A Price To Be Paid (Sequel to Shadows On the Heart)
by Susan B. and Eva Robinson
March, 1997

This is a follow-up to Shadows On The Heart. If you haven't read
that one, you should know these things to follow this story: TSSF:
Nick & Nat had split up and Janette helped get them back together.
Lacroix was the one who brought Janette back across in Human
Factor. Lacroix owes Janette a debt. Nat's staying at Nick's place.
Nick & Nat discover they are able to make love safely (taking just
a big sip) when Nick infuses blood with mistletoe and drinks it
- and they were just about to do that when the last story ended.

Janette's heart felt like stone. She had paused at the elevator
just long enough to see Nick throw himself at Natalie and hold her
tightly while they both cried. Janette remembered the way she felt
holding Nick when he cried only the other night. For a brief moment
she held a great power over him. Then she realized that power was
nothing if it was not accompanied by love. Tears of grief had
washed over the two of them. Now, he cried tears of joy and held
the woman he loved. 'The woman he *truly* loves' Janette admitted
to herself as she left the Loft. She had lost both the battle and
the war, but for some reason she wasn't angry at either of them.
Love had won out, as it was always meant to be.

With dawn still a few hours away, Janette decided to walk from
Nick's place downtown to the Raven. Things must change, she knew
that. And she would be the vehicle of change. She walked past the
flower shops with their windows still decorated for Valentine's
Day. One shop displayed a Victorian card showing a man kneeling in
front of woman and offering her flowers. Janette stopped and stared
at the window. Many years ago Nick had been on bended knee offering
her a nosegay of baby's breath and carnations. His actions had
caught her by surprise, but before she could accept the posy,
Lacroix had come in and ripped it from Nick's hand. "Ah, Nicholas,"
he had said. "A mortal reminder of love on Valentine's Day? How
thoughtful. Too bad that they will soon wilt and die. Better to
spend your money on a funeral arrangement. At least those flowers
are honest. Die for the dead," he had taunted Nick. Then he tore
the bouquet to pieces and threw it to the ground.

Janette remembered that Nick had been hurt beyond words by
Lacroix's actions, and by the fact that she had laughed. Her memory
stung her. "Who is the real fool?," she asked the night sky. "The
fool who believes in love and promises, or the fool who is afraid
of them?" Lacroix's fear had poisoned both of them. As the Raven
came into sight, Janette realized it was time to do what should
have been done a long time ago. "I should never have left for
Montreal," she said to the door. "Leaving has destroyed all my
chances for him."

The first night that she had returned to the Raven, Janette was
shocked by what Lacroix had done. Miklos had warned her, but she
didn't believe him. The disco cages, the wet T-shirt contests, the
garish lights and mirrors. She hated it. The Raven had been hers -
all of it. She had created it out of the best memories of her past.
The music, the lights, the ambience... it had all come from her. It
*was* her. The club had screamed JANETTE! whenever she opened the
door. Now it screamed CHEAP! Everytime Lacroix had called her to
come to him, she felt a resistance. Now, thanks to both Lacroix and
herself, Nick was lost to them, the Raven was lost to her; and for
the first time in centuries, Janette felt totally alone. 'I cannot
bring Nicola back to me' she thought to herself, 'but I can reclaim
my Raven!'

Janette opened the door, letting the music blare into the street.
The room was almost empty, which suited her fine. A burly,
meatfaced bouncer approached and told her it was almost closing
time, that she would have to leave. Janette's eyes blazed red and
she snarled at the vampire. He retreated into the shadows, shaking.
"Lacroix accumulates them for their brawn, not their brains!," she
muttered to herself. Carlos appeared from behind the bar as she
came down the stairs. "Where is he?," she demanded.

"He is busy. If you care to return tonight..." Carlos started to
offer, but she cut him off.

"No, I do not care to return tonight." Janette brushed past him and
headed towards the back room where Lacroix's private studio was set
up. The meagre crown parted quickly as she passed through like a
shark hunting. Carlos grabbed her arm to stop her. It was a
mistake. Without any noticeable effort, Janette grabbed the man by
the throat and hurled him across the room. Carlos skidded across
the bar top and smashed into the liquor display. By the time he was
able to stand, it was too late. Janette had already reached

"Janette, is something wrong?," Lacroix asked as he sipped a glass
of 'wine'.

Janette felt anger boil over her, like lava. But she didn't
explode. 'He wants me to blow up, to lose control' she realized.
Then she suddenly realized something else - she couldn't 'feel'
Lacroix intruding on her thoughts. But *she* knew his thoughts.
'Why?' her mind demanded. 'Lacroix brought me back across'. The
realization hit her with a rush - she could no longer 'feel'
Lacroix's intrusive grip, because Lacroix no longer had a hold over

"Is something wrong?," Lacroix repeated. Janette smiled at him and
sat down. He could not know what she was thinking, yet sitting this
close to him, she could read his every thought. Janette probed his
mind and discovered the truth. Lacroix had taken some of Nicola's
blood, while he lay unconscious, and mixed it with his own. That
was the concoction he used to bring her across. In his eagerness to
further bind his family together, Lacroix had inadvertently, and
unknowingly, created a vampire of enforcer calibre. 'How typical of
Lacroix,' she thought, 'for his cleverness to be voided by his

"Why yes, Lacroix, something is very wrong," she said with a smile
as she took the wine glass from his hand and drank down the
contents. "You see, we have lost Nicola forever. His Natalie has
returned and reclaimed that which was always hers to have. You are
here in the Raven, and I have no place to go. So, I will change one
of those circumstances - you will take your bores and your
decorations out of my club. Now. You will leave this city. Now.
And you will leave Nicola alone. Forever more. Do you understand?"

Janette watched Lacroix's wan face pale even more, then turn red
with rage.

"Janette! You forget your place! I am the one who decides things
for us."

"Not you. I am the one who is to be obeyed. Not you. You, my dear,
have grown too bold for your own good. Perhaps it is time I
punished you for your transgressions."

Lacroix snarled at her.

"How?," Janette asked simply. "You no longer have any control over
me, Lacroix. I carry both your blood and that of Nicola. And, since
I *cannot* have two masters, they cancel each other out. I am once
again my *own* master." With that said, Janette grabbed the table
between them and threw it against the studio console. Sparks flew
and the smell of burning wire filled the air.

For a moment, Lacroix sat stunned by her actions. Then he sprang
up, hands outstretched for her throat, fangs fully extended. Behind
the adversaries, Carlos and the bouncer were hustling club patrons
out into the street and locking down the door. By the time he and
the bouncer returned, it was too late.

Janette had been ready for him. When Lacroix attacked, she moved to
one side and caught him by the neck and back. Lacroix flailed to
grab at her arms, but missed. Janette threw him against one of the
pillars that supported the floor of the rooms above the club.
Lacroix hit with a thud, causing plaster and adornments to tumble
to the floor. He stood, and rushed at her again. And again he
missed. This time, Janette caught his arm at the elbow and snapped
it. Lacroix howled in pain. Before Carlos could stop him, the
bouncer ran to Lacroix's aid. Janette caught him by the neck,
ripped his throat out, and snapped his back. He was truly dead
before he hit the floor. Then she turned back to Lacroix, who sat
against the bar holding his broken arm.

"Get out!" she roared. "Get out before I kill you too! Get out of
here, and out of this city, Lacroix. And take your vermin with

Carlos was beside him, helping him to his feet.

"Leave here now," Janette continued, "before I change my mind and
decide to repay you for all the pain you've caused me over the

Lacroix couldn't speak. The pain was so overwhelming that Carlos
had to hold him up. "It's almost dawn," he hoarsely croaked. "We
have no place to go!" Lacroix hoped he could reason with Janette.
Hoped he could find some way to regain control.

She wasn't buying.

"Go to ground then, like the vermin you are. Dawn is all of an hour
away. I'm sure you can find a suitable rat hole," she spat at him.
"Now GET OUT!!!" Janette wrenched open the door, not caring if she
destroyed the locks, then she pushed the two vampires out into the
street. She paused on the threshold and looked at them. They could
all feel the dawn creeping up. Then she slammed the door shut and
bent the panic bar down to lodge the door tight.

Carlos flagged down a cab and bundled Lacroix into the back seat.
Neither spoke.

Natalie woke shortly after one o'clock in the afternoon, somewhat
surprised to find herself in Nick's bed. The last thing she
remembered was falling asleep in his arms on the couch. Nick lay
beside her, asleep on his back with his hands covering his heart.
Natalie tumbled over and snuggled close to him. She propped herself
up on one elbow, and lovingly caressed his chest with her free hand
while she planted tender kisses over his now familiar cool skin.

Nick could not remember ever waking up so pleasantly. Natalie's
warm gentle fingers and soft wet kisses sent torrid shivers right
through him. He smiled softly before opening his eyes. "Good

"Yes, it is," Natalie moaned. She leaned over him, and delicately
nuzzled his lips with her own.

Nick gently pulled her up on his chest and held her close. He
revelled in the feel of her bare skin on his, and the sensation of
her warm rapid heart pounding against his cold quiet one. It had
been centuries since he had made love like he did last night, and
it made him feel alive. He still felt alive. He became a part of
Natalie and she of him, both in flesh and in spirit. Every desire,
every thought, every secret, their souls, shared with each other.
He had never felt such a depth of love flowing into him before. And
even with the horrors passed to her with his first bite, she loved
him still, completely and unconditionally.

"Do you want to?," Nat teased.

