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the vampire suicides

Anita teams up with her men to solve her most recent case involving a vampire perpertrator
Rated R
Disclaimer: the Anitaverse, its creation, its characters, and situations are all the property of author Laurell K. Hamilton.  I just borrow them to pass the time.  No monetary profit will be made from this fanfiction now or ever.



PROLOGUE~ Committing Suicide



“Don’t cry,” he cooed in her ear, stroking her hair soothingly.

“I can’t help it,” she sobbed, shaking uncontrollably. She twisted away from his lips as he bent to kiss her mouth. “I’m scared.”

Sliding his hands down her sides to her thighs, he offered her a reassuring smile. “Not to worry, ma cherie.” Slowly he opened her legs and centered his hips between them. “This won’t hurt. I swear it. It will all be over before you know it.”

She cried harder. “I want it to be over. I just can’t take anymore. Please. Please.” Her cries became pitiful-sounding whimpers as she buried her face against his shoulder.

“There now,” he whispered. “Just try to relax.”

With one forceful shove of his hips, he penetrated her, driving her back against the wall.

She screamed and clawed at his chest. “No! Please!”

Seemingly oblivious to her protests, he pushed her hands away and thrust into her harder and faster. “This was part of the deal, ma cherie,” he reminded her. “You take care of my needs; I take care of yours!”

Crying fitfully, she struggled to push him off of her. “I changed my mind! I don’t want to go through with this!”

“Too late!” he snarled, grazing her cheek with his teeth. “The letter is written.” He pumped his hips against her faster.

Sagging into his arms in defeat, she wept sorrowfully.

“C’est dommage,” he panted. “Here you are, so young, so beautiful, and so royally fucked-up.” He laughed then.

She summoned the last of her will-power and tried once more to push him away as he pounded into her harder, forcing the breath from her body. “Please.” She tried to scream. “Help me! God help me!”

He slapped her across the face hard enough to rattle her bones. “Cry out again, ma cherie, and there’ll be no mercy.” He leaned forward and kissed her, covering her mouth with his in a brutally suffocating embrace. “Now, do you want to die?”

At this point, she was sobbing so hard she couldn’t find her voice. He asked her again.

“Do you want to die?”

Hesitantly, she nodded.

“Do you want to die? Say it.” He thrust into her more forcefully, rocking his hips back and forth with increasing speed. “I repeat. Do you want to die?”

She struggled to speak. “…Yes. Yes.”

Seemingly satisfied, he smiled cruelly and touched his lips to her throat. “Time to say good-bye, cherie.” Opening his mouth wide, he bared his lethal fangs and struck her violently, sinking his teeth deeply into her neck.






CHAPTER ONE~ The Phone Call



I woke to the sound of a phone ringing somewhere down the hall. I opened my eyes and peered blearily across the bed at Jean-Claude, who at first glance, appeared to be staring back at me, lying on his side facing me. I grinned until I realized he wasn’t looking at me, he was looking right through me. Teasingly, I reached out and waved my hand in front of his eyes. There was no response. He didn’t even blink.

Apparently, while I had slept, he had submerged himself in that mystical equivalent of slumber that vampires sometimes do.

I scooted closer to him, clutching the sheet to my naked body to ward off the slight chill in the room. Peering into his unseeing eyes, I was struck again by how dark a blue they were. The only thing that saved them from being labeled black was the long fringe of jet-colored lashes surrounding them that effectively offset their true color. Those lashes gave his eyes a decidedly feminine characteristic that lent itself to him being more beautiful than handsome.

I followed the line of his slightly arched brow down the curve of his cheek. His skin looked like porcelain in its perfection. Most men bore some small nick or scar on their faces. A shadow of a beard. Maybe a rugged pock-mark or two. Jean-Claude bore none of these marring details. He had claimed to be a looker as a human, but no human could have lived thirty years back in the 1600’s and have nothing to show for it.

He also claimed he didn’t use glamour--that he was simply that gorgeous. At first, I didn’t believe him. No one was that stunning naturally. As I became increasingly immune to his powers however, I had been forced to admit he was telling the truth as far as his looks went. Then it occurred to me that by that time, I was pretty smitten with him. Maybe now, I simply looked at him through the “eyes of love” which has been known to blind normally rational people under its influence.

Yeah. It had taken awhile, but I was finally able to admit to myself that I was in love. It wasn’t typical because it wasn’t exclusive, but it was love.

Carefully, I tugged at the sheet draped over the lower half of his body until I had uncovered him. My eyes swept down the length of his long body, following the curve of his hip down to the slight bend of his legs. His ankles were crossed and his knees pressed tightly together. The muscles of his upper thighs bulged slightly in an enticing display of definition. I ran my hand over his leg and sighed with appreciation.

His skin was cool to the touch, but exquisitely soft. The fine hairs furring his legs added to their silkiness, making me want to run my hands up and down them a half-dozen times. I even strayed down his calf to his ankles and grasped one in my hand. Carefully I uncrossed it and peered up at the slumbering vampire. Still nothing.

I smiled to myself. Maybe I had worn him out earlier. We had been rather…rambunctious tonight.

Wedging my hand between his legs, I slid it up his thigh and eased it back, off his other leg. My eyes sought out that nest of glossy little curls with true wanton intent as my hand slowly repositioned him. Shifting farther down his body, I encircled his hip with my arm and leaned forward, my mouth salivating in anticipation. I loved going down on him when he was soft because he was so soft, he felt luxurious in my mouth. Like velvet, but finer. Satin, but richer. Smoother. Sexier.

I carefully drew him into my mouth, laving his glorious skin with my tongue, reaching around him to squeeze the firm, round muscles of his perfect ass. Closing my eyes, I moaned in utter bliss.

Jean-Claude laughed sensuously.

Chills shot down my body like tiny little fireworks of ecstasy all the way down to my toes. I raised my head and looked up.

“You’re awake,” he stated in a soft, breathy voice.

I sighed. “So are you.”

He shifted, pushing his hips towards me encouragingly. “Please. Do not let the fact that I’m coherent now deter you. I would like nothing better than for you to finish what you started.”

Peering down at him, I smiled and teased the head of his hardening cock with my lips. “But it won’t be the same now.”

“Ma petite, if there were any way I could remain soft for you, I would. It is simply not possible. Just knowing the proximity of your lovely lips to the most sensually sensitive area of my body fills me with such lascivious anticipation, I lose control. “

“Uh huh,” I muttered and slid my mouth down the length of his erection. He gasped and shuddered in response. The muscles of his ass tightened beneath my hand.

Distantly, I heard the phone ring again. Someone snatched it up on the first ring. I vaguely wondered what time it was and who would be calling here in the middle of the night before turning my full attention back to pleasuring the master of St. Louis.

Jean-Claude rolled over on his back to better accommodate me. He closed his eyes and seized fistfuls of the silk sheets in his large hands. I draped my torso over his legs and stroked his stomach with my hands, taking him deeper into my mouth. I felt his legs twitch under me and heard him moan appreciatively. I smiled to myself.

At first it didn’t register that someone was knocking on the bedroom door because in all the time I had been intimate with Jean-Claude in this room, no one ever dared disturb us. I raised my head and looked across the room at the door. Yep. There it was again. Someone knocking, though rather timidly, I might add.

Jean-Claude sat up, looking almost startled. Then it occurred to me as it must have occurred to him that if someone was interrupting us, it must be important.

“Anita?” It was Jason.

Jean-Claude glanced at me but I couldn’t tell what he was thinking from the look on his face. He rose fluidly from the bed with all the unnatural grace of a vampire and snatched up his robe on his way to the door.

Taking his cue, I gathered the sheets around me again and scooted up the head of the bed. I had just finished tucking them modestly around me when Jean-Claude threw open the door.

Jason looked none too happy to be the one to disturb his master, but he brandished the phone and peered past Jean-Claude in search of me.

“There’s a phone call for you,” he said quietly. “It’s the police. They’ve called twice now. They insist on talking to you.” He took a step into the room and looked over at Jean-Claude as if belatedly remembering to ask his permission to enter.

Jean-Claude merely sighed and stepped aside. Jason crossed the room in three steps and handed me the phone. I tried to get a look at his face to find out what the call might be about, but Jean-Claude was shooing him back out of the room before I could determine anything. Frowning, I placed the phone to my ear and cleared my throat.

“This is Anita. How can I help you?” I asked flatly.

Jean-Claude closed the door behind his wolf and climbed back on the bed. Unceremoniously, he dropped down beside me and snuggled his head under my raised arm.

“Um, sorry to interrupt your preternatural love-a-thon, Blake,” Zerbrowski’s voice rang out. “But some of us have to work for a living and we thought maybe you’d like to contribute a little of your time to our worthy cause.”

I sighed heavily. “What’s up, Zerbrowski?”

He chuckled lightly. “You mean besides Jean-Claude’s libido?”

Knowing he could hear everything Zerbrowski said, I peered down at Jean-Claude and frowned, but he looked back up at me and smiled slyly. Clearly he wasn’t the least put-off knowing Zerbrowski had been fully aware of what we had been doing earlier.

“Yeah,” I shot back. “Besides that.”

I heard Zerbrowski take a deep breath and knew he was putting his humor aside now. “We’ve got a rape/murder victim. The body’s been drained of blood. We suspect a vampire.”

I tensed slightly. “Any teeth marks? There are lots of things out there that can drain blood.”

“Somebody took a big bite out of her throat if that counts as teeth marks,” Zerbrowski replied.

“And you said she was raped?” I questioned, swallowing uneasily. Jean-Claude shifted at my side.

“It’s obvious,” Zerbrowski said tonelessly. “Even without forensics. Come take a look for yourself. Nobody’s touching anything until you do. I want a concrete confirmation on this one.”

There was suddenly something in Zerbrowski’s voice I didn’t like. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

After a long moment, Zerbrowski answered me. “She’s all of fifteen, Anita. She’s a baby, for Christ’s sake.”

I felt a sickening weight settle in my stomach. I took a deep breath and nodded even though I knew Zerbrowski couldn’t see me. “All right. I’m on my way. What’s the address?”

There was another pause. “I’m sure you know where Danse Macabre is?”

Feeling more unsettled than I should have, I pushed away from Jean-Claude and sat up, turning my back to him. “Yes,” I said outright.

“We’re in the alley right behind it,” Zerbrowski finished. “See ya in a few, Blake.” With that he hung up.

I turned back around to face Jean-Claude, tossing the phone on the bed between us. “I have to go.”

He nodded solemnly. “I understand. Of course.”

Scrambling out of bed, I padded about the room, gathering my previously discarded clothes. “I’m sure you heard,” I went on. “Do you have anything to say?”

Jean-Claude straightened, crossing his arms over his chest. He shook his head, making his long, tousled hair dance gracefully around his face for a moment.

Sighing heavily, I pulled on my bra and reached behind me to fasten it. “I was half-hoping you’d have some ideas.”

“Non. But I would like to go with you,” Jean-Claude said unexpectedly. “Matters such as this are clearly my concern as master of this city.”

I opened my mouth to object outright, but the reasoning behind his request registered before I could deny him. “I’m sure the police are going to want to talk to you sooner or later anyway considering this took place on your property.”

Jean-Claude stood up and went to his closet. “Even if it happened miles away from my club, it would still be in my territory.”

A chill ran down my spine that had nothing to do with the sound of Jean-Claude’s voice. “You think someone is defying you?”

“If it is a vampire, ma petite,” Jean-Claude explained. “He has broken my laws as well as yours. That is a direct challenge to my authority.”

A challenge. Oh great. Why couldn’t vampire dissidents simply storm the castle in an outright coup? Why did they always have to pussy-foot around and kill some innocent human as a way of spitting in the face of their leader?

“I can assure you, I would prefer that scenario as well,” Jean-Claude continued, obviously reading my mind. “Let me assure you, be he dissident or merely rogue, he will be dealt with accordingly.”

I watched him dress in a rather simple-looking outfit of black pants, white shirt, and a plain black vest, and knew he was in a no-nonsense kind of mood now. He still looked absolutely scrumptious however, and I couldn’t help thinking of what we might have been doing right now had Jason not brought me the phone.

Jean-Claude peered up at me and the slightest smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Perhaps tomorrow night,” he suggested, sidling up beside me. “I will even pretend to be asleep again.”

I cracked a smile. “You minx,” I muttered under my breath and pretended to pout, pulling open the bedroom door. “I should have known.”






CHAPTER TWO~ The Dead Among the Living



Vampires have the ability to go unnoticed among the living if they choose to. Normally, this is not an ability Jean-Claude preferred to employ, but tonight he clearly did not want to cause the kind of commotion his presence in public normally did.

It wasn’t that a crime scene was a very public place, but you did get your share of civilians and onlookers milling around, trying to get a glimpse of a mutilated corpse so they would have something to tell their co-workers around the water cooler Monday morning.

Then there was your run-of-the-mill police who were trying to keep the gathering crowd at bay while trying their best to preserve the crime scene for the detectives and forensics teams. They wouldn’t have had much experience with vampires and might be a little put off having a master in their midst. Especially one who’s fame and appeal rivaled that of any teeny-bopper rock star and typically caused the same level of pandemonium they did.

I had accompanied Jean-Claude around enough to have come to expect the pandemonium, so it seemed eerily strange to be around him now and not even turn heads. It wasn’t that he had made himself invisible, but he must have been emanating some sort of calming influence on them. In fact, until I started flashing my badge, the uniforms we encountered were raising their brows more at me then at him.

We crossed the tape line and followed the flash of a camera to the body propped up against a dumpster. Zerbrowski was right. She was just a baby. He had said she was fifteen, but damned if she didn’t look more like twelve. Her skin was that blue-ish, gray-ish dead color made worse by the fact she had been drained of blood. There was no bruising because of it, but it was obvious from the state of her clothes and the splayed position of her legs that she’d been raped.

Not raped, Jean-Claude said unexpectedly in my head.

