The wedding had been on a day such as this one had been; warm and bright, with sunshine. The flowers were white roses and gardenias. It was an outdoor wedding, with the groom standing nervously under the flowered arch of a white pavilion.
All were waiting on the bride. Then the bridal march began and she came forward like a vision in a dream. Now she stood beside her fiance, and taking his hand, walked up the steps into the pavilion where the minister awaited them.
The minister began to speak. Both bride and groom stood enchanted as the minister spoke his piece. Wistfully they repeated the words he asked them to repeat. Now, he was blessing them. The minister turned to his audience. In a proud voice, he said, "I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Henri Clerval. Let all present here today celebrate their happiness."
As Fleurette stood watching the train pull away from the station, she felt tears gather in her eyes. Could it have only been ten years ago that she was that blushing bride and Henri her mesmerized groom? Now, here she was, letting the train take her as far away from him as possible. Elena, their youngest child, waved to her from Henri's arms.. Fleurette smiled through her tears and raised a hand to wave back.
Elena looked like her father: dark hair and deep brown eyes. She had his smile, his laughter... his joy of life. Fleurette looked to her other two children, the twins, Daniel and Melissa. They resembled their father more than Henri. Melissa had straight blonde hair and the deepest blue eyes. Her pixie smile won the hearts of all who knew her. Daniel was also blonde and blue-eyed. But his hair was near white and short-cut, whereas his sister's was golden and long. His face was set in its usual somber expression and his pale blue eyes cut the darkness of the hot July night with their keenness.
It was because of the twins that Fleurette now left Paris... just as it had been on account of them she'd decided to leave Henri five years earlier. Only now they were divorced and not merely separated. Thus it was that the train sped her now away from her husband of ten years and towards the twins' true father.
As Henri and Elena slipped out of sight, Fleurette turned and herded her children into their private car. Turning to Daniel, she said, "You must be hungry, my son. You fasted a long time today."
The boy shrugged as his mother handed him a black sports bottle. He sipped at the thick, red liquid it contained almost like a connoisseur. Fleurette had seen his father do much the same from a wine glass many years ago.
His sister turned a smiling face to him. "Isn't he *always* hungry, maman?" She mocked.
Daniel threw Melissa a cold look. "You should be nice to me, Melissa. I could get hungry enough to eat you," he threatened, his eyes narrowing darkly.
"Children, please!" Fleurette interrupted. She knew Daniel would never really hurt his sister. He was far too devoted to her to ever harm her. Which was odd for a young boy going on 10. But then, everything about her son was odd, now wasn't it? "Melissa... please don't tease you brother. You know he can't help it."
Melissa merely smiled and began rifling through her back pack. Pulling out a coloring book and crayons, she seated herself at a card table and was soon engrossed in her coloring. Daniel watched her for several long minutes as he drank from his bottle. When it was empty, he approached her. Without looking up, Melissa made room for him at the small table. How she knew he wanted to color with her, Fleurette didn't know. The twins just seemed to know what each other needed... as if they could read each others' thoughts or something.
Watching them, Fleurette mused at how different
they were. Daniel was a vampire... well, half-vampire in reality. His vampiric
heritage asserted itself almost immediately after birth, while his sister
remained decidedly mortal. He was also a somber, serious creature, whereas
Melissa was a too-cheerful sprite most of the time. Sighing, Fleurette
noted for the millionth time just how much Daniel reminded her of his true
father. And it was about time Daniel knew how much he was like his father,
she told herself.
Two finely dressed gentlemen met Fleurette and her children at the train station near Lyons. One held a sign bearing the name "Fleurette Clerval". The other spoke to her, his voice rich with the accent typical of the region surrounding Lyons.
"Mme. Clerval?" When she nodded, he continued. "M. LaCroix sent us to fetch you and your children... as he is too busy to attend to attend to it himself this night."
Fleurette nodded, a smile warming her face. That was so like Lucien... not forgetting them, even when he was too busy himself, and could not spare a few minutes to meet the train. The man continued. "It seems Mistress Angele and Master Marius arrived unexpectedly last evening. He was closeted with them in the study when we left the estate. Otherwise... I was instructed to assure you, M. LaCroix would be here himself to greet you."
"And your name is..sir?" Fleurette asked, still smiling warmly at the messenger.
The man returned her polite smile. "Armand, madame. And this..." he turned to his companion, who was loading the travelers' luggage into the van. "... is Corwin."
Corwin? An odd name for a Frenchman? Fleurette thought. Unless, of course... he isn't French...
Armand opened the van door for Fleurette and the children as soon as Corwin finished with the luggage. "We'd have brought the limo, ma'am, but in this secluded region... well... it kind of stands out too much." He smiled apologetically while trying to explain their choice of vehicles.
"That's fine. Limousines aren't really my favorite form of transportation anyway." Fleurette said with a laugh.
Armand seemed about to say something more when Corwin cut into their conversation. "Let's get back now... The master will be angry if we're late with his guests," he insisted.
Fleurette began to notice tension between the two men. They didn't act like two men who worked together... or rather... they acted like they didn't know each other all that well.
Moreover, Armand acted edgy-- like he didn't trust Corwin. But as they pulled into the circular driveway in front of LaCroix's country home, Fleurette dismissed the discord she'd noted.
LaCroix saw the van pull up and watched as Armand and Corwin unloaded the van in front of the servants' quarteers. His housekeeper, Mlle. DeMarte, had been instructed to see them to their rooms first, and then send them to the den when he called for them.
From a distance, Natalie Lambert watched him. Cautiously, she approached her master.
"LaCroix? Are you all right?" She asked, her eyes full of concern as he whirled to look at her.
"Of course, my dear... why shouldn't I be all right?" was his cool reply.
"You haven't seen Fleurette since Paris... I thought you might.... want to talk." Her eyes told him that she felt his pain and what was more.... she *knew* his pain.
"I see... you wish to comfort me, should I be in need of comforting. I will tell you, daughter, that I am--"
She cut him off. "Trying to distance yourself from her and the children. That's why you chose to stay here with Angele and Marius rather than meet Fleurette at the station. My question is... what are you afraid of?"
LaCroix looked deeply into her eyes. There were many things he was afraid of. But where to start.... and why should he even tell her? It wasn't really any of her concern. No, he told himself. I *used* to keep secrets from my children... but no more. After Divia's surprise visit, I promised I would never keep secrets from my children. He turned away, staring out at the night. "Nicholas no doubt told you about Divia... am I right?"
"Yes... what does this have to do with Fleurette's arrival?"
"Divia was my biological daughter, Natalie. Nicholas didn't tell you that, did he?"
"No... he didn't" Nat replied.
"I thought as much. He wouldn't betray my trust." LaCroix slowly began to relate his relationship with Divia to Natalie. When he finished, he sighed... "What if these children have inherited my evil nature as well? The world does not need another Divia."
Natalie was stunned into silence. Then, after a while, she spoke. "You weren't always my favorite person, LaCroix. I used to hate you... because of Nick. Now I know you a little better. I don't hate you anymore. I've seen the goodness in you. You took me in and treated me as a daughter, not as the enemy that I was. You comforted me when we didn't know where Nick was. And you helped me to pick up the pieces after I lost him to Janette." She smiled and walked up to place a hand on his shoulder. "Maybe they inherited your good qualities instead of the bad?"
"What might those be?" LaCroix turned to face her.
"Loyalty... dedication to family... compassion." She smiled at him. "Why don't you go meet your children and see what they are like, instead of standing here worrying? Or... is there some other reason you hesitate?" She grinned devilishly at him.
LaCroix briefly wondered if Nicholas had ever been irritated by Natalie's ability to touch the sore issue. "Yes... of course there is. Fleurette... " he sighed once more. Then he turned and walked off.
Part III Mlle. Agnes DeMarte led Fleurette and her children down a long corridor. "The master set aside this wing especially for the three of you," she said. "He hopes you find everything to your liking." She unlocked a door, pushing it wide open so that Fleurette could see inside.
It opened on a room beautifully decorated in antique furniture and art. Mlle. DeMarte informed them that this was their sitting room. To the left was another door... this was Fleurette's bedchambers. Across the room were two doors close together. These were the children' rooms.
"M. LaCroix informed us that you wished the twins to have adjoining rooms. This should be satisfactory, then." Agnes DeMarte continued. "Of course, you are free to redecorate any way you wish."
Fleurette heard her as she inspected the rooms on her own. "No... " she smiled. "I think these will be fine as they are. Thank you."
"No thanking me, madame. The master made all the arrangements as soon as he knew you were coming." Mlle. DeMarte turned her head in time to see Armand and Corwin bring in the luggage. They had been struggling behind Fleurette and the children and had finally caught up.
"You just hurry up with those, you hear. These poor folks must be tired after that long train ride." She scolded them.
In no time at all, the luggage was brought into the room and the two men began to unpack it.
Fleurette frowned at this. "No... just leave it. I'll unpack it myself." she insisted, pushing them away.
"You're sure, ma'am?" Armand asked. "We had orders to do this." "I'm sure Lucien won't mind if I override his command. They are our things, after all." Fleurette assured them.
Natalie knocked on the door shyly. She hadn't seen Fleurette since their brief meeting in Paris almost ten years ago. When Fleurette called out a greeting, she opened the door and tentatively stepped inside. Seeing that Fleurette and the twins were unpacking their luggage themselves, she said, "You could have had Armand and Corwin do that for you, you know."
