He honestly didn't know how Janette had done it all those years. Another evening spent leaning against the bar watching his children play with mortals. Another sip from his glass, and he thought about Janette, how she had somehow found this amusing, had spent most of the this century as a club owner of one sort.
He was immensely bored. While there were worse ways to spend eternity, at the moment he could think of precious few of them.
Not that this little endeavor was without its particular set of problems which, at times, could be amusing. The boy from several months ago, the one Natalie Lambert had tried to "help." That had been interesting, and he'd learned quite a bit about the good doctor in the process. Not that it would matter in the end, but information was the most powerful weapon of all, a lesson Nicholas had yet to learn but one he suspected Natalie Lambert understood all too well.
But mostly he found himself mediating petty disputes between his children and the other clientele. Some of them knew, or perhaps it was better to say that some of them hoped, that in their pathetic way they felt part of some huge conspiracy. To the younger vampire crowd it was a sort of game, one he strongly disapproved of, but indulged as long as it didn't get out of hand simply because it made this task, his "job" here more interesting every now and again.
It wouldn't be much longer, though. Janette had charged him to take care of the strays. As far as he was concerned, he'd indulged that folly long enough. It would be time to move on soon... There, over in the corner.
The mortal female had been in here every night for the past several weeks, having caught the eye of a new young vampire in town named Charles. They sat in one of the back booths deep in conversation. As he watched, Charles smiled gently, then reached forward to gently grasp the woman's wrist. He toyed with it, stroking the inside with his thumb, his attention casually fixed to the girl's face all the while.
She was well and truly under his spell, staring back at Charles with a dreamy expression on her face. As he watched, Charles lifted her wrist to his lips, planting a soft kiss on it, lingering, tasting for several seconds. The barest hint of gold tinged his eyes, and he waited expectantly for Charles to rise and lead her out into the night to find his pleasure.
When the couple continued to sit, he lifted his glass to his lips. Just before he took a sip he whispered Charles' name. No mortal in the room heard him, could possibly have heard him but from the subtle shift in activity he knew that every vampire had.
That was all that was necessary. Charles, still holding the girl's hand, and she really was quite lovely, he had to admit, rose and led her across the room. As he passed the bar Charles glanced over, then quickly dropped his eyes, but not before he noted that there was no longer any hint of gold in the other vampire's eyes.
It has been replaced with the barest traces of fear.
And that subtle hint of fear had spread about the room. He noted with, savoring the liquid in his glass, that they were all just a bit more wary, that they were all taking just a bit more care in their conversations with the mortals.
With a sigh he set his glass back down on the bar. Occasionally he allowed things to get out of control, but not too out of control. It made this current incarnation just a bit more tolerable. But he didn't allow it often, and only when there was something to be gained in addition to entertainment. It was all too easy, and while there was a part of him that was pleased over the fact that all it took was a mere raise of his eyebrows and a pointed look, it also helped to contribute to his restlessness, his need to be done with this place, to move on and find new challenges.
It didn't look like much from the outside, Natalie thought. Gray brick building, windows boarded up, ominous black door. She had a bad feeling about it.
It could just simply be that this wasn't her type of place under normal circumstances, and she'd never been much of a party-goer at these conventions. But this time around most of her interns and assistants were young, and saw this as a social experience as much as a professional one.
Which is was, she had to admit. The socializing could sometimes be as important a part of professional networking as were attending symposia and presentations.
They'd gone out to dinner with Phil and several researchers from Columbia. Natalie had been all too eager to spend the evening with Philip Carter, one of the top forensic pathologists in the field, and she'd been anxious to have the opportunity to compare notes. A few of the interns had been adrift, so she'd gathered them up and invited them along, accompanied by several of Phil's graduate students.
They'd had dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant, though they'd turned out to be a slightly larger crowd than the restaurant was prepared to deal with without a reservation, but they'd managed to get several tables without too much of a wait. The dinner took quite some time, however, and by the time they'd finished it was nearly nearly ten.
On their way out Phil had suggested this club. He'd been to it once before; several of his graduate students spoke highly of it and seemed quite enthusiastic to go. Natalie tried to bow out, but Phil had been rather insistent.
And truthfully there was a part of her that decided that it might be fun to do something that she didn't normally do, to let her hair down so to speak. Grace, and Jill in particular were working on her to join them, and so she finally gave in. It would be good, she thought. She spent far too much time in work mode, and lately she'd been tense and irritable. Nick . . . well, it was an understatement to say that Nick's recent setback's were a contributing factor. She felt as though she'd aged 20 years in the time she'd known him.