Nick soothingly caressed her throat with his fingers, and gently
traced the several puncture marks he had already bestowed there. He
sensed her rising desire for him, and it fed his own desire for
her. He knew her every fantasy, borne over the countless nights
that she lay alone in her bed, wanting him. And he was going to
fulfil them all, even if it took him the rest of his life. "More
than anything," he grinned, "but you are looking slightly anaemic".

Natalie giggled, then sighed. "Yes, and I am feeling a bit weak too

Nick gently brushed a wisp of hair from her neck, and teasingly
nibbled her throat. "In a couple of days."

"A couple of days then." She gave him a quick hug before sitting
upright. "Uh ...Nick ...my clothes?"

"Still downstairs," he grinned slyly. He sat up behind Natalie and
put his arms around her. He barely kissed her temple. "I only
brought up the necessity."

"Mmmm...I see," Natalie chanted. "Well, can I have your robe or

"You can't be shy. Not after last night."

"Oh *yes I can," she declared.

Nick reluctantly broke away from her. "I told you before I love the
whole package just the way it is." He scooped his robe up from the
floor and draped it over Nat's bare shoulders. Then he fell back on
the bed and clasped his hands together behind his head. "And I love
to look at you."

Natalie grinned and slipped her arms into the sleeves. Then she
purposely crawled over Nick, momentarily falling on top of him to
plunk a solid kiss on his lips. "I know. I remember. And you said
'like', not 'love'. But I'm still not going down into that barn
sized living room buck naked." Nat rolled out of bed, tightened
Nick's robe around herself, and headed downstairs to make coffee.

"I'll be down in a bit!" Nick called out after her.

Natalie began exploring the kitchen cupboards looking for something
to eat. 'Lucky he didn't clean everything out during our
separation' she thought. She found a tin of vegetable beef soup and
heated it up on the stove. After she ate, Natalie called into the
office to let them know she would be back at work that night. Then
she headed downstairs to start unloading her car and bringing her
things into the loft.

When Nat stepped out of the elevator with the last load of her
clothes, she noticed Nick finally coming down the stairs. He was
dressed in black jeans and was wearing the deep blue silk shirt she
had bought him for Christmas. Nick started picking up her things
and carrying them up to his room. When he was finished, he went
into the kitchen and poured a glass of cow blood. Then he settled
down on the sofa with Nat.

"Would you mind if I pick up Sydney from boarding and bring him
here today?," Natalie asked. "I know it's only been one night,

"I don't mind your cat, Natalie," Nick interrupted with a smile.
"If you wait until dark, I'll run you over."

"You don't have to bother. I'll go in a bit." She paused for a
minute. "You know I have to ask. Do you feel any different?"

"I don't really know for sure, Nat. Some things seem a little
different." He leaned into her and brushed her ear with his lips.
"For instance," he whispered, "the scent of your perfume is as
intoxicating to me now as the scent of your blood."

"Ahh!" Natalie beamed as she playfully pushed Nick away from her.
"We want it to be *more* intoxicating. But *as* intoxicating is a
good start."

Nick lifted his glass from the table and took a sip. "Arghh," he
growled and set it back down. "And this ...this tastes unbearable
after having you." Natalie blushed.

"Seriously, Nick. What feels different?"

"I don't know. I just feel ...different. A little weaker, less
hungry, less ...intense. I don't think I could hypnotize a fly."

Natalie leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Geez, Nick ...it sounds
more like afterglow than the onset of mortality."

"Well, whatever it is, it feels good," he chuckled.

"Have you ever tried to hypnotize a fly, Nick?," Nat taunted.

Nick threatened her with his blank look, his "give me a minute
while I wander back into the past" look.

"No, wait ...don't answer that!," Natalie shouted as she jumped up
from the couch.

Nick chuckled.

"I have a few errands to run before I pick up Sydney, so I better
get to it. I've decided to go back to work tonight, too," Natalie
gushed out.

"You still have time off, Nat."

"I know, but I want to see Grace and the others." She bent down and
hastily kissed him. "And more importantly, I want ready access to
my lab so I can measure *your* progress."

Nick stood up and embraced her. "I *can* tell you something that
I've felt for centuries, that I *don't* feel anymore, Nat."

"What's that?" she asked.

Nick kissed her softly on the lips. "Lonely," he whispered.

His sincerity brought tears to Nat's eyes. They held each other
tightly for a long time. Eventually, Natalie slipped upstairs to
get dressed.
* * * * *

Natalie spent the remainder of the afternoon at the mall. Her
original intention was to finally buy those winter boots she
needed, but her eye was distracted by the alluring window display
of a lingerie shop next to the shoe store. Her original quest for
boots was entirely forgotten in the seductive haze of silk and
lace. When she finished shopping in the lingerie boutique, Natalie
visited a florist shop to purchase a supply of Nick's "medicine".
That done, she left the mall, stopped off at Burger King for a
quick dinner, and finally picked up Sydney.

When she arrived home, Nick greeted her anxiously at the lift. "You
better hurry if you want to ride in with me."

Natalie set Sydney's carrier down and opened the cage door. "I have
to change! Won't be a minute!," she exclaimed as she rushed
upstairs with her bags. A few minutes later she dashed back down,
dressed for work.

Nick met her at the bottom of the stairs. He reached over and
carefully adjusted the silk scarf she still wore around her neck
from her previous outing. "Blue suit and yellow scarf? This really
does *not* go with your outfit, Nat."

"It's substance, not style, Nick." Natalie pecked his cheek.
"Besides, it's the only one I have here."

After a speedy twenty minute drive, Nick dropped Natalie off at the
Coroners building. The landmark was a welcome sight to her. She was
looking forward to being back in her own office and working at her
own desk. Besides all that, and gruesome as it might seem to
others, it *was* where she and Nick met for the first time.

Nat had barely hung up her coat when Grace sauntered into the room
with an armful of file folders. Grace immediately dropped them onto
the table by the door and ran to Nat. "Natalie!" she shrieked,
before assaulting her with a robust hug.

"I missed you too!" Natalie tried to squeeze out a laugh while
returning the hug, but Grace's iron hold was making breathing
itself difficult.

Finally, Grace slackened her grip. "Not as much as I've missed you!
If you only *knew* what I had to put up with! Kobe, the arrogant
dinosaur himself!"

Nat giggled, "I understand what you mean. I studied under him for
four months."

Grace stepped back and scrutinized Natalie. "My, you look good,
girl. Positively glowing! If I didn't know better, I'd say your man
finally came through for you!"

Natalie's cheeks turned a brilliant red. "You're nothing if not
blunt, Grace!"

Grace winked. "Uh huh....it looks like I won't be sending your
stuff to Ottawa, after all." She jokingly glanced around the room.
"Where is that Detective Knight. I'd like to congratulate him

"Don't you even think about it!," Natalie wailed.

Grace motioned her to sit. "I'm finished for the day. Sit down
there and tell me everything, every detail."

"You know I'm not going to tell you *everything*, Grace." Natalie
grinned. "Well, I will tell you about Ottawa." She flashed a wry
smile. "I'll give you a rough outline of the rest, and *you* can
fill in the details."
* * * * *

"Now that's what a man should look like after a vacation!" Reese
bellowed across the squad room as Nick ambled in. Even having every
pair of eyes in the room ogling him couldn't wipe the smile off his

Nick approached Reese's office and they stepped inside. "Captain.
Sorry about snapping at you last night. I had some things on my

Reese scratched his head. "Hmmm...looks like Knight, talks like

"Okay, enough," Nick groaned.

"I can't remember ever seeing you so relaxed, Nick." Reese walked
over to his desk and settled into his chair. "Couldn't have
anything to do with the fact Dr. Lambert's back in town, could
it?," he teased.

"Word travels fast," Nick replied. He took a position in front of
Reese's desk, leaned down, and looked him straight in the eye. "It
has everything to do with that fact," he said unabashedly.

Reese was somewhat stunned by Nick's candour. For the first time he
could remember, he didn't know what to say.

Nick turned around and walked out of the office, quite charmed with
himself at having left Reese speechless.

Reese shook his head. "Tracy's not going to recognize him without
a nameplate," he mumbled.

* * * * *

Natalie was relieved when her shift was over. After Grace had left,
the clock slowed to a crawl. She had no work to do, and there were
no outstanding cases to work on, or crime scenes to visit.
Patrick's case was handed over to a special federal team due to its
similarities with the Montreal murders. "Unsolved ..unsolved
..unsolved ..unsolved," Nat rambled aloud knowingly. Having nothing
to do had only made the night seem longer, and all she really
wanted was to be alone with Nick again. Natalie donned her coat and
boots and sat idly at her desk waiting for him.

"Are you ready, Nat?" Nick's voice made her heart flutter. It
always had, and he knew it. Natalie glanced up to see him standing
just inside the door. He was smiling and holding a beige paper
shopping bag in his hand.

"Don't I look ready?!" Nat promptly strode over and gave him a
lively hug.

Nick slipped the bag into her hand. "I bought you something. You
can open it in the car."

"You had time to go shopping?"

"Slow night. Besides, it's something you need." He laughed lightly.
"Something you will need."

Natalie looped her free arm through Nick's and they headed out to
the parking lot. After Nick started driving, Nat opened the bag and
dug through the crinkly white tissue wrap. Buried under the tissue
was a bundle of assorted silk neck scarfs. She pulled them out one
by one, admiring each in its turn. "They're beautiful."

"I have another surprise for you," Nick said, "something even
better. But not until we get home."

"You're going to spoil me," replied Nat as she covertly peered into
the back seat and spotted another bag.

Her casual search caught Nick's eye. "It's not there, Nat. That's
just a bag of groceries I picked up for you. Bread and milk and

Fifteen minutes later they were back at the loft. Sydney was
ecstatic to have four feet to twist around instead of two. Nick
didn't seem to mind, which pleased Nat. Sydney followed Nat into
the kitchen and she fed him before putting the kettle on for tea.
Nick set the grocery bag on the kitchen table and then went
upstairs to shower.

