From: "Patty" <psmoot43@h...>

Date: Tue Jun 26, 2001 11:00 pm

Subject: Games Detectives Play Games Detectives Play June 2001 By: Patty Costantino

Notes to reader: This story has been inspired by the characters from the Forever Knight T.V. series and it follows my previous story Games Coroners Play. I recommend that you read Games Coroners Play before this story to get the continuous storyline.

Disclaimer and Characters: Nick, Natalie, Lacroix and others don't belong to me. I am just borrowing them.

Dedication: I would like to thank my beta-reader, Phylis for spending all those late nights correcting my spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. Hugs and lots of virtual world chocolates to you for your tremendous help.

Adult Content Warning: Must be 18 or over. N/N explicit sexual situations.

Permission is granted to archive at FKfanfic, FK FTP archive and Mortal Love, N&N adult and Jadfe sites. This story has been archived at my site at http:/


Games Detectives Play

by: Patty Costantino/psmoot43@h...

Natalie opened the draw to her bureau, retrieving tops, sweaters, pants and underwear, tossing them into a suitcase which lay on the bed. Rushing to the closet, she pulled out two suits as she examined them for wrinkles; then she wrapped them carefully in her garment bag. Next, she ran into the bathroom, grabbing some toiletries from the vanity draw and medicine cabinet; then racing to the bed, she threw everything into a cosmetic bag.

She stood there for a moment, inhaling deeply, allowing her breathing to settle. 'Calm down, Lambert, you'll only be away for a few days! You don't need to take everything!' she reminded herself.

All at once, she felt a furry sensation around her legs, a moewing sound emanating from the ground. Natalie glanced down, smiling. "Sydney! There you are!" she exclaimed aloud, picking up her feline friend and cradling him to her. "Where have you been hiding?" she asked, rubbing his soft fur. "Did I scare you that much with the game?" She gave a chuckle as she looked over at the bedside table where a tiny object, resembling a CD player, rested.

The object in question was a virtual reality game.

Natalie smiled at the memories, produced by this game, while an exhilarating feeling flowed through her body. In three short days, this game had changed her life in so many ways, giving her such hope for a possible future with a certain blond detective; a particular angsy, vampire detective named Nick Knight! For five, lonely, frustrating years, Natalie had struggled with Nick to find a viable cure for his vampirism, to release him from his dark existence, but she'd come up empty, finding no possibilities. Not only were there no breakthroughs in sight, Nick had recently endured numerous setbacks, causing him to backslide into his old ways and to drink human blood in large quantities.

Just three nights ago, Natalie had felt a sense of gloom and fear paralyze her. At that time, Nick had taken one more step backwards with his own virtual reality game; a game where he was the vampire killing his victims. It was the ultimate setback to their years of progression with a cure for him. In addition to his backsliding, their relationship had been sliding so much into ruin; it was only a matter of time that Nick would move on, seeing the hope of any relationship with her being shattered like broken glass against a rough, hard surface.

The sky had then brightened the same evening when Natalie had received a gift, a possible answer to their many obstacles. Sam, the proprietor of Sam's Videos, had allowed her to borrow his own virtual reality game, but not just any ordinary game. This one was magical, enabling Natalie to go anywhere, anyplace with anyone.

She groaned aloud, reflecting on how she'd taken advantage of Sam's generosity, using the game over and over again with absolute wild abandon. Closing her eyes, images flashed before her, clear pictures of her and Nick in one passionate embrace after another, making love to each other with no inhibitions, no worries of the vampire surfacing and endangering her. For in this game, she and Nick could finally be together, unlocking their true feelings for one another. On top of that, the game had somehow connected them in an unexplained way, allowing him to have dreams of them together when she played the game. The dreams had also triggered a response from Nick about his true feelings for her, finally allowing him to admit his love.

Natalie smiled broadly, recalling the loving words Nick had conveyed to her earlier this evening in the morgue, words that she thought would never be said again in the real world. Maybe there was hope for them after all.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang, shattering Natalie's musings. She placed Sydney down on the bed, glancing at her watch. '4:30 am...Must be Nick,' she surmised. She'd asked him to come by after work because she wanted to reveal her newfound toy to him; the game. She also wanted to talk more about their relationship. And thirdly, ...'I guess I need to tell him one more bit of news, too,' she admitted to herself sadly, studying the suitcase on the bed.

A sudden nervousness and anticipation swept over her as she peered into the mirror, running trembling hands through her tousled hair and smoothing the wrinkles out of her red blouse and black pants.

The ringing of the doorbell resounded through the apartment a second time. Disinclined to keep Nick waiting, she headed for the door, hesitating a moment, as she tried to calm her shakiness. Inhaling deeply, she opened the door and gasped at the sight before her. A dozen pink roses were fanned out in front of Nick's face, hiding his handsome features. Lowering the flowers to chest level, he gave her a broad smile. "Hi, Nat. I saw these roses in a flower shop just now and they spoke volumes to me, saying, 'Take us to that beautiful coroner who lives down the street,' so I had to buy them." He teased, handing the lovely bouquet to her.

Natalie was overcome with emotion as she gathered the roses to her chest. "What a lovely surprise!" she exclaimed. "I don't know what to say, except thank you, Nick," she said, her voice cracking. "This is too much!"

"Not too much for the woman I love," he said in a soft, affectionate tone as he leaned over to plant a gentle kiss on her cheek.

Her pulse quickened at his words, still unaccustomed to the utterance of his loving proclamations. "Come in, Nick," she offered. A radiant smile lit her face. "Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. I'll just be a moment with these flowers."

"Okay, Nat," he agreed, then sitting on the sofa, he regarded her with a loving stare, tinged with desire. "I'll be waiting with great anticipation for your return." A look of sheer passion overtook his expression.

Flustered by his ardent look and suggestive remark, she gave him a half-hearted grin. "I'll ...flo..wers a vase. I' right back," she stammered, hoping that her face wasn't as bloody red as it felt. She departed hastily for the kitchen.

Nick emitted a slight chuckle at her obvious discomfiture. A sudden tingle of pleasure flowed through him at the thought of being the cause of her disconcertion. In the past, Natalie had always been adept at hiding her feelings, at erecting that wall around her heart. Now, with their relationship possibly blooming, the wall seemed to be crumbling, unsettling her somewhat. This unsteadiness only enamored him to her even more.

Yes! Enamored! He had been in love with Natalie for so long; it seemed like an eternity, but the combination of LaCroix's possible threat of retribution for Fleur, and his recent bout of blacksliding had prevented any open relationship with her. In fact, three nights ago, with one more setback to add to the long list-the virtual reality game-his desire to taste her blood was becoming so strong. He'd feared for her life, distancing himself from her for her own protection. He could see the hurt reflected in her eyes as she'd picked up her coat to leave the loft. Nick had wanted to gather her up in a comforting embrace, but with as much willpower as he could muster, he'd refrained from touching her.

After her departure, a black cloud had darkened his loft as a gloom settled on his soul, the futility and hopelessness of their situation being more than he could endure.

When he'd retired to his bed that day; however, the ominous cloud lifted as an array of dreams descended on his mind, sweet, intoxicating dreams of him and Nat making mortal love on beaches, in fields, on boats. Oh! It was ecstasy! Especially the last dream! It had occurred at the precinct.

Nick sighed, closing his eyes at the sensational memory. Natalie had cuffed him to a table leg while providing him with a striptease show. Wearing his black, duster coat, she'd removed the garment from her body in slow, provocative movements while she'd unveiled a sensuous black lace teddy that seemed to accentuate her endowments nicely.

A moan escaped his lips as he recalled the silkiness of the material, rubbing up against him; the softness of her caress, sliding up his sides; the moistness of her luscious, red lips, showering him with wild kisses all over his erotic....

"Nick...oh NICK! Are you in there? Earth to Nick!" A voice called to him.

Coming out of his haze, he glanced up at Nat. She was standing in front of him, holding a tiny object in the palm of her hand. Looking around, he observed that the roses were resting in a vase on the coffee table, glasses of bloodwine and red wine were placed next to the arrangement. And, Natalie was saying something....

"What did you just say, Nat?" he queried, returning to reality.

"I said...Would you like to see something special, Nick?" she asked, a bright smile painting her face as she waved the object in front of him.

Still aroused by the visions of her beauty in that black teddy and his awareness of her close proximity produced a need in him, a need to have her as near to him as possible. "I would like to see something special, Nat you know what that is?" Nick disclosed in a low, seductive voice.

Natalie inhaled sharply, gazing at his ardent look while she attempted to suppress her own intense needs and desires for him. "What, Nick?" she asked, feigning coolness, but feeling aroused herself.

He smiled wickedly at her, then he pulled her down. " my lap," he said fervently as he cradled her to him, wrapping his warm arms around her in a tight embrace.

Warm arms? Maybe Nick was becoming mortal after all when she played this game. 'Another perplexing mystery about this wonderful game,' she thought as he gave her another desirable look.

Drawing her to him, he kissed her tenderly, parting her lips as his tongue delved into her moist core. The game was pushed up against them as their tongues danced together in a heated duel, and Nick pressed her down closer to him.

Natalie moaned, feeling the bulge in his pants while they continued to kiss, probing and exploring each others' secret crevices while Nick's hands dusted her back with light touches. She was becoming wet with desire as unbelievable sensations bombarded her. She'd only dreamed of being kissed this way by him. Now it was a reality. Finally, she broke it off, breathing erratically as she pressed her cheek against his. "Nick, I need to show you something."

Nick's soft kisses were blazing a trail to her earlobe while his tongue began to explore the inner core of her ear, sending electric sparks through her body. "Does it have to be now," he argued, as his tongue continued to play havoc on her earlobe, kissing, nibbling, sucking..

Natalie was having difficulty concentrating on the discussion as she pressed down on Nick's groin. "No...", she moaned, as she kissed his cheek. Suddenly, though, she remembered the game. "I mean...yes! It does!" she stated abruptly, drawing away from him, as she pressed her hand against his chest.

"All right. What is it?" he asked, disappointed by the sudden disruption. "Is it this thing you are holding in your hand?" he inquired, pointing to the game, still resting in her hand.

"Yes, but I need your undivided attention," she declared in a firm voice while she untangled herself from Nick's arms, moving to the far end of the sofa.

"Must you sit so far away for my undivided attention, Nat," he remarked in a sad voice, his eyes still betraying passion.

"Yes, Nick. You must concentrate on what I'm about to tell you. It's very important," she insisted, trying to calm her own beating heart and feverish state.

Suddenly, she felt a hand slide up her leg, massaging gently along her inner thigh. "I could concentrate on other things at the moment, Nat. I'm a very fast learner," he admitted, pressing his hand against the soft, silky fabric of her pants, her warmness seeping through the cloth.

