The woman was deliciously American with every cliche. Vlad eyed the blonde in the outdoor café on the Champs Elysee and sized her up in his usual accurate manner. Divorced and unattached, quite likely on her first European adventure after having her nest empty at last he decided. Her wide eyes trying to take everything in at once and her avid attitude gave her away. This was no jaded world traveler and yet not an unsophisticated country rube either. She looked ripe for experience, romance, and excitement. Such a treasure was to be anticipated, courted, not rushed into.
His household was in need of a blonde member and this charmer might fit the bill perfectly. True she was a bit older than his other brides, but one should never discount the advantages of an experienced, mature woman over the fleeting beauty and conceit of a vapid youth. His previous blonde bride had finally pushed him to the limits and he had reluctantly left her a pile of dust in a hotel in Antwerp. This woman was still youthful and lush, quite desirable if dressed properly. A woman who had lived long enough to appreciate a man properly.
He sidled up to her table nearly spilling the glass of inexpensive Cabernet deliberately. His lightening fast reflexes prevented any disaster from his action and he made haste to bring forth his very best charm. "Oh, please excuse me lovely lady. I fear I was too caught up in the scenery around me and have nearly caused your lovely dress to become a ruin." He spoke in heavily accented French even though he was certain that the woman was American. It didn't do to show ones hand, after all.
Joyce Summers looked at the handsome, if pale, man and smiled. She had daydreamed of a nice flirtation with someone interesting while she was on this buying tour. He could fit the role easily. "It's perfectly alright. No harm was done. I've been busy looking around myself and understand the distraction." Her French was better than his but still not that of a native speaker.
"Ah! You are not French then. American perhaps?" Vlad had switched to heavily accented English for this question. His voice was low and sensual as his gaze moved over Joyce slowly as if in caress.
"No not French. Thank God you speak English because I think I just used up all my high school French a minute ago!" Joyce blushed a bit at his obvious interest.
"Surely you are too modest. Your French is far superior to mine. You have a kind heart to say this though, putting me at ease after my so clumsy brush with catastrophe." Vlad smiled his most seductive smile at the intrigued woman; it never failed.
"Would I be too forward to beg to join you? I would love to say that I was not completely alone in the city of love for at least one night, yes?" He saw the flicker of interest in the woman's eye as she discreetly glanced at his left hand in search of a wedding ring. "Perhaps I am too forward. Surely a woman as lovely as you has a husband or lover who will soon be joining her."
Joyce felt her face flush further at this man's compliments. He made her feel interesting and sexy and desirable, things she hadn't felt in many years.
"No, I'm alone. No husband or lover expected. Please, I'd be delighted to have your company." Joyce put out her hand in greeting. "You aren't French either judging from your accent. Russian, perhaps?"
Vladimir took a seat and motioned for the waiter. "My home is in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. I am of an old family with many financial ties to Paris, but, as you say, not a Frenchman." He ordered a bottle of expensive wine and fresh glasses for himself and the lady.
"So you are in Paris on a business trip? So am I." Joyce began to relax and enjoy this unexpected bonus to her evening. "I own an art gallery in a small town in Southern California not far from Los Angelus. My daughter just went off to college so I finally had the chance to go to the heart of the art world and pick up some good pieces for my next showing. My name is Joyce Summers, by the way."
"It is not possible for a woman as young as yourself to have a college age child! Surely you were but a child yourself when you became a mother." His earnest expression made the obvious line more easily swallowed.
Joyce giggled a bit, feeling more like the girl he was implying that she appeared to be. "No. Hank and I married in College but I was no child bride."
"Ah, so there is a husband just not here. I am devastated!" Vlad had a slight smile on his face as his eyes gave every indication that he wouldn't care one whit if there was a husband in the picture.
Joyce smiled back, enjoying the give and take of flirtation she had been deprived of for so long. "Actually, Hank is somewhere in Spain with his secretary, I believe." Vlad's eyes widened and conveyed sympathy. "It's alright, we're divorced."
"I see. Well, I would be sorry for such a man losing such a prize as yourself but it is lucky for me, no?" Vlad poured the superior wine for them both and grinned.
"Please forgive my lack of manners! Vladimir, Count of Wallachia, at your service." He executed a slight bow while still seated. "I, too, am at loose ends. My previous romantic interest fell to ash, I fear. So here I wander the streets of Europe's capital of love never expecting to meet such a charming lady as you. It would seem as if my fortune is changing before my eyes."
"You're a real Count? I'm sorry, I shouldn't gush. We Americans pretend to be above all of that but still find ourselves awestruck when we even hear the titles of old Europe. Suddenly all that democracy and equality go right out the window. Forgive me for acting star struck, but I've never met royalty!" Joyce somehow knew his claim at a title was not an affectation but the truth.