He was standing right beside me, doing the non-existant trick so well; I had practically forgotten he was there. I turned to look up at him, glad to have something else to focus on beside the victim. Yeah, I had seen a lot worse grotesque-wise, but children in crime scenes still got to me deep down in the pit of my stomach.

Jean-Claude spoke to me again, but kept his eyes fixed on the dead girl.

He would have no need to physically force himself on her, he continued. His power would make her malleable to his will. Still against her will perhaps, but not forced.

Unless that’s how he gets himself off, I answered him, looking around at the other detectives examining the body, still surprised no one had approached us yet.

I knelt down, forcing my stomach to stop lurching and started looking for teeth marks. They weren’t hard to find. Two slashing wounds just behind her ear. I got the idea the vampire was probably a lot taller than his victim was and that he had to bend down to bite her neck while he was still having intercourse with her. A shorter vamp would have bitten farther down her neck into the vein.

I went to replace the girl’s shirt collar in an inane attempt to protect her modesty when something inside her breast pocket crinkled. I unbuttoned it and pulled out a small sealed lavender-colored envelope.

“I’ve got something here,” I called out, purposefully drawing the other detectives’ attention to me. I stood up and brandished the envelope in the air.

“Marshal Blake, I didn’t even realize you were here,” Detective Clive Perry declared, moving towards me, his dark skin enhancing the whiteness of his congenial smile. His suit was as crisp and pristine as usual and he looked as if he’d just stepped off the cover of GQ magazine. “Sergeant Zerbrowski said he called you. We’ve been waiting.” He eyed the envelope. “What do you have there?”

I had already psyched myself up to have to fend off the anticipated outrage regarding Jean-Claude’s presence, but had to tamp my defenses back down when everyone was clearly more concerned with the envelope than the vampire just behind me. I spared a glance at him, almost wanting to give him away, unnerved by the fact he had this kind of power over people, though he rarely exercised it. I knew, in the back of my mind, that Jean-Claude kept most of his powers hidden from me at my request. He knew I preferred him as un-supernatural as possible. Fully aware of this, I shouldn’t have been as unsettled as I was by this rather effective demonstration of said powers, but I was.

Jean-Claude turned his eyes on me without moving his head. His expression was blank, but his eyes flickered with something close to discord. Did he know he was making me uncomfortable?

I looked away from him and focused my attention on the lavender envelope. It was addressed simply “To Whom It May Concern” written in blue ink with big block letters. Carefully I pried the back open and pulled out the matching lavender-colored notepaper inside.

“This was in her shirt pocket,” I told Detective Perry. “Did anyone see this before?”

Perry shook his head. “We were waiting for you,” he reiterated. “No one’s done anything except photograph her.”

I nodded and quickly skimmed the contents of the note. At first it seemed like a tear-stained apology for “losing the one thing that meant anything.” But then, towards the end, there it was. Those tell-tale phrases. “I’ve decided I don’t want to do this anymore but I’m too much of a coward to end it all alone. The world will be better off without me. Forgive me. Good-bye.”

“Oh shit,” I exclaimed out loud. “It’s a suicide note.”

Echoes of surprise rippled through the gathered detectives and police officers within ear-shot. Zerbrowski’s unhappy voice rang out above them all.

“Nice someone lets me know what’s going on around here,” he grumbled, clearly not in the best of moods. “Blake, when the hell did you get here?”

I peered up at him while handing the note to Perry. “I’ve been here a good fifteen minutes,” I grumbled back. “You wanted me to look at the body, so I came to look at the body. I didn’t know I was supposed to report to you first.” Knowing the real reason he hadn’t noticed me put me back on the defensive. Strangely, I felt more comfortable there.

Zerbrowski came to stand in front of me, gesturing to Perry for the note. “Don’t go getting your panties in a wad, Blake. We’re on the same side, remember?” He read through the note and swore under his breath. “Are you kidding me?”

I shrugged. “I would guess she wanted to die.” I glanced at the victim, still propped up against the dumpster and was startled to see Jean-Claude kneeling beside her. He raised her hand and sniffed it delicately. I swallowed down a gulp of surprise. “Ah…She was going to kill herself.”

“Maybe she didn’t have the courage to do it herself,” Zerbrowski put in. “So she came down to the Blood District to get herself killed.”

“Obviously someone obliged her,” I muttered.

Jean-Claude got to his feet. “Obviously a vampire,” he said. For a split second I thought he had spoken in my head, but then Zerbrowski turned to look at him and blinked in amazement.

“Look,” I started, hiking up my defenses. “This is his property. This is his territory. He has every right to be here as the master of this city.”

Zerbrowski was clearly struggling not to explode all over me. “All I can say is, you’re lucky Dolph isn’t here. He’d bust your butt all the way down to meter maid for pulling something like this.”

“Excuse me,” I spat back, “last I heard, I was a Federal Marshal, not a St. Louis cop.”

“Don’t blame, Anita,” Jean-Claude intervened smoothly, his voice pouring out of him like audible velvet. “I felt the circumstances surrounding this crime justified my attention and more or less coerced her into involving me. I saw it as a direct challenge to my authority. As heinous a crime as this is, it would not affect the city and its inhabitants in the manner in which a supernatural power struggle would. If that were the case, such a challenge would demand an immediate retaliation.”

I watched the tension easing itself out of Zerbrowski’s shoulders and for the first time tonight, felt grateful for Jean-Claude’s powers.

“You don’t think that’s the case now?” Zerbrowski asked him.

Jean-Claude shook his head. “I do not think so. Up front, it merely appears to be what Anita has described. A suicide. One that mutually benefited both parties involved, depending on how you want to look at it. The sad young lady was eased into death by vampiric powers, and the vampire who killed her was rewarded with a feast of sex and blood. This was not a murder, per se.”

I frowned. “Last I heard assisted suicide was murder.”

Detective Perry held out his hand. “I’ll send the note to our forensics lab for a handwriting analysis,” he offered. “Let’s rule out one thing at a time.”

Zerbrowski handed Perry the note. I handed him the envelope.

“Did anybody see anything or hear anything?” I asked no one in particular. No one spoke up. Naturally. I turned to Jean-Claude.

“Any part of this ringing any bells?”

He lowered his eyes briefly, and then fixed them on mine with a piercing stare. “A small one, but it is too soon to be sure. There’s power all over her. I can smell it and feel it.”

“You don’t seem concerned.”

He shrugged gracefully. “One can never be too cautious, ma petite. I simply do not want to read more into this than necessary. At this point, I see no evidence, as it were, of a challenge. This would appear to be a simple human tragedy.”

From the sound of his voice, I could tell he wasn’t the least bit interested in what had happened here anymore. This didn’t concern him, so he was dismissing it. It pissed me off.

“Has anyone gotten ahold of her parents yet?” I called, purposefully turning my back to Jean-Claude. I tried not to think about what I’d have to do later at the morgue tonight. I was sure her mother wouldn’t want her daughter to turn into a vampire in three days. To most people, dead and buried was better than dead and still walking around.

“I’ve got two uniforms heading there now,” Clive Perry said quietly. “Her name was Cynthia Morris. She was fifteen and she lived at 222 Selica Lane. We found her purse at the service entrance to the club.”

I swallowed the lump growing in my throat. Clearly little Cynthia Morris had come here trolling for vampires. “Maybe someone inside the club had seen her or spoken to her. Has anyone talked to the employees? She must have had to approach a number of vamps before hitting the proverbial jackpot.”

“I’ve got some statements,” Zerbrowski added. “No one admitted they saw her. Of course.”

I knew from experience, supernaturals rarely volunteered to get involved in police business. They’d only admit to knowing anything if they were forced to. Immediately, I thought of Damian. I turned around to speak to Jean-Claude, but he was gone. I skimmed the bodies mulling around me, but he wasn’t among them. I couldn’t even feel him and wondered if he was shielding from me. Maybe he knew I was pissed by his rather cavalier attitude to this human tragedy.

“Let me see what I can do,” I mumbled under my breath. I knew if I asked Damian outright, he’d have to tell me. I was his master.

I pushed my way back through the officers and detectives preparing to carry on with their own forensic investigation now that the preternatural expert was through. I was happy to have an excuse to get away. Seeing a fifteen year-old girl with her skirt hiked up to her waist and her pink butterfly-patterned panties twisted around her bobby-socked ankles just did something to me.

Zerbrowski caught up to me. “You think they’ll talk to you?”

“They always have before,” I shot back. Before, the vampires talked to me because they knew I was the Executioner. Now they tended to talk to me because I was banging the master of the city. I was his human servant, chosen for my own powers of necromancing to play the role of Jean-Claude’s boogie-man with any misbehaving vamps. Damn him. Yeah, it had its advantages and a time like this was one of them, but I sorely did not like being used. By him, or anyone.






CHAPTER THREE~ The Death Fantasy



It was as if Damian had been waiting for me, knowing I would come to him as soon as he sensed me close by. He looped his arm through mine and steered me towards the back of the room, up the stairs into Jean-Claude’s office. I lost Zerbrowski a while back and wondered if he’d conclude where we’d had gone. I half expected him to pop through the door in a huff, but to my surprise, it was Jean-Claude who came in after us. Not in a huff, but clearly in some other kind of mood.

“Where’d you run off to?” I said, still a little miffed. Damian’s arm through mine was making it hard to display what I should have been feeling. “Checking up on tonight’s bar tallies?”

Jean-Claude closed the door behind him and turned to face me. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking from his expression, but he crossed his arms over his chest as if he were cold. Something he didn’t do unless something was bothering him.

“One of my employees saw him,” he announced tonelessly.

I blinked up at him, pulling away from Damian. “What are you talking about? Who saw him?”

“I did,” Damian admitted, claiming my attention once more.

“Fuck,” I muttered, struggling to keep my temper under control. “Why didn’t you tell the police?”

Damian opened his mouth to speak, but Jean-Claude spoke up instead.

“As it stands, this is not a matter for your police force.” His voice held enough of an edge to give me chills.

I stared back at him with an incredulous expression. “How dare you decide that? There’s a dead girl back there, Jean-Claude. She deserves more consideration than what you’re willing to give her.” I shoved my hands on my hips. “I could have you both arrested for obstructing justice!”

Jean-Claude raised one elegant hand as if to stay my protests. “Let me rephrase that,” he murmured, stepping closer to me. “I would prefer we not involve the police just yet. Not until I can be sure.”

That was some rephrasing. I shook my head in disbelief. “Put it anyway you want,” I grumbled back. “It still smacks of cover-up.” I faced Damian. This was wrong. As much as I cared for both of them, I wasn’t about to hide evidence--hell, eyewitness accounts--from the police, on their whims.

Damian would talk to me because he had to. I’d learn everything from him and be able to tell Zerbrowski without having it look like he was keeping anything from him.

“Ma petite, if you would hear me out,” Jean-Claude said softly, leaning over my shoulder a little as if to whisper in my ear.

I shrugged away from him and gestured for Damian to sit down. My vampire sighed heavily and lowered his eyes.

“Anita, you don’t have to do this,” he began. “I’ll tell you everything you want to know. Just don’t do anything rash.”

For the first time, I felt a twinge of newborn concern. I looked from Damian to Jean-Claude and then back at Damian again. I watched them turn and look at each other. Something was up with those two.

I was going to command Damian to tell me what he saw, but ended up asking him why Jean-Claude wanted this kept under wraps. I heard Jean-Claude sighing as if in exasperation behind me.

“Like he said, he wants to be sure,” my vampire explained rather elusively.

I wheeled around and pinned Jean-Claude with an accusatory stare. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! You know more about this than you‘re letting me in on.”

Jean-Claude opened his mouth to speak, but I turned back around to face Damian again. “All right. I want to know what you saw.” I could feel more than hear or see Jean-Claude move away from me. Maybe he was retreating. He had to have known I wasn’t about to cave regarding this.

Damian frowned mightily. He reached up and dragged his hand through his scarlet-colored hair to push it off his face before speaking again.

“I had taken a woman outside. We went there to be alone….” His voice drifted off momentarily and his bright green eyes flickered with uncertainty.

“To feed?” I guessed.

Damian narrowed those green eyes at me now. “Yes. I hadn’t fed yet. It was getting late and I was starting to feel it. She offered. I accepted.”

I sighed and waved him on. “So you were in the alley with some woman, and then what?”

My vampire servant shook his head. “We don’t feed on club property,” he announced. “It isn’t allowed.” He glanced up at Jean-Claude as if seeking confirmation of this fact.

I leaned towards him. “Where were you then? You said you saw this guy.”

“I passed him on my way out. I knew he wasn’t an employee, so at the time I didn’t think anything of what he was doing out there.”

“The girl he had with him…she wasn’t crying or screaming or anything?” This didn’t sound right. Apparently, Damian had walked right by.

There was something in Damian’s eyes now that reminded me of a small child about to confess misbehavior he knew he’d be punished for.

“Before you jump to any conclusions,” he began, confirming my suspicions. “Let me just explain something to you. Something you might not be aware of, but something that takes place just about every night at the clubs.”

I looked over at Jean-Claude curiously. He was very quiet all of a sudden as if trying to make me forget he was even in the room. “Is this something you’re aware of?” I questioned him.

He nodded without hesitation. “The practice is…discouraged…among all in my employ,” he professed. “However, on their private time, such conduct is nearly impossible to regulate.”

I closed my eyes for a momentary reprieve. In a way, it was good to know such things as a preternatural expert for the R.P.I.T. benefit aspect, but personally, I still clung to the old adage that ignorance was bliss.

Turning my attention back to Damian, I crossed my arms over my chest and braced myself for whatever “practice” he was about to inform me of.

He leaned forward slightly. “It’s called The Death Fantasy. It’s a psuedo-sexual andrenaline rush for some people, especially the Goths and the vampire junkies. They act out their fantasy of being taken and killed by a vampire.”

“Act out? You mean, like sexual role-playing?” I asked, admittedly never having heard of such a thing.

