A Fatal Case

by Irena Dawidson


Caitlin woke up with a start. Disoriented, she looked around trying to remember where she was. The bedroom was unfamiliar. The walls and ceiling were white and bare, the furniture dark brown and sparse. There was an open fireplace to the left, but the fire was dead. A little morning light filtered into the room through the drawn curtains. She was lying in an enormous bed, half immobilized by rumpled, twisted, creamy, silk sheets. She was alone, and felt quite cold and clammy. After disentangling herself from the silky restraints, she found the bathroom. It looked like a hotel bathroom to her. There were no personal things there. The towels were new: the toothpaste, toothbrush and soap still in their wrappings. Even the fluffy bathrobe had that hotel look about it, she almost expected to find the name Hyatt or Holiday Inn as she wrapped herself in it. With a pang of disappointment, she realized that she had spent the night in a guestroom. This was the first night that she had ever spent in Julianís home and he had not taken her to his own bedroom, only to a guest room!

The hot water revived her spirits, and she tried to sort out her feelings and memories. The weekend at Manzanita had been a disaster. It had started out pleasantly enough, although Julian seemed so tense, and then... then she remembered nothing but nightmares. This was a new experience. She had never taken any drugs, and she had never been drunk enough to lose track of time. But there, a couple of days were lost to her. Come to think of it, she had lost quite a few hours that day when the kidnapped baby had been recovered. And on both occasions Julian had been there when she regained her senses. Strange... Was he involved somehow? Well, she would just have to look into that mystery later. Right now, getting herself to work was the first priority.

She got out of the tub, and returned to the bedroom to find that a breakfast had been brought in. The curtains were open. A fire was blazing merrily in the fireplace, and the bed had been made. But still no Julian.

She sat at the table, and poured herself some coffee. Her memories returned to the previous night. She had come to Julianís home late, and had been admitted without questions. As a reporter she was no stranger to death and the gloomy atmosphere which greeted her here was immediately recognizable. She had come to demand some answers, but, when she saw Julian, all her resolve had left her. She had never seen him so miserable. Someone had died and from the look of him, she gathered it must have been someone very close to him. The name Archon came to mind. That was the name he had called out when he had heard her steps. But when she questioned him about it, all she got was denial. He had averted his eyes, even as his hand searched out hers. It seemed like he had been on the verge of crying, and was fighting very hard to keep the tears back. Her heart had gone out to him. She wanted to comfort him, to take care of him, to hold him. But when she leaned towards him, he turned his face away. She stood up then, determined to leave and that was when it happened. Never, in her wildest dreams, had she imagined it possible. As she was turning away, trying to free her hand, instead of letting go as he had always done in the past, his grip hardened, forcing her to turn back. Surprised, she could only stand there, looking at him, saying nothing. After a moment that felt to her like an eternity he slid slowly from his chair and, kneeling, put his arms around her.

"Cait... Caitlin," his voice broke, "please, donít go. Please, donít leave me!"

Her own reaction scared her. She felt triumphant.

"So, you are human after all, Julian," she whispered. The shiver that went through his body told her that he had heard her. He hadnít been supposed to. She went down on her knees too and hugged him.

"I love you Julian," she said in a steady voice. "I wonít leave you."

They hadnít said or done much more that night. A part of her was disappointed that he hadnít tried to make love to her, but another part reveled in his need of her presence. He held her in his arms, in that big bed, and she woke several times because his grip was so tight. She tried then to fight her way out of his embrace, but there was no way she could budge him even an inch as long as he was asleep. He was absolutely still and as responsive as a stone. Finally she had to wake him, shaking him and calling his name. It seemed to her that he was more unconscious than asleep, but when he did wake up, it was with instant alertness. She asked him if he had taken any medicine, but he denied it. She had to explain that she could not breathe because he held her too tightly, and he apologized for that. He looked pale and vulnerable. Whatever he used to do in order to force his dark hair into the severe lines he always showed in public was no longer working, and it was now in disarray of curls. He looked younger and weaker than she had ever seen him, and he refused to break the physical contact. His need to touch her made her heart break and sing at the same time. It was so confusing. Part of the fascination she felt for him had been aroused by his inner strength. Could it be so simple? Had she somehow broken through that rock-hard self-sufficiency?

After several bouts of his suffocating clinging to her, she made him let go of her and put her arms around him instead. That seemed to satisfy him. He relaxed slowly; she felt his muscles slacken. But when she thought that he had gone back to sleep, he turned suddenly and, taking her face in his hands, said in a clear voice:

"I love you, Caitlin. Youíre like the air around me. Without you I will die."

That made her tighten her grip around him. Nothing more was said that night. Caitlin was awake for a long time, thinking hard. A feeling of guilt crept over her. During all these months, she had been so preoccupied with her own feelings and desires that she hadnít stopped once to consider Julianís feelings. He had obviously been interested and attracted to her. He graciously accepted her every turn and move. He never showed any frustration at her erratic behavior. Here, in the darkness at his side, she had to admit, at least to herself, that she had acted like a capricious teenager. Leading him on and than stepping back when he responded: when his desire became apparent, his kisses hot, and his hands greedy. She felt her face become warm at these memories. Every time it happened, he showed nothing but patience, he would look away for a few seconds, and then he would be his calm self again, a smile on his face, reassuring words for her. Also, that time when she broke up with him, he had been so calm, no smile, but his lack of reaction had hurt. She had been disappointed that he hadnít tried to make her change her mind. He never tried to force his will on her. Why not? Men usually do, one way or another. She thought then that he didnít care enough. But now, she saw it in a different light. Maybe, because he knew how forceful he could be? The word Ďenforcerí came, unbidden, to her mind. She smiled at that.

I donít believe that Julian is involved with the mob, she thought, or maybe he understood that if he tried to force me in any way, Iíd fight harder.

She smiled again, because she suddenly remembered that the only time he had showed any hesitation at all was the first time they made love. Well, I had to force you, Julian, she thought. The memory made her blush again. She had never imagined that such ecstasy was possible. No stories, no books, no films, and certainly nothing in her own experience had prepared her for that! The desire felt like physical pain. She screwed her eyes shut and worked hard to banish it. This was not the right time. Let him sleep. Tomorrow.... Finally, she slept.

And in the morning she woke up alone. Last night there had been talk of love and need, and now, this disappearing act!

"Julian, where are you?" she embarrassed herself by asking aloud. There was a knock and, as she turned around, the door opened and a young girl walked in.

"Good morning," she said smiling. "Before he left, my uncle asked me to take care of you. I waited till I heard the water running in the bathroom. He specifically told me not to wake you or he would have me for dinner!" She laughed and continued: "I thought you would never wake up. Itís almost eleven, and Uncle Julian was supposed to be at a meeting at eight. He stayed around waiting for you to get up, but by nine the phone was ringing continuously, so he gave up and left. He said that he would call you at home or at work." She had run out of breath and Caitlin was at last able to say something.

"How was he?" she asked. The girl seemed to give the question serious thought. At last she looked up and said:

"Heíll live." Then she laughed again. "And so will you, from the look of things." She pointed to the empty plates on the table. Caitlin had helped herself to a hearty breakfast, but now she stood up, looking for her clothes.

"Did you say it was eleven oíclock?" she said. She was supposed to have been at work two hours ago. By now they were probably wondering what she was up to. She looked back at the girl. She was so young, probably not yet twenty. Suddenly, something the girl had said came back to her.

"Did you say Uncle Julian?" she asked. The girl smiled again.

"He is my uncle, really," she said. "Iím Sasha. Weíve never met, but I know who you are. Thatís why Uncle Julian asked me to look after you. He is so protective of everybody. Sometimes, he is worse than both my parents put together were, but I still like it better here than in the country." She looked away for a moment, before returning her gaze to Caitlin. The movement was so like Julianís that in Caitlinís mind, it confirmed Sashaís statement of being related to him. The smile became sly.

"Why donít you join me in my room. Iíll get us something cold to drink and tell you all I know about my uncle."

Caitlin realized that she was being made an offer she could not refuse. This was too good to be true. She steeled herself. What would Julian say if she pumped his niece for information about him. On the other hand, he had left Sasha in charge. He must have known that this might happen. Caitlin decided to ask as little as possible and let the girl talk.

"Iíll just call my office and tell them that Iíll come later," she said. "Wonít take a minute."

They sat in comfortable chairs in Sashaís room, sipping iced tea. What Sasha had to tell about Julian was not very exiting, but it did add some information to the little heap of knowledge that Caitlin already possessed.

As it turned out, Sasha had seen her Uncle Julian only a few times during her childhood. All she remembered from that time was that her parents and other relatives always showed him great respect. He was very kind, quiet-spoken and brought nice presents. He was always well dressed, very handsome and extremely polite. By the time Sasha turned sixteen, she had decided that it was time to lose her virginity and thought that her well-mannered uncle from the city was the best candidate to help with that task. She had made a complete fool of herself when, during one of his infrequent visits, she had sneaked into his bedroom. He had put away the bookkeeping papers he had been working on and asked what he could do for her. Nervous as she was, she had blurted out her proposal and then thrown herself at him and kissed him. He had let her do that: he had even responded to her kiss in sheer surprise. But then, he had disengaged himself from her attack on his virtue, as he called it later, and made her sit down and listen to him. They had talked for several hours that night. He had explained to her that, apart from being too old for her, he was also a relative, and incest was a horrendous crime; a crime that he, Julian Luna, would never commit. He was quite upset that she could even suggest such a thing. He was even upset about the kiss. She had had to apologize to him. When he had calmed down, they talked about sex and love, and he had suggested that she should wait until she loved somebody, and really wanted to have sex, before she got rid of her virginity. He had promised her that he would never tell anybody about that incident if she promised to take care of herself. He had kept his promise better than she had hers.

Caitlin was deep in thought. How many men were there who would turn away a beautiful, sixteen-year-old girl, niece or no niece? Any decent man? But this story only confirmed her image of Julian. He was a man of power, no doubt about it, but intimidating women was not part of it. If anything, it was the other way around. Caitlin had seen women watching Julian. He was an attractive man, and that aura of power and mystique that surrounded him was almost tangible. Usually, he had to go out of his way to avoid the hunting ladies. Take Lillie, for instance. No matter how much she denied her desire for Julian, her eyes followed his every move. Caitlin had seen that and, being a woman, would not be fooled by anything Lillie said. No, this was at least one thing she could be absolutely sure of; Julian would not abuse a woman, and that included a young niece. If anything, he seemed rather shy. She remembered how nervous he had been when he had brought her that telescope as her birthday present. He wanted her so much to like it. And, when they made love, he was so much more eager to please than to be pleased. Put together, all those pieces created a picture of a very nice person. So why did she find him so dangerous? Why was she so afraid? Of course, there was his business, his fortune, his bodyguards, his shady associates, but no matter how much she tried, or how objective she set out to be, she could not imagine Julian as some Cosa Nostra Mafioso. His past might not be Lillie white, but he was not a thug like Eddie Fiori had been, although he had admitted to knowing Fiori. Caitlin was confused. There were also the pictures of Julian and the assassin, a knife in his hand. He had told her that he had been shot and stabbed several times but, as far as she had seen, there were no scars on his body. Well, a man as wealthy as Julian could afford the surgery necessary to remove scars: he seemed quite particular about his appearance.

The rest of Sashaís story did not add very much. She knew that he had spent a lot of time in England when he was young. She had come to San Francisco only a few months ago and had fallen in love with Cash, Julianís bodyguard. Uncle Julian accepted it after some initially disapproving noises. She was quite happy to be here and Uncle Julian was very generous, although he still made noises whenever she stayed out too late. Fortunately, he stayed out late quite often too, so he didnít notice all her absences.

At lunchtime Cash arrived and was quite surprised to find Caitlin with Sasha. Caitlin said a hasty farewell and left. She decided to go home first and change her clothes before going to work. While she drove, she went through the information she had obtained from Sasha. That part about England would explain Julianís old-fashioned manners and his precise speech. She laughed out loud recollecting Sashaís seduction scene and decided to ask Julian about it.

He will probably be more embarrassed about it than Sasha was, she thought. How could that policeman, whatever his name was... oh yes, Kohanek, Frank Kohanek, how could he believe that Julian was a dangerous man, telling her to stay away from him! That was preposterous! Aw... watch it, Caitlin, she thought to herself, Julian only had to say, "I love you", and youíre ready to believe that he is a saint. The truth is that you still donít know anything of value about him. Well, you know that he wouldnít sleep with his own niece, which in itself puts him among the better part of the male population, and that heís playing an Englishman. That will not be held against him, unless he tries that contemptuous Ďmy dearí criticism on me.

She arrived at work when people were returning from lunch and had to put Julian out of her thoughts. She didnít realize that she had forgotten to ask who had died.

Julian Luna spent the better part of that day trying to create some order to the mayhem caused by Archonís death. He was an able businessman, but Archon had always been there: to help him and to guide him. His affairs among mortals needed to be put in order, but that was not the biggest problem. His affairs among Kindred, that would come later. Nevertheless, there were scores of executives and lawyers, male and female, who demanded his attention.

Archonís will was clear, everything belonged now to Julian, and Archon had left no blood relatives who might contest his last will. But after a few hours of reading and signing piles of papers heíd had enough. As the afternoon hours crawled slowly past, he found it more and more difficult to concentrate. He was tired and thirsty; he had not fed last night, and the hunger for blood gnawed at every cell in his body. At last, he decided to call it a day. He called a meeting of the Seniors and delegated further tasks to them, silencing their protests. They saw how unwell he looked and let him go.

He sat back in his car and tried to rest. Under any other circumstances, a missed meal wouldnít affect him that much. But he had been badly injured recently and had used a lot of energy in order to heal himself. The emotional turmoil he found himself in worsened his state. The loss of Archon, and finding out about his betrayal at the same time - it was more than he could bear. It was as if the very foundations of his existence were crumbling. What if everything else in his life were as false? He had always believed that he had been doing the right thing, but now, he wasnít so sure. A dull headache reminded him of the violent attacks of migraine that used to plague him during his childhood and early adolescence. He needed rest, a good feed and a clear mind in order to deal with Archonís legacy.

He put his sad thoughts of Archon aside and conjured up Caitlinís face in front of his closed eyes; the way she looked when she said she loved him. Well, he had lied to her too. Not about his feelings, though. In fact, the only truthful thing he had told her was that he loved her. But that melodramatic statement about breathing air! The fact, the real fact, she would never know was that he didnít need air to be able to breathe. His body was just as capable of extracting the required amount of oxygen out of water or

soil or anything that contained any oxygen at all. He remembered how he used to hide under water, on several occasions, when he was chased by humans and there had been no other escape. It had been unpleasant, but not dangerous. But he couldnít have told Caitlin that he needed her like oxygen, or like human blood, now, could he? Apart from being quite unromantic, it would have scared her out of her wits. She had been frightened enough in Manzanita. He had taken her memories of what had happened there and pushed them into her subconscious, as far as he could. It was wrong to do so, he had been scared too, but there was nothing else he could do, short of Embracing her or killing her. But there were some mortals who had found out about Kindred and lived. Even here, in his own city. Why couldnít Caitlin know?

Youíre a coward, Julian, he told himself. You donít want her to know. He remembered how she had looked when he had lain injured in the cabin in Manzanita, her face drawn and gray with fear and worry. And yet, she had looked at him with love, even after he told her what he was. No repugnance, which he had feared most. But what would she feel when she had time to think and sort out her feelings? When he was no longer weak and bleeding, no longer in need of her help and protection. Would she see him as a monster, as others through the centuries had? He remembered the revulsion he himself felt at what he had become during the first months after Archon had Embraced him. Another memory came back to him. There had been another human lover some fifty years ago, Helene. When she had found out... he didnít want to think about it. He never wanted to live through that sort of nightmare again. She had gone quite mad; called him the most awful names. Eventually, he had had to kill her. No, he would never let anything like that happen again. So what about Caitlin? The best thing to do, was probably to pretend that he was a somewhat shady businessman, with an even shadier past. Let her believe that he was fighting his way out of the criminal world, into the sunny, beautiful, legitimate world of human affairs. For her sake he would have to reconstruct his own house. Make a home for mortals and separate it from the home of Kindred. Make sure that she would never notice his nightly absences. Make sure that she would never know. Could he lead that sort of double life? Many humans had, spies, bigamists, and the like. He didnít like to compare himself to spies and bigamists. After all, he was the Prince of San Francisco. Would he step down as the Prince for Caitlinís sake? No! He would not! Especially not now, when Archon was gone, and there was no one else to take his place. Oh, Archon, why did it have to end this way? Why did you do this to me? So, he was back to Archon. He realized that he was ranting and shut everything out of his mind.

Julian walked briskly into his house and, shedding his clothes on the way, headed straight for his bedroom. Did Caitlin realize that they had spent the night in one of the guestrooms? She probably did. He could hardly have brought her down here. A windowless cell with a narrow cot and nothing more than a bookshelf and a tiny reading lamp. She would have found it quite odd. Before he lay down, he wrote a note to Caitlin that he would call her later that night, and asked a servant to send it to her, together with two dozen red roses. But first, he had to rest. Then, when darkness enveloped his city, the Prince would go out and feed. He stretched out naked on his cot, and within minutes his breathing and his heartbeat slowed down to almost nothing. He slept dreamlessly, because Kindred never dream.

Julian Luna woke up hungry. He didnít bother to put on any clothes. He went out on the terrace and stepped into the garden. When he emerged on the other side of the fence, he had already shape-shifted into a wolf. He ran from one backyard to another, jumping effortlessly over fences and bushes. The sounds and smells acquired new meanings. A several hours old trail of a hare was uninteresting, but the smell of humans who had been sitting in the grass just minutes ago, made him stop. He followed that scent until his senses told him that it had been left by playing children. He snorted with disgust and turned away. A few fences later, he found what he was looking for: a big man was working alone in his garden, in spite of the dark. He was humming to himself, a shovel making rhythmic sounds. Julian stopped a few yards behind, throwing up his head, tasting the air for the presence of others. But no one else was around. He moved closer, his belly to the ground, carefully, quietly. A shovel in a manís hand could be a formidable weapon. Like a released spring, he threw himself at the manís broad back. The victim lost his balance and fell forward with a surprised shriek. Julianís teeth sank into the sturdy neck before they both hit the ground. At the same time he returned to his human form, one hand squeezing the manís throat, until the victim lost consciousness. With his fangs, Julian opened a vein and started to drink the warm blood. When he was done, he waited till the wounds closed and made sure that the provider of his meal breathed easily before he left.

On his way back, he changed again into the wolf. It was easier to get around that way. He ran into a cat, a real cat, not a Kindred that had shape-shifted into one, and gave it a chase just for sheer fun. The cat escaped up in a tree and hissed cat obscenities at him. A more enticing smell caught his interest and he turned towards the house. A leap through an open window and he found himself in a womanís bedroom. She slept alone, a faint odor of alcohol lingering. How much had she drunk? Julian was not very fond of alcohol-tainted blood. He was aware that there were other people in the house but if somebody came in, well, he would be just another naked man in a womanís bed. He crouched over her and tasted her blood. The amount of alcohol in her was minuscule, and he drank freely. Just as he finished, the door opened and a small boy walked in. Julian slid from the bed and threw himself out of the window. He was a wolf again before he touched the ground. It was time to go home.

Julian arrived at Caitlinís home at half past ten. He had called earlier and she had invited him to come. But now, she seemed nervous and upset. She slid away when he tried to touch her and walked into her living room, talking in a voice that was louder than usual.

"Please, come in, Mr. Luna." She turned back to him, her eyes pleading with him to play along. Julian went past her and was faced by a tall, white-haired man.

"This is Mr. Julian Luna, our publisher," said Caitlin, and then turning to Julian, "my father, James Byrne."

They shook hands, mumbling polite phrases. But Caitlinís father coldly looked down on Julian, apparently enjoying the fact that he was several inches taller. Julian took off his coat, handed it to Caitlin and sat down in one of the chairs, thus depriving the man of his advantage. There was no point in being tall in front of someone who was sitting. James Byrneís face turned red - he saw the insult and knew it was intended. Julian felt his own rush of adrenaline. He was quite ready for a fight, and this was the man who had hurt Caitlin. She stood there, Julianís coat still in her hands, looking at them, not knowing what to do. The instant hostility between them hung in the air, like so much smoke. At last, Caitlinís father sat too, and immediately went on the attack:

"Isnít it rather late to be visiting oneís employees, Mr. Luna?"

Julian looked at the small table that had been set for two. He had been expected, the other man hadnít.

"A business dinner, as you know news people work at night," he said lightly. "But tell me Mr. Byrne, what brings you to our beautiful city?" Julianís face showed nothing but polite interest.

"I gave a lecture at a scientific convention," Caitlinís father said. "Nothing to report about in your paper, Iím afraid."

"On the contrary," Julian was giving him the most charming smile he could produce, "a report on the latest progress in radio-astronomy might make the front page. Had I known that my editorís father was one of the speakers, I would have sent her to obtain an interview. Unfortunately, I wasnít informed about the relationship between you two," he almost laughed at the surprised expression on her fatherís face. "You wonder how I know about it," his voice became cold and hard as steel. "Itís simple, I know everything that goes on in this city. There is only one scientific convention in San Francisco at the moment and itís the American Astronomical Society thatís hosting it."

Byrne swallowed the bait:

"My, my," he said, "you must have a lot more people working for you, apart from my daughter."

"Youíd be surprised," Julian answered, but did not elaborate further. But Caitlinís father prodded for more information:

"So, beside the publishing business, there are other fields youíre involved in?"

Julian shrugged slightly at that.

"Banking, international shipping companies, real estate, medical facilities, you name it."

"Thatís quite an accomplishment, considering that it has been done within one generation," Byrne said with mock admiration.

"My family has been doing business in California for more than a century and, before that, they lived in New Orleans." Julianís voice became cold again. "I really donít know when my ancestors first arrived in America. Apparently, they escaped the persecution of the Huguenots in France in the 17th century."

The old man was taken aback.

"Iím sorry," he said. "I thought that I detected a trace of foreign accent. Thatís why I assumed..." He was backing off.

"Oh, that must have been all those years I spent in England," Julianís smile was pure amity again, "although I wouldnít consider a British accent foreign, would you?" Julian was well aware of the WASPís fascination with everything British, some stupid inferiority complex, as far as he understood it. Still, under some circumstances, it could be used to his advantage.

Caitlinís father was quiet for a few seconds and then tried another approach.

"Iím surprised," he mused, "that with all those different tasks that occupy you, you still have time for nightly business meetings with my daughter. He pronounced the word business as if he meant something else entirely. This was a direct attack. Caitlin, who had been sitting apart from them, quiet as a mouse, almost fainted now. She looked at Julian pleadingly, her hands closing into fists. This was almost more than she could bear. Her father had turned up on her doorstep unannounced, after God knows how many years, and started questioning her about her private life, as if she were still a teenager living in his house. Apparently, rumors of her association with Julian had reached him somehow.

But Julian rose to the challenge. He stood up, and now it was his turn to look down at the older man.

"You underestimate your daughterís importance, Professor Byrne," he said. "Caitlin is my editor, and therefore my sole contact with the reading population of San Francisco. Public opinion is quite important for a man in my position." James Byrne tried to say something, but Julian wouldnít let him. "Besides, I love her." He made a helpless gesture and stared defiantly at the sputtering man.

"Iíll... Iíll..."

"Mr. Byrne, please, donít say anything you might regret later. Frankly, you have nothing to threaten me with and, whatís more important, you have nothing to threaten Caitlin with, either. So I suggest that we end this unpleasant conversation and my driver will take you to your hotel."

He led the stupefied man out while Caitlin watched with her mouth hanging open. She had never seen her father so intimidated in her whole life. It was... well, it was unbelievable!

When Julian returned to the sitting room, he found Caitlin curled up in her chair, her face hidden in her hands, her body shaking. He looked at her, not knowing what to do. This was just great! A womanís tears had always rendered him quite helpless. He just didnít know how to deal with the situation. He immediately regretted that he allowed himself to get angry with Caitlinís father and cursed his famous temper.

"Caitlin," he knelt beside her chair and hugged her, "Caitlin, Iím sorry, please donít cry. Look, Iíll go to him tomorrow and apologize."

At that, she lifted her face and he saw that she hadnít been crying, but laughing.

"Donít you dare!" Her laughter almost choked her. "Donít you dare! That old goat got what he deserved! All my life he has been sitting on me. Itís about time that someone sat on him. It was wonderful, Julian. If this is how you conduct your business, no wonder youíre so successful. I just hope that youíll never get so angry with me." She couldnít stop laughing.

"Iíll never get angry with you," he whispered in her hair. "Never!" A funny thought surfaced in his mind, I should have bitten her Ďold goatí. But he stopped himself right there. Personal vendetta was what destroyed Archon. Besides, the man was still Caitlinís father.

"You know what I think?" he said aloud. "I think, we should run a story on this astronomy meeting of his. Let him know that we hold no grudge."

"That would be quite grand," she answered. "Let him know that you donít kick a fallen adversary. Besides, how did you know about his being an astronomer? Have you investigated my past?" A note of suspicion had crept into her voice. He let go of her and raised both his hands in a gesture of surrender.

"Peace, I have done no such thing. You know that astronomy is a hobby of mine. I have read several of his papers. Your name isnít exactly rare, so I didnít put you two together until you introduced him to me. And knowing about that astronomy convention being held in San Francisco, it all fell instantly into place. Thatís how I could stun him with my knowledge about his profession, as well as his title. And it worked to his disadvantage. I knew at least that much about him, while he knew nothing about me and all his assumptions were wrong. But enough about your father. Wasnít there a bottle of wine I spied on the table? How about some?"

They drank the wine, and ate a little. Caitlin had lost her appetite, and Julian had no real need for human food. Caitlin got a little tipsy. She tried to question him about his stay in England, but his answers were evasive. She decided that it was because of Lillie and gave up lest her jealousy would show. Instead, she told him about her conversation with Sasha. As she expected, he became quite embarrassed and told her that he was still ashamed about his nieceís behavior. She was a wild thing and nobody could control her. He hoped that Cash would have some positive influence on her. There was a sad note in his voice when he talked about her, as if he were talking about a lost cause. Caitlin didnít understand that. The girl seemed so nice and cheerful. It was past midnight when Julian decided it was time for him to leave. Caitlin showed her disappointment.

"Arenít you going to stay with me tonight?" she asked in a small voice. Julian smiled at her.

"Iím not in a habit of taking advantage of intoxicated ladies," he said and then remembered the one he had taken advantage of earlier that night. He looked away, acutely aware of the lie he was living. Caitlin, of course, misunderstood his reluctance.

"Oh, Julian, youíre being a prude," she crooned, putting her arms around his neck and kissing him. He took hold of her, meaning to stop her, but his hands slid around her body as she pressed herself closer to him. Drunk or not, her desire for him bound him to her. He lifted her, and carried her to the bed. He might have been able to say no to himself, but there was no way he could say no to her. He whispered her name hoarsely as her roving hands removed his clothes. When their naked bodies came together, Julian forgot about the fighting clans, about Archon, and the whole mess of Kindred affairs.

A sort of truce formed between Caitlin and Julian over the next few weeks. Heíd search her out every few days, either at work or at home. It was quite obvious that he needed her company, but when they were together, he seemed distant, his mind on other things. When she had asked him outright, he had admitted to losing a close friend while they were in Manzanita but would say no more about it. As time went by, instead of getting over it, he became more and more morose. Heíd take her out to very expensive restaurants for a late dinner, order lavishly for her but only a salad or desert for himself. While she stuffed herself, complaining about getting fat, Julian just played with whatever was on his plate, hardly eating anything. At last he told her that he wasnít used to eating solid food that late and stopped ordering anything for himself but wine. Caitlin thought about other meals they had shared and it struck her that heíd always eaten very little. She prodded him about it and he told her that he had been forced to eat when he was a child, often getting sick afterwards. He didnít like meat. Come to think about it, he didnít like anything too much. He ate only because he had to.

"Iím sorry to hear that," she said. "Youíre missing a lot."

"There are other pleasures," he answered, taking her hand and kissing it. The smile he gave her made her blush. He continued drinking his wine, but it didnít worry her. He had never shown the slightest sign of getting drunk.

Caitlin tried her best to cheer him up, telling him what was going on in the publishing business, joking and gossiping. Sooner or later heíd start paying attention. He would go with her wherever she wanted, escorting her to theaters, concerts, or the opera. He even accepted the cinema, although he obviously disliked it. But when they went to see some bloodthirsty horror film, he said that he felt unwell, and they had to leave in the middle. He was pale and shaken, and Caitlin secretly suspected that he couldnít stand the sight of blood. She had taken him to her home and made him lie down. It was hours before he calmed down. On another occasion he refused to go with her to the Zoo, saying that watching caged animals wasnít his idea of fun. Finding out such soft spots in him became a game for Caitlin. He wouldnít tell her anything, so Caitlin became an expert observer. She pounced on every piece of information that he let her glimpse, collecting those scraps in a pile of knowledge the way a miser collects his wealth. Just by watching Julian, she found out that he was rather awkward around

children, that pets didnít like him, that men feared him, and that women found him fascinating. Being in his company made her feel secure. He had once impressed her by staring down a not very sober man in a cowboy hat who had tried to ask her to dance. The man had been very insistent, taking her arm after she had said no and trying to get her off her chair. She had looked desperately around for Julian, who had left her alone at their table for a few minutes. In a moment he was at her side, his hand on the cowboyís shoulder, saying:

"The lady said no!"

Caitlin was afraid that there would be a brawl. The cowboy was half a head taller than Julian, and looked twice as big. But to her surprise, the two men only stared at each other for a few seconds and then the cowboy hat backed off, his hand massaging the shoulder that Julian had taken hold of.

From that moment on, she watched his every move carefully. She soon found out that he was extremely strong. It wasnít the fact that he was able to pick her up and carry her around easily. According to Caitlin, any man should be able to pick up a woman without visible strain. But once, Julian had brought a bottle of very expensive French champagne to her home. He had opened it, and they had drunk a glass each. One thing led to another and they had soon forgotten about the open bottle, but after a few minutes Caitlin had said something about their champagne losing its bubbles. Julian had then picked up the cork, and pushed it back into the bottle, quite casually.

"Youíre showing off," she had said, and heíd looked at her with a frown, obviously not knowing what she meant. She took the bottle and tried to remove the cork again, but didnít succeed.

"Am I not supposed to be physically stronger than you?" he asked.

"You are stronger than anyone I have ever seen," Caitlin replied. "But donít worry, I wonít hold it against you," she laughed, trying to make light of it because of the look of dismay on his face.

"I... I know several people who are stronger than I am," he protested lamely, not looking at her.

"And who might that be, Mr. Spock?" Caitlin retorted. He fell silent and looked so bewildered that she gave up baiting him and demanded more of the champagne.

He was very gentle that night, as if he were afraid that he might harm her somehow, and Caitlin promised herself that she would keep her mouth shut in the future. But later that night, when Julian was fast asleep, she did something that she had never done before. She removed the covers from him and looked him carefully over, from head to toe. She didnít find anything suspicious, however. He was beautiful, well built, but no more so than any well trained man might be. His skin was unblemished and there were no scars. She looked at him for a long time, thinking this is Natureís way of saying - I know how to do a good job with what Iíve got. He moved restlessly, as if he were feeling cold, and she covered him again. From that time on, Caitlin noticed that Julian had become very careful about his behavior in her presence. Only once, in her office, did she see him catch a heavy shelf that somebody had overloaded, preventing it from toppling over. She pretended not to notice when Julian looked at her apprehensively, after steadying it.

Julian Luna realized that his mind was running around in circles. There was no way he would work it out by himself. He needed help, and now, with Archon gone, there was only one person he could confide in. But the basement of the gatehouse was deserted. He walked around, admiring Daedalusí paintings and then sat down, determined to wait for his friend. He closed his eyes and his thoughts started to race again.

Archonís death was a blow that was difficult to put behind him, but the reasons for his destruction were even worse. He, Julian, had always believed his Sire to be a just master. Archon could be harsh at times, but that convinced Julian even more. Archon could, of course, make mistakes, but what he had done wasnít a mistake. It was an outright crime! Archon was no longer the father figure that Julian had always admired and respected. So, if Archon was bad, what was he? Did he differ in any way from Eddie Fiori or Cameron? That night, that terrible night, he had almost ripped Cameronís throat out without asking for reasons. If Daedalus hadnít stopped him...

Well, Caitlin, his thoughts jumped in another direction, thereís one who is stronger than I am. On the other hand, the Nosferatu Primogen is no more human than I am.

He was acutely aware of Caitlinís watchful eyes. How long, before he would make a fatal mistake in her presence. His skills at pretending to be a mortal were formidable. After all, he was a Ventrue. He could make his heart beat at the right rate, his breathing and body heat normal. He could hide his strength and other powers, he could pretend to eat. What else was there? Maybe he should invent some human weakness like smoking or biting his nails. No, that would be ridiculous. It was fortunate that she couldnít know what was going on inside him, that she couldnít watch him when they made love, that she couldnít feel the ferocity that overwhelmed him, together with the passion, when he would bite the pillow instead of biting her. Once, he had got hold of a mouthful of her hair and bit it off. Luckily, she hadnít noticed. The women had always been there. Before Archon embraced him, there had only been his wife, and Eve, of course, but afterwards... He had discovered the double pleasure of seducing them and then feeding from them. Sometimes simultaneously. Archon had been displeased.

"If I didnít know better, Iíd think that you had Toreador blood in you," he would say. "If youíre not cautious, some day a lady will be your downfall."

Eventually, he had been proven right. That young beauty from a wealthy Boston family. Was it really more than a hundred years ago? A servant had seen them in her bedroom. There was a scandal and that stupid brother of hers had challenged him to a duel. Archon had been furious, accusing Julian of endangering the Masquerade and banished him from San Francisco.

Officially, Julian Luna had died in that duel and had been whisked away to England. There, he had met Lillie. Lillie, who had taught him what it meant to be a Toreador; Lillie, who had taught him what Kindred could be to each other. When he was allowed to return, decades later, Lillie Langtry followed him to America. And now, Lillie was becoming a burden. Julian was aware of the threat a womanís jealousy could be, but he had never imagined that Lillie would do anything to endanger the Masquerade. She posed a danger to him and to Caitlin. Was Archonís prophecy about to repeat itself?

Suddenly, he became aware of another presence in the room and snapped his eyes open. Daedalus was standing in front of him, a worried expression on his face.

"Julian, whatís wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing is wrong, yet." And then, "everything!"

Daedalus pulled up a chair and sat down facing him.

"How can I help you, my Prince?" he asked. Daedalus was never the one to beat around the bush.

"I donít know if you can help me. I donít know if there is any help for me at all." Julian sounded tired and depressed. "Archon has betrayed me, and I canít even ask him why; Cameron wants me dead, and the Gangrels and the Brujahs are constantly at each otherís throats, creating a danger to the Masquerade; my own niece has been Embraced against my wish, and I have reason to believe that Lillie has tried to get rid of both Caitlin and me. Tell me Daedalus, have I outlived my use as the Prince of the City? Should I step down?"

"And who would take your place?" Daedalus demanded. "If you leave, the Clans will tear each other to pieces fighting over your position. It might very well be the end of us all!"

"You could take over, Daedalus," Julian answered. "Youíre wise, and they respect you."

Daedalus stared at him in disbelief.

"Are you mad!?" he exclaimed. "Even if I coveted that position, which I donít, the Clans would never accept a Nosferatu as their Prince. If you really want to step down, then you must prepare. You must find a Kindred who may succeed you in the future. Preferably a Ventrue. You must find someone who will prove himself worthy of becoming a Prince. You canít do it now, and you canít do it in the near future. It takes decades."

"I was afraid that you would say that," Julian responded, "but it doesnít help me right now. I just donít seem to be able to handle everything anymore. If Archon hadnít... And Caitlin, you know, we almost died in Manzanita."

Daedalus looked at his discouraged friend. For the first time he felt fear creep inside him. The Nosferatu do not scare easily.

"You really love that mortal women?" he asked. Julian sighed heavily.

"I do," he said. "I donít think that I could bear losing her."

"Well then," Daedalus stood up, "I think the time has come for me to tell you what you should do. First, you must get your priorities right."

Julian looked up, surprised by the sudden change in his friendís voice. Daedalus regarded him sternly. The countless ages of Nosferatu authority were suddenly quite visible.

"To start with," Daedalus was saying, "forget Archon! He was just another Kindred and as fallible as any of us. Whatís done is done and can not be changed. I know that you loved him, but you must let him rest. Whatever wrong he has done, the fact is that, together with you, he brought peace and prosperity to the Kindred of this City. You must fight to keep it. Next, separate the Gangrels and the Brujahs. There is enough to occupy both Clans without their getting into each otherís way. Keep Cameron under surveillance; use Sasha if necessary." He shook his head at Julianís gesture of protest. "Sheís a Brujah now, but she will always be loyal to you. What has happened to her saddens me as much as it does you, but take advantage of it. Remember, Machiavelli was a Ventrue too. Call a meeting of the Primogens tonight. Let your will be known. Demand order and keep them busy. Cameron will probably try to kill you when he sees that youíre getting on top of things. Let him come close, but be careful - heís much more dangerous than Eddie ever was. When he makes his move, youíll be able to hit him so hard that it will take him years to pull himself together." He bowed forward, taking hold of Julianís arms. "But you must act now!" he said with emphasis. "Donít wait until itís too late."

Julian smiled at his friend. He no longer felt helpless. With the Nosferatu Primogen at his side, he knew he was invincible.

"Youíd make a great Prince, Daedalus," he said. "Iíll do exactly as you have advised me." But he didnít move yet, his mind still occupied by something else. Daedalus folded his arms across his chest, frowning.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" he inquired. "Letís call the meeting."

Julian raised a hand.

"Just a moment," he said laughing. "Youíre so good at this, why donít you advise me more. What should I do about Caitlin? And Lillie, what about her?"

Daedalus let out an exasperate sigh.

"Iím hardly the right person to give advice on matters of the heart," he said with disdain. "I suggest that you consult an appropriate column in that paper youíre publishing."

That made Julian laugh out loud.

"Daedalus, Iím quite serious!" he said. "I might not take your advice, but I certainly want to hear it."

Daedalusí features softened. Julian had always had a way of getting into trouble with women. With his good looks, it was no surprise.

"Frankly, Julian," Daedalus decided to keep it light, in spite of the Princeís eager expression, "youíve had more experience with women in your hundred odd years of being Kindred than Iíve had during my centuries. Women equal trouble, whether they are Kindred or human."

"I didnít know that you disliked women, Daedalus," Julian mused quietly.

"I donít dislike them," Daedalus answered. He felt uncomfortable with this part of their conversation. "I just donít trust them. Whatever you do," he continued, "just make sure that you donít expose the Masquerade through your association with that reporter woman."

"Her name is Caitlin," Julian retorted, somewhat hurt by Daedalusí attitude, "and she is very important to me."

"In that case, I think you should make sure that she is protected; that you do everything you can to keep her happy and unsuspecting, and get Lillie as far away from both of you as you can."

"Why? Do you think that Lillie will do something stupid again?"

"Julian!" Daedalus was showing impatience, "you need to reread your Shakespeare." He shrugged at Julianís blank stare. "You know, the play about the fury of the woman scorned."

Well, so much for that advice, Julian thought. But if Daedalus was right, and he usually was, Lillie would have to go. It pained him because he didnít want to hurt Lillie, but flaunting his liaison with Caitlin in front of Lillie was cruel enough. He remembered how awful it felt when Alexandra took up with Frank Kohanek. Yes, Daedalus was quite right in this as in other matters: get rid of Lillie, and protect Caitlin. Right now, he couldnít manage much more. He pushed all thoughts of Caitlin into the back of his mind and returned his attention to Daedalus.

"Youíre quite right," he said. "But letís forget about the ladies for the moment. We have a meeting to organize." He got up and walked briskly towards the main house, his back straight, his movements full of energy. Daedalus followed him, smiling to himself.

Thatís my Prince, he thought with exhilaration.

Caitlin gave up trying to get some sleep when it was long past midnight; she was too worried and too upset. Also, she abhorred sleeping pills. She got up, showered quickly, put on a dress and ran to her car. It was rather quiet in the city; she could only hear police sirens wailing in the distance. She had already started the engine when the phone in her home began to ring. She parked her car as close to Julianís home as she could and walked the rest of the way. There were several cars outside the gate, two of them police cars. She stopped, unsure of what to do next. Some men were standing there, talking. She would never get past those guards! Well, the least she could do was to try. She walked resolutely towards them and, to her relief, recognized one of them. It was Cash, Sashaís boyfriend. Caitlin called out his name, but before he turned towards her, she felt her arm grabbed from behind.

"I wouldnít go in there if I were you," a manís voice hissed in her ear. She turned around and saw that it was the policeman she had met before - Frank Kohanek.

"Itís not safe to be near Julian Luna nowadays," he continued. "You could get hurt."

Before she could react, she felt somebody taking hold of her other arm. It was Cash.

"Ms. Byrne, please come with me. Iíll take you inside," he said. The two men faced each other. After a moment, to Caitlinís surprise, the policeman let go of her and backed off from the younger and smaller Cash. She was led past the other guards and into Julianís home. An elderly man ushered her into a library, and she was left alone without any explanation. At least she was inside! She looked at her watch - it was two oíclock in the morning. She shivered. Has it really been six hours? Six hours, since her world came crashing down around her.

She had casually turned on the tiny TV-set that sat on a shelf in her office to watch the eight oíclock news. There had been a reporter standing in front of a big building in the city, babbling something about an explosion. She hadnít paid much attention, but had started thinking about sending somebody out there, to cover the story. Several people had been injured, maybe even killed. There was a lot of smoke welling out of the partly demolished building. Policemen and fire-workers milled around. Caitlin was just about to turn away in order to find somebody to send to the scene when the reporter mentioned Julianís name.

"Mr. Julian Luna, the co-owner of the bank," he was saying, "had been stabbed or shot by at least one assailant. Several witnesses had seen him being whisked away by his aides, covered in blood. The ambulance people who had tried to take care of him had been sent away and he had been driven to his home."

The image faded away, and when it returned Caitlin recognized the street outside Julianís mansion. Another reporter was standing in front of the camera talking in a breathless manner.

"... A lot of people have come and gone since the injured businessman, one of the owners of the devastated bank, was brought back to his home some forty minutes ago. Ominously, no doctor has been called. The police have tried to get inside, but they have been told that they will be contacted when Mr. Luna is ready..."

Caitlin realized that she was holding her breath; somehow her heart was blocking her throat. Slowly, she returned to her desk and picked up the phone. She dialed very carefully, her fingers trembling. The line was busy. She waited five minutes, which felt like an eternity, and tried again. Still busy. For the next hour and a half she tried to call Julian every few minutes. She became numb, convinced that Julian had been killed. Several people walked into her office during that time and tried to talk to her, but gave up and left when they saw her face. At last the line was free. The phone was picked up momentarily and a manís voice said:

"This is the Luna residence. No interviews will be granted... "

Caitlin didnít allow him continue.

"Itís Caitlin Byrne," she said. "Please, I just want to know if he is all right."

There was silence, and when she was almost sure that she would not get any answer, the voice continued.

"Julian will be fine. He will contact you as soon as possible." Another silence. "He will call you. Please, be careful." The phone went dead. Caitlin stared at the phone for a few seconds and then stood up. She picked up her purse and coat and walked out of the office. Outside her door, all her co-workers were standing in a semi-circle.

Theyíve gathered here like so many vultures, she thought, but Julian is alive! At the same time, heís as much their boss as mine. They want to know.

She squared her shoulders and looked straight at them.

"I was told that he is all right," she told them. "Will somebody get out there and find out what has happened? Iím going home." She left hurriedly, not wanting them to see her cry.

She sat in her car, her vision blurred by tears. But they were tears of relief.

She picked up her phone several times during the evening, making sure that it worked. Every time it rang, she jumped. It was the paper, one of her friends; even the police called. To them she said that she knew nothing. But no call from Julian. As the hours crept by, she became more and more scared. What if that man had lied to her? What if Julian were badly hurt? Or dead? What was it that reporter on TV had said? No doctor had been called! For all she knew, Julian could have a physician of his own in that enormous house of his. For all she knew, he could be dead. The dead donít need doctors! She was driving herself mad, thinking like that. It was past midnight when she tried to call again, but the line was busy.

And now she sat here, in this beautiful library that smelled of leather and old books. She was in his house but she still didnít know if she would ever see her lover again. Suddenly she heard steps outside the door. As the door opened she heard Julianís angry voice.

"... No hunt will be declared without my agreement! I want to know who sent that stupid human after me! And make sure you find Caitlin!" He came in and stopped, staring at her.

"I didnít know I was lost," Caitlin said, taken aback by his anger and cold stare. "I tried to call you, but I couldnít get through. I just wanted to find out..." She started crying unexpectedly, and turned away to hide it. In a few strides Julian came to her and took her in his arms.

"Caitlin," his voice was tender, the anger gone, "I called you just half an hour ago. There was no answer and I was afraid that something had happened to you. That someone had harmed you in order to get at me."

But Caitlinís relief at seeing him alive and well was so great that it was her turn to get angry.

"I thought you were dead," she sobbed, hitting his chest with both fists. "I thought you were dead!"

He held her tight, preventing her from hitting him again. After a moment, when she was a little calmer, he took her face in both his hands and kissed her.

"I am quite all right," he whispered. Then he lifted her and carried her out of the library. The room he took her into was only lit by the flames in the fireplace. She had thought before that it was odd that there were fires blazing away in almost every room in his home. He had once told her that he detested being cold. She had then commented that she didnít find San Francisco a very cold city. He had laughed at that and mumbled something about his very low blood pressure. When she continued making jokes about his not having to worry about heart disease or strokes, he had avoided the issue. Maybe there was something wrong with his circulatory system? But now she was grateful for the fire. It made her feel cozy and secure.

Nevertheless, she continued to sniffle a bit, just to make her point. Julian placed her on the bed and lay down with her, holding her, trying to comfort her, kissing her. After some time she gathered her wits and started questioning him about what had happened. But he didnít tell her much more than she had already heard on the news. There had been an explosion that caused a lot of damage. There had been injuries and deaths. Somebody had attacked him with a knife. No, he was not hurt. He protested feebly when she started taking off his clothes. Caitlin quieted him with kisses and caresses. There was a bandage around his left elbow and upper arm. When she tried to ask him about it, it was his turn to silence her with kisses. In a few moments she forgot about bandages and explosions. The way he made love to her this time was more urgent and violent than it had ever been before. His skin felt hotter than usual, and his eyes seemed to glow in the dark. He sent her body into an ecstasy that she found difficult to bear. In the final moment, she clung to him and bit the side of his neck. She heard him gasp, and it frightened her because he had never made a sound during their lovemaking before.

"Oh, Julian, Iím sorry." She was trying to catch her breath. "I didnít mean to hurt you!"

Heíd stopped moving and looked at her with shining eyes.

"Itís all right, Caitlin." His husky voice was barely audible. "Itís all right," he repeated. "I enjoyed that."

Then he pressed her down, immobilized her hands by holding both her wrists above her head, his other hand beneath her lower back, raising her body towards his every thrust. It hurt, but it was also deliciously stimulating. His breathing became more and more uneven and labored until it stopped for a few moments, and his body started to shudder spasmodically. It was then that Caitlin felt his teeth sink into her shoulder. She cried out, but he didnít let go until she said that he was hurting her. He released her hands then, but was still weighing her down with his body. Covering her wounded shoulder with his hand, he pressed his forehead against it.

"Youíre mine!" he said with emphasis. "Now, youíre mine!"

Caitlin was too tired to dispute that. At this very moment, she felt very much his.

In the morning, she looked at her shoulder and, to her surprise, found no trace of the bite she had received from Julian. There were other bruises and marks on her body that witnessed about what had transpired during the night, but there was no mark on her shoulder. It didnít hurt either. She turned to Julian. Well, at least this time, he was still there. He was asleep; his face down, his left arm stretched in her direction. For a few seconds she admired his beautifully muscled back and arms. Then it hit her. Somehow, the bandage had come off during the night. There was no scar, no wound on his arm. Neither was there any trace left of her bite on his neck.

Am I going mad? she asked herself. Either that, or something is seriously wrong with my memory. She did not allow the thought that something might be Ďseriously wrongí with Julian to surface.

There was a shy knock on the door and Julian was instantly awake. He slid out of bed and, putting on a robe, padded to the door. Whoever was outside was not let in. Julian went out instead. He returned after a few minutes and sat on Caitlinís side of the bed.

"I must go," he said. "I want you to stay in my house for the time being."

Before she could start to protest, he continued:

"That is, when youíre not at work. It would be one thing less for me to worry about. Please, donít get me wrong, Caitlin, but Iím afraid that there will be a war in this city. Iím one of the intended victims and I donít want you to be caught in the middle. Your association with me makes you another target."

He touched her shoulder lightly, right on the spot were he had bitten her.

"Iím sorry I hurt you. It wonít happen again." His smile was apologetic. "I got carried away. Iíll control myself better in the future."

So, she had not dreamed or imagined things. She looked at the white, unmarred skin.

"It mustnít have been so serious: see, there is no mark left. Speaking of marks, what happened to your arm? There is no mark there either. I thought you had been stabbed..." Her voice trailed off. "The reporter on TV talked about your being covered in blood."

"Oh, no!" Julian exclaimed. "It wasnít my blood. My elbow just got twisted out of joint." He raised his left arm. "Now, even the swelling is gone. I had the bandage put on to stabilize it. It was rather painful." He smiled as she bowed forward and kissed that elbow.

"It didnít stop you from being a rather ardent lover last night," she mused.

"When Iím with you, I tend to forget all pains." He drew her closer. Caitlin rested her head on his chest, and rejoiced in his slow caresses. But just as his hands came to rest on her breasts there was another knock on the door and his hands moved away.

"Will you stay?" he asked simply. She nodded her head.

"Be careful about what you ask for. You might get it!" she answered. He gave her another hug and left.

When Caitlin was ready to go to work, she found that her car had been removed and a big, dark, European thing was awaiting her, complete with an uniformed driver. It was a young, very fair man with an incongruous Spanish accent. With a disarming smile, the young man presented himself as Arthur and told her that Mr. Luna had instructed him to be Caitlinís driver, aide and bodyguard. When she protested, saying that she had no need of a bodyguard, he responded plainly enough:

"Iím responsible for your safety. With my life. My SirÖ er... Mr. Luna said, itís your hide or mine."

"Did he tell you to inform me about it?" she asked.

"He said that if you knew how serious he was, you would be nice to me, not trying to get rid of me or run off."

It shocked Caitlin into silence. Certainly, Julian knew her well enough by now. He understood that she would hate being watched, but also that she was too kind-hearted to let the poor guard get into trouble because of her.

You are a manipulating bastard, Julian Luna, she thought, and decided to let him know what she felt about the whole business. For now, she would comply. A few

heads turned when she got out of the expensive-looking car outside her office building. Arthur gave her the number of the car phone and told her that she only had to call him and he would be waiting outside the entrance at a momentís notice.

When she came inside, all conversation stopped and all eyes turned expectantly in her direction. She couldnít help blushing.

"Caitlin, whatís happened?" She was barraged with questions. "Is Mr. Luna all right?"

"He is unharmed," she told them. "As for what has happened, you probably know more about it than I do."

The relief on their faces warmed her heart. As it turned out, nobody knew much more either. The police didnít have a clue. Nobody knew who had planted the bomb in the bank. The city had been unusually peaceful during the night. The person who had attacked Julian Luna with a knife was still a John Doe; his throat had been torn open and he had bled to death. It hadnít been done with his own knife and no other weapon had been found. Their contact at the forensic lab had said that they had never seen anything like it. It looked as if somebody or something had taken hold of the assassin-to-be and ripped his throat out. Also, there had been a lot of heroin in his body.

"Why would a drug abuser attack Julian?" Caitlin asked her staff. "One thing Iím sure of is that Julian Luna doesnít stand on the street corner, peddling drugs."

"Eddie Fiori," somebody said, "wasnít he involved in drug trafficking?"

"Eddie Fiori is missing, if not missed by many, but somebody might have got mad

when the source dried up. Somebody might have believed that Julian Luna was responsible for Fioriís disappearance," was another suggestion. "Word on the street has it that Eddie was no longer protected, and it might have been Mr. Lunaís protection that had been withdrawn."

"Itís pure speculation," Caitlin defended her lover vehemently. "I want more than rumors and hearsay."

They looked at her silently, and suddenly she realized that she no longer had their trust. It hurt, but she would be damned if she would let them press her into something against her judgment. But she had to be honest with herself.

How good is your judgment when it comes to Julian Luna? she asked herself.

There was a knock on her door and Frank Kohanek came in.

"May I have a word with you, Miss Byrne?" he asked. Caitlin braced herself inwardly. For some reason the policeman hated Julian, and it scared her.

"You saw Julian Luna last night." It was a statement, not a question. Caitlin nodded. There was no point in denying that.

"And he was all right?" Kohanek continued. She nodded again. "Are you quite sure?"

"He said, that his arm had been twisted, but other than that..." Caitlin didnít understand what the man was driving at.

"Are you absolutely sure? Did you see it?" He sounded very upset.

"Yes, I saw it!" Caitlin exclaimed. "And no, there was nothing wrong with it!"

"We have three witnesses," the policemanís voice had become calm, "three witnesses who saw the assailant stab Mr. Luna in the left arm, just here." His finger jabbed at her arm, just an inch above the elbow. "A big, ugly cut; he was bleeding profusely."

Caitlin stared at him in disbelief. Suddenly, an image flashed in her mind. Julian bleeding from several wounds and then, miraculously healed, no traces on his body of the injuries he had received. She shook her head.

This isnít happening, she thought, or Iím going mad.

"Youíre mistaken," she said quietly. "There was nothing wrong with Julian last night, however he told me that somebody had been hurt and bled all over him." She looked at Kohanek pleadingly. But the man was relentless. He shoved a photo in front of her saying:

"This is what was left of the alleged assailant on Mr. Lunaís life."

Caitlin looked at the gory picture, what she saw made her feel sick. The head of the dead man was thrown back, his throat in shreds.

"What happened to him?" she asked.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Frank Kohanek said. "I suggest, you ask Luna. He refuses to speak to us." He left the photo on Caitlinís desk as he stood up. "Itís possible that he killed that man in self-defense, but wouldnít you like to know how he did it?"

Caitlin sat staring at the terrifying picture for a long time. Her professional curiosity overcame her nausea. What could inflict such a dreadful injury? A ferocious animal could have done that. It made her think of inhuman strength and fury. Suddenly, she felt very cold. Julian was almost inhumanely strong.

It was difficult to concentrate on anything during the rest of the day. In her mind she went through everything she knew about Julian Luna. It was pitifully little. Could he have ripped a manís throat out in a fit of rage? No! He was kind and gentle. She looked at her aching wrists. Dark bruises had formed there; the skin was abraded in several places. Kind and gentle? She hid her face in her hands acutely aware that there had been nothing gentle about Julian last night. He had hurt her, she still hurt inside, and she had been bleeding in the morning. Her period wasnít due for another week. No! No! She had read somewhere that men could become unusually passionate when their life was in danger.

Oh God, am I making excuses for him? she asked herself.

She decided to confront him that very evening, but as the time passed by, she was more and more apprehensive, delaying departure until it was quite late. At last she called the number Arthur had given her and asked him to come for her. The car was standing outside the building, its engine running, when she came out. She went home first, Arthur helped her pack and then drove her to the mansion. She didnít see Julian that night. After she had eaten all alone in the big dining room, she waited for him, first in the library, then in her bedroom. She woke up alone the next morning, relieved and angry at the same time. For two days there was complete silence in the Luna mansion as well as in the city of San Francisco. During those days Caitlin went through all the motions of normal living, but she was numb inside. She was aware that she, as well as the city, was waiting for something to happen. But what? Arthur was discrete and helpful. He reminded her of a comment somebody had once made, "When a perfect butler enters a room, that room becomes emptier." The memory made her smile.

It was almost midnight of the third day of Julianís absence. She had returned very late and was lying in the bathtub. She looked at her wrists again. The pain was gone and the bruises had turned light yellow, hardly visible. She heard somebody knock on her bedroom door and then come in. Her heart started to beat faster. Who but Julian would come into her bedroom?

"Iím in the bath," she called out, turning off the running water. Quickly, she got out and put on the bathrobe. Julian was sitting in front of the mirror and their eyes met in the reflection.

For a long time neither of them moved but then, slowly, almost reluctantly, he turned and faced her. He continued looking at her until, in spite of herself, Caitlin made a welcoming gesture, opening her arms for him. He moved then, swifter than she could follow with her eyes and she was literally swept off her feet. He turned around, holding her so tight that she could feel her ribs crack. The next moment they were in bed and he was kissing her and whispering silly things about how much he had missed her, and how much he loved her.

How could she distrust him? Caitlin admonished herself.

He kissed the inside of her palm and then her wrist and apologized again for having hurt her.

"I have felt like a villain these last few days," he said.

A wave of tenderness welled inside her as he continued to kiss her. He opened her bathrobe, his hands moved slowly over her body and she sighed in pleasure. Her nipples hardened under his touch. It felt so good. His lips traced paths over her still wet skin and she opened her thighs invitingly to his enticing fingers. Within minutes, his skilled hands sent her into her first orgasm. She clung to him, gasping, her nails digging into his flesh through his shirt. She made a small sound of protest when he let go of her, but he only got up to be able to remove his clothes. She watched him, her eyes wide open - he was so beautiful. She stretched towards him when he turned back to her, eager to touch him. They lay down together, side by side, just holding each other, before resuming their lovemaking. Hours later they were still going on. Caitlin was tired, and the pleasure was turning into a dull ache. At last, she tried to push him away and he immediately stopped moving.

"Whatís wrong?" he asked, a worried expression on his face. She smiled, her sore lips touched his lightly.

"Turn over," she whispered, pushing him on his back. "I want to retaliate."

He obeyed, but didnít let her slide away, his hands gripping her hips in a steady grasp. She straddled him, pressing down on him. Then she took hold of both his wrists, and entwining her fingers with his, pressed his hands down on each side of his face. He understood then what she was aiming to do and let her, although they both knew that he could free his hands without much effort. Caitlin started to move rhythmically, watching his face all the time. She saw him bite on his lower lip until it started bleeding, his eyes never wavering from hers. She felt a strange urge to kiss him and taste his blood. She bowed down and felt the slightly salty taste on her tongue. She didnít see his eyes turning pale, shining green, but felt his hands move under hers.

"Oh no you donít!" she exclaimed, pressing his hands down harder. She raised her head and looked at him again. His eyes were closed, but his shudders and the way he breathed told her that he was on the verge of an orgasm. She waited until his body started to arch against her, and a muffled moan escaped his lips. Then, quite deliberately, she leaned down again and slowly sank her teeth into his shoulder until she tasted his blood again. This time he freed his hands from her grasp and took hold of her head, but instead of pushing her away, he held her tight against his shoulder as if urging her to continue. Of course, she didnít.

Caitlin looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. There were bruises on her hips and on the inner sides of her thighs again. Her breasts and lips were sore, and Julianís blood was smeared on her mouth and cheeks. This time she had been the violent one. She washed herself and looked up again. She saw fear in her own eyes.

Whatís happening to me! She stayed in the bathroom, reluctant to go back and face Julian. She hoped that he would fall asleep. No such luck. There was a knock and he came in, frowning against the bright bathroom light.

"Are you all right, Caitlin?" he asked. She noticed gratefully that he had put on the bathrobe that she had left in bed. It was too small for him, but it covered the shoulder that she had bitten. She ran to him and, throwing her arms around his neck, started to cry.

"Oh Julian!" she sobbed. "Iím so sorry! I didnít mean to hurt you. Please! Forgive me. I donít know what has happened to me. I have never hurt anybody in my whole life." She looked up at him, her face awash with tears. He was pale, a worried look on his face. He forced himself to smile.

"Itís okay, Caitlin," he tried to soothe her. "Nobody has died from a small bite yet. Unless one of us has rabies, of course." The joke sounded lame in his own ears.

"Or is a vampire," Caitlin tried to keep up the light mood. But his body stiffened and he let go of her.

"Letís go to bed." Julianís voice was suddenly distant, he didnít look at her. "You need to get some sleep."

After Caitlin fell asleep, Julian got up from the bed and sat by the fire, watching her turn and toss in her sleep. She called out his name several times in an anguished way.

"Am I losing you, Caitlin?" he asked the night.

"I canít let it happen! I canít! I wonít!" He could not imagine continuing his existence without her. For a moment he entertained the notion of Embracing her. She certainly had acquired a taste for his blood lately! She could not know it of course, but what had occurred in Manzanita had left its mark. She had fed him her own blood to save him. Weak and half-unconscious as he had been, he had taken too much, almost killing her. He had had to return some and thus their mixed blood made her want more. It was far from an Embrace, but enough to kindle a desire in her that she found difficult to withstand. But he wanted her alive, warm, human. Would he love her as much if he turned her into one of his own kind? He didnít want to find out. For now she was here, bewildered, suspicious and frightened, but alive and in love with him. He would have to disappear for a few days again until her bite, which was gone by now, Ďhealedí. He would have to prevent her from doing it again in the future, no matter how much pleasure it gave him. Otherwise, someday he might lose control and go too far. Nevertheless, the memory of the explosive moment of the exquisite pain of that bite, combined with his climax, made him shudder with delight. He wanted it again, and the thought of having to abstain from it was painful. He sighed inwardly and left, after having kissed Caitlin lightly on the mouth.

The next day all hell broke loose.

As Caitlin tried to stay awake behind her desk, reports started to come in from all over the city that something was going on. There were tales of shootings, police raids, much fighting and other violent activities. But when the press got to the scenes, there was hardly anything left to report. Bullet-holes in the walls, traces of blood, a lot of destruction, but nobody was reported missing and there were no complaints to the police except from concerned citizens who reported gunshots and a lot of commotion. Nothing else. Caitlin spent the day alternately worrying about Julianís well-being and becoming angry at him. Was he somehow connected with what was going on in the city? She was still ashamed about what she had done to him but comforted herself that it had not stopped him from reaching fulfillment. In the morning, she had found a vase full of white roses beside her bed and a lovely note from Julian. It said that he would be out of town for a few days, that he loved her, and hated to be parted from her. She had touched the white petals of one of the perfect flowers.

How thoughtful of you, Julian, she smiled with amusement. Did you think that red roses would remind me of the blood between us?


A chilly shudder went up her spine. She tore through the papers on her desk until she came upon the picture of the dead man with the severed throat. She looked at it for a long time, fear penetrating her whole being. Then, as in a dream, she slowly tore the photograph into tiny pieces and threw them away.

That evening, while she was eating dinner alone, she heard a commotion in the hallway, an angry voice demanded to see Julian Luna. At first, she thought that it was Frank Kohanek and wondered how he had got inside the fort that Julianís home had become. She looked outside and found several people arguing in angry voices. However, they fell silent when they saw her.

"Whatís going on?" she demanded. A young man whom she had never seen before turned towards her. He scrutinized her for a long moment and then bowed formally.

"Madame," he said, "will you please inform the Pri..." he stopped with an awkward movement. "Will you inform Mr. Julian Luna, that Cameron says Ďyesí?"

Caitlin felt rather ridiculous but tried to be as formal as he was.

"Iíll do so when I see him," she said, "but at the moment, he is not here."

Cameron moved a few steps closer and the others moved after him as if they were afraid that he would attack her. He looked her in the eye for several seconds until she felt like she was being hypnotized. Then he said:

"I believe you." Then he smiled, and Caitlin felt as if he had released her. "Iíll be in touch," he said cryptically, turned back, and left without another word.

"What was that about?" Caitlin asked of the small congregation that was left in the hallway. But they only mumbled incoherently and scurried away. Lillie was the only one left.

The two women faced each other.

"I hope youíre enjoying your stay here," Lillie said. Caitlin almost heard the unvoiced while it lasts. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin high.

"Oh, Iím enjoying it immensely," she said in a high-pitched voice and turned her back on Lillie.

If you only knew how much, she thought to herself. Then she remembered that both Lillie and Julian had admitted to being lovers in the past, realizing that Lillie must know perfectly well how enjoyable being with Julian could be, and she felt a pang of retrospective jealousy. As she walked away, she heard Lillie chuckle.

I donít want her around, she decided. I must ask Julian to get rid of her. In her mind, she repeated what Julian had once said to her: "Now, youíre mine!"

* * *


This time, Caitlin didnít see Julian for eight days. He called her almost every night, assuring her that everything was all right and that he would back soon. She didnít see Lillie again and decided not to mention her until Julian returned. At work, everything seemed to return to the daily routine. Caitlin started to feel bored. She missed Julian desperately but was too proud to tell him so. She wanted to go back to her own house, the mansion depressed her when Julian wasnít there. By the weekís end she returned to her home despite Arthurís protests. But she slept better in her own bed. The next morning she found out that Arthur had spent the night in the car, outside her house. It made her feel guilty and angry at the same time. He refused to abandon her and she refused to go back to the mansion. The next time Julian called, she demanded that he get his bodyguard off her back. She was quite adamant about it and, finally, he gave in. Her car was returned to her.

A couple of days later, when she was working late pouring over a story about air pollution, she heard some commotion outside her office. She got up wondering what was going on, glad that she could get away from the dreary recount of poisonous substances for at least a moment. She opened the door and there he was, surrounded by her colleagues who were cheering and congratulating him. She felt her heart-rate rise. She just stood there watching him. He looked just as he had when she first saw him: his black hair in perfect order, his beautiful face unlined, seemingly ageless, a dark, expensive suit, a matching tie.

"Oh, Julian," she whispered.

He heard her in spite of the raised voices around him and turned in her direction. Caitlin started to walk towards him, her steps becoming swifter the closer she came. It was as if an invisible thread was drawing her. She ran the last few steps and he enclosed her in his arms. She pressed her face to his chest as she heard loud applause and whistles around them.

So now I have made it official, she thought.

The cheers continued but she was too embarrassed to lift her head. Suddenly, there was a deafening pop that made her jump. Has somebody started shooting? She turned around, still within the circle of Julianís arms, and saw a bottle of champagne being emptied into paper cups.

Where had they been stashing that? she wondered.

A champagne-filled cup was shoved into Caitlinís hand, and Julian was given another. His other arm was still around her back and he pressed her closer to him. They raised their paper cups solemnly, somebody piped "Mazel Tov", and everybody started laughing. They drank, and just as Caitlin started to hope that the performance was over, there was a shout:

"A kiss! A kiss! We want a kiss!"

Caitlinís face turned hot as she felt herself blushing. But Julian was unperturbed. He took her face in his hands and kissed her lightly on the mouth. As the cheering and shouting became louder, their kiss became more passionate and Caitlin felt her desire for him explode in her body so hard that her knees became wobbly. She was aware of his immediate response. He broke the kiss and, as his hands moved around her body supporting her, he leaned close to her saying:

"Letís get out of here before they start demanding a live show."

They escaped into her office. Caitlinís eyes widened as she saw Julian lock her door. He pressed her up on her desk sweeping papers, cups and pens off it. The sounds they made hitting the floor were explosions in Caitlinís ears. He tugged at her clothes; the dress came off in one piece, but the flimsy underwear turned to tatters.

"No," she moaned, "not here," while her hands yanked his shirt open and started to pull at his belt. Outside, there was absolute silence. A groan escaped her lips when he came inside her with one powerful thrust.

"My associates are getting their live show anyway," she whispered in Julianís ear, "Iíll never be able to show my face here again."

"Oh yes you will," he muttered as his thrusts became even more forcible. She locked her arms and legs around him and soon the world outside faded away.

They emerged from Caitlinís office an hour later. In spite of their efforts to tidy themselves, they still looked somewhat disheveled. Nobody looked up as they passed, but some giggles, together with "good night, Caitlin, good night, Mr. Luna" chased them as they left.

During the next few months, Caitlin and Julian lived in an exclusive world of their own. They spent all their free time together. Caitlin finally started to believe that she was getting through his seclusion. He was still very secretive about his past, but she found out that he was well educated, especially in natural sciences. He didnít mind sharing that knowledge. He would explain to her how the moon created tidal waves in the Earthís oceans, made small sketches, and cited numbers from memory. He spent hours making her understand the difference between weight and mass. The laws of gravity became lucid, but the theory of relativity was beyond her grasp. When she implored him to go on a trip together he agreed and said that it was his turn to kidnap her. The next weekend he did just that.

He surprised her by turning up on her doorstep early on Saturday morning dressed in jeans - black jeans, but nevertheless jeans - and a thick sweater and telling her to dress for an excursion in the country. They drove for hours until they were high up in the mountains where, even more surprisingly, he built a camp. He had brought food and heated it for her over the campfire.

When the night came, he extinguished the fire and got a telescope from the trunk of his car. It was bigger and more powerful than the one he had given her. He put it together expertly and within minutes they were scanning the sky. He pointed out scores of stars and constellations which until now she had only heard of. He knew where to look for all the visible planets. At last, he made her look at a tiny, blurry spot, explaining that it was a galaxy, millions of light years away. She knew that astronomy was his favorite hobby, and he made it more exciting to her than her father, a professional in the field, had ever been able to do.

They slept on the bare ground that night, swabbed in several blankets in order to keep the cold at bay. Caitlin listened to the sounds of the night, wondering if there were any predators nearby. When she mentioned her concern to Julian, he laughed out loud and said:

"Iím the top predator here."

Nothing disturbed them that night. On Sunday they went hiking, watching nature, and enjoying the fresh air. They returned to San Francisco very late, so tired that they fell asleep still wearing their clothes. Caitlin never noticed that Julian had left her alone in her bed for several hours that night.

Julian marveled at his power over Caitlin. Using his hands and his body, he was able to make her forget the whole world, no Kindred tricks involved. Of course, she didnít have his stamina and would become tired and spent within hours. It had been different with Lillie and Alexandra. They had been able to match his strength, could go on for days and nights. But no, that was over, he wanted Caitlin now. The way she abandoned herself in his arms, her vulnerability and physical frailty, made her more enticing than the equal Kindred women. Even her inability to keep up with him made her more endearing.

How do mortal men keep up with Kindred women? he mused fleetingly. Maybe, thatís why such relationships are so rare. How was it for Alexandra and Frank? He felt a touch of pity for the human policeman who had lost his love in such a cruel way. But his thoughts soon returned to Caitlin. He loved to watch her face when the pleasure overwhelmed her: her flushed skin, her scent, the way she would strain against his body, but most of all, that look on her face, her breath catching in the soft cries she made. If he was inside her, heíd try very hard to be still and then feel her muscles convulse. Often, it was enough to send him over the edge: as if her orgasm transported itself into him. Such moments more than made up for all the grief. Such moments were worth living for.

He was very careful nowadays not to let her draw any blood from him. He prevented her from biting him and when he felt her nails dig into his back, heíd move his arms sideways, forcing her hands to glide away from his body. He hated to do that because he desired that pain. He remembered the first time he had been with Lillie. She had clawed his back and chest to shreds and then had licked the blood off his skin. He had done the same to her. He could still recall the taste of her blood when he lapped it from her breasts and her belly. The memory aroused him. But none of that with Caitlin. He had to be careful. The other night she had bitten her own hand. The smell of her blood drove him mad. Before he could stop himself, heíd taken her injured hand and had sucked at the tiny wounds. Luckily, she mistook it for a kiss. He was deliriously happy with Caitlin, but there were dark moments when he was aware that he was balancing on the edge of disaster.

With a long, deep kiss Julian tore himself from his lover and left. He hated doing that just after they had made love, but he was already late for the meeting. Caitlin closed the door behind him and curled up on her bed in a fetal position. She was still hot and wet from their lovemaking but she didnít want to go and wash herself, not yet. She pressed her thighs together, trying to prevent the fluid he had left inside her from seeping out. She was sore inside from chafing against him. She felt swollen and tender. They had spent the entire evening in her bed. Her period had ended just a day ago and, as usual, Julian had avoided her during those days.

In the beginning, she had found his behavior strange, but he told her that it pained him: being near her and not being able to make love to her. The few times they had met during such days, he really looked like he was in pain. When she pointed out that there was nothing to prevent them from having sex during her period, Julian had responded that it would harm her and refused to discuss it further. He was so old-fashioned sometimes. She let it rest.

Odd, she thought. He always knows without asking when Iím bleeding, and Iím not very regular.

Tonight, however, he had made up for the lost days. With his mouth and his sensitive fingers he had excited her almost beyond what she could endure, until the throbbing pleasure started turning into pain. Until she pleaded with him to end it. She could still hear her own breathless, imploring voice:

"Please, Julian, I canít take it anymore. Please..."

He had made her come then in a violent, extended orgasm that made her head spin. When she had returned to reality she had found, to her disappointment, that she had been robbed of the gratification of experiencing his pleasure.

She realized that she was falling asleep without having showered, but the thought of getting up, turning on the lights and getting into the shower wasnít appealing. The languid feeling of happiness and fulfillment took over, her hand drew a cover over her body and she fell asleep.

A touch woke her.

"Julian," she murmured, "Iím too tired..."

The grip on her shoulder hardened. She gasped in fright and the rush of adrenaline made her instantly awake. Someone was in her bedroom and it wasnít Julian! She cried out, trying to get away from the hand that held her, when something hit her on the head and the darkness of the night was exchanged for the deeper darkness of unconsciousness.

At noon, Julian was sure that something was terribly wrong. There was a call from her office. They had tried to reach her at home and, when there was no answer, somebody whipped up enough courage to call the Luna mansion. Julian felt the cold claws of fear rip at his heart. Not being able to get to him, somebody had taken Caitlin. He called Frank Kohanek and told him to meet him outside Caitlinís house. When the policeman started to ask questions, Julian silenced him effectively by breaking the phone into pieces with his bare hands. Twenty minutes later, they were standing in Caitlinís driveway. Her car was parked in the same way Julian had seen it the previous evening. Her door wasnít locked. The policeman hesitated on the threshold.

"Are you going to tell me what itís all about?" he asked. Julianís hand was rubbing his forehead as if he were suffering from a headache. He was as pale as death.

"Caitlinís missing." His voice was anguished.

Serves you right. Frank said it almost aloud. But he checked himself when he saw the desperation in the otherís face. They went inside. There was no sign of a struggle, only the rumpled bed. A paperweight had been thrown beside it. When Frank picked it up, they saw some blood smeared on it. When the policeman turned to Julian, he saw something that stopped him dead. Julian Lunaís dark brown eyes had turned a bright gleaming green color.

"You might get your revenge," Julian said in harsh voice, "but I wonder, if itíll be worth the cost." He rushed out of the house and, when Frank Kohanek followed him after a few seconds, he had disappeared, although his car was still there.

Julianís anger knew no boundaries. He flew over the city, screaming his rage at it. He wanted to wipe it off the face of the earth: he wanted flames and destruction: he wanted it dead. He wanted to shatter the Masquerade, to let the Kindred Clans drown it in blood. But most of all, he wanted the villain who had taken Caitlin. He wanted Caitlin back.

At last he exhausted himself. After returning to his home, he sent all those who could go out during daylight to roam the city in search for her. He locked himself in the library but it didnít stop Daedalus from entering.

"Iíve lost her," he said to his friend, and felt tears run down on his cheeks. Red droplets fell on his hands. The Nosferatu Primogen moved closer, putting a comforting hand on Julianís shoulder.

"Nobody stands to gain from her death," he said. "She has been taken in order to put pressure on you. Whoever has her, knows that if sheís harmed in any way, heíll

have your wrath upon him. As soon as it gets dark Iíll let the Nosferatu search the city. I have a feeling that a visit to the Brujahs might prove fruitful."

Julian looked up. He tried to dry his tears, smearing the blood over his face.

"What if she was taken by humans?" he asked.

"Letís hope thatís not the case," Daedalus answered. "Anyway, grieving in advance will not help. Get some rest, Julian. Weíll need your keen eyes when night falls. Sitting here wonít help you find her."

With that, Daedalus left. He was worried. If they didnít find Caitlin - or worse, if they found her dead - he was afraid to think what might happen. If Julian Luna went mad with grief, and he was the sort of person who might, if he endangered the Masquerade, then he, Daedalus, would have to kill the Prince of San Francisco. He shrunk from that horrendous thought.

Caitlin woke up totally disoriented. The darkness around her was absolute. She had a terrible headache, her mouth was dry and she was very cold. She realized that she was laid out naked on a concrete floor. Then her memory returned and she screamed. Before the echo of her voice died out, she heard steps. Someone crouched over her. She was so afraid that she started whimpering. Her face was slapped.

"Well, well," a manís voice said, "Lunaís little bitch has come around." The voice sounded vaguely familiar but she couldnít place it. "If you donít keep quiet, Iíll break every bone in your body," the man continued threateningly. Caitlin clamped her teeth together so hard that it hurt. She was trying to think very fast. She had been taken by somebody who wanted to get at Julian; not a casual kidnapping, because her bedroom window had been left open. She was here for a reason. It meant that there was hope that she would get out of this alive - she tried to comfort herself. She lay very still, keeping her eyes shut, although in this darkness it didnít make any difference.

Her kidnapper took hold of her arms and she felt him lean closer.

"If Luna wants his plaything back," he hissed in her ear, "it will cost him dearly!" He shook her, but Caitlin kept her silence. Suddenly, he made an angry sound.

"I can smell him on you!" the man exclaimed. Her legs were forced apart and hard fingers thrust into her. She cried out in pain.

"I can smell him in you!" the voice was raging. With a swift movement, he pressed her down and, in the next moment, she felt his body over hers. Oblivious of her screams, he thrust into her, almost tearing her apart. He was laughing and screaming obscenities.

"Lunaís slut! Lunaís slut!" he repeated over and over.

This isnít happening, Caitlin was trying to defend her sanity, this isnít happening! But it was happening! The pain was unbearable. Finally, the merciful darkness of unconsciousness enveloped her again and delivered her from the nightmare.

When Caitlin regained her consciousness, she found she was still in the same place. She tried to move, but the pain made her retch. She lay back on the cold concrete,

tears running down her face. After a long moment, she tried to pull herself together.

Okay, Caitlin, she told herself, youíve been kidnapped and raped. But youíre alive and, as far as you know, nothing is broken. You hurt like hell but youíre not tied, so pull your act together and try to find a way out of here. Her rising anger helped her to her feet. She moved around on shaky legs. The cellar seemed empty. She found a door, but it was locked, then she came upon a bucket. She thrust her finger into it - cold water? She tasted it cautiously. It was. She scooped the water with both hands and drank as much as she could. Then she splashed some in her face and tried to wash herself, pouring the cold water over her aching body. She remembered that she hadnít washed herself after Julian had left. If she had, then maybe this horror wouldnít have happened to her?

No, she thought, blaming Julian wonít change a thing, at least not now!

But thinking of Julian made her start crying again: his gentle hands, his kisses. She felt soiled, somehow destroyed. She understood now why rape had been described as a means of degradation.

"Oh, Julian," she sobbed, "will you ever want to touch me again?" She crept into a corner, and pulling her legs up close to her body, rested her chin on her knees. She continued crying for a long time.

Cameron was scared and remorseful. He had let his anger at Julian Luna get the better of him. Grabbing Caitlin and using her for extortion was one thing, but ravaging her the way he had was something else entirely. Every Kindred in the city knew that the Prince was crazy about his human lover; she was considered untouchable. And he had not only touched her but... Cameron shuddered. He had not set out to harm her, but when he had taken hold of her arms, the vivid images of Julianís and Caitlinís lovemaking had invaded his mind. Together with their mixed scents, it had sent him into a frenzy of lust and violence. He regretted it now. He didnít feel sorry for Caitlin, after all, she was just another mortal. He hated Julian Luna but he feared him too.

Cameron was much too intelligent to underestimate his adversary the way Eddie Fiori had. The truce between him and Julian had been cool at best, but now he had managed to turn the Prince into a mortal enemy. By now, Luna probably knew that Caitlin was missing and made sure that no one could get to him. To try to kill him now was not an option. Killing Caitlin would only make things worse. He had to get rid of Caitlin before the Gangrels started banging on his door during the day and the Nosferatu during the night. He knew that locked doors and dark cellars were no obstacles for the mighty Nosferatu. He would blindfold her and dump her outside some hospital this very evening, before the Nosferatu started searching. He thought of Daedalus and shivered again. He didnít care to face that one again. After all, Julian Luna, apart from being the Prince of San Francisco, was just another Ventrue: sleek, cunning, intelligent, sometimes more deadly than a panther, but still another Kindred

like himself. The Nosferatu Primogen on the other hand, well, there were rumors that even he, a Brujah, found difficult to believe. He didnít want to dwell on it. With luck, the woman hadnít recognized his voice, and Julian would never know for sure who had attacked her. He called his most trusted associates and gave orders to get Caitlin, blindfold her and then dump her outside one of the cityís hospitals. He didnít see that Sasha had just come to the gates of the Brujah Compound when the car carrying Caitlin sped out.

Caitlin cried out in pain. She was lying on an examination table and the nurse holding her hands was murmuring comforting words. The doctor examining her tried to be as careful as possible, but it still hurt like hell.

"There," the doctor was saying, "itís over. Now, letís get you cleaned a little and then you can get some rest. Warm water ran between her legs and there was the stinging smell of antiseptics. She heard the clinking of instruments being put away and a thin sheet was put over her legs and belly.

"Doctor," Caitlin only managed to whisper, "am I badly hurt?"

A womanís graying head bowed over her.

"Youíll be quite all right, my dear," she said with a reassuring smile. "Those laceration will heal within a few weeks." She stroked Caitlinís hair gently. "It might take longer in here." Then her face became professionally impassive. "As regards sex, Iím afraid youíll have to abstain for at least a month."

Caitlin was allowed to take a shower and was put to bed after being given a mild sedative. A beautiful black nurse was at her side all the time, her compassionate eyes comforting.

"Iím not suicidal," Caitlin murmured to her before falling asleep.

As it turned out, Frank Kohanek was the first one to be informed that Caitlin had been found. The hospital filed a police report. He decided to talk to the doctor first. He entered her office, his badge already in his hand.

"Yes?" the woman said inquiringly.

Frank told her his name and rank and proceeded to ask about Caitlin.

"There isnít much I can add to our earlier report," the doctor said. "According to what Ms. Byrne has told us, she never saw her assailant. Only..." She hesitated for a moment and told him about the test results.

The nurse gave Frank a stern look when he entered. He glanced at Caitlinís prone form. The left side of her face was swollen, there was a cut on her forehead and several scratches on the hand that clutched the blanket that covered her. Frank wanted to talk to Caitlin before he contacted Luna, but she was asleep and there was no chance that the watchful nurse would let him wake her. He just stood there, dithering, when suddenly Caitlin screamed and sat up in bed. She fell back, moaning in pain, the nurse was immediately at her side, cradling and comforting her. Frank moved closer. Watching her frightened expression was torture, but he had to talk to her. After an anguished moment her eyes focused on him and she frowned.

"The police, whatís... why?" She was unable to put together a coherent sentence.

Frank sat on the edge of her bed and, taking hold of her hand, said as gently as he could:

"Hospital policy. They filed a report about your... rape." There was no way around it. She tried to remove her hand, but he didnít let go.

"Caitlin," he tried to get through to her, through the despair in her eyes, "Caitlin, you must tell me what happened, please."

She closed her eyes for a few seconds, and then looked up at him, making a visible effort to concentrate.

"I was at home, after..." A sob escaped her, and the nurse made a disapproving sound. But Frank was determined to get all the information he could.

"Yes?" he prodded. Caitlin took a deep breath and continued:

"Somebody was there, grabbed me... then there was nothing. Then... dark, cold, a man, never saw his face..." She started to cry again. "He called me names... and Julianís... he called me Lunaís slut... I thought, he would tear me to pieces." She turned her face away, tugging at the sheet, trying to wipe her tears with it.

"Caitlin," Frank disregarded the nurseís attempts to stop him, "Caitlin, this is important, are you sure there was only one man?"

"I donít know," Caitlin shook her head. "I passed out. Does it matter? But I donít think that there was anyone else, I..." The tears burst out again. Frank waited until she calmed down and then squeezed her hand a little, just enough to catch her attention.

"The doctor said..." He looked away for a moment, not knowing how to continue, and then started anew. "She said that according to the test results there were two men..." His voice trailed off.

Caitlinís breath caught; then she turned to Frank and hid her face against his chest. She shook and sobbed for several minutes; then raised her head and looked Frank Kohanek straight in the eyes.

"Julian was with me before I was attacked. We... made love."

That exquisite evening. Was it only yesterday? The memory of the happiness and the satisfaction she had experienced in Julianís arms made her heart break. Her sobs became uncontrollable. Frank held her lightly at first, but his anger made his embrace more forceful. Another woman hurt, if not yet destroyed, because of Luna. He wanted to find Julian Luna and beat him up, although he knew heíd never be able to do it.

Although he hadnít harmed Caitlin himself, as far as Frank Kohanek was concerned Julian Luna was the one to blame. When Caitlin became a little calmer, he let her lie down again and walked out. He hadnít told her the last piece of information that the doctor had shared with him. According to the tests, both men whose semen had been taken from Caitlin were sterile.

Frank braced himself and called the Luna mansion. Julian wasnít there so he just left the message; Iíve found her, together with the number of his cellular phone. He decided to give Luna five minutes to get in touch. The call came within three. Frank said the name of the hospital, intending to break the connection immediately, but something in Julianís voice made him listen.

"Is she... Is she alive?" Luna asked. Suddenly, the British accent was more pronounced than ever.

Heís losing control! Frank thought. He took pity, and said:

"Yes, get your ass here as fast as you can." This time he broke the connection. He wanted to see Luna sweat.

Julian Luna heeded Daedalusí demand that he should go to the hospital by car. It would have been faster to fly, but he listened to reason. He didnít make any fuss about all the bodyguards who crammed themselves into the car with him. He didnít want to lose any time on futile arguments. They arrived after twenty-five minutes of neck-breaking speeding. Julian allowed only Cash and Arthur to follow him inside. They found Frank Kohanek just beyond the entrance.

The two men faced each other.

"Where is she?" Julian demanded.

"We must talk first." The policeman took Julianís arm, and looked pointedly at the men behind him. "Alone," he added.

Julian made a dismissive gesture to his bodyguards. Cash opened his mouth to protest, but the look he received from his Prince made him shut up with an audible clap. The two men melted away. Slowly, Julian Luna took hold of Frankís hand and removed it from his arm. That deliberate slowness made Frank realize that Luna didnít want to pulverize his bones. Not yet. The vivid feeling of being confronted by a vicious animal poised to strike made Frank Kohanek cautious. He talked fast, as if he were reciting a police report.

"Caitlin Byrne was found outside this hospital at eight this evening. She was half-conscious and badly bruised. She has been examined, cleaned up and sedated. Sheís asleep now." Frank ran out of breath.

"Where is she?" Julian repeated his question.

"Sheís upstairs, but..." As Julian moved past him, Frank grabbed his arm again. "Wait!" he shouted. "She has been raped!"

Julian Luna stopped, as if he had walked into a wall. His face turned deathly pale and Frank saw that green shimmer again. But he was past being afraid.

"Yes," he continued, "she has been raped, and by one of your own kind." He recounted what the doctor had told him.

Julian was absolutely still; only his eyes became increasingly pale green. Then, with a snarl, he wrenched his arm free from Frankís grip and bolted towards the staircase. Frank Kohanek would never know how close he came to being ripped to shreds.

Julian stood outside the door to Caitlinís sickroom trying to fight down his rage. At last, he felt his eyes return to normal; his hands relaxed, the claws and fangs disappeared. He started to breathe again and walked in.

The room was almost dark. A tiny, weak lamp, placed close to Caitlinís head, was the only source of light. The nurse sat sleeping in a chair near the bed. Julian moved closer without making a sound.

Julian Luna spent the night on his knees at Caitlinís bedside. The nurse was dismayed at seeing him every time she woke up, his position unchanged, but she didnít have the heart to disturb the man, who she thought was praying. He was totally immobile, crouching slightly over the edge of the bed, his head bowed. He held Caitlinís palm against his face with both his hands; his eyes were closed. In the end, the uncanny immobility of the strange man got to the nurse - it was scary. She checked on Caitlin several times during the night. The man never seemed to notice her presence.

In the early morning, when the daylight started slipping in, she was at last able to take a good look at him. He was extremely handsome, in a devilish sort of way. Even in this humble position, there was an atmosphere of power and wealth about him. Quietly, she tiptoed out to get some coffee and was faced by two men outside the door. Her heart skipped a beat before she realized the obvious.

Of course, bodyguards, she thought.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and, after a moment of hesitation, she poured another one before she went back. One of the guards opened the door for her and tried to peer inside at the same time. She shut the door resolutely by leaning on it with her back. The kneeling man was startled by the bang. He turned his head and looked at her, then got to his feet effortlessly. Seeing her surprise, he tried to smile.

"Years of practice," he said, covering his mistake. No mere mortal would have been able to move the way he did after several hours of kneeling. She offered him the coffee.

"Good morning, Mr.?" He could hear the question mark.

"Luna," he accepted the coffee she was holding out to him, and shook her hand, "Julian Luna," he introduced himself. "Caitlin is my... fiancée." He sipped the coffee and made a grimace. "Thank you, Nurse Donovan," he said, after peeking at the badge on her chest.

"Itís the hospital brew," she tried being cheery. "Youíre not supposed to like it, but it does wake you up."

Caitlin stirred and moaned and nurse Donovan was immediately forgotten. Julian was back on his knees and, clasping her hand, he whispered her name. Caitlinís eyes opened. Slowly she looked around, her vision focusing. The nurse moved closer, but Caitlinís gaze came to rest on Julianís face. Her chin began to tremble as she tried to move towards him. He clasped her tight to his chest.

"Itís all right," he said, "itís all right, my love. Youíre safe now."

