and looked away again.
Valentina pouted momentarily, and then dismissed Jason’s skepticism with a wave of her hand.
“Suit yourself,” she muttered. Her mood shifted again and she sidled up to Jason, all kittens and cream. “By
chance are you going out tonight?”
Jason barked a laugh in reply. “Why yes, by chance, I am. I have to work tonight.”
Valentina felt her luck changing. “Perfect!” she exclaimed with a clap of her hands.
“…You do dance at the club on the Riverfront, do you not?”
“At Guilty Pleasures.” Jason shot a questioning look at the girl.
Valentina smiled sweetly. “Yes. That one. I need to go there tonight and I need a ride. I want to go with you.
When are you leaving? Is it going to be much longer?”
Now the werewolf frowned. “I can’t take you there,” he argued. “By all appearances, you’re
a snot-nose brat, and snot-nose brats aren’t allowed there. I show up at a strip joint with a little girl in tow, I
could get arrested. Cops are always lying in wait for something like that. Any excuse to nab us. I could be charged with
contributing to the delinquency of a minor or something.” He paused, thinking, his frown deepening. “Or worse.
No way chick-a-dee. No can do. You’re going to have to hitch a ride on the Good Ship Lollipop if you want to go to
a place like that.”
Having said that, Jason turned away from Valentina and went to close his door.
Why was everyone always turning their back on her as if she didn’t even matter? Valentina fumed silently. First Jean-Claude,
now this…this shapeshifter. Angrily, she slammed her fist into Jason’s door.
“How dare you?” she seethed. “Don’t you turn your back on me, you four-legged bag of blood! Mind
who you are talking to! You’re a servant here! You’ll do as I say.” For emphasis, she stuck her tongue
out at him.
Jason blinked down at Valentina with a stunned expression on his face. Then he shook his head. “Oh yeah? Make me.”
Jason stuck his tongue out back at her.
Valentina’s patience with him was almost at an end and she was running out of ways to persuade him to give into her.
She didn’t really know how to make Jason obey her. She knew there was really only one person around here the young
werewolf did obey, so maybe a little name-dropping would suffice.
“I can’t make you…but our master will,” the child vampire stated through clenched teeth. “I
know for a fact you are to comply with Jean-Claude’s wishes without question. I also know for a fact, he has ordered
his staff to cater to his guests within reasonable limits. I am one of those guests. I am merely requesting a ride across
town. There is nothing unreasonable about that. I would hate to have to tell our master that one of his…animals did
not show an honored guest of his court the proper courtesy she deserved.”
“Oh whatever,” Jason grumbled and massaged his eyes as if he was trying to ward off an impending migraine--that
or actually giving consideration to Valentina’s threat. Finally the werewolf looked at Valentina and sighed heavily.
“I’ll bring you with me, but as soon as we get there, you’re on your own, understand?”
Delighted by Jason’s surrender, Valentina jumped up and down excitedly, clapping her hands in triumph. “Super!”
Jason glared at her. “Yeah, super. Now if you don’t mind, I have to finish getting ready so we can be on our
He opened his door wider and pushed Valentina out of his way with his index finger.
With a sneer, the child vampire slapped his hand away. “Oh you don’t have anything I haven’t seen before!”
The werewolf chuckled dryly. “Sorry doll-face. I don’t give little girls free shows. You wanna see what all
the fuss is about; catch my set at the club.”
Jason was just about to shut the door again when Valentina collapsed to the floor and started kicking and screaming. “Oh
why is everyone so mean to me?” she wailed, pounding the stone floor with her palms. “I’m only a little
girl when it suits you people! First it’s one way and then it’s another. Well I’ve had enough! I want
to see Stephan! I want to go now!” Jerking herself up to her feet again, Valentina raised her hands to her head and
tore the white ribbons out of her hair, taking fistfuls of blonde tendrils with them. “He’s the only one who’ll
do my hair right! No one else will fix it for me! No one else cares!” She paused to mash her knuckles against her
“Calm down, jeez!” Jason shot back, looking flustered. He clearly wasn’t around small children very much.
