Lucky was content. Josef had summoned her, and even if his attention had been drawn elsewhere, focused on some business matter by the time she arrived at his study, he had tucked her close under his arm as he carried on with whatever his conversation required. The low rumble of his voice entranced her, as always, the liquid tones of the French he was speaking washing over her. She understood nothing of the words, but his tone was pleasant, and he laughed, from time to time, his amusement evident.
Meanwhile, his hand stroked slowly down and up her upper arm, the slight friction of his cool palm against her skin signaling his awareness of her. They stood so, several minutes, as he spoke and listened, listened and spoke. Then, phone still to his ear, he smiled down at her, a crooked, almost apologetic smile. He began to move them to the couch, and soon she was cuddled against his chest, relaxed, relishing the feel of his hand smoothing along the outside of her thigh. She spent rather a lot of time, keeping her skin as silken and polished as possible, in the knowledge of his caresses. She let her arm relax down to rest on her leg, and her mind begin to float, turning unbidden back to the beginning.
There had been a time, a brief time, after she found the vampires, but before she found Josef. Before she became Lucky.
[i]Pulse! Many months ago…[/i]
Josef slid his hand into his pocket, unconsciously seeking the note Turbo had handed to him a few minutes earlier when she returned from, as she termed it, the "little freshies' room." Molly didn't often try to direct his attention to a new girl; she'd long told him he was perfectly capable of hunting up his own dinner. So when she did, he paid attention, and she'd never yet steered him wrong. He didn't need to look at the note again to remember its contents.
[i]There's one here tonight you ought to meet, you old pirate. Tall, red-headed, slender. Midnight blue dress. Calls herself 'Seven.' Can't say why, but she's right for you, Josef. Do yourself a favor, and find her before someone else does.[/i]
He'd been scanning the groups of girls wandering the club since then, without spotting her. Now, however, he thought he saw a long shining fall of hair, the red of it clear to his vampire senses, and began to maneuver closer through the press, tracking her as she moved. He liked what he saw, but Molly wouldn't have recommended a girl based on looks alone. Pretty ones, even pretty red-heads, were not that uncommon. He moved nearer. In this crowd, picking out her scent from the rest was impossible. If he'd known her, maybe, but there were too many strangers to sort out. He listened for voices in the cacophony, and found himself nearer the knot of girls, listening.
"Well, of course, Valmont is an evil seducer, but he redeems himself in the end…it's that Marquise de Merteuil—I'm probably not pronouncing that right—who is sort of a moral vampire. She sucks the virtue out of everyone around her. And she started with Valmont," the red-head was saying. The girls around her laughed nervously.
"You're not saying vampires are evil, are you?" one asked, glancing around. "You shouldn't say that here!" She caught sight of the tall man, his intense brown eyes focused on their group, and started, then giggled.
Curious, Josef shook his head, cautioning silence, closed the gap, reaching out to run a hand up the back of the red-head's bare arm. She felt the cool touch of his skin against hers, and turned, gray eyes widening.
He had to be vampire, she thought, surveying the tall, well-dressed man. His hand was too cold to be human. Too handsome to be human, too assured to be his apparent age. And there was something in his eyes, the warm whiskey brown of his eyes…her stomach turned a sudden flip, and she wasn't sure if it were fear or attraction. She caught her bottom lip in her teeth, waiting to see if he would speak.
"Dangerous Liaisons?" the vampire said, running his eyes down the length of her, enjoying the view. "I hear it's a good movie."
She followed his gaze, brushing, covertly, she hoped, at her dress, wondering if the blood spots showed. "I—I haven't seen the movie. The book is good."
"Really?" Intriguing indeed, he thought. "Perhaps you'd care to join me? We could discuss…Dangerous Liaisons." He smiled, and a hint of fang glinted in the flashing lights of the club.
The girl who called herself Seven nodded, catching her breath. She found it unlikely that she'd be able to say no to this one. Ever.
She jumped slightly when the vampire put his hand at the small of her back to guide her through the crowd to his table. He smirked as she looked up at him. "It's all right, sweetheart," he said. "I'd like to tell you that I don't bite, but we both know that's not true."
"Well, you know that's not necessarily a bad thing." She was trying her best to sound cool and collected, but wasn't sure how well she was succeeding.
If she'd giggled, Josef thought, he might have walked away on the spot, but she gave a wry twist to her mouth in appreciation, instead, and gave him back a teasing comment. He liked that. He was wondering, however, how she'd managed to get blood, not her own, on her dress.
Seven got even more nervous when she realized they were on their way to the VIP area. One of the first times she'd been in Pulse, she'd been warned against wandering into that part of the club. Mostly old ones there, and they get weird, she'd been told. "You didn't tell me we were headed for the nosebleed seats."
"That a problem?"
"No, of course not." She wasn't sure how she was moving her feet. Her entire consciousness was focused on the hand at her back, the chill of it burning through her thin dress. She stumbled, and his other hand was instantly on her elbow, steadying her, his touch sure and practiced. "Klutz," she muttered to herself, forgetting about vampire hearing, and blushed when he chuckled.
The table he guided her to was a generously-sized horseshoe booth, occupied by two sulky-looking women. He signaled them to move with a snap of his long fingers, and they complied without a word. As he assisted Seven to slide into the booth, he stopped one of the petite brunettes. "Turbo, take this to Molly," he said cryptically, handing her a folded bill, "and tell her I agree."