Natalie sighed. Every nerve in her body was electrified, ready to spark, by his gentle touches. She needed to stop his overtures now or conversation would become impossible. "Stop that," she scolded, swatting his hand away.

Nick had slid over next to her on the couch during this latest tryst. After she removed his hand, Nick held it in his lap, feigning pain. "Ouch, why did you do that, Nat? he asked, glancing at her with an amused expression.

"I'm sorry, but we *need* to talk, Nick," she said, gently, but her voice carried a firm tone. "What's gotten into you anyway!" she exclaimed, surprised at his persistence while she added, "It's either feast or famine with you! One minute you're distancing me, the next, you can't keep you hands off me."

"I'm sorry, Nat," he said ruefully and smiled. "I know that I've been inattentive lately," he confessed in a regretful way. "Until three days ago, I thought that our situation looked hopeless. Then the unexplained dreams emerged." He closed his eyes again at the memories. "As I told you, my vampiric urges have diminished. I'm even back on cow, Nat," he volunteered. The only thing I seem to crave...," he said as his hand seemed to have a will of its own, moving back to Natalie's thigh. "...Is *you*!" he declared, pouncing again on her skin.

"Quit it!" she cried out, slapping his hand again. "You need to move over there, Nick. Now!" she stated with vehemence, pointing with her finger to the opposite end of the sofa. "Honestly, I feel like a teacher ordering a student to sit in the corner!" she said, shaking her head. While Nick obeyed and slid down to the other end, Natalie continued with her discussion, her scientific nature kicking in as she asked, "Are you mortal in these dreams, Nick?"


" your mortality in the dreams seems to be replicating itself into the real world...." she concluded, reverting to her scientific mode. "Mmmm interesting!" she observed, regarding the game, still nestled in her palm, then she watched Nick for a long moment before proceeding.

Taking a deep breath, she looked at him, feeling suddenly uneasy and reticent about his possible reaction to the game. "aah Nick, I think it's time I told you about my little gift," she confessed, in a unsteady, shy voice while she passed the game to him.

Nick examined the small object; then he gave Natalie a curious look. "What is this, Nat?"

"It's a virtual reality game," she disclosed, blushing slightly.

"Really!" he remarked, startled as he smiled. "Where did you get it?"

"From know Sam's Video. .." she explained, then elaborating further, she told him everything; how Sam had shown her the game, how it worked, how she'd played it the last three days, how they could finally be together in this game. Everything! She left nothing out. In closing, she added, "... and he said that the person, who plays the game, will find peace and wholeness of mind and spirit. I also think that when I've played the game, you have been connected to me each time. I don't know how, but you have, becoming more mortal in the real world each time I play it." She surmised, her face reflecting happiness at the possibility of Nick's mortality.

Nick had been listening carefully to her story, examining the game from time to time during her tale. Now, he smiled at her with a gleam in his eye. "How many times have you played the game, Nat?" he asked, curious.

Aware of his eyes upon her, she cast hers down, picking up a rubber band off the coffee table, as she fiddled with the object. She couldn't bring herself to look at him.

"Nat.. Come on... out with it. You can tell me," he encouraged, his eyes sparkling with merriment.

"Ummmm...I've kinda gotten carried away with the game," she began, while she continued to twist the rubber band into a knot, her cheeks flushing bright red.

"Tell me how many times," he smiled, enjoying her disconfiture.

Natalie looked up at him, giving him a slight, uncomfortable grin, then she blurted out, "Last count, it was....25 times." Mortified at her blatant confession, she averted her eyes from his own, her blush complete, as it ran all the way to her scalp.

"25 times! Nat, I'm speechless!" he exclaimed, astonished and impressed at her stamina.

"Well....I couldn't resist your ardent overtures!" she cried out without thinking, fixing his astounded stare with her own honest one, then shrugging her shoulders, she smiled and commented in a small voice, "Call it a weakness."

"But, Nat.. 25 times!" he repeated as he stared at her in disbelief.

"We had a lot of catching up to do!" she stated, frankly, still feeling the heat on her face from her flush.

"But weren't you exhausted?" he persisted, still amazed.

"No! That's just it! I wasn't!" she exclaimed, the sudden embarrassment gone as excitement climbed in her voice. "I felt fantastic! As if a warmth had cradled me like the golden sun," she said, her face taking on a dreamy look, then gazing lovingly at him, she explained, "That's why I want to share this game with you. I want you to experience everything that I have."

"But why?" Nick questioned, his eyebrows arching in surprise. "As I recall, the other night you seemed hostile about virtual reality games, throwing mine in the fire," he said with a touch of amusement. "Now I find you playing with one of these games," he remarked, his eyes teasing. "I'm shocked! Shocked, you here! What would your mother say, Nat?" he asked.

"My mother would be the first to approve if she were alive!" she admitted, looking him straight in the eye with no regrets and smiling. "Anyway, Nick. I know that I was disapproving of your game because of what it was doing to you; you were killing again. I saw only more potential for you to backslide if you continued to play it. On the other hand, mine is beneficial. It provides the person with a sense of peace. Look what it's done for you already. You seem to be becoming mortal."

"The game does appear to be helping me. It also seems to have a radiant effect on you," he observed, smiling again with a twinkle in his eye. "You could continue to play it yourself and we could see what happens. Why bother to give it to me?" he asked.

"Because I want to, Nick. I know you've experienced dreams through the game as I will inevitably when you play it. But I want you to experience it totally...the euphoria, the joy, the total and complete peace and tranquility," she explained with a breathlessness as her face became wistful.

Suddenly, in her mind, she saw other images of the game; the passion, the eroticism while Nick's hands caressed and touched her all over her aching body. She started to sigh, closing her eyes to the sensual pictures of their entwined bodies as they made love on the beach, in the water, in a soft, golden field. The images were overwhelming her, igniting a burning fire in her, arousing her.... "Oh God!" she exclaimed aloud, opening her eyes.

"What's wrong, Nat!" Nick probed, worried.

"I jus ..need.. to open.. a window. Need.. fresh .. air!" she stammered as she rose from the sofa, running over to open a window.

Nick was beside her immediately, concern written on his face, as he grabbed her hand. "Are you okay?"

Natalie started inhaling the fresh, cool, night air, taking deep breaths. 'Ok Lambert, just calm down. Think about that cadavre you dissected earlier this evening and not Nick's nearness to you, the heavenly scent of his aftershave,' she told herself while her aroused state subsided. After a moment, she said, "Yes... much better!" as she released his hand, distancing herself from him.

Nick chuckled to himself. Her wonderful, sweet scent of arousal and increased heartrate had given her away. She was thinking of them together in the game. With her back turned away from him, he approached her again, touching her shoulder tentatively. "I'm so relieved," he stated, feigning ignorance.

Natalie felt the touch of his hand burning through her blouse to her skin. Trying to regain her composure, she turned around to meet his deep blue eyes while she continued the interrupted conversation. "Where was I? Oh, yeah.. the game. As I was saying before my interruption, I want you to experience it like I did, Nick," she said with an edge of shyness to her voice, then gazing at him with total devotion, she declared, "I want to give you the game as a token of my love for you."

He was deeply moved and touched by her loving, unselfish words. "Aaaaw Nat. That's so sweet!" he said, his voice filled with emotion, as he scooped her up in his arms, brushing a tender kiss across her lips. "I love you so much!" he exclaimed, as a small lump formed in his throat and blood tears brimmed in his eyes.

"I love you, too." she said ardently, pressing him closer to her while she caressed his cheek, wiping some of the tears away. They stood there with their bodies molded together in a loving embrace for a long moment, kissing and touching in a tender way. After a while, Natalie broke the spell, drawing away slightly from him, as she felt compelled to tell him more about the game.

"aaah Nick..." she said, softly.

"What Nat," he asked, touching her chin.

"I need to mention some things about the game," she stated.

"What do you need to tell me?" he asked.

"For starters, you can go anywhere with anyone in the game."

"The 'anyone' part is simple, Nat. I wouldn't hesitate to have you in my virtual reality world." He smiled.

"And that... was the correct response, Detective Knight." She grinned. "Secondly, I'm not certain about your physiological makeup in the game," she warned.

"What do you mean Nat?"

"Everytime I played the game, you were mortal. When *you* play the game, I'm not sure whether you will be a vampire or remain mortal," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

"I'll just have to wait and see, won't I?" he remarked, touching the tip of her nose with his finger.

"Yeah, I guess so..," she replied. Her eyes became distant. Would Nick remain mortal in this game or could he revert back to being a vampire when he played the game?

Looking up at him, she gave him a endearing smile as she returned from her musings and added, "Also, I need the game back by Saturday. Sam only gave me one week to play it."

"Okay, Nat, anything else?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid that I have some bad news," she replied, with regret. "I have to leave town for three days for a Pathologist's Conference in Montreal. It seems that Holmes, who was suppose to go this year...his wife went into labor earlier this evening, so he is indisposed. Kerry asked me to go in his place."

"You have to go, Nat?" he said, clear disappointment in his voice.

"Yeah, I have to. Duty calls," she responded glumly.

"Okay... well, it's only for a few days," he said, trying to sound optimistic as he squeezed her waist, then lowering his voice, he confessed, "I'll miss you terribly."

"Nick, you won't really miss me. I'll be in the game, remember." Natalie gave him a broad smile. "Believe me! You'll feel that I never left your side." She laughed, as a blush crept up her face.

"Is that a promise, Dr. Lambert?" he said, a sparkle in his eye.

"You better believe it!" she said, emphatically.

Thinking this moment was also a good opportunity to discuss their *real life* relationship, Natalie continued. "Aaah..Nick. One other thing..." she paused. "I'm hoping this game has already allowed us to be more open with one another; that we have no more secrets. A relationship can't survive if two people can't communicate." She looked at him in a stern way, then sighing, she added honestly, "I've been at fault just as much as you have in this regard. So...starting, now, I hope to improve in this area. What do ya say, Nick? Can we try to talk more to one another?" She regarded him closely, looking for signs of acceptance.

"Yeah," he agreed, grinning as he kissed the tip of her nose. From now on, Nat, I'll be a wealth of information. No more secrets!" he said with vehemence.

She sighed with relief. "Okay," then prying herself out of Nick's embrace, she stated, "I guess I better go finish packing. I need to hit the road in an hour and you need to get home for a very important date with a special game," she acknowledged, ribbing him playfully in the side.

"Okay. I suppose I should follow the advise of my doctor," he remarked, facetiously, walking back towards the couch.

