Birthday Presents II—Wrapped in Black Satin (Lucky)
Josef looked up in surprise as Faction entered the room. "What brings you here, Formidable? I thought you and Turbo were going out."
Faction smiled gleefully at him, before turning to grab a metal stand supporting an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne chilling in it and wrestle it through the doorway. "We are. I'm just making a delivery. Wait there." She exited, only to reappear seconds later bearing a tray holding two Waterford champagne flutes, a small crystal bottle filled with blood, and an envelope. "Have fun," she said, eyes sparkling.
"Always," Josef replied, but Faction was already gone. "Hmmm." He was addressing the empty air. "This has definite possibilities."
It was still early in the evening; in fact, his day had not begun in earnest. There were certain advantages in this modern age to being nocturnal—being at the top of his form for making international calls at what most considered odd hours was one of them. There were few hours of the day when some major market wasn't open. For now, though, in these early hours of the night, he was more than ready to relax, to be entertained.
The champagne he recognized as an excellent vintage. Special occasion stuff, he thought as he slid it back into the ice. He noted the sleek modern chrome and glass ice bucket and stand with approval. Not a trace of silver. Thoughtful.
The crystal bottle was next to be investigated. He removed the stopper and sniffed. As he thought. Lucky. Of course, he'd recognized the handwriting on the envelope as he picked it up, the heavy cream paper crackling in his hands. He smiled. Even the texture of the paper had been chosen with care, the note beautifully written in black ink that almost leaped off the paper.
Whether you realize it or not, this is a special night. Cork the champagne, and I'll be with you.
The vampire felt a minor twinge of misgiving, but suppressed it at once. After all, this was Lucky, always so modest and circumspect. Even at her most abandoned, she still maintained a certain air of reserve. He'd known his share—well, probably more than his share, if the truth be told—of wild freshies, and enjoyed them fully, but Lucky was one of the ones who could soothe him into peacefulness, and he found that valuable, too.
Still, nothing ventured and all that. The champagne cork popped with an echoing crack like a gunshot, and before Josef could finish filling the two flutes with the foaming liquid, Lucky walked in.
Josef paused in mid-pour at the sight. Lucky's long red hair was not in its customary severe braid, from which enticing little tendrils always seemed to escape, but foamed around her shoulders in a pre-Raphaelite mass of curls, held back from her temples with a pair of jeweled combs.
It was her attire that really caught and held his attention, however. He was used to seeing her in little satin nightgowns, but her color choices had always run to jewel tones, rich teals and sapphire blues and emerald greens. Tonight she wore a very simple and elegant black satin creation, cut low to show off the pale perfection of her neck and shoulders, and swirling down to mid-thigh, flowing over her body like living darkness.
"Evening, Josef," she said. "Like what you see?"
"Always." He put the champagne bottle down, and carefully poured a small amount of blood from the crystal flagon into one glass. Grasping it carefully by the fragile stem, he held up his free hand, pointing down, and made a circular motion. "Turn around."
She laughed, executing a quick pirouette. Josef thought he caught a quick flash of her alabaster left thigh much higher than she was usually comfortable with displaying, but perhaps he was mistaken. She moved closer, holding out a hand for a glass.
"So what's this big occasion, babe?"
"Didn't you know? It's your birthday, Josef," she smiled.
"I could swear I just had a birthday a few weeks ago."
Lucky shrugged, making the ruby at her throat bounce. "Did you? Well, we figure that if you have four birthdays a year, for the next hundred years or so, you'll begin to get caught up."
"You girls worked this all out, did you? Do you see any problems with the math there?" Josef spoke as gently as he could. As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them, wondering if she would realize he was speaking to remind himself of certain realities.
If there was a shadow that crossed Lucky's face at that remark, it was gone almost before it began. "You'll always have freshies, Josef," she said lightly. "Consider it the beginning of a tradition." She raised her glass. "To your birthday, dear Josef. May you have many, many more."
They sipped champagne, Josef savoring it far more for the sweet blood he'd added than for the skill of the vintner. Lucky could tell he was waiting. Patient, but waiting. She put her glass aside.
"Would you care to sit?" she asked. "There's something I'd like to show you."
