This story immediately follows my earlier "Persistent Prophecy." If
you haven't read PP please don't attempt this story. My apologies for the delay,
RL intrudes. I'll try not to take so long with the next story in the series <g>.

A Bond To Be Broken
by Susan B.
September, 1997
based on characters from Forever Knight, etc.
------------------
Sitting at the bar in the deserted Raven, Lacroix toyed with a
crystal goblet half full of bloodwine. His smug grin had long since
given way to a weary frown. He had been certain that Nicholas would
return and leave the City with him. He had *known* it. And yet, it
was half past four and still Nicholas had not come ...was not
coming. He had tried several times to reach out to his wayward son
through their link, but it was a murky connection at the best of
times. It was a totally useless connection when *she* was with him.
Lacroix gently spun the stem of the wineglass with his fingers, and
stared mesmerized into the tiny crimson whirlpool he had created.
"And so the doctor wins another round," he grumbled in annoyance.

Abruptly, he lifted the glass to his lips and quickly drained it
before hurling it into the wall behind the bar. "Damn that
insufferable woman!" he roared, as the sparkling shards crashed to
the tiled floor. He rolled his hand into a tight fist and slammed
it into the countertop, cracking the laminate. "All that effort
wasted!" he shouted. He reached his arm over the bar in search of
another bottle, but quickly realized that nothing from a bottle
would satisfy his hunger or stay his mounting rage. Lacroix fled
from the Raven into what remained of the night. There was still
time enough, he knew. Time enough for a kill.

He alit on the third level of the hospital parking garage shortly
after the hospital's night shift had ended. It was the perfect
hunting ground, quiet, dark and secluded. The musty odour and
incessant dampness only intensified his heinous mood. "Plenty of
stragglers to choose from," Lacroix muttered, "no homeless waif
this night." He hid behind a thick concrete column and waited
patiently in the shadows.

Several minutes later, he sensed two human females walking towards

him. Lacroix covertly peered around the column and beheld a tall
gaunt blonde. He could not make out the other woman, who was
lagging some distance behind. The blonde's hair was piled neatly
atop her head, and her white smock and shoes stood out brightly
against the darkness. "An almost angel," Lacroix spat, slightly
irritated by her thinness. His scowl transformed into a grin when
the second woman came into his view. She was a lovely woman clad in
a tight red dress. She was a woman with breasts and hips and a
slight curve to her stomach. She was a woman with thick auburn
curls and big blue eyes.

"What good fortune," Lacroix purred as he eyed the duo. When the
girls paused next to a canary yellow car, Lacroix lunged. In an
instant the dark haired woman was knocked unconscious to the
pavement, and the blonde was locked firmly in his potent grip. Her
mouth was agape and primed for a scream when Lacroix's fangs
violently ripped open her supple white throat.

The youthful warm blood did much to appease his hunger and the
brutality of the kill helped subdue his urgent rage. Lacroix
released her from his grasp, and the spent carcass crumpled to the
asphalt. He bent down and pried the car keys from her pale dead
fingers, all the while leering at her beautiful, unconscious
companion. Lacroix's mind wandered back half a millennium to that
unfortunate soul who had so resembled his mortal father, and his
lips involuntarily twisted into a sinister grin. He reluctantly
broke his gaze and then calmly opened the trunk of the car.

The dark haired woman at his feet began to stir, and Lacroix deftly
yanked her to her feet. She sluggishly opened her eyes and stared
bewildered into his, but was too dazed to feel fear. Lacroix caught
a tress of her curls in his fingers and brushed it softly across
her lips. "Sleep," he whispered. She promptly collapsed into his
arms and he heaved her unceremoniously into the trunk of the small
car. "I'll be back for you, precious," he promised, before using
his elbow to slam the trunk lid shut.

Lacroix scooped up the scrawny blonde from the pavement and flew
quickly towards the lake. Minutes later he returned empty handed
and retrieved his prize from the trunk. He fled to the Raven.

After materializing inside the club, Lacroix carried his burden
down the basement stairs and along the darkened corridor. At the
end of the corridor, he opened a heavy oak door and stepped into
his private modern apartment. He strode over to the centre of the
living room and nudged the coffee table out of the way with his
foot. After depositing his cargo on the couch, he studied her for
a moment. Her resemblance to Dr. Lambert was uncanny, he mused,

both in face and in body. She was a few inches shorter in height,
he believed, but he had not seen her upright long enough to be
certain. "You won't require this," Lacroix muttered as he reached
down and grasped her left hand. He twisted the solitaire diamond
engagement ring from her finger. Holding it before him, he admired
its cut and clarity for a moment. Then he strode out of the room
and upstairs to the main floor of the club.

Lacroix went directly into the back room and opened the steamer
trunk which he had already packed in preparation for his move to
New York. He carefully removed a small metal box, similar in shape
to a child's plastic lunch box, but half the size. Inside were
several pieces of jewellery that he had collected over the
centuries. The necklaces, bracelets, brooches, and rings were
collected either for their uniqueness or beauty; or for more
macabre reasons. He dropped Karen's engagement ring into the box,
closed the lid, and returned the box to the trunk.

Pleased that he had not yet made arrangements to disconnect either
the Raven's utilities or telephone service, Lacroix called
Aristotle. He arranged to change the destination of his trunk from
New York City to a public storage unit in the west end of Toronto.
He knew it would be safe for him to remain at the Raven as long as
it appeared deserted. Nicholas would believe that he had left, and
Lacroix knew that belief would hold as long as he didn't attempt to
encroach Nicholas's mind. "Time to move on has become time to
regroup," he jeered. "Enjoy your Natalie and your freedom," he
added, "as fleeting as both may turn out to be."

Lacroix returned to his living quarters and retired to his bedroom,
knowing that while he slept the trunk would be picked up and the
spare keys to the Raven delivered safely to Aristotle, whom he
would visit later that evening. He also knew that his captive would
remain asleep until he alone awoke her. As Lacroix fell into sleep,
he contemplated the pleasure he would extract from the woman, the
woman with the thick auburn hair and the big blue eyes.

* * * * *

Tracy had been confined to Reese's office for over two hours, ever
since the shooting. The Captain had ordered her to wait there while
he attended to Standish's confession, and then again while he
tracked Nick down at the hospital. He had just returned fifteen
minutes ago, only to disappear into the adjacent office with
Officer Dawkins and two investigators from the SIU. Tracy had been
spending her time alternating between pacing Reese's office and
numbly staring out his grimy window.


The door to his office suddenly burst open and an angry Reese
stormed in. "It's just a preliminary session," he grunted as he
marched over to his desk. He drew in a deep noisy breath and
exhaled very slowly to calm himself before glancing at Tracy.
"Nothing you say is on the record," he assured her, "and you don't
have to answer anything you don't want to."

Before she had a chance to respond, two SIU people briskly entered
the room. One was a stocky grey haired man with thick framed
glasses shielding much of his slightly bloated face. He wore a
tailored charcoal suit and a crisp white shirt. His female partner,
who stood to the right of him, was a much younger and very
attractive redhead with dazzling green eyes and very subtle makeup.
She was impeccably dressed in a cream coloured embroidered silk
blouse and a mid?length dark brown skirt. Tracy immediately felt
uncomfortable, as though she had been wearing the same rumpled blue
suit for a week.

The man glanced impassively at her. "Ms. Vetter?"

Tracy vaguely nodded her head and sat down in a chair in front of
Reese's cluttered desk. Both investigators remained where they
stood.

"I'm Barnes," the man said before gesturing towards his partner,
"and this is Gibson." He dispensed his speech in a practised drone,
"This is an informal session, Ms. Vetter. We will not be recording
or taking notes. However, you will receive a request to attend a
formal interview in two or three days."

Tracy simply nodded her head again. She had already been to two of
those formal interviews during the past year. 'Yes, but those
shootings were ...were ...say it Vetter ...necessary.' Tracy
unwittingly started chewing her lower lip.

"Are you ready?" Barnes inquired.

"Yes," Tracy replied, fearing her growing anxiety was already being
reflected in her voice.

Barnes started the grilling. "Did you warn Dobbs to drop the
weapon?"

"There wasn't time," Tracy answered. "It happened too fast. I
thought my partner was about to be shot."

"Yes. About your partner," Barnes continued. "Officer Dawkins told
us that your partner shouted the word 'no' to you."

'Is that a grin on his face?' Tracy wondered. "I heard him," she
said, "but it was too late. I had already fired."

Barnes took a menacing step towards her. "You're certain of that?"
he asked, almost taunted.

Tracy shot a glance at the floor before returning a solid gaze to
Barnes. "Absolutely," she replied confidently. "It was too late."

"And where was Dobbs' gun when you fired?"

"Pardon?"

Barnes slid his hand into his pocket. He withdrew it slowly and
then stopped. "Was it here?" he asked. Without waiting for a reply,
he raised his hand further and froze it again, "Here?"

"I told you he was aiming at my partner when I fired," Tracy
sputtered impatiently, her anxiety quickly turning to anger.

Gibson decided to join the conversation. "Actually," she commented,
"you said that you *thought* your partner was about to be shot."

Tracy glared at the woman, who simply returned an arrogant grin.

"Just follow my hand, Ms. Vetter," Barnes continued, "and tell me
to stop when it's in the correct position."

"Stop!" Tracy exclaimed when his arm was stretched out directly in
front of him.

Barnes smirked at her as he relaxed his arm. "That's interesting,"
he scoffed, "the *gun* was all the way out there and you, fifteen
feet away from him, couldn't tell it was a replica?"

Tracy shed all hints of trepidation and stood up to face her
interrogator. "Perhaps if he had the courtesy of playing it out in
slow motion, I would have!" she shouted, before storming out of the
room.

Back on the roof of the loft, Nick and Natalie still lay next to
each other, gazing up at the pre?dawn sky. The stars were beginning
to fade away as the blackness turned to grey, and then to greyish
blue. Natalie felt more content than she had in years, knowing how
much Nick loved her, knowing he would never leave her. He had
committed himself to her in a way no mortal man ever would, and
lying here being held by him, she felt a closeness with him that
made the missing part of their relationship infinitely more
bearable.