"Yeah, I know." Fleurette replied with a wry smile. "I didn't feel right about them handling our personal belongings." She put down the clothes she was folding and turned to face Natalie. "How are you?" she asked. "It's been so long..."
"I've been happy. A lot of things have happened since we last saw you. Some of them were pretty hard on me, but I'm over it." Nat replied as she began to help Fleurette with the clothes.
Fleurette frowned thoughtfully. "What things? The last I knew, you were still looking for Uncle Nick. He was missing. You were worried, I remember."
Nat smiled ruefully. "Well... we found him, all right. He showed up not too long after we parted company with you." She began telling Fleurette about the whole thing.... Nick's amnesia and his choice to stay with Janette.
"Is he happy?" Fleurette asked.
"I suppose he is. We haven't heard much of them since they left New York for San Fransisco three years ago. He's given up searching for a cure... this pleases LaCroix, of course."
"How do you feel about that?" Fleurette asked quietly, aware of the awkwardness in Nat's voice.
Nat sighed. "There is still a part of me that hopes he could find a cure. I worked so hard to find one. But I am a vampire now. It doesn't really matter anymore." After an awkward silence Fleurette asked yet another difficult question. "Nat... about Lucien... how is he? Does he still... " her eyes lowered as Nat tried to meet her gaze. "How does he feel about me?"
"Oh, Fleurette..." Nat sighed again. "I can't answer that. I wouldn't know how. He's just as he's always been, I guess. But about you? He doesn't talk to me about you very often."
"He must've said something. Especially now that I've stepped back into his life." She insisted.
Nat shook her head. "He's said very little. But I've sensed that he's been nervous about your coming here. He really doesn't confide in anyone, Fleurette. You know how he is." She replied.
Fleurette looked to where her son was meticulously arranging his belongings in his bedroom. His serious expression and calculated movements reminded her yet again of LaCroix. "Yes... I know how he is. Daniel is very much like his father, Natalie." She turned to Nat, her eyes brimming with tears of frustration. "You have no idea what the last ten years were like... trying to raise him and keep his nature a secret from the rest of the world. I couldn't even tell Henri."
The other woman reached out and touched Fleurette's shoulder reassuringly. "It looks like you did a good job, Fleurette. Still, it must've been hard."
"It wasn't easy... that's for sure." Fleurette managed
to smile. She was glad Natalie thought she'd done a good job with her children.
They talked some more... about the passing of the years. They were still
talking when Mlle. DeMarte returned to inform them that LaCroix requested
their presence in the den.
LaCroix paced the floor nervously awaiting the arrival of Fleurette and her children. He hadn't seen them at all since the twins were still babes...
*** Flashback *
** LaCroix walked with Natalie down the boulevard. He had been teaching her the ways of the night. Now they were headed towards the park, talking as they went.
LaCroix was annoyed to find that the park was not empty. It was usually abandoned this time of night. But this night there was a young mother pushing what appeared to be a twin-sized stroller. As they entered the park, she bent over the stroller, obscuring her face from them.
Still, LaCroix could not help but watch her, as if nothing else in the world interested him. He was drawn to her. Then the young mother stood again, a baby in her arms, and their eyes met.
LaCroix could not believe his eyes when he saw his beloved Fleurette before him. He stammered nonsense to Natalie, who had also recognized the young woman. Seeing that LaCroix was unable to make contact with the girl, Nat took a step closer, smiling warmly.
Fleurette returned Nat's greeting and extended one of her own to both the vampires. When LaCroix did not answer her, she turned to him. "What's the matter, Lucien?" She asked softly.
He stared at the baby in her arms and then at the child still in the stroller. "You've children, I see." He finally managed to say. Of course, in the back of his mind he knew that Fleurette and her husband would someday have children. He hadn't expected it would have been so soon, however.
"Yes... I do. They're twins, Lucien. This... is Melissa." She replied as she handed the little girl to Natalie. Nat began to coo at the child, who responded with smiles and happy gurgles. Then Fleurette reached for the other child. "And this handsome little man is Daniel..." she said, half talking to LaCroix and Natalie and half fawning over her son. "Tomorrow is their six month birthday." she said proudly.
LaCroix could not stop the jealousy which surged through him. Couldn't she see that these children upset him? He didn't care that they would be six months old, or even that they were born. They presence served to remind him that she had chosen a mortal existence... and a mortal husband. Still... he was curious to see what they looked like and stepped closer to Fleurette as she fussed over her son.
"Would you care to hold him, Lucien?" she asked when he leaned in to look at the boy.
Somehow or other, LaCroix found the tiny child shoved into his arms.. It was then that he felt the difference in the child. He looked up at Fleurette in confusion. Nat caught his strange look and asked, "What's wrong? Is there something wrong with him, LaCroix?"
"He's a vampire...." LaCroix answered her, his eyes fixed on Fleurette. "How is this possible?"
"I was hoping you could tell me..." Fleurette replied. "They're your children, Lucien... yours and mine."
*** End flashback ***
LaCroix shook his head as he remembered how hard it had been to accept the children as his. He still feared the possibility of one of them being like Divia. But more importantly... he still marveled that these two children were even alive. Their very existence should not have been... yet it was.
As he pondered this miracle, there came a slight tap at the door. He looked up as Mlle. DeMarte entered, followed by Natalie and Fleurette. Two blonde-haired children followed behind them, and even further back in the other room he could see Angele and Marius, who had no doubt come to see how he greeted his children. Mlle. DeMarte showed them into the room and left quickly.
LaCroix found himself studying the twins as they inspected the room with much curiosity. Melissa moved about the room touching everything. Daniel, however, let his eyes do the roaming as he stood at his mother's side. After a moment or two, he spoke to his sister. "Melissa," he said. "You should not be touching that stuff. It could break." He advised. She turned to him, the smile on her face waning only slightly and then she came back to stand next to him.
"Quite the serious little fellow, isn't he?" Marius commented to Angele and LaCroix. "Couldn't have gotten that from his mother... I don't remember her ever being that serious."
"More like his father, I suppose." Angele said softly. She turned a questioning glance to Fleurette. "Am I right?"
Fleurette nodded silently. LaCroix had yet to say anything, either to Fleurette or her children. Instead, he had made eye contact with the boy and they now were staring intently at each other.
Daniel took a confident step toward LaCroix. "Are you our father?" The child asked LaCroix. It was an open and honest question, the kind only a child can ask. He stepped closer, coming up to LaCroix.
"Yes, boy... I am." LaCroix answered, equally as honest. He knelt down so he and Daniel were at eye level with each other. It was then that the others in the room realized that the elder vampire was "communicating" with the younger one... so to speak There was, as with a master and his fledgling, a bond between them.
Daniel didn't reply, but continued to study the man before him. Then he nodded, saying, "Yes. I believe so." Then he returned to his place beside Fleurette.
Melissa had been watching this encounter as closely as the others in the room. When Daniel returned to Fleurette's side, she hesitated only a moment before she in turn ran to LaCroix. Quite enthusiastically she threw her arms around him in a big hug. "Daddy!" she squealed.
For a second, LaCroix looked uncomfortably past his daughter to Fleurette... the look on his face clearly saying, "what do I do?" It had been too long since he'd been around a child. Not since Divia was young. And he hadn't spent that much time with Divia at all anyway. Then he relaxed and hugged her back, a gentle smile forming on his face.
"Melissa..." came Daniel's voice from behind them. Then the girl pulled out of LaCroix's embrace and hurried back to her brother's side. He took her hand protectively.
Suddenly, Natalie stepped forward. "If the kids would come with me, I could show them around a bit. We have lots of things for them to do." She suggested to Fleurette.
LaCroix smiled, seeing that Natalie wished to give them some privacy. "You could show them the stables, perhaps?" He suggested. "They do like horses, don't they?" LaCroix asked Fleurette.
"Horses!" Melissa squealed in delight. "Oh boy! Come on, Daniel!" She urged, grabbing her brother's hand and pulling him out the door. Natalie, Angele, and Marius followed behind them, laughter playing on their lips.
When they were alone, LaCroix let out a deep sigh. "I've never been good with children." he confessed. "I had no clue how to react to that."
"Melissa can be a bit too spontaneous at times," Fleurette admitted. "Although I didn't expect her to accept you so quickly... but then, Daniel did, so she would too."
"They are so different from each other. I could feel it... more than just being vampire or not."
"Yes, they are..." Fleurette raised her eyes to make eye contact with LaCroix. "Lucien... you have no idea how hard it has been to raise them. Knowing that someday, Daniel would cease to be a child... and become something else, something unknown to me... it has been so hard..."
For that I am very sorry, my dear." LaCroix told her. "Had I known you would be the mother of such unusual children..." His voice trailed off. What would he say, anyway? That he would not have made love to her? LaCroix could not bring himself to say that. Instead he took her hand gently in his own. "It seems you have a fine job of raising them, despite the difficulties. You should be proud of what you have accomplished."
"Just what did I accomplish, Lucien?" She asked him, yanking her hand away from his. "My marriage... the life I led... is now ruined beyond any hope of repair. I've left behind a daughter I know I may never see again. And for what, really? Could I not just as easily have sent them off to you in secret? Or even have terminated their lives before it got so bad?"
This speech shocked LaCroix greatly. The Fleurette he remembered had not seen vampirism as a terrible monstrosity. Far from it! She had desired it for herself at one time. Yet here she was saying she could have killed her own children to save herself some pain.
