Claire's heart beat wildly as she ran in terror. She
needed to find somewhere public, somewhere she could get lost in the
crowd. If he caught up
with her, he'd kill her. They had promised she'd be safe, how did James
find her so quickly? Claire turned the corner and saw it. The sign
above the door said "Raven". It was a small nightclub, but
there would be people there. He wouldn't try anything there, not in
front of so many witnesses.
Pushing her way through the crowd in front
of this little club, she gasped " Please, I must get through.
He's going to kill me!"
A pair of large hands reached out to stop her, but she managed to slip past them
and rush inside. Claire heard the man behind her shouting, ordering her to stop.
She turned to look back and ran right into someone standing not far from the
door. She tilted her head back and found herself looking up into a pair of pale
blue eyes. Claire opened her mouth to speak but before she could form the words,
darkness closed in on her. She fell forward into his arms.
Claire opened her eyes. Slowly she sat up and looked around. Sitting in a chair
nearby was the man she had stumbled into. His pale blue eyes were studying her
intently. His stare made her uneasy, as if he were looking straight into her
soul. Claire looked back at him, trying to fake a courage she knew she didn't
"Who are you?" She demanded, "And where am I?"
A smile slowly crossed his lips.
"As to your first question, I am Lucien LaCroix. I own this establishment.
You are in my office and this is the Raven."
Claire breathed a sigh of relief, she remembered pushing her way in to the club.
"How did I get here?" She asked.
I brought you here. My man at the door said you pushed your way in, shouting
something about being killed. I had just come out of my office when you fainted
into my arms," he said, his gaze still fixed on her face. "I carried
you in here and put you on that sofa. "
Lucien got up from the chair and crossed the room. Picking up a crystal decanter,
he poured some of the contents into a glass and walked back to where Claire was
"Drink this." he said offering her the glass.
What is it?" she asked.
"Brandy. You've had a shock, it will help."
Claire looked suspiciously at the glass.
I don't drink." she said. "Besides, how do I know what's in it?"
Trusting soul aren't we?" he said, his annoyance growing. "No need
to worry. I'm not in the habit of poisoning people."
Claire sat looking up into his face. She could see the anger in his eyes. Slowly
she reached up and took the glass from his hand and sat looking at it. Lucien
crossed the room and poured another glass of the liquid.
Picking it up he downed
it with one swallow. He turned and focused his gaze once again on the girl.
Cautiously she lifted the glass to her lips and took a small sip. Claire felt
her face flush. She wasn't used to drinking brandy, nor being stared at. Lucien
walked to the chair opposite her and sat down.
"I believe I am expected to be a polite host and make conversation." he
said icily. "Suppose you start by telling me your name. You already know
"I am Claire" she said shakily, offering him her hand. "Claire
LaCroix made no effort to take her hand, he merely leaned back in his chair.
"Who is trying to kill you?" he asked, his eyes holding hers. "And
Claire's eyes grew large. She set the glass on a nearby table and clenched her
hands in her lap, debating with herself whether she should confide in him. Standing
up she walked to the only window and looked out into the darkness. Every instinct
in her told her to run. There was something frightening about this man. Why should
she tell him anything? He was merely a stranger. Maybe she should just go to
Turning back to face him, she asked,"Can I trust you?"
Lucien smiled. " That's hard to say. Maybe you shouldn't." he said, "But
then how do I know you are telling me the truth? You may be nothing more than
an errant wife who was caught by an irate husband. How do I know this wasn't
something you staged so that you could gain entrance to this club." Rising
from the chair he started for the door. "Either way, I'm a busy man. I don't
have time for these games. I have a club to run. Now, if you will excuse me."
He was growing bored with this mortal. Claire stood there, her anger rising.
" Of all the conceited, overbearing, patronizing attitudes!" she shouted, "You,
Grabbing at the first thing she could find, she flung a statue at him. Lucien
ducked and the piece of art sailed over his head and smashed into the door.
Suddenly he was in front of her. She could see the look of amusement on his
this only served to fuel her rage.
" Get out of my way!" she ordered, "I have to go. I won't trouble
you any further."
LaCroix looked down at her, taking in her features. She was small, the top
of her head, covered in a riot of dark curls, barely reached his shoulder.
a soft golden brown, were large and full of fire. He was reminded of a kitten,
fluffed and hissing, trying to look menacing when faced with a larger adversary.
He chuckled to himself.
" This could be interesting." he thought, "Quite a change from
the normal routine."
The sound of his laughter frightened her, she felt trapped. Lashing out in
fear, she swung at him. He caught her by the wrist before she could make contact.
fear rising, she tried to kick him. He side stepped the blow and she found
herself enclosed in his arms.
" Quite a little fighter aren't we." he said, laughing out loud.
Claire's arms were pinned to her sides as she struggled with him, trying to
free herself. He was far too strong for her, she couldn't escape his grasp.
flashed through her mind, and she went suddenly limp. This movement caught
LaCroix off guard, and in order to retain his balance he was forced to let
seized this opportunity and bolted across the room. Claire stood there staring
at him like a caged animal. She reached across the desk and grabbed a letter
" If you come one step closer," she sputtered, " I'll use this.