Bending over, he picked up the game off the sofa, tucking it in his coat pocket while Natalie stopped in front of the coffee table, admiring the lovely flower arrangement. Looking at him fondly, she declared, "Oh, Nick, these roses are so beautiful! You were sweet to give them to me."

His eyes shone with love. "You mean so much to me. I knew you would love them."

While Nick spoke, she leaned over the arrangement, running her hand over one stem while pulling the rose towards her to inhale the heavenly aroma. Suddenly, her thumb scraped against a thorn, cutting into the soft flesh. "Ouch!" she cried out. "Oh..damn! I pricked myself," she acknowledged, irritated.

Nick's eyes flashed a golden hue as the spicy scent of her blood hit his nostrils. The memory of their recent embraces on the sofa and at the window, the smell of fresh blood, and the erotic memory of Nat in that black teddy pushed him over the edge. He had to taste her! "Let me look at it," he said calmly, picking up her hand and cradling it in his palm. A red spot had bubbled to the surface. 'Just one taste wouldn't hurt,' he told himself.

Nick regarded her with tenderness. "Do you trust me Nat?" he asked, his voice slightly raspy, but gentle.

"Always!" she said, without hesitation. A sudden wave of excitement rushed through her body while she waited breathlessly for his next move.

For a moment, his golden eyes gazed at her with total love and wonder, then he pulled her hand up to his lips, running his tongue languidly over the wound. At the first taste of her blood, his senses were overwhelmed with the beauty, the courage, the intense feelings of Natalie and most of all, the depth of her love for him. He groaned as the cinnamon taste of her warm blood slid deliciously down his throat while he sucked at her thumb.

"What are you doing to me, Nick....oh God.." Natalie gasped as he continued to suck at her warm flesh. Beautiful images assaulted her mind as she saw Nick in the sun before he became a vampire, his desire for mortality, his feelings, his emotions and his undying love for her. Suddenly the pictures started to fade as he licked and kissed her wound closed. She pressed her thumb against his lips, not wanting him to stop. He continued to caress her soft skin, brushing his lips against the cut. "That felt sooo good!" She sighed.

He regarded her with his boyish smile. "Sorry, Nat...I don't know what came over me," he said, entwining her hand in his while he kissed each fingertip delicately.

"Wow! What did you do to me." She looked at him in amazement, trembling as she pressed her other hand to her chest. "I could feel everything; your thoughts, your emotions, everything...the images were unbelievable," she exclaimed, still breathless from the experience.

"I guess this is a good time to let you in on a secret about vampires," he said, slightly embarrassed.

"What is it Nick?" she queried, curious.

"The blood exchange...I never told you," he confessed, then taking her other hand in his, softly rubbing his thumbs over her palms, Nick proceeded to explain it all to her: about knowing someone's soul, thoughts, feelings, everything about the person.

"Wow, so a mortal can experience all that as well?" she concluded. It was so intoxicating, so erotic..and it had only been a few drops of blood. Imagine if it had been more. A sudden river of desire flowed through her body at the thought of him taking more of her blood.

"Yes...but it won't happen again. I can't allow it to...I might be unable to control myself the next time," he said, sternly, releasing her hands.

"Sure...Nick. I understand," she agreed. But in the back of her mind, she was thinking that she wouldn't mind a repeat performance.

Nick made his way to the door, turning towards her. As he faced her, she tilted her head up to peck him on the cheek. But he had other ideas as he gathered her up into a searing kiss, deep and probing. Drawing back, Nick cupped her face in his hand. "I'll miss you, Nat. Hurry back, " he said with intensity, releasing her.

Swaying slightly, and dazed by the passionate kiss, Natalie tried to steady herself as he opened the door. "I'll miss you, too. Bye, Nick. Pleasant dreams," she said, in a trembling voice, still disconcerted.

"Pleasant dreams to you, too. Have a good trip!" he smiled with a devilish gleam in his eye as he closed the door behind him.

Nick had just arrived at the loft, thrown his coat over the sofa, placed the game on the coffee table and retrieved a bottle of bovine from the refrigerator when LaCroix showed up, flying through the open skylight and making himself comfortable in one of Nick's black, leather armchairs.

"LaCroix, what brings you here this evening?" he asked with disdain, unhappy at the possibility of a ruined evening with his master. On the way home from Nat's, he'd anxiously been anticipating this game, and now, who could say what would happen during LaCroix's visit.

"Nicholas, is that any way to greet me!....and especially after extending my generosity the other evening with that earthy, robust human stock which I provided to you," he exclaimed, in an amused tone. "By the way, did the vintage finish quite well for you?" he inquired, his eyes sprinkled with merriment.

Nick frowned, while reflecting back to his backsliding a few days ago with LaCroix's human stock. When he'd first brought the red, enticing liquid to his lips and sipped, it had indeed glided smoothly down his throat as he'd savored every drop, delighting in the youthfulness of the donated person's blood. But now, with an opportunity to move on in a positive direction with Natalie in this game and in real life, perhaps finding mortality along the way, he would not allow LaCroix to interfere.

Answering warily, Nick said with an air of indifference, "I don't know. I suppose it finished well, but I was concentrating on more important things like solving a crime."

Lacroix's lips curled into a smirk. "Aaah..yes! I seem to recall that through the quaint virtual reality game you were attempting to catch a criminal, weren't you? Did you manage to bring the culprit to justice through that impressive game?"

"Yes, it helped. Tracy and I were able to wrap up the case the other night."

"Aaah...Thank goodness!. We can all rest well in our beds, reassured that fair and noble justice has been served on the undesirable underworld of petty thieves and criminals again," he voiced in a sarcastic manner, then pointing to the object on the coffee table, he added, "So! I surmise that you will not require the services of this game any longer, Nicholas."

"No...but I might as well tell to you that this one isn't the same virtual reality game as the one I used on the case," he admitted, still cautious.

Lacroix peered at him for a moment. "I'm delighted at your forthrightness Nicholas as I surmised otherwise, too."

Nick raised his eyes in surprise. "Really! How LaCroix?"

He laughed. "Oh Nicholas! How? Must I explain!" LaCroix said, shaking his head, in surprise as he expounded further, "The other evening when I'd arrived at your loft, I'd found you to my delight in a rather feral state, obviously relishing in the numerous killings in that other game. You could imagine my gladness over the rekindled stirrings that I'd felt from you! I'd hoped that you were gradually wandering back into the fold."

Lacroix sighed in disappointment. "But now, in a matter of only a few, short days, I almost hesitate to ask what has happened to change you again."

"What do you mean? Nothing has happened to me!" Nick protested, averting his eyes from LaCroix's unfaltering stare.

"Oh....but I beg to differ, Nicholas," Lacroix disagreed. "There has been a definite change in you. I can sense it! It's almost like a veil of calm has descended on you. You can imagine that it has been very unsettling to me."

"Why shouldn't I feel calm every once in a while? There's no crime in feeling that way, LaCroix," Nick countered.

"No, but it's been centuries since I've felt these type of rousings from you Nicholas. Since the Renaissance, you have been moody, brooding, guilt-ridden, depressed, sullen.... shall I continue?" he commented, a touch of smuggness to his voice. "So you can see why I might be surprised at this *new mood* that you are obviously in. As an afterthought, he pointed out facetiously, "Serenity isn't exactly in your vocabulary, Nicholas!"

Nick continued to protest. "Perhaps it's a figment of your imagination LaCroix."

"I doubt that very much Nicholas! But... " he paused, looking at the game on the table, then he suggested, "I might possibly account your new mood swings to this other interesting mortal folly you have here," as he gestured to the small object.

"Don't be absurd! I haven't even played this game," Nick retorted.

"Oh...I see. Are you certain about that Nicholas?" he asked. A complacent sneer overtook his expression.

"Of course I'm sure! I would know if I'd played the game or not, wouldn't I?"

LaCroix gave him a penetrating stare for a long moment, constructing a little steeple with his fingers and resting them against his lips. "Perhaps...." he reflected, pausing for effect, then adding, "But, I feel that you haven't told me everything."

"There's nothing to tell, LaCroix," he said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Ah! But there is, Nicholas! I must *warn* you that if you are hiding something from me, I will always find out what it is," he announced, in a threatening fashion. "You were never very good at concealing your feelings from me, now were you!" LaCroix noted, then looking up at the skylight, he flew off, leaving a surprised, and disconcerted detective behind.....


After LaCroix's unwelcomed visit, Nick grabbed several bottles of steer blood from the refrigerator and climbed the stairs to his bedroom, clutching the game to his chest as if fearful of LaCroix's return to dispose of what he would have fondly called 'the infernal object'. He set the bottles and game down on a table next to his bed. Shedding his clothes, he strode into the bathroom, turning on the shower. As he stepped into the warm, misty spray and lathered himself up with soap, he considered his discussion with LaCroix. It was unsettling to say the least. If LaCroix could easily see through his serene state of mind while Natalie played this game, what would it be like when *he* entered the virtual world? Would the vibrations become stronger, flowing between them like sand through an hourglass? In addition to his calm stirrings, would LaCroix feel sensations of a different nature emanating from Nick, amorous feelings for one particular coroner? He wondered.

Worry shrouded Nick's face while he stood under the showerhead, allowing the hot, soothing water to cascade down his firm, muscular body. Another thought occurred to him as the water continued to run off his skin. Perhaps, LaCroix had already sensed his continuing desires and feelings for Natalie, not being fooled by Nick's pretense at hypocrisy last Valentine's Day.

Yes...the more he'd thought about it the more he'd suspected that LaCroix knew, never being deceived by his false declaration at L'Azure, understanding and aware of Nick's love for her. That, at the time, Lacroix had other ideas for revenge, to allow him to pine away for her. He'd known that Nick would never bring her across or risk endangering her life; that, in time, he would be forced to move on, watching Natalie fall in love with another. LaCroix's retribution for Nick's insistence on leaving his sister Fleur behind would be complete, forcing him to endure the same torment.

Therefore, if LaCroix's ultimate goal was to see him move on in the real world, leaving Natalie behind-'heaven forbid!', he thought-what would be the harm in loving her in a virtual reality game?

Nick's brow unfurrowed at this logical consideration as he turned off the water and reached for a towel. While he dried himself, a broad smile of relief brushed his lips. Exiting the shower, he walked back to his bedroom, opening a draw to retrieve some fresh pajamas. After he dressed, he moved to the bedside table. His eyes rested for a moment on the bottle of bovine as he contemplated a drink; next they wandered to the tiny object, lying on the hard, wood surface. His mind drifted from LaCroix to Natalie as he picked up the game, studying the equipment nestled in his hand.