The window was open and from outside, the sounds of Melissa's laughter floated into the room. LaCroix strode silently to the window and looked out to where Marius was teaching the twins how to ride horseback. He motioned for Fleurette to join him. "Would you really have took the lives of your own children, Fleurette? Are you that cold hearted?" He asked her.
"Not.... " her voice choked. "Not once they were alive, no. But had I known what they were to become..."
"An abortion?" LaCroix asked, a snarl of contempt and dislike on his face. Was this really the woman he once knew? "Would you have done that, really?" His voice condemned her.
Fleurette gazed out to where the twins were now riding on their own. Melissa's horse threw her suddenly and she landed on the grass with a thud. With great speed, Daniel flew to her side and helped her to her feet. How they loved each other! Sighing she turned back to LaCroix. "No..." she said slowly. "I don't think I really would have had an abortion. They *are* a joy to me. It's just that sometimes the sacrifices I have made outweigh the joys. And Daniel is getting increasingly harder to raise."
"You saw them out there just now. He *flew* to her when she fell. He's never flown before, Lucien, never. There may come a time when I cannot command him. I don't know if I could handle that."
"I see.' LaCroix replied. "And this is why you came to me. Because you need help raising him. Fleurette... were you to have sent the children here alone, or even just Daniel, and remained in Paris with your husband, I would not have cared. I promised you I would help you if the need arose, and it has. Daniel shall get the training he needs. You need not stay if you don't wish to."
"I could never separate the twins, nor could I leave them myself." Fleurette answered him.
"What of Henri, then? And the child you left behind?" He probed.
"Henri and I have not lived together for five years now. It is not hard to give him up. But I shall miss Elena deeply. I loved her so, Lucien... I did love her."
LaCroix saw that she was determined to remain with her children, no matter what the cost had been. He only hoped when the time came, she realized he would be there for her emotional needs as well. He nodded silently in understanding. "I know. A parent's love for a child is great, is it not?"
Fleurette turned a questioning look to him. What was that in his voice? Understanding? "Did you ever have a child to love, Lucien? Aside form those you created as a vampire." She asked.
"Yes, I did... a little girl." A faraway look came
into his eyes. He could still hear Divia begging him to save her life after
Nicholas ran the stake through her heart. Father... She whispered
to him. "Her name was Divia." He said at last. Then he was gone, a blur
of motion before her eyes as he fled the room.
Fleurette entered the "studio"-- the room that LaCroix and Marius had designated for the twins' education. She stood in the doorway watching the scene before her with pride. Melissa stood beside Marius in front of a painter's easel. Marius had been giving her lessons in art, and she was learning quickly. In another corner of the room Daniel sat on a braided rug, listening to LaCroix speak. Fleurette smiled to herself, remembering the "history lessons" LaCroix had given her long ago.
It had been nearly a month since they'd come to live with LaCroix in Lyons. The children seemed to have taken to LaCroix right away. Melissa lost no time in calling him "Daddy" or showering him with affection. Daniel, as was his custom, remained reserved, but very respectful of him. It was enough for him to know that LaCroix *was* indeed his real father. And Fleurette had to admit that LaCroix seemed to love the twins every bit as much as Henri had, even if he didn't show it in the same way.
Watching LaCroix as he interacted with the twins made her wonder what her life would have been like if she'd remained in Toronto with him. Since she'd been living with him, they hadn't become intimately involved as they had been back in Toronto. In fact, the subject hadn't even been mentioned once so far. She wondered how LaCroix felt about her now. They hadn't seen each other for ten years, and now they were living under the same roof again. Lately, her warm feelings for him had been returning, but he had not given her any reason to think he still had feelings for her.
Fleurette turned away from the door and began to move back down the hallway to the library. But she barely took a step when a tall figure blocked her path, pulling her into his embrace.
"Fleurette!" Jean Claude de Brabant exclaimed as he twirled her around. Then he set her down and stepped away to look at her. "So, how've you been?" He grinned at her.
"I'm fine...What are you doing here, Jean Claude?" She asked, darkly wondering if his appearance had anything to do with the fact that Angele and Marius were also here. Fleurette had become close friends with Angele over he last month and she knew that Jean Claude had never really quit trying to win her back.
"I have to have a reason to visit you now?" he asked,
looking momentarily hurt.
Martin and Natalie snuggled closer on the wooden porch swing. "I've missed you," Natalie whispered in his ear.
"And I you, dearest Natalie," replied Martin, punctuating his words with a deep kiss. They hadn't seen much of each other since Martin had been sent to London by the Enforcers. The times they *did* spend together... like now... always seemed fleeting and bittersweet.
"Natalie..." Martin said as his lips left hers.
"I was wondering, dear... would you ever consider leaving your master and coming away with me?"
"Martin!? Are you serious?" Nat exclaimed. She wasn't sure whether to believe him or not.
"I am... very serious, Natalie. I've missed you these passed few months. If you would only say yes..." he took her hands in his gently, "... I know of a nice little place in the country that would be just perfect for the two of us... Oh, Nat! Please say you'll come!" He begged her.
"Martin, I--" Nat wasn't quite sure what to say. They'd agreed not to go too fast. She didn't want another disastrous relationship like the one she'd had with Nick. Ok, ok... ten years was no small amount of time, even to a vampire, but Natalie was still hesitant. And yet, the thought of living with Martin... being able to see him more often, even everyday... was very appealing to her.
While Natalie struggled to come up with the right words, Martin took the opportunity to kiss her again. Snuggling deeper into his embrace, Natalie abandoned herself to the happiness Martin gave her. When at last the kiss ended, she sighed in disappointment.
"What about Jean Claude? Where will he live if we move in together?" Natalie asked, hoping to divert Martin a tiny bit.
"I haven't discussed it with him yet," Martin admitted, "but I suspect he would be happy to have our flat all to himself. Besides, I'm sure he'll understand." Martin smiled at her. "Does this mean you'll come to London with me?"
"Oh, Martin... You know I love you, but I still need more time. I'm just now starting to feel sure of myself... this new life LaCroix gave to me. And... I don't know... " Natalie gave him an apologetic smile. "I think he needs me right now... what with Fleurette and the children being here and all."
Martin's hopeful smile faded away. "But Natalie... I cannot live like this forever. I need you to be a constant in my life, not a diversion. I love you!"
Natalie reached out to touch his cheek. "I love you, too," she whispered before kissing him tenderly.
Their tender moment was interrupted by the sound of a throat being cleared. Martin and Natalie sprang apart and turned in the direction of the sound. It was Corwin.
"Your pardon, Mistress Natalie, but there seems to be a problem with the upstairs maid. Mlle. DeMarte asked me to find you. Said you'd know how to handle it."
Nat sighed. If it wasn't one thing around here,
it was another. They'd been having problems with that new upstairs maid
ever since LaCroix hired her. She supposed they'd have to fire her... or
something. Apologizing to Martin, she slid from the swing and reluctantly
followed Corwin into the house.
When both Natalie and Corwin had vanished inside, Martin remained on the swing. Something did not seem right to him, but he couldn't tell exactly what it was. Then it came to him. Corwin! Corwin hadn't been in LaCroix's service the last time he and Jean Claude had visited. And more importantly, the man acted a bit uncomfortable around Martin. He could sense *that* about the new servant. Furthermore, he seemed vaguely familiar to Martin, but the Enforcer couldn't place where he might have met the other vampire.
Wondering what it meant, Martin went off in search
of Jean Claude.
Jean Claude and Fleurette walked down the hallway and away from the "studio." They chatted about life-- mostly Fleurette's -- and the children.
"Are you happy here, Fleurette?" Jean Claude asked her.
Fleurette hesitated. She had just been wondering the same thing not too long ago. Was she happy? Her children certainly showed no signs of missing the life they left behind. Daniel hardly seemed to remember his stepfather or half-sister, Elena. And nothing seemed to phase Melissa's cheery attitude. But what about their mother? Could she honestly say that she was happy?
"Well?" Jean Claude asked when his question earned only silence. "Is it really that bad here?"
Fleurette looked at her cousin and saw his eyes dancing with mirth. She smiled at him. "This is a wonderful place, Jean Claude, and my children are happier here than they've ever been before. But I--"
"You're not." Jean Claude finished for her. "Why is that?"
"I need love," she said. "The more I watch Lucien with our children, the more I wish I had never left him. We could have raised our children together... in happiness. Jean Claude... I have spent the last five years without any romantic involvement. I thought at first it was Henri I missed, but now I know better. I never stopped loving Lucien-- never! Now we're here with him, and I don't know how he feels about me."
Jean Claude paled when Fleurette mention wishing she had stayed with LaCroix in Toronto. It was not out of any revulsion toward their relationship, but on account of Divia. Had Fleurette and the children been in Toronto when Divia arrived so unexpectedly, they would have be her first targets. Even LaCroix would have been helpless to stop her from harming them.
"Oh, I don't know, Fleurette... Maybe it *was* a good thing that you went with Henri. Think of your daughter... the little one... what's her name?"
"Elena, and you're right. She was worth the heartache.
But I can't help but wonder what might have happened if I'd stayed." Fleurette
smiled wistfully as they entered the garden.
They found Angele in the garden. She was sitting on a low bench surrounded by a variety of night-blooming flowers. She rose when she saw them.
"Jean Claude! How nice to see you again... so soon!" She said, gushing over him as he took her hand and kissed it . "You're looking well."
"As are you, my dear." Jean Claude held her eyes with his for a moment before turning to wink at Fleurette. "Tell me, Angele, what do you think the chances are of Fleurette and LaCroix finding happiness with each other once again?"
