March 1955

Our suite at the Hôtel de Crillon was beyond extravagant. Upon entering, I wondered if there had been some mistake, and we'd been ushered into a royal palace. The gold-leafed paneling; silk drapery; marble columns; dark, hardwood furnishings, upholstered in red velvet; and exotic, purple orchids, placed just so throughout the rooms surrounded us in opulence we had yet never known.

We had a separate lounge, where we could entertain upwards of twenty guests, judging by the scandalously decadent furnishings.

We even had a terrace: a broad outdoor walkway which boasted a breathtaking, unimpeded view of the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais.

"Oh, Jasper!" Alice gushed. "Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?" She twirled throughout the rooms, in utter raptures at the suite Carlisle and Esme had gifted us for our five-year anniversary. She paused in her dance to briefly cradle the delicate, wine-colored blossom of an orchid between her fingers.

"Indeed I have." I smiled, admiring her unconsciously graceful pose, while she bowed in adoration over the small detail. Her loveliness outshone everything in the world, as far as I was concerned. Beauty radiated from her like a magical, eternal, symphony.

Her ocher eyes met mine, sparkling with pleasure at my compliment.

"So, do you want to stay here and rest for awhile before we go out?" I teased.

The corner of my wife's mouth quirked up in an adorable, smirking smile.

A human couple would have been exhausted after what we'd been through: half a day in the air, two plane changes, and gaining fifteen hours. We should be ready to collapse and sleep well into the following afternoon.

But, immortal creatures of the night that we were, we were both wide awake and full of giddy anticipation for our adventure. This was the first time either of us had traveled beyond the borders of North America. The world around us was swirling with a dizzying palette of tantalizing new sights, sounds, and smells.

"Come with me," I held out my hand to her, a gesture she seemed powerless to refuse, and led her out onto the wide terrace.

The cool night still enveloped the city. From our high vantage point, we could watch the lazy cars, coming and going along the distant streets, and the shining lights adorning the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais. Alice's eyes scanned over the Egyptian obelisk and bubbling fountains of the Place de la Concorde, toward the Musée d'Orsay, and out beyond the Tuileries Gardens.

"I feel like we own Paris," she breathed.

I chuckled. "I think Paris might be slightly out of our price range, darling. But you can borrow it for the next week or so."

I pulled her against my chest and wrapped my arms around her shoulders, as though she needed protection from the chill night air. She leaned back into me happily, her keen eyes taking in the breathtaking view in such detail that an eagle would be jealous.

The feeling of holding Alice in my arms was one I had not grown used to. And I hoped I never did. It was like cradling a priceless work of art, like embracing a hurricane, and like clinging to a powerful magical charm all at the same time.

"So, you never answered my question," I reminded her.


She sounded as though I'd pulled her from some other train of thought. That was understandable. With her body pressed so intimately against mine, I would have been surprised if she didn't notice my growing...distraction, too.

I leaned in and murmured into her ear, "Would you like to go out? Or would you prefer to spend the night pretending to sleep in this absurdly extravagant suite?"

I felt her thrill in anticipation and desire at the suggestion, and I had my answer.

"Well," she said. "Staying in tonight would be the appropriately human thing to do." She backed into me, pressing her body more firmly into mine, eliciting a groan from me in response. "Besides, I'm starting to think all that traveling has taken its toll. It seems we might need some time to recuperate."

She turned to face me, smiling innocently. Her hands reached up to wind around my neck, pulling my face down to her level, and she kissed me softly.

"Then we had better take it easy," I agreed against her lips.

White hot fire coursed through my veins as her fingers slid down my chest and found their way from the soft linen of my shirt to the taut, dense cotton of my trousers.

I instantly scooped Alice into my arms and, not bothering to check my speed, hurled us back indoors in a swiftness that would have made us a blur to any observers.

Avoiding the inviting bed, as the mattress would surely be drenched in human scent, we collapsed together on the thickly carpeted floor of our bedroom. Her fingers deftly plucked apart the buttons of my shirt. I carefully peeled the dress away from her body, casting the oyster-colored silk aside, then hungrily folded her into my arms.

A cool breeze rustled the silk drapery through the open terrace doors. The gentle wind washed over our bodies, carrying the exotic sounds and scents of the city with it, as we recklessly made love on the burgundy-carpeted floor.

