Chance was watching a late-night talk show in his hotel room when Delia appeared before him. He looked startled, but only for a moment.
“I’d ask how you did that, but I think I know–you’re a vampire, aren’t you?”
The girl Enforcer had expected him to be scared. Instead, his calm, blasé attitude unbalanced her. “How’d you know?” she asked, despite the obvious answer.
Chance flashed her a lopsided grin. “Well…I’m no expert on vampires, but I do know that mortals can’t do what you just did. Except for maybe David Copperfield.”
Delia had to laugh. Harper had a point. But her humor quickly turned to anger at him for briefly distracting her from her task, and her laughter died. “Do you know why I’m here, Mr. Harper?”
Chance shook his head.
“How much did Dr. Lambert tell you about my kind?”
“That you exist. That Detective Knight and Ms. DuCharme are both vampires. And that there is a community of you in this city.”
“And would it surprise you to know that the club Nicholas took you to was an establishment which caters to vampires?” Delia asked, her cold voice expectant. She thought she knew the answer.
“The Raven?” Chance thought back to the beautiful yet spooky woman who’d tried to brainwash him that night, and put it together with what he knew of Janette. “No, it wouldn’t surprise me.”
She smiled. That had been the response she was expecting. “Would you be surprised, then, to learn that every single club you’ve been to since you began this assignment has been one of ours?”
He laughed. Just my luck. “No. They all seemed alike–I know why, now.” Chance stared at her as if trying to read her unspoken thoughts. “You didn’t come here just to tell me that, did you?”
The child vampire shook her head. “Natalie Lambert told you that we live in communities, preferably in a metropolitan area. Did she tell you anything about our Communities?”
He shook his head. “She said I should just accept what I knew, and then try to forget about it.”
“She is wise, but the time has come that you must know.” She drew in a sharp breath. “Our Communities are governed by a Code, which states, among other things, that mortals must never know of our existence. There are other rules as well, but you don’t need to know them.”
Chance nodded. “But some people do know,” he said. “You hypnotize them, right?”
Delia sighed. “Yes, this is true. But occasionally some, like you and Dr. Lambert, can resist our powers. These are a danger to us. Sometimes, they help us, are our friends. Dr. Lambert has covered for the stupider members of this Community on many occasions when they made mistakes. That is why she is still alive.”
The photographer’s eyes widened in realization. “If she didn’t help you, you wouldn’t let her live?” When she nodded, he grimaced. “You’re here to kill me.” It wasn’t a question.
The girl Enforcer nodded. “I am…a police officer of sorts. I, and those like me, keep the Communities from breaking the Code, and we prevent Resistors from sharing what they know. I was sent here to deal with you, and I’ve been following you for some time.”
“But you haven’t killed me yet–why?”
“I began to believe you might just be stumbling upon these clubs haphazardly. But after what happened at The Raven–your pictures–I can no longer allow you the benefit of the doubt.”
Chance realized he probably looked as scared as he felt right now, but he had always been able to trust his luck, so he kept those fears under tight control. If it could get him into this mess, surely it could get him out of it, too. Hopefully alive.
Delia saw that he was growing pale, but still remained calm. The man was amazing! “Nicholas has argued on your behalf, Mr. Harper. He’s done everything in his power to convince me you are innocent and won’t compromise us.” In spite of the fact that you’ve stolen his pet mortal. “That’s another reason I’m here: to see for myself.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” Chance promised. “I planned to give the pictures to Nick, so they wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. But they were stolen–”
“I know. I stole them.” The tiny vampire held out a hand to the photographer, pulling him from his seat. “Come with me, Mr. Harper.”
She took him to the park where he and Natalie had their first date. For a long time, they just talked, primarily about what Chance knew about vampires. The child Enforcer seemed to have formed an opinion, although she wasn’t forthcoming with it when he asked. The photographer was beginning to feel awkward. He’d been friendly with the vampire-child, and now he had the feeling she wanted to be friendly, too.
Delia watched him closely. All night he’d been smiling and joking with her, and although she knew it must be forced, she couldn’t help but flatter herself that he really was having a good time. He was scared, but not as much as he could–no, should–have been. Even now, he continued to amaze her. Had the circumstances been different, Delia could have liked Chance Harper. He reminded her so much of someone. Someone she had known once upon a time…
“Father, no. I don’t want another tutor. I already know more than anyone you could possibly bring here,” Delia whined at LaCroix. “I detest all these lies. You know that.”
“I do, but I also know that we must keep up appearances, my dear. We are a very wealthy family. If my daughter does not know art and music, we will be considered uncouth. You must have the proper education befitting a child of the aristocracy.”
“Well, I don’t want it!” Delia screamed at him. “I’m six hundred years old! I’m tired of you using me!”
Lucien LaCroix studied his daughter thoughtfully. “Very well,” he said. “After Marcus, you shall have no more tutors.”
“I don’t want him! Send him away, Father,” begged Delia.
