Thanks to Laurelin, as always

Chapter One

Protected by no more than the shadow of the courtesy building, Mick waited in the sweltering heat for the plane's door to open. Every time he was forced outdoors in daylight during the hot Los Angeles summer, he questioned what held him here. Squinting to see Beth emerge from the plane, he knew the answer. He smiled as he saw her scan the tarmac, knowing it was him she sought. He waved, and she hurried toward him, throwing herself into his waiting arms. "Hi sweetheart how was the flight?" he asked as he held the door, anxious for the cooling embrace of the air-conditioning.

"Long and lonely, and Josef woke me twice. Remind me to trip the circuit breaker next time he's tired," she replied, holding tightly to his arm as they stood side by side at the customs table.

Though he had spoken to Josef earlier, and was aware that Beth would be wearing a ring, it irked him to see it on her hand where it held his arm. Josef had made it very clear that they were not engaged to be married, had even told him that he'd asked her, and been turned down flat. But he'd refused to tell Mick what it signified, saying that was Beth's story to tell.

"Nice ring," he said, and felt a twinge of jealousy as Beth gazed at it lovingly before responding.

"It is beautiful, Josef has excellent taste." Seeing the tension in Mick's eyes, she added, "It's not what you think, we aren't getting married."

So what the hell is it then? He thought but stopped himself from asking. There would be plenty of time later for his heart to be broken.

Josef paced his office, waiting impatiently for answers that were unlikely to come at two in the morning. He was alone and, for the first time in many decades, he hated it. He yearned for Beth's companionship and could not seem to remember the time before she had been by his side. Possessively wondering if she were already in Mick's bed, he cursed himself for sending her home alone. He had sent for some escorts to distract him, they should be there any minute, but he suspected that however inventive their charms, the hollow place inside him he felt growing by the minute would remain unfilled.

"So where are the burgers and freshies I ordered?" Beth asked as they sped down the freeway toward her apartment.

"The freshies which Josef has so generously provided are waiting for my call. And while this was the perfect opportunity for me to give you something special, I did not think food poisoning was on your must-have list. I thought you'd prefer them hot from the source."

Beth laughed, "But Mick, no one has ever given me food poisoning before! Way to blow it, sport, you could have been unique. Now…well, guess I'll just have to hope you have something a lot more personal to give me when we get home."

Beth was surprised to see both the two enormous bags she brought from Scotland, as well as Alicia and Marena, waiting outside the door to her apartment when they arrived. Leave it to Josef, always anticipating her every need, even when her needs were in conflict with his own. She never had to wonder why she loved him; he always put her first. Though it was all a bit uncomfortable, she liked the girls but she had never had freshies in her small apartment, and the huge bags conspired to make the place even more crowded. She excused herself and went to her bedroom, motioning Mick to follow.

"Could you feed soon? I am sorry, but there are just too many people in this place. I'm going to shower. Please, join me if you'd like." She suspected that would not happen, Mick was just too thoughtful of the freshies to eat and run, and she was right, she heard her front door close and lock just moments after she turned off the water. She caught her reflection in the mirror as she wound her towel around her and could not help but wonder how Mick would react to the too numerous bite marks that resembled a sexual connect-the-dots. She touched the newest ones gently, quivering at the vivid memory of the heated frenzy of their coupling as the plane was readying for take-off. What was wrong with her? She had left Josef out of some misguided loyalty to a man who had made her feel unattractive and unwanted for months and a new job she had not yet started. It made her wonder if the blood loss was interfering with the firing of the synapses in her brain.

Mick tapped at the bedroom door, and then opened it before she could call him to enter, what the hell; he had lost her at some fundamental level even, his P.I. gut reaction scraping at his consciousness like nails on concrete. Wrapped in a towel, she sat brushing out her wet hair, perched at the foot of her bed. She smelled warm and damp and he knew he could not help but love her, no matter how she felt about him. "I could do that for you," he offered as he sat beside her.

"Done," she smiled, rising to place the brush back on the vanity. "Just one more thing," she added, taking a large tube from the bag she had carried on the plane.

He recognized it immediately, the mystery cream that Josef had specially formulated for his most favored freshies. Judging by the creamy, flawless skin that Alicia and Marena so beautifully wore, it worked perfectly, and judging by the size of the tube, he wondered just how many more were the marks on Beth's skin that he could not see. Bracing himself for the task, he offered, "I'll do that."

"Mick, I…" She stopped in mid-sentence, knowing he would see the evidence of Josef's and her time together soon enough. "That would be nice, thank you," she said, pressing her lips against his before turning her back to him, allowing the towel to fall to the floor.