He smiled and closed his eyes while visions of Natalie's volumptious body surfaced, warm and feverish against his own body. Icy-hot sensations flowed from his groin to his stomach and radiated to his arms and legs at the idea of making mortal love to her in this game with no inhibitions, no fears of endangering her life.

Nick came out of his brief, erotic musings and sat on the bed while another feeling, very fleeting, but there, underneath the surface, stirred his mind, his heart and his soul: hunger. Not just any hunger either. But an aching need. A need to taste her blood again. He moaned and closed his eyes as he recalled the tantalizing spicy scent of Natalie's blood, the rich, fiery, succulent nectar flowing down his throat just a few short hours ago, so fresh and exquisite. Not only had he relished in the enjoyable, cinnamon taste of her, more importantly, he'd been so warmed by her soul, by her very heart. It had only been a few drops, but it was enough to see, feel and touch a part of Natalie's essence; enough to see that he wanted and needed more, to draw her inside of him and to know her in every way possible.

Although the need to make mortal love to her still seemed greater, he wanted both; he desired and craved them! He wanted to be as close to her as possible, to feel her physically, spiritually and mentally. The man and the vampire were demanding it.

Nick rested his head against the headboard while an idea suddenly occurred to him. What would be the harm in sipping from her in this game? After all, it was only a fantasy game; it wasn't real life. How could it hurt her? The idea sent shivers of delight running through his body. Smiling, he studied the game in his hand, his fingers running unconsciously over the keyboard, as he made his decision. 'I'll do it! Natalie and I will have the best of both worlds; we'll know one another completely and thoroughly by the end of this game,' he told himself, his eyes flashing amber at the anticipation.

Examining the keyboard more closely and recalling Natalie's instructions, he made his choice, running his fingers deftly over the keys. When he plugged in the place for this adventure, a warm smile spread across his face. There was only one special spot to take Natalie, one perfect place in the whole world for lovers.

After Nick checked to ensure everything was properly entered, he reached for the bottle on the table. Releasing the cork, he gulped down the cold, unsatisfying cow to take the edge off, grimacing at the distasteful flavor when he'd finished. 'It didn't hold a candle to Natalie's blood,' he thought. 'Nor did anyone else's compare to hers, for that matter,' he decided upon consideration.

After consuming the steer, Nick wrapped a sensor around each finger, placed the visor around his eyes and, taking a deep breath, he pushed the red button...

 A blinding, almost painful, light struck his vampiric, sensative eyes, then.....poof! The bright aura started to dissipate, like hot sunlight dissolving an early morning mist, while his surroundings took shape. The image began to clear while his vampiric senses detected distant, cheerful murmurs of humanity. As the picture sharpened even more, Nick realized where he was: La Tour D'Argent in Paris.

He glanced around in a breathless, excited way, a broad smile lighting his face while the elegant dining room materialized completely. Waiters in fine tuxedos were bustling around to their various, assigned tables, catering to the demanding crowd while a delicious aroma of duck and pheasant permeated the air. An enormous assortment of fine wines were being poured by wine stewards into long- stem crystal glasses, resting on crisp, white, linen tablecloths on each of the numerous tables which graced the spacious dining area. Candles from each table cast their warm, burning glow off the glassed- in windows of the restaurant, giving the appearance of a multitude of lights reflecting off a dark, turbulent sea.

As Nick looked around the room in amazement, a voice, close by, seemed to be calling to him, trying to get his attention. "Nick...oh....NICK! Can you hear me?"

Finally becoming acquainted with his surroundings, Nick turned around in his seat to face the table, focusing on the person, who was addressing him. He froze, his breath catching in his throat. Across from him, Natalie sat in all of her splendor, decked out in a simple, but elegant black, sleeveless cocktail dress with a slightly scooped neckline. A string of pearls hung from her soft, creamy neck down to her swelling bosom. Her auburn hair cascaded down around her animated face in long, thick ribbons while the light from the candle pooled beautifully in her large, expressive, blue eyes and shone on her peaches and cream complexion.

Nick came to his senses as he continued to stare at Natalie's loveliness. "Yes, Nat. I'm still here mind drifted somewhere else for a moment," he explained, trying to conceal his brief distraction. 'Remind myself not to start a virtual reality in the middle of a conversation,' he told himself, chuckling.

"Oh..Nick! Don't tell me you were zoning out into the past, again...and right when you were explaining to me about Notre Dame's construction," she said, pointing to the majestic cathedral, visible from their seat in the restaurant.

Nick shifted in his chair, peering out the window at the magnificant building to his left. Sure enough, surrounded by the Seine River, Notre Dame loomed above the place du Parvis on the Ile de la Cite. Their restaurant, La Tour D'Argent was situated directly across the river from the cathedral on the left bank. The restaurant was famous for offering a scintillating view of the flowing Seine River, and the beauty and strength of the cathedral, especially at night, when the most enduring symbol of Paris was surrounded by a warm illumination of lights.

Nick turned back to Natalie. His distant look completely vanished. "What was I saying Nat before I was temporarily distracted," he asked, cagily.

Natalie's lips curled into a wide smile. "You were explaining to me that the Cathedral's construction was built in different phases over a 175 year period."

"Ah yes.." he stated, as if he recalled the conversation. "The construction began in ll63 and was completed in 1345...." then, warming to a topic he knew so well, Nick continued. He explained to her about the architecture. The west front of the cathedral had three richly carved doorways, the north and south transept fronts were each decorated with a rose window, and another rose window, at the west front of the building, was considered a masterpiece of Gothic engineering for its large surface area, which was supported by a delicate web of carved stone tracery. Nick added that during the French Revolution, the cathedral was vandalized and then restored during the 19th century by a French Architect Eugene Emmanuel Viollet- le-Duc. He also remarked about the 387-step climb to the top of the towers which housed the famous bell tolled by Victor Hugo's fictional hunchback, Quasimodo.

Natalie listened with relish to Nick's historical account of this architectural wonder, sipping at her glass of water. When he mentioned the stairs to the bell tower, she interrupted, commenting in a humorous manner, "Wew! Makes the stairmaster look like a picnic compared to a trek up all those steps!"

He laughed, then leaning over the table, he whispered to her as he winked, "I could always fly you up those stairs to save you an exhausting trip."

"I might hold you to it Nick." Her eyes danced with amusement.

All of a sudden, the wine steward appeared, handing Nick a wine list- and *not* just any wine list either! The thickness of the book was quite daunting, resembling a Bible.

Natalie's mouth dropped in astonishment. "What is that! The unabridged edition of War and Peace!"

Nick grinned while his eyes poured over the book. "No, Nat. It's the wine list! This restaurant offers 1500 or so wines. You should see the wine cellar; it's quite spectacular.

"Perhaps, Mademoiselle would like a tour of the cellar after dinner, n'est pas?" The wine steward offered.

"You can do that?" she asked, surprised.

"Bien sur!" he gushed.

"Then, I would love one. Thank you!" she said, gratefully.

Having made his decision while Natalie and the waiter were conversing, Nick turned to him and ordered a Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon 1990; the significance of the year was not lost on either of them, the year of their inevitable meeting, as their eyes met in a knowing gaze.

After the steward departed, Nick reached over to grab Natalie's warm hand in his cool one. "I'm so glad you decided to come with me to Paris. I've always had a deep desire to show you the 'city of lights'. It's the one city that looks spectacular at night."

"You know that I would go anywhere with you Nick," she said, her voice filled with emotion.

"I know you would. I'd go anywhere with you, too. But, Paris is especially meaningful because it's a place for lovers," Nick said, his look unfaltering and passionate as he pulled her hand up to his lips. Alternating between dusting kisses and sucking on each of her fingers, he added, "I want this trip to be memorable and *very* special for you."

The erotic feelings of Nick's lips caressing and licking her fingers, the soft, seductive tone of his voice and intimate words were igniting a burning flame inside of Natalie as the heat spread all over her body. Suddenly overcome with shyness, she removed her trembling hand from his mouth, laying it in her lap. "I'm we'll a time!" she stuttered, feeling the flush surge through her face as she reached for her water glass. She took a sip, hoping the cool liquid would simmer her heat-filled body.

"I especially want to take a look at that Van Gogh exhibition at the Louvre." she commented, trying to steer the conversation in another direction, as she took another swallow from her glass.

Leaning forward again with an ardent expression on his face, Nick said with intensity, "I was thinking more along the lines of a *private* exhibition where only two people are allowed in for the viewing."

His implications were obvious as every bone in her body suddenly melted like lava running down a mountainside. Pulling herself together, she met his passionate gaze with her own level one as she smiled. "That *private* exhibition may be closed due to unforeseen problems of a supernatural capacity."

"I hope that the closing is very *temporary* as the supernatural problem may be under *control*." He grinned, again, reaching for her hand in a reassuring squeeze.

"Oh really!... Well, in that case, maybe the *private* viewing may be opening up again *sooner* than we thought!" she corrected. Her eyes flashed with mischievousness, tinged with desire, while she squeezed his hand in acceptance.

At that moment, the wine steward appeared at their table, interrupting their stimulating conversation as he proceeded to allow Nick to test the wine, then pouring it into their glasses, he departed. Nick glanced around quickly to ensure no one was looking while he removed a flask from the inside pocket of his black dinner jacket.

As he poured the special red liquid into his wine glass, Natalie couldn't resist a humorous remark. "I guess that the brocade flavor of the Rothschild vintage didn't quite meet Detective Knight's approval. It required something with a bit more *bite* to it." She smiled, taking a sip of her own wine.

Nick laughed at her wit while he drank from his own glass. "Very cute, Natalie!"

Just then, the waiter approached their table, taking their order. Natalie allowed Nick to make the selections for them. To her surprise and pleasure, he ordered a rare steak for himself. For her, he selected the restaurant's notable dish: pressed duck or caneton as it was known in French along with an appetizer called pike dumplings or quenelles.

When the waiter departed with their order, Nick explained to her about La Tour D'Argent's famous reputation with the duck. The restaurant was known to prepare each serving of duck with great ceremony in the dining room. Each customer, who ordered one of these fine birds, received a numbered card, showing what position they were in the count. He expounded further by saying that the restaurant started counting in 1919 and was approaching its millionth mallard.

Once the dinner came, he revealed a surprise to Natalie: A boat excursion down the Seine to capture Paris in its illuminated glory. Nick went on to explain. "A friend of mine, Jacques Verraud, owns a boat on which he has graciously invited us. So I thought that after dinner we could take the cruise."

"Oh Nick! How wonderful! I would love to!" she uttered, smiling exuberantly, as she reached over the table to grasp his hand in hers.

He pulled her hand up to his mouth, brushing his lips across her palm. "Great! I can't wait!"