As Fleurette began to turn a deep shade of red,
Angele laughed gently. "Better than your chances for happiness with me,
darling Jean Claude." She said, leaning forward to kiss his cheek.
They're eyes met again, and this time Fleurette could sense the tension between them-- the tension they were trying to mask over for her sake.
Fleurette reached for Jean Claude's hand. "Maybe we should be getting back inside. It's almost time for dinner..." She tried to pull him away from the garden.
Unfortunately, Jean Claude was much stronger than she, and Fleurette was unable to move him. "Actually, Little Flower," he said to her, "I have something I wish to discuss with Angele. You go on ahead and we'll catch up later."
"But... dinner--" Fleurette protested, not liking the tone of Jean Claude's voice one bit.
"Don't worry! We won't hold up dinner," Jean Claude told her. Then his voice softened. "Please, Fleurette, it's a personal matter, and I need Angele's advice."
"I... You..." Fleurette stammered.
Angele chose that moment to interrupt them. "It's ok, Fleurette, really. Jean Claude and I are still friends, despite what happened in our past... and well? I'd like to think he could come to me with his problems. You don't have to worry about me."
Not sure she was convinced, Fleurette left anyway.
Then Angele turned to Jean Claude. "So... what's this
important personal matter that can't wait until after dinner?"
"I've met someone..."
Corwin smiled cruelly to himself as he listened to Jean Claude confess his love life to Angele. It was amusing how LaCroix's entourage believed themselves to be the center of the universe. Soon... they would be reminded that they were not. He himself would see to it personally. It be fun to see the looks on their faces when they realized that their sheltered haven was not safe from the Enforcers.
Enforcers! Ha! It was a bigger laugh how they considered themselves above the law now that Jean Claude was an Enforcer. They seemed so confident that Jean Claude de Brabant and Martin Cross would protect them from any retribution they might someday deserve.
And Jean Claude! Pouring his heart out to the woman who made a laughing stock of him... while all along, the one he spoke of would use him all the more cruelly. It was even more laughable than anything the rest of them could ever do! Even that ridiculous father of his could not be *that* stupid!
Corwin slipped away from the garden and slunk off. He loved his job. He loved spying on LaCroix's houshold. It gave his ego a boost. But he hated the way they lorded it over him, never suspecting that he would be their ruin.
Next he came upon Natalie talking in hushed tones to Fleurette. It seemed Martin had asked her to move to London with him. Corwin hoped that she would. It would make his life easier. With Natalie in London, Martin would have no reason to hang around Lyons. Then he wouldn't be handy when their fairy tale evaporated.
But getting Jean Claude to sever his ties to LaCroix's
household would be a harder task. Corwin hoped Marie's theory was correct.
If it was, she would be more than capable of occupying Jean Claude for
a long time. Corwin smirked, thinking how satisfying it would be to finally
put them all in their true places... groveling before the Enforcers, begging
"Corwin!" came two child-like voices as he rounded the next corner. Fleurette's twins came racing up to him. Well, the girl did anyway. The boy walked up to him in slow deliberation.
"We'd like to go out to the stables. Could you take us, Corwin?" asked Daniel.
Corwin put on his best "friendly-smile" and said, "Of course, I can. I'd do anything for you two precious kiddies." His voice was sickeningly sweet, even in his own ears. But it was necessary, he reasoned as he walked with them in the direction of the servants entrance. If he could win their trust, then kidnapping them would be easier to do. They'd never suspect a thing...
LaCroix looked up sharply as the twins came into the dining room. They were late for dinner and tardiness was not something LaCroix wished to promote. "You're both late," he said, his voice conveying his disappointment.
"I know, Father," said Daniel quietly. "Melissa wished to ride her horse before dinner and we lost track of time. We're sorry."
Melissa did not take the same approach as her brother. Instead of apologizing, she threw herself onto LaCroix's lap, kissing his cheek as she did so. "Oh, Daddy!" she squealed. "It was *so* much fun! I just love Ginger! She's the best horse in the world!" She hugged LaCroix tightly. As his stern expression started to fade, she whispered, "Are you mad at me, Daddy?" Then she looked up at him with adoring eyes and LaCroix felt his heart melting.
Try as he might, LaCroix could not bring himself to remain angry at his children, especially not with Melissa being as sweet as she was. But still, spoiling *had* been a part of the problem with Divia, and LaCroix had no wish to repeat that past mistake.
"No," he told her. "I'm not mad at you, Melissa. *However,*" his voice raised when she turned a triumphant look to Daniel. "I do not want you to make a habit of tardiness. Therefore, I must punish you."
Melissa's smile disappeared, and Daniel threw an "I told you so" look at her.
"Not... a *mean* punishment, Daddy? You wouldn't be *mean,* would you?" Melissa pleaded.
LaCroix looked across the table to Fleurette. It was she who spoke next.
"I think maybe you should go to bed with dessert
tonight, Melissa. Your father and I will have a more suitable punishment
for the both of you tomorrow," she told her children.
After that little scene, dinner went on as usual; Fleurette and Melissa ate the meal cook had prepared for them and the vampires all drank blood. When Melissa emptied her plate, Fleurette sent both children to their rooms so that the "adults" could talk unhindered.
Melissa made one last attempt to get out of punishment. "Daddy..." she cooed, snuggling up to LaCroix. "You aren't really going to punish me, are you?"
"Yes, dear, I am," LaCroix told her. He tousled her hair gently. "But if you be a sweetie and go on to your room now, I'll read you a bedtime story before the sun comes up."
Melissa smiled at this, and kissing his cheek, followed
Daniel out of the room.
Fleurette had just finished dressing the twins for bed when LaCroix entered her sitting room. He alone was the only person in the household who did not feel the necessity to knock first, but she had to admit that she wouldn't have it any other way. His ability to just show up somewhere and surprise her was one of the things Fleurette enjoyed about him.
She smiled at him shyly at him, for a moment going back to the days when she was still shy in his presence. "They're almost ready," she told him.
LaCroix studied her for a brief second, then a slow smile formed on his lips. "And what story have they picked out for this morning?" He asked.
Fleurette held out a thick, leather bound book to him. LaCroix had seen it before. It was a very old copy of the Grimms' fairy tales. Not the many re-told versions or the "politically correct" stories that plagued the present society, these were the *original* stories as told by the Brothers Grimm.
His eyebrow shot up. "Not the whole book *again,* I hope?" he queried.
Fleurette laughed. "No... I convinced them to pick just one story this time." She indicated to the bookmark tucked into the middle of the book.
LaCroix heaved a sigh of relief. The last time they'd chosen this storybook, the twins had insisted upon hearing the entire book. Every time he thought they had finally fallen asleep, their blue eyes would pop open and demand he continue. They were inexhaustible!
Their hands touched as LaCroix took the book from Fleurette. Both their eyes dropped to the touching flesh. Then their eyes rose to meet each other.
"Lucien... I--" Fleurette began, only to be cut off as Melissa rushed into the sitting room, her nightgown rustling as she threw herself at her father.
"Daddy!" She giggled. "We're ready, Daddy!"
"Are you, ma petite?" he asked as he gathered her into his arms and headed for her bedroom.
"Can I be in Daniel's bed while you read, Daddy?"
LaCroix repressed the urge to correct her grammar. "Of course, ma belle." Turning on his heel, he entered Daniel's room instead. The young vampire was already tucked into bed (he usually tucked himself in), but he made room on the bed for his sister when they entered. Then LaCroix opened the book to the marker.
Fleurette stood listening in the doorway as LaCroix read
the story of "Hansel and Gretel." She enjoyed this time of day, fore it
gave her an opportunity to hear his sensual voice. She wondered if he had
the same feelings for her? Angele had said happiness for them was possible...
but that had been said in jest. Still, Fleurette hoped there was a spark
of truth in what Angele had said....
As the master of the house and his guests settled into bed for the day, Corwin slipped out of the servants' quarters and made his way to the telephone. picking up the receiver, he rapidly began to dial. he waited patiently for someone to answer his call.
"Your code word?" a voice on the other line asked as soon as a connection was made.
Corwin looked around suspiciously. Once he was certain no one was listening to him, he replied, "Hansel and Gretel."
"One moment while I patch you through," responded the
When he hung up, Corwin had the most evil smirk on his
face. He was satisfied that everything was falling into place. Soon, those
two meddlesome cousins, Jean Claude and Martin, would be out of his hair
and he would be free to carry out his mission. Smiling to himself, he returned
to his room for his day's rest.
(The next evening)
Martin swore when he got off the phone. "I don't believe it! I really do not believe it!" He exclaimed in frustration.
"What did they want *this* time?" Jean Claude asked, sounding just as tired and frustrated as Martin. Both men had been hoping for an enjoyable, *long* vacation. Then again... did Enforcers *really* ever get time off from work? But Jean Claude wasn't so sure that someone wasn't purposely trying to keep them from having fun.
"I don't know," Martin said with a scowl on his face. "Marie just said something about an important meeting we have to get back for."
Jean Claude brightened at the mention of Marie. "Will she be there, too, do you think?" he asked, trying to sound casual.
"I should think so. She is on the Council, after all." Martin eyed Jean Claude quizzically. "You've taken quite an interest in my master lately, Johnny. You're not falling for her, are you?"
Jean Claude looked uncomfortable under Martin's concerned gaze. "Does the thought bother you?"
"Yes, cousin, it does."
"Why? I thought you got along with your master?"