I swear, I'll kill you."
LaCroix looked at her. She wasn't like the average mortal female. This one
had a fire about her that intrigued him. Raising his arms, he walked slowly
sofa and sat down.
" I surrender." he said, "Put that down and let's talk."
Claire's first reaction was to run, to escape. She looked at him puzzled.
Why had he given up so easily? Surely he didn't believe she was strong enough
do him any great harm. Was he just toying with her, wanting her to let her
" Why should I trust you?" she asked him.
" Because I can help you". he said. "Put that down and come sit
and talk to me."
His voice took on a deeper quality, resonating through her, willing her to
obey. Claire looked at him. His eyes seemed large and compelling.
Put that down and come sit with me." he said again.
Claire slowly laid the letter opener on the desk. She felt as if she were
being drawn into his gaze. She took a hesitant step towards him and then
" No" she said. "You're doing something to my mind. I won't."
" A resister," he thought to himself, "This gets more interesting
all the time." Smiling at her, he stood and reached out his hand to
her." Let me help you." he said.
Claire was suspicious of this strange man, but she was tired. Tired of running,
tired of being hunted like an animal. But could she trust him? Slowly she
walked across the room and sat down. Lucien sat next to her.
" I can't pay you." she said.
I don't need your money." Lucien told her, studying her face. "I have
more than enough to sustain
my needs. Let's just call this a favor."
Claire stiffened. " A favor?" she asked. "Why would you do this
for a stranger? What do you hope to gain?"
The thrill of the hunt", he said smiling, his eyes suddenly rimmed with
gold. "The hunter becomes the hunted. I find that very exhilarating."
Claire wasn't sure whether or not she should believe him. True, she needed
help, but why should this man be so willing to put himself in danger?" Maybe I should just go to the police?" she said, rising from her seat.
LaCroix reached up and lightly took hold of her arm. Looking into her eyes,
he asked " Have the police been able to protect you? You are still
being hunted, are you not?"
Claire stood still for a moment. The police hadn't been able to keep James
from finding her. She had moved five times in the last three years and he
her every time. Maybe Mr.LaCroix could help her. She had to trust someone.
She couldn't protect herself forever.
" Alright." she said, still skeptical. "I accept your offer, but
you have to be able to guarantee my safety. Can you assure me that he will not
find me and kill me?"
A wicked smile crossed his face."
Madam" he said, rising from the sofa, " I can promise you that James
will not bother you again."
Claire was puzzled. " How can you be so sure?" she asked. "You
don't know James. He can make himself almost invisible. The police haven't been
able to catch him. What makes you think you can?"
LaCroix looked amused. Turning to face her, he smiled again. There was something
about that smile that made Claire uneasy. She shifted in her seat, wishing
she had never come here. She could just have easily gone into any other building.
Why this one? And why had she agreed to this man's offer of help. So many
things about this situation didn't make sense. Was he playing with her mind
couldn't be sure and it frightened her.
Seating himself on the edge of the
desk, he leaned toward her. " Tell me about this James of yours."
" He isn't MY James!" she said angrily, "At least not any
more. I was married to him once, but that ended years ago. He's evil. I
know why I married him in the first place, except I was young and stupid." Claire
got up from her seat and began to pace nervously.
I never should have trusted him, but I believed him when he said he loved
me. I was too naive. How was I to know he was a killer?" Claire turned
and looked at Lucien. A look of guilt crossed her face.
" I know what you're thinking. I should have found out more about him. I
had only known him for a few weeks. He told me he was a representative for an
import firm, she sighed. "But he was everything I wanted: excitement, sophistication.
He traveled all over the world. I trusted him to be what he said he was." Claire
walked to the window and looked out into the darkness. "I found out what
he really was about 6 months after our wedding."
Claire wiped away a tear that had made its way down her cheek.
" We were in London. I was getting dressed to go sightseeing when the phone
rang. I overheard James talking. It must have been the person who hired him.
I didn't hear all of what he said but I heard a name. The next day they found
this person dead. He had been murdered. At first I thought it was just a coincidence,
but later when I was looking for James in his study, I found a stack of pictures" Claire
reached into her pocket and took out her handkerchief. She was crying freely
now. Wiping her eyes she continued, "On top of the pile was a photo of the
man the police had found. I recognized his photograph from the one I had seen
in the paper."
Claire turned and walked back to the sofa. Sighing, she sat down and began
twisting and untwisting the cloth in her hands.
" I don't know what finally made me realize the connection, but I went to
the library and began reading the back issues of the major newspapers from every
place we had been. Each time, there had been a murder and each time it matched
one of the photographs I had found in James' study."
LaCroix knew that Claire was genuinely frightened. He could hear her heartbeat
as it raced wildly in her chest. Her fear was almost intoxicating and only
with the greatest of self control did he manage to restrain his baser instincts.
from his seat on the desk, he walked toward her and sat down on the sofa.