The dark hours of the night slipped by almost unnoticed as we surrendered ourselves to the delightful clutches of passion. And when the muted light of dawn finally peeked through our windows - made all the more eloquent by a soft, gasping cry escaping Alice's lips - we finally collapsed, still entwined, into satisfied repose.

"We could just stay in here all week," I suggested, stroking the slender, satin-smooth arm draped across my chest.

"Tempting..." Alice, murmured into my neck, sending a shiver down my spine.

"I can call the bell desk," I offered. "...have them buy us some souvenirs to take back home..."

We chuckled together. Right now, that idea sounded ridiculously appealing.

She shyly reached up to twist a lock of my honey-blonde hair through her fingers. I grazed my knuckles lightly down her arm and along her torso, feeling the tremors of happiness this aroused in her.

"The sun has risen," I breathed. A breeze rustled the translucent curtains, as if to emphasize my statement.

"Mmhmm." She smiled. "Where should we go first?"

"We're fairly close to the Rue Saint Honoré and the Louvre. I believe the Sacre Cœur isn't far, either. Or, if you prefer, we could simply visit all the bridges over the Seine, and you can decide which one is your favorite."

She stretched up to kiss the tip of my nose. "Why don't we just start walking and see what happens?"

I smiled, easily agreeing to that plan.

Alice sighed reluctantly and moved to stand.

Without considering it first, I impulsively grabbed her wrist, pulled her back, and crushed my lips into hers, catching her by surprise.

She immediately responded to the gesture, moaning and gripping fistfuls of my hair to hold herself against me.

When I finally released her, she was breathing rapidly again. Her eyes smoldered with the promise of amaranthine passion waiting to be discovered. A wry smile quirked at her mouth.

She was so rarely surprised by anything. It had become a sort of game for me: an endless challenge to surprise the woman who could see the future. It always pleased her when I succeeded.

I grudgingly let her stand and she tossed me a garment bag. It contained a white button-down, black vest, red tie, and charcoal wool trousers. I donned the outfit dutifully.

Alice was probably the only woman in the world who could get away with wearing a black, silk cocktail dress outside during the day. The daring garment fell just to her knees, draped to the side, and gathered in a bow at her hip. She added long opera gloves, then finished the outfit with a black wide-brimmed hat.

She looked positively sinful.

She caught me staring at her and winked. Then offered me my sport-coat and fedora.

Oh, right. We were going out.

The fair city of Paris was shrouded in clouds and a low morning mist when we ventured onto the cobblestone of the Place de la Concorde.

Alice paused to admire one of the enormous sparkling fountains, a tribute to the gods of the sea.

Among the gathered humans surrounding the fount was a small, solitary girl. The child was staring into the spraying water, fascinated.

Alice noticed her, and offered the brown-eyed girl a ten Franc coin to toss into the fountain. The child accepted it, eyed Alice speculatively, then dashed away with the coin clutched tightly in her fist.

Alice just laughed.

"What's so funny?" I asked. "She didn't even make her wish."

"I'm pretty sure what she wishes for is a bag of licorice drops," Alice explained. "And she knows that she can't buy them if she throws her ten Francs into the fountain."

Still chuckling, Alice took my hand and we strolled slowly toward the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Rows of carefully pruned horse chestnuts lined the street, like proud sentries for the cinemas, cafés, and luxury specialty shops.

Towering brick and stone buildings crowded against one another down the length of the broad avenue, sparing no room between them for a hidden alley or dark corner. About a mile ahead of us, the Arc de Triomphe stood proudly in the center of Place de l'Étoile, a circular intersection of twelve avenues. The monument seemed to draw us steadily along, past the scores of impressive shops lining the street, vying for our attention.

Crowds of Parisians and tourists were out and about now, milling around, chatting with one another, laughing, and quarreling.

As we passed by, many a head turned and many a conversation was interrupted. People stopped to stare at the breathtaking beauty at my side. One gentleman even commented, after a startled gasp, "La plus belle femme du monde sur la plus belle avenue dans le monde!"

I had to agree with him, at least about the belle femme.

In the back of my mind, I was toying with an idea, something I wanted to do for Alice. I wanted to surprise her somehow. Not just a sudden kiss or inconsequential change in plans, but a real surprise.