After making a breakfast of tea and toast for herself, Natalie
poured a glass of blood for Nick. She carried everything into the
living room and set it down on the coffee table. Nick came down
several minutes later, in his pyjamas.

"Are you ready for your surprise?," he teased as he sat down beside
Nat on the sofa.

Natalie took a generous sip of the lukewarm tea to wash down her
last bite. "Uh-huh."

"Look!," Nick exclaimed, as he jabbed his finger up close to her

Nat grabbed his hand and lowered it a bit. "I can't see it if it's
stuck in my face, Nick!" She studied his finger intently. "What
exactly am I looking for?"

"You mean you don't see it?"

"Uh ...don't see what?," she asked curiously.

With his free hand, Nick proudly pointed to a barely visible mark
on his finger. "It's a cut, Nat. I scraped it two hours ago and it
hasn't fully healed."

Natalie suddenly took more interest in the mysterious phenomena.
"It *must* be working! You are becoming mortal!"

Nick embraced her warmly and kissed her cheek. "Senses and old
memories are fading too," he whispered into her ear.

"And old agonies?" Natalie whimpered back hopefully.

Nick kissed her full on the lips. "Those too. Everything is slowly
being washed away, and the empty spaces are filling with you. I
feel it with a certainty that I have never felt before. This time
I will truly be free." Natalie relaxed in his embrace, content and
secure in that knowledge.

When Nick finally released her from his arms, he rose from the
couch and took their dirty dishes into the kitchen. Then he
disappeared upstairs. A few minutes later he reappeared with a
pillow and a blanket.

Natalie picked up the remote control and glanced at Nick
inquisitively as she closed the blinds. "What are you doing?"

"Sleeping on the couch. You get the bed," Nick replied.

"You're going to sleep down here ...without me? ...Why?," she asked
with hurt in her voice.

Nick dumped the bedding on the end of the couch and bent down. He
stroked Nat's hair lovingly, "I think we should wait another day,
give you some more time to ...replenish. You're the doctor, Nat,
you should be telling me this."

"We don't have to do anything," Natalie whispered as she touched
his cheek. "I only want to feel you sleeping next to me."

"You *know* that won't work!" Nick laughed.

She smiled and kissed him swiftly on the lips. "Yes, I suppose
you're right." Natalie left Nick to the couch. She went upstairs,
changed into her pyjamas, and then quickly fell asleep in his bed.

They both slept until dark.

Lacroix moved like a shadow, unnoticed by the Goths who populated
Queen Street West after dark. His arm still ached, partially due to
his disbelief that Janette could or would hurt him. Carlos had
bound it to prevent further damage, but in his anger, Lacroix had
fought the good intentions of his newest 'child', and while the arm
had healed, it now stuck out at a slight right angle to his body.
And it hurt!

Lacroix gazed, almost fondly, east along Queen Street. In his
mind's eye he could picture Janette hard at work renovating the
Raven. He hissed, and frightened a portly man sipping coffee
outside the CHUM-CITY building causing him to drop his cup and
scamper away in fear. Lacroix smiled. He could smell the man's
fear. And his warm, running blood. Looking over his shoulder,
Lacroix motioned to Carlos to follow.

Down John Street, past Richmond, they pursued the man with almost
a playful air. Just before he reached the alley north of Adelaide,
Lacroix leisurely reached out and caught him by the neck.

"What do you want?," the man asked in terror. "Take my wallet, take
my watch, take whatever you want, but please let me go! I swear I
won't go to the police." The man's simpering voice was making
Carlos laugh.

"Oh, my dear sir," Lacroix purred, "I don't want your money, or
your watch. And I can guarantee you will never tell the police.
"Especially the police!" An anger ripped at Lacroix and was
instantly transferred into action. Before the man could take
another breath, Lacroix grabbed him by the jacket front and slammed
him into the building. As blood and brains oozed onto the bricks,
Lacroix threw the still warm and barely breathing unfortunate to

"Eat!," he demanded. "We have work to do!"

Carlos quickly drained the man, and, opening a sewer grate, dropped
the body into the flood tunnel. Then, wiping his mouth off, he
looked at Lacroix, waiting for his orders.

"Go to the Raven and see what you can find out. Don't let Janette
or anyone else see you. When you have finished, return and meet me
at the tower." Lacroix watched as his protege flew into the air to
do his bidding.

"Why couldn't you be so compliant, Nicholas?," Lacroix asked the
night air. He turned and headed back towards Queen Street. The
smell of blood had quickened the beast within. He knew he would
hunt, and, in this part of town, without any interruptions. 'I will
never leave this place!' he roared to himself. 'This is MY place to
hunt. This is MY place to rule! I WILL have Nicholas back!'

Quickly moving west along Queen Street, Lacroix watched with
amusement as the refuse of the city preened and pranced before him.
All for his entertainment, all for his taking. A blonde haired man
looked at Lacroix with a challenge in his eyes - 'I'm not afraid of
you,' the blue eyes said, 'I am immortal and immune to fear!'
Lacroix smiled and approached the young man. So fearless. So sure
of himself. So like Nicholas.

Money quickly changed hands and the blonde asked Lacroix if he had
a place. "Oh, yes, and not far from here." He led the man up John
Street to St. Patrick's Market Square. The abandoned Bell Tower of
St. George the Martyr's Church rose like a medieval battlement into
the night sky. Lacroix led the man into the ruined churchyard, past
the few graves that lay between the remains of the old church
pillars and the ruined walls. Then, just before they reached the
Parish Hall, Lacroix pulled the man down behind the winter ravaged
bushes. Lacroix was quick, and he could have been painless. But he
* * * * *

Carlos returned to the streets and entered a coffee shop, just to
watch the show. He had found the abandoned tower the previous day.
It wasn't the most comfortable refuge, but it was better than
spending another day huddled in the underground parking garage at
City Hall. No one came into the tower, it was used to store yard
equipment and was securely locked. With no windows and two floors,
it afforded some security for now.

Lacroix sensed a movement above the street, and headed for the
tower. When he arrived, Carlos was waiting. "What did you find
out?," Lacroix asked.

"Janette has closed the place for renovation. I sensed many
vampires within, and I was able to coax one out. She was young and
foolish. She told me that Janette told everyone that you left and
returned the club to her. Miklos has also returned, but I did not
see him."

"You did well," Lacroix said, as he brushed his hand across the
younger man's hair. Carlos looked up at him with an expression of
rapt adoration.

Lacroix smiled down at him. 'Ah, Carlos!' "Come, the night is still
* * * * *

"Come on, Nat, time to get up!" Nick's loud voice and his shaking
of her shoulders both pounded into Natalie like a jackhammer. She
slowly pried open her eyes and groggily gazed up at Nick.

"Hello," he smiled. "I told you that you needed rest. I've been
trying to get you up for the last ten minutes."

"What time is it?," mumbled Nat, almost unintelligibly.

"Seven-thirty. If you're going to work again tonight you better get
up and get ready. Dinner's waiting for you downstairs."

Natalie yawned as she sat up and wiped the sleep from her eyes.
"Yeah, yeah. I have to have a shower first." She slowly got out of
bed and staggered towards the bathroom. Suddenly Nat turned around
and ogled Nick. "Wait a minute ...you made dinner?"

"Not exactly," Nick replied. "I ordered dinner."

"Oh." Natalie continued her trek to the shower, and Nick left the

Fifteen minutes later, after quickly showering and dressing, Nat
started down the stairs. The aroma of pizza hit her halfway down.
"Mmmm... smells good," she announced.

Her voice startled Nick. He suddenly realized he did not even hear
her coming down the stairs. He tried to tune in on her heartbeat,
but he couldn't hear that either.

Nat approached him where he sat at the kitchen table with his
dinner in a glass. "What's wrong?" she asked, noting his slightly
astonished and somewhat disappointed expression.

"I didn't hear you on the stairs before you spoke. And I can't hear
your heartbeat. Not even this close."

"More progress!" Nat squealed as she hugged him.

"It's uncomfortable," replied Nick. "I loved listening to the sound
of your heart."

Natalie tugged Nick's head to her breast and giggled. "You can
still hear it. Whenever you want. Just not from across the room."

Nick held his ear to her chest and immersed himself in the familiar
thumping of her heart. "And this way is much more pleasant," he
whispered a minute later.

"Enough of that before you start drooling on my blouse," Natalie
teased as she forced herself away from him and sat in her own
chair. "Or before I start drooling on it myself!"

Nick sipped slowly from his glass during dinner, to give Natalie
time to eat. When they had both finished, they left together for

* * * * *

Lacroix and Carlos made their way uptown to College and Bay, where
the new Police Headquarters was located, directly across the street
from the Coroner's Office. Lacroix felt his anger rise as he spied
a familiar caddy spin around the corner from Yonge Street and park
by the Grenville Street entrance. He watched as Nick got out of the
car, whistling and smiling. He watched as Nick walked around the
car and opened the door. He watched as Nick looped arms with
Natalie and they walked into the building together. "That damn
meddling woman!" Lacroix said softly to Carlos. "He is willing to
follow a fool's dream to become nothing more than a frail piece of
clay, like the rest of them. He wants to throw away the gifts I
have given him. What do you think, Carlos? Is he worthy of the
gifts?" Lacroix turned to his companion.

