An Affair Worth Remembering
Natalie took extra care with her make-up. She checked herself in the mirror, assuring herself that no grey hairs had made an appearance. Although still in her thirties, she knew she would look older than Nick. And that bothered her more than she liked to admit.
She had been waiting for this night for five years. When Nick had moved on, they had agreed to meet in five years on the observation deck of the CN Tower. Although she had tried to move on as well with her life, her relationships had always been of short duration. Usually it was she who broke them off. She felt bored with a man whose knowledge of history did not extend beyond the last hockey championship of the Maple Leafs.
Natalie got off the streetcar on King and was about to cross the street. She gazed up at the tall structure of the CN Tower, sparkling in changing colours against the dark winter sky. Would he be there?
The sudden sound of screeching breaks alerted her to impending danger. She saw an SUV skittering over an icy patch on the road and coming towards her. Her last conscious thought was that Nick would be utterly disappointed that she hadn't made it. Then everything went black.
* * * *
Lucien Lacroix stood on the sparsely populated observation deck of the CN Tower and eyed each arriving elevator with anticipation followed by an immediate sense of disappointment. Although he wasn't the expected party, he disapproved of being kept waiting or being stood up. He had assumed Dr. Lambert would be more eager to meet with Nicholas after five years of silence. Perhaps he had misinterpreted the depth of her affection and she had moved on with her life as well.
With a frown he watched another elevator delivering its load onto the observation deck. It was over an hour after the appointed time. When the lady operating the lift looked at him questioningly, he stepped into the cabin and rode down.
* * * *
A week later Lacroix had concluded his business in town and was ready to return to Europe. As his flight was not due for several hours, he decided to check out Dr. Lambert's former apartment to see if she still resided there.
He landed on the balcony and broke the lock to gain entry. His senses told him that she wasn't home, but her cat was somewhere around. On the kitchen counter he found a stack of unopened letters addressed to her. A glance into the refrigerator revealed spoiled milk and other food that should have been disposed of days ago.
While he retreated from the obnoxious scent he heard a key in the door. He seated himself in an armchair in the living room to await her appearance.
"Good evening,” he breathed as the door to the living room opened.
However, the woman entering was not Dr. Lambert.
"Oh, I didn't know Natalie had a visitor,” a black-haired woman of Spanish origin remarked.
"And you are?”
"I'm Maria, her neighbour. I came to feed Lucius.”
Lacroix blinked. "Who?”
"Her cat. Have you seen him?”
Lacroix pointed towards the bedroom where he had located the cat's heartbeat. "She named her cat Lucius?”
"A cute name, don't you think?”
"No. Where is Dr. Lambert?”
"Oh, haven't you heard? She had a car accident last week. We're all terribly worried.”
That at least explained her lack of appearance a week ago. "Where is she?” Lacroix demanded.
With a nod Lacroix strode past the woman and left the apartment.
* * * *
Natalie woke with a searing headache. She tried to scratch her nose only to discover that her right hand was connected to a tube and a clamp connected to a heart monitor was attached to her thumb. That explained the monotonous beeps that had awakened her.
A smiling nurse appeared in her field of vision. "Good evening, Natalie. My name is Ellen. You had us worried for a while. How are you feeling?”
Natalie swallowed and noticed that her mouth was completely dry. "Thirsty,” she rasped.
Ellen retrieved a cup from the nightstand and stuck a straw between Natalie's lips. "You're at Toronto General. Do you remember what happened?”
Natalie gathered her thoughts for a moment. "I was on my way to meet –– oh my God –– Nick! Has anyone informed Nick?” What did he think when she did not show up at the Tower? Had he left town already? Had he left a message somewhere? Had she missed her only chance to see him again?
The nurse smiled again. "Is Nick possibly tall, pale, incredibly blue eyes? And a hint scary?”
"That certainly sounds like Nick,” Natalie beamed. "He was here?”
"He came by last night and talked to Dr. Kilbourne. He left the flowers.”
Natalie turned her head to see a bouquet of white roses on a table. Eagerly she accepted the card Ellen handed her.
"Dear Natalie, I am quite disappointed to find you confined by the disadvantages of mortal frailty. A state most undesirable, don't you agree?”
Natalie reread the brief message twice. What an odd note for Nick to write. What had happened to him that he no longer considered mortality desirable?
A knock at the door roused her from her contemplations. A woman in her late forties with flaming red hair entered the room. "Hi, I'm Dr. Kilbourne. Are you up to a medical discussion?”
Natalie nodded slowly. "How bad is it?”
"Let's start at the top. You have a concussion, a dislocated shoulder, and fractures in your left arm, left leg, and two ribs, along with minor lacerations. What concerned us most was internal bleeding, which we stopped invasively. One of the broken ribs had punctured your liver. You've lost a lot of blood. In fact, we hadn't expected you to wake up for a while.”
"How long do I need to stay here?”
"We would like to monitor you for a few more days to be sure the bleeding doesn't restart. Then we can release you into rehab. But you will need help at home. Do you have anyone who can take care of you?”
Natalie's face fell. "No, I live alone.”
"I've met your charming boyfriend.”
Natalie blushed. "Oh, I cannot burden him. We haven't seen each other for a while.”
The doctor smiled knowingly. "He seemed very concerned last night. I'm sure he's a keeper. Oh, here he is. I'll leave you two alone for now.”
"Good evening,” a smooth voice intoned as the doctor left the room.
