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One Lover Too Many

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One Lover Too Many
By PJ
February 2018

 

Natalie woke with intense pain in her stomach. As she opened her eyes, she was slightly disoriented. Then her senses honed in on a mug held in front of her from which drifted an enticing aroma. Without questioning she grabbed the mug and downed its contents. It was refilled several times before the pain in her stomach abated and her vision cleared. Looking around, she found herself in Nick's bedroom, leaning against him. Turning around, she took in the sight of him.

He regarded her with a wide smile on his face.

"You did it," she observed. "I'm a vampire?"

"A very hungry one," Nick confirmed and raised the bottle he was holding. "You just consumed almost two bottles of blood."

"Oh? I only remember the pain in my stomach. Is it always like that?"

"First hunger is always the worst. It will lessen if you maintain a regular diet."

Natalie raised her hand to her lips. "Do I have the fangs? Or do they need time to grow?" Her scientific mind was kicking in.

"They should be there and will drop if stimulated."

"Stimulated? How?"

"Like this." Nick leaned forward and kissed her firmly. He slid his tongue into her mouth and pressed against her gums.

Natalie released a startled groan as something gave way. Amazed she examined her now extended fangs with her index finger. When she pressed in an attempt to shove them back in, she cut herself instead.

Chuckling, Nick reached for her hand and gently licked at the surfacing blood until the cut closed.

"How do I retract them?"

"You don't. You'll need them for what I have in mind. Unless you want to explore your new abilities first?"

"I want to explore you," Natalie returned.

"I was hoping you'd say that." Again he kissed her deeply. When he pulled back, he regarded her a moment with a solemn expression. "Nat, whatever happens, please remember that I do love you."

"Why, what should –– "Natalie was startled by the change in his mood, but before she could question it, he had resumed his passionate attack on her senses. In reciprocation, she went for his neck and kissed it in the same manner that had caused him to send her away when she was mortal.

Now he welcomed her caress and urgently relieved her of her clothing. Natalie noticed in delight that her actions had caused his eyes to change and his fangs to drop. The entire state of his arousal became evident when he shed his remaining garments.

Natalie cherished the moment when she finally received him. She cried out in bliss and clung to him as he began to move, taking her towards the peak. Yet, something prevented her from climaxing.

"Bite me!" Nick urged her on and pulled her head towards his neck.

Not wanting to hurt him, she gently pricked his skin. Apparently she managed to hit a major vessel as Nick's blood flooded her mouth. With the first swallow she climaxed violently and felt his bite into her shoulder. His fierce pull renewed her arousal and she shuddered against him as another cascade of contractions hit her.

While she drank deeply from him, the images started. A wild kaleidoscope of eight centuries rushed into her brain. Eventually she couldn't take any more and passed out from the information overload.

* * * *

Natalie woke with a start and found herself alone in Nick's bed. In the dim light she could easily discern a black mug and a bottle on the nightstand. She poured the blood and emptied two mugs in succession. Then she settled against the headboard and allowed her mind to process what she had learned.

Her hand shot to her mouth as she tried to grasp the enormity of it. To say she was shocked was an understatement. Although Nick had hinted at the possibility that she would see images from his life she hadn't been prepared to experience his feelings as well. She had expected to get glimpses of him killing his victims, but to experience the ecstasy he felt when he drained their blood was more than she could stomach. It was his subsequent remorse after each deed that kept her from getting sick at the mere thought of the slaughter he had committed. Still, the joyful sensations associated with killing bothered her. On the other hand, it caused her to admire him all the more for abstaining during the last century, knowing what he gave up.

Throughout those centuries of slaughter there had been passion. Natalie had witnessed countless trysts with women, most of whom died at the height of Nick's passion. Those that did not were vampires, and quite often she had recognized Janette. No doubt Nick was a very passionate man who enjoyed the female form. Yet the focus of Nick's desire seemed to be directed at one vampire in particular. And that vampire was Lacroix. The ancient had been more prominent in Nick's thoughts than Natalie had expected. She could hardly believe what she had seen. Apparently they had been intimate throughout the centuries, despite periods of violence that made her gasp, and it didn't end in the last century like Nick's killings did. Natalie had recognized recent clothing and the loft as the background of some of those intimacies.

Lacroix's veiled comments came to her mind and realization struck. Was Nick lost to her forever? How could she think that he would ever be content with her when it was Lacroix he truly desired? Tears started to roll down Natalie's cheek. When she noticed their red colour, her sobs increased and she headed to the bathroom where she continued to cry under the shower.

* * * *

Nick stood in the shadows next to the window and stared at the red sky. He had sensed Natalie awakening a while ago. Shortly before she had passed out, he had tasted the horror in her blood and knew that she was bothered by what she had seen. He had concluded it would be better to give her some space. So he had left a bottle on the nightstand and spent the day on the couch.

It saddened him when he heard her crying. Yet he fought down the instinct to console her as he was probably the last man she wanted to see right now. So he waited until she was ready to face him.

* * * *

The loss of blood occasioned by her tears soon roused Natalie's hunger. The bottle on the nightstand was already empty, forcing her to seek nourishment downstairs.

Nick turned around as she appeared on the gallery, the familiar expression of guilt visible on his face. "Nat?" he asked tentatively.

"I'm hungry," she said faintly.

He walked to the fridge and retrieved a bottle which he handed her after removing the cork.

Natalie sat down at the kitchen table and drank deeply. After three mugs she focused her gaze on Nick, who leaned against the counter. "So much for wanting me to make an informed decision. My god, Nick, why didn't you tell me?"

"I told you that you would see the killing. I was afraid it might upset you. I cannot change it."

"I'm not talking about the killing," Natalie returned sharply.

"Oh," Nick cast his eyes to the floor.

"All those years you've told me the most horrible stories about Lacroix. You never gave a hint that you are lovers!"

Nick moved to the fridge again and pulled out a bottle for himself. Much to his unease he noted her use of present tense. "I've been fighting it so hard that I didn't find it worthwhile to mention."

"I don't understand. Is it because he brought you across?"

Nick shook his head. "The attraction has been there from the first moment I saw him. I cannot explain it." He retreated again to the window, knowing the remaining sunlight filtering through the half closed blinds would keep her from following.

"Can't or won't?" Natalie wanted to know. She rose from her seat to follow him.

"Nat, don't!" Nick shouted, but she had already stepped into the beam of sunlight. Instantly her hand burst aflame. Screaming in pain, she jumped back and rushed to the sink to extinguish the flames with water.

"You're too young to tolerate even a reflection of sunlight," Nick lectured while he examined her arm.

"I didn't think. I forgot that I can't stand the sun anymore," Natalie confessed. "Stupid."

Nick held out his arm. "Here, take my blood. It will soothe the pain and accelerate the healing."