“Everything is taken to the extreme,” Jean-Claude put in. “Arrangements are made beforehand. Sometimes money changes hands. In the end, the vampire is called upon to ambush his or her prey, take them away to some seedy, dark place. Normally, they have sex to simulate a rape, then usually, the vampire takes their mind, marks them, feeds from them, and then releases them.” Here he paused as if to let me digest this bit of information before feeding me more. “Nikolaos frequently called upon me to perform this…duty in exchange for some exorbitant fee she was given. It was a game for the very rich.”

My head felt like it was about to burst. I could feel my nails digging into the soft flesh of my arms. This was too incredible. I started shaking my head in protest; squelching anything else Jean-Claude cared to add.

“This is why you don’t want to involve the police? “ I nearly sputtered with fury. “You’ve got to be kidding! You are not going to tell me, that what happened out there tonight was a game gone wrong, are you? She was a kid! I don’t care if she was a Goth chick or not. She wouldn’t have been able to afford what you’re describing!”

I was so outraged by the thought of this, I felt like spinning around the room like a tornado, but then Jean-Claude merely walked over to his desk and propped his left hip against it, looking far too nonchalant. Obviously, I must have misunderstood him.

“I said it was a game for the rich, ma petite,” he clarified. “Was. Now, anybody can act out a death fantasy provided they find a willing vampire.”

Taking a deep, steadying breath, I angled myself to face him better. “If this practice is forbidden, what does the vampire get out of it by doing a fifteen year-old Goth girl?”

Jean-Claude and Damian exchanged looks that said the answer should have been obvious.

“Blood,” they sang out simultaneously, nearly startling me.

I sighed. Of course. Blood. They were right; the answer should have been obvious to me. I turned to Damian.

“So, what are you trying to tell me exactly?”

He blinked once, and then wet his lips with the tip of his tongue. “I heard her crying. I heard her scream. I saw him strike her. I thought it was just a death fantasy so I didn’t intervene. Normally, if a vampire is going to murder someone, he won‘t do it twenty feet from the back doors of a bustling nightclub.” He frowned, lowering his eyes from mine. “I swear, on the blade of my sword, Anita, that if I had realized he was actually about to kill her, I would have stopped him.”

Feeling suddenly deflated, I slumped against the desk beside Jean-Claude. “Oh Damian. Damn you. You could have saved her,” I muttered. I turned my face away from him. I couldn’t even look at him right now.

Jean-Claude put his arm around my shoulders, I suppose in a comforting gesture. It wasn’t as comforting as it should have been. He must have felt me tense at his touch because a moment later he let his arm fall back to his side.

“What’s done is done, ma petite,” he proclaimed with the slightest chill in his voice. “All we can do now is hunt this vampire down and carry out his sentence of execution for taking an innocent life.”

For a minute, I thought he was mocking me, but looking in his eyes, I could tell he was being completely earnest.

Damian cleared his throat, drawing my attention back to him. “Jean-Claude told me about a suicide note the girl was carrying. I think the suicide note was just part of the game.”

I nodded. “It is currently the general consensus, that Cynthia Morris committed suicide using a vampire.”

Jean-Claude suddenly pushed himself away from the desk and paced a small circle in the middle of the room. Was it me, or had his level of agitation just shot up a few notches?

“You were right before, ma petite,” he began. “Be it suicide or murder, the result remains the same. The method is irrelevant. He has forfeited his right to my protection. He must be executed.”

“Well…” I mumbled, getting the distinct impression from Jean-Claude‘s peculiar manner, that there was something about all this he wasn‘t telling me. “I agree. All that matters now is that a human has died at the hands of a vampire. Since this doesn’t appear to be a territorial challenge or anything more than a little passion gone out of control, I say we turn the description of this vamp over to the police and let me and the police deal with him accordingly.” I nudged Damian’s boot with the toe of my shoe. “I don’t suppose you got a good look at him, did you? A physical description would help.”

Damian nodded, but turned rather apologetic eyes to Jean-Claude before speaking. “Yes, I got a good look at him. What really made me notice him was that I heard him speak French. Just a word here and there, like Jean-Claude and Asher do. He was tall, over six feet, with short brown hair, a square jaw, and a very masculine face that was typically European-looking. I could tell from the shirt he was wearing that he’s built, like a trained fighter--like a soldier or someone who keeps physically fit just doing everyday things.”

I glanced over at Jean-Claude. “French? European? And you have no idea who this vampire might be?”

Jean-Claude offered me a long-suffering sigh. “Fortunately or unfortunately, I believe I do. Damian‘s description certainly narrowed down the field of choices.”

My jaw must have dropped to my knees at that. My body went so rigid I slid off the desk. “Damn it, Jean-Claude! Why didn’t you say something before?”

“Before I deliver one of my vampires into the hands of the authorities, I want to be sure I have the correct one, ma petite,” he began evenly. “The suicide note first raised my suspicions. The aroma of fear still enveloping the girl belied the fact she had genuinely wanted this to happen to her. I suspect what appeared to be an arranged Death Fantasy was in fact, a plot to murder.”

“So, you agree with Damian?” I asked, trying to keep up. “The suicide note was a lark?”

Jean-Claude nodded. “There is a vampire I have recently granted asylum to whose signature Death Fantasy forces his victims to write their own suicide notes. He takes the fantasies that much further having them believe they actually want to die. His name is Aristide.”

I was starting to feel sick. “You knew he did this, yet you granted him asylum here?”

Jean-Claude blinked slowly at me and shrugged one shoulder gracefully. “There is a great difference in performing a Death Fantasy and committing murder, ma petite. This is the first instance I know of in which Aristide has actually taken the life of his companion.”

“Are you giving him the benefit of a doubt, then?” I asked flatly. “Is this why you don’t want the police involved in his capture?”

“Not exactly,” Jean-Claude replied. “It is not that I lack faith in your justice system, but if I turn his description over to the police and they slap an execution order on him without any sort of public hearing, there will be no way to determine whether he truly was the perpetrator or not. You said it yourself, ma petite. I granted him asylum in my territory and therefore I am responsible, whether directly or indirectly for his actions. I lay down my law, and a vampire sworn to me can choose to obey or suffer the consequences. If Aristide is the one who has broken my law, I would prefer to see personally to his execution.”

I caught a glimpse of a memory just then. Jean-Claude was leaning towards another man as if to kiss him. Going by the physical description Damian had given me, the other man was most likely Aristide. I saw Jean-Claude reach up to touch his face, watched Aristide close his eyes and part his lips. I could almost feel the sweet sensation of that kiss just before Jean-Claude’s shields slammed into place. I peered over at him. Not surprisingly, he was peering not-too-happily back at me.

Sighing, I lowered my eyes and studied the pattern of the carpet beneath my feet. “Somehow, I’ve just gotten the impression this is not going to be as easy for you to do as you make it sound,” I told Jean-Claude.

“I have no feelings for him, if that is what you are implying,” Jean-Claude answered rather curtly.

I looked over at Damian and cleared my throat. “Um, could you excuse us? I’ll talk to you later when I get home, all right?”

Rising to his feet, Damian readily nodded. His eyes swept from mine to Jean-Claude’s before turning to glide out the door. He closed it carefully behind him, leaving Jean-Claude and I alone in the office.

“How long ago was that?” I asked outright, knowing Jean-Claude was aware of what I was referring to.

“Long enough,” he said tonelessly.

I softened my voice, sensing his reluctance to talk about it. “Were you two lovers?”

“He befriended me. I owe him that much. We kept each other company from time to time, but there were no whispered endearments exchanged between us. No promises. No expectations.” He stared back at me now with the most unreadable expression. It was as if he had slipped some porcelain mask over his face without me seeing. “Aristide was a prostitute, ma petite.”

Oh. I was beginning to get the picture. Not knowing what else to say, I turned away from him and sat down in the chair Damian had recently vacated to think.

Maybe Aristide still was a prostitute. Adult magazines were full of ads for vampire lovers. Now, it wouldn’t surprise me to find something about acting out The Death Fantasy in a few of them. I could always send Cherry and Nathaniel out to buy up the current magazines and papers. Ten to one, Aristide would be advertising in some.

I looked up at Jean-Claude and wondered what he was thinking. He wasn’t facing me anymore, but I could see he had a strange, vacant look in his eyes.

“Do you think he meant to kill Cynthia Morris?” I asked loudly, hoping to shake him out of whatever memory he was lost in.

He frowned slightly, but still did not look at me. “Ma petite, I truly do not know. But…does it matter anyway? His fate is sealed.”









I left Danse Macabre feeling bone tired. All that was left of the crime scene in the alley behind the club was the white chalk outline of Cynthia Morris’ body and fluttering fragments of yellow police tape that some on-looker had already snapped. Apparently, all the forensics had been collected and all the evidence catalogued. There was nothing left to do but return home and think things over until I got the call to go to the morgue.

Once home, I stumbled into the kitchen and poured myself an orange juice, not in the mood for coffee. I hadn’t bothered with the lights since there was enough moonlight streaming through the windows to suit my purposes.

The call came as expected. I set my empty glass on the counter and snatched the phone up, hoping it didn’t wake anyone who happened to be sleeping in the middle of the night like normal people do.

According to the officer on the other end of the line, I wouldn’t have to pick up the order for termination for Cynthia Morris at the courthouse. It would be waiting for me to sign at the morgue. Apparently the government could be prompt and efficient when they put their bureaucratic minds to it.

I got it in my head that I wanted to change clothes before I went out to do this. I was still dressed for my date earlier this evening and somehow, what I was presently wearing didn’t seem appropriate for skipping down to the city morgue.

I went into the one unoccupied spare rooms and rifled through the contents of those dresser drawers. I found a red polo and a pair of old jeans and pulled them on.

Movement to my left drew my attention to the entryway towards the hall. There was the slight sound of rustling silk, and I knew at once it was Damian. He had probably just gotten home himself and hadn’t yet shed his costume from work.

As if to confirm the fact, my vampire servant glided into the spare bedroom still donning his suede thigh high boots and green frock coat.

“Going somewhere?” he asked without bothering to greet me. He gestured at my jeans.

I nodded. “To the morgue. Cynthia Morris’ parents want me to finish the job Aristide started.”

For the longest time, Damian stared back at me with an unblinking gaze. His body was rigid and motionless as if someone had cut off the switch that animated him. Then, slowly, as if waking from a daydream, he lowered his eyes and turned his head.

“You’re going to make sure she doesn’t wake up, is that it?”

I sighed, feeling the weight of my responsibilities grow heavier with each passing second. “It’s a precaution. It’s what her parents want. She was only fifteen, Damian. Even if she wanted this and committed suicide the way we suspect, at that age, you’re not considered an adult. Her parents get the final say.”

Damian’s shoulders slumped as he raised his head to look at me again. “Do they realize in three days, they could have her back? She wouldn’t be the same, obviously, but wouldn’t that be better than not having her at all?”

“No,” I said and shook my head. “This way they can have some sort of closure. They can bury their daughter and try to find comfort in their belief that in a way, she does live on. She’ll be in a better place, and that one day, when they pass on, they will be with her again.”

“You mean her soul?”

I nodded slowly. “Yes.” Reaching up, I passed my hand over Damian’s hair and touched his face. There were just some things I had trouble explaining to vampires considering who and what they were. But strangely enough, Damian seemed to grasp my meaning. I’m certain it had to do with who and what he was.

He reached up and covered my hand with his and turned his head to kiss my palm. “Looking back now, if given a choice, I would have rather died and be put in the ground, free from thought with no more pain, no more fear. I never wanted this. Believe it or not, I thought about dying many times.” Damian paused and fixed his eyes on mine, drawing me closer to him and lowering his voice. “Even now. I see my wretched existence then, and my pointless, wasted existence now, and wish I could find some way to be rid of it all.”

Listening to him, I felt my throat tighten with welling emotions. I couldn’t believe Damian was talking like this. I’d never, in all the time I’d known him, realized he thought this way.

“Damian, you’re scaring me,” I whispered, leaning into him and putting my arms around his waist. “How can you believe a thousand years of the knowledge you’ve gained and history you’ve lived are a waste? You’re a true survivor, Damian. After everything you’ve suffered and everything you’ve endured; after fighting everyday to survive, you can’t possibly want to give up and die now.”

Damian smiled slightly and pressed a soft kiss on my brow. “I’m sorry, Anita. I didn’t mean to scare you; I just get a little melancholy sometimes. You’ve no need to worry, really. I’m not about to do myself in. Strangely enough, even in death, we vampires are driven by the mortal instinct to survive at all costs. Even when we don’t really want to.” He slipped his hand beneath my chin and raised my face to his. I felt his breath on my cheek as he turned his head. His lovely eyes took on a smoky, seductive gleam and his voice deepened with sensuality. “Besides, hearing the sorrow in your voice just now did my heart a world of good.”

He bent down and kissed me, but not the way I sensed he truly wanted to. I barely felt the pressure of his silky lips on mine when the feeling was gone and all that remained was a slight, lingering coolness. I closed my eyes to savor the sensation when he spoke again.

“I want to come with you,” he said quietly. “Just let me get out of this and we’ll be off.”

I started to nod my consent, then my eyes flew open. “What? You mean come with me to the morgue?” Admittedly, my mind had been on other things, and for a moment, Damian’s double entendres had kept it there.

He nodded, not understanding at first, why his meaning wasn‘t obvious to me. “Yes, the morgue.” Then it hit him and I knew I had given myself away when he flashed a rather knowing, devilish smile at me.

I cleared my throat tactfully. “Why do you want to go with me to the morgue? I told you what I needed to do there. You really want to see that?”

Damian knit his brow thoughtfully. “Not especially, but you shouldn’t go there alone.”

“Why not?” I shot back, feeling indignant all of a sudden. “This is going to be hard enough. Having a vampire tag along on this particular job is not going to make it any easier on me.”