“I said I’d take you.” His voice softened a bit. “Just let me get dressed all right? The longer
you stall me, the longer I’ll be. Look, my car is in the parking lot behind the main offices. I’ll meet you
there in fifteen minutes, okay?”
Valentina sniffed. “Okay,” she agreed in a small voice. Maybe this Jason wasn’t so bad after all. She
started back up the hall, tossing her ruined hair ribbons aside. Stephan was just going to have to work extra hard on her
Once outside, the child vampire crossed the Circus grounds with a determined stride, pushing her way through ambling crowds
and stationary lines.
A small boy who looked to be about Valentina’s age had the audacity to shove her back when she cut in front of him,
wiping his hand on her new pink top. To make matters worse, his fingers were stained and sticky with blue cotton candy.
Flecks of the confection still clung to his wet, doughy mouth.
Outraged, Valentina turned on the boy, grabbing the offending hand and crushing it in her own until she heard a telltale popping
sound. As the boy shrieked, Valentina hissed in his dirty face and shoved him so hard he fell onto the ground, sending him
into further hysterics. His mother rushed from the line at the candy apple wagon to his side, looking around frantically
for the cause of her son’s distress, but by that time, Valentina was long gone.
Once in the remote parking lot behind the main offices, Valentina thought she heard a familiar sound coming from inside one
of the darkened vehicles and rushed towards it. She could hardly keep from giggling and as she drew closer, the muffled sound
of lovemaking filled the air. Mischievously, she wandered over to an old Camaro with steamed-up windows and pressed her face
against the glass.
Some young male vampire was doing a buxom teen-aged girl in the backseat. Valentina thought they would have noticed her face
in the car window by now, but after a few minutes passed, it was apparent to her they were oblivious to anything but each
other and completely unaware of the little voyeur in their midst.
Grinning ear to ear, Valentina tapped on the car window by the girl’s head. “Hey lady, you got a leech on top
Looking upwards, the girl inside the car yelped in surprise as she spied Valentina and shoved the vampire on top of her away
with enough force to bounce the back of his head off the low roof of the car. Valentina had to laugh at their ensuing confusion.
She loved surprising people like that.
“What the fuck?” the male vampire raged and released a slurry of other expletives at his lover.
The girl pointed out the car window. “There’s a kid out there!” she exclaimed breathlessly, scrambling
to cover herself.
Wanting to play with the two lovers now, Valentina hid, covering her mouth to resist the urge to laugh out loud. She watched
from below as the male vampire leaned forward and wiped his hand across the foggy car window. Just as he peered out, Valentina
popped up, baring her fangs at him and shrieking like a banshee.
“He’s going to drink you! He’s going to suck you dry!”
Startled, the male vampire banged his head again on the roof of the car and swore more and even louder. This time it was
directed all at her.
Seconds later, he had apparently recovered enough for a bonafide confrontation. He swung open the car door and started to
climb out, focusing on Valentina. His bravado did not last long however. It seemed to only take him a moment to realize
who and what exactly he was facing, and Valentina could feel his boiling anger turn to a satisfyingly cold fear. Warily,
he retreated back inside his car.
“Look, I don’t want any trouble from you, okay?” he said as if trying to soothe the ominous little girl.
“What’s wrong?” his girlfriend was saying over and over again. “It’s just a little kid.”
Valentina pointed at the girl, but addressed the other vampire. “You better calm her down before the police catch you,”
she whispered, recalling what Jason had told her about the cops.
The male vampire peered at Valentina, clearly not understanding what she meant. Why should he?
As he turned from Valentina to look back at his girlfriend, the child vampire “made a face” at her. While rolling
her eyes back in her head, she dug her small fingers into her eye sockets and pulled, splitting the skin apart. As dark red
blood streamed from her eyes down her face, Valentina swiped the tip of her tongue over her pretty pink lips.
Obviously horrified by the sight, the girl inside the car began to scream at the top of her lungs and wouldn’t stop.