So she made up her mind. And even led the way into the club.
The inside was even less appealing, Natalie thought, taking in the lack of decor and the rough clientele. She'd never cared much for The Raven, but compared to this place, it looked like Casa Loma. There were a few tables and some chairs scattered around in one corner of a large, high ceilinged room Everything was painted black, and someone had run several strings of white blinking Christmas lights in and around several of the pillars and around the speakers located near a raised stage in the center. It stank of stale beer and smoke and perfume.
With a sidelong glance at two of her youngest interns, she realized she should never have brought them here despite the fact that they were both of legal drinking age. When she looked closely at them, however, she decided that they looked far more at home in this place than she did.
Natalie started when someone shoved a wet, cold bottle into her hand, and she looked up to see Philip's graduate student grinning at her as he saluted her with his own drink. What the hell was his name, she asked herself frantically. Mark...something, she thought as he guided her to a nearby empty table. She didn't have the heart to tell him that she absolutely hated beer.
"Isn't this place great!" Sheryl said, grinning enthusiastically. Natalie watched as she took a long swallow of her beer, and thought about just how long she'd have to stay in order to be polite. There was something about this place she didn't like.-an odd feeling of being watched that she couldn't quite put her finger on. Instead she nodded and surreptitiously glanced around her at the other patrons in the room.
While it wasn't early, it obviously wasn't late enough for the regular crowd because the club was more or less empty. A sullen woman with pale skin and far too much eyeliner, wearing a leather jacket, stood behind the bar. A cluster of similarly clad men and woman were gathered around a table nearby having an enthusiastic conversation about something, though Natalie couldn't quite make out what they were saying above the music issuing from the loudspeaker. Several more were near the door.
And their group, looking incredibly out of place, even the ones who'd said they'd been to this club before. Maybe they dressed for the occasion when it wasn't an impromptu excursion. Natalie didn't know. But she secretly admitted to herself that none of these people, save for a few of the youngest members of her group, looked like they belonged in this place. Nor did they look particularly comfortable.
They were showing off, she realized. Trying to impress the tourists.
She could remedy that easily enough, she thought. Half an hour, tops, then she'd make excuses for her entire group. Unless she was seriously wrong here, she had a feeling the ones responsible for their being here in the first place would be just as glad. Satisfied, Natalie leaned back in her chair and lifted the bottle of beer to her lips. One whiff, however, and she hastily placed it back on the table and glanced around the club one more time.
More people had arrived, and as she watched them move across the floor to the bar a peculiar chill ran up her spine. There was something about them, she realized, watching them intently. She'd spent enough time around them to know, had developed a sixth sense over the years. This group of impossibly attractive people striding across the floor as if they owned the place...
They were vampires.
Natalie was certain. Watching them carefully, she willed her heart rate to slow down even as she shrank back further into the corner. They didn't even have to speak when they reached the bar; five beer bottles with no labels appeared as if by magic in front of them. If you knew what you were looking at it wasn't hard to figure out that those bottles didn't contain beer.
Drinks in hand, the five of them spread out around the club, and Natalie realized with horror that one of them, a tall, thin blond kid dressed all in leather, was heading for their table.
"Hey," Grace said, nudging her. Natalie nearly jumped out of her skin. "He's looking right at you. "
"What?" Natalie said, turning frantically to track him again.
"He's not bad. A little too white for my tastes, but not bad."
"Grace, lets get out of here," Natalie said, rising. Grace's hand on her arm stopped her.
"Damn, girl, you are skittish!" Grace exclaimed, dragging her back down into the chair. "He's just gonna ask you to dance."
"No, I really think we should go," Natalie said emphatically. "We don't fit in here, and this place is dangerous."
Grace laughed. "It's just a seedy little club in New York City, Nat. Would you just relax and let your hair down for once? Dance, have some fun, and especially forget about Nick Nightmare for a few hours."
The blond vampire was getting closer, a strange, guarded expression on his face as he approached the table. Hurriedly, Natalie turned to Grace and spoke very quietly. "Grace, just humor me, OK. Help me get everyone together and lets get out of here!"
Grace frowned at her for several seconds. "You're really afraid," she finally said. "Nat, what's gotten into you?"
"Please!" Natalie said, squeezing Grace's hand. Any second now, Tall, Blonde and Dangerous would be at their table.