"No." Natalie stepped back in horror. She couldn't bear another assault of horrid images.

Nick felt as if she had struck him in the face. He watched in sadness as she retrieved another bottle from the fridge and retreated upstairs.

"Is your honeymoon already over?" a velvet voice inquired.

Nick whirled around to find Lacroix standing behind him. "She found out about us," Nick stated flatly.

"I told you she would. As I recall I advised you to tell her beforehand. And you asked me not to."

"You never adhere to my requests. Why this time?" Nick scolded.

"Oh, so now you blame me for keeping your secret? I can assure you I did drop a couple of hints. It's not my fault that she wasn't smart enough to pick them up."

"She accidentally burned herself and now she's refusing to take my blood," Nick lamented gloomily.

"I see. May I ask why the blinds are open when you have a child in the house?" Lacroix asked sternly.

Nick brushed his hand through his hair. "I didn't think she would step into the line of light. But she simply forgot that she was a vampire!"

"Then I suggest that you start her training."

"How can I strengthen the bond with her when she refuses to take my blood?"

"I could think of a couple of ways..."

"None of which are acceptable to me, I'm sure."

"Perhaps Janette is willing to share her experience regarding the handling of certain relations within this family. Let them have a 'girl talk'."

Nick considered his words. He knew Natalie had sought Janette's advice in the past.

"Besides, a trip to the Raven might distract her from the misery she seems to wallow in," Lacroix added with a glance upstairs from where their vampiric hearing picked up Natalie's quiet sobbing.

"It will take at least a day until her burns are healed," Nick said gloomily.

"Perhaps not. With your permission?" Lacroix offered.

When Nick nodded reluctantly, Lacroix retrieved a goblet from the kitchen and moved upstairs.

* * * *

"My, my, what a delicious mess you've made," Lacroix remarked, indicating the linens that were stained from Natalie's tears.

Startled she looked up. When she was mortal, she had always found him rather imposing. Now with her enhanced senses, she could feel his immense power and age. She hadn't noticed this with Nick. Immediately the images she had seen in Nick's blood replayed in her mind and she couldn't help finding herself responding to the raw passion she had observed.

Lacroix merely raised an eyebrow at the change in Natalie's eyes and perched on the bed next to her. "I came to look after your hand."

"It hurts like hell," Natalie stated and removed the towel she had wrapped around her wrist. "Why is it not healing as I've seen more severe wounds heal faster on Nick?"

"My dear, you're but young. It would heal faster if you partook of a stronger vintage. But Nicholas tells me that you are refusing to take his blood?"

"It's too much. I'm still dealing with processing everything I've seen that first time."

"Ah yes, the sharing of blood can be overwhelming for one so young. Especially unrestricted as Nicholas' usually is." Lacroix bit into his own wrist and caught the blood in the goblet he had brought along. When it was filled to the half, he handed it to Natalie. "Try this."

Natalie stared mesmerized into the goblet, the aroma calling to her. Yet, she hesitated. What would she see in Lacroix's blood? She wasn't keen on experiencing their encounters from his point of view. Cautiously she took a sip. She tasted power, but nothing else. She didn't get any glimpses into Lacroix's life. Glancing up in surprise, she emptied the goblet. After a short time, she felt the pain on her burned arm lessen.

"Fascinating," she observed as she watched the skin renewing itself.

"Nicholas' blood would have had the same effect."

"Why did I not see anything in your blood?" Natalie wanted to know.

"Because I chose not to share myself with you. Don't ask this of Nicholas. He doesn't have the ability to hide his feelings."

"Because you neglected to teach him," Natalie ventured.

Lacroix rose from the bed, a smile playing around his lips. "Perhaps."

"That's not fair."

"It's what ensured his survival on numerous occasions. If Nicholas learned to hide his thoughts from me, how would I anticipate his more foolish undertakings and intervene before he gets himself killed?"

Natalie remained silent. From Nick's blood she had indeed glimpsed several instances where Lacroix had come to his rescue. "So you've won. I wish one of you had the guts to tell me beforehand."

Lacroix shrugged. "I told you we would have this conversation about what Nicholas truly wants after you had tasted his blood."

"Well, this was not what I expected. Why did you let him bring me across at all? I would have died in half a century anyway. Then you would have had Nick all to yourself."

"Because you're the key to bringing Nicholas back into the family. Without you he would have continued to search for a cure. Now he is responsible for you and has to assume his place as your master."

Natalie was stunned by his bluntness. "So I'm a pawn in your game," she concluded sadly, while another blood tear rolled down her cheek.

Lacroix reached out and caught it on his index finger. "Rather, a valued asset, if you will," he stated and licked his finger clean. "Nicholas does love you, too, as he does Janette."

Nick's odd reminder came back to her mind. She wondered how Janette had dealt with Nick's passion for Lacroix. She must have known. Perhaps it was time for another girl talk. "Does that mean you wouldn't mind if Nick and I continue to be intimate?" She needed to know where she fit into this family.

"Whatever makes Nicholas happy. As long as your claims aren't exclusive, of course."

"Of course," Natalie remarked sarcastically. "But to be intimate I would have to take Nick's blood?"

"Delicious, isn't it?"

"It's disconcerting! To see him in the arms of other women while I experience a moment of bliss is unsettling enough. But to see him with you and feel his ecstasy, I'm sorry, but that's more than I can take."

"You don't find it inspiring?"

Natalie knew her face would be aflame if she had been mortal. What she had seen was indeed incredibly arousing, but she was not about to admit that in front of him. Instead she shook her head.

"Then you won't resume your relationship? A pity. Nicholas will be most heart-broken." Lacroix rose from the bed and walked to the door. "You will let him educate you, however. Or I will see to it." The last was uttered with menace in his voice. He held her gaze for a moment, before leaving the bedroom.

* * * *

"Nat?"

Natalie looked up to see Nick lingering at the bedroom door.

"I'm aware it's all a bit much at the moment. Why don't we focus on getting you acquainted with your new abilities and leave the rest for later?" he suggested.

Natalie knew from experience that Nick had a tendency to avoid unpleasantries by postponing them to infinity. However, she found herself willing to agree to his proposal under the circumstances. "I think I can handle that. Where do we start?"

"The basics." Nick perched on the bed as Lacroix had done earlier. "I didn't think I had to tell you this, but sunlight is deadly. So are wooden stakes through the heart and decapitation. Garlic will make you ––"

He was interrupted when Natalie hurled a pillow at him. "I know that! I've watched enough vampire movies."

"Then don't forget it again." Nick held her gaze. "I don't want to lose you, Nat."

"I'll try to be more careful in the future," she promised. "What's next?"

"Flying?"

Natalie grinned eagerly.

"C'mon," Nick preceded her onto the gallery and easily lifted over the railing to land smoothly on the loft's ground floor.

