Blood Temperature

Lucky wasn't sure what time it was, but she knew it was late—getting on toward dawn. She'd been dozing, not really sleeping well, and suddenly woke with a desire for an orange, or some tangerines. She knew there was a plentiful stock of fresh citrus out at the wet bar in the main living room. She also knew that at this hour, even if Josef was working, any associates of his would have gone by now. It was inconvenient having the house invaded at all hours with strangers, but there was no way she could argue with Josef's logic in working out of a home office while the damage his building had sustained in the bomb blast was repaired. After all, he obviously needed a secure location to work from, and the security in place around his residence was better than any she'd seen elsewhere. Even Mick St. John's apartment wasn't as tightly guarded as Josef's house. Of course, she wasn't feeling too charitable toward Mick these days, not after the cavalier way he'd ordered all three of Josef's exclusives out of his place that last time. And when they'd only just learned that Josef was not, after all, dead in that horrific explosion. As if she or Allara or Faction would dream of betraying him. It was an insult to their devotion to Josef to suggest such a thing.

But for the time being, she was usually careful about wandering out of the wing where Josef had established rooms for the three of them. Not that she expected trouble, exactly, but she knew that not all vamps were as scrupulous about respecting commitments to blood exclusivity as Josef and Mick. Still, this time she thought it would do no harm to slip quietly out to the wet bar and retrieve her snack without bothering to put a robe over her short satin nightgown. She wanted to make as little noise as possible; it was true that if Josef were in his office, he'd hear her passage through the house, but she imagined that at most he'd note the noise, understand it, and go back to work, perhaps smiling a little to know that she was stirring and yet making an effort not to disturb him.

So she was not really prepared for what she saw as she came out of the hallway into the great room with its wall of windows overlooking the terrace and the narrow lap pool. The doors to the terrace were open, letting in a gentle pre-dawn breeze. Josef was floating languidly on his back in the heated water, apparently gazing up at the dark sky above. Light pollution from the myriad lights of the city below and around them blotted out most of the stars, but there was always a good view of the moon when it was up, and it was near full on this night. At this hour, it was close to setting, but it still cast a brilliant light outside, reflecting off the waters of the pool. Josef's pale skin in the water and the moonlight appeared to be carved of living marble. Lucky stopped in the deep shadows of the room, captivated by the beauty of the vampire. She was sure he could hear her heartbeat over the soft noises of wind and water outside; she could feel it pounding in her neck, the pulse that throbbed just under the heart-shaped ruby he had given her, and which she never removed.

In one graceful movement, Josef stood in the waist-deep water, the liquid sheeting off his pallid chest. He looked directly at Lucky and motioned her to come to him. She walked onto the terrace, unable to control the trembling flutter beneath her ribs. Standing on the edge of the pool, she looked down at him. "I didn't mean to disturb you," she said.

He laughed softly, and laid back in the water again. "You never disturb me, sweetheart. You're about the quietest freshie I've ever met." Then he quirked a smile at her. "Why don't you come in? I was just feeling a little lonely out here."

"Well, we can't have that," Lucky replied, but she hesitated as to whether to throw aside the nightgown that was her only garment.

Josef shook his head, knowing what she was thinking. "Just wear it in, Lucky," he said.

Lucky stepped down gingerly into the water, thinking that for someone who slept in a freezer, he certainly liked his pool very warm. "Blood warm," he'd told her once. "My favorite temperature." Her nightgown, instantly soaked through, clung to her like a second skin, and despite the cloth, or perhaps because of it, she felt indecently exposed to his gaze. There had always been an odd sort of formality between them, odd because of the intimacy of his feedings from her veins, odd because even with the intense knowledge of her that came from her blood flowing inside him, and the many times he'd held her in his arms, the amount of skin to skin contact had never gone beyond a certain point. She wouldn't say that she hadn't wondered—often—what it might be like to be with him in the human way. What it would be like to be joined, completely, even as his fangs entered the flesh of her throat. Not that she was dissatisfied; there was a unique pleasure to be had from his vampiric physical attentions, and the mental and emotional connection they shared as a result of their blood bond was far more than she ever expected to have with a human lover.

"Come here," Josef said, "float with me."

"I'm not a very good swimmer," she replied as she crossed the few feet that separated them.

"What, do you think I'm going to let you drown in my lap pool?" He put an arm around her waist and guided her back until she rested on him, her back against the cool firmness of his naked chest. They floated together silently for a while in the warm water, with only the sounds of the night around them, and the occasional splash as Josef kicked just enough to keep them afloat. Lucky found her mind drifting along with her body, drowsy and secure.

She dozed, perhaps only for a few seconds, but awoke with a start, then relaxed instantly. Josef's arms were still around her, she was wrapped in his power. Paradoxically, she was safe, there in the embrace of the vampire.

Josef, for his part, was reveling in the warm weight of the girl resting on him. The feel of the wet satin against his chest, sliding under his arms around her, tempted him. These girls, all of them, trusted him so much farther than they reasonably should. Even now—he had come out to the pool for a quiet few minutes of contemplation before dawn and sleep, with no thought of wanting any of them. He had fed, earlier in the night, from Turbo's delicate and delicious wrist, and truly he had no need for Lucky's blood. Yet even now, she was turning her head away from him, offering her neck, and he knew from her heartbeat, from the faintest trembling of her, from the heat of her skin against his, that she would give so much more than blood, should he ask it. He closed his eyes, considering the possibilities, considering moving the hand that rested on her ribcage up to grasp her breast. He knew that if he could see her eyes right now, he would see the evidence of her desire written in their smoky gray depths.

He had learned, though, through the long centuries, to savor the anticipation, to hold precious the dream which so often surpassed the reality. For now, in the last dregs of this night, he would satisfy the promptings of the fangs that pushed gently and insistently in his mouth, and let the other hungers remain unsated. Wordlessly he raised his head to kiss her neck.

He would not take much, this time, would pull only a small taste of her sweet acceptance within him. When his fangs pierced her skin, and he began to drink, Lucky moved involuntarily, and a low moan escaped her lips. He bit harder, feeling her undulate against him as pain and pleasure spread over her. She was weightless, floating in a universe where the only sensation was the feel of his mouth against her skin. In the space of a dozen heartbeats, he had taken and given what they both needed.

For the rest, he thought as he contemplated her limp and trembling body resting against him, for the rest, anticipation was better. The sky was growing light; the sun would rise soon, and it was time to retreat from the day. As surely as the earth turned beneath them, there would be other nights, there would be time.