"No. I believe you have wasted your time on him. He would abandon
you for something as fleeting as a cloud. I will never abandon you.
I am grateful for what you have done for me, and for that I would
follow you to the ends of the earth, and through hell if you
asked." Carlos put his hand on Lacroix's shoulder. "Leave him
alone, Lacroix. You have me and we have the city. Janette cannot
stand in our way, and he is of no consequence."

Lacroix snatched the hand from his shoulder and pulled Carlos in
front of him, holding his hand in a painful grip. Carlos blanched,
but didn't try to pull away.

"Never, ever again say that!" Lacroix spit out in anger. "I have
been betrayed by those whom I have loved the most. They will pay.
He will pay! Nicholas DeBrabant is still my child! Still the blood
of my blood, and never forget that! I will have my revenge over
them both, but first I will have it over Nicholas!" He let go of
Carlos' hand so suddenly that the younger man fell over. "Now, you
will watch for him on the streets. He cannot sense you, but he can
sense me! You will report whatever you see and hear to me, do you

Carlos nodded as he struggled to his feet, cradling his sore hand.

"Watch him," Lacroix continued, "but under no circumstances are you
to challenge him. Understand?"

Carlos nodded and glanced back towards the caddy. Nick was coming
out of the Coroner's office with a smile on his face. Lacroix
almost took a step from the shadows, towards Nick. Then he stopped.
Something was different about Nicholas. Something was very
different. "Watch and report," he ordered Carlos, and, after the
caddy did a U-turn and turned south on Yonge, Carlos took to the

After making a few obligatory stops, Nick finally arrived at the
station. He went straight to his desk to check his "in" basket. It
was empty.

"Still in a good mood, Knight?" Reese inquired with a grin as he
emerged from his office and strolled towards Nick.

"How could I not be in a good mood, Captain?" Nick sat down and
casually leaned back in his chair. "No messages, no memos, no

Reese passed a scrap of white paper to Nick. "And no meetings. Your
ten o'clock with Jordan is cancelled." As he headed back to his
office, Reese mumbled, "sometimes life is just wonderful."

'It will be,' Nick thought to himself as he crumpled up the message
and tossed it into the wastebasket. 'Guess I'll be spending another
night going over old case files' he thought.

That's exactly what he did for the next four hours.

This time, he noticed the fragrance of Natalie's perfume before the
scent of her blood. Nick glanced up and saw her approaching. She
smiled at him. 'Her smile is so beautiful' he thought, 'she is so
beautiful'. Ever since he met her, she was the light in his world
of darkness, the light in his life. And he knew, that even in
mortality, she would remain his light, forever. They had a unique
and unbreakable bond between them, more profound than that allowed
between mortals, purer than that allowed between vampires.

"Hey, Nick!," Natalie beamed. "I thought I'd stop by and spend my
break with you!"

"Good!," he replied. "It's getting a little tiring talking to file

Before they had a chance to further their conversation, Reese
stormed out of his office. "Knight! We've got a body, southwest
corner, St. Clair and Oakwood. The shooter's holed up on the roof
of the school across the street."

"Sniper?," Nick asked as he stood up.

"Not yet. He knocked down a janitor at the rear doors and ran into
the school after the murder. The ETF's on the scene. You worry
about the victim, and let them take care of the bad guy."

"On my way!" Nick stood up and kissed Nat briskly on the forehead.
"Sorry Nat. Gotta go," he gasped before rushing for the door.

Reese stood there and gawked at Natalie as she charged after Nick.
She slid right into Nick and grabbed hold of his arm. "Not until
you get a vest on, you're not!"

"Knight! Doctor's orders! Now!," Reese barked.

After Nick left, Natalie walked over to Reese. "Thanks, Captain!"

Reese gave her a fatherly pat on the arm. "After the time it took
you two to *finally* get together, it's not going to end with a
blind bullet." He turned to head back to his office, then spun
around suddenly. Reese pointed his finger at Nat. "You stay here
until the suspect's in custody."

By the time Nick arrived at the scene, the ETF was readying to
enter the building. Fortunately no shots had been fired from the
roof. Nick tried focusing on the roof, and quickly realized his
night vision was terribly impaired, practically non-existent. "I
should have expected that," he said aloud. His other senses had
already been severely diminished since ...visions of making love to
Natalie crept into his thoughts... 'Get your mind on the job,
Knight!' Nick scolded himself.

Nick ducked around the rear corner of the building. He stood behind
a maze of sheet metal ductwork that ran up the side of the wall
from the ground to the roof. Ensuring he was out of anyone's view,
Nick propelled himself upwards. He wasn't even halfway to the roof
when he weakened and started floating back down. "Mortality is
going to take some getting used to," he grumbled under his breath.

Nick conceded defeat. In his physical condition, he *had* to follow
the Captain's orders and let the ETF take the culprit out. When he
got across the street to the murder scene, Nick glanced back at the
school. The shooter was already being dragged out the front doors,
kicking and screaming, by two ETF officers.

Fifteen minutes later, Natalie arrived with the crew in the
Coroner's wagon. She conducted her initial examination of the
victim, and both her and Nick finished up their scene reports at
about the same time. Nick caught up with her as she was heading
towards the wagon. "Do you want to ride back with me?," he asked.

"Sure," she replied and took his arm. "*Much* better company."

When they were both in the car, Nick started up the engine, but he
didn't move. He looked over at Nat with some disappointment in his
eyes. "Night vision's going, and I have the flight endurance of an
ostrich," he sulked.

"That's progress, Nick. Why so down?," Natalie asked.

"It made me feel useless, Nat. I was angry because I couldn't fly
the way I used to..."

"You will have to get used to it, Nick," she interrupted. Natalie
gently stroked his arm.

"...and then I felt guilty for feeling that way," he added.

"Well, I know you're used to *that*!" she offered brightly,
wrangling a smile out of him.

He leaned over and kissed her cheek. "You always know what to say."

"Yes I do, don't I," Natalie beamed. "You don't have to feel guilty
for missing things you've been using for centuries, Nick. I
understand." She kissed his lips. "Come on, let's go. I should have
this guy done before you finish your shift."

* * * * *

Nick picked Nat up after work, and they arrived back at the loft
shortly before sunrise. Sydney played out his foot worshipping
routine when they emerged from the lift. Nat went straight to the
kitchen to feed him, while Nick retrieved a bottle of blood from
the fridge. He polished off two glasses immediately.

"You're hungrier than the cat," Natalie remarked.

"Hungry and weak," Nick replied.

She touched his forehead, it was still cold. "Some of the weakness
you feel could be quite normal. Your body is changing, Nick.
Slowly. But it *is* changing."

"I know it's changing, Nat. I feel aches and pains I've never felt

Natalie grinned slyly. "You need a warm bath. Go on upstairs. If
you're a good boy, I'll come up and scrub your back."

"That could be worth sitting in a tub of hot water for." Nick
kissed the tip of her nose and disappeared upstairs.

Once Nick was safely upstairs, Natalie retrieved a pot from the
shelf and poured some blood into it. She stuck in a sprig of fresh
mistletoe and stirred it as she let it warm gently on the stove.
Then she took two wine glasses from the shelf, and strained the
blood into one of them. The other, she filled with white wine.
"Less of a chance of getting mixed up," she muttered aloud.

Natalie closed the blinds with the remote, gathered up the filled
wine glasses, and slipped upstairs to the bedroom to change. When
she was ready, she crept into the bathroom. Nick was sprawled out
in the tub, his neck resting comfortably on a bath pillow, his eyes

Natalie stealthily approached the tub and quietly got down on her
knees. "Are you still awake?!" she shouted into his ear.

Nick, startled, had to thrash his arms in the water for balance.
"Barely," he said as he slowly opened his eyes. "This is very
relaxing..." Nick's eyes widened and he slipped again as he gawked
at Natalie kneeling next to the tub. She was wearing a strapless,
lustrous silk teddy in a deep burgundy shade. It was provocatively
held together in the front with ties, like shoe lacing. A matching
scarf was loosely tied around her neck.

"You are *too* irresistible!," Nick grinned as he reached out for

Natalie slipped back just out of his reach and teasingly held out
the glass of prepared blood. "It's been long enough, Nick. I *am*

Without taking his eyes off of her, Nick accepted the proffered
glass. "Indeed," he whispered.

Natalie found her own glass of wine. They gazed and smiled at each
other while they slowly sipped their drinks. Natalie was doing most
of the gazing, while Nick was doing most of the smiling. He was the
first to finish and handed Natalie his glass. She set both glasses
carefully on the floor and leaned close to the tub. She teased Nick
by toying with the scarf around her neck. Then she leaned in and
tauntingly nibbled at his throat. Nick shuddered. His mouth found
hers, and he kissed her fervently.

Natalie ran her fingers through Nick's hair as he started nibbling
at the base of her throat, below the scarf. Her breathing quickened
and her heart started to race. Her skin tingled with pleasure as he
planted moist kisses across her bare skin, from the base of her
throat down to the top of her teddy. Natalie trembled when he
loosened the tie at her bosom with his teeth. Nick teased her with
his lips and tongue before kissing his way back to her ear. "Coming
in?" he whispered.

"With this on?," Natalie whispered back.

Nick deftly pulled her into the tub, thankful that he still
retained some of his vampire strength. He finished unlacing her
teddy with eager fingers. "I'll buy you a new one, tomorrow," he
declared softly into her ear.

Ordered to watch and wait was not what Carlos wanted to do. He
viewed Nick not only as an adversary, but as a competitor for
Lacroix's attention, and affection. Carlos looked in the mirror:
yes there were similarities; both were blonde, tall and handsome.
'But', thought Carlos vindictively, 'I am the one who appreciates
the gift of immortality! I am the tiger in the savage garden! When
I walk, the world trembles before me, and not because I carry a
piece of shiny tin! I am Vampire! I am Death walking among the
lambs for slaughter!' Carlos laughed. Now he had discovered just
how weak and mortal Lacroix's beloved Nicholas had become. From
outside the police station, Carlos had 'heard' the police report
about the gun man and had 'heard' Nick being told to get down
there. He arrived on the scene shortly before Nick did.

