by Jacynthe Demorae

Jesstyn propped her elbows on her dressing table and fought back a yawn. A glittering array of silver and gemstones lay scattered on the glass tabletop, among trinket boxes and cosmetics. The Brujah gazed at the elegant jewelry without much interest. She'd bought the pieces twenty years ago, not wanting to wear her more distinctive pieces in public. All of her various identities were carefully balanced. It wouldn't do to appear as Jesstyn while wearing the "heirloom jewels" of the dowager
Duchess Ekaterina, or worse still, the handcrafted jewels of a Grecian
merchant family that had died out over three hundred years ago.

She carelessly swept a small fortune of gems into a drawer and stood up.
The Prince had held a full Court earlier that night. Usually, her
position as Refuge's high-tech Harpy meant she could plead off most formal occasions-- her Domain was the virtual fief. Sometimes though, she had to make an appearance. Like when a new Kindred made a bid for a Primogen seat.

Clan Malkavian had been wiped out in Refuge, on the same night her
coterie--and her Regnant--had died in a Sabbat trap. Now, three of them
had come to Refuge. Working with Ivan (the Underking), and (sigh)
Melisande, she'd done as thorough a background on the aspiring Primogen as she could. And she'd decided to back her.

Kingmakers 'R' Us, she thought, loosening the fastenings on her
Versache gown. Court appearances meant she had to dress the part. In
her snow-white satin gown, her jewels, and her hair elaborately coiffed,
she looked more like a Scandinavian swan-maiden than a Hellenic
ex-patriat vampire. But that was the great thing about appearances.

She shimmied out of her gown and carefully laid it out over the bench.
The dyed-to-match pumps had been kicked off in the car and were probably still there. Dressed only in her full slip and stockings, she padded into the bedroom.

Jesstyn considered her tower room a masterpiece of masquerade-friendly
security. First, who in their right mind would look for a vampire in an
east-facing tower, with windows on all sides? Mylar sunscreens covered
those windows, the kind you'd find in any home with antique furnishings
to protect. Next, she'd installed vertical blinds. Theater blackout
curtains hung behind the velvet hangings of the large canopy bed, behind a large lacquered screen. Then there was the crawlspace she'd had built into the wall for dangerous moments, complete with collapsible fire shelter.

Right now, her bed was empty. Callista, her mortal lover, had taken some
time to tend to her own personal matters. She missed her. Jess turned
down the plump comforters, exposing soft flannel sheets. Her sword stood propped up by one of the carved posts. All of her real treasures were tied into that blade. She sat down on the bed and held the sheathed weapon across her lap. Odd bits and pieces dangled from the rings on the sword belt, a habit left over from her wanderer days. One pouch held her remaining crest medallion, the other she'd slipped to Yvette. My baby.

That wound still bled, but time, she hoped, would ease it. Or not.

She turned her attention to the pommel of the sword. With care, she began to unscrew the weighted black steel orb from its housing. A muted
clinking sounded as she lifted it free. A silver chain glinted in the dim
light, a silver-chased crystal locket dangling from its end. A single
lock of dark hair rested in the crystal shell, tied into a love knot with
a bit of blue ribbon.

Cristian's hair.

She touched the locket to her lips and smiled. She knew little of magic,
but even the crudest peasant knew a lock of hair gave you power over
another. Sympathetic magic, much like the love-knot, something any child
might learn at her mother's hearth. She kept Cristian's token with her,
secreted in the hilt of her geas-blade. For safety. For reassurance. A
promise, of the night they might be together. Until then...

She replaced the pommel weight and set the blade aside, but near to hand. Jesstyn slipped under the comforters and pulled the cords that drew the bedcurtains shut, the blackout curtains swinging into place. Soft, thick darkness surrounded her. Sunrise--and the day's sleep--wasn't far off. She stretched out and relaxed, easing into the one delicious indulgence she set aside for this time.

It began with his sheer presence, the marrow-deep awareness of him. Then, as if stepping from shadow, the barest outline of his form. It
strengthened, as if some unknown light shone forth solely to glorify him.
It gleamed in his dark hair, along the flowing lines of his clothing. She
caught an impression of dark trousers and a full-sleeved shirt, open at
the neck as a man might wear it in the privacy of his own bedchamber. The strange light reflected off the small silver studs that held his shirt
closed. 'A dark flame,' she'd said to Taliesin, and oh, how brilliantly
he burned. A darkness that dazzled. A wicked glint in those beautiful
eyes, the faintest quirk to those firm lips... She'd tasted them once,
and longed for them again.

