One Death Too Many
Natalie sat at the desk in her lab, staring into the distance. It had been four weeks since Stuart Markham had been killed. While the event had been tragic it had brought her and Nick closer together. Or so she had thought. Nick had obtained 'permission' to court her and that was it. During the past four weeks she had not seen him more than she usually did, let alone received any kisses or touches that spoke of affection. After the killer was apprehended she had returned to her apartment and hadn't stayed at the loft again. Nor had Nick spent a day at her place. She was beginning to wonder if he had lost interest.
Hearing the lab door open she turned around to see the object of her contemplation walk into the lab.
"Hi Nat." Nick's smile fell as he noticed the frown on her face. "Is something wrong?"
Natalie took a deep breath. "I don't know. You tell me." When he merely regarded her, his face full of concern, she elaborated, "It's been four weeks, Nick, since you gave me the impression that you were ready to move our friendship forward. I really have no idea what the term courtship meant in your days, but I was expecting a little more than a chat over an autopsy."
Looking chagrined, Nick walked up to her and lifted her hand to his lips. "Nat, you've just lost a close friend. I wanted to give you time to deal with that loss. So I waited until you were ready to move on."
While she was relieved that he hadn't lost interest, she couldn't shake the impression that he was stalling. "Fine. I am ready," she stated. In fact, she had been ready to move forward since he woke on her table five years ago.
Nick smiled slightly at her obvious impatience. "Would you come to the loft this morning? There are a few things we need to talk about."
"Talk," she muttered under her breath. Aloud she said, "I'm off at six. Expect me around seven. I want to feed Sydney first."
* * * *
With nervous anticipation Natalie rode up in the lift. She had changed into a sleeveless black silk blouse and fastened her hair in a bun on top of her head, leaving her neck accessible. She wondered briefly if she was being too obvious and decided to wrap a scarf around her neck before she reached her destination. As the lift stopped, the door was slid aside by Nick who held out his hand and drew her into the candle-lit loft.
"Coffee?" he asked and moved to the kitchen counter.
"Wine, if you have any," Natalie replied, not needing any further stimulant of her nerves.
Nick rummaged in the cabinet under the sink and pulled out a green bottle. "Red?"
"Are you sure it's wine?" Natalie asked with humour in her voice. The bottle didn't look much different than Nick's, except for the label.
Using a cork screw, Nick opened the bottle and took a sniff. "Yes, definitely wine." He retrieved a goblet and poured a glass. After setting both in front of Natalie on the couch table, he picked up his own goblet from the piano and refilled it from a bottle from the fridge.
Natalie noticed the ornate label. "That looks different."
Nick joined her on the couch. "It is," he confirmed. "I switched back to human blood on Lacroix's insistence." Before Natalie started to protest, he added, "and he's right, Nat. I need to be properly fed if this is going to work with us. I will not attempt to bring you across on cow's blood. I learned that lesson with your brother."
"But you will bring me across?" Natalie asked.
"If that is what you still want. Although I'd rather wait for a while."
"I want you to be sure that this is really what you want. There are a lot of things you still don't know about me – that might repel you. I want yours to be an informed decision because there's no going back once we take that step."
Natalie looked at him sharply. "When did you stop believing that there's a cure?"
Nick gazed at her solemnly. "Finding a cure would kind of negate your reason of coming across, wouldn't it?" he reminded her. She had claimed that she couldn't bear losing anyone else.
Natalie cast her eyes down. "Is it selfish of me to ask this of you? I feel as if I'm forcing you to give up your quest."
Nick reached out and turned her head to face him. "You aren't forcing me to do anything, Nat. It is you that I want." He emphasized his statement with a gentle kiss on her lips that grew deeper as Natalie responded. "Besides, past attempts have shown that a cure is not around the corner. It may take time, and time is something we will have plenty of," Nick added with a smile as Natalie came up for air.
"I can still continue to search. Maybe in a century or so, science will have progressed enough to generate something that will work."
"That is something else we need to discuss," Nick turned serious again. "When I bring you across, you will need time to adjust. I'm not sure that you will be able to continue working in your current job. We might have to move on. So this has to be carefully planned."
"I have quite a lot of vacation accumulated. Do you think 6 weeks will be sufficient to adjust?"
"I honestly don't know. It depends on the level of control you'll have."
Natalie nodded. "I'm aware that we'll have to move eventually. Since Sarah and Amy moved to the west coast, I don't have any family left here."
Nick took a sip from his goblet. "But I have. And they aren't going away when we move on. They will always be nearby. Would that be a problem for you?"
"Well, from the few encounters I had with Janette, I think we will get along fine."
Nick looked at her squarely. "You know it's not Janette I'm concerned about."
Natalie nudged him in the ribs. "I know. And I already got the 'I'm the patriarch of this family' speech," she mimicked Lacroix's voice. "Do you think ignoring him might work?"
Nick shook his head. "He's not the type to be ignored. But at least you won't have anything to fear. He values you because you're the reason I switched back to human. Something he hasn't accomplished in decades."
Natalie thought back to the conversation she had had at the Raven. "He mentioned I would have his eternal protection."
"And that's something you can rely on," Nick said solemnly. No matter how at odds their relationship was, Lacroix had always been there when he needed him.
"So I shouldn't piss him off?" Natalie brought him back to the present.
"Easier said than done, believe me," Nick smiled and refilled his goblet.
Natalie snuggled against him. "Is there anything else we can do besides talking? Since you aren't bringing me across for a while, I want to know how far we can go."
Nick caught her lips in another deep kiss. "Getting impatient, are we?" He grinned. "We aren't done talking yet. And this is important. It's too risky to go all the way, but there are several things that won't harm you. However, should you feel uncomfortable with anything I do, I need you to tell me."
"Why should I feel uncomfortable?"
"I might change and still maintain control. If that's too scary for you, I'll understand."
Natalie's heart beat faster at the prospect. She couldn't deny the excitement she felt every time when she caught a glimpse of the vampire. "You know I don't scare easily. I'm not frightened of you, Nick."
"That's what I'm worried about. When I tell you to stay away, promise me that you will listen and not come near me. Your life may depend on it."
Natalie saw the anguish in his eyes. She knew Nick would never forgive himself should anything happen to her. "I promise. Although we wouldn't have this problem if you would simply bring me across."