The words were innocently spoken. But, somehow the excitement in his voice and the longing gaze in his deep blue eyes made her think otherwise, causing her heart to flutter at the anticipation of this late night cruise.....


After a filling dinner and an educational tour of the wine cellar by Jean Patrick, their waiter, they decided to take a stroll down the quai de la Tournelle which meandered along the river in front of La Tour D'Argent and would eventually lead them to where the boat was docked. Walking side by side, their arms hanging loosely at their sides, they both feasted their eyes one last time on the beauty and harmonious presence of Notre Dame, towering above them across the river. From their position, just south and upstream, with the illumination dancing off the stone facade of the magnificant building, Natalie thought the cathedral resembled a seagoing vessel; the cross on its steeple, like a flag on a tall mast and the gargoyles, like a ship's maidenhead.

"You know, Nick, from this angle, the cathedral looks like a proud, graceful ship against the blackness of the sky," she offered.

"I believe you're right..I've probably seen Notre Dame a thousand times in my long life and I've never thought of it in that light until now. Very perceptive of you," he commented, admiration reflected in his eyes.

"Well....I did take some architectural and art history classes at the University before I went to Med School, so I'm not a complete dolt when it comes to the wonders of the world," she admitted, proudly.

"I would never think of you as being much of a dolt on any subject," Nick teased as he scooped up her hand in his own.

Natalie laughed. "Oh..I can think of some subjects or things I'm not so good at." To herself, she thought, 'Well ..I might improve in those areas, tonight,' as she tightened her grip on his hand.

After that open-ended comment, they continued down the quai in silence, enjoying the night air until they arrived at a stone bridge called the Pont de la Tournelle. There, a luxurious barge floated on the Seine, lights glowing from within the large vessel. The name, La Vie de Rose was engraved on the side of the boat in large, neat letters.

Approaching the boat from a short gangplank, they walked onto the vessel, looking around for its occupant.

"Jacques, are you there?" Nick called out.

A second later, from the depths of the barge, a young man emerged, no older than thirty with mid-length wavy brown hair and eyes, wearing blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. Natalie's sharp eyes could detect instantly that he was a vampire, his light pallor giving him away.

Jacques smiled broadly at Nick, patting him on the back. "Hey, Nicholas..long time no see."

Nick grasped his friend's hand in a hardy handshake. "Hey, Jacques. It has been..what 60 years?"

"At least...what was it? World War II and the French Resistance," he asked.

"Yeah, I believe so. Time sure flies!" Nick commented, then grabbing Natalie's hand and pulling her close to him, he said, "Jacques, I would like you to meet someone very special...Natalie Lambert. This is Jacques Verraud."

Natalie extended her hand to Jacques. "Nice to meet you."

Jacques took her offered hand, moving it up to his lips as he brushed a light kiss across her flesh. "Charmed, mademoiselle," he said, regarding her with admiration. "Nick told me that you were beautiful. I can see that he wasn't off the mark. You are ravishing, my dear."

Uncomfortable with the flattering remarks, she removed her hand gently from his grasp. "Thank you," she said, a weak smile brushing her face, then guiding the conversation in another direction, she asked, "How long have you owned this boat, Jacques?"

"About five years. It was originally a cargo craft which I converted into a dwelling of distinction," he explained as he swept his arm outward over the scope of the deck. The barge was quite long and narrow in size, with a glassed-in house resting on the wide, wooden planks of the vessel. A rooftop deck lay above the rectangular shaped four-sided building, offering the visitor a glorious, illuminated view of the city of Paris.

"It's a wonderful way to take a short cruise down the river and see the sights," Natalie observed.

"The barge also offers one fortunate couple the luxury of an overnight stay on board," Jacques volunteered, looking initially at Nick, then Natalie.

Nick averted his eyes away from Natalie while he studied the wooden planks on the boat's deck, not uttering a word.

She turned to Jacques. "Oh...really! I didn't know that! How interesting!" she declared, giving Nick a sidelong glance. "Where are the chambers?"

"Chamber," Jacques corrected her. "There's just one. It's directly below us."

"Oh! I see...," she said, looking directly at Nick while he continued to avoid her stare.

Nick finally found his voice and suggested, "Jacques, why don't you show us the rooftop patio?"

"Okay,...right this way," he said, chuckling to himself over Nick's omission to her about the sleeping arrangements on the barge. He led them up a ladder to a deck with sweeping views up and down the Seine River of both banks of the city. Champagne was chilling in a silver ice bucket on a table; lounge chairs sprinkled around the patio.

Natalie walked over to the railing. "Breathtaking!" she exclaimed.

"Paris is definitely the city to see at night," he stated, then turning to leave, he addressed them both. "Excuse me, now. I need to get down below to the pilot's room and start the engines."

"Oh...where are we going?" Natalie asked, curiously.

"To Rouen, outside of Paris. There's a majestic cathedral there that you must see, Natalie," Jacques explained as he started to descend the ladder. "I'll return in a little while," he added, giving Nick a knowing look, then he disappeared.

After he left, a silence descended on the deck as Natalie turned back to the railing and peered at the bridge. After a few moments, she swung around to face Nick and asked softly, "Why didn't you tell me about the arrangements?"

Nick moved swiftly to her, close enough to touch her, but hesitant to do so. "I was going to tell you once we boarded," he explained, then lowering his voice, he asked, tentatively, "Do you mind, Nat?"

What seemed like an eternity passed before Natalie turned to him. Her face was unreadable, not revealing anything to him. He held his breath, waiting for her answer.

Suddenly, a broad smile lit her lovely face. "Of course, I don't mind, Nick," she said emphatically.

Before she could continue, Nick swept her up in a tight embrace, smothering her with tender kisses. "Oh! Thank goodness! For a moment there, I thought you were going to lead me to the guillotine."

She laughed and pulled back from him. "I don't think the guillotine would do much good, if you know what I mean. Besides I'm not mad at you. I'm just surprised. I didn't expect you to be so ready, willing and under *control*.

Nick cupped her chin in his hand. "Control? Oh...I think that I have restrained myself long enough, Nat," he said, his voice and expression betraying longing and desire.

" do have some restraint, don't you Nick?" She teased, in an loving tone as she leaned forward to brush kisses over his face.

"Yes...enough..," he agreed, rubbing his cheek against hers, then pressing her body to him, he captured her mouth in a slow, languid kiss that left her dizzy and ready for more. Releasing her mouth, Nick caressed her cheek with his thumb as he suggested in a hoarse voice, "Why don't we skip the Champagne and move to a more bubbly, effervescent experience."

Natalie smiled at him, her eyes glistening with desire as she said, "Thought you'd never ask...."

Nick sat at the piano in the sitting room of their cabin, wearing his black silk pajamas, while he waited with great anticipation for Natalie's appearance. After Jacques had shown them their suite and departed, Nick had presented Natalie with a large box, suggesting that she open it and try it on in the bedroom. That was thirty minutes ago.

'I wonder what is keeping her?' he thought, then recalling her crimson face when she'd removed the gift from the confines of the box, he figured the answer was obvious. Bashfulness? Trepidation?

"Nat, are you ever coming out of there!" he called out, in a slightly impatient tone.

"I'll be right out, Nick." A weak voice called from behind the door.

Nick chuckled to himself at her disconcertion while he resumed playing the piano, with only the soft candlelight to lighten the room. Pausing in the middle of playing Cole Porter's Night and Day, he glanced up from the keys to survey the cabin, smiling at the memory of Natalie's glee over the suite. She'd practically flown from room to room, looking in awe at everything-from the bathroom, a confection of marble and mirror, stocked with a generous supply of the finest soaps and bath products to the bedroom with an enormous king-size bed piled high with down comforters and pillows to the sitting room, filled with freshly cut flowers and more chilled Champagne. There were also some 18th century antiques intermixed with contemporary furnishings in the two rooms, giving the cabin a rustic touch.

Looking back at the piano, Nick resumed playing the rest of the Cole Porter classic, his fingers gliding gracefully over the ivories.

All of a sudden, with his keen sense of hearing, he heard the door open, his ears picking up a faint, rustling noise. Glancing up from the keys, he saw her and his breath caught in his throat. His hands stopped too, still spread above the keyboard. The piano notes carried for only a moment, then a sudden quiet descended on the room as they both heard him take his next breath.

Nick's initial thought was to run to her, gathering her up into an all-comsuming, frenzied embrace, but something held him back: a desire to savor the moment, to impress this bewitching vision of her upon his mind forever. For she was something to behold! She stood in the middle of the room, wearing a long, red silk Dior nightgown, but it wasn't just any nightgown. Oh no! It was cut narrowly, but deeply decollete in the front, exposing the rounded fullness of her breasts, and was bare in the back, accentuating the contours of her buttocks. A wisp of silken material held up the garment around her neck. Moonlight from the portal cast soft light directly on her deep neckline, and her coral and cream skin, revealing to Nick the quick rise and fall of her ample white bosom and the lovely curve of her back. The lower half of the gown clung beautifully to the sensual curves of her hips, trailing downward to a frontal slit which ran all the way up to the top of her thighs, exposing her shapely legs underneath.

Nick let his eyes take in all of her. Like a slow motion camera, his gaze traveled from her lovely face down her gorgeous body and back to her face, tracing every alluring curve, every nuance that was Natalie.

She finally broke the silence, shifting uncomfortably under his penetrating stare. "Well...Nick...does this *private* exhibition meet with your approval?" she asked, a hesitant smile gracing her face.

In answer to her question, Nick came swiftly from his chair to her. He could practically feel the heat and feverish excitement radiating from her body as he stood within inches of her. "I think that this *private* viewing has reached beyond the approval stage into the adoration stage," he said, his voice edged with huskiness, his eyes denoting love, then reaching up to cradle her cheek while his thumb rubbed across her soft skin, he added, "If I saw you everyday forever, Nat, I'd remember this time."

Bending over, he then brushed his lips across hers ever so gently as if to reinforce his cherishing words with his actions. Drawing away, Nick's hands traced a gentle pattern from her cheekbone, to her neck and finally down to her shoulder where his palms rested on the soft silk material of her gown. His blue eyes held her whole.

Natalie gasped at the intense love pooled in those eyes as she reached up to sweep the back of her hand along his forehead, brow, cheeks and finally his chin, caressing and kneading the fine, smooth skin like a sculptor with a work of art.

Suddenly the coolness of his hands, pressing down on her shoulder, the intensity of his eyes, gazing on her, and the closeness of him inflamed her very soul, escalating her into a hot, burning state as a raging hunger consumed her. She had to have him at all costs, to feel him pressed up against her body, to feel his soft kisses and caresses blazing across her flesh. She needed and wanted it! Swiftly she encircled her arms around his neck, entwining her fingers through his hair as she pulled him down into a searing, frantic kiss, a kiss that was raw and demanding in its intensity.