"Uh," Natalie remained on the gallery having no clue what to do.

"Just do it. It's instinct."

"Uh-huh." Natalie climbed slightly clumsily over the railing.

"Just let go."

Natalie did. A second later Nick caught her in his arms.

"You jumped," he scolded.

"You said to let go. That's what I did. Thanks for catching me by the way. I wasn't keen on breaking my bones."

Nick set her back on her feet, but kept holding on to her hand. "Let's try it this way. Focus on a point at the ceiling and imagine yourself levitating towards it."

Natalie focused on the skylight. She didn't think it was working because she still felt Nick holding her hand. However, when she looked down, a gasp escaped her. They were both hovering about two meters above the ground.

"See?" Nick grinned. "Now try to reach the gallery."

When he let go of her hand, she focused on the gallery and found herself gliding through the air. "Fascinating!" she exclaimed after she had landed with a slight stagger on the gallery.

"Very good. How about a flight to the Raven?"

Natalie's eyes widened. "Do you think I'm up to it? What if there're mortals?"

"There won't be. I'll call ahead while you change. Janette will close the club to mortals."

* * * *

When Natalie had changed into jeans and a black woolen turtle neck, Nick reached for her hand. He drew her with him through the skylight. On the roof he laid his arm around her and launched into the sky.

They landed in the alley next to the Raven. Nick used a key to open the side entrance that led into Janette's private quarters. Natalie looked around curiously as Nick led her through a series of rooms until they reached a steel door that opened into the club.

Natalie was surprised to see the club fully crowded despite Nick's assurance that it would be closed to mortals when they arrived. Immediately she found herself the focus of the patrons' attention. They had hardly advanced more than a few steps into the club when the crowd parted as Lacroix strode towards them.

"Good evening, Natalie, Nicholas. So nice of you to drop by." He reached for Natalie's hand and drew her with him towards the stage, while Nick followed slowly. The crowd in the club turned silent as Lacroix stepped up to one of the microphones. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm pleased to present my new grand-daughter, Natalie Lambert, child of Nicholas de Brabant," he announced.

Natalie nodded shyly as she stared into the many unknown faces who regarded her with a mixture of curiosity and awe. She had no idea what was expected of her, so she was relieved when Lacroix signalled to the musicians to resume their music and guided her towards the bar where Janette had four goblets of blood waiting for them.

"A toast to family." Lacroix raised his goblet.

Hungry from the flight, Natalie emptied hers in hasty gulps. When it was refilled Janette led her to the opposite end of the bar while Nick and Lacroix remained behind. At close proximity Natalie caught a sensation of age and power from Janette as well. To a lesser degree than from Lacroix, but still remarkable.

"How do you feel, Natalie?" Janette inquired after they were comfortably settled on bar stools.

"I feel kind of overwhelmed. There're several things I wasn't prepared for. I'm glad for the opportunity to talk to you."

"Another girl talk," Janette smiled.

"Yeah. About them," Natalie nodded towards Nick and Lacroix who were seated at the far end of the bar, engaged in conversation. "I suppose you know they are ––"She couldn't bring herself to say it.

Janette released a sigh and sipped from her glass. "What you're witnessing is the greatest melodrama of the millennium. Every romance writer would have a field day with their history."

Natalie had to smile in spite of herself at the description. "But how did you deal with it?"

"In fact, it was the reason I left Nicolas," Janette admitted. "Not because he went to Lacroix on occasion, but because of how it changed his attitude towards me. Lacroix stood for everything that Nicolas began to deny. So he rejected Lacroix's love and focused on me. I felt smothered by his love. Eventually I left him in an act of self-preservation. Lacroix being Lacroix sternly saw to Nicolas' education without allowing his feelings to get in the way. When Nicolas acted wrong in his eyes Lacroix saw fit to punish him. It got worse when Nicolas actively started to seek a cure. In-between there were times of concord and reconciliation. Then some quarrel would arise and escalate. It's been going in these circles over the centuries. They can't live together and yet can't stay apart. As I said, the biggest melodrama the world has ever seen."

"And everybody here knows?" Natalie waved around the club.

"We do not get coverage in the tabloids and Lacroix values privacy, but everybody knows not to come between Nicolas and Lacroix."

"If he values privacy why did he make that big announcement?" Natalie wanted to know. "Is that customary for every new member?"

Janette took a sip from her glass. "It's actually pretty unusual. But our dear Nicolas does not have the best reputation within the community due to his quest. Some might express their displeasure about his lifestyle by attacking his offspring. By acknowledging you as his grand-child in public, Lacroix made sure everybody knows that you were brought across with his consent and are under his protection."

"Oh." Natalie realized that she was in Lacroix's debt again. She glanced across the bar at the two men. They were conversing, totally absorbed by each other. "Janette, why is it that I can sense your and Lacroix's age, but I don't pick up anything from Nick?"

"Nicolas is so used to hide his nature among mortals, that suppressing what he is has become second nature. You might sense him more clearly when he's angry. But be careful, the moment you sense his age, you're probably in trouble."

Natalie glanced over at the two men again and found herself the centre of their focus. While Nick looked at her with a slightly hungry expression, Lacroix regarded her with a degree of curiosity. Ignoring the elder, Natalie smiled shyly at Nick.

A moment later he came around the bar and joined them. "It's getting late. We should be going," he suggested.

Nodding, Natalie turned back to Janette. "Thanks for the chat."

"Anytime, Natalie," the vampiress returned.

After Nick and Natalie had left, Lacroix sauntered over to her. "You did well, my dear. Although, there was no need for such over-dramatization."

* * * *

Back at the loft, Nick handed Natalie a glass of blood. "How was your talk with Janette?"

Natalie took several draughts from her glass. "She explained a few things. What did you and Lacroix talk about?"

"He suggested something, which I'd rather tell you tomorrow." He relieved her of the empty glass and placed it on the kitchen counter. Then he laid his arm around her and pulled her close for a kiss. Realizing Nick's hunger for her, Natalie responded eagerly. She moaned in delight as Nick nibbled on her neck, skillfully creating arousing sensations. Without lifting his lips from her skin, he embraced her and flew them into the bedroom where they eagerly continued to undress each other.

Natalie groaned in ecstasy as Nick moved within her, driving them to the edge. With a growl he sank his fangs into her neck. Natalie felt ready to explode, but she hesitated to pierce Nick's skin, knowing what awaited her when she drank his blood. She focused on the intense pull on her neck while she slowly slid into oblivion with a smile on her lips.

* * * *

"Nat? NATALIE!" Nick yelled. When he had come back to his senses, feeling wonderfully sated, he noticed in shock that Natalie lay lifeless in his arms instead of joining him in ecstasy. Why hadn't she bitten him to complete the cycle?