What did you do with this information? Did you confront him? Is this why he wishes
to eliminate you?"
Claire looked up into LaCroix's face. Her eyes were large and filled with
" I turned him in to the police." she whispered. "I know he was
my husband and I owed him a certain amount of loyalty, but he's a hired assassin,
a murderer. How could I be sure I wouldn't become his victim. I was frightened."
Claire buried her face in her hands and began sobbing. His eyes were tinged
with gold, his anger surfacing. He knew what it was to be hunted by someone
once loved. He felt a rare flash of tenderness for this woman, who was
obviously trying her best to cope with a situation gone completely out
of her control.
" The p-police," she sobbed, "The police promised to protect
me. J-james was supposed to go to jail. S-somehow he m-must have bought out the
jury." Claire raised her head and looked up at him, the fear in her eyes
quite visible. "
H-he was acquitted. A-and now he is after me. H-he's gonna kill me!"
Lucien stood and walked to the window, his eyes now fully golden. He had
terrorized his enemies when it became necessary, but this was senseless.
Claire was no
longer a threat to this man. This was the act of a coward, and cowardice
he could not tolerate. He would teach this James the true meaning of terror.
Walking to the door, he summoned Alma. He whispered instructions to her
and then turned to face Claire.
" Come with me." he said abruptly, "We will collect your things.
You will be staying here until this matter is settled."
H-here?" asked Claire, "But I thought this was a nightclub." She
wiped the tears from her face.
It is also my home. You will be under my protection here." Lucien informed
her, matter of factly.
" Y-your home? You want me to move in here? With you?" Claire's
eyes took on a look of suspicion.
" Sir, I can't do that. I don't know you. How can you even ask such a thing.
I came here for help, not......."
Lucien glared at her. " Madam," he said icily, " You assume too
much. I have neither the inclination nor the time for what you suggest. Do you
wish my help or not?"
He was clearly annoyed. Claire was still not quite sure whether she should
trust this man. He was offering her help, but at what price? She realized
really have any options. Slowly she stood and walked to where he was standing.
Drawing herself up with all the dignity she could muster, she looked up
into his eyes.
" I have no choice. I accept your offer. But I will not be used by you or
anyone else. Until this 'matter', as you call it is settled, I will allow you
to protect me."
LaCroix smiled. "Allow?" he repeated to himself. She would allow
him to protect her? Laughing softly he escorted her out the door and into
The ride from her apartment back to the Raven was spent in silence. Claire
stole a sideways glance at LaCroix. She wished she knew what he was thinking.
darted warily, almost as a hunter seeking his prey. LaCroix had noticed
a bronze colored car following them. He could almost sense the determination
driver. Instinct told him that the man behind the wheel was a hunter, who
his prey, would not be easily shaken off the trail. Lucien leaned forward
and motioned for his driver to stop the car.
" What is it? " asked Claire. "What's wrong?" She looked
worried. Had they found her already? She took hold of the door handle and prepared
to make a quick exit, as the car slowed and pulled
over to the
" Nothing for you to be worried about." Lucien lied, "I
forgot an errand I must do. I'll get out here and meet you at the Raven." He
gave her a short, reassuring smile." I shouldn't be too long."
Lucien opened the door and got out. He motioned for the driver to continue
on. As soon as both cars were out of sight he took to the air, following
vehicle. Claire's driver did his best to evade the other vehicle, but to
no avail. It continued to follow them turn for turn. Reaching the Raven
into an alley, opening the door to the private parking garage with the
remote control. The driver of the bronze car slowed as he passed the club.
He watched as they entered the garage. Once the door closed, he pulled
away and drove to the nearest phone booth. The man's voice, almost a whisper,
reported to his employer that he had found Claire and that the target would
by morning. Satisfied with himself, he hung up the phone and exited the
As he turned to walk back to the car, he found himself looking up into
a pair of golden eyes. LaCroix grasp him by the throat. Lifting him high
air, he growled, " Who hired you? Tell me who it was. I will not ask
The man was frightened beyond words. "
I, I don't know." he stammered. "It was just a voice. A man's voice.
He gave me a name and told me to do the job. He transferred half the money
to me from someplace overseas and I get the other half after the job is done."
Lucien's grip tightened around the man's throat.
" I don't know." the man screamed. "I swear, I don't know!"
Lowering him back to the ground, LaCroix snapped the man's neck, as quickly
and carelessly as one snaps a twig. The body slumped to the ground as LaCroix
and walked away.
Claire followed the driver from the garage into the Raven. Once inside
Alma guided her to the room she would occupy during her stay here. Claire
It was a spacious room with old fashioned furnishings. She walked across
the plush carpet and set her suitcases on the large bed. She busied herself
unpacking and tried not to think about her situation.
Claire slid the empty suitcases under the bed. She needed a shower and
some sleep. Surely she must look disheveled. Picking up her hairbrush she
her hair. She had forgotten to ask Alma about the bathroom. Claire walked
out into the hallway and began opening doors. The first room was dark and
She closed the door and walked to the next. Just as she reached for the
knob, a voice from behind her asked, " Looking for something?"
