A/N: In my story, 'Harvest', I had Beth ask Josef a certain, difficult question. I was too timid to answer it the way Josef probably would have, so here I'm having another go to see if I can get it right. In this story, Josef warns Beth not to go into the deep, dark forest... and I'd give you the same advice if you think that Mills & Boon have got sex right.



/ the deep, dark forest /


The night was warm and they were alone on the terrace, the party in full swing behind them. Given his notorious reticence for solitude, she may not get another opportunity as good as this for some time, so with the lack of tact that was her trademark, she took a breath and waded straight in with little warning.

"Do you remember how when I started dating Mick, you said that if I needed to know anything even slightly vampiric you'd tell me - ?"

" – no questions asked," he finished, leaving out the yada yada implicit in his tone. He raised his whiskey glass to his lips, eyes glued to the large French doors that framed the graceful movement of the army of newbie freshies the agency had arranged for his annual welcoming-in of the new financial year.

"So, how do I please a vampire?"

"Please a vampire?," he repeated absentmindedly, his eyes assessing a buxom brunette behind her and to her left.

"You know, - 'please' - as in the deeply and comprehensively 'pleasing' department," Beth said.

His head swivelled in her direction. She had his full attention now.

"Does Mick know you're having this conversation?" he asked. "Strike that. Of course, Mick doesn't know." Josef shook his head with what looked like a mixture of amused disbelief and approval, as if part of him admired the chutzpah it had taken for her to ask such a brazen question. "Why don't you just ask him?"

"He says he doesn't want to - ," her fingers bobbed in hooked quotation marks, " - unduly influence the direction of my normal, human sexuality."

His face became grave. "And so you thought I wouldn't have a problem going over my best friend's head and corrupting you with the information anyway." He looked so serious it seemed as if she had finally crossed some bloodsucker BFF line. "Well… " he threw his arms open wide, "…come to poppa!"

She rolled her eyes and he dropped his hands to his sides with a grin.

"So what can I possibility tell you?," he said. "You're a big girl, Beth. You've played sink the soldier before."

Beth just raised an eyebrow and gave him a meaningful look.

He choked on his drink. "You mean – you and Mick don't…er, bite?," he said, emphasising the word 'bite' as if what he meant to say was a completely different four letter word.

Beth tilted her head to one side. "Let's just say I need a little help figuring out how to either reassure him that my needle phobia is completely cured, or learn how to distract him so thoroughly, if you get my meaning, that he won't remember witnessing every single puncture-related fainting spell I had in high school." She stepped in a little closer, all the better to wheedle him. "So come on, Josef, how do I turn him on, get him off, make him so hot he'll want to sink his fangs so deep he won't be aware of anything other than my very grateful moans of satisfaction?" She nodded toward the party, "I've heard all your girls talking." Then she leaned in close, her lips almost brushing against his ear. "Between you and me, I'm a loaded barrel of burning gunpowder and I am ready to explode."

He raised his eyebrows and she leaned back against the parapet, all elbows and cocky confidence. At that angle, her upper back bowed elegantly and her hips thrust outward in seeming invitation in his direction.

His eyes twinkled in admiration of her brio and with a hint of amusement he said, "What exactly do you want to know?"

"Well," she said in a conspiratorial whisper, "when he's, you know, ready for action, what can I do that will send him over the edge, and I mean, five miles over the edge?"

"What are you doing already?" he asked, by now completely oblivious to the random scent of new blood, the bursts of laughter and the low rumble of conversation from inside the ballroom behind them.

It was a trick question, one designed to see if she could stand the heat, to be as forthright herself as she clearly expected him to be. She thought she was up to the challenge.

"The usual stuff," she said. "We kiss… touch each other." She trailed a fingertip around the base of her neck. "He seems to like it when I suck him here. The marks disappear straight away, of course, but you'd know that. Sucking hard enough to form a little bruise always gets a reaction."

"I'll bet it does," Josef said with a raised brow.

"By then, you know, we can't keep our hands off each other. I can't help myself, my fingers run through the hair on his chest all on their own," she floated him a playful look of exaggerated innocence to deflect a rising sense of awkwardness, but then her voice changed and she was straight back to the nub of the issue. "I really want him to taste me."

