Disaster hung in the air.
Everyone watched as Natasha struggled to carry a tray laden with glasses over to the bar to be put away. The club was about to open, and although they had tried to keep Natasha from working, she insisted that she was fine. She wasn't, and all were waiting for something to happen.
It came without much warning, as Natasha was lifting the tray to place it on the bar. Her legs gave way beneath her, and she lost her balance, crumbling to the floor. The tray, heavy with clean glassware, tipped off the edge of the counter and also fell. There was a tinkling sound as the glass shattered around her.
"Natasha!" Rock shouted, loud in room gone silent in horror. He was first to her side, lifting her from the glass. Setting her down on a clean patch of floor, he turned an accusing glare to LaCroix. "Look what you've done to her!"
Everyone looked. Her eyes riveted on the fallen woman,
Janette could hear LaCroix whisper, "Natasha... what have I done to you?"
When she turned to him, however, he was gone.
LaCroix sat at Natasha's bedside, holding a book in his
hand. The emergency room doctor had seen no reason to keep her over night,
as none of the cuts were deep or fatal. He had, however, prescribed pills
to help her sleep and an ointment for her worst cuts. He had also instructed
Natasha to stay in bed for a few days.
LaCroix set the book aside and bent down to kiss her forehead. "I must go now, ma petite. You must rest," he told her.
"No..." Natasha begged. "Don't go, Lucien... please!"
LaCroix sighed "I must... besides, I need rest, as well, cherie."
"Then stay here... with me." She patted the bed beside her. "You could hold me while I sleep."
Unable to deny her, LaCroix agreed, sliding into
bed next to Natasha.
Later, however, Natasha awoke, and, finding LaCroix sound asleep, tiptoed out to the living room to watch television. Turning on the tv, she snuggled into a blanket on the couch and began channel surfing.
She stopped when she came to a channel that had her picture on it. There was voice speaking in the background, a voice Natasha was certain she should have known. It spoke about a woman named Natalie Lambert, who was a coroner in Toronto. The voice went on to say that Natalie had disappeared in Montreal on her way to a medical convent... almost two months ago.
The picture was replaced, suddenly, by two men-- one a heavy set black man, the other a blonde-haired man with blue eyes. Both wore concerned expressions on their faces.
The blonde man spoke into the camera, his voice pleading. "Nat..." he said, "we haven't given up you. There is still hope. I *will* find you, Nat."
Nat... he called her "Nat." Natasha began screaming
hysterically as she realized that the man on tv was the voice room her
Both LaCroix and Jasmine were at her side within seconds
after her cries reached them, Jasmine slower because of her youth. LaCroix
knelt beside her, casting a side glance at Jasmine. "Get Janette!" he ordered
as he cradled Natasha in his arms.
"Absolutely not!" Janette exclaimed. "You are *not* going to bring her across, LaCroix! Nicolas will never forgive us if you do!"
For once, will you quit worrying about your precious "Nee-co-la," thought LaCroix angrily. He might have said as much, except she was right. Natasha could not be brought across, despite what he had promised. Sighing, he said, "Now, Janette, cherie... you misinterpret my words. I said, *she* wanted to be brought across. Nothing more."
"You told her that you would! I heard you say it."
LaCroix nodded. "Yes, you did hear me say that, but I lied," he explained. "It was necessary... to placate her."
"Then what do you plan on doing about all of this?" Janette demanded to know.
"This episode has pushed her over the edge. I believe I can fully restore her memory now... but it must be done tonight... now," LaCroix told her.
Janette studied her former master carefully. "You really love her, don't you?"
LaCroix nodded once, the only indication he would give her that he did indeed care deeply for Natasha.
"Why, then, are you doing this?"
LaCroix fixed her with an unreadable stare. "Why
do I do anything? Nicholas... everything I do is for him. I thought you
knew that." He turning, exiting the room and returning to Natasha'a apartment.
Sighing, Janette went to gather her employees. If Natalie
Lambert were to emerge from this horrible night, they all needed to understand
what was happening.
Natalie awoke in a room that was familiar and different at the same time. There was a dull ache in the back of her head. "Where am I?" she asked aloud. When there was no answer, she rose from the bed and began to look around. As she did, bits and pieces of the last few weeks began returning to her. She had hit her head when the mugger pushed her... and lost her memory. Some things were still fuzzy, but she clearly remembered Janette taking her in off the streets. And... she remembered a name-- Natasha.
Natalie stood in front of the mirror hanging over her dresser. She felt different somehow. The eyes that stared back at her were foreign to her. Just then, something caught her eye-- a photograph, framed and seated in the center of the dresser. It was a picture of her and LaCroix! Picking up the picture, Natalie studied it, overwhelmed at the emotions that flooded her when she touched it. Her heart began to break... and she didn't know why.
Natalie put down the photograph, stepping away quickly. It was then that she noticed Janette standing in the doorway.
"Natalie?" Janette asked. "Are you all right?"
Nat nodded slowly. She wasn't sure how long Janette had been standing there, watching her. "I-I need a shower," Nat said. She glanced at the closet full of Natasha's clothes-- things she would never wear-- and said, "These clothes... I can't wear them. They're... not me."