Nick turned and leaned over her. Letting his voice grow deeper, he said, "Ah, but I want to enjoy you as a mortal for a while." He pressed his lips against hers and initiated a kiss that sent her senses reeling. As she began to respond in earnest, he withdrew from her mouth and licked his way across her chin. With a flourish he removed her scarf before continuing his way down her throat, carefully avoiding the side of her neck where the arteries puckered invitingly beneath the surface.
Raising a hand to the top button of her blouse, he gazed up at her. "With your permission?"
Stunned by his bold advances, she nodded.
With practised ease Nick started to undress her while covering each newly exposed location of skin with fiery kisses. Pausing only briefly at her breasts which he left covered by her bra, he moved his lips unerringly towards her navel.
Natalie's breathing had increased and she wondered how far he would go. His eyes remained blue as he smiled at her, again seeking her permission to continue.
Finding no resistance, he removed her skirt and underwear. Inhaling deeply, he knew his eyes were on the verge of changing. He quickly bent down and alternately used his tongue and lips to tease her most sensuous parts in an increasing rhythm.
Natalie groaned in pleasure. She arched her back to press herself more firmly against him. It took Nick only a few more skillful manipulations before Natalie exploded in ecstasy. She hardly noticed the tiny prick on her calf as she rode the wave of pleasure.
As she returned from the sensory overload, she stared dreamy-eyed into Nick's blue eyes.
"Did I please my lady?" he inquired, kissing her hand.
"That was phenomenal," she rasped. "May I return the favour?"
"Not tonight, Nat," Nick said in a hushed voice and withdrew from her. He retrieved a blanket and covered her. "Sleep, my love." He kissed her brow and headed upstairs.
* * * *
It was early afternoon when Natalie woke. Replaying the events of the previous morning brought a smile to her face. Nick surely knew how to give a woman pleasure. She was only sad that he hadn't let her touch him in return. And she missed his closeness after the intimacy they had shared.
Natalie pulled an oversized t-shirt from her bag and put it on. On bare feet she ascended the stairs and entered Nick's bedroom. He lay supine on his bed, his arms crossed over his heart. She wondered if this was a position ingrained into a vampire or if he had always slept like this.
Quietly she lifted the comforter and slid underneath it. Her back hadn't quite touched the mattress, when she heard a growl next to her. The next moment she found herself pressed onto the mattress. Nick's hand was at her throat and he hissed at her with red eyes and bared fangs.
"Nick!" she tried to scream, but managed only a gurgled croak.
Yet, Nick's grip slackened, his eyes returned to blue and he gazed at her in horror. A moment later he was gone. Nat heard the refrigerator door open. She sat up in bed and waited.
A few moments later Nick returned, a half empty bottle in hand. "What were you thinking, Nat? I could have killed you!"
Natalie frowned. "I woke up and felt a little lonely down there. I didn't expect that kind of reception though."
"You're a mortal entering a vampire's resting place. It's instinct to attack."
"So I can't stay here?" Nat indicated the bedroom.
Nick shook his head and took a sip from the bottle. "Not a good idea given the circumstances."
"But you gave me the best night in my life and didn't get anything in return," Natalie protested.
"That's not quite true," Nick stated and joined her on the bed. "I did get something wonderful in return."
When Natalie gazed at him curiously, he brushed his index finger against her bare calf. "Have you not noticed these?"
Natalie followed his lead and discovered two scabby marks on her calf. "You bit me there?" she inquired. She must have been too overloaded by sensation to notice the additional stimulus.
Nick smiled at her shyly. "I couldn't resist. I only lapped at the blood that surfaced but that allowed me to experience everything that you were feeling."
He had experienced her earth-shattering orgasm through her blood? Natalie felt her cheeks turn crimson. "Oh."
"You have no idea how much that means to me to be able to bring you pleasure. I assure you I'm quite content with what I received in return."
"U-huh. Are you sure?"
"For now," Nick assured her and brushed a stray kiss on her lips.
* * * *
When Nick arrived at his desk in the evening, Schanke regarded him expectantly.
"What?" Nick asked slightly confused by the undivided attention. "Do I have a green nose or what?"
"Is there anything you would like to share?" Schanke teased.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Schank." Nick sat down at his desk and pulled a file from his in-box.
"Very well, Mr. 'We're-just-friends'. I received a call from Grace a few minutes ago. She told me to watch your face when you walk in tonight. Apparently Natalie has a grin plastered all over hers and Grace wants me to confirm if you're responsible for that. While your mood has improved considerably over the last 4 weeks, tonight's expression could definitely be called a smile on your face."
Nick groaned inwardly. He supposed this was what Nat must have felt like when she walked into the Raven after he had taken her blood for the first time. He put his pen down and gazed at Schanke. "And what is your deduction, detective?"
"You and Nat finally nailed it. About time, partner. Myra will be thrilled. She'd love helping Natalie find the perfect dress for the wedding."
"Schanke!" Nick exclaimed, drawing attention from the cops nearby. In a hushed tone he informed him, "You're a little ahead of schedule. Nat and I have agreed to date, that's all."
Schanke grinned. "That's what I wanted to hear." He reached for the phone and dialled. "Hey Grace, mission accomplished. They're officially dating. Yep, you too, bye."
Nick stared at him slightly dumbfounded.
* * * *
"Delivery for you, Nat," Grace called.
Natalie went to the front desk where a delivery boy waited nervously with a bouquet of red roses. The morgue apparently didn't belong to his usual destinations. "Dr. Lambert? I need you to sign here."
Natalie did and pulled a loonie from her lab coat.
"Already taken care of, ma'am," the boy said and left in a hurry.
Natalie inhaled the fragrance of the flowers before reaching for the envelope stuck in the middle.
'Dear Natalie, would you do me the honour and allow me to escort you to dinner tomorrow night, followed by a performance at the opera house? I will pick you up at 6:00 p.m. Nick.'
"Those are beautiful," Grace exclaimed in unconcealed excitement. "What does the card say?"
Natalie grinned. "An invitation to dine and a visit to the opera."
"Sounds beautiful." Grace leaned in to get a glimpse at the card. "Where did he learn such formal dating etiquette?"
"You have no idea," Natalie muttered.
* * * *
Natalie regarded herself in the full-length mirror and fastened a black wrap around her shoulders. She had chosen an ankle-length gown of dark blue and matching heels. As she stepped into the living-room to wait for Nick, he already leaned against the balcony door, smiling at her admiringly.
