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Like Tears from a Star

Part Two

Saturday was the second of Nick's two days off, and he'd be spending it alone. Natalie was away at a pathologists' conference in Ottawa, and wouldn't be back in time for his next days off. Nick gave a resigned sigh; he'd be leading the solitary life - batching it, as Schanke would say - for several more long nights.

If only... he thought pensively. He laughed to himself and cast the vision of the pert young woman he'd met a few nights back out of his mind. Judging by the response to his first overture, another -- assuming he could even find her -- would not be well-received. Although, he reasoned, who really understood the lay of a woman's mind? Maybe there was still hope, since Natalie herself once told him that women do sometimes take a second look at him. Nick felt a twinge of guilt then; he and Natalie were only very good friends, though he realized she harbored some deeper feelings for him, feelings that for the most part remained unrequited.

This fugue he found himself in was getting him nowhere. Deciding that a drive might clear his head, he had showered, fed and dressed casually by the time the sun had set. Nick snatched up his car keys and, with a jaunty whistle, slid the heavy metal door aside and took the lift down to his waiting convertible.

It was a beautiful summer's night in Toronto. There was no trace of the sometimes fierce thunderstorms that had plagued the city in the past week. The sky was shaded an inky blue, with just the thinnest wisps of high clouds to break the monotony. The familiar shape of the Big Dipper hung in dazzling brilliance against the velvet darkness of space. A warm breeze blew Nick's hair back from his face, and ruffled the fine silk of his royal blue shirt. Everywhere he looked, couples were strolling hand-in-hand, peeking in shop windows, stopping to listen to the impromptu bands that had sprung to life on many street corners. He longed to be among the mortal throng, instead of on the outside looking in. Maybe, just maybe, his desire would come to pass -- with a little help from...

Nick shook his head. What was wrong with him? He'd only spent a few short minutes with Lori, but she weighed heavily on his subconscious. Schanke had ribbed him unmercifully when he caught Nick doing the search on Lori's license plate, and wouldn't let up until his partner had spilled the story. It wasn't the whole story, though. Nick wouldn't give his partner the satisfaction of knowing that he had called the number his search through the Ministry of Transport database had provided, or that he had cruised down her quiet street on the way home from work one night. No, no, Schank would have a field day with that one. Besides, what explanation could he give? Nick had absolutely no idea what had prompted such an impulsive reaction.

Nick swung by his favorite video store, but the gate was already down, and the lights were out. The moon had somehow migrated across the night sky without his notice; the hour was quite late. Nick -- every vampire for that matter -- knew most of the late- or all-night stores by necessity. He had read in the local paper of a new video store that stayed open past midnight. He swung the Caddy around at the next intersection, and headed for the store. He wouldn't get to sleep for hours yet, and movies had kept him company through the wee hours on many a night in the past few decades.

The video store was situated prominently on a busy side street, one that saw much pedestrian as well as vehicular traffic; it had a good location. Nick circled once, until a spot opened up for him to park directly across from the shop. He trotted across the street, easily avoiding the oncoming cars, and stopped for a moment to look at the movie posters decorating the brightly lit windows. Not seeing anything that immediately caught his fancy, he pushed through the doorway into the store so he could browse through the shelves.

The store was crowded, even at this late hour, but Nick had no problem winding his way through the aisles. He promptly lost himself in the Classics section. It had been many years since he'd seen From Here to Eternity, and it was this movie he went in search of. He found the video box in its proper slot, and plucked it off the shelf. He continued to peruse the selections, until a swashbuckler he hadn't seen in at least four decades caught his eye: The Scarlet Pimpernel. He added that casing to the other. No trip to a video store would be complete without wandering through the Horror section, so he wound his way up and down the aisles until he found the rows of videos that made up a goodly portion of the store's inventory. The movies were arranged by title within monster, which seemed a strange arrangement to Nick's way of thinking, but he moved to the vampire section and started to read off the titles. A very unlikely title caught his eye, and he took the box from the shelf to read the synopsis with evident hesitation. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer was emblazoned across the box in red flames, and a blond cheerleader with a stake filled the bottom half of the box. If LaCroix could only see this; he could just hear his master's voice: "Oh, really, Nicholas; a child with a stake?" It would be worth LaCroix's pique to sit through a bad movie.