Up to this point, Nick had resisted gathering her up in his arms and taking her in a frantic coupling on the floor, trying to relish the breathless moment before that wild descent into bliss, into that realm of exquisite pleasure and sheer ecstasy, into the point of no return. However, once Natalie captured his mouth in that passionate, explosive kiss, all thought of reason and restraint was lost as he wrapped his arms tightly around her, pressing her hard against him. Nick's hands drifted up and down the curve of her back in delicate, feather-like strokes, finally resting on the soft roundness of her buttocks, as he hugged her more closely to his body while his tongue explored her velvety, moist cavern, tasting and sucking every possible spot in that warm, alluring mouth.

A river of honey coursed through Natalie as she molded her silk and flesh to Nick's, feeling the erotic sensations of his arousal pushed up against her body through his pajamas. The marvelous discovery that he wasn't wearing anything underneath also added to her heat-filled state. She yearned to feel him inside her, to feel his cool member enveloped around her warm moistness. Tremors of delight rushed through her at the thought as she tangled her fingers in his hair and grinded her hips against him so hard and so close; their bones seemed to mold together in a hot, liquid mixture.

Finally coming up for air, he released Natalie from the eternal kiss, spinning her around, and snaking his arms around her waist, as he pulled her body hard against him and he buried his face in her apricot scented hair, lavishing in the soft texture of her curls, like satin ribbons against his smooth cheek. After a moment, his lips moved from her sweet smelling hair down to her neck, kissing and licking her creamy flesh, then finding her earlobe, his tongue began swirling around the outer reaches of this sensative spot in wet, slow motions. At the same time, his fingers drifted up and down the center of her nightgown, caressing the exposed swell of her breasts along the way, while his other hand traveled down to part the opening of her gown, widening the entranceway of the silky material, as his fingers reached in to stroke along her soft, inner thigh.

Natalie uttered a soft whimper at the sheer pleasure of Nick's deliberate touches as his hands dusted over her chest and thighs, and his tongue explored and licked her earlobe. Reaching up, she locked her arms around his neck, running her hands through his unruly curls and pressing him closer to her, rubbing herself in sensual motions around his arousal.

Nick shuddered at the exquisite feel of her lower back and buttocks, dancing around his swollen manhood as he continued to tickle her earlobe with his tongue, tasting the sweet flesh while his hand slipped under the silk material of her gown to cup her breast and press his palm against her taut nipples, sending an electric current through Natalie's body. Freeing her breast gently from the confines of the nightgown, he ran his thumb around the peaked nub, tracing circles around the sharp point, then he cradled the swelled flesh in a reverent hold, worshiping the soft feel of her aroused breast under his hand. Simultaneously, parting the slit of her gown further, Nick's other hand wandered up her inner thigh, and, to his delight, found no silky wisps of material to impede his progress as his fingers brushed over the wiry curls of her mound. Drawing away from her earlobe, his head turned to watch her quiver with delight under his gentle touches as his fingers moved lower to explore her sensative core, then finding her center of desire, he rubbed, caressed and massaged her moist cavern, all the while, squeezing and kneading her breast.

Arching her back, her head resting on his shoulder, she moaned deeply and clutched at his head as she was carried away by a tital wave of bliss. Nick felt her tremble against him, arousing him even more while one of his fingers penetrated her sleek moistness. Upon penetration, a soft gasp escaped from Natalie's lips, her satisfied response practically sending Nick over the edge as a wave of pleasure enveloped him; a delight in the knowledge of being the cause of her aroused state, of his gentle and tender caresses inflaming her body, and of his loving touches sending her to the brink and beyond. He suddenly felt empowered by it all.

Abruptly, he stilled his loving attentions upon her sweat-laden body, his immobile hand covering her breast as if he were cradling a ripe, succulent peach and his cool, unmoving finger remaining tight and snug inside her warm, moist chamber. He was soon rewarded with his desired purpose, as her lush juices began to pour free, flowing with wild abandon over his searching finger.

Inhaling deeply, a contented sigh escaped his lips as her, sweet, musky scent hit his flared nostrils. Pressing his lips against her ear, he whispered, his breath cool against her heat-filled flesh, "Ooooh, Nat. You feel and smell so wonderful, warm and sweet like nectar."

Natalie's satisfied moans soon turned to groans of frustration and disappointment at his unmoving hands. "Oh...ple..ease Nick! Don't torment me like this. I need you to finish...I need..," she said, panting softly, as she opened her legs wider and pushed her hips down over his probing finger, trying, in vain, to entice him to move.

"ssshh Nat...I won't torture you any longer...," he soothed against her ear, then raining kisses down her neck to her shoulder, he began to move his finger inside her wet chamber, with slow deliberation as if he had all the time in the world. With his other hand, covering her breast, he began to tease and trace circles around her nipple as he rested his head on her shoulder, watching her begin to climb that wave to the next plateau. Intensifying the pressure, he started to ease his finger in and out of her, faster and faster, all the while, swirling his palm around her peaked nipple as he sent her body to that next crest of delight.

Shifting his movements slightly, he began to rub and touch her sensative clit with another finger, simultaneously, plunging the other one into her hot, burning chamber while he felt and saw her writhing under his sensual touches. Nick looked on in fascination at the ripples cresting on Natalie's nightgown as her hips pushed up to meet his blazing touches. 'The same ripples which must be coursing through her body now.' he reasoned, as another thrill passed through him at the thought.

Feeling her grow tense under his ministrations and sensing her approaching orgasm, his hand drifted up from her breast and cupped her chin, drawing her breathless lips towards his demanding mouth. Suddenly, Natalie reached that final crest, crashing over into spasms of ecstasy. Never before had she felt such unbelievable sensations as her body was wracked with tremors of rapturous delight and utter bliss.

She tried to cry out her wondrous joy when suddenly, she felt lips descending on hers in raw explosiveness as Nick plundered his tongue inside her warm mouth, sending her into another spasm. His mouth continued to devour her, swallowing her up as if by taking her inside of him, he could experience her sensational climax, too.

After a while, as she drifted back down to reality, the kiss became less demanding, their tongues dancing together in a more languorous and deep motion, as Nick turned her around and scooped her up in his arms. The kiss went on for a moment longer, affording the opportunity to taste, smell and feel, to settle by layers into volumptuous ease.

When he finally released her from the neverending kiss, and Natalie opened her heavy-lidded eyes again, a surprised expression graced her face. She was lying on top of the down comforter on the bed with Nick's semi-cool body pressed up against hers. How they got there, she would never know, nor did she care as she cradled his face in her hands, bringing him down into another long kiss while they began discarding their clothes, shedding them to the wind. Now, completely naked, their lips and hands hungerly explored every part, every crevice, every fold of each other's erogoneous zones of desire.

During another long, deep kiss, Natalie encouraged Nick to roll on his back, so her body could rest on top of his. Sliding partly off his body, she began to spread her warm hand across his broad chest, brushing the blond hairs with light touches; then down to his firm stomach, tickling the short hairs around his navel; still further to his inner thighs, caressing the firm skin with spider-like strokes. In this last area of exploration, Natalie heard a deep-throated moan escape from his lips. She smiled, pleased at the ability to generate such a satisfied response from him. Raising herself up to a kneeling position beside him, she continued to torment him with her spider caresses, running her fingers and nails the length of his inner legs, each time advancing enticingly closer to his, now very much aroused member, only to stop within a hair's breath of touching him to wander down his leg again.

Suddenly, another deep groan, almost bordering on a growl, erupted from his throat as his hips jerked independently upward, being totally helpless to Natalie's teasing strokes.

"Nat, how long must you torture me?" he implored, in a hoarse, painful voice.

Looking up, she was met with pleading, amber eyes as she smiled mischievously. "Oh ..I don't know. How about ...until....NOW!"

On the last word spoken, Natalie encircled her hand around his throbbing member, squeezing gently before making a slow descent to the base, then an ascent to the tip. Leaning over, she ran her tongue in a slow, circular motion over the tip of his penis, then downward along the underside while her hand continued to stroke him up and down in slow movements.

She could hear his growls as her hand and tongue began to stroke and lick against him faster and faster while her hair cascaded around him, tickling his slightly heated skin. Moving forward even more, she started pumping his swollen penis vigorously in her fist while her tongue darted out to touch the tip as deep growls emerged from Nick's throat and chest.

With a sudden abruptness, though, Natalie found herself no longer leaning over Nick's throbbing penis, but under it as she gazed up into reddish-golden eyes. Unable to contain the fierce need to be inside her any longer, with lightening speed, Nick had rolled her onto her back, pressing himself against her tantalizing body. Before she could catch her breath, he descended on her mouth with such ferociousness that she lost all awareness of anything, but his relentless lips pressing so tightly against hers, his demanding tongue plundering into her moist depths, his lukewarm skin and firmness molding to her heat-filled flesh. It was beyond anything she'd ever imagined in her wildest dreams as ripples of intoxicating excitement flowed through her.

Moaning under his feverish kiss, she ran her tongue seductively over his teeth, feeling his sharp, elongated fangs. A low growl erupted from his chest at the erotic sensations produced by her probing tongue as she continued to travel over them, then suddenly impaling herself on a canine, droplets of blood cascaded down on his tongue. Unbelievable pictures formed in their minds as Nick allowed the spicy liquid to flow down his throat; their thoughts, feelings, emotions mixed together in that one breathless moment.

Drawing away from her inviting lips and enticing blood, he felt another more desirable, all-consuming need; to feel her warmness and closeness enveloped around him, to take her and know her in every possible way. Without another moment's hesitation, he positioned himself over her, spreading her legs wide as he plunged so deeply into her that her back arched so high and her head pushed up with such force, practically sending her against the headboard. Natalie had barely time to recover, wrapping her arms and legs around him in a warm embrace, as he began to move inside her, withdrawing completely, then plunging deeply back into her moist chamber. The quickness and passionate intensity of his actions took her breath away while an incredible exhilaration consumed her very being, spiraling her into the clouds.

Pushing her hips up to meet his thrusts, she ran her nails up and down his back as they rocked together in a fast, continuous rhythm while Nick continued to withdraw, then push into her with such fierceness that it sent her reeling into the next hemisphere.

Although as quickly as Nick had started this frenzied joining, he abruptly stopped it, realizing who the person was lying beneath him, the jewel he held in his arms, the treasure whose loving, trusting arms and legs were around him. She was not someone to take in some mindless, savage coupling.