Natalie's heart-rate increased with the realization that he had flown up, a reminder of what he was and what he was able to do to bring her pleasure.
"You look beautiful, Nat." He advanced and raised her hand to his lips.
"You don't look so bad yourself," she returned, taking in his perfectly fitting tuxedo. "Are we going that way?" she indicated the balcony.
"No, I brought the caddy along."
Natalie retrieved her purse and preceded him out the door.
* * * *
The food was superb and Natalie enjoyed it immensely although initially she had felt a little odd to have a full course meal while Nick merely sipped at a glass of red wine.
"Maybe we should take a post performance drink at the Raven? At least they cater to both our needs," Natalie suggested.
"You won't mind?"
"Really, I'd love to," Natalie assured him.
The opera house was across the street. During dinner Nick had acquainted her with the plot of The Barber of Seville which had been unfamiliar to her.
After they had taken their seats, Nick tensed suddenly.
"What's wrong?" Natalie asked.
"Lacroix is in the audience."
Before Natalie had a chance to look around, the lights dimmed and the performance started.
* * * *
During intermission Natalie joined the line to the ladies' washroom. As she returned to the lobby she found Nick, a glass of champagne in his hand, in conversation with Lacroix.
"Lacroix," she nodded in acknowledgement and accepted the champagne flute from Nick.
"Dr. Lambert, you do look radiant tonight," Lacroix breathed, letting his eyes roam up and down her figure.
"Don't you have a radio show tonight?" Natalie asked.
"It's my night off. No sense in going on air when my audience is otherwise engaged. Are you enjoying the performance?"
"Yes, it's my first opera," Natalie admitted.
"Indeed? Nicholas has chosen well to initiate you to this art form. The voices as well as the musicians are remarkable. Quite contrary to the disastrous performance we attended in Milan, 1823 I believe. Do you remember, Nicholas? The tenor had to be replaced in the second act."
"Yes, but we don't want to bore Nat with the details," Nick replied with a meaningful glance at Lacroix.
Having missed the look, Natalie seized the opportunity to hear more of Nick's past. "No, I'd like to hear it. Why did he have to be replaced?"
"Nicholas drained him during intermission. Much to the saving of the evening I might add. The replacement had a far better voice. As I recall, the night ended particularly joyfully."
Natalie stared at Nick in shock. Instead of the guilty expression she had expected, he looked rather embarrassed. The sound of a bell prevented her from commenting.
"I believe it's time to return to our seats," Lacroix announced smoothly. "Enjoy the rest of the show."
Natalie sat stiffly down in her seat.
"You're upset," Nick observed before the lights went dark.
Natalie hardly noticed what was happening on stage as her mind was still busy processing what Lacroix had said. She had no illusions about Nick's former life, but to hear a witness account of him killing someone because he missed a note was making it so much more real. It took her the better part of the second act to get over it.
Repeating in her mind like a mantra that this had been in the past and that Nick was not that man anymore eventually helped her to relax and pay attention to the remaining minutes of the performance. Reaching for Nick's hand, she squeezed it reassuringly.
"I suppose you're not in the mood anymore to visit the Raven?" Nick said gloomily after the lights came back on and the applause died down.
"No, I had enough of Lacroix for one evening," Natalie confirmed. "Instead I would like to get to the loft quickly so that I can show you I'm not holding anything against you that happened in the past."
Nick's face lit up in a mixture of joy and disbelief. "Are you sure?"
"I know he said it on purpose to drive me away. He won't succeed." For emphasis, she rose on her toes and planted a kiss on Nick's cheek.
Nick kissed her hand in gratitude before offering her his arm. "In that case, your carriage awaits, milady."
* * * *
They had started to kiss in the elevator. After sliding the door aside Nick picked her up and carried her up the stairs into his bedroom. He gently sat her on the bed and removed her heels. After removing his own shoes he joined her and claimed her lips anew.
Natalie was determined to return the pleasure this time. When he reached around her in order to unzip her gown, she trailed soft kisses from his cheek towards his neck. Locking her lips on the side of his neck, she sucked firmly.
His reaction was immediate. After releasing a moan of pleasure, he suddenly pushed her away, rose from the bed and retreated against the wall. "You need to leave. Now!" he growled. "Please!" he added in a hoarse whisper.
Natalie was startled to face glowing eyes and extended fangs. Nodding, she grabbed her shoes and bolted down the stairs. On her way out she fetched the caddy keys from the table and fled into the elevator.
* * * *
"My, my, what has the good doctor done to produce this state of arousal?" Lacroix entered the bedroom as soon as the lift started descending.
"She kissed a certain spot," Nick lamented and returned to the bed.
"Oh? A natural talent it would seem. How delightful." Lacroix trailed his index finger down the very path Natalie's lips had taken earlier. "Would you like me to finish what she started?" he purred.
"That won't be necessary," Nick evaded the touch. "I can take care of myself."
"No doubt you can –– and feel miserable and irritable afterwards." Lacroix reached out to raise Nick's chin with his fingertips. "For old time's sake?" Leaning down he captured Nick's lips in a slow, demanding kiss.
Immediately he found himself seized by the shoulders and pushed onto the bed. "Damn you, Lacroix!" Nicholas ripped his shirt open and devoured his skin in feverish need.
* * * *
Natalie entered the Raven and made her way to the bar where she had spotted Janette. To her relief, Lacroix seemed to be nowhere around.
"Natalie, you look a little pale. Is everything alright?" the vampiress greeted her.
"Frankly, I could use a little girl talk," Natalie admitted.
"Oh? How can I be of assistance?"
"Um, well, I kissed Nick on the neck tonight, and his reaction was a little unexpected."
Janette smiled in curious delight and touched her gloved finger to the side of Natalie's neck. "Here?"
Janette's smile deepened. "The spot where we usually bite. That my dear, is an erogenous zone. Nicolas is quite receptive there."
"Oh," Natalie blushed. "So I better avoid that spot if I don't want him to lose control?"
"That would be wise. I can assure you Nicolas driven by passion is not something a mortal should handle."
"You should let him bring you across soon," Janette suggested.
"It's not my call. He's the one that's stalling," Natalie sighed in frustration.
"O mon dieu!" Janette suddenly exclaimed as her eyes flashed crimson. She quickly downed her glass of blood.