Martin heaved a sigh. "I get along with her very well, Johnny. It's just that Lady Marie is somewhat... capricious... and I don't wish for you to get hurt again."
"Kind of a harsh judgment on a woman that you yourself used to be involved with, wouldn't you say?" Jean Claude countered.
"That was a long time ago-- when she first brought me across. I was a lovesick fool back then, Johnny. I know her better now." Martin retaliated.
"I know what I'm doing," said Jean Claude. "I had hoped you would be happy for me."
"Of course, I'm happy for you. I just don't want to have to wait another 500 years before I see you again!" teased Martin as he headed out the door.
"Where are *you* going?"
"To break the bad news to Natalie. And you'd better get
ready. We have to leave as soon as I finish talking to her."
Jean Claude shook his head sadly. He knew Martin wanted to spend more time with Natalie. He also knew that Martin had been looking for a house near London for her. He wondered if his cousin had spoken to Nat of his plans? It was a shame they couldn't stay longer in Lyons.
Then Jean Claude's sadness melted away as the thought
of seeing Marie again entered his mind. Maybe this meeting wasn't going
to be so bad after all...
Martin stared vacantly across the table at Jean Claude. He'd been doing that through most of dinner, and by now, Jean Claude thought he knew why.
"Why don't you call her?" suggested Jean Claude, breaking into Martin's thoughts.
"Call who?" asked the blonde-haired woman sitting beside Jean Claude.
"Natalie. He's been mooning over her ever since we had to leave Lyons. I figure he'll feel better if he calls her," Jean Claude replied.
"Jean Claude... Marie... would you both please talking about me as if I were not in the room. I *am,* you know." Martin said, speaking for the first time since they sat down at the table.
"I'm sorry, Martin," his master replied. "I didn't mean to offend you... it's just that you've been off to yourself for some time now. I didn't think you were even listening."
Martin, however, didn't seem to hear her comment-- his eyes had glazed over again. Then he brought himself back to reality and stood up, leaving the table. "Maybe, I will call her... later. Right now, I'd rather be by myself." He started walking towards his own room.
Jean Claude sighed as he watched his cousin go. Turning to the woman next to him, he asked, "Marie... why did you call us back if the meeting was canceled?"
Marie smiled slightly... mysteriously. "We *were* expecting everyone to come back as soon as possible. We never counted on so many people being absent all at once." She touched Jean Claude's hand gently. "I certainly wouldn't have called Martin back if I hadn't thought the meeting would be held as planned. You know I would never purposely cause my son unnecessary stress, don't you?"
Her eyes spoke to him, begging him to accept what she said as truth. And, of course, Jean Claude *wanted* to believe her, anyway.
"Why don't we go for that walk now? Martin wants to be alone, and I don't feel like disturbing him," suggested Jean Claude.
Marie's smile changed now to one of sensual charm. "I'd
like that," she almost cooed as she leaned forward to touch his lips with
Martin waited until Jean Claude and Marie left before
he called Natalie. There was more than just the canceled meeting that was
bugging him. There was Marie herself. Martin didn't know what it was exactly,
but his master was hiding something from him. It didn't help any that Jean
Claude didn't seem to notice. He was too busy following her every word
like a lovesick puppy. That bothered Martin all the more. Why had Marie
taken such an interest in Jean Claude all of a sudden? She had gone to
such lengths to make him take notice of her. But why?
Martin tried to push these questions out of his mind as
he punched buttons on his cell phone. They remained, however, in the back
of his mind throughout his conversation with his lady love. Saying good-bye
to Natalie, he silently vowed to figure out what was going on with Marie.
Jean Claude looked down at the hand clasped lightly in his own. He felt a peace that had been missing from in his life in almost 500 years-- since Angele left him. Squeezing Marie's hand gently, he turned his eyes to meet hers.
"Yes...?" she responded, a smile forming on her face.
For a moment they stood there on the doorstep to Marie's home, their eyes speaking volumes while their lips stayed silent. Then Marie, opened the door and led him into her abode.
Without words, she led him up a winding staircase and down a long corridor to her bedroom.
As they entered the room, Marie broke the silence. "Are you sure this is what you want, mon cher?"
"Oui, je suis sans doute."
"Vraiment?" Marie pushed further with her inquiry.
At once, Jean Claude was visited with the memory
of Angele as she had been the night they first met. He could still see
her radiant smile and bright blue eyes dancing with desire. At the moment,
he felt a touch of guilt-- this *was* his first truly romantic encounter
since losing Angele, after all. But as he looked at the woman before him,
he pushed the guilt from his mind and took her into his arms. As an answer
to her question, he kissed her deeply, pressing her body close to his.
Jean Claude awoke from his light doze to find the place beside him empty. Sitting up, he scanned the room for Marie.
"Marie... cherie?" he called out, rising from the bed to look for her. There was no need, however, for at that moment, the bathroom door opened and Marie came into the room in a fluffy white robe.
"You're awake, I see..." she said as she crossed the room to his side. Kissing him tenderly, she whispered, "If you'd awakened sooner... we could have shared a bubble bath." Her grin was wickedly delicious. "But... "
"I'll go take a shower," said Jean Claude, returning her kiss, "and then we'll reconsider that 'but.' I won't be long."
Marie watched as he left the room, then slipped out of the bedroom and into the corridor. From the deep pocket of her bathrobe, Marie produced a cellular phone and rapidly punched in a number.
"It's me," she said when the other party answered. "Everything is going according to plan."
"Good. We'll inform our other operatives of your
success," said the voice on the other line before it cut off into silence...
"Melissa... Daniel... come here please," LaCroix spoke sternly as his children entered the dining room-- late for the third time in two weeks. Daniel immediately approached his father with no hesitations. Melissa, however, hung back uncertainly. "Now, Melissa!" LaCroix barked.
Melissa took two hesitant steps into the room, then flew to LaCroix, throwing her arms around him. Normally. he would have returned the hug. This time, he did not. "I'm sorry, Daddy," whispered Melissa.
"That's not good enough. What did I tell you about being late for dinner?" LaCroix asked, disentangling himself from her embrace.
"Not to..." she said in a small voice. Thus far, Daniel had said nothing, but he seemed to know they were in trouble.
LaCroix nodded stiffly. "It will *not* happened again, Melissa, will it?"
"No, Daddy..." Melissa looked up at her father with eyes brimming with unshed tears. "I don't get dessert tonight, do I?" she asked hopefully.
If that was the only punishment Melissa thought she would receive, she was sadly mistaken. After the first time, LaCroix was sure his children should have learned not to disobey him. Yet they had been late two more times since then-- this time missing dinner entirely. Angrily, LaCroix informed his children that they were grounded from the stables for a month.
"And from now on, you *will* be on time to every meal, is that understood?" he added.
"Yes, Father." It was Daniel who answered the queried command. It was apparent that he knew he had been naughty and had to be punished for it.
Melissa, on the other hand, threw herself to the floor at LaCroix's feet. "Daddy!!!" she cried out in despair. "Not Ginger, Daddy! Don't take my Ginger away!!!"
Instead of responding to her cries, LaCroix turned to Fleurette, who looked about as stunned as the others in the room. "Take your children to their rooms, Fleurette. They can have dinner later." he commanded her, using the same tone as he'd used with the twins.
Stiffly, Fleurette rose from he chair. Daniel helped
her lead Melissa from the room. At the door, the boy turned to look back
at LaCroix. Their eyes met and something passed between them. Then Daniel
turned to follow his mother.
Natalie, Angele, and Marius sat looking at LaCroix in shocked silence. After a moment or two, Natalie spoke. "LaCroix..." she began, only to stop herself when he glared icily at her.
"Leave me," he demanded, turning his back on them.
Marius and Angele left the room right away, but Natalie did not go with them, lingering behind to speak to her master. "LaCroix..." she began again.
"Not now, Natalie," snapped LaCroix.
Try as she might, Natalie could not breach the wall LaCroix had instantaneously built to keep in his emotions. She sensed anger and something else that she could not decipher. The truth was that in her ten vampiric years, she was only just now beginning to recognize a few of his moods. Tonight, however, he was unreadable. "If you want to talk..." she said quietly before leaving the room. She didn't really expect him to come to her with his problem, but figured it wouldn't hurt to make the offer.
LaCroix watched her go, saying at the very last minute, "Thank you for your concern..."
Fleurette stepped hesitantly onto the balcony behind LaCroix. "Lucien...?"
He turned his head in her direction. "She hates me," he stated. His voice was stiff with an emotion Fleurette could not comprehend.
"No... she doesn't hate you. She's young; she'll get over it."
"You're wrong. I... I was too harsh on her, Fleurette. I could..." he paused, his voice choking with... tears? Fleurette couldn't tell because his face was obscured in the shadows. "I could *feel* her heart breaking... through Daniel. I should give her another punishment... make it lighter."
Fleurette took a step closer and could indeed see the tear stains on his face. She was somewhat stunned. Yes, she had thought his punishment a bit harsh, but had not thought to tell him so. Now here he was, telling her that very thing.
She shook her head sadly. "I don't think you should do that, Lucien. It wouldn't be a good idea."
"But I was too harsh. I didn't think of what it would do to her."
"If you lighten the punishment now, Lucien, the twins will see it as weakness on you part. They'll believe they can get away with anything. I know you don't want that," she told him. She moved to sit next to him. "It will be ok. You did what you thought was best."
LaCroix studied her intently, for the first time noticing that the concern in her eyes was for him and not the children. "I must be firm with them, then?"
