Night Melody Reprised: Third Stanza
Elisabeth winced at the ragged sound of Zoey's voice; she touched his lips lightly with her fingers, trailing them down the column of his throat as though she could soothe away the strain that his screams had put on his vocal cords. "Yes, angel--there are ways for you to resist and fight back against Kindred attacks. For such mental assaults, you should seek to strengthen your force of will; it's harder to affect the mind of a strong-willed individual. Keep in mind, also, that when you are around Kindred, you may see or hear things that simply are not, *cannot* be real. A sudden, radical change in your surroundings should be a hint that what you are perceiving may not actually exist."
He nodded slightly against her shoulder, sighing softly as her fingers moved slowly back up the side of his neck to caress his cheek. "I will teach you the ways to physically combat Kindred, as well. One of the most useful bits of information has become lodged in folklore--the stake through the heart. It will not destroy a vampire, but *will* paralyze them. When one is staked, one cannot utilize one's vitae in any fashion--and many of our powers, our Disciplines, require blood to activate. It may not render a Kindred utterly helpless, but it certainly reduces the threat they pose."
Under the guidance of her mind, the car turned to enter the driveway of the estate; the gates opened smoothly, and closed just as smoothly once the sleek Jaguar had passed. The house was mostly dark, but the two stained-glass windows set on either side of the front door glowed with soft light. Victor opened the door and descended the stairs as Lis opened the car door and slipped carefully out, still holding Zoey.
"He is not physically injured," she said quietly, noting the concern that showed on her retainer's face. "But he needs to rest. Have Grant put the car away--and, Victor?" He glanced at her expectantly; her face was grim. "Check my weapons. There's going to be a Sabbat purge of the city, and I intend to lead it."
Victor blanched, then nodded without saying a word.
Lis turned and went up the steps. Her strides echoed softly in the warm foyer and the ballroom, up the stairs, down the hall to her bedroom; the door opened seemingly of its own accord, and she stepped into the darkened chamber. The glow of a single Tiffany lamp beside the bed cast soft, rainbowed light across the big ebony-framed bed; the covers were already turned down--on both sides, she noted, and had to smile at Victor's forethought. He knew her almost too well after all these years.
Tonight, the sheets had been changed from emerald satin to smooth, clean white cotton, comfortable in their simplicity. She laid Zoey down gently; when she tried to straighten up, he refused to let her go, his arms tightening around her neck.
"You promised you wouldn't let go," he whispered.
"Angel, mon précieux amour, I will be right here. But I would remove my clothing, and yours--it will be more comfortable for us both, I think."
He released her with obvious reluctance; those glorious emerald eyes watched her intently, even as he kicked his shoes off onto the floor with soft thumps, as she pulled off her shoes and shed her gown, tossing the slinky velvet over the seat of the wing chair that stood on the far side of the nightstand. His eyes did take on quite a bit of smolder as he gazed at her in the scanty crimson panties and nylons; that smolder got more intense as she removed those scraps as well. When she would have pulled the comb from her hair, he reached up in silent demand--and oh, that was certainly demand, not meek request. She leaned down, closing her eyes as his elegant fingers plucked the gold-and-ruby ornament away, letting the heavy cascade of her deep brown hair spill forward. He slid his fingers through the glossy strands, a wonderfully arousing caress; she bit her lip for a moment, feeling the heat knotting in her lower belly.
Her graceful hands moved over him slowly, making his clothes vanish as if by magic with each deft movement. His suit jacket was first, followed by his pants, shirt, and socks; he closed his eyes in bliss. How she could play his body like an instrument--and how he loved every moment of it. The desire to touch in return, to feel that soft skin beneath his hands, overwhelmed him; he reached up, gliding his fingertips--slightly calloused from long hours of coaxing music from the guitar--over her, savoring every inch that he could reach.
She purred softly, sensually, stretching lazily beneath his hands, satin skin prickling with awareness of his gentle caresses. Reaching over his shoulder, she slipped the band from his ponytail, sifting golden silk through her fingers with a rapt little smile on her lovely face; Dieu, how she loved his hair--it was so long and soft, the color so beautiful. He seemed to like *her* hair just as much; his hands slipped up into the dark waterfall, fingers massaging her scalp gently. Without dislodging his hands, she climbed up onto the bed; he rolled to keep touching her as she climbed over him, onto the side of the bed that she was accustomed to.
With gentle tugs and nudges, she brought him under the covers with her, then reached up to turn out the light. So what if it was only midnight, with hours yet until dawn? She gathered him against her, loving the warmth and supple strength of his body. For a long while, they held onto each other in silence, just touching, each acutely aware of the slow, sensual caresses.
"Lis?" It was an almost breathless whisper.
"I'm not really all that sleepy . . ."
She smiled in the dark. "Neither am I."
His warm lips touched hers, and she responded passionately.
At least there were ways. That alone was enough to hearten him, making things seem not quite so impossibly hard. If there was a way to survive, he'd learn it--and learn it well. Zoey couldn't help but feel just a bit sheepish at Lis's soft words stating that radical changes were a clue. Yes, he should have realized that, but at the time it had seemed so damned *real* and reality had felt like it was merely a half-forgotten dream. He nodded slightly, making a mental note of that, wondering to himself how he could better use his willpower against such assaults in the future. Perhaps this time had only hit him so hard because it was unexpected--something out of the blue--and next time he'd have a clue.
Zoey closed his eyes and concentrated on the brunette beauty's gentle touch and soft words. Willpower, a stake through the heart to immobilize--yes, there were ways, and that's why the Masquerade was there in the first place. Otherwise, the Kindred would be far more open in their dealings with themselves and kine alike. The lithe musician softly sighed, letting his fear and anxiety fade away. Once again, his mother's words came to him: Whatever doesn't kill you, Zoisito, will only make you stronger.