Regaining control, Janette shrugged it off. "It's nothing. I merely sensed something I didn't expect to happen." After a pause she added. "You weren't planning on returning to the loft tonight, were you?"
"After Nick sent me away? No," Natalie shook her head.
"I wouldn't worry, Natalie. I'm certain Nicolas will be more relaxed tomorrow."
* * * *
Nick woke with a smile on his face. He felt absolutely wonderful. His smile fell as he opened his eyes and stared at the man responsible for this rare feeling. He disentangled himself from the arms and legs wrapped around him and vanished into the bathroom to take a shower. How would Nat react if she found out?
"After you had drained that tenor in Milan, you were worried about acquiring his bad talent. So you came to me to get your blood cleansed," Lacroix recalled as he joined Nick in the kitchen, dressed in one of Nick's Toronto PD t-shirts since the shirt he had arrived in was torn to pieces. "It would seem The Barber is turning into my favourite opera. This is the second time that you shared my bed after its performance."
"It was my bed," Nick clarified. "And I would appreciate your discretion where Nat is concerned."
"She will eventually find out one way or another," Lacroix stated.
"I know. But I want to tell her in my own way."
"Do you still believe she is the right match for you, Nicholas?"
Nick evaded the penetrating glance by turning around. "Yes."
Lacroix stepped up close behind him and placed his hands on Nick's shoulders. Leaning forward, he breathed into his ear. "Doesn't the sensation you're feeling right now tell you otherwise?"
Nick resisted the urge to lean into the touch. Instead, he stepped forward and stared back at Lacroix in astonishment. "You can't be serious." Grabbing his jacket, he left for work.
* * * *
"I know that look. You got laid!" Schanke observed triumphantly as a very relaxed Nick arrived at his desk.
"Schanke!" Nick glared at him. He couldn't possibly be that obvious!
"So, I presume last night's date went well?"
"No comment, Schanke. Do we have a new case?"
"No, we don't. It's desk duty for now. Unless you want to make a trip to the morgue?"
"No, not right now." He grabbed a report and pretended to read, while he tried to figure out what he could do to make up to Nat for the spoiled evening.
Half through their shift Schanke's phone rang.
"Hi Grace," Schanke picked up the receiver. A moment later his brow furrowed and he fixed Nick with a confused look. "No, I didn't notice anything. He's his usual gloomy self. Yeah, I'll let you know."
"I suppose I should thank you for covering for me," Nick said quietly.
"And I suppose you have some explaining to do. Whoever is responsible for that gleam in your eye, it wasn't Nat. Grace said she booked off midshift after looking rather unhappy all night."
Nick rose from his seat. "I'm booking off, too. Call me if anything comes up."
* * * *
After Nick had neither called nor visited the lab, Natalie had given up trying to focus on her work. She sat on her couch staring at the dark TV screen, her thoughts replaying the previous evening over and over again. What had begun as a promising date turned into disaster the moment Lacroix had appeared at the opera house. She wished she had kept her mouth shut and not asked for details about that incident in 1823. Despite her curiosity she was shocked by what she learned. She was also astonished that Nick and Lacroix had actually socialized in the past. From Nick's vague implications she had always assumed that Nick had been constantly running from him. Apparently this had not always been the case when they visited the opera together.
Natalie jumped slightly as she heard Nick's voice close behind her. Turning around, she saw him placing a green bottle on her couch table.
"I did knock on the balcony door," he stated, not wanting to give her the impression of invading her privacy without her permission.
Natalie took in his slightly worried expression but otherwise relaxed state. Obviously Janette had been correct in her assumption. Natalie assumed he had gone on a drinking binge and felt bad about being responsible for that.
"I'm sorry about last night," Nick apologized. "That was not how I had intended the evening to end."
"I'm sorry I pushed you too far." Natalie stood from the couch and approached him. "Perhaps you should tell me which parts are off limits."
"Perhaps you should just let me make it up to you," Nick suggested and pulled her close for a kiss.
"But I need to know where I can safely touch you and where not," Natalie protested.
"Sssssh, just let me do this for you. Please?" He covered her face with tender kisses that left her yearning for more. Smiling he picked her up and carried her into the bedroom where he laid her gently on the bed. Sitting down next to her, he pushed her t-shirt over her head and leaned down to kiss her belly. Then he turned her around and unhooked her bra. Natalie moaned into the pillow as he licked a wet path along her spine. Turning her back around, he removed her bra and smiled at her obvious state of arousal. Leaning down, he used his hand and his tongue to tease her. Natalie's moans increased in intensity. As she arched her back, Nick's hand drifted in caressing circles from her breast over her belly towards her panties. With teasing slowness he slid his fingers underneath the waistband to explore. Immediately Natalie began to push against his skillful hand. Her moans turned into cries of pleasure as he brought her to the edge. Natalie's heart skipped a beat as she caught a glimpse of golden eyes and extended fangs. The sight pushed her over and she climaxed simultaneously as she felt him piercing her hip.
Natalie lay panting on the sheets while Nick continued to lick his tongue over her hip. When he came up to gaze into her eyes his expression was a mixture of delight and concern.
Natalie beamed at him. "Stay the day?"
Nick stretched out next to her. "I wasn't planning on going anywhere."
Natalie traced her finger over his brow. "Then what's with the frown on your face?"
Nick reached for her hand and kissed it. "Are you sure you still want to be brought across?"
Startled by his question, Natalie looked at him. "Yes, why do you ask?"
"I know that you were upset last night when you learned that I had killed an opera singer."
"It was in the past, Nick. I told you, I'm not holding that against you."
"I know. Yet I'm worried because every time you drink my blood, you will see everything I've done. I'm not sure you'll be able to bear that. You'll also see who I have been with."
"Nick, I'm aware you've loved many women before me. I'm not going to be jealous of some 16th century damsel. Besides, why should I drink your blood? I know I'll need it to come across, but then I thought I would be drinking what you're drinking?"
"Oh Nat," Nick released a chuckle. "Trust me, you will want to drink my blood. It's pretty unavoidable if you want to be lovers."
"Tell me more," Nat said, intrigued.