For almost an hour, Caitlin cried her heart out. Julian held her in his arms, rocking her gently. She was shaking uncontrollably, her whole body racked by heart-rending sobs. Julian tried to comfort her, whispering softly, hiding his feelings perfectly. There was nothing soft inside him. He would do anything to avenge Caitlinís misery. Could there ever be justice for what had been done to her? He didnít think of the justice that belonged in Caitlinís world. The justice of courtrooms, judges and lawyers. No! He thought of the justice of the Kindred and the human justice of his time as a mortal. He thought of tar and feathers on fire, of shotguns and hanging ropes, with some torture thrown in for good measure. And he wanted to do it himself!

Never in his life, before or after he had been Embraced, had he wanted to hurt somebody just for the sake of inflicting pain. Never, until now. The streak of cruelty that he found in himself appalled him. It wouldnít diminish Caitlinís hurt one bit if he tortured her abuser to death. Nevertheless, thatís what he wanted to do. He wanted to hear bones break, muscles tear and screams of agony. He tried to banish such pictures from his mind. In vain - they would be there until he got his revenge.

The door opened and the doctor came in. She frowned at the scene she saw.

"Who are you, and who are those men outside?" she asked.

Julian didnít let go of Caitlin but, before he responded, the nurse came to his rescue, whispering into the doctorís ear. Her face softened somewhat, but she told him to get out - she wanted to examine Caitlin. Reluctantly, Julian obeyed. He waited outside, noticing that both Cash and Arthur made a point of not looking at him. Unlike the humans, they were quite able to sense the emotions that raged inside him.

He intended to return to Caitlin when the doctor came out, but she stopped him.

"I want to talk to you, Mr. Luna. Iím doctor Enright. Please come with me."

He followed her meekly to her office where she bade him to sit down. Julian Luna had been educated enough to respect the science of medicine. Physicians were dangerous. Their knowledge equipped them with means of uncovering the Masquerade. They were able to notice things that no other mortal could see.

How many doctors had paid with their lives for their keen powers of observation? Julian wondered. He decided to make sure that she wouldnít get too close to him. But at the moment she sat behind her desk, looking him over.

"Iím told that you and Ms. Byrne are close." She was stating a fact, so Julian only nodded.

"Good," she continued in a professional tone. "Our tests showed two different kinds of semen. Were you and Ms. Byrne intimate during the twenty four hours prior to her abduction?"

Julian confirmed with another nod; he didnít trust his voice. What was she aiming at?

"Good," she said again. "Weíll need a sample from you; a blood sample will do," she added, noticing his terrified expression.

Julian Lunaís heart stopped, literally. He could feel the silence of fear inside his own body. The doctor leaned over her desk, gazing at him worriedly.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

To her, it must look as if he was about to faint, his face white, his eyes fluttering. He forced himself to breathe and took advantage of the situation.

"Doctor," he made his voice sound weak, "I havenít eaten or slept for almost two days. Iím sorry, but I donít think that I can take it right now. Besides, what good would it do?"

"We could tell the two of you apart," she answered. "It would help to identify the rapist once heís caught."

"If heís caught!" Julianís voice regained its strength.

But it wouldnít do, he thought. He will be caught, but not by humans! He stood up. He had to get away from the doctorís prying eyes. But she wasnít finished.

"There were some strange similarities," she was saying, "and youíre both sterile. He could be a relative of yours."

But Julian already knew that much.

"No," he said. "I have no relatives in this city." He walked quickly out of her office with a strange feeling that her eyes were burning holes in his back.

Doctor Enright was talking to Frank Kohanek.

"I donít know why, but thereís something strange about this Luna character. I canít put my finger on it except for the fact that he almost passed out in my office at the mere mention of a needle."

"Heís strange, all right," Frank laughed dryly, "but you shouldnít let him fool you. He can stand the sight of blood - I know that for a fact - even if itís his own blood."

"Well, I donít think he had anything to do with what happened to Caitlin. Nurse Donovan told me that he spent the whole night kneeling by that poor girlís bed."

"Yeah, he does love her. The whole city knows that by now. But what happened to her happened because of that. The attack on Caitlin was aimed at Luna. But someone got stupid, and if I know Luna well, and by now I do, that someone is in trouble," Frank sounded harsh.

"What do you mean?" the doctor asked. "Are you telling me that he might take the matter into his own hands?"

Frank shook his head vehemently.

"If Julian Luna gets hold of that rapist, heíll personally tear him to pieces so small, that all the pathologists in this hospital wonít be able to put him back together!"

The doctor looked at him in dismay.

"This is no laughing matter," she admonished.

"You bet it isnít. But you know what, for once Iím on his side. And if he does... well, I wonít lift a finger to stop him."

The doctor was still gaping in disbelief when Frank Kohanek left her office.

When the doctor came in she found Caitlin sitting in bed, Julian at her side, holding her up, while she ate some soup. The swelling on her face had subsided, but she still looked ill, her skin almost transparent. Julian Luna, on the other hand, looked much healthier than he did those few days ago. However, the look he gave her made her decide against mentioning any blood sampling. It would have to wait.

"How are you, Caitlin?" She made an effort to sound kind.

Caitlin tried to produce a smile for her doctor, but failed.

"Iím so tired, so very tired..." Her voice was barely audible.

"Itís the medication. Youíll feel better in a few days when we take you off those pills."

But Caitlin only sagged, and the doctor saw how Julianís face contorted in pain. She watched as he helped Caitlin to lie back and then saw the bright spark in the girlís eyes as she looked at her lover. He smiled back and, in that instant, there were only two of them in the whole world.

Nothing can separate them, the doctor thought, taken aback by her own flash of envy. She turned away. Somehow, the glance that passed between Caitlin and Julian was the most intimate thing that she had ever witnessed. It made her feel like she were intruding. Abruptly, she walked out but returned within seconds, and beckoned to Julian.

"Itís against my better judgement, but Iíll let you have it your way. You can take her home the day after tomorrow. On the condition that Nurse Donovan goes with you." She brushed away his attempts to protest. "You can afford that and Caitlin needs someone to be with her around the clock. I hope, you will take those two as well." She nodded towards Cash and Arthur. "They are becoming a permanent fixture here. This is a hospital, for Godís sake!" she started to sound angry.

"Thank you, doctor Enright," Julian said simply. Then he did something that stunned her into silence. He took her hand and, bowing over it formally, kissed it lightly. His touch felt very hot and dry.

"Mr. Luna, you have a fever!" she exclaimed. He let go of her hand as if it stung him, then checked himself.

"My body temperature has always been higher than normal," he said. "Iíve been told by members of your profession that itís the reason for my sterility." He turned to go, but she stopped him once more.

"You must let her heal, give her time," she sighed inwardly at his blank stare, "for at least a month, maybe more. When Caitlin is ready, she will let you know."

"If ever," Julian said with infinite sadness.

Caitlin was brought to the mansion late in the afternoon. Some of her closest friends were allowed to visit her just before she was discharged from the hospital. They brought flowers and sweets. She did her best to look brave in their presence. To their surprise, as well as her own, she succeeded. Of course, they didnít know what had really happened to her. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the beautiful city editor had been kidnapped and badly battered. There were speculations in other papers that maybe something had been printed that made someone angry. After all, there was that long series of articles on pollution in which the heavy industry was pointed out as the villain behind various scandals during recent years. Only some of the tabloids mentioned Julian Lunaís name, making the correct assumption that the kidnapping of the editor was aimed at the publisher. But then, who takes tabloids seriously?

Although Caitlin was quite capable of walking, Julian insisted on carrying her into the house. There was something symbolic in that gesture, making her realize that sheíd probably stay there for a long time, maybe for good. A sort of an apartment had been prepared; a bedroom connected to a bathroom for her, another one for the nurse, a sitting room, even a small kitchen. During the first couple of days Caitlin suspected that she was still being fed sedatives because she slept most of the time. Sometimes, when she woke up, Julian was there, a supporting smile on his face.

One morning, when Caitlin opened her eyes, she found Sasha sitting at her bedside. The girl had brought books, magazines and an enormous container of Caitlinís favorite ice cream. After some initial talk about irrelevant matters, she asked Caitlin right out about what had happened. Caitlin was surprised.

"Julian hasnít told you?" she asked. Sasha shook her head.

"He hasnít said anything to anybody. But sometimes, the way he looks... everybody just gets out of his way. Iíve never seen him so upset. Not since..." She made a dismissive gesture. "Itís not important," she added.

Caitlin gazed at Sasha, wondering. Julian had not yet posed a single question to her. Had he sent his niece to conduct the investigation he didnít dare do himself? Didnít he have the guts to face her ordeal. No, Julian was no coward. Sasha had come to ask questions on her own. But Caitlin didnít tell the girl the truth. Only that she had been hit on the head and then kept in a dark cellar.

"I was unconscious most of the time," she confessed, trying to keep her face impassive. Sasha seemed relieved.

But that very evening, when Julian came in to see her, he sent the nurse out.

"Caitlin," he touched her face tenderly, "do you think that you can talk about what has happened?"

She looked at him apprehensively and her hands began to shake. He saw it and covered her shaking hand with his.

"Caitlin," his voice took on a mesmerizing quality, "talk to me!"

She did her best to recollect the details of that terrible night. Closing her eyes, she recounted all she could remember in a monotonous voice. Julian turned his face away when she came to the most gory details of the violation. She didnít see his harsh expression or his bright green eyes. Reliving the experience left her empty, numb and weak. Julian stayed with her that night, holding her and caressing her face whenever she woke up crying. The nurse peeked in every few hours, but most of the time she left them alone.

Caitlin waited for weeks for the shock to overwhelm her, but the break down never came. She was depressed and afraid of the dark, but the nurse told her that it was only natural. As the pain subsided, and then disappeared due to the healing process, her ordeal seemed more and more like a terrible nightmare, not a reality that she had lived through.

The discomfort woke her in the middle of the night. She threw away the covers, and screamed when she saw the blood. The nurse came running, still half-asleep. She burst out laughing, when she understood what had happened.

"Honey," she was trying to reach Caitlin through the attack of hysteria, "itís okay, itís just your period starting, youíll be all right!"

She helped Caitlin to the bathroom and made sure that the girl had calmed down before she returned to the bedroom to change the bloodstained bedclothes. Caitlin stood in the shower, watching her blood dilute and disappear down the drain in pink rivulets. The hot water that battered at her skin made her feel alive and alert. The sight of the blood that was running out of her body made her light-headed. It was as if she was being... cleansed!

The next day Caitlin decided that sheíd had enough of feeling sorry for herself. It was time to go back to work. Only this time she didnít make any fuss about Arthurís ubiquitous presence. In fact, she was grateful; his attention was reassuring. Her colleagues welcomed her warmly. There was a lot of work that awaited her and she buried herself in it with abandon. For hours, she was able to forget. Was life returning to normal?

Julian called her late in the evening. Caitlin steeled herself, expecting him to scold her, but he seemed genuinely pleased that she was working again, joking about having reason to sign her paycheck. It made her laugh.

The nurse had been dismissed.

Caitlin still slept with the lights on. She still had nightmares, but these created more a feeling of danger than real threat. She figured that it was because what had happened to her had transpired in the darkness, thus her imagination never conjured up any images.

Also, Julian had made himself scarce. She didnít mind that, however. She was apprehensive about facing him alone. He had been nothing but wonderful during those past weeks, but she was unsure of herself, afraid of not knowing what her reaction would be if he wanted to make love to her.

He came for her when she was at work, hammering away at her computer. She looked at him bleary-eyed, suddenly aware that her hair was standing on end and that her make-up had disappeared hours ago. Also, her stomach was screaming bloody murder; she hadnít eaten anything since lunch.

"Julian!" she exclaimed, "I didnít hear you come in. What time is it?"

He made a point of looking at his watch.

"Itís past eleven," he smiled at her surprise, "and I donít pay you that much! Whatever youíre working on, can wait till tomorrow."

Her stomach growled angrily and the sound made her flinch. Julianís smile became wider.

"Letís go," he said. "The least I can do is to buy you dinner."

They went to a small Mexican restaurant not far from Caitlinís home. As usual, he ate nothing, and, as usual, she stuffed herself while he watched with amusement, sipping his wine. Caitlin forced him to share her ice cream at least, and he yielded gracefully. The single spoon passing between them, she persevered until he admitted to liking it.

She almost fell asleep in the car. It came to a stop outside her place. Her palms were sweaty all of a sudden, her heart beating faster.

"I thought you would like to make sure that your home is all right. I have arranged for everything to be put in order." The nervousness in his voice was audible, the British accent suddenly manifest.

"I donít have the key," Caitlin mumbled.

"I do." He opened the door and let her go in first. The lights were on.

He took her in his arms before they reached the sitting room. She could hear her own heartbeat when their lips met in a soft kiss. But when he drew her closer, his mouth pressing hers open in search of intimacy, her body stiffened and she tore away from him, a sob catching in her throat.

"Julian, I canít," she cried out in anguish. He let go of her so abruptly that she almost fell. Her whole body was shaking in panic. She shied away from his touch when he reached for her again, trying to steady her. But this time he didnít let go and, after a few seconds of struggling, she just leaned against him, crying in a forlorn way.

"Itís all right, Caitlin, itís all right." He waited until she stopped crying before he made her lie down in her bed. He sat in a chair at her bedside until she fell asleep.

Julian was gone in the morning but the answering machine was blinking at her urgently. He had placed it on the chair he had been sitting on the night before. It made her smile; Julian hated answering machines.

"I love you, Caitlin," Julianís voice was saying. "I can wait forever." There was a short silence before the message continued. "Iíll come for you at a more appropriate time this evening. Maybe some more ice cream." There was a slight chuckle. "Oh, by the way, Arthur awaits outside." The message ended there.

For the first time in her life, Sasha tried very hard to be logical. This unending argument had been going on in her mind ever since she saw Caitlin being driven out of the Brujah Compound. When she returned home that night and was informed that Caitlin had been found, she had decided then and there to keep her mouth shut. She cared for her Uncle Julian, but she didnít hate Cameron the way she had hated Eddie Fiori. She had also started to like Caitlin. However, her motives werenít quite altruistic in the case of Julianís lover. Since the death of Archon, these two had spent more and more time together, and Caitlin had stayed in the mansion overnight quite often. That meant, of course, that Julian spent more time at home, leaving his bodyguard, Cash, free to be with Sasha. Oh yes, Sasha liked Caitlin a lot, enough for her conscience to constantly batter her:

Tell Uncle Julian what you have seen!

She saw Julianís distress and it pained her, but when she tried to imagine what would happen if he knew for sure that the Brujah had abducted Caitlin, she shivered in fear. Julian would pursue Cameron with all his might and Cash would be in the front wave of that might. No, Sasha didnít want her lover to become a casualty of war. After all, Caitlin came out of this with nothing more serious than a scare and a bump on the head.

Sasha chased away the whispers of her conscience. If Julian ever finds out about Cameronís role in Caitlinís kidnapping, it wonít be from Sasha. She also prayed silently that heíd never know that sheíd withheld that information. By now she knew how fierce her Uncle Julian could be.

"Time is on my side!" Lillie was trying very hard to comfort herself. It didnít work. She had been thrown out. Well, not exactly thrown out the way her guards would throw a drunkard out of Haven, but asked to leave. Julian even bought a house for her. But Lillie was honest, at least to herself. She had done all the things Julian accused her of. She had betrayed him, almost getting him killed. The fact that she had decapitated Eddie in everybodyís presence didnít change that. After all, she only precipitated his destruction. She had tried to get rid of Caitlin, sending her right into the claws of Goth and Camilla. What a fiasco! Goth had lost his head, and Julian had gained a lover. She had endangered the Masquerade by hiring that PI to follow Julian. In the privacy of her own mind, she had to admit that being thrown out by Julian was a mild punishment. Only she still loved Julian and wanted him back. How long would she have to wait before he got tired of his human lover?

She wasnít even beautiful! Pretty, yes, but far from the breath-taking beauty of his other mortal mistresses, whom Lillie had watched come and go in the past. None of his "mortal" affairs had ever lasted longer than a few months, a couple of years at the most. She thought of that blonde film star, the one who had died so mysteriously; vicious rumor connected her death to the President of the United States. But Lillie wasnít fooled. There was no doubt in her mind that Julian had done away with his human lover. Why? Lillie could only guess. There were other mysterious deaths and disappearances. Julian had a weakness for mortal women, although these flings seldom lasted, often ending in disaster. Alexandra was Kindred, and now she was dead too. Lillie shuddered inwardly. All things considered, it was rather dangerous to be Julianís mistress. But Caitlin had lasted longer than most. What made her special? Lillie wondered. She knew of course that Caitlin had saved Julianís life with her own blood. All Primogens knew that; all that were close to Julian knew.

Lillie had always trusted her judgment, but it had disappointed her lately. She remembered how it was when she first met Julian Luna. He had turned up in England more than a hundred years ago. He had been quite careless at that point of his life, spreading destruction around. Only no one suspected anything; so many died mysteriously, anyway. Who might have guessed that some died because Julian had been courting disaster. Lillie had come upon him because he was suspected of being Jack the Ripper. The Kindred of London were worried. But the Ripper, a renegade Brujah who had left a bloody trail after his visit to the City, was soon apprehended and condemned to final death. There were no bloody trails left by Julian Luna, only scores of hysteric women, some of whom died of high fever, ranting madly. Humans never suspected anything, putting the blame on the some raging epidemic. Julian was too smart to leave bloody tracks. But the Kindred Clans of London werenít amused.

Julian had been summoned by the Prince of the City of London who looked at the American upstart with disdain. But, to his surprise, the Ventrue immigrant wouldnít be intimidated. He repudiated all accusations coolly. In truth, he had not endangered the Masquerade. None of the human women had died directly in connection with his advances. In fact, they died when he wasnít present. In fact, they died because he had left them.

Lillie Langtry was impressed. Up till now, this had been her domain. It had worked when she had been mortal and it worked even better now. But she had always been the predator; the men had been her prey. Lillie fell madly in love with Julian Luna. Together, they had made London their own playground. Oh, how she had enjoyed life then!

A close friendship had developed between them over the years. They both had other affairs, but sooner or later would return to each other, never letting jealousy interfere. So he liked mortal women, but he would become tired of them as soon as their demands for emotional commitment exceeded their ability to please him. Lillie never demanded anything more than his entire attention when they were together. And that, she would get. With her, he could be as violent as he wanted. Lillie could match his fierceness, his violent temper, his desire, if not his strength.

When Julian was summoned to return to America, he informed her casually.

"Iíll be sorry to see you leave," she had said, her voice level. She wanted to beg him to take her with him, but her pride had stopped her.

That night, after they had exhausted themselves by making love with more frenzy than they had exhibited in years, he had asked her to come with him to San Francisco. It was the first time Julian had made her cry, but those had been tears of happiness. She had never suspected that she would cry in anger and despair over Julian Luna. But thatís what she was doing right now. She was a Toreador, an easy prey to her own emotions. And now she had been discarded like a pair of old shoes! Lillie wasnít used to being discarded. In the past, she had been the one to do that to others.

But time is on my side, Lillie turned the sentence over and over in her mind. Only Lillie didnít own the patience of a Ventrue. She had come to San Francisco with Julian.

She liked the city and had managed to charm everybody. Even Archon seemed pleased that she was Julianís companion. Julianís ravages among mortal women had always alarmed his Sire. It was Archonís financial help that made Lillie the proud owner of Haven, and it was his support that helped her to become the Primogen of the Toreador Clan in San Francisco.

And now, all her successes were quickly turning to nothing.

But Lillie was never the one to say die. One thing she knew for sure though, she had been plain stupid. No more of that. Trying to take out Julian Luna with the aid of Eddie Fiori! Ridiculous! How could she forget Julianís past? He hadnít been Archonís enforcer for so many years for nothing. He destroyed almost the entire Brujah population in Manzanita. He defeated the Nosferatu renegade Goth, single-handedly. Having Julian Luna as an enemy was no game. No, she was through playing games. So, what could she do?


To go after Caitlin wasnít such a good idea either. If anything happened to that vapid little reporter of his, Julian would suspect Lillie immediately. She would have to leave Caitlin alone. So, what could she do? Sit tight, biding her time? That wasnít Lillieís style. She wanted to act, to fight, to win Julian back.

Think, Lillie, think!

First, she had to recapture Julianís trust. How? Listen and observe. The right opportunity will present itself. In the meantime, convince him of her loyalty. Protect him! Support him at every opportunity! Starting now. Starting with that police officer, Frank Kohanek. It shouldnít be too difficult to distract him, keep him out of Julianís hair. After all, he was just a human male, and in Lillieís experience, human males were easily distracted. Besides, he was quite fun to have around, and she needed something to occupy herself with. For the time being, Frank Kohanek would do.

Youíre the biggest fool alive, Frank Kohanek was complimenting himself. Getting involved with a Kindred female once was stupid. Doing it twice was idiotic. Taking up with Julian Lunaís mistress was downright insane.

Your affairs with the immortals might prove prejudicial to your health, he laughed at himself. His sense of humor was what kept him sane. He watched Lillie while she dressed; she was so beautiful. Was he falling in love with another Kindred woman? What madness would this one create for him?

He was both fascinated and scared of her. Unlike Julian Luna, Lillie Langtry didnít mind sharing her past with her human lover. But Frank noticed that she was very careful not to say anything incriminating about her former lover. She was reluctant to talk about him, but Frank understood that the Prince was always on her mind.

They had exchanged information. Lillie told him how she had killed Eddie Fiori.

Well, scratch Fiori, Frank thought. He was no big loss to anyone. The only thing that Frank had to trade with was his knowledge of what had happened to Caitlin. To his surprise, Lillie seemed quite upset about it and not because the crime had been committed by a Kindred.

Was there any room for compassion inside this cold-blooded woman? he wondered as saw he her eyes flash like white lightning. Lillie tried to get as much information out of him as she could, but there was no more he could give her. He asked what she intended to do with the knowledge she had obtained from him. She had smiled her cold, perfect smile.

"Can you imagine what Julian Luna would pay for information that pointed out the guilty bastard?" she had retorted, "or what the guilty bastard would pay to prevent that information from reaching the Prince?"

"But he already knows that it was one of your kind," Frank said. "The question is - who?"

But Lillie had only laughed and had left in a hurry.

Lillie was appalled. Her hatred for Julianís lover was one thing, but this! Lillie was still a woman. What had been done to Caitlin was revolting. And Lillie knew all too well how revolting. She had been raped when she was still a mere mortal. In fact, it was the reason that she decided to ask to be Embraced when the opportunity arose. Oh, how she had enjoyed her revenge! She could still relive the triumph she had felt when she tore the corpse to pieces.

Lillie had not been informed that Caitlin had been abducted until after she had recovered. Did Julian suspect her? It seemed so strange. Why would anyone grab Caitlin, and then drop her like a hot potato, within twenty-four hours?

Strange indeed. No money had changed hands, no concessions had been made. Lillie figured that somebody had taken Caitlin before realizing who she was, and then let her go in a hurry. Nobody in his right mind would mess with Julian Luna!

But now, Lillie saw it in a different light. There was something she could do to regain Julianís trust. Being the owner of Haven had its advantages. Sooner or later, all information came her way. She had contacts that were even beyond the Princeís reach. If she could find out who had kidnapped and raped Caitlin and pass on that information to Julian, she would redeem herself in his eyes. She already had her suspicions. After all, she knew the entire Kindred population of San Francisco. A little prodding, twisting a few arms, should do the trick. And then, no matter how long Julian kept his love, he couldnít keep her forever. Not unless he Embraced her. But he wanted her alive.

Well, Julian Luna, Lillie thought, you canít have it both ways.

Lillie found out the truth sooner than she expected. Somebody had heard that someone had seen... A part of the registration number of a car, remembered by a

drunkard... The right amount of money, a seductive smile, refreshed memories even better. Within a week, Lillie knew that Caitlin had been taken by the Brujahs. Who had committed the actual crime was another matter. In contrast to the Prince of San Francisco, the Primogen of the Toreador Clan was not beyond stooping to blackmail. But the name she was given made her hesitate. Was Cameron even more stupid than Eddie had been, or was it a part of a bigger plan?

Well, whichever, Lillie had made up her mind. She sent a message to Julian, informing him that she needed to see him. When he called, she told him that that which was on her mind, could not be discussed on the phone. He was suspicious and reluctant, but his curiosity won. He came to her new house in the middle of the night but showed her the courtesy of leaving his bodyguards outside. Without a word, she handed him the envelope that contained all the evidence she had gathered. She watched his impassive face intently while he leafed through the papers. He was so different now. No longer the impulsive young Ventrue she had met in London so many years ago. At last he looked up at her.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked simply.

Lillie bowed her head. She couldnít bear to see the hurt in his eyes.

"In spite of what you think of me, Iím not your enemy," she answered. She wanted to tell him that she still loved him, but she didnít dare. Julian looked at her bowed head for a long moment; then he said "thank you" and turned to leave. She followed him to the door, but before opening it, stopped him by putting her hand on his arm. He didnít move away from her touch.

"Can you ever forgive me?" she asked quietly. He touched her face lightly.

"Youíre my friend, Lillie, otherwise your betrayal wouldnít hurt that much."

He left her with that.

Cameron was worried. Almost two months had passed and Luna had been silent as the grave. Cameron feared that he had underestimated his enemy after all. He had expected that the Ventrue, true to his famous temper, would come after him, screaming death and revenge. Then he, Cameron, would have been able to expose the Princeís attack as a vile attempt to get rid of him, without any proof of his guilt. Cameron had prepared himself for such an event. But it didnít happen. As weeks went by, he became more and more nervous. There was no doubt in his mind that Luna was hatching some evil plot, together with that Nosferatu buddy of his. A plot to destroy him!

Cameron made sure that nothing out of the ordinary was going on among the Brujahs. Luna had spies in the most unlikely places. But so had Cameron. He had questioned Sasha, but all he had got out of the girl was that Uncle Julian was preoccupied with his injured lover and that he seemed rather upset. Cameron swore. He could have guessed that much without Sashaís help. But he was aware that the girl couldnít tell him what she didnít know. Sasha was young, vulnerable and a Brujah. She would never be privy to Julian Lunaís more sinister doings. But now, Cameron had been summoned to a meeting of Primogens. No agenda had been stated. That in itself was ominous. The meeting would take place in Lunaís mansion next Tuesday. In five days!

Cameron hated to admit it, but he was afraid. He was afraid of Julian Lunaís power, and he was afraid of Julian Luna himself. He was painfully aware that, if it came to a confrontation between them, he was no match for the Prince of the City. They were in different leagues. For a moment he thought of flight. Cyrus, the Brujah Prince of Los Angeles, would protect him. On the other hand, Cyrusí protection hadnít helped Eddie much, had it? No, Cameron would not run. Fleeing would be tantamount to a confession. After all, there had been no witnesses in that cellar. Cameron would go to the meeting. He would not let Luna intimidate him. He would hide his fear well. He would be all right. Only, he didnít feel all right. He was on edge all the time, jumping at every unfamiliar sound, scared of his own shadow. A terrifying thought surfaced in his mind. Was this what Julian Luna was aiming at? A war of nerves? If that were the case, then the damn Ventrue Prince was succeeding all too well! Cameron swore again. He would go to the meeting, but he would go well prepared. Cameron called in his associates for a meeting of his own.

Caitlin set out to fight her fear of the dark. She couldnít sleep anyway. She got up, put on her clothes, took a bottle of wine and a glass. The hallway was deserted; it was long past midnight. There were some garden furniture on the terrace. She sat in one of the chairs and poured some wine into the glass. The night was warm, full of mysterious sounds and smells. The garden was hidden in the darkness, but the light from the house reached her and she dared to look out into the shadows. She sipped her wine thinking this isnít so bad after all. She felt no anxiety. She was into her second glass of wine when she thought that she saw something move just outside the circle of light. Her heart started to beat faster. The next moment a big dog came out of the bushes. Caitlin laughed nervously, peering at the animal. It moved closer, its yellow eyes gleaming.

My God, itís a wolf, she thought, and then checked herself. What would a wolf be doing in the middle of San Francisco?

"Here, come here," she whispered softly.

"But you are a big beast!" She stretched out her hand and felt a wet touch on her fingers. It was big and beautiful. She sat perfectly still as the big gray animal sniffed at her feet. Then it raised its head, and its bright yellow eyes looked into hers. For a brief moment it rested its nose on her knee, but when she tried to pat it, it moved into the shadows and melted away in the dark. Caitlin shivered in spite of the warmth. A couple of minutes later, when Caitlin decided to go back inside, she heard steps behind her. She turned and saw Julian standing in the entrance, framed by the light that shone in the hallway behind him.

"Caitlin, what are you doing sitting here all alone?" There was a trace of worry in his voice.

"Iím fighting the night," she said. "You wonít believe what I saw just a moment ago. The biggest dog you could imagine... I thought it was a wolf. It came that close." She patted her knee. Julian sat in a chair next to her and she offered him her glass. He took it and drank the wine.

"Itís quite possible that it was a wolf," he said. "There are people in this city who keep wolves instead of dogs. Sometimes, the animals run away. But no one has been harmed as yet. Wolves are rather shy."

"Yes. It ran away when I tried to touch it." Caitlin sounded disappointed. "But what are you doing up in the middle of the night? Canít you sleep either?"

"I had some paperwork to do," Julian shrugged. "It gave me a headache, so I came out to get some fresh air." He returned her glass, and she poured more wine into it. He leaned closer, his arm sneaking around her back. He drew her towards him, his face hidden in her hair.

"And what is the result of your battle with the dark?" he murmured in her ear.

"Ummm," was all of her answer as her head bowed back, allowing him better access to her throat. She reveled in the pleasurable sensations his lips produced in her. His hand touched her face and then his mouth was on hers. The kiss became more passionate. Caitlin waited for the burst of panic, but it didnít come. She relaxed with a deep sigh of relief when his hand came to rest on her breast. Without knowing how it happened, she was sitting on his lap, her feet on the chair she had occupied just seconds before. His hand moved over her knee and then disappeared under the hem of her skirt. She moaned when his fingers touched the silk of her panties. Lightly, then pressing harder, he moved his hand rhythmically. It took longer than ever before, but she reached the peak finally, shuddering in his embrace. He pressed his face against her damp neck, feeling her racing pulse under his cheek, but he no longer had to fight the urge to open her veins. He had learned to keep that desire in check. She moved in his arms and he felt her hand slide over his chest and belly, coming to rest on the bulge in his pants. He groaned but stopped her when the searching hand tried to sneak inside his clothes.

"The guards," he whispered hoarsely. There were four of them in the garden that he could see. He sensed the others.

Caitlin jumped off with a dismayed shriek.

"Julian Luna, you are a bastard!" Her voice could be heard clearly all over the garden.

"Caitlin, please!" At least he had the sense to look chastised.

But Caitlin tugged at her skirt and ran into the house. She turned off the light in the bedroom for the first time. Her face was still hot with shame.

"Julian, you son of a bitch! Iíll get you for this," she swore softly. But he didnít come after her. She remembered the hardness her hand had encountered.

Serves you right! she thought with satisfaction. But when she fell asleep, there was a smile on her face.

The next evening she fell asleep in front of the TV in her sitting room. She had taken a blanket and curled up on the couch, intending to watch a late show. She suspected that hers was the only TV-set in this big house. But the show bored her. The sudden silence woke her. She was looking at the gray screen, trying to fathom what had happened to it, when she heard a chuckle. Julian was standing behind the couch bending over her, the remote control in his hand.

"I didnít mean to wake you," he said, glancing at her apprehensively.

She looked at him for a second, her eyes throwing thunderbolts, before sitting up abruptly.

"Julian! You cowardly, rotten..." She didnít get any further. Julian bounded over the back of the couch and cut off her string of invectives effectively with a kiss. But she wouldnít give in.

"How could you do this to me?" she whimpered with more helplessness than she really felt.

"Caitlin, my love," he was trying hard to placate her, "it was dark, they could hardly see us. Besides, they are paid to watch out, not in."

"So why did you stop me when it was your turn?" Her eyes were still ablaze.

He hesitated for a moment.

If he says, itís different for men, Iíll punch him in the nose! Caitlin thought hotly.

"Itís different..." He caught her raised hand. "They work for me. I need their respect."

"And I donít?!" Caitlin wouldnít be pacified. Julian kissed her hand.

"They respect you more than you can imagine," he said. She frowned at that, but he didnít elaborate further. He couldnít tell her that the Kindred who were loyal to him, knew that Caitlin had saved his life in Manzanita with her own blood, offering it freely. It was the only thing that could make a Kindred respect a mortal.

"Donít worry about their respect," he murmured, "you have it."

Caitlin came to think of Arthur. Sure enough, the reverence he showed her was much more apparent than one would expect from a bodyguard commandeered to take care of the bossí mistress. She subsided at last.

"I forgive you," she pronounced royally, but started to giggle when he tried to make a remorseful bow. Then she allowed him to make love to her in earnest.

* * *


Daedalus had painted an ugly picture. Julian sat pondering over it. What he wanted to do, and what he could do, were two different things. Daedalus was probably right. Even if the crimes that Cameron had committed were made public knowledge, he would hardly be punished the way Julian wished. Not by Kindred law and certainly not by human law. The evidence that Lillie had given Julian was enough to convince him of Cameronís guilt, but it wouldnít hold up in court. Besides, Julian was not interested in human courts. Caitlin had never seen the man, the possibility that she would recognize his voice was minute, and Julian decided that he wouldnít let her confront Cameron. It wasnít worth it. Caitlin was fine now. Even getting Cameron wasnít worth the pain such confrontation might cause her. Julian had scheduled the meeting, at which he intended to accuse Cameron, when Caitlin was out of town. She was in New York now, attending a conference of media people and would be gone for another four days. Julian hated the idea of letting Caitlin out of his sight but he kept quiet, knowing how upset she would be if he tried to keep her prisoner in his City. He succeeded in talking her into accepting Arthurís company on the trip. It would have to do. When she asked him to accompany her to New York, he excused himself. There was no way he could leave San Francisco now. He hesitated for a long time, but finally contacted Servio, the Prince of New York. Servio had been a close friend of Archonís, but he barely tolerated Julian Luna. Servio was the oldest Kindred that Julian had ever met; he was a Pre-Christian. Julian made an official request for Caitlinís and Arthurís protection - one Prince to another - and, of course, it was granted. Julian never understood why the Ancient disliked him so much, but the promise had been made and Julian was sure that, at least in New York, Caitlin was safe. With her out of the way he could devote his whole attention to Cameron.

However, to destroy Cameron, without giving any reason for such an act, could prove fatal to himself. The Clans would not accept such arbitrary conduct from their Prince. It might become his own undoing. No matter how much Julian wanted his revenge, Cameron just wasnít worth the sacrifice.

Expose Cameron at the meeting and ask the Primogens to pass judgement? In reality, such action would remove the Brujah from his reach permanently. Raping a mortal - maybe a week in the Prison of Light, at the most. Who she was, would be of

no consequence to the judges to be. No, that would not satisfy Julian Luna. Besides, the thought of revealing what had been done to Caitlin at a meeting of Primogens was... offensive. Yes, Daedalus had been right, as usual. He would do neither. Julian was aware of Cameronís state of mind. A little more pressure and he might break.

I must make him come after me, itís the only way to get what I want. Let Cameron make the fatal move. Once his mind was made up, Julian never looked back. He informed Daedalus of his decision. The Nosferatu nodded gravely.

"You have made the right choice," he said. "The more nervous Cameron gets, the more likely he is to make a mistake. A mistake that will end in his final death."

Julian closed his eyes, trying to relax. The meeting that was about to start, well, to Cameronís surprise, will be just another meeting.

Julian made sure that he was the last one to arrive. He greeted everybody with a nod, letting his gaze rest on each face for a short moment. Lillieís eyes were downcast, while Cameron stared back at him defiantly. Julian looked at the Brujah Primogen just a split second longer than at any other in the assembly. He kept the color of his eyes unchanged, not one muscle moved in his face. Nevertheless, he managed to convey his hostility. To his satisfaction, Cameron looked away, apparently ill at ease.

Julian allowed Daedalus to lead the meeting while he occupied himself with the papers in front of him, looking up at Cameron now and then. Seeing the Brujahís nervousness brought a shadow of a smile to the Princeís face. The meeting was drawing to an end and Daedalus posed the inevitable question.

"Are there any other matters to discuss?"

Lillieís eyes, as well as Cameronís, turned to Julian, but he gave the Nosferatu consent to end the meeting. Everybody stood up. The sounds of moving chairs and shuffling of papers, the small talk among those preparing to leave, were cut off abruptly when Cameron banged both his fists against the surface of the table, shoving his face in front of Julian. Julian looked at the Brujahís hands. In his mind, he saw those hands burning, heard the screams and, for a short second, there was a green shimmer in his eyes, but when he lifted his head, there was nothing in his gaze for Cameron except hostile indifference. As the silence dragged on, Cameron realized that everybodyís attention was focused on him. If he made one false move, it would cost him his life. He backed away slowly, turned with an oath and ran out of the room. When Cash started after him, Julian stopped him with one thundering "NO!".

"Let him go," he said much more quietly. "He will come back."

When Julian thought he was alone, he pushed back his chair and walked over to the fireplace. Slowly, he let his hand move over the flames. The pain made him gasp, but he didnít withdraw. The smell of burning flesh brought bile into his throat. His vision began to swim when he heard a scream and was pushed away from the fire.

It took hours before the pain he had inflicted on himself subsided enough to let him rest. Fire was one of the most dangerous elements a Kindred could be exposed to. Daedalus kept Julian company that night, but gave up his attempts to make him take any painkillers. Not that those would do so much good. The chemicals humans used had little effect on Kindred physiology. But the soothing voice and hands of the Nosferatu made the pain bearable.

It was almost dawn. The burned hand had almost healed, but, even apart from the pain, the night had been the most wrenching for Julian since the first night he had spent in the hospital at Caitlinís sickbed.

"I donít know how Iíve managed to stop myself from tearing that Brujah apart! It almost tore me apart," he complained to his friend.

But Daedalus did something terrible. He forced Julian to be Cameron.

"You must think his thoughts and you must feel his emotions. You must know him better than he knows himself. Otherwise, he will always be beyond your grasp," Daedalus told him.

"How? I canít enter his mind!" Julian found the idea preposterous.

"Start at the beginning," Daedalus was unrelenting, "in Manzanita, ten years ago."

The memories of death and destruction exploded in Julianís head. He had kept them locked away in his mind for far too long.

"You killed almost all of them," Daedalus was saying. "All who were close to Cameron: his Sire, his blood brothers, his friends. All destroyed because Archon had told you to do it."

"Yes," it was true, no matter how much Julian wanted to deny it.

"You didnít know," Daedalus continued, "but the reason for that massacre was Archonís wish to get rid of a rival, a personal vendetta."

"No!" Julian said vehemently. "I didnít know that."

"But Cameron knew!" Daedalusí voice was harsh now. "He knew that and, as far as he was concerned, you were just a henchman of a criminal."

"Yes." Julian covered his eyes with his unhurt hand. "Yes!"

"Now," Daedalusí voice softened again, "take it from there. Youíre Cameron now, go through the next ten years. Watch Julian Luna become a Prince, watch him rise above all Kindred in the city, unreachable, wealthy, prosperous, respected. What do you feel?"


"Not enough!" Daedalus thundered.


"Yes, now go back to Manzanita, those few months ago, Watch Julian Luna with his lover, watch him kill the remnants of the Brujahs that were left there, watch him return to life, revived by the blood offered by the human woman."

"No, he wasnít there," Julian protested. "He was here, in San Francisco, murdering Archon!"

"It doesnít matter." Daedalus was running out of patience. "This is what happened, and Cameron knows it."

"Yes, itís true," Julian gave in.

"All right, youíre Cameron - now what do you do?"

"I... I seek revenge."

"Good, now you tell me the rest!" Daedalus demanded.

Julian was silent for a long time, trying to disengage himself from his own being, becoming another.

Be Cameron, he thought. Those who were closest to you have been destroyed by Julian Luna, now the Prince of San Francisco. You have managed to get to Archon, but Luna lives because a mortal woman has chosen to save him. Julian Luna is out of your reach, he has accepted Archonís death as just. He has even accepted you as the Primogen of the Brujah Clan. You canít get to him here, in San Francisco, but you can get to his woman. You want to hit him where it hurts the most. You can kill her!

No! Killing a human will allow the Prince to destroy you, the right being on his side. You take her and lock her up. With her as a pawn, you can get whatever you want from the Prince. What is it you want? And why the rape?

Julianís mind went blank. He recounted his thoughts to Daedalus.

"What happened in that cellar?" the Nosferatu asked quietly. Julian concentrated on what Caitlin had told him.

"She said something about paying dearly, and how angry the man was."


"We... were together, just before he kidnapped her, somehow he must have sensed that."

"He is a Brujah, Julian. If he came close enough, he was able to read her mind as easily as I can read yours now!" Daedalus said. The statement made Julian flinch.

"I didnít know that you could do that," he whispered.

"Normally I canít, but youíre an open wound now, screaming to me," Daedalus responded. "I wonít be able to do that tomorrow."

Julianís thoughts returned to Caitlinís description.

Be Cameron, he commanded himself. What happens in the darkened cellar? You talk to the woman who has saved your enemy. You tell her that she will be used for extortion. What then? You hit her because she screams. You take hold of her. What happens? Her mind tells you what has transpired just a few hours ago. There are physical traces that you can sense. What do you feel?"


Julian sagged in the chair, and would have fallen to the floor if Daedalus hadnít caught him. The burned hand was nothing compared to the agony of rage and hate that churned inside him. He tried to shut out the pictures that his imagination created: the violence, the need to destroy, the hate!

In the end, Julian chased Cameron out of his head but the experience had left him exhausted. He looked at his hand. There was hardly any trace left of the terrible scorch.

The pain was almost gone as well. After some time he returned his attention to the Nosferatu. Daedalus looked at him, as calm as ever. Seeing him return to reality, the Nosferatu let go of Julian.

"Be grateful youíre not Cameron," he said. "But now you understand. The greatest punishment for Cameron is allowing him to live with that eternal fire that consumes him from within."

"Why do you always have to be right, Daedalus?" But Julianís own anger had died down. He sounded sad and tired. "Cameronís fire may still burst out and destroy me, destroy us all."

But Daedalus shook his head.

"Let it be, what has been done to Caitlin canít be undone. If you let Cameron be, and let him know that, then there may be some peace in this city." Daedalus persuasive voice was mesmerizing.

"Let Cameron be?!" Julian couldnít believe what he heard.

Daedalus smiled for the first time that night.

"Cameron will punish himself," was his enigmatic response.

Eventually, Cameron understood that Julian Luna would not try to assassinate him nor declare a blood hunt. To his own surprise, it made him even angrier. As if he werenít worth the Princeís wrath! He was treated with polite contempt. His closest friends, those who knew, congratulated him

"That Ventrue coward doesnít dare come after you," they would say. But Cameron knew better. Julian had not forgiven him and never would. That magnanimous gesture was his way of saying to Cameron:

"Youíre the sole villain left in this sordid affair."

And it made Cameron feel like a villain of the worst sort. He had always prided himself in being a man of honor. But now a big stain tarnished that honor. The more time passed, the worse he felt about it.

Probably, I wouldnít feel half as bad if I had killed her instead, he thought. But what he had done to that defenseless creature was just loathsome. It made him disgusted with himself. In the privacy of his mind, he admitted that Lunaís contempt was justifiable. Cameron tried to keep himself out of the Princeís way as much as possible. He realized that there were others among Kindred who knew what he had done. Their contempt stung even more. He had once tried to flirt with Lillie in the Haven, bantering with her about her affair with the policeman.

She had looked him straight in the eye and said:

"Frankís attitude towards women is better than yours."

There was no doubt about what she had meant. He was surprised over her strong reaction. Caitlin was hardly Lillieís friend. After all, Julian had ditched Lillie for his human lover. Nevertheless, Lillieís remark had sent a wave of shame through him. Daedalus treated him like so much empty space, never acknowledging his presence.

Many others would move away when they saw him. Slowly, he was starting to realize that his position was beginning to be untenable. The Brujah were loyal but other Kindred shunned him, probably without knowing why. They followed their Princeís lead. It was hardly feasible that Julian Luna had made the nature of Cameronís crime common knowledge among the Kindred population of the city. But the Princeís attitude was law to most of them. In spite of the lack of apparent reaction from Luna, Cameron was being punished harshly anyway.

The worst came when Cameron ran into Caitlin unexpectedly, in one of the cityís big bookstores. He had rounded a shelf and was suddenly faced by that gay bodyguard of hers, Arthur. They were standing there, staring at each other. Just as Cameron decided to make a hasty exit, Caitlin came to Arthurís side.

"I canít get that thing off the shelf," she was saying, "can you help me to...?" She stopped in mid-sentence, suddenly aware of the animosity between the two men. She looked at Cameron frowning and then suddenly smiled the most beautiful smile. It made Cameronís heart stop for a moment.

"I recognize you," she said. "I never forget a face. You are Cameron. You gave me a message for Julian once, remember? I delivered your message, what was it you said Ďyesí to?" Her smile turned into laughter. Apparently, she didnít expect an answer.

Cameron was stunned. He was afraid to say anything. What if she recognized his voice? He just stood there, like a fool, staring at her. She was so beautiful. At last he decided that he had to do something. He made an awkward bow. She stretched out her hand and he took it saying:

"Of course I remember you Miss Byrne, beauty like yours canít be forgotten." He saw her blush at the compliment, but there was no other reaction.

She doesnít recognize me! he thought with profound relief. He bowed over her hand formally, his lips touching her skin lightly. When he looked up at her, he noticed that she had blushed even more.

"Please, convey my regards to Mr. Luna," he said, letting go of her hand. He bowed again to her, nodded to Arthur and fled. He looked back when he reached the door of the shop. She was still standing where he had left her, looking after him. She waved and smiled again before turning to Arthur. She said something to the gay Ventrue and they moved out of sight.

Cameron found an empty bench in a secluded part of the park. He sat there for a long time, his elbows planted firmly on his knees, his face hidden in his hands. He was disgusted and appalled by the pang of desire that had exploded inside him when he had seen Caitlinís skin flush at his admiring words.

What kind of a monster am I? he asked himself.

He tried to shut off the memory of what had happened in that cellar. She had screamed and cried. Her heart beating so fast in terror. Her futile attempts to shove him off. His own frustration when her body went limp after she fainted. At first, he had thought that she was dead. He had listened to her heart and watched her chest rise and

fall. Unlike Caitlin, he could see in the dark. He had stopped himself from sucking the life out of her. He had wanted to erase Julian Luna, but all he had succeeded in was hurting the woman and making himself sick with revulsion. Just as he was making himself sick now. Cameron bowed forward and, clutching at his stomach with both hands, was violently ill. Afterwards, he found a small pond nearby and washed his face and hands in the water that smelled of decayed leaves. When the surface of the water came to rest, he looked at his reflection.

Iím all right, he told himself. His churning insides said something else entirely. He sat by the edge of the pond, exhausted, waiting for his body to calm down. To his dismay, he realized that his mind was searching for ways to approach Caitlin. He could almost hear Lunaís voice shouting Ďstay away from her!í, as his own reason screamed, stay away from her! He splashed more water in his face.

Well, Luna certainly knows how to pick them, Cameron thought. The Princeís impeccable taste in women was a subject of gossip all over the city. Why the women went all starry-eyed over Julian Luna was more than Cameron could fathom. True enough, he was rich, powerful and rather good-looking, but so was Cameron. Maybe not as rich and not as powerful as the Prince, but certainly more handsome. He glanced at his reflection in the water again.

At least I donít look like a second rate mobster, he thought wryly.

He didnít. With his dark brown hair, big slate gray eyes and regular features, Cameron was indeed a very handsome man.

His thoughts returned to Caitlin. To pursue her as long as she was with Luna would be madness. But wouldnít it be wonderful to breach the mighty Prince in his own bed? What if she finds out? No, if Cameron were to succeed in seducing her, she must never know what he had done to her. He was painfully aware of the fact that all Julian Luna had to do was to tell her the truth and she would never want to look at Cameron again. Instead of glowing cheeks, laughter and amusement in those beautiful eyes, there would be nothing but horror.

No, put her out of your mind, Cameron was telling himself. She belongs to another man. If you try anything, youíll probably harm her even more.

But Cameron had trouble putting Caitlin out of his mind. She was too beautiful, too vulnerable, her smile too sweet. And she was in love with his worst enemy.

A week later, Cameron was still carrying the image of Caitlinís flushed face in his mind. He kept hearing her lovely voice. He realized with horror that he had fallen in love with the picture in his mind.

This canít continue, he decided. Itís time to do something about it.

Cameron started to follow Caitlin. He soon found out that she was never alone. Either Arthur or Julian was always at her side. She lived in Lunaís mansion. The only time he saw her with others was when she went out to lunch with her colleagues. It was frustrating. He tried to think of a way to separate her from her company; he wanted to talk to her, alone. At last, in sheer desperation, he came upon the obvious solution. He sent her a big bouquet of flowers, with a card asking her to meet him during her lunch break. As soon as he saw the messenger boy come out of the office building, he called her and she agreed. He waited for her in the restaurant. He was afraid to show himself outside her office, in case Arthur might be hidden somewhere nearby, watching.

Cameron stood up when he saw her enter. He was as nervous as a school kid on his first date. Had he been human, he would have been sweating. She blushed again when he kissed her hand. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. She laughed, trying to cover her embarrassment.

"You didnít have to send me flowers," she said. "Unlike Julian, I have to eat three times a day."

Her statement shocked Cameron. Did she know about the Masquerade?

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I donít know whatís the matter with him." She was still smiling. "It seems that he lives on ice cream and wine, and I taught him to eat the ice cream. But he doesnít seem to suffer from malnutrition."

"Oh..." Cameron nodded. He saw the sparks in her eyes when she talked about her lover and it stung. The last thing he wanted to do was to talk about Julian Luna. But he had to say something.

"Iím sure that Mr. Luna is quite healthy," he shrugged.

To his relief Caitlin ordered a salad and he could do the same. He made an effort to eat everything that was on his plate. He didnít want her to see any similarities between him and that damn Ventrue. He kept the conversation neutral, asking her about her work, but he didnít pay much attention to what she was saying, instead concentrating on watching her and sensing her presence. Suddenly she stopped talking, her face turning red. He could feel the warmth that emanated from her.

"Whatís wrong?" he asked, afraid that he had missed a question.

"You tell me," she answered. "Youíre staring. Itís unnerving."

Cameron looked down. Now it was his time to turn red in the face. Only he did it deliberately.

"Iím sorry." He was mumbling, and Caitlin leaned closer to be able to hear him. He looked up for a split second, flashing the most charming smile he could manage. "I didnít mean to embarrass you," he continued. "I just had to see you again. Iíve been thinking of you ever since we met in that bookstore. Please, donít get upset." He made a pleading gesture.

Caitlin didnít say anything, but he could feel her withdraw.

"I donít think this is such a good idea," she said finally. "If you will excuse me, I have to get back to work." She rose abruptly, but Cameron was on his feet before her.

"Miss Byrne... Caitlin." The urgency in his voice made her listen. "Julian Luna and I arenít the best of friends," thatís the understatement of the century, he thought, "but no matter what happens, Iíll always be your friend. Please, forgive me for intruding."

He helped her with her coat and kissed her hand again, but let her walk out of the restaurant alone. He sat down and ordered another beer. He had sensed no anger in her, just compassion and confusion, mixed with a little fear. He decided not to contact her again for at least two weeks.

If she agrees to see me again, he made a bet with himself, then I have a chance. On the other hand, if Luna finds out what Iím trying to do... No matter how much Cameron strained his imagination, he could not conceive the magnitude of the disaster he might be bringing on himself. Unlike Julian Luna, Cameron didnít possess the ability to think somebody elseís thoughts.

Caitlin was upset, but she wouldnít be human if she hadnít been flattered by Cameronís attention. He was young, handsome and seemed rather tense. He lacked Julianís maturity and self-confidence.

Why am I comparing them? she thought. She remembered the impact that Julian had made on her the very first time she saw him. The influence his very presence still had on her. No, Cameron, nice as he was, had nothing to compete with. She looked at the bunch of yellow carnations that he had sent her. She didnít even like yellow! Nice guy for some nice girl but Caitlin wasnít interested.

Well, Cameron, she smiled to herself, when youíve been robbed of your last dollar, youíre no longer afraid of the thief.

But she didnít get rid of the flowers and, of course, they were the first thing that Julian noticed when he came to take her out in the evening.

"A new admirer?" he asked casually.

"As a matter of fact, yes," she said laughing.

"Somebody I know?" But she wasnít fooled by his neutral tone.

"Uhm," she tried to sound as neutral as he did, "a guy named Cameron."

"WHO!!!?" His shout made her jump. She looked at him in shock. His face was white and his eyes had turned pale green. She couldnít believe what she saw. Julian came to her desk and leaned towards her, his face only inches from hers.

"Cameron... is lethal!" He was still shouting. "Stay away from him!"

But Caitlin just stared.

"Julian," she whimpered at last, "your eyes, what happened to your eyes?" She didnít give a damn about Cameron, but Julianís reaction scared her out of her wits. He turned away swiftly, his hand moved over his face. When he looked back at her again, his eyes were their normal deep brown color.

"Caitlin," his voice was back to normal too, "Cameron murdered my closest friend. I wonít tell you about other atrocities he has committed. Please, avoid him like the plague. Iíll kill him if he tries to come close to you! Iím serious."

But Caitlin wouldnít be sidetracked, not even by threats of murder. She got up and moved close to him. Taking hold of Julianís jacket lapels, she tried to shake him. Obviously, she could just as well try to shake a building. Her inability to move him frustrated her but she didnít let go.

"Julian, I donít care about Cameron or his crimes." There was a new intensity in her voice. "I want to now what happened to your eyes?"

He swayed a little under her hands and she flattened her palms against his chest.

"Donít you dare faint on me!" she hissed, "I want an answer!"

"I canít tell you, Caitlin." He was shaking his head. "Believe me, I just canít."

He started to move away from her, but Caitlin slid her arms around him, knowing that he would never use force to disengage himself from her embrace. She rested her forehead against his chest.

"Oh, Julian," she sobbed, "I donít know if I can take any more of this?" She listened to the silence, and just as she was starting to become alarmed, she heard his heart beat. His arms enclosed her.

"Caitlin, promise me that you wonít see Cameron again," he demanded.

"If you intend to blow your top every time I talk to another man..." she started, but Julian didnít let her finish.

"You may see whomever you wish," he said, "but I will blow my top, as you colorfully put it, over Cameron."

She couldnít help laughing.

"Well, if I ever want to see you green-eyed with jealousy, Iíll know what to do. But for the moment, one glimpse is enough."

Julian didnít plan to have sex with her on a park-bench. He was perfectly aware of the fact that he was showing off in front of a rival. They hadnít talked much during dinner, but in the theater he suddenly looked as if he remembered something, and had asked Caitlin what it was Cameron had wanted.

"He tried to seduce me," she shrugged dismissively. "I wasnít interested."

"I have trouble believing that," Julian wouldnít be shrugged off. Caitlin was insulted.

"Which part is so difficult to believe, that he was interested or that I wasnít?"

But he just put his arm around her in a proprietary gesture. Julian was very much in love with her. He had no trouble believing that other men wanted her too. Even Cameron. Especially Cameron.

On their way back Caitlin had demanded fresh air. They walked in the empty park after Julian had made a show of leaving Cash by the car. The seven guards who were following them were invisible to Caitlin. Also, Cameron was out there. Julian felt his presence in the dark. He knew that Cameron was watching them and Julian wanted to send a message to the Brujah:

"This woman is mine!"

They sat on the bench and kissed. Caitlin had drunk some wine and it had made her bold. She was so beautiful in the soft moonlight. Julian looked at her upturned face. Her eyes opened when his hand slid under her blouse, but she made no move to stop him. He heard her inhale sharply when he pressed his lips to her breast. Her fingers dug into Julianís shoulders. He could feel her nails pricking his skin through his shirt. He made her lie down, her skirt rolled up around her waist, her panties turning to shreds in his hands. He never seemed to have time to take them off, and his urgency excited her immensely. She held her breath as his tongue slithered over the most sensitive spot on her body.

"Oh... Julian..." she was moaning aloud, her back arching in ecstasy. Her white skin glimmered in the moonlight, her eyes and nipples the only dark spots as she shuddered violently. Her body relaxed slowly and she heard a bird scream nearby. Julian was crouching over her, hiding her body from sight. Not that she cared. Who would come into the deserted park in the middle of the night? But when her hands slid down, touching him, he stood up, lifting her in the same movement.

"We donít have to make out on a park-bench like a couple of love-sick teenagers," he whispered in a hoarse voice. She made a sound of protest but allowed him to carry her out of the park. Julian shook his head at the look of alarm on Cashís face and the young Gangrel opened the rear door of the car without a word. Caitlin continued to caress Julian, trying to touch and excite him the way he had touched and excited her. He let her, catching her hand when it became too intimate. But she wouldnít desist, making him clinch his teeth in order to stifle a groan of pleasure. The two men in the front seats stared at the road while the car sped through the night. The drive took forever. In spite of his superior strength, Julian was barely able to prevent Caitlin from taking off his clothes. When the car finally stopped, he grabbed her and carried her up to her bedroom, taking several steps with each stride. He dumped her on the bed, but she wouldnít stay put, getting up and helping him tear off his clothes. Her hands and lips on his bare skin made him hiss as if he were touched by fire. He was inside her within seconds, mumbling incoherently, holding her so tight that she had trouble breathing. But Caitlin didnít mind; she raised her hips towards his every thrust, her arms locked around his waist. She cried out when she was hit by the release and then she heard Julian gasp before he collapsed on her, almost crushing her with his weight. She listened as his breath returned to normal, his heartbeat slowing down.

No, she thought, Iím not interested in you, Cameron, this is what I want. But the fact that she was thinking of Cameron in this moment shocked her, and she tightened her grip on Julian.

"Youíre the one I want," she murmured, and, as always, Julian heard and understood her mumbling.

"I know," he whispered in her ear, and started everything anew.

He did this night what he had done once before, refusing to break physical contact, almost strangling her in his efforts to keep her close. And, as on that fateful occasion six months earlier, he was gone when Caitlin woke up in the morning. But it didnít frustrate her so much anymore.

Cameron was becoming more and more frustrated. Caitlin was being watched like a nun in a convent. There was always someone guarding the entrance to her office, and when she went out without Arthur at her side, there were at least two Kindred following her. They were discrete, Caitlin didnít notice them, but Cameron picked them out easily. After all, they were Gangrels. Cameron didnít have to see them, their presence was as manifest to him as a noxious smell. His calls were screened. His flowers werenít delivered. Apparently, Luna was making sure that Cameron would not be able to contact her again.

She must have told him about our lunch date, Cameron thought. But the difficulties only strengthened his determination. The solution came from the least expected quarters. Sasha agreed to take a written message to Caitlin, after he had convinced her that he was trying to make peace with Julian Luna with Caitlinís help. In his letter, he accused Luna of isolating her from the rest of the world. He figured that Caitlin would resent that. He would be waiting for her in the park nearby, at lunchtime, every day for a week. He hoped that she would come; he wanted to see her and apologize for his behavior. End of message.

She came a couple of days later. As he had expected, she was upset and demanded proof of his accusations against Julian. When he told her that he had been trying to reach her for days without succeeding, her eyes flashed in anger.

"For Godís sake!" she exclaimed, "heís gone too far. I can take care of myself!"

No, you canít. Cameron thought of the cellar, and shivered.

"Apparently, Luna doesnít believe that you can," he was fueling her fire, "anyway, not where Iím concerned."

"He is just jealous." She was still angry. "Sometimes heís so pig-headed that I would like to... oh, I donít know what I want to do. One day, heíll drive me into doing something crazy!" She laughed suddenly. "Sometimes, I wonder, which one of us belongs in a mental institution."

Cameron took her hand.

"There is nothing wrong with you," he said, "and Mr. Luna has every reason to be jealous. I canít change the way I feel about you. Even the Prince canít force me to stop loving you." The title slipped out before he could stop himself. He sounded bitter.

"The Prince?" Caitlin withdrew her hand, frowning.

"They call him that, didnít you know that?" Cameron was thinking fast. He had to come up with a credible lie. "The... people who work for him." He almost said Kindred. He tried to collect his thoughts, but it was difficult when she was so close.

Iím endangering the Masquerade, he thought in panic. He shut his eyes, being so near her made him lose control. But instead of regaining his composure, he merely managed to recall the images that were engraved in his memory. He had followed them in the darkness, shape-shifting into a falcon, he had watched them... he had found the discarded garment afterwards. The resentment made him slide away from her, his face turned away. But Caitlin leaned closer, her hand on his arm.

"Cameron, whatís wrong?" There was genuine worry in her voice.

Slowly, he turned back to her, blinking repeatedly, as if he were trying to keep tears at bay.

"Whatís wrong?" she asked again. But she was just too close, her eyes looking at him intently, her lips slightly parted, her warm breath on his face. With a inarticulate cry he gave in to his impulse, taking hold of her and kissing her on the mouth. He felt the triumph sweep through him for a second as she responded. He was erasing Luna again, only this time she was cooperating. But in the next moment he felt her stiffen in his arms and she tore away from the kiss, her hands pushing at his chest. His grip tightened reflexively and she ceased fighting instantly. Her face turned white.

"Please, let go of me." The fear in her voice was like a knife in Cameronís heart. He released her and put his hands over hers; they were still on his chest.

"Forgive me," he whispered. "Iíd never do anything to harm you. You must believe me. Never!"

Caitlinís hands slipped away from him and it felt as if his heart followed. She stood up very slowly, as if she were afraid that a sudden move would provoke an attack from him. She looked at him for a long moment.

"Cameron, I want to ask a favor of you," she said at last. He nodded. "Please, stay out of my life."

He bowed his head in defeat, but she wasnít satisfied with that.

"Promise!" Her voice was demanding. Cameron looked up at her.

"I promise that I will never touch you again, unless you ask," he said.

"Thatís not enough!" She sounded angry, and Cameron felt his own anger rise. He got up to his feet and she backed away a few steps.

"All you have to do is to tell Luna what has happened today and youíll be rid of me forever." He heard the bitterness in his own voice.

"Youíre talking rubbish," she responded angrily. "I wonít believe for a minute..."

But Cameron cut her off.

"Your precious Julian will tear my head off, rip my lungs out and dismember me just to make sure!"

Caitlin stared at him, suddenly there were tears in her eyes. After a moment, she turned and ran away. In her mind, she saw Julianís eyes flash green and heard his enraged shout "I will kill him". She had made her decision before she reached her office. She would never meet Cameron again and she would not tell Julian anything about their meeting in the park.

Of course, Caitlin didnít know, and Cameron repressed the possibility, that her bodyguards had followed her into the park.

The Prince had summoned Cameron; he realized that his second meeting with Caitlin must be the reason. But Julian had not come after him with a phosphorus gun, nor had he sent his assassins. Bringing his Brujah guards with him wouldnít make any difference, so he went alone.

Cameron was admitted into the mansion and led into the gatehouse. If anyone was surprised that he had showed up without his entourage, there were no comments. Daedalus was sitting behind a table, but Luna was nowhere in sight.

Is he going to let the Nosferatu do his dirty work? Cameron wondered.

Daedalus nodded towards one of the empty chairs, but said nothing and ignored Cameron after he seated himself. Lunaís message had said midnight and since that was seven minutes away, Cameron had to be patient. The Prince wouldnít be late, but he wouldnít come before the appointed time either. Somehow, Cameron knew that his life wasnít in danger; the presence of the Nosferatu Primogen guaranteed that. Caitlin was probably in the main house, asleep at this hour. Cameronís imagination created pictures that drove him mad. He hadnít tried to contact her since their meeting in the park, but he had seen her from a distance a few times. He had sincerely tried to free himself from his obsession, but ever since he had seen Julian and Caitlin together, he realized that it was a losing battle. Following them that night had been a mistake. The way she abandoned herself in Lunaís arms, Cameron wanted that for himself; he wanted her to whisper his name. His common sense told him that Caitlin would never be his, but reason had no influence over his feelings.

Suddenly, Julian Luna was standing in front of him; he had come in without making a sound, while Cameron was lost in thoughts. He looked up at the Prince and, in spite of himself, rose to his feet. The last thing he wanted to do was to show Luna respect, but reflex took over. There was no doubt about who was the supreme predator in the room, even the Nosferatu Primogen found himself in the background, despite his superior age and strength.

Julian stared coldly at Cameron. He sat down at the opposite side of the table before giving Cameron permission to sit. Julian leaned back in his chair, his eyes never leaving Cameronís face. Cameron decided to break the silence while he still felt himself capable of talking.

"What do you want?" he blurted out, showing more confidence than he felt.

But Julian answered with deliberate calmness.

"The question is, what do you want?" He leaned forward suddenly. "Cameron, what are you trying to do?"

Cameron shrugged.

"I donít know what you mean," he said, trying to win time.

But the Prince made a contemptuous grimace.

"Are you trying to make me think that youíre even more stupid than I already believe you to be? In that case, youíre succeeding beyond your own expectations."

Cameron checked himself. Lunaís derogatory words stung. He sat up straight and stared defiantly at his adversary. There was nothing else to do but admit the truth. He clasped his hands together, pressing them hard against the surface of the table.

"I love her." His voice was a barely audible whisper, but of course, Luna heard him. With satisfaction, Cameron saw the Prince wince.

"The lady is not available." Julian wasnít hiding his animosity at all.

"Why doesnít she tell me so herself?" Cameron knew there was no point in arguing, but he would be damned if heíd let Luna intimidate him.

"I was under the impression that she had told you that," Julian retorted, "but you keep following her. Youíll stop!"

"You donít know what might happen in the future." Cameronís desperation was carrying him on. "She cares for you now, she might care for someone else tomorrow. You donít own her!"

Julian shook his head.

"Cameron," he sounded almost kind now, "youíre missing my point. Of course, I donít own Caitlin, nor can I dictate whom she should love. As you pointed out, she loves me now, but she can love someone else in the future. However," the kindness turned to steel momentarily, "I can make sure that this someone will never be you."

"Youíre a cruel bastard!" Cameron hissed.

"I am?" Julian rose slowly to his feet. "Let me remind you that Iím not the bastard who beat her up and raped her!"

Cameron sagged in his chair.

"Donít you think that I have regretted that every day ever since?!" he shouted. "If I could turn back the clock... Iíd do anything to..." He hid his face in his hands, a sob escaping him. "I canít obliterate what I have done."

Julian glanced at Daedalus, but the Nosferatu sat quiet and unmoving as a stone. He had to resolve this one on his own.

"Cameron," his voice was calm again, "Caitlin seems to believe that I might kill you out of sheer jealousy. I donít know what you have told her, but she made me promise that I wonít. I intend to keep that promise. But I can help her remember what happened, I can make her remember your voice." He leaned forward shouting again. "Do you want her to know?!"

"No!" Cameron shook his head. "No, Iíll keep away from her." He looked up at Julian, white-faced, defeated. "Do you want me to leave the City?"

Julian considered that for a moment.

"Frankly, I donít care," he said at last. "You can go or you can stay. If you stay, Iíll tolerate your presence. The Brujahs are more orderly under your rule than they have been for years. Itís important to me."

Cameron winced, this was the Prince talking and it had nothing to do with Caitlin. He nodded.

"Then Iíll stay," he said getting up.

But Luna hadnít dismissed him, so he couldnít leave.

"There is one more thing." Julian smiled suddenly. "If anything were to happen to me, anything at all," he was apparently enjoying himself, "a freak accident, an assassin in the dark, there are those who will inform Caitlin about your role in her abduction and the subsequent crime. And if anything happens to her, Iíll be free from the promise she has forced me to make. I suggest you bear that in mind." Julianís hand raised towards the Brujah Primogen. "You may leave now."

Cameron hesitated for just one second, but the Kindred instinct took over. He took the Princeís hand and kissed it.

After Cameron had left, Daedalus came to life.

"That should keep him at bay, at least for some time," he said. "You didnít need me here to control your temper," he added.

Cameron wandered around the city for many hours. He was angry and ashamed.

How did he do it? he wondered, the damned Ventrue!

Cameron had taken Caitlin in order to use her for extortion; he had fallen in love with her, hoping that he could take her away from the Prince. But now, he was on the receiving end of a blackmail threat. And it was Luna who was using the mortal woman, and what Cameron had done to her, to get what he wanted.

Face it, he told himself, you and Julian Luna arenít in the same league. At least not yet.

Cameron returned home at dawn. He would stay away from Caitlin, he would hide his hate, and he would wait. He had lost this battle, but the war between himself and the Prince of San Francisco wasnít over.

Caitlin was scared and excited at the same time. She was late. She had been leafing through her calendar, trying to juggle meetings and deadlines, when it suddenly struck her. She was almost a week late.

The hopes and fears that she had managed to keep just beyond consciousness, burst forward with a force that made her reel. She and Julian had been together for how long? Almost eight months now. He had never given a thought to protection, never asked her if she used anything. He seemed oblivious to the facts of life. On the other hand, his attitude towards children wasnít reassuring. He avoided any contact with them and was visibly ill at ease in their presence. Caitlin remembered an incident she had witnessed. They had been on their way to the car, walking through a small park, when they came upon a family, a couple with two children. They were about to leave the park after a picnic. A small boy, aged four or five, was screaming loudly in protest, struggling to get out of his motherís arms. He succeeded finally and ran off in the direction of Caitlin and Julian. The father came after him but the child managed to bump into Julianís legs before he was caught by the young man. Julian grabbed the boy reflexively and handed him over to the pursuing man, who said in an angry tone:

"Was Herod a great king, or what?"

Caitlin had been appalled, but Julian had laughed aloud. He repeated that stupid joke to himself several times afterwards, always laughing at it.

She asked him later, what he had against children.

"Iíve got nothing against children," Julian had responded, "Iím just not used to them."

But Caitlin wasnít convinced. Also, she was afraid. She didnít want this to happen to her again, a man leaving her pregnant. Somehow, she couldnít imagine Julian Luna

shunning his responsibility, but she didnít know how he would react. She decided to take the bull by the horns that very day.

Julian was in the library, a stack of papers in front of him, when Caitlin had built up enough courage to confront him with the possibility that he might become a father.

"Julian, I need to talk to you."

He looked up from his work.

"Yes, Caitlin?"

She braced herself, crossing her arms over her chest, her hands squeezing her shoulders in a defiant posture.

"I think Iím pregnant," Caitlin said as evenly as she could.

Julian blinked several times and looked away. Caitlin watched him carefully, but there was no expression on his face. His gaze returned to her.

"You think youíre pregnant, you arenít sure?" he asked.

"Nnno..." Caitlin answered, "but Iím late."

"I see," he said, his eyes turning back to the pile on the table. Apparently, he didnít intend to say anything more. Caitlin didnít know what she had expected him to do, but his lack of reaction was unnerving.

"Is this all you have to say?" She was feeling belligerent.

"What do you want me to say?" He was frowning now.

"I want you to tell me how you feel?" Caitlin demanded.

Julian leaned back in his chair, and Caitlin got the impression that he was looking inside himself. The silence was frightening. Then his attention focused on her again.

"I donít know what I feel." There was a note of sadness in his voice. "This is rather unexpected. Right now Iím just worried, about your health," he added, noticing the uncomprehending expression on her face. He forced himself to smile.

"Please forgive my lack of enthusiasm at the prospect of becoming a father, I need to get used to the idea."

Well, Caitlin thought, at least he hasnít told me to get lost.

"Please, let me know how you feel, when you know," she said haughtily, and stomped out of the library.

Julian sat unmoving for a long time. The papers were a blur in front of his eyes, he couldnít concentrate on the reading anymore. He felt numb and cold.

Caitlin, how could you do this to me?

The taste of betrayal was bitter.

Who could be the father of Caitlinís child? And why was she trying to hang it on him? In his mind, he went through the mortal men that Caitlin knew. Probably someone at her work. He knew how easy it was to lock the door to her office, to find enough privacy, to... He felt his anger rise. But why lie? On this Earth, in this life, there was no way that Julian could beget any children the way humans did. But Caitlin didnít know that.

I should have told her, Julian mused. But now, it was too late. Or was it? Should he pretend that the child was his? Should he let her pretend that the child was his? It was possible that she believed that it was so. Could he live with that lie, the way he lived with so many other lies? He sighed heavily, realizing that the notion of leaving Caitlin never entered his mind. No, he could not let her go. He thought of the child she had been forced to abandon in her youth. Whoever was the biological parent of Caitlinís child, she wanted him to be the father. For her sake, as well as his own, he would accept that. Only, it would never be the same anymore. He shoved the papers aside and got up. His head had started to ache, he had to get out.

It was almost dawn when Julian returned to the mansion. His strength was restored, but he felt ashamed. What a stupid way of seeking revenge! For a moment he had entertained the idea of seeking out Lillie. But no, Lillie didnít deserve that. He had roamed the city most of the night, feeding several times. But he hadnít returned home after his hunger had been satisfied. He had found a young student on her way back from some party. It hadnít taken him long to make her invite him to her room. But when they were in her bed, he realized that he was thinking of Caitlin, wanting her, not the amorous young girl who was wriggling all over him. He had given her what she craved, but left without allowing himself the same release. He stayed in the shower for almost twenty minutes, making sure that all traces of the other woman disappeared from his body. Caitlin was asleep when he entered her bedroom. He crept into the bed cautiously, making sure that she wouldnít wake. But she seemed aware of his presence because she turned and snuggled close to him. He held her lightly, wondering if he would dare. An hour passed, then another. At last, he allowed his awareness to invade her being. He found no trace of another life inside her.

Caitlin was surprised and relieved to find Julian at her side in the morning. But when she tried to entice him to make love to her, he backed off, telling her that he was tired. Somehow, he didnít want to soil Caitlin with what he had done that night, wondering about his reaction. It had never stopped him before. But Caitlin was relentless and it was so easy to give in to her kisses and caresses. As usual, he could not say no to her.

A couple of days later, Julian found Caitlin sitting listlessly on her couch. She appeared desolate and his heightened senses informed him instantly of what was wrong. The faint scent of blood made him keep his distance.

"False alarm," she said.

Julian looked inquiringly at her. He knew what was coming, but he didnít want her to understand that he knew.

"I was just... late." She sounded so sad. She wanted him to comfort her, but Julian couldnít bring himself to come closer. He was searching desperately for the right words, but his mind was just empty. He didnít dare to look at her and she started to cry.

"Caitlin," he faced her at last, "Caitlin, I canít give you a child!"

There, it was said. No turning back. Her head snapped up.


Julian steeled himself. He spoke slowly, pronouncing each word carefully.

"I canít have children. Iím sterile." He watched her face contort in pain as the understanding dawned on her.

"Why didnít you tell me?" She was whispering now.

"Weíve never discussed the subject, itís nothing one brags about. I thought..."

But Caitlin cut him off, shaking her head.

"No, no, I mean the other day, when I thought that I was pregnant." She watched him look away again, embarrassed. She was getting quite good at reading his expressions. He responded after some time.

"If you had been pregnant, I was prepared to accept the fact that I was the father, no matter..."

She didnít let him finish this time either.

"Julian! How could you!? For one second..." Her anger turned to tears again. "How could you think that Iíd betray you?" She flared up angrily again. "You thought that I had slept with Cameron, didnít you?!"

Julian shook his head, almost saying Cameron canít father children any more than I can, but he stopped himself in time.

"No," he answered, "I did not think that you were involved with Cameron. He promised that he would leave you alone, and you said that you werenít interested. I had good reason to believe both you and him."

"Oh," Caitlin looked at him suspiciously, "how come we have become so trustworthy?"

"You have no reason to lie, and he has every reason to keep his promise," Julian answered.

Of course, Julian Luna didnít trust Cameron for one second. He had done a wicked thing after his meeting with the Brujah Primogen. That night, he had influenced Caitlinís mind while she was sleeping. The next time she would hear Cameronís voice, she would recognize it as belonging to the man in the cellar. Cameron had better keep his distance.

"But accidents happen," Julian continued. "Itís easy for me to imagine that other men want you as much as I do. Your friends at your work, I donít know who is close to you." He tried desperately to talk away his jealousy, but Caitlinís thoughts ran in another direction.

It had been so obvious, she mused, during all those months, his apparent lack of interest in contraceptive measures, his avoidance of children, why didnít she see it?

"Iím sorry," she said. "Iím so very sorry." And then, "Whatís wrong with you?"

Reluctantly, Julian came to her side.

"Take my hand," he said. She did. "Now, tell me how it feels."

His hand was warm and dry against her palm.

"Youíre hot," she sounded surprised, "like a fever."

He hated to lie to her, but it had worked with doctor Enright and it would certainly work with Caitlin.

"My body temperature is higher than normal, a freak genetic disorder. It doesnít affect me in any other way, but whatís comfortable to the rest of humanity, is cold to me, and it has rendered me sterile."

The truth was that his body temperature was subject to his will, as many other autonomic functions were. And all Kindred were sterile.

He tried to remove his hand from Caitlinís grasp, but she wouldnít let go.

"Iím so sorry," she said again, "but donít you ever mistrust me again. If I ever decide to be with someone else, youíll be the first to know."

Julian flinched at that. He wanted to implore her never to leave him, but decided there had been enough melodrama for one evening, and let it be. For now, the reassuring way she held on to his hand told him that she would not desert him because of his inability to father a child. In a way he was glad that he could no longer propagate in the normal way. He remembered his wife, Evelyn, who had died giving birth to his son. He never wanted to live through such anguish and despair again.

Caitlin wasnít sure what she was looking for. She wandered from one door to another, trying to open them, but all were locked. A vague feeling of urgency propelled her to the next door, and to the next. She was more and more convinced that none of the doors would open. She watched her hand take hold of a doorknob, her fingers straining when she tried to turn it, it didnít budge. Disappointed, she moved to the next knob. Suddenly, there was a key, sticking out beneath the knob she was holding. She turned the key without making a sound. The door swung open in front of her and she peered inside. It was her own room, in her parentsí house. She walked around, touching her things, the books spread on the table, the magazines, her diary, a discarded sweater hanging over the back of a chair, the ugly stain still visible on its front. Her mother had scolded her for damaging it. She had tried to wash it several times, but the stain made by coffee flavored ice cream would not disappear. She still remembered how sad she had been; she had loved that sweater.

She opened her diary. Strange, she was sure that she had burned it, along with the few letters she had from the father of the child she had been forced to give away. She leafed through the yellowed pages, but no matter how much she strained, she couldnít read one word.

Whatís wrong with me? she thought in panic. Then she was able to make out simple words, like Ďmomí and Ďdadí and Ďloveí. She saw a name that she recognized very well Ė ĎJulianí. It made her frown.

No, itís not possible, she thought, this diary was gone years before I met you! She looked at the sentence that contained the name, but could not make out the words before or after it. She threw the diary at the wall angrily. It bounced off and fell, opening at a page where there was only one word written. She leaned over it.

ĎJulianí, she read. And then, before her unbelieving eyes, the name disappeared, leaving a stain of fresh blood. She gasped in fear and ran from the room. It was dark and she was whimpering in fright.

"Help me!" she cried.

Suddenly, he was there, and the relief made her giddy. She was in his arms and it was no longer dark and he was saying all the things she wanted to hear. His hands moved over her skin, kindling small fires wherever they touched her. She felt safe and warm and happy. The warmth spread inside her, the desire becoming a hunger, but when she tried to touch him, she found to her dismay that she couldnít move...

Caitlin turned opening her eyes. She smiled when she saw Julian, fast asleep, lying on his side, his face resting on the back of his hand. She hesitated only a moment, but the hunger from the dream made her lean towards the sleeping man, her lips searching his. He responded to the kiss before waking up. Using her weight, she managed to push him onto his back, marveling at his instant hard readiness.

"Men!" she giggled, "only one thing on your mind!"

Afterwards, he admitted, that he had not been asleep at all. That he had enticed that erotic dream in her, by touching her while she slept. Caitlin felt ambivalent. She liked her dream, it had chased the nightmare away, but the fact that it had been forced on her was disturbing.

"I donít like you messing with my mind," she mumbled.

A look of hurt came on Julianís face.

"I wasnít messing with your mind," he said, "just your body." His hand touched her again, but she moved out of his reach. She looked at his hand, just inches away from her.

Sure enough, she thought. Whenever his hands were on her, her thoughts would turn in one direction. Whether it happened while she was awake or asleep made little difference. Still, that he could influence her while she slept made her uncomfortable.

She kept thinking about the nightmare during the day, trying to analyze it. The locked doors? Probably all the unknown nooks in Julianís mansion. Many doors were locked there, and Julian had warned her against going to the gatehouse. A reclusive, disfigured friend of his lived there and he didnít like company. Lots of mysteries to dream about. Nothing strange about that. Her old room? She was going to visit her parents during the weekend; her mother was sick. Caitlin hadnít seen her father since the night Julian had chased him out of her house. It still made her laugh. But facing her father on her own was another matter; it produced a feeling of apprehension. To her surprise, Julian offered to go with her. She knew how unwilling he was to leave San Francisco, even for a couple of days.

Her inability to read?

Aw, stop it, Caitlin, she told herself, soon youíll be analyzing every erotic dream you have.

She didnít analyze it, but the memory kept her warm and happy all day. She had forgotten the end of her nightmare, the part about the blood left by Julianís name.

Her thoughts returned to her parents. Funny that she should dream about her childhood home. Her father had always been so stern, her mother always in the background, always agreeing to everything he decided.

Poor mom, she never had much life of her own, Caitlin thought. And now, she was sick.

The letter had been short and to the point.

Your mother is unwell. Please, come.

Caitlin forgot her fear and pride and called home. To her relief, her mother answered. An ulcer! Her meek, mousy mother had managed to develop an ulcer the size of a walnut. Caitlin put it on her fatherís bill.

Itís a wonder he didnít give me an ulcer! was her conclusion. But she would visit her mother, she would show him that she was no longer afraid of him. And she would take Julian along, just to spite the old goat! She realized that she was trying to build up her courage and she snorted at herself. The thought that Julian would be with her made it easy to feel brave. She crossed her fingers, hoping that nothing would turn up that might prevent him from accompanying her.

Nothing did.

Caitlin knew that Julian was wealthy, but sitting in his private jet made her realize that there must be more to the Luna fortune than met the eye. To her utter surprise, Julian was visibly afraid of flying. Once they were back on the ground, he admitted to hating it even more than he hated being cold.

"If you were to learn to pilot the thing yourself," she told him, "youíd love to fly."

"I..." he started and then bit his lip. He had almost said I love to fly, but not in this contraption.

"I never seem to have the time," he said at last, lamely.

Another fancy, foreign car waited for them at the airport, but Caitlin was past being surprised by worldly signs of Julianís riches. She was becoming more and more nervous, the closer they came to her family home. Finally, they arrived, and to her great relief, her father greeted them quite cordially.

She was back in her old room, she almost looked for the stained sweater. Her diary was of course gone, too. Julian was given a guestroom in the other end of her house. The car and guards disappeared, God only knew where - and Julian, of course. Caitlin corrected herself. Her mother looked worse than Caitlin had expected, but their visit brought color to her cheeks. Caitlin looked askance at her father, but he only shook his head. He seemed... subdued, and sad, and Caitlinís resolve melted away. She understood that her motherís illness must be more grave than she had been told.

But Mrs. Byrne showed little interest in her daughter. She oozed all her charm over Julian and he responded by turning on his most Latin politeness, showering Caitlinís mother with compliments and attention worthy of a queen. What amazed Caitlin even more, was that his acting seemed so natural; if she didnít know better, she would have believed him to be a European aristocrat. In the end, the two of them switched to French (Caitlinís mother was from Quebec) and that made father and daughter stare at each other open-mouthed. Caitlinís French would suffice in a phony French restaurant, so she hadnít been impressed by Julianís perfect pronunciation when he ordered French wines or dishes. But now she was. Her mother and her lover chatted away happily, oblivious of their company. Caitlin shrugged and blinked at her father. They walked out.

"Heís a rather charming fellow, when heís not showing his fangs and claws on your behalf," was the first thing her father said. Caitlin laughed with relief. But her concern was for her mother right now.

"Itís not an ulcer, is it?" she asked.

The old manís expression turned serious.

"She has cancer." His whole frame sagged. "Six months, a year at the most. She doesnít know." Suddenly there where tears running down his face.

"Oh, daddy!" Caitlin threw her arms around him, realizing that she hadnít called him Ďdaddyí for at least ten years. She started crying too.

"Iím sorry, so sorry," she sobbed. They held onto each other for a long time. Her father was the first one to gather his wits.

"Enough of that." His voice was gruff. "Letís talk about you."

Brrr... Caitlin winced, here it comes. And it did.

"That young man in there, who is charming your mother out of her marbles?"

Caitlin heard the question mark but pretended that she didnít.

"What about him?"

"Caitlin!" Her father sighed heavily. "Okay, Iíll spell it out for you. Why arenít you two married?"

Caitlin gulped. That one was up front.

"Dad," she was dithering, "I donít know Julian that well yet. I didnít even know that he spoke French." She was talking fast, trying to lead her father away from the subject. But he was quite single-minded.

"You know him well enough to... to sleep with him." His bluntness was deliberate. "Are you planning to become an unwed mother again?"

To his surprise it made Caitlin start crying again.

"You donít have to worry about that," she sniffled. "I canít have children, at least not with Julian."

Her father stared at her uncomprehending.

"He canít marry me," Caitlin continued sobbing.

"Why, does he have a wife stashed somewhere?" there was that old anger in his voice again.

"There is no wife!" she shouted, then tried to calm herself. "The reason that he canít marry me, is that he canít have children. He is sterile," she said defiantly.

The old man frowned.

"Whatís wrong with him?" he asked. Caitlin shrugged.

"What does it matter? He canít, and thatís it," she looked up at her father, prepared to fight, "but I love him, and thatís that. If I never have children, Iíll learn to live with it."

But her father didnít fight back.

"Iím sorry to hear that," was all he said, not explaining what he was sorry about.

The next challenge came with the dinner. When they came back, Mr. Byrne made jokes about the fact that Caitlin and he were starting to feel jealous, but then decided that hungry was a more appropriate description of their condition. Caitlinís heart sunk. Her motherís famous mutton chops! If Julian refused to eat, it would be the ultimate insult. But to her disbelief, Julian ate everything he was served. She saw him flinch at the sight of meat, but he ate it, complimenting the chef, pretending that he didnít know who had prepared the meal. Caitlin wanted to hug him. Somehow, his sacrifice at her motherís dining table made Caitlin realize how much he cared for her. She remembered that in the beginning, when they had started to date, he had made heroic efforts to eat whatever she had cooked, but gave up after only a few weeks. But Caitlin had never regarded cooking as a serious business, the way her mother did, and didnít mind his refusals so much. Anyway, his color returned when her motherís cheesecake was brought in, and he genuinely enjoyed her fatherís French Armagnac, but declined the cigar. At last the meal was over and Caitlinís mother retired.

Caitlin and Julian sat together on the couch, Caitlinís father pretending that he was reading a book in his chair by the fire.

"Julian, you never cease to surprise me!" She was giggling, "Where did you learn French?"

"I have always known French," he said. "I... my family came from New Orleans, we spoke French at home."

Now, heís talking! Caitlin thought, he had never mentioned his family before. She jumped at the opportunity to prod further.

"Any other languages you know?" she asked.

"Well... I speak Spanish," Julian answered, "and some Italian."

"Iím impressed. Why havenít you told me any of this before?"

"Youíve never asked." Julian was visibly retreating, but Caitlin wouldnít let go.

"Any other secret skills youíre hiding? Ballet dancing? Writing poetry? Running a marathon? I bet you were quite a sportsman when you were younger!"

He tried very hard to keep a serious face, but Caitlin saw the corners of his mouth start quivering, and at last he couldnít keep his laughter back.

"Iím a good swimmer," he confessed finally. "As for running marathons," he leaned close to her, his arm encircling her waist, "there are other activities that require good lung capacity and endurance that are of a much more pleasant nature." He was whispering now in a suggestive voice, making sure that Caitlinís father couldnít hear them. Caitlinís face turned red.

She understood very well what he meant and his arm was pressing her against him, making her forget her questions about his past. But Caitlin knew that she wouldnít dare sneak into the guestroom in her fatherís house and she hoped that her lover wouldnít try to come to her room during the night. Julian understood her shyness, because she slept alone that night.

Old Byrne was surprised. He went up twice in the middle of the night. The guest-room was empty, the bed untouched, but when he looked into Caitlinís room, he found her fast asleep, curled up in her bed, alone. In the morning, he found Julian fast asleep where he was supposed to be. Julian gave the old man a wolfish grin when he woke.

"I know whatís on your mind," he said. "I walked in the woods for several hours. Ate too much, too late." He didnít lie about that part. He had to get rid of the food he had stuffed himself with. It had felt like a stone inside him. His other nightly activities he kept to himself. Also, he refused to eat breakfast.

Caitlin and Julian strolled in the woods, not far from the house. Within minutes Caitlin realized that Julian knew his way around, which forced him to tell her that he had gone out during the night. He gave her the same excuse that he had given her father.

"The food, last night. I had to get out..." He didnít finish, when Caitlin made a graphic gesture, and he nodded affirmatively.

"Oh, Julian, I love you," she said most tenderly, bewildering him.

"You love me?" he asked with incredulity, "for throwing up your motherís food?"

"I love you for eating it," she answered putting her arms around him. "I simply love you," she added after a moment.

For you, I could eat... a rare steak, Julian thought, but the picture his imagination created made all his body-hair stand on end and he shivered. Dead animal blood was about the most revolting thing he could imagine. But Caitlin interpreted his reaction differently.

"Youíre cold." Her hands moved up and down his back in an effort to warm him. "Letís go back inside. The woods in Washington State are not the most pleasant place for you."

"No, itís all right, I would like to stay outdoors a little longer." They started to walk again and he changed the subject. "Tell me about your mother."

Caitlin was quiet for a long time. When she finally started talking, her voice was brittle with pain.

"While you were busy charming her out of her marbles, as my father put it, he told me that she is suffering from cancer, and probably has less than a year to live." She fought back the tears for a moment, but then let them fall. Julian touched her face.