He bit his wrist and held it over Natalie's mouth, but there was no reaction. Desperately he opened the healed wound on his wrist again and bit into Natalie's wrist to create an equal wound. When he pressed their wrists together, he felt his blood being absorbed by Natalie's starved body. After he had repeated the procedure four times, Natalie began to stir and opened her eyes.

"Nat? How do you feel?" Nick asked worried.

"I'm fine," Natalie smiled at him.

"Why didn't you bite me?"

Natalie averted her eyes. "I couldn't. I'm not ready yet to face those images again."

"Natalie, had I known I wouldn't have pressured you into making love tonight."

Natalie raised her hand to brush it tenderly along the side of his face. "You didn't pressure me, Nick. I wanted it as much as you did."

"But you didn't climax."

"It's all right. What you did felt wonderful. It's only fair. How often have you given me pleasure while I was mortal without reaching climax yourself?"

Nick shook his head. "It's not the same. What I did to you was unspeakable. I would kill anyone who does that to you!"

"Nick, I don't want you to kill anyone because of me," Natalie said softly. "And I really enjoyed what you did."

"It won't happen again," Nick stated, turning away from her and leaving the room.

Natalie felt too weak to follow. She sobbed for a while before falling asleep.

* * * *

"Is there a problem?"

Nick's eyes shot open at the sound of the velvet voice close to his ear. He lay on the couch and gazed directly into Lacroix's face. The elder leaned over the back of the couch, studying him. Nick sat up and walked into the kitchen to retrieve two goblets which he filled from the refrigerator.

"I nearly drained Nat last night. She didn't bite back," he confessed.

"I see." Lacroix followed him into the kitchen. "Have you not anticipated her intention to refuse to bite?"

Nick shook his head.

"But you've taken her blood."

"I was –– I didn't pay attention," Nick admitted.

"So, once again you've let your passion override your common sense. You neither probed into the blood of your child nor did you pay heed to her needs. Really Nicholas, a little restraint might be in order," Lacroix lectured.

"I've restrained myself around her for 5 years. I thought I could finally be with her without the fear of hurting her."

"She's but a child, Nicholas. Hardly suitable for the kind of passion you're capable of. I highly recommend that you pay better attention to her concerns and needs. If you require a relief of your passions, there're more suitable outlets available." Lacroix accepted the goblet from Nick, their fingers briefly touching.

Nick nearly jumped at the brief contact. "I've brought her across and I still cannot be intimate with her," he sighed after readjusting his thoughts on Natalie.

"I've already proposed a solution to your dilemma," Lacroix remarked.

"I don't think she'll agree to that," Nick replied.

"You haven't asked her?"

Nick shook his head.

"Why?"

Nick evaded his gaze. "I don't think I could –– I don't want her to –– there're certain things I don't wish to share."

"Ah." There was obvious amusement in Lacroix's expression.

"What?" Nick asked, irritated at the elder's smug grin.

"I'm truly flattered by your admission, Nicholas. Although I'm not sure that I like being referred to as a 'thing'."

Nick stared at him dumbfounded. "You're unbelievable! How can you assume that everything I say is about you?"

Lacroix smiled indulgently. He brushed his hand against Nick's chin and raised it so that their mouths were nearly touching. "Because I know you intimately, mon cher." He closed the distance between their lips and smiled as Nick hungrily responded to the kiss. After a moment of tongue duelling, Lacroix pulled away. "Good evening, Natalie," he breathed without turning around.

Nick's golden eyes shot to the gallery where he spotted Natalie staring down at them. Ashamed he turned around and forced himself to calm down.

"Well, my dear, have you recovered from last night's ordeal?" he heard Lacroix's smooth voice. "As you may have experienced by now, Nicholas knows no restraints when it comes to passion. Either you return his bite or you should not encourage him to touch you at all. Being drained doesn't kill you, but a repetition may have unhealthy effects on your mental well-being. And we don't want that, do we? Do you wish to discuss this matter?"

Natalie shook her head.

"Very well then. I shall be on my way." As he stepped underneath the skylight, he placed his hand on Nick's shoulder. "If you need me..."

Nick shrugged the hand off. "Is that your solution? To suggest we go back to the way things were when she was mortal?"

"No, my solution was far more entertaining, but you objected to it." Lacroix lifted his gaze towards the skylight and was gone.

"What was his solution?" Natalie wanted to know as she made her way downstairs. She crossed to the fridge and retrieved a bottle.

"He suggested that you take his blood instead of mine," Nick said solemnly.

Natalie stopped in mid-step. "Er, you mean, while we –– he would –– no, he can forget that."

Nick regarded her with a lop-sided smile. "I thought so." Relief was evident in his voice.

* * * *

This evening Nick had taken her flying again. They had landed in a small park near the lake where Natalie had encountered her first mortal. Initially she had been reluctant to approach him, fearing that she might find his blood too enticing. But Nick had assured her that he would not allow her to harm the mortal. If she changed he would hypnotize the man into forgetting what he saw.

While Nick lingered in the shadows, Natalie hesitantly stepped up to the man who sat on a park bench, smoking a cigarette. She could hear his heartbeat and smell his blood underneath his skin. Yet, it did not call to her as she had feared. Clearing her throat, she asked, "Excuse me, can you tell me what time it is?"

The man started slightly at her sudden appearance. Checking his watch, he replied, "9:30".

"Thanks," Natalie nodded and continued down the path where Nick joined her again.

"You did very well," he smiled.

They took to the air again and landed in a more populated area near Queen's Terminal. Here they passed several commuters hurrying to catch the ferry to Ward's Island. A young man bumped against Natalie's arm. "Excuse me," he apologized before hastening towards the ferry dock.

Natalie tensed. The heartbeats around her suddenly increased in volume.

"Close your eyes," Nick commanded in a hiss. "Don't breathe, relax and count to ten."

Instead Natalie opened her eyes again and looked at him scrutinizing. "Relax while not breathing? How's that supposed to work?"

Nick grinned at her. "You don't need to breathe. In fact, we stop breathing at all when we sleep, as you've probably noticed. Anyway, it's no longer necessary. Your eyes have returned to normal. Usually a distraction works as well, like the riddle you were just trying to solve."

"Uh-huh." Natalie was still startled that the brief contact with the young man had so suddenly cracked her control. "Is it always that unexpected?"

"In time you will get used to being around mortals. It just takes some practise to anticipate any surprises."

Natalie was fatigued when they returned to the loft. After draining a whole bottle she felt her energy somewhat restored. Now, in the confines of the loft she could sense the unmistakable pull towards Nick. All she wanted was to make love to him for the remainder of the night. Yet she dreaded the sharing of blood which seemed to be a necessity. How was she supposed to keep her distance from Nick when she felt such overwhelming desire?

