It had been a little over a week since the picnic in the park. Natalie could still remember the note it had ended on–the freak rain, getting trapped in the gazebo, the kiss she and Chance had shared. They’d been out several times since then, both during the day and on her night off. Amanda Cohen had seen them once, and they’d run into Schanke several times while renting movies. She wondered if others from work had also seen them, since the station was filled with rumors and uncomfortable glances.
Nick no longer spoke to her, not even about a case. He showed up when she had to check on his progress–his all-important cure, of course–but at these times, he’d been uncommunicative and getting him to answer her questions was like pulling…well, in his case, fangs. He would, however, stare at her from afar, watching her with an unreadable expression on his face.
Nat felt bad. She liked Chance a lot, and there was a hint that something serious could happen between them, but Nick had changed so drastically in one week that she hardly knew him.
Schanke said he’d started going to the Raven every night after work. He didn’t know why, but that told Nat that Nick wasn’t staying at the loft much. Then she overheard two officers commenting on the apparent end of “whatever it was” between Detective Knight and the M.E….
“He doesn’t seem to be taking it too hard,” one had said.
“No kidding,” the other replied. “I saw him on my night off, at that spooky club he frequents. He was dancing with the babe who owns the joint.”
The first cop had whistled in what Nat assumed to be admiration. “I’ve seen her before, all right. Gotta admit, Knight’s got good taste in women.”
Perhaps the most important change was that Nick no longer seemed to care about their research together, or being cured–at least, by her. She was beginning to be afraid that things wouldn’t go back to normal (whatever that was) after the photographer left.
Don’t think about that, Nat scolded herself silently, studying her reflection with a frown. He’s not leaving for a few more days yet. With an irony that was not lost on her, she forced her thoughts back to the problem with Nick, and to the cause of it–Janette. She’d worked the morning shift today to avoid the gossip, and had just stepped out of a warm, relaxing bath. Well…it hadn’t really been all that relaxing, with these thoughts running through her head. If Chance had been around, she would have had a diversion, but he’d heard about another club outside of Toronto that might fit his essay, and had left yesterday to check it out. He was back now, but would be busy with his pictures for most of the day, or sleeping off the rigors of the trip, which he had described to her as “typically eventful.”
Not that Nat minded Chance being out of the picture tonight. She’d made plans, some of which were a long time in coming. Earlier in the day she’d called Nick at his cell phone number, inviting him to come over so they could discuss their research. She’d been re-reading it (which was true) and had found something interesting that she hadn’t noticed before (which was not). The bait worked, and Nick had accepted. So, it was time to put Phase Two of her plan into action.
Phase Two involved Janette, or rather, getting her out of the way. Nat planned, very bravely, she thought, to go to the Raven before sunset and confront the proprietress. She meant to make it very clear that Nick no longer needed her or her comforting.
No, now would not be a good time to bring Chance into things. She needed everything to go right tonight, with no interference from his luck, or him.
Natalie took one last look in the mirror before grabbing the car keys and embarking on her mission. She hoped she looked determined enough to convince Janette to back off.
Delia sat at the bar with Janette. They had been discussing “girl things,” but now she fell silent, staring at the mortal woman who had just entered the club. She indicated that her sister should identify the woman, who was now making her way towards them.
Janette turned to Natalie with a look of surprise. “Doctor Lambert! What a pleasant surprise, isn’t it, Delia?” The girlish Enforcer smiled.
“Quite a surprise. This is Nicholas’s woman, then?”
The proprietress threw a glance at the coroner as she responded. “The same…although he tells me she’s jilted him for a mortal. I always knew it would happen.”
The two vampires exchanged evil smiles as Delia rose from her stool. She smiled again at Nat, causing her to shiver.
“Most likely she’s here to see Nicholas. I’ll go fetch him.” She started to walk away.
“No,” Nat spoke at last. “I came to speak to Janette. This is no concern of Nick’s.”
Delia shrugged and disappeared into the back rooms.
She found Nick lurking in the shadows. His face was an open book of torment.
“She shouldn’t be here,” he hissed.
“I most certainly agree,” Delia replied. Both settled in to listen.
(What they overheard…)
When the creepy girl had left, Nat turned to Janette, who was still smiling at her. The smile, which had been as evil as the child’s, now seemed amused, mocking.
“You wish to speak to moi?” she asked. “Why, whatever for? We have nothing in common.”
