This is fanfiction based on characters created by J. Parriott and B. Cohen for
the TV series Forever Knight and no copyright infringement is intended.
I hereby give permission for this story to be archived.
Ro Hart (DarkChara@aol.com)
(this one's for you, Amber)
MidKnight Revelry 1/13
(Dedicated to Amber Murray)
Early one evening, Amber was browsing through the shelves at her local Barnes & Noble Bookstore. She was looking for a large picture book, a sort of coffee-table book, about her current favorite time-period in history: the Crusades, with castles and knights on horseback. At home she already had a lovely wall-calendar in her livingroom featuring the world's most beautiful castles and she wanted to have a book around to complete the decor-scheme. She smiled. How many other people decorated their homes like she did? Not a lot, she guessed.
She'd been through the other artsy-photo-books, the ones like "Above Yellowstone" or "Above Hawaii", but she still hadn't found the type of pictures she was looking for.
She went to the nearby computer terminal and typed in her query and pressed "search". The computer instantly came up with the subject and the department she would find it in: "History - Non-Fiction" as the first choice. The second choice read: "Historical Paintings - Art & Photography". Aha! That sounded promising!
Amber made her way to the "Art" section and she quickly found what she was looking for. As she poured over the glossy photos on each page, she was distracted by a man at the other end of the row. He was a short-ish man, balding, with a neat goatee and glasses. His skin was very, very pale. He was paging through an illustrated book on "European Fashions Throughout History" He was snickering and shaking his head.
Carrying her book, Amber went over to the man. "Excuse me, but what's so funny?" she asked him politely.
He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief, stifling another chuckle. "Oh, dear," he said, composing himself. "I'm sorry. Did I disturb you?"
"No, not at all, " she replied. "I was just curious. What's so humorous about that book? I guess those styles are pretty odd-looking, huh? I'm sure our clothes would seem just as outlandish to them!"
"Yes, well, _that's_ true!" replied the man. He boldly examined her, giving her clothes a "once-over".
Amber looked down the outfit she wore. It was just her normal casual-wear. Blue jeans, a royal-blue silk shirt, black leather jacket, and boots to match. Her favorite emerald ring was on her left hand, and her dark red hair was clasped in the back.
"You're a lovely woman, my dear. Your outfit is very fetching and totally appropriate for today. But, back then it would get you arrested for indecency - those pants on a woman! And, unless you're of noble blood, that stunning ring and your silk blouse would probably get you whipped and fined for 'dressing above your station'." His mischievous smile took the sting from his words.
"Thank God I don't live back then," she replied, smiling back at him. "I'm a totally modern person, raised to believe in the rights of the individual. And to dress, work, and behave as I like, without any of those out-dated "class-distinctions", like they still have in England."
"So I see," he said. "I couldn't imagine you any other way, my dear." Then, he continued, "I was just laughing at this author's theories. His assumption is, "The reason men's capes became so shortened in this time-period was due to a a clever plan of the king's." He read on, "The new law limited the length of a nobleman's cape to hang no lower than his hips. The king's advisors saw great profit potential in this, for the surplus wool which was saved was then exported. This increase in revenue greatly aided France's ability to trade with the Dutch for highly prized eastern goods and spices. Eventually, the extra revenue helped pay for the next war effort." He began to chuckle again.
Amber shrugged, "Is that wrong? You must be an historian." she asked him. "I'd really like to know. I'm a teacher too. Currently, I'm studying my favorite time-period, spanning the Crusades. I love to read non-fiction History books. Its fascinating to learn about ancient cultures, isn't it? Their times were so unlike our own."
The man was smirking still, but he politely nodded, "Yes, weren't they?" He held out his hand, "May I introduce myself? I'm Aristotle." He smiled at her.
She shook his hand, replying, "Harris Stottle? Pleased to meet you, Harris. I'm Amber Richardson." His hand was uncommonly cold. She shivered a little as she let go.
Something about his grin made her wonder if she'd said something funny.
But, he turned back to his book. "This author is so absurd," he chuckled. "You see, the real reason for the style change was just because the longer capes kept getting in the way during sword-fights and duels. Oh, the crown's ability to trade with the Dutch for Oriental delicacies was just a side-benefit. The king was just angry that so many good men were accidentally getting killed because of an awkward fashion choice. Besides, he _was_ trying to amass an army, and if all his potential generals were dead, he wouldn't get very far. Too many nobles lost their duels and their lives just because their cape or their opponent's cape slowed down their reaction time in blocking or swinging their swords."
"Why didn't they just take them off when the duel started?" she asked him.
Harris just shrugged, "Well, sometimes they didn't have the time. Often, though, it was a matter of pride."
Amber wasn't sure if he was pulling her leg or not. "Pride!? That sounds idiotic," she countered.
Harris laughed, "Oh, it was! You see, the first one to doff his cape gives the appearance of admitting his imminent defeat. Otherwise he'd just dispatch his opponent and go on about his business, cape and all. But, remember, my dear, men of that time held their "honor" in very high regard, and any slight, real or imagined, was not to be taken lightly. Sometimes duels would break out over a disagreement on a wager made. Or whose lady-fair was the most beautiful."
Amber laughed, then sobered. "Yeah, and we have our own stupid modern-day equivalent in the big-city gangs. If you drive through the wrong neighborhood, or if you're wearing the wrong color clothes they'll kill you. Even if you're just driving down the highway, they could pull up next to you and shoot at you. There's a lot of innocent people killed in "drive-by" shootings every day."
"Yes, " replied Harris. "Well, that just means that mankind as a whole hasn't changed much."
"Those who don't learn by history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them," quoted Amber.
"Precisely," grinned Harris. He had uncommonly white teeth, she observed.
"Would you like to chat more over a cup of tea?" she asked him, nodding toward the Starbuck's coffee-shop located towards the front of the store.
"Yes, thank you," he replied. "That would be nice."
She paid for her book at the cashier's, then they went to the coffee-counter.
"Earl Grey," she ordered. "You?" she asked Harris.
"Ah...sure. That's fine," he responded. He passed some bills to the cashier, waving her off. "Please, let it be my treat."
"Why, thank you, Harris!" Amber replied. He was certainly charming, if a bit odd.
They sat at an empty table. For a while they chatted about this and that. She told him how she became a teacher and that her goal was to someday be a published author. He admitted that he'd always been a record-keeper of sorts, and right now, he was head of a local relocation program. The way he spoke, she supposed he worked for the government. The whole thing seemed rather "hush-hush", so she didn't press him for details. She found him delightful, funny, fascinating and very well educated. She didn't realize how much time had passed until she saw the lights flicker, as a signal that the store was about to close.
"My gosh, its late!" she exclaimed, looking at her watch. "I'm so sorry for taking up all your time this evening!"
"Nonsense, my dear," replied Harris, standing. He escorted her out the door and to her car. "I had a lovely time! Meeting such a beautiful and brilliant woman is always a pleasure!" He gallantly kissed her hand before they parted and she blushed. To her surprise, his lips were as cold as his hands had been.
"Perhaps we'll meet again, here, next week?" she asked before she drove off.
"That would be nice,'" he replied. "Wednesday evening?"
"Sure! That'd be fun! Bye, Harris!" she called as she drove off.
"Au revoir!" he called.
But, when she glanced in her rear-view mirror, he was gone.
It was after 2:00 AM. Aristotle had a visitor. He turned off his monitor. No more work tonight, he sighed. Aristotle spun his chair around to greet him.
Nick had arrived without a sound, and was now pacing back and forth, back and forth. The older vampire studied him, ready for anything. But, he could guess what it was all about.
"I can't believe it," said Nick, exasperated. "Especially not from _you_!"
Aristotle just shrugged and smiled a little. "Why not from me?" he asked mildly.
Nick turned on his heel and threw the older man a look that screamed scepticism.
Aristotle turned back to his glass of blood-wine mixture. "Well, I'll admit that having mortal friends are more _your_ style, but, she's not such a bad one. Beautiful to admire, a brain so sharp I could slice air with it, and such a personality!"
Nick snorted in disbelief. "And, in the end, she'd make a good snack, right?" he sneered at Aristotle. "How long have you been seeing her?"
"About two months now. We get together every Wednesday evening for ...tea and conversation." Aristotle's tone was slightly offended. "You know, Nick, you're not the only one who finds them fascinating. If Amber had more than one lifetime's worth of existence, what a genius she'd make! She loves the older times, has studied extensively, and really likes to put herself in those places, to try to comprehend what it was like living in such different times from her own. And, before you start lecturing me, I'll say _this_ once! I am _not_ in love with her, nor she with me. We're just friends."
This phrase stopped Nick in his tracks. "I've heard _that_ one before!" muttered Nick. "Used it myself, even!"
Aristotle peered over his glasses at Nick. "I think you should meet her. You'd like her. And," said Aristotle, examining his visitor, "I _know_ she'd...like _you_ too!" He couldn't help himself - he just _had_ to waggle his eyebrows at Nick a little suggestively. It was common knowledge that Nicolas deBrabant was a magnet for females, both mortal and immortal !
Nick stopped still for a moment. His back was to Aristotle, but he could see that Nick was...considering it. Without turning, he said quietly, "Does she know what you are?"
Now it was Aristotle's turn to snort in derision. "Of course not! Do you think I'm some fledgeling?? The Enforcers would kill her, _and_ me so fast ... !"