It was about an hour before sunrise when Nick headed upstairs to take a shower. Natalie seized the opportunity and packed two bottles into her bag. Quickly she left through the skylight and flew towards her apartment.

As she climbed the stairs to her floor, her neighbour approached her. "Hey Natalie, I haven't seen you in a while," the young woman greeted her. "Are you all right? You look very pale."

Natalie kept her eyes on the floor. "I'm fine, Sarah. Just tired," she replied tersely. "Have a good day." Without waiting for another reply, she brushed past her and sighed in relief as her apartment door closed behind her.

However, as she leaned against the door, she picked up the heartbeats of the other tenants living in the apartment complex. Maybe coming here had not been her wisest idea. She yearned for the solitude of Nick's warehouse and considered briefly returning, but the sky was already too bright to venture out. Quickly she drew the curtains against the rising sun. Then she retrieved one bottle from her bag and drained it hastily.

A sudden sensation of impending doom startled her before her balcony door was forced open. A moment later, Nick stepped into the living room. Natalie stared at the wisps of smoke emanating from his clothes. For the first time she could sense his age and power. Remembering Janette's warning, she took an involuntary step backwards as he approached her.

"What are you doing, Natalie? You're too young to spend the day alone. Do you want to end like your brother?"

Nick's anger was palpable, causing her to retreat another step. "How did you find me here?"

"I used our bond to track you down. If you cannot stand my presence, I had hoped you would choose shelter at the Raven. At least there you would be catered for and Janette could have looked out for you."

"That's not why I left," Natalie shot back. "And I did bring two bottles."

"Of which one is already gone," Nick noted the empty bottle on the table. "One bottle for an entire day in a house full of mortals is not enough. What will you do when it's gone?"

Natalie had already asked herself the same question.

"You don't know," Nick observed. "Lacroix would lure a mortal here and have you drain them. I can only offer you my own blood."

Natalie stiffened and shook her head. "I'd rather try to make it through the day on the bottle I have left."

"You will be ravenous tonight and dangerous. Why do you refuse to drink from me?"

"I'm frightened, Nick. I'm frightened that I might pick something up from your blood."

Nick frowned. "The lust to kill," he concluded solemnly.

"No," Natalie shook her head. "That's not it."

"What is it then?"

"Your feelings for Lacroix. I don't want to feel that way. And I'm afraid that I might."

Nick was at a loss. Of all the horrible deeds he had committed, what bothered Natalie most were his feelings for Lacroix which he so anxiously tried to suppress? "Actually, that's not how it works. I cannot prevent that you feel what I feel, but it's not contagious. Ask Janette. She has partaken of my blood innumerable times and she's not in love with Lacroix." Nick paused. 'Great, Nick, remind her of another ongoing intimate relationship,' he mentally scolded himself and quickly steered the topic back to Lacroix. "Unless you already have feelings for him?"

"No," Natalie quickly denied.

Nick regarded her a moment probingly before reaching for his cell phone.

"Nicolas, it's day," Natalie heard Janette's complaining voice through the receiver. "I hope you have a good reason to call."

"I'm sorry, Janette. I need a case delivered to Natalie's apartment."

"To Natalie's apartment? Hm, moved back in before stocking the fridge, did she? What have you done to chase her away, chéri?"

Natalie couldn't help but smile at the other woman's conclusion.

"Nothing that could be explained over the phone," Nick mumbled in response.

"Very well," Janette sighed. "I'll send someone over with a case after sunset."

"Thank you. And make it as soon as possible." Nick ended the call.

* * * *

Natalie had slept through most of the day, but she had woken from hunger several times and the bottle she had brought along was long gone. About two hours before sunset she gave up trying to sleep and paced the living room, counting the minutes until sunset. Nick sat calmly on the couch watching her. Eventually the sun neared the horizon. When the balcony door opened, Lacroix stepped into the room.

Nick rose from his seat. "She sent you?"

Lacroix arched an eyebrow. "Janette mentioned you were in urgent need of sustenance and required a delivery at the earliest convenience. That circumstance excluded most of the Raven's inhabitants."

"So where is it?" Nick asked because Lacroix had arrived empty-handed.

"Outside, on the balcony."

Natalie took a step towards the balcony, but stopped as she perceived the lingering light through the curtain.

"You do look hungry, my dear," he observed.

"She is. Why didn't you bring it in?"

Lacroix turned his attention to Nick. "I suppose you've offered your blood?"

Nick nodded.

"And she refused? How remarkable. Let's test how strong her resolve really is, shall we?" He stepped behind Nick and bent his head gently to the side, exposing the vein in his neck.

Anticipating Lacroix's intention, Nick relaxed against him as the elder licked his tongue sensuously over the vein.

"What will it be, Natalie?" Lacroix purred. "A painful dash into the sunlight for the bottled variety or the sweet rich essence of your master?" He pricked Nick's neck, causing a stream of blood to surface.

Natalie caught the aroma and stared red-eyed at the offering. It was tempting, but again the thought of the images that awaited her caused her to hesitate. However, the prospect of getting burned by the sun in order to retrieve the bottles from the balcony wasn't appealing either. By now the cramps in her stomach were intensely painful, and she couldn't wait any longer to feed. With a growl she dashed forward. Instead of going for Nick's neck, however, she snatched Lacroix's arm and buried her teeth into his wrist.

Nick wiggled out of Lacroix's embrace and watched with gold-flecked eyes as Natalie fed from his master. The moment the sun finally set, he moved to the balcony and fetched a bottle from which he drank deeply. He brought in a second which he held out to Lacroix.

"Not exactly the outcome I had expected, but apparently she maintained enough control to make a conscious choice. Quite promising," Lacroix remarked. He accepted the bottle after Natalie had stopped feeding. Instead of upending it as Nick had done, he walked across the room to a cabinet and retrieved a wine glass.

"Why did you choose his over mine?" Nick demanded. "If you can't stand the images in my blood, how can you endure what you see in his?"

Natalie looked confused. "His blood tastes neutral, Nick. I don't see anything in it."

"How's that possible?" Nick asked, switching to his native medieval French so that Natalie was cut off from the conversation. Whenever he took Lacroix's blood there was a kaleidoscope of history reaching as far as ancient Rome. This was mixed with sensations of desire, love and possessiveness, all directed at him. "Why isn't she seeing anything?"

Lacroix took a deliberate sip from his glass before resting an intense gaze on Nick. "Because, my dear Nicholas," he replied in the same ancient tongue. "I prefer not to share myself with everyone."

"Oh." Nick evaded the intense gaze, feeling oddly embarrassed by the privilege that Lacroix openly admitted to granting him.

"Hello? Would anyone tell me what you're talking about?" Natalie asked, slightly annoyed.

Lacroix turned his attention to her. "You do not speak French? I thought this was a bilingual country."