“We do, Janette. We have Nick.” She spoke in what she hoped was a steady voice. Confronting the vampiress who sought to steal the man she loved away from her did scare her a bit. Just a little.
“Oui…there is Nicolas. I hadn’t thought of him.” She smiled. “Of course, my Nicolas is so much different from yours. I hardly see the commonalities.”
“He’s the same man, Janette. There is no ‘mine’ and ‘yours.'”
“Oh, really?” Janette sounded intrigued. “Then why does he exclude you from his life? The life he has with me?”
Nat swallowed nervously. It seemed like the other woman was toying with her. Any minute now, she would pounce, like a cat on a mouse.
“You. He does it because of you.” Janette’s eyebrow shot up, but she maintained an amused silence. Nat continued. “The more time Nick spends with you, the less he believes he can be with me.”
“So?” The coroner could almost see the leftover canary feathers in the vampire’s cat-like smile. “What do you care? You have a new project.”
She meant Chance, of course, and Nat knew it but chose to ignore it. “I care about Nick. I want to help him find his cure. You…you’re standing in his way. The more he’s here, the more of a vampire he becomes.”
“Is it only the cure you wish for?” Janette responded coolly. “Is Nicolas a challenge for you? A scientific game? How do you care about him, Natalie?”
“It isn’t a game–not to me,” Nat stammered angrily. “I love him, and I want him to be free to love me back. If you loved him, you’d let him go. He doesn’t need you.” There! She’d said it.
To her dismay, the vampire laughed, her voice the sound of lilting bells. “How do you know he even loves you? I know him. I know his heart and his soul. It is to me that he turns for comfort, because he knows I have this knowledge. He will never love you enough to burden you with his problems, because you are his problem. I think you mistake his desire for a cure for love–Nicolas is using you, Natalie…for professional reasons. He does not love you. I suggest you give up the foolish fancy that he does and move on with your life.”
Natalie stepped back as if she’d been slapped. Janette’s words stung to the heart. No, she thought, desperate not to believe it. Then another thought occurred to her: Nick had only agreed to come to her apartment because of the “new development” she’d made up. “No, that’s not true,” she whispered, unsure.
“Isn’t it? I can see you know the truth; it’s in your eyes.”
When the coroner remained standing there in stunned silence, Janette pointed to the door. “I think you should leave…Dr. Lambert.”
Nat turned, eyes down and brimming with tears, and hurried from the club. The other woman’s bell-like laughter followed her out.
Nick gasped. “She loves me! She really loves me!” He turned ecstatic eyes to Delia. “We could get married someday, have children, be a family! She loves me, Delia!!”
The joy melted away when he saw the cold look in her eyes.
“Nicholas,” her voice sounded disappointed. “You can never be with her. She’s mortal. She’s our prey!”
“If the cure–”
Delia cut him off. “Your cure doesn’t exist, Nicholas. You’ll never find it. Accept the truth.”
“But, Delia, Nat loves me!” Nick protested.
“What about Janette? She loves you too,” the child-vampire retorted.
He looked crushed. “I know. I…I love her, too.”
“And Natalie?” Delia asked. She seemed unable to believe he could love both.
“Yes. For different reasons, of course. Janette has always been a part of my life, but Natalie holds the promise of humanity and light…I do love them both.”
“But which will you be happy with, Brother?” It was the first time since he’d known her that Delia hadn’t sounded superior. That took him by surprise.
“I…” He fidgeted. “I don’t know.”
The girl-vampire looked both uncomfortable and sympathetic. Then, without warning, she changed the subject.
“I’ve decided to make myself known to Chance Harper. Does he know about Enforcers?” Her voice became commanding again.
“No. I never told him.” Nick looked nervous. “Don’t hurt Chance, Delia. He’s harmless, I swear.”
“Can he be trusted?”
“We’ve trusted Nat,” Nick answered. “She’s never betrayed us. I don’t think he will either.”
“Natalie Lambert told Mr. Harper about us, in case you forgot.”
“All things considered, he would have figured it out on his own if she hadn’t! Come on, Delia, give the guy a break!”
“I have to see for myself, Nicholas. My superiors won’t accept your word of honor.” Her sneering tone hurt him.
“Whatever,” he relented sadly. “Make sure Chance knows I argued in his behalf.”
By this time, darkness had covered Toronto. Nick left the club in search of Natalie, and Delia also left a short while later…to fulfill her oath to her race.