Fleurette nodded. "Although... it would be nice if we could discuss the punishment next time," she added with a slight smile.
"There should not be a next time," replied LaCroix. Fleurette laughed. "With children there are lots of 'next times,' Lucien. That's something I've learned to accept."
"You'll have to help me, then..." he told her.
Neither of them knew how or when they'd begun to hold hands, but they were. Their hands seemed to have come together on their own. Both LaCroix and Fleurette studied the phenomenon in silence for several minutes. Their eyes met in a meaningful gaze. At first, Fleurette thought he would kiss her, and she was disappointed when he dropped her hand and stood abruptly.
She was even more surprised when he said, "You *will* help me, won't you? I made too many mistakes with Divia. I don't want to go through that again."
At a loss, Fleurette nodded. "Of course, I will help you with the children. They're mine, too, you know." After a pause, she asked, "You've... mentioned Divia before... who was she? Was she special to you?"
LaCroix froze, suddenly realizing his slip. "I...
don't wish to discuss Divia with you just yet. Please, do not ask me about
her again." With that, he left her standing alone on the balcony in complete
(Several days later)
Melissa sat in the servants' stairwell, sulking miserably. She barely looked up when her brother came up to her.
"Are you ok, Melissa?" Daniel asked. Melissa shook her head sullenly. "What's wrong?"
"I miss Ginger..." replied Melissa, close to tears.
"It won't be for so long, sister. Then we can ride our horses again," Daniel told her.
"I don't care! It was mean of him to take her away from me!"
"He didn't take Ginger away from you, Melissa. You just can't see her for a while. She'll be there when we go to the stables again," Daniel reasoned.
"You don't understand! I hate him! I wanna go home
to Daddy Henri," pouted Melissa.
"You *do,* now..." came a voice from behind them. It was Corwin.
Both twins tried to smile at him-- Melissa brightly, Daniel with a hint of wariness.
"Why would you want to leave this magical place
and return to a horrible place like Paris?" the adult vampire asked.
"I have a Daddy there who loves me," Melissa stated. Daniel tried to interject, to tell her LaCroix did love her. Corwin, however, did not let him.
"And, supposing, little one, that I could take you to your daddy? Would you like that?" Corwin asked.
"Oh, yes! I'd love it ever so much!" Melissa brightened
at the suggestion.
Corwin smiled to himself as he knelt beside the girl, speaking in a conspiratory fashion. Then he turned to the boy. "Will you be joining us, young master?" he asked. Daniel seemed about to refuse, but Corwin convinced him, saying, "Surely you won't let your sister venture out into the world without protection?"
The thought of Melissa alone in the cold, cruel
world was enough for Daniel, and he agreed... albeit hesitantly.
LaCroix found Fleurette in the garden, sitting beside the fountain. He thought she looked lovely-- every bit as lovely as she had when they first met, if not more so. As she had not yet noticed his presence, he watched her. She was trailing her fingers in the fountain's sparkling water. Her heartbeat, steady and calm, called to him. Her thoughtful eyes glistened in the starlight, reflecting that water in their blue depths.
Suddenly, Fleurette became aware of him and turned in his direction. She looked up at him, her expression expectant. Her lips were parted ever-so-slightly and ready to be kissed. In that moment, LaCroix knew he wanted her still.
"Bon soir, Lucien..."
"Bon soir, ma petite," LaCroix replied.
Fleurette smiled at him and patted the stone next to her, indicating he should join her.
"You don't want to be alone?" he queried.
"Not at all, Lucien. I was hoping you would join me. It's been lonely here since everyone left," said Fleurette as LaCroix took a seat beside her.
Angele and Marius had left for parts unknown, taking Natalie with them. LaCroix had to agree with Fleurette, it *was* slightly quiet without their presence. Especially since the twins, who were grounded, spent most of their time off by themselves.
"You *were*?" LaCroix asked, making eye contact with her. "How nice to feel wanted..." he said when she nodded her response. His voice was low, barely more than a whisper.
When he kissed her, LaCroix was pleased that she did not pull away from him, but returned the kiss with passion. As they parted, LaCroix stood, taking her hand.
"Walk with me," he said, helping her to her feet.
They strolled leisurely through the garden, talking and pausing to kiss alternately. LaCroix was amazed at how easily their relationship was changed. Earlier that day, she was the mother of children only; now she was so much more. He remembered again the feeling of loving her for the first time. And he was afraid... afraid of losing his heart, of losing her again...
He told her this. She smiled and kissed him, assuring
him that he would not lose her again.
Shamelessly, they embraced upon the garden floor... before
moving on to the privacy of Lacroix's bedroom....
LaCroix poured himself a glass of bloodwine and turned to the open window. Outside, the moon shone brightly in a starlit sky. He smiled. Nothing could possibly take away the joy he felt at regaining Fleurette. Nothing...
Fleurette entered the room, and he was surprised to see that she was upset. "My dear, what is the matter?"
"The children! Their gone!" she cried, thrusting a letter into his hands. Ok. So, now his good mood was shattered.
LaCroix read the letter, recognizing immediately that
it was not written in either of twins' handwriting. He wondered about that...
but the wonder was short-lived as he realized that his children had run
Seething with anger, LaCroix sent for Mlle. DeMarte and
ordered her have the other servants assembled in the main hall immediately.
When they had gathered, he showed them the letter. Did anyone recognize
the handwriting? When was the last time any one saw the twins? Who were
His inquiry brought forth only slight progress. One of the maids had seen the twins in the servants' stairwell with Corwin earlier last evening. Before dinner. Melissa had been crying, and no, the maid did not hear what was being said, as she was too busy to stop and listen.
It was then that LaCroix realized that Corwin was also
missing. The handwriting had to be his, and that meant... Corwin had helped
the twins run away. They were with him...
Fleurette sat on Melissa's bed, holding Melissa's big pink bunny like a security blanket. LaCroix approached her hesitantly.
"I've contacted Natalie and the others. They'll be here shortly," he said.
"Will Natalie call him?" Fleurette asked. They had discussed asking Martin Cross for help, but LaCroix was too proud to ask the Enforcer himself.
"I haven't asked her yet, but I'm sure she will." "Lucien, I'm so afraid... what if something terrible happens to my babies?" Fleurette found herself enveloped in LaCroix's embrace.
"Nothing will, my dear. I won't let it happen... I promise you that."
He kissed her forehead gently, trying to reassure
her that everything would be ok. Unfortunately, he himself needed reassurance,
as well. For once in his long existence, Lucien LaCroix was not confident
and self-assure. He was scared...
Martin Cross sat in the meeting feigning interest in what was being said. His attention wandered to Jean Claude, who was making eyes at Lady Marie. The two of them had been carrying on all day, making eyes at each other and mouthing endearments. It was sickening to see, and yet, it was also the highest point of the entire meeting.
As Martin turned his attention back to the speaker, who
was asking for volunteers for *something,* his cell phone rang quite suddenly.
Half of those present started to check their own phones before Martin could
tell them it was his.
Martin excused himself as he answered the phone and stepped out into the hallway. "Hello?" he asked into the phone.
"Martin? It's Nat," came a familiar voice from the other line.
"Natalie? Hi, hon.. how are you?" Martin started to smile.
"Not good." This answer wiped the smile from Martin's face. A frown began to develop as he listen to Natalie's problem.
"No word on the children?" he asked.
"Not so far, but Martin... one of our servants disappeared with them..."
"Corwin... do you remember him? He wasn't with us very long."
Did Martin remember Corwin? How could he forget the eerily familiar Corwin? "I'll see what I can do, Nat. I'm in the middle of a series of meetings right now, but it shouldn't take long," he told her.
Martin put up his cell phone. He was beginning to see a pattern emerging. The meetings which took them away from LaCroix and his twins, Lady Marie's sudden interest in Jean Claude; they all had one thing in common-- they kept Martin and Jean Claude busy and away from their family. The Enforcers must have something to do with what was going on. But what?
All eyes were on Martin as he re-entered the room. He felt them trying to sense what he was feeling and began to shield his emotions from them. If he could successfully lie to them-- even to his own master-- he could find out what was going on.
"Trouble, Martin?" Jean Claude asked, the only one in the room expressing real concern.
"It was Natalie. They're having a small domestic problem over there. Nothing major. I'll tell you about it later, Johnny, ok?"
Jean Claude's eyes narrowed slightly. "She called you about something minor? That doesn't sound like Nat, Martin."
Martin shrugged. "Just some problems with LaCroix.
You know how ancient ones sometimes get." He hoped no one, not even his
master could tell that he'd just lied to Jean Claude. That could prove
After the meeting, Martin approached Lady Marie as she spoke with two other higher-ups. "Marie... would it be possible for me to have a moment of your time?" he asked.
Marie smiled, a little too brightly, Martin thought. "Of course, Martin. Anything for my favorite child."
"I'm your only child, Marie," reminded Martin. Martin
wasn't sure he liked her smile when she said, "That could change..."
"So, Martin... what's this a bout a domestic problem concerning LaCroix?" Jean Claude asked when Martin finally returned to the flat.
Martin was about to tell him, when he noticed that Jean Claude was dressing to go out. "Where are you going?" he asked instead.
"Oh... I thought I'd surprise Marie at her place and maybe..." He grinned like a fool. "... spend the day with her."
Martin repressed the urge to warn Jean Claude. Instead he told him, "The twins ran away from last night."
"What!?" was Jean Claude's response. Martin nodded.
"It seems they were a tiny bit disobedient and LaCroix reacted... well, like LaCroix. The twins must have decided to run away back to Henri."