"Not so much royal now. My family once were Princlings, The title was actually Voivode in our native tongue. They ruled from the fourteenth century a small area in the mountains. Now we have but a rich heritage and a large, musty castle that is difficult to heat in the winter." He waved his hand dismissively as if his modesty forbade any importance being put on his background. "You could say we are old blood, yes."
He looked deeply into Joyce's eyes making her feel mesmerized by their depths. "You are, no doubt, from fine pioneer stock. The very building foundation of your fine nation. A proud nation made up of many of the world's best blood."
"I never thought of it that way, but I suppose you're right. My family were originally from the farmlands of the Midwest but I was raised in California." Joyce sipped from the wineglass and knew she was drinking some of the best even without being an expert in such things. "You must have had such an interesting boyhood!"
"It seems so long ago. I try not to live in the past." Vlad could see the slight look of disappointment in Joyce's eyes and decided a bit of sharing wouldn't go amiss. "I did travel, this is true. I spent a good portion of my adolescence in Turkey in fact."
"I've always wanted to visit that part of the world." Joyce exclaimed. "Tell the truth, with Buffy in College I plan to do quite a bit of traveling. I have the perfect excuse with the gallery and I've always wanted to see the world. I think that's one reason I became interested in art, it was a way to connect with other places, other people."
"Buffy. This is your daughter's name, correct?" Vlad waited for Joyce's nod. "She must be lovely like her mother. Such an unusual name, this Buffy. Is it a family one?"
"No. Her father picked it out, actually. He knew a girl his first year in College. She was from a wealthy family, a sorority girl and a bit of a snob, and her name was Buffy. He always thought it seemed to denote breeding and class. I didn't have the heart to tell him that usually it's a nickname for Elizabeth. You never corrected Hank, so Buffy it was." Joyce allowed the Count to pour another glass of the delicious wine.
"Still a sweet name. Your husband, excuse me, ex-husband sounds a bit of a tyrant. You are well rid of such a man. A treasure such as yourself should be pampered and catered to as your due." Vlad lifted his glass as if to toast her qualities.
Joyce looked at her watch and sighed in disappointment. "I am so very sorry but I have an appointment with this rather difficult art dealer. I had a horrible time getting it and don't dare miss it now. I was so loving this interlude too." She looked so torn at having to cut the fantasy short.
"Perhaps you would meet me for dinner? Tomorrow? We could make a night of it, complete with dancing." He watched her eyes light up at the prospect.
"You aren't into robotics or anything are you?" Joyce asked cryptically.
"No. I hope that doesn't effect your answer. I suppose I could study the subject if it is of importance to you, however." Joyce's answer was so far from left field that he had no idea of a proper response.
"Sorry. My last date didn't end well," Joyce explained.
"I'd love to have dinner with you. I'm staying at the Place de la Republique at a lovely hotel, the "Exposition"."
Joyce didn't notice the slight sniff of disdain at the name of the moderate priced hotel. She began to gather her briefcase and prepared to leave for her meeting. "Where shall I meet you, and when?"
"I am staying at my family's small home that is not far from one of the better restaurant's in all of Paris. Ordinarily one must have a reservation a month in advance but Chef Pacaud is a personal friend who will never turn me away. We shall dine at L'Ambroisie; shall we say at seven? You may enjoy the Place des Vosges itself. It is the oldest square in Paris and the architecture and history are unique. There is a smaller café there called Ma Bourgogne where we may meet. It is there under the arcade and you may wish refreshment if you arrive before I do. I have an appointment of my own that will likely keep me until sundown at the least." Vlad smiled up at the now standing Joyce and then rose to see her off.
Joyce put out her hand and said, "It is such a pleasure. I look forward to tomorrow evening, Count."
He bowed over her trembling hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the back of it. "The pleasure will all be mine, dear lady. It would please me if you would simply call me Vlad."
"Vlad, thank you. My, Buffy won't believe this story! I think I won't even tell her. This will be my own happy memory to cherish. Until tomorrow, then." She missed the predatory look on her date's face as she walked away towards the Metro station and her appointment.
'Yes, this was a promising courtship, indeed,' he thought. There was something about her name that tickled his memory in some way. Perhaps he had heard of someone with her last name of Summers in the course of his travels. Vlad Tepes, Dracul, count of Wallachia, Dragon of Romania and protector of his people from the encroaching Saracens, impaler of the invaders, left a miserly tip for the waiter and contemplated tomorrow night when he would once more have a lovely blond as a bride.