He closed his eyes for a brief moment, steeling himself against the sight before him, twin punctures on the backs of each thigh, another set at the place where her smooth back curved into her round bottom. And those were just the ones clearly visible from where he sat. Spreading just a dab on one index finger, he began at the bottom; gently massaging the cream onto the wounds until it disappeared, repeating the movement until he had treated her lower half. He rose to treat the marks at her shoulder, and she lifted her hair to allow him access to the back of her neck. He tended each set with soothing fingers, and with a husky voice announced that he had finished with her back.

Beth hesitated to turn around. While she had summoned all her control to hold herself still, his loving care had both moved and excited her. And knowing he had seen but maybe a third of the marks that adorned her, she was loathe to face what she was sure would be a terrible sadness in his eyes.

"Beth, it's okay," he said, sensing her hesitation, and taking her softly by the shoulders, turned her to face him. He thought that after seeing her back, he would be prepared for however many wounds he would see scattered on her body.

He was wrong, though he fought to keep his face impassive. Josef must have exercised a control that Mick was not sure he possessed; otherwise, she would be resting in a hospital, transfused with the blood of others. He felt rather than saw her glance at him as he decided where to begin, and then lowered her eyes as she awaited his judgment. Something terribly important hung between them and he reacted instinctively, lifting her chin with the lightest of touches, he smiled with warm eyes directly into her own before leaning to kiss the marks at one side of her neck, then the other. As his head bowed further to plant his soothing lips against the mark just above her left nipple, she ran her hands through his hair, settling them at the back of his head to hold him to her. A moment later, he removed himself from her grasp, stroking her neck as he asked, "Why don't you lie down?" Acknowledging the obvious, thrilling change in her scent, he added, "If you tell me where the spare sheets are, I'll lay one down for you."

She pointed in the direction of the linen closet, afraid her voice would betray her emotion. The suffering she saw in the depths of his eyes penetrated her heart like a hot needle; he was the kindest man she knew, and he did not deserve the pain she cause him. She watched as he smoothed the doubled sheet onto her bed, worrying over her comfort. Finally satisfied, he returned to her, sweeping her into his arms and laying her softly on to the bed. "Mick, I'd probably feel a little more comfortable if you weren't so dressed while I'm so naked."

He nodded and began methodically undressing, until his clothes were a pile on the chair by the bed, then took up the tube again, and beginning with her neck, soothed the wounds one by one with the unguent. It took him but moments, but she was trembling and a tear escaped her eye as he finished. He rose to enter the bathroom, returning in a moment with a dry towel, wrapping her pillow to protect it from her still-damp hair before placing it under her head, then wiping away the tear with his thumb as he sat beside her. "Beth, honestly, I'm okay. I knew there was something between you and Josef, and I encouraged you to find out what it was." Taking her left hand into his, fingering the ring, he added, "Apparently you have. I just need to know if the place in your heart that you've given to Josef means there's nowhere in there for me." His voice quavered with emotion, and Beth burst fully into tears. Dear God, she's going to tell me there isn't, he thought as he saw her tears fall uncontrollably.

She held his face, stroking his cheekbones, wanting very badly to relieve the tension there as she tried to find her voice. It eluded her, so she did the only thing of which she was capable at that moment; she sat and pressed her lips to his, forcing the strength of love she could not deny to communicate itself to him through the intensity of her kiss. It lasted for a very long moment, long enough to fire her arousal as well as his. "I will never stop loving you, not ever, do you understand?"

He felt it, pouring into his body through her lips, her words of reassurance unnecessary, his proof lay in the expansion of his soul. Helpless to resist the call of her body, his hand wrapped her back in warmth as he exhaled the simple words that could not match his emotion, "I love you, too. For as long as I live."

What sounded to him like a bitter laugh escaped her lips, as she whispered, "No, you won't. But you love me now," pressing her mouth against his neck, biting at his flesh as if she were already one of them.

Josef opened the door to a trio of exotic women, smiling as he watched them sashay into his living room. They introduced themselves as Manta, a blonde, green-eyed Finn nearly as tall as he was, Danika, a dark round Slovenian beauty and Jia, a slim, regal Chinese girl whose intriguing obsidian eyes betrayed nothing of her thoughts. He had requested an irresistible distraction, and Lisa, ever the resourceful employee, had, at first glance, provided just that. Looks could be deceiving, but as they removed their coats to reveal some very interesting garb, he felt sure this would be a most entertaining set of freshies.

"Drink me first, Josef." Jia strode toward him, planting her impossibly high spiked-heeled feet but inches in front of him. A sheer mesh turtle-necked top with long sleeves, but which barely covered her small breasts and extremely tiny leather shorts, which revealed more than they covered, an unlikely outfit for a freshie demanding to be bitten, but she clearly meant to establish her dominance as she added, "I insist."

