Krewe of the Knight
by Pam (Jaxie)Williamson

This story is based on characters created by J. Parriott and B. Cohen
for the television series Forever Knight...etc. All rights belong to
the respective owners.

Writer's note: This story takes place after the first season, perhaps
somewhere within the second. In any case, it is written as if the third
season never took place.

Other Credits: Exclusive rights to "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" as sung by Chicago
belongs to Peter Cetera/ David Foster/ Robert Lamm, courtesy of Double Virgo
Music/Little Sacha Songs ASCAP/Foster Frees Music, Inc. BMI

January 29
Natalie had just pulled on her jacket to leave the office as Grace
came in, "Natalie, I'm glad I caught you before you left. This came for
you from the boss earlier. Sorry, it had slipped my mind after tonight's
abrupt chaotic workload."

Grace handed the brown envelope addressed to Natalie. She shook it and
then tore the flap open, "Hmm, could it be a late extra Christmas bonus?
Or maybe a couple of tickets to Hawaii."

Natalie's expression suddenly went blank. A little sadden, shocked
by Grace's account. "So? It can't be that bad."

"Well, I wasn't far off on the tickets. He would like for me to
attend a coroner's conference in the States. New Orleans, Louisiana to
be exact."

"Really? Wow! You have to be a little excited about leaving this
drab place for a while!"Grace's eyes lit up.

Natalie threw her hands up. "I just don't see how he can ask me right
now. We are back logged as it is. There is just no way." True her work
was important. But she didn't want to stay just to ensure her files stayed
in order while she was gone, it was leaving Nick behind. Nick would be left
alone with LaCroix. She would alone without Nick.

Grace moved around to look over her should at the letter and pointed,
"Look. See here? He says that he has already arranged for a temporary
replacement for you for the month you are gone. So, there's no problem."

She shook her head, "This isn't a good idea. I'll just tell him
tomorrow that he will have to find someone else to go in my place."
Natalie folded the envelope and its contents in half and stuffed them
into her shoulder bag.

"If it was me, I wouldn't hesitate a second to start my packing.
New Orleans is the best place to be this time of year, "Grace said as
she shrugged.

Natalie smiled at Grace, pausing to grab an off-white tote bag
sitting on her desk. "Maybe I'll tell him to send you instead, "she
yelled over her shoulder as she left to drop off a week's supply of
veggie drink for Nick.

Nick had just come down the stairs as he heard the elevator's
motor signaling her arrival. He could already sense her heartbeat
and smell the special blend of her perfume, "Nat! How is my favorite
coroner doing this evening?" Nick said smiling stood standing as he
opened the door for Nat. He placed a quick kiss on her cheek.

Startled, Nat was almost left speechless. "Well, we are in a good
mood! Aren't we?" she commented as she handed him the tote bag
containing bottles of his added dietary supplement.

"I see you came baring gifts, "he grimaced as he looked into the
tote. He looked back at Nat, "I know that I haven't been easy to be
around these past few weeks. I just wanted to say, I'm sorry."

She pursed her lips together trying to hide the smile. She loved
it when he looked at her that way, with his boyish charm and blue eyes.
"It's ok, really. It's been difficult for both of us."

Nick took both the shoulder bag and tote to set them on the table.
Taking her into his arms, he looked deep into her eyes, "I know that you
want so much more than I can give." His touch caused pure electricity to
flow through ever fiber, exciting her just as it had that night they had first
met, the first night he took her hand . . . so cold. She didn't feel the cold
now, only the body of the man that she knew she loved.

He lovingly placed a kiss on her forehead. How she longed for his lips, for him. Just then,
the embrace that had caught her by surprised, ended all too quickly. He didn't want to let her go,
but knew he couldn't be sure of her safety if he had continued. If this had been his recurring
dream, he'd taken her upstairs to his empty bed and made sweet love to her for the rest of his

Taking the hint, Nat backed off, taking a bottle of veggie drink from the tote. "You and
Schanke have any leads on the city's latest murderer?"

"We have a few, but nothing specific. Any new developments on your end?"Nick asked
as she handed him a glass of the greenish mixture.

He crinkled his nose in disgust at the drink. "Go ahead, it hasn't killed you yet, "Nat
nudged him in the back. "The specialized tests you wanted can only be run at the CDC's
office in Atlanta, Georgia. You were right on the money that this person being the traveling
kind. But, the particular strain of bacteria the man had at one time is so rare. They
said it could take up to two weeks before all the results are in."

He took a sip squinting his eyes. It was like watching a child having to take bad-tasting
medicine. Nat let a giggle escape, quickly covering her mouth. "You really enjoy torturing
me?"he said, laughing also but returning to the subject at hand. "What about the cologne
found on the victims?"

She sometimes wondered if Nick would ever not interrupt a personal moment between
them with work. "Your sense of smell was also correct. Cologne on all the victims was the
same. An exotic fragrance made with a flower that is indigenous to Ireland and some regions
of Scotland, "Nat answered as she walked to the stove to put on a kettle of herbal tea.

Without thinking, Nick walked behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist,
breathing her in . . . bathing in her scent that was uniquely hers, "Speaking of exotic, have
I told you how wonderful you smell tonight?" She was glad he couldn't see her blushing, an
extreme red. "I should. The perfume was a gift from you, "she softly spoke, grinning from
his touch, his words. Though he'd never said he loved her, she knew deep inside he
felt as strongly for her as she did for him.

She turned to face him. Mesmerized, their eyes locked with each other's. Lowering his lips
onto hers, he kissed her- lovingly, slowly, savoring this moment in time. Nat moved her hands
up the length of his chest then behind his neck. As the kiss deepened, Nick held her face in his
hands, then tenderly caressed the strands of her soft hair. Without warning, Nick drew away
from the embrace. Nat stood there, reeling from the kiss as she watched Nick walk slowly to the
fireplace. "We can't do this Nat. I'm sorry. I should not have . . . "he had intended to say that he
was sorry for kissing her, but he wasn't. Why did he draw back away from the one person that
was his life? Hadn't she reminded him time after time that faith and love was the key?

Speechless, she could only watch him, trying to understand. Each time, she had. Every time,
except now. Now, she wanted to yell, scream, run. How much was she expected to endure, to
understand? She had wants and desires. Nat logically understood that Nick was only thinking of
her safety but she couldn't help what her heart was not understanding. Hadn't they both heard the
ex-priest that exercised the demon from Nick that the faith of goodness was inside him? Even
LaCroix had to admit, though he denied it, that Nick had that faith.

Near tears, Nat broke the silence, "Should not have what Nick? Go ahead tell me. Not kiss
me? Or kiss me and not lead me to the brink of disappointment once more just to have me
pushed over the edge?"She was yelling now. It wasn't her purpose to make Nick feel guilty, but
by the look on his face that's exactly what she had done.

"Nat, please, "he moved toward her but her arms were outreached to warn him that she
couldn't handle the closeness of him.

"Don't Nick. We've been through this scenario before. We should have learned by now that
it's no good." She couldn't believe what she was saying! Wasn't she the one always to remind
him that faith and love would conquer all?

A wave of confusion and unbelief swept through Nick. "LaCroix was right Nick. We can't
beat this. Only you can. I do nothing but complicate things, "Nat said, now so blurry eyed by
the tears blinding her that she nearly lost her grip on her things before hurriedly dashing
to the sliding door.

"Nat, don't go!"Nick yelled running after her. But it was too late, she was gone and the empty
darkness that dwelled within him seemed to all but drown him. Nick pounded on the door,
knowing that another moment of pleasure had caused one of pain. Nat wasn't sure how she
drove home. By the time she reached her apartment, mascara streaked her face and her eyes
were swollen from the tears. She was glad she hadn't bumped into anyone on the way. She
wasn't up to discussing it.

Sydney met her at the door. She dropped everything and picked up the purring ball of fur,
crying, "What did I do? He'll never speak to me now." After putting down the cat, Nat peeled
off the layers of clothes and pulled on a soft, thick nightgown. Foregoing the lights, she
collapsed onto her bed when she noticed her diary. She picked up the pen beside it and opened
to the last entry. She had wrote no more than two words before the cascade of tears began
once more:
-Why did I go off on Nick like that? I knoww why he pulled away.
We both know what he is capable of doing. But, why can't he
understand that the only way to know is to try. I know I
should've remained objective as his physician. Doctors aren't
supposed to fall in love with their patients. Vampires are just
a myth. But I know those statements aren't true. Nick does
exist and I am helplessly . . . no hopelessly in love with the
patient. Having enough faith, love, and hope for two people is
consuming my soul . . .
Laying the book and pen aside, Natalie was startled by Sydney's loud meowing. Wiping the
tears, she figured out what she had forgotten, "Oh Sydney, I'm sorry my sweet cat!" Nat crawled
out of bed and walked to the kitchen to feed the starving cat.

After Sydney's craving was satisfied, Natalie was making her way back to her bedroom when
the partial brown envelope in her purse caught her eye. She picked it up then looked through her
contents once more, but this time with more serious consideration, "Maybe this is what I need.
What we both need." She dug around for her address book in her purse. She found the page and
picked the receiver up. Disregarding the late hour, she dialed for the operator, "Hi, I need to
make an international call to New Orleans, Louisiana . . . "

He drove from the precinct in silence, almost stopping by Nat's apartment but decided
against it. It had been a long night at work and he wasn't sure if Nat would even want to see
him. "Hey partner, anything wrong? "Schanke had asked at least a dozen times. Although the
sun was due to be up soon, Nick turned the caddy around stopping once more in front of her
building. "Maybe I'll just catch her at work. We'll work it out then, "he said to himself aloud as
he put the car back on the road toward the loft.

Nick arrived back at the loft with moments to spare. Going to the refrigerator for his evening
meal, he noticed the light on his answering machine was blinking. He rushed over hoping it had
been Natalie that had called. He was relieved to hear her voice, but his smile was premature,
"Hi. We need to talk. Could you drop by the office tonight? Thanks."

He noticed something about her voice that made him want to go to her right now. He picked
up the cordless phone to call her, but placed it back onto the table. "If she would have wanted to
let me know, she would have put it on the machine, "Nick said aloud. He wanted to call
desperately, to talk to her, to hear her voice just to make sure she was alright after last night.

Going back to the bottle, he poured a glass of the red liquid for himself and went upstairs to
his room. Whatever it was, he knew that he was going to have to wait until tonight. After
changing into a pair of his silk pajamas, Nick spent the next few hours watching the ceiling and
listening for the phone.

While Nick was supposed to be sleep, Natalie stirred around her place trying to convince
herself this was the right thing to do. She had arranged to stay with a fellow coroner friend that
she knew from Louisiana and called Grace to double check to see if it was alright if Sydney
bunked with her and gather her mail while she was away. The only things left to do, was to pack
and tell Nick that she was leaving.

It was then she broke down once more. She fell to the couch, not sure if she could do this.
But there had to be a line drawn . . . by her. At some point Nick had to realize that it was not
only his choice but hers as well.

Rising, she looked at her clock. Only five hours left until work and until Nick would be
there, waiting for her.

