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Chapter Five

Francisa woke in the wee hours before dawn. Opening her eyes was an effort, but she finally managed to lift her heavy lids. The fire had burned down to nothing, and the room should have been cast in darkness, yet her eyes picked out the features of the room with great detail. She could hear the sere grass in the courtyard as it was stirred in the breeze that no longer chilled her. The muslin sheet and blanket which covered her felt rougher than she remembered. A tantalizing scent filled her nostrils, and with an unexplained certainty she identified it as Nicholas, her vampire lover and love.

Suddenly his face filled her vision. He had been beautiful to her mortal eyes, but now he glowed with a radiance, a perfection that could never be matched by a mortal man. His eyes were three shades of blue, like the layers of color in the lightening dawn sky. His hair danced about his face, even in its stillness, like summer wheat swaying in a warm zephyr. His skin was even and unmarked by the harshness of weather, and so pale as to resemble the finest porcelain. When he smiled down at her, his teeth were as white as the marble floors in her father's home.

Francisa raised a hand to cup his cheek, assuring herself that the vision was real. His skin was warm to her touch, and the point of their contact burned with a barely contained fire. Nicholas turned his face and kissed her palm, his soft full lips shooting shivers of pleasure through her nerves. His tongue tracked a fiery path along her lifeline and slid sensuously down to the vein in her delicate wrist.

"Welcome back, Francisa."

The timbre of his voice was a honey-smooth baritone, and it comforted her. She had no chance to reply, for his mouth briefly covered hers before licking her jawline, her chin, the outline of her lips. He moved from the bed with a burst of speed that she saw as well as felt, and although he was not in her immediate sight, she could sense his location with unerring precision. They were connected through their shared blood, and that thought pleased her enormously.

When he again appeared beside her, he held a cloth dampened with water. Her master pulled the bedclothes from her body, and he smiled at the beauty that lay revealed to his appreciative gaze; he had chosen this one well. Her hair shone like strands of polished ebony. Her skin had bleached to the color of pristine snow, no trace of the freckles which once speckled her nose with bits of color; her face would remain locked in youthful perfection forever. Her eyes were the color of winter melon, a luminous green that would no doubt sparkle in the moonlight with mischievous humor.

"Thank you, Nicholas, for keeping your promise."

She tried to say more, to relate the depth of her feelings, but he silenced her with a finger across her lips. The cotton cloth took the place of his finger. Nicholas trailed a wet line over her mouth, wiping away the last vestiges of dried blood. His lips followed the path of the damp cloth as he moved it over her chin and into the tempting hollow of her throat. The water pooled in the shallow depression between her clavicles, and ran over and between her breasts. His lips found the tender, forbidden flesh beneath the small, firm mounds, and nipped playfully, a throaty chuckle his reward. The cloth slipped ever downward, flowing over her ribs, stopping at her navel. His tongue dipped in to tickle the sensitive flesh there, then moved along to tease the slight curve of her belly. His lips next found the sweetest flesh of all, and he bestowed the sweetest kiss, his nose nudging the hood from her clitoris, his tongue plunging within to give her pleasure.

Her hands had followed his path of lazy discovery in a leisurely fashion, but as his mouth found the musky entrance to her body, she cried out with renewed arousal and tangled her fingers in his hair, trapping his mouth against her. Francisa raised her hips to meet his questing tongue, but he only laughed and drew away. The cloth continued its maddening journey, traveling down one shapely leg, and coming up the other. He lifted her calf to his shoulder, and kissed the soft flesh behind her knee, deeply massaging her thigh with his strong fingers. She groaned, aching for satisfaction, and she lifted her hands in supplication.

Nicholas was nearly ready for her, but he wanted to explore every inch of her body with his mouth and his hands. He gave the same attention the back of her other knee, then allowed her to straighten on the bed, the fine hairs on his cheek caressing the long line of her leg from ankle to thigh. She arched up again, begging for his tongue to enter her once more, enticing him nearly beyond his ability to think.

Her eyes were washed with gold, casting the room in a hazy glow. A strange pressure wracked her upper jaw as her fangs budded and emerged from their sheaths. A growl issued from her chest, and she tossed her head like one possessed. Francisa reached for her lover again, and this time was not disappointed.