Nick turned, grinning. Aristotle wasn't sure he liked the look in Nick's eye.
"Okay," said Nick. "I would like to meet your new...friend. And, I promise to not lay a fang on her!" He liked to tease Aristotle, who was still a bit suspicious of Nick's recent
"re-vamping". After 100 years, Nick thought to himself, you'd think Aristotle would've realized that the only thing Nick had ever _really_ changed was the fact that he didn't _kill for blood_. He had always been a consummate "sipper". And now, with all of them having to be so discreet anyway, he really wasn't the "eccentric" the Community had once considered him. It had been five years, now, since Nick had denounced his quest for mortality. Now, redemption was his goal. He realized he could do a lot more as a vampire than as a weak mortal, and he had a _lot_ of penance to do.
Handing Amber's address and phone number to Nick, Aristotle frowned at the blonde vampire for the teasing. "I don't care what you do," he sniffed. "Just don't jeopardize my Wednesday evenings!" He handed Nick another note, "An introduction for you."
Nick laughed, "Don't you trust me?"
"Now you sound just like...LaCroix!" Aristotle spat back.
Nick tried to look innocent, then, he dropped that pose and just grinned again. Aristotle threw him another dark look, then turned back to his computer.
Nick went outside and took to the skies.
It was close to 9:00 P.M. Amber was at home, sitting on her livingroom couch. Her dog Dara was curled at her (bare) feet on the floor, and her two cats, Button and Kit were curled on the far end of the sofa. Even from in here, she could faintly hear her brindle pit-bull, Gypsy, snoring on the kitchen floor.
She'd picked up a video series called "Crusades" and was watching it intently. She was dressed in an emerald-green teddy, with a cream & jade-colored silk robe over it. On the coffee table was a cup of mint tea and some raspberries, to keep her energy level up. She wanted to watch all six tapes in order and savor each one.
An hour into the first tape, she paused the machine for a quick break. When she exited the bathroom, she nearly tripped over Gypsy, who was crouched on the floor in front of the door, as if she was guarding it or something. Amber stepped over the dog, and paused to pet her. "You okay, Gypsy? Got lonely in there?" The pit-bull didn't move, but she whined in the back of her throat. Amber bent down and hugged her. "Its okay, hon. I'm here." But the dog didn't move to follow her when she stood. How odd.
When Amber got back to the livingroom, she had another strange sensation. It was as if...someone else was in the room. Or, had been. Amber instantly noticed that the cats were gone and Dara wasn't asleep anymore, but was pacing back and forth, sniffing. "What's wrong, girl?" she asked the sheltie/shepherd mix. "What do you smell, huh?" She methodically checked all her doors and windows. Nope. All locked tight. She sat on the sofa once again, a little spooked. Then, she chided herself for her overactive imagination and reached for the remote. It was then that she saw something on the table which had not been there before.
It was a card, in a red envelope. The card was white with a red rose painted on the front. Inside, in the neatest handwriting she'd seen in a long time, it read:
My dearest Amber,
After a recent visit with our mutual friend, "A"., I was encouraged to make your acquaintence. Therefore, I would like to invite you out for an evening with me. How about tomorrow night? Please phone me. Just leave your answer at the following number: 090-555-1212. Until then...
I remain, Darkly yours,
Amber found herself grinning like an idiot and then she let out a shriek, scaring her pets all over again. She stood, clutching the card to her breast, and began to jump around, yelling, "Omigod, ohmigod, omigod!" After nearly upsetting the coffeetable, Amber got a grip on herself, and with shaking hands, called the number Nick had given her.
It was a recorded message. She heard his voice. "Amber?" The way he said her name gave her a sharp thrill of desire. She was blushing! "If you are able to see me tomorrow night, please press one. If not, press two." She hit one. His voice went on. "I'm so glad. I have an evening planned for us, which you can help me customize to meet your ...desires." Ooooo! The way he _said_ that word! Amber felt another wash of arousal. "I have an evening planned for us, including dinner, a tour of Toronto, and, if you have any free time soon, perhaps a short trip to someplace...warmer. I will arrange for your clothing, transportation, and lodging. You'll receive more information early tomorrow morning." Nick's voice took on a huskier tone, "If you have any special ... needs...please mention them now."
Abruptly, Amber fell back on the couch, her knees weak. Needs!!? Like...oxygen maybe? Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? With _his_ mouth! The beep at the other end shook her out of those thoughts and she babbled, "Uh, well, Nick, thank you so much for inviting me! Special needs? Um, well," she quickly gave him a brief description of her clothing size and food preferences.
When she paused, his voice spoke from the other end again, "I'll keep this in mind. Until tomorrow, then, cherie."
The line went dead and Amber numbly switched off her phone.
Amber was glad she was already sitting down, because she was in shock. She'd known from her pets' reaction that someone had been here! And it was _him_! Nick!! Nick had been here! He not only knew who she was, he was going to take her out!!! She let out another squeal of joy and looked at the letter again.
Our mutual friend, "A". Who was that? Damn! She should've asked Nick about that! She couldn't imagine any of her friends who'd know Nick!! Unless...Of course!!
Amber ran down the hall to her in-home office. Sitting at her computer, she logged-on and quickly typed a series of e-mail messages to several of her Dark Knightie sibs. Included in each one was a copy of Nick's card and two questions:
"1. When you were _with_ Nick, did you ever mention _me_??" and
"2. If it wasn't you, can you explain to me who "our mutual friend, "A" is??"
After sending her e-mail out, she scanned the addresses on the DK members' list. Who could "A" be? She remembered those old stories she'd read by H.G.Wells and Charles Dickens, where another person was often referred to only by a letter. "H" or "C" or something. Hmmmm. Well, besides herself, there were only three others who could be "A" - or maybe that letter referred to a pseudonym? She sighed. She'd much rather be watching her tape, but she was too keyed up now. And just sitting here, waiting for a reply on-line was maddening!! She wanted to get up and pace, she wanted to jump up and down and scream, but most of all, she was frantic for an answer!!
Just then, the phone rang. She ran for it. "Hello? Angie? April? Amy?" she babbled.
There was a pause, then a familiar voice said, "Uh, sorry, no. It's just me."
Absently, she carried the portable phone with her back to the livingroom. "Oh, hi Harris," she murmured, a bit deflated.
He laughed, "You sound so disappointed, my dear. Is this a bad time? I can call back later, if you wish."
Amber instantly felt embarrassed, "No, no, Harris! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to sound like that, it's just that...that...I thought you were someone else and..." _This_ wasn't any better. "Oh, never mind," she muttered. "I'm sorry, Harris. Can I start over again?"
"Of course, my dear," he replied. He sounded like he was enjoying her frustration.
Amber cleared her throat, and said sweetly, "Hello? Harris? How wonderful to hear from you! "
The voice on the other end was polite, but she could hear the restrained laughter in his words. "Well, that's much better! Thank you, Amber!"
Chagrined, Amber replied. "Anytime, Harris. Now, what's up? Is our regular chat still on for this week?"
He sounded contrite. "I'm afraid I have to postpone our meeting for tomorrow night."
Oops! That was _tomorrow_? Amber had completely forgotten about that! She listened as Harris continued.
"I'm...uh," he sounded like he was trying to come up with an excuse, but one that wasn't _too_ absurd. "Doing some research. For...for my work. Yes! Work! I'll be gone until..." There was a pause, during which she thought she heard him place his hand over the phone mouthpiece and have a whispered conference with someone else. Then he was back. "...um, next Monday evening. I hope this doesn't disappoint you too much, my dear."
Amber was at once suspicious and relieved. Such a coincidence, that Harris should cancel just in time for her to accept Nick's invitation! But, then tomorrow night was now open for her date with Nick. Quickly, she replied, "Uh, no Harris. That's quite all right. We can reschedule for next week. I have some...uh research to do myself. On...medieval knights and their ...recreational pursuits."
She thought she heard a muffled choke on the other end and the crash of a glass hitting the floor. "Harris? Are you all right? Is anything wrong?" she asked.
"No! No, my dear. I'm fine," he spluttered. "I'll call you next Monday, okay? I'll be back in town then. Good night."
"G'night," she replied and hung up.
Amber reached for her (now cold) tea, and sipped it. She spotted Button, hiding behind her magazine rack in the corner. Button was a bit spooked, but little Kit seemed fine. She ambled out from under the chair in the corner, then stalked up to Amber, purring and demanding some love. Amber reached down and picked Kit up, letting the cat stand on her chest and nudge her hand.
As she petted Kit, she smiled at her. "What an odd conversation," Amber said to the cat. "He sounded so...funny. I wonder who that was with him?" The cat just blinked solemnly at her for a moment, then leaped to the floor and curled up next to Button. Soon, they were both asleep.
"Hmmph," said Amber. "I wish I could do that! But I'm too excited!"
Well, she thought to herself, I may as well keep myself distracted until someone calls.
Amber tried to get back into her show, but she got no farther than ten minutes more, when she heard her computer begin to automatically retrieve e-mail for her. She jumped up, not even bothering to stop the tape, and ran to her office.
Eagerly, she scanned the messages. Two of her friends were responding to her recent query. The first one, though' sympathetic, had to honestly reply, "No, it wasn't me. I was too...caught up in the moment with Nick to remember my own name, much less yours. And, sorry, but I can't even _begin_ to guess who "A" is. It _wasn't_ me."
