Lucky cruised past Josef's exceptionally dragonish secretary with a cool nod that she hoped masked her anxiety. She'd been summoned, rather abruptly and completely unexpectedly, to attend the vampire in his office. It was still quite light out, and she couldn't help being nervous. Somehow the feeling matched up a little too closely with her memories of being called to the principal's office as a school child.
The last time she'd come to Josef's office, it had been to tease and delight him. This time—she had to doubt, although it was certainly possible, that she'd been called across town to provide a light snack.
Josef rose as she entered with that heart-stopping fluidity of motion she had come to associate with older vamps. The younger ones tried, but there was a controlled power in the old ones that was frankly inimitable, and dangerously alluring. Usually, though, when Josef rose to greet her, it was with a smile and often a compliment. She'd taken a few minutes to put on a new outfit for him, and brush her hair. She was hoping the teal satin camisole she'd chosen to pair with a clinging black slit skirt would remind him of other, more pleasant encounters, but today the smile was, at best, enigmatic, as he indicated that she should take a seat on the opposite side of his desk.
That was a bad sign, too. On happier occasions, he'd invite her to her favorite seat, perched on his lap. As she arranged herself into the chair he'd directed her to, automatically making sure her skirt showed off her legs to best advantage, she bit her lip and regarded him thoughtfully, wondering if she'd be able to maneuver herself to the other side of the desk before the interview was done. At least, she noticed, he unbent enough to flick the button of his dark suit jacket open, and show her more of the royal blue shirt that he wore.
For his part, he was focusing on a slender manila folder precisely centered on the otherwise empty surface of the desk. There was something contained in it that troubled him. And while he was sure it was nothing serious, he intended to have it explained.
"Sometimes I think," Josef said, "that I know almost nothing about you." He was watching her closely, senses attuned for reactions.
"I find that very difficult to believe." Lucky paused. "What you don't know about me isn't worth knowing."
"Why would you think that?"
She looked down. This was not something they discussed openly very often. "Josef, you drink my blood. You can practically read my mind—I know you can read my emotions."
"And trust me, it's a good read." Josef smiled, but something in it seemed off, and Lucky's heart skipped a beat. Hearing it, he was hard pressed not to smirk. Nice to know he still had that effect on her. After her last visit here, he wasn't sure he had any authority left.
"Thank you. I'm assuming you had a thorough background check run on me a long time ago. You'd be an idiot not to, these days, and Josef, I would never dream of questioning your intelligence."
"I appreciate that. And of course I had a background check run," he said crisply. "I was told there was nothing in it to concern me, so I didn't read it. I'm a busy man, Luck'. You know that."
"So now you're asking questions? If you feel you need to know where I went to elementary school, I'll gladly tell you. But I'll warn you, it's boring stuff."
"Somehow I doubt it."
"Are you trying to find out if your food was raised organically?" Lucky asked.
"That is exactly the type of information I can get from your blood," Josef said drily.
"And you need to lay off the Mexican food. There's only so much chili flavor I can stand." Josef's smile was the one Lucky recognized as slightly more relaxed, and she wondered if he was setting some kind of verbal trap for her. If so, the best response was to answer as if she had no suspicions.
"Josef, you are so full of crap sometimes," she said.
"I'm just saying."
Lucky looked him in the eye. "You should let me tie you up again."
Josef leaned back, a little surprised. "Are you saying that because you feel a need to punish me for my curiosity? Because you're savagely annoyed with me?"
"Pity. That would make it so much more fun." Josef did smirk at that, and Lucky relaxed a little.
"I'm sure it could be arranged. My savage annoyance, that is." She turned a speculative look on him. "I assume that means you actually would trust me for a repeat on that little game?"
"Was there ever any doubt?"
"One never knows with you, Josef. But I'm glad to hear it."
"Let's just say I find your devotion to stimulating my—interest—rather intoxicating."
"One does one's best." She paused. "But I am getting interested myself in where you're going with this."
Josef's slight smirk remained steady. "Do I have to be going someplace?"
Lucky shrugged. "As you said, you're a busy man. You rarely go in for idle chitchat. Not at this time of day, anyway."