And Nick didn't even know he was there! Carlos could sense there
was still a lot of the vampire in Nick, but Nick had chosen to push
away his special talents and was unable to sense him! Then Carlos
noticed Nick was wearing a bullet-proof vest. What a laugh that had
been! A vampire afraid of a piece of metal! But then, the piece de
resistance, Nicholas could not even fly!

In his euphoric state, he had watched Nick and Nat drive back to
the Coroner's Office. He watched Natalie leave for the morgue, then
he followed Nick back to the station. He tried to find a way to get
by the Duty Sergeant, but found there were just too many
distractions, so he left. Then it was time to feed. Like Lacroix,
Carlos chose to hunt the strip between Spadina and University. He
had so many offers, it was like going to a banquet. It was almost
dawn before Carlos arrived back at the Tower.

Then, sated and bloated, he returned home and waited for Lacroix.

The sun was almost up before Lacroix rushed in and slammed the door
tightly shut. "Well," he demanded. "Did you discover anything about
Nicholas tonight?"

Lacroix dropped into the battered recliner that came with the
Tower. Carlos was delegated to a packing crate across from it.

Lacroix began to absently twist his signet ring around, and around,
and around, on his finger. The motion caught Carlos' attention,
almost hypnotizing him.

With a brief shake of his head, Carlos came out of it and smiled at
his 'father'. "Yes, Lacroix, I have discovered some incredible
things! Your Nicholas is becoming very mortal. He could not sense
me, he now wears an armour plated vest and.....he cannot fly!"
Carlos flung himself off the packing crate to the floor beside
Lacroix. He looked up to the older vampire and smiled. "Tell me,
why is Nicholas so important to you? You have me! I cherish all you
have done for me, I do not desire to return to my former self. And
I certainly would not be caught dead hanging around a coroner.
How.... apropos, the undead dead having a relationship with a
mortal who only works with the dead. Seems to me they deserve each
other." Carlos laughed. "Nicholas has become nothing more than a
weak-willed, simpering piece of clay, dancing to any tune his lady
death doctor plays. I'm not at all surprised he would choose mortal
years over immortality and power. He is weak, he is insecure, he is
a waste of time! He is...."

Before Carlos could continue, Lacroix rose from the chair and,
grabbing him by the neck, lifted him a good foot off the ground.
Carlos saw death in Lacroix's eyes. His death. And not a pleasant
or quick one. Lacroix's grip tightened as he spoke, almost in a
whisper. "Be careful what you say, Carlos. Be very careful.
Nicholas deBrabant may appear to you to be nothing more than a weak
willed fool, but understand this - beneath that false veneer beats
the heart of a warrior ten times what you could ever, in your
wildest dreams, be. I chose to bring Nicholas across 800 years ago
because his was the purist soul I had ever come across. I chose to
corrupt his soul and his spirit to keep him bound to me. Now the
courage and resistance that first attracted me to him has returned
to haunt me. You underestimate Nicholas, and my feelings for him.
I want him back! He is mine! My creation! My child! Do you
understand that? If I ever hear you describe him as weak, insecure
or a waste of my time again, I will take you into the church yard
and nail you to the pavement. Then I will watch the sun burn the
skin from your bones. Do I make myself clear?"

With that, Lacroix opened his hand, let Carlos drop heavily to the
floor, and turned towards the door leading up into the Tower. He
paused, before going through. "You say he is losing his vampire
abilities. That he can no longer fly? Hmmm ...perhaps the good
Doctor Lambert has been more successful than I ever anticipated.
Perhaps I shall let him become comfortable in his new life
....before I destroy it."

Lacroix's grip on the door frame became tighter, causing the wood
to shatter with a violent CRACK!! "This bears looking into." He
turned and glanced back at his acolyte. "Tonight, you will watch
the Raven. Do not speak to anyone, do not allow yourself to be
seen. And, Carlos, do not overfeed so. Gluttony was one of the
things that brought Rome down."

With that, Lacroix left.

* * * * *

Nick and Nat enthusiastically continued their love-making routine
every other day for several days. Although Nick had seemed to be
taking less blood each time, Nat was concerned that no further
steps towards his mortality had occurred. He was now physically as
well as spiritually stuck between mortal and vampire. Natalie
decided that it was time to add something to the regime. She wanted
to prod his digestive system into producing energy from real food.
While Nick was sleeping, Nat slipped out to the grocery store.

Nick was awake and immersed in a book when she returned. He heard
the rumbling of the elevator and went over to greet her as she
stepped out. "You should have waited until later, Nat, I could have
come and helped you with this." He took the groceries from her arms
and carried them into the kitchen. Natalie followed close behind.

"That's okay," she said. "Go back and do whatever you were doing.
I'm going to make dinner."

"Protein, iron, or veggie shakes?" Nick asked with a grim
expression on his face.

"None of the above. Tonight you're going to try real food." Natalie
tapped her chin with her finger. "Something tasty, but mushed to a
fine consistency." She gave Nick a playful push out of the kitchen.
"Now go on, get out of here." Nick sauntered back into the living
room, and engrossed himself back in his book.

Half an hour later, Natalie called him to the table. Her plate was
full of a pasta/chicken combination, while his held two little
piles of white and orange mush. Nick looked down at the plate and
gagged, "yechh. What is that?"

"It's food. It's good for you," Natalie replied. "Besides, there
are only a few spoonfuls. I don't want to overload your system, I
just want to get it to start working."

Nick sat down reluctantly and cautiously stuck his spoon into the
orange goo. Natalie studied him as he made a production out of
putting it in his mouth. Much to his surprise, it didn't taste too

"Well?" Natalie said as she watched him intently.

"It really isn't that bad, Nat." He ate another spoonful.
"Actually, it doesn't really have much of a taste at all. It's not
good, but it's not bad either."

"Good," Natalie smiled and ate a forkful of pasta.

Nick finished off the orange pile and stuck his spoon into the
white stuff. He took a small taste. "Actually, Nat, this one tastes

"You can tell a difference between them?!" Natalie asked excitedly.
"The white one *definitely* tastes better than the other?!" She
smiled and took another bite of her own dinner.

Nick swallowed down a larger spoonful of his mush. "Yes,

"That's vanilla custard, Nick, and the orange is strained carrots.
You *should* like the white more than the orange. That's good!"

"*Strained* carrots, Nat? You're feeding me baby food?"

"It's *food*, Nick. Easy to digest, nothing added."

"Baby food?"

Natalie stood up and stepped over behind Nick. She wrapped her arms
around his shoulders and spoke quietly into his ear, "humility is
a noble human emotion, Nick." She paused for a moment before
returning to her seat. "Besides," she said robustly, "it's either
that or the protein shakes."

"I'll eat the baby food," Nick announced. He stuck another spoonful
in his mouth.

Natalie watched Nick eagerly as he cleaned his plate, while
contemplating what other steps she might take to further his
evolution. A sudden sick feeling overwhelmed her. She only now
recalled the final step in Janette's transformation to mortality.
For that to happen there was a price to be paid. The death of the
one she loved. The forgotten factor.

* * * * *

A few hours later, Natalie sat alone and depressed in the morgue.
She was trying to forget about what finally freed Janette of the
vampire, but it was hard to forget. She had no cases to work on, so
she was spending her time browsing medical papers, but it was a
wasted effort. Natalie was abruptly surprised by the swoosh of a
vampire in the room.

"Good evening, Dr. Lambert." Lacroix's velvety voice shattered the

A sudden rush of fear pierced through Natalie as she saw Lacroix.
Her throat instantly dried and her heart started to pound. "What do
you want? You are supposed to leave us alone."

"Correction, Doctor. I am to leave *Nicholas* alone. And I *will*
honour that debt, as long as you co-operate."

Natalie started to shiver involuntarily. "What do you want from

Lacroix grinned wickedly. "What I would really like from you is my
son back."

"You can't have him," Natalie proclaimed. "That life is over for

Lacroix drifted over to her desk. "Then I will have payment for
giving up my pride ...and my source of amusement," he snarled.

"What payment?" Natalie asked nervously.

"You, Dr. Lambert," Lacroix replied. "*You* took him from me, *you*
will be the one to pay. You will become one of us, and watch him
grow old and die." Lacroix reached over the desk and swept
Natalie's hair from her neck. As he stroked her throat, Natalie
started to shake uncontrollably. Hot tears started to spill down
her cheeks.

Lacroix slowly removed his hand from her throat. He licked his lips
and grinned. "I am not a cad, Dr. Lambert. You have three days to
say goodbye." He vanished from the room.

"Oh, God!" Natalie moaned. "I can't tell Nick. He'll go after
Lacroix. He's half-mortal. He won't have a chance."

Natalie laid her head down on the desk and wept.

Two hours later Nick arrived at the morgue to pick Natalie up. He
noticed her red puffy eyes immediately. "What's wrong, Nat?"

She summoned up enough strength to feign a smile. "Nothing, Nick.
I think I'm allergic to something that was brought in here. I don't
know what it is." Nick held out his arms for her and she clung to
him fiercely. Natalie felt tears well up in her again as she held
Nick close, but she restrained them.

"That's an awful tight hug just for an allergy, Nat."

Natalie took a deep breath and loosened her grip on Nick. "I'm
sorry, I'm also very tired, and happy to see you."