Natalie stared open-mouthed as Lacroix entered the room. "You? Where's Nick? Wait a minute, everybody here seems to think –– " Natalie broke off. Charming was the last attribute she would associate with this man.
"I'm so pleased to see that your condition has improved,” Lacroix purred. "May I ask how you managed to get yourself into this state of infirmity?”
Natalie frowned. "I was on my way to the CN Tower and got hit by a car while crossing King Street. Why are you here? Where's Nick?”
"I am here because I waited in vain for you on the observation deck.”
"You were there? Why?” Natalie became increasingly agitated.
"To soften the blow, so to speak. While Nicholas had no intention of returning to Toronto, I was curious to see what has become of you. Call it a family obligation. I rarely have the opportunity to study the effect the knowledge about us has on a mortal's life.”
"Nick didn't come?” It was more a statement than a question, resonating with disappointment.
"I'm afraid he has more important matters to attend to than indulging the romantic fantasies of a mere mortal,” Lacroix informed her.
Despite her weakness Natalie felt her temper flare. "What do you know about romantic fantasies? I doubt you have one shred of romance in your veins.”
"Oh please, even I have seen that motion picture. Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, wasn't it?” Nodding at her broken leg, Lacroix added, "Although I wouldn't have expected you to take the plot so literally.”
"Actually it was Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr,” Natalie corrected him.
"That, my dear, was a poor remake filmed in the 1950s. It doesn't compare at all to the original from the 1930s.”
"Really?” Natalie regarded him, surprised. She never would have expected discussing Hollywood movies with Lacroix. "I haven't seen that one.”
There was a knock on the door before Dr. Kilbourne came back in. She gave Lacroix a dazzling smile. "Lucien.”
"Helen,” Lacroix returned the greeting.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I would like to examine Natalie.”
"Very well, I take my leave.” He left the room and Natalie wondered if she would see him again. She had so many questions about Nick.
* * * *
Two hours later Dr. Kilbourne returned to Natalie's room studying x-rays with a dazed expression on her face. "Apparently your injuries weren't as severe as we initially believed. Your lacerations have healed incredibly well. Most of your bones are mended. Your shoulder is set. If you continue to heal at this speed we can send you home on crutches within a couple of days.”
Natalie looked at her, confused. According to Dr. Kilbourne's initial assessment she should have been confined to bed for several weeks! "How do you explain this?”
"A remarkable recovery,” Dr. Kilbourne stated, distracted.
After she had left the room, Lacroix returned and regarded Natalie with a raised eyebrow.
"What have you done to my doctor?” Natalie demanded. "She lost the ability to provide proper medical explanations.”
"The question that should concern you more is what have I done to you?”
Natalie blanched. "What have you done to me?”
"Has it not occurred to you that your recovery has progressed more rapidly than your initial injuries would suggest?”
"That's what Dr. Kilbourne just told me. She even mentioned I could start using crutches in a couple of days. How is this possible?”
"I thought you might approve of some intervention on my part. When I came here the first time, you were in a coma. Dr. Kilbourne explained that chances of you waking up at all were rather slim. I took the liberty of advancing your healing process.”
Natalie's eyes widened. "How?”
"By injecting you with a small amount of my blood. Sufficient to promote healing but not enough to initiate any permanent changes.”
"Why?” Natalie was stunned. Apparently she owed her life to Lacroix's intervention.
"As I said, I was curious to see how the knowledge about us has affected your life. I can hardly do that when you're comatose.”
Natalie processed what he told her. "Thank you, I guess.”
"You're most welcome.” He sat down on a chair next to the bed.
"It's not exactly what I would have expected from you, given that you tried to kill me years ago.”
"At that time you were trying to kill my son. I believe my reaction was only understandable.”
"I didn't try to kill Nick! I was trying to make him mortal,” Natalie argued.
"Eventually, the outcome is the same, wouldn't you agree?”
Natalie had to admit that he was right. "How is he?” she asked softly after a pause.
"Nicholas is –– content.”
"I wouldn't have left him if I had concerns. He has accepted his position as Janette's new master and is thriving in his responsibility towards her. They're currently enjoying the pleasures of the Cote d'Azur.”
Natalie swallowed. Nick was with Janette and had apparently completely forgotten her. She remembered the day when Nick had brought Janette to the morgue, mortal for all appearances, to get a bullet removed. While Natalie had treated Janette's wound, Nick had hovered close by, never taking his eyes off Janette. Even then Natalie had felt as if she ceased to exist for him. She looked up at Lacroix and noticed her feelings of loss mirrored on his face. "Don't tell me you felt superfluous and decided to go and annoy good old Nat.”
He raised his eyebrow at her assessment. "I found myself lacking a daughter and decided to look for an adequate replacement.”
"A vacant position,” Natalie exclaimed sarcastically. "I'm sure girls are waiting in line to get the job. What are the requirements? Tame, devoted, submissive, and a tendency to enjoy being tortured?”
Lacroix regarded her with a bemused expression. "You left out spirit. A suitable candidate should have a sufficiently fiery spirit to keep me entertained.” Lacroix rose from his seat. "I believe you require sleep. You're becoming rather cranky.”
Natalie stared after him as he left her room.
* * * *
Natalie spent the following day dozing on and off. By afternoon she was becoming bored. The news about her improved state of health hadn't reached her coworkers yet, so nobody knew that she was up to receiving visitors.