That was far easier said than done. It may be difficult to keep a secret from an average woman, and it may be a monumental task to keep one from a vampire woman, but it was very nearly impossible to keep anything from Alice. She was not hindered by frivolous challenges, like distance or lack of evidence. Her mind worked on a whole different plane, one that transcended time and space, ferreting out future events in their embryonic forms long before mere immortals could discern them. Was it any wonder that I looked on her as nothing less than a goddess?

I had to restrain myself. I couldn't make any actual plans. I couldn't decide on anything. The moment a decision was made, the secret was at risk of being discovered.

What could I do to please her? I started considering my options.

I might hire a musician to serenade us from the street below our terrace.

No, she would see that coming long in advance.

I might find a party for us to attend. We could go dancing; she loved to dance.

No, that, too, included far too much planning.

Was there somewhere I could take her - a romantic, surprise destination?

No, that was impossible. Even if I led her somewhere under false pretenses, she would see through the ruse with her clear, all-seeing visions.

I might buy something for her, a special souvenir from our first world adventure?

That might be possible. If she were sufficiently distracted in the time leading up to the purchase, she might see not see it. Then, if I were undecided about when I would give the item to her - perhaps reserving it for our fiftieth anniversary - she might not notice.

I snuck a surreptitious glance at her as my mind settled on the vague plan.

She was smiling softly, watching an elderly couple as they strolled, hand-in-hand, down the other side of the street.

Her eyes shifted slightly, catching the change in our future, then she looked up at me.

"You want to go shopping?" She sounded slightly skeptical. I was rarely interested in shopping.

"Not yet. But it might be nice to browse the shops a little today. Perhaps we could visit a bookstore?"

Her brow furrowed in slight suspicion. But my only plan so far was to wander aimlessly through stores - if that was agreeable to her, of course.

Her suspicion faded and she nodded. Then excitement lit up her eyes. "There is somewhere I would like to visit, too, if you don't mind."


She led us around the Place de l'Étoile, and soon we were making our way down Avenue Montaigne, another lovely street lined with trees and lavish shops.

"This place just opened and I've been dying to see it," she gushed.

"Shoes, purses, or clothing?" I chuckled, knowing her weakness for fashion.

"Couture, of course," she answered, raising her eyebrows loftily.

Alice tugged me toward a five-story, stone building with gilded lettering on the outside that read: "The Grande Boutique".

"The Paris fashion scene is obsessed with Christian Dior's new look," she explained, smiling brightly.

"If you say so." I didn't even pretend to understand what she'd just said.

She laughed. "Don't worry, Jazz. I'll try to restrain myself."

We wandered through the front door into the boutique. Racks of dresses, hats, skirts, and blouses were arranged sparsely through the area. The atmosphere in the bright, open room was airy and light. Everything was white on white, only interrupted by the contrast of striking black and softly colorful clothing.

Delight surged within Alice, cascading over me in a sudden wave.

"Oh, I like this!" she breathed. Her eyes, wide and shining, wandered around the brilliant room.

"Which one?" I would buy it for her, whatever it was. Anything that could produce such happiness would belong to her instantly.

But she shook her head. "Not the clothes, the room. It's so open, so a small world where nothing is ever hidden in shadows." Her voice turned wistful at the end.

I reeled over this revelation, wondering if it were possible to buy the boutique and have it shipped back to the states.

No, probably not. But I might just have a talk with Esme when we got back...

"Bienvenue à La Grande Boutique!" a saleslady greeted us, interrupting my musing.

Alice immediately claimed the woman's undivided attention. The two were soon engaged in an intense conversation, entirely in French, that undoubtedly would lead to us purchasing more luggage before returning home.

Standing in a boutique that was clearly designed solely for women's fashions, I started to feel a bit out of place. I found a chair in the corner and straddled it, resting my arms on the back, and followed my wife with devoted eyes. She floated about the room, employees following at her heels and attending to her like royalty.

She was distracted. This was good.

Under normal circumstances, any change at all in our future would catch Alice's attention, like movement seen out of the corner of the eye. But with so much concentration being spent on clothes-shopping at a famous boutique in Paris, she might not notice a slight shifting of events.

While Alice was asking her questions, having her measurements taken, and specifying details for customized articles, I thought back to all we had seen on our walk here. With my perfect vampire memory, I could recall every detail of every item I'd glimpsed in store windows or through open doors. Had there been something, anything at all, that would be meaningful to Alice?