His face lighted with a bit of an impish grin, and Lucky felt her heart beat a little faster. "I was wondering when we'd get to the presents part."
"Any preference where?"
She pretended to consider, then gestured. "Couch."
He took one more sip of his drink, then set it aside, moving through the room with that peculiar lithe grace that always characterized his stride. He sank onto the cream leather slowly, never taking his eyes from the freshie. He could see now that his earlier observation had been correct. The nightie had a discreet slit up the front of the left thigh, and as she walked forward toward him, her skin, almost luminous beneath the darkness of the shimmering fabric, drew his eye and made him breathe in deeply.
"I don't think I've ever seen you look more edible, Lucky," he said.
"I don't think I've ever felt more edible, Josef," she replied. She stopped directly in front of him, leaning forward and putting one hand lightly on his shoulder to steady herself. Carefully, she placed her right knee on the couch, and shifting her weight to it, straddled his thighs to settle onto his lap. Josef swallowed, and loosened a necktie that had suddenly become uncomfortable.
"Shhh. Give me your left hand, Josef."
"What?" He almost had trouble speaking around the fangs that had extended in a rush. She was too close, too open to him at this moment, and he told himself control was everything.
"It's all right. Everything is all right." She paused. "Give me your hand."
Slowly, hesitantly he raised his hand and placed in hers. Without taking her eyes from his, she lifted it to her lips and began to kiss each fingertip in turn, placing them just within her parted lips.
Josef's breath left him in a slow, audible sigh. "How far do you think you can push me, Lucky?" he asked, but he made no motion to stop her.
"Just far enough." His hand was still captured in hers, but now she lowered it, brushing past her breasts, coming to rest on the delicate skin of her thigh, exposed by the slit in her gown. She moved his fingertips along the silk of her skin, higher, higher. She had never looked down, never looked away, and when she spoke, it was so low that even his vampire senses had to strain to hear. "Do you remember," she whispered, "my scars? The ones you said once were an obscenity?"
He remembered. The ragged scars left on her from the fangs of a vicious rival, a vampire who sought to kill his freshie just to spite him. The scars left from his failure to foresee the danger, to protect her from the consequences of his actions in a sphere that did not even include her. She'd said the scars reminded her of what he'd done for her afterward, but he had always hated the thought that they existed, even if she kept them hidden.
Now, where he knew perfectly well there should be rough reminders of the savage bite that had almost killed her, there was nothing but smooth skin. His sensitive touch could feel only the faintest traces of neat, surgical incisions. "You had the scars removed?" he asked.
Lucky nodded, her lips curving in a slight smile. "I realized I have all the reminders of your kindness in my heart, Josef. I don't need to touch them on my body. I don't need to see them every time I take a shower."
"A few weeks ago. It was an out-patient procedure."
"I never tasted any painkillers in your blood."
Lucky laughed. "Which is why I didn't use any. It would've ruined the surprise."
"I don't know what to say." He paused. "Thank you seems inadequate."
"What can I say? You're very difficult to shop for, Josef." She leaned forward to kiss him softly on the cheek, to brush her lips against his beautiful, mobile mouth, and as she did so, she shifted a little, and his hand involuntarily brushed a little higher.
"Yes, Josef?" Her voice was getting breathy, and he knew the situation was once again teetering on the brink.
"I never do, Josef. Just in case."
With a groan, he snatched his hand away, and grabbing her arms almost roughly turned her off his lap, twisting so that she was pinned beneath him on the couch. She made no move to struggle, even as his eyes turned silver, shining like ice in the dim light.
"Turn your head," he growled. Her red hair was like silk against his forehead as he put his mouth to her throat, his fangs piercing her skin easily. As he drank, he was acutely conscious of her body, quivering beneath his, her legs thrown around his hips, her hands rising to twine through his short hair. He could feel the heat of her, burning through his clothes, smell the intoxicating scent of her passion. If she cried out as he fed from her, it had nothing to do with pain.
Soon, too soon, his thirst was slaked, and he lay, resting his head on her chest, feeling the motion as she breathed, the gentle rise and fall of it. He felt it would be perfect to lie there forever. She raised one hand to stroke his hair. "Happy birthday," she said.
"Lucky," he murmured against her skin, "I'm not sure I can live through this four hundred times more."