"Iím sorry," he whispered. He had suspected that much. The elderly woman was obviously gravely ill. He had sensed it the moment he touched her hand when she greeted him.

But now it was Caitlinís turn to change the subject.

"You know how blunt my father can be. Can you imagine what he asked me last night?" She didnít wait for his answer. "He asked why weíre not married!"

Julian stopped walking and turned to Caitlin.

"Why arenít we married?" he said.

Caitlin shrugged helplessly.

"I told him thatís because you canít have children." Then she looked straight at him. "Youíve never asked."

Julian pondered over that for a moment.

"Iíll marry you Caitlin, if thatís what you wish," he said quietly. But Caitlin shook her head forcefully.

"No, Julian, you wonít. If you ever marry me, it will be because you wish it." She turned away and started walking faster. He followed her through the wet ferns, catching up with her shortly, taking hold of her arm.

"Caitlin," he implored her, "do you want it or not?" When she turned back and looked at him, he continued. "Iím the one who canít have children." He looked away for a moment as he always did when he was out of his depth. "The choice should be yours," he summarized.

But Caitlin shook her head.

"I donít know what I want." She was talking more to herself than to Julian. "The editor marrying the publisher, so much for my professional integrity," she added. "Not that our relationship is so clandestine anymore, but... frankly, Iíd really like to know what you want."

"To be truthful," Julian answered, "marriage has never entered my mind. Being what I am, it just wasnít an option." He smiled suddenly. "Not until now."

He stood behind her, his arms around her waist, his chin resting lightly on the top of her head. His hands moved up slowly, and when they came to rest, she sighed softly. Even through the thick layers of a wool sweater and a coat, he was able to excite her. She pressed her back against him in response, aware of his reaction that here, in the middle of Washington woods a stoneís throw from her fatherís house, it made her blush and inhale sharply. She turned, opening her coat with shaking hands, and Julian accepted her wordless invitation, his chilled fingers sneaking underneath her sweater. But his hands were warm when they touched her breasts, and Caitlin felt her nipples harden against his palms. She took hold of his neck with one hand, pressing his head down so she could kiss him, her other hand wandering off in another direction, making him grunt and press against her bold fingers. A fine rain started to drip through the treetops, turning into a downpour within minutes. But Caitlin and Julian went on standing in the deluge, exciting each other senseless, without being able to reach fulfillment. At last they gave up and ran back to the house, wet and frozen to the core.

"You must both be mad!" Caitlinís mother admonished them. "Youíll catch pneumonia." But she smiled inwardly seeing their disheveled appearance. "Wait here" she said. Seconds later she was back carrying several bath towels. "Now, a hot shower, both of you, before you catch your death."

Caitlinís hand searched Julianís.

"Mom..." she mumbled. But her mother winked wickedly.

"Your father has gone into town. Wonít be back until late in the afternoon." She laughed at their disappearing backs.

Caitlin had just peeled off her wet clothes, the cold making her teeth chatter, when Julian, swifter as always, pulled her into the hot shower, lifting her high, a kiss muffling her shout of surprise at the sudden change of temperature. Julian held her tight against his chest, his hands beneath her thighs, her knees pressed against his sides. She locked her arms around his neck, trying to stay as high up as she could. But he stopped supporting her weight as his hands let go of her thighs and moved to her hips, and she slid slowly down his torso. His fingers hardened their grip as she was slowly impaled. She was trying to stop her downward movement, clinging to him with all her strength, prolonging the exquisite torture of their merging. He made a hoarse sound, as if in pain, then his hands took hold of her properly, and he pressed her hard against him, just as his hips shot towards her, completing their union in one powerful stroke. It was Caitlinís turn to cry out as if she were in pain. Fortunately, the running water drowned their voices. Julian slid down to his knees and leaned back, making Caitlin rest on his body, while his hands kept her in the right position, his hips moving rhythmically. But after a moment she pushed at his chest and, straightening her arms, leaned away from him, their bodies now only connected by sex. Their eyes met and he watched her lick her lips. His searching fingers easily found the right place, bringing an ecstatic look to her face. It didnít take long. She was very still for a moment and then he felt her inner muscles flutter as she exhaled with a drawn-out moan. With indomitable force, he drew her closer again, until their lips met in a long exhausting kiss, which Caitlin ended by biting him. Before he had time to think, he bit her back, and the taste of their mixed blood made him dizzy, but the feeling disappeared with the hot water that washed the blood away.

Julianís hand shot out and he turned off the shower. The battering ceased. He looked at Caitlinís face. Her lip was still bleeding, her eyes were wide open, her pupils dilated by the sexual excitement. He tasted his own blood; the wound hadnít closed yet, and Julian didnít intend to let it. He kissed her again, and this time the intoxicating taste didnít disappear too soon. He felt Caitlinís nails rake his back and gasped in pleasure. Throwing his head back in order to avoid her inviting throat, he pressed her close to him again, and she used the opportunity to bite him more, first on the shoulder, then on the neck. He cried out violently and pressed her head down, while he bowed away from her, trying so hard not to bite her back. He stopped himself at the last moment, when his teeth were already pricking the skin on her neck, just above the spinal artery.

She slid away when he let go of her and lay panting on the floor, her eyes half-closed, her mouth smeared with blood. As if drawn by an invisible force, they slithered towards each other across the wet bathroom floor. They came together in a violent embrace, clinging to each other, their mouths joined in a passionate kiss. But making love on a bathroom floor wasnít inviting, so they picked themselves up and sneaked into Caitlinís room. She made Julian lie down on her bed while she continued to kiss and caress him. He stretched out, hoping that her blood-thirst had been appeased, at least for now. He closed his eyes, reveling in the sensations her soft hands and lips created. His body stiffened in anticipation as her mouth encircled him, his fingers touching her face lightly, encouraging her. He didnít look at her, and therefore didnít see the strange expression on her face. Her lips moved away, and he made a disappointed groan. In the next moment her mouth was back, closing over the most tender male part, human or Kindred, while her hand enclosed his hardness, moving lightly up and down. He fought hard to prolong the wonder a little longer, to prevent the importunate release, shuddering in delight. Suddenly, her hand closed hard, her nails driving into him and her teeth clenched in a powerful bite. He screamed, his body arching in a spasm, the excruciating pain turning into the ultimate pleasure, as his semen and his blood spurted over Caitlinís face and hands. It was the first time ever that he had become totally spent and exhausted while he was with Caitlin. When he looked at her, he saw that she lay motionless, her eyes closed, her spattered face resting against the injured parts of his body.

Julian was scared. He had never, not even in Manzanita, come so close to Embracing Caitlin, than here, in broad daylight, in her parentsí house. In the trance-like state that her sensuality had propelled her into, she had challenged the Kindred core of his soul. But he had not succumbed, and it made him feel proud of himself. Julian had summoned all his Kindred powers in order to calm Caitlinís senses, well aware that if she broke through his defenses, he might do her serious harm, or even Embrace her. Just to make sure, he made her forget what she had done to him in this pink and white girlís room. Now, she lay asleep, her head resting on his chest, breathing slowly, her heartbeat calm, her body warm, soft and alive. Julian lay very still, the injury she had inflicted on him was grave enough to take hours to heal. Every move caused him excruciating pain, and he reveled in it. It made him feel totally alive, too.

Julian was thinking of Caitlinís mother: The charming old ladyís terminal illness and Caitlinís tearful voice when she told him about it. He knew he could change that. He was thinking Kindred now. He could offer to Embrace her, to snatch her from the brink of mortality. He had the power and he had the right. He was a Prince, and the Prince of Seattle was a blood brother of his. There would be no trouble from that quarter, not over an elderly woman who lived in the countryside. But would she want that? What if she turned away from his offer in terror and revulsion? Then he would

have to kill her immediately. And if she accepted? He could hardly imagine the consequences. He could not allow Caitlinís mother to endanger the Masquerade; he was already putting it in jeopardy through his relationship with Caitlin. He sighed heavily. He wasnít comfortable with his decision.

Cautiously, he got out of Caitlinís bed, intending to get up and pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened. But he realized that he couldnít leave the mess behind. The bed looked as if someone had been slaughtered. A couple of hours had passed since Caitlin had done her bloody deed. His wounds had closed, but the pain was still rather bad. He suspected that he looked like a castrated dolt when he moved. He went to the bathroom and cleaned himself up, then returned to Caitlin and very carefully wiped her face, her chest and hands with a wet towel, removing all traces of what had happened. Now, the covers. He made it to his room without being seen, put on fresh clothes and returned to Caitlinís room. Making sure that she wouldnít wake, he removed the soiled bedclothes, made a bundle of them and went looking for a washing machine. Mrs. Byrne was in the kitchen. She looked at him and then at the bundle he was holding to his chest. Without a word, she beckoned to him and he followed her to the small storeroom beyond the kitchen. Their eyes met as she opened the washing machine. She paled visibly when she saw the dried blood; there was no way he could hide it. There was just too much of it. She took a sheet and touched the stain, the fear in her eyes was accusing.

"Itís my blood," Julian said. "Caitlin is unharmed."

He was trying to think fast, to invent some injury that might explain the bloodletting. But his knowledge of human physiology was insufficient. He shrugged helplessly and started putting the bedclothes into the machine. Caitlinís mother watched him intently, noticing his awkward movements.

"What did she do to you?" The question made him freeze.

He turned back slowly, facing the old women. They looked at each other for a long time, a battle of wills. To his own surprise, Julian was the first to look away.

"Iím quite all right," he said, but his reaction belied his words as he doubled over in pain when he bumped against a chair in his effort to make a hasty retreat.

"Quiet now," Caitlinís mother said, "or youíll harm yourself even more. Here..." She handed him fresh sheets. "Come back here when youíre done, I want to talk to you."

He thanked her with a nod.

It was rather difficult to make Caitlinís bed with her in it, but he managed it. He sat down for a moment looking at her. She seemed so innocent and vulnerable in her sleep. He still hadnít come up with a lie for her mother when he went back to the kitchen. The notion of disobeying the old womanís order had never entered his mind. She had made tea while she waited for him and he accepted it gratefully.

"Is Caitlin asleep?" she asked.

"Yes," Julian answered, "she will sleep until I wake her up."

They sat sipping the aromatic brew. At last she said in a very even voice:

"I know what you are."

Julianís head snapped up at her words. But there was no horror in her face. She just sat there, calm and composed. Julian hoped against hope that she meant something else, but her next words took that hope away.

"No human being can lose so much blood and stay conscious. I used to be a nurse, I know what Iím talking about. I can imagine how badly you were hurt."

Julian blinked in embarrassment, still not daring to say anything.

"Has she become one of you?" she asked, her voice sad. Julian shook his head.

"No," he said, "and she doesnít know."

Mrs. Byrne smiled unexpectedly.

"Caitlin doesnít know, because she doesnít want to know. But sooner or later sheíll find out. I figured it out within one day. But then Iíve known of your existence since I was a little girl. You see, Iíve met you before, almost forty years ago, and Iím like Caitlin, I never forget a face."

Julian tried very hard to recall Ďa French-speaking child, in the fiftiesí, but the memory eluded him. Her smile was still there.

"Donít bother," she said, "you wonít remember anyway. But I do. I used to dream about you." She laughed at his bewildered expression. "Beautiful dreams. I envy you now. You see, Iím dying. My husband thinks that I donít know, but I do. Iím not stupid."

"You donít have to die," Julian blurted out at last. "I can change that!"

But she shook her head.

"No, itís too late. Just promise me that youíll take care of my girl. Donít let any harm come to her." There was that wicked smile again. "And donít let her harm you," she made a telling gesture towards the washing machine, "and I promise, I wonít make you eat dinner tonight."

Julian couldnít help laughing at that. She hugged him, and he closed her in his arms for a long time, preventing her from seeing the bloody tears that ran down his face.

Caitlin and Julian returned to San Francisco the next day. She didnít remember what she had done to him and, to his relief, showed no desire for new blood orgies during the following weeks. Julian started to relax, she seemed a little distant sometimes, but otherwise was all right.

I hope that the calm isnít false, he thought apprehensively. He could no more see into the future than mere mortals could, and he didnít want to confide in Daedalus. What troubled him was just too private. Caitlin sold her house and moved her things into the mansion. Just as Julian started believing that everything had been settled, she dropped a bombshell.

"Iím going to Europe next week," she announced one evening.

"How long will you be gone?" Julian was taken aback.

"A few weeks, a couple of months at the most."

"Caitlin..." He looked at her dismayed.

"Donít worry, Iím not leaving you, but itís the opportunity of a lifetime. Iíll be able to see how they do things in all the major European papers." She hugged him. "Donít look like that, Iíll be all right. Besides, a little separation will do us good. Iíve got some thinking to do."

That worried Julian even more, but he didnít say anything. Apparently, her mind was made up.

The night before she left, she bit him again, not seriously, but it scared her and it scared Julian too.

Maybe, a separation will do us good, he thought.

But his heart was heavy with fear as he watched the plane bound for Frankfurt, with Caitlin onboard, disappear into the clouds over the San Francisco Bay. Knowing that two of his most trusted Gangrel guards where on that plane didnít help a lot. Caitlin had refused to let Arthur go with her.

* * *


Julian missed Caitlin desperately, much more than he had expected he would. He spent the first week sulking, the second snapping at everybody until finally, Daedalus told him off. The Nosferatuís scorn stung even more than Caitlinís absence. He made an effort to act on Daedalusí last retort:

"Youíre a Prince, Julian. Behave like one!"

He buried himself in work daily, but the nights were difficult to get through. Even when he spent several hours out hunting, feeding till he could drink no more every night, there were hours in the early evenings and just before dawn when the loneliness hurt most.

Caitlin called every few days. She made a habit of calling late in the evenings, the time difference making it early mornings for Julian. But he made sure that he was always available when her calls came through. The sound of her voice made him want her, and she had always something tender to say to him, apart from reporting on her progress.

"I miss you," they would tell each other, and they both meant it.

Julian started visiting the Haven every other evening. He knew about the affair that Lillie was carrying on with Frank Kohanek, and it made him feel secure in her company. Therefore, he was totally unprepared when she sought him out one night and asked him to dance. The music had turned to a soft romantic melody. He danced with her, her body moving enticingly in his arms, reminding him of what had been. He felt apprehensive, well aware of what Lillieís touch could do to a man, Kindred or mortal. But Lillie didnít try anything, she kept the conversation light, a smile on her face, her eyes averted.

Julian saw Frank Kohanek enter the club. A shadow passed over his features when he saw Lillie dancing with her former lover. He sat down in one of the booths. When the music ended, Julian steered Lillie towards Frankís table. The last thing he needed right now was a jealous cop coming after him. Nevertheless, he was shocked by a pang of jealousy himself when he saw Lillie kiss the policeman.

"You shouldnít leave a beautiful lady on her own," he said more sharply than he had intended to. "Someone may steal her."

But Frank Kohanek was in a foul mood.

"Shouldnít you heed your own advice?" he retorted belligerently. It stung.

"Alas," Julian made a placating gesture, "my lady is thousands of miles away."

Before he turned away however, he caught the white light that sparkled in Lillieís eyes at his words and knew that nothing had been forgotten as he felt his own eyes respond with a green shimmer.

He decided to stay away from the Haven in the future; but Lillieís burning flash of naked desire followed him for days, awakening feelings within him that would have been best kept locked away if Caitlin had been around. Within a week he was back in the club, but the first person he ran into was Cameron, and he regretted that he had come.

Cameron growled when he saw Julian, but then checked himself. Later, when those who had accompanied Julian were dancing or hanging around the bar, leaving him alone in the booth, Cameron dared to approach the Prince. To his surprise, Julian allowed him to sit down at his table, offering him a glass of wine. Cameron had only intended to greet Julian Luna formally; it was his duty as Primogen to acknowledge the Princeís presence.

What does the bloody Ventrue want? he wondered.

But Julian didnít want anything. He posed the usual questions about the Brujah Clan and its business, demanding nothing and offering nothing. The Brujahs had been behaving unusually well lately. Cameron became aware that all other Kindred in the club were watching them. At last he gathered up his courage and asked:

"Whatís going on?"

Julian allowed a shadow of a smile to show.

"What do you think is going on?" he retorted.

And then it struck Cameron. He was being pardoned, officially! Sitting at the Princeís table, sharing his wine, he was no longer pariah to the other Clans. The wave of relief that swept over him made him feel ashamed. He hated being grateful to Julian Luna.

The Prince nodded dismissal, the show was over. But before Cameron left, he posed another question:

"How is Caitlin doing?" He knew that he had made a mistake when he saw Julianís face set into stony hostility.

"To you she doesnít exist," the Prince said coldly.

Cameron backed away. He had been pardoned, but not forgiven.

Cameron sat at his table, his Brujah friends surrounding him, still dazzled. A barmaid had brought wine they hadnít ordered.

"Itís on the house," she said.

When Cameron looked up, he saw Lillie nod and smile from a distance. Other Kindred started strolling towards his table. Suddenly, he was lavished with more attention than the Prince himself. The hate made his triumph taste bitter. How could one man hold such power?! He glanced at Julian Luna, but there was someone sitting opposite him and the Princeís eyes were focused on that person. Cameron concentrated

on being amiable to those who addressed him, while his mind was busy imagining how he could decapitate Luna with the same Japanese sword that had been used to cut off Eddieís head. But his mind wouldnít heed his wishes entirely, and he saw the three dead bodies in Manzanita; Julian Luna had killed them, unarmed and gravely injured. Daedalus had been barely able to stop him when he had lashed out at Cameron. No, Cameron wasnít yet ready to match his strength against the Princeís.

Another picture came unbidden into his mind. Caitlin, her blond hair fluttering in the breeze, her soft voice calling Julianís name, the dark head against her shuddering body... Cameron choked on the wine, but when he looked again, the booth on the other side of the room was empty.

A young woman had slipped into his booth. Julianís senses identified her instantly: a human.

"May I?" she asked although she was already seated. He nodded smiling and looked her over appraisingly. She wasnít very pretty but seemed fresh and wasnít too intoxicated. Short dark hair, a little on the plump side. Her blue eyes looked straight into his as she pushed her empty glass towards him.

A pro looking for a customer? Julian wondered and his smile broadened. Maybe I should pay for my meals every now and then.

He poured some wine into her glass and her hand took his when he let go of the bottle.

"Isnít it boring to sit here all by yourself?" she asked. Julian didnít remove his hand from her grasp and looked pointedly at their joined fingers saying:

"Iím not all by myself, am I?"

She looked at the couples whirling on the dancing floor before her gaze returned to him.

"How about a dance?" But Julian shook his head.

"Not my tune." He leaned closer to her. "I have a better proposition. Letís find a less crowded place."

She nodded, blushing.

An amateur in desperate search for male company, Julian concluded. He knew every nook and cranny in the Haven. It shouldnít be too difficult to find some deserted room.

"My name is Amy," she said as he led her up the stairs. As soon as the door closed behind them and they were in an empty corridor, she turned to him, her arms closing around his neck, and kissed him. He responded to the kiss and felt his body react as she pressed softly against him. He lifted her and carried her into a poolroom that he knew was seldom used. As he had expected, it was deserted. He let go of her and turned to lock the door. When he faced her again she was taking of her clothes, slowly, suggestively. He watched her, surprised by how little reaction he felt. She stopped suddenly and he realized that she expected him to follow suit. Reluctantly, he removed his jacket and his shirt. In the next moment she was close to him, his belt coming loose in her hands. She dragged him down; the carpet was rough under his back and buttocks. She held his face with both hands, kissing him passionately, her body pressing him down as she straddled him. The inbred instinct of an eighteenth-century gentleman prevented him from using force against a woman when his life wasnít in danger.

She has more limbs than an octopus! he thought as his hands slid over her sweating skin. Her movements became jerky, her breathing labored. He pressed a hand between their bodies, his fingers reaching her and helping her over the edge. He was rewarded as she cried out, throwing her head back, her throat exposed. His teeth sunk deep into her carotid artery and he drunk her blood in big gulps. It was hot and sweet and still bubbling with the sexual excitement he had provided.

Well, Julian thought wryly, Iíve paid for my meal anyway!

He disengaged himself from the unconscious girl. Carrying on with a lifeless body wasnít enticing even though his own lust hadnít been quenched. He put on his clothes and bent over the prone figure, making sure that the wound on her throat was closing rapidly. He took one of her discarded garments and wiped off the blood that was already drying on her skin. He wanted to leave, but to let her wake up alone and naked in one of the back rooms of the Haven might be unwise. He took her in his arms and, after checking that there was no trace left of his bite, he let his hand pass over her face. Her eyes fluttered open. Julian produced a worried expression.

"You passed out," he said. "That was unkind."

She tried to get up and he helped her to her feet. She smiled at him shakily.

"It has never happened to me before." Her hand moved to her throat. Apparently, there was some sensation left. He had awakened her too early. "What happened?" she asked.

"I donít know." Julianís lie had years of practice. "You screamed and then you were gone. I was afraid that youíd suffered a stroke." He looked at her accusingly. "You scared the hell out of me." He was deliberately cruel because he didnít want her to come after him again. As he had expected, she put her clothes on with swift, angry movements and stomped out of the poolroom without another word. He laughed when the door closed behind her. Works every time!

Lillie, who had access to everything and everywhere in the Haven, covered the peephole and turned away smiling. This was the Julian she recognized. Whoever that sex mad girl was, she certainly got what she deserved! The scream still echoed in Lillieís mind, making her shudder. Had she ever screamed like that? Not with Frank. She stood hesitating for a moment before running out, but when she entered the poolroom, Julian was no longer there. She went down to the club and saw him in his booth: his clothes were in perfect order, every hair in place, his face bland. Several men were seated at his table, all Kindred. Lillie went to the bar, took a bottle of wine and some glasses.

"I thought you might want some more," she said, placing them on the table. The murmurs of thanks went past her as her eyes met Julianís. She became aware of the double meaning of her remark when she saw him flinch. She saw the green shimmer and she saw the muscles of his jaws clench.

Bye, bye Caitlin, she thought triumphantly as she moved away after letting him see her own incandescent response.

Julian managed to stay away from the Haven and from Lillie for another week, knowing perfectly well that he would give in eventually. Lillie didnít try to contact him, knowing just as well that her allure didnít need any enhancement. It was a battle of wills, and Julian lost. He found out through Sonny when Frank was working nights. Not that he was afraid, but walking in on that cop would only complicate matters. He came to the club when it was long past midnight. It was just closing down. He found Lillie seated in one of the booths, a stack of bills in front of her, a glass of wine in her hand. He slid soundlessly into a seat, facing her.

"You took your time," she said in a low voice.

"Lillie," he said, "Iím afraid I shouldnít even be here," he shrugged helplessly, "but I couldnít stay away."

Lillie smiled her imperious smile.

"Julian, youíre always welcome." She put the papers away and took his hand. "Come," she said simply. He followed her, his willpower gone.

Frank found them in the early morning. Sonny had come into the police station earlier than usual and told Frank that there had been some trouble in the Haven during the night. Frank went to the club unsuspecting, he just wanted to make sure that everything was all right. He was shocked and dismayed. Caught in the act was hardly the right description of what he saw. They were in Lillieís private room above the club, both naked, their bodies dripping with blood from the wounds they had inflicted on each other, seemingly unaware of the world around them.

Frank didnít stop to think. He grabbed the first thing that looked like a weapon, a poker, and attacked them with a shout of rage. But Julian was swifter than Frank had expected. He shoved Lillie away and was moving aside when the poker came down. Instead of hitting his head, it landed on his shoulder and Frank was gratified by the audible snap of a bone breaking. But in the next moment, the poker was wrestled out of his hand and he was thrown down on the floor, Julianís hand squeezing his throat, a knee planted firmly on his chest. No matter how much he struggled, Frank couldnít get out of Julianís grip. Even with one arm useless, his superior strength was a distinct advantage. Frank tried to talk, but the strangling hand made it impossible. He saw with horror that Julianís face was absolutely expressionless: that he was being murdered in cold blood. His vision began to blur; he heard Lillieís scream, but it sounded as if she were far away, and everything went totally black.

Frank was still lying on the floor when he regained consciousness. Something had been put under his legs, so the first things he saw were his own shoes. The sight seemed so ridiculous that he started to laugh. A hoarse croak came out. He had a headache that was a pride to its species, his throat hurt like hell and his ribs screamed in protest against every breath he took; but he was alive and it genuinely surprised him. He tried to look around but his head advised him against it. Lillieís face came into his field of vision.

"Frank, can you hear me?" she asked.

He tried to answer, but all he managed to produce was another croak. He decided that it was all the conversation he was capable of and shut his mouth. Lillie touched his face lightly and turned away saying:

"He is conscious, but I think you damaged something in his throat. He canít talk."

Now, it was Julianís turn to appear in front of Frankís eyes. He was only half-dressed, and Frank noticed with satisfaction that he favored his left arm. He touched Frankís neck and chest very gently.

"A few broken ribs, his throat will be all right," he said turning to Lillie. Then his gaze returned to Frank.

"How could you be so stupid?" he asked. "You are playing with fire, this isnít the first time youíve nearly provoked me into killing you. Next time you attack me, choose something more effective than a piece of cast iron. You only managed to make me angry."

Frank made an effort.

"I... broke your arm," he hissed.

Julian started to shrug but grimaced in pain.

"My arm will be all right in a couple of hours, it will take weeks for your ribs to heal. Why did you do it? How did you know I was here?"

"I didnít." Frankís speech was getting better. "They said at the station that there had been some trouble at the club." He omitted Sonnyís name meticulously. "I... just went mad... when I saw you two... thought of Alexandra. Why canít you leave her alone!"

Julian and Lillie looked at each other, and Frank could almost feel the invisible bond between them.

"Frank," Julian said at last, "Lillie and I are Kindred. We go back... more than a hundred years. Whatís between us is forever, nothing can change that."

"Yeah?" In spite of his disadvantageous position, Frank was warming up for a fight. "What about Caitlin Byrne?"

"I love Caitlin but she is a mortal, and I want her to remain one, although it means that Iíll lose her eventually." The smile on Julianís face was so sad and full of pain that Frank lost his appetite for arguing. Somehow, fighting when the opponent wasnít cooperating gave him no satisfaction.

Julian rose to his feet and, putting his good arm around Lillie, kissed her on the forehead the way a brother might kiss a sister.

"Iíll leave now," he said. "Lillie will get you a doctor. If you tell him that you have been squashed by a vampire, heíll probably put you in an asylum."

After Julian had gone and Lillie stopped giggling, she returned to Frankís side.

"What happened, really?" he asked her.

"Really?" she said. "You really tried to bash in the head of the Prince of San Francisco, and lived to tell the story. No one else has. He must like you a lot. What possessed you?!" She started to sound angry, but Frank avoided her question.

"I mean, why didnít he kill me?" He remembered the dead man without a throat in the bank.

"I told him it would be bad publicity for the Haven," Lillieís anger wasnít subsiding. "No, frankly, he let go when you passed out. I couldnít have stopped him even if I had tried."

"Thank you very much!" Frank said bitterly, but Lillieís face was serious.

"Get one thing straight, Frank," she said coldly, "if Julian hadnít broken a few of your ribs, I would have. I like you, but you can never replace Julian. Do you understand?!" She was shouting, her eyes flashing white lightning.

"Yeah, I get it," Frank said trying to pick himself up, but the pain in his chest made him fall back with a grunt. Lillie stared at him angrily for a moment longer, then went to the phone to call a doctor.

Frank was taken to a hospital, examined and patched up. There was a police investigation. Remembering Julianís acidic comment, he said that he never saw his assailant and Lillie corroborated his story. Tests were made, there was some blood on Frankís neck that wasnít his. The lab computer had a field day blinking a Match found display in red. As it turned out, the blood found on Frank matched one of the samples of semen found in connection with a rape case of one Caitlin Byrne some months ago. The information was filed and stored for future use. The rapist in the case of Ms. Byrne had never been apprehended.

Frank tried to break it off with Lillie after that incident, but was unable to. She never mentioned what had happened and neither did he. But when Sonny asked what had happened to him - his ribs took weeks to heal just as Julian had predicted - he said that he had been squashed by a vampire. Eventually, Sonny dragged the whole story out of him, and Frank was surprised by the look of horror on his partnerís face. It made him understand that what Lillie had told him was true. He was probably the only person, mortal or Kindred, who had made an unsuccessful attempt to kill a Prince and lived to tell. He didnít see Julian Luna during the following weeks, neither in the Haven nor anywhere near Lillie Langtry. Nor did he ask her if she saw Julian again.

Frankís attack had a sobering effect on Julian. Being with Lillie had been... enjoyable, nothing more. He longed for Caitlinís warmth, realizing that he needed her love more than he needed sex. He had seen that girl from the club a few days before. As it turned out, she worked at the Times. He recognized her in spite of glasses and a business suit, but pretended that he didnít. Seeing her there made him suspect that her advances in the Haven were not mere coincidence. He hoped that she wouldnít run babbling to Caitlin on her return, but if she did, well, there were ways to make a girl forget. No problem for a Kindred. Still, it was another mess that he had no need of. Daedalus had tended to his broken shoulder, never asking one question. The Nosferatu was wise indeed. He had made some ill-humored noises and said:

"Julian, getting into a brawl over a woman doesnít become you."

As usual, Daedalusí scorn stung more than the actual injury.

He decided to stay celibate. After all, the reports from the Gangrel couple in Europe described Caitlinís behavior as impeccable.

Amy was angry, scared, humiliated and thoroughly unhappy, not necessarily in that order. How stupid can a girl get! She had run into Julian once in the office a couple of weeks before Caitlin was supposed to return from Europe. His indifferent expression told her that he didnít even recognize her. Maybe it was just as well. But she hated him anyway.

How could he forget?! She certainly couldnít.

She had gone to the Haven because she had heard that he was sometimes there. She had watched him, devising means to approach him. The first time she made her move, she was beaten by that handsome young man. The next time Julian was alone in his booth, she closed in on her quarry before anyone else. It seemed almost ridiculous, how easy he was to seduce. To cut Caitlin out, that would make Amyís day. What she didnít expect was that her day would be made in a very different way. The memory made her squirm.

Oh, God! she thought, Iím twenty-five, and that was the first time a man had made me come! And now, he doesnít even recognize me!

He had allowed her total freedom to do as she pleased, his hands hardly touching her. She had rubbed against him, exciting herself, fully aware that it would lead to nothing: the frustration overwhelming her as it had always done in the past. And then, quite casually, his hand was on her, propelling her into another dimension: the inhibitions of her whole life swept away in one exploding moment. No wonder she had passed out!

He had chased her away afterwards like some cheap tart. Damn him to hell!

Anamaria Weatherstone wasnít used to being treated like a tart. After all, she was the heiress to the Weatherstone&Reilly fortune, one of the biggest construction companies on the West Coast. Well, one of the heirs anyway. Her father had bought her the glamorous job as a reporter for the San Francisco Times and she liked it. Lots of men around. Only she had set her eyes on the one man who wouldnít be impressed by the Weatherstone millions. Amy was spoiled and lazy, but she wasnít stupid. She knew that she couldnít point her plump finger at Julian Luna and say:

"Daddy, buy me that!"

She had heard about the reclusive Julian Luna long before she ever saw him. His name circulated among the rich and powerful of the city, and she was certainly one of the rich and powerful. Men talked about him with respect, the women in hushed voices. There was a mystery that was intriguing. When it became known that he had bought the San Francisco Times she was thrilled. When he turned up at a staff meeting at last, she had been amazed. He was much younger and much better looking than she had imagined. She understood what the hushed voices of the women in her set of acquaintances meant.

To her dismay, however she saw that the man she coveted was there for one purpose only. Caitlin Byrne, that pale, thin nobody! Promoted to editor in one blink of an eye. What did he see in her? The way he looked at her, there was no doubt that he was ridiculously infatuated with that cold fish. Amy had been there on that evening when Julian had locked the door to Caitlinís office. Her desk was the nearest, she had heard everything and it had haunted her for months. Even in her dreams. When Caitlin had moved in with Julian, Amy was on the brink of giving up. And then, quite unexpectedly - unexpectedly for Caitlin that is - the opportunity to go to Europe had turned up and Caitlin was too professional to decline. Of course, Caitlin didnít know that it had all been arranged by Weatherstone senior, as requested by his beloved daughter Anamaria. The old man was proud of his daughterís altruism and was only too happy to oblige. Caitlin would be gone for two months and Amy started to stalk Julian Luna. She had set out to seduce him the moment she found him alone in the club, and she had succeeded beyond her wildest expectations. Everything inside her screamed for more. The evanescent moment of ecstasy she had experienced with him overshadowed her whole existence. And now, the devil didnít even remember! Amy decided that it was time to remind him.

Julian was at home. One of his rare headaches had forced him to make the day short. A thunderstorm was on its way, the clouds over the city dark and heavy with rain that had yet to fall. In his mortal life he had been susceptible to weather conditions, responding with a splitting headache to atmospheric changes. The ailment pursued him into his life as a Kindred, albeit the attacks were not as severe as in his youth. Still, unused as he was to being ill, he found the nuisance irritating, often breaking into a fit of rage at the slightest adversity. It was better to avoid company in such moments. Even Daedalus would keep out of his way. Amy had chosen the worst possible moment to confront Julian Luna.

He sat in the library, unable to read or listen to music, the fireplace the only source of light. His muscles refused to relax, the pain unabating, when a servant came in quietly and informed him that a young lady wanted to see him.

"Does she have a name?" he asked, the irritation in his voice apparent. He didnít want to see anyone, a young lady least of all. The expression young lady used by his servant meant a human, otherwise the name and Clan would have been given.

"Anamaria Weatherstone," the servant answered unperturbed. The name sounded familiar to Julian, but he couldnít place it immediately.

"No," he said. "Get rid of her!"

"The lady was rather persistent," was the answer.

"No!" Julian started to sound angry.

The door closed and the soothing darkness and silence were restored. But seconds later, the servant was back.

"She says itís very important, concerning Miss Byrne."

Julian frowned, he had talked to Caitlin this very morning. What could be wrong?

"All right," he sighed, "bring her in."

He knew what was wrong the moment she entered the library. She had a dark dress on: it matched the color of her hair and suited her much better than the flimsy thing she had been wearing in the Haven. No glasses again. She squinted, trying to see Julian in the dark. He nodded to the servant who put the lights on, albeit dimly, and left. Julian and the young woman looked at each other. He knew what she wanted, it wasnít the first time this had happened. A chill spread inside him, his hand rubbed his aching forehead, he hated these situations. He shook his head tiredly. It was just as well that she came now, while Caitlin was still in Europe. The message she had made the servant deliver was an evident threat. The first thunder made a deafening bang outside as she moved closer. A bolt of lightning filled the library with an eerie white light, sending a painful shock wave through Julianís head. The intensive light blinded them both momentarily, making them blink. When Amy could see again after the library was returned to its subdued light, the chair that Julian had been sitting in was empty.

"Do you think it was wise to come here?" She heard Julianís voice behind her. She spun around, her eyes widening in surprise; she hadnít seen him move. Julian stood by the fireplace, his back against the flames. He was looking at her coldly.

"I had to see you," she blurted out. "I had to," she repeated.

"Why?" His voice disclosed nothing.

Let her come out with it and be done, he thought. He still had no idea what he should do about her, but he was sure of one thing: Caitlin must be kept ignorant. The young woman moved towards him, but stopped when another lightning bolt lit up the room. When the last growling sound of the thunder rolled away in the distance, she moved again, coming really close, too close. Julian had nowhere to go: the fire was only inches behind him. He tried to glide sideways out of her reach, but she stopped him, her hands taking hold of his upper arms. His muscles hardened under her palms in resentment, but she interpreted his reaction differently.

"I need you," she whispered, her body pressed against him, her voice husky. "I want you..."

Julian turned around and she followed his motion, her back now against the fire. He didnít try to disengage his arms from her grip, that old upbringing haunting him again. But when she let her hands move up, encircling his neck, her face straining up in search of a kiss, he took hold of her wrists, broke her embrace and leaned away from her. She frowned, but didnít draw back, her body pressing harder against his, her belly rubbing against his groin. Julian let go of her wrists and, grabbing her hips, pushed her

away from him with a shout. He stopped himself at the last moment, realizing that he was on the verge of throwing her into the fire. Disgusted, he let go of her and moved out of her reach. There was another thunderbolt, much further away, rumbling as a distant growl in a wolfís throat. Amy stood where he had left her, her body silhouetted by the roaring flames, her face filled with disbelief and hurt.

"You canít treat me like this!" she screamed. "You canít, you damn fool..."

"Stop it!" Julianís shout silenced her.

She pressed both her hands over her mouth, her eyes filling with tears.

"Youíre making a fool of yourself," Julian tried to reason with her. "I think it would be best if you forgot what has happened here, as well as what happened at the Haven."

She winced and her shoulders started to shake.

"Please, donít make the situation more awkward than it already is." Julian realized that he wasnít reaching her. She shook her head, refusing to listen to him.

"Forget?!" she shouted at last. "How can you say that?! How can you demand...?!" A sob racked her, but she stifled it and straightened her back, her eyes narrowing. "Do you think Caitlin would mind if I remembered what we did in that club?"

Julian took a step back, cold fear gripping him. Of course, Amy didnít remember the most important part of what had happened in the Haven, but what was important to Julian and what was important to Amy were two different things.

"Itís your word against mine!" Julianís anger was taking over again. "Look at yourself," he continued contemptuously, "do you really imagine that Caitlin would believe you?"

In truth, Julian would never have looked at Anamaria twice, had it not been for the blood in her veins. She spat at him, her whole body shaking with rage.

"Oh yeah!" she exclaimed. "Do you know what I did afterwards?" She was shouting loudly. "I went to the police! I told them that Iíd been raped. They examined me. If I point you out, it will be proved that you were with me that night. I think that your sweet Caitlin will believe a police report!"

Julian watched her rave. She was lying of course, he knew that he hadnít left any traces in her, but her audacity enraged him even more.

"Youíre out of your mind," he hissed. "Get out of here!"

But instead of heeding his demand, she ran towards him, her arms outstretched, her fingers crooked into claws. Julian was so stunned by her assault - that she was able to reach him - her long nails ripped at his face before he reacted. Amy never perceived what happened. The powerful blow landed on her neck less than one second after her nails tore Julianís cheek. There was a sickening sound of crushing bones. She was dead before her body hit the floor. Julian stared at the lifeless body sprawling at his feet, uncomprehending. Slowly, the realization of what he had done dawned on him. The shock made him sway, and he backed away from the corpse. A white flash of lightning illuminated the scene with horrible clarity. A loud clap of thunder followed

immediately. In the disclosing light, Julian saw that her right hand was covered with blood, her neck was twisted in an impossible angle, and the wide-open eyes stared sightlessly at him. In spite of knowing that she was dead, he crouched over her and let his fingers search for her pulse. Of course, there was none. His hand moved up her neck. All the vertebrae in her neck were crushed into popcorn, the base of her skull was pushed into her brain. He backed away.

"Stupid bitch!" he snarled.

What now? Julian tried to think straight but failed. The thunderstorm seemed to rage just above the mansion, the lightning and thunder succeeding each other continuously. Julianís headache threatened his sanity, it had become worse than ever before. For a split second he thought of shoving the dead woman into the fireplace, but realized that it wouldnít do. He made an effort to concentrate.

Think! he commanded himself. How did she get here? Her own car? A cab? Had anybody seen her? Had she told anybody? Had anybody seen them together in the Haven? Lillie, of course! But Lillie wasnít a threat. Cameron?

Julian sank helplessly into the big, comfortable leather chair.

"Stupid bitch," he said again aloud. He was grateful that Caitlin was on the other side of the globe. On the other hand, he wouldnít have touched that woman had Caitlin been in San Francisco.

"Oh, Caitlin!" he shuddered.

The damn woman had been Caitlinís colleague. He looked at the dead body again. She had scratched his face. The blood under her nails was his. Could it be cleaned away well enough? Or would the police find something, no matter how hard he tried to get rid of the evidence?

I need help, he thought. Daedalus!

His mental shout was answered. Julian didnít hear him enter, but suddenly Daedalus was there, standing by the fire, looking at the dead woman, then at Julian. Julian lowered his eyes. How could he tell his closest friend that he had killed a human because she had disgusted him, had made idiotic threats and had scratched his face.

"What happened?" Daedalus asked at last.

But Julian didnít address the question.

"She must disappear," he said to the Nosferatu Primogen.

Daedalus didnít repeat his question. He understood that the woman had died for the wrong reason. He didnít want to know why. He came nearer Julian and examined his injured face. The wounds were already closing: there would be no trace left of Amyís attack within a few minutes. But the blood on her hand was drying and would not vanish. Daedalus had taken in everything at one glance.

"Iíll take care of the body," he said finally. "Julian, how did she get here?"

"Iíll find out," Julian answered.

Anamaria had come in her own car. Cash identified it very quickly after Julian had given him the car keys he found in her bag. The car was gone from the San Francisco

area within an hour. By the morning it had been sunk in the Pacific Ocean, two hundred miles north of the city. Daedalus thought of almost everything. Three of his clansmen went through Amyís apartment, making sure that there was nothing there that would connect her to Julian Luna. They destroyed her computer; the diary they found was brought to the mansion. Julian burned it after having read it. If possible, reading it worsened his headache. The steaming lust and envy that rose from the hand written pages filled him with revulsion. She had described her encounter with Julian in the Haven in every graphic detail, enhancing her memory with what her feelings and her imagination conjured up. It made him feel sick.

The thunderstorm abated in the morning and so did Julianís headache. He slept through the next day.

Anamaria Weatherstone disappeared on the night of an unusually powerful thunderstorm. Her body was never recovered. Julian didnít ask Daedalus what had been done with it: he didnít want to know. Daedalus didnít know that Amy had worked at the San Francisco Times, and Julianís migraine had made him forget to inform the Nosferatu about it.

It had all started when a new Irish pub opened in the vicinity and the girls had dragged Caitlin along. The dark bitter beer made them somewhat disorderly. Jenny, the boldest, gave Caitlin a sly look.

"Tell us," she purred, "how is he?"

Caitlin winced.

"Julian is fine," she pretended that she didnít understand what Jenny was after, and all three of them laughed at her answer.

"Címon Caitlin," Amyís blue eyes were twinkling, "we know that! We want more. Give us some meat. Donít be shy; we are friends, arenít we?"

"Uhuh," the others chirped in.

"He is so cool," Donna said dreamily, "so dignified... so rich!"

"So handsome," Amy added.

"So sexy!" Jenny came to the point. "We want all the gory details! We want blood!"

Caitlinís face turned violently red. She wasnít in the habit of discussing her sex life with anybody, but the friendly bantering brought all her feelings into the open. She bowed her head, trying to hide her embarrassed expression. But Jenny was relentless.

"We all know what happened in your office. You remember, donít you? We could hear everything," she lowered her voice to an intimate whisper, making Caitlin wish that she were somewhere else. Amy put an arm around Caitlinís shoulders.

"Donít be shy," she said again, "we just want you to be happy. Does he make you happy?"

Caitlin nodded, and then raised her head.

"Iíve never been so happy in my whole life," she said with emphasis. "I love him!"

But Jenny wasnít satisfied yet.

"That sounds very nice, but is he good in bed? He seems so... restrained."

Restrained, indeed! Caitlin realized with rising anger that Jenny was trying to provoke her into disclosing her most intimate experiences.

"Look," she said, "Julian and I love each other. We make each other happy. We satisfy each other. Thatís all the confession youíre going to get!" But in her mind a question arose: Iím satisfied, but is he? He always seems to be ready for more when Iím not.

However her outburst made Jenny back off.

"Okay, okay," she said, "then tell us whatís he like as a person. You know, the man behind the mask. Does he prefer pop music or classic, Chinese food or Italian, late night shows or highbrow debates. Things like that."

"Soccer games or horse racing?" Amy added.

"Does he have an equally good-looking brother stashed away somewhere?" Donna put in, giggling.

Their barrage of questions made Caitlin aware of how pitifully little she knew about Julian.

"He likes ice cream and opera," she said finally, "and he doesnít watch TV."

Three pairs of curious eyes stared at her, urging her to continue. Caitlin shrugged helplessly.

"He is afraid of flying." That made them laugh. At last a weakness. "He told me once that he is a good swimmer, and he is very strong. He speaks several languages. No brother, as far as I know."

And that concludes the bulk of my knowledge about Julian Luna, she thought sadly. There were few other things she knew about him, things she wouldnít share with her girlfriends.

The next evening, in her office, Caitlin looked at the computer screen. The title read Funny things that I know about Julian. She deleted the word Funny and wrote Curious instead, then exchanged it again to Strange. She was dead serious.

She printed out the file and, sipping her coffee, went over what she had written. The first paragraph started with Physiology in bold letters.

High body temperature, it stated, sterile. Never sick. Caitlin had suffered from a few severe colds during recent months, but Julian seemed immune to such ailments. He had mentioned headaches on some occasion, but always in the past tense.

Never tired, the next line said. True, he was always alert. He never tired of making love to her, she was always the first to lose interest. A warm feeling spread through Caitlinís body.

No wonder Lillie was mad, she thought. Who would have guessed that the strict, somber businessman was the greatest lover since Casanova. Not that she had had so many to compare to. But her meager experience was telling enough. Once men got what they wanted, they turned away and started snoring, often leaving the woman halfway through. Not Julian. In fact, she had never seen him fall asleep before she did.

Where did he get all his energy from? That was the next item, food. As far as Caitlin had seen, he ate next to nothing. Sometimes they spent so much time together that she knew he hadnít eaten anything all day. When she pointed that out, he would brush it away, saying that he wasnít hungry. He certainly didnít look anorectic. Did he get up in the middle of the night and raid the fridge? Did he suffer from some eating disorder?

Lately, he had acquired a taste for sweets. He would eat cakes and ice cream, while she attacked a steak or a pizza. Her quite serious remark, that all that sugar would rot his teeth, made him fall apart with laughter.

Of course, how could Caitlin have known that Kindred were impervious to human infections. She couldnít know that a new one would replace a lost tooth, developing in its place, as in a shark. Nevertheless, Julian had tried to imagine a Kindred with decayed teeth, and it was that picture that had made him laugh so hard. As for the sugar, it was a source of pure energy from which he could benefit slightly; besides, it tasted rather pleasant. Some fresh fruit had the same effect. If he could make Caitlin believe that he was a vegetarian - eat deserts and fruit in her presence - then maybe she would stop commenting on his lack of interest in human food. Vegetarian, indeed, he had thought dryly. All the blood he had drunk over the years! It would certainly fill any blood bank. Well, he was what he was, nothing could change that.

Caitlin was concentrating on her list. There was that uncanny ability to heal: small cuts and bruises that should take several days to heal were gone the day after. She remembered one particular incident. She had scratched Julianís collarbone while they were making love. He hadnít been quick enough in intercepting her hand. She had watched the droplets of blood that came forth, vaguely disgusted by her own desire to lick them off his skin. She had taken the edge of a sheet and wiped the blood away. Afterwards, when she looked at her hand, there was blood under her fingernails, but, when she turned to Julian, she saw to her utter surprise that there was no trace left of the damage her nails had inflicted. That mystery scared her so much that she didnít dare to ask him about it.

And that crazy thing with his eyes!

Also, he smelled of nothing. When they were near each other, she could detect the faint scent of his after-shave. She couldnít identify it, but it reminded her of fields in the summer and freshly turned earth. Beyond that, there was nothing.

Lastly, there was his unbelievable strength. He was very careful not to exhibit it, but sometimes he forgot himself. The ease with which he lifted heavy objects. He could pin her down with one hand; and even though that didnít impress her, he had once pinned down a man, with no more effort than he used on her. Another time, he twisted off a big padlock when Caitlin refused to climb over a fence.

"Julian, youíre showing off again," she had exclaimed, but he had said that the padlock was rusty. They both peered at the broken steel at their feet, the metal glimmering in the sun: no trace of rust on it. Julian had shrugged in a dismissive gesture and opened the gate for her.

Caitlin read through her notes again. The picture that emerged from her description was not entirely... human. She shied away from her conclusion.

Címon Caitlin, of course he belongs to another species, he is a man! She tried to joke her unease away. A little different from other men, but he is the man you love.

Only, he is a little too different, a little beyond the human boundaries. His sight and hearing are a little too good, his strength a little too great, his other abilities a little too far out of the ordinary. His past a little too mysterious.

Caitlin, get a grip on yourself, she admonished herself, or youíll start believing that your lover comes from outer space!

She shivered violently.

His knowledge of astronomy and physics - a little outside the realm of an ordinary businessman. But then again, there was nothing ordinary about Julian Luna.

The paper crumpled in her hand. She threw it away and deleted the file. But she couldnít stop thinking about it. A couple of days later, she told him about her summation of his traits and the conclusion it had led to. She tried to make it sound light, as if she were joking. To her surprise, Julian assured her quite seriously, that he was as much of Earth origin as she was.

"I abide by the same laws of Nature that you do. But Iím different from other men." He had added sadly in the end, "please, Caitlin, let it rest at that."

But Caitlin couldnít let it rest. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she was that she was going out of her mind. She realized that although she was living in Julianís house, she was not really living in his life. She tried to acquire an insight into his affairs and, to her surprise, Julian offered to let her tag along for a few days.

"Take a pillow with you," he told her laughing, "youíll be bored to death."

He was proven right. The unending business meetings, the bickering about interest rates, negotiations with union leaders, trade routes, taxes, stock-markets and the like, made her lose interest in no time. She endured it for two days. In fact, the only exciting thing that happened during her visit into Julianís business world was provided by Caitlin herself. After returning from a lunch break on the second day, she found him alone in an executive office in the bank. Piles of papers were spread on the big mahogany table. Julian was sitting at one end, leafing through one of the formidable bundles. He was totally absorbed in his reading and didnít look up when she entered. A wicked idea formed in Caitlinís head and she crouched down. Moving quietly on her hands and knees beneath the table, she reached him unnoticed, and was gratified by his surprised flinch when her hand touched him. Using his weight, he made the heavy chair slide back, allowing her more space.

"Caitlin, please!" he protested, but did nothing to stop her. She pressed herself between his knees, her hands and mouth busy. For a long moment there was only the sound of his uneven breathing, then she heard the door open and voices of entering people. She had not thought of locking the door! Julianís hand was on her head instantly, preventing her from moving, and she heard him address his associates.

"Will you please wait outside." His voice betrayed him and he had to clear his throat.

There was a short silence, followed by shuffling feet and the door closed again. Julian took hold of her face, making her look up at him.

"You left the door open on purpose, didnít you?" The accusation was mollified by his laugh.

"I did not!" Caitlin was offended, but her hand returned to him. This time however, he stopped her.

"Caitlin, Iím trying to work," he said. "You are... distracting..."

"Well," Caitlin purred, "you distracted me when I was working."

"Oh, so you want revenge," he was laughing again. Before she could respond, he lifted her on the table, pressing her down on the paperwork.

"Julian," she whispered, "the door is still unlocked."

"If anyone enters," he muttered, "it will be the last thing he does in this bank."

He followed her out and Caitlin was hard pressed not to giggle when she saw how everybody tried not to look at them. She was already in the car when she remembered that her torn panties had been left among the crumpled papers on the table in Julianís office. She laughed helplessly all the way home.

"I lost something in your office," she greeted him innocently when he returned that evening.

His hand dug into his pocket and came up with the silky item in question.

"I had to remove your underwear from the bulletin board in the staff coffee room," he said darkly. But Caitlin dissolved in a paroxysm of laughter again, and eventually Julian was infected and started laughing too.

"Revenge is sweet," she managed to sputter at last, and they laughed till it hurt.

Caitlin never followed him to work again, but Julian noticed that he was treated differently at the bank since her scandalous visit. He was greeted with smiles; there was more help and compliance than ever before, almost... warmth.

Well, he thought with incredulity, they see me as human! It suited him fine, among humans. Of course, Caitlin never attended his meetings with the Kindred. The conclaves were held in the dead of night, in Daedalusí gatehouse. Except for those who worked directly for Julian, or lived there, few Kindred entered the main house nowadays.

Caitlin deleted Julianís affairs from her mental list. There was nothing out of the ordinary there.

If one doesnít count a pair of maltreated knickers littering among dreary bank papers as out of the ordinary, she thought wryly.

So what else was there?

Caitlin knew that Julian seldom spent a whole night with her. He would be with her in the evening, following her to bed as a matter of course, but heíd be gone in the morning. Whenever she woke up in the middle of the night, heíd be gone too. It struck her that he probably left her as soon as she fell asleep. Or sheíd go to sleep alone and would find him at her side when she woke up in the morning. She never noticed when he came into her bedroom. Somehow, he always managed to sneak into her bed without ever waking her. His nightly absences scared her.

What are you up to in the middle of the night, Julian? she wondered, but didnít dare to ask, not really seeing that she didnít want to find out. Finally, she decided on the simplest answer. Taking into consideration his strange eating habits, she came to the conclusion that he really ate in the middle of the night. She was dead right of course, only she wasnít aware of what it was he consumed.

She was appalled by her own desire to hurt him. That was how she perceived her urge to bite him when they made love. She knew that it pleased him, but not how much. The carnage she had caused in her parentsí house was mercifully forgotten. She had never been interested in kinky sex, but suspected now that there was a masochistic streak in Julian, which evoked her reaction. It scared her. Every now and then, Caitlin had a feeling that she glimpsed a darker side of her loverís personality. There was something sinister lurking just beyond her grasp. In the best moments, he could make her forget the whole world, but more and more often she was just frightened. When the opportunity to go to Europe presented itself, she jumped at it immediately. And now, a month later, she was in Paris, driving herself mad with longing for Julian.

She had spotted the young couple that Julian had sent along as guards within a week. In San Francisco the two Gangrels were inconspicuous, but in Europe they were pathetically visible. Caitlin was both annoyed and touched. She knew that they were there for her protection, and she was no longer as self-confident as she had been before she had been raped. In her initial annoyance, just to spite them, she had picked up a man in the hotel bar one night. He looked vaguely like Julian, but when he tried to kiss her, she got the jitters, and was quite grateful when her guards turned up in her room. The man had become threatening when she had asked him to leave without delivering. The two Gangrels were very glad when she accepted their company, and the young woman, Alice, followed Caitlin happily on every shopping round. Three weeks and four cities later, they were sharing a row of seats on the plane back to the States. Both of her guards were miserably afraid of flying, just as Julian had been, and Caitlin felt that it was now her turn to protect them. She had not notified Julian about her homecoming, which was just as well because the plane was detoured due to bad weather, and they had to wait almost five hours in Chicago. It was ten oíclock in the evening when they finally landed in San Francisco, but as far as Caitlin was concerned, it was early morning, and she hadnít slept all night.

She was disappointed that Julian wasnít at home when she arrived at the mansion, but decided that it was for the best. She was just too tired for any reunions. She took a quick shower and was asleep before her head touched the pillow.

He had hurt her by sheer attrition.

They had been apart for almost two months. Instead of sneaking quietly into her bed, as he had always done in the past, without waking her, Julian had grabbed her, his fingers digging painfully into her flesh, and kissed her until she responded instinctively, still half asleep. His initial urgency was endearing, albeit unpleasant. He had parted her thighs brutally, forcing the penetration, scaring and hurting her at first. But it was over within moments, his whole body shuddering uncontrollably, his voice growling her name over and over. They spent the rest of the night making love. Caitlin couldnít match his strength, but she was amazed by the power she had over him. The sound he made when she took him in her mouth, as if she were inflicting pain instead of pleasure. He took hold of her face with unsteady hands, arresting her movements, while he begged her to continue.

"Donít stop, Caitlin... donít stop..." His voice breaking.

But she stopped, shaking her head free from his grasp, and laughed softly.

"Which way do you want it?" she asked, looking up at him.

"I donít want it to end too soon." He was laughing too. But Caitlin enjoyed being in command.

"Thatís for me to decide," she said with mocking sternness. "Keep your hands off me!"

Julian abandoned any attempts to steer her, concentrating on prolonging the experience when she returned to her task. But he capitulated loudly within minutes. Still, Caitlin accused him of holding back, and threatened to do the same. He took her up on that challenge. Only, she was unable to live up to her threats. He could immobilize her with little effort, making sure that she was entirely at his mercy, watching her give in, no matter how much she tried to resist the overwhelming waves of pleasure. Heíd laugh triumphantly, holding her quivering sex in his hand.

"Itís not fair," she complained, "I canít hold you down."

But she knew that she could render him just as helpless as he could make her. When her teeth raked the soft skin over the hardness beneath, he would quiver just as she had, and it was her turn to laugh in triumph. She loved being on top, when she could at least pretend that she was in charge. Sometimes she really was and she delighted in watching him abandon his control, give in and enjoy the pleasure she was giving him.

To her surprise, he was always ready to start again within minutes, no matter how many times he had made love to her before, or how intensely. She was always the one to say when it was enough. Usually, she would be too tired or too hurt to continue after a few hours. Sheíd be quite satisfied and sleepy, apart from being sore in all the important places. He always ceased when she asked him to, never showing any disappointment at her loss of interest. She had asked him about it once, but he had laughed her concern away.

"Iím just too stupid to know when to stop," he had joked. "Iíd probably go on till I dropped dead, because I want you so much. Itís fortunate that one of us is sensible enough to know better."

The truth was that Julianís endurance surpassed Caitlinís by far, but he was not inexhaustible. However, with her, he never even got close to getting tired. Except that one time... he chased away the memory. After all, he had been able to match the stamina of the sexy Toreador, Lillie.

Caitlin was exhausted, but her aching body prevented her from falling asleep. Julian bowed over her, his hand touching her face.

"Caitlin," he said, "let me ease your discomfort."

She looked at him uncomprehending.

"What can you do?"

"Trust me." He took her in his arms, despite her whimpering protest. "I can."

His lips touched hers, but there was nothing sexual about the kiss. His tongue moved slowly over her mouth and, to her surprise, the soreness disappeared. He licked a bruise on her shoulder, creating the same effect.

"How did you do that?" There was incredulity in her voice.

"Shhh ..." he whispered as he uncovered her breasts. First one nipple, then the other, the smarting pain subsided slowly under the wet touch. He searched for other damage, omitting strained muscles, concentrating on skin-deep injuries. The big bruises on her thighs would not disappear entirely, but the pain diminished considerably. He parted her legs, ignoring her feeble protests.

"Hurts!" she complained when his tongue found her sorest part. He was very still for a long moment, letting his saliva soothe away the pain. He stopped when he felt her body relax, then sat up, smiling at her unbelieving expression.

"I canít do anything about the pain inside..." He touched the lowest part of her belly gingerly. "I canít reach it."

She smiled back.

"Itís not half as bad as the one youíve taken away. How did you do it? Are you a healer of some sort? Tell me!" She had trouble believing.

"I just can." Julian shrugged and looked away. Caitlin sat up abruptly, throwing her arms around him.

"Itís a gift!" she exclaimed. "Think of all the people you could help!"

To her dismay, he started laughing.

"Caitlin, I canít go around licking people, can I?"

She couldnít help laughing too.

"No, I suppose you canít." She was suddenly serious. "Is this why you heal so well when youíre hurt?"

"Yes." He anticipated her next question. "Donít ask me how or why, because I donít know."

He wasnít lying. He didnít know why the Kindred had this ability. He was surprised that Caitlin accepted it so easily. There were so many people who claimed that they had many different gifts and abilities. His was at least real. He wasnít endangering the Masquerade, and he hated to see Caitlin in pain because he had made love to her too intensely or for too long. What little pain or injury she had ever inflicted on him, healed within minutes. Except that one time... he chased away the memory again.

She was asleep again, her body relaxed in his arms. He wouldnít leave her this night, not even to feed. He had come back to the mansion late, after a long dreary evening at the negotiation table. He had been tired and still fuming over the stupidity of some of the people he had to deal with. No one had been around to inform him, and he didnít realize that Caitlin was back until he opened the present she had left for him in the library. He had removed the fine paper it was wrapped in, finding a small card inside.

For Julian, I love you, Caitlin, it said.

The small leather case contained a pair of cufflinks, made of crystal, the work so beautiful that it was breathtaking. He admired them for a long moment, watching the tiny prisms reflect the light cast by the fire, when the implication struck him. He had run to her bedroom, his heart beating so hard he was sure the sound would wake everybody in the mansion. He had looked at the sleeping woman for a few seconds, then, all reason gone, he had climbed into her bed, his clothes left in a heap behind him.

Now, his arms hardened around her and she moved restlessly. He relaxed his grip, not wanting to wake her, she had been so tired.

"Donít you ever leave me again!" he said vehemently. "Ever!"

She responded to his voice, making a small cat-like sound, and moved closer, her body soft and warm against his. He wanted her again, the desire like a painful disease, but he decided to let her sleep and wait for her to wake up. With his Kindred patience, he could wait forever.

Both Lillie and Sonny asked Julianís permission to Embrace Frank Kohanek. They had stayed on after a conclave, which wasnít over until dawn. Julian had expected something out of the ordinary to happen, Sonnyís presence was unexpected. Not being a Primogen, Sonny was not expected to attend such meetings; but when he turned up in the middle of the night, informing the Prince that he had something to discuss with him in private, Julian had frowned apprehensively.

Trouble? he wondered.

He looked from Lillie to Sonny, pondering over their request. If he allowed Sonny to do it, Frank would become a Ventrue. Would that calm the policeman down? To be a Ventrue meant to be reasonable and pragmatic. A rational mind was a Ventrue characteristic.

How rational have you been lately? his reason asked himself. He shook his head. Julian had never been very good at deceiving himself, sooner or later the truth would stare him right in the face, no matter how unpleasant or unwanted.

Still, the question had been posed, Ventrue or Toreador. He regarded Lillieís beautiful face. The volatile Frank - a Toreador? As if there werenít trouble enough? If Frank became Kindred, he would be a serious contender in the future: for power, and for Lillie, Julianís wicked reason added.

"Has he asked to be Embraced?" he posed the inevitable question at last, dreading the answer. To his relief, they both shook their heads in negation.

"Then there is nothing to discuss," he said with satisfaction.

"I have a reason to believe that he wants it," Lillie argued. "I wanted your permission first, before I asked him."

"He knows about us," Sonny added. "He practically lives among us."

"No," Julian responded. Seeing their disappointed expressions, he added something that surprised him as much as it flabbergasted his companions: "He is mine."

Sonny flinched visibly and Lillieís eyes widened. Her gaze concentrated on Julian and Sonnyís presence was forgotten. Julian stared back at her and Lillieís challenge was defeated. She averted her eyes.

"Frank is mine," Julian repeated in a low voice that made Sonny shudder.

Thatís not the way a man talks of another man, Sonny thought with disbelief. You thought you were in trouble, Frank. You ainít seen nothing yet!

But Julian had heard the erotic tone in his own voice, and was shocked and embarrassed himself. He rose swiftly to his feet intending to leave. Lillie started to laugh, a low, lascivious, throaty laugh that made Julian even more embarrassed and, to his dismay, he felt his face turn hot. He turned away and fled.

No! he thought vehemently. As long as I have something to say about it, Frank will continue his existence as a human.

But to Embrace Frank Kohanek was more tempting than he wanted to admit to himself.

Caitlin was greeted with cheers and whoops on her return to work.

"We thought youíd eloped," Jenny laughed. "However, the publisher is still in town, so we figured youíd be back sooner or later."

On her way to her office, Caitlin noticed that Amyís workplace had been emptied, the forsaken computer sitting in regal loneliness on the deserted desk.

"Where is Amy?" she asked, and was drowned in excited babble. As it turned out, Amy had been gone for nearly a week. After a couple of days people started to worry. Anamaria Weatherstone wasnít the most reliable person in the world, but whenever she didnít come to work, she called at least, sometimes the next day. But when nothing had been heard after four days, her father had contacted the police. The Weatherstone millions had put the police department on edge: there was an ongoing investigation, they had picked Amyís desk clean just the previous day. Caitlin didnít have time to worry at first, but the next day, when she had got rid of the most pressing matters, she stopped on her way out at Amyís desk. Reluctantly, she turned on the computer.

Enter password, it blinked at her invitingly. What could Amy have used as a password? She tried several times but was denied access. She sat twiddling with the keyboard, thinking about her missing colleague. Amy was different from other girls in the office. Not as outspoken and bold as Jenny, but there had been something... hungry about her, something... almost repulsive. Although Amy had worked at the Times for more than two years, she wasnít really close to anyone, and rumors circulated about her many short-lived affairs with the male members of the staff. Not nice rumors. Predatory, sly, daddyís little rich girl. Caitlin knew about the Weatherstone fortune.

Just ugly rumors, she shrugged. The others are envious of her wealth. But Caitlin had to admit that she didnít like Amy either. She pressed a few of the keys and, all of a sudden, she was allowed access to Amyís files.

"What! How!" Caitlin exclaimed. She sat for a moment, trying to understand.

What was it I wrote? she wondered. It felt like a cold shower, when she realized that she had used her own password, ĎJulianí.

Caitlin looked at the screen reluctantly: she didnít want to go through what Amy had written. There werenít too many files, but one of them screamed at her with its name. It was "Julian" again. Her hands shook when she opened the beckoning file. She started to read it on the screen when she realized that it was too long, more than thirty pages. She pushed the print button and, while the printer was working, she went through other files. Those were connected with work. She deliberately waited for the printer to finish before picking up all the pages, turned off Amyís computer and went back into her office. She sat down, but got up quickly again to fetch coffee. She knew that she was fending off the moment when she would have to read Amyís writings. The few lines she had already read had left a queasy feeling in her stomach. Caitlin sat down and lifted the papers resolutely. Sipping her coffee, she started to read from the beginning.

Today, our new owner has graced us with his presence for the first time. The elusive Julian Luna is suddenly my boss. Wow! Now I can see what Annie van Hoff and that slut, Selene, were talking about in such a breathless manner. Itís not just his looks. And heís, well, dreamy. Itís everything: the way he moves, the way he talks. He seems to be totally in control. When he looked at me, just for a short moment, it felt like he could see inside my dirty little soul. It was scary, and very, very, unbelievably wow! Yummy, with some butter on! Oh, hell! Hold the butter!

So far, Caitlin wasnít surprised. She had seen women react to Julian before. They would always look at him twice, and he had this uncanny ability to make them stop talking just by looking at them. But then Amy proceeded to describe the gossip that circulated among the jet setters. An image of a ruthless, power-hungry and rather evil person was created.

This isnít Julian, Caitlin thought.

But she continued reading, her feeling of uneasiness becoming stronger. Amy went on describing what she had heard from her female friends. Apparently, Julian had a bad reputation among the women as well. But it was of a different kind. Short-lived affairs, one-night stands had obviously been standard, leaving the ladies all heated up and quite mad at him - the resident Don Juan.

This isnít Julian, Caitlin thought again. However, she could believe the part about the women wanting him back.

Slowly, Amyís feelings started to color the contents of her diary. Obviously, she had fallen in love with Julian Luna. There were also some derogatory remarks about Caitlin. She came upon the evening when Julian had made love to Caitlin in her office. She remembered it very well. But the way Amy described what she had heard, and what her imagination added, made Caitlin cheeks burn.

It had become an obsession. Utterly surprised, Caitlin read how Amy managed to get her out of the country with the help of her father, sending her on that long trip to Europe. Amy following Julian. Then came the part about what had happened in the Haven. It was nauseatingly detailed: Amyís outrage at being discarded, her disclosure of what the encounter had meant to her, and her desire for more. It made Caitlin feel sick and she started to cry.

"It isnít true," she whimpered. "It isnít true."

She took a deep breath, and read through the graphic description of the copulation again. Could it be just a fantasy?

"Oh, God!" she sobbed. She recognized it so well. Julianís adept hands.

The last entry was only a week old.

Iíll not let him get away with it, it said. And now, Amy was missing. The police were looking for her.

Caitlin sat in her office until it was almost midnight, not knowing what do, not daring to confront Julian with what she had found.

The trilling noise of the phone ringing made her almost jump out of her skin. She picked up the receiver and said her name before realizing that there was only one person who would call her at her office that late.

"Caitlin," Julianís warm voice made her wince, "isnít it past your bedtime? Or have you gone over to European time for good?" He laughed softly. "Please, come home."

Caitlin made a strangled sound.

"Caitlin, whatís wrong?!" The laughter was gone, replaced by anxiety.

Caitlin looked at the papers on her desk. She swallowed hard and cleared her throat.

"Julian," she said as calmly as she could manage, "can you please come here?"

"Whatís happened?" He sounded really worried now.

"Just come," Caitlin said and put down the receiver.

Julian came into her office forty-five minutes later. Caitlin was sure that those were the longest forty-five minutes of her life. He frowned when he saw her sitting idly behind her desk. Her pale, tear-streaked face told him that something was terribly wrong. But when he tried to take her in his arms she stopped him, her hands pushing at his chest, her face turning away.

"Whatís the matter, Caitlin?" he asked letting her go.

She handed him Amyís diary without a word. He started to read the first page, but looked at her after only a few seconds.

"What is it?" His voice was expressionless, as was his face.

"You tell me." Caitlin looked at him intently, but there was nothing to see. "Go on, read it!" she added.

All Julian wanted to do was to take the offensive papers and burn them. But he had to read it all over again. He recognized Amyís diary after reading the first sentences. Where did it come from? He had burned the original only a week ago. And now it was back, haunting him. How did it find its way into Caitlinís hands? He sat down, pretending to read, turning each page after an appropriate amount of time. He knew it by heart anyway. He managed to bring an expression of incredulity and disgust onto his face. When he came to the incident in the Haven, he didnít have to pretend. He was painfully aware of Caitlinís accusing stare. He put the diary down at last.

"Who wrote this... this abomination?" His voice was filled with revulsion.

Caitlin continued to stare at him in disbelief.

"Are you trying to tell me that this is a fake," she demanded, "that you donít know her? For Godís sake! Julian, she works here, or used to work here. Anamaria Weatherstone, she is missing!"

"Oh," Julian shrugged dispassionately, "the fat girl. The police asked about her, apparently sheís gone missing. How come itís in your hands," he pointed at the papers, "and not in the possession of the police?"

"I found it in her computer." It was Caitlinís turn to shrug. "Apparently, they couldnít access her files."

"But you could?" Julian allowed a smile to show.

"She used the same password as I do," Caitlin said.

He raised one eyebrow inquiringly.



"That was the password," Caitlin explained. "Your name."

"Oh," he said again. His hand moved over his face. Suddenly, he looked more tired than she had ever seen him before. "Letís go home Caitlin," he said at last, "Iím exhausted."

Caitlin looked at the discarded pages of Amyís diary.

"Julian," she asked, "are you saying that this is nothing but a raving imagination of an infatuated, oversexed, unsatisfied young woman?"

He shrugged again helplessly.

"Caitlin," he made a grimace, "I had nothing to do with her, nothing at all. She was hardly my type, would you say?" He glanced at her apprehensively. "You know, this has happened to me before, more than once."

"What?" Caitlin asked, not comprehending.

"This..." he was frowning, searching for the right words, "persecution; women pursuing their own fantasies. Itís one of the reasons for my... reclusive lifestyle."

Caitlin wanted to believe him. Although there was a small voice in her head that was saying But how could Amy know? her heart said he is telling the truth, believe him! She looked at his dispirited expression, then stood up and went to him. He slid to his knees when she touched his face, his arms locking around her, his face resting against her body.

"What shall I do with Amyís diary?" Caitlin asked after a long moment.

"I donít know," he answered. "If you give it to the police, it will mean trouble; if you destroy it, weíll be left in peace."

Caitlin hesitated for just one second before she disengaged herself from Julianís embrace. She took the diary and fed it into the shredder, then activated Amyís computer, deleted the file named Julian, made sure that no trace of it was left and changed the password to the first expression that came into her mind, vile.

They went home.

Julian realized that making love to Caitlin that night had been a grave mistake. She had sought his closeness and reassurance, wanting to be held and told that she was loved. The ageless male arrogance interpreted her reaction as desire, responding accordingly. She had accepted the intimacy, but her body had resisted him as never before. If Julian had been a normal human, he would have given up, demanding explanations and sulking. But Julian Luna was not a normal human man. He had broken through her defense, making her give in to his deft caresses, understanding only too late that it was this very feat that had held her back. When her body at last reacted the way he wanted it to - shaking helplessly in the forced orgasm - the steamy words from Amyís diary flashed in his mind and he knew with dreadful certainty that Caitlin had recognized him in the explicit description.

She lay motionless afterwards, her back turned to him, more distant now than she had been during her stay in Europe. He wanted to tell her the truth, to beg her to forgive him, knowing that she would if he hadnít killed that damn woman. He was well aware that the murder, accidental as it was, lay beyond Caitlinís ability to condone. Caitlin was trying to pretend that she was asleep, making a poor job of it, but she wanted him gone, and after some time he slipped out of her bed.

Much later, after Julian had left her bed as she pretended to be asleep, she thought of his hands on her body, his relentless touch that had made her shudder with pleasure, and that had been described so well by Amy.

Caitlin cried during most of what was left of the night.

* * *


He thought of the first time it had happened.

Evelyn, in the last stages of her pregnancy, had been unwell, they hadnít been able to make love for almost three months. Her younger sister, Eve, was there to help her. From his vantage of twenty-six he had regarded the sixteen-year-old as a child. Had he been older, he might have known better. She had followed him like a puppy, reminding him of his younger brother who had trailed him everywhere when they were children. Evelynís baby was due in a couple of weeks. He had returned home late from some errand that he no longer remembered. The horse was lame and he stayed in the stables, trying to find out what was wrong with it. He found a stone that had stuck in the hoof and was trying to remove it when there was a sudden breeze that made the oil lamp flicker. Somebody had come in.

Eve was standing just a few feet away from him, in a dressing gown.

"Eve, whatís wrong? What are you doing up in the middle of the night?" A sudden fear gripped him. "Is Evelyn all right?"

But she shook her head and took off her dressing gown without uttering a word. He looked at her uncomprehendingly, and her nightgown came off in the next instant. He couldnít help but stare.

The sixteen-year-old child had the body of an adult goddess. His starved body screamed in desire, the reaction so powerful that it was painful. He rose slowly and she moved towards him. The smell of horses and fresh hay would forever be connected in his mind with that night of lust and betrayal. He could still make himself sick by thinking about it, although more than a hundred and forty years had since passed.

But Eve had lost more than her virginity that night. As their bodies rolled in the hay, the feeling of impending doom was mingled with the pleasures of the flesh. No matter how hard he tried to keep away from her, his body would betray him every night, and he would seek her out and make love to her until dawn. They would come together in violent clashes, quite oblivious of the world around them. He saw that something was terribly wrong with her, but his desire-ridden mind refused to acknowledge that.

Ten days later Evelyn died in childbirth, and by then it was quite obvious that Eve was insane. Julian and Eve had sneaked away to the stables again that night. They

could feel safe there, nobody would hear them. She had opened her thighs for him in joyous abandon, urging him to come to her. The primitive lust had taken over and there was no hesitation in either of them. They had heaved and screamed until they were both totally exhausted.

When Julian returned to the house, he found Evelyn barely conscious, in a grisly heap on the floor by her bed, bathed in her own blood. Apparently, she had got up trying to find help, but hadnít gotten far. A healthy baby boy was born two hours later, but Evelyn didnít recover from the loss of blood and died just half an hour later.

In his despair Julian refused to see anybody, his brotherís family took care of the baby. Julian was close to losing his mind. He regarded Evelynís death as a punishment. He had turned Eve away, telling her that he didnít want to see her again. He was quite sure that he would never touch another woman again: he never did - as a mortal.

Some weeks later, when Julian was on the verge of committing suicide, Archon came to his house. Archon was well known. He was a wealthy landowner, always on the lookout for able men who could work for him. He had heard about the tragedy that had befallen the young family. He had taken care of Eve and placed her in the asylum for the insane when she became violent and unmanageable. But before that, he found out from her what had really transpired; things that others only whispered about.

Archon offered to take Julian in and he accepted. He had no will of his own left. The rumor had it that he had killed his pregnant wife in order to be with his sister in law. As far as Julian was concerned, the rumor was true. Only he had never wanted to harm his wife in any way. He had loved her very much, her death was his castigation.

Julian Luna became Archonís most appreciated enforcer. He was savage and fearless, but seemed to harbor a death wish that appalled Archon. Eventually, Archon understood that he would lose Julian in a shoot-out or a fight; his wish to die was too apparent.

It would be such a waste, Archon thought, and decided to do something about it.

One night, when Julian had been more morose than usual, Archon told him about the Masquerade and offered to Embrace him. Julian had been horrified at first, but became fascinated when Archon explained what it meant to be a Kindred.

"Why do you want to do it?" Julian had asked Archon at last.

"Youíre trying to get yourself killed anyway," Archon had responded. "If you refuse, Iíll kill you right now and you wonít have to suffer anymore. But if you accept, your life expectancy would increase somewhat," Archon had laughed. "I have need of you."

For all his unhappiness and despair, Julian didnít want to die.

He was Embraced by Archon before the morning came.

It took some time however, before he came to terms with his new condition. But Archon was a good teacher and a formidable leader. Slowly, Julianís grief started to subside and he became more and more involved in Kindred affairs. Archon was pleased. A couple of years passed and Julian met a woman. She was a rare mixture, half Chinese, half Native American. Her beauty was exceeded only by her temperament. In her arms, Julian rediscovered his need for the intimacy of sex and learned about his capacity for giving and receiving pleasure. The liaison lasted only a few months, but the fire had been kindled, and to Archonís dismay, Julian began to make quite an impact among the female population, human and Kindred alike. But he seldom built genuine bonds with the women he bedded and some of the ladies took umbrage. There were scandals, threats of retribution, a suicide, and quite a few cases of unbalanced reactions.

Years later, Julian posed himself the question: Was he drawn to the women who had a streak of madness in them, or was he the cause of it? He didnít find an answer. The disagreeable intermezzos recurred with unpleasant regularity, making him vow each time that he would stay away from women. However, his own sensuality, as well as the ladiesí interest, made him break his vows with equal regularity. But this was the first time he had killed one of these high-strung women with his own hands. No matter how hard he tried to push it away, the question returned with even greater urgency:

Am I driving Caitlin mad?

Julian stayed away from Caitlin for a couple of days, but when he came to her, he found her bedroom door locked. Being a Ventrue, he didnít own the Nosferatu ability to pass through locked doors. Of course, he was quite capable of breaking down that door. To turn it into a pile of timber would have given him satisfaction, but his injured pride made him turn away. He intercepted Caitlin on her way out the next morning. There were servants in the hallway and Arthur was waiting for her by the entrance when Julian stopped her by calling her name. She became quite still, but didnít turn to face him. She flinched when Julianís hands touched her shoulders.

"You didnít have to lock your door," he was whispering in her ear, not wanting the others to hear. "A simple no would have sufficed."

He tried to turn her around but she resisted. He let go and walked around her instead. Her face was pale and puffy. Apparently, she had been crying and hadnít got much sleep. It hurt to see her like that.

"Caitlin, we have to talk," he said imploringly.

"Iím late for work," she answered without looking up, and moved past him.

Julianís eyes met Arthurís and they nodded to each other. Arthur opened the door for Caitlin and they went out. She didnít come back that evening. Julian called her at the office, but was told that she had left early. He tried to contact Arthur, but an operatorís impersonal voice said that the number was out of range. By the morning Julian concluded that Caitlin, Arthur and the car had vanished from the face of the Earth.

Well, they have vanished from San Francisco, Julian corrected himself. If I didnít know better, Iíd have thought that theyíve eloped. He was quite sure that Caitlin had disappeared by her own volition, and that Arthur was with her was reassuring. Nevertheless, Julian made himself sick with worry, refusing to feed for several days.

Arthur came back by the end of the week, bringing a letter from Caitlin. She was at her parentsí house, outside Seattle. Arthur had driven her there! Julian started by almost biting Arthurís head off for not contacting him, but the young Ventrue stood his ground.

"Caitlin specifically asked me to deliver the letter, and not contact you and tell you where she was before I did that," Arthur defended himself.

Julian took the letter and locked himself in the library with it.

Julian, my love, it started.

At least it doesnít start with "Dear John", he thought wryly.

My mother is worse, it continued, and I decided to come here and spend some time with her. Please, donít be angry with me for not telling you, but I donít want you to come here after me, and donít be angry with Arthur. He did all he could to talk me out of it, but accepted my decision at last when I told him that he would have a letter for you on his return. Please, donít try to contact me. Iíll not disappear from your life without having talked to you, but I want you to respect my need for privacy now.

Julian sat for another night thinking about what he should do. Without having reached any decision, he dialed the Seattle number. Old Byrne answered. As soon as Julian said his name, Caitlinís father cut him off.

"She doesnít want to talk to you," he said angrily.

"I know," Julian answered, "but she wrote that Mrs. Byrne is worse and Iíd like to inquire about her. Also, I would like you to tell me if Caitlin is all right."

The old man was mollified by the sadness in Julianís voice.

"My wife is... dying. Itís a matter of days." The anger was gone from his voice. "As for Caitlin, she seems upset. Probably, you know better than I do why!"

"I do," Julian sighed, but didnít explain. "May I call you again?" he added. There was a short silence.

"Yes, sure," Mr. Byrne said at last.

The next day Julian realized that he had gone too far. He could no longer stay outdoors during the daytime, the sun had become a definite threat. He allowed Daedalus to chase him out in the evening and spent the whole night hunting for prey. The blood restored his strength, but he still looked like a victim of a concentration camp.

Caitlin called two days later. She told him, between tears, that her mother had died during the night. Julian had all the right words prepared. But he didnít dare to inquire when she would return. In the end he asked her to let him speak with her father. Even here, the proper phrases, offering consolation and sympathy, were easy to find. He asked about the funeral arrangements and was told that Mrs. Byrne would be buried next week.

The funeral was attended by more than a hundred people. The heavy rain had turned into intermittent dripping.

"Earth to earth..." the priest was saying as Caitlin looked up and saw Julian. He stood beyond the whole congregation, almost hidden under a tree, looking directly at her. He nodded and lowered his head when he saw that she had discovered him.

There was some shuffling and the mass of mourners started to disperse. Many approached Caitlin and her father and offered their condolences. The rain stopped altogether and the sun came out. When Caitlin looked again, Julian was gone. She looked at the row of cars parked outside the cemetery. The one her eyes were searching for was the last in the line.

"Father, will you excuse me for a moment," she said and walked towards the foreign car. She saw the driver step out and open the door for the passenger before she had come halfway. Julian got out. He glanced at the sun and moved into the shade under a tree. Caitlin steeled herself, although all she wanted to do was to run to him. She was shocked when she came close enough to see him clearly. Even the wide coat couldnít hide the fact that he must have lost at least ten pounds, if not more.

"Julian!" she exclaimed. "What has happened to you?"

She saw him exhale; he had been holding his breath.

"Iíve been on a diet," he said and smiled. "No ice cream."

But Caitlin wasnít in the mood for jokes. One of her girlfriends in high school had died of anorexia.

"Youíre ill," she said. "You must see a doctor."

Julian sighed.

"Caitlin, Iíve been busy and Iíve been depressed. You know that I donít have much of an appetite, but I havenít been starving myself deliberately," he explained patiently. Julian felt ridiculous. He had come to fight for her love, the last thing he had expected to do was to be forced to defend his sanity. But for the moment Caitlin had forgotten what had parted them. She took hold of his arm and started to drag him towards her fatherís car.

"Come with us to the house," she said, "thereís food."

"Thatís exactly what I need," he answered.

If she heard the irony in his voice, she pretended that she didnít, and Julian was just too happy to be with her to say anything more. He shook hands with the old astronomer and offered his sympathy again. He took Caitlinís hand when they were seated in the car and was gratified by her reaction. She didnít withdraw and her fingers closed over his.

There was indeed a lot of food in the house, but this was a situation Julian Luna was well trained to handle. He was an expert in mingling among scores of humans, pretending that he was eating. Whenever Caitlin saw him, there was a plate in his hand, and he seemed to be chewing on something. Two hours later he had, in reality, eaten a tomato, some candied fruit and a couple of cakes. He had drunk copious amounts of mineral water and some coffee. He even accepted a cigarette from somebody, but got rid of it discretely when the smoke made him cough. He declared to everybody who

asked that he was Caitlinís fianc√©. He was congratulated and so was Caitlin. She gave him a dark look, but he smiled and gave her a what was I supposed to say gesture. But one young man took offense when he got the same answer to his:

"And who might you be?"

"Oh yeah!" the young man said aggressively, "and what makes you so sure?" His hand pushed at Julianís shoulder. He might just as well have tried to move a brick wall. Julianís amiable smile was gone instantly.

"It might have something to do with the fact that Caitlin and I have lived together for almost a year."

The man tried to shove Julian again, but this time his hand was taken and removed. He made a swing but his fist was gripped in midair and squeezed painfully.

"You donít want to lose your hand now, do you?" All the polish of civilization was gone from Julianís voice, clashing incongruously with the upper class British accent. At the same moment Caitlin came to their side.

"Joe, have you gone mad?" She was on the verge of hysteria. "Iíve just buried my mother!"

The man she called Joe backed off.

"Iím sorry Caitlin," he said, "but this scarecrow here, he says that you and he... that you two..." He was too upset to continue.

Caitlinís eyes turned to Julian. She looked him over and suddenly smiled.

"You do look rather scrawny, Julian," she said. "You would make an excellent scarecrow out here." Her arms went around him and he hugged her automatically. But he was still staring defiantly at the younger man. Caitlin freed herself from Julianís grasp, but took his arm and dragged him along.

"No brawls, please!" she said.

"I didnít start it," Julian defended himself, looking back at his opponent. "Who is he anyway?"

"A high school boyfriend." Caitlin didnít look back. "An old friend."

"Oh," was all Julian said.

"If you two want to fight it out, I hope youíll do it someplace else." She sounded scornful, and Julian tried to gather some of his dignity.

"Iím not in the habit of getting into fist-fights over women." The British accent was there again.

Yes, sure, you broke four ribs and almost strangled a man over Lillie just a month ago, he thought.

However, Joe kept out of his way. The short encounter with Caitlinís alleged fianc√© told him that he would not get anywhere by sheer muscle.

The house emptied in the early evening. Julian found Caitlin alone in the kitchen. She was putting away some things, and he watched her move around. At last she became aware of his presence and looked up.

"Caitlin, do you want me to leave?" he asked.

"No," she answered, "I think itís time we had that talk."

He nodded but didnít say anything, looking away.

Heís ashamed, Caitlin thought. So Amy didnít imagine everything.

"Letís go to the sitting room," she said.

He followed without a word. Caitlin sat down on the couch, patting the space beside. He sat down and took her hand, still not looking at her.

"Caitlin," he started at last, "that girl, in the club, whatever her name was..."

"Amy, Anamaria." Caitlin was helpful.

"I was sad, upset, I had been drinking." The last one was a lie; alcohol had no effect on Kindred physiology unless it was already diluted by blood. "She came after me," he continued, "she was a stranger. I didnít know that she had followed me around. We... were together," his voice broke, "just a moment to forget how lonely I was." He looked at her, trying to read her expression. "Please, Caitlin, forgive me."

Her fingers hardened on his hand.

"Poor Amy," she said. "For you it was a moment to forget, for her, to remember. What has happened to her?" she asked the inevitable question.

"I truly donít know, I never saw her again." The experience of more than a hundred years made lying smooth and easy; it also made him feel sick.

"According to her diary, she intended to contact you," Caitlin mused.

"If she did, she didnít succeed." Julian would get out of that one too. "You know how good I am at keeping myself out of reach."

Caitlin knew that very well.

He raised her hand to his lips.

"Will you forgive me?" he asked again.

She looked into his eyes for a very long moment.

"If you ever..." There was a smirk on her face. "There is no better expression for it - if you ever fuck any of my associates again," he winced at her choice of words, "Iíll do the same to you."

The expression of shock on his face was quite satisfying, but she wasnít finished.

"But if you ever lie to me again, Iíll do something much worse."

He stared at her aghast.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

She laughed.

"Just remember my words." She took in his terrified expression. "Iíll think of something," she added.

He tried to kiss her, but she stopped him, a hand on his chest, her head shaking.

"There is more."

"More?" He sounded alarmed again.

Caitlin took a deep breath, her eyes fixed on his face.

"Before she died, my mother asked me a very strange question. She wanted to know

why I had hurt you so badly when we were here. I donít know if she was delirious, the medication she was on was rather strong. But she was quite adamant about it; she talked about blood, lots of blood. I want to know what happened?"

Julianís mind changed to the highest gear.

Donít start lying again, tell her the truth, the whole truth! it screamed at him. But he couldnít bring himself to disclose the Masquerade. He glanced at her for a short moment and looked away.

"You did hurt me," he said at last. "Rather badly."


"You bit me." His voice was barely a whisper.


He turned away, but she saw his face darken in embarrassment. Caitlin stared at him for a moment and then blushed even harder than he did when the realization dawned on her.

"Oh, Julian," she whimpered, "why canít I remember?"

"I donít think you were aware of what you were doing," he said taking her into his arms, "and I survived." He tried to joke it away, but to his dismay, she started to cry.

"Why do I keep doing this?" she sobbed. "I know that I have done it before. Why?"

He waited until she had calmed a little.

"Caitlin, whatever you do, I want you to know that you can never harm me permanently. Whatever you do, itís all right."

Tell her! his mind insisted.

"Caitlin," he shook her a little, demanding her attention, "the pain that you are able to inflict... it gives me pleasure, no matter how bad it is. I think that you do it because deep inside you, you know how much I enjoy it."

She looked at him fearfully.

"But I donít want to harm you," she sighed.

"You canít harm me Caitlin, at least not physically. Not without a weapon." He made her sit in his lap. "The only danger, is that I might harm you if I respond too eagerly." He hugged her again. "Just remember, you can always stop me."

"A simple no will suffice," she used his own line.

"Yes, a simple no will suffice," he repeated.