Continuing to be curled up in her lap as she drive the car home by apparently her will alone, Zoey remained silent as the silver Jaguar passed the impressive gates of the estate, travelled along the circular driveway lined with sweet-scented flowers and came to a halt before the mansion. Feeling himself being lifted tenderly, he lifted his head up enough from the wealth of Lis's dark-chocolate hair to see the rather concerned-appearing Victor stride down the steps of the house's front porch to meet them. Now that was quite the surprise; he'd understand the valet being worried about Lis, but there really wasn't any reason for Victor to look that concerned for the blonde man's well-being.
Maybe, in the morning, I should take the time to talk to him and Grant, get to know them better?
At the sound of the word "Sabbat", Zoey shivered just a bit, the lingering echoes of the madness still making his skin crawl every so often. From the way the valet had looked when he had disappeared back into the mansion, this rooting out of the Sabbat would be nasty business indeed. Oddly, he felt a twinge of fear for Lis. She might be powerful and intelligent, but sometimes, that wasn't good enough. The thought of maybe losing her somehow made him feel chilled to the bone. Arms tightening about her, he sank his face into her lovely hair again as the Kindred easily carried him through her house. The fact that he ought to be a bit old to be carried like a child never once entered his mind; he could care less, it just seemed so safe there in her arms.
The bed felt so comfortable and inviting, and the thought of sharing the night with Lis again kindled a spark of desire, pushing away the remaining melancholy. It was more greed than fear that had made him cling to her when she started to stand up; a profound sense of aloneness had filled him when he realized she was going to let him go. But even then, he knew that it was only logical to let her disrobe. She was right, they would be more comfortable that way.
He let her go then, mind focused on the soft French words he'd finally listened to: Mon précieux amour--My precious love. Emerald eyes gazed in wonder at her, amazed that she apparently felt so much about him, a mere mortal she had met only a week ago. Then the wonder turned to desire and adoration as Zoey watched her slip out of her clothing, revealing more and more of that exquisite body with each article that was removed. Dios, how he wanted to pull her to him and worship that form again.
The sparkling comb in her hair was to much a temptation. Large eyes darkening to deep green with desire beneath the spun-gold lashes, he lifted a hand to her. He wanted to be the one that let the dark-flame-highlighted silk loose, to sink his fingers again in that luxurious mane. Lis gave him a sexy little smile, her sensuous lips curled just so, and bent over to give in to his demand. A deft grasp of his long-fingered hand and the shimmering strands fell free, almost begging to be touched. Zoey felt his breath catch at the sight; the precious comb made a small sound as it fell to the floor, casually dropped when he buried his hands in the dark-chocolate mane.
He twisted and turned gracefully as her hands slid over him, expertly disrobing him and caressing him all at once, the feel of her fingertips along his heated skin only making tingling trails as each piece of clothing was coaxed from his trim, well-toned form. A soft, sensual purr sounding in his throat despite the hoarseness from his earlier shrieking, he felt the embers of desire grow hotter and brighter with each passing moment. Enraptured, he closed his eyes, the long lashes dark against his cheeks, as he gave in to the need to touch and caress her perfect body, running his hands over her where he could.
With a gentle tug, Zoey felt his hair come free of the neat ponytail; he sighed in bliss as Lis's talented hands ran through the golden silk. Reminded of her own glorious tresses, he once more entwined his hands into the soft, dark mass, thrilling anew at the feel and texture of her hair. He moved with her as she got settled in the bed, not wanting the contact to end, still softly purring, then snuggled against her once they were both comfortably settled for the night.
He rested there against her, lazily caressing her soft, satiny skin in the darkness, breathing and heart rate speeding up just a bit at the oh-so-arousing presence of her next to him. It was hard indeed to think about sleeping when desire burned in one's veins. He wanted her again, wanted to reach that little piece of heaven he'd found that other time being in his dark angel's arms.
Zoey almost chuckled; he found her reply on the amusing side. Instead, he kissed her. Encouraged by her passionate response, he answered in kind, teasing her mouth open with his lips' caresses, then slipping his agile tongue into her mouth to play erotically with hers as he moved his lithe body over her. Though cooler than normal, the sensation wasn't oddly so; he was silently grateful that Lis was doing that for his benefit.
He took his time, worshipping her passionately with hands and mouth, taking delight at her response to his touching and his kisses. He played her like one of his beloved guitars, coaxing blissful pleasure with every glide of his hand, gentle nip on sensitive skin, light lick and teasing suckling of her cool body and slipping away into that passionate trance his music often invoked. And Lis's equally intense enjoyment and playing of him in a breathtaking counterharmony only made him feel even more inspired.
Zoey wondered again at that momentary resistance of her body to their intimate joining, but that thought was just as swiftly swept away by the overwhelming feeling of her tightness around his hard manhood. Almost aching with the need to find release from the overpowering tension, he started the moves of the ancient dance in earnest. Gracefully strong arms embracing her, he thrusted his hips against hers with rapid, deep strokes. Already on the razor-sharp edge, the feel of Lis's soft lips against his neck where his pulse beat rapidly beneath the sensitive skin was enough to push him over into that seemingly timeless moment of pure ecstasy. Softly groaning with the release, he bared his throat to her, expecting the sharp pain that would make the moment even more intense and exquisite.
Yes, angel, Lis whispered softly in Zoey's mind. Take me--give yourself over to me . . .
Dieu, he made her feel so *good*--that graceful body against her, within her; every caress, every kiss, all inflaming her beyond reason. The embers of passion still lived within her unbeating heart, and Zoey fanned those embers up to a roaring blaze, a fire that was so intense, so sweet.
When he tossed his head back to bare his throat to her, golden hair flying like a veil of silk, she came very close to tears. How long had it truly been since she'd had such a willing, eager partner, one who did not fear her, one who was not addicted to the Kiss and yet welcomed it from her lips?
Feeling him shudder, hearing his cry of release, Lis struck; his fingers curled tight in her hair at the brief sting as she broke the tender skin, then swiftly withdrew her fangs and clamped her mouth over the small wounds, her arms sliding around his ribs and holding him tightly against her as she suckled hungrily. As she had done before, she rocked herself slowly beneath him, prolonging his climax and her own.