Nick wasn't convinced. Something was terribly wrong. But he knew
Natalie, and he knew she would tell him when she was ready. He held
her hand tightly as they walked out to his car. They rode home
together in silence.

"You're too quiet," Nick said to Natalie as they stepped into the
loft and walked over to the couch.

"I'm sorry, Nick. I'm just so tired. I'm afraid I won't be very
good company tonight."

"That's too bad," Nick said as he reached inside his jacket and
pulled out a small package. He opened it in front of Nat and pulled
out a plush burgundy teddy. "It's identical to the one I ruined in
the tub. Sorry it took a few days, but I had trouble finding this
particular colour. I think it's the right size, but you will have
to try it...."

Natalie trembled with sorrow. It was their night to make love, and
the realization that Nick would find out about Lacroix with the
first sip of her blood, made any hope of that impossible. 'Oh, God,
I'm never going to be with him again,' the thought ripped through
her heart. Natalie could no longer ebb the flow of tears. She was
a wreck, and she collapsed on the sofa in a heap.

Nick gathered her into his arms, carried her upstairs, and put her
in bed. He had no idea what was wrong. He begged her to tell him,
but she would not say. All he could do was lay down with her, hold
her, and let her cry. Everytime he moved, she would tighten her
grip on him. Eventually, Natalie cried herself into a restless

When she awoke later in the day, she was still in Nick's arms.
Natalie lay there for a very long time, simply staring at him and
watching his chest rise and fall with each breath. She soon felt a
small flicker of hope inside - the hope that perhaps Janette would
help them one more time.

Natalie slipped out of bed, got dressed, and went downstairs.

* * * * *

Nat was relieved that Nick spent most of the day in bed. She didn't
hear the shower running until almost six-thirty, and he would have
to leave for work by seven. She was in the kitchen applying her
make-up when she heard him descending the stairs. Nat turned around
and smiled at him.

"You're feeling better?," he asked.

"Much. Sorry about that, Nick. I don't know what got into me."

When he reached her, Nick leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Well,
we've both been through a lot over these past few weeks. Perhaps it
finally caught up to you."

"That must be all it was." Natalie turned back to the mirror in
front of her and dabbed on some mascara.

"You don't need that, Nat. You're beautiful without that stuff."

"Thank you," Natalie said. She momentarily directed her attention
to Nick and gave him a quick kiss on the lips, "but you are
terribly biased, you know."

Nick checked his watch. "So, what's for dinner tonight ...strained
peas, pablum?"

"Tonight you can have your regular brew. I think we'll do the food
bit a little at a time, every couple of days or so."

"Thank you, doctor!" Nick headed for the fridge and pulled out a
bottle of blood. He poured a tall tumbler full. "So, do you want a
ride to work again?"

"No. I'll take my own car tonight. I want to run a couple of
errands on the way. I don't have to be in until nine."

Nick guzzled down his dinner and set the glass carefully in the
sink, while Nat put away her make-up. He stepped over to her and
gave her a lingering kiss. "Gotta go. I'll pop into the morgue on
my break."

"See you then." Nat watched after him as he left.

* * * * *

The Raven had not yet opened for the evening. Natalie knocked
lightly at the front door. A few moments later the door creaked open,
and Miklos stood before her.

"May I help you?" he asked gruffly.

Natalie took a very small step backwards. "I need to see Janette."

"Wait here. If I'm not back in five minutes, leave." Miklos shut
the door in her face.

Natalie pulled her coat tightly around her and waited anxiously. A
couple of minutes passed before the door reopened. Miklos invited
her in and led her to a table near the bar. Natalie sat down and
apprehensively folded her hands together on top of the table.

"Natalie," Janette's voice floated across the room as she strolled
towards the bar. "I had not expected to see you again." Janette sat
down opposite Nat. "What is it you require of me?"

"I need your help, Janette. I have no one else to turn to. I know
you care about Nick, and we are in your debt for what you've done
for us. But I am in trouble, and I have nowhere else to go for
help." Natalie hesitated. "It's Lacroix."

Janette smiled reassuringly at her. "Lacroix is no longer here,
Natalie. I sent him away - pouf. He is to leave Nicola alone, that
was part of my agreement with him."

"Lacroix visited me at work last night." Natalie felt tears
building up as she recalled his intrusion. "He demands payment for
losing Nick. He suggested he will not honour his debt to you,
unless I co-operate with him."

Janette was visibly angry. "He throws his debt to me back in my
face!," she snarled. "He is not even supposed to still be in this
city! And by hurting you, he *will* hurt Nicola!." She reached over
and touched Nat's hand lightly. With a curious expression, she then
touched Nat's throat. Janette withdrew her hand quickly, as though
it had been burned, and stared at Nat intensely.

"What is it? What's wrong?" Natalie implored.

Janette's expression turned dour. "Did Lacroix touch you?"

"He told me he was going to bring me across, and he started
stroking my neck. I thought he was going to do it then and there,
but he took no blood." The tears finally started to fall from Nat's
eyes and she dabbed at them with the cuff of her jacket. "He told
me I had three days. I have two more days with Nick, and then it's
over. All of it."

"This time he *has* gone too far," Janette proclaimed under her

Natalie shuffled awkwardly in her seat. "Pardon?"

"Do not worry, Natalie. I believe there is someone who can help."

It didn't take Janette long to discover that Lacroix had, indeed,
remained in Toronto. When she realized he was still around, Janette
put two of her 'girls' on the door to watch for 'strangers'. Almost
immediately they discovered Carlos.

"He is small fish," Janette said to Miklos, who wanted to remove
the offending spy. "Leave him alone to report back to his master
how successful the Raven has once again become, and what we are
doing. Or at least, what we will let him think we are doing."

Miklos grunted, but obeyed Janette.

For her part, Janette was furious. It was bad enough that Lacroix
had remained, but to threaten Nicola after she had 'instructed' him
not to! And to threaten Natalie and.... Janette shook her head.
Soon the score would be settled. She leaned back against the bar
and surveyed the crowd. All the regulars were back, and they had
all brought friends. The music and the lighting were what she
wanted, she felt safe. And very, very tired. She put down the glass
of 'wine' she had started and motioned Miklos over. "I am going to
retire early today, Miklos. I leave you in charge. See that our
'friend' is kept busy until almost dawn, but tell the girls not to
tease him too much."

Miklos smiled, and, lifting Janette's hand to his lips, he kissed
it and wished her a good day's sleep.

Janette unlocked the barred door that lead to the inner sanctum she
had built behind the bar years ago. Lacroix had used it to house
his 'special vintages', but now it was hers once again. After
showering, Janette laid down in the double, four poster bed she had
brought over from France. The pillows and comforter were of the
finest silk and lace. She felt safe and secure, and was asleep
before dawn. And she dreamed. She saw herself as a child, running
to church. She was often late for church because ever since her
mother had died, she had the lion's share of the work to do around
the house. Her father and her brothers were useless, lazy louts
that would not pick up their own chamber pots, and they were too
cheap to hire anyone to help. So, it fell to Janette. She watched
herself enter the little town church of Marie de L'anges. She went
to the alter in Mary Magdalene's Chapel and, lighting a candle for
her mother, knelt and said a prayer asking for the Queen of the
Angels to help her. This she had done every week for five years.
Until her father had arranged her marriage to a nobleman in the
next valley.

Janette moved restlessly in her four poster bed as the dream began
to change. It was no longer Janette the youngster who knelt before
Mary, it was Janette Ducharme, the proprietress of the Raven. The
vampire. In her dream, Mary reached out from the Chapel and touched
Janette saying: "All things are known to God. Nothing; living,
breathing, dead or undead exists without his light. You have seen
the proof. You know what you must do." Then Mary handed Janette a
cross on a gold chain. She held it and her hand did not burn.
Janette-in-the-dream began to cry.

With a jolt, Janette woke up trembling and soaked in blood sweat.
As she ran to the bathroom intending to shower, she passed the
mirror and stopped. She gazed at her reflection. Why did she dream
again? Why did she remember it? As far back as she could remember,
Janette stopped dreaming when she stopped being human, until her
dream a few days ago about ...Robert. And now this. Robert's name
whispered in her mind again. She pushed it back. Was she becoming
human again? She stood under the hot running water until she
stopped shaking. It was a long time.

At the appointed hour a knock came at the door. It was Miklos with
the usual evening glass of 'wine'. Janette took the wine and told
him she had an errand to run, and didn't know when she would be
returning, that he was in charge of the club tonight. Then she
closed the door. When Miklos returned five minutes later to ask her
about a supply shipment, Janette was gone. The glass of 'wine' was
sitting on the table. Untouched.

Janette took a deep breath and looked up at the steeple of St.
Michael's Cathedral. Her heart seemed to pound faster and faster. If
she stopped much longer she knew her nerve would desert her. Moving as
fast as she dared, Janette entered St. Mikes' through the side
door. The smell of beeswax and incense opened the flood gates of
her memories. As she entered the side transept, Janette almost
touched the holy water font at the door. Only survival instinct
pulled her hand away in time.

The church was half full for a mid-week mass. The congregation
consisted mainly of immigrant men and women from the Philippines
and a large crowd of elderly Italian women, dressed in black on
their knees, roping their Rosaries. At the alter, a young priest
was asking for divine intervention: "Lamb of God, you take away the
sins of the World. Have Mercy on Us. Lamb of God, you take away the
Sins of the World. Have Mercy on Us. Lamb of God, you take away the
Sins of the World. Grant Us Thy Peace." Janette found herself
mouthing the words she hadn't spoken in over 800 years. Silently,
she made her way to the side Chapel of Mary. Four banks of candles
flickered in the soft light. Nervously, Janette knelt on the
prie-dieu and, taking a deep breath, looked upon the serene face of
the Virgin Queen. Her dream returned to her in a terrifying flood
of emotions. Suddenly, she felt herself falling over, and was
caught by a pair of strong, warm, mortal hands. Janette looked up
into the face of an old woman.