Early evening had set in and Nick was dressed even as the sun feathered its fingers across the
blinds of his windows. He grabbed his sunglasses and leather jacket and left for the Coroner's
Building. Whatever Nat was going to say to him, he probably deserved. He knew that she
trusted him. He also knew that trusting himself was causing the rift between him and Nat.

Later, Natalie pushed open the door to see Nick just as she thought, sitting at her desk waiting
for her arrival, "Hi Nat."

She felt her voice go dry not sure if her voice would even work, "Hi." Slowly, she
approached the desk, not trusting herself to look at him. "Thanks for meeting me here. I'm sorry
if it took you away from something else."

By this time, Nick had rose to his feet trying to look for some sign on her face as to what was
coming next, "It was no trouble at all. You know that anytime you need me. I'm here for you."
He could hear her increasing heart rate. It couldn't take a genus to figure out this talk was about
last night. "Nat, about last night . . . "Nick tried to explain.

"Excuse me, "interrupting him, she reached around for the black notebook that held all that
she scientifically knew about Nick. "You'll need this for the next month or so. It has the recipes
for your diet drinks,"trying to sound calm though her heart was breaking.

Puzzled, he looked at the book then at Nat, "I'll need this for a month? Why? You're not
leaving . . . or are you?"

"As a matter of fact, I am. I'm being sent down to the warm south. My boss asked me to
attend a conference in Louisiana and I told him yes." The words harder to voice than when she
had just pictured herself saying them.

As he dug his hands into his pockets, he looked at her, almost in shock. "Nat, if your going
because of what I did . . . "

"You think that everything revolves around you?" She shook her head. "You're unbelievable.
You know that? Has it ever occurred to you that just maybe I need a break? "Nat said as she
knew that this was far more than what she had wanted to transpire tonight.

He moved toward her. She just moved to the other side of the room. "Nat just tell me what
to do." She retaliated, "There's nothing to do Nick. Nothing but for you to take this book and
decide what you want."

"What I want? What I want is for you to tell me the whole story. You are leaving me in the
dark, "he fired back.

"You just don't get it do you? I love you Nick! But, I'm tapped out! I can't do this anymore.
To place myself in your world, only to be kicked in the face with what could never be. You
constantly remind me of that while I am the only one to struggle with what could be." There,
she'd said it once and for all.

With vampire speed, he was at her side holding her. Nick buried his face into her hair,
shushing her to calm down, "Shhh. I'm sorry, so sorry. I love you too. I didn't stop to think how
everything was affecting you." He wanted to say more, but he held onto her as her body shook
from all the emotions.

Before she knew it, her cheeks were wet as well as the front of Nick's shirt. Drawing back,
she sniffled, trying feverishly to wipe the wetness from her eyes to stay focused. "I need this time
Nick. What is it you tell me about vampires? That you know when its time to leave? This is my
time. "

Nick clasped his hands together, then took a step towards her. "It was never my intention to
cause you pain because of my love. I wish I knew what I need to say or do to make the smile
return to your eyes. "

"I can't tell you. Only you can find that for yourself." With that Natalie picked up the folders
she needed and left. Leaving Nick once more alone with himself.

February 11
Nick set at his dining table staring at a half-emptied bottle, with fangs bared and eyes glowing
their golden colour. He had already finished one and was now about to drain this one. It had not
even been two weeks since Nat had left and he was in the middle of a full-tilt, no holds bar pity
party for one. Suddenly, he threw the bottle across the room as uncontrollable tears streamed
down his unshaven face. He buried it into his hands as if trying to push the tears and the pain
back to that dark place.

He looked at the spilled contents on the floor. He should have been drinking a veggie drink.
But the drink he had tried to recreate ended up in disaster. He had made it exactly as Natalie had
written down in her book, or so he thought he had. But, the only thing calming the beast tonight
was what he had thrown across the room.

He slowly trudged back to the refrigerator for another bottle. Just then the phone rang.
"Yeah, Nick Knight. I'm either asleep or incommunicado. So, if you want to leave your name
and number, go ahead." Then the beep. "Yo Nick, it's your fabulous partner Schanke. Look I
know you went on a week's vacation, but we've got a situation down here at the morgue. The
temporary no-brain coroner refuses to give up the results of the test you had Natalie ordered
without your say so. We never had this problem with Nat. Could you please talk to that bozo
and let him know that we are all on the same team? Ok, well, that's all. Hey, get some rest.
You were looking like death last night. Ciao."

Nick pulled the cork from the bottle and sneered, "You don't know the half of it." He
managed to drain most of the bottle in one pass through his lips as he walked toward the book
laying open on the couch. He'd taken the diary from her apartment last night before reporting to
duty. Picking the book up, he took both it and the bottle upstairs.

After a quick shower and change, Nick drove toward the Coroner's Building. With the
vampire in check, Nick tried to remember where this latest mishap in their relationship had
began. A few weeks ago, things seemed to be going well, or so he thought. And then Nat-his
ever hopeful, never give up faith, his wall of strength, crumbled that night before his eyes in
tears saying she couldn't go on.

The last entry in her diary had said it all. Trying to have faith, hope, and enough love for both
of them had drained her. Nick should've realized that no one, though that person be mortal or
vampire, could keep such strong emotional check for two people let alone just for oneself. He
knew that all too well by the constant struggle to keep the vampire within him at bay.
Absent-minded, Nick tuned the radio onto CERK and his master's hypnotizing voice:
"The Nightcrawer here, sharing your lonely and empty nights with you.
Tonight, we talking about a masquerade. A masked faced hiding what
he is most afraid of- himself. Why he cannot accept, who he is . . .
To simply be without a thought or care. Surely, the pain of
going against one's nature would be lessened greatly, if not
extinguished? And what of love in this masquerade? Was it not once
said that love conquers all? If love conquered all, then why do we
exist my brother, my son?"

Rapidly, Nick clicked off the radio. He loved Nat. There was no doubting that. He would
never believe that what he and Nat shared could ever just disappear. What could be was within
his grasp if he only believed. Only believe in himself. Believing in that love. That's what Nat
was trying to tell him!

Later that evening after putting the temporary coroner on the correct path of police
investigation, he returned home. He quickly called Schanke to tell him that all was well at the
coroner's office and that he would have to finish the investigation without him. "Why, "Schanke
had asked. He simply answered his partner, "I have a date in New Orleans."

February 12
Stace looked over at Natalie, "Hey, you ok?" She smiled back at her friend, "Yea, what
makes think otherwise?"

"Because that's the third time you wrote the same word, "she pointed out on Natalie's postcard
to Grace.

Natalie looked at her friend, Stace Gilbeaux one of the few true friends she had left from her
early pathology years. "I did, didn't I?"

The sun felt good on her face as she and Stace sat on a bench outside Tulane University. "I
can't believe you're freezing Stace, "Nat commented as she watched her friend bundle up even
further than before. "It's positively balmy!"

Stace drew in her eyebrows, "To you, Miss Canada yes. But to us that aren't used to cold
weather it takes us a little more to warm up."

Both laughed until sore. "Any plans tonight?"Stace asked, trying not to pry.

"Nah. Think I will sit back and enjoy my little vacation, "she said while placing a postage
stamp onto the postcard.

Stace sat up, "You will not!" Nat looked at her bewildered. "You heard me. You are in the
most famous city during Mardi Gras and I refuse for you to sit at my place another night!"

Natalie had noticed all the purple, gold, and green decorations everywhere since the first day
she arrived. From Stace's French Quarter's apartment, she had heard the various parades and
parties. The spirit of the celebration could be seen everywhere though Natalie barely understood
the full concept of the holiday.

"Oh really? And what will I be doing if I'm not at your place? "Nat curiously inquired.

"With me at Grammy's house." Nat had already begun to protest. "Nat, she'd kill me if I
didn't at least bring you over for one night for dinner. Come on it'll be fun! There will be lots of
other people."

"I don't know Stace. I'd be intruding, "she replied, though she had to admit that being around
people might bring her out of the blues even if it was just for a little while.

Stace kept persisting,"She'd love to have you! You can even help with the final preparations
with the float."

Looking wide eyed, Nat asked,"Float? What would your grandmother be doing with a float?"

Stace snickered. "That's right. We never did talk much about my family when we were
friends back in the early days. My grandmother is the queen of the Krewe de Dehila. Before he
died, my grandfather was king. Now, my father takes that position. Every year, we design a
float for the main Mardi Gras parade that takes place in two days. There's nothing like it.
Sitting on top of that massive float, listening to the cheers of parade goers begging for beads,"she
laughed after she was finished explaining.

"And this Krewe is just your family? "Nat asked, curious to know more of the friend she
thought she knew.

"Yes, for us at least. Sometimes a Krewe is made up of particular organizations, "her friend
happily explained. "Now, you've got to come with me. If not, you'll have to explain to Grammy
why her cooking wasn't good enough!"

Once again, they both burst out in laughter until Nat relented, "Ok. I'll go. But, no spicy

That same day back in Canada, Nick was still up trying to not lose his cool, "Are you're sure
you have no direct evening flights?" As the airline personal assured him the information was
correct, he crossed out the fifth airline name he had listed. Only one more to try, but he refused
to give up. "Thank you for your time anyway."

Hurriedly, Nick dialed the last number on his list. The young lady answered,"Good morning.
Transworld Air. How may I help you?"

"Hi. I need a direct fight from Toronto to New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Oh, and it
has to be an evening flight,"he added as he sat at his dining table twiddling a pencil between his

The lady had grown silent leaving Nick to think the worst. "Please hold while I check the

Strange as it was for Nick to pray, he did so as he held onto the phone, hoping an open flight
was available. Suddenly, the young lady's voice broke in mist of his plea,"Yes, there is one flight
available. Leaving seven this evening. Would you like me to reserve that seat for you?"

Nick could hardly contain his excitement,"Yes, please."

"Very well, if you'll just give me your credit card number I will see that this available seat is
reserved for you."

He grew silent. Credit card? He never understood the use in having one before but would
make sure to have one in the near future,"Is there anyway I could pay for the airline ticket at the
counter before boarding?"

"Yes, but the seat may not be available then. If you want the seat you must either reserve it
with a credit card or pay for it as soon as possible."

Nick quickly thought. Schanke. He could send Schanke to the airport and purchase the
ticket. "Not to worry. That seat will be mine. And thanks for all your help."

He had no sooner disconnected with the young lady from Transworld Air that the phone rung.

"Yo Nick. Thought you'd be asleep by now. Either that or on your way to your date,"
Schanke teased.

With a sly grin, Nick said, "Schanke. Just the man I need."

That evening, Natalie sat with Stace in her grandmother's house outside of New Orleans.
"Mrs. Gilbeaux, the food was delicious. I can't thank you enough for allowing me to visit your
home,"she said, smiling at the dark tan skinned woman.

Mrs. Gilbeaux waved her hand, "Oh, phish. You think you barged in. Didn't my
granddaughter say that it would be better for her if she brought you to see me at least once?"
Stace gave an oh why me' look over to her grandmother.