Sweet . . . so sweet. His blood was honey-pure against her tongue, the hot-copper taste adding a spiced edge. This time, she didn't have to be quite so scant in her feeding--his veins ran full and healthy again, all the blood the Sabbat had drained long since replaced. After that first rush of greedy hunger, she sipped slowly, savoring every draught like the finest of wines. She could taste her own vitae mingled with his, a darker flavor that somehow complemented his own. Light and darkness, wound together into this scarlet braid.
Zoey moaned her name, over and over, his cheek pressed against the top of her head, his hands buried in the waves of her hair. He writhed in her embrace, as though he wanted to press himself past the barrier of flesh, be swallowed up entirely in her, make himself a part of her very soul . . .
No . . . not yet . . .
She drew back, closing the wounds with a slow, sensual lick. She hadn't taken very much--not even as much as a standard blood donation. He would not suffer from her feeding, though he'd be hungry in a little while.
He shivered and sighed, letting his head drop down onto the pillow beside hers, burying his face in the dark mane of her hair, his slender body relaxing. He mumbled something into the pillow, into her hair.
"Mmm?" She turned her head a little, stroking her cheek against his golden hair. "What was that, angel? . . ."
Once again he seemed to have been able to touch forever, that shining ecstasy that went beyond any words to describe it. Everything was crystalline, exquisite, a white-hot flame that consumed his very soul and drew him every higher to. . . *something*.
But then it was gone, sparkling away like shattered sunlight through a prism. A shudder and a groan of disappointment ran through him. Slowly, slowly, Zoey found himself back in his body, pressed tight against Lis and a cool dampness against the side of his throat. Feeling drained--and it was a sensation of strength alone; she had apparently been careful not to take too much, because the dizziness he felt at the moment was a familiar one--the lithe musician shivered and let himself collapse in pure relaxation. Snugging his head into both pillow and that gorgeous mane of Lis's dark hair, he tiredly smiled. "I really feel like sleeping now."
Apparently he had snuggled too much into the cloud-soft pillow and the dark-chocolate silk. He felt the gentle slide of Lis's cheek against his head, heard her soft words. "Mmm?" What was that, angel? . . ."
A faint chortle sounded from Zoey. Sliding a slender hand under himself, he raised his head and torso up enough to stare down at her, his emerald eyes half-veiled behind long, spun-gold lashes. Of course, there wasn't much to see since her room was as dark as a cave; he found it just the slightest bit unnerving to be unable to tell when his eyes were open or shut. Still, the lack of sight had only increased his sensitivity to touch and scent, making the intimate communion they had just shared something fantastic. "I said that I really felt like sleeping now. Dios, that was. . . indescribable."
The soft rustle of sheets and blankets, along with the shift of Lis's body, answered his statement. Her voice a satisfied murmur, the elegant Kindred curled a hand around the nape of Zoey's neck. "Then sleep. I shall be right here with you." She tugged him back down--gently but with a no-nonsense manner-- and cuddled his graceful, athletic body against her.
Again he laid there in the dark, feeling safe and protected in the embrace of his angel of the night. Unable to keep from touching her even as he began to feel drowsy, Zoey traced little patterns on Lis's slightly cool flesh with his lightly calloused fingertips. Even in that velvety darkness, he could envision exactly what her perfect body would look like as his hand traced over her contours.
But even then, his curiosity got the better of him. "Lis?"
"Yes, Zoey?" Her sensual voice sounded just the slightest bit amused.
Still tracing those doodles on her with his hand, he sighed happily. "Would you mind terribly about telling me of the other ghouls you have? What are their stories? How did they come to know you in the first place?"
The blonde musician fell silent for a moment, recalling the worried look on Victor's face that had greeted them when he and Lis had arrived back home. "Your valet seemed concerned about me, for some reason. I could certainly understand him worrying about you, but me?" Zoey shook his head in mild disbelief, the fine strands of long hair swirling around his shoulders in a soft caress. Burrowing deeper into the pillow and blankets to get comfortable, he waited for the Toreador's reply.
"Curious angel," Lis chuckled softly, threading her fingers into Zoey's hair, stretching luxuriously beneath his caressing hands. "Victor's my household marshal, as I said."
"What exactly do you mean by that term, anyway?" he asked, muffled against her shoulder.
"Marshal? Hm. Steward, seneschal, butler--the terms *have* changed a great deal over the centuries. He handles the day-to-day operation of the house and oversees my other retainers--right up to and including seeing to their physical and mental well-being. You're one of them now, after all, and Victor takes his job very seriously." She felt him stiffen a bit against her, as though startled by the little revelation. "You've a few friends waiting to meet you, in fact, when you feel inclined to leave me here."
"I'm not going anywhere right now," he said almost instantly. He'd heard the tone that she hadn't even realized she was projecting with those last few words--the sense of impending desertion, of being alone and desolate. The idea that even this centuries-old supernatural beauty could feel something like loneliness struck him as something *wrong*--as did the hint in her tone that she'd experienced such loneliness far too much.
"When I first saw Victor, during the early days of American rebellion against British rule, he was the butler for one of the Tory families living in Boston--a position that made his activities as a spy for the Continental Army quite a bit easier. Especially considering his natural talent for acting."
"He's *that* old?" Zoey blinked in the darkness, startled. True, Lis had told him that ghouls had extended lifespans thanks to the vampiric vitae in their systems--but Victor looked perhaps thirty-five, a fit, healthy man in the prime of his life. Finding out that the man was over *two hundred* years old threw the definition of "extended lifespan" into sharp perspective for the young musician.
"Indeed. Grant is somewhat younger--I met him in London, around the midpoint of the nineteenth century. I'd only recently moved to the city, and Victor decided I needed a proper coachman." She giggled softly; he hadn't quite heard her giggle before, exactly, and the sound was surprisingly sweet, girlish. "I'd been afraid at first that Victor would be upset at having to live among the same people that he'd fought to free his own country from, but instead he was rather tickled by the idea. Said that he enjoyed the notion that, unlike that sorry sad-sack King George, *his* 'queen' could have the entire country at her feet if she chose to, without a single shot being fired. Victor's always had a sort of outrageous charm, I admit."