He could see that just thinking about it was having an effect on her: her hand flicking back the hair on her neck to cool the side of her throat; the sweet scent of her arousal beginning to rise in lazy spirals all around him. Her inhibitions were coming down.

"And I know he wants it too," she went on, her eyelids lowering in sweet remembrance of the long, cool rigidity of him beneath the denim of his jeans. "The problem is, I can never get him high enough to give in and bite me. So tell me, when you're hard and a woman touches you there, what rhythm sends you over the top?"

The ambiguous phrasing gave him pause for a second as to whether or not it was his own preferences she was enquiring about and he felt something in his groin shift, a tiny readjustment in the position of his testicles.

"Vampires, I mean," she qualified. "All of you. In general."

The air seemed to thicken a little and he was very aware of the shoulder resting against his, their fingers dangling only millimetres apart.

His voice dropped. "Its not the rhythm so much as the attitude, Beth."

She was listening intently, watching him with wide, fascinated eyes, her fingers trailing up and down along the soft, white skin of her inner arm. An odd intensity arced between vampire master and human apprentice, the significance of what he was about to tell her not lost on either of them.

"And maybe it needs just the sort of attitudinal … readjustment… Mick wanted you to avoid. The information isn't pretty, so look away now if you're prone to be squeamish." He waited; giving her a chance to excuse herself gracefully, escape back to the safety of the party, to Mick, all the while feeling the warm length of her thigh pressing up against the cool of his as they stood there, alone on the deserted terrace. When it was obvious she had no intention of leaving, his voice hardened and he said, "With Vampires it's either dominate or be dominated, Beth. It's in our makeup. Sex for us is a lot more primal than it is for human beings. It's all about the power and the control. No matter how gentle Mick is being right now, it's just the way it is." He regarded her from under hooded lids. "Does that shock you?"

"No… yes… no," Beth said, clearly at least a little shaken.

"You've asked me a question, now I'll ask you one. How do you like to be touched?"

She blushed, not really having expected him to go there. A cool finger under her chin tipped her gaze up toward him and his eyes raked her face in a searching look. "When you're with a man do you ever allow yourself to lose control? I mean really lose control."

She licked her lips. "Maybe," she paused. "Sometimes." She sighed. "Never with Mick. I don't want him to think I'm a - ."

The ugly word hung in the air between them.

"A what - ?" He raised a sardonic eyebrow, " - a young woman with a healthy sexual appetite?"

She flushed, surprising him again with the unexpected shyness. Maybe it was she who was pulling back at the last moment, and Mick, just responding to the cue that she wasn't quite willing to go there yet. How she handled this next interaction would give an indication as to whether or not she'd ever be.

"Tell me, the times you let go, it helped when the man had total control, didn't it?" When he knew what he wanted and went ahead and took it. When the rough of his hands on your skin said you were a dirty bitch he couldn't resist and was so far gone you hardly recognised him." He didn't wait for her to agree, "You begged him to unleash, didn't you? So you could see just how really strong he was. Strength excites you, doesn't it? Makes you feel helpless – and so powerful that the high at other times has never quite been the same."

His words had hit their mark, for she was panting in high, shallow breaths and the blue of her eyes was almost lost in the wide, dark expanse of her dilated pupils. It wouldn't have surprised him to hear that no one had ever spoken to her like that before, and there was more to come.

"How firmly can you stand to be touched," his hand moved slowly, "here… here… and… here?" One finger hovered over the pulse throbbing in her throat and again, whispered under a tendril of hair along the hairline at the back of her neck; and then his cupped hand was wafting cool air from his palm over the area of her nipple, the empty space between hand and breast only making his action seem more shocking. Without realising it, he had stepped in closer, curving his body around hers in an unconscious pose that warned every other male there to approach her at his own peril. If he lowered his other hand onto the parapet beside her, she would be encircled within his arms. " - because you'll need to be able to stand it, if you really want to arouse a vampire, Beth. You can talk the talk, but do you dare to take the risk?"

"I do," she breathed. "More, maybe, than Mick gives me credit for."