"I told you about how we're able to experience one's life through their blood. Now imagine a lover's blood spiked with ecstasy. The sharing of blood is the ultimate act of intimacy. It's incomparable to anything I've known." Nick paused a moment to replay his most recent experience with Lacroix. "The downside is that you'll learn everything about me, the good as well as the bad. And I'm afraid that you'll no longer see me as the man you think you know, but as the monster that I am."
"Don't you think you should give me a little more credit, Nick? Besides, if making love as a vampire is anything like what you just did to me, I doubt I'll be able to pay any attention to your blood."
"So the distraction worked?" he grinned.
"Distraction from what?"
Natalie's hand slid to her hip where she felt a tender spot. "No, I noticed your bite this time. But nothing else beyond that. I didn't feel what I felt when you drew blood from my hand. I was probably too overloaded by other sensations all happening at the same time."
Nick shook his head. "You didn't feel anything because I didn't feed on you. I merely pierced your skin to share the taste of your orgasm."
"Oh." Natalie wasn't sure whether to be embarrassed or disappointed. "Why not? It was incredible. And you said it would be more intense on other locations."
Nick sat up and stared at her incredulously. "Nat! I would never take your blood without your permission. And I wanted to show you that I'm capable of pleasing you in a mortal fashion."
"And I enjoyed that very much. But for the record, I am giving you my permission."
Nick regarded her with a mixture of sadness and desire.
"What?" Natalie wanted to know. Was she pushing him too far again?
"You need to know once we start down that path, your mortal days are numbered. You will become addicted. And I wanted you to decide of your own free will."
"I thought my mortal days already were numbered since you agreed to bring me across. I don't understand what you're waiting for, Nick."
"I want you to be sure."
Natalie sat up as well, using the sheet to cover herself. "In case I haven't made myself clear, I am sure. What is it that you're so afraid of I might find out? Either tell me or stop being so reluctant."
Nick evaded her glare. How could he possibly tell her about Lacroix? "You said you wouldn't be jealous of some 16th century damsel. What about lovers I had that are still around?"
Natalie exhaled slowly. "You mean Janette. I know you have a past and that you're still close. Tell me, do you love me, Nick?"
"Then that's all I need to know." She lay back down and smiled at him.
Bending down towards her, he kissed her deeply, all too ready to leave the matter unresolved.
"So, are you going to bite me or do I need to use a scalpel again?" Natalie said teasingly.
"I think you already are addicted," he observed with a chuckle. He reached for her arm and brushed his lips over her wrist and up her arm until he reached the crook of her elbow.
Natalie's breathing became more rapid as she saw the golden glow in his eyes. A moment later he pricked her inner elbow. Natalie gasped as his lips began a gentle suction on the small wounds. The incredible sensation she remembered from when he had first taken blood from her hand started on her arm and shot through her system. As he continued, she climaxed unexpectedly.
Nick released her arm and looked at her with a lop-sided grin. "Satisfied?"
"Wow!" Natalie panted. "That didn't happen last time."
"Schanke came in, remember? I couldn't let the situation become compromising."
Natalie remembered. It was bad enough that Schanke had caught her with her face aflame like that of a school girl. With the adrenaline out of her system, she felt a lethargy overcoming her. "Thank you," she smiled at Nick and drifted asleep.
* * * *
When Natalie woke in the late afternoon she found herself alone in her bed. She donned her bathrobe and went in search of Nick. He couldn't have left yet because the sun was still above the horizon as she could see from the beams shining through a gap in her curtains across the bed. She recalled having closed the curtains properly to keep Nick safe and wondered if he had opened them on purpose before slipping out of her room.
A glimpse into the living-room revealed what she was looking for. Nick lay on the couch in his usual position with his hands crossed over his heart. On the table she spotted the bottle of blood he had brought along – now half empty. She knew better than to approach him and, leaving the door ajar, went into the kitchen to prepare coffee.
She was in the middle of stirring her coffee, when she felt cool lips kissing the back of her neck. "Gaaaah," she gasped and reached for a dishcloth to mop up the spilled droplets.
"Good," Nick breathed onto her neck.
Natalie turned around to face him. "Good evening or what?"
"Good, I haven't taken enough for you to sense me."
"I will be able to sense you when you take more?" she asked intrigued.
"With time we will develop a bond and you will be able to sense me when I'm close by."
"So you can no longer sneak up on me? I'd love that!"
"I'll miss it." Nick kissed her nose. "Sun's down. I was about to head home and change for work."
She accompanied him into the living-room where he was about to step onto the balcony.
"Er, Nick?" she held him back, spotting the now empty bottle on the table. "Is there a refund on that or does that go into the glass trash?"
Sheepishly he returned to the table and took the bottle with him. "It will be refilled." He leaned towards her and kissed her deeply. "I'll see you tonight."
Then he was gone.
* * * *
When Nick appeared at his desk, Schanke looked at him expectantly. "I take it you're in a good mood. Not as euphoric as last night, but you look content. Can I conclude that Nat is in an as pleasant a mood or should I expect another worried call from Grace?"
"I think it's a good idea to head over later and check it out," Nick suggested with a grin.
Schanke looked relieved. "Okey dokey, partner. Then you can ask her to be your date for the ball."
Schanke rolled his eyes. "Which ball? How many balls are there in the next weeks? The Police Halloween Ball of course. The one you skipped the last years. I checked, we're both off this year. Myra is already super excited. I'm going as the Count and she's going to be a sorceress."
"Uh-huh," Nick mumbled.
* * * *
"O please," Schanke groaned. "I've never seen grown people grin at each other for over a minute. Get on with it, I won't tell." When he and Nick had entered the lab Nick and Natalie had stared at each other across the room with silly grins on their faces.
Nick was the first to break the silence. "Schanke, why don't you wait in the car? I'll be with you shortly.
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. No witnesses." Schanke closed the door behind him.
Immediately Nick closed the distance and pulled Natalie into a deep kiss. "Come to the loft after your shift?" he asked when she came up for air.
"Yes. Was that all or did you actually come here on official business?"
"Actually there is something else. Schanke insists that I ask you to be my date for the Halloween ball."
Natalie laughed. "Grace has been pegging me with asking you for days. You won't go as a vampire, will you?"
"Definitely not. The announcement says disguise, not plain sight. Schanke is though."
"Oh no," Natalie said in mock horror.
* * * *
Natalie balanced a duffel bag and two grocery bags on her right arm as she tried to push the elevator door aside with her left arm. She assumed that Nick wasn't home yet as he usually awaited her by the door. Yet, the loft was lit by several candelabras.