The male vampire quickly pushed her back against the seat and slammed the car door closed to block out her view of the little
vampire. Valentina watched as he struggled to console the girl, but by now, she was too hysterical now and fought him off.
“He’s going to eat you alive!” Valentina yelled into the car at the girl.
Clearly realizing the futility of his efforts, the male vampire abruptly left his girlfriend screaming in the back seat and
decided the better course of action would be to start the car to get them both away from their tormenter as fast as possible.
Valentina giggled as the male vampire rapidly and recklessly drove away. If he didn’t slow down, he was going to attract
some attention, she thought.
A few minutes later, sirens sounded in the distance. It made Valentina laugh and laugh.
Valentina’s face had healed completely by the time Jason showed up. However, her pink top was stained with blood--along
with that smear of blue cotton candy. Her hair had grown out again, but was dirty, matted, and wildly disheveled being loose
as it was.
She must have looked frightful because the werewolf approached her rather warily, looking her up and down before gesturing
at his car.
“I don’t even want to know,” he mumbled and hit the key fob button which unlocked his car doors.
Humming to herself, Valentina crawled into the backseat, settling in the center so she could see out the front windshield.
“You’re in a good mood,” Jason noted, turning onto the main road just behind the Circus which led out to
Valentina smiled at him and sat forward eagerly. “There was this boy who shoved me and I shoved him back so hard he
fell on the ground and started crying! And then there was this girl in a car back there with a vampire, with half their clothes
off, and I scared her so bad I think I got him sent to jail! And then--”
“Forget it!” Jason interrupted her. “I said I didn’t want to know. I’m sorry I said anything.”
He glanced at her in the rearview mirror and shook his head rather ruefully.
Sitting back in her seat, Valentina pouted, crossing her arms over her chest. “I know you don’t like me much,”
she stated testily.
Jason only laughed. “Is it that obvious?”
Valentina gasped at his brashness. “Well I don’t like you much either!” she hollered. “I take back
all the nice things I ever said about you!”
Still laughing, the werewolf’s hand flew to cover his heart. “Now that just cuts me to the core.”
“You will be!” Valentina replied in a huff. “I changed my mind you know. You’re going to be the
one chained to the table in the center ring--not some weepy ol’ vampire. I’m going to make you hoooowwwwl with
Jason stopped laughing and studied Valentina in the rearview mirror once more.
“Do you know something I don’t?” he asked finally, looking a little on edge.
Valentina found his unease terribly funny and collapsed onto the backseat, squealing with laughter and clutching her sides.
In her mind, she replayed her imaginary performance under the big top, substituting the werewolf for the vampire and doing
all kinds of cruel things to him.
Jason suddenly growled and the car came to an abrupt stop. “Out!”
Valentina jerked to a sitting position and looked around, startled at first, but relieved to see they had stopped only because
they had arrived at Guilty Pleasures. But this was the main entrance. Jason hadn’t parked in back to take her through
the stage door.
As it was, the front of the club was crowded with people waiting to get in, held at bay by a burly doorman whom Valentina
did not recognize. Her chances of getting through there unnoticed were slim and none.
“But I can’t go in that door!” she protested.
Jason turned around in his seat to face her. “What’s the big deal about the front door, Valentina? You needed
a ride here and I gave you a ride here. We’re here. So…get out!”
The child vampire reluctantly scooted out of Jason’s car. “You can’t just leave me like this.”
“Nuh-uh, don’t even try it. I told you once we got here you were on your own,” Jason countered unsympathetically.
“I thought you meant once I was inside…” Valentina tried and then lowered her voice. “You need to
take me through the stage door.”
“I can’t take you through the stage door. There’s no women allowed through the stage door. That’s
club policy. Sorry, but if I was going to risk my job and sneak a woman through the stage door with me, it sure as hell wouldn’t
He either didn’t understand her predicament or didn’t care, Valentina wasn’t sure which. She wrung her
small hands anxiously and kicked at the gravel in the parking lot with her sandaled foot. She didn’t want the kind
of attention going through the main entrance would bring. Not from the crowd, not from the doorman, and especially not from
Jean-Claude, who more than likely was greeting his patrons in the lobby.