With an enormous effort of will, he leaned in to plant a gentle kiss on her lips, brushing his hand across her cheek as a well of tenderness rose up inside of him.

Disappointed in Nick's sudden stillness after such a mindblowing, intense union, Natalie started to push up her hips in vain, trying to encourage him to move.

Nick gazed down on her with such love, it made her gasp. "Nat, wait a moment. Let's do this right," he whispered against her ear.

Seconds passed, his red eyes beginning to flash amber while the red, hot passion slowly diminished. After another moment, his mouth captured hers in a hot, slow kiss, as his hips began to move with the same slow deliberation. With this sudden change in tempo, Natalie felt like a bird, soaring in the sky in all its winged glory. As Nick continued to ease in and out of her with slow, sensual movements, their tongues dancing languidly around each other, Natalie's hands wandered down his back to his buttocks, pressing him closer to her, allowing him to penetrate further. The erotic friction caused by this deep penetration sent them into a different realm, as exquisite pleasure consumed them both.

Finally, breaking apart, he smiled down at her passion-filled eyes, as he raised her hips higher, burying himself deeper within her hot, wet chamber, then with measured deliberation, he withdrew completely, only to plunge in seconds later, thrusting hard and fast.

Natalie locked her arms around his neck, running her hands through his hair as he thrusted deep and hard into her, sailing them into the clouds. The incredible sensations of her sleek, damp skin pressed up against him, the feel of her smooth legs and arms wrapped around his hips like twine, the dazed expression of passion painted on her face, and the inbelievable feel of her moist, heat-filled chamber were sending tremors of ecstasy through him while they continued to move in a fluid rhythm. Increasing the speed of his thrusts even more, he started to shower Natalie with kisses and caresses everywhere, worshiping every part of her body.

Natalie kept pushing her hips up higher to meet his demanding thrusts as he continued to pump in and out, faster and faster, all the while, raining kisses all over her sweat-laden body and whispering endearments into her ear. Rocking together to a continuous, fluid beat, Natalie finally cried out for him to finish it; her arms about him so strongly she could feel the contours of his very bones.

Nick could feel her tensing underneath him; her climax fast approaching. His hips thrusted once more, plunging deeply into her, as he reached the summit, too, while another fierce need called to him. Blazing a trail of kisses up to her neck, with his hand, he turned her head to the side, inhaling the succulent fruit flowing rich and free under her skin. His lips kissed and licked around her soft flesh, his nostrils breathing in the spicy scent of her intoxicating blood, while he found the pulsating vein in her neck. As gently as he could, his fangs penetrated the soft, pliable skin. With the first taste of her blood rushing down his throat, he climaxed in one shuddering wave after another. He drank deeply, as her nectar continued to glide down his throat, evoking such intense images of her love, faith and trust in him; it sent him into such a state of fulfillment that he was reeling from the experience.

When Nick thrusted one last time into her, Natalie was catapulted over into neverending bliss as wave upon wave of orgasms blasted her into the universe. After a second, though, the rapture was replaced by a fleeting pain at her neck, then suddenly indescribable sensations bombarded her senses as her mind, thoughts, feelings, emotions merged completely with his, producing a helpless response so acute, she felt faint, thought she was falling. And she was ...falling, right back into the soft pillow and mattress as Nick, drawing away from drinking her boiling, spicy blood, captured her in his arms while his body collapsed on hers.

After a while, still panting slightly, Nick raised his head from her shoulder, giving her a warm, contented smile. "Have I told you recently how much I love you, Nat?" he said, leaning into plant a tender kiss on her lips.

"No, but you can tell me now, if you want to." She grinned, pulling him down into a more passionate kiss.

After a few moments, as he released her, Nick continued, his expression and voice denoting total seriousness. "You are everything to me Nat. I love you so much," he said, as he cupped his hands around her face.

"I love you too, Nick," she repeated, hugging him to her in a tight embrace.

Breaking the hug, Nick rolled her on top of him, as he wrapped his arms around her. Running his fingertips up and down her spinal column, he captured her lips in another deep kiss. As he released her, he smiled and asked, "Well, are you sorry that you missed the Van Gogh exhibition?"

"No....I think that this *private* exhibition exceeded my wildest dreams," she commented, laughing and caressing his cheek. "The viewing was especially enjoyable and the supernatural element was beyond anything I could ever imagine," she added.

"I'm happy that I could oblige," he laughed, then cradling her head against his shoulder, they closed their eyes and went to sleep.....

With tremendous effort, Nick removed the visor from his face, sighing deeply, his eyes still closed to the beautiful, vivid images floating around in his mind. It was unbelievable! The world had appeared so real to him, made him feel so alive. Never in his entire 800 year existence had he felt such euphoria, such fulfillment, such joy as he did now.

Opening his blue eyes, he studied the precious object in his hand while his thoughts continued to wander back to the place he'd left, the wonderful haven where he could spend unlimited time with Natalie, not only consummating everything with her in every conceivable way, but to talk freely and openly to her, to share her thoughts, feelings, ideas, everything without reservations, without fear of the enforcers, LaCroix or anyone else in the vampire community interfering with his life... their lives.... his and Natalie's.

Unwilling to waste another fabulous moment not playing this game, Nick reached over and picked up the phone, dialing the precinct. There were several rings before a connection was made, then Joe Reese's voice boomed across the telephone line. "Hello... 96th precinct. Joe Reese, speaking."

"Hi, Captain, Nick here!" he announced, in a weak sounding voice.

"Hey Nick. What's up?"

"Well....Cap. It's like this. You know that flu bug that's going around. I think I'm suddenly coming down with it, too," he explained, groaning into the phone for effect.

"Nick....are you sure? Since I've known you, you've never been ill," Joe commented, surprised.

"There's always a first time, Cap. See ya in a couple days?" Nick asked, trying to end the conversation quickly before Joe Reese's suspicions were aroused.

"Okay, Nick. Take it easy....see ya in a day or so, " he confirmed, hanging up the phone.

After Nick placed the phone back on the bedside table, he rested his head against the headboard, his lower lip curled into a satisfied grin. 'Now that I have two days in which to explore this game with more enthusiasm, where should I venture forth next? Which delightful place should Natalie and I go to now?' he mused, running his hands lightly across the keyboard as he explored the wonderful, enticing posssibilities.....


Natalie sat at a large, round dining room table in the spacious conference room at the Marriott Hotel in Montreal, listening to the current speaker, a pathologist from Vancouver, discuss the advantageous uses of a brand new autopsy saw. While she glanced around the room at the hundred or so other coroners, sipping their coffee, being attentive to the present speaker at the podium, she yawned for about the hundredth time within the last hour, not out of boredom, but fatigue. She couldn't understand why she should be so tired. Last night, after an early dinner with Andrea Moss, a friend from Med School, she'd called it a night, retiring very early to bed. After she'd slept almost ten hours with delightful, wondrous dreams of her and Nick floating around in her mind, she'd risen, showered, dressed and barely made it in time for breakfast, arriving ten minutes before the dining room closed.

Now, sitting with Andrea at the table with eight other coroners, Natalie drank from her fifth cup of coffee. Yes, five cups! After this much caffeine in less than two hours, she'd normally have been bouncing off the walls.

'What is the matter with me,?' she wondered. Perhaps, it was the lack of sleep she'd foregone to play that virtual reality game. After three glorious days of enjoying that exhilarating world, she'd hardly gotten any rest. At the time, it didn't seem to matter. She'd been so euphoric over her and Nick's ability to be together in the game, the sleep deprivation hadn't even crossed her mind.

Her face broadened suddenly into a wide grin, thinking of one particular detective, who, at this moment, was suffering from the same lack of sleep. The frequency of the dreams had been an obvious giveaway; he'd been using the game quite often, in fact, probably more times than she'd used it. She'd also tried to call him several times, only getting the answering machine, so she'd surmised that he was preoccupied with virtual reality.

Natalie took another sip of coffee, glancing over at Andrea, as her thoughts drifted to her friend. They'd decided to drive to the conference together since Andrea lived near Natalie with her husband, Gerald and their two sons, Michael and John. When she'd initally arrived in Toronto two years ago, they'd gotten together after work on a regular basis, but recently, more family obligations and a dayshift changeover where Andrea worked in the County Coroner's Office had ended their get togethers. When Natalie suggested the carpool to Montreal, Andrea had agreed wholeheartedly since they had so much catching up to do.

Andrea was also very eager to delve into Natalie's personal life. Yesterday, during the drive, she'd been relentless about prying into her lovelife. Natalie had kept her guessing until last evening. Finally, without revealing Nick's identity, she'd explained about a possible relationship with a detective, who worked at the same precinct. Andrea had attempted to gather more information about this 'guy' in her life, but Natalie wouldn't allow it, changing the subject quickly.

'Now, I only have to ward her off for two more days,' Natalie mused, smiling at her friend. She hoped that she could find enough other subjects to talk about with her, to prevent her from gaining more information about a certain blond haired detective. Andrea could be so unheeding in her quest for any gossip. And Natalie still wanted to keep the relationship under wraps until she and Nick made decisions together about where to go from here after playing the game. Was there a possibility for a future together after they returned the game to Sam? Could they venture forth to attempt any kind of true relationship in the real world? In her opinion, all these questions and much more needed to be worked out between them before anyone else knew about their relationship.

All of a sudden, Natalie's daydreams were shattered by the sound of applause around her. Coming out of her reverie, she started to clap for the last speaker. The President of the Pathologist's Association then stood up at the podium to announce a brief, fifteen minute break, before the continuation of the program. Everyone was exiting quickly from the room to take advantage of the delicious snacks and coffee, being served in the adjacent room.

Natalie started to stand up to leave with everyone at her table, when a wave of dizziness swept over her. Pressing her hands down on the table to steady herself, she waited for the whirling sensations to subside. After a moment, her vision began to clear as the room slowly came back into focus. Thinking she was okay, Natalie started to walk away from the table. As she headed for the exit, the room began to spin around her again and an unbelievable dizziness overpowered her. She could feel herself falling, as if in slow motion, her legs becoming wobbily and unsteady, her arms going limp at her sides, while she tried to grab a chair to break the fall. Then there was total blackness....


Tracy was working diligently on her and Nick's mounting paperwork while she contemplated for the hundredth time how she was going to get even with a particular detective when he returned from his so- called sick leave. Yes! This so-called sickness! 'Funny, how this sudden 'flu' had only infected two people so far: one medical examiner and one detective,' she surmised, as she flung another report into her outbox.