"I learned it at school, but I didn't understand a word you said. It didn't sound like the Canadian French I learned."

"It wasn't," Nick informed her. "It was the dialect I grew up with."

"I suggest you learn it if you wish to partake in a conversation between Nicholas and Janette. My children have a tendency to slip into their native tongue when they're enraged."

"Oh sure, the university probably offers a variety of evening classes on medieval French," Natalie said sarcastically.

"Oh, nothing so mundane, my dear. There are more efficient ways to acquire certain skills. How do you think Nicholas became fluent in so many languages?"

Natalie looked at Nick, who evaded her gaze. "By visiting those countries?" she guessed.

"Yes, and by draining their inhabitants he made their knowledge his own."

Natalie swallowed. "I guess I'd rather stick to the evening class."

Lacroix chuckled. "I wasn't suggesting that you should commit mass murder, my dear. The knowledge is all available in Nicholas' blood. If you pay proper attention you shouldn't have a problem acquiring it. And while you're studying languages, I suggest that you learn Latin as well. I do have a library stocked with Roman literature you may find interesting to peruse over the ages."

Natalie smiled sweetly at him. "Thank you. I learned Latin at school. It was a pre-requisite to the study of medicine. We had to read and translate Caesar's "De Bello Gallico" and Sallust's "Conspiracy of Catiline".

"Indeed?" Lacroix raised his eyebrow.

"Indeed. And as to drinking Nick's blood, I don't think learning ancient French is a priority at the moment."

"Quite the resistor, isn't she?" Lacroix observed. "Tell me, Natalie. You did not hesitate taking my blood a few moments ago. Why do you oppose to taking it when you make love to Nicholas?"

"Excuse me?" Natalie replied flustered. "That would require your presence in our bedroom."

"Of course it would. Is that a problem?"

"Yes! There's only one man I allow up there, and that's not you, I'm afraid."

"Told you so," Nick shrugged with a broad grin as Lacroix turned his gaze on him.

* * * *

"There're mortals inside," Natalie observed nervously as they entered the Raven later that night.

"I'm sure you'll do fine," Nick said soothingly. "Just remember what I've told you."

Nodding, Natalie intertwined her hand with his and followed him into the club towards the bar.

Janette greeted them and signalled to Miklos to provide beverages.

"Thanks for the delivery this evening," Nick said. "But was it necessary to involve Lacroix?"

"He involved himself, Nicolas. He had sensed that you got yourself burned this morning and demanded to know why."

"He sensed that?" Natalie asked, astonished.

Nick and Janette merely shrugged, indicating that this was apparently a common occurrence.

"May I speak with you again, Janette? In private?" Natalie requested.

"Oui, bien sûr," Janette smiled. "Let us retreat into my quarters."

"I'll be around," Nick said in reply to Natalie's questioning look.

"He's upstairs. He wants to see you," Janette said over her shoulder before leading Natalie away.

* * * *

"Your child needs better discipline," Lacroix stated as Nick entered the top floor apartment. "Her strong-headedness forced you to expose yourself to sunlight this morning. I will not tolerate that again."

"I would prefer avoiding that myself."

"You're too lenient with her," Lacroix scolded. "If she were my child, I would ––"

"But she isn't," Nick broke in. "She's mine! And I won't force her or use violence. That tends to destroy the relationship between two lovers. You of all people should know that."

Lacroix fixed him with an intense gaze. "What I know is that my lover would never refuse my blood."

Nick felt an arousing shiver tingling down his spine.

"I sensed your hunger when Natalie fed from me," Lacroix drew a thumbnail across his neck, drawing blood.

Nick's nostrils flared. Entranced, he moved closer.

"Pour vous, mon Nicolas, seulement pour vous," Lacroix purred.

Nick lapped sensuously at the spilled blood on Lacroix's skin. When the cut closed, he pulled reluctantly away. "I know what's on your mind, but I cannot. Not with Natalie downstairs."

"Women. I'm quite certain Janette will keep her engaged in conversation for a while." Lacroix pulled Nick closer again and captured his mouth, tasting his own blood on Nick's lips. He sliced his tongue deliberately on Nick's fangs.

The fresh taste of blood increased Nick's desire. He sucked fiercely at Lacroix's tongue before moving his lips back to his neck. Releasing a low roar, he reared his head back and struck. He reveled a moment in the ecstatic rush from Lacroix's blood before he felt his shoulder being pierced. The completion of the cycle brought him to new heights of passion which only his lover could satisfy.

* * * *

"Well, Natalie, what's on your mind?" Janette inquired after Natalie had settled on a couch in her quarters and accepted another glass of blood.

Natalie wasn't quite sure how to broach the subject or how willing Janette would be to share intimate details. "May I ask you a personal question?"

"Go ahead," the vampiress encouraged her with a nod of her head.

Natalie bit her lip. "Have you ever engaged in a –– er–– three-some?"

Janette let out a single loud laugh. "Let me guess, Lacroix made a suggestion."

Natalie nodded mutely, slightly taken aback by the other woman's reaction. "So, have you?"

"Yes."

Natalie's eyes widened. "But Nick hinted that you aren't in love with Lacroix. And yet you're intimate?"

"You misunderstood, Natalie. Lacroix and I have never been intimate in that sense. Our relationship is different and has always been that way, even before Nicolas came along."

"So what about the three-some?"

"Lacroix takes pleasure in watching Nicolas. Sometimes he came to our room just to watch. On other occasions he participated actively in giving Nicolas pleasure."

"And you didn't mind? That sounds totally weird."

Janette shrugged. "Eternity is a very long time. Even love can become boring over the centuries unless it is spiked with excitement now and then. Lacroix is very good at providing that sort of diversion." Janette took a long draught from her drink.

Natalie's eyes widened more. "And Nick was okay with that?" For the most part she had known Nick as a tight-buttoned individual who refused to discuss any acts of intimacy, which she had attributed to his medieval upbringing. Only recently had he revealed a more passionate side.

"Nicolas is a very passionate man, ma chère. Unfortunately, he chose to suppress this side of him when he began to reject his nature. But if he lets go of his inhibition – oh, the ecstasy he's capable of ––" Janette drained her glass and refilled it.

Natalie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "But the exchange of blood is always part of it?"

"Naturally, that is the essence that drives us over the edge."

Natalie shook her head. "I don't know. I've seen so many things in Nick's blood I wish I hadn't."

Janette arched an eyebrow. "And you've taken Nicolas' blood how many times?"

"Once." Natalie cast her eyes down.

"Apart from the fact that Nicolas should have prepared you better, the next time you will know what to expect. The shock will be lesser."

"To keep sensing his pleasure when he killed is disconcerting."

Janette leaned forward in her seat and regarded her curiously. "But you knew that Nicolas enjoyed himself in the past. Are you certain that this is what upsets you?"