"Well," Josef shrugged, his shoulder stroking the firm muscle of her upper arm as it lowered on the downward movement. "You've got two choices. You'll either need to let Mick take total control and be prepared to give yourself over completely, especially when the vampire emerges, or given our – predilection - for power games, you'll have to ante up and take control of things yourself." His lips twisted in a cocky grin, his lips against her ear as he said, "Make him do exactly what you want him to do."

She shivered, her breath wafting out in a warm, aromatic puff.

"Can you do that, Beth?" He stood taller and his eyes narrowed and in the twinkling lights of the outdoor terrace, he seemed bigger, his shoulders broader, his chest more muscular than they had before. "Are you strong enough to take charge and be in complete control of an alpha male in the bedroom, Beth - ? Perverse enough to understand even before he does what little fantasy he wants most in the world and then to make him beg for it? Because if you're not," he tucked a tendril of hair behind her ear and smiled wolfishly, "don't ever set out to Grandma's through the deep, dark forest, Red Riding Hood."

A pretty flush colored both her cheeks and she looked like she was about to swoon, leaning in so close her forehead almost touched his. This little tête-à-tête had strayed into dangerous waters and he wasn't finished yet. She may as well know the whole of it.

"How comfortable are you with pain, Beth? Giving it.. receiving it..?"

"Are you asking me if I like it?" Her voice was soft, unsure.

"You're with a vampire." He wasn't smiling. "Don't you?"

At the sound of her shocked, indrawn breath, a startlingly vivid image of her flashed into his mind: her back arched, her eyes squeezed shut in ecstasy, the sweep of a blood red ribbon curved around the apex of her throat. He turned away and faced the parapet, looking out toward the bright city lights of L.A. It had been a long time since he'd lusted for a woman he couldn't have and he took a moment to savour the sensation, its novelty oddly pleasurable. When he was ready, he glanced at her over his shoulder and continued, "You need to be able to play that game, Beth, if you want to send a vampire lover into the stratosphere. Mick will never bite you if he thinks you can't handle some level of physical discomfort, or..," he gave her a wicked, little smile, "unless you order him to and mean it."

"I…," she licked her lips, her voice hoarse, "Tell me how. I need to know how."

He could hear the rapid patter of her heartbeat, see her breasts rising and falling beneath the silk of her gown. The honeyed scent of her arousal would soon have every vampire in the building calling for a freshie. He lifted her hand off the parapet and examined her French manicured fingernails.

"Use them, Beth. Lightly at first. Across his back, his belly, underneath his balls…" His eyes darkened. "If you want him to roll over and beg use your teeth. Don't be shy. Vampires love it." His voice became low and urgent. " - and if you touch him that way, like he's your bitch, his canines will punch right through his gums like jackhammers and he'll be on top of you with his fangs in your throat before you can blink."

Her breath rasped in her throat and she was close enough now that her body heat burned him through the expensive fabric of his dinner suit.

Her upturned face was rapt. "What does it feel like to be bitten?," she whispered.

His voice dropped to a dangerous undertone. "Do you really want to know?"

"Yes," she said, her reply barely audible.

He stepped well away from her, flaring the sides of his jacket outward in one economical movement and jamming one clenched fist into the pocket of his trousers. "Remember everything I've said and you'll know by dawn." His eyes flicked to one side. "Mick," he nodded.

"Josef," Mick said from the open French doors behind them, his hazel eyes crinkling in good humour. "Beth, I'm good to go. What – ?," he smiled, his head turning from one to the other. "Have I missed something?"

Beth walked into his arms and lay her head against his chest but didn't say a word. When it became obvious that whatever the cloak-and-dagger was between the two would remain just that, he shook his head good-naturedly. "You two together are trouble." He kissed the top of her golden hair. "It's getting late, honey. Are you ready?"

"Oh, I'm ready, Mick," she murmured into his shirt. "I am so unbelievably ready."

Mick drew her beneath his outstretched arm and as they left, Beth glanced back and gave Josef a grateful smile. Another secret to bind them together and one she would keep from Mick, of that he was certain - the infinitesimal changes he'd detected in the scent of her arousal toward the end guaranteed it.

He raised his glass to her in a surreptitious salute. "By dawn," he mouthed.

She smiled in anticipation and stroked her fingernails all the way down Mick's navy-shirted back, never for a moment dreaming that when he closed his eyes, Josef could feel them too.