"You should sit down, my dear. Mary will hear your prayers from
anywhere in the Church," the woman said smiling as she helped
Janette up. Janette was too confused to argue or resist as the
woman led her to a pew a few feet away. Then, as she reached past
Janette to pick up a prayer book, Janette felt something cool and
metallic touch the back of her hand. She looked down and saw the
woman's crucifix dangling against her skin. And her skin was not

Panicking, Janette pushed past the woman and ran out the door of
the Cathedral as the priest called the congregation to join him in

She went straight back to the Raven. Miklos watched her enter,
poured a glass of 'wine' and went to her without waiting for the
summons. Janette took the glass and downed its contents in one
gulp. "Do we know yet where Lacroix has holed up?," she asked
without premise.

"Vivian says Carlos has told her of a ruined church tower. I made
a few inquiries. It is the old tower of St. George the Martyr's
Church at St. Patrick's Market Square. I have seen him enter it

Janette looked startled. "Miklos! I never want you to endanger
yourself like that again! He is not worth the risk of losing you,
your service, and your friendship."

Miklos smiled. His feelings for Janette were....

"But now there is something you must do for me," Janette
interrupted. She retrieved a pen and a notepad from the bar top,
and quickly scribbled a message. She handed it to Miklos and he
read it with some surprise. Janette stared at him. "Find them and
give them this note. Contact me when you have done so." Miklos
turned to go. Janette continued, "and Miklos..."

He stopped.

"Be careful."

* * * * *

Natalie, fully dressed, sat alone in Nick's bed cradling his pillow
to her breast. It had been two days since her visit with Janette,
three days since she saw Lacroix. She had not heard a thing from
either of them. Natalie glanced over at the clock, it was three in
the morning, and Nick would be home in a couple of hours. Her heart
broke as she recalled the expression on his face before he left for
work. She had spurned all of his advances for the last three days,
and she knew he was confused and hurt by that. But there was
nothing else for her to do.

The sudden blare of the telephone on the night table roused Natalie
from her thoughts of Nick. The answering machine downstairs was
turned off, and the phone rang several times before she drew enough
courage to pick up the receiver. Natalie yearned to hear the sound
of Janette's voice on the other end, but it was not to be.

"I trust you are ready, Dr. Lambert," Lacroix taunted. "I expect
the pleasure of your company in one hour. The Bell Tower near Queen
and Spadina." There was a long pause. "Don't make me come for you.
I have to desire to tarnish your little ...love nest." Click.

Natalie closed her eyes and held her last vision of Nick in her
heart. When she kissed him goodbye as he left for work, she drank
in every detail of him, wanting to hold on to all of it. The
softness of his lips, the blue of his eyes, the feel of the slight
stubble on his chin, the taste of him, the scent of him. Natalie
cried into the pillow uncontrollably, her body wracked with the
crushing pain of heartache. And when her crying was almost done,
she straggled downstairs, to write him a letter goodbye.

* * * * *

While Natalie was home writing, Nick was sitting at his desk at the
station. His shift would be over in two hours, and he couldn't wait
to get home and see how she was. She had been acting so aloof
lately, and he just didn't know what to make of it. She said she
wasn't feeling well, but...."

"Knight - I need the files on the Anderson case," Reese's voice
broke Nick away from his thoughts.

"Sorry, Captain?" Nick asked.

"The Anderson case. Vice is coming in later this morning to take a

Nick shuffled around some files on his desk before remembering they
were in the batch he took home the previous night. "Damn, Captain.
I'll have to go home and pick them up."

"Well, do it now, Nick. I need those files," Reese ordered.

Nick was surprised to find Nat's car missing from the loft when he
arrived home twenty minutes later to pick up the files. He was even
more surprised when he got upstairs and found her gone. "Nat, are
you here?!" he shouted to the empty space. 'Where the hell is she?'
he wondered. Nick then noticed an envelope propped up on his
kitchen table. It was addressed to him, in Nat's handwriting. He
picked it up, took out the letter, and started to read.

"My Love,

I had hoped that we would spend the rest of our lives
together, but for your mortality there is a price to be paid.
Lacroix has called me on this debt, and I fear there is no way
out. I go tonight to pay, and I do so willingly, knowing it is
life to you. And your life is everything to me. I love you.

Please do not follow. I cannot bear the thought of you seeing
me as you once were. And please do not give up. I want you to
have a real life, a mortal life. You will recall there was a
final step in Janette's cure, and while I would never wish
such trauma to befall you, in my heart I pray that something
good will come of this, and that it will provide the catalyst
to your mortality.

If, with all of this, nothing has changed, please find it in
your heart to forgive me for condemning you to a half-life,
unable to walk in the sunlight as a man, or fly in the night
as a vampire.

I do not know what will become of me, but by the time you read
this it will be done. I will try to hold on to the light of
your love as I am led into the darkness. In truth, my biggest
fear is that my love for you will be lost. If that should
happen, know that it is still there, my love, and that I am
just unable to find it.

All my love forever, Nat"

Nick collapsed into the kitchen chair, unable, unwilling, to
totally comprehend what he had read. He stared at the words, hoping
that if he stared long enough, they would disappear. But they would
not. Blood tears started dropping onto the paper, smearing the ink.
"This is *not* going to happen, Natalie!," he shouted as he stood
up. Nick folded up the letter and stuffed it into his shirt pocket.
Cursing himself over his limited power of flight, he raced to the
elevator, and down to his car.

A small crowd was still milling around inside the club when Nick
arrived at the Raven. He immediately saw Janette standing by the
bar contentedly sipping a glass of bloodwine. He darted over to

"Nicola! I told you I did not want to see you again," she scolded.

"Extenuating circumstances, Janette." Nick paused to catch his
breath. "I need to know where Lacroix is. He has Natalie."

"Do not go, Nicola. This matter is my responsibility, not yours,
and I have already taken care of it. Natalie will be quite safe.
She will be returned to you unharmed. I can assure you of this.
Lacroix will not be able to follow through with his threat."

Nick glared at her unconvinced. "There are no assurances where
Lacroix is concerned, Janette. He *will* go through with it."

With her free hand, Janette casually brushed invisible lint from
the shoulder of Nick's jacket. "Look at the state you are in,
Nicola. You are almost as weak as a mortal. I cannot even sense
what little of the vampire remains in you. There is nothing you
could do, even if it was required."

"Tell me where she is, Janette ...please," Nick begged.

Janette stared at him for a long moment before relenting. "Alright.
Oui, mon cher. If you insist. The church ruins, the tower, St.
Patrick's Market Square."

"I know the place!" Nick tore out of the Raven.

"Nicola the impatient one," Janette muttered to herself. She
checked the time on her watch, and took another sip of her drink.

* * * * *

Natalie drove her car as far as she dared. Then she walked the
remainder of the distance to the ruins. When she was within a
hundred feet of the tower, she was met by Carlos.

"Follow me," he ordered curtly. "I will take you to Lacroix."

Natalie remained silent as Carlos led her along the city sidewalk
to the front of the church. From there, they travelled up the
rubble strewn walkway and across the grounds to the Bell Tower.
Carlos opened the heavy wooden door and bodily pushed her in.
Lacroix was waiting on the other side.

Natalie felt a hard lump of fear in her stomach.

Lacroix grimaced at Carlos. "Leave." Carlos rapidly spun around and
left the tower.

Lacroix chuckled at Nat. "Follow me," he ordered as he led her
deeper into the room.

Natalie's feet would not move. 'Do it for Nick, ....for Nick,
...for Nick ...' the unspoken words gave her the strength to take
a step, and then another, and then another, until she was standing
next to Lacroix at the far side of the room.

Lacroix suddenly grabbed Nat's arm and roughly twirled her around
until she was directly in front of him, facing him. "I trust you
have given Nicholas a warm goodbye, Doctor?," he sneered. "Take off
your coat!"

Natalie removed her coat, and folded her arms across her chest.

Lacroix reached out to touch her cheek. Natalie cringed away from
him and he grabbed her wrist. He squeezed it hard. Natalie cried
out in pain and a few unbidden tears escaped her eyes. Lacroix
snarled at her. "Do not recoil from me again. Ever again. Do you

Natalie froze as Lacroix again reached out to touch her. "That's
better," he crooned as he roughly caressed her cheek, rubbing her
salty tears hard into her skin. "Enlighten me, Doctor. What is it
that Nicholas sees in this face of yours that smittens him so?"

Natalie said nothing.

Lacroix removed his hand and wiped it harshly on Nat's blouse. "I
suppose he has told you that you are beautiful. He has said that
very same thing to a multitude of women over the centuries."
Lacroix grabbed her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes. "All
of whom were more beautiful than you."

Natalie gasped as Lacroix suddenly tore at her blouse, exposing her
neck and shoulder. "I find you utterly repulsive," he spat.

Natalie struggled to distance her mind from Lacroix's venom. She
closed her eyes and concentrated on Nick, of being in his arms, of
being in his bed, of loving him, of him loving her. She wanted
desperately to hold on to those thoughts, for as long as she
possibly could.

The sting of Lacroix smacking her face rudely brought Nat back to
reality. She felt blood dripping from her nose. Nat opened her
eyes, and holding Nick in her heart, she summoned up every ounce of
strength she could. "If you're going to do it, just do it," she
said defiantly.