“I regret that I cannot. I have entered into a contract with the boy’s father, and that contract cannot be broken. The boy will be paid for his services. Now, if you’ve no further objections, I shall show the boy in.”
LaCroix exited the Delia’s rooms and returned with a tall young man at his side. Boy, Delia thought as her eyes roamed over him. He’s no boy. He’s a god. That last thought was accompanied by the silent sighing of her heart. Her father’s “boy” was just about the most handsome man she had ever seen.
“Now there, boy,” LaCroix said, breaking into Delia’s daydream. “My daughter has recently been very ill. She is not to leave these rooms and under no circumstance is she to venture out of doors. You are not to ask questions. I hired you to teach her music and poetry, and that is all you shall do.”
“Yes sir,” the young man replied. “I understand, sir.”
“Good,” LaCroix said with a slight smile. Turning, he exited the room, leaving Delia alone with her young god.
Marcus, Delia thought sadly. He reminds me of Marcus. They… they even look alike, sort of. No, Delia silently amended. Marcus was a young Adonis. While Chance Harper did remind her of her former tutor, it was not his because of his physique. It was his eyes. There was something in the way Chance’s eyes twinkled when he smiled, so like Marcus’s, that caused her to remember what had happened so long ago…
Days had passed, and then weeks. Delia no longer seemed to mind having a new tutor. In fact, she lived for the few daylight hours when Marcus came to her rooms. He played the piano for her and read her poetry from huge manuscripts.
One day, he produced a poem that he had written himself. “It’s something new,” he said. “The masters call it a sonnet. Would you like to hear it?”
“Oh, yes!” Delia said eagerly.
Marcus began to speak, his words like music in her ears. The sonnet was about a beautiful, beautiful young woman who was being admired from afar. Delia listened with rapt attention, hoping Marcus would tell her that the woman was her.
“It was lovely,” she told him when he finished.
“Do you think so?”
“I do! It was the best thing you’ve ever read to me,” she insisted.
Marcus colored slightly. “Good. I.. I hoped you would like it. I… I wrote it for…” he paused, blushing further still. Delia was momentarily distracted by the sound of his heart as its beat increased. “…for a girl in town that I like. I think I want to marry her. I thought maybe if you liked it, then she would as well.”
Delia heard little past the part about hoping to marry. He didn’t write it for me, she thought forlornly. He doesn’t love me.
Unaware of her heart breaking, Marcus put the poem inside his coat and began to pick up his things. “By the way,” he commented, “your father has informed me that this will be our last session. I’m going to miss you, Delia.” As he spoke, he turned back towards her and was greeted by a pair of glowing eyes and a set of fangs.
Delia, having been both saddened that her love could love another and angered that he was leaving her, lunged at him. Grabbing him in a tight embrace, she bit deeply into his neck and drank until he went limp in her arms.
Without warning, Delia strode away from Chance. Then, tears brimming in her eyes, she sank to her knees at the base of the nearest tree.
The photographer followed her and knelt down beside her. “Delia, what is it? Have I done something wrong? Is this about your decision?”
At first, Delia ignored him. All she wanted was to be rid of him, but she wasn’t about to kill him. The memory of killing Marcus was still fresh in her mind, and it hurt her. She’d thought that Marcus did not love her, but when she took his blood, she’d learned that girl he spoke of was her. Marcus had intended to ask LaCroix if they could become betrothed. By the time all the negotiations between the two families had been conducted, and a generous period of engagement had passed, Delia would be old enough to marry. She was twelve, and marriage was only a few years away, or so he had thought.
“Delia?” Chance’s questioning voice broke into her thoughts. She looked up at him, blood tears in her eyes.
“I have decided,” she said at last. “You are a good man, Mr. Harper, and you are leaving soon. I know that now.” Her voice, which had been harsh at first, softened. “Chance…I’m not going to do what I was sent here to do. If you promise not to ever return to any of these clubs, and to forget about vampires, I’ll let you go.”
“I promise. I already told Nick I would,” said Chance. Delia looked like she was going to start crying again. Although he didn’t know what was wrong, Chance hated to see anyone cry. “There’s something wrong. What is it? You might feel better if you tell someone,” he told her, offering his ear to her problem.
Delia shook her head in amazement. Instinct told her she should have killed him, but she, like Nick, had taken a liking to him.
“Chance, please, just go,” she begged him. “Dawn will come soon, and I want to be alone. You’re free. No one will hurt you after I give my report. Just, please, go now.”
He nodded and hesitantly left her.
As Chance left the park and walked along the sidewalk, still trying to figure out what had been going on in the park, a blur of mint green streaked past him. There was only one vehicle on the road with that particular paint job–Nick’s Caddy.
He let instinct take over and sprinted after the blur. It was forced to stop in a crowded intersection. The young punk he and Natalie had seen drive the car out of the hotel parking garage was inside. He flashed the photographer a grin. “Like my wheels?”