I remembered a long mink coat upon which her eyes had lingered. But, though she would like it, the coat wasn't particularly special. Also, it would be difficult to conceal such a bulky item.

Something small, then.

There were several jewelry stores along the Champs-Élysées. I thought through all the glittering items I'd seen boldly displayed. There had been many lovely things, and I could see Alice appreciating any one of them. Pearls, diamonds, rubies, opal, gold, and silver danced through my mind as I recalled every minute detail of each costly adornment.

I suppressed a sigh of disappointment when none of them stood out. Perhaps there was something inside one of these stores that would suit her? I'd have to go look...

But how would I keep my plans from Alice? She was distracted at the moment, but she wouldn't be for much longer.

There was no help for it. I gave up trying to think through the possibilities, leaving my plans as vague prospects, ideas upon which I may or may not act.

Alice was finishing up a conversation with a clipboard-wielding woman. They seemed to be coming to an agreement; the lady smiled and thanked Alice for our business.

My pixie-like wife turned and grinned at me. "I think we're finished here for today," she announced.

"Already?" I asked slyly, standing to take her hand.

I vaguely noticed the flicker of lust, quickening of breath, and accelerating heart rate of the saleswoman.

"Such a patient man!" she admired, in a thick French accent. "You are a very lucky woman."

"Je le sais," Alice agreed, eying me hungrily in a way that sent a delicious surge of warmth through my body.

I chuckled and rolled my eyes, knowing perfectly well that neither female was commenting on my patience.

Alice and I ambled back out into the cool, cloudy day. Most of the people seemed to be crowding into cafés and restaurants for an afternoon meal.

Having no need for food or desire for rest, we passed by the quaint establishments, listening to the cheerful clinking of crystal and boisterous babble of voices within.

As we approached the Place de l'Étoile again, Alice wanted to get a closer look at the Arc de Triomphe. We crossed the busy street and wandered through the thin crowd surrounding the archway, admiring the ornamental decorations carved in the colossal stone monument.

"It's very impressive," she whispered, staring up, wide-eyed, at the hundred and sixty foot structure. "And to think, it was built under the reign of King Louis Phillippe."

"You say that like it's ancient," I said, raising an eyebrow.

She regarded me quizzically.

I leaned down to whisper in her ear. "This monument is only ten years older than I am," I reminded her.

"Oh!" she gasped.

I laughed at her dumbfounded expression and the crazy jumble of emotions bubbling up within her.

"It is rather impressive," I allowed.

We laughed together and continued on our way.

The low clouds were darkening overhead, filling the atmosphere with dense humidity, enriching all the smells that swirled through the streets. The burning mixture of human scents hung heavy around us as we continued down the lane. We were both well-fed in preparation for our vacation, though. So the tempting, warm bustling of delicious humans was relatively easy to ignore.

As we were making our way past a familiar corner, I looked up at the building next to us with a burst of inspiration.

"Why don't we stop in here for a bit?" I suggested. "After today, I'm sure we could use some more luggage."

Her eyes flickered up to the golden sign on the side of the building, which proclaimed, "Louis Vuitton" to whomever might be passing.

"That's a perfect idea," she agreed. She clasped my hand and danced through the doors, pulling me along with her.

I followed her for a few minutes through the store while she perused the merchandise: beige and brown trunks bearing the signature quatrefoil and flower print of the company. Then I ventured to make another suggestion.

"I'd like to browse some of the other shops, if you don't mind, while you decide how much additional luggage we'll need."

She raised an eyebrow at me.

"I saw a bookstore a couple of buildings down," I continued casually. "I was thinking I might pick up some new reading material."

I felt a hint of mischief flicker through her. A soft, sensual smile played at her lips. She cast a sultry look at me. "I might find some way to interrupt your reading, though."

I was caught off guard by her amorous mood and suggestive response. My mouth fell open with a gasp. My whole body erupted in a blaze of white-hot desire at the simple, unexpected, evocative statement.

Still gazing at me, her eyes suddenly widened, her pupils dilated, and her breath hitched in her throat.

I realized, a moment too late, that I had just broadcast my explosion of lust throughout the entire room.

I made an effort to restrain the emotion, then pulled her into me for a relatively chaste kiss.

"You have no idea what you do to me, do you?" I growled into her ear.