Nodding slowly, Grace finally relented. "You owe me an explanation," she said, turning to locate the rest of their group. "Uh-oh. Looks like you just lost your dance partner," she said, pointing to where Laura, one of the youngest interns in her office was leading the vampire onto the dance floor. Natalie paled slightly as he turned and looked back at her, a predatory smile on his face.
Just then, the music slowed, and Natalie watched as he pulled Laura positively against him, and they began to dance together suggestively. Thinking quickly, Natalie said, "Come get me in a minute or two." Then she jumped up and moved quickly toward the couple, Grace's protest drowned out by the loud thrum of the music.
"Mind if I cut in?" she asked as she approached the couple. Natalie couldn't believe she was doing this, but she didn't see any other way to get Laura away from him. If she tried to pull her away the young woman would undoubtedly protest. While there was some merit to the idea of causing a scene, Natalie much preferred the idea of getting her people out of here quietly. That way also had a lower risk of anyone getting anything more hurt than their pride. And if she caused a scene, she'd likely be the only one tossed out of here, leaving the others at the mercy of the vampires stalking the dance floor.
"No!" Laura snarled, just as he said, "Of course!" Their voices clashed just beneath the din of the music.
He solved the problem by shoving Laura away from him. "Go on home, now, little girl," he added sarcastically before sweeping Natalie into his arms and moving away from her. Natalie was vaguely aware of Laura gaping at them in outrage, but realized quickly she had far more serious matters to worry about. He'd locked his arms around her back, and was holding her uncomfortably close, so much so that her feet barely touched the floor and she had no control over where he was leading her.
Which was toward the back corner. Natalie twisted her head, in the hopes that Grace was getting everyone together and would come to her rescue. Instead, the table where they'd been sitting was empty. He whirled her around suddenly, so that Natalie could look out over the dance floor to see Grace dancing with one of the women in the group of vampires, a dreamy expression on her face.
Natalie had barely any time to register that when she felt her dance partner nuzzle her neck. She shuddered. "My, my," he whispered, his lips brushing her ear, "but you're a frightened little bird." He pulled back abruptly and looked down at her, his eyes golden and predatory. "Why is that, do you suppose?" he asked.
Natalie's felt her heart give one last beat, then go still. For a moment or two she was pretty certain that was the last time it would ever beat, and that she would die right on the spot. But a second later, it kicked into high gear, thundering in her chest and causing the vampire holding her to smile. A wave of cold terror raced over her, and Natalie fought the urge to faint.
"Don't be stupid," she finally managed to get out. This earned her a hard stare as his smile faded into a hard line. "There are too many of us. We don't want any trouble." She paused and licked her lips as they stood motionless in the shadowed corner, her small frame locked against his tall, lean one. "Just let me go. We'll leave immediately." No response. "We don't want any trouble," she repeated.
He continued to stare down at her, his gray eyes fixed on hers, without blinking. Natalie's attention was drawn quickly away by the sight of Grace dancing but this time with someone else, a male. She wasn't certain he was a vampire.
"No, no, no," he whispered, moving his hand from her back to catch her chin, turning her so that their eyes met again. "Forget," he whispered. Natalie felt his attempts to control her mind-it was a sensation that could only be described as an intense mental pressure, like an enormous balloon was being inflated inside her brain that crowded out everything but the desire to surrender, to submit. Instinctively Natalie struggled against it, tearing her eyes away. LaCroix had caught her once when she'd thought herself immune; she was terrified of falling into that abyss again, and would not go willingly. Even so, a part of her realized that giving in might be far wiser. Resistance would seal her fate, and possibly the fate of those with her.
If she'd thought submitting to him, allowing him to make her forget, would somehow ensure the safety of her group she would have tried that. But that was impossible,, so she attempted to fake it. Natalie looked up into his eyes and tried to relax in his grip by slowing her breathing.
Fixing her eyes on his she willed herself to stop trembling. Unfortunately, she was doing a terrible job, she realized, as another tremor run through her.
He felt it, too, she realized, when he abruptly withdrew from her mind. He pulled away from her suddenly, but locked his arm around her neck, so that she basically hung at his side like a sack of potatoes. Natalie grabbed his wrist and tried to pry it off her shoulder. She realized that whatever hopes she'd had of getting out of here quietly were gone.
Which meant there was absolutely no reason not to scream, now. Natalie managed to pull in a mouthful of breath, but her scream was cut off before it began when he shifted slightly to clamp his hand over her mouth. "Ah, ah," he cautioned, lifting the finger of his other hand to his lips. "No screaming. It's a rule."