A tall brunette wearing a store nametag passed him by and noticed him trying to decide on the movie. "That's a great little flick," she told him. "It's a lot better than the cover makes it seem." Having given that brief unsolicited review, she turned aside to answer another customer's question, and was soon out of sight around the bend in the aisle.

Nick shrugged and added the box to his eclectic little pile. It was almost closing time, so he made his way to the cashier. Still intent on the contents of the shelves, which had to be the most complete collection of horror movies he'd ever seen in a video store, he walked blindly to the top of the aisle, and made the turn without paying attention to his surroundings.

His forward momentum was abruptly halted as he collided with a solid, but soft, object. Nick recognized the unique scent-signature at once. Thrilled at his good fortune, he smiled widely. His happy emotion was not shared by the other party in the collision. Her breath had whooshed out in a disgruntled 'ooomph,' and the tall stack of tapes she had balanced in her arms had spilled to the ground. Several of the plastic cases had popped open, sending the contents bouncing in all directions.

Lori slammed back into a free-standing display, and she would have taken it down with her if Nick hadn't caught her by the arm, then snagged the rack and righted it in a series of quick moves. Pushing her hair back from her face, Lori gathered it up and shoved the unruly mass into a scrunchie she pulled from her wrist. She gave a little sigh of impatience as she surveyed the mess on the floor, then looked up to see who she had run into.

"You!" she exclaimed. "What is this -- a hobby of yours?"

"I am sorry, Ms. Gardiner, but I'm glad we ran into each other again."

A smile spread his mobile mouth, and dimples deepened in his cheeks. The groan she let escape her lips covered her pique as well as a growing interest. He was as charming as she remembered, and even more handsome, if that were possible. The deep blue of his shirt brought out the color of his eyes, and the pair of faded jeans hugged his body in all the right places.

"Well, just don't stand there. Help me pick up the mess you made."

She dropped to her knees and he fell to his, right beside her. Putting his small pile of movies well to one side, he set about gathering up the tapes that had spilled from their cases, matching the name on the spine to the name on the face of the video. Lori sorted the tapes back into order, and stacked them neatly by category. Their legs were pressed together much of the time, and their hands met frequently as Nick handed Lori a few plastic casings at a time. He stared at the young woman unabashedly, but Lori wasn't quite so obvious in her return scrutiny. She surreptitiously studied the suppleness of his expressive hands as he manipulated the tapes, the corded muscles in his neck and the way his hair curled invitingly over his nape as he turned his head. The detective was definitely her type, and she found herself hoping he would renew his offer of a night on the town.

The pair of them worked in relative silence for nearly 15 minutes, giving Lori plenty of time for introspection. In fact, she was so lost in her thoughts she didn't realize Nick had spoken, until he touched her hand and said her name softly to gain her attention.

"Sorry? What did you say?"

"I offered to help you shelve these," he repeated, gesturing to the myriad piles of tapes.

"Oh, yeah, thanks," she murmured absently after a moment.

Nick stood, then stretched a hand down to assist Lori to her feet. Her fingers were quite warm, and they trembled slightly in his. Although the healthy, summery glow of her skin covered the slight blush of embarrassment, Nick easily picked up the surge of heat in her cheeks. Her scent intensified, filling his nostrils with the delicious bouquet of chocolate and coconut. Their eyes met, like a clear sea against the muddy banks of the shore, and a spark ignited between them.

Lori pulled her hand from his, and gave a small self- conscious laugh. "Come on. Let's get this done. I'd like to get home before the sun rises."

"I know the feeling," he quipped, laughter heavy in his voice.

By the time all the tapes had been stacked and returned to their proper places, the store was empty and it was way past closing time. Nick followed Lori to the checkout, where he placed his tapes on the counter and quickly pulled out a few Loonies to cover the rental. She slid the money back to him with a slight shake of her head.

"On the house," the manager told him as she bagged his selections. "Thanks for your help."

"That's hardly fair to you. After all, it was my fault." Nick pushed the coins back towards the cash register.

"No, really. My treat -- this time. But I expect to be your favorite video store from now on." She lifted his fingers from the money, turned his hand over and placed the Loonies in his palm.

He captured her hand before she could draw back, and raised her knuckles to his lips. "I think that can be arranged, Lori."