The second reply read much the same, with the added advice for her to write all the other people on the list whose first and last names began with the letter "A". "You could also try picking the names of people/vampires that Nick knows. Check the episode guide." Hmmm. Interesting idea.
As she was reading these, two more replies came through. They weren't much more help. "Nope, sorry. It wasn't me. But, _do_ remember to post all your juicy moments to the loop, so we can _all_ enjoy!" Amber laughed at this letter, then read the next.
"Dear Amber," it started, "Have fun, but be very careful. Nick is so charming, sexy and seductive that you might forget what ... Darkness encompasses him. Remember: He Is A Vampire! Be _very_ sure of what you want from him, and _very_ specific when you ask for it. (remember how confused he gets by poetry! :) Above all, trust him. He'll sense your fear. He won't hurt you (unless you want him to!) He'll sense your veracity too, so be honest to him and to yourself. Have a wonderful time! We love you!" and the P.S.: "Don't forget to give him the password!"
This letter sent a warning shiver down her spine. It was of mixed emotions: part thrill, part terror, and extreme arousal. Suddenly, tomorrow night didn't seem so far away!
A short while ago:
On the phone with Amber, Aristotle scrambled to sound convincing and sincere. "I'm...uh," He had to come up with an excuse, but one that wasn't _too_ absurd. "Doing some research. For...for my work. Yes! Work! I'll be gone until..."
He paused, placing his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered to Nick, "How long should I be indisposed?"
"Oh, I think we might be busy through the whole weekend. Just tell her Monday," smiled the blonde vampire. He wore a smug expression.
Aristotle muttered loud enough for him to hear, "This is ridiculous! You're maddening, do you know that? I feel like a ...a " He was at a loss for words, a rare thing for him.
Nick grinned, "Pimp?"
Aristotle threw Nick a dagger-filled look and spat back, "_Procurer_!"
Then he returned to his conversation with Amber. "...um, next Monday evening. I hope this doesn't disappoint you too much, my dear."
She sounded relieved. She must've found Knight's invitation, thought Aristotle sourly. He took a swallow of blood-wine as she replied, "Uh, no Harris. That's quite all right. We can reschedule for next week. I have some...uh research to do myself. On...medieval knights and their ...recreational pursuits."
He choked on the swallow and dropped the glass on the floor, as Knight grinned lasciviously across from him. Apparently, Amber heard some of it."Harris? Are you all right? Is anything wrong?" she asked.
"No! No, my dear. I'm fine," he spluttered. "I'll call you next Monday, okay? I'll be back in town then. Good night."
"G'night," she replied and hung up.
Aristotle glared at Nick for a moment, then shook his head sadly at the broken remains of his repast. "That was one of my favorite goblets, you medieval ... lecher!"
Nick was really enjoying this. "I'll buy you a new set. From Murano, okay?" Aristotle looked a bit less angry, but still... Nick, couldn't resist. "Who is "Harris"?" He asked slyly.
Aristotle looked embarrassed, and plodded into the kitchen to fetch a broom. Before he could get back, Nick had already cleaned up the mess on the carpet and was sitting comfortably on the couch, two full goblets sitting before him on the table. "Sit down and tell me all about it," he smiled.
Aristotle slouched in the chair opposite Nick and sighed, taking off his glasses. "If you must know," said Aristotle impatiently, "it was all a misunderstanding. When we first met, she mistook me when I told her my name and has been calling me "Harris" ever since."
"Harris?" Nick said innocently, "Harris what?"
The other vampire muttered something. Nick lied, "What? I didn't quite hear that."
If looks could kill, thought Nick as he watched his old friend squirm, he'd have staked me with that one, stuffed my mouth with chopped garlic and impaled me on the top of the CN Tower at noon.
He decided to be merciful. "Harris Stottle? Was that the misnomer? How charming! And how very clever of you to adopt it, since you _are_ the one who's always telling his clients..." Here, Nick paused, then with a stern expression, he very accurately imitated Aristotle's speech-patterns. "Never give mortals your real name, never give anyone the same fake ID twice, and never, never get on any news-reporters' videotape camera." Nick broke from the characterization and smiled his best innocent-looking smile at Aristotle. "Isn't that right?"
The shorter man seethed for a few moments in the chair, then snapped back, "Yes!"
Nick couldn't help himself. He had a good, long laugh. It went on for so long and was so infectious, that after a while, Aristotle put his glasses back on and found himself laughing gently with his friend. "All, right, Nicholas! You've got me! I'm breaking my own rules, and with a pretty, young mortal too!" He sobered, then said to Nick, "Look, if word gets out about this to the Enforcers, they'll think I've gone soft! Not only will I lose my job, but my life as well! And I didn't survive all those plague-infested, witch-hunting, barbaric centuries to be staked now!" He threw Nick a knowing leer, "Not when things are finally getting so interesting!"
"Okay, okay, Aristotle. You don't have to tell _me_," replied the younger vampire. "You of all people should know how I feel about the Enforcers. And about mortals." Nick placed his hand dramatically over his heart, and declaimed: "Tho' they torture me, yea tho' they threaten me with stake and flame and holy water, I shall defend you to the last, my friend."
"Ha-ha," replied Aristotle dryly. "Okay, Nick. Off with you. Don't you have some plans to make for tomorrow? And this weekend?"
Nick swallowed the blood in his goblet in one swig and stood. "I do, and I assure you, you won't be sorry you introduced me to Amber. I will treat her like a princess and she will be a much changed woman when you see her again."
"Not _that_ changed, I hope," replied Aristotle. "Look Nick, I know you don't need a lot of practice anymore, and its not that I don't trust you, but..."
Nick's expression had darkened a bit at the implied slight. "But...?"
"Well, just don't bring her across, okay?" said Aristotle earnestly. "I mean, she's still young and she's got a bit more growing to do, and besides, I like her just the way she is!"
Nick softened his stare. "Don't worry. I would never intentionally harm Amber."
He could see Aristotle wasn't completely convinced, so he knelt down in front of Aristotle's chair and looked him straight in the eyes. He hoped his friend could see his earnestness.
"Let me assure you," Nick began, "I've long since learned to never create a vampire unless they either asked me of their own free will _and_ with _complete_ knowledge of the eternal consequences. Those that don't understand always suffer the most."
Aristotle nodded, "Yes, well, who really _does_ understand? For most of us, it's only until afterwards. Then, if you don't like it, its too late. Unless..."
"Yes," agreed Nick. "Unless they have the nerve to kill themselves. I've always had too much fear of eternal damnation to pursue that avenue, no matter how hard it got."
"Yes, my Catholic friend," said Aristotle, "but there are many religions which would consider suicide the lesser sin - perhaps, even the means of redemption."
Nick had to agree. Over 800 years, he'd come across more philosophies than he'd ever dreamed existed in his mortal days. Some were no better or worse than his 13th-Century church with its witch-hunts and Inquisitions. Some were less severe, and even had room in them for redemption for beings such as vampires.
"Well, they say you can take the boy out of the church, but you can't take the church out of the boy," said Aristotle, half-mockingly. "We all carry our child-hood traumas."
Nick thought of a few of LaCroix's predilections and shuddered, imagining what childhood traumas engendered such a twisted, pain-filled soul.This subject, fledglings, was one of the hardest ones for him to feel comfortable about. It was just Nick's nature to create, nurture, and release, whereas LaCroix's was to create, control and bind. But both he and LaCroix held one belief in common: if any of their offspring showed signs of an uncontrollable killing-lust, endangering the Community's existence, the fledgling must be controlled or destroyed. Personal traumas were one thing, but the Community safety meant the safety of every vampire that walked the earth.
"The child _does_ make the man, truly said," replied Nick. "But, I hope, with age comes wisdom and change." He stood and smiled at the thought, "And, I still feel young enough to learn new ways. I still hope for redemption. But," Nick added, "_not_ through becoming mortal again myself. I've learned that way is a dead-end."
"You said there were two situations under which you've created fledglings," reminded Aristotle. "What was the other one?"
"If they asked me of their own free will _and_ were in dire straits. You know, a fatal illness, something like that, and it was the only way to save them." Nick frowned, "I've made a few who fit both these criteria and, in the end, I still had to destroy them."
Aristotle nodded his understanding, then stood and placed a kind hand around Nick's shoulders. "We all make mistakes, Nicholas. And because of what we are, ours _do_ come back to haunt us."
Nick nodded, saying nothing. Over the past five years, he'd been working to overcome his life-long habit of blaming everything on himself. There were mistakes he'd made, and he admitted them. But after that incident when his guilt made itself manifest - slipping him close to the brink of insanity, Nick knew firsthand how dangerous _that_ indulgence was. Never again.
"Nicholas," said Aristotle, "You're such a bundle of contradictions! Sometimes, I think you've lost your mind, especially when you go all noble on me and start declaiming about "the purity of the human spirit" and so on." Aristotle paused, reading Nick's expression, which was a little introspective. Then, he went on, "And then, there's other times, when you get off your noble steed and stop being "Chevalier deBrabant" and start acting like everyone else."
At these words, Nick looked a bit sheepish. Aristotle loved pointing out to Nick when he was being pompous, but, the older vampire reminded himself, it was unavoidable. Nick had been born into nobility, and in those times, nobility had power, strength, intelligence, and a natural arrogance. Becoming a vampire often exaggerated these _finer_ points.