Natalie screamed anyway, the hoarse sound muffled by his hand pressed against her lips. Jerking back with all her strength, Natalie managed to shift it just enough to get her teeth around the edge. as she kicked and punched him. Biting down with all her strength, she felt her teeth sink into his flesh, then tasted the metallic tang of blood accompanied by a strange tingling in her mouth. Natalie firmly told the clinical part of her mind that tried to analyze the situation to shut up, and bit down harder.
For the most part, her captor was completely oblivious to her effort. Natalie was vaguely aware of him waving someone over as she was dragged through a nearby door. With a quick pull he freed his hand, then she spun away from him violently as he released her with a shove. When she hit the nearby wall, she hit it hard. The impact drove all the breath from her body.
He caught her as she started to slide bonelessly to the floor, but she was only dimly aware of his voice as he spoke to another person who had entered the room behind them. "Tell the others to play nice, then send her friends off with a story," he said curtly. Then he turned and smiled down at her. "I found us a new toy to play with," he said.
His companion leaned forward and favored her with the same cold smile, then turned and eagerly left the room.
Desperate, Natalie looked around for an escape route, anywhere safe that she could bolt to. But she was in what looked like a basically empty storeroom that was dimly lit by a single bulb hanging from the low ceiling. A few wooden crates lined the walls, and a desk was tucked into one corner. A sign above the desk said "No screaming" in large red block letters. The only exit was the door she'd just been dragged through.
As her breath returned she began to feel every ache and pain in her body from being slammed into the wall. She was going to be mighty bruised tomorrow, she thought. Then her mind stopped cold as she realized that for her, there probably was no tomorrow.
Partially releasing his hold on her, he lifted the hand she had bitten up and inspected it with a grim smile. She could see small drops of blood gathered around her already fading teethmarks. Lifting his hand to his mouth, he licked the remaining drops of blood off, then leaned closer to her. Fascinated in spite of herself, Natalie watched his fangs drop slowly. "I bite too," he whispered, his face inches from hers, then he leaned forward and ran his cold tongue across her lips, gathering the tiny flecks of blood she could still feel tingling against her skin.
Natalie gagged, and jerked her head to the side. She tried to scream again, but he grabbed her chin in a tight grip and turned her face back to him, kissing her roughly. She felt his cold tongue force its way into her mouth, and shuddered, even as his other hand grabbed at her skirt and began pulling it up, giving him access to the flesh of her thighs and buttocks. His body pressed her tightly against the wall so that she couldn't slip away from him.
In sheer rage and disgust, Natalie growled deep in her throat and bit down with all her might, catching his tongue between her teeth. At the same time she brought both hands up to the side of his face and dragged her nails across the skin of his cheeks and eyes as hard as she could, feeling the flesh furrow beneath her fingers. She tried to slam her foot against the top of his instep, but missed.
With a bellow of pain, he pushed himself away from her. Natalie was ready. As soon as he moved she tried to dart around him, but he caught her arm in a crushing grip and swung her around roughly, his free hand coming around for a blow to her face. Natalie saw it coming, but had no time to react, and the blow knocked her across the room.
He was on her again, instantly, dragging her up by her hair and slapping her again, though this time she was able to partially block the blow. Pushing her against the wall, he grabbed both her hands in one of his and pulled them up over her head, pinning her there helpless. His eyes were bright red, matching the rivers of blood that ran in streaks across his face. But she was especially horrified to see that he was smiling again as he brushed at a bit of blood trickling out of his mouth with his free hand. "Good!" he said hoarsely, pressing closer and nuzzling her neck. "I like it when they fight," he said as she felt his fangs scrape across her jaw and neck.
"Hey man, slow down," she heard another voice say. She hadn't heard the door open. "The others'll be in for show and tell in half an hour." The only acknowledgment her attacker gave was to breathe deeply against her neck and nod his head. At the same time, however, she felt his free hand roam across her body, eliciting another deep shudder. She responded by lashing out with her legs, but he effectively stopped her by leaning against her more firmly and digging his fingers into a particularly sensitive area.
She tried to hold still then, to block out the feel of his hand sliding across her breasts and down her back, of his fingers working loose the buttons of the blouse she wore. Every calming breath she attempted to draw, however, ended upcoming out in a wracking half-sob that started deep in her abdomen and worked its way to her throat with agonizing slowness.
"Looks like she gave you some trouble," the other one said as he walked past her field of vision and perched on the corner of the desk. He was younger than the one holding her, at least in terms of physical features. Natalie guessed he couldn't be more than sixteen, and there was a viciousness to his features, a hardness about the eyes. That, and the sharp fangs in his mouth, made him look a bit like a cat.