Josef rose from his chair, and moved to stand behind her, laying his hands on her shoulders. She rose and turned into his arms, looking questioningly up at his face. "We've spent a lot of time together, talked about a lot of topics," he said. His cool fingers were moving on her bare skin, stroking softly. He twined one large hand into the loose braid of her red hair. It was a familiar gesture, one that seemed to hold her captive in the lightest possible way, a demonstration of his power without any use of force. "With this one big exception…and in 400 years, I've met very few humans who were uninterested in talking about themselves." Leaning forward, he spoke into her ear, his voice low and intimate, the words brushing past her cheek like individual breezes. "Maybe you can understand a little natural curiosity on my part."
She sighed. He could make himself almost impossible to resist. "As usual, Josef, it's very difficult to argue with your logic." Not to mention, she thought, with your proximity.
"Not everything I do has sinister motives, Lucky." He was allowing a hint of exasperation to creep into his voice, and she thought perhaps the conversation wasn't going exactly as he'd planned. Good.
She closed her eyes, trying to gain a little advantage and mental distance from him, despite the distraction of his touch. "I find it very interesting," she said evenly, "that you would instantly conclude that I could ever find anything you do sinister."
"Well, usually Mick is the one who gives the 'I've done terrible things since I was turned' speech, but sadly it's true," he said, voice rumbling in his chest.
"I think you're deliberately missing the point, Josef." Lucky tried to keep the breathlessness she felt out of her voice.
"Am I?" Josef raised an eyebrow.
"I believe I was saying, if somewhat obliquely—" She twisted a little in his arms, as if to escape, and he released her, pleased at the sound of her racing heart, the scent of her response.
"You know I love it when you're oblique," he said, smiling at her retreating back, as she pretended to be absorbed in the view from his window.
"Yes, I do. It's one of your most attractive traits," Lucky continued, turning to face him again, her arms crossed over her chest. "But I was saying that I have experienced many things at your hands—and don't say it—but you have never been sinister to me."
Josef clapped a hand over his unbeating heart, feigning a wound. "Now that was uncalled for. Think of my reputation."
"I can always soothe you, if your feelings are hurt." Lucky tilted her head to one side, catching her lower lip in her teeth, as provocatively as she could.
"And we've strayed rather far afield from the original topic."
"We had a topic? I had no idea."
"Sweetheart, banter is great, and after some of the freshies I've known…" He let the sentence languish unfinished as he returned to his desk.
Lucky watched him, admiring his grace as she always did. "Josef—a question. Sorry if it's a bit random, but—you can't always have called them—us—freshies. What have you called willing blood sources, in other times?"
"What are you? A sociologist doing field research? Don't I need to sign a release or something?" Josef shed his jacket before retaking his accustomed seat, hanging it neatly on a coat rack with precisely controlled motions.
"You know I'm not. And that's not an answer." Lucky refused to be distracted by this gambit, even as she noted the way the muscles of his back moved so smoothly beneath his shirt and suspenders. That royal blue shirt…it was her favorite color on him, and she was sure he knew it. The blue complemented his pale skin, enhanced the red cast of his sandy brown hair. She'd heard other freshies express a preference for him in maroon, or purple, but the blue was by far the best, in her opinion.
Josef glanced away, as though remembering, then looked back straight into her eyes. "There have been a lot of terms, in a number of languages. None of them particularly respectful, which I occasionally think is a shame." He paused. "However, it is time to get to the point."
No more dodging, then. Lucky braced herself, and Josef could see the caution coming into her eyes. He tapped the folder with one long finger. "Something anomalous has come to my attention," he said. "You got a speeding ticket last week."
"Josef, that was totally unfounded," she protested. "But I didn't fight it—I just paid the fine, right away. I know the rules. Don't draw attention."
"I know you did, doll, and that's fine. Nevertheless—" and he picked up the file, "I could not help but notice that the name on this report, and on your ID, which apparently went through the system without a single question, is not the same as the one you used to use. This—interests me."
"Oh," Lucky said, "so that's what this is about."
"Yes. Explanation." The words were crisp, blunt, but as far as she could tell, there was no anger behind them, no serious displeasure.
"How? Or why?"
"Interesting response, doll." He quirked one corner of his mouth, amused. "We'll work our way up to why. Start with how."
"Now that you mention it, 'how' is the easy part. I think," Lucky replied. "Ryder felt like he owed me a favor." She grimaced thoughtfully. "He assures me that the changes were thorough."