Janette smiled knowingly. She had anticipated this
reaction long ago. "I think I can provide you with a few decent outfits,
Natalie. The shower is..." Janette pointed, "... over there. When you're
done, you'll will find something suitable waiting for you."
Later, when Natalie had showered and changed, she stood in front of the mirror once again, this time, feeling more like herself again. It was then that she noticed the photograph and frame were gone. Janette must have taken it... but why?
Just then, there came a knock at her open bedroom door. A tall woman, with long blonde hair, entered shyly. It was Jasmine.
"Hi, Jas," Nat said absently as she combed out her hair.
"H-hi... you know me?" Jasmine asked incredulously. She had thought Natalie had lost the memory of her life when she was Natasha. LaCroix, however, had only blocked out certain things, such as their romance.
"Sure, I do. Some things are a bit fuzzy yet, but I'm not totally in the dark."
Jasmine sighed in relief. "I was worried about you, Ta... uh, Natalie." Jasmine blushed at her blunder. "I'm sorry," she mumbled.
"No, it's ok, really. You know me better by that name, that's all." Natalie thought for a moment, then asked, "Jas... there was a picture here on the dresser earlier. What happened to it?"
Jasmine knew Janette had taken it after Natalie went to shower. She was supposed to have done it, except Natalie awoke before Jasmine had expected. "No," she lied. "I didn't know there was a picture."
"Oh." Nat didn't sound convinced, but she accepted
Jasmine's excuse anyway.
LaCroix rose from his chair when Natalie approached their table. Janette also stood, a smile on her face. "The clothes were to you liking, I hope?" she asked.
Natalie nodded, returning the smile nervously. She accepted the chair LaCroix held out for her. She found herself comparing his gentleman's manners to Nick's. Nick... he must be worried sick by now. Natalie mention it to the two vampires.
"I took the liberty of calling him while you were in the shower," said Janette. "He'll be on a private plane out here tomorrow night."
"Nick owns a private plane!?" Nat burst out.
"Actually," interjected LaCroix, "*We* own it-- the family jet."
"Wow," was all Nat could say.
Changing the subject, LaCroix surprised her by saying, "Nicholas tells us that the man who stole you purse was smart enough to access your atm card. Seeing as he emptied you accounts.." he held out a card, "this is for you."
It was another ATM card for a bank in Toronto. "I... I can't accept this."
"Of course you can, ma petite. You have no savings now, so you *must.*" He forced the card into her hand, their skin brushing at the action.
At his touch, Natalie was once again bombarded with
memories, this time too strong to repress. LaCroix's hypnotic barrier was
breached and the memory of their intimacies flooded her mind. It took all
her strength not to cry out then and there. But she accepted the card.
"T-thank you," Nat choked before fleeing back to the apartment.
Natalie buried her face into the pillow, sobbing uncontrollably. How could this possibly have happened? How had she fallen in *love* with a monster like LaCroix? How? But... she *did* have feelings for him, she'd felt them when their hands touched.
"Natalie?" Janette's voice came from the door. Nat looked up, wiping the tears from her eyes. Janette glided into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. "Can I help somehow?"
Nat shook her head. "There is... is..." she choked out between sniffles, "nothing you can do." "Would you care to tell me what's wrong?" Janette asked.
Natalie hesitated. This was *Janette.* The Janette who had plotted time and again to prevent Nick from getting his cure-- to keep him from finding happiness with her. She had no reason to trust Janette. But you *do,* insisted a voice inside her head. Mistress Janette helped us. I trusted her... so can you. It was Natasha, and despite Natalie's wariness, she knew that Janette *could* be trusted.
"I.. I remember things that I wish I did not remember," Natalie said.
"Such as..?" Janette asked.
"LaCroix... " Natalie looked up to meet Janette's gaze. "LaCroix and... myself." She no longer tried to deny that Natasha and Natalie were one and the same.
Janette was dumbfounded. "I see... and it troubles you, no doubt."
Nodding, Nat asked, "Did he love...me... her?" There was confusion in her eyes.
"Yes. He loved Natasha very much. I suspect he has feelings for the real Natalie as well, but... it was not meant to be."
"If he loved me... then... " Natalie's voice trailed off.
Janette understood, however. "Because of Nicolas. LaCroix loves Nicolas very much. Their relationship is so fragile, and he would not purposely do anything to jeopardize it now.. when they are closer than they have been in ages."
Now it was Natalie who was dumbfounded. After a brief silence, she asked, "Tell me... can he *really* be capable of love?"
Janette studied Natalie, looking for any vestige of Natasha in her eyes. Seeing there a small spark of the free spirit she once knew, Janette smiled. Then, she said, "Lucien LaCroix is not the monster Nicolas makes him out to be. Natasha knew that.. in your heart, Natalie, so do you. But it is you mind that must be convinced. Perhaps, someday..."
Natalie shook her head. "I don't know if I can say that, Janette. I don't know what I'm feeling right now. My heart feels torn in two." After a pause, Natalie said, "You... you won't tell either of them about this, will you? I kind of want to sort things out on my own for a while."
Janette smiled. "I understand, Natalie. I won't tell them."
Laughing, Janette promised, "I'll take it my grave."
(Continued in "Proposal")