"Lizzie," Zoey grinned against her shoulder.
"Hmph," she snorted in response, and tickled his ribs. The reaction was gratifying--evidently he was *quite* ticklish, and he squirmed and struggled and shrieked with laughter, his slender, athletic body twisting lithely in her hold.
"Stop stop stop!" he managed to gasp out frantically, laughing so hard his voice was reduced to little squeaks.
"Only if you show a little respect," Lis said with mock severity. She rather enjoyed the way his body was writhing against hers.
"I will!" he promised, trying to escape her tickling fingers on his ribs. She opened her hands and caught his sides gently; before she could ask how he intended to show that respect, he showed her, dipping his head down, golden hair trailing over her skin, to cover one of her nipples with his warm mouth. She purred softly, pleasantly surprised, and slid her hands around to link fingers at the small of his back in a gentle embrace.
"Mm. That's *very* nice, angel," she murmured, feeling a little coal of desire kindling again low in her belly.
"What about Claude?" he asked against her sensitive flesh, pausing for just a moment in his attentions.
"Dieu--curious as a kitten, aren't you?" she chuckled.
"Maybe," he said, the irrepressible rogue, "but you're the one who's purring." He returned to his task, nibbling, suckling, his tongue tracing little circles.
Lis giggled again, then sighed in contentment, hugging him a bit tighter. "I found Claude in Marseilles, around the turn of the century. He was--and *is*--one of the best cooks I've ever met. Most Kindred cannot enjoy mortal food and do not have the same sort of appreciation for a skilled chef that I have. However, my ghouls do need to eat, and I enjoy it myself." She nuzzled the top of his head. "Don't think for a moment, though, that Victor, Grant, and Claude are truly nothing more than a butler, driver, and chef. I have taken measures to make certain they can defend me, themselves, and each other. All of them are skilled to some degree in various arts of combat, both armed and unarmed. And Claude is an expert when it comes to handling firearms."
"Mm," he answered, now concentrating rather more on his sensual little exercise than on what she was saying. He switched targets, trailing kisses down into the valley between her breasts and up to the other peak to lavish attention on *that* one as well.
Lis closed her eyes in pure contentment, hugging him tighter.
So many revelations and the hint of more revelations to come. Zoey felt as if his head were spinning, there was so much to try to grasp. Instead, he decided to not think on those things for the moment; his attention turned instead to the purely physical. *This* was something he could quite easily grasp.
The tune he played upon the perfect instrument of her body this time was slow and sweetly stately. Despite the almost lazy meter of his attentions, the fires were easily fanned into conflagration of intense passion once more. Dios, could he ever get enough of this sensuous angel of the night? Probably not, though he would, if he continued to keep that belly full of coals within him alive by drinking her vitae, have a very long time to find out.
Ah, how lonely she had sounded just a few short moments ago. It amazed him that she would feel so abandoned when she had at least three quite loyal people surrounding her and had surrounded her for decades on end. It was a note that was achingly familiar to himself, for Zoey--despite the friends he had in the person of his band's members--truly had been lonely ever since his parents were killed. The musician mentally vowed to himself to do his best to see that Lis wouldn't feel so lonely ever again. It was the least he could do to pay her back for all that she had done so far for him.
His eventual joining with the gorgeous brunette in that ancient, intimate dance was just as passionately powerful as the first, sweet and satisfying though not spiced this time with the euphoria of the Kiss. He softly called out her name again in the darkness, the melodic tenor strained from intensity of his climax; he murmured into her luxurious hair that she was his beloved angel of the night as he collapsed, weary, to lie on the soft, comfortable bed next to her.
Zoey must have dozed some after that; when he was next aware of things, it seemed much later in the night to his internal clock. Abruptly aware of feeling slightly dizzy with hunger, he opened his eyes and was again disoriented for a moment by the absolute lack of light in the room. Is she still here? Am I alone? Feeling a wave of pure panic wash over himself, he flailed a hand out to where he last felt Lis was at.
A slender hand closed gently around Zoey's just as his fingers struck soft flesh. Hush, angel--there's no need to beat on me. I'm right here beside you, where I promised I would stay. Her mental voice sounded sluggish, faint; after a moment, her hand slipped away from his, falling to the bed with a gentle thump. Reach over to the nightstand--there's a touch-sensitive lamp there.
Zoey rolled over and reached out in the darkness; he felt the edge of the nightstand, then slid his hand over the surface until cool metal met his touch. Soft, light, filtered through a stained-glass Tiffany lampshade, cast multicolored streaks over the bed. Glancing over to Lis, he discovered that she was curled on her side, facing him, her hand now resting on the mattress just below the pillow where her mass of dark silken hair shimmered against the clean white linen. She looked like an alabaster sculpture, her skin nearly as pale as the sheets; she truly did look *dead*, not breathing, her eyes unmoving beneath long-lashed lids.
And yet it didn't bother him.
He reached out to touch her cool, smooth cheek; the corners of her mouth tugged in a barely visible smile. It's seven in the morning, Zoey. I did not leave you, as I promised, but I have to sleep . . . and you must eat. Go downstairs--Claude has breakfast cooking already.
"Yes, Lizzie," he answered dutifully, again unable to hide a grin at the pet name.
Smirk away, angel, she shot back darkly. You just wait until nightfall.
Zoey slid out of bed and pulled on his briefs and trousers; he was about to pull on his shirt when he noticed the dark green silk robe he'd worn last week. It was hanging on one of the bedposts, almost lost amid the folds of the sapphire-blue velvet bed curtains. Shrugging it on, he glanced curiously at Lis again, wondering why the robe was there instead of being put away.
Wanted a reminder of you near me . . .
He felt a strange twist in his chest, in the vicinity of his heart. Leaning over her, he kissed her cheek gently before quietly leaving the room.