Natalie couldn't help but smile and it felt good. She suddenly thought of Nick, thinking he'd
like this kind woman and her ways. Looking around, she tried to focus on something else. "I
wanted to ask you earlier, but wasn't sure how."

"Easy, you just ask, "replied Stace's Grammy, with a gleam in her eye because she knew what
was to follow.

"Your taste in decorations is unique to say the least, "Natalie began as she rose to take a
better look at some of the strange objects that were scattered on the wall or on different tables.
She continued, "Where did you find such unusual pieces? They are fascinating."

Stace and her grandmother looked at each other in silence. Answering the question, Stace
replied, "Grammy was once a voodoo priestess."

Startled, Natalie looked back at Mrs. Gilbeaux,"Wow. I'm not sure what to say. You used to
be a priestess? Does that mean you don't practice now?" Why hadn't Stace ever told her?
Natalie shouldn't have been so shocked due to the fact that for nearly three years she had been
associated with the impossible and never told anyone her secret.

"That is correct. I no longer actively practice the way. But, I still believe in the voodoo and
its divination,"the old woman answered. Without consciously thinking, she thought of Nick.
Maybe she could help him to become mortal. Voodoo was known to be strong against evil. But
she also knew that Nick wasn't totally evil. "You are wondering about the possibility, "her
thoughts brought back hearing Mrs. Gilbeaux's voice once more.

Natalie gave her best clueless look, "I don't have the slightest idea what you are talking

Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough. "Stace, see to the needs of the others outside. I would
like to speak alone with Natalie."

Without questioning her, Stace did as she was asked. As soon as she left the room, Mrs.
Gilbeaux repeated, "You are wondering about the possibility, yes?"

Biting her bottom lip, Nat nodded. This woman knew. She may not know the story in its
entirety, but she knew enough to bring Natalie to an answer.

"Come sit by the old woman child." She did as she was asked, then Natalie turned her face
away. Mrs. Gilbeaux, touched Nat's shoulder,"Your feelings are divided with a man who is torn
with himself. Your burden can go no further until the two are made one."

She instantly turned to the old woman's face with a look of astonishment, "But how?"

"I know your spirit Natalie Lambert, "finished Mrs. Gilbeaux. "You have one of goodness
and purity. It will never fail you. But take care never to fail your spirit. That is your key to your
happy life with Nicholas. Believe."

Nat opened her mouth in disbelief, "You know."

"Phish. I know only what your spirit allows me to see. And on its wings is the name of the
man you love."

January 13
Nick slung his black carry on bag over his shoulder has he exited the plane. "Goodbye. I
hope you enjoy your stay,"the stewardess kindly said as she showed Nick the plane's exit.
Nick flashed a smile,"I am certain I will."

The plane ride had been uneventful, except for the stewardess' constantly asking him
about if he wanted something to eat. He had assured them that he was fine each time. During
the flight, Nick had the chance to read through Natalie's diary. It astounded him to know
how much he'd been mistaken. How big a fool he really was.

Nick put his bag onto the moving belt in order for security check of his only luggage.
As the black carry on bag went through the airport's security scan, Nick noticed the
bewildered look on the security guard's face as the outline of his bottles had no doubt
shown up on the screen. Nick wasted no time in convincing' him that there was nothing
unusual in the bag. "Nothing unusual,"the guard repeated as Nick heard his heart beat.
Nick then released the guard from the trace, "You have yourself a good time at Mardi Gras."
Nick replied,"I plan to have much more . . . " leaving the guard puzzled at the parting statement.

He couldn't believe the hordes of people at New Orleans International Airport. Nick
shuffled through the people, some dressed in colourful outfits and beads. Suddenly it clicked
in his brain. It was Mardi Gras. No wonder Grace was overly excited when Nick had pumped
her for info about Natalie's visit before catching his flight hours ago.

Smiling, he thought this was going to be better than he planned. That is if Natalie would
see him at all. "No, she will see me, "Nick said, resolved in his plan.

Finding Crescent City's Rentals, he encountered a long line ahead of him. As he tried
to patiently wait for his turn, Nick was tempted to think about the last time he'd visited
New Orleans. "No, that is the past. Now, I only want my future,"he thought to himself.

Nick glanced down at his watch. He would have a few hours before sunrise to try and find
Natalie. Although Grace didn't know the exact address, Nick was quite assured he would have
no trouble locating the woman he loved.

It was just after one a.m. and Natalie found herself wondering around the guestroom.
How could Stace sleep through the laughter and loud music? This was Stace's city, she
was accustomed to it. Then too, had it really been the music to keep her awake or
something else?

Natalie got up and quietly changed into a pair of dark sweatpants and matching
shirt. Not bothering putting on socks, she slipped into her tennis shoes and tiptoed out
the guest bedroom. Careful not to wake her friend, she cautiously looked back while
Nat unlocked the door leading out to the balcony.

Although the festivities of parties and the many parades had begun days ago, she
found herself still astounded by the crowds of people still out celebrating this late
at night. As she sat in one of the two iron wrought chairs out on the balcony, her
thoughts became lost within the crowd. Leaving Grammy's house that night had left
her with a bittersweet hope. Grammy had said not to fail her spirit. "How can I not fail
it when I feel as if it's gone?"she thought to herself, gathering her knees to her chest.
Maybe the voodoo Stace's grandmother believed greatly was nothing more than
another fanatical belief.

Natalie loved Nick. In that itself, there was no doubt. But, she doubted Nick. Natalie
sometimes even doubted herself. The night she told Nick she was leaving, she mentioned
LaCroix's possibly being correct about their impossible relationship. At the time, she had
thrown it like an arrow to hurt Nick so that it would be easier for her to leave him. As the
doubt became seeded more deeply within her, she was beginning to believe the validity of
that statement.

Without warning, an object hit her. Feeling her heart in her throat, she bolted to the door.
Someone was trying to harm her. Just then, a voice yelled from below,"Natalie! Hey Natalie,
down here!"

Just as she reached for the knob, she turned to the voice she thought she recognized. Natalie
found a familiar face waving his hands feverously among the assembly on the street as she
cautiously peered below. An unexpected smile materialized on her face. "What the hell do you
think you're doing! You scared me half to death!"Nat yelled.

"You mean only half? Now, I'm disappointed!"The male voice yelled back. "Before you call
the police, you better see what I threw!"

Natalie looked around. Finally underneath the iron wrought table she found a strand of
beautiful ornate beads. As she took a closer look, she noticed a beautiful masked face medallion
embellished the string of purple, gold, and green beads.

"Oh Steve! Thank you! It's beautiful!"Natalie yelled back while holding the strand out in
her hand so that Stace's brother could see that she found the Mardi Gras treat.

Steve covered his mouth with his hands so that his voice would carry, "I thought it way pass
time for you to start celebrating!"

"What is the commotion all about?"Stace said from behind her standing in her robe.

Natalie gasped. "Oh Stace. Sorry for waking you . . . Ah, it's all his fault!" She pointed to
the street down below.

Stace moved toward the edge of the balcony squinting to see whom her friend was talking
about. After her eyes finally focused, she let out a grumble. She yelled out teasing her
brother,"Should've known it was the finest riff-raff the Quarters has to offer! You mean, you
wake me up just for this lousy set of beads? You throw better to strangers!"

Bursting out in laughter, Natalie watched as Steve dug through the strands of beads that hung
around his neck. As he finally got the one he wanted untangled, he threw that set as well,
"Maybe this will make up for my male-patterned stupidness!"

Catching the beads, Stace she handed the beads to her friend and yelled once more,"Now
that's a little better! Now, get on out of here before I really do call the police!"

"Natalie! I really am sorry for scaring you! Hope to see you tomorrow!"Steve bellowed to
the balcony above him.

Grinning, Nat shouted out,"Next time, give me a little warning! Good Night Steve!"

After an exchange of goodbye waves, Natalie returned to her seat. Stace followed by sitting
in the chair across from her friend. "By the way, just why are you out here this late at
night?"Stace inquired.

"I couldn't sleep,"Nat replied. Stace's prying eyes squinted at her. "Really, that's all!"

"Sure. And this is Oz and I'm the good witch of the north,"Stace said raising one of her
dark eyebrows.

Between the two friends, the silence grew. Just as Stace was about to say something, Natalie
asked,"Do you hold the same beliefs as you grandmother?"

"She told you something that hasn't set well with you. Didn't she?"Stace said shaking her
head, her short dark hair rustling about. "I thought so. You haven't been your depressed self
since we came from there."

Natalie fingered the strands of beads in her hands. "I guess I'm not very good at hiding.
Am I? Probably why I was never particularly fond of Hide and Go Seek' as a child."

"Nat, please just trust me not to judge or criticize,"Stace sincerely said as she leaned forward.

Letting a tear escape, Natalie blurted out,"It's impossible to be with him. Though I tried to
have enough love and faith for both of us, I failed. I couldn't keep up."

Concluded that had been the problem since first talking with her friend long distance, Stace
remained quiet suspecting that Nat needed this. To talk, to have someone act as a sounding

"There's so much that I've had to keep inside. To keep hidden from my family and friends.
I feel as if I were the one living in the cage and not him. If only he could believe as I do
in this love..." Natalie trailed off as she suddenly found herself pounding the balcony's railing
as tears flowed freely.

Stace rose and put a comforting arm around her friend. "Stace, I can't tell you. I know it
would be better for me to get everything out. But I can't betray his trust."

"Believe it or not I understand,"Stace said, giving Nat a little squeeze. "I know we haven't
seen each other in a while. But I have missed you and our talks over a bottle of wine. If there's
anything, anyway at all I can help . . . even if its just listening to dead air when you call . . .
don't hesitate to tell me."

Quickly wiping the tears away, Natalie nodded. "Thanks. I really appreciate it,"she said,
giving her friend a hug.

"Well, now. We have the talk and no wine. It's a good thing we have today and Fat
Tuesday off!"Stace hollered over her shoulder as she reentered the apartment to retrieve a
cold unopened bottle of wine and two glasses.

After Natalie accepted the glass of wine offered to her she asked,"What will we toast to?"

Raising her glass, Stace smiled at her friend then winked. "To Natalie and her knight in
shining armor. And, to faith not yet seen."

When Nick finally received the keys to his rental car it was almost one-thirty a.m.
He easily located the black Grand-Am in the airport's below ground parking garage
without incident. Unlocking its door, he tossed in his one piece of baggage. Shifting
the car into gear, he drove from the airport.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, he found the folded paper on which he had wrote
the directions to the Magnolia House, a bed and breakfast place just south of New Orleans.
He was grateful to the travel agent he spoke with before leaving Toronto or he'd might
not have been lucky on his own to have found such a find. Trying to find the perfect place
was taxing enough when one did not know the city well. But, with Mardi Gras revilers
in full force, it didn't surprise him that the quant one bedroom complete with bathroom
and fireplace would be costing him as much as two-hundred a day.

The New Orleans travel agent almost choked when Nick said he would actually pay
the extravagant cost and in cash no less. "You must be rich or something,"the lady had
exclaimed. Nick's reply, "...or something."