"This is a mistake," she managed to rasp out.
"You know, I wish you could have picked another one. This one's old," Cat-Boy said, his lip curling in disgust.
Natalie tried again. She obviously couldn't fight her way out of this. Maybe it wasn't too late to reason with them. "I'll be missed," she gasped out.
He stopped nuzzling her and pulled back, grinning down at her. "It was the only resistor I could find," he said, turning slightly to look at his companion. "Only the resistors, remember."
"Right," the other one laughed. "Our community service."
"I'm an ME in Toronto," Natalie said quickly, determined not to give up. There had to be a way out of this. "I have friends," she added, emphasizing the term. "Friends who'll be very upset if I disappear." Natalie hated making it sound like she was on close, personal terms with most of the vampires in Toronto. But this was an emergency, and she figured they owed her one. Right now, she'd say just about anything to escape.
The scratches she'd left on his face were fading rapidly, the flesh knitting back together again right before her eyes. But he addressed her this time. "Doesn't matter," he grinned, his hand moving up to roughly caress her face. "You're in our territory now. Most of our kind thank us for getting rid of troublemakers like you. Didn't anyone ever tell you that you get burned when you play with fire?" He moved to kiss her again, his fingers tightening ominously around her wrists. Inches from her face he paused and breathed, "This'll only be unpleasant if you want it to be. You could go out with a real bang."
He pressed his mouth against hers again, roughly, his hand on her face forcing her to endure the assault as his strength and his weight held her prisoner. A wave of nausea washed over her as she tasted blood on his tongue, and feebly she tried to struggle again. Her efforts were rewarded with a sharp punch to her ribs that Natalie knew instantly broke several of them. Between the pain and the air being driven from her lungs, her vision began to swim and she was certain she was going to black out. When he pulled his face back from hers she pulled in a gasping mouthful of breath, that ended in a cry as the expansion of her lungs caused pain.
Dimly she could hear both of them laughing as she struggled to breath and remain conscious against the agony. They were laughing at her, laughing at her suffering, laughing at her feeble attempts to fight back as they systematically beat it out of her. Natalie knew that if she didn't do something immediately her only chance to survive this nightmare would be gone. One of them said something about checking out the goods, and she felt hands on her again, pulling at her clothes and exposing her skin.
This was it.
Instinctively, Natalie closed her eyes and drew in another painful breath and blurted out the first word that came to mind. "LaCroix" she said.
She'd intended to shout it, but it came out as a mere mumble.
Apparently, that was enough, she realized after several groggy moments. All movement in the room had stopped, and the two vampires were crowded closely around her, staring at her.
"What did you say?" one of them asked. The question was accompanied by a rough shake that disoriented her even more and caused shards of agony to slice through her upper body. She was going to go into shock soon. But she managed to form her lips around LaCoix's name again, to answer his question. Then the room seemed to explode with motion. "Get her purse," the blond one said, flicking the order at his companion as if used to giving them for a long time. "Find out who he is." The other vampire complied quickly, lifting her bag from the desk and dumping its contents out. He quickly scrabbled through it and found her wallet. Opening it, he first located the cash she had in there and quickly pocketed it. This earned him a sigh of exasperation from his friend, along with a warning glare.
"Natalie Lambert," he said, holding up her ID and reading from it. Then his face sobered. "Toronto," he added ominously. Natalie watched as the two of them eyed each other and her warily.
"So," her captor said slowly, "You've seen LaCroix at..." his eyes flicked over her quickly, "At his bookstore?" Natalie quickly shook her head. "Oh yeah," he said angrily, pulling her hands up slightly causing her to gasp again. "If he's such a good buddy of yours, what's he do for a living?"
Natalie didn't have much strength left, and it hurt to talk, but she managed to whisper two words. "Raven," she said. He nodded. Then, "Nightcrawler."
"Shit!" the dark-haired one said, throwing her wallet down and running his hands through his hair.
"Go make the call," the one holding her shouted, though she could feel him shifting nervously against her..
"Go make the call?" he repeated. Then he shook his head emphatically. "I'm not making the call," he whined. "You make it!"
Pressed against her as firmly as he was, Natalie felt his snarl vibrate through her body. He twisted his head abruptly, and started to say something to the younger vampire, but seemed to think better of it. Instead, he lowered his head, and in a few moments turned to face her again, his features normal. Except for something in his eyes, his normal gray eyes, that hadn't been there before.