Because this was only a dream, she allowed herself to reach for him,
gliding her hands along his shoulders, down the taut, lean muscles in his
arms. He felt so good, so right under her touch. To touch him meant
he also touched her. Never before had she been so aware of another's body--and her own.

Jess curled her fingers over his wrists and lifted them to her lips.
Veins and tendons made enticing ridges and valleys under his skin. She
laved them with her tongue. He tasted different here, but still rich and
strong. Blood pooled and stirred under his flesh, she could almost feel
it. Her Hunger rose in answer.

She heard a swift intake of breath, looked up from her loving
ministrations. He stood with his head back, eyes closed. His lips
curved gently, and she caught the glint of ready fangs.

She smoothed his cuffs back down into place and stepped closer, close
enough that he could have wrapped his arms around her had he desired. Had he actually been present. She fancied she could catch a wisp of some lingering scent, whatever sachet he had folded away among his shirts.

Shadow still covered most of his face, but she could feel his eyes on her.
She had no idea what might rouse him--aside from offering him her blood.
Could she make love to him as she would a human? Eight hundred years...a man might develop unusual tastes.

Well, I can answer them, she thought in sudden defiance. And maybe I have a few of my own.

The fabric of his shirt felt oddly slick under her fingers. She smiled up
at him--and yanked. The gleaming silver studs popped and flew off.
Gliding her hands over his shoulders, she drew the material down almost to his waist. One hand hovered at the small of his back, wrapped in the
loose fabric--then twisted. The slack drew taut, effectively pinning his
arms to his sides.

A fresh Ghoul could break that hold, so she had no fear of triggering
something unpleasant from deep in his psyche. Besides, this was all a
fantasy, right? She hooked the fingers of her free hand into his belt and
pulled him hard against her, taking his weight against her hip. She
loved the feel of his body pressed so close to hers, the solid weight of
him. It excited her, as if they might somehow merge into one.

And they shall be as one flesh...

Cristian wouldn't let an invitation like that pass--not the man who'd
hinted that he was perfectly capable of side-stepping tiresome protocols
if doing so gave him access to her.

Jesstyn braced herself as he draped himself over her, much like an amorous cat. Her back arched, shifting to support him. She laughed in delighted appreciation at how the tables had turned. Her throat lay bared to him, an offering. Deliberately, Jesstyn ran the tip of her tongue along her teeth--and the needle-sharp tips of her fangs. His mouth hovered just over hers.

With some regret, Jesstyn braced herself for the dissolution of her dreaming. For some odd reason, everything always collapsed just before their lips met.

"Not this time, my dear." Cristian's voice flowed over her like silk.
Beneath it, she heard a growling note of frustration and--something more? Their surroundings, hazy and indistinct, suddenly sharpened. For a
moment, she thought she saw a luxurious room, decorated like a 19th
century nobleman's private chambers.

What is this?

She blinked, and their surroundings blurred into vagueness. All she
clearly saw was her Tzimisce lover's face, turned up to her. He'd seated
himself in a large chair, his shirt still hanging open. God, he was

She stood between his knees, cradling his head in her hands. Turning his
head a fraction, he began to kiss his way down to her wrist. Jesstyn
shivered, closing her eyes. Her long blonde hair swept along her lower

Huh? When did my hair get loose? And why am I suddenly shirtless?
This dream was developing an awful lot of independence!

"Because I like it," he said, low-voiced, barely raising his lips from her

Things blurred even further. All that was real to her now was in his
touch. He made love to her hands, driving her to the very edge. She had
never imagined she could feel such things, that anyone could make her
feel so... He fired her blood, sending it racing in a thick rush through
her veins.

Iliescu was right. He is very good at this.

She felt the first warning prickle at her left wrist. Cristian, it
seemed, had grown impatient with foreplay.

Yes, she silently urged him. Do it.

To feel Cristian's Kiss...to give freely to him what she'd defended with
blade, claw, and will for centuries...to know some part of her moved
through him. That another Kindred trusted her enough to take that first

"I love you," she whispered--

And opened her eyes to inky darkness.

Distantly, she heard a man's heated string of frustrated curses, swearing
in a language she didn't understand. Jesstyn blinked, and the sound
faded. She was alone.

"Damn it," she whispered. She rolled onto her side in the too-empty bed.

I miss you.