Nick's voice broke the silence. "By the way," he said, still
looking upwards. "I met an old friend just before I picked you up
at the hospital."

Natalie sluggishly rolled onto her side and faced Nick. "Oh," she
said curiously, "who?".

He turned his head to meet her gaze. "Vachon."

Natalie gasped. "He's alive?" she asked. "How?"

"Not exactly alive," Nick said guardedly, "...he's a ghost."

Natalie grinned. "You're testing me," she scoffed. "To see if I've
truly accepted the concept of a larger reality."

Nick was amused by her reaction. "It's the truth," he proclaimed.
"When I pulled into the hospital parking garage, Vachon suddenly
appeared next to me."

"And..." Natalie said, "what did he want?"

"You're not shocked? Surprised? Not even sceptical? You're not
going to tell me I was imagining things?"

"My eyes *are* open, Nick," she declared. "And it really is quite
liberating. ...Now, as to what he wanted?"

"He wanted to tell me that I could be forgiven," Nick replied.
"That even from where he was, a 'lonely' place he called it, that
he has been given a chance to atone." Nick hesitated for a moment,
uncertain as to how Natalie would react to being told that her love
was a gift from God. He decided to skip over that particular

revelation and continued, "Vachon told me that I could free myself,
but that it would take strength, inner strength. The kind that
comes from faith."

"Ahh," Natalie sighed, "the kind of strength that will empower you
to drink more than two sips of my protein shakes. Anything else?"

Nick chuckled. "Yes. He wanted to remind me that Lacroix is a bad
influence."

Natalie poked his shoulder with her fingers, "I've always liked
Vachon," she teased.

"Is that so?" Nick said, as he captured her hand and held it to his
heart. "We should be going in," he whispered, "the sun's almost
up." Still holding her hand, he carefully stood up and drew her to
her feet.

They quietly gathered up their things and headed into the loft.
Natalie rinsed out the glasses in the kitchen sink, while Nick
tossed the bedding onto the couch and closed the blinds. "Do you
want to stay?" he asked Nat as she approached him.

Natalie smiled warmly at him. "Yes," she replied. "I really must
stop leaving my car at work. If you don't mind, I'll crash on the
couch." She knew that even if she had her car, she wouldn't have
left him.

Nick placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her body tightly
to his own. He nuzzled her ear and whispered into it, "I'll take
the couch," he whispered, before releasing her from his embrace.

Nat was about to refuse putting him out of his bed, but the thought
of rolling around in his sheets was too enticing for her to pass
up. "I think I will," she agreed, hoping she wasn't blushing. But
the charmed grin on Nick's face told her she was beet red. 'Or
perhaps it's my racing heart you hear, you cheater,' she thought.

Nick bestowed an innocent kiss on her forehead. "I'll see you
later."

"Later." Nat hugged him briefly before releasing him and heading
for the stairs.

Nick laid down on the couch and listened to her fading heartbeat as
she climbed the stairs to his room. He felt a peace he had not felt
since before Lacroix had arrived in Toronto. He was glad Lacroix
was leaving. His master's proximity had always been an impediment

to his progress. It was a pervasive presence that consistently
tugged on the vampire within, trying to draw it out.

The sound of the shower running overhead turned Nick's thoughts
from Lacroix to Natalie. He closed his eyes and envisioned her
slipping out of her clothes and stepping into the steamy water. He
imagined the water trickling over her warm, naked skin. So
beautiful. So alive. And then he imagined the water transforming
into his fingers and his lips, touching and kissing her, all of
her. Too quickly his eyes turned to gold and in desperation he
forced his mind to safer thoughts, to love from lust. He thought
about sleeping in his own bed tomorrow, enveloped in soft satin
sheets that would be drenched in her scent. He would drown himself
in her scent, in her. Feeling a sense of peace and hope that he had
not felt for centuries, Nick soon fell into a deep, restorative
sleep.

* * * * *

The sun had just started to rise when Tracy finally arrived home.
She stood in the corridor facing her apartment door while fumbling
through her keys. "Three days off," she griped aloud. "Three days."
It reminded her of the first time she had shot someone and Reese
had ordered her to take three days off. She had stupidly ignored
that order and continued to work on the case alone, a mistake that
resulted in a second shooting. She had barely escaped death herself
and managed to kill the killer, but she had almost gotten Nick
slaughtered in the process.

'Three shootings in one year is not good. And this last one...,'
Tracy shivered involuntarily as she finally found her key and stuck
it forcefully into the lock. She briskly opened the door to find
Vachon, or rather his apparition, sitting patiently on the couch.

"You look upset," he said, as Tracy stumbled into the apartment.

Tracy tossed her purse on the coffee table and plunked herself down
beside him. "I've had a bad night," she admitted, "an incredibly
bad night."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Tracy glared at him. "Are you going to be here long enough to
listen?" she snapped. Immediately repulsed by the vindictiveness in
her voice, she attempted an apology, "I'm sorry, Vachon, it's
just... it's just..."

"It's okay, Trace," Vachon consoled her, unable to recall ever

seeing his friend so angry and depressed at the same time. He
instinctively reached out to touch her hand and his own naturally
passed through hers. "Damn hard to get used to this," he grumbled.

"I shot someone tonight," Tracy blurted out. "It was a clean shoot,
you know, but it feels ...dirty. And being interrogated by an
asshole, pardon my language, didn't help any."

"What happened?" Vachon asked.

"A suspect aimed a gun at Nick and I shot him. Not Nick, that is,
the suspect. Anyway, I thought it was a gun. It wasn't a real gun
though, it was a replica."

Vachon just nodded his head sympathetically. "Sounds reasonable."

"Do you think so?" Tracy asked bitterly. "SIU doesn't seem to think
so. But that's not what really bothers me, Vachon. What bothers me
is that it could have been a teddy bear and I still would have
fired. Hell, his hand could have been empty and I would have
fired."

"You don't know that, Trace," Vachon advised. "You're second
guessing yourself, and that's normal under the circumstances." As
he finished his sentence, Tracy's telephone rang.

"Who would be calling me at this hour?" she wondered aloud. Tracy
reached over to the end table and lifted the receiver, almost
knocking over the table lamp in the process. After listening for a
moment, she slammed it back down. "Damn newspaper reporters," she
whined. "They're parasites you know, feeding off the misery of
others." After a moment of silence, she sighed heavily and then
glanced at Vachon. "I'm going to take a hot shower and go to bed,"
she declared.

Not knowing what to say or do, Vachon simply offered his support by
nodding his head again. He watched her as she marched off towards
the bedroom, and then he vanished.

Natalie woke in the middle of the afternoon and staggered into the
bathroom for a drink. After downing a glass of water, she stood in
front of the mirror and studied her face. 'The stitches look like
hell, but the bruise isn't so bad now,' she thought. Natalie opened
the mirrored cabinet door and discovered the small first?aid kit
was exactly where she had left it two years earlier. Untouched and
unopened. "No problem with running out of bandaids at your place,
Nick," she muttered, as she pulled the white plastic box off the
shelf. She found a flesh coloured bandage just large enough to hide
her stitches, and carefully applied it to her temple.

Natalie then made her way back to Nick's bed and climbed into it.
She closed her eyes and engrossed herself in the silky feel of his
satin sheets against her skin, made all the more intoxicating by
his familiar scent. Every movement of her body brought another cool
caress, and every cool caress brought another shiver of pleasure.
She had already extolled a great deal of pleasure from his bed, and
found her desire for him surging yet again.

The sound of his footsteps ascending the stairs abruptly broke Nat
from her erotic fantasies. A minute later he stopped at the bedroom
door to check if she was awake, and was delighted to find her
sitting up and smiling at him.

"You're up early," Nat chirped.

Nick cautiously stepped into the room. Viewing her in his bed with
her hair cascading over her bare shoulders was far more arousing to
him than he would have cared to admit. He could detect her
excitement too, both in her heartbeat and in her revealing scent.
Against his better judgement, he strode over to the bed and stood
awkwardly next to her, not quite knowing what to say. He could feel
the vampire's passion rising and knew he should leave, but his feet
refused to budge.

His proximity was having a devastating affect on Nat. 'This was a
big mistake,' she thought, her thumping heart torn between
demanding that he leave or bodily pulling him into the bed. Her
heart seemed to stop when she finally looked up into his eyes and
discovered he was fighting a battle of his own. The fear that her
dream had kindled violently pierced her soul when she saw his
golden eyes. Her skin prickled and her body started to shake.
Unbidden tears started to roll down her face. "Oh, God, Nick!" she

cried out, "I don't want to be afraid of you!" She shut her eyes
tight against the beast, and blindly reached out for the man.

Nick quickly banished his desires back to hell and dropped to the
bed. He gathered her in his arms. "I'm sorry," he whispered as he
rocked her soothingly. "I didn't want to frighten you. I don't ever
want to frighten you."

"I know," Natalie sobbed.

"I was stupid," Nick said. "Really, incredibly stupid. I shouldn't
have come in here." He could feel the pounding of her heart as he
held her tightly against his chest. But he knew it was safe. The
sound could not evoke his beast, for it had already been tethered
by her pain. They held on to each other silently for a long time,
until Natalie finished whimpering. Until Nick felt human.

"I'm okay now," she whispered. "I better get dressed."

"I'll go make you some coffee," Nick offered.

Nat poked lightly at his arm and smiled. "No room service!" she
exclaimed.

Nick grinned brightly at her as he rose from the bed. "Both the
coffee and I will be waiting downstairs."

After washing and dressing, Natalie joined Nick in the kitchen. He
was busy placing two ceramic mugs on the table, hot coffee for her,
something else for him.

"Not exactly the equivalent of having coffee together," Natalie
quipped as Nick took a seat across from her. 'God, why do I do
that?' she admonished herself when she caught the flicker of pain
that passed across his eyes. She reached out and massaged his hand.
"But close enough," she confessed. "I'm sorry, Nick. I don't know
why I say such callous things. I'm hopelessly in love with you, and
still I spout off without thinking."