Joyce felt light as a cloud. Her meeting had been fruitful and several lovely pieces were even now being wrapped and readied for shipment to Sunnydale.
Joyce had spent the morning at the Musee Carnavalet improving her knowledge of the history of the beautiful city that had only become more captivating with her anticipation of her date later.
Joyce couldn't believe such a courtly, handsome man as Vlad had taken an interest in her. Hank had managed to undermine her sense of self worth so badly that she was astonished any man showed an interest.
There had been a time when Joyce had known just how to dress to show off her assets best. She knew that she could easily turn heads and break hearts if she wanted to at one time.
Too many years of being cheated on, ignored and neglected had taken a toll. She had been easy pickings for Ted the robot and his domineering personality. Joyce had been so flattered to be noticed as a woman again that she had taken the side of the pseudo-man instead of her own daughter!
There was a freedom in this situation. Vlad was clearly interested in her, attracted to her. She was in a far off place with no one she knew anywhere around her. Joyce felt a freedom she hadn't experienced since her early college days and it showed on her face. She looked at least ten years younger than just the day before. Yes, this potential affair with the charming Count might just keep those years at bay!
Joyce felt like she was in the middle of a Lifetime channel movie, in the starring role, and she was loving it. She only hoped her rather ordinary sexual history wouldn't be boring to such a worldly wise man as Vlad.
Hank had been her first and, aside from that one candy induced night with Rupert Giles, her only other romance turned out to be with a no batteries needed mechanical partner that had been programmed by a man with "old fashioned" ideas about lovemaking. This would be her chance to be wild for a change, explore and expand her experience. She could barely contain her excitement.
Joyce decided to take her purchases, souvenirs for her friend's back home and some momentos for herself, back to her room. She was especially pleased with the beautiful cloisonné chess set with its deep cobalt blue base color that she had chosen for Giles.
She remembered the previous fall when a sombrero wearing Giles had taught her the strategies of the game while they handed out treats. She had hoped it might lead to further lessons but it had not. Maybe with this gift she could suggest a rematch in more ways than one!
She hadn't even been able to spend all of all Hallows eve with her daughters handsome Watcher then as Xander's odd girlfriend had shown up with the emergency of the day and Giles had shot out, chain saw in hand to save the day.
Joyce felt positively wicked thinking of possibly seducing another man while anticipating her date with Vlad that very night. Repression can lead to all sorts of naughtiness, she decided. Giles could wait, tonight belonged to the handsome Romanian Count.
She would take a nice shower and a little nap before getting ready to meet her handsome, possible lover. Joyce wanted to be sure her energy levels were in top form.
The nap idea had turned out to be an exercise in futility, as she couldn't seem to slow her brain enough to rest. She had splurged on a new dress for tonight's date and had kept thinking of the best way to complete her look. Finally, she gave up on the nap and used the time to call Buffy for a brief chat.
As she might have expected, Buffy was off with Riley somewhere but according to Willow everything was fine at home.
At loose ends, Joyce called the front desk to ask about the area where she was to meet Vlad. She discovered that he had not been wrong in thinking she would find the area of interest and so she decided to change and go a bit early to check it out.
She looked elegant, but understated. Perhaps a bit too dressed up to play the tourist, but she knew there wouldn't be time to return for a change later so she decided to just enjoy looking glamorous for a change.
The deep blue sheath fit to perfection and her minimal jewelry complimented the dress without being too showy. She swept her hair in a classic up-do that emphasized her delicate and graceful neck. Grabbing her sunglasses and small bag she headed for the Place des Vosges feeling like a film star.
It took all of her self-restraint not to make any purchases. The last thing Joyce wanted to do was to meet this dashing gentleman for dinner in an exclusive restaurant, dressed to the nines but carrying some shop bag with tourist treasures! No, anything she wanted to buy, she'd come back for later.
The fascinating Instruments Musicaux Anciens had occupied quite a bit of time as Joyce looked over all the antique musical instruments, some she had never heard of before. She felt that Willows 'quiet but deep boyfriend, Oz, would enjoy the information she had picked up about old guitars and other instruments still in use today.
The former residences of Mme de Sevigne, Richelieu and even Victor Hugo were in the plaza as well. The Hugo home was now a museum filled with bits and pieces of his life. Before Joyce knew it she found herself outside the Café Ma Bourgogne that Vlad had recommended.
She took a seat and ordered the famous café crème that the hotel desk clerk had suggested she not miss. Joyce had no problem enjoying the spectator sport of people watching.
The sun had set just a few minutes earlier when Joyce noticed a woman that she felt sure she recognized. She couldn't quite place where she had seen her and it was nagging her memory.