Turning quickly she saw Lucien standing with his arms folded across his
" I was looking for a bathroom if you must know." Claire snapped. "Do
you always sneak up on your guests? You gave me the fright of my life."
" This way." he said, and led her back into her room. "That door
leads to your bathroom."
Lucien pointed to a door, half-hidden by a large
" You only needed to ask. I can't have you wandering around the
club. I have other guests and they value their privacy. In the future if you
require anything, you will ask."
Claire felt like a child being scolded."
Well if you hadn't left me alone, I could have asked you. You are supposed to
be protecting me," she said angrily. "How can you protect me if you're
not even here?"
Lucien looked down at her. The spitting kitten had surfaced again. She
may be frightened of him, but she wasn't going to show it. " You're
right of course," he said, making an exaggerated bow. "By
your leave, Milady."
He grinned, and walked down the hall, leaving Claire staring at his back.
Stomping her foot impatiently, she went back into her room and slammed
the door. The
sound of his laughter could be heard down the hallway as Lucien continued
He was laughing at her! Claire leaned against the door listening as his
laughter disappeared down the hallway. She should have listened when her
told her not to trust him, to run. Sadly she walked over to the bed and
the robe she had casually tossed there, and walked toward the bathroom.
too tired to fight him tonight. Tonight she would sleep. Tomorrow she would
show him that she was not a child to be scolded.
As she passed the wardrobe a flash of blue caught her eye. Suddenly she
stopped, a smile slowly lit up her face. Claire hurried into the bathroom
on the shower. Humming softly to herself, she quickly stripped and stepped
the running water.
Pretty straight forward if you ask me. TOD about 2 hours ago. Cause of death,
well you can see for yourself. His neck was broken." Dr. Natalie Lambert
said, stripping off her gloves. "There are signs of a scuffle, I would say
he put up a bit of a fight. He has massive bruising on the neck. We are definitely
looking at a murder. Any witnesses?"
Detective Nick Knight looked at the M.E. " None." he said. "We
got an anonymous phone call."
Nat raised an eyebrow. Nick continued, " The motive wasn't robbery.
His ID says his name was Robert Green. We are running a check for a positive
ID. I'll let you know if we find anything else."
I'd better get back and get things started. See you later?" Nat asked.
I'll check in at the lab as soon as I can." Nick said taking hold of her
hand and giving it a squeeze. "I want to look around a bit more. Maybe I
can turn a witness."
Nick looked around him. Finding a witness wouldn't be easy, not here. Most
of the buildings in this area looked pretty deserted. All but one, the
had an uneasy feeling about this case. Walking back to the Caddy, he climbed
in, started it up and drove off.
Claire slept peacefully for the first time in weeks. She felt safe in this
strange place. She didn't know why, nor did she care. As she drafted off
to sleep, she
told herself that she would just enjoy the feeling while it lasted. It
was late afternoon of the next day when she awoke.
Opening her eyes slowly, she looked around. Where was she? Little by little
the memories flooded back into her mind. Quickly she pulled the blankets
padded her way to the bathroom. She splashed her face with water and looked
up into the mirror. She looked a mess. Reaching for her hairbrush, she
ran it lightly
through her hair and walked back out into the bedroom.
On the bed was a tray and a note. The tray held her dinner and a small
silver vase containing a single white rose. Claire picked up the note.
It read :
"If you require anything further pull the cord beside the bed. You are to remain
in your room, I'll look in on you later.
"You are to remain in your room." Claire read the note again.
Was she a child to be sent to her room? Claire's temper flared. She would
not be ordered around by him or anyone else. Walking to the armoire she
pulled out a dress and laid it on the bed. Finding shoes and a bag to match,
to join LaCroix in the club. How dare he tell her where she could and could
not go. Claire hurriedly showered and dressed. Pulling on her shoes she
the bathroom, brushing her still damp hair as she went. She looked at herself
She had chosen a dress made of sapphire blue silk that clung to every curve
of her body. Smiling she walked back into the bedroom and picked up her
walked across the room and opened the door. In the distance she could hear
music and voices coming from the club. She took a deep breath and walked
the sound. Standing in the shadows of the doorway, she looked around. It
was still early but the club was already crowded. Spotting LaCroix sitting
glass booth, Claire stepped out of the shadows.
Walking slowly and deliberately toward him, she smiled and passed the booth
without a word. Claire made her way to the bar and ordered a drink. Glass
in hand, she
walked over to a small table. Seating herself within view of LaCroix, she
slowly sipped her drink. Suddenly she felt someone watching her. She looked
glass booth. It wasn't LaCroix, he was busy with his broadcast. Scanning
she made eye contact with a tall, blonde man standing at the bar. Glancing
quickly at the booth, she walked over and stood next to the man .
" Hi," she said, smiling up at him. She ordered another drink and
returned to her table. Claire sat toying with the glass. She could feel her face
She wasn't use to drinking.
felt warm. She sipped her drink and looked over toward LaCroix. He was
longer in the booth. Where was he? Claire looked around the room. Lucien
at the bar talking to the blonde man. Lifting the glass to her lips, Claire
finished her drink in one swallow.