When Dr. Kilbourne came to check on her in the early evening, Natalie couldn't help but notice the silk scarf wrapped around her neck. She knew Lacroix had hypnotized her into accepting Natalie's inexplicable improvement without questioning. Had he done more? Was the scarf covering bite marks?
"Good evening, ladies,” Lacroix's velvet voice filled the room.
"Hello Lucien,” Dr. Kilbourne smiled at him. "Natalie is doing fine, no internal bleeding. We'll start mobilisation tomorrow.”
After she had left the room, Natalie glared at Lacroix.
"Is something wrong, my dear?” he inquired.
"First, I'm not your dear! Second, I have no idea why Dr. Kilbourne reports my health status to you!”
"Apparently, sleep has not helped to improve your mood,” Lacroix observed.
"I've noticed the scarf around her neck. Have you bitten her?”
"What if I have?” he breathed, holding her gaze.
Natalie felt her mouth go dry and reached for a glass of water from the nightstand. "I would appreciate it if you did not kill her. She's doing a damn good job here.”
"If it puts your mind at ease, it is not my intention to kill Dr. Kilbourne.”
Then it dawned on her. "Of course not. You want to bring her across, to fill in for your daughter.”
"Jealous?” Lacroix asked in a mocking tone.
Natalie coughed on the sip of water she had just swallowed. "Hardly. If you want to spend time with her, I'm sure you have ways to do so that do not involve visiting me.”
"I most certainly have,” Lacroix confirmed. However, instead of leaving the room, he took off his leather coat, hung it neatly over the back of a chair and sat down next to the bed after pulling a small wooden box from his coat pocket.
Natalie recognized a chess set which he began to set up on the nightstand. "Er, what's that for?” she asked in utter amazement.
"It's called chess. A game of strategies and counter-strategies.”
"I know what chess is,” Natalie shot back. "I mean, why are you setting it up here?”
"Dr. Kilbourne mentioned that you've spend the day in rather dull solitude. I thought a game of chess might be a welcome challenge.”
"Actually, dealing with you is challenge enough.” It was indeed disconcerting that her only visitor was a 2000-year old vampire who annoyed her to no end. "Besides, I have a concussion as you know very well since Dr. Kilbourne shared my medical records with you. That means I should avoid straining my mind.”
Lacroix regarded her with a mild smile on his face. "That diagnosis was made before my intervention. If my blood promoted the mending of your fractures and other internal injuries, do you think it left a trifling concussion unaffected?”
Natalie stared at him, wondering how much blood he had given her. At least she wasn't aware of any side effects.
"You do know how to play chess?” Lacroix inquired, rousing her from her contemplation.
"Yes, although it's been years since I last played it with my brother.” Noting that Lacroix had set up the white pieces on her side of the board, she made the first move.
Ten minutes later, she found herself checkmated. She had not expected to win, but losing that quickly was frustrating.
"I suggest we give it another try.” Lacroix set up the board anew. This time, he made the first move. After Natalie had countered five of his moves, he halted her hand when she was about to move her bishop.
Natalie jumped slightly at the cold touch.
"Moving your bishop leaves your queen unprotected,” he pointed out.
Natalie realized that she had not noticed that.
"May I inquire what your strategy is?”
"Er, I don't have one, except trying to checkmate your king.”
"And that's your problem. You focus too much on the king. Instead you should try to position your men to cover this field.” Lacroix pointed to an empty field in front of his bishop. "Currently it's the only escape for my king. If you cover that by two men and then proceed to threaten my king, this game may last longer than the previous one.”
"Uh-huh.” Natalie decided to move a pawn instead of her bishop.
As the game progressed, Lacroix continued to point out mistakes and suggested alternate moves. Two hours later, she was feeling the beginnings of a headache. Maybe her concussion was not yet resolved despite his intervention. "I'm exhausted,” she stated after he had ended another lecture on strategy.
"Very well, we will continue this game tomorrow.” He rose from his seat.
"Don't you have anything else to do?” Natalie found it odd that he would spend so many hours in the company of a mere mortal.
"I have an infinite amount of time at my disposal, one of the benefits of immortality. Until tomorrow.” Picking up his coat, he strolled out of the room.
* * * *
On the following day, Natalie was visited by a physiotherapist who instructed her how to use crutches without straining her left arm. She practised all day, but found the small steps she was able to make frustratingly limiting.
Her mood rose when several visitors dropped in. The first was Myra Schanke who came by around noon. She offered to drive her home from the hospital and to have Jenny go grocery shopping. Early evening some of her assistants checked on her and updated her with the latest developments in her open cases.
After they left, Natalie took another walk up and down the hallway. As she was about to return to her room, she leaned her right crutch against the wall so that she could use her hand to open the door. However, before she could grab the crutch again, it slid down the wall. "Damn!” she cursed and looked down the hall for help. Instead of a nurse the only visible person was Lacroix who had obviously been observing her for a while.
"Do you require assistance?” he asked as he approached.
Natalie glared at him. "How long have you been standing there?”
"And it did not occur to you to open the door for me?”
"It is my understanding that you're supposed to learn to do these very things so that you can resume your independent life. Am I misinformed?”
"As much as I hate to admit it, there's some logic in what you say,” Natalie acknowledged. "Still, you could pick up my crutch.”
"No,” Lacroix stated instead of bending down.
"Of course, it would have been too much to assume that you were gallant,” Natalie scoffed.