Nicholas sat up abruptly and, wrapping his hands around Francisa's narrow waist, lifted her easily into his lap. He slid into her, like a hand into a glove, his hands cupping her derriere to keep her in place. She flung her arms around his back with fierce abandon, wantonly pressing her breasts against the hard muscles of his chest. One of his hands wandered up to her head, his fingers lacing through a swath of her thick hair, while the other trailed the cool rag up the shallow depression of her spine. He tilted his own head to the side, giving her ready access. Guiding her to his throat, he invited her to feed. She wasted little time, the hunger coming upon her with a vicious speed, and sank her fangs deeply into the proffered artery. He reveled for a few luxurious moments in the sensations her suckling engendered before plunging his own fangs into her slim throat. They were joined in the way of both worlds, fangs and blood and sweat and flesh making a circle of love and life and death and renewal.

Francisa trembled with reaction, nearly overloaded by the alien, intoxicating emotions that pounded through her veins from the inside out. This was the first hunger, and Nicholas had to help her quench the fire of her thirst. He withdrew his fangs from her neck, pulling her mouth from his throat with the same spare movement, and she whimpered at the loss of blood and connection. His blood had guided her across the threshold drawn between life and otherlife, but only a mortal's blood could douse the flames that set her every nerve afire. The deadly sun would rise in little more than an hour, and that left scant time to feed and find a place to shelter for the day.

"Francisa, we must leave this place. The sun will soon rise."

She looked at him, the truth slowly dawning in her eyes that this was not a dream, and that the once-welcome sun was now a deadly enemy. She nodded her consent and moved to retrieve her chemise, donning it slowly, as if she were still asleep. He dressed quickly, then helped her with her own garments. With both of their hands working on the problem of the row of tiny lacings and all the many layers of clothing that Nicholas ofttimes cursed, they were both dressed and ready to depart in minutes.

"Ho molto fame, Niccolo," Francisa complained, her native language surfacing in her distress.

"Yes, I know, Francisa, I know," he soothed. We will soon feast."

Nicholas threw open the sash, then lifted Francisa into his arms. He shot through the window at great speed, flying faster than the human eye could track. At this time of the morning there would be some early risers preparing their stalls for the day's market. He had to pass by without being spied by those below.

The trip back to Francisa's manor was short, though they raced the light the entire way. Nicholas landed in the forecourt, and a sleepy guardsman challenged him as his feet hit the frozen sod. The young man was no match for a ravenous vampire, and before an alarm could be raised, he lay dead and drained at Nicholas' feet. Francisa stood stunned for barely a second, then she caught the coppery scent and bent to taste the blood from the young victim's throat. Instantly her eyes hardened to the color and consistency of topaz, and her fangs gleamed in the light of the false dawn.

Nicholas hefted the body, and threw it into the field beyond the stone wall where it would not be discovered until they were long gone. He caught Francisa's hand and tugged her along to the door of the manor. Noises could be heard in the scullery, and Nicholas headed there, but Francisa pulled him towards the front stairs. She had other prey on her mind. There was one who had tried to keep her from this new life and, although the woman had reared her, nurtured her through all her young adult years, the newborn vampire remembered only the pain of separation the woman had forced her to endure. Francisa licked her lips in anticipation.

Tracking the elusive scent of cloves that scented her nurse's skin, Francisa came upon the older woman just as she emerged from her chambers. A candle dropped from nerveless fingers, splattering hot wax on her gown and on the dark wood of the floorboards. The newly-made vampire flung herself on the frightened woman, and a bloodcurdling scream passed her lips before an unconscious command from the vampire willed her victim into silent submission. She wrapped her hand around Elsbet's hair and tipped her head back viciously. Her fangs found the artery pulsing beneath the nurse's papery skin, and plunged in. Thick blood, spiced with fear, poured into her mouth and down her throat. The fledging gulped greedily at her victim's neck, swallowing quickly so as to lose not one precious drop. Her eyes closed and she purred in satisfied contentment. Elsbet slipped from her grasp, drained, and fell heavily to the floor, like a puppet whose strings had been suddenly cut. Francisa leaned against the wall, lost in the images sent to her in her erstwhile friend's blood. She felt a tinge of regret and she reached for her master, yet Nicholas had no time to comfort her, for footsteps sounded on the stairway below them.

Master and fledge fed side-by-side until the house was silent and all lay dead. Francisa looked at the carnage, the bodies strewn at their feet, a pool of crimson liquid thick beneath her slippers, and she bared her teeth and growled her victory. Her eyes were as deep a red as the blood staining the floorboards, and she felt nothing but elation and freedom and satiation. Nothing would tie her down ever again.

She had Nicholas, and they would have eternity.

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