Out in the hall, a heavenly mingling of scents met his nose--bacon, sausage, pancakes . . . breakfast. Barefoot, he padded down the hall and descended the staircase; the marble floor of the ballroom was a bit chilly, and he scooted quickly into the dining room. The doors at the far end were open a crack, and the wonderful smells wafted out, making his mouth water. He nudged the doors open and poked his head in.
In contrast to the classical, aloof elegance of the rest of the house, the kitchen radiated pure country-home coziness. Burnished oak cabinets with brass fittings, countertops along the walls and at the island station in the center of one end of the room covered with clean white tiles. The floor was well-polished hardwood.
At the opposite end of the room from the obvious work area, a large, open fireplace of honey-colored stone took up most of the wall. Another door, this one evidently leading outside, was set in the wall across from where Zoey stood; to the right of that door, catercorner to the fireplace, was a large bay window and breakfast nook. A round oak table stood in the center of the nook, and from three seats, three men peered curiously back at Zoey.
He noticed that there was already a place set at the fourth chair; they must have been expecting him. The table was covered with plates loaded with golden pancakes, crisp bacon, juicy sausage; even as his eyes settled on the enticing sight and his mouth watered harder, one of the men was jumping up from the table.
"You're Zoey? I'm Claude Dubois." The chef grinned broadly. He was a slender man, a little taller than Zoey and dressed in a pale blue shirt over black jeans; he had neatly trimmed dark hair and bright blue eyes. He plucked a tidy white apron from over the back of his chair, whirling it neatly around his waist, tying it behind him with practiced ease. "How do you like your eggs? Lis didn't say."
"Um . . ."
Claude strode across the kitchen to the work area, stopping at the sparkling white refrigerator and opening it. "How many did you want?"
"Er," Zoey tried.
"Nice to see you again, Zoey," said one of the other men, glancing up from a diminishing pile of pancakes. Blond and brown-eyed, he seemed very young--perhaps twenty; after a moment, Zoey realized where he'd seen the man before. The limo driver. He confirmed his identity as he waved his fork in a little circle. "I'm Grant Winchester."
"Victor Radcliff," Victor chimed in. "Come on in, sit down. Lizzie said that since she fed from you, you needed food too." He pointed at the fourth chair. Blinking, Zoey padded over and slid into the seat; Victor waved a hand around to indicate the food-laden table. "Help yourself to anything you want. As usual, Claude went overboard--"
"I only want to be sure everyone gets enough to eat," Claude shot back. "Zoey's new to the family, so I wasn't certain how much--"
"Mm-hm," Grant chuckled around a mouthful of bacon. He swallowed before adding, "You just like an excuse to spend a couple hours in here."
"As if you don't look for excuses to spend hours in the garage," the cook retorted. "Zoey! How many eggs and what style?"
The hustle and bustle of the kitchen certainly was quite the shift from the dark stillness of Lis's room and the quiescence of the rest of the mansion. Still, it took the blonde musician a moment to shake off his hunger-induced dizziness--made worse by the fabulously mouth-watering smells wafting through the charming room and the delicious sight of the piles of food sitting on the table--and actually get it together enough to get a word in edgewise. "Two and fried long enough the yolks are cooked all the way through." Zoey's elegant hands, easily the type you'd expect from a musician, rested on the smooth, varnished surface of the oaken table as his melodic tenor dropped into a muttering tone. "I really hate runny yolks."
Claude nodded in reply, getting right to work. With neat, efficient movements and the type of skill that came from long experience, the cook cracked a pair of eggs against the side of the sturdy, well-constructed frying pan. Turning around and brandishing his spatula like a weapon, Claude fixed Zoey with his azure gaze. "Now if you don't get enough, you let me know. Wouldn't want Victor there accusing me of not taking care of you properly."
As Grant chuckled again around a mouthful of bacon, the valet gave the cook a withering look. Yet even then, Zoey could tell that the expression on Victor's face was a teasing one; apparently the trio of men were very close indeed. "Oh heavens yes, Claude. We all know you'll end up starving us to death, you take such poor care of things." Though dryly said, Victor's eyes were sparkling in amusement.
They remind me of a set of brothers. A broad grin settled on Zoey's handsome face--a grin which suddenly shifted to an expression of startled surprise when the valet reached out and poked him one in the shoulder.
"Eat. Now. I'm not going to let myself get into a position of having to explain to Lis that you passed out from hunger this morning because you were too busy gawking." Though sternly said, Victor was smiling at the slender blonde man.
"Oh, all right." Zoey played along with the game, slipping into the role of appropriately chastised youngest brother easily enough despite having been an only child. "Wouldn't want Lis thinking you weren't hospitable enough." Picking up a fork, he began shovelling what looked to be some of the most tempting pancakes, bacon and sausage he'd ever seen onto his plate.
Part of the family. That phrase seemed to hit him nearly as hard as Lis's admission that she wanted a reminder of himself near her. Oh, he certainly had a closeness to his best friends that were the other members of Ravensblood, but they were just that--friends. Rick, Tony and Alex came from a different background than Zoey did; he had met them on his nights of travelling to the popular goth clubs during his quest for ways to drive his parents up the wall. They were good folk, for the most part, and talented musicians in their own rights, but they had had a rougher time with life and it showed.
Thinking about his bandmates brought to mind the past week. Frowning at the reminder, Zoey leaned back in his sturdy wooden chair to allow Claude to slip his eggs onto the elegantly simply designed stoneware plate. Flicking his emerald gaze down to his plate, the frown morphed into a smile. "Thanks, Claude. They look perfect."
"As always, but of course." The slim cook made a show of strutting and preening around in the kitchen as he replaced the skillet onto the stove and sat back down with the others. From the looks on the valet's and the chauffeur's faces, this was another running joke among them.
Still under Victor's watchful eye, Zoey began eating. As expected, everything *was* perfect; the chef was really one of the most talented people at his craft that the young musician had ever had the pleasure of experiencing. God, he was hungry; it was rather unusual for him to be this ravenous or to wolf down food at the rate he was, but Zoey wasn't about to argue with himself over that. He fell silent, concentrating on just eating, until his hunger was finally satiated.