"Good evening, Natalie," a smooth voice sent a chill down her spine. "Do you require assistance?"
She spotted Lacroix in the armchair, legs crossed and a goblet of blood in his hand. The next moment he was beside her and relieved her of the grocery bags which he carried over to the kitchen table.
"Are you moving in?" he asked with a nod at her duffel bag.
"No, I just brought some essentials and a change of clothes. I still have my cat at my apartment which I can't leave alone for too long."
"Ah yes, one should not leave one's pets unsupervised. I tried to teach that to Nicholas, but as usual, he failed to listen."
Natalie slid out of her jacket and hung it on the coat rack. Then she began to unload the grocery bags and store the items away. As she reached for the fridge door to put the container of milk away, Lacroix intercepted her and brushed his fingers over the crook of her elbow where Nick had bitten her on the previous night.
"I notice that Nicholas has sipped from you again. Has he explained the consequences?"
Natalie stared at him. "How do you know?" The bite marks were barely perceptible.
Lacroix curved his lips in a hint of a smile. "Nicholas and I have no secrets. We share everything," he breathed with a meaningful gaze at her. "Has he set a date yet?"
Natalie set her jaw, refusing to take his bait. "No, he wants to wait. I think he still believes I would run away in terror. But it doesn't matter what kind of horror stories from the past you bring up, it won't work. I don't intend to leave him."
"Oh my dear, you are mistaken. It is hardly my intention to drive you away. Au contraire, I believe you would be a refreshing addition to my family. And I'm counting on the wisdom common to your gender that you will succeed in convincing Nicholas to realize what he truly wants."
"What Nick wants is to live his life without your interference," Natalie shot back.
"I suggest we continue this discussion after you have tasted Nicholas' blood."
"Which discussion?" Nick snapped as he stepped from the elevator, his mood darkening as he found Lacroix and Natalie arguing.
"The discussion about what you truly want, Nicholas," Lacroix informed him matter-of-factly.
"I told him that you want a life without his interference," Natalie said.
"And I suggested that she should wait until she has tasted the truth in your blood," Lacroix countered.
"Would you stop assuming what I want!" Nick exclaimed. "Both of you!"
Lacroix and Natalie shared a startled look of surprise.
"I don't have to assume, Nicholas, you know that," the elder stated.
Nick shot him a glare. "And you're here because?"
"Curiosity. I couldn't ignore the sensations I felt from you last night. I hope you have thought this through?"
"Have I thought what through?"
"You and Dr. Lambert are both working in public positions. It would raise suspicion if you both had to leave in a hurry. Or if Dr. Lambert suddenly developed a sun allergy and food intolerance."
"Since when are you concerned about my mortal job?" Nick asked suspiciously.
"Anything that places the community at risk is my concern," Lacroix stated smoothly.
"I have planned it through. We will attend the Police Halloween Ball and take all of our accumulated vacation afterwards."
Natalie shot him a look of surprise.
"Halloween is in two months. Are you sure she will last that long? I'm quite familiar with your appetite, Nicholas. Your victims tend to fade rather quickly. What was her name? Amalia? I recall that you drained her within a fortnight."
"I never meant to bring her across!" Nick said angrily.
"Of course not, she was merely dinner, wasn't she?"
"Yes," Nick admitted much to Natalie's shock. "Nat is neither a victim nor dinner."
"As I am sure she will be relieved to hear. She does look rather pale, don't you think? I was wondering if it's lack of blood or a consequence of learning more about your dining habits."
"It's neither," Natalie proclaimed, successfully blocking out the images Lacroix had conjured up in her mind. "I haven't eaten since breakfast. And if you're done here, I could go on fixing my dinner. I've already told you changing my mind about Nick won't work."
"And I've already assured you that you will be a refreshing addition to my family. Such spirit." Turning to Nick, he added, "All the more reason to exert a little restraint, don't you think?" He glanced up at the skylight and vanished from view.
Natalie sank down on a chair at the kitchen table, feeling emotionally drained.
"I'm sorry," Nick mumbled, not sure where he should begin to apologize. "I should have arrived earlier, but Cohen detained me. She wants me to make up for the time I skipped last night. Since I can't stay beyond sunrise she wants me to work one hour longer each night for the rest of the week."
"Who was Amalia?" Natalie asked quietly.
"One of the 16th century damsels you said you wouldn't be jealous of," Nick replied, then caught himself. "She was the daughter of a wine merchant in Germany. She had fallen in love with me and met me outside her father's house over a couple of nights. Each night she let me drink from her. I had brought her to a point where she was willing to die happily in my arms. And that night I lost her."
From her own experiences Natalie could understand the dangerous lure Amalia had fallen for. "You said it could become addictive. Is that what you meant?"
"Yes, but I'm counting on you being a resistor. And I won't bite your neck unless I bring you across."
"And you want to do it on Halloween?"
"I was going to suggest it to you tonight. It will give us plenty of time to prepare and to put in a vacation request."
"You know when we both request an extended leave of absence at the same time, it will be all over town."
"I know." Nick vanished upstairs. A short time later he returned with a small pouch in his hand. "Which is why I want you to wear this. Then nobody will question our coinciding requests." He reached for her right hand and slid a ring on her finger.
Natalie's eyes widened as she looked at the delicate silver design holding a shining blue sapphire stone that matched the colour of Nick's eyes. "It's beautiful! Where did you find it?"
"It was my mother's engagement ring," he informed her.
"Nick, that's priceless!" Natalie exclaimed in astonishment as she realized how old the ring was.
"As are you. So it's a perfect fit." Nick kissed her hand and grinned.
"So we're engaged?" Natalie's mind was frantically processing the events. Was he proposing to marry her before bringing her across?
"Sort of. The bond we will share after I've brought you across will go beyond that of husband and wife. So, consider it an engagement." He kissed her deeply. "It's getting late. Do you want the bed? I can take the couch."
Natalie's hopes of intimacy were shattered by his announcement and she remembered how hungry she was. "You keep the bed. I'm going to be busy in the kitchen for a while." She watched him pulling a bottle from the fridge before heading upstairs. She smiled as he blew her a kiss from the gallery before vanishing into his bedroom and closing the door.