“Yeah, except for one problem. They aren’t yours.” He attempted to pull the thief from the car, while onlookers in the other lanes stared. The two men struggled for a while, then the thief broke free and bolted down a blind alley.
Delia suddenly appeared next to Chance. “I’ll get him. You bring the car,” she hissed. He nodded and hopped in the car.
When he pulled the Caddy up to the curb near the alley, he saw her struggling with the man. He couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t winning, until he saw the ornate silver cross in the punk’s hand. He was pressing it to Delia’s chest.
Chance rushed over just as she managed to crush the creep’s windpipe. The young man slumped to the ground in a heap. Delia collapsed in the photographer’s arms. “He had a cross,” she whispered.
Her chest was a mass of burnt tissue and blood. “How do I help you?” he asked, frightened this time for her.
“Nick–get me to Nick.” She passed out uttering the words.
Chance lay her gently in the Caddy’s back seat and drove to the loft. The detective wasn’t there, but it was unlocked, so he carried her up to Nick’s bed and called the Raven.
Janette answered the phone.
“Ms. DuCharme? It’s me, Chance Harper, the photographer. Is Detective Knight there?”
“No, he isn’t. He had an appointment with his doctor. May I be of service?” she asked.
Chance swallowed. “Yeah–I’m at his loft. I found the Caddy. Delia killed the guy who stole it, but she’s hurt. I think she’s dying.”
Janette gasped. “Someone will be right there.”
“Great. What do I do with the Caddy?”
“Take it home. Or…Nicholas was at Natalie Lambert’s tonight. Maybe he’s still there. Go find him. I really don’t care what you do with it.” She hung up abruptly.
Don Schanke started when he saw Chance Harper pull up before his hotel in a mint green, classic Cadillac. There was no question about the vehicle’s identity, since the color and enormous trunk were unique in Toronto. It was Nick’s stolen car.
His mind drifted back to his conversation with Captain Cohen. Could the photographer really be a criminal? He seemed so nice! Nick trusted him; Nat was dating him. Was it possible that he’d been conning them all this whole time?
Finally, suspicion won out over emotion and Schanke jumped out of his parked car, slamming the door loudly behind him. “Hold up, Harper. I wanna talk to you.”
The surprised, chagrined look on the other man’s face was all the confirmation he needed, and Schanke swore silently. Damn it, Harper, I really wanted to believe in you.
When he reached Chance’s side, he pulled out his badge and nodded towards the car. “I’m afraid you’re under arrest.”
Nick surprised Janette by showing up at the Raven right after she’d hung up on Chance. His face was grim from whatever had taken place with Natalie, and it became even grimmer when she told him about Delia. Together with LaCroix, they went to the loft.
All three stood helplessly by the bed. The cross had bitten into her chest too near the heart. Chance was right–she was dying.
LaCroix wept over her. Delia, of all his children, reminded him the most of his beloved natural daughter. She was the angel Divia never had been–just and fair, gentle and compassionate. Where Divia had been a monster, Delia’s kind heart more than made up for it. She was the child he had always wanted.
Her father’s tears woke her for the last time. “It seems we’ve done this before, Father,” she whispered, smiling weakly. “But chicken broth won’t save me now.”
“No, it won’t. Daughter, I…” The ancient vampire faltered, at a loss for words.
Nick was speechless. He had assumed his Enforcer sister looked down on him. Janette smiled gently.
Delia was suddenly plagued by a fit of coughing. Blood trickled from her mouth. When the fit past, she said, “My time is short. Chance Harper is a good man. Father, tell them he is not a threat…” Another coughing attack ensued, and as it ended, she closed her eyes.
LaCroix took her hand, kneeling beside the bed. “She is dead, Lucien,” Janette stated softly.
“I know that!” he snapped. “Leave us, please. I wish to be alone with my daughter.”
Nick placed a hand over LaCroix’s as it lay on the bed. He had no idea that in another year’s time he would be comforting his master over the death of another daughter. Since their relationship was edgy and strained, he didn’t know what to say.
The older vampire spared him the awkward scene by shrugging the hand away. “Go, Nicholas. Please, just go. I wasted enough time on you when I should have been with my other children. Now one of them is dead, mostly because of you. Just go.”
Janette led Nick out of the bedroom. In the living room, they stared at each other in shock.
“He blames me–why?” he asked.
“Grief. They were close, Nicolas. I don’t know the bond between them, but it was strong. She was one of the first he ever created…” She fell silent.
“He lost track of a lot of them after I came along,” he said. “It’s a wonder she didn’t hate me.”
“Delia was special. There wasn’t a jealous, hateful bone in her body, Nicolas. Lucien blames you now, but he’ll get over it, you’ll see.”
As they spoke, the phone rang. Nick picked it up, then set it down again a moment later, swearing softly in French.
“That was Schanke. He arrested Chance for the theft of my car. I need to go bail him out…but I can’t.” His eyes strayed to the shuttered windows. Outside, the sun was shining brightly.