"I'm beginning to get an idea," she breathed.

I let my fingers linger in the curve of her spine for a moment, enjoying the trembling pleasure the small, intimate contact evoked in her. Then I left her to her own devices and wandered out the door. The few men I passed on my way out were shifting uncomfortably in confusion and embarrassment.

There was a bookstore two shops down. And I did plan to go to there and buy something to read - though I would apparently not get the chance to do any reading while we were here.

I even went so far as to decide that, when I was done at the bookstore, I would return to the Louis Vouitton boutique to check on Alice's progress. From there...I was not decided.

There was a purpose to all my careful planning. If Alice decided to check on me for some reason, she would see that I intended to do exactly what I'd told her. Then, hopefully, she would be satisfied and not pay any more attention to me.

I spent a few minutes in the bookstore, browsing through the leather-bound pages of several tomes.

I selected an album of watercolor paintings, by a Japanese artist who'd lived in Paris eighty years earlier. The pictures were lovely: simple but elegant depictions of birds and flora in natural, idealistic scenes.

With my book purchased and in hand, I meandered back out to the avenue. I paused and listened carefully, discerning Alice's high, light voice over the crowds. She was describing specifications for a set of custom-made trunks.

Did they even offer custom-made products? I shook my head, marveling at the untold power my small, compelling wife wielded.

I decided to casually wander through the shops on my way back to the luggage store. This was an acceptable shift for Alice to see, small and inconsequential. She might not even notice my change in plans.

The first building I entered was a watch store. The small timepieces shone golden against a backdrop of black velvet in their cases. But I was not interested in watches.

The next building was a jewelry store. I'd already seen everything in their display windows, and none of it had appealed to me. I decided to take a look around inside, anyway.

The rich, pungent aroma of wood polish and leather mingled with an array of human scents in the sales floor. Dark hardwood floors supported black cases with shining golden handles on their drawers. The walls were papered in a pattern of deep ochre and shimmering gold. The individual displays inside the cases were small and set apart, so every item stood out as unique. Tiny electric lights showcased the costly adornments behind protective glass.

I paced slowly around the room, scrutinizing each piece carefully. I didn't really expect to find...

A subtle glistening of gold and crimson caught my eye from the far end of the room. I paced across the floor to examine my discovery more closely. Not that I needed the proximity to see it clearly, but this treasure almost seemed to be calling out to me.

The necklace itself was a braided coil of gold. Dangling from the cord, two thinner bands of gold encircled a large, crimson, tear-shaped bead of jasper, like a thick shining drop of the richest blood.

I took a moment to fight down my excitement. I battled internally with my desire to immediately purchase this perfect piece of jewelry and give it to Alice at the first possible opportunity.

I couldn't have any plans to give this to her. Or, if I did, they had to be in the far future. Distant enough that she would not notice. In fact, it was possible that she'd already seen a vision of me in the shop next door, purchasing this necklace for her.

My best bet was to do it quickly, to get the event safely in the past as swiftly as possible.

I didn't bother haggling over the price with the store owner. I thrust a thick handful of cash at him the moment he took the necklace out of the case.

With the necklace securely wrapped in a small, rectangular velvet box, I tucked it into my inner coat pocket. Maybe I could give it to her as soon as we...?

I stopped myself. Any decisions I made, sooner than a decade from now, were at risk of immediate discovery.

Patting down the fabric of my coat, where my secret was concealed, I wandered back to the luggage store next door.

I couldn't imagine the stroke of luck I'd had in finding such an item. It wasn't the largest piece of jewelry in the store, nor the most costly. But the way it had been constructed made me think that there was someone out there who knew us, who knew I would be looking for a gift for my wife, and had made this one, quintessential piece with Alice in mind.

A blood-red heart of jasper, protected by eternal orbs of gold. Could it be more perfect?

The next several decades would feel like eternity.

When I returned to the luggage store, Alice was surrounded by a small crowd of very helpful male employees, who were practically panting as they fell over themselves to cater to her every whim.

My low, possessive growl alerted her to my presence.

She flashed a brilliant smile at me. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

I beat back a wave of suspicion before it could escape me. Did she know? Maybe not. It was possible she was simply asking about the book.

"I found a collection of rather beautiful paintings. Something that can easily be interrupted, I might add."

