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Lucian Bellisario staggered down the streets of Paris. At his back, the setting sun shimmered silver in his hematite hair. He wasand he hated to admit thisexhausted. Light-headed and drained, there was but one means to rally.
He needed hot, mortal blood pulsing with life.
Veering toward his antique shop nestled in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, he scanned the streets. He sought a lone walker, someone who would meet his eyes and smile, project onto him their assumption that he was not threatening.
And then he would threaten them.
He didn't clutch at the wound over his heart because he wouldn't draw attention to himself in that manner. Had to maintain decorum. The inch-wide puncture had healed, but the pain lingered.
His best friend, Certainly Jones, had needed his help. The dark witch had required fresh vampire blood for a spell. Lucian happened to have plenty of blood coursing through his veins, and being a vampire, he'd fit the bill.
The steel pipe, shoved between his ribs to facilitate a steady stream of blood onto the witch's hands while he'd spoken a doppelganger spell, had served but a nuisance to Lucian. Not thick enough to burst his heart, he'd only had it in a few minutes. Long enough to drain much blood from his system and deplete his energy, resulting in a now ravenous hunger.
More than once, he'd been CJ's guinea pig for new magic spells over the decades.
"The things I do for friends," he muttered.
A slender woman wearing a studious skirt and blouse stood before a door that featured an Art Nouveau-style nymph draped over the shop name, L'Extraordinaire. He'd painted the door decades ago. Seeing his approach, she smiled warmly at him.
Lucian could smell her misfortunate trust from ten paces. Human blood, infused with sweet innocence and polite acceptance. Easy enough to entice her into an embrace that would satisfy his needs.
But he was not a brute, or a creature. Never did he swoop in and attack a female, even when hounded by hunger.
"Mademoiselle?" He pulled a key out of his leather coat pocket, and smiled a smile that had conquered hundreds, perhaps thousands. He was not one to boast.
"Is the shop closed?" she asked. A breeze shifted her straight brown hair over a slender shoulder. An American, to judge her accent. He liked foreigners. Visitors were transitory; they usually did not return, and that made feeding his hunger so much neater.
Lucian's fangs tingled to sink in, there, at the smooth white column of her neck. The erotic sensation stirred his loins as strongly as it did his thirst. Blood and sex often complemented one another.
"Closed? Temporarily, while I was out, er.. giving blood."
"Oh, they have the Red Cross here in France? That's generous of you. Needles freak me out, so I've never been able to donate."
"The intrusion of something sharp into flesh is but a small sacrifice if you know it will help another," he said with an ill-concealed smirk that slipped to amusement as he turned his head toward the door. He shoved the key in the lock, and invited his next meal inside. "Welcome to my dusty little corner of the ancient and overlooked."
Crossing the threshold, she moved through the ill-sorted chaos, her eyes scanning the shadowed recesses behind centuries-old furniture, glassware that had been held by kings, and folded damasks and linens that may have seen lusty nights of royal passion.
Lucian preferred the shop disordered, as opposed to the neat and fancy showplaces on the Champs-elysees that overcharged to cover the upkeep and false provenances they assigned to their objets d'art. A monthly dusting from a cleaning girl he kept on retainerand enthralled after his bitesuited him fine and well.
Normally, he did not look to feed his hunger via customers, but circumstances as they were, he wasn't about to hold off this craving much longer. Her simple prettiness beckoned his interest though, and he decided he could manage a few minutes of restraint.
"What are you looking for?"
"I'm not sure." Her black-framed glasses glinted in the dull sunlight as she ran a hand over a dented copper serving tray. "A friend of mine loaned her apartment to me for a couple weeks. It's my first vacation overseas. I thought I'd repay her with a pretty little something to decorate her bedroom."
"Trinkets are under the glass case," Lucian directed, allowing her to wander the creaky floorboards and browse.
He paced behind her, hands behind his back, indulging in the provocative tease of her blood. Yet above the metallic sweetness rose the scent of peaches, seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon. Like some kind of pie? Odd, but strangely appealing. He hadn't consumed mortal food in ages.
"Actually, she needs furnishings," she mused. "Her apartment is remarkably bare."
Pushing her glasses up her nose, the woman leaned over an Edwardian pot cupboard to get a better view of the mirror tilted against the wall, and tucked away as if it had no appeal to the owner. It did not. Hugging one side, a sinuous faerie glided, her arm curving along the top of the frame.