"Your spontaneity is one of the things I love about you," Nick
reassured her.

"Well, it's often one of the things I hate about myself," she
replied. "What I *should* have said is, 'It's *just* like having
coffee together.' I'm sorry."

"Ach," Nick grinned. "You've apologized to me a thousand times for
your little 'almost innocent' slips of the tongue. And please

continue to do so. I rather enjoy having someone continually
atoning to me."

Natalie sighed. "I see," she said. "And could you be patiently
waiting for a major 'not so innocent' slip of the tongue that I
might beg your forgiveness?"

Nick chuckled. "Keep working on it," he teased.

Nat stopped fondling his hand and reached for her coffee. She took
a gulp of it and suddenly, and rather ungraciously, choked it back
into the cup.

"Is my coffee that bad?" Nick asked, while covertly checking his
own cup to make sure he didn't mix up the mugs.

"It's not the coffee!" she blared. "It's the books!"

"What *are* you talking about?"

"Vachon's ghost!" Nat exclaimed. "Tracy's books! You know, the ones
I told you about the day I went to the library. She had a mountain
of books in front of her about ghosts and hauntings and such...."

"So," Nick muttered thoughtfully as he leaned back in his chair.
"She's seen him too."

"And she was a wreck, Nick," Natalie commented. "She had no makeup
on and she looked like she hadn't slept for a week."

"But she never said anything to you about a ghost?"

"How could she? Not only a ghost, but the ghost of a vampire?" Nat
shook her head doubtfully. "Double jeopardy in the believability
department," she said. "Poor Tracy, being haunted by Vachon, and
then that shooting."

"Yes, that shooting," Nick echoed softly, suddenly remembering
Reese's words to him about being there for his partner. He smiled
lightly at Nat. "Trace is probably in critical need of some support
from her friends," he said.

"We'll go after sunset," Nat suggested. "We can both visit for a
while before you go to work. I can even spend the night with her if
she needs the company."

"You're not afraid of running into Vachon's ghost?"


"Trust me Nick," Nat replied briskly. "Any ghost who thinks Lacroix
is a bad influence on you, is a ghost after my own heart."

"But that has already been spoken for," Nick teased.

Natalie smiled whimsically at him. "Yes," she acknowledged, "Indeed
it has."
* * * * *

It was ten past seven when Nick and Natalie got off the elevator on
Tracy's floor. They traversed the corridor to her apartment and
paused in front of her door. Nick was about to knock when they both
heard voices coming from inside the apartment.

"Paper thin doors," Natalie whispered, earning a drawn out 'shush'
from Nick. They eavesdropped on the peculiar conversation.

"I know, Vachon, but ..."
"Quiet down, you've got company..."
"Well if it's a reporter..."
"It's your partner and Natalie..."

"He's in there," Nick whispered to Natalie, who immediately started
to wonder if she would have the nerve to spend the night with Tracy.

"She's coming to the door now," Nick continued. He had barely
started knocking on the door when Tracy opened it. She stood
with the door only slightly ajar, but enough to reveal
that she was wearing a blue terry housecoat and matching mule
slippers. "Nick? Nat?" she said, "What are you doing here?"

Nick beamed innocently at her. "How did you get to the door so
fast?" he asked, drawing a poke in the ribs from Nat.

"Uh, I, uh..." Tracy stammered, "I was looking through the peephole
just when you arrived."

Natalie noticed the small pouches under Tracy's eyes from lack of
sleep. "We're sorry," she apologized. "We should have called first.
Were you on your way to bed?"

"Actually no," Tracy admitted, "I just got up." She peeked around
her as though looking for something before opening the door fully.
"Come on in," she said. "I'll get dressed and make some coffee."
Tracy led them into the living room before heading off to her
bedroom to change.

As they walked towards the sofa, Natalie glanced around the room.

It was small, but the lightly tinted walls and ceiling gave it a
sense of spaciousness. The floors were wood parquet, finished in
light honey oak and varnished to a high gloss. In the centre of the
room there was a small brown and white carpet, two plain beige easy
chairs, a matching sofa, and a rectangular teak coffee table.

Nick observed Natalie eyeing the room. "Vachon's not here," he
said, "he's gone."

"I was admiring her furniture," Natalie declared innocently.

Nick leaned over and lifted up a corner of the sofa cushion, "Not
under here either," he teased, before pushing the cushion back down
and sitting on it.

"Very funny," Natalie groaned.

Nick gently tugged her onto the couch with him. "I'm sorry," he
said. "I'll take you home before I go to work. You know you don't
have to stay if you don't want to."

"It's okay, Nick. If Tracy can handle it, I'm sure I can. I just
don't want him sneaking up on me. I hate that."

Nick smiled and put his arm around her comfortingly.

A few moments later, Tracy emerged from her bedroom, dressed in
bluejeans and a pewter coloured sweater. She went straight into the
kitchen and leaned over the counter to face Nick and Nat. "What
would you like to drink?" she asked. "Tea? Coffee? I think I have
some soft drinks. Coke? Canada Dry?"

"Yes, ginger ale sounds nice," Nat replied.

Tracy glanced at Nick. "Nick?"

"Nothing, thanks."

Tracy poured two glasses of ginger ale with ice and joined her
guests in the living room. She carefully placed the glasses on the
coffee table and settled herself into one of the easy chairs. "So,
what brings you by?" she finally asked.

"Did Reese update you on the Marci Dobbs case?" Nick inquired.

"Vaguely. I was waiting in his office for over two hours this
morning, and only got two little blurbs of info ? that Standish
confessed, and that Natalie was going to be fine."

"That was a good call," Nick remarked. "Picking up on Standish's
unusual behaviour the way you did."

"Thanks, Nick," she replied. "But I should have told you I was
having him checked out. I guess I just didn't want you to think
that I doubted your judgement."

"Yes, well, I do have a tendency sometimes to listen only to
myself," Nick admitted.

"Sometimes?" Nat interrupted.

"Alright. Usually," Nick confessed. He glanced seriously at Tracy.
"And I'll try not to be so pig?headed from now on. I've
underestimated you in the past and if it happens again in the
future, just kick me."

Tracy managed a weak smile. "Thanks, Nick," she said. "But after
shooting Dobbs, I'm just not sure what that future's going to be."

"It was a clean shoot, Trace," Nick insisted. "Anyone would have
done the same thing."

"So I've been told," Tracy muttered.

"Pardon?" Nick asked.

"Oh, nothing. By the way, Nick. I haven't been able to figure out
why Standish confessed. Did Reese tell you anything?"

Nick studied her intently, and hesitated a moment before answering,
"Standish claimed the ghost of a biker told him to confess."

"Are you serious?" Nat interjected, surprised that Nick had not
told her about that. Her curiosity about Vachon's apparition was
definitely beginning to overshadow her fear of it.

Lacroix woke shortly after sunset. He immediately went to his
kitchen and retrieved a bottle of human blood from the cupboard.
His most prized bottles were still on the premises, as he had
intended to deliver them to New York personally. The idea suddenly
entered his mind that the woman would be hungry when she woke and
he had nothing to feed her, but he quickly pushed the benevolent
thought aside. Impatiently, Lacroix guzzled from the bottle. He was
anxious to get acquainted with his most promising plaything. He
left the empty bottle on the countertop and strolled into the
living room towards the couch.

"Wake now," Lacroix demanded his sleeping charge. She moaned in
response and slowly opened her eyes. Still entranced, she stared
silently at him.

"Rise," Lacroix ordered, "and recite your name."

"Karen," the girl told him as she rose to her feet.

Lacroix reached out and swept back the hair from her face and neck.
He ran his hands firmly down her shoulders, over her breasts, and
back up to her throat. He licked his lips before gently gliding his
fingers up her neck. "Just a sip for now," he whispered before
baring his fangs. Lacroix envisioned Natalie as he leaned over and
bit hard into Karen's soft, perfumed neck. Even through the whammy,
Karen felt the wrath of his attack and cried out in pain. Lacroix
downed several mouthfuls of her blood before painfully ripping his
teeth out of her flesh. "The pleasure was over all too soon," he
grumbled, before violently shoving her back down to the sofa.

Standing over her, he pondered the information gleaned from her
blood. He discarded the knowledge of her family, her loves, and her
losses as irrelevant; and sought out that thing most important to
him, her greatest fear. "Water?" he said aloud, somewhat amused.

"Yes, I am thirsty," Karen droned.

Lacroix glanced down at her. "Then I shall get you a drink, my
dear," he crooned. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned a
moment later with a glass of water. "It's time to release your
mind," he explained before snapping his fingers. Karen blinked her
eyes, and Lacroix threw the water in her face in anticipation.


"What the hell did you do that for?!" Karen screamed as she dried
her face with the sleeve of her dress.

Lacroix was stunned by her reaction. Fear was what he wanted, not
anger. He wanted to see her fear, to feel her fear. Nothing in her
blood had led him to expect wrath. It took him but a moment to
regain his composure, and in that moment he realized she was more
like Natalie than he could have ever hoped for. "Are you quite
certain you don't have a twin sister?" he asked cunningly.

"Who are you?" Karen demanded. She scanned the sparsely furnished
room. The lighting was too dim to determine colour. There were no
windows and only one door. She returned her fiery gaze to Lacroix.
"And what am I doing here?"

"You are my prisoner," Lacroix said simply. He gestured around the
room with one arm, "And this is your prison."

Karen then noticed the smear of blood on his chin, and an image of
him feeding at her neck replayed in her mind. "It wasn't a dream,"
she gasped.

Lacroix smiled. "It wasn't a dream," he echoed cruelly.

Karen's eyes suddenly filled with a fear that thrilled Lacroix.
"What do you want of me?" she asked nervously.

"Everything but your willing co?operation," he replied honestly.

"You're insane," Karen declared.

"How typical of mortals," Lacroix countered, "to mistake
eccentricity for insanity." He lowered his face to meet Karen's and
she recoiled back into the couch. "I have but one matter to attend
to first," he said, "and then the rest of the night is ours." He
touched her chin lightly and whispered, "Sleep." Karen's eyes
closed, and Lacroix flew from the Raven.