Damian leaned forward, looking slightly exasperated now. “Let’s just say it would make it easier on me.” He turned in a swirl of coat and seemed to float across the room to the doorway.

I put my hands on my hips, shaking my head for all it was worth. “How so?”

Damian paused. “Anita, just humor me, all right?” He frowned at me, clearly seeing I wasn’t about to leave well enough alone. Taking a deep breath, he tried to explain. “Look. Every vampire in this city and the surrounding territory knows who you are. Aristide’s killed once, what’s to stop him from killing again? Especially the one human who could truly stop him. I don’t think it would be wise on your part to go traipsing around the city unaccompanied until we know what’s really going on.”

“Jean-Claude put you up to this, didn’t he?”

“I’m your servant. I’m supposed to look out for you.”

Now I was getting angry. “All of a sudden, he doesn’t think I can take care of myself staking a corpse? What kind of bullshit is this?”

“Anita please--”

“What are you two arguing about this time?” Nathaniel mumbled, slinking into the room, while rubbing his eyes like a grumpy, sleepy child. “It’s three o’clock in the morning. Some of us have real jobs, you know.”

Damian turned to face the wereleopard, looking pleased at the distraction. “I’m going with Anita to the morgue. Do you want to come along?”

Strangely, Nathaniel’s expression brightened and all traces of his previous fatigue vanished. “Yeah, I’ll come. Let me get some clothes on.”

“No. No. And no. This isn’t a day trip to the museum. I’m not taking you two with me.”

“I’ll drive you,” Nathaniel offered. “You know my night vision is better than yours.”

“Good idea, Nathaniel,” Damian chimed in. “Anita’s had a rough night. I’m sure she’s very tired and would rather have you drive out there.” He faced me and lowered his voice. “You can sleep on my shoulder on the way home now.”

I sighed, feeling outnumbered and admittedly too tired to argue about it anymore. “All right. I’m giving you both five minutes to get dressed. If you’re not out by the jeep in five minutes, I’m leaving without you.”

My vampire and my pomme de sang exchanged looks of triumph. Each left the spare bedroom and disappeared down the hall to their rooms to change clothes. I spent the allotted five minutes gathering up my vampire kit and checking over the contents to make sure I’d have everything I would need.

I slung the bag over my shoulder and headed out the door while searching my jeans pockets for my car keys. I was loading up the back of the jeep when Nathaniel showed up, followed closely by Damian. They both climbed in without saying a word; Nathaniel in the driver’s seat and Damian in the back. I got into the front passenger side and fastened my seat belt.

Nathaniel stifled a yawn and turned to look at me as he started the jeep. “You brought your vampire kit,” he needlessly pointed out. “Are we going to the morgue to do what I think we’re going to do?”

I nodded. “Probably.”

Nathaniel glanced back at Damian curiously. “And you want to be in on this?”

Damian settled himself in the back seat and turned to look out the window. “Why is everyone so concerned about my feelings in this? It’s not as if I knew the girl. She isn’t even a full-fledged vampire yet. Right now, she’s just dead and we want to keep her that way, am I correct?” He shifted in his seat slightly and looked me squarely in the eyes. “Trust me; I’ve no love for my fellow creatures of the night. God knows I’ve certainly killed my fair share of them.”

“Okay then,” I said, trying to make my voice sound chipper and failing miserably. I faced forward and crossed my arms over my stomach. “We’re off.”









At this time of night, no one was at the city morgue except for the night guard. He appeared to be nothing more than a college student surrounded by calculus textbooks. He buzzed me in without even asking for my I.D. and didn’t bother questioning the fact I had two unauthorized men with me. I signed the death warrant and all the other necessary paperwork; then handed them back to the boy in a tidy little pile. Then I was pointed--unnecessarily I might add, down the main hall and told to go into autopsy room three. The body I was seeking would be there.

Nathaniel, apparently wanting to feel useful, was carrying my vampire kit. Damian took to holding my hand once we headed down the hall, but I wasn’t sure if it was for my benefit or his.

I had been to this building enough times to know my way around it. I went right to the autopsy room and flipped the light switch to the left of the door.

Immediately, the florescent lights covering the ceiling blazed into life and filled the room with an almost obnoxious brightness but as usual, it was the smells that really got me. The air was genuinely heavy and hard to breath here, but it wasn’t from what most people would think. It was more of an industrial chemical smell--like undiluted bleach and some powerful hospital-type disinfectant. I noticed Nathaniel made a face and wondered if the smell of dead bodies would have been more appealing to him. I smiled and motioned for him to set the bag down on the stainless steel table close to where he stood.

With the lights on, there was no missing Cynthia Morris’ nude body. It was partially covered with a white sheet, lying face up on the slab just four feet in front of me. I started fishing through my kit, looking for the hypodermics of silver nitrate I preferred to use in these cases.

Shooting a prospective vampire full of silver nitrate was a lot less messy than staking the heart and removing the head. Strangely enough, it was my pal Edward who had first introduced me to it as a method for killing sleeping vamps. Ironic really, considering its relative humane-ness. Edward had been known to use flame-throwers on vampires.

I turned around, brandishing the lethal hypodermic, and saw that Damian was poised over Cynthia Morris’ body. He stroked her wet hair and whispered “I’m sorry,” over and over in her ear.

“You couldn’t have known,” I stated, clearing my throat. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Damian straightened and frowned fiercely at me. “Am I so far gone, I can walk past a vampire brutalizing a young girl and not think twice about it?”

Nathaniel drew in a sharp, audible breath at that and looked at me with concern flooding his eyes. “Oh god, is that what happened to her?”

I tried to ignore him for the time being and focused on reassuring Damian, who looked about as miserable now as I had ever seen him. I knew then what he had said before in the jeep was nothing but a show of bravado. He did care. Perhaps more than he wanted to. Certainly more than he liked to admit.

“Listen to me, Damian,” I began softly. “Just the fact that you’re disturbed by what happened tells me you’re a long way from being gone.”

Damian nodded at me, but he didn’t look wholly convinced. Shit. There was nothing left to do now but administer the silver nitrate and go home. It was getting late anyway.

I stepped forward and seized Cynthia Morris’ arm. I lowered the needle to her vein, but Damian came to me and unexpectedly put his hand on mine.

“Not like this,” he whispered.

I was about to explain that what I was doing was actually the most humane method of terminating a vampire that I had, when he went around the table, and gathered the pale corpse into his arms. He lay Cynthia Morris’ head against his chest and placed his hand on her cheek to hold it there. I watched as he then wrapped his other arm around her upper body and hugged the lifeless form to him. Now I understood.

Nathaniel moved to stand beside Damian and put his hand on his shoulder encouragingly. I swallowed down my rising emotions and once more took hold of Cynthia Morris’ arm. I plunged the needle in deep and pushed the entire contents of the hypodermic into her vein. It was enough to keep her dead.

I could almost feel the vampire’s magic fade from her even though I wasn’t particularly aware of its presence before. Damian definitely sensed it and Nathaniel shook himself as if it gave him chills.

“She‘s truly gone now,” Damian said quietly and kissed the top of the corpse’s head. He eased the body down on the slab and drew the white sheet up over her face.

I busied myself disposing of the hypodermic into the biohazard can. “Well, it’s over. Let’s get the hell out of here and go home. It’s getting late.”

Nathaniel cleared his throat. “I’m ready.”

Gathering up my kit, I turned to see Damian gesturing at me, but addressing Nathaniel. “Look after her today,” he said. “Promise me you won’t let her go out alone.”

“I promise,” Nathaniel readily agreed.

“If you can’t accompany her, get Micah, or Cherry, or Richard even. Jean-Claude wants someone with her at all times.”

I opened my mouth to protest but knew from the look in Nathaniel’s eyes that he was already taking this new responsibility to heart. That was just like him. No questions asked. Just simple, stalwart obedience. He seemed to sense my disapproval and came over to me eagerly.

“Don’t worry,” he told me, slinging his arm around my shoulders and taking the vampire kit from my hand. “Remember how we all looked after you in Tennessee? It wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Damn Jean-Claude. Had he secretly threatened Damian or something? I knew he had threatened all the “bodyguards” who accompanied me to Tennessee with a death penalty should anything befall me there. Damian had said he just wanted someone to keep an eye on me now, but the fact that Damian wasn’t playing it down with Nathaniel told me Jean-Claude probably conveyed a little more concern for me than necessary. Well, I had thought that in Tennessee as well, but I had to admit, I was more than grateful to have my “bodyguards” with me there considering the trouble I got myself into.

“No. I suppose not,” I confessed.

Nathaniel smiled. “It’ll be better this time too. At least this time, I know how to shoot.”






CHAPTER SIX~ Sorting It Out



I took Damian up on his offer to let me sleep on his shoulder on the way home. I was so tired I must have dozed off shortly after we left the morgue and didn’t wake up until we pulled into the driveway in front of the house.

Damian was in a flirty, clingy mood now and offered to carry me to my bed, but that offer I declined. Still, he put his arm around me as we walked to the door, and bumped his hips purposefully against me a couple of times. He’d told Nathaniel that I had had a rough night, but his hadn’t been exactly good either. He clearly wanted some physical reassurance from me. I had heard once that funerals tended to make people hump like bunnies afterwards. Something about celebrating life in the wake of death. I didn‘t understand that but then I wasn’t much of a philosophy buff.

I could understand why Damian was feeling the need all of a sudden, but I wasn‘t about to oblige him. Actually, if I wasn’t so drained now--no pun intended, I think I would have spent a little time with him before sunrise, maybe just cuddling and kissing for awhile, but as it was, I could hardly keep my eyes open.

Nathaniel was too keyed up to go back to bed now and chose to busy himself in the kitchen with last night‘s dishes. I went straight into the bedroom and found Micah there, curled up around the comforter as if his subconscious mind had told him he normally slept next to something.

Smiling to myself, I pulled the blankets away from him and wiggled my body up against him as a replacement. Like a cat, he rubbed his head against my hair and nuzzled my neck while molding his warm body around me. I snuggled closer to him and would have purred with contentment if possible. I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.


This time, instead of Jason coming into the bedroom with the phone, it was Nathaniel. And instead of Jean-Claude it was Micah, but everything else was unfortunately the same.

The call was from the St. Louis police department. Apparently an early morning jogger had discovered a body along the Riverfront. RPIT was being notified as it appeared to be death by vampire. It also appeared to have the same MO as the Cynthia Morris case earlier. Could I come have a look? Sure. I’d love to.

Pulling on my jeans from last night, Micah watched me from the bed propped up on his elbow. I tried not to think of how enticing a picture he struck and how I’d much rather be taking these clothes off again to join him under the sheets.

“Are you coming back here?”

“What today?” I asked, bending down to tie my shoes. “I hope so. But I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover before I meet up with Jean-Claude again tonight.”

Micah raised his brow. “Anything I can do?”

I raised my brow, wondering if he was genuinely offering to help me, or if he was merely being polite. I cleared my throat.

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

Micah sat up a little straighter. “Great. Fill me in.”

I stepped towards him, trying to find a tactful way to ask what I had in mind for him. “Have you ever heard of a Death Fantasy?”

My Nimir-Raj turned his head slightly. “No, but I’m thinking it’s something I’m about to be made aware of.”

I spent the next few minutes trying to explain the Death Fantasy to him the way Jean-Claude had explained it to me but I know I wasn’t coming across as objectively as he did. Maybe because I couldn’t for the life of me fathom its appeal.

“Anyway, the vampire that Jean-Claude believes committed the murder last night is known for his Death Fantasy performances involving faked suicides.” I took a deep breath. “I’m going to have Nathaniel and Cherry check out the ads in as many adult magazines as they can and keep an eye out for anyone offering to do the Death Fantasy.”

“You think he’s advertising to pretend to kill people, and then genuinely kill them?”

I nodded. “But why, is what I want to know. There just is no real motive here. Maybe if I could figure out a reason why this vampire did this, I could pin him down easier. “

“Serial killers normally don’t have conventional motives, “Micah pointed out.

My stomach did a little flip just then. I looked back at Micah and chewed on my lower lip thoughtfully. “What made you say he was a serial killer? We don’t know if this new body has the same MO. “

Micah shrugged slightly. “Just sounded plausible. Maybe you’re looking for a motive that isn’t there. “

Screwing up my face in distaste, I shook my head. “God, I hope not.”

Frowning, Micah slid to the edge of the bed and stood up, reaching for his pants as he did. “You wouldn’t happen to have a name would you?”

“Aristide,” I told him. “But don’t go by that. He probably uses an alias in his…profession.”

Micah pulled on his pants and zipped them up. “You’re probably right there.” He walked with me down the hall to the kitchen.

“I need you to do some basic legwork for me,” I said, glancing over at him. “See if you can find out what somebody has to do to hook-up on the streets with a vampire for a Death Fantasy. Just in case they don‘t advertise.”

“Death Fantasy?” Nathaniel echoed as Micah and I entered the kitchen. He was right where I had left him last night: at the sink doing more dishes.

I went straight for the coffeemaker and Micah picked up the newspaper in an off-simulation of normal domesticity.

“Have you heard of that before?” I asked Nathaniel and then internally kicked myself. Of course he’d know about such things. He was a prostitute himself at one time.

Nathaniel nodded and dried his wet hands on a towel. He leaned his hips casually against the sink and faced me. “It’s like the vampire equivilent to the shapeshifters’ Murder Play.”

Luckily I hadn’t taken too big a gulp of my coffee because I nearly choked on it. “Are you serious? Someone pays shapeshifters to let them pretend to kill them in order to get off?”

Again, I could have kicked myself. After all, I had met Nathaniel in a hospital. He’d been gutted by one of his “johns“. Apparently, if you got the itch to viciously kill someone, now you could do it without suffering the consequences of life imprisonment. You couldn’t rip out the intestines of human beings because they might actually die, but you could do it to a shapeshifter and not even raise a legal eyebrow. And people call them the monsters.