What the hell, it had been a very long time since he played this game, "Where would you like to receive my mark, mistress?"

A half smile crossed her lips, compelling Josef to plan the turn-around, when she would be his slave, pleading for her satisfaction. She pushed him into the couch, and placed one soft leather heel against the side of his neck, and leaning forward, ran her silken leg up to her thigh against his face, indicating where she wanted him to bite her. Wanting not only to reduce this woman to a pleading desire, but also to entice the others to want his teeth in willing flesh, he concentrated and soon held her trembling with desire, leaving her hungry for completion, and leaving a rivulet of blood running down her thigh for his visual pleasure.

By order of Jia, Manta pulled him to his feet, and three sets of hands conspired to remove his clothes. He allowed them to strip him, assessing their touches, deciding almost immediately that it would be Danika that he would lose himself in, the others too practiced, she slightly shy and somehow more inhibited. He liked her plump thighs and wide hips, they recalled hundreds of years of his history, when heavy women were prized for their power and wealth, as well as their beauty. He could not wait to see all of her smooth pale skin.

He poured champagne for all of them, but Jia and Manta were already well into performing a very hot and massively perverse sex show for his viewing pleasure, so he called Danika to his side, pulling her chemise over her head, revealing her full, heavy breasts, narrow waist and truly monumental backside. Oh yes, they were going to have lots of fun.

Beth lay beneath him still, wanting desperately to feel his weight, hoping that would somehow keep her connected to him. Whatever sexual reaction she'd had for him was lost now; he had waited too long to claim her, and even when he had, it was Josef's persistence that forced him to it. She loved him, deeply, it was true, but she no longer felt the same passion for him, and feeling his for her was nearly unbearable. That would change soon enough, tomorrow, she would tell him about her engagement to Josef, and when he knew she wanted to be a vampire, it would most definitely be their end.

Mick could not imagine feeling worse than he did at this moment. Something was inalterably different. She had left him, and he'd only been aware of it as he'd sipped her blood, her passion was diminished, whether she was aware of it or not. He wanted to blame Josef, to hate him, but he knew instinctively that this was a hell of his own creation. Josef had told him for months to reveal himself to Beth, to allow her to love him, but he had hesitated, far too long. Now the most hurtful feeling was upon him; she was gone, while he was still inside her.

Josef hoped against all sensible odds that Beth was on the other end of his ringing mobile. He had sent the lesbian freak show packing some time ago, their well-practiced bondage and discipline routine having become an interminable bore after mere minutes. He had kept Danika around, hoping that she would offer him a deeper satisfaction, but all he got was some very fine B negative for all his efforts. She was snoring on his couch; he simply hadn't the heart to send her off into the dawn alone, and when Charles arrived, he'd have him drive her wherever it was she was going. Straight to hell, he thought, if she insisted on working with Dragon Lady and her pet bimbo. Without a glance at the caller I.D., he answered, "Kostan."


Dreams did come true. "Beth, how are you? I thought you'd be resting peacefully in the arms of Morpheus by now." What was he saying? "I miss you, baby."

He heard a little sigh that he thought just might be satisfaction. "I miss you. I'm so lonely without you."

"Me, too. In fact, I'm thinking you should come here. I'll charter something…"

"New job tomorrow, remember? I am awfully fond of a roof over my head."

"You have at roof at Loch Awe. There is a very solid roof right here in London and it has proven very effective at keeping the rain out. If you play your cards right, I might possibly be persuaded to share."

She could not help but smile into the phone. "Josef, you have a roof here. Come home, please."

"I can't just yet. I'm off to Hungary in just a few hours."

"I'm hungry right now," she purred.

Ninety-nine, ninety-eight… "I'll be there Friday if everything goes well. Owen's doing better, and I did promise him some recuperation time in the Los Angeles sunshine."

"Friday's far away. "

"And the sun only shines where you are." God, he really missed her, maybe Hungary and France would work out, though his perverse sense of humor required the lab be set up in the Carpathians. "I love you sweetheart. Good luck tomorrow."

"I love you, Josef. Good luck to you."

Mick was uncertain of his motive for driving to the beach under cover of night. Maybe it was the endless stretch of barren sand, perhaps the thunder of the crashing waves, loud enough to drown his thoughts. That was his hope. The reality was that it did little more than crush him with the thought of the picnic she had prepared for him, and her prophetic words. He had not decided, but had entrusted his fate to chance, always a fickle mistress. He had held her heart in his own. Now he feared he would never again be happy, and wondered how he would pass his days, knowing Beth loved Josef, knowing what his apprehension had cost him.

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