When he did look up at last, he felt himself blushing just a bit as he discovered three sets of eyes watching him. "Eh, sorry. I usually don't eat so fast or so much." It was a mumbled apology, the best he could do. Oh how he hated these awkward moments of getting to know people; it was far too easy to give someone the wrong impression.
Smiling at them crookedly, only one corner of his mouth curled up, he dabbed at his lips with the napkin and leaned casually back in his seat. His long mane of hair still loose and tousseled from his lying in Lis's bed and the sheepish look on his face all conspired to make him look something like a lost, confused and lonely child. Glancing over the three of them, Zoey offered them a shy smile. "You call yourself a family, but do you really think I'm going to fit in? I mean, I'm still a kid compared to all you've seen and done. I almost feel like an intruder, to be honest, like the new kitten the other cats just have to put up with 'cause Mommy wanted a new pet." He doesn't say out loud his other thoughts, but they show in the emerald depths of his large eyes. Does Lis like you better, and if she doesn't, are you mad that she's found someone new?
"Oh yeah. Victor, is my guitar and bag still in the salon? Or did you move them elsewhere once we had our plans changed?" Zoey shifted his gaze over to the valet as he awaited an answer.
Grant chuckled at Zoey's slightly shamefaced apology. "It's okay, really. We've all been there ourselves. She likes it fresh--says that it doesn't taste right otherwise--and often, we're the ones who provide it." He gave Zoey a rather keen glance. "She hasn't actually brought someone home with her in . . . geez . . . over seventy years?"
"Ninety," Claude corrected. "The last one was that disgusting little thief. I *told* her to be careful, I knew the wretched creature, but she insisted on bringing him home anyway."
"Oh, *that* one," Grant muttered. "He didn't even make it off the first floor before he started pocketing things. I'm *glad* she let us beat him up before we tossed him back into the street."
At Zoey's words, the three men exchanged glances without saying anything for a moment. They'd known each other long enough to virtually communicate without words or benefit of Telepathy.
"Seems like anybody who's new gets nervous," the valet chuckled quietly. "I've had to hear that little speech twice--well, three times now."
"We've all been 'just kids,' Zoey," Grant said, chasing a last drop of maple syrup around his plate with a forkful of pancake. "It takes a little adjustment all 'round, but it's turned out well from what I've seen so far."
"You're not a pet," Claude snapped suddenly, almost slamming his fork down. He used his hands a lot when he spoke, quick, elegant little motions that underscored his words. "She does not, has not, and will never treat you or any of us as such--and we will never treat *you* in that fashion. I assure you, none of us resent or are jealous of your presence here; we are all *friends*. Our little orbits around *her* will withstand the introduction of a new part of the family."
"Claude, relax," Victor sighed. He glanced at Zoey. "I'll give it to you straight. We *all* love her--we did even before she completed the Blood Bond--and while any of us would be ecstatic to share more intimacy with her, we're not going to begrudge you that. It's been clear to each of us from the beginning that she needs *friends*, and that's what we've been to her. It's what we'll continue to be to her, and to you."
"She'll probably have us help teach you," Grant added with a grin. "We're all pretty knowledgeable when it comes to this weird lifestyle--and I can bet that, considering the upcoming purge, she'll want you learning at least *something* about fighting." The grin had faded already just with the thought of the purge.
Victor reached over to the bowl in the center of the table, taking a ripe peach from the assortment there. He rolled the fruit slightly between his fingers as he answered, "I moved your stuff up to the suite next to Lizzie's. When you go upstairs, just go to the door beyond hers and you'll find everything. There's a connecting door into her bedroom from the dressing room in that suite."
Zoey's emerald eyes locked on the bowl of fruit. Peaches! God, he loved peaches. Slender fingers reached out and claimed one of the fuzzy fruits as his own. He listened to the banter going on as he picked up the table knife sitting next to his place. "Well, I suppose I could at least say a few things about myself, as a way of starting things out."
As he deftly cut up the peach into neat, thin slices and adorned his stack of pancakes with them, he gave the three men a quick rundown of his short twenty-three years of life. His melodic tenor spoke matter-of-factly as he rattled off such details as the fact that he was born in Seattle, was an only child of parents that were well-off and now dead. He told them of his Catholic schooling and of his mother's interest in their noble heritage, an offshoot of that being that he knew how to fence, of all things. He spoke about his humdrum, boring life and of how he'd gone to all the bad places "good" kids weren't supposed to go, both out of a sense of rebellion and out of a sense of looking for excitement, then continued to talk about meeting the other three members of the band and their hope at making it big.
They were down here in this city for the summer; Alex, the bassist, had family around and they had hoped to be able to get some regional exposure by hitting the club circuit here and performing. The general idea had been to return to Seattle come September.
Zoey tossed the trio a crooked smile. "I suppose those plans have pretty much changed."
"Only if you want them to change," Grant responded.
"Oui," Claude chimed in, fixing the much younger man with his gaze, hands gesturing as always to accentuate his words. "Like I said, she will never consider you a pet. You are free to come and go as you please, Zoey. We all are."
"Believe me, Lis can and will send for you if she ever truly needed you. But she respects the individuality of us all." Victor leaned back against his chair, still watching the musician. So much to tell him just to get him up to speed, and so little time with the purge coming up.
Zoey nodded in acknowledgement, turning his attention back to what remained of his meal. At least he'd slowed rather considerably in his eating; that thought alone made the golden haired musician wryly smile, a single corner of his mouth curling up. "I've got a lot to think about." It was an admission to really no one at all, save to himself. Free to come and go, and yet the valet pretty much acted as if it were a given that Zoey would eventually move in with the rest of this unusual "family".
Oh, the thought certainly was appealing; stripped of everything that had been "family" to himself, he craved a place and a group in which to truly belong. But this *was* a development, a wrinkle in his life, that had come out of the blue. "So tell me," he began, his voice a quiet murmur. "Are you all pretty much expecting me to end up here all the time with you?"