He arrived at Aristotle's home ten minutes later and was startled
to find a stranger standing behind the metal desk. The young
vampire was clad in a white tee?shirt and black jeans. His curly
brown hair was closely cropped, and he had a handsome face. "Where
is Aristotle?" Lacroix demanded.

"He's no longer here," the stranger replied as he leaned forward
and extended his hand. "I'm Jacob, the new relocator. What can I do
for you, Lacroix?"


Lacroix refused the proffered hand. "You know who I am?" he asked
warily.

Jacob smiled warmly. "Of course," he said merrily. "It's part of my
job to know who people are."

Lacroix was incensed with both the stranger's familiarity, and his
damned cheerfulness. "I talked with Aristotle this morning," he
snapped, "and I was to meet him here tonight. *Where* is he?"

Jacob had been expecting confrontations such as this. Aristotle had
warned him that he may not be trusted, no matter how cordially he
introduced himself. "Aristotle has retired," he replied calmly. "In
fact, his own relocation was his last assignment."

Lacroix tried unsuccessfully to conceal the surprise from his
voice. "Retired?"

Jacob shot his visitor an amused glance. "Surely you didn't expect
him to do this for an eternity!" he exclaimed. "We don't all
relegate ourselves to a tiny little world as you do, clinging to
those we know, refusing to mix with mortals, stifling ourselves."

Lacroix, enraged at the vampire's insolence and the extent of his
knowledge, extended his fangs and prepared to strike.

"Attack if you dare," Jacob said menacingly. "But I remind you that
relocators do enjoy special protection under the Code." He shuffled
some papers around on his desk. "Indeed," he added seriously, "you
may already be in trouble with the Enforcers."

Lacroix's rage was quickly dampened at the mention of the Code, and
of the Enforcers, whom he feared. "What trouble?" he snarled, as he
pictured himself ripping the young upstart from limb to limb.

Jacob settled back into his chair. He picked up a pencil and
started to tap it in irritating rhythm on the desk. "Your steamer
trunk," he said, "was apparently broken into an hour ago."

"How is that possible?" Lacroix growled.

Jacob casually shrugged his shoulders, "It was moved in a pick?up
truck. The driver stopped for coffee and when he returned to his
truck he noticed some punks trying to pry open your trunk. They
fled instantly, and the driver doesn't believe anything was taken.
The lock was broken, but the trunk was still closed. At any rate,
he called his employer, who in turn informed his employer, who in
turn called me."

"And?"

"It's now safely in the storage yard as you requested, but I would
advise you to examine its contents." Jacob dropped the pencil and
watched it roll slowly off the desk and fall to the floor. He
handed the key for the storage unit over to Lacroix. "Retaining
evidence of our existence is a serious breach under the Code,
Lacroix," he advised. "It would be most unfortunate for you if
anything incriminating is ...missing."

"It will be most unfortunate for you," Lacroix hissed, before
vanishing.
* * * * *

Nick, Nat and Tracy had chatted together for almost an hour before
it was time for Nick to leave for work. "I'd like to stay longer,
Trace," he said, "but I've got to get going."

"That's too bad. I've been enjoying the company," Tracy replied.

"Tracy," Nat said. "I don't have to work tonight. I can spend the
night here if you like and Nick can pick me up on his way home. We
can talk about ...whatever."

Tracy considered Nat's offer. 'That would be nice,' she thought,
'to have someone normal to talk to.' She glanced at Nat, "Are you
sure it's not any trouble? I wouldn't mind a little girl talk for
a change."

"No trouble at all," Nat replied.

Nick uttered his goodbyes to Tracy, and Natalie walked him to the
door. "Are you sure you're okay with this, Nat?" he asked quietly.

"I'm fine," she reassured him. "I already know Vachon is on the
side of good, and I doubt he'll show up while I'm here anyway."

Nick leaned forward and brushed her cheek with his lips. "I'll see
you around four," he said.

"I'll be waiting," Natalie whispered as Nick walked out the door.

"You're so lucky," Tracy commented when Nat returned to the couch.
"He really loves you, you know. He just lights up whenever you're
near him."

Natalie blushed slightly and smiled. "That's nice of you to say,
Trace, though I'm sure you're exaggerating about the lighting up

part."

Tracy shook her head. "No exaggeration. Believe me. I see him when
you're not around and he's an entirely different person."

'If she only knew,' Natalie thought to herself. "Well, I love him
too," she admitted.

"That's what I'd like to find someday," Tracy confessed. "Just a
normal, normal guy." She noticed Natalie questioning her with her
eyes and added, "You know, a good looking man that doesn't wear
more jewellery than I do."

'Well, Nick fits part of the description anyway,' Nat thought. "By
the way, Trace," she said, "how is your research coming along?"

This time Tracy gave Nat the quizzical look. "Pardon?"

"The books you were reading at the library. The ones about ghosts
and such."

"Oh those," Tracy remarked. She gazed intently at Nat for a long
moment. "What would you say, Nat, if I told you I've seen another
ghost?"

"Another ghost?"

Tracy nodded her head.

"What could I say, Trace? Have you seen another ghost?"

Tracy tightened her lips together and nodded her head again.

"Someone you know?" Nat asked.

"Just casually," Tracy replied. "He was a guy I knew a while back."

"A guy you knew?"

"Yeah," Tracy continued. "I ...I dated him once. A couple of months
ago. He died ...recently."

"I'm sorry," Nat said. "Did he talk to you?"

"A little. He seems to be stuck between heaven and hell ...I mean
earth. That's what the books are for. I wanted to see if there's
anything I can do to help him."


"And did you learn anything from the books?"

Tracy shook her head. "Not yet," she said. "I've been through two
of them, but haven't found anything ...relevant. I was going to do
some more reading tonight."

"I can help," Nat offered. "Actually, I'm very interested."

Tracy rose from the couch and walked over to the wall unit to
retrieve her library books. When she returned, she placed four
heavy volumes on the coffee table. "Take your pick," she announced.

It was almost nine o'clock when the petite brunette stepped
cautiously into Reese's office. She wore a simple green dress and
beige shoes, and carried a small beige purse. Her short hair was a
mass of curls, and apart from a dab of rouge on each cheek and a
smear of vibrant red across her firmly clenched lips, her face was
unduly pale. Reese knew that she had been crying. Her makeup did
nothing to conceal the puffiness of her eyelids. "Ms. Beckford," he
said softly, "I'm Captain Reese. Please, sit down."

Donna Beckford nodded and settled into a chair across from Reese.
She placed her handbag on her lap and folded her hands over it
before locking eyes with him.

"Now, what is it you wanted to see me about?" Reese inquired.

"It's my daughter, Karen," the woman answered sombrely. "She's
missing, and no one in the department will help me."

"Missing?"

"Yes," Donna replied. "I woke shortly after nine this morning and
she wasn't home yet. She's an x?ray technician at the hospital.

She's always home by six when she works nights."

Reese uttered a refrain all too familiar to him, "I'm truly sorry,
Ms. Beckford, but our hands are tied for twenty?four hours in these
cases. Unless she's a minor, or you suspect foul play..."

"I do!" Donna exclaimed. She sprang to her feet and grasped the
front edge of Reese's desk with her hands. "Something terrible has
happened to her!" she cried out. "I know it has!"

Reese stood up slowly. "You *know*?"

Donna's eyes filled with tears. "I think ...I think she's been
murdered," she sobbed.

Reese slid a small box of tissues across his desk towards the
distraught woman. He stood up and plodded clumsily around his desk
towards the door. "I'll be right back," he mumbled before slipping
out of the office.

A few minutes later he returned with Nick in tow. Donna was back in
her seat, staring straight ahead and dabbing at her eyes with a
tissue. "Ms. Beckford," Reese announced. "This is Detective Knight.
He's one of our top investigators and I'd like him to hear what you
have to say."

Donna tucked the tissue into her purse and cleared her throat. She
turned to face Reese and Knight. "I'm sorry," she muttered.

While Reese returned to his place behind the desk, Nick pulled a
chair close to Ms. Beckford and sat down. "Captain Reese tells me
you believe something has happened to your daughter," he said.

Donna stared into his eyes for a moment before abruptly turning her
face away. Her reaction made Nick uncomfortable. 'She's afraid of
me,' he thought.

"Yes," Donna said, while keeping her eyes on Reese. "I believe
she's been murdered, and that her fiance's family is behind it."

'Oh great, domestic squabble,' Reese thought as he leaned back in
his chair. "What does your husband think about all this?" he asked.
He glanced at Nick, but Nick's mind had wandered a hundred and ten
years into the past, to a small sawmilling town on the banks of the
Credit River.

He had taken emergency shelter under a large green and white
wooden gazebo at the edge of town. He had slept soundly the

entire day and then, shortly after sunset, awoke to discover
himself literally in the midst of a rollicking town
celebration. He could hear the loud and lively music of
fiddles and harmonicas above him, and could feel the
vibration of stomping feet on the planks over his head. The
gay sounds of talk and laughter washed over him from all
sides. When he rolled onto his side and peered through the
latticework that adorned the bottom of the gazebo, all he
could discern was a sea of black boots, trousers, and long
dresses, twirling about in dance.

Nick passed the time in his temporary prison reflecting on
his periodic ventures into the New World over the past two
hundred years. He had discovered early that the daunting
task of finding shelter was almost as exciting as exploring
the virgin territory. There were no deserted castles or
darkened crypts to hide within in the Americas, and burying
himself under leaves and dirt in the woods was frequently
resorted to.

He was also enjoying the absence of his master, Lacroix; and
to a lesser extent, his sister, Janette. He had not seen
either of them for over ten years, since the incident where
he had been drugged by the bounty hunter. The trio's image
had been plastered on wanted posters, making it too
dangerous for them to travel together in America. Lacroix
and Janette had happily returned to Europe, preferring the
culture and refinement of the old world to the raw
wilderness of the new. They had urged Nick to return with
them, but he was tired and bored of Europe, and he
cautiously refused. He now recalled Lacroix's description of
the new world as a "crude and savage place, unfit for
creatures as sophisticated as themselves."