Aristotle continued, "The times when we play chess, when we go to a hockey game, that's when I see this other 'Nick Knight', who you show to your human friends."
Aristotle smiled slightly and asked, "Can't you just come to some nice mid-point between these two fellows? I mean, you've got a lot of history, granted, especially with LaCroix, but I want you to know, where it counts, you are one of the most respectable vampires I know. Especially since you've...come back, so to speak, and dropped that mortality quest of yours. I want you to know, Nick, that _that's_ why, above any others of our kind, I trust you."
It was true that Nick himself had rebelled many times against his Master's wishes, rules, or perversities. But he'd never _deliberately_ tried to endanger the Community or expose the existence of his fellow vampires. Actually, he'd gone out of his way to avoid telling his mortal cohorts more than he had to. Even his old confidant Natalie. Most of the times when he'd had trouble with suspicious mortals, he'd either hypnotized them or disappeared from that life rather than create the kind of trouble only death and the Enforcers could fix. Aristotle knew all this. Nicholas deBrabant had a particularly strong moral code and his word was his bond.
"Thank you, my friend," said Nick with a warm smile. "That means a lot to me." He took Aristotle's hand and clasped it, then let go.
They both exchanged good-nights, and Aristotle watched as Nick drove away in his signature Caddy. No, thought Aristotle to himself, Amber will be fine, she'll have fun, and, under Nick's influence, she'd never become a security risk to them.
The next morning was warm and sunny when Amber heard the doorbell ring. She ran to get it. A Delivery Express man was there. She signed for the thick envelope and he smiled oddly at her as nodded goodbye.
Amber tore open the packet. Inside was a letter, a blue envelope, and a plane ticket to Toronto. She read the letter while she sipped her morning cup of tea and finished her breakfast.
"Dear Amber," it read, "Enclosed please find your plane ticket to Toronto. The plane leaves this afternoon at 1:00 PM and arrives in Toronto at 3:00 PM. I have arranged for transportation for you from your home, to your local airport; also from the arrival gate in Toronto to my new home. The loft, I'm afraid, is having some renovations done. But you'll be one of the first to see my...home away from home. I've found that it always helps to have a few bolt-holes, for when things get complicated."
Amber had to laugh at that. What a master of understatement he was! She read on: "The new place is rather large, but don't be overwhelmed. Should you need anything, there will be several servants on-duty to fulfill your wishes."
As she read Nick's letter, she accidentally dropped the other envelope, the blue one, on the floor. She picked it up and looked inside. There was a picture of white house, rather colonial-style with a large covered porch, and another picture of a beautiful moonlit tropical beach. She couldn't begin to fathom where they were taken, exactly.
The card with it read:
"My dear, after I talked with Nicholas the other night, I decided that I wanted to give you a little something as well." As she read, the words seemed more and more familiar to her. "This picture of a beautiful cove on the island of St.Thomas (in the Virgin Islands) is where I have own a home, and I'd love to have you and Nick visit there, if you'd like, during your time together. Make yourselves at home, my dear, and have fun. I'll see you next week. Your friend, "
She couldn't make out the signature, but she knew from the tone that it was from Harris Stottle. Harris!!? So _that_ was who'd introduced Nick to her!! But, how did _he_ know Nick?? And why did Nick refer to Harris as "our mutual friend 'A' "? She didn't have time to puzzle this out, because she found another slip of paper with the address and directions to Harris' place in St.Thomas. Amber tucked these away in her backpack-purse and resumed reading Nick's instructions.
The last page of Nick's letter read: "Before you leave home, I have arranged for two professional services to aid you in your trip. One is a girl from a local company that specializes in animal care, to watch over and feed your pets while you're away. The second will be from my own personal security company, to guard your home and your belongings while you are with me. Both companies are very well recommended and all employees are bonded and licensed. I wish you to have no worries or distractions while we are together. I hope this all meets with your approval. Until tonight, I remain,
Amber looked at the clock. It was 9:00 AM. She ran for the shower, dressed quickly and threw a few of her favorite personal items in a small carry-case. With the way Nick was with pre-planning, she was sure that was all she'd need.
She e-mailed a quick message to two of her friends on the loop, giving them a brief description of what she knew of Nick's plans so far. The rest she'd have to guess on.
Then, she called work. To her surprise, they'd already been contacted by someone at the "deBrabant Foundation" , saying that they'd require her services for research for a few days, and in the meantime, had provided them with a highly qualified temp to fill in for her while she was gone. There seemed to be no problem at all with her abrupt absence, and she hung up, slightly bemused. God! Did Nick have pull or what!?
She grinned as she dressed, picking out a pair of sensible leather boots, a pair of black jeans, and topped the outfit off with a silk shirt in garnet. The low-cut neckline emphasized her generous breasts and the jeans showed the curve of her hips. The rest of her clothes she didn't worry about. She knew from the letter that Nick would have a selection for her to pick from. She brushed her hair, carefully applied a little makeup and took her luggage and a jacket to the front door.
Amber went back into the office, set her computer to receive any messages, and locked the computer-hutch up. Then as she was leaving her office, her dogs ran up, barking.
"Oh, babies, wanna play before I leave?" She followed them to the back yard and outside.
As she was playing with the dogs, she heard the front doorbell ring. The first of her two helpers had arrived.
A short, no-nonsense girl dressed in jeans and a khaki tee stood there. Her brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, but she didn't seem too young. She shook Amber's hand and was ushered in. "Ms. Richardson, I'm Kimberly Wells, from 'Animal In-Home-Care Services'. I was told you'd be expecting me."
"Of course, Kimberly, come in," said Amber warmly. "I'm pleased to meet you."
"Thank you, Ms. Richardson," Kimberly replied.
"Call me Amber."
"Thanks, Amber," the girl grinned. "I was hired to stay through this weekend until next Monday to watch your pets. Y'know, my company's never had such a short-notice request from such a big-time company before." said Kimberly, following Amber around the house. "I usually just vacation-sit pets for couples going on a second-honeymoon, or maybe when they gotta go away on business. But usually, we get a week's warning first."
"I'm sorry, Kimberly," said Amber, "but it was short notice for me too."
Kimberly smiled warmly, "Don't apologize, Amber! For the amount of money your company's paying for my services, I can take a first and a second honeymoon to Paris round-trip and still have money left for over some brioche!"
"Whew!" whistled Amber. Nick _was _rich_, she remembered. This was going to be a hell of a weekend!
Amber went through the business of introducing Gypsy, Dara, Button and Kit to the girl. The cats were a bit aloof at first, as usual, but the dogs both took to her right away. After the dogs had time to play with them both, Amber saw that Kim's manner with them was warm and professional. Then, they went into the livingroom and sat talking quietly, to give the cats a chance to inspect their new visitor. Eventually, both cats came to Kim, and even let her pet and caress them. The visit took about an hour, and at the end, Amber was sure that Kim knew what she was doing, and that her pets were in the best of hands. As she was escorting Kim out the front door, to show her the where the garbage cans were kept on the side of the garage, a car pulled up.
Out of it came a tall man, all in black, followed by three companions, dressed exactly the same way. All wore dark sunglasses. She almost laughed out loud. These guys looked like every pseudo-Ninja-security-swat-team from the last 10 years of cop-dramas!
The man in front spoke. "Ms. Richardson, we're from NightWatch Personal Security Company. I'm Det. Sutherland, these are my partners, Det. Hart, Lt. Hoff and Lt. Hunt. We were hired by the de Brabant Foundation to patrol and protect your home and car while you're out of town on Company business. We were informed about the length of your trip and are aware of the presence of your pets and the professional careperson in charge of them." He nodded, and Lt. Hunt, a woman, stepped forward and introduced herself to Kimberly, taking her aside and having a short conversation. Kim nodded and replied.
Amber was quite taken aback by the intensity of this man and his partners. She quickly bit her cheek to stop herself from laughing. Hart, Hoff, Hunt and Sutherland? Sounded like some phony _law_ firm! Amber solemnly inspected each of their ID's before nodding and admitting them into her home. The spread out quickly, taking a quick look at the premises. Before she knew it, they were all back, lined up before her.
Det. Sutherland spoke, "Ma'am, we've cased the premises. All clear. Interior and exterior alarms have been activated and upon your arrival back home, will be either disabled and removed or installed on a permanent basis and maintained at the expense of the Company."
As Amber opened her mouth to protest, he shook his head and actually smiled a bit. "No, ma'am, it's an offer exclusive to you directly from Headquarters. No charge, no strings."
Amber didn't know exactly what to say. It was so ... absurd! (I'll hash it out with Nick, later) she thought to herself silently. "Very well, Detective. When I get back, I'll let you know." She turned to Kim, who stood there a bit wide-eyed.
"Kim, you just get settled in and make yourself at home. My cell-phone & pager numbers are there in the kitchen, and there's more than a week's worth of food for you and the pets in-house. Good thing I just went shopping!"
"Ms. Richardson," said Det. Sutherland, "your ride's here." The driver had already come in and picked up her luggage.
"Thanks!" said Amber. She shook his hand, waved bye to Kim and followed the chauffeur to the long black limo at the curb. As he whisked her away to the airport, Amber's head spun with the amount of excitement she'd been through in so short a time! Tonight, Toronto! And Nick!!
Amber luxuriated in the warm tub, which was filled to the brim with bubbles.