" Oh!" she thought, "that burns." Her eyes watered and she
coughed slightly. How could people do this night after night? She needed a glass
of water. Standing on unsteady feet, she
towards the bar. The room began to spin. Claire looked up and saw LaCroix
smile. That smile, that smug, self-satisfied smile. How she hated that
Claire turned abruptly and walked over to a man standing nearby. "
Dance with me?" she asked him, her voice slurred.
The man looked down at her and nodded. Taking him by the hand she led him
to the center of the floor. She reached up and put her arms around his
began swaying with the music. She pressed herself against him as he put
his arms around her waist. She closed her eyes and lost herself to the
"Why must you always come to me when some petty criminal is killed."LaCroix
Nick looked at the older man.
" Because you know something about it. I'm sure of it."
Really Nicholas, this is growing tiresome. If you suspect me then make your
arrest. Otherwise, leave me in peace." LaCroix lifted a wineglass to
his lips and took a sip. "
You really must try this. It's an amusing little. . ."
He stopped in mid sentence, his gaze fixed on the couple out on the dance
floor. " Whatever does she think she's doing?"
LaCroix walked quickly across the floor and grabbed Claire by the arm,
pulling her away from her dance partner. Claire opened her eyes and looked
" Do you want to dance with me?" she purred as she reached up to put
her arms around his neck.
I most certainly do not." he said angrily. "What are you doing?"
I'm having fun", Claire said fuzzily, humming off key, "What does
it look like I'm doing." She gave him an uncertain smile.
You're intoxicated. How am I supposed to protect you if you do things like this.
Don't you realize you could be putting yourself in danger?"
" That's your problem." she shrugged, "You're supposed to protect
me, so protect." she giggled, her arms entwined around his neck.
Protect you? Protect you from what?" Nick asked.
Standing behind LaCroix he had overheard the conversation. Lucien turned
and glared at him.
" Nicholas, I have no time for this." he said as he attempted to remove
Claire's arms from around his neck.
" He's protecting me from James." she said. "Isn't
that right, Lush-i-an."
She patted his chest. " My hero."
Nick stifled a laugh. A look of panic crossed her face.
You won't let him get me, will you?" Claire began to cry. "You promised.
You said you'd help me." she sobbed.
" If he promised to help then I'm sure he will." Nick said, amused at
the situation. "Suppose you tell me about James, I'd like to help
Claire leaned toward Nick. " Sshhh! Nobody is supposed to know." she
said, putting a finger to her lips. "Lush-i-an is gonna be my guardian
angel. He's gonna take care of James for me." she giggled. "He
tol' me so."
" Claire!" LaCroix said, visibly angry.
Claire looked up at him. " Oops. I said something I shouldn't have,
didn't I? I promise, I won't
talk enymore." Claire stood shakily in front of them. A look of distress
crossed her face." Oh my," she said. "I think I'm gonna be sick."
LaCroix motioned for Alma. Propping up the younger woman, Alma hurried
Claire back to her room. Moments later Alma returned.
" She's passed out on her bed." she reported. "I think she'll
be out for a while."
A look of relief appeared on LaCroix's face. Walking back to the bar,
he reached for his glass and downed its contents. Reaching for the bottle
his glass and drank again.
" Guardian angel?" Nick laughed. "That's a new one. And who is
James?" he asked.
Nick sat and listened as LaCroix told him the events of the past days.
Looking up at his master, the younger man's eyes took on a worried look." You should have sent her to the police." he said.
" The police have not been able to protect her. All she got from them was
empty promises." Lucien paced the floor as he spoke.
" What is this girl to you?" Nick asked.
" What do you mean?" LaCroix demanded. "She amuses me that's
" I think its more than that LaCroix. I saw the concern on your face when
you thought she had put herself in danger. I saw the way you looked at every
stranger who entered the Raven tonight. This girl is more than an amusement." Nick
stood and put his hand on Lucien's arm. "I saw the way you look
at her. It is more and you know it."
" NO!" LaCroix growled, shrugging off his son's hand. "Its not
what you think. She amuses me, that's all. When she ceases to amuse me,
I'll discard her. It's nothing more."
You love her, don't you?" Nick asked, studying LaCroix's face.
A look of anguish filled Lucien's face. " Yes." he whispered. "but
I cannot, I will not accept it. It brought me nothing but pain before
and I will not allow that again."
" Then she doesn't know?" Nick could hear the suffering in his father's
" No." Lucien said flatly.
Claire woke the next morning. Opening her eyes, she winced at the light
coming through the window. Her head ached and her mouth felt as if it were
of cotton. Pulling back the blankets she realized that she had been completely
Quickly she pulled on her robe and walked over to the window.
Claire pulled the shutters closed and locked them tight. She stood there
for a moment, her hand on her forehead, remembering her actions from
before. " How could I be so stupid?" she said out loud.