Her grin shifted from pleased to slightly shy.

What I wouldn't give to be able to borrow Edward's mind-reading talent sometimes!

I walked toward her, resisting the urge to radiate deathly terror toward the human males as they retreated from my advance like a school of fish from a shark.

"Are you nearly finished here?" I asked.

"Yes, I think I've decided." She turned to an older, bespectacled man, and rattled off her final order in smooth, liquid French.

"Your accent has improved quite a bit," I noted. Just this morning, anyone would have known she was an American.

"Thank you." She beamed at me. "All this practice has helped, I think."

I offered her my arm, and we walked out into the chilly, amethyst evening.

The heavy sky was darkening quickly as the sun set. The street lamps were lit, flooding the area with their coral glow. A moist gust of cool wind buffeted the trees. I noticed that some of the humans hugged themselves for warmth. And Alice was wearing a sleeveless dress.

I waited until she was peeking into a store window to quickly relocate the jewelry box to my pants pocket before offering her my coat. She accepted it, pulling it tightly around her frame and smiling appreciatively, as though the wool garment actually provided her with warmth. I smiled back, wrapping my arm around her shoulder and escorting her slowly back in the direction of the hotel.

In the muted amber glow of the street lamps, the thinning crowd of humans didn't pay us much attention. We were just another young couple, one pair among many.

Alice paused again at one of the extravagant stone fountains in the Place de la Concorde. Her eyes roamed over the ornamental structure, taking in the beautifully carved Roman tridents and river naiads. Her eyes seemed to follow individual droplets of water as they spouted from the mouths of fish, and cascaded from the top of the fountain into the basin.

"Would you like to make a wish?" I asked.

Happiness trembled from her at my suggestion.

I immediately produced a one-hundred Franc coin for her amusement.

She lightly took the copper and nickel sphere in her gloved fingers; her golden eyes smoldered up into mine. "What should I wish for?"

I smiled down at her knowingly. "Oh, I think you already had something in mind, even though it's something you already own."

"I do?" she asked innocently. But a teasing quirk of her lips told me she knew I'd caught her.

"Yes, darling. I already belong to you, completely and absolutely."

She pursed her lips, fighting back a smile as she tried to play innocent. "Then I should think of something else. I wouldn't want to waste my wish."

I watched as she considered for a moment; then, with a quick flick of her fingers, she sent the coin soaring through the air. It plopped daintily into the tumbling water of the upper vasque, hidden from sight.

"What did you wish for?" I asked, wrapping my arm around her shoulder again.

She took a deep breath, then let it out with a sigh, leaning into my embrace. "Oh, I think I'll keep it a secret for awhile."

I chuckled at her and bent to kiss her hair. "Whatever it is, I'm sure it will come true."

She turned her face up to me, stretching up to meet her mouth to mine.

Her lips, like silken pedals, never failed to awaken deep, primal longings. Like a meeting of powder and fire, the contact kindled an explosive, consuming passion. Though it may have appeared chaste to the casual observer, our kiss was anything but innocent as burning desire surged beyond the confines of my body, enveloping the object of my ardor, and drawing her along with it.

She pulled back slightly. Her exquisite eyes, like two yellow flames, regarded my expression.

"I think we'd better get back to our room," she whispered.

A small smile pulled at the corner of my mouth in agreement.

Alice had my hand clasped tightly in hers and was impatiently dragging me back to the hotel before I could make any other response.

When we arrived at our suite, I didn't have a chance to hide the rectangular box tucked in my pocket. I only hoped Alice didn't notice the additional bulge in the fabric of my trousers before it was buried in a mound of clothing on the floor.

Alice threw herself at me the moment she was free of her attire. Her forceful exuberance landed us on the floor, once more curling together gracefully in the thick carpet - a deep burgundy that seemed to blush at our display.

My lips and tongue explored her neck, cherishing her silky flesh, from the hollow behind her ear, down her throat, and finally tracing the solitary crescent scar over her jugular: a lonely imperfection on her otherwise flawless alabaster skin.

Her body trembled against mine. A soft, feminine moan broke from her lips.

Dull thunder rumbled in the distance. A gust of wind whistled against the doors to the terrace.

"A storm is coming." Alice shuddered as my mouth leisurely worked from her throat down to her navel. Scorching waves of desire surged from her body at every touch.