The waterjets thrummed against her skin and relaxed her to the core.
The day had been a whirlwind, but now, she was able to catch her breath and anticipate tonight's events.
She'd arrived in Toronto, been taken to Nick's place ("the Flat", as it was referred to, said the butler) and effortlessly ensconced here by his efficient staff. From the woman who drove her here, to the solemn butler, all had been warm and welcoming, but not forthcoming about their employer's whereabouts.
"The Flat" was the top three floors of a high-rise near a new project of buildings on the Toronto waterfront. A recent new wave of foreign businesses came flooding into Toronto. The city had destroyed many of the slums that had cluttered this area and replaced them with blocks of soaring skyscrapers. The one Nick lived in was owned by a Japanese banking firm, which held some land here in joint-trust with the deBrabant Foundation. Nick's profile here was low-key, thanks in a large part to the excellent security company which protected his anonymity. His surroundings, though were anything _but_! Plush, expensive and exquisite were the keywords here.
As Amber was escorted into and through Mr.deBrabant's personal floors, she noticed several pieces of furniture and paintings from the loft. As she entered the living-quarters on the top floor, she saw his beautiful fireplace which had been painstakingly reproduced here, gargoyles and all, in ebony wood and black marble. It framed a huge fireplace. Directly opposite was his livingroom and dining area, complete with a state-of-the-art entertainment system. Once past this half of the floor, she entered a large room with light-wood tables and cream-colored leather couches, a library and a bay of windows, which looked out on the water. She was suitably stunned.
The butler showed her where the guestrooms were, the private kitchen and bath area. She found all her things placed neatly in the bedroom, and the bath was already filled and ready for her. The bathroom was done in water-themed colors, white, blue and turquoise tiles, with every shade in-between reflecting all around her. Matching soaps, lotions, shampoos, gels, and towels lay everywhere, for her perusal.
She soaked all the travel-generated tension out of her body, and nearly fell asleep, lulled by the warm water. She suddenly heard a small chime over the light music being piped into her rooms, then, the voice of the butler: "Ms. Richardson, Mr. deBrabant has arrived, and awaits the pleasure of your company in the library, at your convenience."
Amber heart pounded in excitement as she climbed out of the tub. She went to the shower area where she let the water flow over her like a waterfall, rinsing her hair and refreshing her with slightly cooler water.
As she towel-dried herself, she carefully picked out suitable silken underthings and a beautiful sapphire dress, long and full-skirted with a slit-side to show off her legs. A gorgeous silver-trimmed jacket went over it to match. The dress was tight in all the right places, and showed off her cleavage and hips to their best advantage. She slipped on a pair of heels in the same color, and she was ready. As she brushed her hair, she decided to arrange it to drape her shoulders, but found a large sapphire and silver clasp to hold it high-up in back, for more drama. It looked stunning in her red hair. Her favorite emerald ring was still on her left hand, where it always rested. She finished her makeup just as she heard a knock at the door. It was a maid, with a small box for her.
"Ma'am, Mr. deBrabant sends this to you, with his compliments." The girl smiled and left. What white, even teeth she had, thought Amber absently, then repressed a sudden shudder. Was that girl a ...? (Oh, come on,) she admonished herself. (They can't _all_ be!)
Upon opening the box, Amber gasped. It was the most exquisite pair of earrings she'd ever seen. They were antique, and obviously very expensive. A Baroque style in gold, set with two matching swirls of deep blue sapphire and gleaming emerald stones. She ran to the mirror in her dressing area and put them on. Perfect! They felt like they'd always been there.
With this last touch, she smiled at her reflection in the mirror. She practiced her best flirtatious pose, and purred, "Ready or not, Nick! Here I come!" Repressing a giggle, she made her way out the door and on to meet her host.
As Amber entered the library, she saw Nick, silhouetted against the bay of floor-to-ceiling windows, watching the colors of the sunset fade. His back was to her, and she saw the sky beyond him change from lines of gold, amber, and white, to pale blue, violet and the deeper tones of night.
"A beautiful evening," she said softly.
"Yes, it is," he replied, without turning.
"Thank you for inviting me here to share it with you." To her surprise, she was not at all tongue-tied. Her heart was beating a mile-a-minute, but just knowing that Nick had wanted her here gave her the nerve to see it through. "Mr. deBrabant?"
He turned and smiled. "Call me Nick."
His face, his voice, all conspired to drive her weak-kneed to the floor, but she locked her knees and held firm. Inside, she was quivering. "Good evening, Nick," she managed to say calmly. "Call me Amber."
He walked forward to meet her and took her hand in his, kissing it. "Welcome, Amber. Its a pleasure to meet you." His lips were cool on her skin. She held his hand tightly, trying not to show what his touch did to her.
He took her over to a couch facing the windows. They sat, and he turned to a side-table to pour a little champagne for her. He toasted her with it, "Welcome to Toronto, and 'the Flat' " He ran his eyes over her form. Apparently, he liked what he saw.
She returned his bold gaze. He was as handsome as she'd ever imagined. Amber sipped her drink. It went down like liquid silver, warm and cold all at once. "You have a beautiful home, Nick," she murmured. "It was gracious of you to invite me here."His blue eyes were so enticing, she didn't want to look away. Amber took another sip, then put her glass down.
"Thank you for coming," he replied. "I know it was short notice. I was surprised you accepted my offer so quickly. If you don't mind my asking, why did you?"
Amber shrugged, then smiled, "I was charmed by your invitation."
"No. You said "our mutual friend" wanted us to meet each other. I considered that reason enough. I value his judgment."
Nick smiled back at her enigmatically over his wine glass. After sipping from it, he placed it back on the side table and leaned back to gaze at her. There was a hint of teasing in his tone when he replied, "You _did_ come highly recommended. Aristotle speaks of nothing but you, lately. Its very unlike him."
For a brief moment, Amber wasn't sure she'd heard Nick right. Then, as the words hit her brain, she had one of those flash-backs Nick was so famous for. Scrolling across her memory was that scene in the episode of FK where Nick went to get a false identity for a rich widow in fear of her life. Against the rules, he'd gone to Aristotle, the vampire archivist in charge of forging new identities for all vampires on the run. The man's face: bright eyes, glasses, slightly balding, a goatee and a quick smile. Aristotle. Harris Stottle. Aristotle.
Amber felt her face go very red, then very white. She was suddenly glad she didn't have her glass in her hand, or she'd have done a spit-take, then thrown it at Nick.
Very deliberately, she stood and turned her back on him. After her embarrassment and rage had passed, she managed to say, "You both must think me some kind of fool."
Softly, Nick said behind her, "Not at all, Amber." He paused, searching for the right words. "At first, I thought it was funny. Charming, even. But, Aristotle himself was embarrassed by it."
She spun, her mouth open to protest, but Nick stopped her. "Oh, not by you, cherie! He was embarrassed at himself !" Nick grinned, then explained. "Aristotle's always been the first one to...criticize me about ... casual friendships with ... pretty young things." He laughed, "And, suddenly, here _he_ is, with a charming young thing," he caressed her cheek to lessen the flippancy, "who has such rare beauty and brains to rival his, and _he's_ running off to meet her twice a week! He couldn't admit his hypocrisy, even to you! I just couldn't resist! Here's payback for all his eternal nagging!"
Nick's boyish grin was infectious, and Amber felt her anger and embarrassment dissolve. An evil thought occurred to her as she sat beside him, grinning. (Payback? Nick, you don't know the half of it!) she said to herself.
Amber had been on a roller-coaster of mood-swings since entering the room. This final blow gave her the guts to do the one thing she'd been dying to do since arriving.
She leaned forward and whispered to him, "I'm not just some 'charming young thing', Nick. I know who you are, I know _what_ you are..."
Amber leaned into Nick, using her generous curves for more than mere decoration now, "and _you're_ _MINE_, 'Dark Knight' !" Then she kissed him soundly, full on the mouth. It went on and on. The Dark part of her cheered as she felt him eagerly respond to her pleasurable attack.
Nick stood in his favorite room, watching the sky turn the colors of evening. It was the best way he knew of to start the night. As Amber entered the room, he didn't turn.
Nick listened to her heartbeat. It was rapid, which was not unusual, considering the circumstances. The scent of her skin was vanilla and narcissus, he could tell even from this distance. She crossed the room behind him. He heard her heels sift across the carpet. Anticipation always made the waiting sweeter. He let her wait.
To his surprise, she spoke first. "A beautiful evening." Her voice was soft and warm.
"Yes, it is," he replied, not turning. She spoke again. Such a melodic tone in her voice. He wondered if she sang.
"Thank you for inviting me here to share it with you," he heard her say. "Mr. deBrabant?"
Wearing his most charming smile, he turned to look at her. "Call me Nick," he said.
She was a very striking. About 5-foot-7-inches tall in heels, she stood there, poised. She wore a beautiful blue dress that hugged her generous curves. Her face was oval and she had long auburn tresses that were clasped in the back with a silver clip. Her cleavage showed tantalizing glimpses of her full breasts. As he drew closer to her, he could see that she wore his gift already. They shone from her earlobes, and set off her beautiful dark green eyes. Aristotle had been right. Amber was a classic beauty, right out of a Titian portrait. Quite a woman!
"Good evening, Nick," she replied. "Call me Amber." Nick admired her aplomb.
