From: "forevrnite.rm" <cstar@a...>

Date: Mon Feb 18, 2002 8:14 pm

Subject: A Wealth of Joy

This story is sort of a sequel to The Warmth of The Sun, (available at my website - just follow the links to the Adult Story section) but it will stand alone.

I want to thank NiteMar for her wonderful beta work. She provided many insites that I think have made this a better story.

Thanks too, to the NNNUTS for all of their support.

WARNINGS: Explicit Sex (M/F) (Nick/Natalie)

ARCHIVE PERMISSION: Permission to archive to Mel's FKFanfic Archive, the FKFTP site, Mortal Love Archive, and JADFE Archive IS GRANTED. All others must ask permission.

DISCLAIMERS: The Forever Knight characters belong to Columbia Tri/Star and TPTB. No copyright infringement is intended.

A Wealth of Joy By Nightlady (c) February 2002

Nat moved slowly toward wakefulness, noting the odd sensations that surrounded her. A firm, coolness beneath her cheek, soft-caressing fabric on her shoulders and body, and a not unpleasant weight across her upper body. She smiled as memory returned and she realized that she was where she'd dreamed of awaking for far too long a time.

Opening her eyes she recognized Nick's bedroom. She could tell from the amount of light, which seeped in despite the shutters, that it was still daylight outside. Moving carefully, not wanting to awaken Nick, she turned in his embrace to position herself to gaze upon his beloved face. Her heart increased its pace as she recalled the love that had shone in his eyes as they'd made love.

Unconsciously, her hand lightly touched the small, slightly raised spots on her neck that were all that remained of the puncture marks from his fangs. She shivered slightly as she recalled the flood of love and the many memories she'd received from Nick as he drank of her life's essence.

Closing her eyes, she tried to recall the various scenes that had filled her mind, but mostly it was the intense sense of being loved, totally and unconditionally, that filled her. An increase in the pressure of Nick's arm around her, and the cool, velvety feel of his lips against her skin told her that he, too, was awake.

She reopened her eyes to find his clear, blue ones gazing at her. Sliding even closer to him, she snuggled into his embrace, her hand slowly caressing the skin of his back. She grinned as she felt his manhood stir and begin to harden against her thigh. Raising her head slightly, she lightly kissed his throat, causing Nick to gasp slightly.

"Are you trying to seduce me?" He asked, in a soft, somewhat husky voice.

"Maybe. How am I doing if I am?" Nat teased back at him.

It was her turn to gasp as she suddenly found herself on her back with Nick's body covering hers.

"You are succeeding, very well." Nick said. Any response was cut off as his mouth closed over hers and his tongue probed insistently for admission.

Nat wrapped her arms around Nick's neck, her fingers in his blonde locks, and readily met his kiss. Their tongues met, sending an almost electric sensation through their bodies, as they once again gave themselves to the enjoyments of their passion. Nat felt her head start to spin as Nick's hands stroked, caressed, and somehow seemed to find all of her most sensitive spots while his tongue danced with hers in an ever-deepening kiss. She moaned with gratitude as he lightly pulled and rolled her nipples. She could feel her body reacting and demanding more. Her tongue slid against his fangs, teasing them until they dropped and Nick growled deep in his chest. She watched, with no sense of fear as his soft blue eyes took on a golden hue.

At last he broke their kiss, leaving her panting for air. She felt her juices flow as his lips and tongue moved down the curve of her throat, pausing to kiss and lightly nip the skin there. Glancing at her with a wicked grin, Nick continued his path of kisses to her breasts. Nat squirmed beneath him as his mouth found one erect nipple and he began to suck on it. She could feel her breath coming in gasps as his tongue flicked over the sensitive tip. She pressed against him, trying to ease the need that was building in her and groaned with gladness as his hand found and began to caress her clit. Her own hands found his now hard shaft and she began to stroke it.

Nick closed his eyes briefly as Nat's warm hands closed over him. The sensuous feeling of her stroking him, combined with the delicious scent of her blood and arousal, sent waves of pleasure throughout his body.

Being able to give Nat this sort of pleasure was like ambrosia to Nick. He'd ached to hold her like this, to show her the depth of his love, for far too long. His fear of harming her or of LaCroix killing her had kept him from doing so until last night. Nearly losing his life in a fire and learning that Nat loved him as much as he did her had changed all that.

They'd consummated their love and that love had enabled Nick to stop after only taking a small taste of her blood. He'd never experienced anything like the feelings he'd received as he drank from her. He'd never dreamed that a love as strong as hers could exist.

He smiled as he felt Nat's legs wrap around his waist and her hand guiding his throbbing manhood to the hot slickness of her core. He teased her at first, only inserting the very tip of his shaft in her until his own body demanded its fulfillment. Slowly, wanting to savor it, Nick eased into her. The heat of her surrounding him sent an almost painful wave of delight and need coursing through him.

Nat cried out wordlessly as Nick at last entered her. She held back from rushing his entry, realizing that he wanted to make this last as long as possible and sharing that desire. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest as the wonderful tension in her womb seemed to grow and grow. At last she sighed with satisfaction as Nick fully buried his thickness in her. He stayed there, motionless as he kissed her eyes and cheeks. His whispered, "I love you, more than I can ever express in words," brought tears of happiness to her eyes. She pulled his mouth to hers kissing him deeply and with all of the passion in her soul.

Nick finally began to move slowly, withdrawing almost completely before once again savoring the snug warmth of Nat's slick, moist core. Gradually, as his need for release built, he increased the speed of his motions. He could sense Nat approaching her own release and in the seconds before she achieved it, he tenderly sank his fangs into the tender flesh of her willingly bared neck.

Nat felt as if she was about to explode with pleasure as Nick carried her higher and higher in ecstasy. Every muscle in her body seemed to be at its acme of taut anticipation and each nerve thrummed with the wonderful sensations. Beyond words, able only to moan in gratification, she knew that she was at the edge of her orgasm. She felt the sharp, yet somehow sweet, sting of Nick's fangs just as her body finally found it's ultimate release. Her entire body tensed then relaxed as her orgasm raced through her. She could feel the contractions of her womb and, with the taste of her blood triggering his own climax, the rapid pulsing of Nick's manhood as he pumped his essence into her. Again, she was cocooned in a sense of absolute love. In that moment it seemed as if she and Nick were one being.

Nick closed his eyes, as he again tasted the sweet richness that was Nat. Her love, like the finest seasonings of a skilled chef, gave her blood a unique tang that calmed the vampire unlike anything Nick had experienced in his centuries of existence. He cried out Nat's name as he climaxed, joining with her both physically as well as mentally. As his body released its tension in waves of intense pleasure, Nick slipped his fangs from Nat's neck. He softly kissed the twin wounds, gathering the last few droplets of blood that oozed from them. Only when they had closed did he raise his head and gaze at his lover The strong, steady sound of her heart brought a smile to him. A smile he saw reflected on her face. Cradling her against him, he stroked her silky hair at peace with the world.

"So, do you like waking up like this?" Nat asked.

Nick chuckled. "I love waking up like this." He said as he lightly kissed her brow. "Almost as much as I loved going to sleep like this."

"Umm, yes. Going to sleep was nice, too." Nat agreed.

They lay silent for several minutes, just enjoying being in one another's arms. Only when the alarm clock on the bedside table went off did they at last stir.

"You know, we don't really have to get up." Nick said, reaching to turn off the alarm. "You did tell both our bosses that we wouldn't be in tonight."

"Yes, but I still have a very hungry cat to tend to." Nat said as she reluctantly started to sit up.

"We'll have to do something about that." Nick said. At Nat's quizzical look he continued. "If you were to pack up Sidney and move him over here, you could feed him before we go to bed. Then we could spend the entire day without having to get out of bed."

Nat felt her heart skip a beat. "Nick, are you asking me to move in with you?" She asked, watching his face closely. 'If he's not, I am going to feel like three kinds of a fool.' She thought.

Nick reached over and cupped her face in his hands. "No, I'm begging you to move in with me." He said. "I never again want to wake up without you in my arms."

Nat had felt her heart nearly stop when she'd heard the word 'no', only to have it melt with love and happiness Nick's remaining words. "Moving in here and waking up in your arms would make me happier than I ever dreamed I could be." She said, a soft smile gracing her face.

Nick returned the smile. "Good. Let's go over and collect Sidney and whatever else you'll need for a few days until we can make arrangements to have all of your stuffed moved here."

Nat smiled. "We don't need most of my furniture, but there are a few pieces I'd like to have. They have sentimental value for me."

"Anything and everything you want. If you want to redecorate the entire loft, I won't mind." Nick told her. "I want you to be happy."

"Nick, just being with you makes me happy." Nat said softly.

Nick kissed her cheek. "I hope that never, ever changes." Still smiling, he rose from the bed and offered her his hand."

Nat got out of bed, but didn't release his hand. "I need a shower before I can go anywhere." She said.

"Don't suppose you'd like company in that shower? I'd be more than glad to wash your back for you." Nick said.

"Only if you let me do yours." Nat said, lightly.

Together they headed to the bath. It was close to two hours later when Nick's Caddy finally pulled out of the garage. Discovering the many pleasures of joint showering had resulted in them all but draining the loft's large, 304-liter hot water tank and forcing them to finish rinsing off in, for Nat, extremely chilly water. She'd found herself covered with goosebumps and shivering until Nick had wrapped her in a thick, soft towel. A contented smile played across her face as she reflected that the kiss he'd administered to her at that same time probably had warmed her at least as much as the towel.

Turning her head slightly she glanced over at Nick, studying him as he drove. Her forehead creased as she puzzled over what she saw. Something about Nick looked different, but what?

"A loony for your thoughts." Nick's voice brought her out of her reverie.

"Oh, well, I'm not sure that they're worth a whole loony." She responded lightly. "I was just thinking that there is something about you tonight that seems different." She explained.

Nick chuckled, "Well I can think of ONE thing that is certainly different from last night this time." He playfully leered at her.

Laughing, Nat slapped his shoulder. "Isn't that suppose to make me look different? You know, all aglow or something?"

Nick's look changed to one of sincerity. "Have you looked at yourself in a mirror? You are positively luminescent."

Nat could feel a blush rising to her cheeks. Her wantonness of the past night had come as a bit of a surprise to her. Most of her life she'd been serious, studious, and mostly celibate. Meeting Nick had not changed the first two, but last night most certainly had changed the last. 'And high time, too!' She thought grinning, despite her embarrassment. She met Nick's eyes and smiled as what was different about him registered. "And you," she said with an air of satisfaction, "look 'relaxed' for the first time since I've know you."

Nodding in confirmation of her insight she continued. "Even when we tried the Lytoveuterine B, as excited and happy as you were to be out in the sunshine and eating, you still didn't have this air of being comfortable in your own skin." Giving Nick a quizzical look she asked, "Am I making any sense with this?"

Nick pondered for a moment. "Yes, you are and you're right. I can't remember when I've felt as contented with who I am as I do right now. For the first time in longer than I want to remember, I feel truly good about myself." He gave a boyish grin. "I think that, for medical reasons, it's going to be necessary for you to stay very close to me for a very, very long time."

"Oh, so now I'm just medicine?" Nat teased, as the Caddy pulled into the lot of the Coroner's Building where Schanke had left her car parked.

Nick waited until he'd finished parking the car and had shut off its motor before answering. "No, you are far more than medicine, Natalie Lambert. You are the very reason for my existence."

Nat felt her soul soar at both the content and the tone of Nick's statement. Leaning into his embrace, she whispered. "Then it's a symbiosis, for you are the center of mine as well." Smiling up at him she added, "You know, the sooner I get my car and we pick up Sidney and some of my clothes and things, the sooner we can get back to the loft."

Nick chuckled. "Yeah, I think the loft is probably more suitable for what I'm hoping this will lead to." The way his hand was slowly caressing her left no doubt in Nat's mind just what that hope was.

"Definitely. Besides, if we sit here too much longer the entire precinct is going to be talking about us, rather than just the half that is now." Nat said. "I just saw Grace going in to work and you know that she had to have seen your car."

Nick cupped her chin in his hand. "To paraphrase what you told me last night, I don't care if Grace, the precinct, and the entire city of Toronto knows that I love you." The happiness he saw reflected in Nat's eyes filled him with peace. He released her saying, "Get your car and I'll follow you back to your apartment." Nick watched as Nat used her spare set of keys to unlock her car and start it. When they got back to the loft, he'd call Schanke and make arrangements for him to drop off the keys he had in the morning. Nick smiled as he thought of how his partner would react to seeing Nat at the loft. As he pulled out of the lot behind Nat's car, a faint hint of worry crossed his face as he considered what LaCroix's reaction might be.

They spent the next several hours in Nat's apartment packing some of her clothing, books and other personal items before loading them, as well as Sidney and the contents of both Nat's fridge and most of her cupboards, into the two cars. Back at the loft, Nick quickly unloaded both cars and then helped Nat find a place to put the items while a newly released Sidney set out to explore his new home. It was close to four in the morning before Nick and Nat settled beside one another on the couch. Nick was sipping from a goblet of bloodwine as Nat enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate.

Nick slipped his arm around Nat's shoulders. "Have you thought about where and when we should get married?" He asked.

Nat almost choked on her hot chocolate. "Married? You want us to get married?" She said as she sat her cup on the end table.

Nick nodded. "I'm an old-fashioned guy. When I meet and fall in love with the woman I want to spend eternity with, I want to marry her." A thought occurred to him. "I guess I should first find out if youwill marry me before I talk about setting a time and place." He admitted.

"Well, I don't know, Nick." Nat said. "I don't remember you asking me to marry you," she teased.

Nick took her hands in his. "Natalie Lambert, will you do me the honor of consenting to be my wife?" He said, looking deeply into her eyes. "I promise that I will love and cherish you until the end of time."

Nat felt as if she might burst with happiness. "Yes. I can't think of anything that would give me greater happiness than being your wife, forever." She said softly.

Nick lifted her hands to his lips and softly kissed them. "Forever." He promised then, still holding her hands, leaned forward and kissed her softly on the lips.

As he felt Nat's response, he deepened the kiss. His heart sang with joy, as the future, a future with Nat at his side seemed for the first time in centuries to be something to look forward to rather than just endured. "So when and where do we get married?" Nick asked when the kiss ended.

"Hmm, it's for certain that a big church wedding is out of the question," Nat replied.

"It could prove difficult." Nick agreed. "But if that's what you want, I'll manage somehow." He added.

Nat snuggled against him touched by his willingness to put himself in an uncomfortable, at best, situation if it were important to her. "No, Nick. A church wedding isn't necessary. I don't have to have a fancy wedding, if you'd rather just go to the courthouse and get married."

Nick shook his head. "I told you, I'm old-fashioned. I want to see you walking down an aisle of some sort in a wedding gown." He chuckled. "Besides, Schanke and Grace would have fits if we eloped."

Nat smiled. "Okay, but I vote for a small affair." She saw Nick nod in agreement. "We'll have to see what's available for a place to hold it and that means that we need to pick some dates."

"I'm guessing that tomorrow would be too short of notice?" Nick said. At Nat's laughing agreement he added. "So to be realistic, why don't we try for somewhere between eight and twelve weeks from now."

Nat considered. "I think we can put a small wedding together in that length of time." She agreed.

Further conversation was interrupted by the sound of the lift motor.

"That will be Schanke with your keys." Nick said, rising and crossing to the lift.

Nat quickly looked around, located Sydney, and picked him up. She didn't want him to decide to dart into the lift.

A moment later the door slid open. "Well, well, well, what are you two up to?" Schanke said, as he entered the room. Seeing Nat with Sydney in her arms, a quizzical look appeared on his face. "Um, here are your keys, Nat." He told her as he crossed to where she sat. He patted Sydney on the head before fixing Nick and Nat with a stare. "Anything you two kids would like to tell old Uncle Don?" He asked.

Nick gave him an enigmatic smile. "About what?" He said.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe about why Sydney is here and why the two of you look like cats that have swallowed a canary." Schanke said.

"Well, Sydney is here because Nat is here." Nick said. He saw the hopeful look on Schanke's face and glanced at Nat. Seeing her nod her head Nick continued. "You're the first to know. Nat and I are getting married."

"What? All right! When?" Schanke said, beaming as he clapped Nick heartily on the back. He bent down and kissed Nat on the cheek. Still grinning broadly, he turned to Nick. "You're a lucky guy, Knight."

Nick looked at Nat and smiled. "I know."

"So when's the big date or haven't you set that yet?" Schanke asked.

"Sometime in November if we can find somewhere to hold the wedding," Nat replied. She hesitated and then added. "Schanke, please don't tell anyone other than Myra until I've had a chance to tell Grace. She'd be very hurt if she heard this from someone else."

Schanke nodded in understanding. " No problem. You might want to ask Myra for some suggestions as to where to hold the wedding." He added, "Seems like someone on her side of the family is getting married all the time."

"Thanks, that's a good idea." Nat said. "I'm open to suggestions."

"Great, Myra loves weddings." Schanke said, pleased. "Well, I'll leave you two lovebirds alone." He added, heading for the door. "Man, oh man! Wait'll I tell Myra!" They heard him say as the lift door shut.

Nick shook his head and grinned at Nat. "You know I think he's almost as excited about this as we are."

Nat laughed. "You think that's excited? Wait until I tell Grace."

"What time do you have to be at work tonight?" Nick asked as he returned to where she was sitting.

"Umm, not until eight. You?" Nat answered.

I'm due in at eight, too." Nick said, standing. He reached for Nat's hand. "Lets get some rest. That way we can get up a bit early and start calling around for a location to have our wedding." 'And we can do a little important shopping before we go into work.' He thought.

Nat suddenly yawned. "I think that some rest is a very good idea." She said, taking Nick's hand. They went up the stairs and soon were snuggled close together in Nick's bed, content for the moment to simply enjoy holding one another in their arms as they slept

Early the next afternoon, Nat started calling various locations she'd thought of that would be suitable for a small wedding and reception. She made arrangements to visit several and would make a final decision after the visits. She also made notes of questions she'd need to ask during the visits.

She almost pinched herself several times, still not quite believing that she was making plans for her and Nick's wedding. Nat smiled, contentedly unable to recall ever being happier than she was at this moment.

Nick helped by making lists of various photographers, catering services, florists, and bakeries for them to contact about services for the wedding. He briefly excused himself and disappeared upstairs. Nat noticed that he had a very satisfied expression on his face when he returned.

About 5 PM, Nick suggested, "Why don't you go upstairs, get ready for work, and I'll take you out for breakfast?"

Nat looked at him and noted that he had the look of a little kid trying to keep what mom's birthday present was a secret. "Okay." She agreed, wondering what Nick had up his sleeve.

After showering and dressing Nat returned downstairs. "Um, what restaurant are we going to, so I can follow you in my car?" She asked.

Nick thought for a moment. "Let's take my car for now. I'll run you back here for your car after breakfast." He suggested.

"Okay, we do have almost three hours before either of us has to be at work." Nat agreed. She grabbed her purse and, with Nick at her side, headed for the lift.

They'd been driving for several minutes when Nat asked, "Just where are we going for breakfast?" The area they were now in contained a variety of exclusive shops and restaurants, but Nat couldn't think of any of the restaurants that would be serving breakfast type fare at this hour of the day.

Nick smiled. "I thought we'd make stop before going to eat." He said as he maneuvered the Caddy into a parking area. "I hope you don't mind."

Nat shook her head. "Of course not.

"Good." Nick said, shutting off the car's motor and getting out. He walked around and held the door for Nat to get out. He linked his arm through hers and they walked down the street a short distance. Nick stopped at the door of a small shop located midway down the block.

Nat felt a tingle of excitement as she realized that the shop was a jeweler's. "Nick?" She asked, smiling.

"Can't have a bride-to-be without an engagement ring." Nick said, also smiling as he opened the door and escorted Nat inside.

They were greeted by an older gentleman who escorted them to a alcove containing a small, well-lighted table with three chairs. He indicated that Nick and Nat should be seated and then inquired, "How may I help you this evening?"

"We'd like to see some engagement rings." Nick replied.

"Very well, if you'll excuse me a moment, I'll bring a selection over." The man said after he'd determined both Nick and Nat's ring sizes. He went out of the alcove and returned a few minutes later carrying a medium sized tray. He sat the tray on the table and then seated himself in the remaining chair.

Nat looked in awe at the exquisitely crafted rings that lay on the black-velvet lined tray. Some were single rings, while others were full sets of engagement and wedding bands. The sparkling diamonds in them ranged in size from approximately one carat to more than four carats. As she gazed at them, one set seemed to draw her eyes back again and again. The diamond was not the largest in the group, but to Nat seemed to shine with an added clarity. The setting was unusual, as the stone was set almost level with the band, rather than aboveit. The bands themselves had an intricate design engraved on them.

Nick studied the pro-offered rings for a moment, then pointed to a particular set. "I'd like to look at that one, more closely." He said.

Nat smiled. Nick had chosen the very set that had caught her eye. She watched as Nick, accepting a loop from the jeweler, scrutinized the ring.

Nick finished looking at the stone, satisfied that it was a flawless diamond of the highest quality, and turned to Nat. "What do you think of this one?" He asked.

"I love it." Nat said. "It just seems to have a special quality to it that stands out from the rest. The style would mean that I could wear it at work without having to worry about it snagging on anything, too."

"You both have excellent taste," the jeweler commented. "That is the finest stone on the tray."

Nick pointed to the matching wedding bands. "The design on those is interesting." He observed.

The jeweler smiled. "It's my own work. I based it on an ancient Hindu design signifying eternity." He said.

Nick exchanged glances with Nat. "I think," he began and, after seeing Nat's small nod of agreement, continued, "that we've found exactly what we want." He slipped the diamond solitaire on Nat's ring finger, whispering, "I'll be right back."

Nick and the jeweler left to attend to the mundane task of paying for the purchase. Nat sat, heart full of happiness, gazing at the visible symbol of her and Nick's commitment to each other. A few minutes later, Nick reappeared and together they left the shop.

As they returned to where the Caddy was parked, Nick put his arm around Nat's shoulders. He'd arranged with the jeweler for a couple of additional surprises for Nat and he reflected on how one day could make such a difference in his happiness. "So where do you want to go for breakfast?" He asked as they reached the car.

Nat looked up at him. "I'd forgotten all about that." She said, laughing. "How about we stop at La Croissant?" Nat suggested, naming a favorite bakery of hers. "A nice chocolate filled croissant andthe day will be absolutely perfect."

Nick gazed back at her, his eyes full of love. "Whatever your heart desires, for eternity." He said, before kissing her softly.

They stopped and purchased Nat's croissant and then went back to the loft. Nat made some coffee, ate, and then gathered her things for work. She and Nick rode down to where their cars were parked and headed off to work.

Don Schanke sat reading the report on Pauline McQuary's condition. Judging from it, the lady wouldn't be going to trial anytime in the near future. According to the report she was totally delusional, holding conversations with people that were not present most notably Terrance Whitaker. Schanke guessed that the lady would likely spend the next several years, if not the remainder of her life in some sort of mental institution. He glanced up and smiled as he saw Nick enter the room. Schanke had thoroughly enjoyed telling Myra about Nick and Nat's engagement. He considered both of them his friends, not just colleagues. The pain he'd felt two nights earlier, when he'd thought Knight had been trapped and killed in the fire that had destroyed McQuary's apartment, was something that Schanke hoped he'd never again experience.

"I forgot to mention it this morning, but I do appreciate you not getting yourself killed the other night." Schanke said as Nick approached. "Do you have any idea of how much paperwork that would have made for me?"

Nick chuckled. "But Schanke, I thought you loved paperwork." He replied, knowing how Schanke tended to avoid it until the last possible moment. Changing the subject, Nick indicated the papers in front of Schanke. "Interesting reading?"

Schanke snorted. "Let's say I hope you weren't planning on seeing McQuary go to trial in the next few years." He handed Nick the sheaf of papers.

Nick glanced at them and sighed. "What a waste of an otherwise intelligent person." He handed the papers back to Schanke. "Anything else I should know about?"

Schanke shook his head. "Nope. It was a very quiet night here yesterday. The only call was for a stabbing down near the docks. Happily, not only were there eight witnesses, but they'd managed to disarm the perp and held him until the uniformed officers arrived."

"Hmm, already get the report from forensics?" Nick asked.

"Matter of fact, I was just thinking of heading over there and picking it up from Grace." Schanke replied looking significantly at Nick. He could hardly wait to see what her reaction to the news of the upcoming nuptials was like. He stood and put on his jacket.

"Let's go then." Nick said. He too, was curious about Grace's reaction.

Nat had gone straight to her office, taking advantage of the time to tackle some of the pile of paperwork on her desk. After about forty-five minutes, she changed into scrubs and headed down the hall to the autopsy room.

"Good evening, Grace." Nat said cheerily as she entered the autopsy room.

"My, my aren't we in a good mood tonight?" Grace responded, smiling.

"Yeah, I am." Nat returned. She walked across the room to where Grace was placing sterilized instruments on a tray.

"I guess this means that a certain blonde detective has recovered from any smoke inhalation he might have suffered?" Grace inquired.

"Yes, Nick's fine." Nat said. "How'd you find out? Schanke?"

Grace nodded. "Yes. He stopped in when he left your car in the lot." She gave Nat a knowing look.

"Why do I have the feeling that Nick's smoke inhalation isn't all that Schanke mentioned?" Nat asked.

"Well, he did mention something about you and Nick engaging in a case of serious lip-lock at the scene." Grace teased, watching Nat blush slightly. "All I can say is that it's about time the two of you came to your senses." She added.

Nat laughed. "Tell me Grace, do you have any plans during the month of November?"

Grace looked at her, slightly puzzled. "November? That's what, two months away?" She shook her head. "No, I can't say that I do."

"Good," Nat said, "then any weekend should be okay."

"Any weekend should be okay for what?" Grace inquired.

"For you to be my maid of honor." Nat said, grinning and holding out her left hand.

"What!" Grace exclaimed. She looked down at Nat's hand and saw the ring sparkling there. Reaching out, she gave her friend a big hug. "Oh, I'm so happy for you!"

"Say partner, what do you think might be going on here?" Schanke said, as he and Nick entered the room.

"I think Nat just told Grace about our upcoming wedding." Nick said.

"She did indeed!" Grace said, releasing Nat to give Nick a hug. "And it's about time you two tied the knot." She added. "Show Schanke your ring." She told Nat.

Nat laughed and extended her hand to Schanke. "Yes, mother." She teased Grace.

Schanke looked at the ring and whistled. "Whoa, that's nice. You'll have to drop by the house and show it to Myra." He told Nat. "Um, I hate to change the subject, but is the report on that stabbing from last night ready?" He said, addressing Grace.

"Yes, I have it on my desk." Grace replied. "Why don't you come with me and we'll let the newly engaged couple have a couple of minutes of privacy?" She added, taking Schanke by the arm and leading him tothe door. "We'll be back in say, ten minutes?" She called out as they exited.

Nick walked over to Nat. "Ten minutes, huh? I think we can find something to do with that much time."

Nat laughed and went willingly into his arms. She sighed with contentment as Nick's lips found hers in a long, tender kiss. When the kiss ended, she smiled up at Nick. "Well, now that Grace and Schanke know of our plans, you do realize that means the news is going to be everywhere in about fifteen minutes."

"I know," Nick said, then chuckled. "I wonder who won the pool?"

Nat looked at Nick, surprised. "I didn't realize you knew about that."

Nick raised an eyebrow. "You forget, I have extremely good hearing."

It was Nat's turn to chuckle. "I'm sure that we'll find out soon enough."

Nick gave her another short kiss. "I hear Schanke coming down the hall. I'll see you back at the loft."

"I'll be there." Nat said as Nick went to the door and left. Humming softly, she got ready to work.

When she got back to the loft in the morning, Nick was already there. He'd stopped and brought home some take-out Chinese. He had it, and a nice pot of jasmine tea, ready for her. Nat settled down on the couch with the food on the coffee table in front of her. "So how long till the entire precinct knew about us?" She asked Nick.

Nick grinned. "Oh, I'd say maybe fifteen minutes, at most." He sipped from his glass. "How about your staff?"

"I underestimated Grace. I think she had the word spread in about ten minutes." Nat said.

"You'll never guess who won the pool." Nick told her.

"Oh? Who?" Nat asked.

"Cohen." Nick said watching, Nat's eyes widen.

"Cohen? Cohen placed a bet on when we'd get together?" Nat exclaimed laughingly.

Nick nodded. "Yep. I could hardly believe it either."

Nat finished her food while she and Nick discussed plans for the wedding. She decided to give Myra a call later that day and arrange to meet with her. At last, they headed up stairs and to bed. Once again, they fell asleep snuggled in each other's arms.

Several nights later, when Nat was working on one of Nick's night's off, Nick met with his master, LaCroix. Nick knew that it would be impossible to keep the elder vampire from learning of his marriage plans and he wanted to insure that LaCroix would not interfere in them.

"So, Nicholas, what did you want to see me about?" LaCroix asked.

"I wanted to tell you that I am going to marry Natalie Lambert and to ask you to forgive our agreement." Nick said.

"Why should I?" LaCroix inquired.

Nick hesitated a moment, then spoke. "Because I am asking you to do so. If you want me to beg you, I'll do that. I love her. You always claim that you have my best interests at heart, so show me that this is true. Let me find what measure of happiness I can with Nat."

LaCroix looked at his son. "What of my love for Fleur? You weren't willing to allow me my measure of happiness." He said, coldly.

Nick nodded. "I know and I regret the pain that has caused you."

LaCroix eyed Nick. "You admit that you were wrong?"

"I admit that my evaluation of your feelings for my sister was colored by my own emotions. I didn't think then, and to be honest I still don't believe, that Fleur knew what becoming one of us meant. I truly do not think she would have survived, LaCroix, even with your love." Nick said.

The elder vampire nodded. "Acceptable." He picked up his wineglass and sipped the deep ruby liquid in it. "Very well, Nicholas. You may have your doctor as your bride. May I inquire if you've discussed bringing her over?"

Nick took a deep breath of relief. "Thank you." He said sincerely. "We've made love. I seem to be able to maintain my control and not take too much of her blood." He told his father. "But she is willing to join me in this life. We haven't made a final decision on that." He added.

LaCroix sat down his glass and steepled his hands in front of him. "For now, that will satisfy the elders and the Enforcers." He said.

He didn't tell Nicholas that the Elders had, in fact, declared that Natalie Lambert was not to be harmed by any of the Community and that she was to be brought across only if it was her desire. Violation of this edict would mean certain death at the hands of the Enforcers. There was no gain in letting his son know that his generosity in allowing him to claim this mortal as his bride was due, in large part, to that prohibition. "Should I expect a wedding invitation?" He inquired.

"Would you attend?" Nick asked. "I didn't want you to think that I was deliberately flaunting this at you."

LaCroix nodded. "I would like to be a part of your life, Nicholas. I'll even promise to 'behave'."

"I'll see that you are invited." Nick said. Despite the anguish that LaCroix had caused him over the centuries, Nick knew that he and Janette were the only family he had.

"I'll watch for it then." LaCroix said, clearly ending the conversation.

Nick turned to leave.

"Nicholas?" LaCroix's voice stopped him in his tracks. Turning back, Nick gazed at his sire.

"Tell your bride to be that I wish you both happiness." LaCroix said, quietly.

Nick nodded and left.


Nat stood in front of the full-length mirror and smiled as Grace stepped back and nodded. Her eyes followed the smooth lines of the silk gown she wore. It was a sheath style, with a detachable train. The bodice was beaded with a heart shaped neckline. The skirt fell in a soft line to the floor with the train floating behind. Long, lacy fitted sleeves ended in points on the top of her hands. Her hair was loose, cascading across her shoulders, and covered by a sheer veil.

"Girl, you look like an angel come to earth." Grace said. "When you walk down that aisle to Nick, he's going to think he's died and gone to heaven."

Nat chuckled; Grace didn't know how close to the mark she was in one aspect of that statement. She couldn't believe that in only a few minutes she would become Mrs. Nicholas deBrabant Knight. Thanks to Myra, she and Nick had found the perfect location for their wedding in the Morning and Drawing room of the George Brown House, a historic building on Beverly St. at College. The room was large, with high ceilings, a crystal chandelier, and a marble fireplace.

"Thanks, Grace." Nat said, her happiness evident in both her voice and appearance. A knock at the door drew both their attentions. Grace went to the door and opened it. "Oh, Captain Stonetree, come in." She said.

Stonetree, looking only slightly uncomfortable in his black tuxedo, entered and catching sight of Nat, smiled broadly. "You look radiant and beautiful." He told her.

"You're looking very dapper yourself." Nat replied. Having no close male relative and with Schanke acting as Nick's best man, Nat had asked Stonetree to escort her down the aisle. "Thank you again for doing this." She added.

"It's my pleasure, Natalie. I am very happy for both you and Nick and honored that you asked me to participate." He handed her a jeweler's box. "Nick asked me to give this to you before the ceremony."

Nat opened the box and gasped. Inside was a heart shaped ruby surrounded by pearls on a pendant with matching stud earrings. A small folded piece of paper was also in the box. Opening the paper, she found a note from Nick. 'You are both my heart and the light in my life. Love, Nick.'

Peeking over Nat's shoulder, Grace gave a low whistle. "Oh, Natalie, those are beautiful!"

Smiling, Nat removed the pendant and put it on. The chain was the perfect length to allow it to rest in the hollow of her throat. Quickly, she removed the plain gold studs she had in her ears and put on the new earrings. "Well?" She asked.

"Nick has excellent taste." Stonetree remarked. "They look exquisite on you," he said as he walked over and offered her his arm. "I think they're about ready to start."

Grace quickly handed Nat her bridal bouquet, made of roses, bright yellow daisies, baby's breath, and small blue cornflowers. She then got her own bouquet and the three left the bedroom.

Nick, resplendent in his tuxedo, stood beside Schanke and gazed out at the assembled guests. He noted with a surprising sense of pleasure that both LaCroix and Janette were present. Nick remembered his nervousness when he suggested inviting them to Nat and his renewed sense of love for her when, instead of questioning why he'd want to include them, merely smiled and agreed. His reminiscences were halted by the first notes of the music they'd chosen for Nat's entrance. Lifting his eyes to the end of the aisle, Nick saw Grace step into the room and slowly walk down the aisle. As she reached Nick, she smiled and stepped to one side, turning to await Nat.

Nat took a deep breath as the fanfare played. Resting her hand lightly on Stonetree's arm, she stepped into the room. Her eyes met Nick's as he stood smiling slightly at the far end of the aisle.

Nick caught his breath as Nat, a vision of ethereal beauty, came into view. He forgot about everyone else in the room. His entire concentration focused on the woman he loved. He could see the love shining from her glowing eyes and he knew that this was a moment he'd waited for his entire existence.

Nat barely registered the presence of their guests. Her heart thudded, not with nervousness but with joy. As she and Stonetree reached Nick, Nat knew that he was her destiny.

Stonetree formally placed Nat's hand in Nick's. Before he took his seat, he spoke quietly. "I won't tell you to take good care of her, Nick, because I can see that you were both meant for each other."

Nick gave his old captain a look of thanks and then led his bride to where the judge awaited.

After a few opening words by the judge, it was time for Nick and Nat to declare their vows.

Nick took Nat's hands in his. "Natalie, I had never know true happiness and peace until I met you. You fill my life with warmth and light and my soul with contentment. I promise that I will love, cherish, and honor you forever, for you are the other half of me."

Nat gazed up at Nick and spoke. "Nick, when I am with you, my heart is light and full of gladness. You are my true friend, the other half of my soul. You make me feel complete in a way that I never knew existed. I love you and I will love you for all of eternity."

The judge looked out over the assembled guests. "Is there anyone here who knows of any reason why Nicholas and Natalie should not be joined in marriage?" He asked. Getting no response, he turned back to the couple before him.

Smiling at Nat, the judge inquired. " Natalie Anne Lambert, do you take this man, Nicholas deBrabant Knight, to be your husband? Do you promise to love, cherish, and honor him, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for as long as you both shall live? If so, answer by saying 'I do'."

Smiling Nat answered, "I do."

"You may place the ring on his finger," the judge told her.

Nat took the ring from Grace. "Nick, I give you this ring as a visible symbol of our love and of my pledge to you."

Turning to Nick the judge asked, "Do you, Nicholas deBrabant Knight, take this woman Natalie Anne Lambert as your wife? Do you promise to love, cherish, and honor her, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for as long as you both shall live? If so, answer by saying 'I do'."

Nick nodded. "I do."

"You may place the ring on her finger," said the judge.

Schanke handed Nick the ring. Slipping it on Nat's finger, Nick said, "I give you this ring as a visible symbol of our love and of my pledge to you."

The officiating judge smiled. "Since both Natalie and Nicholas have consented to be joined in matrimony, by the powers vested in me by the Province of Ontario, I hereby pronounce them husband and wife." He smiled at them adding, "You may kiss your bride."

Nick pulled Nat into his arms and kissed her tenderly as the assembled guests applauded. Nat blushed slightly and smiled as she and Nick were quickly surrounded by their friends.

Nick found his hand being shaken and his back thumped by well wishers. Next to him, Nat was being hugged and kissed. He stiffened only slightly as LaCroix and Janette approached.

As she'd watched Nick and Nat become man and wife, Janette had been surprised at the overwhelming feeling of rightness that had filled her. The love between Nicholas and the young mortal woman was almost palpable As passionate as the years she and Nick spent together had been, Janette silently acknowledged that the love Nicholas and Natalie obviously shared made those years pale in comparison.

Janette paused briefly, then smiled at Nick. "Nicholas, I cannot remember ever seeing you look so happy." She said, giving him a soft kiss on the cheek. Turning to Natalie, Janette extended her hand. "Please believe me when I tell you that I wish you, both of you, happiness together." She said, watching to see how Natalie would respond.

Natalie heard the sincerity in Janette's voice and saw it in her face. Smiling, she took Janette's hand and give hit a gentle squeeze. "Thank you. I hope that you and I can get to know each other better." Nat said. She could see the surprise in Janette's eyes at this.

Janette nodded, "Yes, I think that I would like that." Giving Natalie's hand a final squeeze, she moved slightly away. Janette was curious as to what her sire would say to his son and his new mortal bride. Seeing Nicholas looking so very happy, she hoped that LaCroix wouldn't cause trouble.

LaCroix chuckled inwardly as he saw Nick put his arm around Natalie's waist, drawing her closer to him, as if to protect her from his sire. Deliberately, he leaned forward and kissed Natalie's cheek. He could sense her nervousness at his closeness and hear the slight increase in her heartbeat. Looking steadily at her, he noticed, with admiration, that she gave no outwardly visible indication that she was at all nervous. 'Yes,' he thought, 'she will make a fine addition to my family.' That eventually Nick would bring her across was something LaCroix had no doubts about.

"You make a lovely bride, my dear." He said aloud. "Congratulations, Nicholas. I hope that you both are very happy." With a final nod to them, he joined Janette.

"Well, that wasn't too bad," Nat said softly to Nick.

Nick raised an eyebrow, "No, it wasn't. Let's hope he continues this way." He said. He couldn't help a feeling of uneasiness about his sire in the company of so many mortals. He watched as LaCroix and Janette moved across the room. Pushing his worry aside Nick turned to greet the next guest.

Having received congratulations from all of their guests, Nick and Nat made their way over to the table reserved for the bridal party members. There were platters with an assortment of appetizers, pates, and other delicacies already there. The same foods were available for all of the guests to serve themselves from a buffet table that had been set up to one side of the room. Nat fixed two plates with selections from the platters. Nick placed one in front of him and Nat nibbled from both plates. In the background, a string quartet played softly.

"Happy?" Nick asked as taking Nat's hand in his.

"Very." She replied with a smile. "In fact, I can't recall ever being this happy."

Soon, Schanke delivered a toast to the newly married couple in which he both teased them about taking so long to tie the knot and wished them a long and happy marriage. Afterward, Nick and Nat cut the wedding cake and Nick managed to eat the very small bite that Nat fed to him. When it was his turn, he carefully fed her a piece.

During these activities, the string quartet had left and had been replaced by a small band. Nick led Nat out onto the dance floor for the first dance. The room was hushed as the onlookers watched them glide across the floor. Myra Schanke smiled up at Don and murmured, "I don't think I've ever seen Nick look so happy or Nat look more beautiful."

Two hours later, Nick and Nat prepared to make their exit. Both had changed from their wedding finery. Nat tossed her bouquet and smiled when Grace was the one to catch it. In a shower of birdseed, they ran to a waiting limousine that would take them back to the loft. Once there, they would take the caddy and drive to a secluded house Nick owned near Apsley, Ontario for a weeklong honeymoon. Nick had arranged to have the caretaker, who was also a vampire, open the house and stock it with provisions for both him and Nat.

They arrived at the house shortly before 5 am. Nat's eyes widened as she got her first look at it. 'Nick, it's gorgeous!" She exclaimed. The house sat in a grove of pines. It was made of stone and she could see lights shining from behind the curtained windows.

"I was in this area about fifty years ago and fell in love with it. The back of the house faces Chandos Lake. I liked to walk along the shore." He told her. "So I bought the land and built this house. The pines are thick enough that I only need heavy drapes, instead of metal shutters to be comfortable during the day. I've modernized the interior several times, so we should be comfortable."

Nick got out, went around the car, and opened the door for Nat. Taking her arm, he led her to the door. Nat breathed in deeply of the smell of pine trees mingled with wood smoke, while Nick unlocked the door. She only had a glimpse of the interior when she found herself lifted into Nick's arms.

"I believe it's still customary to carry a bride over the threshold." He said softly in her ear. Nat wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. To her surprise and pleasure, he didn't put her down in the main room of the house, but instead carried her into the bedroom.

"Our bags?" She managed to ask just before Nick's lips found hers.

"Peter, the caretaker, has already brought them inside and left." Nick told her a few moments later. "I figured we had much better things to do with our time than carrying luggage." He sat her on her feet, still holding her in his embrace, his lips seeking out the soft skin of her throat.

"Umm, yes, much better things." Nat said, breathlessly. Nick's lips were sending waves of pleasure through her body. She pressed against him, her body aching to be one with him. She noted that someone had conveniently turned down the bed.

Nick dropped feather light kisses along the slender column of her throat. "Right now...I'm far more showing you just how much I love you." He said between kisses. He pulled her even closer to him and again covered her mouth with his own. He felt her eager response as his tongue met hers in a passionate dance. He shuddered with delight as her tongue played along the sensitive contours of his canines and he felt his manhood throb with desire.

Nat moaned as Nick's hands moved slowly down her back and then back up. When he undid the buttons of her jacket, she shrugged it off and reached to lift her sweater off.

"No, don't." Nick's placed his hands over hers. "I want to undress you." Nat nodded and released the sweater edge. Nick cupped her face in his hands, looking deep into her eyes. "And I want to do it slowly. I want to savor every moment and every inch of you." He said in a low, soft voice.

Nat felt her insides melt. The look on Nick's face and his tone of voice promised such love, and aroused such desire in her, that she found her breath quickening and her pulse pounding. "Yes. I want to savor every moment, too." She said breathlessly.

Nick ran his hands down her sides until they reached the hem of the sweater. He lifted it slowly over her head. Laying it carefully aside, he began to kiss Nat's shoulders, slowly working his way across and down toward the cleft of her breasts. Her unique scent filled his head as he kissed and licked between her twin mounds. His hands slowly ran along her bare skin, caressing her, until they found the lacy covering of her bra. He could feel her nipples, hard and erect, beneath the thin fabric. Still kissing the exposed area, he began to gently squeeze each breast.

Nat leaned back and gave a wordless sigh of pleasure as Nick's tongue, lips, and hands seem to find each and every sensitive nerve. Waves of delectable sensations flowed from each touch down to her very core. She could feel her juices flowing as her body reacted to Nick's loving and erotic touch.

Only after several minutes did Nick finally undo the fastener of Nat's bra and remove it. He could smell her arousal and hear the increased rate of her pulse and breathing. His own desire continued to growand he could feel his now hard shaft pressing against the containing material of his trousers, a pressure that increased as he cupped one firm breast in his hand and lowered his mouth to it. Taking the nipple in his mouth he sucked gently on it as his tongue explored its hardness. A soft growl sounded deep in his chest as his beast began to emerge, heightening his senses ever more.

Nat slid her fingers into Nick's hair, pressing his face to her bosom. Time seemed to have stopped. All she was aware of was Nick and the wonderful things he was doing to her. She could feel her womb begin to tighten as her body started its climb to the pinnacle of pleasure. She loved the feeling and unabashedly wanted more.

Nick pulled and sucked on Nat's breasts. His fangs aching to drop as his beast longed for the satiating nectar of her rich, warm blood flowing just beneath the skin. Nick welcomed the desire of his beast, but controlled it to fuel his own more human desires to ever greater heights. Pausing for only a moment, Nick kicked off his shoes. He then shucked off his pants and underwear, allowing his aching manhood release from their constrictions.

Nat panted as she felt Nick pause. Her head was spinning and she wasn't sure how much longer she could remain standing. Watching him disrobe, she admired the clean, firm lines of his body. Reaching out to him, she began to unbutton his shirt. "I want to feel all of you against me." She said. As each button was undone, she pressed her lips to his newly exposed skin. She could feel his body trembling with pent up passion and the knowledge that she was the object of his wants, filled her with a sense of joy. When the last button was opened, she didn't stop, but moved on down to his erection. She knelt down and, looking up at Nick, slowly took him into her mouth.

Nick's hips gave an involuntary thrust as he felt his manhood surrounded by Nat's warm, moist mouth. As she slowly ran her tongue along the sensitive head, sucking slightly as she did so, he emitted a deep growl of pleasure. His world narrowed to the call of her blood and the pulsing of his shaft. He rode the tide of pleasure almost to the crest, then gently pulled Nat away. "I want to be in you when I come." He told her, his voice raspy with both desire and the emergence of his beast. As he raised her to her feet he added, "And you still have too many clothes on."

Nat smiled as she felt Nick undo the waistband and zipper of her skirt. She stepped out of her shoes and away from the skirt as it dropped over her hips to the floor. Clad only in a garter belt, hose and thong, she stood before him. Her eyes shone with love and desire. She felt no embarrassment as Nick's gaze traveled slowly over her body.

Nick marveled at Nat's beauty. She looked like a goddess with her luxuriant hair tumbling over her shoulders. Nick knelt before Nat and carefully undid the garters, rolling each stocking down her legs. Then he removed the garter belt and the thong. Standing, he lifted her into his arms. "You are so beautiful and I want you so very much." He said as he carried her to the bed and laid her upon it. He gazed down at her shapely body, her flawless creamy skin a stark contrast to the dark sheets of the bed.

Nat held out her arms to Nick and he readily joined her on the bed. Snuggling against one another, they kissed and began to stroke each other. Nat gave a small gasp as Nick's knowing fingers slid into her hot, damp center. When he began to lightly massage her clitoris, she gave herself to the delicious warmth that blossomed deep inside her. Small wordless cries issued from her as the warmth filled every inch of her and finally exploded in a burst of pleasure.

Nick could feel Nat's body tense as he skillfully brought her to climax. He loved knowing that he was the source of her gratification. When she had rested a few moments, he moved so as to cover her body with his own. Tenderly, he eased her legs apart and slowly entered her. As his shaft was enfolded by the slickness of her core, he felt his body exult in the knowledge that she was his. His beast, so long held in check, was demanding total release and now Nick obliged.

Nat lay panting for several minutes in the wake of her orgasm. When she felt Nick enter her, she was amazed to realize that once again, she was beginning to climb the peak of pleasure. Looking up at Nick, she saw his eyes turn gold and his fangs drop. She felt joy that she would be the vessel in which he would find his own zenith. Her love for him and her trust in him banished any fear of the vampire.

Nick began to move, rapidly increasing the speed and force of his thrusts. His need for her was too strong to restrain his desire any longer. He could sense that Nat, too, was rapidly approaching her climax and just as he felt her tighten around his manhood, he sank his fangs deeply into her neck. The first taste of her blood triggered his climax and together they shared the fullness of their love.

Nat felt her body seem to melt. Wave after wave of orgasmic pleasure coursed through her. As Nick drank from her, the link that had started to join them strengthened and she knew that she was one with Nick forever.

Nick shuddered as an orgasm stronger than any he'd ever experienced washed through him. He felt the total commitment to him of Nat's love and he knew that his commitment to her was equally as complete. As the sensations began to fade, he removed his fangs from her neck, smiling as the strong steady sound of her heart verified that he had not taken too much. Easing his weight off of her, he pulled the sheet and comforter over them as he snuggled her in his arms. In only minutes both were deeply asleep.

The winter sun had sunk low in the sky, casting long deep shadows before Natalie awakened. Moving carefully, she slipped out of the warm cocoon of the bedclothes and, after only a moment of hesitation, padded barefoot across the room to what she hoped was the bath. She'd have to see where the other door on that side led to at a later time. Nature wasn't just calling to her, it was shouting in her ear. She gave a silent sigh of relief when the door she opened did in fact reveal the needed facilities. Her questing fingers located the light switch and she quietly closed the door behind her before turning on the lights. For a second the light blinded her, making her shut her eyes and then slowly reopen them. "Oh my!" She breathed, looking around. The light gleamed off of marble counters and the tile of the floor. 'If this is the bathroom, what is the rest of this house like?' Nat thought. For the first time she truly realized just how wealthy Nick must be. A smile crossed her lips. 'If he didn't have a penny to his name, I'd still love him with all my heart.' She mused. After attending to her needs, the cool air making her shiver slightly, she went back to the bedroom carefully turning off the light before she opened the door.

She hurried back to the bed and, as she slipped beneath the covers, found herself wrapped in a pair of strong, but gentle, arms. "I didn't mean to wake you." She said softly as she snuggled up against Nick. A part of her noted that Nick's skin didn't feel as cold as it had when she'd first met him. 'Must be retaining the heat from being under the blankets all night' She thought idly.

"I missed you in my arms," Nick said. He tilted her chin so that he could see her face. "Did you sleep well, Mrs. Knight?"

Nat grinned. "I certainly did. How about you, Mr. Knight?" Then she giggled. "I know it sounds silly, but I love the sound of being Mrs. Knight."

"I love knowing that you are mine. Forever." Nick said.

Nat traced her finger back and forth on his chest. "Last night was so special. I've never dreamed, much less experienced anything so wonderful."

"I wanted it to be special. I know what you mean, though. In all my existence I've never done anything that made me feel so," Nick paused, searching for the words, "so totally content and fulfilled." He gazed down into her soft, blue eyes. "Forever suddenly seems far too short a time."

A sudden distinct rumble, from the vicinity of Nat's stomach, caused him to grin. "Right now, I think we'd better see about getting some nourishment in both of us." Nick said, laughing.

"Hey, all that wonderful lovemaking takes a lot of energy." Nat said, also laughing. Nick reached over and turned on the bedside lamp giving Nat her first good look at the room. Because of the stone construction, there were no closets. Instead, two large armoires and an enormous chest of drawers were arrayed against the wall opposite the bed. The rich luster of the mahogany wood that composed them glinted in the lamplight. "Let me find something for you to wear until we get a chance to unpack." Nick said, getting out of the bed. "Not that I would mind you staying just the way you are, but it is rather cold out and I do not want you getting chilled." He added as he pulled open the door of one armoire. Reaching inside, he took out a soft, oversized pullover sweater. Opening one of the drawers, Nick got out a thick, warm pair of socks. "Will these do?" He asked, handing the sweater to Nat.

Nat rubbed the soft material against her cheek. "This will do wonderfully." She slipped it over her head, then swung her legs off the bed, and put on the socks. When she stood, the hem of the sweater fell to just above mid-thigh and the material seemed to cling to each inviting curve of her body.

"That looks incredibly better on you than it ever has on me." Nick said. He'd retrieved a pair of sweat slacks and a shirt for himself, donning them while Nat dressed. Putting his arm around her shoulders, Nick led her into the rest of the house.

Sitting at the table in the large country style kitchen, Nat ate hungrily. She'd been pleased to find both the fridge and the pantry stocked with all of her favorite foods, in addition to a number of the dark green wine bottles that held Nick's nourishment. She'd also been surprised at just how large the house was. In addition to the master bedroom, sitting room, and bath there were four more bedrooms, two additional baths, a great room, dinning room and study.

"This house is fabulous!" Nat said between bites of a cheese omelet. "Last night you said something about there being a lake nearby?"

Nick nodded. "Yes, the rear of the property backs onto Chandos Lake. If you want to we can take a walk down there later. The moon's full so there should be plenty of light."

"I'd love that." Nat said, adding, "And when we come back, we can warm up in front of that fireplace I saw in the main room."

The image of Nat, naked in front of the large fireplace, with the flicker of the flames highlighting her skin and hair, flashed into Nick's mind. "That would be very nice." He said, his voice slightly husky.

Nat raised an eyebrow at him and then smiled knowingly. "I rather thought you'd approve." She said.


"I can understand why you built here, Nick." Nat said as she leaned back against him in front of the fireplace. It was just before dawn of the last day of their honeymoon. "This is a beautiful location. I can't wait to see it in the summer." Nat felt more relaxed and peaceful than she had in years. She'd learned more about Nick this past week than in all of the previous years of their acquaintance and, in turn, had told him of her life prior to their meeting. Cuddled beside each other in bed, walking along the mist shrouded lakeshore, or curled up near the fireplace they'd told one another of their pasts. Finding at last someone whom they knew they could trust with their deepest hopes and pains. Nick had told her of Fleur, how LaCroix had wanted her and how he'd talked him out of it only by promising that if he ever loved a mortal, that mortal would be LaCroix's to do with as he pleased. They were both silent, thinking about how close to having that promise fulfilled they'd come last Valentine's Day. Nick told her of the pain he'd felt when, after Fleur's death he'd tried to raise her son, Andre, only to have LaCroix reveal Nick's true nature to the young boy.

Nick nuzzled her neck. "We'll make a point of coming here then." He tightened his arms about her. He couldn't remember the last time that he'd felt as good as during the past week. They'd made love several times a day and Nick was thankful that it only took the smallest taste of Nat's blood to satiate his beast. He doubted that he'd taken more than three or four ounces in total during the week. Since they'd not have time, once they were back in Toronto, to continue this frequent a rate of lovemaking, Nat shouldn't suffer any ill effects from the loss of blood. Even though Nick knew, from her blood, all of Nat's 'secrets', he treasured the knowledge that she had also told him them. He'd heard about the painful abuse her grandmother had inflicted upon her when she was a child too young stop the abuse. He'd held her comfortingly while she cried when telling him of the guilt she still felt for not visiting her grandmother when she lay dying.

They sat by the slowly dying fire long after the sun had risen, then retired to the bedroom to rest.

Nat walked briskly down the hall of the Coroner's Building smiling and returning the many greetings and 'Welcome backs' she received from her various colleagues. As she reached her office door, Grace appeared.

"Honey, you look wonderful! Married life must agree with you." Grace said, embracing her.

"Thanks, Grace. Yeah, I think it's safe to say that married life most definitely agrees with me." Nat said. "We had a wonderful time."

"I never had any doubts that you would." Grace said. She held out a slip of paper to Nat. "You have your first customer of the night. Body found near Eaton Centre."

Nat took the paper and sighed. "I'd better get my things and head over there, then. How long ago did this come in?"

"Not more than five minutes. Patrol officer spotted the body and called it in." Grace replied as Nat quickly gathered her scene kit and headed back to her car. "Maybe you'll be lucky," she called after Nat. "and Schanke and Nick will be the responding homicide officers."

Nat laughed and, giving Grace a wave of her hand, left the building.

Nick approached his desk with a smile on his face. He'd been pleasantly surprised by the number of coworkers who'd welcomed him back. Uncharacteristically, he clapped Schanke on the back. Hi, Schanke!" He said. Nick's smile faded as Schanke looked up at him.

"Hi, Nick. Glad your back." Schanke said, his expression grim. "Is Nat at work?"

"Thanks, and yes, she is. Nick replied, sitting down at his desk. "So Schanke, what's wrong?" Nick asked.

Schanke sighed. " McQuary's on the loose. They were transferring her to a mental hospital for evaluation and the car she was in was hit broadside going through an intersection. Somehow, in all the confusion, she got away."

"When did this happen?" Nick asked, concerned.

"Yesterday." Schanke replied, quickly adding, "but WE didn't find out until a few hours ago. The bureaucracy didn't bother to let us know until tonight."

"Great, meantime Nat's in danger and doesn't even know it!" Nick said, his face darkening in a scowl. "Did it ever occur to someone to let Nat know?" He demanded.

"Easy, Nick. I just found out when I came in about ten minutes ago. I've already called over to Nat's office and left a message for her." Schanke said. "I know she's your wife, but I don't want anything to happen to Nat either."

Nick took a deep breath. "I know you don't, Schanke. I'm angry with whoever didn't think this was important enough to notify us sooner, not with you." Nick told his friend. "Wait a minute, you said you left a message?"

Schanke hesitated. "I got her voice mail when I called. Thought that maybe she'd decided to take an extra day off. I did try to reach Grace, but her line was busy and then you got here." He explained.

"Knight, glad your back. I need you and Schanke to investigate a report of a body found near Eaton Centre." Cohen said as she came out of her office.

"Captain, I just found out," Nick started to say.

"About McQuary? That's why I'm assigning you and Schanke. Natalie's the responding coroner and I figured that you'd feel better if you were there to keep an eye on her." Cohen said. "I've also arranged it so that both of you will be the responding investigators for any case that she's doing the on scene forensics on."

"Thanks, Captain." Nick said sincerely. He and Schanke hurried to the Caddy.

"Relax, Nick." The patrol officer is already at the scene and Nat will have her people there, too." Schanke said.

"I know, but I'll feel a lot better when we get there, too." Nick said. "McQuary hates Nat. She thinks that Nat stole Terrence from her."

"I know and I want to find McQuary as much as you do." Schanke said, as the caddy pulled up behind Nat's parked car. "There's Nat. Safe and sound." Schanke added, pointing to where Nat was clearly visible in the small cluster of people already at the scene. She was directing the morgue aides as they readied the body for transport.

"And I'm going to be sure she stays that way." Nick said, getting out of the car and walking rapidly toward the cluster of people and his wife.

"Tell Grace to just leave him in the bag until I get there." Nat said, as the victim was loaded into the waiting morgue wagon. She didn't want Grace or anyone else to see what she'd discovered upon her preliminary examination of the body. Hearing footsteps she turned and, to her great relief, saw Nick and Schanke approaching.

"Got the victim bagged already?" Schanke inquired.

"Um, I don't think that this one's a victim of anything other than cerebral hemorrhage." Nat said. "I'll check him out more thoroughly than here, of course, but this one looks to not be a homicide."

Nick's eyes narrowed slightly. Something about Nat's tone of voice didn't ring true. "Why don't you get the background information from the discovering officer?" He said to Schanke.

"Yeah, no problem." Schanke said, thinking that Nick wanted to tell Nat about McQuary's escape in private.

As Schanke walked away, Nick took Nat's arm and led her slightly away from the activity. "Nick, I think, no, I'm pretty sure we have a problem." Nat said. "That body has been totally drained of blood and I found fang marks on his neck." She met Nick's eyes, her own eyes filled with worry. "He wasn't carrying any identification and looks like he was living on the streets. If we're lucky, we may not have to deal with any family, but I don't want to be writing false autopsy reports."

Nick ran a hand through his hair. "Someone was very foolish or very careless. I'll stop by The Raven and see if Janette has any idea of whom it might be." He put his arm around her shoulders, both to express his thanks for her help in protecting the anonymity of the vampire community, and to hopefully cushion what he had to tell her. "I'm afraid I have some more bad news." He said turning her to face him.

Nat looked up at him quizzically.

"Pauline McQuary has disappeared." Nick said. He saw Nat's eyes widen in reaction. "She was being transported to a mental institution and there was a car wreck. She got away in the confusion." Nick placed both hands on Nat's shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze before he continued. "I promise you, that I will protect you. I won't let her get near you."

"I don't want to 'hide' in the loft Nick. I can't let her control my life." Nat said.

"I know. Cohen has arranged it so that Schanke and I will be the on scene investigators for any cases you respond to." Nick explained. "I want you to promise that you won't leave to go to a scene until we come over to your office to follow you there."

Nat nodded her head. "That's a reasonable precaution. I promise."

Nick smiled and kissed her forehead. "Thank you." He released his hold on her. "Let's go collect Schanke and then we'll follow you back to your office."

When they reached Schanke, he glanced at Nick. "You told her?"

Nick nodded.

Schanke turned to Nat. "Don't worry Nat, I'm sure it will only be a day or so before we find McQuary." He told her.

"I hope so, Schanke. I don't like having to look over my shoulder all the time." Nat said. "But I'm not worried, after all I'll have the two best detectives in Toronto keeping tabs on me." She added with a smile.

"Toronto? I'm sure you meant all of Canada." Schanke responded with a chuckle. The three of them headed to the cars. **********************************************************************

Despite Schanke's optimism, nearly two months had passed without any sign of Pauline McQuary.

"I can't believe that she hasn't been located." Schanke fumed. "I'm starting to think she might not even be in the area any longer."

"You could be right, Schanke," Nick said, "but I'm not going to risk Nat. Until she's located somewhere I intend to make sure she doesn't have another chance to harm Nat."

"Don't blame you there. I just wonder how much longer Cohen's going to be able to keep us as the only responders to Nat's scenes." Schanke said, concerned.

"If I have to, I'll take a leave of absence and just spend the time with Nat." Nick said.

"Man, I hope it doesn't come to that. That can wreck havoc on the old finances, not to mention I'd have to break in a temporary partner." Schanke said, shaking his head.

Nick nodded as if in agreement. Even though finances weren't a concern for him, Nick did appreciate Schanke's concern. He sighed. At least there hadn't been any more blood-drained corpses found. Janette, when he'd seen her, had been honestly shocked to hear about the incident and had assured Nick that she had no idea whom could have been responsible. Nick believed her. The threat that such a violation caused to the vampire community, as a whole, in addition to being a blatant violation of The Code, was serious enough that if the offender were known they would have been quickly identified and removed.

Nick realized that Schanke was staring at him as if awaiting a response. "Sorry, Schanke. What did you say?"

"I asked if Nat was really handling all this as well as she seems to be. She's been looking awful tired the past week or so." Schanke replied.

"She's doing well, but I can tell that the stress is starting to get to her." Nick said, recalling that for the past two days Nat had been suffering from what she described as a 'queasy' stomach. Nick was certain that it was due to the tension of not knowing where McQuary was. "Now that you mention it, she hasn't been herself lately. She seems to fall asleep every time she gets still for a few minutes." He said.

"Maybe she should see a doctor or take some time off," Schanke said. He started to say more, when the ringing of the phone interrupted him. Picking up the receiver he listened, then with a "Right, we're on our way," he hung up. "That was dispatch. We need to pick up Nat and head down to the lake. Got a floater." He told Nick, grimacing.

Nick pulled into the parking area of the Coroner's building. Nat had been watching from just inside the entry and hurried out to the car. Nick got out and she slipped into the rear seat greeting Schanke as she settled herself there.

"Hope you've got on warm clothes. It's going to be cold down by the water." She said to Schanke.

"Just what I hoped for tonight." Schanke said, sarcastically. "A fun-filled, freezing night by the lake with a floater."

"Be glad it's cold. It'll cut down the smell." Nat said, knowing that most of the time it was decomposition that cause a corpse to rise to the surface. "I hate floaters." She added.

"Odd to get one this late in the year." Nick mused. "Usually when it's cold like this they stay under till spring." He noticed that Nat looked a bit pale. Even though they made love frequently, Nick knew that he was not taking enough blood to cause Nat any problems. He'd never needed more than a small amount of her blood to satiate his beast and, in the past weeks since their marriage, he'd needed even less than when they first became lovers. 'Her blood seems to have gotten richer and sweeter since our honeymoon', Nick reflected.

"Oh, when you take me back, if you'll come in for a minute I can give you the Mikilson report." Nat said, effectively changing the subject.

"How about giving us a run down on what it's going to say?" Schanke asked.

The remainder of the drive was spent discussing Nat's findings in that case. When they arrived at the lakefront, Nick pulled the Caddy between a marked patrol unit and a waiting van from Nat's office. Getting out, they sought the officer on the scene. He led them to where the body lay, telling them that it appeared to be a female.

Nat stopped a short distance from the body and looked around. "Who found her and pulled her out?" She asked.

"A young couple taking a moonlight walk on the shore." The patrol officer replied. "Nobody's moved the body. She's right where they found her. They nearly tripped over her. Shook them up pretty badly." He added.

"She's a good eight to ten meters from the waterline and it's high tide. She didn't wash that far up the beach." Nat said. Walking closer, she started directing her people to take pictures and to rope off the area. Finally, she knelt beside the body.

The woman lay on her stomach, her face in the sand. Nat noted that the woman's coat appeared to be dry, as was her medium length brown hair. "She's not a floater, just dumped here." Nat told Nick and Schanke as they joined her by the body. "I don't see any obvious wounds, so let's get her turned over and see if any are visible on that side." Nat stood, stepped back, and then motioned for two attendants to turn the body over. When the attendants stepped away, Nick, Nat, and Schanke stared down at the body in surprise.

Schanke was the first to speak. "Well, I think we can say that we now know where Pauline McQuary is."

Nick nodded. "Yeah. Now if we knew where she'd been, we might know how she ended up here." He was sorry that the woman was dead, but he also felt a sense of great relief that Nat was no longer in danger from her.

Nat had recovered and knelt back down next to Pauline's body. "Her throat's been slashed, but given the lack of blood here, she was killed somewhere else." She frowned as she looked more closely at the wound. Not wanting to draw attention to what she thought she saw, Nat stood and brushed the sand from her trousers. "I need to get her back to the morgue and get started on the autopsy." She said, motioning for the attendants to remove the body. "I'll ride back in the van so that you can take your time going over the scene. I'll leave that report with Grace in case I'm still working on this when you get back." She told Nick and Schanke.

Nick gave her a puzzled look, wondering why Nat was in such a rush to get the body back for autopsy. That Nat wouldn't meet his eyes did nothing to lessen his sudden suspicion that this might be another poorly disposed of vampire kill. "Okay," he said after a moment, "we'll drop by to get that report when we're finished here." He hoped that Nat's reaction was only because of the identity of the corpse, but he feared it was not. Nat gave him a small smile and followed the attendants.

Back at the morgue, after dropping off the Mikilson report with Grace, Nat began the autopsy. After describing the external state of the body, along with its height and weight and carefully removing and bagging the clothing, she noted that one wrist and one ankle had wide areas where the skin had been chaffed. After determining that there were no other injuries visible, Nat began to dissect the neck wound. While she diligently described the length, depth, and direction of the wound, she carefully did not mention the deeper telltale indications that Pauline McQuary had been dead before her throat was slashed. As Nat had guessed when she saw the body on the beach, it had been drained of blood. Even though a rude attempt had been made to cover it up, Nat knew that she was looking at a vampire's kill.

Pulling the sheet back over McQuary's body, Nat left the autopsy room and returned to her office. There she sat for several minutes wondering just what to say in her report. She hated being dishonest, but Nat knew that she couldn't risk putting down anything that might, in the eyes of the Enforcers, cause the existence of the vampire to community to be discovered. As she stood, trying to figure out exactly how to word her report, there was a knock on the door.

"Come." She called out.

"You finished with McQuary already?" Schanke asked as he walked in to the office, followed closely by Nick.

"The toxicology results won't be back for a day or so, but yes, I've finished with the autopsy." Nat responded.

"And?" Schanke prompted.

"She died from exsanguination." Nat said. "I think she had been held by her killer for some period of time before her death. She had chaffing on a wrist and ankle that could be the result of having been restrained. I'll have a full report for you tomorrow sometime." Nat added.

"Great, thanks." Schanke said. He glanced at Nick wondering, why he'd been so quiet. Seeing an odd expression on his partner's face, Schanke assumed it was relief at knowing that Nat was now safe. "Grace has that report, right?" At Nat's affirmative nod, he added. "I'll run down to her desk and pick it up, maybe grab some coffee and meet you back here in a few minutes, okay Nick?"

"That'll be fine, Schanke." Nick replied. As soon as the door had closed behind Don, Nick turned to Nat. "There's more to this death than you told Schanke, isn't there?" He said, softly.

"Yeah, and it's not something that I can put in report." Nat said heavily. "The slash wound was just a rather poor attempt to cover up fang marks. What's going on, Nick? What's going to happen if one of the other coroners respond to one of these?" She asked softly.

"It's starting to appear as if there is a rogue here." Nick said. "Janette's been keeping her eye out for any newcomers or anyone of us acting suspiciously. I'm going to have to talk to LaCroix. As much as I dislike the idea, it may be necessary to call in Enforcers to locate whoever is doing this." He added. He saw Nat suddenly yawn and realized that Schanke was right. She did look exhausted. Sitting on the edge of Nat's desk, Nick took her hand in his. "Are you okay?" He asked.

"My stomach's still acting up a bit and I'm tired." She said honestly. "Maybe now that I don't have to worry about McQuary, it'll ease up."

Nick nodded. "Okay, but if it doesn't, I want you to see your doctor." He leaned down and kissed her softly. "I'm not going to let you take any chances with your health."

Nat smiled at him. "If I'm not feeling better by the end of the week, I'll make an appointment." She promised, Nick's concern warming her soul. "I'm sure that it's just been the stress of all this." She added.

"Would you mind if we stop by the Raven before we go home? I need to let Janette know about what we found tonight ...and I really don't want to do it over the phone," Nick asked. He'd been driving Nat to and from work while McQuary had been missing. Nick knew that there wouldn't be time to take Nat home and then go to The Raven to speak with Janette without risking being caught by the sunrise. He did not want to have to spend the day at The Raven.

"Not at all. I agree that the phone probably isn't the best way to discuss this." Nat said. "What about LaCroix? Will Janette notify him?"

Nick sighed. "I know she did the last time. This time, I think it would be better if I see him myself, but I'll do that tomorrow before work."

"I can't say that I'm disappointed to not have to see him." Nat said.

"I'm not looking forward to either, but we obviously have a problem and he's the best person to deal with it." Nick said. "I'd better get going or Schanke will be ribbing me the rest of the shift." He learned forward and tenderly kissed Nat. "I'll see you at four."

"I'll be ready." Nat said, smiling.

Nick slid off the desk and headed down the hall to find Schanke.

The remainder of Nat's shift passed quietly. When Nick arrived, she was just putting on her coat. Once they were in the car, Nick turned to her. "You're sure you don't mind stopping? I could drop by the loft and then go to The Raven."

Nat chuckled, "No, I really don't mind. It's too close to sunrise for you to be certain that you can get back home without getting caught. Besides, I meant what I said at the wedding, about getting to know Janette better, and this is a good opportunity to do so." Nat said, smiling. "She's been an important part of your life and I know that you care for her."

"Yes," Nick admitted, "I do care for Janette. She's been my family for a very long time." He took Nat's hand and kissed the back of it. "But you are more than family. You are what completes my soul."

"As you do mine." Nat said, love shining from her eyes.

Nick started the car and they drove to the Raven.

"Janette." Miklos said in a soft tone that, never the less, drew her immediate attention. When she looked at him, he nodded toward the door. Her eyebrow lifted slightly as she saw Nicholas and Dr. Lambert, 'Natalie', she mentally corrected herself, heading across the room toward her.

"Nicholas, Natalie. To what do I owe this pleasure?" Janette inquired. She smiled slightly at Natalie, who returned the smile.

"There's been another 'problem'." Nick said softly.

Janette looked at him in surprise. "You're sure?" She asked. Seeing Nick's nod, Janette rose from the barstool she'd been sitting on. "Come. We can discuss this more easily in my office." Picking up her glass of dark red refreshment she inquired, "May I offer either of you something to drink?"

"If I could just borrow a glass." Nick said. "Nat has my preferred vintage in her bag." He couldn't help but smile slightly at the expression of distaste on Janette's face.

"That is hardly a vintage." She said with a slight shudder. "Natalie? A glass of wine, perhaps?"

"Just some ginger ale, thank you." Nat said.

Miklos handed her a glass with a polite nod.

Janette led the way to her office. Once they were all inside, and Nick and Nat were seated, she closed and locked the door. "Another homeless person?" She inquired as she walked over and sat down behind her desk.

"No, not this time." Nick said. He then proceeded to relate the discovery of Pauline McQuary's body. When he finished, Janette sat silent for a moment. Her expression was one of deep concern. "Well, this is serious. Although someone apparently did you a favor by removing that person." She remarked.

"I never wanted her dead." Nat said, speaking for the first time. She sighed. "I've listed the cause of death as exsanguination due to trauma. I just didn't specify what caused the trauma."

Janette nodded. "You've told the truth, just omitted the details and, by doing so, protected our little community. The marks on her wrist and ankle are very disturbing. It sounds as if someone perhaps kept her alive to 'season' her blood, so to speak." She shook her head at the foolishness of such an action in the modern day and age. "As I told Nicholas the last time, I haven't seen anyone new or heard any talk about one of us behaving so rashly." Standing, Janette looked at Nick. "I think, Nicholas, you must speak to LaCroix. As the oldest in our community, he must decide whether or not we need to involve outside help."

"I know. I plan to see him tonight, but I wanted to stop by and check with you before I did so." Nick said.

"I am truly sorry that I can't be of help to you." Janette said. "I will make some discreet inquiries, but I doubt that I will learn anything."

Nick smiled his understanding. "Thank you for the effort." He said, rising. He kissed Janette on the cheek.

"Janette, I hope that you'll come spend a day with us." Nat said as they prepared to leave. "I really did mean it when I said I'd like to get to know you better."

"I didn't want to intrude on you. Thank you, I will take you up on the invitation, soon," Janette said extending her hand to Natalie.

Nat took it and smiled. "Good, we're looking forward to it."

After Nick and Nat left, Janette sat back down behind her desk. She hadn't quite told Nicholas everything. There had been a rumor or two of other vampires happening across the drained bodies of victims and disposing of them. Janette suspected that if this were true, LaCroix would know of it. Very little occurred within the community of which he was not aware.

Nick arose slightly before sunset, wanting to be ready to leave for his visit to LaCroix as soon as it was dark enough to do so. He'd slept better than he had in several weeks, concern for Nat's safety no longer heavy on his mind. Humming softly, he shaved and showered. As he came out of the bath, he noted that Nat too, was up and about. Inhaling deeply, his smelled the telltale scent of Earl Grey tea. Dressing, he headed for the stairs to join her.

Nat was still in her robe, sitting on the couch and sipping a cup of tea. She smiled as Nick came down the stairs. "I opened a bottle and got a glass out for you." She said as he came toward her. "Figured that you better feed before you confront LaCroix."

Nick sat beside her and kissed her. "Thanks. You're right. It's better that I face him without being hungry." He poured a glass of the bloodwine. "How are you feeling?" He asked.

"I'm doing okay. I'm sure that it was stress that had my stomach upset." Nat said, not wanting to worry Nick by telling him she'd once again been ill when she awakened. She snuggled against Nick's side, laying her head on his shoulder. "Now if there are no more of these bodies, I'll be fine."

Nick laid his cheek against Nat's hair, enjoying the soft, silky feel of it against his skin. In comfortable silence, they sipped their respective beverages as the last rays of the sun sank below the horizon. Only then, did Nick reluctantly stir. "I'd better go if I'm to see LaCroix and make it to work on time." He said, standing up.

Nat reached out and grabbed his hand. "Good luck." She said, giving his hand a squeeze before releasing it. "Call me when you get to work."

Nick chuckled. "I will and thanks. Dealing with LaCroix, I'll take all the luck I can get." He got his coat and, grabbing his keys, headed out of the loft.

Nat sat where she was. She'd slept well, but she was still tired and the sudden bouts of nausea did concern her. 'Maybe I ought to see the doctor.' She thought. Glancing at the clock, she picked up the phone and dialed. Ten minutes later, she had arranged to see Dr. Leona Sims, a good friend from her residency days as well as her doctor, before going into work.

Nat pulled into her parking space and shut off the motor. Leona had asked a number of questions, given her a quick once over and then drawn some blood for tests. She'd promised to call Nat later that night with the results, although she'd expressed the opinion that whatever the problem was, it didn't appear to be serious. Nat's heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature were all normal, indicating that the cause of her discomfort was not due to any infection. "Probably just overwork." Leona had opined.

Once inside, Nat set about catching up on the never-ending pile of paperwork on her desk.

Nick pulled the Caddy into the CERK lot and got out. Entering the building, he could sense LaCroix's presence. Nick headed down the dimly lit hallway toward the studio and small office LaCroix maintained at the station. It was too early for the Nightcrawler broadcast, so Nick knocked at the door of the office. A moment later, he heard LaCroix bid him enter.

"Ah, Nicholas, what an unexpected surprise." LaCroix said.

"I need your help." Nick said, standing in front of LaCroix's desk.

"You usually do when you come to visit." His sire remarked drolly. "What can I do for you?" LaCroix leaned back in the chair and regarded his headstrong son.

"One of our kind is killing and leaving the bodies where they can be discovered." Nick said, bluntly. "It's happened twice in the past two months, the latest one last night."

LaCroix steepled his fingers in front of him. "I'm afraid you're mistaken. If, as you say, another body was found last night, that makes seven in the past two months." Seeing the surprise on Nick's face, LaCroix indicated an empty chair. "Do sit down, Nicholas, and I'll tell you what I know and what is being done." As Nick sat, LaCroix added, "I presume that there will be no unfortunate consequences from this latest incident?"

"No, Nat was able to give a cause of death that no one should question." He said, sinking into the chair. Nick stared at his sire for a moment. "Seven? I've not heard any rumors about mysterious deaths. This has to be stopped."

"The others were found by some of us." LaCroix said in explanation. "However, for once we are in agreement. Such actions endanger all of us."

"What are you doing about it?" Nick demanded.

"I have made inquiries, with no results." LaCroix began. "Now it appears that I will have to contact others for assistance." He admitted.

"The Enforcers." Nick said, his voice a mixture of awe and dislike.

LaCroix nodded. "Yes. I would have preferred to keep them out of this, but we cannot chance our luck holding." He sighed heavily. "I'll contact them tonight."

Concern for how The Enforcers might view Nat made Nick's stomach tighten. "LaCroix?" He said, his face showing his worry.

"Do not worry about the good doctor. Her actions in this will be sufficient proof to them that she is not a danger to us." LaCroix said calmly. "She is under my protection and I will make that clear to them. She is safe, I give you my word." He knew that they were already aware of the special circumstances of the Elders protection of Natalie Lambert Knight, but it served his purposes better to have Nicholas believe it was his power that protected the mortal.

Nick released the breath he was holding. "Thank you." He said sincerely. "I'll leave this in your hands then." He added as he rose and headed out the door.

LaCroix grimaced and reached for the phone. He disliked admitting that he needed assistance, especially from the Enforcers, but he could not risk permitting any more killings without endangering his own position. When he finished his call, LaCroix went to a small, hidden wine rack and selected a bottle of his favorite bloodwine. Being beholden to others for his safety rankled. He needed the soothing taste and memories that this particular vintage would provide.

Nat jumped a bit as the phone rang. Glancing at the phone's display, she was relieved to see Nick's name. "Natalie's Bed and Breakfast," she said answering it. She smiled as she heard Nick's chuckle on the other end.

"Just wanted you to know that I've seen LaCroix and he's going to call in Enforcers." Nick told her. He'd explained to her about The Code and about the Enforcers. He also decided to not alarm her further by letting her know that there had been seven killings rather than the two she of which she was aware.

"Nick, do I need to stay out of sight for a while?" Nat asked.

"No, I don't think so. LaCroix made it clear that you were safe and under his protection." Nick said in a reassuring tone.

"And you believe him?" Nat pressed.

"Yes, I do. He gave me his word that you are safe. LaCroix may be many things, but he has never broken his word." Nick said.

"Okay. Now we just wait, I guess." Nat said, the relief evident in her voice.

"Yes, now we wait." Nick told her. "I've got to clock in." He paused, then added. "I love you."

Nat smiled. "I love you, too. Have a good night at work and I'll see you when you get home." She hung up the phone. She'd decided to wait until she got her test results before mentioning her visit to the doctor. With a sigh, she started to read the next document in her in box.

Nick found Schanke sitting with a frown on his face. 'Great, just what I need. Schanke in a bad mood.' Nick thought as he sat down at his desk. "What's the matter, Schanke? Myra's family coming for a visit?" Nick asked, grinning.

Schanke snorted. "Nah, that would be a disaster. This is just puzzling." He said.

"What's puzzling?" Nick asked.

"Don't you have any curiosity about where Pauline McQuary was for two months?" Schanke asked. "I mean, she was obviously free long enough to cut and dye her hair, so where was she? And how did she end up dead on the shore of Lake Ontario?"

"With the different hair, she could have been anywhere in the city. We had everyone looking for a long haired blonde." Nick pointed out. "As to how she ended up where she did, she met the wrong person." He shrugged. "Considering her mental state, I don't find it odd that she came to a bad end." The last thing he wanted was for Schanke to start probing too deeply into exactly how McQuary had met her fate.

"Yeah, well that much is obvious." Schanke said. "Did Nat find anything that might point us in the right direction in finding this killer?"

Nick shook his head. "No, she didn't find much. Since the body had been moved from wherever she was killed, that messed up a lot of potential evidence."

"Well, I've been running a search of our databanks, seeing if I could come up with a similar M.O. So far, most the ones that I've found are too far back and too far apart to be of use." Schanke said.

"Oh?" Nick said, trying to appear only semi-interested. He casually got up and walked over to where he could see the information on Schanke's screen.

"Yeah, I found about three hundred and twenty-seven cases where the victim was found outdoors with their throat slashed." Schanke began to explain. "Of those, one hundred and eighty-four were solved and the killer put away. Those perps are either still doing time or in their seventies and eighties and not likely to have been able to overpower someone McQuary's age."

"And the remaining one hundred and forty-three?" Nick inquired.

"You can eliminate fifty-seven of those. The killer was a family member, who killed in a fit of anger or passion or the killing was clearly gang related." Schanke said. "That leaves us eighty-six cases, all unsolved and covering nearly sixty years." Schanke said. "Drop all of the ones that are over say, twenty years old and we have an even two dozen cases." He pointed to the list on the screen.

"Any other similarities in those, other than the ones you used for the search?" Nick asked. He hoped that there were not.

"That's the problem," Schanke replied. "There doesn't seem to be anything to point to a person or persons as the perp. Some of these were carefully hidden and not discovered till weeks after they died. Others, like these," he pointed to several names, "were found pretty much out in the open. Only these two seem to have some resemblance to McQuary."

Nick looked at the dates on the files. "This one happened nearly eight years ago." He commented. "Why would the same person kill once eight years ago and not again till now?"

"Maybe they were out of circulation, in prison or a mental hospital, during that time." Schanke opined, as he clicked on the remaining file.

Nick quickly scanned the information that appeared and felt a sense of dread. The victim had been a young woman, found just over a week earlier along a section of the Don Valley Hills and Dales Discovery Walk trail. Due to the absence of blood at the scene, the coroner that had done the autopsy had concluded she was killed elsewhere. Nick also noted that the woman's left wrist and ankle had shown signs that she'd been restrained for at least several days before her death. 'LaCroix was wrong,' he thought, 'it's eight bodies in eight weeks.' Fortunately, the other examiner hadn't noticed, or at least hadn't mentioned, anything unusual about the throat wound.

"Nick? You there?" Schanke's voice interrupted Nick's thoughts.

"Sorry." Nick said.

"I asked, didn't Nat mention something last night about chaffing on McQuary's wrists or ankles?" Schanke said.

"Um, she may have." Nick hedged. "Any identification on the victim?"

"Yep, one Miranda Thomason, age twenty-eight. She was a student at the university doing graduate work in chemistry." Schanke said, reading the report. "Damn! They released the body for cremation four days ago."

Nick relaxed slightly. The body having been cremated meant that any evidence that the killing was by a vampire had been permanently removed. "Which means that we can't go back for a second look." Nick said, affecting a disappointed sounding voice.

Schanke hit the print button and stood. "Let me grab this from the printer and then why don't we go over and ask Nat to take a look at it. She might be able to tell us if these are related." He said over his shoulder as he headed for the printer.

"Fine." Nick responded. He knew that Nat would likely downplay the similarities.

Schanke knocked at Nat's office door and, without waiting, opened it. "Hi Nat, got a minute to look at something for us?" He inquired as he entered the room.

"Yes, anything to get a break from this paperwork!" Nat said, smiling. Taking the proffered papers, she asked, "What is this?"

Nick spoke quickly. "A case that Schanke thinks might be related to McQuary's murder."

"Yeah, young attractive female found with her throat slashed and dumped in a public area." Schanke said. "And this one was found only a week ago."

"I see," said Nat, as she started to look through the pages. For several minutes she read silently. "While there are certainly some similarities, I'd have to examine this victim myself before I could testify that both she and McQuary were killed by the same person." She said at last. "Is the body still being held?"

Schanke shook his head in frustration. "No, and there isn't even a chance to get an exhumation order. She was cremated."

"Sorry, Schanke, without doing my own examination I can't say that you have the same killer in each of these cases." Nat told him. She glanced over at Nick, saw the unspoken question, and gave a very slight nod of her head.

Nick made a small grimace. "Thanks anyway for taking a look at this." He said, grimly. He hoped that LaCroix had indeed called for help and that McQuary would be the last victim of the rogue.

"Yeah, thanks." Schanke said. "I don't suppose that you have the McQuary report ready?"

Nat smiled. "That I can help you with," she said, handing Schanke back both the report he'd brought and a folder.

Nick gave Nat a quick hug. "What time are you off tonight?"

"I should be out of here at three. Only another six hours." She said. "Unless I get called to a scene a half hour before I'm due to clock off."

"We'll do our best to see that doesn't happen." Nick said, kissing her on the cheek. "Come on, Schanke. Let's go figure out what our next step is."

Nat watched, smiling as they left. She had just reached for the next set of papers when her phone rang. "Lambert." She said answering it.

"Natalie? It's Leona. I've got the results of your blood work." Leona Sims said cheerfully.

"I gather from your tone of voice they were all normal?" Nat remarked.

"Oh very normal, for someone in your condition." Leona said. "Congratulations, you're pregnant!"

Nat nearly dropped the phone. "There's got to be some sort of mix-up. I can't be pregnant." She told Leona. "Nick, my husband, was told that he couldn't father a child."

"Well, whoever told him that was very clearly wrong." Leona replied. "I double checked the results myself and you are most definitely pregnant." She paused, then asked, "Natalie, are you okay about this?"

Nat felt a large smile spread over her face. "Oh yes! It's just a bit of a shock. I never thought that we could have a baby." She told Leona. "I still can't quite believe it."

"Great. Look, I want you to call my office in the morning and set up a time for an ultrasound. We need to try and establish just how pregnant you are. I also want you to start taking prenatal vitamins. You're in great health, so I don't anticipate any problems." Leona said.

"Okay, I'll get the vitamins tonight on my break and I'll call and take care of the appointments first thing in the morning." Nat said. "Leona, thank you for such wonderful news. Nick is going to be so excited."

"I hope I get to meet him. I like to have the father involved in the pregnancy and delivery, too." Leona told her.

"Well, Nick has a sun allergy, so I'd have to make my appointments very late or very early for him to be able to accompany me." Nat explained.

"No problem. With so many of my patients working, I've got evening hours three times a week. I'll leave a note for my assistant that she has to schedule you during that time." Leona told her.

"Super. Thanks again." Nat said before hanging up. She sat, still slightly stunned, a smile on her face and her hand resting lightly on her lower abdomen. "A baby. We're going to have a baby." She whispered. She picked up the phone and started to call Nick, then stopped. This was something she wanted to tell him in person, where she could see his face and gauge his reaction to it. She'd have to wait until he got off shift in the morning. Determinedly, she picked up the next batch of papers.

Ten minutes later, having read the same page twice, Nat put down the report. She was simply too excited to concentrate. Looking up the phone number of one of her colleagues, Jon McIntosh she lifted the receiver. Thankfully, he was happy to get some overtime and readily agreed to come in and finish her shift. In fact, he would be there in less than thirty minutes. By the time she'd answered a few emails and locked away her personal files, twenty-five minutes had elapsed. Before shutting down her computer, she sent Nick an email saying that she'd decided to take the rest of the night off and go home. As she was putting on her coat, Jon arrived. Thanking him again for filling in on such short notice, Nat headed to her car. She didn't notice the three figures that watched her from the shadows and then took to the air as she drove off.

Once in the car, she decided to stop by an all night drug store and pick up a bottle of the vitamins Leona had recommended she start taking. Pulling into the parking lot, she sighed. The lot owners had apparently decided to resurface the area. Due to the cold, the paving material was slow in drying and barricades blocked access to the areas nearest the store entrance. She'd have to park on the far end of the lot, in an area that wasn't as well lighted as she'd prefer. Hesitating, Nat scanned the area. Seeing no one around, and wanting the vitamins, she pulled into a parking space. Getting out of her car, she made certain her doors were locked and then hurried through the night to the store.

It only took her fifteen minutes to finish her shopping. In addition to the vitamins, Nat bought a quart of milk and some packaged sweet rolls. Carrying her purchases in a plastic sack, she headed back across the lot. She was only three or four meters from her car when she heard a sound behind her. Looking quickly over her shoulder in that direction, she saw a slim, pale woman and two equally pale men walking toward her. Nat felt the hair on her neck stand up, for she had no doubt that the three were vampires. As she watched, the woman and one of the men fanned out to either side, effectively blocking her from going anywhere but forward. Trying to stay calm, Nat quickened her pace slightly, hoping to reach the relative safety of her car.

She knew instinctively that they were hunting and that she was their intended prey. She felt her heart skip a beat as the trio suddenly began to rush toward her. She also felt a wave of fear, not for her own safety, but for the unborn child she carried. Although she knew there was no way she could out run them, Nat made a desperate sprint toward the car. She was almost to the car when she stepped into a small pothole and stumbled. Pain blossomed in her knee, as her leg twisted and she fell heavily against the side of her car, hitting her head on the door handle. Slightly dazed, she still tried to pull herself up when a strong pair of hands seized her, causing her to gasp.

"Now, you don't want to run away and spoil our party, do you? Not when you're going to be the guest of honor as well as the main course." A male voice said in her ear even as she was aware that the other man and woman vampire had joined them. To them he added, "She's as lovely as that other woman said. No wonder she was so jealous." He chuckled, adding, "But then, blood never lies."

Nat struggled, trying to break loose, as she realized the other woman had to be Pauline McQuary. It wasn't a rogue vampire doing the killings; it was a group. She took a deep breath intending to scream for help but found her mouth covered by the man's hand. She felt her arms grabbed, pulled behind her back and her wrists being bound. The woman pulled out a large bandana and, in a practiced move, the man holding Nat removed his hand from her mouth just as the woman shoved the makeshift gag into it. The other man, having finished tying her hands, boldly reached out to fondle her breasts. "Prettier than the last one, for sure." He said leering at Nat. "I wouldn't mind a taste of her now."

Nat shuddered in revulsion at his touch and his words. She watched as his eyes changed and his fangs dropped. When he seized her hair and pulled her head back and to one side, exposing her throat, she closed her eyes and braced herself for the feel of his fangs in her flesh.

"Not now, Pete," the man holding her said, "too much chance of someone discovering us here."

Nat felt her hair released and relief at being spared from the intrusion of the unknown vampire washed through her.

"Yeah, I guess you're right." Pete said. "Besides, as pretty as she is, be a shame to just taste her."

"If you two are finished, I'd like to get back home." The woman said, tossing her long red hair out of her eyes. "I want to make sure that this week's 'party food' is well seasoned."

"You're really looking forward to him, aren't you Marika?" Nat's captor said.

"Just as much as you look forward when it's a woman we're having, Reggie." Was Marika's reply. "I do want to get back. If Carlita gets back before we do, she's liable to feed him some of that spicy stuff she likes and I really don't care for the flavor that gives."

Reggie laughed. "Can't have that." Nat felt pain as he lifted her and her injured knee bent. A moment later they were airborne. As they headed toward wherever 'home' was, Nat thought furiously. She took some comfort in the fact that she apparently wasn't to be killed immediately. Nick would be looking for her and, if LaCroix had indeed called in the Enforcers, they would also be seeking this group. The longer she could survive the better her chances of rescue. 'Please don't let anything happen to the baby.' She prayed, silently. 'Nick deserves the joy of this child.'

She estimated that they'd been aloft for at least twenty or thirty minutes when they arrived at their destination and she was again set on her feet. Her knee ached terribly as she was propelled, limping, toward a decrepit building. Reggie and Pete half dragged her down a dim hallway and into a small room that contained a single width bed. The room smelled musty and, in the weak light from a small bulb in the ceiling, Nat could see a pair of chains that had one end fastened to a sturdy looking ring in the wall with the other ending in leather cuffs. Taking her over to the bed, Reggie pushed her into a sitting position and held her there. Pete took one of the chains and, after running his hand up her left leg nearly to her thigh, fitted the cuff around her ankle, fastening it with a small, keyed, lock. Reggie took a firm hold of her arms holding them to her sides. Pete then cut away the bindings on her wrists and fastened the other cuff to her left one. Finally Reggie reached for the gag. "You can scream all you want to now." He told her. "But all you'll do is give yourself a sore throat. There isn't anyone for a couple of miles from here."

"You're making a big mistake." Nat said, through dry lips. "I am the wife of Nicholas deBrabant." She knew that, generally, members of a community knew one another.

"Really? Doesn't mean a thing to me." Reggie said.

"His sire," Nat said stressing the word, "is Lucien LaCroix, who is the oldest in the Toronto community. I am under his protection."

"We don't care about who's who in the community. We're not a part of it." Pete said as he smiled down at her and licked his lips. He glanced up at Reggie. "She's going to be a real treat, Reggie. She's healthy, so she ought to last a nice long while."

Reggie nodded. "Yes, she's going to be a lot of fun. In fact, just thinking about it has made me hungry. Let's go get some bottled stuff."

Pete reached out and ran his hand down Nat's face. "I hope I can wait twelve more nights." He said.

"We'll get our share of the guy. Not as satisfying, I know, but at least good, fresh blood." Reggie said, as he turned to leave.

Pete laughed and joined him. "Nothing like a hot, fresh meal."

Nat slumped against the wall. Unless Nick could find her, she had only twelve nights to live.

Nick and Schanke returned to the precinct and after discussing it with Captain Cohen, headed out to try and determine where Pauline McQuary had spent the last two months of her life. They spent the next seven hours going from low cost hotel to low cost hotel, showing pictures of McQuary with both her long naturally blonde hair and the shorter brown hair she'd had at the time of her death. They'd split up for several hours in order to cover more territory, meeting about 4 AM to compare notes. In the end, they knew no more than they had when they'd started.

"Ah well, there are still at least another 300 fleabag hotels and then we can start checking the low rent apartments." Schanke said, disgustedly as they drove back to the precinct.

"Maybe well get lucky and only have to check out 299 hotels." Nick said. "If we could find out where she was getting money, we might be able to determine more. I checked and the Crown had frozen all of her bank accounts, so she wasn't getting funds from those." He pulled the car into the precinct lot. "At least we're off duty for now." He added.

"You coming in?" Schanke asked.

"No, Nat got off a couple of hours ago so I'm just going to head to the loft." Nick replied.

"Yeah, I think I'll just get in my car and leave from here, too. Go inside and Cohen's liable to snag me for something." Schanke said, opening his door. "See you tonight." He got out and after closing the door, headed to his car.

Nick put the Caddy in gear and drove to the loft. He was surprised to not see Nat's car when he arrived. 'She must have gotten a call just before going off duty.' He thought as he parked his car. He went up to the loft where he was greeted by Sydney. "Hungry, are you?" Nick said to the cat. "Okay, I'll get you some food." He poured food for Sydney and put down fresh water. Nick took a bottle of bloodwine from the fridge and, getting a glass from the cupboard, poured some into it. "Hope you don't mind if I join you," he said, raising the glass in Sydney's direction. Sydney looked up and meowed before continuing to eat.

Nick turned on the television, but couldn't seem to concentrate on the program. He smiled, realizing that the problem was that the loft felt empty without Nat. He knew that if the case was a complicated one, it could be several more hours before she was able to get home. Yawning, he decided that he'd go on up and get some rest. Finishing his drink, Nick stood and climbed the stairs to the bedroom. Nick was sound asleep when, later in the afternoon, the answering machine picked up the call from the daytime duty officer who was trying to inform him that Nat's car and purse had been found abandoned in a parking lot.

Don Schanke pulled his car up outside of the building that housed Nick's loft. He'd been awakened just over ninety minutes earlier when Myra had informed him that there was an urgent call from the precinct for him. Grumbling that it was most likely just someone who wanted to know where the extra coffee was kept, and still half asleep, he'd reluctantly picked up the extension by the bed. By the time the officer on the other end had finished his first sentence, all thoughts of sleep had vanished from Schanke's mind. He'd hurriedly tossed on his clothes and raced over to where a small entourage of police officials was clustered around Natalie Lambert Knight's car.

Finding the officer in charge, Schanke had quickly ascertained that the car was first noticed when the night crew had left. However, itwasn't until much later in the day that one of the other employees, curious as to why the car was there, had walked over to where the car was parked and seen what turned out to be Natalie's purse beneath the car and notified the police. An attempt had been made to reach either Nick or Natalie by phone and, when that had failed, someone had thought to call Schanke. An examination of the contents of the purse had revealed a debit card receipt from the drug store with a time stamp over twelve hours earlier. Schanke swore softly at the amount of time that had elapsed and then headed to the loft.

At the building entrance, Schanke pressed and held the door buzzer with one hand, knowing from past experience how hard Nick could be to awaken. He dreaded telling Nick about Nat's car and purse being found.

Nick became aware of the door buzzer and slowly awakened. A frown crossed his face as he realized that Nat was not beside him. Getting out of bed, he grabbed a robe and padded barefoot downstairs. "Yes, what is it?" He asked, hitting the intercom button.

"Knight, it's me. Let me in." Schanke's voice replied.

Nick noted that Don sounded upset and complied. He suddenly wondered if Schanke's being here and Nat not being home was related. 'She's had a car wreck.' He thought worriedly.

The lift seemed to take longer than normal to arrive. When it finally did and Schanke stepped off, one look at his face caused a cold feeling of fear to form in Nick's stomach. "What's wrong?" He asked.

"Nick, is Natalie here?" Schanke inquired. He knew that he was grasping at straws but he prayed that Nick would say she was or that he knew where she was. The look on Nick's face wiped that hope away.

"No." Nick managed to say, knowing that if Nat had been in a car wreck, Schanke wouldn't have needed to ask that question.

Schanke closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Nick, her car and purse were found about two hours ago in a parking lot behind one of the all night drug stores." Schanke told him adding, the address of the location. "The car was locked and the purse looked like it may have been kicked under it."

"Any sign of...that she might be hurt?" Nick asked.

"No, it's like she just vanished into thin air." Schanke said.

Nick checked the time, although the sun wouldn't be totally set for another half-hour, it was already dark enough that he could venture out. "Let me get dressed. I want to go to the scene." He told Schanke.

"Captain's going to want to see you and I suspect I.A. will too," Schanke commented.

"Fine, but I'm going to the scene first." Nick stated. "Look, you told me where the car was found. I'll drive myself there and that way you won't be in any trouble." He told Schanke.

"I'll take you if you want me to," Schanke responded. "I know that if it were Myra missing, I'd want to go to the scene."

"Thanks, Schanke, but I think it really would be best if you didn't. I don't want you to have to deal with I. A., too." Nick said.

Schanke nodded. "Yeah, they're not my favorite people." He clasped Nick's shoulder. "As soon as you're finished there, come down to the precinct, okay."

Nick nodded and headed back up the stairs. As soon as he heard Schanke leave, he moved with vampiric speed. Less than ten minutes later was pulling into the parking lot of the address Schanke had provided. He pulled into a space near the cluster of police cruisers and got out. Before he could locate the officer in charge, two men in plain clothes approached him.

"Detective Knight," the older of the men said, "you have no business being here."

Nick looked at the speaker and recognized Ryan Waymire, one of the leads from I.A. in the investigation Nick had undergone when he'd been briefly arrested and charged with murder a number of years ago. Keeping his expression blank, Nick responded, "It's MY wife that is missing. I think I have every reason to be here." He noted that the younger man, whom Nick didn't recognize, looked uncomfortable.

"I say you don't. Either you leave right now or I'll have you escorted out of here." Waymire said.

The younger man spoke. "Detective, it would be better if you went to your precinct and waited for us there. I understand that you're concerned, but we'd like to talk with you before you gain any in-depth knowledge of the scene."

Nick struggled to keep his temper in check. "Why? So you can try and pin this on me? I love my wife and the only thing I care about is having her found."

Waymire snorted. "Yeah, that's what they all say. Now do you leave quietly or do I have to call over someone to remove you?" He sneered.

Nick resisted the urge to grab Waymire and snap his neck. That wouldn't help him find Nat and she was the most important concern. "Fine, I'll be at my desk, but I want answers and I want them soon." He said, allowing just a small amount of the anger he was feeling to show in both his face and his voice. Nick opened the Caddy's door, got in, and started the motor. "Waymire, if I don't see either you or your partner in the next hour, I'm coming back here." Without waiting for Waymire's response, Nick put the Caddy in gear and drove away.

Nat awakened from a fitful sleep shortly after three in the afternoon. She'd stayed awake till well after dawn, terrified that Pete might decide to not wait and attack her. Noting the way the house grew totally silent almost immediately after the sun rose, Nat decided that these were particularly young vampires. She knew that the younger a vampire, the more the sun affected them. Very young ones found it virtually impossible to stay away during the daytime. 'At least I should be able to rest in some safety during the day.' She thought.

As she sat up on the bed, she hoped that someone would show up soon to let her use the bathroom, but she knew that was unlikely to happen till sunset. Her muscles were stiff, the mattress had definitely seen better days, and her knee was still very painful. In an effort to keep her mind off both her physical discomforts and the knowledge that she was one day closer to being 'dinner' for this group, Nat examined her bonds for any weak point. She forced herself to be meticulous in the examination but, in the end, she had to acknowledge that getting free from them would require tools or strength that she did not possess.

Fighting back tears, she sat with her back against the headboard of the bed. She wondered if her car had been found yet and if Nick knew she was missing. Once it was fully dark, she'd try to reach him through their link. She could usually tell when he was close by, but she wasn't sure just how near he needed to be for the link to function.

Finally, she heard a sound in the hall, which was followed by that of a key in the door's lock. To her relief, it wasn't Pete who entered, but a woman with short dark hair. She looked at Nat with fully vamped eyes. 'Must be Carlita.' Nat mused.

"I'm going to unfasten you so you can use the restroom." The woman told her, holding up a key. "If you try anything, I won't hesitate to hurt you, badly. Do you understand?"

Nat nodded. "I won't try anything. I would like to use the bathroom."

Carlita unfastened first the ankle cuff and then the one on Nat's wrist. Holding Nat's arm in a painfully tight grip, she told her. "You can stand up now." When Nat obeyed, Carlita guided her to the door and then down the hall to the bath. Nat was forced to move slowly, as her knee was clearly not able to bear much weight on it. At the door, Carlita released Nat's arm. "There aren't any windows and this is the only door. I'll wait here for you."

Nat gratefully went into the bath and after using the facilities glanced around for anything she might be able to use to help her escape. They'd been very thorough and she found nothing. There wasn't even a drinking glass or a mirror in the small room and nothing, other than the door and window frames, was made of wood.

The short walk down the hall had caused her knee to begin throbbing. She examined it, noting that, although it was still very tender, it didn't appear to be swollen. She hoped that in a day or two it might heal enough to not impede her, should an opportunity to escape arise.

Finally, she washed her hands and face. Feeling slightly better, she opened the door. Carlita eyed her and then took her arm again, leading her back down the hall. Nat winced slightly as Carlita tightly fastened the cuffs back on her ankle and wrist.

"Can't have you trying to work them off." Carlita said, sneering. "Someone will bring you some food in a while. I suggest you eat when they do." She then turned and left the room.

Nat hoped that the food wouldn't be long in arriving. She'd not eaten in close to twenty-four hours and, for once, she was hungry. She laid her hand on her abdomen and whispered. "Don't worry, we're going to get out of here." She decided to wait until she'd eaten before trying to reach Nick. In the meantime, she'd watch and try to take advantage of any opportunity to escape that might arise. When the door opened and Marika entered with a tray, Nat managed to thank her and then applied herself to the good-sized meal that was on it. Marika stood and watched as she ate, taking the tray and the silverware away as soon as she'd finished.

Alone, Nat made herself as comfortable as possible and then tried to figure out just how one went about using a mental link. Finally, she decided to try just concentrating on Nick and the love they shared. Closing her eyes, she breathed slowly and deeply as she tried to focus her thoughts on him.

Nick arrived at the precinct and walked quickly to his desk. Schanke was nowhere to be seen and Nick could only assume he'd gone back out to try and trace McQuary. Nick had only been there a few minutes when Amanda Cohen approached.

"Nick, would you mind stepping into my office for a few minutes?" She asked.

"Of course, Captain." Nick said, rising and following her to her office.

Cohen closed the door behind them and motioned for Nick to sit. "First, let me say that I hope that Natalie is found quickly. I know that this has to be extremely difficult for you." She said. "I also know that I.A. is going to try and put you through the wringer."

"Thank you." Nick said. He ran his hand through his hair. "Yeah, I already had a run in with Waymire." He added.

"I suppose that Schanke or somebody told you where the car was found." Cohen sighed. Seeing Nick nod in affirmation, she continued. "It's very important that you be able to prove where you were all of last night. I suggest that you go back to your desk and start documenting where you were and anyone that can vouch that you were there."

Nick shook his head. "I guess, as the husband, I'm automatically the prime suspect." He looked earnestly at Cohen. "I swear to you, I didn't have anything to do with this."

Cohen's expression softened. "I believe you. I've seen you and Natalie together and I find it impossible to believe that you would do anything to harm her." She told him, sympathetically. "And I plan to tell I.A. that, too."

Nick managed a small smile of appreciation. "Let's hope they listen." He stood and went back to his desk to begin documenting his movements of the previous night.

He'd nearly finished when Waymire and his partner arrived. Nick knew that it was likely that both I.A. men would concentrate on a forty-five minute gap where no one could vouch for his whereabouts. He'd stopped by the loft for some nourishment, but he couldn't prove that was where he'd been.

"Let's go have a talk." Waymire said, indicating that Nick should follow him to the interrogation room.

Nick picked up his notes and followed the two men into the room. Before the questioning began, Waymire and his cohort read over the report Nick had prepared.

Nick watched as the two I.A. investigators set up a tape recorder and took out notepads.

"This is a record of a conversation between Detective Nicholas B. Knight of the 96th precinct, Ryan Waymire of Internal Affairs and Malcolm Brewer, also of Internal Affairs. It's January 17 and the time is 9:12 pm." Brewer said. "This conversation is a part of the investigation into the disappearance of Natalie Lambert Knight, the wife of Detective Knight."

Nick managed to keep his temper under control as Brewer and Waymire asked how long he'd been a member of the force, how long he'd worked the 96th, and other such things. It wasn't until Waymire began to ask questions about Nick's relationship with Nat, and indicating by his expression and tone of voice his disbelief in Nick's answers, that Nick felt his ire start to rise.

"You wanted out of the marriage, wanted her out of your life, didn't you?" Waymire accused.

Nick fought for control. "NO! I love Nat and I want her found. You talk as if she's dead and I refuse to accept that." He said, his voice rising in anger.

"That's what you were doing during the forty-five minutes between conveniently dropping off your partner and your first stop at the hotels you were suppose to check out." Waymire continued. "You met her and she told you about the baby. You decided that you didn't want to be a daddy so you got rid of her."

Nick started to lunge at Waymire, then froze in shock as his last sentence registered. "What are you talking about? What baby?"

Brewer spoke. "We checked Dr. Lambert's last incoming and outgoing calls on her phone log. She received a call from one Dr. Leona Sims, OB/Gyn. We spoke with Dr. Sims and explained that your wife was missing. Dr. Sims informed us that she'd called Dr. Lambert to tell her that she was pregnant and to have Dr. Lambert arrange for an ultrasound."

Nick sat down. "I didn't talk to Nat after Schanke and I saw her earlier in the evening." He said, his face clearly showing his shock. "I know that Nat hadn't been feeling well the past several weeks, stomach upsets, but I thought it was the stress of Pauline McQuary being on the loose. In fact, Nat had promised me that if she weren't feeling better by the end of the week, she'd see a doctor." He briefly covered his face with his hands. "I don't think either of us ever considered the possibility that she might be pregnant." He fell silent, trying to fully absorb the news.

Brewer looked at Nick closely. He was confused by the image of the blond detective that Waymire had given him and the reality of the man before him. To Brewer, Nick's shock at learning that Nat was pregnant seemed genuine and not at all the reaction of a 'cold, unfeeling, brute', as Waymire had called Nick.

Nick suddenly stood. "Am I under arrest?"

"No." Brewer replied.

"Good, then this interview is over." Nick said, then turned, and walked quickly from the room. He headed straight through the precinct and out to the Caddy. Getting in the car, he drove quickly away from the station and headed to the loft. His senses told him that no mortal was around to see him so, unwilling to take the time to use the lift, Nick flew to the roof and entered by way of the skylight.

Grabbing the Yellow Pages from the drawer he kept it in, Nick opened it and soon found Dr. Leona Sims' listing. He noted that the small advertisement stated that she kept evening hours three days a week. He glanced at his watch. It was only 7:45pm. Dialing the number listed, Nick hoped that this was one of those evenings. After several rings, the phone was answered by a cheerful voice on an answering machine.

Nick almost slammed the phone down in frustration, when he realized what the voice was saying. "If this is an emergency, please call 555-2842". Nick snorted. 'If this doesn't qualify as an emergency, I don't know what would.' He thought, rapidly dialing that number. It turned out to be the doctor's answering service. Nick left his name and number along with a brief message that he needed to speak with Dr. Sims concerning his wife, Natalie Lambert Knight. Then he hung up and began to wait.

He got a bottle of blood from the fridge and yanked out the cork. Not bothering with a glass, he drank deeply straight from the bottle. LaCroix had always said that vampires could not father children, so how could Nat possibly be pregnant? He knew, without any doubt that she hadn't been with anyone else, so if she were pregnant, it had to be with his child. Nick sat the thought of a child, a baby, overwhelming his emotions. His love for Nat, and by extension their child, was even more powerful than his beast's cravings. He didn't care how it had happened. He merely wanted it to be true and to have Nat home, safe, in his arms. He realized that blood red tears were running down his checks, the result of both great happiness and great despair. When the phone finally rang, he answered it on the first ring.

"Detective Knight? This is Leona Sims." Nick could hear the wariness in her voice.

"Thank you for returning my call, Dr. Sims. As you know from speaking with Officers Brewer and Waymire, Nat is missing. I'm not sure what they may have told you about me, but I swear to you I had nothing to do with Nat's disappearance." Nick said. He paused for a momentthen added. "I love her. She's not just my wife, she's the other half of my soul."

There was a longer pause before Dr. Sims responded. "I want to believe you. Natalie isn't just my patient; we've been friends for a number of years. I have to say that the way she described you didn't jive with what that Officer Waymire said about you." She said, her voice more compassionate. "Listen, I have about another hour before I'm off for the night, assuming none of my patients decide to go into labor. Give me about fifteen minutes to get there after that and I'll meet you at the Second Cup on Bloor St. W., between Madison and Spadina." She said.

"Thank you. I'll be there." Nick instantly responded. "I really do appreciate this."

"I'll see you then. I'll be wearing a blue pantsuit with a yellow blouse." Goodbye." Sims told him before hanging up.

After a glance in the mirror, Nick decided that he had better take the time to shower and change his clothes before meeting Dr. Sims. Thirty minutes later, he went down to the garage. Before getting into the Caddy, he listened carefully, and his sensitive ears detected the sound of two human heartbeats. He realized that either, Waymire and Brewer were watching to see if he went out, or, more likely, they'd assigned someone else to do so. Nick smiled grimly and headed back up stairs. He did not want them to know he was meeting Leona Sims. While they might be watching for the Caddy, he doubted they'd be keeping watch on the sky. Exiting the loft through the skylight, he flew toward Bloor.

Nick landed a few blocks from his destination, in a small, dark alley, then made his way on foot to the coffee bar. He only been inside the shop for a minute or two when the door opened and a woman in a blue pantsuit and yellow blouse entered.

"Dr. Sims?" Nick asked politely. At her nod, he continued. "I'm Nick. Thank you again for meeting me like this."

Leona looked carefully at Nick. "Let's get our drinks and then sit down." She approached the counter and ordered a caramel latte. "Aren't you having something?" She asked Nick.

"I don't think my stomach could handle anything right now." Nick said honestly, as they walked over to a small corner table. Once they were seated Nick spoke. "Are you positive that Nat is pregnant? The reason I'm asking is that I'd been led to believe that I couldn't have children."

"That's pretty much what Natalie said when I told her." Sims replied. "But, in answer to your question, yes, I'm positive that she's pregnant. I double checked the test results myself." She watched Nick keenly for his reaction.

"A baby." Nick smiled at her. "My one concern in marrying Nat was that I didn't think I could give her a child. To know that I have means more to me than you can ever imagine." He sobered. "She has to be alright. I have to find her."

"I'm glad that I agreed to meet you. I believe you and I hope that my telling the officers hasn't caused additional problems for you." Sims told Nick. "When Officer Waymire called me, he said that Natalie was missing, possibly dead and that you were the most likely suspect." She added in way of explanation.

"I swear to you, I would die before I would ever harm Nat in any way." Nick said quietly.

"I know that she was very excited and happy to learn she was pregnant. She was surprised, for the same reason you were, but she seemed certain that you would be as happy about it as she was." Dr. Sims remarked. "I hope she's found soon and that she's okay."

"I'm going to do anything in my power to see that happen." Nick said. He stood. "Thank you again, doctor."

She smiled at him. "Call me Leona. Natalie does."

Nick gave her a small smile. "Thank you, Leona." He walked quickly to the door and left. Outside, he retraced his steps to the alley and, once there, took again to the sky.

Minutes later, he walked through the door of The Raven. Nick paused to scan the room until he located Janette, who was seated in a far corner, and then made his way toward her.

Janette glanced up just as Nick reached the table she was at. One look at his face told her that something was seriously amiss. "Nicholas? What has happened, mon frere?" She inquired anxiously.

"Nat didn't come home this morning. They found her car and purse abandoned in a parking lot." Nick said as he sat down. "Janette, I'm afraid that whoever's been doing these killings has her."

Janette's eyes widened slightly. "Why Nat?" She asked, then answered her own question. "Unless they learned of her from that woman. Yes, that sort of thing might fit with whoever this is." She reached over and took Nick's hand. "You did see LaCroix tonight?"

"Yes. It seems that there have been a number of other killings that weren't discovered by the police. One a week for the past couple of months." Nick told her. "LaCroix said he was going to call for outside help."

"Good. If the killings are only happening once a week, then we have some time to locate Natalie." Janette said.

"We?" Nick asked.

"Yes. You don't think that I wouldn't help? Get me a photo of Natalie and I'll make sure that all of my special customers know to keep alert for any hint of her whereabouts." She told Nick.

"Thank you." He reached into his pocket for his wallet and removed a small photo of Nat. Handing it to Janette, he told her, "Use this one tonight and I'll bring a larger one to you tomorrow."

"Stop at a copy store on your way with it and make a hundred copies or so. I'll pass them out." Janette said. "Have you tried to reach her mentally?"

Nick shook his head. "I haven't had time and the link I have with her isn't as strong as the one between vampires. She's never tasted my blood, so I'm not even sure it will work." He thought for moment. "I will try it. I don't know what else to do." He told Janette about his encounter with I.A., but didn't mention Nat's pregnancy.

When he rose to leave Janette asked, "May I tell LaCroix?"

Nick nodded. "No reason not to. I suspect that this is going to be in the news tomorrow, so he'll learn about it anyway. Maybe he'll have some ideas on how to locate her."

Janette stood also and kissed Nick on the cheek. "Try to get some rest. Natalie is strong, intelligent, and aware of with what she's dealing. If there is any chance of escape, she'll find it. And in the meantime, we'll be looking for her." She watched with a surprising sense of sadness and concern as Nick left the club. Taking a deep breath, she began to circulate around the room, showing the photo and speaking to the non-mortal patrons.

*********************Ten nights later****************************

Natalie had lain awake for most of the day. She'd slept poorly for the past five days, ever since the death of the unknown man that had been the most recent victim of the rogue group. A shudder ran through her as she recalled the anguished screams he'd made and how those screams had been abruptly silenced. One by one that night, their victim's blood still staining their lips, her four captors had made a point of coming into the room she occupied. The women only smiled and licked the blood from their lips, but the men had spoken of what they planned to do to her before she was rendered unconscious from the slow draining of her life's blood.

Nat knew that, unless she was found tonight, this would be her last night of life. She had all but given up hope that Nick would be able to locate her. She'd tried, and failed, to use the fragile link between them. Once, the night before this, she'd thought for a moment that she'd succeeded. She'd been concentrating on Nick, picturing his beloved face and remembering the scent of his after-shave, when she'd suddenly felt the wonderful sense of love and completeness that she always knew when they were together. The unexpected sensation had startled her so much that she'd inadvertently opened her eyes and lost whatever contact she might have made. She'd broken down and cried at that point, aching for the comfort she'd felt so briefly. She was determined to try again tonight and, this time, to not fail for her own sake and that of her unborn child.

Nat knew that if she were to have any chance of success, she would have to bring the fear that threatened to consume her under control. She knew that she couldn't totally remove it, but hoped that she could somehow use it to enhance the strength of the link. "No time like the present." She muttered and, making herself as comfortable as possible, concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply.

After several minutes, she allowed her thoughts to turn to Nick. She was just beginning to drift into a deeper meditation when the door to her room opened and Pete entered breaking the mood.

"Time for your daily walk down the hall and then some dinner." He said, moving to undo the bonds on her ankle and wrist. As usual, when he was the one to do this, he ran his hands along the curves of her body. "Tomorrow is your big night. Too bad you won't be around to hear how we rate you afterwards." He whispered in her ear.

Nat flinched as she felt his breath and then the touch of his lips on the soft skin where her jaw ended. She clinched her teeth as she felt his hand on her breast. "If you harm me, Nick will track you down and kill you all even if it takes him a thousand years." She hissed at Pete. "The only way that you'll escape him is if the Enforcers find you first." She glared at him, letting her disgust show in her eyes.

"I'll take my chances. We've been together for nearly ten years now and nobody's been able to stop us yet." Pete said, smirking at her. "You're going to be a lot of fun." He added, finishing with the locks and pulling her to her feet. He led her out of the room and to the bathroom.

Nat entered and closed the door behind her. She used the facilities and then washed as best she could. She longed for a hot bath, a shampoo, and some clean clothes. She turned as she heard the door opening.

"Time's up, back to your room." Pete said reaching for her arm.

After enduring more of Pete's pawing while he refastened her bonds, Nat was relieved when it was Marika who appeared with her dinner. Even though she didn't really have much appetite, Nat dutifully ate the food. She might still get a chance to escape and she didn't want to be too weak from hunger to take advantage of it. Finally, she heard the others leaving and was again able to try and make contact with Nick.

LaCroix and Janette stepped out of the lift into the dimly lit loft. Janette made a small sound of distress and LaCroix's brow creased in a frown as they gazed across the room at Nick. He sat dejectedly on the couch. His clothes were rumpled, his hair uncombed, and several days of beard stubble was clearly visible on his face.

"What do you want?" Nick asked. He'd spent the eleven nights out searching for Nat, returning barely before the sunrise. His days were spent in agony, wondering if she were injured, praying she was still alive. He had not permitted himself to wonder if the baby had survived this ordeal. He barely fed, slept only fitfully and that, combined with the mental effort of trying to reach Nat through their link, had left him drawn and haggard.

"Nicholas, we hadn't seen or heard from you," Janette paused, "since that man was found last week. We are concerned for your health."

"Nicholas, you are not doing yourself or Natalie any good by neglecting your wellbeing." LaCroix added. "Have you been able to make any contact through your link with Natalie?" He asked.

Nick shook his head. "Last night, for just a moment, I thought I felt her." He gave a bitter laugh. "But I don't know if it was real or just my wanting it to be." He rubbed his forehead with his fingers. "Where is she? Why can't anyone find her? If it's the rogue that has her, and he keeps to the same pattern, then she's got to be found tonight or it's going to be her corpse that we find." He said, anger, frustration, and despair evident in his voice.

"Perhaps if Janette and I join with you we can enhance the strength of the link." LaCroix suggested, quietly.

"You would do that?" Nick asked, hopefully.

"Mais oui, of course we would." Janette said. "Nicholas, we are your family and we do want to help."

"If we can get some indication of where she is, I can relay that to the Enforcers." LaCroix stated. "They arrived at sundown and while they are even now searching, there is a lot of area to be covered and very little time in which to do so." He nodded to Janette and they crossed the room to sit near Nick. In a few moments, they had joined mentally and with their combined strength, began to concentrate on Natalie.

Nat was again in a near trance state. She could almost feel Nick beside her. 'Nick? Please be able to hear me.' She thought. Suddenly she felt the warmth she'd experienced the night before. Her breath caught slightly, but this time she didn't break the contact. 'Nick!' She cried silently. She tried to think of all that had happened to her and to give Nick what little she knew about where she was being held.

At the loft, Nick suddenly sat up straight. "Nat! Are you hurt? Where are you my love?" He said out loud. He could sense the bright glow of her love and the pain of his soul eased slightly. He probed deeper into the link and, in a rush of emotions, felt her frustration at not knowing exactly where she was, her longing for him, and her fear of what would be her fate. He also got the sense of more than one vampire being involved. He tried to send her reassurance and love. When the link began to fade, Nick cried out in anguish at the loss. "No! Nat, I love you, please, know that I love you!" He moaned as the delicate link dissolved.

Janette moved to put her arms around Nick's shoulders, holding him as he buried his face in his hands. "Nicholas, she's alive. We know that now." She told him.

LaCroix stood. "Yes, we do and we know a great deal more." He'd not been as effected by the emotions that had flooded the link and had been able to better grasp the far more important information the experience had provided. "I got the sense of her being taken to the northwest of where she was abducted, a fairly good distance. I also sensed that we are not dealing with a rogue vampire, but a band of rogues." He looked at Janette and motioned for her to come with him. At the door to the lift he told her, "Stay here with Nicholas. Try to get him to eat. I'll go out with the Enforcers and search." He glanced again at his son, then left.

Nat slumped, exhausted from the strain of trying to maintain the link. Her heart ached to be with Nick, but she also felt more hopeful than she had during the entire ordeal. Maybe, just maybe, she'd been able to provide enough information. She closed her eyes and rested.

As dawn neared and she heard her captors return despair again threatened to overwhelm her. She looked up when the door to her room opened and Carlita entered with a longhaired male vampire that Nat had not seen before. Nat noticed that he had very large, soft brown eyes and that he seemed to blink a lot.

"She's the guest of honor and the main course for our party tomorrow, Jorge." Carlita purred as she hung onto the arm of the stranger. "If you join with us, you can have something like this every other week." Carlita giggled. "Marika and I get to have a man on the week in between." She explained.

"Who is she?" Jorge asked. His voice was soft and Nat thought she heard a note of compassion in it. She met his eyes.

"Who cares? She's just a mortal who is going to be dinner for us." Carlita said, shrugging. Sounds from the hall drew her attention. "Come on and meet the rest of the group."

Nat watched as Carlita turned and exited. Jorge gave her a long look, as if studying her face, before he too, left. Nat heard Carlita's voice in the hall. "Pete, come meet Jorge. I met him tonight at a club. Where are the others? I want them to meet him, too." Her voice grew fainter as she moved down the hall.

Nat was lying awake, about two hours after sunrise, when she heard a sound at the door. Sitting up her eyes widened as Jorge entered the room.

"Who are you?" He asked.

"I'm Natalie Lambert Knight." She replied. "Who are you?"

A soft smile graced the vampire's lips. " I thought that's who you might be. You can call me Jorge." He walked toward her.

Nat felt her heart quicken with fear. He apparently heard it too, as he added. "I'm not going to hurt you. In fact, I'm going to help you get out of here." Nat watched as he twisted the locks open, freeing her.

"I'd advise that you stay here and try to rest today. The weather is very cold and there's been a heavy snow. This place is isolated and you'd probably freeze if you tried to walk out." Jorge told her. "The others are very young, the oldest isn't more than fifty years old, and they're still too weak to deal with any sunlight. They can't stay awake when it rises and they will not awake till it's set completely. I'm a quite a bit older and, with the overcast sky and the woods for protection, I can get you out of here at good hour before full sunset."

"Thank you." Nat could feel tears threatening. In an effort to control her emotions she asked, "How did you know me?"

"A lady named Janette has been showing your picture to her customers and asking all of us to keep a lookout for you." Jorge said. "I gather she's a friend of yours."

Nat managed a chuckle. "Actually, she more like my sister-in-law. Both she and my husband have the same sire, Lucien LaCroix."

It was Jorge's turn to look slightly stunned. "You're married to one of us?"

Nat nodded.

Jorge smiled. "Get some rest. I'll be back about an hour before sunset."

Nat debated whether she should trust him. She decided, at last, to at least wait till late afternoon. If he didn't return, she'd leave then. She lay down and closed her eyes.

Nat was still asleep when she felt someone touch her shoulder. Opening her eyes, she saw Jorge's long, dark hair and large, brown eyes.

"It's time to get ready to leave." He said.

Nat sat up. "Just let me use the bathroom." She said.

He nodded. "I found that. I figured it might be yours." He said pointing to what was indeed Nat's coat lying on the foot of the bed.

"Yes, it is, thank you. I'll only be a minute." Nat told him and hurried to the bathroom. In only a minute or so she was back. Picking up her coat, she quickly put it on and followed him through the house to the door. Nat noticed that he grimaced slightly as they exited, but she didn't see any sign of smoke which would have indicated that he was in danger.

"You're sure you can take this much light?" She inquired.

"It's not comfortable, but, yes, I can manage." Jorge replied.

Nat looked at the piles of snow and braced herself for cold, wet feet. It had been dry when she'd been kidnapped and she only had on sneakers.

"It'll take to long for you to try and walk through that." Jorge said, indicating the snow. "I'll carry you to where we left my bike."

Nat nodded in agreement and he lifted her in his arms. Floating just above the snow, it was only a minute of so until they reached a small road. Jorge put her down and went behind a stand of holly bushes, emerging a moment later with a motorcycle. He handed her a helmet. "Here, put this on." Nat did so and then climbed on the bike behind him, wrapping her arms around him. He started the bike and they swiftly left the house behind them. They'd been traveling for about thirty minutes when they came to a small combination gas station and convenience store. Jorge pulled into the parking lot, near some pay phones. "I'd prefer to not be involve with the mortal authorities." He said. "You can call for assistance from here. I'll stick around, out of sight and make sure that you're safe till it arrives."

"I can understand that. You've been more than kind. I'll be sure to let Nick know that you literally saved my life. I'll tell the authorities that I managed to get loose and make my way here." Nat said, as she reached for the phone and dialed 911. When the operator answered, Nat gave her name and that she had just escaped from a kidnapping. "I have to ask," she said. "Why did you put yourself through discomfort for someone you don't know?"

Jorge gave her a soft smile. "I have killed during my existence, but I kill only to live. That group lives only to kill. When I accepted Carlita's invitation to spend the day with her, I didn't know that she had such little value for life. I do not like to see innocent life lost and even if you were not an innocent, the child you're carrying is."

"How do you know I'm pregnant?" Nat asked, stunned.

"I can hear the heartbeat. It's just barely perceptible right now, even by one of us, because the child is so small, but it has a strong, steady rhythm." He replied. He cocked his head and listened. "You better go inside the store. I can hear a siren approaching."

"Thank you, again." Nat said. She watched as he took the bike and disappeared into the trees, then made her way to the store to await the police.

Fifteen minutes later, she was seated in the rear seat of a R.C.M.P. cruiser and on her way to Toronto General Hospital. She didn't look back as the car pulled away and didn't see her rescuer approach the phones and dial a number.

Jorge spoke softly into the phone. "I know where the ones that have been endangering the community can be found."

"Do you know if my husband had been notified that I've been found?" Nat asked as the R.C.M.P. car pulled into the emergency entrance to the hospital.

"We've notified Metro Toronto police, ma'am." The driver replied. "I'm sure they'll tell your husband." Shutting off the motor, he turned in his seat and smiled. "I also requested that Dr. Sims be notified that you were being brought here. I'll come around and open your door so they can get you inside."

Nat looked out and saw several emergency room personnel approaching the car. "Thank you. You've been very kind." She told the R.C.M.P. officer. When he opened the door, she let them help her from the car and into a wheelchair. As she was rapidly taken through the waiting area to the E. R., she scanned the waiting people for Nick's face.

Don Schanke had just sat down at his desk when the phone rang. Answering it, he listened for a moment and then a broad grin split his face. "Thanks! That's the best news I've had in weeks!" He told the caller before he hung up. "Captain! They've found Natalie and she's alive!" He shouted as he started to dial Nick's number. He couldn't wait to tell Knight the good news. Just as he hit the last digit in the phone number, he was shocked as Cohen suddenly depressed the receiver button, disconnecting the call. "What are you doing?" Schanke all but demanded.

"I'm sorry, but I've gotten strict orders that Nick isn't to be notified until I.A. has seen Natalie." Cohen said. She saw the look of disbelief and anger on Schanke's face. "I don't like it either, but we have to obey it."

"That damn Waymire just won't let up! The last thing that Natalie is going to need is him harping at her." Schanke exploded. "Nick has been going crazy with worry about her, he deserves to know that she's alive!"

"Personally, I agree, but we can't be the ones to let him know." Cohen said, her face showing how unhappy she was with the orders. She paused as if thinking, then continued, "I would imagine that Natalie could use a change of clothing. If I recall she once said that she keeps an 'emergency' set of clothes at her office."

Schanke calmed down a bit and shook his head in agreement. "Why don't I run over to the morgue, let Grace know what's happened and get her to give me the clothes? I'll run them over to the hospital myself." He said watching Cohen, carefully.

"I think that's an excellent idea." Cohen said nodding. I.A. couldn't control whether Grace phoned Nick. To be absolutely certain that Schanke understood, she added, "Be sure to let her know exactly what the situation is, so she'll cooperate."

Schanke grinned and grabbed his coat. "I'm on my way."

Nick was sitting, staring at the flames in the fireplace, when the phone rang.

"Aren't you going to answer that?" Janette inquired. At LaCroix's suggestion, she'd spent the day at the loft with Nick, managing to get him to drink about one half of a bottle of blood.

Nick just shook his head negatively. He didn't move until he heard Grace's voice on the answering machine. "Nick! Are you there? Pick up the phone, they've found Natalie!"

In an instant, Nick had the phone to his ear. "Grace? Where is she? Is she alright?" He said hurriedly.

"She seems to be okay. Schanke was just here to get some spare clothes that Natalie keeps at the office and told me that the R.C.M.P had picked her up near a small store northwest of the city. He said they were taking her to Toronto General to be checked out and for I. A. to interview, but that she didn't appear to be injured." Grace said, her voice full of joy. "Nick, Schanke also said that someone in I.A. issued orders that nobody in the police department was to let you know that she'd been found until that person who issued the order gave permission to do so." Grace added, wanting Nick to know why she, and not Schanke or Cohen was delivering this information.

Nick shut his eyes in relief. "Thanks, Grace. I'm heading over there now." He told her, then hung up. He turned to Janette. "I've got to get over to Toronto General. Contact LaCroix and tell him to concentrate the search for whoever took her northwest of the city." He grabbed his keys from the table.

"I will. Nick, I'm glad that she's been found and that she's alive." Janette said.

Nick smiled and lifted his hand in farewell, skipping the lift he ran down the stairs to the car. A minute later, he was driving toward the hospital and Nat.

Schanke walked into the emergency room and up to the admissions desk. Showing his police identification, he asked, "Natalie Knight?"

The woman at the desk consulted the papers in front of her. "They've moved her to the fifth floor, room 523. There are already two officers with her." She added, pointedly.

Schanke just grinned. "Well, there are about to be three officers with her." He said and headed to the elevators. On the fifth floor, he found a nurse and asked where Natalie's room was. Following her directions, he opened the door without knocking.

In front of him he saw Waymire and Brewer standing just past the foot of the hospital bed. Nat was sitting up in the bed, looking very vulnerable in the cotton hospital gown she wore, but with an expression of anger clearly visible on her face. As he entered, she swung her gaze in his direction, her expression full of hope and longing. It tore at Schanke's heart to see the pain in her eyes when she realized that Nick was not with him. Schanke crossed to the bed, and bending over, kissed Nat's cheek. Making sure his back was to Waymire and Brewer he told her. "Man, am I glad to see you." He held up the bag he was carrying. "I stopped over at your office and Grace gave me these for you. Captain Cohen figured you might like some clean clothes." He carefully mouthed the words: 'Grace called Nick.'

Nat felt relief wash over her as Schanke delivered his message. The sun was fully set by now and, until she was with Nick, she feared that somehow the group of rogues would again find her. Taking his hand, she gave it a squeeze. Aloud she said, "Thanks, Schanke. I'm afraid that the outfit I wore in here has seen better days." She shifted her gaze back to the other two men in the room. "Now, if I can just persuade those two to get out of here and leave me alone, I'll be much happier."

Schanke also turned to look at Brewer and Waymire. He noticed that while Brewer looked decidedly uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassed, Waymire was so red in the face with rage that Schanke wondered if the man would burst a blood vessel.

"We're not going anywhere until you tell us exactly where you've been and what part your husband had in your disappearance." Waymire growled.

"And I've told you I don't know exactly where I was, just that it was somewhere northwest of the city. I've also told you, as clearly as I possibly can," Nat's voice rose slightly, her anger with Waymire clearly audible, "that in spite of what you choose to think Nick had nothing to do with any of this." She suddenly gave Waymire an odd look and then asked Schanke. "Schanke, did the department notify Nick that I've been found?"

"No, someone in I.A. left orders that he was not to be notified until they gave the okay." Schanke said. "I think we can all guess who issued that order." He looked at Waymire in disgust.

"Yes, I issued it! I knew the hospital wouldn't keep her room a secret from him, especially the way she was carrying on and insisting that she wanted him with her." Waymire yelled at Schanke. He turned to Nat, adding, "I'm not about to let you and Knight get together to cook up some story until you've answered my questions to MY satisfaction."

Brewer gave Waymire a look of disbelief. "I've suspected from the start of all this that you've had a personal vendetta against Detective Knight and now I'm sure of it. You have no right to withhold information that his wife has been found or to keep her incommunicado." He turned to Schanke and Nat. "I'm sorry. I had no idea that such an order had been issued. If you'll give me your phone number, Mrs. Knight, I'll go call your husband myself."

Nat barely glanced at Brewer. "It's 555-2794." She glared at Waymire. "As for you, get out of my room!" She demanded, clinching her hands into fists. "I can't believe that you are so bent in trying to prove this fallacy that Nick is responsible for what happened to me that you would try and prevent him from knowing that I'm safe. How can you justify putting him through one extra minute of not knowing that I'm okay?" She added, her voice dripping with disgust.

Brewer had just reached the door when it opened and he found himself face to face with Nick Knight. Brewer took one look at the expression on Knight's face and hastily moved to one side.

All the way to the hospital, Nick had played over in his mind what Grace had told and his rage toward Waymire, for he had no doubt that had been who'd issued the order, had grown with each passing minute. He parked the Caddy and raced to the entrance to the building. Inside, he'd been fortunate enough to encounter Dr. Sims, and had learned from her what room Nat was in. As he neared the room, Nick could hear Nat's voice. Rushing through the door, Nick barely noticed Brewer, Schanke, and Waymire. All of his attention was focused on the slender figure in the bed. "Nat." He breathed her name, his voice so full of emotion he could barely speak. A few rapid steps took him to the bedside where he gently, as if afraid that by touching her she might vanish, caressed Nat's face with his hand. He saw Nat attempt a smile. "I'm okay," she managed to say, then her face crumpled in tears and she reached out to him. Moving closer, Nick enfolded her in his arms as she buried her face against his chest. Feeling his own eyes filling with tears, Nick squeezed them shut and laid his cheek against the top of Nat's hair. "Nat, my love. Oh, Natalie I was afraid I'd lost you." He murmured as she sobbed in his arms. He could feel the hot wetness of her tears and he held her closer, one hand gently rubbing her back. Her scent filled his head and her heartbeat echoed in his ears. Listening carefully, he could hear beneath it the softer, faster heartbeat of the child she carried and he felt the cold lump of fear that had been in his chest ease.

Brewer watched as Knight approached the bedside. He saw in Nick's face and heard in his voice the profound relief that Nick was feeling. He saw the same look of relief replace the anger in Nat's face. The look of intense love and devotion that passed between the two was almost tangible and Brewer, feeling like a voyeur, walked back to where Waymire stood. Grabbing his partner by the arm, Brewer hissed, "If you can't see that those two people love one another, then at least I can." When Waymire tried to pull free of his grip, Brewer looked at Schanke. "Help me get him out of here so that they can have some privacy." Schanke nodded and grabbed Waymire's other arm and they led him, protesting from the room. Schanke glanced back a smile of satisfaction on his face at the sight of Nick holding Nat in a loving embrace.

Nat felt her fear fade once Nick's arms were around her. She clung to him, letting the familiar warmth she always felt in his presence fill her, and, gradually after several minutes, her sobs eased. Sniffling, she pulled away from him just enough to be able to look up into his eyes. "You look so tired." She said softly, as she took in the rumpled state of his hair, clothing, and the even more pronounced paleness of his skin. She saw him smile back at her.

"I'm fine." He assured her, kissing her softly. "Nat, I was so worried. Are you okay?"

"I am now." She said. She quickly told him about the group of rogue vampires that had taken her and approximately where the house she'd been kept in was. She also told him how Schanke arrived and challenged Waymire. Then she swallowed and, looking into his eyes, said, "Nick, there is something that I have to tell you." She took a deep breath and then said, very softly, "I'm pregnant."

Nick hugged her a bit tighter. "I know." At her startled look, he told her of how he'd learned of her condition from Waymire and then of his meeting with Leona Sims. "Nat, I'm not sure how this has happened, but knowing that we're going to have a child makes me almost as happy as having you as my wife."

Nat smiled and relaxed in his arms. "I don't know exactly how this happened either, but I'm so very glad it has." She said. "That was one thing that had me so frightened when I was being held, that you might never know about the baby."

A knock at the door drew both of their attentions. A moment later, it opened and a smiling Leona Sims entered. "Everything looks fine, with the exception of your knee. I had one of the orthopedics take a look at the x-ray and, while you've got some damage there and eventually you'll need to have it taken care of, it's nothing that can't wait until it's convenient for you." She said. "So, if you," she pointed at Nick, "will promise to see that Nat takes it easy for the next several days, and you," she pointed to Nat, "promise that you'll bein my office Monday evening, I'll discharge you."

"I promise." Both Nick and Nat said in unison.

"Um, what exactly do you mean by take it easy?" Nat asked.

"Don't be lifting any heavy objects, stay home from work, no mountain climbing, skiing, etc. Basically, use your common sense and if in doubt, don't." Leona said. "You're not on bedrest, so you can do most other activities, including," she grinned, "marital relations, providing you don't try some of the more exotic positions in the Karma Sutra."

Nat blushed slightly and laughed. "I promise, no Karma Sutra."

"Okay, I'll go finish up your paperwork. You can get dressed and a nurse will be in to take you to the exit." She turned to leave, then stopped. "Oh, I nearly forgot, two of your earlier visitors asked if it would be okay to come back in for just a minute. One of them said his name was, Schanke?"

Nat glanced at Nick, then nodded. "Yes, tell them they can come in."

A moment later, Schanke and Brewer entered the room. Brewer spoke first. "I just want to apologize to both of you. I didn't realize what Waymire was up to and I want you both to know that I plan to write a formal complaint against him." He paused, then looked at Nat, and added. "If, when you've had a chance to rest, you'd stop by and make a formal statement concerning what happened to you, it would be appreciated."

"Yes, I'll be glad to do that, perhaps on Tuesday. My doctor wants me to stay quiet for the next few days." Nat said.

Nick held out his hand to Brewer. "Thank you. I appreciate that it's not easy to disbelieve what your partner tells you. I'm sorry that we had to meet under these circumstances." The two men shook hands,each with a new respect for the other. Giving a final nod to Nat and Schanke, Brewer left.

Schanke spoke up. "I just wanted to say again how happy I am that you're back and safe, Nat. Nick, I'm glad that the mess with I.A. looks like it's over. Frankly, after his performance during all this, I doubt that Waymire is going to last on the force." He snorted. "I for one won't be sorry to see him go. Brewer seems like he's basically a pretty good guy. Took a bit of character to apologize like that," he continued. "How long are they going to keep you here, Nat?" Schanke inquired.

"I'm getting to go home tonight, as soon as the paperwork is finished." She said. "Thanks to you and Grace, I'll have some clean clothes to wear."

"Actually, it was the Captain's idea. She hated not being able to call Nick and figured that if I told Grace what was going on, Grace would follow through." Schanke said, looking pleased.

"I'll have to be sure and thank the Captain." Nick said. "But I want to add my thanks to Nat's. She told me about you trying to protect her from Waymire tonight and I appreciate how you never stopped supporting me during all this." He gave Schanke a boyish grin. "Guess it's a good thing that nobody obliged me when I asked someone to shoot me that night that Stonetree made us partners."

Schanke laughed. "Yeah, I'd have hated to lose a good partner and friend before I'd had a chance to get to know him. Well, I'd better get back to the precinct and fill Cohen in on all that's happened tonight." He gave them both a wave and headed out of the door.

"I'd better get dressed. I want to get out of here the minute that nurse shows up." Nat said. She took the bag and went into the bathroom. A few minutes later she emerged dressed, just as the nurse with the wheelchair arrived. A quick trip down in the elevator followed by a short walk to where the Caddy was parked and they were on their way to the loft.

Neither talked during the drive, content to just be with one another. Riding up in the lift, Nick put his arm around Nat's waist. She leaned lightly against him, enjoying the closeness. It was only when the lift stopped, and Nick opened the door, that he realized that there were others, all vampires, in the loft. Instantly, he allowed his own beast to emerge at the same time stepping in front of Nat to try and protect her. His heart gave a lurch as he saw, in addition to LaCroix and Janette, two Enforcers.

"Nicholas, you can relax. They're not here to do any harm, only to obtain some information." LaCroix said, stepping forward. He nodded at Nat. "I am pleased that you are unharmed." He told her.

"Information about what?" Nick asked warily.

"The location where Natalie was held has been found and those found inside dealt with," LaCroix said. "They," he inclined his head toward the two Enforcers, "merely wish to be certain that all of the rogues have been removed."

"How many did they find." Nat inquired.

"Four. Two men and two women." LaCroix said. "The question arose because there was the memory of a third man, in the blood of the others. Someone called Jorge."

"He wasn't a part of that group." Nat said. "He arrived just before dawn today with the woman name Carlita. When he realized what was happening and recognized me, he helped me to escape." She briefly recounted the events of the past twenty-four hours. When she had finished, she looked directly at the Enforcers. "I know that he wasn't a part of the group, because I heard Carlita introducing him to the others."

The Enforcers exchanged glances then looked at LaCroix. After a minute, one of them inclined his head slightly to Nat and then both departed via the skylight.

"Will they pursue Jorge?" Nat asked.

"No. They are convinced now that he must have been the person that called The Raven and provided directions to the house. He's quite safe from them." LaCroix told her. He suddenly gave her a sharp look. "How interesting. Nicholas, you must have become more generous lately."

"What do you mean by that, LaCroix?" Nick asked.

"You are aware that your wife is with child, aren't you?" LaCroix said with a snide tone to his voice. "I'm assuming that you willingly 'shared' her with some mortal." He paused then, added, "Or has she cuckold you?

Nat started as if slapped. She heard Janette gasp.

"I have not been unfaithful to Nick." Nat said. "This is his child." She felt Nick gently grasp her shoulders.

"The child is mine, LaCroix, no matter what you choose to think." Nick said quietly. "Even if I didn't trust Nat, and I do trust her, have you forgotten that I taste her blood? I would know if she had been unfaithful to me, in any manner. I can assure you that she has not."

"Vampires cannot father children." LaCroix said, coldly.

"But Nick has." Nat said. "I think that it may be a case, not of male vampires being incapable of fathering children, but rather that the mortal woman doesn't survive the encounter long enough for anyone to know that she's pregnant."

"That could be," Janette said, unexpectedly. "It is extremely rare for a mortal to survive even one encounter of that intensity. Until you and Nick, all I'd ever hear of such things happening were just rumors." She told Nat.

"Perhaps." LaCroix conceded. "I guess we shall have to wait and see once the child is born."

Janette walked over and took LaCroix's arm. "I think that we should leave. Natalie must be anxious to rest. She has, after all, been through a terrible ordeal."

Nat gave her a grateful smile. "I am rather tired." She admitted.

"And she's suppose to be taking it easy." Nick added. He guided her to the couch. "Janette, thank you for all of your help."

"Yes, Janette, thank you for showing my picture. That was how Jorge knew who I was," Nat said, "and for not doubting my word."

Nick nodded to LaCroix, "I also thank you for your assistance, but do not ever again question my wife's loyalty or faithfulness to me." He said.

"As I said, Nicholas, we will know for certain when the child is born." LaCroix said, hautily. Without waiting for a response, he left. Janette gave Nick and Nat an apologetic look and followed.

Nick joined Nat on the couch. She snuggled close to him and laid her head on his shoulder. They just sat for several minutes, relishing being together. Finally, Nat spoke. "Thank you for defending me to LaCroix." She said.

"I meant every word, Nat." He tilted her head to look into her eyes and gently laid his hand on her abdomen. "I love you and I love our child. I have no doubt that this is our child, either." He hugged her tightly. "When you were missing, I felt as if I weren't whole. I felt like all the light and joy had left my life. I don't know if I could have survived if I'd lost you."

Nat felt the last small knot of worry dissolve with his words. She kissed his cheek, then chuckled and made a face as she encountered the scratchy growth of his beard. "If you don't shave soon, my lips aren't going to survive."

Nick laughed. "Yeah, I guess I'm a bit scruffy." He admitted. "Why don't we go on upstairs? Might I interest you in joining me in a nice hot shower?"

"Mmm, that does sound wonderful. I've been dreaming of a hot shower for over a week." Nat said. The idea of being thoroughly clean was immensely appealing.

They rose and headed up the stairs, their arms about each other's waists and Nat leaning slightly against Nick. There, Nick went into the bath and started the water running while Nat undressed and found a thick warm robe to put on after bathing. She joined Nick in the bathroom, stepping gratefully under the hot spray of water. The warmth seemed to sap the remainder of her strength and she leaned against the shower wall.

Nick quickly removed his clothes and joined Nat in the shower. He could see how tired she was. "Just give me a moment and then I'll take care of you." He told her. She smiled and nodded. Getting his razor from a shelf, he shaved, then quickly soaped, and rinsed himself.

He took Nat in his arms and placed a soft kiss on her lips. Picking up the soap, he began to tenderly wash her. He felt her relax against him. As he soaped her arms, he noticed the redness on her wrist where she'd been bound and a glance showed a similar mark on one of her ankles. Nick felt a cold rage fill him and he wished, for a moment, that he'd been able to personally deal with those who had done this to her. Using the lightest of touches, he carefully washed both areas. When he finished soaping her body, Nat stepped beneath the spray to rinse off and to wet her hair. She reached for the shampoo, but Nick picked it up instead and stepping between her and the spray, applied some to her hair and gently massaged it into lather.

Nat sighed with pleasure at Nick's familiar touch when he bathed her and again, as he shampooed her hair. The warmth of the water was relaxing every muscle in her body and she closed her eyes, enjoying the luxury of being so completely waited upon. When Nick moved slightly to allow the water to again reach her, in order to rinse out her hair, she smiled at the resumption of the soothing flow against her skin. Only when Nick turned off the shower did she reopen her eyes. "This was just what I needed." She said, her eyes shining with love.

Nick reached out and handed her a towel. "Use that on your hair, I'll get another to use to dry you." He told her, stepping out of the shower stall. He grabbed a towel and rapidly dried himself, finishing just as Nat emerged from the shower; her hair concealed in a sort of turban she'd fashioned from the towel. Nick picked up a large,fluffy towel and wrapped it around her. He pulled her gently against him as he used the towel to dry her. When he finished, Nick held her robe for her to put on.

Nat belted the robe around her and removing the turban, combed through her hair to remove any snarls. Picking up the blow dryer, she began to dry the long damp strands. In a few minutes, her hair was cascading down her back and shoulders. The strands clung to her hands as they all but crackled with static. She turned off the dryer and turned to find Nick lounging against on wall watching her.

Smiling, she walked toward him, standing on tiptoe to rub her cheek against his. "That is much better." She said, as she felt Nick's arms close around her. A moment later, his mouth found hers in a kiss that conveyed all of his love. Nat was panting slightly when, at last, the kiss ended.

Nick looked down into Nat's soft blue eyes. He could see the toll that her ordeal had taken. Although his body ached to make love to her and he had no doubt that she would willingly join him in that activity, Nick knew that what Nat needed most right now was rest. "My love, we've both had a very difficult two weeks. As much as I want you, I think that for tonight it might be better if we just rested." He said.

Nat laid her head on his shoulder. "Right now, all I want is to lie in your arms in our bed." She replied. "I want to be able to fully appreciate you and, in all honesty, I couldn't do that tonight."

Nick lifted her into his arms and carried her to the bed. They slipped beneath the covers and into one another's arms. Comforted by the closeness of their bodies, it was only minutes before both were deeply asleep.

Nat awakened, feeling rested shortly after 2pm. She smiled as she realized that Nick was curled against her, one of his legs draped over hers, holding her protectively in the circle of his arms. She lay still, relishing the feeling of security that this gave her, until she felt Nick's arm move and then her hair being gently lifted away from her neck. A moment later, she felt the soft nuzzling of Nick's lips against her throat, sending a wave of desire through her. When his lips left her throat she murmured. "Umm, don't stop."

"I have no intention of stopping." Nick said, softly against her throat. "I'm merely changing the location." He matched action to words as he turned her in his arms until they were facing one another and then captured her lips with his own.

Nat wrapped her arms around Nick's neck, her fingers in his hair. She met his questing tongue with her own and the soft kiss soon deepened into one of intense passion. Nat could feel her body responding eagerly to the soft caresses of Nick's hands. She moaned softly and pressed her breasts against the firm muscles of his chest. Desire flared within her and her own hands traced the planes of his back, moving down to run lightly across his hip.

Nick grasped Nat's butt and pulled her tightly against him, rubbing his already firm manhood against the wiry curls of her pubic hair. He smiled as he felt her flex her hips to press even closer to him. Breaking the kiss, he trailed his lips along the line of her cheekbones to the tender skin at the junction of her jaw and ear. His tongue lightly licked the exposed skin and he could feel her shiver with delight. He kissed and licked the smooth column of her neck, inhaling the tantalizing scent of her blood flowing so near to the surface. His need for her firing his passion and making his shaft swell even more.

Nat felt Nick's manhood throbbing against her and her body ached to feel him deep inside her. The soft kisses he placed on her throat sent thrills of passion down her spine. She pressed ever closer to him, murmuring his name. During her ordeal, she'd often awakened from dreams of loving Nick and she exulted that this was not a dream, but a reality. She could feel her heart quicken as her need grew.

Nick moved his lips slowly down Nat's throat to her breasts. It seemed to him that her pregnancy was making them even fuller, and more delectable, than ever. Mindful that they might be more sensitive, he gently suckled at each one, running his tongue around the slightly swollen nipples until each stood hard and erect. Nat's softly voiced sounds of delight filled his ears even as the intoxicating scent of her arousal filled his head. Leaving her breasts, he continued his slow, loving course down her body. Tasting the sweetness of her skin and fueling his need to feel her warm dampness enclosing his now fully erect member.

As he reached the lower part of her abdomen, just about the dark triangle between her legs, he could hear the gently beating sound of his child's heart. He laid his ear against her skin, listening to this sound of a miracle. Using he the utmost tenderness, he kissed the tiny bulge that indicated the growing child.

Nat gazed down with love as Nick lay listening, she knew, to their unborn child's heartbeat. When he kissed the area above her womb, she felt her eyes fill with tears of pure happiness. Tears that threatened to overflow when Nick met her gaze with a look of such joy and love that Nat felt her heart skip a beat.

Nick moved to cover Nat with his body, his knee gently urging her legs apart as he sought to enter her. She readily obliged, welcoming him into her very core. Exerting the maximum of control he possessed, Nick slowly penetrated her until his shaft was fully within her. Very slowly he started to move within her, savoring the wonderful sensations that filled him.

Nat could feel the exquisite tension slowly building in her. Every nerve seemed to be responding to the erotic sensations Nick was providing. Her breathing quickened as her pleasure increased. She began to make small mewling sounds as the force of the sensations increased and she neared her fulfillment. Beneath her hands she could feel Nick's body tremble as he, too, approached orgasm. Turning her head to one side, she begged. "Please, Nick. Now! Take me now!"

Nick let his beast emerge at Nat's words and sank his fangs deep into the pulsing vein in her exposed throat. He tasted the heady richness of her blood as her orgasm burst through her and felt his body explode in his own satiation. His mind found the healing touch of hers and he could feel the power of their link strengthen as their love united them into one. He knew the fear she'd felt during her captivity and the total joy she'd know upon learning that she carried his child. He sent her his own feelings of joy and his deep, unquestioning love. As the glow of their lovemaking slowly ebbed, Nick withdrew his fangs from her throat.

Nat felt the sharp prick of Nick's fangs and then her world exploded in fireworks as she shuddered with a massive orgasm. She felt Nick's mind touch hers as a feeling of being totally and unconditionally loved filled her. Her very soul felt at peace and she released the last vestige of the horror she'd endured. When Nick removed his fangs from her neck she was totally relaxed and filled with a delicious lassitude. To her pleasure, Nick only shifted enough to remove his weight from her, but still kept her snugly in his embrace. Giving in to the drowsiness, she slipped back into sleep.



Nat lay back against the pillows of her hospital bed and smilingly watched Nick cuddle their newborn son. "I think he looks like you." She said.

Nick grinned. "I think you're right, but he's going to have your coloring I think." He said admiring, the tiny features and shock of reddish hair on his son.

A warm sense of contentment filled both of them. After the initial bought of morning sickness, the remainder of Nat's pregnancy had been wonderfully uneventful. Nick had been the ideal husband. He'd been supportive, loving and somehow knowing just when to let Nat know that he still found her immensely attractive, despite the fact that her belly had grown to where it seemed to her it arrived in a room a good twenty seconds before the rest of her.

Finally, just after 3am, Nat had gone into labor. Nick had driven her to Leona Sims' state of the art birthing center and, together, they'd endured some ten hours of labor until, at 1:45pm, Nat delivered a son, who weighed in at three and a half kilograms. They'd named him Thomas Michael, after both of his mortal grandfathers.

Schanke and Grace had already been by in the afternoon to see Nat and to coo over Thomas. Now that night was upon them, Nick's 'family' would undoubtedly follow suit.

"Did you call Janette?" Nat asked. To her surprise, she and Nick's vampire sibling had gradually become close friends. Janette had been as anxious as any mortal aunt for the baby's arrival.

"Yes, and she's undoubtedly on her way over now that the sun's down." Nick said.

"What about LaCroix?" Nat inquired. She hoped that once Nick's sire had actually seen the child, he would accept that it was truly Nick's flesh and blood.

"He had no need to phone me." The elder vampire said from the doorway. "I could sense his emotional reaction to the event." He walked into the room and over to where Nick stood holding the baby. Nat watched, scarcely breathing, as LaCroix looked at her son.

"It appears that I owe you an apology." He said at last. "The child is, quite obviously, Nicholas'."

"Apology accepted." Nat said.

"When you have recovered, perhaps we can discuss your theory as to how this is possible." LaCroix said. "In the meantime, rest assured that you need not fear for the child. I claim him as my grandson and he will be under my protection in so far as the community is concerned."

"So, you've finally come to your senses." Janette said sweeping into the room and carrying a large vase of flowers. She paused to sit the vase on a table then, kissed Nat on the cheek. "You're feeling okay?" She asked Nat.

"I'm feeling wonderful." Nat responded, smiling.

Janette went to look at the baby. "Oh, he's the image of Nicholas!" She exclaimed.

"Would you like to hold him?" Nat asked. During their many talks over the past several months, Nat had learned that although she'd never been able to have a child, Janette did have a strong maternal instinct.

"Could I?" Janette said.

"Of course," Nick answered placing the child into her arms. "Thomas Michael, meet your Aunt Janette." He told the child. Nick watched as she cuddled the child, cooing softly to him. Nick was fascinated at this side of Janette.

"How about you, LaCroix? Care to hold your grandson?" Nat inquired.

The look on LaCroix's face was comical as surprise and panic warred in his expression. Gaining control, he replied, "A generous offer, but I do not wish to have 'spit up' on my jacket." He said. "Perhaps another time." He nodded to Nick and Janette, then left the room.

Janette laughed. "Oh my, I don't think I can ever recall him looking that uncomfortable!" Any further comment was interrupted by Thomas, who began to fuss.

Nat held out her arms, "Better give him to me. I suspect he's hungry."

Janette gently kissed the top of Thomas' head and placed him in Nat's arms. "He's truly a miracle, isn't he?" She said to Nick.

Nick nodded. "Yes, he is and one for which I am profoundly thankful."

The three sat and talked for a while longer as Nat nursed the baby, until Janette finally rose. "As much as I would love to stay, I must go and prepare the club for tonight. I'll stop by again once you're at home." She promised.

After she'd left, Nat patted the space next her on the bed. Nick carefully eased in beside her and put his arm around her. As she leaned against him, they sat quietly watching their child sleep. Both knew that many challenges lay before them, yet both were certain that the future also held a wealth of joy.

The End

The Toronto locations of Second Cup and the George Brown House do exist, as does the Don Valley Hills and Dales Discovery Walk trail.

My thanks for having read this far. I hope it was an enjoyable experience.

All comments to: cstar@a... or forevrnite@h...