The woman was lithe and fey, her movements more a glide than a walk. Her long dark hair was shining and curled, her clear porcelain skin giving her an unearthly look. In fact, she reminded Joyce of the vampires she now had to accept as part of the world thanks to her daughter's involvement in the whole supernatural battle between good and evil.
"That's it! I know her!" Joyce finally remembered where she had seen the dark beauty. She hadn't actually seen her, but she had been shown several pictures of her by a sobbing, drunken, vampire just last year. "Drucilla," Joyce breathed.
Dru heard the quiet calling of her name and turned to discover just who had whispered it. Her gaze swept past Joyce at first and then returned, eyes narrowing. A wicked grin began to show on the vampiress' blood red mouth. 'Now what brings the mum here I wonder.' Deciding to find out now instead of waiting to quiz Miss Edith later, Dru approached Joyce's table.
"Do you know me?" Dru sat down across from Joyce without waiting for an invitation. "I know you. You made her, the one that stole my deadly poet. "
Joyce remembered Dru's reputation for insanity but the woman seemed lucid enough at the moment. She was heartily glad to be in a highly public place right then.
"I know you as well. I've seen so many pictures of you and heard so many stories I feel we've met before," Joyce carefully offered.
Dru closed her eyes and swayed slightly, humming low and off key for a moment before snapping her eyes open and glaring at Joyce.
"'E won't be turning you and wanting you to travel with us! Only one mum for that. With you it's chocolate with puffy white tops and soft shoulders to cry on. My Spike's been a bad dog!"
Before Joyce could respond, Dru continued, "She'll break 'im, she will. That spawn of yours will destroy my Spike. Take away everything 'e is and leave 'im empty then walk off smiling as 'e burns."
Neither woman noticed the arrival of the legendary Count Dracula. He had seen Joyce immediately and a smile had fixed itself on his face. He had such plans for this lovely! Before he approached, he saw that not only was Joyce not alone, but that her rather hostile appearing tablemate was the consort of William the Bloody! Drucilla the Mad, the waif-like vampire with a fondness for children, dolls and mayhem sat talking to his Joyce as though she knew her.
Dracula tried to remember the rumors about the pair of Aurelian's. He had met them both more than once over the past century, of course. His history was more with William than Drucilla, however. She was too volatile for Vlad's taste and William the Bloody was welcome to her and her fits and starts!
What Dru might be doing with this California woman, his planned bride, was beyond him. Dracula looked about expecting to see the slim, compact body of Dru's long time lover only to sense that he was the only other vampire in the café. His curiosity roused, he hid himself and began to eavesdrop shamelessly.
"That poor boy was destroyed all right, but by you. He wept in my kitchen for hours over your cheating! You should be ashamed hurting him like that after a hundred years of his taking care of you!" Joyce couldn't get the memory of Spike and his pain filled face out of her mind now that his former paramour sat opposite her.
"I tried to tell him he shouldn't waste his time grieving for your relationship if you were so quick to throw it away just because he helped Buffy keep that nasty Angel from sucking the world into hell. He only did it for you, you know." Joyce sighed in exasperation at the other woman. "I was there the night he offered to help Buffy stop Angel. His whole focus was on protecting you.
"Not whole, already 'alf 'ers even then 'e was. 'E can deny it as much as 'e want's to but I know 'is 'eart. Loves 'ard 'e does, and true. Used to be me 'e loved, now it's 'er." Dru looked sad for a moment. "She can't even see 'im though. All that love, power, strength in 'em. Woman loved by Spike's right lucky she is and that silly chit's not able to see past the fangs. I didn't leave 'im, 'e was already gone where it matters, in the 'eart."
"I really don't know what you're talking about, Drucilla. He and Buffy are always arguing and Buffy is dating this soldier. I understand you seem to think that Spike is somehow involved with Buffy, but you couldn't be further from the truth," Joyce shook her head in frustration. "Buffy's the slayer. She made that mistake once with Angel and she's not likely to again. Besides, Spike still loves you."
"Better for 'im if 'e did." Dru looked down at the table, shoulders slumping. "Kill 'im she will. Won't even know 'ow special 'e is till
e's dust. Too late for anyone then."
Dracula had nearly drawn attention to himself at the word 'Slayer'. 'So! Joyce not only knows about vampires, but also is the mother of the Slayer! No wonder I thought I had heard the name Summers! Well, this is interesting."
He weighed his options. Should he go on with his plan to wine, dine and turn the lovely Joyce, reveling in the knowledge that she was the mother of the current Slayer or should he use his acquaintance to better advantage somehow? After all, a Slayer bride would be more prestigious than a Slayer's mother as a bride would be. This would require a bit more time and planning. Tonight would have to hold at the wine and dine and leave the turning for another time and place.