The slightest hint of a smile twitched at the corners of Nathaniel’s mouth as if knowing exactly what I was thinking. He leaned towards me and lowered his voice somewhat. “People get off on all kinds of things.”

Turning away from him, I shook my head. “Yeah, well, people are strange.” I poured some more coffee into my cup, topping it off to keep it hot.

“Everyone has their dark side, Anita.” This from Micah.

He was peering at me from over the top of the newspaper. I opened my mouth to speak, but he continued. “All this role-playing is better than actually going out and killing someone, am I right?”

I reluctantly agreed. “I’m not disputing that.”

Apparently satisfied with my concession, Micah returned his eyes to the paper and cleared his throat. “There must be a hundred ads in here for…escorts,” he said. “Most don’t go into detail about the services they offer, but some have code words I’m just not privy to.” He laid the paper flat on the table and gestured at one of the advertisements. “Red martinis and golden showers?”

As if taking his cue, Nathaniel drifted over to the table and peered down at the paper. “Oh, that’s…” He hesitated and glanced up at me, then lowered his voice. “I’ll tell you later.”

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t mind me, I was just leaving anyway,” I announced and set my empty cup on the countertop. I walked over to the table and faced Nathaniel. “That reminds me. I need you to do a little favor for me. Get Cherry to help you.”

Nathaniel raised his brow, clearly intrigued. “Sure. What do you need?”

I waved at the paper. “I need you to go check out as many porno mags as you can. Look through the advertisements and see if you can find ones that specify doing Death Fantasies. Buy those and we‘ll start calling the numbers to see if we can connect with a vampire named Aristide.”

Nathaniel nodded. “Aristide?”

There was something about the way Nathaniel’s expression tightened just then that gave me the impression the name struck a chord with him.

“Do you know him?”

Nathaniel fixed his eyes on me and crossed his arms over his chest. “Not personally,” he explained, but I’ve heard that name before recently. I can’t remember where though.”

I pointed a finger at him. “If it comes to you, let me know.”

He nodded.

“All right,” I said finally. “I’ve got to go. I’ll catch up with you guys later.”

Nathaniel opened his mouth to say something, but someone rang the front door bell, interrupting him. He sighed looking strangely relieved and turned to answer the door.

I leaned over and dropped a quick kiss on Micah’s mouth and patted his arm. “Have fun.”

He chuckled. “You too.”

I walked into the living room to get my car keys and was surprised to see Jason talking to Nathaniel in hushed tones. They stopped talking completely when I walked up to them.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, eyeing Jason suspiciously.

He laughed a little self-consciously. “Hi Anita.”

I smiled indulgently. “Bye Jason. I was just leaving.”

The young blonde werewolf glanced briefly at Nathaniel before responding. “Mind if I come along and keep you company on your errands today?” he said too cheerfully.

I shook my head. “No thanks. Don’t need you. Don’t want you.”

Jason laughed. “Careful. You’ll dent my armor.”

“I called Jason,” Nathaniel confessed. “I thought you might be a little more comfortable with him.”


Nathaniel nodded. “He’s not as conspicuous-looking as I am, and he’s older than me.”

I looked over at Jason. “You’re not coming with me. Sorry.”

Jason sighed. “You won’t even know I’m around, okay? I’ll be quiet as a weremouse.”

Nathaniel started fussing with my hair. “What about the ardeur? You haven’t fed it this morning. You’ll need someone with you. Why not take Jason? What harm could come of it?”

I frowned, but I wasn’t giving in just yet. “This is really because of what Jean-Claude said to Damian last night, isn’t it?”

“Actually,” Jason began tentatively, “Jean-Claude did suggest I keep my calendar open for the next few days. He more or less implied that you might need me.”

I glanced at my watch. It was getting late. I couldn’t stand here and argue with these two much longer. Someone had to give in. I had a crime scene to go to.

“All right, damn it all,” I caved, pushing Jason back out the front door. “But just so you know, I’m going to talk to Jean-Claude tonight and put an end to this nonsense.”

Nathaniel grinned and stood at the door waving good-bye to us like some gender-bending June Cleaver. I stormed around to the driver’s side of the jeep as Jason climbed into the passenger seat. He turned to face me with those twinkling blue eyes of his.

“Try not to look quite so happy,” I scolded him. “We’re going to a murder scene, not going on a picnic.”

Jason batted those eyes at me facetiously. “Anita, it’s always a picnic as long as I’m with you,” he teased.

I shook my head and reached over to pat him on the knee. “Keep shoveling; it’s getting mighty deep in here.”






CHAPTER SEVEN ~ Finding Emily


As inconspicuous as Nathaniel claimed Jason looked, he still looked conspicuous hanging around a murder scene and he didn’t have Jean-Claude’s powers of persuasion either.

He obediently followed me as far as the yellow tape, but that was as far as the uniforms would let him go. He frowned as I shrugged helplessly back at him, but thankfully, he made no attempt to protest his restriction.

Admittedly, I was grateful to be free of the distraction he posed, but glad too that he was still close by if I needed him. Nathaniel was right, I hadn’t fed the ardeur yet and it was due to start flaring up anytime now.

All thoughts of feeding the ardeur ebbed away as I approached the body of a one Emily Strong, a twenty-three year old kindergarten teacher with an obvious penchant for vampires. It was obvious because she was naked and her slightly plump body was scarred with no less then eighteen different vampires’ bites. The most recent one, the one which did her in, was on the crook of her arm and a good three inches deep. There had been evidence of sexual relations, but whether or not Emily was raped was hard to determine at this point.

The body was lying on a hillock, just beyond the parking lot of a popular riverside restaurant. Her clothes were neatly folded in a small pile at her feet along with her purse and a small envelope which no doubt, contained a note.

I examined it and was struck by the sadness she conveyed in it. This seemed to be a more convincing suicide note than Cynthia Morris’. No one wants me. No one loves me. What’s the point in going on? I thought it was strange that the paper Emily had written her note on was the same pale lavender color that Cynthia’s note had been on. A connection maybe?

This time, I went over to Zerbrowski. I didn’t want him thinking I was sneaking around again.

“So tell me, Blake,” he began. “In your professional opinion, is this the same vampire as last night?”

I tried to look innocently blank. “In my opinion, yes.”

Zerbrowski threw up his hands in apparent frustration. “What the hell is he doing? Is he putting people out of their misery? Or is he playing some sort of sick game where his lady-friends just end up dead?”

I frowned and turned away from him to start back up the hill. Zerbrowski walked beside me.

“Do me a favor and call Larry in to take care of any finalization on this one, will you?”

Zerbrowski raised his brow. “Do I sense a possible conflict of interest evolving?”

I shook my head determinedly. “Not at all. I just have too much on my plate right now.” I cleared my throat. “What did forensics turn up at the lab regarding the Morris girl case?” I asked to change the direction the conversation had been going.

The sergeant shrugged. “The handwriting matched, but we haven’t had time to dig much deeper. We got this call about 6:35 this morning. He went right from one to the other. Like he had an appointment. Like he knew exactly where to find another girl wanting to off-herself on his fangs.” He made a sweeping gesture back at the body of Emily Strong.

“I don’t think they wanted this,” I said vaguely. “I think this vampire convinced them they did. Made them write their own suicide notes to cover his ass and then had a fucking feast.” I couldn’t stand it anymore. Zerbrowski was a smart cookie. He would figure this stuff out on his own anyway. “Have you looked into the possibility he may be a type of prostitute?”

At first, Zerbrowski stopped walking and for a split second, looked genuinely stunned, but then, he cracked a smile and pointed at me.

“Way ahead of ya on this one, Blake,” he said smugly. “Perry’s working that angle as we speak. Thought of it last night. You’re slipping.”

I tried not to sigh too loudly in relief. “Well, I went to bed and fell asleep last night. I wasn’t up at the crime lab like you.”

He laughed. “It shows huh?” He ran his hand through his short, greasy hair and straightened his tie as if suddenly self-conscious about how mussed-up he looked. “What did you make of those scars?” he continued, turning his red, tired-looking eyes on me.

“I think she was well on her way to being a vampire junkie if she wasn’t one already,” I said. “It kind of makes sense for someone like her to commit suicide like that, if that is what she did.” I lowered my gaze as I approached the yellow tape, trying not to draw attention to Jason. “Was there any signs of a struggle?”

Zerbrowski shook his head. “No, not yet anyway. We’re still canvassing the area.”

I nodded. “He could have grabbed her and flown here. Keep that in mind.”

Zerbrowski took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“I don’t know, Anita, and I hate not knowing things. Bugs the hell out of me.”

“At least we have a twelve hour reprieve,” I offered feebly. “I sure would like to find out who’s next on his clientele list before dusk though.”

Zerbrowski glanced up and spied Jason. Then he faced me, shaking his head. “Jesus, Blake.”

“Don’t start, Zerbrowski,” I warned him, ducking under the police tape.

Zerbrowski held up his hands. “Did I say anything really? I didn’t even snicker.”

I let the tape snap back in place, not bothering to hold it for Zerbrowski, but apparently, he wasn’t ready to come out yet. Instead, he stood on the other side and casually plunged his hands into his pants’ pockets.

“You need me, you know where to reach me,” I grumbled, angry now, but not sure why.

Zerbrowski raised his brow. “Maybe not, Blake. You’ve got a different hottie on your arm every time I see you.” He looked back at Jason. “Mr. Schulyer, how are you this fine August morn?”

“Doing just fine,” Jason replied amiably. “And yourself?”

Zerbrowski sighed. “Truthfully, I’ve been better. I wish I had gotten some sleep last night, but you know two monster murders in less than twenty-four hours can be a bit trying for a guy my age.” He paused and leaned a little closer to Jason and lowered his voice some. “I don’t suppose you know anything about all this do you?”

“God, Zerbrowski!” I spat, jumping to Jason’s defense. “You think just because he’s ’one of them’ he has an inside line on everything they do? Give me a break!”

“Easy, Anita. I was just kidding around. I wasn’t accusing Mr. Schulyer of anything dastardly.”

“Sorry, Detective,” Jason replied, holding up his hands to show they where empty. “Can’t help you. I’m just on guard duty today.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out when I saw the startled look on Zerbrowski’s face.

“Guard duty?” His eyes flicked over to me. “Master’s orders?” Back to Jason now.

The young werewolf shrugged. “Damian got the original order. The rest of us are just passing it on. We don’t ask questions, Detective. When Jean-Claude says to do something, we just do it.”

Zerbrowski faced me again. “Is he worried about you for some reason?”

I shook my head and closed my eyes. I could have taken Jason and shaken him at the moment. He had raised Zerbrowski’s suspicions, now it was up to me to put them back at ease.

“Jean-Claude is over-reacting,” I pronounced carefully.

Zerbrowski wasn’t buying it however. “He didn’t seem too worked up about the Morris girl last night. Did he find out something? Does he think you’re in danger from this vampire? He still thinks it’s a rogue?”

It suddenly hit me why I was so angry. What I said next was a direct result of that anger and I recognized it the instant I said it.

“Why don’t you just ask him yourself?”

Now Zerbrowski looked mad. He nodded slowly and turned to leave. “Maybe I will, Blake. Maybe I will.”

I watched Zerbrowski walk away, cursing myself soundly. Then I covered my eyes with my hand and massaged them roughly. I could feel the weight of Jason’s gaze bearing down on me. I turned on him and let loose the fullness of my frustrations.

“I can’t believe what you just did!” I hissed.

“Me?” he yipped back in reply. “I wasn’t the one who invited the police to Jean-Claude’s crib tonight for cookies and questioning!”

I looked over at him. He did have a point. “Did you have to tell him you were guarding me?”

Jason looked around helplessly. “What did you want me to say? I’m stalking you?”

“Nothing! Next time, don’t say anything at all!” I turned away from him, ready to leave him here and drive off. Damn Jean-Claude. He could do his own lying from now on. At this point, I was ready to tell the police everything I knew and set them loose. I wanted this vampire caught and I didn’t care who caught him first.

I started walking away, but Jason grabbed my arm. “Anita, wait,” he started.

His hand felt like it was scalding my skin suddenly. The ardeur inside me burst into life, razing my body with a demanding, insatiable hunger. I turned my head and looked back at Jason over my shoulder.

The werewolf inside him stirred in response. I felt his power sizzle through the palm of his hand into my arm and jumped back.

“Anita?” He licked his lips as if his mouth had gone dry. “Is it the ardeur?”

I shook my head as if I could convince him otherwise, and squeezed my eyes tightly closed.

“Don’t fight it,” he murmured, sliding his hand down my arm to grasp my hand. He started leading me away.

I opened my eyes. “I can’t do this, not now, not here!” This was too public and too populated. If Zerbrowski stumbled across me doing Jason in the jeep, I’d never live it down.

Jason was pulling on my arm, encouraging me to follow him. “You don’t have to,” he half-whispered. “I know a place--it’s not very far from here. Come with me.” He squeezed my hand. “Run with me.”

Run? At first, I didn’t understand, but the beast inside me did. It was just a shadow of what Jason’s animal was, but it was there nonetheless. The thought of bolting after Jason sent a wave of exhilaration shooting through me that felt both strange and familiar to me.

I finally nodded, my breath already coming in quick, quivery pants.

Jason tugged at my arm one last time and then took off running. I sprang after him, almost subconsciously, my heart pounding so hard against my chest it sounded like a kettle drum in my ears. The call of the wild, perhaps?








I couldn’t remember the last time I had run that fast. In minutes, my lungs burned and my ribs ached with an almost unbearable pain. I could see Jason ahead of me about three yards, and pumped my legs even faster to try to shake the heaviness from them. I wanted to catch up to him. I wanted to catch him.

Sweat poured down the side of my face from the exhertion and the humidity. I should have been cramping in agony by now, but it seemed the more I ran, the more powerful I felt.