"I am not in the habit of picking up after mortals. Now I suggest that you steady your weight between the wall and your left crutch, bend forward while lifting your casted leg backwards and pick up your crutch.”
Natalie stared at him a moment. When he really made no move to help, she proceeded to do as he had instructed. She almost managed to reach her crutch, when she lost her balance. Strong arms around her torso prevented her from falling forward. She quickly grabbed her crutch.
"There you go,” Lacroix helped her to regain an upright position. "You should practice on your balance.”
Natalie was startled to find herself in such close proximity to him, his hands still holding her upper arms. "Thank you. You can let go now.” She moved into her room and settled onto the bed. "It might actually have worked if I hadn't lost my balance. How did you know? Somehow I doubt you've had a career as physiotherapist.”
"No,” he chuckled while discarding his coat on a chair. "I merely found myself in a similar predicament some time ago.”
"You had a broken leg?” Natalie asked in disbelief. "I thought you guys healed instantaneously.”
"My horse slipped when I was crossing the Alps. The fall was rather painful.”
"You were crossing the Alps on horseback? When was that?”
"Almost two millennia ago.”
Natalie's eyes widened. "When you were mortal?”
"Yes. I was leading three legions to conquer the Gauls.”
"Tell me more,” Natalie was intrigued. "How was that achieved?”
"By using the same route Hannibal took 300 years earlier, just in reverse.”
Natalie listened with fascination as he launched into an extensive report about the event, comparable to a documentary.
"We reached the Isère Valley at the foot of the Alps after 15 days,” Lacroix concluded his narration.
"That's amazing,” Natalie was impressed. "What happened to the Gauls?”
"They were conquered, of course.”
Natalie frowned as she realized that killing had already been a part of his life when he was mortal. Her train of thought was interrupted by a knock on the door.
Dr. Kilbourne entered the room. "Hello Natalie, good evening Lucien. I have good news. If your blood work shows no abnormalities tomorrow, you can go home, provided you have help at home.” The latter was uttered with a meaningful glance at Lacroix.
"I'll be fine,” Natalie assured her quickly. "A friend will pick me up and I've already got someone who will run errands for me.”
"Perfect. In that case I'll prepare your release papers. They will be ready once your lab results are in. I need you to come in for a check-up in a week.”
"Progress,” Natalie beamed after Dr. Kilbourne had left. "Dr. Kilbourne has no clue that you have plans for her, does she?” Natalie concluded from the interaction between Dr. Kilbourne and Lacroix. "And now you no longer have an excuse to visit her.”
"Indeed.” The smile she received in response sent a chill down her spine. "Rest assured, once I've set my mind on someone, they do not escape. I always get what I want, eventually.” Lacroix rose and donned his coat. "You appear to have a busy day tomorrow. I shall take my leave.”
* * * *
After being cleared for release the next morning, Natalie left a message for Myra to pick her up and bring a change of clothes from her apartment. Then she proceeded to pack the few items she had arrived with. She hesitated when her eyes fell on the chess set, the game still in progress as they hadn't continued the game last night. Natalie swept the pieces into the box and closed the lid. After having stored everything in a bag, she settled onto the bed to wait.
Two hours later the phone on her nightstand rang.
"Natalie, it's Myra. I'm terribly sorry, but I can't pick you up right now. It snowed all night and it's still snowing. I can't get the car out of the driveway. It's completely snowed in. I'm afraid it takes a while to shovel.”
Natalie's face fell. She opened the blinds and stared at the white mess outside her window. "Don't worry, Myra. I'll just see if I can get a taxi.”
After ending the call, Natalie realized that she didn't have any clothes. She couldn't possibly take a taxi dressed in a hospital bathrobe. She would catch pneumonia if she went out like that. She reached for her crutches and slowly made her way to the nurses' station.
"I have a bit of a problem. My friend is not going to make it through the snow storm. Can I stay in my room or do you need it right away?”
"Don't worry, Natalie,” Ellen replied. "You aren't the only one stuck here. There're many road closures in town.”
Nodding, Natalie returned to her room.
Several hours later, and totally bored, Natalie looked up as the door to her room opened. Expecting a nurse, she gaped as Lacroix strode in, brushing snow off his coat.
"Still here? I expected you to be home by now. Was there something wrong with your blood work?”
Natalie noticed his genuine concern. Was there a reason for his interest in her lab results? Was he here to cover up any possible abnormalities? As soon as she was back at work she would run an analysis of her blood to make sure there really were no lingering oddities left from his so-called intervention. "No, everything was fine,” Natalie sighed. "The darn weather thwarted the plan. Myra is snowed in and there're several road closures.”
Lacroix quirked an eyebrow. "Do you still wish to go home?”
"I'd love to, but I can't go like this.” She indicated her bathrobe. "Myra was supposed to bring me something to wear.”
Lacroix shrugged out of his coat and held it out for her.
After a moment's hesitation, Natalie slipped it on. It was far too big, but comfortably warm. "Thank you.” She handed him her bag, reached for her crutches and preceded him out of the room. "Looks like I'm going home after all,” she beamed as she passed the nurses' station.
"Good luck. It stopped snowing, but the road conditions haven't improved much.”
Near the exit, Natalie stopped and turned to Lacroix. "Where are you parked? Maybe I should wait here while you bring the car around. I hope the snow trucks have cleared the roads by now.”