He was afraid. Very afraid.
Good, a small, vindictive voice in her head whispered. You should know what it's like to be afraid, she thought.
Abruptly, he released her, and caught her beneath the arms as she started to fall to the floor. "Get a chair," he commanded, then sat her down almost gently in it as soon as it appeared. "Watch her," he said, then turned to leave the room. At the door, however, he paused. "Don't touch her!" he warned, waving a finger at his friend.
"Just make sure you tell him I never laid a hand on her." That earned him another growl.
Then the room was quiet, though she could sense the nervous energy as her guard anxiously paced the room. He never took his eyes off her. For her part, all Natalie wanted was to slip into some numb oblivion and deal with all this later.
But the doctor in her began rapidly assessing her wounds. Definitely broken or bruised ribs, both from being punched and shoved. She could feel the side of her face swelling from where he'd slapped her, and god knew what other types of marks he'd left on her while he'd pawed at her. That last thought made Natalie shudder, and she quickly put it out of her mind.
"Man, we're dead," he was muttering, now. "We are screwed!" He whirled to face her. "I should just kill you now!" His movements became more panicked.
Natalie sat still and watched him warily. If he were to attack her she knew she had absolutely no fight left in her. All those resources were gone, and with the chill creeping into her body she knew that shock was setting in. She'd need to get to an emergency room quickly.
He came to stand directly over her. "Shit!" he snarled again, and she could see his fangs were down and his eyes were bright red. He moved toward her. Natalie screamed and pushed back with her feet with all her might, tilting the chair back so that she was dumped onto the floor with a thud that hurt like hell. Desperately, she scrambled away from him on hands and knees.
The attack never came.
Natalie heard the door open, then a shout. Then silence.
When she dared to look up, both vampires were standing over her, but the blond one held the other tightly by the throat, his feet a few inches off the floor. After a moment, he dropped him down and shoved him against the wall. "Get her wallet and purse together and get rid of it," he said. Natalie didn't like the sound of that.
Sullenly, the vampire gathered her things together and exited the room without looking back. They both watched him go. Then he turned and glared down at her, before helping her to her feet. Natalie was shaking by this time. They were going to kill her, she was certain. Invoking LaCroix's name had been a huge mistake-he'd given them permission to get rid of her. It solved all his problems, she realized. She'd made a huge mistake.
He grasped her by both shoulders and shook her slightly, though not hard. "Look at me," he ordered. It took several seconds for her to manage it, but Natalie finally decided if she was going to die, her killer was going to have to look her in the eye while he did it. "Here's the drill," he said. "Your friends think you went back to the hotel with them. They were going to be just as surprised as everyone else when you wound up missing the next day. Do you understand?"
Why is he telling me this, she wondered, but nodded automatically. "You did go back with them last night. But then you started to feel sick, so you went out for some medicine."
Natalie frowned. That would be stupid, going out late at night in a strange city by herself. She opened her mouth to protest that she'd never be that dumb when it dawned on that he was giving her a cover story. Presumably while out, she'd been attacked. Mutely, almost afraid to hope, Natalie nodded. "Someone tried to rape you, but you fought him off. You never got a good look at him. Do you understand?" Natalie nodded again.
"I need...hospital," she said after a second or two. He grimaced, and started to shake his head, then took in her appearance and changed his mind. "OK, I'll take you to a hospital, but you're going to have to get to the emergency room yourself. I can't be seen with you." Then he sighed, and glanced down at her again. Natalie flinched when he reached out to touch her, but he only began straightening her clothes. Once he was satisfied, he looked up at her once more. "Two things," he said, holding up two fingers. "One, tell...him....I'm sorry. And that I didn't know." He paused and licked his lips, and when he looked back at her, his eyes blazed yellow. "Two, I don't ever want to see you again. Anywhere. You see me, you run the other way." His words were clipped and angry, and there was no mistaking his meaning. "Do you understand?"
Natalie nodded again. As he moved to help her walk, Natalie shrank away from him with a small whimper. She couldn't bear to have him touch her again. He merely shrugged, and turned to lead the way, check to make sure she was behind him as they moved out into the now mostly empty club. Several of the vampires looked at her, and Natalie was certain she saw resentment on their faces.
To try and stay focused, she mentally reviewed their story, and what she'd have to do to back it up. It was better than falling to pieces right now, which was a luxury she didn't have right now.
Instead, she began making a list. She'd have to make note of the streets near the hospital. And she'd have to clean her fingernails in case they wanted to take samples.