Jason and I quickly passed building after building. Houses and stores were nothing but a blur. Slowly, the landscape began to change into something a little more rural as we moved away from the river district. There were more trees and grass now and the smell of the moist black dirt beneath my feet filled my nostrils. I smelled live plants, damp wood, and any number of small animals. My beast savored every new scent and recognized it with an age old instinct I didn’t think I had. It didn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate it however. This was one of those rare times I actually believed I connected with my animal.

Jason was either slowing down or I was speeding up. I suddenly realized I was closing in on him fast. With two springy, inhuman leaps, I was on him, bringing him crashing to the ground beneath a thick canopy of trees.

We wrestled each other for top position, rolling around in the unkempt grass until Jason pinned my wrists above my head and straddled my stomach, holding me to the ground. He kissed me and ground his hips against me with a need all his own. I struggled because I wanted him beneath me and because I could barely breathe. Above it all, I felt the urge to sink my teeth deep into his hot flesh and it was that desire which kicked my andrenaline into gear.

I managed to buck him off me, surprising him with my ability. I knew he wasn’t really resisting me however. Werewolves had the strength of ten plus humans, so I knew if Jason truly wanted to keep me down, there was nothing I would be able to do about it.

Rising to his knees, he locked his eyes on mine and unfastened the top button on his jeans. Then he raised his arms and drew his shirt up over his head. I growled as I watched him, feeling the stir of the ardeur’s hunger and more. My hands slid to my waistband and quickly down the button fly, opening it. I sat up and wriggled out of my jeans as Jason pulled off his. I practically tore off my shirt and threw it aside along with my bra and panties. Then I beckoned Jason to me.

This wasn’t the first time he and I had been together, but it felt just as novel now as it did then. As he settled his sweat-slickened body over mine, I explored him voraciously with my hands and my mouth--so caught up in the ardeur’s fire; I couldn’t seem to get enough of him.

Wrapping my bare legs around his, I held him to me, drawing his face down to mine to kiss him. It was a rough kiss that was made more ragged from pure dire need. His lips were hot and soft, moist and salty. I deepened our kiss and ground my mouth on his hungrily.

Without raising his head, Jason plunged himself forcefully between my legs, making me spasm violently. Twisting my face away from his, I grasped the back of his neck and pushed my hips against him. I turned his head sharply to the side and drove my teeth into his glistening shoulder.

He cried out, but whether it was from pleasure or pain, I wasn’t wholly sure. My pleasure was eclipsing any concern for the discomfort I might have been causing him at this point anyway. I drew his sweet, coppery blood into my mouth and closed my eyes in utter bliss. Jason writhed against me and continued thrusting himself into my body with newfound zeal.

My ardeur and his passion quickly consumed us both. We thrashed around and rolled in the grass with wild abandon; our bodies so slippery with perspiration that we fell off each other a couple of times. We locked our limbs together, increasing the pressure I felt from Jason’s movements. In minutes, I was screaming and flailing around in a sensual, mind-blowing climax.

Jason came shortly after me, pushing against me so powerfully, he actually moved me across the ground a good two feet. I locked my arms around his back and dug my nails into his skin to keep him inside me until he was spent. Finally, he took one last shuddering breath, and then raised himself off of me to peer into my eyes.

“You okay?” he panted.

I nodded, still too winded to speak.

Slowly, Jason slid off me and rolled over on his back. He clamped his hand over the oozing mark I’d left on his shoulder and examined the amount of blood he drew away.

I must have looked a little guilty because he smiled at me and leaned over to kiss my cheek.

“Don’t worry. I’ll live.”

I smiled back at him, and then frowned. As hot as I was, I felt immediately and uncomfortably exposed without him covering me. I forced myself to sit up. My discarded clothes were out of my reach however. I was going to have to get up.

Jason seemed to sense my dilemna and valiantly rose to his feet. “Stay there,” he told me. “I’ll get your clothes. I have to pee anyway.”

“Thanks,” I said a little sheepishly. I was more embarrassed that I was embarrassed, I think. I drew my legs up to my chest and wrapped my arms around my legs.

Jason grinned and unabashedly stretched in front of me. I couldn’t help but oogle him appreciatively which is what I’m sure he was going for. My eyes trailed up his strong, sinewy thighs, over his nicely rippled abs to his impressively defined chest. I licked my lips and Jason laughed.

“You know, one of these times, I’m going to take you out to a high-class restaurant. We’re going to drink expensive champagne by candlelight and I’m going to give you diamonds and roses. We’ll take a romantic carraige ride along the river and gaze deeply into each others’ eyes under the stars. Then and only then, will we head back to my room at Chez le Cirque…and fuck like wild animals.”

I laughed. “Sounds good to me,” I said, amused. “Be careful or I’ll hold you to it.”

Jason winked at me and set about gathering up my clothes. He handed them to me, picked up his clothes, and then stalked stiffly off, deeper into the woods to answer nature’s call.

I took advantage of his time away to pull on my jeans and polo shirt. The material stuck annoyingly to my sweaty skin however. I lifted the hem and fanned it a few times over my stomach.

Jason was suddenly in front of me fully dressed. I hadn’t even heard him approach. I was just about to reproach him for sneaking up on me when I got a good look at the expression on his face.

“Anita,” he gasped, grabbing hold of my shoulders. “There’s a body over there somewhere. I can smell it.”

“What?” I demanded, feeling immediately colder as the blood drained from my face. “Where?”

He pointed back the way he’d come. “I didn’t see it, but I caught a whiff of it on the wind. I smelled decay.”

“Goddamnit!” I cursed and stomped out in the direction he was indicating. I already had a peculiar sinking feeling about this in the pit of my stomach.

Jason jogged after me and pointed again, sniffing the air. “There. Over there,” he told me, taking the lead.

He followed the scent beyond a small grove of trees to a parking lot behind a grocery store. I knew we had to be close. Even I could smell it now.

We found her behind a remote utility shed. She was dressed in a modest-looking beige dress. Her long blonde hair was braided and pinned up rather primly. She wasn’t wearing stockings and her shoes were missing. The heat and the flies had gotten to her which told me she’d probably been back here baking in the sun for at least a couple of days.

“Oh shit,” I swore, covering my nose. The smell was putrid, but I stepped as close as I dared to without disturbing any possible evidence. It might have been the state of her decomposition, but her skin was puckered and snow white in splotches. There didn’t seem to be a blood lividity pattern, but her lips were blackish and gray as if they’d been bruised. The skirt of her dress was hiked up past her knees and the one totally exposed thigh bore two tell-tale puncture wounds. I immediately looked for a note.

Jason bravely drew up beside me looking more than a little pallid. He had problems with rotting bodies, even dead ones. I took pity on him and gestured towards the grocery store.

“Go call the police,” I instructed. “Tell them we need Ripit out her as well as a homicide forensics team.”

Jason nodded readily. “You think she was murdered?”

I saw it then. A flash of pale lavender underneath her right hand. What was left of her hand anyway as it had “de-gloved” itself days ago.

“I know she was,” I murmured.





CHAPTER NINE~ At Home With The Monsters


I held the phone close to my ear and spoke in hushed, reverent tones to Zerbrowski on the other end of the line.

“I think he realized this victim hadn’t been found yet, so he killed the other two in more public places. It’s like he wants to leave clues. He wants us to know what he’s doing, how he’s thinking. Like he really wants us to catch him, way, deep down inside.”

Zerbrowski laughed humorlessly. “I never met a perp who actually wanted to be caught, but I’ve heard of crazier things. Give me something else, Anita. Something that makes sense out of all this.”

I had to think about that one.

“Perry and I came to the conclusion he isn’t trying to bring them over either. Even if he did happen to turn one, he’s leaving the bodies so exposed, the elements would finish them off if they weren’t found in time. His sole purpose appears to be murder.”

“How long has this victim been dead?”

I sighed. “According to the maggot development in and around the body, the forensic entomologist estimated she had been lying there between three and five days. The M.O. is the same: she was drained of blood with a single bite--meaning one vampire; there was evidence of sexual activity, and there was that infamous lavender-colored suicide note.”

I heard Zerbrowski swear under his breath. “You realize this means there’s probably other bodies out there that we haven’t found.”

I nodded even though I knew he couldn’t see me. “Yes. I’m sure there is.”

There was a slight pause. Then: “Do you remember what the note said?”

Closing my eyes, I tried to picture the slightly faded blue words scrawled hastily across the stained lavender notepaper. “She said something about how everyone she ever loved has left her. She feels so alone. She doubts anyone will even care if she‘s dead, but just in case they do, she‘s sorry to upset them.” I opened my eyes and batted away the grittiness making them burn. “Just another run-of-the-mill suicide note.”

Zerbrowski sighed. “Did the handwriting analysis come back from the second victim’s note yet?” he asked tonelessly.

I held the phone with my shoulder against my ear so I could flip through the copy of the report I was given.

“Yes and it matched.” I snapped the file shut. “It would appear that his victims are writing their own notes, but for some reason they’re all using the same kind of paper. They’re trying to lift prints off them, but you know how tricky that can be.

Zerbrowski muttered something unintelligible, and then laughed stiffly. “I’m about ready to stake out stationery stores, for Christ’s sake,” he half-joked. There was a long moment of silence before he spoke again. “I’m still going to question your boyfriend tonight, Blake. All I’ve got is questions. I want some answers. I want this vamp stopped and I don’t care if I have to step on some undead toes to do it. It doesn’t matter to me if Jean-Claude’s using a Federal Marshal as his bed warmer. Hell, I wouldn’t care if he was sleeping with the pope. If he wants to keep any kind of amicable relations with the St. Louis P.D., then he needs to put this sonofabitch at the top of his priority list.”

I exhaled my breath through my clenched teeth. “Suit yourself. I don’t care. I’m tired and I’m going home now.”

“Tired?” Zerbrowski shot back. “I haven’t slept in forty-eight hours and it doesn’t look like I’ll be sleeping anytime soon with this nut job vampire on the loose. Cut me some slack, Blake. I’m not doing this to undermine you.”

I took another deep breath. “Well you don’t have to get all pissy with me! We’re on the same side! How many times do I have to say that? Not once, in all the years I’ve known Jean-Claude, has there ever been any kind of conflict of interest, but that‘s what you‘re implying.”

I heard Zerbrowski growl as if in frustration. “I never implied that, Blake, and you know it. This is just to tie up some loose ends, okay. Rule some things out. Look at it as a meeting of the minds, if that makes you feel better. You never know, something might click into place tonight and we may just end up with a clue. Isn’t that what we all want?”

I relaxed a little. “A meeting of the minds. Okay. That works for me.”

“Good. Jesus Christ Blake, go home and get some sleep. You’re a grizzly without your eight hours.”

“Yeah, I guess I am. See you around ten-thirty then, Zerbrowski.”

“See you then, Blake.”

He hung up and I placed the receiver back in its cradle; then I turned around and motioned to Jason.

“We need to get home. I want to talk to Nathaniel and Micah and see if they found anything.” I looked at my watch. There was two hours before sunset. I might have just enough time to conduct my own little ’meeting of the minds’ before Zerbrowski showed up at the Circus. It would be nice if I could give him something to show my good faith. I frowned, glancing at Jason who looked decidedly unhappy. “What’s the matter with you?”

He blinked back at me with sad puppy eyes. “Me and my big mouth. When Jean-Claude finds out about this, my ass will be toast.”

“Your ass?” I echoed incredulously. “If your ass is toast, mine will be the burnt crumbs at the bottom of the toaster. Let’s face it, he’s not going to be particularly happy with either one of us tonight.”

Jason bowed his head. “If the police find out he’s been witholding evidence, they could arrest him right?”

I had to think about that one and wondered briefly if I should place a quick call to Jean-Claude’s lawyer before Zerbrowski questioned him. Damn, maybe this was a conflict of interest, but I certainly didn’t want to see Jean-Claude put in jail. At the very least, such a thing would undermine the investigation. I shook my head.

“Don’t worry,” I assured Jason. “I’d like to think I still hold some sway with Jean-Claude and the police. Nothing’s going to happen tonight. I promise.” I grasped Jason’s chin in my hand and raised his face. Leaning forward, I kissed him softly. That made him smile. “Come on. I want to get home before dusk.”


I was beginning to feel as if I had a phone growing out of my ear.

I called the Circus and left messages on the answering machine on the off chance Jean-Claude would check it when he rose tonight. In case I missed him there, I left messages for him at all his businesses. I wanted him to come here so we could discuss things. If he still didn’t want to talk to the police about certain things, I was going to make sure he at least talked to me about them.

I hung up the phone finally and locked myself in the bathroom for a few minutes to indulge in a hot shower. I pinned up my hair, dressed in a pair of light jeans and one of Micah’s white cotton tee-shirts, and padded barefoot into the kitchen for a quick snack.

Nathaniel and Jason were seated at the table pouring over the stack of porno mags Nathaniel and Cherry had purchased earlier today. Apparently, Death Fantasy ads ran rampant in these things. I had suspected as much. As it was, the magazines had at least two or three pages dog-earred to mark the advertisements they’d found.

“Do you want something to eat?” Nathaniel asked me, looking up from the magazine he was “reading”.

I nodded and as if on cue, my stomach rumbled. I couldn’t remember the last time I had something to eat, but I wasn’t in the mood for a four course meal.

“Nothing heavy, okay? Just something to tie me over for tonight.”

Nathaniel rose from his chair and went to the refrigerator. He rummaged through its contents, and then peered over his shoulder at me to tell me what I could have. “There’s eggs, milk, cheese, some green and red peppers, leftover mushrooms. I could make you an omelet?”

“That’d be swell,” I said before he listed the entire contents of the fridge. I dropped into the chair he’d vacated and picked up the magazine in front of me. Flipping through it, the Midwesterner in me winced at the rather graphic photos and I wondered how on earth men found something like that arousing. “Good God, if the camera got any closer, it’d be inside her.”