Once out on the open road, he thought about site seeing an hour or two. He wouldn't
be able to speak with anyone from Tulane until after sunrise. He almost turned the car
around back to the city when he felt the familiar pain in his stomach. Realizing he had
forgotten to feed that evening, he kept the road to the Magnolia House. As he left the lights
of New Orleans behind him, he looked into the rearview mirror. "I will find you Natalie.
Don't give up on us."

"Good evening, or should it be good morning? May I help you?"the small elderly man
asked smiling at Nick.

Nick returned the smile. "Good morning. My name is Nick Knight I have a reservation
for one of your rooms." He looked around the small intimate inn. In an instant even without
seeing the room, he knew this was exactly what he had in mind.

The elderly gentleman flipped through a book, running his finger though the list of guests.
"Ah, here it is. You're the one from Canada." A broadened smile now over took the greeting
smile as the gentleman handed the keys to Nick. "My name is Arthur Vincent. If you need
anything, please don't hesitate to ask my wife, Edith or myself."

Nick thanked him, then payed for the room a week in advance. Mr.Vincent was no
less than thrilled as his new customer acclaimed compliments for the room. He showed
Nick where the matches and extra firewood was located. "This ain't like the big fancy
hotels in the Quarter. We like to keep things simple."

Smiling, he shook Mr.Vincent's hand, "It's perfect just the way it is."

After his goodbye and reminder about breakfast, the owner left Nick to finish the
paperwork he had began when Nick arrived.

Sitting his black bag on the couch in front of the fireplace, Nick took out an inner bag
that held the bottles of blood keeping them cool. Thankfully, the inn's caretakers had
fulfilled his special request of dark window shades and a small refrigerator.

He deposited all of the bottles except one. That one, he removed the cork and drank
deeply. Walking around the room, he went and flipped off the lights leaving him in
totally darkness. Nick took one more swallow from the bottle, replaced its cork,
then returned the bottle with the rest already being chilled.

Finding the matches, Nick struck one. Its glow lit up the room like a single star in a
black sky. He bent down and lit the logs that had already been prepared.

In the mood for music, Nick looked around for a radio. Finding it on the telephone
table next to the table, he flipped it on turning the dial until he found a soft rock station.
As the low music played, he took out Nat's diary from his black bag. Sitting on the couch,
he leaned back and flipped open to the first entry where she had mentioned his name.

Nick read where his cold touch had not frightened her half as much as it excited her.
She loved when he touched her hair, when he placed "soft, gentle whispers of kisses" on her
temple. He paused for a moment, looking into the fire. He then resumed his second reading of
her diary:
"The closer I get to him, the further he pulls away. What am I thinking?
Falling for him? I ve got to stop myself before someone gets hurt..."
Nick paused once more,"But Nat, I had already fallen for you." He began to read once more
when the radio's host began to speak.

"You're with Debra after dark here on WLUV, the most romantic station this side of New
Orleans. We welcome your requests and dedications,"the woman's low voice carried through
the room. "Speaking of dedications, one of our faithful listeners just phoned in with a very
special dedication for her friend that is out of town. It seems that her friend and her friend's
boyfriend are going through a difficult time. This dedication goes out to Nat and her knight in
shining armor. Here's Chicago with Hard to Say I'm Sorry' and I hope your knight will
rescue you soon Nat."

Nick almost dropped the diary. Surely it had to be her! He rushed over to the telephone
book to look up the radio's telephone number.

Quickly dialing the number, he was greeted by an automated voice. As he was put on hold,
he listened to the words of the song:
"Everybody needs a little time away, I heard her say,
from each other.
Even lovers need a holiday, far away,
from each other.
Hold me now. It's hard for me to say I'm sorry.
I just want you to stay.
After all that we've been through,
I will make it up to you, I promise to.
And after all that's been said and done,
You're just a part of me I can't let go..."

He could barely hang onto the receiver as began to shake at hearing the words. Nick almost
dropped it as he recognized the announcer's voice,"Hi, Debra here."

Nick took a breath and spoke,"You are playing a song that was dedicated to a woman named
Nat. I know this is going to sound strange, but I need to know where she is. You've got to
understand that I flew here looking for her." He must be sounding like a complete idiot.

"Whoa, slow down. Let me get this straight. You are Nat's knight?"Debra asked.

Nick said excitedly,"Yes, that is who her friend was talking about. Please, if you know where
Nat or her friend is, you have to let me know."

"You've got to be kidding! I don't know who you are, but these crank calls will not work
with me. Now, I have a job to get back to,"Debra said, then hanging up the phone with a loud

"Damn. This isn't happening to me,"he said. He tossed the receiver back down onto its
cradle and looked back at the telephone book. Once he had the page, he tore it out. Opening a
window to the night, he flew into the night in search for his future.

"No! You didn't! Stace, tell me you did not call that radio station!"Natalie said, shocked.
Most of the people had left from the street below allowing the sounds from Stace's stereo to
float outside.

Stace divided the last of the wine between hers and Natalie's glasses. "And what if I did. It's
not like your secret boyfriend is in town. Besides, no one knows you here."

Her eyes were still moon wide in disbelief as the dedication came over the radio,"Oh my god,

Stace looked at Natalie. "Even though you can't tell me everything, I wanted to
let you know that what you're going through has happened throughout the ages. If not, then
why would songs like this be written?"

As she listened to the words of the song, tears flowed without warning. She thought about
Nick as the song played through and wondered what he was doing. Natalie had no idea
he had done the same as her- had listened and thought that if they ever held each other again
they would never let go.

Nick returned with an hour to spare. It had taken longer than he thought to find the
WLUV's building and even longer trying to convince Debra of whom he really was. He
was able to find out that Nat's friend who had called was named Stace and that she called
in frequently. But, without a last name Nick was back at square one trying to locate Nat.

After another quick trip for cow's blood, he stripped off his clothes and fell into bed.
There was nothing more he could do now. He would just have to wait until Tulane University's
offices opened to get the information he needed.

He drifted off to sleep in a wonderful dream about her.

As Natalie crawled out of bed, she looked over at the alarm clock as the number's
brightly showed ten a.m. Stretching, she couldn't believe that she had slept so
late or how relaxed she felt. Of course a half a bottle of wine helped her to find the bed
at almost four this morning. But for some strange reason, a wave of happiness washed
through her. She couldn't quite explain it.

Tying her terry cloth robe around her, Natalie made her way to the front room,"Good
morning. That wonderful aroma, wouldn't be your grandmother's special blend of coffee?"

"Good morning to you too! You certainly look one-hundred percent better than last
night. I guess the wine & talk did the trick again after all these years,"Stace remarked.

Nat looked at Stace already dressed and her own bathrobe,"I think I should get dressed
before the day is wasted away."

"Nah. Like I said last night or ...early this morning, we have today and tomorrow off. So why
not enjoy it?"Nat's friend said smiling as she poured a cup of fresh coffee for her.

By this time, both friends were sitting at the counter on barstools sipping and enjoying
Grammy's special coffee.

"Oh, you do have your dress for the ball tonight?"Stace asked looking over her coffee mug at

She remembered reading something in the packet about the International Coroners
Conference giving a Mardi Gras ball. But, she hadn't planned on going when she was packing.
Natalie was too upset to think about people dancing and beautiful gowns.

Stace squinted nodding her head slowly,"Oh please tell me you did bring a gown." Nat
returned the nodding with a firm left to right head shaking, "I didn't think I'd want to go."

"And now? You do and you are up the creek without a paddle,"she tried to hide her smile as
she took Nat's hand and led her to her bedroom's closet.

As she was being dragged behind, Natalie shouted to her friend,"Hey! What is going on?"
Giving her friend an evil grin, Stace said,"You'll soon find out Dr. Lambert."

Nat followed Stace into her bedroom. "With the way you sounded when you called me to ask
if you could stay here while attending the conference, I became a little worried about you. From
the tone of your voice, I knew that you were upset and down and probably not up for fun. So,
after the sun came up and I was able to think, I called the dress shop where my gown was found.
And...well, see for yourself."

Opening the closet door, Natalie recognized Stace's beautiful gown beaded in the traditional
colours of purple, gold, and green. But, the gown next to it and its accessories she had never
seen before. She reached out to touch the garment. It was the most exquisite crimson red velvet
material she had ever touched.

"It's your gown for the I.C.C.'s ball tonight. I hope you like it. Wasn't quite sure on the size
since I only had a year old photo of you to work from. Grammy said she'd be happy to lend her
sewing talents to alter it, that's if it needs altering at all,"Stace said as she took the gown from
the closet and lay it against Nat to check the size.

"Oh Stace. I don't know what to say!" Natalie couldn't contain her excitement.

Smiling Stace answered, "Just say you'll go! Steve can escort us both. He'll die of a heart
attack entering the building with *two* ladies!"

Hugging her friend, Natalie laughed,"Call your brother and tell him he's got another lady to
escort! I'll be there with my gown, cape, and mask on!"

The phone must have been ringing over a minute when Nick finally answered it, "Knight."
On the other end was a woman's voice. It had to be Edith, "Mr. Knight. This is your wake up
call." Nick looked at his watch, eleven a.m. on the dot,"Thank you Mrs. Vincent."

Nick pulled a clean pair of jeans and put on a dark blue pullover shirt before going over to the
refrigerator for his meal. He took the bottle and glass over to the couch. As he sat, he noticed a
brochure containing information about New Orleans and the Mardi Gras history.

He had been to New Orleans many times in the past, but had to admit that he knew very little
about its culture and traditions. He had been too busy searching for victims to stop and learn.
Shaking the thought, he opened up the information sheet. He found out that the official colours
had been selected as early as 1872 for the first Rex parade in honor of The Grand Duke Alexis.
And that the three colours- purple, green, and gold stood for justice, faith, and power.

Nick tossed the brochure back down onto the table. If only justice, faith, and power would
work for him now to find Nat. Draining a glass of cows' blood, he went over to the chair where
his jacket was thrown. After finding the number Grace had written down for him, he dialed.

"Tulane University Science Department. This is Cameron speaking. How can I help
you."The young man answered sounding bored to no end.

Trying to reach the bottle and glass once more, Nick said, "Hi, I'm wondering when the I.C.C.
will conclude their meeting today. I'd like to leave a message for a person who's attending the

The college student seemed more alert now, " I.C.C.? What conference?"

Giving up on trying to reach that far, Nick let out a breath, "International Coroners
Conference. I was told that this was the department I was to contact if I need to get in touch
with any of those attending it."

The caller on the other end grew silent, but Nick could still hear his breathing. "Ah...well,
the conference is postponed until Wednesday due to Mardi Gras. But, you are more than
welcome to call back then. Maybe someone can help you on Wednesday."

"Is there a list of names who's attending or someone who has a list?"he was growing
impatient again. "It's really important that I get in touch with one of the conference members."

"Well, I don't know. We aren't supposed to give out that information,"Cameron said,
obviously sighing.

Nick tried a different angle. "Cameron, I flew all the way from Toronto to speak with this
person. It's ok. I am a police officer in Canada. I'll give you my full name, badge number, the
telephone number to my precinct if you'll just tell me where I can get in touch with this
particular person."

Cameron blew out a breath, "Well, ok. I'm gonna check this out and if you're lying I'll call
the F.B.I. Who's the person you are looking for?"

Nick smiled, "Dr. Natalie Lambert."

The sun had began to set. Nick checked his attire once more. He was acting
like a nervous school boy going to talk to the cute high school cheerleader. But,
he wasn't a school boy and Natalie certainly wasn't an undeveloped teenaged girl.
"No, she's a captivating woman,"he thought aloud. Her smile, her laugh, the way
her touch caused Nick such sweet torture.

He looked at his reflection in the mirror. This is what Natalie had done
for him. Not just his physical reflection but his reflection of his soul. Nat
saw the goodness when he could only see the darkness.

After leaving the inn, he found a flower shop on the way to the French Quarter.
While there, he hand picked a dozen red roses. He smiled down at the flowers not
wanting to wait another minute before giving them to her.

Nick found the apartment complex where Nat's friend lived. After driving
around, he finally found a parking place a couple of blocks away. With so
many people about for Mardi Gras, he thought it best not use his vampire
flight. Walking briskly, he found himself in front of the door to Stace's upstairs
apartment. Nick closed his eyes and concentrated on hearing her heartbeat. Smiling,
he knew she was on the other side of the door.

Raising his hand to knock, he lowered it deciding to surprise her. Nick checked
the door knob. The door was ajar an inch or two as if someone didn't quite shut the
door. With a bouquet of roses in one hand, he quietly pushed open the door and stepped

She was sitting on the balcony watching the crowds below. He could see the back of her
head, Natalie's hair being caressed by the gentle wind that blew across the small veranda.
Nick started to step closer then stopped. Reaching in his jacket pocket, he pulled out a green
doubloon then flicked it across the room, landing into Natalie's lap.

Nick smiled as he heard her laugh. His smile quickly dissipated when she spoke,"Alright
Steve. I told you I wasn't going to fall for that routine again."

"What routine, Nat?"

Natalie jumped up and spun around to face him, "Nick! What...How did you?" She
wanted to run to him. To bury her face into his chest, tell him she loved him.

She saw the bouquet of red roses in his hand and the bewildered look on his face.
Nick's smile was gone now. All that remained was a look of disappointment...or was it
jealousy? "Hi Nat. I hope I'm not interrupting anything,"Nick coldly said while looking

Nat's joy quickly turned to anger at hearing his tone of voice. Crossing her arms, she fired
out, "You haven't answered my question. How did you find me?"

"Let's just say I have my ways."Nick replied.

Suddenly their conversation was broken by Stace's voice coming from her bedroom. "Nat,
you'd better hurry up and get dressed. Steve will be here in less than an hour. And you know
how my brother hates to be late." Stace came out of her room staring at two different kinds of
earrings, "Hey Nat, what do you think? The long dankly ones or" Her
statement trailed off as she looked up to find Nick, a stranger to her, standing in her apartment
holding a bunch of roses.

First she looked over at Nick then at Natalie. Nick was first to extend a hand,"You must be
Nat's friend Stace. I'm Nick Knight. I know her from"

Stace rapidly transferred the earrings into one hand leaving the other one free to return Nick's
handshake. Natalie spoke while turning the green coin in her hands, "Nick, this is my good
friend, Stace Gilbeaux."

Sensing the tension in the room, Stace spoke up next,"It's a pleasure meeting you. Can I get
you anything? A glass of wine or a cup of coffee...?"

"No. No thank you. I just really came by to see how Natalie is doing," Nick replied, waving
the notion away with his free hand.

Stace watched as Nick and Nat stared at each other. "This had to be Nat's knight," Stace
thought. Making a clearing the throat' noise, she tried to excuse herself from the couple
walking backwards towards her room, "Well, if you'll just excuse me, I have to get ready. I'll two...alone. You can talk...or whatever... "

Both Nick and Natalie spoke at the same time as soon as Stace closed the door to her room.
"Who's Steve?"Nick whisperedly yelled. "I want to know how you found me!"Natalie shouted
in a low voice. This was nothing like he had planned he suddenly thought.

Natalie darted her eyes back and forth before answering,"Steve is Stace's younger brother.
He is going to escort us to the I.C.C.'s Mardi Gras ball. Now, your turn."

He looked down at the roses, grinning. "I asked a certain radio personality about a certain
dedication last night. Then I asked Tulane's science department for the address."

Unfolding her arms, Natalie looked at Nick in shock. He'd heard Stace's dedication! And
she said no one would notice.

Taking a step forward, Nick handed the beautiful scarlet bouquet to her, "These are for you."

Her smile lit up the room as he gave her the bouquet. Nick's fingers brushed against hers.
Nat looked into Nick's blue eyes,"I don't know what to say. They're beautiful."

"No, you are beautiful,"he said as he took the green coin from her hand to kiss it.

She couldn't breathe, her heart skipped a beat. Here was the man that she was ready to put in
her past standing next to her breathing soft kisses across her hand. Natalie had to know she
wasn't dreaming. "Why Nick? Why did you want to find me?"

Pausing the kiss he was brushing across her knuckles, he softly said,"Because I can't live
without you. I know now that it takes two to believe, to have faith." He turned her hand palm
up, placed the green coin back into her hand, then closed it. As he did, he bent down to place
a kiss onto her eager lips. Just as he was to deepen the kiss, she pulled away. "Please Nick.

Nick pulled her close. He kissed her, crushing his lips onto hers. He broke the kiss only to
whisper, "I love you Natalie."

Nat backed away with tears in her eyes, "I've waited so long for this moment. I want so
much to believe it."

Walking toward her, he smiled, "Then believe it. I love you. I believe in this love. I believe
in us."

"In us. You and me. Together,"she repeated. The tears now flowed freely down her cheeks.
"I don't know Nick, maybe its too late. Maybe it was never meant to be."

Nick was about to retaliate when Stace came back into the front room to open the door. They
hadn't even heard the knock.

Turning away to dry her tears, Natalie tried to compose herself. She turned back to find
Steve in the room shaking hands with Nick. He was dressed in a jester's outfit complete with
cap and stockings. Steve looked down at his outfit, "I know I must look weird, but tonight's the
night of the masquerade ball." He looked over at Natalie and Stace. "You two are not dressed
yet? I'm not going to be late because you can't find the right colour of shoes."

"Maybe you would like to join us Nick?"Stace abruptly asked. "There's going to be lots of
music and dancing. You might like it. You can escort Natalie and ...catch up."

Steve began to open his mouth in say that he was Natalie's escort when Stace
elbowed him in his ribs all the while smiling.

"I think I'll pass. It was a long flight,"Nick answered. Natalie looked at him.
Disappointment clouded her eyes. Taking another look at Steve he said, "Besides I don't
have anything...appropriate to wear."

"Steve go call Papa and tell him we have a last minute guest that needs an outfit,"Stace told
her brother pushing him to the phone.

Natalie released her bottom lip she had been biting. " Nick why don't you go. Like Stace
says, it is sure to be a wonderful ball." She held her breathe as she waited for Nick's answer.

He smiled at her, his blue eyes gleaming. "For you my fair lady, anything."

While Steve called his father and Stace took the roses from Nat to put into a vase, Natalie led
Nick out onto the balcony closing the balcony's door behind her.

Nick was beaming. "It's nice of your friends to try and get me a costume for this evening's

"For Stace and Steve, its no problem. Their father owns a costume and mask shop in
the Quarter. I'm sure he'll consider it a challenge considering Mardi Gras begins a midnight,"
Nat said walking over the balcony's edge looking out into the night. She turned to face Nick,
"We have to talk Nick." He began to take a step towards this beautiful lady before him when
Natalie stepped away. "Please."

"I know this is a shock for you to see me here. Night before last while I sat in my loft having
a one man pity party, I had no intentions of coming here." Nick looked at her, his hands
in his pants pockets.

Natalie crossed her arms, shivering, but not because of the soft wind that blew on this eve.
"You, a pity party?" Nick thought he could almost see a slight grin on her face. "Well, the
precinct must have loved your attitude."

"I took a week's vacation. Trying to live without you after what you re..."he was about to say
read in your diary' when he quickly corrected himself,"...said to me the night you were leaving.
You said I was the only one who knew how to put the smile back into your eyes. I understand
what you were trying to tell me that night at my loft and the night you left."

Natalie looked past Nick, trying to avoid his eyes because if she had looked into his eyes, she
would have begin crying once more. Instead she put the wall back between them. "It is good to
see you Nick, but I just..."

"Just what?" Nick's impatient nature flared. "That you can't carry on believing for both of
us? I realize that now. How could I have expected you to carry this burden of love by yourself?
I should know that better than anyone,"Nick said thinking about the beast he lived with inside

"And what about the next time you pull away from me? I'm I to keep understanding' also?
To always love you at a distance?" Natalie threw up a hand, "And before you say it, I'm not just
talking just about a physical relationship Nick. You keep yourself locked in this cage of guilt
and grief. I keep handing you the keys to help you open the door, but you throw them back at
me. As if you were almost comfortable being there."

Nick was about to defend himself when he stopped short. She was right and he knew it. "I
can't keep doing this anymore,"she heard her self repeat. "You have your vampire family who
know you and will listen to you. I have no one Nick. My family wonders why I rather work the
night shift than the days. Why I can't tell them what keeps my thoughts occupied most of the
time.." Her wall was crumbling as the warm tears began to trickle down her cheeks.

He rushed to her, held her tight. "I know. I know Nat. I wished you had told me this instead
of confiding to your diary. Maybe this pain you're in could have been spared,"Nick said without

Natalie slowly pulled away, her eyes wide. "My diary? You read..."

He shushed her by placing one of his fingers over her lips. God, how soft your lips are...'
Nick thought to himself. "Yes, your diary. Before you scold me- Yes, I went to your apartment.
Yes, I took your diary and read it. Twice to be honest."

"You had no...!"She began to say as he shushed her once more, this time kissing her.

"Yes, I had no right reading it. When you left I felt I had to do whatever was necessary to
find out what in the hell was going on in your head,"Nick admitted. "I know you wanted this
time away from me, from us. But, I can't let you go. I need you more than I've needed anyone
else throughout the centuries I've lived. I love you Natalie Lambert. I will never doubt us again,
never doubt that our belief in what could...correction *will* be, is worthy of the love that I've
been blessed with."

This time it was Natalie that kissed Nick. She pressed her lips to his, caressed his hair. As
they kissed he held onto her and lifted her up off her feet. His tongue teased hers. She broke
from the kiss to trail small soft kisses on Nick's neck. "I love you Nick,"she breathed onto his
cold skin.

Just as he brought her lips to his for another kiss, the balcony's door opened. "Oh...geez. I'm
sorry. I have such lousy timing. I'll just..."Stace said startled, yet pleased with what she saw.

"No, it's ok. Really,"Nat giggled looking at Nick, her face tinged with red.