"Good," I said.

That was the end of our conversation for the next several hours.

The thunderstorm drifted steadily closer. The wind raged and ebbed at intervals. Rain pattered helplessly against the windows as our nocturnal passion relentlessly built to its zenith. White flashes of lightning pierced the purple darkness of our room. A crash of thunder, rattling our windows, was overshadowed by Alice's gasping, shuddering cry.

Momentarily spent, we lay silently together, entwined on the floor. Her head rested against my chest and she hummed in pleasure as I traced my fingers up and down the soft curve of her spine.

"Is this what you wished for?" I asked quietly.

She laughed, then sighed. "Not quite."

"Then what was it?" I was curious, and helpless to do anything but grant her every heart's desire.

She brought her arms up under her chin, propping her face up so she could see mine.

"I don't know if you really want to know." She frowned slightly.

"I want to know everything about you, Alice," I said. Now I was extremely curious.

Her frown didn't fade, but I felt the little happiness bubble up at my words.

"Jazz, would you do something for me?" she asked.

"Anything." Especially when she called me "Jazz".

Her eyes glistened, and her lower lip pouted out a little more. I had to resist the sudden urge to take that lip into my mouth and bite it.

"Please," she begged. "Please don't make me wait fifty years to wear that necklace?"

"AUGH!" I dropped my head back to the floor and threw my arm over my eyes. "How did you see it? I was so careful!"

"I know, Jazz. And, you did really well! It almost worked," she tried to console me.

"How?" I asked again, opening my eyes to scrutinize her. "Did you notice the box in my trouser pocket?"

She shook her head, snickering. "That wasn't it. I was wondering why you were taking so long coming back from the bookstore. I was worried, so I checked on you. I must have caught you at just the right time." She smiled in apology.

I closed my eyes again, groaned, then let out a defeated sigh.

"Can I have it now?" Alice whispered.

I nodded mutely.

She climbed off my body to retrieve the black velvet box from our pile of discarded clothes.

I sat up to watch her.

"It is very thoughtful of you, Jasper," she murmured, tracing her fingers along the gilded lips of the still-closed box. Her breathy voice mingled with the sound of the wind, sighing against the stone walls of the building.

"When I saw it...I had to make it yours," I admitted. "It seemed to already belong to you."

Her hesitant fingers made one more pass at the shining gold closure, then she pushed open the lid.

A reflection of red and gold sparkled in the moisture of her gaze. The crimson jasper mingled with the shining bands of gold, swirling together like a sunset in her eyes.

"Oh!" she gasped softly, and her dainty fingers caressed the blood-red gemstone. She was enchanted.

"I thought you already saw it," I said.

"Beauty is best seen with real eyes," she said, lifting her gaze from the simple, elegant ornament to look at me.

"Would you like to wear it?"

She nodded.

I lifted the gold cord from the box and wrapped it around her neck, clasping it securely at the back. The pendant rested comfortably in the little divot between her collar bones. The heart of jasper glistened happily and the golden bands winked shyly as lightning flashed through our windows.

"How does it look?" she asked, glowing with satisfaction.

I let my eyes wander up and down her tantalizing body, adorned only with jasper and gold. "You enhance its beauty quite well."

She threw her arms around my neck, kissing me hungrily. I responded immediately, pulling her into my lap and kissing her back.

"It's perfect..." she gasped in the brief moments our lips parted. " perfect."

I grinned to myself. A repetitive Alice was a very happy Alice.

"I only wish I could have surprised you with it," I murmured against the skin under her jaw.

"Jasper..." She pulled away and smiled at me indulgently, flashing the little dimple on her left cheek. "I don't need surprises to be happy."

I sighed and smiled wryly back at her before claiming her mouth with mine again.

The storm was rolling beyond us; the flashes of light and echoing thunder continued, but each one was a little further away than the last. The wind relaxed to a gentle caress against the windows, as though finally giving up in its attempt to tear down the steadfast building.

I lay my wife back onto the blood-red carpet; her milky flesh seemed to glow in contrast. My fingertips lightly traced the skin behind her ear, then brushed against her throat. She shivered in pleasure as my hand reverently found its way down her torso.

"Maybe you don't need to be surprised," I agreed, feeling the all-consuming happiness flooding her body.

"I really don't," she gasped.

I grinned. "Still, that doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying."