by Barb Erickson

With a sneer, LaCroix leapt up through the restaurant skylight so
recently shattered by Nicholas' precipitous arival, and was gone.

Nick shuddered with fear and relief, the yellow glow fading from his
eyes and his fangs once more retracting. He turned Natalie's somnolent
form to face him, enfolding her in his arms and holding her tightly to
him, burying his face in her bare shoulder. When he glanced up at the
skylight once more, his features had regained their usual human

Nick shut his eyes and lowered his cheek to hers, caressing Natalie's
soft auburn curls with one hand. It had been so close. close.
He had nearly lost the woman he loved to his sire's twisted sense of
retribution. If he had arrived just seconds later, Nat would be lying
dead on the floor of Azure's, drained of blood. Or worse, condemned to
share his curse. Because of . Because of his love for her.

Squeezing his eyes in despair, Nick held her even closer for a moment,
savoring the brief instant before pulling away to arm's length, one hand
remaining on each of her shoulders to keep her steady. There was only
one way he could be certain LaCroix would never threaten Natalie's
safety again.

"Nat, look at me."

Still under LaCroix's hypnotic trance, she opened her lids and turned
unseeing eyes toward him.

Nick, moving his hands up to gently cup her face as he had his own
sister's so long ago, used the vampiric influenced he had thought he
never would on this mortal.

"You do not remember what happened this evening," echoed through
Natalie's mind. His voice broke and Nick hesitated, then hurried on
determinedly. "Forget your love for me...."

The End