Stace gave Nat the way to go girlfriend' look. "Ah... Nick, Papa says that he thinks he has a
costume for you. If you'll take Steve with you, he can show you where his shop is. I'll take Nat
to the university and you two can meet us there. Steve knows what building on the Tulane
campus where the ball will be taking place."

Nat looked at Nick not wanting him to leave. Stace gave an evil grin,"Don't worry Nat,
you'll be back with your knight in shining armor in forty-five minutes tops."

If he could have blushed, Nick would have been red as the roses he'd brought to Nat. He
asked Nat,"Is that ok with you?"

Nat playfully grinned, "Unless you'd rather go without clothes."

Bursting out into laughter, Nick managed to give Nat a quick kiss on the lips, "Wait for me."

As Nick left with Stace's brother, she put a arm around her friend guiding her to the guest
bedroom, "Come on girlfriend, we've got to get you dressed."

Nick and Steve pulled around to the back of the King's Court' costume shop seeing the main
street of the French Quarter was filled with people as another parade was about to begin. Steve
rapped on the back door. Henry Gilbeaux opened the door for his son and friend. "Glad to see
you two weren't mobbed on the way in,"he said shutting the door behind them. Henry held out
his hand,"Henry Gilbeaux. Pleased to make your acquaintance." Nick reciprocated the gesture.
"And you as well. Thank you for helping out at such a late hour."

As they walked to the front of the store, Nick noticed at the various masks hanging on the
wall. Some where full faced, others not. Some with feathers...some beaded with sequins that
caught the light causing tiny sparks of colour to splash on the joining walls. Then there were the
mannequins dressed in outfits that Nick could remember wearing in the 1700's. "You have a
wonderful shop Mr. Gilbeaux."

"Thanks Nick...and its Henry. My father was Mr. Gilbeaux,"Steve's father said smiling. "Let
me go get the costume from the back. Make yourself at home." Henry was about to leave when
he called out to his son, "Steve, while I'm getting Nick's costume, go look in the inventory room
for Mrs. Robert's mask. It came in on the late delivery and she's gonna have a cow if she
doesn't get it by the end of tonight."

By this time, Nick was left alone in the front room. He noticed the shop's door was locked
with a close sign in the window. As he began to look more closely at one of the costumes, a
woman's voice spoke behind him,"An interesting piece, yes?"

Nick turned to see an elderly woman crossing to sit at the counter. He walked over,
smiling,"Yes it is."

"You must be the guest Stevie was talking about,"She said holding out her hand. Nick bent
and placed a greeting kiss on it.

Just as he touched her hand, a wave of images flashed through her mind. Her body went stiff
as her eyes met his- Blood, so much blood. People dying in his arms. The fire before him as a
group danced around him. His eyes, his teeth. LaCroix, the darkness over his soul. And then
the face of her granddaughter's friend.

Concerned, Nick looked at the woman, "Are you alright?" She continued to look as if she
was seeing into his very being. Nick felt a shiver crawl up his spine.

In a small, mono-toned voice she finally spoke,"You are truly a tortured soul. To have lived
so long with such a divided spirit. You are the one her tears are shed for."

Mesmerized, Nick could not find the words he needed to say. She placed an withered hand to
his cheek, "Do not let it win. You have it within you. Believe."

"How...she told you."Nick said his eyes staring into the woman's dark ones.

"She told me nothing. Look inside Nick, you will understand,"she simply responded.

Nick's memory went back two hundred years. He was surrounded by a group of people,
some of their faces painted. They danced around him and the fire that was ablaze before him.
They were chanting. As their voices became louder, his eyes had begun to change. But, he
couldn't move. They were preventing him. Suddenly his thoughts were slammed back to the

"You know because you are of the voodoo belief. I'm correct aren't I?"Nick said he could
feel a drop of blood sweat began to form. He quickly wiped it away.

"Yes. And I do not have the answer you seek. Just as my people did not have the answer
back then. It is within you. Believe."

Nick took her hand, "Believe."

Steve and his father reentered at almost the same time. "I see you've met my mother Nick."
Nick smiled, "Yes. But, not formally." Henry smiled,"Nick this is my mother, Dehila Gilbeaux.
Mother, this is Nick Knight a friend of Natalie's."

Mrs. Gilbeaux smiled, "I knew Natalie had good taste."

"Grammy is the queen of the Krewe de Dehila. Of course, will always be queen of the
Gilbeaux family,"Steve said as he placed a small kiss on his grandmother's cheek.

"Oh, almost forgot, here is your costume and boots." Henry said, handing Nick a hanger, it's
contents covered by a plastic bag. He pointed Nick to a isolated dressing room on the other side
of the shop, "You can go right in there to change. If you need any help don't hesitate to yell,"

Nick smiled and thanked him. After he made it to the dressing room, he quickly uncovered
the outfit. He quickly dressed in the costume. But, to him it was like placing a piece of old
clothing on his body. Without the chain mail, it was almost exactly what he'd worn in the
middle 1400's. "A knight without the shining armor,"he said softly to himself.

"Nick, you need something?"Henry asked thinking he'd heard Nick's voice. Nick exited the
dressing room.

Steve gave his head a shake,"I can't believe you dressed so fast! It's like you'd worn these
type of outfit before."

Nick and Mrs. Gilbeaux exchanged a glance. Then he answered, "Nah, just luck on my part."

Henry looked at the masked clock on the wall,"A quarter to eight. You two had better get
going if don't want to get stuck in traffic. I don't think that excuse works anymore."

Once more, Nick shook Henry's hand and thanked him. Then he took the frail hand of
Steve's grandmother and kissed it. "Thank you...for everything."

Grammy nodded and simply said,"Believe, Nicholas."

With that, Dehila watched Steve usher Nick out the back stopping just long enough to grab
Nick's other clothes and shoes.

As they left, her son turn turned to her, "What was that all about?"

Dehila smiling, she answered her son. "Love."

Natalie took one more glance in the full-length mirror. She smoothed her
hands over the crimson red velvet, then checked to see if here cape was on correctly.
"Quit worrying! I'm sure the real Archduchess Maria is rolling in her grave,"Stace said
sneaking up behind her. "Oh, one last item,"Stace said as she placed the red veiled tiara
on top of Nat's head, then smoothing the yards of soft material over Nat's cape. She gave
a little squeeze on her Nat's shoulders,"Now, it's perfect. You are absolutely gorgeous!"
Nat covered Stace's hands with hers smiling at Stace in the mirror. "I don't know
about gorgeous, but I have to admit that I haven't felt this good in a long, long time."

Suddenly Nat turned to look at her friend. "And you. You look marvelous! That
gown compliments you so well. God, what I wouldn't give to look like you." Stace gave a
playful slap on Nat's arm then turned around as if she was a model and not a coroner. The
purple, green, and gold sequins glittered with each turn. "So, you think I might actually catch
a man like your Nick tonight?"

Natalie picked up a pillow that was on her bed and threw it at her friend, "No, because Nick
is definitely one of a kind."

Stace smiled, then crossed the room to link her arm with Nat's. "Let's go so you can be with
Sir Nick, your highness."

Nick looked at his watch. Eight fifteen. They should've been here by now. Steve had left
Nick at the ballroom's entrance to call his sister's apartment. Nick watched as other people
entered the room, highly decorated with the Mardi Gras colours. A sea of small tables gave way
to a dance floor in the middle of the huge room. He looked at his watch once more. Eight
sixteen. Where was she? Just as he looked up, he saw Steve cross from the ballroom's large
doors. "I'm sorry Nick, there wasn't an answer."

Maybe he should leave and do a fly by to make sure Nat and Steve's sister hadn't been in a car
accident. Just as he was about to excuse himself, the two ladies entered the room. Nick made
his way through the many costumed guests that were between her and him.

He stopped and lost his words as his gaze was captured by her. Natalie was exquisite. A
vision bathed in exotic perfumes. He couldn't move, unable to even breathe. Draped in crimson
red velvet, it left Nick imagining what lay beneath the yards of fabric. Rather than her exposed
neck, a deep neckline that exposed parts of her shoulders and breasts caught his attention and
held it as she slowly walked toward him.

His smile reached his eyes as he spoke,"Natalie, you are enchanting." She returned a smile
along with a blush that covered her cheeks. He noticed the dress was almost the same as an
archduchess he had known in the 1700's. This archduchess had tried to dispel the fear of
vampires, actually helping Nick at one point. Just as Natalie had helped him since she known
him. He decided that this night was for them, not for his past.

As Natalie eyed Nick's outfit she couldn't help to think about Stace's words, your knight in
shining armor.' "And you are very handsome,"she said complementing his outfit.

"I think I had a little help in the choice,"Nick said looking over at Stace. Nat followed,
staring at Stace her mouth opened as if to say something.

Stace looked at Nat, then Nick, then back at Nat, "What?" She shot her famous evil grin at
them,"I can't imagine what I could have done." She went and looped her arm through her
brother's. "Steve lets get a drink. All of a sudden its quite warm in here,"Stace said over her
shoulder, smiling at the couple.

They laughed, then Nick offered his arm to the lady in red, "Shall we?" Holding onto her red
feathered mask with one hand, Nat put the other one in the crook of Nick's outstretched arm.

Throughout the next hour, they mingled with Stace and other visiting coroners from other
countries. Finally, Nick and Nat found their table where Stace and Steve already sat. Between
the four of them, they laughed as the band- complete with a jazz pianist and a brass section-
played numbers like, Mardi Gras Mambo' and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.' Though other
couples danced, Nick and Nat did not, sensing they were both uncomfortable not knowing how
to move to such music.

The band began to play another number as the lights went dim except on the announcer
standing on the stage. "May I have everyone's attention please. I am Jerry Summers, one of the
co-ordinators of this evening's event and I'd like to welcome everyone to the I.C.C. Mardi Gras'

Nat listened as Nick continued to stare at her,"Nick, pay attention will you?" Nick leaned
over to whisper in her ear,"Believe me, I am."

She elbowed Nick who had now positioned behind her cradling her with his arms. The
announcer finished his speech,"I hope everyone has a wonderful time. Laissez les bon temps

The lights became brighter and the band began to play once more. Nat looked over at Stace
and asked,"What about the queen and king? I thought at Mardi Gras balls they were presented?"

Stace leaned over and answered her friend, "Only if the ball is for a Krewe. Besides I think
we already have a queen and king." Stace smiled looking at her and Nick.

Nick leaned in, "Did I miss something?" Nat looked at Stace, Stace looked at Nick. Nat said,
"No...nothing at all." Then the two ladies giggled as if they had just passed a note in class.

Another half hour had gone by when Nick suddenly noticed that no one had bothered to ask
him why he wasn't drinking or eating. He wasn't even feeling the pain of hunger at all. This is
what Natalie did for him. Satisfying the deepest hunger of all...the hunger of love.

The band began to disperse and a d.j. played contempory soft rock while the band took their
break. A song by Elton John begin to fill the air as Stace rose to excuse herself. Both Nick and
Steve rose as Stace said,"Please excuse me, I'll be back in a few minutes."

As Nick returned to his seat, Steve also excused himself to get another mixed drink. "Can I
get either one of you anything?"

Both Nick and Nat stumbled over the words, "No, no thanks."