"Welcome, Amber. Its a pleasure to meet you," he said, to her, kissing her hand. Her skin was soft and her blood-scent was alluring. He had to control a rush of lust as he felt her heartbeat intensify. His touch did other things to her that the vampire sensed and gloried in, but he restrained himself for now.
He poured them each some champagne. It did wonders for calming mortals' nerves.
As he listened to her talk, he admired her beauty once again. He found himself wondering what her blood would taste like. How soft her skin would be. She had such lovely lips, and a rounded form that he ached to touch. Her long fingers, so graceful and elegant. He flashed on how they'd feel against his back when they...Nick yanked his brain out of _that_ train of thought!
(Control, Nick! Focus!) he admonished himself.
As they exchanged idle chatter, he had some difficulty keeping the Beast at bay.
Nick sipped some champagne and got down to business. However, he'd been so distracted by her beauty, that he'd forgotten how sharp her mind was. That was his _first_ mistake!
He _knew_ it the moment he teased her about Aristotle.
Amber's expression went thoughtful, then focused. All of a sudden, he sensed a wave of hot anger and embarrassment in her, and she clenched her beautiful long fingers into claws, then fists. He was glad for his inhuman reflexes, for he found he'd moved three feet farther away from her in an instant. She didn't strike him, as he suspected she would've _liked_ to. Instead, she stood up, then turned her back on him. He could hear Amber controlling her breathing, getting her adrenaline rush under control. When she spoke again, her voice was low and angry. "You must both think me some kind of fool."
(Uh-oh) thought Nick. (I'd better get this straightened out right now!)
He rushed to reassure her and tried to explain the...complicated relationships he and Aristotle had with...her kind, all while avoiding the subject of vampirism. It was a bit difficult, but he managed. By the end of his explanation, he was grinning, and so was she. (but, as it turned out, for different reasons than his!)
As she came back to sit beside him, Nick congratulated himself for so deftly changing her dark mood. That was his _second_ mistake!
Suddenly, his arms were full of sweet, soft woman, as Amber leaned forward and
whispered those fateful words: "you're _MINE_, 'Dark Knight' ", kissing him deeply on the mouth. As she pushed him back on the couch, Nick's arms automatically pulled her closer as a portion of his mind screamed, "Oh, no! She isn't..."
The kiss intensified, and Nick's libido responded. "Oh, _yes_ she is!" it yelled.
Amber was _another_ delectable Dark Knightie!
The only rational part of her brain that still functioned, muttered, (well, there goes the new outfit!) The rest of her brain was trying to deal with the sensory overload of happily making-out with an 800-year-old vampire. Nick's technique was enthusiastic, and it left her panting for more.
When she came up for air, Amber noticed with alarm that Nick's eyes were turning gold. She also realized the position she was...er, _they_ were in!
She was shoeless, straddling him with her skirt nearly hiked up around her waist. Her hands were in his shirt, and she was certain her makeup was mussed. Where had that damn hair-clip had gotten to? she wondered, tossing her auburn tresses out of her eyes.
Nick was in no better shape. Besides the gleaming eyes, his golden hair was tousled, giving him an incongruously boyish look. His face also showed evidence of where _some_ of her makeup had gone. His hands had found their way to her posterior, but they moved elsewhere less provocative when she broke the kiss.
Both of them were out of breath, and very close to the edge of something more serious. Amber broke the tension first, laughing.
"Okay, you win this round, Nick!" she said, wriggling off his lap. She swooped down for one more kiss, smugly noticing how...tight...his slacks were where she'd been sitting.
He looked a bit sheepish as he pulled himself together. "Um...excuse me, but I usually have a lot more self-control than that!" he chuckled, and his eyes had returned to their normal blue.
"That's okay," she replied, fixing her outfit as best she could. "It was fun playing 'cat and mouse' with you." As Amber readjusted her clothes, she let a bit more breast show, and deliberately knelt (to find her shoes) in such a way that he could see what she _wasn't_ wearing beneath the dress.
After that, she innocently went on. "It was especially fun watching you try to dance around the subject of vampires earlier. Well done!" Amber grinned. She loved to tease, and not just in words. "You just looked so damn smug, so pleased with yourself at changing the subject that I just _had_ to...to... _pounce_!" She swung her hips a little when she said that word.
Nick was laughing as he said, with mock-outrage, "Pounce!? Hmmm! Who's the Predator around here?
"Ordinarily, I'd say _you_! " she replied tartly, "but I just couldn't pass up a chance like that!"
Amber's hair was down for good, so she shook it back, and tossed Nick a "smoky" look. Her dress wasn't ripped, only a little wrinkled. Too bad, she thought. A strategically placed tear or two did wonders for sparking her partner's libido!
Nick noticed the look, and her other suggestive hints. The little minx! So! She wanted to play with a vampire? He'd play all right, and teach her a healthy respect for his Darkness!
He stood and held out his hand to her. "All right, so you're one of my Dark followers. You know all about me, the Community, Aristotle, everything. I yield! Just tell me one thing."
"What's that?" she asked innocently.
Nick sobered a bit. "You and your Dark-Sibs aren't stalking me, by any chance, are you?" His expression was only half-serious, with a little pleading. "Just reassure me that you aren't all out there, all over the world, and that I won't find one of you in every city I go to."
(Nick's putting me on, now!) Amber thought to herself. (Actually, I bet he not only liked the attention, but found his Darker followers a _real_ challenge, not to mention quite a workout, in more ways than one!)
Amber just smiled sweetly up at him. "Who, us??" she replied. "Why, Nicholas! How could you even dream up such a notion?"
He leered good-naturedly at her. "I dunno. Maybe its because of the rapidity with which you all seem to know who I was with, and where we went, and _other_ um, details a gentleman never divulges."
She had the grace to look embarrassed. He was right about _that_!
The only thing faster than the DK loop "party-line" was:
1. the speed of thought
2. a hamster on speed (or a gerbil on crack)
3. Nick in bed (oops! how had _that_ thought popped in here??)
"Well," she retorted, "We _are_ your faithful followers! You can't put the blame entirely on us! After all, in each and every instance, it was _you_ who instigated the whole rendezvous!"
Nick smiled his best wolfish smile at her, fangs and all and whispered back seductively, "Ah, yes, but I _never_ forced any of you to come!"
"Y'wanna bet?" muttered Amber. Just about then, her sixth sense kicked in and she backed away from him rapidly. She'd heard it wasn't safe to "beard the lion in his den".Maybe she'd gone a little too far! Belatedly, she remembered that this wasn't just the usual foreplay with a human male! This was a very old, very powerful and now, very aroused vampire!
Too late!! Nick's wolf-grin turned feral and he snarled at her, "Come to me."
Oh, no. It was "the Whammy".
Amber never had a chance. Her feet carried her closer to the Vampire. She heard nothing but the sound of his voice, nothing except the beating of her heart.
As she stood before him, her eyes were drawn to that perfect mouth of his, now showing sharp white fangs. His eye-color matched her name now, and deep inside, she shivered with fear and arousal. "I never _force_ any of my women," Nick said seductively. "But, perhaps," he purred, "In your case, I'll make an exception."
Amber felt his hands on her, and his voice in her ear. "Oh, no, I won't _have_ to force you, my dear, to do _anything_ against your will," it said roughly. "You'll respond exactly the way you would normally...at first! Then..." He left the word hanging there, then bent to kiss her.
She was frozen in place. She couldn't move, unless he gave her leave to. She felt his cold lips glide from her mouth, to her chin, to her cheek. Then he trailed ice-fire kisses along the vein running from ear to her shoulder. His breath was warm, his fangs were unexpected pin-pricks along her skin, never breaking it, but reminding her of the danger.
Again, Amber shivered. She was held in place by his Word, pinned to the spot by his Will. Inside, she was quivering with arousal so strong it was painful. His hands were doing wonderful things to her body, as he gently ran them up and down her fully-clothed form. His fingers paused here and there, touching, caressing, rubbing, palpitating. He was teasing her with everything he knew, all he had learned in his 800-years of seducing his mortal prey. "Do you like that?" he whispered to her after touching a particularly sensitive spot.
Amber moaned. He moved his thumb slightly higher. "How about that?" She was panting now, her eyes begging for him to stop, or _not_ stop, or _never_ stop! She wasn't sure which.
Nick stood back from her, once more, the Vampire evident in his every move. "You must always be very careful when hunting your prey," he said to her. "You never know when it may _turn_ on you!"
She moaned once more. "Speak," he commanded her.
"Oh, God, Nick!" she panted. "All right! I promise! No more teasing! No more surprises or pouncing, I swear! I'll be more careful! I'll look before I leap! I'll brush twice after every meal! I'll swear all the Dark Knighties to Eternal Vows of Chastity and Silence!" Amber was babbling her head off, now. "Just, please, please, puh-leese don't leave me here like _this_!!"
"You were so eager and ready to play before!" he teased her. "I'll...take the edge off."
Nick crossed the short space between them. Slowly, he peeled off the layers of her clothing she'd so painstakingly donned less than an hour ago. Then, he proceeded to touch her in exactly the same way as before, in exactly the same places as before. This time, though, she was naked and completely free to move. He took his time with her, lavishing attention on her breasts, her hips, her inner and outer places. One by one, he conquered them, over and over again, until she lay, gasping and spent, on the couch.