Nick's hunger suddenly roused him from his reverie. He had
found the festivities quite entertaining at first, but after
being trapped for several hours his hunger had reached
critical proportions. Finally the music stopped and the
revellers slowly began to drift away. When all was silent,
he pushed out the piece of lattice that he had loosened to
gain entry. Nick crawled out and slipped unseen into the
forest.

From his vantage point above the trees, it didn't take him
long to spot a magnificent white?tailed buck tucked inside
the edge of a small clearing. He flew towards the animal and
began a quick descent, when a woman's scream simultaneously
diverted his attention and frightened his prey into the

thick of the woods. Nick spun around in mid?air and raced in
the direction of the scream.

As he landed, he saw the flash of a man chasing a dark
haired woman through the trees. Suddenly the man had her in
his arms. Nick was about to intervene when the young woman
started to giggle wildly. He watched as the two fell to the
ground and rolled about in the tall grass, entwined in each
others arms. Nick was about to turn around when the couple
spotted him. The blond haired man immediately sprang to his
feet, motioning his barefooted lover to stay put. "Who are
you, stranger?" he demanded.

"Just a man enjoying a walk in the woods," Nick explained as
he approached the duo. He noticed the fine cut of the man's
suit and the quality of his boots, and assumed him to be a
gentleman. "Forgive me the intrusion," Nick begged. "I heard
the lady scream and thought I might be of some assistance."
He momentarily glanced at the girl who blushed deeply. She
diverted her eyes and started picking off blades of grass from her blue gingham dress.

"I have no husband," Donna snapped, the shrillness in her voice
breaking Nick from his liaison with the past. "I raised Karen by
myself. She's never met her father." Donna glared at Nick for an
instant, making him feel even more uncomfortable.

"Oh, I handled that well,' Reese thought. He looked at his watch
and then picked up a pen and prepared to take notes. "Tell me about
her fiance's family and why you think they are involved in her
...disappearance."

"My daughter is engaged to Russell James Thornton," Donna started.

Reese straightened in his chair. "*The* Russell James Thornton
...of Thornton Zeldix Corporation?" he asked.

"Yes," Donna replied. "Well, Russell Jr. actually."

"Surely you don't suspect them," Reese said. "The Thorntons are a
very responsible and highly respected family."

Donna flinched. "They are a family who do not believe in
associating with, let alone marrying those outside of their
clique," she accused. "And familial loyalty is everything to them."

Mute until now, Nick decided to join the conversation. "There is a
religious conflict?" he asked.


Donna smiled wryly. "Oh, something far more consequential than
that, detective. Although they do employ the same brainwashing
techniques when rearing their offspring."

"Pardon?" Nick asked, confused.

"Money," she replied. "Old money to be precise. Social status. The
'right' people." She noted the sceptical expression on Nick's face.
"Oh, come now, detective, you don't really believe those people put
their children into private school for a better education, do you?
It's sanctified segregation. You know, to guard against the great
unwashed."

"But your daughter met Mr. Thornton," Nick said. "They fell in
love. They're planning a wedding."

"Yes, that's all true." Donna sighed heavily. "And she is most
likely dead because of it."

Reese had heard enough. It was obvious to him that Donna was the
one having trouble accepting those outside of *her* 'clique'.
"Really, Ms. Beckford," he said, "we can't rush in there and
question these people based on your opinion of them."

"I didn't think you would believe me," Donna retorted. She pulled
a small white envelope from her handbag and almost threw it at
Reese. "Here then!" she shouted. "Read this!"

Reese removed a neatly folded piece of paper from the envelope and
read the handwritten message aloud:

"Dear Ms. Beckford,

Our children are moving towards a marriage that is doomed to
failure and your assistance is urgently required. I would
once again implore you to speak with your daughter before it
is too late. I have spoken with Russell on several
occasions, and am loathe to admit that he is immovable in
this matter.

I am prepared to submit considerable reparation for any
inconvenience you may endure as a result of this course of
action. Unsatisfactory settlement of this situation will
certainly result in the most dire of consequences.

Sincerely,

Russell Thornton"

"You see!" Donna exclaimed. "An offer we can't refuse. Accept the
money or suffer dire consequences."

Reese smiled glumly. "Suffer a marriage doomed to failure, Ms.
Beckford, not murder," he maintained. He paused for a moment before
continuing. "Have you even called these people today? Perhaps your
daughter is over there right now."

"Yes I called them the moment I discovered she hadn't arrived
home." Donna replied. "The maid said she was not there, and hadn't
been for several days."

Reese leaned back in his chair. "The note is not enough to suspect
them of anything, let alone murder. But if you're sure you want to
go through with this, we will question them, Russell Jr. at any
rate." He looked squarely at Donna. "It will likely increase the
tension between your families," he warned.

Donna flashed an odd smile. "There is nothing on this earth that
can *increase* the tension between our families," she declared.

Reese nodded his head. "It will be unofficial you understand, and
they are under no obligation to co?operate." He gestured towards
Nick, "Detective Knight will fill in the report."

Nick led Donna over to his desk and motioned for her to sit down
across from him. He was just about to sit down himself when he
realized he had no missing persons forms. "Excuse me for a moment,"
he said before stepping over to Tracy's desk and digging through
her file folders. He returned a moment later with the correct form
and began questioning Donna. When the paperwork was finally
completed, Nick set the pen down. "Do you have a recent photograph
of your daughter?" he asked.


Donna reached into her purse and pulled out a photo of Karen. She
studied it for a moment before handing it to Nick. "Here," she
said. "This is only a month old."

Nick was awestruck by Karen's likeness to Nat. The shape of her
face, her hair, her lips. Her eyes were the same colour and very
similar to Nat's, though not as large or compassionate.

"She's all I have," Donna said softly.

"Yes, she is," Nick whispered, as he eyed the photograph intently.
He sensed Donna staring at him and he met her eyes. "I'm sorry," he
said. "She just looks very similar to someone very close to me."

"Oh, it's not that," Donna offered. "It's just that ...your eyes
...they remind me so much of Karen's father."

A curious smile formed on Nick's lips. "Oh?"

"You have that same haunted look in your eyes. Of being both
trapped and on the verge of freedom at the same time."

"You're a very perceptive woman, Ms. Beckford," Nick said quietly.
"Do you want to tell me about Karen's father?"

"There's not much to tell, really," she answered. "He was very much
like Karen's fiance. His name was Brad." She stared off into space,
into her own past. "Have you ever noticed that about those people?"
she asked. "They always have the same names, Derek, Russell,
Bradley. And their daughters? They are always named Brittany,
Tiffany, or Celeste. Never Mary, or Joan." Donna shook her head
sadly. "Anyway," she continued, "Brad's family was wealthy and
cultured and mine was, well, ...not. We wanted to get married and
their family put an end to it. End of story."

"I see," Nick commented sympathetically, but his mind had also
wandered back in time.

The man stared uncertainly at Nick. "You still haven't
answered my question," he said.

Nick smiled warmly and offered his hand. "Nicholas," he
announced, "Nicholas Baron. And you are..."

The stranger studied Nick intently, and when he was
satisfied that Nick was not armed, he took the proffered
hand and shook it soundly. "Douglas Butcher," he said,
before signalling to the woman with his free hand. She drew

herself up from the ground and warily stepped towards them.
Douglas put his arm around her shoulder and grinned widely.
"This is my intended," he stated cheerfully, "Margaret
Carroll."

Nick nodded and smiled at Margaret before returning his gaze
to Douglas. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Both of you. And
I must apologize again for my intrusion. I really didn't
expect to find anyone out here..."

"I understand," Douglas interrupted. "Margaret and I have
certain ...familial objections to our ...relationship." He
gestured widely with his arms. "We find it simpler to meet
out here in private."

"That's unfortunate," Nick said. He addressed Margaret, "I
cannot imagine any father protesting your choice for a
husband. He appears to be quite the gentleman, and is
obviously very much in love with you."

Margaret simply blushed again.

"Yes, I am very much in love with her," Douglas asserted.
"But it is *my* father who objects to our marriage."

Nick tried to atone for his mistake. "Then your father must
be blind, sir."

"Only blind to what really matters," Douglas replied. "He
believes our marriage will prove an affront to his good
name." Douglas hesitated for a moment. "Margaret and I plan
to elope," he said sheepishly. "I am confident that my
father will approve once we are wed."

"I have no doubt of that," Nick declared. "Nothing hardens
a heart so surely as wealth, and nothing softens it so
surely as a woman."

"Oh, it is nothing so crass as a disparity in wealth that
separates us, sir; but a matter of religion. I am Anglican,
hence bound to the Church of England. My Margaret is
Catholic, and bound to the Church of Rome.

"Well, then," Nick said, both his unrelenting hunger and his
conversational blundering impelling him to be on his way. "I
shall take my leave of you and bode you well." He quickly
retreated into the woods, and soon took to the night sky to
resume his search for game.

"Detective?" Donna said loudly for the second time.

"Sorry," Nick replied as he snapped out of his reminiscing.

Donna gazed at him and smiled sadly. "Brad had that same look in
his eyes as you do ...the day he broke off our engagement. His
father was a very controlling person, you understand; and in the
end Brad could not muster the spirit to break free of him."

Nick flinched in shame to recall himself almost crawling back to
Lacroix less than twenty?four hours previous. He stood up quickly
and Donna followed his lead. "I'll speak with the Thorntons right
away," he promised, "and we'll keep you advised."

* * * * *

Lacroix arrived at the public storage yard shortly after nine and
immediately opened the door to his six foot square unit. His black
trunk was standing proudly against the back wall. It was closed,
but the padlock was missing. Lacroix quickly opened the trunk and
started to inventory the collection of memorabilia he had gathered
over the years. All of his rare books and paintings appeared to be
untouched. He slid his hands across the splines of the books before
reaching deep inside the trunk. Lacroix deftly pulled out a heavy
black box. It measured a foot square and was two inches thick. It
was a very small thing actually, but to the enforcers it would have
been a very big thing. A thing that would most certainly lead to
his demise.