“But I’m not a woman really,” Valentina told Jason, altering her voice to sound even more child-like. “I’m
just a little girl.”
Jason responded by putting his car in gear, clearly ready to drive away. He faced Valentina and tapped his forehead. “Not
in here you’re not. You’re a full-grown psychotic, sadistic vampire bitch--all deceptively packaged as sugar-n-spice.
Don’t even try to play that card with me because I ain’t falling for it.” With that he drove off and quickly
disappeared down the dark alleyway along the side of the building.
For a moment, Valentina stood seething, glaring daggers down that alley. Then she turned and faced the entrance to Guilty
Pleasures and sighed with resignation. So what if the people outside saw her all frazzled and dirty and covered with blood?
Her appearance at the moment was a little alarming, but maybe she could use it to her advantage…just differently.
Stalking forward, the child vampire reached out with her power and touched the minds of the women milling about the night
club entrance. She drummed up some fake tears and adopted a fake limp and pushed her way towards the vampire bouncer.
“Help me,” Valentina murmured. “Help me please!”
She could feel the women’s shock and horror at the sight of her and hear their breathless comments to one another.
“The poor child’s lost!”
“She’s injured! Call an ambulance!”
“Get her inside quickly!”
“Someone help her!”
So far so good, Valentina grinned to herself, proud of her Academy Award performance, but upon reaching the bouncer, everything
fell apart. He placed his big, beefy hand on her shoulder and held her at arm’s length, just inches shy of her goal.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” he asked, clearly not buying her hapless orphan act. From the
way he was glaring down at her, he was--like Jason had been--more than aware she wasn’t just a child.
Valentina was about to hiss at him, but an outraged comment by one of the women directed at the bouncer reminded her that
they had fallen for her act hook, line, and sinker, and they were on her side.
Valentina sniff loudly. “Please,” she begged weakly, “I want my mama. She’s inside. Please Mister,
I’m bleeding.” She gestured at her ruined shirt. “I need to GET INSIDE.”
The bouncer only shook his head. “Save it, okay. I know what you are. What? You think I’m an idiot just because
I got a little muscle? Well think again. Nobody under twenty-one is getting inside on my watch and that includes someone
who looks under twenty-one. If you want to talk to the manager about that, or better yet, the owner, I’d be happy to
call one of them out for you.”
Valentina narrowed her eyes and mashed her lips together in fury. “Don’t bother,” she growled through clenched
The women in line were rallying around her however, and their ensuing outrage at the way “that poor injured child”
was being treated by the bouncer let him know he just may have an incident on his hands if he didn’t give the child
what she wanted.
Panicking, the bouncer opened the door just enough to stick his head in and holler for reinforcements, but it was opened just
enough too, for a small child to slip through it.
Club employees were rushing to help now that the women were all but rioting outside. No one seemed to notice Valentina as
she made her way along the back wall of the front lobby. She walked right past the holy-item check girl since the counter
she sat behind was taller than Valentina and the girl was too engrossed with the goings-on outside to mind her own station.
Valentina pushed her way through one of the doors marked ‘employees only’, casting one last parting look at the
ensuing chaos she was leaving behind in the lobby.
She was so busy congratulating herself on having so easily gained entry into the club, she failed to notice the black leather-clad
legs which suddenly appeared in her path until she turned around and practically ran right into them.
With a small, startled gasp, Valentina froze and slowly raised her eyes to the face of the master vampire now towering over
“Jean-Claude,” she gulped.
“Mademoiselle Valentina,” he replied and took a deep, measured breath. “Apparently, we need to have a talk.”
Without waiting for a response from the child vampire, the Master of the City seized her by the hand and brusquely hauled
her down the hall into his office. “You will remain here until I return, is that understood?” he demanded before
“I understand,” Valentina answered with a nod and scurried around to the other side of Jean-Claude’s desk.
She climbed into his chair and made herself comfortable, looking around at the various objects on his desk to find something
amusing to play with in the meantime. Her small hands strayed towards a CD player.