Instead of proceeding out the door, Lacroix removed his scarf and wrapped it around her head to cover her hair. Then he lifted her up in his arms. "Who needs roads?” he shrugged and strode into the crisp night.
Natalie's protest was muffled as she buried her face against his chest. The disconcerting feeling in her stomach told her that they were airborne. In a bout of panic she wrapped her arms tightly around Lacroix. After what felt to her like ages she felt herself settled onto a cushion. Carefully she opened her eyes and found herself seated on the couch of her living room. Immediately she retracted her arms from around Lacroix.
"Has Nicholas never taken you flying?” he asked incredulously while he removed his scarf from her hair.
Natalie shook her head, still recovering from the experience.
"I would have chosen a more pleasant night to introduce you to this mode of transportation, but you appeared to be eager to leave the hospital.”
"I'm glad to be home. Thank you.”
"You are most welcome.” Lacroix took a seat in the armchair opposite from her and regarded her expectantly, with his legs crossed.
Despite the flight through the frosty night he looked neat as a pin. Natalie detected neither a wrinkle in his suit nor any signs of exhaustion from carrying her. She on the other hand felt icky and in need of a hot bath which wasn't possible as long as she wore casts on her arm and leg. Realizing that she still wore Lacroix's coat, she shrugged out of it. Then she reached for her crutches and slowly made her way to the bedroom. After a trip to the bathroom to freshen up at the sink she exchanged the hospital bathrobe with an oversized t-shirt and felt a little bit more human although her hair was still a mess that desperately needed washing.
As she stepped back into the living room about thirty minutes later, she was surprised to see Lacroix still in the same spot where she had left him. On his lap she discovered her cat. "I see you've met Lucius,” she commented.
"Indeed. May I ask, is his name a coincidence or on purpose?”
Natalie blushed slightly. "Not a coincidence. After Sydney died I didn't want another cat. Then this stray fellow turned up. I tried to ignore him, but he kept following me. Eventually I took him in. I thought the name was fitting because he was so persistently annoying.”
"Is that what you think of me, Natalie? Persistently annoying?” Lacroix gazed at her intently.
"Well, from what Nick told me, you certainly are.”
"And setting Nicholas' perspective aside, what is your unbiased opinion?”
Natalie thought a moment. "I don't know. You're quite an enigma. I need more data to provide a full assessment.” Realizing what she just said, she covered her moth with her hand, hoping he wouldn't interpret her statement as a request to spend more time with him.
A hint of a smile flashed over his face as he rose from his seat. "Dawn is near. I must be on my way. I wish you a speedy recovery.” He retrieved his coat and moved towards the balcony.
"Lacroix,” Natalie held him back. "Thank you for bringing me home.”
He turned back to her. "It's Lucien. Lucius if you prefer.”
"Good night,” Natalie said as he stepped onto the balcony. "Lucius,” she added in a whisper when she was sure that he was gone.
* * * *
Over the next days Natalie neither heard from nor saw anything of Lacroix. Myra and Jenny came by regularly to help her in the household and to do the shopping. In addition to food, Natalie asked for a couple of rental videos to pass the time. Among her requests was the movie "Love Affair” with Charles Boyer. After Myra and Jenny left she settled onto her couch with a bowl of popcorn, a glass of red wine, and a box of Kleenex.
Soon, she was making frequent use of the tissues as her sobs increased with the advancing plot on screen. That was the state Lacroix found her in as he stepped through the balcony door.
"My, my, I hope the movie is the only reason for your sorrow,” he remarked and picked up the box of Kleenex from the table to offer her another tissue.
Natalie froze, conscious of the picture of misery she presented. She pressed the pause button on the remote and blew her nose defiantly. "It's so sad,” she lamented. Why did he have to show up on this evening when she had decided to watch this particular movie? "Why are you here?”
"To inquire after your progress, of course.”
Natalie sighed in frustration. "It's getting increasingly annoying to be so limited in movement. The apartment feels kind of claustrophobic.”
"You could say that,” she admitted.
"You know there is a way to advance your recovery.”
Natalie looked at him sharply. "You mean by injecting your blood again? Although it's tempting, I don't think it's worth the side effects. But thank you.”
"Side effects?” Lacroix raised his eyebrows.
"I once injected someone who was mentally retarded with Nick's blood. It helped him to function normally, but he developed violent tendencies. He ended up taking a hostage at the Raven.”
"Yes, I remember the floor show. A most unfortunate incident. You were lucky to escape the notice of the Enforcers with your little experiment.”
"Oh?” Natalie looked at him in surprise. "I didn't know.” She did remember how angry Nick had been though when he found out what she had done despite his prohibition.
"You may thank me for preventing knowledge of your deed from spreading.”
"Really? I wasn't aware you cared that much about my well-being,” Natalie remarked sarcastically.
Lacroix regarded her with a pleasant smile. "I can assure you that I did not. It was merely the concern for Nicholas who would have been held responsible for your trespass that caused me to act.”
"Your honesty is endearing,” Natalie remarked sarcastically. "And how is Nick affected by you injecting me at the hospital last week?”
"He isn't. You owe your life to the fact that I have other plans for you,” Lacroix informed her.
"Oh? Care to share them?”
"That would spoil the fun of finding it out for yourself, don't you agree?”
"Whatever,” Natalie shrugged and reached into the bowl of popcorn. She had no intention of getting involved in any of Lacroix's plans. Feigning disinterest seemed therefore the best course of action.