He pried the lid off the box and pulled out an aged record book. It
contained the names, dates, and circumstances of every vampire he
had ever created and a detailed history of their lives, to the
extent that he knew their lives. It was his family album, wherein
he always found something to mourn over, or something to gloat
over. All of his failures and all of his successes lived in these
pages, and he would not part with it.

Lacroix's journal was also ripe with information about his
experiment, Nicholas. Nicholas had been his only success at
bringing someone across in total ignorance. It was a difficult
procedure to clear his mind of everything, to purify his blood
beforehand, and to keep his mind empty both while he partook of
another's blood and gave his own. He had tried several times before
and since Nicholas, but information had always passed on with his
blood. Both the headiness of the wine and the wiles of Janette had
been instrumental in his success, he knew. The wine numbed
Nicholas's powers of reason and Janette had kept Nicholas suitably
engaged, while he meditated and cleared his mind of thought.

Long before he brought Nicholas over, he had heard rumours that it
was possible to create a vampire without the instinct for survival,
a vampire that would be totally dependent on him. He had become
obsessed with the notion of creating a being in his own image, of
moulding a soul, of truly becoming a God. But he would never become
a God, he now knew, until his creation returned to the fold and
submitted to him completely.

Lacroix angrily snapped the lid back down on the box and shoved it
back into the trunk. He reached to the next shelf and removed a
larger steel box. Inside were old coins and stamps, Divia's cameo,
and several photographs that he had collected over the years. He
pushed the objects over to the side and opened the secret storage
compartment in the bottom. His bankbooks were also intact.

Lacroix slid that box back into its place and started to examine
the other side of the trunk. The bust of himself was still secured
in its heavy wrapping on the top shelf. He meticulously went
through all of his other large collectibles, including a gold crown
and a silver candelabra, and determined that all was well.

The last thing Lacroix checked was his jewellery box. He reached
into it and pulled out Karen's diamond ring. While holding it up to
the bare lightbulb in the ceiling of his storage unit, Lacroix was
struck by an amusing idea.

Natalie had become engrossed in Tracy's collection of library
books, particularly one volume that was sparse on revelations about
ghosts, but ripe with revelations about vampires. She curled
herself up comfortably in the corner of the sofa and started to
scan the pages, stopping and reading more thoroughly when she came
across the name of an herb or a mineral that she recognized. 'That
wouldn't do it,' she thought, as she discounted one cure after the
next. But when she came across a passage that described a ritual

involving Mayan mugs, she gasped. "I've got to show this book to
Nick," she sputtered aloud without thinking.

"What?" Tracy asked.

"Sorry, I was just thinking out loud," Nat replied. "I was thinking
that Nick might be interested in some of this stuff. These ancient
remedies for curses and such." She paused for a moment. "As they
relate to archaeology, the way people lived..."

"I don't think Nick would be interested," Tracy interrupted. "I
don't even think he really believed that we saw ghosts. He never
did mention anything about the ghost he *said* he saw." She shook
her head doubtfully. "I think he was just humouring us, you know.
Nick's like that."

"Maybe you're right," Natalie said with a straight face.

The telephone suddenly rang, startling both Tracy and Nat. Tracy
grudgingly reached over and picked up the receiver. "Hello," she
said quietly. She listened for a moment and added, "Can you just
hold on a minute?" Covering the mouthpiece with her hand, Tracy
addressed Nat, "It's my mother," she said. "She called me at work
and wants to know why I wasn't there. I'll just take this in the
other room."

Nat smiled. "Don't mind me, I'm fine here," she said. The minute
Tracy was out of the room, Nat reached into her purse and pulled
out a small spiral bound notepad and a black pen. She flipped
backwards through the pages in the library book she had been
reading, and started to madly jot down notes. Just as she flicked
the sheet of paper over to start a fresh page, she felt a presence
beside her. Even without looking, she knew it was Vachon.

"A little out of your element, aren't you doctor?" he whispered.

Natalie turned her head ever so slowly towards him. He looked as he
did in unlife, long straggly dark hair, five o'clock shadow, and a
lot of black leather. She thought she would be frightened by him,
but she wasn't. She felt totally at ease with him, as though his
presence was normal. She didn't know why. "Vachon?"

"Almost in the flesh," he replied with a charming smile. He glanced
over at her notebook. "What are you doing?"

"I'm writing down these cures from the book."

Vachon shrugged his shoulders. "Why?" he asked.

"To help Nick."

"But you're a doctor," Vachon remarked. "You know those things
won't work."

"I told Nick I believed in a larger universe, and I do. I know now
that there are forces of evil at work, that his condition *is*
metaphysical. I know nothing of the things in this book. If there
is something in here that can help him, I'm going to try it."

"There *may* be things in there that can help him, Natalie," Vachon
advised, "but there *are* things in there that will hurt him."

"But I have to try..."

Tracy suddenly emerged from the bedroom. She glanced fleetingly at
Vachon and then stared at Nat. "You see him too, don't you?" she
asked.

Natalie nodded her head affirmatively.

"And you're not afraid of him?" Tracy asked, surprised by Nat's
composure.

"He's been quite cordial to me so far," Natalie replied calmly.

"Then I suppose I should introduce you," Tracy said as she stepped
towards them. "Natalie this is Vachon. Vachon ...Natalie."

Vachon winked at Nat. "I'd shake hands, but..."

"That's quite alright," Natalie maintained, secretly hoping that
being formally introduced wouldn't result in him starting to show
up unexpectedly at her place.

"Natalie's helping me do research," Tracy stated, "into why you
might be here."

"You were right earlier, Tracy," Vachon surmised, "when you said I
was being given a chance not to end up down..."

"Yes," Tracy blurted out, not wanting Vachon to continue his
narration in front of Nat. She stared at him while making gestures
with her eyes towards Nat. "Unfinished business, that's what it
is," she declared. "Unfinished business on earth."

Vachon grinned. "Unfinished business," he repeated.


"It would help to know what you may have left undone before you
died," Natalie said. "Maybe we can help."

Vachon exchanged glances with both Natalie and Tracy. "I appreciate
you wanting to help, both of you. But this is something that I have
to do myself. And it could take a very, very long time."

"What's it like where you are?" Nat asked, suspecting his version
of the afterlife would be far different than her grandmother's. All
that Nick had told about Vachon's environment was that it was
lonely.

"Very lonely," Vachon said. "Apart from the times I am able to
visit, as I'm doing now."

"My grandmother said it was like sleeping in a beautiful dream,"
Natalie commented.

"I know the dream is there somewhere," Vachon advised. "I feel it.
But I have a lot to make up for before I become a part of it..."

Afraid Nat was going to ask him what he had to make up for, Tracy
bluntly interrupted their conversation. "Would you like something
to drink, Nat?" she asked.

"Some coffee maybe?" Nat replied, realizing she had pushed the
conversation into too awkward a position for Tracy.

"I have to go now," Vachon said.

Both women turned to look at him, but he had already vanished.

Nat gawked at Tracy. "Does he always pop in and out like that?" she
asked.

Tracy simply shrugged her shoulders. "Pretty much," she said.

Lacroix returned to the Raven around nine?thirty, both pleased that
his belongings were intact, and annoyed at the events that had made
his outing necessary to begin with. "Incompetent mortals," he spat
as he walked over towards the couch where Karen still slept an
unnatural sleep. He woke her as before, and was thrilled to find
the fear still fresh in her eyes.

"We are going to play a little game," Lacroix crooned. "The most
important thing to remember is your name. Your name is Natalie. Do
you understand?"

"Natalie," Karen muttered.

Satisfied with her response, Lacroix gave a slight nod of approval.
"Natalie," he said, "tell me that you do not love Nicholas."

"I don't know anyone named Nicholas," Karen replied.

Lacroix stared sternly at her. "You are aware of the concept of
reward and punishment, are you not?" he asked. But before she had
a chance to answer, he abruptly smacked her across the side of the
head. "This is the punishment for lying to me, Natalie," he
snapped. "I know that you have known Nicholas for six years."

Karen started to tremble. "I've known Nicholas for six years," she
sobbed, unaware of the trickle of blood that had started to ooze
from her nose.

"And," Lacroix said.

"And I do not love him. I do not love Nicholas," she replied,
finally understanding the game.

Lacroix eyed the blood trail that ran from Karen's nose, over her
lips, and down her chin. "You do not love him, but you are the one
who would take him from me?"

"No!" Karen shouted. "I would never do that! Never!"

Lacroix touched his finger to her chin and wiped the blood from it.
He brought the finger to his lips and tasted her blood. "Nicholas
belongs with his family," he said. "He belongs with me."

"He belongs with you. Only you," Karen wailed.


"Now," Lacroix said threateningly. "No mistakes, Natalie. Do you
understand?"

Karen meekly nodded her head.

Lacroix closed his eyes. "Tell me that you renounce all claims on
him. Tell me that I am his creator, his ...God."

"I renounce all claims on him!" Karen cried out. "You are his
creator, his God!"

"That's very good," Lacroix whispered as he sat down next to the
frightened woman. He swept her hair away from her neck and began to
caress her throat. She was now shaking with fear, and the throbbing
of her jugular fiercely excited him. He bared his fangs and plunged
them partially into her skin, ripping and tearing at her flesh.
Karen screamed out in fear and pain, exciting Lacroix beyond
reason. He withdrew his fangs for a moment and uttered the name
"Natalie," the last word Karen would ever hear. Lacroix buried his
face in the chewed, bloody flesh of her throat, and finally drained
her of her life.
* * * * *

It was almost eleven o'clock when Nick arrived at the Thornton
estate. He climbed out of the caddy and sauntered up the stone
pathway to the house, an enormous two story brown brick mansion
with a cedar shake roof. Six large white?trimmed windows spanned
the second floor, and all were in darkness save the two at the west
end. Nick ascended the four concrete steps to the landing, and rang
the bell. A dark haired, middle?aged woman in a blue smock answered
the door.

"May I help you?" she asked.