"If he says so, it's true." Josef waited for more, his fingers dancing on the surface of the unopened file.
Lucky shrugged. "From what I can tell, Lucky Alexander has a very complete record in the appropriate systems."
"I'm too familiar with Ryder's talents to be as impressed as I should be."
"Hmm. Well, I suspect it was more complicated than he made it sound."
Josef frowned. "Do I want to know why he owed you a favor?"
Lucky pulled at the long chain around her neck, flashing a gold-mounted vampire fang. "It dated back a ways."
"Ah. I see." He waited, and Lucky could see the expectation in his eyes.
"Is the why so important?" she asked, shifting in her chair.
"The more you stall, the more important it gets." Josef's tones were eminently reasonable, and his words as well, but there was an implacability in his eyes that belied both.
"And if I swear to you—on my blood—that it's nothing to worry you?"
Josef considered that, staring at her as she began to blush. He extended a hand. "Come here."
Lucky stood and walked around the desk. Josef sensed nothing but perfect trust in her. She had no fear, no trepidation in approaching him. And she was right. He knew her. What he could read from her blood actually told him all he really needed to know. Nevertheless, he guided her to a seat on his lap, circling her with one arm, stroking her bare arm gently with one cool hand.
"Tell me a story, Luck'."
"Chaos says it'll only swell your head—even more."
"And is Chaos here?"
Lucky shook her head, then relaxed to rest against his shoulder, curling one hand loosely on his chest. "The truth? Lucky didn't exist before you, Josef. You gave me this name, and you called me into existence. So I changed the past to fit the present."
Josef was silent for a long time, his gaze distant, his hand never ceasing its motion on her arm, on her back. He dropped his other hand to lie across her legs, sliding over the satin skin of her thighs bare beneath her skirt. He had always loved the texture and warmth of women's skin. Even after centuries, it never failed to move him. When at last he spoke, his voice was analytical. "I've often suspected Chaos of unusual astuteness. Lucky, you scare me sometimes."
"I don't mean to," she whispered.
"I know, sweetheart. I do know."
Lucky started tracing idle circles on his chest, concentrating on the gentle movement of her fingers. "So what you really want to know is why I became a freshie, isn't it?"
He looked down at her, his face unreadable. "I confess to a certain interest."
"It's a dull story. Fortunately, it's brief." Lucky paused. 'All right…if you must know. I was in grad school—again. Working in a bookstore evenings to make ends meet. English grad student assistantships just don't pay much. One of the regular customers and I got to talking one night about vampire literature. He seemed like a nice guy, and interesting, and after we'd had several long discussions, when he asked me out for a drink and a bite, I didn't realize it wasn't in that order."
Josef raised an eyebrow. "Do I need to take this guy out for you?"
"No, of course not. I mean, we didn't last long, but it wasn't anything bad. And I found I, umm, I enjoyed it. Being bitten, you know. And I met other freshies, and, well, ended up at Mick's place. Where I met you." She shrugged a little. "I told you it was boring. Except for the last part, I mean."
Josef responded by closing his eyes and inhaling her fragrance, drawing it deeply into his lungs. He tilted her chin up, exposing the pale, scarred column of her throat. She submitted as she always did, with the faintest trembling of excitement and desire. When he spoke, it was with that slight change in his accent she knew resulted from speaking around his extended fangs. "Oddly enough, a fascinating biography is not the first attribute I was looking for when I invited you into my life, Lucky."
She swallowed and stretched her neck just a shade tighter for him. He ran the pad of his thumb slowly up the center line of her throat, and when she writhed slightly at the sensation, he whispered softly in her ear, "You know, Lucky, if I'm not careful, one of these days soon, you're going to get exactly what you want from me." Then he bent his head to her neck.
The sharpness of his fangs penetrating her skin felt like a bolt of lightning sizzling along every nerve in her body, and her vision faded for a moment as the delicate blend of pain and pleasure blurred her consciousness, to be replaced almost instantly with the subtle torment of her blood rushing softly into his mouth. Her lips parted, and she murmured something—but neither of them heard it. Lost in the moment, there were no more words needed. There was no thought needed. Only the feel of his hand, tangled in her hair, the taste of her skin under his lips.
When it came down to it, there was nothing needed but the blood.