Horrible reminder, that.
"I see you've an eye for your pretty reflection," he tried, fighting against his fangs' insistent stirring to descend.
Frowning at the comment, she cast a glower at him. Soft blue eyes reflected the last rays of sun struggling through the windows.
"Forgive my manners. Lucian Bellisario." He offered his hand.
The woman stared at his hand for so long he had to give it a good long look himself. Following CJ's spell, he'd washed off all his blood. Had he missed a spot?
Finally, she put her hand in his, and it was like sunshine sliding into his cold, tired grasp. He wasn't cold-blooded, but blood loss contributed to his chilliness. He clasped her warmth with both hands and wished it would not end. It was an odd thought for him, a man who did not make connections, save those fleeting one-bite stands which had become his mien. The urge to savor her skin colliding with his was strong, but too soon, he'd have to destroy this genial masquerade with an essential bite.
"And you are?" he prompted.
Tugging from his firm grip, and stepping back, she dragged her eyes from what he suspected had been his mouth, to the immaculate design of his dark suit. Fortunately, he'd removed the crisp white shirt before the spell, so she couldn't have sighted a bloodstain.
"Magen Sloan." Again she met his eyes, this time more daring. Her mouth parted and he almost leaned forward to kiss her. He had managed to connect with her trusting innocence.
Lucian swallowed his aching need. Just a few moments to enjoy her sweetness before you destroy it all.
"The Belle Epoque era interests me," she said. "I think the mirror will be perfect."
"Bohemia, eh?" Lucian could not prevent the note of distaste on his tone.
He walked around her, his gaze tracking the subtle pulse at her throat, the flex of her neck muscles with each turn of her head. A trace of a grin revealed a soft blush in cheeks too smooth for porcelain. She avoided sunlight. Or she was a workaholic.
"You look far too practical for such a decadent piece, Magen
Touching the rim of her glasses, she lifted her chin in defense. "I have a surprising wild side." Then she gaped, covering her mouth with her fingers. "I can't believe I said that."
"I'm pleased you did," he said with a flirtatious smile, finding the banter eased his raging hunger. "Behind those studious glasses and beneath that equally studious gray skirt and blazer, I'll wager Mademoiselle Pratique indulges in a wild thing or two."
"Well, I" He'd caught her off guard, and ill-prepared to deal with a stranger who offered intimate conversation. The challenge heightened the peach/blood scent of her deliciously. "How much for the mirror?"
Lucian leaned back, his hip nudging the counter, and crossed his arms. An assessing gaze stripped away her practical blazer and he imagined dragging his fingers down the fake pearl buttons dotting her white blouse. The shop was cool this late-September day, yet the skin on her neck and cheeks flushed as if she stood beneath a high sun.
A few moments more of indecently teasing conversation and he'd have her blood simmered to a delicious brew.
But the mirror offended him.
"It's cracked along the bottom," he offered. "I can let you have it for four hundred euros." An obscenely low price.
"A little crack doesn't bother me. Cracks add character. Much like a foreign accent increases a man's appeal. Oh." Pale pink lips parting, she again seemed to catch herself before thinking.
"Are you all right, mademoiselle? You look flustered. Is the price too high?"
"No, actually, you're just right. I meanoh. I'm sorry. I don't know what I'm saying."
"You, mademoiselle, were flirting with me."
"It was the jet lag talking. I only arrived in the city yesterday afternoon."
Blowing out a breath that lifted the soft brown bangs above her brows, she said, "I confess, this is going to be one hell of a vacation if all the men are as disarming as you."
He lifted a brow.
"It's your sexy accent," she added with a flutter of her fingers as she drew up her purse and set it on the counter. "So uh, do you deliver? The apartment where I'm staying is close, just across the river from here."
"Of course. I'll send the delivery boy out later this evening if that will work for you."
"Oh, yes." She dug out her wallet and credit card, and a business card that did not say Magen Sloan, but instead Lisa Cooper. "That's the place."
"Very good, mademoiselle'''
He took her credit card and hissed as the fleeting touch of their fingers sent electrifying tingles up his arm and to his teeth. Why he hadn't already bitten her baffled Lucian. They were alone. She was not on the defense. And she stood so close.
It was that damned mirror. Getting rid of the thing was an opportunity he could not resist.
He went through the motions of writing up a bill and slashing the credit card. "Is your friend practical, as well?"
"Does practical bother you, Monsieur Bellisario?"