Noticing that everyone was done with eating, Claude shoved back his chair and took to his feet. As the nimble cook started collecting up the used dishes, Victor gave the newcomer to their little circle a reassuring smile. "Again, only if you feel it's more convenient that way, Zoey. But you are right; there is a lot you have to think about."
A phrase he'd heard at Elysium popped into his head, and Zoey realized that it was mentioned here as well. Blood Bond. The words, like "Embraced", had an odd inflection that seemed to mean something else than what one would ordinarily consider were their meaning. They had all loved her before the Blood Bond was complete. Complete? Eyes narrowing slightly, he tilted his head to the side, thinking on that. There was a clue here to something important; he could just feel it in his bones.
Fixing the valet with his emerald gaze, he leaned back in his chair again to let Claude sweep away his used dishes. "I've got a couple things on my mind right now. What exactly do you mean by 'making the Blood Bond complete'? And why is everyone so grim-looking whenever this purge is mentioned?"
He did have an idea on that; if the skirmish between Lis and the Sabbat Kindred in the cemetery was an indication of how nasty it could get, a city-wide sweep of the Camarilla looking to tear apart the packs to be found could get downright hideous. Zoey's thoughtful expression shifted to a frown, his beautiful face well suited to conveying his emotions. Just the thought of something being bigger, nastier and meaner than Lis and taking her out seems to leave a hole inside of me. God, I hope everything goes all right when it happens. . .
The three men were excellent listeners, speaking only to ask a few questions about details of Zoey's life; when he mentioned his knowledge of fencing, the trio exchanged quick looks and faint grins. Evidently, that was a point definitely in his favor. Grant *had* mentioned that Lis would want him to know something about fighting, considering the upcoming purge--the fact that he *did* know that much certainly helped.
"I've got a couple things on my mind right now. What exactly do you mean by 'making the Blood Bond complete'? And why is everyone so grim-looking whenever this purge is mentioned?"
Lis's ghouls exchanged looks again in that sort of silent communication that required no special powers--just long, long association. Claude set an armload of dishes in the sink and returned to collect a few more. Grant feigned intense absorption in sipping his glass of orange juice. Victor frowned slightly at them both, not terribly pleased that he was obviously being left holding the bag on this one, but having seniority in this unusual little family brought responsibilities that he was used to fulfilling. Still, he glanced down into his coffee cup as if he could hide in it before answering.
"Well . . . I know that Lis would tell you, but since you asked, I'll answer. First, though--how many times has Lis given you blood?" He looked back up at Zoey.
"Twice," the young musician replied carefully. "Once last week, and then again last night. Why?"
"Because the third drink, whenever you take it, is going to do something significant to you." Victor paused, then sighed faintly. "How, exactly, do you feel about Lis right at this moment?"
"*Exactly*?" Zoey frowned just a bit. "It's hard so say when things are a bit of a jumble. I mean . . . I don't fear her--in fact, I trust her more than I trust most people--but there *is* something a little creepy about what she is. I'll be forever grateful to her for saving my life and my sanity both, as well as offering me shelter from Prince Byron . . ." He scowled a bit at pronouncing the name of the Toreador prince. "She's sexy, exciting, dangerous . . . I suppose the best way I can sum it up is that I feel like a moth drawn to the flame, and will go happily to my destruction within the pyre . . ."
"Do you love her?" That was Grant, his quiet voice betraying nothing.
That got Zoey to fall silent for a moment, thinking, his emerald eyes taking on a sort of far-off gaze. "I don't know," he admitted finally, softly. "Is there such a thing as love at first sight? Perhaps there is, and perhaps that's what I feel."
"That's going to change when you drink her vitae for the third time," Victor said bluntly. "You'll feel like she's the center of the universe--like life has no meaning without her. It's more than love, it's an uncontrollable passion. Losing one of your own limbs would feel better than losing her." The valet looked down at his coffee again. "I guess that's how it always is, at least in the beginning. The one who's Bound is usually called a 'thrall'; the one whose blood powers the Bond is called the 'regnant' or 'domitor'. Depending on how the regnant treats the thrall, that raging desire can change. She's gently made it clear to all of us from day one that she didn't want more than a friendly relationship at most. And so we're her friends, and we're happy to serve her needs." He glanced up at Zoey again, a wry smile on his face. "You'll have a different situation, I can tell."
"As to the purge," Grant cut in gently. "We get grim-faced because it *is* a serious matter. We're talking about a city-wide sweep, ferreting out the Sabbat wherever they're hiding, and destroying them to the last one. The fact that you can fence is a point in your favor--it's trained you how to handle a melee weapon. We can teach you the best ways to immobilize a vampire--it involves a wooden stake and good aim--but the most decisive way to *kill* one happens to be decapitation. For the most part, guns aren't terribly effective, unless you use one with Hellfire or Dragonsbreath rounds. Oh, they do cause damage to a Kindred, but it's nowhere near as devastating as the effect of a bullet on a human." He glanced over at Claude, who was humming to himself as he washed dishes. "*He's* the gun specialist of our little group. I prefer more of the unarmed combat styles, and Victor's our melee expert." He chuckled. "Of course, all of us look like complete amateurs next to Lis, but we do well enough on our own."
Madre de Dios, I certainly *do* have a lot to think about. Zoey sat back again in his seat, feeling his head spinning from the conversation he had with the other ghouls so far. The center of his world, filled with an uncontrolled passion that would make life seem useless without her. His mind instinctively shied away from that; it sounded so helpless and hopelessly *absolute*. Though he tried to keep his distaste from the trio, the cold, worried look that appeared in his emerald eyes gave it away.
He listened to the chauffeur talk, his frown of concern getting deeper, making his handsome face seem distant. Sounds almost like they expect *me* to go out there and join them in this purge. "And me, well, I'm probably as useful as a bump on a log," Zoey muttered, his melodic voice sounding abruptly harsh. Staring at Victor, he shook his head, sending his golden mane of wispy hair swirling around his head and shoulders. "Look, guys, I'm a musician, not a warrior. Hell, when the Sabbat had their hands on me, there wasn't a damned thing I could do about it, and that hasn't really changed, now has it?"