I noticed Jason and Nathaniel exchanged smiles. I knew they found my modesty cute and that annoyed me to no end. Trying not to look at any more of the pictures, I went right to the dog-earred pages in the back and started skimming the ads. Here was an ad for phone sex with a vampire that bragged if you called her, you’d be closer to “death” than you dared. That obviously wasn’t Aristide.

I picked up another magazine. This one was more of a gay trade paper, if you could call it that. There were several ads here that came right out and mentioned the Death Fantasy as one of the services provided, but Aristide seem to be targeting women, so these probably weren’t his either.

“Anita, we could spend all day and all night calling these ads and still not get through them all,” Jason pointed out. He must have seen the frustration on my face. “I must have looked at thirty of these, most are for phone sex, and none of them say anything specific about a Death Fantasy faking suicide.”

I sighed and flipped through another trade paper. This one was obviously for women. It was titled “Ladies’ Night” and loaded with nude photos of men, but they weren’t as explicit as the gay paper was.

“You’d think he would want to advertise that,” I grumbled, glancing up to watch Nathaniel putter around the kitchen for a little reprieve. I had to smile to myself. The pictures in the magazine I was holding just couldn’t compare to the image of the scantily-clad wereleopard cooking an omelet on my stove. “It’s his edge,” I continued, facing Jason again. “It’s the one thing that would set his ads apart from the rest.”

“You might want to check the newspaper,” Nathaniel added, drawing my attention back to him. “The one Micah was looking at this morning. Honestly, from what you’ve told me, the girls this vampire killed didn’t seem to be the type to buy dirty magazines like these. They probably found his ad somewhere more mainstream. Like a newspaper.”

I felt like someone had just slapped me upside the head. It made perfect sense. Especially considering Cynthia Morris was only fifteen. She wouldn’t have had access to this kind of pornography but she would have easy access to a newspaper.

I must have been looking at Nathaniel as if he’d grown a second head because he frowned and shrugged and said, “It was just an idea.”

“No, no,” I countered. “I think you have something there.” I shoved the magazines aside and started looking around for today’s edition of the St. Louis Dispatch. “What did Micah do with it?”

Jason handed me a folded section of it. “Here. Right here. Look.” Apparently he was way ahead of me. He pointed to an ad in the personals about a third of the way down.

As I took the paper from him, at first I didn’t see it. The personals were all tiny and there had to be a hundred of them, but then suddenly, my eyes caught a flash of pale purple ink amid this sea of black and white. I read it over a few times, my excitement growing each time. Feeling blue? Ready to end it all? I can lift you up before I take you down. Join me. There was a local phone number listed as well as a number outside the St. Louis metropolitan area that spelled out DeathFantasy41--as in Death Fantasy for one. It had to be Aristide.

“What do you think?” Jason asked me as Nathaniel set a plate down in front of me.

I nodded. “The purple ink is a dead giveaway.”

Jason smiled. “No pun intended.” Rising from his chair, he took the paper from me and walked over to the phone with it.

“Are you calling him right now?”

The young werewolf nodded, returning to the table with the phone against his ear. “Sure, let‘s see if he‘s home.”

As Jason waited, I picked up my fork anxiously, focusing my attention on my plate full of eggs. The cheese inside the omelet was steaming hot and had melted all over the other ingredients Nathaniel had thought to add. It looked and smelled delicious, but I pushed it aside to let it cool a little.

“He had to have paid extra for the colored ink,” my pomme de sang put in, peering down at the purple-lettered ad. “Sure it makes it stand out more, but why go to the trouble and the expense? It’s almost as if he wanted someone to make the connection.”

Jason shook his head, clearly having to go through an automated answering system. He pushed one number, waited a little while, and then pushed another. “Maybe he’s just an older vampire,” he said. “Some of them aren’t into modern technology and have a hard time adjusting. Maybe he’s just not up on all the new police forensic techniques. A throwback from the Jack-the-Ripper days when police basically only went by eyewitness accounts.”

Something Jason said sounded vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it and I couldn’t pin point exactly what was familiar either. I growled at myself in frustration and delved my fork into my omelet. To hell with it. I was hungry.

Jason started speaking to someone finally. I perked up and strained to hear both sides of the conversation. Jason nodded a lot and did the “uh-huh” and “yes, no” thing for awhile. He smiled broadly at one point and said, “That’s great, thank you very much. I’ll do that.” Then he hung up and set the phone down in front of me.

“Well?” I asked, blowing on a forkful of eggs. “What he say?”

Nathaniel came over to the table. Apparently he wanted in on what Jason had to say as well.

The werewolf shrugged. “First off, I didn’t talk to him,” Jason stated. “I spoke with some woman, his answering service I guess, and she told me flat out he didn’t do men, but he’d probably be willing to meet with me and maybe come to some sort of arrangement if I agreed to pay him a little more.”

I fixed my eyes on Jason‘s. “He doesn’t do men? Not at all?” My heart sunk. That didn‘t sound right. I thought about the flash of memory I‘d gotten from Jean-Claude the night before of him and Aristide. I frowned deeply.

Nathaniel put his hands on his hips. “Maybe he just prefers women during business hours. A lot of prostitutes are like that. I knew a lesbian werecoyote once whose clientele was strictly men. It’s not unusual.”

Chewing my eggs thoughtfully, I tried to remember exactly what Jean-Claude had told me about his relationship with Aristide. He had said he was a prostitute, but did he mean he paid for his services at one time?

Jason continued enthusiastically. “Well, get this. The woman told me he’d most likely be at Guilty Pleasures tonight sometime after midnight. She told me he’d be wearing a gold slave bracelet on his left arm and that all I had to do was go up to him and say I was interested in a Death Fantasy For One.” Jason smiled, clearly pleased with himself. “If it’s him, we could take him out right there.”

My eggs stuck in my throat for a moment and I coughed slightly. All the legal issues involving doing such a thing flooded my mind. I pushed my plate aside and blinked up at Jason with disapproval.

“First of all, we can’t just ’take him out’ without any proof, or evidence, or at least a positive identification,” I told him. “I don’t have any of that so I don’t have a court order of execution yet. Second, if he doesn’t do men, he’s not going to agree to do anything with you and you’re not going to be able to prove anything. There are lots of other vampires out there who apparently do this Death Fantasy thing without actually killing their victims. Now I know the ad pretty much sounds like our guy, but without actual proof, we could be taking out the wrong vampire. That wouldn‘t solve our problem and it‘d be considered murder, not an execution.”

Just then Damian drifted into the kitchen so silently he startled me. God, it was hard to concentrate these days. I looked up at him. I hadn’t realized it had gotten so late. Jean-Claude would be up by now. Hopefully showered and dressed and on his way here.

Damian glided over to the table and paused, his bright green eyes widening at the scattered porno mags between Jason and me. He studied them for a moment, and then raised his brow, clearly amused.

“This is new,” he began insinuatingly.

Jason and his on-the-spot warped humor was quick to reply. He gestured at my plate. “Oh, Anita wanted eggs over sleazy this evening.”

Nathaniel jumped in. “Eggs over she’s easy!” He chuckled deeply.

“Fast and hard boiled,” Jason suggested.

“Backside up?” Damian contributed unexpectedly, making my other men dissolve in raucous laughter. Sometimes it grated being the only female in the house.

“Enough boys,” I growled through a mouthful of omelet. “I’m trying to eat.”

Damian walked behind my chair and brushed against me, sending a sensation of calm flowing over me like a warm blanket. I wondered if he’d done it on purpose and tried to glare at him, but got caught up in watching him instead and forgot all about why I was pissed. He pulled out the chair next to me and flipped it around, straddling it, and folded his arms on top of the back striking a cool and rather seductive pose.

“What’s the matter Anita?” he asked, sounding sincerely concerned however. “You’re worried about something.”

He was right. I was worried about a lot of things at the moment. I didn’t think I looked particularly uptight, but that one touch must have told him all he needed to know about how I was feeling tonight.

I shoved a forkful of omelet into my mouth and chewed it before answering him. “We found two more bodies today. Same M.O.”

Damian’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Two more?”

I nodded. “And the police are going to question Jean-Claude tonight.” I stabbed the air in front of my vampire with my fork. “They might want to question you too. This whole thing could just blow up in our faces. Hopefully they won’t throw your ass in jail along with Jean-Claude’s for concealing evidence.”

Damian frowned. “Great,” he breathed. “I am forever being punished for simply being in the right place at the wrong time.”

I shrugged. “Now you know why I’m tense.”

The door in the living room opened and closed. I sat up and twisted around to see who it was.

Micah walked into the kitchen and immediately went to the refrigerator. “Did I miss anything important?” he asked, grabbing a bottle of water from inside.

Jason took it upon himself to fill Micah in on the latest developments. My Nimir-Raj listened attentively, and then looked over at me expectantly.

“Are you going to meet with him?”

I sighed. “I’d like to, but we haven’t really meshed out the details yet. “ I set my fork down. “Where have you been? Did you find out anything?”

Micah nodded. “I talked to a lot of people today. Apparently there’s a vampire fitting Aristide’s description who used to solicit most of his business by hanging around Guilty Pleasures. He hadn’t been around for awhile, then he showed up again recently at Danse Macabre but he wasn‘t soliciting. He met women there. Like he had appointments with them.”

I thought about that. It seemed as if Aristide had only recently started advertising. I wondered what had set him off; what had made him suddenly decide to do this. There just seemed no point. Maybe he was an archaic vampire, but he still had to know he was committing virtual suicide by killing these women the way he was. I faced Damian.

“You saw him for the first time last night right?”

My vampire nodded. “I noticed him for the first time then. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t there before.” He leaned away from me slightly. “It’s a club, Anita. A hundred prostitutes must go through there every night.”

“I still say we go after him tonight,” Jason spoke up. “It’s a perfect opportunity, Anita.”

I gestured at him impatiently. “You don’t even know what Aristide looks like.”

“I could go with Jason,” Damian offered. “I could identify him.”

“We‘re not going to get another chance like this,” Jason added. “It’s a great way to catch him off guard.”

“I could identify him too,” Nathaniel said softly. “If it is Aristide anyway. I know what Aristide looks like.”

“I do too for that matter,” I announced, but before I could say anything else, there was a short rhythmic knock on the front door. As soon as I heard it, I knew who it was, but then, when Jean-Claude was this close to me, I could sense him through the marks.

It was through those same marks I sensed a certain someone with him that made my gut tighten and made me totally lose my appetite.

As Nathaniel darted into the living room to answer the door, I stretched out my hand to Damian who readily grasped it, but stared back at me curiously.

“You’ll see,” I told him.

Jason suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Oh terrific. They’re both here,“ he grumbled. He slowly rose from his chair and edged along the wall to the far side of the room. “Excuse me while I try to blend into the woodwork,” he whispered conspicuously.

A few moments later, Richard Zeeman strode into my kitchen like he owned it. He stood in the center of the room and looked around slowly.

“Hello Richard,” I said nice and smoothly. I squeezed Damian’s hand. “What brings you out to my humble abode tonight?”

Richard turned and looked at me as if he just noticed I was even here. Our eyes met however and something in his expression changed. The hard lines of his face softened and he summoned a tremulous smile for me.

“From what I’ve been told recently, plenty,” he said and put his hands on his hips rather lordly. “Jean-Claude for one.”

As if on cue, the Master Vampire of St. Louis made his entrance into the kitchen, immediately shifting the dynamics in the room to center around him. Nathaniel trailed in after him, but he was barely noticeable in the shadow of Jean-Claude’s aggrandized presence.

“Good evening everyone,” Jean-Claude hailed, sweeping his eyes around the room once before settling on me. Everyone politely echoed his greeting. “Ma petite, from the urgency of your messages, I got impression that we needed to talk.”

I leaned back in my chair and let go of Damian’s hand. “A lot has happened in the past twelve hours, Jean-Claude. A lot of things have changed.”

Jean-Claude turned his head slightly in response. “Indeed. I have been speaking with Nathaniel. He kindly informed me of all your latest findings. I also learned from Richard earlier about the discovery of the second and third victims.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Have you decided what you’re going to do yet?”

The master vampire peered up at Richard but continued to address me. “Ma petite, I am doing everything I can at this point. I have summoned Richard to call the wolves. He has graciously agreed to send the pack into the city streets tonight. They are an impressive extension of my power and my presence and if anything will serve as a reminder and a deterrant to our wayward friend.”

“Not our friend, Jean-Claude,” I stressed. “Your friend.”

Jean-Claude grimaced at me. “My friend.” He paused and seemed to resettle himself, then continued. “Asher has put my people on the alert as well. He’s made my position in this matter all but written in stone. The punishment for harboring, aiding, or secreting away this vampire will be death. With this foremost in their minds, I expect no less than two hundred percent cooperation on their parts.”

Folding my arms across my chest, I looked up at him. “Does the name Death Fantasy For One ring any bells?”

He stared blankly back at me. “No. Should it?”

I took a deep breath. “Jason made arrangements this evening to meet a prostitute who advertises by that name down at Guilty Pleasures around midnight. We think it might be Aristide.” I picked up the newspaper sporting the purple-inked ad and handed it to Jean-Claude.

The corners of Jean-Claude’s full mouth turned down in a slight frown as he read the ad. He handed back the paper and crossed his arms over his chest. “If this is not Aristide, I can’t imagine who it could be.”

I cleared my throat. “I need to know for sure. We need a positive I.D. Then I can have a court order drawn up for his execution. Thing is, if he gets wind of the forces you’ve mobilized to find him, he’ll go into hiding and we’ll never catch him. You need to call everyone off. At least for tonight so we can draw him out.” I glanced up at Richard to let him know I wanted him to do the same.

Jean-Claude shook his head. “If my people find him, they’ll bring him to me. Then I will deal with him personally. I need no order of execution from your court.”

Now it was my turn to shake my head. “Humor me a minute, will you Jean-Claude? I’d rather we go through the necessary legal channels to make sure there’s no loose ends. We need to do this right. We can’t afford to fuck this up.”