He turned his ear back to the odd and unexpected conversation still going on between the women.
"If you would just see him talk about you, Drucilla, you'd know how much he still cares about you." Joyce ignored the little voice in the back of her mind that was questioning why she would want to see Spike suffer more years tied to the insane woman sitting across from her. Joyce liked Spike, saw the potential for good in him. If he did reunite with Drucilla that potential would never be fulfilled. Surely she should be urging the vampiress to leave William alone instead of reunite.
"Too late. I have to find my 'appiness where I can now. 'E's 'ers now no matter if she wants 'im or not. The stars have ordered it and it can't be undone." Dru had begun the odd swaying and humming again finally smiling at Joyce before rising. "Your new girlie will love 'im though. "E always wanted a lil sis. "E'll just have to do with the love of Dawn."
Joyce knew that Dru had obviously slipped into the madness that was never far from the surface if the tales were true. "I don't think Spike gives sunrise much thought any more even though he was nearly suicidal last year. Perhaps you should go on and let him move on as well after all."
Joyce began to worry that this creature would harm Vlad if Dru were still here when the Count arrived as expected at any moment. "Haven't you got places to go, people to terrify?"
"Yes." Dru looked off as if seeing things no one else would be able to see. "I need to plan Miss Ann's birthday party. She's been ever so naughty. She ran her fingers, sticky with pomegranate juice, all over 'er lovely new frock. I might just 'ave to make 'er watch while all the other dollies eat cake and not let 'er 'ave a single bite!" She looked once more at Joyce, sanity seemingly returned. "You let 'im in and 'e'll nip 'er. Serve 'er right taking my pretty William." With that the dark haired vampiress glided away and out of the café.
Dracula waited until Drucilla was long gone before he approached the table with the lovely Joyce Summers, now even more valuable a contact than he had originally thought.
"I am so terribly sorry for being late, beautiful Joyce. My business ran a bit long and I was not able to reach you to let you know of my delay. I hope you can forgive my terrible manners in making such a charming lady languish in a café waiting for me to conclude such mundane affairs as a simple business transaction." He was all suave charm and apologies.
Joyce beamed up at her handsome date and reassured him, "Not at all, Vlad. I've just been enjoying some of the more exotic people that are out and about here." She glanced at her watch before continuing, "Besides, you aren't very late it's only a quarter to eight now. I understand many people dine later in Europe. We'll simply be fashionable. The night is young after all."
"As are you, my lovely, as are you." He kissed her hand sending a thrill of chills up her arm. His lips were cool and dry. She longed to find out how they would feel on her lips, if they would remain dry or become wet as passions flared. She felt her heart race at the thought.
Vlad smirked inwardly as he heard the changing heart rate. Oh yes, he would likely be able to achieve many legendary deeds thanks to his lucky meeting with this one! Perhaps he would still turn her, after he met and turned the Slayer of course. A mother and daughter would be a new addition to his family. He had never sired women related to one another before and the idea had a certain appeal.
"Come, Joyce, Chef Pacaud does the most exquisite things with veal and his bouillabaisse is renowned." He had lightly placed his hand under her elbow and begun to escort her out of the Café. "Perhaps when we have dined I can introduce you to the joys of Absinthe. It has a reputation that is not deserved any longer, but it is still one of those things one must experience before dying I think."
Joyce looked slightly nervous but game. "Isn't that supposed to drive a person mad? I really don't think I want any more madness in my life." She laughed lightly at his raised eyebrow.
"Those stories were greatly exaggerated. You need not fear, lovely Joyce, I'll let no harm come to such a treasure as you are." Vlad tucked her arm through his bent one and led her towards the famed restaurant. "I shall take very good care of you."
"Well then, I guess I'm in your hands then." Joyce smiled up at him. This was the first time she noticed how much taller he was than she was. He had a regal carriage that showed off his long, slim frame to an advantage as well. Joyce was proud to be seen on the arm of such a man.
"You know, I travel a good deal and will be coming to Southern California in a few months time. Perhaps we could meet again there?" Dracula began dropping the first of his hints.
"That would be lovely! If you do come to my part of the world, well you'll always be welcome to come for a visit. Maybe I could show you that the French aren't the only ones who can cook by having you over for dinner?" Joyce was beyond delighted to think that this might turn out to be more than a one-date affair in a foreign city. "Maybe my daughter will have some free time and you can meet her as well."
"So, Joyce, this town where you live. What is its name again?" She never noticed the dark, calculating look on his face as he asked the all-important question.