James Byrne was annoyed. When Caitlin had come home, he understood immediately that her relationship with Julian Luna was in trouble. Not that he minded. He didnít like that cocky type anyway. But when Julian turned up, looking like he had been on the worldís best diet, he couldnít help feeling sorry for the young fellow. It was almost midnight and, true to his old habits, Mr. Byrne peeked into the guestroom. It was empty. He went up to Caitlinís room prepared to make a scene, but Caitlinís room was equally empty. At last he found them in the sitting room. Caitlin was stretched out on the couch, her head on Julian knee, who was just sitting there, one hand on Caitlinís shoulder, the other cradling her head. They were both fully dressed, but the old man didnít like what he saw. He opened his mouth, but before he could say something, Julian raised his hand and put a finger to his lips in a telling gesture.

"Shhhh," he whispered, "sheís finally asleep." His hand moved back to Caitlinís shoulder. "She was so sad," he added.

"Then maybe we should put her to bed," the old man suggested.

Julian nodded and rose from the couch after putting his arms under Caitlinís back and knees.

"If you would be so kind and open the doors for me," he said.

Caitlinís father led the way. Julian placed Caitlin carefully on her bed and spread a blanket over her. Carrying Caitlin through the house and up the stairs didnít even quicken his breath.

"Not bad for a scarecrow," the old man commented.

"This is the third time Iíve been called that today," Julian said with exasperation. "Do I really look that bad?"

"Well, Iíve seen you in better shape," Caitlinís father answered. "Have you two come to terms?"

"Yes, we have reconciled our differences." He smiled at the old man. As they walked down the stairs, Caitlinís father suggested a snack, but Julian declined with horror.

"Iíve eaten too much already," he explained. "I think Iíll try to get some sleep too." He turned towards the guestroom.

"Julian." It was the first time that Caitlinís father had called him by his given name and he turned back in surprise. "My wife, she really liked you, Iím glad you came to the funeral."

"Thank you." Julian didnít know what else to say. The old man looked at him for a long moment.

"Oh, hell," he said at last, "go back to her." He smiled watching Julian bolt up the stairs. When he brought breakfast to Caitlinís room in the morning, they were both fast asleep in each others arms, and both still dressed: Julian had only taken off his jacket and shoes.

Julian woke up first, and made off with part of the breakfast that Caitlinís father had provided. He drank the orange juice, but destroyed the solid food in the bathroom. Let Caitlin believe that he ate it. He called his car, and a suitcase with fresh clothes was brought to the house twenty minutes later. When Caitlin came down, her hair still wet from the shower, munching on the last piece of toast that he had left for her, he was again the impeccable Julian Luna, sharing a morning paper and a cup of tea with her father.

"Good morning, Caitlin," both men said simultaneously, and she shook her finger at them in mock desperation. She had woken in the middle of the night, and finding Julian in her bed had alarmed her.

"Julian, what are you doing here?" she had whispered urgently. "My father..."

But he had hushed her.

"Your father told me to... take care of you."

He had stayed with her all night, just holding her. It wasnít a problem, he had gorged himself the previous night before leaving San Francisco, not knowing when the next opportunity to feed would arise.

No worse than a blood-filled mosquito, he had thought, his dry sense of humor counterbalancing his darker side. His strength and his health were restored, but it would take a little longer to rebuild his posture, and to regain the subcutaneous fat, necessary to bring back his normal appearance. He had looked at himself in the bathroom mirror this very morning. Every muscle strand was visible under the thin layer of skin, bones protruding, a rather unpleasant sight. A scarecrow indeed! He would have to remedy that as soon as possible, or Caitlinís accusations of anorexia might become a permanent nuisance.

"How long can you stay?" Caitlin asked, breaking into his reverie.

"I must be back in San Francisco tonight," Julian answered. "Will you come with me or are you going to stay here longer?"

Caitlin looked at her father.

"Iíd like to stay just a few more days, if itís okay?" She looked from one man to the other, and they both nodded. Julian smiled at her reassuringly.

"Just call, and I will send the plane for you," he said. "Arthur was rather exhausted after that long drive."

"Julian!" Caitlin retorted, "Iím quite capable of traveling on my own."

"I know." He gave her a special smile. "But if you order the plane, I might come with it. Special delivery."

Caitlin laughed to cover her embarrassment.

Julian had to leave before lunchtime, and they decided to take a walk in the woods before then. They didnít go far, spending most of the time talking nonsense and kissing. The ground was still wet after yesterdayís rain, squishing under their feet with every step. They stood on a tiny hill, the driest place they could find, Julianís back against the trunk of an old pine. They kissed passionately, but when he reached for more, he felt her body resist. He had hurt her feelings and she was not yet ready to forgive. He accepted that, knowing that her resentment would pass. But he wouldnít hide his desire from her the way he had done in the past. His grip around her hardened, and he pressed her close, chaffing against her belly. She backed away from him, and he let her, grunting with disappointment. But her hand touched him in the next moment, her fingers closing on him quite hard, rubbing him through the fabric of his pants.

Julian winced.

"Caitlin," he whispered, "donít start something you donít intend to finish."

"Shut up," she murmured, and he did.

She kneeled in front of him, and opened his pants, tugging at them, just enough to expose him. Her hands touched him lightly, moving very slowly. He bit his lip, trying to keep quiet and looked down at her. She was examining him intently. In spite of the chilly air, he was hotter than ever.

"Caitlin," his voice was uneven, "Iím quite all right. There are no... scars." Of course, there werenít. Had Julian been human, he probably would have been maimed by what Caitlin had done. His Kindred physiology had healed the injury without a trace. "Iím all right," Julian repeated.

"Umm..., I can see that!" The tone of her voice gave her words a double meaning.

He was very still, looking at her when her lips encircled him, and he threw back his head with a loud groan. For all his strength, his legs refused to support him, and he slid along the tree until he was sitting on the ground. She let go of him, and the sudden onslaught of cold made him shiver. She stood looking at his disheveled apparition. He always looked younger and vulnerable when his clothes were awry and his hair tousled. His eyes widened as he saw her take off her jeans. She kept her sweater on, it covered her halfway down her thighs. But when she came down on him, he realized that she was naked underneath, and he ceased to feel the cold. He leaned away from the tree, lying down on the ground, quite oblivious of the wetness that soaked through his clothes. Caitlin moved with deliberate slowness at first, relishing in the pleasure she was giving, but soon their movements became more urgent and more in unison. He didnít even try to hold back, his body shuddering with the violent release, long seconds passing before he remembered to breathe again. Caitlin watched his face relax. He opened his eyes, and blinked several times before smiling at her.

"Caitlin," he sighed as his hands took hold of her, dragging her down until he could kiss her. The kiss became more urgent as his hands slid under her sweater and rubbed her breasts. He pushed her bra out of the way, and her nipples responded to his touch. She felt him become hard inside her again as he restarted his movements.

Suddenly a shot rang out with a deafening bang, and Caitlin screamed.

The series of mistakes that Joe Montegna had amassed was unending.

However, at the moment he was impressed. He had aimed at the raised leg, just three inches above the knee. The bullet hit exactly the spot he had intended it to. To his surprise, the only scream he heard was Caitlinís. The man whose leg had been straightened by the shot didnít utter a sound. He had reacted instantly, grabbing hold of Caitlin, and rolling over, shoving the womanís body underneath his. But Joe picked up his rifle and ran away laughing to himself.

That should teach that big city dude, with his silk suits, foreign cars and his slicked hair, to come here and steal women! Joe was quite satisfied with himself.

He had watched the old Byrneís house in the evening and knew that that jerk with the phony British accent had stayed the night. He had to come out sooner or later!

When they came out in the morning, Joe was waiting. He followed their slow progress. An experienced hunter like Joe was able to move through the underbrush almost soundlessly. He saw them stop under the old pine. What he saw next appalled him. Caitlin, on her knees, doing that... unspeakable thing! Joe had raised his rifle, the cross hairs unmoving on the manís neck, just below the ear. But no, Joe didnít want to spend the rest of his life in prison, he moved his aim to the shoulder. In the same moment, the intended victim had sat down on the ground and Caitlin had started taking off her clothes; Joe was no longer sure of his hands. By the time the weapon was steadied again, all Joe could see was Caitlinís heaving body, her sweater still on.

"Damn!" Joe swore under his breath. He started to creep closer.

They wouldnít notice a charging bear now, he decided. He heard the man cry out, and was sorry that he didnít get there before that. He saw Caitlinís body disappear and the manís knee come up instead.

Perfect, Joe smiled to himself. He fired in the next moment and heard Caitlin scream. Joe rose just in time to see the injured leg fall down, the blood spurting out, and the manís desperate reaction aimed at protecting the woman.

There, Joe thought while he ran, that should show you! But he couldnít help being impressed by the injured manís heroic effort to shield Caitlin with his own life. Joe Montegna appreciated courage when he saw it.

None of this would have happened had Julian just given in to Joe a little bit the previous evening. A punch would have been even better, and Joe would have been satisfied with that, leaving Julian and Caitlin alone. But his inability to make any impact whatsoever on her lover made Joe mad. He had not set out to kill anybody, he just wanted to make a point. Thatís why he didnít shoot Julian Luna in the head. Not that it would have killed the Kindred, but the damage would have been much more severe.

Joe stopped running in a ravine. He was safe here. There would be a police investigation, he was sure about that. He would say that he saw something in the grass when he was out hunting and shot it. No deadly injury, the damage wasnít even serious. Some blood lost and a lot of pain. A misdemeanor, end of the story. Worth a few months in prison in any case. An accident, if he were lucky.

Suddenly, Joe saw something out of the corner of his eye and turned abruptly. A big, gray wolf was standing just thirty feet away, looking at him with big yellow eyes.

"What the hell!" Joe raised his rifle, but the wolf was gone when he looked through the sight. He turned, and there it was again, only much closer. Joe Montegna saw the injured hind leg as it sprang, and he saw the wolfís eyes flash in a strange green color...

Julian had quieted Caitlinís scream by putting a hand over her mouth. In the silence that ensued he could hear the attacker running away. He waited another minute, sharpening his senses to the utmost.

Nothing. They were alone again.

Julian let go of Caitlin and looked at his injured leg. It was the cleanest shot he had ever seen. The gunman must have been quite close. The high velocity of the bullet had propelled it through his leg as if it were a piece of paper. The exit wound on the inside of Julianís thigh wasnít any bigger than the entrance hole on the outside. The bleeding had already stopped, it would heal in less than two hours. Julian was thinking fast. He had to disappear within the next hour or his healing ability would become a nationwide event.

"Caitlin, go to the house and call this number." He made her memorize the number to his car. "Tell them what has happened."

"But... the police." She was bewildered. "A doctor..."

"Caitlin!" Julian was exasperated. "Forget the police, do you want your friend to go to jail?"

"How can you know that it was him?" she asked.

"I donít!" He couldnít tell her that he had recognized the smell. "But who else might it be?"

She started to cry.

"Caitlin, please! You can do the crying later. Now, get help!"

She got up and started towards the house, but he called her back.

"Put on your jeans," he said smiling. "One scandal at a time is enough."

She laughed nervously, and went after he had assured her that he would be all right. As soon as she disappeared, he got up without much effort.

Seconds later, a big gray wolf was following the scent of the running man.

When Caitlin came back to the big pine, Julian Luna was sitting in its shade. He had got his pants in order but his shirt was off and made into a tourniquet. He let his guards carry him, not wanting Caitlin to see that he was perfectly able to walk, the wound hardly troubling him. Within an hour, Julian was on his plane, bound for San Francisco. Caitlin wanted to go with him, but he had made her stay with her father a little longer.

"I have a hole in my leg, thatís true," he had answered her protests, "but your father has just lost his wife."

Caitlin returned to San Francisco a week later.

There was no investigation concerning the shooting of Julian Luna; however, there was one concerning the disappearance of Joe Montegna. His horribly mutilated body was found in a ravine a few days after Caitlin had left, and it was concluded that a wild animal had killed him. The police didnít know about the shooting: old Byrne never told anybody what he knew about it, and Caitlin never made the connection between the bullet that had pierced Julianís leg and the death of her high school beau.

However, she was confounded when she noticed some weeks later that the bullet had not left any scars on Julianís thigh.

Caitlin felt rather stupid when she went to the AA meeting. She had read an ad about it in her own paper and decided to go there at the last minute. AA had nothing to do with alcoholics, it stood for "Anonymous Abductees". She sat in the back, deciding that she would keep an open mind, but after an hour of listening concluded that her mind wasnít open enough to let her brains fall out. She was on her way out when somebody called her name.

That voice! She would recognize it in her sleep!

"Biggy!" she exclaimed turning around.

He locked her in a bear hug, lifting her up in the air.

"Caitlin Byrne!" he bellowed in her ear, "donít tell me that you have been abducted by aliens! It is Byrne still or has somebody stolen you?" He put her down laughing.

"No and yes and yes," she laughed back.

"What do you mean - no and yes and yes?" he looked at her sternly.

"No, I have not been abducted by aliens, and yes, itís still Byrne, and yes, somebody has stolen me," she answered, still laughing.

"Ah!" his laugh was back, "the enigmatic Julian Luna. Iím not totally out of touch with the world in my little radio station. But what are you doing here?"

"I was looking for a story," Caitlin lied. "I could ask you the same."

"And you would get the same answer." He put an arm around her shoulders. "Come on, letís get a drink and we can compare notes."

Caitlin followed him happily to a bar nearby.

Biggyís real name was Samuel Heims, but nobody called him anything but Biggy. The nickname had already been stuck ten years ago when Caitlin had been his student. His programs on the radio were named An Hour with Biggy, or Talk to Biggy, or something similar. His mesmerizing voice could charm a snake out of its skin, and he was extremely popular among the night owls of San Francisco. If Biggy intended to talk about aliens on the radio, people would listen.

Caitlin accepted the whiskey he ordered for her.

"Okay," she said, "I was just fishing for something for the Sunday supplement. But what were you after?"

"I got an empty hour in the dead of night, between three and four a.m. I was thinking about making it really spooky. You know, the paranormal stuff: ghosts, aliens, clairvoyance and the like. Iíd just love to make chopped liver out of it!" He started laughing again. "But tell me about yourself. Or better yet, tell me about Julian Luna, now that weíre talking about aliens."

"Wh... What do you mean?" Caitlin was taken aback.

"Aw... Caitlin," Biggy winced, "I didnít mean it to sound like that, but I have run into him a couple of times. You know that I donít scare easily, but that guy gives me the creeps!"

With his six feet and five inches in either direction, Biggy wasnít easy to scare. Caitlinís laugh became nervous.

"There is nothing scary about Julian," she said at last.

"Maybe not to you," Biggy said, "but I asked him something he didnít like, and he looked right through me. I mean literally. Like he was measuring the size of my spine. And then he told me off. He flawlessly deduced what I was after, and I wasnít all that clear about it myself. I tell you Caitlin, if anyone could get away with that mind-reading stuff, it would be your boyfriend, Luna."

Caitlin couldnít help but smile.

"Yes, heís rather good at that, isnít he?" Her voice had turned soft and tender, and the big man peered at her closely.

"And youíre head over heels, absolutely and deadly in love with him," Biggy sounded slightly offended. "He must be something special in bed, it canít be his looks!"

"Biggy!!!" Caitlin almost shouted, and he winked at her. She started laughing again. To pretend to be scandalized by his comments was a lost cause.

"Caitlin," he took her hand, "little kitten Caitlin, itís me, remember, itís Biggy. You can trust me more than any girlfriend you ever had."

Thatís true! Caitlin thought and remembered Amy. But aloud she said only:

"I love Julian very much, and there is nothing wrong with his looks." She defended Julian hotly.

Biggy made a funny face, and before she could stop herself, she blurted out:

"And heís the best lover you can imagine!" She blushed hearing her own words.

"I canít," he said, shaking his head in mock sadness, "but Iím glad that you think so." Seeing her discomfiture, he changed the subject. "I read about your kidnapping," he said. "When I saw you at that meeting, I thought it had something to do with that."

"No, no," Caitlin shivered, "I was taken by a man as far as I know." There were tears in her eyes. "Oh, Biggy! He raped me!" She realized that this was the first time she had told anybody about her rape beside Julian, and started crying in earnest. Biggy put a comforting arm around her back.

"Caitlin, my little kitten." Biggyís famous voice could be more soothing than any medicine. "Caitlin, Iím so sorry!" He waited a long moment before asking, "Does Julian know?"

She nodded.

"If it werenít for Julian, I think that I would have gone mad. He was wonderful!" She was trying to stop crying, realizing that most of her makeup had ended up in her whiskey glass. Biggy ordered another round.

"Iím beginning to like the guy," he commented.

Caitlin took another sip and looked up at her friend.

"Biggy," her voice was still a little shaky, "all that paranormal bull, is there anything to it?"

"Which bull exactly are you referring to?" he asked.

She looked away for a moment before returning her gaze to the big man, suddenly aware that she had picked up the habit from Julian.

"Healing," she said at last. "Do you know anything about it?"

He looked at her suspiciously.

"Who has healed whom?" There was a teasing tone in his voice, but Caitlin would not be swayed.

"Julian," she answered.

"Tell me about it!" The teasing was gone momentarily.

Caitlin told Biggy everything. She had destroyed the list of Julianís strange traits that she had made some months ago, but her memory brought it up in an instant. She didnít omit anything, telling him even the most intimate details. Biggy listened to her without interrupting, she had the satisfaction of seeing him turn red with embarrassment when she talked about the love-making, and what Julian could do afterwards. She told him about the biting and the lack of scars. When she had finished, she realized that confiding in Biggy was the best thing that she could have done. She was not mad. Everything had happened.

Biggy didnít ask if she was pulling his leg. Instead he sat thinking for a long time before saying:

"He does sound a little strange."

"A little!" Caitlin exclaimed.

"Well," he mused, "there is no Sunday supplement, is there?" When she nodded, he continued. "That abductee meeting, you went there out of sheer desperation." She nodded again, and he smiled. "He loves you, and that alone makes him human!"

"Iím not saying that he isnít human," Caitlin said. "I donít know what he is!" she whimpered.

"Okay." Biggy accepted the challenge. "Letís look at it scientifically. What was first on your list? Health?"

Caitlin nodded, and Biggy lifted his hand, ticking off on his fingers as he talked.

"I havenít been sick since high school, so Iím not impressed. High body temperature, itís not as unusual as you think: it has something to do with how that thermostat in your brain is tuned. I donít know much about it. I do know however, that heat renders men sterile. So that one checks."

Biggy lowered next finger.

"Sight and hearing, thatís individual. Itís not like he can see through walls or read something he canít see?" he asked, and Caitlin shook her head.

"As I said, itís individual. Some people have better senses than the majority. You know, perfume experts, wine tasters. The human eye is very sensitive, it can discern the smallest unit of light, a photon. I think, itís just a question of being aware of what you see. It could be the same with the hearing. The range of human hearing is limited, but the standards arenít rigid. Just think about those who have perfect pitch. Itís a miracle that we, mere mortals, are unable to fathom."

Caitlin nodded. Biggy was making sense. Another finger went down.

"The strength," he laughed, "all men were not created equal. With proper training and some drugs, the differences can be made spectacular. I donít know if I could break a big steel padlock, but I would not back off at the mere sight of it. Strength is a male thing, Caitlin. We are stronger than women; evolution has made physical strength one of the main attributes in our competition for women. We nurse it tenderly, although we no longer need it. A show of power will impress you whether you like it or not. Itís in your genes, just as showing off is in ours. If a man is stronger than others are, heíll have more women, even in our civilized society. If memory serves me right, Mr. Luna used to have quite a reputation as a ladiesí man, no offense. How strong is he?"

"I donít really know," Caitlin said.

"But you havenít seen him do anything superhuman, have you?"

"Nnno," Caitlin was leafing through her memories, "not really. They... just back off."

"Well," Biggy shook his head, "with what you have told me, Iíd probably back off too. Besides, he is half my age, and probably has half my reaction time too."

The last remark made Caitlin laugh. Biggy opened his hand and started anew.

"Now, the food. You are probably right, he eats when nobody can see him. What he eats, thatís another matter. Maybe he eats baby formula, or something equally detestable. It must be something really rich, if he lost so much weight within a couple of weeks of abstaining. Did he regain it?"

"Yes," Caitlin answered, "he was back to his normal weight within a month."

"Whatever it is, he wants to keep it a secret." Biggyís fingers lifted Caitlinís chin. "I think you should let him. You said that he abhors meat, so whatever he stuffs himself with canít be that bad. Let it be."

Caitlin nodded agreement.

"It isnít really important, is it?" she wondered aloud.

"No, probably not." Biggy took hold of his middle finger. "Now, we come to the tricky parts, sex."

Caitlin looked away again.

"I still canít believe that I blabbed," she said blushing.

"Well, Iím glad you did," Biggyís voice was serious, "and itís not just because I enjoyed hearing it. At the risk of repeating myself, I say it again; men were not created equal. My wife left me seven years ago, and my memory, although good, is rather short. But even in the beginning of my sexual career, and I considered myself quite an athlete, as all men do, I was able to have sex three or four times in a row within a given amount of time, say three to five hours. After that, Iíd be dead."

Caitlin just looked at him, shrugging helplessly.

"Oh, Iíve heard all those tall stories that circulate in locker rooms," Biggy went on, "but they are just that, stories. So, what you describe is rather out of the ordinary. On the other hand, if I had a lady like you Caitlin, I wouldnít mind killing myself by making love to her."

Caitlin blushed even more.

"Itís not like heís killing himself," she said. "Iím the one who drops dead."

"Good for you!" Biggyís face was one big happy smile. "But think now, Caitlin. Our perception of time can change dramatically, especially when emotions are involved. Did you take time? Did you count?"

Caitlin hid her face in her hands, and Biggy leaned back triumphantly.

"There, you see," he said, and Caitlin answered:

"I did."

"Oh," the triumphant smirk faded, "well?"

Caitlin chose one particular night.

"From eleven in the evening till four in the morning," she was whispering behind her hands, "seven," she added.

"Seven what?" Biggy was relentless. "You or him?"

"Julian," her whisper was hardly audible. "I lost count of mine."

"Oh." Biggy was staring. "Are you sure?"

Caitlin didnít like having her credibility questioned.

"Of course Iím sure, I can count!" She stared back at him belligerently. "And donít say that I could be mistaken. Julianís... well, itís rather difficult to miss." She calmed down. "Then I dropped dead. Julian was quite prepared to go on."

Biggy whistled.

"Must have been quite a mess," he said, and they both laughed. "And heís like that all the time," he prodded on, "not a freak accident?"

"Uhm," Caitlin nodded, "I wouldnít make an issue of it otherwise. I donít have your experience, but even I realize that itís rather out of the ordinary."

"You can bet your pretty little ass, it is," Biggy was really impressed. "But then you already have."

"Donít be vulgar, Biggy!" Caitlin was beyond being embarrassed. "I expect help from you, not dirty comments."

"Iím sorry," he backed off, "but you canít blame a guy for being envious in this case. Frankly, I donít know what to say. If anyone but you told me this, I would take it with many grains of salt, but I believe you. It sounds like the wishful thinking of every male on this planet. If anything, it makes him more human rather than less. Still," he pondered for a moment, "weird as it sounds, maybe there are sexual athletes in real life, and he is one of them. I really donít know."

"Okay," Caitlin went on, "what about the biting, the violence?"

"Now weíre on more familiar ground," Biggy perked up, making Caitlin wince. "Donít look at me like that," he added, "I just happen to know more than you do. Ageís privilege. Caitlin, my kitten, the ways people enjoy themselves are manifold. Itís all right, even if it hurts a little sometimes. Take it from an old teacher, as long as you two love each other, you wonít do each other any harm."

But Caitlin wasnít entirely convinced. She told him about what she knew had transpired in her fatherís house.

"I really hurt him there, he admitted that." She was on the verge of crying again, her fifth whiskey in hand. "And I donít even remember!"

"Ouch!" Biggy was shaken. "It couldnít have been as bad as you think. Otherwise, he wouldnít have let you touch him again. I know, I wouldnít!"

Caitlin let her tears fall.

"My mother said there was so much blood. She was really shaken. And Julian said that he had enjoyed it. Oh, my God!" The rest of Caitlinís makeup dissolved in her tears.

"He sounds a little kinky to me," Biggy said lamely, he felt a little sick. Whether it was the whiskey or Caitlinís confession, he couldnít tell.

"And why canít I remember?" Caitlin was angry with herself, and Biggy patted her on the back.

"You donít want to remember." He felt more secure again. "You did something your mind didnít like, so it pretends that you didnít do it at all. Ask any shrink."

Caitlin breathed in sharply.

"Okay," she said, "whatís left?"

"The healing capabilities," Biggy helped.

"So, how can you explain that?" She challenged him.

"I canít," the alcohol had made Biggy flippant, "but I sure as hell would like to have some of that."

"Youíre some help!" Caitlin wasnít in any better condition.

"No, I guess, Iím not." He looked at her sideways. "But you know what, Iíd like to meet Mr. Luna. Can you arrange that?"

"Sure, piece of cake." Caitlin was drunk, and nothing was beyond her capability. "Iíll make him take us to dinner tomorrow. That French restaurant that we couldnít afford unless you paid, remember?"

"Of course I remember." There was nothing wrong with Biggyís memory. "Itís still there, more expensive than ever. What makes you think that he will want to come?"

"Donít you worry about that," Caitlin said with a sly smile. "I have my tricks. He will come, he will pay, and he will watch us eat. Donít you worry," she repeated, and took out the phone from her bag. She had turned it off when they came into the bar. Now it took her three attempts before Arthur answered.

"Caitlin," she heard the relief in his voice, "Mr. Luna was very worried when you didnít come to the opera..."

"Oh, shit!" Caitlin shouted. "I forgot! What time is it?"

"Itís ten past eleven," Arthur answered.

"Oh, shit," Caitlin repeated much more quietly. The Nabucco had started at nine.

"Trouble?" Biggy peered at her worriedly, but she shook her head and returned her attention to the phone.

"Arthur, please come and get me." She looked at Biggy inquiringly. "Where are we?"

He gave her the address and name of the bar and she repeated them into the phone.

"Iíll be there in fifteen minutes," Arthur said and the connection was broken.

Caitlinís attention returned to Biggy.

"Julian will wring my neck," she said giggling, apparently not very worried. "Will eight tomorrow be okay?"

"Yes, sure. Can you pick me up at my station?" Biggy was doubtful. "What makes you so sure that he will want to come?"

But Caitlin laughed.

"Oh, heíll come. Wild horses couldnít keep him away." She drank the rest of her whiskey and got up unsteadily. "See you tomorrow then," she said and kissed his cheek.

He got up too saying:

"Let me help you." He was in much better condition than Caitlin, but she stopped him.

"No, no. Arthur mustnít see you, itís part of the plan!"

She managed to get out of the bar on her own, and Biggy saw a tall, blond man help her into a big car. The car speeded away soundlessly.

Julian smelled the whiskey the moment Arthur opened the door of the car. He looked at the guard inquiringly, but Arthur shrugged and nodded towards the back seat. Caitlin had curled up there, her body occupying the whole width of the car. Julian hesitated for a moment before getting in, lifting her head and shoulders on his lap. The smell of alcohol was overwhelming. He shook her a little and called her name. Her eyes fluttered open.

"What happened?" he asked, his voice sharp.

"Julian," she mumbled, "donít be mad. Iím drunk."

"Iíve noticed." He couldnít help smiling, relieved as he was that there was nothing else wrong with her. "Youíve missed the Nabucco," he added.

"I know, Iím sorry." She made an effort to sit up, and he helped her. "I met an old friend, havenít seen him in five years. We went to a bar... talked... got very drunk. I forgot the opera." She snuggled close, hiding her face against his chest. "Please, forgive me. My best friend from college..." She felt his arms harden around her and she giggled.

"Invited him to dinner tomorrow." Her arms sneaked up, closing around his neck, and she used her grip to move up. His arms supported her and she was able to sit in his lap. Her lips touched his skin just beneath his ear, and she felt a shiver move through his body.

"La Belle √Čpoque," she was saying, "at eight." Her lips moved across his cheek, and he turned his head a little, catching her mouth with his. The taste of whiskey made him wince, but the softness of her tongue and lips was enticing. She broke the kiss and tried to move again, and again he supported her, trying to guess what she was aiming to do. She straddled him, her knees pressing his thighs, her body leaning against him. He felt himself respond to her closeness.

Why do I have to be so addicted to this woman? he thought.

"Caitlin..." he started, but she kissed him again. By the time she broke the kiss, he had forgotten what it was he had been trying to say. She smiled sweetly.

"You can come too, if you want to," she was still smiling, and her eyes were glittering, "meet one of my best and oldest friends."

Julian hardened his grip around her again.

"You said eight, didnít you?" His voice betrayed nothing.

"Umm," her lips touched his, very lightly, "La Belle..." she whispered, and they kissed passionately again.

The car stopped outside the mansion and Arthur had to help Caitlin to disengage herself from the car. He led her towards the main house and Julian helped her up the few steps. But once they were inside, she stopped irresolutely in front of the stairs leading up to her bedroom. Julian couldnít help laughing.

"Gentlemen," he said, the British accent exaggerated far beyond the natural, "the party is over, here start the stairs."

He had to carry her up; she was unable to walk, even with his support. He held her head while she was sick and kept her from falling in the shower. When he finally put her in her bed, she was totally loose-limbed. He held her in his arms until she fell asleep.

"Donít worry, Caitlin," his eyes shimmered green for a short moment, "Iíll meet your friend. You deserve the hangover, but..." his hand touched her head tenderly.

She hadnít fooled him for one second.

In spite of Julianís intervention, Caitlin didnít feel all too well the next morning. She had no headache, but she was dehydrated and her mouth tasted foul. She decided to take the day off and stayed in bed all morning, drawing the covers over her head. She tried to remember her conversation with Biggy, and the more it came back to her, the more ashamed she felt.

I canít sit those two at the same table, she thought desperately, but she knew with absolute certainty that Julian would come to the restaurant. There was nothing she could do about it, short of calling the whole thing off. She was sick again when she tried to get up and barely made it to the bathroom.

Julian came at noon, bringing her a glass of water and a couple of pills.

"Aspirin," he answered her unvoiced question. "Arthur told me that you didnít go to work today."

"Arthur is a gossip!" Caitlin commented.

She managed to swallow the pills with the aid of a lot of water, and fell back on the pillow.

"Canít you do anything about a hangover?" she said to Julian accusingly.

"I thought I did," he answered, a ghost of a smile on his face. He sat down beside her, his hand touching her face lightly. "It will pass," he added.

Caitlin woke up in the afternoon, in much better shape. She took a long, hot bath and spent several minutes in front of the mirror trying to repair the damage the alcohol had caused.

Itís amazing what can be done with a little powder and rouge, she thought.

She had Arthur drive her to La Belle √Čpoque at half past seven, waited until the car disappeared before calling a taxi and went to Biggyís radio station. Biggyís disappointment was apparent when he saw that she was alone, but she hugged him and said:

"Donít worry, heíll come," and then added maliciously, "you can bet your ass on that!" They returned to the restaurant in the same taxi.

Julianís timing was perfect. He arrived just as they were pouring over the several pages long list of deserts. Biggy saw Caitlinís face light up and turned around in his chair as Julian Luna approached their table. Caitlin made the introductions finishing with:

"Biggy taught me everything I know about journalism. He has always been my fairy godmother."

But Julian realized the moment he saw the old man that he wasnít being introduced to a rival, but someone much more dangerous, an investigator. He remembered the stories whispered among the Kindred, accounts of the Inquisition and witch-hunts, and a bolt of fear cracked his flawless appearance. Only Caitlin and Biggy interpreted his awkward reaction as nervousness, and they both smiled reassuringly.

"They have this coffee flavored ice cream," Caitlin was saying, "youíll love it!"

Julian accepted her proposition and ordered wine. He decided that attack was the best defense.

"We have met before, havenít we, Mr. Heims?" he asked, his cool voice implying that the meeting hadnít been a success. But Biggy made a disarming gesture.

"The circumstances, as well as the company, were much less pleasant than tonight," he said, "and you put me in my place so beautifully, that I still teach it to my students." Biggy smiled showing all his teeth. "If all interview victims were as sharp as you are, Mr. Luna, why, all us poor reporters would be out of business."

Julian didnít smile back, but Caitlin laughed out loud.

"Biggy!" It took her some time before she could continue, "flattery wonít get you anywhere!" Somehow, her comment cleared the air, and Julian relaxed a little. But Biggy was single-minded.

"We were talking about power," he said, "but Caitlin, being of the weaker sex, canít grasp the true meaning of the concept."

"What kind of power did you have in mind?" Julian asked.

"There, you see," Biggy turned to Caitlin, "this is a man talking." He turned back to Julian. "The original kind, you know, muscle." He made a fist and flexed his arm. "I was trying to make Caitlin understand that strength is something that men understand and women admire, wouldnít you agree?"

But Julianís eyes didnít waver from Biggyís face, nor did he say anything, waiting for him to continue.

"Caitlin told me what happened to her," Biggy went on after a few seconds, "and Iíve been trying to explain to her that rape is an act of aggression. Barring the sick perverts, if a man commits that crime, itís a show of force. Anyway in this case, as I understand, it was a stranger and the situation was already aggressive. Had you been a man, Caitlin, he would have beaten you to a pulp. This way, you at least survived. I believe that rape is so common because itís a way for us to be aggressive towards women without killing them. An evolutionary advantage, as a matter of fact. A man who kills women wonít leave any offspring." Biggy stopped for a moment as if expecting a comment from Julian, but none came. Instead, Julian cast a glance at Caitlin, as if he wanted her to say something. But Caitlin leaned towards him, her hand searching his. Julianís fingers closed over hers in consolation. But Biggy wasnít finished yet.

"You see," he was talking to Julian, "weíre all potential rapists, you and I are no exceptions." Julian flinched visibly, and Biggy misinterpreted his reaction. "Oh yes, you too," he said.

But I killed a woman in rage, Julian thought while Biggy continued, "because if you arenít, youíll kill," making Julian blink in surprise.

"So what type do you think you are?" Biggy peered at Julian closely, but didnít receive an answer. "Youíre definitely the killing type," Biggy answered his own question. "Dangerous and counter-productive." He leaned back, but Julian still refused to say anything. "Any comments?" Biggy urged at last.

"Itís impossible for me to be objective here." Julianís voice was cautious and quiet. "Iím quite capable of killing, mentally as well as physically. Rape however," he shrugged, "the thought has never crossed my mind."

He was aware that Caitlinís hand was still in his, and that she had hardened her grip. He looked at her and their eyes met.

"Caitlin," he was whispering, "if I could lay my hands on... the one who hurt you, Iíd kill him!"

But Caitlin shook her head.

"No," she said, "no, itís not worth losing you. Iím glad that I donít know who it was."

But I know! Julianís face betrayed nothing. And eventually, Cameron will pay.

Caitlinís eyes filled with tears and she hid her face against his chest.

Julian gave Biggy a threatening look that shouted let her be! Biggy smiled innocently.

"I didnít mean to upset you, Caitlin," he said, but he was talking to Julian.

He took a fork and bowed it with his fingers, before placing it in front of Julian. Any human man would have been provoked by the challenge, but the Kindred showed no interest in destroying cutlery. He touched Caitlinís face, making her look up at him. He kissed her lightly and whispered in her ear:

"Your makeup needs help."

She excused herself immediately and went to the ladiesí room. The moment both men sat down after her departure, Julian picked up the mauled fork and shoved it towards Biggy.

"What are you trying to do?" he demanded, the anger in his voice apparent.

Biggy didnít pretend innocence any longer.

"Caitlin has talked," he said. "She has spilled all the beans. Iíve done my best to calm her down. Do you know where I found her yesterday?" It was a rhetorical question because Biggy answered it himself. "At a meeting of people who believe they have been abducted by aliens! She is troubled, and you shouldnít ignore it!"

Julian recoiled in shock.

"Youíre not serious," he whispered.

"Oh, Iím serious, all right!" Biggy was very serious indeed. "If you harm my little kitten Caitlin, youíll have to answer to me!" He was angry, and he didnít mind showing it. But to his surprise, Julian smiled.

"What has she told you?" he asked.

"Everything!" Biggy was at last getting somewhere. "How strong you are, for instance."

But Julian shrugged dismissal.

"Iím stronger than average, thatís all." He looked pointedly at the battered fork and shook his head. "Somewhat beyond that," he added.

Biggy placed his elbow on the table, his hand open, and said:

"Letís see, before Caitlin comes back."

Julian looked at him in disbelief. He was about to ask Are you mad? and had to remind himself, he doesnít know, he thinks Iím human. Only Frank Kohanek is stupid enough to challenge a Kindred. He placed an elbow on the table, their arms almost touching, presenting his slender hand, which almost disappeared in Biggyís giant paw. For a fleeting moment Julian toyed with the notion of letting Biggy win, but when he felt the pressure increase, his joints locked instinctively, and the muscles in his arm turned to steel. He didnít move his arm, but neither could Biggy sway it. After several seconds the old man hissed:

"Push!" and Julian laid the big fist on the table, showing no strain. He let go the moment he felt Biggy relax.

"Thatís far beyond the average!" Biggy exclaimed. "You could make a bundle out of that!"

"Iím a businessman, not a wrestler," Julian sounded offended. He knew perfectly well that he was much stronger than any human man, but he was also aware that disclosing the fact endangered the Masquerade. He regretted that he hadnít let Biggy win the arm wrestling. "Iím strong, but Iím not superhuman," he added. "Thereís a limit to what I can do. Is there anything else you wonder about?" He changed the subject, hoping that it would distract the big man.

"Ah!" Biggy jumped at the opportunity, "the healing!"

"The healing?" Julian seemed at a loss. He sighed in exasperation. "What did Caitlin tell you?"

"That you can heal like a lizard!" the old man snickered.

"I am a lizard!" A feeling of unreality came over Julian and he started wondering if he could let the old man survive the evening. But Biggy laughed at the joke, a rumbling, relieving laugh.

"Címon, it canít be that bad! Youíre not alone, you know. Lot of this stuff goes around. New age medicine and all that crap." Biggy was still laughing. "Well?"

So Julian decided to play dumb.

"I really donít know," he said. "The doctors tell me that I heal quicker and better than others. Thatís all there is to it." Of course, Julian Luna had kept all those who were connected with any medical profession at a healthy distance for more than a hundred years. But Biggy wasnít satisfied yet.

"What about Caitlin?" he asked.

"What about her?" Julian continued to pretend stupidity.

"She told me that you did it to her as well." Biggyís wink and the expression on his face told Julian that the big man expected fraud, and Julian took advantage of it.

"Havenít you heard of the art of suggestion?" he said with a charming smile.

The most rational minds are the easiest to fool, he thought with gratitude and relief. The big man had saved his own life with his doubts.

But Biggy decided to enjoy himself to the very end.

"The green eyes?" he inquired.

Julian sighed tiredly.

"I canít do that deliberately." Julian wanted to get away, he had had enough.

And then Biggy said:

"Okay, I wonít ask about that other stuff, you wouldnít like it." But as Julianís gaze focused on him, he continued, staring right back. "You know, the important stuff." He made a vulgar gesture.

As Biggy told Caitlin the previous evening, he wasnít an easy man to scare, but as he was staring into Julian Lunaís shining green eyes, he felt the hair on his head rise and the rush of adrenaline almost choking him. At that very moment Biggy realized with absolute certainty that Caitlinís handsome fianc√© wasnít human.

"Oh God..." Biggy whispered, "Iím in trouble, arenít I?"

Slowly, Julianís eye-color returned to normal, and he started to breathe again.

"Yes, you are," he said.

But Biggy was braver than most.

"I donít give a damn about myself," he blurted, "but Caitlin..."

"Caitlin is safe," Julian said softly. "I love her, and I wonít let any harm come to her."

"What are you?" Biggy asked at last, but Julian shook his head and rose as Caitlin came back to them.

They left the restaurant and Biggy refused to be driven home, making Julian smile.

"I will talk to you again," he said to the big man, and seeing the big frame flinch he added, "you shouldnít be afraid of me, after all, youíre Caitlinís fairy godmother."

Julian refused to be engaged in any conversation in the car. Caitlin gave up after a few attempts and fell quiet. Something was wrong, and it scared her. She had sensed the change when she had returned to their table, and the way Biggy avoided eye contact with her was ominous.

Julian asked her to come with him to the library when they arrived at the mansion. She followed him, the fright making her shiver in spite of the warming fire. Julian looked at her for a long time without saying anything. At last Caitlin couldnít stand it anymore.

"Julian, please, donít just stand there," she begged, "say something!"

She expected him to yell at her, steeling herself before what was coming. Therefore, she was totally unprepared when Julian said with infinite sadness:

"Caitlin, today you have put my life in jeopardy."

She stared at him uncomprehending.

"Julian! What..."

But he stopped her, his hand rising as if he wanted to blot her from his sight.

"If the damage canít be contained, we might have to part." He turned away, and she saw his shoulders shake as if he were crying.

She started towards him, but he ran out of the library before she could reach him.

Caitlin spent that night alone, fear preventing her from sleeping.

* * *


Samuel Heims was an educated and rational man. But nothing in his training, not his Ph.D., not his years of work, nor his experience, had prepared him for this. He had always laughed at UFO freaks, mediums and the Uri Gellers of this world; those who believed in astrology or exorcism or even in God, had his deepest contempt. Samuel Heims, a k a Biggy, believed in reason. But now, his reason was screaming in protest against what he had seen and perceived. Julian Lunaís dark brown eyes had not shifted to green because the light had made them so. They had changed entirely - bright and shining as neon lights, illuminated from within - and scared the hell out of Biggy. Biggyís reason jumped up and down like a three-year-old, refusing to acknowledge the evidence. But Biggy was sixty-two, and he knew that what he had seen was real, and that he hadnít been supposed to see it at all; not if Julian Luna could have stopped him. And that scared him the most.

Biggy took his time in getting home. He needed to think. But the more he thought about Caitlinís mysterious boyfriend, the more confused he was. All he could accept, was that Julian Luna wasnít what he pretended to be. Beyond that, Biggyís common sense refused to venture. In his head, he went through everything that Caitlin had told him. Every thing by itself meant nothing, but put together, the facts created a picture that was distinctly... non-human.

No! His reason made another jolt. He recalled the hour they had spent in the restaurant. Julianís handsome, albeit expressionless face. The impeccable manners. It was Luna who rose first when Caitlin got up from her chair, making Biggy follow suit. The low voice, the precise speech, the almost indiscernible British accent. Somehow, it seemed out of place. The Italian from the Godfather films or a New York Yiddish accent might have suited Julianís appearance better. Biggy shook his head, out of place seemed an accurate description. But out of what place? He remembered the feeling of the other manís hand in his. Perfectly normal, warm skin, no rings, until it had changed into an immovable object, until it had pressed his own arm down with no more effort than he himself would need in wrestling down his six-year-old grandson.

The lights in the building were out, the lift didnít come. Biggy lived on the fourth floor, he walked slowly up the stairs, it had happened often enough before. He had a cigarette lighter for just such occasions, and he used it in order to fit his key into the keyhole. His hand groped for the switch just inside the door, and, to his satisfaction, the hallway was flooded with light. He exhaled in relief and walked in. The door didnít close behind him.

There is no one there, the door is stuck, he thought, but he felt the hair on his neck rise, and he knew that he was not alone. He turned slowly; seeing Julian Luna didnít surprise him at all. The young man stepped inside, and the door closed behind him with the familiar thud. Biggy remembered Julianís words before they parted outside the restaurant - you shouldnít be afraid of me... - but he was scared, and he didnít care if it showed. As Julian walked past him, Biggy looked at the door wistfully.

"If you run, youíll die," he heard Julian say, and turned to face him. They looked at each other in silence, and then Julian Luna added: "Weíre all around you," his voice low and soft as a caress.

"What will happen if I donít run?" Biggy was shaking his head, fighting the mesmerizing impact of Julianís voice.

Julian seemed to give the question careful consideration.

"That depends on what you decide to do," he said at last.

"You mean I have options?" Biggy was surprised, and Julian smiled.

"Oh yes," he answered, "human life is as sacred to us as it is to you, Iíd say even more so."

Biggy inhaled sharply. Julian Luna had just confessed that he wasnít human.

"Iím not sure that I want to know, but who are you, or better yet, what are you?" Biggy repeated the question that he had posed earlier.

"Iím one of the Kindred," Julian answered, looking straight at the big man who laughed nervously.

"Well, Iím glad you didnít say Vulcan," Biggy said, and seeing Julian frown, added, "you know, Mr. Spock? On TV?"

"Oh," Julian smiled. "Caitlin once referred to that... individual. However, I assure you, Iím not a fictional character."

"I wish you were!" Biggy was vehement, and to his total bewilderment, Julian laughed, a very human, warm laugh. "You seem rather... human right now," Biggy commented lamely.

"I used to be human." Julian had stopped laughing. "Please, Mr. Heims, sit down. Iíll tell you what I am. By the way, Iíd appreciate a drink," he added, "preferably wine."

Biggy found a bottle of cheap red wine - he was not a connoisseur - but after Julian tasted it, he accepted the offered whiskey. Julian looked at the amber liquid in his glass for a long time, his reluctance to talk suddenly apparent.

Eventually, Biggy had to prod; his fright abated, he was dying of curiosity.

"Okay man," he said, "youíve started it, you might just as well continue. Iím not a shrink, but remember, we were the ones who invented the wailing wall." It made Julian laugh again.

Whatever he is, heís got a sense of humor, Biggy thought, that can excuse a lot.

"All Kindred were once human," Julian started.

It was three a.m.

My spooky hour, Biggy thought, if I let you repeat your story on the radio... whew! Hollywood next!

But Julian seemed to follow his line of thought.

"Whenever the Masquerade was broken," he said, "it always ended in persecution and atrocities beyond your imagination. The Kindred were the reason for the invention of burning at the stake. We can be killed. If you hurt us, we feel pain, if you cut us, we will bleed."

The quotation wasnít literal, but Biggy recognized it immediately. He knew about persecution. His memories of the flight from the war-wrecked Europe were dim. He had been too young to be fully aware of what was happening, but his perception of the fright of his parents, and the loss of security that it had evoked in him, stayed with him permanently. He had never seen his grandparents, his aunts and uncles, or his cousins again. A family of more than thirty people - vanished. Kindred, he thought. Suddenly, Biggy felt closer to Julian Luna than he had ever felt to the rest of humanity. But then he came to think about the one thing that Julian had disclosed that Caitlin knew nothing about.

"The blood," he said, "the drinking of blood." His own words made him shiver. "Doesnít it make you feel like a... a... parasite?" A wave of nausea swept over him.

"At least we donít kill our prey," Julian answered coldly.

"Oh!" Biggy reeled back. "I never thought of it that way," he shrugged helplessly. "What happens now?" he asked at last.

But Julian Lunaís answer was also a question:

"What do you want to happen?"

"I donít know what I want," Biggy sounded tired now.

"What do you think will happen if you start babbling about the creatures of the night on the radio?" Julian asked right out.

"One of two things," Biggy shrugged, "either I will end up in a padded cell with a straight- jacket strapped on or you will."

But Julian shook his head.

"You underestimate the gullibility of the human race. Neither of us would end up in a straightjacket. Not you, because you have the right to say whatever you wish on your radio, nor I, because much more drastic measures are required in order to immobilize me. Believe me, those measures will be taken."

"I donít want to die," Biggy said after a long moment, "and I donít want my memory erased either, the way you did with Caitlin. And I sure as hell donít want to become one of you." He laughed nervously. "Belonging to one minority is tough enough, let alone two."

To his relief, Julian smiled at his comment.

"I donít want to kill you and I donít want to mess with your mind. I didnít erase Caitlinís memories. I canít do that. I forced what she saw into her subconscious. Itís still there as a partially remembered nightmare. I wouldnít dare to do it again, lest it might drive her insane. Itís just too dangerous. I wonít Embrace you against your wish. It would be like... forcing you to convert."

"Yeah!" Biggy laughed again. "It wouldnít be the first time in the history of my people! We remember the Spanish Inquisition as well as you do."

"I know," Julian sighed tiredly. "Tell me, can I risk walking out of here, leaving you with the knowledge you possess now?"

They looked at each other for a long time before Julian added:

"If I end up the target of a persecution posse, Caitlin might get hurt. In fact, Iím beginning to wonder if we shouldnít separate anyway, before something worse happens."

Biggy shook his head.

"Caitlin loves you as much as you love her. If you give her up, then you have lost anyway. You donít deserve that. But you should be more careful about what you let her see, about what you let her know. Or you can tell her the truth. As much as she cares for you, I think she can take it. Because if you donít, well, sooner or later youíll say or do something that will disclose your true nature beyond any doubts she might have, and then it might be too late. Iím not your enemy, Iím not even a threat. An old intellectual like me, well, Iím a practical man. I know that if I start going around jabbering about vampires, people will start thinking that Iíve gone mad. I donít want that to happen, so your secret is quite safe with me. Besides, Iím quite sure that if I squeal, you wouldnít let me repeat it. Am I right?" He watched Julian intently, and continued after his affirmative nod. "So you see, Iíll keep my mouth shut, for Caitlinís sake, for the sake of keeping my hide intact, and for your sake as well." Biggy raised his hands in an appeasing gesture.

Julian Luna rose slowly to his feet. Placing his hands on the armrests of Biggyís chair, he stared hard into the older manís eyes.

"Remember what you have promised tonight," he said at last, "Iíll hold you to that."

Then he was gone, and Biggy heard the thud of the closing door. Still, it took him several minutes before he accepted the fact that he was alone and alive.

Caitlin sat alone in the library.

She hadnít seen Julian since the previous night and she was scared. In spite of a sleepless night, she had gone to work today, but had been too tired and too upset to get anything done. She went home early, but when she inquired about Julian, the servants told her that he hadnít been seen since the previous evening. She decided to wait for him, and his library seemed to be the right place to do it. She curled up in his favorite leather chair, surrounding herself with several books that she had taken down from the shelves. But she could not concentrate on reading. Why should telling Biggy - the only person she had ever trusted - about Julian be a danger to her lover? What was he hiding? What did Biggy see that she didnít? What was wrong? Because there was no doubt in her mind by now that something was terribly wrong. She loved Julian, but she wasnít sure if she could go on living in this perpetual haze of mysteries and frightening riddles. Was it an empty threat, or was Julian contemplating a break-up? Why? Caitlin was making herself miserable with all these unanswered questions. At last she posed the only question that she knew she should be able to answer.

Which do I want more, Julian or answers?

Julian! screamed her body, but her mind craved information.

She had tried to get in touch with Biggy several times during the day. His answering machine at home gave the same impersonal message every time, at the radio station she was told that he had called in the morning telling his colleagues that he would not come in until the next day. Where the hell was he? And where was Julian?

The warmth from the fire and the silence were making her drowsy.

There was a muffled thud and Caitlin came to with a start. One of the books had fallen from her lap, and it was the sound it made hitting the carpeted floor that woke her up. She looked around disoriented and it took her several seconds to realize that someone was standing in front of the fire.

He had heard the book fall, and turned around to face her.

"Julian," Caitlin said smiling with relief. But he didnít smile back.

"What do you intend to do next?" he asked harshly, "send the police after me? A bunch of scientists?"

The anger in his voice made Caitlin swallow hard.

"Julian," she tried to be calm, "I donít want any harm to come to you. But this is so difficult. It feels as if I have walked into an alternate universe. Iím scared. Please, try to understand."

He continued to stare at her coldly and it scared her even more. She swept the rest of the books off her knees and got up from the chair. But she had fallen asleep in an awkward position, her legs curled under her. When she tried to take a step, she lost her balance and fell. She cried out in surprise, but Julian caught her before she landed on the floor. He lifted her and placed her back in the chair, but as he let go of her, she got hold of his sleeves. As she expected, he didnít try to disengage himself from her grasp, bending over her, his face only inches from hers.

"Julian," she was whispering now, "please, help me. Help me before I go crazy!"

Relieved, she saw his face soften. His arms encircled her and he lifted her again. He sat down in the chair and made her sit in his lap. He was in deep thought for a long time, but Caitlin was happy to be close to him again, his arms around her. At last he sighed heavily.

"Caitlin," he started, "what Iím about to tell you, you must never disclose to anyone. Promise me that!"

She was quite prepared to promise anything, and nodded her head vigorously.

"I promise," she said when his arms hardened around her, demanding verbal consent.

"When I was much younger," he talked very slowly, "something happened to me... I was very ill for several months. I donít remember much because of... high fever. But I survived, nobody thought I would. Afterwards... I was never sick again, and there were those strange things happening: petty injuries, healing in no time; a broken arm, mended within a couple of weeks; no scars... the color of my eyes changing when Iím upset; no real need for food; the hearing; the sight... the sense of smell, unpleasantly acute. Then I realized that I was stronger than others were. Someone died before I knew what I could do with my bare hands. My endurance... Remember, I told you once that Iím a good swimmer. Itís perfectly true, I can swim for hours without getting tired. If I tried to run a marathon, Iíd probably come first, hardly sweating; so I wonít. When we make love, itís the same... The only things that make me tired are pain and the loss of blood, and I enjoy getting tired at last. If it became known," he shook his head sadly, "can you imagine what would happen if the military or the researchers found out? If they got me in their hands, their laboratories?" His hand lifted her face so that he could look into her eyes. "Caitlin, I donít know why this has happened to me, but I donít want to spend the rest of my life as a prisoner of so called science. Iím already a prisoner of my own body. I have tried to keep as much distance as possible between myself and the rest of the world in order to protect my secret. But I have feelings and desires like any other creature on this planet. I donít want to be alone. My power and my wealth shield me to a certain extent. But if what I am becomes public knowledge, thereís no amount of wealth that will protect me. Can you understand that?"

"Oh Julian." Caitlinís eyes filled with tears. "Iím so sorry! I wonít tell anybody again. I promise." She hugged him. "Have you ever tried to find out what has happened to you?"

"NO!" he shook his head with agitation. "I donít dare to come near a physician. Doctors are human. They will keep a secret until there is a chance that what they know will make them immortal. That sort of immortality might prove lethal to me. Besides, itís not like Iím unwell. I donít need a doctor!"

His last remark made Caitlin smile.

"Now I understand what you meant when you said that you were different from other men," she laughed, "and I thought you were from outer space. How stupid of me!" She touched his face lightly. "Youíre too human for that!"

His grip around her hardened at that moment, threatening her ribs. Caitlin didnít mind that. Her finger traced his lips.

"Youíve got a scar there," she said, and his hand touched the tiny nick, a half-inch above his upper lip.

"Thatís an old one," he said smiling. "I was just a child, my father hit me with the back of his hand. He had a signet ring, and it cut me. That was long before I... changed." He looked away, realizing that this was the only truthful thing that he had told her.

Caitlin kissed the scar lightly, but when she kissed his lips, he didnít respond, so she just hugged him and let her head rest on his shoulder. They sat unmoving for a long time, until Caitlin whispered:

"Iíll never betray you, never!"

Iíll kill you if you do! Julian thought.

"I know," he said aloud.

Still, Caitlin slept alone that night too.

Julian was just too ashamed to make love to Caitlin after he had drowned her in that pile of lies. Which didnít mean that he didnít want to. There were matters that he should occupy himself with, important matters: unrest was brewing among the Clans again and it was his job to make sure that the uneasy peace was kept; Sashaís erratic behavior; new Kindred who had migrated to San Francisco from other cities should be welcomed and informed. Some intended to leave; keep track of Cameronís doings; keep track of Frank Kohanekís devices. No, Lillie and Sonny could do that. One thing less to worry about; Samuel Heims had tried to contact him during the day. What did he want? Extortion? No, the old reporter was too intelligent for that. But the message had said urgent and the Prince could not afford to ignore a human who knew about the Masquerade. He would have to seek him out this very night. There was no time for Caitlin right now. He needed to get out and feed as well. But all he wanted to do was to go to her. He had sent her off to bed after he had told her the heinous story that he had made up in advance, hoping that she would accept it. She had, and more than that, she had called him too human! Being aware of her presence in his house, her warm body, her willingness to accept him and to love him, made it difficult to concentrate on anything else. Anger and fear had made him talk about parting from her, but now he was perfectly aware that he could never bring himself to let her go, never!

He stopped for a second by Caitlinís bedroom door.

No, duty first! But for a fleeting moment he resented being the Prince, before turning away and heading towards the gatehouse. He had to talk to Daedalus first.

"Find the man," Daedalus was saying, "find out what heís after before you decide. If you need me, Iíll be there."

Julian shook his head.

"I can handle that reporter," he said, "donít worry about that. I want the Nosferatu to take care of the unrest among the Clans. Talk to Cash and Lillie. No, Iíll talk to her. You take Cameron, I canít stand the sight of him. There will be peace in this city no matter what the costs. I need someone to watch the Brujah Primogen and Sashaís not up to it. I need the help of the Nosferatu Clan. I need a spy."

"Cameron knows how close you and I are," Daedalus mused, "but I can find a discontented one to do our bidding.

"Camilla," Julian suggested.

"Camilla," Daedalus confirmed. "Everybody knows that you killed Goth. What they donít know is that Camilla is more loyal to you than she ever was to her deceased mate."

Julian had no problem finding Biggy. The reporter was waiting for him in his home.

"I bought a bottle of real wine for you," he said, nodding towards one of the more expensive Saint-Emilion wines that sat on the table.

"A bribe?" Julian raised an eyebrow. "I have nothing to sell."

"Itís supposed to make it worthwhile for you to listen to me." Biggy was not the bribing type.

"What is it you want, Mr. Heims?" Julian was pressed for time. "What can I do for you?"

"Funny, you should put it that way," Biggy answered. "You see, Iíve been thinking, and the more I think about it, the more tempting it becomes." He smiled noticing Julianís anxious expression. "I think that I would like to be like you, become one of you... Kindred," he added unnecessarily.

"I think Iíll have some of that wine," Julian said. He opened the bottle by hitting its bottom with an open hand, forcing the cork out almost an inch, and then removing it without the aid of a corkscrew, oblivious of Biggyís stare of disbelief.

"Have you thought about the consequences of an Embrace?" Julian asked at last.

"Iíve done nothing else for the last day and night." Biggy had indeed done a lot of thinking.

"Once itís done, there is no going back," Julian said softly. "You will leave humanity forever. Is it really what you want? Your family, your grandchildren, youíll outlive them, but youíll have to disappear from their life long before that. The last time I saw my son, he was fourteen years old. I didnít contact my family again until after his death, pretending then to be a distant relative of my own grandchildren. It was... difficult. It still is."

Biggy nodded, a wry smile on his face.

"You donít have to play the devilís advocate, Iíve done that already, and believe me, Iím good at that, probably much better than you."

Julian smiled back.

"Yes," he said, "I can believe that. You remind me of a friend I had."

"Okay," Biggy was becoming impatient, "can it be done? Can you do it? Iíve made up my mind. I want it!"

"Yes, I can do it. All you have to do is to ask. You have to say I want to be Embraced.

"Er... I thought you said that there is some law, that the Prince must give permission." Biggyís conviction wasnít final and Julian sensed it, but he wanted that old man on his side.

"Iím the Prince," he said simply. "In this city I donít need anybodyís permission."

Biggy stared at him for a long moment while Julian pretended to be totally preoccupied with the wine in his glass.

"I want to be Embraced," the old man pronounced each word distinctly, and he saw Julian Lunaís eyes shimmer with soft green light over the rim of the glass.

"Itís an excellent wine," the Prince said. "Have some before we get down to business."

Samuel Heims accepted the proffered glass and drank his last wine as a mortal. It was indeed a very good wine, and he regretted that he had never been interested in wines.

Well, he thought, Iíll have all the time in the world to remedy that.

"What happens now?" he asked.

"Iíll open a vein in your neck, preferably the biggest one I can reach. Otherwise it takes too much time. Iíll empty you of all your blood. Youíll lose consciousness long before that. Iíll replace your blood with mine. When you wake up, youíll be Kindred, a Ventrue."

"Do it!" the old man said.

Julian Luna, the Prince of San Francisco, sired another Kindred. It happened exactly as he had described it to Biggy, except for the few minutes the old man was dead before Julianís Kindred blood revived him. When he opened his eyes again, the world was entirely different to his senses"

"Stay away from humans today," Julian told him. "Tomorrow night Iíll send someone to lead you and teach you. Donít worry," he added, seeing the expression of disappointment on Biggyís face, "Iím your Sire, Iíll not abandon you."

Julian had hoped that he could return to the mansion before dawn, but when he came home, it was too late to sneak into Caitlinís bed. He intercepted her in the hallway, as he had done once before, only this time she smiled and allowed him to hug her.

"A word," he whispered in her ear, and dragged her into the library, away from the prying eyes of the servants and Arthurís amused smile. The moment the door closed behind them, he started to kiss her and his impatient hands tore at her clothes.

"Julian!" She sounded a little scandalized. "Iíll be late for work."

"I wonít deduct it from your salary," he mumbled, dragging her down to the floor. His hands and lips made her head spin, and her protests were forgotten.

"I love you, I need you," he repeated over and over, and his elation spread to her. She was trying to unbutton his shirt with shaking hands, but wasnít very successful, and he had to help her. He pressed her against his naked chest, squeezing the breath out of her until she had to stop him, afraid that he would crush her.

"Julian," she murmured softly when he allowed her to get some air. When his hand started a slow climb from her knee, she tensed in anticipation and held her breath until his fingers reached their goal, making her moan and cling to him.

Suddenly he was very still, and then let go of her. She whimpered in disappointment.

"What is it Julian? Whatís wrong?" she asked.

But he couldnít tell her that they were no longer alone, that he had sensed another presence in the room.

"Caitlin," he was trying to put her clothes in order awkwardly, "itís... I... please, forgive me. Go to work." He wasnít looking at her. "I must do something. Iíll see you tonight." The promise in his voice made her smile in spite of her bewilderment. She got up, tugging at the hem of her skirt, kissed him and left the library.

"Daedalus!" Julian was almost shouting, "that was unusually cruel, even for you!"

"Iím sorry." Daedalus was a picture of serenity. "I didnít realize... until it was too late, by then you knew I was here." He watched the Prince put on his shirt, his hand stroking back his hair in an attempt to regain some of his dignity. Daedalus waited patiently.

"There are matters that demand your attention," he said when he saw that the Prince was calm again. "Urgent matters," he added.

The grave tone of the Nosferatuís voice made Julian forget his thwarted desire. Banishing his embarrassment, he focused his whole attention on his friend.

"Iím listening," he said simply.

Julian was lost in thought. What Daedalus had told him was grave indeed. This wasnít a discontented Brujah seeking power or revenge. This was much more serious. Someone was moving in. Someone was planning to take over. The Nosferatu Primogen had used all his cunning. With the help of the Toreador and Gangrel Clans, as well as those Ventrue who were in the right places, he was able to piece together the information he had obtained. It wasnít Cyrus trying to take over the state. Julian knew his pitiful plan and he had taken measures to prevent it right after Eddieís death. No, the spies in Los Angeles reported that the same things were happening there as in San Francisco: the subtle movements; the crooked paths; the out of state Kindred were coming from all over the country. But Julian came to the same conclusion that Daedalus had. Either Florida or New York. The Prince of Miami was a Brujah. Judging from the unrest among the Brujah Clan in San Francisco, they were just as bewildered by what was going on, as were the other Clans in the city. If not Florida, then New York - Servio.

But Servio, the ancient Prince of New York, was de facto a Ventrue. No matter how old or wise he was, if he were to turn on another Ventrue Prince, his own Clan would disown him. It didnít add up. Julian knew that the Ancient detested him, but that could hardly be a reason for the all out war that apparently was in full preparation. Had Servio wanted to get rid of Julian, he could have had him assassinated quite easily. So what was going on?

He posed the question to Daedalus, but the Nosferatu was at as much of a loss as he was.

"Weíll need information from the source," Daedalus said. "My Clansmen in New York say that the city is troubled. The Prince has made too many mistakes lately."

"Are you telling me that the Kindred of New York are leaving because they donít trust their Prince anymore? And they all end up in California because of the weather, like humans do? I donít buy that!" Julian had not become a Prince by being naive. "Servio is too old to make mistakes; unless they are part of a plan. I think we should assume the worst. Servio intends to take over California. But why? And how?"

"Why, I donít know," Daedalus answered. "Who can say whatís in the mind of an Ancient, but itís easy to guess how."

"Oh, pray enlighten me!" Julian was trying to hide his discomfort behind a flippant sneer.

Daedalus was unruffled.

"All he has to do is to replace you with a puppet of his own. He doesnít have to kill you. Just undermine your authority, turn the Primogens against you, one by one. Exchange those who are loyal to you like Cash or me, promise Lillie something that she wants, maybe even you. Cameron will back anything that might help him to get rid of you. Within a few years, or even months, you might find yourself an ex-Prince, if youíre still alive, wondering how it happened."

It sounded so simple when Daedalus described it.

If I wanted to take over, this is what I would do, Julian thought.

But Daedalus had fallen quiet, his forehead wrinkling.

"Oh no," his voice was a fearful whisper, "it canít be!"

Julian looked up at his friendís terror-stricken face.

"Whatís wrong?" he asked.

"Youíre not the primary target, Julian," the Nosferatu answered.

"Well, Iím glad to hear that." Julian didnít see where Daedalus was leading.

"But donít you see!?" The Nosferatu raised his voice for the first time in decades. "He has planned this for centuries. He wants to take over everything, the whole country, he wants to subjugate the humans!"

Julian stared at his friend in disbelief.

"You are mad," he said at last.

"No Julian, Iím not mad," Daedalus had his voice under control again, "but Servio is!"

"ButÖ how can anyone even think about something like this?!" Julian was appalled. "It would shatter the Masquerade forever. It would be the end of us all! Taking into consideration the meager percentage that the Kindred comprise within the population of the United States, how can Servio imagine that he can pull off a thing like that? We would be hunted like the Nazis hunted the Jews, and in our case it would be justified."

"Yes," Daedalus concurred, "it might very well spell the destruction of all Kindred in this country."

"We must do something about it before itís too late." Julian was pacing in front of the fireplace, as was his habit whenever he was upset. "Iíll try to find out how many followers he has among other Princes. I need you and the others to do the same with the Primogens in as many cities as possible. We need Cameron. Damn it, I wouldnít put past him the idea of siding with Servio just to spite me. Talk to him, Daedalus. If he turns out to be plain stupid, kill him!"

"Julian!" Daedalus was taken aback. "I canít do that!"

"Daedalus, the last thing I need right now is a traitor in my own city." This was the Prince talking. "If Cameron lacks the intelligence to understand the danger, or is blinded by his hate, then heís not fit to sit at my Conclave table. If necessary, Iíll wipe out the entire Brujah Clan in San Francisco. If necessary, Iíll get humans to help fight Servio!"

It was Daedalusí turn to stare at his friend in disbelief.

"Arenít you overreacting?" he asked quietly.

"No, Daedalus," Julianís voice was equally quiet, "if what you have deduced is true, then weíre fighting for the survival of our species."

Daedalus nodded in acquiescence.

As it turned out, Daedalusí deduction was correct, but Julianís wasnít.

Cameron was neither stupid nor blinded by his hate.

Cameron hadnít survived Archonís hostility by being stupid, nor by underestimating his adversaries. In spite of his hate and resentment, he had to admit that Julian Luna was a formidable Prince. He had been able to keep the peace among the Kindred for seven years, and as far as Cameron knew, only one human knew about the Masquerade, and that one was under the constant supervision of Sonny and Lillie. Why Luna was protecting the policeman, Cameron didnít know, but he suspected there was some advantage in the arrangement for Julian. In any case, Frank Kohanek wasnít important right now. It was hard to believe what Daedalus had told him, but Cameron saw what was going on in San Francisco. A call to Cyrus confirmed the suspicions of the Nosferatu Primogen. Cyrus had been in contact with the Brujah Prince in Miami, who supported the Ancientís crazy plan. The Ventrue slime of New York had gone completely mad. How he could believe that his outrageous scheme might work was beyond Cameronís ability to comprehend. Julian Luna and Daedalus were absolutely right. Cameron realized that in view of the present danger he would be forced to cooperate with the Prince. He called his Brujah Clansmen to a meeting in the midmorning. Surprised, they came. A stupefied silence met his disclosure. Somebody laughed nervously.

"It takes a megalomaniac Ventrue to come up with something like this!"

"It doesnít really matter whether heís Ventrue or not," Cameron retorted. "We would be in the same danger if he were a Brujah. I happen to know that a least one Brujah Prince on the East Coast supports this deranged plan."

"So what do we do now?" somebody else asked.

Cameron cleared his throat. He had never thought that he would have to say to the Brujah Clan what he was about to say.

"In this, we will support our Prince." To his surprise, there were no protests, making him realize that Julian Luna had a better reputation among his Clansmen than they cared to admit.

Well, they chose him over Archon all those years ago, Cameron thought. No matter how harsh he was, he was never unfair. And nobody wants an Ancient to take over: an Ancient who intends to destroy the Masquerade. Countless ages of collective Kindred memory wouldnít allow that.

In contrast to humans, the Kindred memories of what had happened during the centuries would not fade away or be denied. Too many survivors were still around. The Brujahs had always been the first victims, unprotected as they were by their inability to comply with human laws. The Ventrues had their wealth and their aristocratic air; envy was the most common reason for the deaths of Ventrues at the hands of humans. The Nosferatus had their wisdom and their ability to disappear; their inhuman appearance was the greatest threat to them. The Toreadors were considered mad, possessed. In fact, most of the women that had been burned were of the Toreador Clan; neither their beauty nor their sex appeal protected them against the fears of mortals. But the Gangrels and the Brujahs were the easiest prey, their powers notwithstanding; poorly educated, they came mostly from the lower classes and were often destroyed by enraged, superstitious crowds when found out.

No, Cameron wasnít stupid at all. Right now there was no other alternative but to close ranks, forget the animosity between the Clans and protect the Kindred as a whole. He would cooperate with the Ventrue Prince of San Francisco. He would even cooperate with the Gangrels.

He sent out spies to different cities, he even sent a couple to Miami. After ending the meeting, he conferred with Cyrus and then went to talk to Daedalus.

All Primogens had come by noon. They gathered in the library in the mansion. Somehow the fact that this meeting didnít take place in Daedalusí gatehouse made it more serious. Everybody seemed aware of the gravity of the situation. Lillie sat quietly by the fire. She had lived in this house.

Was she contemplating the turns and twists of fate? Julian was wondering.

Cash still lived here, although he and Sasha seemed to spend most of their free time away from the mansion. Daedalus would come and go as he pleased, sometimes making Julian feel rather embarrassed, although he knew that Caitlin would not detect the Nosferatuís presence.

After all, Julian concluded, it was my own fault. Daedalus would never enter Caitlinís bedroom.

But Cameron had been here only once before. He had been too scared and too tense to notice the surroundings then, and looked around now with curiosity. There was an atmosphere of comfort and leisure: shelves filled with books and ornaments; beautiful paintings on the walls, a few works of art; the fire gave both warmth and a sense of security. It was a room to enjoy. He wondered if Caitlin had sat here, maybe sharing long, pleasant evenings with Julian. A flash of jealousy made him banish all thoughts of her. He needed to be clearheaded, to regard Julian Luna as an ally, not as a rival or foe. Yet, her beautiful face would not leave his mind, now that he was in the house where she lived. What if he ran into her? Was she nearby? How could Luna keep his secrets from her? How much did she know?

The questions whirled in Cameronís head like wind-driven leaves in the fall. He stood aside from the others, wondering if they still resented him. They seemed worried, Cash and Daedalus murmuring to each other in hushed voices, Lillie deep in thought. Julian came in, Sonny and a couple of his most trusted friends in tow. He invited the Primogens to sit at the table with a nod. They all looked at him in silence, and his gaze moved from one face to another. When his eyes met Cameronís, he shook his head at the Brujahís silent inquiry. Cameron understood; Caitlin wasnít here. Nothing would happen that might embarrass the Brujah Primogen. They needed each other now.

"You have all been informed about what Daedalus and I have found out and the conclusions weíve come to," Julian started directly. "What do you think?"

They all looked at each other and Cash cleared his throat. All eyes focused on him.

"The newcomers." Cash had to clear his throat again. "They are mostly Gangrels and Ventrue Clan. Few Brujahs. No Toreador as far as I know. My clansmen have followed them this morning. They pretend that they donít know each other and then meet in secluded places. One of my men became very suspicious when he saw a Gangrel and a Brujah together. I talked to the Gangrel later. He said that he was from Texas; there was nothing wrong with his accent, but his expressions were pure New York."

"How do you know?" Cameron asked.

Cash made a face but Julian gave him a warning look.

"Iím sorry," Cash checked himself, "you donít know that, but Iím from New York."

Cameron nodded. He was born and Embraced in California and had never been out of state.

"What about that new Brujah?" Julian inquired.

"I donít know who you refer to, but as far as I know, twelve newcomers have arrived in San Francisco during the last week, which is more than during the last three months." Cameron was concentrating. "Two of them have admitted to being from New York, the others say that they come from different parts of the country. Iím not able to say if they are lying or not. They keep mostly to themselves and, as far as I know, there have been no complaints."

"Twelve," Julian mused, then turned to Lillie. "What about the Toreador Clan?"

"Eight," her voice was soft, "all women. All very beautiful women. I was wondering what was going on, but now itís quite obvious. Those Toreador Sirens have been sent to lure the male Primogens over to Servioís plan. And the Prince of course," she added with a malicious smile.

They stared at her in disbelief and Daedalus made a derisive snort. But Julian shook his head.

"The fact that we know about them doesnít make them less dangerous." He turned to Daedalus. "You may believe that you are impervious to the Sirensí charm, but I know better." He withstood the giggles of others. "Be careful!"

But Cash shrugged his shoulders with contempt.

"Iím not afraid of them. Sasha..."

"Sasha canít protect you," Julian interrupted him, "or rather, your love for her wonít protect you. Believe me!" His gaze turned to Cameron. "Loving another woman is no safeguard against a Siren. You know that as well as I do."

Cameron stared back at him defiantly, but there was no malice on Julianís face. He was absolutely serious. He turned to Lillie again.

"We need your advice, Lillie."

She looked up and smiled seductively, her eyes moving from one man to the next, flashing a special promise to each of them. They all felt the impact of her temptation and squirmed restlessly. Even Daedalus.

"Avoid eye contact," she was saying. Her fingers touched Cameronís hand and he recoiled as if burnt. "Donít let them touch you." She leaned towards Cash, her face only inches from his. "Keep your distance." Cash shook his head in surprise.

She got up and moved to Daedalus. Before he realized what she intended to do, her arms closed around his neck and she kissed him on the mouth. The Nosferatu took hold of her shoulders and moved her slowly away. Very slowly. She looked at him smiling.

"No Daedalus," there was triumph in her voice, "youíre not impervious. Donít let a Toreador Siren come near you."

At last she turned to Julian and he tried to steel himself, but she only flashed him a shining white glance and laughed at his discomfort.

"Women are your weakness, my Prince. Sirens or not. The Ancient knows that. I suspect that those Toreador women were sent here for your sake. Take care!"

Julian and Daedalus were alone again.

More than two hundred Kindred had come to San Francisco during recent weeks, most of them Ventrue or Gangrel, but only four Nosferatu. Daedalus was sure all four were Servioís men. The Nosferatu lived outside human society and did not migrate much.

"Not much of an invasion force," Julian commented.

"They arenít here to invade," Daedalus answered, "they are here to subvert. Imagine what it would take to make any one of the five of us into a turncoat. Letís think about it. Start with Cameron."

"That one is easy," Julian shrugged. "If he believes that Servioís plan has any chance of succeeding, all he needs is a promise of getting my job."

Daedalus nodded.

"Your job and your woman, donít forget."

Julian gave the Nosferatu a side-glance.

"He may have my job if it comes to that, but heíll never have Caitlin and he knows that. What about Cash?"

"You seem to trust him," Daedalus said, "but how sure are you? After all, he is from New York."

"If heís not a spy for Servio, and I donít think he is, heís loyal to me. He has lived in San Francisco for years, and Stevie was his closest friend. He loves Sasha and he cares for me. I think we can trust him, at least for now," Julian defended his bodyguard. "He was devastated when he thought that Eddie had killed me."

Daedalus winced at the memory. Lillie had come to his cellar in the gatehouse and told him that Eddie Fiori had murdered Julian, and that she had helped the Brujah killer. Lillie had preferred to see the man she loved dead than belonging to somebody else. Lillie was dangerous.

"Lillie," Daedalus said. "A Toreador can never be trusted; Lillie has proved that already."

"Lillie has redeemed her crime." Julian didnít like what he was hearing. "But can we trust her? I donít know."

"Lillie wants you back." There was no doubt in Daedalusí voice. "If you let her believe that there is a chance in the future that she might have you back, youíll be safe. But if she believes that she has lost you forever, no one can tell what she may do. Also, as I told you before, if Servio promises her that sheíll get you as spoils of victory..."

"Thatís impossible!" Julian couldnít imagine being chattel, to be used or given to someone, but Daedalus continued unruffled.

"Itís not what she can get, just what she may think she can get. It would be wise of you to show her kindness."

"I never thought of you as a pimp, Daedalus," Julian was joking, but he felt ill at ease.

"We need her!" Daedalus wouldnít be swayed. "Use the influence you have over her. The human woman..." Daedalus stopped when he saw Julianís eyes change. "You have to get her out of the way."

"No!" Julian rose abruptly, "I wonít give her up!"

"Iím not asking you to." Daedalus was thinking fast. "But she has been hurt once already. If she stays here, sheíll get in the way, sheíll see things... You might not be able to protect her."

Daedalus was right and Julian knew that. He should pretend that he no longer loved her and break off their relationship. But he could not bring himself to do that. It would break her heart. Besides, he wasnít such a good actor, that he could lie to her convincingly about his feelings.

"Daedalus," he said at last, "Iíll get her out of the mansion, maybe even out of San Francisco, but I canít give her up. Iíd rather face the final death. What about us?"


"You and me, Daedalus. Can we trust each other? Can we trust ourselves?"

Daedalus smiled.

"Servio canít buy me. He has nothing to bargain with. His plan is madness; Iíll never believe otherwise. I think there are very few of the Nosferatu Clan who are on his side. We seldom suffer from mania grandiosa." His smile became sad. "Itís a Ventrue trait."

"Thatís true," Julian nodded, "I hope Iíll never fall into that trap."

"I wonít let you," the Nosferatu was still smiling, "but Lillie was right. Your weakness lies in... another direction."

It made Julian laugh.

"The powers of the Toreador Sirens are overrated. I speak from experience. Wanting a woman canít make me a political idiot."

"No, but it can distract you." Daedalus was talking from his experience of the Prince.

"Uhm..." Julian wasnít trying to hide his annoyance. "Letís forget the past. Thereís Caitlin. I think I can keep the others at armís length. Iím not such a hopeless slave of my own desires as you seem to believe." Then he changed the subject disregarding the Nosferatuís doubtful look. "According to Cameron, Cyrus is on our side. I sincerely hope that itís true."

"My people in Los Angeles confirm that," Daedalus answered. "I will know more by the end of the day. Also about the Nosferatu in other states. But you must contact all the Ventrue Princes in the west."

Julian thought for a moment.

"Iíll start with Stephen. I have a discrete way to get to him without raising any suspicions. It will allow me to take care of another matter at the same time, and it will look equally natural."

"Caitlin, would you like to visit your father again?" Julian had come to her office in the middle of her working day.

That was a poor excuse, she thought smiling as she watched him close the door. However, he didnít lock it. But she was still thinking of their interrupted lovemaking in the morning, and didnít take his question seriously.

"Are you sure thatís what you want me to do," she asked suggestively, "send me off to my father?" She got up and saw that he was thinking the same thing as she walked towards him. But he prevented her from hugging him by taking her hands.

"I have to go to Seattle immediately," he said. "I had hoped that youíd want to come with me."

"You mean right now?" She realized that he wasnít joking.

"Yes, the plane is waiting. There is someone I have to see tonight. Please, come with me."

Caitlin hesitated only a moment. The plea in his eyes made her decide.

"Letís go!" she said.

He held her in his arms on the plane, but she interpreted his clinging as the fear of flying.

"Donít worry," she was mumbling in his ear, "I can protect you."

No, you canít, Julian thought, but I hope that I can protect you.

Two cars were waiting for them at the airport.

"I have to go to the meeting," Julian answered the questioning look she gave him. "Iíll come out to your fatherís house as soon as I can."

She watched him go, surprised that he still seemed tense and frightened even though he was on the ground.

Julian Luna didnít have the faintest idea how his message had been conveyed to the Prince of Seattle, but he was expected. Stephen was the closest thing to an older brother that Julian had ever had. He hoped that it would never change. Of course, they werenít brothers. In fact they looked totally different. Stephen was very tall and thin. His hair was very light, his eyes pale blue, almost colorless, his skin as transparent as that of a Nosferatu. He had been Embraced by Archon only a few years before Julian, but he was about ten years older then and their age difference always showed. They looked at each other for a long time without saying anything and then hugged.

"Ten years!" Stephen said at last. "Is this the way to treat your blood brother?"

"I could say the same," Julian retorted.

"True," Stephen winked, "but I havenít been running in your woods chasing mortal women and killing jealous humans that shoot at me, have I?"

"Oh!" Julian was taken aback. "How did you know about that?"

"Julian!" Stephen was insulted. "If I had done in San Francisco what you did here, wouldnít you know?"

The question did not require an answer. Julian told his friend what really transpired in the woods and Stephen made a wry face.

"Did you really have to kill him? After all, he just tried to scare you off."

"He could have shot Caitlin!" Julian could still feel the rage that had overwhelmed him that morning. "That bullet in my leg, it hit me just inches away from her body."

"Well, well," Stephen was smiling, "who would have believed that in the old days. Julian Luna, the horror of all men with beautiful wives or daughters, now the defender of ladies."

Stephen had always enjoyed teasing him about his inability to resist a pretty face, but Julian had not come to Seattle to discuss his love affairs, past or present.

"Stephen, itís not that I want to change the subject, which I do, but something is happening, something much more sinister than we have ever faced before."

"Yes, I figured that you havenít come to me to seek my advice in the matters of the heart," Stephenís good-natured smile was gone. "Are you telling me that whatever is going on here, is happening in San Francisco as well?"

"Not only there!" Julian told his blood brother what he knew. As he had expected, Stephen was horrified.

"You canít be serious!" he exclaimed. "But you wouldnít be here if you werenít." Stephen had a habit of answering himself.

"Youíre rather isolated here in the north," Julian said, "but this scheme extends all over the country. Maybe even further. Do you have any contact with the Kindred across the border?"

"Yes, we have connections in Vancouver, itís next door." As usual, Stephen continued Julianís line of thinking. "Iíll find out if they are involved in any way. Meanwhile, we have to act here. Youíre closer to the center of whatís going on. Youíre also the most powerful Prince on the West Coast. Servio must go after you first."

Julian sighed heavily.

"He hates me, why, I can only guess. I canít go around pretending that I have bought this crazy idea of his, heíll never believe that." He looked up at his blood brother. "But we need an infiltrator, someone Servio would trust... someone like you."

Stephenís pale blue eyes darkened considerably, becoming flashing sapphires.

"I donít like it," he said. "Canít you find someone else?"

"Who else can I trust?" Julian retorted bitterly. "The Brujah from Los Angeles? The petty chiefs in the Midwest, quarreling among themselves over absurdities. The Prince of Chicago..."

"The Prince of Chicago is a Gangrel, unlikely as it seems. Heíll always go his own way."

Stephen was pondering over Julianís idea.

"Iíll try to do what you ask of me. It wonít be easy. Iíll talk to my people and Iíll find out about Canada. Weíll need to keep in constant touch."

"Donít worry about that part." Julian was relieved over Stephenís consent. "You have your Nosferatu and I have mine. They will help to keep the connection unbroken. As for the Gangrel in Chicago, Iíll talk to him. Iíll talk to as many Princes as I can manage to reach before Servio finds out that I know. Because when he does, my life wonít be worth a drop of blood."

"Youíre right," Stephen concurred. "Youíll have to hide, youíll have to run, and youíll have to fight. What about that human woman of yours?"

Julian shrugged.

"Iíve sent her off. Sheís become a... distraction."

Stephen shook his head smiling.

"Do you want to know why Servio canít stand you?" he asked and continued without waiting for a response. "He thinks youíre vain." He laughed at Julianís surprised stare.

"That pompous old..." Julian was at a loss. "He should talk about vanity!"

"We all have our weaknesses," Stephen was laughing, "and Iím afraid youíre his."

"Now youíve lost me."

"Come, come, Julian," Stephen was still laughing, "youíre surely aware that there are men, Kindred and mortal, who envy you? Youíve got it all. Power, wealth and any woman you want. And Servio is old, gray and uglier than the ugliest Nosferatu. He hates your guts because he wants to be you. You should remember that when you deal with men, Kindred or humans."

It made Julian frown. Stephen might be right. Whenever there was trouble, it was always over something that was in Julianís possession in some way: Eddie wanted to be Prince; Cameron wanted Caitlin; Caitlin wanted his past; Cyrus wanted power. Lillie wanted... him.

"In my next life I want to be an hermit," he told Stephen before they parted.

He was starting to feel restless.

When he opened the door, for a split second he thought that it was one of the neighbors wanting to borrow something or seeking help. She looked so... ordinary. But his senses told him immediately that his first impression was misleading.

"My name is Mary," she informed him. "Iím your blood sister."

"Hi," Biggy answered. He backed away from the door, inviting her in with a gesture. She nodded and followed him inside and he looked her over. She was very tall and rather stout. There was a lot of gray in her brown hair. Her eyes were a striking blue and her skin very fair. She wore a brown inconspicuous suit and carried a matching bag, the sort that many middle-aged women carry. In fact, Biggy concluded, she looked every bit as a woman around fifty should look.

Biggy had stayed at home after his Embrace, as Julian Luna had told him to do. He had spent the day finding out and experimenting with his new abilities. He broke several things trying to measure the increase in his strength, but was unable to repeat Julianís trick with the wine bottle. Apparently, it required more technique than muscle. He managed to break the bottle to pieces, cutting his hand in the process, and than watching with fascination as the cuts disappeared within a couple of minutes. He had felt no hunger during the day, but due to habit he had taken the food out of the fridge at the appropriate time, finding that the mere sight of it made him retch, especially the meat. He threw the food into the garbage can, but its smell made him retrieve it and flush it down the toilet. The milk went the same way. Other liquids, the ones that didnít originate from animals, were still interesting. The Coca-Cola tasted as it used to, but alcohol had no effect on him anymore, and his addiction to coffee had diminished considerably. By the late evening he began to feel... strange. He didnít feel sick, but the initial discomfort slowly turned into sharp pains that tore at his insides with dreadful reality.

Whatís happening to me? Biggy wondered with rising fear.

Mary looked at him appraisingly.

"You are hungry. Iíll teach you to feed properly," she said. "Come with me."

Samuel Heims, the newly created Kindred, followed her into the night.

Mary found the right victims, showing Biggy how to render a human unconscious effectively, how to open a suitable vein or artery.

"Stay away from the arteries in the beginning," she warned him, "or you may kill your prey. You donít want that to happen, do you?"

Biggy shook his head. He watched her wide-eyed. Biggy had a secret weakness: the sight of blood has always made him feel queasy. But now, the very scent of it was more tempting than anything he had ever smelled before. Yesterday, the very thought of drinking human blood would have made him recoil in terror and disgust, but now he gulped it down gratefully, and Mary had to stop him before he drank too much.

"Never take more than a person can afford to lose," she admonished him. "A big man like yourself can part with a pint of blood and wonít notice. If you feed from a small woman, take less. And remember, never feed from children. If you do and we find out, youíll be killed."

"No, no, of course not," Biggy agreed, "but how do I know how much blood Iíve taken."

"You count," she answered laughing. "When we get back, you can drink a pint of water and count how many gulps it takes. If you feed regularly - I mean every night - thatís more than you need. If you feed every second or third night, youíll require more each time. Donít let the hunger become too strong, youíre liable to harm or even kill your prey."

They returned to Biggyís home before dawn, and Mary told him to get some sleep.

"Later, during the day, you can go about your business as usual," she said. "Iíll come back in the evening and teach you other things." She took her bag preparing to leave, but stopped before opening the door. "Be careful, Sam, your senses and your strength exceed those of mortals, you must avoid disclosing your abilities to humans. The Masquerade must be protected."

"Please, call me Biggy, everyone else does," he said. "I promise to be careful." After a thoughtful moment he continued, "Julian Luna, will I meet him again?"

"The Prince is your Sire," Mary answered. "He will introduce you to our Clan when the time is ripe, when Iíve taught you all you need to know," she added. "I believe he has plans for you. Rest now."

She left him alone, and Biggy decided to heed her advice and went to bed.

Julian was happy to see that the Nosferatu Primogen was there. The darkened glass hid him from the curious looks of people who passed by. He sat in the back seat waiting patiently for the Prince.

"You didnít have to come with me all the way to Seattle," Julian told his friend, "but Iím glad youíre here. Stephen has agreed to our plan."

"I thought he would," Daedalus nodded, "thereís hardly anyone else who might pull this thing off. I came here because you need me. Your life is threatened. Youíll have to put up with my presence all the time from now on."

"Arenít you exaggerating somewhat?" Julian wished desperately for some normalcy.

"Julian!" Daedalus sounded equally desperate. "There have been more attempts on your life during the recent year than during the previous seven while youíve been the Prince. Doesnít that tell you something?"

"What do you mean? What are you trying to tell me?" Julian sounded tired.

"Look, this is not the Roman Empire," the Nosferatu continued, "you donít gain power by assassinating your predecessor. Eddie Fiori was stupid enough to believe that he could rule without the support of the Primogens. You know as well as I do that he would have been dead within a couple of months, maybe sooner, if he had succeeded in replacing you. He was a pawn, and so was Cyrus. Itís your integrity thatís the pivotal point. Servio knows that youíll never support him, therefore heís got to get rid of you."

"I see your point," Julian answered. "I must make sure that no one can get to me from now on."

Daedalus nodded with satisfaction.