"Ok, be back in a few,"Steve said as he left to the bar.

Nick turned Nat's face to him smiling, "You are so beautiful."

"I can't believe you are here with me. Two weeks ago seems like a lifetime. What I said

"Shhh...."Nick gave her a kiss. "Nothing matters now except you and me. Right now at this

Stace returned be-bopping. "I really didn't want to make it a habit of interrupting you two."

Smiling, Nat pursed her lips together looking at purple linen tablecloth. Nick smiled and
caught Nat's eyes as she looked back up.

As the Elton John song finished, the d.j. spoke,"This next one is for a special couple tonight."
The room vibrated as the first measure of the Celine Dion song began. Nat looked over at Stace.
She smiled, "Go ahead, this night is for both of you."

Nick rose and held out his hand, "May I have this dance?" Nat slowly put her hand into

Other couples were already dancing as Nick pulled Natalie into his arms. As they looked into
each other's eyes, the words of the song filled their souls:
"I'm falling into you,
This dream could come true.
And it feels so good falling into you.

I was afraid to let you in here,
Now I have learned love can't be made in fear.
The walls begin to tumble down.
And I can't even see the ground.

I'm falling into you..."

Nick placed one hand in the small of her back, gentle swaying her back and forth. The other
held her hand close as their bodies pressed together. Nat closed her eyes not wanting this night
to never end.

As soon as the song had begun, it was over and another was playing leaving Nick and Nat
staring at each other, motionless. "Let's make our goodbyes. I want you all to myself."

Nat nodded, transfixed on his voice, his words.

They made their way back to the table in silence. Natalie was the first to speak,"I think we're
going to leave. It's been wonderful though."

"Yes, it was fun. Thank you for inviting me,"Nick said smiling nodding to Stace, and
shaking hands with Steve who had returned with yet another mixed drink.

Just as Natalie was about to turn to leave, Stace caught her by the arm. "Hey, you might need
this,"Stace said handing a key to her apartment that she'd dug from her handbag.

Nat shook her head, "I don't think I'll..." She tried to return the key to her friend.

"I've got a spare. Just in case. Now go and have a wonderful night,"she said hugging

Nick drove the car in silence. As they passed the city limits sign, Natalie asked,"Just where
are you taking me?"

He took her hand and kissed it. Smiling he said,"Just wait and see."

They reached the Magnolia house a little before eleven. "Oh, this place is magnificent!"Nat
said. Nick went around to open the passenger door for her, "You haven't seen anything yet."

He escorted up the steps as she held her dress with left hand. As they entered, both Mr. and
Mrs. Vincent greeting them. "Good evening." Mrs. Vincent smiled as she looked at Natalie and

Nick opened the door to the darkened room. He gentle led her in, then stopping to light the
candles sitting on the mantle of the fireplace. After removing the tiara with its long flowing
material and cape, Nat sat the items along with her mask and beaded bag with the extra key in it
on the small dining table near a window opposite of the fireplace. As she looked around, Nat
couldn't help but gasp,"This place is so beautiful. How on earth did you find a place as
wonderful as this from Toronto?"

Nick gave her one of his famous boyish smiles. "A kind New Orleans travel agent should
take the credit."

She shook her head still in disbelief of this night. Her world had changed so much since the
sun had sat that she needed a moment to catch her breath. "I am still in shock that you flew here
to find me."

Beginning his walk to her, he stopped at the black bag still on the small couch. Hesitating, he
reached in and took out the book Natalie immediately recognized. "This belongs to you."

Natalie walked slowly as his hand was outreached with the book in it. She took the book
within hands,"My diary. I wished you hadn't read it."

He tapped on the book, "Without it, the truth would have been covered by the masks of these
book covers." Nick remembered a few words of LaCroix's that night before he left. He knew
that his master had been speaking about him when he'd said A masked faced hiding what
he is most afraid of- himself.' Nick had been afraid, but not in the manner LaCroix had meant.
He had been afraid to love. To truly have faith and believe in the love he felt for Natalie.

Taking the diary from her, he pulled her close. Kissing her, he felt as if the rest of the world
had ceased to exist. Nick turned her around to hold her from behind. Pulling her hair away from
her neck he whispered,"Say that you will stay..."

(Writer's Warning about "Krewe of the Knight" part 10/11: ADULT material. Pam (Jaxie)
Williamson will not be held responsible for those reading the next section. IF you are underage,
stop now!)

As Nick whispered into her hair, she leaned feeling his strong chest against her back.
Natalie closed her eyes wanting so desperately to say yes. But afraid if she did, the night
might end up badly. She should have had Nick drive her back to Stace's apartment. She
should have stopped him before the zipper on the back of her dress got much lower.

Nick heard the soft moan escape from her lips as he skimmed his fingertips across her
bare back. He bent down and began to place small kisses up her spine.

Nat gasped,"Maybe this isn't a good idea." Though she wanted him to touch every inch
of her and to have her body respond to each of his kisses. She leaned her head back
as Nick began to have his tongue follow the trail from her earlobe to her shoulder.

He could smell her blood pumping beneath her smooth skin. Fighting the vampire within
him, he moved his lips from her skin. As Nick slowly edged the dress away from her silky
shoulders, the dress fell into a pool of red fabric at Natalie's black heels. Natalie stood there
only in her black lace panties and matching garter that held the sheer black hose she wore. He
cupped her breasts in his hands fondling them, then he began to flick her nipples between his
fingers until they were stiff under his touch. On the edge of paradise, she thought how glad she
was not having wore a bra.

Just as Natalie's head began to soar, Nick turned her swiftly- her face to his. In one quick
smooth motion, he kissed her soundly. Teasing with his tongue, he forced her mouth to open
wider allowing their tongues to intermingle with each other.

As the kiss lingered, Natalie fumbled with the few buttons on Nick's shirt. Once the shirt
was unbutton, she broke the kiss just long enough to raise his shirt over his head. Nick threw it
across the room, then lifted Natalie into his arms as he carried her to the antique bed.

He pressed down on top of her. Natalie could feel his hardness pressing against her inner
thigh. Her body begin to tingle with anticipation and excitement. Nick bent down once more to
kiss her hard. Shifting his weight so that he was laying beside her, he grabbed her where she
ached the most. Even through the lace panties, she was softer than in his dreams.

Natalie moaned through the kiss as she arched her back for Nick to do more. He broke the
kiss and looked at her. She was relieved to see that his eyes were still blue. "Natalie, we have
to both believe that our love will lead us to the other side." Stroking her cheek with his free
hand he softly said, "I believe in us. I love you Natalie."

As she lay there beside his body, she listened to his soul. He was in this with her. His faith
had somehow broke through the dark chains of doubt and fear. Natalie traced Nick's lips with
her thumb. As she did, he nibbled it. "I love you too Nick."

He moved a little lower on the bed. Natalie sat up on her elbows thinking she had said
something wrong and he was leaving. Smiling, he unclasped the hooks that held one of her
stockings. Gingerly, he slid the hose down to her foot. As he did, he stroked the smooth skin of
her leg. After he'd tossed the hose on the floor, he tenderly kissed each toe and preceded to
reciprocate his actions with her other leg. After the other stocking and garter were tossed to the
floor as well, Nick sat on the edge of the bed removing the boots and such he'd been wearing.
Natalie sat up, holding him from behind. He closed his eyes as he savored the touch of her soft
breasts against his back. This time it was Nick who moaned.

He turned around and picked her up once more. "Nick?"Nat said not sure what was going on.
Turning the handmade quilt and sheets back with a free hand, he placed her back onto the bed,
his body once more on top of hers. As her fingers shook, she began to unbutton, then unzip his
pants. After a few more feverous moments, all of their garments laid strewn throughout the

Natalie was about to say something when Nick said, "Just let me look at you. You are so
beautiful." With the light touch of his finger he began with her cheek followed by her breasts,
encircling them. He stroked her flat stomach then her inner thigh causing her to flinch, then
softly laughing. "Ah, a tickle spot. I will have to remember that,"Nick said smiling.

As he finished his survey of her body, Natalie placed her palm on his chest. She allowed it to
slowly drift down to where the hardness of his manhood throbbed. Nick closed his eyes and
threw his head back as she ran a finger the length of his shaft, teasing him. When he opened his
eyes they had turned the golden colour that they both had been dreading. She froze in fear when
she saw his fangs. Nick held her face in one of his hands and calmly said, "Don't be afraid. I
believe in us."

Natalie looked straight into his eyes, "I believe in us too Nick. I love you."

In one swift motion, he glided himself into her, surrounding that part of him with her warmth.
Nick began to move in gentle motions, sending Natalie nearly over the edge. Her whole body
quivered as his movements became harder. She matched his rhythm, arching her back as he
sank deeper into her each time. Just when Natalie thought she could stand no more, she heard
Nick growl. As he buried himself within her for the final thrust, Nick buried his fangs into the
featherbed just less than an inch from Natalie's neck.

They gradually released the grip they had on to each other. Nick's eyes had returned to
normal and his fangs retracted. For what seemed like hours they held onto each other. While
Nick tenderly stroked the strands of her hair, Natalie caressed his arm running her hand back and
forth. He placed a kiss on her forehead smiling,"We did it. We came through to the other side."

"Yes, we did. Together,"Natalie paused. "Of course there may be a slight problem
explaining the bed,"Nat said smiling at Nick.

Nick gave her a serious look. "I keep thinking if I had been just an inch closer..."

Placing her fingers over his lips she said,"You didn't. I knew you wouldn't."

He removed her hand from his lips and delicately kissed each finger. "You must be hungry.
I'm sure I can persuade Mrs. Vincent to whip up something for you."

Not wanting Nick to leave, Natalie almost said no. "Are you sure it won't be too much

Smiling Nick said, "You'll have to owe me a kiss when I return."

Pointing at his chest, she replied, "You have a deal!"

Nick left the woman he loved to slip into a pair of jeans and t-shirt. "Mentioning food, don't
you think you need to feed?" Natalie asked. Before she could complete the sentence, Nick had
already uncorked a bottle and was draining it.

After he finished, Nick went to the door. Looking back he said, "Natalie..."

"Yes Nick?"Nat answered.

He looked at her, curled up in the bed where they had just made love, "I love you."

She smiled. "I love you too, Nick."

When Nick returned with a plate of fruit and sandwiches, he found Natalie in one of his white
shirts he'd brought along on his trip. Natalie looked better in it than he ever had. She stood
staring out through the window and into the night. How he loved her!

"I'm back,"Nick announced bringing Nat from the distant world of thought she was in. "Hope
you like fruit and sandwiches."

Natalie took the cloth covering the plate off, looking over the assortment of fruit. "Sounds
delicious." She selected a few strawberries then went back to the window.

Nick set the plate of food down on the table. Wrapping his arms around her, he leaned his
chin on her shoulder. Natalie polished off another strawberry as she enjoyed the quietness of
being with him.

"There's something I want to talk to you about. I had my speech all planned out, now I have
no idea how to say it,"Nick said staring out the window with her.

Natalie shrugged her shoulders, "That's easy, just say it."