* * * *
Natalie stayed more or less constantly at the loft, visiting her apartment only briefly every second day to take care of Sydney, do laundry, and to grab a change of clothes. She was about to suggest giving up her apartment and moving all the way into the loft, but she didn't want to push Nick. Although he had stopped taking her blood, Natalie was happy with the amount of intimacy they were able to share. Thus it was a little unexpected when Nick asked her to stay at her apartment for the next couple of days.
The explanation that followed left her totally embarrassed and with the realization how keen his senses really were. Her scent was too tempting during certain times of the month. With a flaming face she had left the loft.
* * * *
Five days later, a rap on her balcony door roused her from reading on the couch. Looking up, she smiled as she saw Nick stepping into her apartment with a huge bouquet of red roses.
"Are you angry that I sent you away?" he inquired.
Natalie rose and met him halfway. "How can I be angry when you're doing everything to keep me safe? I just wished I had known. You never said anything all those years."
"I've missed you. Will you come back tonight?"
"I've missed you, too." Natalie accepted the roses. "These are beautiful. Let me put them in water." Natalie went into the kitchen, retrieved a vase and filled it from the tap. As she arranged the roses in the vase, she deliberately pricked her index finger on a thorn. "Nick, I could use ––"
He was behind her before she finished the sentence and reached for her hand, staring at her bleeding finger with golden eyes. "You haven't answered my question," he rasped.
"Go ahead. Then you'll know."
Nick closed his lips over the small cut and savoured the tiny droplets. All too soon, the flow ceased. Without hesitation Nick let go of her finger and bit into her wrist.
Natalie moaned in pleasure as she felt his arousing pull. Nick wrapped his arm around her in support as her legs gave way while his continued attentions pushed her over the edge.
"Wow, I missed that, too," Natalie said breathlessly as Nick picked her up and carried her into her bedroom.
"I'm sorry, I hadn't meant to bite you," he admitted after placing her gently on the mattress.
"You know I don't mind," Natalie smiled.
"But you should. I meant what I said, Nat. You're not my dinner."
"No, I'm your chocolate." When Nick merely looked at her, confused, she explained, "Don't think I can't relate to your desire. When I have a bar of chocolate, I'm determined to eat just one piece. But that's so delicious that I cannot resist to eat a second, and then another and another. Before I know it, the entire bar is gone."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Nick said solemnly. "That I won't be able to stop in time when I bring you across. That I'll take too much."
"What would happen if you took too much?" Natalie asked.
"I would walk into the sun."
"Nick no!" Natalie sat up in shock.
"I'm not going on without you. Yours would be one death too many."
"Then you better make sure that you don't take too much," Natalie demanded.
* * * *
"Grace, I'm out for an hour. I have an errand to run," Natalie announced on the following night.
Twenty minutes later she pulled into the deserted parking lot of the CERK radio station. Taking a deep breath to fortify herself she entered the building and followed the signs to the broadcast booth. When she reached the door, the red 'on air' sign indicated that Lacroix was doing his show. She saw him through the window talking into the microphone.
After Nick had left for the couch, she had contemplated all day what she could do about his alarming confession. She doubted the wisdom of coming here of all places, but Lacroix looked up from his microphone and acknowledged her presence with a raised eyebrow. He flicked a couple of switches and rose from his seat to open the door.
"Good evening, Natalie. To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your visit?" he asked in a silken voice.
"I need to ask you something." Natalie sat down in the chair he had pulled out for her. "You mentioned eternal protection when I join your family. Does this include the process of coming across?"
"Ah, you need a favour?" he resumed his seat across from her. "I strongly believe in quid pro quo. Be prepared that I will demand something in return."
"Actually I'm doing you a favour," Natalie emphasized.
"Oh? How so?"
"There is something you should know. Nick is worried that he might kill me instead of bringing me across."
"And this should concern me why?" Lacroix asked menacingly.
"He said if that happened, he would walk into the sun." With satisfaction Natalie noted that the arrogant mask turned into a frown. "And I know you will do anything to prevent that. Is there a reason why he's afraid that he may take too much?"
"Has Nicholas ever told you about his wife?"
Natalie blanched. "He was married?"
"To a mortal. He tried to bring her across and failed."
"He killed his wife?" Natalie shivered involuntarily.
"On their wedding night. You were wise to come to me, Natalie. Rest assured, I will see to it that yours will be a successful conversion."
"May I ask why you came to me?" Lacroix inquired as she was about to leave. "Certainly the thought to enlist Janette's assistance must have crossed your mind."
"It did, but having someone present that Nick was romantically involved with seems awkward."
The shadow of a smile flashed over Lacroix's face. "Indeed? Well, one day you will appreciate the irony of that statement," he replied cryptically.
* * * *
Eventually Halloween arrived. This time Natalie had enlisted Janette's help to find a period dress that matched Nick's 17th century musketeer outfit. She wore a long, tight blue satin bodice with a low, broad neckline, paned sleeves and a matching petticoat. Her hair was a mass of tight curls, tamed by a blue silk ribbon.
Although Nick had hinted at his costume, her jaw dropped as he appeared on her doorstep and bowed deeply. He looked utterly dashing in his purple slashed doublet with paned sleeves, breeches, tall narrow boots with turned-over tops, the wide brimmed hat decorated with ostrich plumes, and the sword at his side.
The lively gleam in his eyes told her that he had had quite a lot to drink, probably in order to fortify himself for tonight.
They drew many admiring glances when they arrived at the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel. Don and Myra Schanke were already there and waved them over. Schanke was dressed in a black tuxedo with a cape draped over his shoulders. His face was painted white and when he smiled his lips revealed fake fangs.
"Your neck looks very inviting," he greeted Natalie.
Immediately Nick drew his sword and pointed it at Schanke's chest. "She's mine! You may look, but not touch."
The proclamation left Natalie as well as Schanke rather stunned.
"Point that elsewhere, partner. It looks pretty sharp. Is that a real sword? Where did you get that?"
"It is real. A family heirloom," Nick provided.
"Let me see your ring, Natalie," Myra came up beside Schanke. She wore a glittering green gown and a matching sorcerer's hat, decorated with stars and moons.
Natalie's ring had already created big fuss in the morgue as well as in the precinct. Everybody had congratulated her and Nick on their engagement. When they had put in their requests for vacation, the common rumour was that they planned to elope to Las Vegas.