"That doesn't sound like something Daniel would do," Jean Claude pointed out.
"No... but it *does* sound like something Melissa would do. Especially if she had help making the decision."
Jean Claude's eyes narrowed at Martin for the second time that night. "What do you mean, help making the decision? You're being awfully secretive tonight."
What I mean is... one of the servants came up missing with them, and the good-bye note was written in his hand writing. Myself, I don't think they ran away. I think he took them, and just let them think they were running away."
Jean Claude suddenly looked even more like his father than he already did-- totally confused. "Why would someone want to take LaCroix's children?" he asked. "And who, for that matter?"
Martin took a deep breath and plunged into the theory he'd concocted after speaking to Lady Marie. He believed that Corwin was somehow working for the Enforcers. Why? Because of the things Martin knew about him-- absolutely nothing. "He's too mysterious, Johnny." Martin told his cousin. "And on top of that, he seemed so familiar to me. Only... it isn't just Corwin that bothers me. It's Lady Marie, too. She hasn't been acting like herself lately."
"Well, for starters, there's her sudden attraction to you. I know Lady Marie. She's been dividing her time between two or three of the higher-ups, but all of a sudden, she drops them all for you. She's also been masking her thoughts from me. I saw it most clearly tonight after the meeting, but it was there before. I think she knows something, and I don't doubt that she's been making time with you in order to keep an eye on the two of us." martin stopped when he saw Jean Claude was becoming angry. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"I don't want to believe you," said Jean Claude, hatefully.
Martin sighed. Of course, Jean Claude didn't want
to believe him. Believing what Martin was saying would mean admitting he'd
been used. "Johnny, please... before you get too angry, at least listen
to my plan. I don't want to be right about this... because it means my
own master has been involved in plot against my family. I think we should..."
Their voices faded away into whispers as Martin outlined
"Marie..." Jean Claude called out as he entered the home of Martin's master. He only half believed that Marie could be involved with a plot to hurt the twins. She didn't seem like the type of person who would harm children. "Marie?" He called out again. Turning the corner, he headed for the studio.
There he found Marie, playing the piano and looking very distracted.
"Jean Claude, darling!" she cried out when she saw him. Jumping up from the piano, she went to him, embracing him.
Jean Claude kissed her deeply. "Didn't you hear me when I rang the bell?" he asked her when their lips parted.
Marie shook her head. "No... I didn't. I've had a lot on my mind, dearest, and I was too deep in thought to hear such a trivial thing like a doorbell."
"Maybe I can make your troubles go away?" Jean Claude began nuzzling her neck, just below the earlobe. "You taste so good..." he whispered.
Without much warning, Jean Claude bit deeply into her neck, drinking deeply from her. When he pulled away, however, the hate in his eyes rocked her.
"Jean Claude? Dearest? What's wrong?" Marie asked. Except... she didn't need to be told. She knew what the problem was. That was why she'd been trying so hard to keep him from taking her blood... Because he'd *know* what she knew. "Jean Claude... I'm truly sorry... I didn't know about it until tonight." She told him in pleading voice.
"You didn't?" he snarled. "You did not *know* that you were enabling someone to *kidnap* two helpless children?"
Marie stepped away from him. "Let me explain... I didn't know what they wanted. They only told me to keep you occupied... distract you. I didn't know *why*." She saw that her pleas were not reaching him. "Je t'aime..." she whispered in desperation.
"Je te deteste!" Jean Claude yelled back at her.
Without giving her the chance to respond, he fled from her home.
Marie touched down before an abandoned warehouse in a somewhat run-down corner of the business sector. The building, which hadn't been used by mortals in almost 30 years, was an Enforcers' stronghold. This was where Corwin had brought the Clerval twins only two days ago.
Marie actually had not known why she had been asked to seduce Jean Claude and keep tabs of where he and Martin went. Not until that night when she was approached after the sham meeting. Although she felt used, this was a part of business for the Enforcers, and she was used to it.
She wondered now what they wanted with the two children. As Jean Claude had said... they were helpless. Why would the higher-ups feel compelled to abduct them?
If I find out... maybe Jean Claude will come back to me... she thought. How she had come to care for Nicolas de Brabant's recluse son, she didn't know. What she did know was that the hate in his eyes had shattered her.
A guard met her at the warehouse doors. When she gave the password, the guard let her in and instructed her to go to the main office room-- upstairs.
Corwin and several others were in the office when she knocked on the door.
"Marie, doll!" Corwin beamed at her. "How pleasant! I thought you would be bedded down with de Brabant's boy by now. No matter... it's good you could join us."
"It would be, Corwin," Marie said hatefully, "if Jean Claude didn't know we have the twins."
"What!?" Corwin raged.
"Martin knows." Marie retorted. "I'm sure he's known something was in the air. My son is *not* one of you blind goons."
Instead of becoming further upset, Corwin began to smirk. "I'm sure their on their way to help their precious *family,* aren't they?"
"I don't know, but I suspect you're right. Jean Claude left in quite a hurry."
"And I bet he doesn't trust you any more, doll?" Corwin sneered.
"Don't call me "doll," you pig," snarled Marie. She'd hated Corwin for a great many years and having to work with him was repulsive to her.
It was then that one of the others, an Enforcer named Edgar, stepped in between them.
"It is honorable that you felt it your duty to tell us that the cousins are on to us, Marie. I suppose you'd like to view the subjects now?"
View the subjects? "What *are* we doing with these children anyway?" Marie asked at last.
Corwin chuckled ruefully. "You didn't even tell her what she was working toward? How delicious!"
Edgar shot Corwin a disapproving look. "We didn't want her to pass on too much to martin and Jean Claude unwittingly." He turned his attention back to Marie. Taking her by the arm, he led her out the door and back down the rickety stairs. "You'll agree, my dear, that Lucien LaCroix's children are something of an anomaly?"
"They *are* unique, yes." Marie conceded. Edgar smiled.
"They were born of a mortal, and yet, one of them is clearly one of us. How is that possible, I wonder?"
Marie didn't have the answer to that. Edgar continued as they walked deeper into the shadows of the warehouse.
"That is why we have taken great pains to bring them here... to test them. To see why they are what they are. Do you understand, my dear?"
Marie thought she did, and she didn't like the sound of it. No wonder they didn't tell her what she was doing for them. If she'd known, she wouldn't have done it. 'What will happen to the children after you... test them?"
The others exchanged glances. It was Corwin who
spoke. "They die... or at least, the girl will. The boy may prove useful."
"Fleurette... my dear?" LaCroix stood in the doorway of Melissa's room, watching his beloved cry. She was wasting away from grief and worry. LaCroix was concerned that she would not last much longer. "You must eat, my dear..." he said when she looked up at him with haunted eyes.
Fleurette shook her head. "I'm not hungry, Lucien. Please... leave me."
"I will *not*." LaCroix told her, stepping into
the room and moving to her side. Sitting beside her on the bed, he put
his arms around her. "I will not let you do this to yourself, Fleurette.
You must be strong."
Natalie rapped on the door gently before she also stepped into the room. "Martin and Jean Claude are here, LaCroix. They have news."
LaCroix stood. "I'll speak with them in the den.
You stay here with Fleurette. See if you can't get her to eat, my child."
When LaCroix left, Natalie sat down on the edge of the bed. "I miss them, too..." she told Fleurette with a small smile. At Nat's attempt at kindness, Fleurette burst into tears.
"This would never have happened," she sobbed, "if I had been here instead of... of..." But she couldn't bring herself to verbally blame it on having been with LaCroix that night.
"No...you mustn't say such things. We'll get them back,
"The Enforcers have your children," Martin told LaCroix.
As expected, LaCroix began to fume and rage about injustice and how the Enforcers had finally gone too far.
"And what are you going to do about it, LaCroix?" Jean Claude wanted to know. "How are you going to take on the Enforcers single handedly? You maybe older than most of them, but they are still powerful."
LaCroix considered this. "You may be right, my basher.
Perhaps we should work together on this." Jean Claude and Martin agreed
whole heartedly. "I'm curious, however, as to what the Enforcers want with
Daniel and Melissa."
"They are going to kill them," a woman's voice came from behind them. They turned just as Marie stepped into the room.
Jean Claude immediately flew into a rage, ordering her to leave in shouting tones. It took both Martin and LaCroix to calm him.
"What do you want here, Marie?" Martin asked, his voice lacking the respect he usually gave his master.
"I came to apologize... and help... if I may?" was the response.
"No!" Jean Claude flung the word at her spitefully.
He turned to LaCroix. "She used me to get to the twins," he said.
At this, LaCroix advanced menacingly on the Enforcer, and things might have gone bad from there, had Martin not stepped in between them.
"I can't let you kill her, LaCroix. She is my master!"
"Then I'll kill you both!" LaCroix snarled through his fangs.
"No!" Marie shouted, pushing LaCroix away from Martin with all her Enforcer-strength. "You must listen to me... I can help you get the twins back! I know where they are being hidden. If you kill me, there will be no way to stop Corwin!"
"She's right," Jean Claude interrupted as he tried to calm the ancient vampire. "As much as I hate to admit it, Marie is right. We should at least listen to her."
"Thank you, Jean Claude..." Marie said, meeting his eyes. "I never meant to hurt you. Had I known what they had planned, I would never have agreed to work with them. I wish you could believe that."
"So do I, Marie, but it's just not possible," Jean
Claude told her. "You'd better have a good plan."