Lacroix picked up the remote and pressed the play button. "I do not wish to detain you any longer from your evening's entertainment.” However, instead of leaving he settled onto the couch next to her.
Natalie quickly grabbed the remote from him and stopped the movie. "I don't have to watch it tonight.” Starting to cry in Lacroix's presence would be too undignified.
"I don't mind.” Lacroix took the remote back, re-started the movie and placed the device out of her reach.
Natalie frowned and focused back on the TV. Although she tried to hold back the tears, eventually a sob escaped her and she allowed her tears to run freely. She stiffened as an arm sneaked around her back and pulled her closer until her head rested against Lacroix's chest.
When the end credits rolled across the screen, she straightened. "I've soaked your shirt.”
"At least your tears aren't red,” Lacroix stated. At her questioning look he elaborated. "When I accompanied Janette to the opening night performance, she managed to make quite a mess of my tuxedo.”
Natalie's eyes widened. "You went to the opening? The red carpet thing with all the actors?”
"Yes,” Lacroix raised an eyebrow at her enthusiasm.
"Wow, that must have been exciting.”
"My dear, I've attended coronations of kings. I would call the opening of a motion picture merely a minor social event.”
Natalie resisted the urge to throw popcorn at the vampire. "Still, how did such a minor event go?”
Lacroix chuckled and rose from his seat. "I will tell you about it tomorrow evening when you join me for dinner.”
"Er, dinner?” Had she heard him correctly?
"You mentioned feeling imprisoned in your apartment. I believe going out might help. I will pick you up at 7 p.m.” Without waiting for a reply, he walked to the balcony. "Au révoir.” Then he was gone.
Natalie stared in stunned silence at the balcony door.
* * * *
On the following day Natalie enlisted Myra's assistance once more in washing her hair over the sink. If she was going out, at least she wanted to look presentable. Dressed in a long skirt and a woollen turtle neck pullover, Natalie sat in the living room to await Lacroix's arrival.
At exactly 7 p.m. he stepped in from the balcony. "Bon soir, Natalie. Are you ready?”
"I just need my coat.” She moved on her crutches into the hallway and grabbed her coat from the rack. Lacroix took it from her and held it out so that she could easily slip it on. "Thank you,” she said and preceded him out of the apartment.
"Allow me.” Lacroix picked her up before she could move down the stairs. He easily carried her down to a waiting limo.
"Where are we going?” Natalie inquired.
"I've made reservations at the Azure,” Lacroix informed her.
"Oh,” Natalie said, impressed.
"You've dined there before?” There was something genially curious in his expression.
"Nick took me there once. Although I have to admit that evening was a bit fuzzy. Obviously I had too much to drink. I couldn't remember a thing afterwards. A pity, because I've heard the food is sublime.”
"Indeed,” Lacroix replied with an amused expression on his face.
Natalie tensed slightly as she walked on her crutches into the restaurant. The maître d' led them to a secluded table. While Natalie studied the menu, Lacroix ordered a bottle of champagne.
After she had placed her order, Lacroix raised his glass. "To new friends, old champagne, and the passions of our hearts.”
Natalie stared at him. "Er, do you believe in déjà vu?”
"If you mean by déjà vu that a situation repeats itself during the course of 2000 years, the answer is yes,” Lacroix replied smoothly.
"I just had the oddest flash of you and me sitting here like this,” Natalie explained.
"How quaint. Perhaps the situation seems so familiar to you because you secretly wished for it to happen?”
Natalie's eyes flashed at his presumptuous statement. "You have an unbelievably inflated ego!” She reached for a roll that had arrived with the beverage.
"My dear, I'm merely drawing conclusions from the obvious lack of mortal men in your life.”
Natalie's head snapped up. "How do you ––"
"I've been watching you for over a week now. In all this time no one called on you, neither at the hospital, nor at home. And I wondered why that is. After all, you are an attractive and intelligent woman.”
Despite the uneasiness she felt about having obviously been watched without noticing, Natalie blushed at the unexpected compliment. "After Nick left, I started dating. I had a few brief relationships. But after Nick, I found them ––" Natalie searched for a proper description.
"Lacking?” Lacroix provided.
"Yes. Although I'm risking further inflation of your ego, I must admit that you're the first man in a long time I can have a conversation with that isn't dull.” As soon as she said it, Natalie realized that the truth of her statement was utterly disconcerting.
"Well, that doesn't say much for the quality of men residing in this city,” Lacroix remarked with a mocking chuckle.
"It's probably my fault. I can't expect everyone to be a history buff, have a chivalric attitude and know how to dance.”
"My, my, you are fastidious.”
"My standards are just a little higher after meeting Nick. Maybe too high.”
"So instead of settling for less, you preferred a life in solitude,” Lacroix pointed out. "I commend your resolution.”
Natalie blinked. "Well, I was always hoping ––" she hesitated, uncertain if she should bring this up in front of him.
"I was hoping that Nick might come back. I've been waiting for this date to arrive, and I was prepared to ask him to take me with him.”
"As a mortal?” There was a hint of incredulity in Lacroix's voice.
Natalie shrugged. "Why not? He refused to bring me across before. I doubt that his attitude changed.”
Lacroix regarded her with renewed intensity. "So you have considered the alternative.”
Natalie evaded his gaze nervously. "Maybe, before I grew old enough to look like his mother, I was going to ask him to bring me across,” she relented. "Instead I ended up in the hospital.”