Walking into the bathroom she turned on the shower. Stripping off the robe,
she stepped under the warm water. Tears began to form in her eyes. She
had put herself
in danger this time. She remembered telling someone about James. How could
she be so reckless? Lucien had offered her his help, and now he could be
as well. When would she learn to think before acting? That had always been
her trouble. She was impulsive.
" No more!", she said to herself. She would just have to learn to
be more cautious. "Next time....", she thought. But would there be
next time? If James had sent someone after her, then he probably knew she was
here. She had only added fuel to the fire
babbling. Claire knew what she must do. She had to leave, to find another
place to hide. The thought of leaving this place frightened her. She
liked it here.
It had only been a few days, but as strange as it seemed, she felt at
home here. For the first time in years she felt as if she belonged. And
kind enough to offer her his protection.
Lucien", she thought. There was something about him, she couldn't quite
put it into words, but... "NO!" she said."I can't even
think about it. I've done enough already. Better to leave, then to put
him in further danger."
Claire turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. Wrapping her
hair in a towel, she put on her robe and walked back to the bedroom.
She got out
her suitcases and put them on the bed. Claire pulled on a pair of sweats
and an old
t-shirt. Opening the door, she walked out into the hallway.
The building was quiet and empty. She walked into the club and went behind
the bar. Opening the beer fridge, she pulled out a bottle of orange juice.
was racing, planning her exit. She didn't here LaCroix enter.
" Up a little early aren't we?" he said. His words echoing through
the large room.
Claire started and almost dropped the bottle. " Must you do that?" she
asked angrily. "Can't you announce yourself
without scaring a body to death?"
You look terrible." he said, a wicked smile on his lips. "A little
hungover are we?"
" Thanks, you're too kind." she said sarcastically as she returned the
bottle to its home. Then she took a deep breath and faced him. "About last
night." she said softly. "I'm sorry, it was a foolish thing
to do. But I was angry. I'm not a child, you know."
" Yes, I noticed." he said, seating himself in front of the bar. "That
dress you were wearing certainly removed any doubt."
Claire could feel herself blushing. She walked around the bar and sat
down next to him. " I've decided to leave. I've put you in danger
as well. I can't stay here any longer. It's me James wants, I couldn't
live with myself if he hurt
Claire looked up into Lucien's face. There was a strange, almost hurt
look in his eyes. Reaching out, she touched his cheek. Instinctively,
pulled away from her touch. Claire sat there looking into his eyes.
" I'm sorry." she said. She took his hand in hers. "I'll miss
you. You've been so kind to me. I just wanted to say Thank You."
Without thinking, Claire leaned toward him and gently kissed his lips.
She got up from the stool and started to leave. Lucien reached out and
" Claire." he whispered.
She turned and looked at him. There was a light in his eyes she had not
noticed before. Lucien pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
" I'm afraid I can't let you go." he said, as he released her lips. "Don't
worry. I can protect myself, and you from James. We'll go to Europe, if you wish." he
said. "I have friends who will help us. I could show you things
no mortal has ever seen."
Lucien held her close to him. He would not give her up. He'd walked away
from love once, he would not do so again. Claire looked up into his face. " Is
this possible?" she asked herself.
She had known him such a short time, yet her heart told her that she
loved him. He was willing to leave everything to be with her, to assure
put her arms around his neck and drew his lips to hers. She lost herself
in the feelings he awakened in her. Again and again they kissed. She
love like this.
" Oh," she moaned as Lucien's lips left hers and traveled down her neck. "It
been so long, you feel so good." She pressed her body closer to his. "Is
Yes, Claire, its real." He breathed into her ear, before returning
to her lips
Claire's body was responding to Lucien's caresses with a fury that surprised
her. " Make love to me Lucien" she begged.
LaCroix stiffened, "I
cannot." he said sadly.
Claire drew back from him, a hurt look on her face. " Why? It's
James, isn't it?" she said.
" No, my dearest love. It is because of what I am."
Claire looked at him, puzzled. "Whatever it is, we'll work through it." She
said, "I know we can overcome any obstacle."
LaCroix released her from his arms and walked across the room.
" It's not that simple," he said. Turning to face her, his eyes golden
and his fangs bared. "I am not like you, a mortal." he growled. "This
is what I am."
" That's how you could be so sure that James wouldn't harm me. Isn't it?
You were going to kill him." Claire said in a whisper. "You're
Vampire" he said, his eyes returning to normal. "a killer, a
monster. Are those the words you're searching for?"
He turned from her, unwilling to see the look of horror and hatred on her
face he knew would be there.
Claire didn't know what to do. She never in her wildest
dreams expected this. She had fallen in love with a vampire. But that
wasn't possible, they didn't exist. Yet here he was. She felt numb. How
this be happening? She looked at him as he stood with his back to her.
Her mind told her to run, to escape, yet she loved him. Vampire or not,
she loved him.
his happiness in her hands. Her heart went out to him. She wanted him,
no matter what happened she wanted to be with him.
Summoning her courage, she walked to where he stood.
" Lucien", she whispered. "Look at me."