Without any more interruptions, Marie told them what she
knew about the twins. Then she began to outline the plan that had been
forming in her mind ever since she saw them at the warehouse...
Marie touched down in the shadows before the warehouse, three black clad figures landing beside her. "Here?" one of them hissed. Marie nodded in the darkness.
"You remember the plan?" she inquired of them all.
"Completely," said another.
"Good," she said as she began to walk to the warehouse entrance. They followed her. At the double doors, a guard approached them. Marie gave the password and was allowed inside. The black figures moved to join her, but the guard barred their way.
"Who are these?" the guard asked.
"My body guards. LaCroix and his brood know that I betrayed them, so I brought these for my safety."
"You're an Enforcer... what do you need with added protection?" The guard sounded suspicious.
"Lucien LaCroix is almost 2000 years old. That's nearly twice my age. Enforcer or not, I wouldn't last long in a fight with him."
The guard decided to let them pass. When all three were beside her once more, Marie indicated to one of them that he should stay with the guard.
"My mistress wishes for me to learn the passwords," he told the guard. "It will be my job to run errands for her while she is here helping Corwin with the testing." As this made sense, the guard nodded.
"Come with me and I'll teach them to you," said the unsuspecting guard.
Marie and the others turned away from them and moved deeper into the dark warehouse.
"Do you think Martin will have trouble with him?" Jean Claude asked Marie. It was the first time he'd directed casual conversation at her since he'd learn of her treachery.
"Don't worry about my Martin, he'll be along shortly." She indicated that they should lean closer to her. Jean Claude and LaCroix complied. "Around the next corner are at least six more guards... there are six more guarding the children. Up there..." she pointed to the room at the top of the stairs. "is, no doubt, where Corwin is hiding. I'm sure you'll want to see to him personally, LaCroix."
"Indeed," hissed LaCroix.
Martin was back beside his master within seconds. They stopped planning to look at him. "Piece of cake," he said grimly.
Now for the hardest part-- getting past all the guards that surrounded the twins.
"Are you ready to prove that name of yours, basher?" Martin teased Jean Claude.
"More than you'll ever know," replied Jean Claude.
They split up now-- LaCroix racing soundlessly up the stairs to confront Corwin and the cousins lending back up to Marie.
The three vampires rounded the corner, coming face to
face with the guards Marie had warned them about. Without needing to be
told, Jean Claude threw himself upon the first, attacking wildly. Martin
followed suit while Marie lingered unseen in the shadows. She waited until
the cousins had the guards diverted before she streaked passed them down
the corridor leading to the twins.
Wrenching open the door, she came face to face with the
other six guards. The alarm had already been set off, and they were poised
for a fight. LaCroix's twins huddled in the corner, clearly frightened.
Marie lashed out at the guard nearest her...
"Marie!" Jean Claude hollered out as he entered a room he'd never seen before. He and Martin had made short work of their adversaries and were now seeking out the rest of their companions. Martin had gone to look for LaCroix. "Marie!" he exclaimed when he saw her. She was lying in a puddle of blood, five dead vampires at her feet. The sixth lay dead before Daniel, a stake through his heart.
When she heard his voice, Marie opened her eyes and slowly sat up. "Is it over?" she asked, smiling weakly.
Jean Claude knelt by her side. "It is... but we can't find LaCroix or Corwin. What happened here?" he asked, but it was easy to see what had occurred. "Did *Daniel* kill that vampire?" Marie nodded weakly. "Marie... you're hurt badly!" Jean Claude seemed to notice. He started to help her up, but she stopped him.
"No, Jean Claude, don't worry about me. Take the twins and go home."
"You need help!" Jean Claude insisted.
"I don't! I'll..." she winced as she tried to moved. "be fine. Send Martin to me, if you see him. Now, take the children and go... before more trouble comes!"
Although he clearly didn't want to, Jean Claude
scooped up the twins and left her.
"Mommy!" Melissa cried out when Jean Claude entered the library with the children.
Fleurette raced to her children, hugging them both tightly to her body. "Where's LaCroix?" she asked after smothering her children with kisses.
"I... I don't know... he..."
"Right here," LaCroix said from behind Jean Claude.
Stepping into the room, he caught Melissa as she all but flew to his arms. "Daddy!" She squealed.
"My precious!" he murmured, kissing her hair. To Daniel, he asked, "They didn't hurt you, did they?"
"No, Father," Daniel replied. "Melissa was scared, that's all."
Daniel put up a brave front, as always, whereas Melissa had to contradict him.
"It was horrible, Daddy!" she proclaimed. "The bad men
were so mean!"
Strained from the tension of the last few days, Fleurette began to laugh at her daughter's words. Her laughter was joined by that of Jean Claude and then LaCroix.
When they finally composed themselves, LaCroix said
to Fleurette, "Come, my dear... let us get our children ready for bed.
They must be exhausted."
They left, leaving Jean Claude alone. He made his way
to his rooms, wondering with a troubled heart what had become of Marie...
As LaCroix held Fleurette in his arms after their love making, he reflected upon the last few months. Despite the events of this last week, he was happier than he had been in a very long time. He knew it was Fleurette's doing. Had she not stepped back into his life, he would have grown bitter again-- as he had after Fleur died.
He reached out to touch her silken hair, caressing it gently as not to wake her. He knew he could not live his life without her again. he told himself. Soon... after everything back to normal, I will ask her to join me in this life. She wanted it once. She may still want it.
A smile played across LaCroix's lips as he too drifted into sleep.
(A few days later... at the warehouse in London)
Jean Claude peered through the darkness at the shrouded faces that surrounded him. Beside him, Martin and Marie remained unmoved by these events, but Jean Claude was nervous. He'd never actually been face to face with any member the High Council except Marie, and it was *so* hard to think of her as one of *them.*
The Enforcer named Edgar stepped into view of the three vampires. "Well, Marie," he said, "I never would have expected this kind of treachery from you. LaCroix's disciples, yes, but never you. We're prepared to hear your explanation before we judge you."
"How very kind of you, Edgar," said Marie without a smile.
Edgar indicated that she could begin.
Nervously, Marie cleared her throat. Then she began to recount the tale of what had happened that night in the warehouse. When she was finished she said, "You have to understand why this happened... why it had to happen. It all has to do with Corwin."
"Corwin?" Edgar asked, speaking the curiosity of the Council members behind him.
"Yes. You see, Corwin was a hateful person. He delighted in hating people. I should know," she said. "He was my master's first child. The person Corwin hated most in this world was LaCroix."
"LaCroix?" It was Jean Claude who interrupted.
"Yes, Jean Claude. A very long time ago, Corwin and our master were in Paris, and his attention was caught by a young prostitute. He wanted her... wanted to own her, to use her, and then kill her. Only... when he went to get her, he was disappointed to find her gone. Later, he learned that LaCroix had taken her away and brought her across."
"Janette..." Martin hissed.
Marie nodded. "Corwin loathed the idea of LaCroix taking a street whore and elevating her to the position of queen. He raged for many months before my master tried to calm him by giving him a peace offering-- me. That's how I came to know the depth of his hate." She paused, then plunged onward. "Corwin saw everything about LaCroix and his brood as a contradiction to the Codes we live by. He fought the hardest to get Nicolas de Brabant killed for his hopeless quest. It enraged him that the Council appointed Martin to watch them. he wanted them all dead. These children were but his latest attempt. He sought to destroy LaCroix by using them. He'd kill the girl and then raise the boy to hate his father. Which is why I could no longer be a party to such madness. Corwin was breaking our Code by using his position as an Enforcer for his own personal acts of vengeance. It should not have been allowed. I did what I saw fit in order to right this wrong."
"What would you have us do instead?" Edgar asked suddenly, surprising her.
"The boy may become a full vampire in time, as might his sister..."
"No," interrupted one of the other Council members. "Our tests showed that the girl is clearly all mortal. There is nothing of the vampire in her."
"Then she could be brought across someday," Marie pushed. "I do not see either of them as the threat Corwin tried to convince you they were. I think the boy should be watched carefully, and tested at regular intervals. I see no need to terminate their lives."
"I suppose you want to be the one to watch over them?" Edgar asked. he seemed ready to award her the job.
Marie shook her head. "This adventure has exhausted me, Edgar. If it pleases the Council, I wish to withdraw from the action of this life. I will go off somewhere and live quietly until it is time for me to leave this world."
It seemed to those that listened that Marie was older now than she had ever been before.
The sad look in her eyes told those who knew her closest that she may not be around much longer. Martin took her hand and squeezed it tightly. No one said anything.
Edgar returned to the shadows and the Council members deliberated for nearly an hour. Edgar stepped forward again.
"It is agreed," he said. "Martin Cross and Jean Claude de Brabant will be allowed to bring the boy in for regular testing every year. They will watch him and gage his growth. Your wish has been approved, Marie. We wish you luck."
"Thank you, Edgar." Marie moved to leave.
"One more thing..." Edgar called them back. "What ever *did* happen to Corwin?"
It was Martin who answered, chuckling. "There weren't
pieces of him big enough to identify, sir," he said with a wry smile.
Within two months after leaving the Council, Lady Marie stepped into the sun. As her final request, Martin at last told LaCroix about his mysterious past. The two vampires still have little love between them, but they have made peace.
A year later, Fleurette became a vampire at Jean Claude's fangs. She chose to ask him to be her master rather than LaCroix, because of the special relationship they once had.
The twins eventually got over the trauma of their abduction, though Melissa never fully regained her trust of vampires.
And life goes on...