In a nearby chair, he found a light blanket, and he laid it gently over her. Then, he stepped away. He'd nearly gotten caught up in her arousal. He pulled the Vampire back under control with difficulty.The one thing It loved more than the Blood was the Hunt, and right now, his quarry was just where It wanted her! He turned his head away, forcing the gold from his eyes. (I invited her here for her pleasure, not for her blood!) he reminded himself.
"Didn't anyone ever warn you, Amber," he said roughly, "to be careful what you wish for? You may get it!"
"Uh-huh," she replied, weakly, after a while. "Just before I left, as a matter of fact!:"
Nick knelt before her, and raised her face to meet his gaze. "Its good advice, especially for a mortal. And for one as lovely as you," he said, tracing her lips with his thumb, "its a necessity."
Amber felt all wrung out. This evening was _not_ proceeding according to any of her plans, albeit _many_ of her fantasies...! She grinned at him. "You've got a point." Amber still couldn't resist. "Okay, two! " Ah-hah! _That_ got him to smile! "I won't tease you beyond your ability to withstand, and I'll remind my Dark sisters to restrain their enthusiasm when...uh, comparing notes. No more exaggeration, no one-upping, no challenges." (good thing I'm under extreme duress) she thought, (or Izzy'd _kill_ me!)
Nick helped Amber to her feet, then gave her a squeeze and a short pat on the tush. "That'd be a good start." He watched her wrap the blanket around her body.
Then, she excused herself, "If you'd like, I can get dressed again, and we can go on that date, now!"
"I'd like that," he said, smiling. "And, we can pick this up where we left off ... later."
She smiled back at him, and kissed him gently on the lips. Then, she headed back to her room.
While she was gone, Nick thought to himself as he gazed out the window at the city lights. (God! _that_ was close! too close! Several times, he'd almost forgotten she was a mortal, and that kind of forgetfulness would've been _fatal_ to her ! Well, he figured, if Amber tells any of the DK's about _that_ demonstration, it should keep all but the most determined from...) he grinned (_harrassing_ him like _that_ again!)
In only a few minutes, she was back, dressed in black slacks, a silk ruby-colored shirt and ankle-boots. His gift to her sparkled in her earlobes, and her red hair fell in waves.
(Damn!) he groaned to himself, (even when she wasn't trying, she made his fangs ache!)
"So, if we're to get anywhere on this rendezvous of ours," she reminded him, "We'd better get started, huh?"
Nick agreed, "Shall we tend to your more...mundane needs, first?" He headed for the door. "I bet you're hungry, after all that...exertion," he said, pausing to take her hand. "Let's go. I know a great restaurant."
"Where?" she asked eagerly.
As he pulled her along, he said, "Not far. Would you care to fly?"
"_Would_ I ?!"
Nick led her to his private rooms, below which, he explained, were his hidden
sleeping quarters. He disliked even the slightest possibility of being disturbed
during daylight hours while he slept, so he decided to hide his real bedroom
from the servants. The room was accessed through the huge walk-in closet of his
top-floor private rooms. The architect had been a vampire, and knew ingenious
ways of designing false walls and rooms. Even the construction company had many
of his kind on its payroll, and they did a lot of around-the-clock jobs.
Just off his private sleeping room, was a recessed balcony. The thick glass skin of the skyscrapers' exterior was the only thing between them and the open sky. Nick slipped
the glass open just enough, and picked Amber up.
"Hold tight," was all he said, then he stepped out into open space. He willed them both higher, and they flew silently through the air. They landed gracefully on the roof of the nearby building, and Nick held Amber in his arms until she'd gotten her breath back. She was grinning madly.
The restaurant was beautiful. It was designed like an outdoor Italian bistro. Its sole concession to Toronto's cold weather was that it was covered with a huge glass dome. Inside, it was framed by dozens of small fruit trees grown in large earthen tubs, and bordered by a walkway of black and white marble tiles.
The waiters recognized Nick and had been expecting them. Instantly, they were brought to a secluded table, nestled amidst the trees. A fountain splashed somewhere nearby.
Amber was deftly seated. She saw there was an ice-bucket ready, filled with a large bottle of sparkling water. She was inordinately glad it wasn't alcoholic, because she'd just had the ride to end all rides with Nick, and her head was still spinning. The adrenaline in her system could probably withstand a nuclear blast, anyway.
Nick smiled roguishly at her as he poured her a glassful. "Was that good for you?"
Amber burst out in giggles. She was glad they were alone. "Uh-huh! Can we do that again, please!!" God! The flight had been short but exhilarating. She knew how Lois Lane must've felt.
She sipped her water and enjoyed the view. "What a beautiful place!" she said to Nick.
He smiled. "Yes, it is. Reminds me of a place in the countryside near Rome. There's a little cafe near some old Roman ruins, where you can sit and watch the stars move across the entire sky until near dawn."
"Wouldn't a place like that be a bit...out of the way?" she asked. "I thought...uh...your kind had to stay close to the cities."
Nick gave her a bemused look, "Why?"
"Well, to be sure of a steady...food supply. And there's always handy shelter from the sun."
He smiled. "There are advantages to living in a city, I guess. The two reasons you mentioned are the best I know of. But, I've always loved the country. I was raised in very agrarian surroundings. The cities back then didn't even rate against a small town, today.
I prefer the peace and serenity in places far from man."
Amber nodded. She recalled a few times when LaCroix had discovered his wayward son living alone, out in the middle of nowhere, and had dropped in to taunt, torture or otherwise torment Nick. "I guess those kinds of places are few and far between, now, aren't they?"
Nick's expression was rueful. "Yes. But, it's amazing how much isolation you can _buy_ nowadays, with the right amount of money."
She grinned at him, "Oh, yeah! I almost forgot! Aristotle gave me permission to use his place in the Virgin Islands this weekend," she paused, a bit embarrassed by her effrontery. "That is, if _you_ want to...?"
Nick was spared answering when the waiter came with some food. The menu, it appeared, was prix-fixe, with a salad course, pasta course and dessert.
She nibbled her salad and some delicious focaccia bread, while Nick chatted about Aristotle and told her some very funny stories from their past.
When the pasta course had arrived, she was relieved to find that it was a simple plate of tortellini in cream sauce. She didn't want to get _too_ filled up - it might interfere with...other activities later!
She watched while the waiter laid a plate of what looked like tagliatelle with tomato sauce in front of Nick. When the waiter left, she grinned at him."Y'know, the _last_ place I expected you to take me was an Italian restaurant!"
"All the garlic, you mean?" asked Nick, his nose wrinkling as he returned her grin. "This place knows me. As long as there's no garlic on the menu for the evening I come here, they know they can expect a _big_ tip from me!"
She inhaled the scent of the food before her. "Mmmm. I _bet_ they _never_ forget that! Its too bad you can't taste this, " she said after devouring a forkful. "Its delicious!"
"I'll take your word for it," he replied, politely moving his pasta around a bit, then moving the plate away from him.
Amber noticed something odd. Then, she laughed with delight, "I bet you always order the spaghetti, right?"
"Yeah. How'd you know?" he asked puzzled by her insight.
Amber grinned. "Well, that's the only dish in an Italian restaurant that comes anywhere near close to having '_lots_ of _ketchup_' !"
He looked surprised that she knew about that. She laughed again, enjoying his expression. "And, besides, that was the only thing you _ever_ gobbled down and enjoyed, that time when you were ... temporarily mortal."
Nick nodded, recalling that incident when Natalie thought she'd found his cure. It had only been a chemical fix. That was the beginning of the end of his wasted search for mortality. He smiled, "Well, it _was_ red!"
They both laughed at that, and the rest of the meal was very enjoyable.
She passed on the dessert. She felt slightly full, warm and relaxed. When they were done, Nick took her hand and led her away from the table. They strolled around the outside of the restaurant, enjoying the cool night air of early summer.
"Is there anything you'd like to see while in Toronto?" Nick asked Amber as they sat on a bench.
"How about an answer to my question about tomorrow, first," she chided him. "Then, we can get on with tonight."
"Amber, I'd love to go to St.Thomas with you for the whole weekend, but don't you have a lot to do back home?" he asked.
"Nope!" she said happily. "I called work, and it seems they were sent a highly qualified temp to replace me for a few days - all paid for by the deBrabant Foundation!" She leaned forward and kissed him. "Thanks so much for that, Nick! And, for the help you hired for me at home, too! It was so sweet of you!"
"Well," he smiled, "it was the least I could do, after plotting to sweep you away from it all on such short notice!" He sobered a bit. "But I wasn't referring to your job, Amber."
Amber drew a blank for a moment, then, it hit her. "Oh, yeah. The War."
"Yeah. That," he echoed.
She sighed. "Well, I guess we can postpone our trip to paradise for another month."
He kissed her hand gallantly. "Ah, but waiting will make the moment that much sweeter, cherie." He stood, pulling her up. "But, we can at least share the next two nights here, together. That way, you'll be home for the weekend."
Amber put her arms around him and snuggled close. "Yeah, I think we can find _plenty_ of things to do here!" she purred. "And the first thing I wanna do is...."
Nick grinned at her, picked her up and headed for the edge of the roof.
"Aaack!" she squawked, 'Not on a full stomach!"
The rest of the evening was magical.
He took her sedately down the elevator, at her request. All the people who saw them wondered what the joke was, as Nick and Amber laughed.
He took her for a ride all around town in the Caddy, with the top down. He stayed in the better parts of town, well away from the areas on his old beat with Toronto Homicide.