"What about Caitlin?" he asked.

"She stays here," Julian sighed again. "I told Stephen that sheís history. I donít know why I lied to him. If this goes on for much longer Iíll start mistrusting everybody, even you and myself."

The car turned into a dark road outside the city and Daedalus looked up.

"Arenít we going to the airport? Thereís precious little time," he said.

"Have mercy, Daedalus, I need to see her, to tell her..."

"What will you tell her?" the Nosferatu interrupted him.

"I donít know," Julian answered, "I must convince her to stay here, thatís all I know."

They fell silent, each contemplating his own thoughts.

So much had happened during the last few days. Julian was thinking about Samuel Heims - Biggy, he corrected himself. The old reporter might become a formidable asset in time. That is, if any of them lived long enough to... Julian chased away his thoughts of defeat. He would fight, and if he were to lose, he would go down fighting.

The car stopped outside the house. The lights were still on although it was almost midnight. Caitlin let him in and he enclosed her in his arms. But he curbed his impatience when the old Byrne came to greet him. Julian would need his collaboration. He refused the food but agreed to have tea and a glass of wine with Caitlinís father. She sat close to him, her hand in his. No matter how hard he tried, he couldnít hide how upset he was from her.

"What is it Julian? Whatís wrong?" she asked as soon as they were alone, unaware that she was posing the same questions as she had done in the morning.

"Business problems." He tried to smile. "Help me forget them for now."

She smiled back and did as she was told, putting her arms around him.

He was trying so hard to be gentle, failing miserably. Backing off momentarily whenever she made a protesting sound or motion. But he couldnít hold back, neither would she let him, her body challenging his power of control. He knew that he was hurting her again and that she didnít mind, his futile attempts to hold back exciting her even more. He gave in eventually, heeding her whispers that urged him to love her. Oblivious of both the pain and the pleasure he caused, driven only by his own passion, conscious only of her complying body and the sweetness of the pleasure it gave him. A spear of irresistible ecstasy shooting up his spine with every thrust he made, the pleasure so extreme that it bordered on pain, becoming almost unbearable, and then exploding the world into whirling fragments of the final release.

They were resting. There wasnít enough space for them to lie side by side. Caitlinís head on his arm, her shoulders against his chest, she was playing with his hand, entwining her fingers in his. He crouched a little, their bodies not touching all the way, his other hand pressed between them, a protection, preventing her from knowing that he still wanted her, that one release had not been enough. But there was no more time. He had to go, leave her behind. He was thinking desperately of ways to get away without her noticing his condition, of something to tell her. In vain. She turned suddenly and he reacted automatically, taking hold of her, lest she would fall off the narrow bed. She knew then, his desire hard against her belly, and she pressed against him in welcoming response. No, he could not leave, not yet. Let the rest of the world go to hell!

As Daedalus had predicted, the Prince allowed himself to be distracted by his desire. But being aware of that weakness didnít spoil the pleasure at all. Afterwards, he made her fall asleep by simply pretending that he was sleeping. He made his breathing slow and deep, relaxing all muscles, and sure enough, within minutes Caitlin followed suit.

Julian opened the window, forgetful of where he was. The cold wind blew some snow in his face. The ground was still bare, but it would probably be covered with a white carpet of the starting winter in the morning. He was miserable and exposing himself to the chilly air didnít make him feel any better. He closed the window after a short moment, the cold was only a discomfort to him, but it might make Caitlin sick. He turned towards the sleeping woman. The narrow bed was almost too small for her. How they had been able to fit into it together was a mystery, and thinking about it made Julian smile. He sat on the edge and touched her face lightly, suddenly envious, wishing that he could sleep like that. He was thinking of the few times he had allowed himself to fall asleep in her presence, or in the presence of any human for that matter. He had pretended to sleep in her arms often enough, but knowing what would happen if he were to really fall asleep had kept him alert: his breathing would cease; his heartbeat become almost non-existent; his body temperature would fall until it reached the level of the surroundings. Too dangerous to let it happen when a human was around. He remembered the exhaustion that had overcome him in this very room all those months ago. He had made sure that Caitlin wouldnít wake before he allowed himself the luxury of sleep, her warm body pressed close against his.

All he wanted to do right now was to nestle down next to her, and stay forever in this bed that was too short and too narrow for him.

Will I ever see you again, Caitlin? he wondered. He kissed her lips softly, not wanting to wake her, and got up. She smiled and whispered his name and he felt a painful cramp inside his chest. It made him frown. Was he the first Kindred to suffer from a heart attack? Then he realized that he was experiencing a very human reaction, a physical sensation of heartache. He left her room quickly.

It was long past midnight. The car was waiting for him outside, but he decided to wake Caitlinís father. The old man looked at him with surprise.

"Whatís wrong?" he asked after a quick glance at the alarm clock.

"I have to go back to San Francisco," Julian answered. "I left a note for Caitlin, but I need your help. Itís imperative that she stays here. Do all you can to prevent her from following me. Pretend to be sick if necessary."

James Byrne sat up in his bed.

"What the hell is going on? Donít you have the guts to tell her that youíre leaving her?" The anger and contempt in the old manís voice were apparent. But Julian shook his head.

"If I wake her... She will talk me into taking her with me. I canít let it happen. I canít..." He fell silent for a few seconds. "Mr. Byrne... James, my life is in danger. This is the safest place I could think of... for her. Anyone close to me will be endangered. It breaks my heart to part with Caitlin," right now it felt like literal truth, "but if Iím lucky it will only be temporary. Please, help me, keep her here at any cost."

The urgency in Julianís voice frightened the old man.

"What have you done?" he asked.

"Letís say Iíve taken sides." Julian could hardly tell him what was really going on, but Caitlinís father eyed him suspiciously.

"Oh, so whose side are you on?"

"Iíve chosen to stand on the side of the human race," Julian answered solemnly, "thatís all I can tell you. Iím not a criminal. But even if you donít believe me, keep Caitlin here, for her own sake, if not for me."

"I believe you," Byrne said. "Iíll make her stay." He got out of bed and followed Julian out in spite of the cold and snow. "Donít get yourself killed, you hear!" he told Julian as they shook hands.

The old astronomer was as good as his word. Caitlin stayed in her fatherís house, amidst the snow-covered woods outside Seattle.

* * *


Daedalus looked at his friend worriedly.

Julian had come back an hour later than he had promised. He had climbed into the car without uttering a word and now sat in the corner, his unhappiness palpable. The Nosferatu understood that this wasnít a frustrated sexual desire, but a pain to be reckoned with. He had realized by now that Julianís love for Caitlin wasnít just another fancy for a beautiful human woman, but a deep, encompassing emotion that should be respected.

"Julian," Daedalus was trying to soften his words by whispering, "you must concentrate on what youíre doing. Put Caitlin out of your mind for the time being, for your sake as well as for hers. For us all."

"Of course, Daedalus." Julianís voice was expressionless, but he burrowed further into his corner, huddling up.

The Nosferatu put a hand on his friendís arm in a comforting gesture. He wanted to say something more, offer some consolation, but he felt the other man shiver under his touch and decided that no words would help. Nothing else was said during the next hour. Daedalus glanced at the dash board clock. In another fifteen minutes they would reach the airport.

There was a soft chime, but Julian didnít react. Daedalus picked up the phone. He listened for a moment and then shouted to the driver:

"Stop the car!"

The car stopped immediately, the breaks screaming, and Julian came out of his stupor with a start. For a split second he thought that the Nosferatu had betrayed him and his eyes started to change.

"Julian!" For the second time this day Daedalus lost control of his voice. "The plane, it has exploded!"

They stared at each other for another moment.

"Out!" Julian was the first to react.

He opened the door on his side and threw himself out. He turned around to see that Daedalus, the bodyguard, and the driver followed suit. He dragged them along into the protecting wood, but they could still feel the heat of the flames from the blast that destroyed their car. Within minutes the four Kindred had disappeared into the dark woods of Washington State. Had they been human, their situation might have been precarious, but they werenít, and there was no danger of their getting lost or freezing to death. By noon the next day, Julian and the two Gangrels were back in San Francisco. Daedalus, who could not travel on commercial airlines, arrived in the early evening. The Nosferatu had their own resources.

The bomb had been planted by someone who knew exactly when Julian left Stephenís house and how long it would take to drive to the airport: someone who knew exactly when the plane should be in the air above the mountains, but didnít know that love would interfere. The bomb in the car was meant for the loyal Gangrel driver and whoever might be with him.

The war had started.

James Byrne hid the papers and made sure that the radio was turned off when Caitlin came into the kitchen. He wanted to tell her himself that Julian Lunaís plane had been destroyed by a bomb only minutes before her fianc√© had entered it. That he had been only a few miles from the airport when it happened. That he was safe. That the wreck of the burnt-out car was found later that morning. Fortunately, there were no bodies.

Caitlin showed her father the letter Julian had left for her. It stated that he was in trouble and begged her to stay in her fatherís house. No explanations were given. James Byrne repeated what Julian had told him before he left.

"The poor fellow was scared out of his wits," he said. "Not so much for himself, but for you. I donít know what heís up against, but Iím putting my money on him. I think he cares for you very much."

Caitlin was surprised by the tenderness in her fatherís voice.

"Youíve come to like him, havenít you?" she asked.

The old man cocked his head.

"I must be getting soft in my old age." He smiled. "Yes, I like him, but whatís more important, you like him, and he seems to like you too. Enough to postpone his return to San Francisco just to come here to... kiss you goodnight. To miss the bomb on his plane."

"Oh, my God!" Caitlinís eyes filled with tears. "I didnít realize..." She started to cry in earnest.

Caitlin had been angry with Julian for leaving her behind. She was sure that he had planned it in advance and had lured her along on this trip out of San Francisco. Whatever trouble he was in, it wasnít financial in nature. His fear and desperation were palpable, his life was in peril, and the bombs had confirmed that. Caitlin resented being kept out, but she had come under crossfire before and was able to understand Julianís desperate measures to keep her out of harmís way. On the other hand, she hated being parted from her lover, and missing him was worse than physical pain.

The memory of the scant hours they had spent together before he had returned to San Francisco made her sad and frightened at the same time. There had been something utterly desperate in the way he had made love to her, as if he were afraid that it was the last time they would be together: the brutal selfishness and the sweetest tenderness. He would not be deceived by her performance, and, eventually, she had to give in, allow him to overcome the fear and apprehension that he had implanted in her. Let him make her forget everything, if only for a short moment.

Caitlin tried to call Julian every other day but was told that he was out of town. It surprised her because he had seldom left San Francisco before. When she tried to inquire for more information, she was told that he was on a business trip to Chicago on one occasion, the next time he was in Kansas City.

When he called at last, it was from Santa Fe. She asked him what he was doing in New Mexico and he said that he had business problems.

"What problems?" she had asked.

"A hostile takeover," he had answered and laughed. He sounded hysterical, and Caitlin didnít think it was a laughing matter either. He refused to say anything more.

Julian had laughed because, essentially, he had told her the truth. However, the extent of the hostility would be beyond Caitlinís grasp. Slowly, he was beginning to understand that it was beyond his own grasp.

Nick Marliss was perpetually angry, but now he was angrier than ever.

The death of Joe was a reality that was difficult to accept. They had been close friends for years, fueling each otherís anger at virtually everything. All the evidence was there, the autopsy had been done, but Nick had trouble believing that a man like Joe Montegna, who practically lived in the woods, could be killed by some carnivorous animal like any other greenhorn. Besides, Joe had been armed. There had been nothing wrong with his rifle; a bullet had been fired from it, but they hadnít found it. Nor had they found anything shot in the ravine. Not like Joe at all.

Nickís Indian ancestors would have said that an evil spirit had killed Joe, but Nick had trouble believing in spirits, evil or otherwise. Not that he was entirely sure that they didnít exist; after all, this was an evil world. Nick had seen every wound and injury that animals could inflict, and there was definitely something wrong with the wounds they had found on Joeís decomposing body. But Nick was only a simple policeman, and the forensic experts had concluded that Joe had died of injuries caused by one or several animals, probably wolves. Case closed. Nick had stolen the file afterwards and kept it at home. Nobody would miss it anyway. He looked through it now and then, but when he put it away, it was always with an uneasy feeling that he had missed something, and his anger would rise again. The last time Joe had been seen was in the house of that snooty astronomer, after his wifeís funeral. He had almost come to blows with the stranger from San Francisco who had presented himself as Caitlin Byrneís fianc√©. Nothing strange about that. If Joe had disliked the man, he would have punched him, even at a funeral. But those who had seen the incident told Nick that the thin man had fended off Joeís attack with unbelievable ease. Caitlinís fianc√© had left the next day and Joe had disappeared. They found his dead body in the ravine, less than two miles from the old Byrne house, more than a week later. Strange.

Nick had a suspicious mind. He contacted the San Francisco P. D. discretely. But when he mentioned Julian Luna, all he got back were shrugs. He came to talk to Frank Kohanek by sheer coincidence. Someone told him that Frank knew the elusive businessman. Nick described what he knew, it didnít take long.

"You say that Luna was there the day your guy disappeared?" Frank wanted to make sure.


There was a long silence.

"Let me put it this way," Frank said at last, "and remember, I never said this. If Luna was in any way involved, then your man must have done something incredibly stupid. Like go after him with a gun, or something equally idiotic. In any case, he would have deserved what he got."

"I never would have thought that you would defend one of your local mobsters," Nick said derisively and it made Frank angry.

"Let me make a few things clear," he retorted. "First, Julian Luna is not a mobster. Weíve got enough of those here to know the difference. Second, thereís no love lost between us, so Iím not defending him. But I know him. I can bet on two things. If, and I say if, he killed somebody, then this somebody has asked for it, and youíll never be able to pin it on him anyway."

"Yeah!" Nickís anger flared up. "Weíll see about that!"

It made Frank laugh.

"Look," he said, "between us cops. Iíve tried to pin quite a lot on him during recent years. You could just as well try to pin a medal on one of your grizzly bears, or whatever ferocious animals youíve got up there. Give it a rest, heís out of your reach."

"Hey! We hunt bears up here," Nick answered and Frank laughed again.

"You can hunt him all you want. Be my guest. Just donít be surprised if you end up ripped to pieces like your friend did. He was out hunting too, I guess."

Frank was thinking about what the native cop had told him. It all added up. The stupid jerk must have gone after Luna with a gun, maybe even shot him. Would that make the Kindred mad enough to kill a human? After all, Frank had shot Luna once and was shrugged off as nuisance. Frank picked up the phone and dialed the number that Nick Marliss had given him.

"Itís Frank Kohanek," he said. "I just thought of something."

"Whatís that?"

"Itís a long shot, but I told you, I know him. He wouldnít kill anybody for fun. But if someone else were endangered... someone close to him," he had almost said a human, "then he might do just that. I think you should talk to Miss Byrne. Sheís up there, isnít she?"

"Thanks pal." Nickís anger subsided considerably. "Iíll do that."

"Be careful." Frank almost regretted what he was doing. "He is very protective when it comes to her."

"Donít worry," Nick answered. "Iíll just talk to her."

Julian Luna and those Kindred that he trusted were on the move all the time. Within a few days they were able to find out how big Servioís following was, at least in the western states. To Julianís relief, the Gangrel Prince of Chicago didnít intend to support the crazy plan of the New York Ventrue. He wasnít interested in supporting anybody, but Julian managed to convince him that being neutral on this situation might prove fatal. The Nosferatu Primogen in Chicago helped. The Gangrel Prince was on their side. To Daedalusí satisfaction, almost all the Nosferatu they came into contact with opposed Servio. To have the Nosferatu Clan on their side might make the difference. However, most Brujah and many Ventrue, were convinced that the Kindred could take over the United States of America. No amount of quoting numbers and repeating arguments appeared to sway them in their delusions.

"My mind is made up, donít confuse me with facts," they seemed to say. Julian was appalled. The Ventrue haughtiness. Partly the cause of both the French and the Russian revolutions. Well, at least both Hitler and Stalin were human.

The messages from Stephen stated that there was no untoward activity across the Canadian border, and that Servio seemed to accept the support of the Prince of Seattle. However, the fact that Stephen and Julian were blood brothers seemed to make the Ancient suspicious. Stephen was able to collect very little information. After a week the messages stopped coming; the Prince of Seattle had disappeared without a trace. Julian was devastated.

"Stephen has been found out," he complained to Daedalus. "I shouldnít have let him do this. That maniac has murdered him."

"We donít know that." Daedalus was trying to be realistic. "Stephen isnít stupid, he might be hiding. Letís wait and see."

But they didnít hear from Stephen again.

Cash and Cameron were able to cleanse San Francisco of the newcomers. They showed no mercy: the blood bath even attracted some human notice. But the Kindred were able to sweep away all the evidence before the police found out what was going on. Heeding Daedalusí advice, Julian contacted Frank Kohanek.

"I was wondering what had happened to you," the policeman said as soon as he heard Julianís voice. "Do you know that there is a cop in Seattle who has got this idea in his head that youíve done away with his buddy there. Isnít San Francisco big enough for you anymore?"

Julian was stunned. It took him a moment to remember Joe Montegna.

"I donít know what youíre talking about," he said. "However, I want you to know that whatever is happening in San Francisco is a Kindred affair. Try to look the other way so you wonít get caught in the middle."

"What is going on?" Frank was curious and it made Julian smile.

"If I promise to tell you when itís over, will you heed my advice? This doesnít concern humans."

The hell it doesnít! Julian thought, but he didnít inform Frank about what was at stake. If things went wrong, the policeman would know soon enough.

There were no more attempts on Julianís life, but he continued to be very cautious, and Daedalus seldom left his side. Through the Nosferatu Clan they got word from Los Angeles that the danger had been contained. Cyrus had kept his word. Once they were sure that New Mexico was free of the plague and that Chicago had never seemed to be infested, they decided that it was time to move east. There were four important cities that were their main targets: New Orleans, Miami, Washington DC and, of course, New York. They would have to split up in order to act simultaneously. Cash would start in New York: he was the one who could blend in there without any difficulties. Washington, the only city of the Nosferatu, was, of course, for Daedalus. There was hardly any doubt about where the Nosferatu stood, but Julian wanted to make sure anyway. Being the center of political power, the capital was important. Daedalus hated having to leave Julian, but his protests made the Prince angry.

"I can take care of myself!" he shouted, his famous temper making no impact on the Nosferatu Primogen. "Iím not a child in need of protection. You go to Washington, Cameron goes to Miami, and Iíll visit my old hometown, New Orleans."

Daedalus arrived in Washington without any problems.

The string of helpful Nosferatu hands stretched across the country. Vorth, the Nosferatu Prince of Washington, welcomed him warmly. As far as the Kindred population was concerned, the capital was better organized than any other city in the United States. The Nosferatu Prince used the closely-knit Ventrue Clan as a buffer zone between themselves and the humans. In reality, the go-between Ventrue had more power than any other group in the country, and they guarded their position zealously. But, as all men in high places, they fell into the trap of believing themselves invincible. A Nosferatu in his right mind would never be blinded by his power.

Daedalus explained to Vorth what had been hatched in New York. His Clansman reacted with disbelief.

"It takes a Ventrue to get that mad," he concluded in the end.

"Not all Ventrue are crazy," Daedalus retorted defending his own Prince. "If it werenít for Julian Luna, the entire West Coast would be in Servioís hand by now."

But Vorth hadnít been convinced.

"What about Stephen? Heís been seen at Servioís side?" he asked.

Daedalusí relief was visible.

"Stephenís alive! Thatíll make Julian happy. We thought that Servio had done away with him." Daedalus told Vorth about their plan for the involvement of Julianís blood brother.

But in Washington everything was quiet: no newcomers had arrived. It wasnít surprising, the Kindred of the capital didnít encourage migration into their city. Daniel, the Ventrue Primogen, vowed that there was no way that Servio would gain a foothold there. Daniel would not give up his power, nor would he share it with anyone else.

"Daniel has all that he ever wanted," Vorth commented. "He can manipulate the human affairs without having to stoop to the indignity of coaxing voters, congressmen, and senators. Heíll never give into Servioís lure because he considers himself superior to the New York Prince. And heíd hate to become a public figure; he enjoys spinning his threads in the dark."

"Are you sure?" Daedalus asked.

"You should never trust him," Vorth responded, "but you can trust his personality."

Daedalus accepted Vorthís opinion.

Washington seemed to be secure. He decided to go on to New York and contact Cash, maybe even find Stephen, before seeking out Julian in New Orleans.

Julian, he thought, a shadow of anxiety on his face, are you all right?

Julian was alone with Arthur in Louisiana and it worried Daedalus. For years there had always been scores of bodyguards around the Prince, and still he managed somehow to get into trouble. If not with rivals for power, then with women, or their jealous men or whatever... He almost got killed by Goth, by the Brujah in Manzanita, by Lillieís treason, by Frank Kohanekís persecution...

Had it been up to Daedalus, Julian Luna would be locked up in his mansion and never allowed to go out unless ten guards followed. It was impossible of course, and Daedalus smiled at his own wishful thinking. Julian Luna was a Prince, free to come and go as he pleased. Heíd probably get into more trouble in the future than Daedalusí lively imagination could conjure.

But right now there was every reason to worry.

Julian was somewhere in the seething south, amidst the most superstitious of the humans in America, barring the Native Americans. Anything could happen there. And only Arthur to protect him. Although Daedalus had to admit that Julian was quite capable of taking care of himself, just as he claimed, the Nosferatu hated to be somewhere else. Besides, Daedalus didnít like Arthur.

Julian had sired Arthur five or six years ago, and the gay Venture had stayed at the Princeís side ever since. He was big and strong enough to be a challenge to a Nosferatu - a perfect bodyguard. He loved Julian, that was quite obvious, and would never betray him. But Daedalus sometimes wondered whether Arthur loved him as the Prince, the way Julian had loved Archon, or as a man. Daedalus was a keen observer, and he had noticed how Arthurís eyes followed Julian, always.

Am I jealous? Daedalus wondered, then shrugged. Whatever Arthurís feelings were, Julian didnít seem to notice. His eyes and his desire were only for Caitlin. And Daedalus respected Caitlin; she had saved Julianís life.

Nick Marlissí anger subsided considerably when he met Caitlin Byrne.

The fact that he thought that she was the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen might have something to do with Nickís change of mood. That she was kind and polite, not at all like her father, helped, of course.

He called her and presented himself, telling her that he was investigating Joeís death. She didnít know that officially the case was closed and that she didnít have to answer any questions.

"We need your statement," he told her over the phone. "Can we meet, please?"

She agreed and he invited her to a restaurant nearby.

She arrived on time, as he sat in the bar waiting for her, inventing ways to coax the truth out of her.

"The waiter told me that youíre Nick Marliss." The soft voice behind him startled him. He turned around and tried to get up, overturning his chair in the process. She smiled, and all of Nickís carefully prepared lines were gone.

Joe had babbled about her to Nick, the week before he disappeared. She had come from San Francisco because her mother had been very ill and then had died. Joe had known Caitlin when she was just a young girl, but now, when he met her again after so many years, he was apparently smitten with her, and Nick had scorned him for that.

But seeing Caitlin, Nick understood what Joe had been babbling about. She was indeed Ďthe sweetest creature in the Lordís creationí as Joe had put it.

She allowed Nick to gather his wits, and he didnít start asking questions until they came to the main course. She didnít have much to say. She had met Joe a couple of times during the time she was here. He had asked her out but she had declined. Her mother was dying, and besides, there was someone else.

"Julian Luna," Nick said and Caitlin looked up in surprise.

"How did you know?" she asked.

"According to our investigation, Joe had aÖ disagreement with Mr. Luna after the funeral of your mother. It was the day before Joe disappeared." Nick tried to sound as neutral as he could.

"Come again!" Caitlin laughed. "I donít know what they said to each other, I didnít hear them. But Julian had walked around introducing himself as my fianc√© and Joe took a swing at him when he heard that. Joe was always like that. Heíd punch first and ask questions later. Hardly a disagreement."

"And thatís true?" Nick asked.

"Whatís true?" Caitlin had missed his point.

"That Mr. Luna is your fiancé"

"Yes, he is." Caitlinís smile was underlined by her blushing, and Nick felt his anger rise again. He shook his head, banishing the picture of Julian Luna, the one he got from San Francisco P. D., from his mind.

"The witnesses said that Joeís... attack wasnít successful," Nick went on and Caitlin laughed again.

"No, it wasnít," she said. "But then, nobodyís ever is."

"Oh?" Nick sounded offended. "Are you telling me that your fiancé is some sort of superman?"

He is, Caitlin thought.

"No," she said, "but heís stronger than anyone I know." She frowned. "Joe took a couple of swings at Julian, but was just shrugged off. That, I did see. Joe wasnít stupid. He backed off and didnít get in Julianís way again that night."

"Aha." Nick jumped at the opportunity. "Not that night. What about the next day?" Nick knew that Joe had been alive the evening preceding his disappearance because he had seen Joe with his rifle. Joe had been going on about teaching somebody a lesson. Nick hadnít told anybody about it, but now he was sure that Frank Kohanek had been right. Joe had gone after Julian Luna with a gun and had got what he deserved. But Joe had been Nickís friend; Nick didnít know Julian Luna, and now Nick resented the man even more, because he had Caitlin Byrne.

Caitlin looked up at Nick, suddenly serious.

"We didnít see Joe again," she said. "We were together all morning and then Julian left for San Francisco." She averted her eyes and Nick knew instantly that she wasnít telling the truth. He decided to let it be for the moment.

"What about during the night?" he asked, but Caitlin shook her head. The blush was there again.

"Julian was with me all night," she said. "That I know for sure. And in the morning, he was with my father." She looked up at Nick again. "What are you trying to do?" she asked. "I thought that Joe had been killed by animals."

"Yes," Nick answered, "I just wanted to make sure about everybodyís whereabouts. No more questions but one." He smiled at her reassuringly. "Do you dance?"

Before Caitlin knew how it happened, she was engulfed in Nickís arms, swinging to the soft music. As they danced she became aware of his nearness in a way that made her cheeks burn, Nick was very tall, heavy-boned, his big hand on her back felt like a hot stamp. Caitlin let her head rest on his chest and allowed him to lead her in the slow dance. He wasnít the one to press her harder against him, but somehow, she leaned close instinctively, the way she would have done with Julian, and his response was the same that Julianís would have been. She knew that what she was doing was wrong, but something deep inside reveled in the power she was wielding.

He drove her home in silence and walked with her to the door. Before she got her keys out, he took her in his arms and kissed her. Caitlin responded to the kiss, both surprised and appalled by the desire it evoked in her.

"There is something I want to show you," Nick said when they stopped kissing. "Iíll come by tomorrow."

He kissed her again and then turned and left without saying good night.

Cash disappeared in the underground world of New York.

Whatever he managed to find out or accomplish in the center of Servioís conspiracy never reached his friends or Julian Luna. He had no idea who had betrayed him nor how the information of his whereabouts was conveyed to the Prince of New York. All he knew was that he was followed and watched from the moment he entered the city. He knew within a few hours that he would never be allowed to leave and that the news of his arrival had preceded him. There was a traitor among them. Someone close to Julian. It meant that everybody was endangered: the Prince most of all. He tried desperately to get a message out about what was afoot. But to try to find Julian in New Orleans or Daedalus in Washington was not possible. He called San Francisco, hoping that he would find Sasha, but she wasnít in the mansion. In the Brujah compound nobody picked up the phone, and there was no answer in the Haven either.

In a last act of heroic recklessness, he called Frank Kohanek.

"Itís Cash," he said to the baffled policeman. "Donít ask anything, just listen. If Julian contacts you, tell him that there is a traitor."

"What? Who?..."

But Cash didnít let him continue.

"Shut up! Donít tell anybody else! Not Lillie, not Sonny. Only Julian. Do you understand?"

"I donít understand a bloody thing!" Frank shouted. "What is going on?"

"You donít want to know," Cash answered tiredly. "Just do it!" There was a short silence before Cash added, "if you see Sasha... tell her that I loved her."

The phone went dead in Frankís ear and he stared at it for a long moment before putting it down.

He thought about Cashís use of past tense and it scared him.

What the hell is going on?!

Cashís body was never found.

Nickís anger had been exchanged for dizziness. He had wanted Caitlin the moment he saw her. She had pressed herself against his body when they danced giving his desire a promise. Her soft lips had responded to his kisses. He didnít care if she had done it to protect her boyfriend, Luna. He didnít care about anything but her warm body, her smile, herÖ he was making himself sick with wanting.

Nick had a special remedy for every pain - he ran. After several hours of running in the night, he allowed himself the luxury of a shower and rest. But he couldnít sleep. He took out the file marked ĎJoseph Montegnaí that he had leafed through so many times. He looked at the pictures taken in the ravine and then at the photograph of Julian Luna. The information he had stated that Luna was thirty-four. He looked at the photo again. Something in the manís eyes, an air of maturity suggested that he was older than that, at least ten years older. On the other hand, the unlined skin of his face and neck seemed to point in the opposite direction, much younger, certainly under thirty. Weird. Nick was thirty-five, and he was quite sure that his skin looked much older than that of Julian Luna.

Something was wrong here, another mystery, and Nick hated mysteries. He was sure of one thing though, Caitlin had lied. Something had happened on the morning of Julianís departure, and Caitlin had kept her mouth shut.

Well, Nick intended to find out what had happened, even if he had to seduce her to do so.

Hell! He wanted to seduce her, whether she was telling the truth or not.

Nick spent most of the next day chasing and cursing a drunken driver who had lost control of his car and had driven off the road. The fence around old Engelsonís cottage had been destroyed but nobody had been hurt. Nevertheless, it was police business and Nick was the police officer on duty. The drunken driver had turned out to be Mr. Engelsonís own grandson, and everybody was very embarrassed, except for Nick who, as usual, was angry. In the end, old Engelson had to pay the fines in order to keep his grandson out of prison. When all the commotion was over, it was past nine in the evening, and Nick realized that he would have to wait to see Caitlin until the next morning. It made him angry again.

Cameron had spent ten years pretending to be something he wasnít: hiding his true feelings and learning the ways of the mighty. He had survived the blood bath in Manzanita, the clan-wars in San Francisco and the wrath of the Prince. He had killed Archon. In the end he had managed to get himself elected the Primogen of the Brujah Clan. Cameron was proud of himself, and he had every right to be.

He had watched Julianís rise to power - it seemed so easy. But then, Julian Luna had been groomed for that position by Archon himself. Everybody seemed to know that. They had been waiting for him to take over, their hopes rising and falling, depending on what they expected. Cameron had waited too.

Know your enemy, the old saying went, and Cameron knew his enemy well; that knowledge had saved his own life. Whatever Julian Luna was, he wasnít evil. He believed in right and wrong and he had a conscience. A sign of weakness to be taken advantage of. Cameron had done just that. In fact, the Prince was as civilized as a Kindred could be. Another weakness. He missed his humanity and liked and respected mortals. More weaknesses. And, just as Lillie had pointed out, he was an easy prey for the so-called weaker sex. They could call him Don Juan all they wanted. According to Cameron, it was a weakness too.

Cameron had been lucky. In order to gain information about Caitlin, he had taken up with one of her colleagues, Donna, a voluptuous creature who accepted his explanation that he was married and that they had to keep their affair a secret. It had paid off better than Cameron had expected, and he was now in possession of a very special diskette. It contained a copy of the diary of the missing girl, Anamaria Weatherstone, and if Cameron played his cards right, it might become the downfall of the mighty Prince. How wonderful that the stupid woman had disappeared. What had happened to her didnít concern Cameron. He didnít suspect that Julian had killed her, but the fact that she was gone was enough. If the diary became public knowledge, Julian Luna, the Prince of San Francisco, would have to go too. Beautiful!

"Anamaria gave it to me the day before she was found missing," Donna had told Cameron. "She asked me to give it to her father if anything happened to her, but whenever I tried to contact Mr. Weatherstone, he was never available to see me, so I got tired of it."

Donna wasnít the most responsible of citizens and it made Cameron happy.

"Why didnít you go to the police?" Cameron had wondered aloud. Donna had shrugged.

"I didnít like her. I like Caitlin, and besides, Mr. Luna has been very generous to us. The employees of The San Francisco Times are better paid than those of any other paper in the city."

"You didnít intend to use it for your own purposes?" Cameron had chided her, and she had been insulted.

Eventually she gave him the diskette, assuring him that it was the only copy she had. Cameron had every intention of using it. But right now it sat in a vault in a San Francisco bank, and he was involved in a war that might prove fatal not only to Julian Luna but to himself as well. He put away his thoughts of revenge and concentrated on the task at hand.

Cameron had managed to get to Florida, pretending that he was a refugee from the West Coast. It was known that he had killed Archon, and it was easy to convince the Brujah idiot of Miami that Julian Luna was after him. Cameron didnít have to pretend that he hated Luna, all he had to do was to make the Brujah Prince believe that that he was supporting Servio. It wasnít difficult either. The Prince of Miami was from Cuba, almost illiterate, vicious as a snake, profoundly hated by everybody, and more stupid than Eddie Fiori had ever been.

Guys like him give the Brujah Clan a bad reputation, Cameron concluded.

To arrange the demise of the Prince of Miami was childís play for Cameron. When he looked at the decapitated body at his feet he couldnít help wondering:

Why couldnít it be just as easy to get rid of Julian Luna?

Heís trusted, loved and respected, his mind told him. Youíll never turn his own Clansmen or the other Primogens against him the way youíve done with this one.

To Cameronís surprise, he was asked to take over. It was a tempting proposition but he declined, suggesting that Gerald, one of the more moderate and intelligent of the Clan, should be the one to be chosen. The fact that Gerald opposed Servio was the main reason for Cameronís advice. Gerald was appointed the new Prince of Miami and Cameron gained an important friend. A friend indebted to him.

Yes, Cameron realized, this is the way: the way to power.

Something that Julian Luna had known for more than a century and Cameron was just learning about: Powerful friends.

It was nine in the morning and James Byrne paled visibly when he saw an uniformed policeman outside his door.

"Yes?" he asked.

"Iíd like to see Miss Byrne," Nick said. He could almost smell the old manís fear.

"Whatís happened?" James Byrne blocked the door with his body.

"Nothing has happened." Nick was wondering suddenly if he were chasing the wrong man. Could old Byrne be the one who had done away with Joe? Why? He decided on direct attack.

"Weíre investigating the death of Joseph Montegna," he said watching the other manís face carefully. To his relief, Caitlinís father relaxed immediately. Whatever he was afraid of, it had nothing to do with Joeís death.

"There are a few things that Caitlin... er... Miss Byrne promised to help me straighten out," he continued.

Nick was let inside.

Caitlin offered him coffee and they sat down in the kitchen. Her father left them alone.

"Caitlin," Nick was trying to sound kind, "I know that something happened the morning after your motherís funeral." He watched her face turn violently red. "What was it?" He was determined to find out the truth.

"Julian..." her voice was barely a whisper, "Julian was shot."

"WHAT?!" Nick had not expected that one. "Where?"

"In the leg." Caitlin pointed at a spot a few inches above his knee. "Right there, the bullet went through his leg, just like that. He said that it wasnít much of an injury, but it looked awful."

"You were there when it happened?" Nick continued watching her.

"Yes," she said, and Nick remembered what Frank had told him.

"Where you near him?" he asked and her embarrassment answered his question.

"Letís go," he said and seeing her frown added, "I want you to show me where it happened."

They went to the old pine and Caitlin pointed out the spot on the ground. Nick lay on the ground and asked Caitlin to direct him into the position Julian had been in. He leaned away from the tree, the way Julian had done, and bent his left leg, his knee coming up.

"Like that?" he asked and Caitlin nodded.

"And you were?" When she didnít answer he continued, "on top?" She nodded again.

Nick heard Frankís voice in his head again, Ďif someone close were endangeredÖí He put a finger on the spot on his leg that Caitlin had pointed out. Nick was at least three inches taller than Julian Luna. He moved his finger up his thigh.

"Caitlin," he looked at her, "please, donít get me wrong, but I want you to come down on me, the way you did with your fianc√©."

She stared at him, appalled.


"Caitlin, please, itís important, just for a second, please."

She continued to stare at the man in the snow a little longer and then did as he asked of her. He strained his head to the left, trying to see his leg.

"How far up was his knee?" he asked.

"I donít know!" There was anger in her voice. "I was busy."

"Did his leg touch you? Were you sitting up or lying down on him? Try to remember!"

The barrage of questions made her head spin, or was it being this close to him? She closed her eyes and leaned forward.

"I was down," she said. "Julianís thigh was touching me. I heard the shot..." Remembering made her shiver. "It was terrible!" She started to cry.

Nick put his arm around her and pressed her to his chest. His leg came closer, until his thigh touched her. Looking over Caitlinís shoulder he measured the distance with his hand.

Four inches, maybe five, he thought. Damn close.

"Okay," he said, "letís get up. Itís rather cold here in the snow."

They got up and brushed the snow off their clothes.

Four or five inches, no wonder Julian Luna got mad. Nick was mad too, and this time with Joe. No matter how good you are with the rifle, you can always miss. A target that could move in any direction at any moment. A couple having sex. Anything could have happened.

Nick walked down the slight slope, turning and crouching several times. How close did Joe have to come to see the raised knee? When he couldnít see the top of the hill any longer, he turned and started back.

Caitlin watched him in silence. He reminded her of a film about Indian scouts that she had seen recently. The police uniform made it seem unreal.

Suddenly Nick slipped and almost fell. His hand groped through the snow and came up with the object that made him loose his balance. It was rusty but he recognized it immediately. A bullet casing. He looked at Caitlin.

"This is where he was when he shot at you," he said.

He went back to her and looked at the trees on the other side of the hill. But there was no reason to look for the bullet. Nick knew all he needed to know about the shooting of Julian Luna. He turned to Caitlin again.

"What happened afterwards?"

"I went back to the house to get help. I called his car. I waited for them to come and then we came back here."

"How long was he alone?"

"A half of an hour, maybe a little longer." Caitlin looked at him challengingly. "Look, he couldnít have gone after Joe; his leg was shot through! His... associates had to carry him."

"You mean his bodyguards, donít you?" Nick smiled at her, but Caitlinís anger flared up.

"Yes, his bodyguards! After what happened here, donít you think he needs them?!"

But Nick didnít respond.

There was no way that Julian Luna could have pursued Joe into the ravine and killed him there. Not with the injured leg, not while Joe still had his rifle. But even if he hadnít been wounded, and Joe hadnít been armed, there simply wasnít enough time. The motive was there, but no means.

"Why wasnít the police informed?" he asked Caitlin sternly.

"Julian had to go back to San Francisco in a hurry," she said quietly, "and he said... that there was no reason for my friend to go to jail."

"So you did see Joe?"

"No," Caitlin shook her head. "We didnít see him, we heard him run," she was trying to smile, "and Julian was guessing."

"So you came back here; your fiancé was carried to the car. Did your father know what had happened?"

"Yes," she looked away, "but Julian said that there was no need to make any fuss, he just wanted to leave. I went with him to the airport. I saw the plane take off." She anticipated the questions.

Nick nodded. The airport had confirmed that much. The plane had taken off and had not come back until a few days ago. So much for that. Nick knew now what had happened on that fateful morning, but he was still no closer to understanding how Joe had died.

"Okay, Caitlin, weíre done here." He turned down the slope and she followed. "Letís go to my place. Thereís something I want to show you."

Julian was surprised over how familiar Louisiana felt, although he hadnít been back since he left the state as a mortal, a century and a half ago. He flew into Baton Rouge, Arthur his only companion; they hired a car and drove to New Orleans. As unchanged as the countryside was, as changed was the city. Still, there was something in the air that brought back childhood memories, and Julian smiled - it was literally in the air.

The smell... Well, New Orleans was never famous for its cleanliness. The ever-present noise made Julian realize that San Francisco, a much bigger city, was a place where silence could be found, especially if one were able to pay for it. But no amount of money could buy silence in New Orleans.

Arthur watched with fascination as Julian transformed himself from the strict San Francisco businessman into a southern playboy in a white linen suit, only the gold chains and rings lacking. Julian Luna was quite prepared to pretend that he was gay, using Arthurís company as an excuse, but hanging several pounds of gold on himself was just more than he could take.

Arthur was also impressed by Julianís ability to blend into the cityís nightlife, switching between French and English effortlessly. Louisiana had the biggest Kindred population of all the states, many of them Europeans. Within a few hours, Julian had found the right contacts. The next night they would meet Pierre de Guiche, the Prince of New Orleans.

Pierre de Guiche was an old Ventrue. He had come to America with his own creation, La Fayette, barely escaping the guillotine. When the general returned to Europe, the French aristocrat had stayed, recreating his own little piece of France in Louisiana. He had survived the Inquisition and the French Revolution and Julian hoped that his experiences in Europe would prevent him from supporting Servio. But he was gay and quite explicit about it. Julian imagined that pretending that he was a homosexual too might give him a further advantage. Arthur had laughed at the idea.

When Caitlin and Nick approached the pickup truck that he had left outside the house, they found a stranger waiting for them on the doorstep. It was a thin man, very tall, his very light coloring reminded Caitlin of Arthur, although the stranger was at least twenty years older than her bodyguard.

He looked at them without blinking and all of a sudden Caitlin felt apprehension.

"Iím looking for Julian Luna," the stranger said without presenting himself.

"Heís not here." Caitlin instinctively backed away a couple of steps and was grateful when Nick put his arm around her shoulders.

"Yes, Iím aware of that." The man continued staring at her. "I was hoping that you might know where he is."

"I donít know where he is," Caitlin said staring back. "We donít keep contact," she added after a moment, and felt Nickís arm harden.

"I see."

The stranger came down from the steps and Caitlin moved closer to Nick.

"What is it you want, Mr...?" Nick stretched up; he was just as tall as the other man, but twice as big.

The stranger seemed to contemplate Nickís police uniform for a few seconds; then, ignoring Nickís question, he turned to Caitlin again.

"If Julian contacts you, would you please inform me. Here is my number." He gave her a card. "Itís very important," he added.

Caitlin looked at the card.

Stephen Langhelis, it said in small, printed letters. There was a Seattle number written underneath the name in pencil. Nothing else, no address, no title.

"Itís very important," the man repeated and walked to a big foreign car that was parked nearby.

Nick and Caitlin watched as a much younger man got out of the front passenger seat and opened the back door for the mysterious stranger. Caitlin recognized the pattern immediately. This was how it looked whenever Julian traveled by car.

She tried to move away from Nick, but his arm remained around her back.

"Why did you lie to him?" he asked.

"I donít know him!" She managed to step away from Nick. "And I donít know where Julian is!"

She ran into the house calling her father. Nick stayed outside.

Caitlinís father was in the kitchen, still fuming.

"The impertinent moron!" he exclaimed. "Coming here, asking questions!"

"What did he want?"

"He wanted Julian, and then started to ask about you. If you two were still together. The audacity...!" James Byrne was so angry that he sputtered.

"What did you tell him?" Caitlin asked.

"I told him to mind his own business!" He was surprised when Caitlin hugged and kissed him. "And then I threw him out!" he added with satisfaction.

When Caitlin came out of the house again, Nick and his pickup were gone.

Julian woke up as the blare of music penetrated even the deep sleep of a Kindred. It was early afternoon. He locked himself in the bathroom and let the hot shower batter his body for almost an hour. But the memory would not be washed away. They had returned to the hotel before dawn and the clerk had given them their keys, apparently surprised that they didnít share a room. It had made Arthur smile.

"With proper training you could pass as gay," he had said making Julian frown.

"Are you saying that my performance is lacking?" Julian had asked.

"You wouldnít have fooled me," was Arthurís response, "nor any other of my persuasion."

Julian had invited his bodyguard into his room.

"I need your help, Arthur." He was ill at ease but decided to overcome his apprehension. "I must make a believable impression."

"Julian, youíre the straightest man I know. You couldnít fool me if your life depended on it."

"Well, my life might depend on it," Julian had said quite seriously. "Stop laughing and show me how I should behave."

Arthur had stopped laughing.

"Itís not the question of how you should behave, but how you shouldnít behave." He had strolled over to Julian casually, and then suddenly threw his arms around him and kissed him on the mouth. As he had expected, Julian had recoiled from him with a shout.

"There, you see," Arthur had commented. "If you want to pretend that you are gay, you must never show your disgust. You may show that you arenít interested in somebodyís advances but you must not be revolted."

"Okay, I get the picture." Julian squared his shoulders. "Do it again!"

Arthur did as he was told.

Julian had had quite a few run-ins with the homosexuals in his life, especially in the sixties and seventies, when he was still Archonís glorified gopher. After all, he lived in San Francisco. He believed himself to be tolerant, as long as his own butt wasnít on the line. His Kindred strength allowed him to fend off any unwanted passes. But it was difficult to hide the discomfort he felt.

Arthur took hold of his arms and shook him a little.

"Youíre as stiff as if youíve swallowed your toothbrush. Loosen up a little, thatís better." Julian had relaxed somewhat and closing his eyes allowed Arthur to kiss him again.

"Now, respond!" Arthur demanded, and to his own surprise, Julian let their kiss become quite intimate.

Itís not entirely unpleasant, he thought, but in the next moment Arthur touched him and he flinched away from the searching hand.

"No, no!" Arthur was laughing again. "If you donít want the attention, you take my hand and remove it. Remember, you must not show fear or disgust. Try again!" The offending hand was back, closing on Julian with a force that made him wince. He took hold of the wrist and moved it away.

"Iím being naughty." Arthur took his hand and smiled. "Nobody would do this to you unless invited. But I couldnít help making fun of you. Straight men seem to believe that weíre all rapists!"

It made Julian laugh.

"Women seem to believe that weíre all rapists," he retorted, and they both laughed again.

"Anyway," Arthur continued, "what you must remember is that gay men touch each other much in the way women do. Thereís nothing sexual about it, and you must not shy away. We hug and hold each other a lot." He put his arm around Julianís shoulders and patted his knee. "Remember to do the same."

"The clerk downstairs seemed to believe that we were together," Julian said. "It might be a good idea to let Pierre believe that we are."

"The clerk downstairs doesnít know any better. Heís straight." Arthur was thoughtful. "Fooling Pierre de Guiche might prove much more difficult."

"Iíd hate him to come after me." Julian grimaced. "I might not be as tolerant with him as Iím with you."

"Just how tolerant do you think you are?!" There was anger in Arthurís voice. "Let me show you how much you can take!"

He shoved Julian down on the bed and lay down beside him.

"Stop me when youíve had enough!" he growled and kissed Julian passionately.

Julian willed himself to respond to the kiss. Arthurís hands moved over his body, sneaking inside his clothes with expert ease.

Letís see how much I can take, Julian wondered.

The kisses and caresses sent a pleasant shiver up his spine. Then Arthur took Julianís hand and pressed it against himself. Julian felt the hardness strain against his fingers and heard Arthurís breath catch.

"Donít you think itís enough?" he whispered to his bodyguard, surprised by the excitement in his own voice.

Arthur didnít stop.

Julian knew that his bodyguard was stronger than he was. But he didnít want to fight his way out anyway. It felt easier to give in to superior strength, his body pressed down by the otherís weight against his back, his wrists locked in a steel grip, his legs forced apart. Arthur bit his shoulders and neck, making him gasp and shudder with pleasure. Something hot and hard was forced between his buttocks and he stiffened instinctively in defense.

"Julian, Iíll hurt you if you donít relax," Arthurís whisper was entreating.

"Arthur, please, donít..." But it was too late, and the powerful thrust made Julian cry out in pain.

If I resist, Iíll be hurt, Julian realized.

He made a conscious effort to slacken his contorted muscles. The pain subsided, turning slowly into an unexpectedly pleasant sensation. Arthur let go of his wrists and, turning on his side, let one hand press Julian against him, caressing him intimately with the other, his teeth sunk into Julianís neck, as if they were two mating cats. His breathing more and more labored, his thrusts swifter and harder, he mumbled through his clenched teeth.

"Iíll make you come... Julian, Iíll make you come..."

In the end, he did.

Julian was appalled by his own reaction as he watched his semen spurt forth between Arthurís clenched fingers. Even allowing Arthur to have sex with him wasnít as confounding as the fact that he himself had been sexually excited by it, responding the way he did.

"Youíve led me on, Julian. You made it happen!" Arthur had exploded afterwards, unable to hide his anger. "Itís not like you didnít enjoy it!"

"I know." Julian had answered. "I didnít mean to seduce you. Iím sorry. It wonít happen again."

"Now, you tell me!" Arthur had exclaimed, grabbing him and pressing him against his body. "How am I supposed to go on now? I love you and I want you. I always have. Until today you were just out of my reach, like all straight men are. But now... how am I supposed to go on living... pretending that nothing has happened?"

He tried to kiss Julian again but the Prince turned his face away.

"Iím sorry, Arthur." Julian was aghast. "I didnít know. I wouldnít have let this happen had I known."

He held his crying bodyguard in his arms, cursing his own blindness, until they both fell asleep.

* * *

Nick called Caitlin in the afternoon.

"I had to go," he told her. "I was called in. Can I pick you up at six?"

Caitlin was a little doubtful. She wasnít sure that she wanted to see what Nick had to show her, but on the other hand, she had no reason to refuse.

"Okay," she said, "six will be fine."

She spent the rest of the afternoon trying to sort out her feelings. Julian had not called for several days, and she was scared and angry at the same time. Her imagination created all possible scenarios, each ending in disaster. She missed him terribly, and would do anything to make the empty hours pass, even spend time with the man who apparently believed that her lover was a murderer.

In spite of Nickís suspicions, she liked him. His native calm, the big frame, even the police uniform, filled her with a feeling of security, and she needed that right now. She was sure that he was interested in her, apart from the investigation of Joeís death. She liked that too, not giving any thought to what it might lead to. It was as if Julianís protective presence would reach across any distance, shielding her from the outside world.

Nick came exactly at six, and she went out as soon as she saw his pickup at the end of the driveway.

"You left rather abruptly this morning," she said when she was seated at his side.

"Duty called. There was a burglary." He lied to her. He had tried to follow the foreign car but lost the track of it after only a few miles. It was much too fast for his pickup. He had gone to work then, too ashamed to face Caitlin after his futile pursuit.

Nick lived in a small cottage, a half an hourís drive from the astronomerís house. It was filled with beautiful Indian artwork mixed with modern technology; rusty brown and red were the pervading colors, giving the place a sense of warmth.

But as soon as the door closed behind them, the atmosphere froze. Nick took Caitlin in his arms and tried to kiss her. Now, when they were alone in his home, it was no longer a play, and Caitlin stopped him immediately.

"Iím sorry, Nick. I know that Iíve given you the wrong impression. Please, forgive me!"

To her relief, he let her go at once.

"Yes, you have," he said with a wry smile.

"What was it you wanted to show me?" she asked, trying to hide her uneasiness.

Nick went to his desk and turned on a reading lamp. He picked up the file marked Joseph Montegna and shook its contents out. He chose a photograph and turned to Caitlin.

"Itís not a pretty picture," he said, "but youíre a reporter. I imagine you can take it." He laid it down under the lamp.

Caitlin came closer and looked at it.

At first, she was just shocked by the gory sight. The dead man had been lying in the ravine long enough for decay to have set in, in spite of the autumn cold. The skin on his face was blackened, the eyes were gone. He had no throat.

Caitlin swallowed hard and looked closer. Suddenly she was very cold and a violent shiver shook her body: She had seen the wound before.

She looked up at Nick and saw him smile triumphantly.

"Youíve seen it before, havenít you?" Nickís question was a statement. But Caitlin refused to answer.

Yes, Iíve seen it! Frank Kohanek had shown me the photograph of the man who had attacked Julian in the San Francisco bank. His throat had been ripped out in exactly the same way as the throat of Joe Montegna.

Caitlinís eyes filled with tears.

Wouldnít you like to know how he did it? She heard Frankís angry voice in her head.

"Nick," she sobbed, "how were these wounds inflicted?"

"I donít know," he said. "Iíve never seen anything like it. And Iíve seen almost everything that can happen in the wilderness." He looked at her with pity. "You know something, Caitlin," he said quietly. "There is someone we can ask."

Nick took the whole file as they went back to his pickup. The drive took almost two hours. They didnít say anything to each other for most of that time. Caitlin curled up in her seat. She had stopped crying. Nick shot a glance at her pale face every now and then. At last he cleared his throat.

"Caitlin," he said softly, "whatever happened there, I canít do anything about it, and neither can you. But Iím sure that Julian Luna was somehow involved in Joeís death. From your reaction, I think you know that too, donít you?"

Caitlin nodded, a sob escaping her again.

"Tell me about it!"

"There was an attempt to assassinate Julian at his bank. More than a year ago. The attacker was found like this," she pointed her chin towards the file that lay between them on the seat. "I saw the pictures." She shivered again. "The police never found out what really happened."

Yes, Nick mused, it must have looked even more weird in San Francisco.

Well, so much for my being able to take care of myself, Julian thought wryly. Poor Daedalus! Had he been here, this wouldnít have happened. And poor Arthur. And stupid me!

A shiver of revulsion went through Julianís body. Having sex with a man had never entered his mind, and, being what he was, it had never been a threat either. But now, it had happened. He had not only had sex with a man, but with one of his closest and most trusted friends, and on top of that, he had enjoyed it enough to... The shiver became stronger; he had to clench his teeth in order to prevent himself from being sick. The experience had been revolting and painful and pleasant in some weird combination. Julian was sure of one thing though; he never wanted it to happen again.

I guess Arthur was right, he thought. Iím quite straight.

He forbade himself to think of Caitlin, just as her image turned up in his head.

This is at least something she will never know about, he vowed to himself.

He felt his body react and was appalled until he realized that it was a reaction to the picture of Caitlin that his mind had conjured.

He couldnít stay in the bathroom forever. He had to get out and face Arthur again. But when he went back to his bedroom, he found Arthur already dressed, his face bland, his behavior all business.

Arthur asked for money. Not enough to make up for what had happened, but he wanted several thousand dollars. Julian decided against asking why he wanted it.

"Will a check do?"

"A credit card would be better," Arthur answered. "Iíll be back in an hour," he added after Julian had given him his card.

Arthur came back with a small package from the jewelerís.

"I know you hate these things," he told Julian while he tore the paper away, "but it should do the trick."

He took out a pair of identical bracelets made of massive gold, each engraved with their initials.

"Put it on your right wrist," he said.

Julian looked at the heavy gold.

Arthur is right, he thought. I hate these trinkets.

But it wasnít what the bracelet signified that Julian hated. Julian had come to California during the gold rush. He had seen what the glimmering metal could do to people: men and women alike. Somehow, he had managed to avoid the poisonous contagion of the yellow metal. But it had destroyed so many others, his father among them.

"Now, weíre engaged," Arthur smiled nervously. "At least as far as Pierre is concerned," he added before Julian had time to say anything. "Remember what I told you, and try not to shy away if I touch you."

"Iíll do my best," Julian answered.

He tried to think of something kind to say to Arthur, and an awkward silence stretched between them.

"Julian," Arthur broke the silence at last, "Iím sorry for whatís happened. But Iím not the only one to blame. I know that I forced you... Hell, you didnít even try to stop me!" His outburst went unanswered.

"Why didnít you try to stop me?" he asked.

"I donít know, Arthur. I really donít know. Curiosity..." Julianís voice trailed off. "A new experience. Iím sorry too."

Arthur went to his room to change his clothes and prepare for the evening.

They left the hotel when darkness set over the city.

The lodge seemed old and partly ruined. At first Caitlin thought that it was deserted, but then she saw some light seeping from the inside, and understood that there were people living in the dreary building. Nick led her inside.

Four old Indian men were seated on rugs spread on the floor near the fireplace. There was no other source of light in the room. Nick greeted them and they looked up, nodding. The old men mumbled among themselves and then shuffled on the floor making space for Nick and Caitlin. A can of beer was shoved into Caitlinís hand and there was silence. All men made a point of not looking at her. They drank the beer and sat looking into the fire. After about twenty minutes the oldest of the men turned to Nick.

"Youíve come looking for answers," he said, and Nick nodded.

After another five minutes of silence the old one turned to Nick again.

"You may ask," he said.

Nick took out the photograph that he had showed to Caitlin earlier and placed it in front of the fire.

"What killed this man?" he asked.

The photograph went from hand to hand. Each man leaned closer to the fire to see it better and then passed it along to the next man. It was returned to Nick and there was more silence.

"What animal could do this?" Nickís patience was running out. "A wolf?"

"No animal," the oldest one said.

"A man?!" There was excitement in Nickís voice.

"No man," came the answer, and Nick stared at them.

If they start babbling about witches and evil spirits, Caitlin will laugh her head off, Nick thought.

But the old men were silent again.

"They are not men and they are not wolves, but they can pretend to be both," one of the men said.

"They donít breathe," another added.

"They donít breed," yet another voice. The old men snickered.

"Yes, they donít breed, but they can pretend that they do."

"And they are very good at it." They were giggling now.

"They donít eat food like people do. They live off people and they can kill like animals."

"They can hear and see and smell like animals."

"What are you talking about?" Nick was disappointed and angry, and it could be heard in his voice.

"They arenít evil spirits," the oldest of the Indians turned to Nick again. "They came with the white men, but they werenít like them. They didnít take our land and they didnít kill our people. There werenít many of them, and white men hunted them as they hunted us."

"We thought white men had killed them all," another old Indian said. "Apparently not."

"What are you talking about?" Nick repeated his question.

"Men who donít die easily, but are like dead when they sleep: very strong men. Women too. Live in the night. They drink human blood."

Nick sighed with exasperation and looked at Caitlin apologetically. But Caitlin didnít notice him. She stared wide-eyed at the old Indians, her face absolutely white.

Nick rose to his feet.

"Thank you, uncles," he said. "Letís go Caitlin. Itís late. Iíll drive you home."

But when they were outside he told her to wait a moment, he had forgotten the file inside. He went back into the lodge, picked up the file and took the photograph of Julian Luna out of it. Nick never forgot anything. He showed it to his oldest uncle.

"Is he one of them?" he asked, but the old man shrugged.

"You canít tell from a picture," he said. "You must catch them unaware. When they sleep or feed. Donít ever try to shoot one! Waste of bullets."

Nick turned to go, but the old man wasnít finished.

"If heís got hold of that woman, thereís nothing left for you? Beware!"

Nick returned to Caitlin and they drove back in silence. He tried to engage her in a conversation but Caitlin refused to utter a word. He watched her walk towards her fatherís house, and for a short moment her face was caught in the headlights of his pickup. Her terror-stricken countenance made him shiver. What was it among the babble of his uncles that had scared her so much? Nick wondered. For the first time since Joeís death, Nick started to be afraid too.

Pierre de Guiche held court in a big eighteenth century mansion outside the city. When Julian and Arthur arrived, they saw that holding court was a perfect description. All it lacked were the seventeenth century clothes and wigs.

Pierre de Guiche was a middle-aged man, rather thick around the waist. His face was heavy, his eyes half-closed, as if he were permanently sleepy. It was said that he remembered the Crusades.

He welcomed Julian and Arthur, but did not inquire about the reason for their visit.

Julian watched the congregation with rising apprehension. Most of the Kindred present were either Ventrue or Brujah, with only a few Toreador. No Nosferatu, no Gangrel, and very few females.

Julian beckoned to Arthur and his bodyguard put one hand on Julianís shoulder, his face close to Julianís as if they were embracing.

"Iím afraid Iíve been mistaken," Julian whispered in Arthurís ear. "De Guiche is supporting Servio."

Arthur nodded.

"We can hardly do anything about it on our own," he whispered back.

"Weíll have to or weíll never get out of here alive." Julian had no illusions. "Weíve been lured into a trap."

Arthurís grip on Julianís shoulder hardened.

"We havenít got much time. By midnight theyíll start leaving to feed. We must think of something before then."

"All right, start thinking and move around." Julian had already started thinking himself. "There might be some Kindred here who arenít too happy about Servioís plan. It would help if we could find them. Go on!" He patted Arthurís back. "Iíll concentrate on the women," he added, making Arthur smile.

They disappeared from each otherís sight among the Kindred entourage of Marquis Pierre de Guiche, the Ventrue Prince of New Orleans.

* * *


Caitlin didnít realize how late it was until she entered the house. Her father was in the kitchen, waiting for her. It was just past midnight. After placing a cup of tea in front of her, he cleared his throat.

"You seem distressed," he said, startling her. There had been a wide rift between them for many years, but since the illness and death of her mother, Caitlin and her father had become quite close. His unexpected acceptance of Julian had of course helped to reduce the breach between father and daughter.

Caitlin was indeed distressed. She felt as if something sinister was closing on her, as well as on Julian. The attack on his life, the mysterious visitor in the morning, Nickís pursuit, the crazy ranting of the old Indians. But there was something consistent in all that madness, and it scared her. The way the Indians had been going on. There were things that did apply to Julian, no matter how hard she tried to disregard them. The things she knew about: the strength, the sharpened senses, the sterility, no need for food. Could the other things be true as well?

They can kill like animals, said an old manís voice in her head.

They drink human blood, another voice repeated.

She thought of the two photographs of the dead men. So similar!

Caitlin shivered violently and looked up at her father. Next to Biggy, James Byrne was the most rational man she had ever known. And she needed help from a rational mind right now. She told her father everything, well, at least the relevant parts. There were things about which she could not confide in her father, but right now they werenít important.

The old astronomer stared at his daughter in disbelief.

"Caitlin, are you out of your mind?" he wondered. "This is the most... unbelievable pile of nonsense that Iíve heard in all my life! You can trust me, Iíve heard my share. Mostly from the UFOlogists and the like."

But Caitlin shook her head.

"Dad," she said, "I know what I have seen. I know what Julian has told me."

But James Byrne would not surrender his rationality that easily.

"Look Caitlin, I know how strong he is, Iíve seen him... Itís quite possible that he can rip a manís throat out with his bare hands, if sufficiently provoked. I donít know about the guy in San Francisco, but as far as Iím concerned, Joe got what he deserved. Whether it was Julian who did him in or the wolves. Frankly, my money is on the wolves. As for the rest, I wonít believe for a second that superstitious native mumbo jumbo. And youíre far too intelligent for that too."

It was Caitlinís turn to stare at her father in disbelief. Apparently, James Byrne was quite prepared to believe and accept that Julian had killed one, maybe two, men. It was so odd. Biggy had said almost the same thing. What was it that men could see in each other that was beyond her capability to perceive? But her father would not accept or believe anything else. After all, he was a scientist. But Caitlin had trouble dismissing the Indians so easily. Almost everything they had said fitted Julian perfectly.

If thereís nothing else to it, she mused, according to these old men, there must be others like him.

But what were they? Julian had spoken of a disease. An unknown epidemic? Only the Indians had talked about the old times, the times when white men killed Indians, a century ago, or even further back. Something hereditary then. But Julian was sterile, and so were the others according to the tale. A mutation?

Suddenly, there was a smile on Caitlinís face.

"Father, can I use your computer tomorrow?" She asked, "Iíd like to do some scientific research of my own." She had just found something with which to occupy herself while waiting for Julianís return.

"Of course," the astronomer said. "What are you looking for?"

"I think Iíll visit some medical libraries," Caitlin answered. "Thank God for the Web."

It made her father laugh.

"Yes," he said. "Have fun! Iíd rather see you surfing the Internet than running around with that Indian policeman."

"Father!" Caitlin was appalled. "I never thought that youíd turn racist!"

"I havenít," he retorted. "I just donít like uniforms. And besides, you already have a man."

Will wonders never cease? Caitlin giggled. My father protecting Julianís interests!

Despite all that she had been through that day, Caitlin was able to sleep quite well once she got into her bed.

Why havenít I thought of it before, Caitlin wondered turning on her fatherís computer.

But after a few hours of staring at the screen, she had found exactly nothing, and the frustration was getting to her. She had found that there were men that were extremely strong; there were men who were sterile; there were men who had unusually sharp senses. There were men who could survive on very little food, and there were men whose stamina surpassed that of others. But they were all different men, and there was nothing that bound all those different traits together. In the end she made a list of all these oddities and tried again.

No references found, the computer blinked at her.

Caitlin swore under her breath. She hesitated for a moment and then abandoned the medical databases. She punched the button Search the web on the screen, and leaned back. After several minutes, she got an answer - 126 276 references found.

Caitlin swore again. She hesitated much longer this time before adding blood-drinking, changing of eye-color and wolves to her list.

But the computer didnít hesitate at all.

112 references found, it said.

Caitlin took a deep breath and clicked forth the first ten. The coffee went the wrong way, and Caitlin coughed for several minutes.

"Vampires?!" she exclaimed at last in dismay, when she had caught her breath. "Has the whole world gone insane?"

She went through everything that the computer had to offer and sat back, staring at the offending gadget.

Where do people get all these crazy ideas from? she wondered.

Caitlin recalled the meeting of the abductees that she had gone to in San Francisco. Deranged as it had been, there was at least an ounce of scientific plausibility to it. But this! She turned off the computer, punching angrily at the power button. A dead end!

What do I do now? Caitlin wondered. The idleness was making her restless. She had always been very active, either working or studying. But sitting here, without anything to do except to worry about Julian, was driving her crazy.

If this goes on much longer, Iíll start believing in that vampire crap, she thought.

She called Nick in the afternoon.

"Iím going out of my mind of sheer boredom," she told him. "Can I help you with some investigation that doesnít involve my fianc√©?" she laughed nervously.

"Are you asking me out?" Nick heard the incredulity in his own voice and tried to remedy that. "As a matter of fact, Iíd like your opinion about some things. Iíll come for you after work. That is, if itís all right with you?"


They were sitting in a bar, Caitlin drinking white wine, while Nick was into his second beer. He had refused the wine, explaining that he could not drink anything stronger than beer.

"Havenít got the white manís enzymes in my liver," he said. "If I drink wine or booze, Iíll be terribly sick and terribly drunk."

Caitlin laughed.

"Is it really true?" she asked. "Not just something people have invented to excuse the alcohol problem among Native Americans?"

"Oh, itís true all right," Nick answered. "If I had as much wine as you have drunk today, Iíd be out cold." He smiled at her. "And I weigh at least twice as much as you do."

Caitlin smiled back. It was probably true, she thought. Nick was very tall and heavily built. His dark face with high cheekbones showed no trace of beard growth. His short, black hair had a bluish tint to it, and his eyes were very dark, almost black. There was an air of self-confidence about him that Caitlin associated with Native Americans. She was wondering if it was really there, or if she was projecting her prejudice onto Nick Marliss.

She found herself comparing Nick to Julian.

Julian was shorter and slimmer of course, but much better looking. There was an atmosphere of wealth and power about Julian, of centuries of fortune and good education that Nick lacked. Julian Luna had self-esteem that would make him as comfortable in a governorís office as in the mountains of California.

Nickís polish of civilization is much thinner than that of Julianís, Caitlin thought. Unable to remember what had happened in Manzanita, Caitlin couldnít know how superficial was Julianís refinement.

If there really were something that Nick wanted to discuss with Caitlin, he didnít bring it up, and she didnít mention it either. She enjoyed his company although she soon found out that he was neither as intelligent nor as well educated as Julian. However, he possessed a dry sense of humor and was able to laugh at himself in a way that Julian never did. There was forthrightness in Nick that made Julian seem rather devious. But Julian had never been famous for his candor, and Caitlin had accepted that.

Nick allowed Caitlin to keep her distance when they danced, but the pull of attraction was there and they were both aware of it.

The evening was very clear and Caitlin suggested that they would take a walk in spite of the cold. They watched the stars and Nick told her the Indian names of different constellations, explaining their meaning, while Caitlin gave the names that Julian had taught her. She pointed out Sirius, repeating what Julian had told her about it on her birthday, and Nick looked at her, apparently impressed.

"You know quite a lot about the heavens," he said.

"My father is an astronomer, remember?" she responded, not wanting to bring Julianís name into their conversation.

Nick leaned down and kissed her, not touching her. In fact, he kept his hands behind his back, and Caitlin did the same. In spite of the awkward position, they stood kissing for quite some time, until Caitlin shivered. Nickís mouth was warm, but she was starting to feel the cold.

"Come," he said simply, and they ran to his car.

Once they had arrived at his home, Nick removed her clothes very carefully, piece by piece, using both hands when he unbuttoned her shirt. It made her realize that Julianís behavior was a calculated show, a well-balanced act, meant to provoke the desired effect, whether it were the softest caresses or frantic destruction of her underwear. All he did was utterly exciting, even the pain he sometimes inflicted seemed to be under his control, just on the edge between pain and pleasure. What Caitlin didnít know, was that Julian Luna was five times older than Nick, and had spent much of that time learning about women.

Nick did not own the patience and experience that Julian did. Somewhere on the way, Nickís urgency made him cross the line and he hurt her. Caitlin pulled away his eager hand, surprised that she could. Julian would have been relentless. But Nick misunderstood her reaction. He pushed her down and pressed into her, making her cry out in protest.

Caitlin clenched her teeth, fighting tears, fighting pain, a whimper escaping her as Nickís movements became swifter and harder. Realizing that she could no longer stop him, Caitlin tried to diminish the discomfort, slackening her muscles. It didnít help much, but then it was over, as Nick collapsed suddenly, gasping aloud. He slid away from her, leaving her hurting and unsatisfied.

Nick put his arms around her, but didnít try to make love to her again. He was aware of her reluctance and his male ego decided that her apparent unhappiness was caused by the regret of having betrayed her lover. He would not admit to himself that his own performance might have been lacking.

He drove her home when she asked him to, an awkward silence stretching between them.

"Caitlin..." he started as the car stopped outside her fatherís house, but she didnít let him finish.

"Iím sorry, Nick. Itís not your fault," she lied, "but I canít see you again."

He nodded, suddenly angry again, but he bit down on his furious retort: Sure, go back to your vampire!

Nick had made the same search on the web that Caitlin had, but in contrast to her, he believed what he had found.

Nick Marlissí polish of civilization was indeed very thin.

James Byrne looked at his daughter accusingly. It was past midnight again.

"Arenít you taking this a little too far?" he asked.

Caitlin shrugged, trying to hide her discomfort.

"Donít worry," she said, "I wonít see Nick again."

"What happened?"

"Nothing significant!" To her own dismay, Caitlin started to cry and her father stared at her helplessly.

"Caitlin...?" he didnít know what to do.

"I miss him, thatís all," she sobbed. "Oh, Julian..."

The old astronomer patted his daughterís back in an awkward attempt to comfort her.

"Heíll be back soon," he smiled to himself. "Iím sure he will." He didnít tell Caitlin that Julian had called while she was out and said that heíd come in a few days.

Caitlin lay sleepless in her bed. She was sad and upset over what she had allowed to happen, and couldnít help thinking about the first time Julian had made love to her. How careful and tender he had been, his touch lighter than that of a butterfly at first. The excitement had made her light-headed, as if she were drunk, and at the same time sharpening her senses to the utmost. She had pressed against his fingers, wordlessly demanding more. Until now she had taken it for granted, the ease with which he could make her come, unaware that it took both skill and patience, and sometimes unrelenting will: a will that would not let him give up, even when she asked him to. She missed Julian so much that it made her cry again. His love, his tenderness, his very presence that made her feel so safe. Even his habit of stringing together sentences so long that they were difficult to understand.

Nick Marliss was no longer angry - he was mad as hell.

He knew that he had lost the battle for justice for Joeís murderer the moment he had taken Caitlin in his arms. He couldnít go after the man whose woman he had seduced, and it made his rage futile.

But if it werenít a man at all? Leave Caitlin in his claws? Let him get away with murder? No!

Nick realized after some hard thinking that if Joe had done to him what he had done to Julian Luna, he would have reacted in the same way; he would have killed Joe. He recalled the moments of passion, Caitlinís soft body against his, and then tried to imagine being shot at the same time, the bullet hitting him, when it could have hit Caitlin just as easily. Nick could feel the rage that Julian must have felt. Yes, he was quite sure that if Joe had committed this act of stupidity against him, all friendship aside, Nick would have ripped Joe to pieces if he had had the strength to do so. Being a policeman wouldnít have stopped him at all.

As far as Nick Marliss was concerned, the murderer of Joe Montegna would stay unpunished, even if Nick were able to solve the crime. He still didnít know how Julian could have done it, but if there were any truth in what his uncles had been babbling about and in the information he had found on the Internet, then it wouldnít be beyond his capability.

Only, Nick had a problem with that. One moment he was prepared to believe that Julian Luna was a mythical monster, and in the next he called himself a superstitious moron, who would readily believe that his rival was a devil. Especially since Caitlin apparently preferred the devil in question.

But what if it werenít all superstition? Nick ran for several hours in the night again. He called San Francisco as soon as he thought it wouldnít be too early. Frank Kohanek answered and whistled with appreciation when Nick told him what Caitlin had disclosed about the shooting.

"So I guessed right, didnít I?" Frank commented. "What are you going to do about it?"

"Thatís a problem. I canít pin Joeís death on him," Nick answered. "I just canít figure out how he did it. I mean with that injury, no weapon, several miles between the crime scenes. Unless somebody else did it for him, and I donít believe that somebody would do that, at least not in the way it was done. Do you have any ideas?"

"You really want to go after Luna?" Frank asked. There was no answer and after a moment Frank added: "If I were Julian Luna, Iíd have done the same."

"Yeah!" Nick laughed. "The thought has crossed my mind.

"What do you mean?"

"I..." Frank heard the hesitation in Nickís voice. "I donít mean anything. I mean... I can imagine what he felt when it happened. I... oh, shit!"

Frank whistled again.

"Either your imagination is very lively, or there isnít much you need to imagine"

"Look, man..."

But Frank didnít let Nick go on.

"If youíve done what I think youíve done, you might be getting yourself into serious trouble."

"Are you saying that this Luna character is a jealous type?" Nick sounded angry again.

"Jesus!" Frank laughed. "Youíre as transparent as a jellyfish. No, he has never struck me as a guy prone to jealousy. However, when Caitlin Byrne is concerned, I canít say... If she is harmed in any way..." Frank laughed again, "heíll make jellyfish of you. Lots of jellyfish!"

Now it was Nickís turn to whistle.

"What is it you know about him that I donít?" he asked making Frank shut up.

"Uh," Frank was trying to gather his wits. "Thereís nothing I can tell you. I donít want to end up with my throat ripped out."

"I see." Nick decided to risk making a fool of himself. "Just listen." He recounted all that his uncles had told him and what his computer had added to that. "Just tell me one thing," he said in the end. "Have I gone completely out of my mind because I want his woman, or is there any sanity left in me?"

Frank was very quiet for a long time.

"Detective Marliss," he hesitated for a moment, "youíre not insane."

There was a sigh of relief on the other end of the line.

"But youíll be," Frank added, "if you donít stay away from Caitlin Byrne." With that he hung up.

Nick stared at the phone in his hand. He looked at the familiar surroundings of his home, and then at the rumpled bed where he had made love to Caitlin the previous evening.

Does she know? he wondered.

Judging from her reaction to what his uncles had said, she must have noticed things about her lover. Strange things. Nick shook his head. Caitlin had told him that she didnít want to see him again. Why? Was she afraid of Julian Luna? Did she regret being unfaithful? Or was the unpleasant truth that she really preferred the vampire to a living man? Whatever it was, in the broad daylight Nick wasnít so sure if he wanted to take up a fight with a vampire.

Julian recognized the red flash, although he hadnít seen it for more than fifty years. Nobody elseís hair could be that red, nor could any chemist bottle that color.

"Bellinda?" he asked, not really trusting his visionís evidence.

She turned around. The white skin, the slanted green eyes, a nose that was too long, a mouth that was too wide. No, Bellinda wasnít a beautiful woman. Nevertheless, she was unforgettable.

Julian had to stop himself at the last minute; his reflex was to duck. The last time he had seen her, she had thrown several heavy objects at him, and had called him things that nobody had ever called him before or since. No wonder - Bellinda could outswear a Russian sailor. As a matter of fact, Bellinda could swear in seven languages for fifteen minutes without repeating herself, and she had a temper that outmatched Julianís by several factors.

They looked at each other belligerently. Two lions would be a pair of kittens in comparison.

"Julian Luna!" She cast her head back, her red mane flying. "You! You conniving, deceitful, hell-spawned, no-good bastard!"

Julian was surprised by the shortness of the invective. Apparently, she had forgiven him. He smiled at her disarmingly.

"As far as I know, my legitimacy was never in doubt," he said. "And good evening to you too."

She laughed and stepped closer.

"At last a straight man," she said taking his arm. "Or have you changed your interests in that respect after I left you?"

"I was straight last time I checked." Julian allowed her to lead him away. He felt the heat of his own embarrassment turn his face red as he remembered what had happened this very morning. He brushed it away.

"Tell me Bellinda, how did you end up in Pierre de Guicheís court?" he asked.

"I didnít," she answered. "Iím a guest here, as you are. I live in Texas nowadays."

"What are you doing here then?"

"The same thing that youíre doing." She leaned closer. "Stephen sent me here." She smiled as she felt the muscles in Julianís arm harden under her hand.

"Stephen is alive!" he exclaimed. "Where is he?"

"In New York, " she answered. "He has nestled himself into Servioís closest circle."

"Good," Julian nodded. He was thinking fast. "Youíre undercover, but Iím afraid that my companion and I have walked right into a trap. We canít pretend that we support Servio."

"Yes, youíre right." Bellinda looked around. "Iíll help you to get out of here. Whereís your friend?"

Julian let his eyes wander over the groups of men until he spotted Arthur.

"There," he said. At the same time he was able to make eye contact with his bodyguard and beckoned him. Seconds later Arthur was at his side.

"Come with me," Bellinda said after looking the tall, blond man over.

Julian and Arthur followed Bellinda to a side-door. They slipped through and found themselves in a long corridor. The redheaded woman led them to the other end, ignoring Arthur she turned to Julian.

"What have you been doing since I walked out of your life?" she asked, making Julian blink in surprise.

If memory serves me right, he thought, I was the one who walked out on you.

But it didnít matter now. If Bellinda preferred to remember it the other way around, Julian would not correct her.

They had met near the end of the WW II. She had lost her husband in one of the more obscure battles on some island in the Pacific, and her only child, a six-year-old son, had died of poliomyelitis. She hated the whole world and was fighting her way through the ranks of workers in one of the plants that Julian owned. She became one of the unionís representatives, and it was in that capacity that she had cursed Julianís ears off the first time they bumped into each other. Julian, who had educated himself in the most polite insults of the British Empire, had been stunned at first, then had burst out laughing. It had provoked Bellinda into more cursing, and Julian had laughed until he had to beg her to stop. It hurt.

The others around the negotiating table had stared at them in stupefied silence. They had seen Julian Luna react with violence to much lesser insults, but Bellinda was a human and a woman. She didnít need to fear Julian Luna.

Julian made sure to have Bellinda as an opponent as often as he could, and although she realized quite soon that he was provoking her deliberately, she was happy to oblige, drowning him in intricate strings of invectives that never failed to leave him breathless with laughter. Still, he couldnít understand half of them.

Later, when they became lovers, she had told him that the four brothers of her Russian mother, all sailors, used to have swearing contests at every family gathering. She explained to him what the Russian curses meant, and he learned quite a few useful expressions from her in several languages. He never used the worst of them - his upbringing forbade the use of foul language - but he still remembered the feeling of idiotic triumph when he left a Russian taxi driver open-mouthed in a parking lot somewhere, when the taxi had almost run him over. The driver had jumped out of his car and started screaming obscenities at him. Julian had looked around, and seeing that there was no one else present, had allowed himself the luxury of cursing back. Educated by Bellinda, he had been able to win the competition; and to his utter amazement, the impressed loser had offered to drive him wherever he wanted for free.

Bellindaís ferocity did not end with words. She was a tigress as a mistress - which suited Julian just fine - but she was violent otherwise as well. She would react with rage whenever she didnít get what she wanted, and assaulted Julian several times. She admitted that she had been able to beat her husband into submission, but it didnít work with Julian. He was able to fend off her attacks easily, but she managed to hit him sometimes, when he least expected it. She would hold a grudge for a long time, and sneak up on him - her fists and knees hard weapons - or throw things at him.

He never hit her back until she took a knife and plunged it into his chest during one of their rows. He had slapped her then, his hand open. Not hard enough to knock her out, but she fell, suddenly all rage gone when she understood what she had done. She had seen Julianís eyes turn green as he pulled the knife out from his body. It clattered as he threw it at her feet.

"Bellinda," he had said, "I donít think that we can continue seeing each other."

She had watched in silence as he sat down unsteadily, the blood trickling down his chest. Then it stopped and the wound closed. Within minutes there was no other trace left of it but the blood that was drying on his skin and on the knife. Bellinda became a Kindred that night: it had been her choice. To become an immortal seemed like a good idea to her. She wanted to keep her red mane from turning gray, she had said. Julian had sent her to Stephen the next day, hoping that his blood brother would be able to manage her. He never heard from her again, and Stephen never mentioned her. To return to the levelheaded Lillie had been a relief, and Julian had kept out of the human womenís paths for several years afterwards.

And now, as they met again in the middle of a war, Julian was acutely aware that Bellinda was the only Kindred he had sired and abandoned. It didnít make him feel good about himself.

Bellinda took them through the enormous house of Pierre the Guiche. She seemed to know her way around quite well.

Maybe a little too well, Julian thought, for being a guest.

Yet, Julian kept his suspicions to himself. They would know soon enough.

Bellinda opened an inconspicuous looking door. They were standing at the top of a long staircase, which led into a basement, and Julian suspected that if he and Arthur followed her down, they would never come out of there alive. He heard voices behind them, many voices. Julian decided to act before it was too late.

For a fleeting moment he considered shift-shaping into a wolf, but gave up the idea at once. Abandoning the human shape meant also abandoning the human ability to reason. Within the confines of a building, it wouldnít do. Turning into a wolf was advantageous when there was running or fighting to do, otherwise it might prove fatal, especially if there were locked doors involved.

Julian gave Arthur a warning look and started descending the stairs, Bellinda right behind him. Arthur followed them after he shut and bolted the door they had come through. They were engulfed by darkness and Julian moved faster, increasing the distance between himself and Bellinda. He heard the clicking of her high heels become quicker. Arthurís steps were inaudible.

As Bellinda came closer, Julian stopped, concentrating on keeping his balance against possible attack. But the woman didnít realize that. As her hands pushed against his back, she was surprised by the resistance she encountered. She shoved harder, but Julian moved sideways, and she felt him grip her arm.

He started down again, dragging her with him, shouting to Arthur to follow them. Bellinda lost her footing before they reached the bottom of the stairs, and would have fallen had Julian not held her. She slid down the last few steps on her knees, screaming and cursing. But this time Julian didnít laugh at her swearing.

The cellar wasnít empty. Four shadows emerged from the dark corners and closed in on them.


Julianís outcry wasnít necessary; Arthur had already bolted past him and was facing the attacking Kindred. However, Julian wasnít one to let his bodyguard fight alone. Their adversaries were armed.

Julian pulled Bellinda to her feet and hurled the screaming woman at the firing men, then followed with a big leap. He got hold of one of them and smashed him against the wall, wrenching the weapon from the Gangrelís hand.

As he turned around, he saw a Brujah trying to aim a phosphorus gun at him. He moved swiftly out of the line of fire as the deafening shot rung out, the burning phosphorus lighting the scene of the battle. The two Ventrue killers were sprawled on the floor; Arthur had apparently taken care of them. The Gangrel that Julian had got to was sitting against the wall, his head crushed, a bloody smear on the rough concrete behind him showing that he was out too. Bellinda was lying on her back in the middle of it all, blood running out of her mouth as she tried to swear.

The Brujah didnít get to fire again. The weapon fell out of his hands as Arthur jerked his legs from under him. Julian fired the gun he had taken from the Gangrel at the same time; the bullet hit the falling man between the eyes.

Still a marksman, Julian thought with satisfaction.

The silence that ensued was only disturbed by Bellindaís mumble.

"Make sure they are dead for good," Julian ordered Arthur, who did what he was told.

The defeated Kindred would not regain life. Arthur found a knife on one of them and used it to empty them of blood, severing their carotid arteries.

Julian crouched at Bellindaís side. She had been hit by several bullets, all meant for him. He felt a pang of remorse, but remembered her hands pushing at his back.

"Why, Bellinda?"

It seemed as if she was trying to say something and Julian leaned closer, but she spat blood in his face.

"Conceit..." she hissed. "Get you... in hell!" She tried to spit at him again and Julianís hand closed on her throat.

"Go to the end of the line!" he said, his anger flaring.

Julian looked at the dead woman. Had she betrayed him of her own volition, or was she working for someone else? Stephen, Daedalus or Cameron. But no, Cameron was too young and knew too little. Besides, he didnít have much to offer - not yet anyway. Stephen then! Suddenly, Julian remembered the many paintings of the redheaded woman that he had seen in Daedalusí cellar. Was the Nosferatu just trying to get the right mix of colors or did he... No, not Daedalus. But the seed of suspicion had been planted. One doesnít become a Prince by being overly trusting.

Could Arthur be trusted?

If I come out of this alive, Iíll probably have a bad case of paranoia, Julian thought.

He had broken Bellindaís neck and had opened her arteries, making sure that she bled until she was dead. The damage was irreparable. Bellindaís death was final. In his rage he had not tried to question her more.

Julian eyed Arthur cautiously. He knew that he couldnít do the same to his bodyguard. Arthur had already proved that he was stronger than his Sire, and although Julian knew tricks that were beyond Arthurís capacity, he was afraid that in a fight he would lose.

"Arthur," Julian faced his bodyguard squarely, "can I trust you?"

Arthur came forth and went down on his knees in front of the Prince. His head bowing to one side, he presented his unprotected neck,

"With my life," he said simply.

Julian decided. He let his hand touch Arthurís neck.

"Get up!" he said. "Letís find a way out of here."

Arthur took his hand and kissed it.

"Yes, my Prince."

He stood up and they moved into the shadowy tunnels beneath Pierre de Guicheís house.

The door behind them had been broken down and they could hear their pursuers. Both Arthur and Julian knew that if they didnít get out of the building soon, they wouldnít make it.

If only Daedalus were here! Julian thought grimly. Parting from the Nosferatu had been a grave mistake, much more serious than he had thought this afternoon, after he and Arthur... no, this wasnít the time for regrets.

They ran into the darkness, the voices behind them coming closer. They came to the end of the tunnel and managed to wrench open the door they found there. As they came through, Arthur stopped and closed it. He looked around for something that might help to keep it shut. Julian looked at the gun that he had taken from the dead Brujah. Placing the barrel against the floor, he kicked the other end under the handle. It wasnít much, but better than nothing.

"Letís go!" he shouted. "Now!"

But Arthur shook his head.

"Go on, Julian! Iíll stop them when they come through."

Arthur had the two guns that the Ventrue had wielded. He was checking them now.

"No!" Julian knew that Arthurís offer would buy him time, but he wasnít prepared to accept the sacrifice.

"No," he repeated. "Give me one of the guns!"

Arthur stared at him for a second and then aimed at him.

"Get out of here before I get mad!" he shouted.

Julian saw the eyes of his bodyguard flash blue lightning and knew it was no joke. He backed away and turned just to be faced by a dark shape.


A strong hand grabbed his arm and pulled him down the tunnel.

"Quickly, this way!"

"Daedalus!" Julian stumbled in relief. "Wait, Arthur...!"

"Heíll stall them. Come on!"

The urgency in the Nosferatuís voice made Julian run faster as they heard an explosion, shots and screams.

A few minutes later, Daedalus dragged him up a few steps of stone, and pressed his shoulders against a metal lid above them. Julian raised his arms, adding his strength to that of the Nosferatu. Something gave way and the lid clattered as it fell aside. They could see the stars in the clear southern sky. The Nosferatu got out first and looked around. Seeing that there was no danger, he turned to help Julian but the Ventrue was as lithe as his friend. He jumped through the opening, then leaned over it, listening. There was nothing at first, but after a moment he could hear the sound of running feet.

"Arthur!" he called.

Daedalus pulled him back just as a shot rung out, a bolt of phosphorus fire coming out of the opening. Swiftly, the Nosferatu pushed the metal lid over the hole and rammed it into place. They found a big stone and rolled it on top of the lid before running on. They stopped after ten minutes: there was no pursuit.

Julian leaned against a tree and peered at Daedalus.

"How did you get here? Why and how did you find us?" he asked all the questions at once.

"It will take some time to tell you," Daedalus answered. "Right now, we have to take care of de Guiche while he still thinks youíre running."

"Youíre right," Julian nodded, then shivered. "Although Iíd hate to go back in there!"

"You donít have to," Daedalus said. "Find some means of transportation and wait for me here." He looked Julian over and smiled. "Try to do something about your appearance. You look as if youíve been the main attraction at a lynching party."

Julian didnít have to check in a mirror. His white suit was torn in several places; it was dirty and splattered with blood, as were his face and hands.

"Donít worry," he said. "I can take care of myself."

"Sure you can." The scorn in Daedalusí voice was mellowed by its warmth.

The Nosferatuís tall figure melted into the shadows.

Julian stole all he needed without hesitation. He broke into the nearest house that was inhabited by humans and fed from the middle-aged couple that slept there. He cleaned himself in their bathroom and took a pair of trousers and a shirt. The clothes were somewhat too big for him, but they would do. He walked up and down a few streets until he found what he was looking for: an old jeep, the ignition key left beckoning to every thief. He started it and drove past several blocks before turning on the lights.

When he came back to the spot where Daedalus had left him, he walked around cautiously, making sure that there was no trap. Straining his senses he was able to detect the Nosferatuís presence.

I could do worse, he thought as he walked back to his stolen jeep. Seconds later Daedalus climbed into the passengerís seat. Without a word, he handed Julian a diamond brooch that Pierre de Guiche had been wearing on his collar. Julian held it in his hand for a moment and then threw it out of the car with a twitch of disgust.

Something else landed in Julianís lap and slid between his knees. He groped for it and knew what it was as soon as his fingers encountered the heavy metal. The gold glimmered momentarily as the jeep passed under a streetlight, flashing the entwined letters J and A.

"Arthur?" Julianís voice faltered.

"Heís dead," Daedalus said softly. "Iím sorry."