She glanced down at the next report with a sigh, while she allowed her mind to wander. What was up with Nick and Natalie anyway? There was definitely something going on with those two. Her suspicions had been aroused the other evening in the morgue, when they'd seemed to glow and radiate with happiness for the first time in months. Yes! Something was definitely happening in their relationship. Maybe they were finally admitting their true feelings for one another, realizing that they belonged together.

All of a sudden, Tracy's thoughts were broken by a whistling sound coming from the hallway. 'Must be Grimes,' she thought. He was always singing and whistling a happy tune no matter how grim a case could get. The sound was fast approaching the bullpen, as the person got closer.

When the noise was practically upon her, Tracy peered up from her paperwork to eye the culprit. Her eyes widened in shock. There, standing at his desk across from her, was Nick. And not just any Nick, but evidently, an extremely happy-go-lucky Nick.

He came around his desk to pat Tracy on the back, a huge smile plastered to his face. "How's my favorite partner doing this evening, Trace?" he said jubilantly, then seating himself at his desk, he began to whistle again.

She continued to stare at him with an dumbfounded expression on her face.

"Nick, are you okay?" she finally managed to ask.

"Sure, never been better. Why do you ask?" he queried, the lop-sided grin still glued to his face.

"Oh...I don't know, Nick. Maybe because you usually aren't so buoyant when you come into the station in the evenings," she said with sarcasm, then as an afterthought, she added, "Oh....I get it. The real Nick must have been kidnaped by some aliens and you are a twin."

"Very funny, Trace. But I'm still the real Nick. It's just that I decided I should kinda change my image around here and try to be less of a knightmare and more of a Mid-Summer's Knight Dream," he said, laughing.

She chuckled. "Whatever! I guess you're entitled to be in a good mood every once in a while," she acknowledged, as she resumed her work.

At that moment, the phone on Tracy's desk rang. Cradling the receiver to her ear, she said, in a business-like voice "...96th precinct..Tracy Vetter, speaking." After a moment, she continued, "Oh! Hi Grace. What can I do for you?"

There was a long pause as Tracy listened with attentiveness to her, shaking her head from time to time. Nick had looked up, curious as to what Grace was calling about.

Tracy finally replied to Grace, "Yes...I'll tell him. Thank you for letting us know. Bye."

Hanging up the phone, she met Nick's bewildered look.

"What was that all about?" he asked.

"Don't get excited,'s probably nothing," she started, calmly, but her eyes betrayed concern.

"What shouldn't I get upset about, Trace?" he questioned, becoming anxious, as a lump formed in his throat.

Taking a deep breath, she explained, "Natalie had to go to the hospital for some tests. It seems that she returned early from Montreal with her friend Andrea because she was experiencing fainting spells and so..."

Tracy didn't get to complete her sentence as Nick grabbed his coat and raced out of the precinct....


Nick rushed down the Emergency room corridor, searching frantically for Natalie. At the nurses station, they'd told him that she was located in one of the last rooms at the end of the hallway. As he approached the last few doors, he began to call out her name.

All of a sudden, a woman appeared at the doorway of the last room, examining him closely. "Are you Detective Knight?" she inquired.

"Yes, I am," he affirmed, striding over to her quickly.

She smiled, extending her hand to him. "Hi...I'm Andrea Moss, Natalie's old chum from Med. School. She's right in here and I'm sure she will be happy to see you; it's Nick, right?

"Yes..that's right." He shook her hand, attempting a smile, but worry lines creased his brow as they entered the room.

When he walked into the small, enclosed space, he stopped abruptly in front of Natalie's bed, drawing in a sharp breath as his astonished eyes took in her appearance. The color of her skin was extremely pale; her closed eyes lined with dark circles, making her look so small and vulnerable while she lay there sleeping in the bed. The sight of her fragileness tore at his heart; he wanted desperately to gather her up in his strong arms and console her, but was afraid to, afraid that she might break.

Finally, tearing his eyes from Natalie, he met Andrea's concerned face. "What have the doctors said about her condition?" he asked, trying to steady his voice.

"They ran all sorts of tests and found nothing wrong with her," she explained, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her head in a perplexed way.

"Maybe that's a good sign," he said, trying to sound optimistic.

Suddenly, there was a stirring from the bed as Natalie opened her eyes. She seemed disoriented for a moment as she attempted to focus on her surroundings. As her vision cleared, she saw Nick, giving him a wan smile. "Hi, stranger..How are you doing?"

The sound of her voice was music to his ears as he ran over to the bed, kneeling down next to her and scooping her hand up in his own. "Natalie, you had me so worried," he admitted, anxiously, pressing his lips to her palm.

"Nick, I'm sure that I'll be all right. It's probably because I've worn myself down between work and .....everything else." Her smile widened slightly at the last comment.

Pulling a chair up next to her bed, he sat down, grasping her hand again, a concerned look evident on his face. "You're probably right. You just need to rest..." he started to agree, then his eyes became distant while another idea formulated in his mind, a thought quite horrifying. As he came out of his reflections, he forced a weak smile at Natalie, then leaning forward, he kissed her brow and rubbed her cheek with the back of his hand.

Smiling to herself, Andrea watched this tender moment between them, pondering the fact her friend had omitted much about her and Nick's relationship. Any outsider could see the apparent love between them.

Approaching the foot of the bed, she spoke up, sternly, "Yes, I agree Nick. I've always told, Nat, that she needs to slow down; she drives herself too hard."

"Well, in our profession Andrea, we can't exactly slow down or else the patients will pile up quickly," Natalie chuckled, squeezing Nick's hand.

"And catching up on the paperwork would be a bear, too," she noted, smiling as she walked over to the other side of the bed, retrieving her purse from a chair. Turning around, she leaned over to give Natalie a peck on the cheek as she added, "Since you seem to be in good hands," looking at Nick, "I think I'll go home and see whether the house is still standing after being away from my husband and two boys for a couple days. No telling what kind of mischief they got into while I was gone."

Andrea said her goodbyes to them as she departed, promising to call Natalie later to see how she was doing.

After she'd left, Nick turned back to Natalie, averting his eyes from her while he rubbed his thumb across her hand, suddenly uncomfortable about broaching the subject of his newfound worries.

Natalie broke the silence between them as she cupped her hand under his chin, forcing him to look at her. "Okay, Nick....out with it! What's wrong?"

"Why do you think there's anything wrong?" he asked, innocently.

"Oh! Maybe because you've got that faraway look you sometimes get when you are thinking about your past or something that makes you feel guilty."

Nick sighed. "I was considering that there might be another reason for your condition Nat; something that the doctors wouldn't be able to discover because it can't be explained scientifically."

Natalie's ears perked up with interest. "Oh! What would that be?"

"Before I say anything, tell me more about your symptoms?"

"Well, I've fainted about 10 times, felt weak and thirsty, and wanted to sleep about 24 hours a day," she explained, then upon reflection, she added, in a low, reticent voice, "Nick, you also know that I've had numerous, splendid dreams about us."

"Yes, you can blame me for those dreams. I confess that I've played the game often; it was quite addictive." He smiled, sheepishly.

"Believe me, I understand completely." Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment at the confession, then she admitted, "I also feel linked to you differently now, than before, when I was playing the game. Somehow, I can sense you when you're nearby, like when you were *down* the hall just now, I knew it was you. I can only assume that the game must be producing a stronger bond between us each time one of us plays it."

"That's what I was afraid of Nat."

"Afraid of what?" she asked, perplexed.

"Afraid that I have been the cause of your condition," he explained, his voice and expression betraying shame.

"I don't understand. How could you possibly be the cause of my condition, whatever it is?" she queried, still baffled.

His intense stare bore into her confused look as he took a deep breath and confessed, "When I've been playing the game, Nat..... sometimes, not always, I've been a vampire again," He paused, searching her eyes for any reaction.

Her face was immobile, so he continued, "I've also been sipping on you during the game." There, he'd finally admitted it as he waited with uneasy anticipation for her response.

He didn't have long to wait. Her eyes narrowed into slits as she removed her hand from his grasp. "I don't believe it! You've been sipping on me during the game by your own volition, Nick?" Her tone carried disbelief.

"Yes," he admitted in a strained voice, gazing down at his hands.

"So! By sipping on me, you've reverted back to your old ways again, Nick, blowing a chance at mortality," she vocalized, with such frankness it made him cringe. "I should have known something was wrong when your hand felt cold again; I chalked it up to being outside in the freezing cold weather. I also suspected something was amiss when I was dreaming. At first, I thought you were biting me sometimes in the game, but my dreams never came in very clearly like the vivid images one would encounter when actually playing the game, so I figured it might be my imagination. I guess I was correct with my original suspicions." Her eyes brimmed with tears, and unable to look at him any longer, she studied her hands, folded in her lap.

Nick tried to reach for her hand, but she pulled away. "Let me explain, Nat," he implored, attempting to bring her face around to meet his sad expression.

She turned her head away from his sullen look. "I think that you'd better go Nick. You've already explained enough to me for one evening. I'm feeling awfully tired and I need my rest," she stated in a shaky voice, not meeting his eyes.

"Nat...please, just listen," he pleaded once more.

"No, not now! I can't deal with it!" she voiced, clearly angered, then in a softer tone, she continued, "Please just leave me alone for now, Nick. Perhaps we'll talk in a few days, but I need time to sort this out." She raised her eyes to his sorrowful ones. A hurtful expression graced her face.

"Okay..Nat. I'll do as you wish. But we need to talk...," he emphasized. Standing up to leave, he tried to kiss her cheek, but she turned away coldly from him. Sighing with remorse, he strode to the door, looking back once at her fragile state, then he departed.

As soon as he left, the tears started to fall unheedingly down her face, her chest heaving in anguish. Falling over in a crumbled mass, she cried bitterly into the pillow.....


At the end of the hall, in a dark, shadowed corner, a tall, mysterious figure stood, listening intently to the conversation drifting from the room, a hundred yards away. Minutes later, he observed a blond-haired man emerge from the room, a disheartened expression upon his face as he departed quickly down the hall and out the door. The lone stranger remained in the shadows of the hallway, a moment longer, a complacent smirk on his face, as he listened to the desolate cries, emanating from the room. Then, satisfied with the situation, he exited the hospital, too.

The End

Will Natalie ever forgive Nick for sipping on her in the game? If she forgives him, will they be able to continue a relationship in the real world? And...Who is the mysterious stranger? :)) What dastardly plots does he have planned? Stay tuned for the continuing saga in Games Detectives and Coroners Play.

Note to reader: La Vie de Rose is an actual barge/boat which is situated near Notre Dame in Paris. For more information, you can visit the site at: to get an idea of what the boat actually looks like. They do provide a chamber for one couple to stay on the barge. (In case, you are looking for some romantic getaway!) :))