The solid oak chair in which he'd been sitting scraped across the kitchen floor as he rose to his feet. "You toss me out there and expect me to try to help take out those. . . *things*, and I'm going to end up being a grease spot on some wall, because no matter how good you or even Lis are, I'm willing to bet that there will be *someone* out there able to make a meal out some kid who has no clue what the hell he's doing out there to begin with."
Zoey certainly had gotten the undivided attention of the older men. Grant sat there, his glass of orange juice still in his hand, looking rather startled at the unusually hard tone to the musician's voice, while Claude remained standing at the sink, a glass in one hand, a washcloth in the other, and a surprised expression on his charmingly friendly face. Only Victor seemed unruffled by the young man's sudden anger. The household marshal elected to watch in silence as Zoey shook his head again and then darted out of the kitchen.
The marble floor of the ballroom was still cold on his bare feet. Zoey made a face at that as he stepped into that huge room to make his way to the stairs going to the second floor. God, he was scared, and that's what had sparked his anger. He didn't want to go out there and have to face the Sabbat again. The memory may be muted, but it was still *there*, and he was frightened at the prospect of facing that all over once more.
He was also frightened at the prospect of losing his free will. One more drink and he'd be hopelessly bound to her. No, it's not that that bothers me so much, at least it's not the idea of being enthralled with her as the center of my world so much as it's the helplessness of the situation. Once it's done, it's done.
Ah, but there's the rub, isn't it, Zoey? Still frowning to himself, he stopped midway to the stairs and stood there in the elegantly imposing ballroom. I feel sorry for them for being so helplessly bound and then rejected for anything more intimate than friendship. And I also feel--ashamed? Jubilant? God, I really can't tell; it's all mixed up. Whatever, it bothers me some that it looks like I can have what they wanted. Shaking his head again, the dim light of the room reflecting off the shining highlights of his hair, he crossed his arms over his chest and continued his thoughts.
He had to drink from some Kindred in order to be safe--well, as safe as one ever got knowing about them. After Dr. Marshall's little demonstration, Zoey was sure that there would be ways to know if he'd quit. Not only that, but the entire Camarilla enclave here had been told in no uncertain terms that he belonged to Lis. Even if he did manage to find other Kindred willing, they'd have Lis to contend with, and that would probably stymie any efforts there.
He raised a hand, tapping a slender finger against his sensuous lips, eyes narrowed and with a far-off gaze as he turned his situation over in his mind. From the way he'd said "with the third drink", I'm willing to bet it's a given that any single Kindred can do this. Great, so even if I found others, I'd have to be careful and make sure I never went to the same one a third time. Then there's someone like Byron. How much you wanna bet she'd just love to force me into something like this in order to spite Lis?
With a soft sigh, he dropped his hand and started back across the marble floor, his bare feet starting to ache from the chill. Too much to think about. Too much to try to comprehend. He felt absolutely clueless, horribly lost, unsure just what he should do.
He found the room indicated easily enough. He had paused another moment long enough to stare at Lis's door, trying to sort out the whirling jumble of emotions, then had sighed and continued into the chamber just beyond. Sure enough, there were his things. Walking over to the bed on which his gig bag had been placed, he bent over and tugged open the zipper of the black leather container.
Almost reverently, he extracted the guitar within. An acoustic guitar, the deep reddish-brown varnish on the perfectly crafted body beautiful to behold, it was the pride and joy of his collection because of its perfect, silvery tone. Slipping the tapestry adorned strap--the cloth was woven in a pattern of a row of roses between a border on each side--over his head, he turned and took a seat on the edge of the bed. His left fingers slipped into a chord and his right glided over the strings, coaxing out a sweet little sound.
That was enough to make Zoey at least smile. Music. It had always been his love and his passion, his refuge from the world. With it, he could reach that shining place where everything seemed so magical. He let his worries and his fears slip away as he turned his soul to the music within and played whatever it was he heard.
"He doesn't get it, does he?" Grant sighed, finishing his orange juice.
"Cut him some slack," Victor answered, leaning back in his chair. "He's only been a ghoul for a week. I'm willing to bet he doesn't realize the kind of power Lis's blood gives him. He's likely already got the extra strength and the ability to heal himself up a bit; it won't be long before the rest if it starts to manifest. Hell--Claude, you remember how *you* developed Celerity inside of two weeks, right?"
"Oh, I remember," the chef answered, a half-smile on his face. "There's certainly something to be said for having a Toreador elder as a regnant."
The three sat in silence for a few minutes, the quiet broken only by the soft clatter of the dishes and the running water as Claude cleaned up.
"She's going to be angry that we upset him," Victor said finally, closing his eyes.
"So help me God, if he hurts Lis in *any* way . . ." Grant clenched his large, blocky fists. The coachman had been a rather well-known brawler in the lower streets of London; that reputation had been part of the reason Victor had hired him in the first place.
"Easy, Grant," the steward warned, holding up a hand. "He just needs to adjust. I wish he'd stayed put for a few more minutes to talk--Lis already told me that she doesn't want him out in the streets when the purge starts. She wants you to show him how to operate the radio so he can handle the fort here while the three of us go with her."
Grant blinked, then nodded slightly. The state-of-the-art, military-class radio equipment in one of the outbuildings had proved extremely useful on several occasions; the ghouls couldn't use Telepathy the way Lis could, but the radio headsets were a good substitute. The basic workings of the equipment weren't very complicated; they could scrape by just fine without having to give Zoey an extended course in its use.
"At least he knows how to fence," Victor mused quietly. "It's not that far a jump from handling a rapier to handling a stake, really . . . and knowing how to do *that* could damn well save his life if it all goes to hell."
|Second Stanza||Chapter Three||The Silverlands|
This page formatted and © by Dianna Silver
"The Silverlands", "The Obsidian Tower", "A Character's Chronicle: Zoey's Story", "Argent Stag, Silver Rose", "The Rose Garden" and the "Rose Realm" all © 1997 - by Dianna Silver. Some material also © 1998 - by Krissy Ryan.
All Rights Reserved