Julian looked away. He held the golden bracelet in his hand, his grip hardening until it hurt, then put it in his pocket.

"You didnít trust him, did you?" he asked Daedalus accusingly.

"No. Did you?" came the retort.

"It doesnít matter now, does it?"

Daedalus looked poignantly at the bracelet on Julianís wrist.

"What happened?" he inquired.

But Julian shook his head again.

"Iíd rather not talk about it," he said. "Not yet." He stretched his arm towards the Nosferatu. "Please, take it off," he begged.

Daedalus took the bracelet off and handed it back to Julian who refused to take it.

"Just get rid of it!" he ordered, and the Nosferatu concealed it, pretending that he was throwing it away.

"Didnít Cash get any message out before he disappeared?" Julian was asking for the third time.

Daedalus sighed in exasperation.

"Not to anyone Iíve contacted."

They had ditched the jeep before dawn and Julian hired a sedan, so that they could continue on during the day. The menace in New Orleans was contained; the Brujah in Miami was gone; Washington was all right; only New York was left, but they were traveling west. Julian was determined to get back to San Francisco and reassess the situation before heading for New York.

"According to Bellinda, Stephen is in New York," Julian was saying. "Whether thatís true is another matter. Also, if Bellinda betrayed me, the question is, where does Stephen stand?"

"Itís a good question," Daedalus responded.

Julian gave the Nosferatu a sly look.

"What about you?"

"What about me?" Daedalus asked.

"Youíve painted that red hair often enough." Julian hated himself for doing this. "Whatís she to you?"

"Ah, I never did get that color right, did I?" Daedalus said shrugging. "That was the only interesting thing about Bellinda as far as I was concerned. Iím more partial to the soulful nature of females."

It made Julian smile.

"Yes, in contrast to me, you were always an incurable romantic, Daedalus. If Bellinda ever had a soul, it was an evil spirit."

Daedalus kept vigil on the new jet that had been purchased during the time he had been in the east. It had picked them up in Houston and was now on its way to San Francisco. Julian, who had driven all the way to Texas, slept through the flight.

Once they were in San Francisco, Daedalus saw that Arthurís death weighed on Julian harder than Cashís disappearance. In spite of the flurry of activity that ensued following their arrival, Julian seemed to brood a lot, often staring into the fire, oblivious of what was going on around him.

Frank Kohanek came to the mansion as soon as he found out that Julian Luna was back. To his surprise, he was let in without questions.

"What the hell is going on?" he asked Julian belligerently.

The Prince stared at him defiantly.

"Itís none of your business," he answered. "What do you want?"

"If itís none of my business, then why do your people call me at odd hours and ask me to relay messages to you?" Frank retorted.

"Who contacted you?" The anger in Julianís voice was gone.


Frank repeated exactly what the Gangrel had said to him, and watched Julianís horrified expression. "Do you understand what he was trying to say?"

Julian nodded.

"Cash is dead and Sasha will never forgive me. Iíve lost two of my most trusted friends and somebody very close to me is after my hide." He laughed suddenly. "Iíd offer you the job as my bodyguard, if it werenít so dangerous."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Frank was taken aback, "but I already have a job. Compared to your offer, I think being a detective in San Francisco P. D. seems rather cozy."

"I was joking," Julian said. "Iím sorry I snapped at you. Stay away from me and from other Kindred. The war isnít over yet."

"The war?" Frank immediately jumped at the disclosure. "What war?"

But Julian refused to say anything more, and Frank noticed how tired and depressed he was.

"For what itís worth, let me know if I can be of any help." Frank could hardly believe that he had said that. "I mean it," he added.

"Thank you," Julian said quite seriously. "Letís hope that youíll never have to live up to that promise. Take care of yourself."

"You too," Frank responded.

As he left the mansion, Frank Kohanek became aware of the thin thread of friendship that had started to form between himself and the Prince of San Francisco.

A new course of action was decided upon.

But before theyíd move on New York, Julian told Daedalus that he wanted to visit Caitlin first.

"I need a break," he had said tiredly.

To his relief, the Nosferatu didnít protest, only insisted on accompanying Julian to the north.

"Iím not leaving you alone for a minute anymore," Daedalus decided, and Julian made a face.

"I hope you donít mean that literally," he said, embarrassing the Nosferatu.

"Just remember what happened in New Orleans," Daedalus retorted, and it was the Princeís turn to look embarrassed.

The Nosferatu took advantage of the moment.

"Are you going to tell me what happened there?" he asked.

Julian sat down heavily.

"Canít you guess? Do I have to spell it out for you?" Julian was trying to cover his discomfiture with anger. "Besides, it doesnít matter anymore, heís dead!"

But Daedalus refused to be put off.

"Julian, Iím not interested in the intimate details of... whatever transpired between you two. But youíve lost one of your closest friends. Youíll have to face it sooner or later."

Julian frowned, his face contorting in pain.

"Daedalus, it saddens me more than I can express. I treated him so badly, and then he saved my life."

Julian had promised himself that he would not tell anyone about what had happened between him and Arthur, and, had Arthur survived, he would have kept that promise. But Daedalusí compassionate face invited confidence.

He told the Nosferatu everything. If he expected his friend to be shocked, he was mistaken.

"Iíve seen Arthur look at you," the wise Nosferatu said. "You must have been blind. I knew that something was bound to happen. Iím sorry that heís dead, but if he lived, youíd hurt him even more."

The comment shocked Julian into silence. He was acutely aware that Daedalus was expressing his own feelings - Arthurís better off dead.

What kind of a monster am I? he asked himself in horror.

"How could I let this happen?" he said aloud.

The five hundred years old Nosferatu smiled reassuringly.

"We all make mistakes," he said. "Youíll have to forgive yourself. Iím sure Arthur forgave you."

Julian shuddered inwardly.

"Do you know what the most strange thing about it is? I didnít like it, but I enjoyed it! Can you understand that?"

"Of course I can," Daedalus answered. "Iíve made my own mistakes."

Julian stared at the Nosferatu in disbelief.

"I thought you were infallible," he tried to joke, but Daedalus didnít take the bait.

"Nobody is!" he retorted and left.


Caitlin was aware that she was dreaming because she couldnít move. Someone was making love to her; she was unable to see who it was, but she enjoyed her dream. She realized with disappointment that she was waking up, the echo of the pleasure fading away as her ability to move returned. The intimate touch was interrupted, but the hand was still there, and she knew instantly that her dream had become a reality as she recognized the man who held her. She turned to him, her eyes still closed.


He broke off her whisper with a kiss, but she started to giggle.

"How long did it take you to wake me?"

"Less than a minute." She felt the muscles in his face move as he smiled in response.

She hugged him. He was fully dressed and her hands started to remove his clothes. With his help she managed to get him naked within seconds. They clung to each other, their urgency revealing their fear of being parted again.

Caitlin was aware that she was observing Julian during their lovemaking as she had never done before. He was always in control, even when he apparently relinquished it. Always conscious of what he was doing and what was happening to her. And endlessly patient. Even when he used force - especially when he used force - he was perfectly aware of the effect he was creating. It was almost uncanny, how he could lead her wherever he wanted, as he did when they played chess. It made her aware of how clumsy and inexperienced Nick had been. Somehow, it made her infidelity less serious.


"Julian, I must talk to you."

The hesitation in Caitlinís voice made Julian freeze, a sinking feeling of fright contorting him inside.

"Whatís wrong, love?"

She didnít look at him.

"I... please, donít get mad. Iíve been with another man."

The profound feeling of relief made Julian light-headed.

Nothing worse, he thought. He knew that jealousy would come later, but at this moment he was just happy that what she said had nothing to do with his being Kindred.

"I love you Julian," she continued. "It just happened. I guess, I was lonely..." Her voice trailed off.

He took hold of her, making her rest against his chest, and she started to cry, her tears hot on his skin. He touched her face, making her look up at him.

"Caitlin..." He didnít know what to say. Somehow it doesnít matter wouldnít sound right. His grip around her hardened and he was surprised by the sudden flare of desire that engulfed him with painful abruptness.

She had expected another reaction, and gasped as he pressed into her, mindless of her resistance. They both knew that his violence was an instinctive attempt to obliterate the other man from her body and her mind.

"Julian," she sobbed, "youíre hurting me!"

He didnít seem to hear.

"Youíre hurting me," she shouted, "like he did!"

He tore away from her, terrified.

"Whoís hurt you?!" he demanded. There was anger in his voice.

Seeing that he was scaring her, he tried to calm down.

"Caitlin, what happened?"

But she was shaking her head.

"It was all my fault!" she continued to cry. "Iím so sorry! Julian, please, forgive me!"

"Shall I forgive you that someone has hurt you?" He touched her face again. "Caitlin, thatís the last thing you have to worry about!"

He held her until she calmed a little, and then asked, making his voice light:

"Someone I know?"

Caitlin shook her head.

"No..." She rubbed her face against his chest. "I... it wasnít... nice. I didnít realize... I donít want to be with anybody but you. Oh, Julian... It was just bad."

He had trouble following her line of thought but he understood that she had not enjoyed the experience. That was satisfying enough. He decided against asking about it, and thought of his own stunt with poor Arthur. It shamed him that he didnít have the guts to tell her about it. He didnít want to shock her.

Well, it seems like we both got what we deserved!

The thought made him laugh.

"Bad sex is probably the best cure for cheating," he said, and to his relief Caitlin laughed too.

"Youíre absolutely right!" she said with emphasis.

She had avoided Nick since it happened.

For once, Julian and Daedalus were in agreement.

To land Julianís private jet at one of the New York airports would be suicide. They would have to separate in spite of the Nosferatuís vehement conviction that he shouldnít let the Prince out of his sight.

Daedalus was shaking his head in frustration.

"No Cash, no Arthur," he was saying, "I wouldnít trust anyone else to go with you. Unless Sonny..."

But Julian wouldnít hear of it.

"I need Sonny to watch over Cameron. Lillieís not up to it, and with Cash gone, the Brujah shouldnít be left to run San Francisco all on his own. Itíll be some time before the Gangrels choose a new Primogen. Itís up to us, Daedalus."

Julian had sneaked out of the astronomerís house in the dead of night. He needed to feed, and he knew that Daedalus would find him once he was out in the open. In spite of the cold, they were walking slowly in the frozen woods, the snow crackling under their feet. Julian was not dressed right for the severe cold, and he shivered now and then uncontrollably. He had not expected to stay out for long, but the discussion stretched on and the discomfort was starting to annoy him.

"Daedalus," he said at last, "you take the jet; let it go all the way to the east coast; get off somewhere on the way as near to New York as you dare. Then itís up to your Clansmen to get you there as soon as possible. Iíll cross the continent through Canada and sneak into the city from the north. It shouldnít take more than two or three days. Letís start out the day after tomorrow. Have the car pick me up early in the morning; then Iíll drop out of sight in Seattle. I should be able to cross the border and get to Vancouver within a few hours." They decided on a timetable of several meeting points in New York.

Julian shivered again and Daedalus took off his hooded cloak and put it around the Princeís shoulders. The Nosferatu never ventured above the ground without this concealing garment, and Julian thanked him for the friendly gesture. The cold was unpleasant but presented no danger. It would not make him sick or destroy Kindred tissue, but Daedalusí concern was more warming than the black folds of the thick fabric. It was too long for him, as Daedalus was several inches taller, and Julian tried to gather it about him, lifting the hem above the snow, lest he would step on it and trip. He remembered that he had always wondered how women could walk in their long dresses a hundred years ago without falling on their faces. He was unaware of the fact that wearing a long dress took some practice, and he was unable to move as gracefully in his borrowed attire as Daedalus used to. As they walked back, Julian lost his footing several times, making Daedalus laugh.

"Iím not very good at this," Julian commented dryly. "How could the ladies stand it?"

The Nosferatuís gray eyes glittered with mirth.

"Didnít you ever ask?" he wondered.

"As a matter of fact, I asked Lillie once. She said that she never thought about it. Must be a female prerogative," Julian mused.

As if he were supporting his own statement, he tripped and would have fallen had Daedalus not caught his arm, steadying him.

The Nosferatu continued holding him as they moved on, and Julian chose not to tell him that he could walk on his own. The powerful grip was reassuring and reminded him of Arthur, bringing a heat of embarrassment to his face. There werenít many Kindred who were stronger than Julian Luna, but Daedalus was one of them, just as Arthur had been. Julian hoped sincerely that the Nosferatu could not read his mind right now. He wouldnít appreciate being compared to Arthur, nor the content of Julianís thought. But the hand was there, and its touch made Julian aware of some peculiar bond between them, a bond of friendship of course, but not totally devoid of an erotic undercurrent.

They reached the home of James Byrne and Julian handed the cloak back to Daedalus.

"Be careful," they said to each other simultaneously and laughed.

The Nosferatu swept the cloak around himself and walked away briskly, the black folds fluttering behind him. He moved as gracefully as any woman in a long dress ever had. Within seconds, Julian lost the feeling of Daedalusí presence.

Caitlin was soundly asleep in the guestroom.

Julian had talked her into sharing it with him: the bed in her room was just too small. The covers had slid from her body, her naked back exposed as he got into bed. He made a conscious effort to increase the temperature of his skin, not wanting to wake her by touching her with cold hands. He let his fingers trace her spine lightly.

Humans, he thought. Warm, breathing, even when they sleep.

He moved closer when he was sure that he was at least as warm as she, his arm around her, letting his bare chest rest cautiously against her back. She made a soft purring sound and pressed against him, her body alluring even in her sleep. His hand slid down and he pressed his thigh between hers. She was wet and hot and he was making love to her before she woke up whispering his name.

Later, he made her tell him more about her unfortunate experience. Then he watched her face in triumph, when the intensity of the pleasure made her cry out loud, before he allowed his own reflexes to take over and thrust him into a head-spinning release.

Finally, when the morning came, Julian let her sleep again, convinced that whoever the human man was, he posed no threat.

Julian made it across the border without any problems and boarded the first plane that was bound east. Twenty hours and five changes later, he was in Boston, vowing vehemently that he would never enter a commercial airliner again. By the time he was nearing New York in a hired car, he no longer resembled the well-groomed Prince of San Francisco; he was tired and hungry, and the two-day beard-growth itched intolerably. He longed for a hot shower and a change of clothes.

He found a third-rate hotel and decided to do something about his appearance before starting to look for Daedalus or his messengers. But when he stood in front of a mirror, a razor in his hand, he could hardly recognize himself and decided that he should take advantage of the disguise that Nature provided. He didnít shave and let his hair dry into the wild curls of his youth. After putting on a pair of old jeans and a sweater that he had bought in a nearby second-hand shop, he looked again in the mirror. He still didnít look filthy enough to pass for a first-rate bum, but it would have to do. There were limits to what a Kindred could stand.

Using his credit cards might give him away, so he sold his expensive watch to someone in the street for a third of its value and bought a long military coat from a Russian sailor. Prepared to steal more money if necessary, Julian Luna dove into the New York night.

Servio was raving at his men.

"How could you lose him!?" he demanded, spitting out every word.

They had tried to intercept Julian Luna as he flew across the continent. The shortness of each flight had saved him. Each time they had tracked down his departure, he was already out of that particular plane, several hundred miles away. He had slipped past them in Boston, quite unwittingly, because he didnít look like the Ventrue Prince they had expected, and was already on his way to New York when they realized their mistake.

It was one of Servioís associates who pointed out that after two days of travel, Julian Luna would no longer look like the Julian Luna they knew. It was at that moment one of the gunmen recalled a rugged looking Ventrue he had seen. A few hours later they knew which car Julian had rented in Boston, but they knew that finding one particular car in New York was beyond their capabilities. They guessed right that Julian would stop using his credit cards once he was in the city.

The trail had gone cold.

Although Julian didnít know that his movements had been tracked almost all the way to New York, he acted as if Servio knew that he was in the city, making sure to keep a healthy distance between himself and any Kindred that crossed his path. He managed to keep the appointment with Daedalus as planned.

The Nosferatu looked his Prince over and smiled.

"Youíre really good at this, Julian," he said. "If I didnít know better, I might believe you to be an illegal alien."

"Iím neither illegal nor an alien!" Julian was in no mood for jokes, and had a habit of taking literally what was said on such occasions.

They were walking in the park, planning their next move.

"We must find Stephen," Julian was saying. "Heís the only one who can lead us to Servio."

They didnít care about the groups of humans that they encountered in the park, and the mortals avoided the tall hooded figure and his companion in a Russian military coat.

"Iíll find Stephen," Daedalus said. "Letís meet right here tomorrow night."

Julian was surprised again over how quickly the Nosferatu disappeared from his field of perception. As he walked out of the park, Julian was faced by four young men in leather outfits.

Humans, his senses told him at once. He wondered what they were after, knowing that he looked like he didnít own a nickel. But the young men were bored and looking for fun; a lonely immigrant might provide just that. Julian watched them, barely able to conceal his contempt as one of them started towards him, wielding a knife. The others stayed behind, not even trying to surround their prey. Within seconds Julian managed to fight down three of his attackers, the knife he had taken from the first didnít come to use. The last man ran away.

Julian opened a vein and then spat with disgust. All three were high on drugs and Julian would not drink their polluted blood. He had once fed from a drug abuser and it had made him sick for several hours. He knew that there were Kindred who were as addicted as humans could become. They would only feed from junkies and Julian considered them a sorry lot. He had never been addicted to anything, although he could enjoy the swift rush of euphoria that alcohol-containing blood could give. He found the smell of cigars nauseating and when he tried to smoke one of Daedalusí cigarettes it made him cough. He had never been able to understand the Nosferatuís fondness of the habit.

Shaking his head in disgust he left the unconscious men and started to look for someone else to feed from.

"Iíve located Stephen," Daedalus told him the next night, "but it wonít be easy to approach him."

"Have you seen him?" Julian asked. "Is he all right?"

"Heís fine," the Nosferatu responded. "But heís never alone, at least not during the night, and I donít think that we can contact him when there are other Kindred around."

Julian pondered over the information for a moment.

"Tell me where I can find him," he said at last, "and Iíll seek him out during the day."

"I donít want you to go there alone!" Daedalusí worry made him raise his voice. "As long as Iím with you, nobody can harm you. But if youíre on your own..."

He stopped when he saw Julian smile. What he had said wasnít empty boasting, and the Prince knew that with the Nosferatu Primogen at his side he was almost invincible. But there were limits to what Daedalus could do, and moving around in full daylight was out of the question.

"Iíll be cautious," Julian said. "If I donít get back to you by tomorrow night... youíll know what to do."

Daedalus gave him the address and stayed behind as Julian walked away: a slim, lonely figure in a funny-looking military coat. The Nosferatu wondered with apprehension if he would ever see his Prince again.

Julian knew that he was walking into a trap. However, he still had no idea who had set it.

Daedalus had had plenty of opportunities to get rid of him if he had wanted to, but a Nosferatu who kills his own Prince will never be trusted by anyone, and the Nosferatu needed the trust of other Clans. If Daedalus wanted him dead, he must arrange for someone else to kill him.

If Daedalus wants me dead, Julian thought, then I might just as well die!

What if Cash werenít dead? But he was the one who had warned about a traitor, or was he trying to seed discontent? Lillie? Cameron? Why had Stephen dropped out of sight so suddenly? And why had he contacted Caitlin?

The questions whirled in Julianís mind making him dizzy. The Ancientís crazy plan was more or less destroyed. There was hardly any reason for Julian to risk his life, but if what Cash had told Frank Kohanek were true, Julian wouldnít rest until he found the traitor. He would not be able to go on otherwise. Cameronís open hostility was much easier to accept than an unknown enemy close to him. He had to know!

He set out in the early morning, knowing that most Kindred slept during the early hours of the day. He had shaved the beard off, well aware that if he got close enough, it would no longer protect him from being recognized. He had hated it anyway.

It was an old building, a warehouse of some sort, and Julian entered it cautiously as he had promised Daedalus. He moved soundlessly through the basement, acutely aware of every sign of life. But all he could sense were rodents, and, sure enough, a rat squeaked and scrambled from under his foot, escaping into a dark corner in search of safety.

He got as far as the second story, sorting out the confusing perceptions. Animals, humans, Kindred. A Brujah! But Julian was looking for a Ventrue. He knew that he should be able to discern his own blood brother among others, just as he could always discern Archon or the Kindred he himself had sired; the way humans always recognize their children or siblings. But no matter how much he strained his senses, he could not find Stephen.

He continued upwards, secure in his knowledge that he could always get out if discovered. He had seen windows before he had entered the building. Half an hour later he was quite sure that Stephen was not there and decided to get out as discretely as he had come in.

As he turned back, his senses told him that there were several Kindred below him, and knew that the trap had been sprung. He ran towards the only window that he could see, but stopped halfway there. The iron bars would be too much even for his inhuman strength. Daedalus might have been able to break them, but Julian didnít even try. He turned again, deciding instantly to fight his way out, or die trying.

He was surprised at how easily he could get through the group of Brujahs that tried to block his way. They had no guns and were apparently trying to catch him alive.

Over my dead body, he thought with rage, as he ran down the stairs.

He came to a steel door and was trying to wrench it open when someone grabbed his shoulders and yanked him back. He let himself fall backward, hoping that his weight would trip the assailant. They hit the floor hard, Julian on top, and he managed to squirm out of the otherís hold. The fallen Brujah slashed at Julianís arm with his claws, ripping the fabric of the sleeve and tearing through skin and muscle; Julian fought back, crushing his attackerís face. He realized too late that he had lost valuable time in the struggle as several Kindred closed in on him as he was scrambling to his feet. Something hit him hard on the back of the head and he fell over the faceless Brujah. Another blow wiped out the world around him.

When Julian regained consciousness he wished immediately that he hadnít.

He was strapped against a concrete wall, spread-eagled, naked, his wrists and ankle joints in steel clasps, secured with heavy chains. He tried to move but knew at once that his strength would not suffice to break free. The scene in front of him was picked from the worst nightmares of the Dark Ages. He saw knives and hammers, and something was being heated in the fire until it glowed red. The fear constricted his throat and made his skin crawl.

During the century and a half of his life as a Kindred, Julian Luna had sustained almost every injury that was possible; he had been shot and stabbed several times; he had been beaten and kicked, his bones had been broken; and he knew the pain that was caused by fire. But he had never been tortured in cold blood, and the horror of what awaited him made him wish for mortality. He closed his eyes and turned his face away, the revulsion a bitter taste in his mouth.

"Prince Julian!" The derision in the familiar voice made him look up.

"Stephen?" he stared at his blood brother uncomprehending. "What..."

A vicious kick to his groin made him gasp and sag in his chains. The pain would have rendered a human unconscious, and Julianís vision blurred. His head swam and he realized with gratitude that he was on the verge of fainting. Cold water was thrown in his face in the next moment and his awareness returned. He blinked several times before he could see again.

"Donít faint again or youíll regret it!" The contempt and hate in Stephenís voice hurt almost as much as the physical pain. "Well, my little brother, the moment of truth has finally arrived."

There was a cigarette in Stephenís hand and he made a show of lighting it. Stephen had never smoked, and Julian knew what was coming before the cigarette was extinguished against his face. He tried to jerk his head away and hit hard against the wall. Another cigarette was lighted, but this time the lighter wasnít turned off. The tiny flame came closer and Julian could feel the roughness of the concrete bite into his back as he tried to press away from the fire. The flame licked the skin on his chest and was shoved against his armpit.

He heard his own scream, mingled with the laugh of the other man.

"I wish I could destroy you, but this will have to do." The cigarette hissed as it died, leaving a painful blister where he had already been hurt by Stephenís knee.

Several cigarettes later his voice broke and he could no longer scream. The Kindred physiology repaired the damage as soon as it was inflicted, the nerve endings destroyed by the heat regenerating immediately, more sensitive than before, the agony increasing incessantly. Water was splashed over him every time he fainted until his nervous system shut down entirely, sending him into a merciful coma.

The pain was the first thing he became aware of. He tried to scream, but he still had no voice. He shook violently, and it took some time before he understood that he was no longer restrained.

"Itís okay, itís okay, I got you out alive." The well-known voice made him freeze. "Youíll be all right."

"Stephen?" He opened his eyes. His blood brotherís face, an anguished frown on it, was leaning over him. "Stephen..." All he could manage was a hoarse whisper.

He tried to move, but the pain made him abandon that idea. He was laid out on a blanket that had been spread on the floor. A thin, wet sheet covered his aching body. Stephen was on his knees at his side, holding his hand.

"Donít move!" Stephenís voice was tender, quite different from what Julian remembered. "You need time to heal."

"What...? Why...?" A sob escaped Julian and he felt tears form in his eyes. He had screamed his head off in the cellar where he was tortured, but he had not cried. He tried to fight the tears back but didnít succeed.

"Itís okay," Stephen repeated. "You can cry now. He canít see you, itís all right. I got you out."

"Stephen, why?"

"I had to do it; he didnít trust me." Stephen was apparently appalled by Servioís demand. "It was quite a performance, eh?"

"The pain was real." Julianís face contorted. "It still is."

"He came down to inspect the damage when you passed out." Stephen turned away. "I knew he would... I could not pretend that I was hurting you. Servio, that ancient devil, he told me exactly what he wanted done. After I released you, and you were just lying there, face down... He came, I watched him grope you with his claws, he... " Stephen moved away, an expression of disgust on his face.

"What did he do?" Julian could hardly imagine anything more, but Stephen refused to continue, shaking his head.

Julian stared at his blood brother for a long time, horrified, as Stephen began to retch, and then doubled over and threw up. Julian closed his eyes, making an effort to concentrate. For a fleeting moment he was able to will the pain of the burns and blows away, and then he knew what had been done to him. He wished that his stomach werenít empty because he wanted to throw up too. Instead he tasted the bitterness of bile that rose in his throat, together with the knowledge of the ultimate degradation.

"I was wrong when I told you that Servio wanted to be you, he wanted you," Stephen explained at last unnecessarily.

Julian allowed the physical pain to engulf him again, momentarily grateful for its overwhelming presence.

* * *


The pain subsided as hours went by.

Nowadays, Julian was not a person who would let anything make him feel sorry for himself, the way he used to when he was mortal. He didnít let his anger take over either, well aware that rage would impair his ability to think clearly. And he needed clarity now, more than he had ever needed it before. Why was he still alive? Why the torture? The indignity?

Although it was Daedalus who had sent him into the trap, Julian was now sure that the Nosferatu had not betrayed him. Daedalus would have sent him to his death if he had had a reason to do that, but he wouldnít have had him tortured. Daedalusí character could allow murder and treason, but not atrocity.

Suddenly, Julian remembered something that he hadnít thought of before. Caitlin had mentioned Stephenís request that she should contact him if she heard from Julian. Stephen hadnít asked her to relay any messages to him or to request that Julian contact him. His blood brother had been trying to find him without letting him know that he was looking for him! The traitor!

The torture - the pain had been real. The rescue - a fake. Why? Had Servio really done what Stephen had accused him of? Or was it Stephen, Julianís own blood brother? Why? Why all the attempts on his life before, and why wasnít he dead now?

As the pain grew more and more distant, Julian became more and more convinced that it had been inflicted for a reason.

They no longer want me dead because they need me, he thought. What for?

The obvious struck him all at once, making him flinch. He, Julian Luna, had been able to beat them back onto their own turf. In order to regain what they had lost, they intended to force him into helping them. With torture!? Sexual abuse!? The idiots were trying to break him down! He almost laughed.

Julian bolted up, disregarding the residue of the discomfort. As he had expected, the steel door of the windowless room that he was in was locked. He would not be able to break it down and decided against trying. He needed to conserve his energy. He sat down.

Think! What options do you have?

He was sure that the torture would be tried again, and soon.

Julian was as afraid of pain as any sentient being. Knowing that he could not be damaged or maimed permanently didnít help at all.

I canít pretend to give in too easily. Theyíll know that Iím bluffing. A shiver of disgust went through his body. I canít pretend that Iíve gone mad or theyíll kill me.

He closed his eyes, wondering how much time had passed since he had been caught. He wasnít hungry yet, so it couldnít be more than twenty four hours. In another two or three days heíd be too weak to withstand anything, unless heíd be allowed to feed.

Conserve energy!

Julian Lunaís vital signs dwindled down to almost nothing within seconds, but his brainís activity speeded up, searching for possible solutions.

"Quite a performance!" Servio was saying. "But you didnít have to go that far. After all, he was unconscious."

Stephen shrugged.

"I told him it was you," he said. "In any case, the abuse... itís the only way to break his spirit," he laughed derisively. "But he didnít like being tortured either. I donít think it will take much longer to brainwash him completely. He could do unspeakable things for Archon, heíll do things for us."

Servio nodded.

"Just make sure that he trusts you and that his Nosferatu doesnít find him."

"Donít worry," Stephen retorted. "Heíll do what I want him to do."

This wasnít Arthur, whose advances Julian had invited half-consciously out of curiosity. Arthurís overwhelming strength had been welcome. Being forced had freed Julian partly from the responsibility for what had happened. Deep down he knew that if he had protested strongly enough and made real effort to resist, Arthur would have backed off. Arthur had known that too. Afterwards, Julian had wondered if women did the same thing. Probably they often did, he had concluded.

But this had been sheer violence. No amount of protesting or resistance would have saved him this time. A stake had been driven through his chest, immobilizing him effectively. He had been beaten severely again and his left wrist had been broken. There had been hands and bodies and more pain. He hadnít seen them, as his face had been pressed against the concrete floor. But he had been conscious most of the time, and was able to discern the different clans. The only Ventrue among them had been his blood brother.

The door to his cell was opened for a moment and someone was thrown in. In spite of the dark Julian could see the unconscious heap on the floor. The gnawing hunger made him move closer. The mortal was very young, a teenage boy, and Julian had to fight his reluctance. The Kindred law forbade feeding from children. But he needed the blood now, needed it to heal and regain his strength: to survive.

He opened an artery in the youngsterís neck and drank until there was no life left in the thin body. Julian Luna couldnít afford to be humane anymore. The blood revived him swiftly. His injuries disappeared almost immediately. The broken wrist mended within minutes. Julian looked at the dead boy without pity. Somebody had decided to feed him. He had a friend here.

Julian watched Servio carefully.

It had been decades since he had last seen the Prince of New York, but the Ancient was of course unchanged. Servio remembered the Roman Empire, although there was nothing imperial about him. His very name suggested that he had been a slave. He had already been old when he was Embraced. There was a big bald patch on the top of his head, the hair that was left was white. He was short and heavy-set but not fat.

Servio peered at Julian near-sightedly and his head moved from side to side in mocking sadness.

"Archonís young prot√©g√©," he chucked. "Julian... Julian Luna, isnít it?"

Julian looked at the Prince of New York intently without responding. According to the rules of the Masquerade, they were supposed to be equals.

Whatís gone wrong? Julian wondered.

Servio was a Ventrue, incomparably older than Julian Luna, but apart from that there shouldnít be anything mysterious about him. At least not as far as the Prince of San Francisco was concerned. They were of the same Clan, Embraced and bred to rule. The Ancient got up from his chair and moved closer. Julian crossed his arms over his chest, resisting an urge to protect himself. Everything inside him screamed run, but he knew that he wouldnít get anywhere.

"Come, come," Servio was saying. "Letís talk."

He put an arm around Julianís shoulders and led him towards a couch. Julian managed to keep his muscles relaxed; he didnít flinch at the old Kindredís touch, nor did he try to get away, remembering what Arthur had told him.

Servio smiled and Julian smiled back. He listened carefully as the Ancient described his demented vision of the future. The Romans had been able to subjugate most of the known world in their time. As Servio saw it, it could be done again.

Wasnít he aware that most of his supporters had been wiped out already? Julian wondered. Didnít he realize that if the Masquerade were broken, the humans wouldnít rest until the entire Kindred population was wiped out? It was the secrecy that protected them, not their strength or cunning. They were just too few, and had nothing with which to fight the fears of men. The mortals had wiped out whole nations because of different skin color or beliefs, and those were of the same species. How could Servio imagine that the Kindred could divide and rule the human race? Nothing would unite the humans as would a common enemy!

The Ancient tightened his grip on Julianís shoulder; he had to fight the desire to tear the offending hand off.

"You can rule with me," Servioís voice was lowered to a tempting whisper. "Iíll make sure that none of them touches you again." He pointed at the Kindred who hovered in the other end of the room and Julian looked at them. They were staring at him, their hostility quite apparent.

Stephen was standing apart from them, an angry frown on his face.

Has Servio promised him the same thing that he promises me now? Julian wondered. His gaze met that of his blood brother and he smiled, a warm, promising smile; then he looked back at Servio.

"I just donít see how you intend to make it all work," he said.

Let him believe that Iím at least curious, he thought.

The Ancient continued his tirade but Julian was no longer listening. He was thinking furiously.

If Stephen thinks that Iíll replace him as Servioís favorite, heíll kill me! I must make him believe that I trust him.

Julian was alone again in his cellar.

He was sure that someone would come; someone would try to forge an alliance with him. One against the other: Servio or Stephen. The door opened and Stephen stepped in. Julian shivered inside. He had hoped that it would be Servio, imagining that the old madman would be easier to fool. Stephen sat down on the floor beside Julian, resting his back against the wall.

"Well, what do you say, little brother?" he said after a momentís thoughtful silence.

Julian shrugged.

"What is there to say? Iím tired and hungry..." He looked at his blood brother sideways and saw Stephen nod.

"Iím sorry about that. I asked Servio to let me feed you but he refused."

Julian suppressed a smile. Whoever had thrown that mortal boy into his cell did it without Stephenís knowledge. The body had been gone in the morning; it had been removed while Julian was asleep. Someone was trying to keep him alive and alert.

Whatís going on in this pit of snakes? Julian asked himself.

"It has healed." Stephen had taken Julianís arm and touched the wrist, bringing back the echo of the pain when it had snapped.

"Of course," Julian responded. Stephen had stated the obvious. "Iím still Kindred."

Stephen held on to his hand and Julian summoned all of his willpower not to wrench it away. Stephen moved closer and Julian steeled himself before what was coming.

Somehow, Julian had found the ability to submit himself to the horror, accepting the pain, refusing to let his blood brother know how badly it hurt. Even hiding the relief when it was over.

"You and I." Stephenís voice floated in the darkness. "Together weíll be invincible."

Julian listened to his blood brotherís ravings as intently as he had listened to Servioís.

"Go on!"

As long as Stephen talked, he kept still. Julian was hard pressed not to flinch every time his blood brother touched him. He clenched his teeth, fighting back nausea, and moved restlessly, searching a more comfortable position. Finding out this way that Stephen was a full-fledged sadist was more than Julian could stomach. He understood now why Archon had exiled Stephen to the cold north all those years ago, and why his Sire had been displeased by the fact that Julian had kept contact with his blood brother. As usual, when it came to other men, Julian had been blind.

If he tries anything again, Iíll kill him! he thought with vehemence. I donít care whatíll happen afterwards. The humiliation was even worse than the pain.

Julian thought of all that he had lost: Archon, who had been more of a father to him than his own father had ever been. Cash, loyal to the point of defiance. Alexandra... Such a waste. Arthur, the valiant knight. In truth, he had died unnecessarily.

Julian realized with gratitude that what Arthur had made him experience helped him now. He was sure that if he hadnít had the knowledge that Arthur had given him, he would have reacted differently. He would have lashed at his blood brother in rage, regardless of the consequences. He thought of Daedalus.

You and I, he repeated in his mind what Stephen had said, but meant something entirely different.

Daedalus, if I get out of here, Iíll never let you out of my sight!

Julian Luna had always accepted the presence of his bodyguards; it was almost a tradition. But he had never felt in need of protection; now he did. And he wanted Daedalus at his side: nobody else. He thought of the only time when Daedalus had used his strength against him, stopping him from attacking Cameron after Archonís death. Right now Julian was in sore need of Daedalusí strength and protection, and at last he admitted it to himself.

Julian curled up against the wall when the pain was gone. Stephen droned on about his own vision of the new world order, but Julian was no longer listening. He was trying to disengage himself from the revulsion and loathing he felt, but it was in vain. What had been done to him would not be shut out of his mind.

The voice came closer, its quality changed and Julian stiffened in dread. He tried to move away when a hand touched his chest, but his arms were caught.

"Julian," Stephenís urgent whisper was close to his ear, "you donít want me to break anything again, do you?"

But Julian bolted up with a snarl, his eyes shining, his claws out, his fangs bared. Stephen let out a deranged laugh.

"Itís so much better!" he shouted. "Just resist!" And Julian slashed at his blood brotherís face with a roar.

The door to the cell was opened suddenly and they were both blinded momentarily by the burst of light.

When Julian woke up, he found himself wrapped tightly in some coarse cloth. He lay quietly, trying to figure out where he was. The droning of engines and the slight vibrations told him that he was aboard an aircraft. He inhaled sharply and suddenly recognized the smell and touch of the fabric that was restraining him: Daedalusí cloak! He tore it from his face and looked around. He was stretched out across three seats, swathed in Daedalusí protective garment; the Nosferatuís anxious face was leaning over him.

"Julian, please, try to stay in one piece!" Daedalus was saying, as the Prince stared at him uncomprehending. The Nosferatu would not be trying to make feeble jokes unless something was terribly wrong.

Julian sat up abruptly. The pain that shot through his body made him regret his action. Daedalusí supporting arm was around his shoulders, easing him down carefully, until he was supine again.

"Just stay put," Daedalus said, "and youíll be all right."

"Whatís wrong with me?" Julian asked.

"Your neck is broken. He tried to kill you!"

Julian frowned trying to remember what had happened, but the images his mind provided were a foggy blur. He had attacked Stephen; then the door had been flung open and Servio had come in, shouting... He couldnít remember what happened afterwards.

"Servio?" he asked, but Daedalus shook his head.

"Actually, Servio saved your life. When I got there, Stephen was twisting off your head, while Servio was twisting off his. Iíve never seen anything like it before. By then you were out cold and they were screaming obscenities at each other, each claiming that you belonged to him. I got this feeling that they intended to split you in two."

Daedalus was silent for a moment, thinking, then looked Julian straight in the eyes.

"What did you do to them? What did you offer?" he asked.

Julian was trying to shake his head but his neck protested with painful cracking.

"I honestly didnít do anything except listen to them," he answered.

"Is that why they almost tortured you to death and then killed each other over you?" The look on Daedalus face told Julian that the Nosferatu didnít believe him.

A shiver went through the Princeís body, turning into violent shaking. His fingers closed forcefully on Daedalusí hand.

"They are dead!" he exclaimed. "Are you sure?"

The Nosferatu shook his head in mock distaste.

"I buried them," he responded. "After all, weíre the undertakers of the Kindred and for the Kindred."

Julian relaxed but didnít let go of Daedalusí hand.

"Iíve never thought that such a nightmare was possible," he whispered.

"What happened?" Daedalus asked, but the Prince shook his head in spite of his injured neck. His determined expression told the Nosferatu that this time no coaxing in the world would make Julian talk. Whatever had happened to him, the Prince would keep it to himself, as if he were mute. But Daedalus had his own suspicions. He knew what sort of a person Stephen had been, and why Archon had exiled him.

"No," Julian said at last. "I just want to forget."

He looked at Daedalusí hand that he was holding onto and added:

"If I ever tell you again that I can take care of myself when you donít think that I can, you may just laugh right up in my face."

He let go of Daedalusí hand and closed his eyes, his face contorting. The Nosferatu saw the tears and looked away feeling remorse. He had allowed his Prince to be tortured for two days and nights. No regrets could change that now.

The Nosferatu Primogen of New York had been quite clear in his demand: Servio had to die, but no Nosferatu could kill him. So Daedalus had sent in Julian Luna, relying on the resourcefulness of the Prince, just as Archon had relied on it in the past. The New York Nosferatu had made sure that Julian was fed and kept alive. It was he who had made Servio believe that Julian was the key to their success. Daedalus had been loyal to his Clan, but now, looking at the shaking body of his friend, the Nosferatu Primogen wondered if it were worth the prize.

Lillie was the first one to realize that there was something different about Julian. A very subtle change had taken place, but Lillie wouldnít be a Toreador Siren if she hadnít noticed. Julian had always acknowledged her presence in a way that showed on some neurological level that she was female and he was male. It was an instinct that he wasnít aware of; it didnít matter that they were no longer lovers. It was there, towards every woman, young and old alike. But now, as he greeted everyone around the conclave table, his glance moved past Lillie as if she were an inanimate object. He had never done that before, even when he was angry with her, even after he had fallen in love with Caitlin.

What might have happened in New York that would have neutralized Julianís sexuality? Lillie wondered.

Julian had returned to San Francisco apparently victorious, but he was in a bad mood, more impatient than ever.

Lillie already knew of Stephenís betrayal and Cashís and Arthurís deaths. She would have expected rage and sorrow, but there was an air of mental despair about him that made her suspect that something disastrous had happened to Julian himself. She didnít dare to question him but stayed behind after the meeting and followed Daedalus to his cellar.

"Whatís wrong with him?" she asked the Nosferatu Primogen without preamble.

He looked at her, his face disclosing nothing.

"Let it be, Lillie!" There was a sadness in Daedalusí voice that Lillie had never heard before. "Just let it be!" he repeated. It scared Lillie.

For all of Julianís conviction that he wasnít addicted to anything, Lillieís considered opinion was that the Prince was addicted to sex. It was a part of his character, just as were his temper and his elaborate way of speaking. But now, something had happened that had changed his personality, Julian Luna was no longer whole. It scared Lillie indeed.

Julian and Daedalus did not speak of what had transpired in New York. The Nosferatu did not inquire again about what had happened to Julian during the time he was imprisoned there. The Prince didnít ask about how Daedalus had found him and what happened between that moment and his awakening on the jet. Stephenís name was not mentioned again. The Nosferatu never told Julian that he had killed the other torturers, one by one; he had not hesitated for one moment.

Daedalus kept the golden bracelet that Arthur had given Julian in New Orleans. He hid it among some other secret possessions in his cellar. There was the hatchet that Julian had used to separate Goth from his head, as well as the glass from which Julian had drunk the wine with droplets of Daedalusí blood. It was a shrine that would be destroyed if anybody but Daedalus tried to open it. It was a shrine that contained Daedalusí worship of his Prince.

Julian had banished every thought of Caitlin from his mind during his ordeal, sure that he would not survive. But now, it was all over. There was no trace of the injuries he had sustained, except in his memory, and he knew that sooner or later he would have to face reality. He would have to face Sasha, whose accusing eyes followed him whenever they met, and he would have to face Caitlin, although everything inside him balked at the very thought of intimacy. It had gone so far that he hated being naked and slept with his clothes on; he often cried when he was alone, out of shame and humiliation.

After a couple of days however, he gathered up his courage and called Caitlin. He told her that he would come to fetch her soon. In the meantime, there was Sasha.

She came to see him, unbidden, as he sat pondering over the best way to tell her about Cash.

"Sasha!" Julian looked at his young relative with apprehension, but before he could say anything more, she came forward and took hold of his arm.

"Julian! Iím so sorry!" she blurted out. "I should have come to you before - months ago!"

Julian frowned.

"What are you talking about?"

"I saw her!" Sasha continued. "I saw them when they took her out of the Brujahís compound."

Julian repeated his question.

"It was her. Caitlin!" Sasha said. "She had been blindfolded, but I recognized her anyway."

Julian stared at Sasha in stupefied silence.

"And you waited until now before telling me?!" he asked angrily at last. "Why?"

"I was afraid," Sasha sniffled. "I was afraid that there would be a lot of fighting, and that Cash would be hurt."

Julian sat down heavily.

"I knew all the time that it was Cameron. I do wish that you had had more trust in me. I never would have let Cash get hurt if I could have prevented it. Only I couldnít..." Julian looked away, unable to go on, and it was now Sashaís turn to stare at him.

"Has something happened to Cash?" she asked in a trembling voice.

"Sasha," Julian started, "Iím so very sorry, but I have reason to believe that Cash is dead."

"I knew it!" she sobbed. "I knew youíd get him killed!"

Julian wished that he could tell her that it wasnít his fault, but in all sincerity, he couldnít.

"Iím sorry," was all he could say, trying very hard to think of something with which to comfort her.

"Sasha, youíre young," he said at last. "Youíll be all right. Youíll get over it." He heard how lame it sounded and Sasha screamed at him.

"I hate you! Itís your fault! Everything is your fault! I wonít stay here another minute!" She turned abruptly but Julian was as swift as always and grabbed her by the arm before she reached the door.

"Where do you think youíre going?!" he shouted.

"Iím going where I belong," she hissed at him. "To the Brujahs."

She tried to disengage her arm from Julianís hold.

"Let me go!" she demanded. "You donít own me!" And he let go as if stung.

"Sasha, if you ever change your mind, your home is here," he said much more calmly, but she turned and ran away, leaving him, never seeing the tears in his eyes.

Iíve lost her too, Julian thought in desolation.

Nick was his usual angry self and believed that he had got Caitlin out of his system, when he ran into her in the library. Three weeks had passed since their encounter. He felt his heart start a war dance and his palms began to sweat; yet he couldnít walk away from her.

"Hi, Caitlin. How are you?" he managed to sound friendly.

She looked up and blushed.

"Hi, Nick."

"Uh... should I go away, or can you stand my sight?" he asked dejectedly. It made her smile.

"Itís all right," she responded. "Iím not afraid of you or anything. I just feel stupid."


A couple of people who sat nearby looked at them, making hushing gestures. The library was supposed to be silent. Caitlin blushed even more and Nick leaned close to her.

"Letís get out of here," he whispered. "We can talk, canít we?"

Caitlin nodded getting up.

They went to Nickís cottage; it took only a few minutes to drive there.

They sat in the kitchen, sipping the coffee that Nick had made.

"Iíll be going to San Francisco any day now," Caitlin said.

Nick looked straight at her.

"Why did you come here in the first place. Thereís nothing wrong with your father, is there?"

Caitlin shook her head.

"No... itís not dad." She hesitated for just a second. "Julian had some problems. He wanted me to stay out of that trouble."

"Yeah," Nick almost laughed. "Not very smart. Look what trouble youíve got yourself into here."

Caitlin blushed again and looked away as Nick continued.

"Is there really nothing between us?"

"Nick," Caitlin was still keeping her eyes averted, "I love Julian. Iím sorry." She sighed heavily. "When we... you and I... were together... It made me see how much I love him. It doesnít feel like I betrayed him. He said..."

"You told him!" Nick almost shouted making her wince.

"Yes. He was here a couple of weeks ago. Heíll be back soon to fetch me."

"What did he say?" Nickís voice became scornful. "Am I going to end up in a ravine, dismembered like poor Joe?"

Caitlin stared at him.

"Donít be daft!" she retorted. "I didnít tell him it was you, and even if I had, it wouldnít matter. Julian is not a murderer!" She was angry and there were tears in her eyes.

But Nick was angry too.

"What did he say? That it was all right for you to cheat? Maybe he cheats too!"

Nickís unfortunate choice of the word startled Caitlin.

"He said that bad sex is the best cure for cheating," she blurted out before she could stop herself. Caitlin saw that she had hit Nick where it hurt. His face set into an expressionless mask. She wanted to apologize, but before she could say anything, Nick got up and took hold of her arms.

"So..." he said coldly, "if heís so much better, why did you go to bed with me?"

"Nick, please!" She tried to get away from him, but he wouldnít let go, and started shaking her instead.

"Why," he hissed, "why?"

"Nick, please... " she repeated and started to cry in earnest. "I didnít mean to hurt anyone," she sobbed. "I didnít... I liked you... I... For Godís sake, Iím only human!"

Now it was Nick who reacted to her choice of the word.

"Youíre human, all right," he said harshly, taking hold of her face with one hand and forcing her to look into his eyes, "but Julian Luna isnít!"

Caitlinís eyes widened.

"Are you out of your mind?" she was whispering.

"Caitlin!" Nick was shouting again. "You love a vampire!"

"You are mad!" she screamed and jerked free of his hold, then turned and ran out of the cottage.

Nickís anger turned to worry when he didnít find Caitlin after twenty minutes. It was cold and dark, and he knew how easily one could get lost. After another fifteen minutes of searching he realized that he needed help. Caitlin would not survive a winterís night in the Washington woods. Nick didnít lock his cottage in case she came back while he was gone, and after calling the police station requesting help, he jumped into his pickup. Speeding dangerously, he made it to James Byrneís house in fifteen minutes. He ran to the door without turning off the engine.

He rang the bell and found himself face to face with the man he had the picture of.

"Well, for once itís before midnight." Caitlinís fatherís voice came from somewhere inside the house.

"Itís not Caitlin," Julian Luna said without looking away from Nick, who was just staring.

"Yes?" Julian cocked his head to one side looking up at Nick.

At the same time James Byrne came to the door.

"Ah, the police," he said, frowning. "Has something happened?" But Nick continued to stare.

Julian Luna looked as human as anyone did. He was even shorter than Nick had imagined. The photograph had not done him justice. He was very good-looking and Nick understood how he could have turned Caitlinís head. But he was pale and seemed unwell. There was an air of suffering about him that Nick recognized immediately. He had seen it often enough in victims of abuse. Apparently, Julian Luna had been hurt recently, and hurt badly. All of Nickís conviction about what Julian was crumbled to pieces.

"Itís Caitlin," Nick said. "We had a... a disagreement and she ran away. I canít find her."

"What? What are you saying?" James Byrne demanded, but Julian reacted without a word. He took hold of Nickís arm and moved towards the pickup.

"Shouldnít you put on a coat or something?" Nick said. Julian didnít even have his jacket on. Old Byrne had put on a quilted jacket and was coming after them.

"No. You stay in the house," Julian said to him, and to Nickís surprise the old man nodded.

"Iíll call the police," he said.

"Iíve already done that," Nick broke in. "Give him your jacket."

Caitlinís father took the jacket off and handed it to Julian, who took it and climbed into the pickup.

"Letís go!" There was something in his voice that made Nick obey immediately.

Nick broke all speed limits again on his way back, making all conversation impossible. However, Julian didnít show any interest in talking. Two police cars were waiting outside Nickís cottage when they arrived there. They had brought two dogs.

Julian jumped out, and ignoring everybody else turned to Nick.

"Where did she start?" he asked.

"Right here," Nick answered. "Out towards the edge of the woods." He pointed at the tracks in the snow. "Thatís her."

Julian started running along Caitlinís footprints and Nick followed with a curse.

"Wait!" he shouted. "Iíll get you a flashlight."

He realized with incredulity that he had no chance to catch up with Julian, and would have given up had Julian not stopped just as he came to the first trees. Nick reached him, panting, a flashlight in his outstretched hand, but Julian Luna didnít take it. Instead, he took off the jacket that James Byrne had given him and handed it to Nick.

"Are you mad!?" Nick exclaimed.

But Julian didnít care to respond. He threw the jacket to Nick, who caught it automatically.

"Donít let the dogs loose!" Julian said. He was gone in the next moment, leaving Nick staring after him.

"What the hell is going on?" The voice of his colleague made Nick turn. Another policeman with a dog on a leash reached them, repeating the same question.

Nick shrugged in exasperation.

"Donít let the dogs loose!" he repeated Julianís demand.

"Yeah, now we have two big city fools lost in the woods," the policeman commented.

"I donít think so," Nick retorted.

They followed the double tracks, flashing their lights, keeping the dogs in check. Nick was not surprised when he saw that the footprints of the manís shoes disappeared after a hundred yards. Instead there were the marks of a wolf. The white men didnít seem to notice or care, and Nick kept his discovery to himself. The dogs started to bark.

"Donít let the dogs loose!" Nick said again.

They continued deeper into the woods for another hour. Then Nick stopped them.

"Keep the damn dogs quiet!" he demanded angrily.

They could hear the sound of breaking twigs: something was moving towards them.

"Over here!" Nick shouted and ran towards the sound.

He bumped into Julian after just a few minutes, making him lose his balance. Julian fell on his back. Caitlin was in his arms, and he didnít let go of her. Nick went down on his knees and pried Caitlin from Julianís hold. She was unconscious, but alive. Her hands and face were cold but not frostbitten. She had been out in the cold less than three hours. She would be all right. Nick turned to Julian who was sitting in the snow, apparently exhausted.

"Can you go on if I carry her?" he asked quietly.

Julian got up unsteadily.

"Iím all right," he said. "I just hate the cold!"

"Here." Nick handed Caitlin back to Julian, and took off his coat and hung it over Julianís shoulders before reclaiming the unconscious woman.

They started back and met the other policemen soon. The dogs barked at Julian, and at the last moment, he stopped himself from snarling at them. He snarled at the policemen instead.

"Get these animals away from me!"

When they came to Nickís cottage and Caitlin was placed on Nickís bed, Julian started to remove her clothes immediately.

"Call a doctor," Julian said. "Call her father. Tell him sheíll be all right." He turned to Nick. "Do you have a bathtub?"

"No, just a shower," Nick answered.

"It will do."

Nick picked up the phone. As he talked to the doctor and then with James Byrne, he watched as Julian took off all of Caitlinís clothes without hesitation.

"Tell James to bring some clothes for her," Julian said, "and for me."

Nick repeated the demand. He looked on in silence as Julian examined Caitlin, concentrating on her feet and hands, then listening to her heart. She stirred and moaned.

"Turn on the shower," Julian said, adding, "hot."

He lifted Caitlin and, kicking off his shoes, walked into the shower.

Nick heard her scream angrily. Sheíll be all right, he thought.

The doctor came ten minutes later, and Nick knocked on the bathroom door and walked in, carrying several towels. Apparently, they hadnít heard him. Caitlin and Julian were standing under the shower, the steam almost hiding them. They were kissing, the hot water battering them. Nick walked out again and faced the doctor.

"Iím afraid your services wonít be required," he told the doctor. But Doctor Ray took the towels from Nickís hand and walked into the bathroom without knocking.

"Doctorís privilege," he said to Nick over his shoulder.

Nick heard Caitlin scream again and wished he were somewhere else. Just as he thought that the situation couldnít get more embarrassing, the doorbell started ringing and he guessed that it was the astronomer. For a moment he contemplated escaping through the window, then sighed and opened the door. As he had expected, it was Caitlinís father, a big bag in his arms. Fortunately, Nick was spared any questioning because Doctor Ray led Caitlin out of the bathroom swathed in a bath towel. James Byrne concentrated on his daughter. Nick took the bag that Caitlinís father had brought and emptied it contents on the table. He sorted out the menís clothes and went back to his bathroom with them.

This time Julian noticed Nickís entrance immediately, turned off the shower, took a towel and wiped the water off his face. Julianís clothes were a wet heap in a corner.

"It seems that Caitlin has come to no harm," he said.

"Sheíll be fine, judging from her reactions," Nick answered. "Are you okay?"

"Thereís nothing wrong with me," Julian looked at Nick frowning. "May I have that?" he pointed at the bundle of clothes in Nickís hand. "I assume that James Byrne has arrived?"

Nick nodded and Julian smiled.

"The good doctorís perfect timing," he said enigmatically. He noticed Nickís embarrassment and his smile became broader.

"Could you make some coffee while I get dressed?"


Nick escaped into the kitchen. While he was preparing the coffee, he was pondering over what he had seen. Julian Luna was also good-looking without his clothes on. In fact, he was better looking without his clothes than when dressed. He was apparently in good shape without being overly muscular. Maybe a shade too thin. What had surprised Nick, was the lack of any visible trace of injury. He had expected fresh wounds: there was no doubt in his mind that Julian Luna had come to some serious harm within the last week. The echo of the pain was there as evident as scars would have been. It seemed so strange.

What Nick didnít know, was that the Kindred, in spite of their healing capabilities, or maybe because of them, had a pain memory that far surpassed that of humans. While humans retained scars and aches after injuries to remind them of harm, but forgot most pain as soon as it was gone, the Kindred had merely their memories to rely upon to keep them out of harmís way. What Nick had seen was Julianís constant awareness of what had happened to him, magnified by the revolting deliberateness of the inflicted pain. Julian Luna carried his scars in his mind, and these particular scars would never disappear. Nick had also noticed that there was no bullet scar on Julianís leg.

Julian came into the kitchen a few minutes later and Nick gave him a cup of coffee saying:

"I donít have anything stronger at home."

"I just wanted something hot," Julian responded, downing the steaming liquid all at once, and held out the cup for more.

"Letís see how Caitlin is doing," he said after drinking another cupful.

She was dressed in a big woolly sweater and a pair of jeans and was sitting cross-legged on the bed, laughing at a pair of enormous manís socks that her father had brought and was now trying to make her put them on her feet.

"Look, if I try to walk with these things on, Iíll trip and kill myself!" she complained.

"You wonít have to walk," Julian said and they all looked at him.

Caitlin threw down the socks and jumped off the bed. She ran to Julian and hugged him pressing against him the way a frightened child nestles itself into a parentís embrace. Julianís arms locked around her instantly and he beckoned to the others with his head - leave.

Nick herded the older men out of his bedroom. He cast a last glance at the embracing couple before closing the door. They were holding on to each other like theyíd never let go.

Nick heard the voice of his oldest uncle in his head.

ĎIf heís got hold of that woman, thereís nothing left for you. Beware!í

No, thereís nothing left for me, Nick thought, but he had no energy left to get angry.

As Julian had promised, Caitlin didnít have to walk. He carried her out to her fatherís car and then into the house, but when he started up the stairs to her bedroom, old Byrne stopped him.

"Take her to the master bedroom," he said. "Iíll sleep in the guestroom."

Julian nodded gratitude and the astronomer nodded back.

"Good night."

Julian responded to Caitlinís kisses, but didnít press against her hand when she touched him, as he had always done in the past.

"Caitlin," he whispered, "letís get some rest." He sounded so tired that she accepted his refusal and went to sleep, curled against his side.

It dismayed her when she woke up alone in the morning. Before she had time to decide whether she should sulk or be worried, Julian came in, bringing her breakfast. But she pushed the tray aside and took hold of his hand, dragging him towards her. He allowed her to hold him but his reluctance was apparent, and when her hands became bold, he recoiled from her, scaring her.

"Julian, what is it? Are you angry with me?"

"Caitlin..." There was a crack in his voice and he hugged her. "I could never be angry with you!" He was shaking and she tightened her grip around him.

"Just hold me," he whispered. "Please, hold me!"

She felt him relax after some time and decided to give it another try. He stopped her immediately.

"Caitlin, I canít!"

She sat up and looked at him, frowning.

"Whatís wrong?"

But he couldnít bring himself to tell her.

"Just give me some time," he begged.

"Donít do this to me!" she exclaimed.

"Caitlin, itís not your fault! I... Iíve been hurt."

But Caitlin was relentless.

"Tell me what has happened!" she demanded.

She didnít own the empathy of Nick Marliss, but she could sense Julianís attempt to suppress something, and she would be damned if she would let him get away with it. Whatever had happened to him, she was there to help him get past it. As she saw it, it was her duty as well as her privilege.

At first Julian refused to divulge anything. Caitlin took hold of his hands.

"Iíll not let you go until you tell me," she said, knowing that her weakness was a formidable weapon against his strength. Julian would not use force to disengage his hands from her grip and was therefore unable to escape her interrogation.

He looked at their hands and smiled sadly, well aware of her manipulating trick.

"Caitlin..." he looked away, "someone whom I trusted betrayed me..." He pressed his lips together and his face contorted, then exhaled sharply. "He tortured me!"

He tried to get away from her and she let go of his hands, shocked. He sagged and she embraced him cautiously.

"Oh, Julian..." she whispered. He was shaking uncontrollably in her arms, and she remembered her own reaction after she had been raped.

"I wish youíd cry," she said and he pulled her close.

"Iíve done that," he whispered. "It didnít help much."

Caitlin didnít ask anything more and Julian didnít disclose any details. Whatever had happened, she could see that there was no physical pain anymore, but he hurt inside. It was difficult for Caitlin to imagine Julian as a victim of abuse, but nevertheless, what had been done to him had rendered him unable to be intimate with her.

Even Caitlinís father seemed to notice the despair in Julian but he didnít ask about its reason.

Nick Marliss was too angry to be afraid.

Eventually, he sought out Julian Luna. Nick was sure now that Caitlinís fianc√© was what he suspected him to be: a vampire. Neither was there any doubt in Nickís mind that Julian had killed Joe Montegna. Nick knew that he couldnít do anything about Joeís death, but he decided to confront Julian for Caitlinís sake, if nothing else. He observed the house and called the moment he saw Caitlin leave. Apparently, she was going out to do some shopping. James Byrne answered and Nick asked for Julian, who agreed to meet him only after Nick mentioned Frank Kohanek.

"Iíll come to your cottage," Julian said, "late tonight."

It made Nick wonder if he would survive the night, but he was too determined to back off.

It was long past midnight and Nick started to wonder if Julian would come at all. The thought that the vampire might turn out to be a coward made Nick both angry and relieved.

Suddenly, Julian Luna was there. Nick had not heard the car and he wondered how the man had come to his place. Well, it didnít matter; Nick had left the door unlocked on purpose. They looked at each other in silence for a long time. Julian leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest.

"You wanted to see me," he said, the question What do you want? implied in his statement.

Nick leaned back in his chair, his empty hands visible. He didnít want to provoke Julian Luna to violence.

"I know what you are," Nick said. To his surprise, there was no reaction from Julian. "Nobody will believe me," Nick continued, "except for my old uncles. But then, whoíd care what the Indians blabber about." A note of bitterness crept into Nickís voice as he rose from his chair. "However, Iíd like to know something."

Julian didnít move from where he stood, but he relaxed somewhat.

"Whatís on your mind?" His voice was soft, almost friendly.

Nick hesitated for just one second.

"Did you kill Joe?" he asked.

Julian Luna faced the Indian and his eyes didnít waver as he answered.


"How... how did you do it?"

"I ripped his heart out!" Julianís voice was harsh.

"Because he shot a bullet through your leg!?" Nick was appalled.

"No!" Julian was shaking his head. "Because he shot a bullet through my leg three inches from Caitlin!"

Nickís eyes became narrow slits and he sat down heavily.

"I wouldnít want you for my enemy," he said, and Julian smiled.

"No," he retorted, "you wouldnít." After a moment he added, "if Iím the one to decide, you wonít."

"Nothing can be done about Joe, but wouldnít it be better if you left Caitlin alone?" Nick asked softly. "Doesnít she deserve better?"

The question made Julian suspect that this must be the man who had been with Caitlin, and his eyes started to change. To his own surprise, he was able to fight back the urge to attack the mortal. Caitlin had made a mistake, thatís all. He exhaled slowly.

"Do you think that Caitlin wants me to leave her alone?" There was a shade of contempt in Julianís voice. "Because I donít!"

Nick remembered what he had seen in his own bathroom and his face darkened.

"If she knew what you are..." he started but Julian didnít let him finish.

"Oh, but she knows!" Julianís smile was openly condescending, the British accent exaggerating the insult. "She just doesnít want to admit it to herself. The simple truth is that she loves me. She prefers the embrace a of a vampire to that of a human."

Julian was aware that his cruelty was deliberate, but this man had made Caitlin run out into the cold night. Had Julian not been there to find her, she might have died in those woods. He wanted to hurt the mortal, if only with words, although he would have preferred an old-fashioned wallop. He realized with a feeling of triumph that he had succeeded in provoking Nickís rage as the mortal rose slowly to his feet.

Nick watched the other man carefully. Normally, he wouldnít be so cautious, as Julian was apparently unarmed. Nick was a head taller and at least thirty pounds heavier.

Julian stared back. His opponent was probably better trained and had greater reach, but Julian knew without doubt that he was incomparably swifter; and when it came to sheer strength, the big policeman had no chance.

As others had done in the past, Nick made the mistake of believing in his bulk. He attacked Julian Luna. But the Kindred just wasnít there, and Nickís fist flew through the air, his body following the swing. He would have fallen if Julian hadnít grabbed his shoulder. Nick found himself pressed to the wall, a hand on the back of his neck painfully preventing him from moving. Then the unbelievable pressure was gone; he felt his arms being jerked back and his wrists were locked in a steel grip.

"Iíll turn the bones in your wrists into dust!" Julian hissed in Nickís ear. "Just give me a reason!"

The pressure increased and Nick knew that it wasnít an empty threat. A picture of Joeís mutilated body flashed in his mind, and he stopped struggling. Suddenly, he was free. He turned around slowly and faced Julian who stared at him angrily with shining green eyes. Nick swallowed hard.

"You live because she lives! Joe Montegna died for less!" Julian snarled. "Remember that!" He turned and left.

Nick exhaled with relief and sat down massaging his aching wrists. He was thinking hard for a long time. In the end he took the file marked Joseph Montegna and threw it into the fire.

He had decided that fighting vampires was not in his line of duty.

The next day Julian told Caitlin that he must return to San Francisco.

"Will you come with me?" he asked her softly.

"Julian!" Caitlin exclaimed in exasperation. "Of course Iíll come with you! Did you think that Iíd abandon you just because youíre unwell?" She started to sound angry. "I love you!"

He smiled at her sadly.

"I love you too, Caitlin," he said, "but I donít know if Iíll ever be able to make love to you."

Caitlin hugged him.

"Julian, I hope thereís more to us than sex," she retorted.

"I sincerely hope that itís true," he responded.

He was miserable and pale and moody, making Caitlin think of a sick child. If she hadnít known better, she would have believed that he was ill. He seemed preoccupied, his mind on faraway things. Caitlin noticed that his distraction made him forget to be afraid of flying during their trip back to San Francisco.

After they returned to California, Caitlin saw very little of Julian. He never came to her bedroom; Caitlin was thoroughly unhappy. Even if Julian couldnít make love to her, she wanted his company. She decided to confront him.

She stayed in the library for several evenings in a row, hoping that Julian would turn up eventually. When he did, he found her asleep in his favorite chair.

"Caitlin..." He woke her, touching her face lightly. "What are you doing here?"

"Waiting for you," she answered.


"Julian, you canít do this to me. I wonít stand for it!"

He blinked several times but said nothing.

"Donít shut me out!" Caitlin continued. "I need you. I need your presence." She started to cry. "Donít leave me alone like this!"

"Caitlin!" He lifted her up in his arms. "Thereís nothing I want more than to be with you. I was afraid that youíd..."

She silenced him by putting her hand over his mouth.

"Donít!" she said.

He carried her to her bedroom and stayed with her all night. It was wonderful to sleep in his arms again, and it made Caitlin very happy, although she missed their lovemaking terribly.

From that day on Julian stopped avoiding her company. They spent many evenings together, but heíd not follow her to her bedroom; there was always something he had to take care of. However, heíd sometimes be at her side when she woke up in the morning and that was gratifying enough.

In the end, after several weeks had passed, Caitlin decided that it was time to give it another try. When she woke up on a Saturday morning and found Julian asleep next to her, she let her hands touch him cautiously, her fingers caressing his chest and shoulders lightly. But as soon as she reached his belly, he opened his eyes and she froze. He didnít say anything, just kept looking at her. After a momentís hesitation, she let her hands continue, prepared to stop at the slightest protest from him. There was no protest, but neither was there any other reaction.

Julian hid his tears by turning away from her, but his shaking shoulders disclosed his desolation. She held him until he calmed down, her embrace comforting. After he had gone, to her utter surprise, Caitlin found stains of blood on the pillow.

Cameron had made up his mind.

He might have acted differently if Julian Luna had treated him better, or worse. He would have welcomed the opportunity to fight open hostility. But the polite contempt that nobility usually reserve for snobs was more than he could take. Knowing that he was unable to harm the Prince physically, he decided to use the only advantage he had. The tabloids wouldnít do; it had to be something more reliable.

Cameron chose carefully. He made a copy of the diskette that Donna had given him and mailed it with an anonymous letter. A couple of days later he phoned the recipient of his small package. It had reached its destination, but the man on the other end of the line wasnít convinced.

"The lady in question is still missing," he said. "What guarantee do I have that this is the real thing. I wouldnít like to get into trouble with Julian Luna for nothing."

"She worked for him," Cameron answered. "Itís quite possible that he has done away with her." Cameron almost laughed at his own inventiveness. "I wouldnít put it past him."

"Hm..." The voice on the other end hesitated. "How come this diary ended up in your possession? And who are you?"

"I canít tell you." Cameron did his best to sound nervous. "Believe me, I would be in much graver danger if Julian Luna found out who I am, and who gave me the original diskette. If you wonít use it then Iíll find someone else who will."

"Okay, just give me a couple of days to check a few things."

Julian was glad that Biggy had called. The old radioman had been neglected long enough. Whatever he wanted to discuss would be fine with Julian.

It was the first time that Biggy entered the mansion. He looked around, making no effort to curb his curiosity. Everything around him emanated an atmosphere of wealth, old and discrete. Biggy nodded to himself. It was what he had expected. He was led into the library where Julian Luna was waiting for him. It was four in the morning and Biggy had just got off the air.

"I must say," the reporter started, "being Kindred agrees with the hours I keep."

Julian smiled at that.

"As long as you remember to get some rest every now and then. Weíre not inexhaustible."

Biggy sat down and accepted the wine that the Prince offered him. They looked at each other in silence.

"Has Mary taken good care of you?" Julian asked at last.

"Yes, yes." Biggy sighed. "Although I must admit that I was rather sorry that you werenít around."

"Iíve been busy." Julian made a dismissive gesture, then smiled again. "I intend to remedy that in the future. I was hoping that you would agree to be my adviser."

Biggy stared in awe.

"If you think that I may be of any help... Iíd be honored." He didnít know what else to say. Biggy had contacted Julian Luna in order to confront him with Amyís diary, hoping that his Sire would somehow make the problem disappear. He got the diskette out of his pocket and put it on the table in front of Julian.

"Do you know what this is?" Seeing Julian frown he added, "I mean what it contains."

Julian looked at it for a moment before returning his gaze to Biggyís face.

"I donít know what it contains. But I guess it must be some information implicating me in a crime, isnít it?"

"Not crime exactly." Biggy picked up the diskette again. "Itís a copy which has been sent to me anonymously. Does the name Anamaria Weatherstone sound familiar to you?"

"Ah! The infamous diary!" Julian exclaimed. "Poor Caitlin! She went to such great lengths to destroy it."

Biggy stared open-mouthed at his Sire.

"Are you telling me that Caitlin knows about it?" he whispered at last.

"She found it, or rather, she found the original," Julian responded.


Julian shrugged.

"She didnít like it. Neither did I. I could hardly tell her what I really did, could I?"

"You killed her!" Biggy jumped up and Julian grimaced.

"Donít be stupid. I fed from her."

"Then... Why is she missing?" Biggy wondered. "Did she try to blackmail you?"

"With that?" Julian shrugged again. "A hundred years ago it would have created a scandal. But today... Caitlin is the only person it might sadden, and she knows about it." He looked away before continuing. "I donít know what has become of her and, frankly, I donít care."

"Maybe you should," Biggy retorted. "If thereís a police investigation, you might get into trouble. This is only a copy. The guy said..."

"Youíve talked to him?" Julian interrupted. "You know who he is?"

"No." Biggy shook his head. "He phoned." He dug into his pocket again and produced a small tape recorder. "You want to hear him?" Noticing Julianís surprise he added, "I record all my calls. Just in case..."

Julian nodded and Biggy pushed a button. They listened to the short conversation and Biggy watched his Sire. But Julian Luna didnít react in any way. In the end Biggy had to ask.

"Do you recognize the voice? Do you know him?"

"Yes." Julian nodded and smiled malevolently. "Fortunately, heís Kindred."

"Why did he send it to me?" Biggy wondered.

"Your reputation is impeccable," Julian answered. "If you made it public, it would be believed. A nuisance. Her family is wealthy and might make trouble. But Iím not a pauper, and I have friends in the right places too. I believe itís supposed to make Caitlin mad at me."

"Wouldnít she be?"

"She was." Julian looked away again. "She forgave me."

"I just wonder..." Biggy was frowning. "Why didnít he send it directly to Caitlin?"

"I donít know." Julian was thinking aloud. "Maybe he wanted to create the biggest possible fuss. But he made a mistake. In fact, three mistakes."


"Yes." Julianís cold smile was back. "First, Caitlin already knows about it, so itís no longer a threat. Second, he didnít contact you in person, so he doesnít know that youíre Kindred, my Kindred. Third, he called you and got himself recorded, so now I know who he is."

"What should I do about it?" Biggy asked.

"I donít want it read on the radio," Julian responded. "Neither does Caitlin. But heíll contact someone else. Why donít you talk to Caitlin? Youíre both journalists. Together you should be able to think of something intelligent to do. Maybe... Maybe you should turn it over to the police?"

"Is it a good idea?" Biggy wondered.

"Itís a wonderful idea!" Julian laughed. "Donít worry, I can handle the police."

Caitlin had taken down the picture and brought it to the table. She wanted to look at it in a better light. It depicted Julian and a woman in eighteenth century clothes. The picture itself seemed very old. Its frame was made of wood and a glass pane shielded it.

Evelyn and Julian Luna, 1856, said the writing in the lower right corner.

Julianís great-grandfather, Caitlin thought. How alike they are.

Just as she was hanging the picture back, standing on a chair, she heard the door to the library open. Believing that the picture was securely up on its hook, she let go of it and turned around.

"Look out!" Julian shouted and she heard a crashing sound above her head. The old frame had broken open in one upper corner and the glass pane started to fall over her. It was still caught in the opposite corner and its weight made it break as it fell. Caitlin put up her arms, protecting her face as the broken pieces of glass fell over her. She cried out as the raining glass cut into her arms and shoulders. She lost her balance and would have fallen off the chair, if Julian had not run to her side and caught her before the accident became even worse.

Caitlin was bleeding from several cuts, a big shard of glass was stuck in her left shoulder. The blood ran down her arms and her chest. Julian removed the shard carefully and threw it aside. He took off her blouse and looked over her wounds. They werenít deep but bled profusely.

"Youíll be all right," he whispered.

There was something in his voice that made Caitlin look up. The stony impassivity that had haunted her for weeks was gone from his face. She saw the green light shimmer in his eyes as he drew her close and kissed her passionately. She was surprised and bewildered but responded to his kiss, and, as he pressed his body against hers, she became aware of his desire. His hands ripped off her blood-soaked bra.

"Julian!" Caitlin broke off their kiss. "Iíll bleed all over you!"

He mumbled something incoherent, lifted her up in the air and started kissing her neck and breasts. Within seconds his face and hair were covered with Caitlinís blood. He took a few steps away from the scattered glass and laid her down on the carpet.

"Julian," she whimpered, but somehow, his kisses and caresses overcame the stinging pain of her cuts. He shredded the rest of her clothes and rammed into her without taking off his own. His shirt was soaked with Caitlinís blood. He snarled when she complained that he was hurting her, and tried to take hold of her pushing hands. His movements were jerky and awkward. All the control that had impressed and sometimes irritated Caitlin in the past was gone; it was as if she were overcome by a force of nature.

The sight and smell of Caitlinís blood had driven Julian crazy. How the Kindred instinct to feed had been transformed into sexual arousal was beyond his capacity to comprehend. His lips and tongue moved over her injuries, removing the pain and closing the wounds: there would be no scars left. Caitlin then realized with dread that Julian was licking the blood off her skin. She was dizzy from the loss of blood and shocked by Julianís weird reaction.

Caitlin understood that it was the sight of her blood that had triggered Julianís passion, a passion that she had thought was lost. Uncontrolled, it had scared her out of her wits, but now she was thinking that she would gladly give her blood if it could bring Julianís love.

He rested his forehead against her shoulder, his breath coming in uneven gasps. His mouth moved slowly over her shoulders and arms where there was no trace left of the cuts that had been there only minutes ago. His kisses sent waves of pleasure through her. This was the Julian she knew, or did she?

He raised his head after a while and looked into Caitlinís eyes, a shaky smile on his face.

"I hope I havenít hurt you too much," he whispered.

"Oh, Julian!" She laughed, hugging him tightly. "You canít hurt me!"

"I canít?" He kissed the tip of her nose tenderly. "Where is your journalistic objectivity?" he chided her.

She touched his face, caressing fingers soft, trying to smooth the lines of worry.

"Even if you hurt me, it doesnít hurt," she said, the sincerity in her voice unwavering. "Believe me!"

He raised his eyebrows in an expression of doubt and Caitlin took hold of his chin, shaking him lightly.

"Julian, you once told me that I canít hurt you. It works both ways you know. As long as you love me..."

He kissed her, assuring her that he loved her and that he always would.

He was much gentler then; her soft moans of pleasure his reward. She shook violently in his arms, and the dark, sweet wave engulfed him as if she had infected him with her feelings. Afraid that she might see that his tears werenít transparent, Julian hid his face against Caitlinís neck; forgetting that her blood was all over him, a few more red droplets wouldnít make any difference. It was the second time he was crying in Caitlinís arms, but these were the tears of relief. He had been released from the suffocating nightmare that had kept him in its clutches for so many weeks.

Caitlin held him tightly, well aware of his reaction, believing though that he was trying to hide the very fact that he was crying. She was wondering about the strange influence that blood seemed to have on her lover. She had a vague feeling that something similar had happened before, that somehow her blood had had a profound impact on her relationship with Julian in the past, only she couldnít recollect any details. The name Manzanita surfaced in her mind; she was quite sure that something had happened there that she was unable to remember. Was it something akin to what had happened in her parentís house? No, like today, it had been her own blood that had flowed, not Julianís.

Caitlin realized with fright that she had opened her heart and her body to a man who had brought inexplicable mysteries into her life, secrets that were beyond her capability to grasp.

He lay quietly now, resting, Caitlin in his arms. His eyes were closed but he didnít sleep and his hold on her would tighten a little every time Caitlin moved, as if he were afraid that she would try to get away.

She looked at his face. It was calm and beautiful, now, when the pain was gone, and the blood had been washed off.

So, whatís wrong? Caitlin wondered. Why are you different from other men? Different from other people? she corrected herself.

Reluctantly, she recalled the results of the Internet search that she had made and then remembered Nickís accusation.

No! This is ridiculous, she admonished herself.

But she looked at the healed skin on her arm and then at Julianís serene face, and she knew that she would not rest until she knew the truth.

Nick had not succeeded in seducing Caitlin away from Julian Luna, but his outburst had managed to plant a seed of suspicion in her mind and it had started to grow.

Daedalus looked over the mess in the library. He saw the broken frame, the scattered glass, the blood trail on the carpet; it wasnít difficult to guess what had happened. But what happened afterwards, he wondered. Was Caitlin still a mortal? As Daedalus saw it, everybodyís life would be easier if Caitlin became Kindred. But Daedalus wouldnít dare suggest that, knowing how much Julian cherished his mortal lover and how much he missed his own humanity.

Daedalus was worried. A human living among the Kindred was bound to create problems. Sooner or later something would happen. Sooner or later Julian Luna would have to make a choice, unless fate chose for him. Sooner or later the human woman would know. What then? Daedalus shook his head in despair. Why did the Prince have to be so imperfect? Why did he have to be so... human?

Daedalus made sure that the library was cleaned and took the picture of Julian and his wife to his cellar. He would make a new frame for it: one that would hold. He looked at the picture. Was it really only a hundred and forty years ago? He still remembered the night when Archon Embraced Julian as vividly as if it had happened only yesterday. He had known then just as he knew now, that Julian Luna would court disaster, forever balancing on the edge between the dark realm of the Kindred and the pulsating, restless world of the living.

* * *


Julian watched Caitlin sleep.

He had sneaked back into her bed before dawn, knowing that she wouldnít have noticed his absence. She had been fast asleep when he had left to feed, and he had made sure that she would be too exhausted to keep vigil.

Although he kept his distance, not wanting to wake her, she seemed aware of his presence. She turned and tossed restlessly until she came close and nestled against his body, relaxing at last. Julian made his temperature and heart rate match Caitlinís.

How much longer would it work? he wondered. How much longer before she couldnít be able to pretend that she didnít know?

He thought of his latest stunt. The memory was imbedded in a red haze: the red of Caitlinís blood; the red of the lust that had overwhelmed him so unexpectedly. Why did Caitlinís blood smell and taste so different from everybody elseís blood? Why did it excite him so much?

His body and mind had been numb for so long that he had started to believe that he would never feel anything again. And then, a few shards of broken glass, and all that had been pent-up inside him had burst open like an ugly, infected wound, spilling forth his desire, his craving, his Kindred dependency on the life-liquid of mortals.

He shrunk back from his own memories.

How can I pursue Cameron when Iíve done the same thing? he accused himself. Worse! I have violated her mind.

The Manzanita incident. Cameronís voice. He had tampered with her memories. He had invaded the privacy of her being when he had thought that she had been unfaithful. He had hurt her so many times, everything culminating in the violent moments the other evening. She had been scared and bleeding and, instead of helping her, he had raped her, unable to stop himself. How could she accept that? How could she forgive? How could she still love him? How could she love him at all?

Caitlin interrupted the throng of his incriminating thoughts when she moved restlessly. She mumbled something that even Julianís acute hearing didnít catch. He touched her face lightly.

"Itís all right, Caitlin," he whispered. "Itís just a dream."

She opened her eyes, the pupils huge with panic, and gripped him, her nails digging painfully into his skin.

"Julian," she sobbed, "I had a terrible dream. I dreamt you were hurt, and I couldnít help you!" She was clinging to him with all her strength, her body shaking in fear.

Youíre dreaming the nightmares I should have, he thought. Only, I canít dream!

"Caitlin, thereís nothing wrong with me," he said to her. "You hear, nothing wrong."

She calmed down slowly, but kept holding on to him, too upset to go back to sleep.

I keep lying. Julian would not deceive himself at least.

He was far from all right. The night before he had panicked at the snapping sound that Daedalusí lighter made when the Nosferatu lit a cigarette. Julian had followed the burning end with his eyes until Daedalus had noticed and extinguished it.

"Youíve been burned...?" Daedalus had asked, holding up the half-smoked thing.


Daedalusí expression of revulsion had been beyond description. He hadnít posed more questions, but continued watching Julian with pity. He had noticed before that the Prince wouldnít allow anybody to touch him, keeping everybody at armís length at least. When Daedalus had taken hold of his shoulder on one occasion, Julian had stiffened as if he had been hit.

No, he was far from being all right. That he was able to make love to Caitlin again didnít change the fact that the gruesome memories haunted him during his every waking hour.

Caitlinís hands locked around his neck and she kissed him. He responded eagerly. Her kisses and caresses could chase away the terrible images from his mind. Julian had discovered during the last few days that the mounting desire, the passion, Caitlinís love, could lock away the evil, could make him forget. He had sought desperately that oblivion in her arms as often as he could, hoping that eventually the pain would vanish for good.

Frank stared at Caitlin in disbelief.

Several seconds passed in silence. At last, Frank tore his gaze from the woman and looked at her companion. Samuel Heims was everything Frank Kohanek had expected him to be. Frank had listened to the big man on the radio for many years. His appearance did respond to Frankís imaginary picture of Biggy, the mesmerizing voice of San Francisco nights. Now, he was sitting beside Caitlin Byrne in front of Frankís office desk, his calm, green eyes glittering with amusement.

Frank cleared his throat before turning back to Caitlin.

"Are you saying..." he hesitated for a moment, "that this thing is genuine?" He indicated the diskette that lay on his desk.

Caitlin had handed him the printed contents an hour ago, and both she and Biggy had sat waiting patiently while he read the diary. Caitlin shrugged.

"I believe itís genuine. Iíve seen the original," she said.

"The original?" Frank eyed her suspiciously. "Where did you find it?"

"In Amyís computer." Caitlin had the good taste to look ashamed. "I deleted it."


But before Caitlin could say anything, Frank answered his own question.

"You didnít believe it."

"Oh, I believed it all right," Caitlin retorted. "Julian denied everything at first, but admitted eventually that he had... well, that he... that Amy wrote the truth." Caitlin looked up at the policeman and squared her shoulders in defiance. "But he denied absolutely that he had anything to do with her disappearance."

"Nevertheless, youíve destroyed evidence," Frank returned her gaze unwavering. "You shouldnít have done that."

Caitlin looked away blushing.

"Iím sorry," she said. "I didnít want you to harass Julian."

Frankís face turned red too. As things were at that time, Caitlin had had every reason to try to protect her lover from Frankís suspicions.

"So why are you here now?" Frank asked at last. "Why didnít you just destroy this one too? Why...?"

"It was sent to me anonymously," Biggy interrupted. "I confronted Julian Luna with it, and it was he who suggested that I turn it over to the police. He didnít seem to care very much, but he said that he didnít want it to become public knowledge." Biggy tapped the diskette with his index finger. "It would become a nuisance, as he put it. He also told me that he didnít know what had become of the lady in question."

"She doesnít sound like much of a lady," Frank commented, and Biggy chuckled.

"No, she certainly doesnít," he said. "As I said, it was sent to me anonymously. Maybe it was Miss Weatherstone herself who sent it, or had it sent. Who knows?"

"Hm..." Frank turned a page in the end of the diary. "She has written here that she intended to contact Julian Luna..." He looked up at Caitlin who shrugged again.

"You know how difficult it is to contact Julian when he doesnít want to be found," she retorted. She remembered how she had chased Julian Luna when she wanted to interview him. She had been on the verge of giving up.

Frank sat frowning at the offensive pages of the diary. It made him angry. Its contents described events that took place at about the same time when he had found Julian and Lillie in bed together. He remembered the rage he had felt then and his broken ribs. As far as he knew, Julian and Lillie had not been together again afterwards.

"You shouldnít have left the country," Frank told Caitlin, making her wince. He turned to Biggy. "But whoever has sent it to you will realize quite soon that you donít intend to use it. He or she will send a copy to someone else."

"Donít worry, Biggy responded. "This person will be listening. Iíll get a message across. Donít worry..."

Julian had kept the tape of the conversation between Biggy and Cameron.

Frank had told Biggy that if he were contacted again by the person who had sent the diskette, to urge him or her to go to the police. Julian smiled at that. Letís see if Cameron dares to approach Frank Kohanek, he thought.

In the meantime, he had started to think of ways to chase the Brujah out of the City. Cameron had overstayed his welcome.

Frank had called and asked to see him and Julian had agreed to that although he would have preferred not to. Frank was a sore spot; he always managed to rub Julian the wrong way, and the Prince knew why.

This is what Iíd be like if I were mortal, he thought. This is what I was like when I was a mortal, he corrected himself.

Frank Kohanek was drawn towards the dark Kindred world, just as Julian Luna was drawn towards the world of the living.

Thatís why our paths are intertwined.

Julian was wondering how much it would take to nudge Frank off the edge of the human world. To make him want to become a Kindred. He hoped for his own sake, as well as for Frankís, that it would never happen. Julian wanted to protect Frankís humanity; his own was lost forever.

Frankís humanity, however, was not in evidence when they met.

"You look like hell!" the policeman commented amiably. "Whatís happened to you?"

Julian blinked in surprise. He was absolutely sure that there was no trace left of his injuries. He sighed in exasperation. If Frank Kohanek could sense his anguish so easily, what did others see, those who knew him well: Daedalus, Caitlin, Lillie...

"Iíd probably feel much better if everybody wasnít telling me how lousy I feel," he said, not hiding his irritation and Frank laughed. He peered at Julian closely.

"In fact, you donít look that bad. Itís just..." he hesitated for a moment, "well, youíve got that look, like somebody who has been... mistreated."

Julian stared at the policeman. Is it so obvious? he wondered.

"I have been... mistreated," he said softly.

"Iím sorry." There was genuine compassion in Frankís face. Whatever animosity there had been between them in the past, it was gone, and Frank changed the subject. "You promised me that youíd tell me what was going on when it was over. Is it over yet?"

Julian nodded.

"Yes, itís over. There was a rather big... controversy among the Kindred. It has been settled."

"Controversy!" Frank couldnít help laughing. "But you are a master of understatement! Itís all right though. As far as I know, no human being has been harmed. What you do to each other is your business. You are the judge in this city when it comes to your kind, arenít you?"

"I am," Julian confirmed, relieved that Frank had dropped the subject of the Kindred war so easily. "But Iím not alone, although my word carries the most weight."

"Fancy company I keep." Frank laughed again and peered at Julianís pale face. "You know, I thought you were invulnerable," he added, unable to hide his gloating. He was still unsure of his feelings about the Prince of San Francisco. I hate his guts and I admire him, he thought.

"Well, Iím not." There was a trace of anger in Julianís voice. "Iíve found that out the hard way."

"So... what happened to you?" Frank asked again but the Prince ignored the question.

"Frank, when you asked to see me, it wasnít because you wanted to inquire about my health. Whatís on your mind?"

"Anamaria Weatherstone," Frank said and Julian sighed.

"I wish she hadnít gone missing. This thing is plaguing me." Julian wished sincerely that he hadnít killed that woman, but he couldnít change the past. He was quite sure that the Nosferatu had made her body disappear for good. It would never turn up, showing that she had died a violent death.

"I met her once, in the Haven," Julian said. "Itís in her diary, the way she remembered it."

Frankís eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"Are you saying that she remembered it wrong? So what really happened?"

Julian regretted his comment but felt compelled to answer.

"I... fed from her, thatís all." He looked away, but Frank didnít know him well enough to interpret his avoidance of eye contact as reluctance to talk.

"Of course," Frank was explaining to himself, "you could hardly tell Caitlin that, so you admitted to having sex with her." He was silent for a moment. "Did you?"

Julian forced himself to look at Frank again.

"Letís say I didnít fend off her advances." He leaned forward, his gaze locking Frankís. "It tastes better when itís hot, you know."

Frank stared at the Kindred with a mixture of revulsion and fascination.

"My God!" He felt a shiver travel up his spine. Julian Lunaís alienage had hit him with full impact. He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. The picture of Lillie and Julian, covered with blood, flashed through his mind.

"You truly are different," he said, his voice barely a whisper, and Julian snorted.

"Iíd have thought that youíd have realized that by now. If you donít want to hear the answer, donít ask the question!" He had shocked the policeman deliberately. "Havenít Alexandra and Lillie taught you anything?"

"Theyíve never fed from me!" Frank almost shouted. "At least I donít think so," he added much more calmly.