Natalie evaded her probing glance.

Janette smiled knowingly. "He does look incredibly sexy when he kills. You're not the only one who's drawn to him in that state."

Natalie swallowed. She had always felt a thrill when she caught a glimpse of the vampire, but she refused to go so far as to enjoy seeing him kill. That would be a betrayal to his quest and to her conscience. She shook her head. "What's even more disconcerting are those encounters with Lacroix."

"Hm," Janette murmured and cast her eyes towards the ceiling.

"What?"

"Would you rather see that in Nicolas' blood or walk in on them in reality?"

Natalie shuddered. "I could do with neither."

Janette sighed. "You should be aware that if you reject Nicolas he will seek relief elsewhere and no one is more willing to provide it than Lacroix."

"So either I accept what's in his blood or he'll cheat on me? Oh, that's just gross!"

"You're still thinking within mortal boundaries, Natalie. Eternity is too long for monogamous relationships."

"Well, when I asked Nick to bring me across, I had slightly different expectations. He said we would be together forever."

"What do you think Lacroix promised when he brought Nicolas over?"

Natalie frowned. "Nick did mention that Lacroix would always be around, I just didn't think he meant that close."

"You do love Nicolas, oui?"

Natalie nodded mutely.

"Then accept him the way he is. And overlook the occasional tryst with Lacroix."

"You think he's going to continue that? Even if we are together?"

"Nicolas might not intend to, but Lacroix will find a way to seduce him. After more than a century he finally has Nicolas back where he always wanted him. Don't expect him to back off."

"Oh great. So we're still rivals where Nick is concerned."

The phone interrupted their conversation. Janette reached for the receiver. "Oui?"

Natalie merely caught the words mortal and trouble from the other end of the line.

"Merde," Janette cursed and returned the receiver to the cradle.

"What happened?" Natalie asked, concerned, as Janette rose.

"It appears Nicolas' partner has come to the club."

"Schanke?" Natalie followed Janette towards the club, but the elder woman held her back.

"Fetch Nicolas. Take the stairs to the loft apartment. –– And knock before you enter."

Nodding, Natalie watched the other woman depart into the club. She found a stairwell and ascended to the top until she reached a dark oak door on which she knocked tentatively. "Nick?"

She waited over two minutes before the door was opened by Lacroix, dressed in a dark burgundy robe. Natalie's eyes were immediately drawn to his neck which sported several sets of bite marks, some almost healed, others still oozing.

Lacroix raised an eyebrow in response to her stare. "Yes?"

"Er, Schanke is in the club. Janette sent me to fetch Nick."

"Has he seen you?" Nick appeared next to Lacroix in the process of donning his leather jacket while pressing a towel to the side of his neck.

"No, we were in Janette's quarters when she got a call from the club."

Nick tossed the towel at Lacroix, revealing a similar set of bite marks on his neck. As he was about to step out of the apartment, the elder caught his arm and fussed a moment with his collar. Nick, however, slipped from his grasp, mumbling something in ancient French. He snatched a scarf from the coat rack which he used to hide the wounds and preceded Natalie down the stairs.

Janette met them at the door that led into the club. "You deal with him!" she hissed. "He's making everyone sick with that horrible garlic breath."

"How did he get past the bouncer?" Nick wondered.

"He told everyone that you were his buddy. Eddie wasn't sure whether letting him in or refusing him entrance would get Lacroix's approval."

"Lacroix's approval? I thought this was your club." Nick walked up behind Schanke who was leaning at the bar, waiting for a drink. "Schanke," he intoned in a mix of warning and greeting.

Schanke jumped slightly and whirled around, his eyes widening at the sight of his partner. "Nick? I thought you and Nat were on vacation."

Nick took a step back as he caught a whiff of Schanke's breath. "So you seized the opportunity and came here?"

"You always tell me to wait in the car when you come here to meet an informant. Myra's on a weekend workshop for her Skin Pretty Sales Line; Jenny's having a sleep-over with a friend. I felt lonely. And you have to admit that there are some gorgeous girls hanging out on the dance floor."

"Schanke, a piece of advice: if you're here to pick up a girl, you shouldn't have eaten garlic-laden souvlaki before."

"I'm a married man, Nick! I'm not here to pick up a girl. But it doesn't hurt to let the eyes wander, don't ya think?" Laughing, he knocked Nick on the arm and turned back to the bar. "Hey barkeeper, how long do I have to wait for a beer?"

Miklos exchanged a look with Nick and upon Nick's imperceptible nod produced a glass of beer.

"Are you joining me?"

"I'll have one drink with you and then you'll leave," Nick stated and settled onto the barstool next to Schanke. He received a glass of blood from Miklos. "Cheers," he raised his glass and took a generous sip.

"You have that gleam again in your eyes," Schanke observed after drinking a good portion of his beer. "Is something going on here?"

Nick was taken aback by Schanke's keen observation. "I'm here with Natalie," he said and signaled to the door to Janette's quarters where Natalie lingered.

She advanced cautiously and positioned herself on Nick's other side. "Hey Schanke, how's it going?"

"I miss my partner." Schanke watched as Nick passed his glass to Natalie who emptied it immediately. "Are you okay? You look very pale."

"I'm fine," Natalie clipped. "Just a little tired."

Schanke grinned. "Let me guess, he's wearing you out."

"Something like that," Natalie mumbled without looking at Nick.

Miklos provided Nick with another glass and refilled Natalie's.

"I think this is the first time I've actually seen you drinking something," Schanke observed after Nick had sipped from his glass.

Nick shrugged and raised the glass again to his lips. "Why not? I'm not on duty."

"No, I mean it's the first time I've seen you drink anything at all."

Nick carefully set his glass onto the bar. Turning to Schanke, he caught his gaze. "You feel tired, Don. You want to go home."

Schanke yawned extensively. "Boy, I'm tired. I guess I'm hitting the sack. See you around."

Natalie watched as Schanke stumbled towards the exit. "Is he going to be okay?"

"He'll be fully awake again once he's out in the night air," Nick assured her. "We should leave, too."

Natalie followed him to the exit where Nick addressed the bouncer in a commanding tone. "Don't let him in again. But don't hurt him!"

* * * *

Later at the loft Natalie ascended the stairs. "Are you coming up?" she addressed Nick who was watching the news.

"I think I should stay downstairs."

Natalie's eyes flared. "Is this how it's going to be from now on? If I don't comply with your mode of love-making, you run to Lacroix?"

Nick switched off the TV and tossed the remote onto the couch. "You've made it perfectly clear that you won't take my blood." He sounded genuinely offended at the prospect.