Taking a breath, Nick said it straight and to the point. " I want you to marry me."

(Writer's Note: This was the originaly conclusion of "Krewe of the Knight" -part 11/11 as was
posted on the N&N mailing list.)

February 14, ...a Valentine Mardi Gras

Natalie was thankful that the night had turned out so beautiful. The skies
were clear and the moon full. Stace, her eyes brimming with tears hugged
her friend. "I'm so happy for you!" She then turned to give Nick a hug, "And
I expect you to take good care of her. Because if you don't, I'll personally come
to Toronto myself and hunt you down!" Nick laughed as Natalie grinned. She
playfully punched Nick's arm, "Did you hear her? You better take extra special
care of me!" Nick smiled back at her, "I will make it my life's work, Mrs. Knight."

The main Mardi Gras parade had ended just before eleven and Natalie was happy
to have friends and new friends there to celebrate with her and Nick. She had thought
about waiting until they returned to Toronto. But Stace, being the hopeful romantic
and her family insisted that it had to be a Valentine's wedding despite the late hour.
And, Natalie thought to herself, this way there would be no LaCroix to interfere.

Mrs. Gilbeaux came to Natalie and Nick next. First, she looked at Natalie dressed in
a simple but eloquent ivory lace dress. Then at Nick in his uncomplicated black suit. She
smiled as she took their hands into her own. "Never stop believing. For it is when we stop
believing, we cease to live. May all your nights be filled with love." As she finished,
Natalie gave the wonderful elderly woman a hug, "I hope you and the rest of
your family knows how grateful we both are for tonight." Stace's grandmother chuckled,
"I was never one for normal. The more unusual, the better."

After well-wishes were made by others, Natalie whispered to Nick, "Are you sure you
didn't want to wait until we were back in Toronto? I know that you would have liked
Schanke there."

"No. Having you as my wife is all that is important to me,"Nick answered. "It didn't
matter where, or by whom, just as long as we are bound in love. And who could have asked
for a more perfect night than Valentine's?" His voice grew a little more serious, "What about
you? Any regrets? I know that most ladies like a big wedding with a proper honeymoon."

Natalie took him by the hand and stated, "No regrets- whatsoever."

Later that evening, they spent their first night as man and wife in the small
bed and breakfast inn where they had first made love. After another exhausting
but pleasurable time of togetherness, Nick looked over at Natalie who was still
trying to recover from this latest round of love making. "That good?"

Natalie grinned, "No...just that wonderful!"

The vampire part of Nick still managed to show itself during their times of
sexual contact, but both he and Natalie knew now that it may never be cured, but
it could certainly be controlled because they both believed the strength of
their love.

Just as Nick was about to go to the refrigerator for his after' meal, the phone rang
causing Natalie to jump. "I'll get it. It better not be Stace,"Natalie said grabbing a sheet
to cover herself as she ran to the telephone table.

She smiled back at Nick who had already pulled a pair of jeans on and was drinking
his after' meal. Natalie picked up the receiver, "Hello?"

"Natalie?"A familiar voice answered back.

"Schanke?"Natalie asked as she turned to look at Nick a little shocked.

"What are you doing there? No, on second thought I do not wanna know,"Schanke
managed to say without asking something he would regret later on.

"You know what Schanke, I think you called here to speak to Nick. Hold on for one
second,"Natalie said hurriedly.

As Nat handed the phone to Nick, she mouthed, "How did he know this number?"
Answering in a whisper, "I told him where I was going and gave it to him just for
emergencies." Natalie wrapped her arms around her husband as she began to tickle him.

"Schanke!"Nick said as he tried to keep from laughing. "What's up?"

Schanke gave a snort. "I should be asking you that. Guess you had that date in New
Orleans considering the doc answered the phone. Come on, you can't leave the Schankster
hangin! Give up all the details and be very, very graphic."

Nick was laughing hard now as Nat worked her tickle fingers to behind his neck. Knowing
his partner, Schanke said, "Alright, alright...I'll take it you'll wait when you get back
tomorrow to tell all."

Natalie stopped her antics as she notice Nick's facial expressions grew serious. "Tomorrow

Hearing Schanke smacking his gum, Nick hear him answer, "Yea, or sooner. Capt's having a
fit over here at this end. We just got hit with another double murder and you're favourite, a
possible serial homicide. But you'd be glad to know that a local travel agent confessed to the
murders you left me to solve when you took off to New Orleans."

Nick couldn't believe the irony of a travel agent booked for those murders with the common
fragrance. After all, hadn't it been a New Orleans travel agent that found this unbelievable place
for him?

Schanke continued, "So, here's your official notification that your official vacation has been
officially canceled."

Nick ran a hand threw his hair and looked up to the ceiling. Nat whispered, "No. He's not..."
Nodding, Nick paused then answered his partner,"I can't possibly be back in Toronto until late
Wednesday night, early Thursday morning. Tell the captain I'll be there as soon as I can."

"You know how he gets when things don't go his way. But, not to worry. You're partner
will save your butt from the fire once more. I'll stall him and tell him the airline got your flights
mixed up or something."Schanke said dreading telling Stonetree this bit of news.

Nick replied, "Thanks Schanke. I owe you one."

"You owe me several. I still want the details when you get back. See you A.S.A.P." Schanke
said before Nick hung up the phone.

Natalie hugged Nick tight, "When do you have to leave?"

"Captain Stonetree wants me back as soon as possible. I'll leave tomorrow night." Nick
looked at Nat, then sighed.

Looking at Nick, she shook her head, "I'm not staying here another two weeks without you.
My boss is going to have a coronary, but I'm leaving the conference early. We'll fly out

"Are you sure? Two weeks isn't that far away,"Nick said as his brow drew tight.

Nat smiled then said,"Detective, two weeks are an eternity when you've waited as long as I
have for her knight to rescue her."

While Nick slept Wednesday morning, Natalie made arrangements for her return flight and
Nick's direct flight back to Toronto. After the trying three different airlines, she found one with
an evening flight on the same plane. After that was taken care of, she took the rental and
dropped by Stace's to pick up her things even though her friend had already left for Tulane as
I.C.C. had resumed the conference. After gathering her belongings, she left Stace's spare key
and a brief note of goodbye on the counter.

Locking the door behind her, Nat drove to Tulane to notify the I.C.C. that she was leaving
the conference early. As she was leaving the science department's building, Stace called out to
her. "Nat!" She turned around just as Stace gave her a big hug. Nat smiled, then explained that
she and Nick were leaving and why. "Eeww, and just after you were married. I wish you and
Nick could've stayed longer."

"Me too. I'll miss you and your family so much,"Nat said with a tear in her eye.

Stace sniffled, "Now, don't go starting that! You'll have my eyes so swollen, the other
coroners will think I'm a walking stiff."

After more hugs and many tears, the two friends said their goodbyes and promised they
would keep in touch.

The sun had already set when Nick and Natalie returned the rental car and began to board
the plane. As they were welcomed aboard, a stewardess commented to Nick, "Excuse me, but
you were on my flight a couple of nights ago." Nick stopped. Smiling he replied, "Yes, I think
so." The young lady looked at Natalie and grinned at Nick, "I can see you enjoyed your visit to
the Crescent City!" Natalie blushed as Nick held tight onto her hand and said smiling at her,
"You'll never know how much."

March 1

Nick woke up that evening to find Natalie's side of the bed empty. He listened for her
heartbeat, but could not hear it. Frightened that something ...or someone might have harmed
her, he rushed downstairs with his vampire quickness. He did not find her, just a note she had
tacked on the refrigerator:
2 p.m.
Had to run a few errands. Will be back later.
I love you, now and forever-

p.s. Don't forget your veggie drink!

Laughing, Nick took the note and opened the refrigerator to get his veggie drink. He took it
and the note to the couch. Sitting there in his black silk pajamas with his feet propped up, he
took a sip and thought back when he and Natalie returned from New Orleans.

The first person he and Nat saw was LaCroix standing in his loft. "Nicholas, why am I always
the last to know?"LaCroix had spewed out. Nick angered, asked, "LaCroix, what are you doing
here?" Giving an evil grin, LaCroix had answered,"To kiss the bride." After a brief
confrontation with his master, LaCroix left but not before he had the last word. Sneering with
his fangs bared and eyes glowing, he had told Natalie, "You may have him in your bed now. But
Nicholas is mine...forever."

Nick closed his eyes remembering a happier welcome from Schanke and the others at the
27th precinct. "Married! Alright! Now that's what I call a date, Knight!"Schanke had yelled
as soon as he noticed the way Nick and Natalie were looking at their gold wedding bands.
Captain Stonetree kissed the new Mrs. Knight and shook Nick's hand, "If I'd known this is
why you were down there to begin with, I'd let you have the full week of vacation. Next time,
let someone know, alright detective?" Nick had looked at his wife and smiled, "There will not
be another next time. This is forever."

While Nick sat at the loft remembering and enduring his veggie drink, Nat sat in a cold office
with all white walls. She looked at her watch. "I hope I'm next. They said it would be ready by
six and I don't want to wait until tomorrow night to give it to Nick,"she said to herself. Just as
she was about to check her watch again, Nat heard the nurse call her name. "Natalie Knight?
Come with me please."

It was a little after eight when Natalie returned to the loft finding Nick up and dressed. He
rushed to her, giving her a kiss and a smile,"You left without saying goodbye."

Nat smiled and hugged her husband, "I did so. I left a note."

"Ah, but that's not the same as this goodbye,"Nick said as he kissed Natalie once more. "I
thought we would be doing something better since we both had the next twenty-four hours off
instead of running errands."

Nat puckered out her bottom lip, "Aaww, was my favourite vampire feeling a little lonely?"

Nick burst out into laughter,"Yes, for you. Now, about those errands. Bring me anything?"

"You are such a typical male, it's hard to know if you're mortal or not."Nat said. "But, to
answer your question, yes I did."

Confused, he said,"You must have forgot it in the caddy because I don't see it."

"Oh, you want something you can see,"Natalie said cracking a smile trying to stifle her

Reaching into her pocket, Natalie pulled out what looked like a silver doubloon and flipped
it over to Nick. She had picked it up from the jewelery store after her doctor's vistit. He caught
it with one hand. Walking toward the fireplace, he turned his back to Natalie studying the coin.
Nick turned to face her once more, "Another souvenir from New Orleans?"

Nat crossed her arms almost bursting out in happy tears, "Read what's on the coin. Outloud."

Nick smiled at Nat, stille confused but did as she asked. "Krewe of the Knight."

She walked over to Nick. Taking his hand, she placed it over her abdomen. "Let's say that
when we visit Stace the next time, we can have our own Krewe."

Wide eyed, almost afraid to say the words, Nick hugged his wife as overwhelmed joy
consumed his soul.

Then, taking her tear streaked face into his shaking hands he told her tenderly, "That will be
the first word our child will know... "

"What word is that my sweet Nick?"Natalie asked through her tears.

Nick smiled and looked into her soul. "Believe."

aka Jaxie
Newest N&NPacker
Nick&Nat Pack, where the Knight and his Love lives on...