Her use of his name emboldened his want and Lucian clutched the credit card, the plastic edges gouging into his palm.
Soon. Continue with the small talk, and then Magen signed the receipt. Closing his eyes, Lucian inhaled deeply. She smelled like a treat he'd not been able to indulge in for over a century. "Actually, practical baffles me," he said, forcing calm and handing her back the credit card. "But you did mention your surprisingly wicked side. That appeals to me." He handed her the receipt. The cuff of his sleeve brushed her wrist and she gasped. "Now for my transaction."
He leaned in, blocking her against the counter with his body, and placing his hands to either side of her tiny waist. She inhaled, which lifted her breasts, and renewed her sweet scent. "Monsieur?"
"You are a gorgeous woman, Magen Sloan, and you smell like peaches."
"That's my perfume. You, uh " She looked aside nervously, then managed to draw her gaze onto his, a bold move that set his heart racing faster than it had when the silver tube had been crammed into it. " like peaches?"
"I believe I will find the taste exquisite when drunk slowly and directly from the source."
"I don't understand. Oh." She sighed as he ran his fingertips along her neck, tracing the vein, melding her heat into his pores. "Are you ? Lucian," she said, not as a question, but an acceptance.
And he bent his head to her neck and pierced her skin and vein with his fangs. Delicate fingers clutched his arms and squeezed, but she did not cry out. Instead, a tiny gasp tickled his ear. Her sweetness poured into his mouth and Lucian groaned. He wrapped an arm about her back and tugged her closer, unwilling to relinquish his prize, this necessary renewal.
"Ohmygod," she whispered. "You're biting "
The swoon enveloped her with an orgasmic tremor that vibrated through her being and against Lucian's hardened muscles. Every part of him was hard, from his biceps and abs, to his thighs and even his cock. Her surrender quickened him. Her blood was rich and thick, like fresh peaches fallen from the tree.
She would be difficult to never see again.
As she sank in his arms, he supported her weight, an elbow catching the counter, and, having taken enough blood to quench his hunger, he licked the wound to seal it. With a kiss above her ear, he smoothed out her straight brown hair and adjusted her glasses.
"I needed that," he whispered. "Thank you. You'll be woozy, but you should manage the walk home, yes?" She nodded.
"You won't remember my bite," he continued, persuading the altered memory into her thoughts, as vampires were able. "Just a pleasant evening at the antique shop with a stranger whose name you won't recall. Go now, my delicious one."
Magen turned and headed toward the door. Stroking her neck, she called out, "You'll deliver the mirror?"
He had intended to have a delivery boy bring it over, but
Lucian licked his lips. Mmm Another bite of Magen Sloan would be just the thing. It went completely against his character, buthe'd enthrall her again. She would never be the wiser.
"Of course. I'll stop by in a few hours. And I like my wine red," he called. "I cannot abide white wine. Declasse."
"Red," Magen said as she gripped the brass doorknob and stepped outside.
Magen found a corkscrew in the kitchen drawer and set it next to the bottle of red wine. She was no connoisseur so she hoped she'd purchased something, at the least, palatable. Her giddiness over the anticipated arrival of Lucian Bellisario actually made her titter.
"He's so sexy. And I'm in Paris. On vacation." Clasping her hands to her lips, she wondered aloud, "Might I have an illicit affair with a gorgeous Frenchman who whispers sweet nothings to me in a language I can't understand, and won't need to understand because it'll all be about the sex?"
She shook her head, chuckling. "You are getting carried away with your crazy self, Mademoiselle Pratique."
His eyes had glittered when he'd named her that. Combined with his accent? Mercy! He'd absolutely smoldered.
"I made the right choice," she whispered. "To adventure."
A spur-of-the-moment decision to take a vacation had come after watching her seventy-year-old neighbor lady wave goodbye to the mailman. Again. The woman was having an affair with the silver postal fox, Magen knew, because every other day he went to her front door with her mail and didn't come out for approximately forty-five minutes. When he did reappear, Magen could only think, now he's going to my mailbox, and handling my mail. Ugh.
But seriously? Her seventy-year-old neighbor was getting some action, and Magen spent her days staring out the office window dreaming she had the same. She'd needed a change in her life. Adventure!
Yet Magen knew well when she'd told her friends she was going to Paris for almost two weeks, when she'd said the word adventure, what she'd been thinking was affair. A silly fantasy.
Or was it?