"Jeez, cut me some slack, Nick. I'm trying to come to terms with all the additional sounds and smells; I wasn't prepared to be bombarded with a biography of your previous love life as well. I don't know why you bother with me anyway. With all that experience you have, my feeble attempts at pleasuring you must compare to ––"

Before she could finish the sentence, Nick appeared next to her and pulled her close for a heated kiss. Instantly she felt herself melting in his arms. "Nat, I love you exactly the way you are. Never doubt that," he stated sincerely.

"But ––"

"I'd be delighted to show you all I've learned in the art of love-making throughout the centuries –– if you'll let me."

Natalie swallowed. Unable to resist his lure, she leaned in to capture his lips again. Immediately she found herself in Nick's arms and carried into the bedroom where they gave themselves over to the heat of passion. As she approached her climax, Nick sliced his neck with a finger nail. "Drink!" he commanded. It was the same tone he had used with the bouncer. Natalie found herself unable to resist and closed her mouth over the wound. With the first taste of his blood, she shuddered wildly in orgasm. Immediately she felt Nick's bite into her own neck. Feeling starved, Natalie buried her fangs into his neck, reopening the wound he had made. She could sense his delight and his love for her, which were a balm to her state of insecurity. Focusing on this, she ignored everything else until she drifted into oblivion.

* * * *

Upon waking she found herself in Nick's arms. He smiled down at her and brushed a kiss on her brow. "Are you alright?"

Natalie returned the smile and nodded. "I think so. No, wait, I'm hungry."

"Stay here." Nick moved from the bed. A moment later Natalie heard the refrigerator door open before Nick returned with a bottle and two mugs in his hands.

"Oh, breakfast in bed. How romantic," Natalie remarked with a grin and eagerly accepted the filled mug. "So what's on tonight's agenda?" she asked after the bottle was empty.

"Something very important. It's called strengthening the bond."

"Uh-huh. How does that go?"

"By repeated sharing of blood." When Natalie didn't share Nick's enthusiasm, he elaborated. "I'm going to make love to you throughout the entire night. Does that sound more appealing?"

"Well, if you phrase it that way…"

Nick waited until she had emptied her mug. He placed it on the nightstand and motioned her to lie back down. Then he went to work. Starting at her right foot, he worshipped every part of her skin with his lips. Natalie was soon writhing on the sheets under his attentions. While he teased her womanhood, he held out his arm. When she couldn't take anymore, she seized his wrist and bit into the vein, coming instantly against his probing tongue.

After she had woken from a brief nap, Nick started his arousing attack anew. This time he focused his attention on her breasts and teased her nipples to hardness while his hand caressed her female core. When she bit into his neck, he returned the bite into her shoulder, reveling in the sensations he perceived in her blood.

He could hardly wait until her temporary exhaustion had passed. As soon as she had recovered he plundered her mouth again, pleased to find her responding with equal ardour. He raised her leg above his shoulder and entered her carefully, making sure she was ready to receive him. Then he started to move. Natalie groaned in ecstasy and bit into his shoulder. He gave another thrust and sank his fangs hungrily into her neck. He took her blood as long as she maintained the cycle. Then he also drifted into a satisfied slumber.

* * * *

Nick woke from a sensation that he recognized as a finger tracing the contours of his lips. Smiling he sucked the finger into his mouth before opening his eyes. He froze as he recognized Lacroix perched on the bedside next to him.

"I believe we have some unfinished business to attend, don't you think?" Lacroix breathed.

Nick pushed his hand away and sat up. "What? No, we don't." A look to the side assured him that Natalie was still passed out.

"It seems she's quite exhausted from tonight's activities," Lacroix observed. "You, on the other hand, haven't reached the state of satisfaction yet that precedes the same level of exhaustion."

Nick moved from the bed and donned his robe. "I'm perfectly fine," he declared while moving downstairs. "Tonight wasn't about driving each other to exhaustion, tonight was about strengthening the bond."

"I see. And have you?"

"Yes, we've shared blood a couple of times."

"So I have noticed," Lacroix said icily. "I assume she has overcome her reluctance of drinking from you?"

"She recognized the necessity." In a softer voice Nick mumbled, "After I pushed her to a point where she couldn't resist."

"Indeed?" Lacroix raised his eyebrows. "And how did she respond to that?"

"Um, we haven't discussed it yet."

"She's a modern woman, Nicholas. Better be prepared that she may not take such orders from you," Humour was evident in his voice.

Nick looked at him incredulous. "Says the man who doesn't accept refusals. And the reason for your visit is?"

"You left with my scarf. I expect to have it returned. Personally."

"It's right here." Nick moved to the coat rack to retrieve it. When he turned back, Lacroix had left. "Great," Nick muttered to the empty room.

* * * *

Natalie woke slightly disoriented. Looking wildly around, she recognized Nick's bedroom and calmed down as she had assured herself that she was in the 20th century and not some century in the past which was the last thing she remembered from her unsettling dream.

A moment later Nick peeked into the room, already showered and dressed. "Are you alright? I sensed that you were upset about something."

"Just a bad dream. What time is it?"

"8 pm." Nick perched on the bed. "Did your dream have anything to do with what you saw in my blood?"

"More what I sensed in your blood. I think I understand now why you're so eager to bite me. You miss biting people in general, don't you?"

Nick looked abruptly away.

Natalie reached out to him with her hand. "Nick, I'm so proud of you that you abstain from something that obviously gives you so much pleasure. You may bite me any time if it helps you to relieve the pressure."

Nick hardly believed what he heard. "Then you're okay with taking my blood as well?"

Natalie scratched her neck. "I felt as if I didn't have a choice. I just had to bite. I felt your love and your delight at the exchange. That was nice. Anything else, I'd rather not dwell on."

Nick nodded. At least she wasn't mad at him as Lacroix had predicted. "I have a brief errand to run. Why don't you take a shower, and then we'll venture out?"

Natalie nodded and watched him leaving the room.

* * * *

"Is he upstairs?" Nick asked Janette as he arrived at the Raven.

"Oui. He seems to be expecting you."

Nick climbed the stairs and raised his hand to knock at Lacroix's door.
"Entrez," he heard the voice before his hand touched the wood.

Nick stepped inside and replaced the scarf on the coat rack. Then he turned to face his master, who stood in the middle of the room, glass in hand. "I'm not staying."

"Why?"

"Because it hurts Natalie when we continue this." He gestured from himself to Lacroix. "She perceives it as cheating."

Lacroix smiled indulgently. "You cannot cheat someone with someone who has an older claim."

"As you said, she's a modern woman. She doesn't believe in archaic claims. I've made my decision. I'm with her now. I need you to accept that."

Lacroix's face remained unreadable. "You've made your decision. Very well, if that is what you wish..."

Nick nodded. "For now." He turned and left the apartment.

Lacroix didn't move for a while. Then the glass broke in his hand and his eyes glowed. "Very well, Nicholas. We shall see how far you're willing to go to protect the innocence of your child..."

FIN