Nick showed her his identification. "Nick Knight, Metro P.D.," he
said sharply. "I'd like to see Mr. Russell, either one." The woman
escorted Nick into the spacious marble tiled foyer. She asked him
to wait and then disappeared into another room. Moments later, she
returned and escorted Nick into the parlour. It was much smaller
than the foyer, and was heavily panelled in dark wood. An
intricately detailed Persian carpet covered the floor. A few
sidechairs, a large wooden desk, and a small table holding a brass
lamp were the only furnishings.

An elderly gentleman wearing grey slacks and a multi?hued cardigan
soon joined Nick in the parlour. "Gwen tells me you're with the
police," he remarked.


Nick studied the man. He was Nick's height, slightly overweight,
white haired and balding. His eyes were hazel and small for his
face, while his nose was large and bulbous. His forehead was a sea
of wrinkles, and his cheeks sagged down his face. Nick offered the
man his hand. "Yes, Mr...."

"Russell Thornton. Senior," the man replied as he shook Nick's
hand firmly.

"Mr. Thornton," Nick continued. "I'm trying to find a missing
woman, Karen Beckford. I believe she is your son's fiance?"

A bulge of loose flesh under Thornton's chin jiggled as he cleared
his throat. "I know the girl," he choked. "And as for her being my
son's fiance, well, I am trying to rectify that situation."

"You don't approve of her?" Nick asked.

"Not for *my* son," Thornton replied brusquely. "Her mother is a
waitress for heaven's sake. How do you think that would look? A
Thornton marrying someone of that ilk."

"I didn't think things of that nature were so important these
days," Nick replied casually, amused at the tinge of anger evident
in Thornton's face.

Thornton looked at Nick sternly. "Things of that nature are always
important, Detective Knight. It is my family I am concerned with
here. You have obviously been spending too much time on the streets
associating with those ...people."

Nick ignored the statement.

"I doubt she even knows who Karen's father is," Thornton said.

"Pardon?"

"I said, I doubt Mrs. Beckford even knows who Karen's father is.
Why, just the other day Mrs. Thornton queried me on the wording of
the engagement announcement. 'What are we to write,' she asked,
'Mr. & Mrs. Thornton are pleased to announce the engagement of
their eldest son, Russell, to Ms. Beckford's bastard child,
Karen.'"

'Pompous ass,' Nick thought. "Is Russell Jr. in?" he asked.

"No," Thornton grumbled, "He's out looking for the damned girl."


Nick was about to speak when his cell phone rang. He answered
"Knight" and listened intently to the voice on the other end. A
minute later he tucked his phone back into his jacket pocket. Nick
glared at Thornton. "You won't have to worry about that *damned*
girl anymore," he said bitterly. "They've found her body."

"Believe me, Detective," Thornton whined. "No matter what you may
think, this is not the way I wanted her relationship with my son to
end."

"Nonetheless," Nick snarled. "It is rather convenient for you,
isn't it?" He hesitated for a moment. "I'll see myself out."

Nick stormed out of the Thornton's home and climbed back into the
caddy. As he manoeuvred through the streets of Toronto towards High
Park, his mind again wandered into the past.

It had taken him almost an hour to find sustenance. Hunting
was always best at sunset, when the game tended to traverse
open areas as well as travel to lakes and streams. But he
had been trapped under that gazebo for several hours, and
then encountered Douglas and Margaret. It was well past
midnight before he could resume the hunt, and the deer were
well into the dense brush. He could detect their musky scent
in the air; but he was no more adept at running silently
through brush than mortals were, and often his prey darted
before he could close in. After managing to startle and kill
an unsuspecting doe in a thinly wooded area, he journeyed to
the river to bathe and wash his clothes.

Nick draped his clothing on the branches of a tree to dry
and then spent the last few hours of darkness on the
riverbank staring up at the stars and listening to the
gentle gurgling of the river. There really wasn't anything

else to do during these hours, but that had usually been the
case even in Europe. Vampires were basically the only
company he could keep at night, and their population was
neither huge nor diverse. "Another reality to add tedium to
eternity," he muttered.

He reflected on finding Margaret and Douglas alone in the
woods and imagined that they had immediately returned to
their frolicking on his departure. They would giggle and
talk and laugh. Their words would turn to honeyed kisses,
and their honeyed kisses to fevered kisses. They would
eventually be swept away by the urgency of passion just as
his own kind were, but until that time they would make love
slowly and tenderly, savouring all. Nick's human heart ached
with longing, for it yearned to make slow and tender love to
a woman, to make love as a man and not as a beast. He had
always tried to hide his mortal desires from Lacroix, but
Lacroix knew of them and denounced them fervently. "Those
are mortal pleasures," he would taunt. "We do not wallow in
the flesh like pigs in the mud. We do not squeal and grunt
with pleasure like pigs. We do not yearn to emulate them,
Nicholas. We kill them."

As the sky slowly began to lighten, Nick prepared to return
to town. He would move on the next night, he mused, provided
he could free himself from his shelter and feed at a decent
hour. Flying, he followed the river downstream. When he
arrived within two miles of town, he caught sight of
something lying motionless on the muddy shore. He swooped
towards it, and as he descended, he recognized the simple
checkered dress. It was Margaret.

Nick landed beside her body and checked her wrist for a
pulse, but he knew there wouldn't be one. Her skin was pale,
and bitterly cold to the touch. Her throat had been ripped
open, most likely by a wild dog. Perhaps a rabid dog. Having
mere seconds to reach shelter, Nick had no choice but to
leave her lying face down in the sand and stone. Despondent,
he flew to the forest at the edge of town, staggered through
the woods, and retired to his resting place.

Nick arrived in the southeast parking lot of High Park twenty
minutes after leaving Russell Thornton. There was already a buzz of
police activity in the nearby playground, and at least one news
crew. Nick parked the caddy and walked over to the playground and
into the area by the slide that had been cordoned off with yellow
police tape. Someone from the coroner's office had just covered the
body when Nick approached.

"What do we have?" Nick asked.

"Her throat's been torn up pretty badly," the doctor replied. "No
other obvious signs of trauma. Not much blood in the area. She
obviously wasn't killed here. Do you want a look?"

The thought of having to look at Karen's face sent a sudden stab of
fear through Nick. He remembered her picture, her resemblance to
Natalie. He nodded slightly, and tensed his muscles as the coroner
removed the sheet from her face.

"Not a pretty sight," the doctor remarked.

Nick motioned for the doctor to cover her up. "What does it look
like?" he asked.

"My guess would be an animal attack, a vicious dog most likely. I'm
not ruling out some other type of wild animal, an exotic pet
perhaps. I've been able to decipher some puncture points, but it's
very messy."

"But the attack didn't occur here?" Nick asked.

The coroner looked at Nick. "Maybe the animal's owner moved her
here. It's strange stuff, but I've seen lots of strange stuff in
this city."

Nick just nodded his head in agreement, but his heart feared this
was no dog attack.

"I'll know more after I get her back to the lab," the doctor added,
"and I'll send over my report when I'm done."

Nick suddenly heard a voice calling his name and turned around. He
noticed the lone figure of a man standing at the far end of the
playground. He excused himself from the doctor and walked towards
the man. He didn't recognize the stranger, but instinctively knew
it was another vampire. "Do I know you?" Nick asked.

"I'm Jacob," the stranger replied. "We've never met, but that isn't
important now. I'm here to deliver something to you along with a
message."

Jacob pulled Lacroix's jewellery box from a large pocket inside his
jacket and passed it to Nick.

"Where did you get this?" Nick asked, recognizing the box as
Lacroix's.

"I was asked to deliver it to you here," Jacob replied.

"So it was him," Nick muttered.

"I am to relay a message to you," Jacob added. "Lacroix wants you
to keep this, in memory of your past together."

"Is that it?" Nick asked.

"That was the message," Jacob replied. He turned around and
scrambled up the hill towards the street.

Nick stared after Jacob. "Damn you, Lacroix," he cursed. "You
couldn't just leave, could you. You had to do this first." Nick
opened the box. His eye was immediately caught by the modern
diamond ring, so out of place in the collection of old jewellery.
It matched perfectly the description of Karen's ring that Mrs.
Beckford had provided when he was filling in the missing person
report. Nick took the ring in his hand and slipped the box into his
coat pocket before walking back towards the body. When he decided
he was close enough, he wiped off the ring and dropped it to the
ground. Then he called for an officer to bring him an evidence bag.

Nick remained at the scene for almost an hour, talking to witnesses
and fellow officers. He could feel the weight of the box in his
pocket, the weight of eight hundred years of bondage. When he was
finally able to leave, he drove out of the park and south on
Parkside Drive to Lakeshore Blvd. He turned left, crossed three
lanes, and pulled into the first parking lot on the right. Nick got
out of the car and walked swiftly to the water's edge. He stood and
stared out across the lake, draped in the blackness of night. And
once again, he recalled the past.

He awoke at sunset, after a day plagued by dreams of a
beautiful peasant girl he had secretly pursued in his youth.
Each time he reached out for her, she would shrivel and
blacken at his touch. He had cried clear tears in his dream.
Nick chased the visions from his mind, and wiped the blood
tears from the corners of his eyes.

Fearing that Margaret's body would not be discovered, Nick
intended to transfer her to a more travelled location. His
surroundings were quiet and still and he was able to emerge
undetected from beneath the gazebo. He took to the air
immediately and flew directly to the riverbank, only to
discover that Margaret had already been moved. The sudden
ringing of church bells in the distance summoned him back to
town.

Utilizing both his power of flight and his fleetness of
foot, Nick hastily returned. Several people were plodding
slowly towards the small brick church. Their heads lowered,
their stride wavering, they exchanged muffled words with
each other as they moved forward. They knew all the songs of
the bell, the song of worship, the song of revelry; and this
one, the song of death.

Nick was among the last of the stragglers to arrive in front
of the church. When everyone had gathered around, two
gentlemen emerged from the white double doors. He recognized
the younger man as Douglas Butcher, the one he had met the
previous night. The man appeared drawn and shaken, and
frequently smoothed a white handkerchief across his face to
soak up tears.