She slid a glance at Seven, and gave him an impudent grin. "She's never wrong, is she?"
"Not so far." He unbuttoned his jacket with an easy gesture, and slipped in beside Seven, turning his attention to her. "So, beautiful, what is your name?"
"Seven." She wasn't sure what to do with herself, and finally put her small beaded clutch on the table, resting her hands on it. "Not very flashy or creative, I know."
"I wouldn't worry about that. It's a nice change from all the 'Destinys' and 'Desirees.' How'd you come up with it?" He reached up to tuck a stray strand of hair back behind her ear. She bridled a little at the touch, even though she knew how tactile the vampires tended to be. Josef was pleased with her reaction. Not too readily trusting, this one, he thought. Willing was one thing, easy was another. He did like to think there was a little seduction involved.
She shrugged. "It's always been a lucky number for me. And the first time I came here on my own, the doorman counted us in—I was number seven. So when someone asked me about a freshie name, that was what popped into my head. Pretty lame, huh?"
"I have a feeling seven might be a lucky number for me, too." He had been careful not to crowd her, but now that he'd had a chance to inhale her scent, to listen to the heated rush of her blood under the skin, he wanted more. He laid his fingers over her folded hands, and turned the upper one over, enjoying the feel of her unresisting flesh. He started to caress her forearm, tracing the path of the veins beneath the pale skin, pleased to see only a few fang marks there. He felt a slight trembling begin deep within her, heard her pulse begin to rise. "Tell me, sweetheart, how did you get blood on your dress?"
Seven bowed her head, embarrassed, her hair falling forward to sweep across the back of his hand in silken temptation. "Oh, I'm sorry. It was nothing. Just helping someone in the ladies' lounge."
"Not all the—gentlemen—here are as courtly as you." It had been a mess, in fact, a girl with jagged wounds that simply refused to quit bleeding. Seven had very nearly walked out of the club, once she'd finished helping the attendant with the bandages. She hadn't been around the vampires long, and it still came as a shock to see the bloody, painful side of the equation. Sobering. And now here she was, sitting with someone who doubtless saw her as nothing more than a snack. She didn't even know his name.
"One does one's best," he said. He paused, resumed the slow stroking of her skin. She was gradually relaxing, losing the edge of fear he'd sensed, falling into the mesmerized state he wanted her to reach. He turned his face into her hair, enjoying the feel of it against his lips. His fangs were sliding out, not with an urgent thirst, but with a more gentle need. He thought he might take, if she were willing, a taste, and save the deeper drink for another night. This place was too public for him, anyway. He wasn't averse to dining in company, but he preferred to be seen only by those he could control more closely. Still, a taste would tell him so much more about her.
He pulled his head back, drawing her gaze, with the question in his eyes. She looked deeply into his face, reading as much as she could. Then she nodded, and he started to lift her wrist.
"Wait. I—I don't know your name."
The vampire was surprised. "I assumed—my apologies, Seven. I didn't mean to be rude. My name is Kostan. Josef Kostan."
Seven wondered if she was supposed to know something about this vamp, if he was a personage. While she could see from his bearing, his suit, and even the placement of his table in this club, that he was well off, and probably far, far older than his boyish good looks, she really had no way of knowing his true status in vampire society. Ah, well, at least she had a name for him now, she thought as he laid his lips against the skin of her wrist. He ran a cool tongue the length of her forearm, a delicate reconnaissance in search of the best place to sink his fangs, and she quit thinking about names and status. She barely felt his arm snake around her shoulders, she was so concentrated on the touch of his mouth.
She was shaking, hard, now, in anticipation of the pain she'd always felt, to begin. But there was only a quick shock, a white hot flash and then the ineffable pleasure of blood flowing, being drunk. He took three quick swallows, then, with a visible effort, checked himself, and she felt his tongue lave the wounds, stop the flow of blood. He gave a final kiss to her wrist, and raised his head, to see her expression troubled.
He'd taken so little, she worried he wasn't pleased with her. Not that it should matter, she supposed, but somehow it did. "Is everything all right?"
Josef licked a stray droplet from the corner of his mouth. "Of course. Why do you ask?" Then he saw her glance down at her wrist. "Oh, I see." He put his hand to her cheek, lifted her face gently. "It was just a taste, sweetheart. But it told me I'd like to know you better. This isn't the place for that. Do you have a card? With your cell number?"
"No. Sorry. I can write it down for you."
Shaking his head, Josef said, "You know, you aren't a very well prepared freshie." He reached into his inner jacket pocket, pulled out a antique gold card case, and extracted two cards. "Write your number on one of these, and keep the other one."
As she complied, he continued. "You'll get a call from a friend of mine, Belinda. An invitation to her salon. I'd be pleased if you'd attend."
"Salon?" She glanced at the card, which simply had his name and a cell number. Very elegant, very understated.
"I know it's an old-fashioned term. Really, just a gathering of interesting young ladies, such as yourself…I find it easier to get to know people in a quieter environment than this chaos." He waved a hand. "And I'd like to see you join the group. They'll like you there."
Seven found herself liking his manner more and more. "It sounds quite civilized. "
Josef smiled at her, the warmth of it touching his eyes, and she knew she'd be dreaming about that face. He gave her arm a last, lingering, caress, and even now it felt like cold fire against her skin. "Sweetheart, I have no need to be savage."
To be continued….