"A far more preferable outcome than ending up drained in Nicholas' arms, I assure you. Nicholas does not have the best track record in successful conversions.”
"It doesn't matter anyway since he didn't show up.” Natalie failed to keep the bitterness out of her voice. She was glad when her food arrived which gave her the opportunity to change the topic. "You were going to tell me about that Opening Night back in the thirties.”
* * * *
"Thank you, I really enjoyed this evening,” Natalie said after Lacroix had carried her back upstairs and settled her on the couch.
"You seem rather surprised,” Lacroix observed, amused.
"I think it's only justified to remain suspicious when someone who doesn't eat picks a restaurant. But the food was excellent.”
"And the company?”
"Oh, the company was okay, too,” she admitted shyly.
Lacroix frowned. "Sounds like you value the food over the company.”
Natalie giggled. "No, seriously, I enjoyed the entire evening. Company included.”
"I'm immensely pleased to hear that.” He turned to leave through the balcony door.
"Lucius,” Natalie called him back.
"I'm having my check-up appointment tomorrow. Is Dr. Kilbourne okay?”
Lacroix raised his eyebrows at her question. "I would assume that she is.”
Natalie nodded in relief. "Good night.”
* * * *
"Good news, Natalie,” Dr. Kilbourne beamed and waved a set of x-rays in front of her. "Your bones have mended amazingly well. You won't be needing the casts anymore. But you should still use the crutches so that your left leg doesn't have to carry all your weight when you walk.”
Natalie registered the announcement only marginally. Her attention was focused on Dr. Kilbourne's neck. She didn't wear a scarf today and her neck was utterly flawless. No trace of any puncture marks. Natalie had even reached for Dr. Kilbourne's hand to make sure that she was still mortal. Her discovery confused her greatly because she had been so sure in her assumption that Lacroix had plans for the doctor.
"Natalie? Are you listening at all?” Dr. Kilbourne roused her from her contemplations.
"Oh, sorry, I was distracted. You said I'm getting rid of the casts. That's a relief. Can I drive a car?”
"You have an automatic?”
"Then that's no problem as long as you don't put pressure on your left foot.”
* * * *
Natalie was settled on her couch that evening when the balcony door opened and Lacroix stepped into the room.
"I take it you have good news?” he inquired noting the absence of casts and the presence of a glass of champagne on the table.
"Yes,” Natalie wiggled her left arm and leg. "I'm even allowed to drive a car.”
"Then this calls for a celebration I believe.” Lacroix produced a bottle of red wine. At least Natalie hoped that it was red wine.
She watched his every move as he retrieved two wineglasses from her cabinet. After he had filled one glass he raised the other empty glass in a toast. "Is something wrong, my dear? You seem pre-occupied,” he observed when Natalie didn't join in the toast.
"I don't know. I saw Dr. Kilbourne today. She didn't have any bite marks.”
Lacroix raised his eyebrows "So?”
"I thought you had bitten her.”
"I never said I would.”
"But I thought you were planning to turn her into your daughter.”
"I never said that either. What I said was that I am lacking a daughter.”
Natalie was confused. "But , when I assumed that you were planning to turn her, you never corrected me. That's why I thought you were going through with it."
"What did I tell you about chess strategies?”
Natalie blinked. "Er, not focus on the king, but on the field next to it.”
"Did it work?”
"Did what work?”
"Did the king, or in this case more appropriately the queen, remain oblivious to being the true target?”
Natalie stared at him open-mouthed as realization hit. "Me? You want me to become your daughter?” For a moment she was stunned and flattered before her common sense returned. "I don't think so.”
"You refuse my offer?” Both eyebrows shot up.
"Lucius, you haven't even made an offer. You come in here and inform me that you have decided that I was to become your daughter. You haven't asked me. Instead you ask if I refuse. That implies that you expect me to just follow your whim, which is precisely the attitude that causes me to decline anything you are going to offer.”
"My dear, it isn't customary to woo the person one is going to bring across. I'm seeking a daughter, not a wife.”
"Oh,” the sound escaped her before Natalie could stop herself.
"Only yesterday you informed me that you were prepared to join Nicholas. Your chances at survival as my child are much better, I can assure you that.”
"I sincerely doubt that. We're constantly quarreling. We'd be at each other's throats before a month is over.”
"And I wouldn't object to that scenario,” Lacroix said, amused, causing Natalie's face to turn red as the implication of her words registered. "I've been intimate with most of my children.”
Natalie stared at him. "Seriously? With most of your daughters?”
"With most of my children,” Lacroix repeated. "But we were discussing your refusal of the greatest gift one has to bestow.”
"Lucius, we'd always be at odds, eternity would be insufferable.”
"But hardly boring. I believe I mentioned to you before that a suitable candidate should have a spirit that is fiery enough to keep me entertained.”
"Ah, so you want me for entertainment,” Natalie exclaimed. "No, thank you. You can resort to television if it's entertainment you seek.”
"Even you are old enough to have realized by now that television cannot replace companionship.”
Natalie swallowed, knowing the truth of that statement all too well. "Still, you may have had this plan all along; I need some time to wrap my mind around the idea before I commit my life to something I'm sure I'll regret.”
"A fair argument,” Lacroix relented. "I shall await your answer tomorrow.”
"Tomorrow? What's your hurry? I thought you had eternity?”