"I will do it, when *I* am ready," Lacroix taunted.

* * * * *

Nick parked his car on the street outside the Church and raced up
the walkway towards the tower. As he pounded over the rubble and up
to the front door, he wished he could hear the sound of Nat's
heartbeat. He opened the door. A soft glowing light illuminated the
far end of the room and, as he neared the light, Nick could clearly
see Lacroix holding Natalie with one arm. Her clothes were torn,
and her nose was bleeding profusely. Lacroix was calmly licking her
blood from his free hand, when he sensed Nick's approach.

"Good evening, Nicholas!" Lacroix exclaimed as he turned to face
his estranged son. "How pleasant that you could join us on this
...auspicious occasion."

"Let her go, Lacroix!" Nick demanded.

"I will not."

Natalie had been desperately trying to hold back her tears. But
when she saw Nick's face, they poured out in a flood. "Oh, God,
Nick," Natalie wailed, "I don't want you to see me like..."

Lacroix moved his arm further around the back of Natalie's
shoulders and clamped his hand tightly over her mouth. "Forgive me,
Doctor, but interrupting a conversation is rather rude."

Nick struggled to keep his anger, and his tears, in check. "Let her
go and take me."

"I ...cannot. Your sister has seen to that, Nicholas." Lacroix
licked another finger of his blood-stained hand before waving it
towards Natalie. "Besides," he continued, "I have all of you I need
right here beside me."

Nick surged forward. Lacroix's eyes glowed and he bared his fangs.
He brushed Natalie's hair from her neck and prepared to strike.
Suddenly three figures materialized. It was Miklos and the two
enforcers who had visited Lacroix the previous week.

Lacroix retracted his fangs and snarled at Miklos. "I don't believe
I extended you an invitation to this party, Miklos." He then nodded
towards the black-clad enforcers, "and there is certainly no need
for *their* presence."

The taller enforcer marched forward. "There is always a need for
our presence when the Code has been broken. Or when it is about to

Nick was utterly confused. He had absolutely no idea what was going
on here. His eyes roamed back to Nat, still a prisoner in Lacroix's
arms, Lacroix's hand still clamped tightly over her mouth.

'How could they possibly know?' Lacroix wondered. Suddenly there
was another whoosh in the room and Janette appeared. Lacroix glared
at her. "You knew! You told them!"

"You owed me a debt, Lacroix, and you chose to ignore it," Janette
calmly replied. "In time I could have forgiven you for that. But
for the injustice you planned to commit tonight? There is no
forgiveness for that." She moved closer to Lacroix. "You knew the
moment you touched her, and you were going to bring her across
anyway. You know the rules, and you know this is number one on the
list. She is carrying another life, and that CAN NOT be tampered

The second enforcer approached Lacroix. "Your name has appeared on
our list once too often, Lacroix." The enforcer pulled a finely
honed wooden stake from his coat pocket. He then glanced around at
Nick. "Come. Take her and leave."

Nick charged over to Natalie and snatched her into his arms. He
held her tightly and, half carrying her, briskly led her away.
"Don't look back," he said. "Just keep walking."

Janette stepped between the two Enforcers and Lacroix. "Where is
your newest toy, Lacroix? Where is Carlos?" As if by magic, Carlos
appeared and fell whimpering at the feet of the Enforcers, begging
to be allowed to live. One of the Enforcers reached down, picked
him up and hurled him through the open door, into the yard.

Janette smiled. "Ah, another dedicated follower, eh?"

Then she turned to the Enforcers, any hint of a smile gone from her
face. "He is mine. Leave him to me. The debt he owes is far more
than you could understand."

The Enforcer shook his head. "He must truly die. You are his
protege, why should we believe that you would put an end to your
own 'father'?"

Janette didn't answer right away. She simply reached into her
pocket and pulled out a silver crucifix. "I am my own master, as
you are," she declared, as she pooled it into her palm and offered
it to the Enforcer. A private smile appeared as she watched them
all, Lacroix, the Enforcers, even Miklos, recoil from the sight of
the holy relic.

"You might say I have had a vision of something I spent many
centuries doubting. It has, shall we say, given me a new train of
thought." She slipped the cross back into her pocket. "Have no
fear, Lucien Lacroix will not live to see the sun set." With that
she held out her hand. The Enforcers thrust Lacroix at her and
stood back.

Grabbing Lacroix by the collar, Janette took him outside and took
to the sky.
* * * * *

Natalie held her breath until she and Nick were almost at the car.
Nick opened the door for her and bustled her in. They drove off
immediately, squealing the tires as they left. When they were
several blocks away, Nick pulled the car over and shut off the
engine. He took his jacket off and wrapped it snugly around
Natalie. Then he gathered her into his arms. "You should have told
me about Lacroix, Natalie. You should have told me."

"I couldn't take that chance, Nick," she sobbed. "I knew you would
confront him, and that you would end up either dead or back under
his control. I couldn't let you go through that again ...I wouldn't
let you go through that again."

Nick used his shirt to gently wipe the blood from her face. He held
her ever tighter in his arms. As she wept, he released his own
tears. They felt warm as they trickled onto his skin. Natalie felt
their warmth soaking into her hair, but the realization escaped
her. She buried herself deeper into Nick's chest and was greeted by
the hard thumping sound of a human heart, Nick's heart. Natalie
jerked her head back and stared up at Nick. She raised her hand to
his chin and caught a tear on her finger. It was clear. All of his
tears were clear. And he was smiling, a beautiful smile. A human

Nick tenderly ran his fingers through Natalie's hair. He moved his
lips to hers, and he kissed her thoroughly, passionately, savouring
the taste of her as only a human could. It was with much reluctance
that he finally broke the kiss. "The final step," he whispered. "I
did not require the trauma of losing you. The trauma of almost
losing you was enough."

Natalie smiled and touched his cheek. "Or perhaps it was the trauma
of discovering you were going to be a father," she whispered. "It
was certainly a monumental surprise to me."

"Yes. There is that," Nick laughed. He slowly released Natalie from
his arms. Keeping her snuggled close to him, and with one arm still
around her shoulders, he turned the key and started the car. "Let's
go home. You still have a certain article of lingerie that you must
try on for size."

"Yes, indeed I do!" Natalie grinned.

* * * * *

Moments later, Janette, with Lacroix in tow, arrived at the only
monument in Canada that brought back painful memories to her. Casa
Loma stood proud and strong on the hill overlooking Dupont Ave. Of
its two towers, one was open to the elements and the other closed.
It was to the closed tower that Janette took Lacroix. After pulling
open the wooden door to the slate roof, Janette tossed Lacroix in
and stepped in after him, closing the exit. Lacroix tried to force
open the door leading to the castle, but found himself screaming in
pain and staring at burnt hands.

"Holy Water," Janette explained as she casually pulled off her
gloves. "I have doused all the walls and doors of the tower with
it." She smiled and moved towards him. "You should have left. You
should have realized that you lost long ago. If you hadn't been
such a controlling coward, we would never have lost Nicola. But we
have. And, thanks to your conceit and lies, you have lost
everything. In a few short minutes you will lose your life."
Janette motioned towards the high, long tower windows. Already a
pale pink was beginning to be seen in the east. Lacroix looked
around. The tower was high enough that soon there would be no
refuge from the sun. He spun for the door, but Janette was already
there taking shelter in its depth.

"You cannot....." he began as the first ray of gold penetrated the

Before long, there was only screaming. Janette stayed long enough
to make sure. Then she opened the door and reached out into the
hallway for the boatman's pike she had left there earlier that
evening. Poking through the charred garments on the floor, she was
rewarded with the sound of iron against steel. She retrieved her
bauble and headed through the castle down to the closed-off section
of the basement to spend the day. On her way she stopped at a pay
phone in the tourist lobby and dialed the Raven. "Miklos. Remind me
to make a sizeable donation when I get in tonight. Have the
supplier double the amount of bourbon and open at dusk. It is
business as usual."

When the caretaker arrived a few hours later and did his rounds, he
found the boat pike and the door to the tower open. Cautiously he
went in and found nothing but winter debris: leaves, dirt, dust. It
didn't take long to sweep the mess up and drop the garbage bags
down the chute for pick-up later that day.

* * * * *

Almost a week had passed. Nick found it impossible to leave
Natalie's side. So much had happened, so much had changed. He never
realized he could love someone as much as he loved her, or that he
could be as loved as he was by her. But he was still afraid. He had
no word from Janette. His calls to the Raven went unanswered.
Natalie had asked him to drop by and thank Janette for all she had
done, but when he tried to, Miklos turned him away. It seemed the
Raven had become a private club, and he wasn't a member.

Then, on a day with the sun shining fully into the loft, and an
early spring robin perched on the window teasing the life out of
Sydney, a small parcel arrived with no return address.

Nick recognized Janette's handwriting and was sitting, staring at
the package, when Natalie came downstairs.

"What's that?," she asked.

"Something from Janette," Nick answered. "I'm almost afraid to open

"If you don't open it, you won't know what it is. If you never find
out what it is, the suspense will kill us both," Nat said with a
smile. "Open it."

So he did.

Inside was a letter and a small blue felt bag. Nick opened the
letter and read it out loud to Nat.


Lacroix will never again interfere with your life. Or mine.
You will always remain someone very special to me, but I know
I lost the battle for your heart the day you met Natalie. Take
care of her, and of your child.

Remember me fondly, but not too fondly! Perhaps one day I will
visit you, and then maybe we can become just friends.

You were right about so many things.

With love, Janette"

For a moment Nick sat looking at the letter. Then he opened the bag
and poured a silver signet ring into his hands.

He felt a great weight lift from his heart.

The End