The gentle touch of his cool fingers, her name softly spoken with just the hint of an exotic accent, and the casually sensual pressure of his soft lips, sent a chill walking down her spine. His nearness wove a tight spell about her. Soon, her eyes were captured as completely as were her fingers, but there were no thoughts of escape. Nick leaned over the counter, closing the distance between them to mere inches. His breath washed over her through his slightly parted lips. Nick drew her scent into his lungs, savoring the sweetness. Her warmth infused the skin of his cheeks, his hands. The vampire yearned for his freedom, but Nick held the demon in close check; it would not be permitted to ruin such a perfect encounter. Closer and closer he came, until only a thought separated her mouth from his. Her heart was pounding so fiercely, Lori could hear her blood rushing in her ears.

The moment of surrender was shattered as an ambulance, sirens wailing, hurtled down the street outside the store. Lori recoiled in alarm, backing away with a flustered air. The spell had been broken. Nick sighed in frustration, though he was secretly pleased by her earlier response. Just one moment longer and Nick would have tasted what now he could only drink in with his other senses. Lori went through the motions of locking up, the shaking of her hands making even the most simple task a major undertaking. She made such a conscious effort to pull herself together that when she turned back to usher Nick out the door, her face was composed and the rhythm of her heart had slowed to a more sedate beat.

"It's late. Let me see you to your car," Nick offered.

Lori nodded and pointed to where her Mustang was parked. Nick placed a proprietary hand on the small of her back and guided the young woman the short distance to the opposite corner. Reaching back, Lori boldly twined her fingers in his and pulled his hand forward. Nick didn't resist, and Lori took this as a very positive sign of his continued interest.

"You have such cold hands," she commented.

A strange expression, of pain perhaps or maybe distaste, closed over his features briefly, until a minimal smile put some of the twinkle back in his eyes. "Yes, but a very warm heart," he returned.

The pair had reached the corner where Lori had left her car. She leaned back against the door, and regarded her escort through dark lashes. Stretching out a hand, she placed her palm on his chest, right over his heart. "Oh, I can tell," she assured him in a throaty voice.

The wind whipped her hair, pulling it free from its cloth prison. Tendrils of hair trailed over her forehead and cheeks, and Lori tossed her head in a practiced motion to shake the unruly locks back into place. She had little success against the brisk wind, and so began to gather the loose strands back into the scrunchie. Nick stopped her with a touch, releasing the mass of hair instead, letting it fly free. Her features were hidden, then revealed, then hidden once more, like clouds scudding over the face of the moon.

A damp gust of wind brought the first drops of a new rainfall. Lightning flashed in the distance, punctuated by the rumble of thunder. There seemed to be very little time before the sky opened up. The time to act was now.

Lori raised a hand to keep her hair from her eyes. Nick captured it in his own, and brushed his soft lips across her palm. He drew her arms around his waist, then leaned his weight against her, trapping Lori between his cool flesh and the cold steel of the car. Splaying his fingers, he buried them deeply within her wind-tossed tresses, keeping her face free from cover. Nick lowered his lips to hers, and their touch was electric, like a strong current racing from toes to lips. His tongue infiltrated her mouth with langorous deliberation. Lori felt herself melt within his arms.

A few large raindrops fell, and then a few more, until the street was shining with wetness. A loud peal of thunder echoed in the alleyway between buildings and a jagged flash of lightning brightened the night sky. Lori and Nick broke apart, though his fingers were still twined in her hair. She placed her hands on his chest and pushed slightly.

"I think it's time to say good night," she whispered. Lori gripped his wrists lightly and drew his fingers from her hair, then turned away to open the door to her car. She sat down on the seat and pulled her legs inside.

Nick leaned over and caught the door before Lori could swing it closed against the weather. "Say you'll see me again." She opened her mouth to protest, but he stopped her with a finger drawn across her lips. "Tomorrow," he pressed.

"Tomorrow," she agreed with a sigh, giving a small nod.

Nick closed the car door with a soft click, and backed away. Lori waved, and he replied in kind, his lips spread in a triumphant grin. He watched her taillights recede into the distance for quite a while before walking back to where the Caddy was parked. He blew a last kiss down the street, then drove off himself.

Tomorrow could not come soon enough.

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