Jean-Claude pointed his finger at her. “And do not touch anything!”
Again Valentina nodded as Jean-Claude turned on his heel and left the room, closing the door behind him ominously.
“Meanie,” she grumbled under her breath.
Leaning back in the big leather chair, Valentina sighed heavily and looked around. She contemplated leaving the room and
hiding from Jean-Claude, but he’d undoubtedly find her in time and then she’d be in even more trouble with him
than she apparently was now.
If she stayed she’d be scolded by him for sure and at the very worse, packed up and sent back to the Circus before she
could see Stephan. But that wouldn’t be so bad. If she went back to the Circus then she could always wander around
and see who else she could scare. Scaring people was fun.
Before Valentina had made up her mind what she should do, Jean-Claude returned and from the way he slammed the door shut,
Valentina knew he was more than a little upset with her now. She opened her mouth to speak, but the master vampire spoke
“Do you realize the trouble you’ve just caused by your antics outside?”
Valentina slumped in the chair and blinked up at Jean-Claude with wide-eyed innocence. “I just want Stephan,”
she announced in a small, quiet voice, quivering her bottom lip for added effect. “I came to see Stephan.”
Jean-Claude reached over and pulled the child vampire out of his chair to stand before him, and then knelt in front of her
so they were eye to eye with each other. He held her captive with his hands on her upper arms, forcing her to look at him.
“There was no reason for you to disobey me, Valentina,” he addressed her, his usually melodious voice now flat
and clipped with anger. “I could have simply sent Stephan to you this evening, had you asked. I have tried to appease
you, but I’ve come to the conclusion such efforts are futile.” Jean-Claude paused once more and gestured at the
door with a shake of his head. “Must you be so impatient and impetuous? You realize what I’m being forced to
do to those women because of your indiscretion is not only considered highly unethical in this jurisdiction, but also illegal?
I must risk it however. I cannot have them believe a small, injured child was mistreated by my staff, can I?”
Valentina shuffled her feet and wiped at her nose with the back of her hand. “I just didn’t see any other way
in,” she lisped, emphasizing the babyish slur of her voice. “If that bouncer had just let me in the front door,
I wouldn’t have had to trick those ladies.”
Jean-Claude frowned and narrowed his eyes. “It is wrong of you to blame him for your mistake. You need to take responsibility
for your actions.”
Valentina tried again. “Well I wouldn’t even be here against your wishes if your servant, Jason hadn’t
brought me. He knew I wasn’t supposed to come here, but he took me along with him anyway.” She couldn’t
hide the gleeful smile that slipped onto her face. “You need to punish him for that and I know just the way.”
“Enough!” the Master of the City hissed. “We are discussing your misbehavior now. Your disobedience.
I shall deal with my pomme--” He stopped abruptly, his eyes locking on reddish stains on Valentina’s pink top
for the first time. He leaned forward to sniff it as if confirming what his other senses had already told him. He jerked
his head back sharply. “Valentina! What have you been up to tonight?”
The look in Jean-Claude’s eyes made Valentina wilt. She felt defeated and overwhelmed, certainly not used to Jean-Claude
losing his patience with her like this. He was normally rather indulgent and tolerant of her. Valentina was sure it was
due to the fact she always played up the perception of being a small and harmless child around him, knowing from past experiences,
like with Belle, that people tended to be more passive when dealing with cherubic little girls.
It was clear to Valentina that tonight she’d gone too far however. Jean-Claude wasn’t addressing her as if she
were just a little girl anymore. He was addressing her as if she were a fully-grown vampire of lesser status than he--which
she was--and Valentina didn’t like it in the least. She obviously now faced an adult vampire’s consequences for
what she had done. Emotions she’d long forgotten she had suddenly suffocated her and she was powerless to fend them
For the first time tonight, genuine tears welled in her large round eyes. “I don’t like it here, Jean-Claude.
I want to go home. People are mean to me here. No one ever wants to help me. Just look at my hair! Look at my clothes!”