LaCroix stood motionless, his heart full of anguish. How could he face
an eternity alone after knowing love again. Slowly he turned and looked
" Lucien" she began. " I love you, I don't care what you are,
I only want to be with you."
LaCroix looked at Claire. He reached out and pulled her into his arms.
Claire put her arms around his neck.
" My precious one." he said, as his lips met hers.
Incompetent fools!" a voice snarled. "How could they botch such
a simple job." His dark eyes flashed with anger. " I all but
handed her to them on a platter! Do I have to do it myself?"
He threw the newspaper down in disgust. He walked over to the desk and
picked up the telephone.
" This is Hilliard. Book me on the next flight to Toronto." James
slammed down the receiver and stormed out the door.
Claire and Lucien spent the afternoon making plans. The club would be left
in Miklos' capable hands. Together they would tour Europe. He would teach
ways of the night, and then he would bring her across when she was ready.
LaCroix was taking no chances this time. He would give her the choice.
Later that night
they would tell Nicholas of their plans. Lucien would release Nick from
his control, and he and
Claire would spend the rest of eternity together.
Claire never imagined she could be so happy. Several times she sought the
shelter of Lucien's arms to reassure herself it was in fact true. The sun
to set and the club would soon be open. Lucien began the preparation for
opening. He would use a recorded broadcast and he and Claire would be on
their way after
midnight. Claire returned to her room and packed her bags. She was so excited
that she couldn't sit still. She hurried to find Lucien and help with the
last minute details of the trip. She opened the door to his office and
talking on the phone. He was making travel arrangements with a shipping
company to send
several large trunks to Europe.
Claire giggled, she knew what these were for. LaCroix looked at her frowning.
Putting her hand over her mouth, she stifled another giggle and went over
to kiss him on the cheek. LaCroix placed the receiver back in its cradle
her into his arms. He kissed her forehead and looked down at her small
Her eyes were lit with love and happiness. He could easily imagine eternity
with her. She was so unpredictable, he would never grow tired of her. Claire
herself from his arms and walked to the window. It was dark outside. She
was beginning to love the night and all it held. Turning around she smiled
" You are such a passionate man, we have so many things to discover together.
Will eternity be long enough do you think? What will we do with all that time?" she
" You are incorrigible." he said smiling.
He took a step towards Claire as a blinding flash erupted from behind
Lucien stood over her broken and twisted body. His eyes glowed red. Ignoring
his own injuries he knelt down and gently took her in his arms. "
Claire", he whispered, "Can you hear me? Speak to me."
Opening her eyes she looked up at him. " Lucien", she gasped. "I
love you. Never forget that." She
reached up and touched his face tenderly. "I wanted to spend eternity
Her face contorted in pain as she closed her eyes. Her breathing became
labored as she clung to life.
No!" he growled. "I won't lose you. I can't let it happen."
Only moments before Claire had been laughing, her eyes sparkling with
life. In the blink of an eye this had all changed. A bomb had ripped
where they were standing, crushing and mangling everything within reach.
Claire had been standing between him and the blast. She was lifted and
the room like a rag doll, only to be left at his feet a crumpled mass.
Pulling her closer, Lucien bared his fangs and sunk them into the soft
flesh of her
neck. He could feel her slipping away from him as he drank of her life's
" Please," his mind begged, "Don't leave me."
He opened his wrist and held it to her still mouth. He had brought many
people across, all of them far less worthy than Claire. This had to work,
be too late. Raising his head, he looked at her. She was on the brink
between life and death. " Claire", he whispered. "Come
back to me."
She stirred slightly, her mouth slowly beginning to suck LaCroix's blood.
The pressure of her mouth became greater as Lucien felt his own blood being
away. He would not pull his wrist away, not matter how much she took. Finally
her drinking slowed and then she sagged in his arms. Her heart had stopped
yet she still breathed. She had returned to him. She would sleep, then
he would introduce
her to this new life he had given her.
Lucien could hear the police sirens coming closer. Wrenching her free of
the wreckage, he pulled her up into his arms, and hurried outside into
He needed to find a safe place for her. Then he would deal with James.
A movement caught his eye as a car pulled away from the curb and sped off
Nick was sitting at his desk going over some reports and catching up on
some long overdue paper work. A sensation like a bolt of lightning flashed
him. He was overcome with a wave of rage and pain that gripped him like
a vice, leaving him breathless. He tried to stand, but could not feel his
was unlike anything he had felt before. He could feel himself beginning
to change, his jaw aching as he struggled to keep his fangs from descending.
his strength, he managed to pull himself out of the chair.
" LaCroix!" his mind shouted.
At that moment Capt. Reese popped his head out of his office. "
Knight,Vetter," he shouted. "In my office." Tracy and Nick
hurried from their desks and went into the Captain's office. "We've
had an explosion, may be a bomb. Some little off the wall club called the
Raven." Reese explained. "Fire
Department and ambulances are there now, ME's in route. I need you there
asap. Get moving"
" We're on it", Nick said, rushing out the door, coat in hand.