"I do, but you do not. Your accident has proven just how fragile you are. I would regret losing you to mortal frailty.”
"I guess that would thwart your plans, wouldn't it? What if I decline?”
"Then I shall take my leave and not seek you out again during your remaining life.” He rose from his seat and moved to the balcony door.
Natalie was stunned at being so suddenly confronted with an ultimatum that would have a significant impact on her life.
"Is that regret I see in your expression?” Lacroix observed with satisfaction in his voice.
"I've grown accustomed to you being around. I didn't expect that you were planning to leave at such short notice.”
"My business is concluded here. Since you're unwilling to join me in a long-term commitment, I have no reason to stay.”
"But there is. We haven't concluded our game of chess yet,” Natalie said on impulse and pulled the wooden box from underneath the table.
A smile flickered across Lacroix's features as he resumed his seat. "Indeed.”
Natalie opened the box and frowned. "Perhaps we should start over. I don't remember where we left off.”
"Fortunately I have an excellent memory where unfinished games are concerned.” Lacroix began to set the pieces onto the board where they had been before they had stopped playing. "Your move, I believe.”
Natalie studied the board. Her black queen was threatened by Lacroix's bishop. She thought for a while before moving her queen out of danger.
Lacroix moved his knight forward. "Checkmate.”
Natalie looked up in shock. When they had stopped playing at the hospital, she hadn't been aware that she had been so close to losing.
Lacroix raised his eyebrow and stood. Moving over to the couch, he lifted her chin with his fingertips. Bending forward, he covered her lips and initiated a demanding kiss that sent Natalie's senses reeling. "Do not fret, ma chère. We will have plenty opportunity for chess when you join me.”
A gust of wind informed her that he was gone. Natalie opened her eyes and stared at the empty spot he had vacated.
* * * *
Natalie tried to gather her thoughts. He couldn't be seriously expecting her to make a decision within 24 hours that had such a tremendous impact on her future? Until he mentioned it, it had never occurred to her that he might be willing to bring her across. Unexpectedly, she had enjoyed his company during the last week. He was everything that she had missed in her dates with mortal men. But to let him bring her across? She remembered Nick's stories about him well. How long would it be before Lacroix turned violent with her and caused her to regret her decision? And what about Nick? She was aware that she would encounter Nick eventually when she joined Lacroix. Was she prepared to see him after he so obviously turned her down in favour of Janette? On the other hand, joining Lacroix might be her only chance to see Nick again. Would he still want her as a vampire?
And then there was that kiss. Lacroix knew how to kiss. Of that she was certain. No man had ever kissed her like that. Where Nick's few kisses had been cautious and tender, Lacroix's was passionate and demanding. Her heart rate accelerated at the memory. Natalie's head swirled. She was in no condition to make a rational decision after that kiss.
* * * *
After several hours of restless sleep Natalie woke in the early afternoon and waited impatiently for sunset. When it finally occurred, Lacroix did not make an appearance. Annoyed, Natalie started to do her dishes.
"Have you come to a decision?” a voice purred close behind her, causing her to jump.
She turned and glared at Lacroix. "You aren't playing fair, Lucius. You present me with a fait accompli and expect me to comply with your whim. I cannot do that without knowing more facts.”
"Ah, the scientist requires more data,” Lacroix observed and preceded her into the living room where he took a seat. "What do you wish to know?”
Natalie sat down across from him. "If I let you bring me across, hypothetically, what about Nick?”
"That is your most pressing question?” Lacroix's eyebrows shot up. "Very well, he will most likely accuse me of meddling in his affairs, we will have a fight, he will retreat to sulk and lick his wounds. Eventually he will come around. He always does.”
Natalie blanched at the mentioning of a fight. "I don't want to be the cause for a fight between you and Nick.”
"Don't take this personally, my dear. Nicholas will always find something to fight about. If it's not you, it will be something else. However, I can assure you that I will not bring you across so that you can live happily ever after with Nicholas. I'm not that altruistic.”
"No, you're possessive. And unless that attitude changes, I cannot give my consent.” Natalie held her breath and waited what allowances Lacroix was willing to make.
Instead he rose from his seat and advanced to where she sat. He raised her chin with his fingertips as he had done the night before. "A pity. You would have been a sparkling addition to my family.” Letting go of her, he turned towards the balcony door.
"Wait!” Natalie jumped from her seat. "This is it? You're just going to leave?”
"I have a plane to catch.”
"Tonight?” Natalie was stunned. "I thought you would make more efforts in persuading me?”
"That is not how it works, Natalie. The decision has to be yours. Otherwise you won't come back when I drain you. And we don't want that, do we?”
Natalie processed what he said.
Meanwhile, Lacroix opened the balcony door. "I wish you a pleasant life, what remains of it.”
"I could drive you to Pearson,” Natalie said on impulse, seeking a means to prolong his company.
"That won't be necessary. I'm departing from the Island Airport. Au révoir.” Then he was gone.
Natalie stood a moment rooted to the floor. Then she jumped and grabbed her coat and car keys.
* * * *
Upon parking the car at Bathurst Quay, Natalie noticed that no ferry was operating. The noise informed her, however, that a plane was getting ready for departure. As Natalie walked towards the lake shore, she saw a Learjet accelerating on the runway. Soon it gained altitude. Natalie watched dumbfounded until it was swallowed by the dark sky. Never had she felt so utterly alone.