"No, of course not." Julian smiled suddenly. "We donít feed from our human... companions. Unless they feed us their blood deliberately." His face became serious again. "Frank, do not offer your blood to Lillie, ever! Not, unless you want to become one of us. I hope you never will. But if you do... I donít think youíd want to become a Toreador."

Frank glared at the Prince in disbelief.

"Are you offering to Embrace me?"

"No!" Julian was shaking his head. "Youíd hate being Kindred. Even more than I do."

"You wish you were a mortal man?" Frank asked with incredulity.

"No, thereís no point in wishing for something that cannot be." Julianís smile was suddenly sad. "But I miss it."

Frank leaned back; he was shocked and bewildered. The picture of Julian Luna that his mind had created had suddenly turned false. Frank had glimpsed a bottomless pit of pain and despair in the Kindred, and a feeling of pity swept over him.

"Iím sorry," he whispered, "I didnít know..." His voice trailed off, he couldnít find the right words. Instead he returned to the original subject of the conversation.

"The diary, what should be done about it?"

Julian gave the question full attention.

"I want you to find the one who sent it to the radio station and make him understand that heís interfering with a police investigation. That should stop him."

"Iíll see what I can do," Frank responded, not realizing that Julianís use of a definite pronoun indicated that he knew who the offender was.

As he had promised his Sire, Biggy sent a message while he was talking on the radio, to the one person who would understand it.

"A friend has sent me a gift," he said. "A very important gift. Please, call me. We need to discuss how we can put it to the best use."

Cameron called as soon as Biggy was off the air.

"Itís out of my hands," Biggy told him. "As soon as I started digging around, the police turned up here with a search warrant and impounded the diskette as well as my printout. I almost ended up in jail because I wouldnít tell them who gave it to me. Not that I would, even if I could. But I think they want you badly."

"Why?" Cameron was wondering how much influence Julian Luna had over the San Francisco Police Department. "Does Luna think that heís omnipotent. I can make as many copies as I wish. Send them wherever I want."

"Sure you can," Biggy responded. "But itís not Mr. Luna who is throwing his weight around. Itís Weatherstone senior, and heís got a lot of weight. If your daughter had written something like that, would you want it published, whether she was missing or not?" Biggy paused. "If you want to bring Luna down, you should talk to the police."

"Why? They already have the diskette. What do they need me for?"

Biggy sighed in exasperation.

"It doesnít work that way. As long as thereís no source, itís just a pile of anonymous crap. Now, if you could tell them that she gave it to you, that would change the matter entirely. With a little imagination the police might connect Miss Weatherstoneís disappearance to Julian Luna."

Biggy knew that he was laying it on thick. He knew perfectly well that there was no evidence that Julian had met Amy again, and as long as there was no body, no crime had been committed. But Cameron, being a Brujah, wasnít well versed in human laws. He merely saw it as an opportunity to get Luna with the one thing from which he could not protect himself. The Prince could not intimidate humans the way he could intimidate the Kindred.

"Okay," Cameron had already decided, "Iíll do it."

Itís fortunate that he canít see the triumphant smile on my face, Biggy thought.

"All right. Now, the officer in charge, his name is Frank Kohanek..."

"Frank Kohanek!" Cameron almost shouted. "Thatís Lunaís puppet!"

"He didnít sound like a puppet to me," Biggy retorted. "On the contrary, he seemed... well, I got this feeling that Julian Luna has offended or harmed him in the past. I think he would welcome the opportunity to nail Lunaís hide to his wall."

Biggy laughed at his own choice of words. If anybodyís hide were going to be nailed, it would be Cameronís, and it would look quite nice on Julianís wall. If Biggy knew what Cameron had done to Caitlin, he would have done the nailing himself.

Cameron was thinking furiously.

The reporter might be right. Cameron knew about Alexandra. Frank Kohanek could hardly be a friend of Luna. The fact that he knew about the Masquerade might make it easier to convince him that Julian Luna had something to do with Amyís disappearance.

Cameron made up his mind.

"Iíll talk to him," he told Biggy and hung up.

Although Sasha had told him that she would never speak to Julian again, Cameron decided to treat her outburst as temporary insanity. True enough, her beloved Cash had died in the Princeís service - one Gangrel less as far as Cameron was concerned - but Julian Luna was still her family. The fact that she was Brujah didnít change that. She would find out soon enough that the Brujah Clan wasnít wealthy, while Julian was a bottomless source of money. Besides, being related to the Prince had its advantages, apart from Julianís apparent fondness for Sasha. Cameron would take her in, as she had no Sire and no income. He would pamper her and put up with her whims. Sasha might prove useful in the future.

It took Cameron only a few days to coax the girl into his bed. Not that he particularly wanted her; she was too young and childish for his taste. She seemed to enjoy her newly found sexual power and Cameron let her believe that it was she who had seduced him. Apparently, her charm hadnít worked on Luna, the fool! Thatís why she was Brujah now. Cameron didnít know that Julian had wanted Sasha to lead a human life.

As Cameron had suspected, it did not mean that the Prince had abandoned his young relative just because she had abandoned him. A Ventrue woman came to Cameronís office one night and asked to talk to him alone. When he sent everybody out, she put a briefcase on his desk and opened it. It was filled with money. Cameron tried very hard not to stare.

"Itís for Sasha," the Ventrue said. "Donít let her know that it comes from the Prince."

The Brujah Primogen made an effort to look offended.

"I can take care of my own Clan!"

"Of course you can," she retorted smiling. "But Sasha is a handful. If she is well cared for, it will be... appreciated. And there is more where this comes from."

Cameron accepted the money. His investment had already started to pay off.

Lillie had had enough.

Something had to be done before Julian Luna destroyed himself. She was quite sure that she knew him better than anyone else. Even that lofty Nosferatu couldnít know everything. According to Lillie, she was the only one who could be of any help. However, when she tried to approach Julian, he refused to see her alone. Lillie was hurt. Dismayed, she watched him bring Caitlin back. She had believed that the human woman was gone for good. Then, she watched them suffer.

If you canít help him, move over, Lillie thought angrily.

Lillie Langtry decided to confront Caitlin.

She went to Caitlinís office, late in the afternoon, knowing that it was the only place where she could speak to that mortal wimp without Julian hanging around.

Caitlin looked at the Toreador Primogen with surprise.

"Lillie, what brings you here?"

"I want to talk to you," Lillie responded amiably enough. "Iíve noticed that Julian is... unwell." She was smiling her most friendly smile. "Is everything all right between you two?"

Caitlin knew how forthright Lillie could be.

"Yes. Yes!" she answered. "He has been rather depressed lately, but I think that heís over it now." She felt rather uncomfortable under Lillieís scrutinizing gaze. The smile was still there.

"Are you sure? Iíve got the impression that... well, that he keeps to himself mostly."

Caitlin frowned. The last thing she wanted to do was to discuss Julian with his former lover. She understood very well what Lillie was implying, but decided to play dumb.

"What are you trying to say, Lillie?" she inquired.

Lillieís smile didnít waver but she sighed.

"I know that he doesnít make love to you. I think you should leave him alone."

Thatís Lillie, all right! Caitlin thought. She was on the verge of saying oh, but he does, but stopped herself. Lillie couldnít know what had happened in the library only a few days ago.

"I donít think thatís any of your business!" Caitlin stood up, no longer hiding her anger.

"Oh, but it is!" Lillie rose too. "You see, I can help him, whereas you canít!" The smile was gone and Lillieís eyes flashed white.

"The only person who can tell me to go is Julian," Caitlin retorted. She laughed to cover her fear. "Whatever you think youíve got that I havenít, itís not for you to decide what I should do!"

Lillie tossed her head. She had lost her temper and raised her voice.

"We have things in common that you canít even start to imagine!"

"What things? What do you have in common with Julian? What is it I canít imagine?" Caitlin was using her journalistic skills to throw Lillie off balance, barraging her with questions.

"Stay out of this!" Lillie shouted. "Youíre not Kindred!"

"Whose kindred?" Caitlin asked as she watched the other woman turn deathly pale.

But Lillie didnít answer. Instead she turned abruptly and stomped out of the office.

Caitlin stared after her uncomprehendingly.

"What kindred?" she wondered aloud and then heard Julianís voice clearly in her mind:

We call ourselves Kindred.

She sat down abruptly.

Itís the key, she thought. That word is the key!

Slowly, as if she were in a trance, she turned to her computer and typed Kindred. She hesitated for a moment before pushing the search button. Caitlin stared at the screen, refusing to believe what she had found, but deep down in her soul she knew that what she was looking at was the truth. It was all there, vague, yet compelling.

"Oh, my God!" she almost sobbed. "Nick was right!"

This time the description fit all she knew about Julian. Except for the drinking of blood. But of course, Julian never would have let her see that! Or would he? She shivered violently, remembering the accident with the picture frame. He had lapped her blood! And the picture! Was it really Julianís great-grandfather? Could two men, separated by several generations, be as alike as twin brothers? Or was it Julian himself in that picture?

Iíve gone mad! she thought. I canít take it anymore!

She jumped up and ran out of her office.

There must be some rational explanation, she kept repeating to herself. There must be! Oh, Julian, please, explain this away!

Over the years Daedalus had taken care of Julianís wounds and had tended to his injured ego more times than he cared to remember. This time was no different, and the Nosferatu decided to do something about it. As usual, the Prince became aware of the presence of the Nosferatu Primogen as soon as Daedalus entered the library.

"Arenít you taking this a little too far?" the Nosferatu asked at last. The Prince had ignored him a few seconds too long. Daedalus got back a glare.

"What are you talking about?"

"You got out of there alive," the Nosferatu shrugged. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself!"

"You got me out alive," Julian responded, "and I donít feel sorry for myself. Itís worse."


"Iím scared." The statement wasnít followed by an explanation, so Daedalus was forced to ask.

"What are you afraid of?"

Julian looked away. Daedalus knew that reaction all too well.

"If you wonít tell me, I canít help you."

Julian returned his gaze reluctantly to his friend.

"Itís Caitlin. Iím afraid that sheís about to find out the truth and that this time Iíll lose her. Do you still think that you can help me?"

The irony in the Princeís voice passed Daedalusí ears unnoticed.

Depression is a human weakness, the Nosferatu thought. Nevertheless, Julia Luna suffered from that ailment every few years. Daedalus believed that many of Julianís reckless affairs were attempts at fighting his way out of those suffocating, black periods in his life.

Taking into consideration what heís been through recently, itís no wonder... Daedalus was sure that the problem wasnít Caitlin but the Prince himself.

"So why donít you leave everything, take Caitlin and run off to some God forsaken hole, adopt a bunch of children and pretend that youíre human!"

Julian stared at the Nosferatu in horror.

"I canít do that!" he yelled. "Are you out of your mind!?"

"No, Iím not." Daedalus started to sound angry. "But thatís your option. Or you can pull yourself together and start behaving as befits your status."

"My... what?"

"Julian, youíre the Ventrue Prince of the City, but youíre Kindred first. How many centuries have to go by before you fully accept that fact? Iím sure that Caitlin would accept what you are if she knew. So stop blaming your bad mood on her!"

She did! Julian reminded himself. Daedalus is right, as usual. Damn the nosy Nosferatu! Why does he always have to be right?

But before Julian could respond, the Nosferatu was gone. The door to the library had opened and Caitlin had come in. Except for Daedalus, she was the only one who would enter without knocking. It had annoyed Julian sometimes, but right now he was grateful for the interruption. To be told off by Daedalus wasnít Julianís favorite pastime. He greeted Caitlin warmly.

"Am I glad to see you!" he exclaimed, taking no notice of her distraught expression. "Letís get out of here before I throw all these papers into the fire." He indicated the pile in front of him. "Come!" Before Caitlin could make one sound of protest or agreement, he had dragged her out into the San Francisco nightlife.

The guards followed them wherever they went, even Caitlin was able to spot some of them. They visited a couple of nightclubs that Caitlin didnít know existed. Julian drank wine as if it were water, not noticing that Caitlin refused to drink. He got into a fight with a man who called him a spic, and behaved as if he were drunk. Caitlin watched him with incredulity, she had never seen him in such mood. In the end they found an amusement park for adults only: open all night. They rode on a roller coaster until Caitlin started to feel sick. Then he bought her a hot-dog and shot down an enormous pink elephant which she had to carry around. He was apparently determined to enjoy himself, but Caitlin sensed his desperation and it scared her.

He knows that I know! she thought with apprehension.

The blinking spotlights, the noise, the milling masses of people, made it all seem unreal.

The House of Horrors, the bold sign said.

They looked at it for a moment.

"Letís escape," Julian had whispered into Caitlinís ear and they rushed inside. They climbed into a miniature van and it started its journey with a jolt. Caitlin had placed the plush elephant on the seat between them, but Julian pushed it down on the floor and drew her close, his arm tightening around her shoulders. The van gathered momentum in the pitch darkness and suddenly there was a burst of light and a crude skeleton materialized in the spotlight, clattering its plastic bones. Julian laughed, and the skeleton disappeared as if offended by his laughter. That made Caitlin laugh too. Seconds later the light came on again illuminating a hairy creature that might be a bad, moth-eaten copy of King-Kong. This time they both laughed simultaneously and lost their interest in the horrors that the house had to offer. They were still kissing when the van came to a stop and the lights came on again. They got out, leaving the pink elephant behind.

"Letís go home!" Julian suggested.

Apparently he had had enough of the nightlife, Caitlin realized with relief.

A bodyguard was sitting in the front passenger seat, as always. Caitlin had asked about Arthur and Cash, but Julian had merely told her that they were gone. Caitlin and Julian were alone in the cavernous back seat.

How do the other guards travel? Caitlin wondered fleetingly. Where they like him...? Kindred? She shivered violently and Julian closed her in his arms.

"What is it, love?" he asked quietly. "Are you cold?" There was genuine concern in his voice, but he started to kiss her before she could answer and his hands moved over her body. He had never done that so blatantly in public. Caitlin tried to stop him, but her own lust betrayed her and her arms locked around his neck. She was sliding down slowly, intending to lie down on the seat, but there was something behind her back that arrested her movement. She turned in Julianís arms with a surprised shriek. He reached up and turned on the lamp.

They stared at the big, pink toy. One of the guards must have retrieved it from the House of Horrors and placed it in the car. They both looked at it for a moment and started laughing.

"What a chaperon!" Caitlin exclaimed and laughed even harder.

Julian took the elephant and placed it on his knees. It was so big that its uplifted trunk was only inches from his face.

"Iíve told you before and Iím telling you again..." Julian was talking to the toy with mock seriousness, exaggerating his British accent, "leave the lady alone. Iíve shot you once, I can do it again." He was pointing his finger at the pink head.

Suddenly the guard in the front turned around, a gun in his hand.

"Boss, let me do it!" He was imitating an Italian accent.

Julianís head snapped up, his eyes glowing green.

"Put the gun away!" he hissed, and the guard did as he was told with unbelievable swiftness, turning away. Julian continued to glare at the guard who hunched in his seat, apparently aware of the anger that he had provoked.

"Julian," Caitlin took hold of his sleeve, "he was just joking."

He turned, his glimmering gaze focusing on her.

"I donít appreciate a gun waving in front of me," he said. "Especially in such cramped space," he continued. "Especially when youíre around!"

Caitlin kept staring into Julianís green eyes.

"He wasnít even pointing it at me," she retorted. "I donít..."

"But youíre the one who can get hurt!" Julian snapped, then turned abruptly away. When he looked back at her a few seconds later, his eyes had returned to their normal deep brown color.

"Here." He shoved the pink elephant towards her. "Hold on to your friend." He leaned back, turning off the light.

Caitlin was trying to gather her wits in the darkness that ensued.

Julian, she was thinking, youíve just said that I can be hurt by a gun but you canít! She tried to look at her lover but it was too dark in the car. What really happened to Joe? she wondered. You killed him when I left you to get help. You didnít really need any help, did you?

"Julian..." she whimpered.

He responded to her voice, his arm encircling her, making her rest her head against his chest. She heard his heart beat slowly.

"Oh, Julian," she whispered, "why donít you stop this masquerade?"

She felt him stiffen and at the same time the car came to a halt in front of the entrance to the mansion.

The Masquerade!

It was as if the magic word had opened a locked door in her mind. The vivid images burst forth: the three attackers, the knife stabs, the flowing blood; Julian barely alive, his confession; the horribly burned man flying through the window... and more blood; her own blood, running over her loverís lips...

"Oh, my God!" Caitlin stumbled on the first step and Julian caught her arm. She turned to face him.

"Julian..." she started.

"Not here!" he interrupted her, then lifted her and carried her into the house.

He kicked the door to her sitting room open, walked in and placed her on the table, but didnít let go of her. He prevented her from talking, his kisses hot and desperately urgent, as if he were begging - donít destroy us!

Caitlin couldnít help responding to that silent plea. She was clinging to him, quite sure that something terrible would happen if she let go. Realizing that she would not refuse him, Julian lifted her up again and carried her into the bedroom.

This was his favorite moment: watching her face; her breathing shallow and uneven, stopping and restarting with a moan; her nails digging into his flesh. Her body so soft, warm and yielding. No resistance. Just hot and moist and so utterly exciting. Her magical inner muscles gripping him with the strength of a fluttering butterfly, sending him into his own world of dissolving, shuddering flames of pleasure...

They were kissing, soft, tender kisses. Caitlin bit at his lower lip lightly, and he responded in kind. But soon, there was blood running in thin rivulets down their chins, and they were no longer playing. Suddenly, Caitlin was the domineering one, making him lie on his back and follow her rhythm and movements as best he could. He touched her, but she took his hand away, whispering:

"My call."

He touched her face then and watched her turn her head, her teeth catching his wrist, making him shudder with delight. The blood trickled down his arm, and her mouth followed until she reached the crook of his arm. He felt her bite again. He was cradling her head, urging her on, the pleasure making him dizzy...

She was looking straight at him, the back of her hand smearing the blood over her face, and he realized that she was fully aware of what was happening, her expression of desire mingling with fear... She was moving down over his body, her lips tracing hot paths on his skin. He understood what she was going to do, and his reason screamed: Stop her! Stop her, before itís too late! But his body betrayed him in its desire for fulfillment, his hips tensing stiffly against her touch. He screamed and heaved violently, but she didnít let go, robbing him of every last ounce of strength, until his body sagged in total emptiness...

Caitlin sat quietly, watching Julianís motionless body. His eyes were closed, his beautiful face relaxed.

My God! Caitlin thought. Heís unconscious.

She jumped off the bed and ran to the bathroom. After pouring cold water over a towel, she returned to her lover; he was covered with blood. Whimpering with fright, Caitlin started to clean his face first, and was surprised when he reacted to the cold immediately, his eyes opening, his hand catching hers.

"Julian," Caitlin whispered, "I thought you had fainted."

He smiled and took the soaked towel from her and wiped his face. Caitlin retrieved it and cleaned his chest and arm. There was no trace left of her bites on his wrist or in the bend of his arm. She went back to the bathroom and took another towel. This time she held it under hot water. Returning to the bed, she laid it over his belly and thighs, and saw him wince in pain. The fabric turned red within seconds. She waited until the red blotch stopped spreading before carefully removing the towel. No more blood came forth. She touched him lightly, and his hand caught hers again.

"Caitlin," he said, "Iím fine." He looked her over. "You could use some cleaning yourself," he was smiling tiredly.

Caitlin spent only a few minutes in the shower, but when she returned Julian was asleep, curled up like a cat, the covers drawn up to his chin. Caitlin was too scared and too upset to sleep. Her mind was clear and she was absolutely sober. She knew what she had done, there was no way she could forget it this time. However, she was still unsure about her memories. And the Internet, well, anything could be found on the Net. She sat down in a chair. She would wait until she knew the truth.

Julian moved in his sleep several times, startling her, but she continued to wait. At last, when almost three hours had passed, he turned on his back, his body stretching to its full length. She closed in on him cautiously, as a hunter moves on his prey. Her hand took hold of the edge of the cover, and carefully, she pulled it away. There was no sign left of the injuries her teeth had inflicted: none at all. She let her hand touch his unmoving chest: nothing. The skin over his breastbone was cold against her cheek as she pressed her ear to his left side: nothing. She waited for more than a minute and then there was a powerful thud. Another minute, another beat.

This isnít human! her mind yelled, and Caitlin felt her heart jump into her throat.

"Not human," she sobbed.

Caitlin put on her clothes with jerky, mechanical movements. Ten minutes later, she had sneaked out of the mansion.

When Julian awoke, it was daylight.

Iíve overslept, was his first thought, the next, Iíve slept. He turned in bed with dread,

but Caitlin wasnít there. Yet, he was not alone: Daedalus was standing by the door. The Nosferatuís face, usually so impassive, was stricken with grief. It made Julian get out of bed with a bolt.

"Whatís happened?!" He heard the anguish in his own voice.

But Daedalus turned without a word and walked out through the door. Julian followed, forgetting that he was naked. He didnít make it all the way to the couch. His legs gave in when he was halfway through the sitting room and he fell to his knees. He looked at his own hands, flattened against the floor in an attempt to support his weight.

"No!" His own scream echoed in his head. "NO!" Then he crumbled on the floor.

In the total stillness that came over him, he felt the painful snap inside his chest. Julian Luna knew that had he been mortal, he would have died now. But he was not so fortunate. His breathing ceased and his heart stopped beating. He felt his body become colder. But the agonizing pain was there and would stay with him forever. Julian was not aware that Daedalus had spread a blanket over his naked body, nor that Sasha had lifted his head on her lap, her red tears splashing on his face. He was locked away in the horror of his own mind, hoping for the madness to engulf him.

There exist no sedatives that would affect a Kindredís mind, but the compassionate Nosferatu took Julianís consciousness away.

Frank Kohanek looked at Caitlin with apprehension. He had just put on his jacket, about to leave, on his way to the meeting with Cameron. It was almost four in the morning when Caitlin had turned up on his doorstep, her face distraught. Apparently, she had been crying.

"Caitlin, what are you doing here at this hour? Whatís wrong? Has something happened to Julian?" Frank was starting to feel scared.

"I think IĎve gone completely out of my mind," Caitlinís voice broke. "He doesnít breathe! His hearts beats only once every minute!" She started to cry.


"I watched him!" she was wailing. "When he was asleep. So cold. And he doesnít breathe!" she exclaimed again.

"Well, then you donít have to worry about him snoring." Frank could have kicked himself for that stupid attempt at a joke when he saw Caitlinís frightened expression.

Damn! he thought. I shouldnít be dealing with this. Luna should!

"Caitlin, please, calm down!" He took hold of her shoulders. "Calm down, youíre hysterical."

"Of course Iím hysterical," she screamed. "Wouldnít you be if you found out that your lover is a vampire?!"

Frank just stared at her and Caitlin became aware of his lack of reaction. She looked up in his face.

"You knew," she whispered. "You knew all the time. Oh, my God! You tried to warn me off." The shock made her stop crying.

After she had fled the mansion in panic, she had tried to find Biggy, but he had already left the radio station, and there was no answer when she tried to call him at home. She didnít know what to do then. Thatís when she had thought of Frank Kohanek. The impersonal voice at the police station informed her that detective Kohanek was off duty. She had found his address in the phone book and told the taxi driver to go there. Now she was blurting out the story of the last twelve hours to Frank Kohanek, not even caring if he was listening.

Frank was at a loss.

"Caitlin," he said when she finished, "I understand that youíre upset, but you can hardly do anything about it. Julian is... well, what he is. You have to accept that..."

"How can you be so calm?" She was shaking her head in desperation. "Like it didnít matter."

"Of course it matters," Frank retorted. "But I have accepted that they exist. They live among us, not hiding, yet they are perfectly invisible." Realizing that she was hardly listening, Frank took hold of her shoulders and shook her again. "Caitlin, donít do anything in a rush or youíll get into trouble." He looked at his watch. "Look, Iím on my way to meet the guy who sent that damn diary to Samuel Heims. You stay here and wait until I get back, then we can talk further." Yet he wasnít moving, afraid to leave her on her own. "Listen, why donít you come with me instead?"

Caitlin didnít want to be left alone.

"Iíll go with you," she said.

Cameron was starting to feel impatient: the cop was late. But he could afford to wait. After all, he was at home. Sasha was asleep just a couple of rooms away. Things were shaping up. If he were lucky, maybe he would get rid of Luna eventually.

Cameron heard the car stop outside and the voices of his guards; then the door to the building was opened. Frankís steps were hardly audible in the corridor outside Cameronís office, but the clattering sound of high heels was unmistakable.

Why has he brought a woman with him? Cameron wondered and rose from his chair as the door opened and the couple entered.

Cameronís eyes bulged in surprise.

"Caitlin!" he exclaimed. "What... what are you doing here?!"

But Cameron didnít get any answer. Instead, Caitlinís face turned white and she froze in fright. They stared at each other for a short moment and then Caitlin started to scream.

"Itís him! It was him!" She pointed her finger accusingly at Cameron. "He raped me!" She turned and started to run. Cameron ran after her with incredible swiftness. Frankís attempt to stop the Brujah was brushed aside and his head hit the wall so hard that he almost fainted. He saw Cameron grab Caitlinís shoulder, forcing her to turn back.

"Let me go!" she shouted.

"Caitlin, please, listen to me!" Cameron was trying to reach her through her fear. "Caitlin, I never wanted to hurt you! You must believe me!"

But she continued screaming, her fright unabated.

"No! No! Leave me alone! Let me go!" She was struggling to get away, hitting and scratching him, while Cameron was trying to hold on to her and to stop her screams.

Then, suddenly, there was silence.

Frank had just gotten up on all four, his head still swimming. He saw Caitlin crumble on the floor, Cameron staring at her in disbelief. He looked at Frank and then at the motionless woman at his feet. At the same moment a door opened further down in the corridor and Sasha came out.

"Cameron, whatís going on?" she asked.

She didnít receive any answer, but her voice broke through the Brujahís paralysis. Cameron ran past her and disappeared down the stairs.

Frank was trying to understand what had happened. Caitlin had come to him looking for answers, searching for confirmation or maybe denial of her own suspicions, but Frank had had no time for her fears. He had suggested instead that she follow him to the meeting with the man who had sent the diskette with Amyís diary to Biggy. Frank would regret that suggestion for the rest of his life.

He crept over the floor to Caitlinís side. Her eyes were wide open but she didnít see anything. The skin on her face was losing its warmth quickly. Her neck had snapped like a twig in Cameronís hands.

Sashaís hand hovered over the phone, but she didnít touch it.

"I canít," she whispered. "I canít do it!"

"I understand you very well," Frank said, "but someone has to tell him, and I donít think I should be the one."

Sasha looked at him, her eyes wide with fright. Then she nodded.

"Thereís only one..." She picked up the phone and dialed the number.

"Luna residence."

"Uh... itís Sasha. Can you get me Daedalus?"

"Whoís Daedalus?" Frank asked while she was waiting, but she merely shook her head.

"Yes," was all the Nosferatu said.

"Oh, Daedalus!" Sasha started to cry in spite of herself. "Please, come to the Brujah compound! Please, come at once!"

"Sasha, whatís happened?" The Nosferatuís calm voice didnít help. Sashaís crying became hysterical.

"Please, Daedalus, please! Just come! Donít tell Julian!" She hung up, unable to say anything more.

At the same moment the door was opened and Sonny came in.

"Frank, itís my night off," he was saying. "Whatís so important...?" He stopped

abruptly and his face turned gray. He stared at Caitlinís body, then at Frank and at last at Sasha.

"Who?" was all he said.

"Cameron." Sasha was whispering.

"Thatís the end of the Brujah!" Sonnyís voice started to shake. "Does Julian know?"

Sasha shook her head.

"I called Daedalus," Sasha answered. "Heíll be here any minute. Heíll have to tell Julian and take her to the mansion. I couldnít do it!" She hid her face in her hands.

"Take her to the mansion?!" Frank exclaimed. "Thatís not the proper procedure. The investigation..."

Sonny didnít let him continue.

"What is there to investigate? he asked, his voice infinitely sad. "Sheís dead. Cameron killed her. Iíll take care of the bureaucracy. I think Daedalus can take her home. Tell me exactly whatís happened."

It didnít take Frank long to describe the events that had led to Caitlinís death.

"Look," he said in the end, "shouldnít we be chasing the murderer? Heís getting further and further away by the minute."

Sonny shook his head.

"Weíll find him," he said quietly. "Cameron is dead, he just hasnít figured it out yet."

As it turned out, Daedalus was the only one who was fully aware of how much Caitlin meant to Julian, and his reaction disclosed that. He had materialized out of nowhere, scaring Frank witless; the Nosferatuís appearance was never appreciated by the mortals. He took in the scene in one glance, and walked over to where Caitlinís body lay. He kneeled beside her, his hands fluttered over her face for a few seconds and fell to his sides. He sighed heavily, his head bowed, then looked up at the others. Red tears were streaming down his face.

"The Prince," he whispered. "Julian..."

The Nosferatu let his hand move over his face and the tears disappeared.

"We may lose our Prince," he said in a shaky voice. "I must take her home," he continued. "I must tell Julian..." His voice broke there.

Although James Byrne had taken the first flight to Francisco without notifying anyone, a big, elderly man picked him up at the airport.

"Iím Samuel Heims," the man presented himself and the astronomer recognized his voice.

"You were the one who called me."


"Why didnít Julian...?"

"He is in no shape to talk to anyone. Iím afraid heís trying very hard to die as well," the old man said dejectedly. "They are afraid that he might succeed."

"What!?" Caitlinís father was shocked. Then a suspicion dawned on his mind. "Did he kill her?"

"No!" Biggy shook his head. "The murderer has fled from the city. But weíll find him. You can be sure of that."

Caitlinís body had not been taken to the morgue.

Frank Kohanek met James Byrne when he arrived at the mansion.

"Iíve identified your daughter officially," the policeman told Caitlinís father, "but if you want to see her..." His voice trailed off as if he was trying to prevent himself from crying. "I knew her," he added.

James Byrne did want to see his daughter.

Caitlinís body was still on the couch in her living room, uncovered, in the same position that Daedalus had left her after bringing her to the mansion. There were ugly, dark marks on her neck.

"Has she been strangled?" James Byrne asked the policeman and Frank nodded.

"Has she... been harmed in any other way?"

"No, not this time."

"What do you mean?"

"The man who did this... he has hurt her before. She recognized him. Thatís why he killed her." Frank was doing his best to control his voice. He wasnít succeeding very well.

"How do you know that?" the astronomer asked.

"I saw him do it!" Frank started to cry. "I could do nothing... nothing."

James Byrne was let into the library.

Julian was sitting in a chair near the fireplace, a young girl hovering at his side, several others kept in the background. He looked up and frowned when the astronomer called out his name, but didnít react in any other way. James Byrne had a feeling that Julian Luna didnít recognize him.

He really is in shock, Caitlinís father thought.

Slowly, he came closer and took hold of Julianís shoulders. The younger man blinked several times and tried to say something but all he could manage was inarticulate mumbling. Without a word, James Byrne hugged Julian who sagged in his arms. His face came to rest against the old manís cheek and James Byrne felt that Julianís skin was ice-cold. He took hold of Julianís hand. It was so cold that it might have belonged to a dead person. Furtively, the old manís fingers moved to the wrist. He could find no pulse there. He let go of Julian and looked into his face again. The deathly pallor, the unblinking eyes. James Byrne had an uncanny feeling that Julian Luna wasnít breathing either.

The young girl caught his attention.

"Iím Sasha," she said in a low voice. "Iím Julianís niece." She glanced at her uncle and frowned. "He wonít talk to anyone. Iím sorry."

The astronomer looked at Julian again. The girl was probably right. The young man was not present in this world.

Daedalus made sure that someone was with the Prince all the time. Although Julian had not shown any inclination towards harming himself, the Nosferatu suspected that his friend would extinguish his life if he could. Of course, it is extremely difficult for a Kindred to commit suicide, but Daedalus hid all weapons, just in case.

The real problem arose the next night, when the Nosferatu urged the Prince to get out to feed. Julian had lashed out in rage, making Daedalus sigh with relief. Even a fit of rage was better than the total apathy.

"Leave me alone!" Julian had shouted. "Why canít you leave me alone?!"

He broke down and started to cry. Daedalusí attempts at consolation were ignored, but in the end Julian was too exhausted to protest, and the Nosferatu managed to drag him out and force him to feed.

Apart from the one outburst Julian seemed impossible to reach most of the time. He had no willpower left and would do whatever he was told to do. When he didnít sleep, he would just stare at nothing. Whatever was said to him had to be repeated several times before he took notice.

Daedalus watched and worried.

Cameron was surprised that he had managed to get as far as he had.

It didnít really matter if the Prince had condemned him to Final Death and declared a Blood-Hunt. Cameron knew that his life was forfeited in any case. As long as Julian Luna was alive, Cameron would be hunted.

Right now he was alive because he had acted so swiftly.

He had fled only minutes after he realized what he had done, and reached Sacramento before dawn. He resisted the temptation when the flight to Los Angeles was announced. Cyrus wouldnít be of much help. Instead Cameron boarded the first eastbound plane. He intended to get help from the Brujah Prince in Miami. Cameron wanted to leave the country, determined to lose himself somewhere in the Middle East or Europe. He was quite sure that America wasnít big enough for him to get away from Julian Lunaís pursuit. Cameron had never been outside the United States. In fact, the only time he had left California was when the Prince had sent him to Miami. He was oblivious to the simple fact that he would be more visible anywhere outside his own country.

By the end of the day he found himself in Amarillo. He was alone, out of his territory, and scared of his own shadow. He spotted some Gangrels that seemed to be looking for someone, so he fled from the airport and used the cover of night to get out of the city. He didnít dare stop to feed, although hunger made him increasingly weaker. He stole a car and drove south. The Mexican border couldnít be too far away, he figured. He decided to get on a boat bound for Florida from some port on the east coast of Mexico. Cameron wasnít too good at geography and he had no map.

He drove all night and half of the next day. Then, when he saw a growth that would provide cover he decided to rest. He hid the car in the shade and fell asleep. When he woke up it was night again. His watch said ten oíclock. His hunger screamed with doubled force but he tried to ignore it. He hadnít seen any living creatures for the last hundred miles, and he didnít know when he would find humans again. He started south anew. After several hours he began to worry. There was nothing but the empty road and vastness on both sides of it: no lights, no buildings, nothing.

Cameron didnít know that he was driving through Llano Estacado.

Cameron screamed in rage.

The car had broken down without any warning. It jumped, coughed and wheezed, and smoke came from under the hood; the engine died with one final groan. When Cameron lifted the hood, more black smoke welled out. He knew enough about cars to realize that it was probably the cylinder head gasket that had been destroyed. There was no way he could fix it without help. Cameron was stranded in the middle of an American desert, only dimly aware of his whereabouts, and he was too weak from hunger to shift-shape; heíd have to continue on foot. Maybe some car would come by and pick him up, it didnít really matter in which direction. But he started walking southward. His watch said a quarter past two. He had glanced at the clock in the car before he abandoned it. The soft green display had showed four fifteen. Cameron shrugged at that. He trusted his own watch more. He decided to walk for three or four hours and then find some shelter. To stay out in the open during the day might prove fatal. If necessary, he would dig a hole in the ground.

Cameron had walked for a little more than an hour when he noticed that the sky over the eastern horizon started to lighten up.

Was there a city just beyond the horizon? Was he seeing its lights?

He turned east, sighing with relief. But only twenty minutes later the thin crest of the morning sun rose above the arid ground. Cameron stared at it uncomprehending and then looked at his watch.

"What the hell!!!" he shouted.

The realization struck him with terror. Cameron had totally forgotten that he had crossed two time zones flying east. The car clock had shown the right Texan time. The sun was rising on this bright December morning, painting the forbidding desert in the most beautiful colors. Cameron turned with an oath and started running back. Within minutes the merciless rays made his skin burst into flames and he knew that heíd never make it back to the car. He raised his arms in a futile attempt to protect his face and watched with horror as his hands caught fire. He screamed in agony.

The vultures circled for almost an hour over the cinders, but decided eventually that there was nothing left for them and flew away.

Cameronís remains were found and identified only a few hours after the sunset that same day by a team of two Gangrels and a Nosferatu. Julian Lunaís, or rather Daedalusí, intelligence had been working overtime and had surpassed itself.

Cameron would never have made it to Miami in any case.

James Byrne decided to bury his daughter next to her mother in the small cemetery a mere six miles from his home. He braced himself, expecting protests from Julian Luna but none came. In fact, Julian didnít react to anything, agreeing by default to everything that was suggested. Heíd sign any paper that was put in front of him without reading it. The people who lived in the mansion seemed to be in charge of everything. The young girl, Sasha, was in charge of Julian. He would do whatever she told him to do; but quite often he seemed not to hear her, as if his mind had wandered off into another dimension.

The old astronomer didnít even know who took care of the funeral arrangements; but everything was prepared according to his wishes on the day of Caitlinís burial. James Byrne watched as the jet landed at the Seattle airport. He saw the casket being carried out, followed by Julian, his niece at his side. The policeman, Frank Kohanek, and the big man, Samuel Heims, came behind them. Sasha was supporting her uncle as they walked towards the car that had come for them. James Byrne intercepted them before they reached the big, foreign vehicle.

"Please, Julian, I want you to come with me," he said.

Julian looked up at Caitlinís father and his absent expression changed into one of pain.

"James," his voice was a hoarse whisper, "Iím so sorry."

He started towards the older man but stumbled after a few steps and lost his balance. Sasha, who had been holding Julianís elbow, stretched her other arm across his midriff, preventing him from falling. James Byrne stared in surprise, wondering how the short, slim girl could hold up a man without any visible strain.

The astronomer took Julianís hand when they were seated in the car. It lay in his grip, limp and cold as a dead thing, and he tried to rub some warmth into it.

"Julian!" Sasha, who sat on the other side, nudged her uncle. He looked at her frowning, and she nodded toward his hand. His eyes followed her gaze and within seconds James Byrne felt Julianís hand become warm.

How odd, the old man thought.

Every now and then the astronomer would cast a worried glance at Julian during the service. The young man didnít seem to notice what was going on around him. His eyes were unfocused, and he moved only when Sasha made him react to her prodding. She kept her arm around his waist, her grief-stricken face contrasting with Julianís listlessness.

Nick Marliss came forth afterwards and did his best to stare Julian down. Seeing that he would have more success in staring down a statue, he looked askance at Sasha until she felt compelled to say something.

"Iím Julianís niece," she said. "My name is Sasha."

"Uh, niece?" Nickís voice betrayed his doubt and Julian reacted at last. His eyes shimmered green for a split second and his back straightened.

"Thereís no reason for you to be rude," Julian said in a clear, high-pitched voice. "None at all."

Frank Kohanek came to Julianís side immediately.

"Back off!" he snarled.

The two policemen faced each other, but Nick would not back off.

"I knew that youíd get her killed!" Nick had turned back to Julian. "Why couldnít you leave her alone?!"

Julian Luna flinched as if Nick had slapped him in the face, then tried to regain his composure.

"We donít control our fate," he said quietly. "No more than you do. If you can see into the future... itís your curse. Fortunately, I canít."

As Julian was turning away, Nick started after him but Frank caught his arm.

"Leave him alone!" Frank demanded. "He had nothing to do with Caitlinís death."
"What do you mean?" Nick asked.

"Exactly that. She was killed by a guy who had hurt her before. She recognized him, thatís why he murdered her." Frankís voice filled with pain at the memory. "Julian Luna had nothing to do with it!"

Only itís not true! Julian had heard Frankís explanation. IĎm the very reason for Caitlinís death. I made her remember Cameronís voice. Out of petty jealousy!

He stumbled again, but Sasha was there to keep him upright. James Byrne took Julianís other arm.

"Letís get out of here before you harm yourself," he said.

Julian Luna did not participate in the reception after Caitlinís funeral.

James Byrne noticed that Sasha, Frank and Samuel were standing in a corner, talking quietly to each other. It was the first time that Caitlinís father saw the young girl parted from her uncle and it worried him. He approached her as soon as he got rid of the priest who was trying to offer some consolation.

"Whereís Julian?"

"He locked himself up in Caitlinís room," Sasha answered.

"Thatís impossible!" the astronomer retorted. "Thereís no key."

The girl shrugged dejectedly.

"He told me to leave him alone."

"He wonít try to harm himself, will he?" James Byrne asked with apprehension.

"He canít... " Sasha started but then checked herself. "I donít think so," she continued. "But weíve been watching over him ever since... it happened. Heís entitled to some privacy." She turned away, hiding her tears.

At last everybody was gone.

James Byrne looked at Sasha and Frank. They were just sitting there, waiting, apparently prepared to wait all night if necessary. The big man had disappeared. The old astronomer slowly climbed the stairs to his daughterís room. He knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He knocked again and entered. Julian was curled up on Caitlinís bed. For a fleeting moment James Byrne had an impression that a big, black cat was nestled in his daughterís bed. He called Julianís name softly, prepared to repeat it, but the young man sat up abruptly, his movement startlingly swift. His hand moved over his face and came away red with blood.

"What have you done to yourself!?" James Byrne exclaimed with fear.

Julian Luna looked at his palm, blinking in surprise, then looked up at the old man.

"I... I must have bitten my lip," he said hesitantly. He tried to wipe his face with both hands, making the mess even worse.

James Byrne went to the bathroom and came back with a wet towel.

"Here." He watched intently as Julian cleaned himself.

There was no trace of injury: not on Julianís face, not on his neck, nor on his wrists. The old man exhaled with relief.

"You arenít trying to do yourself any harm, are you?"

"I canít..." Julian stopped in mid-sentence just as Sasha had. "No. No more harm can come to me." After a moment he continued, "I wish to be alone."

"Sure." James Byrne nodded. "Just one thing. The man... the one who killed Caitlin, has he been apprehended?"

Julian shook his head.

"No, he escaped."


"He ran fast... got halfway across the United States before he got lost in the desert and died there. His... remains have been found and identified."

"So, heís dead." James Byrne nodded with satisfaction. "Heís got his punishment."

But Julian shook his head with vehemence.

"No, he escaped," he said angrily. "Escaped into the final death," he declared to the bewildered astronomer who didnít dare to ask for an explanation.

Frank slept on the couch in the living room; Sasha was given the guestroom.

No one disturbed Julian Luna during the night. They waited for him in the morning, sipping tea in the kitchen, talking in subdued voices. Frank told Caitlinís father all that he could about her death. He confirmed Julianís statement about Cameronís demise. It was the first time that James Byrne heard the murdererís name.

"He sounded, I mean, Julian sounded angry that this Cameron had died," the astronomer commented.

The policeman smiled at that.

"Angry?" he retorted. "He was mad as hell when they told him. As Julian sees it, Cameron has escaped justice. Although I must say, he died a terrible death. Burnt up in the desert."

"Burnt up?"

"Uhuh..." Frank hesitated, embarrassed and afraid that he had said too much. "You know, the sun in the desert... itís rather... formidable." He was trying to smooth over his indiscretion.

Julian came down at last, to everybodyís surprise, as impeccable as ever. Whatever he had been through during the night was hidden under a bland expression. But they soon saw that beneath the spotless appearance there was emptiness. Julian Luna had again locked himself away from the world of the living.

Julian Luna wasnít a financial wizard; he had always been too conservative for that. But in spite of his caution he had been able to amass quite a fortune over the decades. It had stayed intact as he had always benefited from Archonís generosity. And Archon had been rich. Now, after Archonís death, being his sole heir, Julian found himself immensely wealthy. Not only as the Prince of San Francisco, but also because his personal assets were vast.

In order to occupy himself during the daytime, Julian started to take a more active part in his many enterprises. Since his only reason for doing it was to take his mind off the loss of Caitlin, he was able to conduct business with the calm assurance of someone to whom making money isnít a goal in itself.

And he did well, using almost all profits for the care and welfare of the Kindred. Even the Brujahs couldnít complain anymore.

To Daedalusí surprise, the Prince worked harder than he had ever done before. No matter was too insignificant for him to take care of personally. He immersed himself in all sorts of activities, making sure that he was busy every minute he was awake.

Heís keeping the grief at bay, Daedalus concluded with relief.

Yet, Julian Luna wasnít all that successful in commanding his thoughts. Every now and then his gaze would lose its focus, his hands would start to shake and he would turn deathly pale. If there were witnesses in such moments, they would realize with dread that the full impact of the tragedy had surfaced again. Whenever that happened, Julian would lock himself away for hours, sometimes days, on end.

The passing of time didnít alter the pattern, and although there was nothing in Julianís performance at his duties to complain about, Daedalus became more and more worried about the Princeís sanity.

The mansion had never been a center of gaiety, but now it reminded the Nosferatu of a tomb. Julian Lunaís social life became non-existent, and he didnít seem to notice the ladies who were trying to catch his attention. Lillie, showing wisdom uncommon in a Toreador, shunned Julian as if he had the plague.

The Kindred of San Francisco had never been as prosperous and well behaved as nowadays. For the first time in more than a century, all clans were in absolute accord: they had a Prince that was worth his title. The fact that Julian Luna was aware of their opinion did not affect his gloominess.

Julian, who had always been aware of the Nosferatuís presence, didnít seem to notice that Daedalus had been watching him for almost an hour.

The Nosferatu Primogen didnít like what he saw.

The triumphant Prince of the City, he was thinking. All resistance squashed. Alone, bitter and profoundly unhappy.

"I wish there was something I could say. Something I could do," Daedalus said at last and Julian looked up, blinking in surprise. But he gathered his wits instantly.

"Thereís nothing you can do or say, Daedalus." His voice was expressionless. "Nothing at all."

But the Nosferatu wouldnít give up.

"The time..." he started, but his voice wouldnít obey him and he had to clear his throat before he could speak again.

"Julian, when you have lived as long as I have, youíll know that there is nothing permanent except for the eternal hunger."

But the Prince merely looked at him, apparently refusing to comprehend.

"Face it, the eternal hunger is all there is in the end," Daedalus repeated angrily. "Snap out of it!" The Nosferatu had to fight the urge to slap Julianís face. To hit a Prince wouldnít do. Not even the Nosferatu Primogen could allow himself such familiarity.

"Daedalus," Julianís voice was accusing, "you used to chide me because I didnít care. Then, I did care... Look where it got me."

Daedalus winced at that, thinking, one can be slapped with words. He had always been the one to make the Prince start at his pointed remarks. He wished now that that he could make some of his comments unsaid. How many times had he scoffed at Julianís reckless affairs? All starting with that special glimmer in his eyes at the sight of a beautiful face, all ending more or less disastrously. Archon would rave in rage, accusing Julian of endangering the Masquerade. Daedalus had hated their rows: their angry voices shouting at each other; the womenís tears; the sulking, until it all slowly settled down, ending with the Princeís shrug of ĎI donít careí.

But now, Daedalus wished for that shrug. The shrug that said itís over, letís move on. It had not come, and Daedalus knew with terrifying certainty that it wouldnít come anytime soon, if ever. He even wished for the angry shouts and fits of rage, anything that would shatter the apathy, chase away the dullness from Julianís eyes.

* * *


They stayed on after the Conclave, the Primogens and their advisers. Lillie had left, excusing herself with urgent business, but they all knew that she couldnít stand Julianís lifeless face, his empty eyes. Only a month ago she had begged him to let her back into his life, to let her comfort him. He had looked at her without seeing her.

"Lillie, you donít want to live with a corpse, do you?" he had answered her.

Lillie had cried like she had never cried before. It was also the first time ever that she had shed tears for anyone other than herself.

Frank Kohanek had brought a new kind of whiskey and they shared it, although he was the only one who could appreciate it fully. Frank was the only mortal to sit at a Conclave table. Biggy had recommended it, and to Daedalusí dismay both the Prince and Lillie had seconded the notion. Within a few months the Nosferatu came to accept Frankís presence and listened to his opinions. After all, they lived in a human world. Daedalusí initial envy towards Biggy had soon turned into admiration. The Princeís new adviser was wise. Besides, he seemed to be the only one who could make Julian say more than monosyllable words or even bring a shadow of a smile to his face. That alone made Biggy precious. But most of the time, the Prince seemed to live in a void. When he didnít work or feed, he would sleep. He refused to go out for any other reason. In the beginning Daedalus had believed that it was a good sign, hoping that Julian would simply sleep away his depression, but now he wasnít so sure. However, Julian had started to spend a little more time with others. Not that he took an active part in the conversation, but he had stopped hiding away from all company. Sometimes, he would stay in the library, trying to read or listen to music, but could seldom concentrate long enough to benefit from it.

Almost every week, James Byrne would find fresh white roses on his daughterís grave. At first he had thought that Julian had paid to have them delivered, but was told that the young man came with them himself. He had been seen standing by her grave at odd hours, usually late in the evening or before dawn. The old astronomer had trouble believing it until he ran into Julian one evening. He was staring at the tombstone, a bunch of white roses scattered at his feet. Within the last two years, James Byrne had lost his wife and his only daughter, but when he saw Julianís deadly white face, he couldnít help crying. He was more sorry for the young man than he was for himself.

Caitlin had been dead for twenty months.

Frank was surprised to see Julian Luna in the Haven. He was sitting in one of the booths, discussing something with several men. Frank recognized some of them; they were well known businessmen. Whether they were Kindred or not, he was not able to tell.

So, youíve crept out of your seclusion, he thought. Just keep your hands off Lillie! Frankís old jealousy came forth so unexpectedly that it surprised himself and made him feel ashamed. Nevertheless, he kept watching the Prince. Julian looked as he always had: handsome, pale and somber. He wore a dark suit and his black hair was brushed back. As usual, he tried to give a semblance of maturity and, as usual, he wasnít entirely successful. Lillie was not around.

After a quarter of an hour Julian lost interest in the conversation and started looking around. Noticing Frank, he smiled and nodded. At the same time an elderly man came to him and asked something. Julian Luna rose and went out with that man. Frank followed them without thinking. He watched them talk for a couple of minutes and then the older man said good-bye and stopped a cab that was passing by. Julian opened the rear door for him and closed it after the man had climbed inside. He looked after the disappearing car for a moment and then started to walk down the street. Frank kept twenty paces behind him, wondering why he was stalking the Prince. But only after a hundred yards Julian stopped. He didnít turn around, and Frank came quickly closer, unsure of what to do. When the policeman was only a few steps behind him Julian looked over his shoulder.

"What is it, Frank?" he asked, a hint of irritation in his voice.

"I thought we could talk," Frank shrugged and Julian sighed.

"Iíve sneaked away from my guards," he said. "Iím being watched all the time and itís beginning to get on my nerves."

"Iím not your bodyguard," Frank retorted laughing.

"True." Julian looked away for a second then returned his gaze to the policeman. "Letís take a stroll."

They crossed the street and walked into a park. They moved slowly along the dimly lit paths in silence. At last Julian Luna stopped and faced Frank Kohanek.

"Whatís on your mind?" he asked outright.

"Nothingís on my mind," Frank answered. "Iíve known you for quite some time but weíve never talked."

Julian Luna frowned.

"We talk at the meetings," he said, and Frank shook his head.

"I meant real talk. The unimportant stuff that is really important. Iíd like to know what you think about... things. Things you like or dislike..."


Frank had been prepared to be chased off and was totally surprised by the simple question.

"I... uh, Iím trying to get to know you..." He shrugged again helplessly, well aware of how weird he sounded, expecting the Kindred to laugh at him or become annoyed. But Julian continued to look at him, his face quite serious.

"Why?" he asked again.

Iím making a fool of myself, Frank thought.

"I thought weíre friends," he blurted out and watched Julian smile.

"No," the Prince said, then cocked his head to one side and looked up at Frank. "And we canít be," he added.

The policeman exhaled sharply. Suddenly he felt very vulnerable and exposed.

"You know," he said softly, "this is more difficult than telling a woman that you love her."

Julianís smile became wider.

"Youíre quite right. Friendship is so much more... complicated." He looked away before saying, "letís move on."

They walked in silence for several minutes. Julian was obviously pondering over something and the policeman didnít want to disturb him. The Kindred stopped abruptly, and Frank who had moved on was forced to turn around in order to face him. They were standing under a lamp and Frank could see Julianís face clearly.

"Frank," the Kindred was talking softly, "you said once that everything I love dies. You were quite right. All my family; my father, my wife, my sister in law, Archon, my friends, the women Iíve loved Ė all dead." He laughed suddenly. "Even my enemies. Youíre offering me something that I want but it might prove deadly to you."

"SoÖ you donít dislike me? Youíre turning me away because I might get hurt?" Frank inquired.

"Yes, I donít want you to get hurt."

"Youíve been around for quite some time," Frank responded, "youíre bound to outlive us."

"None of them died of old age," Julian retorted. "And neither will I. You should stay away from me, Frank. If you know whatís good for you, you should stay away."

"Are you telling me to get lost?" the policeman inquired.

"No," Julian was shaking his head. "Iím just too selfish to do that."

"AhÖ" The realization dawned slowly on Frank. "Youíre too selfish to turn away my offer of friendship Ė you want it?"

"Frank." Julian hesitated for a moment but his gaze didnít waver from the policemanís face. "Iím glad you made the first move. Iíd never have dared to do that."

"Why?" The question made Julian flinch.

"I donít make friends easily." He was talking in a low voice, and Frank had to come closer in order to hear him. "Usually, men dislike me. Or use me and betray me like Archon did. And Stephen..." His face contorted in pain and he shook his head as if he were trying to shake off an unpleasant memory. "When they love or admire me... like Daedalus or Arthur. I donít want worship and I donít want sexual desire..."

"You donít have to worry about that," Frank interrupted him. "Iím not the worshipping type, and I sure as hell donít want to have sex with you. But I do want to know whatís going on in your head."

Julian laughed.

"Yes," he said. "I think we can be friends. And you have been warned."

"Your guards must be quite frantic by now," Frank commented as they walked on.

"Let them sweat!" Julian made a dismissive gesture. "Iím dead tired of them. Iím not the goddamn pope!" The invective was so out of place that it made Frank laugh, and after a moment Julian realized what he had said and started laughing as well.

"If I had thought that there were any danger I wouldnít have let you come along," Julian said. "But Daedalus will have a fit if I donít return soon. Sometimes I do things just to spite the poor Nosferatu. He will treat me as if I were a naughty child, and it drives him crazy when I pretend not to notice. He would spank me if he could, he has been on the verge more than once."

"Canít he?" Frank asked. It made Julian laugh again.

"Of course he can! Heís much stronger than I am. But he wonít. After all, I am the Prince."

He was quiet for a moment, lost in his memories. "Daedalus would never hurt me," he said at last. "He has always protected me. Archon tried to hit me once, ages ago. I did something that made him furious. Daedalus stopped him. And Stephen... he always picked fights with me, just for fun, saying that I needed to learn to protect myself. I didnít know then... what I know now. Daedalus would hover over us like a mother hen over her chicks, making sure that Stephen didnít get what he really wanted. Eventually, he did, when Daedalus wasnít around to protect me..."

"What did he want? And who is he, this... Stephen?" Frank broke in, stopping Julianís tirade.

Julian didnít answer at once. He looked at Frank, an expression of revulsion on his face.

"Stephen was my blood brother, and he wanted to... hurt me."

The shock made Frank gulp.

"Was?" he said at last.

"Heís dead," Julian responded. "I think Daedalus killed him, although he said it was someone elseÖ"

Napa Valley - 1856

Archon Raine watched his newly acquired help closely. Several weeks had passed since Julian had joined Archonís human Ďwork forceí, and it was surprising that he was still alive. The boy wasnít any better with a gun than any other of Archonís men. He could hardly use a knife and was no good at all in fistfights although his was quite strong and agile. In spite of his lack of experience he would join any fight that came his way with enthusiasm and apparently did his best to get himself killed. He didnít drink and he didnít chase women, and the others would chide him for that, provoking him into attacking them. They would beat him up then, but never seriously, knowing that Archon would throw them out if they did. After a few weeks Archon told them that Julianís wife had died recently, and that made them leave him alone. There were so few women around that everybody regarded a dead one as a tragedy. But Julian would pick fights with anybody that would oblige outside Archonís compound. His determination and fearlessness would make up for the lack of skill, and he would come out of those fights victorious more often than not. Fate seemed to hold a protective hand over Julian Luna; he was never shot or stabbed, nothing was ever broken, at worst he would come home with a black eye or a split lip.

Only Archon didnít believe in fate.

The boy will get himself killed anyway, Archon concluded. A well-aimed bullet, a throw of a knife, and that will be his end. A pity. I must stop thinking of him as a boy.

Archon didnít want Julian Luna dead. At first he couldnít have cared less, but within a few weeks he had found out things about Julian that made keeping him alive interesting. For starters, he was older than Archon had first thought. In spite of his teenage appearance Julian was twenty-six years old - an adult - and possibly receptive to reason, once his grief subsided. Also, compared to others, he had been quite well educated. He could read and write in both English and French, and was quite good with figures. He could become useful if he lived long enough.

What had happened to Julian Luna was of course a tragedy, and Archon knew why the young man was depressed enough to want to die. His wife had died in childbirth, a common event in these parts; there was no physician for miles around. But only Archon knew why Evelyn had been left unattended on that fateful night. The evil tongues had waggled afterwards: Julian Luna had killed his wife in order to be with his sister in law who lived with them. With so few women around, the envious couldnít stomach the fact that two beautiful women lived in Julianís house. The talk subsided soon enough, when it became apparent how devastated Julian was by the death of his wife, and when Eve disappeared from Julianís house the day after her sisterís death.

Archon had taken care of Eve when Julian had turned her out, and learned the truth from her. Julian Luna was responsible for his wifeís death. Instead of taking care of her, he had been in the barn with his sister in law. At first, Archon had trouble believing the young girl; Eve was apparently out of her mind, raving and crying, even trying to harm herself. Archon placed her in an asylum for the insane and went to see Julian Luna. The young widower seemed to be in no better state than his mad sister in law. He spent most of his time cleaning the house and himself. He would scrub the floor, the walls, wash everything and bathe, and then start scrubbing everything all over again.

"Mad indeed," the neighbors had commented.

But he didnít sound mad at all when Archon talked to him. Devastated by grief and guilt, but quite sane. When questioned, Julian told Archon what had happened. He had committed adultery with his own sister in law. His wife had been ill and they had not made love for months. The illicit affair had been going on for two weeks when the tragedy occurred. Eve had told Archon the truth. They had been in the barn, making love, when Evelynís labor had started. When Julian had found her, almost at dawn, she had lost so much blood that her life could not be saved. She gave birth to a boy and died soon afterwards.

"Whereís the baby?" Archon asked and was told that Julianís brother had taken in the little boy. It was just as well. Julian was apparently in no shape to take care of a child.

"Why all this cleaning?" Archon continued his interrogation, and Julian shrugged.

"It keeps me occupied," was his response.

In fact, Julian had responded reflexively to the death in his house. He was from New Orleans. The humid heat and swamps of Louisiana were anything but health promoting. Without any knowledge of microbiology or the causes of infectious diseases, he had been taught from early childhood that dirt meant disease and death. The slaves knew that and tried to protect themselves as best they could. It was well known that the white people succumbed to every epidemic much more often than the slaves did, only their masters believed that it was because the black people were somehow inferior. But Julianís father, an intelligent man, who treated his slaves comparatively well, listened to their wisdom. Disregarding the prevalent opinion, he had been able to put together cause and effect, and with a conviction of the newly converted enforced cleanliness in his house and among his family. Julian would retain his dread of filth forever, even when he no longer would have to fear infectious diseases.

Archon offered Julian work; to take him in and take care of him, and Julian accepted without hesitation. He didnít want to stay in the house where his conscience was constantly battered by what had happened. He sold his house and gave the money to his brother. It was the first time he saw his son since the baby had been born and his heart was constricted by pain. But he could not find the strength within himself to take care of his baby.

So Julian started to work for Archon, a middle-aged, wealthy landowner. Only a couple of weeks later one of the men came running to Archon on Saturday evening. He was apparently quite scared.

"Julianís sick!" he shouted. "Heís really in a bad shape!"

Archon frowned in disgust. The men pretended often enough that they were sick, just to avoid working. But then he remembered that it was Saturday, and the next day they were free to go to town. Some would go to church; others would get drunk, gamble and try to find women. Not a day to pretend to be sick.

When Archon entered Julianís room he was surprised that there was total darkness. The man who had altered Archon said:

"He told me to get rid of the lamp."

"Bring in some fresh water," Archon ordered and sat down on the edge of Julianís bed once the man was out of the room. Archon could see perfectly well in the darkness. He noticed that the young man was very pale but not sweaty. Archonís hand touched Julianís forehead. It was cool. But Julian moaned and turned his head away.

"Whatís wrong with you?" There was a trace of worry in Archonís voice.

"Bad headache," Julian was whispering. "It makes me throw up, and the light hurts. Iíll be all right tomorrow."

"Youíve had it before?"

"Yes. It will pass."

Archon nodded and stood up.

"You need peace and quiet," he said. "Letís get you out of here."

Julian started to protest feebly but Archon lifted him as if he were a child and carried him to the main house. He had understood immediately that Julian suffered from migraine - a debilitating but not dangerous disease. The young man was put in one of the guestrooms in Archonís mansion. He was sick for three days and Archon took care of him during that time. Then the attack ended as if it had never been, leaving Julian somewhat weakened for a day but thoroughly happy that the pain was gone. He told Archon that he had been suffering from these severe attacks of headache since he was eleven years old. Apparently he had inherited it from his father who had been similarly affected for as long as Julian could remember. Julianís migraine would return every few weeks; heíd always know when an attack was impending: the light and sound would suddenly become offensive, and he would smell scents that just werenít there. During one of these attacks Archon told Julian that he was tired of carrying him around, and from that time on Julian stayed permanently in the main house, working mostly under Archonís supervision. But it didnít keep Julian out of trouble. Somehow he always managed to be where there was something going on that might lead to violence. If it didnít, to Archonís dismay, Julian would provoke the violence himself.

Stefan Langhelis Americanized his first name to Stephen when the opportunity arose. A tall, thin man in mid-thirties, his eyes light blue, his long hair so fair that it was almost white, he was second generation immigrant from Latvia, born only a few months after his parents had arrived in America. He had inherited many cultural traits from his family. Drinking hard liquor was one of them.

Julian Luna on the other hand, whose family had lived in Louisiana for several generations, was still quite French. Among his relatives drinking anything stronger than wine was considered inappropriate. But he didnít dare to confess to his newly found friend that he had never drunk whiskey, and tried to keep up with Stephenís pace. The result was disastrous. To Stephenís dismay Julian became sick long before he even started to get drunk and had to get out. It made Stephen mad: his trick hadnít worked.

Stephen had returned to Archonís house after an eight months long absence. He had been traveling up and down the West Coast buying goods and tools with Archonís gold and had been quite successful in his trade. Thatís why Archon had allowed him to return. The unfortunate business with the injured boy had been forgotten.

Stephen had noticed Julian Luna immediately upon his return. He was good-looking and he was unusually clean. Stephen liked what he saw. But he could hardly try to seduce Julian under Archonís watchful eye. Archon hadnít said anything but Stephen knew what his Sire was thinking. Julian wasnít a poverty stricken teenage boy that could be lured into Stephenís bed and then paid off with enough gold to make up for any damage that had been inflicted. Julian Luna was an adult and he would not be intimidated by Stephen. If the Kindred resorted to violence, the mortal would fight back and probably end up dead. Archon would not accept that. Apparently, he was quite fond of Julian himself, and it drove Stephen mad that the beautiful young man seemed to be out of his reach.

Stephen did his best to ingrate himself into Julianís favor. His friendship was accepted gratefully, but that was all that Stephen was able to accomplish. Julian Luna was straight and apparently totally unaware of Stephenís desire. He just didnít see the passes Stephen made. Being of French ancestry, Julian was more tolerant of physical contact than Anglo-Saxons were. An arm around his shoulders, a pat on the back or the knee, a hug, were gestures of friendship to Julian Luna, nothing more. In his frustration Stephen conjured the idea of getting Julian drunk enough to take advantage of him, an idea that proved disastrous.

Archon found Julian sitting on the porch, his head hanging between his knees. He had apparently been sick. When Archon came closer he was overwhelmed by the stench of the local moonshine. It surprised him; Julian had never drunk before.

"You should know better than drinking this... this..." Archon could not find an appropriate word, and using bad language was not his habit.

"Shit!" Julian helpfully supplied the right invective, making Archon blink in surprise. Julian had never sworn in Archonís presence, not even in French. The young man tried to get up but was sick again. Archon watched in silence as Julian got up to his feet unsteadily and moved a few steps sideways in an effort to get away from the mess. He sat down heavily but missed the porch and landed on the ground. He let his head rest against his knees and didnít try to get up again. Archon continued looking at him with a disapproving frown. It was so out of character. Julian, always so neat and clean, who had earned the nickname ĎCooní among his friends; he was always washing everything, looked like an unusually filthy heap of misery right now. It was not like Julian at all.

Archon sighed and fetched a bucket of water. He emptied it over Julian, expecting an expletive, but the young man only huddled up under the cold waterfall. Archon fetched more water. Three buckets later he dared to pick up Julian and steered him into the house. Archon had to help him to get out of the wet clothes and dried him using his own towel. He had brought the young man into his own bedroom, afraid to leave him alone. Julian was only semi conscious. Archon felt his anger rise.

"How could you do something so stupid?" he said, a note of contempt in his voice. "If you really must drink, you could at least drink something better than that..."

"Stephen bought the whiskey," Julian mumbled.

"Stephen?" Archon exclaimed but Julian had already fallen asleep.

Archon fetched a blanket, deciding to let Julian sleep it off in his bed, but before he covered the naked figure, he looked at the young man for a long moment, trying to see Julian as Stephen saw him. He let the blanket fall over the sleeping man and shaking his had in despair decided that Stephen and Julian had to be separated in order to avoid disaster. Julian was blameless, apparently unaware of the Kindredís desire, so Stephen would have to leave.

Archon confronted Stephen the next day, prepared to send him off on some errand that would keep him away for several months.

"You want to keep him for yourself!" Stephen had shouted, mindless of his Sireís expression of disgust.

Archon, who had never suffered from uncontrolled passion, was hard pressed to keep his calm. He was mad at Stephen; he even felt anger towards Julian, although the young man had done nothing to evoke it. But Archon was not blind. Eventually Julian Luna would forget his grief. Then the trouble would start. As of now he was oblivious of the women that were trying to catch his attention, but when he did notice them, well, there was no telling what would happen. There might be more trouble in the future than Archon had bargained for. Stephen was the only one who had acted on his desires for the time being, unsuccessfully, thank God. But what would happen when Julian responded to somebodyís advances? That beautiful faceÖ Those dark eyes will wreck havoc in many female hearts. They already had. Evelyn was dead, and her young sister was locked away in an asylum because of Julian Luna.

Stephen was sent away. The next time he returned, almost a year later, Julian Luna had become Kindred. He never tried to seduce Julian again, but his thwarted desire would turn with time into hatred. He pretended friendship, and it would take a hundred and fifty years before Julian Luna would find out the truth about his blood brotherís true nature.

"SoÖ you became Kindred." Frank and Julian were sitting on a bench in the park, and the policeman had listened to the story without interrupting. But when the Prince fell silent, Frank prodded for more. "Why?"

"I think there are as many reasons as there are Kindred," Julian said. But Frank would not let him avoid the question.

"I wasnít asking about other peopleís reasons; Iím asking about yours. Somehow I canít imagine you coveting immortality or inhuman strength or power or..." Frank stopped, blushing, and Julian smiled.

"No," he said, "not sex either." Julian looked at Frank for a long moment realizing that he wouldnít be let off the hook. He sighed. "It may sound strange to you, but I wanted invulnerability."

"Invulnerability?" Frank stared at the Prince uncomprehending. "But you told me... remember... you told me that you can be hurt, that youíre not invulnerable!"

"Yes, I can be hurt, but... I canít be maimed." Julian shook his head and looked away. By now Frank knew the Prince well enough to interpret his reaction correctly. Julian Luna didnít want to talk but Frank was determined to get to the bottom of this.

"Maimed?" he prodded, and Julian sighed again.

"Ever since I was a child I have been afraid of that. You see, I had a younger brother who lost a finger in an accident. There were others... my grandmother was blind. Another relative lost both legs due to illness. The slaves were often maimed deliberately because of petty crimes. It was terrible. I used to have nightmares... I saw a slave branded and castrated. It was in 1845, Iíll never forget it. There were no anesthetics, no antibiotics... I can still hear his screams. He was my age, fifteen. I had known him all my life, we used to play together. I donít know why it was done to him, I tried to stop it and was forced to watch by the adults..." Julian shivered visibly. "They ripped him with a pair of old rusty shears. He died of the infection that developed in the wound. It took several days, he was in terrible pain until he lost consciousness at the end." Julian fell silent and Frank didnít want to disturb him. It had happened so long ago, yet Frank could sense the fear and revulsion that emanated from the Kindred.

He remembers slavery, Frank thought. He remembers the Civil War; he remembers both world wars. Somehow it had never registered with Frank before. He looked up at Julian and saw that the Prince was lost deep in his memories, an expression of horror on his face.

"Something happened to you," Frank realized at last. "Before you became Kindred."

"Yes," Julian admitted, "long before."

Frank leaned back.

"You seem... whole," he said, and Julian smiled.

"Yes, Iím whole." The smile was exchanged by an expression of pain. "My father saved me from mutilation. It was in 1847..."

New Orleans - 1847

Julianís father kept order in his house with what he believed to be an iron fist. He would whip his wife, his two sons and his slaves into submission. The smarting leather caught Julian more often than the others because he tried to protect his mother and his younger brother, sometimes even the slaves, against his fatherís whip. He took these whippings for granted, they were never severe and caused no injury, but the whip made a lot of noise and it seemed to satisfy his father. Then everything changed.

There was a big family gathering in his fatherís house, and Julian found himself at the receiving end of Antoinetteís flirtatious advances. Antoinette was twenty-one and married to one of Julianís cousins. Julian was seventeen and the raging hormones made him an easy prey to Antoinetteís devices. She had sneaked into his bedroom that very night and would have seduced him had she not been watched and followed by her jealous husband.

The door to Julianís bedroom was broken down and several men attacked him. He was held down as Antoinetteís husband kicked and beat him. A hand over his mouth prevented him from screaming. Then he saw a flash of a knife and somebody shouted, "cut him". As he felt the cold steel and the heat of the blood gushing over his groin, he managed to bite the hand over his face and screamed at the top of his lungs when it was jerked away. There was a loud crack of the whip and the men scattered. Julian curled into a ball, trying to protect his injured parts. He didnít hear what the men were shouting nor did he care. He was quite sure that his father would kill him now, and when the first lash of the whip landed on his back it didnít surprise him. The loss of blood and the pain made him faint within minutes.

When he had chased his nephew and that harlot of his wife out of the room, Luna lifted his son on the bed and turning him looked over his body. He was badly beaten and bruised in several places, but the cut was only superficial. The whip had saved Julian from mutilation.

Julian was severely ill for weeks. An old slave took care of him; shame prevented his father from calling in a doctor. The ancient remedies used by the slave not only healed the wounds but prevented the forming of scars. The lacerations on Julianís back disappeared without a trace, even the knife wound healed without leaving a scar.

Julian never saw the whip in his fatherís hand again. His cousin and Antoinette never entered their house again. Two years later the family moved to California.

Napa Valley Ė 1856.

Archon contemplated Julianís apparent death wish. It upset him. To let the young man get himself killed would be such a waste. Six months had passed since Evelyn had died, but instead of getting over it, Julian seemed to sink increasingly deeper into a black, oppressing depression. Sometimes he wouldnít talk to anyone for days, and then explode in violent self-accusations. The other men avoided him; he was too different and no fun to have around. They didnít like him, and besides, he would respond with violence to the slightest provocation. Indeed, Archon was sure that Julian Luna was trying very hard to get himself killed, but lacked the guts to commit suicide.

Well, I can do it for you, Archon thought. But he decided to talk to Daedalus first.

"Itís for you make the offer, and for him to decide," the Nosferatu said. "But once you tell him about the Masquerade, his choices will be limited. Either final death or the death of the Embrace. Do you want him dead?"

"No," Archon was shaking his head, "no, I donít. But if he became Ventrue he might calm down. At least I hope so. He is intelligent and might replace Stephen if we educate him. Stephenís skills at trading were formidable, but I couldnít stomach his perversity in the end. He went after Julian Luna, you know."

Of course, the Nosferatu knew everything. He grimaced in disgust.

"I donít mind that he prefers to bed men, itís not as unusual as you think. But he has hurt too many. Once Julian is Embraced, you can let Stephen return. Heíll not be able to force himself on another Kindred."

They continued devising plans and discussing different options during most of the night. It was decided that Archon would tell Julian about the Masquerade and offer him the Embrace. If Julian refused he would be killed outright.

Archon waited for Julian the next night. It was long past midnight when the young man returned from town. He had apparently gotten into trouble again. His face was bruised and he had a nasty bump on the head. He was also in a foul mood, and finding Archon in his room made him belligerent.

"What do you want?" he lashed out at the older man. "Donít you ever sleep?"

"My sleeping habits are none of your business," Archon responded calmly. "But yours are mine."

Julian stared at his employer, shocked. Archon had never said anything impolite to him before.

"Youíre working for me, remember?" Archon continued. "The brawls you get yourself into create business problems. I want you to stop acting like a spoiled child. If youíre trying to end your life, I can help you. Do you want to die?!" Archon had raised his voice in the end, unable to hide his anger.

Julian paled visibly. Suddenly he cowered. Hiding his face in his hands he started to cry.

"I wish I were dead," he sniveled. "Itís all my fault. If it werenít for meÖ if I hadnítÖ she would still be alive, and my son wouldnít be an orphan."

Archon sighed. In all sincerity he couldnít tell Julian that Evelynís death wasnít his fault. But no amount of despair and self-accusations would bring her back to life.

"Julian," Archonís voice softened considerably, "she might have died anyway. Many do out here, you know. This is no place for women. But your boy still has a father. If you get yourself killed, heíll really be an orphan. You donít want that, do you?"

Julian shook his head. Archon remembered the death of his own daughter at the age of ten, and was able to understand Julianís desolation. But when Archonís wife died, only a few years later, he had felt nothing but relief, freed at last from a loveless marriage. He had never married again. Archon was driven by desire for power and wealth. The passions of flesh didnít affect him. As he looked upon Julianís misery, Archon was grateful that he had never loved.

When the young man was possible to reach again, Archon made him sit down and listen.

"I have a proposition," he said. "I can promise you that the pain will diminish considerably if you accept."

Julian Luna did listen. He was young, strong and healthy. The longevity, the immense strength, the Kindred powers did not impress him. But when Archon told him about the Kindred ability to heal injuries, Julian became interested. It was inevitable that Julian should accept Archonís offer to Embrace him. He never asked what would have happened if he had refused. Only afterwards did he find out that he might have died for good that night. Before the morning came Julian Luna became Kindred.

Almost immediately after his Embrace Julian found out that he had lost his body language. Although he had been born and raised in America, his French ancestry had been quite prevailing. French had been his first language and his expressiveness had been quite French too. When he talked, his whole body would talk as well, his hands as busy as his tongue. Now, it was all gone. It felt as if his body had somehow become disconnected from his brain. Yet, there was nothing wrong with his perception; he could feel the heat, the cold, the pain and the touch just as well as he had done before, only more so. Nor was there anything wrong with his reactions. He was stronger, more agile and quicker than he had been as a mortal, and his endurance seemed inexhaustible. Also, his headaches became quite infrequent and less severe.

As Archon had promised, Julianís grief started to subside. He was so engrossed in his new condition that sometimes several days passed without his thinking about his dead wife. And as Archon had hoped, Julian Luna calmed considerably. He stopped provoking saloon brawls after he had killed a man with his bare hands. He was just finding out the extension of his own strength, and had not expected that he would be able to break his adversaryís back by simply squeezing him. It scared him and he heeded Archonís warning: never engage in casual fights with mortals. Itís forbidden to kill a human, and showing off Kindred strength might expose the Masquerade.

Julian Luna never attacked a mortal again unless he fully intended to kill him. Fortunately, such events were extremely rare.

"Are you telling me that youíve never killed a human being?" There was doubt in Frankís voice, and Julian eyed him suspiciously.

"Can I take the fifth?" he said smiling, and the policeman made a contemptuous gesture.

"You told me once that our laws do not apply to you."

"Did I?" Julian pretended that he didnít remember, but he recalled the harrowing scene all too well. There was nothing wrong with his memory. "We abide by human laws as long as they donít threaten us," he said at last. "At least I do," he added, noticing Frankís scowl.

But Frank was only trying to hide his own embarrassment. He had fired two bullets, almost point blank, aiming at the heart. For once, Julian had been wearing something white; the red blotch had spread on his chest in front of the policemanís incredulous eyes. But the Kindred had walked away, bleeding and in pain, but alive. Julian had been unarmed and had not threatened Frank in any way. If he had died that night, it would have been murder. The thought made Frank shudder.

It was late. Julian got up from the bench and looked up at the sky. He was able to see the stars through the polluted air and haze of the city lights. His knowledge of astronomy allowed him to tell the time exactly.

"Frank, itís past midnight. I have to go before they start turning the city inside out. Before Daedalus really does have a fit."

"Uhuh," Frank got up too. "Itís no fun being the Prince, is it?" he teased the Kindred.

"No, it isnít," Julian responded quite seriously.

"Well, I have to go back to work," Frank said. "Donít get lost on your way home." He was trying to lighten up Julianís grim expression, and to his surprise, he saw the Kindred smile."

"I think I will."

"Will what?" As it often happened, Frank had lost track of Julianís leaps of thought.

"Get lost."


"I think I will get lost for the rest of the night." Julian seemed to have forgotten Frankís presence, as if he were talking to himself. "I need to regain my freedom."

"What will you do, where will you go?"

Julian shrugged.

"The mansion has become a prison. Donít worry, this is my city. Iíll find someplace to hide."

Frank looked at the Kindred for a long moment. At last he reached into his pocket.

"Here," he shoved a pair of keys into Julianís hand. "Go to my place. No one will look for you there. I have to go back to the station," he added ignoring Julianís surprised stare. He walked away quickly, aware of the fact that he might have invited disaster into his own home.

On his way home Frank started to feel apprehension. He had offered Julian the possibility to hide in his apartment, but now he wasnít sure that it had been such a good idea. He had given the Kindred his keys; he had a spare set in his office and remembered to take them with him when it was time to go home. It was almost three a.m.

The door was unlocked. All lights were out but Frank didnít need illumination in order to get around. He took a beer out of the fridge and opened it on his way to the bathroom but stopped halfway, wondering where Julian was. He turned on the light in the living room; it was empty. The door to his bedroom was closed and Frank hesitated in front of it. He turned and went to the bathroom. He showered quickly and swept a towel around his hips as he walked towards the bedroom, determined to chase Julian Luna out of his bed. However, he made sure to be as quiet as possible when he entered. The reading lamp at the head of the bed was lit. In its light Frank could see that Julian had indeed fallen asleep in his bed. He was lying on his stomach, an arm stretched along his side, the other bent, the hand under his face. The thin sheet that covered him reached halfway up his back. He had left the covers and the pillow on the empty half of the bed.

Frank stood looking at the Kindred, realizing that he had seen Julian naked once before, when he had attacked him with a cast-iron poker at Lillieís. He sat down and leaned closer to the sleeping man. The silence was uncanny although Frank had experienced it before. Julian Luna wasnít breathing, the skin on his shoulder was cold to Frankís touch. He let his hand slide over Julianís back until it came to rest a little to the left of the spine, just beneath the shoulder blade. Julianís heart beat about once every minute.

Frank lay down and drew the covers over himself after having turned off the lamp. He was tired but the sleep wouldnít come and he was wondering why he was so tense. After all he had shared his bed with Kindred before, Alexandra and Lillie. But Julian Luna was different - Julian Luna was a man. It made Frank uncomfortable. He was aware that Julian was naked under the thin sheet, and although he seemed more dead than alive, his presence was unnerving. The total stillness calmed Frank in the end and he fell asleep.

Frank woke up with a start, the echo of a pleasant dream dying away. Shocked, he realized that he had rolled over in his sleep and was resting against Julianís chest, whose arm was slung over his shoulder. He tried to slide away cautiously but Julian followed his motion, his grip around the policeman tightening.

No way! Frank thought. He yanked himself free from the Kindredís hold swearing under his breath. The abrupt movement woke Julian Luna and he was instantly aware of where he was and what had happened.

"Iím sorry," he mumbled turning on his back and sliding away. "Itís your body-heat, nothing else. Iíd not drink your blood."

Frank raised himself on his elbow and looked at his bedmate. Julianís eyes glittered in the dark and he laughed softly. It made Frank angry and embarrassed at the same time.

"Look," he started placing a hand on Julianís chest, but forgot what he was going to say because instead of the cold lifelessness his hand encountered resilient heat. Julianís skin was now warmer than Frankís, and his heart was beating frantically under the policemanís palm. Frank let his fingers glide over Julianís chest and leaned closer. The Kindred was breathing now, his ribs moved up and down and his heartbeat had increased considerably. Frank realized with incredulity that his own heartbeat and breath had increased too. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he bowed over Julian and kissed him on the mouth. The Kindred responded to the kiss without hesitation, and Frank could feel Julianís hand move over his shoulder until it took hold of his neck, holding on to him, preventing him from breaking away. Julian put his other arm around Frankís waist and drew him closer, until their bodies rested against each other in an intimate embrace. Then, suddenly, Frank was freed and pushed away.

"I think we would both regret it," Julian said in an uneven voice. "Letís not destroy our friendship," he continued.

Frank was shocked and dismayed. Both by what he had done and by Julianís rejection.

"I canít believe that I have done that," he said. "Iíve never been interested in having sex with a man!" He eyed Julian suspiciously

"I didnít trick you into this," Julian said shaking his head. "Believe me!" He was silent for a moment. "I wouldnít have stopped you if I had," he added. "Not that it isnít tempting, but itís your friendship I want, not your body."

"Tempting?" Frankís alarm increased, and Julian smiled in the semidarkness of the early morning.

"Itís not so much sex but the nearness. Iím not gay. Ever since Caitlin died Iíve been very careful not to let anybody come too close. Iím afraid of getting hurt again, I guess. Still, I miss it."

Frank stared at him. He had lost track of what Julian was saying.

"Miss what?" he asked outright.

"The closeness of another person. Someone for whom I care," Julian answered, and Frank heard the note of sadness in the Kindredís voice.

"You... care for me?" he asked softly.

"I do," Julian responded. "You remind me of myself... when I was mortal. You must feel it too. After all, you know what I am and what I can do but you have never been afraid of me."

Frank couldnít help laughing.

"Well, thatís true," he said. Suddenly he was serious again. "I donít know why I did it, kiss you I mean. You didnít seem surprised or upset or... reluctant."

"You did surprise me, thatís why I didnít... You see, Iím not afraid of you either."

"I donít follow your reasoning," Frank said.

"If you had scared me, I would have reacted differently," Julian responded.

"Oh," was all of Frankís comment.

"Frank!" Suddenly there was agitation in Julianís voice. "Iím straight. The little experience of homosexuality that I had was, except for one incident, unpleasant in the extreme."

Frank was trying to understand what Julian had said. It took some time. He stared at the Prince, trying to imagine what he was about to say. Trying to see him as a young boy, a teenager maybe, slender, beautiful and vulnerable.

"You were sexually abused!" Frank concluded with incredulity. He saw Julian square his shoulders.

"Sexually abused!" The Prince laughed derisively. "The euphemisms you humans use!" He got up abruptly as if he intended to leave, flee from something, but stopped himself. His eyes focused on the policemanís face.

"Frank," he spoke evenly, "I was tortured and raped until I lost consciousness, and when I regained it, I was tortured and raped again. Had I been human, in all likelihood I wouldnít have survived..."

Frank could just stare, shocked.

"Iím sorry," he whispered.

"Why, you didnít do it," Julian responded. "You couldnít do anything to stop either. It happened in New York."

"When... when did it..." Frankís voice trailed off as he suddenly remembered and Julian nodded.

"Yes, even you noticed that I had been... mistreated." He looked away again and this time Frank didnít have the guts to pursue the subject. He contemplated for a moment what Julian had told him.

"You said something about an incident..." he started and Julian laughed a rather nervous laugh.

"I didnít say anything about it but I bet youíd notice," he said. "I did have sex with a man once... no, wrong, I allowed him to have sex with me. I didnít like it."

"You didnít, huh?"

"No!" Julian shivered a little. "I didnít like it at all." A shadow of a smile crossed the Princeís features. "However," he continued, "it was an interesting experience, not totally unpleasant. I did enjoy it in a way, if you can understand that."

Frank didnít even try to understand.

"Archon?" he asked only and Julian laughed again.

"The only time Archon ever touched me was when he Embraced me. If he ever wanted more I was never aware of it."

Or was I? Julian wondered. Itís perfectly true that Archon never touched me but... did he want to? And did I know it? Was I flaunting my love affairs in his face in order to keep him at a distance? Well, it doesnít matter now! He smiled at Frankís expression.

"Archon was my Sire," he said. "He was a father to me for fifteen decades. My own father died only a few months after my wedding."

"What happened to him, I mean your father?" Frank asked.

"Auri sacra fames."

"Hey, I donít speak French," Frank pointed out.

"Itís Latin. Accursed desire for gold."

But for some reason that he couldnít understand Frank felt suddenly offended.

"You donít have to throw my lack of education right in my face!" he said angrily, making Julian frown.

"Frank, nobody speaks Latin nowadays. Itís just a quotation. As regards education, when I was your age I could read and write and count without using my fingers, thatís all. In case it hasnít registered with you I might point out that I have been around for more than a hundred and sixty years. Iíve had time to pick up a few things."

"Iím sorry," Frank felt rather stupid and put off. "I guess I just never gave it a thought. Somehow I imagined that youíre my age, younger as a matter of fact." Frankís mistake was understandable. Julian Luna did look younger than the policeman, no matter how much he tried to appear more mature. "So, your father succumbed to the lure of gold, but you didnít. How come?"

"I was otherwise engaged."

"Otherwise engaged?" The tone of Frankís voice made Julian turn red in the face. The policeman had guessed right: while Luna senior was involved in the pursuit of gold, Julian had fallen in love.

Napa Valley - 1856

What first attracted Julianís attention to Evelyn was her unusual coloring. Her skin was so white that it seemed to glow. Whenever she became embarrassed, which happened easily, her whole face, neck and ears would turn pink and that would embarrass her even more. Her straight hair was blonde, golden as ripe wheat and her eyes were deep blue. It took Julian no time to notice how beautiful she was although everything in her appearance tried to deny that. She used no make-up and she wore her hair in an ugly bun that hung down her neck. Only spectacles were lacking to make her look like a spinstery schoolteacher. Julian looked at her pink lips, merely a shade darker than her skin, and was embarrassed by his own thought. He had caught himself wondering whether her nipples were as light pink as her lips.

Evelyn and her seven years younger sister had come to California with their uncle and his family. The man had come to dig for gold and was only too happy to be rid of one of his nieces; one mouth less to feed. Julian and Evelyn were married only a month after they had met in his fatherís office, were he conducted his business, mostly buying gold from the men who had found it. It wasnít poverty that had sent the Luna family to the other side of America but sheer greed of Julianís father. Julian had never known poverty and never would. It was the one misery that he would be spared. But at the moment any thoughts of money and gold were even more distant than they had been when he had first arrived in California six years ago. He had dutifully worked with his father just as did his brother, and was quite satisfied with whatever his father paid him. Luna Senior considered himself quite a shrewd businessman and Julian never challenged that, the way his brother sometimes would. Right now Julian was scared witless as he faced his bride on their wedding night.

Ever since Julian had turned fifteen, he seemed to be in a perpetual state sexual excitement. The young white girls were of course unreachable, protected and watched as nuns in a convent. The white women werenít interested in teenage boys. That left the slaves. Although the slaves had no legal rights they were nevertheless protected by unwritten laws. It was of course different in the countryside, but in the city Ďthingsí were known. A white man who had a black mistress was regarded with contempt. If a white man raped a white woman he would face dire legal consequences, but if he raped a slave he would become a social pariah. Whatever means he might use to intimidate a slave into becoming his mistress would pass as long as he didnít resort to violence. The poor slaves would sell their bodies for the promise that their children wouldnít be sold, better food, lighter duties or gifts, but outright force was seldom used. Some learned to take advantage of their ownerís lust. A few were genuinely loved. Julian learned very quickly that small gifts would buy the attention of slave girls. They would consent to be Ďfriendlyí but would not sleep with him, and he was of course too inexperienced and too shy to demand that. But their kisses and caresses were quite satisfactory. Like any young boy Julian was easy to please. There was one girl however, Arlette, a little older than the others, who demanded more than gifts and sweets. She taught Julian that women could enjoy kisses and touch as much as he did. He could still remember the fearful surprise that overwhelmed him when he first felt her nipple harden against his palm. Due to Arletteís demand for pleasure, without ever having slept with her or any other woman, Julian had learned more about female sexuality than many married men had. Still, he was sick with nervousness when he and Evelyn were at last left alone. Arletteís teachings would come to good use, preventing their wedding night from becoming a total disaster. Evelyn had no knowledge about sex whatsoever.

She held him as he shuddered in his release, watched his face contorting, listened to his cries.

"Whatís wrong?" she asked in a fearful voice, but he shook his head smiling shakily.

"It feels so good," he whispered.

"I thought you were in pain." Evelyn wasnít convinced.

"It feels so good that it hurts," Julian responded.

He had managed to elicit response from her with his kisses and caresses. Determined to overcome her shyness she had relaxed and enjoyed his touch until her body reacted in a way that it almost scared her. The intensity of the pleasure brought tears to her eyes. But when Julian started to make love to her, the very act of penetration was enough to send him over the edge and he peaked within seconds, much too soon for his own liking. He had wanted the pleasure to last longer. It worked a little better the next time they made love that night, but it took Julian several weeks before he learned to control his own reactions well enough to be satisfied with his own performance, as well as to allow his wife time to enjoy herself.

"SoÖ what happened to your wife?" Frank inquired.

"She died in childbirth."