He was a private investigator, now. It was almost like his old job, without the paperwork, he joked. And, since he didn't _have_ to work, the money per gig wasn't as important to
him as the thrill of solving a puzzle was. She could tell he was happier, now. With his re-vamping, his distancing from Natalie Lambert, and his re-immersion (_his_ way) into the Community.
He and LaCroix were getting along so well now that his master had left town recently to join Janette. LaCroix wanted to try to persuade Janette to take up residency with them once again, like old times, in a new city. Nick knew, from his bond with her, that she'd forgiven him. She'd been a vampire far longer than he, and her brief taste of mortality wasn't enough to make her yearn for it, as he once had.
As for the location of LaCroix's choosing, Nick wasn't sure where they might go, but he really didn't care. As long as he had new crimes to uncover, new puzzles to solve, and the occasional sweet liaison, he was content.
Amber _liked_ this new, happy Nick. He was such a blast! Funny, impulsive, creative, he took her here and there, and together they planned the next two nights full of events.
They attended a Shakespearean play at this theater, a Celtic dance show at another theater, and a water-fountain-laser-light show at a local observatory. By 4:00 AM, both nights, her head was reeling and she slept like a rock until noon.
But, then, each day, she woke in the shelter of his arms. They made love, but Nick was careful to only sip from her.
From their long talks together, Amber learned more about history, the world, and life than she'd ever known before.
From their passionate lovemaking, she learned more about herself than she'd ever imagined.
The last night of her trip was as perfect as she could imagine.
It was Friday evening, late. They'd left the observatory. Nick drove the Caddy to a quiet place near the lake. He sat with Amber, holding her in his arms, while they talked.
Amber knew she'd be leaving tomorrow afternoon. It had been perfect, but she knew it was time to get back to her real life. Besides, she'd have so much fun torturing Aristotle ("Harris"!) she reminded herself grimly, when she got back. And then, there _was_ the upcoming War...
On this last evening together, Amber told him about her life; her childhood, her career, and the things which eventually drew her into a fascination with vampires (and him).
Nick spoke to her quietly about his boyhood. What it was like to grow up in a family of lesser nobility, the third son from a second marriage. When his father was killed in a foreign war, his elder brother became the new heir.
Nicholas, in his early twenties, was dispatched to serve the Church as a soldier. He performed his duties well, and was soon rewarded. As part of a political embassy, the Church assigned Nicholas as a guard for their envoy, Father de la Barre, on a trip abroad to distant Wales. Against orders, Nick fell in love with a local girl, Gwynneth, a woman with the Sight, who stood against the Christian priests and their Church. De la Barre secretly hunted her down. When she was found brutally murdered, they'd laid the blame on Nick. To cover his crime, de la Barre "graciously" sent Nick off to fight in the Crusades, for his penance.
Nick made his way to the Holy Land with the other Knights. He was still under the label of an accused murderer (albeit of a mere pagan woman), a minor lordling eager to fight, to pay his penance and someday, to earn his spurs. Soon enough, there were battles, and he became skilled in the arts of war. On the field of battle, he became a Knight, sworn to fight the Infidel for Holy Mother Church. But, by the time he got to Acre, the Crusader's largest city in the kingdom of Jerusalem, the arts of war seemed like the arts of butchery.
Acre was rife with criminals, and Nicholas deBrabant was ready to taste of its vices, to wash away the stench of endless death around him. He did have an image to uphold, and some status, as a Christian Knight.
It was hard to keep that in mind as he sampled the Eastern delights, including the women, foreign and alluring to his eyes. When on-duty, he gambled idly with the other soldiers, while they waited for their orders. The things he saw, the things he did in Acre changed him forever, from an earnest, naiive, Christian Crusader to a hardened, cynical, embittered soldier.
And, on his way home, at a stop in Paris, it was _this_ Nicholas deBrabant which met Janette and LaCroix, and answered their siren call into the Dark.
Amber listened quietly, soaking up all that she could. It was _so_ fascinating to learn about her favorite time in history from a man who had actually _been_ there. Had actually _seen_ it all. And, _despite_ all the tragedy he'd seen, Nicholas deBrabant had kept alive that ...humanity he'd been born with. The empathy, love, and other "lighter" virtues which made him who he was were _not_ destroyed by his vampirism. Were _not_ the antithesis of what he was. He was Dark, not evil. And, to her joy and amazement, he finally seemed to be living and believing it.
"I'm glad you're here, Nick," she said when he had finished his tale.
That 'long-ago-and-far-away' look in his eyes faded, as he smiled down at her. "Hmmm?"
"I mean, I'm glad you're _here_, now, in my century. You mean so much to me, to so many of us. Our lives are certainly richer and happier from knowing you." Amber lifted her mouth up to kiss him.
He took the kiss slowly, and when they stopped, he found that she was almost crying.
"I'm just happy," she said, as he wiped her eyes.
"Me too," he whispered, hugging her. "C'mon," he said, starting the car. "Let me take you back to the Flat."
At "the Flat", Nick waited until Amber was in her room, changing her clothes.
He quickly phoned Aristotle, explained the situation to him, Amber's change of plans, and suggested he be available for Amber to talk to when she got home in the afternoon. Aristotle agreed, and added some vitriolic comments about Nick's questionable methods before they hung up.
Nick went to the fridge and drank as much bottled human blood as he thought he'd need to see him through, then went to change.
When Amber came back into the library, the fire was low, but the room was still warm. There was a note for her there.
"Dearest Amber, meet me downstairs. Nick"
Downstairs meant his personal bedroom. She headed there with anticipation, but when she got there, she wasn't prepared for what she saw.
The room was dark, but there were candles lit, in wall sconces. The light was enough for her to see that there were roses in vases, everywhere. From deepest burgundy, to luscious red, they covered the spectrum. And, on the nightstand, lay one perfect rosebud. It was deep gold, nearly the color of his hair. Next to it lay an open flower, the honey-color of amber.
She was touched by the symbolism, and inhaled the heady scent of the flowers all around her.
From out of nowhere, he appeared beside her.
Amber turned, and saw that he was wearing a loose, long, white nightshirt, nearly transparent. That, and a seductive smile.
She gulped. (The _(K)Nightie_!) her libido screamed. (_She_ was wearing her filmiest negligee and felt completely over-dressed!)
He reached for her, gathered her into his arms, and that's when she noticed the music.
It was soft, and it came from everywhere around her. Faintly Celtic, the sound of a mournful flute wafted through her soul.
"M'Lady, would you care to dance?" His voice was deep and soft.
Amber took his hand, and he slowly swirled her around in an ancient pattern, that spoke of moonlit nights, green hills and mossy forests. There was definitely magic in the song, and while it played, she forgot who she was, where they were, and what century it was. All that mattered was him, his hands, his eyes. The music, and their feet moving to its rhythm.
Over the last step of the dance, she heard a thunderclap, then the soft sound of rain falling.
He swept her off her feet, and took her to his bed.
Slowly, they undressed each other, then lay, skin to skin, listening to the storm.
Nick idly stoked her back with his fingers, then rubbed her muscles to loosen them. Amber melted into his caresses. She rolled over to face him, and traced the fine hairs on his chest, his arms, his face. "You should grow a beard," she teased him.
He smiled, his eyes closed, enjoying her touch. "Been there, done that," he murmured.
"Mmmm. I think you'd look sexy!" she said. "Hold still, let me try something." He nodded his agreement, and she nudged him onto his back.
Gently, Amber began tracing her fingernails along his torso, along his ribs, down to his loins and upper legs. She didn't hurt him, she just wanted to find the fine line between a tickle and scratch, to see how much he could stand. It wasn't much. Before she'd completed four circuits, up his legs to his ribs and back down, his erection was huge, and he was clenching the sheets to keep from grabbing her.
What a delectable victim he made! she grinned to herself. It raised a bit of the beast in Amber, and she kissed his mouth hungrily. Nick responded, and ran his hands over her curves, lingering at her breasts, her nipples, her hips.
Very aroused now, Amber drew her knees up and straddled him. Above his hips, she sank slowly onto the length of his throbbing member, and began to move. Nick moaned beneath her, his fangs showing. He reached up, and pulled her down, to kiss her breasts and nipples.
There was the sound of another thunderclap. The storm was building in strength as Amber's inner-muscles clenched and she rode him to the point of climax. She felt herself go, and threw back her head, crying out. The waves of her orgasm weren't spent, when she felt him pull her down to his mouth. He kissed her, and his fangs cut her lip, filling his mouth with the taste of her blood. With a roar, he broke the kiss and came, still deep inside her.
Amber's arms were around him, and they rolled together, locked in passion. She felt his fangs pierce her neck, and she spasmed again. The last thing she remembered before the ecstacy hit her, was placing her mouth on his neck and biting him back, as hard as she could, and savoring the rich taste of his blood.
Then all the world went red and Dark.
It was a _very_ changed woman that Aristotle met that Saturday evening. She wore jeans, a green silk blouse, and a multi-colored jewel-toned scarf around her neck. She also sported a pair of rather expensive earrings. A gift from Nick, no doubt.
She looked extremely contented, a little tired, and very smug.
"Uh, hello, my dear," he began. "How was your trip?"
"Enlightening," she smiled dangerously. "..._Harris'_...!"
Ro Hart (copyright May 1997)