She stomped her small foot for emphasis. “In Belle Morte’s court, I used to wear silk gowns every evening. I
used to have ribbons and beads put in my hair by a real hairdresser. My hair was never tangled. There was never a curl out
of place. Here I have nothing. No one! Because everybody hates me…” Valentina bowed her head and sniffed loudly
as the tears which had flooded her eyes earlier, now spilled down her cheeks.
Jean-Claude’s expression softened and he sighed gently. “That is not true, ma fille,” he told her, placing
his finger under her chin to raise her face to his. “You’ve managed to make fine friends of Monsieur Stephan
and his brother, Gregory.” He paused and offered Valentina a small smile. “Didn’t Stephan take you shopping
the other night? And wasn’t Gregory the one who escorted you to the theater the night before last? Have you never
asked yourself why they--out of everyone in my court--have befriended you?”
Valentina licked her lips. The answer seemed obvious. She squinted up at Jean-Claude with uncertainty. “Because I
Jean-Claude’s smile broadened. “Oui. I know what you are thinking and it is that simple. Kindness begets kindness.
In my court, we try to be kind to one another. I have learned it earns true friendships and very real loyalties--much more
than fear, or abuse. You can earn true friendships here as well if you are as sincere in your kindness as you were to Stephan
and Gregory. People will respond to you differently, ma fille. You’ll see.”
Valentina returned the master vampire’s smile and nodded. “I will try it,” she agreed, already feeling
Jean-Claude visibly relaxed. “Tres bon.” He paused and glanced at the clock on the wall. “Now, go get
tidied up,” he continued, facing Valentina again. “Monsieur Stephan is finished onstage and should be back in
his dressing room by now. Go down one more hallway and his is the third door on the left. Please knock before you enter
and wait for his invitation before you go in. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you, and more than happy to help
fix your hair.” With that, Jean-Claude rose to his feet and gestured towards the door.
With an eager nod, Valentina turned from Jean-Claude, then stopped and blinked up at him in surprise. “You…you’re
not going to punish me?”
Jean-Claude seemed to consider this now and Valentina immediately regretted bringing the subject up.
“I should, shouldn’t I?” the Master of the City agreed. “You did disobey me. And from the looks
of you, that’s not the half of it.”
Valentina swallowed the lump forming in her throat. Visions of dismemberment, flaying, and electrocution filled her mind.
She’d done such things to her prisoners before, but had never been subjected to those torments personally. She wasn’t
sure if her small body could withstand such things. As it was, her prisoners’ adult bodies had barely withstood them.
“…Yes. I suppose you should,” she acknowledged, her child-like voice warbling with a fearful anticipation
of her sentence. “Just…please remember, I am only a child.”
“Ah, yes,” Jean-Claude replied and then pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Therefore you believe you should
be dealt a punishment befitting a child?”
Valentina wasn’t certain what Jean-Claude was hinting at.
The master vampire approached her with his hands on his hips. “Yes or no?”
Hesitantly, Valentina nodded. “Yes,” she murmured.
Then before she realized what was happening, Jean-Claude had taken hold of her shoulder. He spun her around and swatted her
backside three times. Hard.
Startled and thoroughly humiliated, Valentina shrieked and jerked away from him. She stood facing him, aghast, rubbing her
butt to soothe the sting. “Owww!”
Jean-Claude straightened and folded his arms across his chest. “Now, you are to apologize to me and mean it.”
“I’m sorry. I mean it,” Valentina offered with sincerity, her voice barely a whisper.
Jean-Claude nodded, apparently satisfied by her show of remorse. “I accept your apology,” he told her and gestured
at the door. “Now go.”
Still shamed by what he’d just done to her, Valentina backed warily away from Jean-Claude and then bolted for the door.
Just before she opened it however, it occurred to her that she had just been dealt her punishment and was now free to go as
far as Jean-Claude was concerned. There would be no dismemberment, no flaying, no electrocution….
Her pain forgotten, her face now beaming with joy, Valentina pulled open the door and skipped down the hall towards Stephan’s