“Loose ends?” Richard asked, drawing my attention back to him. “What are you talking about? There are no loose ends. If this Aristide shows his face on the streets tonight, we’ll get him. He’ll be finished. Case closed.”

Jean-Claude looked equally nonplussed by my request. “Ma petite, you underestimate my resources. I can assure you, we will not ‘fuck this up.’”

I wasn’t backing down. “I thought you wanted to be absolutely sure it was Aristide who was doing this. I know all the clues seem to be pointing at him, but we still don’t know that for sure. You said yourself you want to get the right vampire. If we meet Death Fantasy For One tonight at Guilty Pleasures, then not only will can we positively identify him, we can get solid proof that he’s the one killing these women.”

Shifting his weight from one leg to the other, Jean-Claude let his arms slide to his sides. “How do you propose we get this solid proof? Shall we let him kill again and try to catch him in the act?”

Just then, I noticed Jean-Claude eyeing my neglected omelet and got an idea. I purposefully reached over and poked at it with my fork, making the melted cheese run out.

“Instead of Jason meeting with this prostitute, I’ll meet with him,” I said almost too cheerfully. “He probably won’t take the bait if the bait is a male shapeshifter, but he’ll probably take the bait if it’s a human female propositioning him. I know what Aristide looks like and I can identify him. I can let him feed off me. He won’t be able to take my mind, so I won’t let him go too far, but I’ll have my solid proof. It’ll be a snap.”

“No!” six male voices rang out assertively and simultaneously. Their collective negative power pulse hit me like a slap in the face. I jumped in my chair, a little startled and chagrinned.

“Forget it Anita,” Richard stated flatly. “You can’t use yourself as bait.”

Micah stepped forward and put his hand on my shoulder. “Do you realize what you’re asking us to let you do?”

“It’s too risky, even for you,” Nathaniel chimed in.

Jean-Claude put his hands on his hips and struck a rather petulant-looking pose. “Please do not take this the wrong way, ma petite, but I cannot allow you to meet with this vampire alone.”

I stared back at him, feeling my face heat up. I set my fork down and took a deep steadying breath. I opened my mouth to speak, but Damian suddenly seized my hand again.

“I’ll go with her,” he offered. “I know what the killer looks like, be it Aristide or whomever. If I identify him, she won’t have to put herself at risk. She’ll know right then and there if he’s the one.”

It made perfect sense to me, but from the look in Jean-Claude’s eyes, he obviously didn’t like that idea much better. When he caught me staring at him, he dropped his gaze and licked his lips.

“I’m very sorry, ma petite. I know you mean well, but I cannot agree to this meeting. Let my people find him. Let the wolves find him. Just give them a little time.” He raised his eyes again, but fixed them on my plate of eggs instead of me. “Are you going to finish that?”

For a moment, I was too stunned to speak. There really was no mistaking the fact that Jean-Claude was laying down the law for me despite the gently concerned tone of voice he was laying it down in. He was all but forbidding me to get involved in Aristide’s capture for some reason. Maybe the same reason why he didn’t want R.P.I.T. in on it either. I could understand the fact that this vampire had once been his consort, but now I was beginning to think Jean-Claude’s motives for keeping the police at bay ran much deeper than that.

Spitefully, I threw the fork down on my plate. It landed with a loud rattle. “No, I’m not finishing it, it’s cold.” Looking up, I caught the shadow of disappointment in Jean-Claude’s eyes and smiled to myself.

Nathaniel stepped forward and took up the plate. “I’ll reheat it for you.” Before I could stop him, he had disappeared with it.

“Look, we’re kind of out of options, boys” I began evenly. “Nobody else can do this. It makes perfect sense to let me go with Damian. I’m the only female. I’m the only human. Damian is the only one who can positively identify our killer. It’s got to be us.”

Jean-Claude sighed heavily. “Ma petite. Please. There is no need for you to even concern yourself with Aristide anymore. He’s as good as dead.”

Nathaniel returned with my freshly microwaved omelet and a new fork. He put the plate in front of me with a smile. “There you go. Nice and hot.”

Jean-Claude leaned forward slightly, sniffing the air. I knew he was something of a food-o-phile but he was just too distracted by these eggs tonight for it to be a passing interest. It suddenly occurred to me he must have been genuinely hungry.

“Why don’t you want the police, or me, in on Aristide’s capture, Jean-Claude?” I picked up my fork and stabbed a cheese-covered mushroom. Teasingly, I brought it to my lips and blew on it softly.

Jean-Claude opened his mouth slightly in anticipation, his gaze fastened to the mushroom.

“Well?” I prodded.

Jean-Claude glanced at me. “I told you, ma petite. I need to deal with a rogue such as this in my own way to emphasize my authority and to let my vampires know such blatant disregard for my laws will not be tolerated.”

Sounded good, but I wasn’t buying. I decided to give him a taste of the omelet to let him know what he’d be missing out on if he didn’t cooperate. I popped the mushroom in my mouth and chewed slowly, keeping my eyes on Jean-Claude’s face.

For a moment, he looked like he was about to swoon. I watched as he licked his lips and closed his eyes, clearly savoring the taste.

“Oh,” he moaned softly in undisclosed culinary ecstasy. “That is perfectly delicious.”

Nathaniel beamed proudly. “Thank you.”

Jean-Claude faced him and smiled, then turned back around to face me. His smile dissolved as I set the fork down and pushed the plate away.

“Goddamn it, Jean-Claude, you better start talking, or this omelet is going in the trash.”

Micah shook his head at me, trying to hide his smile. “Show no mercy.”

I tried to ignore him, but I was having trouble keeping a straight face myself. The idea of torturing information out of a master vampire with an omelet was preposterous. But damned if it didn’t work.

Jean-Claude faced me and pouted prettily. “Fine. I will tell you, but do not accuse me later of indiscretion, ma petite.”

I lifted up the fork again and took another bite. Jean-Claude smiled wantonly.

“I promise,” I said through my mouthful of egg.

Jean-Claude sighed, apparently psyching himself up to reveal all. “Aristide knows who you are, ma petite. He has seen you accompanying me on numerous occasions. He knows what you look like. He knows what you are. He’ll recognize you instantly.”

I blinked up at him. Okay, that made perfect sense. But if the recognition part was his only concern, why didn‘t he just tell me that right off? I went to take another bite of the omelet, and then stopped just before putting the fork in my mouth.

“All right, so he might recognize me,” I agreed. “I’ll go in disguise. I’ll make sure when he sees me tonight, it will only be as a vulnerable human female looking for a little walk on the wild side.”

I could almost feel Jean-Claude hesitate. He looked longingly at the forkful of eggs and then seemed to steel himself against my cheese-covered bartering chip. He shook his head and actually took a step back, away from me.

“Ma petite, I‘d rather you not.”

I set the fork down and pushed the plate away again. “Are you going to tell me why? Or am I going to have to resort to denying you something a little more substantial?”

Everyone knew exactly what I was talking about and the fact that I would even consider such a thing, threw the entire room into a tense, shocked silence, and made a few of the men visibly cringe. They didn’t know who to look at. Their gazes shot from Jean-Claude’s to mine and back to Jean-Claude again with open sympathy.

I kept my eyes on Jean-Claude now. He stared back at me darkly, looking anything but pleased. Very subtly I caught a slight shift in his posture as he straightened himself indignantly. I knew if I touched him right now, he’d feel as unpliable as wood.

“Well? What’s it going to be?” I pressed him.

Jean-Claude pursed his lips and stared icily at me for a long while before he spoke. “Ma petite, you have absolutely perfected the art of emasculating a man,” he stated with a slight sneer that flashed one elongated fang.

That surprised me. Then it hit me. I actually felt a tinge of remorse now. I realized I had embarrassed him in front of the other men. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. What was that old adage again? You could win more flies with honey….

“I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. I got up from my chair and walked towards him, keeping my eyes locked on his. I could see the black ice in them begin to melt the closer I got, and when I stretched out my hand and touched his face, his eyes turned into two dark pools of deep, still water. “Really. That was wrong of me.”

This seemed to startle him. I’m sure the last thing he expected from me now was an apology. As I languidly stroked the side of his face, I could feel the tension in him dissipate. He leaned his head into my hand and reached up to cover it with his own. His eyes glittered now with a mixture of intrigue and allure.

“I forgive you,” he whispered, turning his face to press a soft kiss on my palm.

I stretched up on my toes and leaned into him, nuzzling his neck. “I don’t expect you to understand why I need to be a part of Aristide’s capture, but I do. If I just stand idly by and let someone else take him down, I’m afraid my credibility with R.P.I.T. and the entire St. Louis police force is going to go right down the drain. They haven’t come right out and said it, but I know they think I’m having ‘conflict of interests’ problems. If you let me go after Aristide, there’ll be no doubt I’m still on the up and up.” I closed my eyes and nibbled at his skin up and down his throat.

I felt Jean-Claude’s arm fold around me. He gathered me tightly to him, leaning his head back slightly to accommodate my wandering mouth. I could also feel his arousal pressing gently against my lower abdomen and wiggled my hips a little to rub against him. His long legs shifted to better center me over him and he drew my head back, tilting my face up to his; then his mouth took mine in a deep and hungry kiss that made my knees go a little wobbly. I was only vaguely aware of the five other men in the room who were no doubt watching us, but at this point, I didn’t think I’d care if Jean-Claude decided to take me right here in the kitchen in the middle of the floor.

Instead of ravishing me, Jean-Claude chose to ease away from me. He looked into my eyes almost apologetically and shook his head.

“I suppose I can’t really expect you to understand my reasons behind my position either but please know that they are viable and sincere. I cannot allow you to go to Aristide tonight, ma petite. I do not want you near him. Please. Do this one thing for me. Trust me in this. It is for the best.”

I felt deflated. I bowed my head and bit my lower lip until it hurt to purge the sensual tingling feeling lingering on it from his kiss. Damn him. Slowly, I raised my eyes to meet his again and frowned, letting him see how unhappy I was with him at the moment.

“So what I just told you doesn’t matter to you one bit, does it?” I growled at him. “I came right out and said why I needed to do this, Jean-Claude. It’s important to me and I think it’s damned chauvinistic of you to think just because it’s my career on the line, that it’s not. It‘s who I am. It‘s what I do and if they don‘t believe in that anymore, they don‘t believe in me.”

Jean-Claude seized my hands in his and clucked his tongue at me admonishingly. “I said no such thing. You clearly stated you wouldn’t fault me for not understanding the need you feel to unnecessarily put yourself at such risk, so don’t. I will not fault you for not understanding mine.”

I pulled away from him. “I gave you reasons though. You haven’t told me anything. Why do you think I’ll be putting myself ‘at such risk’? Give me something, Jean-Claude. Help me out here.”

Jean-Claude let his empty hands fall heavily to his sides. “If you wish, I will go to the police tonight. I will talk to them for you. I’m certain I can put their doubts concerning your loyalties aside. Then, you will have no need to prove anything to anybody. I’ll make sure they understand.”

Oh shit. I’d almost forgotten about that. I dropped back down in my chair at the table and sighed heavily, massaging my eyes with my hand.

“You won’t have to go to the police tonight, Jean-Claude because the police are coming to see you…” I paused and glanced at my watch, “…in about an hour from now. They’re going to be at the Circus to question you.”

Jean-Claude’s dark eyes widened slightly. “Question me? Why?”

I glanced at Jason who was still more or less hiding in the far corner. He hadn’t said a damned word all night.

“They think you might know more than you’re letting on,” I relayed flatly. “Jason and I kind of accidentally gave Zerbrowski the impression you did.”

Jean-Claude’s head snapped around to face Jason. “Is that why my pomme de sang was so conspicuously absent this evening?” He pointed at the young werewolf. “You owe Stephan, mon ami. He had to postpone his plans for this evening to accommodate me.”

Jason gestured at me. “I was helping Anita.”

The master vampire turned his gaze back on me. “I suppose I should return to warn Asher then. If the police suddenly darken my doorstep demanding to see me, it will scare him. Of course, had I known about this sooner, I could have told him.”

Ouch. There was no mistaking that stab of accusation. In an effort to soothe him, I tried to sound as nonchalant as I could. “It’s more or less standard operating procedure. And I’m coming with you. I’m bringing Damian too. We can all discuss what we’re going to tell them on the way.”

Richard looked from me to Jean-Claude and back again curiously. “You two know more about this than what you’ve told me?”

I could see the tightness in his jaw now as well as the spark of anger in his eyes. He had a right to be pissed I guess, but at the moment, I was trying to keep Jean-Claude from losing his cool and I could only focus on one irate supernatural male at a time.

“Let’s just say, nobody’s pooled their individual information concerning this case yet,” I told him. “I was told tonight is a kind of meeting of the minds.”

Richard was too angry now however. “I thought the whole idea was to catch this thing? But you two seem to have your own agendas.” He pointed at me. “You’re out to prove you’re still a bad-ass and you,” he flung his hand out at Jean-Claude, “you’ve got your reasons, but you’re not sharing them with the rest of the class. So you know what? You two take care of this. I’m out of here.”

As Richard stalked indignantly out of the kitchen, Jean-Claude rolled his eyes and moaned. “There go the wolves,” he stated knowingly. “Richard will call them off now.”

I nodded. He was probably right. But in a way, that was good. That meant we would have to go after Aristide ourselves. Jean-Claude would have to let me go to this meeting now. I cleared my throat as soon as the sound of the front door slamming subsided.

“We, ah, better go too. It’s getting late.” I reached in my pocket and tossed Jason my keys. “You drive, okay?” I wanted to sit in the back with Jean-Claude. Maybe I could smooth things over a little better if I was close to him. “I’ll call Asher. I’ll let him know about the police, okay?”

Jean-Claude nodded curtly, but didn’t say a word. I got up and motioned to Damian to follow me. Jason trotted ahead of us into the living room, as if anxious to get away from the descending tension in the kitchen.

God, it was going to be a long night.



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