The older man addressed the crowd. "Friends," he said, "as
you know we have been searching for Margaret Carroll since
dawn without any sign. It is with sorrow that we meet here
tonight, for her body was discovered not thirty minutes ago
at the base of Hawkes cliff. She apparently fell from the
cliff, and suffered severe lacerations on the rocks below."

'Someone moved her,' Nick commented to himself.

"I am here to request volunteers," the elderly man
continued. "We will need rope, several people to carry
lanterns, and several more to pull her up the cliff. And
someone must stay with my son here. He was rather fond of
his friend."

'Douglas was right about his father,' Nick thought, 'even in
light of her death he will not acknowledge that she was
anything more to his son than a friend.'

"Who found the body?" a loud voice bellowed from the middle
of the crowd. Nick focused his attention on the elder
Butcher. He wanted to know the answer to that question
himself.

"An old acquaintance of mine," Thomas Butcher replied, "who
was on his way to visit me." As he spoke, a dark clad figure
emerged from the front of the crowd and stepped up to the
church landing. The figure turned around and faced the
citizens.

Nick gasped audibly at the sight of Lacroix. He knew now who
had murdered Margaret, and had serious doubts that Lacroix

was an old acquaintance of Thomas Butcher. He spun around
and fled into the woods. He feared loss of control, but
whether to rage or sorrow, he did not know. He found a small
clearing and collapsed to his knees. This was the hell
bestowed upon him by Lacroix. It was no gift. It was an
eternal nightmare. Another mortal death because of him. And
once again the only thing that prevented him from propelling
himself into oblivion was the fear of being controlled there
by a master even more nefarious than Lacroix.

"Good evening, Nicholas," the words hung like ice in the
warm night air.

Nick closed his eyes in an effort to shut Lacroix out, but
he could hear the crushing of the long grasses as his master
circled him, like a wolf, anticipating yet another attack,
another opportunity to break his spirit.

Nick quietly asked the recurrent question, "Why did you kill
her?"

"I heard you in the woods with them, Nicholas, and was drawn
to their little ...dilemma. He was about to seriously
disobey his father's wishes, and I was compelled to advise
Mr. Butcher."

Nick finally opened his eyes and looked at Lacroix. "And you
took it on yourself to punish Douglas by killing Margaret."

"Mr. Butcher, an appropriate family name incidentally, was
very pleased with the solution I proposed," Lacroix replied.
"And I was paid quite handsomely for the effort."

Nick glared at him. "You're now a hired assassin, Lacroix?"

Lacroix chuckled. "I was simply in the right place at the
right time," he said. "But it does illustrate beautifully
the importance of staying within one's clique, does it not?"

And then with vampiric strength, Nick flung the box far into the
distance. He heard it smack on the surface of the water, and
envisioned it sinking to the bottom of the lake, to the sludge and
the black mud. To where it belonged.

Nick arrived back at the precinct minutes before two o'clock. His
heart was heavy with the guilt of yet another death, another life
to atone for. As he neared Reese's office, he could hear the
familiar sobs of Donna Beckford. Nick opened the door and stepped
in. Donna was sitting in the same chair she had occupied earlier.
Reese was hovering over her, with one of his hands on her shoulder.

Donna gazed up at Nick as he approached them. Her eyes were wet and
red from crying, and her face the palest white. Her tiny body was
wrapped in a long black raincoat and her hair was hidden beneath a
bright purple scarf. She looked like a fragile porcelain doll. "The
Thorntons are responsible," she said. "They can't get away with
this."

"They aren't suspects," Nick said dismally. "The coroner believes
she was mauled by a dog and that the animal's owner, fearing
prosecution, moved her. We'll have more information when the
autopsy is complete."

"I've explained that to her, Nick," Reese said. He turned his
attention to Ms. Beckford and gently touched her shoulder. "I'm
going to find someone to take you home," he said. Reese walked past
Nick and out of the office.

Nick looked sympathetically at Donna. "I won't give up," he
reassured her, inwardly reeling from the burden of his lie. "We'll
find the person or persons responsible."

"I know you will," Donna sobbed. She grasped Nick's hand, and
another wave of guilt washed over him.

Reese returned to the office almost immediately with a short,
middle?aged woman from Social Services. She was homely looking, but
had a compassionate smile. "This is Sophia Lagere," Reese
announced. "She's going to take you home and stay with you for a
little while."

"I'll take care of her," Sophia said, as she stepped briskly over

to Donna and helped her from the chair. The two women left the
office and Reese closed the door behind them.

Reese went over and sat down in his chair. "We've already checked
with the Zoo, and we'll be checking with registered owners of
exotics capable of something like this. Do you have any ideas?" he
asked.

"Nothing, Captain," Nick replied, "at least not until the autopsy
results are in."

Reese nodded his head. "Then at least we'll know exactly what we're
looking for. In the meantime, work up something for the media.
Maybe we can dig up a witness."

"Sure, Captain," Nick said half?heartedly. "I'll do that, then I'm
calling it a night."

"Good idea," Reese said. "You don't look well."

* * * * *

Tracy and Natalie had given up on their reading and were in the
middle of watching a video when Nick called and spoke to Nat.

"Nick's on his way to pick me up," she remarked after hanging up
the phone.

"Are you going to tell him about Vachon?" Tracy asked worriedly.

"You don't want me to?" Natalie replied.

Tracy smiled. "It's kind of awkward," she said. "It might be
awkward for you too, especially if he doesn't believe you."

Natalie gently nodded her head. "I don't know Tracy. I don't like
to keep things from him. I'll tell him not to mention it to you
unless you bring it up first. Fair enough?"

Tracy considered Nat's suggestion. "Fair enough," she agreed.

Nick's timing was impeccable. The movie had just finished when he
rapped lightly at the door. He stepped inside and waited while
Natalie donned her coat. After bidding Tracy goodbye, they started
down the hall. Nick pushed the button for the elevator before he
started to speak. "We have time to pick up your car at the morgue,"
he said. "I could follow you home, but I'd really like you to come
to the loft for awhile."

Natalie smiled warmly at him. "Oh?" she said.

She was surprised to find his arms suddenly around her and his lips
at her ear. "I need to talk, Nat," he whispered softly. "I need
you."

'How hard it must have been for him to say that,' she thought.
Natalie stroked his cheek lovingly. "Then you'll have me," she
whispered, as the elevator doors silently slid open.

Fifteen minutes later they arrived in the parking lot at the
morgue. As Natalie was getting out of the caddy, she turned to
Nick. "I'm just going to run into the lab for a minute," she said.
"I won't be long."

"I'll be here," Nick replied. Five minutes later he saw Nat emerge
from the building. She waved to him as she wandered over to her
car. After she pulled out of the parking lot, he followed her to
the loft.

Nick and Natalie settled down together on the couch and Nick
relayed the night's events to her. Sharing his pain with her
comforted him, but still he could not bring himself to mention
Karen's physical similarity to her, a similarity that truly haunted
him.

"So killing her was some kind of sick goodbye gift to you," Natalie
said. "He's going to leave you alone?"

"For a time, I suppose," Nick replied. "But it wasn't without the
price of another life."

"You can't blame yourself for that, Nick. Lacroix is the murderer,
not you."

"Guilty by association," Nick announced.

"That's not your fault either," Natalie tried to console him. "He
has always followed you. This time he was the one to leave. That's
a start."

"Maybe you're right," Nick said bleakly.

She knew her words were of little comfort. He would add this death
to his account, just has he had all the others. She put her arms
around him and held him tightly. "I love you," she said softly.
"And we'll get through this together. Things will be better now
that he's gone."

Nick drew comfort from her embrace, as she so often had from his.
They held each other for a time, until Nick had again pushed all
the horrors of his life into the hidden recesses of his mind. He
loosened his taut hold on Natalie and smiled warmly at her. "I'm
going upstairs to change," he said. "Be right back."

Once Nick was upstairs, Natalie picked up her purse and slipped
into the kitchen. She retrieved a bottle of blood from the fridge
and stepped over to the counter where she poured a glassful. Then
she fished through her purse and pulled out her notebook and a vial
of amber liquid. She uncapped the vial and quickly poured the
contents into the glass. She started to chant foreign words from
the notebook as she stirred the blood. Again she felt Vachon's
presence.

"You've decided not to take my advice," Vachon said quietly. "You
are a stubborn one, aren't you?"

"You've seen him, Vachon. You know how miserable he is. I have to
do something. I can't bear to see him like this."

"I only see that while his faith in God and in you is
strengthening, your faith in God and in him is diminishing."

"God helps she who helps herself, I've heard," Nat quipped.

"I don't have all the answers for you, Natalie," Vachon whispered.
"But I can tell you that black magic is not the way to defeat
evil." Hearing Nick's footsteps on the stairs, he abruptly
disappeared.

Nick approached Natalie in the kitchen, and was surprised to see
her holding a glass of blood out for him.

"Now there's an unusual sight," he commented as he neared her.

Natalie gripped the glass tightly as she stared at Nick, but when
he reached out for it, she dropped it to the floor. "He's wrong,"
she said, "I do have faith in you."

Nick stepped back from the mess of glass and blood. "Who's wrong?"
he asked.

"Vachon," Natalie answered.

"He's talked to you?"

"Only to remind me that my lack of faith was a bad influence on

you," Natalie replied coyly.

Nick smiled at her. "While I'm thrilled that you have faith in me,
does this mean no dinner?" He held out his arms for her. "Take my
hands and hop over it."

Natalie reached out and grabbed Nick's hands. He steadied her as
she stepped over the broken glass and into his embrace. "I'm
sorry," she said. "I'll clean it up and pour you another glass."

Nick kissed her softly on the lips. "You could do that," he said,
"or you could whip up one of your infamous protein shakes. I know
they demand an acquired taste, and I'd like to work harder on
acquiring that taste."

Natalie smiled engagingly at him. "Then you've definitely come to
the right woman, Detective Knight."

"Indeed I have," Nick said.

--The End--

Susan B.
cd397@torfree.net