Why would anyone want to bomb the Raven ?" Tracy asked, pulling open
the door to the Caddy.
Nick already knew the answer. He only hoped he could find James before
LaCroix gently laid Claire on the bed. He had not used this house in many
years, she would be safe until he returned. He now could turn his attention
He would pay for this and pay dearly. Lucien summoned Alma to stand watch
and took to flight, the image of that car and driver burned into his memory.
would find this man and he would have his revenge.
Flying over the city he spotted the car parked outside a small hotel. Landing
quietly in the shadows, he made his way into the lobby. The desk clerk
was easy to persuade and soon Lucien was on his way with a name and room
at top speed he made his way onto the balcony. Slowly he slid open the
glass door and entered the room. James was sitting with his back to the
in hand, barking out orders to his secretary. LaCroix pulled the cord from
the wall and stood behind him. James turned and looked at him.
" Who are you? How did you get in here?" Reaching for a gun, James
pointed it at him. LaCroix laughed and moved towards him. James pulled the trigger
and again, emptying the weapon
chest. LaCroix growled, his eyes flaming with anger. Grabbing the gun
from James' hand he threw it across the room and picked him up by the
room, he took to the air dragging James with him.
Nick surveyed the damage to the Raven. It was a small but powerful bomb.
It had not only destroyed several rooms but had taken out windows in the
buildings. Tracy walked over to her partner.
" No fatalities, only a few minor injuries. Luckily there was only a small
crowd here, they had only opened a few minutes before the blast."
Nick looked around. " Where was LaCroix?" he wondered. "And where
Nick closed his eyes and stretched his mind out along the bond between
them. He could feel the anger that emanated from his master."
Trace," he said. "Can you take care of things here for a few
minutes? I have something I need to check out."
Before she could answer, Nick disappeared around the corner of the building.
Looking around to make sure that no one could see, he took to the air,
following his link to LaCroix. He found him outside a small brick house.
he made his way to Lucien and his hapless victim.
" LaCroix!" Nick shouted. "He's a mortal. Let mortal justice
take care of him."
" Mortal justice did not protect Claire. He must pay the price." He
turned to the younger vampire, his eyes glowing blood red. " What
you require of me is mercy, Nicholas," he growled. "and
that is a quality I do not possess."
Before Nick could reach him, LaCroix lifted James over his head and flung
him into the brick wall. In the space of a heartbeat Nick placed himself
the two men. Lucien rushed towards Nick and cast him aside. Grabbing
James, LaCroix picked him up and carried him inside.
Claire opened her eyes. She felt pain, but it was beginning to ease.
It was being replaced by another feeling, a hunger. This was like nothing
It was an all consuming need that must be fulfilled. She sat up and looked
around. Alma was standing next to the bed. "Where was she?" Claire
looked down at her tattered, bloody clothing.
" An explosion!" she thought. "There must have been an explosion.
James had found her."
She tried to get up only to be stopped by Alma.
You are to stay here until LaCroix returns." Alma told her. "He
will explain everything and see to your needs."
" Lucien!" Claire said, "Where is he? Is he alright?"
Alma shrugged. "All I know is that you're supposed to stay here
until he gets back."
The women's attention was drawn to a noise outside the house. The door
to the room where they were swung open and LaCroix entered carrying his
" James." Claire breathed, her eyes turning gold.
" Yes," LaCroix said, his face contorted in anger. "It is time
for your first feed, my love. I have brought you what you require."
First feed?" Claire asked. Suddenly everything made sense. "You
" I'm afraid its true. I had to bring you across to save you. The explosion
would have killed you if I hadn't." Lucien told her, his eyes returning
to normal. "I know it is not what we planned, but there was nothing else
I could do. He robbed us of that choice." he said, throwing James
to the floor.
Claire looked down at him. Her hunger was almost beyond control. The
smell of his blood filled the room. Claire got up off the bed and walked
lay. Looking at Lucien and then at James, she kneeled on the floor, and
baring her fangs, sunk them into his neck. Claire drank deeply as she
struggled to satisfy her thirst. The memory of all James victims flooded
her mind, she shrank in horror but her hunger
Nick entered the room and realized he was too late. " Claire!" he
Claire raised her head and looked up at him. "It was what he deserved." she
said. "He had taken so many lives, even more than I suspected and
escaped justice. Those lives have been avenged and I am finally free
" But the explosion...." Nick said.
Your suspect escaped. Just another unsolved act of terrorism." LaCroix suggested. "I'll
dispose of this." he said, pointing to James' body. "After
all you have no murder case detective. There is no murderer."
Nick looked puzzled. "Claire, she. . . "
LaCroix smiled. "If you check the records detective, I'm sure you
will find that Claire Brienne died three years ago, shortly after her
husband was acquitted
Nick looked at LaCroix and then at Claire. Frowning sadly, he turned
and walked away.
It was a warm night. The moon was full and cast its light on the couple
standing at the rubble that was formerly "The Raven". The man
bent and tossed a single white rose upon the wreckage.
" Goodbye," he whispered.
The couple shared a loving embrace and flew off into the night.