No amount of prodding helped. Julian refused to say anything more about his wife, and his expression told Frank that he was overstepping the line. He let it rest. Frank had lost his wife too; it made him understand Julianís reluctance. He changed the subject.

"Alright, what about this incident you mentioned before, who was it?"

"You wonít leave it alone, will you?" Julian was apparently ill at ease, but Frank was sure that another opportunity to find out as much as he could about Julian Luna might never present itself. He knew that he probably wouldnít dare to invite the Prince to spend the night in his apartment again.

"Címon, you already told me that you did. It wasnít Daedalus, was it? He isnít the sortÖ"

Julian was shaking his head.

"No, no, it was Arthur. My loyal bodyguard. The one who took care of Caitlin."

Frank recalled the tall, blond man.

"Yes, I remember him. But I havenít seen him around forÖ uh, two years?"

"He died." Julianís voice was filled with pain. "The very day whenÖ he was killed saving my life."

"How come you two ended up in bed all of a sudden."

"A mistake. I found myself in a situation which required that I pretended to be gay. Arthur was at hand. I asked him to teach me how to behave andÖ well, I let it go too far, thatís all there was to it."

"ButÖ you knew he was gay, didnít you?" Frank was trying to understand. "Didnít it bother you?"

"Yes, I knew, and no, it didnít bother me." Julian was shrugging. "Why should it? He never did anythingÖ wrong. He was a loyal friend and a trusted bodyguard. I just didnít seeÖ lack of imagination, I guess."

San Francisco - 1989

Julian clamped his teeth together until it hurt, preventing laughter from spilling forth.

If I start giggling now, heíll cut off my head, he thought.

Still, it was difficult to keep the hilarity in check. The human was holding a big knife against his throat, the serrated edge had already seared the skin slightly, and a few droplets of blood trickled down towards Julianís collar. The knife was pressed against his carotid artery, and Julian knew that a wrong move might get him killed, the absurdity of the situation notwithstanding.

In spite of his newly acquired status as the Prince of the city, Julian Luna had sneaked away from the mansion without guards, and had gone to one of his favorite clubs. He had always enjoyed being among humans, people who didnít know who or what he was. This was one of the more expensive places; it provided good music, excellent wines and amiable company. Julian was one of the regular customers and would always get one of the best tables. Many homosexual men frequented the club and some of them had tried to approach Julian in the past. He had always declined their invitations politely, and they would leave him alone. After all, he was a well-known womanizer, and the ladies used him as much as he used them. However, one of the gay men became Julianís friend. A tall, well built, fair man, with an unbelievable Spanish accent, Arthur had a black belt in karate, and he had decided that Julian was in need of his protection. Julianís assurances that he was quite capable of taking care of himself and didnít need Arthurís help to fend off any unwanted passes went past Arthurís ears unheard or at least unheeded.

"Youíre scaring off the ladies," Julian often told Arthur, but the gay man only laughed.

"Youíre leaving with a woman in tow every time you come here. Thereís no reason for you to complain," Arthur retorted, and it was Julianís turn to laugh.

In fact Julian appreciated Arthurís company. The young mortal was indeed from Spain, but had inherited his unusual coloring from his Dutch mother. After her death, Arthurís father took him, his two younger sisters, and some other relatives and immigrated to America. They had settled in San Francisco from the very start and ten years later Arthur had a degree engineering. He didnít know that he was working for one of the companies that Julian owned. It was perfectly true that Julian Luna would not need Arthurís or anybody elseís help if he were attacked by humans. He was much stronger and swifter than any mortal was, but to get involved in a fight with a human might expose the Masquerade, and that had to be avoided at all costs. Arthurís rather intimidating presence helped to keep would-be attackers at bay when Julianís own bodyguards werenít around. Because there was something about Julian Luna that infuriated other men. There was an air of superiority and confidence, of barely concealed contempt, that provoked mortal males to violence, especially when they were drunk.

"Youíre too handsome for your own good," one of his adversaries once commented. "Someone will remodel that beautiful face one day."

Julian had not been surprised. He had gotten into trouble because of his looks before. In spite of the popular belief, Kindred could see their reflection in the mirror, and Julian had seen his own face often enough, unchanging through the ages, realizing long ago why women found him irresistible and why men resented him. Although he had always tried to stay away from any conflict with humans, Arthur had nevertheless noticed that Julian was different. The Kindred didnít know what the mortal suspected until Arthur knocked over a glass filled with wine. Julian reacted without thinking, moving swifter than could bee seen. He caught the glass just before it hit the floor, preventing it from shattering. Only the wine sloshed over his hand. He put the glass back on the table and reached for a napkin to clean his hand when his gaze met Arthurís. He recognized the expression on the other manís face. It was utter disbelief and Julian knew then that the glass had been knocked over deliberately. He felt his anger rise and fled before Arthur could see his eyes turn bright green.

He had been standing in front of the mirror for several minutes, waiting for his anger to die down, watching his eyes return to their normal brown color. Someone came in while he was washing the wine from his hands and Julian only cast a glance at the new arrival, making sure that it wasnít Arthur. He was in no mood for any interrogation.

I must never come back here, he thought.

He was wondering whether he should try to find out what Arthur knew and make him forget what he had seen. He was so absorbed by his own thoughts that he didnít notice what was happening until he saw the reflection of the man that had come in suddenly loom behind him, and felt the knife being pressed against his neck.

Julian stood absolutely still. Although he was infuriated by the fact that he had allowed the man to attack him, he didnít intend to lose his head or harm the mortal over whatever the man was after. As he looked down he was able to see the hairy hand that was holding the knife. It shook unsteadily.

"The money is in my left breast pocket," Julian said. He didnít know how much money he had but losing it would be of no significance. Except for the shame of being robbed in the menís room in his favorite club.

The manís other arm came around Julian, but instead of searching his pockets it started tugging at his belt. Julian was so surprised that he didnít understand what his attacker was after until he was grabbed so hard that he flinched in pain, and the knife made another notch in his skin.

"Now Iíve got you," the man hissed in his ear. "Donít move!"

Julian was thinking furiously. Being robbed was one thing, but thisÖ A wave of nausea swept trough him but he ignored it, devising ways of getting the knife away from his neck. A couple of inches would be enough. He looked at the reflection of the red face of the attacker in the mirror, then closed his eyes, but not entirely. He could still see the hand with the knife. He let all his muscles turn limp and leaned against the heaving chest behind him, although everything inside him screamed in disgust at the unpleasant touch. His knees buckled and he started to slide along the manís torso towards the floor.

"Hey!" The man was shouting. "Donít faint!"

That was the most idiotic demand Iíve ever heard, Julian thought.

Then the hand with the knife was gone, but as the arm was closing around Julianís waist, he decided to heed the Ďidiotic demandí. The molester would never know what happened; the human perception just isnít quick enough to follow a Kindredís blindingly fast movements. Julian twisted within the manís hold with a catís agility, and his hand closed on the exposed windpipe. His fingers squeezed it with inhuman strength and he watched coldly the eyes of his attacker bulge as he ripped his throat out. For Julian everything was happening in slow motion. The clatter of the knife as it hit the floor. The flailing hands that were moving towards the wound as if something could be done to stop the blood that was splashing over Julianís face with rhythmic bursts. He was so sickened by what the attacker had been trying to do that the blood only increased his disgust instead of evoking hunger, making him think that his humanity wasnít totally gone. A strange thought, considering that he had just killed a mortal. The sound of the door opening and Arthurís concerned voice, distant yet demanding attention.

"Julian, are you alright? Youíve been gone for so longÖ"

Then there was silence for one second before the body fell. Julian looked at it and then threw down the piece of flesh that he was still holding in his hand. He turned facing Arthur. Arthurís gaze traveled between the dead man and Julianís disheveled clothes and blood-covered hands and face. The blood didnít hide Julian Lunaís green stare.

"He wasnít trying to rob you, was he?" Arthurís voice was level, there was no hint of what he was thinking or what he intended to do.

Julian shook his head.

"No, heÖ"

"I know, he has done it before."

Arthur bolted the door and came closer. Julian took an involuntary step back, but Arthur only took hold of his arm and turned him around. His hand moved towards the tap.

"Clean yourself," he ordered. "I will help you get away unnoticed, but it wonít work if you look like Jack the Ripper."

To his surprise Julian started to laugh.

"Itís no laughing matter!"

"Youíll find it difficult to believe, but I helped to catch Jack the Ripper." He started to splash cold water in his face. Once the blood was washed off he put his clothes in order and faced Arthur again. The human was watching him intently.

"I thought he was never caught," Arthur said at last.

"He was caught alright," Julian responded. "But he was never tried in a public court."


"He was condemned and executed."

Arthur eyed Julian suspiciously.

"Whatever happened to Jack the Ripper, happened at least a hundred years ago."

Julian Luna smiled.

"Almost exactly."

"I donít know what to believe," Arthur said at last. "I donít believe that youíre the devil, but youíre no angel either. Are you going to tell me what you are?"

"I will. But not here. Letís get away from this carnage."

They managed to sneak out of the club unnoticed.

"I didnít make it up to get away with murder," Julian was saying, exasperated. He didnít know what reaction he had expected from Arthur, but it certainly wasnít disbelief. "You can believe me or not," he continued, "but helping me to get away makes you an accomplice after the fact. If you go to the police and..."

"I wonít go to the police," Arthur interrupted him. "That guy had it coming. As I told you before, this wasnít the first time he had attacked someone, although he usually did with more success." Arthur laughed mirthlessly. "It was his bad luck that he eventually had to run into you. Iíve seen him stalking you for quite some time. Thatís why I tried to stay at your side. I thought you needed protection. Apparently not."

Julian shook his head in mock sadness.

"Iíve told you that I am in no need of protection. As you saw, Iím quite capable of protecting myself." He was quiet for a short moment. "You were not supposed to see what I can do. I wish you hadnít."

"Well, I did." Arthurís heavy Spanish accent was more pronounced than ever; he was too nervous to control that. Julian on the other hand was a picture of serenity. This wasnít the first time his secret had been exposed, and by now he knew how he could deal with the situation. There were several options. He could make Arthur forget what had happened by mesmerizing him and pushing the memory into the young manís subconscious. He could Embrace him, if that were Arthurís wish. He could kill him. Arthur was big, strong and well trained, but he would be no match for Julian Luna, the new Prince of the City.

Arthur chose to become Kindred.

When Julian introduced his new bodyguard to Archon, the older Kindred felt apprehension. He remembered Stephen all too well. Stephen, whom he had sent off to Washington State, when it was still a wilderness. He had done that to keep Stephen away from Julian Luna. A disaster had been avoided. Would Arthur become a new Stephen?

"Not much of a bodyguard," Archon commented when he and Julian were alone. "After all, he is gay."

"So was Alexander the Great," Julian had retorted, silencing his Sire effectively.

Archon realized immediately that Arthur had fallen in love with Julian Luna. But he was not an abuser like Stephen, and Archon decided to let it rest. Julian wouldnít notice anyway. Arthur became a valuable associate and friend of the Prince.

Julian Luna found out that his trusted bodyguard was in love with him on the day Arthur was killed.

Frank looked out. The sun had risen almost an hour ago. He cast a glance at Julian Luna who was putting on his coat, ready to leave. He looked as neat as he always did. Every hair in place, his pale face well shaved, his clothes in perfect order.

"Is it all right for you to go out now?" Frank asked. "Itís full daylight out there."

Julian nodded.

"There is no danger," he said, "yet. But I must go. I need to get some sleep. Weíve talked away most of the night."

Frank made a wide grin.

"I want to hear more. Thereís a gap of more than a hundred years left."

Julian sighed in exasperation.

"I donít feel like telling you the story of my whole life. It hasnít been all that exciting."

"Well, tell me what you think was important."

Julian looked at Frank for a long moment.

"You have an uncanny way of dragging whatever you wish out of me. Is this how you found out about us from Alexandra? She disclosed the Masquerade to you and condemned herself death by doing it. If you drag too much out of me, it might prove fatal to you. To both of us."

"What do you mean?" Frank was taken aback.

"Just remember, you have been warned."

Julian left Frank to ponder over his last remark.

Nobody made any fuss when Julian returned to the mansion in midmorning. Daedalus pretended that he hadnít noticed that the Prince had been absent all night. The servants and guards went about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Of course, it was the Nosferatu who had sensed that Julian was about to revolt. Daedalus gave the orders when the Prince wasnít around. This time he told everybody that they must stop treating Julian Luna as if he were mentally retarded or the Ďgoddamned popeí.

From that day on, Julian was able to have some privacy even when he left the mansion, and the guards never protested when he told them to get lost. But he seldom did that. Julian Luna had made his point, and although he was not the Ďgoddamned popeí, he was the Prince of the city, and inevitably attended as one.

* * *


In spite of his decision to heed Julian Lunaís advice to stay away from him, Frank couldnít help thinking about what he had been told by the Kindred. He wanted to hear more. Frank was quite sure that Julian had not recounted his lifeís story to anybody else before. The policeman recalled Julianís voice, hesitant at first, but then it was as if a dam had been broken through, spilling forth the Princeís memories. The usually neutral accent of his precise speech had been replaced by the different dialects that Julian had acquired during his long existence. The old Creole decorated with many French expressions that Frank didnít understand and had to ask for translations. The posh British accent that would surface whenever Julian was upset. The long sentences, always correct, but sometimes difficult to follow.

Frank visited the Haven more often than he used to, hoping that he might run into the Prince again, but several weeks passed and there was no trace of Julian Luna. In the end Frank caught himself wishing that something might happen in the Kindred community that would force Julian to contact him. But all was quiet in the city of San Francisco.

Well, Frank thought, heíll probably turn up out from nowhere, when I least expect him.

A couple of months passed, and then Frank was summoned to a meeting in the mansion. He found to his dismay that Julian wasnít present, and Daedalus was leading the meeting. Frank had trouble concentrating on the discussion, and stayed after the others had left. Nobody had mentioned the Princeís absence. He confronted Daedalus as soon as they were alone.

"Where is he?"

"The Prince has other matters to attend to." Daedalusí voice was as neutral as Julianís could be.

"Donít give me that crap!" Frank became aware of his own fear and it surprised him. "Something has happened to him!" He realized that he was shouting and tried to calm himself. "Tell me the truth," he pleaded.

The Nosferatuís gaze lingered on the policemanís distraught face.

"Why should you care?" Daedalus asked at last.

"Oh, my God! Heís dead!" Frank concluded.

"Depending on how you look at it, you could say that Iíve been dead for a century and a half."

Frank turned and was faced by Julian Luna. The Kindred stood by the fireplace, watching Frank impassively. He nodded to Daedalus and the Nosferatu left.

The relief made Frank giddy. He crossed the room in a few strides and grabbed Julianís arm.

"Youíre alive!" he exclaimed. He felt the Kindredís muscles move under his fingers. "Youíre alive!" he repeated. "I thoughtÖ"

"That is subject that might spark a long philosophical discussion," Julian responded smiling. "What made you think that I was dead?"

Frank felt rather stupid.

"I donít know." He didnít know what to say. "You werenít here and it scared me."

"There was nothing that demanded my attention at this meeting. I donít want to exaggerate my importance, but had I been killed, you would have noticed. The whole city would have noticed."

"Iím sorry, I made a fool of myself. I must have sounded like some melodramatic movie character."

"Yes, you did. You were lucky that Lillie had already left. She would have laughed her head off." Julian was quiet for a moment. "I intended to talk to you after the meeting," he continued, turning towards a small side table. There was tray with an opened bottle of wine and two glasses. "Please, sit down. That is if you donít have some other pressing business to attend to."

Frank sat in a chair by the fire.

Thereís nothing in the world that might tear me away right now, he thought.

Julian poured the wine and reached into his pocket.

"I forgot to return your keys," he said. "I was thinking of giving them to Lillie, but thought better of it. She has a dirty imagination."

"That she has," Frank concurred.

"And who knows that better than you and I?" Julian commented with a soft laughter.

"How did you two meet?" Frank asked.

"She seduced me when I was in London. That was more than a century ago."

"Did she?" Frank had trouble believing that.

"She was the celebrated Toreador actress. I was just a refugee from America, a nobody. They thought that I was Jack the Ripper. My arrival in London coincided with his ravages among human women. Then we caught him and killed him. Jack is still a mystery to humans, but not to us. He was a Brujah gone mad. Something like that Nightstalker here in San Francisco, a few years back. You remember him?"

"Of course I do!" Frank shuddered at the memory. "He almost strangled me. If you hadnít cut his head offÖ"

It had happened so swiftly. The mad Gangrel had wrestled the phosphorus gun from Frank, but it had not protected him from the Princeís wrath. Frank could hardly follow the Kindredís movements. It was the only time that Frank had seen Julian Luna kill somebody. He hoped that he would never have to see that again. He decided to change the subject.

"You were telling me about Lillie," he reminded the Prince.

Julian nodded.

"I was summoned by the Prince of London, when I was still a suspect. I managed to prove my innocence, as Jack had killed his first two victims before I came to England. Lillie was present at that meeting."

London 1888

"A good-looking Ventrue. Thatís a first."

It was the first thing that Julian heard Lillie say, the very first time he saw her. Her contempt-filled whisper was as audible as if she had shouted. Then of course Lillieís stage whisper could be heard on the third balcony. Julian was supposed to hear and react. It was a test and he knew that. He had turned around, prepared say something equally derogatory and found himself staring, tongue-tied like an idiot. She was the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen. She was looking him over, a cold smile on her face, her eyes flashing white lightning.

"Thank you," he said, disregarding the tone of her voice, pretending that her remark was a compliment.

They didnít speak again that evening, but Julian had trouble keeping his eyes from her, and the others noticed. They warned him, saying that Lillie would eat him for breakfast and use his bones as toothpicks. He had laughed at that. Years ago he would have felt apprehension, but by now he knew that the contempt of women often meant that they felt attraction. Especially when that contempt surfaced unprovoked, before he had made a pass at her. Yet there was something scary about her. Lillie reminded him of the Snow Queen from a fairy tale; an evil, beautiful witch who turned people into snowmen. His picture was apparently quite accurate. An older Ventrue friend told him to stay away from Lillie.

"Sheís cold as ice," he said. "If you come too close sheíll freeze your balls."

But Julian had responded that ice would melt if heat were applied to it, and besides, if you hold something cold long enough it starts to burn you. He had laughed at that thought, well aware that his desire for Lillie was drawing him towards her like a moth is drawn towards the fire. He knew that Lillie was dangerous, and that danger beckoned to him as much as Lillieís beauty. He saw her perform and sent her flowers and gifts but didnít try to meet her. To let her know that he was interested but keep his distance turned out to be the right approach. Lillie was bewildered. In the end she was the one who made the first step. She crashed a party that was given by the Ventrue Primogen for his clan. Lillie was the only Toreador who came, but nobody would dare to turn her away. She confronted Julian openly.

"What is it you want?"

"You," he had answered as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Lillie was stunned. She stared at him for a moment and then started to laugh.

"Are you ready for me, Ventrue?"

"I wonít know unless I try to find that out," Julian had responded quietly. "Are you ready for me, Toreador?" he challenged her.

She had turned away and started walking towards the door, but as someone opened it for her, she looked back over her shoulder and beckoned. Julian followed her out as if drawn by an invisible chain, oblivious of the snickering giggles that chased him.

The women had always been there. During the last thirty years there had been an endless parade of women, most of them mortal. Archon had raged and Daedalus had scorned, but they could not keep Julian away from the ladies, and nothing could keep away the ladies from Julian. But he had not loved any of them, and they had all been exchangeable. Not Lillie. For the first time in three decades lust prevented him from sleeping. He wanted Lillie. No one else would do.

"SoÖ tell me about the women," Frank said casually when Julian stopped talking. He wasnít particularly interested in Julianís love affairs, but he hoped that he could lure Julian into telling him something more about Lillie. But Julian looked at him frowning.

"What about them?"

Frank shrugged, pretending indifference.

"You have a reputation nowadays. Has it always been like that?" he asked.

"Reputation?" A green shimmer lightened Julianís eyes for a split second, then it was gone, and Frank smiled.

"Donít tell me that youíre not aware of the talk; ĎJulian Luna, the resident Don Juaní. There has been a lot of gossip. I heard it long before I knew who you were, before I thought you were a mobster."

"Oh, really?" The green light was back in the Princeís eyes, only this time it didnít disappear, and he sounded very British all of a sudden.

"Why does it upset you? Iíd have thought that any man would enjoy being regarded as a ladiesí man."

It was Julianís turn to shrug.

"I just canít see where this opinion came from." But he looked away, apparently not as unknowing as he pretended to be. "Itís just gossip," he continued. "Iím not as irresistible as some believe me to be."

"No, of course not." Frank was snickering.

"Daedalus says that I could never resist a pretty face." Julianís voice became soft. "I guess itís true."

"Thatís all, pretty faces?" Frank was teasing the Kindred. He knew now that he would get something out of Julian. All he had to do was to steer the conversation in the right direction. "Your wife died and you were Embraced. Then what?" he prodded.

"I worked for Archon," Julian said.

"No ladies?"

"No ladies."

"Are you sure?"

"Iím quite sure."

Frank raised an eyebrow in a doubtful expression.

"For how long?" he asked.

"A couple of years," Julian answered and was startled by Frankís outburst of laughter.

"No ladies, huh?" the policeman managed to sputter at last, laughing even harder at Julianís surprised countenance.

"Whatís so funny?" Julian inquired, but Frank only shook his head.

"So, what happened after Ďa couple of yearsí?" he was still laughing.

"I got a slave."

"WHAT?!!!" Frank was so shocked that he forgot to shut his mouth.

"Thereís no need to shout, my hearing is excellent. Pick up your chin from the floor. Frank, this was before the Civil War and I was a child of my time. It isnít easy to unlearn old ways. My father owned several slaves when we lived in Louisiana. It was the same with women. I have been taught to pamper and protect them as the helpless, ignorant creatures they were. It took ages before I could regard women as equals. I still have trouble seeing them as dangerous, even when they are armed. It has cost me quite a few unpleasant injuries over the years."

Frank felt a little ashamed. It was so easy to jump to conclusions.

"Iím sorry," he said. "To me itís history. You lived it, I know that. But itís so difficult to imagineÖ I see you the way you are now, not on a horseback."

It made Julian laugh.

"I still ride better than I drive. I learnt to ride when I was a child. Driving on the other hand," he shook his head in mock despair, "letís change the subject."

Frank jumped at the opportunity.

"Alright, tell me about your slave."

Napa Valley - 1858

Julian had won her in a poker game. Usually he wasnít very good with cards and entered a game only when invited. Lacking inclination for hazard he would not lose or win much, he was never carried away by the desire to win. But this night he had been more successful than ever. The amount of gold on his side of the table rose steadily and the opponents dropped out of the game one by one. In the end there was only one left, a man of indeterminate age in Indian clothes. It was almost midnight when the trapper shrugged saying:

"That was the last of my gold."

Julian looked up at him and shrugged too.

"Then that was the last game."

The man didnít rise from the table however, but looked at Julian and scratched his beard.

"Iíve got something else to stake," he said at last, and Julian raised an eyebrow inquiringly. If the man wanted to throw in his horse, Julian wasnít interested. To make a horse accept Kindred was difficult and time consuming. Julian already had a horse that tolerated him and didnít need another one. "Just wait!" the man said and went out.

Julian decided to wait ten minutes and then leave if the man didnít return by then. The trapper came back before the time was up. He was dragging someone with him; a short, slim figure covered with grime.

"How much will you put against her?" the man asked. Julian looked the dirty girl over.

"Sheís yours?"

"Yeah. The Indians sold her to me for some knifes and whiskey," was the response.

Why not? Julian shrugged. He could use a servant.

"How much do you want for her?" He was prepared to buy her. The trapper named a prize and after some bickering they agreed on half. But the man didnít want the money; he wanted to use the woman as a stake. Apparently he hoped to win and wanted to keep her. Julian accepted. A few minutes later he was a proud owner of what he thought was an Indian slave.

He took her to Archonís mansion. She was apparently tired and weak, and Julian let his horse walk very slowly so that she could keep up with its pace. If she hadnít been so dirty, he would have let her ride with him, but he didnít want to touch her. It was almost dawn when they at last arrived, but Julian decided to get her cleaned before he would let her rest. She watched him with expressionless eyes while he heated some water and then poured it into a wooden tub. When he told her to get in she hesitated for only a second. He turned away and heard her as she took off her filthy clothes and climbed into the tub. She washed her hair several times but was unable to comb it with the brush that he had brought her; it was just too tangled. Julian found a pair of scissors and she nodded acceptance when he showed them to her. He cut her long hair just above her shoulders; what was left was easy to comb out. When the hair had fallen, exposing her back, Julian noticed several scars and welts on her back and buttocks. She had apparently been whipped many times. He gave her some food and for the first time he saw anything but indifference in her eyes. She was very thin and he realized that she had been kept on the brink of starvation for a long time. He gave her one of his old shirts and told her to get into his bed. She obeyed without looking at him.

"Iíll get you some clothes tomorrow and find a place were you can sleep," he said. The last thing he saw as he walked out of his room was the look of surprise on her face. It made him smile. Julian was not interested in using her, and he would not sleep next to a human. Archon had warned him about that. A Kindredís apparent lifelessness while he slept would scare a mortal and might expose the Masquerade.

Ailee was the quietest creature that Julian had ever encountered. She spoke only when addressed, her voice barely more than a whisper. Her English was adequate, but the heroic battle she was fighting with the grammar made Julian laugh sometimes. The intricacies of French grammar, so familiar to Julian Luna, made him wonder how anyone could find the English language difficult.

She told him that her mother was Chinese. The Indians had kidnapped her more than twenty years ago. She didn't know where that had happened. The woman had been kept as a slave, and an Indian was Aileeís father; she didnít know who. Her mother had died a few years ago, and the Indians had sold her to the white man from whom Julian won her in that poker game. The Indians had never harmed her, but the white man had been mean. He didnít give her enough food and beat her quite often. When she became pregnant, he had kicked her in the belly until she lost her baby.

Julian told her that she would be his servant. Her duties were to keep his things clean, and to make sure that there was always enough hot water for a bath when he came home, whenever that might be. He would pay her; she would have to provide her own food and clothing. He didnít tell Archon how she became his property, knowing that his Sire didnít approve of slavery.

Archon accepted her presence without comment. There were other human servants on his property, but none of them lived in the mansion. The work she did for Julian didnít take much of her time, so she started cleaning the rest of the house as well. She cooked her own meals, and there was always food waiting for Julian. He never ate it of course, and after a few days she got mad and threw a piece of meat at him, shouting something in a language he didnít understand. He ducked reflexively, and the food splattered on the wall. When he turned to her, shouting back, she cowered and put her hands over her head in a protective gesture. Julian stopped in a mid-stride. Apparently, she expected him to hit her, and it stunned him. He had never hit a woman in his life and he found her fear was insulting. He scraped the meat off the wall and pressed it into Aileeís hand.

"I donít eat here," he said. "You must have noticed that nobody but you eats in this house." He took hold of her shoulders and forced her to face him. "Donít try to feed me again. I eat in town, and so does everyone else here. Just make sure that you do what is required of you and there will be no trouble. And donít prepare more food than you can eat yourself." He shook her a little, just to make his point and, to his surprise, she started to laugh. He let go of her and turned to leave, but just as he was walking out of the kitchen, something hit his shoulder. When he looked, there was a small carrot rolling on the floor, and Ailee was aiming another in his direction. It came flying toward his face but he ducked out of the kitchen before it hit him. He heard her laugh, and couldnít help laughing too.

Her timidity dissipated after that incident. Within a couple of months she gained some weight; she looked healthier, and Julian noticed that she was a quite beautiful young woman. Every now and then she would throw a small object at him, a fruit or a nut, and was impressed that he always caught it in midair. Julian realized quite soon that she was trying to catch his attention, but she was a slave, and therefore off limits. It was a strange sort of morality on Julianís part: a gentleman does not take advantage of a slave Ė itís ill-mannered.

Julian stayed in his brotherís house longer than he had planned to, hoping that the winter storms would abate, but as there seemed to be no clearing, he decided to ride back anyway. Archon would be worried; Julian was supposed to be back the day before yesterday. It had been raining heavily for several days, and what passed for roads had turned into torrents of mud. His horse stumbled ever so often and cast its head back violently in an effort to regain its footing. Eventually, afraid that those casts would crush his face, Julian dismounted and walked the rest of the way to Archonís house, letting his horse trail him as best it could. He slipped and fell several times, and when he finally arrived, both he and the poor animal were covered with mud, presenting a picture beyond description. Julian washed the horse and poured several buckets of icy water over himself before he dared to enter the building. It was dark and quiet, but when he came to the kitchen, he found Ailee there, busy heating water. He sighed with relief. As she started filling the wooden tub, Julian tore his dirty clothes off and climbed into the hot water at once, but it took a long time before his teeth stopped chattering.

"I help," Ailee said, disregarding the grammar as usual.

He let her wash his hair, then allowed her to wash the rest of him. Realizing that he was falling asleep in the tub, he got out and started drying himself. As he turned, ready to go to his room, he was faced by an unexpected sight. Ailee was standing in front of him, barely a few feet away, naked. Julian blinked in surprise.

She came towards him, and before he understood what she intended to do, her hands moved up his arms and she pressed her body against him. Julian took hold of her shoulders, intending to shove her away, but his inbred instinct, which prohibited the use of violence against a woman, made him slow and careful. She kissed his neck and he felt stiff nipples grease the skin on his chest. His body reacted even before his brain registered that sign of her lust. Instead of pushing her away, his arms locked around her and he lifted her, pressing her hard against him. Her arms and legs enclosed him, and they both gasped loudly as he thrust into her. The sudden rush of adrenaline made Julianís head swim and blurred his vision. His body was out of his mindís control and he cried out as he was hit by a violent release within seconds. A moment later he became aware of two things: he was still standing, holding Ailee tightly to his chest, her weight of no consequence, and he was still inside her, as hard and as excited as he had been before the orgasm. Only now he had a little better control of the situation. He laid her down on the kitchen table and started moving with slow, powerful thrusts. He felt her nails dig into his shoulders and her body arched against him. When she began to moan he silenced her with a kiss.

Julian was of course unable to keep it a secret for long. He sensed that Archon didnít like what was going on under his roof. There were no comments but the disapproving snorts were telling enough. Julian didnít care. For the first time since his wifeís death he felt alive, almost happy. He was not in love with Ailee, but he liked her. She was a demanding mistress, full of mischief and crazy ideas. Mysterious and childishly open at the same time. Willing to experiment, untroubled by Christian hypocrisy or inhibitions, she taught Julian that there were many ways of making love. In spite of the fact that she was a slave, she was a lesson in freedom.

But Ailee was a mortal and Julian was Kindred. Once he was started, there was no way of stopping him. It was as if he were discovering a new world. Sometimes he would disappear for days on end, returning to the mansion at odd hours. The rumors reached Archon finally. Julian Luna was working his way through the scant female population of the valley, just as his Sire had predicted, and it was not appreciated. At least not by the men.

"I knew this would happen sooner or later," Archon complained to Daedalus. "One day he will be caught in the wrong bed, and we will have a posse on our heads. Heís endangering the Masquerade."

"Yes," the Nosferatu concurred, "but thereís nothing we can do to stop him."

"Are you sure?" Archon inquired.

"Can you refrain from feeding?" Daedalus retorted.

"Itís not the same thing!"

"To Julian it is." Daedalus knew what he was talking about. "Just look at him. Julian Luna has been put on this Earth for one reason only. That instinct has survived the Embrace, although he canít father children anymore. We have to accept him as he is, and we have to protect him."

"And how do you propose we do that?" There was irony in Archonís voice. "Well, at least heís not like Stephen; he doesnít harm anybody. But he will harm himself."

Archon didnít care to admit that, but even he was aware of Julianís sex appeal. The poor women were defenseless. And so was Julian Luna.

"What happened to her?" Frankís curiosity had been peaked. "Did you Embrace her? Is she still around?"

"No, she died." Julian sounded sad. "A stupid accident. She was bitten by a poisonous snake. She saved me from a painful but harmless experience, and she died."

"What happened?"

"I must have disturbed it somehow and it attacked me. I heard the hiss. Ailee grabbed it by the tail and yanked it away. The snake bit her and she died within minutes. The poor girl didnít know that snake poison has no effect on Kindred."

"Does any poison?" Frank asked.

"No." Julian smiled suddenly. "And donít come dragging in garlic. I can smell garlic on a personís breath several days after it had been consumed. Itís offensive, thatís all."

"So all that stuff about garlic, crosses, silver bullets and stakes through the heart is just rubbish?" Frank inquired.

"Of course." Julianís gaze focused on the policemanís face. "I knew the one who invented that story."

"You knew Bram Stoker?"

"No, but I met the Toreador who made him write it."

"Lillie?" There was incredulity in Frankís voice, but Julian shook his head.

"It was her Sire," he said.

"Oh." Frank was silent for a moment. "Is there any truth in that story at all?"

"The laws of physics apply to us just as they apply to you, but we do defy some of your laws of biology. We arenít invisible in mirrors. We donít sleep in coffins although we do seem rather lifeless when asleep. As you know, the sun can be a mortal danger to weakened Kindred. You saw what happened to Stevie and Alexandra. It killed Cameron too. The crossesÖ there are those among us who remember crucifixion as the means of execution. Itís an unusually cruel way to kill anyone, human or Kindred. The garlic, as I told you before, it just smells bad. A stake through the heart immobilizes a Kindred, renders him helpless, but itís not lethal by itself. " Julianís voice became ironic. "We can be killed, but itís not as easy as killing a human. Is that what youíre trying to find out? How to kill me?"

"No!" Frankís face turned violently red. "I threatened you after Alexandraís death, I remember that. I hated you then, but not anymore. Youíre not a monster. For Godís sake, man, you saved my life! Do you think that Iíd forget that? Vampire or notÖ"

"Donít say that," Julian interrupted him. "Itís an insult."


"We call each other vampire when we mean to offend."

"But in Stokerís DraculaÖ" Frank started but was interrupted again.

"Yes, I know. That Toreador had a weird sense of humor." Julian leaned closer to the fire, frowning. "Itís the equivalent of primate, as if I called humans apes or Neanderthals."

"I see." Frank nodded. "I wonít use bad language again, I promise, but thereís something I want to ask you. When I shot you, on Alexandraís balconyÖ" He wasnít looking at the Kindred. "You were obviously hurtÖ" He didnít know how to continue.

"Daedalus removed the bullets. It was just as unpleasant as being shot. You see, the human poisons donít affect us, but neither do anesthetics." Julian Luna wasnít telling the whole truth. If there were a poison or a drug in the blood that a Kindred ingested, it would affect him.

"Iím sorry," Frank was really remorseful. "Iíve been meaning to apologize for that for quite some time."

Julian nodded acceptance.

"Iíve been shot before. Iím not saying that Iíve got used to it, but itís no big deal. There are worse things that can happen. Daedalus has become an expert surgeon over the years. Usually, his comments are more painful than his ministrations. But it has to be done."


Julian chuckled softly.

"If I carried around all the junk that Iíve been shot with, Iíd be rather heavy by now. Not to mention the possibility that I would attract every magnet in the vicinity and wreck havoc with the metal detectors at the airports."

Frank couldnít help laughing too.

"Anyway, I apologize," he said again. "What happened afterwards?"

"Afterwards?" For once Julian had lost track of Frankís line of thought.

"Your slave died. And?"

"And all hell broke loose."


Julian made a grimace.

"Archon didnít approve of my conduct. I guess I was rather unmanageable."

"Women?" Frank didnít really need to ask, and Julian laughed.

"Hey, how did you know?" His accent was suddenly pure Creole, and he made a helpless shrug as if he wanted to say Ďthe devil made me do it, I couldnít help myselfí. "It had to end in disaster and it did. Archon nearly hit me; I came so close to breaking the Masquerade wide open." Julian held his fingers almost together. "So close," he repeated.

"So you were banished from California and went to London. And you met Lillie." Frank was trying to steer Julian towards the subject that interested him.

"Are you absolutely sure that you want me to tell you about Lillie?" Julian looked at Frank sideways. Seeing his evident embarrassment, Frank realized that Julianís question was aimed at discouraging him.

"Yes, I do." He laughed softly. "You can spare me the most intimate details."

"Itís not the Ďintimate detailsí that areÖ offensive to talk about."

"Oh." The policeman tried to hide his smile. "Is it so difficult to talk about feelings, to admit that you loved her?"

Julian frowned.

"I never loved Lillie." His voice was a barely audible whisper. "Thereís something about LillieÖ something almost repulsive. Sheís a calculating witch and at the same time the most miserable creature I know. Sheís damned."

"What do you mean?"

"Unrequited love."

Frank waited for Julian to continue but the Kindred was silent.

"For you?" he asked at last although he already knew the answer. Julian nodded.

"I canít remember another woman before Lillie that I wanted as much. And hated as much."

London - 1888

Lillie made him stand in the middle of the room. She took her time turning on the lights, not looking at him once while she walked from lamp to lamp. At last, when all lights were burning brightly, she turned and faced him.

"Take your clothes off!" she ordered, her voice cold as ice.

For a brief moment Julian regretted having promised to obey her. But he didnít hesitate. He was naked within a minute. Standing there, in full illumination, he became painfully aware of his body under Lillieís scrutiny, his desire making him vulnerable.

"But you are beautiful." Lillieís voice had become low and throaty. She smiled for the first time. Slowly, she began taking off her gloves, tugging them off, one finger at a time. She let them fall to the floor and came closer. Her fingers touched Julianís chest, her nails drawing blood. Then her hand moved in a slow caress to his shoulder and slid along his arm until she took hold of his wrist.

"Come," she whispered.

She made him lie down on the bed and started turning on all lamps in the bedroom. Julianís eyes followed her every step but again she didnít look at him. Then she came to him and sat at his side.

"Move up s a little," she demanded and he slid towards the headboard of the bed. She took hold of his wrists and stretched his arms above his head. Her fingers closed over his and she made him grip the iron bars.

"Hold on to these bars," she said. "No matter what happens you mustnít let go."

"Are you going to bind me?" Julian asked wondering if there were anything strong enough to prevent him from breaking free.

"That wonít be necessary," Lillie responded. Her cold smile was back. "If you let go Iíll throw you out."

Julian tried to strain his neck, turning his head up and back, in order to see his hands.

"I wonít let go," he promised. Lillie nodded and suddenly bowed over him and kissed him on the mouth. Julian responded eagerly and there was an ominously cracking sound that emerged from the vicinity of the bedís headboard. Lillie broke the kiss.

"If you break the bars," she said laughing, "Iíll break something in you."

Her grip was so sudden and hard that it made him gasp in pain. But he resisted the urge to let go of the bars and pull her hand away. Slowly, the squeezing hand relaxed and the pain subsided.

"Youíre good," Lillie breathed in his ear. "Not many have passed thatÖ"

"What are you trying to do?" Julian asked, his voice rather shaky.

"Iím teaching you control," she answered.

In the next moment she moved down his body and he felt her mouth take him in. He gasped again, but this time from pleasure, his back arching in ecstasy. He bit on his lower lip until it started bleeding, the pain preventing him from peaking immediately.

Julian found out the hard way that compared to Lillie he was just an enthusiastic amateur. Lillie kissed the palm of his hand until his skin began to tingle, then sunk her teeth into his wrist, making him hiss in pain, and gulped so much blood that the loss made him light-headed. She allowed him to move with long, slow thrusts, her hand squeezing him painfully, the nails pricking the delicate skin threateningly whenever he tried to increase the tempo. She threw back her head, inviting him to feed. He found the vein in her neck and drank deep, restoring his strength. When a thin trickle escaped he followed it with his mouth until his lips found Lillieís breast, and his kiss became hot and demanding. As he felt her muscles contort, he started to move faster, and neither his own will nor Lillieís ripping claws could stop him anymore. The violent release made him scream, and he sagged in Lillieís embrace, shuddering uncontrollably and unable to support his own weight. The unbelievable mixture of pain and pleasure made his head spin; he had almost fainted.

Lillie simply threw him out when he was too exhausted to be of any use, as she said with contempt. He was also weakened by the loss of blood; she had taken more than she gave. Julian walked around in the city for hours, bewildered and dizzy although he had fed several times, wondering what was happening to him. It was a new experience. For the first time in his Kindred existence a woman had demanded more than he was able to endure. He felt revulsion and not so little fear. That he was physically stronger than Lillie didnít change the fact that she had been totally in charge Ė almost all the time. No woman had given him more pleasure before, or pain, or satisfaction. Fear didnít stop him from wanting more of that exquisite torture.

Lillie was never available when he tried to contact her, but each time he was almost convinced that she didnít want him anymore, she would summon him, the way a queen would summon a subject. It was humiliating, but Julian never failed to come to her on the appointed time. They would make love, always the way Lillie wanted it, and Julian learned to keep up with her pace. Her blood always excited him beyond reason. But after a few months his male ego revolted. Using his superior strength, Julian forced Lillie to make love the way he wanted. She screamed angrily and ripped his flesh with her claws and teeth, but the more abusive she was, the more tender were Julianís kisses and caresses. She had given up in the end, allowing him to overcome her resistance, submitting to the overwhelming waves of pleasure. But when she saw his triumphant smile, it was Lillieís turn to know fear.

Julianís education had seemed more than adequate for the mid-nineteenth century, in California. But when he arrived in England, he learned immediately that compared to the sophisticated Ventrue of London he was barely literate. He might not have cared about that if it werenít for those long, idle, gray, sleepless days. Julian had arrived in London in the fall. He hated the city from the first moment. It was damp, cold, and unbelievably filthy, ridden by poverty and disease. The robust human population of California seemed to belong to another species. But London was full of bookshops and libraries, and besides, everybody who could afford it could study almost anything. In spite of his anger Archon had made sure that Julian would not end up in England empty-handed. Julian didnít lack intelligence, and now he was able to acquire an education that had not been available in America. He was fascinated by natural sciences and became an ardent student of astronomy and physics.

Julian Luna became a curiosity in London. He had a strange name, strange accent and was quite wealthy. He made friends easily, and the women found him attractive, especially since he was considered Lillieís property. With time, Julianís dislike of London turned into admiration.

He met other women, both human and Kindred. None of them could compete with his Toreador lover, but he was no longer as addicted to Lillie as he had been in the beginning of their liaison. He knew that Lillie was seeing other men as well, but they would end up in bed together whenever they met. Neither could stay away from the other for long.

Lillie spat in rage at her own reflection in the mirror.

"You should have known better," she hissed at her image. What she dreaded most in the entire world had happened; she had fallen in love with a man who didnít love her. He desired her of course, but that didnít impress Lillie Langtry. All men desired her.

How could I let it happen? Lillieís eyes flashed white lightning. She had seen the danger the first time she saw him, yet her desire had made her foolish. Now she would have to pay the prize. Sometimes she imagined that she hated Julian Luna, but each time she saw him, her resentment would melt away. She wanted him more than she cared to admit, even to herself. But she would never tell him that she loved him, never!

They became quite close friends over the years, traveling together in Europe, hunting together, enjoying life in all possible ways. Everybody welcomed them. Considered the most beautiful couple among the Kindred, they would be invited to every party and gathering, and many would try to imitate them. When they came to America, Lillie was no longer a celebrity. She had to disappear from the world of the living; her time had run out, and she found herself overshadowed by Julian Luna. It was evident that Archon had plans for Julian, but it would take some time before Julian would accept those plans.

Julian drank the last of the wine in his glass and rose from the chair.

"Frank," he said, "itís enough for tonight. I have to leave." Julian didnít tell the policeman that they were no longer alone. The Nosferatuís presence was only detectable to the Prince. Frank nodded and got up.

"Do you plan to disappear again for the next couple of months?" he asked. "Itís like reading a book one chapter at a time; frustrating."

"There isnít much left," Julian responded. "Iíll come by your place sometime next week, or maybe the week after. I donít intend to disappear. At least not deliberately."

Julian waited until the policeman was gone before calling Daedalusí name. He heard a soft rustle and turned towards the sound. The Nosferatu was standing by the fire, his calm face betraying nothing. As always, when faced by the Nosferatu, Julian felt apprehension.

"Are you afraid that Iíll tell him too much?" he asked. But Daedalus only shrugged.

"You canít tell him what you donít know. Besides, apart from being human, he is one of us."

Julian Luna looked at the Nosferatu in silence for a long time.

"What is it that I donít know?" he inquired at last, and Daedalus shrugged again.

"Julian, youíre the Prince. You know what you need to know. We have our secrets just as you Ventrue have your own. Thatís how we all survive. Donít ask questions that can not be answered."

Julian bowed his head.

"Of course Daedalus." But there was disappointment in his voice and the Nosferatu heard it.

"I have been at your side ever since youíve been Embraced," Daedalus was hurt. "Have I ever disappointed you?"

"No, no. You have always been loyal to me." There was a hint of desolation in the Princeís voice that made Daedalus wince.

"Julian, whatís wrong?"

"I have never doubted your loyalty, Daedalus." Julian tried to keep his resentment i check. He faced the Nosferatu squarely. "Do you realize that youíre the only being that I have ever feared?"

Daedalus winced as if Julian had hit him in the face. His shocked expression told the Prince that he had really hurt the Nosferatu.

"Not now." Julian was trying desperately to repair the damage, not realizing that Daedalus wasnít really listening. "Not anymore. But after Archon had Embraced me, and you showed upÖ"

* * *

Napa Valley - 1858

While Julian respected Archon, he was terrified of Daedalus. There shouldnít be anything strange about that; the Nosferatu could scare the fiercest Brujah out of his wits with one glance. But to Julian Daedalus was the living proof that he had left the humanity forever. That he had entered the realm of the cold-blooded; crossed the boundary of eternal hostility between day and night. Fear of reptiles, imbedded in human genes since the beginning of time, made Julian dread the Nosferatu instinctively. Julian Luna was one of the few Kindred who were able to keep some part of their humanity intact.

Julian was always aware of Daedalusí watchful eyes. When Archonís despotic commands didnít work, Daedalusí soft-spoken allusions would always suffice. But what Julian perceived as contemptuous supervision was actually care. Fortunately, he didnít know how closely he was watched.

Daedalus had abandoned the big canvas for a spell and painted a miniature portrait of Julian Luna from memory. It was perfect. The Nosferatu smiled in sadness. His paintings were displayed in museums all over the world; they were priceless, and his human name was prominent in every book about renaissance art. There was even a gallery in Florence, which was dedicated solely to his work.

Daedalus cast a glance in the mirror, and the timeless pain tore at his heart again.

Why wasnít I Embraced by a Ventrue or a Toreador?

Behind the bald head, ugly ears and angular features he could almost see the beautiful, young man he had once been; celebrated, loved and adored. He looked again at the tiny picture of Julian in his hand. All the powers of the Nosferatu Clan that were at his disposal seemed suddenly to be of no value.

Beautiful and bright, Daedalus sighed. Thereís no justice in this world.

Daedalus had been forced to leave his human life by sudden illness. He had been only thirty-seven at that time. He remembered the date very well. It had also been his birthday; April the sixth. Death had been imminent, and there had been little choice. The Nosferatu wondered sometimes who had been buried in the tomb that bore his mortal name in Romeís Pantheon. The wonderful life of a celebrated artist had been taken from him overnight, and he entered the dark world of the most ancient and mysterious of the Kindred Clans. Daedalus forced himself not to look back. His mortal life and his mortal loves were long gone. But as he watched Julian Luna he couldnít help comparing the fate of the young Ventrue to his own. In contrast to Daedalus, Julianís human life had ended almost before it really started. What had been taken away from Daedalus when he became Kindred, would be given now to Julian.

Nobody understood Julian Lunaís true nature better than the Nosferatu. As a mortal Daedalus had been what Julian was now; a slave of the demands of the flesh - what would be diagnosed as sex addiction in the Ďenlightenedí era of the later part of the twentieth century. Daedalus was almost free of his passions. But occasionally he would succumb to the old desires, devising means to hide his horrifying appearance. His indulgence of Julianís reckless behavior was in fact an understanding that the young Ventrue could no more stay away from women than he could abstain from feeding. Nothing would ever change that, and Julian had the advantage of being the most beautiful man that Daedalus had ever seen. The Nosferatu thought of his own mortal face, which he had put often enough in his paintings. He had been considered a handsome man in his days.

Even I couldnít have competed with Julian Luna, he decided smiling.

But Julian had been born three centuries after Daedalus had given up his mortal existence and his human appearance. Julian was luckier than most; his face was unchanged by the Embrace. And now, subject to the Kindred powers, it wouldnít age either.

Time passed and Daedalus watched over Julian Luna as if the Ventrue were his own creation. He made sure that Archon knew as little as possible about the worst of Julianís escapades. But the young Kindred was uncontrollable, and in the end he had gone too far.

When Julian Luna returned from Europe almost twenty years later, he would no longer be intimidated by either Daedalus or Archon. But he had changed as well. He wasnít as wild as he had been earlier. Whatever else Lillie had done, her influence had made Julian more responsible and mature. He didnít change his ways, but was much more discrete. However, it took another decade before Julian came back to Archon and accepted his leadership without question. Eventually, Julian became Archonís most trusted associate. He was chosen Primogen of the Ventrue clan on the same day that president Kennedy was assassinated. Twenty-five years later, with Daedalus active help, Julian Luna succeeded Archon as the new Prince of the city of San Francisco. It was the first time that a Prince relinquished his title and stayed on after the transition of power.

Julianís leadership was seldom challenged. He was a successful Prince, and it was well known that he enjoyed unconditional support of the Nosferatu Primogen. Although Daedalus knew that Julian didnít really need him anymore, he stayed at the Princeís side.

His Prince, whom he regarded as a reincarnation of his own humanity.

Julian acquired the ability to sense Daedalus presence only recently, after the Nosferatu had offered the Prince his own blood, thus helping him to defeat Goth, the once banished Nosferatu Primogen. Aided by Daedalusí gift Julian was more powerful than ever, and his bond to the Nosferatu had become stronger. But Daedalus could no longer follow him around as he had done in the past, when Julian could not detect him. It was at Archonís request that Daedalus had kept vigil over Julian Luna from the very beginning. He had watched the young manís despair before he was Embraced, and held his protecting hand over the Kindred afterwards. He had kept Stephen at bay for more than a century, and had always been there whenever Julian needed him. He watched Julian fight and love, triumph and get hurt. Daedalus had stopped Archonís raised hand, preventing him from hitting Julian, the one offence that Julian would never forgive his Sire.

Then it was Julian who had chased Goth out of San Francisco twenty years ago, heeding Daedalusí plea to save his Sireís life in spite of the final death sentence that Archon had declared.

Julian Luna was everything that Daedalus was not. Far from being envious, Daedalus loved his Prince to the point of worship. Being told that he was feared by the only being that he admired, hurt Daedalus more than he could bear.

"Do you want me to leave your City?" the Nosferatu asked, his whisper barely audible.

"Daedalus!" Julianís shout was filled with despair. "Didnít you hear me? I was afraid of you, but not anymore. Donít do this to me! Iíll not be able to go on without you. You must never leave me. I need you." He hid his face in his hands, stifling a sob. "Why am I losing everybody? What have I done?"

The Nosferatu blinked in surprise at the sudden outburst, and his expression softened.

"Julian," he was still whispering, knowing that the Prince would hear him anyway, "Iím sorry. I wouldnít have left even if you told me to. Youíll have to kill me to get rid of me."

Julian looked up at his friend.

"Iíd rather kill myself," he responded, and Daedalus heard the sincerity in the Princeís voice.

"That will not be necessary. If you ever decide that you need to die, Iíll be honored to assist you," the Nosferatu Primogen said solemnly, and Julian realized that he had been offered the greatest sacrifice that Daedalus was capable of.

"Thank you, Daedalus. Iíll never forget that." He hesitated for a moment. "If you ever need me, Iíll also be at your disposal."

It was the right answer. Daedalus inclined his head in reverence and kissed Julianís hand. In the next instant he was gone.

* * *

Frank went on with his life but made sure that he was always at home when he wasnít working nights. He was waiting for Julian to come, and he was no longer afraid of what might happen if and when the Kindred showed up. He was quite sure that Julian would never harm him or do anything improper. Frank was certain by now that apart from Daedalus he was the closest friend that Julian had. And Daedalus, although Kindred, was by far much more different from Julian Luna than Frank himself Ė a human. The bond between Julian and Daedalus was of different kind, and the gap between the Nosferatu and the Ventrue could never be breached completely. But Frank was also aware of the fact that if a conflict were to arise between the humans and Kindred, he and Julian Luna would find themselves on opposite sides of the fence. He hoped sincerely that it would never happen. He tried to imagine his own reaction if the Masquerade were broken, and the mortals started to hunt the creatures of the night. He knew with absolute certainty that he would do anything within his power to protect the Kindred. The Prince had protected him, and Frank would protect Julian at any cost if the necessity arose. He realized with incredulity that he had never cherished a friendship more than that of Julianís. As seldom as they met, the awareness of the Kindredís care had dissipated Frankís feeling of loneliness.

It was almost nine in the evening, and Frankís shift had just ended. Before leaving for home he stopped by his captainís desk. He wanted to discuss a messy case of homicide, which he hadnít been able to solve. He heard the phone ring but before he reached it Sonny had answered. Frank saw his partnerís eyes widen in surprise.

"Itís for you," Sonny said unnecessarily; it was Frankís phone. "Julian Luna."

"Are you free this evening?" the Prince asked as soon as the policeman said his name.

"Yes, I am."

"Iíll come by your place in an hour if itís alright with you."

"Please, do." Frank was painfully aware of Sonnyís close scrutiny.

"What are you two up to?" Sonny asked as soon as Frank put down the receiver.

"UhÖ" Frankís mind had gone blank. He knew though that he didnít want to tell his Kindred partner why Julian Luna had contacted him. Somehow it seemed inappropriate.

Is Julian endangering himself by confiding in me? he wondered. He put a finger to his lips and made a hushing sound.

"Itís a secret." He left Sonny staring after him in a stupefied silence.

* * *

Frank looked at the shelves, trying to figure out what he should choose. He knew enough about wines to realize that the one Julian had served him was far beyond what he could afford. At last he bought two bottles that were almost too expensive.

"You shouldnít have done that," was the first thing that Julian said, startling the policeman. "Iím sorry, I should have knocked. But I knew you were expecting me, and the door was unlocked." He had appeared out of nowhere, like a magician on a stage.

"Oh, you came through the door?"

"Of course. I just moved too fast for you to see. I didnít mean to scare you."

Frank smiled at that.

"Youíll have to do better than that if you want to scare me. But it is impressive."

"I didnít do it to impress you. Itís just the way we are. You move at your pace. If you donít need to adjust to someone who moves much more slowly, you never give it a thought, do you?"

"Yeah, youíre right." Frank was still grinning. "You didnít want to impress me at all. You want some wine?" he nodded toward the bottle, and it was Julianís turn to smile.

"Sure, and youíre not trying to impress me either."

Frank was amazed by how comfortable he felt in the Princeís company. They were chatting about different things and Julian gave the policeman an idea on how to solve the homicide he was assigned to.

"You might make quite a detective," Frank commented. "If youíre half as good as Sonny, youíd do alright."

"Iím doing quite alright on my own." Julian pretended to be offended. "I have for quite some time."

"I thought you had always worked for Archon. At least until you became the Prince of the City."

"I did." Julian responded. "But not always."

"Are you saying that you were actually able to tear yourself from your Sireís supervision and face the harsh world all by yourself." Frank was teasing the Kindred; the wine had made him a little wicked.

"Oh, but I did make it on my own," Julian retorted. "In a way," he added smiling, "among humans."

"What did you do?"

"Iím not so sure that I want to tell you. Lillie still laughs at me."

"She does?" Frank would not be stopped. "Now, what could you have done that would make Lillie laugh."

Julian was apparently hard pressed not to laugh himself.

"I encroached on her territory," he actually giggled, and Frank stared.

Lillieís territory? he wondered. Then it hit him.

"Show business?"

"Uhuh," Julian used Frankís favorite expression. "On one occasion I almost thought that Caitlin had found out."


Julian recounted a conversation with Caitlin. It took place only a couple of months after they had become lovers.

* * *

"Julian, do you tango?" Caitlinís question came out of the blue one evening when he had taken her out for a late dinner. Julian looked at her uncomprehending. There was no dancing in this restaurant.

"I know the steps." He was bewildered. "Why do you ask?"

She rummaged through her bag and came up with a small book, a paperback. She opened it before presenting it to him.

"Here, look at the pictures," she was laughing, "it could be you. A little less muscle and a little more make-up. It could be you, ten years ago or so."

Julian stared at the black and white photos, thanking silently the now forgotten make-up artist. He hated being reminded. Nevertheless, Lillie would remind him every now and then, pricking his ego whenever he became too pompous.

"Youíve put that Toreador blood you got from me to good use there!" she would say.

As his own veiled gaze stared back at him from the pages of the biography, he wished for the Nosferatu ability to disappear through the wall, or through the floor, in this particular moment.

"There is some resemblance," he admitted at last, trying hard not to show his embarrassment.

On his return from Europe he had had trouble adapting to Archonís severe leadership. He had left San Francisco only a few months later, determined to prove that he could make it on his own. And he did, only to find out within a few years that he had chewed off more than he could swallow. It had been his first and only plunge into the cesspool of the American show business. Fortunately, he had been wise enough to use a false name, together with a phony accent and background story, placing his origin in Italy. He knew enough Italian by then to pull it off. The tangles of the film industry had almost strangled him. In the end, he had staged his own demise in 1926, vowing that he would never become a public figure again.

No, fame was for humans. He had done it for the money, and for fun, he had to admit that, at least to himself. But the enjoyment had turned bitter shortly. The human vampires lived in Hollywood. Still, when it came to tango, he knew more than just the steps.

He returned the book to Caitlin. Those photos, more than seventy years old, altered in order to give the best picture, retouched; there was no trace of his scar, were no danger to Julian. But they made him feel ashamed.

"Why this sudden interest in a film star who has been dead for seventy years?" he asked.

"Somebody at the office thought he was your look-alike," Caitlin answered shrugging, "but now, when I compare," she looked at the pictures and then at him, "no, just superficial resemblance." She smiled. "You look much better."

Julian repressed a shiver, smiling back at her flattery. No, those were the years he didnít want to remember. He had returned to San Francisco and to Archon, chastised and apologetic, glad that his Sire welcomed him back. He had kept out of the public eye for years afterwards, withstanding the chiding of other Kindred. Neither Archon nor Daedalus ever mentioned his failure, and in time his stunt seemed to be forgotten. Only Lillie reminded him sometimes, usually when she thought that he needed to remember his less fortunate inventions. After all, she could hardly whisper ĎMemento morií in his ear.

He recalled the suggestive music, the dancing halls, the atmosphere of decadence and unbridled sexuality, the hypocrisy. The suffocating feeling of being caught in a smothering web of lies and falsehoods that seemed much more repulsive than the lie of his own existence. No, Julian would never go back to living among humans, the way he had done in the early twenties. One trial was enough. Even the Brujahs were easier to deal with.

His mind played the music again, and for a brief moment he missed the abandonment of the dance. His Kindred strength and endurance had enabled him to dance the nights away. Women had fought each other for a dance with him. Or more. He had never lacked partners. Or companions. Or blood.

"Do you?" he asked Caitlin, but she had already forgotten her own question.

"Do I what?" she inquired.

"Tango?" he reminded her.

She shook her head in negation.

"Nowadays people dance to disco music, in case you havenít noticed," she pointed out. Her remark was justified. Julian avoided loud music, and the few times they had danced together, it had always been to soft, slow tunes.

"I can teach you," he said disregarding her comment. "Iím not as good as he was, but I think youíd find me adequate."

Caitlinís eyes brightened with amusement.

"Julian, Iíd love to tango with you," she said laughing, and he nodded quite seriously.

"Then we will."

* * *

Frank stared at the Prince in disbelief. He jumped up and started tearing out the books from the shelf. At last he found the one he was looking for. It was a history of American cinema. He leafed through several chapters. There were some black and white photographs. He looked at them and then at Julian Luna. The policemanís eye, well trained in recognizing faces, searched for comparable details.

"Iíll be damned," he whispered under his breath. "Iíll be damned."

But Julian was just embarrassed.

"Frank," there was a hint of steel in his voice, "if you tell anybody about this, Iíll turn Daedalus loose. My face has caused me enough trouble as it is."

"Ouch, touchy, arenít we?" Frank commented, but he had heard the threat and it made him cautious. "I wonít spill the beans, I promise. Did you teach her to tango?"

The look Julian gave him told Frank that he was still treading on slippery ground.

"No, the opportunity never arose. We were both quite busy. ThenÖ" He stopped suddenly.

"Then she died," Frank continued the unfinished sentence relentlessly.

Julian reacted as if he had been hit in the stomach. He cowered, his face contorting in pain and despair, and a single tear escaped from his eye. Frank watched its red trail on Julianís face with awe.

How could I ever think of him as a beast? He turned his eyes away in shame.

"Julian," Frank didnít realize that he was whispering, "Iíve always felt responsible for her death. If she hadnít come to meÖ"

"It wasnít your fault." Julian didnít let him finish. "None of it was your fault. The blame is solely mine. If I hadnít made her rememberÖ if I hadnít fallen asleepÖ ifÖ" A sob cut him short and he fell silent.

Frank didnít want to disturb the Princeís grief. He knew that he should leave it be, but his pity was mingled with anger. Julian was absolutely right; he was responsible for Caitlinís death.

"Look, next time you fall in love, tell her the truth," Frank blurted out at last.

"I wonít!" Julian snapped back.

"Why? Had Caitlin known the truth, sheíd probably be still alive." Frankís brutal honesty was partially caused by his own guilt. But Julian shook his head vehemently.

"I meant that I wonít fall in love," Julian retorted.

The policeman was silent for a moment.

"Yeah, right," he commented dryly at last, "and you wonít drink blood either."

Julian Lunaís beautiful face paled more than usual. The green light shimmered again in his haunted eyes. Bur after a moment his mouth began to quiver, and then he started to laugh.

"Yeah, right," he repeated after Frank. He knew that the policeman was right. Heís getting worse than Daedalus!

"Youíre worse than Daedalus," Julian said. But there was warmth in his voice, and Frank understood that the Prince appreciated his lack of respect. Frank would never kiss the Princeís hand, and that made them equals although they belonged to different species.

It felt good to have a friend.

* * *


The phone rang as soon as I put down the receiver. I tore it up again.

"Now what?!" I wasnít even trying to hide my irritation.

There was a silence and I knew that the call wasnít from the lab.

"Iíd like to speak to Dr. Craine, Dr. Anne Craine." The soft baritone on the other end had hesitated before saying my name as if he had to read it.

"Speaking," I said.

"My name is Jeffrey Morris, Dr. Morris," the voice became very professional. "Iím sorry, but I have to inform you that your son, James, has been involved in an accident."

"Jeez..." I began, but Dr. Morris didnít let me start wailing.

"Heíll be quite all right," he said. "However, heís injured and I think you should come. He has tried to make us promise that we wouldnít tell you. Apparently, he wasnít where he was supposed to be."

"Of course he wasnít. He was supposed to be at the summer school!"

Before I could start asking questions, the good doctor gave me the name and address of the hospital and hung up. Three minutes later I was in my car, trying to beat the afternoon traffic. Damn brat! Iíve had enough of unpleasant surprises during recent months. This was one thing I could do without.

Imagine, only six months ago I was quite happy. Well, maybe happy was too much to say, but I was content. I had finally got my Ph.D. in forensic medicine. I was promised a good job in L.A. My husband was no longer slapping me around, and my three kids were healthy. What else could a woman want. Okay, so the kids were becoming more and more unmanageable, I was about to give up my constant fight with the ten-pound overweight, and my sex life had dwindled down to nothing. Then, when the dust settled, and the ceremonies and the parties were over, my beloved husband of sixteen years came home one night and announced that he was leaving me! And off he went! That very night.

I cursed and cried and broke a few things. Then I got this crazy idea in my head that I should kill myself, just to spite him. Not to mention the fact that he would be stuck with three spoiled brats. That would be quite some revenge. So I called his sister and asked her to take care of my poor abandoned children for a week or so. She knew them all too well and tried to invent excuses, but I was hard as a stone.

"Look," I said, "your brother has left me. I need time to organize things. Get a lawyer and stuff. You know."

She had been through two divorces. She knew.

After I left the kids in her care, I returned home and started to organize my demise. I cleaned the house, and it stayed clean the day after because there was no one around to make a mess. I stayed in the bath for two hours and nobody yelled about breakfast or lost socks or shirts that werenít ironed. I dyed my hair a terrible orange and nobody laughed at me. I didnít cook one meal during the whole day, and when the evening came, I was able to watch whatever I wished on the TV. I went to bed before midnight for the first time in years, and just before I fell asleep, I realized that I was also happy for the first time in years.

I was a doctor of forensic medicine, probably the most competent person to commit suicide, and I knew that suicide was the last thing I was interested in. I was thirty-eight years old, and I was determined to start a new life. Left alone with three children, aged ten, eleven and fifteen, well, Jerry would pay through the nose.

He did.

We never went to court. The house was sold, and I got most of the money. He was to pay for the children for years to come. I saw his new woman; she waited for him outside the lawyerís office. I wished her luck. I applied for a new job in San Francisco and moved there two months after the divorce papers were signed. By the time I was settling down in the new city, my hair was black and to my utter surprise, the surplus ten pounds were gone. It doesnít sound like much, but if youíre five feet one, it shows. Life seemed to get better. Even the kids were somehow easier to handle, now that Jerry wasnít around to make everybody nervous with his outbursts.

So why did Jimmy have to go and get himself involved in an accident. What sort of accident, by the way? Did he fall from a tree, was he hit by a truck? If he had tried to make the doctors keep his misfortune a secret, apparently, he had been doing something he wasnít supposed to.

At last I found the hospital. It wasnít one of the big city hospitals, and as soon as I entered, I realized with dread that it wasnít the sort of hospital that my insurance would cover. Jimmy was in a room of his own, his head bandaged, his right leg in traction, a nurse at his side. He seemed quite happy otherwise, but he started to whimper as soon as he saw me. However, the cunning of an eleven-year-old was lost on me.

He had been hit by a car, the doctor later told me. He had run into the street right in front of it; there was no way that the driver could avoid him. But he had been lucky. A broken leg, some cracked ribs, a concussion, no internal damage. I told Doctor Morris that I couldnít possibly afford this hospital.

His round, black face cracked in a smile that contained more than thirty-two teeth.

"Oh, you donít have to worry about that, Dr. Craine," he said. "Mr. Luna has already paid for your sonís care."

"And who is Mr. Luna? A good fairy?"

"Mr. Luna is the owner of the car. The car that hit your boy."

"What do you mean, the owner of the car?" I was getting upset, now that I knew that Jimmy would be all right. "Where was he when his car ran over my son?!"

"In the back seat," the doctor said. "Heís got a driver."

"Oh," was all of my comment.

There was a knock on the door and a man entered.

He looked at me, his brown eyes unwavering.

"Youíre the boyís mother?" he asked and I nodded.

"Anne Craine."

He took my hand and bowed over it formally. His touch was very warm, although he didnít look feverish.

"Iím Julian Luna," he said. "Iím very sorry about what has happened, but my driver had no chance. Fortunately, the car has very good brakes."

"Uhum," I said. I was too busy staring at him.

Had I run into him in L.A., I wouldnít have been half as surprised. L.A. was brimming with movie stars. But here? He was positively the most beautiful man that I had ever seen in real life. It was breathtaking. The forensic expert woke up in me. Age determination was my specialty, and I saw immediately that this man was trying to look older than he really was. He wasnít underage, but everything in his appearance was straining towards the maturity he apparently didnít possess: the dark business suit, the somber tie, the way his hair was brushed back. But his skin blatantly gave him away. There was not one wrinkle around his eyes. I looked at his hand, which still held mine. It was a young manís hand. It didnít matter how mature he tried to look; there was no way he could fool me. He was still on the right side of thirty.

He let go of my hand and I watched him shrink from my scrutiny. It made me cringe too and I felt my face turn hot.

Damn! I thought. He must be quite used to the way women look at him.

Still, Iím an adult mother of three kids, probably ten years older than he is, and here I am, staring with lust at the man whose car has mauled my son.

Hormones, begone! I shouted mentally.

"I was told that youíve paid for the hospital care of my son," I said, for want of anything else to say.

He was very pale and seemed sad.

"It was the least I could do," he responded.

And then he was gone.

I continued staring at the door that had closed behind him until Dr. Morris started to chuckle and my face turned even hotter. I turned back to Dr. Morris, and he winked at me and made a comical shrug.

"Heís gay!" I said. One finds comfort wherever one can.

"No, he isnít," the good doctor retorted. "Heís the most prized prey in this city," he added. "However, he has been out of circulation during the last few years. Some tragic love affair, she died and he has kept to himself ever since. The nurses almost dropped dead when he turned up here, carrying your son.

"They did?" I was trying to make him talk more. He jumped at the opportunity.

"Sure, Julian Luna used to be our resident Don Juan. With his looks, itís no wonder, but..." His voice trailed off.

"But?" I prodded. There must be a flaw, of course.

"He abused women."

"Oh!" The bubble broke and I was no longer interested. The doctor saw my reaction.

"Not in the way you think," he said. "He never harmed one as far as I know. They all just went more or less mad when he left them. Apparently, heís something unbelievable in bed, or so the tales go. I thought the ladies made it all up, but their stories were very consistent. Even the most spiteful admitted that he was the best lover theyíd ever had. The funny thing is, that heís quite a serious businessman. Stinking rich too!"

"Oh," I said. I was interested again.

The jackals descended upon me as soon as I got out of the hospital, their point being that I could sue Mr. Luna for my boyís accident and walk away with a bundle of money. I chased them off. I wasnít a pauper, and making money of my sonís misfortune didnít sound right. Besides, getting my hands on a piece of Mr. Lunaís fortune wasnít what I had in mind. Iíd rather get my hands on him.

I visited Jimmy in the hospital every day. The room was filled with toys and candy that Julian Luna had sent. I hoped that he would come too, but he didnít.

After about a week I got a letter from his lawyer. I was asked to contact him to discuss damages. Damages?! I called the number and asked what the hell it was all about. The lawyer asked very politely if Iíd be satisfied with a check for a hundred thousand dollars. I was insulted.

"Did I ask for any money?" I said. "Stuff it!" I regretted it the moment I put down the receiver. But then I decided that I should be proud of myself.

Two days later, the mailman delivered a check for two hundred thousand dollars.

Get real, my mind told me, take the money. Youíll never get the man.

The next day I did something Iíve never done before. I hacked into the police records. Hacked is an overstatement. Being a forensic expert, I had clearance to get into almost anything. I looked up Mr. Julian Luna. He was on record, all right. His very position connected him to several more or less shady things. However, he had never been charged with anything. There was one thing that startled me: his birth date. According to the police record he was thirty-six.

Now, Iíd have put my reputation on the line that he wasnít. Had I found him on my slab for identification, Iíd have said at least ten years younger. So, who lied, the police record or Mr. Lunaís skin?

I forgot about the money, my injured son, even my own lust. Here was a mystery worth pursuing, and I wouldnít be who I was if I didnít pursue it. I did not become an expert in forensic medicine by accident. My curiosity had been awakened, and when Iím curious, Iím dangerous.

I decided that Friday evening would be the right time to start my investigation. I dressed carefully: the suit I use when I give lectures at conferences, very little makeup. Very businesslike and very competent, I went to see Mr. Luna.

It was late enough for all the business to have shut down for the weekend, but too early for the evening entertainment to start. If Julian Luna were in the city, heíd be at home. If he were out, Iíd make an appointment, I decided.

At first I thought that his house was under police surveillance, but then I quickly realized that the guards were his own. I told them my name and asked to see Mr. Luna. They demanded to see the contents of my briefcase, and I opened it, laughing. Then I was let in.

I sat in a library: it was a beautiful room, but it surprised me that there was a fire blazing away in the fireplace. It was August, and the hottest summer one could imagine.

I didnít have to wait long.

When Julian Luna entered I was glad that I had chosen my yuppie outfit. He wore a dark suit and a tie, very businesslike too. He greeted me in the same way he did in the hospital, his hand still very hot, or was I imagining things? There was something European about him: his manners, the way he spoke. But the record stated that he was born right here, in California. Strange. The inconsistencies about him peaked my curiosity even more. And he still looked too young for his recorded age. I watched him carefully and he was aware of it; it made him uncomfortable, so I averted my eyes.

"What can I do for you, Mrs. Craine?" he asked.

I opened my briefcase and took out the check.

"I believe that Iíve something here that belongs to you," I said giving him the check.

He hesitated for a moment before taking it.

"Why are you doing this?" His voice was no longer businesslike. He was genuinely surprised and I smiled in triumph.

"I donít want your money," I said. I want you, my mind snickered.

"The accident wasnít your fault, nor was it your driverís. I donít believe that you should pay for my sonís stupidity," I continued.

He smiled for the first time.

"Still, itís your boy who has a broken leg and is hospitalized. I thought it would be a... Band-Aid." He waved the check in front of me.

I squared my shoulders.

"Thank you very much!" I said. "I can manage quite well. What Jimmy needs is a good spanking, not a two hundred thousand dollar check."

To my surprise there was a look of horror on his face.

"Oh no!" he exclaimed, "you mustnít!"

I laughed and he relaxed visibly.

"You were joking, werenít you?"

I nodded. My children did get an occasional swat now and then, but mostly their upbringing was conducted through endless discussions and some shouting.

"Do you have other children?" he asked.

"Two more," I said. "What about you?"

He shook his head, the sadness was there again.

"No... I have no children."

Why did he hesitate? Doesnít he know for sure? I remembered Dr. Morrisí comment - the resident Don Juan. Maybe he doesnít know for sure.

But he seemed relaxed and I decided, itís now or never.

"Have you eaten yet, Mr. Luna," I asked.

He blinked and looked away, apparently embarrassed.

The resident Don Juan, my ass! Say yes or no and be done with it, I thought. This question has just cost me two hundred thousand dollars!

His gaze returned to me. I could almost hear the gears turn in his head. He gave me that look. It said here we go again, and it made me blush.

Jeez, man! Youíve put my son in a hospital. The least you can do is to buy me dinner. Give a lady a chance. I donít look that bad.

Then I saw him smile again. God Almighty, that smile could charm the gold out of Fort Knox!

"I donít eat in the evening," he said, and I felt my heart sink, "but Iíd love to see you eat, if you donít mind that?"

I didnít mind at all.

He took me to a restaurant, an expensive one. When we sat in his car I couldnít help wondering if it were the one that had hit Jimmy.

"No," he said apparently reading my expression, "this is not the car, and it was another driver too."

"You havenít sacked him, have you?" I asked.

"Oh, no!" he shook his head. "As a matter of fact, if it werenít for Armandís quick reflexes, your son might have died. Iím afraid, it wouldíve been much worse had I been driving. I seldom do. I donít like to drive at all."

I stared at him. This was the first man Iíd ever met who admitted that he wasnít the best driver in the universe. Beside my apparent desire, I was beginning to like him.

We sat in the restaurant and he ordered food for me in perfect French. Hell, his French was better than mine, and Iíve spent three years at Sorbonne. But I didnít ask about it. I realized quite soon that in contrast to all the men I knew, he didnít want to talk about himself. So I didnít ask anything, concentrating on keeping the conversation light and answering his questions. I told him that I was divorced and quite happy about it, that I have lived in LA until recently, and that the divorce had left me rather well off. I was doing all right.

"What is it you do?" he asked at last.

"Forensic medicine," I said and I felt him recoil.

It was so odd. He didnít bat an eye, not one muscle moved in his face, but the fear was there, almost palpable. People have reacted before when I revealed my profession, usually with revulsion. But fear? What was he afraid of?

The easy atmosphere between us froze. He was unable to hide his feelings.

"Whatís wrong?" I asked at last. He looked away.

"Iím sorry," he said. "Iíve had some unfortunate dealings with the members of the medical profession."

"Donít tell me youíre afraid of needles," I was trying to joke. "Or better yet, youíre afraid of the dentist."

He laughed, but there was no mirth in his laugh.

"Right and right," he said.

He relaxed somewhat as the evening continued, but not entirely. He ate nothing but drank a bottle of red wine. I noticed that the alcohol had no influence on him whatsoever. In the end I thanked him for the meal and we left the restaurant. As the car was speeding towards my home I was wondering if that would be the end of the most expensive meal of my life. He walked with me to my door and I thanked him again for a lovely evening.

"The pleasure was mine," he said dutifully and I decided that I wanted my two hundred thousandsí worth.

I put my arms around his neck and kissed him. His arms moved around me instinctively and he responded to the kiss, cautiously at first, but soon the kiss became more passionate. His mouth was hot and tasted of the wine he had drunk.

"Donít hold my profession against me," I whispered when we broke off the kiss.

"I wonít," he murmured, "unless you use it against me."

I didnít understand what he meant and I didnít care.

We kissed again and our bodies pressed against each other. I felt the desire explode inside me so hard that it hurt. I knew he wanted me too. I turned in his arms, opened the door and dragged him inside.

He hesitated for one second only.

"Your children?" he asked.

"Visiting their father."

I had chosen the weekend carefully. All the curiosity aside, I had used it to rationalize my behavior. I had set out from the start to seduce him, and now I was succeeding.

He followed me to my bedroom.

I heard my own screams.

The excruciating slowness of his movements was exchanged by swift, frantic thrusts of passion. He had not hurt me but was still afraid that he might, the disparity of our sizes so apparent. I hate that. Just because Iím short doesnít mean that Iím frail.

"Iíll crush you if I do," he had whispered when I tried to pull him down, begging him to come close, wanting the nearness of his whole body. He wasnít a big man, neither very tall nor heavy, but compared to me he must have felt like a giant.

He was holding my hands down, his grip on my wrists relentless, his body hunching over mine. I watched him. His face was no longer serene but it was still sad.

I screamed out my pleasure, and he held me, motionless until I stopped shaking, then resumed his movements again, very slowly. I tried to lock my arms and legs around him, enticing him, but he still refused to lower himself onto my body. Only his movements became faster and faster. His eyes were closed, his head thrown back, his breathing uneven, but he didnít utter a sound. He let go of my hands and gripped my hips instead, lifting my body against his. His fingers made painful dents in my flesh and I whimpered, more for my own comfort than to complain. In that moment I was sure that he wouldnít notice if I shouted. But he heard my protests and the pressure diminished considerably. He held me close now, a supporting arm under may back, my weight apparently insignificant. We kissed and his touch sent new waves through me, and I screamed again.

I have never screamed before.

* * *

He got up when I was too tired to go on. I looked at my alarm clock. It was three a.m.

I wanted him to stay but he said that he had to go and I remembered the car outside my door, the driver and a guard sitting in it, waiting for almost five hours, and a wave of shame made me blush.

"I can imagine what theyíll say when you come out!"

He smiled at me.

"They wonít say a thing," he said. "Not one word, at least not to me."

He sat on the edge of the bed when he was dressed and hugged me.

"Thank you," he whispered in my ear.

"Thank you," I echoed.

The night was absolutely worth two hundred thousand dollars, no doubt about it. Then I thought that I probably would not see him again and my arms locked around him.

"Will you come back?" I asked and regretted it immediately as I felt him stiffen in my embrace.

He let go of me and looked into my face.

"Do you want me to?" he asked.

"Yes," I said simply.

"There is nothing I have to give but this," he said, his head nodding towards the bed.

"Itís all that I want," I answered, hoping that I wasnít lying.

"Then Iíll come back." With that he was gone.

I was tired and sore and I couldnít sleep.

The tales that Dr. Morris had heard, well, they were absolutely true. It was the best sex that I have ever had. A two-hundred-thousand-dollar fuck!

Donít fall in love with him! I said to myself, or youíll get hurt.

I knew that I could keep my heart locked away, but I also knew that my body would miss him forever once he was gone.

I made myself a promise: Iíd never ask him about anything, and Iíd never ask him for anything.

* * *

I woke up in a foul mood.

In the bright light of day, I realized that Iíd never see him again and it hurt more than the moment Jerry had told me that he wanted a divorce.

Had I gone mad?!

I spend one night with a guy and I go to pieces like that! I cried and broke a few things. It made me feel a little better. Then I dyed my hair red and went back to bed in the middle of the day. Iíd survive this too.

When I woke up again, it was mid-afternoon and I went to the hospital. Jimmy was scuttling around, his leg in plaster, stretched in front of him. It looked hilarious and we both laughed. He would be discharged in a few days.

I was back home at six, looking forward to a dreary evening on my own. I tried hard to stop thinking about last night, but the only way to achieve that would be to knock myself unconscious. So I gave up, allowing the images and the feelings to sweep over me. It made me cry again.

Shit! I said to myself. Find a new husband and forget the damn bastard!

I decided to go out somewhere, meet people.

* * *

The phone rang as I was rummaging through my wardrobe looking for a dress I particularly liked.

"What?!" I roared.

There was a short silence and I knew it wasnít from the lab, nor one of the kids in L.A. They are used to my shouting.

"Itís Julian Luna."

My heart stopped beating for a few seconds and then made up for it with frantic fluttering.

Heíll give me a heart attack if nothing else, I thought wryly.

"Oh, Iím sorry I shouted," I said. "I thought it was the lab."

"I didnít mean to startle you," he said. "I was just thinking... You do need to eat every evening, donít you?"

What a crazy thing to say! It made me laugh. Men!

"Look," I said, "you donít have to feed me every time you want to fuck me. Just get yourself over here or let me come to you. I can pay for my own meals."

He was silent again. Iíd shocked him.

"I hope, I havenít shocked you?" I said, and he laughed nervously.

"As a matter of fact, you have," he answered. "Is it all right if I come at nine?"

"Sure. Can you leave your guards behind? My neighbors might start wondering."

"Iím afraid thatís not possible," he laughed again, "but Iíll ask them to be discrete."

I spent the next two hours trying very hard to occupy myself, but everything I touched turned into a mess. I gave up in the end, put on a pair of bleached jeans and a T-shirt. I had spilled coffee on my best dress.

The car stopped outside at exactly two minutes to nine. He didnít bring flowers or wine or anything that men usually bring women when they want sex. He must have figured out that I wasnít one who would accept hypocrisy. Good! At least he wasnít stupid.

The moment I closed the door, he picked me up and carried me to the bedroom.

No hi, no how have you been, no nice to see you again.

It was just as well. I didnít want any niceties that would make me believe that he was interested in me as a person. I was a warm female body that attracted his sexual desire, there was nothing more to it.

And donít you forget it! I told myself.

* * *

During the following weeks I lived in a trance, savoring every moment we were together. I didnít neglect my kids nor my work, but I was with Julian several times every week and I was starting to look gaunt. I didnít sleep enough, either because he was there, preventing me from sleeping for hours on end, or, when he wasnít there, Iíd just lie in my bed remembering every detail of our lovemaking and longing for more.

I hoped that after some time my desire would subside and Iíd start finding faults with him. But the only times we spent together were in bed, and I couldnít find any flaws there.

There were some odd things though. For one thing, he was never tired. Iím a physician for Godís sake! I know human physiology as any M.D. does. No normal human male can go on making love for hours on end like he did. He seemed to be able to start over and over again as many times as he wanted. A physiological miracle, but who was I to complain? Iíd enjoy myself until Iíd have enough. I learnt quite soon that if I told him that I couldnít take anymore, heíd finish within minutes and would not start again. Iím quite sure that it was an act of will on his part. I wanted to ask him if he ever became spent, but reminded myself of my own promise - donít ask about anything!

I also noticed that he didnít want me to touch him. Oh, it was all right when I caressed him or kissed him, he enjoyed that very much. Heíd allow me to hold him, but was very careful to keep my hands from his chest or back, sometimes by holding on to my wrists. It was very strange, but I let him, and I kept my mouth shut.

Then one night, we were in the middle of a violent encounter, me on top and he wasnít so cautious anymore. He had closed his eyes and his whole body was convulsing on the verge of an orgasm. I lay down on his chest, his arms enclosed me, pressing my body hard against his. My cheek was against the left side of his chest and I felt his heart beat. There was something odd. In the throes of my own passion, it took me some time to realize that his heartbeat was too slow. Somewhere between fifty and sixty beats per minute, quite normal for a healthy male at rest, but for one who was about to peak, totally wrong. It should be at least doubled, even more. Then he went off, like an automatic weapon, the reflexive spasms of his orgasm shooting his hips against me. He held his breath - which was normal - and his heart stopped beating entirely, and that wasnít normal at all.

It scared me. I counted the shudders of his release. Thirteen, if I hadnít missed something in the beginning. Point eight seconds between each contraction, thatís a little more than ten seconds: add point four or five for each twitch, thatís another five or six seconds. I heard his heart start beating again after another ten seconds. So, it hadnít beaten for almost thirty seconds. Strange indeed. Still, I kept my mouth shut.

I understood now why he had been so scared in the restaurant when I told him that I was a doctor. He wasnít afraid of needles or dental drills; he was afraid of being found out.

I knew with dreadful certainty that the moment he suspected that Iíd noticed something, he would disappear from my life. So I pretended that I didnít see anything and he became more and more careless. Although we never spent a whole night together, he sometimes slept in my presence. Heíd stop breathing then; his heart would beat about fifty times an hour, sometimes less; his body temperature would fall below that of the room. It was frightening.

I might become a name in the annals medicine if I could make a scientific study of Julian Luna, but Iíd rather keep my lover than have my name in some book about human freaks. I thought of the Elephant Man whose skeleton Iíd seen in the library of the London Hospital and I wanted to tell Julian that his secret was safe with me, but I didnít dare to let him know that I knew. I got this feeling that there were two different men inside him: One was desperately trying to protect his secrets, the other didnít give a damn.

Sometimes I wished I werenít a physician; I wished that I couldnít know, had no education, werenít aware at all of heart-rates, body temperature, breathing patterns; that I knew nothing about human physiology; that I could pretend that everything was as it should be, and that there was nothing strange about my lover.

I made a half-hearted search on the Medline and came up with a few papers on lethargy. I disregarded the inconsistencies and repressed the details that wouldnít fit. It made it possible for me to live with the mystery.

* * *

We met two or three times every week. He always came to my house late in the evening, sometimes past midnight. He stopped calling in advance, knowing that Iíd always be there. I gave him a key, he could come whenever he wanted, and when he did, I always welcomed him.

Weíd make love for hours and then heíd leave. I had gotten used to what he could do in bed, almost believing that it was natural, but every now and then, the physician in me would awaken and I would start wondering about him.

One night he came very late and stayed with me almost until dawn. Then, after he left, I retrieved some of the fluid he had left inside me and put it in a test tube.

I took the test-tube to my work.

One look in the microscope, and I knew why he never bothered with protection. There were no sperm in his semen, none at all. Next, I ran some other tests but there was nothing else interesting. The computer found two matches. There was the rape of Caitlin Byrne, his dead fianc√©e. Another was the battered police officer, Frank Kohanek. Apparently, Julian Lunaís blood had been found on him after the assault, but my lover had never been connected with that crime. I wondered why.

A few days later I went to see Frank Kohanek.

He stared at my evidence and his face turned red in embarrassment.

"I got into a fight with him a couple of years ago," he said. "He beat the hell out of me, but I managed to draw some blood from him too. Thatís all there was to it."

"You didnít say that it was him. Why?" I asked.

"I started the fight," he said, "and I didnít want to tell anybody that I have been squashed by... Julian Luna."

"What did you fight about?"

"A woman, what else!" he answered, making me laugh.

"What happened afterwards? Did you make up?" I went on.

"As matter of fact, we did," he said. "Julian is okay. Itís not his fault that women fall like skittles for him," he added and then frowned. "He loved Caitlin, you know, he really did. They were afraid that he wouldnít survive her death. But somehow he did," he continued. "Heís coming back to life, Iíve been told."

"You know him well?" I prodded on.

"I know him." Frank answered.

"Do me a favor," I said. "Donít tell him I asked about this, okay? I didnít mean to embarrass you or him."

"Sure." Frank Kohanek nodded agreement.

* * *

Apparently, the policeman kept his promise because Julian didnít disappear from my life, and I renewed my promise to myself to stop being nosy.

However, we talked. In contrast to Julian, I wasnít inexhaustible. I needed rest now and then.

"Give me a break," Iíd say. "I need to get my heart-rate and my breath in order," and he would let me rest. We talked then, or mostly, I did. About everyday things: my work, films Iíve seen, books Iíve read; sometimes I even broke my own taboo and talked about the kids. Julian never volunteered any information about himself, and I never asked. He didnít ask me about my life, but he was curious about my work. At first it made me wary. I have a suspicious mind and I thought he wanted drugs. But soon I realized that he knew next to nothing about modern medicine and had no interest in that sort of chemistry. He wanted pure science and I was able to provide it. I told him about the inner workings of a living cell and it fascinated him. He was able to grasp the most intricate secrets of biochemistry and genetics. I was impressed.

I watched him as he sat in bed, hunched over my neurology bible, trying to understand the maze of neurological pathways, repeating to himself the names of different signal substances and their effects. He wanted to learn all he could about human physiology, and I knew why. But I pretended that he was one of my students and did my best to answer any question he posed.

We talked about the brain and then about emotions. In the end we talked about love. I tried to joke about it, blaming the hormones for the havoc of emotions that love caused. I expected him to say something scornful about love.

"Itís a dreadful disease," he said quite seriously, making me shut up. I just stared at him.

"What do you mean?" I asked after a moment.

There was a painful expression on his face.

"Last time it happened to me, it proved fatal." His voice was unsteady.

"You... seem rather alive." I was bewildered. He looked away.

"It killed Caitlin," his voice broke, "and I almost died."

I touched his face - a gesture of comfort - but he turned away.

"Yes," I agreed meekly. "It does sound like a fatal case."


This story was published in 1998 at http://www.angelfire.com/ns/princejulian/case.html.

Kindred: The Embraced and all characters are copyright © 1996 Spelling Television Inc.
Vampire: The Masquerade is © 1990-2007 White Wolf Publishing, a division of CCP North America. All rights reserved.