And she had to decide what she was going to say to Nick.
And to LaCroix.
He'd decided not to open the club this evening. No doubt his usual patrons all had some contingency plan for the nights when he decided he simply wasn't in the mood for their games. The club was at its most pleasant when it was quiet, when no bodies writhed about inside her. It was peaceful. His show was long over, and LaCroix sat quietly at the bar, sipping from a glass. Waiting. He was expecting a visitor tonight, though no one had called. It was part of the reason why he'd canceled the evening's festivities, out of a small deference to her. He'd left instructions for her, and only her, to be allowed in when she arrived. And she would arrive, sooner or later. Of that he was certain. The last drops from the glass had just passed his lips when he felt a slight rush of cool air enter the club as the door opened. Without looking up, he refilled his glass, well aware that she was standing expectantly on the steps, waiting for him to acknowledge her. Taking a first sip, he sighed with pleasure, then decided to accommodate her one more time. Turning, he lifted the glass in greeting to her. "Doctor Lambert," he said cordially. "What a pleasant surprise. May I offer you a drink?" he asked, gesturing her over to a seat next to him at the bar. "No thank you," she said, not moving. "And what brings you here this evening?" he asked. He actually wasn't entirely certain of the answer, and decided that intrigued him. "I think you know," she said evenly. He placed his glass carefully on the bar and rose to his feet. "I must say," he said, the faintest hint of sarcasm in his voice. "I'm surprised you'd be out...'clubbing'...so soon, all things considered." His smile was sly, and he was a little taken aback when she returned it. Now that was a surprise. "I'm afraid I can't accommodate you this evening. But if you'd like to come back tomorrow..." He let his voice trail off with the offer as her smile disappeared. LaCroix could see the bruises on her face, and there was a stiffness in the way she stood that was likely due to the broken ribs she'd sustained. "Nicholas reacted with his usual melodrama?" he asked, turning away to retrieve his drink again. She nodded. "He did." "What did you tell him?" Now she moved forward, almost imperceptibly more at ease, he sensed. She took the stool next to him at the bar. "I told him...the official story. For obvious reasons," she said. LaCroix smiled. "A wise choice. I doubt Nicholas would appreciate the fact that you called out to me for help." "And then he gave me a very long lecture on the dangers of going out by myself," she added, with a deep sigh. "You do live in a very dangerous world, Doctor Lambert," he reminded her. She looked up at him at that, then nodded slowly. "I know," she said. "Believe me, I know. The question is, why?" She looked intently at him then. "Why didn't I just let them kill you?" he asked, taking another sip. "It's a very good question. What do you think the answer is?" "I don't know," she replied. He could tell from her expression that she was telling the truth, and that that truth troubled her. "It wasn't out of respect human life. Or for me, specifically. I know that." "And that bothers you," he stated. She shrugged, then nodded. "I figure it's one of two things. Either you did it for Nick's sake..." "A possibility," he said. "Or you'd like that particular pleasure for yourself," she added ruefully. LaCroix leaned back and laughed, vastly amused that she'd even broach the subject, let alone in such a direct manner. Though he'd never admit it to her, LaCroix admired her willingness to grasp the tiger by the tail in her dealings with his kind. It was beyond stupid, and annoying most of the time. But at moments like this, he had to admit he found it quite refreshing. "I suppose we shall have to wait and see, won't we?" he said, after a few moments. Satisfied, he watched a flicker of fear cross her eyes. Then she drew a deep breath, and reached out to lightly touch his hand as it rested on the bar. The warmth of her fingers nearly made him flinch, but he resolutely held still and regarded her with a well-schooled distant expression on his face. "Thank you," she said earnestly. "For whatever reason." And then she left, the same swirl of cool air that had marked her arrival ushering her out the door. He sat at the bar for a long time, briefly contemplating the implications of her visit. Her thanks had been unexpected. So unlike Nicholas in that respect, he mused. But his mind quickly turned to more important and relevant matters. Though it was a dangerous game, and one he'd quickly put a stop to, he had to admit that those two whelps in New York had come up with a form of entertainment that he thought was no longer possible in this modern world, one that he had not engaged in for many centuries. It had the added benefit of fulfilling, as far as he was concerned, a community service as long as one was clever and careful to maintain a sense of order. Images of Nicholas and Janette, in all their glory, came unbidden to his mind, and he nodded with satisfaction, losing himself momentarily in the memories. Yes, it was an idea with possibilities. Should he ever find himself in the position he was in now, he would have to consider it further.