"It's beautiful," Myra commented when Natalie held out her hand. "You have excellent taste, Nick."
"It was my mother's," he said truthfully. That moment the orchestra started to play a slow waltz. "Excuse us," Nick said and drew Natalie with him onto the dance floor.
"Aren't you overreacting a little bit?" Natalie scolded while he led her skillfully through the dance. "Schanke was just joking."
"I won't let anyone's fangs near your neck, whether they're fake or not. I've restrained myself for too long."
When the dance ended, he accompanied her to the buffet.
"Nick, how did women eat in these corsets?" Natalie asked. "I'm hardly able to breathe."
"I don't know," he replied with a shrug. "But they fainted rather frequently. You should eat something you're particularly fond of though." Leaning closer he whispered into her ear, "It's going to be your last solid meal after all."
Natalie's heart beat faster with the reminder. "In that case, I suppose I don't have to mind the calories," she commented gleefully and went for the chocolate cake.
* * * *
As the night wore on, Natalie started to become increasingly nervous with the knowledge that her hours as a mortal were counting down. She couldn't wait to get it over with and to finally be able to make love to Nick in the way she yearned to do. "I'm ready to leave if you're," she whispered as Nick had steered them into a corner during another dance to steal a kiss.
"Are you sure you don't want to eat anything else?" he asked.
Natalie shook her head.
"Or have one more coffee?"
"No, I'm already utterly jittery."
"Okay, let's leave unnoticed before anyone else asks about our upcoming vacation." He led her through a hallway onto a balcony. Making sure nobody was watching, he laid his arms around her and took to the air.
A short time later, he landed in the side alley of the Raven. "I need to make a brief stop here," he announced and led her to the front entrance, passing quite a line of people in weird costumes. The bouncer nodded at Nick and opened the door for them.
The club had its own Halloween party going on. Nick guided Natalie to the bar where Janette greeted them with a broad smile on her face. She was dressed as Catwoman in a tight leather suit. "Nicolas, that period fashion suited you particularly well. He does look extremely delicious, don't you agree, Natalie?" she purred with a twinkle in her eye.
"And I can hardly wait," Natalie grinned.
"Janette, I need a bottle from Lacroix's stock," Nick said.
She went behind the bar and pulled a bottle from a locked cabinet. After pouring a glass for Nick she left the bottle on the counter.
"May I have a dance with my soon to be grand-daughter while you indulge on my supplies, Nicholas?" Lacroix's smooth voice close behind her caused Natalie to whirl around. She took a second look at the man in front of her. Dressed all in black in the fashion of a Venetian nobleman from the 16th century, he was a stunning sight. A silver half mask covered his eyes that accentuated their steel blue colour even more.
"Nat?" Nick asked.
"Only if I get another one with you afterwards," Natalie replied diplomatically. She didn't want a quarrel to escalate between Nick and Lacroix. After all, she depended on Lacroix to stop Nick from killing her.
Nick bowed his head in consent in Lacroix's direction. The elder drew Natalie with him to the dance floor. Natalie was not surprised that he moved as efficiently as Nick.
"Nervous?" he asked.
"A little," she admitted. "But I trust that you'll hold on to your promise."
"Tomorrow you will be as eternal as Paris," Lacroix assured her.
As soon as the dance ended, Nick appeared behind Lacroix. He drew his sword and held it against Lacroix's throat. "Let me cut in or cut your throat."
Natalie tensed as Lacroix reached for the blade. "Really Nicholas, such dramatics. If you wish to have my blood again, why don't you simply ask?"
"That's not what I meant!" Nick quickly recovered from the implications.
"Pity." Lacroix drew his index finger over Nick's cheek and lingered on his chin, raising it. He bent forward so that their lips were almost touching. "It would help you to maintain control tonight." Straightening, he walked away.
Nick closed his eyes briefly to keep them from changing.
"Nick?" Natalie asked cautiously.
He stashed his sword and reached for her as the next dance started.
"You really love flourishing that around, don't you?" Natalie observed.
Nick relaxed and smiled. "Is it that obvious?"
"Yes." Laughingly she added, "You know for a moment I thought Lacroix was going to kiss you."
Nick tensed again. "You thought wrong." After they had finished the dance in silence, he steered her towards the exit. "Let's go."
* * * *
"Do you want to wait until sunrise?" Nick asked after they had arrived at the loft.
Natalie grabbed the remote and closed the blinds. "No, I'm ready."
"It doesn't have to be today, you know."
"Nick, you're trying my patience," Natalie sighed. "Unless you've changed your mind?"
Nick smiled. "No, I don't want to wait any longer to make love to you the way I've always dreamed of." He emphasized his statement with a deep kiss. Sweeping her off her feet, he flew upstairs and sat her on the bed. Again he kissed her with increasing passion. As he gazed at her again, his eyes were golden. He reached for her hand and kissed the vein on her wrist. Natalie caught a glimpse of his extended fangs as he brushed the hair away from her neck. Leaning closer, he whispered into her ear, "Come back to me." Natalie cried out as he sank his fangs into her vein. The initial pain turned into unbelievable pleasure as Nick started to pull the blood from her. As she climaxed, his grip became tighter and his sucking fiercer than she had experienced before. The sensations became too much and darkness claimed her.
Nick revelled in her blood. He buried his fangs deeper into her neck to get more of the life-giving fountain. Her blood conveyed her unwavering love to him, something he had never thought possible. He continued to drink although her body had already slackened in his arms.
A hard grip on his shoulder distracted him from his feast. "Enough!" Lacroix hissed into his ear.
Nick immediately ceased his drinking and stared horrified at Natalie's lifeless body. "I've taken too much!"
"Not yet. But you would have," Lacroix stated. "I told you to exert a little restraint."
"I couldn't stop."
"Ah, my insatiable child. She must be quite delicious, I suppose." Lacroix brushed his index finger over the bleeding bite marks and licked it off. "She's fading quickly. I suggest you finish what you've started."
Nick bit into his own wrist and held it over Natalie's lips. "Come back to me, Natalie. Please, come back!" he murmured.
After a few anxious moments, he felt movement against his wrist as Natalie suckled at his wound with increasing intensity. He closed his eyes in pleasure. After she had taken back what he had taken from her, he pulled his wrist away. "Welcome back, my love," he said throatily. He kissed her deeply before raising his eyes in gratitude towards Lacroix.