He'd decided not to open the club this evening. No doubt his usual patrons all had some contingency plan for the nights when he decided he simply wasn't in the mood for their games.
The club was at its most pleasant when it was quiet, when no bodies writhed about inside her. It was peaceful.
His show was long over, and LaCroix sat quietly at the bar, sipping from a glass. Waiting. He was expecting a visitor tonight, though no one had called. It was part of the reason why he'd canceled the evening's festivities, out of a small deference to her. He'd left instructions for her, and only her, to be allowed in when she arrived. And she would arrive, sooner or later. Of that he was certain.
The last drops from the glass had just passed his lips when he felt a slight rush of cool air enter the club as the door opened. Without looking up, he refilled his glass, well aware that she was standing expectantly on the steps, waiting for him to acknowledge her. Taking a first sip, he sighed with pleasure, then decided to accommodate her one more time.
Turning, he lifted the glass in greeting to her. "Doctor Lambert," he said cordially. "What a pleasant surprise. May I offer you a drink?" he asked, gesturing her over to a seat next to him at the bar.
"No thank you," she said, not moving.
"And what brings you here this evening?" he asked. He actually wasn't entirely certain of the answer, and decided that intrigued him.
"I think you know," she said evenly.
He placed his glass carefully on the bar and rose to his feet. "I must say," he said, the faintest hint of sarcasm in his voice. "I'm surprised you'd be out...'clubbing'...so soon, all things considered." His smile was sly, and he was a little taken aback when she returned it. Now that was a surprise. "I'm afraid I can't accommodate you this evening. But if you'd like to come back tomorrow..." He let his voice trail off with the offer as her smile disappeared. LaCroix could see the bruises on her face, and there was a stiffness in the way she stood that was likely due to the broken ribs she'd sustained.
"Nicholas reacted with his usual melodrama?" he asked, turning away to retrieve his drink again.
She nodded. "He did."
"What did you tell him?"
Now she moved forward, almost imperceptibly more at ease, he sensed. She took the stool next to him at the bar. "I told him...the official story. For obvious reasons," she said.
LaCroix smiled. "A wise choice. I doubt Nicholas would appreciate the fact that you called out to me for help."
"And then he gave me a very long lecture on the dangers of going out by myself," she added, with a deep sigh.
"You do live in a very dangerous world, Doctor Lambert," he reminded her.
She looked up at him at that, then nodded slowly. "I know," she said. "Believe me, I know. The question is, why?" She looked intently at him then.
"Why didn't I just let them kill you?" he asked, taking another sip. "It's a very good question. What do you think the answer is?"
"I don't know," she replied. He could tell from her expression that she was telling the truth, and that that truth troubled her. "It wasn't out of respect human life. Or for me, specifically. I know that."
"And that bothers you," he stated.
She shrugged, then nodded. "I figure it's one of two things. Either you did it for Nick's sake..."
"A possibility," he said.
"Or you'd like that particular pleasure for yourself," she added ruefully.
LaCroix leaned back and laughed, vastly amused that she'd even broach the subject, let alone in such a direct manner. Though he'd never admit it to her, LaCroix admired her willingness to grasp the tiger by the tail in her dealings with his kind. It was beyond stupid, and annoying most of the time. But at moments like this, he had to admit he found it quite refreshing.
"I suppose we shall have to wait and see, won't we?" he said, after a few moments.
Satisfied, he watched a flicker of fear cross her eyes. Then she drew a deep breath, and reached out to lightly touch his hand as it rested on the bar. The warmth of her fingers nearly made him flinch, but he resolutely held still and regarded her with a well-schooled distant expression on his face. "Thank you," she said earnestly. "For whatever reason."
And then she left, the same swirl of cool air that had marked her arrival ushering her out the door.
He sat at the bar for a long time, briefly contemplating the implications of her visit. Her thanks had been unexpected. So unlike Nicholas in that respect, he mused.
But his mind quickly turned to more important and relevant matters. Though it was a dangerous game, and one he'd quickly put a stop to, he had to admit that those two whelps in New York had come up with a form of entertainment that he thought was no longer possible in this modern world, one that he had not engaged in for many centuries. It had the added benefit of fulfilling, as far as he was concerned, a community service as long as one was clever and careful to maintain a sense of order.
Images of Nicholas and Janette, in all their glory, came unbidden to his mind, and he nodded with satisfaction, losing himself momentarily in the memories.
Yes, it was an idea with possibilities. Should he ever find himself in the position he was in now, he would have to consider it further.